INTERVIEW: Writer Ilana Mercer Takes On The Cato Institute’s ‘Left-Libertarianism’
Writer Ilana Mercer is the author of “The Trump Revolution,” one of the more perceptive books to come out of the 2016 election. As a columnist since the late Nineties, Mercer analyzes political trends better than the best election analysts because she understands human and emotional dynamics, which inform every political movement.
Ilana Mercer is a real libertarian. She is not happy with the left-wing progressive takeover of the professional libertarian movement, and in this interview she goes straight at the Cato Institute.
BIG LEAGUE POLITICS: Being a preeminent paleolibertarian thinker today, how would you define paleolibertarianism and how does it differ from standard paleoconservatism?
ILANA MERCER: First, let’s define libertarianism. It’s concerned with the ethics of the use of force. Nothing more. This, and this alone, is the ambit of libertarian law.
All libertarians must respect the non-aggression axiom. Libertarians don’t initiate aggression against non-aggressors, not even if it’s “for their own good,” as neoconservatives like to cast America’s recreational wars of choice. If someone claims to be a libertarianism and also supports the proxy bombing of Yemen, or supported the war in Iraq; he is not a libertarian, plain and simple.
As to paleolibertarianism, in particular. And this is my take. It’s how I’ve applied certain principles week-in, week-out, for almost two decades. So, some will disagree. In my definition, a paleolibertarian grasps that ordered liberty has a civilizational dimension, stripped of which the just-mentioned libertarian non-aggression axiom, by which all decent people should live, will crumble.
Ironically, paleoconservatives have no issue grasping the cultural and civilizational dimensions of ordered liberty—namely that the libertarian non-aggression principle is peculiar to the West and won’t survive once western civilization is no more.
By the way, the statement is not meant to be culturally chauvinistic. There are indigenous tribal people (say, in Brazil) who’re peaceful and pastoral. I mourn their culture’s near-extinction, as well.
In any event, paleoconservatives would typically grasp that libertarian principles would not endure in certain cultures. Libertarians, on the other hand, have had a hard time linking civilizational issues with the libertarian axiom of non-aggression. What do I mean? Libertarians will chant, “Free markets, free minds, the free movement of people.” Let’s have ‘em all.
They don’t always explain how these principles are to endure once the country is overrun by individuals from cultures which don’t believe in them.
On the other hand, paleoconservatives are far less focused on the state as an evil actor and often appear more concerned with culture wars: gay marriage, cannabis, pornography, abortion. The paleolibertarian rejects any attempts by the state to legislate around the issues of abortion (completely defund it is our position), gay marriage (solemnize your marriage in private churches), drugs (legalize and stop the Drug War), etc.
As a creedal paleolibertarian, I see the road to freedom, primarily, in beating back The State, so that individuals can regain freedom of association, dominion over property, the absolute right of self-defense; the right to hire, fire, and, generally, associate at will.
Foreign policy—no meddling in the affairs of other countries!—is the be all and end all of both paleoconservatism and paleolibertarianism. Don’t let any of the radio or TV personalities fool you. If he or she liked Bush’s Middle-Eastern wars or Trump’s dabbling in Niger—he or she is no paleo.
Both variants are for small government and big society. Again, more so than is the paleoconservative, the paleolibertarian is radical in his anti-state position, sometimes even advocating a stateless society.
BIG LEAGUE POLITICS: In what ways does your political thought differ from CATO institute libertarianism?
ILANA MERCER: CATO’s political thought is left-libertarianism. I call it “lite libertarianism.” Lite libertarians equate liberty with abstract, lofty ideas, which—against all evidence, historic and other—purport to work when applied to every individual in the world.
You can say that the crucial difference between lite libertarians and the Right kind is that, to the former, the idea of liberty is propositional–a value, an idea that’s untethered from the realities of history, hierarchy, biology, tradition, culture, values.
Plainly put, the principles of American freedoms were not developed by progressive, libertine ladies, marching in pussy dunce caps; by the suffragettes or the LGBTQ community. Are those significant facts? You bet.
The garden variety libertarian, CATO and Reason types, see liberty as a shared, universal quest. Inside every Afghani or Yemeni is a Jeffersonian waiting to break free.
In essence, this left-libertarianism is one that underplays, underestimates or just plain refuses to recognize what I just referred to as “liberty’s civilizational dimension.”
Notice how similar are left-libertarians to neoconservatives in the tendencies just described.
Lite libertarians also tend to blame governments, principally, seldom the individual, for barbarism in certain parts of the world. Your regular libertarian’s attitude to personal wrongdoing often runs to what I’ve characterized as a form of social determinism: “The state made me do it.”
In other words, if for the sins of man, the left is inclined to blame society; a lot of libertarians fall into the same error of saying, “The State made him do it.” Both are short on punishment, individual responsibility and agency, all preconditions for ordered liberty.
Another thing: A lot of establishment libertarians have joined the neoconservative and neoliberal establishments in the habit of sniffing out racists. Sniffing out racists is an absolute no-no for any and all self-respecting libertarians.
True libertarians don’t, or should not, prosecute thought crimes or persecute thought “criminals.” Period.
BIG LEAGUE POLITICS: Which conservative thinkers resonate most with your beliefs?
John Roanoke, John Calhoun, Edmond Burke, Russell Kirk, Frank Chodorov, Felix Morley, James Burnham (once a leftist), Paul Gottfried, Clyde Wilson, Samuel P. Huntington.
Read more about Ilana Mercer:
“Ilana Mercer’s weekly, paleolibertarian column has been going strong since 1999. She is the author of “Into the Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons for America From Post-Apartheid South Africa” (2011) & “The Trump Revolution: The Donald’s Creative Destruction Deconstructed” (June, 2016). She’s on Twitter, Facebook, Gab & YouTube”