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The Unique Importance of the Tory Anarchist
CJay Engel comment 0 Comments access_time 4 min read

I was recently asked by Keir Martland at Mises UK to provide an article on toryism and libertarianism. I appreciate his reaching out to me. Here is half, with a link to the rest below!

If ever there was a phrase that deserved more widespread repute in libertarian circles, it is the charming title “Tory Anarchist,” which Murray Rothbard— though not the first to apply it— gave to the likes of H.L. Mencken and Albert Nock in his book The Betrayal of the American Right. What he meant by this phrase, together with a case for its adoption today, are the themes of the present article.

Now, as an American not nearly as culturally committed to the word Tory as is the esteemed Sean Gabb, I should note at the outset that I will use the word with a broader, more vague application than he has in his recent reflections on the matter. I seek not to make the case for an English-oriented Toryism, for this is clearly beyond any reasonable realm of my expertise. However, the toryism that I have in mind echoes the demeanor of his own: a sharp hesitancy toward tendencies of sweeping social change, a deep-seated cynicism of revolution, and perhaps a flair of distressed pessimism about the winds of leftism and egalitarianism sweeping the West.

The libertarian is one who, whether for utilitarian or ethical reasons —often both— is radically critical of the state. The so-called “anarchist,” in the present context, considers the application of libertarian ideas most consistent when they apply equally to the state as to every other human institution. That is, if the state represents an intervention into the natural and private property order, then the theorist should have no use for it.

If economics be one’s foundation, the state is, every turn, a transgression against the efficiency and potential achievements of the market. If instead one rests his anti-statist arguments on ethics, as I do, then the state is the unethical institutionalized breach of the right of the individual to live without external violence against his person and property.

Thus Murray Rothbard wrote that his own definition of an anarchist society was “one where there is no legal possibility for coercive aggression against the person or property of an individual.” Since the state itself is a rejection of this simple principle, the state is therefore excluded from an anarchist paradigm.

Now then, this unique definition of anarchism is clearly not the definition of anarchism which focuses its brand on social unrest, a destruction of various social institutions, and an upending of a private property order, which necessarily includes basic provision for law and order.

Thus, Rothbardian anarchism itself, which is a certain position on the legal permissibility of aggression against person and property, does not per se extend itself to more general and empirical observations of sociology.

Hans Hoppe once observed therefore that libertarianism, a legal-political theory, is “rationalistic, philosophical, logical, and constructivist” and that it focuses on “concepts of property, production, exchange, and contract.” Libertarianism as rationalistic and applicable to all times and places should be contrasted with the nature of sociological observations, which are “empiricistic and descriptive,” focused on “families, authority, communities, and social ranks.”

If the “anarchist” in “Tory Anarchism” relates to the rationalistic and ideological realm, then the “tory” relates to the empirical, culture-specific realm.

The tory anarchist then is one who not only takes up a radical position on the nature of the state (as well as its right to exist), but he also carries with it a demeanor of caution and concern over a western world in cultural revolt. Looking out across history at the development of western culture and mannerisms, he laments the fall of the Old World conventions and traditions. He is aware of the relationship that traditional cultural habits and norms have with a thriving society and he sees in the tides of modern leftism a wave of social revolution.

The tory anarchist is able to see that the revolution does not merely seek to undermine the fundamental role of private property rights, but it seeks to swarm every institution, uniting the world under a new banner of cultural uniformity as designed and approved by the Progressive elite.