This post is about racism. Racism and libertarianism. The libertarian position on racism. Heavy subject, racism. Nevertheless, I’m gonna tackle it. Tackle it head on. Right now. No matter how sensitive a subject it is, I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna get right to it, no messing about… But before I do, what do you reckon to that title, readers? Clunky? Witty? Cheeky? Provocative? Insensitive? I like it, of course. I like everything I write, to be honest. I wouldn’t write it otherwise. But I ask because I’m wondering if I’d reach a bigger audience if I just gave my posts straightforward descriptive titles, rather than wordy, opaque titles. What I mean is, maybe I should call my posts stuff like “Legalise necrophilia”, “Legalise cannibalism”, etc. But then, you see, there’s a chance, albeit slim, that that could put people off. I don’t know… Anyway, it seems almost like I’m beating around the bush, doesn’t it? Almost like I’m hesitant to tackle the weighty subject my awesome title alludes to. Like I’m shivering-scared to confront the spectre of racism.
Ha Ha! Got you! It was just a (very clever) meta-joke. Sort of the written equivalent of a visual gag. There might even be a name for it for all I know. Spectre of racism? Hah! No. Just like Bill Murray, I ain’t afraid o’ no ghost. Racism, here I come! Wait. “Racism, here I come”? Oh, dear. Probably could have phrased that better. Well, too late to change it now, I suppose.
Last week, Russell Taylor mentioned the Bell Curve. Mentioned it. He didn’t say he agreed with it. He didn’t reference any particular parts of it, only the title. He didn’t base any proposals on it. But, alas, this brief mention en passant was all that was required. A chap left a comment – Hello, David! – worrying about libertarians and racism (and libertarians and the disabled, too. I’ll explicitly stick to the racism stuff here because the same arguments, mutatis mutandis, apply to both). So, then… What about libertarians and racism? Are we a bunch of racists? Can libertarians be racist? (For those of you who already know all this stuff, I’ll make it as much fun as I can, so do stick with it. Maybe you could make a drinking game out of it – have a shot each time I use the word “libertarian”. You will need your stomach pumping afterwards, though.)
First of all lets look at this from an historical/empirical standpoint:
Ludwig von Mises – Jewish
Henry Hazlitt – Jewish
Frank Chodorov – Jewish
Ayn Rand – Jewish
Murray Rothbard – Jewish
Without these people libertarianism in it’s modern form could not exist. It’s all but impossible to be a libertarian (drink!) and not to be aware of at least three of them. And it’s absolutely impossible to be a libertarian and not be influenced to a great extent by them. Hazlitt and Chodorov are less well known, yes, but they were, and are, tremendously important. It was Hazlitt who helped Mises find a teaching post and a publisher when Mises went to America, for instance. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that without Ludwig von Mises alone libertarianism would not exist. Obviously, there are many more Jewish libertarians, past and present, but those mentioned above will do for our purposes. Admittedly this list by itself doesn’t prove that no libertarian could possibly be a racist. But, seriously – you’d have to be pretty rubbish racist to be a libertarian. (“I hate ethnic minorities, me” “But I heard you were one of them Jew libertarians” “I’m only half-libertarian!”) Anyway, to find out what actual racists, and actual far-right types think about libertarianism, why not try googling “libertarian Jews”, or “libertarianism is Jewish”, or “Jewish libertarian conspiracy.” Spoiler alert – it’s not exactly complimentary.
What about libertarianism and racism from a theoretical standpoint? Clearly, given the history of the movement being a racist who is also a libertarian is, lets say, problematic. But does being a libertarian mean you absolutely can’t be a racist? Well, as I said in the comments of Russell’s piece, no. You certainly can be a libertarian and a racist, as long as you’re not an aggressive racist. Just like you can be a libertarian and an anti-racist, as long as you’re not an aggressive anti-racist. That is, libertarianism is concerned with the legitimate use of violence (including threats of violence). Defensive violence is fine. As is violence that is voluntary, eg boxing. Aggression, on the other hand, is not fine. Therefore, we need to know whether an action is violent, and if so whether it’s defensive or aggressive. And for that we need to know who owns what. For instance, if you grab the hat off my head, this is aggression if the hat belongs to me. But it’s not aggression if the hat belongs to you, and I’m only wearing it today because I stole it from you yesterday. Or again, I can wear my hat all I want, but I can’t go around slapping people in the face with it. The former damages no one else’s property, the latter does. And that’s really all libertarianism is: non-aggression plus private property rights.
So why is racism not forbidden by libertarianism? Why isn’t racism, per se, an aggressive act? Let’s look at some examples, ending with ‘The B*ll C**ve’.
A is of the opinion that his race is superior to all other races. The extent of his racism is just this – he feels himself superior to members of other races. When he encounters members of other races he deals honestly with them; outwardly he is polite and peaceable to them; but inwardly he’s contemptuous, etc. Now surely no one believes A is acting in an aggressive fashion, ie, that he is harming anyone by behaving in this way. A man’s thoughts are his own, and thinking hurts no one. Even if A is rude to members of other races, this is no different than if he is rude to members of his own race.
Lets say A gets together with fellow racists, B and C, in B’s house, and they talk about how inferior all other races are to their own. Who is harmed by this? No one. They’re all racists, they’re all enjoying themselves indulging in some racist horseplay or whatever. So, as distasteful as this all is, it’s non-aggressive.
But what if they do this in public? Clearly, this may very well prove to be offensive to some people. Now, as libertarians (drink!) we believe in free speech, and the reason we believe in free speech is because speaking isn’t an aggressive act – words damage neither body nor property. You can call me every name under the sun, and afterwards the physical integrity of my person will be as intact as it was before you began. My feelings may have been hurt, and your behaviour may have been vile, but you caused me no physical harm.
How about a racist employer? A refuses to hire B, because of B’s race. Why doesn’t this constitute aggression? Simply because A is only exercising his property rights, and in this specific instance B has no property rights. A is the owner of the enterprise, and it’s A who will pay the wages for the job; B owns neither the enterprise nor the money from which wages for the job will be paid – therefore B has no say in the matter whatsoever. Even if B is ‘the right man for the job’, A is under no compulsion to hire him. If A wants to hire someone, C, who is useless, but shares A’s skin colour, if he wants to piss his money up against a wall in this, or any other manner, it’s no one’s business but his own. B doesn’t own the job he doesn’t have, or the wages he isn’t paid. He is not the victim of any aggression.
Finally, lets look at the Bell Curve. Now, I’ve never read the book (for a long time I confused it with that book by Sylvia Plath). But apparently it’s about some racial groups doing better in IQ tests than other racial groups, and it treats this alleged fact like it was important for some reason. As you can tell, I think it sounds like pure nonsense. But, for the sake of argument, lets say that it is in fact true that Asians are smarter than Caucasians as a result of their genetic make up. What follows from this? For the libertarian at least, nothing! The Asian libertarian will continue to treat his Caucasian associates like human beings. He will not rob them, cheat them, beat them, enslave them. Why not? Because he is a libertarian, and as such he is forbidden from acting aggressively towards his fellows whether or not they are his intellectual equals – indeed whether or not they are libertarians, even. It is only in the hands of non-libertarians that this sort of stuff becomes dangerous. Politicians, of whatever stripe, may use it to call for exclusionary social policies, protectionist measures, prohibition of particular sorts of trade, and so on. Non-libertarian members of the public may use it in similar fashion. But libertarians cannot do so: minarchists because they don’t believe that the State should interfere; anarchists because we don’t believe that the State should exist.
Undoubtedly our unwillingness to call for the law to be used either to punish racists, or compel them to change their ways makes us seem heartless, cold, uncaring. However, there’s all the difference in the world between this and approving of racism. As libertarians we don’t want to outlaw discrimination. But just because we think a behaviour shouldn’t be outlawed, doesn’t mean we think it should be practiced, and it doesn’t mean we can’t, and don’t, condemn it.
Aah! Its true what they say, you know. Busting does make you feel good.
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