Monday, October 15, 2012

Why Were Elite Libertarian Intellectuals Not Interested in Discussing the "Race Problem?"

A blogger from the pro-immigration website Open Borders asked how often libertarians argued against, for example, segregation. 
I think the commenters (myself included) got it right when we said “some, but not much.” In other words, from time to time, libertarian intellectuals did talk about the evils of segregation. Usually, the issue is couched in terms of the use of state power to prohibit blacks from holding property and practicing certain occupations, like the law. Sometimes it was a commentary on what was good and bad in the Black freedom movement. There is the occasional talk of opposing colonialism. But overall, it was not an overwhelming response. 
The relatively weak answer to Black oppression is puzzling. Opposing Jim Crow was a no brainer from the libertarian point of view. Blacks had been slaves, which is the antithesis of personal freedom. Then, after Reconstruction, they had been subjected to humiliating and painful legal regulations in addition to extensive personal violence. While libertarians may disagree with liberals about the remedy for state violence and segregation, you would think that they would have been marching arm and arm with liberals in the 1960s. 
But that didn’t happen. Black repression takes a back burner on the libertarian shopping list. But why? I think it has to do with the sociology of elite libertarians.
We occasionally discuss libertarianism, race, and politics. I am a big fan of Fabio Rojas. He is cool people, really smart, and the author of the great book From Black Power to Black Studies. As such, I came across his post "Race and the Sociology of Elite Libertarian Intellectuals" over at his site and thought I would share it with you all to start the week.

My views on libertarian political thought are pretty straight forward. In a society that is structured by inequalities such as race, class, gender, and sexuality--and accepting the fact that we in the United States live in an imperfect democracy were privilege is reinforced by our social and political institutions--I am unwilling to surrender my earned and natural rights as a black American to the "liberty" or "freedom" of someone else to discriminate against me. Like many schools of political thought including Liberalism, Communitarianism, Socialism, etc. the abstract concepts cannot be separated from the social moment which birthed them, or the realities of the society in which they will be applied.

Here, I proceed from a number of inter-related premises. Racialized citizenship and the Racial State are real; black folks as a type of perpetual Other have been faced with the existential dilemma of "niggerization" in the West, and being marked as anti-citizens in America, specifically; Ultimately, I would suggest that libertarianism is best suited for 1) an idealized society where no real divisions of ascriptive representation exist, or 2) rich privileged white college students (and others) who are playing a political version of fantasy football and/or engaging in some other type of abstract counter-factual that can only reasonably exist after a game of beer pong.

Rojas plays around with this last element quite nicely however, where he speculates about what circumstances could have generated a strain of libertarianism that was both more anti-racist, as well as friendly to the concerns of people of color, a group which has been forced to repeatedly confront degenerate white supremacy in the United States in order to have their basic citizenship rights acknowledged and (somewhat) respected:
Roughly speaking, the people who defined the libertarian agenda in the mid to late 20th century were defined by two social processes. First, nearly all of the major libertarian intellectuals belonged to the Jewish diaspora in America. Some were refugees from East European communism, like Ayn Rand. The Austrian school of economics was lead by central European Jews like Mises and the second generation was led by New Yorker Murray Rothbard. Second generation Jews were also very prominent, like Milton Friedman and Robert Nozick, whose father, according to wiki, was from a Russian shtetl. While these writers did occasionally address Black issues, American civil rights probably did not loom in their minds as much fascism and socialism in Europe.  
Second, many, if not most, of the leading libertarian intellectuals were strongly rooted in American and Western European academia... 
Now, it didn’t have to be that way. Imagine if some group of Black intellectuals had set out to systematically develop an anti-statist political philosophy, much as Third World intellectuals developed indigenous versions of Marxism, like liberation theology. For example, what if DuBois had an evil twin brother who looked at the post-Reconstruction South and developed a theory of the state as an illegitimate racial coalition? Or, imagine, if some people in the Harlem Renaissance had taken a sort of proto-Tyler Cowen position about how capitalism allows black cultural forms to flourish?
I have always appreciate the appeal of libertarianism in the abstract for those of us who suffered under Jim and Jane Crow, chattel slavery, the lynching tree, and (now) colorblind racism. The state failed us. It was tyrannical and engaged in personal, legal, moral, ethical, economic, and existential violence against us. The state also looked away and allowed white racial violence to exist as the de facto law for post-Reconstruction America. Matters are complicated because the state also intervened to tear down the remnants of the Southern Slaveocracy, and in many ways has been a positive force that has intervened against the most obvious, overt forms of white supremacy.

What do you think are some moments when libertarianism could have chosen a "second or third way," pursuing a practical and sincere anti-racist agenda as opposed to being co-opted by the Southern Strategy, the New Right, and the "principled" racists of post-civil rights reactionary conservatism and the Tea Party GOP?

Which black and brown leaders, indigenous to the community as opposed to being imposed on it, could have lead the way in making libertarianism a legitimate part of the broader black political tradition?


Anonymous said...


I figure it would have to be someone from a group like the NOI. Ummar Johnson would be a good candidate. A 5%er could take that role as well. They could do it easily if they reigned in their religious ideas a little. Statements like "this country is trying to homosexualize our youth" is the best way to stay out of the mainstream. If not one of them, it could also be an academic that doesn't trust the state. I don't think that type of person would get deserved publicity.

Anonymous said...

I would say that there are 2 moments where things went pear shaped.

1 - During the writing of the constitution, and under the Jefferson administration. He should have ended slavery, or instituted a sunset plan at that moment. All of those men knew in their hearts it was wrong. Opportunity lost, and the result of many millions' suffering, white and black, even today.

2 - Abraham M.F. Lincoln. It is hard to come up with words to express the level of evil, lies and misery this man inflicted upon the country. Not only did he handle the political situation in the worst way possible, not only was he the father of modern crony capitalism, which was cause for result in a civil war and a still lingering prejudice towards people of color, but he perpetuated racial ideas and opened the door to state tyranny on a massive scale.

Despite cherry picked Lincoln quotes, or made up ones, full of flowery rhetoric around the constitution and civil rights, his actions, and most of his writings were in complete contradiction.

The whole nation is interested that the best use shall be made of these [new] territories. We want them for the homes of free white people. This they cannot be, to any considerable extent, if slavery shall be planted with them. Slave states are the places for poor white people to move from... New free states are the places for poor people to go and better their condition. - Abraham Lincoln, Oct 16, 1854

He had several opportunities to end slavery, and keep the union together peacefully. But he had a different agenda that had nothing to do with slavery. He wanted an empire, Lincoln has more in common with the crony bankers and lobbyists of today, or Stalin the butcher, than anyone else. He and his administration, in fact, were despised by prominent hero abolitionists such as Lysander Spooner.

In addition to all this, he:

Arrested the Chief Justice of the US
Violated the new Geneva conventions by himself waging a micromanaged military campaign against civilians.

He arrested thousands of dissenters and interned them in prison camps.

He waged war on dissenters in the northern US (massacre of hundreds of protestors in NYC)

He arrested journalists that were critical of his activities and policies.

Speaking of counterfactuals, you don't even need to spin a counterfactual, there are real countries in which slavery ended with little long term impact. Niall Ferguson makes excellent points in his book Civilization. He makes the point that racial issues to the extent we have are uniquely American. However, the United States was certainly not the only country in which brutal forms of slavery existed. Brazil, France, UK, Chile, etc. all had slavery as well as others. Why is race largely a non issue in these countries, and why is it so much of an issue in the United States. For that we can thank Abraham Lincoln!

It's really a shame a man like that can only die once. May Lincoln burn in hell for perpetuity!

An excellent book that goes into more detail:
The Real Lincoln - Thomas J. DiLorenzo


chaunceydevega said...

@Vic. Hell of a meeting the NOI with a bunch of uptight white european libertarians. Great visual though!

@Cato. No man is perfect, real politics seldom allows such things.

Cavoyo said...

"He [Jefferson] should have ended slavery, or instituted a sunset plan at that moment. All of those men knew in their hearts it was wrong."

You think Jefferson, the good lassiez-faire capitalist, would give up his easy 4% a year profit? And don't forget about his taste for brown sugar. "Knew it was wrong" my ass!

Let's be real here. Why would a people support unrestricted property rights when they were property? When property rights mean being whipped and beaten for even the slightest deviation from your owner's commands, when property rights mean that you have to share the vast majority of your crop with the farm's owner, when property rights mean that you are excluded from pools, restaurants, sundown towns, and any other type of public accommodation, you tend to not take a kind view towards property rights.

If black people were to support libertarianism, it wouldn't be the propertarianism supported by Hayek et al. It would be the classical libertarianism that stood against state and capital, the type supported by Proudhon and Bakunin. Which do you think would ring truer for black people in this country: the propertarian's "property is liberty" or Proudhon's "property is theft!"

What propertarians don't get is that coercion in America works primarily through the private sector and local governments. Corey Robin has shown this masterfully through various posts on his blog. The central European emigres could be excused for missing this since they were focused on the tyranny of 20th century totalitarian governments. However, their American supporters did not support them out of an egalitarian impulse. They supported them precisely because their arguments justified the private tyranny of the last-hired-first-fired workplace, of discriminatory pay, of racist housing agreements, of "state's rights" to implement Jim Crow laws. Black people were not interested in fighting the "tyranny" of the federal government because that was not what was tyrannizing them. In fact, it was the proto-libertarians of the KKK, the John Birch Society, and the White Citizens' Councils, that were their Nazis and Bolsheviks.

Black Sage said...

Why Were Elite Libertarian Intellectuals Not Interested in Discussing the "Race Problem?" - ChaunceyD

Elite Libertarians, just like Democrats and Republicans, really don’t want freedom to come into full fruition for Black Americans or anyone else for that matter, period. Just imagine that if Black Americans were self governing, absent Uncle-Toms and so-called Black conservatives. This alone would be enough to give stuffed shirt White men continual heart palpitations throughout the day. Not knowing where negroes are located, what they may be discussing, what they may be conspiring and not continually having the White man’s heel on the necks of minorities would in fact be an everlasting nightmare for a groupuscule of people who’ve wrought a scorched path of so much destruction upon Black people in particular and minorities in general. Moreover, the history of Whites alone in terms of their relationship with other races prohibits them from allowing American Blacks or any other race to be truly free. Simply put, it is due to an abundance of fear by Whites that Blacks must be kept at the perimeter of oppression through policies as opposed to allowing for Blacks to have their own land.

Have you ever thought of the notion that Native Americans are supposedly free, but without their own army to protect themselves from invasion within close proximity or afar or not having access to the coast to import their own goods? In essence, Native Americans are intentionally and strategically land-locked for a specific purpose.

Whites would love nothing more than to keep minorities in a subservient and forever groveling position. This is essentially a position of unannounced defeat!

Which black and brown leaders, indigenous to the community as opposed to being imposed on it, could have lead the way in making libertarianism a legitimate part of the broader black political tradition? - ChaunceyD

I’d have to say Carlos F. Lucero, a federal judge on the 1oth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, CO. In 2004 he wrote a blistering dissent as to why he thought that descendants of the victims of the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 deserved at least a fair hearing. A mob of Whites burned the economic engine of Black Tulsa by destroying everything in its path simply because of the community’s financial success. Forty-two blocks of Black owned businesses were systematically set ablaze because of jealousy and outright hate perpetrated by Whites.

Judge Lucero wrote at the time: “In one of the more shameful events in our nation's history, over two hundred African-Americans were slaughtered and a whole section of the City of Tulsa was burned in an uncontrolled riot in 1921. Official government action by the City of Tulsa and the State of Oklahoma fueled this carnage by deputizing and arming the mob, and authorizing the National Guard to detain the victims while their forty-two square block community was razed to the ground. (It is inconceivable that a government investigation of the incident of September 11 would have failed to count every person who perished, yet telling of the attitude that prevailed in Oklahoma in 1921 is that no effort was made to determine officially the number of those who died there.) All subsequent claims raised by the victims fell upon the deaf ears of the courts at the time, and most languished without even a cursory glance at the merits. None of the over one hundred lawsuits filed were successful. In a perversion of justice, a grand jury commissioned by the state exonerated the city and state, and all white rioters, and blamed the victims for the atrocity.”

Furthermore, I chose Judge Lucero because of his courage to confront the State of Oklahoma and not simply turn the pages of history and attempt to redress an issue that was long overdue.

Razor said...

Libertarianism at it's best was never anything more than a pure intellectual exercise with no practical value. At it's worst, it is an illusion and diversionary moral garbage bin. The freedoms that it really craves are those that would allow perpetual advantage by the dominant group over subservient groups. The more pertinent question is what group in America would (in their right mind) tolerate it, absent carving themselves out special privileges,ie., white privilege at the expense of blacks suffering? Otherwise, there is no real sustainable commom good.

That is the essence of plutocracy and wage-slavedom, back to Old Europen serfdom. Libertarianism is a gimmick philosophy.

Ironically, you need only look at the 2012 Republican candidates for President and Vice-President, particularly Paul Ryan, and their real platform. Shamefully, through the back door, you will find Obama, entering the same dwelling.