Where is Austro Libertarian?

AL Magazine

From Austro Libertarian to Bastion Magazine

By
CJay Engel
|
October 3, 2019
We’re making a bold move in anticipation of further libertarian deterioration. We’re going all in on a bet that five-ten years down the road, the socio-political coalition will have been completely redrawn.
AL Magazine

From Austro Libertarian to Bastion Magazine

By

CJay Engel

|
October 3, 2019

We’re making a bold move in anticipation of further libertarian deterioration. We’re going all in on a bet that five-ten years down the road, the socio-political coalition will have been completely redrawn.

Bastion: “an institution, place, or person strongly defending or upholding particular principles, attitudes, or activities.”

We have hinted at this for several months now and I am pleased to say that the moment is upon us. I do hope what follows is honestly and objectively considered.

We are changing the name of the publication —and the website— to Bastion Magazine. This took months of thoughtful conversation and strategizing— after all, we love the elegant and specific Austro-Libertarian phrase! We'll use the domain for a specific purpose soon.

There are a variety of reasons for this change and I’ll list the five most important below. But first, a black-and-white (or crystal clear, whichever you prefer) assurance:

There is zero temptation to abandon the Hoppean-Rothbardian tradition of a property-centered legal-political theory from which we derive concepts such as rights, justice, coercion, aggression, and liberty. The editors are one-hundred percent on board with this older definition of libertarianism that came to the awareness of many of us young folks during the Ron Paul candidacies. A private law society is better, more moral, more stable, than a state-legislation public democracy.

Simultaneously, there is zero temptation to abandon the Mengerian-Bohm-Bawerkian-Misesian tradition of economic inquiry, based as it is on causal-realism, value subjectivism, and praxeology.  In fact, now more than ever, a sound and cool-headed economic analysis is needed in an age of socialist agitation, the failures of late-stage central banking, and national conservatives who ignore the warnings of rational economic theory. The Austrian School alone provides for this.

Far from softening on them, we rather want to explore their place in a broader understanding of the world and publish just as much on history, current affairs, literary criticism, political movements, sociology, culture, and the shifting nature of our post-modern world. Thus, let me make five justifications, in light of our vision for this project.

1. SEEKING BROADER TOPICS.

Libertarianism as we have come to define and understand it is so incredibly razor "thin" in its scope it does not come close to addressing a vast variety of sociological insight and subject-matter. It is in fact strictly a legal doctrine confined in such a radical way compared to how it is treated by conservative and liberal critics, and as too-often presented by popular-libertarians. This means that libertarian insights are becoming quite repetitive. They will always have a place with us. But isn't there anything else to say about the world around us?

There are so many other topics that we are looking to publish and Austro-Libertarianism is such a specific reference. Consider, for instance, the extent to which Hans Hoppe has spent the last several years outside the strict bounds of Austrian and Rothbardian political theory as he has ventured into sociology, religion, historical reconstruction, a social philosophy. This interests us greatly as well.

We want to cover broader topics– such as those, for instance, covered at outlets like Quillette. This will not work with an ideological site name. People want to read an analysis of, say, cancel culture? Why specifically does AustroLibertarian.com sound like a good source for this? Even aside from the problem of libertarianism’s identity crisis.

2. LIBERTARIANISM'S IDENTITY CRISIS.

To be brief: only those deeply familiar with the Mises Institute define libertarianism strictly as the legal theory in which it is to be considered a breach of rights to initiate coercion against a person’s body or external property. Almost no one besides a handful of Old Guard libertarians, unfortunately, use the word in this way. Now, this is not per se a case (at least in this specific announcement), for abandoning the word, but it does make us realize that those outside libertarian circles laugh at the prospect of reading a libertarian-sourced article. For understandable reason.

In general, libertarianism as a movement, as a brand, as a political party, as an internet subculture (all, believe me I know, distinct and not binding on libertarianism as a formal legal doctrine), is in a crisis. No one likes libertarians, including libertarians (be honest with yourself!). So often, the libertarian is a reinforcing self-parody. Empty and ineffective with a remarkably deficient understanding of history and human affairs. For those principled Austro-libertarians who read the site: is this not your honest experience?

Libertarianism, in the eyes of most libertarians, and most everyone else, does not mean what we want it to mean. While there are no objective definitions in reality, definitions are employed to the extent they are socially useful— and we need to be aware of this and proceed with caution in the post-Ron Paul libertarian world. Since there’s a general branding problem, and we sell a publication, this is suicide. Libertarianism has become a cruel caricature of itself.

Hans Hoppe warned of this. Consider this important passage of his.

Our prediction is that libertarianism as a movement will continue to break apart, not unite as to the Ron Paulian golden years. We are getting ahead of this curve, not abandoning the logic of the doctrine.

3. BEYOND THE STATE: SOCIAL DECAY. The reason why we want to talk about more than just political and economic theory, is that we believe there is a socio-cultural element to frustration in the west. While the libertarian can be agnostic about the world around him as far as the logic of his system in the abstract, as human beings in the real world, society is preeminent. It sets the context for the application of liberty and markets.

This is true not only in terms of accepting liberty as a virtue, but also just in terms of having an enjoyable and flourishing society. No one wants to live in a society where they are afraid to affirm biological-sexual norms, or reflect on cultural-heritage themes that are outside "the 3x5 card of allowable opinion" for fear of getting fired for bigotry, even if it’s “voluntary.”

There really is a culture war, or rather a civilizational war— and the state thrives on, even fuels, the chaos and strife created by agitating the far left and what it deems to be an “extremist right.”

Our libertarian theory is important; but we must not make the mistake of expanding it beyond its strict boundaries. We must be able to talk about and critique the world around us independent of just saying, “well it’s voluntary so I guess I just have to ignore it.” We call BS on the idea that libertarians have to shut up about “voluntary” outrages.  

This is especially true in the structure of how we got here. Few people understand the catalyst nature of the state: how it grew, largely during the Progressive Era and then slowly since, into an administrative nightmare that exists as its own force beyond and independent of the elected government. From here, by regulation, subsidy, crony corporate relationships, propaganda, bureaucratic machinations, and so on, it slowly transferred the power structure from private capitalists to state-connected entities.

These entities, public, private, and mixed, largely carry an authoritarian-leftist worldview.  The state has succeeded in suspending natural society and created an entirely new one. We cannot ignore the new artificial cultural framework in a libertarian quest to narrowly rollback the state. There’s no implied strategy in these comments, merely a reflection on the problems we face.

Is our society in a "crisis?" Our friend Bionic Mosquito recently provided a quote describing it all as "decadence" not crisis:

Decadence is a situation where no crisis is possible anymore.  Everyone sees the problems, yet denies the issues or is unable to face them.  This is a result of the current weak understanding of reason.

4. LIBERTARIANISM AS THE SINGULAR ISSUE.

Libertarians can no longer pretend as if libertarianism is the single animating commitment in human affairs and social impetus. It is simply not true, helpful, or attractive to think of libertarian propositions (in the narrow and precise sense) as the necessary and sufficient condition of social coalition and relation.

It’s not necessary because there’s great resources and perspective to be found in non-libertarian advocates of liberty (such as, say, Roger Scruton or Richard Weaver) and it’s not sufficient because there are libertarian advocates of social leftism, libertinism, and an agitating spirit of war against social institutions (such as, say Steve Horwitz or Kevin Carson). Must we really think of the future resting on a coalition with the latter at the expense of the former?

As I recently wrote at Mises, there is an

illusion that libertarianism plays a fundamental role in society. That political theory itself is of primary importance for a people who wish for a better world, a world that is both more ethical and more free. And from this, we work to create a libertarian political strategy and a libertarian movement as well. And thus, the disease of modern administrative statism, which takes over our minds as the lens through which we find meaning, produces the impulse that one ought to dedicate himself to libertarianism as a path toward social preservation.
But it should be made clear that the only reason libertarianism as such seems to play such a fundamental role in the self-identity and life-meaning of so many in libertarian circles is due to the politicization of society. We live in the administrative state’s world and thus we even put our path toward social improvement strictly in terms of the political. It is not just that the state formally speaking is everywhere we look, it is that there is hardly any longer a culture that is distinct from the state.

And again:

Men form society not on the basis of a unifying legal theory, but the legal theory is adopted post-society. Libertarianism is a helpful tool in the development of peaceful civilization; it is neither the spring nor the engine from which society flows. Libertarianism as a unifying spirit is only conceivable because we operate in a world that has experienced the imposition of a political society.

In this general emphasis against "libertarian-onlyism" consider a recent speech (link to transcript) by Roger Scruton, discussing Western Civilization, in which he argues:

The problem, it seems to me, extends largely from the invasion of the academic and intellectual world by activist groups who do not take the trouble to learn enough to know what they’re up against but nevertheless define their position in terms of political agendas.
These political agendas are all about belonging together in a salvationist group: we save ourselves because we believe the right things, and we’re looking everywhere for those poisonous presences which are trying to exclude us from possession of our rightful heritage.

Libertarianism must not be treated as a "salvationist group" that constitutes our identity; such artificiality is forced, not natural or sustainable.

5. WHY BASTION? Here is the dictionary definition of Bastion: “an institution, place, or person strongly defending or upholding particular principles, attitudes, or activities.”

Libertarianism as a movement has failed to uphold these. So has the so-called Conservative Movement. And yet, we want to. Even beyond just economic and political theory, we are interested in understanding a rich, if imperfect, western tradition of cultural development, experiences, social history. Learning from its triumphs, avoiding its errors.

The left interprets the world as something that needs to be completely torn down and burned to ashes so that they can build an ideal society from scratch. It strongly pushes to disconnect modern man from his past.

Consider the words of Roger Scruton on the destructive left:

Such a person does not seek to negotiate within existing structures, but to gain total power, so as to abolish the structures themselves. He will set himself against all forms of mediation, compromise and debate, and against the legal and moral norms that give a voice to the dissenter and sovereignty to the ordinary person.
He will set about destroying the enemy, whom he will conceive in collective terms. as the class, group, or race that hitherto controlled the world and which must now in turn be controlled. And all institutions that grant protection to that class or a voice in the political process will be targets for his destructive rage.

Our own Ben Lewis comments on this with the following:

If Scruton is correct - and given the prevailing attitudes on the left, there's no reason to believe he's not - grievance mongers are not interested in what makes for a healthy society. They are, in fact, bent on the destruction of society, and much too confident in their ability to rebuild it.

We are not abstract human beings without context. Of course, unlike what has become of "Conservatism, Inc." we don't treat our sentiments as if they were intended to conserve the present world around us. As if our Progressivist social structure needs to be conserved. Unlike official conservatism as a political movement, we reject universalism, democracy, and egalitarianism.

As the paleo-conservative critic of the conservative moment Mel Bradford wrote decades ago: we must offer something positive and new "in the intellectual context we inhabit late in the twentieth century because merely to conserve is sometimes to perpetuate what is outrageous.”

Thus, the true spirit of "Bastion" is to save the memory and spirit of intellectual, literary, and moral sentiments that have probably already been swept away in our present age. As the socialist left, together with the Neo-liberal interventionist and social engineering left, seeks to push an intellectual agenda that is completely at odds with everything that is true, good, and beautiful in the world, it's sometimes important not to just "win," but merely to "save the books;" to pass forward a better way of thinking and living.

That is, even if we don't live to see its fruition and adoption, in civilizational history, this can often be a noble role. Is this not the role Mises played as European society fell apart to the ravages of twentieth century collectivist totalitarianism?

"Occasionally I entertained the hope that my writings would bear practical fruit and show the way for policy. Constantly I have been looking for evidence of a change in ideology. But...I have come to realize that my theories explain the degeneration of a great civilization; they do not prevent it. I set out to be a reformer, but only became the historian of decline."

This beloved historian of decline is now our regarded inspiration, decades after he passed away.

Our libertarianism wants nothing to do with a revolutionary, create-an-upheaval-against-the-institutions mentality. And unfortunately, we are sensing the libertarian movement (especially in the US) adopt this zeitgeist. We want to distance ourselves from it. There is no coalition to be found in socially agnostic nihilism.

Rather, we see the loss of older, natural social institutions as a prerequisite for the state’s total domination. We don’t hold to a meaning of liberalism and libertarianism that emphasizes the freeing of man from natural hierarchy, religious sentiments, bosses and parents, traditions and social norms in the abstract and as a universal human goal.

We appreciate the past, we learn from it, we are guided by its mistakes and its triumphs. Contrary to the spirit of the ravaging left, we feel an attraction to remembering what is good in our common past; society needs the past, not as an infallible source of truth, but as a fulfilling of man’s transcendent social nature.

Society is not built on abstract ideals. In the history of civilization, propositions and abstract commitments have never been the animating principles on which a sustained society was built. No actual societies in history (from the Germanic tribes to the Celtic clans and onward over the centuries to the nineteenth century) formulated themselves based preeminently on ideas. Culture, language, heritage, common interests and memories and habits and custom created societies. The idea that we can create a society based solely on ideological libertarianism is dangerous. It's the same mistake made by the neoconservative advocates of "propositional nationhood."

Yet since the general libertarian movement does not think about society in this way, they are therefore cultural nihilists. Nothing matters beyond the doctrine itself. If not formally, it is de facto the way the movement has treated the world around us.

In our Jacobin world of French-revolutionary style egalitarianism, an emphasis on a political culture for the masses, and social upheaval, we want to be on the side of the metaphorical Bastille (please click this to see the modern juxtaposition). You will find us complementing our libertarianism with insights from anti-leftists such as Roger Scruton, Paul Gottfried, Robert Nisbet, Richard Weaver, and so on. We believe these are important and relevant even in a quickly changing world.

Libertarianism as a movement and brand and online subculture is a dead end. Ruined by a number of factors, chief among them a good number of libertarian personalities.

We’re making a bold move in anticipation of further libertarian deterioration. We’re going all in on a bet that five-ten years down the road, the socio-political coalition will have been completely redrawn.

Welcome to Bastion Magazine, which remains a publication with an Austro-libertarian outlook. (Where else can you find such a thing?!)

For our physical print subscribers, the fall will be the final print under the AL banner.

About the author

C.Jay Engel is the founder and publisher of Bastion Magazine. He has written for Mises.org, LRC, David Stockman, and others. He owns several consulting business and actively works on the magazine, with Tom Woods, and lives in Northern CA.

from the editor's blog