Tribalism, Edgelords, and the Death of the Libertarian Party | Part 3
Why a Neo-Confederate strain within the Mises Institute should not be ignored when current Libertarian Party Mises Caucus leaders call for a "National Divorce."
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 and Part 2 of this essay, I trace the ideological influences of the alt-right faction currently leading the party. I discuss how the ideas of Ludwig von Mises Institute scholars like Hans-Herman Hoppe provide cover for the more xenophobic and bigoted elements of the party. I also explain why the contrarian nature of libertarianism lends itself to edgelord trolls who use the party as a vehicle to espouse offensive takes for attention.
Libertarian Tribalism and Secession Defenders
In Part 1, I mentioned that the Mises-controlled Libertarian Party has repeatedly called for a “National Divorce,” a phrase also used by MAGA Republicans like Marjorie Taylor Greene. In other words, America is so polarized with such divergent values, they argue, that states and communities should secede from the federal government. In his 2017 speech at Mises University, Jeff Deist said, “Political decentralization, secession, subsidiarity, and nullification are all mechanisms that move us closer to our political goal of self-determination. Insisting on universal political arrangements is a huge tactical mistake for libertarians.”
Indeed, the Mises crowd’s support for decentralized and often homogenous societies has roots in the Hoppean vision of private property-based, exclusionary anarchy. They even argue that decentralization means there can be multiple non-libertarian, even totalitarian mini-societies, as long as they are not controlled by a central government. For instance, some believe that there can be a society full of communists who want to live under communism, but we should also be able to exclude them from a libertarian utopia.
Of course, the glaring issue with this framework is that a society could conceivably also exclude people based on race, religion and sexual preference, as long as those societal rules were agreed upon voluntarily. For Hoppe and his followers, this would even be a desired outcome. And here is where their tribal version of libertarianism opens the door for (and even welcomes) white nationalists, bigots and other factions of the alt-right to join the libertarian cause.
In fact, many scholars within the Mises Institute write often about the right to secede and some have even defended the Confederacy’s right to break away from the Union during the Civil War. And while there might be a libertarian case for secession in the abstract, it begs the question as to why Mises Institute scholars devote so much time to discussing and writing about it, especially in the context of the Civil War. In a 2000 blog post, Mises Institute founder Lew Rockwell wrote:
Indeed, when Karl Marx said the following, he was merely stating what everyone who followed events closely knew: "The war between the North and the South is a tariff war. The war is further, not for any principle, does not touch the question of slavery, and in fact turns on the Northern lust for sovereignty."
Marx was only wrong on one point: the war was about principle at one level. It was about the principle of self-determination and the right not to be taxed to support an alien regime. Another way of putting this is that the war was about freedom, and the South was on the same side as the original American revolutionaries.
This argument is, of course, a completely deranged attempt to downplay the central role that slavery played in the Civil War. Numerous libertarian scholars have done a much better job than I can in debunking this argument, see here, here, here, here, and here. Legal scholar Jonathan Adler writes that you need only look at the reasoning of the Confederate states at the time:
In my mind, the most compelling counter-argument is found in the words of the Confederate states themselves, which made no secret that their desire to defend slave-holding was the reason they opted to secede. See for instance, the Declarations of South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas. Note also the various Ordinances of Secession several of which make clear that the Confederacy is to consist of slaveholding states. These documents make it abundantly clear that slavery was the paramount concern of the seceding states.
Mises scholar Thomas DiLorenzo, who is also an economics professor at Loyola College, has published considerable research purporting to show why Abraham Lincoln was a tyrant. As National Review Editor Rich Lowry points out in a Daily Beast column:
The dean of the Lincoln-haters is Thomas DiLorenzo, an economics professor at Loyola College in Maryland, who writes books and gives talks about the man he cleverly calls "Dishonest Abe" and believes was guilty of treason. His scholarship, such as it is, consists of rummaging through the record for anything he can find to damn Lincoln, stripping it of any nuance or context, and piling on pejorative adjectives. In DiLorenzo, the Lincoln-haters have found a champion with the judiciousness and the temperament they deserve.
Mises Institute scholars also have deep ties to Confederate sympathizers. Popular podcaster and Mises Institute Senior Fellow Tom Woods is a founding member of the neo-Confederate group League of the South and wrote frequently for its magazine The Southern Patriot. In a 2005 article for Reason Magazine, Cathy Young explicitly asked Woods whether he stood by his affiliation:
In a 1997 article titled "Christendom's Last Stand," Woods proclaims the Confederacy's defeat "the real watershed from which we can trace many of the destructive trends that continue to ravage our civilization today."
Woods is talking not merely about the expansion of federal power but about the triumph of Northern "radical individualism," religious liberalism, and other cultural evils. He favorably quotes a 19th-century Southern theologian who described the defenders of slavery as "friends of order and regulated freedom," and portrays the Civil War as "a struggle against an atheistic individualism and an unrelenting rationalism in politics and religion, in favor of a Christian understanding of authority, social order and theology itself." The Southern cause, he concludes, is "the cause of us all."
Woods complains when critics quote his older essays. But when I contacted him to ask if he now rejected any part of those writings, he replied, "I don't so much object to their use of old quotations, much of which I'm sure I still stand by; I was simply taken aback at the lengths to which some have gone to avoid discussing my book." Woods claimed his views had evolved in a more libertarian direction. But he still spoke sympathetically of the defenders of the Southern order, telling me that "certain strains of abolitionist argument, Southerners feared, could corrode all kinds of human relations" since they challenged the principles of authority and subordination.
Is everyone involved with the Mises Institute a racist or pro-Confederacy? Of course not. But the Institute and the Caucus’s focus on secession and the Civil War attracts both contrarians who like to generate outrage by espousing provocative takes and more unsavory alt-right and white nationalist types who find in this brand of libertarianism the tools to defend their beliefs without immediately revealing their bigotry. The private property-based defense of secession and decentralization creates a subtle nod to those who want a non-racist justification for the Confederacy.
Why It Matters
This series of essays was not meant to provide any novel insights to those who were already aware of the current issues plaguing the Libertarian Party. Instead, I wrote this for outsiders who may not be aware of how unhinged the largest third party in American has become.
The philosophical roots of the LP’s current alt-right bent run deep, and there’s much more we could discuss. And it’s likely that if the Mises Caucus leadership continue to focus their messaging on National Divorce, secession, and culture war anti-wokeness, there won’t be much of an LP left. It’s also possible that this contingent of the LP will fracture off and form its own party while the more classically liberal caucuses attempt to rebuild.
But my real reason for writing this is my strong concern for how what’s happening in the LP reflects our broader political environment. I’m under no delusion that the LP will ever win a significant election. But if a party whose platform more closely reflected the liberal ideals of the Enlightenment can succumb to populist, illiberal impulses and political pandering, it doesn’t bode well for the two major parties, which are facing growing pressure from illiberal extremes among their base (the GOP obviously more so than the Democrats).
At one time, voters who believed in liberalism and pluralism and who wanted an alternative to the authoritarian impulses of both major parties could find some refuge in the LP. But far beyond the future electoral viability and reputation of the LP, the real danger is that the hateful rhetoric of the edgelords in charge will drive classical liberals away from considering libertarian ideas at all. Or worse, it could cement libertarianism as an ideology and a movement that welcomes bigotry by default.
Liberal libertarians need to stand up to the alt-right elements of the movement and loudly proclaim that their distorted vision is at odds with a free and open society. I will leave you with a relevant quote from the late economist Steve Horwitz:
What we need right now is [Murray] Rothbard’s vision of a free society as sketched in For a New Liberty, but we need it defended better. More carefully. More richly. More empirically. More humanely. More progressively. More tolerantly. With better scholarship. And we have to do it in a way that’s immune to the charge that libertarians don’t care about making the world a better place, especially for the least well off and those historically victimized by the color of their skin, their gender, their sexual orientation, or anything else that’s irrelevant to their moral status as human actors.
The writings of the paleolibertarians will continue to stain that project unless and until the rest of the libertarian movement stops trying to apologize for them…
[ . . . ]
Our history is one of liberal tolerance, universalism, and cosmopolitanism, putting the freedom and harmony of all people ahead of the supposed interests of any parochial sub-group, and especially ones defined by the artificial boundaries of nation-states and their subsets. Libertarians ignore this at the risk of irrelevance.
Justin Hayes is a communications professional and a resident of Nashville, TN.
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