Nick Hanauer

Libertarians As “The New Communists”

Nick Hanauer & Eric Liu co-authored an article on Bloomberg: Libertarians Are The New Communists. This is not an economic comparison, of course. It is not a claim that Libertarian Party-style libertarianism endorses communist economics. Instead, libertarianism and communism are “mirror images” of one another that “attempt to answer the same questions.” And they are mirror images because they are “extremist” or “radical.”

This may be a fair point. (And this is as generous as I will be with the authors.) Insofar as libertarianism or communism challenge the status quo they are radical. This is true for any political philosophy that challenges the status quo. Fascism would be called radical. Theocracy or a monarchy would be extremist in an American environment. Although the comparison of American libertarians with communists is a great way to create a provocative headline (gasp, libertarianism and communism in the same sentence) it misleads the reader. This isn’t a comparison of libertarianism and communism. It is a comparison of pro-state, pro-status quo politics with any opposing radical movements. Hanauer & Liu say as much:

“And there are plenty of self-described libertarians who have adopted the label mainly because they support same-sex marriage or decry government surveillance. These social libertarians aren’t the problem.”

Yet, to the radical libertarian those “libertarians” are the problem. They are but another facet of the political status quo. And here is where Hanauer & Liu make a big mistake. Even bigger than the Somalia argument. (Yes, Hanauer & Liu actually make the Somalia argument.) They conflate the “social libertarians” as they describe them — not to be confused with libertarian socialists — with radical libertarianism so-called.

“Radical libertarians would be great at destroying. They would have little concept of creating or governing. It is in failed states such as Somalia that libertarianism finds its fullest actual expression.”

Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and the Koch brothers are accused of being in the extreme category. These are “radical” libertarians. Hanauer & Liu do not include Paul, Cruz and the Koch in the “self-described libertarians who have adopted the label mainly because they support same-sex marriage or decry government surveillance” category. Paul, Cruz & Koch are accused of being “nihilist” and “anti-state.” The authors are serious here.

“It is the nihilist anti-state libertarians of the Koch-Cruz-Norquist-Paul (Ron and Rand alike) school who should worry us.”

Tongue-in-cheek, I must say: how offensive to those libertarians who are real nihilists or anti-state!

The Pauls, Ted Cruz and the Koch family simply represent alternative forms of statism to the radical libertarian. The radical libertarian now having a definition: those who are anti-state or nihilist. The Pauls are mainstream party politicians. Rand Paul is formally represented as a Republican. The Koch brothers are the epitome of crony capitalism; many Koch economic ventures (e.g. pipelines) derive from the state.

In short, Hanauer & Liu confuse the statists with the libertarians.

This may be intentional. Where the article fails as a critique of anti-state libertarianism — move to Somalia is its intellectual peak — it is a nice hit job on the politicians named. They are associated with a political philosophy that is not their own. The intended audience are those disaffected to American two-party politics, but still see hope in any party politician even remotely related to libertarianism. These are people who still believe voting works. It is not an audience that overlaps with anti-state libertarians who have already grappled with the question of who will build the roads.

I don’t mind being called a communist even if I am not a communist. This is a Cold War spectre designed to shock. But I do hope that no one ever conflates my anti-statism with party politicians like Rand Paul or crony capitalists like the Koch family. Although Hanauer & Liu intended to malign a Rand Paul or a Ted Cruz, it is the Cruz and Pauls who malign libertarianism proper.