Long Live Libertarianism

Today’s Wall Street Journal [May 2] proclaims, with a flourish of editorial trumpets, "The Fall of the Libertarians." The cause of the movement’s alleged demise? 9/11. Oh yes, "everything’s changed" since that awful day, including the possibility of getting Big Government off our backs:

"The great free-market revolution that began with the coming to power of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan at the close of the 1970s has finally reached its Thermidor, or point of reversal."THE END OF ‘THE END OF HISTORY’

The great irony of this exceedingly odd little screed is that it was written by someone whose philosophy most definitely bit the dust on 9/11: Francis Fukuyama‘s "the end of history" thesis was blown to smithereens along with the World Trade Center and lost amid the smoking rubble on that fateful day. In essence, the central argument of his famous article, published in the summer of 1989, is summarized in a single sentence:

"What we may be witnessing in not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government."

While he was careful to note that "the victory of liberalism has occurred primarily in the realm of ideas or consciousness and is as yet incomplete in the real or material world," this qualification only underscores the colossal scale of Fukuyama’s error. For it seems no one informed the 9/11 hijackers of this alleged "victory" over their consciousness. Their terrible act was a dramatic (and unanswerable) refutation of Fukuyama’s deterministic evolutionism. Yet now this recycled neoconservative has-been is being dragged out in the service of – what? War, naturally, the chief preoccupation and joy of every neocon.


Set down as the Soviet empire was tottering into oblivion, Fukuyama’s warmed-over Hegelianism soon became the favorite intellectual cliché of Marxists-turned-neocons from Commentary to National Review. Fukuyama’s giddy triumphalism provided a fitting backdrop for the unabashedly neo-imperialist flights of fancy indulged in by the post-cold war, post-9/11 neoconservative right. Bill Kristol’s clarion call for "benevolent global hegemony" and National Review‘s crazed campaign demanding that George W. Bush invade and occupy the Saudi oil fields come immediately to mind. As neocon columnist Charles Krauthammer proclaimed in the pages of The National Interest [Winter 1989-90]:

"The goal is the world as described by Francis Fukuyama. Fukuyama’s provocation was to assume that the end [of history] – what he calls the common marketization of the world – is either here or inevitably dawning; it is neither. The West has to make it happen. It has to wish and work for a super-sovereign West economically, culturally, and politically hegemonic in the world."

The triumph of the liberal values supposedly represented by the US government is inevitable, according to Fukuyama, but, just in case it isn’t, Krauthammer and his fellow neocons want to use the American military to "make it happen." Like Marx, who also posited the inevitable victory of his adherents, Fukyama is more than willing to go along with this. Fukuyama recently signed on along with a passel of neocon intellectuals to a call issued by the Project for a New American Century calling for the outright invasion and military occupation of large swatches of the Middle East.


Libertarianism is an obstacle to Empire, and, as such, must be removed: conservatism, says Fukuyama in the War Street Journal, has "matured," and it’s time to cast away the youthful chrysalis of libertarianism:

"Like the French Revolution, it derived its energy from a simple idea of liberty, to wit, that the modern welfare state had grown too large, and that individuals were excessively regulated."

To begin with, it is absurd to identify the free-market "revolution" that supposedly triumphed in the 1980s with the electoral victories of either Thatcher or Reagan, since neither reduced the size, scope, or arrogant presumptiveness of government power, but only – at best – momentarily slowed the rate of increase. And I would argue that Reagan, in pursuing a military build-up unprecedented in our history, did more to increase the power of the public sector than any other President since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

But then this confusion on Fukuyama’s part is unremarkable in someone who sees libertarianism embodied in the complaint that "the modern welfare state had grown too large." Libertarians abhor the day the welfare state was spawned, and have called for its complete abolition ever since. As for Americans being "excessively regulated," it is not the degree but the presumption that regulation is required that libertarians have always contested.


"Yet the revolution entered a Jacobin phase with the election of Newt Gingrich’s Congress in 1994," Fukuyama continues – hey, wait a minute! This guy is supposed to be a (neo)conservative, I know, but how come he writes as if he were Leon Trotsky? His prose is chockfull of references right out of some Trotskyist tract: "Thermidor" (Trotsky’s term for what called the "degeneration" of the Soviet "workers state"), "Jacobins," and comparing the conservative-libertarian ascendancy to the French Revolution. What is this – the Wall Street Journal or the Socialist Worker? With Fukuyama and his neocon fan club, it’s often hard to tell.


Okay, so this "Jacobin" phase of the alleged free-market revolution, according to Fukuyama, went too far, allowing the Clintonites to seize the vital center. "For many on the right," he avers,

"Mr. Reagan’s classical liberalism began to evolve into libertarianism, an ideological hostility to the state in all its manifestations. While the dividing line between the two is not always straightforward, libertarianism is a far more radical dogma whose limitations are becoming increasingly clear. The libertarian wing of the revolution overreached itself, and is now fighting rearguard actions on two fronts: foreign policy and biotechnology."

Well, he’s right about one thing: libertarianism, while most emphatically not a "dogma," is indeed radical, in that its critique of the status quo strikes at the very root of the evil that besets us, which is the State. If Reaganism represents "classical liberalism," in any sense, then perhaps Fukuyama means classical liberalism at the end of its tether, after a long decline into utilitarianism and gradualism. In any case, Fukuyama’s conflation of Reaganism and libertarianism is interesting only because it prefaces the real point of his piece:

"The hostility of libertarians to big government extended to U.S. involvement in the world. The Cato Institute propounded isolationism in the ’90s, on the ground that global leadership was too expensive. At the time of the Gulf War, Cato produced an analysis that argued it would be cheaper to let Saddam keep Kuwait than to pay for a military intervention to expel him–a fine cost-benefit analysis, if you only abstracted from the problem of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a megalomaniac."

Of course, the reality is that Saddam and Kuwait have kissed and made up, forming a common front, along with the Saudis, against the US. So it turns out that it would indeed have been cheaper – in terms of lives, both American and Iraqi, as well as dollars – to let Saddam keep Kuwait after all. As for weapons of mass destruction being in the hands of a Middle Eastern megalomaniac, I, too, am disturbed that Ariel Sharon has his finger on the nuclear trigger, but are we going to blame the Iraqis for that, too?

So there was the "isolationist" (i.e. pro-peace) Cato Institute, daring to question Washington’s pro-war consensus. Ah, but then along came 9/11, when "everything changed" – and the rug was ostensibly pulled out from under the libertarians:

"Contrary to Mr. Reagan’s vision of the U.S. as a ‘shining city on a hill,’ libertarians saw no larger meaning in America’s global role, no reason to promote democracy and freedom abroad. Sept. 11 ended this line of argument. It was a reminder to Americans of why government exists, and why it has to tax citizens and spend money to promote collective interests. It was only the government, and not the market or individuals, that could be depended on to send firemen into buildings, or to fight terrorists, or to screen passengers at airports."

Oh, thank God for the US government! They did a great job of screening, now didn’t they? Why, if not for them, the 9/11 hijackers would’ve wriggled through our security nets and managed to smuggle weapons aboard four aircraft, hijack the planes, and ram them into the – hey, uh, hold on there, correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t something terrible happen that day in spite of all the warnings, all the precautions, all the "anti-terrorist" task forces and government studies, all the billions poured into "security"? It’s pathetic, really, that the neocons are now imitating the Daschle Democrats in proclaiming that big government, post-9/11, is back in style. Good lord, we may not have reached the end of history, but surely we have reached the end of our patience with Fukuyama’s sloppy polemic. What makes it interesting to begin with, however, is that this attack on the Cato Institute is completely gratuitous.

True, the Cato folks were once committed to the cause of noninterventionism, because they, like all authentic libertarians, know that war is the health of the state, as Randolph Bourne famously put it. The centralizing effect of military priorities in wartime, the comprehensiveness of state controls for the duration of the conflict, necessarily shrinks the sphere of liberty and increases the role and reach of government. Even more importantly, just as libertarians oppose the consolidation and expansion of the public sector at home, so they must logically oppose its geographical extension abroad. This view was held by Murray N. Rothbard, the real intellectual founder of the Cato Institute, and advocated in one form or another by Cato (in spite of their break with Rothbard in the early 1980s) up until 9/11.


In the post-9/11 atmosphere, however, this principled opposition to warmongering – dubbed "isolationism" by Fukuyama – is understood to be "anti-Americanism" of the worst sort, and has been explicitly disavowed by Cato. As I pointed out in a previous column, their representatives now have set themselves in the vanguard of the War Party, with Cato foreign policy honcho Ted Galen Carpenter calling for the invasion of Pakistan (!) and Cato coming out in favor of Bush’s endless "war on terrorism." Carpenter has even gone so far as to jump on the "Let Sharon be Sharon" bandwagon, urging "nonintervention" by opposing US pressure on Israel to stop slaughtering the Palestinians. But intervention in the form of US tax dollars filling Israeli coffers as Israeli tanks roll over the Palestinians – for some reason this form of intervention goes unmentioned by Cato’s chief foreign policy "expert." But all that backtracking and neocon ass-kissing, in the end, didn’t get them anything but an attack in the Wall Street Journal – and a particularly galling one, at least from the pro-war "libertarian" perspective.


For the one big crusade of the Virginia PostrelGlenn ReynoldsWarblogger axis of cyber-evil has been the legalization of cloning; on their endless little "blogs," calls to nuke Mecca and replace the House of Saud with the International House of Pancakes are interspersed between earnest little petitions for the legalization of cloning, which will supposedly usher in a golden age. To Fukuyama and his fellow neocons, this is monstrous, and must be stopped, while the pro-war libertarians are ready to make the first scientist prosecuted for illegal cloning their very own Mumia Abu Jamal.

Without taking a position on cloning one way or the other, it is interesting to note that the neocons wouldn’t cut their "libertarian" satellites any slack, not even on this somewhat abstruse issue. It didn’t matter that Postrel and her little blogger kids kowtowed on the all-important foreign policy question. Not even running interference for Sharon’s blitzkrieg was enough to earn them sufficient brownie points for any kind of exemption. Any deviation from the neocon line is the occasion for a denunciation, a reminder of who is on what end of the leash.

The pro-war libertarians thought that, if only they allowed themselves to be properly domesticated, if only they bought into the globalist foreign policy agenda of the neocons, and stuck to economics and exotica like cloning and drug legalization, they would be left alone in peace. Let this be a lesson to them – not that they can afford to learn it, as this point. I am reminded of what Murray N. Rothbard said of the Catoites back in the 1980s, when they were trying to pass off libertarianism as "low-tax liberalism": "They have sold out for a mess of pottage," he wrote, "without even getting the pottage in return."


Fukuyama is right to herald the fall of the pro-war libertarians: they have corralled themselves into a tiny and rather unrewarding ideological niche, where individualism is conflated with a narcissism so overweening that the Postrelian embrace of cloning issue seems almost too parodic to be true. Relegated to the fringe, the "libertarian" branch of the War Party will be allowed to feed off crumbs from the neocons’ ample table only as long as they keep quiet about their more unconventional ideas. Okay, drug legalization, well, maybe that’s okay, since even Bill Buckley agrees with them: but cloning? No way. It was time for them to feel the editorial lash, time to let them know who’s the dominant force in this coalition: but they shouldn’t despair. The lash may sting the first couple of times, but they’ll get used to it after a while – and may even come to like it.

Indeed, such masochistic tendencies are obvious in Cato "scholar" Brink Lindsay’s craven reply to Fukuyama. As the number one critic of those libertarians who have retained their opposition to empire-building interventionism, Lindsay loudly protests his loyalty to the War Party and even distances himself from his employer:

"Yes, it’s true that some libertarians, including folks at the Cato Institute, opposed the Gulf War. But I’m a libertarian, I support cloning, and my only complaint with the Gulf War is that we didn’t take Baghdad. Virginia Postrel, far and away the most prominent libertarian on the cloning issue, supported the Gulf War…. Many prominent libertarians have been front and center in urging vigorous and aggressive military action"

Yes, Brink, why don’t you crawl on your belly all the way over to Bill Kristol’s doorstep? Maybe that will do some good. Or maybe you can make your argument for cloning in terms of the US acquiring an invaluable military asset. Imagine cloned American soldiers, genetically-designed warriors ready to fight practically from birth: why, we could win the war on terrorism, and even conquer the whole world, given such bioengineered Myrmidons! Surely such a prospect could go a long way toward helping us achieve Bill Kristol’s dream of "benevolent world hegemony."


Another way to appeal to a neocon audience is to show how cloning will benefit Israel. And of course the benefits to the Israelis are glaringly obvious. Instead of trying to convince the Diaspora to move to one of the most dangerous places on earth, a socialist Sparta where the government takes more than half your income, the Israelis could solve their demographic problem by simply cloning new citizens – more than enough to populate the Greater Israel of Sharon’s dreams.

It’s sickening, really, to contemplate the self-abasement of these social-climbing careerists, whose degenerate "libertarianism" is but a distorted shadow, a caricature of the real thing: and they aren’t worth contemplating, really, except as a lesson and a warning to the young. This is what you turn into when you sell out: as Rothbard put it, "and they didn’t even get the pottage!" The fall of the pro-war libertarians, and their absorption into the neoconservative grand consensus, is an event worth noting only as an object lesson in what it means to fail.


The real libertarianism, however, is alive and very well, thank you, flourishing as a result of the great work being done by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, as well as Antiwar.com’s sponsoring organization, the Center for Libertarian Studies. We are reaching, every day, tens of thousands of people from practically every country on earth. From the Midwest to the Middle East, from Northern Europe to South and Central America, the libertarian message on the vital issue of war and peace – as well as free trade and economic and personal liberty – is being broadcast globally to a large and steadily increasing audience. Let the "warbloggers" and pro-war "libertarians" congratulate each other on their career-advancing war fervor, and imagine they are defining the terms of the debate. We are defining the future of libertarianism – that is, if it is to have one.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, 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].