New Libertarian Website Launched

Cato Institute has launched a new website: libertarianism.org. In a previous incarnation, the domain served as a promotion page for David Boaz’s Libertarianism: A Primer.

Designed to be an introductory and exploratory — if not quite a portal — site, it sports an elegant, stylized dove-wing logo. This is Cato’s version of what the Advocates for Self-Government offer at libertarianism.com. But Cato’s new site offers more links and videos on its front page, so it is bound to get more hits. The site offers a basic banner introduction:

LIBERTY. It’s a simple idea, but it’s also the linchpin of a complex system of values and practices: justice, prosperity, responsibility, toleration, cooperation, and peace. Many people believe that liberty is the core political value of modern civilization itself, the one that gives substance and form to all the other values of social life. THEY’RE CALLED LIBERTARIANS.

Well, that’s one way of putting it.

Just below the banner, a video of an F.A. Hayek lecture on why ethics not arise from our reason. A familiar Hayekian topic, and I just started listening to it. Below that are three other videos, one by Milton Friedman on humility, a short (and terrific) Murray Rothbard lecture on economic recessions, and Joan Kennedy Taylor on feminism. Today’s featured essays are by George H. Smith (“Religious Toleration Versus Religious Freedom”) and Tom G. Palmer (“Myths of Individualism.”)

Below this, a list of “people of LIBERTY,” a hero’s gallery of six libertarians, proto-libertarians and quasi-libs, rotating by page refresh. On my first look, they were all men: Milton Friedman, George H. Smith, Herbert Spencer, Thomas Sowell, Nathaniel Branden, and Frédéric Bastiat. I was pleased to see Spencer on that list: It’s deserved. Friedman is to be expected, since he served as the public intellectual face of libertarian ideas for so long. Other choices seem a tad bizarre. Why no women? I guess Branden stands in for Rand, in more than one sense. But couldn’t the good Cato webmasters nudge out Mr. Smith (who’s best known for his atheism writing, and most beloved, by me, for an excellent essay on Herbert Spener’s ethics) and replace him with Isabel Paterson or Rose Wilder Lane? Just for a tiny bit of “gender” balance?

After I refreshed the page, up popped Richard Overton, Robert Nozick, Julian L. Simon, Milton Friedman (again), Alexis de Tocqueville, and Murray Rothbard, three of whom I have spoken with on the phone. With another shuffle I finally see a woman on the list: Isabel Paterson. I trust that J. B. Say, Gustave de Molinari, Albert Jay Nock, H. L. Mencken, and Ludwig von Mises will hit the list at some point.

The site is expertly built. It looks lovely, one of the best-looking libertarian sites around.

There’s a lot to digest here. That’s good. It echoes the breadth of libertarian thought. So let the listening and reading (and criticism!) begin.

5 comments… add one

  • Gender balance? Yes, Rand, but not because of her sex.

    Reply
  • Unsurprisingly, Thomas Szasz is excluded. The moral shame of libertarianism — with Rothbard a noteworthy exception — is that many libertarians are mute when the state imprisons and tortures in the name of mental health. Szasz is the clearest and strongest voice in favor of freedom from medical oppression, the right to use drugs, and the freedom to commit suicide.

    Reply
  • No one in the libertarian moment adjudicates more strongly for gender balance (or psychology) than I do [I'm the National Coordinator of the Association of Libertarian Feminists, for starters]. I would like to see more female libertarian writers listed too, for example, Suzanne LaFollette, a colleague of Albert Jay Nock (is he missing too?) and author of an outstanding book on libertarian feminism. I would also agree that Szasz is a libertarian hero and arguably ought to be included. However your suggestion to “nudge out” George H. Smith, a well-regarded libertarian scholar who is currently writing a weekly blog for Cato, just seems misplaced. His work is still ongoing, unlike those who are dead. Ahem. You seem to think that the blog/website is a price of pie that only has room for so many people. A bit unrealistic, don’t you think? Why not advocate for the inclusion of both Paterson and Smith? That makes more sense to me.

    Reply
    • It’s great to see comments appear here. So I can slyly pat myself on the back for my backhanded and somewhat Delphic post.

      But what’s a forum if not a place for commenters to comment on other comments? Here are some responses.

      Mr. Wenzel “nailed” it by carrying on an old feud. I wish the feud would just stop, both sides calling truce and agreeing to disagree when they can’t agree, but acknowledge each others’ existence a tad more. Equitable commerce! (Obviously, I don’t feel beholden to either side.)

      Thomas Szasz should go up on the list, if living folk (and Tom Sowell and George Smith are two living men, eh?) go up. I agree with Ms. Presley that Susan LaFollette should go up, too.

      At this point, the discussion reminds me of Radio Raheem’s complaint in “Do the Right Thing”: How come there are no brothers on your wall? That question eventually led to a race riot. I hope libertarians can leave the trash cans by the curb.

      Frankly, were I libertarianism.org’s webmaster, I wouldn’t put ANY living people up on the wall. You get to be acknowledged by doing good work and by being dead. But that ship has sailed, and there are living people on the page, so my ulterior point was to encourage Cato to do the right thing and put up a greater diversity on rotation. Last time I checked, Deirdre McCloskey turned up, so that’s a nice touch: the female presence and the transgendered presence all in one mention. Couldn’t be happier.

      Perhaps I shouldn’t have tweaked George Smith’s mention. He’s a scholar but not exactly a major figure, and as much as I admire some of his work, I wouldn’t put him up before I promoted Antony De Jasay or Jan Narveson or Hans-Hermann Hoppe or Loren Lomasky or dozens of others. But prioritizing living libertarians seems a tad odd to me, in a site such as Cato’s. Mises and Rothbard should be up, and emblazoned big. They were central to the revival of libertarian thought, they made huge contributions to economics and libertarianism. And they are dead. They deserve a bigger presence on the site.

      So yes, I understand where Wenzel is coming from, and I understand his frustration. Cato, by not placing Mises up on the first roster, but making much of Hayek on the site, promotes a seriously lopsided view of libertarianism. One could easily argue that Hayek was not a libertarian, or wasn’t for most of his career. He was sympathetic. He did much to aid the cause. But he was also trying, desperately, to get mainstream liberal opinion to shift more to our side by offering many, many compromises that most libertarians I know can’t really get on board with. Hayek’s basic ideology is a limited transfer state liberalism — limited to a specific argument about public goods that has very little to do with the idea of liberty. I have often been attracted to this position, especially in the midst of a debate with resolute statists. But it is not exactly libertarian. Libertarianism elevates the idea of equal freedom to a much higher and more central place in politics and law.

      And Mises did that. Rothbard took those ideas further. And thus they are closer to the heart of modern libertarianism than is Hayek. I think honesty demands recognition of this, even if one prefers Hayekian modes of presentation and argumentation and policy over Misesian or Rothbardian ones.

      For my part, I encourage modern libertarians to reclaim their older forebears. At least go as far back as J.B. Say. Remember Bastiat (as Cato does), sure, but also Gustave de Molinari, an amazing, trailblazing thinker who deserves to be better known. Herbert Spencer was a towering figure whose work deserves to be read. And I’m glad that Cato has had the courage to bring up his name, at the very least. Hayek certainly didn’t cite him much, despite reviving a whole bevy of Spencerian notions.

      All this is mainly a matter of symbolism and presentation. Diverse factions in the libertarian movement sport different heroes, and they sometimes despise the heroes of competing camps. I confess to a great deal of antagonism to two famous names in our story: Henry George and Ayn Rand, both (I hazard) who did the cause of liberty some major harm. (George by fixing on an idiotic theory of labor and wages, and obsessing about land and touting a form of socialism; Rand by throwing in egoism in a confused and confusing manner. Herbert Spencer was raised on something like that Georgist idea, and promoted early on; later he had sense to abandon it.) So I realize only too well that our heroes do not inhabit the same Valhallas.

      Despite my many reservations about Cato’s new site, I wish it well, and I hope it grows up and does great good.

      Reply

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