In his recent critique of libertarianism, “Marxism of the Right,” published in the March American Conservative, Robert Locke immediately sets an erroneous tone by lumping ex-socialists in with the “free spirits, the ambitious … drug users and sexual eccentrics” to whom libertarianism actually appeals. Actually, those ex-socialists now call themselves neoconservatives, not libertarians, and they not only belong to the Republican Party, they are currently running it.
One might not quibble with Locke – a good conservative name if there ever was one – if he were content to assert that libertarianism is a purer form of conservatism in the same way that Marxism is a more refined form of the democratic socialism that is now dominant in the Democratic Party and the “strong government” branch of the Republican Party. But Locke instead asserts that libertarians are not mirror-images of Marxists in a metaphorical manner, but in a very real and legally binding sense.
Like Marxism, libertarianism offers the fraudulent intellectual security of a complete a priori account of the political good without the effort of empirical investigation. Like Marxism, it aspires, overtly or covertly, to reduce social life to economics.
This is simply untrue. First, it reveals Locke’s misunderstanding of Marxism. Marxism does not aspire to reduce social life to economics, it aspires to reduce it to religion. Friedrich von Hayek demonstrated its “economics” to be nothing but distribution-side mythopoesis in his famous demonstration of the impossibility of socialist calculation, while Joseph Schumpeter, in “Capitalism, Socialism And Democracy,” showed how Marxism is a religion, complete with a deity (History), a prophet (Marx), a priesthood (the Vanguard) and a Heaven (the Withering Away), masquerading as a political science.
Locke’s failure to understand Marxism is compounded by his failure to even begin to grasp the pessimistic heart of libertarian philosophy. He writes:
Libertarian naivete extends to politics … Libertarians are also naive about the range and perversity of human desires they propose to unleash. They can imagine nothing more threatening than a bit of Sunday-afternoon sadomasochism, followed by some recreational drug use and work on Monday.
This is wildly off base. Following a century in which hundreds of millions of people were legally slain by their own governments, libertarianism is the only political philosophy which identifies and attempts to address the problem of government democide. Libertarians are deeply aware of the human propensity for evil, which is why their entire focus is reducing the state to a position where it is too weak, vis-a-vis its citizens, to even attempt to liquidate them en masse Mr. Locke has it exactly backward, for where is the harm in an individual’s drug addiction or predilection for spanking in comparison with the guillotine, the gas chamber and the gulag?
Unlike today’s conservatives and liberals, libertarians remember George Washington’s admonition that government is force, “a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” Unlike every other group in the political spectrum, they possess a memory which lasts more than four years, knowing that every expansion of central power is inherently dangerous, even in trustworthy hands, because each contemplative Aurelian philosopher-king is succeeded, sooner or later, by a Commodus.
Locke’s article reaches its nadir with the following statement:
Libertarians in real life rarely live up to their own theory but tend to indulge in the pleasant parts while declining to live up to the difficult portions.
It is surely true that the behavior of every individual libertarian does not hew strictly to the ideological lines. But as a party, the Libertarians are ideologically pristine. The party does not accept the federal matching funds that are its legal due and despite its paltry support in the 2004 election, it accepted no taxpayer money to fund its convention, something that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats were willing to do.
This charge of hypocrisy is little more than the massive, coal-filled, tar-covered pot calling the sparkly little kettle black, considering that conservatism’s Dear Leader, George Delano Bush, has simultaneously managed to follow in the domestic footsteps of FDR while enforcing a Wilsonian foreign policy abroad. Politicians are proverbially dishonest, of course, but one need only glance at National Review, the Washington Times or Townhall.com to find a so-called conservative championing yet another aspect of central government expansion.
Locke’s essay boils down to the distaste of the sinner for the saint. Since libertarians have become the conscience of American conservativism, it should come as no surprise that a conservative movement lost in the passionate throes of a fling with ascendant central power should show little inclination to listen to those still small voices advocating a return to reason and restrained government.
For a complete critique of Locke’s article in its entirety, visit Vox Popoli.