Political Theory
Leftists have more in common with the alt-right and libertarians than they want to admit
September 20, 2017
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I’ve already shown that the logic behind the so-called “libertarian to alt-right pipeline” makes no sense, but John Ganz writing in the Washington Post has some more specific critiques of Murray Rothbard, trying to tie him to Joe McCarthy or fascism, that I’d like to address. Ganz writes:

A self-confessed admirer of Joseph McCarthy’s political tactics, Rothbard wanted to put some emotional meat on the spare, abstract bones of libertarian economics. Rockwell, who shared Rothbard’s strategy, penned a series of virulently racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic newsletters on behalf of Ron Paul, in hopes of crafting a viscerally appealing emotional aura around libertarianism. “We are constantly told that it is evil to be afraid of black men, it is hardly irrational,” one missive went. “I think we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males in [Washington] are semi-criminal or entirely criminal,” said another. With these themes, Rothbard and Rockwell brought sensation and visceral feeling to a libertarianism that had otherwise been a matrix of lofty abstractions.

For starters, it’s purely speculation on Ganz’s part that Murray Rothbard or Lew Rockwell had anything to do with the racist newsletters that were published in Ron Paul’s name. There is no evidence proving that either one had anything to do with them, and all that Ron Paul has said on the subject is that it was a staffer with no further details. So this claim that it was definitely Rothbard and/or Rockwell is made up out of whole cloth.

The more important claim, however, is that Rothbard was an admirer of Joseph McCarthy. The first point to make about this claim is that it takes a lot of nerve for the Washington Post to publish a piece that is even implicitly critical of Joe McCarthy when it is currently engaged in a neo-McCarthyist campaign against President Trump and the current Russian government with no evidence to back up their claims.

That said, Ganz links to a book by Rothbard, The Betrayal of the American Right, in an attempt to prove his point, but it’s not as simple as he would have us believe. Rothbard writes in the book:

My own quip at the time, which roughly summed up this position, was that in contrast to the liberals, who approved of McCarthy’s “ends” (ouster of Communists from offices and jobs) but disapproved of his radical and demagogic means, I myself approved his means (radical assault on the nation’s power structure) but not necessarily his ends.

So what Rothbard is saying is that he supports what McCarthy was doing in the sense that it conveys a sense of illegitimacy on the state itself by showing that it has been infiltrated by foreign agents. Why would Rothbard cheer the state being seen as illegitimate in any sense? From his Keynote Address to the 1977 Libertarian Party Convention:

In fact, it is the state that is robbing all classes, rich and poor, black and white, worker and businessman alike; it is the state that is ripping us all off; it is the state that is the common enemy of mankind. And who is the state? It is any group who manages to seize control of the state’s coercive machinery of theft and privilege. Of course these ruling groups have differed in composition through history, from kings and nobles to privileged merchants to Communist parties to the Trilateral Commission. But whoever they are, they can only be a small minority of the population, ruling and robbing the rest of us for their power and wealth. And since they are a small minority, the state rulers can only be kept in power by deluding us about the wisdom or necessity of their rule.

Since his view is that the state “is the common enemy of mankind,” it becomes clear why he would cheer McCarthy in bringing the state into disrepute. The common enemy of mankind inflicting self-harm could only be a cause for celebration for someone like Rothbard, whatever form it took.

Furthermore, Rothbard doesn’t so much profess admiration for McCarthy’s political tactics as bemoan the fact that they’ve harmed the cause of libertarianism to which Rothbard was devoted.

While a failure in the short run, the McCarthy movement had done its work of shifting the entire focus of the right wing from libertarian, antistatist, and isolationist concerns to a focus and concentration upon the alleged Communist “menace.” A diversion from domestic to foreign affairs would not only consolidate the right wing; it would also draw no real opposition from liberals and internationalist Republicans who had, after all, begun the Cold War in the first place.

In the very next paragraph Rothbard goes on to disparage the influence that McCarthy had on one of Rothbard’s chief antagonists, William F. Buckley. So either Ganz did not read Rothbard’s book close enough, or he’s purposefully trying to misrepresent what Rothbard said. Given that we’ve already established his willingness to make up “facts,” nothing new for the Washington Post (See here and here.), I’d suggest it’s probably the latter.

Going back to the notion of a pipeline from libertarianism to the alt-right, however, Tom Woods has repeatedly made the point that nobody is bemoaning the apparent pipeline from libertarianism to socialism based on all of the former Ron Paul supporters who became ardent supporters of Bernie Sanders in 2016. Why the contradiction? Ganz and others point to the stark example of Chris Cantwell renouncing libertarianism for fascism or Nazism or whatever it is he considers himself now, but nobody points to the innumerable examples of former libertarians joining the ranks of the socialist left. Almost as if this inconvenient fact would undermine a very particular narrative that they’re trying to spin.

Then there’s Michael Isaacson, a college professor at John Jay College who professes support for Antifa and said that he was glad “to teach future dead cops.” He also claimed in an interview with Tucker Carlson that he used to consider himself a libertarian. We now have clear evidence of a pipeline from libertarianism to Antifa! Where is Ganz’s outrage?

By that same token, however, while Ganz misread Rothbard’s statements about admiring Joseph McCarthy’s political strategy, Rothbard did explicitly praise the political strategy of the Marxists and say that it should be a model for libertarians.

In the field of strategic thinking, it behooves libertarians to heed the lessons of the Marxists, because they have been thinking about strategy for radical social change longer than any other group.

If we were to use Ganz’s own logic here we’d have to conclude that Rothbard is actually a Marxist and libertarianism is simply a front for Marxism or at least leftism in general. So it’s possible that progressives and socialists have more in common with libertarians than they want you to think, but I doubt Ganz would endorse that viewpoint based on his own tortured logic.

It’s obvious that Ganz doesn’t like libertarians or the alt-right, and since the alt-right is currently seen as a major ideological villain in leftist politics he wants to tie the two together. That the alt-right is a diverse array of ideologies is beyond his ability to grasp or at least to admit. There’s no question that some people among the alt-right will have goals that align with libertarianism and others won’t. It should go without saying, but implying something nefarious about libertarianism because of this is illogical. The fact is that plenty of people on the left once considered themselves libertarians, so if Ganz wants to castigate libertarians for people like Cantwell perhaps he should start by looking in a mirror at himself and his association with violent nut jobs like Michael Isaacson.

UPDATED BELOW:
In response to my blog, John Ganz explained on Twitter that an earlier version of his story included a link to some other work that shows that it was indeed Lew Rockwell and Murray Rothbard who wrote the racist newsletters in Ron Paul’s name. So in fairness to him I will happily retract my claim that Ganz made up the claim “out of whole cloth.”

Ganz links to an article from Reason that quotes several people as having heard from reliable sources that Rockwell, Rothbard, and possibly Jeffrey Tucker (Currently Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education) had a hand in the racist content of Ron Paul’s newsletters. The problem is that this is merely hearsay and doesn’t constitute evidence in and of itself, and Rockwell has denied the charge.

Furthermore, it’s not as if Reason is a neutral party, as it along with the Cato Institute and their funders, the Koch brothers, have had a grudge against Rothbard, Rockwell, and Paul himself, as Ganz notes in his column, since Rothbard left the Cato Institute and formed the Ludwig von Mises Institute with Rockwell and Paul. It’s not a universal dislike from all members of the two camps, but many of the prominent personalities on either side personally dislike one another and will miss no opportunity to criticize the other group. So it’s not as if we can even just take them at their word as impartial observers in this controversy.