Libertarianism for Zombies
‘Liberaltarian’ isn’t a word that’s been heard much recently. Whilst aesthetics is surely part of the explanation, there’s probably more to it than that. Most obviously, recent political developments in the United States have shown, beyond the slightest possibility of doubt, that modern ‘liberalism’ and the project of maximal state expansion are so completely indistinguishable that liberal-libertarian fusionism can only perform a comedy act. Garin K Hovannisian had already predicted this outcome down to its minute details before the 2008 Presidential Election. Ed Kilgore later conducted a complementary dismissal from the left. From Reason came the question “Is Liberaltarianism Dead? Or Was it Ever Alive in The First Place?” which sets us out on a zombie hunt.
Anybody here who has poked into this stuff, even just a little bit, is probably approaching shriek-point already: In the name of everything holy please just let it remain in its grave. It’s too late for that. Liberaltarianism has been freshly exhumed specially for Outside in readers, and the zombie serum injected through its left eye, directly into the amygdala. It might seem rather ghoulish, but let us harden ourselves — for science. This absurd shambling specimen will help us to refine an elegant formula, of both ideological and historical interest.
Brink Lindsey offered the authoritative account:
Today’s ideological turmoil, however, has created an opening for ideological renewal—specifically, liberalism’s renewal as a vital governing philosophy. A refashioned liberalism that incorporated key libertarian concerns and insights could make possible a truly progressive politics once again—not progressive in the sense of hewing to a particular set of preexisting left-wing commitments, but rather in the sense of attuning itself to the objective dynamics of U.S. social development. In other words, a politics that joins together under one banner the causes of both cultural and economic progress.
Conservative fusionism, the defining ideology of the American right for a half-century, was premised on the idea that libertarian policies and traditional values are complementary goods. That idea still retains at least an intermittent plausibility—for example, in the case for school choice as providing a refuge for socially conservative families. But an honest survey of the past half-century shows a much better match between libertarian means and progressive ends. Most obviously, many of the great libertarian breakthroughs of the era—the fall of Jim Crow, the end of censorship, the legalization of abortion, the liberalization of divorce laws, the increased protection of the rights of the accused, the reopening of immigration—were championed by the political left.
Libertarian means and progressive ends. Could it imaginably be said more clearly? Liberty is legitimate if, and only if, it serves to promote the consolidation of the Cathedral (through chaotic multicultural criminality), which is then retrospectively interpreted as the intrinsic telos of freedom. Whatever does not subordinate itself to this agenda is to have its brains eaten, and be systematically recycled into progressive zombie flesh. This is a project for libertarian hipsters and Leviathan apparatchiks to undertake hand-in-hand — fusionally. The new age of the cannibal is come.
Neoreactionaries are libertarians mugged by reality (to adapt a pre-coined phrase). This piece of socio-cultural understanding appears to be generally accepted, and rightly so. If it needs defending, that will have to happen elsewhere, but I have yet to see it seriously contested. Moldbug’s own intellectual pedigree suffices to establish the claim on a solid foundation, but it is, in any case, far from aberrant in this regard. The recognition that libertarian ideas — despite their philosophical elegance and economic attractiveness — are not historically or politically realistic, has been the catalytic insight driving the development and adoption of neoreactionary alternatives, shorn of certain mythical elements inherited by the progressive clade (substantial egalitarianism most prominently). This is an empirically robust, uncontroversial story, but it is not yet a formula. It’s time to take the next step.
Has there yet emerged a neoreactionary who was once a ‘liberaltarian’? This isn’t a question designed to embarrass anybody. I just think the answer is easily predictable. When neoreactionary intelligence perceives this shambling wreckage of all cognitive integrity, it recoils into itself in utter revulsion. Everything it abominated about the libertarian delusion stands before it, trickling pitifully. This is the perfect caricature of its abandoned errors: an oozing swippleous mass of unreflective universalism. It’s classical liberalism revived as an undead decay-plague. (If Karl wants to go after this thing with a shot-gun, I don’t see anyone holding him back.)
The view from the unlibertarianized left is illuminating:
… the conscience of a Lindseyan liberaltarian is pretty darn liberal – with some policy disputes on top. When Lindsey stands with conservatives it is mostly on somewhat accidental (but not therefore inconsiderable) policy grounds. He thinks liberals tend to adopt self-defeating policies. When Lindsey stands with liberals it is mostly on philosophical grounds. This point fits in with the one I made in this post, about different sorts of libertarians: basically liberal or basically feudal. If you are a feudal libertarian, you really shouldn’t have a problem with Jim Crow, in principle. If you are a liberal libertarian, you should. Conservative libertarians tend to be on the fence, feudalism/liberalism-wise. (This depends partly on a cheeky use of ‘feudal’ – see my post. But, then again, what was Edmund Burke? a guy who was torn between liberalism and feudalism. That’s not such a bad sketch of his personality-type.)
Strangely, we’re still talking about Jim Crow — as if the entire meaning of American history is expressed through that. The target here is Barry Goldwater, but it makes no substantial difference if Ron Paul is substituted. The critical point, in both cases, is that a reluctance to countenance the expansion of the political sphere in pursuit of racial egalitarianism is interpreted as a moral scandal, for which an ostentatious sacrifice of liberty is the only permissible solution. Negligence is already ‘feudalism’. When this dam bursts — into ‘liberaltarian’ compromise — the micro-managerial state has already been granted everything it will need to ask for. Stamping out feudalism makes you free. (It works like this.)
If it wasn’t for Hoppe, it would perhaps be understandable if the shuddering neoreactionary (N) were to suspect that libertarian thought (L0) tends — slowly but inevitably — to compost down towards this liberaltarian (L1) ‘walker’, in which all the degenerative forces of conformism and revolt have been compacted, as if by some ideological parody of providence. Is not our liberaltarian zombie the still-recognizable avatar of the old liberalism, resurrected hideously as the animated putrescence of the new? Yet we have Hoppe, and so we know that the directives of self-coordinating liberty need not take this path. There is, unmistakably, something other to libertarianism than what is seen in the figure of its zombified, liberaltarian ruin. Through a type of negative political theology, we can formulate it:
Lo – L1 = N
First, identify every specifically emphatic feature of liberaltarianism, then subtract it without residue from the old Austro-libertarian matrix, and what remains is the neoreactionary template — abstracted due to the provisional (negative) place-holders for yet undeveloped topics: presumed non-equality, non-universality, non-progress (in socio-cultural matters), and at least partial non-autonomy (of the economic agent from fragile structures of civility). Slaying the zombie does not, in itself, fill these gaps — but it holds open the gaps, and therefore the avenues of neoreactionary exploration.
As a rule of thumb: whatever Will Wilkinson is having, I’ll have the opposite. If the liberaltarian innovation is conceived as a vector, its exact negation sets the neoreactionary course. With this conclusion, science is served. We can return the corpse of a misconceived ‘progressive’ liberty to its grave, or rather, to the cyclopean mausoleum it has made for itself: the liberal super-state which protects freedom in detail, with unbounded attentiveness, until it has been obliterated entirely from the earth.
ADDED: Weeping isn’t an argument.
ADDED: Foseti provokes and hosts an interesting discussion on the genealogy of neoreaction, by remarking: “My favorite question to ask fellow reactionaries is how they got to neoreaction. What steps did they take in their ideological journey? My last stop was on the Old Right, but I got there from libertarianism.”