Libertarianism Survives Its Own Death; Pundits Perplexed


Freeman editor Sheldon Richman isn't a Tea Party man—he thinks the movement is a mixed bag—but he's tired of at least one line of attack against the TPers:

"Don't know what I want, but I know how to get it: I want to destroy passers-by. Because I want to be anarchy."

You don't have to read too much of this criticism to see that the powers that be and their fawning admirers in the media and intelligentsia dislike one thing in particular: the movement's apparent anti-authoritarianism….They seem really worried that this thing could get out of control. Any legitimate criticism they may make of the Tea Party movement is undermined by their abhorrence with anti-authoritarianism per se. They are anti-anti-authoritarian.

"What's new and most distinctive about the Tea Party is its streak of anarchism—its antagonism toward any authority, its belligerent style of self-expression, and its lack of any coherent program or alternative to the policies it condemns," Jacob Weisberg writes in Slate. Note what's first on Weisberg's list.

"In this sense, you might think of the Tea Party as the Right's version of the 1960s New Left. It's an unorganized and unorganizable community of people coming together to assert their individualism and subvert the established order."…

The "most extreme" faction in Weisberg's eyes "would limit the federal government to the exercise of enumerated powers." (So much for anarchism.) For him, limiting government power to a finite set of explicit responsibilities would be an intolerable setback.

I wasn't going to comment on Weisberg's silly article. Half its arguments are creaky accusations of "status anxiety," an idea that serious historians and social scientists largely left behind long ago, and the rest is recycled from a New York Review of Books essay by Mark Lilla, which I've already written about. But it's probably worth noting that just two years ago Weisberg was declaring "The End of Libertarianism." Ho ho.

Meanwhile, Richman has a nicely concise response to Lilla's argument that homeschoolers and other DIYers are "petulant individuals convinced that they can do everything themselves if they are only left alone":

Lilla implies that these are atomistic individualists. But they're not. They're what I call "molecular," or communitarian, individualists—that is, individuals cooperating with others to achieve what the politicians promise but can't deliver.

There's nothing anti-social about that—quite the opposite. But self-organization tends to perplex people who think order must be imposed from above.