In this first Liberty Face Off of April 2017, Ryan Khurana and Barry Gormley will present their take on the Alt-Right movement. Should libertarians clearly distance themselves from this new political and social phenomenon or should they embrace their presence?
Purging Libertarianism of the Alt-Right
By Ryan Khurana
After the events of this year’s ISFLC, in which Richard Spencer and a gaggle of his “Alt-Right” cohorts attempted to bandwagon on the efficacy of the libertarian movement, I believe it has become imperative that we as a movement join in a vociferous condemnation of all that which he and his followers profess. As with William Buckley’s vilification of the John Birch Society in the 1960’s, with its anti-Semitic and white nationalist beliefs, a similar voice is necessary such that the force of our ideals are not delegitimised through association. It has become commonplace for those who believe in the views of Spencer to claim that they are the natural allies of liberty in the face of far-left antagonism. Unless the libertarian movement denounces the Alt-Right, the media and the public at-large will believe that our views and Spencer’s coincide.
The idea that the philosophy of the so-called “Alt-Right” is anathema to liberty may seem like a self-evident proposition, but to dismiss the need for reassertion of the differences is a “holier-than-thou” act of self-aggrandisement. A movement is defined in part via negativa, that it is possibly more important to stress what you do not believe is as much as what you do. As a result, we must collectively stress that our belief in freedom and the blind forces of the market stand in stark contrast to any form of ethnic nationalism, nativism, collectivism, or protectionism. That we disagree not only in the underlying philosophy of a movement based in identity politics or professes some view of culture as “sticky”, but also with its pragmatic politics of closing borders and raising tariffs. Libertarians need to affirm the differences between individual liberty and collectivist, state-enforced superiority.
This new form of nationalist politics is not a more forceful reinterpretation of conservatism. It is not the fusionism of Buckley, the paleoconservatism of Kirk, nor the neo-conservativism of Fukuyama. Libertarians have had relationships with these various movements to different degrees of efficacy throughout the 20th century, but this new breed of right-wing ideologues has its heritage not in conservatism, but in a perverse utopianism that had been thought dead in Western Civilisation.
It is my belief that the tendency among libertarians to ignore the problems of the far-right in favour of criticising the radical Left stems from a fundamental fallacy that the enemy of our enemy is our friend. We must not forget that sometimes, the enemy of our enemy may in fact be another enemy, and one whose views may be just as insidious and damaging. To cosy up to those on the far-right since their economic views may be (relatively) closer to our own that the radical Left’s is to neglect the possibility of long-term harm that this move could inflict. To strengthen these far-right groups by acting as a disinterested party may in fact empower them, which would be just as damaging for liberty.
The spectacular rise of nativist politics in the US and Europe of late is an indication that the far-right has become the countervailing power to the radical Left, as opposed to those with our views taking up this mantle. This rise of power means that at least at this current moment, they should be our main ideology of contempt, for their practical influence is a matter of urgent concern. With a world in global crisis, from the secular stagnation afflicting the economy to the humanitarian disasters in the Middle-East that have produced the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War, sound policy is essential. Even though in the short term the policies of the far-right do not seem as horrible as socialist politics, we must remember that both socialism and fascism are ideologies that lead us on the road to serfdom.
Less than a century ago, liberals of our persuasion professed a deafening silence with regards to the rise of the nationalist Right in Europe, as they were more afraid of the communist menace stemming from the Soviet Union. That this silence led to the disasters of Mussolini, Franco, and Hitler, is not something we should forget. Though the “Alt-Right” in its current conception does not approach national socialism in its villainy, fascism-lite is an evil nonetheless. The preconditions for the rise of this form of authoritarianism once was the threat of communism, a fear of disorder, and economic decline. Mutatis Mutandis, this threat may rear its ugly head once more, but this need not be the case.
If only our silence is not as deafening as it once was, liberty can prevail. Nihil Novi Sub Sole.
This is a silly question
By Barry Gormley
Spreading the philosophy of liberty: to anyone who has been paying attention, it should be obvious that this is not a matter of stating and restating our opinions until people finally see the beautiful logic behind them. Libertarians, perhaps more than any other group, suffer from the strange delusion that other people care what we think, and we’ve now had quite some time to test this theory against empirical reality.
So what exactly are libertarians supposed to do? The answer from many quarters seems to be that we should wait for society to evolve to a point where everyone is a philosopher. However, a few of us would like some assurance that we will still have a society tomorrow, and are therefore not happy to plod along while our opponents advance a thousand paces for every one step in our direction.
Our opponents, politicians who win votes by promising free stuff to the masses; academics who preach the evils of capitalism from air conditioned lecture halls; cowards who wear masks so they can attack their political adversaries in the streets. From the violence perpetuated by the anti-Trump and anti-Brexit left in the last year, to the passing of laws which regulate the use of pronouns in Western countries, to the shameless compliance of the media in presenting an incredibly skewed view of these events: it’s clear that this is a very exciting time to be a libertarian, or rather it would be if we were doing anything about this.
But surely libertarians are men and women of principles, right? We wouldn’t sit ideally by while the principles we claim to value are being progressively stamped out in this, the freest, most peaceful and most tolerant civilisation that has ever existed, would we? Well, I guess it’s a question of priorities. We surely would not turn a blind eye to the inequity of the Left if not for the fact that there exists a much worse force in Western politics right now. The Alt-Right: a monstrously sinister group of neo-reactionaries who seek to destroy the very foundations of our society by . . . saying mean things.
Seriously, that is all anyone can accuse the Alt-Right of doing at this point. Oh, and I guess they did help Donald Trump get elected, making the US vulnerable to all his racist, sexist and homophobic polices like . . . and . . . eh . . . HE SAID “GRAB EM BY THE PUSSY” ONCE!!!
We’ll ignore the fact that the Left is happy to support people like Hillary Clinton: a woman whose hawkish policies make Obama look like he actually deserved that Nobel Peace Prize, and that’s barely scratching the surface of what can be said about her. Just as we’ll ignore the fact that the Left is perfectly happy to engage in overt racism and sexism when it comes to blaming white men for every bad thing that has ever happened ever or calling black conservatives “uncle Tom’s” or accusing non-feminist women of having “internalised misogyny.”
Yes, we shall pretend the mainstream Left (yes, the mainstream, not some loopy faction) is not guilty of everything the Alt-Right is guilty of, and a whole lot more, and we will pretend our outrage toward them is based on their support for certain collectivist policies: even though on the other side you have countless people who either sympathise with or express outright support for communism. We will pretend that supporting Donald Trump is worse than mourning the death of Fidel Castro, because that’s how much we value the principles of individual and economic freedom.
The only reason this is even a discussion is because we know we can criticise the Alt-Right with impunity, while there is real danger in going the other route. So we leave that fight to people like Milo Yiannopolous, Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux, and we cheer when one of those people is brought down by the smear machine which is the Left’s only recourse in an open debate. Then we sit back and wonder why they have more supporters than we do: ‘how is it possible that these people who support tariffs and limits to immigration can convert our fellow libertarians to philosophies we find abhorrent?’ And of course we join the Left in calling them every name under the sun, because that is so much easier than asking if the problem lies within us.
We have the best arguments, but actions will always speak louder than words. If you think focusing on the Alt-Right makes us look like we really believe in the things we say, then think again. The Leviathan stands before us, and all we do is throw our allies to it in the hope it will eat us last.