The Potowmack Institute
Updated 03/08/2008

The rightwing movement's extreme individualist ideology has much to come to terms with in its own intellectual heritage. The Potowmack Institute provides a few examples:
"Big Sister is Watching You", Whittaker Chambers reviews Ayn Rand, National Review, 1957.
"Libertarians & Conservatives", National Review, 1979.
"The Libertarian Movement in America", George Friedman and Gary McDowell, J. Contemp. Studies, 1983.

There is an "untrammeld libertarianism" in the present rightwing movement that tends toward the same "anarchy and nihilism" as the rightwing ideologue Frank S. Meyer saw "in the anarchist wing of SDS" in the late 1960s. Now we find it in the NRA's "armed citizen guerrillas" acting out a childish political fantasy. The difference is that SDS did not wrap its insurrectionist fantasies in the Constitution and did not have them embraced and promoted by members of Congress.

Meyer raised fundamental issues in 1969 which National Review today has not addressed. When National Review mentions gun rights, gun ownership, and the gun lobby it is only in terms of ridiculing those silly liberals who think they will address crime by touching guns with laws. The real issues are, Have gun owners consented to be governed and given just powers to government? Have they "surrended up the executive power of the law of nature," in the words of John Locke, and given the political community the to enforce the judgments of the community without which there is no political community. National Review has not explained in the terms that Meyer raises how prior restraint on the exercise of armed force, the one thing the gun lobby's insurrectionist fantasy cannot accommodate, might contribute to the "minimum needs of social order" and "civilizational restraint." The issues are not before the Supreme Court in DC Gov. v. Heller

Assaulting Jim Zumbo

The NRA on Extremists

NRA scams its members

The Lionel Show
AirAm Radio's ignorant, crude, ugly,
air waves barbarian
Dear John Ashcroft
The armed populace doctrine at the DOJ
The Washington Post
cultivating ignorance.
Gun Policy News
news stories compiled daily.
"Sixty Minutes"
Failing its Mission
NPR's Diane Rehm
Civilized without Substance.
A longstanding dereliction.
Violence Policy Center
The public health agenda
falls in line with the NRA.
Getting it right but
failing its mission in the
larger struggle
Militia Act of 1792
To enroll— conscript, register

Return of Militia
Inventory of private weapons in
the early Republic reported to the
President of the US
John Kenneth Rowland
Lawrence Cress
John K. Mahon
LaPierre's list

The Quotes, the Quotes
Fabricating the armed populace doctrine
Libertarians, Conservatives

Tenn. Law Rev., 1995

Chicago-Kent Symposium, 2000
What does the NRA want?

Libertarianism and Libertinism?

Frank S. Meyer
National Review, 1969
©1969 by National Review, Inc., 215 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10016. Reprinted with permission

Principles and Heresies
[bold added]

The development of contemporary American conservatism has been marked, on the theoretical level, by a continuing tension between a traditionalist emphasis and a libertarian emphasis. Over the years I have argued that these positions are in fact not incompatible opposites, but complementary poles of a tension and balance which, both in theory and practice, define American conservatism as it has come into being at midcentury. If anything, I have stressed the libertarian emphasis because I have felt that unmodified traditionalism, stressing virtue and order in disregard of the ontological and social status of the freedom of the individual person, tended dangerously to towards an authoritarianism wrong in itself and alien to the spirit of American conservatism.

Recently, however, there have been ominous signs that the danger of a disbalance just as alien to conservatism is arising not from traditionalist quarters, but from an untrammeled libertarianism, which tends as directly to anarchy and nihilism as unchecked traditionalism tends to authoritarianism. This libertarianism can be seen at its most extreme in such dropouts from the Right as Murray Rothbard and Karl Hess and their handful of followers. While their position has become indistinguishable from that of SDS, there are increasing signs of a more widespread, if more moderate, development in this direction, primarily among the young, but by no means restricted to them. The essential rationale of this position is so far removed from the rationale of libertarian conservatism, and so completely ignores the proper foundations of liberty in the actual circumstances of the human condition, that, like the position of the anarchist wing of the SDS, its proper denomination is not libertarianism but libertinism.

A true libertarianism is derived from metaphysical roots in the very constitution of being, and places its defense of freedom as a political end in the context of moral responsibility for the pursuit of virtue and the underlying social necessity for the preservation of order. The libertine impulse that masquerades as libertarian, on the other hand, disregards all moral responsibility, ranges itself against the minimum needs of social order, and raises the freedom of the individual person (regarded as the unbridled expression of every desire, intellectual or emotional) to the status of an absolute end.

Libertine ideologes

The underlying issue between conservative libertarianism and libertine libertarianism is at bottom a totally opposed view of the nature of destiny of men. The libertines—like those other products of the modern world, ritualistic liberals, socialists, Communists, fascists—are ideologues first and last. That is, they reject reality as it has been studied, grasped, understood, and acted upon in five thousand years or so of civilized history, and pose an abstract construction as the basis of action. They would replace God's creation of this multifarious, complex world in which we live, and substitute for it their own creation, simple, neat and inhuman—as inhuman as the blueprints of the bulldozing engineer.

The place of freedom in the spiritual economy of men is a high one indeed, but it is specific and not absolute. By its very nature, it cannot be an end of men's existence. Its meaning is essentially freedom from coercion, but that, important as it is, cannot be an end. It is empty of goal or norm. Its function is to relieve men of external coercion so that theY may freely seek their good.

It is for this reason that libertarian conservatives champion freedom as the end of the political order's politics, which is, at its core, the disposition of force in society, will, if not directed towards this end, create massive distortions and obstacles in men's search for their good. But that said, an equally important question remains. Free, how are men to use their freedom? The libertine answers that they should do what they want. Sometimes, in the line of the philosophers of the French Revolution, he arbitrarily posits the universal benevolence of human beings. He presumes that if everyone does whatever he wants, everything will be for the best in the best of all possible worlds. But whether so optimistically qualified or not, his answer ignores the hard facts of history. For it is only in civilization that men have begun to rise towards their potentiality; and civilization is a fragile growth, constantly menaced by the dark forces that suck man back towards his brutal beginnings.

Reason and Tradition

The essence of civilization, however, is tradition: no single generation of men can of itself discover the proper ends of human existence. At its best, as understood by contemporary American conservatism, the traditionalist view accepts political freedom, accepts the role of reason and innovation and criticism; but it insists, if civilization is to be preserved, that reason operate within tradition and that political freedom is only effectively achieved when the bulwarks of civilizational order are preserved.

Libertine libertarianism would shatter those bulwarks. In its opposition to the maintenance of defenses against Communism, its puerile sympathy with the rampaging mobs of campus and ghetto, its contempt for the humdrum wisdom of the great producing majority, it is directed towards the destruction of the civilizational order which is the only real foundation of a real world for the freedom it espouses. The first victim of the mobs let loose by the weakening of civilizational restraint will be, as it has always been, freedom—for anyone, anywhere.

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