No really, what is right-libertarianism?

A frustrating thing about left-libertarians is that they have the same affection for “direct action” as your average Tyranny Response Teamster, but generally not working within political parties, finding things like the tea party distasteful and/or vaguely bigoted. As opposed to, say, shooting back at the police in Ferguson, as someone suggested on Facebook the other day, which is presumably part of the groovy anarcho-revolutionary struggle.

I mention this in the context of the latest exercise in semantic trench warfare (one of many) over at the SFL blog. It seems to me there is a significant contradiction between approvingly quoting the line, “our aim is not to overthrow the state, but to ignore it” and “radical labor activism” and copwatching. At the very least, adopting the left-wing label and tactics evinces a certain solidarity with politics that have never not been about power.

On a conceptual level, if you think you’re going to convince your fellow members of the black bloc to adopt agorism after they seize it, you’re gonna have a bad time. In reality, your comrades are far more likely to get recruited into the Democratic Party, which remains friendly to revolutionary socialism. Leaving the left-libertarian with … what, exactly?

Mr. Gourdie could have saved himself the four paragraphs by just pointing this out, because it shows their lack of seriousness vis-a-vis actually seizing power (not the virtues of right-libertarianism’s “big-tent approach” — you’ll never out-welcome the left), and appended an excerpt of Murray Rothbard’s “Break the Clock” speech:

[T]he Hayekian trickle-down model overlooks a crucial point: that, and I hate to break this to you, intellectuals, academics, and the media are not all motivated by truth alone. As we have seen, the intellectual classes may be part of the solution, but also they are a big part of the problem. For, as we have seen, the intellectuals are part of the ruling class, and their economic interests, as well as their interests in prestige, power and admiration, are wrapped up in the present welfare/warfare-state system.

Therefore, in addition to converting intellectuals to the cause, the proper course for the right-wing opposition must necessarily be a strategy of boldness and confrontation, of dynamism and excitement, a strategy, in short, of rousing the masses from their slumber and exposing the arrogant elites that are ruling them, controlling them, taxing them, and ripping them off.

Another alternative right-wing strategy is that commonly pursued by many libertarian or conservative think tanks: that of quiet persuasion, not in the groves of academe, but in Washington, D.C., in the corridors of power. This has been called the “Fabian” strategy, with think tanks issuing reports calling for a two percent cut in a tax here, or a tiny drop in a regulation there. The supporters of this strategy often point to the success of the Fabian Society, which, by its detailed empirical researches, gently pushed the British state into a gradual accretion of socialist power.

The flaw here, however, is that what works to increase state power does not work in reverse. For the Fabians were gently nudging the ruling elite precisely in the direction they wanted to travel anyway. Nudging the other way would go strongly against the state’s grain, and the result is far more likely to be the state’s co-opting and Fabianizing the think tankers themselves rather than the other way around. This sort of strategy may, of course, be personally very pleasant for the think tankers, and may be profitable in cushy jobs and contracts from the government. But that is precisely the problem.

It is important to realize that the establishment doesn’t want excitement in politics, it wants the masses to continue to be lulled to sleep. It wants kinder, gentler; it wants the measured, judicious, mushy tone, and content, of a James Reston, a David Broder, or a Washington Week in Review. It doesn’t want a Pat Buchanan, not only for the excitement and hard edge of his content, but also for his similar tone and style.

And so the proper strategy for the right wing must be what we can call “right-wing populism”: exciting, dynamic, tough, and confrontational, rousing and inspiring not only the exploited masses, but the often-shell-shocked right-wing intellectual cadre as well. And in this era where the intellectual and media elites are all establishment liberal-conservatives, all in a deep sense one variety or another of social democrat, all bitterly hostile to a genuine Right, we need a dynamic, charismatic leader who has the ability to short-circuit the media elites, and to reach and rouse the masses directly. We need a leadership that can reach the masses and cut through the crippling and distorting hermeneutical fog spread by the media elites.

But can we call such a strategy “conservative”? I, for one, am tired of the liberal strategy, on which they have rung the changes for forty years, of presuming to define “conservatism” as a supposed aid to the conservative movement. Whenever liberals have encountered hard-edged abolitionists who, for example, have wanted to repeal the New Deal or Fair Deal, they say “But that’s not genuine conservatism. That’s radicalism.” The genuine conservative, these liberals go on to say, doesn’t want to repeal or abolish anything. He is a kind and gentle soul who wants to conserve what left-liberals have accomplished.

The left-liberal vision, then, of good conservatives is as follows: first, left-liberals, in power, make a Great Leap Forward toward collectivism; then, when, in the course of the political cycle, four or eight years later, conservatives come to power, they of course are horrified at the very idea of repealing anything; they simply slow down the rate of growth of statism, consolidating the previous gains of the Left, and providing a bit of R&R for the next liberal Great Leap Forward. And if you think about it, you will see that this is precisely what every Republican administration has done since the New Deal. Conservatives have readily played the desired Santa Claus role in the liberal vision of history.

I would like to ask: How long are we going to keep being suckers? How long will we keep playing our appointed roles in the scenario of the Left? When are we going to stop playing their game, and start throwing over the table? …

The unique and the glorious thing about McCarthy was not his goals or his ideology, but precisely his radical, populist means. For McCarthy was able, for a few years, to short-circuit the intense opposition of all the elites in American life: from the Eisenhower-Rockefeller administration to the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex to liberal and left media and academic elites — to overcome all that opposition and reach and inspire the masses directly. And he did it through television, and without any real movement behind him; he had only a guerrilla band of a few advisers, but no organization and no infrastructure.

Fascinatingly enough, the response of the intellectual elites to the specter of McCarthyism was led by liberals such as Daniel Bell and Seymour Martin Lipset, who are now prominent neoconservatives. For, in this era, the neocons were in the midst of the long march which was to take them from Trotskyism to right-wing Trotskyism to right-wing social democracy, and finally to the leadership of the conservative movement. At this stage of their hegira the neocons were Truman-Humphrey-Scoop Jackson liberals. …

When I was growing up, I found that the main argument against laissez-faire, and for socialism, was that socialism and communism were inevitable: “You can’t turn back the clock!” they chanted, “you can’t turn back the clock.” But the clock of the once-mighty Soviet Union, the clock of Marxism-Leninism, a creed that once mastered half the world, is not only turned back but lies dead and broken forever. But we must not rest content with this victory. For though Marxism-Bolshevism is gone forever, there still remains, plaguing us everywhere, its evil cousin: call it “soft Marxism,” “Marxism-Humanism,” “Marxism-Bernsteinism,” “Marxism-Trotskyism,” “Marxism-Freudianism,” well, let’s just call it “Menshevism,” or “social democracy.”

Social democracy is still here in all its variants, defining our entire respectable political spectrum, from advanced victimology and feminism on the Left over to neoconservatism on the Right. We are now trapped, in America, inside a Menshevik fantasy, with the narrow bounds of respectable debate set for us by various brands of Marxists. It is now our task, the task of the resurgent right, of the paleo movement, to break those bonds, to finish the job, to finish off Marxism forever.

One of the authors of the Daniel Bell volume says, in horror and astonishment, that the radical right intends to repeal the 20th century. Heaven forfend! Who would want to repeal the 20th century, the century of horror, the century of collectivism, the century of mass destruction and genocide, who would want to repeal that! Well, we propose to do just that.

With the inspiration of the death of the Soviet Union before us, we now know that it can be done. We shall break the clock of social democracy. We shall break the clock of the Great Society. We shall break the clock of the welfare state. We shall break the clock of the New Deal. We shall break the clock of Woodrow Wilson’s New Freedom and perpetual war. We shall repeal the 20th century.

One of the most inspiring and wonderful sights of our time was to see the peoples of the Soviet Union rising up last year to tear down in their fury the statues of Lenin, to obliterate the Leninist legacy. We, too, shall tear down all the statues of Franklin D. Roosevelt, of Harry Truman, of Woodrow Wilson, melt them down and beat them into plowshares and pruning hooks, and usher in a 21st century of peace, freedom, and prosperity.


  1. I agree with what was quoted, but there is disjunction between it and what I think you are saying. Are you saying that left-libertarians don’t genuinely have a libertarian allegiance? Or at least the left necessarily precedes the libertarian? I don’t buy that. Left-libertarianism is just the result of successfully co-opting left wing values and assumptions, the ones that happen to permeate the powerful institutions in our world. The stupid slogans and dreams of inevitability come with this. Does that mean they just style themselves as temporarily confounded tyrants? Not any more than right-libertarians thinking, in a dark corner of their mind, “One day I will own the boot that’s own my face”


Sound off

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s