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Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement

Brian Doherty (2007)


The libertarian vision is all in Jefferson. Read your Declaration of Independence: We are all created equal; no one ought to have any special rights and privileges in social relations with other men. We have, inherently, certain rights—to our life, to our freedom, to do what we please in order to find happiness. Government has one purpose: to help us protect those rights. And if it doesn't do that, then it has to go, by any means necessary.
Hard to imagine a more libertarian document; and there it is, one of the nearly sacred founding documents of the United States of America. (21)

[Benjamin] Tucker was certain who the primary enemy was: "The State is said by some to be a `necessary evil;' it must be made unnecessary," he declared. "This century's battle, then, is with the State: the State, that debases man; the State, that prostitutes women; the State, that corrupts children; the State, that trammels love; the State, that stifles thought; the State, that monopolizes land; the State, that limits credit; the State, that restricts exchange; the State, that gives idle capital the power of increase and, through interest, rent, profits, and taxes, robs industrious labor of its products." (42)

[Tucker:] "As a choice of blessings, liberty is the greater; as a choice of evils, liberty is the smaller. Then liberty always says the Anarchist. No use of force except against the invader." (47)

[Lysander] Spooner was born in 1808 on a farm outside Athol, Massachusetts. He became an enemy of the state early on and succeeded in repealing a state statute that prevented him from practicing law without college training. Before beginning his copious writings on the criminal nature of the state, he practiced some competitive anarchism: running a private post office. Spooner's American Letter Mail Company, launched in 1844, was cheaper and more efficient than its government competition, and was driven out of business by Congress. (48-9)

At best, Spooner says, the Constitution could only bind those men who ratified it, which was never even all the people living then. For Spooner, elections were merely the illegitimate deputizing of politicians to act as thieves and marauders. (50)

[Spooner:] The fact that the government, like a highwayman, says to a man: Your money, or your life . . . . [But] the highwayman . . . does not pretend that he has any rightful claim to your money, or that he intends to use it for your benefit. . . . He has not acquired impudence enough to profess to be merely a "protector." . . . Furthermore, having taken your money, he leaves you. . . . He does not persist in following you on the road, against your will; assuming to be your rightful "sovereign" on account of the "protection" he affords you. He does not keep "protecting" you, by commanding you to bow down and serve him; by requiring you to do this, and forbidding you to do that; by robbing you of more money as often as he finds it for his interest and pleasure to do so; and by branding you as a rebel, a traitor, and . . . shooting you down without mercy, if you dispute his authority, or resist his demands. He is too much of a gentleman to be guilty of such impostures, and insults, and villainies as these. In short, he does not, in addition to robbing you, attempt to make you either his dupe or his slave. (51)

Though [Albert Jay] Nock was patrician in manner and attitude, he was not a rich man. He survived for his last couple of decades off the patronage of wealthy fans of the Freeman. Nock's goal, his attorney Abraham Ellis said, was to die with no money, "and he succeeded in his goal." He would work only when he needed the cash. (57)

Nock was firmly opposed to social pressure that might limit the freedom of alternative lifestyles. It wasn't enough, he insisted, for a judge to refuse to convict girls for walking naked down the street; true freedom would mean no one even noticed. (57)

"The simple truth," [Nock] wrote, "is that our businessmen do not want a government that will let business alone. They want a government that they can use." (58)

A true American wants to have liberty, to be free of arbitrary controls, to have no one demanding his papers, to be rid of officious busybodies poking in his business for whatever reason, to buy what he wants to buy and sell what he wants to sell, to whomever and on whatever terms he chooses. This seems easy enough to grasp, and the libertarian wing of the old right could only wonder what was wrong with any American who'd deny it. But the ideas that could explain, in ruthless but glorious scientific logic, why state intervention in people's economic affairs was counterproductive if wealth, efficiency, and freedom were your values, were imported to America by a pair of old-world Austrians, Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich A. Hayek. (67)

Before Menger, Jevons, and Walra, an object's value was generally thought to arise from the labor that went into making it. Economists tended to consider the value of objects as a class, which led to the apparent diamond/water paradox. If water is indispensable for human life and diamonds are a frippery, how is it that diamonds cost more than water under most circumstances?
The innovation of marginal utility cut to the solution: We don't make valuational decisions regarding diamonds and water in general or in total, but on a specific given amount of either up for our immediate consideration. And we value any given unit of a good for the least valuable possible use to which we could put that unit. Thus the more units of something available to us, the less valuable any given unit of it is.
For a (Mengerian) example, if a farmer has five bags of corn, he may use the first two to feed his family—its most valued use. He may store the third for possible future food needs, the fourth to feed his horse, and the last to feed the chickens. To that farmer, feeding chickens is the least valuable use for a bag of corn. But if he lost one bag, he would give up the least valued use to him. Thus the farmer values a bag of corn only equal to its use as chicken feed. (69)

Mises, writing out of his own World War II-era melancholy, speculates that Menger, the great liberal, lost his zest for life and productivity because he foresaw the decades of world war caused by the abandonment of liberal policies. Mises's conclusion: "Whosoever foresees so clearly before the age of forty the disaster and the destruction of everything he deems of value, cannot escape pessimism and psychic depression." (71)

But in the early 1940s, [Mises] was certain it was all over for him and his work. He mordantly noted in a letter to Hayek: "I have been very busy these last months in writing my posthumous works." (91)

Still, Hayek garnered praise from some fellow intellectuals who were more modern liberal than libertarians—mostly those who still had classical liberal leanings, such as George Orwell and even Hayek's old friend and adversary Keynes, who claimed to find himself "in agreement with virtually the whole of it; and not only in agreement with it, but in a deeply moved agreement."
Of course, Keynes didn't really mean it. In the same letter he went on to talk about how the real key was to make sure the right people were doing the planning and everything would be fine. And Keynes's spirit continued for decades to animate an elite of planners, regulators, and restrictors of social orders and markets. A war still raged over the nature of government and of economic management. Keynes was still winning and Hayek was still losing—and America was on Keynes's side. (110-11)

Isabel Paterson "would never regard the frontier as the breeding ground of puritan virtues," Paterson's biographer, Stephen Cox, wrote. "She was aware that other people did. Those people, she could only suppose, had `never lived on the frontier,' where freedom to loaf was more highly prized than hard work and stern ambition." She did not think of her fellow frontiersmen and women as necessarily at the apex of virtue and acumen. But she recognized that "frontier society offered `the most civilized type of association' . . . because it had `the absolute minimum of external regulation' and therefore `the maximum of voluntary civility and morality.'" While she was aware of the popular theory that "America's chief inheritance from its frontier past is `aggressiveness,'" she considered that theory "nonsense . . . on the frontier you have to be polite to your fellow men, and it won't get you anywhere to be aggressive to a blizzard.' What worked out west wasn't aggressiveness but `a peculiarly individual, mind-your-own-business confidence.'" (114-15)

Paterson attacks antitrust law, asserts that without the right to produce and exchange freely you have no real right to even exist, and stresses that the logical end of public ownership of property is "long trains of prisoners transported in cattle cars to a place where they do not wish to go." (119)

[Paterson:] "There can be no greater strength of arbitrary power than is required to seize children from their parents, teach them whatever the authorities decree they shall be taught, and expropriate from the parents the funds to pay for the procedure." (120)

In her later life, [Rose Wilder] Lane once wrote a postcard to a radio host fingering Social Security as the sort of socialist Bismarckianism we supposedly fought against in World War II. A sedition-sniffing postmaster alerted the FBI, who sent a state police officer to investigate, a young man. Lane asked him if expressing such an opinion was subversive. He said yes, ma'am, it was.
Lane thundered back. "Then I'm subversive as all hell! . . . I say this, and I write this, and I broadcast it on the radio, and I'm going to keep right on doing it 'til you put me in jail. Write that down and report it to your superiors!" (132)

Cecil B. DeMille was one of the kings of Hollywood in 1926, and one of [Ayn] Rand's favorites. In a suitably romantic twist, Rand found herself running into the Great Man himself by accident on the studio lot. The awestruck young Russian girl charmed DeMille. He nicknamed her "Caviar" and by his leave she began working as an extra on his sets. Rand can be seen, if you look very closely, in crowd scenes in DeMille's epic The King of Kings. (137)

[Leonard Read's] attitude toward money was Zen, sometimes hilariously so. When asked how FEE was doing financially, his favorite reply was, "Just perfectly." So far as he knew, every person who wanted to give FEE money was doing so. When people would tell Leonard that they were not going to (or not going to continue to) support FEE, he'd write them. "I am pleased that there still exist areas where one is free to choose how one expends his own money. That these areas are being rapidly narrowed is self-evident. In view of the fact that FEE is attempting to widen the areas where one is free to choose, we cannot consistently complain someone chooses not to support our work." (158)

If [Raymond Cyrus] Hoiles hated anything worse than unions, it was public schools (though his own children attended them). He preferred whorehouses, which, he'd point out, were voluntary, while public schools were not. Schools were the root of every other evil in our statist culture. As long as the government grabs us when our minds are fresh and unformed and forces us through a twelve-year indoctrination of its own design, he felt, forcing our parents and everyone else to pay for it, how can American kids grow up to understand the true meaning of our Declaration of Independence or Constitution, whose spirits are grossly violated by public schools? Hoiles floated an open challenge to school officials in any city with a Freedom paper: publicly debate the propriety of public schools in a format where they must answer every question asked. Hoiles was certain no self-respecting person could stand up in public and defend the tyranny of the public schools, and despite his $500 offer, no one ever did. (175)

Everyone remembers McCarthyism and the outcry it caused a few years later, when leftists were called to the dock and required to name names. But the Buchanan Commission is a little-remembered spectacle, when the avatars of right-wing reaction were similarly, and earlier, forced by subpoena to name names to congressmen hungry for flesh, and contemptuous of Americans who thought they had the right to refuse to offer any. Demands for lists of who they were, or had been, giving cash to in regard to "any attempt to influence, directly or indirectly, the passage or defeat of any Federal legislation," to be replied to forthwith, were dispatched to 166 captains of industry. (196)

[Frank] Chodorov was an independent thinker in the Nockian mode, with a profound disgust toward our enemy, the state. He advocated the social ostracism of government workers. Government buildings, he said, should be thought of, and treated as, charnel houses. (200)

Atlas Shrugged ended up a stunning dramatization of the real-world effects of airy and abstract philosophic principles, a tour de force that inspires both life-changing awe and deep and powerful repugnance. One hears—often—that the book changed a reader's life; yet you can also hear of people, upon discovering a copy in a loved one's room, throwing it out a window "for their own good"—and someone in the yard, seeing what the offending book was, running over it again and again with a lawnmower, shredding it, ensuring that this copy at least could wreak no more harm, pollute no more minds. (226)

In her 1970s writings [Ayn Rand] predicted the necessity (if not the specifics) of war in areas like the Balkans, where differing ethnically conscious groups are crammed together in one powerful state. Like Mises, she realized that state power exacerbates cultural tensions in polyglot nations by making the question of who controls the state vitally important. Without powerful central states, ethnic groups would lack a key issue to quarrel over. (242)

[Rand] also notes . . . that the pope's proscriptions were not meant to actually be obeyed, but to inculcate constant moral guilt (or in the case of regulations, potential legal guilt) in everyone all the time in order to morally (or legally) disarm them. (243)

The Circle Bastiat boys were also pranksters who liked to disrupt other people's realities for their own amusement and occasionally for moments of libertarian Zen wisdom. When talking to young socialists, they enjoyed turning some of the socialists' predictable rhetoric back on them, for example, soberly explaining that socialism might have been all right in the primitive conditions of the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries. But in today's complex, modern machine era, surely they could see that we must have laissez-faire—it's just the irresistible motion of history, the inevitable wave of the future, no point in fighting it.
One of their favorite stunts involved filling the audience at a talk by the governor of New Jersey aired on a TV program called Youth Wants to Know, and hitting him with their brand of questions from all sides, which included adopting the attitude that their ideological universe was the norm and his some sort of aberration. "What, governor? You are for public schools? Where did you get such a strange idea? Can you recommend any books on this subject?" (255)

[William F.] Buckley mocked what he saw as the libertarians' effete and useless disengagement from the cold war, scoffing at them for shuffling off from serious geopolitics to their little intellectual seminars on demunicipalizing garbage removal.
In 1963, FEE board chairman E. W. Dykes, an Ohio architect, responded to this line of attack by taking Buckley's critique for a given and defending libertarians on those seemingly outrageous terms.

War is the culmination of the breaking of libertarian principles, not once, but thousands of times. We are challenged to jump in at this point and apply our principles to get out of the unholy mess, built up over years and years of error on errors. I suggest it would be a very little different challenge had he posed this proposition: "You are a second lieutenant. Your platoon is surrounded. Your ammunition is gone. Two of your squad leaders are dead, the third is severely wounded. Now, Mr. Libertarian, let's see you get out of this one with your little seminars.
My answer—"demunicipalize the garbage service."
Now wait, don't give me up as a nut yet. I have a point. That second lieutenant is a goner. And so is the prospect of a lasting peace until man learns WHY it is wrong to municipalize the garbage service. You can't apply libertarian principles to wrong things at their culmination and expect to make much sense. It is too fundamental. You have to start back at the very beginning and that is precisely what our little seminars are for. There are people who build for tomorrow; there are people who build for a year; there are people who look forward a generation—the libertarian, a part of the "remnant," takes the long view—he is looking forward to the time when war will be looked on as we now look on cannibalism, a thing of the past. . . . What do we do in our little seminars? We make the case for freedom which cannot coexist with interventionism. . . . Again I say: We will never end wars until we at least understand why the garbage service should be removed from the jurisdiction of the police force—that is, government. (260-1)

[Murray] Rothbard was glum; he had been stunned by Atlas Shrugged, but he regretted getting enmeshed in the Branden circle again. It was sullying the insular joie de vivre and pleasing comic darkness of the Circle Bastiat. They were acutely aware of the absurdity of their position in the world and held nothing as sacred from their acidic humor, parodic songsmithery, and general self-aware absurdist wit. (263-4)

More important than enemies, though, Spiritual Mobilization had pamphlets—folksy ones making antistate points with a Midwestern sort of charm, distributed in bulk to churches across the country. A long look at one reveals a lot, and entertainingly to boot, about its beliefs and approach. The pamphlet celebrates, in song, the glories of Armstrong County, South Dakota. At the time it was a 518 square mile county with fifty-three residents—and the only county in the United States, as of 1950, containing not a single civilian federal employee. Sing along!

All Hail to Armstrong, South Dakota
Land of the Free
You have yet to fill your quota
With a Federal Employee!
No one from Agriculture?
How do you farm?
No one from Justice?
Who keeps you from harm?
No one from Veterans?
By whom are you paid?
No one from Commerce?
How do you trade?
No one from Housing?
Who buildeth your shacks?
No one from Treasury?
Who takes your tax?
No one from Post Office?
Who sells your stamp supply?
No one from Military?
Who keeps your powder dry?
And no one from Security?
How, then, can you be Social?
If you have no single bureaucrat
To decide things equivocal?
Even the Department of the Interior
Is from Armstrong's roster missed.
Tell me, Armstrong County,
How do you exist?
All Hail to Armstrong County,
Where there's no "share the pelf,"
And despite the Welfare Staters,
Each does things for himself!

The libertarians at New Individualist Review seemed to be baiting the conservatives among them. Ed Facey, a Mises student from NYU, admitted that libertarians only talked about the Constitution tactically, as to aid in their Fabianism-in-reverse (the socialist Fabians of England took over the institutions of government without necessarily stating their end goals; the libertarians hoped to do the same to move back from socialism to liberty) to shrink the U.S. government. (306)

New Individualist Review . . . was on balance the closest thing the libertarian or conservative world ever got to a high-quality intellectual magazine . . . and did it with hints of an intellectual Mad magazine about it, with absurdist fake ads in which international leaders praise the magazine. For example, Charles de Gaulle: "I congratulate you for having published, and I congratulate myself for having read, the Winter issue. . . . Your discussion of whether or not David Hume was a whig or a tory was charming but quite needlessly prolonged. He was a tory." (307)

Despite having been an Eisenhower delegate at the 1952 GOP convention and riding into the Senate that year on his coattails (to the extent that libertarians still cared about the GOP then, they were far more likely to be Taftites), Goldwater sold himself as a very libertarian figure: anti-farm subsidies, anti-welfare state, anti-New Deal regulations and giveaways. (307)

But those who loved [Goldwater], really loved him. Here at last was a public figure speaking against big government who, however derided, was at least being heard. (307-8)

Some hard-core libertarians understood that, regardless of how solid a libertarian they thought he was, placing great value on a Goldwater electoral victory was misreading the libertarian's situation in modern America. Politicians, as Leonard Read always argued, are lagging indicators, not leading ones. Once the libertarian educational missions had progressed enough, then the politicians would naturally fall in line. (309-10)

"I simply cannot understand how you can regard Goldwater as a libertarian or genuine liberal in any sense," [Rothbard] wrote. "I would like, in fact, for you to point to one specific mainstay of the current statist system that Goldwater proposes to repeal. It has become clear that Goldwater does not propose to eliminate even the graduated features of the income tax (let alone repeal the income tax altogether) . . . he does not propose to make Social Security voluntary or to sell TVA to private enterprise. . . . I conclude, then, that Goldwater's supposed pro-libertarian views are meaningless political rhetoric cut off from any specific application." (311)

[Robert LeFevre] like to make the point in his presentations that in reality, no state, no outside organization, could protect you but yourself. All those entities could do was try to seek vengeance or restitution after you had been violated. (And with modern states, vengeance is all you can get. You get nothing back when a thief who has stolen from you is arrested—in fact, it takes more from you, in the form of the taxes that pay for his trial and imprisonment.) (316-17)

The students insisted on staying to help clean up; muddy library books were sold in a "dirty books from the Freedom School" sale. The LeFevrites, who proudly used no public services whatsoever in their mountain stronghold, noted that they began taking care of their own problems immediately, while in the lowland towns with city managers hit by floods, the folks waited for someone to come take charge. (321-2)

Out of the early 1960s Galambosian ferment in Southern California arose the tradition of strictly libertarian zines, self-published and distributed almost entirely via mail and word-of-mouth, with tiny but dedicated audiences, starting with the Innovator. . . . The zine was begun by Tom Marshall, an engineer/nerd type from Los Angeles and one of the earliest libertarians to theorize about and plan for the creation of new libertarian countries, including, he hoped, ones on a platform floating in the ocean. . . . The magazine never reached more than 1,000 readers but later became the Velvet Underground of political zines, with a surprising number of its readers eventually starting their own libertarian political zine. (326, 327)

Innovator took an increasingly cranky tone as the decade wore on. What had once been merely one of its interests became the dominant one by 1968. It arose from Marshall's Preform project. The actual plan to create the island nation faded soon enough, but the ideology—which came to be known as libertarian Zionism—remained: the idea that the only way to find freedom in this unfree world was to hide from or physically escape the eyes of the state. (328)

Some of the magazine's eccentricities can be understood by contemplating an eccentric who briefly edited Innovator. A graduate of LeFevre's Freedom School named Kerry Thornley had moved back to Southern California and hooked up with Tom Marshall, eventually editing the zine. In the late 1950s in dull suburban Southern California, Thornley had helped his high school buddy Greg Hill invent the comedic religion of Discordianism. It was dedicated to the worship of Eris, the Greek goddess of chaos. . . . Discordianism became the heart of the most influential libertarian novel since Atlas Shrugged, though its libertarianism is not always recognized by more economistic libertarian movement types: Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus! trilogy.
Thornley had a storied past before hooking up with Marshall and the Innovator. He had joined the marines in 1959, where one of his buddies at the El Toro marine base outside Santa Ana, California, was Private Lee Harvey Oswald, an openly communist "outfit eight ball" known as "Oswaldskovitch" to his fellow grunts. Thornley began writing a novel based on his disillusioning experience in the marines. After hearing that Oswaldskovitch really meant it with all that commie talk—he actually defected to the Soviet Union—Thornley transformed the novel, called The Idle Warriors, into a roman a clef about Oswald—making Thornley the only person to write a book about Lee Oswald before he finally made good that fateful fall day in Dallas. (328-9)

In the last years before it disappeared at the end of the 1960s, the Innovator was more or less inventing the fad of survivalism, with stories about, for milder and more nervous escapists, "van nomadism" (living in civilization, but in your car), and then for the more serious and dedicated, pure living off the land. . . . The headline story in its final issue in 1969 was "America: Loathe It and Leave It." That seemed to say it all, and with that the zine folded. (330)

Thornley later took to mocking Marshall's eccentricities. . . . Marshall's favorite kind of article, Thornley said, was one "that instructed the reader how to enjoy freedom from the State here and now—usually by means of acquiring such an array of unique skills and equipment or by employing such complex stratagems that it almost always wound up sounding to most people like more effort than it was worth."
Marshall ultimately embraced an even more radical and individualistic version of the Preform idea, which he dubbed Vonu—an invented word meaning a life outside the reach of any who could oppress you. In practice, it meant hiding in the woods in Oregon, where he managed to disappear from the sight or knowledge of anyone who ever knew him—his ultimate fate is unknown. (330-1)

[Karl] Hess told the New York Times Sunday Magazine writer that in an unlibertarian America, "We have the illusion of freedom only because so few ever try to exercise it. Try it sometime. Try to save your home from the highway crowd, or to work a trade without the approval of the goons, or to open a little business without a permit, or to grow a crop without a quota, or educate your child the way you want to, or to not have a child. We all have the freedom of a balloon floating in a pin factory." (352)

Hess told the Post that Goldwater was still the man he most liked to spend time with, and that "I don't know anybody who would make a better Weatherman" than the GOP senator. Goldwater, for his part, was perfectly friendly to his prodigal son when, during a 1969 war protest outside the capital, he stumbled upon Hess. "Karl, where the hell have you been? I haven't seen you for months." Karl told him he figured that his staff wouldn't be thrilled to have the bearded anarchist war protestor showing his face around the Senate office. "Piss on them," Goldwater snapped. "You're my friend. Give me a call as soon as you're free." (352-3)

[Don] Meinshausen . . . remembers a huge patriotic rally around the Washington Monument back in those days, starring Bob Hope and featuring a gaggle of fresh-faced American kids reciting the Declaration of Independence. He felt a strange frisson, seeing the flower of American youth reading centuries-old lines about "when it becomes necessary to dissolve these bonds" while in front of him, in front of those chanters bringing back the spirit of a dead revolutionary past, cops were smacking protesting American citizens with billy clubs in a chaotic scrum. (359)

The Rothbard crowd began its own official organization—the Radical Libertarian Alliance. (Its slogan: "War is murder. Taxation is theft. Conscription is slavery. Government is chaos.") Hess was executive director at the beginning. (361)

[Milton] Friedman turned his polemical star power on full—Vietnam troop commander William Westmoreland gruffly announced that he was not interested in leading an army of mercenaries. Friedman coolly replied, "Would you rather command an army of slaves?" Westmoreland bristled, "I don't like to hear our patriotic draftees referred to as slaves."
"I don't like to hear our patriotic volunteers referred to as mercenaries," Friedman snapped back. (371)

A defining characteristic of the new generation of young libertarians—something you certainly couldn't say about the Leonard Read generation or the Objectivists—was a mordantly amused absurdism about their own ridiculous, often seemingly hopeless position in the ideological and political universe. (375)

John Muller started a libertarian bookstore in 1972 in Greenwich Village with Sharon Presley, one of the founders of the Berkeley Alliance for Libertarian Action. As Muller told Andrea Rich, who later bought the operation from him and turned it into a successful mail-order business that's still around today (though no longer run by Rich), "It was either that or pick up a gun." (Libertarians have always been more likely to head to a bookstore than an armory, which some think is half the problem.) (378)

Rothbard presents a thought experiment to show how absurd the state's pretensions would seem if we hadn't been saturated in an intellectual atmosphere—in most cases through schools run by the state—in which it received the benefit of every doubt:

Suppose that we were all starting completely from scratch, and that millions of us had been dropped down upon the Earth, fully grown and developed, from some other planet. Debate begins as to how protection (police and judicial services) will be provided. Someone says: "Let's give all of our weapons to Joe Jones over there, and to his relatives. And let Jones and his family decide all disputes among us. In that way, the Joneses will be able to protect all of us from any aggression or fraud that anyone else may commit. With all the power and all the ability to make ultimate decisions on disputes in the hand of Jones, we will all be protected from one another. And then let us allow the Joneses to obtain their income from this great service by using their weapons, and by exacting as much revenue by coercion as they shall desire." Surely in that sort of situation, no one would treat this proposal with anything but ridicule. For it would be starkly evident that there would be no way, in that case, for any of us to protect ourselves from the aggressions, or the depredations, of the Joneses themselves. . . . It is only because we have become accustomed over thousands of years to the existence of the State that we now give precisely this kind of absurd answer to the problem of social protection and defense. (380-1)

Not one to settle for a small fight when a big one is tantalizingly near, Rothbard doesn't slough over the ultimate anarchist bugaboo: national defense. He argues that invading a nation that lacked a central government would be hopeless. With no capital to defeat, no state apparatus to staff with foreign conquerors, how would such an invasion ever pay off? An attempt to conquer an anarcho-libertarian North America would be an endless guerrilla war, with every hamlet and homestead a separate site to conquer. (382)

In tackling the tricky (for anarchists) problem of national (or large group) defense and the free rider problem that paying for it voluntarily creates. Friedman points out the intriguing datum that tipping in taxi cabs—almost purely a situation of paying for a public good because of social expectations—is widespread and amounts to over $100 million a year. This indicates to Friedman that most people in reality don't get carried away with the economic benefits of free riding and neglect public goods when a developed social rule dictates that we should do the right thing. (386)

That goddamn Nixon had finally done it: appeared on TV on August 15, 1971, with his dark, shifty mug . . . and announced he was going to dictate to all Americans how much they could charge for things they wanted to sell, and how much they could be paid for the work they did. And while he was at it, he was going to take the dollar completely off the gold basis—the American dollar would henceforth be nothing but a piece of paper, redeemable in nothing. It was an act of economic tyranny so sinister that it was worthy of the craven national leader in Atlas Shrugged.
Although David Nolan had spent most of the past decade as a Republican, that was it. (389)

Tonie Nathan, a TV producer from Oregon with a left-liberal and then (after being converted by her son, home from the navy with a fresh yen for Rand) Objectivist background, showed up to cover the convention. Because of some well-phrased comments from the floor during debates over the platform and statement of principles that impressed the rest of the delegation, she left as a candidate for vice president of the United States.
The Hospers/Nathan ticket was on the ballot in only two states, Washington and Colorado. Still, it made electoral history, thanks to the late Rose Wilder Lane. Lane's young protege and heir, former Vermont state legislator Roger MacBride, was a Republican elector in Virginia that year. He could not maintain his self-respect if he were in any way responsible for returning the horrid Richard Nixon to the presidency. The Republican Party could have seen this coming. MacBride had written a book on the Electoral College in 1953 praising the ability and right of electors to vote their conscience. And as Rose Wilder Lane's adopted grandson, he could be expected to make grand gestures in defense of libertarian principles.
Using the rarely exercised yet often feared power of the elector in the Electoral College system to ignore the voice of the demos, on December 18, 1972, MacBride cast one electoral vote for John Hospers and Tonie Nathan. This made Nathan the first woman to receive an electoral vote in U.S. history, an achievement little noted nor long remembered by conventional American feminism. . . .
MacBride had alerted the media beforehand of his intentions, under a strict embargo. For the first time in its history, the room where Virginia's electors met was flooded with klieg lights as most of the electors passed in their preprinted ballots with Nixon's name on them. MacBride crossed out the president's name and wrote in Hospers's. . . . TV cameras zoomed in close on this moment, as the moving hand wrote the first electoral vote for a woman in American history. While his fellow electors were cool to hostile, citizens back in his home county congratulated him heartily in the street for standing up in opposition to Nixon. (393-4)

Reason magazine editor and L.A.-based lawyer Manuel Klausner was another early LP candidate, running as a write-in for U.S. Congress from California in 1972. . . . He didn't pay the filing fees that would guarantee his votes would be counted, and thus he can proudly state that "countless numbers of people voted for me for Congress." (396)

. . . John Trotter . . . was known to have committed the very libertarian crime of owning gold when it was still illegal for private citizens to do so. (397)

MacBride flew himself around the nation campaigning on his personal jet, cheekily dubbed No Force One. . . . (397)

But soon after the LP's founding the state struck a powerful blow against it. Ed Crane now says he should have known that the LP would be hopeless as a serious, effective vehicle for winning elections as early as 1974, as soon as the post-Watergate Federal Elections Campaign Act (FECA) was passed. Its limits on donations to politicians made it impossible for a small circle of wealthy individuals to support unpopular candidates, which as the lifeblood, for example, of such Democratic campaigns as Gene McCarthy's or George McGovern's, who each had the six-figure support of General Motors scion Stewart Mott.
FECA survived a court challenge in Buckley v. Valeo—a case in which the LP was a party trying to eliminate these new campaign-funding restrictions. When Crane was deposed in the case and asked if the LP was intimately connected to any predecessor organization, he replied, but of course, "The American revolution." FECA, Crane mordantly notes, is "the only law that ever did exactly what it was intended to do: cement the two-party system in an impregnable fortress of cash from which no challenger could ever evict them." (397-8)

Freelance libertarian philosopher George Smith, an old-fashioned "voting is a crime" libertarian (voting, after all, means participating in and implicitly agreeing to the outcome of a political game whereby other people's lives and property are considered up for grabs). . . . . (398)

Oliver's last foray into libertarian nation-building—sobered, perhaps, by the potential for violence in latching onto postcolonial separatism—returned to the classic idea of starting from scratch with artificial ocean cites. Thus he launched a mid-1990s bid for investors and builders for Oceania, using the nostalgic name Atlantis Project. It is memorialized now only by its old website,, still online, but glumly reading, "The Atlantis Project, which proposed the creation of a floating sea city named Oceania, began in February '93, receiving nationwide publicity from The Art Bell Show, Details Magazine, The Miami Herald, Boating Magazine, and worldwide publicity in Canada, New Zealand, Hong Kong, England, and Belgium. The project ended due to lack of interest in April of 1994." How many people want to live in a floating artificial city-state anyway, however low the taxes and absent the regulations? (404)

[Ayn Rand] threatened Reason magazine with a lawsuit when it used her likeness on a cover of an issue filled with stories about her. Manuel Klausner, a lawyer and then one of Reason's editors, rather hoped the suit would go forward (it didn't) because he was sure they'd win, first of all. And he couldn't help mordantly relishing a case on the record in a U.S. court called Rand v. Reason. (441)

In the end, most libertarians were sorely disappointed in Reagan and, given his libertarianoid pretensions, almost enraged at times. Sheldon Richman mocked him in Inquiry for telling columnist Rowland Evans that his favorite thinkers were Mises, Hayek, Cobden, Bright, and Bastiat. Richman notes, "Judging from Reagan's performance in office so far, you might deduce that they were firm believers in the strongest possible military force, a globe-girdling foreign policy, a government oriented toward big business, and a generally Rotarian approach to the administration of public affairs." (446)

Ayn Rand told the New York Times when [Alan Greenspan] first went to D.C. as a member of Gerald Ford's Council of Economic Advisers that "Alan is my disciple, philosophically. He is an advocate of laissez-faire capitalism. But neither he nor I would expect it over night." Indeed, it has yet to arrive. He would have no problem saying on Meet the Press that he didn't really cotton to antitrust laws or letting libertarian Republican congressman Ron Paul, when Paul teased him about it, know that he still believed every word of an essay he wrote for Rand's Objectivist Newsletter about the beauty and utility of the gold standard. However, he didn't go out of his way to stress such points as a moral imperative in the manner of a Howard Roark. (472)

[Doug] Casey delights in the fact that his social position as a very rich man allows him access to places where he can pointedly refuse to shake Dick Cheney's hand and tell him to his face that it's because "I hold you and everything you stand for in contempt." (476)

[Casey's] speculating successes have allowed him the luxury of pursuing the old libertarian dream of creating a new anarcho-nation. His wealth gave him entree to meetings with actual third world dictators, whom he tried to sell on the notion of converting their countries into private companies and distributing the shares to all their citizens. He's tried this in the Dominican Republic, Surinam, Ciskei, and Haiti among other places, though the idea never got much traction. (476)

Casey is disgusted with prominent libertarians for never being willing to help on these nation-building missions, even when he assured them that showing their faces and helping him craft publicity campaigns in one third world hellhole or another could actually get the idea percolating among the kleptocrats.
"`Oh gee, isn't this going to be dangerous?' `Oh my, I can't take the two weeks off from the university.' I told them, look, we can do something of world-historical importance!" Casey figured if he put up the money for a big ad campaign and they had the right serious, credentialed idea people on the ground, he would have gotten the masses into the streets, demanding to be stockholders in their nation's wealth, not merely victims mulcted by taxes and regulations to support their "leaders." (476-7)

In the early 1980s, the young libertarian Paul Jacob became an outlaw folk hero, in the libertarian movement and outside it, as the first public fugitive resister to this new wave of draft registration. . . . He was officially indicted in September 1982, and began living, traveling, and working under assumed names—much easier to do in an age, not so long ago and yet so far away, when showing ID wasn't a requirement for everything from getting on an airplane to renting a private post office box.
After more than a year on the run, with his relationship with his girlfriend and family strained, he returned to Little Rock and decided to resume a normal life and wait to see how long it took them to find him. He was finally arrested in his home on the evening of December 6, 1984—he figures that was so news of it would hit on Pearl Harbor Day, not a good PR day for draft resistors. . . . He was not really being prosecuted for refusing to register for the draft, he argued, which thousands did without being indicted. He was being prosecuted for speaking out against it publicly.
He found the reaction from the libertarian community when he was an underground fugitive heartwarming and movement-affirming. His comrades took care of him in his travels, and men who had something to lose, such as corporate lawyer Ed Clark . . . and Congressman Ron Paul . . . traveled to Little Rock to testify for him in his trial. (510, 511)

Jacob had never registered for the draft, but he had registered to vote. And on his voter registration card he had scrawled, as young libertarian firebrands liked to do, "smash the state." Republican congressman Ron Paul from Texas, traveling on his own dime to testify, was asked to explain this. Well, the congressman said, he might not use those exact terms, but he certainly understood the sentiment. (512)

Ballot access laws . . . are the weapon major parties use to destroy the will and empty the coffers of challengers. The LP has done yeoman's work in taking the punishment, though, actually managing to get itself on all fifty state ballots for the presidential race three times in its history. It was the only third party to do so in two consecutive elections (1992 and 1996). (512-13)

Russell Means, the Oglala Lakota Sioux rebel, cofounder of the American Indian Movement, with a colorful past that included firefights with feds at Wounded Knee . . . expressed his highest possible praise for the LP thusly: "There is nothing in the LP Platform that isn't Indian." (514)

Science fiction, as much as some libertarians have no use for it and regret the association of someone else's geeky enthusiasm with their geeky enthusiasm, has long and intimate connections with libertarianism. (518)

[Robert Anton] Wilson made a friend in the libertarian movement who shaped his novels: former Innovator editor Kerry Thornley. Thornley's Discordianism and plumping for libertarians to retreat to floating ocean utopias caught Wilson's fancy and fed into the plot of a phantasmagoric novel he wrote in collaboration with fellow libertarian Playboy editor Robert Shea. That novel is the most powerful and widely read libertarian artistic statement of the past thirty years. Illuminatus!, while deliberately multivariate in its ideas, stars some heroic libertarian role models fighting all sorts of repression. (522)

Using insights from Buchanan's Public Choice school of economics, libertarians argue that government managers are motivated by what makes their lives easier, not by what might be best for the environment. (527)

Working in a federal bureaucracy cost [Fred Smith] his innocent belief in its possible efficacy. One day he was talking with some of his fellow true-believer comrades at EPA about how they could somehow solve the solid waste problem in America: design this program, compose these regulations . . . but then who would ensure it all worked as planned? Well, not our division at EPA, they all realized, since in their estimation their bosses were idiots. "Where were we to find these perfect social control wizards?" Smith wondered. "That became the dilemma." (530)

Sitting now in the House of Representatives is 1988 Libertarian Party presidential candidate Ron Paul, doing so well in his fifth term since returning to the House from Texas as a Republican that in 2004 no one bothered running against him. He holds his seat as an absolute maverick, refusing to vote for anything he doesn't think is explicitly authorized by the Constitution, proposing libertarian bills that never make it out of committee, working in general obscurity with GOP colleagues who admire his principles yet refuse to learn any lessons from him. (534-5)

The latest attempt to achieve a libertarian Zion—gathering libertarians together in one place to build a libertarian polity—is known as the Free State Project. Project organizers decided that 20,000 libertarian political activists could turn New Hampshire into a libertarian paradise if they moved en masse but have hit a wall of about 7,300 interested parties after a few years of proselytizing in the libertarian community, most effectively on the Web. (577-8)

Despite his berth at the top of America's media food chain, [John] Stossel remains glum about the prospects for libertarian ideas in America. Even around ABC, he laments, many colleagues still don't respect or understand him. "I think my success has made them friendlier. The late Peter Jennings was the most hostile. He'd jerk his head away from facing me if we passed each other in the hall, as if I had betrayed the objectivity canon. I think to myself, bullshit, they have opinions too and they are leaking out in their work all the time. They just don't know it. And I had a point of view when I was a consumer reporter bashing individual businesses too. I only started to piss people off when the point of view became that government regulation could be a problem. Then suddenly I'm not objective. I had won nineteen Emmys [as a pro-regulation consumer reporter] and haven't won one since. Not even nominated since." (580)

Look at it this way: You're young, you're intelligent, you have a rough sense that people ought to be free to do whatever the hell they want, mostly, as long as they aren't hurting anyone else—a simple, honest, live-and-let-live moral sense. You grew up after the fall of the Berlin Wall, so you have some sense that central economic planning, as Hayek said (even if, as is likely, you're not quite sure who Hayek is, beyond perhaps a name you've heard), leads to an ugly situation, a poor, decrepit mess that people are willing to risk being shot to escape. So you have a basic appreciation for free markets, an idea associated in American politics with the GOP.
But you are young, and you don't want to order people around regarding things that you know are their business, and theirs alone. You certainly don't want to be on any team that's obsessed with locking people up for what they smoke, or treating people differently under the law because they're gay. And people like Rush Limbaugh seem awfully small-minded and petty, and George W. Bush [is] an obvious weasel waging a war based on lies, so your superego and sense of social positioning lean against self-identifying Republican.
So what are you? You might start thinking of yourself as a libertarian. Even in right-wing circles, libertarianism has maintained a mostly admirable cred that pivots between edgy and geeky. Libertarians do enjoy their badboy reputation, especially among conservative ranks, for taking this personal liberty thing as far as it can go. As an old movement joke goes, "You libertarians are the types that would allow fornication in public parks!" "What do you mean, public parks?" (585)

If government were restricted to its libertarian minimums of protecting citizens' life and property from force and fraud, all a corporation could do is try to sell us something, and we could decide whether or not to buy. It couldn't tax us for its benefit, raise tariffs on its competitors to make their products more expensive, subsidize bad loans or overseas expansion, or take formerly private property on the grounds that it will make more lucrative use of it than would the original owner. Libertarianism could be a very powerful weapon for the anti-corporate left, as soon as it abandons the fantasy of a perfectly fair government that can be empowered to do only the good progressive things the left wants it to do. An end to what libertarians attack as "corporate welfare" would go a long way toward equalizing, as progressives wish to do, the citizen and the corporation. (589)

On that Leonard Read level of lighting the candle of liberty, the movement has been an extraordinary success. People by the hundreds of thousands have received economic education. They have learned, say, that minimum wage laws are more apt to hurt lower-wage workers by pricing them out of the market entirely than help them; that the incentives of the welfare state are apt to hinder, not help, people in becoming self-sufficient; that any benefit to American industry that seems to arise from protectionism is destroyed by the damage to the mass of citizens not being able to get the things they want in the inexpensive abundance that's possible; that having poorer countries enter into the system of international trade more unrestrictedly will help them grow rich, not impoverish them; that we can't lower unemployment in the long term by increasing inflation; that enforcing drug laws drives up the prices and increases property crimes and makes what would just be a problem to the user a problem for everyone. (590)

David Bergland . . . has harsh words for fellow libertarians who question the efficacy (or even the sanity) of LP activism as a major outlet for world-changing effort: "If I'm told I have the burden of proving to you that I'm not wasting my time, well, fuck you. You can quote me on that." (593-4)

The LP's most prominent role today is as a spoiler—a concept based on the notion that every vote really belongs to a Republican or a Democrat. (Ryan Sager argues in his 2006 book The Elephant in the Room that the GOP is ignoring the needs of its libertarian-leaning wing in favor of its religious right wing at peril of its electoral future—especially in the mountain West, which Sager posits, with some evidence, is far more libertarian leaning than traditionally right or left wing.) (595)

America has faced a fresh set of foreign policy questions and crises since the end of the cold war. Long before 9/11, libertarians stressed the hazards of empire and the threat of radical Islamic blowback. An aware libertarian could react to 9/11 not with a shocked, "How could this happen?" but with a knowing, "Damn, it finally happened." If libertarians were challenged—as they were—with "How does your doctrinaire noninterventionism deal with this?" the libertarian could reply, with some justice, that his doctrinaire noninterventionism, if followed, would have meant that this would never have happened in the first place; that one of noninterventionism's major virtues is to prevent the rising resentments and enmities and complicated power politics that caused 9/11. (610)

It may not have all the money it wants, but Cato has an enviable presence on Capitol Hill these days, with a full-time government relations executive, almost weekly Hill testimonies, and a yearly guide to policy that is, says Cato's David Boaz, treated like forbidden pornography by Republican staffers, who imagine how deliciously wonderful it might be to actually do all that, but no, no, no, they just couldn't dare. (613)

[Ed] Crane assures me he maintains a healthy libertarian distaste for the whole sorry business. . . . "I feel like I have to take a shower after I meet with some of these guys. It's very unpleasant what this power thing does. People who want to be congressmen are creepy people." (613)

The most important benefits come from the unpredictable ways of bettering, enriching, making more delightful human life that come from giving people their head to make, trade, and behave as they wish. They recognize the unexpected fertility of freedom and the virtuous cycle of power and knowledge and wealth it creates.
Such a class began to appear in the intellectual and cultural forces that in the 1990s came to be known as the digerati, when their market wealth made them the looming wave of the future—the technicians and businessmen and idealogues who saw in a digital high-tech future a world in which government had little or no place. As libertarian John Perry Barlow, a lyricist for the Grateful Dead and a leading cyberintellectual, declared in a famous cyberworld manifesto:

Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather. We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks. I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. You have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear. (615-16)

See also: Is It Hopeless? A Freewheeling Conversation with Brian Doherty

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