There is a certain section of the liberty movement that has an over-active concern for what other people think. It seems every few posts/articles/videos from these ‘pragmatic’ libertarians is dedicated to criticising elements of the liberty movement, for example, for being too ‘dogmatic’, for their argumentation methods and delivery or for who they associate with. I have no issue there necessarily, but what I want to hone in on the insistence that libertarians must disavow themselves from all so-called ‘conspiracy theorists’, the reason being that they make the movement look ‘kookish’ and irrational. In short, even if this is true, it doesn’t matter.

 

For what the ‘pragmatic’ libertarian wants from the liberty movement, purging the conspiracy theorists might be a good idea. They may be a passionate defender of Rand Paul, even though he is not necessarily the most pure of libertarians. He may also in favour of economic sanctions against Putin, amongst other not-so-libertarian policies. I’m not criticising these positions in this particular article, I am simply bringing forth evidence of a particular mindset. This mindset is exemplified by the ‘mainstream’ libertarians that are less concerned with pure theory and more concerned with getting elected – the big L libertarians, if you will. But with the main concern being electability, purging conspiracy theorists and other aspects of counter-culture is also a rational step towards that direction.

 

It just turns out that I am not going in that direction, and I am therefore not rejecting the entire conspiracy movement out of hand. The conspiracy movement, despite its slightly off-the-mark view of the world, has a part to play in the wider fight for liberty. Conspiracy research itself has been useful and will continue to be useful in the search for truth and major conspiracy researchers and pundits bring publicity to the libertarian cause.

 

I will for the sake of balance highlight the limits of conspiratorial thinking. Conspiracy theorists can tend to view conspiracies through a statist lens: that certain groups of people behind the scenes are subverting our ‘great institutions’, and their actions should be opposed because it is a distraction from what they really ought be doing. For example, a very common interpretation of globalism is that there is a gang of bankers plotting to create a world government to enslave the populace, which is not an entirely irrational viewpoint, but their prescription is that we need strong national governments that print their own money. The issue with this thinking, regardless of whether it is true to the last detail, is that it focuses too much on the personage rather than the institutional wrongs. They see ‘the bankers’ as the enemy rather than the power they weild. Ostensibily they believe that the power is legitimate provided the correct people are put in charge.

 

One can agree with every aspect of the conspiracy theory whilst disagreeing with the proposed solution. It may indeed be true that these bankers personally fund governments to do their bidding, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that we must go after the bankers. If one keeps in mind that the state is little more than a gang of thieves writ large, it is easier not to fall in this trap. If one particular group of people are influencing the slave masters to favour them, is the issue with that group of people or with the slave master? The libertarian says that there should be no power to hold slaves anyway!

 

The typical libertarian method is to point out that power will be jostled for by all parties, it just so happens that the richest individuals and families in society have an advantage over the rest, meaning we have a Rothschild and Rockefeller influenced super state rather than a Joe and Bob influenced super state. Both are immoral in the libertarian’s eyes – there is no non-arbitrary way of making an ethical distinction between illegitimate power wielded by the rich and by the poor, even if the latter is at all feasible.

 

The conspiracy theorists’ unsophisticated analysis of the state undoes them when it gets down to proposing a system to replace what we have now. Many have latched on to the beautifully utopian but economically flawed ideas behind the ‘resource-based-economy’, exemplified by The Venus Project. Others follow the neo-greenbacker movement that argues for a national central bank to print ‘debt-free’ money.  Both movements have a benign view of the state that is in contradiction to, basically, all of human history.

 

But does this mean libertarians should never even associate with conspiracy theorists as some within their own sect would prefer? A common but helpful critique of conspiracy theorists by libertarians is that they attribute problems of the state with deliberate wrong-doing. In many cases conspiracy theorists do miss the mark, which could be remedied by a strong education in basic economics.

 

However, the proper approach to conspiracy theories is to deal with them on a case-by-case basis. It is wrong to jump on every theory without question, but it is equally wrong to dismiss them all out of hand. By the law of averages, some conspiracy theories have to be true, otherwise one has to conclude that there has never been a conspiracy in all of history. This is just as dogmatic and irrational view as the hyper-conspiracy theorists who see wrong-doing everywhere.

 

What does Murray Rothbard say about conspiracy? Well, ‘Mr Libertarian’ saw the pitfalls of conspiracy analysts’ insistence on stopping at ‘cui bono’ (who benefits?) and assuming anyone who benefitted from a policy was automatically a conspirator. However, he saw conspiracy research as “ . . . an essential tool for analyzing the world in which we live”

 

In the 1977 article ‘The Conspiracy Theory of History Revisited’, Rothbard sketches out a real-life scenario that only the most stubborn could wave off as immaterial to the libertarian cause:

 

These reflections are prompted by the almost blatant fact – so blatant as to be remarked on by the major newsweeklies – that virtually the entire top leadership of the new Carter administration, from Carter and Mondale on down, are members of the small, semisecret Trilateral Commission, founded by David Rockefeller in 1973 to propose policies for the United States, Western Europe, and Japan, and/or members of the board of the Rockefeller Foundation. The rest are tied in with Atlanta corporate interests, and especially the Coca-Cola Company, Georgia’s major corporation.

 

Well, how do we look at all this? Do we say that David Rockefeller’s prodigious efforts on behalf of certain statist public policies are merely a reflection of unfocused altruism? Or is there pursuit of economic interest involved? Was Jimmy Carter named a member of the Trilateral Commission as soon as it was founded because Rockefeller and the others wanted to hear the wisdom of an obscure Georgia governor? Or was he plucked out of obscurity and made President by their support? Was J. Paul Austin, head of Coca-Cola, an early supporter of Jimmy Carter merely out of concern for the common good? Were all the Trilateralists and Rockefeller Foundation and Coca-Cola people chosen by Carter simply because he felt that they were the ablest possible people for the job? If so, it’s a coincidence that boggles the mind. Or are there more sinister political-economic interests involved?

 

Rothbard is known for his impartial, rigorous deconstructions of the nature of the state, but recognises the need for a different kind of analysis that draws attention to the self-interested human action of individuals within the state and its beneficiaries. The conspiracy analyst and the libertarian historian are more or less commenting on the same phenomenon – the issue of power – albeit with a different lens.

 

It is simply naivety to believe that every negative event that happens is due to negligence or incompetence. The reality is that some people get together in secret and plan things that will be of negative consequence to others. One of the more notable ‘true’ conspiracies is the events surrounding the Watergate scandal, that cannot by any stretch of the imagination be attributed to mere incompetence. Anyone researching and commenting on Watergate before its public outing may have been labelled a kook back then – was this conspiracy plausible above all others? It is not obvious that Watergate is true simply because the conspiracy became public, and other conspiracies are not because they have not yet gone public.

 

There is an argument to be made that statism itself is a conspiracy. After all, when you boil it down, the state is little more than a gang. There are of course surrounding players that are sincere believers in their policies, and in the idea that the state can help society, but it is difficult to deny that there exists a group of nefarious puppet masters that know exactly what they’re doing.

 

The whole point of the state is exerting power, and offering parts of it to the highest bidder. When any libertarian hears of a steel quota being implemented, they are not likely take the state’s reasoning for it at face value, but will most probably jump to the conclusion that powerful people in the steel industry lobbied for it. And when they do research it, they find that (what do you know?) the steel industry did indeed lobby for it. But nobody calls these people conspiracy theorists, that’s just called ‘not being a sucker’.

 

And how does it look if the libertarian movement as a whole ignores conspiracy, especially if some turn out to be true? It is surely not in libertarian’s interest to be out of step. It is of their benefit to be open to these kinds of things lest they be seen as part of the problem. Libertarians must not ignore past and present ‘Watergates’ despite the ‘kooky’ labels, because if they turn out to be true, it could de-legitimise them.

 

I am, of course, thinking long-term, in contrast to the big L’s who are all about short-term politicking. If they are prioritising public office, conspiracy theorists and other ‘nuts’ look like they’re going to get in the way. But well-reasoned conspiracy research can help with short-term gain too. There is a large subset of people who are simply not turned on by detached analysis, and are more likely to pay attention to real issues if they understand that individuals in the public eye are in on the grand statist conspiracy. Although it is true that it matters little to the libertarian whether Obama or Romney is in power, it may be helpful in the cause of ‘waking people up’ (a phrase that should be used sparingly, but appropriate here) to implicate either one or both of them when it is blatantly true. The ‘something should be done!’ feeling can translate into protest voting.

 

The anti-conspiracy-theorist crowd should think about conversion. One of the biggest hurdles anyone has to make before they take the plunge into libertarianism is to cure themselves of the belief that ‘our great public servants’ exist for the people’s benefit. There is no better way to do that than to continually expose the corruption that goes on at all levels, gradually chipping away at the trust in government that was embedded in their psyches from an early age.

 

Libertarians tend to forget that libertarianism is actually a pretty kooky worldview. Any credibility salvaged by dispelling, for example, Alex Jones, from the movement will be slight, seeing as most in the mainstream think libertarians are weirdos anyway. The sorts of people that attack Jones are not usually the sort to believe that we should go back to the Gold standard. The big Ls try to nullify the ‘weird’ aspect of libertarianism as much as possible, but in the process manage to stultify the message to a point which makes voters ask ‘what’s the point of voting Libertarian if they’re just Republican-lite?’

 

Conspiracy theorists help the movement to a surprisingly large degree. Alex Jones in particular gives prominent libertarians a greater audience than they otherwise would have. His massive audiences have boosted the online and offline presence of Stefan Molyneux, Lew Rockwell, Peter Schiff, Tom Woods and even Ron Paul. When these people guest on Jones’ shows, many declare a drop in credibility. But whatever credibility they lose is made up tenfold by their jump in audience figures. I can personally vouch for Alex Jones for introducing me to at least three of those mentioned.

 

I will argue that it is in fact very important that serious libertarian figures appear on conspiracy radio and Youtube shows. In a time where the failures of ‘the system’ are becoming all the more obvious, it is important to give the individuals involved in the fallout a way out, a worldview that can guide confused souls out of pessimissm. After being involved in conspiracy media for so long I know first hand how convoluted and labyrinthine the ‘alternative’ view of the world can be. Libertarians can sit there and capture some of that counter-culture movement and direct them towards sound ideas ahead of kooky ones. If it were not for Peter Schiff’s willingness to generate a presence amongst this sub-culture, Alex Jones’ and others’ audiences would be further subject to the incoherent ramblings of Webster Tarpley.

 

It is my contention that large sections of the conspiracy movement are a decent way libertarian anyway. During my conspiracy info blowout, I read a lot of David Icke, who ironically served as one of my first exposures to libertarian ideas. Although his rhetoric is filled with economic fallacies, he espouses what can roughly be described as the non-aggression principle – he argues that individuals should basically be permitted to do whatever they like provided they do not interfere with others; “OK, that makes sense” I thought. He makes great pains to make his readers understand that democracy does not necessarily mean freedom. He writes tirades against burdensome and unnecessary regulation. He is also viciously anti-war, which is half the battle! Give me a peaceful socialist (though I do not believe David Icke is a socialist) over a war-mongering classical liberal any day.

 

There are plenty of actual libertarians in the movement, including Alex Jones, Mark Dice, Luke Rudkowski, Max Keiser and Ben Swann. Others have explicitly converted to libertarianism, and outright anarcho-capitalism, including Henrik Palmgren of Red Ice Creations, and James Corbett of Corbett Report. All represent crucially placed information centres in the movement and invite thousands of newcomers into libertarian ideas. Prominent info hub Activist Post links to LewRockwell.com, and listed ‘Economics in One Lesson’ by Henry Hazlitt amongst its recommended readings. I could go on, but it’s pretty clear to anyone involved in either the liberty or the conspiracy movements that there is a lot of crossover.

 

Yes, Alex Jones’ loud, angry rants can be tiresome, but despite his less than diplomatic delivery I will defend him to the hilt, because he has more principle in his toe than most mainstream ‘respectable’ journalists have in their entire bodies. Jones could have gone the way of so many other talk-radio hosts in their willingness to compromise on war, the economy and the drug war. Jones doesn’t say what his audience want to hear, he says whatever he feels he has to say, which has to be admired, if not the volume with which he delivers it.

 

Also, by simply appearing on a radio show one is not endorsing a point of view. It is unrealistic to expect people to only appear on media outlets they 100% agree with. Alex Jones propagates some pretty outlandish theories, but it doesn’t matter so much. Those commentators who claim loss of credibility has occurred tend not to think so when libertarians appear on Fox News or Huffington Post, even though they agree with their worldview about as much. It is only the appearance of being ‘kooky’ that they don’t like, even though, as we have touched on, libertarians are already in the kooky bin to begin with.

 

Obviously the conspiracy movement has at least something to offer to libertarians. As a compromise, is it too much to ask of the big L’s to simply not touch upon conspiracy instead of actively attacking it? There are plenty of other movements that cross-over with libertarianism that don’t receive the same dissmissive treatment. No libertarian would begrudge the presence of lefties in the Ron Paul Center for Peace and Prosperity, nor the presence of neo-cons in anti-Obamacare or anti-Common Core campaigns. We should offer space in the tent to anyone that aligns with our views in any significant way.