Sunday, April 27, 2014

In Defense of Lew Rockwell (Part 1)

Recently, Lew Rockwell announced that he was writing a new book — Against the State: An Anarcho-Capitalist Manifesto. However, Eglė Markevičiūtė, member of the International Executive Board for Students for Liberty (SFL), decided to attack Lew Rockwell. Robert Wenzel responded to her quite well. However, he also suggested that one can increase one's blog traffic by speaking in favor of Lew Rockwell and libertarian purity. I will embark upon this attempt to defend Lew Rockwell and his libertarian work against certain criticisms that he has received from some libertarians, not just to increase the blog traffic but also because I want to clear up some misinformation that has been spread about this man.

My personal views on Rockwell are this: while he is not a flawless man and while he is human, I think Rockwell is a boon to the liberty movement, a tireless and fearless defender of liberty, not afraid to ruffle a few feathers (even among libertarians), and he is always willing and able to stand fast to the liberty message.

However, some libertarians don't share as fond a view of Rockwell that I do (his work has been instrumental in my becoming a libertarian). Many see him as a bitter egomaniac and a right-wing racist who is bad for the liberty movement, often because of Rockwell's controversial views on certain things (federalism, Lincoln, etc.). I intend to respond to a few criticisms of Rockwell that I have encountered among some libertarians and clear up certain misconceptions that I have found.

1. Lew Rockwell is a racist who was responsible for the Ron Paul newsletters and isn't man enough to admit it. This is one of the most interesting criticisms of Lew Rockwell that I have encountered, as it recollects to the controversial Ron Paul newsletters that the mainstream media dug up in light of the Ron Paul revolution of 2008 and 2012. Some libertarians have suggested that Lew Rockwell, a friend of Ron Paul and the late Murray Rothbard, was responsible for writing the newsletters and that he should come clean about it. Particularly notable is the libertarian magazine Reason's coverage of the issue, which pinned the whole thing on Lew Rockwell and the "paleo-libertarian" strategy that Rockwell and Rothbard advocated in the 1990s.

However, Justin Raimondo of addresses this issue very ably in his column for Taki's Magazine on the issue. He points out that the so-called "racist" statements are actually far from racism and that those statements are actually not anti-libertarian or a stumbling block to libertarianism. He said this of Ron Paul that can be safely applied to Lew Rockwell:

It’s no mystery, really: Ron Paul is, in many ways, the exact opposite of the Beltway fake-“libertarians.” He’s a populist: they suck up to power, he challenges the powers-that-be; they go along to get along – he has never gone along with the conventional wisdom as defined by the arbiters of political correctness, Left and Right. And most of all, he’s an avowed enemy of the neoconservatives, whom he constantly names as the main danger to peace and liberty – while the Beltway’s tame “libertarians” are in bed with them, often literally as well as figuratively.
2. Lew Rockwell's political incorrectness, radicalism and right-wing extremism are dangerous for libertarianism. Another corollary criticism of Lew Rockwell and the Mises Institute is that regarding Lew Rockwell's politically incorrect ideas, radical interpretation of libertarianism and culturally conservative views, as well as Rockwell's own rejection of leftist values and political correctness. Left-libertarians and culturally liberal libertarians often protest that Lew Rockwell's "backwards" values will hinder the liberty movement from growing and will ultimately hinder libertarianism.

One author argues:
Mentioned in Weigel and Sanchez’s piece was another libertarian giant, Murray Rothbard, who was mostly an advocate of what is known as “anarcho-capitalism.” This is what libertarians are typically branded with by those on the right and left, that we want to create a world where there is no government, where everything is handled by private companies (including courts, fire departments, police, highways, you name it, it’s private.) While I feel that anarcho-capitalism does get a bum rap, most libertarians do not espouse this position. Most of us instead believe a minimal government is ideal, even some of us (myself included) may be “philosophical anarchists,” that it would be nice to have anarchy, that it would be a great ideal, but it’s just that—an ideal, something that will not work in the real world.
Ah, just more "anarcho-capitalism is great in theory but bad in practice." However, even if most libertarians are not anarchists, I believe that the non-anarchist is being somewhat naive in believing that there is such a thing as limited government, for the State doesn't limit itself but in fact will use what is intended as a limit to expand its own power. For example, certain phrases in the Constitution that could be interpreted as limited government platitudes by one group can then be interpreted as statist platitudes in one instance. Murray Rothbard himself said in "Anatomy of the State":

Certainly the most ambitious attempt to impose limits on the State has been the Bill of Rights and other restrictive parts of the American Constitution, in which written limits on government became the fundamental law to be interpreted by a judiciary supposedly independent of the other branches of government. All Americans are familiar with the process by which the construction of limits in the Constitution has been inexorably broadened over the last century. But few have been as keen as Professor Charles Black to see that the State has, in the process, largely transformed judicial review itself from a limiting device to yet another instrument for furnishing ideological legitimacy to the government's actions. For if a judicial decree of "unconstitutional" is a mighty check to government power, an implicit or explicit verdict of "constitutional" is a mighty weapon for fostering public acceptance of ever-greater government power.

So basically, the "great in theory but bad in practice" can truly be applied to the belief in "limited government" rather than anarcho-capitalism.

And as to Rockwell's political incorrectness and right-wing leanings, I would like to give extended comment. In many of Rockwell's writings, I haven't noticed any attempt to claim that his "right-wing values" are libertarianism, whereas in many of his left-wing detractors' writings, I have noticed attempts to merge libertarianism and culturally leftist values into one holistic philosophy. Yes, Lew Rockwell probably believes his views fit more nicely with libertarianism, but that does not mean he wants to incorporate it into a "holistic" libertarianism; in fact, he is a "thin" libertarian who believes that libertarianism is only a political philosophy dealing with the non-aggression principle/axiom and the use of force in society. In his recent article "What Libertarianism Is, And Isn't," Rockwell rightly says:
Libertarianism is concerned with the use of violence in society. That is all. It is not anything else. It is not feminism. It is not egalitarianism (except in a functional sense: everyone equally lacks the authority to aggress against anyone else). It has nothing to say about aesthetics. It has nothing to say about religion or race or nationality or sexual orientation. It has nothing to do with left-wing campaigns against “white privilege,” unless that privilege is state-supplied. 
Let me repeat: the only “privilege” that matters to a libertarian qua libertarian is the kind that comes from the barrel of the state’s gun. Disagree with this statement if you like, but in that case you will have to substitute some word other than libertarian to describe your philosophy.
Libertarians are of course free to concern themselves with issues like feminism and egalitarianism. But their interest in those issues has nothing to do with, and is not required by or a necessary feature of, their libertarianism. Accordingly, they may not impose these preferences on other libertarians, or portray themselves as fuller, more consistent, or more complete libertarians. We have seen enough of our words twisted and appropriated by others. We do not mean to let them have libertarian.
So this should put to rest some concerns that Rockwell is trying to make libertarianism right-wing. And if by right-wing it is meant consistency and purity in libertarianism, then I am all for it, as it is not an attempt to insert cultural values into libertarianism.
Logan Albright also notes:
The trouble is that by attempting to redefine a narrow political philosophy to encompass all things that we like and think are nice – like non-discrimination, like treating people as ends rather than means – we dilute its power and simplicity. We destroy what makes it great. Once we proceed down the road of declaring everything we think is good to be “libertarian,” we will quickly find that libertarianism suddenly has no meaning at all.
So I have noticed that many of Rockwell's detractors have often criticized him for not being "thick" enough, for being too strict and all that.

However, this strictness is what keeps libertarianism from being convoluted, and I am all for that.

Next up: Part 2, where I deal with more criticisms of Lew Rockwell and his strategies for liberty.