the old Murphy's Law, "Never argue with an idiot, people may not
be able to tell the difference." But what
is the rule governing arguments with very smart and committed people
so ideologically bound up, you'd need a truckload of Metamucil just
to get them off a minor point? Frankly, I have no idea, so I'm just
gonna wing it which accounts for the unforgivable length
of this article.
First, let me bring out-of-the-loop readers up to speed. Last week
I wrote a column
addressing several columns written about me or referencing me, on
a site called LewRockwell.com,
which bills itself as the "anti-state, anti-war, pro-market news
site." LewRockwell.com features regular diatribes against National
Review, neoconservatives, The Weekly Standard, William
F. Buckley, and other icons of what most people consider mainstream
conservatism in America.
The site also features regular screeds about how Abraham Lincoln
was a murderous war criminal, how the American military is a hotbed
of criminal imperialism and murderous warmongering, and why Southern
secession not only was honorable and noble but how it still is a
So before I get started, let me offer an apology. In my article
I referred to LewRockwell.com as a haven for "angry" and "cat-kicking"
libertarians. That's not entirely fair to libertarians. Most
of the libertarians I know want nothing to do with LewRockwell.com
(if they've heard of it at all). This is not the primary home for
the sort of optimistic classical liberalism you might find at the
And while I still take issue with much that goes on at those places,
it is unfair for me to imply that all libertarians fed up with conservatives
or the Republican party or a bloated federal government would want
to associate themselves with a forum that joyfully dances back and
forth across the line separating anti-statism and anti-Americanism.
Of course, it's also unfair for me to say that everybody writing
for LewRockwell.com or everybody reading it is a crank. That's simply
not true. But you'll forgive me if I don't go diving for pearls
in the manure.
"It's My Tone, Stupid"
Mr. Dieteman, who doesn't seem like a crank, wrote me a nice note
explaining how he disagreed with my column. He wrote that he was
"greatly disappointed in the abrasive tenor" of my article, and
that he had "lost a degree of respect for National Review.
Conservatives and libertarians disagree over the role of government,
but there is no need for rancor."
This was actually a fairly common response from several LewRockwell.com
readers as well. Many were shocked that I would be so "mean" or
"disrespectful," so willing to "take cheap shots" and "avoid serious
arguments." I'll get to the "serious arguments" in a bit. But as
for the first part. I am tempted to borrow a line from Sgt. Hulka
to Psycho in Stripes and simply say: Lighten up Rockwellites.
It is impossible to exaggerate the degree to which these people
take themselves too seriously. They accuse me of pomposity, but
I swear I can't even climb the pedestal they put themselves on.
The problem is that by taking themselves too seriously they wind
up taking me too seriously.
There's simply no other way to explain the endless torrent of overwrought,
mutually contradictory self-parody going on over there.
For example, Daniel McCarthy writes a piece calling me "The
Excommunicator." Writing about a speech I gave at C-PAC to a
Young America's Foundation luncheon, he paints me as slyly trying
to pollute the minds of these na´ve and insufficiently conservative
young'ns. Summarizing the intent of my brainwashing he says, "Pre-Enlightenment
values are not welcome in Jonah Goldberg's conservative movement.
Or to put it more accurately pre-Enlightenment values are
not welcome in the conservative movement at all if Jonah Goldberg
gets his way."
Dear God, it's Munich all over again, Goldberg must be stopped!
(Oh, wait. That might be a bad analogy; Do Rockwellites believe
fighting WWII was justified? It's not clear).
This is what I was getting at. These guys aren't even reliably libertarian.
For the record, libertarianism is supposed to reject pre-Enlightenment
values much more than conservatism does. Indeed, this embarrassing
squabble largely stems from an argument and general agreement
with Messrs. Kantor and Dieteman over the fact that Friedrich
Hayek would not call himself a conservative because he thought the
label was too accommodating to pre-Enlightenment conservative
In the course of a week, I've gone from being a scoundrel for trying
to claim the pre-eminent twentieth-century critic of pre-Enlightenment
values as a conservative, to being a scoundrel for attempting to
purge such values from the conservative movement. Still, it's given
me an excuse to buy those "The Excommunicator" business cards I've
But yes, for the record, if I were cracking the whip on the movement
there would be a significant bias against many if not most pre-Enlightenment
values and not just racism, but also the rejection of science,
capitalism, universal humanity, and Truth, etc. Mr. McCarthy conveniently
leaves out the fact that it was specifically these attributes of
pre-Enlightenment thinking that I was denouncing at C-PAC. It would
be nice to know which of them he'd like to keep in the movement.
By the way, I was also explicitly not making an anti-religious argument.
I pointed out that so many Enlightenment thinkers were committed
to understanding God's will and God's universe. I bring this up
because I don't trust these guys not to turn me into some atheistic-secular
So there's this guy Bob Murphy (who actually takes pride of ownership
in the "technique" of beginning sentences "So there's this
He clearly thinks a great deal of himself. And, if Mr. Rockwell
is true to his word that he doesn't like my column because it has
become "transmogrified into self-important serio-pomposo items,"
then he should bar this no-talent ass-clown from writing for his
own site ever again.
To be honest, I think his assault on me is so dumb especially
in light of McCarthy et al.'s whining about how mean my "tone" was
that I cannot imagine even wasting the time to mock it. He
spends the first stretch making fun of me because I wear glasses
and because my outdated picture shows me in a goatee. He then suggests
I was lucky that he had to wait a full 24 hours before responding
to my "idiot attack." Because "I knew if I wrote it right after
reading your attack for the very first time, I would have scared
even Lew Rockwell." [Emphasis in original.]
I don't know what to say, except maybe his response could have used
a few more minutes in the oven. See
As for Mr. Dieteman, I was probably unfair when I portrayed him
as an hysteric (like Mr. Murphy). He seems quite the opposite: earnest
and serious to a fault. That said, the profound offense taken by
several other LR writers and even more of its readers, is bizarre.
I try to avoid "they started it arguments" but let us note for the
record that what got my attention was a column entitled, "Stop Being
a Schmuck, Jonah." Also, the fact that LewRockwell.com writers are
fond of calling mainstream conservatives "socialists," "warmongers,"
"imperialists," etc. amidst fevered screeds about CIA plots
and neo-secessionist outbursts didn't exactly make me feel
like I was throwing the first stone.
Frank Meyer & Dieteman v. Kantor
As for the substance of what I wrote in that column, I don't retract
a thing. Though I do owe an explanation on the bit about Frank Meyer's
conversion, which was poorly phrased. As both the founder of fusionism
and a libertarian, Meyer believed you could believe in a transcendent
universal morality and advocate the maximization of human freedom.
Not surprisingly, his chief critics were Catholic social conservatives.
When Meyer had his deathbed conversion to Catholicism, some took
it at as an explicit reversal of positions. By no means do I believe
that religion and libertarianism are at loggerheads.
Anyway, Mr. Dieteman asserted in his piece that it was "very strange"
for me to place Hayek's The Road to Serfdom at the core of
the modern conservative canon as if he'd never heard this
argument before. I explained how there was nothing strange about
my assertion, and I have nothing to add, except that it was Dieteman's
tone regarding how "very strange" it was for me to make the suggestion
that annoyed me so.
As for Mr. Kantor, well, his entire article seemed designed solely
to justify using the word "schmuck." That aside, his only real accusation
was that I don't know much about von Mises and that in and of itself
But not only do I admit this, he wouldn't know it if I hadn't said
so. Various Rockwellites call me arrogant, but here I thought I
was being humble. To date, I can't really figure out what Kantor's
original complaint was. Maybe I just can't cut my way through the
gratuitous, prison-philosopher ten-dollar verbiage. But in his
clarification yesterday, Mr. Kantor said it wasn't my professed
ignorance of von Mises that ticked him off. Rather, "I would simply
prefer that he not caricature libertarians as a gaggle of loopy
devolutionists" who "logically criticize Hayek for his un-libertarian
Okay, the wheel turns again. So Mr. Dieteman seems to be saying
that Hayek's not a conservative and belongs firmly in the libertarian
pantheon (even though he concedes that Hayek lent theoretical support
to the concept of the welfare state). And Mr. Kantor is simply concerned
that I not malign Hayek's libertarian critics as zealots;
they're just being "logical." So, now I'm wrong for saying that
Hayek can be associated with conservatism and I'm also wrong for
suggesting that it's anything but rational for libertarians to have
serious problems with Hayek.
In other words the libertarians should be free to beat up on Hayek
but the conservatives are wrong to embrace him with open arms. This
seems to me the kind of talk you hear from a husband who beats his
wife but doesn't want anybody else to have her. Maybe now readers
can understand why I say that most people don't care about these
Getting past these guys, there's another interesting theme in the
e-mail pudding (as well as posts over at FreeRepublic.com,
with which I have no quarrel). It's been suggested that National
Review or National Review Online or simply myself, are just
"scared" of LewRockwell.com's growing influence, hence my dismissive
Now I know that my word doesn't travel too far in these circles,
but I swear to anyone who cares to believe me that this is pure
fantasy. I mean literally, it's not even a little bit true. Lewrockwell.com
may have legions of brilliant readers, it may be of unsurpassed
influence with millions of people, I don't know but I surely
doubt it. Nonetheless, I can assure you its presence simply isn't
strongly felt by pretty much anybody I know and that includes
numerous card-carrying, professional libertarians.
You could read National Review Online or National Review
for months or years without finding a single reference to LewRockwell.com
(indeed, a Nexis search reveals that it's only been mentioned 12
times by any publication ever). But, at LewRockwell.com you can't
swing an effigy of Bill Buckley without hitting some hissy fit about
some article at National Review or National Review Online.
That's fine with us, but they shouldn't be deluded that the attention
is reciprocated. Because it's not. I'm not saying I'll never write
about Lewrockwell.com again and the libertarians are always
fair game but this is not a rivalry, it's simply a silly
mess I've stepped in.
Which gets to the heart of my original argument. The tendency of
libertarians generally and the Rockwellites specifically, is to
get so hung up on ideological hair-splitting and irrelevant and
often lunatic sectarian squabbles that they let the world continue
creeping in a direction they don't like. Then, they have the unmitigated
chutzpah to scream at conservatives and Republicans for not
doing enough to stop the creep. This purist approach to politics
is quite simply juvenile. Nobody cares in what direction you want
the wagon to go if you won't get out of it and help push.
Coming tomorrow: "Why Harry
Browne Is Wrong."