Libertarians and China

I always knew R. W. Bradford was a sellout, and now his recent screed, “China: The ‘Crisis’ and the Facts,” has confirmed my long-standing suspicion. But before we get to that, some background material might be helpful, starting with the essential question: Who the heck is R. W. Bradford, anyway? GOING MODAL

With his bushy mountain-man beard, and his crankish little magazine, Liberty, Bradford is the virtual embodiment of what Murray Rothbard used to call the “modal libertarian” – the Randian neo-hippie who gets most of his information from science fiction novels and could care less about real-world issues, being far too obsessed with Ayn Rand’s compelling tautologies – “A is A” indeed! – to bother with such trivialities as, say, our murderous foreign policy.


Having tired of publishing the reminiscences of every one of Ayn Rand’s friends, Bradford in recent years has been yammering about the glories of “consequentialist” libertarianism, a pallid and sickly doctrine apparently bereft of any moral content or fire. He once took a poll which purported to show that the trend in the libertarian movement was away from “moralist” ideologues like Rand and especially Murray N. Rothbard: his article breathlessly reporting the results was replete with elaborate charts and graphical devices to give the whole presentation a scrupulously “scientific” air. Naturally, it was a poll of his few thousand readers, a self-selected group of “libertarians” if ever there was one. But would even the worst libertarian geekazoid go to the barricades (or even lift a finger) waving the banner of a “cost-benefit analysis”?


This is a question Bradford has never been much interested in answering. Indeed, the editor of Liberty has never seemed all that interested in building any kind of serious libertarian movement, or, indeed, in reaching too far outside the little circles of libertarian Randroids, sci-fi fans, and aging counterculturalists who make up the bulk of his readers. He has criticized the Libertarian Party at length, over the years, without, of course, donating so much as a dime, or a minute of his time. Bill is notoriously cheap: far too cheap to pay his writers. Naturally, he gets mostly junk: no self-respecting professional will write for him, and so he is reduced to filling the pages of his libertarian fanzine with the profound utterances of his high school buddies, and such leavings as he can garner from movement “celebrities.” Now that Liberty has gone monthly, he’s reduced to writing a lot of his own material, so much so that he has to employ at least one nom-de-plume that we know of: “Chester Alan Arthur.”


It’s pathetic, when you really think about it. Who can blame Bradford if he wants out of it? Big Bill Bradford is a big fish in a very small pond – a puddle, really – and, being a seeker after the main chance, he is looking for a route to respectability. Apparently he’s decided it’s time to sell out. This is not an ideological turnabout so much as a career move. All I can say is: lots of luck, Bill. The War Party has plenty of talented publicists, who can spin a far more convincing apologia than you. Earth to Bill Bradford: don’t quit your day job.


Indeed, Bradford’s performance is an embarrassment of appalling proportions, a disaster of an audition that starts – and stays – off-key. “On April 1,” he avers, “a US airplane trying to listen to Chinese radio transmissions was intercepted by two Chinese fighter jets some 60 miles off the coast of China.” But why just “radio transmissions”? Surely there was a lot of equipment on board that spy plane so top-secret that not even Bill Bradford knows about its capabilities. Yet he writes as if those guys were up there just listening to the radio.


Maybe they were tuning in to Rush Limbaugh, or checking out the Chinese hit parade: and then along came the pestiferous Wang-wei to spoil their little party. You know, they have some pretty loooong winters up there in Port Townsend, Washington – the site of Liberty‘s office – and perhaps that goes far in explaining the Bradfordian mindset. But how, then, do we account for his curiously one-dimensional vision, which only sees one side of the story? Brain damage?


If we are to believe Bradford, what happened that April Fools Day over the South China Sea was that an American plane flew into a complete vacuum. After the Chinese plane went down,

“The much larger U.S. plane was badly damaged. Its pilot transmitted a ‘mayday’ and landed at the nearest airport, which happened to be on Hainan, a large Chinese island. China held the Americans captive and demanded an apology.”

The Chinese seem strangely absent from the scene: after Wang-wei goes down, they hardly come into it at all. Were they sitting there twiddling their thumbs? No mention of how the Chinese pilots requested a shootdown and were vetoed. To top it off, we are told that the pilots were held “captive” – yeah, in a five-star hotel! No doubt they were tortured by being forced to consume large quantities of dim sum.


Quite aside from all that, how does he know that the story told by the surviving Chinese pilot isn’t true: that it was the American plane that bumped Wang-wei and dumped him into the sea? Because the government told him so, that’s how. Oh, how the great Randian – Bradford is also the publisher of the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies – suddenly changes his tune and begins to take certain things on faith, (provided they come from the US government).


Some “libertarian”! But it gets worse – and truly weird – when Bradford suddenly acquires a bit of a British accent, and goes into his Lord of the Manor routine:

“My own reaction was to hope the US would react similarly to the way in which Britain is said to have reacted to a comparable indignity in 19th century Bolivia. During one of that country’s perennial revolutions, a mob attacked Britain’s embassy and dragged her ambassador through the streets of La Paz. Britain reacted by announcing that it would no longer include Bolivia on maps of South America.”


I have news for Lord Bradford: leaving Bolivia off the map would create a hole no larger than a somewhat shrunken dime. But leaving out China would gouge out a gigantic crater that not even the most myopic libertarian could miss. Besides obliterating a good chunk of the world’s population, such an omission epitomizes the imperious arrogance that Bradford, in his dotage, finds charming, and that any halfway decent libertarian – never mind halfway decent human being – could only find nauseating.


In answering Lew Rockwell’s marvelously provocative “China is Right” piece, Bradford claims that “the collision actually occurred 60 miles off the coast of China, in an area open to ships and aircraft of all nations. That this is ‘international airspace’ is accepted by nearly all countries. It’s sort of true that this space ‘is normally used to facilitate commerce, not hostile military activities,’ if, by that, one means that the majority of planes and ships that pass through this area, like almost all the other airspace and surface of the ocean, are commercial, rather than governmental. But so what?” “Sort of true” is a phrase with a certain Clintonian ring to it: it depends, you see, on what you mean by “military.”


According to Bradford, it would be wrong to think of the US intruder as the representative of a State, the vanguard of an invading army. In justifying the US spy mission, he writes: “Organizations and enterprises often try to get information on competitors, and, unless they use force or fraud, their doing so is perfectly moral.” Is a self-proclaimed libertarian telling us that the US government is just another organization: you know, like the Kiwanis Club or the Libertarian Party? While it is true that the State is indeed organized, one would have to agree that it is an organization of a certain type, a very special organization that one might even describe as sui generis. And if we are talking about the US government, especially in its foreign policy persona as the Global Hegemon, then certainly this is no ordinary “enterprise.” Standing behind this “enterprise” is the armed might of a nation that spends more on the military than the combined total of the top ten big spenders – and has been none too shy lately when it comes to using it. Is this the “enterprise” that Bill Bradford has thrown his lot in with?


He then goes off into some flakey libertarian riff about how “information” is free and nobody can really own it and therefore we can fly as many spy planes as close to the Chinese coastline as we damn well please. It is so typical of libertarians to drift into some never-never land of abstractions and drop the real-world context of an event such as the Hainan incident – all-too-typical, and too convenient. Suddenly, we are not talking about a government armed to the teeth and up to no good, but just a bunch of guys (and a coupla gals) who just happened to be “gathering information” near China’s highly sensitive military base at Hainan. In this Bradfordian universe of floating abstractions, war and the threat of war with the most populous nation on earth does not even come into the picture. How do you argue with someone so removed from reality?


Since this faux-“journalist” believes so strongly in the virtues of doing “research,” how come he didn’t do any for this article? If he had, he would have discovered that the US government claims for itself a security zone 200 miles deep. Any aircraft entering what is called the Air Defense Interception Zone (ADIZ) from outside the country had better have radioed its flight plan to the proper authorities within 15 minutes, or else they’ll find themselves “intercepted,” perhaps fatally. Go here for a nice little map of the “consolidated” ADIZs, and here for the admission of a US official who states during a routine briefing that “we have an Air Defense Identification Zone that ranges out 200 miles from our coastline.” In his “Recollections of the 961st Airborne Early Warning & 961st Airborne Early Warning & Control Squadron (October 1962 – October 1965)”, Art Kerr writes:

“The 551st Wing mission was to maintain ‘continuous random’ airborne coverage of at least one ‘station’ off the US east coast. There were four stations located about 150 miles or so off shore, in or just outside of the ADIZ, the Air Defense Identification Zone, where aircraft were required to have ADC clearance to operate. Unknowns in or near the ADIZ were scrambled on by ADC F-101 or F-102 interceptors, a number of which were kept on five minute alert at numerous bases up and down the coast.”


It seems that the ADIZ, like the American Empire itself, has been ballooning ever-outward. Conversely, the defense perimeters of other countries have been shrinking. A mere 60 miles away from China’s most sensitive military base, on Hainan island, is considered “international waters” – but the equivalent distance from, say, Port Townsend, is well within our ADIZ. Yet such minor disparities don’t bother Bradford. Let US spy planes buzz beachside cabanas on the shore of the South China Sea, for all Bradford cares – but, kids, please don’t try this at home. You’ll get smacked upside the head by a US jet fighter.


By the way, the US military doesn’t make subtle distinctions between commercial and military aircraft. If you enter our ADIZ at an unscheduled point and fail to respond to repeated inquiries, you’re out of there – or you’re history. It’s as simple as that. If the Chinese had followed US strategic military doctrine in responding to the incursion, the US spy plane and its crew would, by now, be a dissipated vapor trail evanescing somewhere in the stratosphere. Luckily for the families and loved ones of the crew, the Chinese Pentagon operates by a different set of rules.


Taking Rockwell to task for bringing up not only the death of the Chinese pilot, but also the three Chinese journalists killed in the bombing of their Belgrade embassy, Bradford let’s it all hang out, as they say: “Let’s see,” he writes. “Over a three year period, the United States accidentally kills four Chinese, out of a total of 1,125,000,000. It’s not the ‘carnage’ that is mounting up here; it’s the florid rhetoric.” In other words, there’s so many of those damn chinks to begin with – who’s going to notice or care if four go missing? I’m not sure if there’s a racial angle to any of this, but certainly one can see where “consequentilist” libertarianism is leading Bradford and his tiny band of nutballs. One can only speculate as to how many casualties it takes before it registers in Bradford’s brain that the “enterprise” he so admires is a criminal one.


The large amount of personal vitriol spewed at Lew Rockwell – Bradford contends that Lew wrote the article just to be “provocative” and “get attention” – is so obviously motivated by a hatred of unhealthy proportions that the author makes himself look absolutely clownish. Poor Bradford, unhinged by malice, goes off on a weird tangent, telling a story about how Murray Rothbard once told him about Rockwell’s ability to get media attention. (This, we are supposed to believe, is a bad thing, for some reason). It is a story that, told from Bradford’s perspective, exudes jealousy. This is an emotion that people used to try to cover up, but Bradford wears it like a badge of honor, complaining that

“It was plain to me that what got Rockwell on network television was his willingness to articulate an opinion widely regarded as outrageous. And it was plain to Rockwell, too. Rockwell’s Internet column on the Chinese incident followed the same modus operandi: get attention by stating an outrageous opinion as colorfully as possible. In this case, facts got in the way, so he replaced them with nonfacts and misdirections.”


Yes, Bill, if only a droning self-important bore like yourself could get half the attention Rockwell gets: if only they would take you seriously! Then you could correct all those nasty “nonfacts” and “misdirections” – why, you’d be just the one to set them straight. Too bad it will never happen. Bradford’s orgy of envy continues:

“And how did libertarians react to Rockwell’s column? So far as I can determine, those that saw it thought it was great. A half-dozen copies were forwarded to me, most with notes attached singing its praises: ‘Fearlessly, point by point,’ one especially gushing note said, ‘Lew refutes the US government’s version of the event.’ Not one person attached any comment on its fabrications or illogic.”


Oh, but what do those crazy libertarians know, anyway? I, Bill Bradford – Lord Bradford to you – uphold the highest standards of “journalism” here at my little adventure in vanity publishing, why I’m just ever so careful not to let any of “my own beliefs color my perception of facts. As an editor, I always worry that our writers will be as fallacious and careless about the facts as are so many pundits, including Rockwell.” Let the sensationalists appear on Crossfire and The McLaughlin Group, Bradford piously intones, but libertarians must “resist fallacy, mendacity, and sloppy thinking” – all symptoms of what happens when you begin to question your government. For “it’s high time libertarians remember that every action taken by our government is not criminal. Almost two centuries ago, Stephen Decatur famously toasted his fellow naval officers, ‘Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right, but our country, right or wrong.'”


It would be hard to come up with a more cravenly statist slogan – and think how many others there are to choose from. The very grammar of Decatur’s odious declaration betrays its totalitarian character; by personifying “Our Country,” giving “her” gender and some sort of mythic identity, the cold monster of the State is transformed into a charming lady – and Bradford’s vaunted concern for the “facts” is eclipsed by a blatant call for blind loyalty. Oh yes, by all means let us examine the “facts,” but let’s remember that the Chinese can never be right, and that America, by definition, is (nearly) always right. In an important sense, Bradford’s pitiful screed is a “Dear John” letter to his fellow libertarians,” for in it he abandons all but the pretense of upholding the uniquely libertarian distinction between the private sector and the public, the people versus the State. For here Bradford freely conflates the “country” with the government: in his view, there is no difference.


Just when you think it couldn’t get worse, it turns out that Bradford has reserved the worst for last. In his final sally against Rockwell and other principled libertarians, Bradford’s sinister purpose is all too obvious: clearly he is hoping to make a dark enough smear with this mudball, slimy and muddy enough to permanently mark Rockwell as some kind of subversive: “For too long,” he writes, “too many libertarians have acted as if they should make another toast. ‘Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the wrong, but against our country, wrong or right.'”


In an age when America’s enemies abroad are characterized as a “terrorist” conspiracy, to finger somebody in this way is not an act to be taken lightly. For what Bradford is saying is that Rockwell is a fifth columnist, an unregistered agent of anti-Americans everywhere: i.e. he is a traitor to his country, and we all know what the penalty for treason is or ought to be. The sheer evil of Bradford’s accusation is breathtaking: he has now appointed himself a one-man Loyalty Board for the libertarian movement. Naturally what is needed is a thorough investigation, of which this odious article is just the beginning. Sure, Bradford doesn’t come right out and say that, in so many words, but certainly if an EP-3 spy plane flew over Auburn, Alabama – home of Lew and the Ludwig von Mises Institute – then, in Bradford’s view, it’s just “gathering information.” Now what could be wrong with that? It’s all perfectly “legal.”


The “facts” of the matter all boil down to one essential fact, and that is our overwhelming military presence in Asia. Bradford claims that he is second to none in his devotion to a noninterventionist foreign policy, but then questions the patriotism of those, like Rockwell, who ask the question: what are we doing in the South China Sea to begin with? This is the only “fact” worth considering, when you come right down to it. Yes, the American spy plane was “up to no good” because the US government, once it goes abroad, is by definition up to no good. This makes sense from a libertarian perspective, of course, since, whether you are for limited government or no government, the idea is to stop the expansion of the government’s domain and power, in this case its extension overseas. But from the Bradfordian perspective – that is, from the perspective of an envy-eaten, malicious sellout, for sale to the highest bidder – it is nothing less than a sign of traitorous intent. Well, he ought to know. . . .


For years, I’ve been predicting that the libertarian movement was ripe for takeover by the neocons, and the evolution of Reason magazine should give us a lesson in the unfortunate effect of too much money from certain sources. (But not even Virginia Postrel, “libertarian” lickspittle that she is, has dared to openly break with libertarian orthodoxy on the foreign policy question.) Perhaps Bradford, in his aspect as the supreme greed-head, is hoping a few foundation grants will come his way. Ayn Rand, Bradford’s idol and the subject of innumerable articles in his magazine, founded a movement whose symbol may be the key to Bradford’s unconscionable behavior: at her funeral, mourners mingled in the shadow of a giant dollar sign. In Bradford’s case, that is just so appropriate, although not, I think, in the way Rand intended it. If ever there was a case of a libertarian selling out, then this is it – although, just between you and me, I seriously doubt whether anyone’s buying.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].