Libertarianism — An ideology for “socially retarded adolescent white guys”?

Peter Thiel is a super-smart, super-successful businessman and libertarian activist. He co-founded PayPal, invested in Facebook and has pledged three and half million dollars to a project searching for the key to human immortality. He also thinks it was a bad idea to give women the vote.

A couple of years ago Bloomberg reporter Deepak Gopinath visited Thiel’s offices at San Francisco’s Presidio. Thiel is a fan of Leo Strauss, René Girard and Star Wars. The offices of his hedge fund — Clarium Capital Management LLC — are deliberately located away from those of other money managers and investment bankers. He doesn’t want to mix with the herd.

The herdlike behaviour of voters is one of the reasons Thiel believes libertarianism and democracy are incompatible. In the wake of the global financial crisis "the broader education of the body politic has become a fool’s errand", he writes in Cato Unbound: "Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of ‘capitalist democracy’ into an oxymoron."

This is the kind of thing that worries people who read books by Naomi Klein and believe that libertarians secretly hope to emulate General Pinochet. But rather than lead a libertarian takeover of the United States, Thiel would prefer to colonize outer space with right-thinking libertarians (sadly that’s not feasible yet).

Another libertarian, Will Wilkinson regards Thiel’s comments about female suffrage as "boneheaded". "Extending the franchise to women is, in my estimation, one of the great triumphs of the American classical liberal tradition", he writes in a recent blog post. According to Wilkinson, libertarianism often looks like a system rigged to protect the gains of the haves while denying opportunity to the have-nots — particularly groups that have traditionally been oppressed and disenfranchised. Libertarianism has public relations problems:

… not because most people are stupid or immoral [but] because libertarians have done a terrible job countering the widespread suspicion that it’s a uselessly abstract ahistorical ideology for socially retarded adolescent white guys. The sadly common libertarian-conservative penchant for "brave" counter-PC truthiness (e.g., "Women do love the welfare state!" "Blacks really do have lower IQs!") certainly doesn’t help.

In the end, says Wilkinson, the best idea is to engage with people who’ve rejected libertarian ideas and try to convince them "that free markets and limited government are better than they might have thought."

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meika
12 years ago

Libertarians have to disparage the progress that makes their dreams possible because otherwise they are just another bunch of pimply anarchists, but ones who, being a little less ‘pure’ (thus the anti-PC smart-alecs antics) happen to drop out a little bit less than real anarchists.
There is, and here i agree with Naomi, another goodly portion of Libertarians who are in fact just robber barons in waiting, pompously declaring for liberty until they can grab the crown for themselves and then it’s authoritarian all the way down.

With these two groups currently dominating Libertarianism it’s no wonder they smell.

Nicholas Gruen
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Nicholas Gruen(@nicholas-gruen)
12 years ago

Thanks Don, a good laugh.

And Will Wilkinson gets to come over all moderate. Giving the vote to women was “one of the great triumphs of the American classical liberal tradition.”

Yes it’s great isn’t it. I think some other traditions introduced women’s suffrage too.

Anyway, a good time was had by all – even those in outa space.

John Greenfield
John Greenfield
12 years ago

Good god. Give us a world ruled by Pinochet, rather than the types who take sophomoric flibbertigibbet Naomi Klein seriously!

John Greenfield
John Greenfield
12 years ago

Though she is hot, and hot chicks always sell books. Even illiterate ones, like Naomi Wolf.

derrida derider
derrida derider
12 years ago

Or Ann Coulter.

John Greenfield
John Greenfield
12 years ago

They say ‘beauty is in the eye beholder’. While I, myself, have never associated La Coulter with the word “hot” whatever floats your boat. ;)

Tel_
Tel_
12 years ago

Libertarianism has public relations problems…

Strange that the historic public relations disasters of Authoritarianism have been forgotten so quickly (and yes, PC is another of the many forms of Authoritarianism, especially when it comes to shutting down any discussion or even measurement on certain well known topics).

FDB
FDB
12 years ago

That’s right Tel_

The problems of applying PC strictures to public debate has barely been discussed.

And I for one can’t remember anyone ever discussing the problems relating to authoritarian regimes. Hitler? Stalin? Pinochet? Chavez? Castro? Mao? Pol Pot? Have you even heard these names? Free fucking pass for the lot of them.

For shame.

melaleuca
melaleuca
12 years ago

Well said, Don.