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 ends of liberal economics.
Paleolibertarianism aimed to promote the relatively unpopular extreme free-market dogmas of libertarianism by joining them tactically to America’s powerful trends of post-60s reaction. It succeeded to a great extent. It pandered to, and (as far as possible) absorbed, extreme American cultural conservatism, racism, sexism, etc. It took a powerful place in the ecology of American reaction. It fed on the discontents of neoliberalism, and US imperialism, to achieve a quasi-rebellious presence in the mainstream of US politics, most of all in the person of Ron Paul.
We’ve talked about Ron Paul in previous instalments, and mentioned the publication under his name, or at least his ‘brand’, of infamous racist newsletters. People familiar with the content of those newsletters will have been unsurprised by Paul’s recent slip up on Twitter, when he explained the troubles of modern America with a cartoon which featured racist caricatures of various ethnicities (Jew, African American, etc) uniting to punch Uncle Sam with one massive fist made of ‘Cultural Marxism’.
Some libertarians have defended Paul over the years, but others have denounced him, asserting that the contents of the newsletters is paleoconservative rather than libertarian, and that it has no connection to the great pantheon of libertarian thinkers. There is certainly some truth to this. Our own Daniel Harper has suggested to me, in discussion, that Paul is actually not a libertarian but rather a paleoconservative (if, I’d say, an eccentric one) with an opposition to federal regulation rather than regulation per se. So, he’s maybe ideologically inclined towards a ‘states’ rights’ perspective which paleolibertarianism has, in my view, tended to flirt with opportunistically. Paul, of course, formally rejects the contents of his own newsletters and new tweets. But then a great many racists these days formally claim to not be racists. (I often wonder if the people citing that fake Churchill quote about “the fascists of the future… call[ing] themselves anti-fascists” have ever listened to the leading lights of today’s fascist movement steadfastly and indignantly deny that they are fascists.) …