John Oliver, as usual, is amazing here, following up on a terrific article in the Washington Post.

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I’m honored to have the lead essay on Cato Unbound this month. In the essay, I lay out what I take to be a genuinely liberal approach to religion in politics, one that is neither fully libertarian, conservative or secular progress. Some excerpts:

The role of religion in politics is to preserve religious liberty against an overreaching state and encourage religious contributions to the ratification of laws that promote justice and the common good. Religion belongs in politics primarily as defense, rather than offense, restricting state power rather than extending it.


The classical liberal approach to religion and politics, then, avoids both overt and covert establishmentarianism. It bars efforts to give a particular religion, or even religion generally, a hallowed place in the law, while simultaneously resisting efforts to remove religion from the public square. Given its focus on restricting unjustified coercion, my approach does not make an idol of politics and does not insist that shared public deliberation is the sine qua non of a free, democratic society.

Read it all.

I have great commentators: Michael Shermer, Patrick Deneen and Maggie Garrett.

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If you have the stomach for it, you might consider reading Hans Hermann Hoppe’s recent attack on all left-libertarians (which I won’t link to). It is the most remarkable combination of megalomania:

Let me emphasize that I consider this theory [Hoppe’s theory] as essentially irrefutable, as a priori true. In my estimation this theory represents one of the greatest – if not the greatest – achievement of social thought. It formulates and codifies the immutable ground rules for all people, everywhere, who wish to live together in peace.


The empirical claim of the Left, that there exist no significant mental differences between individuals and, by implication, between various groups of people, and that what appear to be such differences are due solely to environmental factors and would disappear if only the environment were equalized is contradicted by all everyday-life experience and mountains of empirical social research.

And ferocious racism, sexism and heterosexism:

Libertarianism, as an intellectual system, was first developed and furthest elaborated in the Western world, by white males, in white male dominated societies. That it is in white, heterosexual male dominated societies, where adherence to libertarian principles is the greatest and the deviations from them the least severe (as indicated by comparatively less evil and extortionist State policies). That it is white heterosexual men, who have demonstrated the greatest ingenuity, industry, and economic prowess. And that it is societies dominated by white heterosexual males, and in particular by the most successful among them, which have produced and accumulated the greatest amount of capital goods and achieved the highest average living standards (my emphasis – YUCK).

The only reason for libertarians to read it is not for its claims (which Hoppe has recycled for decades, and that even many at have criticized him for, first among them Walter Block). Instead, our aim should be to reflect upon and discuss why the liberty movement is so vulnerable to such ridiculous, disgusting nonsense. Why are intellectuals like Hoppe so powerful and prominent among libertarians? Why do we have cult leaders like Stefan Molyneux and all-around professional trolls like Christopher Cantwell carrying so much sway? So what’s wrong with us? What’s our problem?

My answer: the contrarian trap.

Libertarianism is an unpopular view. And it takes particular personality types to be open to taking unpopular views. Some of these personality types are people who are open to new experience, love the world of ideas and have a disposition for independent thought. However, some of these personality types simply enjoy holding outrageous and provocative views, who like to argue and fight with others, who like insult and and shock. The contrarian is someone of the latter type.

I don’t know what makes people contrarian. My suspicion is that there are a sub-group of individuals who are more naturally disposed to take up minority, unpopular positions. The problem with these people, though, is that they’re congenitally open to all kinds of contrarianism. If most people say x, the contrarian says not-x, but if most people say y, the contrarian also wants to say not-y. That is, the danger is reflexive and global contrarianism.

If I am right, we should expect to find relatively large populations of contrarian personality types in any unpopular or minority ideological movement. And we should expect to find linkages between different radical, contrarian positions. I think it is no surprise that many libertarians are also atheists (unpopular), climate change deniers (unpopular), paleo dieters (unpopular), anti-psychiatry (unpopular), conspiracy theorists (unpopular), transhumanists (unpopular), cryonics-supporters (unpopular) and hardcore nativists about intelligence (unpopular). Think of some popular libertarian book titles, “Atheism, Ayn Rand and Other Heresies” and “Defending the Undefendable.” The liberty movement trades in “Gotchas!” How else are we to get noticed?

Global contrarianism is an easy thing to fall into. After all, if you think you’ve rationally decided that millions and millions of people are completely wrong about something, it is natural to think they might be wrong about lots of other things as well. Heck, maybe mainstream elite opinion is wrong about everything and the whole world is turned upside down!

All that’s left is to take the red pill and step into a world of radical free thought where everything is open to question.

The worst flaw in the contrarian trap is that it makes libertarians open to views that deserve to be unpopular and despised, including the thinly-veiled racism of the sort the Hans Hermann Hoppe trades in from time to time. The social democratic left can’t just be wrong about the state, they have to be wrong about everything, and obviously wrong at that.

If I’m right, then what are we to do in order to stop the most virulent, nasty forms of contrarianism? We can’t do a lot directly, I don’t think. As long as the movement is small, we will attract a disproportionate number of contrarians, and that means we will probably find ourselves stuck with unsavory nuts and bigots having outsized influence.

The better long-term strategy is to grow the movement and make sure we aren’t growing the movement with more and more contrarians (Rothbard and Rockwell attempted this with paleolibertarianism; the Ron Paul Newsletters are the bitter fruit of that endeavor and will always bring shame on their names). Only by growing the movement can we import large populations of non-contrarians, and so shrink the influence of cult leaders, trolls and racists.

UPDATE: Some commenters mistakenly think the point of this post is to engage Hoppe’s ideas and arguments. It is not. Instead, I’m using his awful essay to illustrate a broader problem in the liberty movement that I’ve been mulling over for some time. So I’m not engaging in “ad hominem” attempts to refute Hoppe or anyone else.

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