Blogs > Liberty and Power > Are "PC Libertarians" Really Statists in Disguise?

Jan 16, 2008 12:48 pm

Are "PC Libertarians" Really Statists in Disguise?

Among the more curious arguments made in the wake of the Ron Paul newsletters affair is the charge that those libertarians who decried the racism and homophobia of the newsletters are revealing their underlying statism. The most complete version of this argument is here. You can also see it here, where I've been declared a "Libertarian War Criminal" for "Siding with the State’s Thought Control in the Ron Paul Newsletter Affair." It has also been made in different forms, or cut and pasted from the first blog, into a number of comments threads at Hit & Run and elsewhere. A representative sample from the first link:

Political correctness is a very strong signal of statism. In the mind of a statist, something is either required or banned. Either homosexual behavior is banned or it is required that everybody respect homosexual behavior.

In the statist world of the “cosmopolitan libertarians,” only cosmopolitans get to satisfy their preferences and tastes (or as some others choose and should be free to choose to view them, vices) in the marketplace. Statists in their guts, the “cosmopolitan libertarians” view any differences in values as political threats. Suburban and rural preferences and tastes, whether vices (like racism and homophobia) or otherwise must therefore be shouted down and banned, and even the most ardent libertarian like Ron Paul for whom it is suggested might hold any such values they view as a political threat.

I'm not interested in a line-by-line fisking of this stuff, although I will ask where anyone has said it is "required" (i.e., presumably at the barrel of a gun) that everybody "respect homosexual behavior" or that vices should be "banned." All I've ever said is that we should name those things for what they are, shame those who use such rhetoric, and decide whether we as libertarians wish to continue to associate with them. I also said it was a decision that each of us had to make as individuals, though I still think we'd be better as a movement without it. It's funny that folks who shout so much about the "right of association" are so upset about others making calls to choose not to associate with them.

What I am interested in is the claim that those who stand in opposition to racism are being accused of being susceptible to using the state to somehow enforce that set of beliefs. First, as Roderick Long argued a few years ago in his "One Cheer for Political Correctness" essay, there's nothing inherently unlibertarian about recognizing the existence of structural racism/sexism etc. nor about standing up and loudly opposing it through non-coercive means. Will Wilkinson offers a different version of a similar theme in the context of the Paul newsletters. Second, throughout the long history of the West and the rest of the world, those who believe in the fundamental inequality of the races and/or believe that "like should stay with like" have been far more willing to use the state to enforce those views than those who have opposed them have.

As David Levy and Sandy Peart have argued, the case for laissez-faire and classical liberalism more broadly finds signfiicant roots in the British debates over race in the mid-19th century, with the classical liberals being in opposition to those who both thought the races were unequal and opposed capitalism/laissez-faire precisely because it was premised on equality and had the effect of improving the lot of the races they thought to be inferior. Those, like Mill, who opposed the Carlyle-Ruskin position of racial inequailty, did so precisely because they believed both that the races were equal in capability and in the idea that free markets would be a path toward increased material equality for non-whites. It was the racists who wished to use the state, as they have throughout history, to enforce their vision of inequality. It was the classical liberals, who would have been called "politically correct" if the epithet existed at the time, who wanted to restrict the state's intervention in the economy (not to mention ending slavery, which is the biggest state intervention of them all) in the name of racial equality. And let's not forget that "On Liberty" remains one of the best reponses to modern-day real statists who really would coercively limit free speech in the name of so-called "political correctness."

Yes, legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 involved some interference with private property and the right of association, but it also did away with a great deal of state-sponsored discrimination and was, in my view, a net gain for liberty. In the longer run, it seems quite clear that classical liberalism/libertarianism has sided with the opponents of racism and that those who viewed the races as unequal were much more likely to use the state to enforce that view than were those who saw the races as equal. To suggest that anti-racism libertarians are somehow secret statists because opposition to racism must necessarily lead to state imposition of those views is both a distortion of the actual arguments people like me have made and flies in the face of a long history of libertarians being both anti-racist and anti-state.

This is our heritage as classical liberals, and it long predates the Old Right of the early/mid 20th century, with its very mixed record on race/ethnicity issues, as a source of inspiration for not just the overall spirit of libertarianism, but its perspective on race in particular.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Roderick T. Long - 1/20/2008

When I was 13 I wrote a comic book in which there were some really cool aliens called "Cosmotaurs" (they were like four-armed flying centaurs with heads that looked like helmets -- well, they seemed cool to me at the time). I thought Stephan was talking about them!

Gene Callahan - 1/20/2008

You're not serious about it being "a one-way attack," are you, Stephan? "Cosmotards"?

Roderick T. Long - 1/19/2008

Hi K-dog. I wasn't suggesting that you were a paleo, or that all Mises-affiliated people are paleos (since after all I'm Mises-affiliated but not a paleo, and there are plenty of others also) or that all Ron Paul supporters are paleos, or that being a paleo is the worst thing imaginable, or [fill in the blank].

But I don't agree with you that it's a one-way street. It seems to me that each side attacks the other plenty, and that many people use the term "Beltway libertarian" as though "Beltway" were a privative modifer like "counterfeit" or "pseudo" rather than a differentia of "libertarian." (Of course those on the other side use "paleo" this way too.) And certainly Randy Barnett's status as a libertarian has been frequently denied among critics of Cato.

My (no doubt utterly useless) prescription:

1. Beltway libertarians (and fellow travelers) should stop exaggerating the sins of paleolibertarians.
2. Paleolibertarians (and fellow travelers) should stop exaggerating the sins of Beltway libertarians.
3. Beltway libertarians (and fellow travelers) should nevertheless acknowledge and renounce the various errors associated with Beltway-ness.
4. Palolibertarians (and fellow travelers) should nevertheless acknowledge and renounce the various errors associated with paleo-ness.

In other words, everybody should simply adopt my own point of view. Until I change it.

Please await further orders.

Stephan Kinsella - 1/18/2008

Again, it's not two-way. The cosmos are attacking the Misesians. It's a one-way attack.

Aeon J. Skoble - 1/18/2008

"compared to the rest of the populace, all of us are in 98% agreement on most matters"

Indeed! That's why I find a lot of this internecine warfare baffling, and I'm sure the commies are getting a nice chuckle out if it.

Stephan Kinsella - 1/18/2008

Could be, R-dog, but first, not all of "us" are "paleos"; I'm not. And it is indeed wrong to say this about Cato, of course.

But it is not a symmetrical situation, I'm afraid: the cosmotards are labeling a huge number of people "paleos" (most of whom are not, I believe), or, worse, derisively calling them mere "paleocons", and not even "real" libertarians; and are explicitly calling for excommunication and ostracism; they are the ones saying we are not even libertarians. By contrast, most sane Mises-affiliated people of course recognize Catoites are libertarians; and in fact, compared to the rest of the populace, all of us are in 98% agreement on most matters. Of course.

Roderick T. Long - 1/18/2008

That's true, Stephan. But of course it goes both ways. Plenty of people on the "paleo" side write as though everyone at Cato supports the war, for example.

Stephan Kinsella - 1/17/2008

Roderick, the problem with this Douglas Hofstader-ish analogy is that not all those referred to as "paleos" by the--self-described cosmos--are indeed paleos. In fact many of them refer to anyone within X Kevin Bacon degrees of separation of sufficiently politically incorrect types as being "paleo-conservatives," if not "neo-confederates," "apologists for slavery," "bigots," "holocaust deniers," what have you.

Stephan Kinsella - 1/17/2008

Roderick, re "Fever in the morning, fever all through the night."

You apparently have a sense of humor. Ergo, you are no cosmo. Cosmotards are dimwit-seriosos.

Re Skoble: Right-on.
"As far as I can tell, the folks at LvMI offered to host the site simply for the sake of advancing the cause of liberty." Or maybe it's b/c we are a "racist front" as some of the cosmotards charge, and are just biding our time. Mwah ha hah haaahh.

"So the bottom line is, it doesn't make sense to say that the entirety of LvMI is bad even if one thinks that this or that person associated with LvMI is bad."

No, these dimwit-serioso-cosmotards advance Princess-and-the-Pea PC standards; adopt a laughable holier-than-though posture; and advocate bizaree and self-contradictory one-degree-of-separation Kevin Bacon-ish guilt-by-association standards. I've been explicitly called a bigot and paleo by these silly nits, despite being neither. I really think the modal cosmotards are hurting themselves here; they must be bewildered that their plans are sputtering. But of course, most libertarians are individualist, justice minded, and reject PC crapola and group-think. The cosmotards' slavering attacks are backfiring; it drives them bonkers that Lew Rockwell is beloved by hundreds, maybe tens or hundreds of thousands, around the globe.

Anthony Gregory - 1/17/2008

But I don't think it's necessarily immoral to think that thinking homosexuality is immoral, either — nor is it necessarily immoral to think that thinking homosexuality is immoral is immoral.

I think people can have all sorts of thoughts, however wrong, without breaching my sense of morality. It is when those thoughts lead to hate, to disruptive action, and to obsession that I think they become a moral issue. Short of violating the non-aggression principle, of course some one can still be acting quite immorally. But merely disapproving morally of something usually fails to meet the bar.

Many Christians think that there is a moral obligation to believe in Christianity. Many non-Christians believe there is some moral failing in Christianity. I think that as long as it doesn't become hateful and destructive, it's not necessarily a problem. (Surely, there are bigots, on both sides – and finding their bigotry immoral is all well and good. But becoming hateful toward them is not so good.)

Can't we all just get along?

Jesse Walker - 1/17/2008

What if I think homosexual is not per se immoral, but neither is considering it immoral per se immoral?

Then you can endorse the pressure group Homosexuals and Homophobes United Against Homogeneity.

Roderick T. Long - 1/17/2008

Ditto for JLS, I have never been pressured to include, exclude, or change anything in it.

Anthony Gregory - 1/17/2008

What if I think homosexual is not per se immoral, but neither is considering it immoral per se immoral?

Is there a camp for me?

I actually don't think Roderick's post sums it up completely, but it does address certain culture warriors.

Richard Anthony Garner - 1/17/2008

That definitely it, Roderick. I remember discussing morality and homosexuality on the Ifeminist board ages ago, and my opponent who was a libertarian kept saying that belief in the right to engage in homosexual acts is not the same as the belief in the morality of those acts. All I was doing was refuting their case for declaring homosexuality immoral - I wasn't even saying it wasn't immoral on some other grounds, let alone saying that it was moral because it was within one's rights.

Aeon J. Skoble - 1/17/2008

I suppose I ought to mention that the folks at the LvMI offered to host the web site for the journal with no strings. They have never made any attempt to interfere with editorial autonomy, and in fact we publish stuff by "cosmos," "paleos," and "modals," as well as Objectivists, and the occasional commie. As far as I can tell, the folks at LvMI offered to host the site simply for the sake of advancing the cause of liberty. As Stephan noted, they are actually the publishers of JLS (unlike RP, which they do not publish), which is edited by Roderick, and AFAIK he also has autonomy. So the bottom line is, it doesn't make sense to say that the entirety of LvMI is bad even if one thinks that this or that person associated with LvMI is bad.

I do think that in terms of a presidential run, Paul needs to stay on-message: the newsletters are a red herring, libertarianism is not about racism, libertarianism is more consonant with the ideals of our founders than progressive-era busybodyism, and that he's the only anti-war candidate who has some principled reason for opposing the war (as opposed to all the other candidates, who either oppose it for purely partisan, strategic reasons, or who want to stay 100 years).

Roderick T. Long - 1/17/2008

PALEO: You cosmopolitan libertarians confuse our moral disapproval of homosexuality with a desire to ban homosexuality.

COSMO: No we don't. But you paleolibertarians seem to confuse our moral disapproval of your moral disapproval of homosexuality with a desire to ban your moral disapproval of homosexuality.

Roderick T. Long - 1/17/2008

Fever in the morning, fever all through the night.

Greg Newburn - 1/16/2008

I'd like to plead guilty. Could someone please tell me which protection agency is handling the trial?

Stephan Kinsella - 1/16/2008

Steve, look at 3 of your fellow bloggers here--Skoble's Reason Papers is hosted at the server. Gregory is a LRC writer. Long is the editor of the JLS. I guess this is yet another Fever Swamp, and you had better resign, to avoid guilt by association!

Steven Horwitz - 1/16/2008

Of course it was Stephan, but it reveals an underlying mentality that is more fully fleshed out in the other blog link.

Stephan Kinsella - 1/16/2008

Everyone's so serioso about this. This is one hazard of activism and professional libertarians (academics, think tankers); this becomes their whole world, and things get blown out of proportion. Man, I love having a non-intellectual, non-libertarian job.

(Steve, the "war criminals" things was a joke, man, a joke.)

David T. Beito - 1/16/2008

Sometimes the friends of Ron Paul are his own worst enemies. I hope that the campaign for its part realizes the seriousness of the situation and is making readjustments in its approach.