The Washington Post’s Latest Attack on the Mises Institute

By: Ryan McMaken

Earlier this year, when Nancy MacLean released her book on economist James Buchanan, Democracy in Chains, many of Buchanan’s supporters were shocked that someone would manufacture such an intricate and strained conspiracy theory to attack Buchanan. 

MacLean employed all the usual tricks of innuendo and hearsay to arrive at her conclusions: Buchanan was a racist. Buchanan supported dictators. Buchanan pushed a dark agenda of undermining America’s most cherished institutions. All accusations relied on guilt-by-association tactics and assigning motivations to Buchanan that MacLean could not possibly have known. 

“But Buchanan was such a harmless guy!” went up the chorus from Buchanan’s supporters, who were surprised by the personal nature of many of the attacks. 

What Buchanan’s people did not understand was that no matter how much one tries to play “nice” with the mainstream media and mainstream academia, they’ll never get beyond their hatred of anyone who favors lower taxes, decentralization, or even the most general libertarian positions. 

In the minds of the typical academic or journalist, the central crime of the libertarians is that they want to leave people alone, and reduce government power. This fact alone makes libertarians despicable. Thus, there’s no real harm in trying to pin on them additional charges related to racism or loving dictators. After all, anyone who’s awful enough to want to abolish the minimum wage is also likely to be fine with slavery and Pinochet-style car bombings. 

It’s facile logic, of course, but this is the natural result of what we might call “libertarian derangement syndrome” — in which no accusation is too over-the-top when it comes to attacking libertarians. 

Thus, imagine my lack of surprise when The Washington Post this week published its latest screed against libertarians in general and the Mises Institute in particular. 

The Post publishes a new one of these every year or so, trotting out the same examples over and over to illustrate how libertarians — who might seem to be harmless to the untrained eye — are really part of a dark underbelly of white-supremacist militarism.

The article is all retreads, including the insinuation that Murray Rothbard was a racist because he saw no problem with right-wing anti-tax positions. Even worse in the minds of WaPo editors is the fact that Rothbard concludes that government regulations “trample on the property rights of every American” and are a bad thing. 

It is here where libertarian derangement syndrome most rears its head. Rothbard was against using government coercion to boss around private citizens and business owners, telling them whom to hire and what to pay employees. Therefore, he must be targeted for destruction by the official outlets of respectable opinion. Since Rothbard can’t be quoted actually advocating for any act of aggression or oppression against anyone, we must therefore draw the conclusion that he was secretly a white-supremacist militant because he held certain anti-tax, anti-regulation opinions in common with some racists. This is a bit like condemning vegetarianism because Hitler was a vegetarian. 

By the end of the article, however, the author tips his hand and admits that the real problem is libertarianism in general, not with any particular alleged sin of Murray Rothbard or his associates at the Mises Institute. The evils of libertarianism, we are told, revolve around its “abstract notion of self-interest” which lend themselves to all sorts of violence and sinister leanings.

Unfortunately, WaPo can’t even get this right since libertarianism is not based on “self-interest” at all. The author may be confusing libertarianism with the philosophy of Ayn Rand — who specifically hated libertarians and condemned them. Libertarianism, rather, is based on the idea that it’s wrong to inflict violence on other people. The end. 

Obviously, an ideology such as this is directly at odds with white supremacists or anyone else who walks around threatening others or committing acts of violence. 

What really galls WaPo though, is that this libertarian foundation of non-violence also means opposition to state-sponsored violence, including the regulatory state, the welfare state, and the endless wars of modern “humanitarian” America. 

It’s because of these positions that libertarians will earn the ire of mainline academics and journalists forevermore. 

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