A Letter To James Hanley


Most commenters on your site, and you yourself, frequently argue against the positions of that subset of libertarians called Rothbardian Anarchists and in the process smear the rest of the libertarian movement. Rothbardian anarchists have attempted to appropriate the term “libertarian” as well as the term “austrian economics” in order to gain legitimacy and popularity. The reason I’m appealing to you is so that you don’t further Jaundice the libertarian movement because of the behavior of it’s radical anarchic wing. While the anarchic wing is popularizing libertarian ideas, it is also obscuring and discrediting the broader movement’s rational foundation in economics.

Classical liberals had to coin the term Libertarian because ‘liberal’ was taken over by socialists. Now they’re in the same position again and trying to find an identity that’s been stolen by the anarchists. Appropriation of identity and ideas by radicals is one of the many challenges faced by moderates and pragmatists.

I’m going to appeal to you to use the term “Anarchist Libertarians” or “anarchists” or “rothbardians” rather than to assist in the appropriation of libertarian thinking by the anarchists.

You’re not alone in confusing ‘anarchism’ with ‘libertarianism’. The ‘anarchist’ wing of the libertarian movement has been highly successful in their efforts to appropriate the term ‘libertarian’ for their own use. To such an extent that the rest of us are abandoning it and adopting the term “NeoClassical Liberals”. Over the past few years there has been a bit of back-and-forth banter between CATO’s Establishment Republican Libertarianism, George Mason University’s more NeoClassical Liberal economics, and The Mises Institute’s radical evangelical anti-statists. The Private Law libertarianism of Hoppe’s Property and Freedom Society has far less influence but is where the thought leadership seems to be originating today.

GMU has posted about the problem at The Coordination Problem.

Lew Rockewell defends his organization by way of attacking GMU at LewRockwell.com.

Mises.Org And The Pop Culture Rothbardians
I am not necessarily happy criticizing the Mises organization since they are largely responsible for the popularity of libertarian thought, even if it’s too often the pop culture ideology of Rothbard. And I think that promoting pop libertarianism is not a bad thing in this particular era. It has attracted many people to the cause of freedom, and in return some of those who’ve come, will mature into more sophisticated thinkers. Promoting an ideology is by definition a function of appealing to the masses. So I would rather have a lot of ‘Pop Libertarian Rothbardian Anarchists’ and a few classical liberal deep thinkers affecting the political discourse than I would just a few deep thinkers.

Libertarians (classical liberals, and now NeoClassical Liberals) do not advocate the extremes that the Anarchists do. If you read Hayek you would understand that ‘Pop Libertariansm’ of Rothbard is just that – ideological anarchism.

Hayek on the other hand is a sophisticated political thinker in the tradition of Aristotle, Machiavelli, Pareto, and Weber, who illustrates the various practical realities we consider in political theory once we have a grasp of economics.

The Neo Classical Libertarian Movement
You are obviously not aware of this ongoing battle for legitimacy, but there is a growing movement among some of us to drop the Austrian/Libertarian label and start calling ourselves “NeoClassical Liberals” in order to escape the “Pop Libertarianism” of the Rothbardian anarchists.

The NeoClassical liberals are challenged because they rely upon a skeptical, rational and empirical system of philosophy that suggests ‘we simply do not know’. While the progressive and the anarchists suggest ‘we do know’. Ideologies are always progressive, and certitude is more useful to ideologists than skepticism. Rothbardian libertarianism, and to some degree Misesian Praxeology, are doctrines of certitude. Luddite certitude perhaps but certitude none the less.

Some of the people working on this problem are setting up shop at Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

Hoppe And Private Government
Hoppe’s contribution is that a private government is superior to a state (corporate) government – and he’s stated why it is superior in detail. A private government under the common law is by definition anarchic. The state is an unaccountable, epistemologically impossible abstraction, and that’s the problem with it. It’s as absurd as the other corporate entity we call ‘god’. But that is far too complicated a conversation for people who are motivated by ‘Pop Culture Ideology” regardless of stripe.

Rand Is A Doorway
Rand is a literary doorway into philosophy for the young and inexperienced. As such she is valuable to philosophy. Rothbard is a great and often underrated historian but a pop philosopher at best. Hayek is a great philosopher that bears reading and re-reading. And Mises is the only saint among economists despite his reliance on an incomplete system of logic he calls praxeology.

I hope this is helpful to you.



(NOTE: I have been a participant in Mises.org and have contributed something on the order of 30K to the organization over the years. I also have contributed not insignificant funds the Property and Freedom Society.)

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