Beginning with Isolationism
The Beginning of a Right-wing Populist Upheaval.
by James Leroy Wilson
July 31, 2003
Beginning with Isolationism_James Leroy Wilson-The Beginning of a Right-wing Populist Upheaval.
Upon reading Justin Raimondo's An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard one begins to understand why many libertarians do not support the Libertarian Party. Rothbard (1925-95) was the founder of the modern libertarian philosophy and movement, and also a longtime activist in the Libertarian Party. Tired of factional disputes within it, he found his way back "home" in the isolationist "Old Right" movement of the 1990's, and cheered on the candidacies of Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot in 1992, much as he did as a young man cheer for the Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond and isolationist Republican Robert Taft.
I'm not sure how much Raimondo himself had to do with this. The William F. Buckley conservative "deal" with libertarians had been, to stick with the welfare-warfare State until the Soviet threat disappears, and then we'll all become libertarians. That inspired many free-marketers, and also anti-communists but otherwise isolationists like Buchanan, to dutifully support Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, and most ridiculous of all, Richard Nixon. Buckley left Rothbard standing virtually alone to build a genuine, and independent, libertarian movement that was both pro-market and anti-war.
Predictably, President George Bush I betrayed this "deal" anyway after the fall of the Berlin Wall and demise of the Soviet Union, with his expensive big government, tax hikes, and the Persian Gulf War. Yet Buckley and his new "neo-conservative" allies decided to stick with Bush in 1992. Raimondo, himself a longtime libertarian activist and writer (and current editor of Anti-war.com), may have been the first proponent of a Buchanan run against Bush. Rothbard was not only a brilliant economist and social theorist, but also a sympathizer of the kind of right-wing populism embodied in Buchanan. Rothbard's last year of life on this earth may have been his happiest, as the 1994 Republican "take-over" of Congress seemed to be a manifestation of the sort of anti-government, right-wing populism he had been hoping for all of his life.
In that sense, and not having personally known the man, I'm glad he was spared Clinton's re-election, the ridiculous Lewinsky fiasco and ensuing Kosovo War, the terrible Bush II administration, and the total betrayal of the Contract with America. Wait - I take that back. Considering every other travesty he has witnessed, for the likes of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Newt Gingrich, and Dennis Hastert to have destroyed his spirit and optimism would have been unlikely. The fool is incapable of destroying the genius.
But anyway, just as Thurmond and Taft were definitely not libertarians, neither are Buchanan and Perot. Neither were Gingrich and his 1994 Republican House candidates. But right-wing populism, the ability to by-pass the media, political, and academic elites and take a case directly to the people, was something Rothbard strongly desired. That was one thing he liked about Senator Joe McCarthy. It is something the libertarian movement has been lacking since its founding.
Rothbard seems to have been resigned to the fact that his sophisticated "anarcho- capitalist," or anti-State, pro- market theories would not come remotely close to fruition anytime soon, and that the Old Right-style isolationism was the closest thing to effective anti-militarism that America was going to get. So you pick your battles and your candidates. Once the troops come home and the USA stops policing the world, then, well, that's a start.
And, I think, it's a better place to begin than anywhere else. Get us out of the United Nations!
Bring our boys (and girls) home! Make the Europeans and the Japanese and the Koreans defend themselves for once!
Why is this the best place to begin? Because people tend to believe, correctly, that war is evil. Yes, they might be coaxed into supporting numerous wars, especially after our President has already put the troops into harm's way. The American people, unfortunately, feel more remorse towards its treatment of surviving Vietnam vets, than for the Vietnam War itself, and they feel that they must "support the troops" now, as if the life of an American soldier is more precious than that of a dozen drafted enemy soldiers, or of scores of foreign civilians. The real lesson of Vietnam was, stay out of other people's wars, yet that's the one lesson we haven't really learned. But, that said, the inherent evil of war is, and logically can be, the only foundation for a genuine libertarian movement.
Because, except for neo-cons and other heirs of the Wilsonian-FDR tradition, most people have the attitude that, although war is sometimes necessary, it is never good in itself but rather a
War as a necessary evil. That certainly doesn't sound libertarian at all. War is always evil and never necessary except perhaps as a form of self-defense; militarism is always evil. But, with this conception of war as evil, libertarians have an opening to reach middle America.
There are three other direct federal government assaults on the lives, liberties, and properties of the people that libertarians might use to convince people of the illegitimacy of the national State: the War on Drugs, the Federal Reserve System, and the Income Tax. But you look at all three of them, or at Social Security, or at important but lesser issues like the wars on guns, smoking, and obesity, and the one thing we won't get is a response that the thing is, in itself, evil. People - except for neo-cons - understand that war is evil even when they've convinced themselves that it is necessary, but they are inclined to believe that these other government programs are not evil at all, but are both "necessary" and "good."
The people, through incessant propaganda in the government schools and the media, are unlikely to lose their inherent love for their own government and its oppressive policies, because they fear the alternative of lacking the supposed "security" government provides. It is with warfare, however, that the people become reluctant. And they are led to "support the President" and "support the troops" more out of feeling guilty for doing anything else, even though they don't like the war itself. Except for neo- cons, Americans do not take pride and pleasure that the world is a United States-ruled global empire. To most Americans, the very suggestion would bring responses of denial, revulsion, or regret. The most they would say is, "This is unfortunate, but necessary, and we do this out of concern for humanity, not for gain." They admit that it would be better if the USA did not police the world. That's the opening for the libertarian: the USA, and the world, would both be better off if the USA did not police the world.
Libertarian arguments are strongest here, precisely because the people are reluctant to rule the world by military force. Libertarian arguments might be as logically strong against, say, the income tax, but less compelling, because there are fewer visible, violent evidences of its destructiveness.
Libertarians understand that the whole ball of wax called the State is evil. But we have just one common agreement with the liberal cosmopolitan and the conservative suburbanite: war is evil. We can't start anywhere else. We have to start with war, and begin the discussion with the history of our country's involvement in wars and how the results politically have at best been mixed even when we've "won" militarily. And use that to question why we should have troops strewn across the globe, or why we think we are doing any good by policing - governing, ruling - the rest of the world.
Leftist opponents of American militarism can't and won't pull this off. They can't question FDR or Truman. They're not, and can not be, pure isolationists, because internationalist revolution is part and parcel of being a Leftist. Their merely moderate cuts in military spending, support for the U.N., and support for multi-lateralist approaches to foreign interventions, is the complete opposite of the anti-Wilsonian, non-interventionist,let-them- fight-their-own-battles, populist, Old Right.
If Rothbard (and Raimondo) can be forgiven as libertarians for supporting non-libertarian political candidates, this is why. And when you think about it, how libertarian can anyone be who craves political office?
A right-wing isolationist Presidential candidate is needed for today to politically discredit and perhaps send to defeat the neo-con, delusional, monstrous
administration of President Bush II. If he's libertarian, great; if he's a populist who can
communicate directly to the masses without being intimidated by the condemnation of the Establishment,
even better. As Randolph Bourne said, "War is the health of the state." Advocates of liberty are
"healthiest" when they are "anti-State," and that begins with being anti-war - which itself begins with being anti-UN and anti-interventionist.
You question war, then you question foreign occupation, then you question the military, then you question the other things the State does. You have to start by questioning war, because it is there that The State is at its most "logical" and most absurd. The absurdity of the State at war can only make the rest of the State absurd.
Will libertarians and other Old Rightists launch an offensive for peace and sanity now, or are we to wait for, if it can even be imagined, an even less-excusable undeclared war by some future President? The insanity must stop, and the insanity begins with war. Libertarians who can persuade on the topics of war and foreign intervention will be able to persuade on every other topic as well, because only in war is the true nature of The State fully realized and explained. But we need a populist, isolationist Presidential candidate to lead the way for us.
Rothbard and Raimondo were not only on the Right, but also right. Isolationism is the beginning of the reversal of Statism. Anti-Statists must now ally ourselves with isolationists first. The rest will follow.
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