There are many types of libertarians. The traditionalist, the libertine, the intellectual, the activist. The celebritarians.
There there are the Beltway libertarians.
What Is A Beltway Libertarian?
Typically, these are the libertarians who work for or live in the Beltway culture. They may work for a libertarian outlet, like the Cato Institute or Reason, but it’s not required. I’ll pretext all of this with the requisite “not all Beltway libertarians are like that” and also – trigger warning – I’m generalizing to an extent.
What makes a Beltway libertarian what they are isn’t where they live or work necessarily, but their mentality, their mindset. Beyond all the talk of open borders (without discussing any external factors) and free trade and policy fine-tuning, is an underlying sense of superiority over the rest of the country, particularly among libertarians.
It is, in a sense, the mommying mentality of D.C. rubbing off on them. Mother knows what’s best, you see. Stop disobeying and do what I say.
They’re shocked when people aren’t gung-ho about state-coerced cultural diversity, polyamory, or openly embracing same-sex marriage on moral as well as political grounds as decreed by nine modern-day ephors.
They’re quick to tell us when we violate the 3×5 card of allowable opinion that makes them look bad in front of murdering lying sociopaths they’re trying to woo in the halls of Congress. They issue ex cathedra pronouncements on what libertarians must think about Confederate flags and the Civil War.
The Yankee smugness of their writing ranges from curiously humorous to intolerably arrogant.
One common observation I can’t help but make is their inability to sympathize, or empathize, with people they don’t see eye to eye. To them, it is inconceivable that someone might not view the world through the same lens as they do. A lack of awareness is the fields from which logical straw-men are erected.
As they see it, there is absolutely no reason for anyone to oppose their ideas except for misogyny, racism, prejudice, bigotry, xenophobia, nativism, what have you. They cannot conceive of libertarians, or other Americans, seeing things differently and believing different things due to sincere conviction.
Try talking to them about illegal immigration and the welfare state, for example. The correlation doesn’t even register for them because they never see where the rubber meets the road. They never worked a minimum wage job where they were constantly approached by illegal immigrants with their food stamps in hand, demanding they show them what food they can buy with it because they can’t read (or speak) English. They’ve never seen a immigrant with five kids in tow use EBT to buy liquor and cigarettes.
Nor will they discuss how in a democracy, immigration in the most literal of sense, turns immigrants into invaders. They’re never been in an area where their rights have been violated in such a way, because they’re surrounded by like-minded people.
For example, 100,000 Californians who enter Montana and use their majority status in a town to enact California-style policies are invaders. You can slice it and dice it up all you want, but that is the total you come up with. The same logic applies on a national and international level.
Beltway libertarians don’t see this, because they’ve never experienced a soft invasion like this.
Regular readers will note that while I am adamantly opposed to war (something Beltway libertarians struggle with), I’m not clueless as to why people are pro-war beyond. I don’t the honor troops, but I understand why others do. Not all those who call for bombing the Middle East in response to terrorist attacks are not salivating at the mouth out of bloodlust or warmongers. Many of them are stuck in the wrong frame and only need guidance to get out of it. Once they realize this, changing their minds will be much easier.
Doing this, however, requires having empathy as seen below:
This is what we call proper framing.
Because I’ve been in a neocons shoes, I can empathize with them and show them where they’re wrong without attacking their motives. I’ve never served in the military, but I get why vets are the way they are and why they try to justify what they did. I get why young men will join the military and why they will obey orders that they know are wrong. I don’t have to dismiss someone’s perspective to prove their arguments wrong, which I see many libertarians do, and it saddens me because it improperly frames the discussion.It also irritates me when I see some anti-war advocates show a total lack of empathy for war veterans who, like our wise overlords in D.C., actually got hit with the business end of our foreign policy.
One of the reasons Tom Woods has been so successful promoting libertarianism is his singular ability, as a former mainstream republican, to empathize with people he’s trying to reach. He knows why they think as they do and as a result he can set up the discussion appropriately. In my opinion, no one else in the liberty movement can properly frame an argument the way he does, and the number of converts he’s amassed (yours truly among them) is proof of this.
Others? Not so much.
A while ago Jeffrey Tucker wrote a melodramatic piece on how Trump had unleashed the “Neo-Nazis.” In it, he pointed out that the Daily Stormer, a white nationalist site, receives more web traffic than Mises.org and the Cato Institute combined. I found it amusing that he didn’t bother to speculate as to why this is aside from presuming the racist bigotry of those who go there. Whether this is true or not is beside the point; he assumes this is the case without asking further questions or providing an explanation for how someone gets to be this way.
Strangely, he also doesn’t link to a single article written by any “Neo-Nazis.” The only thing he actually quotes to prove his point is a tweet by an apparent white nationalist about how when they get into power they’re going to ban abortion (sure, he didn’t quite put it as tactfully as I just did).
Maybe I missed the part about how slaughter of the unborn and the sale of their harvested parts is part of “beautiful anarchy.”
Interestingly, Tucker is not from the Beltway; he’s traveled the country and lives in Alabama. On other topics he is highly insightful and brilliant. But on many subjects, like this, he writes and thinks like a Beltway resident, and this is why the mentality, the myopia, is what makes a Beltway libertarian what they are.
I’m sure many of who frequent white nationalist sites have no interest in libertarianism. Many of them are uneducated or ignorant politically. But Tucker doesn’t consider the possibility that in spite of this, they go there because the site discusses legitimate grievances that don’t affect or impact him and are completely ignored by Beltway libertarians, if not dismissed entirely.
I obviously don’t subscribe to the politics of the Daily Stormer, but I don’t need to anymore than I have to agree with Al Qaeda in order to share a mutual belief that the U.S. should have no military presence in the Middle East. It’s a subtlety lost on many.
Beltway libertarians attack the solutions of men like Trump, and often they are right. But their argument rests on the assumption that the problem they’re trying to solve doesn’t exist at all. This leaves those affected by the problem with no choice but to turn to whoever actually acknowledges the problem itself and attempts to correct it, even if their proposed methods are less than admirable.
By the way, this perfectly describes our foreign policy disaster. At the heart of most (not all) terrorists and extremists are legitimate qualms. Osama bin Laden wasn’t wrong about U.S. foreign policy and its military presence in the Middle East, the meddling in internal affairs of other countries. What made him and others like him terrorists and murderers were their methods and their goals, not their grievances. Ron Paul got lambasted during the 2008 presidential election for pointing out that one doesn’t have to condone someone’s actions to notice that their grievances are valid and that by refusing to leave these people alone it would only drive them to support terrorists as their sole means of rectifying the situation.
Consider that John Brown was a terrorist and John Greenleaf Whittier a poet, despite both being abolitionists. The fact that Brown murdered people doesn’t change that what motivated him, the institution of slavery, was a very real problem.
Most Beltways don’t ask such questions due to complete isolation from the rest of America. Just as Ameiricans don’t get blowback on an foreign policy level, Beltwayists don’t comprehend that the same meddling lead to blowback domestically.
They’ve probably never shopped at Walmart, and if they do it’s out of curiosity of what life is like for people who are forced to shop there by necessity. Chances are, they have never had to choose between paying medical bills and the rent. They most likely attended Ivy League or private universities, where the concept of actually working a crappy job to pay for tuition is foreign. If they went to law school, they were indoctrinated in state priestcraft and come out with a sense of “I know what the law is and you don’t because you didn’t pass the BAR.”
They don’t have to worry about their neighbors’ children, who speak another language and worship a god whose name they can’t pronounce, breaking into their home when they go off to work. They’ve never found the corpse of their poor working class neighbor who dropped dead of cirrhosis because he couldn’t afford emergency care (the examples are not theoretical).
Fred Reed summarized this in his latest rant:
People inside the Beltway have little idea of circumstances in the rest of the country. Note how surprised they were by Trump. A lot of people in that great unknown America are angry. A lot of whites outside the effeminate states are saying of racial conflagration, “Bring it on.” Not a good idea, you say. True, not a good idea at all. But what has that got to do with it?
Discussing immigration policies over $200 prime-rib at a swanky restaurant a few blocks from the White House before returning home to your highly affluent (and highly segregated) neighborhood is one thing. Having to live in a town where the (un)intended effects of these policies are actually felt is another.
Example: I recall reading a recent Reason magazine article about how no terrorist attacks in America have been carried out by a refugee (what constitutes a “refugee,” by the way?) , this article came out after the Parisian attack, so it wasn’t too hard to get the gist of what they’re saying without actually saying it.
One wonders if the article’s writer would personally take any of them into their home or assume legal liability if they commit a crime. In fact, how many people calling for the U.S. to take in refugees or migrants would be personally willing to assume financial and criminal liability for just one of them?
You see? Talk is cheap when it doesn’t affect you directly and the costs aren’t coming directly out of your pockets.
Another factor is the D.C. Swamp Fever that affects even the most well-intentioned of people who go there.
Beltway libertarians live in one of the most important, and cosmopolitan, cities in the world. You meet some of the most “important” people in the world there. Some of the world’s most important buildings and monuments are there. Ergo there is a tendency to think they themselves and consequently what they think are important, too.
On top of this superiority complex, ultimately rooted in narcissism, is the Joker-Batman dilemma. DC Comic universe nerds will recall that the Joker fights, but doesn’t want to actually kill Batman. Anyone who watched the Dark Knight knows why this is; without Batman, he’d have no purpose.
Many, but not all, Beltway libertarians have the same dilemma. For all their anti-state rhetoric, they have a deeply-held, but fiercely secret desire to keep things as they are. Fine-tune them, of course. Let’s reform things. Privatize Social Security, if you will. But don’t get rid of the gravy train completely. Let gays marry, but don’t get marriage of the state’s control, please.
One should keep in mind that lobbyists and other D.C.-based orgs have a perverse incentive to maintain the status quo. Their jobs, their professions, their careers, the social circles they keep, are contingent on a problem existing in perpetuity. The bigger the problem, the more guaranteed job security they have.
Simply ask yourself this question: If the state disappeared tomorrow, would you be better off or worse off than you are right now?
If you’re a “libertarian,” but the answer is the latter, how do you think that is going to impact your ability to maintain a pure political philosophy?