A small but growing white nationalist movement called the alternative right, or alt-right, was recently credited by some pundits for Trump’s win in the primaries. (Likely an exaggeration.) Some incorrectly describe “alt-right” as an umbrella for several movements opposed to mainstream republican conservatism, including libertarianism and other movements.
By: David Libertas
This article first appeared at Liberty.Me
Libertarianism is about maximizing individual liberty and opposing power. It opposed slavery and Jim Crow laws and supported universal suffrage. The alt-right at its core is about one race wielding power over the others. How can two incompatible movements that are opposed to each other be viewed as somehow under the same umbrella?
The term “alt-right” was popularized by Richard Spencer who ran a website and podcast of the same name. The alt-right movement is about (in Spencer’s words) “the creation of a White Ethno-State on the North American continent.”
The white nationalism he and his circle promoted on that website had some minor differences with previous racist movements. Past white nationalist groups traditionally also hated Jews and gays, also often atheists, Catholics, and even Italians; Spencer’s alt-right blog had been more accepting of these groups, although that may have changed more recently. Past racist movements were often overtly Protestant; Spencer’s alt-right viewed Christianity as a destructive force and rejects the religiosity of mainstream conservatism. Spencer’s alt-right also drew inspiration from certain philosophers such as Neitzsche, Evola, Carl Schmitt, and Spengler.
Nonetheless, regardless of how it’s packaged the goal of the alt-right is the same as the KKK and neo-Nazis, and for that reason it should be opposed by libertarians.
Libertarianism seeks to maximize individual liberty. We believe the path to that is rejecting violence as a means of achieving political or social goals. It requires a high degree of tolerance.
Racists in past generations expressed their intolerance by using state violence against blacks. Today socialists express their intolerance of the industrious and successful by threatening the wealthy with state violence. Unfortunately, most civil rights movements today also believe in using state violence to get their way.
This makes Libertarianism very peculiar. It is the only social & political movement that is agnostic of values. Libertarianism is associated with capitalism, but you can be a communist libertarian. I’ve met them. If you support Marxism but seek to enact communism via persuasion instead of state violence then you are a libertarian.
Libertarianism should be an ally of Black Lives Matters. Libertarianism’s demand for extreme tolerance of differences means it attracts people who believe in racial tolerance. And like Black Lives Matters, libertarianism is opposed to violent cops. The problem is Black Lives Matters seeks to use state violence to achieve its own demands. Thus libertarians oppose them. And so does the alt-right, but for different reasons. Whereas the libertarian critique of Black Lives Matters is its statism, the alt-right opposition is rooted in anti-black racism.
Critiques of the Mainstream Politics
Spencer’s critique of the mainstream Republican party, and I think it is a correct critique, is that the party at its heart is a liberal movement with no desire to win ideological victories.
The Republican establishment tacitly embraces the left’s thought crimes called political correctness. Although establishment Republicans often complain about politically correct thought crimes, they never do anything about them and often comply with these thought codes. The alt-right has become one of the most vocal opponents of political correctness and indeed tries to be as overtly politically incorrect as possible.
Libertarians often see political correctness as de facto censorship used to promote statist ideology, and many are glad to see someone chipping away at it.
And yes, the Republican party is liberal. Recall that ideas of racial equality, open borders immigration, and bombing the world into democracy were associated with the Democrats at various points in modern history. Also, free trade was originally part of liberalism before the left embraced socialism. We now associate these with Republicans, but all have their roots in liberalism. Thus the Democrats have been pushed beyond traditional liberalism.
In contrast, observe the left’s embrace of racism. Racial equality washistorically associated with the Democrats. It no longer is. There are many examples, but to give one, that party’s support for racially segregated “safe spaces” today is overtly racist. When whites demanded that 50 years ago we called it Jim Crow instead of “safe spaces,” and the Supreme Court ruled that such arrangements cannot be anything but racial inequality.
Ironically, this puts advocates of racial equality (including libertarians) and white nationalism (alt-right) in the same boat: both oppose the pro-black racism advocated by the Democrats, although for different reasons.
Opposition to Power Attracts False Friends
The main reason why there is some overlap between libertarian and alt-right circles is because libertarianism is opposed to power. This means it attracts whomever is opposing the current ascendant power. That is, until that opposition wins power: then they part ways.
Let’s go back to the 1800s. Slavery was the ascendant power and so abolitionists and libertarians tended to cross paths. But when the abolitionist movement became ascendant and used the bloodiest war in our history as a means to solve the slavery problem, suddenly libertarians such as Lysander Spooner, who were once a part of the abolitionist movement, ended up on opposite sides of the war debate. Spooner began his career as an abolitionist, excoriating the south for slavery and calling for northern secession from the union; he ended his career defending the south against the north’s invasion and excommunicated from the abolitionist movement despite the fact he still opposed slavery.
Today the liberal left is the ascendant power: it dominates both the Democrats (hard left liberalism) and Republicans (mild left liberalism). The alt-right opposes this movement and so do libertarians, but for very different reasons. Thus it makes sense that adherents of both movements tend to cross paths. Want to publish a blog mocking Obama and Romney? You will attract libertarians and alt-righters. But if (God forbid) the alt-right ever does become ascendant, using state power to stomp on racial minorities, then they will become the #1 enemy of libertarians.
The Libertarian Conundrum
Libertarianism remains distinct from the alt-right and every other statist ideology. Libertarianism requires extreme tolerance and is values-agnostic. What all non-libertarian movements have in common, from the David Duke to Bernie Sanders, from the alt-right to Black Lives Matters, is they are united by some set of shared values and then seek to impose their shared values on everyone else with the threat of state violence.
Think homosexuality is a sin? Bake the cake for the gay wedding or be beaten by cops. A tattooed neo-Nazi asks to hire you, a Jew, to cater his son’s graduation party? Serve the food or be beaten by the cops. Are you a vegan and a trophy hunting club wants to hire you to photograph their pig roast? Take the photos or be beaten by the cops. And if the alt-right ever comes to power you can expect cops beating blacks for drinking from the wrong fountain.
Libertarianism on the other hand is values-agnostic. They are atheists, Christians, pagans, Jews, Muslims, and pantheists. They have conservative values and liberal values. Some wear suits, others are tie-dyed hippies. They are straight, gay, bi, trans, and everything else you can imagine. Some won’t touch a beer or even a caffeinated beverage while others enjoy an herb every 4:20 in the afternoon. And although a libertarian might strongly oppose the lifestyles and values of other libertarians, the one thing we agree on is that we reject the use of violence against others living lifestyles or holding values we find objectionable.
This brings us to the great libertarian conundrum. In any age in any relatively free nation, the ascendant power will largely reflect the values of society. Yet we will be opposed to that ascendant power even if we share its values because we oppose the user of power over others. This means we will always end up becoming associated with opposition minority movements advocating values that mainstream of society and even libertarians find morally objectionable. This despite the fact such movements do not share libertarian beliefs and would become our main opponents were they to ever seize the reigns of power.
This article first appeared at Liberty.Me