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Saturday, June 8, 2019

On the Politics of Libertarianism

Ludwig von Mises
Here’s a rule: Any individualist and liberty oriented political movement that is dominated by intellectuals will over a period of time become collectivist and statist. This happens because most intellectuals have the tendency of falling in love with their own thinking—they love to rationalize. But “individualism” and “liberty” cannot coexist with rationalization, so when the intellectuals are in control, the movement will become collectivist and statist.

The movement of the liberals gravitated towards leftism more than 100 years ago because most liberals were intellectuals. The same thing is now happening with the movement that has inherited the mantle of the liberals, the libertarian movement. I think eventually the word “libertarianism” will go the “liberal” way because the libertarian movement is also dominated by intellectuals. While the intellectuals rationalize and bicker with each other and futilely fantasize about a libertarian utopia, the control of the word “libertarianism” slips from their hands.

A political movement needs two things to expand the reach of its ideas while adhering to its core principles: structure and direction. Libertarianism has a direction but no structure. By structure, I mean a set of institutions which agree on the broad philosophical and political principles. The libertarian institutions have very little agreement—their intellectuals bicker all the time; they accuse each other of being a socialist. It is not clear what libertarianism stands for—does it stand for free market capitalism, anarchism, minarchism, agorism, welfare state, socialism, or something else?

The libertarian political movements can create a structure by removing the intellectuals from positions of power in their organizational set-up, and putting some real politicians in charge. Only the extremely naive will believe that people support a political movement because they like its ideology and are impressed by all the blather about having a rational and free society. That is not how it works. People support a movement because they think that it will lead to an improvement in their own living condition—they are seeking a solution to their own immediate concerns.

I will end on a positive note: some schools of libertarianism have a good sense of the direction in which they want society to move. This is because the libertarians are good economists—they have written a number of books and papers on economics. Even in the areas of political history and moral theory, the libertarian scholars have done good work. They have a clear conception of the economic and political policy that they would like the government to implement. The libertarians can improve their political prospects by putting some actual politicians in charge of their political messaging.

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