Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Are libertarians authoritarians?

Good grief, no. The question doesn't even make sense, does it? Well, Michael Lind seems to think it does. His Salon essay explains why.

Frankly I was actually hoping for something coherent from him, because I am speaking on classical liberalism and libertarianism next week, and could use a thoughtful foil. But Lind is so far off base I hardly know where to begin. Well, as part of the extended "Defending Liberty" month, I'll at least hit a few highlights.

First, regarding disregard for democracy...Lind is apparently unaware of a reasonably substantial literature on the threat of illiberal democracy, one not written by libertarians, but by liberals & progressives, including Fareed Zakaria and Walter Russell Mead. And it's a good literature, too. There's nothing particularly sacred about democracy per se. Democracy itself is only a tool for selecting and managing governments, not a set of principles for determining gov't policy -- which is really what libertarianism is about. One certainly can have a democracy that is dangerously authoritarian -- just ask Hugo Chavez.

Second, Mises' alleged support for fascism is taken out of context. Mises argued, in one very short section of his book Liberalism, that it appeared fascism would be a useful temporary stopgap for preventing the spread of Marxism, but that it was entirely unsuitable, unsustainable, and ultimately destructive, and needed to be replaced by liberalism. In the same book he warned that Europe was likely to repeat WWI if this didn't happened. Mises also wrote this after just having managed to prevent Austria from going Bolshevik -- he prevailed on minister Otto Bauer, a Marxist, to not to institute a Marxist regime; keep in mind Mises was aware that Bolsheviks were conducting mass executions in Russia and Hungary (Bela Kun regime). And this was before the rise of the Nazis. Yes, in that context, Mises' statement, which is an aside in a book on Liberalism, makes sense. And was Mises anti-democratic? Good grief, one of his main proposals in Liberalism was to conduct popular votes to determine national borders, to allow people to choose what country they'd be part of. Democratic voting was his preferred solution to the problem of how to divide up the Austro-Hungarian Empire, determine borders peacefully, and organize governments. Lind is entirely ignorant of all this, and his charge against Mises is crackpotty and dishonest. He paid no attention to what Mises actually said.

Third, Hayek and Friedman were explicitly in favor of the free market policies that Pinochet pursued; these policies came some time after his coup. They did not endorse or support political repression. Frankly, I agree, the policies were good, and they reversed Chile's economic decline and were very successful. I know several Chilean economists -- not libertarians -- who are entirely in agreement with this as well. This doesn't make us apologists for Pinochet's brutality and authoritarianism. Lind makes no sense here -- can't he understand the difference between thinking a regime gets economics right and entirely endorsing the regime? Most economists think China has pursued extremely successful economic policies, since it went from being one of the worst economic disasters in history to the greatest single growth miracle in less than one generation, from policies that led millions to starve to death to the highest growth rates in the world. But applauding China's economic policy hardly constitutes endorsement of Chinese authoritarianism. Everyone I know thinks China got it largely right on economics but condemns its authoritarianism. Lind is again being extremely dishonest here.

Fourth, re Hans Herman Hoppe and "Democracy, the God that Failed," support for the Confederacy, discounting the evil of slavery, etc. -- well, ugh. The Ledwig von Rockwell Institute again snatches defeat from the jaws of victory. If we look at these crackpots, what is there to say in response to Lind, except, "OK, I get your point...ugh!"

Let's face it, this wing of libertarianism is authoritarian, in its own bizarre way. Hans Herman Hoppe is basically a madman, as are most of the bigwigs at the inaptly-named Ludwig von Mises Institute. They are a bizarre subculture of libertarianism -- they are (allegedly) Rothbardian anarchists, for the most part, although their anarchism often evaporates and one finds them endorsing all sorts of illiberal states. I think some, e.g. Walter Block, really are anarchists. Those who aren't anarchists tend to be even crazier -- e.g. neo-confederates (founder Lew Rockwell) or monarchists with sympathies for Nazism (Hoppe). I've met and argued extensively with many of them, including Hoppe. I can hardly say how crazy they are. They campaign incessantly against all other libertarians, for whom they express deep hatred -- e.g. against the likes of Gary Johnson, Prof. Jeffrey Miron of Harvard, the Cato Institute, Mercatus Institute, IHS, Tom Palmer, the Koch Brothers, me (well, not *incessantly* against me, but I'm proud to have been occasionally denounced).

So, if you want to find "libertarians" who apologize for slavery, claim Lincoln was worse than Hitler, fraternize with neo-nazis, denounce Ukraine's Orange Revolution, speak favorably of Putin and Lukashenko, are 9-11 Truthers, believe the Illuminati and Freemasons and Jewish bankers are behind the New World Order conspiracy, think that the killing of Osama bin Ladin was first degree murder, oppose Medcins sans Frontieres, and, and, and... well, they are certainly well-represented at the Lew Rockwell Institute.

Yes, there are insane "libertarians." But this is basically a problem of insane people, not one of libertarian ideas themselves -- ideas these mad kooks don't promote even halfway consistently. Almost every libertarian I know agrees the Mises Institute people are wrong-headed and destructive. Libertarianism itself is a systematic defense of individual liberty, an extremely valuable and honorable set of ideas.

I was hoping Lind would understand this. But he doesn't.

wow, thank you for this inspiring piece, Charles! NV
Thanks, Nat!
You're just sad because Hans Hoppe is a real libertarian and you're a statist cocksucker.
Thanks for your comment, V.F. The more evidence that Rockwellians are completely crazy, the better.
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