Paleo Authoritarianism

One of the great embarrassments of the modern libertarian movement is the “paleo phase” that certain members of the “intelligentsia,” in particular Murray Rothbard, pursued in the early 90s. This was unfortunate, because in a very real sense, Rothbard played a key role in reviving a “second libertarian movement” in the United States in the latter part of the 1960s. As I have written before, Rothbard wrote the manifesto and Karl Hess delivered it to the masses with his famous Playboy essay, “The Death of Politics.” This nascent, self-identified “libertarian movement” was really the result of New Left fusionism, resulting in an unshackling of the libertarian intellectual tradition from conservatism and the right that absconded it for much of the 20th century. For a more detailed account of this, refer to this previous post at Freedom Democrats.

Now, for whatever reasons, Rothbard would become disillusioned with the left and would shift back to the right. I would speculate that in terms of the communitarian politics that would evolve out of 60s radicalism, Rothbard came to view right-wing communitarianism as the more fertile ground to launch the ‘cadre movements” that he deemed necessary to bring about a “libertarian revolution.” With the failure of the 1988 campaign of Ron Paul, running as a the presidential nominee of the Libertarian Party, to garner much traction in politically advancing the libertarian movement, a certain subset of libertarians, including Rothbard, started to blame libertarianism’s association with cosmopolitan culture and a “live and let live” moral credo. Never mind that these are foundational elements of libertarianism, Rothbard was getting up in years and he needed his “cadre movement.” So these libertarians rechristened themselves as “paleos,’” began a campaign of re-glorifying the “old Right,” and attached their horses to the cult of personality of Pat Buchanan, who had used his 1992 GOP convention speech as a platform to announce a call to arms in all out culture war. These libertarians, under some delusion that aligning with Christian Right would allow them to dictate terms after Pat the Conqueror had vanquished the left in the cultural wars, ended up swallowing a bitter pill. Cultural conservatism got it’s ass kicked in the 90s cultural wars, so much to the point that the likes of Paul Weyrich were hoisting the white flag of defeat by the end of the decade. Pat Buchanan would prove to be an economic statist who was immune to the economic charms of the libertarians. And to top it all off, the libertarians would ultimately get out-flanked by the neo-conservatives in terms of re-shaping right-wing Christian culture.

Let us recall, in the 90s, the neoconservatives incessantly complained about the lack of a unifying “national culture,” which they blamed on consumer capitalism. Their solution to this problem was “the long war” in the theaters of the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Southern Asia. We should further recall that in the aftermath of the 1st Gulf War, the Christian Right was very much skeptical of Bush the Elder’s “New World Order,” deeming it as a satanic plot towards world government. This was the “unifying culture” that these libertarians thought they could ride to victory. Of course, after 9-11, this Christian Right Wing culture converted overnight to the neo-conservative position of permanent war. In the annals of recent history, I think the libertarian paleo shift has to count as one of the grossest, egregious miscalculations.

So, given all this, I am flabbergasted by the likes of Hans Hermann Hoppe who waxes poetic about libertarian-christian conservative fusionism. Frankly, I have no idea how this guy is taken seriously in the libertarian movement. When he writes:

This Establishment Libertarianism was not only theoretically in error, with its commitment to the impossible goal of limited government (and centralized government at that): it was also sociologically flawed, with its anti-bourgeois—indeed, adolescent—so-called “cosmopolitan” cultural message: of multiculturalism and egalitarianism, of “respect no authority”, of “live-and-let-live”, of hedonism and libertinism.

The anti-establishment Austro-libertarians sought to learn more from the conservative side about the cultural requirements of a free and prosperous commonwealth. And by and large they did and learned their lesson. At least, I think that I did.

First, he commits a glaring logical fallacy that because, say, the likes of Cato promote both “limited government” and “cosmopolitan” culture, that advocacy of cosmopolitan culture implies the State. This is the logical fallacy of “Denying the antecedent.” As well, it is a logical fallacy to think making the case against Cato in terms of limited government makes the case against rich cultural diversity. This is a historical fallacy as well, because libertarianism historically is anarchism and has promoted a rich cultural diversity, particularly with respect to tearing down coercive cultural institutional enforcer of norms in terms of being a rationale for impinging one’s liberty.

Hoppe’s criticism of “limited government libertarianism” does not validate any critique of libertarian culture, and thus justify his position on the need for uniform culture. The fact is, there is no such thing as “uniform culture,” other than a official culture that is enforced and propagandized by organs of the State. Indeed, I would argue it is the State that relies on some sort of a uniform culture to retain it’s legitimacy(e.g., nationalism, patriotism, militarism). Those who espouse the need for uniform culture to make their social theory work are authoritarians at heart. We saw this authoritarian strain emerge from the Paleos with the Ron Paul newsletters, where the most egregious things were not the politically incorrect criticisms of the like of Martin Luther King, but the putrid support of thuggish tactics of a thug police, even going as far as suggesting the need to outlaw video cameras so as to allow the thugs to operate in secret.

In a scientific examination of the relationship between markets and culture, we find that markets universalize values across cultures. You cannot have closed cultures and open markets. In my opinion, to think otherwise, is an egregious denial…

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2 thoughts on “Paleo Authoritarianism

    • I’m not really sure about the “unawareness” part.

      In some cases, I think the social conservative christian side was seen as a more opportune population from which to extract funds, which are always needed to sustain a publishing movement.

      In some cases, there is a held belief that a stateless order requires a uniform culture underneath and that conservative christianity is the most compatible with a “free market” stateless order.

      In Rothbardian theory, the spread of libertarianism requires a “cadre movement” built around a cult of personality of sorts around a figure who has great understanding of Misean/Rothbardian praxeology. Christian culture was seen as the more conducive environment to spawn this because it didn’t have any “libertine cultural baggage” that was seen as a distraction/hindrance to the larger culture that had become more socially conservative(and economically conservative) since the Reagan Era. In case you didn’t know, this “cadre figure” is Ron Paul. That’s why you will rarely see the LRC figures criticize him.

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