Neo-Cons are not Libertarians

by craig on May 22, 2009 8:48 am in Other

There has been a fashion in the blogosphere which needs to be challenged. Blogs of an extreme right wing cast have started to call themselves “Libertarian”.

Brian Mickelthwait has attempted to compile a list of British “Libertarian” blogs. In the vast majority of cases, libertarian here plainly means “right wing conservative” or “neo-con”.

http://www.brianmicklethwait.com/index.php/weblog/comments/uk_libertarian_bloggers_20/

The peculiar thing is, that these neo-con “Libertarians” have, by and large, little or no concern for civil liberties. Very few of these “Libertarians” blogged about the shooting of Jean Charles De Menezes, against detention without trial for 42 days, about police violence at the G20 summit. These “Libertarians” do not want to see Guantanamo closed, and are quite happy with extraordinary rendition and the use of torture. Not only will you search the large majority of them in vain for any condemnation of the use of torture in the “War on Terror”, but some of them – like Charles Crawford, for instance – have actively blogged in favour of the use of torture.

Libertarians in favour of detention without trial? Libertarians for Guantanamo?

Libertarians for Torture?

Plainly the word “Libertarian” is being misappropriated by these people, and stretched beyond any natural meaning in the English language. Some of the most prominent “libertarians”, like Paul Staines, have not only been completely silent on civil liiberties, but have flirted with racism in the past. Staines’ site is very often homophobic, and is not the only one on Mickelthwait’s list.

Libertarians against gay rights?

Libertarians against Immigration?

The explanation of the misuse of the word libertarian lies in the United States. A maxim that the only role for the state was national defence became popularised by disciples of the Hayek economic school. The “National defence” get-out allows for Guantanamo, torture and shooting Brazilian electricians, and became a fetish. The idea then appealed to those who favour no tax and no social safety net, or at least strong moves in that direction. It finally emerged as a fully fledged philosophical concept thus:

“I am strong, I am capable. I can survive in a highly competitive environment and pile up loads of money. And a strong State can ruthlessly suppress and keep down the less fortunate, both nationally and internationally, to defend me and my money.”

That is the empty core of “Libertarianism” in its modern US definition. It has moved on from the pamphlet by the great libertarian Piotr Kropotkin, “Is Prison Necessary?”, to a position that prisons are one of the very few things which are necessary to a state.

This is one of my favourite pieces of Kropotkin:

Legislators confounded in one code the two currents of custom of which we have just been speaking, the maxims which represent principles of morality and social union wrought out as a result of life in common, and the mandates which are meant to ensure external existence to inequality.

Customs, absolutely essential to the very being of society, are, in the code, cleverly intermingled with usages imposed by the ruling caste, and both claim equal respect from the crowd. “Do not kill,” says the code, and hastens to add, “And pay tithes to the priest.” “Do not steal,” says the code, and immediately after, “He who refuses to pay taxes, shall have his hand struck off.”

Such was law; and it has maintained its two-fold character to this day. Its origin is the desire of the ruling class to give permanence to customs imposed by themselves for their own advantage. Its character is the skillful commingling of customs useful to society, customs which have no need of law to insure respect, with other customs useful only to rulers, injurious to the mass of the people, and maintained only by the fear of punishment.

Kropotkin was jailed all over Europe for his beliefs, but remained a man of great courage. Back in Russia in 1920 he wrote to Lenin:

Vladimir Ilyich, your concrete actions are completely unworthy of the ideas you pretend to hold.

Is it possible that you do not know what a hostage really is ?” a man imprisoned not because of a crime he has committed, but only because it suits his enemies to exert blackmail on his companions? … If you admit such methods, one can foresee that one day you will use torture, as was done in the Middle Ages

You don’t have to agree with all Kropotkin’s ideas to be a libertarian. But Piotr Kropotkin and John Stuart Mill are great exemplars of libertarian thought, and their attitudes to people and to society are fundamentally different to those of Dick Cheney.

Economic liberalism plus social authoritarianism does not equal libertarianism. The idea is absurd.

The attempt of neo-cons to rebrand as libertarians must be continually challenged.

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46 Comments

  1. libertarianism

    noun

    an extreme laissez-faire political philosophy advocating only minimal state intervention in the lives of citizens.

    The adherents of libertarianism believe that private morality is not the state’s affair and that therefore activities such as drug use and prostitution, which arguably harm no one but the participants, should not be illegal. Libertarianism shares elements with anarchism, although it is generally associated more with the political right (chiefly in the U.S.). Unlike traditional liberalism, however, libertarianism lacks a concern with social justice.

    source: apple dictionary

  2. Tom,

    I think the last sentence is very much the very recent US twisting. You won’t find that in any definition more than a decade old.

    But that entire definition still would not allow anti-immigration, anti-gay rights and anti-civil liberties.

  3. Just out of interest I looked up the entry on Wikipedia for libertarianism. It provided a list of ‘prominent libertarians’ which included Richard Branson, Alan Duncan and Lemmy from Motorhead. Quite a broad church…

    Libertarianism seems to hold property rights fairly dear, obviously its not hard to see the attraction of that to the rich and powerful along with the autoritarian state apparatus required to protect their property rights.

  4. I would argue that libertarianism is framed in the amoral ‘silver rule’:

    “Do not impose on others that which you would not have imposed on you.”

  5. Aren’t the ‘neo-cons’ the group surrounding the Bush presidency that collectively put their names to a document entitled, “The New American Century”?

    In that document did they not say that a ‘catalysing event like a New Pearl Harbour’ would be necessary in order for The US to proceed effectively with its global agenda….i.e. invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan etc.

    Well they got their ‘Pearl Harbour’ didn’t they?

    ….so are ‘neo-cons’ not tub-thumpers for the Imperialist, Zionist, corporate/banking warmongers that obviously control the US government and our own.

    They are propagandists for the fascistic bankers who are trying to install a global central bank and an Orwellian one-world government.

    They believe in liberty for the money powers (it should be able to do what it likes, unfettered) and slavery for everybody else.

    Like the bankers, they are, ultimately, Communists.

    Communism is the most effective system for centralising power. With Communism you get an elite that effectively owns and controls everything. You get a slave class that produce all the wealth and you have no middle class…..unless you call the enforcers who administer, who stifle and murder all opposition on behalf of the elite a middle class.

    This is how it worked in the Soviet Union anyway…..and it was the Wall Street and London bankers who funded this experiment.

    A good article on the subject here:

    http://www.henrymakow.com/ussr_-_a_social_catastrophe_bu.html

    Neo-cons……. Libertarians??

    Satanists more like.

  6. Are we becoming like Soviet Russia?

    See here, from the Mail On Sunday, re an organisation set up under the Blair government in 2006. Political opposition dealt with by psychiatrists?….sounds familiar.

    Quote:

    The Fixated Threat Assessment Centre (FTAC) was quietly set up last year to identify individuals who pose a direct threat to VIPs including the Prime Minister, the Cabinet and the Royal Family.

    It was given sweeping powers to check more than 10,000 suspects’ files to identify mentally unstable potential killers and stalkers with a fixation against public figures.

    The team’s psychiatrists and psychologists then have the power to order treatment – including forcibly detaining suspects in secure psychiatric units.

    Using these powers, the unit can legally detain people for an indefinite period without trial, criminal charges or even evidence of a crime being committed and with very limited rights of appeal.

    http://www.mailonsunday.co.uk/news/article-457934/Revealed-Blairs-secret-stalker-squad.html

  7. The reason that conservatism can seem to accommodate any principle, is that conservatism doesn’t have any self defining morality; it is the party of inertia of what ever surroundings it finds itself.

    You can have conservatives in regimes of communism; socialism; capitalism; monarchy; feudalism; nationalism; theocracy; etc. Its all about the status quo, and because each regime differs, spotting the principles of a conservative is like asking what colour is the chameleon?

  8. Neocon P. Taker

    22 May, 2009 - 10:50 am

    What’s all this fuss about? We do believe in giving citizens the freedom to be god-fearing Americans and live in safety, in giving our soldiers the freedom to fight terrorists effectively with enhanced methods which a former President himself called a Valuable Tool, and freedom for leaders of industry to create thousands of jobs both at home and overseas, that uphold our way of life.

  9. Old Holborn is extra-ordinarily funny though and the lad did blog about Jean Charlez de deadizes. I guess it’s like all bloggy stuff – the personality of the author is the main attribute. They’re to be used when all other forms of communication have been traduced by self obsession.

    The BBC is so disgustingly out of touch it’d be just as easy to get news off CBeebies. QT last night was a case in point – some laddo suggested having a show of hands for an early election and Dimblebore bricked himself – whoa, whoa there people – we’ll have none of that here, dontcha know who I am?

    Don’t pay your licence fee – tell them to hop it, they can’t enter your house and have no legal powers should you never respond to letters. They are scum.

  10. Cheesy Monkey

    22 May, 2009 - 10:56 am

    Worth noting to that most of the UK so-called libertarians seem to favour reducing the number of people eligible to vote, because “the majority are stupid”, or some other equally bollocks reason.

    Let’s call them what they are: fundamentalist capitalists.

  11. dear craig,

    love the blog. absolutely love it. and you’re probably right about the use of the word “libertarian” to avoid censure for being an idiot.

    but… some of the libertarians are genuinely that and have thought long and hard about it. devil’s kitchen, for instance, is a friend of mine who i disagree with regularly. but he means it and is a good dude.

    yours e-mmediately,

    thom

  12. Bang on, Craig. It’s time we took back the word libertarian for the civil liberties concious left. We’ve allowed it to be appropriated by the right who then drag up the example of the Soviet Union to “prove” the left is inherently authoritarian. The misconception is especially prevalent online, as you say. That neo-cons are now calling themselves libertarian shows you how debased the word has become.

  13. We must be careful here not to dismiss all Libertarian thought as simply not being pure to the cause.

    Whilst there are some who only seek a more Libertarian minded Britain, others are looking for a Libertarian eutopia.

    Within The Libertarian Party UK we think that we have found a balance, in that we are looking for practical solutions to the problems that beset Britain, but all solutions must be Libertarian in nature if not absolute.

    Libertarianism is indeed such a broad church that it will never please everyone all of the time, that it has been likened to herding cats, but LPUK have done very well in addressing that and presenting Libertarian policies and value at the same time.

    http://lpuk.org/pages/manifesto.php

  14. johnny anomaly

    22 May, 2009 - 11:54 am

    When people like Paul Staines use the word “libertarian” they mean they want to be able to do exactly as they please.

    They do not care about anything, or anyone, else.

  15. Guy_AC, There is no such thing as left/right politics in the UK any more, that died when Cameron positioned himself to take Blair’s centre ground.

    Both Tories and Labour (with LibDem in tow) have moved to the centre ground, and taken on board all the authoritarian legislation with it. Both sides are authoritarian in nature at the moment.

    LPUK is firmly neither left nor right, it sits in the centre in direct opposition to authoritarian government.

    LPUK are the only ones who openly call for the repeal of all of the 3500 rights stripping laws introduced in the past 12 years.

  16. Please protect us from those idiots who believe that either individual or collective rights should dominate. The reality is messy – there isn’t a pure answer – there are bound to be conflicts and compromises to be made, only the dangerous purists do not see this.

  17. I have not ever flirted with racism. I have always been anti-racist.

    Nutter.

  18. Craig Murray:

    “Blogs of an extreme right wing cast have started to call themselves “Libertarian”.”

    Started? In god’s name what do you think “libertarianism” is all about?

    It’s a right-wing dogma which has destroyed the political minds of millions of people, especially in the US.

    In reality there are two “libertarians”. The original ones were “libertarian socialists”. You must mention Chomsky in this group (along with Kropotkin).

    The others are the post-war right wing freaks, the Ayn Rand followers. A deliberate perversion.

  19. Guido, you might want to think about that statement in the context of your appraoch to the Israyhell problem.

  20. File under “capitalists” who support corporate welfare like the PFI and the Pentagon subsidy, and “socialists” who support one-party states.

    Chomsky is the greatest genuine libertarian of the modern age.

  21. Those of us who are “Right Libertarians,” are more concerned about Nanny-State civil liberties issues, like: Seat Belt laws, Smoking bans, Repeal of 21-year old Drinking Age, Transfats bans, Free Speech bans on libertarians/conservatives on College Campuses, Political Correctness, Affirmative Action, ect…

    Leftwing Libertarians care little about these issues.

    So, don’t go talking about how “Right Libertarians” aren’t legitimate cause we don’t care about the same Civil Liberties issues as you all Lefties.

    Eric Dondero, Publisher

    Libertarian Republican blogspot

    USA

  22. Stephen Jones

    22 May, 2009 - 3:22 pm

    Ron Paul seems pretty consistent to me.

    He views National Defense as being just that, Defense, not keeping troops in 100 foreign countries.

  23. Craig you are entirely right, but there is no need to go into such lengths. These right-wing

    “Libertarians” support one freedom above others, one freedom they believe outweighs all other freedoms put together: freedom from taxes.

  24. Eric Dongzero,

    I sympathize with your list of grievances, but there is no way that everyone here is leftist; I certainly am not.

    I regard socialism as the second quickest root to fascism.

  25. David McKelvie

    22 May, 2009 - 4:13 pm

    I haven’t seen the mention of Ludwig von Mises or Eric Voegelin yet.

    And, for the record, Neo-Cons aren’t Conservatives (whether in an American, Canadian, or British definition) or Tories either.

    They are followers of the neo-fascist/trotskyite political philosophy of Carl Schmitt, his acolyte Leo Strauss and his proteges from the University of Chicago.

    These creatures infest both the Republican and Democratic parties in the USA, and both New Labour and the erstwhile “Conservative” Party of David Cameron here in the UK.

    I suspect that a Conservative Government under Cameron will look a lot like the PCP government of Stephen Harper in Ottawa, but with perhaps more ‘bon ton’ and style, but as NeoConned as ever was Blair’s.

  26. For genuine American right-wing libertarians go to http://www.antiwar.com and follow the links. Very different from the British version.

  27. In my experience most Americans “buy” the label on any group or idea so completely they cannot help but label anyone who disagrees with their own view. I hope that’s not racist.

  28. The Libertarian Party of the UK does NOT fit into the neocon picture above; a quick glance at the “Favourite Pages” section at our Facebook home…

    http://facebook.com/pages/The-Libertarian-Party-of-the-UK/69927569011

    …will reveal links to Kropotkin, Proudhon, Chomsky and others to Hayek etc. A VERY broad selection.

    NB: I have not received complaints from members for the inclusion of any, all seem comfortable with the broad church approach.

  29. Good points Craig, although most libertarians are not quite neo-Cons and you lack a bit of context from the US.

    Pity about some of the comments from people who obviously think Reagan was a libertarian and know little of actual libertarianism as promoted by left and right.

    A little more:

    Craig is absolutely correct when identifying the commonality with Kropotkin on many issues that consistent libertarianism has. This aspect of libertarianism is ignored by too many, both friends and critics.

    There are too many vulgar libertarians (see Kevin Carson (http://mutualist.blogspot.com/2005/01/vulgar-libertarianism-watch-part-1.html)) who are like those Craig describes.

    The libertarianism of the US is not necessarily that different to the classical libertarianism – Rothbard in the 60s pursued an alliance with the New Left, Karl Hess started off working for Goldwater and got more and more libertarian from then on. Murray Bookchin found common ground with a large part of the Libertarian Party.

    Personally I think the best expositions of libertarianism come from the Alliance of the Libertarian Left (http://all-left.net/) and other left libertarians.

  30. I see Eric Dondero is here criticising left libertarians with nonsense charges, but then again he’s one of those Craig is complaining about.

    I remember one spectacular comment thread where he was extolling the virtues of joining the military to prove you’re a real man or something…

  31. I was not criticising the Libertarian Party, which frankly I had scarcely noticed. And several of the sites i the list I linked to are among my favourite sites – Mr Eugenides, Devil’s Kitchen, Old Holborn, Tim Worstall etc. Not sure I believe they are all really libertarians, but good and worthwhile bloggers, yes.

    But there are a large number of rather nasty, anti-civil liberties types who stalk under the false guise of lubertarian.

  32. Libertarians against gay rights?

    So here we have two misappropriated formerly “innocent” words – and – one in new guise is attacking the other:-

    “Libertarian” v. “gay”!

  33. Jimmy Giro – would the “Silver Rule” as you have framed it:-

    “Do not impose on others that which you would not have imposed on you.”

    be more accurately framed as:-

    ” Do impose on others that which you would not have imposed on you” – as distict from “The Golden Rule”?

  34. The right-wingers aren’t Libertarians at all; they’re trying to commandeer the term. Libertarianism is associated with the philosophy of J. S. Mill.

    The right-wingers are espousing a version of the anti-regulation philosophy first articulated by the Marquis de Sade. So they are technically ‘Libertines’.

  35. Kropotkin’s take on the Revolutionary Moment he experienced sounds so familiar. Take a Listen at

    http://www.GDAEman.com

  36. Courtenay Barnett @ 10:10 PM,

    Nope, it’s as stated. for further details:

    http://jimmygiro.blogspot.com/2009/04/silver-rule.html

  37. JimmyGiro – thanks for that – did wrap my mind around some of it. Interesting. Thanks.

  38. “The whole process of shepherding morality via the violence of law is the fascist form of stabilizing society at the expense of the freedom of the individual. And just as a hole gets bigger the more you take from it, orthodoxy increases with every liberty removed from the individual.”

    JimmyGiro ?” I think that your incisive observations could be projected on a global scale. In a sense there are countries that have taken the most from the rest of the world to grant the greatest prosperity and greatest liberties, and then those who have the least struggle, while the wealthy preach “liberty”. At this juncture in human history, methinks, the two factions are finally beginning to meet!

  39. Kropotkin would have disputed that he was a libertarian. Believing there should be no central government is not the same as believing in a small central government. I guess, from the perspective of living under an enormous, arrogant and invasive central government, some confusion may be understandable. Many calling themselves libertarian now would become conservatives when the state reached their desired size. But then so would anarchists if it ever disappeared. All these things are relative, but at least (unlike the left/right distinction) they are also relevant.

  40. Stephen Jones

    23 May, 2009 - 10:30 pm

    —–”Tim Worstall etc. Not sure I believe they are all really libertarians, but good and worthwhile bloggers, yes.”——

    Worstall’s economics is neo-liberalism for and by those with comprehension difficulties. His postings on CiF are useful though because they are so parodic they discredit whatever view he espouses.

  41. Man: What’s the difference between “libertarian” and “anarchist,” exactly?

    Chomsky: There’s no difference, really. I think they’re the same thing. But you see, “libertarian” has a special meaning in the United States. The United States is off the spectrum of the main tradition in this respect: what’s called “libertarianism” here is unbridled capitalism. Now, that’s always been opposed in the European libertarian tradition, where every anarchist has been a socialist?”because the point is, if you have unbridled capitalism, you have all kinds of authority: you have extreme authority.

  42. Craig,

    Don’t make a silly noise. I have not “actively blogged in favour of the use of torture”.

    As you well know, on the Torture subject as a whole I park myself where the House of Lords parked itself in that key judgment which you cite favourably in Murder in Samarkand.

    I have responded at greater length on my own site: http://charlescrawford.biz/blog.php?single=977

    Regards,

    Charles

  43. I usually hear the Ron Paul Brigade refer to themselves as Progressives more than any Libertarian label.

    I thought the best quip was that Libertarians are against state persecution of business while Anarchists are against state persecution of people !

    Unhappily, that sentence would be a non-starter in the U.S.A., which is so in thrall to Orwellian DuckSpeak that they do not recognize themselves as all Armchair Capitalists getting the screw from Organized Crime in its various iterations as the Fourth Reich. Whether CIA, Mafia, Aryan Nation, Moonies, et al is a point not worth making.

  44. Mr. Crawford, you say: “Both of us have served in countries under violent repressive regimes. The question then becomes, how to deal with the moral and practical policy dilemmas which necessarily arise?

    The Torture issue brings to a head a lot of these dilemmas. In part because it in fact is a number of different but usually overlapping questions:

  45. I find the “logic” in the OP that if you do not speak out about something you agree with it, rather odd and, in fact, not very Libertarian!

    Silence is not consent. Many Libertarians have their hands full dealing with the problems being snuck under the radar by our current infestation of rabid Fabians, Authoritarians and Corporatists. Many can see the flood of criticism on the topics you mention. They are not herd animals, Libertarians, you know!

    It also seems your criticism of Libertarians has far too much of a US tinge with all ths neo-con guff. As to the chap who thinks most self-labelled UK :Libertarian blogs are not LIbertarian, most I have seen are very much of the centrist or Mutualist group.

    BTW, seeing as someone brought up JS Mill, you might find he is totally against all that “social justice” the Left is so on about. Social Justice is based on the utterly monstrous (to quote Mill) idea social rights – the idea that some group can force their views upon you even if you are doing no harm to others. Just as most right wingers cannot be Libertarians, most Left wingers cannot either, for the above and other reasons.

    I wonder how many of the Left who want to claim “back” the term Libertarian and wrap themselves in it want to control what happens to most of the money people earn, what they can drive when and where, what they can or cannot say, where their children are educated and what they are educated in and if they have no children they have to pay for others instead? I really do wonder.

    I am not Left or Right and I am not “centrist” either! I am against coercion and I consider the State evil, but I do recognise that sometimes it is an evil that is slightly less evil than the next best alternative, so I am not anarchistic.

    Just as the Right has no claim on Libertarian, neither does the Left.

  46. Craig, I think you’re being extraordinarily unfair.

    You certainly haven’t described most of the Libertarians I know, or whose blogs I regularly read.

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