Libertarian History/Philosophy

Viewpoint: Warning to Constitutional Republicans


Editors Note: Due to the controversial nature of this month's Viewpoint, we have devoted more than the usual space to it. Other authors will address themselves to this important subject in future issues.

All those who criticize the American State as a violator of liberty cannot be assumed to be allies. And thereby hangs a tale, told to me by Murray Rothbard a number of years ago. It seems that he had a shocking experience in the late 1960's, when he joined a leftist political party led by that distinguished ex-rapist and then advocate of racial and class murder known as Eldridge Cleaver. Murray assumed that because the members of this party were raging at America for conducting the Vietnam War and for maintaining racist institutions, they were his allies. He knew, of course, that they were scarcely advocates of capitalism—indeed, he knew Cleaver was a communist and that most of his new associates were collectivists. But, as he told me, he thought he could gradually sneak up on them, teach them economics, and, in effect, take them over. One day Murray got involved in an internal party squabble about a candidate for some office, and found a gun stuck in his ribs. Thus did he learn what any grocery clerk could have told him—that his New Leftist associates were thugs, and that he had been taken over by them.

I tell this story today because a significant portion of the libertarian leadership is repeating this precise error. Major figures of the Libertarian Party and the editors of the two new libertarian publications have apparently decided that because the leftists and counter-culturists are busily denouncing the State, the libertarian movement can make common cause with them. The signs of this decision have been multiplying steadily. A burnt-out derelict of the New Left named Timothy Leary appeared on the platform of the last Libertarian Party convention to prate about his drug-soaked understanding of liberty. Libertarians running for office have blindly supported every "liberation" movement—Gay Lib, Transvestite Lib, Women's Lib, etc.—although each of these movements actually advocates coercive egalitarianism, collectivism and statism. Libertarians have careened after every howling leftist crusade against the wrong-doings of Big Business, and of America's major security institutions—the CIA, the FBI, the Pentagon. They have absorbed the counter-culture's notion that nothing has higher priority for lovers of liberty than the right to take dope, to contemplate pornography and to enact the full repertoire of Kraft-Ebing. And finally, many libertarians have joined the Left in propagating the myth that the United States is the sole source of international evil; that the USSR is an innocent, peace-loving nation; that communist expansionism is no threat; that the Third World is a potential fountainhead of freedom; that Israel, shelter for the survivors of the Nazi holocaust, should be abandoned to the tender mercies of the Arabs; and that the only historians to believe are the leftist revisionists. By now, there is scarcely a counter-culture crusade or a leftist ideological bastion that libertarians have not embraced.

I do not imply, here, that we should not acknowledge truths if they are spoken by the Left or the counter-culture. Of course we should. If a leftist identifies an injustice that one knows to exist, one must say so. If a counterculturist indicts a social policy that one knows to be wrong, one must say so. Similarly, if a whorehouse madam makes a valid criticism of modern marriage; if an embezzler makes a valid criticism of banking operations; if a murderer points out a flaw in the prison system…or if a madman shouts out "1 plus 1 equals 2″—one must indeed agree. But agreement on the existence of specific errors, specific injustices, even specific crimes, is not the same thing as making a political alliance with those who charge them—an alliance that implies that the critics share one's values, one's view of the social good, and are moving towards the same political goals. The issue is contextual. One does not support a movement because one of the hundred-odd statements it makes is true. One does not support a movement which cries shrilly about liberty for itself, while preparing to stick a gun in the ribs of everyone else. And, above all, one does not support a movement which is fundamentally opposed to one's most central principles. If a libertarian stands for anything it is for private property and capitalism. If he knows anything with certainty, it is that individual political freedom rests on economic freedom. But that is what the Left is determined to destroy. All of which means: a libertarian can never rationally ally himself with the Left.

By the same token, a libertarian cannot ally himself with anyone on the Right who is intent on destroying his central values. Bookburners, religious bigots, racists, social fascists, enemies of the free market, all must be repudiated. The principle is identical.

This does not mean, however, that there are no allies in America for the libertarian. On both the Right and Left there are indeed allies for any defender of a free society. On the conservative side, there is an important scholarly tradition of political and economic liberty. Modern libertarians, indeed, are the children of this tradition, and they have no business disregarding their ancestors. Such scholars of capitalism as Ludwig von Mises, Milton Friedman, and Friedrich Hayek, who themselves have been alienated from the stupid and bigoted elements of the Right, are noble exemplars of this tradition. And they and their students, almost alone on American campuses, have kept the scholarship of capitalism alive. Such intellectuals profoundly understand the integral connections between political and economic liberty, and they tower conceptually over the political theoreticians of the Left. They constitute a valuable network of allies.

On the liberal side, too, there is a growing group of potential intellectual allies—the liberals and former leftists inaccurately baptized "neo-conservatives" by the historically illiterate Left. In fact, they are "neo-liberals," returning to the insights of an earlier and more enlightened stage of liberalism. These, today, are the genuine culture heroes of the Left. They alone—above all Irving Kristol—have split the liberal world. They have turned thousands of the most insightful liberals into discerning critics of government excesses in both the intellectual and economic realms. They have awakened a conscious appreciation in thousands of the tie between capitalism and freedom, and, conversely, of the morbid stupidity of the fantasy-ridden socialists who dream of political freedom under economic dictatorship. Gripped by this very fantasy, the liberals in this country have run amok, have used State coercion to impose egalitarianism, and to war ceaselessly against a free productive system. It is the "neo-liberals," above all, who have cried out a warning, against diminishing liberty, and who have demonstrated that rarest of human virtues, the capacity to learn from their errors. They are, in fact, historically invaluable. At this stage of our culture, the disparity of understanding between the scholars of capitalism and the liberal intelligentsia is so great, that communication has virtually ceased. It is only the awakening understanding of men with long careers as reputable liberals that could have breached the gap.

These two groups—increasingly working as allies—are the major ideological forces in the country that are genuinely concerned with the relationship between intellectual and economic liberty. One may isolate inconsistencies and contradictions within both groups, but their dominant direction is unmistakable. They are fighting to expand areas of liberty that have been savagely contracted in the past 50 years. By contrast, the Left claims to be passionately concerned with liberty at home and abroad, but its morally incoherent cries have shown no such authentic concern: Expose the CIA! Evade mass murder in Cambodia! Liberate murderers as victims of society! Jail businessmen as the enemies of society! Don't censor Hustler! Censor TV cops and robber shows! Free the oppressed Africans! Send the South Vietnamese refugees back to slavery! String up the Greek colonels! Fawn on Ho Chi-Minh and Mao Tse-Tung! The Left has screamed for liberty only for its allies, for its values. And, with unwavering consistency, both at home and abroad, it has promoted egalitarian coercion and statist assaults on economic freedom. Its dominant direction, too, is unmistakable. The Left is hurtling away from freedom.

Given the existence of two important pro-liberty groups in this country, it is stupefying to see that the libertarian movement has not rushed to join, to support, and to aid them. (It is only since Hayek and Friedman have received Nobel prizes that some libertarian publications have deigned to say a civil word about either man. Irving Kristol is still the object of vulgar sneers.) And it is more than stupefying to see that, instead, the libertarian movement has skidded into alliances with the Left and counterculture—with a collection of sleazy, collectivist, anti-capitalist movements. It is so amazing, in fact, that it requires explanation.

The collapse into counter-culture vulgarity has already been explained by Ayn Rand. Years ago, she said that the libertarian movement was doomed to degenerate into a "hippie" movement. She was quite right; in some important measure, it has. The reason for that is plain enough. Without a serious metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical base, a commitment to individual self-interest must necessarily degenerate into a slovenly rationalization for "doing your own thing." It is no great surprise, under the circumstances, that the counter-culture gutter movements, celebrating the most irrational manifestations of self-assertiveness, have been attractive to many libertarians, shorn of a guiding ethics or worse: confusing free market theory with ethics.

But, unless I missed that prophecy, even Ayn Rand did not predict that this movement would crawl into bed with the collectivist, anti-American Left. And for that, I think, there is yet another explanation. I suspect that a critical turning point in the evolution of this movement occurred when the proponents of a constitional republic, who by definition advocate a nation-state, agreed to suspend their endless quarrel with the anarchists, on the grounds that one should not split the forces of a small pro-liberty movement. After all, the argument went, one could wait a few hundred years to debate the issue of whether the government should be merely microscopic, or downright non-existent. All, presumably, could agree on the necessity to diminish its powers. It sounded like a plausible agreement. But it wasn't. For the constitutional republicans it was a very serious error. Already traumatized by the Objectivist debacle, which had severely undercut their self-confidence, they actually had agreed to abandon a series of important areas of political thought-above all they had abandoned the affirmative aspects of their position—the value of nation, the necessity of a national culture, the value of a government, the need to defend the country, and the need for a radical reformer to formulate a political position which integrates his proposals for change with his desires to preserve. An American libertarian who is a constitutional republican and an advocate of nation is, in fact, a reverent revolutionary. When such a libertarian agreed to stop defending the validity and value of this nation, of its unique historical significance, of its founding fathers and its constitution, and of its magnificent meritocratic ideals, he knocked the reverence out of his revolutionary position. And, since it is precisely that reverence which is the prime mover of such a revolutionary, since he is not moved by vindictive malice but by outraged love, the results were inevitable. The constitutional republicans were struck dumb. They became paralyzed, mute, and stupid. The plain fact is that repression addles the brain.

The intellectual damage was particularly striking. By definition, the analytical task of constitutional republicans is arduous. They desperately needed an expanded and diverse intellectual leadership to assist them in evolving a clear theory of the legitimate role of a limited government, and defining policies. And they desperately needed to be able to participate fully in the national discussions that raged—for they care about this nation, and they care about its civilization, its vitality and strength. But neither need was satisfied. In fact, it became taboo to consider such needs. By agreement with the anarchists, no examination of the affirmative aspects of the nation-state or of the unifying abstractions of the nation's pluralistic culture, was allowed. Over the years, in fact, the taboo became so intense, that ugly invective broke out whenever an individual presumed to explore these areas. The invective, of course, came from the anarchists, whose sole position on nation and state is negative—and who had lost nothing whatever by the agreement.

The anarchists, in fact, have flourished in the value vacuum generated by the agreement. They needed no diverse intellectual leadership. One does not need a multiplicity of intellectuals to promulgate the single cure-all for the ills of the State: Destroy it! Nor did they need a wealth of competing analytical theories and proposals for preserving while correcting. They had nothing to preserve. They had Murray Rothbard's absolute to guide them: "The State is a Mass Murderer"—an absolute that so shriveled their discriminatory faculties that they were no longer able to make moral distinctions between the United States of America and totalitarian prison camps. As for a political program, it was guided by that same absolute. By their say-so, the anarchists inhabit a mass-murdering tyranny called Amerika, and their political attitudes are similar to those of the French under Hitler: they see any alliance as acceptable provided the goal is to destroy the State. And that is well and good, as a short-range program—under Hitler. But we do not live under Hitler. However grave our problems, we do not live in a mass-murdering totalitarian tyranny. The anarchist perception of America's reality is not a political analysis, it is a psychological distortion. Dedicated to that nightmare distortion, and to its corollary dream of a Stateless and nationless world, the anarchists have instinctively sought alliance with other haters of the State and nation. Accordingly, they have gravitated to the crudest destroyers in the land. They have slid into an alliance with the Left. And they manage, marvellously to ignore the fact that 1) what the American Left hates above all, and what it wishes above all to destroy is not the State, but capitalism, the very basis of liberty—and that 2) the major target of the Left today, is that cluster of civilized values that are integral to capitalism: reason, science, technology, industry, productivity, private property, profits, individualism, and meritocracy. None of this complex context seems relevant to the anarchists. Hatred is the real bond between them and the Left. Hatred is the ultimate determinant of their positions.

That is the real nature of the deal struck by the constitutional republicans and the anarchists. Reverence has been swapped for malice. The motor of the libertarian movement has been switched.

And here we are, today. And by "we" I mean only two kinds of people—the idealistic constitutional republicans and the libertarian movement, and that substantial number of young trendy anarchists who are playing utopian games. This column was not written to debate with the real anarchists (one cannot debate people's nightmares and dreams)—it was written for the leaderless, rudderless group which, through a series of traumas, misunderstandings, and errors has allowed the libertarian movement to be taken over lock stock and barrel by an anarchist faction. These people are due, very shortly, for a terrible shock. In the course of this coming year, they will discover that the libertarian movement will be represented in the intellectual marketplace by two slickly edited magazines, which will link that movement inexorably with the Left. Libertarian Review, edited by Roy Childs, was the first to appear. On the basis of its first few issues, one can say that it is dependent upon the counterculture for its social themes, and its economic and political content is a schizoid mix of libertarian and leftist analyses. The leftist articles—attacks on big business, US foreign policy and defense—are written from precisely the same perspective of hatred, and with precisely the same pattern of factual selectivity and evaluative stresses, that appear in the socialist Progressive. The purpose of these articles is not to disentangle business from the government in order to increase America's economic power and freedom, or to improve our foreign and defense policies in order to enhance America's strategic power and freedom—it is rather to expose industry as corrupt and to render America militarily impotent. Not coincidentally, LR's chief columnist, Walter Grinder, is actively pushing (as part of his sanctified list of revisionist historians) the works of a Progressive editor, Sidney Lens, who is a particularly virulent enemy of the US defense establishment, industry, and technology; who is a professional anti-anti-communist; and who blames the United States for every evil in the world. Mixed in with such articles are excellent libertarian and anti-socialist analyses. It is a schizophrenic publication reflecting the anarchist incapacity to differentiate between the motives, goals, and value systems of different opponents of the State.

Worse, far worse, is yet to come from Inquiry, edited by Williamson Evers. By the time this column appears, the first few issues will be out. But on the basis of Inquiry's flyers, one can know a great deal. Evers has scraped the bottom of the leftist barrel for some of his future contributors, and you ought to know more about them than he will ever tell you. One is Marcus Raskin, of the Institute for Policy Studies. Raskin is not just any old name in a mixed bag of contributors. He is the head of the foremost leftist "think tank" in the United States. On August 23, 1976, David Kelly published in Barron's (edited by libertarian Robert Bleiberg) an expose of Raskin and his IPS, revealing that he represents everything that is most inimical to an individualist, pro-capitalist libertarian who is concerned with the well-being of the United States. In one IPS essay, Raskin assaulted the very basis of individualism and meritocracy in a typically sleazy New Left fashion: "Cheating should be encouraged in the universities. We must clarify the obvious, that none of us learns alone, thinks and acts and creates without others participating.…Knowledge and learning is [sic] not a privatistic activity." In a further commitment to moral sleaze, Raskin shared the responsibility for Counterspy, which printed the names of US CIA agents, resulting in the murder of a CIA agent in Athens. Raskin's IPS is committed to the "new socialism," and its view of man-as-termite. Specifically, it advocates a stop-growth anti-technology, small-scale communist-tribalist society, heavily Maoist in orientation. He and the IPS are out to destroy US industrial and military strength, and the private property-capitalist system. David Kelly, author of the Barron's expose, told me he had been asked to write for Inquiry, but refused because he would not appear in a magazine that published Raskin.

Raskin is not the only IPS contributor. Another is Karl Hess, long associated with Raskin, who has joined the Termite Left, has repudiated private property and capitalism, and now calls himself a Maoist. Yet another contributor is David M. Szonyi, of Breira, whose Middle Eastern policies play into the hands of those who would destroy Israel, and whose executive committee has ties with the IPS. Yet another contributor is Noam Chomsky, an anti-capitalist and Third Worlder with links to Breira. Yet another is socialist Congressman Ron Dellums. And finally, there is a gaggle of anti-American revisionist historians, CIA and Pentagon haters, anti-anti-communists, and a Village Voice writer who will stand guard over our allegedly continuously imperiled First Amendment—all these mixed in with a few moderate liberals and a couple of free market libertarians. The selection of contributors chosen by Evers as a come-on for subscribers to Inquiry says loud and clear to all political sophisticates: This is a publication with a dominantly New Left policy.

It is also being run like a con game. Anarchist Evers' prospectus for writers tells liberal and leftist contributors that the magazine's philosophy is "Jeffersonian liberal." And his correspondence to libertarians tells them that the magazine is being edited for "open-minded liberals and leftists"—a curious formulation for a magazine largely written by the Left for the Left. Evers does plan to smuggle in a little free-market economics. Accordingly, he warns potential libertarian contributors to handle such "buzzwords as capitalism, the free market, and the price system" carefully, so as not to confuse or antagonize the liberals and leftists. "Buzzwords" indeed! I should add that Evers did not send me this warning; I received a copy of his letter from a distinguished laissez-faire economist, Roger LeRoy Miller, who had been asked to review a book on the "political economy" of a whorehouse. You can bet your boots that Evers will not ask Marcus Raskin of the IPS to discuss the "political economy" of latrine cleaning.

Inquiry, backed by a millionaire patron, is being passed off by the strategic geniuses of the anarchist world as a brilliant piece of tactics. It seems almost gratuitous to point out that its secretive intention of conning the Left into accepting capitalist ideas is a precise psychological replica of Murray Rothbard's aborted scheme of taking over the Cleaver party. A village idiot, of course, could figure out who has taken over whom. Evers has simply given the Left a new and costly forum for its views—a forum it could not obtain in the free market.

These, then, are the new magazines which are going to represent libertarianism to the world of opinion journalism, to the media, and generally, to the intellectual community. Thanks to Inquiry in particular it will be widely known within six months that the libertarian movement has allied itself to the anti-American Left. The anti-Left constitutional republicans did not ask for this. They were not consulted about it. In their tragic passivity, it has simply happened to them. And it alters their relationship appreciably to this movement. So long as their compromise with the anarchists merely meant keeping silent about their loves and loyalties, the price was the private one of stagnation and paralysis. But now, every man jack of them is facing the grotesque public fact of a libertarian-leftist alliance.

What should they do about it? Repudiate that alliance sharply. Specifically they should do five things: 1) Refuse to buy these publications; 2) Refuse to contribute to them; 3) Denounce their policies and demand ceaselessly that they be changed; 4) Send a barrage of letters to the millionaire backer of these publications explaining that they will destroy the libertarian movement; and 5) Reopen the anarchist vs. limited government debate, which never should have been closed.

The fifth is actually the most important since the magazines themselves will ultimately fall of their own weight. The market for a pathologically evasive anarchist-Maoist-anti-American product, above all one that falsely pretends to be "Jeffersonian liberal," is marvelously limited. It is the constitutional republicans—the limited governmentalists—who must immediately tend to their own gardens. They must pull themselves out of their prolonged post-Objectivist torpor. There has been far too long a period of mourning for the god that failed. And they must now proceed to discover what their position actually entails. That of course will take time. But right now, they can certainly know what their position does not entail. By definition, a limited government position does not entail destroying the nation-state. And it does not entail supporting those who seek that destruction.

Contributing editor Edith Efron writes a regular column for TV Guide and is the author of several books. Her viewpoint appears in this column every third month, alternating with those of Alan Reynolds and Tibor Machan.