Viewing posts tagged libertarianism

Fascism, Imperialism, and Trumpism

Fascism, of course, always had a lot more in common with classical liberalism than most people realise.  Fascism was built around the defence of private capitalism.  Far from being the ideologically ultra-statist economic nightmare of right-wing mythology, fascist economics was complex and opportunistic.  It sometimes used nationalisation as well as privatisation.  Indeed, as Germa Bel has shown, the Nazis did so extensively, to the point where one could call them forerunners of neoliberalism.  But there's no denying that statism was a part of the Nazi economic strategy... but then so did liberalism always use the state as a way to protect and extend capitalist interests.  Indeed, fascism – being a product of twentieth century capitalist imperialism – is the product of an era when the interests of the state fuse, to a large extent, with the interests of blocs of domestic capital, thus making state-run imperialism essentially a form of public-financed ‘primitive accumulation’ on behalf of national capitalists.  Many big capitalists - generally from heavy industry, for material reasons, as Daniel Guerin pointed out - understood this and sympathised with and/or subsidised fascist movements.  But more generally, fascism emerges from the liberal capitalist epoch ...

Summing Up, Part 3

Last time in ‘Summing Up’, we talked about how the right-libertarian “views the horror of socially-arranged altruism as worse than the horror of letting people die for want of medical care” because “libertarianism is against individual freedom for all because it depends upon collective liberation”.  This, of course, raises another issue.  Where does one draw the line?  If socialised medicine is totalitarianism for doctors, why is the tacit threat of destitution which lies behind the wage labour system not considered equally bad?  The answer to this question is the same brute and vulgar answer we gave already.  It comes down to which side you’re on... which, most of the time, in an instance of capitalism creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of the selfish and cynical actor of its own ideological account of human nature, comes down to which class you’re in, or which class your interests are aligned with.  

Let’s pause again to notice all those ‘vons’ in the names of the great Austrians.  And let’s also pause to again notice that, in applying such cynicism about human nature, such distrust of democracy, such a strategic splitting of the concept of freedom, and such naked class interests, the libertarians ...

Summing Up, Part 2

In an article entitled ‘Democracy Isn’t Freedom’, Ron Paul wrote:

Americans have been conditioned to accept the word “democracy” as a synonym for freedom, and thus to believe that democracy is unquestionably good.

The problem is that democracy is not freedom. Democracy is simply majoritarianism, which is inherently incompatible with real freedom. Our founding fathers clearly understood this, as evidenced not only by our republican constitutional system, but also by their writings in the Federalist Papers and elsewhere. James Madison cautioned that under a democratic government, “There is nothing to check the inducement to sacrifice the weaker party or the obnoxious individual.” John Adams argued that democracies merely grant revocable rights to citizens depending on the whims of the masses, while a republic exists to secure and protect pre-existing rights. Yet how many Americans know that the word “democracy” is found neither in the Constitution nor the Declaration of Independence, our very founding documents?

Now, an important thing to note here is that Paul is absolutely right.  Most of the Founding Fathers did not envisage their new republic as a democracy.  Indeed, Madison (as Chomsky is fond of reminding us) explicitly saw the task of designing the new government ...

The Gateway Drug

Paleolibertarianism was a consciously devised mutation of Austrian-influenced libertarianism, concocted by the late-20th century’s most prominent devotee of Austrian dogma, Murray Rothbard (and his fawning cohorts).  

Libertarianism today draws on several sources.  Ayn Rand is the best known, but the more influential is arguably Murray Rothbard.  (Rothbard’s attitude to Rand fluctuated.)  Rand is more influential for her ‘ideas’.  Rand is more accessible, despite putting up a superficial show of intellectualism.  Rothbard is harder to get a handle on.  Unlike Rand, he is a genuine intellectual – which is often a question of how one couches ideas rather than the ideas themselves.  And he develops.  And he writes long, involved, serious articles (though they get less serious-minded as he gets older).  I would argue that his influence is less in actual ideas and more in the surrounding spheres of aesthetics/style and tactics/strategy.  After all, in fusing libertarianism with conservatism to create paleolibertarianism, the libertarians consciously submerged certain libertarian ideas.  What succeeded – from the libertarian point of view - was arguably less the fusion than the style: the strategic attempt to use populist reactionary politics to further the ...

Return of the Irrepressed (Part 2)

The glue which gums Rothbard’s libertarianism, with its supposed veneration of personal liberty, to the politics of tyranny (white supremacy, anti-semitism, etc) is the baked-in project of conservatism, according to Corey Robin: the defence of privilege and hierarchy which is, or feels itself to be, threatened. 

Libertarianism, via its ideological justifications for the hierarchy of employees and employers (as worked out in Hayek, for instance, in a passage we looked at), is also a general theory of capitalist hierarchy. It full-blooded libertarianism (which nonetheless takes its cues from the more polite and measured coded-savagery of Hayek) tells a story of supermen and parasites. Rand – much mocked as if she is a uniquely bizarre irruption - is just an idiosyncratically unhinged, pathological, and libidinous version of this. It’s a form of panglossianism, in that everyone gets what the deserve – or at least the best any world is capable of affording them (in general). Hierarchy thus isn’t just something apologised for – it is something rhapsodised. It isn’t just unavoidable – it’s actively good. Laudable. A mark of civilisation (in the moral sense). Libertarianism fetishises commodity relations to the point where it makes its politics from an aesthetic category error ...

Return of the Irrepressed (Part 1)

We all float down here, Georgie… no government to hold us down, you see…

With thanks to @gerofalltrades for creating this post’s accompanying cursed image for me.

This article has been amended to remove an inaccurate claim that Reason magazine gave Milo's book Dangerous a flattering review.  I got them mixed up with Skeptic magazine.  My bad.  Sorry.  BTW, for interest's sake, the review in Skeptic was written by Dr. George Michael who received his degree from George Mason University.



Whereas many of today’s libertarians and ‘classical liberals’ like to present their doctrine as somehow above or beyond the left-right divide (even as they enable fascists and agree with everything they say), Rothbard indulged in little such pretence.  He was cynical and opportunistic.  He was inconsistent and incoherent.  But he wasn’t confused.  For him, libertarianism was, essentially, a reiteration of what he called ‘the Old Right’.

For more on this, see a flatulent, blithering essay he wrote in 1992 called ‘A Strategy for the Right’.  You can read it at LewRockwell-dot-org.  I won’t link to it (because, while the SPLC might not come right out and say it, as far as I’m concerned ...

The Ron Paul Revolution (Part 1)

In my opinion, any account of the rise of the alt-right, especially one which emphasizes the role of libertarianism, and thus the distal causal role of the Austrian School of economics, must begin with Ron Paul.

In his essay ‘On Social Sadism’, published in the journal Salvage, China Miéville recounts an occasion when

[a]t a debate between Republican candidates in September 2011, Wolf Blitzer, the chair, mooted the case of a hypothetical thirty-year-old uninsured man who becomes sick. ‘[C]ongressman,’ Blitzer asks Ron Paul, ‘are you saying that society should just let him die?’

‘Yeah!’ comes a shout from the audience. A smattering of applause. The shout is repeated, and again, and the applause grows.

Paul retired from politics in 2013, but his shadow is long on the libertarian Right.  After the above exchange, Paul – a former medical doctor and a fervent libertarian, indeed a ‘paleolibertarian’, a follower of the syncresis of libertarianism and far-right conservatism invented by Murray Rothbard and Lew Rockwell – suggested that the hypothetical man in the question should have a private medical plan.  "We've given up on this concept that we might assume responsibility for ...

Chill Out, Hayek! - Part 1

In The Reactionary Mind, Corey Robin claimed - drawing on Naomi Klein and Greg Grandin – that Hayek “admired Pinochet’s Chile so much that he decided to hold a meeting of his Mont Pelerin Society in Viña del Mar”, the seaside resort in Chile where General Pinochet’s CIA-assisted military coup against the democratically elected left-wing government of Salvador Allende was planned.  This claim was denounced on Twitter as “made up” by none other than ‘@FriedrichHayek’ himself!  (Probably just a fan rather than the man himself resurrected and tweeting… as usual, Hayek’s admirers simply deny his complicity with the Chilean junta, when they can’t get away with just neglecting to mention it.  As Robin discovered, they have lots of excuses - he was an old man at the time, etc - all of which turn out to be so much bad faith when you look at them.)  Checking, Robin discovered that it is more accurate to say that Hayek attended the meeting where the decision to hold the MPS’s 1981 conference in Viña del Mar was made and, at least, did not oppose it.  His position in the Society was still prestigious enough that, at the very least, an objection from him ...

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