Not the Murray Rothbard Book Club
I’ve been turning over something RTod wrote in his mostly excellent post below:
[I]f libertarianism ever comes to power in this country it is not going to be because 400 million Americans started reading and salon-ing on the comparative works of Rothbard, Nozick, Bookchin, et al. It will be because a majority of people gets to a place where overly simplistic messages like “the government is working with the gays/Muslims/govt. class/whoever and they’re out to get you, but the libertarians will save you” resonate. I don’t say this because I think it’s right or fair. I think that that’s just the way ideology works in the real world. Put another way, the Jasons and Marks might be right about what a risen-to-power libertarian movement should be, but the Rush Limbaughs and the Glenn Becks will ultimately have say over what a risen-to-power libertarian movement will be.
There’s something condescending here — I know your project better by far than you do, it says, and it’s not even my project. I know where you’re headed, and you’re doomed. Not just doomed in the “I think bad things will happen” sense, but doomed in the “Bad things will certainly happen, try as you may; I’ve foretold them with an air of mysteriously final prophecy” sense.
That’s a bit much to pass as consensus. Or at least it should be.
On this view, libertarianism would appear to need an extra set of antibodies, one that currently popular ideologies blithely go without. You’re afraid that Limbaugh and Beck are going to take over the country? As it stands, they more or less run things half the time already. That’s because there already is a major ideology telling people “the government is working with the gays/Muslims/govt. class/whoever and they’re out to get you, but [this ideology] will save you.” And people are already lapping it up. But that ideology isn’t libertarianism.
What I’d like to see is actually not libertarianism as a giant book club. Bookishness is a quirk of mine, not to be taken as definitive. I’d much prefer to see libertarianism as an antidote to fear. Where most ideologies are usually trying to scare you into handing over more power to the government in one area or another, I’m trying to un-scare you. Not everyone would (or could or should) participate in the Murray Rothbard Book Club. Everyone could (and should) learn to be skeptical about the latest big scary thing that the state needs to control. For your own good.
There’s nothing terribly ivory tower about being unflappable. But there is something if I may say so rather inspiring about it. I think of stories like this or this or this, and I imagine that if libertarianism is ever really going to win, these are how it will happen.