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Don’t Be Hatin’
July 23, 2005 — 3:26 am

Someone once asked me how I determined the order of the “People I Know” over on the right side of the page. This was (part of) my response:

Back when I first made out that list, the order was determined by a complex heuristic algorithm whose workings I pulled right out of my ass. The three weighted variables:

1. How well do I know this person?
2. How much do I like the content?
3. Is the site updated very often?

I only included variables that were exactly the same length typed, as you can see.

It’s no coincidence that Tom Palmer ended up so very near the top. I don’t know him nearly as well as some of the people on my list (and I actually know him better than a few others), but it’s no stretch to say that Tom was one of the primary influences on my libertarian development (primary, that is, in terms of people I’ve actually conversed with at length, rather than in terms of the bajillion libertarian books I’ve read). I look back on my internship at the Cato Institute as one of the most intellectually stimulating times of my life, and the weekly lunchtime discussion seminars that Tom held with the interns were always engaging.

The reason I bring this up is that Tom has been making waves in the online libertarian world for quite a while now, taking on what he calls The Fever Swamp, exemplified by some of the views of and writings by people associated with and Justin Raimondo.

I’ve never been a fan of these guys, and I rarely visit their web sites — except when someone passes a link to me. This is partly because I’ve never really known anyone else who was a fan of Rockwell & Raimondo, and partly because I’ve known several people who actively dislike them. I’ve read a few interesting things over at over the years, even more at The Mises Institute, but never anything that held my interest enough to make these sites a habit.

Just because I’m not a fan, though, doesn’t mean I dislike all the people involved. Casey Khan is a great guy, I’ve enjoyed a great many of the Rod Long pieces I’ve read, I’ve always admired Ralph Raico, and I’ve had some very pleasant email exchanges with Karen De Coster. I could go on.

But read a few of Tom’s posts about things going on in the Lew Rockwell/Justin Raimondo camp, and it’s very difficult to say he doesn’t have a point or two hundred. At the very least, there seems to be a remarkable amount of bigotry going on at the edges, if not the center, of all this. (I myself have written about Hans Herman Hoppe’s anti-immigration views, and while these aren’t inherently bigoted, they’re views that bigots would find quite compatible with their own. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, to quote “Seinfeld,” but it makes me uneasy all the same.)

Naturally, the denizens of the “fever swamp” haven’t taken this lying down. Columns aplenty have been devoted to tearing apart Tom’s assertions, and making plenty of their own in return. A few people have even devoted a blog entirely to Palmer-trashing. Others have spent bytes tearing down almost every libertarian institution I’ve admired or been a part of — Liberty, U.S. Term Limits (albeit in concept rather than by name), The Cato Institute (one example among many), Reason, etc. I realize that some of these pieces criticize specific views, or other pieces in particular, and not necessarily institutions as such. But by emphasizing points of disagreement, it often seems that the various corners of the libertarian movement are more diametrically opposed than they really are.

In short, this all seems much nastier than it needs to be, from all involved. There appears to be quite a bit of personal animosity involved, reaching decades back in some cases, and I can’t pretend to understand it all. But there seems little point in so thoroughly personalizing a conflict over ideas — almost as if the person making a point is more important than the point being made.

This is one reason I’ve always liked Rod Long’s take on the entire mess (part deux here). Rod has friends in and affiliations with both Cato and the Mises Institute, and he can see where each side is coming from — even where he doesn’t agree. I gather there’s a lot more common ground here than it often seems. Although I’m siding with Tom Palmer in general (as though taking sides mattered, or even more to the point, whether anyone cared which side I’m on), I have to say I like the conciliatory approach. Make the argument about the ideas.

Last August, Justin (Stoddard, not Raimondo) asked me for my opinion:

I know you’ve filled me in in the past but could you give me your honest opinion of Tom Palmer? Has he given Lew Rockwell and his ilk a reason for their bitchiness? For example, this link:

Nearly every entry says something negative about Tom Palmer. It also drives me crazy how they always use the word “smear” when someone disagrees with them. Thomas DiLorenzo is infamous for this.

So I gave it to him. My response was more specifically about this piece by Tom on the Habsburg Dynasty, Ralph Raico’s response, Tom’s counter-response, and some bitching about it all over at I took a somewhat less conciliatory approach than Rod Long did, and I’d almost certainly write this differently today than I did almost a year ago (which, I suppose, is one of the reasons for the lengthy preceding preamble). And I realize I almost certainly got the “ideological alliance” stuff below wrong, at least in part — people associated with have made it quite clear that they don’t always agree with all of the views of the people who write for the site, and that there’s quite a bit of diversity in the views over there, as there would be in any large enterprise with a wide range of contributors. My own discomfort with some of the fringe views in question doesn’t change that.

But I now present my response to Justin below — unedited, save for turning a hyperlink I pasted directly into the body of the email message into an embedded link, so I don’t break the tables on this page.

From: Eric D. Dixon
To: Justin M. Stoddard
Subject: Re: Tom Palmer vs. Lew Rockwell
Date: Tue, 17 Aug 2004 15:30 -0400

Tom Palmer is brilliant, no question. I like Tom DiLorenzo too (at least his book on Lincoln) and Ralph Raico, but all this Palmer-trashing is much ado about nothing. They’re talking past each other.

You’re right that DiLorenzo was incorrectly accusing Palmer of a smear. DiLorenzo says Palmer was “attempting to smear the Mises Institute for inviting the gentlemanly and scholarly Karl von Habsburg to a conference” — but, in fact, this is not true. Palmer was simply pointing out that the Habsburg monarchy was not historically a champion of liberty as Lew Rockwell claimed it to be. I mean, Rockwell explicitly tried to paint Franz Joseph as a guy attempting to promote classical liberalism and the gold standard: “The Emperor Franz Joseph ennobled Mises’ father, hired Carl Menger to teach classical liberalism to Crown Prince Rudolf, made Menger a member of the House of Lords, and appointed Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk twice as Finance Minister, to institute and strengthen the gold standard. Mises himself was decorated three times for bravery under fire as an artillery officer in the emperor’s army.”

There’s nothing at all wrong with having Habsburg come to their conference. It’s just this misrepresentation of history Palmer objected to — and the history of classical liberalism is Palmer’s strong suit.

DiLorenzo says that Raico “really kicked Tom Palmer’s ass in that exchange posted by Lew. Palmer’s ‘last word’ addressed none — NONE — of Ralph’s main points, but only spewed hatred and bile at Lew and Hans Hoppe. He comes off as an intemperate fool, in contrast to Ralph’s terrific scholarship.” But this is ridiculous. Raico’s piece is very good, true, but Raico himself doesn’t respond to Palmer’s article until the very end. And Raico doesn’t address the fact that Palmer’s primary objection was not to Habsburg, or even the Habsburg monarchy, but to Rockwell’s *characterization* of the Habsburg monarchy. And I’m sure Palmer wouldn’t have minded the fact that Rockwell omitted some of the nastier aspects of the Habsburg monarchy in his statement — as Raico said: “The unpleasant episodes in the record of the 700-year-old dynasty he tactfully ignored.” Tactful omission in and of itself wouldn’t have made Palmer take notice, or object. And neigher would inviting Habsburg to their conference. It’s the presentation of the Habsburgs specifically as friends and promoters of early Austrian ideas of liberty that Palmer objected to. Because it’s simply not true. This objection is the foundation of Palmer’s piece.

So the Rockwell crowd’s later posts trying to paint a contrast between Palmer’s “smear” of Habsburg and Cato’s “embrace” of Putin doesn’t hold up in any sense — because Palmer never smeared Habsburg (or the fact he was being invited to a conference), and because Cato’s invitation for Putin to speak at their own conference in no way constitutes an “embrace”.

This is a weakness of the Rockwell crowd — the whole lot of them have this weakness, as far as I can tell. It’s either love or hate with them. If they invite someone to their conference, they have to paint it as an ideological alliance. If someone criticizes the arrangement in some way, it then has to be a “smear” on the nature of the alliance. Similarly, they then see Cato’s invitation to Putin as an ideological alliance, because that’s the way they think. It wouldn’t occur to them that it might be a good idea to invite Putin to speak at a Russian conference about the future of Russia simply because he’ll have interesting and relevant things to say — things that remain interesting and relevant even if they disagree with EVERY SINGLE THING that comes out of his mouth. Cato invites speakers who can provide some particular view or perspective that might be valuable when considering a set of ideas from a variety of angles — not because they’re trying to demonstrate ideological alliance.

Incidentally, this is a perfect example of the maxim that people who criticize others tend to reveal more about themselves than about the targets of their criticism.

When I was a Cato intern, Michael Malice and I went out for pizza with Tom Palmer and David Boaz after we saw Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life at the DC film festival. During our conversation, I asked why Cato had invited Alan Greenspan to speak at their monetary conference even though just three months earlier Ed Crane had blasted Greenspan in a page-long article in Cato’s Policy Report. They hesitated for a moment, and I suggested “Is it because Cato agrees with him on some issues but disagrees with him on others?”

“Bingo!” Tom said, with a big smile on his face, and reached out to shake my hand, as congratulations for discovering such an obvious answer… :) David went on to say that “Cato has no permanent friends and no permanent enemies.” Inviting Greenspan to speak wasn’t a sign of ideological alliance in any way. It’s just ’cause he’d have interesting things to say. (Incidentally, Michael wouldn’t order the “Meatles” pizza that I suggested getting that night — “I refuse to eat food that’s a pun,” he said. But that’s another story.)

And as for the thing about Palmer misquoting the Constitution…. it’s definitely fun for youngsters to show up an expert, and there’s nothing wrong with playing it up with a wink. But it’s not indicative of Tom’s intelligence or scholarship. Some of the most brilliant people can get details wrong when they’re put on the spot — it’s their grasp of concepts and ideas and how they fit together that determines their brilliance, not their ability to rattle off facts. Nothing wrong with knowing all the facts, but I’d be more inclined to listen to someone who has engaging theories about putting those facts in context.

And Palmer is up front about the times he does misquote. Like in this blog entry, for example:


I wrote on the topic after 9-11 and gave an impromptu talk on “Why they Hate Us” at a Cato event shortly after 9-11 and before President Bush’s speech to the nation. (I mention that the talk was “impromptu” since I was asked to give it on very short notice and spent the afternoon doing research on the interet and gathering information from online libraries and a few books I had with me. And, yes, I did misquote the U.S. Constitution as using the phrase “necessary and appropriate” when it should have been “necessary and proper.” Oops.)

Ultimately, I think the Rockwell crowd’s hatred of Palmer stems from its hatred of Cato and, more generally, its hatred of libertarians who actually do the heavy lifting of working toward incremental advances in liberty. The Rockwellians see this incremental approach as compromise — betrayal of a pure libertarian vision. But we live in a non-libertarian world, dude, and anyone who’s working for a little bit more freedom is my pal. And you can work to make the world a better place in baby steps even while you hold a radical vision of what the world *should* be like as your ideal. You have to have an ideal to know which direction you want to go, but if you don’t actually take any steps to get there, well… you won’t get any closer to your ideal. So maybe Cato is compromising its libertarian principles by actually trying to inject the principles of liberty into public debate, and influence public policy in relatively realistic (if, still, mostly improbable) ways. But the most hardcore libertarians I’ve ever met worked at Cato — and Tom Palmer is one of them.

So that’s what I think. Tom Palmer rules. Don’t be hatin’.

— Eric D. DixonComments (2)

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Eric D. Dixon

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