Skip to comments.Right-Wing Populism [Murray Rothbard's 1992 Essay Ran at LewRockwell.com Today]
Posted on 06/10/2002 7:48:03 PM PDT by Hoppean
The Irrepressible Rothbard
Essays of Murray N. Rothbard
Edited by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.
Well, they finally got David Duke. But he sure scared the bejesus out of them. It took a massive campaign of hysteria, of fear and hate, orchestrated by all wings of the Ruling Elite, from Official right to left, from President Bush and the official Republican Party through the New York-Washington-run national media through the local elites and down to local left-wing activists. It took a massive scare campaign, not only invoking the old bogey images of the Klan and Hitler, but also, more concretely, a virtual threat to boycott Louisiana, to pull out tourists and conventions, to lose jobs by businesses leaving the state. It took a campaign of slander that resorted to questioning the sincerity of Duke's conversion to Christianity even challenging him to name his "official church." Even my old friend Doug Bandow participated in this cabal in the Wall Street Journal, which virtually flipped its wig in anti-Duke hysteria, to the extent of attacking Duke for being governed by self-interest(!) presumably in contrast to all other politicians motivated by deep devotion to the public weal? It took a lot of gall for Bandow to do this, since he is not a sacramental Christian (where one can point out that the person under attack was not received into the sacramental Church), but a pietist one, who is opposed to any sort of official creed or liturgy. So how can a pietist Christian challenge the bona fides of another one? And in a world where no one challenges the Christian credentials of a Chuck Colson or a Jeb Magruder? But logic went out the window: for the entire Establishment, the ruling elite, was at stake, and in that sort of battle, all supposedly clashing wings of the Establishment weld together as one unit and fight with any weapons that might be at hand.
But even so: David Duke picked up 55 percent of the white vote; he lost in the runoff because the fear campaign brought a massive outpouring of black voters. But note the excitement; politics in Louisiana rose from the usual torpor that we have been used to for decades and brought out a turnout rate 80 percent that hasn't been seen since the nineteenth century, when party politics was fiercely partisan and ideological.
One point that has nowhere been noted: populism won in Louisiana, because in the first primary the two winners were Duke, a right-wing populist, and Edwin Edwards, a left-wing populist. Out in the cold were the two Establishment candidates: incumbent Governor Buddy Roemer, high-tax, high-spend "reform" Democrat embraced by the Bush Administration in an attempt to stop the dread Duke; and the forgotten man, Clyde Holloway, the official Republican candidate, a good Establishment conservative, who got only five percent of the vote. (Poor Human Events kept complaining during the campaign: why are the media ignoring Clyde Holloway? The simple answer is that he never got anywhere: an instructive metaphor for what will eventually be the fate of Establishment Conservatism.)
A left-wing populist, former Governor Edwards is a long-time Cajun crook, whose motto has been the rollicking laissez les bon temps roulez ("let the good times roll"). He has always been allegedly hated by businessmen and by conservative elites. But this was crisis time; and in crisis the truth is revealed: there is no fundamental difference between left-wing populism and the system we have now. Left-wing populism: rousing the masses to attack "the rich," amounts to more of the same: high taxes, wild spending, massive redistribution of working and middle-class incomes to the ruling coalition of: big government, big business, and the New Class of bureaucrats, technocrats, and ideologues and their numerous dependent groups. And so, in the crunch, left-wing populism phony populism disappeared, and all crookery was forgiven in the mighty Edwards coalition. It is instructive that the Establishment professes to believe in Edwards' teary promises of personal reform ("I'm 65 now; the good times have mellowed"), while refusing to believe in the sincerity of David Duke's conversion.
They said in the 60s, when they gently chided the violent left: "stop using violence, work within the system." And sure enough it worked, as the former New Left now leads the respectable intellectual classes. So why wasn't the Establishment willing to forgive and forget when a right-wing radical like David Duke stopped advocating violence, took off the Klan robes, and started working within the system? If it was OK to be a Commie, or a Weatherman, or whatever in your wild youth, why isn't it OK to have been Klansmen? Or to put it more precisely, if it was OK for the revered Justice Hugo Black, or for the lion of the Senate, Robert Byrd, to have been a Klansman, why not David Duke? The answer is obvious: Black and Byrd became members of the liberal elite, of the Establishment, whereas Duke continued to be a right-wing populist, and therefore anti-Establishment, this time even more dangerous because "within the system."
It is fascinating that there was nothing in Duke's current program or campaign that could not also be embraced by paleoconservatives or paleo-libertarians; lower taxes, dismantling the bureaucracy, slashing the welfare system, attacking affirmative action and racial set-asides, calling for equal rights for all Americans, including whites: what's wrong with any of that? And of course the mighty anti-Duke coalition did not choose to oppose Duke on any of these issues. Indeed, even the most leftist of his opponents grudgingly admitted that he had a point. Instead, the Establishment concentrated on the very "negative campaigning" that they profess to abhor (especially when directed against them). (Ironic note: TV pundits, who regularly have face lifts twice a year, bitterly attacked Duke for his alleged face lift. And nobody laughed!)
WHAT IS RIGHT-WING POPULISM?
The basic right-wing populist insight is that we live in a statist country and a statist world dominated by a ruling elite, consisting of a coalition of Big Government, Big Business, and various influential special interest groups. More specifically, the old America of individual liberty, private property, and minimal government has been replaced by a coalition of politicians and bureaucrats allied with, and even dominated by, powerful corporate and Old Money financial elites (e.g., the Rockefellers, the Trilateralists); and the New Class of technocrats and intellectuals, including Ivy League academics and media elites, who constitute the opinion-moulding class in society. In short, we are ruled by an updated, twentieth-century coalition of Throne and Altar, except that this Throne is various big business groups, and the Altar is secular, statist intellectuals, although mixed in with the secularists is a judicious infusion of Social Gospel, mainstream Christians. The ruling class in the State has always needed intellectuals to apologize for their rule and to sucker the masses into subservience, i.e., into paying the taxes and going along with State rule. In the old days, in most societies, a form of priestcraft or State Church constituted the opinion-moulders who apologized for that rule. Now, in a more secular age, we have technocrats, "social scientists," and media intellectuals, who apologize for the State system and staff in the ranks of its bureaucracy.
Libertarians have often seen the problem plainly, but as strategists for social change they have badly missed the boat. In what we might call "the Hayek model," they have called for spreading correct ideas, and thereby converting the intellectual elites to liberty, beginning with top philosophers and then slowly trickling on down through the decades to converting journalists and other media opinion-moulders. And of course, ideas are the key, and spreading correct doctrine is a necessary part of any libertarian strategy. It might be said that the process takes too long, but a long-range strategy is important, and contrasts to the tragic futility of official conservatism which is interested only in the lesser-of-two-evils for the current election and therefore loses in the medium, let along the long, run. But the real error is not so much the emphasis on the long run, but on ignoring the fundamental fact that the problem is not just intellectual error. The problem is that the intellectual elites benefit from the current system; in a crucial sense, they are part of the ruling class. The process of Hayekian conversion assumes that everyone, or at least all intellectuals, are interested solely in the truth, and that economic self-interest never gets in the way. Anyone at all acquainted with intellectuals or academics should be disabused of this notion, and fast. Any libertarian strategy must recognize that intellectuals and opinion-moulders are part of the fundamental problem, not just because of error, but because their own self-interest is tied into the ruling system.
Why then did communism implode? Because in the end the system was working so badly that even the nomenklatura got fed up and threw in the towel. The Marxists have correctly pointed out that a social system collapses when the ruling class becomes demoralized and loses its will to power; manifest failure of the communist system brought about that demoralization. But doing nothing, or relying only on educating the elites in correct ideas, will mean that our own statist system will not end until our entire society, like that of the Soviet Union, has been reduced to rubble. Surely, we must not sit still for that. A strategy for liberty must be far more active and aggressive.
Hence the importance, for libertarians or for minimal government conservatives, of having a one-two punch in their armor: not simply of spreading correct ideas, but also of exposing the corrupt ruling elites and how they benefit from the existing system, more specifically how they are ripping us off. Ripping the mask off elites is "negative campaigning" at its finest and most fundamental.
This two-pronged strategy is (a) to build up a cadre of our own libertarians, minimal-government opinion-moulders, based on correct ideas; and (b) to tap the masses directly, to short-circuit the dominant media and intellectual elites, to rouse the masses of people against the elites that are looting them, and confusing them, and oppressing them, both socially and economically. But this strategy must fuse the abstract and the concrete; it must not simply attack elites in the abstract, but must focus specifically on the existing statist system, on those who right now constitute the ruling classes.
Libertarians have long been puzzled about whom, about which groups, to reach out to. The simple answer: everyone, is not enough, because to be relevant politically, we must concentrate strategically on those groups who are most oppressed and who also have the most social leverage.
The reality of the current system is that it constitutes an unholy alliance of "corporate liberal" Big Business and media elites, who, through big government, have privileged and caused to rise up a parasitic Underclass, who, among them all, are looting and oppressing the bulk of the middle and working classes in America. Therefore, the proper strategy of libertarians and paleos is a strategy of "right-wing populism," that is: to expose and denounce this unholy alliance, and to call for getting this preppie-underclass-liberal media alliance off the backs of the rest of us: the middle and working classes.
A RIGHT-WING POPULIST PROGRAM
A right-wing populist program, then, must concentrate on dismantling the crucial existing areas of State and elite rule, and on liberating the average American from the most flagrant and oppressive features of that rule. In short:
l. Slash Taxes. All taxes, sales, business, property, etc., but especially the most oppressive politically and personally: the income tax. We must work toward repeal of the income tax and abolition of the IRS.
2. Slash Welfare. Get rid of underclass rule by abolishing the welfare system, or, short of abolition, severely cutting and restricting it.
3. Abolish Racial or Group Privileges. Abolish affirmative action, set aside racial quotas, etc., and point out that the root of such quotas is the entire "civil rights" structure, which tramples on the property rights of every American.
4. Take Back the Streets: Crush Criminals. And by this I mean, of course, not "white collar criminals" or "inside traders" but violent street criminals robbers, muggers, rapists, murderers. Cops must be unleashed, and allowed to administer instant punishment, subject of course to liability when they are in error.
5. Take Back the Streets: Get Rid of the Bums. Again: unleash the cops to clear the streets of bums and vagrants. Where will they go? Who cares? Hopefully, they will disappear, that is, move from the ranks of the petted and cosseted bum class to the ranks of the productive members of society.
6. Abolish the Fed; Attack the Banksters. Money and banking are recondite issues. But the realities can be made vivid: the Fed is an organized cartel of banksters, who are creating inflation, ripping off the public, destroying the savings of the average American. The hundreds of billions of taxpayer handouts to S&L banksters will be chicken-feed compared to the coming collapse of the commercial banks.
7. America First. A key point, and not meant to be seventh in priority. The American economy is not only in recession; it is stagnating. The average family is worse off now than it was two decades ago. Come home America. Stop supporting bums abroad. Stop all foreign aid, which is aid to banksters and their bonds and their export industries. Stop gloabaloney, and let's solve our problems at home.
8. Defend Family Values. Which means, get the State out of the family, and replace State control with parental control. In the long run, this means ending public schools, and replacing them with private schools. But we must realize that voucher and even tax credit schemes are not, despite Milton Friedman, transitional demands on the path to privatized education; instead, they will make matters worse by fastening government control more totally upon the private schools. Within the sound alternative is decentralization, and back to local, community neighborhood control of the schools.
Further: We must reject once and for all the left-libertarian view that all government-operated resources must be cesspools. We must try, short of ultimate privatization, to operate government facilities in a manner most conducive to a business, or to neighborhood control. But that means: that the public schools must allow prayer, and we must abandon the absurd left-atheist interpretation of the First Amendment that "establishment of religion" means not allowing prayer in public schools, or a creche in a schoolyard or a public square at Christmas. We must return to common sense, and original intent, in constitutional interpretation.
So far: every one of these right-wing populist programs is totally consistent with a hard-core libertarian position. But all real-world politics is coalition politics, and there are other areas where libertarians might well compromise with their paleo or traditionalist or other partners in a populist coalition. For example, on family values, take such vexed problems as pornography, prostitution, or abortion. Here, pro-legalization and pro-choice libertarians should be willing to compromise on a decentralist stance; that is, to end the tyranny of the federal courts, and to leave these problems up to states and better yet, localities and neighborhoods, that is, to "community standards."
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You guys viscerally hate libertarian ideas so much, you just can't admit they are closer to what conservatives want than any statist utopia you all dream up on this forum. A pity.