How the Woke Wars Could Derail Libertarianism Again
People are rightly concerned about history repeating itself
Welcome to the Lib Lib Report, i.e. the Liberal Libertarian Report, where we talk about news and current affairs from a liberal libertarian point of view. We aim for a practical pro-liberty politics encouraging things like free speech and free thought in the here and now, while aiming to make the social contract of Western society more libertarian moving towards the future.
Today, I want to talk about a crisis that is unfolding within libertarianism. Let’s start with the controversy over the recent takeover of the US Libertarian Party by the Mises Caucus, although that’s not what I really want to discuss. As I’ve said before, I’m not a big fan of the libertarian immediatism that the Libertarian Party insists on having as its platform, and given that I’m not a supporter of that party, I have generally not been interested in its internal politics. However, the current controversy seems more significant, because it goes to the heart of what libertarianism is, and hence implicitly what liberty is too. I mean, some libertarians, including both members and non-members of the party alike, are worried that this could ruin the commonly accepted view of what libertarianism is, and I’m sorry to say that I share their concerns too.
Let’s start with the controversy itself. The Mises Caucus is a right-leaning faction within the Libertarian Party. Officially, they have a conventional right-libertarian platform, and there is quite a bit of diversity among their membership in terms of social views. However, it is the broader strategy of some members of the caucus that have gotten people concerned. To put it simply, prominent members of the Mises Caucus have been enthusiastically embracing the anti-woke side of the ‘woke’ culture wars, and other associated culture wars in the American political landscape. They are also not shy about their intention to attract new members and supporters that are really into these culture wars. The problem with this is that authoritarian conservatives and other right-wing authoritarians are also often participants in the anti-woke movement, and their ideas could dilute or even confuse libertarian positions. Indeed, non-Mises members of the Libertarian Party have accused the Mises Caucus of watering down traditional libertarian positions to make the party a more comfortable place for the authoritarian right, should they want to join. They cite the caucus’s removal of the pro-choice plank in the party platform as evidence of this, for example.
Having experienced the horror show that was the ‘paleo’ strategy of the 1990s, many libertarians fear that this could be similar, or even worse. Even those who aren’t totally opposed to the Mises Caucus fear that their methods will leave the party and the movement vulnerable to a further takeover by elements of the authoritarian right. I think this possibility, rather than the Mises Caucus itself, is what many people are actually worried about. In other words, I think the controversy over the Mises Caucus takeover is situated in a larger crisis, rooted in the fear of a more general authoritarian right takeover. The fallout is a symptom of the larger problem, one that people must be able to talk about openly.
Basically, I have two thoughts about this.
Firstly, the libertarian movement is small and weak, and is able to be easily taken over by outside forces with their own agenda. The current fear simply reflects this reality, unfortunately. This is of course not new, as niche groups have often tried to insert their niche issues into various minor party platforms around the world, including libertarian parties. (Nor is it limited to the libertarian movement. The trans community has experienced a similar phenomenon in the past decade, for example.) This is also an important reason why I’m not a libertarian immediatist. For me, the important thing right now is to build a movement that will support and promote individual liberty, because a movement that is dedicated to this idea, rather than cutting government per se, would be much more resilient. By emphasizing practical liberty and rejecting libertarian immediatism, the liberty movement can also attract much more mainstream support, thereby making it much harder to take over.
Of course, what we are worried about right now is not just a niche group trying to insert itself into libertarianism, but a total takeover of libertarianism by bigger forces that could be described as authoritarian right-adjacent at least, if not in the authoritarian right itself. Given the situation we are potentially facing, I would even say that building a broad-based practical liberty movement is likely to be the only way to save the reputation of libertarianism going forward. And this is important, because in the Western political landscape, libertarians are the only players who consistently and credibly advance an anti-war agenda. The fall of libertarianism could lead to the total victory of the interventionists that brought us Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Secondly, the ‘woke wars’ in general, and the anti-woke movement in particular, have spiraled out of control in some ways. As I have recently said, the word ‘woke’ has lost its original meaning and much of the ‘woke wars’ are now basically empty tribal culture wars. And because the anti-woke alliance was an alliance of convenience in the first place, and an alliance that stood against rather than for something, its meaning and future are now up for grabs by whoever has the best organization, numbers and money. This could allow the anti-woke movement to be dominated by the authoritarian right rather than old-school liberals or libertarians, because the authoritarian right are simply better at organizing and fundraising. This is why I fear that woke vs anti-woke dynamics could work against liberals in both directions going forward, and the only way to take a stand for liberty is to find a way to transcend the tribalist ‘woke wars’ now.
That’s why, going forward, I believe we should be ‘post woke’. We should look at all issues objectively, on their own merits, rather than see them in a ‘woke wars’ state of mind. We should still be opposing postmodernism and critical theory, but we should do so on well reasoned grounds. And I will definitely call out people who use the ‘woke’ word as an empty insult, as a tribalist culture war thing. Because this certainly won’t help to advance individual liberty.
She is also the author of the Moral Libertarian Horizon books, which argue that liberalism is still the most moral and effective value system for Western democracies in the 21st century.