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Nationalism and Libertarianism
There has recently been much debate and discussion within the libertarian world regarding “white nationalism,” likely due to the increased influence of the alt-right in libertarian circles. Many libertarians instinctively (and erroneously) associate any kind of “nationalism” with the nation-state, and in particular associate white nationalism with Klan-style lynchings and Nazi death camps. As such, they assume that white nationalism, along with nationalism in general, is incompatible with libertarianism.
There has already been an excellent article written on nationalism itself in relation to libertarian theory that discusses the differences between the nation and nation-state. Murray Rothbard’s essay, “Nations by Consent“, is another excellent read on this topic, in addition to this article by Joe Salerno that explains the “liberal nationalism” of Ludwig von Mises. Essentially, what these writers have recognized is that nations, unlike states, are organic entities that naturally result from freedom of association and dissociation. As I argued previously in my article on liberty and common culture, people do not coalesce around abstract propositions like “freedom,” “equality,” or “democracy,” but around more concrete things like shared ethnicity, culture, religion, and customs. Indeed Merriam-Webster defines a “nationality” as “a people having a common origin, tradition, and language and capable of forming or actually constituting a nation-state.” The example sentence provided for this definition is quite revealing: “The diverse nationalities of the Austro-Hungarian Empire desired independence.” What this sentence illustrates is how nations do not necessarily correspond with states and in fact can exist independently of politically-defined borders. This fact can be observed quite clearly when considering all the ethnic conflicts that emerged on the African continent after the European colonists redrew the boundaries of African states without regard to actual nationalities. Problems like these are one of the biggest reasons why libertarians support private property rights and the freedom of association that comes with it – because it is the only surefire way of minimizing social conflicts.
So is nationalism at odds with libertarianism (i.e. the legal philosophy of private property norms and non-aggression)? Certainly not, if nationalism is defined as “loyalty and devotion to a nation,” “a sense of national consciousness,” or even “exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups,” as it is in the Merriam Webster Dictionary. What many libertarians often forget is that in-group preferences exist. They often erroneously assume that a free market society with secure private property rights and freedom of association would necessarily result in globalism, internationalism, multiculturalism, and ethnic and cultural diversity everywhere on Earth. The reality, however, is that humans are tribal by nature, and thus will tend to prioritize the interests of their in-groups over those of others. This is not necessarily harmful or un-libertarian, so long as people’s in-group preferences are expressed through dissociation and exclusion from private property, and not through aggressive violence.
Nationalism and Thick-Libertarianism
The failure to recognize the compatibility of nationalism and libertarianism often stems from a failure to properly define nationalism. But once one grasps the concept of an organic nation formed through in-group ethnic and cultural preferences, it isn’t hard to see how nations could continue to exist in a world of private property norms and freedom of association.
Unfortunately, the misunderstanding of nationalism isn’t the only reason libertarians reject it. Many libertarians also misunderstand the very philosophy they claim to believe in. They do not believe that libertarianism, as defined by Rothbard and Hoppe, is a strictly legal philosophy grounded in the non-aggression principle and the private property ethic from which it is derived. Instead, they attach a number of other (usually leftist) cultural values to the definition of libertarianism, such as diversity, multiculturalism, inclusiveness, acceptance of different lifestyles, hyper individualism, and globalism. These misconceptions of libertarian theory are evident in many of the objections I have seen to white nationalism from libertarians, which primarily focus on how white nationalism is racist, intolerant, and collectivist, and therefore incompatible with libertarianism. However, libertarianism does not reject mere “racism” and “intolerance”. To the contrary, Hans-Hermann Hoppe writes in “Democracy, the God That Failed”:
…[A] society in which the right to exclusion is fully restored to owners of private property would be profoundly unegalitarian, intolerant, and discriminatory. There would be little or no “tolerance” and “open-mindedness” so dear to left-libertarians. Instead, one would be on the right path toward restoring the freedom of association and exclusion implied in the institution of private property, if only towns and villages could and would do what they did as a matter of course until well into the nineteenth century in Europe and the United States. There would be signs regarding entrance requirements to the town, and, once in town, requirements for entering specific pieces of property (for example, no beggars, bums, or homeless, but also no homosexuals, drug users, Jews, Moslems, Germans, or Zulus), and those who did not meet these entrance requirements would be kicked out as trespassers.
While a given libertarian can certainly be personally opposed to racism, to include anti-racism, tolerance, inclusiveness, etc. as tenets of libertarianism itself would immediately bring it into conflict with the rights of (dis)association and exclusion implied by private property norms. This is because political philosophy deals with the legal use of force in society, not with cultural values. To be sure, there are other types of philosophies (i.e. conservatism, progressivism, Marxism, and even classical liberalism) that are more broadly encompassing, dealing with political philosophy in addition to cultural values, holistic morality, lifestyle choices, and even epistemology and metaphysics. But libertarianism is not one of those philosophies, and should not be treated as some kind of comprehensive guide to all areas of life. It is a thin philosophy that deals strictly with the question of when force can be justly used in society, and promotes the consistent application of private property norms and non-aggression as the answer to this question. The conflation of cultural values with political/legal principles only serves to muddy the waters. Only by keeping libertarianism thin can we engage in rational and clear discussions on the implications of libertarian theory.
(As far as “collectivism” goes, see my previous article on why “Libertarianism Is Not Opposed To All Forms Of Collectivism”.)
A Libertarian Approach to a White Nationalist Social Order
So with our definitions of nationalism and libertarianism having been clarified, we can see that one cannot oppose white nationalism on strictly libertarian grounds. To be clear, this does not mean that a libertarian must support white nationalism or that a libertarian cannot oppose white nationalism in his cultural values. But it does mean that a principled libertarian must allow white nationalists to pursue their interests so long as they are not violating the private property rights of other people. So what would a libertarian white nationalist social order look like, and how would it be achieved in a manner compatible with libertarianism?
The most important political principle that white nationalists must embrace is the principle of self-determination, which in practice would be expressed through secession movements. This is in keeping with private property norms, since any kind of political decentralization brings ultimate decision-making closer to individual private property owners and necessarily decreases the size and scope of existing territorial monopolies on aggression (i.e. States). Secession is also necessary for white nationalists to realize their goal of having racially homogeneous societies, since in the foreseeable future it will likely prove impossible for the globalist establishment to be dislodged from their positions of power in central governments. Thus, white nationalists who truly wish to break free from the rule of these territorial monopolists must assert their rights to political self-determination. This could be done in America, for instance, through a mass movement of white nationalists to a certain state in the US that already has an overwhelmingly white-majority population, and preferably is also sparsely populated. This would make it easy for white nationalists to acquire property and form homogeneous communities within that state. Such a state could then secede and essentially become a white ethno-state. A plan like this could even be conducted within a certain region of a particular state, like in Northern California, for instance.
But what if we were to somehow achieve a stateless society? What if the welfare state, anti-discrimination laws, democracy, and all other infringements on private property rights were abolished? Would the world suddenly become a global community of multiculturalism, diversity, and tolerance for all people and lifestyles? As I quoted from Hoppe previously, it is unrealistic to expect this to be the case. Private property implies the right to exclude, and the reality of human tribalism and in-group preferences makes it highly likely that this right would be used quite extensively. Covenant communities, for instance, would be a very effective method by which a group of neighboring private property owners could maintain a homogeneous community through non-aggressive means.
As to whether the majority of white nationalists would agree with these approaches is another debate (although based on Vox Day’s 16 Points, it does seem that at least some prominent alt-righters support the use of peaceful means to achieve their goals). The point of this article, however, is not to offer a blanket defense of all white nationalists (so please don’t go quoting some random alt-right blogger who wants to invade Somalia to plant a white colony there), but rather to demonstrate how white nationalism is not inherently incompatible with libertarianism. In fact, one could argue that libertarianism would actually be quite conducive to white nationalist interests, given how important self-determination and freedom of association (i.e. the practical application of private property norms) are to the realistic attainment of sovereign white homelands and communities. While a principled libertarian may have cultural values which lead them to disagree with the goals of white nationalists, it would be antithetical to libertarian principles to forcefully prevent white nationalists from trying to achieve their goals through peaceful means like secession and covenant communities (of course, like anyone else, they also have the right to forcefully defend themselves from aggressors). Libertarians who believe that white nationalists should not be allowed to use these peaceful means for their desired ends demonstrate that they have a higher commitment to leftist cultural values like globalism, multiculturalism, and “social liberalism” than to the actual libertarian values of private property rights and non-aggression. This is precisely why it is so important to keep libertarianism thin.
Note: I did not address the borders debate in this article, which I recognize is an extremely relevant debate to the topic of white nationalism. This is primarily because I did not want to overextend the scope of this article, which deals with nationalism itself, thick vs. thin libertarianism, and secession/covenant communities. For those who are interested, though, extensive, detailed discussions of the borders debate can be found here and here.