Corey Robin writes a detailed, measured, and well-researched piece about Hayek's connection to Nietzsche, which cites, among other things, Hayek's indisputable support for the horrific and murderous despot Augusto Pinochet. In response, libertarian blogger Jason Brennan calls for a purge. What great support for intellectual freedom!
I read a lot of libertarian writing. I did my homework years ago, reading my Hayek and Friedman and Rand and Nozick. I read essentially everything Reason publishes, I keep an eye on what Cato puts out, I follow Bleeding Heart Libertarians, I read Marginal Revolution. But more than that I try to read comments and interact with libertarians on Facebook, because those places are where you find the actual heart of a party, a movement, or an ideology. I do this both because I think it's essential to engage with opinions you disagree with almost every day, and because I maintain a (perhaps foolish) belief that there's hope to be found among the type of libertarians who oppose the limitless projection of American power. Now, I fight with conservatives, liberals, libertarians, my fellow leftists, and assorted fringe groups constantly. No group is more taken to groupthink and the expression of their ideological boilerplate than libertarians. None. In fact, it's not close.
Mainstream conservatism has taken a great deal of heat for its epistemic closure, and rightly so. For reasons that escape me, libertarianism has avoided similar criticism. Yet I can identify very real currents of reformism and heterodoxy within conservatism, and I find no similar strains within libertarianism. Bleeding Heart Libertarians is supposedly such a vehicle, yet here you have one of its members meeting an intellectual challenge by calling for the author to be banished. (Libertarians have insisted that leftists consider the intellectual proximity between our intellectual fathers and brutal regimes for decades. They are apparently unwilling to be asked to do the same.) Check the comments at BHL. They are always filled with snarky dismissal and invective for anything outside of a terribly narrow band of presumed libertarian ideas. I look at the inter-libertarian squabbles between my Facebook friends, and it's remarkable how quickly apostasy is punished and how quickly libertarians move to get into lockstep with Hayek or von Mises or Rand. If someone suggests that, say, the federal free lunch program isn't a matter of creeping authoritarianism, they are swiftly dispatched. It's like clockwork.
Part of this is merely the pleasures and lack of responsibility that face an ideology that controls nothing. For all the ballyhooed irrelevance of the left, socialist governments have existed and continue to exist. Socialism is a powerful force in Europe and an ever-growing one in South America. Yet there exists no country that would prove adequate to libertarian requirements. The closet analogs are the failed states like Somalia that, my libertarian friends always insist, have nothing to teach us about what libertarianism would be like in practice. So we are left with the pleasing lack of accountability and real-world conditions that are the privilege of purely theoretical politics. What percentage of libertarians prefer to remain in such a condition is an open question.
I don't expect a single libertarian to care for the criticisms of someone like me. I do think that anyone within an ideological camp should always ask where internal criticism and reformist tendencies reside within that camp, no matter how politically or procedurally healthy. To me, an ideology that is founded on the idea of personal liberty should be a wild collection of disparate ideas and conflicting philosophies, one that is full of dramatically different ideas and convictions. What I see in libertarianism is the opposite; I see an orthodoxy. But then, you wouldn't think an ideology that is founded on personal liberty would have had such long and deep support for a man like Pinochet. For the time being, I expect libertarianism to continue to fight for only certain kinds of freedom: the freedom to sleep under bridges, the freedom to die of preventable disease, the freedom to face total economic despair, the freedom of banks to defraud their customers, the freedom of bosses to terrorize their workers....