Yesterday, the New York Times put out a piece called Rand Paul’s Mixed Inheritance, which attempts to vilify the Republican senator who will likely take a run at the White House in the next elections. In the piece, written by Sam Tanenhaus and Jim Rutenberg, they tie Paul to people within the libertarian movement, including his father, Ron Paul, Lew Rockwell, Lysander Spooner, Walter Block, Murray Rothbard, and the Mises Institute as a whole.
While it is great that the likes of Spooner, Rothbard, et al are getting mainstream press coverage, the article was simply a smear campaign that cherry picked out of context quotes to paint libertarianism in an extremist light. And of course, this was mostly accomplished by making accusations of racism. But what should make it incredibly obvious that there are malicious intentions by Tanenhaus and Rutenberg, whose piece was “researched” by Kitty Bennett, Alain Delaquérière, Jeff Roth, and Derek Willis, is that no citations were provided for the references and quotes. This lack of sources would cause a 6th grade student to fail a writing assignment. Is this what passes as journalism today?
Starting with a general criticism of the Mises Institute, Tanenhaus and Rutenberg write:
Some scholars affiliated with the Mises Institute have combined dark biblical prophecy with apocalyptic warnings that the nation is plunging toward economic collapse and cultural ruin. Others have championed the Confederacy.
Referencing the beliefs held by “some” and “others” make it difficult for me to check these claims. But let’s assume that there have been some people who have expressed racist or religiously apocalyptic views. Does that mean that all members of the Mises Institute have the same feelings? If it does, then it must mean that all Democrats are racist because Lyndon B. Johnson was and that all Republicans are as well because of Richard Nixon. I guess that means if you’re a fan of Penn State football, you must support raping children.
They go on:
One economist, while faulting slavery because it was involuntary, suggested in an interview that the daily life of the enslaved was “not so bad — you pick cotton and sing songs.”
Hat tip to the Reddit user smoothlikejello for figuring out the later-named economist Walter Block’s quote is taken from the NYU Journal of Law and Liberty’s Walter Block & Richard Epstein Debate on Eminent Domain. Yes, he did say, “You pick cotton and sing a song,” but here’s the entire quote by Block:
Another point is that Richard’s position implies no right of secession. This, in turn, implies slavery. Look, the only thing wrong with slavery was that you could not quit. If you could quit, it would be no problem. It’s a pretty good deal: You get fed three meals a day, you pick cotton and sing a song—and then the guy pulls out the whip and you would say, “Wait, I quit.” And he says, “No, you can’t quit.” You can’t secede from slavery. We southerners still resent the War of Northern Aggression. People in Chechnya have every right to leave Russia. People in Taiwan have a right to be free of their Chinese masters. The two-country solution in Israel and Palestine is legitimate. But if it is justified to leave or quit en masse, it’s also justified to secede a state at a time or a county at a time or a city at a time or a family at a time or even an individual at a time.
Block was obviously using sarcasm to make his point. After reading that passage, can you honestly say that Block is saying that slavery wasn’t so bad? His point is that if slavery (and being a subject of a nation—they’re talking about secession) is so great, then they should not have to force you into it. It’s clear that Block is making an argument against slavery and that the misdirection by the Tanenhaus and Rutenberg is appallingly intentional.
The next target was Lysander Spooner:
He cited the Posse Comitatus Law of 1878, which restricted the federal government’s use of the military to enforce laws in this country and is seen by libertarians as a vital barrier to totalitarianism; Lochner v. New York, a 1905 Supreme Court decision that struck down Progressive-era workplace regulations; and the theories of Lysander Spooner, a Massachusetts abolitionist who turned against the North in the Civil War, which he deplored as unjust aggression against the Confederacy.
These arcana drew little notice — except among dedicated libertarians, who took them as evidence of Mr. Paul’s solid mooring in a subset of ideological axioms. The Spooner reference, in particular, excited those attuned “to the dog whistles of anarchism,” said Brian Doherty, a libertarian writer. “In my particular community, that was a big, big day.”
They actually gave a link for Lysander Spooner, but likely because the average person has no idea who Spooner is, and they only linked to the homepage of www.LysanderSpooner.org. That’s like referencing an article in Wikipedia and listing the source as www.Wikipedia.org. That’s weak.
Okay, so what is the inference about Spooner? They make sure to tell you that he “turned against the North in the Civil War, which he deplored as unjust aggression against the Confederacy.” It’s funny that common “knowledge” of the Civil War nowadays dictates that any criticism of the Union and Lincoln means support for the Confederacy and slavery. Maybe, just maybe, Spooner didn’t like either the North or the South. After all, by the NYT’s own words, Spooner was an anarchist (and an abolitionist). Pointing out where the North was wrong (and they were wrong about a lot of things in the Civil War) does not mean that you support the war effort of the Confederacy. Does criticizing of the War on Terror make you a supporter of al Qaeda?
In the same way, Lew Rockwell and Murray Rothbard were libeled:
Mr. Rockwell and Mr. Rothbard, both Northerners, became sympathetic to the Old South and its politics of states’ rights. Mr. Rockwell continues to praise the South’s resistance to civil rights legislation, while Mr. Rothbard, who died in 1995, promoted writings of Lysander Spooner — the anarchist mentioned in Rand Paul’s filibuster speech — that he said accurately assessed Lincoln’s war policy of “militarism, mass murder and centralized statism.”
Oh no, how dare anyone criticize the policies of the North and Lincoln. Let’s ignore the fact that Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and evidence strongly says that he signed an arrest warrant for the Chief Justice for ruling against him. Or should we ignore that Lincoln said in his inaugural address that he had no inclinations to interfere with slavery? You can have these criticisms of the North and Lincoln and still abhor slavery. How dare the people at the Mises Institute take an objective approach to history!
Even a cursory knowledge of libertarianism would make it clear that those in the movement find slavery to be completely ethically wrong, and this includes the works by both Rothbard and Rockwell. Taken from Rothbard’s article The Brutality of Slavery, he writes:
It is pointless to criticize such passages as only selected instances of cruel treatment, counterbalanced by acts of kindness by Byrd and other planters toward their slaves. For the point is not only that the slave system was one where such acts could take place; the point is that threats of brutality underlay the whole relationship. For the essence of slavery is that human beings, with their inherent freedom of will, with individual desires and convictions and purposes, are used as capital, as tools for the benefit of their master. The slave is therefore habitually forced into types and degrees of work that he would not have freely undertaken; by necessity, therefore, the bit and the lash become the motor of the slave system. The myth of the kindly master camouflages the inherent brutality and savagery of the slave system.
Let’s not forget that the ever-so-revered Founding Fathers maintained that the institution of slavery should not be banned and allowed it to continue. People would applaud a politician for saying that one of his inspirations is George Washington—but George Washington owned slaves. Why is there no criticism for the people who look up to those who actually supported and used slavery?
The criticisms of Rothbard continued with references to more modern issues:
Mr. Rothbard applauded the “right-wing populism” of David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan member who ran for governor of Louisiana, and ridiculed “multiculturalists,” lesbians and “the entire panoply of feminism, egalitarianism.”
What’s funny is that a very quick internet search can bring up a lot of the publications that Tanenhaus and Rutenberg are referencing. So when searching for “Rothbard right-wing populism,” it brings you directly to Rothbard’s piece entitled Right-Wing Populism. What did Rothbard have to say about former Klansman David Duke?
They said in the 60s, when they gently chided the violent left: “stop using violence, work within the system.” And sure enough it worked, as the former New Left now leads the respectable intellectual classes. So why wasn’t the Establishment willing to forgive and forget when a right-wing radical like David Duke stopped advocating violence, took off the Klan robes, and started working within the system? If it was OK to be a Commie, or a Weatherman, or whatever in your wild youth, why isn’t it OK to have been Klansmen? Or to put it more precisely, if it was OK for the revered Justice Hugo Black, or for the lion of the Senate, Robert Byrd, to have been a Klansman, why not David Duke? The answer is obvious: Black and Byrd became members of the liberal elite, of the Establishment, whereas Duke continued to be a right-wing populist, and therefore anti-Establishment, this time even more dangerous because “within the system.”
It is fascinating that there was nothing in Duke’s current program or campaign that could not also be embraced by paleoconservatives or paleo-libertarians; lower taxes, dismantling the bureaucracy, slashing the welfare system, attacking affirmative action and racial set-asides, calling for equal rights for all Americans, including whites: what’s wrong with any of that? And of course the mighty anti-Duke coalition did not choose to oppose Duke on any of these issues. Indeed, even the most leftist of his opponents grudgingly admitted that he had a point. Instead, the Establishment concentrated on the very “negative campaigning” that they profess to abhor (especially when directed against them). (Ironic note: TV pundits, who regularly have face lifts twice a year, bitterly attacked Duke for his alleged face lift. And nobody laughed!)
As for the charges against feminism, you can read Rothbard’s Against Women’s Lib. All he does is attack the contradictions of the anti-male feminist movement, analyzing many of their claims and showing how hilariously hypocritical they are. What about the “attack” on lesbianism? Here’s a passage from Against Women’s Lib:
But in the burgeoning writings of the New Feminists there has run an open and increasing call for female homosexuality. Note, for example, Rita Mae Brown, writing in the first “liberated” issue of Rat (February 6):
“For a woman to vocally assert her heterosexuality is to emphasize her ‘goodness’ by her sexual activity with men. That old sexist brainwashing runs deep even into the consciousness of the most ardent feminist who will quickly tell you she loves sleeping with men. In fact, the worst thing you can call a woman in our society is a lesbian. Women are so male identified that they quake at the mention of this three-syllable word. The lesbian is, of course, the woman who has no need of men. When you think about it, what is so terrible about two women loving each other? To the insecure male, this is the supreme offense, the most outrageous blasphemy committed against the sacred scrotum.
“After all, just what would happen if we all wound up loving each other. Good things for us but it would mean each man would lose his personal ‘nigger’. . a real and great loss if you are a man….
“To love another woman is an acceptance of sex which is a severe violation of the male culture (sex as exploitation) and therefore carries severe penalties…. Women have been taught to abdicate the power of our bodies, both physically in athletics and self-defense, and sexually. To sleep with another woman is to confront the beauty and power of your own body as well as hers. You confront the experience of your sexual self-knowledge. You also confront another human being without the protective device of role. This may be too painful for most women as many have been so brutalized by heterosexual role play that they cannot begin to comprehend this real power. It is an overwhelming experience. I vulgarize it when I call it a freedom high. No wonder there is such resistance to lesbianism.”
Or this, in the same issue, by “A Weatherwoman”:
“Sex becomes entirely different without jealousy. Women who never saw themselves making it with women began digging each other sexually…. What weatherman is doing is creating new standards for men and women to relate to. We are trying to make sex nonexploitative…. We are making something new, with the common denominator being the revolution.”
Or, finally, still in the same issue, by Robin Morgan:
“Let it all hang out. Let it seem bitchy, catty, dykey, frustrated, crazy, Solanisesque, nutty, frigid, ridiculous, bitter, embarrassing, manhating, libelous…. Sexism is not the fault of women – kill your fathers, not your mothers.”
And so, at the hard inner core of the Women’s Liberation Movement lies a bitter, extremely neurotic if not psychotic, man-hating lesbianism. The quintessence of the New Feminism is revealed.
Context is a beautiful thing.
The last attack I’ll cover is once again a racist inference against Walter Block. It goes:
Walter Block, an economics professor at Loyola University in New Orleans who described slavery as “not so bad,” is also highly critical of the Civil Rights Act. “Woolworth’s had lunchroom counters, and no blacks were allowed,” he said in a telephone interview. “Did they have a right to do that? Yes, they did. No one is compelled to associate with people against their will.”
Is Block saying that he thinks that it’s good that no blacks were allowed? He was simply making a value-free statement—and a statement that is true. Should we compel people to associate with others against their will? And even if we let businesses have discriminatory policies against blacks, how would their business do as a result? Most people would be appalled at the practice and choose not to give them their business nowadays.
Lew Rockwell wrote a response to this NYT article called We Win the NY Times Prize. He’s really unfazed by the hit piece and wears it as a badge of honor. When the opposition has to resort to distortions and lying, then you must be doing something right.
This article by Tanenhaus and Rutenberg is a disgrace and a terrifying example of where journalism has come. If the New York Times had any integrity, they would fire these two and anyone who green lighted the article to be published. That of course won’t happen, so it’s up to us to spread the word and encourage people to ask their own questions and do some research so they’re not led blindly around.