Friday, September 17, 2010

The Contradictions of Modern Libertarianism

I read with great interest Jane Mayer’s illuminating and incisive profile of the arch-libertarians Charles and David Koch in The New Yorker a couple weeks ago. I'm particularly interested in this subject, because as an undergraduate I attended Hillsdale College in Michigan, a small private school that requires its students to attend free-market seminars, and where the recommended reading list includes works of Friedrich von Hayek, Frédéric Bastiat, etc. Thus I am well familiar with the strong rhetoric and provocative discourse that permeates the libertarian ethos. The college has a fantastic liberal arts core, but the hovering aura of libertarianism at times seemed to compromise the intellectual rigor of my actual classes.

I appreciated very much Mayer’s exposure of the deep contradictions that run through the heart of modern libertarianism. The promise is that everyone and anyone can rise up and exert individual creativity and independence; however, the real material structure of such a belief system requires that there be a privileged few (the likes of the Koch brothers) who disseminate and regulate these ideals from a position of extreme luxury. Meanwhile and always, a confused multitude is charged to struggle endlessly against mystified forces (such as the “socialist” Obama)—forces that are in fact energetically invented and covertly maintained from within. As Mayer indicates, modern libertarianism seems to require its own secret center, a form of government all the more insidious for its innumerable deceptions.