2014-01-29

More On In-Fighting

Apropos of something I must be unaware of, Steve Horwitz recently linked to this old post at Bleeding Heart Libertarians. That link, in turn, discusses the essay found on page 34 of this pamphlet, available at Mises.org.

First, let me quote a few passages from the Rockwell essay. To avoid confusion, I want to begin by making clear that I object to all of the above links, and the following passages are things that I find highly problematic.

Paleo-Libertarianism
To wit, Rockwell writes:
Pornographic photography, "free"-thinking, chaotic painting, atonal music, deconstructionist literature, Bauhaus architechture, and modernist films have nothing in common with the libertarian political agenda - no matter how much individual libertarians may revel in them. In addition to their aesthetic and moral disabilities, these "art forms" are political liabilities outside Berkeley and Greenwich Village.
I wonder if Rockwell would defend this passage today, if pressed to do so. Are we really to believe that if I enjoy listening to one of Schoenberg's serial compositions, I'm against libertarianism? That's a tough pill to swallow. Could Rockwell himself swallow it? Never mind that, actually, I have a better question: Could Rockwell provide a cogent argument for why Schoenberg is a "political liability?"

Later (emphasis mine):
Too many libertarians also join liberals in using the charge of racism to bash non-conformists. It may be scientifically false to believe, for example, that Asians are more intelligent than whites, but can it really be immoral? From a libertarian perspective, the only immorality would be to seek State recognition of this belief, whether correct or incorrect.
This is truly remarkable, and would be laughable, were it not an idea that keeps popping up in the blogosphere. But on a related note, Rockwell further writes:
From a Christian viewpoint, it is certainly wrong to treat someone unjustly or uncharitably as a result of racial beliefs. It is also wrong to treat someone unjustly or uncharitably because he's bald, hairy, skinny, or fat. But can it be immoral to prefer the company of one to the other?
Good question. Is it immoral to prefer hanging out with bald people versus people who are not bald? Is it immoral to choose one's private associations based on superficial physical traits? I wonder what Rockwell would say, if I asked him.

(Of course, the clever criticism of the above passage is that it is not merely wrong to treat someone unjustly or uncharitably as a result of inherent racism. Indeed, it is universally so, regardless of whether one is a Christian or a member of some other religion. Every religion preaches racial equality, every last one of them.)

And finally:
Libertarianism is widely seen as anti-force. But force will always be necessary to defend against wrong-doers and to administer justice. Libertarianism opposes aggression against the innocent, not coercion in general.
Rockwell insists that coercion is necessary and appropriate, so long as the victim is not innocent. That's unsettling for many reasons, but to me the most compelling reason is the possibility that such a policy in practice could very easily get out of hand.

The above passages are, in my opinion, the most offensive in the Rockwell pamphlet.

Horwitzism
Having said all that, I must confess that I read Horwitz's post first, and was under the impression that Rockwell's essay would be far more offensive than it turned out to be.

Hearing an old, bearded, white man extol the virtues of conservative Christian, Anglo-Saxon culture is not exactly news. For one thing, you'll find similar expositions at iSteve, Anti-Gnostic, Chateau Heartiste, and so on. To be sure, there are a lot of praiseworthy aspects of Western culture, and there should be nothing wrong in plainly acknowledging them. But Rockwell doesn't seem to want to keep the good and toss the bad (and there is a lot of bad in every culture) when he writes that "Western civilization [is] eminently worthy of preservation and defense" (emphasis mine).

"Preservation and defense" begs the question how will we "preserve and defend" Western civilization, if not by practicing exclusion? Surely we all agree that the great works of Isaac Newton, Plato, Des Cartes, et al., ought to be preserved for as long as humans can learn from them, and defended against being destroyed. But even my friends born in Africa or Asia would agree with that. Thus, this is clearly not the kind of "preservation and defense" Rockwell has in mind.

I agree with Horwitz that far, at least. But Horwitz writes:
As Jacob [Levy] says, the attempt to court the right through appeals to the most unsavory sorts of arguments was a conscious part of the “paleolibertarian” strategy that Lew Rockwell and Murray Rothbard cooked up in the late 1980s. What’s happening right now is that the chickens of that effort are coming home to roost with large external costs on all of us as libertarians.
And later:
Even after the paleo strategy was abandoned, Ron was still there walking the line between “mainstream” libertarianism and the winking appeal to the hard right courted by the paleo strategy. Paul’s continued contact with the fringe groups of Truthers, racists, and the paranoid right are well documented. Even in 2008, he refused to return a campaign contribution of $500 from the white supremacist group Stormfront. You can still go to their site and see their love for Ron Paul in this campaign and you can find a picture of Ron with the owner of Stormfront’s website. Even if Ron had never intentionally courted them, isn’t it a huge problem that they think he is a good candidate? Doesn’t that say something really bad about the way Ron Paul is communicating his message?
Thus Horwitz insinuates that Lew Rockwell and Ron Paul might have deliberately courted neo-Nazis because they thought it would be good for the libertarian movement. That suggestion is more than wrong and offensive, it also defies logic. Why in the world would any libertarian think cozying up with neo-Nazis would benefit the movement. The mind reels.

Horwitz might counter: Indeed, that is the whole point - it was a terrible strategy. But first he must convince me that this was indeed the strategy, and despite the highly problematic passages I have quoted above, nothing about the Rockwell essay would lead me to believe that he intended to deliberately attract racists to increase the size of the liberty movement.

Sorting It Out
When I comment on such matters, the reader must understand that I wasn't "there" and I don't really know. Anything I say here should be understood to be speculation. However, it is speculation based on the available evidence. Those who were "there" are the only ones who can say for certain.

But us younger folks don't have the luxury of having been "there," and we'd still like to have a bit more liberty in our lives. What are we to think?

First of all, I think it's far more likely that Rockwell genuinely believes in social isolation. His website has published critiques of free immigration such as this essay by Hans-Hermann Hoppe. To discover that Lew Rockwell is a critic of cultural diversity is - once again - rather dog-bites-man. He writes in favor of "Western civilization," he denigrates the idea that Dizzy Gillespie's music compares to Bach, he finds no moral objection to believing that different races are differently intelligent, and he thinks it is perfectly fine to avoid hanging out with bald people. It is fairly safe to say that Rockwell's views coincide well with what Anti-Gnostic calls "the Dark Enlightenment."

I suppose the whole question - the one that Horwitz would like to force - is whether one can be both libertarian and ethnocentric. This is a question that likely lead to my unfortunate bromantic break-up with Sonic Charmer. It seems to be the question at the heart of the "open borders" debate. Can liberty-loving people be ethnocentric? Do those two ethics match up?

Coming at the question from the Enlightenment angle, as Horwitz does, replete as it is with tales of "all men are created equal," and women's suffrage, and civil rights, it is very difficult to conclude that ethnocentrism and libertarianism are compatible. Consider what libertarian godmother Ayn Rand wrote:
Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage—the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry. Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors.
In the Objectivist tradition, racism is collectivism, and collectivism is both anti-liberty and anti-life. But this argument will obviously have no sway with those libertarians, such as Rockwell, who believe that Rand was the leader of a cult.

Conclusion
And this is the tragic end of the libertarian movement. At the end of the day, after decades of progress, the movement unravels in full view of the public, not because liberty was tried and failed, but because libertarians themselves cannot seem to agree whether or not they are racists.

Let me briefly acknowledge the obvious critique here: I understand that the Rockwells and Steve Sailers of the world don't actually believe that they're racists, but it's hard to conclude otherwise when they insist that there is nothing morally objectionable about preferring the company of whites. Isn't it?

Like Horwitz, I believe this leaves a pockmark on the face of the liberty movement that scares people away whenever liberty starts to get favorable press. The Tea Party rises, and quickly falls, precisely because charges of racism can stick to essays like the Rockwell piece I've discussed here.

But if you think I'm not giving Rockwell a fair shake, consider this passage from the same essay:
The only way to sever libertarianism's link with libertinism is with a cleansing debate. I want to start that debate, and on the proper grounds.
In effect, Lew Rockwell never called for a declaration that his way, and only his way, was the viable form of libertarianism - at least not in the offending article. Instead, he outlined a position he called "paleo-libertarianism," and called for a debate.

To my knowledge, this debate never happened. Horwitz's blog post does not seem to advance the debate very far, either, although I readily concede that the ideas laid out on BleedingHeartLibertarians.com certainly qualify as participating in a debate about what libertarianism consists of.

Rather than lob rhetorical molotov cocktails at each other, I think the old guard should participate in the very debate Rockwell hoped to initiate. And, I think the starting point should be not the Rockwell article or the Ron Paul newsletters, or even Horwitz's blog post.

Instead, I think the debate should start at the same place that so many of these folks came to self-identify as libertarians in the first place: Ayn Rand. Let them have the debate, and let them start by articulating the extent to which they agree with Rand's views on racism, quoted above. From that starting point, let them produce their rationale and convince each other that "true" libertarianism is either anarcho-capitalistic ethnic enclaves, or enlightened, libertine, "bleeding heart" societies.