Via Reason, we learn of another righteous rant from J. Neil Schulman. It seems someone had the unmitigated gall to criticize his support for Glenn Beck on Facebook, resulting in Schulman launching a tirade on his blog eviscerating libertarians for their puritanical exclusivity. Schulman reminds us he was eating chicken and beans with Murray Rothbard before anyone had heard of the word libertarian, and that his book defending gun rights, which he calls one of the most popular books defending the right to keep and bear arms(I must admit, I never heard of it; I had to look it up. It had a grand total of 2 reviews on Amazon.com), cost him his marriage and a possible lucrative writing career in Hollywood.
But here’s the thing. We libertarians generally like to pride ourselves on logical thinking. So, appeals to authority,poverty,wealth,influence, number of books sold etc don’t cut the mustard. These are commonly employed logical fallacies. I’m not going to question Schulman’s own dedication to libertarian principles, but his so-called authority and influence mean squat in making a rational appraisal of Glenn Beck’s contributions to the libertarian cause.
The first thing to note is that Beck didn’t write this so-called “libertarian” novel, The Overton Window. He freely admits it was ghostwritten, just like all of his books are. Media figures and politicians use ghostwriters all the time when producing non-fiction work, particularly in the realm of politics, but for creative works of fiction, I think it’s a bit in bad taste to use ghostwriters and slap your name on it as the author. Beck says he came up with the story, and I won’t question that. But he is in no way a science fiction writer.
Beck has used his radio show and TV show to promote authors like Hayek, indeed the recent surge in sales of “The Road to Serfdom” can largely be attributed to Beck. Beck, in addition, has more or less borrowed from Tom Woods in his running critique of progressivism, a critique that once used to linger only in the obscure bowels of libertarian conferences, but which has now leaked into mainstream media and commentary. Are these good things? Yes, by themselves, they are. But it should be noted that progressivism, just like libertarianism, is hardly a unified ideology. While I think there should be an all out assault against “corporate liberalism,” it should be pointed out the there never would have been a self-identified libertarian revival in the United States without the historical revisionism of the New Left, which thoroughly debunked the New Deal State and the Progressive era. This scholarship played a vital role in the revival of laissez-faire(and by laissez faire, I mean the replacement of the political economy with the Catallaxy; I’m not referring to Ayn Rand’s idea of laissez faire, which is an Objectivist political economy).
From a libertarian perspective, there are a number of issues with Beck. For every show he may promote the likes of Hayek, he devotes equal time promoting the idea the America is Christian country and that liberty requires a religious, Christian foundation. This is an abhorrent message. One of the greatest threats to liberty, if not the greatest threat, is the confluence of State and Church. From a libertarian or liberal perspective, this shouldn’t even be a point of debate. Anyone who delivers a message to the contrary should be roundly condemned. No “ifs,” “ands” or “buts.” Another issue is where exactly was Beck before 2008? He says he has “changed,” but when I go to his website, I find documents like this, which puts him squarely in the cadre of the Bush Statists who are now fighting against the “radical Obama transformation” of America. Beck is a partisan and he is playing to partisan crowd, a crowd that saw Bush “defending America and Freedom.” Of course, the fact is that Obama, in reality, is just window dressing of Bush’s third term.
Schulman claims Beck has joined the “libertarian fight.” But I go to Beck’s website, and I see he is launching a new “liberty tour” with Bill O’Reilly. That’s a train to no where. Frankly, when I think of Beck, PT Barnum comes to mind. Suckerz. Schulman likes Beck because he plugged his book on his radio show. There’s coin to be made here.
In a subsequent post, Schulman demonstrates once again his version of libertarian purity, wherein he devotes considerable space to outing a private correspondence over a copyright dispute with a certain libertarian media organization’s publication of his articles. It’s plain as day obvious what organization he is referring to and who the director of that organization is. Hint: it’s the one Schulman sits on as a member of the advisory panel and the one that has a Creative Commons 3.0 license for redistribution/republication of all content. I should say I am a little taken back if that organization does subscribe to some version of a generational cycles theory of history attributed to William Strauss and Neil Howe, but I’m hardly surprised by the egotistical self-importance Schulman attaches to his own writings.
When discussing libertarianism and ideology, I think ideology is important, but ideology without dogmatism, for the most part. The only areas where I tend to be dogmatic on are “Church and State,” “war,” and “freedom of movement.” Other than that, most of my criticisms pertaining to the libertarian wars is where I think people are being disingenuous. I will point out when Cato types, such as David Boaz, claim that libertarianism is not anarchism, and that they have never met a libertarian anarchist. Right. I criticize the “Lew Rockwell” types, the Rothbardians, who mock the idea of “the constitution” in libertarian circles, but then go on conservative talk shows or go to conservative conferences, and pontificate about grave government usurpation of our glorious constitution. I don’t think you get anywhere by being dishonest and disingenuous.
Libertarians constantly complain about being in an ideological minority vis a vis libertarian justice/ethics. However, I’m not sure the battle is really conceptual anymore. I think the ideas of libertarian class theory, government failure, distrust of government, are fully part of the popular culture. Libertarianism doesn’t suffer from a conceptual problem; rather it suffers from an empirical problem. If there were concrete, viable empirical alternatives to the State in terms of governance, then think the case for liberty could be much more easily made…