As someone who has spent a fair amount of time alternately being dumbfounded by and then refuting claims from libertarians (yes - as my memory serves me - exclusively libertarians) that a champion of liberalism like Keynes was a Nazi sympathizer, I don't feel particularly shy looking at the case of Anders Breivik and libertarianism.
Steve Horwitz discusses this issue here, and he notes that people with nasty agendas are going to point this out and that people ought to think seriously about it and simply know the facts to get ahead of the situation. I agree with Steve here, and like Gene Callahan I want to make clear I'm not one of those people with a "nasty agenda".
Libertarianism is no antidote to the human condition
I suppose what bothers me most is the reaction that some people have that "you cannot be a libertarian and do something like that", as if any human ideology insulates us from doing terrible things. That outlook is negligent, and that's really what worries me. Nobody thinks that their own outlook on the world, properly understood, justifies this sort of thing. Many people have pointed out illiberal tendencies in libertarianism long before this episode, and the suggestion that Breivik couldn't be a libertarian seems to ignore these past observations. Libertarianism strictly curtails free people's self-governance. Libertarianism often seeks to design a polity based on logical constructions and opposes itself to states that are the result of gradual evolution and emergent order (and are therefore likely to be much more robust and consistent with human flourishing than the blueprint-societies libertarians have in mind). Libertarianism is better described as "propertarianism" because it is not so much pro-liberty as it is pro-non-interference with a given property rights regime. I and others have pointed out these tendencies in some libertarians and in some expressions of libertarianism. Nobody is saying that libertarianism is definitively illiberal or that libertarianism "leads to this sort of violence", but nobody should think that libertarianism is an ideology that is immune to illiberalism or nutjobs either.
If Breivik is not a libertarian, is he a Hoppean?
The other thing that bothers me about these claims that Breivik couldn't be a libertarian because he was anti-immigrant and nationalist is that we have such a blatantly obvious and widely celebrated cases of anti-immigrant, nationalist libertarianism: Hans Hermann Hoppe. His best known anti-immigration article is here:
Hoppe, H. 1998. "The Case for Free Trade and Restricted Immigration". Journal of Libertarian Studies 13(2), p. 221-233.
Walter Block responded to the article critically here. My case of course is not that Hoppe demonstrates that all libertarians are or must be anti-immigration. But Block himself certainly doesn't seem to think this threatens Hoppe's libertarian bona fides. There is clearly space for anti-immigrant, nationalist perspectives. In that article, Block refers to Hoppe as one immigrant who has "improved our freedom immeasurably", so clearly there's no feeling on Block's part (despite his disagreement with Hoppe) that Hoppe has at all been a detrimental influence on the advancement of libertarianism. Hoppe has another anti-immigration article here, also in the Journal of Libertarian Studies.
Another thing that people have mentioned is that Breivik's opposition was cultural and that this somehow makes a difference. Again, though, Hoppe presents a cultural case for restricted immigration. In the well-known "footnote 23" of Natural Order, the State, and the Immigration Problem he writes:
"A second motive for the open border enthusiasm among contemporary left-libertarians is their egalitarianism. They were initially drawn to libertarianism as juveniles because of its "antiauthoritarianism" (trust no authority) and seeming "tolerance," in particular toward "alternative" — non-bourgeois — lifestyles. As adults, they have been arrested in this phase of mental development. They express special "sensitivity" in every manner of discrimination and are not inhibited in using the power of the central state to impose non-discrimination or "civil rights" statutes on society. Consequently, by prohibiting other property owners from discrimination as they see fit, they are allowed to live at others' expense. They can indulge in their "alternative" lifestyle without having to pay the "normal" price for such conduct, i.e., discrimination and exclusion. To legitimize this course of action, they insist that one lifestyle is as good and acceptable as another. This leads first to multiculturalism, then to cultural relativism, and finally to "open borders.""
Hoppe makes many different sorts of cases against immigration, including an economic case and a political case. But he also clearly embraces a cultural case: culture must be grounded in a nation, multiculturalism is a bad thing, etc. So is Breivik a libertarian? I don't know but let's not pretend there hasn't been acceptance of views like Breivik's among libertarians. We can be honest about this without saying that libertarianism "leads to violence". In fact it's only through being honest about these sort of things that we're going to avoid being blind-sided.
And then there's Mises
Of course, this question is going to require refighting the case of Mises on fascism. I'll keep this brief, because this whole issue has a tendency to explode, and it's already been written about extensively elsewhere. Mises, as I read him in Liberalism, (1.) promotes a liberalism that is inconsistent with fascism, (2.) recognizes that fascism can never succeed and fundamentally misunderstands economics and human nature, but (3.) makes a clear instrumentalist case for fascist violence as a means of suppressing the greater threat of Communism. I would not call Mises a "Nazi sympathizer". He wasn't even commenting on Nazis. I would say that he takes a chillingly instrumentalist position on the inter-ideological violence of the 1920s. If you replace the Communists who threaten European civilization with the immigrants who threaten a Hoppean view of European civilization you can see the same sort of instrumentalist formulas with Breivik and potential reactions to Breivik.
I don't have a "nasty agenda"
I really don't. I've tried to cultivate an environment that is critical of but fair to libertarians, and I think in most cases I hit the mark. I'm certainly not trying to tie Breivik to all libertarians in this post. But we know how dangerous a "this can't happen here" attitude is, and that's what I'm trying to avoid here. And perhaps I am trying to push libertarians a little. Should they be more critical of Hoppe? Should these sorts of views be welcomed as uncritically as they are? As libertarian ideas continue to be on the rise in the U.S. and Europe we need to consider the reactionary potential of libertarianism just like we consider the reactionary potential of any ideology. And we should do that with specificity - not broad brushstrokes.
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