The Libertarian Receptions of The Donald – The Populist Short-Circuit

by Adam Alcorn


         Libertarians and Conservatives are expressing various and perplexing reactions to the rise of the Donald. Here I attempt to explain my understanding of the Rise of the Donald. In no means am I suggesting that this is the “correct” understanding, but I feel that it explains the fascination in a more palatable manner.

Murray N. Rothbard, in his book Betrayal of the American Right, makes an argument regarding the perception of Joseph McCarthy and his anti-communist tirades. Here, Rothbard puts forward his understanding of the McCarthy “movement” in the heart of anti-communist fervor of the Cold War era.


Dr. Murray N. Rothbard

The Populist Short-Circuit

“…a reason for my for my own fascination with the McCarthy phenomenon: his populism. … For the ‘50s was an era when …(corporate liberalism)…had triumphed and seemed to be permanently in the saddle. Having now gained the seats of power, the liberals had given up their radical veneer of the ‘30s and were now settling down to the cozy enjoyment of their power and perquisites. It was a comfortable alliance of Wall Street, Big Business, Big Government, Big Unions, and liberal Ivy League intellectuals; it seemed to me that while in the long run of this unholy alliance could be overthrown by educating a new generation of intellectuals, that in the short-run the only hope to dislodge this new ruling elite was a populist short-circuit.

“In sum, that there was a vital need to appeal directly to the massed, emotionally, even demagogically, over the heads of the establishment: of the Ivy League, the mass media, the liberal intellectuals, or the Republican-Democrat political party structure. This appeal could be done – especially in that period of no organized opposition whatever – only by a charismatic leader, a leader who could make a direct appeal to the masses and thereby undercut the ruling and opinion molding elite; in sum, by a populist short-circuit. It seemed to me that this was what McCarthywas trying to do; and that was largely this appeal, the open-ended sense that there was no audacity of which McCarthy was not capable, that frightened the liberals, who from their opposite side of the fence, also saw that the only danger to their rule was in just such a whipping up of populist emotions.

“My own quip at the time, which roughly summed up this position, was that in contrast to the liberals, who of approved of McCarthy’s “ends” (ousters of Communists from offices and jobs) but disapproved of his radical and demagogic means, I myself approved of his means, (radical assault on the nations power structure) but not necessarily his ends.”

If you replace McCarthy with Trump, and replace communism with immigrants and warmongering, the circumstances are nearly identical. Like Rothbard, I wholeheartedly support Trumps’ full-scale attack on the political establishment, (his means), and I wholeheartedly reject his proposed policies, (his ends).

The political acumen of Murray Rothbard lives on in this dreadful campaign, and I hope other liberty lovers can begin to differentiate Trump’s means and his ends. I will support his means, and wholeheartedly oppose his policies, if by the wildest chance in hell he actually gains the presidency.

Adam Alcorn

The Rothbard quoted sections are cited below:

1. Rothbard, Murray N., and Thomas E. Woods. “National Review and the Triumph of the New Right.” The Betrayal of the American Right. Auburn (Ala.): Ludwig Von Mises Institute, 2007. 154-55. Print.