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March 14, 2007

A Short Introduction to Modern American Libertarianism

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

A few days ago, I pointed out a Max Goss interview with George Nash that provides a good, fast introduction to modern American conservatism. Today I'm pointing out a Daniel McCarthy review of a new Brian Doherty book that's a good, fast introduction to the history of modern American libertarianism. Nice quote:

American students and admirers of Mises such as Murray Rothbard, a Columbia University graduate student, extended the work of their mentor and converted others, so that today the Austrian tradition flourishes in the United States, with strongholds at George Mason University and the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama -- though even now, warns George Mason's Peter Boettke, "You get involved in it and you're like in the 'X-Files' of academics."

Daniel McCarthy blogs here.



posted by Michael at March 14, 2007


McCarthy's review is very good and I have to second it.

Doherty's book was full of history I didn't know, and anyone will enjoy it, libertarian or otherwise. But Doherty himself is an intellectual lightweight - a Boswell's Boswell. All his Johnsons are in the "DC libertarian" world - the Kochtopus, as he puts it - and he should be praised, rather than damned, for his failure to conceal this bias.

In an intellectual world dominated by fanatical socialists, the word "libertarian" plays rather the same role that the word "Asia" did to the Romans. It conceals a gigantic diversity of thought that is actually much larger and richer than the "mainstream" - all of which fits quite comfortably within one small corner of FDR's political machine.

And the part most commonly mistaken for this whole - the world of the DC libertarians, Friedman, _Reason_ and the Cato institute - is actually a minor and somewhat backward province of the libertarian continent. To a libertarian, the fact that it has achieved the most "mainstream" recognition - which is not much at all - can hardly be a recommendation.

Lincoln was wrong: right does not make might. It is an error, therefore, to infer that the mightiest must be the most righteous. Of course no one these days would endorse it explicitly, but it's surprising how deeply embedded in our minds this fallacy can be.

Posted by: Mencius on March 14, 2007 11:25 AM

What you say makes sense, but what are these low-profile libertarians you speak of? I know of two libertarian mags, Liberty and Reason, and Reason seems much more the way you describe...

Posted by: SFG on March 14, 2007 9:52 PM

I'm not that familiar with _Liberty_ - chalk it up to the Web generation.

The Mises Institute is a good start. The thing about the Mises people is that they are much more comfortable with the connection between libertarianism and the Old Right, which gives them a very large intellectual gene pool to tap into. For example, they just put Web editions online of a couple of books by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn - not a writer I can imagine reading about in Reason.

There is a lot of craziness on Lew Rockwell's personal site, but also a lot of good writers. Even though Rockwell is the president of LvMI, though, the anti-HIV people and so forth don't seem to have made it to - thank god.

Posted by: Mencius on March 14, 2007 11:55 PM

Oh, paleolibertarianism. I'm familiar with it; despite being generally liberal I have some mildly nationalistic leanings so it's something I know about. Are they really the majority of libertarians?

Posted by: SFG on March 17, 2007 7:54 PM

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