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What Kind of Libertarian Are You?

So asks this Reason post, discussing five types of libertarian identified by Tyler Cowen. The five types are:

  1. Cato-influenced;
  2. Rothbardian anarchism;
  3. Mises Institute nationalism;
  4. Jeff Friedman and Critical Review; and
  5. Hayek libertarianism.

“Cato-influenced” is defined as “orthodox” libertarianism, “defined by the troika of free markets, non-interventionism, and civil liberties.  It is based on individual rights but does not insist on anarchism.  A ruling principle is that libertarians should not endorse state interventions.” Of course, Mises Instituters tend to adhere to these principles (and to be Rothbardians, often anarchists; and not “nationalists”). As Wirkman Virkkala notes:

Cowen apparently desired to carry water in the culture war between George Mason economists and the scholars and enthusiasts associated with the Mises Institute. His characterization of a “Mises Institute Nationalism” borders on bizarre, though I see why he would make the attempt. The fact that so many of these folks are themselves anarchists means that whatever “nationalism” they promote must be a different sort. I took from this short description that Cowen doesn’t like Hans-Herman Hoppe. Yeah, thanks for sharing. This description of a strand of libertarianism is less coherent than the previous.

The list is odd, indeed. Mises Institute people are not nationalists and generally are Rothbardians, so really 3 should collapse into 2. Hayek was not really a libertarian.1 And it’s not clear that Jeffrey Friedman is either; he’s some kind of “postlibertarian.” (See Postlibertarianism is not libertarianism: Rejoinder to Nove; After libertarianism: Rejoinder to Narveson, McCloskey, Flew, and Machan; and What’s Wrong With Libertarianism. ))

As for Cato: Look, I’m glad Cato is generally on our side. But the implication that Cato is “orthodox” libertarian, compared to the Mises Institute’s “nationalism” is guffaw-inducing. Of course, no group’s members have perfectly uniform views, but consider the following cases that seem to stray from the troika of basic libertarian principles of free markets, non-interventionism, and civil liberties, where various Catoites:

It’s almost a compliment to be called a nationalist by someone who holds up this as the libertarian ideal.


Lew’s reply was:

re: What Kind of Libertarian Are You?

Posted by Lew Rockwell on July 9, 2009 03:00 PM

Stephan, these detailed taxonomies are just sand in the eyes. There are only two kinds of libertarian, much as some would like to obscure it: Rothbardian and non-Rothbardian. But even that can be a distraction in our everyday work. As Murray noted — minarchist or anarchist, constitutionalist or monarchist — there is really only one consideration: Do you hate the state?


Update: On Cato Unbound, an article arguing for military conscription.

And now we have them arguing for a minimum basic income.

  1. Walter Block,  Hayek’s Road to Serfdom . []
  2. Drug Reimportation []

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