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The Problem with “Racist Libertarianism”

3,731 words

[1]Chase Rachels
White, Right, & Libertarian [2]
CreateSpace, 2018

“But Jesus replied, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? During the high priesthood of Abiathar, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which was lawful only for the priests. And he gave some to his companions as well.” Then Jesus told them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Therefore, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” — Mark 2:25–28 

The problem with “racist libertarianism” comes down to one question: do you support libertarianism because you believe it is in the best interests of white people, or do you support white people only because you believe they’re the most libertarian?

For most “racist libertarians,” it’s the latter. Thus, for them libertarianism was not made to serve the white race; the white race was made to serve libertarianism. This implies that if only the brown hordes invading Europe were anarchists who wanted to buy white prostitutes legally and work under the table without taking aid from the state, these “racist libertarians” would be tempted to stand on the side of the invaders against native “Statist” whites.

Starting with the Foreword by Hans-Hermann Hoppe, the book appears to be in line with this tradition. Hoppe rails against plenty of appropriate targets: “[f]ree” mass immigration from the non-Western world, “multiculturalism,” “affirmative action,” “non-discrimination,” the propagation of “openness” to “diversity” and “alternative life-styles,” to “feminism” and “gay- and transgender-ism,” and “anti-authoritarianism.”

But the ultimate reason he rails against them is not because diversity breaks down social cohesion, because those policies weaken whites in competition with the other nations of the world, because they dilute the white gene pool, or any other fundamentally identitarian reason. No; it’s because they serve to “expand and increase the powers centralized, concentrated and monopolized in the hands of the State.” That is the ultimate evil.

Hoppe opens the first paragraph of his Foreword by identifying what he believes to be “one of the most important questions in the entire field of the social sciences: “How can human beings, ‘real persons,’ having to act in a ‘real world’ characterized by the scarcity of all sorts of physical things, interact with each other . . . without physically clashing with one another in a contest or fight concerning the control of one and the same thing?” The answer, he says, is the non-aggression principle. But later, he emphasizes the need to “turn from pure theory to human history, psychology and sociology,” observing that “real libertarians . . . must study and take account of real people and real human history in order to design a libertarian strategy of social change . . .”

But it is an empirical question of history, psychology, and sociology—not of theory—whether Hoppe’s question is truly “the most important question” to “real persons” living in the “real world.” And any ordinary person—even the ordinary person who is politically involved—could be forgiven for having never heard anyone but Hoppe ask it.

So maybe—just maybe—the empirical study of history, psychology, and sociology shows us that people are not dying for a theoretical construct that would allow them to avoid conflict over resources if only everyone could be persuaded to adopt it. Of course, the slightest glance at the real world would also show that people are not prepared to adopt a fully libertarian ideology without “a contest or fight” by any means, anyway.

Thus, libertarianism empirically does not even solve this question. And if the question Hoppe is asking is not the one people the world over are really asking themselves when they build political structures, it might be important for him and other thinkers in his tradition to get back to the drawing board and ask what the “most important questions” are that people really are asking and trying to answer through political action. “I don’t want to fight over stuff. Is there some theoretical ideology that would keep us from having to fight over stuff—if and only if we could get everyone to agree to it—while fighting with anyone who disagrees” just isn’t it. People throughout the entirety of history have been more than happy to fight each other over stuff. They’ve even been plenty happy to fight each other over stuff that isn’t stuff at all, like their languages and religions. So much for that.

In fact, the only reason humans ever evolved prohibitions against killing or stealing stuff from members of their own groups is because groups that didn’t prohibit this behavior amongst themselves failed in competition against groups that did (see Ian Morris’ War! What Is It Good For? Conflict and the Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots) [3]. And guess what? This very “competition” involved a whole hell of a lot of groups stealing from and killing other groups. I mean, that’s basically what the whole entirety of history is.

So we evolved prohibitions against stealing from each other not because this reflects some metaphysical, cosmic truth . . . but for the far more mundane reason that it made us better and more organized at going out on raids together, which increased our group’s reproductive success while reducing others’, thus spreading our genes while reducing theirs (if they were too weakened by internal strife to fight back). Seriously, we literally stopped stealing and killing each other only so that we could steal and kill in much larger numbers more effectively than before.
In the first chapter on “What Anarcho-Capitalism Is,” Rachels continues much the same autistic prioritization of theory over empirical reality. He spends a single page providing a definition to anarcho-capitalism, and then by the very second page of the book he has not only reduced the whole entire “scope of political philosophy . . . to one simple question” (“when is the use of force justified?”) but proven that the answer is anarcho-capitalism. Political philosophers hate him. See how he addresses the entire scope of all political philosophy with one simple trick!

A few pages later, we get a repeat of the argument about “self-ownership” presented in Hoppe’s foreword to Murray Rothbard’s The Ethics of Liberty (which very notably defends the rights of parents to dump their young children out in the woods to starve to death . . . while calling abortion murder [4]). “The principle of self-ownership stipulates that one is and can only be the sole owner of his own physical body.” Can only be? Here we see again the way theory swamps reality in the core arguments for libertarianism–because one can only make sense of this as a purely theoretical claim. Otherwise, the omnipresent fact of slavery, indentured servitude, and other forms of “owning other peoples’ bodies” throughout all human history would make it the most ludicrous claim on Earth.

But the claim is supposed to get somewhere by the fallacy of conflation: the libertarian “praxeologist” establishes its truth in one sense (namely that I move my body with my brain, and no one else can move my body with their brain), and then slips it in as a very different claim we have not established as true (I have a profound metaphysical claim of normative “ownership” over my body and anything produced by it) to “prove” anarcho-capitalism.

If you thought the Alt Right was autistic . . . are you ready for this?

Here’s Hoppe’s summary of Rothbard’s way of doing this in the opening to The Ethics of Liberty:

Rothbard then offered this ultimate proof for [anarcho-capitalist] rules as just rules: if person A were not the owner of his physical body and all goods originally appropriated, produced, or voluntarily acquired by him, there would only exist two alternatives. Either another person, B, must then be regarded as the owner of A and the goods appropriated, produced, or contractually acquired by A, or both parties, A and B, must be regarded as equal co-owners of both bodies and goods.

In the first case, A would be B’s slave and subject to exploitation. B would own A and the goods originally appropriated, produced, or acquired by A, but A would not own B and the goods homesteaded, produced, or acquired by B. With this rule, two distinct classes of people would be created—exploiters (B) and exploited (A)—to whom different “law” would apply. Hence, this rule fails the “universalization test” and is from the outset disqualified as even a potential human ethic, for in order to be able to claim a rule to be a “law” (just), it is necessary that such a rule be universally—equally—valid for everyone.

Wait—I thought libertarians endorsing an unearned premise of universal human equality was the very problem Rachel’s book was supposed to be solving. Why should anyone adopt this premise any more than they should adopt the premise that human beings (or groups) empirically are equivalent to one another?

How are you supposed to convince people not to buy in to the premise that all human beings are equal when the very first premise of the whole core foundation of your ideology is that all human beings have to be equal? Are you really getting no sense here at all that maybe, just maybe the transformation of libertarianism into Left-libertarianism was kind of inevitable?

Hoppe continues unraveling Rothbard’s argument:

In the second case of universal co-ownership, the requirement of equal rights for everyone is obviously fulfilled. Yet this alternative suffers from another fatal flaw, for each activity of a person requires the employment of scarce goods (at least his body and its standing room). Yet if all goods were the collective property of everyone, then no one, at any time and in any place, could ever do anything with anything unless he had every other co-owner’s prior permission to do what he wanted to do. And how can one give such a permission if one is not even the sole owner of one’s very own body (and vocal chords)? If one were to follow the rule of total collective ownership, mankind would die out instantly.

The fact that anyone smart enough to understand these paragraphs can be dumb enough to believe their logic is sound is incredible. Actually, it’s impossible. Anyone who is smart enough to understand these paragraphs is smart enough to know that the logic isn’t sound. The “logic” claims it’s between libertarianism and literal death. If this were true, we would literally all be dead already. You don’t derive an ethic for all human beings at all times and places on Earth by manufacturing false dichotomies out of contrived imaginary scenarios. You look at the empirical facts on the ground in the real world. And the empirical fact on the ground in the real world is that the vast majority of humanity which does not follow the libertarian ethic is not dropping over dead because of it.

Compare statistics on economic well-being in places like Sweden and Hong Kong and you might convince me that a libertarian economy can better serve the interests of my extended family. But this form of argumentation is nothing but hardcore, out of control, off the rails, head-banging autism.

After alluding to these arguments and placing a slightly different spin on them, Rachels then moves on to discuss the “logical errors”—yes, “logical errors”—of the State. “If the State is charged with protecting the property of its citizenry, then it must be categorically stated that any attempt to do so can only end in contradiction . . . an inherent characteristic of any State is that is must lay taxes . . . [but] taxation is theft.” These core arguments for anarcho-capitalism are decidedly anti-pragmatic, and in my view serious adults need to hear pragmatic arguments. Anyone who thinks otherwise is just spending too much time on the Internet.

But the problem is that you can’t very well make a pragmatic argument for providing national security through competing national defense agencies because such an arrangement has never existed. But anyone who cares about pragmatism and empiricism—in my view most serious adults—will therefore have a great deal of caution advising we adopt something so dangerously unprecedented. As long as we’re just sitting back in our armchairs speculating through “a priori” reasoning and “praxeology” and the like, we actually don’t have a damn clue what would happen if we were to try and implement something like this in the real world.

After that, we move on to the libertarian case against open borders.

Of course, it bears reminding that this is not exactly a libertarian case for having the State protect national borders. Having a state protect national borders is not the libertarian ideal. In the libertarian ideal, it would be perfectly fine for a business to buy out the neighborhood right next to yours and invite all the Mexicans to come work in the factories they want. The debate we’re looking at here is an internecine conflict between libertarians about what they should support in the meantime, until they can achieve their ideal.

The debate ultimately revolves around whether libertarians should view “public” property as being unowned, or as the “private, albeit diffused, property of domestic net tax payers.” Well, of course the latter view makes more sense than the former. Good on Rachels for recognizing that much. It is baffling why more libertarians don’t. Native citizens paid for their public schools, hospitals, parks, airports, etc.; foreigners have no more intrinsic birthright to make use of parks that I paid for than they have to come into my private home and use my fridge.

But as time goes on, an increasingly large number of “domestic net tax payers” will be non-white immigrants and their descendants—and a large portion of them may want to expand immigration. At that point the libertarian framework would make it difficult for someone who follows Rachels’ reasoning to object to vastly expanding immigration along with this new elites’ preferences. And which do you think will happen first: that the right-libertarian philosophy will become nationally hegemonic, or that the non-white immigrant-descended percentage of the US will increase dramatically? Any rational observer can see that the answer is the latter.

Rachels offers a few solutions for the current immigration problem. First, repeal anti-discrimination laws and affirmative action and other policies that reduce peoples’ ability to discriminate. Next, bar foreigners from voting or having access to welfare. At this point, he almost had me. The problem is that if we could do something as radical as barring foreigners from voting and accessing welfare, then we would already be able to just stop inviting them in the first place. You can’t really call this damage control when achieving it would be as difficult as—if not more difficult than!—ending the problem altogether. Still, these are mostly good ideas. But then he argues that enforcing free trade policies would reduce the need to immigrate. After all, if Coca-Cola can move its factory to Mexico to hire Mexicans for cheap wages, why should Mexicans have to come here? And he amends his comments about restricting foreigners from accessing welfare to the effect that they should also be exempt from taxes for the same reason.

Further, the “vote” on what would actually happen would preferably be determined by net taxpayers themselves—and most likely through “one tax dollar paid on net one vote (or something similar to this).” Question: Who supports immigration more, the elites or the working class? Business owners who want cheap labor, or workers who compete with that cheap labor for jobs? Instead of asking that question (because answering “what is best for white people” isn’t Rachels’ actual objective; figuring out how to make libertarian theory pure is), he moves on to pointing out that since “foreign debt involves foreign tax victims,” these foreign victims too “have some claim to the U.S. government’s illegitimate ‘public’ property.” For the hundredth time: I’m glad to see that this is all motivated by a desire not to see his country sold away to foreigners.

Halfway into the book, Rachels summarizes the values of the Alt Right. If you’ve read this far, you’ll have some idea why I think he’s chipping away at the edges without identifying the real essence of it. But most of what he identifies isn’t terribly wrong. Capitalism over socialism, cultural homogeneity over multiculturalism, hierarchy over egalitarianism, conservative values over libertinism, private property over public property, low time preference over high time preference, and personal responsibility over “social justice.”

He later quotes This Is Europa’s [5] discussion of the “white genocide” meme, where they point out that the UN International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes of Genocide officially identifies several causes other than outright killing that can qualify as “genocide.” Namely: “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”

It takes guts for anyone to come out in defense of the claim of “white genocide,” and the UN Convention’s Article II, item B, does take the charge of “white genocide” out of the realm of paranoid conspiracy. But in general, Rachels spends much of this section overemphasizing his agreements with the Alt Right and underemphasizing disagreements. For instance, after highlighting the Alt Right’s concerns towards “the globalist effects of international free trade,” he quotes his fellow Radical Capitalist writer Ethan Chan [6] quoting Georgi Vuldzhev of the Mises Institute’s short summary of the pro-free trade argument:

It is true that greater competition between domestic and foreign workers can lead to a decline in wage rates and possibly unemployment . . . but this is only a short term effect. Free competition . . . also naturally leads to lower prices . . . so, while nominal wage rates are pushed down in some sectors, real wage rates rise overall for everyone in the economy because of the decline in prices.

As if this is all it should take to convince us all, and the problem is that we have just never before heard the libertarian boilerplate defense of this position in all our lives. Never mind that we now have empirical studies [7] showing that: “Adjustment in local labor markets is remarkably slow, with wages and labor-force participation rates remaining depressed and unemployment rates remaining elevated for at least a full decade after the China trade shock commences. Exposed workers experience greater job churning and reduced lifetime income.” Or others showing that [8] these trade shocks have directly contributed to “premature mortality among young males,” while increasing the number of “mothers who are unwed and share of children living in below-poverty, single-headed households.”

It turns out that that so-called “short term” can do quite a lot of serious damage to some individuals, while the gains that come to “everyone” as compensation for it are quite tiny by comparison. Once again, Rachels is interested enough to defend the “white genocide” meme on a technicality, but preventing white death isn’t really his true concern, so it doesn’t seem to bother him to glide over this topic so lazily. For another example, he spends an entire paragraph arguing that “much of the . . . degeneracy the Alt-Right decries is an effect of Central Bank inflation . . . and taxes,” a statement he backs up with a single-paragraph quote from Orwell N’Goode: “The consumerism that drives maniacal hedonism . . . can be pinpointed on our social democratic post-Keynesian economic models. As a result of graduated (progressive) taxation [and] inflationism . . . individual time preferences have shifted artificially high.”

This may be a path of argument worth exploring, but to be convincing it deserves far more than two paragraphs that more or less remain content to make the assertion and move on. On the pivotal point of convincing the Alt Right it would achieve its ends by adopting libertarianism, the book simply fails to do the work necessary to even count as a strong attempt. This one point alone could have deserved an entire chapter, and it got no more than two paragraphs that mostly repeated each other. I was genuinely hoping for more.

Of course, the book is relatively successful at showing some of the most important reasons why libertarians should adopt “Alt Right values” (and of course I would say so!). But most of what is relevant to convincing libertarians of this isn’t new, and most of what is new doesn’t look like it would be very convincing to libertarians. And in any case this comes with the many major caveats I have already mentioned here (what about when most of the net taxpayers are non-white descendants of immigrants, which will surely happen before Right-libertarian ideology becomes nationally hegemonic?), and I’m sure there are many more I didn’t explore.

Ultimately, Rachels’ position is “too racist” to be accepted by most libertarians, yet also “not racist enough” to really make him belong to the Dissident Right. It is sad to see someone take a stand and receive so much vitriol for their views—after Rachels was doxxed and fired over the book, his subsequent GoFundMe account was shut down, too [9]. For any disagreement I’ve expressed in this review, the worst outcome a person should ever get from writing a book—any book—is a negative review. Seriously, what would be so wrong about having a free and open debate before we try to force people to starve on the streets?

In the end, it looks to me like Rachels spread himself so thin trying to do everything at once that he didn’t really achieve anything in particular. Rather than trying to convince all members of the Alt Right to become libertarians, while trying to convince all libertarians to become members of the Alt Right, while also summarizing the ethical arguments for why one should be an anarcho-capitalist from the ground up while also trying to summarize the main trends that characterize the Alt Right, while proposing in-the-meantime solutions to the current problems of immigration, while trying to update the libertarian argument against open borders with insights from Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Stephan Kinsella, and Walter Block—whew, I’m exhausted just writing this sentence. And in a mere 124 pages, no less.

He should have picked any one of these threads and spent a lot more time honing in on a much smaller and clearer target. As it stands, this is better thought of as a manifesto of Rachels’ own personal views than it is a success at any particular one of the all-too-many things it tried to succeed in doing.