The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

Bigotry and Liberty: We’ve Been Here Before

Starting in the late 1800s a libertarian publication, Der Eigene, was published in Berlin. It was unique because it was explicitly gay in nature. The name meant “The Self-Owner” and was inspired by libertarian Max Stirner and his book, The Ego and His Own: The Case of the Individual Against Authority.

The editor and publish, Adolph Brand explained that his publication “represents the right of personal freedom and the sovereignty of the individual to the furthest consequence.” Liz Highleyman, of Seattle Gay Newswrote Brand, “is perhaps more accurately characterized as libertarian, as exemplified by his statement that ‘the right of self-determination over body and soul is the most important basis of all freedom.”

Like many individualists of his era, such as Benjamin Tucker and Oscar Wilde, Brand used the label socialist to describe himself but explained his “socialism” “is not programmatic, but individual — not regulative, but naturally determined — not dogmatic.” He said his philosophy “rejects every dictatorship and fights every use of force… does not forbid private property, but rather makes everyone an owner.” He wrote gay relationships are “of no concern to anyone, so long as no other person is harmed by it” and such were defended “from grounds of personal freedom.”

However, Brand did not enforce ideological conformity on his publication and, over time, some nationalists wrote for it. He wasn’t impressed by their ideology and said his followers, those he called the Community of Self-Owners “fight above all things the state, which, through illiberal laws such in the case of §175 [the legal code criminalizing homosexuality] benefits only the extortionists of politics and the street, and through mendacious moral views commits a ridiculous assault on natural rights and an infamous oppression of the person.” But, when a person “joins a party that raises such an indecent view to a program and would like to set in the most damaging way the intimate love contact of others under degrading control — in that moment his own love-life has ceased to be a private matter and forfeits every claim to remain protected henceforward from scrutiny and suspicious oversight.” Brand said opponents of gay rights, who were themselves gay, were “the most dangerous enemies of our cause …who help, consciously, through political hypocrisy and lies, to destroy again and again any moral victories we may have obtained through all our efforts.” Such individuals attempt to enjoy “the joys of life that he wants to withhold from the public.”

As for the Nazis, Brand wrote “the National Socialist Party openly fights the homosexual movement” and “would drive out of Germany or hang on the gallows all homosexuals and all backers of repeal of §175 as soon as they had come to power.” His warnings about the evil intentions of the Nazis were ignored.

Even though Brand warned his readers National Socialism was the enemy of freedom and of gay people, some on the Religious Right try to smear him as a Nazi. Fundamentalist preacher Scott Lively has consistently claimed, quite falsely, that Nazism was a gay movement and went so far as to claim Der Eigene was “racist, nationalist and anti-Semitic,” none of which was true.

Over a century ago Der Eigene argued, on libertarian grounds, for equal freedom for LGBT people. But, it didn’t restrict itself to purely libertarian authors and in the process allowed a small number of nationalists to write for the, some of whom later endorsed Hitler, much to dismay of Brand. Yet, in spite of Brand’s own anti-Nazi writing dishonest critics have used that to try to make Brand into a goose-stepping brown shirt himself.

From that we learn the importance of something which happened at a international conference of Students for Liberty in Washington, D.C.

Apparently some group of “liberty conservatives,” allegedly connected to Ron Paul’s “Young American’s for Liberty,” created the bogus Hans Hermann Hoppe Caucus and invited neo-Nazi Richard Spencer to address a group under the pretext it was part of the Students for Liberty conference — which it was not. It was a fraudulent claim and quite a ruckus resulted when this bigoted authoritarian was faced by many libertarians demanding he leave the event and end the charade it was connected to SFL.

That was precisely the right thing to do. It should be made clear the likes of Spencer has no place at a libertarian event — and I dare say the same should be said about the bogus “caucus” that invited him along with the bigot who it was named after. If it were me I’d refund the registration fee of the baby brownshirts and make it clear they are no longer welcome at the conference or in any part of a libertarian organization. After all, freedom of association isn’t just for conservatives.

Brand and his publication were forced out of business by the rise of the Nazi Party and then, in 1945, at the age of 70 he was killed during an allied bombing raid on Berlin. But, to this day, he is falsely smeared because some individuals wrote for his publication, who later became sympathetic to the National Socialist dogma Brand opposed.

Libertarians try to be tolerant people but one problem has been odious individuals like Hoppe and his supporters damage the libertarian brand — they contaminate it with their hateful messages. At their core these haters are collectivists, not individualists, they judge and condemn others for the crime of their “race,” their sexual-orientation, their religion, their ethnicity, etc. In this sense they are pushing an agenda in direct opposition to libertarian individualism.

That they had the support of individuals like Murray Rothbard, Lew Rockwell and Ron Paul only makes it worse. It then appears this sort of bigotry is a “legitimate” sub grouping of libertarianism — when it is a direct attack on fundamental libertarian premises.

Brand would have been better off had he refused the writings of the nationalists of his day. His reputation, as well as his publication, face false smears to this day because of it.

When libertarians at SFL demanded Spencer leave the conference they did the right thing. The only way to prevent the complete destruction of the libertarian “brand” is through strict disassociation with racists, bigots, anti-Semites, and their companions.

Of course, when Adolph Brand allowed a handful of nationalist to write for his magazine, he had no idea what the future would bring to his Germany. He did not know the nation with the most advanced gay rights movement, one that had civilized and liberal values in regards to minorities, such as the Jews, would be turned in an authoritarian state under the demagoguery of one political leader.

We may not know what the future will bring to America, but the situation is dire, dangerous and frightening. A demagogue with authoritarian and bigoted sentiments has taken the White House; his party has abandoned all “small government” principles and lined up behind him.

In truth, the situation we see has some eerie similarities to that which Adolph Brand was facing in the 1920s and 30s. We should learn from his mistakes.

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James Peron

James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.