Tho Bishop: “The paleolibertarians did not want to be associated with lolbertarian hippies.” (Part II)
WY: Let us go onto some of the more controversial and interesting stuff going on in the libertarian sphere at the moment. Namely, I would like to talk to you about the revival of what some would either call ‘libertarian-populism’ or ‘paleolibertarianism’. Could you outline what paleolibertarianism is and how it is different from the libertarianism that a lot of other people would know about.
TB: Paleolibertarianism arose in the 1990s, which was kind of the dawn of a new age for American politics. The unifying common boogeyman of the Soviet Union had kept together the American right for decades, and since it ceased to exist there was little reason for many right-wingers to stay together anymore. So, the coalition of economic libertarians, Cold Warrior conservatives and others broke apart, with discussions beginning to arise on exactly what was to be the future of the conservative and libertarian movements in the US going forward. So, the paleolibertarian strategy was a deliberate attempt to reach out to what were known as paleoconservatives, such as Pat Buchanan or Paul Gottfried. Both groups did this by building various institutions – which are key for any intellectual movement – newsletters, social clubs, conferences etc.
I think the relevance of 90s style politics today is very eerie because, if you look at it, the major issues of the day began in that decade, such as the beginning of major racial tensions as the Democratic Party started aggressively pushing egalitarian policies. The left was also pushing a very aggressive egalitarian viewpoint in the 90s as well, both in the form of affirmative action laws in terms of policy, but also on the cultural side. We started seeing the celebration of alternative lifestyles and, regardless of your views on that, there was a reaction from conservatives about the importance of these cultural issues. And since the paleolibertarians were culturally conservative they saw opportunities for common agreement with those conservative
Paleolibertarians also wanted to push for the right-wing to return to its pre–Cold War and more restrained isolationist foreign policy roots – interventionism has been key to the growth of the American Empire after all! As well as hitting all the same libertarian points about economics, you know, anti-welfare state, anti-subsidy, anti-central banking etc. Paleolibertarians also wished to highlight the way that a lot of the culture had been changing was down to bad economic policy such as how the working class had been decimated by the expansion of the leviathan state or how the growth of the welfare state and managerialism pushed women into the workforce and out of their homes as well as destroying the family. Paleolibertarians also wanted to show how a lot of these cultural issues stemmed from the economic consequences of a Fiat monetary regime, as we mentioned earlier.
So, paleolibertarians held the usual views that libertarians do regarding economics, foreign policy and the state but were culturally conservative and thus wanted to forge an alliance with paleoconservatives who also wished for the American right to return to its pre-Cold War origins. On a deeper level though, paleolibertarians were not simply identifying the common ground with traditional conservatives but were recognizing that many in the libertarian movement were useless, and in many ways, counterproductive to the aim of liberty.
I think it is interesting reading the works of paleolibertarians in the 21st century as a lot of the critiques of Rothbard and Rockwell on libertarians are so true now. They identify the libertarian movement as being full of libertine fraudsters who assume that anybody else who is a libertarian should be honoured to buy them a beer and let them sleep on their couch. The paleolibertarians did not want to be associated with lolbertarian hippies. And guess what? I do not want to be associated with those losers either.
So, the separation from the worst parts of the libertarian movement coupled with an appreciation for the importance of our cultural similarities with the right I think was a strong strategy for libertarians in the 90s. It helped get Ron Paul back into Congress in 96 and grow various institutions, including the Mises Institute. I think it is the best chance for success in America, and in the West generally, for anyone that genuinely cares about living in a freer and more harmonious society.
WY: I think the phrase “I’m a libertarian, not a libertine” is a good take and I agree a lot of the paleolibertarian writings from the 90s are very poignant for today. Rothbard’s work is especially good fun to read. I mean, Rothbard always writes brilliantly but I could tell, especially when he was writing in the Rothbard-Rockwell Report, that he is extremely peeved off at the way in which the modern libertarian movement has sort of devolved into a state of, well, you know, ‘right wing hippiedom’ if you will.
But to be critical, the paleolibertarians essentially did fail. Buchanan did not win the Republican nomination and when he ran for a third party he also did not win. Also, I think the paleolibertarian movement ended relatively soon after Pat Buchanan’s failed campaign and especially after Rothbard died. I think it was Hans Hermann Hoppe, of all people, who broke up that movement after getting into an argument with some of the head paleoconservatives such as Gottfried. So, could you maybe talk a little bit about how the paleo movement came to a standstill in the late 90s?
TB: Yeah, that is the common narrative and obviously it is difficult to disagree with Professor Hoppe on his analysis of a movement that he was in, but I do have a revisionist take on the paleo movement. Basically, my analysis is that the paleo strategy did not end in the 90s, but it ended on September 11, 2001. Firstly, getting Ron Paul back into Congress is something that cannot be overstated because what he won on was a paleolibertarian political strategy. We get so focused on the Presidential races that I think that we fail to appreciate the lower-level gains. But the 90s did not change the right completely as much as 9/11 did, as we simply reversed back into a form of the politics that we had experienced during the Cold War – warmongering, big government, erosion of liberties at home etc. There was new ‘axis of evil’ and that was when the movement went out. It was not until we moved into something closer resembling a ‘post-war on terror’ politics that the paleo strategy could work again.
In a way, it was Donald Trump who brought it back. It is interesting because you think back on it, what happened was that, once he won that election, all elements of the Cathedral started attacking Trump and his supporters. And that is what I think provides the opportunity to revive paleolibertarianism today because we are now no longer in a ‘war on terror’ but a war on so-called ‘domestic terror’ and there is nobody who is under greater threat of that than your average Trump supporter, which is precisely why I think we should be engaging with those kinds of conservatives and getting them to recognize that their true enemy is the state.
WY: I think Hoppe has been very key to this revival in paleolibertarianism. Especially, if you remember his 2017 Property and Freedom Society speech called ‘Libertarianism and the Alt Right’ which I think, while it was a very controversial speech, is possibly one of his best speeches – especially in the way that it outlines how the Alt-Right was just a continuation of the paleoconservative movement. I was wondering how important you think Hoppe has been in this revival of paleolibertarianism?
TB: Well, it is fascinating because of how key he has been to all of this. I remember in 2015 at MisesU, Bob Murphy made a Hoppe joke and nobody in the audience got it; I mean, outside of a few nerds in the back of course. But then in 2016 and 2017, people were wearing t-shirts that have Hoppe jokes on – it is insane to see how quickly Hoppe became popular! It is so fascinating that here you have a scholar who is very traditional in many ways; he does not care about social media at all, he lives in a beautiful estate, he publishes infrequently, and he gives a few speeches a year and yet he can become the entire focus of libertarianism for a few years. Your place in the libertarian movement was defined by your opinion of Hoppe for a long while and still sort of is and that is incredible. It is something Rothbard was able to do as well. I think it goes to show how powerful you become when you start challenging a lot of the underlying cultural assumptions that had became baked into the American libertarianism; assumptions that ends up leading libertarianism to becoming odious to so many people.
Once you have someone who is unapologetically culturally conservative and yet so unapologetically against the American Empire and the state as well that is a very dangerous and exciting combination. It is so much fun to see the power of Hoppe in and on libertarianism and how he has been able to help revive paleolibertarianism also. I look forward to seeing more in the future
WY: Me too, I think Hoppe is fantastic. So, since the whole point of the paleolibertarian movement is building connections with the right and more specifically areas of the Republican Party in the US, I was wondering about what you do in order to bring that about?
TB: Well, I am the Vice Chairman of a county party here and our county has taken a very aggressive stand within the state of Florida about trying to push the GOP into as much of a populist position as possible. For example, we tried to get the State party to denounce Liz Cheney before Republicans in Congress did. It has been very fun trying to set the tone right on some of those interparty battles! I think most libertarians do not appreciate how important the period between November 3rd and January 6th was in the American political landscape on the right because what you have right now, and this is one of the fascinating returning features of the Trump moment, is the ability to deliver body blows to the integrity and legitimacy of evil institutions and politicians.
Now, I’m not going to argue that Republicans or Trump are attacking these institutions for libertarian reasons or any anything beyond just, you know, their own personal impulses and motives. But it is powerful and worth something to libertarians who wish to undermine state and institutional authority. Watching an Overton window shift from Republicans towards losing faith in various aspects of the state’s legitimacy is certainly worthwhile.
For another example, watching Republicans push back on election fraud, which I think is 100% valid if you dive into the details of 2020 election, has been great also. I am not going to say that you are going to find, say communist Venezuelans changing voting machine data, but you clearly had a system where people were unconstitutionally changing election law, which is bad. You had people improperly handling votes by mail, which is bad. You do not change an election law right before you cast votes because it calls into question the ability of the state to properly hold and manage these elections with integrity. And the suspicion of the state’s integrity to hold elections is enough to undermine the very legitimacy of the state overall.
The election of 1876 was stolen from Sam Tilden, but within that you still had the Congress going through the process of holding a Commission and dealing seriously with concerns that were raised. But when you had people like Josh Hawley or Ted Cruz suggest something remotely similar happened in 2020, they were told that they were traitorous insurrectionists, conspiracy theorists and out of the realms of acceptable opinion. But if you consider for a second that 70% of Trump voters, so around 50 million people, have doubts about the election – it is not just a ‘conspiracy theorist’ position anymore. The onus then becomes on the state to figure out how to fix that level of distrust.
But the state and its allied elites didn’t seek to fix that distrust. They discarded and mocked any concerns over election fraud and thus what you have now is a President perceived by 50 million voters as ‘illegitimate’. Add to this the most radical agenda from the executive branch we have ever seen in the 1st 120 days, with the perhaps the exception of FDR, in American history and they are simply adding more fuel to the fire. Then, the cherry on top is that they stand around and blame Trump supporters for ‘undermining’ democracy. The elites are the ones that have undermined democracy because they never cared about democracy – which is fine. Democracy was always meant to be a ceremonial endorsement of the states and its allied elites’ plans anyway. But now you have Republicans questioning that. And that is the most significant political development in the American political body for a very long time that we as libertarians must use to our advantage.
WY: No, I think you are correct. I remember reading your articles on Mises Wire about this. I have said before that Trump’s biggest success was, in essence, revealing the ‘deep state’. The average American knows who the enemy is and it’s not just the Democratic Party, its large sections Republican Party, it’s the civil service, it’s academia, it’s the media, it’s the NGOs and think tanks that are connected to the state. You have talked about this Republican Overton Window shift before as well, where you say you have met some Republicans who are starting to say that the FBI and the CIA are part of the problem and need to be defunded. I think that is huge.
TB: I agree, but even more important than that is that many Republicans are becoming disenfranchised with the military. When you have the military undergoing critical race theory training and purging people within it who hold right-wing viewpoints, that is going to undermine conservative support in it. The Biden administration is trying to control the military and how do conservatives respond to that? Because guess what, if you try to purge the military, you do not do that if you do not plan to use it in the future. So that is big because that is the one institution that conservatives always thought they had, and they do not even have that anymore. So yeah, conservative disenfranchisement with the military is a huge shift also.