Untimely Observations

The Libertarian Problem


During the neoconservative ascension within the conservative movement, an essential tactic used by the Trotskyites was to push the rest of the Right, especially the libertarians and traditionalists, into the fringe of permissible political opinion. Opponents of empire were branded "isolationist" and opponents of federal civil rights laws were labeled "racist." And although, on almost every front, the neoconservatives won the field, a stable political underground resistant to the usurpers existed for some time.

This political alliance was as unlikely as any, with everyone from hedonist anarchists to medieval Catholics in agreement on most policy prescriptions. Murray Rothbard, the godfather of anarcho-capitalism, supported (for a time) the candidacy of Pat Buchanan, an ardent nationalist. It is hard to overstate the fragility of a political movement that finds Murray Rothbard and Russell Kirk agreeing on a Presidential candidate.

The most recent incarnation of this alliance could be seen in the support for Ron Paul's 2008 Presidential campaign. Paul, being well-read on Austrian economics, was already a libertarian folk-hero, and having opposed NAFTA and amnesty, stated that life begins at conception, and holding a reverence for the Founding Fathers bordering on adulation, was an easy candidate for traditionalists to support. As political ideologies, the libertarians and traditionalists are about as different as you can get, but if the political agenda of the neocons has done any good it has aligned the policy prescriptions of these two different groups and allowed such a fragile alliance to be continued for some time.

That being said, the simple fact is that this alliance won't last much longer. It has played itself out and, having accomplished little, won't survive the coming immigration debate.

Libertarian organizations are already professing their support of amnesty programs. Art Carden, an Adjunct Fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California, declared in a Forbes.com piece last week that "open immigration is essential for a libertarian country." He goes further:

Suppose there is a massive influx of immigrants into Memphis and some people are upset because this makes the city less "American." There is another side to this coin: If I like living in a melting pot--and I do--am I no less entitled to have my voice heard? I paraphrase Virginia Postrel: In the absence of an explicit contract, expecting to be able to exercise veto power over another's migration decisions because you feel like you have a right to a particular set of cultural amenities is an ethical and economic non-starter. If you wish to build a private neighborhood and write certain types of behavior into the sales contracts, go right ahead. If you want to have private a club and hang a sign that says "No Immigrants Allowed" (or "No Girls Allowed") go right ahead. I don't have the right to tell you what to do with your honestly acquired property. By the same token, you don't have the right to tell me what I can do with mine.

Dick Armey's "Freedom Works" claims the middle-ground while supporting a plan authored by Mike Pence that basically amounts to amnesty:

Pence's bill has something to offer both sides - an approach that eases border security concerns by giving law-abiding job seekers a legitimate path to the American workplace, and a guest-worker program that accepts that these workers are necessary and helpful to the economy. And it goes one step further by allowing the free market to shape the guest-worker program businesses need and privatizes the issuance of work permits in the process, easing the burden on taxpayers.

The multi-culti immigration-state also has plenty of advocates at magazines like Reason and think tanks like Cato. This has been well documented.

The Ron Paul movement itself is far from perfect when it comes to understanding the threat third-world immigration poses. The Paul flagship, Campaign for Liberty, has been, for the most part, silent on the immigration issue, breaking its silence only to attack Real ID. Many members of the vibrant community of Paul bloggers support open borders and amnesty, Daily Paul being a primary example.

What does this all amount to? The support around Paul's campaign, though intellectually vibrant, was relatively small. Far too small, it would seem, to make any real dent in the current two-party regime (Audit the Fed notwithstanding). But the myth that libertarianism and traditionalist conservatism are one and the same is going to come crashing down when amnesty is brought before Congress. Despite the claims of my friend Jack Hunter or my friends at Young Americans for Liberty (who's new membership t-shirts read "classically liberal, traditionally conservative"), there are major differences between radical libertarianism and radical traditionalism. The areas where we agree on policy are, for the most part, by coincidence.

If Paul decides not to run in 2012, it seems likely that Gary Johnson would be his presumptive heir. This would be bad news for immigration restrictionists, to say the least. Johnson on immigration:

I don't think Easterners recognize that the Hispanics who immigrate are great people, great citizens. They care about their families like other Americans care about their families. They're living in poverty in Mexico and can come to the United States and do a lot better.

My vision of the border with Mexico is that a truck from the United States going into Mexico and a truck coming from Mexico into the United States will pass each other at the border going 60 miles an hour. Yes, we should have open borders.

As much as many would like to believe the growing libertarian movement is based on an outpouring of intellectual curiosity about the Austrian business cycle, it has a lot more to do with buzzwords like "liberty" and an irrational worship of the individual. In this way, it has a lot more in common with the "hope" and "change" movement on the left than it does with anything written by Schmitt or de Maistre or Jünger or Chesterton or Kirk or Evola or Buchanan.

The importance of the nation-state and the nature of Americans as a western people will be the dividing lines in this battle, and libertarians will find themselves in bed with Obama and Pelosi.

But is Gillespie/Pelosi really any stranger than Rothbard/Buchanan?