The New Libertarianism

With  the  official disbanding  of  the Vietnam  Moratorium Committee  and  the disintegration  of  New  Left activism in general,  a vacuum  has been created within the radical movement.  As the productive elements of New Leftism fade away, the void is quickly being filled by a familiar two-headed beast:  the old scarred and ugly face of doctrinaire Marxism and the more hideous visage of self-righteous nihilism.  The absence of  a well-formulated  philosophical  base to support the  activist  programs  of  the  New  Left has given birth to a new  generation of  crusading irrationalists, frustrated bomb throwers,  and penis-hating  feminists.

What  this  means  to  libertarians  is  that the fundamental anti-authoritarianism  and  anarchism  of  the radical movement  is  in  serious  danger  of  being eroded.  The great challenge that  is presented to libertarians at the beginning of  the  1970′s  is to salvage  this splintering movement  and transform it  into a healthy and  creative radicalism over the next ten years.

It  is  to make the  New  Libertarianism  the movement of  the 1970′s;  to make our brand of  radicalism as  influential in  the next  decade  as the New Left  was  in  the middle and late 1960′s.

How do we go about it?

The  first  thing  we  ought to  learn  is  how to  avoid the mistakes  of  our  predecessors.  The  last  best chance  for free  market radicalism  in  the  United  States  came  in the late  1950′s following  the publication  of  Atlas  Shrugged and  the  establishment  of  Objectivism  as an organized intellectual  movement.  Some twelve or  thirteen years later we  now  see that Objectivism  has  failed  in  its long-range goals;  it has  failed  to  strike  a  responsive chord in the general population.  While  Objectivist literature has sold into the millions,  the basic tenets of  Objectivist philosophy have not,  and I  think we  can  safely  say, will not  take root in society at large.  The high sale of books is no guarantee that the public  is   also buying the ideas  presented.  A quick scan of the best-seller lists is ample proof that people prefer a “good read” more than anything else.

Objectivism  has  failed  to  become  a  mass  movement primarily because  it failed to grapple,  except in an arrogant and  highly superficial  manner,  with  the key  issues  of  the past  ten  years.  While Objectivists  engaged in the  exclusive luxury  of  abstractions  and  ideology,  a  war was  going on, housing and education among  other  vital  institutions were coming  apart,  the  cities were  exploding with violence, the American middle class was falling into a daze,  and government grew increasingly more repressive.

What was the Objectivist cure for this?  Selfishness. What was the cause of all our ills?  Altruism. What should we do about exploited minorities? Leave them alone. This is hardly the stuff to fire the imagination of a populace literally begging for solutions and definitive answers to their questions.  Why? The Objectivists failed to respond. Champions  of  the  marketplace,  they  remained  aloof  from the  disordered marketplace  of  American society  and the public has rewarded them  accordingly with silence.

If  the  New  Libertarianism  is  to  succeed  it  will have to do  so  by  responding  to  the  issues,  by  applying theory to the marketplace.  The way  things are  shaping up, the primary concerns of  the next few years  are  going to  be:  the continuing war   in  Asia  and  its  progenitor,  an imperious U.  S. foreign policy; ecology  and pollution  control; housing and education; women’s  rights  (as  distinct  from  the loony women’s  separatist  fringe);  day  care   centers   for  working  mothers;  the development  of  expanded  abortion  facilities;  cheaper  and better medical assistance for  the poor.  To these we can add our own bete noir-taxation and the regulated economy.

Instead  of  replying,  “rational self-interest”,  when people want  to  know  how  to  meet  these concerns, we  will have to demonstrate  how  a strict  enforcement  of  property  rights will protect them from  environmental contaminants; why the free  market will  provide them with  abortion  clinics and day care  centers (perhaps as  a fringe benefit of private  employment);  how  expanded health  care can be made available to all without  the AMA to lobby against competition and restrain  the flow  of  medics  into  society.  After  all,  is it not  the purpose  of  the  free market  to  supply demand  in the most efficient  manner?   Why  should  suggestions  to  meet  the  demands  of  low-income  groups be simplistically dismissed as altruism  if  these suggestions  are  in accord with libertarian  principles? Is  it  not  i n our own  interest to offer solutions  to the  issues   before  the authoritarians  co-opt them f o r  their own  ends?

Another  tactic  we will  have to develop if  we  are to build a  mass  libertarian movement is obtaining favorable  exposure in  the  major  media. The major organs of communication are largely controlled by liberals.  It was the liberal news media which actually brought the New Left into prominence through constant and favorable exposure.  A blackout in the mass   media will lead to the certain death of any incipient movement.  If  the  ideas  are  not  favorably  analyzed  by  the opinion-makers  (And  let’s  face  it.  Public opinion is   a manufactured product.  If  most people  were rational enough to  formulate  their  own  opinions  we  would  now  be living in at  least  a  reasonably  libertarian  society),  their chances of taking root  are  reduced to nil.

To  do  this  will  require severing  any  lingering ties with the  brand  of  “conservatism”  currently  practiced  by  the Nixon-Agnew-Reagan-Buckley  Club and staking out a more  independent  course.  The liberals are   completely down on the New Left these days.  They have finally realized that the current crop   of New Leftists actually wants to kill them.

“Kill a Parent a Day” was the theme of a recent SDS gathering.  The  liberals  in  their  usual  muddled  and  soft-headed manner  are  capable  of  sitting down over martinis and  debating  the  pros  and  cons  of  whether they should be wiped  out or  not.  By merely not advocating the wholesale slaughter of liberals we offer a Modest Proposal (If only Jonathan Swift were alive today) agreeable to at least the less-masochistic liberals.  I have no doubt that some of them crave Death by Flagellation.  But  most  are  ready to  lionize  anybody  who  is not  in  favor of  exterminating them  and I  see  no  reason why we should not  capitalize on  this situation while it lasts.

There  is  an  area   on  the  Left,  ranging  from  Mailer  and Goodman  among  the  radicals  to  Hamill  and Wicker among the quasi-libertarian  liberals,  that  is   becoming  more receptive  to  the  New  Libertarian  position.  It  strikes   m e  that this is  the best strategic position for us at  the beginning of  the  1970′s,  with the more outspoken critics of  government repression  who  have  access   to  the major communications media.  The  alternative is to remain in an ideological  Ivory Tower,  vilifying  everyone  not  in  full  agreement with ourselves as  “irrational”  and  “immoral”,  where we are  certain to  die  the slow inevitable death  of  the  Objectivists.  If  the New  Libertarianism  follows  a  similar  fate,  any  hope  for  free marketism in  the  foreseeable future  will vanish with it.  It will certainly be a long time before an opportunity such as this is made available again.  It is for us now to succeed where the Rand and her mimics failed before  us.

Jerome Tuccille

The Libertarian Forum

VOL.  11,  NO.  11  JUNE  1,  1970

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