By: Stewart Carrier
Yesterday, The Washington Post published a libertarian hit piece by writer John Ganz. Citing the history of Murray Rothbard’s departure from the Cato Institute, his partnership with Lew Rockwell, and some of Hans Hermann Hoppe’s troubling opinions, Ganz makes the argument that there is a connection between alt-right fascists and libertarianism.
This is simply not the case. Libertarianism is directly at odds with racism, the alt-right, and the big government socialists which comprise those various groups. Rothbard, Rockwell, and Hoppe are three examples of taking different aspects of libertarianism and perverting it, but there are countless examples of other thinkers and individuals who regularly do not.
It is clearly disingenuous for Ganz and The Washington Post to base their critique of libertarianism on just three thinkers. FA Hayek, Ludwig Von Mises, John Locke, Ron Paul, Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand, and Adam Smith, to name a few, all have a place at the table of libertarian philosophical thought.
Libertarians don’t negotiate with fascists or embrace ideologies which are designed to target individuals simply because of the color of their skin. If you disagree with that, you’re not a libertarian. As Ron Paul is fond of saying, “Racism is simply an ugly form of collectivism.” There is no room for collectivism in libertarian philosophy.
Yes, Murray Rothbard has published some troubling things and the essay which Ganz links to, “Right-Wing Populism,” is not something that I connect with as a libertarian. But Rothbard is not the only libertarian philosopher and his opinions and actions are not the end-all-be-all of libertarian thought. Libertarians are individualists; we don’t allow one philosopher to speak for us.
Then there’s Lew Rockwell. If it’s true Rockwell thought that “appearing” racist was good for libertarianism then we should disavow that explicitly. It betrays the spirit of individual liberty by appealing to collectives who have attempted, often successfully, to use the government to subvert the individual sovereignty of other people simply because of the color of their skin.
Libertarianism is about the right of absolute personal sovereignty. While this creates a space for racism, homophobia, and various other behaviors which many of us disagree with, what it does not do is create a space for the government to enforce those behaviors on the rest of us. Libertarianism creates a market of ideas which allows us to root out various “isms” as efficiently as possible.
Considering the backgrounds of these individuals, Ganz argues the following:
“The problem is that libertarian principles, which revolve the abstract notion of self-interest, are really not principles at all; they have no content and allow anything to be attached to them. Abstract self-interest alone can provide no instructive rule of thought and can disqualify no particular course of action, because each person is free to concoct what is in their best interest, and because “aggression” can be and has been defined in a variety of spurious ways.”
This is where Ganz is completely wrong. Self-interest is not an “abstract notion” and is simply the libertarian way of ensuring our individual sovereignty is not violated by grey-suited soviets, federal bureaucracies, and mob-rule collectivism. This self-interest, however, is something we afford to all individuals, even people who pervert it.
As libertarians, it is our responsibility to respect the ability of individuals to live for themselves, make the best decisions for themselves, and do this absent the use of force. There is no intellectual space in libertarianism for violence outside of self-defense. While there is philosophical room for a number of different opinions in libertarianism, there is no room for the perversion of individual liberty.
All philosophies have their outliers. Libertarians have many of them simply because we respect the individual. In the free market of ideas, individuals are afforded the opportunity to be wrong and are held accountable for their mistakes. When they are wrong, they sometimes form black markets. Ganz has focused on the black market philosophies while ignoring the spirit behind the free market libertarians offer to all those who respect the sovereign rights of individuals.