by Timothy Lane 6/20/14
Libertarians are probably right as often as anyone else when it comes to specific issues. They genuinely seem to oppose the overpowering authority of the State. And yet, because they place so much emphasis on ancillary issues (usually libertinist), they often end up failing to oppose genuine totalitarianism.
Many years ago, William H. Stoddard of the Libertarian Futurist Society said that he always voted Democratic because for him legalized abortion was the key issue. By that time, the Democrats had long since become the party of Big Government as an institution, with government employee unions and transfer-payment recipients as essential elements of their coalition. Their hostility to dissent was also obvious, which should be at least equally serious to anyone who opposes the Leviathan State. But abortion was more important to him, so this self-described libertarian was effectively a fellow traveler for fascism.
Some libertarians might wonder, even despite that, why we conservatives are often skeptical of them, and of their libertinist and even anarchistic tendencies. So perhaps we should take a look next at libertarian science fiction, in particular L. Neil Smith. He has written a number of entertaining books (I couldn’t comment on them if I hadn’t read them, after all) about an alternate world in which the United States ended up operating under the Articles of Confederation (or a variant thereof; I doubt Smith had actually read them, an exercise that can make one sick of the phrase “the united states in Congress assembled”). in the first, a policeman from our world ends up in that one, and eventually marries a local woman and chooses to live there. In the second, there’s a scene in which he revisits our world to assist the Libertarian Party. One of their members has a “Thank you for pot smoking “ button, and he sees nothing wrong with that.
Now, one can argue that the drug war is a bad idea in the sense that it does more harm than good. But that doesn’t mean that such drugs are a good idea, just as the futility of Prohibition doesn’t mean that drunkenness is a good thing. In addition, there are consequences for breaking the law, and one should never do so lightly (particularly regarding felony offenses). But the libertarian mindset can’t grasp that; indeed, the libertarian science fiction fan Samuel Konkin once told me that people should break the law. Does that make murder an acceptable way to challenge authority? Where is limit – or is there any?
Jose Maria Gil Robles, no friend of freedom, once noted that a nation can exist with almost any form of government – but not in anarchy. In the sense that “anarchy” often means “chaos”, he was right; if people face a choice between chaos and a police state, they will choose the latter. This is why leftists (and for that matter fascists and Nazis) like to create massive civil disorder – so they can use it to justify their own seizure of power and creation of a police state. But, strangely, libertarians who claim to oppose totalitarianism also seem to be willing to create chaos, albeit for its own sake. They evidently are unable to conceive of the consequence.
Smith’s alternate world was itself a fantasy (as he eventually realized, saying that in all the vast number of alternate worlds, this was the only one in which a libertarian utopia came to be). At the end of the first book (The Probability Broach), it turns out that the key difference between that world and ours is that Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that governments derived their just powers from the unanimous consent of the governed. One presumes that Smith was unaware of the history of Poland (where any aristocrat in their legislature could veto any action, thereby ultimately rendering the government totally hapless – which led to the country being partitioned into non-existence). He probably also didn’t realize how much opposition there was to independence in the colonies in 1776. It also makes one wonder how he had slavery being eliminated later on without violence. Does he really believe all the slaveholders would magically decide that their slaves (and everyone else’s) should be free? Probably so.
Note that Smith was the LP candidate for President in at least one state once (though not nationwide), and I think has also been a candidate for lower office in Arizona.
An even more significant LP figure, of course, is Harry Browne, two-time LP presidential nominee. I never considered voting for him, no matter how displeased I was with the Republican choices those years, because of a telling fantasy he came up with in one of his books to illustrate his views.
The fantasy involves Browne visiting a libertarian utopia in Europe called Rheingold. There are many aspects of this I find interesting. One is that their coinage (as in Galt’s Gulch) consists entirely of gold and silver. One wonders how expensive bubble-gum cards were. Maybe they involved original masterpieces or something like that. He also gets mocked by them when he comments on their obsession with economic issues, since he was the one asking the questions. This is in essence a peculiar form of straw-man attack, which hardly indicates intellectual honesty.
The worst part, though, comes in the discussion of World War II. It turns out that the Nazis (no surprise) did conquer the defenseless Rheingold. But since there was no government to surrender to them, they couldn’t run the place themselves, so all they did was steal some cheese and move on. This is a common idiocy among the more anarchocapitalistic libertarians, that without a government to surrender to the enemy they can’t be conquered. Perhaps they’re unaware of how many countries did NOT surrender to Germany, but were overrun and ruled by them anyway. The Poles were as uncooperative as they could be, and Hitler was still able to rule the country, loot it, and murder the Jews (and many other people as well). It never occurs to Browne what would have happened to any Jews in Rheingold. Their plight is irrelevant to a libertarian.
Making the situation worse, Browne has the Americans later overrunning the country during the 1944 campaign – even though the Nazis weren’t occupying it. (Strangely enough, they never went into other small countries unoccupied by the Nazis, such as Liechtenstein, Andorra, and the Vatican.) And what did they do? Why, since there was no enemy to throw out, they just stole some cheese and moved on. So Browne thought the Americans were much the same as the Nazis. This, too, is a common libertarian fallacy. They seem to behave narcissistically (as do liberals, but that’s another issue) on the subject of freedom: If the US is the country restricting their freedom, then it’s the Ultimate Enemy even if some other enemy (such as the Soviet Union at the time Browne was writing) is technically even worse. After all, the USSR wasn’t restricting his freedom, so who cares about it? I suspect they feel a similar insouciance today about Shariah (just as their liberal allies do).
One final idiocy in Browne’s fantasy comes when the Rheingolders find that the dollars they got from those American troops (which doesn’t sounds like they were robbing them, but never mind – one shouldn’t expect logical consistency in an ideological fantasy) weren’t really “as good as gold”. Never mind that whatever passed for at least a simulacrum of government could exchange them for gold. Never mind that even if they couldn’t trade them for gold, they could trade them for goods from other countries (whose people were often quite happy to get those dollars). So these idiots instead used them for a giant bonfire (which got out of control). And here I thought libertarians were supposed to be such smart people.
Incidentally, when the Germans were busy stealing cheese, might It ever have occurred to them to steal some of that gold and silver currency the Rheingolders had? Looting soldiers certainly aren’t so stupid that they would fail to grab the most valuable stuff.
All of these are examples of peculiar libertarian thinking, which leads to people who claim to oppose the State failing to do anything to stop it – and even assisting its rise to Orwellian totalitarianism. Congratulations, guys, you’re doing a great job. But I won’t say for whom.
Timothy Lane writes from Louisville, Kentucky and publishes the FOSFAX fanzine.
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