In recent weeks, Fox News host Tucker Carlson has been ripping to shreds the orthodoxies behind the modern Republican Party and conservative movement, which he believes have failed the people and kept America from reaching its true national potential.
His criticism of libertarian dogma in particular has enraged some adherents to the philosophy, who believe their line of thought has not been particularly influential throughout the years.
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“Carlson’s description of the Republican Party is a straw man. Where are these supposedly “libertarian zealots” in Congress? Where are the policymakers actually trying to cut entitlements? I ask because we need some,” said Tiana Lowe for the Washington Examiner.
“Throughout both segments, Carlson conflated libertarianism with the current or at least pre-Trump economic policies of the U.S., the contemporary Republican Party, and insisted that the political class’s blind adherence to “libertarian” capitalism has hurt the middle class,” lamented Jack Hunter, whose pro-Confederate tomfoolery forced him become a political eunuch of sorts.
Criticism of Carlson’s points miss the mark because he is correct about the GOP donor class, which has been dominated by two of the world’s most prominent libertarians for decades.
The unabashedly libertarian Koch Brothers have had an ownership stake in the Republican Party and dictated much of the public policy pushed by Republican lawmakers while masquerading as if it is the work of the free market.
Because of the effective lobbying of the Koch Brothers and their functionaries, Americans have had their freedom to choose stolen from them. The transformation of America under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) gut manufacturing and industry, made soulless debt-fueled consumerism the primary engine of commerce, and surrendered their national sovereignty without democratic consent.
Americans cannot even defend their property rights against an invasion by millions of third-world migrants, who have been allowed in, given benefits, and will soon make up the majority of the country, in what is an affront to the spirit of the founding documents.
These wicked oligarchs preyed upon the libertarian impulses of Americans, with genocidal immigration policies called “freedom of movement” and economic policies to devastate the middle class called “free trade.” Corporate profit margins have never been higher, the Dow Jones index soars to new heights, but the U.S. cultural landscape is in tatters. Whole towns have been decimated, with workers left to wallow in welfare and opiate addictions, and all the biased research from CATO Institute analysts cannot paper over this civilizational collapse.
The amount of damage that the Koch Brothers have done to the cause of libertarianism cannot be understated, and libertarian-minded activists should not make excuses for them. Because of them and their allies like the Chamber of Commerce, ideas like the “free market” and “privatization” have been tainted in the consciousness and for good reason. Privatization has come to mean selling scarce public goods to corporations to be sold for a tidy profit (think Nestle’s water monopolization). The free market gives the people no recourse to push back against any government-subsidized corporations stomping on the rights of the people (think Facebook’s censorship policies and privacy violations).
Carlson is the architect of a populist revival that cuts the elites out completely and aims to make the government work for the benefit of the people. He is right to assign libertarianism for the blame of the current sorry state of GOP politics, at least libertarianism as the people know it.
The idealized fiction in the mind of an individual libertarian activist deviates widely from the reality of what libertarianism has yielded. What libertarianism is and what libertarians want it to be are two very different things. The hijacking and co-opting of libertarian thought by the Koch Brothers and their ilk must be addressed, not with stubborn defensiveness, but with understanding and the willingness to adapt.
Carlson is re-inventing what it means to be a Republican in the age of Trump, striking while the iron is hot, and libertarians would be wise to make themselves apart of his visionary proposals. A nuanced analysis of libertarianism and the two main schools of economic thought that dominate the ethos – namely the Chicago School and Austrian School – illustrates a clear path forward in the new GOP.
Whereas the Chicago school fueled Reaganism and has been influential among the think-tank class, the Austrian School has remained in relative obscurity. Carlson’s pot shot against Austrian economics, which has not been particularly influential in the conservative movement with the exception of former Texas Congressman Ron Paul, was the one error of his otherwise pivotal analysis.
A system of economic patriotism should encompass the robust anti-banking scholarship of the Austrians. It is the Austrians who, better than anyone, describe in full detail how the central banking system functions as a predatory scam to loot a nation by powerful banking interests.
Carlson is morally correct to criticize usury, but he fails to talk about the heart of the problem – the private, unaccountable Federal Reserve that subsidizes the big banks and creates a never-ending vehicle for inflation that punishes the poor and middle classes. Creating caps on lending rates without ending or nationalizing the Fed would be like putting a band-aid on a mortal wound.
Preeminent Austrian economist Murray Rothbard has even recommended a regime of right-wing populism that would likely be music to Carlson’s ears:
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.
Rothbard was making paeans for the need to overthrow the elites since well before a fresh-faced, bowtie-clad Carlson ever made an appearance on CNN’s CrossFire. This is the history of libertarianism that must be rediscovered and championed in the Trump age, the paleolibertarianism that unfortunately never quite caught on in the 1990s.
This is a strain of libertarianism that rejects pro-banker economics, cultural degeneracy, cosmopolitan think-tank elitism, and the political establishment. These are the ideological brethren of the MAGA-hat wearers who bravely lead the right-wing populist charge.
There is much that libertarians have to offer that can fit into a proposal for economic patriotism such as saving the purchasing power of the U.S. dollar, an end to taxpayer-funding of liberal institutions that indoctrinate children, returning the power from Washington D.C. to local and state municipalities, taking a wrecking ball to the federal administrative state, ending subsidies for multinational corporations with no allegiance to this nation, and bringing the troops home from senseless foreign wars.
Instead of raging against Carlson and other poignant critics of libertarianism, libertarians should put on the red hat and make themselves useful in the GOP with a strategic upgrade for the times. There is no reason why the rising populist tide should leave liberty-minded folks behind. There is plenty of room on the Trump train for them, but they have to be willing to make the effort.
The base already exists, with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and the House Freedom Caucus, for libertarians to be relevant. It’s just a matter of seizing the moment, something that libertarians have been unwilling to do since Ron Paul’s retirement.