Tell Me Again, Why Are You a Libertarian?
by Wilton D. Alston
by Wilton D. Alston
"Those who want slavery should have the grace to name it by its proper name."
~ Ayn Rand, Anthem
"Belief is beautiful armor.
It makes for the heaviest sword.
Like punching underwater, you never can hit who you’re trying for."
~ "Belief," John Mayer, Continuum
It should come as no surprise to anyone reading this article to find out that I’m a member of a number of on-line discussion groups. (This is tantamount to a geek admitting that he watches Star Trek!) I’m a member of one listserve devoted to my fraternity, several devoted to the college I attended, and a couple devoted to the issues of libertarianism, including what it does and/or does not entail. (Geek Definition Alert: a listserve is a group of e-mail addresses that all receive any message sent by any member as long as it is addressed to the list. In essence is it a mailing list, managed automatically and available via a specific name that is itself an e-mail address.)
One issue that is seminal to my belief in libertarianism generally – and market anarchism particularly – is that of racism and how it is manifest in a world where performance and freedom truly hold sway. What I mean here is not that people in a truly free society suddenly forget their preferences or their biases and we all hold hands and sing Kumbaya all day while eating mangos and chitterlings. What I mean is that no one receives any help or hindrance from some over-arching body simply because they inhabit skin of one shade or another. One can clearly see my thoughts on this matter from my very first essay on LRC.
The discussions we have on my favorite libertarian listserve about this issue are fascinating, generally. They remind me of the breadth of thought among libertarians. They also remind me of the limits to perspective that can march under the flag of ideology masquerading as logic. How market anarchism will effect the interactions of different races is a particularly fertile area of dispute. As I listen to some of my comrades debating, certain aspects of what I perceive them to mean stick in my craw just a little bit. One such area is the recurring theme of "forced integration" that those who wish to justify closed borders always seem to posit. If any single issue is a harbinger for how far apart even those within the general category of libertarianism can be on an issue, immigration is it!
Some seem fond of stating, as a fact, that people generally prefer to associate with those of the same race, and that this preference is natural. Certainly I do not wish to debate this point. It strikes me as a tautology searching for an application. Basically, who cares? What does it prove? What should we do differently as libertarians with this data? Is the Non-Aggression Principle modified as a result? Hardly. Do we change our approach to property rights in the wake of this shocking discovery? Nope. So again I'd ask, who gives a large rat dropping if people like to be with the groups of people they like to be with? Great! Good for them. Freedom supports this wholeheartedly.
I gather from many of our discussions that there are a number of authors who tend to rely on pointing out these things. All too often, these people are celebrated as being "anti-PC" and as such, heroes of a sort. I hear their names and their articles quoted more often than I’d like. Occasionally these people – whom I frankly have no interest in knowing more about – speak eloquently (and apparently persuasively) about the ostensibly high likelihood of problems or unrest should the races mix, whatever "mixing" entails. That this cannot be classified as the same type of race baiting made famous by such forward thinkers as Hitler probably should shock me, but after a while on these lists – and active attendance at more than one Internet intellectual rodeo – fortunately or unfortunately, it does not. (No doubt these authors mention dogs and cats sleeping together and a flood or two as well in their screed, but that's probably unfair to racists everywhere, so I apologize for saying it.)
Here's the thing about this forced integration objection that amazes me. It only makes sense based upon the current U.S. racial demographic. (We're working on that though. Pass the salsa homes!) A white person in the U.S. can possibly avoid almost all contact with another race, if he really tries hard. A black person who ascribes to such a view would rapidly find it impractical. I simply cannot avoid routine, dare I say, intimate contact with other races.
I am, as best I can tell, the only black person who posts to that particular libertarian list frequently. I am one of a few black people who write for LRC regularly, again, as far as I can tell. I am relatively certain that if I attended the Austrian Scholars Conference with plans of spending a lot of time with only "my people" I'd be in for a disappointment. To all these points, I have but one sentiment. So what?
My perfect scenario would be to live in a world where no one gives a flying hockey puck about the race of another. I don’t feel this way because I'm more evolved or less interested, or because I haven't had bad experiences with other races in the past. (Heck, I’ve had a few bad experiences with my own race too.) I don’t place a lot of emphasis on race because that is simply not a viable option. Such an approach would be largely counterproductive for any American black person. For an American black man who subscribes to the logic of libertarianism it would be ridiculous!
However, some libertarians suggest, as best I can determine – supported by "thinkers" of some ilk – that this overt reliance upon race makes sense as a personal modus operandi. Some even suggest that initially evaluating people based upon race is "efficient." Why would collectivist logic make sense in this case, yet not in the many other cases we libertarians debate? Why not use majority rule if the collective is a viable logical unit? Because people are individuals and treating them as such is the only valid moral option.
Let’s try a thought experiment. If we – given whatever race each of us is – were in a locale with a different racial demographic, say, Africa, would this point of view – evaluate by race first – be reasonable? What about if we lived in Japan? I think we would see such an approach for the folly that it is. One of the lessons I have found the most powerful in my quest for truth via libertarianism is that of universal morality.
By extension, the argument from morality has been foundational in much of my thinking. Applying that principle to this issue of race relations leads me to one conclusion: Any technique for interacting with people that I would use here in the States, that I would not use if I were in Africa or Japan, is flawed. The people are of the same species, with the same inalienable rights, sharing the same frailties. (Yes, of course, local customs may differ from place-to-place. I’m not talking about when one takes off his shoes. I’m talking about whether or not one respects and values the person with whom he is about to interact, ceteris paribus.) How I interact with an individual cannot be different based upon something inconsequential to that relationship such as geography. My approach to people should work just as well in Nebraska as in Harlem as in Zimbabwe as in Israel as in Saudi Arabia. If it does not, then my approach – and all mental gymnastics I've employed to justify it – is flawed in a very basic way.
There have been other essays that speak powerfully about the larger issue we discuss here. The basic point I attempt to make is: An overly strong belief in or reliance upon any group – be it a group created by biology or a group created by ideology – is absolutely bound to lead to improper conclusions and actions, particularly if one forgets to employ evidence, logic, and reason. The ideas are the thing, not the groups. Individuals exist in reality; groups exist only in the abstract.
If we – the people ostensibly committed to freedom and liberty for all – want to evaluate based upon groups, then let's stop spouting off about all this individual freedom stuff – and the sooner the better.
April 19, 2007
Wilt Alston [send him mail] lives in Rochester, NY, with his wife and three children. When he’s not training for a marathon or furthering his part-time study of libertarian philosophy, he works as a principal research scientist in transportation safety, focusing primarily on the safety of subway and freight train control systems.
Copyright © 2007 LewRockwell.com