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.