On Faux Libertarians

Something I had read recently took me back to and old quote from David Bernstein at the Volokh Conspiracy that I think is as true today as it was six years ago:

The consensus is, basically, that libertarianism needs to more aggressively disassociate itself from right-wing fringe loonies who use libertarianism as a mask to disguise other agendas, or who support libertarianism only because they adhere to some bizarre conspiracy theory or other involving the federal government. Those of us who long ago (as I did) made a decision not to associate with the creepy-paleocons-disguising themselves-as-libertarians in the Lew Rockwell circle–Rockwell being, among other things, the primary suspect as the author of the offensive passages in Ron Paul’s newsletters, though he denied it to the New Republic’s James Kirchik–need to exert peer pressure on our libertarian friends to follow suit.

A big question for me is who Rand Paul really is. On the surface, he seems to “get it,” in that he’s decided to embrace some of the more mainstream elements of his father’s platform, but left the really kookier elements behind. He’s placing himself in his father’s place without all his father’s baggage. We have a long tradition in this country of eschewing corruption of blood, and I certainly don’t agree with my father on everything. So I’m tempted to take Rand for who he is and not hold his pop against him, but there’s always this in the back of my mind.

20 thoughts on “On Faux Libertarians”

  1. A libertarian, Rand Paul is not. He is getting very comfortable with the neocons in his run up to a 2016 campaign. Robert Wenzel has been keeping an eye on him over at http://www.economicpolicyjournal.com for a long time. The father was principled. Rand will not be. He will sell us a good game, but he plays for the party.

    1. His endorsing McConnell was the end for me. He’s like most politicians… big talk and that’s about it.

  2. Personally I always liked Ron Paul, in the same way I like the NRA, neither is perfect, but I agree with more from them both than I disagree with.

  3. Ron Paul’s (and the whole Lewrockwell/Mises’s) obsession with 100% reserve hard currency certainly is dangerous, but they are not “faux” libertarians. They are actually the more authentic, historically accurate (in the American tradition) libertarians, as opposed to the Cato/Koch brand.

    If you read the Antifederalist (from which the Cato institute gets its name), you’ll notice that its tone is much closer to that of the Lewrockwell/Mises crowd than that of Cato/Koch. In the American tradition (especially early America), the term “liberty” centered around the struggle between local and central rule, in favor of the local. This is where the Ron Paul crowd stands. The Cato “beltwaytarians” (as Murray Rothbard called them) believe more in using federal power to secure liberty.

    I personally think there are serious problems with both approaches and I have no fucking idea how to make either work in the real world. 😎

  4. Rand is kinda like “libertarian lite” with all the “great taste less filling” that entails. He’s basically staking out a position designed to be libertarianish without upsetting the masses.

    I also hesistate to lump Rand in with the neo-cons just because he doesn’t follow his father’s principle of complete non-interventionism. There is a middle ground where you can be engaged with the world and try to exert influence to your national benefit without dropping bombs every other week. I get the impression from readin him that he subscribes to the ideas of the good president Roosevelt in foreign policy, namely speak softly and carry a big stick, that military action should always be your absolute last option, but that it should always be an option backing up your words.

    Which quite honestly that idea would have served us much better the last 20 years than either the interventionist model or the isolationist model….

    1. I get much the same impression of Rand Paul. His father’s hard-line isolationism was always a negative for me–we live in a world that’s getting smaller, and we can’t simply wall off the rest of the world. And sometimes that means knocking heads. I think Rand would be far less averse to doing so than other hardcore libertarians, but also wouldn’t go around looking for fights–which is often how neo-cons come across. I don’t ascribe ill-intentions to neo-cons like some do, but Iraq and Afghanistan haven’t imbued them with any sense, either.

      As far as Libertarian-lite goes, I’m fine with that as its probably all we can get at the moment. I don’t always agree with him, but he seems to get the contours of things right. That’s better than nearly any other politician out there these days.

  5. I think people need to disassociate in their mind that libertarians like Ron Paul are associated with “loonies” or “kooky ideas”. Every movement has their crazies. Should pro-gunners be defined by guys like Kessler? No, only the anti-gunners make irrational arguments that an entire movement should be defined by the tiny “crazy” people who believe the same. And using terms like “loony” and “kooky” and “creepy” is the MO of the left who like to discredit people without logic and only with name calling. Those terms are the equivalent of “gun nuts”.

    There is nothing creepy or crazy about what Ron Paul advocates. Continuing to note about the letters than he had nothing to do with is a smear that’s been proven unfounded. What exactly did Rand leave behind that’s “kooky”? I believe he has very similar (not exactly the same) beliefs as his dad- he just is willing to play the political game, where his dad wasn’t. The “baggage” he left behind is all the irrational hate against him that people like you have.

    Why would you use his dad against him when there is no logical reason too? He was a 100% pro-gunner, and so is his son. He is against he NSA. He is for liberty. Maybe not as strongly as his father, and he could be corrupted by power, but he is still clearly the best candidate the GOP has.

    1. Rand doesn’t seem kooky to me. I think he’s far more politically savvy than his old man. I also thought the same was true of George W. Bush, but George W. Bush came with the same group of people his old man came with. I’d have to be convinced Rand Paul has cultivated his own political machine and can actually win an election.

      One thing to keep in mind is that libertarianism is not popular. A lot of people lean that way, but if you start talking about gold backed currency, getting rid of the federal reserve, withdrawing from overseas military alliances, legalizing all drugs (a position I agree with, but it doesn’t sell to the public unless you’re only talking about pot). There might be a lot of merit to those positions, but you lose voters on every one.

      1. Sure, there are some loonies in Libertarian land. But look at the loonies in the other two parties. People forget that the two major parties are just as loony, because it’s a familiar craziness.

    2. For that matter “real libertarianism” has plenty of loonie or loonie-enough-for-the-common-man in it with no need for worrying about “pseudo-libertarians” or a fringe.

      Joe Citizen hears a Rothbardite call for literal anarchy and private justice and he’s not thinking “yeah, that’s a logical extension of liberty, at least if you don’t take Nozick’s critiques seriously or he hasn’t written them yet”.

      He thinks “that guy’s insane“, just as he does when he hears a left-anarchist call for smashing the state.

      Whether or not he’s right in equating them or in his judgment of Rothbard is irrelevant to the political effect.

      And Rothbard is influential and serious enough that you can’t just call his ideas “fringe”…

      (One reason my libertarianism is more Mises and Hayek, and less Rothbard. I’ll keep Rothbard’s economics, but ditch his handwaving around politics, which is infinitely less convincing.)

      1. As someone who would be comfortable with complete “anarchy”, I can’t help but make two observations myself:

        First, while I think this would be the best of systems, everyone else has to be convinced of it, too, or it’s not going to happen.

        Second, for a party that’s supposed to be focused on the “little picture”, they obsess a lot over Presidencies, Governorships, and Federal Senators and Representatives…but seem to have almost no local presence. No mayors, no State senators/assemblymen/representatives, no councilmen. Heck, as far as I’m aware, they don’t even hold caucuses and county conventions! I am convinced that the Libertarian Party will get nowhere unless they can start succeeding on the local level. Indeed, even if President Obama passed away peacefully in his sleep from a particularly violent flu that was just the beginning of a pandemic, and Vice President Biden, upon being sworn in as President, immediately declared that he has always been an anarcho-capitalist Libertarian, he would get nowhere politically, because he simply wouldn’t have the support of Congress or the Courts.

        Political support starts at home, with the grass roots. I don’t see Libertarians working at that level!

  6. I think Patrick makes some good points. Throwing around the “kooky” label plays into the progressives’ hands.

    Is there a candidate better than Rand who has a >.0001% chance of being elected? The D candidate is going to be a leftist in the mold of Obama, and if the R candidate isn’t Rand, its going to be another McCain/Romney type.

    We haven’t had a truly pro-gun president in my lifetime. We currently have a POTUS who would completely repeal the second amendment if he could. As would Hillary. A gun rights activist not jumping on the Rand Paul bandwagon head first baffles me.

    1. I would jump on the bandwagon if he were the nominee, and depending what the field looks like, he may be my guy. But I never have been a fan of his father. I won’t hold that against him if I’m convinced Rand is his own man with his own political machine behind him. There’s still a primary to go through, and there honestly might be someone out there I like better than Rand.

      And with the Russian Bear coming out of hibernation, that’s not going to help Paul’s case for my vote.

      1. If he truly is pragmatic and savvy he’d be a fool not to take advantage of the groundwork Ron laid in his POTUS runs. Rand will have the media, Democrats, and half the GOP out to tear him down. He’ll need every resource he can muster.

        Ron did amazingly well for a candidate who was thoroughly fringe. I credit that largely to the fanaticism of the Ronulans. Ron had an enthusiastic base like Obama had, that Hillary will have, and that Romney and McCain completely lacked. But, of course, that’s going to be a very fine tightrope to walk to engage the Ron Paul enthusiasts without making it too easy to paint him as a kook.

        Something Sebastian has mentioned before is the belief some people have that the Republican candidates fail because they aren’t conservative enough. I don’t think they fail because they aren’t conservative enough, I think its because they’re the same old plain-vanilla, squishy, compromise candidates absolutely no one gets excited for.

        “We’re not quite as bad as the other guy” isn’t a strategy people are going to rally around. Whether its Rand or someone else, we need a candidate who sets himself apart and gets people motivated.

  7. Anyone who calls themselves Libertarian who is not a supporter to the non aggression principle (NAP) is not a Libertarian. Period.

    NAP – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-aggression_principle

    If you are not familiar with the Libertarian Party’s platform, take a look here – https://www.lp.org/platform

    From a gun rights perspective you will not find a more straight forward platform statement from any other political party. It reads:


    The only legitimate use of force is in defense of individual rights — life, liberty, and justly acquired property — against aggression. This right inheres in the individual, who may agree to be aided by any other individual or group. We affirm the individual right recognized by the Second Amendment to keep and bear arms, and oppose the prosecution of individuals for exercising their rights of self-defense. We oppose all laws at any level of government requiring registration of, or restricting, the ownership, manufacture, or transfer or sale of firearms or ammunition.

    1. The problem with the NAP is what constitutes aggression? A lot of libertarians have issues with, for instance, drunk driving laws, or other laws that regulate behavior because it’s been judged to have the potential to lead to harm against another. Is dumping toxic waste into a river aggression?

      I mean, I agree with the idea that government ought not regulate you for your own good, but at what point does, say, contaminating ground water constitute aggression? There’s an argument you can sort these things out with torts and such, and that might be the case, but how do you sort out fault if there is 20 parties causing the harm? What happens if it’s thousands?

      Keep in mind I do not self-identify as libertarian. I lean that way, but I am at heart pragmatist. I think true libertarianism is a viable and good philosophy, but it’s not a viable political movement unless it’s in coalition with other interests that are not libertarian. My problem with Ron Paul (less so with Rand) is that he was garnering support from some unsavory parts of the right coalition, and I worry Rand’s power base is just inherited from his father, even though I think Rand Paul is much more politically savvy than his dad.

      1. Well, the most obvious and common theories for pollution count it as a property rights violation, or if it’s bad enough, poisoning, which would seem to be aggression.

        Certainly the issues can’t be ignored, though; while there are answers (see Nozick on mandatory insurance and by extension DUI laws), they’re not universally accepted.

        And like you say, “how much pollution is ‘attack’ rather than ‘trespass'” is a line that’s impossible to really make in an abstract, clear way…

        But then, I’m not sure any theory of justice and law is, so there’s that.

        (And I agree completely that political viability is almost directly inversely correlated to the “purity” of one’s libertarianism, especially in the Rothbard axis as opposed to the Hayek axis.

        [A “pure” Hayekian is much more acceptable to Joe Average, since Hayek’s for a limited social safety net and welfare state, while Rothbard’s for the total abolition of the State.

        But both are “equally Libertarian”.]

        What the LP declares is irrelevant, philosophically speaking.)

        1. Hayden’s support of a limited safety net didn’t include himself, of course. He had planned to collect social security so he could come to the states for a job. Remember those letters that surfaced a few years ago?

      2. I would expect that, if we were to convert to an anarcho-capitalist state overnight, there’d be a lot of confusion, but it would settle down into something; it would probably look vaguely like the Common Law system we use today.

        Indeed, Common Law is this weird result of twisting together a good old-fashioned Anglo-Saxon desire to be free with the Norman desire to rule over peasants.

        This is a big reason why, although I’m convinced that anarcho-capitalism is the ideal form of government, we’re not going to get there, unless we could get there a little bit at a time. Most Libertarians don’t seem that pragmatic, though…

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