Neo-Cons are not Libertarians 46

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”.

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 thoughts on “Neo-Cons are not Libertarians

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  • Craig

    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.

  • Courtenay Barnett

    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”!

  • Courtenay Barnett

    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”?

  • nextus

    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’.

  • Courtenay Barnett

    “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!

  • Tom Paine

    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.

  • Stephen Jones

    —–“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.

  • Courtenay Barnett

    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.

  • Charles Crawford


    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:



  • opit

    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.

  • Courtenay Barnett

    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:

  • Roger Thornhill

    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.

  • Katabasis

    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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