Saturday, September 17, 2011

Murray Rothbard, Lew Rockwell and Scientific Racism

Murray Rothbard, Lew Rockwell and Scientific Racism

The following is reprinted from Holocaust Controversies. It deals primarily with Rothbard and Rockwell, two of the major influences on Ron Paul and two men who have pushed libertarianism into some strange waters indeed.

In his review of Herrnstein and Murray's 'The Bell Curve', Murray Rothbard praised the book for "expressing in massively stupefying scholarly detail what everyone has always known but couldn't dare to express about race, intelligence, and heritability." Rothbard reached the following conclusion:


If, then, the Race Question is really a problem for statists and not for paleos, why should we talk about the race matter at all? Why should it be a political concern for us; why not leave the issue entirely to the scientists?

Two reasons we have already mentioned; to celebrate the victory of freedom of inquiry and of truth for its own sake; and a bullet through the heart of the egalitarian-socialist project. But there is a third reason as well: as a powerful defense of the results of the free market. If and when we as populists and libertarians abolish the welfare state in all of its aspects, and property rights and the free market shall be triumphant once more, many individuals and groups will predictably not like the end result. In that case, those ethnic and other groups who might be concentrated in lower-income or less prestigious occupations, guided by their socialistic mentors, will predictably raise the cry that free-market capitalism is evil and "discriminatory" and that therefore collectivism is needed to redress the balance. In that case, the intelligence argument will become useful to defend the market economy and the free society from ignorant or self-serving attacks. In short; racialist science is properly not an act of aggression or a cover for oppression of one group over another, but, on the contrary, an operation in defense of private property against assaults by aggressors.

Rothbard was proud to be a 'racialist' because racialism exposed the true source of inequality in a free market, namely genetics. A belief in biological racial inequality was, for Rothbard, part of the libertarian project, because racial inequality was simply how markets reflected nature. Moreover, this was no sudden conversion: Rothbard promoted the same view, as early as 1973, here.

Rothbard's article was published in the Rockwell Rothbard Report. His partner in that journal, Lew Rockwell, is the founder and Chairman of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Rothbard and Rockwell were involved in Ron Paul's 1988 Presidential election campaign. In early 2008, this article revealed that "a half-dozen longtime libertarian activists—including some still close to Paul" had identified Rockwell as the "chief ghostwriter" of the Ron Paul newsletters published from "roughly 1989 to 1994." Some of those articles had a racist theme and can be viewed here.

Rothbard advocated support for ex-Klansman David Duke:
It is fascinating that there was nothing in Duke's current program or campaign that could not also be embraced by paleoconservatives or paleo-libertarians; lower taxes, dismantling the bureaucracy, slashing the welfare system, attacking affirmative action and racial set-asides, calling for equal rights for all Americans, including whites: what's wrong with any of that? And of course the mighty anti-Duke coalition did not choose to oppose Duke on any of these issues.
This led one disaffected libertarian to write:
The idea that it's fine to [buddy] up with open racists just because they are for limited government is ridiculous though. Is the idea that with their help it will just be a tiny racist government?
A racist using the pseudonym Peter Bradley posted a tribute to Rothbard, reproduced here:
Murray Rothbard was the founder of modern libertarianism and was also a proponent of voluntary racial separation. I never met Rothbard, but Sam Francis and several others told me he was on the same wavelength as American Renaissance on racial issues. Michael Levin was a frequent contributor to the RRR for the four years I subscribed to it. He wrote very honestly about things such as black crime, race and IQ, and the media whitewash of black failure. Hans Hoppe, who favors immigration, wrote that America could keep its racial identity and still have immigration by selecting immigrants based on IQ and race. Jared Taylor’s book of essays, The Real American Dilemma, received a favorable review by Paul Gottfried in a 1998 issue of RRR. The RRR’s forthrightness on race got it lambasted by David Frum in his 1994 book Dead Right. Frum was particularly displeased about an unflattering essay on the moral character of Martin Luther King.
In 1993, Rothbard wrote about Malcolm X and discussed the possibility of a separate state for blacks, but concluded that it would "require massive "foreign aid" from the U.S.A.". He also described black nationalism as "a phony nationalism" that was "beginning to look like a drive for an aggravated form of coerced parasitism over the white population." The overall impression created by the article was that Rothbard was using black nationalism as a straw man with which to complain about black 'parasitism' and the supposed inability of blacks to form independent, self-sufficient communities without welfare support from whites.

Rothbard stated that "There is no question that black nationalism is a lot more libertarian than the compulsory integration pushed by King, the NAACP, and white liberals." This says more about Rothbard than it does about black nationalism. A separatist state, with restricted migration to 'the USA', does not seem to be a free one, nor would black nationalism in its Muslim form have offered women the range of liberties that Rothbard took for-granted in the case of white men.

Rothbard also advocated during this period that "Cops must be unleashed, and allowed to administer instant punishment, subject of course to liability when they are in error." The implication clearly was that the cops would be white and the recipients black. The latter thus had no entitlement, according to Rothbard, to due process under the law. The irony that a libertarian should believe that public officials ought to possess those draconian powers was lost on Rothbard. As Matt Welch noted, "Empowering police to mete out street justice on dark-skinned youth does not square with any notion of limited government I’m familiar with."

Moreover, Rothbard's Jewish background did not deter him from taking dubious positions relating to Jewish questions. He fixated here on the roles of 'Jewesses' and 'top Jewish financiers' in the rise of the Welfare State, without explaining why their "ethnic" [his term] origin should be relevant. His reference to an 1860's "cohort" of such women did not establish an explanation for the existence of that cohort. He appeared to be inviting readers to draw their own inferences.

Rothbard's public views on antisemitism constituted a minimization strategy. He insisted here on a narrow definition of antisemitism and that Pat Buchanan could not be an antisemite, even though Rothbard cited this article which discusses Buchanan's views on the Treblinka death camp. Although Treblinka 'skepticism' is not proof of antisemitism, it is indicative of a willingness to believe that Jewish witnesses participated in a monstrous fabrication. At the very least, the article showed that Buchanan was 'fellow traveling' with antisemites: "Much of the material on which Buchanan bases his columns is sent to him by pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic cranks." It is therefore revealing that Rothbard omitted any discussion of Buchanan's views on the Holocaust from an article in which Rothbard was supposedly proving that Buchanan was not an antisemite. It suggests that Rothbard was insincere and that his real suspicions concerning Buchanan's views on Jews differed from the conclusions which he expressed in the article. He concealed those suspicions by erecting a straw man definition of antisemitism and excluding beliefs that may have shown that definition to be inadequate.

Rothbard's work on race and politics, eulogized and promoted by Rockwell, therefore poses major problems for his current supporters and potential new followers. Even Ron Paul recognized this problem, belatedly, when he claimed that "Libertarians are incapable of being a racist, because racism is a collectivist idea." If this statement is true, it would mean that Rothbard was not a true libertarian. If the statement is false, it would mean that at least one brand of libertarianism was racist, and Rothbard's present and future supporters must decide if they wish to wear that brand.

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Libertarian’s Lament

A Libertarian's Lament

Libertarian writer Will Wilkinson rather gently discusses the absurd contradictions in how Ron Paul applies his "libertarianism" to the issues. His "lament" is justified but he only discusses a small number of the many problems that Ron Paul presents to genuine libertarians. This is from The New Republic.

I don't put much stock in politicians, so I've only twice donated to political campaigns. In 2006, I tossed a few dollars at the Democrat running for Senate against the loathsome Rick Santorum. It could have been a three-headed goat, for all I cared, but Wikipedia says it was Bob Casey. (You're welcome, Bob.) And late in 2007, I gave $50 to Ron Paul. I was working at the time for the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, but it wasn't that I had any plans on voting for him. I liked the congressman’s anti-war rants in the 2007 GOP debates, not least because they made Rudy Giuliani delightfully apoplectic. So I chipped in.

Paul’s candidacy that year, as we all know, didn’t lead him to the White House or anywhere close. But he evidently wasn’t discouraged. Four years later, Paul is not only back on the campaign trail, he's doing better than ever in the polls. And I'll admit I still vibrate happily to his indignant disquisitions on foreign policy. (Why shouldn't Iran have nukes!) I just can't get myself to regret that $50 when I hear him say "blowback" in the vicinity of Mitt Romney.

Yet it irks me that, as far as most Americans are concerned, Ron Paul is the alpha and omega of the libertarian creed. If you were an evil genius determined to promote the idea that libertarianism is a morally dubious ideology of privilege poorly disguised as a doctrine of liberation, you'd be hard pressed to improve on Ron Paul.

Much of Paul's appeal comes from the impression he conveys of principled ideological coherence. Other Republican presidential aspirants are transparently pandering grab-bags of incoherent compromise. Ron Paul presents himself as a man of conviction devoted to liberty, plain and simple, who follows logic's lead and tells it plain. The problem is, often he’s not.

According to Paul's brand of libertarianism the inviolability of private property is the greater part of liberty. And Paul is crystal-clear about the policy implications of his philosophical convictions about property rights. As Paul writes in his 2009 book Liberty: A Manifesto, the income tax implies that "the government owns you, and graciously allows you to keep whatever percentage of the fruits of your labor it chooses." To Paul, the policy upshot is evident: "What we should work toward ... is abolishing the income tax and replacing it not with a national sales tax, but with nothing." Whatever you think of this, you can't accuse Paul of dancing around the issue. However, Paul is not so dogged in consistently applying his principles in other domains.

In the Appendix to his most recent book Liberty Defined, Paul usefully lists "The ten principles of a free society." First among these is the proposition that "Rights belong to individuals, not groups..." The second asserts that "All peaceful voluntary economic and social associations are permitted..." So, if groups have no rights, Americans as a group have no collective right to impede non-American individuals in the exercise of their rights to free movement and association (which, Paul insists, "derive from our nature and can neither be granted nor taken away by government"). These are principles that ought to lead straightaway to the conclusion that anything but a policy of open borders and open labor markets is violation of fundamental individual rights, and Paul does recognize this, sort of. "In the ideal libertarian world, borders would be blurred and open," he admits in the immigration of Liberty Defined.

But suddenly we find Paul dancing daintily around the policy sombrero. "Civilization,” he writes, “has not yet come even close to being capable of such a policy, though it engages in some historical discussion."

So when it comes to protecting the wealth of propertied Americans, Paul is an absolutist who will brook no compromise. Taxation is slavery! But when it comes to defending an equally basic, principled commitment to free immigration and unrestricted labor markets, Paul develops a keen sensitivity to complicated questions of feasibility, hemming and hawing his way to a convoluted compromise that would continue to affirm the systematic violation of the individual rights of foreigners who would like to live and work in America, and those of Americans who would like to live and work with them.

"I strongly believe in the principle of peaceful civil disobedience," Paul begins in a chapter on that subject. "Those who resist the state nonviolently, based on their own principles, deserve our support," he says. But when it comes to mostly poor foreigners who break immigration laws that straightforwardly violate Paul's own principles, the congressman can hardly summon a flicker of sympathy. "The toughest part of showing any compassion or tolerance to the illegal immigrants … is the tremendous encouragement it gives for more immigrants to come illegally and avoid the wait and bureaucracy," Paul writes. In other words, if we allow ourselves to go soft on brown people with bad English, even more of them may wish to exercise their "individual rights that derive from nature and cannot be granted or taken away by government."

As a rule, libertarians have an unhealthy tendency to apply their principles without due regard to America's history of state-enforced slavery, apartheid, and sexism, or to the many ways in which the legacy of these insidious practices persists to this day. Paul represents this tendency at his worst. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, Paul has argued, led to "a massive violation of the rights of private property and contract, which are the bedrocks of free society."

It’s hard to interpret Paul’s position on this matter in a kind light. During the last campaign season, James Kirchick revealed in the pages of this publication that in the late 1980s and early 1990s Paul had published newsletters under his name containing rank bigotry against African Americans and gays. Paul claimed he did not write the columns in question or even know about them. Whether you believe that or not, the newsletter scandal highlighted Paul's longstanding ties with figures, such as Lew Rockwell, with a history of catering to racist and nativist sentiments for political gain.

But let’s give Paul the benefit of the doubt, and assume his opposition to anti-discrimination legislation is a principled stand untainted by prejudice. Even then, it’s not so clear his stance is underwritten by his stated principles. Paul's third principle of a free society says that "Justly acquired property is privately owned by individuals and voluntary groups, and this ownership cannot be arbitrarily voided by governments." I follow Ron Paul enthusiasts in endorsing this principle wholeheartedly. Nevertheless, it's hard to say exactly what "justly acquired property" amounts to in a country built in no small part by slave labor on land stolen from indigenous people. How much of Thomas Jefferson's property was justly acquired?

These issues get complicated fast. Most of us think there's a sort of statute of limitation on the sins of our fathers, and for good reason. But it’s absolutely undeniable that the distribution of property and power in America partly reflects hundreds of years of constant and systemic violation of precisely those rights Paul claims to prize. Anti-discrimination legislation indeed puts some limits on rights to property and free association. But in light of America's cruel history of official social, legal, and economic inequality, it's hard to see these limits as "arbitrary," even if we want to pretend, for the sake of social peace, that the distribution of property reflects a history of mostly just acquisition.

Again, it appears that Paul is least tolerant of ambiguity and complexity when it muddies the case for protecting privilege. To deny that structural discrimination, with or without the backing of the state, can limit an individual's liberty more injuriously than a sales tax requires the triumph of dogmatism over commonsense. But Paul’s career is a case study of such bullheadedness. Not only does he deny that anti-discrimination statutes have anything to do with promoting liberty, he insists, again and again, that anti-discrimination policies have only heightened resentments between man and woman, black and white, and do nothing whatsoever to improve social amity. He would have us believe that the enormous gains over the past several decades in racial and gender equality, the dramatic rise of mixed-race marriages, and the happy detente in the gender wars have all occurred despite recent attempts to rectify centuries of legal oppression through law.

In any case, the philosophical basis of Paul's property-rights absolutism is mysterious. Like many libertarians, Paul sees ironclad property rights as a straightforward implication of the moral impermissibility of coercion in human affairs. But, of course, a system of property is itself a system of coercion. If I cannot waltz into your home, raid your fridge, and make myself a hoagie, it is because you might shoot at me or call the cops to drag me off at gunpoint. If you're like me, you think the enforcement of property rights through the use of violence, or the treat thereof, is justified. But it does need to be justified.

Here’s my best attempt: A system of secure property rights is conducive to a society of peaceful cooperation that benefits even the least among us. The important thing for libertarians to remember—and the thing that Ron Paul forgets, or, rather, never knew—is that a system of secure property rights is a means to a peaceful society of mutual benefit, not an end in itself. And there are other legitimate public goods beyond the police protection of property rights. The need to finance the provision of these goods can justifiably limit our property rights, just as a system of property can justifiably limit our right to free movement. The use of official coercion to collect necessary taxes is no more or less problematic than the use of official coercion to enforce claims to legitimate property.

Of course, those who suffer most from the absence of adequate public goods are the poor and powerless. So it’s sadly no surprise that this isn't one of those issues that compels Paul to consider the complexities of political practicability. What good are taxes anyway when, as Paul argues, “[t]he only people who benefit are the bureaucrats, and the special interest recipients of government spending programs”? Recipients like poor kids who go to public schools.

Thanks to Ron Paul, libertarianism of a certain stripe may be more popular than ever, and its influence on the Tea Party and the broader conservative movement is not hard to see. All the same, this brand of libertarianism is never going to "cross the chasm," as the marketing folks like to say. It's destined to remain a minority creed, and that’s not because most Americans are stupid or immoral. It’s because libertarians have done a terrible job countering the widespread suspicion that theirs is a uselessly abstract ideology of privilege for socially obtuse adolescent white guys. Ron Paul sure isn't helping.

Will Wilkinson blogs about American politics for The Economist. He lives in Iowa City.