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The libertarian fantasy simply stated is that we reverse the process followed by the Framers of the Constitution, dissolve law and government and return to the State of Nature. It is the expression of a demoralized public mood and a defeatist retreat from political life. It asserted itself in the last half of the twentieth century the way a religion might suddenly permeate a society. The process is not rational but it captures many minds. When the libertarian fantasy receives enormous financial backing from self-serving rightwing economic interests, it becomes a potent political force. Friedman and McDowell give a brief overview of the ideology and its contradictions arriving at an observation on the difference between "total (or near total) liberty" and "ordered liberty." What the Potowmack Institute calls the "rightwing movement" fails to appreciate the distinction. Anything that could be called truly "conservative" would have to embrace ordered liberty. See .../index.html, .../597intro.html, and .../parkamic.html,

The libertarian fantasy has produced an enormous volume of preposterous pseudoscholarship published in recent years mostly in law journals. See .../196locke.html, and LaPierre's list. The pseudoscholarship is a great service to the gun lobby. When modernity becomes more than some people can handle they invent an individualist fantasy.

Other files relevant to libertarian contraditions:

"Seducing the Left", Mother Jones, 1980.
Whittaker Chambers reviews Ayn Rand, National Review, 1957.
"Libertarians & Conservatives,", Ernest van Der Haag, National Review, 1979.)
"Libertarianism or Libertinism?", Frank S. Meyer, National Review, 1969.


THE LIBERTARIAN MOVEMENT

IN AMERICA

George Friedman and Gary L. McDowell

©1983 Institute for Contemporary Studies,
used with permission.


The Movement and the party
Libertarian activities
Libertarian individualism
Extreme v. moderate libertarianism
Libertarians and Conservatives
Bottom

Potowmack Institute
asamicus curiae in
US v Emerson (1999)


The Rule of Law

The National Rifle Association
What does the NRA want?

The National Rifle Association
Charlton Heston Speaks

The Founders and the AK47
Sue Wimmershoff-Caplan:
The NRA's "armed citizen guerrillas" "outflank", Wash. Post 7/6/89
The Washington Post
Cultivating Ignorance

Guns, Rights, the Libertarian Fantasy, and the Rule of Law
Not Seen in The Responsive Community
Getting Commitment from Congress
The blood on their doorstep
The Libertarian Fantasy on the Supreme Court
Thomas and Scalia
Joyce Lee Malcolm
Ayn Rand, Blackstone
Joseph Story's
"Palladium of the Liberties"
The Second Amendment in Court

History
John Kenneth Rowland
Lawrence Cress
Jerry Cooper
Gary Hart
Pseudohistory
LaPierre's List and the Law Reviews
Revolutionary Militia
Consciousness

Militia Act, 1792
Mass. Militia Act, 1793

Whittaker Chambers
Reviews Ayn Rand

National Review, 1957

Libertarianism as a political movement is an odd, amorphous sort of phenomenon; but however difficult it may be to pin down a single universally acceptable definition of libertarianism, one fact is clear: since its founding in 1971 the Libertarian Party has made rather steady progress in American politics. As the American mood has turned more conservative, the libertarians have become an important part of the conservative coalition. The libertarian positions on such issues as welfare, busing, and anti-trust find a friendly audience among most conservatives. The party itself, backed by a remarkable confederation of institutes and publications, has been able to capture public attention by appealing simply and directly to the underlying sentiment in American politics— that as far as government goes, small is definitely beautiful.

The movement and the party

The libertarian movement has been around, in one form or another, for quite a long while. John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, and John Stuart Mill loom large in the libertarian pantheon. The current movement, however ideologically sprawling it may appear, is guided at its deepest level by, an unfaltering, unblushing dedication to

The Libertarian Movement in America 47


liberty, defined simply as the right of "all individuals . . . to exercise sole dominion over their own lives "
1. The target of the libertarians is coercion of any sort that would impinge upon that liberty of the individual; but their real focus is government and "the cult of the omnipotent state." There surely is a bit of old-fashioned Jeffersonianism here; one cannot glance at the libertarian literature without hearing at least an echo of the caveat that "that government is best which governs least."

Though some strands of libertarianism as an intellectual force may have been with us since the beginning the current movement really began only in the 1940s. With the end of World War II, and the lingering presence of New Deal welfarism, came a rising of concern over the future of classical liberalism. Certainly America had fought in defense of liberty against Fascist aggression— but for what purpose. It seemed to some that the United States, like the rest of the world, was on the road to serfdom, as Friedrich Hayek so graphically put it. Confronting as they did the growing popularity of socialism, Keynesian economics, and the welfare state, libertarian intellectuals began to think through the tough questions of "the extent to which government activity was compatible with individual freedom and the market system." 2 To their way of thinking, the answer was "not much." lt seemed strikingly clear that the trustworthy invisible hand of the market place was coming to he shackled and the lives and fortunes of individuals pushed and prodded and plundered by "the all too visible hand of the bureaucrat and the secret police." 3 Something had to give.

The libertarian movement of the mid-1940s proved to be the intellectual flank of what would become a political movement. More precisely, it was, as George Nash has observed "an intellectual movement with political implications." 4 From the first stirrings of the libertarian conscience in postwar intellectual circles to the founding of the Libertarian Party, the goal of movement has remained constant; it has never been as concerned with conventional political power and prestige as with the implementation of ideas. The guiding logic has been clear: ideas, as Richard Weaver said, have consequences.

Since its founding by David Nolan in 1971, the Libertarian Party has relished being dubbed "the party of principle." As a leading libertarian, Murray Rothbard, sought to remind his fellows in a keynote address before the 1977 Libertarian National Convention, "We are interested in principles. They are interested in power." 5 That distinction is not, of course, as clearly drawn as the party line would have it. In becoming a party, the libertarians are undeniably interested in electoral success: and electoral success means power. And

48 The Journal of Contemporary Studies Summer 1983


the libertarians, like any other third party, have been clawing their way onto as many ballots as they can. As a party, in fact, their first pressing task was to secure places on the ballots of the several states. (This proved no easy matter for a group originally boasting only 500 members, half of whom were Californians.) In 1972, the party made the ballot in only two states; by 1976 it could claim a political presence in thirty-one states; in 1980, the Libertarian presidential candidate was a choice in all fifty ballots. By 1982, the party could boast a membership of approximately 40,000 (see Tables 1 and 2[tables omitted]). This is not the sort of electoral progress that is made by a party that doesn't care.

In an age increasingly unsure of its politics, in which party affiliation is at best tenuous, the libertarians have become the party for all reasons. A brief sample of the average libertarian platform reveals, as one observer noted, a tendency to swing so quickly from right to left "that it will give you a nosebleed." For example, the party routinely argues for the abolition of (among other things): import quotas; the FBI and the CIA; anti-gun laws; antitrust laws; anti-drab laws; anti-prostitution laws; child labor laws; anti-pornography laws; government poverty programs; public schools; police; no-fault insurance; busing; the draft ("conscription is slavery"); forced jury duty; the postal service; and social security (a "fraudulent, virtually bankrupt, and increasingly oppressive system"). In short, libertarians tend to oppose all the things governments have traditionally done. The concrete advantage of this ideological breadth has been to increase the party's appeal in recent years. The spectrum, ranging as it does from the far left to the extreme right, has been sufficient to draw adherents from radical, liberal, and conservative ranks; disgruntled Republicans (the party was, in fact, founded by "disaffected Republicans unhappy with Nixon") 6 and bitter Democrats seem to mix easily with socialists and anarchists of nearly every stripe— from former members of Students for a Democratic Society to former members of Young Americans for Freedom.

Founded in Colorado, the Libertarian Party has traditionally done best in the West and Alaska— the last strongholds of rugged individualism one suspects. But the party is beginning to head East. During the 1982 midterm elections it made respectable showings in Ohio, Louisiana, Florida, and Illinois. By increasing its permanent presidential ballot status (it already has such status in sixteen states), the party has been able to spread its word. with the result that the other parties have begun to take notice. During the 1982 elections the Republican National Committee launched a radio campaign in selected areas specifically aimed at undercutting the party's appeal.

The Libertarian Movement in America 49


[Tables 1 and 2 omitted]

50 The Journal of Contemporary Studies Summer 1983


Though the Republicans eventually pulled the message, the following did run briefly in Alaska:

For a political party trying to make electoral headway, such attention is cause for celebration.

Libertarian activities

The formal party activity of the libertarians is in many ways the least visible aspect of the libertarian movement. The party itself is backed by a network of foundations, publications, and thinkers that, from blatantly partisan pamphleteers to more philosophic writers— such as Robert Nozick in Anarchy, State, and Utopia and Friedrich Hayek in the three-volume Law, Legislation and Liberty— broadcasts the libertarian message: the "interventionist state" is utterly at odds with liberty. The works of Hayek, Milton Friedman, Ludwig von Mises, Thomas Sowell, and other thinkers whose works satisfy at least certain strands of libertarianism are routinely reviewed (favorably), distilled (judiciously), and sold (inexpensively) by libertarian publications and those generally sympathetic to some if not all of the tenets of libertarianism. From libertarian advertisements in the conservative Intercollegiate Review; for instance, one can snap up a copy of Frank S. Meyer's In Defense of Freedom for $1.00; and Hayek's massive The Constitution of Liberty is going for a mere $5.00 (a hardcover edition that regularly costs $19.95). Similarly, The Liber-

The Libertarian Movement in America 51


tarian Party News features "The Libertarian Party Book Service," which offers copies of often hard-to-find gospels at good prices. Other nonparty publications such as The Freeman do the same. Such literary hustling is directed at what most libertarian activists agree is the biggest problem facing the movement: educating libertarians— as opposed to the public at large— in the "ethics, principles, and policies of libertarianism." The effort is more than proselytism: it is a matter of party purity. 7

The publications are far more than publishers' clearinghouses, however. Magazines such as Inquiry, Reason, the Cato Journal, The Humane Studies Review, and The Freeman have always been publications with a purpose. Firmly believing that classical liberalism is steadily losing ground, and that the subsequent decline of the West is the disastrous consequence of bad ideas, the publications are dedicated to providing a forum where the good, if not still widely popular, ideas of the liberal faith can he aired. If ideas do indeed have consequences, then the best assault against the ideological enemies of liberty is to be made in the public prints. Subscription rates are sacrificed in most cases for the cause: The Humane Studies Review is actually free to students and faculty; The Freeman is also offered free but with the explicit hope that it will "prove so valuable that [the reader] will want to respond with a donation"; Individual Liberty demands a modest $5.00. The libertarians (bolstered by survey research) are convinced that "libertarians gain the greatest part of their understanding about libertarian ideas from magazines and newsletters." 8

Most of the institutes and foundations responsible for the publication of the journals and magazines of the libertarian movement— the Cato Institute, The Reason Foundation, the Institute for Humane Studies, the Foundation for advanced Studies in Liberty, the Foundation for Economic Education, the Center for Libertarian Studies, the Council for a Competitive Economy, and the Society for Individual Liberty— have for years offered instruction for beginners and advanced seminars to help explain and explore the basic principles of libertarianism to new and potential libertarians and to allow longtime believers the opportunity "to delve deeper into the philosophical and theoretical roots of libertarianism." 9 For a nominal fee (usually cut drastically for students, either graduate or undergraduate), participants can join in a concentrated program to discuss current issues as well as the problems and prospects of the libertarian movement. The summer program designed and sold by the Society for Individual Liberty to facilitate the formation of "satellite" summer programs, such as "Principals of Liberty," touches nearly every libertarian base: Basic Principles of Liberty,

52 The Journal of Contemporary Studies Summer 1983


Issues of Economic Freedom, Issues of Personal Liberty, Economic Issues and the Market Response, Foreign Affairs and Freedom, Individualism in Our Age, and Social Issues Today. The Cato Institute in the past has offered week-long seminars in libertarian theory at both Dartmouth and Stanford. For $395 ($150 for students) those selected to participate were promised "a comprehensive overview of the philosophy of liberty along with an opportunity to discuss ideas with well-known and knowledgeable libertarian intellectuals.'' The programs consist of "an intensive series of 24 lectures in economics, ethics, foreign policy, American history, and political issues." The purpose of the assorted study programs has been to preach to the converted, or at the very most to pull the ideologically wavering across the line. There is generally much enthusiasm in the ranks for getting the libertarian house in philosophical order.

Following the lead of the unofficial libertarian institutes and foundations, the Party itself has begun an intensive program of internal education. The primary purpose, again, is not recruitment but refinement. As chairwoman in 1981, Alicia Clark set as her first goal (to be achieved by 1983) "substantial progress in educating all those who belong to or are registered in the Libertarian Party." 10 To Chairwoman Clark, many libertarians need to be better versed in both the fundamental principles and the current policies of the party; so she established the Internal Education Committee in order "to provide educational materials, programs, advice and encouragement in state and local parties in order to help implement the goal of educating all members of the Party in the principles, policies, and goals of the Party." It was also understood that an important function of the Internal Education Committee would be to "develop programs to increase the organizational and political skills of the members of the Party."11 Through local study group, advanced seminars, "Issue of the Month" clubs, expert speakers and workshop leaders during the state party conventions, book services, and discount subscription rates for libertarians from libertarian magazines and newsletters, the Internal Education Committee would seek to educate libertarians in how better to understand, articulate, and live their own philosophy. Thus educated and happy, the libertarians would then be better able to "show others the truth of our views and the desirability of adopting them in our society." 12

Such educational programs are particularly necessary to the libertarian movement because of the simple fact that the strands of libertarian thought do not naturally make a tightly woven ideological fabric; it takes effort to piece them together. And once stitched, the doctrines pull hard at the seams. In a party of movement that cele-

The Libertarian Movement in America 53


brates very conservative positions (abandoning government poverty programs, for instance)as well as extremely liberal ones (such as the decriminalization of marijuana and other controlled substances) and even radical positions (e g., the abolition of the FBI and the CIA and the abolition of child labor laws), unabating tension is to be expected. To avoid the semblance of simple ideological confusion is no easy chore. But the real divisions among the libertarians are not merely over policy issues; the theoretical cleavage runs deep.

Libertarian individualism

The theoretical spirit in libertarianism originates in the genesis of its doctrine. Libertarianism's painstakingly consistent logic— a logic of liberty— precisely what renders the libertarian movement a difficult one to hold together and the Libertarian Party a tough one to push. For the libertarian political theory of individual liberty rests on a split foundation: an economic foundation of the one side, and a moral foundation on the other. Thus, libertarianism is less a traditional political movement or party than it is a moral and economic system. More precisely, libertarianism consists of a set of economic and moral theories linked to each other by a uniform commitment to individual freedom. The moral and the economic commitments to individual freedom are arrived at in different ways and have different consequences for public policy. But they do have a common origin in a particular understanding of what it means to be a human being.

Generally speaking, the libertarian commitment to individualism is the result of the belief that virtue or moral excellence is possible only within individuals. Therefore, the integrity of the individual must be defended in order that that virtue might be free to show itself. For the libertarians, individual liberty is more than individual whim; it is a matter of justice. 13

The approach through economics. At least since 1944, when Friedrich Hayek's The Road to Serfdom appeared, the economic defenders of the basic tenets of classical liberalism from Hayek to Milton Friedman to Thomas Sowell have done much to bolster the cause of libertarianism. As Hayek sounded the warning, so the others joined the chorus. "Economic control," Hayek wrote,

Hayek warned that economic planning the attempt to shackle the invisible hand of the free market, would lead to a creed of

54 The Journal of Contemporary Studies Summer 1983


unrestrained egalitarian collectivism. When this misguided notion came to infect democratic regimes, it would be the cause of their destruction, and therewith of the political concern for preserving individual liberty. Economic planning by the centralized state, is above all else, the most direct route to a new and stifling brand of serfdom. Hayek urged a return to the higher though increasingly abandoned road of classical liberalism.

The cause of the change in direction of Western regimes from individualist to collectivist had been the modern fascination far achieving "social justice"— the desire for leveling, for reducing the distinctions and disparities among people. This concern for social justice, in turn, was the result of a shift in the way law is understood. Law is no longer viewed primarily as a set of negative restraints on human passions and wickedness; it is viewed most of all as a positive force for promoting the general welfare. In the new understanding it is the rote of law to remove the imperfections of nature. As a result the notion of justice suffered a like transmogrification. Justice now "makes it the duty of society to see that individuals have particular things." 15

The alternative to the economic creed of collectivism is the economic creed of individualism, the truly open society wherein men are left free to determine and then to pursue those objectives (however banal) they think most likely to contribute to their safety and happiness. The solution to the problem of modern politics— and in particular of socialism— is ultimately economic: the slow but sure moving of the invisible hand of the free market. Rules and regulations tend only to foul things up:

To be free, truly free, men must be left alone to choose how they will live their lives and dispose of the fruits of their labors; to place demands or restrictions on such economic freedom is to destroy any meaningful notion of political liberty.

Free-market economics, with its clear dedication to the principle of individual autonomy, provides a solid point of departure for the political science of libertarianism. Not only does such an economic order leave men free, it makes them happy; and the happiness of the citizen is essential to the stability and vitality of the nation. The

The Libertarian Movement in America 55


underlying principles of the American constitutional order demand nothing less. The institutional problem, as Milton Friedman has suggested, boils down to figuring out how to "benefit from the promise of government while avoiding the threat to freedom" that government necessarily poses."
17 To sail smoothly past the danger of anarchy on the one side and the threat of despotism on the other, it is essential never to lose sight of the two most fundamental principles of American politics. First, the scope of governmental power must be limited. The major function of government

The second principle necessary for sound politics is the dispersion among competing sovereignty of whatever governmental powers are deemed necessary— in short, federalism. While big, centralized government undoubtedly has the power to do good and to offer social comfort on a grand scale, it inevitably has the power to do harm as well. "The great tragedy of the drive to centralize, as of the desire to extend the scope of government in general, is that it is mostly led by men of good will who will be the first to rue its consequences." 19

Yet over and above the traditional institutional justifications for limited government is another rationale. The greatest human achievements have nearly always been "the product of individual genius, of strongly held minority views, of a social climate permitting variety and diversity." 20 Centralized government with its bureaucratic contrivances, its uniform and petty rules and regulations, cannot begin to duplicate the innovations of the natural genius and exuberance of free individuals seeking either truth or profit; and ironically, it actually snuffs out such genius and accomplishment. The point, as Tocqueville knew, is that while in certain instances the individual left to his own devices may be "less successful than the state would have been in his place, . . . in the long run the sum of all private undertakings far surpasses anything the government might have done." 21 Such an arrangement of 1imited government makes good sense, economically and politically. For it is the necessary condition for a civilization at once enlightened and progressive.

The approach through morality. For economically oriented libertarians the moral argument is an adjunct to the argument from effi-

56 The Journal of Contemporary Studies Summer 1983


ciency; but there is another group of libertarians for whom the technical economic argument is trivial comparative the moral. The best representative of this faction is Ayn Rand. For Rand, productivity is more than a technical economic phenomenon: it is a moral category. It represents man's highest end; it is the activity in which he is most human. The struggle against nature represents a heroic moment for man, who alone seeks to bend nature to his will by means of the power of reason.

The importance of Ayn Rand to libertarian thought cannot be overemphasized. She provided a moral justification for capitalism to replace the technical justification that had held sway until then. Until Rand, the strongest case for capitalism was efficiency: it worked. However, the mere fact that capitalism produced wealth better than other forms of economic organization did not, by itself, serve as a sufficient justification. Those who defended capitalism on grounds merely of its technical superiority had to contend with the view that, whatever the virtues of capitalism, it was necessitated by a moral defect within men. If men were better, went the argument, then capitalism would be unnecessary and all the waste and struggle of the free market could be replaced by peaceful, collective effort. However, since men were selfish scoundrels, capitalism was the best that could be expected from them. This moral ambiguity of capitalism is what had allowed, in large part, the transformation of classical liberalism into modern welfare liberalism.

More than anyone else, Ayn Rand attempted to change all that. First, and most important, she attacked the notion of selfishness as vice and turned it into a virtue. Based on her attack on religion in general, and on Christianity and Christian ethic in particular, Rand made the argument that selfishness was the highest and noblest expression of human creativity and dignity. Thus she had John Galt, the hero of her Atlas Shrugged, say that: "To hold man's nature as his sin is a mockery of nature. To punish him for a crime he committed before he was born is a mockery of justice." 22 And therefore:

Ayn Rand thus tried to turn the industrialist and the merchant into a hero, and in so doing to turn capitalism into something heroic, and belief in capitalism into something ennobling. Following Rand one could make the case for capitalism without a sense of guilt— a sense

The Libertarian Movement in America 57


that had until then always accompanied capitalism. Rand denied the guilt-ridden moralism of Adam Smith, for instance. Smith had always hedged his economic bets with too many weak-kneed moral sentiments. He wrote:

Rand had no hesitation in celebrating those properly rich and powerful, and therefore gave libertarianism its strongest theoretical and psychological impulse. For Rand the eternal struggle between man and nature was profoundly individualistic. In her view, the creative reason necessary for productivity is both scarce among men and possible only in a man who loves himself first. This unapologetic self-love is the motor pushing the creative genius forward. Like Howard Roarke in The Fountainhead, the creator creates in order to make a monument to himself. 25 And there is nothing wrong with that.

Rand's intention is to show that the productive owe nothing to the unproductive— or to any one else, for that matter. In attacking altruism, she challenges those who believe that men are obligated to be charitable to those who are weaker to explain by what standard this is so; by what standard is greed to be regarded as unjust? For her, as for John Locke, reason can demonstrate no basis for anything but self-interest. Even, for example, if it could be shown that radical capitalism were inefficient (something she regards as impossible), it would still be the most moral system because it never compels anyone to assume any obligation to which he is not inclined. And for Rand no reasonable man would be inclined to assume any obligation in the first place, except one that is mutually beneficial.

Thus for Rand charity is morally wrong in itself, for it violates the obligation of the giver to himself while destroying the dignity of the recipient. Yet Rand would not legislate against charity. Her argument against altruism does not put her in opposition to the economic libertarians on questions of public policy. Politically there is agreement between Rand and those like Milton Friedman who see nothing inherently wrong with charity. The argument is simple enough: whether or not charity is good, the state ought not to make it compulsory. In the view of both the economic and the moral libertarians, welfare creates economic inefficiency; and for both, it is an injustice, a violation of the right of men to dispose their wealth as they see fit. For both, the state ought not intrude on productive or economic 1ife.

58 The Journal of Contemporary Studies Summer 1983


Extreme v. moderate libertarianism

The two bases of contemporary libertarianism, the moral and the economic, explain in large part why the movement attracts disappointed conservative Republicans as easily as the disaffected remnants of the New Left. Hard hats and hippies might make strange bedfellows, but each can find comfort under the patchwork quilt of the libertarian movement or the Libertarian Party. For the most part the economic teachings of Hayek and Friedman and the moral teachings of Rand combine to provide a comfortable, moderate common denominator for libertarianism. Both traditions accept the right of the state to exist, and both see its function as the protection of private property and the defense of the community. Toward this end, both accept that the state has a right to levy taxes because those who are taxed benefit. But it is only toward this end that the state has the right to tax; anything beyond this point, both camps agree, is unjust.

Such moderation, while it generally characterizes the vital center of the libertarian movement, does not satisfy the more extremeand occasionally the most vocal— libertarians. Casting a suspicious glance toward their more moderate brethren, there are those libertarians who unflinchingly oppose all state functions. Why, they ask, does the state have the right to compel men to pay for their own defense? Moreover, aren't state police and state armies as likely to be inefficient as state-run postal systems? The more moderate among this faction hold that the state should support police and defense only by voluntary contributions; the more radical oppose any state power at all.

The most radical libertarians have a certain sympathy for the New Left. They oppose defense spending as much as welfare, and regard American foreign policy— any foreign policy— as imperialism. By extending their criticism of state activity to such extremes, they are in a way the most consistent libertarians. But the ultimate end for them is anarchy. Some are prepared for this; others deny it is a problem, possessing a faith that people are inherently good and only the state makes them wicked.

Among those of this group who have tried to grapple with this problem in a serious way is the economist Murray Rothbard. 26 For Rothbard, compulsory taxation is obviously unjust. Yet he also knows that some organized protection is necessary for property. For Rothbard, the ingenious answer is to be found in a theory of multiple governments offering various services that men are free to purchase as they will.

Consider fire protection. In many communities, fire fighters are not state employees, nor are they tax-supported. Rather, they are volunteers. This system works well enough. Now, given Rand's

The Libertarian Movment in America 59


arguments, it is not clear why anyone would volunteer to fight someone else's fire. So, Rothbard suggests, it would be a short step to making fire-fighting organizations paid corporations. People could either buy fire protection for a small yearly fee, or in the event of fire, pay a large users' fee. Those so impudent or unproductive to have neither insurance nor cash would, we assume, be out of luck.

One could expand this to police. Say you are being robbed. You have a contract with a firm of private police and you call them. Chances are that they would show up faster than police do now because, motivated by profits, they would want your continued business. And so on.

Rothbard's scheme is an attempt to be both logical and realistic, though not without some resulting problems. The anarchists are morally right and the statists are practically right. Rothbard tries a compromise that is doomed from the beginning: his is a thoroughgoing attempt to turn political matters into entirely economic ones.

In a way, Rothbard's theory of competitive governments reveals the fundamental theoretical weakness of libertarianism. It accepts the deformed image of man as a purely economic animal devoid of political inclination not as a problem to be solved, but as an insight to be celebrated. Libertarians want this image of man to ho1d sway. But the problem is that economic man is an abstraction in the same way that a strictly sexual understanding of basic drives is an abstraction. Both models explain parts of human nature— even large parts— but neither alone is adequate to explain fully what it means to be human. The problems that extreme libertarians have in solving the consequences of their logic merely reflect the problems of the libertarian vision generally. The wackiness of the extreme libertarians, who treat human nature as preternaturally good and political regimes as consumer products, illustrates the problems of pushing the principle of liberty beyond the limits of its logic.

Libertarians and conservatives

Ultimately, moderate libertarianism, in contrast with the more rarefied varieties, becomes practically indistinguishable from other kinds of American conservatism. Moderate libertarians support the Constitution and recognize the need for both national defense and internal police forces defending against violent crime. They support the diffusion of political power to localities and the need for a balanced budget. In other words, they support limited government in much the same way as traditional conservatives do, but for vastly different reasons.

60 The Journal of Contemporary Studies Summer 1983


The libertarian movement and the Libertarian Party, by their steadfast attachment to a doctrine of liberty, are able to fit rather easily into the conservative coalition— but not completely. For the libertarians the principle of liberty— principle of liberty at all costs, actually— is never negotiable. Rather than risk appearing to hedge, the libertarians tend to dig in their heels and refuse to budge on the issue of what they understand to be the deepest level of liberty: freedom from the coercive powers of the state. The problem is that as one moves from the level of principle to the level of practice, principles frequently need to be tempered. Questions as abstract as liberty need to be answered in concrete, practical terms. The libertarian attempt to translate their principles intact into practice leaves them open to the charge of practicing what James Madison called mere "closet philosophy." For the essence of political life is precisely that movement from the level of theory to the level of practice; ideas have to be accommodated to time and place. Any unyielding pursuit of a principle will almost certainly result in the "irretrievable loss of that very principle."
27 For many conservatives, the libertarians are simply unrealistic. Their general unwillingness to compromise on the practical application of the principle of liberty means that the moment can never be totally acceptable to traditional conservatives.

While some planks of the party's platform will lure conservatives toward the libertarian fold, others will send them scampering away. On the whole, conservatives tend to be more attracted to the libertarian stance on domestic issues than on foreign affairs; but even on the domestic side, there is often too much that goes too far for most conservative tastes.

Many points in the libertarian program in foreign affairs simply fly in the face of what most conservatives see as the essence of sound foreign policy: peace through strength. While some might welcome the libertarian call for American withdrawal from the United Nations, other policies— notably the call for a substantial reduction in the defense establishment, the urging of complete disarmament (both traditional and nuclear weaponry) down to police levels, and the demand that the president's power to initiate military actions during declared states of emergency be abolished— leave most conservatives cold.

The libertarians' greatest contribution to the conservative intellectual and political movements in America is in the area of domestic policy— specifically, in the areas of welfare and the economy. The libertarian demands for the abolition of personal and corporate income taxes, their drive for a balanced budget, their dislike of consumer protection and environmental protection laws, and especially

61 Journal of Contemporary Studies Summer 1983


their opposition to any governmental meddling in business have quite a lot in common with traditional conservatism (even though the libertarian position is usually more extreme than the traditional conservative positions in these areas). But even in the domestic arena, the libertarians go too far for conservatives. Their demands for the repeal of all so-called "victimless crime" laws, their general support for unbridled freedoms of speech and press, and their condemnation of governmental secrecy classifications are enough to make even middle-of-the-road conservatives balk. For while the libertarians share certain opinions in common with traditional conservatives, they are not simply conservative.

Whatever their ultimate relationship, conservatism and libertarianism are politically allied in the United States. Each is, in practical terms, more opposed to the Left than either is to the other. What binds them together is the fact that each is, in the final analysis, both a partisan of capitalism and a partisan of liberal democracy. Ultimately, each understands itself to be not only a defender of the American regime, but also the faithful heir to the American political tradition. In this spirit, while working together, both conservatives and libertarians understand the other as having in some way, betrayed the intentions of the Founders.

Tibor Machan, a leading theoretician of libertarianism, has suggested that the libertarian political project is, in fact, an attempt "to reclaim or reinstate America's unique political tradition." 28 At its deepest level, that tradition embraces and celebrates "a concern for the moral priority of the individual human being within a social context." 29 For Machan, it was not the traditional political virtues (like stability, order, authority, justice, duty, power, or sovereignty) that were the distinguishing feature of the American regime. 30 Although these concerns were present, what made America different and significant as a moral statement was its concern for the individual.

Ultimately, however, libertarianism is faithful to the founding tradition of the American regime only in the sense that a brilliant caricature is faithful to its subject. Like a caricature, libertarianism reveals what is extraordinary in America. But the price paid for this revelation is a disfiguration of the regime. For the revelation is made by exaggerating the importance of individualism to the American political order. Individualism is indeed of special significance to America, but when it is understood as the exclusive value, America's charm is distorted.

The libertarian faith in liberty as the only principle cf political life is what causes the gap (a gap only occasionally bridgeable) between

62 The Journal of Contemporary Studies Summer 1983


libertarianism and conservatism. While libertarians put their faith in a concept of total (or near total) liberty, conservatives tend to put their stock in a notion of regulated or ordered liberty, as Richard Henry Lee once described it. The concept of a regulated liberty includes the understanding that institutional contrivances and political power are necessary to secure liberty.

There is no denying that for the Founders liberty was the end of any decent government. "Liberty," as Madison bluntly put it, "is essential to political life." 31 Because all men are created equal, each man has a legitimate claim to be free, to be left alone; but outside of government and law that claim is rendered meaningless in any practical sense. Outside of civil institutions passion too often overwhelms the rational faculty, brute force too often tramples any notion of right. For that reason and that reason alone governments are instituted among men: to secure by conventional arrangements those natural rights that nature has left insecure. "The passions of men," Alexander Hamilton noted, "will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice without constraint." 32 Thus it is not outside of government but through government that liberty is secured. In order that "the ends of society may not be disturbed by the fury of a Mob or by the art, cunning, and industry of wicked, vicious, and avaricious men," liberty must make concessions to power. 33

To varying degrees, the libertarians dismiss this understanding; and by their dismissal, they lose sight of the true foundation of liberal regimes. Simply put, they fail to understand, as James Madison understood, that "liberty may be endangered by the abuses of liberty as well as by the abuses of power." 34 To be truly free, one cannot be simply free. It is this idea that ultimately forms the theoretical wedge between libertarianism and conservatism. While each movement may have much to offer the other, they can never be the same.


1. As quoted in Carol Posgrove. "In Pursuit of Liberty," The Progressive (January 1978)
text@1

2. George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America: Since 1945 (New York: Basic Books, 1976) text@2

3. Ibid., p 34. text@3

4. Ibid., p. 21 text@4

5. Posgrove, p. 40. text@5

6. Ibid., p. 39. text@6

7. Libertarian Party News, November/December 1981, p. 8. text@7

8. Ibid., p. 14. text@8

9. Ibid., p. 8. text@9

10. Ibid. text@10

11. Ibid. text@11

12. Ibid., p. 14. text@12

13. Tibor Machan, "On Reclaiming America's Unique Political Traditions," in The Libertarian Alternative (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1974), pp. 499-5 text@13

14. See Friedrich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1944), p. 92. text@14

15. Friedrich Hayek, Law, Legislation and Liberty, vol. 1 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973-79), pp.72-79. text@15

16. Ibid., vol. 3, p. 176. text@16

17. Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962), p. 2 text@17

18. Ibid., p. 3 text@18

19. Ibid., p. 4 text@19

20. Ibid., p. 5 text@20

21. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, ed. J. P. Mayer, trans. G. Lawrence (New York: Doubleday, 1969), p. 553. text@21

22. Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (New York: Random House, 1957), p. 1025. text@22

23. Ibid., p. 1031. text@23

24. Adam Smith, "Theory of Moral Sentiments," in Adam Smith's Moral and Political Philosophy, ed. Herbert W. Schneider (New York: Harper and Row, 1948), p. 102. text@24

25. Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1943). See Also Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness (New York: New American Library, 1965). text@25

26. See especially Murray Rothbard, Man, Economy, and State (Los Angeles: Nash Publications, 1971). See also Ernest van den Haag, "Libertarians and Conservatives," National Review, 8 June 1979. text@26

27. Herbert J. Storing, "The Federal Convention of 1787: Politics, Principles, and Statesmanship," in The American Founding, ed. Ralph A. Rossum and Gary L. McDowell (Port Washington, N. Y.: Kennikat Press, 1981), p. 28. text@27

28. Machan. P. 495. text@28

29. Ibid., p. 496. text@29

30. Ibid. text@30

31. Jacob Cooke, ed., The Federalist, no. 10 (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1961), p. 58. text@31

32. Ibid., no. 15, p. 96. text@32

33. James Curtis Ballagh, ed. The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, vol. 2 (New York: Macmillan, 1911), p. 576. text@33

34. The Federalist, no. 63. 428. text@34


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