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Fighting in the Ranks Libertarians,

April 8th, 2002 · No Comments

Fighting in the Ranks

Libertarians, like the members of any other unorthodox political movement, are no strangers to internecine conflict and backbiting. Internal dissent over the War on Terror has set the stage for Libertarian Wrestlemania, and it looks like the first real brawl is breaking out. Early signs of trouble in libertopia came mere days after the 11th, when Reason‘s Cathy Young suggested that expanded government power to invade privacy could be a good thing. That sparked a few arguments. But I suspect the real blowup is coming in the next week or two.

The first warning shot across the bow came in a blog entry penned by Brink Lindsey of the Cato Institute, soon thereafter linked in Virginia Postrel’s widely read blog.

Now, for my money, this was not a particularly salient critique of the libertarian anti-war position. Lindsey’s approach is to treat opposition to the war as the special province of the anarcho-capitalist wing. He then points out that a view which, on principle, condemns all state military action, of any kind, leaves little hope for the survival of liberty, and evades this conclusion only by a truly heroic contortion of reality to fit ideology.

Well, true enough. The last bit, anyway. But who said you had to be an anarchist to express reservations about our administration’s handling of the war? Couldn’t someone, for example, express dismay at what seems to be an unnecessarily high number of civilian casualties in the Afghan campaign, or the counterproductive effect of Bush’s indiscriminate sabre-rattling, without rejecting any and all possible military responses to terrorism? Can’t those of us who stop short of wanting to replace government with oligarchic corporate mafias still acknowledge that Ted Galen Carpenter’s modest proposal to charge into Pakistan guns ablaze is just completely fucking nuts? There are perfectly sane reasons to oppose the WoT as we know it, and probably sane persons who might take up the debate with Lindsey et. al.

But that’s not going to happen. Instead, Antiwar.com‘s Justin Raimondo responded with an extended exercise in spleen-venting which made Lindsey’s (still technically false) point far better than he could have himself. This bitter, rambling little tract should call to mind Discovery Channel style footage of feces-slinging rhesus monkeys, because its prime objective appears to be to cover Cato, Reason, and anyone associated with them with as much shit as humanly (simianly?) possible. Best unintentionally funny quote: “the dismissive tone of these neocon clones is really beneath contempt.”

If, Eris help you, you’re familiar with “movement” debates, you’ll be familiar with the pathetic “we’re the real libertarians” line trotted out here. You know, like the St. Marks kiddies squabbling over who’s “really” punk-rock. If you’re familiar with this particular libertarian coterie, you’ll also recognize the omnipresent, desparate attempt — kept in check to some extent this time — to continue basking in the (ever waning) reflected glory of a certain middleweight pop-intellectual. Yeah, you’ve heard the refrain: “We knew Murray Rothbard. Murray liked us. Murray let us hang with him. We licked the sweat from his balls; it made us pure and manly, and made our principles turgid and stiff.” Etcetera. And last but never least, there’s the intimation that the Reason/Cato set’s positions must be the result of shameless opportunism. Newsflash: Justin, you’re not being left off the guest lists for “fancy Washington cocktail parties” because you’re so uncompromising and radical. You’re being snubbed because you’re an insane little troll on a soapbox.

See, it’s infectious: now I’m doing it. That’s because the first reaction to a flame is always to flame back. And on the Internet, first reactions go to print. If we’re lucky (read: PLEASE do this) the Postrel/Lindsey axis will let the matter die here, and waste less eyeball/brain time on the bilious Antiwar.com response than the 10 minutes I just spent writing this. If, however, they decide to return fire…. Well, look, I can afford to snipe a little on a blog read by all of a dozen people, but recall the denoument of WarGames. When the game is Total Thermonuclear War, nobody wins.

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