What’s In A Label

Ethan Gach

I write about comics, video games and American politics. I fear death above all things. Just below that is waking up in the morning to go to work. You can follow me on Twitter at @ethangach or at my blog, gamingvulture.tumblr.com. And though my opinions aren’t for hire, my virtue is.

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24 Responses

  1. b-psycho says:

    Short response for now: I blame fusionism.Report

  2. Tod Kelly says:

    Just so long as I get to call someone a racist, I’m cool.Report

  3. James Hanley says:

    Very nice, Elias. The distinction gets to the heart of my frequent intemperate criticisms about blanket statements about libertarianism.  If only I possessed your eloquence.

    I’m not certain that such a clean or pure discussion is possible,

    Like most such things, if it’s phrased as a dichotomous variable–pure/not pure–then of course it’s not possible.  But if seen as a continuous variable–more pure/less pure–then it’s easy to see that we can move closer to or further from from that perfection.  I think in keeping with the League’s raison d’etre, our goal here should be to strive to move closer to it, even if we never quite reach the goal.Report

  4. Morat20 says:

    So, the shorter version would be:

    “Nothing about Libertarianism, as a philosophy/idealogy/governing concept is racist. However, a lot of people claiming to be libertarians are. Something about the actual concepts tends to bring those morons out of the woodwork. I wish people would stop believing that Libertarianism is racist just because a lot of racist whackjobs like it.”

    I can get behind that. I’ve never actually met a racist libertarian in person (i’ve met the other sorts — “privatize the sidewalks” sorts, and “By Libertarianism I meant I hate taxes but don’t want guys sleeping together” sorts and my personal favorite of “I’m really a Republican or a Democrat, but don’t want to admit it because being third party is so much cooler and non conformist, man”) and nothing about it demands racism.

    *shrug*. In general, I find libertarianism suffers from similar flaws as socialism. It’s a good concept that has it’s place, but reality just isn’t that black and white. It’s not an all-or-nothing solution. It’s part of a toolkit of government responses, and as such has to bow to actual realities.

    Like every other governmental idealogy to ever exist, ever.

    Then again, libertarians aren’t all that unusual in that regard. 🙂 That’s just people.Report

  5. Uncle Mike says:

     […T]hat doesn’t mean that Libertarianism in practice necessarily leads to or even enables racism, or other forms of bigotry and prejudice.  The very fact that I can reasonably imagine a world in which no one is racist, and, at the same time, every one subscribes to Libertarian principles is proof that far from being necessarily intertwined, Libertarianism and racism are actually exactly co-incidental. 

    You’re free to imagine all kinds of things, but since the libertarian utopia you imagine does not exist, we must rely on libertarian’s adherents here on Earth to advocate for their cause.  In so doing it is not unfair to hear the words they say and read the newsletters they publish, etc, to see what motivates them.  Your concept of “the libertarian” seems strikingly similar to that of “the communist”,  in that the motives of both are utterly pure, and  both dwell in a special realm where the real world never intrudes.  Libertarianism “in practice” would seem to me to have the same rate of failure as that of communism “in practice” : roughly 100% in groups over a dozen or so.Report

  6. b-psycho says:

    To revise and extend my above remark:

    People will believe anything they want, some of it rather ignorant and counterproductive.  Among the many issues with centralized power is that there can be no true method of withholding said power from the ignorant and counterproductive, as even attempt at clear definition of such runs into the subject-object problem (that is, trying to analytically separate yourself from the society you are analyzing is impossible).  Libertarianism responds by simply attacking the concentration of power regardless of who wields it.

    On it’s face, nothing in particular is said about views beyond “concentrated power = bad”. Yet when you consider how often people with the worst ideas in society seek force to carry them out (stack the bodies attributable to state actions in one pile, and the bodies attributable to non-state action in another, see which one is bigger), an honest libertarianism will, IMO, tend towards rating some views of society over others, if only on the basis of which of those views tend to say “f*ck this tolerance sh*t, I want the gun!”.  How many cultural reactionaries are completely content to merely be left alone, as society passes by?

    Conservatism errs towards The Way Things Are.  The conflict between it and libertarianism is clear: sometimes resistance of concentrated power involves leaving things well enough alone, while oftentimes — MOST of the time, I would argue — it involves deliberately breaking the status quo.  Conservatives are fine with the former as they don’t have to lift a finger, and cry bloody murder at the latter.  What the assumed alliance between libertarians and conservatives did was attempt to paper over this by way of mutual denial.  The conservative told the libertarian that he would be left alone and told himself that his cultural preferences would win out by default, the libertarian told the conservative that he would not attempt to change his particular cultural sphere and told himself that the conservative wouldn’t try to spread it over his.  When “mainstream” libertarians make remarks dismissing racism and sexism as non-issues, it’s because they’ve confused conservative allegiance to the status quo with preference against force; one can think something is dumb without coming to the conclusion that violence can or should solve it.  The opposite is the reason why in the U.S. we have the peculiarity of conservatism being associated with “limited government”: conservatives aren’t in fear of concentrated power, they’re in fear of losing.

    If it weren’t for this completely boneheaded alliance, so much of what clouds both ideologies today would be gone.

    BTW: I wouldn’t quite go as far as the racism-as-collectivism remark.  That strikes me as Objectivist runoff, assuming that anything involving a group is evil.  Voluntary collective endeavors pose no threat to libertarianism.  The real problem with racism is that it defines people as lesser humans for factors they can’t control, which taken to its logical conclusion does not lead to lasseiz-faire, but to extermination.


    • Liberty60 in reply to b-psycho says:

      ” Libertarianism responds by simply attacking the concentration of power regardless of who wields it.”


      In my discussions with libertarians on this site, concentration of power in private hands is usually defended.Report

      • E.C. Gach in reply to Liberty60 says:

        Indeed.  And the confusion in Libertarianism on this issue is partly what stops me from embracing it.  I’m more interested in decentralizing power in many places, labor, capital, and government.  There are certainly differences between public and private associations, the most salient being the former’s monopoly on legitimate violence.  But even that distinction has cracks in it. 

        Plus there is the problem of how to keep things decentralized without some central authority with the power to do so.

        Back to your point though Liberty, I’m usually encounter the same.Report

        • b-psycho in reply to E.C. Gach says:

          there is the problem of how to keep things decentralized without some central authority with the power to do so.

          Yet that central authority inevitably colludes with the same interests you intend it to fight. Which makes it worse.Report

      • b-psycho in reply to Liberty60 says:

        They may have a different view of how it got there than my understanding.


  7. Steve the hyena says:

    I don’t think you can imagine a world without racism or one in which everyone is a libertarian. Imagining is not the same as specifying the conditions. To imagine a situation is to see how the pieces would fit, like we might imagine a chess strategy or chemical bonds. But you’re talking about incredibly vague pieces with incredibly numerous interlocking sides, constructing from that jumble a clear enough picture would be astounding even before considering the profound psychological changes which might be needed to even consider affecting the situation.

    In any case, libertarianism and racism aren’t mutually necessary because they are non-intersecting beliefs. That’s not really useful, though, since the real test of intersection is how people compose them, not the semantics of an exogenous definition.Report

    • Murali in reply to Steve the hyena says:

      Its one thing to say that people who call themselves libertarians seem to be disproportionately racist. Its another to say that people are libertarians in vritue of their racism. It is yet another thing to say that libertarianism logically entails racism. Chait may be making the last claim, but he may only be entitled to the first or maybe just the second as well.Report

  8. James K says:

    This is a very good piece Ethan.Report

  9. DarrenG says:

    “Libertarians are incapable of being racist…because racism is a collectivist idea, you see people in groups.” “The Libertarian” does not see people as encumbered selves but rather as unencumbered individuals. People are not simple manifestations of complex social, cultural, and political relations, but rather separate, self-motivating, and free. According to the very ontology of “the Libertarian,” racism in the way it is currently understood by liberals and postmoderns is not a possibility.

    …and this is where it all goes horribly wrong, with the idea that Every Man Is An Island. This isn’t true for any individual libertarian of whom I’m aware, and certainly isn’t true of 99.99% of extant humans, libertarian or not.

    Humans love to group themselves and each other in various ways, and there are large evolutionary, social, and economic advantages to doing so. Pretending otherwise is pure silliness.

    The idea that racism, or other forms of coercive prejudice, is a liberal, statist illusion is one of the most pernicious bad ideas that infects current libertarian thinking.Report