Monday, April 11, 2005

BlogClip: Neolibertarianism: an Inquiry

Unqualified Offerings offers (presumably without qualification) part one of an extended interview with with Jon Henke of Q and O on "neolibertarianism."

For the most part, I don't have a big problem with the "neos" on doctrinal grounds, for the simple reason that their ethic of compromise has already -- as the interview demonstrates -- effectively prevented them from staking out anything resembling a coherent position to advocate or fight for. Going after them on doctrinal issues is like nailing Jello™ to a wall -- they just ooze out around the edges of any debate and find someplace else to be. And let's be honest ... Jello™ just isn't that threatening. It may be colorful, but it's bland and it doesn't make a very good bludgeon.

Like most short-lived offshoots of libertarianism, the "neos" have taken a few issues du jour -- foreign policy being the most contentious -- and posited that the key to the freedom movement's success is capitulation to the prevailing wisdom (or, to be more accurate, unwisdom) on those issues. They're a bit more suave about it than most, holding their key planks out as sounder ideological stands rather than compromises of principle, but it really comes down to the same old failed prescription: In order to succeed, libertarians must abandon some of their key positions and "move to the center."

This doesn't especially worry me. It may even be a good thing for the movement. Pro-war sentiment among libertarians has simmered at just below the boiling point since 2001, and most of those who were inclined to re-evaluate libertarian foreign policy prescriptions after 9/11 figured out, over time, that those prescriptions had, in fact, been the correct ones. All that's left of the libertarian "hawk faction" is a small schismatic core. If they want to get their temperatures up to a boil and go galloping off to "the center" (where, like their predecessors, they are unlikely ever to be heard from again), far be it from me to stand in their way.

The problem I have with the "neolibertarians" is not that they might be successful as a political entity. It's that, in an age of informational volatility, they may partially (and not unintentionally -- this has been called to their attention) obscure some real roots of the real movement; particularly, the pre-WWII Old Right and Vietnam-era New Left opposition to foreign military adventurism. The "neolibertarian" journal of record expropriates the name of an older, esteemed publication and in doing so threatens (so far unsuccessfully) to drive the ideas of the genuine New Libertarian out of the limited place in the spotlight (for example, in Google search results) that those ideas currently occupy.

"Who controls the past controls the future," wrote Orwell. And "who controls the present controls the past." In the Internet Age, control of the present is largely disputed through search engine results, and that gives active current trends, however small, a distinct advantage over historical realities, however foundational. This, in turn, feeds the unfortunate trend (described in Caleb Carr's novel Killing Time and recently explored by Robert McHenry on TechCentralStation) of displacement of real knowledge by mere information.

The coming 15 minutes of notoriety for the "neolibertarians" -- their brief period of influence on the informational present and therefore on the informational past -- threatens both the informational future and the accessibility of the vastly more important store of knowledge which the history of the libertarian movement represents.

Fortunately, this potential nightmare can be forestalled. Since the crux of the conflict is the term "New Libertarian," those interested in defending the history of our movement against temporary and transient "rogue informational waves" can do so by the simple expedient of linking the term, from their own blogs and web sites, to sites more representative of its real, historical meaning than that of the "neolibertarian" journal.

Some examples:

"Samuel Edward Konkin III, 1947-2004," by Jeff Riggenbach, is a moving tribute to the life and work of the authentic New Libertarian.

"A Fannish Tribute to Samuel Edward Konkin III," by J. Neil Schulman, covers similar ground, with more emphasis put on the science fiction fandom interests and activities of the real New Libertarian.

LeftLibertarian is a Yahoo! Group created by the original New Libertarian.

And, of course, there's The New Libertarian Manifesto, the seminal explanatory work on SEK3's ideas.

Because search engines rank particular sites with respect to particular terms on the basis of incoming links using those terms, this "Google bombing" technique can be used to distort -- or correct -- the informational record. Such a correction is called for in this case, even if only for the proverbial 15 minutes of "neolibertarian" fame. And it's a good idea anyway -- the historical underpinnings of the libertarian movement require preservation. Thanks to the "neos" for calling our attention to that need.

For what it's worth, if you choose to add one of the links above to your own site, email me and I'll add you to Knappster's blogroll.

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