It is telling that more mainstream opinion writers are picking up on the influence of radical libertarian thought. One such piece is by Lisa Richards on David Horowitz’s “NewsReal Blog.” At first, I could not tell if it was a subversive way of smuggling libertarian thought to conservatives or just a massive misunderstanding of Rothbardian libertarianism. Unfortunately, it was the latter.
Richards opens that “Radical libertarians are equivalent to leftist Saul Alinskyites. Both despise government and the Constitution, seeking to destroy America.” To say something like that reveals she has never given much serious thought to either. Alinsky was a utilitarian, inside-the-system guy. Mr. Libertarian, a deontological private property natural law supporter, denounced the system and was an “Enemy of the State.” Economically, methodologically, historically, and culturally they were polar opposites. It was precisely that Rothbard insisted on practicing his radicalism, where Alinksly used more pragmatic means. Rothbard was not concerned with accumulating power; he wanted to destroy it.
So already we are off to a shaky start. Also, it is not so much that libertarians despise government — which some people connote to mean rule and order — but the state, an organization within a given territory that maintains the monopoly authority to designate the legal use of force. Nor do libertarians conflate America with the government, as Richards seems to do. Quickly, she conveniently deliniates society from government when she said Rothbardians think that society “prevented war, rape, and pillaging” prior to the development of the modern nation-state. In actuality, Rothbardian libertarians see the state as needlessly exacerbating those tragedies.
Laughingly, Richards said, “Society can’t survive and thrive without leadership and checking and balancing leaders.” As if. An organization with sovereign immunity cannot be held accountable, particularly if those checks and balances are maintained within the same organization to be rendered as consequential as costume jewelry. The founding fathers that conservatives so prize had some understanding of this, calling the constitution only for a moral people as John Adams did. It was Thomas Jefferson who said “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” John Locke called the state of nature a “state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal … .” So clearly, these classical liberals thinkers did not believe it was the government that kept order.
Richards states that libertarians do not believe people are evil, only governments. That is an odd insight to make, for who does she think libertarians believe occupy government? Libertarians like Hans-Hermann Hoppe have made the point that the incintive structure of the state lends itself toward accumulating more power and inviting conflict. That is true. More so, they argue that precisely because people are capable of committing evil, then a centralized organization with the popular legitimacy to commit acts of aggression should not stand because evil people will be attracted to that unique source of power.
Even taking at face value the conservative point that all people are to some degree evil, then the existence of a government in no way minimizes that problem. In fact, by regularizing and legitimizing the morally criminal behavior of the state, those evils are compounded because the most evil would have the most to gain from that system. Of course, any social system will work more smoothly if people tend to be more peaceful and honest, yet which of these systems encourage that behavior and punish anti-social affairs? As Rothbard himself said, “[W]hatever the mix of man’s nature may be at any given time, liberty is best.”
Later in the article, Richards again conflates government with society. For the most part, this is also the modern conservative view, which is why so many want to criminalize what they deem to be immoral acts among consenting adults instead of educating others about their mistaken ways. In that sense, they are ideological cousins of liberal authoritarians like former law professor and current Obama regulatory “czar” Cass Sunstein. They see government as the source of all technological advancement and at the root of civil society.
Richards is wrong again on a few more points, as well. While a popular myth, it is not true that war is part of human nature. While it is true that conflict will exist over (limited) resources, we have found ways to minimize those conflicts, such as through the use of property rights and arbitration. Besides, the existence of a state makes war more affordable for the war makers as the costs of building an empire can be defused over the population through taxation. As war makers have become removed from the consequences of their violence, constant war has become costlier than ever before. It is government that is civil war, according to French anarchist Anselme Bellegarrigue. While modern warfare may consume fewer actual lives, the aggregate labor stolen by the war machine is no less wasted. The life of each one of us is drained again and again day after day to fund the most successful criminal enterprise in history.
In another failure, Richards cites a Karl Marx quote from Ralph Raico’s lewrockwell.com article on Marx’s insights into the state, which she takes to mean an acceptance of Marxist political economy even as Raico makes explicit that he is “far from being a Marxist.” The point of Raico’s quote was to reveal Marx’s own dualistic view of the state as first, continuously under the exploitative hand of the capitalist class, and at other times as an organ of exploitation of whatever party in control.
In fact, some of the very few accurate protrayals she offered was calling radical libertrians leftists who believe we can “endure without states and central leadership.”
Looking back, Richards has claimed that Rothbardian libertarians want to “destroy man and his right to Life,” believe “depravity is nonexistent in man’s nature,” are “anti-wealth,” and favor “communal control.” For these points, Richards offers not a single quotation from Rothbard or any other libertarian.
I am drawn to one of my favorite Frederic Bastiat quotes, when he said:
Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all.
We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.
With some credulity, statists have become conditioned to let others — even words written on paper — have dominion over their lives. When someone offers the radical notion that no one else owns your body, they are called the dangerous ones. When some point out that the state has no resources of its own and can only exist by usurping our rights, with some arrogance, they are told to be the enemies of individual rights.
To Richards, I say trust in yourself and treat your neighbors as an equal. So long as you look to leaders for the change you seek, you can bet to be changing out one set of dogs for another while ignoring the things all of us can do for the betterment of ourselves and those around us.Image credit: FreedomBin.com, with a Creative Commons license