Q: Hey, @VeryBritishDude, what do you call Libertarians who oppose abortion, threaten people with violence, oppose immigration, and support racist and sexist status quos? A: Libertarians

I’m not the most popular man in libertarian circles at the moment. However I am going to go ahead and assume this is because I haven’t presented enough evidence yet. I think I can still make a reasonable case that a lot of Libertarianism is Identity Politics for selfish white men.

We’ll start with a quote from Ludwig von Mises writing to Ayn Rand:

“You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you are inferior and all the improvements in your conditions which you simply take for granted you owe to the effort of men who are better than you.”

Perhaps not a typical definition of selfish, but arguing that the proles owe nothing but gratitude for what their Randian overlords deign to provide them implies a rather bloated sense of self-worth which may err towards selfishness. If your view of production is that some superman directs the little people to do useful things and that absent the superman they would loll around lazy and unproductive, you are going to begin to argue that what little you (clearly you are the superman) is yours, and then some more too.

But what about the white bit? Surely that implies Libertarianism is a bit…racist. That is a classic way to shut down discussion and seems very unfair, but I think justifiable. I’d hesitate to use it against specific Libertarians, unless I have some pretty solid evidence. Though if you think this is completely unfair do spend some time in Guido Fawkes of Old Holborn’s comment threads and then get back to me.

There is a sizeable chunk of Libertarian opinion, especially active in American that take an objectively pro-racist position. I mean objectively pro-racist in the same way that Orwell called mid-century pacifists objectively pro-Hitler. Moreover, many Libertarians seem to hold their principles absolute when an issue involves privileged wealthy white men, but are happy to compromise when an issue involves foreign or poor people.

We’ll begin with The Civil Rights Act in the US. This was enacted to infringe people’s property rights, it said if you own a hotel, even though it is your property, you cannot exclude blacks. Your property is yours only if you use it in ways the state deems acceptable.

Ron Paul, probably the most famous Libertarian in the world (which is to say, not very famous at all) has made his principled objection to the Civil Rights Act very clear. The right of racist property owners trump the rights of black people to live free and full lives. Despite the legislation being incredibly effective, the US is significantly less racially divided than it was even a generation ago, [1] Libertarian principles of freedom are too important to compromise.

Got that, no compromise with reality.

Even where the results of the policy you would have opposed have been very beneficial, the only group to really suffer were vile racists and it makes you very unpopular with those (black) people who benefited from its enactment and enforcement.

However, some Libertarians are prepared to compromise with reality. I say some, I mean Libertarians like Ron Paul himself are prepared to compromise when it means those getting stiffed are foreign people of a somewhat mocha complexion. Will Wilkinson writes mournfully of Ron Paul’s willingness to sell the primacy of individual rights down the river as soon as foreigners are involved rather than wealthy Americans.

So too does compromise come easily to Libertarians who hate taxes. Taxation is, after all, merely legitimised theft. [3] So no tax increase, yes? The Bush tax cuts for wealth creators must stay. So how about a tax hike which will hit many more people? Surely that will meet principled opposition from the most right-wing congress this side of the Second World War? Nope, the temporary payroll tax is to expire adding a couple of percent tax to every working American’s tax bill. Even Alex Taborrok is forced to agree with Paul Krugman’s arguments that they aren’t “right-wing” they’re just supporting their constituency, privileged selfish white men:

How can [Republicans not want to cut the payroll tax], when Republicans love tax cuts? The answer is, they don’t. They love tax cuts for the rich. Tax cuts for ordinary workers, many of whom will be those hated lucky duckies whose incomes are too low to pay income tax, are if anything something Republicans dislike.

So, lets recap, no compromise with reality when the property rights of the privileged might be infringed is happily married to a willingness to stiff the poor, the old the alien.

There is also of course that quip of Peter Theil of the Cato Institute that since women lean more leftward than men, giving them the vote was a retrograde step for freedom. That might, just possibly, be reason to call some Libertarians’ Libertarianism more than a little sexist. Will Wilkinson suggests that this sort of thing is what gives Libertarians its image problem:

Libertarianism does have public relations problems, and it’s not because most people are stupid or immoral. It’s because libertarians have done a terrible job countering the widespread suspicion that it’s a uselessly abstract ahistorical ideology for socially retarded adolescent white guys. The sadly common libertarian-conservative penchant for “brave” counter-PC truthiness (e.g., “Women do love the welfare state!” “Blacks really do have lower IQs!”) certainly doesn’t help.

I’d have to disagree, actually existing Libertarianism is asymmetrically Libertarian. It is, often, more Libertarian when the rights of wealthy, domestic, male people face oppression than when the rights of poor, foreign, “others” are affected. Of course, the temptation for Libertarians is to invoke the No True Scotsman defense:

“These people aren’t Libertarian,” they’ll splutter, “look at all the illiberal things they support.”

“Ahem, yes,” I’ll respond, “just look.”


[1] I think some left wing anti-Americans need to take this on board. In a generation America has reinvented itself. Racism is still a problem but in half a century we’ve gone from blacks being banned from white’s toilets [2] to blacks being able to become president. Not many other countries have managed such a complete turnaround in such a short space of time.

[2] Interestingly this toilet segregation has had some egaliratian side effects. Women’s loos need to be larger than men’s loos for the queueing time for each to be equal. Having mens toilets cover the same floor space as women’s toilets is an inegalitarian use of space because women need longer to pee (and fix their make up to look pretty for us quick whizzing lads). The only official building I know of in the world to have this egalitarian toilet design is the Pentagon because men use the old, smaller, ex-black only loos while women get the larger, ex-white only loos.

[3] Indeed historically this is pretty much exactly what Taxation is and how it has developed. I recommend the late Charles Tilly on the subject.


15 thoughts on “Q: Hey, @VeryBritishDude, what do you call Libertarians who oppose abortion, threaten people with violence, oppose immigration, and support racist and sexist status quos? A: Libertarians

  1. The only official building I know of in the world to have this egalitarian toilet design is the Pentagon because men use the old, smaller, ex-black only loos while women get the larger, ex-white only loos.

    It’s a nice story but not wholly and entirely true. There were segregated toilets built (but never used as such, see Snopes). But it’s also true to say that it was built during war time, when there were an awful lot of women working in the HQ parts of the services.

    It’s a bit of both in fact.

  2. This post was getting long, so I didn’t really directly address the abortion and violence part of my title.

    Ron Paul is against legal abortion, and has gone full Godwin on it in the past. All his skepticism on the efficacy of central governmnet, pouf, disappears.

    Rick Perry, probably the most libertarian person to excercise executive office in the US, threatened Ben Bernanke. Calling any action which might boost the economy (and therefore get Obama reelected) treasonous.

    Both shits in my view.

      1. The most compellign argument for Libertarianism is the whole “I might be wrong” thing I discussed here. The whole Hayekian knowledge is distributed thing. And some people ignore that when its implications are most pressing.

        I noted that Perry was likely killing an innocent man at the time. Sub-human scum. Actually, that might be a little unfair, there is always a temptation to “other” people who do unspeakable evil. He’s probably just a very calculating person, very human. Urgh, why is that not top of the reasons he can’t be president? I have an inkling, but it isn’t very kind towards certain sections of the general public.

    1. From what I’ve actually read on the matter though, despite having this as a personal opinion, he describes it as a matter that states should be able to decide for themselves; a states rights issue (Paul, re: abortion.)

      Also, Perry’s hypocrisy is shocking. His insistence on non-interventionism and then his executive order on Gardasil in ’07 spring to mind. And his potential death-row sentencing of an innocent man also springs to mind; and then the cover-up of the whole thing. The New Yorker covered the latter brilliantly.

      That said, this is a good article.

  3. I know you’ve pre-emptively deployed the no true Scotsman fallacy but you are really not grasping the gigantic spectrum within libertarianism. Many libertarians are completely apolitical. What do Ron Paul or the US Republican party have to do with being against politics in general? These are just right wing politicians. They still believe in politics.

    1. Libertarianism is a tiny movement, much smaller than the left, yet Libertarians feel far from constrained in tarring leftists with the brush of Stalin et al. No?

      But, I agree really. However, Libertarianism does tend to aresholeness. You might not be an arsehole, but many of your fellow travellers are. My lefty mates keep trying to ban things, yours are mean to foreigners, blacks, women etc. It sucks, but that is life in politics. Lots of bastards.

  4. Libertarianism is not right wing or left wing. One end of the libertarian spectrum (that intersecting with the free market right in conventional political parties) might share right wing obsessions with their party mates. But these are by far the most politically active libertarians, being about the only ones that believe in conventional politics, and so it isn’t surprising that you hear most from them in political terms.

    A large proportion of libertarians also tend to lefty obsessions like dismantling corporations, ending national borders and immigration restrictions, liberalising drugs and pornography, etc.

    Libertarianism is above all about individual liberty. As a movement it only seeks to dissolve political restrictions and destroy political power. It doesn’t seek to “help” anyone through the deployment of state power. You seem to be hung up on the fact that some famous libertarian(ish) politicians like Ron Paul are selective in terms of which political restrictions they seek to dissolve and which bastions of state power they wish to see smashed. I agree that they should be consistent.

    1. But they’re usually not consistent, and they’re usually inconsistent in ways which are prejudicial to weak minority [1], rather than a strong one. See Ayn Rand’s “Big business is the most persecuted minority in America” for example.

      [1] In the sociological sense of a discrete group subject to some sort of prejudice.

  5. ^ but the attitudes of a few active political libertarians, who by definition believe in coercive state power (a contradiction if ever there was one), isn’t an indictment of libertarianism in general

    1. ^ but the attitudes of a few active political libertarians, who by definition believe in coercive state power (a contradiction if ever there was one), isn’t an indictment of libertarianism in general

      Okay, perhaps your one of those odd Anarcho-Capitalist types, but I must emphasise this… Nearly all Libertarians believe the state’s coercive powers are legitimate so long as they are protecting property, either in yourself or the property you own. Most Libertarians, by definition, believe in the legitimacy of coercive state power.

  6. I think you are wrong. Most libertarians believe that the state is illegitimate because the logic of libertarianism inevitably leads to this. Libertarians that have not reached this simple and obvious conclusion are usually either not exactly libertarians (e.g. Ron Paul, a republican politician ), or have failed to follow the logic.

    Protection of property is absolutely justified in libertarian theory. But how do you fund a state to protect it without plundering private property? The answer is that you can’t. The state and libertarianism are incompatible.

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