Libertarians Are to Blame for Donald Trump’s Racialized Rhetoric?
The idea that Donald Trump has gotten his racialized rhetoric from libertarians is simply errant nonsense. The libertarian view, broadly speaking, is not defined by Murray Rothbard, Llewellyn Rockwell, and Ron Paul and those who share their views. This is but a small and even fringe group of what could be called the libertarian community.
Uhhmm no. I don’t know who Matthey Sheffield is, other than a liar, but this claim is highly misleading. First off Sheffield starts of rather badly with this,
The figure whose ideas unify Pauline libertarians and today’s Trumpists is the late Murray Rothbard, an economist who co-founded the Cato Institute and is widely regarded as the creator of libertarianism.
Nowadays, many libertarians like to portray their ideology as one that somehow transcends the left-right divide, but to Rothbard, this was nonsense. Libertarianism, he argued, was nothing more than a restatement of the beliefs of the “Old Right,” which resolutely opposed the New Deal and any sort of foreign intervention in the early 20th century. Many of its adherents, such as essayist H.L. Mencken, espoused racist viewpoints, as well.
While there is considerable truth in most of this, Murray Rothbard is not the entirety of what could be called, broadly speaking, the libertarian movement.
Murray Rothbard is a one of several prominent economists from the Austrian school of thought. This school of thought started with Carl Menger, one of the three co-discoverers of marginal utility theory (the other two being Leon Walras and William Staney Jevons, some also include John Bates Clark). Menger went on to influence a number of economists including Eugene Bohm-Bawerk, Ludwig von Mises, and Friedrich von Hayek. Rothbard was a student of Mises. Rothbard was also more of an anarchist than a libertarian so his ideas are…well, definitely not common amongst your typical libertarian.
Sheffield also claims that Rothbard co-founded the Cato Institute and by association would like to smear that organization as well. However, what Sheffield does not tell you is that Rothbard left Cato in a rather a huff because…well Rothbard did not play well with others. If you did not like Rothbard’s ideas, well there must be something wrong with you. So Rothbard was essentially forced out of Cato and toddled off the found the Ludwig von Mises Institute with Llewellyn Rockwell.
Sheffield also brings in Rothbard’s views on parenting children in his book Ethics of Liberty. He notes that Rothbard argued for a market in children. Now I have read most of that essay, but here is the thing, while Rothbard argues that parents should have no legal obligation to care for their children, another prominent Austrian economist might very well argue the exact opposite. Hayek argued that there is a distinction between what is law and what is legislation. Law is something that people commonly come to accept as the norm. Murder is against the “law” because people view murder as bad. Hayek argued that the law is arrived at via a process not unlike evolution. On the contrary legislation is usually done to circumvent the law because the law is what people would normally do. That is, legislation uses coercion to stop people from engaging certain types of behavior–e.g. Prohibition. Hayek would very likely argue that taking care of your children is the law and that yes you have an obligation to do so. Like I said, Rothbard’s notions were more than a little out there.
Strangely, Sheffield talks about how conservatives started to move away from Rothbard towards William F. Buckley, Jr. and….zoinks Ludwig von Mises, Rothbard’s own teacher. It is as if Sheffield is clueless on who some of these people are. And of course there is no mention of people like Hayek, or other’s who could be considered intellectuals that have contributed to the libertarian views such as Ronald Coase, James Buchanan, Gordon Tullock, Elinor and Vincent Ostrom, Armen Alchian, Milton Friedman, George Stigler, and Aaron Director (note that of these people Hayek, Coase, Friedman, Stigler, Buchanan and [Elinor] Ostrom have won the Nobel Prize for economics). One could also make the case for Anthony Downs, Duncan Black (no, not Atrios), Mancur Olson and even Kenneth Arrow (another Nobel winner, and not known for being libertarian, but his work on social choice theory is often part of the discussion).
Yes, Rothbard and Rockwell thought that backing David Duke for the governorship of Louisiana was a good idea. My understanding was that Rothbard saw it as a potential Trojan horse to bring in his ideas of the economy and politics to the rednecks and southern conservatives. But to imply this was a view held by all people who could be considered libertarian is just ridiculous. Similarly with Rothbard’s bizarre support for Joseph McCarthy. And Rothbard also supported the presidential bid by Pat Buchanan in 1992 and then shifted over to Ross Perot once Buchanan dropped out. Very odd choices since most economists oppose the protectionism/nativist views of people like Buchanan and Perot.
To be clear, those who adhere to the views of Rothbard are not really your garden variety libertarian minded person. These people refer to themselves as Rothbardians or Paleconservatives and sometimes Paleolibertarians. They see themselves as being something separate and distinct, and if you do not subscribe to their views well you may find yourself cast out of the tribe. One of the few universities that have a strong Austrian school contingent is George Mason University and I’ll tell you the people who prefer Rothbard do not like the people at George Mason. At George Mason the professors will talk approvingly of the work of Coase, and Public Choice Theory, and Elinor Ostrom and will dare to use tools such as game theory when analyzing a problem (Rothbardians are rather mathphobic). Rothbardians are more of the mind, if it ain’t Rothbard it is nothing. Starting to sound a little bit cultish? Really, the article should have been, “Where Does Donald Trump Get His Racialized Rhetoric? From Rothbard and Rockwell.” But then most people would go, “Who?”
yes… and no.
Yes, the claim that Libertarians are responsible for Trumpism, let alone Trump himself, is risible. While there are Libertarians that are racists, there are plenty of racists that aren’t libertarians. To the extent that Trump has ideological forebears in US polictics, they were the Birchers and, to a lesser extent, the southern conservatives.
But, I don’t think it is amiss to note that at the core of the attraction of libertarianism to many in this country is the embedded assumptions that the libertarian individuals are somehow both better and removed from the hoi polloi and that what is holding them back is the restrictions and requirements (laws, rules and regulations) that come with being part of a cohesive society. It doesn’t take much of a squint to see how that could make libertarians and racists fellow travelers on many issues.
1. This “law vs. legislation” idea is one of the most libertarian things I’ve ever read.
2. Hayek “would very likely” argue people are obligated to care for their children? There’s a chance he wouldn’t?
Um, I think libertarian community is a bit of an oxymoron….
That’s not the least of this article’s sins. The original claimed that libertarians supported apartheid and holocaust denial, based on wild claims by discredited rapist/conspiracy theorist Mark Ames. It was so thoroughly debunked by Matt Welch they had to run not one but two corrections to the article.
As a libertarian/conservative, I have always been amazed by the anti-libertarian animus that exists in some circles (which evidenced yesterday after Johnson’s gaffe). Honestly, we’re pretty harmless!
That’s a bit of a strawman, no? I didn’t notice the author claiming anything about “all people who could be considered libertarian.”
While I have no doubt that many libertarians aren’t overtly racist, there’s certainly a well-documented blindness among many libertarians to issues of race and an indifference to (hostility towards?) the role that a strong federal government played in dragging the South forcefully into the 20th century.
“Honestly, we’re pretty harmless!”
Only in the sense that you are merely opposed to alleviating human suffering, as opposed to actually causing it.
Mostly because you have no power and precious little influence.
Though, to be fair, a number of prominent libertarian-leaning legal academics are doing really good work on police violence and the insanity of the drug war and asset seizure.
I agree that not all libertarians are racists. But we need to send them back to where they came from until we can figure out a way they can be properly vetted. Right now it’s a mess. They come here and rape our women and sell drugs to our children.
To argue that certain views within the libertarian camp are fringe or contrarian implies that there is a libertarian mainstream or orthodoxy. How do would you define “mainstream libertarian” and what evidence would you use (polls, magazine/blog readership, conference/meeting attendance, etc.)?
That depends on where you start. In any current first-world society, a significant move toward libertarianism would increase (and therefore cause) suffering.
You’ve heard the joke about rich people who were born on third base and think they’ve hit a triple? LIbertarians think that everyone would hit a home run if we’d just kill the umpire.
Immigration controls are inherently anti-libertarian: you´d need things like ID Cards(And numbers) and labor regulations to properly control immigration. And many people in the Libertarian Movement are anti-immigration.
I suppose you could say that the Reason Foundation and its publication Reason magazine represents current mainstream libertarianism,
Trump derives a considerable amount of his support from the alt-right, which regards libertarians as just another variety of “cuckservative.”
No true Scotsman…..
I am not well-versed enough in the history of libertarian thinkers to fully assess Sheffield’s article, but I do know that there are different types of people who call themselves libertarian, and the differences among them are stark enough that it really isn’t accurate to describe libertarianism as a singular philosophy. People who hold mainstream GOP positions on economic issues combined with liberal positions on abortion and LGBT rights are called libertarian, as are the folks at Reason, as is someone like Ron Paul, who seeks to outlaw abortion, has close ties to white nationalists, openly opposes the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to this day, and is an unreconstructed neo-Confederate. It is certainly fair to observe that portions of the libertarian movement are little more than a modern rebranding of the Far Right.
The law vs. legislation distinction is from Hayek–i.e. it is Hayekian.
As for the view on a parent’s obligation towards his/her children I’m pretty (i.e. very high probability say 99.9%) sure he would argue that way, but as far as I know it was not something he ever attempted to answer so I can’t be 100% sure.
Hayek was a great believer in markets. But he also knew that institutions were important too, that is why alot of his later research focused on things like the law and legislation.
Then it is fair to say Democrats are racists because of Byrd? It should be dismissed out of hand as just plain vanilla stupid….as with this case regarding libertarians and Trumps rhetoric.
I do too, if you think of it as a cohesive group with a shared ideology. It is a group of people whose ideologies overlap to varying degrees and they of argue more strenuously with each other than with those who have a very different ideology.
There is an interesting talk by William Easterly regarding development and he argues that technocratic approach, the approach favored by many liberals, Democrats, those on the Left, however you want to describe it, just does not work. He points out that many of the policies have been known for over 70 years….and have yet to work. He also points out that the technocratic approach is top down and shares many similarities with an authoritarian approach. He suggests that maybe the solution is to do what Western countries did to develop: freedom.
So, your claim that libertarians are not the least bit concerned about human suffering is a complete lie, and makes you a bad person for suggesting it. People who are more “libertarian minded” believe that suffering can be reduced by more freedom not less. They point to the huge gains in human welfare with the spread of anonymous exchange–of which markets are an example. Once a country or region moves over to anonymous exchange overall human welfare increases tremendously, both materially and in other terms as well (longer life, better education, better health, etc.). Now it is not perfect and nothing is perfect, but should we let the perfect be the enemy of the good?
Finally, I could argue that you are in favor of violence and coercion. After all government policy only works with a threat of coercion and even violence. Don’t do what the government mandates; the authorities will come to have a word. Resist them and they’ll use force up to and including deadly force (e.g., the death of Eric Garner).
That is an example of Hayek’s distinction between Law and Legislation. Alot of people do not see a big deal with somebody wanting to do drugs in their home. They might think it is dumb or dangerous, but it is like drinking. If you want to have an alcoholic drink in your home, meh…who cares.
The Legislation against this kind of behavior has spawned all sorts of bad outcomes which can be broadly described as the war on drugs. The work of Radley Balko for example points to alot of these bad outcomes.
No, you are more accurately describing anarcho-capitalists….like Rothbard. Might want to get out a bit more and read a bit more. Try Hayek, or Elinor and/or Vincent Ostrom.
I suggest re-reading what you are responding to.
I specifically called the attempt to link libertarianism to Trump “risible” – aka, absurd, ridiculous, laughable.
True but I’m referring to the Ayn Rand fanboys that make up much of the actual number of declared libertarians.
As I noted and acknowledged here – and Radley was a definitely on my mind. As is someone like Oren Kerr or many of the other members of the Volokh Conspiracy (though their comments section went pretty far downhill starting in ~2001).
Of course, the flip side is in the areas which aren’t “mind my own business, I’m hurting no one” like drink and drugs and orientation but “I don’t want to consider myself as part of society and don’t want to be taxed to pay for the things that make society function better” or “I”m philosophically opposed to having the government prevent society from hurting minorities/the weak” – the reasons that libertarians opposed, and many still oppose, the Civil Rights Act or anti-discrimination laws or social safety net issues. And those are the areas I’m referring to when I suggest that libertarians and racists find themselves allies on issues.
I’m not sure how to write this comment without possibly coming off as snarky, which I don’t intend:
Is this post missing an introductory paragraph or two? It reads like a whole series of facts have already been entered into evidence or stipulated to. I have no idea who about 80% of the people named in the post are, and there seems to be a whole bunch of missing background.
Let’s be real here, it isn’t Hayek’s invention. His “Law” is not substantively different from the concept of “Natural Law” that goes back to the Ancient Greeks.
His “Legislation” is what the rest of us call Law – and it isn’t morally suspect. It is how society functions. Some laws are good, some bad, most are mixed – like all human endeavors. Let me know the next time a libertarian acknowledges that reality.
So, your response to a comment that libertarians don’t want to alleviate suffering is to cite a libertarian who says “No, we don’t”. Sorry, but actions, speak far louder than words here. And libertarians have shown repeatedly that if the free market creates situations where people are made worse off by no fault of their own, they simply do not care.
And the temerity of saying I am a bad person for pointing that out is staggering.
There was a little reported story that Trump had staff studying RWNJ media for months before he announced. That’s where his rhetoric comes from. Gawd knows from what swamps the CEC got the rhetoric. Perhaps partly Rothbard, and many others, at several removes. Trump’s racism seems to have come to him naturally while young.
Libertarian intellectuals were probably largely irrelevant, as are conservative intellectuals generally.
He reaches this conclusion only by ignoring the reality of what positive has happened and focusing only on negative aspects. In short, he isn’t honest about what he is critiquing.
It isn’t a lie. It is a natural conclusion reached by repeatedly and consistently seeing libertarians more concerned with philosophy and ideology than reality or humans. Seeing them spout the content-neutral rallying cry of “Freedom!” as if the mere incantation of this magical word solves or addresses everything.
Yes, freedom of choice is preferred. There are fewer people in this country that would disagree with that than there are libertarians. But Freedom! isn’t an actual policy.
I presume you would agree that humans aren’t inherently morally righteous and that society can’t function effectively without Hayek’s LAWs being turned into legislation and enforced. If so, we need to have some regulations, controls, enforcement abilities, consequences, etc. So then the question becomes the very technocratic one – what works best in this particular context we are addressing today? We may disagree on how to accomplish Goal X but whomever wins, we need to continually and consistently return to tweak, change, modify or abandon the “winning” approach. I don’t see many libertarians willing to engage in the actual work or doing so. Regardless of the facts, they never seem to have any conclusion other than “Mowr Freedom!”. In short, they aren’t honest – perhaps with themselves more than with the rest of us but the results are the same.
Having voted in that election, I read the Rothbard link with some interest. Rothbard believes Duke experienced a political and religious conversion and so should have been absolved of his past sins. There is some truth to the conversion element, though ultimately a lot of people didn’t find Duke’s claims authentic.
He thinks Duke’s success with a small-government reform platform could be a harbinger, but Duke was a fluke. The most popular candidate lost in the first round, leaving two unpopular candidates vying against each other (both had unfavorability ratings over 50%), which has more to do with how systems can malfunction and give voters a choice between two evils.
I recall reading that story–I wish I could remember where–and an additional one concerning how Trump himself had met with various kooks to ask them what the real hot button issues were.
The white supremacist and anti-Semitic organizations such as Stormfront were among the first to leap aboard the Trumpwagon. And Trump himself has said that he had planned in advance to make the comments about Mexican rapists and criminals in his campaign inaugural speech.
But what Easterly in general criticizes are international institutions like the IMF, the World Bank and billionaires foundations telling what low and medium income countries should do. These are hardly darlings of the Left.
“And those are the areas I’m referring to when I suggest that libertarians and racists find themselves allies on issues. ”
Certain parts of the left have this bizarre paranoia about libertarians; despite having absolutely no political power whatsoever, they’re secretly responsible for everything that happens in this country.
what’s racial about saying illegals are often times criminals/rapist? or islamic terrorists shouldn’t be welcome here? are these statements false or something?
how about when bill clinton said this about obama? “A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee.”
or harry reids “subtleness”? (obama) is“light-skinned” and speaking “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.”
or hillary’s nice joke about ghandi?“I love this quote. It’s from Mahatma Gandhi. He ran a gas station down in St. Louis for a couple of years. Mr. Gandhi, do you still go to the gas station? A lot of wisdom comes out of that gas station”
clueless joe biden- “I mean you’ve got the first sort of mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and nice-looking guy.”
i could go on by why bother- trump has been in the news for 30+ yrs and was never called a racist until he decided to run against a democrat. and that’s usually when they realize they have nothing to say about a guy who’s lived his life in public view.
PS – This editorial is exactly the sort of thing I meant a couple weeks ago when I worried that “alt-right” was going to end up meaning anyone not sufficiently enthusiastic about Hillary.
Now we have a major national newspaper arguing that all libertarians are really part of the Alt-right.
Do you “get what I’m trying to say” now?
@Stormy Dragon: No, a major newspaper isn’t saying that. A single writer posted something on their free-for-all page. It is neither a news story or a WaPo editorial.
There are an unlimited amount of hot taeks on the intertubes. Things like this, get taken very, very unseriously. As I said way above, it is a ridiculous claim.
Further, it doesn’t actually have anything to do with your thesis. It is an attack on libertarianism but I don’t think the writer mentioned HRC at all. Frankly, the big public libertarians are more likely to be #nevertrump than non-libertarian conservatives.
Yeah, and then you wrote, “But….” pretty much negating your initial comment.
It is a stupid thing to write, but as it is stupid to say Democrats are Racist because of Byrd. There is no need for a but in there.
Negate your own comments much?
I accept that — they are not pro-suffering, they are just badly wrong about the causes and remedies of suffering.
…and which require a considerable infrastructure of State in order to operate efficiently — law enforcement, property rights, contract enforcement, central control of scarce resources that require sustainment, monopoly and cartel busting, active redistributive mechanisms to avoid the inevitable trend toward wealth concentration, etc. etc. Even Adam Smith knew most of this.
The problem with libertarians is that they are a reservoir of reinfection, like rabies in bats. It’s not that bats are themselves much of a threat; it’s that we can’t eradicate rabies when there are always millions of rabid bats living in inaccessible caves, ready to fly out and infect other animals.
Similarly, it will be extremely difficult to eradicate the pernicious “smaller government is better government” fallacy as long as new generations keep getting reinfected by exposure to libertarianism (in its various forms) as adolescents.
@DrDaveT: I find it blackly ironic that the bulk of people who howl the most about libertarianism are pasty white coding geeks working for large corporations who will immediately throw them out in the cold as soon as a penny can be made by doing so.
But it’s the GOVERNMENT that causes all the problems….
1. You need to learn what an “editorial” is. That opinion piece was not an editorial, i.e. an the opinion of the editors of the Washington Post.
2. You should note that the opinion piece was in the “Post Everything” section, which provides a variety of opinion pieces that have been written by those who aren’t on the Washington Post payroll. Had you scrolled down, then you may have noticed that Nigel Farage — yes, the Brexit bloke — was one of them.
3. The Washington Post has a long tradition of publishing and syndicating opinions on all sides. The same outlet that features Dana Milbank and Paul Waldman also publishes George Will and Charles Krauthammer, among others.
In the future, stop feeling like a martyr and start doing your homework.
Libertarians, more correctly called right-libertarians, are unified in a number of areas:
A) Belief liberty can only exist in relationship to government. No other forms are possible or desirable.
B) Hyper-simplistic a priori thinking; “A is always A”, ignoring existence of space and time in which A at position 1 is not the same as A at position 2. A priori reasoning is particularly appealing to economically secure white males.
C) Rejection of empiricism in favor of theoretical realism in which truth is discovered by virtue of the questioner’s own thoughts.
D) Acceptance of social naturalism in which humans behave according to physical laws no different than those applying to goats or chickens. This is why they oppose assistance to the poor, as the poor are merely beasts and will only breed more of themselves. Throughout libertarian discussion of such issues, Malthus’ perversity thesis and social naturalist arguments will predominate.
E) Commitment to Marxist utopian goals of miminizing/eliminating politics and the state, reshaping man and society through technology.
F) Unquestioning religious faith in 19th century theology of the autonomous, self-regulating market (Utopia.)
You will find all or virtually all are part of the ideology of any right-libertarian encountered.
@Stormy Dragon: “Certain parts of the left have this bizarre paranoia about libertarians; despite having absolutely no political power whatsoever, they’re secretly responsible for everything that happens in this country.”
No, we just think they’re horrible people who should never be allowed to gain any political power.
@bill: “i could go on by why bother- trump has been in the news for 30+ yrs and was never called a racist until he decided to run against a democrat. ”
You keep posting this lie and people keep responding with the truth — that the Federal government indicted him for refusing to rent to blacks in the 1970s and that he pushed for the execution of several black men for a brutal rape even after they had been found innocent, among many other instances of real racism. I used to think you were just ignorant, but now it’s pretty clear you’re flat out lying.
@DrDaveT: “The problem with libertarians is that they are a reservoir of reinfection, like rabies in bats. It’s not that bats are themselves much of a threat; it’s that we can’t eradicate rabies when there are always millions of rabid bats living in inaccessible caves, ready to fly out and infect other animals.”
Yes, but bats actually serve a purpose — they eat insects.
Hayek isn’t actually a libertarian, as best I can tell. For example, as noted by Peter Vallentyne and Bas van der Vossen in their Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on libertarianism:
Once you start arguing that the State can legitimately take your property without your consent for the good of society, or for your own good, or to facilitate markets, or what have you, you are no longer a libertarian.
@MBunge: 2.i don’t really think sk
@DrDaveT: Even right-libertarians don’t really accept voluntarism as a principle. The moment individuls resist efforts to institute a “free” market right-libertarians call for state violence to break the resistance. Their principles are very selective in favor of vulgar “gotta help them poor ‘ole bosses out” ideology.
@Steve Verdon: you really need to stop trying so hard to take offense and practice reading comprehension.
The claim that libertarians are responsible for Trump is indeed ridiculous and wrong.
Nonetheless it is understandable that people will link libertarians and racists, however erroneously, because both find themselves on the same side of many issues. A fact you don’t seem to want to acknowledge.
One could apparently also correlate them on their refusal to accept reality and their instinct to burrow into ideology and cherry-picked facts.
@wr: really, if trump did anything that could be proved as being “racist” we’d have seen it blasted all over the news……that was pretty weak. jesse jackson wouldn’t have gushed about trumps contributions to the black community if that were true. and executing rapists is not racial, it’s logical. do you hate women too or something?!
but ,i bet he never said he considered a former kkk grand poobah to be a mentor! but then again, he wasn’t raised in hillbilly land either, so he has nothing to over-compensate for by treating blacks as inferior and needing “just a little more help from the man”.
i will bet that he’s created more jobs for minorities than hillary ever did- and could if she’s elected.
Either libertarianism is a set of moral/philosophical principles, or it’s a practical program for improving society (as measured by some external criteria of ‘better’). We’ve seen that it can’t be the former, because the principles lead to either contradiction or Somalia. But I’ve never yet met a libertarian who can explain to me what the external criteria are for deciding exactly how much (or what kind of) State interference is the right amount.