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Ideological Blindness on the Right and Left

Jeffrey A. Tucker
December 14th, 2018
American Institute for Economic Research
Comments (32)

This article was originally published by Jeffrey A. Tucker at the American Institute for Economic Research

Murray Rothbard had a law: intellectuals specialize in what they are worst at.

We’ve all known them: the learned historian who knows no economics but proclaims fealty to socialism; the economist who is brilliant at math but can’t stop writing about theology; the philosopher who has subtle views about Heidegger and Derrida but mainly spends class time haranguing students about the solution to climate change.

What is true for intellectuals is doubly so for politicians. Many people on the right side of the political spectrum have solidly reasonable views on property rights, judicial restraint, and cutting domestic spending. But these days, many of these same people are obsessed with fomenting trade wars, making immigration hard, propping up foreign dictators, and stepping up the drug war. They are specializing in their worst features.

It’s the same on the left. Many of these people can be great on civil liberties, corporate welfare, and prison reform, but they spend the bulk of their energies on socializing medicine, raising the minimum wage, and pushing bad ideas like job guarantees. They too are specializing in pushing their worst ideas.

Why does Rothbard’s law pertain so often? It’s because people fall in love with their own heterodoxies and double down when their wrong ideas come under attack. Ideology begins to replace reality, and their focus gets ever more distorted. Once that ideology is lodged deeply in the mind, it takes control of all perceptions.

There is a scene in the movie Inception that explains how this works. Inception involves planting an idea in someone’s head, via an externally managed dream, in a way that misleads a person into thinking that he or she originated it. That’s when it becomes the most powerful guide to action.

“If you’re going to perform inception, you need imagination,” explains a character. “You need the simplest version of the idea — the one that will grow naturally in the subject’s mind. Subtle art.”

Once that idea has grown and mutated into a political ideology, to the point that it seems to explain events, it becomes almost impossible to dislodge. A crisis of faith becomes necessary before a shift happens. And that is not easy to achieve. The world can come crashing down around you and still the true believer will stick to their story.

We are surrounded by examples of this from both the right and left.


“I am a Tariff Man,” wrote the president in a now-famous recent tweet. The remainder of the tweet contained utterly false information about who pays. He believes foreigners are paying, when in fact a tariff acts as a domestic sales tax paid by producers and consumers.

What’s more striking is that this brazen declaration of loyalty to mercantilism comes after a year of utter failure in policy. Every prediction has turned out to be false. The trade war is not an easy win. We are stuck now with falling financials, suffering American companies, rising prices, broken trade relationships, falling exports, factory closings, rising trade deficits, and angry buyers of taxed products.

Cause and effect are notoriously difficult to trace in social science, but, at the very least, it should be obvious that the policy hasn’t worked to achieve its aims. Yet the more the evidence of failure mounts, the more the president doubles down on his mercantilist dreams.

And Rothbard’s law has kicked in. The president’s views are not all terrible. He has many of the right enemies. His 2017 efforts at tax cuts and deregulation buoyed markets. His judicial appointments have exhibited a much-welcome attention to constitutional principles. But where is his heart? What is his passion? It is all about disrupting international commerce through tariff walls and national economic planning. He talks and thinks about his trade war more than any other subject by far.

You might think that the events of the last year would shake loose one’s attachment to the protectionist ideology. You would be wrong. When the story of Trumpian economic policy is written, it will be about how great promise was shattered through fanatical attachment to mercantilist ideology, even in the face of unrelenting failure.

Climate Change

The same problem afflicts the left with its dogmatic attachment to the pop aspect of climate-change politics. If you read the scientific papers, you find what you would expect: a great deal of uncertainty on many aspects of theory, and certainly tremendous hedging on political implementation. Among true believers, however, there can be no dissent, even from the most implausible aspects of the idea.

Pretend you have spent the better part of 10 years at an island resort ignoring all news. You come back and pick up the New York Times. The news is terrible — or ridiculous. It’s hard to say. The editorial page says the following.

Governments are “pulling the world back from the cliff’s edge of catastrophic climate change.” That’s quite the job for governments that have yet to prove they can deliver mail better than the private sector. Now they are going to manage the global climate and stop the whole world from being delivered from a fiery hell into which industrial technology otherwise would plunge us? Indeed.

How is this marvelous and astounding achievement by government going to take place? Governments must “try to wean their citizens from fossil fuels,” which would be a monumental achievement. Currently, 82 percent of all energy use derives from fossil fuels. By “energy use,” we literally mean everything in our lives: manufacturing all our food, giving us lighting, transportation, and communication. The whole of life as we know it.

How will governments of the world manage to change this? The Times says that governments should impose “measures that could help people of modest means transition to less-polluting transportation.”

Let them ride bikes, in other words, as in Mao’s China.

The agenda as stated here is so extreme and disruptive that many people dismiss it as typical political claptrap, not a real threat to our way of life. It is certainly true that even if we knew 100 percent that the science could prove that a climate catastrophe was in store, it does not follow that climate scientists (or journalists or English professors or even economists) know the way to fix it through government — or that it is even possible.

Still, the true believers are willing to act on their theories through state power, with no plan in place to measure costs relative to benefits. The dogma has become: industrial civilization must go one way or another. The first attempts to implement the grand agenda have gone horribly wrong.

The gas tax in France resulted in the worst riots in decades. The government was shocked. The culture of the climate-change clerisy had become so internally reinforcing that it had failed even to consider that regular people do not want to be pillaged in the name of controlling global temperature patterns, even if such control were possible.

These true believers have lost connection to reason and political reality, all in the name of an ideological commitment to some of the least plausible propositions to come from the left in many decades.

Both the center and far left have fallen victim to Rothbard’s law, as much as people on the Trumpian right. The rest of us are caught between two brands of ideological fanaticism that begin in a bad idea, deploy government power to realize the goal, and end as a grave threat to liberty and property.


Jeffrey A. Tucker is Editorial Director for the American Institute for Economic Research. He is the author of many thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press and eight books in 5 languages. He speaks widely on topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture. He is available for speaking and interviews via his email.  Tw | FB | LinkedIn 

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Author: Jeffrey A. Tucker
Date: December 14th, 2018
Website: https://www.aier.org/

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  1. john stiner says:

    Murray Rothbard had a law: intellectuals specialize in what they are worst at.

    Those that can’t do, teach?

  2. bb in GA says:

    But I look at many of the main Leftist policies and am stuck with the famous Negotiation Problem:

    When you are negotiating with someone whose policy is “I want you dead,” then how do you compromise? OK I’ll cut off one of my legs or my left arm ? Would that satisfy you ?

    In the end, probably not….


  3. Menzoberranzan says:

    This is very simple; a man either believes in limited government and freedom for the people in all areas or he believes the government should control all aspects of the popuation’s lives. I choose the former.

  4. cranerigger says:

    Thoughtful article. Certainly the principles used by the Founders have been confused by many generations of politicians. A wise person learns during a lifetime from education, experience, and the school of hard knocks. We may not have a doctorate on every subject upon which we comment, but we continue to learn from discussions on this site and our contributions can be useful. It’s satisfying to see the reactions of others are often similar to our own.

    I hope the purpose of the article is not an attempt to silence us. Snowflakes, BLM’s, and other confused souls think that is the proper method to solve society’s problems.

  5. Maranatha says:

    Afew years ago, a youtube video went viral demonstrating out of an entire class of high school students, only one could barely open a can with a can opener. This was followed by made videos made by parents who asked their teenagers to dial on a rotary phone…and they failed to do so.

    Lest you think these are fake, watch this made by a leftist comedian showing millennials struggling to open a can of tuna. In fact, canned tuna sales have dropped as millennials buy pouches.

    I seriously doubt you will be overrun in your tiny rural homestead by a crazed dangerous urban millennial as most likely they will starve or be dehydrated in days.

  6. Deplorable Neal Jensen says:

    I’m ideologically blind because I cannot tolerate, will not tolerate perversion and criminality. Sorry I’m not sorry. Eata bag of di*s if you don’t like it. Not gonna change for the latest societal PC or SJW fads n [email protected]

    • The Deplorable Renegade says:

      DNJ, I was raised Christian and conservative and I know I’m not blind. I also won’t tolerate perversion and criminality. I also don’t care about opposing viewpoints. I also don’t change anything about myself to make someone else happy. I don’t trust anyone with such a mentality. I also don’t care about any PC or SJW BS.

  7. Philosopher Deplorabilis says:

    If you haven’t watched it, the movie, Atlas Shrugged III is shorter than reading the book. (Free on Firestick 4K with free app).

    Eventually the makers stop producing for the takers. What happens after that? Usually starvation or war or both.

    I grew up poor. I grew up making ammo and keeping a wood stove stoked, in the winter, because we couldn’t afford propane. It will be a shock, for many people, when they finally realize that stuffing their face with food, or heating their home, or having access to running water, requires work.

    That time can’t happen soon enough. Who is John Galt? Where is Galt’s Gulch? Got gold? I’ll meet you there!

  8. Beaumont says:

    Heidegger and Derrida (dualistic opposition).

    But, the two parties aren’t heterodox, to eachother.

  9. Maranatha says:

    The genuine ideological blindness affects urbanites versus country folks. Urbanites dismiss ancestral skills as backward while rural people are incredulous that anyone gets paid to sit in an office and scribble and punch in data.

    Good luck using office skills in the post-apocalypse other than a pencil and paper doing a word problem or figuring out basic trigometry for making rafters.

    Try this. Ask an urbanite to build a fire and watch as they realize they most likely can’t do it. I’ve seen it too many times. Heck even give them matches but no paper and see how badly they fail.

    That’s when they realize that just about everything they assume they know is pert near useless during a disaster. It is as if common sense is no longer essential but optional in the city.

    I have never seen people get so lost in a forest in sixty minutes on a hike as urbanites. It’s sad, yet they think they can live off the land with their BOB.

    • reper sleepr says:

      People should know no less than three methods of how to make a fire and have the necessary items to do so. My favorite method is chert and steel with charcloth. We don’t have chert around where I live. Recently I purchased a 1.5 lb piece off line and broke it up into workable pieces. I do from time to time find quartz which is OK but wears down faster than chert.

  10. Anonymous says:

    A Change Is Gonna Come

  11. M Edward says:

    Yup, Jim Mattis for President 2020………….

    Or a ‘coup d’Etat’ will suffice.

    Tick-Tock !

  12. Kevin2 says:

    We have seen the results of removing protective tariffs has done to the US industrial base.The predictions below are vindicated.

    “Protection of our own labor against the cheaper, ill-paid, half-fed, and pauper labor of Europe, is … a duty which the country owes to its own citizens.”
    Daniel Webster

    “The wealth … independence, and security of a Country, appear to be materially connected with the prosperity of manufactures. Every nation … ought to endeavor to possess within itself all the essentials of national supply. These compromise the means of subsistence, habitation, clothing, and defence.”
    Alexander Hamilton

    “Free trade results in our giving our money … our manufactures and our markets to other nations. … It will bring widespread discontent. It will revolutionize our values.”
    William McKinley

    “Open competition between high-paid American labor and poorly paid European labor will either drive out of existence American industry or lower American wages.”
    William McKinley

  13. Traitor Hator says:

    The great delusions of the end times? Separating the wheat from the no go zones? The last great persecution of the Christians. Apostasy in the church? The rise of a one for the world religion? The king of the East and the King of the North allied with Persia. Their eyes and tongues will melt before their bodies hit the ground? The country with no walls will be defeated in one hour? War in the sky? And if God didn’t intervene,no one would be left alive. The Foolish Virgins. Sounds like ,you don’t want to be one?

  14. Maranatha says:

    In actuality, practically every public school is taught by leftists and controlled by leftist administration. And then state and private universities are doing the same. This means the only realistic option is homeschooling and then attending a Christian college. Otherwise going to trade school.

    This means the leftists are indoctrinating whole generations to forego their natural identity as well as ignoring whatever conservative parents teach like Christianity and moral behavior.

    They are automatically dismissive of western European accomplishments because of alleged white supremacy and taught to ignore the truth that practically all science and art were created by western European Chrisians. And if you send your son, he is taught that white skin makes him an oppressor, and if you send a daughter, she is taught in insidious ways that white males are not people she should date but should be open minded as to her sexuality and choices in romance and friendship.

    There is nothing about critical thinking or even basic logic unless they elect to take it as a philosophy credit about their junior year of college. They are taught to blatantly ignore FACTS as white male patriarchy especially Christians have distorted the social order to oppress minorities and so causes injustice in everything from the courts, prisons, occupations, etc.

    That is what you honestly face as a parent. Of course these extreme leftist concepts have no basis in reality. Yet if your child began in kindergarden through a Bachelor’s Degree, then they have been in immersed in propaganda for 17 years.

    Wait that’s not all. Meanwhile your child has faced 17 years of almost exclusively leftist propaganda posing as journalism and entertainment in music and art that is almost exclusively leftist propaganda.

    Isn’t it peculiar that the rate of mental illness has similarly skyrocketed? The cognitive dissonance between what their senses and the church teaches them is reality clashes against leftist propaganda.

    That has been the American template for education since the early sixties.

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