This article by Stan Lehr and Louis Rossetto Jr. originally appeared in The New York Time Magazine in January 1971.
Libertarianism sprung up when the groups and philosophies that once help up it’s values–freedom–had become corrupted and distorted. Someone needed to pick up the pieces and return to the enlightenment of freedom.
Prominent conservatives have been making a great deal of noise about violence in the streets. Yet many of these champions of law and order could scarcely contain their glee last May when club-wielding construction workers waded into a peaceful demonstration in New York City and began to pummel antiwar protesters.
Radical activists continue to lament that they are being oppressed by a fascist system. Yet at college campuses under their de facto control, students who disagree with the radicals have been threatened and in some cases assaulted by goon squads.
It is no wonder that so many young people seem to be losing interest in politics. Liberalism, conservatism and leftist radicalism are all bankrupt philosophies. The only question at issue among their adherents is which gang of crooks and charlatans is to rule society, and for what noble purpose. The question of whether an individual should be ruled at all — and, if so, to what extent — is almost never discussed. Freedom of the individual is considered obsolete as a political issue.
The article talks about how the old conservatives and the true conservatives had many issues learning to live with each other and understand the true values of the country.
At the final showdown between the libertarian and traditionalist factions, the 1969 convention of the so-called Young Americans for Freedom — from which many libertarians had been purged — William F. Buckley reportedly announced that his conservative philosophy was the true libertarianism, that the libertarians who disagreed with this philosophy were irresponsible libertines. Jerome Tuccile recounts the incident in “Radical Libertarianism; A Right-Wing Alternative”:
“Another interesting fact… is Mr. Buckley’s attitude on the question of freedom. In his speech he mentioned that freedom is for those who agree to live within the framework of our traditions.”
“Here, precisely, is the mystical element in the conservative mentality which has pushed conservatives so far apart from their former allies: the notion that freedom is a gift to be dispensed among our worthy citizens by a moralistic government. The anarchists claim that freedom is a natural right, and if the state denies it to its citizens they have a right to seize it themselves.”
Before we examine the libertarian philosophy closely, it is instructive to note that with the departure of the libertarian wing from the conservative movement, conservatism has become what the left was calling it all along — a defense of the status quo. Conservatives have virtually ceased talking about changing the system, but rather are concentrating almost exclusively on protecting it from the onslaught of left radicalism. The only issues conservatives do seem to be discussing are law and order and the need for pressing on with the cold war.
The article quotes Karl Hess in “The Death of Politics,”
” If it were not for the fact that libertarianism freely concedes the right of men voluntarily to form communities or governments on the same ethical basis, libertarianism could be called anarchy.”
Conservatives, liberals and left radicals are all statists — they all believe that the individual should be subservient to the state. All would like to scoff at libertarianism as something reactionary. Yet statism in one from or another has been the status quo virtually throughout history. It is statism that is reactionary; libertarianism is the only progressive, even radical, alternative available.
In talking about economics and the failures of statist economy schemes, the libertarian economic ethic–laissex-faire capitalism–shines.
Liberals and the New Left admit that these problems are the result of economic mismanagement, the misallocation of resources. The solution they propose is the “proper” allocation of resources through the “competent” management of the economy — the capacity for which they obviously reserve for themselves. Aside from being a restatement of the statist ethic that the state should exercise control over the economy and retain the power to control an individual’s life, this “solution” is self-contradictory. The state cannot manage the economy “competently,” it can only create distortions. Moreover, it cannot “correct” distortions it has already made — it can only create new distortions. In “Man, Economy and State,” Murray Rothbard explains why the state cannot successfully manage an economy:
“… [the] state, deprived of the real market and its determination of the prices of producers’ goods, cannot calculate and can therefore run a productive system only in chaotic fashion.”
Laissez-faire capitalism is the only answer to the chaos statist economics has brought to the world. Through the free market — the only real determinant of consumer need and desire — laissez-faire capitalism produces sustained, natural economic growth. Those who prosper are those who can satisfy consumer demands. Exchanges are made only on the basis of mutual benefit; no one is forced to pay for the construction of a road, the purchase of a bureaucrat’s typewriter or the maintenance of a rope company in Massachusetts or tea tasters in New York.
How will this new future present itself? In the 70s it was as unsure as it is today–except that we know it will happen eventually because Man strives for fresh air.
As for the question of means, revolution and working through the system are not necessarily contradictory or mutually exclusive. Libertarian revolutionists realize that a revolution that will bring freedom can be built only by engaging the support of the people through a long period of sustained education. On the other hand, those who advocate working in the system realize that only a revolutionary change (sic) in attitudes and institutions can ultimately bring about the libertarian ideal. Again, each side would be more than happy if the other’s formula were to succeed.
John F. Kennedy, one of the leading reactionaries of the sixties, is remembered for his famous line, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Today, more and more young people are instead following the advice of David Friedman: “Ask not what government can do for you… ask rather what government is doing to you.” When Friedman’s remark is as widely known and as enthusiastically received as Kennedy’s, the libertarian movement will be well on its way toward the liberation of the United States.