Don't Cry For Argentina
Actually, You Probably Should
In a time when the news is full of staggering stories, Javier Milei’s surprise landslide win in Argentina’s presidential election still managed to shock the world. That’s because he might be the most manifestly insane figure in the entire crop of right-wing populists, already not known for being a low key bunch. A while ago, I wrote that it sometimes feels like we’re undergoing an ontological crisis: a rip in the fabric of reality itself has created a kind of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? world and we will soon see cartoon characters walking the streets. Well, may I present you with Exhibit A:
Mr. Milei’s signature look — a leather jacket, an untamable mop of hair and long sideburns — is designed to conjure the comic-book character Wolverine, according to Lilia Lemoine, a professional cosplay performer who is Mr. Milei’s stylist and is running for Congress on his ticket. Because, like Wolverine, she said, “he is an antihero.”
He also sometimes appears in public as the superhero character “Captain Ancap”—that’s short for “Anarcho-Capitalist,” Milei’s chosen ideology. If you are familiar with the seamy underbelly of the Internet, he might sound less like a cartoon character come to life, than a message board come to life.
Now, you may say to yourself, “This is all a little eccentric, granted, but do we really need to cast aspersions on the sanity of this fellow?” Well, the guy appeared to have some kind mental or nervous breakdown on live T.V. during this very election. He also speaks to his dogs. Or rather, his dogs speak to him. You know, like the Son of Sam. Milei owns five English Mastiffs, that were all cloned from an original dog, Conan. They are named after various libertarian economists and they form a kind of cabinet, with each dog having its own portfolio. Murray, named after Murray Rothbard, handles the brief for the economy, while Milton, named after Milton Friedman, helps with politics. But Robert, named after Chicago School economist Robert Lucas Jr., helps Milei see the future. Starting to get the picture?
“Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back,” John Maynard Keynes once wrote. Perhaps no one in history has ever so literally embodied this maxim as Milei. I can’t tell you very much about the intricacies of Argentine politics and society, or what Milei is likely to accomplish in office—like other yanquis, I have a regrettable blind spot when it comes to South America. But I can tell you a little about one of those scribblers, Murray Rothbard, the creator of Anarcho-Capitalism and Milei’s intellectual master.
In fact, Murray Rothbard was sort of the reason I got into writing about far right. Shortly after the election of Trump, I found his 1992 piece “Right-Wing Populism” online. It was a reflection on David Duke’s unsuccessful run for the Louisiana governorship. With its use menaces and affronts, to “to tap the masses directly, to short-circuit the dominant media and intellectual elites,” to “rip off the mask” of hypocrisy, I thought it was an eerie harbinger of Trumpism. Another thing: every single neo-Nazi that was coming out of the woodwork in 2016 and 2017, mentioned Rothbard, who was Jew from the Bronx, as being a key figure in their journey rightwards. My interest in Rothbard lead to an article on him The Baffler, another article for the same magazine about right-wing populism in general in 1992, and eventually, my book.
The radical libertarian Von Mises Institute, where Rothbard worked for many years, recently wrote with approval about Milei’s successful adoption of Rothbard’s populist strategy:
His rhetorical strategy in debates is vociferous, belligerent, and is sometimes perceived as offensive (if the truth can be offensive at all). He does not allow himself to be intimidated or belittled by left-wing opinion-makers. In a debate, he simply shouts louder than the leftists, whom he calls "Zurdos", and interrupts them to tell them to their faces that they are saying an absolute stupidity and have no idea what they are talking about. You should read Hayek, Mises and Rothbard first, Milei recommends to them. He also calls leftists and politicians parasites and thieves, in a debate. For taxes are theft.
In keeping with Rothbard's strategy of right-wing populism, he clearly names the profiteers of the state apparatus. He rails again and again against the caste of politicians and bureaucrats. He calls them parasites that live at the expense of the hard-working and decent citizens. Politicians are completely useless and could not live without the productive Argentinians. Politics is not the solution, but the problem. And politicians form part of the problem. In this way, Milei wins over those decent Argentinians who suffer most from the yoke of the state. Equally clear are his remarks on the concept of social justice. So-called social justice is a monstrous injustice because it means unequal treatment of people before the law. It is a fig leaf for envy and resentment.
For Rothbardians, the state is the ultimate enemy. While Marx saw modern society divided into two productive classes, bourgeoisie and proletariat, according to Rothbard, drawing on John C. Calhoun, “the Marx of the Master Class,” society is divided into tax-payers and tax-consumers, producers and parasites. The free market, if unchained and left alone, would reveal the natural hierarchy of mankind, but the state and its parasites prevent this natural course from taking place. You can begin here to see how this is an easily compatible with a politics of resentment that can include everything from inceldom to National Socialism: “I’m one of the rightful masters, it’s these nasty parasites that are holding me back.” I’ve called the politics of the tech-oligarchs, “bossimsm;” Rothbard’s libertarian populism is kind of “I-should-be-the bossism.” (My response to all this is: “Well, okay, but if you want to be consistent with your Social Darwinism, you’d have to say the state and its ‘parasites’ are naturally occurring phenomena, too, who have ended up “on top.” It’s Not Fair? Who’re the fucking Social Darwinists here?” But I digress.)
The core of the Rothbardian idea is both radically anti-establishment and radically anti-egalitarian. It is also an anti-political politics. This is how fascists and libertarians, who on the surface of their theoretical armature, should be able to have no truck with each other, can actually find in the valleys of Rothbardia a fertile land of cross-pollination. For fascists, the aggrieved subject of politics is the race or nation; for paleo-libertarians, it’s the atomized individual; they are both, in essence, philosophies of diseased egotism. And we can vividly see what that looks like in Milei’s antics.