Salvo 07.06.2020

Libertarians are Underpants Gnomes


It’s time for conservatives to abandon fusionist organizations.

America’s history is under attack from low-testosterone jihadis trained by our own universities and supported by our own corporations. They are incapable of building. They do nothing but tear down. They want to see everything that the average American took pride in just a few years ago expunged from the historical record. They are the penultimate anti-conservatives.

Where were the guards? Where were the intellectual night watchmen? Haven’t conservatives burned millions of dollars over the last 20, 30 years to at least prevent something like this?

Yes. And they’ve failed. Let the first half of 2020 be a warning call to conservatives: you must change your approach if you want to take the culture back from those who have kneecapped you for decades.

Libertarian Fusionism Made Sense Until It Didn’t

In  “The Intellectuals and Socialism,” F.A. Hayek explored how socialism had become the dominant force compelling intellectuals and driving political conversation at the time (in 1949!). In typical Hayekian fashion, the essay is dry but contains a kernel of truth. Intellectuals, Hayek says, do not only wield influence among themselves. They train others who go out and influence policy, journalism, and politics beyond their own reach.

This single tract has worked at the core theory of social change among libertarian & fusionist policy orgs in Washington, D.C. for the last 50 years. The Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) includes it on their table of free literature at their college summer seminars, and other libertarian-conservative fusionist organizations typically include a lecture on “Hayekian Social Change” among their public offerings.

The theory essentially works like this: you can imagine a pyramid of intellectuals. At the very top are heavyweight, once-in-a-lifetime, paradigm-defining thinkers like Marx, Adam Smith, John Locke, Edmund Burke, etc. Their ideas trickle down the pyramid to intellectuals who become well-known in their own fields and teach others.

Those intellectuals then become the vanguard, teaching students in universities. These students then go out and become journalists, public policy wonks, grassroots organizers, and others who have an inordinate amount of influence on public opinion. At the very bottom of the pyramid are the voting public and politicians.

The theory makes enough sense on its face. Academics who hardly see themselves as ideological are trained by other academics, who were trained in a Marxian tradition. These academics then go teach hundreds of students every year. If a few of those students grasp onto the ideas underlying the curriculum and just one of those students becomes an editor at the Times, or a staff writer who produces a hilariously inaccurate screed like “The 1619 Project” (and then wins a Pulitzer for it), or a head of corporate giving at GloboCorp™, then the system works.

The IHS, as an example, specializes in training academics from grad school through tenure to infiltrate the academy and contribute fusionist ideas into the generally left-leaning mix. There’s a whole alphabet soup of Koch-funded and Koch-adjacent organizations that run programs in this vein (FEE, AIER, CKI, CKF, AFP, AFF, RSI—the list would make FDR blush).

Some of these orgs focus on academics, others on public policy wonks. Some spin up “journalism fellowships” and internships to try to pluck up young writers and amplify their voices, with the hopes that they’ll ascend from a fusionist publication like the Washington Examiner or the New York Times. But this is where the theory goes off the rails.

You Will Be Assimilated

What happens once you train up an academic over many years, through grad school, through postgrad, and finally to get tenure? What happens after you train up a journalist from some fusionist publication that’s essentially a tabloid and you get them to the level where they can apply for a job at the New York Times?

In the libertarian fusionist hypothetical vacuum, these people go on to rest on their laurels and provide a different opinion than their ideological counterparts from the Marxian left.

But is that really how climbing the ranks of stratified fields like academia and journalism and policy work in the real world? Of course not. Instead, the Hayekian fusionist agent of social change is forced to either morph his or her beliefs to be more acceptable to their Marxian counterparts, or accept an artificial ceiling on his or her career.

The fusionist offense-by-infiltration technique only works in a world where the dominant institutions of the time are not already thoroughly controlled by anti-American, Marxian interests. If the last few weeks have shown us anything, it is that there simply is no longer any such dominant non-Marxian institution in the United States.

Once-estimable newsrooms are now staffed by mentally ill children who would throw a coup rather than allow the publication to run an op-ed by a sitting U.S. senator. Like a Whole Foods-operated North Korean junta, it’s quickly become normal in the upper-middle-class United States to demand people get fired for the beliefs of their friends and family members.

Every stratum of the American “intellectual” framework is thoroughly compromised. In the universities, the socialists control the loudest professors in most fields, the deans, the vice provosts, and the petty university bureaucrats. In journalism they control the New York Times newsroom down to the editors at feeder publications. In policy, the Woke Nonprofit Industrial Complex lobbies companies regularly to bend a knee to the Marxian flavor of the week. And in GloboCorp™, the women you knew who majored in Gender, Indigenous Peoples, and Oppression Studies are now your Directors of Human Resources.

The only field where there’s an inkling of success for the fusionist, Hayekian approach to social change is economics, and even there, the results are middling. The alliance between conservatives and libertarians resulted in training the next generation of free traders, who specialize in arguing that we should increase the quantity supplied of labor in the U.S. (and drive wages further down). The long-term effect of these economists isn’t clear, anyway, since sociology, psychology, and oppression studies tend to make up the required course loads in universities.

Few students go through four years of university and come out ardently free-market. Many come out ardently anti-American.

Conservatives got the short end of the stick if the only remotely effective outcome of the Hayekian approach to social change is training more economists while abandoning basically all conservative values and traditions to do with history, sociology, religion, and the arts.

The Game Plan

In a 1998 episode of South Park, the boys repeatedly lose their underpants. They eventually discover their underpants were stolen by the “underpants gnomes.” The gnomes explain that they steal underpants in order to profit and show the boys their business plan:

  1. Steal Underpants
  2. ????
  3. Profit!

The gnomes’ plan is insane. Nobody knows how you get from point one to point three. Something magical happens between stealing underpants and generating profit.

This is exactly how conservative donors should view the massive conservative-libertarian fusionist intellectual apparatus in 2020. These organizations are Underpants Gnomes. Nobody knows how you get from recruiting great intellectual talent to actual social change in the real world. These orgs siphon off human capital and money that could otherwise be better spent building up real alternatives to the Marxian hellscape unfolding on television today.

Either they were powerless to stop the scenario we are in today, or they actively created it. Either way, they are unfit to get donor dollars or to continue existing.

Conservatives ought to jettison the libertarian zombie agenda that has made the fusionist attempt so sterile. Keep the insights of public choice theory and regulatory capture, but then double down on creating the art, literature, and architecture that really make people conservative. Show your average American how you will make it easier for them to have a family, raise that family, and grow old with that family. Elect political leaders who aren’t captured by China and GloboCorp™. Build art and communities people actually have a connection to and who will stand up to the mob. That—not funding yet more journalism fellowships—is what will help save the American dream.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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