An article was recently published on the libertarian blog Radical Capitalist that sparked a lot of controversy within the libertarian community. Even the title itself is divisive: There is Nothing Unlibertarian About White Nationalism.
Considering Radical Capitalist’s previous articles, it comes as no surprise to me that they would take such a tolerant stance towards ethno-nationalism. At its core, the article is right in one way: libertarians believe in freedom of association, and as long as it is never becomes violent in nature, there is nothing we can morally do to prevent white nationalists, or any other type of racially discriminatory group from existing in a libertarian society.
However, as a person who often finds myself in the uncomfortable position of having to defend libertarianism against accusations of racism, articles like this do nothing to help my cause. Therefore, I would like to look at this issue from the opposite side. Though there is nothing unlibertarian about white nationalism, there is also nothing white nationalist about libertarianism.
I want to make one thing clear from the very beginning: I think racism and its practice in ethno-nationalism are ultimately useless and detrimental to society. This is my personal stance. However, as I have previously mentioned on this blog, libertarianism, and more specifically, anarcho-capitalism are “thin” political philosophies. They are concerned with economics and non-aggression, and leave the rest up to the individual. That means that in a libertarian society, there might be white nationalists, but there would also be black nationalists, racial diversity advocates, feminists, mens’ rights activists, and even communists. That’s right, even people with views directly antithetical to libertarianism would be allowed to live in a libertarian society as long as they abided by the non-aggression policy.
The positive side of this is that, in a libertarian society, discrimination-based movements are effectively neutered by virtue of the non-aggression policy. The worst they can do is cut off their association with a specific race, something most people in society frown upon anyway. Any racial violence these groups would commit would be met with punishment or retaliation just like any other NAP violation. The de-clawed version of white nationalism takes away some of its negative aspects, but I, and most other people in a libertarian society would still find it morally reprehensible. The proportion of white nationalists to non-white nationalists is likely to be similar to what we have in modern America. The KKK is allowed to exist, but its members account for .00002% of the population (by the generous estimate of the SPLC), and the organization is almost universally despised. Our societal opposition to racial hate groups is not informed by government, and as has been proven recently, people are so wary of racism and nationalism that they ensure people lose their jobs if they are accused of it.
Still, although the Radical Capitalist article, at least in its title, is true, I fail to see how it does anything but divide the Libertarian movement. Out of all the subjects he could choose, Ethan Chan chose this one while representing libertarianism on a libertarian blog. Unsurprisingly, most things are not “unlibertarian.” Chan could have written an article called “There is Nothing Unlibertarian About Pickles,” and still have been right. He chose white nationalism as his subject deliberately to defend its values from a libertarian perspective. By doing so, he is doing the same thing as Stefan Molyneux. He is taking advantage of the simplicity of libertarianism to attach his own opinions and beliefs. While Chan said, “There is Nothing Unlibertarian about White Nationalism,” if he wanted to be truly objective, he could have said “White Nationalism and Libertarianism Have Nothing to do with Each Other.”
I cannot claim that Ethan Chan is not within his right to do this. He is allowed to support whatever he wants as a libertarian. However, that does not mean that I will not speak up when I see an article that begs its readers to conflate libertarianism with white nationalism. I am quite suspicious of Chan’s claims that libertarianism is not opposed to all forms of collectivism. He claims that libertarians who support such things as organized religions and western values should have no issue with ethno-nationalism as well. It is here that I would draw a clear distinction between those two things.
Organized religions, like companies, are voluntary hierarchies built upon the natural human need for spiritual enrichment. This is their product, and it is usually give away for free provided members voluntarily donate to them. Christianity-based Western values emphasize the autonomy and responsibility of the individual, in the same way libertarianism does. This is why so many Christians tend to be Libertarians or Conservatives. This is a very different thing from ethno-nationalism, which collectivizes people based on the arbitrary characteristic of their skin color and where they were born. This practice forms the “organic nations” described by Rothbard himself as collectivist and unlibertarian. Though there is disagreement on this in the libertarian community, it doesn’t mean that any one person is right.
Unlike many other political philosophies, libertarians cannot and should not consider themselves as part of a collective in regards to politics. One of the cornerstones of libertarianism is praxeology, the science of human action, which claims that group action must be understood in terms of individual actions. So when one libertarian steps forward to defend white nationalism, it is important to remember his view starts and ends only with him. The opinion of one libertarian is not the opinion all libertarians accept.
As far as where I personally stand, I reject concepts of ethno-nationalism. They fail to unite people on anything that is actually meaningful, but consider the circumstances of their birth more important than the actions they choose to make in their lives. This counters the voluntaryist principles that libertarianism is built around, and therefore, I do not believe that nationalist movements have any conscionable place within it. At the very least, the two are unrelated and should not ever be conflated. Saying this doesn’t make me a bleeding heart left-libertarian as Chan might say, it just makes me a decent human being.