Can Libertarians Lighten Up Enough to Win?

Economist Walter Block is fond of saying if you stick ten libertarians in a room, you get 11 different opinions.  It’s because libertarianism has become little more than a self-obsessed glorified debate club that I left the ideology years ago. Over time libertarianism didn’t change; I changed, and I suspect I was right to. My hunch comes the recent dust up emanating from the home base of radical anti-statism, the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

The Institute’s president, Jeff Deist, delivered a stirring and thoughtful speech on libertarian strategy in the age of Trump and Brexit to the 2017 Mises University class. Rather than dismiss the rising nationalist tide, Deist encourages libertarians to get their toes wet and try to understand the emotive longings that excite voters.

Citing that gadfly of scholasticism, Murray Rothbard, Deist defines libertarianism in classical fashion: “Humans are sovereign over their mind and body, meaning you own yourself.” It’s from this axiomatic understanding that property rights and self-determination flow.

Deist encourages libertarians to use this as a basis when appealing to the sentimentality of the average person. Joe Schmo doesn’t care for abstract theory invoking rights designated by “nature’s God.” He cares typically about his family, his home, his country, his faith. Paeans to universal rights don’t do it for him, unless he’s a bored college student.

Deist ended his call to action by stating, “blood and soil and God and nation still matter to people. Libertarians ignore this at the risk of irrelevance.”

Simple, no? Get to the heart, you get to the mind.

The libertarian “movement” has existed since the ‘70s. Yet the number of Americans who self-identify as libertarians has rarely ever cracked 10%. Thanks to the two presidential runs of eccentric Texas congressman Ron Paul, the term “libertarian” is more readily used by political observers. But it remains elusive in the popular vernacular.

The libertarian movement has been tried and found wanting. So perhaps a rethinking of tactics is in order, rather than the dogmatic mashing over the head of unbelievers with incantations of the non-aggression principle.

Just don’t tell that to the true believers. No sooner did Deist suggest a tactical adjustment did the who’s who of soft-skinned libertarianism, like their leftist brethren, wail from the high perches of social media.

Robert Higgs, a giant of a scholar who, lamentably, took to the backwoods of Mexico years ago to dash off rambling Facebook posts, called Deist’s proposition “fascism lite” and such a high price of compromise that “libertarians ought to give up their efforts to influence politics directly.”

Who knew caring about loved ones made you Mussolini?

Auburn University philosophy professor Roderick Long chided Deist for invoking “an actual Nazi slogan” (“blood and soil”) and accused him of attempting to “combine liberty with its opposite.” His is an interesting critique. Long, who refers to himself as a “left-wing market anarchist,” has a funny reputation in the libertarian community. Despite achieving tenure at Auburn in 2002, Long was caught begging friends for money in the summer of 2009 over an overdue tax bill. The bill was a whopping $8,000–not a petty charge, but definitely not instant destitution for a college professor.

Long is also closely associated with the Center for a Stateless Society, a leftist libertarian think tank founded by a man who admitted to sexually molesting his own daughter. He also has a long record of claiming that libertarianism is actually a left-based philosophy, despite the bloody, war-torn history of liberalism in action.  Perhaps, then, our impecunious philosopher should keep his charges of guilt by association to himself. Professor, teach thyself.

Then there’s Steve Horwitz, an economics professor at St. Lawrence University, who is infamous for his lacerating takedowns of Mises Institute-aligned thinkers. Deist’s talk was a triggering event for Horwitz, who penned a few Facebook posts and a full-length article rebutting the assertion that clan and country matter. What Horwitz objects to appeals to “nativism, racism, and anti-Semitism” which directly contradict the “liberal cosmopolitanism” of libertarianism’s forefathers.

Perception matters. Horwitz’s objection to a slogan popularized by the Third Reich is not completely wrong. But if you read Deist’s remarks in full, you encounter no other Nazi references.  The hand-wringing over supposed swastika-imprinted dog-whistles is misplaced. If libertarianism somehow rises to the level of visibility that liberals use it interchangeably with Nazism, such as they currently do with conservatism, then it would be a victory in exposure.

The word salad mental gymnastics so pervasive in libertarian circles is one of many reasons the philosophy remains a niche product. There is a strong libertarian strand that runs through America, but it’s the worst quality of the philosophy: the individualist anomie produced through non-judgmental ethics.

If libertarians, left and right, want to further their worldview, sneaking Hitler-isms aren’t the obstacle. The predominant barrier to entry into the mainstream is the refusal of many libertarians to accept that collective life isn’t necessarily a form of tyranny. The home, the family, the community, and, yes, even the nation-state, are not diabolical oppression in disguise as support systems. They are organic entities, created for a purpose, and bound together through commonality.

Jeff Deist understands that collectivism isn’t the antithesis of libertarian thought. His interlocutors are too obsessed with their conception of the liberated, rootless man to acknowledge his point that allegiances tug men’s hearts.

The takeaway lesson is that libertarianism focused on pot, sexual expression, and the universal rights of man is a road to nowhere. A u-turn is badly needed.

Economist Walter Block is fond of saying if you stick ten libertarians in a room, you get 11 different opinions.  It’s because libertarianism has become little more than a self-obsessed glorified debate club that I left the ideology years ago. Over time libertarianism didn’t change; I changed, and I suspect I was right to. My hunch comes the recent dust up emanating from the home base of radical anti-statism, the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

The Institute’s president, Jeff Deist, delivered a stirring and thoughtful speech on libertarian strategy in the age of Trump and Brexit to the 2017 Mises University class. Rather than dismiss the rising nationalist tide, Deist encourages libertarians to get their toes wet and try to understand the emotive longings that excite voters.

Citing that gadfly of scholasticism, Murray Rothbard, Deist defines libertarianism in classical fashion: “Humans are sovereign over their mind and body, meaning you own yourself.” It’s from this axiomatic understanding that property rights and self-determination flow.

Deist encourages libertarians to use this as a basis when appealing to the sentimentality of the average person. Joe Schmo doesn’t care for abstract theory invoking rights designated by “nature’s God.” He cares typically about his family, his home, his country, his faith. Paeans to universal rights don’t do it for him, unless he’s a bored college student.

Deist ended his call to action by stating, “blood and soil and God and nation still matter to people. Libertarians ignore this at the risk of irrelevance.”

Simple, no? Get to the heart, you get to the mind.

The libertarian “movement” has existed since the ‘70s. Yet the number of Americans who self-identify as libertarians has rarely ever cracked 10%. Thanks to the two presidential runs of eccentric Texas congressman Ron Paul, the term “libertarian” is more readily used by political observers. But it remains elusive in the popular vernacular.

The libertarian movement has been tried and found wanting. So perhaps a rethinking of tactics is in order, rather than the dogmatic mashing over the head of unbelievers with incantations of the non-aggression principle.

Just don’t tell that to the true believers. No sooner did Deist suggest a tactical adjustment did the who’s who of soft-skinned libertarianism, like their leftist brethren, wail from the high perches of social media.

Robert Higgs, a giant of a scholar who, lamentably, took to the backwoods of Mexico years ago to dash off rambling Facebook posts, called Deist’s proposition “fascism lite” and such a high price of compromise that “libertarians ought to give up their efforts to influence politics directly.”

Who knew caring about loved ones made you Mussolini?

Auburn University philosophy professor Roderick Long chided Deist for invoking “an actual Nazi slogan” (“blood and soil”) and accused him of attempting to “combine liberty with its opposite.” His is an interesting critique. Long, who refers to himself as a “left-wing market anarchist,” has a funny reputation in the libertarian community. Despite achieving tenure at Auburn in 2002, Long was caught begging friends for money in the summer of 2009 over an overdue tax bill. The bill was a whopping $8,000–not a petty charge, but definitely not instant destitution for a college professor.

Long is also closely associated with the Center for a Stateless Society, a leftist libertarian think tank founded by a man who admitted to sexually molesting his own daughter. He also has a long record of claiming that libertarianism is actually a left-based philosophy, despite the bloody, war-torn history of liberalism in action.  Perhaps, then, our impecunious philosopher should keep his charges of guilt by association to himself. Professor, teach thyself.

Then there’s Steve Horwitz, an economics professor at St. Lawrence University, who is infamous for his lacerating takedowns of Mises Institute-aligned thinkers. Deist’s talk was a triggering event for Horwitz, who penned a few Facebook posts and a full-length article rebutting the assertion that clan and country matter. What Horwitz objects to appeals to “nativism, racism, and anti-Semitism” which directly contradict the “liberal cosmopolitanism” of libertarianism’s forefathers.

Perception matters. Horwitz’s objection to a slogan popularized by the Third Reich is not completely wrong. But if you read Deist’s remarks in full, you encounter no other Nazi references.  The hand-wringing over supposed swastika-imprinted dog-whistles is misplaced. If libertarianism somehow rises to the level of visibility that liberals use it interchangeably with Nazism, such as they currently do with conservatism, then it would be a victory in exposure.

The word salad mental gymnastics so pervasive in libertarian circles is one of many reasons the philosophy remains a niche product. There is a strong libertarian strand that runs through America, but it’s the worst quality of the philosophy: the individualist anomie produced through non-judgmental ethics.

If libertarians, left and right, want to further their worldview, sneaking Hitler-isms aren’t the obstacle. The predominant barrier to entry into the mainstream is the refusal of many libertarians to accept that collective life isn’t necessarily a form of tyranny. The home, the family, the community, and, yes, even the nation-state, are not diabolical oppression in disguise as support systems. They are organic entities, created for a purpose, and bound together through commonality.

Jeff Deist understands that collectivism isn’t the antithesis of libertarian thought. His interlocutors are too obsessed with their conception of the liberated, rootless man to acknowledge his point that allegiances tug men’s hearts.

The takeaway lesson is that libertarianism focused on pot, sexual expression, and the universal rights of man is a road to nowhere. A u-turn is badly needed.

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