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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Going Full Nazi: Let’s Not Wait That Long

beach

It was pretty nice if you like this kind of thing.

I’m back from Hawai’i where I didn’t spend any time at all thinking about Murray Rothbard or Willis Carto. I’m ready take on the alt right again. Let’s wade in right up to our armpits, shall we?

Here’s a little scenario:

Major Right Wing Figure (MRWF): “Here is Something Horrible I believe.”

Proud Right Wing Racist (PRWR): “I believe something Something Horrible too! In fact, MRWF got Something Horrible from me and is furthering my racist agenda!”

Liberal Social Justice Warrior (LSJW): “OMG, everyone, MRWF got Something Horrible from PRWR and PRWR actually thanked MRWF for carrying out the racist agenda!”

MRWF: “How DARE you say that your filthy hippie LSJW! In fact, YOU are the real racist for pointing that out!!

This is a common script we see played out over and over these days. Trump, the current occupant of the dump we call the White House, tweeted a gif of him hitting Hillary Clinton with a golf ball. Hilarious, right? Turns out, however, that Trump didn’t make the gif himself (surprise!). It was a retweet from from a racist account called, get ready to hold your sides from laughing, “fuctupmind.”

Conservative website, The Daily Caller, has posted a piece by Peter Brimelow on how the Great and Powerful Trump has reduced immigration. Peter Brimelow runs a site called “Vdare” dedicated to white supremacy. It isn’t the first time the Daily Caller has helped the white supremacist cause, and it probably won’t be the last. The Daily Caller was founded by Tucker Carlson, cable TV’s number one draw and widely admired by white supremacists himself.

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More Homework While I’m On Vacation!

It could easily be accomplished by a computer…

The machine has taken over, I’ve set up a series of reading assignments for you to be released at timed intervals by computer itself.  This is the first:

  • David Duke and Donald Trump: Game knows game.
  • Read this excellent symposium on Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains. John is far too midwestern to quote from it, but I’m a mad computer so I’ll give you this highlight:

More generally, libertarianism has had an unfortunate recurring tendency to attract or ally with racists of varying stripes. From Reason magazine’s 1970s flirtation with Holocaust deniers to the paleolibertarianism of Murray Rothbard and Lew Rockwell (the latter purportedly author of Ron Paul’s race-baiting newsletters in the 1980s) to the clear interest in “race realism” evident in the comments sections of today’s libertarian blogs and publications, this history is not pretty. While many libertarians fully embrace racial equality and disavow this aspect of the movement, a history excavating this relationship (perhaps the one now being written by John P. Jackson, Jr., who has also written the most compelling defense of Democracy in Chains), would be both important and timely.

Darwinism, Democracy, and Race

Book cover for Darwinism, Democracy, and Race

This is the cover of my new book, just published with David Depew, the noted philospher of biology.  Writing a book with David has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my academic career. It has been a real pleasure to produce this book with him and I’m very proud of our work. Get your copy today!

Publisher’s Description:

Darwinism, Democracy, and Race examines the development and defence of an argument that arose at the boundary between anthropology and evolutionary biology in twentieth-century America. In its fully articulated form, this argument simultaneously discredited scientific racism and defended free human agency in Darwinian terms.

The volume is timely because it gives readers a key to assessing contemporary debates about the biology of race. By working across disciplinary lines, the book’s focal figures–the anthropologist Franz Boas, the cultural anthropologist Alfred Kroeber, the geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky, and the physical anthropologist Sherwood Washburn–found increasingly persuasive ways of cutting between genetic determinist and social constructionist views of race by grounding Boas’s racially egalitarian, culturally relativistic, and democratically pluralistic ethic in a distinctive version of the genetic theory of natural selection. Collaborators in making and defending this argument included Ashley Montagu, Stephen Jay Gould, and Richard Lewontin.

Darwinism, Democracy, and Race will appeal to advanced undergraduates, graduate students, and academics interested in subjects including Philosophy, Critical Race Theory, Sociology of Race, History of Biology and Anthropology, and Rhetoric of Science.

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“They Wanted to Protest the Taking Down of a Statue”

Drawing of a rat with the legend

Getting rid of racism is much harder with Trump as President

Is it even newsworthy that Trump’s press conference about Charlottesville was misleading and disingenuous? Probably not. Trump is so dishonest that it is no longer an interesting question that he mislead us but rather to ask how and to what end he lied. Sometimes, of course, the answer seems to be “because he felt like it” or “because he is so unconcerned with truth that he doesn’t even know he’s lying anymore.” I’m not even going to bother with the nonsense about “both sides do it,” I’ll leave that to Driftglass. I’m more interested in Trump’s challenge to a reporter who dared ask him a question:

When you say the alt-right, define alt-right to me. You define it. Go ahead. Define it for me, come on, let’s go.

Trump claims he “never spoke to Mr. Bannon about” Charlottesville. Maybe when he bothers to do so, he can ask him to define “alt right” since Bannon knows all about it. Heck, he even published a whole guide about defining the alt right. Maybe an aide can make a pretty picture book about it so President Pop-Up-Book can understand it.

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Charlottesville and Racism

In 1998, when he was 23 years old, John William King and two friends beat an African-American man, James Byrd, Jr., behind a convenience store. King was the one who used a baseball bat. They then chained Mr. Byrd behind their truck and dragged him for 3 miles. The pathologist report, once they had reassembled the 81 pieces of Mr. Byrd’s body, told the court that the evidence indicated Mr. Byrd was alive for most of the dragging since the remains indicated he tried desperately to protect himself.  John William King, and his friends, were found guilty. At his sentencing, King issued a statement:

Though I remain adamant about my innocence, it’s been obvious from the beginning that this community would get what they desire; so I’ll close with the words of Francis Yockey: “The promise of success is with the man who is determined to die proudly when it is no longer possible to live proudly.”

King is still on death row awaiting execution, forgotten by all. If he had done those actions even thirty years previously, he’s probably still be walking among us, a free man.

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Atheism and Racism

The New Atheists and the Alt-Right

A church in shambles

I’ve never liked the so-called “New Atheists,” those inspired by the “Four Horsemen” of Atheism: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens.  When writing about atheism, those four have never impressed me as particularly deep thinkers. My co-author and I have a new book coming out soon that takes exception to the version of Darwinism put forth by Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins.  I lost a great deal of respect for the late Christopher Hitchens when he embraced Bush’s Iraq war. And Sam Harris is, in my opinion, a shallow and unimpressive thinker who feeds the bigotry of thinkers who are even shallower and unimpressiver then he is.

I mostly never liked them because of Jennifer Michael Hecht.  I got to know Jennifer a bit when I reprinted an essay of her’s in a volume I edited.  About the time those men in the previous paragraph started making waves, Jennifer published Doubt: A History a deeply-researched, wonderfully-written study of the history of those who have doubted the existence of God. While Hitchens and Harris were repackaging David Hume for the umpteenth time, and Dennett and Dawkins were offering their cramped understanding of Darwinism (as if it had anything to do with the existence of God), Jennifer’s wonderfully original contribution to atheism was swept aside, perhaps because she was a woman (which would not be surprising, given the misogyny in the movement), perhaps because she doesn’t call her intellectual opponents irrational or stupid. Whatever the reason, I always thought the movement chose third-rate thinkers when they could have chosen a first-rate one.

Phil Torres, in a recent post over at Salon, notes the unsettling similarities between the views of some of the so-called “New Atheists,” and the Alt-Right. His drophead nicely summarized the piece: “A movement supposedly committed to science and reason has decayed into racism, misogyny and intolerance.” Torres documents the increasing hostility the movement has towards feminism and the embrace of the “scientific” proof of an innate difference in intelligence between white and black people. All of this with a heaping dose of Islamaphobia that would make any alt-rightist happy.

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More Libertarians: Murray Rothbard and Competitive Racism

[NB: I quote a lot from Professor Peter Klein‘s comment on this thread regarding Murray Rothbard. I want to make quite clear that my comments about Rothbard are about Rothbard and not about Professor Klein. I thank him for raising Rothbard’s name in this context because he spurred me to write up my thoughts about Rothbard and racism. In no way do I want to impute Rothbard’s beliefs to Professor Klein. Just so we are clear on that.]
Murray N. Rothbard (1926-1995), has been called “the most gifted libertarian writer of his generation” (p. 251). Rothbard prided himself as, in Nancy MacLean‘s words, libertarianism’s “most scathing guardian of libertarian orthodoxy” (p. 147). He was an “anarcho-capitalist” who believed that all governmental functions should be privatized, including national defense and police forces. Unlike someone like James Buchanan, or indeed, most academics, who often work within institutional structures with other like-minded researchers,  Rothbard worked alone for the vast majority of his career. Nonetheless he produced a staggering number of publications. His first writings, published when he was still a graduate student in economics in New York, were in Frank Chodorov’s analysis, by the end of his career he was championing libertarian politicians such as Ron Paul, paleo-conservatives such as Patrick J. Buchanan, and racist provocateurs such as ex-Klansman David Duke. Of this last’s run for the governorship of Louisiana, the Jewish Rothbard wrote of the most famous antisemite in the US:
It is fascinating that there was nothing in Duke’s current program or campaign that could not also be embraced by paleoconservatives or paleo-libertarians; lower taxes, dismantling the bureaucracy, slashing the welfare system, attacking affirmative action and racial set-asides, calling for equal rights for all Americans, including whites: what’s wrong with any of that?
Rothbard’s extremely rigid views, combined with these worrisome choices of allies, mean that many libertarians try to distance Rothbard from more respectable figures. For example, in our recent libertarian kerfuffle Phil Magness, properly distances James Buchanan from Rothbard’s radicalism. On that same thread I point out what I believe is the case: that there were no libertarians who spoke out against the discrimination or segregation of African Americans during the 1950s and 1960s (at this point, notably, Magness goes silent). At this point Professor Peter Klein brought Rothbard back from exile:
Libertarians such as Rothbard were keenly interested in the civil rights movement and had a quite a lot to say about it. Rothbard contributed a 5,000+ word article to New Individualist Review in 1961 on “The Negro Revolution,” describing the civil rights movement, with all its diversity, in great detail (http://oll.libertyfund.org/pages/rothbard-on-the-black-revolution). The article is mostly descriptive and analytical but Rothbard concludes by describing the libertarian position as “oppos[ing] compulsory segregation and police brutality, but also oppos[ing] compulsory integration and such absurdities as ethnic quota systems in jobs.” (BTW on the question of racism and unions, referred to above in the context of W. H. Hutt, Rothbard adds: “some Negroes are beginning to see that the heavy incidence of unemployment among Negro workers is partially caused by union restrictionism keeping Negroes (as well as numerous whites) out of many fields of employment. If the Negro Revolution shall have as one of its consequences the destruction of the restrictive union movement in this country, this, at least, will be a welcome boon.”)
I promised Professor Klein a post on Rothbard’s embrace of Black Nationalism and here we are. The place to begin is with what Rothbard called it in his last public speech: the War for Southern Independence. Those of us who aren’t interested in defending the Confederacy tend to call it the American Civil War.

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Davidson and Buchanan: Why Phillip Magness Should Apologize to Nancy MacLean

 

Well, this has been exciting. My post on Nancy MacLean’s new book (Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America)—what a friend of mine has dubbed “the libertarian kerfuffle”has brought new readers to this normally quiet space, for which I’m grateful. I’ve been dubbed “not particularly compelling” by Jonathan H. Adler at the Washington Post! As wonderful as that is (I’m thinking of making it the new tagline for my blog) I feel we ended up spinning our wheels in the comments. So, I’ll try again here and perhaps we can make better headway.

To defend Buchanan, and to defend themselves as inheritors of his intellectual program, many have reacted with accusations that MacLean is a bad scholar, that her citation practices are shoddy, and that she should be sued for libel. It is all very exciting. Well, as exciting as academic arguments get anyway. I’m not saying this is Game 7 of the World Series or anything.

Let’s pick up the argument with the accusation that MacLean imagined a link between southern writer Donald Davidson and James. N. Buchanan.

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