If there wasn't anything there that I found attractive, I would not bother with attacking it so much. Or in other words, my attacks on libertarianism are a reflection of an internal argument between different aspects of myself.
Up until a few years ago, I thought libertarians were basically just misguided nerds, who had fallen in love with the formal elegance of free-market theories and mistaken this abstraction for a viable system of government. This elegance may be hard to understand by those who are neither geeks nor libertarians, but for those who are one or the other, it exerts an almost metaphysical appeal. Markets are wonderful because nobody is in charge. Prices represent condensed chunks of information about supply and demand, and adjust themselves automatically, with no Central Bureau of Price Control. Money does in fact encode human needs and abilities into a readily exchangeable form, and that's a good thing.
That's the positive vision of libertarianism, and it's something that I can appreciate a bit, despite being aware of its limitations. The negative aspect of libertarianism, something I can also get behind, is their healthy distrust of government, authority, and centralization. Such tendencies are found on the moderate left too, but generally run into the problem that the moderate left wants to do things for society, and you can't do things without an institutional structure, and that generally means a government.
So the libertarian starts out with a couple of appealing ideas. The problem (or so I thought until recently) is that they just don't think them through enough, they don't understand that corporate power can be as damaging to freedom as government power, they don't understand that some centralization can be a good and necessary thing, they don't understand that society will be ordered one way or the other and refusing to acknowledge the machinery of society just lets others run away with it. But despite the manifest flaws, at least there is some underlying idealism.
But my picture of the libertarian movement turned out to be incomplete. Present-day libertarianism seems to involve at least four major threads:
- idealists motivated by the above vision, generally infused with some fictional support from Robert Heinlein or Ayn Rand;
- big-money corporate interests fighting regulation (see Kochtopus);
- neoconfederates, racists, and the usual extreme-right whackjobs;
- leftover anti-communists from the cold war era.
The relative role of each of these is an interesting question that I don't know enough of the history to answer. My personal encounter with libertarianism happened through MIT and the early Internet, which has heavily biased towards (1). Recently I've become more aware of the other two motivating forces, which are probably more important politically since the appeal of (1) is limited mostly to nerds.
Ron Paul, on the other hand, is fatally compromised by his roots in (3). This manifests very noticably in his policy proposals. For instance, rather than opposing all drug laws as s strict libertarian would, he wants to devolve the issue back to the states, as if only the Federal government is capable of infringing on liberty. That particular view are easy to trace back to the so-called "state's rights" movement and general racial backlash.
It's a pity that the only candidate who opposes the American imperium is fatally contaminated by this kind of stench.