Libertarianism and Racism

Because the most non-libertarian Libertarian Party, presidential ticket in history is vying for the presidency, it is imperative now more than ever that libertarianism, rightly defined and applied, be explained to the masses.

Whenever I speak or write about libertarianism, I invariably refer to libertarianism greatest philosopher and theorist, Murray Rothbard (1926-1995). Here is his classic statement on libertarianism:

Libertarianism is not and does not pretend to be a complete moral, or aesthetic theory; it is only a political theory, that is, the important subset of moral theory that deals with the proper role of violence in social life. Political theory deals with what is proper or improper for the government to do, and the government is distinguished from every other group in society as being the institution of organized violence. Libertarianism holds that the only proper role of violence is to defend person and property against violence, that any use of violence that goes beyond such just defense is itself aggressive, unjust, and criminal. Libertarianism, therefore, is a theory which states that everyone should be free of violent invasion, should be free to do as he sees fit except invade the person or property of another. What a person does with his or her life is vital and important, but is simply irrelevant to libertarianism.

And here is one of his classic statements on the nonaggression theory that underlies libertarianism: King James, His Bible,... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $15.50 Buy New $19.95 (as of 03:25 EST - Details)

The fundamental axiom of libertarian theory is that no one may threaten or commit violence (“aggress”) against another man’s person or property. Violence may be employed only against the man who commits such violence; that is, only defensively against the aggressive violence of another. In short, no violence may be employed against a non-aggressor. Here is the fundamental rule from which can be deduced the entire corpus of libertarian theory.

Libertarianism maintains that people should be free from individual, societal, or government interference to live life any way they desire, pursue happiness, accumulate wealth, assess risk, make choices, engage in commerce with anyone who is willing, participate in any economic activity for profit, and spend the fruits of their labor as they see fit as long as their actions are peaceful, their associations are voluntary, their interactions are consensual, and they don’t violate the personal or property rights of others.

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The nonconsensual initiation or real threat to initiate aggression against the person or property of others is always wrong. Aggression is justified only in defense of person or property or in retaliation against aggression but is not required.

Libertarianism is concerned only with actions, or the threat of actions, of aggression, not ideology. One’s personal judgments about religion, morality, ethics, values, or sin are immaterial. One’s private opinions about sex, aesthetics, culture, tradition, or the meaning of life are irrelevant. One’s secret thoughts about any individual, group, class, nationality, or race are neither here nor there.

It is no wonder that some people just don’t get it since it seems that even some libertarians just don’t get it either.

The recent libertarian debate over “thin” and “thick” libertarianism has apparently fizzled out. Lew Rockwell has succinctly explained the difference between the two:

The “thin” libertarian believes in the nonaggression principle, that one may not initiate physical force against anyone else. The thin libertarian thinks of himself simply as a libertarian, without labels. Most “thick” libertarians likewise believe in the nonaggression principle, but they believe that for the struggle for liberty to be coherent, libertarians must be committed to a slate of other views as well. War, Christianity, and... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $4.99 Buy New $9.95 (as of 03:10 EST - Details)

Now, although this slate might contain a variety of views, depending on the libertarian who is committed to it, there is one thing that is usually first on the list: the rejection of racism. The roots of this debate go back at least twenty years.

I first noticed this expansion of the libertarian creed in a popular libertarian book published about twenty years ago. There the author felt it necessary to express some moral sentiments that go beyond the bare description of the libertarian policy and called upon Americans to affirm their commitment to rise above racial prejudice and reject overt and hateful racism.

Then, about eight or so years ago, I saw where a libertarian writer pondered whether libertarianism should be seen as a “thin” commitment or one strand among others in a “thick” bundle of intertwined social commitments. There the writer expressed the opinion that certain beliefs or commitments could not be rejected without logically undermining the deeper reasons that justify the nonaggression principle. Although one could consistently accept libertarianism without accepting certain commitments or beliefs, one could not do so reasonably. Therefore, libertarians should endorse things that are conceptually independent of libertarian principles, be committed to opposing certain social practices or outcomes even though they are not themselves coercive, and incorporate certain social and cultural projects into libertarian theory and practice.

More recently, these two things have been put together, resulting in the following sentiments:

The grounds of libertarianism imply other obligations. Libertarianism is not just concerned with the proper and improper use of force. The strongest case for libertarianism entails commitments to not only the nonaggression principle but to other values that don’t directly relate to aggression, like racism that doesn’t violate rights. There are clear libertarian grounds for disapproving of racism that does not involve aggression. Racism is a primitive form of collectivism, which, of course, libertarians should detest. Racism can eat away at the values conducive to libertarianism. Implicit in racism is a potential for violence.

In addition to its unwarranted expansion of the nonaggression principle that strikes at the very core of libertarianism, I see three problems with this undue concern about libertarianism and racism.

First, the term “racism” is never defined or explained. The term is thrown around by some libertarians much the same as liberals, progressives, and social justice warriors employ it to attack and neutralize conservative and libertarian opponents of various government programs and social movements.

Second, the mostly left-libertarians who want to make value judgments about racism are generally vehemently opposed to libertarians making value judgments about things like abortion, an action that many libertarians consider War, Empire, and the M... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $16.00 Buy New $9.95 (as of 03:10 EST - Details) to be a real violation of the nonaggression principle. And instead of being indifferent as to whether a libertarian uses drugs, views pornography, or practices an alternative lifestyle, it seems at times as though some of these libertarians believe that libertarians should celebrate these things.

Third, the most insidious thing about all of this is that it is an attack on free thought. “Racism” that doesn’t involve violence or aggression, or the threat of these things—just like love, hatred, infatuation, disgust, obsession, or revulsion that doesn’t involve violence or aggression, or the threat of these things—is a thought, an opinion, an idea, a belief, an attitude, a judgment. Libertarianism is concerned with action, not thoughts. Thoughts, like motives and desires,  are the realm of morality and religion.

Being a libertarian doesn’t preclude one from making gender, ethnic, national, religious, or racial distinctions. It doesn’t disqualify one from discriminating for or against a particular gender, ethnic group, nationality, religion, or race. And it doesn’t prohibit one from judging that one gender, ethnic group, nationality, religion, or race is better or worse than another in some aspect or respect or more likely or less likely to do or not do something than another in some aspect or respect.

Doing these things doesn’t mean that one wants to commit, or that it will lead to one wanting to commit, aggression or violence against members of some gender, ethnic, national, religious, or racial group.

Can a libertarian be a “racist”? That is, can a libertarian think, deduce, conclude, presume, suppose, assume, or believe something about a racial group? Of course, he can. Just like a progressive, a centrist, a liberal, a Christian, an atheist, a moderate, or a conservative can. It doesn’t matter if people disagree on whether his thoughts are right or wrong, rational or irrational, correct or incorrect, logical or illogical, reasonable or unreasonable. Whether someone is a “racist” or has “racist” thoughts is beyond the scope of libertarianism.