Monday, January 27, 2014

The NY Times Hack Job and Milquetoast Libertarians

By now, most of you are likely aware of the NY Times commentary over the weekend, and especially the jabs taken at the Mises Institute, Ron Paul and Lew Rockwell.  Lew Rockwell himself has addressed the issue, with a post cross-published at both Mises and LRC.  Mr. Rockwell wears the criticism, considering the source, as a badge of honor – coming from the home of Krugman, Friedman, and the like, a rational decision on his part.  Robert Wenzel has also addressed the issue at EPJ.

The NYTimes piece has brought out waves of praise from various milquetoast libertarians – those who are working really hard to influence policy in the federal government.  You know the type: “Sure, if we could only get them to listen…and they might even like us!”

The piece revolves around Rand Paul, and the potential of his run for the office of president in 2016.  It seems to offer a template for the positions Rand must distance himself from if he wishes to be taken as credible by the mainstream – in other words, the Times is pointing out the landmines for Rand (perhaps another sign of his acceptability to the mainstream?).  One of the landmines is his father, Ron; another is everything associated with the Mises Institute.  (As I do in pieces where I will discuss this father and son, I must revert to first names to avoid confusion.)

As Rand Paul test-markets a presidential candidacy and tries to broaden his appeal, he is also trying to take libertarianism, an ideology long on the fringes of American politics, into the mainstream.

Of course, Reagan spoke such a language as well (as an actor, much more eloquently than Rand or almost anyone else could) – and followed with…nothing – no reduction in spending, no closing of departments.  Nothing libertarian.  This should offer a clue to the milquetoast libertarians out there…but I get ahead of myself.

In the months since he commanded national attention and bipartisan praise for his 13-hour filibuster against the Obama administration’s drone strike program…

I applauded this filibuster.  Sadly, Rand ended it based on a nothing promise from Holder.

…Mr. Paul has impressed Republican leaders with his staying power, in part because of the stumbles of potential rivals and despite some of his own.

Yes, Mr. Christie.  Those in control must ensure a large enough pool of acceptable suits to fill the chairs in the puppet shows that pass for debates and elections – not that the results of the elections will matter to any significant degree (all roads lead to a larger state).  This should offer another clue as to where I am headed, but again…not yet.

“Senator Paul is a credible national candidate,” said Mitt Romney, who ran for president as the consummate insider in 2012.

Isn’t this one endorsement enough to scare the life out of the milquetoast libertarians? 

In an email, Mr. Romney added that the votes and dollars Mr. Paul would attract from his father’s supporters could help make him “a serious contender for the Republican nomination.”

This will be interesting to watch.  It seems clear to me that Ron Paul attracted the popular attention that he did because of his consistency; because he never wavered on positions regardless of the consequence. It is not at all clear to me that Rand is generating the same fervor.  Rand made a different choice.  We will see if the bulk of his campaign money comes from the same types of individuals / groups that were drawn to Ron, or from the types of individuals and groups that were drawn to Romney.

Now to the crux of the issue, the hack job:

But if Mr. Paul reaps the benefits of his father’s name and history, he also must contend with the burdens of that patrimony.

There is a “narrow, rightward strain of the [libertarian] ideology” that Rand Paul must shake, apparently.

Some of its adherents have formulated provocative theories on race, class and American history, and routinely voice beliefs that go far beyond the antiwar, anti-big-government, pro-civil-liberties message of the broader movement that has attracted legions of college students, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and Tea Party activists.

That worldview, often called “paleolibertarianism,” emerges from the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Alabama, started with money raised by the senior Mr. Paul. It is named for the Austrian émigré who became an intellectual godfather of modern libertarian economic thinking, devoted to an unrestricted free market.

Some scholars affiliated with the Mises Institute have combined dark biblical prophecy with apocalyptic warnings that the nation is plunging toward economic collapse and cultural ruin. Others have championed the Confederacy. One economist, while faulting slavery because it was involuntary, suggested in an interview that the daily life of the enslaved was “not so bad — you pick cotton and sing songs.”

Ad hominem attacks?  To what end?  Of course, to discredit without understanding the facts – or to discredit precisely because they understand the facts.  In any case, targets of such attacks are capable of defending themselves if they feel it worth their time; for me, I have read enough to understand the meaning.  Also, it seems ideas perhaps might be judged on their merit, and not based on some supposed flaws in the messenger?

To such charges, Rand attempts to create distance.  Rand’s political strategies are neither here nor there to me – if he gets elected, the best we might hope for is the glory days of conservatism that we enjoyed under Reagan (chortling under my breath). But again, I am getting ahead of myself.

Apparently, Rand has learned a lesson from his father’s campaigns:

Still, he has seen the consequences of Ron Paul’s unwavering approach. “Unlike his father, he’s not interested in educating,” said John Samples, an analyst at the Cato Institute who knows both Pauls. “He’s interested in winning.”

Ah, the Cato Institute – one of the several acceptable libertarian outlets.  But I am once again getting ahead of myself.  In the meantime, a question for Mr. Samples: Winning what?  So Rand becomes president.  Fundamentally what changes? 

I will wait for a reasoned response.

I’m still waiting.

Well, let’s move on – feel free to interrupt when you have an answer.

The Times goes on to list a group of the crazies: Lew Rockwell, Murray Rothbard, Hans Sennholz, Gary North, Tom Woods, Walter Block.  Then, to the failures of Ron Paul:

He introduced dead-end bills to abolish the Federal Reserve, eradicate the Department of Education, neuter the Environmental Protection Agency and curtail the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction over abortion.

We don’t even have to dive into the depths of nutty libertarian theory to accept Ron’s position on these subjects – there is no authority for any of these even in the Constitution. 

Gary L. Gardner Jr., a high school friend, said: “I remember even back then being on a swim team bus and a Rush song comes on. I think it was the song ‘Trees’ — and [Rand] said, ‘Man, listen to the words of this, you know those guys have got to be conservative.’ ”

Well, the lyrics are more libertarian than conservative….

“The Trees” tells the story of maples, overshadowed by tall oaks, that form a union to bring equality to the woods “by hatchet, ax and saw.”

Of course, Rush is right; but this runs directly counter to the immoral philosophy of government today – the hatchet is OK as long as it is in the right hands and being used the right way; in other words, the political philosophy embraced by the many milquetoast libertarians…I keep getting ahead of myself.

Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign was a boon for his son. He sometimes stepped in for or warmed up crowds for his father, whose antiwar, anti-Wall-Street and anti-drug-war message resonated on campuses.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned from my dad is he’s had adoring crowds of 8,000 at Berkeley, and 6,000 at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University,” Rand Paul said in one of several interviews for this article. “That’s an amazing feat to have people coming out in one of the most liberal universities and one of the most conservative.”

Unfortunately, I am not sure what exactly Rand learned from this experience – how is it that such supposedly disparate groups found a home in Ron’s message?  Was it because Ron was more politically astute than most when it came to picking and choosing sides in the countless meaningless political issues?  A more eloquent speaker?

No, of course not.  It was principle; in a nutshell, non-aggression – the heart of libertarian thought.  This can be the most uniting political philosophy of all when articulated as consistently as Ron Paul has done.

The piece goes on to dissect the effectiveness of the Rand Paul strategy toward winning the republican nomination.  Again, this is completely unimportant to me.

What is the issue?  Why bother writing 1900 words about this subject?

It is the milquetoast libertarians, the ones who believe that there is opportunity in working within the system – influence policy.  I won’t list the names; we know them and I have written several times in criticism of their approach and recommendations.

Every aspect of dialogue, discussion, and debate within the political arena is faulty.  The solution is not to be found in improving the system as it is.  By definition the system is coercion – using the initiation of force to achieve certain ends.

What can be “improved” about central planning through central banking?  What about empire?  War?  These aggressions must stop.  The thievery, death and destructions caused by these aggressions must stop. 

None of this is acceptable to the mainstream.  Therefore, those who hold to such views – the radicals, according to the Times – must be ridiculed (the good news, they can no longer be ignored).

There is no middle ground – yet the milquetoast libertarians want to chart it.  They don’t dare call into question central banking – they make recommendations to improve it.  They don’t consider those who utilize aggression as the means to control society as enemies, they want to befriend them.  They speak openly about the influence they want to have in the national political arena.  They don’t question the use of force – only the objects upon which the force is used.

They want to be included in the dialogue.  They want to be invited to the cocktail parties.  For this, they cannot be seen as stepping outside of the mainstream view of the world.

They don’t realize that they are laughed at by the same people they hope to impress. They make themselves irrelevant to all sides of the discussion.

I will end with the best single comment I have read so far on this topic, one that captures what I am trying to convey as well as any.  It is from the comment section of the aforementioned Mises post, a comment by “JFF”:

"Thank you Steve Horwitz for bringing me to libertarianism and Austrian economics."
- Said by no one, ever

"Man, there were so many kids at that Steve Horwitz rally at GMU, they were hanging from trees to catch a glimpse."
- Said by no one ever

"No, sir, Mr. Koch, I don't want to lose my precious funding. Yes, more snide comments about Rothbard, Rockwell, and Paul. Stick to the suggested language sheet, of course."
- Said by a nobody pretty regularly

If we are fortunate enough to find ourselves in some form of a libertarian environment at some point in the future of mankind on earth, people will remember with great appreciation the efforts of Ron Paul, Murray Rothbard, Lew Rockwell and the like.  No one will remember the milquetoast libertarians and the institutes they support.

And if we don’t one day find ourselves in such a libertarian environment, it won’t matter much anyway.


  1. "Thank you Steve Horwitz for bringing me to libertarianism and Austrian economics."
    - Said by no one, ever

    good stuff

  2. 'first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they beat you up and then you win', or a close approximation of that uttered by Gandhi, appears to apply here.

    with respect to libertarianism, it seems we are in the 'laugh at you' phase with the attacks evident heralding the beginning of the 'beat you up' phase, or, at least, we are hopefully that far along the journey to actual freedom in this nation.

  3. "first they ignore you, then they mock you, then Bionic Mosquito sets everyone straight"

    Great stuff, BM!

    1. "Isn’t this one endorsement enough to scare the life out of the milquetoast libertarians?"

      I don't know about them and couldn't care less, but it does me. I believe Romney's warmongering had a lot to do with his loss despite the lack of coverage by the media. Enough people heard this and chose either to stay at home or vote third party like I did.

      As for the milquetoast libertarians they have good company. I've heard that neocon, Michael Medved, push this nonsense on several occasions about working within the GOP since Ron ran in 2008. That alone tells you they are up to no good.

  4. Some may not think this belongs here.

    Wendy McElroy has written an, as usual, wonderful article for The Daily Bell. My thoughts on Jury Nullification: the short version.

    They, the government, have lied to us about nearly everything, and are only fleecing us slightly faster than killing us.

    What's wrong with one of us calling one of their lies (laws) as we see it?

  5. The libertarians are liberated in mind. The rest within the system are dependant on the system that defines them, as they accept that identity gladly. It is no longer fleecing it is lamb chopps and mutton