Horowitz on the Paul newsletters and the left/progressive roots of libertarianism


#1

A very fine piece by economics professor and writer for The Freeman, Steven Horowitz: How Did We Get Here? Or, Why Do 20 Year Old Newsletters Matter So Damn Much? | Bleeding Heart Libertarians

Horowitz traces libertarianism from its leftist roots in classical liberalism to its unfortunate and disgraceful collaboration with racists during the paleolibertarian movement.[INDENT=2]

Classical liberalism started as a movement of the left, with folks like J.S. Mill being our standard bearers against the forces of reaction and conservatism in England, especially over issues of race. We were the “progressives” of that era, viewing the market as a force for progress for all, especially the least well-off, and as a great equalizer. It was Mill who argued that it was a good thing that markets would lead to racial equality in opposition to people like Carlyle and Ruskin who rejected markets because they wanted to maintain racial hierarchy. The liberal revolution was a revolution against privilege and the old order. It was the radical progressivism of its day.
Unfortunately, classical liberalism never figured out how to respond to the development of socialism, and especially the state socialism of the Soviets and others in the early 20[SUP]th[/SUP] century, in a way that maintained our progressive credentials. By default, we moved from the “left” to the “right,” thrown in with the conservative opponents of the growing socialist wave. From the Old Right of the 1940s through the Reagan era, libertarianism’s opposition to socialism, especially interferences in the market, led us to ally with the forces of reaction. But even with the demise of really-existing socialism, we have been unable to completely break free of that connection to the right, though things are better than they used to be. . .

The paleo strategy. . . was about appealing to the worst instincts of working/middle class conservative whites by creating the only anti-left fusion possible with the demise of socialism: one built on cultural issues. With everyone broadly agreeing that the market had won, how could you hold together a coalition that opposed the left? Oppose them on the culture. . .

The paleo strategy was a horrific mistake, both strategically and theoretically, though it apparently made some folks (such as Rockwell and Paul) pretty rich selling newsletters predicting the collapse of Western civilization at the hands of the blacks, gays, and multiculturalists. The explicit strategy was abandoned by around the turn of the century, but not after a lot of bad stuff had been written in all kinds of places. There was way more than the Ron Paul newsletters. . .What the media has in their hands is only the tip of the iceberg of the really unsavory garbage that the paleo turn produced back then. . .

Through it all though, Ron Paul was a constant. He kept plugging away, first at the center of the paleo strategy as evidenced by the newsletters. To be clear, I am quite certain he did not write them. There is little doubt that they were written by Rockwell and Rothbard. People I know who were on the inside at the time confirm it and the style matches pretty well to those two and does not match to Ron Paul. Paul knows who wrote them too, but he’s protecting his long-time friend and advisor, unfortunately. And even more sadly, Rockwell doesn’t have the guts to confess and end this whole megillah. So although I don’t think Ron Paul is a racist, like Archie Bunker, he was willing to, metaphorically, toast a marshmallow on the cross others were burning. . .

It’s time to reclaim our progressive history from the hands of the right: from the Old Right of the 40s, to the Reagan era LINOs, to the paleolibertarianism of the 1990s. As many of us have argued. . .the heritage of libertarianism is properly a progressive one. Our roots are in the anti-racism and proto-feminism of J.S. Mill and others in the 19th century. We believe in peaceful exchange, voluntary cooperation, progress, enlightenment, tolerance and mutual respect, and openness to change. That is our heritage and that’s the libertarianism that I grew up with in the 1970s and 1980s, and that’s the progressive libertarianism I want to proudly enter into the debate over the future of human social organization.

[/INDENT]


#2

I think he was heading in a good direction, but this sentence stood out:
Unfortunately, classical liberalism never figured out how to respond to the development of socialism

It is more correct to say that Classical Liberalism never figured out how to accept elements of “socialism” (where it appears by context, socialism means state-intervention to this author). It instead rebelled against necessary state intervention and split off into modern conservatism versus the newer left, which was Social Liberalism.


#3

I think he was heading in a good direction, but this sentence stood out:
Unfortunately, classical liberalism never figured out how to respond to the development of socialism

It is more correct to say that Classical Liberalism never figured out how to accept elements of “socialism” (where it appears by context, socialism means state-intervention to this author). It instead rebelled against necessary state intervention and split off into modern conservatism versus the newer left, which was Social Liberalism.

This is inaccurate. Horowitz is almost certainly using the term “socialism” in the sense that it was used by Hayek: i.e., as a state-managed economy. This is what he means when he writes of the “demise of really-existing socialism”; the idea of the state-managed economy is not an idea anyone takes seriously anymore. This is also what he means when he talks about how “the market had won”; the idea of a Soviet or Maoist-style planned economy has been completely discredited.

Nor is it true that classical liberals never accept state-intervention in the economy: classical liberalism isn’t of necessity committed to laissez-faire; Hayek, for instance, is one of the more relatively statist classical liberals, as he openly denounced laissez-faire. Classical liberalism is a very diverse tradition, ranging from anarchists to figures who supported modest intervention in the economy, e.g.: Hayek, Mill, etc.

What Horowitz means when he writes that classical liberalism didn’t figure out how to respond to socialism while maintaining its progressive credentials is this: classical liberalism is, in its values, a leftist movement. It stood for working class liberation and empowerment, tolerance and privacy in the private sphere, and so forth. The challenge from socialism was to say that markets don’t empower or liberate, but rather oppress, and that a managed economy is necessary for social justice. In opposing this view, classical liberals in the 20th century found themselves on the same side as their traditional enemies (conservatives).

With the demise of socialism, Horowitz and other left-libertarians believe that it’s time for libertarianism to reclaim its roots of standing up for the empowerment of labor through traditional liberal means (i.e., ending pervasive government interference which favors big business), and once again championing the idea that true free markets (not, mind you, the corporatism that conservatives try to pass off as “free markets”) are the best way to accomplish left-wing goals.


#4

In terms of government social(ist) programs, this is oxymoronic.


#5

Libertarians got there by being irrelevant as an operational philosophy during a Cold War era. Libertarians could not philosophically support the Cold War, and since most otherwise libertarian inclined people had no doubt the Cold War needed to be fought, the movement languished. Co-opted by the Left on social issues, and co-opted by the Right on market issues, libertarianism, as an operational philosophy continues to struggle for relevance.

I’d hate to rain on anyone’s parade but, I believe that the death of socialism has been reported prematurely.


#6

Since when does the Right support free markets? I mean *real *free markets, and not “free markets with a wink to big business”: the corporate nanny state. It’s true that right-wingers often use the word “free market” and claim that it’s something they support, but we have no reason to believe them at this point. Reagan, for example, engaged in more protectionism than any other modern president.

Neither “side” has “co-opted” libertarian ideas on markets.


#7

Just a side-note; in pointing out that classical liberals weren’t universally committed to laissez-faire, I was merely stating a historical fact. In the interests of “full-disclosure,” I myself *am *committed to laissez-faire as an ideal toward which I believe we should work.


#8

The author seems not to realize that the United States is wholly separated from Europe in terms of societal makeup, problems and affiliations.


#9

That’s a proposition in search of evidence.


#10

The right is far more populated by small businessmen, and their supporters as the engines of economic progress, than it is by those running corporations. Nothing could be further from the truth than that the right is the cause or party of Big Business.


#11

[quote=“Sway, post:10, topic:32999”]
The right is far more populated by small businessmen, and their supporters as the engines of economic progress, than it is by those running corporations. Nothing could be further from the truth than that the right is the cause or party of Big Business.
[/quote]The politicians of the right are not interested in supporting the small businessmen, i.e., getting out of their way. Rather, they have been more interested in crafting as many possible impediments to place in their path in the name of raising barriers to entry while protecting and supporting the large corporations and their management. They don’t shy away from protectionism either, which in the end, hurts the economy it is meant to help. The Republicans have been no friend to small businessmen, real free markets or the American people. Just because they say they are doesn’t make it so, and their actions do not bear out what they say.


#12

Which is why small businessmen need to vet their candidates more thoroughly. Given that the alternative consists of Democrats, I doubt small business will shift its allegiance soon. At least in Michigan, small business is discovering that it cannot sit idle, or big business and government will bury them.

All of which is neither here nor there as to the original point. Big Business has no political allegiance; it treats either party as much the same, and why not, for they’ve often acted much the same in service to Big Business’ interests. The challenge for conservatives is to remove the common perception that Big Business represents capitalism and free markets.


#13

The challenge is to elect politicians who do not represent Big Business and prefer to leave a free economy – but they’re not popular – they have the letter L behind their names.


#14

Well, there’s no need to elect whack jobs just to clear up a patronage problem. (g) Especially when they prove just as susceptible to temptation as their counterparts.


#15

[quote=“Sway, post:14, topic:32999”]
Well, there’s no need to elect whack jobs just to clear up a patronage problem. (g) Especially when they prove just as susceptible to temptation as their counterparts.
[/quote]Whack jobs? Good luck with the Republicans and Democrats. They’ve given you and me all of this…


#16

Maybe. I tend to think that we’ve gotten exactly what we asked for, and more. The fact that we’re about to get what we deserve, as a result, shouldn’t obscure the fact that we asked for it all in the first place. It’s the weakness of democracy. And, in the history of the world, worse things have happened. We’re not facing famine or holocaust, just the melt-down of our economy, which is after all, just the numbers behind real productivity. If it all falls apart, we’ll start over. It’ll be ugly, but it won’t be Antietam.


#17

Democrats and Republicans are virtually identical in their service to the whims of big business funding. When there are differences on these matters (which is rare), it tends to be a matter of constituencies; e.g. Democrats tend to favor green technology big business, Republicans tend to favor coal and oil big business. What it comes down to, in the end, is that government favoritism to wealthy special interest groups creates huge barriers to entry — some of which are quite subtle — effectively obliterating many opportunities for starting up a small business.


#18

[quote=“Sway, post:16, topic:32999”]
Maybe. I tend to think that we’ve gotten exactly what we asked for, and more. The fact that we’re about to get what we deserve, as a result, shouldn’t obscure the fact that we asked for it all in the first place. It’s the weakness of democracy. And, in the history of the world, worse things have happened. We’re not facing famine or holocaust, just the melt-down of our economy, which is after all, just the numbers behind real productivity. If it all falls apart, we’ll start over. It’ll be ugly, but it won’t be Antietam.
[/quote]Economic meltdown *is *famine, death and mayhem. Yes, some collective we (but not me) have gotten what we’ve asked for; and we’re going to keep getting it.


#19

I should add that small businessmen are not immune from the attractions of government, either. Perhaps not as much and not as obviously as corporations, but just as profitably.

Fella starts out in a business and, some years later, the state decides it is a profession that should be licensed. He grouses and complains about the hassle of getting licensed, and the government sticking its nose into what he’s been competently performing for years, etc… After awhile though, he realizes that not just anybody can do what he does and, if we just regulated those hacks out of business, society and the trade would be the better off for it. And that’s how your otherwise conservative small businessman becomes an advocate for government regulation. Not government regulation like you read about in the paper, no, government regulation for the safety of his customers whom he, as a licensed businessman, is best suited to meet the needs of. Kind of an insidious influence. And, push comes to shove, the only difference at the end of the day is that he just hasn’t figured out a way to do it on the scale of a General Electric.

Part of the company I work for does heating and air conditioning. And the owner, along with the rest of us, is about as conservative as you can get, so we often have conversations about taxes, government spending, voting, etc… I brought up the fact that the federal energy credits for installing new high-efficiency furnaces were nothing more than a subsidy to the heating and air conditioning industry, as well as the manufacturers. To their credit, no one argued against the point, but they weren’t exactly mounting the ramparts to get government out of the heating and air conditioning business, either. Same old, same old. Pork is spending on you; spending on me is a national interest. And everyone is expecting someone else to stop the madness. It’s convenient to be able to blame politicians for it obviates the need for us to either examine our own hearts or actually take a stand that would hurt our own economic interests. So, we’re hypocrites, but it’s the pol’s fault?


#20

This is inaccurate. Horowitz is almost certainly using the term “socialism” in the sense that it was used by Hayek: i.e., as a state-managed economy. This is what he means when he writes of the “demise of really-existing socialism”; the idea of the state-managed economy is not an idea anyone takes seriously anymore. This is also what he means when he talks about how “the market had won”; the idea of a Soviet or Maoist-style planned economy has been completely discredited.

Socialism in that sense is completely top-down. The means of production is state-owned and wealth is distributed according to some model decided as best for the country.

But I take note of:
From the Old Right of the 1940s through the Reagan era, libertarianism’s opposition to socialism, especially interferences in the market, led us to ally with the forces of reaction. But even with the demise of really-existing socialism, we have been unable to completely break free of that connection to the right, though things are better than they used to be. . .

From this context he considers interference in the market to be socialism.

Nor is it true that classical liberals never accept state-intervention in the economy: classical liberalism isn’t of necessity committed to laissez-faire; Hayek, for instance, is one of the more relatively statist classical liberals, as he openly denounced laissez-faire. Classical liberalism is a very diverse tradition, ranging from anarchists to figures who supported modest intervention in the economy, e.g.: Hayek, Mill, etc.

If we are talking of liberals, then we can be broad enough to accept this, however the defining feature which separates Social Liberals from Classical Liberals is support of laissez-faire capitalism. Classical Liberals support it, Social Liberals do not.

What Horowitz means when he writes that classical liberalism didn’t figure out how to respond to socialism while maintaining its progressive credentials is this: classical liberalism is, in its values, a leftist movement. It stood for working class liberation and empowerment, tolerance and privacy in the private sphere, and so forth. The challenge from socialism was to say that markets don’t empower or liberate, but rather oppress, and that a managed economy is necessary for social justice. In opposing this view, classical liberals in the 20th century found themselves on the same side as their traditional enemies (conservatives).

If you put it this way, then yes, I agree. However this is classical liberalism, not libertarianism (which is actually conservative, class-based ideology in a wrapper of Classical Liberalism).

With the demise of socialism, Horowitz and other left-libertarians believe that it’s time for libertarianism to reclaim its roots of standing up for the empowerment of labor through traditional liberal means (i.e., ending pervasive government interference which favors big business), and once again championing the idea that true free markets (not, mind you, the corporatism that conservatives try to pass off as “free markets”) are the best way to accomplish left-wing goals.

This is the primary statement I disagree with. Libertarianism was NEVER about empowerment of labor. Classical Liberalism was, social liberalism is. Libertarianism is an ideology which draws from the notion that those who are well-off deserve to be (this is axiomatic), and that they do not owe society for their success and neither do they bear responsibility to society (again an axiom, it cannot be reduced further, and it is a value statement which means if you disagree with it, you oppose libertarianism and will never see eye-to-eye with its advocates). Libertarianism takes this notion (which is deeply tied to property as a measure of being both well-off and free) and then borrows Classical Liberal positions on drugs, sex, and social freedoms.

Note your qualifier “true” free markets. Libertarians MUST use qualifiers like these because history is full of examples of unregulated, open to competition, virtually anarchistic markets which became travesties of human rights violations and social menaces. If you did not use the qualifier “true” then I could simply list these examples and the debate would be over, but for every example I list you need only say “well, that wasn’t a true free market” and then your hands are washed of it.