Institutionalism and Populism

An organization that has forgotten its telos isn’t fit to exist.

I had the great pleasure of talking with Jacob "The Grape" Winograd on his great Biblical Anarchy show last week. The full episode is coming out later this month, but he released this clip today.

I think institutionalism might be the greatest threat to human freedom. I think smart libertarians understand this intuitively. It’s why libertarian populism is gaining ground, both in the LP (particularly, though not exclusively, via the Mises Caucus) and in the GOP as “maverick” libertarians like Rand Paul and Thomas Massey, as well as insurgent full-on Rothbardian libertarians like Tho Bishop and Popular Liberty, gain power and influence in that chaotic mess of a party.

On the other hand, there’s a large-but-shrinking contingent of libertarians who love institutions and old-guard organizations and think tanks and the like. They’re the ones who think Cato is where it’s at for libertarian theory, Reason Magazine is the bastion of pop-libertarianism, and moderation in all things is the way to get Libertarian candidates elected. (They’re also the ones who keep pumping up centrist Republicans for national office, all the while accusing the libertarian populists of “Republican entryism”.)

Institutionalists care more about their institutions than they do about the telos of those institutions. That sort of thing is inevitable in any mission-driven organization, unfortunately. The people who really give a shit tend to rise to the top, but then their jobs within the organizations take the driver’s seat and the mission rides bitch at best. At worst, it gets thrown out of the car for being too noisy. After that happens, the institutionalists recruit other institutionalists to run the institution until the mission is completely forgotten and you’ve got Bob Barr at the top of the ticket and Nick Sarwark swinging the chair’s gavel.

I support the populist insurgency in the LP because I abhor institutionalism and institutionalization, and it’s looking like we might be able to bring the party back from the brink. I support the libertarian populist insurgency in the GOP because I think they’ll actually win some elections and, to paraphrase Buckley, stand athwart the “progressive” institution that is the state and yell “Stop!”

More to the point, though, mission matters. I don’t care what the mission is. An organization that has forgotten its telos is run by technocrats and busybodies, people who should be nowhere near the levers of influence. An organization that has forgotten its telos isn’t fit to exist.