Libertarians and OWS: Useful Idiots

The Occupy Wall Street movement appears to be growing.  And it is growing ever more disruptive.  From the losses suffered by many a small business to the desecration of property, from the destabilization of communities to violent clashes with law enforcement officers, the phenomenon known simply as "Occupy Wall Street" (OWS) is becoming a force to be reckoned with in cities across America -- and beyond.

As it turns out, there is no small measure of self-identified "libertarians" who populate the ranks of the Wall Street "occupiers."  For instance, the libertarian-friendly website features a couple of YouTube videos of a "Captain Midnight," a self-declared Ron Paul supporter currently "occupying" Wall Street.  The well-known site lavishes praise upon this young man for the eloquence with which he articulates his case for abolishing the Federal Reserve, as well as his familiarity with such libertarian figures as Henry Hazlitt, Murray Rothbard, and Lew Rockwell himself.  There are still other sympathetic postings regarding OWS to be found at 

In "What OWS is all about, Herman," Michael S. Rozeff blasts Herman Cain for disparaging the "occupiers" of Wall Street while aligning himself with "the establishment" and opposing "change."  In "Let Them Eat Keller," Michael Scheer takes New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller to task for being critical of OWS.  Scheer charges Keller with being consumed by "the arrogance of disoriented royal privilege."

Over at the Raleigh Libertarian Examiner, in "Defining the Occupy Wall Street Movement," Brian Irving likens OWS to the Tea Party movement inasmuch as it supposedly comprises mainly of folks who have, justifiably, lost faith in their government.  He notes differences -- namely, the Tea Partiers attribute blame to "corrupt politicians and an overbearing government," while Wall Street "occupiers," though disgusted with politicians, hold as well "corporations" responsible for our ills.  Still, Irving tries to reveal the ideological diversity of OWS by pointing out that among its constituents are unabashed Ron Paul supporters parading signs that read "End the Fed" and "Ron Paul for President."  And libertarian Jesse Ventura recently made an appearance at OWS.

Speaking as a certain kind of libertarian -- albeit a conservative libertarian -- I find all of this more than a bit disturbing.

Unlike with their leftist comrades-in-arms, the dragon upon which the aforementioned libertarians set their sights is not "capitalism" per se, but "crony capitalism."  It isn't the lack of regulation and the allegedly laissez-faire manner in which Wall Street bankers pursue their "obscene" profits that arouse their anger, but rather, the fact that these bankers are in cahoots with a corrupt government that has continued propping them up with taxpayers' dollars long after they should have folded.

The libertarian's anger is warranted, for sure.  Corporate welfare is as immoral an enterprise for the government of a civil association to embark upon as is taxpayer-subsidized welfare of any sort.  And it isn't just immoral, but unconstitutional for the federal government of the United States of America to do such a thing.  But this being so, it seems obvious that libertarians -- and, for that matter, every member of the movement in question -- have selected for themselves the wrong stage on which to enact their displays of outrage: if territory must be "occupied," it is not the financial capital of the world that should be seized, but the capital of the nation.

In short, it is the government that makes corporate welfare and "crony capitalism" possible.  So, the first error on the part of these libertarians is one that they share with the leftists of their movement.  If we had to give it a name, we may call it "symbolic confusion." 

Regrettably, this is far from the only intellectual transgression of which the libertarians of OWS are culpable, and perhaps the least serious.

Leftists despise the system of private property that America's Founding Fathers bequeathed to their posterity -- what they crudely call "capitalism."  Thus, it is eminently sensible that they should throw such intellectual virtues as honesty and consistency to the winds in ignoring the principle role played by government in bringing about the economic collapse of 2008 and the exorbitant bailouts that ensued in order to target Wall Street. 

But libertarians are champions of free markets.  Libertarians know that America has been able to emerge as the preeminent economic superpower of the world for the same exact reason why it has been able to emerge as "the land of the free": its severely limited government.  It is the liberty that America's constitutional arrangements secure for her citizens that gives rise to its standing as an economic powerhouse, and it is Wall Street that has been about as glaring a signifier of this as anything else.

What this implies is that in participating in OWS, libertarians actually undercut their own deepest convictions.  It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words.  In politics, even if in few precincts beyond that, this is actually an understatement, for there, a single picture is worth more than thousands and thousands and thousands of words.  By openly railing against America's financial institutions, libertarians, then, reveal themselves to the world to be of one mind with socialists and communists -- i.e., their mortal nemeses.  Like leftists, they appear to be saying that the pursuit of one's material self-interests and the freedom from an intrusive government that renders this pursuit possible are the enemies of all that is true, good, and beautiful.

Again, a lover of liberty need not be a fan of the banking class in order for this point to resonate with him.  Nor must he regard Wall Street as the only, or even the most accurate, symbol of American economic liberty.  The point, simply, is that from the perspective of the rest of the planet, the streets of America may not literally be paved with gold, but they are worth an awful lot -- a fact owing to their proximity to the mother of all streets: Wall Street.  Furthermore, even in reality, the staggering affluence that Wall Street emblematizes is the product not of the federal government, but of entrepreneurs and other laborious enterprisers.

In "occupying" Wall Street along with hordes of the despisers of liberty, the libertarian, ironically, sweeps his own legs out from under himself.  His actions invite -- no, demand -- greater concentrations of government to deal with "the greed" and "corruption" of bankers.  In so doing, he calls for an even greater diminution of individual liberty. 

The leftist may be intellectually and morally bankrupt, but at least he knows what he wants and doesn't hesitate to pursue it -- by whichever means necessary.  On the other hand, the libertarian of OWS has proven himself to be the most useful of idiots.

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D. blogs at and "At the Intersection of Faith and Culture" at  Contact him at or "friend" him on facebook.

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