Tribalism, Edgelords, and the Death of the Libertarian Party | Part 2
A Mises Institute-affiliated philosopher advocates for a stateless society where discrimination and exclusion are encouraged. He is one of the heroes of current party leadership.
Originally published at The Scorecard.
Note: This three part is essay is meant as a primer explanation, mainly for outsiders, on what is happening in the Libertarian Party that provides a basic, albeit incomplete, understanding of some of the main ideas driving current party leadership.
In Part 1 of this essay, I discuss how the Libertarian Party has been taken over by an alt-right faction called the Mises Caucus, which has been criticized for its use of racist, anti-LGBTQ+ and xenophobic language. I explain how this strategy of appealing to the far-right in order to promote an anti-government message has been used by libertarians in the past and how this approach is tied to a think tank called the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Read Part 1 here.
Why Libertarianism Attracts Edgelord Trolls
Libertarians are, by nature, contrarian, if only because many of their views cut against the grain of the two major political parties. While mainstream Democrats might support legalization of marijuana, for instance, most Libertarians believe that all drugs should be legal for both utilitarian (the drug war has been a costly disaster) and deontological (humans have a right to decide what to do with their own bodies) grounds. In fact, the Libertarian Party advocated for gay rights in its first platform in 1972.
Some libertarians are minarchists who believe in a small, night-watchman state that offers basic services like courts, police, and a military. Others are anarchists or anarcho-capitalists who advocate for private, voluntary forms of governance that emerge from spontaneous orders due to informal institutional arrangements. There are numerous academic economists, philosophers, historians, and sociologists who devote serious research to studying these ideas, including Nobel Prize winners. But even within academia, many of these ideas are considered outside the “mainstream” of thought, so it often takes someone with a lot of courage and a willingness to go against the grain to pursue a research program studying how people can cooperate under a minimal state or stateless society.
Within the broader libertarian movement, there is also a diversity of views among activists, policy experts, and commentators about the ideal way to advance liberty. While some take a more pragmatic approach by advocating for incremental policy changes, others, like many at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, call for radical and immediate changes. They believe that incremental changes that continue to violate liberty or the “non-aggression principle” are inconsistent with a true vision of libertarianism and should be rejected.
Let me pause for an important caveat: I am not saying that people who hold either set of views do so cynically or for sinister reasons. Nor am I implying that the more radical wings of libertarianism are de facto racist or bigoted. But because libertarianism is in many ways a contrarian political philosophy, some people have joined the movement as an excuse to espouse shocking or offensive takes to gain attention online. Others have latched on to the movement and the party as a vehicle for distorting certain libertarian principles to advocate for illiberal policies.
Dictionary.com defines an “edgelord” as “someone on an internet forum who deliberately talks about controversial, offensive, taboo, or nihilistic subjects in order to shock other users in an effort to appear cool, or edgy.” Some edgelords even say things they don’t believe to gain attention.
This approach appears to be the entire messaging strategy of the Mises Caucus members in charge of the party. Whether they actually believe them or not, members and official accounts post offensive takes to gain attention, appeal to the alt-right, and stick it to the “woke” Left. For instance, here are recent Tweets that fan the flames on culture war issues in order to appeal to populist, alt-right people online.
It’s also likely that certain members of the Mises Caucus actually believe some of the nonsense they post as many of their more outrageous takes stem from the Ron Paul/Mises wing of libertarianism. Here are a few examples.
The Mises Caucus idolizes Ron Paul, who staked much of his popularity on his anti-war positions. Most libertarians oppose war and foreign entanglements on principle, but many are a bit more moderate about other aspects of foreign interventionism. But instead of simply opposing U.S. involvement in the Ukraine War, the Mises Caucus’ extreme anti-war stance and penchant for edgelord takes has led them to also adopt pro-Russian propaganda in the midst of Vladimir Putin’s unjustified invasion of Ukraine.
The Libertarian Party, particularly the Mises Caucus leaders in the NH party, have repeatedly compared Ukrainian President Zelensky to Hitler and attempted to color U.S. military support as backing literal Nazis (see Part 1). Somehow, the party’s anti-war stance has warped into explicitly pro-Putin rhetoric wherein the supposed “party of liberty” is supporting an actual tyrant.
Some libertarians oppose the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, and other international bodies that they believe threaten our national sovereignty. While there is debate among libertarians on these issues, the Mises Caucus view these international arrangements as part of a “globalist” agenda. And they regularly use the term “globalist” as an insult for anyone who advocates for open, outward-looking societies. Of course, it is well established that in alt-right circles, “globalist” is a dog whistle for Jewish.
Similarly, while private property rights are a central aspect to understanding libertarian philosophy, many in the Mises Institute circles and Mises Caucus have promoted a twisted view of property rights to oppose liberal immigration or “open borders” policies. They believe that their anti-immigration position is a more “principled” commitment to libertarian theory. But of course, their online takes quickly veer toward xenophobia, providing cover for those with racist or bigoted beliefs while welcoming more fascistic elements of the alt-right who latch onto that messaging.
And it’s not just the new leaders of the party who use libertarianism for cover for their xenophobic views — a Mises Institute-affiliated scholar by the name of Hans-Hermann Hoppe is one of their heroes.
The Hoppe Problem
Unlike the more pluralist and cosmopolitan strains of libertarian thought who advocate for open and heterogeneous societies, Mises Caucus members subscribe to a view whereby societies can bar those who don’t share their views or lifestyles. That view is championed by Hans-Hermann Hoppe, a German economist and pseudo-philosopher who advocates for a vision of anarcho-capitalism where private, voluntary governance organizations can (and should) exclude others who do not share their values and even set up rules that discriminate on the basis of race, religion, ideology and sexual orientation. He writes:
There can be no tolerance toward democrats and communists in a libertarian social order. They will have to be physically separated and expelled from society. Likewise, in a covenant founded for the purpose of protecting family and kin, there can be no tolerance toward those habitually promoting lifestyles incompatible with this goal. They – the advocates of alternative, non-family and kin-centered lifestyles such as, for instance, individual hedonism, parasitism, nature-environment worship, homosexuality, or communism – will have to be physically removed from society, too, if one is to maintain a libertarian order. [emphasis mine]
Hoppe’s book Democracy: The God that Failed also cites scholarship on IQ racial differences, defends segregation on property rights grounds, and claims that those with below average intelligence shouldn’t count as people:
“A member of the human race who is completely incapable of understanding the higher productivity of labor performed under a division of labor based on private property is not properly speaking a person, but falls instead in the same moral category as an animal — of either the harmless sort (to be domesticated and employed as a producer or consumer good, or to be enjoyed as a “free good”) or the wild and dangerous one (to be fought as a pest).”
Hoppe is also president and founder of The Property and Freedom Society, which has hosted speakers like white nationalist Richard Spencer and white supremacist Jared Taylor. The “Opening Declaration” of the Society mentions the “right to discriminate” in its opening sentence:
The Property and Freedom Society stands for an uncompromising intellectual radicalism: for justly acquired private property, freedom of contract, freedom of association—which logically implies the right to not associate with, or to discriminate against—anyone in one’s personal and business relations—and unconditional free trade. [emphasis mine]
Libertarians have historically supported liberal immigration policies, but Hoppe is explicitly anti-immigrant and contributes to an anti-immigration website called VDARE. Hoppe once compared immigration to “forced integration” and makes the twisted argument that the existence of a government necessitates the need to prevent immigrants from violating the private property rights of native citizens. Of course, he fails to mention, among other things, that business owners who want to hire foreign workers also face property rights violations when the state prohibits them from using their resources to hire an immigrant. Other anti-immigrant libertarians in these circles argue that immigration is incompatible with a large social welfare state because newcomers will extract resources from the native citizens (which is also false).
It’s also worth pointing out that Smith has had friendly conversations with white nationalist Nick Fuentes:
Hoppe’s extreme and contrarian views have provided cover for the current batch of edgelords who believe they have a license to say controversial and often racist things because it is the “true” and “principled” libertarian position. As the late economist Steve Horwitz pointed out at the blog Bleeding Heart Libertarians, “Hoppe, long associated with the Ludwig von Mises Institute as well as a panoply of racists and anti-Semites, is perhaps the most popular gateway drug for the alt-right incursion into libertarianism.”
Ironically, this Hoppean strain of libertarianism that influences the Mises Caucus is completely at odds with Mises’ own scholarship. Mises argued in favor of the economic benefits of immigration and explicitly opposed eugenics and scientific racism. In Nation, State, and Economy, for instance, Mises wrote that free trade and free migration followed from the same economic theory:
“If the mobility of capital and labor internally differs only in degree from their mobility between countries, then economic theory can also make no fundamental distinction between the two. Rather, it must necessarily reach the conclusion that the tendency inheres in free trade to draw labor forces and capital to the locations of the most favorable natural conditions of production without regard to political and national boundaries.”
A recent paper by economic historian Phil Magness documents the stark contrast between Mises and Hoppe on the issue of immigration and racial determinism and is worth a close read to understand why the Mises Caucus mistakenly believe that Mises is on their side.
At the May 2022 LP convention, former Congressman Justin Amash read a series of quotes to the crowd. Quotes like:
“Libertarianism’s thinking is cosmopolitan and ecumenical: it takes in all men and the whole world”
“The libertarian demands that every person [has] the right to live wherever he wants”
“The narrow mindedness which sees nothing beyond one’s own nation and which has no conception of the importance of international cooperation must be replaced by a cosmopolitan outlook”
“It is manifestly absurd to break up the ever increasing unity of the world economy into a number of small national territories, each as autarchic as possible.”
The Mises Caucus crowd booed every one of them. All of these quotes were from the works of none other than . . . Ludwig von Mises.
Yes, there is unfortunately more to this story. In Part 3, I will conclude with an examination of “Libertarian tribalism” and how Neo-Confederate strains of the Mises Institute crowd influence the party’s obsessions with a National Divorce and secession.
Justin Hayes is a communications professional and a resident of Nashville, TN.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International.