≡ Menu

Rothbard on Libertarian “Space Cadets”

spacecadetInteresting comments by Rothbard. I don’t completely agree, as I am partly indicted by this! Still, amusing and interesting:

David Gordon:

Again, in a manner that will delight Mrs. Virginia Postrel, Doherty remarks:

Advances in technology have made possible new wired worlds where governments might be unnecessary, new biological abilities have expanded our potential power over ourselves and our environments to almost godlike status. We may even be on the cusp of creating new societies off the surface of the planet itself. (p. 4)

Though he does later mention in passing Rothbard’s criticism of “space cadets,” he does not elaborate. The unwary reader would not guess that technological Titanism is not a universal feature of libertarianism. It is a particular point of view, again insinuated as part of a libertarian consensus when it is not.

And here:

Both the left libertarians and the devotees of technology find fault with Ron Paul. He is not cosmopolitan enough for them: he is so benighted as to defend the traditional family. Almost as bad, he is a genuine American patriot, who opposes NAFTA and similar agreements as inimical to American national interests. To me, these are virtues, not defects; but let us for the sake of argument assume that the values of the left libertarians and the technologists – those Rothbard termed “space cadets” – are correct.

And here:

I cannot think that Mrs. Postrel has advanced any arguments whatever against most of these reactionaries. If they prefer rooted societies with traditional morality and family farms, what is the matter with that? Is the difficulty that the reactionaries oppose change? But obviously they favor some changes, namely the ones that will get them to the society they want. Is it that they wish to control change? But why must they have this wish? Maybe they believe that people will naturally act in a manner to their liking, absent propaganda of space cadets of various stripes. Admittedly, Mrs. Postrel does raise a valid complaint against some of the reactionaries.


Newt Gingrich is a fanatical space cadet, whose first book was about the necessity of tax-funded space colonies. In his infamous lecture series on American civilization, he praises the marriage of big government and big science. It’s “worth the costs.” Indeed, big projects are particularly suited to government control, provided they are “focused.”

And one more guy:

The Free State Project of Jason Sorens focuses on the conversion of a single U.S. state to liberal principles, by having a critical mass of voters move to the state. That critical mass is thought to be 20,000. However, this number is about equal to the number that migrate to the state for other reasons. And in spite of the appeal of the idea, so far only 8,234 have pledged and 518 have actually moved.

Finally in this broad category is the one who enfranchises his family or himself, moving opportunely anywhere in the world as he sees fit. This is the “Sovereign Individual” of James Dale Davidson, who proposed it after exasperation with the half-measures of the National Taxpayers Union, which he had founded. While we may discount much of what Rothbard derided as “space cadet” features of Davidson’s eponymous book – that is, the hyperbolic gushing that new technologies would transform and save everything – the principle works if you can afford it. Notably lacking in this kind of hyperbole is Bill Bonner, who is perhaps a better representative of the principle.

Update: see also L. Neil Smith, Space Cadets—For a Libertarian Future!:

As a veteran science fiction writer, I have been known to make a prediction of the future from time to time. I’ve made some embarrassingly silly misses, such as the booming popularity in America of Brazilian cars, or the advanced technology required for your car to have its own answering machine. But I also predicted the Internet, wall-sized TV/monitors, laptop and tablet computers, computer-aided forensics, and the massive acceptance of .40 caliber weapons.

One San Francisco weekend in the late 1970s, I was among a small handful of delegates (the names Feldman, White, and Grossberg come to mind) to the National Libertarian Party Convention made fun of by the late economist Professor Murray N. Rothbard for insisting that the subject of property rights—and the correlative responsibilities—in outer space needed mentioning in the National Libertarian Party platform. I knew Murray, who was often a short-sighted and toxic little man. He called us “space cadets” who were somehow damaging the dignity and believability of the Party with our irrelevant issue, and tried to laugh us off the National Platform Committee. Unfortunately for “Mr. Libertarian”, this was during the very week that that entire world was worried about whose head Skylab was about to come crashing down on. (It turned out to be Australia—wouldn’t want to hurt no kangaroo.)

See also Rothbard, The Menace of the Space Cult. Excerpt:

Since I was scheduled to give an update of my “optimism” speech, I was puzzled over the alleged absence of optimism in the convention program. What did they want? The answer surfaced soon enough: they want science fiction, they want “futurism,” they want eternal life, they want projections of visions of a technological fantasy-land. In short, they equate real world politics, indeed, the real world period, with gloom; “optimism” is only the loving contemplation of their own fancies.

“Libertarians have not come to promise human beings a technocratic utopia; we have come to bring everyone freedom, the freedom of each individual to pursue whatever his or her dreams of the future may be.”

But why? Why do professed libertarians of what we may call the “spacecadet” wing equate optimism with an eternal chewing of the cud of their fantasies, of their technocratic version of the Big Rock Candy Mountain, the Paradise which they see in their crystal-balls? If they are really libertarians, why isn’t the glorious prospect of freedom enough to motivate their actions as libertarians?

As the debate intensified, the answer to this puzzle became all too clear: these soothsayers and space cadets don’t really care all that much for liberty. They don’t in fact, care very much for the real world or reality. What motivates them is not the prospect of liberty but spinning phantom scenarios of the never-never land of Eden. They are interested in freedom only because they think it will help them reach their millennial paradise. As one of the space cadets admitted, when charged with promoting a religion instead of a political philosophy, “Yes, we want a religion!” The millennial religion of a thousand cults, the promise that wishing hard enough will make their vision of the Garden of Eden come true. All it lacks is a guru, a Messiah, a Moses, to lead the flock to the Promised Land.

But this is indeed a religion — it is not a political philosophy, and it sure as hell is not political action. Yet libertarians have not come to promise human beings a technocratic utopia; we have come to bring everyone freedom, the freedom of each individual to pursue whatever his or her dreams of the future may be. Or even to have no vision of the future. Libertarianism is surely not all of life; it brings the gift of political freedom to every person to pursue his own goals. His goals, not ours. To call — as a political party — for a specific vision of the future, the space-cadet vision, implies that that particular goal is going to be imposed on everyone, whether they like it or not.

This is not freedom: it is totalitarianism. Primitivists, after all, have rights too. They too should have the freedom, if they wish, to live unmolested on their own. Thus, neither primitivists nor space cultists should be given a forum within the Libertarian Party to promote and impose their own favorite level of technology.

To put it succinctly: the goal of libertarianism is freedom, period. No more and no less. Anything less is a betrayal; but anything more is equally a betrayal of liberty, because it implies imposing our own goals on others. To be a libertarian must mean that one upholds liberty as the highest political end not necessarily one’s highest personal end. To confuse the issue, to mix in any sort of vision — technocratic or futuristic or any other — with politics, is to abandon liberty as that highest political goal, and at the very least to destroy the very meaning of a political movement or organization.

Oddly enough, space and the space program — which the great revisionist historian Harry Elmer Barnes aptly termed the “moondoggle” and “astrobaloney’! — is precisely the area where the government has exercised total domination. Such futurist heroes of our “libertarian” space cultists as Dr. Gerard K. O’Neill are government-financed scientists and researchers whose projected “space colonies” will not be the “free space colonies” of our space cultists’ dreams but projects totally planned and operated by the federal government. Yet instead of engaging in sober critiques of the governmental space program, our space cadets embrace these state futurists as virtually their own.

{ 0 comments… add one }

Leave a Reply

© 2012-2024 StephanKinsella.com CC0 To the extent possible under law, Stephan Kinsella has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to material on this Site, unless indicated otherwise. In the event the CC0 license is unenforceable a  Creative Commons License Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License is hereby granted.

-- Copyright notice by Blog Copyright