The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

Nuts, Neurotics and Perverts

Who was it that called libertarians “nuts, neurotics, and perverts?”

There is a clue embedded in the insult itself. After all, who else is obsessed with “perversion” in general? It isn’t the hedonist or the sexual liberationist. The one group truly obsessed with sexuality is conservatives — especially religious conservatives. They’re terrified others harbor the sort of fantasies they do.

The first major spokesman for combining religion in conservative circles was William F. Buckley; he just imagined combining economic conservatism with Catholic social repression. Buckley spent his life periodically harassing Ayn Rand over her refusal to incorporate Papal edicts into her defense of markets. And it was his flagship magazine National Review which issued this moral condemnation of libertarians.

National Review explicitly, and correctly, said libertarians were not conservatives and libertarianism was not compatible with conservatism. But in its June 8, 1979 issue they compared conservatives who had a “soft spot” for libertarians to “liberals” who liked communists. By implication they were equating libertarians to communists — much the way conservatives love to morally equate being gay with bestiality or child molestation.

These soft conservatives, National Review said, were wrong: “There are unbridgeable chasms on moral, political, and social issues: despite the shared belief in free markets — despite the shared opposition to big government, to excessive taxation and interference, to the restriction of our freedom in favor of a phony equality (actually of bureaucracy) — libertarian and conservatives beliefs are mutually exclusive on essential matters. Libertarianism is opposed to all conservative tradition, to tradition itself. It is inconsistent with the anti-utopian conservative view of life and society.”

National Review argued, libertarians “are a belated offspring of the eighteenth century Enlightenment, or rationalism in its most virulent form.” Even Frank Meyer, the advocate of so-called “fusionism” — some vague alliance of conservatism and libertarianism, argued libertarianism was essentially anti-civilization.

“The essence of civilization, however, is tradition: no single generation of men can of itself discover the proper ends of human existence. At its best, as understood by contemporary American conservatism, the traditionalist view accepts political freedom, accepts the role of reason and innovation and criticism; but it insists, if civilization is to be preserved, that reason operate within tradition and that political freedom is only effectively achieved when the bulwarks of civilizational order are preserved.

Libertine libertarianism would shatter those bulwarks. In its opposition to the maintenance of defenses against Communism, its puerile sympathy with the rampaging mobs of campus and ghetto, its contempt for the humdrum wisdom of the great producing majority, it is directed towards the destruction of the civilizational order which is the only real foundation of a real world for the freedom it espouses. The first victim of the mobs let loose by the weakening of civilizational restraint will be, as it has always been, freedom — for anyone, anywhere.”

Historian Jennifer Burns says it was Buckley, in his book God and Man at Yale, who “famously recast Rand and Hayek’s secular ‘individualism vs. collectivism’ as an essentially religious struggle, and argued it replicated on another level, ‘the duel between Christianity and atheism.’”

Buckley’s conservatives were fervent anti-Communists, but they defined communism by its least important facet, its atheism. Instead of looking at the actual theories communists believed, and which inspired them to their revolutionary activities, the Buckleyites concentrated on what Communists didn’t believe, at least not the revolutionary communists. Doing so allowed them to reframe the conservative movement as a struggle against atheism. Therefore, it must also be a struggle for religion. Buckley, being a rabid Catholic, attached his anti-Communism to the Papacy — a rather odd thing given that numerous Popes have expressed rather hateful views toward capitalism over the last century or two.

Much of the attack on libertarianism — whether from Right or Left — focused on the writings of Murray Rothbard, as National Review did. No one assaults an intellectual fortress at its strongest points, but at its weakest. Most libertarians are not Rothbardians of any variety. Nor is it a coincidence when conservatives sought intellectual justification for their periodic defense of free markets, they turned to libertarian thinkers such as Milton Friedman, Ludwig Mises, Friedrich Hayek, James Buchanan, etc. There is nothing “traditional” about capitalism and free markets. If anything, free markets undermine traditional sentiments and reward those who forge totally new paths.

The ultimate sin in the eyes of traditional conservatism, was libertarians and their classical liberal forebears were advocates of Enlightenment — precisely the point National Review made. They demand a defense of rights based on religion, and subservient to religion.

Ayn Rand argued there were three false premises underlying modern conservatism:

“Sensing their need of a moral base, many “conservatives” decided to choose religion as their moral justification; they claim that America and capitalism are based on faith in God. Politically, such a claim contradicts the fundamental principles of the United States: in America, religion is a private matter which cannot and must not be brought into political issues.

Intellectually, to rest one’s case on faith means to concede that reason is on the side of one’s enemies — that one has no rational arguments to offer. The “conservatives’” claim that their case rests on faith, means that there are no rational arguments to support the American system, no rational justification for freedom, justice, property, individual rights, that these rest on a mystic revelation and can be accepted only on faith — that in reason and logic the enemy is right, but men must hold faith as superior to reason.

Consider the implications of that theory. While the communists claim that they are the representatives of reason and science, the “conservatives” concede it and retreat into the realm of mysticism, of faith, of the supernatural, into another world, surrendering this world to communism. It is the kind of victory that the communists’ irrational ideology could never have won on its own merits . . . .

Now consider the second argument: the attempt to justify capitalism on the ground of tradition. Certain groups are trying to switch the word “conservative” into the exact opposite of its modern American usage, to switch it back to its nineteenth-century meaning, and to put this over on the public. These groups declare that to be a “conservative” means to uphold the status quo, the given, the established, regardless of what it might be, regardless of whether it is good or bad, right or wrong, defensible or indefensible. They declare that we must defend the American political system not because it is right, but because our ancestors chose it, not because it is good, but because it is old . . . .

The argument that we must respect “tradition” as such, respect it merely because it is a “tradition,” means that we must accept the values other men have chosen, merely because other men have chosen them — with the necessary implication of: who are we to change them? The affront to a man’s self-esteem, in such an argument, and the profound contempt for man’s nature are obvious.

This leads us to the third — and the worst — argument, used by some “conservatives”: the attempt to defend capitalism on the ground of man’s depravity.

This argument runs as follows: since men are weak, fallible, non-omniscient and innately depraved, no man may be entrusted with the responsibility of being a dictator and of ruling everybody else; therefore, a free society is the proper way of life for imperfect creatures. Please grasp fully the implications of this argument: since men are depraved, they are not good enough for a dictatorship; freedom is all that they deserve; if they were perfect, they would be worthy of a totalitarian state.”

Buckley and his publication may have fantasized a conservative dominance based on Latin Mass priests and Roman Catholic doctrines, but once Buckley opened the door to a religious defense of his stilted view of freedom, it wasn’t some priest droning in Latin who came in. Instead he got the raving revivalists of Southern fundamentalism pushing an agenda of hate.

True, Buckley himself was quite tolerant of hate. In regards to the civil rights movement for black Americans he personally editorialized the “South Must Prevail.” He posed the question as to whether Southern whites were “entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically?” Then in the true form of one who loves to hear himself speak, he answered his own question: “The sobering answer is Yes — the White community is so entitled because for the time being, it is the advanced race.

In his book, Up from Liberalism, Buckley wrote: “In the South, the white community is entitled to put forward a claim to prevail politically because, for the time being anyway, the leaders of American civilization are white — as one would certainly expect given their preternatural advantages, of tradition, training, and economic status.”

For years Buckley’s publication was edited by an anti-Semite, Joseph Sobran. who damned Jews as “the Tribe” and damned them for supporting libertarian positions such as legal abortion, sexual freedom and rights for gays. Sobran’s view was Jews supported these things only because they offended Christians — well, if one were to ban everything some Christian group found offensive there were be nothing left. Long before juvenile frat boys with tiki torches, Sobran was chanting, in slightly different words, “Jews will not replace us.”

Today National Review is horrified Trumpian alt-Right supporters marched through the streets chanting support for white supremacy — something for which National Review once editorialized favorably.

But, we have to recognize today’s alt-Right racists got their power from a Trump campaign which pandered quite blatantly to racism, prejudice and hate. Yet, Trump was ultimately the result of the dominance of the Religious Right within the Republican Party. Had not Christian fundamentalism usurped the Republican Party, it is unlikely that someone as anti-capitalist as Trump could take the reigns of the party and ride it into the White House.

The “nuts, neurotics and perverts” of libertarianism warned conservatives this was what they could expect by their alliance with religious fanaticism. The bigotry and hate that now dominates is certainly “traditional” and thus worthy of worship according to the “logic” of conservatism. Say what you will about Trump, the alt-Right and all the lunacy we are now witnessing, it is the logical result of the policies and ideologies National Review itself promoted.

Yes, today’s National Review isn’t happy with it. The chickens have come home to roost and it’s not pretty, but as the saying goes, “karma is a bitch.

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James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.