On Left and Right, Libertarianism, and The Donald
By Keir Martland
20th September 2016
Permit me a long and rambling introduction. I spent much of August reading, and in some cases re-reading, the works of the distributists, particularly Hilaire Belloc [see my short essay on The Servile State]. The way distributism is often presented is as a “third way” between socialism and the current economic order. I say “the current economic order” because we don’t have laissez-faire capitalism and we are far from it. Rather, what we have is a dirty mixture somewhere between state control and state-privileged corporate control of the means of production and much else, which some call crony capitalism or corporatism.
Distributists like the great Joseph Pearce argue that both socialism and “capitalism” are forms of proletarianism, the former by political means and the latter by economic means.
Now, to make myself clear from the outset: I am not a distributist. While very sympathetic to their general outlook and their analysis of the current economic order – and who can argue with their vision of an ideal economy and society, being one based on independence and the widespread ownership of capital? – I wince at their tendency to sound openly anti-market. Indeed, rather than making a strictly libertarian case against state-privileged big business, which is made by the likes of Kevin Carson, some distributists instead can tend to favour big government almost as an end in itself. Rather than recognising that, while “small is beautiful”, some firms can grow large naturally, they seem to endorse coercion against all firms above a certain size whereas the libertarian answer to this question is just to remove state privilege. Some big businesses will undoubtedly suffer, but some will survive. But what my reading made me think about was something along the lines of “the third way.” I will return to this idea later in the essay.
As a further set of introductory remarks, I should make it clear that I do not at all buy into the Whig interpretation of history, and especially not Fukuyama’s End of History hypothesis, whose truth has until recently been almost universally accepted.
According to Fukuyama, beloved of Irving Kristol incidentally, Western (and often imperialist) “liberal democracy” has won the struggle for humanity. Liberal democracy is the end-point and we can “progress” no further beyond it. Therefore, the lessons of history have no relevance to the 21st century, and we are more politically “advanced” today than ever before. In the same way scientific knowledge is accumulated over time, with erroneous views discarded and useful theories retained, so too has our knowledge of how to run a society progressed through the ages. Like a student at one of the new universities, we have had indiscriminate sex with all manner of persons. Some gave us a dose of the clap while some didn’t. Now we are in our thirties and we are settling down, having met “The One.” Miss Right happens to be liberal democracy and we are happy to stick with her “till death us do part.”
Simply to state this position at the moment seems to suffice as a refutation of it. Liberal democracies are quite obviously not working. Whether the problem is terrorism, the national debt, poverty, cultural collapse, endless foreign wars, or the Police State, the current political setup is no good at all. What is more, people do seem to be waking up to the fact that what we have – liberal democracy – is nothing to do with “liberalism”, but is everything to do with globalism, i.e. government policies, whether on economics or foreign policy, determined internationally, to advance the interests of a corrupt international elite hostile to the existence, or the perceived existence, of nations.
The answer to the conundrum of how such a perfect system can be so imperfect is that we do not have such a perfect system. In many ways, we have neither “progressed” nor “regressed” since the 1930s. This decade is of course known for the ideologies of socialism and fascism, one seen as on the Left and the other on the Right. We have been going to and fro from socialism to fascism since then in various forms, neglecting liberalism, nationalism, or Toryism entirely. Of course, socialism has come in various incarnations: equality of outcome, opportunity, anti-discrimination, democracy etc. Fascism too has come in different guises: corporatism, cronyism, militarism etc. We, since the 1939 war, we have been pulled in these two directions, sometimes by different politicians, sometimes at the same time by the same politicians.
In Britain, that meant libertarians had to vote for the fascist party to oppose to socialist party while the Cold War was going on. Since then, however, the Right has been able to come back to an extent, or rather a relatively more right-wing force has had space to emerge. In Britain, the Right came back as UKIP in the 1990s. In the US, it came back as Pat Buchanan in the GOP, and then Ross Perot and the Reform Party and also America First, and then Ron Paul.
I was set off thinking about this question of Left and Right in the context of the US presidential election by Jeffrey Tucker who recently called Trump a fascist. He said something like this “Liberty has always faced two threats: from the Left and from the Right. And Trump is a brown-shirted fascist.”
I agree with almost a third of that statement.
I agree that liberty is threatened basically by two forces at the moment: on the one hand by the socialist mob and on the other hand by a globalist elite. As Dostoyevsky said, “the oligarchs are concerned with the interests of the wealthy; the democrats, only with the interest of the poor.” However, I disagree with Mr Tucker in his categorisation of fascism as of the Right and libertarianism as neither of the Left nor the Right. The socialist mob and the hostile plutocratic oligarchs are both left-wing threats, because they redistribute wealth and undermine the social order, thus preventing the achievement of Burke’s Natural Society or Hoppe’s Natural Order.
I consider myself to be firmly on the Right, and to be “far-right” when using my own terminology. Rather than the nowadays accepted “Horseshoe Model” or the even worse “Political Compass”, I see the Natural Order being a dot on a piece of paper, and all deviations from that dot, in whichever direction, whether socialist, environmentalist, hedonist, globalist, feminist, national socialist, or fascist, to be leftist to the extent that they are far away from the dot on the piece of paper.
It may be argued that my own definitions of Left and Right – the Right supporting both an abstract and an historical Natural Order based on private property and the Left undermining it in various ways – are all well and good, but in practice the Left have been the only ones to take the problem of the plutocracy seriously. I am not convinced that this is the case. The distributists were and are mostly on the Right. Pat Buchanan and the American paleoconservatives are on the Right. Nigel Farage is on the Right. Sean Gabb is on the Right. The Traditional Britain Group is on the Right. I will not deny that some of the most insightful critics of the current economic order (Kevin Carson, Keith Preston, et al) have identified themselves as leftists. However, for one, calling yourself a leftist does not necessarily mean you are an orthodox leftist or indeed part of the Left. Furthermore, the assumption that supporting the corporation, intellectual property rights, globalism, central banks etc. is a right-wing position is incorrect.
In Rothbard’s essay “Left and Right: Prospects for Liberty”, he argues that, historically speaking, there are two forces: class struggle, i.e. the Left; and traditional authorities, i.e. the Right. If I disagree with Rothbard in his view that libertarians ought to see themselves as on the Left, I at least find his broad brush view of historical political forces convincing. By far and away the best writer on just what the terms Left and Right actually mean was Erik Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, whose ideas have been synthesised into the Austrolibertarian system more coherently by Hans-Hermann Hoppe. For Hoppe, to be on the Right is essentially to promote and support the Natural Order; it is the promotion of deviations from this natural order (based on private property rights) through any redistribution of income, whether up or down, rich to poor or poor to already rich (i.e. through grants of special privileges or through direct or indirect subsidies), or through centralisation of power, or through an attack on freedom of association etc. that qualifies you as a leftist.
So, now let me apply this to the 2016 US Presidential election.
Much is said of Mr Trump being a fascist. There is some truth in this on the surface. Mr Trump is a big businessman, who has benefited from state privilege to an extent and using the definition of fascist that Walter Block uses – a mixture of the state and private sector – he is a fascist. But, using this definition, show me a politician who isn’t a fascist! Instead, we have to speak relatively, i.e. who is least socialist and least fascist.
If you listen to what Trump is articulating, it is certainly not modern fascism. Based on his rhetoric is he a socialist? No. Is he a fascist? No. Instead, a writer over at The American Conservative described him as Pat Buchanan without the religion, which is basically correct.
What we have seen in American politics is similar to British politics since the war. In fact, we have had to mirror their politics since we have been an American satellite since at the very least 1945. The GOP has been the fascist party and the Democrats the socialist party, certainly of late. In specific elections, the opposite was true, but certainly from 1945 to the 1990s, in every presidential election there was usually an identifiable socialist and an identifiable fascist.
Since the end of the Cold War, that has started to change. Since then, both big parties have moved in the fascist direction. That was what allowed Ross Perot to do so well in the 1990s as the third force. What was that third force? Nationalism.
The next few elections are all of them interesting and essentially anomalous. 2000 was close because neither candidate was any good and both were perceived to be boring and to be the same. 2004 was all about 9/11 so Bush was obviously re-elected. 2008 was lost by McCain because of the novelty value of a black man running for the presidency. The same was true to an extent in 2012, but Obama also won because Romney was uninspiring and a Mormon.
But 2016 is where things are interesting once again. The woman’s card won’t work for Hillary Clinton because people distrust her. (Can you imagine the Conservatives doing well in the 2020 General Election with Samantha Cameron as Leader? Or Labour with Cherie Blair? I think not. ) Thus the issues are once again very important and Trump has started a big national debate about immigration and about putting “America First.” So, what does Trump represent and what is he voicing? This time, Trump is the nationalist candidate.
Now, to be clear, what do I mean when I say “nationalism”? A nationalist believes in the Nation, i.e. in more than just a country or State or an economy, but in a people bound together by shared experience, values, and indeed ethnicity, and in that people being governed by representatives who share their experiences, values, and ethnicity. Historically speaking, nationalism was a leftist idea. Nationalism is, to my rather mediaeval sensibilities, a modern invention, growing out of the Renaissance and justifying all manner of attacks on the ancien regime. Those behind the English Revolution of 1688 legitimised themselves by appealing to nationalism. The same goes for revolutions of the following century, with revolutionaries appealing to the mob. Previously, all had been local, but with the advent of the modern “Nation State”, all became national and thus there was a good deal of centralisation.
However, while an obvious deviation from the historical Natural Order of an “unconstitutional monarchy” or a “Popular Monarchy” based on the voluntary and contractual relationship between military service, or labour services, and land tenure, underpinned by a feudal oath, the nationalist heresy is relatively speaking much more right-wing than either the socialist heresy or the fascist heresy. When compared with rule by a socialist mob or rule by a hostile oligarchy of globalists, neither giving a damn about the Nation but only about plunder, nationalism comes off comparatively very well indeed. Indeed, nationalism is a very broad concept and it can be more or less authoritarian depending on the circumstances of the particular Nation and the particular time. Indeed the 19th century English classical liberals can be seen as English nationalists, with similar views regarding the presence of large numbers of immigrants within a Nation as paleoconservatives and paleolibertarians. For this reason, then, libertarians concerned about the decentralisation of power ought at least to be conditional nationalists. Once the Nation State has been restored, then, and only then, can we proceed further towards the Natural Order.
Not only is Trump the nationalist candidate, what is more, he is in effect the third party candidate. This is because of the Libertarian Party. Much is said of the libertarian duty to support the Johnson-Weld ticket. However, Mitt Romney is supporting the Libertarian Party and so is Jeb Bush. Gary Johnson is quite obviously being pushed around by the neocon gun-grabber and veteran “gay marriage” supporter Bill Weld. For all intents and purposes, Weld is the Libertarian Party nominee and he is little more than a liberal Republican who would not challenge the foreign policy hawks in the GOP – he has, for instance, suggested that Mitt Romney would make a good Secretary of Defense or Secretary of State – or the globalist plutocrats. Therefore, 2016 is a three horse race much like the 1990s: Clinton is relatively more socialist than fascist; Weld is relatively more fascist than socialist; and Trump is the nationalist.
Now, presidential elections are two-horse races. Three-way splits do not work well for the two broadly similar parties. However, I do not think that Weld’s vote will eat into Trump’s. Trump is appealing to people who would not ordinarily vote and also to a number of those who might have voted for a nationalist Democrat like Jim Webb. This election will be the start of a long-term realignment; it will be what the political scientists call a “realigning election”, just like the 1960s when the Solid South turned Republican and the black vote went Democrat. This time, the blue collar and poor vote, in urban and rural areas, and probably whether black or white, will vote Trump. Some of my friends think he will win by a landslide.
When I was in London in July, I said that I thought Hillary would win. I am now not so sure. She is tainted. She is seen as part of the elite – and she is – and the campaign is taking its toll on her health. On top of this, hopefully the Weld vote will come from middle class corporatists and cultural leftists rather than from people who actually want to stick two fingers up at Washington DC. When I am next in town, I will put £5 on The Donald being sworn in as President of the United States in January. He is genuinely popular because he is tapping into the mood that is sweeping across Europe and the West. Is he popular because he is promising “free stuff”? No. Is he popular because he is promising a war? No. Is he popular because he is promising neoliberal economic policies? No. The Donald is popular and he will win because Leftism – in its absurd 1930s incarnations – is becoming terribly unfashionable, and the Nation State is back in vogue.
Furthermore, having said that Trump is the third party, there is the recent Brexit vote to consider. Nigel Farage and UKIP won that Referendum for us – not the middle class corporatists and cultural leftists in ‘Vote Leave.’ UKIP is the third party in Britain today, and Trump will most likely win in November as a result of the same mood sweeping across the West as allowed us to win the Referendum vote.
In short, socialism and fascism are becoming increasingly unpopular across Europe and the West. At the domestic level, there is a reaction against stupid leftist students on the one hand and evil plutocrats on the other hand. At the global level, there is a reaction against neo-Trotskyite humanitarian wars on the one hand and wars for corporate America on the other hand. If the electoral system is not rigged – which it might well be – then we are in with a chance of replacing the current order with something much gentler and much saner: nationalism. Nationalism is the third way, and its time has come!