An Example Of The Sea Change In Libertarianism


(I posted this in response to a comment on The Skeptical Libertarian, which was critical of Tom Woods’ jibe that TSL was not skeptical enough of the government. It’s an opportunity to illustrate the current changes in the libertarian movement. These comments get lost if I don’t post them on my own timeline so I’ve copied it here for reference, and for those who might want to read it.)

The ROTHBARDIANS are the anarchic WING of LIBERTARIANISM. Libertarianism describes a spectrum of political solutions of which Rothbardian Anarchism is only one permutation.

The Rothbardians were successful largely because Rothbard’s PROPERTARIANISM, in his Ethics of Liberty created a rational framework that could be used to defeat marxist arguments, where both conservatives and classical liberal libertarians had failed to provide such a rational framework. Marxism is philosophically rigorous. Rothbard made libertarianism philosophically rigorous. He then created a revisionist history to support his arguments.

There is a tragic weakness in Rothbardianism that invalidates much of his reliance on Natural Law. THat is that human beings are twice as motivated to suppress ‘cheating’ in others as they are to create personal gain. Rothbardianism provides no vehicle for suppressing ‘cheating’. In particular, the export of involuntary transfers to third parties. Hoppe managed to repair much of Rothbardianism, but his written works do not successfully capture his oral arguments, nor is his rather turgid german prose as accessible as Rothbard’s. So Rothbardianism remains the gospel of the anti-state movement. (I’ve tried to capture these ethical problems on my site. But my work is quite philosophically dense and not accessible either.)

These ROTHBARDIANS are concentrated in the Mises organization, which was purposefully constructed by Lew Rockwell. The Mises organization is trying to monopolize the language of libertarianism using Alinsky’s model for Marxism. The idea is to create a ‘religion’, because emotionally activated advocates are more effective, loyal and missionary than are rationally educated constituents. This strategy is not something they are shy about. (I’ve written about this frequently.)

As part of their intellectual program, Rothbardians provide arguments against all state activities that we assume cannot be provided from the market. They acknowledge that market solutions produce DIFFERENT externalities than does government, but they state that market externalities are LESS BAD than government externalities.

When Tom Woods criticizes others, it’s in this context: he’s saying that the externalities produced by odd science are less bad than government regulations and mandates. This is somewhat hard to argue with. However, it is vulnerable to criticism because human beings have such high distaste for ‘cheating’. And they consider silly science and snake oil cheating, but are unable to determine which items are snake oil and which are not. And as Kuhn showed us, science is prone to paradigmatic error. So we rarely know when science is junk science or not.

We should note that there is a generational change in libertarianism at the moment. We are moving from a suite of intellectuals who fought against socialism to a suite of intellectuals who fight against redistributive social democracy, and another that more closely matches the white conservative movement, now that whites are acting as a minority. There is a certain surrender to demographic change going on.

Also, the polarization of the electorate due to the south abandoning it’s prohibition on the Republican party, and the reaction of whites to immigration that has made them a minority, has caused frustration with the government that has made the youngest generation of voters the most libertarian in history. But they are socially positive if institutionally negative. And this has created a problem for the Rothbardians.

In this changing generational environment the dominance of Rothbardians in the intellectual debate has caused a number of reactions.

I. First, the other sects (Cato, Bleeding Hearts, Heritage, various others, including my Propertarianism) both congratulate Lew and his MIses organization for their success at promoting libertarian ideas, and adopt those communication strategies that the mises organization was visionary in employing on the internet.

II. Second, there is a limit to the number of acolytes that will adopt the anti-social rothbardian ideology. (although not the Hoppean version.) We are at that limit. The Mises organization is making changes to eliminate the ‘whacky factor’. This includes cleaning up their blog and limiting it to intellectuals. So the Mises org is adapting as well.

III. Third, and probably not as obvious, is that science has increasingly undermined the ‘progressive’ vision of human nature, and is on its way to confirming the conservative vision of human nature. We are slowly retiring the equality meme’s nonsensical environmental presumption in favor of the conservative genetic argument. The current argument is 60/40 and I suspect we will eventually conclude it is an 80/20 proposition. It may be too late, but the ideological tide has turned. This will make it possible to address institutional solutions rationally in a way that has been impossible for seventy years.

IV. Fourth, it is becoming obvious from the data that classical liberalism’s multi-house model cannot survive the addition of women to the voting pool. Men and women have different reproductive strategies and different moral codes which agrarian marriage and the nuclear family managed to accomodate. However, since males skew individualist, and women skew collectivist, we cannot use majority rule to accomodate both moral codes. We have no ‘houses’ which will allow the creating of exchanges rather than ‘takings’. The conservative think tanks are so enamored of the past that they cannot solve this problem. All think tanks, all ideologies, all movements, currently seek to gain a majority of like-minded individuals under majority rule, rather than to construct a government where these groups can conduct exchanges. The market allows us to cooperate on means if not ends. The population will need a means to do so as well. And to do so where ‘cheating’ is prohibited. This is why government will persist: as a means of prohibiting cheating.

For the first two reasons above, you should expect to see the eccentricity of the Rothbarian movement coming out of the Mises institute to be less supportive of heretical science, and more explicit in its use of arguments that discuss the differences in externalities between government and market solutions.

I do not know if they will be smart enough to try to move from a Rothbardian criticism-dominated, to a Hoppeian solution-dominated framework, and therefor provide an institutional solution that is competitive to and superior to that of the classical liberals. And I can’t imagine that they would try to co-opt the classical liberal wing (where the money is), and by doing so suggest the entire spectrum of libertarian institutional solutions, but they are the people who could successfully accomplish it if they tried. I just can’t see them being that pragmatic. You do not build an ideology then become a pragmatist. That would take new leadership.

The Heritage organization is data driven and has wide appeal. But it is not philosophically rigorous, and it does not recommend changes to the existing institutions that would accomodate contemporary reality. Cato is neither data driven nor philosophically rigorous, but corresponds correctly to classical sentiments. Rothbardianism and Hoppianism as well as Hayekianism are all philosophically rigorous systems of thought.

But Rothbardianism is not going to ever be acceptable to enough people to gain office and change institutions. It is a brilliant ideological strategy. It worked. We shoujld all congratulate Lew Rockwell on his vision. But Rothbardianism is not an institutional solution. Because a Christian people will not tolerate the rampant cheating present in the ‘ethics of the bazaar’ that Rothbard advocates. and they’re right to reject it. They spent too many centuries trying to escape it, and build the High Trust Society. Perhaps the only high trust society that ever existed.

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