“At least Mr. Clark has put it out in the open: Libertarians have no desire to establish any dialogue with Conservatives.”

Author of In Praise of Decadence (1998), Why American History Is Not What They Say: An Introduction to Revisionism (2009), and Persuaded by Reason: Joan Kennedy Taylor & the Rebirth of American Individualism (2014). He is the narrator of the Cato Home Study Course and many libertarian audiobooks.

Tom G. Palmer is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, director of the Institute’s educational division, Cato University, Executive Vice President for International Programs at Atlas Network, and author of Realizing Freedom: Libertarian Theory, History, and Practice, among other works.

Jerry Pournelle [LR Jan.-Feb. ’76] seems to have fallen into a fallacy similar to that which engulfed Karl Hess in a previous edition of LR. It seems that both, perhaps through contacts with “libertarian culture monsters” (a plague inflicted by the almighty on more than one movement), have come to equate boorishness with libertarianism.

“Libertarian Culture Monsters”

Libertarians are accused (rightly in many cases as individuals, but fallaciously as a collective accusation) of having dollar signs for pupils and attempting to “measure” value (presumably monetarily) in all endeavors, to the detriment of friendship, culture, and the other elements of a humane and civilized community. No such neccessary connection exists, however. As a reading of von Mises or Hayek would show, the free society provides the background in which individuals can pursue their own happiness. One can also read Spencer and note his distinction between social statics and social dynamics, with the former providing the foundation for the latter. As regards dollar‐​lusting entrepreneurs who can only talk shop or their intellectual yahoos, one can only avoid them and be thankful that they at least raise your material living standard, though they may depress your culture standard.

While Röpke correctly places (in my view) humaneness, charity, friendliness, and the like as requisites for a pleasant and liveable society, this is by no means a condemnation of libertarianism. For without freedom, these are by and large replaced by brutality, hatred, misery, ignorance, and an overall inhumaneness. Also, some of Röpke’s political positions, presumably derived from his charity, invoke the power of the State, the most barbaric of all human institutions. Besides leading to greater poverty and want than would otherwise obtain (witness all of the State’s “charitable” programs) these schemes use the most uncivilized means of changing man’s actions, raw force combined with fear. If Dr. Pournelle doubts this, perhaps he would like to try not paying his taxes, social security tax, etc. The fist in the velvet glove doffs its covering and reveals its true nature.

What is more boring than a young convert to libertarianism? A young convert to Marxism, socialism, fascism, conservatism, liberalism, ad nauseum. The boorishness lies not in the ideology, but in the zeal to impose these views on another’s time.

Arlington, Va.


Dr. Jerry Pournelle’s review of Professor Röpke’s A Humane Economy was a surprising disappointment. It is my understanding that it is the purpose ofLibertarian Review to provide book reviews and commentary from a libertarian perspective. Dr. Pournelle’s review clearly failed to accomplish that purpose.

To characterize young libertarians as “dull… civilizational monsters” and certain points of libertarian analysis as “precarious when they’re not silly,” does the movement no service. Such flippant remarks I expect to find in the pages of conservative journals, not on those of libertarian ones. If Dr. Pournelle wishes to speak to libertarians of what he considers to be flaws in their philosophy or their approach, he would find that they are much more responsive to rational discourse as opposed to his off‐​the‐​cuff sneering attitude.

Indeed, Dr. Pournelle labors under a delusion if he believes that libertarians wish to establish a dialogue with conservatives such as himself at all. After attempting to work with conservatives for many years, most libertarians have come to the conclusion that conservatives only want to speak at them, and never to listen to them. Such an attitude as Dr. Pournelle displays only serves to reinforce that conclusion.

A critical review of Professor Röpke’s book would probably have proved to be interesting, but one from a person who seems not to perceive the chasm of philosophical difference between libertarianism and conservatism, and who seems intent on shepherding libertarians into the conservative fold through the means of ridiculing their consistent defense of human liberty is immeasureably more dull to this libertarian than Dr. Pournelle’s young libertarian acquaintances must seem to him.

National Secretary
Libertarian Party
Rochester, Mich.

Define Your Terms, Pournelle

And what is more dull than three young converts to libertarianism? One more “refutation” of the libertarian position, based in the idea that “there is a realm of life above and beyond the marketplace, and unless that realm is given its proper due, the market economy is doomed.” Go ahead; test the quality of the ennui. Ask questions, like “What is a ‘realm of life’?” “What is it to be ‘above and beyond the marketplace’?” What does it mean to give a ‘realm of life’ its “proper due’?” The boredom comes while you’re waiting for the answers. One answer might be that “realm of life” is jargon for “human activity” and that “above and beyond the marketplace” is jargon for “more inclusive than the marketplace” and that “giving a realm of life its proper due” really means “engaging in a certain activity.” On this interpretation one might take the proposition “there is a realm of life above and beyond the marketplace, and unless that realm is given its proper due, the market economy is doomed” to mean “there is a class of human activity which is wider than the marketplace and includes the marketplace, and unless the members of a society attend to the other social activities of marketplace status, their marketplace is likely not to endure.” Thinkers influenced by Ernst Cassirer would call this wider class of human acitivity “culture” and would agree that cultural forces are interdependent, so that the health of the market depends in certain ways on the health of, for example, science and art. But such thinkers would not be led by their analysis to argue for “a certain minimum of compulsory state institutions for social security.” On the contrary: if they were consistent, they would be led to advocate abolition of the state as, inevitably, a force against social harmony and cultural genuineness (this last term, borrowed from Edward Sapir, is explained fully in his Culture, Language and Personality).

But this interpretation is not the one held in mind by conservatives who speak of “realms of life above and beyond the marketplace.” In my experience, they hold no particular interpretation in mind. If Wilhelm Röpke holds a particular interpretation in mind, I don’t know what it is: Jerry Pournelle didn’t tell me. But I confess I’m not motivated to read Röpke myself and find out—my efforts to give such of his’ fellow conservatives as Ernest van den Haag, Duncan Williams, and Russell Kirk the benefit of the doubt on this issue has not been repaid, except with the tedium of appeals to “tradition.” And I’m puzzled about one thing: how does Pournelle believe libertarians—consistent libertarians‐​can hold a dialogue with conservatives, or with anyone else who doesn’t define his terms?

Los Angeles, Calif.

Pournelle Replies

I am and always have been well aware of the deep cleft between modem Libertarians and Conservatives. Still, I thought we were natural political allies, in that neither of us wants to destroy the system‐​both would, I thought, allow an actual alternation of government, rather than trying to take power in order to so change the system that the other could never get in. We could, I thought, be opponents and yet friends. Or so I thought until I saw some of the reactions to my review. Now I wonder.

At least Mr. Clark has put it out in the open: Libertarians have no desire to establish any dialogue with Conservatives.

As to “what is above and beyond the marketplace,” I would say some institution or mechanism that would keep me out of the slave camps and defend Mr. Riggenbach’s right to reject a dialogue with Conservatives—and in the world I live in that requires a lot of young men willing to spend their Christmases in deep holes out at Malmstrom and Whiteman Air Force bases, and other men in a different sort of blue uniform willing to get puked on by drunks, shot at by terrorists, and vilified by those whom they protect. I fear that I have so little shame that I can continue to say “God bless you, soldiers” and take seriously the Common Prayer litany “God Save the State and embue Thy ministers with righteousness.”

But I am entering a dialogue with those who say unequivocally that they do not wish to hear from or of my party. I’d best quit while I’m ahead.

Studio City, Calif.

Tax Favors

I cringe whenever I see a libertarian endorse the tax favors which some special interest groups receive. Michael Emerling does just this in his review ofFreedom Under Siege (LR Jan.-Feb.’76).

Libertarians have been fighting the misuse of church power for centuries. We must continue to fight, and not instead applaud the ability of the churches to gain special advantages. Next, perhaps, Mr. Emerling will be asking us to approve of a law which exempts the legislators themselves from the taxes which they impose on the rest of the population. And then we’ll support a law which cuts taxes for the whites, but not the blacks, in some benighted country. “A country in which some escape taxation… is better than one in which none do,” Mr. Emerling will tell us.

San Diego, Calif.

Emerling a Fifth Columnist?

Mr. Emerling’s review of Freedom Under Siege is distorted at best and pernicious at worst. He ignores the thrust of its thesis. Ms O’Hair maintains that the special financial privileges granted to religious organizations in the United States constitute a hidden tax on all taxpayers. She supports her point in voluminous detail. The financial magnitude of these privileges is staggering, and Ms O’Hair can certainly be forgiven for thinking that personal taxes would be notably reduced by removing the numerous privileges and exemptions offered to religious organizations.

If her proposals were to be implemented, substantial church holdings would at least be subject to taxation. I doubt, however, that my individual taxes would be significantly reduced, but at least the churches would truly pay their own way.

Mr. Emerling’s article sidesteps any considerations of justice in his approval of the churches’ singular success in avoiding the statist burden of taxation. Perhaps the Mafia should also be applauded for its success in avoiding governmental controls! Taxes exist. Present demands by the majority of American citizens for a veritable zoo of federal programs, combined with the admittedly deplorable necessity for an effective—and expensive—national defense, make it highly unlikely that the present level of governmental control will decline in the near future. Taxes are hereto stay for a while. Why should nonbelievers have to subsidize religionist insanities?

Even persons who usually find Ms O’Hair to be both blasphemous and unendurably abrasive should inform themselves of the enormous financial influence of the organized churches on the American economy. For those who agree with Ms O’Hair in thinking that freedom of religion includes freedomfrom religion, Freedom Under Siege is an expose of the extent rio which agnostics and atheists are forced by our present laws into supporting the very churches they detest.

Of course, your reviewer could be a religionist in Libertarian’s clothing. Is Mr. Emerling merely mistaken—or is he a fifth columnist in the churches’ attack on freedom of religion? Anyone who worn ders how well we have managed to separate Church and State in our country should read Freedom Under Siege and form his own opinions.

Greenville, Calif.

Emerling Replies

Jack R. Sanders and L. Stephen Young believe that church exemption from taxation is somehow a favor, privilege, or special advantage. In the name of justice, equal treatment, and liberty, they suggest that churches be taxed.

There are a number of errors contained in this position—far too many to examine in the space allotted. There is, however, an unholy trinity of misconceptions upon which this view rests. Let us briefly have a look at it.

First, taxation is theft. Theft violates a person’s sovereignty over his life, liberty, and property. The person who avoids taxation is retaining control of what is rightfully his. Advocating universal taxation in the name of liberty is like advocating universal murder in the name of life: both positions are self‐​contradictory.

Second, equal treatment may be good or evil. The murder of first‐​born children under the age of two could be accomplished. All children under two would be treated equally. But this is evil of the lowest order. Uniformity is blind: it serves virtue and vice without question. Consistent evil is far worse than compromising, inconsistent evil.

Third, taxation is an unjust burden, a vicious penalty for the “sin” of earning and saving money. Avoiding this disadvantage is not some kind of special advantage. Escaping a penalty is not a reward. Negating a negative is not a positive. Those who escape an injustice should be admired and emulated, not scorned and repudiated.

Almost every church in America is supported by past or present voluntary contributions of members. It is only when a church uses force to achieve its goals that religion may properly be termed a political problem. Until and unless a church employs coercion, libertarians will take a “Hands Off!” policy toward it and every other form of voluntary assocation.

Tucson, Ariz.

Letters from readers are welcome. Although only a selection can be published and none can be individually acknowledged, each will receive editorial consideration and may be passed on to reviewers and authors. Letters submitted for publication should be brief, typed, double spaced, and sent to LR, 901 N. Washington St., Alexandria, VA 22314..