CJay Engel

October 23, 2019

Our Site Beyond the Dying Libertarian Movement

A quick note, though not yet a full essay, about the change in the publication's name from Austro Libertarian to Bastion. This is more of a personal reflection.

Related to our recent editorial in the Austro Libertarian magazine, I began to recognize two trends in libertarian circles: the assumption that libertarianism is itself a holistic view of the world and society (we call this “thick libertarianism") and on the other side, an obsession with libertarianism such that, even though it is “thin” and related only to politics and not culture or society, it is nevertheless the only thing on people’s minds; libertarianism has become, in my judgement, a sort of animating and uniting spirit among the post-Ron Paul generation of the politically interested. I call this atomistic libertarianism: libertarianism is the single most important cause of our time.

Similarly, this way of thinking, presumes that a sound society can actually be built on "ideals." It assumes that there is a culture to be built on the foundation of people who agree with libertarian formulations. Society is more organic than this, it is the outgrowth of the family, of tribes, of common heritage, common values, and common interests. Only the intellectuals care about "ideas."

Now, as the libertarian movement, party, brand, and online community (all distinct from its intended role as a political theory), has plummeted toward nihilism, narcissism, leftism, extremely high time preferences, the praise of decadence, and has even become monumentally illiterate and unthinking… I felt it was time to broaden my horizons and seek to understand the development of human affairs from a broader level; to venture into the daunting world of sociology and cultural criticism.

That is, if "libertarianism" is going to be useful in a more meaningful and long-lasting way, it must sit as a puzzle piece in a broader arrangement of commentary and worldly reflection. It cannot be the chief identifying mark of a healthy man in a healthy society. Can Western Man recover if he is known only by his technical theory of the role of the state?

Related therefore as well to my post at Mises a month ago on the “proper role of libertarianism in society,” I realized that the ONLY reason we talk so much about libertarianism singularly is because our generation has fallen victim to the social assumption that politics itself is the primary stage of our affairs. Our democratic politic is revolutionary and holistic, and so therefore has been the libertarian interaction with it.

Now then, in beginning to peel back the layers of sociological history and discover the roots of civilization it has dawned on me that society, indeed civilization itself, was not created by those who were defined by a proper theory of the state. The accomplishments of western civilization had more to do with their initiative, their low time preferences, their cultural religion, the future-oriented cultural and social emphasis, their pursuit of a social virtue that did not consider all lifestyles and social norms as socially neutral.

We’ve all heard of Nock’s Remnant. Increasingly, my convictions are such that the Western world is in crisis and the remnant is NOT those who hold to libertarian theory alone, but to those who value a variety of many other things, among them liberty and property. Regardless of what we think of the technical truthfulness of libertarianism, the libertarian movement is not the remnant. On every single issue except the theory of the relation between state and man, the majority of libertarians represent so much of what the west should avoid in their habits, lifestyles, emphasis, and consideration of the world around them. They are brutes living in the ashes of decline. And even on the theory of the state, most of them are so vague and wishy-washy they are useless anyway.

Similarly, we are confronted with a socio-political world that is not a blank slate, receptive to us applying our theory to it. Rather, we live in a time of democratic statism of an authoritarian and managerial nature. The democratic and administrative state has created a completely artificial world by undermining and eradicating the institutions connections that used to uphold society. The state has replaced the church, the schools, the family, and the community not by whisking them into absence, but by politicizing them all. The state is the driver of culture; culture is downstream from politics under the post-war Neo-liberal regime. The state has replaced all the institutions! What are the consequences of not considering anything else at all in some abstract quest to role back the state?

Consider an analogy from Richard Pipes’ reflection on the fall of the Russian Tsar at the hand of the Bolsheviks: in the west as it was known pre-1960s, we had a western heritage of social institutions that could serve as a foundation in case of a political crisis; we had something to cling to. This was not so in late Tsarist Russia: “the lines of authority ran from the top down; there were hardly any lateral lines. The fact that the wires were concentrated in the hands of the crown and its staff meant that in a time of crisis, the state would instantly disintegrate,” and the society with it. “For once the monarch went, these wires snapped and there was nothing left to hold the country together.”

There was indeed a brief moment where older libertarians were willing to just push the button and let the empire burn and political society crash down with it. To end the state at ALL costs and rebuild from the ruins. But then it dawned on us that our children and heritage would be among the ruins. 

All of modern life is driven and administered by the state. This means that we must take care and precaution, looking to build and emphasize other institutions, as we advocate the rollback of the state. This care and extra-political emphasis does not characterize the modern libertarian movement. Therefore the modern libertarian movement is reckless at best, and an enemy of our children and future at worst. They have bought the leftist worldview hook, line, and sinker, and it seems shockingly short-sighted to emphasize temporary coalition with a cultural enemy. To what end?

I’ve come not to reject what was once "libertarianism," but to reject its preeminence as we enter a time of increased civilizational decline. I come not to advocate coercion on behalf of cultural renewal, but to make property rights an important aspect of my overall quest to pass on a better heritage for my own children, and theirs. My goals are not to make the world safe for libertarianism (libertarian universalism) but to save the books, that my children might remember who they are.

About the author

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

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