The Often Clueless World of Jonathan Chait

Jonathan Chait doesn’t strike me as very perceptive. He said he attended a conference of the “libertarian-leaning” Niskanen Center and said he commented the Republican Party needs to “die in a fire.” He then writes: “The surprising thing is that many of the attendees in the room, including people who work at the Niskanen Center itself, told me afterward that they agree.”

Chait previously attacked Ayn Rand for saying things she never said and which were entirely contrary to her own views. He asserted, for instance, that Atlas Shrugged attacked workers as “takers” and praised all corporate leaders as “makers.” In fact the main villains are corporate leaders while workers are portrayed sympathetically. Rand’s view of “takers” applied to people such as Donald Trump, while her view of “makers” included people such as a bus driver, or a low level worker at a railroad.

The problem is Chait is all too willing to comment about people he doesn’t understand, and he seemingly is unwilling to make an effort become informed.

Chait sees the libertarian tradition as an arm of conservatism, which is where he goes wrong. As the very Ayn Rand he misquotes said, “Check your premises.” Mr. Chait is woefully uniformed as to what libertarianism is and isn’t about. That sort of ignorance allows him to claim Niskanen is engaged in a “frontal [assault] on the basic orientation of the libertarian political project.” He is confusing what conservatives and conservatarians call libertarianism with the actual tradition. In other words, he understands libertarianism as badly as the clowns from Auburn.

If Mr. Chait knew half as much about libertarianism as he pretends to know, he wouldn’t write the nonsense he is writing. He sees it surprising libertarians are highly critical of the misrule of Mr. Tariffman. Chait says:

The Niskanen Center, founded in 2015, four years after Niskanen’s death, drew upon his heresies as a basis for an unconventional and less dogmatic approach to libertarian economics. And in the Trump era, its heretical tendencies have blossomed. Rather than going along with Trump, or waiting him out so things can go back to normal, Niskanen has used the shock of his ascension to rethink the ideas that brought the American right to this point.

He has several things backwards. First, the Left politically was founded by classical liberals who supported free markets against the protectionism of the feudal order. They wanted more widespread application of rights to individuals and not just to the aristocracy. They wanted to end the alliance of church and state. Classical liberalism, or moderate libertarianism WAS THE LEFT.

On the Right were the defenders of government privileges and rule by an aristocracy in cahoots with the priesthood. That is the order they wished to conserve. People with ideas similar to Chait came along and screamed how scary freedom was and how we needed a middle ground where state power was used to direct the social changes that freedom allowed to happen. They called themselves socialists. The classical liberals were the Left, not these socialists clinging to conservative means (state power) to impose top-down order on society.

Mr. Chait is putting Niskanen and other traditional libertarians—again not applicable to the Auburn clan—on the wrong side of the spectrum. If Chait actually knew what he was talking about he’d find much of what Niskanen is saying is consistent with libertarian writers such as Milton Friedman or F.A. Hayek.

While Mr. Chait seems happy Niskanen is involved in this debate he seems to completely misunderstand the wider debate. That the Niskanen Center—who he constantly contrasts with the Cato Institute—is highly critical of Trump seems to shock Chait. Yet Cato, who I greatly respect, has been highly critical of Trump.

Even the Libertarian Party candidates Governor Gary Johnson and Governor Bill Weld were so highly critical of Trump as a candidate that various conservatives tried to accuse them of being agents of Hillary Clinton. There was very little support for the bigoted big government polices of Trump outside hangers on at the conservative Mises Institute—where they try to merge policies Mises repudiated—anarchism, social conservatism and intolerance—into a toxic mix falsely called libertarianism. In truth they remain a small fringe with the broader libertarian movement. These were people who were denounced by libertarians long before Trump came on the scene as conservatives pretending to be libertarians.

The general consensus among libertarians seems to be one that is utterly opposed to the megalomaniacal polices of Il Douche. Trump is the perfect example of the Anti-Libertarian—he hates economic freedom, he despises social freedom, he attacks the free nations of the world while cuddling up to tyrants and dictators. He’s corrupt from top to bottom and amoral and sleazy from one side of him to the other. You don’t get much worse—at least not generally in First World nations.

But Chait is so incredibly ignorant of libertarianism he wrote a piece absurdly headlined: Donald Trump’s Presidency Is the Libertarian Moment. Equally absurd is his claim that the Republican Party is a “synthesis or libertarian ends and authoritarian means.” And then for good measure he trashes Ayn Rand, yet again proving his ignorance of her actual views. He claimed the Trump campaign “is a perfectly predictable outgrowth of an Rand-infected movement.”

Mr. Chait’s surprised response to libertarians being anti-Trump indicates how little he knows about libertarianism—which once again proves the most vociferous opinions are often held by people most ignorant about the topic at hand. Chait truly reminds me of the Nazis who find Jews as evil no matter what they do, or rabid anti-gay Christian fundamentalists who blame gays for everything wrong in their own lives. Chait isn’t speaking out from his knowledge, but from his fears and his prejudices.

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