Saturday, July 01, 2017

American Libertarianism: A History

The American Libertarian Party regularly runs candidates, who almost never get get elected to anything for the very good reason that the electorate quite sensibly hates their ideas. This might persuade some that libertarian influence in the US is slight - but they would be very wrong. After the failure of the Koch brothers first big push into Libertarian politics, with David Koch as Vice Presidential candidate, they decided that covert action and subversion was a more promising tactic. The result was the creation of a vast network of "academic" centers and "think" tanks devoted to libertarian propaganda, plus a highly successful effort to take over the Republican Party.

has written a history of the American libertarian movement and its record.

Here is a sample, concerning economist James McGill Buchanan's strategic plan for fighting desegregation in the South. MacLean, Nancy. Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America (p. xiii). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. :

Find the resources, he proposed to Darden, for me to create a new center on the campus of the University of Virginia, and I will use this center to create a new school of political economy and social philosophy. It would be an academic center, rigorously so, but one with a quiet political agenda: to defeat the “perverted form” of liberalism that sought to destroy their way of life, “a social order,” as he described it, “built on individual liberty,” a term with its own coded meaning but one that Darden surely understood.

The center, Buchanan promised, would train “a line of new thinkers” in how to argue against those seeking to impose an “increasing role of government in economic and social life.”1 He could win this war, and he would do it with ideas. While it is hard for most of us today to imagine how Buchanan or Darden or any other reasonable, rational human being saw the racially segregated Virginia of the 1950s as a society built on “the rights of the individual,” no matter how that term was defined, it is not hard to see why the Brown decision created a sense of grave risk among those who did.2 Buchanan fully understood the scale of the challenge he was undertaking and promised no immediate results. But he made clear that he would devote himself passionately to this cause.

Some may argue that while Darden fulfilled his part—he found the money to establish this center—he never got much in return. Buchanan’s team had no discernible success in decreasing the federal government’s pressure on the South all the way through the 1960s and ’70s. But take a longer view—follow the story forward to the second decade of the twenty-first century—and a different picture emerges, one that is both a testament to Buchanan’s intellectual powers and, at the same time, the utterly chilling story of the ideological origins of the single most powerful and least understood threat to democracy today: the attempt by the billionaire-backed radical right to undo democratic governance.

MacLean, Nancy. Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America (pp. xiv-xv). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.