Rod's recent posts here and here on the Mises-Cato "wars," as well as the conversation on Tom Palmer's site here, here, and here, prompts me to say a few words about a problem I see with elements of contemporary libertarianism, including and especially the folks at the Mises Institute.
There seems to be a view out there, and perhaps I'm attributing intentionality where there is none, that libertarians are, or should be, consistent "contrarians." That is, if the mainstream currents of the intelligensia believe "A," libertarians should adopt beliefs in contrast to A. This is surely understandable for those of us who strongly believe that the free markets are superior institutional arrangements than the alternatives, including the status quo. The intellectual defense of capitalism, particularly in its more laissez-faire forms, is indeed a contrarian position to take. But it's also a theoretically and empirically defensible position to take (in my view, of course).
What seems to have happened is that many libertarians, fueled by the fury of the outsider that comes from having to defend laissez-faire against a dominant intellectual environment that is hostile, transfer that same attitude and energy to other sets of beliefs that are "outsider" beliefs. If "everyone thinks" capitalism is wrong, but you think it's right, why not start to draw the conclusion that other things that "everyone thinks" are true might be wrong? The result? You begin to question the "received wisdom" on slavery and the civil war and then perhaps begin to find yourself associated with defenders of the Confederacy, not all of whom have the purity of your intellectual interest. You begin to flirt with controversial theories on race (see Hoppe's citation of Phillippe Rushton in the 5th note) that many others have branded as racist. You begin to flirt with the anti-Semitic right, conveniently forgetting to mention the Holocaust in a discussion of how many people Hitler killed as compared to Stalin or finding intellectual common cause with the Institute of Historical Review's Holocaust denials. (Note: opposing US aid to Israel or Zionism more generally does not ipso facto qualify as anti-Semitism. It's perfectly possible to be anti-Israel and not anti-Semitic.) And maybe theocracy doesn't seem so awful, because people have misunderstood the role of religion in the defense of liberty. I have also had conversations with self-described libertarians who are skeptics of Darwinism. And, of course, you become a fanatical opponent of "political correctness," without ever even asking how real the phenomenon is and whether it is so antithetical to libertarianism as that opposition suggests.
My point here is that it sometimes seems that libertarians who adopt these contrarian positions do so almost out of a principle. By that, I don't mean that they don't do any intellectual homework. Instead, it's more like the points I raised in the Dan Rather affair: one's intellectual priors lead one to look for evidence in some places and not others, and to read the evidence you do find through the lens of those priors. In this case, a lens that values contrarianism will lead one to particular places.
The irony of this to me is that it is people like Hoppe who accuse the left-libertarians of starting from a prior of juvenile anti-authoritarianism (see note 23) and deducing their political views from there. Could not one say that Hoppe et. al. suffer from a form of unreflective intellectual anti-authoritarianism that leads them to falsely reject mainstream intellectual views that may well be correct? If tradition and authority are sometimes right in the social world, can't they be right in the intellectual world as well? More important, isn't it truth we are after, not our own version of "political correctness?" If the historical truth seems to run contrary to our politics, then it's time to either rethink our politics or rethink whether that truth is really so contrary (or do better history - "better" history, not "libertarian" history).
As libertarians, we do ourselves no good by being contrarians for contrarianism's sake. It seems like that's where some self-described libertarians are ending up these days. Sometimes mainstream intellectuals are right, sometimes they're not. Our commitment to intellectual values of openness and scholarship must come first.
UPDATED 8:45pm EDT as noted in the comments