I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: right-libertarians’ central critique of “socialism” is, nine times out of ten, a critique of the welfare state and accompanying social democratic policies. Hell, sometimes they’ll even equate socialism and corporatism, as if to imply that literally ANYTHING the government does is socialism (it doesn’t help when certain types of liberals go on to assert that, yes, cops and the military and libraries and public schools are indeed socialism). This is obviously some intensely ahistorical bullshit, and it’s just slightly more sophisticated parroting of standard Fox News establishment rhetoric (which makes it all that much funnier when they jump around insisting that they’re so subversive and against-the-grain). We know that billionaires love the right-libertarian “movement” because it gives them, again, a more sophisticated-sounding ideological justification in the eyes of people who claim to love human freedom. The Koch bros and others pump oodles of cash into these things because it means more capitalist boot-licking under the guise of liberation.
As a last resort, these think tanks push the “democracy is bad” mantra. If you’re a leftist, you know the drill – once you expose a libertarian’s utter lack of understanding with regard to what constitutes socialism (as a historic entity and as an ever-present movement designed to topple capitalism by replacing it with democratic worker-control of the means of production and collective utilities), they’ll concede that, you’re right, it’s actually not about dictators making decisions for you, it’s democratic control of the economy. At this point, they’ll argue “well, democracy is just mob rule”. So, simultaneously, socialism becomes an ideology of stuffy ivory tower autocrats deciding what’s best for everybody AND an ideology of the reckless mob of emotional proletarians brandishing their pitchforks at the person 51% of them don’t like.
I have a theory:
When libertarians fear the socialist boogeymen as the former “stuffy ivory tower autocrats”, it’s them projecting their own alienation and distaste for the current system onto the proposed antithesis – indeed, capitalism is already a system that puts autocrats in charge of the economic infrastructure and cultural superstructure by virtue of their ownership over the means of production, utilities, and land, all while the state functions primarily to maintain this ownership/management trend and the subsequent rifts between the people and the stuffy ivory tower autocrats. In this way, it’s almost like a shadow recognition on the libertarian’s part. It’s capitalism that pushes us all into identical worker uniforms at the behest of bosses and suppresses our creative and cooperative decision-making capacities to the domination of capital, and the suffocating bureaucracy of it all – in the workplace and with the state – leaves us choking. THAT system is more akin to the 1984 specter.
On the other side of the coin, when libertarians fear the socialist boogeymen as the latter “reckless mob of emotional proletarians”, it’s them projecting their own learned prejudices from this system – here, “the mob” becomes the wayward Other, the group the libertarian has learned to (consciously or subconsciously) despise as a byproduct of divide-and-conquer capitalist superstructure. That capitalist superstructure also relies on the idea that people are fundamentally rational individuals who make choices through a disembodied ego; the shadow of that rational individual is the emotionally-unstable sheep, a member of the lowly rabble with no self-control or personal initiative. Those sheep then come together to voice their collective concerns, an action that threatens the material interests of the rational individual (who owns the means of production and employs the sheep beneath him).
So are libertarians populists or elitists? Materially they’re elitists, but they’ll use either option rhetorically to win people over to their cause. Don’t fall for it. Their material interests are set firmly upon a status quo where eight “rational individuals” control more wealth than half the world’s people, where tangible human needs take a backseat to profit.