Jonah Goldberg’s Long Unhappy Relationship With Libertarianism

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Jonah Goldberg, long-time hanger-on at National Review, has a long history of hating libertarians. And yet, his knee-jerk disdain for them has been backed a bit into a corner by the fact that libertarianism is far more popular than conservatism, and that conservatism is basically dead weight in a movement being kept afloat by the Ron Pauls of the world.

Perhaps reflecting his realization of the new reality, in a February 2012 blog post, Goldberg went to bat for Austrian economics, in the context of an article about Ron Paul, and criticized the New York Times’s “glib” portrayal of Austrian Economics as idiosyncratic and not mainstream.

At the time, The Daily Bell declared this comment by Goldberg as a sort of apology to the Austrian Economics-inspired libertarians (specifically the Rothbardian variety) for saying they could all fit in a phone booth:

Many years ago, leading conservative pundit Jonah Goldberg lost his temper and wrote that Lew Rockwell (of and and his libertarian colleagues could fit into a “phone booth.”

Not so fast. Today, those who have a lively interest in Austrian free-market economics or who are outright supporters of the magnificent ideas inherent in “human action” and free-market money are a forceful factor throughout the blogosphere.

Goldberg couldn’t even get his defense of Austrian Economics right, though, as Goldberg is apparently under the impression that Milton Friedman was part of the Austrian School.

However, by March 2013, Goldberg was back to his old self, and was careful to steer clear of anything that might be construed as anything other than good ol’ reliable beltway libertarianism. You know, the kind that talks a good game about low taxes, but does nothing to actually attack the state itself.

In Goldberg’s March 2013 column, titled “Fusion Power on the Right” Goldberg makes an attempt to make nice with libertarians, although, he is careful to not mention Ron Paul at any point, and of course, completely ignores the problem of foreign policy. In other words, Goldberg’s position is more or less: “Hey, we like libertarians. We agree on almost everything, So let’s do that fusionism thing again.”

In the column, Goldberg is forced to admit, that yes, libertarianism is more popular than conservatism, especially among the young. although he is careful to declare that the only acceptable sort of libertarianism is the soft-core, “libertarian conservatism” of Rand Paul and Jim DeMint, which of course is a type of libertarianism that doesn’t demand much more than to perform a few strategic amputations while leaving the giant bloated warmongering creature that is the U.S. government largely in tact.

For most people who don’t suffer from beltway-induced mental blocks, however, it is clear that the bulk of the libertarian movement, especially that among the young, is of the Ron Paulian/Rothbardian variety. This is also known in D.C./New York as “The Libertarianism That Must Not Be Named.”

Basically, Goldberg at this point is just back to normal, and his Old Self hates libertarians of the radical variety influenced by Paul and Rothbard.

However, these days we see that Goldberg has been forced to make nice with libertarians, in spite of his spittle-flecked hatred of any libertarian who registers a libertarianism any stronger than that of the good, safe, and non-threatening (to the state) F.A. Hayek. Goldberg invokes – like every good conservative who wants libertarians to just go away – Frank Meyer’s fusionism. This time around, the appeal to fusionism smells of desperation, though, as conservatism’s stinking corpse is going to need a lot more than a few libertarians grafted onto it to save it from total oblivion.

Goldberg nevertheless has come a long way from declaring that all libertarians could fit in a phone booth. In fact, there’s an interesting little story behind Goldberg’s Phone Booth Period in conservative strategy. Let’s explore some of it now.

The phone booth comment appeared in an article titled “Libertarians Under my Skin,” from 2001. But before we get to that article, we have to look back a little further. The phone booth article was one of several articles issued by Goldberg denouncing libertarians, and specifically denouncing the sort of libertarianism associated with (Namely, Ron Paulian/Rothbardian libertarianism.)

The whole anti-libertarian phalanx of articles by Goldberg was touched off by a February 9, 2001 article (“Goldberg’s Conservative Canon”) in which Goldberg asserted that libertarians are useful for fighting some leftists, but that you wouldn’t want libertarians to ever actually be in charge of anything. Goldberg denounces “semi-anarchist” libertarians and “purists” and then proudly advertises that he doesn’t know anything written by Ludwig von Mises and states: “if you want the purist libertarian stuff, go read something by Ludwig Von Mises. Honestly, though, I don't know what that would be.”

This column, is no longer online, although you can read it on Google cache.

Myles Kantor and David Dieteman took exception to Goldberg’s blanket dismissal of libertarians here and here.

In response to those two columns, Goldberg wrote an article denouncing libertarians in even stronger terms. In a March 2, 2001 column titled “Libertarians Under my Skin” Goldberg responds to Kantor and Dieteman by announcing that no one cares what anyone at thinks.

But they can be exhausting. In the last couple weeks three different have banged their spoons on their high chairs about me. I've been called a "schmuck" by one guy, a closet socialist by two, and an ignoramus by all three. That's all okay, I'm certainly not one to throw stones about name-calling. But I do wish the attacks were done better…

Anyway, I really don't think it's worth anyone's time to do a point-by-point rebuttal because, well, nobody cares…

Goldberg of course does not address any actual points about the intellectual history of libertariansism because he knows nothing about it. He has at this point, already established his credentials as someone who can’t name anything written by Mises.

It is in this column, dripping with condescension, that Goldberg decides that libertarians all fit in a phone booth. The libertarians fit in a small phone booth, and the "larger universe of organized-movement libertarians” fit in a "bigger phone booth.”

This article has also been removed from NRO, although you can read it here.

So much for the libertarians.

At this point, Kantor and Dieteman respond to the March 2 article in the pages of NRO itself, here and here.

For libertarians, both of these columns are simply elementary explanations of libertarianism, although the actual realities of libertarian thought and scholarship apparently are news to Goldberg.

Further enraged by the insolence of these nobodies known as libertarians, Goldberg pens a column titled “Farewell, Lew Rockwell” declaring that debating libertarians of the LRC variety is best described by that proverb which states “never argue with an idiot.”

Goldberg first excommunicates Kantor and Dieteman for their inability to be “reasonable” like the “classical liberals” at Reason and Cato.

He then moves on to cast aside Daniel McCarthy (current editor of The American Conservative) who had jumped into the fray calling for conservative tolerance of libertarians.

Goldberg then goes berserk on Bob Murphy, (that Bob Murphy) declaring him a “no-talent ass-clown” who “clearly thinks a great deal of himself” and who should, Goldberg asserts, be barred from writing for LRC ever again.

Goldberg ends this column by announcing that he will soon post an article titled “Why Harry Browne is Wrong.”

“Farewell, Lew Rockwell” is still up on NRO for now.

On June 22 of that year, Goldberg was back for more with an article titled “The Libertarian Lobe.” This time, Goldberg asserts that libertarianism “tells kids everything they want to be told” Indeed, the word “kids” appears five times in the first five paragraphs. He notes:

But, as is usually the case in Washington, the libertoids were the most ideologically aggressive, both during the Q&A and in private conversations. It was these kids – interns from Cato, fresh Borg drones from the Libertarian party, and kids who as teenagers had read Ayn Rand or Murray Rothbard the way others had listened to Bruce Springsteen – who seemed the most cross with me.

In other words, libertarianism is a simplistic ideology that appeals primarily to children who are incapbable of the more nuanced thought of the conservatives. At this point, Stephan Kinsella chimed in:

Goldberg's implication here is that libertarianism is somehow fallacious, if it can only attract the attentions of the naive and inexperienced, if clever and passionate, young. (He conveniently forgets that Murray Rothbard, whom he recognizes as being a key libertarian figure, was a radical libertarian well into his sixties.) I say “implication,” because Goldberg never quite specifies what is wrong with libertarianism, much less does he try to provide an argument. Instead of an argument, he offers merely his own self-contradictory opinions, which are laced with condescension, attitude, smug snideness, and ad hominem, and full of confusion and misstatements about the nature of libertarianism.

Thus ends, for the most part, the 2001 Jonah Goldberg-National Review five-minute hate against libertarianism.Two years later, Goldberg attempted to smear libertarians yet again with a blog comment in which he refers to “the defenders of Jim Crow over at Lew Rockwell's shop.” This smear was then obliterated by Kantor shortly thereafter.

That very same day, Lew Rockwell, Justin Raimondo, and Joe Sobran, among others, were cast into the outer darkness, by David Frum of all people, for being Unpatriotic Conservatives and not supporting the gloriously successful Iraq War. National Review couldn’t even get that right. None of those guys were conservatives in 2003.

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