Culture, Decentralization, and the Libertarian Movement

In a recent article discussing the differences and nuances between two schools of “libertarian” (broadly conceived) thought, I pointed out that the camp to which I don’t belong (which includes Reason, Cato, SFL, and the Libertarian Party –and other “beltway libertarian” groups) was far less focused on principle and more on “keeping government competent,” which I complained was ambiguous and purposefully imprecise. I also mentioned in passing that there were some interesting, perhaps not so coincidental, cultural distinctions between the beltway libertarians and the Rothbardians.

The former seem obsessed with proving themselves as enthusiasts of cultural liberalism, political correctness, and social leftism. They go out of the way to announce just how progressive they are on homosexuality, drug use, sexual proclivity, racism, slavery, and so on. The usual leftist talking points.

Those Rothbardians closely associated with the Mises Institute, however, express concerns about the degradation of western culture, about the loss of the influence of religion on society (not to be confused with the cozy relationship of religious groups with the state– which has summarily and in retrospect been both bad on the statism front, as well as on the religious front), and also about the frightening rise of political correctness. In short, the Mises libertarians, as were Mises and Rothbard, are far more culturally conservative. As Hans Hoppe once noted of this strain of libertarian thought:

Rothbard’s own life-long cultural conservatism notwithstanding, however, from its beginnings in the late 1960s and the founding of a libertarian party in 1971, the libertarian movement had great appeal to many of the counter-cultural Left that had then grown up in the United States in opposition to the war in Vietnam. Did not the illegitimacy of the state and the non-aggression axiom imply that everyone was at liberty to choose his very own non-aggressive lifestyle, no matter what it was?

Much of Rothbard’s later writings, with their increased emphasis on cultural matters, were designed to correct this development and to explain the error in the idea of a leftist multi-counter-cultural libertarianism, of libertarianism as a variant of libertinism. It was false — empirically as well as normatively — that libertarianism could or should be combined with egalitarian multiculturalism. Both were in fact sociologically incompatible, and libertarianism could and should be combined exclusively with traditional Western bourgeois culture; that is, the old-fashioned ideal of a family-based and hierarchically structured society of voluntarily acknowledged rank orders of social authority.

Empirically, Rothbard did not tire to explain, the left-libertarians failed to recognize that the restoration of private-property rights and laissez-faire economics implied a sharp and drastic increase in social “discrimination.” Private property means the right to exclude. The modern social-democratic welfare state has increasingly stripped private-property owners of their right to exclude.

In distinct contrast, a libertarian society where the right to exclude was fully restored to owners of private property would be profoundly unegalitarian. To be sure, private property also implies the owner’s right to include and to open and facilitate access to one’s property, and every private-property owner also faces an economic incentive of including (rather than excluding) so long as he expects this to increase the value of his property.

From Hans Hoppe’s Introduction to Rothbard’s Ethics of Liberty

On a closely related front, and the inspiration for this short blogpost, one of the things you’ll notice of many of the beltway libertarians is their clear refusal to embrace secessionism and decentralization. They want freedom mandated and overseen from the Great Throne in DC. They are hesitant about states-rights, and only use it sometimes as a helpful tool. They’d prefer, however, for the Federal government to enforce freedom from Washington and overstep the decisions of more local governments. Of course, the libertarian rejects a good majority of the decisions of state and county level governments; but for the decentralist libertarian, it is safer that a government over a smaller jurisdiction make mistakes than set in habit the intervention from the Capitol.

This phenomenon of decentralist vs centralist “libertarian” (again, broadly conceived) can be seen in the tension between decentralists like Tom Woods and his nullification efforts vs. the establishment libertarians who, in all-out leftist form, immediately cry racism! slavery! whenever Woods and company spread the nullification message.

Many of these nationalistic libertarians (I use this phrase carefully– I’m not referring to them as nationalists in the fascistic sense of the word, just that they prefer to focus on the policies of the national government, rather than nullification local government-led change) such as Austin Petersen and his appropriately named (this always bugged me) Libertarian Republic website (AKA “The Clickbait Republic”), prefer the 14th amendment over the 10th amendment. This is a curious phenomenon that I’ve observed, and will hopefully have more reflections on in the future.

At any rate, I call them the “incorporationist libertarians” as they toe the Incorporation Doctrine argument (built on the 14th amendment) that the Bill of Rights is not strictly about keeping the Federal Government out of the liberties of the people, but rather, that the Bill of Rights should sometimes be enforced by the Federal Government against State governments.  One incorporation libertarian, interestingly, is Judge Andrew Napolitano. This is a very fascinating debate, and I will not undertake it here. But I will express my opinion and observation; namely, that the incorporation libertarians tend to be the same as the beltway libertarians, many of whom stand opposed to secessionism and nullification as the chief means toward liberty and keeping the Federal Government out. For the decentralist libertarians, following theorists like Hans Hoppe and his secessionist method of political change, keeping the bigger government out of local affairs is far more important than trusting them to solve local problems, even where the local government is clearly wrong.

One of the groups I forgot to mention in my previous article was the Koch-funded George Mason University economists, who are closely linked to the Cato/Reason type libertarians. I noticed in a Bloomberg piece recently that GMU’s Tyler Cowen, who tries to pawn himself off as Austrian economics-friendly (but really isn’t even close) opposes the separation of Britain from the umbrella of the European Union. Conversely, see some of the Mises Institute’s opinions here, here, here, and here. Interesting indeed. This seems to support my opinion that the beltway libertarians prefer large political unions over secession, localism, and so on.

The point of all this is not to prove that the decentralists are more right than the centralists, though I certainly think they are. The point is merely to share some more of my observations about the culture, methods, and frameworks employed by two camps of libertarians (The Mises Institute circles and the Koch Brothers circles).


The Hoppean Stamp of Approval

Hans Hoppe is out with a new miniature essay, titled “On Getting Libertarian Right.” Libertarianism as a movement, he says, has been corrupted by the same disease plaguing Western Civilization in general: cultural leftism. There are those, the popular branches, operating under the phrase libertarian but who misconstrue our beloved doctrine into an egalitarian mess.

Libertarianism, a political theory, is strictly related to the question of the proper use of coercion in society. However, there are those who want to blur the lines of its boundaries and extend its meaning into an acceptance and appreciation for all sorts of culturally leftist trends and habits. This is mistake number one.

After we correct mistake number one, by distinguishing between libertarianism as a political theory and libertarian strategy (how to achieve our goals), we must move on to a proper– and “realistic” path forward. Here, Hoppe challenges the idea that a libertarian order can be accomplished only if we embrace the present social movement against traditional western values. Moreover, in radical dissent from the social status quo, advocates secession, nullification, decentralization, and a grand opposition to global government in our time.

He writes:

In light of these observations, it should become rather obvious why the left-libertarian program does not and cannot achieve the supposedly libertarian end of a State-less social order, but, to the contrary, will lead to a further expansion of monopolistic State powers.

“Free” mass immigration from the non-Western world, “multiculturalism,” “affirmative action,” “non-discrimination,” the propagation of “openness” to “diversity” and “alternative life-styles,” to “feminism” and “gay- and gender-ism,” and of “anti-authoritarianism,” – they all are and must be seen as means to further diminish whatever little discretionary, discriminatory and exclusionary powers still remain in Western societies in the hands of non-monopolistic social authorities and hierarchies of social authority, and to correspondingly expand and increase the powers centralized, concentrated and monopolized in the hands of the State.

He finishes his essay with a handful of Hoppe-endorsed sites, promoting libertarianism as it ought to be (bold added):

For more than two decades, following in Rothbard’s footsteps, I have tried to get libertarianism right again – most prominently with my Democracy – The God That Failed (2001) – in complementing libertarian theory with social realism (history, psychology and sociology), and to rescue libertarianism from left-libertarian flakes and fakes and repair the public misperception that they are and represent what libertarianism is all about. The reaction to these endeavors – in particular Rothbard’s and mine – from the side of left-libertarians has been furious. This notwithstanding, however, they were instrumental in that today, among self-described libertarians, left-libertarianism is in retreat, while the influence of realistic-right libertarianism has steadily grown.

Throughout the entire period, the Ludwig von Mises Institute – mises.org – and Lew Rockwell – lewrockwell.com – have stood out as bulwarks against the infiltration of libertarianism by leftist thought. As well, Ilana Mercer has been an early critic of left-libertarianism with her paleo-libertarian blog – barelyablog.com. More recently, outlets for explicitly and decidedly anti-leftist libertarian thought have proliferated. There is “Bionic Mosquito” with his blog –bionicmosquito.blogspot.com. There is Sean Gabb’s and now Keir Martland’s British Ludwig von Mises Centre – mises.uk.org. There is [C.]Jay Engel’s blog – austrolibertarian.com. There is Matthew Reece’s site – zerothposition.com – and Chase Rachels’ radicalcapitalist.org. There is Robert Taylor’s excellent and highly important book Reactionary Liberty: The Libertarian Counter-Revolution (2016). And there is Stefan Molyneux with his show on freedomainradio.com and Tom Woods with his show on tomwoods.com.

I am honored and flattered that a hero of mine, the preeminent Rothbardian of our time and an Austro-Libertarian par excellence, has noticed and endorsed our site. What a motivation for increased output!


Crime is in Terms of the Individual

Crimes are those actions which have as their victims actual individual human beings. There is no abstract “crime against society” as the Progressives want you to think; nor is there a “crime against the state” as fascists want you to think. Rather, a crime is something which actually aggresses the person or property of one’s neighbor.

In this way, actual justice has to do with crimes and there is no such thing as “social justice,” much to the disdain of the socialist or liberal Christian. Any crime which aggresses hundreds of people is a “crime against many individuals,” not a “social crime.” Society has no rights, for society is not a thing in itself. We must speak in terms of the individual, lest collectivism creep in unannounced.


Anti-German Propaganda and the Roots of Western Messianism

The title of this post certainly promises more than the post delivers. But after my previous excerpt on the matter of Churchill, I was motivated to follow it up with a few miscellaneous thoughts I’ve had as of recent.

First, Hoppe mentioned in his celebration of Murray Rothbard earlier this year, that the two of them were Germanophiles– lovers of the culture, music, mannerisms, and contributions of the German people. While many likely dismissed this as just an irrelevant memory of Hoppe’s, it quite intrigued me. In the post-Hitler west, we live in the context of the fruits of anti-German sentiments. The entire push for WWII, both in the US and British world, was partly built on an anti-German narrative. Hence Albert Jay Nock’s opposition to America’s involvement being titled Myth of a Guilty Nation.

Germany was seen as the cause of strife and conflict. Germany was blamed for WWI, the German people were considered backward and unenlightened, unappreciative of the glories of a Progressive view of the world. This was Progressive propaganda in its infancy. Today, we are told all sorts of terrible things about the south, conservatives, individualists, and social traditionalists. Anyone who dissents from Anglo-American variety therapeutic statism is labelled a bigot, and et cetera.

So it was the same during the early twentieth century, with the Germans as the great enemy of Progress. Hitler, of course, was the result of humiliating an entire people group. People like to compare the so-called and over-hyped “alt-right” as a return to Hitlerism. If this is true, which I think is quite apocalyptic, perhaps we might consider what happens when you throw stones at beehives. Hitlerism was not a random situation; he was an effect (a terrible effect), from a cause.

In any case, socialism in the Anglo-sphere came about due to Fabianism. Fabianism was socialism for the west— it appealed to the wealthy elite, the progressive and leftist culture of media, of the University. It pompously looked down on unEnlightened, non-diverse, and homogenous cultures of places like Germany. The allied victory was an achievement for Fabian Progressivism, both economically and culturally (it shouldn’t need to be said that I’m therefore somehow a supporter of the Central Powers). Our own socialization trend, today, is of the Fabian style.

The anti-German sentiment, of course, never went away upon the victory of the Anglo-Americans. As I described (quoting Philip Bagus) recently, Germanophobia was shamelessly leveraged at the dawn of the Euro as a new currency:

German politicians tried to convince their constituency with an absurd argument: They claimed that the Euro was necessary for maintaining peace in Europe. Former president Richard von Weizsäcker wrote that a political union implied an established monetary union, and that it would be necessary to maintain peace, seeing as Germany’s central position in Europe had led to two World Wars. Social democrat Günther Verheugen, in an outburst of arrogance and paternalism typical of the political class, claimed in a speech before the German parliament: “A strong, united Germany can easily—as history teaches—become a danger for itself and others.” Both men had forgotten that after the unification, Germany was not as big as it had been before World War II. Moreover, they did not acknowledge that the situation was quite different in other ways. Militarily, Germany was vastly inferior to France and Great Britain, and was still occupied by foreign troops. And after the war the allies had reeducated the Germans in the direction of socialism, progressivism and pacifism—to ward off any military opposition.

The implicit blaming of Germany for World War II and making gains as a result was a tactic that the political class had often used. Now the implicit argument was that because of World War II and because of Auschwitz in particular, Germany had to give up the Deutschmark as a step toward political union. Here were paternalism and a culture of guilt at their best.

Thus, if you prefer localism over globalism, aren’t head over heels on Progressive cultural ideals, and desire a military that defends the homeland over one that travels the world looking to “help,” you are guilty of various forms of bigotry— just as such guilt was thrown under the feet of Germans for so long.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m by no means an Anglo-phobe. I happen to appreciate, in several ways, British history and influence (minus any examples of statism). Of course, a good Hoppean, I prefer the monarchy and the tradition of private government over the necessarily statist and socialized Parliament which, being a democratic form of government, is always bound to make the State more influential in the world. One might even argue that without the rise of democratic government, the monarchical ties between Britain and Germany would not have been severely damaged and the two nations might have remained at peace during the worst era of statism the world has ever known.

It’s interesting how decivilization follows democratization. Just as Hoppe said it would.


Churchill as Man of the State

There’s been a lot of Churchill lately. I’ve been watching The Crown on Netflix and of course post-WWII Churchill is a key character. There’s also the new film Darkest Hour, which is about the heroism of early Churchill, during the Hitler years. In preparation for going to see the latter movie, I’ve opened the great Pat Buchanan book to refresh my mind of the context. And I just read the late Ralph Raico’s dissident take on the man, who he described as follows:

When, in a very few years, the pundits start to pontificate on the great question: “Who was the Man of the Century?” there is little doubt that they will reach virtually instant consensus. Inevitably, the answer will be: Winston Churchill. Indeed, Professor Harry Jaffa has already informed us that Churchill was not only the Man of the Twentieth Century, but the Man of Many Centuries.

In a way, Churchill as Man of the Century will be appropriate. This has been the century of the State — of the rise and hypertrophic growth of the welfare-warfare state — and Churchill was from first to last a Man of the State, of the welfare state and of the warfare state. War, of course, was his lifelong passion; and, as an admiring historian has written: “Among his other claims to fame, Winston Churchill ranks as one of the founders of the welfare state.” Thus, while Churchill never had a principle he did not in the end betray, this does not mean that there was no slant to his actions, no systematic bias. There was, and that bias was towards lowering the barriers to state power.


Yet, in truth, Churchill never cared a great deal about domestic affairs, even welfarism, except as a means of attaining and keeping office. What he loved was power, and the opportunities power provided to live a life of drama and struggle and endless war.

There is a way of looking at Winston Churchill that is very tempting: that he was a deeply flawed creature, who was summoned at a critical moment to do battle with a uniquely appalling evil, and whose very flaws contributed to a glorious victory — in a way, like Merlin, in C.S. Lewis’s great Christian novel, That Hideous Strength.169 Such a judgment would, I believe, be superficial. A candid examination of his career, I suggest, yields a different conclusion: that, when all is said and done, Winston Churchill was a Man of Blood and a politico without principle, whose apotheosis serves to corrupt every standard of honesty and morality in politics and history.


Hoppe on Milton Friedman and the Drift Toward Statism

From Natural Elites, Intellectuals, and the State:

This seemingly unstoppable drift toward statism is illustrated by the fate of the so-called Chicago School: Milton Friedman, his predecessors, and his followers. In the 1930s and 1940s, the Chicago School was still considered left-fringe, and justly so, considering that Friedman, for instance, advocated a central bank and paper money instead of a gold standard. He wholeheartedly endorsed the principle of the welfare state with his proposal of a guaranteed minimum income (negative income tax) on which he could not set a limit. He advocated a progressive income tax to achieve his explicitly egalitarian goals (and he personally helped implement the withholding tax). Friedman endorsed the idea that the State could impose taxes to fund the production of all goods that had a positive neighborhood effect or which he thought would have such an effect. This implies, of course, that there is almost nothing that the state can not tax-fund!

In addition, Friedman and his followers were proponents of the shallowest of all shallow philosophies: ethical and epistemological relativism. There is no such thing as ultimate moral truths and all of our factual, empirical knowledge is at best only hypothetically true. Yet they never doubted that there must be a state, and that the state must be democratic.

Today, half a century later, the Chicago-Friedman school, without having essentially changed any of its positions, is regarded as right-wing and free-market. Indeed, the school defines the borderline of respectable opinion on the political Right, which only extremists cross. Such is the magnitude of the change in public opinion that public employees have brought about.


Quote from Guido Hulsmann’s Mises Biography

Guido Hulsmann’s massive biography of Ludwig von Mises, entitled “Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism” is a real gem. Liberalism in the title, of course, refers to the Old Liberalism, or classical liberalism, (pre-American Progressivist/socialist “liberalism.”) which taught the freedom of the individual against statism and political power– and more importantly at a historical level, developed the economic case for free trade and the market system.

The following was pulled from the very beginning of the Preface.  I enjoyed it because it succinctly captures the difficult political context in which Mises developed his socio-economic thought.  The end of the quote makes mention of Mises’ audacious stance on epistemology, which was quite unacceptable during his time with the rise of logical positivism.  And today too, embracing logic to the extent Mises had done is considered “old fashioned” and un-“scientific.”41v+FKNfYyL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_

In the summer of 1940, with Hitler’s troops moving through France to encircle Switzerland, Ludwig von Mises sat beside his wife Margit on a bus filled with Jews fleeing Europe. To avoid capture, the bus driver took back roads through the French country- side, stopping to ask locals if the Germans had been spotted ahead—reversing and finding alternative routes if they had been.

Mises was two months shy of his fifty-ninth birthday. He was on the invaders’ list of wanted men. Two years earlier, they had ransacked his Vienna apartment, confiscating his records, and freezing his assets. Mises then hoped to be safe in Geneva. Now nowhere in Europe seemed safe. Not only was he a prominent intellectual of Jewish descent; he was widely known to be an arch- enemy of National Socialism and of every other form of socialism. Some called him “the last knight of liberalism.”

He had personally steered Austria away from Bolshevism, saved his country from the level of hyperinflation that destroyed inter- war Germany, and convinced a generation of young socialist intellectuals to embrace the market. Now he was a political refugee headed for a foreign continent.

The couple arrived in the United States with barely any money and no prospects for income. Mises’s former students and disciples had found prestigious positions in British and American universities (often with his help), but Mises himself was considered an anachronism. In an age of growing government and central planning, he was a defender of private property and an opponent of all government intervention in the economy. Perhaps worst of all, he was a proponent of verbal logic and realism in the beginning heyday of positivism and mathematical modeling.


Only Individuals Can Be Victims

Crimes are those actions which have as their victims actual individual human beings. There is no abstract “crime against society” as the Progressives want you to think; nor is there a “crime against the state” as fascists want you to think. Rather, a crime is something which actually aggresses the person or property of another individual specific.

In this way, actual justice has to do with crimes and there is no such thing as “social justice,” much to the disdain of the socialists, left-libertarians, progressive Christians, and so on. Any crime which, say, aggresses hundreds of people is a “crime against many individuals,” not a “social crime.” Society has no rights, for society is not a thing in itself. We must speak in terms of the individual, lest collectivism creep in unannounced.

With this understanding, we also eradicate the guilt-manipulative thinking of modern Progressives who seek to make certain classes of people feel bad for the treatment of other classes of people, decades or even centuries in the past. Individuals today, of course, are not responsible for the treatment of victims in the past. The state is attracted to deviations from the true nature of criminality and justice because, besides its own systematic deviation from the nature of justice, it also understands that it can leverage for its own power the class conflict created by distortions in justice theory.


Ugh, Doolittle.

Curt Doolittle is the worst. Primarily because he owns Propertarianism.com, but is the worst propertarian I’ve ever come across (for the record, I love the word propertarian, and wish it hadn’t taken the domain– humph!). If it wasn’t for that, I would ignore him completely. He has profoundly and impressively misunderstood nearly everyone in the Austro-libertarian movement and holds himself out to be the Great Corrector of their mistakes, the crusader who has learned somewhat from them, but purified them of their own irrationalities.

Besides this, his writing is unclear and vague. He uses big words in a cringeworthy manner and I’ve rarely been able to truly understand what he is trying to get across. Unfortunately, when I do, I realize just how awful his “contributions” are. If you want to gouge your eyes out, read his “basic concepts” page. If you want to simply pound your head into the desk, read his pieces on the mistakes of Rothbard, Hoppe, and Mises. Apparently, he’s got tips and strategies for a full-fledged revolution. Spare me.

He writes recently:

“Praxeology is a method of testing rational choice and moral reciprocity in economic propositions when people are possessed of information heavily weighted by prices, and when they are rational actors, working from simple stacks of priorities.

Then he counters Mises (or at least the straw man of Mises), with this:

“People act irrationally because of a set of cognitive biases and fragmentary information.”

What. The. Heck.


1). has nothing to do with testing, much less testing choices and whatever moral reciprocity means;

2) has nothing to do with morals, much less morals that are allegedly “in” economic propositions;

3) is actually a science in which economics is a subset, that is, it doesn’t test economic propositions;

4) is not bound by situations where people are “possessed of information weighted by prices” (whatever that means), but rather observes that men make choices and face tradeoffs in a world of scarce resources;

5) teaches that humans are always rational in the sense that they employ certain means to achieve chosen ends (he is assuming that Mises is saying that men always act logically— which means he never read Mises).

In short, one rarely comes across someone who so obviously and magnificently misunderstands such a simple concept as praxeology. In one sentence, we have the understanding of a third grader who criticizes Mises’ deficient understanding of things without himself understanding Mises 101.


Jim Grant Smashes an Apologist for Negative Interest Rates

What a zinger. Jim Grant obliterates Ken Rogoff’s lousy case for negative interest rates. Grant writes of Rogeff:

As for the campaign for zero cash in the service of negative interest rates, Mr. Rogoff’s brief is best seen not as detached scientific analysis but as a kind of left-wing crotchet. Strip away the technical pretense and what you have is politics. The author wants the government to control your money. It’s as simple as that.

Here’s another great quote:

A positive integer would almost seem inherent in the idea of interest. When most of us want something, we want it now. And if we don’t have the money to buy it now, we borrow. “Present goods are, as a rule, worth more than future goods of like kind and number,” posited the eminent 19th-century Austrian theorist Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk. He called this behavioral truism the core of his theory of interest.

Interest rates are prices. They impart information. They tell a business person whether or not to undertake a certain capital investment. They measure financial risk. They translate the value of future cash flows into present-day dollars. Manipulate those prices—as central banks the world over compulsively do—and you distort information, therefore perception and judgment.


Alex Epstein Obliterates George Clooney

Alex Epstein, who wrote this book (which I need to read– as this post reminded me), issued a response to the following George Clooney statement on climate change:

Well it’s just a stupid argument. If you have 99 percent of doctors who tell you ‘you are sick’ and 1 percent that says ‘you’re fine,’ you probably want to hang out with, check it up with the 99. You know what I mean? The idea that we ignore that we are in some way involved in climate change is ridiculous. What’s the worst thing that happens? We clean up the earth a little bit?

The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, Written by Alex Epstein

Epstein writes:

I am something close to terrified about Clooney’s comment: “What’s the worst thing that happens? We clean up the earth a little bit?”

Clooney is talking about the idea that we should “do something about climate change.” For Clooney’s environmentalist allies, that typically translates into: globally outlaw 80-95 percent of future fossil fuel use and force us to try to subsist on expensive, unreliable solar and wind energy.

And again:

For someone who understands that affordable energy is a life and death issue, this does not translate into “clean up the earth a little bit,” it translates into “making life on earth hellish for billions.” It would mean that the 1.4 billion people around the world who lack electricity—and thus have a life expectancy of 48—would not be lifted out of poverty, but would be joined by billions more.

It would mean a far dirtier environment—only high-energy, highly-developed countries have clean environments. And it would mean a far more dangerous climate. While Clooney makes time to publicly declare his solidarity with the victims, he should take some time to think about what would have actually protected them: industrial development powered by affordable, reliable energy.