My Alt Right Crazy Wall

A wall with pictures and maps and documents tacked to it connected by red yarn

It is a TV/Movie cliché: the wall covered with pictures, maps, documents all connected with string or yarn, usually red (so it shows up on camera I suppose) to signal that something big is going on. TV Tropes call the cliché “String Theory.”  There are usually two situations where we see such walls depicted. The first is the detective drama: it is posted on a whiteboard in the middle of the squad room so our characters can stand around it do some plot exposition. Another detective drama trope is when our hero has been taken off the case by the captain because he’s gone rogue one too many times. Our detective goes home and, to the surprise of no one, there is a wall covered with all the clues connected with the obligatory red yarn.

The other situation is more ominous. The wall is being constructed by the bad guy. Maybe a serial killer, maybe someone who has lost control of their faculties. String theory has now been transformed into a “Crazy Wall”  Crazy walls are usually signs of conspiratorial thinking. Someone who is convinced that some evil person or group is control of the whole situation and must be unmasked. Someone who thinks the world is controlled by Colonel Sanders and his friends. The Crazy Wall signals to the audience that there is an unbalanced mind at work:

Sean Hannity explaining his Crazy Wall of the Uranium One

The trick for the audience is to try to figure out if the character is onto something or has gone off the deep end.

The Crazy Wall has always annoyed me as a lazy bit of writing. Maybe it is because I’m not a very visual thinker, but I’ve never understood how the wall was supposed to help the character figure things out. Maybe it is because I’m not very crafty and I could never figure out how that yarn always looked so tidy. And you can forget about your damage deposit what with all those thumbtack holes in the wall.

So I never saw the use of such a wall.  Naturally, now I’m working on a Crazy Wall of the Alt Right.

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Koch and the Neo-Confederate

People bowing down to a dollar sign.

Is it the case that whoever pays the piper calls the tune?

We can combine two interesting bits of recent news productively.

Koch and the Neo-Confederate

The first is the news comes courtesy of the student group, UnKoch my Campus. It seems one of Charles Koch’s many foundations disbursed money to Florida Atlantic professor Marshall DeRosa to start a classes in civics education for prisoners returning to society. DeRosa was a one-time member of the League of the South (LOS) a neo-Confederate hate group.  As The Nation concludes:

The reality of the situation is staggering: An academic who worked with a neo-Confederate organization is teaching inmates, including many of color, a curriculum he designed, funded by one of the wealthiest conservative political donors in the country and instituted at the facilities of a notorious, predatory private-prison company that is accused of violating federal anti-slavery laws.

The Charles Koch foundation has scrubbed their article touting their connection to DeRosa (fortunately, the internet never forgets). And, even after DeRosa left the LOS for the (supposedly) more respectable Abbeville Institute, his views are still reactionary and ill-informed. What should we make of this? Is it reasonable to think that DeRosa’s prison activities are benign? Is it reasonable to think that the Koch Foundation just didn’t know about his unsavory past and present views and associations?

The Jews Control the Weather

The second bit of news was when a DC councilman claimed that the incoming snow on the Atlantic coast was the result of a conspiracy:

“There’s this whole concept with the Rothschilds — control the World Bank, as we all know — infusing dollars into major cities,” said White, according to video footage that the city routinely releases after official meetings. “They really pretty much control the federal government, and now they have this concept called resilient cities in which they are using their money and influence into local cities.”

The councilman later explained that he had no idea that invoking the Rothschilds was invoking an old antisemitic slur.  So, while he meant to say that a shadowy cabal controlled the weather, he certainly didn’t mean that a shadowy cabal of Jews controlled the weather.

In both cases a reasonable question is: while the Koch Foundation and the DC Councilman might have been ignorant that they were linking themselves to racist ideas, should they have known? It is an interesting historical question worth exploring.

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The Anti-Racism of Rose Wilder Lane

A picture of Rose Wilder Lane

Rose Wilder Lane (1886-1968)

Whether you realize it or not you’ve probably read the words of Rose Wilder Lane (1886-1968). She was the daughter of famed children’s book author,  Laura Ingalls Wilder, whose Little House books have delighted several generations of children (and adults) and which were adapted into a long-running, if somewhat mawkish television show. For all intents and purposes, Rose, an accomplished journalist and novelist in her own right, co-authored those books with her mother.

She was also one of the “three furies” of libertarianism. In 1943 three women published books that are considered important sources of modern libertarian thought. The best-known is Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.  Also in the annus mirabiles were Isabel Paterson’s The God of the Machine and Lane’s The Discovery of Freedom. These books have often marked Rand, Paterson, and Lane the “founding mothers of American libertarianism.”

Albert Jay Nock, the dean of American individualist/libertarian writers was deeply impressed by Lane. Writing to a correspondent he declared:

You must read The Discovery of Freedom. I don’t know who Sister Lane is. but she is a credit to the Cause, I assure you.

On anything basic she always shoots straight to centres, and hits damn hard. Another odd thing is that while she has the philosophy of individualism down fine, she seems to have got it entirely out; of her own head. There is no evidence that she has read the individualist writers, and considerable evidence that she has not–I believe she hasn’t. I think this is a remarkable achievement, and darned creditable. I’m all for Rose.

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Ayn Rand on Racism

The cover of a pulp magazine, FAMOUS FANTASTIC STORIES listing Ayn Rand's Anthem on the cover.

I’ve been purposefully avoiding discussing Ayn Rand on this blog. The reasons are entirely personal. I, like many of you I’m betting, had too many pointless discussions with Rand devotees when I was in my twenties. Like arguing with a three-year old, it was all very tiresome. Still, some of those emotionally and intellectually stunted Rand devotees are now ruining the country for us all. But, it is a New Year and all, so I decided to start things off by holding my nose and discussing Rand. Hold your nose if you must.

My topic is Rand’s 1963 essay on “Racism” which is often held up as proof that libertarians can’t be racists! This is usually accomplished by taking some choice quotations from the essay, most often the opening paragraph:

Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage—the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry. Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors.

Strong stuff! Rand has never been criticized for being insufficiently provocative. Reading the rest of the essay, however, shows how deeply flawed Rand’s thinking about racism was.

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Milton Friedman and Harvey Weinstein

In today’s disgusting news, Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood big shot, is a serial abuser of women who wanted to work in show business. He’s been fired by his own company for this. We are now having another national conversation about sexual harassment. We can only hope that this one will do some good. Keep this in the back of your mind as I discuss Milton Friedman; I’ll come back to it.

I threatened promised you another post about Friedman. This post should extend my post on Becker, since I’m assured that Friedman’s 1962 essay is simply a “popularization” of Becker and thus Friedman certainly wasn’t guilty of merely making stuff up to support his free-market ideology. I want to return to these ideas by revisiting Friedman’s essay and think about its implications. To what extent does Friedman base his policy proposals on Becker’s evidence?  Second, to what extent does Friedman embrace an antiracist policy for the sake of combating racism as an end in itself–rather than to further some other policy agenda?

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Gary Becker and the Economics of Discrimination

Graph depicting a persisting gap

Gary Becker argued that the gap in wages between white and black workers constituted discrimination

In response to my last point, it has been pointed out to me that I need to deal with the work of Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary Becker, whose 1957 book The Economics of Discrimination is, I’m told, a huge “counterexample” to my claim. Leaving apart that I carefully qualified my statement regarding libertarian silence on race—thus a single counterexample doesn’t really mean much—I will give you some first thoughts about Becker’s book.

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Libertarians in the Civil Rights Era

Someone was wrong on the internet the other day. It was me. I was wrong. Howlingly wrong. You couldn’t even see right from where I was standing, that is how wrong I was. I apologize. Behold! My head is at your feet and I am but dust!

It was on Twitter (surprised?) where I was having a lively exchange with some critics of my work on this blog when I wrote:

Libertarians were silent on de jure segregation in ’50s &’60s. I’ve looked. I found nothing. Not. A. Word. Black people didn’t count.

Aha! Phil Magness, with a flourish usually reserved for magicians producing a rabbit from a top hat you would have sworn was empty, immediately produced not one, but two quotations wherein libertarians remarked that legalized segregation was wrong. In other words, it is if I said “All crows are black”  and Phil produced not one but two white crows!  Take that lefty!

Properly humbled, I will now offer a new claim I am prepared to defend:

Libertarians were all but silent about civil rights and race in the Civil Rights era. I’ve looked. I found almost nothing. In one of the biggest struggles for freedom in the 20th century: libertarians did almost nothing.

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Baldy Harper and the Racist Right

The Strange Parallels Between a Noted Libertarian’s Writings and Those of the Antisemitic Right

A man looking at his bald spot in the mirror.

In those pre-PC days it was apparently OK to use a cruel nickname

While not a household name as much as Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman are, Floyd Arthur Harper (1905-1973), who wrote under the name F.A. Harper and who was known to his friends by the ungenerous nickname “Baldy,” was an important figure in the post-World War II libertarian movement. Baldy Harper is remembered more for his organizational prowess than his writings, but comparing his writings to that of the racist right of the 1950s shows how much the libertarian rhetoric of “freedom” served the ends of the racist right.

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Are Libertarian Principles Incompatible with White Supremacy? First Thoughts.

Jacob Levy of McGill University has a thoughtful post entitled “Black Liberty Matters.” Levy forthrightly and forcefully recognizes the troubled history of libertarianism’s entanglement with racism. He correctly notes that “Now, libertarian, individualist, and market-liberal ideas, concepts, slogans, and advocates aren’t alone in having a history that is entangled with white supremacy. Hardly any set of social ideas in American intellectual history lacks such an entanglement.”  Levy reminds us (or reminds me, anyway) that the real opposition is not between libertarianism vs. non-libertarianism but racism vs. anti-racism.

Levy’s essay also helps me clarify what my own project is and is not about. For me, this paragraph was especially stimulating. He frames it in the context of Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains. He’d read a few reviews and found them “entirely persuasive about Democracy in Chains’ details and core claims alike.” In conclusion he wrote:

I don’t want the convincing intellectual victory over Democracy in Chains to fool us into thinking that there’s no problem. I don’t want the forceful, true, statement that libertarian principles are incompatible with white supremacy to fool us into overlooking a morally compromised history and sociological and psychological patterns about how those principles turn into general political discourse.

Now, regular readers know that there has been no “convincing intellectual victory” over MacLean’s book, a point I will return to at the end of this post. For now I want to ask if it is really the case that “libertarian principles” really are incompatible with white supremacy because we seem to have a paradox.

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