Libertarian Cage Match

It’s never been much of a secret that America’s self-conscious libertarians, small and hardy band that they are, love a good eye-gouging internecine fight. Perhaps it goes back to the days when the Guiding Spirit of the movement, the novelist Ayn Rand, regularly denounced the burgeoning Libertarian Party as “plagiarists” and “hippies” even as its activists burned incense before her altar.

But I don’t quite know what to make of the apparently long-simmering battle (now ripening into a lawsuit) between Charles Koch and Ed Crane for control of the Koch-financed and Crane-operated Cato Institute. Jane Meyer of the New Yorker has a good brief backgrounder on the dispute, which apparently goes back at least to 1992, and did not keep Kock and his various tentacle-organizations from keeping the money flowing to Cato. From the statement just released by Crane, his main beef with Koch is pretty clear:

Charles G. Koch has filed a lawsuit as part of an effort to gain control of the Cato Institute, which he co-founded with me in 1977. While Mr. Koch and entities controlled by him have supported the Cato Institute financially since that time, Mr. Koch and his affiliates have exercised no significant influence over the direction or management of the Cato Institute, or the work done here.

Mr. Koch’s actions in Kansas court yesterday represent an effort by him to transform Cato from an independent, nonpartisan research organization into a political entity that might better support his partisan agenda. We view Mr. Koch’s actions as an attempt at a hostile takeover, and intend to fight it vehemently in order to continue as an independent research organization, advocating for Individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace.

My, my, Charles Koch has a “partisan agenda?” Who knew? But this sort of dispute should feel familiar to libertarian fans of Cato, since it was precisely the Libertarian Party’s threat to take away votes from Republicans Richard Nixon and then Gerald Ford (employers from time to time of her protege Alan Greenspan) that enraged Rand. Even among libertarians, you can’t take the politics out of politics.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.