In my last post I made what I thought was a straightforward argument: libertarians claim to be freedom’s ultimate defenders but their actions during the great freedom struggle for Civil Rights show them to be indifferent or perhaps hostile to racial justice as a component of freedom. This is a particular problem for them because they claim to be concerned with freedom. Some libertarians on my Twitter feed raised some objections and I thought I would address their points here since Twitter is hardly the place for a good discussion. So, let’s dive in, shall we?
In my continuing quest to discover libertarians concerned with Civil Rights in the twenty years following World War II I found Race and Liberty in America: The Essential Reader. The advertising copy tells us:
Race & Liberty in America explains the major themes of the anti-racist, classical liberal tradition of individual liberty and equality, demonstrating how it has inspired individuals to improve race relations in the United States. Rooted in the Judeo-Christian natural-law tradition, classical liberals have advocated freedom from governmental interference, abolition of prejudicial law, equality under a uniform rule of law guaranteed by the Constitution, and market-based entrepreneurial opportunity.
For those of you who aren’t up on all the libertarian lingo, “classical liberal” is a term preferred by some libertarians to, well, “libertarian.” Back in the New Deal era, many folks whom we would now classify as “libertarians” adopted the term to distinguish themselves from Roosevelt’s “liberals” who they thought distorted the real meaning of “liberalism.” The book’s introduction tells us the classical liberal tradition is informed by five core beliefs: Individual freedom, Christianity and Judaism, the Constitution, Colorblindness, and Capitalism. Of course many people hold these beliefs to some extent and apparently, one can completely reject some of them and still qualify as a “classical liberal” according to this book. Thus the outspoken atheist is listed as a “classical liberal” (p. 185) and the book reprints Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech even though, “King was a social democrat who rejected the classical liberal vision of limited government” (p. 215). (This is just one of endless examples of the right attempting to claim King as one of their own despite ample evidence to the contrary).
In any case, if we are to believe the ad copy, here are the essential readings needed to understand the libertarian position on racism during the Civil Rights era. While it does little to change my mind that libertarians did little or nothing to aid the fight against segregation, it makes for interesting reading because it shows what weird histories libertarians tell about themselves in matters racial. Continue reading
Franz Oppenheimer (1864-1943)
Libertarians portray the “State” as an alien entity that forces itself onto free individuals. It isn’t just that they believe the state is granted a monopoly on coercion, they often argue that the state is nothing but coercion and violence. It produces nothing, it uses violence to seize from productive individuals all that it has. We do not create the state; the state is them and they take what they want from us without regard to our wants or needs. In trying to trace the origins of this “othering” of the state I found myself reading a lot of nineteeth-century German social science, in particular the work of Franz Oppenheimer (1864-1943).
Franz Oppenheimer was a German/Jewish sociologist who published a short book in 1908 entitled Der Staat (translated into English as The State in 1922). Oppenheimer was perhaps the strongest critic of racial theories of statehood in turn-of-the-century German sociology (Stoetzler, 2014, pp. 121-2). In his own account of the origin of the state Oppenheimer argued that the origin of the state was one of war and conflict. He began his argument by claiming that there are only two ways of producing wealth:
There are two fundamentally opposed means whereby man, requiring sustenance, is impelled to obtain the necessary means for satisfying his desires. These are work and robbery, one’s own labor and the forcible appropriation of the labor of others. Robbery! Forcible appropriation! …
Both because of this, and also on account of the need of having, in the further development of this study, terse, clear, sharply opposing terms for these very important contrasts, I propose in the following discussion to call one’s own labor and the equivalent exchange of one’s own labor for the labor of others, the “economic means” for the satisfaction of needs, while the unrequited appropriation of the labor of others will be called the “political means.”
Politics, which is the essence of the state, is nothing but theft according to this view. And the state, as a political institution, cannot itself provide resources or be a source of wealth. The state can only acquire resources produced by the labor others by means of coercion. This is Libertarianism 101.