Politics

"Libertarians are the New Communists." And Anti-Libertarians Are Out of Ideas.

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I've argued elsewhere that signs of the emerging "libertarian era" are everywhere around us, both in the voluminous and ever-growing positive press adherents of "Free Minds and Free Markets" and the increasingly shrill and misinformed attacks are drawing.

The latest example of the latter is on glorious, semi-literate display in the amazingly awful "Libertarians Are the New Communists," by Nick Hanauer and Eric Liu and posted at Bloomberg View.

It is less a fully formed op-ed and more the rough draft of a freshman composition scratched out after a long night out on the tiles.

The co-authors, who also penned a 2011 book called The Gardens of Democracy, assail a Dick Tracy-level Rogues Gallery of "nihilist, anti-state libertarians" including the Koch Brothers (natch), Sen. Ted Cruz (?), Grover Norquist, and Ron and Rand Paul. Ayn Rand's also part of the problem, of course.

Radical libertarianism assumes that humans are wired only to be selfish, when in fact cooperation is the height of human evolution. It assumes that societies are efficient mechanisms requiring no rules or enforcers, when, in fact, they are fragile ecosystems prone to collapse and easily overwhelmed by free-riders. And it is fanatically rigid in its insistence on a single solution to every problem: Roll back the state!

Curiously, you'd expect Hanauer and Liu to provide at least one quote – even taken out of context – in which any of the people they vilify call for actual anarchy or the total absence of government. Instead you get treated to such remedial-writing gems as

The public record of extreme statements by the likes of Cruz, Norquist and the Pauls speaks for itself. 

Back in the days when I taught college composition, that's exactly the sort of line I'd circle with a note asking, "Examples?" But it's not suprising that the authors wouldn't bother quoting any of their targets, since none of them (to my knowledge anyway) espouse what is more commonly called anarchy. Indeed, it's a curious but little-appreciated fact that in the federal budget plan Rand Paul submitted for consideration earlier this year, he proposed spending about $38 trillion over the next 10 years (see page 96). What a odd thing for a nihilistic anarchist who yearns for an America that's more like Somalia – where "libertarianism finds its fullest actual expression" – to propose.

In their hurry to create an ideological pinata to bat around, Hanauer and Liu pause to acknowledge that "social libertarians" – folks who "support same-sex marriage or decry government surveillance" – aren't the problem. After all,

Reasonable people debate how best to regulate or how government can most effectively do its work – not whether to regulate at all or whether government should even exist….

It is one thing to oppose intrusive government surveillance or the overreach of federal programs. It is another to call for the evisceration of government itself.

Hmm, debating how government can most effectively do its work? Opposing intrusive government surveillance or the overreach of federal programs? That sounds like a pretty good definition of exactly what the Koch Brothers and the others mentioned above are doing.

Yes they want to "roll back the state" – Rand Paul's budget would lower federal spending as a percentage of GDP to around 16 percent over the next decade – but they seem to be pretty OK with its continued existence.

And I suspect that they would also agree that "cooperation" is central to human flourishing (what are markets if not crucibles of voluntary exchange?). I don't agree with every utterance by the Kochs (one of whom, David, sits on the board of trustees of Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website), the Pauls, Ted Cruz, or Ayn Rand. But to miscast them so flagrantly – and in absentia – is not unfair, it's unpersuasive in the extreme.

Hanauer and Liu's mode of argument consists of repeating negative statements ("Radical libertarians would be great at destroying," they are "fanatically rigid," they are "economic royalists" who are "mirror images" of communists, etc.) and writing opponents out of serious discussion (libertarians are not "reasonable people," so there is no reason to actually represent their viewpoint even while attacking it).

If this sort of ultra-crude and unconvincing style of argument (communists=bad; libertarians=bad; thereore, communists=libertarians) is the best that opponents of libertarian influence and policy can do, our future is indeed bright.