On Libertarianism’s Strange and Unlikely Cultural Moment

Libertarianism is back. Libertarianism? The room jeers at the thought of the rehabilitation of a clown ideology, discredited across the political spectrum: The left had long identified Libertarianism as Neo-Liberalism’s unconscious, the ideology of laissez-faire facilitating the capture of the state by private interests. It uncovered its promotion by a class of industrialist billionaires astroturfing grass-roots movements to camouflage their economic interests: the destruction via underfunding and ultimately privatization of publicly owned infrastructures. In return, the political Right has long lamented the cowardice of libertarians blinding out the importance of culture, heritage and everything outside of the sphere of individualism. The Right accused Libertarianism of facilitating the degeneracy which has ended up in an unprecedented socio-cultural rot.

Both sides have meanwhile rightly emphasized that Libertarianism’s economic consciousness is infantine at best. Libertarianism failed to seriously enter any considerations within the raison d’état of Western states because it conveniently blinded out that the modern economy and state necessitated high risk — high return state technological investments and costly basic research from which risk-averse private corporations generally shy away. Beneath the veneers of ahistorical free-market ideology, we must today acknowledge that expensive state-funded research was overwhelmingly responsible for the technological breakthroughs currently shaping the lives of the masses and structuring the relations of the great powers. It was only later that they became privatized and infused with the entrepreneurial spirit leading to their improvement and effective commercialization.

But in light of such devastating and justified criticism then, how could anyone speak in favor of Libertarianism? Has history not profoundly discredited this school of thought? After all, Western states today have seen their economies transform into a post-market command style beneath a free-market veneer. In reality, a handful of institutional shareholders own the de-facto controlling stakes of all dominant corporations. These so-called common ownership structures result in corporations only formally competing — a reason why the stock markets generally move as sectors — and a system of informal price controls. In return, the last remnants of the free market, comprising the small and medium-sized companies, are currently being systematically indebted and ruined due to the red tape of Covid-19 restrictions and the concomitant manifold processes of economic disruption willed by the state which affect smaller companies disproportionately. The corporatist state — the informal alliance between private interests and the state institutional structures they have — has long become a privatized Kommandantur pursuing its long-term interests against the public. Neoliberalism has not led to unconstrained competition but to an unprecedented concentration. In this economy, the sector of finance collecting Fed-printed dollars acts as a vector of territorialization which can selectively promote or asphyxiate companies depending on their compliance to objectives determined in New York and Davos. The economic modus operandi of the contemporary techno-industrial state in return is not anarchic but imperial, with market shares being determined by coldly dividing the cake between interested parties, and forcing its expansion with the various instruments of organized and increasingly privatized violence. 

On the cultural front, meanwhile, it has become obvious that conservatism is unsalvageable as a mass proposition. The ark of history of the technological state is bending towards population control with a plethora of forms of autosterilization and self-destruction which overdetermine every corporate- and state-sponsored cultural, lifestyle, and fashion fad. Here a post-libertarianism should accept and grant the majority’s wish to self-destruct. The recent vaccine rollout has once again acted as a ballot of a majority in favor of the industrial state, its Pasteurian imaginary, and its careless gamble with mankind’s genetic heritage. It has unambiguously proven the majority’s willingness to engage in blind faith and subject itself to the possibility of permanent and irrevocable damage through a class of experimental therapeutics in order to stave off a statistically minuscule chance of harm. 

In return, the vaccination campaign has also exposed a historical stratum of significant size willing to sacrifice prestige and social relations, to even risk utter ruin against an overbearing and dictatorial state for the right to determine its own lifestyle. This tireless and irate minority has drawn a line in the sand against the limitless will-to-power of the industrial state and is proving its political vitality when it prepares to welcome the agents of the state at the doorway with an axe in its hand. It is only in this context that we can understand the merits of Libertarianism which has always been an ideology and lifestyle of the few, of those capable of self-responsibility and organization. It can thus also never be thought of as anything but an esoteric proposition. In return, the vaccination campaign has also shown that the self-responsible part of the population is in dire need of investment to lobby, secure, and expand the space of liberty against the encroachments of the technological population control state. A contemporary Libertarianism demands an intellectual and cultural labor of striving towards freedom as a value against technological and utilitarian temptations including a willingness to bear the costs of this freedom. It also needs to understand its limits. It acknowledges the logic of technology and accepts the historical state as a necessary form, while rejecting its cultural implications of heteronomy. Like seldom before, Libertarianism has identified the need to secure untouchable spaces in the home, family, and body to secure against statist intervention. On the cultural front, it celebrates unconstrained individualism with all its pitfalls and dangers, which the technological state will always code as dangerous madness. It chooses it over the dangerous submission to the norm which can always be perverted by propaganda and enforced by the folly of crowds.  

It is at this point, that Libertarianism also reconnects with the history, identity and morphology of Western Civilisation: the city-states of Athens, of the Hanse, of Renaissance Italy, the historical Federalism of the United States and its Bill of Rights — all exemplify the luxurious abundance of Western individualism as political form, its desire for space beyond the temptations of imperial monoculture which has always failed to capture the hearts of its great men. A West beyond a mere geographical designation must always allow for flamboyant eccentricity, peculiar lifestyles and the chance of unlikely political reversals. In this quest, Libertarianism in concreto means the organization of the task to conserve, carve out and invent new spaces untouched by the corporatist technological state and their delegation to the responsibility of the individual. It is a mission which inextricably links it to the peculiarity and historical uniqueness of Western civilization. For the West, Libertarianism is identity and destiny. 

Nicolas Hausdorf is a German writer living in Melbourne, Victoria.

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