We Now Return to Regularly Scheduled Blogging

Like Jay-Z or Too $hort, I was in temporary semi-retirement for a while there.  Well, not quite: actually I spent the Christmas and New Year seasons in Texas and have now moved to Wilmington, Delaware.  While I haven’t blogged for a while, I haven’t been completely idle.  My take on “liberaltarianism” is in the current (Jan. 29, 2007) issue of The American Conservative.  I have a couple of reviews pending at other publications — I’ll mention them once they’re safely in print.

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9 thoughts on “We Now Return to Regularly Scheduled Blogging

  1. John Lowell January 22, 2007 / 2:59 pm

    Welcome back, Dan. I lived in Wilmington, actually Greenville, now a little over 40 years ago. While I’m not sure how time may have effected the place, Northern Delaware/Chester County, Pennsylvania, is just fabulous country, mushroom country actually. Hope you enjoy your new habitat.

    John Lowell

  2. Joe Populist January 22, 2007 / 9:24 pm

    The populist right is what used to be called “The New Right”, and it’s been around a lot longer then the so-called “libertarians”, and been a lot more effective at actually getting votes for electing Republican candidates. Generally, I have no idea what you mean by “fusionism”. Fusionism referred originally to the ability of Barry Goldwater, and later Nixon, and then Reagan to unite the Western and Midwestern Republicans with the Southern “Dixiecrats”, along with the ethnic working classs union members in the Northeast and the Upper Midwest. Where in the hell were the so-called “libertarians” fit into this, is a mystery. Basically, libertarianism has nothing to do with conservativism, something quite apparent to everyone since the days when Ayn Rand began her cult group based on attacking altruism back in the 1960’s. If anything, the “libertarian” part of the coalition is nothing more then the old Country Club, Wall Street Banker types that have been voting Republican since the beginning of the 2oth Century. Perhaps you are referring to the growth of the “Supply Side” ideologues in the Reagan era…SSE being the shining failure of the Reagan years, as Reagan never succeeded in reducing government spending…in fact there was as much if not more growth of government under Reagan then there has been under Bush2. It’s why Bush1 called it “Voo-doo” economics: modern “Supply Side” ideologues have become merely the advocates of the conservative version of a “free lunch”..IOW, you can have tax cuts without cutting spending, as the “magic” of tax cuts would increase revenues to eliminate budget deficits without doing the hard work of convincing anyone to actually vote for government spending cuts. Of course, the practical result of SSE is record budget deficits. As for the difference in social values betweeen conservatives and libertarians, the joke for years was that libertarians were Republicans that smoke pot, or were into unusual sexual habits like B&D. Yeah, yeah yeah, the CATO & AEI has a lot of rich big contributors, and the “populist” right—the anti-immigration, anti-globalization, anti-internationalist paleo-right is poor as a churchmouse. But then you can’t elect anyone president representing only the interests of CEOs and trust fund babies. Even if you put them together with the Country Club set, they don’t represent much of a voting block. If the “libertarians” want to bolt the “fusionist” coalition, I say who cares? All of em together aren’t worth the gunpowder to blow em to hell.

  3. Daniel McCarthy January 24, 2007 / 1:08 am

    There have always been populist strains on the Right, dating back to McCarthy and, before him, Father Coughlin. There were libertarians just as far back, however, and modern organized libertarianism predates the rise of the New Right in the mid-1970s — as you mention, the Randians were already quite prolific by that point, and they were not the only libertarian or quasi-libertarian school of thought on the 1960s Right: Austrian economics had a strong following, both of its own and among Goldwaterites (see the recent Goldwater memoir by William Middendorf, who attributes his own interest in politics and economics to Ludwig von Mises).

    The “fusionism” I’m talking about — I should have gone into more depth about it in order to avoid confusion — was the blend of traditionalism and libertarianism concocted by the National Review literary editor and senior editor Frank Meyer in the 1960s. In fact, fusionism was very libertarian, holding individual liberty to be the highest political goal; but in foreign policy, Meyer’s commitment to fighting the Cold War eclipsed his libertarianism. (Meyer also criticized libertarians’ or classical liberals’ utilitarian ethics, though in fact many libertarians, including Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard, were not utilitarians.)

    Now, I’m much more interested in intellectual history than I am in politics or political history, so I could be accused of over-emphasizing the importance of political philosophy here. In fact, I think everyone else is guilty of under-emphasizing political philosophy and over-emphasizing pure politics — with the result that America has been saddled with George W. Bush. But I’ll get to that a bit later on. For now, I just wnat to point out that even I don’t believe Meyer’s formulations created the conservative movement; they simply gave it a convenient creed. The Goldwater movement would have developed without Frank Meyer, and it was not in the main self-consciously “fusionist,” although polls of conservative activists (in Young Americans for Freedom, for example) showed that pluralities did describe themselves as fusionists or followers of Meyer, rather than as Randians or “Austrians” or Kirkians or ultramontane Catholics. If that sounds overly intellectual, well, what can I say, conservatives back in the ’60s had read some good books and the activist cadres did have a notion what those factions stood for.

    Two of the contentions in my TAC article are that a.) before fusionism, the conservative movement was more libertarian and b.) fusionism itself was more libertarian than the conservatism of today, which has been infused with new blood from the populist New Right, the Religious Right, and the neoconservatives. The pre-fusionist coalition of the 1950s and before was an anti-FDR coalition, combining the big business / country club Republicans you mention with quite a few people (including many journalists / pundits) who were influenced by reading Mises and Hayek. Henry Hazlitt and John Chamberlain are two paradigmatic figures that come to mind. In politics, Robert Taft was certainly seen as pro-business. He wouldn’t be called a libertarian, though the great libertarian Murray Rothbard was happy to support him, but some of his colleagues and friends were — Nebraska Rep. Howard Buffett is a shining example. These gentlmen were well-heeled: Hazlitt was a member of Bohemian Grove, I believe. But they were not “Rockefeller” Republicans of the sort usually meant when people invoke “country club” Republicans.

    The libertarian and conservative bona fides of those men, the more hard-core Taftians, is something I don’t think anyone can dispute.

    Getting back to politics proper: I have to agree with you, Joe, libertarians are politically marginal. It looks to me, though, as if the populist hard right is also politically marginal: look how anti-immigration conservatives fared in 2006. And to the extent that populists are important for electing Republicans, let’s be clar: that’s a bad thing. What self-respecting hard-right populist would want to claim credit for helping to elect Geroge W. Bush? Was the Republican Congress that was turned out of office last November worth anything to populist voters? What exactly did it do for them?

    In the early 1990s, a number of principled libertarians, including Murray Rothbard and Lew Rockwell, made the case that libertarians should be populists and that libertarians should be politically radical (that is, anti-Statist) and culturally mainstream. These paleo-libertarians were very critical of other libertarians who had the opposite orientation: that is, they were politically mainstream and culturally fringe-y. In fact, though there aren’t very many libertarians, there are a great many varieties: there are some who are slaves to big business, there are others who are almost leftist in their hatred of corporate capitalism (Kevin Carson has an interesting blog dedicated to free-market anti-capitalism), and there are others who are very conservative or right-wing but who do not give big business carte blanche. Ron Paul is the great paleo-libertarian political figure: he’s anti-war, an immigration restrictionist, anti-NAFTA/CAFTA/WTO, but favors free trade and wants to keep the government as small and limited as possible. His support definitely does not come from drug companies or lobbyists who bilk Indian casinos.

    For my part, I’d like libertarians and populists get together to raise hell against the political establishment: the Bushes, Gores, Clintons, Romneys, the whole lot of ’em need to go.

  4. Joe Populist January 24, 2007 / 6:36 am

    Thank you for your thoughtful commentary. I had forgot about Meyer’s “fusionism”, but you’ve forgotten that practical fusionism was invented by Kevin Phillips with his “Emerging Republican Majority”, and by political activists like Paul Weyrich. On a purely practical level, what success the Republican Party has enjoyed is based on the uneasy coalition between the Southern Dixiecrats, the Midwestern and Western Prairie Republicans, and the blue collar union workers in the Industrial Northeast and Upper midwest. It’s proved pretty successful in trumping the Democrat Party’s coalition of special interest politics—what used to be known as “Identity Politics”. If anything, the mistake the Republican Party has made in 2006 is moving over to the platform of the “Dixiecrats” with their Southern Religious culture and their fascination with cheap contract labor. I’m still wondering how you can explain where “libertarianism” fits into that. I can empathize with the intellectual fascination with “libertarianism”, as I fell prey to it’s siren song at one time. But like most conservatives and traditionalists, I dismiss “libertarianism” as a utopian fantasy, a mirror image of Marxist-Leninism, a “cult of individualism”. But more importantly, I don’t see where it has been an influence on practical politics. It’s an inside-the-beltwary force to be sure, but only because it is the voice of the Country Club set, the CEO classes, the Trust Fund Babies. But as I said before, that’s less then 20% of the electorate, and not worth the trouble to blow them away.

  5. Tim January 24, 2007 / 7:21 am

    Speaking about Rothbard and the pre-fusionist Old Right, LRC today reissues a review by David Gordon of the compendium “The Irrepressible Rothbard”, a great sampling of Rothbard’s journalism that should appeal as much to cultural conservatives and populists as libertarians. Rothbard has something worthwhile to say relevant to the current ‘liberaltarianism’ debate.

    “Rothbard arraigns the social democrats and their successors, the neoconservatives. These he accuses of support for statism at home and war abroad.”

    “Rothbard tersely sums up the credo of social democracy in this way: “on all crucial issues, social democrats stand against liberty and tradition, and in favor of statism and Big Government. They are more dangerous in the long run than the communists, not simply because they have endured, but also because their program and their rhetorical appeals are far more insidious, since they claim to combine socialism with the appealing virtues of ‘democracy’ and freedom of inquiry” (p. 23).”

    Certainly “classical neoconservatism” has pretty well documented social democrat roots, but those right-wing social democrats aren’t the only branch of a rather big tree. The modern liberal movement in the US, and it’s parallels throughout the west, actually represent the “mainstream” of social democrats. So “liberaltarians” are merely substituting one bunch of socialists to snuggle up to for another. My guess is that if Rothbard were alive today he wouldn’t have much time for liberaltarians, in fact if you read the rest of David Gordon’s article, Rothbard targeted the ethical relativism of many ‘left libertarians’ (proto-liberaltarians?) as essentially having sold out philosophically to the (left) social democrats (“LSD”).

  6. Tim January 24, 2007 / 7:23 am

    Ooops. I meant to insert an italic close tag after the title “The Irrepressible Rothbard”.

  7. Tim January 24, 2007 / 7:24 am

    P.S. David Gordon’s article is here.

  8. Jesse Walker January 25, 2007 / 2:13 am

    It’s an inside-the-beltwary force to be sure, but only because it is the voice of the Country Club set, the CEO classes, the Trust Fund Babies. But as I said before, that’s less then 20% of the electorate, and not worth the trouble to blow them away.

    Speaking anecdotally, but with a lot of experience: Libertarians tend to be overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly male, but in terms of social/economic class it’s actually a very diverse group. There’s a few super-rich libertarians, there’s a few super-poor libertarians, and there’s a lot in-between. A lot of them would get kicked out of any country club you could care to name, and no, I’m not just talking about the potheads.

    Murray Rothbard used to say (though I don’t think he originated the formulation) that you could divide the libertarian movement into three social categories: the hippies, the rednecks, and the preppies. I guess these days you could add techies as well.

    I suspect you’ve only encountered the preppy wing of the movement.

  9. Joe Populist January 25, 2007 / 3:04 pm

    Jesse Walker: “Libertarians tend to be overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly male, but in terms of social/economic class it’s actually a very diverse group. There’s a few super-rich libertarians, there’s a few super-poor libertarians, and there’s a lot in-between. A lot of them would get kicked out of any country club you could care to name, and no, I’m not just talking about the potheads.”

    Well, Kevin Phillips called “libertarianism” the utopianism of the right. And utopian crackpots come in all favors and sizes, as you well know.

    Have you ever visited DC? Take a look at the so-called “libertarian” lobbyist community. All fabulously wealthy. CATO, the AEI, the HF…those outfits do not exist on $10 a month contributions…they are the voice of the wealthy. Basically, all these organizations exist to have a ready stock of “experts” to go on TV and argue against any legislation that might impact a business…or to provide research legwork for lobbyists. But the actual populace they represent is the top 20% that’s been the mainstay of the Republican Party for decades.

    I would agree with you on the economic “diversity” of libertarians to this extent—the Republicans have hooked into a real political block of suburbanites with their “lower taxes” and “supply side” charade. I’m reluctant to call the Republican supply side stuff as “libertarian”. Basically, it’s the Republican version of the liberal idea of a “free lunch”. The SS argument is that you don’t have to cut spending to cut taxes. Supposedly thru the “magic” of the free market, lower taxes will generate enough economic growth increase tax revenue to offset the costs of the tax cuts. Of course, it’s not working, and the result of Bush2’s tax cuts is record high deficits.

    Selling “supply side” is also one of the most lucrative businesses in-side-the-beltway. Grover Norquist runs one of the most lucrative foundations inside the beltway. Of course we all know about his connection to Jack Abramoff. Jack Abramoff was one of the most successful lobbyists in DC, selling the “tax cut” snake oil.

    The original “Supply Side” argument was to cut taxes AND spending simultaneously. But under Ronald Reagan, this has never occurred because it was not politically feasible. In fact, under RR, government spending increased. It’s why Bush1 called it “Voodoo Economics”. Essentially, what “Voodoo Economics” means is for every $1 that the Republicans give in tax cuts, they saddle the taxpayer with $3.50 of long term federal debt. Supposedly, the debt is supposed to melt away as the economy grows, but this isn’t happening.

    “Voodoo Economics” is the most popular political issue that “libertarians” have to offer—in terms of vote-getting. I know my Von Mises enough to know the difference between a free market principle and a tax scam. You can’t increase spending and cut taxes at the same time, and expect economic growth to make up the difference. It’s a joke. But more importantly, an purely ideological standpoint, the snake oil that Grover Norquist is selling is certainly not “libertarian”, a least according to a honest economist.

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