Thursday, December 29, 2011

What's with Libertarians and Conspiracy Theories?

Now that people are finally paying attention to some of the really weird things Ron Paul believes, let's ask what the hell is up with Libertarians?

You'd be astonished by the sheer volume of the conspiracy theories that fall under the Libertarian banner. Here's just a quick primer: Agenda 21, FEMA camps, the North American Union (the "Amero" and the "trans-American Superhighway), the Trilateral Commission and Council on Foreign Relations, the Bilderberger Group, the Moon-landing "hoax," Barack Obama wasn't born in American, 9/11 was an inside job, the Federal Reserve will eventually turn over America's wealth to the New World Order and on and on. If you'd like to hear them all just listen to the lunatic Alex Jones or join the John Birch Society.

Just about every Libertarian I have ever met has had a very personal and very visceral problem with authority that pre-dates their adoption of Libertarianism. In fact, it often seems that Libertarianism was constructed to provide an intellectual framework to what is essentially a gut feeling that starts at an early age. Unfortunately, Libertarianism doesn't really make much sense outside of a sophomore poli sci seminar.

But instead of abandoning or correcting their flawed philosophy, Libertarians find scape goats among the authorities because it serves two purposes: 1.) it validates their distrust of the powers that be and 2.) it allows them maintain a philosophy that vindicate the idea that they can pretty much do whatever they want. That's the generic psychological answer, one that can be grafted on to any that espouses conspiracy theories. There are also historic influences, chief among them is Joseph McCarthy.

It goes without saying that McCarthy was anti-communist, but his heyday happened to coincide with the beginning of the contemporary Libertarian intellectual roots. One of McCarthy's biggest fans was Murray Rothbard, the economist who would serve as something of an intellectual mentor to Ron Paul and Lew Rockwell. McCarthy, the original conspiracy theorist, only we don't call what he believed about communist infiltration of the government a conspiracy theory today -- we say he was lying, exaggerating, ginning up an issue for political purposes, engaging in demagoguery, or was drunk. The Birchers, of course, adopted McCarthy's vociferous hatred for anything that resembled communism and did what they could to defend their patron saint, who had died the year before the group was founded in 1958. This also meant adopting McCarthy's conspiracy theorizing. 

Rothbard backed up some of the nuttier Bircher conspiracy theories, albeit for different reasons. When lead Bircher Robert Welch began the fluoride-in-the-drinking-water panic, he said it was a socialist plot to dull the minds of Americans into submitting to a further expansion of government. Rothbard, on the other hand, just cut out the brainwashing talk and argued that said that fluoride was just creeping socialism.

Why did he do this? It's hard to say. Rothbard's view likely kept him out of the elite academic jobs and without much political influence, so it's entirely possible that he was a true believer. There's also reason to believe that he was courting conspiracists as part of a strategy to build a broader Libertarian movement (Rothbard was obsessed with this kind of political activity, which shows up frequently in his writings).

Libertarian conspiracies all follow the same formula: they start with the expansion of the state, end with the loss of individual rights and portend a future of Communist domination -- just like Joseph McCarthy's "infiltration" of the State Department. Conspiracy theories are rooted in Libertarianism's DNA. It appeals to radical individualists who are apt to see any kind of association as a plot to infringe on a man's desire to be left alone. These are folks who think they're entitled to do whatever they want to do without being subject to burdensome restrictions, even creating their own realities.


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