Fighting the sickness that cripples us
The charge was made again this week, by one of my more “realistic” libertarian buddies: “Shit, Conger, we all believe in freedom and markets, but fer crissakes, be practical.” I’d been arguing antipolitics again. He’d been arguing traditional politics — i.e., electoral politics, the Democratic Process, gradualism.
Which brought to mind a post last month on the old LeftLibertarian e-list. Wrote “Pete McAlpine,” in part:
“I am really no longer a libertarian in a fundamental sense. The idea that individualist libertarianism can create its own social organism and eventually its own civilization minus the State is an erroneous, groundless faith. Some years ago, I came to the conclusion that collectivism is the natural order of human existence. Collectives are real, not imaginary as many individualists would like to think. Collectives, from tribes to nations to civilizations, are real, held together by force, threat of force, memes and/or maybe even morphic resonance. Collectives are macro biological organisms. Individualism plays little or no role in the primal bloody processes which give rise to them.
“I see now that libertarian individualism is a luxury of ‘high culture’ that can be approached only after a powerful civilization has established itself by Centuries of ‘blood and iron’ and then reformed itself in a libertarian direction with Ethics, Constitutionalism, Law, etc. as a refuge for individual life. Thus, I am still a libertarian, but only in the sense that America and Western Civilization should be encouraged to develop in a libertarian individualist direction, but must maintain sufficient collectivism to defend itself and destroy, if necessary, alien civilizations, especially the BORG-like Islam. ...
“... I am a supporter of America/Western Civilization, not because of its bloody history, but because of its potential for evolution, already proven to a large extent, toward individualist libertarianism, not the imaginary libertarianism of Rothbard and SEKIII, but the actual liberty possible within an advanced civilization with inevitable Statist remnants, the only liberty actually possible.”
In other words, “evolution, not revolution.” Or “libertarian pragmatism.” This is the “levelheaded” sickness that now so thoroughly permeates the Libertarian Party and puts at risk a vibrant, activist libertarian movement.
I can think of no better argument against this “pragmatic,” gradualist approach to freedom than this, written by Murray Rothbard two decades ago (New Libertarian 13, April 1985):
“[It’s] no accident that never in history has pragmatism inspired any sort of radical or revolutionary movement for social change. For who in hell would join a radical minority movement, and commit him- or herself for life to social obloquy and a marginal existence, for the sake of 20% more bathtubs, or 15% more candy bars? Who will man the barricades, either physically or spiritually, for more peanuts or Pepsi? Look at all radical or revolutionary movements of the 20th century, whether they be Communist or fascist or Khomeiniite. Did they struggle and move mountains for a few more goods and services, for what we used to call ‘bathtub economics’? Hell no, they moved mountains and made history out of a deep moral passion that would not be denied. What moves men and women and changes history is ideology, moral values, deep beliefs and principles.
“It is no coincidence, then, that even in the libertarian movement, the people who have stuck to it over the years have been almost exclusively the believers in rights and possessors of moral passion. The libertarian pragmatists, what the Marxists call ‘economists,’ have generally hived off to good jobs and have forgotten any movement concerns. And, by their lights, why not? Why not let the crazy ideologues worry about the movement and about liberty? The pragmatists, as usual, will just take what comes.
“Anarcho-Pragmatism, then, simply doesn’t work. It cannot push radicalism among the public, and it cannot build a radical movement. All it can do is subvert, weaken, and, if unchecked, even destroy the libertarian movement which the anarcho-pragmatists claim they are striving to strengthen and promote. Objectively, anarcho-pragmatists can only function as wreckers of libertarianism. And since moral passion and ideology work and pragmatism doesn’t, the anarcho-pragmatists have a pragmatic obligation either to convert to natural rights, or, at the very least, to pretend to convert and then use natural rights and ideology as a weapon with which to build an anarchist movement. Objectively, then, and on their own terms, the anarcho-pragmatists have a solemn duty to surrender, to shut up about their doctrines and abandon the field.”