Why Racial Prejudice is Not Compatible With Libertarianism
There is a frustrating trend among libertarians, to create criteria that exclude others from their own interpretation of the philosophy. One might claim it is impossible to be both pro-life and libertarian, or that someone who believes in borders is misunderstanding our platform. Thus, the phrase “you’re not a real libertarian!” has become something of a bad meme, a disagreement we’ve each experienced more than once.
For this reason, I try to avoid making such claims; libertarians of different mindsets can reach any number of conclusions in their own lives. Who am I to say what constitutes a “real libertarian”?
Yet, today I intend to break this personal rule and argue for the incompatibility of two ideas. I hope to illustrate in no uncertain terms the many ways racism directly contradicts our most fundamental libertarian principles.
In short, one cannot be both racist and libertarian.
It will be helpful to my argument if we clearly define what I mean up front. For the purposes of this article, by “racism”, I mean a belief that a given race is either superior or inferior to another. Further, I would expand my use of the term to people who don’t believe in racial superiority, but support separation of ethnic groups, or ‘ethno-nationalists’.
(Some would wish to burden the lexicographical definition with the insertion of institutional hierarchies and historical oppression… but I’d ask that my readers try to keep it simple.)
When describing libertarianism to an outsider, we often explain our beliefs with a summary of the Non-Aggression Principle. We may say a mere affirmation of the NAP is sufficient to be called a libertarian; I must respectfully claim there is a bit more to it. An indispensable element of libertarian thinking is a belief in individualism.
In all schools of political thought, the individual is the primary unit of analysis. While we do account for and predict macroscopic behaviors of societies, this sort of extrapolation can only be done by studying the patterns of individual action. Communists may talk about the broader goals of their theoretical society, but at the core is an argument for financial equality among individuals.
The libertarian, too, bases their analysis of society upon the individual. Though we do not seek equality of outcome, as our friends on the left might, we tend to support equality of opportunity. A libertarian must, as an individualist, assert that no one constituent of the political system is any more important than another. A life is equal to a life, a vote is equal to a vote, and each man must be treated neutrally under the eyes of the law. No one should hold a preferential status in society over another, and a majority may not ethically infringe the rights of a minority. This individualist axiom necessarily excludes a belief in racial segregation/superiority.
I believe this claim is self-evident; if you believe in the preference of a given race over another, you are making a collectivist argument which clashes directly with our principles. To declare oneself racially superior, and to utilize state authority in affirmation of this superiority, is itself an act of aggression. Any argument based in racial prejudice is a negation of individualism and is therefore not libertarian.
Yet, there may be those who do not believe themselves to be superior but would wish for the separation of various racial groups into ethnic nation-states. They might adhere to the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine of the 1800’s, and think this position is compatible with libertarianism. Again, this is a misunderstanding of the most basic ideas that compose our movement.
The organizing of nations into racially homogenous sects is inherently authoritarian. It asserts the collective ownership of every individual in society, as made distinct by ethnicity and birthright. It is the worst sort of communal totalitarianism, an impediment on the free markets of commerce and knowledge. Such a belief, that each culture must be kept isolated from one another to achieve their potential, is again a denial of the individual. This belief forces each person into a box they did not choose and only acknowledges them as extensions of a broader ethnic identity.
Murray Rothbard once said:
“The libertarian opposes compulsory segregation and police brutality, but also opposes compulsory integration and such absurdities as ethnic quota systems in jobs.”
ANY claim based in identity politics, whether a product of the far-right or the far-left, is necessarily fatuous. To be consistent in thought and action, we must reject any argument founded on racial prejudice and collectivism; to defend the sacred rights of the individual is to make him distinct from any social group, be it a nation or a race. Ours is a philosophy of permissiveness and independence, which cannot be held in mind alongside such ideas as expressed by Richard Spencer and the like.
It feels important to draw this distinction. Anyone who holds racial identity to be more meaningful than the individual character is not thinking clearly. Further, anyone who would use the state to push such misguided beliefs is anything but libertarian.
You can read more by Kevin Shaw on Think Liberty here.