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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Ayn Rand did call them the "Hippies of the Right"

Robert Locke is a bit more hardcore on libertarians however. Locke launches a salvo against libertarians in the latest issue (March 14)  of The American Conservative, calling them the "Marxists of the Right". Locke argues that pretty well every facet of the libertarian agenda is wrongheaded because he believes libertarianism is an enemy of self-restraint. I thought it was an interesting thing to post here considering the uneasy mix of libertarians and conservatives on this very blog.

With apologies to TAC,  Locke's essay amounts to little more than a hit job that clearly shows he doesn't understand the basis for libertarian thought.

First he makes the mistake of painting all libertarians as kooks ("Free spirits, the ambitious, ex-socialists, drug users, and sexual eccentrics..."), the standard response when you want to marginalize a political group. It's shocking that he would use that tactic given that one of his magazine's founders -- Pat Buchanan -- is hit with that slur every day. After all, the only people who would consider themselves paleocons are those with an attachment to the America of the 19th century, with all the negatives that implies for some Americans!

More troublesome, however, is his argument that a lack of self-restraint forms the core of libertarianism. Give the people the right to smoke marijuana, have sex with whoever they want or demand a laissez faire economy and society will fall apart! Libertarians may support your right to marijuana, crazy sex or free economies, but that doesn't mean that ispo facto a libertarian believes you have to do any of these things. In fact, libertarianism demands more self-restraint then traditional conservatism. Become a crack-addled junkie? Get the gift that keeps on giving after a random sexual encounter? You have yourself to blame. To argue that libertarianism only preaches about freedom but ignores judgment is silly. Judgment can't be imposed by reading Russell Kirk or a political/moral philosophy, it can only be learned through living.

That's one of the big problems that I have with conservatives of most stripes -- primarily those of the religious/so-con bent -- that people need to have virtue or morality imposed on them. If you aren't a clean living conservative, after all, you likely don't share Locke's view on how life should be lived. The force can vary, either government through policies that 'suggest' which way people should live their lives or morality as preached by religion (through societal pressure and public policy), but both share the same problem: the morality is imposed, not voluntary.

I've argued this in the past. Back in 1999 I debated a piece written by Col. David Hackworth (Ret.) in which he argued that the draft should be brought back. Hackworth listed a number of reasons why including a building of comraderie with your fellow citizens and service to country. In my response I stated:

The utmost that force can do is to create an absurd counterfeit of morality, one not based on knowledge and rational judgment, but on mere brute fear and obedience, and even that fraudulent morality can last no longer than the force that imposed it.

Libertarianism may excuse a wide range of questionable behavior -- a contention I don't particularly agree with -- but its strength is that your code of conduct is voluntary. If your code of conduct doesn't pass the test of reality, then you'll have to modify it. Live and learn, in simpler words. One learns how to live a better life voluntarily. You may keep a population in check through imposed morality but sooner or later that control breaks -- something I contend is happening today.

Don't get me wrong, I have some fundimental problems with libertarianism myself. As Ayn Rand pointed out, libertarianism may argue that it is classical liberalism at its purest, but it is in fact an ideology that is missing a core philosophy. At its worst, libertarianism is a set of sophisticated slogans that have been slowly turned into a mostly coherent political and social ideology.

I like to call myself a libertarian-conservative but these days I'm more conservative then libertarian. Despite that there is a tremendous value to libertarianism. These days it alone continues the battle for liberty where many conservatives of all stripes have given up in favour of supporting some aspect of coercive government, whether it's cultural or economic. And that includes cultural conservatives, who love to rail against government but demand it interferes in areas that it has no business doing so.

Cross-posted in a more scattered form at ESR's Musings.

Posted by Steve Martinovich on March 8, 2005 | Permalink


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I recommend you to read Gus Van Horn's post, From Big Tent to Anti-Concept, for you out there who have thoughts on voting on the Libertarian Party. Read also Steve Martinovich's (Western Standard) post, Ayn Rand did call them the "Hippies of the Righ... [Read More]

Tracked on 2005-03-15 7:38:50 PM


I for one could bear more of this sort of thoughtful, temperate entry on libertarianism and conservatism. It can only be more productive than the histrionics and strident mutual denunciations. Thank you.

Posted by: Charles MacDonald | 2005-03-08 3:34:43 PM

Before anyone gets too involved in a discussion of libertarianism, perhaps they should take the "libertarian purity test" so they know where they really stand.


It's pretty quick and painless.

Posted by: TimR | 2005-03-08 8:08:21 PM

It's not that taking drugs and having sex in a self-destructively manner are moral, but that using force to stop someone from doing them is immoral.

Posted by: Justin | 2005-03-08 8:55:07 PM

Here's what I got on the purity test.

51-90 points: You are a medium-core libertarian, probably self-consciously so. Your friends probably encourage you to quit talking about your views so much.

Posted by: Michael Dabioch | 2005-03-08 9:02:26 PM

17 on the purity test. Back to polishing my pickelhaube and jackboots.

Posted by: Charles MacDonald | 2005-03-08 9:21:42 PM

The problem with Caplan's test, as all of these online toys, is that so many answers have caveats attached. That said, I scored 157.

(And even conservatives should get value from Caplan's Museum Of Communism: http://tinyurl.com/jutv )

Posted by: John Lopez | 2005-03-08 9:33:54 PM

I scored an 81: "You are a medium-core libertarian, probably self-consciously so. Your friends probably encourage you to quit talking about your views so much."

So true...

Posted by: Steven Martinovich | 2005-03-08 11:12:11 PM

This is just about the funniest thing I have read all week. Ayn Rand, the high priestess of the Libertarian Church of Mammon, a Babylonian whore of the first magnitude, admonishing others to show "self restraint".

But this has to make me chuckle.

"As Ayn Rand pointed out, libertarianism may argue that it is classical liberalism at its purest, but it is in fact an ideology that is missing a core philosophy."

Rand's contributions to philosophy was to invert vices for virtues (i.e. The Virtue of Selfishness, etc. etc.) Like an ancient alchemist, she turned vice into virtue and virtue into vice (Altruism as Sin).

John Galt, her hero, was a fraud artist that basically was into the business of peddling perpetual motion machines (Galt's contribution was to make his motors run using energy "from the air" explained Ms. Rand, reflecting real life inventor of the nuclear engine, Joseph Papp, the actual holder of a US Patent).

John Galt's friend was Dagnar the pirate, essentially a terrorist for capitalism, just like his big brother, Osama Bin Laudin.

But for me the funniest line related to "self restraint". One can just picture the High Priestess herself squirming in bed under Nathaniel Brandon as she expounded her "admiration of his values" as this much younger stud unsuccessfully "restained himself".

I mean its hillarious. And to think that Emperor George Bush II is guiding a Nation on this "philosophy" and "technology". "Restaint" and "BMD". As only Ayn Rand can present her "philosophy".

Posted by: Joe Green | 2005-03-09 10:51:25 AM

I scored one hundred billion. Which means I get to ascend. To a better place, beyond mere libertarianism, to a new conciousness.

Posted by: wsam | 2005-03-09 11:03:31 AM

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