Note from the Author:
This is a continuation of my Wednesday column
on the formerly
libertarian Cato Institute's complete
capitulation to the war hysteria, and
is best read in that context. To summarize briefly: in endorsing Attorney General
John Ashcroft's decision to start "monitoring" political groups for
evidence of subversive activities, I wrote, Cato has ended up at the
bottom of the slippery slope they started down when they gave a blanket endorsement
to Bush's endless "war of terrorism." I then asked: how did the Cato
Institute, staffed by committed, intelligent libertarians who were unquestionably
dedicated at least, in the beginning to the libertarian ideal of a peaceful
foreign policy and a free society, come to shilling for Ashcroft and the neocon
Thought Police? To understand what happened not only to Cato, but to the libertarian
movement in general requires a little lesson in the history of modern libertarianism,
and that is what follows
year was 1969: the venue, the St. Louis convention of Young
Americans for Freedom (YAF), the premier conservative
youth group in the country, where the libertarians and their factional opponents
were poised for a
fight. The country was roiled by cultural as well as political issues that
were tearing the country apart, but no issue cut as deep as the Vietnam war, and
the corollary question of the draft. Compulsory military service made the question
of the war deeply personal for every student, and their families, in a way no
war has since, including the current one. For libertarians, the two issues were
inextricably intertwined: the perfect manifestation of Randolph Bourne's famous aphorism
that "war is the health of the state."
For the traditionalists, as they liked to call themselves, led by Bill Buckley,
and the "fusionist" followers of Frank S. Meyer, the
issue was less clear: in theory, they, too, opposed the growth of the Leviathan
State, but their foreign policy views overrode the traditional conservative
fealty to individual liberty in the name of the "war on Communism."
And so the two sides faced off in St. Louis, where the split on the Right was
formalized amid a mini-riot, as one young libertarian burned his draft card.
ROOTS OF MODERN LIBERTARIANISM
tell the story behind this catalytic moment in my
biography of Murray N. Rothbard, the intellectual sparkplug of this fledging
libertarian tendency as it was flung, unceremoniously, out of the conservative
camp, and forced to fend for itself. Suffice to say here that Rothbard and his
youthful followers found other, more fruitful pastures in which to nurture the
growing libertarian movement on the Left. In his seminal pamphlet, Left
and Right: The Prospects for Liberty, Rothbard reviewed the real intellectual
origins of libertarianism, which were not on the conservative Right, but in the
liberal movement that rose up against the Old Order of feudalism, statism,
and mercantilism and liberated a good portion of mankind.
in this new perspective, was not a revolutionary leftist movement, but a confused,
muddled, essentially centrist phenomenon, one that admitted the oppressive and
reactionary nature of the State, but only proposed to abolish it after an extended
transition period, during which time it would supposedly wither away. Socialism,
in any event, could not work and was doomed to implode in a terminal crisis. Rothbard
saw, in 1965, that the end of socialism was at hand, just as the conservatives
were ratcheting up the rhetoric of the cold war. The Communist colossus would
soon collapse of its own impossible weight, he presciently believed, without the
need for so much as a shove from the West.
libertarian split with the Right lasted through all the years of the cold war.
The foreign policy question is America a republic, or must it become an Empire?
divided the two factions, and made any cooperation distasteful and nearly impossible,
even on purely economic issues. For conservative support to the cold war overrode
their allegiance to individual rights and the idea of limited government every
time the two came in conflict which was quite often. The fall of the Berlin
Wall, however, changed everything at least for a while
a while there it looked like conservatives were going to finally stop putting
off the idea of cutting government down to its proper constitutional size and
start acting on their alleged principles. With the end of the cold war which
no one but the libertarians had ever expected in their wildest dreams the American
Right turned its attention to solving the pressing economic and cultural problems
facing the country. Under these happy circumstances, there was a libertarian-conservative
rapprochement. The American Right was beginning to rediscover its pre-cold war
heritage, and getting back to its "isolationist" (i.e. anti-imperialist)
roots. Conservatives began to see foreign wars as a distraction from the main
task of gutting the federal Leviathan down to size. Dusting off the Constitution,
and Washington's Farewell Address, American rightists put themselves at
the head of a populist grassroots "anti-government" movement hostile
to Washington's wars as well as its taxes and regulatory edicts.
were terrified: the neoconservatives
(mostly of the Shachtman
school) consumed by their hatred of what they once saw as a "workers'
paradise" were absolutely mortified. Why,
they cried, this was a revolution
and we couldn't have that!
TO SQUARE ONE
from shrinking the federal government, the neocons wanted to strengthen it, and
infuse it with a sense of "national greatness,"
all the better to engage in their favorite activity:
war. When the Soviet Union fell, they were at loose ends for years but September
11 has given these vultures a new lease on life. Without an enemy to relentlessly
pursue, the neocons had drifted, aimless and dejected, unable to interest much
of anyone in their dreams of "benevolent world hegemony."
The American people, and especially conservatives, were far more interested in
exercising hegemony over their own pocketbooks and taking back their country from
the entrenched political class. When a conservative Republican House of Representatives
against Clinton's "humanitarian" adventure in Kosovo, Bill Kristol,
the neocons' little Lenin, who wanted to "crush Serb skulls," as he
once put it, threatened to walk out of the GOP.
Gulf war, the Kosovo war, and all the Clintonian interventions built up the momentum
of a new conservative
"realism" that reaffirmed the aversion of the Founding Fathers for
foreign intrigues. But it was, in a certain sense, too late for that: too late,
at any rate, to avoid the horrific "blowback" of 9/11. The emerging
conservative foreign policy consensus was blown to smithereens in the explosion:
it was back to square one.
DECLINE & FALL
Cato group capitulated
to the war hysteria because they had long ago become conservatives, and lost any
real sense of a distinctively libertarian consciousness. In the push for influence,
and "respectability," they had talked so many people into believing
that they were just harmless conservatives who want to legalize drugs, gay
marriage, and cloning, that, in the end, that is what they became. When the
real test came, and they had to choose between principle and convenience, they
had forgotten the former and so went with the latter as a matter of course.
libertarian rapprochement with the Right has reached a dead-end. American conservatism
is, at any rate, no more: there is only neo-conservatism. As Weekly Standard
writer David Brooks famously put it: "We're
all neoconservatives now." This includes my erstwhile comrades over at
the Cato Institute, who are now in the midst of an about-face and moving rapidly
toward a more neo-connish line on Israel. Once sympathetic to the idea that Palestinians,
after all, have property rights, and perhaps even the right to national self-determination,
the Catoites are falling into
line behind the neocon-enforced pro-Likud consensus. Here, in Cato honcho
Tom G. Palmer's account of his recent
confrontation with a bunch of lefties, we can literally see him sliding down
the slippery slope, propelled by the sheer weight of his neoconnish prejudices:
could not resist a little argument with a number of the unpleasant little critters
in the local Chipotle burrito bar on Saturday. They were covered with stickers
demanding a Palestinian state NOW and holding signs denouncing Israel. I asked
whether I'd seen them at the protests against Hamas's suicide bombers and against
funding of the Palestinian Authority, which receives oodles of money from the
U.S. and the E.U. I guess not, I added, since that would mean they were against
the killing of Jews."
mere sight of these Palestinian supporters perhaps there were a few Arabs among
them is enough to provoke a maelstrom of withering disdain on Palmer's part,
but, suspiciously, he doesn't give them any lines. Presumably they were
struck dumb by his Wilde-like wit. Ah
yes, Hamas you mean the group that was founded with significant
the new position of Cato in the neocon firmament as the "libertarian"
wing of the War Party, however, Palmer doesn't have time for arguments. His only
aim is to earn his stripes by smearing the protestors as, incredibly, anti-Semites
as if he were describing a gang of skinheads rather than these dreadlocked crunchy-granola
nose-ringed "critters." The youthful antiwar protestors who might,
in an earlier era, have been seen by Palmer as potential libertarian sympathizers
are now his "enemies":
shouldn't assume that the enemies of my enemies are my friends, but it's clear
that the enemies of Israel are despicable. I'm not a Zionist, but the people who
are attacking Israel the loudest are precisely the sort of people who make me
more sympathetic to the Israelis."
note that the important thing, for Palmer, is not the actions of the Israelis
or the reality that US aid to Israel, totaling
$90 billion plus over the years, has single-handedly sustained this settler colony
since the beginning, and is in no way comparable to the pittance reluctantly doled
out to the PLO. What matters is his oddly subjective reaction to the Palestinians'
American supporters. He complains that the protestors, who hate the IMF, don't
understand what it is not that the aristocratic old fogey Palmer would ever
deign to explain it to them. They might benefit from a little lecture on how the
IMF and the World Bank are the foundation stones of a new state capitalist world
system, culminating, as Murray N. Rothbard pointed out, in
[A] World Reserve Bank issuing a new world paper money unit, replacing gold altogether.
Keynes called his suggested new unit the 'bancor,' and Harry Dexter White
of the US Treasury called his the 'unita.'"
his blog, Palmer gives an impressively long list of all
the lectures he's recently delivered: too bad he passed up the opportunity to
give the lefties a little lecture on the evils of Keynesianism and what Rothbard
called "the fiat money plague."
I forgot, the Cato crowd doesn't cite Rothbard anymore. Nor do they recognize
in any way his key indeed, I would argue, central role in conceiving
the project and convincing billionaire Charles
Koch to fund it: he even named the damned thing, but do you think they'd
give him credit at their lousy 25th anniversary "celebration"?
No way, and it's a good thing, too. For I know that Rothbard would not
want to be associated, in the public mind, with an organization whose name should
be a synonym for the sort of extreme opportunism that borders on outright mimicry.
in the 1970s and early 80s, when they were trying to pass themselves off as "low
tax liberals," the Catoites went so far in their mimicry as to join John Anderson's
short-lived third party, in the hopes that they could pass themselves off
as "centrists" with a libertarian twist. They shifted rightward, however,
along with the rest of the country, enlisting as the vanguard of the Gingrichian
revolution, and have lately jumped on the neocon bandwagon, even making
friendly noises at the Israeli lobby.
CRANE CHAMPION SELL-OUT
in time to mark Cato's complete subjugation to the neoconservative foreign policy
consensus, comes the news that the Libertarian
Party is going to be awarding Cato president Ed Crane its "Champion of Liberty"
award at the upcoming LP national convention in Indianapolis. The last time Crane
attended a Libertarian Party convention, in 1983, he and his cohorts were decisively
defeated by a coalition of their factional opponents, and together the "Craniacs,"
as we called them (a little less than half the delegates) stomped out of the Libertarian
Party, never to return until now.
could be the reason for this touching reunion? Knowing Crane, it sure isn't sentimentality.
Crane and the Catoites have disdained the LP for years. One theory is that Crane
and the LP share a new ideological affinity. There are elements in the LP who
would love to see Libertarians jump on the pro-war, pro-Israel bandwagon, and
be done with the cumbersome baggage of the party's traditional anti-interventionist
stance. The party has been nothing
but a jobs program for certain otherwise unemployable ne'er-do-wells, and
the funds would certainly flow in if the anti-interventionist, anti-foreign aid
planks in the platform could be downplayed if not entirely thrown overboard. A
resolution introduced at the August 2001 meeting of the LP National Committee,
calling for an end to US aid to Israel and reiterating the longtime party stance
in favor of withdrawing all US troops from the region, was derailed
by one Elias Israel, now a candidate
for the office of LP National Chair. Mr. Israel explained that to even offer such
a resolution was "anti-Jewish" an extremely odd position to take,
since this amounts to saying that the party has taken an "anti-Jewish"
stance for the greater part of its 30-year existence.
the necons capture the Libertarian Party, too, adding it to their collection of
Washington-based satraps? It would be a final indignity, and a sad end to an organization
that so many of us spent so much time and effort on rather like hearing that
an old flame has become a crackhead. For years, the LP's chief appeal has been
to dissident Republicans soured on the "compromising" GOP leadership.
If they could just rid themselves of their cumbersome foreign policy positions
which don't fit it too well with the role of a national right-wing pressure
group on the GOP they would be in the money, so to speak.
question, then, arises in the case of the LP, as it did with the Cato group: how
and why did it come to this? The answer is strategic stagnation. The LP
was never all that in touch with the ideology it supposedly upholds, and is even
less so now. While the party platform is a sprawling document, the party's pronouncements
on the issues of the day are routinely simplistic and mechanical, reduced to a
few rote phrases and formulas endlessly repeated. The party newspaper, the LP
News, deals almost exclusively with internal organizational matters of interest
to no one but other party members. This routinism, a sense of running-in-place,
has been mirrored in the whole movement's strategic orientation, which has for
years been oriented to the Right. But this will no longer suffice.
CONSERVATIVE DEAD END
the post-9/11 world, the strategy of trying to convert conservatives to libertarianism
has become a dead end. The Right is no longer interested in limiting the powers
of the State at home especially when it is focused like a laser on the question
of how to expand the dominion of the American state abroad. As the world plummets
toward some neocon Ragnarok
in the Middle East, with the Right agitating for an all-out invasion not only
of Iraq but of Saudi Arabia and beyond, it is high time for libertarians to orient
themselves to the antiwar, anti-authoritarian resistance, wherever it arises.
practice, what this means is a re-orienting our efforts to focus on the Left.
The Old Right, which
Patrick J. Buchanan tried to revive,
is an isolated minority, kept alive by a few centers of activity: the paleoconservative
Chronicles magazine, of
course the classical liberal Ludwig von Mises
Institute which took up where the Cato Institute dropped the ball and
the paleolibertarian kids over at LewRockwell.com. But these voices are largely
drowned out by the array of lavishly-funded front groups and right-wing thinktanks
all crowing for an all-out war of Middle Eastern conquest and unconditional support
to the government of Ariel Sharon.
only voices of dissent are heard, today, on the Left or, at least, are raised
by those who in no sense consider themselves conservatives. While a great number
of yesterday's left-wing anti-imperialists defected to the War Party during the
Clinton years, a new campus movement aimed at Israel's depredations against the
Palestinians in the West Bank has arisen, along with a growing antiwar movement.
This is where all the vitality, the rebelliousness, the willingness to challenge
the rules and strictures of an increasingly narrow and controlled national discourse
isn't to say that the Left isn't stuffed to the gills with idiots, of one variety
or another. The "vanguard parties" of Marxism's final degeneration still
cling, precariously, to some form of life. And there
is a disturbing tendency of some to characterize the United States, politically
and culturally, as the fount of all evil in the world along with an abiding
faith in the shattered dream of socialism. But the end of Communism, and the intellectual
bankruptcy of what passes for leadership on the Left, have many of the younger
lefties (mostly anarchists) asking the right sort of questions, even if they don't
have much, as yet, in the way of answers.
is beyond the scope of this column to answer the question of how to approach the
Left, but, briefly, the answer is by not pandering to them or conciliating
their nostalgia for socialism in any way. For what we see in the process of globalization
is not the creation of a worldwide free market but the establishment of a global
social democracy, based in the West, but now extending itself through a system
of alliances and outright conquest to the rest of the world. This is not the
free market, but state capitalism on a global scale, a system sustained and expanded
by war and driven, not only by economic considerations, but also by ethnic,
religious, and political factors, all of which are manipulated by the War Party
to its advantage.
SEEMS LIKE ONLY YESTERDAY
exhorting the young libertarians in YAF to throw off the chains that bound them
to the Right, Murray Rothbard in his characteristically blunt and colorful way
had much to say that bears repeating today. In "Listen, YAF," his
open letter to the delegates assembled at YAF's storied 1969 convention, he wrote:
years you have taken your political advice and much of your line from assorted
'exes': ex-Communists, ex-Trots, ex-Maoists, ex-fellow travelers. I have never
been any of these. I grew up a right-winger , and became more intensely a libertarian
rightist as I grew older. How come I am an exile from the Right-wing, while the
conservative movement is being run by a gaggle of ex-Communists and monarchists?
What kind of conservative movement is this? This kind: one that you have no business
Christian Zionist" for "monarchist," and those words are truer,
today, than the day they were written.Who
is fighting against the all-out assault on our civil liberties, and resisting
Bush's drive to war? It sure ain't the conservatives, who seem intent on overthrowing
our old Republic and installing in its stead a global Empire. As the political
elites unite behind a program of endless wars abroad and state repression at home,
the old labels of Left and Right are increasingly meaningless: liberals and conservatives,
increasingly, have come to stand for minor variations on the same theme. Now is
the time for libertarians to, finally, break free of all that just in time to
take a leading role in the next upsurge of social and political change.
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