The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

Rothbardian Racism: What It Is and What It Isn’t

I sometimes feel that talking about Murray Rothbard is like the old jokes comedians told:

“My wife/husband is so awful!”

The audience screams, “How awful is he” and then some punchline follows.

Let me tell about how awful Rothbard was?

“How awful is he.”

Well, he’s so awful he went out and explained why he thought “paleos” such as himself and Lew Rockwell, needed to address race. Let me quote what he wrote and then discuss it a bit:

“If, then, the Race Question is really a problem for statists and not for paleos, why should we talk about the race matter at all? Why should it be a political concern for us; why not leave the issue entirely to the scientists?

Two reasons we have already mentioned; to celebrate the victory of freedom of inquiry and of truth for its own sake; and a bullet through the heart of the egalitarian-socialist project. But there is a third reason as well: as a powerful defense of the results of the free market. If and when we as populists and libertarians abolish the welfare state in all of its aspects, and property rights and the free market shall be triumphant once more, many individuals and groups will predictably not like the end result. In that case, those ethnic and other groups who might be concentrated in lower-income or less prestigious occupations, guided by their socialistic mentors, will predictably raise the cry that free-market capitalism is evil and “discriminatory” and that therefore collectivism is needed to redress the balance. In that case, the intelligence argument will become useful to defend the market economy and the free society from ignorant or self-serving attacks. In short; racialist science is properly not an act of aggression or a cover for oppression of one group over another, but, on the contrary, an operation in defense of private property against assaults by aggressors.”

First, the idea that human equality is somehow part of the “egalitarian-socialist project” is nonsense. True equality is not socialism and socialism tends to give elites special power over the masses. There are the planners and those who get planned and guess which ones we are.

But, please note Rothbard’s main argument. Rothbard is saying a free market society will not be one of prosperity for all — only prosperity for some people and not for others. His entire context is “the Race Question,” as racists like to put it, much as anti-Semites invented the “Jewish Question.” Rothbard seemed to think a free market would not be beneficial to blacks, or at least it may be implied he hoped it wouldn’t be.

He speaks of those “groups” that would be “concentrated in lower-income and less prestigious occupations” and how they will scream it’s discrimination and under the control of their “socialistic mentors” (apparently they are even too stupid to think of this on their own) they will attack markets as “evil and ‘discriminatory.’”

Rothbard wants “racialist science,” — his term for it — to be used to counter these purported intellectually inferior groups. As he put it, “the intelligence argument will become useful to defend the market economy and the free society from ignorant or self-serving attacks. In short; racialist science is properly not an act of aggression or a cover for oppression of one group over another, but, on the contrary, an operation in defense of private property against assaults by aggressors.” Apparently he thinks racism is self-defense.

An alliance with white supremacists is thus, in Rothard’s view, necessary because it is needed to defend the free market, which will normally keep blacks down and in inferior positions — contrary to the evidence accumulating around the world. Yet, again these racist “paleo” types have embraced the antithesis of libertarianism.

In this case they are adopting the view that freedom leads to subpar results for blacks, which is something socialists have argued as a case against freedom. Rothbard’s retort is markets aren’t inferior, blacks are. The actual libertarian alternative is neither markets nor blacks are inferior. Rothbard’s discovery, Hans Hoppe spewed out the same nonsense but he didn’t just denigrate blacks. He also included women and gays in his list of inferiors.

I previously pointed out that Hoppe said:

“That it is in white, heterosexual male dominated societies, where adherence to libertarian principles is the greatest and the deviations from them the least severe (as indicated by comparatively less evil and extortionist State policies). That it is white heterosexual men, who have demonstrated the greatest ingenuity, industry, and economic prowess. And that it is societies dominated by white heterosexual males, and in particular by the most successful among them, which have produced and accumulated the greatest amount of capital goods and achieved the highest average living standards.”

At it’s core the arguments of the paleo bigots is one of collectivism, the collective accusation that one race is inferior along with the collective assertion that another is superior. Ayn Rand put it this way:

“Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage—the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by internal body chemistry. Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors.”

The paleo racist engages in multiple exercises of collectivism. They will use the actions of one member of a group to damn all members. Sam Francis, a racist and white supremacist who was promoted by Rothbard and Rockwell used this tactic. His sites were list the crimes of a black person and then, by implication, condemn all blacks as equally guilty. This is the tactic Julius Streicher used in the Nazi publication Der Stürmer. In Streicher’s imagination the purported bad actions of any single Jew damned all Jews equally.

Not only do they ascribe collective guilt on the basis of race but claim for themselves the unearned. Typical white supremacists, themselves hardly supreme at anything, claim credit for the achievements of others merely by sharing the same skin color. It is a form of theft and redistribution of achievement from the individual who actually accomplished something to those of the same race who accomplished nothing.

The actions of Rothbard, Rockwell and their “libertarian allies” is one that demeans the entire libertarian brand. Leonard Read once warned: “Liberty may suffer more from her friends than from her enemies; for a philosophy, like a person, is often known by the company it keeps.”

The actions of these self-labeled paleos and the fraudulently labelled “Mises” groups associated with them, is a full-on attack on libertarianism itself. It is not a “new” version, or an “old” version. It is an infiltration and repudiation of libertarianism which leads directly to authoritarianism and tyranny.


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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.