Libertarianism is not the Politics of the “Country Class”

Writes Jonah Goldberg at the end his LA Times article regarding the Glenn Beck rally:

I confess, if Beck wasn’t a libertarian, I would find his populism terrifying. But his basic message, flaws notwithstanding, is that our constitutional heritage largely defines us as a people, regardless of race, religion or creed. Is that so insulting to Martin Luther King Jr.’s memory?

Well, Beck isn’t a libertarian, so I suppose, following Goldberg’s caveat, one should start considering running for the hills. Perhaps I’m made to look the fool when writing such things as this in the past and then find instead a politics emerging around a Glenn Beck vs Al Sharpton paradigm. God is indeed a comedian.

The Beck “Restoring Honor” rally was a gathering of this “country class” that Angelo Codevilla wrote about this past summer. Surprisingly, many(although not all) libertarians heaped effusive praise on Codevilla’s treatment. Robert Higgs, for example, called Codevilla’s essay the best one of the most intelligent characterizations(see comments) of American Political class conflict that he has ever read. The writers at were unanimous with their accolades. However, at the time, I criticized Codevilla’s piece on the grounds that it largely wove a superficial libertarian narrative of class conflict over a familiar refrain of right-wing communitarian politics. In other words, it was just a new shade of lip stick on the same pig(the culture war).

The short intervening time that has since transpired I think makes a case for the more critical assessment of Codevilla’s essay. The sensibilities of this “country class” are at the very heart of the political class’ exploitation of the “ground zero mosque controversy.” And Beck’s “Restoring Honor” extravaganza was but a large congregation to exhort God,Country, and the Military. And the country class’ attempted expropriation of right-communitarian MLK doesn’t pass the historical smell test. The post 1963-I Have a Dream-King became much more left-wing and radical, particularly with respect to war. King’s Beyond Vietnam speech, where he called the United States “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today,” would have been the more relevant speech to commemorate. Of course, that would have made the Beck rally an anti-war rally. But that would have been an affront to the thoroughly nationalistic “country class.”

Daniel Larison, writing in the pages of The American Conservative, takes issue with the libertarian critique of the Beck rally. To Larison I will reply that I don’t take issue with “religion in the public square,” but I do take issue with a religious overcoat of nationalism in the public square. Do you really think the problem today is not enough Jesus in politics or that border security lies at the root of our corrupt political economy? I have written on many a previous occasion that I would have a much more positive outlook on the “Tea Parties” if it were synthesized with anti-war sentiment. So, for example, I will write a generally positive review of such things as the John Dennis-Matt Gonzalez anti-war rally. But it only drew around a thousand participants, a measly number compared to the numbers drawn to the Beck-Palin Come to Jesus political rally.

Larison extends his argument to question whether the libertarian conception of liberty is so narrow and restrictive so as to exclude any conservatives. Here, I think Larison perhaps misses an important point: the libertarian conception of liberty is not really the same as the conservative conception. Larison appeals to a Greek Goddess to explain his ideal of “good order” while the libertarian appeals to Proudhon’s famous dictum. “Republican order” and the order of radical liberalism(or radical socialism) are not in any way the same thing. To the extent that libertarianism becomes involved with politics(and in such a case, it’s really a misnomer to call it libertarianism; it should be then referred to as liberalism), there then is often overlap, particularly around opposition to arbitrary power political institutions(the radical libertarian, however, will say that the very art of politics is often the creation of arbitrary power). But the sphere of political overlap can be restricted, particularly if culture,nationalism, or religion are used to influence “lawful order” that is necessary for the so-called “good order.” Libertarianism, outside of politics, however, is a different animal in terms of social theory. In such a case, order is an emergent property of an underlying, voluntary contractual arrangement. As a social theory, libertarianism should never be thought of as restrictive or dogmatic. It should be thought of terms of being a theory of a polycentric order.


9 thoughts on “Libertarianism is not the Politics of the “Country Class”

    1. Sorry, Gary, I’ve been fairly busy as of late. I did have access to your email address posted here(the gmail one), i just didn’t know if that was actually an attended one or not(I don’t attend to my gmail or yahoo email accounts).

      I read your online review, good stuff…

  1. You write: “Robert Higgs, for example, called Codevilla’s essay the best characterization of American Political class conflict that he has ever read.”

    What I actually called it was: “one of the most intelligent, forthright discussions of America’s current socio-political condition I have ever read.”

    See the difference? I would not like to find myself in the position of having to choose whether you are incompetent or dishonest.

    1. Dear Mr. Higgs:

      Forgive me for misquoting you. However, the distinction between the top of your list and a list of, say, your top 5, is a relatively minor, IMHO.

      Now regarding questions of honesty and competency, I would suggest rather than the focus be on me writing “the best” instead of “one of the most intelligent,” with regard to your characterization of Codevilla’s essay, that it should instead be on you, a libertarian scholar, who gave currency to that essay. I know you are familiar with the origins of class theory, that it is rooted in the radical French liberal critique of the Napoleonic permanent war economy. Given that, how do you justify, in our era of permanent war, Codevilla’s delineation of a Ruling Class vs. a “Country Class,” the latter being thoroughly grounded in nationalism and american exceptionalism?

      Now riddle me this, Mr. Higgs. As an anarchist, do you stand and place your hand over your heart during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner? This seems to be the “Codevilla Test” for membership in this country class.

      Quoting Codevilla:

      This class also takes part in the U.S. armed forces body and soul: nearly all the enlisted, non-commissioned officers and officers under flag rank belong to this class in every measurable way. Few vote for the Democratic Party. You do not doubt that you are amidst the country class rather than with the ruling class when the American flag passes by or “God Bless America” is sung after seven innings of baseball, and most people show reverence. The same people wince at the National Football League’s plaintive renditions of the “Star Spangled Banner.”

      Now, be honest…

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