Libertarianism has an alt-right problem. Many prominent leaders of the alt-right have, at some point, identified as libertarian. I am curious as to… why?
Milo Yiannopoulos has billed himself (and has been billed by others) as libertarian. About a year ago, he came clean about that. According to Business Insider, the alt-right troll Tim Gionet (aka “Baked Alaska”) formerly “identified as a carefree, easygoing libertarian” who “supported Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s bid for the White House, firmly opposed the war on drugs, and championed the cause of Black Lives Matter…”
Gavin McInnes bills himself as a libertarian, but he founded the Proud Boys―a men’s rights group that is considered part of the alt-right. Augustus Invictus, a Florida attorney who literally drank goat’s blood as part of an animal sacrifice, ran for senate in the 2016 Libertarian Party primary and spoke at Liberty Fest. Recently popular among college libertarians, Stefan Molyneux evolved into a pro-Trump alt-righter. And Richard Spencer was thrown out of the International Students for Liberty conference this year after crashing the event.
It is also true that many of today’s alt-righters are disaffected conservatives. However, there are many more conservatives in this country than there are libertarians, which suggests a disproportionate number of today’s prominent alt-righters began as libertarians.
“It’s ironic that some of these people start off calling themselves libertarian, but they are the antithesis of everything that the libertarian project stands for—which is cosmopolitanism versus parochialism, individualism vs. group identity, and libertarianism or autonomy versus authoritarianism,” Nick Gillespie, editor in chief of Reason.com tells me.
Granted, there are a few similarities between the two groups. For example, paleoconservatives (think populist nationalists like Pat Buchanan) and libertarians both tend to be anti-interventionist in foreign policy. But there are also multiple contradictions Jeffrey A. Tucker, content director for the libertarian Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), lists five differences between the alt-right and libertarians). And yet, it seems observably true that libertarianism is disproportionately a gateway drug to the alt-right. Again, the question is… why?
Like any emerging ideology, the alt-right didn’t just materialize out of nowhere. There were forerunners crying in the wilderness who were generally viewed as harmless kooks. “The paleo-libertarian seed that Ron Paul, Murray Rothbard, and Lew Rockwell planted in the 1990s has come to bear some really ugly fruit in the last couple of years as elements of the alt-right have made appearances in various libertarian organizations and venues,” writes Steve Horwitz, an economist who writes at Bleeding Heart Libertarians.
The Ron Paul Revolution might not have amounted to much electorally, but it would be wrong to underestimate the impact he has had on libertarianism and the alt-right. “In a way, Ron Paul is the guy who lit the fuse,” Nick Gillespie says. “And he embodies some of those contradictions [between libertarianism and the alt-right].” Gillespie tells me that Richard Spencer came up to him at the Republican National Convention in 2016 and said that he was activated into politics because of Paul. Gillespie sees Paul’s legacy as very mixed, as someone who was “simultaneously… positing this very libertarian worldview, but then he’s also speaking to people’s fears and anxieties.” If one were looking for the missing link to explain this phenomenon, Ron Paul (and his paleolibertarian allies) would be a good place to start.
Still, my guess is that this has as much to do with attitude as it has to do with ideology. One explanation for why young libertarians metastasize into alt-righters is self-selection bias. Some of the people drawn to libertarianism are predisposed to be seduced into the alt-right. In this regard, they are merely passing through a libertarian phase. “Libertarianism is an unpopular view. And it takes particular personality types to be open to taking unpopular views,” explains Kevin Vallier, an associate professor of philosophy at Bowling Green State University, who writes for the blog Bleeding Heart Libertarians. “Some of these personality types are people who are open to new experience, love the world of ideas and have a disposition for independent thought. However, some of these personality types simply enjoy holding outrageous and provocative views, who like to argue and fight with others, who like insult and… shock.” Vallier continued, “The worst flaw in the contrarian trap is that it makes libertarians open to views that deserve to be unpopular and despised, including the thinly-veiled racism of the sort Hans Hermann Hoppe trades in from time to time.” (Note: Some see Hoppe’s support of what he calls a “pro-European immigration bias” as an example of “thinly-veiled racism.”)
David Boaz provided yet another explanation. “Some people may become libertarians because they’re angry,” Boaz says. “For a while, it’s enough to be angry at the government. But ultimately libertarianism is about peaceful cooperation―markets, civil society, global trade, peace―so it just isn’t angry enough for some people. Racial intolerance is a way to be angry at the whole world. And I think you hear that in some of the alt-right types.”
Over at HotAir, Taylor Millard says that conservatives and libertarians need to purge white supremacists. If they are smart, they will follow his advice.