Late last year, there was an intriguing article in Politico, The Next Koch Doesn’t Like Politics. It seems that the Koch Brothers, the famous “Libertarian” billionaires who have done so much to shatter the American centralist consensus in politics, are growing old. So, increasingly the massive foundations and political networks they’ve created are being transferred to Chase Koch (41), the son of Charles Koch.
The kicker? Chase doesn’t seem to be entirely sold on the hard-nosed politics of his father and uncle. According to the article, he wants to focus on the Koch organization’s philanthropic enterprises (of which there are many) and less on the political. Or, to quote the article, he wants “a kinder, gentler libertarianism.”
And that’s good. That’s very good. I personally applaud Mr. Chase Koch, and wish him the very, very best. I hope he is successful in moving the Koch family’s activities away from what they’ve been before and toward something truly benevolent.
That word “Libertarianism” concerns me a bit. There was a time when it wouldn’t have bothered me at all. There was a time, in my youth, when I looked at that particular ideology and saw in it a belief system with which I did not entirely agree, but which seemed to be benign enough. I could understand what it wanted. Who doesn’t value freedom of the individual? And who doesn’t hate the intrusion of petty political power into our lives?
But that was about forty-five years ago. The Libertarianism I’ve seen in the last few decades is not quite the same thing. It seems much closer to Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, and to value Atlas Shrugged’s elitism far beyond any concept of personal liberty. It has become, I fear, the ideology of oligarch and plutocrats, and worse, of internet trolls and overt bullies, desperate to prove their superiority to the world via intimidation and text walls.
My point is that I worry about Chase Koch, and I fear for his project. I wonder if a Kinder, Gentler Libertarianism is really possible any longer, just as it is no longer possible to envision a benign Stalinism. I suspect that Libertarianism has been hopelessly compromised by greed and narcissism.
I hope that I am wrong. I really do. I hope that both for the younger Mr. Koch’s sake, and also for ours as a culture and a nation. I hope that his reformed Libertarianism is possible, and that it will have a place…among other ideologies…in our public discourse and debate. I hope that it will find the powers of persuasion and of compromise, and will discover in its many antitheses the rewards of just as many cases of synthesis.
I hope that.
Yet, as I look at the two senior Kochs, and I look the world they helped bring about with their money, their power, and their fanaticism …
I fear. I genuinely fear.
For us all.