Stop Being a Schmuck, Jonah

Jonah Goldberg isn't a libertarian; he doesn't even think too highly of us anti-statist folk. This is concussive news, I know. (To those suffering head trauma after falling out of their chairs: You should've known reading this site without a helmet can be hazardous to your health. Whassamatta with you? But fear not, we're developing a site-specific helmet with a Don't Tread on Me snake on one side and a smiley face on the other.)

In his February 9 National Review column, Goldberg gives a list of the ten books "that make up my all-purpose Swiss Army knife for conservative initiates." After showing a glimmer of appreciative capacity by recommending two selections of Friedrich Hayek, he follows up with this gem:

As you know, I consider Libertarians to be like Celtic barbarians deployed by British kings in the Middle Ages against the Scots or the French. They are extremely useful for fighting your enemies, but you would never want one to actually sit on the throne.

Fear not, G-Man, libertarians don't want to occupy the throne; they want to dropkick it. (Those who can't perform a dropkick will settle for a reckoning in the mode of the Billy Batts pummeling scene in Goodfellas, reenacted on an inanimate object in Mike Judge's Office Space.) Albert Jay Nock's book isn't entitled Our Enemy, the State for no reason. It's nice to know we make good pawns, though. (Utilitarians take note.)

Goldberg can't even leave his Hayek recommendations well enough alone. He goes on to note Hayek's critical reception by some libertarians, albeit phrasing it this way: "He's distrusted by zealots because he had a go-with-what-works approach."

Since when did coherence become zealotry and pragmatism a conservative principle? Walter Block, as one example, critiques the Nobel laureate's statist tendencies in "Hayek's Road to Serfdom." The only thing this indicates is that libertarians prefer discourse over dogmatism and reject the notion of a meta-critical, oracular elite.

But Goldberg manages to surpass his caricatures with this one: "[I]f you want the purist libertarian stuff, go read something by Ludwig Von (sic) Mises. Honestly, though, I don't know what that would be."

If Goldberg's "Honestly" is taken at face value, he's ignorant of the basic works by modernity's most systematic champion of liberalism. Rather than keep this cognitive lacuna to himself (i.e., omit the next sentence), Goldberg practically boasts. It would be like a libertarian grinning about how he never read The Conservative Mind or Reflections on the Revolution in France. (Kirk? Burke? Smirk.)

If Mr. Goldberg would like to delve into Misesian thought, several of his books are online. In the meantime, from one Yiddishe boychik to another: Stop being a schmuck, Jonah. (Smile.)

February 26, 2001

Myles Kantor lives in Boynton Beach, Florida.

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