Identity Politics – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly


Identity Politics – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
By Duncan Whitmore

Identity politics has come to gobble up an increasingly significant proportion of mainstream political discourse. Although the concept has been around for as long as politics itself, it gained particular traction on the political left from the end of the Cold War, culminating in the US Presidential Election of 2016 (and was a major factor in the electoral loss of the Democratic Party).

In the first part of this essay we will explore some of the implications of identity politics as a political weapon. Although our conclusions will be mostly negative (the “bad” and the “ugly”) we will, in the second part, suggest how libertarians can respond to the current climate of identity politics and how realignment or rethinking of the concept may have practical use for libertarians (the “good”).

I

Identity politics is political action or discourse that categorises each individual under a group identity, with political positions and interests assigned to the group as a whole rather than to each individual. These categories are based on a particular (usually broad) characteristic shared by each member of that group, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, age, income, and so on. Hence, identity politics does not talk about the interests of each individual as much as it does about the interests of “women”, “blacks”, “the LGBT community”, “senior citizens”, “the rich” and “the poor”, etc.

Let us begin by discussing the “bad” aspects of this approach. We should note that there is, of course, nothing inherently wrong with the practice of categorisation. Concepts and classifications help us to make sense of the world by understanding what may be typical of a certain person or thing according to his/her/its characteristics – and it is undoubtedly true that certain, basic characteristics may engender political preoccupations. At best, however, such categorisations serve as a cognitive aid, a shorthand, heuristic device to make better sense of reality – no kind of identity categorisation necessarily tells you anything about people’s most pressing concerns. The most obvious, immediate problem is that the categories listed above are not mutually exclusive. One can, of course, be a “woman” and “black” at the same time, or “rich” and “LGBT”. Will a black woman tend towards caring more about the interests of “women” (which, of course, are supposed include the interests of all women regardless of race) or towards caring about “blacks” (whose interests may be different from and diametrically opposed to women of other races?). Does a wealthy gay man care more about LGBT rights (which are generally the province of the left) or protecting the interests of those with a similar, high income status (who are usually found on the right)? Even “LGBT” itself (or one of its extended variants) seems to be something of an unusual concoction – do those with a differing sexual identity neatly fit with and hold interests similar to those with a differing gender identity, or are they separate issues? These questions provide an inkling into the fact that these categorisations and their supposedly associated interests make little sense without appreciation of the context. For example, if, as the Grenfell Tower tragedy indicated, certain high rise tower blocks were vulnerable to a unique and terrifying risk of fire, a gay man, a black woman and a Roman Catholic Priest who all happened to be living in such a tower block may be united by their shared concern for local building regulations. In this instance, therefore, the categories “gays”, “blacks”, “women”, and “Roman Catholics” and any interests that these groups supposedly share would be too broad to understand the pressing needs of these particular people. On the other hand, if the earth was about to be destroyed by a meteorite, it is clear that these categories would be far too narrow and that the only category that would make sense in this scenario is the whole of humanity that is desperate to avoid the impending apocalypse. No doubt everyone in Britain during World War II put aside their usual social differences and they were all united by the more urgent need to defeat a common enemy. Equally, however, it is obvious that categories such as “humanity” and “Britons” would be useless for most day-to-day purposes when no such imminent peril exists. Indeed, most group identities thrive in an era when a certain characteristic is a marker of a significant disadvantage or that characteristic attracts a serious threat. This can be observed most clearly when there is a denial of legal rights to a particular group that are enjoyed by everyone else. Pre-suffrage women or the very real oppression of homosexuals when homosexual acts were outlawed can be cited as examples in this regard. When, however, civic rights are more or less equal, the identification of interests according to a category is much more nuanced, particularly when the categories are so broad as to encompass entire genders and races of many millions of people of different generations from completely different places. This appears to be something that the left finds difficult to understand when they treat categories and groups as relatively rigid, with the implicit belief that those groups should almost necessarily dictate people’s overarching political concerns. The consequence of such a literal embracing of identity politics is that it leads one to assume, for example, that a woman = a woman = a woman, while ignoring the fact that there is at least as much difference between women themselves as there is between women and men. Hence the confusion and, indeed, the outrage on the left when 41% of American women – a very significant minority – voted for Donald Trump, with former First Lady Michelle Obama complaining that such women “voted against their own voice”. The backfiring of this ludicrous logic – that Hillary Clinton being a “woman” meant that she necessarily represented “women’s interests” and so “women” should have voted for her – indicates that perhaps many women had things on their mind other than being outraged by Trump’s supposedly misogynistic attitude and “pussy grabbing” locker room talk.

The reason for this miscalculation is that the use of group identities has less to do with trying to understand and give effect to people’s interests as they already are, and has more to do with trying to create them in the first place. By forcing people to accept a certain narrative that their interests coalesce with those of others who share a common characteristic, these group interests can then be pitted against each other in order to sow distrust and resentment – with the strong, benevolent arm of the state inviting itself in, conveniently enough, to resolve the problems of “inequality” and “oppression” that supposedly exist. In other words, identity politics is little more than a tool for sifting the population into the “haves” (the rich, the upper and middle classes, white collar workers) and the “have nots” (the poor, the working classes, blue collar workers); or between the “oppressed” (women, ethnic minorities, LGBTs) and the “privileged” (men, whites, heterosexuals) – all for the purpose of the state creating and then feigning to step in and ameliorate the supposed antagonisms. This explanation correlates with one of the more curious aspects of identity politics – that it pays so much attention to groups who are minorities. After all, why bother with these minorities, such as the relative tiny number of people who identify as “transgender”, when they will provide so few votes? Apart from the fact that any minority, by definition, can make a half-credible claim for being “oppressed” by the majority, many of such minorities lead lifestyles that are antithetical to, or at least different from, traditional, cultural or religious norms which bind people together in voluntary institutions such as families and local communities – institutions which compete with the state for people’s reliance and sense of allegiance. Some of these things are more obvious than others; an expansion of welfare for single parents will lead to more out of wedlock births and erode the traditional family; an influx of migrants may bring with them a strange language and alien culture which competes with and dilutes that of the natives. Others appear more subtle yet seem to pull the rug out from under deeply entrenched and hitherto unacknowledged certainties – unacknowledged because they seemed beyond question, such as gender roles or what has, until recently, been the binary nature of gender. Whether or not an individual self-identifies as another of two or many genders is, in fact, irrelevant for the state’s purposes. What’s important is permitting the rights of those whose gender identity differs from that of their biological sex to trump the rights of the majority who still adhere to “male” or “female” and their traditional gender roles in order to create disorientation and confusion. The issues of who should be allowed to use which bathroom and which pronouns should apply to whom could be written off as trivial and farcical, except for the fact that they strike at the heart of two deeply engrained cultural anchors – the meaning of language (and, hence, should such language become state regulated, the freedom of speech) and the etiquette of personal privacy.

Far from being novel, this approach actually has a long and deep-seated history. Indeed, the whole of Marxism and the so-called “harmony of class interests” is one immense exercise of identity politics which attempted to influence new interests rather than give effect to existing ones. Contrary to the Marxist theory, instead of having a unified interest in depressing wages as much as possible business owners compete with each other for the limited supply of workers available. They can only gain access to this limited supply by outbidding each other in the wages that they offer and it is this competing demand which drives wages above the subsistence level. Workers, on the other hand, are in turn competing with each other for that (also limited) demand and so the more workers there are the greater the supply of labour, leading to lower wages. This is why unions, in spite of cloaking their actions in Marxist econo-babble, can only ever secure benefits for their members at the expense of other workers, rather than for workers as a whole. Far from being unified, the interests of any one businessman are therefore opposed to those of other businessmen, and the interests of any one worker are opposed to those of other workers. The whole theory of class interest is nothing more than an exercise in creating imaginary conflicts in order to destroy the capitalist system and replace it with an equally imaginary, socialist utopia. Moreover, Marxism too attempted to erode traditional cultural and religions norms as well as traditional morality in order to crack the supposed hold of the bourgeoisie on the societal structure. Ironically, traditional socialists such as Charles Derber, David North and Owen Jones have criticised modern day identity politics for serving as a distraction from the more fundamental needs of the working class. Given that, in the 2016 presidential election, the Republican ticket sapped the Democrats of considerable support from those with a family income of under $50,000 compared to the 2012 contest, this is probably true. And yet these commentators fail to see that much of their own, albeit much broader worldview is based upon a similar exercise.

One effect of emphasising and granting political precedence to certain identities is to encourage a backlash from identities of opposing extremes. Hence, “white supremacists” and other unsavoury components of the “alt-right” have gained prominence in recent years. Most of these opposing extremes drew towards Trump for his anti-establishment stance and politically incorrect persona. Unfortunately, the more moderate majority who formed the backbone of the Trump vote – the everyday folk who opposed the liberal, left wing, onslaught without necessarily embracing the opposite extremes – were tarred by the left with the same brush; the childish logic of “if you aren’t with me then you are against me” leading to them all (or at least “half” of them) being branded by Mrs Clinton as a “basket of deplorables”. Yet again, in other words, everyone has to be categorised neatly, if ludicrously, into “good” and “bad” identities. Such thinking reduces politics to little more than a fairytale, where the forces of darkness that seek to devour the kingdom are overcome by the victory of the brave and righteous. No doubt it is because they were denied their fairytale ending that the left was so utterly demoralised in November 2016.

One of the more pernicious aspects of Marxism that is creeping back into the fold with identity politics (“the ugly”) is what Ludwig von Mises termed “polylogism” – the idea that different forms of logical reasoning apply to different groups and, hence, a theory promulgated by one logical construct could not be refuted by another.1 Thus Marx could claim that the argument for socialism was immune from the “bourgeois” reasoning of economists (although, as with the wider theory of class consciousness, his own mind was somehow exempt from this curious discovery). The collapse of Soviet communism in 1991 has demonstrated again that this reasoning was correct and that socialism actually cannot work in practice. And yet if reason proves that socialism does not work, the response of the left is, of course, to jettison reason rather than socialism – a line of thinking that has now spread to promoting the interests of identity groups. Because polylogism is so destructive of any kind of reasonable dialogue, it is worth us spending a considerable amount of time in dealing with it exhaustively.

Academically, polylogism has come out explicitly in such preposterous statements as the following from American philosopher John D Caputo, where he claims that reason itself is a product of “whiteness”:

I think that what modern philosophers call “pure” reason — the Cartesian ego cogito and Kant’s transcendental consciousness — is a white male Euro-Christian construction.

White is not “neutral.” “Pure” reason is lily white, as if white is not a color or is closest to the purity of the sun, and everything else is “colored.” Purification is a name for terror and deportation, and “white” is a thick, dense, potent cultural signifier that is closely linked to rationalism and colonialism. What is not white is not rational. So white is philosophically relevant and needs to be philosophically critiqued — it affects what we mean by “reason” — and “we” white philosophers cannot ignore it.2

Mises dismantled this view effortlessly in Human Action when he says:

 [Ethnologists] are utterly mistaken in contending that […] other races have been guided in their activities by motives other than those which have actuated the white race. The Asiatics and the Africans no less than the peoples of European descent have been eager to struggle successfully for survival and to use reason as the foremost weapon in these endeavors. They have sought to get rid of the beasts of prey and of disease, to prevent famines and to raise the productivity of labor. There can be no doubt that in the pursuit of these aims they have been less successful than the whites. The proof is that they were eager to profit from all achievements of the West. Those ethnologists would be right, if Mongols or Africans, tormented by a painful disease, were to renounce the aid of a European doctor because their mentality or their world view led them to believe that it is better to suffer than to be relieved of pain. Mahatma Gandhi disavowed his whole philosophy when he entered a modern hospital to be treated for appendicitis.

The North American Indians lacked the ingenuity to invent the wheel. The inhabitants of the Alps were not keen enough to construct skis which would have rendered their hard life much more agreeable. Such shortcomings were not due to a mentality different from those of the races which had long since used wheels and skis; they were failures, even when judged from the point of view of the Indians and the Alpine mountaineers.

[…]

The scholars of the West have amassed an enormous amount of material concerning the high civilizations of China and India and the primitive civilizations of the Asiatic, American, Australian, and African aborigines. It is safe to say that all that is worth knowing about these races is known. But never has any supporter of polylogism tried to use these data for a description of the allegedly different logic of these peoples and civilizations.3

One might add that precisely how Caputo intends to “philosophically critique” “whiteness” without resorting to the use of “reason” that is supposedly polluted by this same “whiteness” is something of a mystery.

More recently, the left’s Oracle of Delphi, Oprah Winfrey, has waded into the deluge of allegations of predatory sexual behaviour in celebrity circles by urging people to “speak their truth” – a strange imperative that a post on her website struggles to distinguish from expressing a mere opinion or from attempting to be “right”:

Our “truth” runs much deeper than our opinions. Truth is about how we feel and what is real for us. Truth is not about being right; it’s about expressing what we think and feel in an authentic, vulnerable and transparent way.

[…]

When we let go of being “right” about our opinions and take responsibility for our experience, we can speak our truth from a much deeper and more authentic place. Speaking this deeper truth will not only liberate us, but has the potential to make a difference for others while bringing us closer together.4

The implication of this self-help sophistry seems to be that one’s subjective perception of reality, brought into relief more by emotions rather than by cool observation, is somehow more important than, or at least equally valid to, objectively verifiable facts – and, magically, a life of “passion, fulfilment and authenticity” charged with “freedom and power” somehow results.

No one should deny that our reactions to and subjective experiences of reality are important and are responsible for shaping our attitudes, beliefs and our interactions with other people; nor should the sharing of such experiences be discouraged if it brings to others a helpful realisation of the effects of their behaviour. But this importance must be kept in perspective when compared to the actual truth. As Mises explains so well in his critique of Marxist polylogism, if you wish to engage with and accomplish something in the real world then the actual truth will always be superior to some vision of it refracted through the prism of your own preoccupations. For instance, if you want to build a bridge then a subjectively wrought, “authentic, vulnerable and transparent” understanding of mechanics and engineering is not going to help you – and if your collapsing bridge happens to drop you into the river below as a result of your folly then you are likely to be left quite some way from any feeling of “freedom and power” as you pull yourself out of the mud. Similarly, therefore, if one wishes to remove rank injustice from society then the question of whether or not there is, for example, a “rape culture” must be determined fundamentally by whether there is, in fact, an abnormally high, objectively established occurrence of incidents where a person has been forced into having sexual intercourse. Moreover, it would help our remedial response if we knew whether certain types of victim – say, younger, or elderly – were more vulnerable, or whether rape is concentrated on the streets or in domestic or other familiar surroundings. In the same vein, whether or not there is sexist discrimination in the workplace must, in the first instance, be understood by making multi-variable analyses of pay rates, career choices, education and so on – and whether these are concentrated in certain industries or locations rather than others so that we know where to focus our efforts. One’s subjective experiences in this regard may supplement the resulting information or, indeed, may tell us where to start looking in the first place. But surely the information itself is more important for attaining any kind of genuine “empowerment”? Instead, the only “empowerment” from “speaking your truth” seems to emanate from revelling in self-indulgence rather than from any concrete achievement. The author of the excerpt above provides only a single real life example of “speaking your truth”, a one-sided recollection of when a friend patted himself on the back for having imparted to a stranger his impassioned views on how the latter should treat her (in his view) over-disciplined children – while conceding no awareness of whether his emotional outburst had any impact on the stranger’s attitude, or, indeed, whether it was appropriate and based upon a sufficient grasp of the situation. It seems as though “speaking your truth” can absolve oneself of the necessity to be “right” while retaining the smug, self-congratulatory satisfaction of having been so. Such delusion might be relatively harmless, albeit irritating to everyone else, if all you are trying to do is feel better about yourself – but it is lethally dangerous when it is used to promote a political agenda or, indeed, when it wades into the question of whether a serious crime was committed. Just like Marx’s muting of his economist critics, the purpose here is to silence rational discussion by taking the conversation onto a different plane where the substance of any criticism cannot bite. So when, for example, research can reveal that rape isn’t all that prevalent, or that, say, the gender pay gap may be the result of factors other than sexism on the part of hirers and firers, elevating, as Ms Winfrey did, recollections of subjective experience above this as “the most powerful tool” allows the aura of oppression to be continued rather than questioned or understood.5 Moreover, apart from the fact that there is no particular reason why anyone else should regard any recollection of subjective experience as honest and authentic, if it is wrapped up with the presupposition of an all-encompassing victimhood then such recollection is always likely to reflect and amplify this mentality. In other words, “speaking your truth” amounts to little more than a self-perpetuating mechanism for entrenching existing beliefs and promoting, say, a feminist worldview.

A similar, if less elaborate method of achieving the same result as this kind of polylogism is the tactic of writing off any explanation that goes against an accepted, politically correct narrative as some kind of “-splaining” – such as “mansplaining” or “whitesplaining”. In its least objectionable form, “-splaining” simply means that an opinion is expressed in a “patronising” or “condescending” way by a (supposedly “privileged”) addressor while ignoring the “experience” of the (supposedly “marginalised”) addressee – for example, if a man attempts to explain a technical or logically complex subject to a woman while assuming that the latter is devoid of this knowledge by virtue of her gender. To the extent that this is a presumptuous and irritating habit of men that is deserving of a suitably sarcastic, derogatory label then fair enough, one might say. However, this is extended to an absurd level when the epithet of “-splaining” seeks to rule out the validity of an opinion by alleging that the addressee holds critical “experience” (i.e. “your truth”) by virtue of a “marginalised” status, granting that “marginalised” addressee a special insight into the meaning of concepts such as “sexism” and “racism” that cannot be possessed by the “privileged” addressor. The implication is that “men” can have no say on what is “sexist” and whites can have no say on what is “racist”.

To condemn this approach does not deny, say, that a man’s explanation to a woman of an issue concerning women may be incorrect or lacking in a certain perspective that only a woman can bring to the matter – or indeed that being on the receiving end of sexism may serve to make one more knowledgeable on the subject. But to the extent that this is true then there is no “mansplanation” – merely an incorrect or deficient explanation that must be countered with a correct one. Instead, labelling the argument a “-splanation” presumes, rather than establishes, the addressor’s “privilege” that serves to place the addressor on a different plane of reasoning and hence excuses the addressee from having to challenge the “-splanation” with rational argument. As one expositor of this approach puts it with regards to racism:

Objectivity is an understandable goal, but think about what it means to believe you’re the only one who can bring “reason” into the conversation. The truth is that you’re just as biased as anyone else – your perspective is influenced by your own experiences and position of privilege. That also gives you a biased point of view on what “objectivity” means. You’re approaching the conversation like a high school debate, as if this is just a harmless exercise in flexing our reasoning skills […] But when we’re talking about racial injustice, we’re actually addressing real issues with a negative impact on real people’s lives […] It’s tempting to wave around your “rational thought” that you think invalidates my feelings – but you’re not an authority on how I should feel about the issues that affect me.6

Once again, a pre-supposed aura of victimhood based upon subjective feelings is perpetuated and the resulting politically correct agenda is immunised from criticism because objectively definable criteria for discussion are rendered impossible.

Possibly the most long winded check-out from reality by “speaking your truth” is Hillary Clinton’s diatribe on how she lost the election – or, rather, on how everything except for her was responsible for her failure to beat Donald Trump to the Oval Office.7 Indeed, the farcical investigation into Russia’s supposed electoral interference that paint Trump as a Russian puppet, the idea that “fake news” on social media conjured up the Trump victory, and the labelling of his political positions in such facile terms as “racist”, “misogynist”, and “fascist” – all of this serves to create in the minds of social justice warriors a hallucinogenic nirvana based on what they want Trump to be rather than what he actually is. Such a failure of understanding prior to the election rendered them impotent to grasping precisely why Trump was popular and how to countenance that popularity; afterwards, it provided them with a warm and fuzzy excuse to deny the legitimacy of the result.

II

Having completed this survey of the “bad” and “ugly” of identity politics, what is the way forward for libertarians out of this quagmire – and is there anything “good” that we can take away?

The first important area to consider is the need to manage the backlash against identity politics that we mentioned earlier – for example with the emergence of the alt-right. The alt-right is, unfortunately, a double edged sword; on the one hand it could be the antidote to the political game that statists want us to play; on the other it might just end up making it worse. One of the reasons for identity politics coming to the fore on the left is that the traditional politics of “tax, borrow, spend and waste” is becoming increasingly more difficult. Each year, the bloated budgets of Western governments are being consumed increasingly by existing promises and entitlements, a series of unfunded liabilities – social security, medical benefits, public pensions, and so on – that can be estimated at anywhere between $100 trillion and $200 trillion for the US alone. The upshot of this is that the part of the pie which governments can choose to spend – the “discretionary” portion – is shrinking, and so there is less and less that either today’s or tomorrow’s politicians can promise to voters by way of new spending programmes and new free goodies with which to win their votes. The nature of the conversation has therefore changed from fiscal (redistributing money from the haves to the have nots) to social (legislating and regulating so as to favour the “oppressed” over the “oppressors”) – from governments promising free cash to promising legislated privileges. It is likely that the liberal elite already knows this and has merely been preparing the political battleground for its future landscape, while the popularity of old-schoolers on the grassroots of the left – such as Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK – indicates that the electorate just isn’t on that page yet.8 Much of the alt-right is a symptom of the fact that, as is so often the case in the progress of humanity, a swing of the political pendulum to one side does not provoke its return to an equilibrating middle as much as it does a swing to the opposite side. Thus, enforced multiculturalism leads to a hatred of other cultures rather than a selective appreciation of them; open borders leads to a xenophobic desire for bolting the door shut coupled with economic protectionism rather than a more sensible policy of managed borders that welcomes desirable and productive immigrants; affirmative action and the attempt to eradicate and suppress all racism by enforcing politically correct speech leads to the active hatred of other races, whereas a more sensible view would be to ensure equal civic rights for everyone while admitting that some racist epithets may serve as an important pressure valve for preventing more dangerous, racially motivated behaviour. To the extent that these types of response to the aura of identity politics are occurring, it amounts to nothing more than playing the game that the liberal elites want us to play – of separating society into the very categories and compartments the supposed antagonisms between which the state can exploit for its gain. We, as libertarians, cannot allow political discourse to descend into battles between opposing frenzies of hysteria, frenzies based on mutual hatred that seek to counter one vision of “oppression” by substituting it with another – all for the benefit of the state that will seek to draw power from the strongest side to crush the other. We must counter the move towards subjective and relatively defined visions of the truth – all variants of polylogism – with rational ideas and rational argument that steer people away either from utter despair or from seductively attractive yet ultimately destructive ends.

An example of this kind of counterattack is Hans Hermann Hoppe’s urge towards creating a “populist” libertarian movement by steering the alt-right towards a coherent ten-point programme that they can embrace as a positive way forward, as opposed to wading in a pool of grievances. As Hoppe notes in his most recent speech to the Property and Freedom Society:

The Alt-Right is far more united by what it is against than what it is for. It is against, and indeed it hates with a passion, the elites in control of the State, the MSM and academia. Why? Because they all promote social degeneracy and pathology. Thus, they promote, and the Alt-Right vigorously opposes, egalitarianism, affirmative action (aka “non-discrimination”), multiculturalism, and “free” mass immigration as a means of bringing multiculturalism about. As well, the Alt-Right loathes everything smacking of cultural Marxism or Gramsciism and all “political correctness” and, strategically wise, it shrugs off, without any apology whatsoever, all accusations of being racist, sexist, elitist, supremacist, homophobe, xenophobe, etc., etc.

[…]

Given the present constellation of affairs, then, any promising libertarian strategy must […] first and foremost be tailored and addressed to this group of the most severely victimized people. White married Christian couples with children, in particular if they belong also to the class of tax-payers (rather than tax-consumers), and everyone most closely resembling or aspiring to this standard form of social order and organization can be realistically expected to be the most receptive audience of the libertarian message.9

Because the advocacy of such a strategy has been subject to much denigration and misinterpretation amongst the controversy of the relationship between libertarianism and the alt-right, it is worthwhile emphasising precisely what it seeks to achieve. This is a strategy that aims to rationalise, moderate and channel the views of the natural economic and cultural victims of the current political climate in order to create a populist libertarian movement that can serve as a practical and sustainable political challenge to the status quo. In no way does it relegate libertarianism to second place to any non-libertarian extremity displayed by factions of the alt-right. Hoppe is especially clear as to enunciate in the speech the core libertarian doctrine while admonishing any alt-righters (such as his former guest, Richard Spencer) who have strayed from that doctrine. In line with our analysis above, he rejects anything that smacks of playing the game of identity politics when he shows the absurdity of challenging the presently protected political identities with the identity of “whiteness”:

 While the main addressees of a populist libertarian message must be indeed the just mentioned groups of dispossessed and disenfranchised native whites, I believe it to be a serious strategic error to make “whiteness” the exclusive criterion on which to base one’s strategic decisions, as some strands of the Alt-Right have suggested to do. After all, it is above all white men that make up the ruling elite and that have foisted the current mess upon us.10

Moreover, Hoppe states, correctly, that the right to discriminate or disassociate means nothing more than that one should have the freedom to choose to do so, while stopping mass migration is not some xenophobic, racist, “fascist”, knee-jerk reaction to open borders but is, rather, to be replaced by a sensible policy of regulating migration to invited, productive persons. Far from being any attempt to attract extremists qua extremists, the purpose here is to provide a rational outlet for their quite legitimate frustrations and grievances (together with some of their already held “common sense” political insights) in order to break the cycle of rootless frenzy with which identity politics pollutes the political landscape. One might, of course, disagree with whether the strategy will, in fact, create a successful libertarian movement for social change, and it is certainly far from being risk free. But the attempt to prevent the swing of the political pendulum from its current extreme to the opposite extreme is the lesson that should be learnt from this example.

We might also mention the work of Jordan B Peterson, Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto, who has become something of a sensation since he challenged the Canadian government’s attempt to enshrine gender identity as a human right. As one blogger has explained:

 There is a generation of young men in our society who are disillusioned, angry, and frustrated. Suicide, for example, is pandemic among young white men. Many of them are unemployed, most of them are hooked on pornography, and as a result their relationships are often toxic or dysfunctional. Nobody really seems to care, either — books like Hanna Rosin’s The End of Men even carry a hint of triumphalism. To even talk about “men’s issues” is to incur the rage of a thousand feminists.

[…]

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson’s work and influence has, by any objective standard, been enormously beneficial. Thousands of young men are getting themselves figured out, and hundreds of thousands more are spending hours listening to complex academic lectures on how to become better people. Peterson is single-handedly robbing the alt-right of angry young white men by presenting them with the option of becoming better people rather than succumbing to identity politics. And he is championing loving, respectful relationships between men and women.11

The second aspect libertarians need to turn their attention to is how a rethinking of the concept of “identity” can be useful for a libertarian movement. As we have seen much of identity politics is, in fact, self-defeating – the Trump victory alone, a decisive rejection of this kind of politicising, speaks volumes in this regard. When all is said and done, people will ultimately be attracted to political positions which reflect their needs as they perceive them to be – not to positions which tell them what their needs are. For example, feminism claims to want to achieve equality between the sexes – something which, according to the Daily Telegraph, 74% of British women and 86% of British men are in favour of. And yet the same survey reveals that only 7% of them (9% of women, 4% of men) self-identify as feminists12. The discrepancy could not be starker – either feminism is failing to convey its message of equality between the sexes convincingly, or there is something about the feminist agenda which men and women alike perceive as inadequate for, or, indeed, as antithetical to attaining that goal. Regardless of the reason, however, it is clear that feminism is not speaking for the majority of women. A much more general example is the Brexit vote. The centralising project of the European Union is struggling to curtail or even destroy national and regional identities while failing to persuade people to put their faith in the Brussels bureaucracy. No matter how hard the “Remain” side tried – wheeling out the heavy establishment guns from all of the living former Prime Ministers, the Governor of the Bank of England, the President of the United States and most of the cabinet and Parliament – a majority of voters still refused to believe that their interests were better served by a faceless and opaque political structure in a foreign country rather than by their own, native political system.

An important feature which distinguishes people’s political identities as they themselves perceive them from how the liberal left would like them to be is the communities they live in and the members of that community with whom they interact. Feminism may fail because “women” as whole do not form a natural community. Rather, women (and girls) exist in communities populated also by men (and boys). The needs and interests of men and boys in their lives – the husbands, sons, brothers, fathers and so on – are likely to be as important to women as their own needs and interests. If feminism fails to account for the interests of the men whom women know (or represents these men in a manner that is at odds with their own experience) then it is not difficult to see why it is unlikely to appeal. Similarly, the people of Britain do not perceive themselves to be in a community of Europeans whose interests are necessarily or even remotely aligned with more than 400 million foreigners across the English Channel – foreigners who are as different from each other as they are from the British. The class divisions in Marxism, on the other hand, were plausible precisely because the classes together rarely formed their own community. In other words, the bosses led separate lives in separate places from the workers and so it was much easier for Marxism to exploit prejudices, misunderstandings and misinformation that existed from this lack of communitarian contact. In this case, of course, the identity was mistaken, and it takes a chain of reasoning to understand that the interests of capitalists and workers do, in fact, coalesce and there is no antagonism between them.

Given all of this, therefore, we can suggest that libertarians should seek to promote what we might call natural identities. Natural identities are those identities which people themselves believe to be real and are grounded in some kind of objective reality – as opposed to the fake or fabricated identities which are simply a tool of the statist impetus to divide and conquer. Almost certainly these real identities will be based upon homogeneity of language, culture and custom – in other words, for the most part, geographically denoted, relatively local communities, the very kinds of identity that the consolidating project of the European Union is seeking to destroy. The distinctive libertarian aspect of this approach is that it fits neatly into the goal of decentralisation – that is, breaking up the state into ever smaller units. Space precludes us from discussing decentralisation at length here; suffice it to say that if we wish to bring about a world in which the fundamental libertarian principle of non-aggression is adhered to as widely as possible then we must tackle the primary cause of aggression which is, of course, the state. The surest way to reduce the state’s aggressiveness is to break up each state into as smaller chunks as possible, where their power and territorial scope is decreased relative to each citizen. Aggression is therefore reduced purely through this formal transformation and regardless of the specific policies of each individual territory. Non-aggression is the libertarian end, for sure – the means, however, is encouraging natural communities to want to form their own jurisdictions based upon their own values, and to make decisions for themselves without being in a political union with other people, the latter of whom may wish to enforce their decisions upon them. However, an important difference of this approach from the fake identities of identity politics is that there need not be any conflict between different communities governing their own affairs – there is no patriarchy of oppression or “privilege” and everyone is able to co-exist peacefully. In this regard, there are two aspects that should be emphasised. The first is that any concept of “rights” that refers to a specific identity or interest group – e.g. gay rights, black rights, women’s rights, and so on – must be jettisoned. While the movements advocating such rights may have begun their lives by seeking equal civic rights for their members, by failing to understand that there are no rights that apply only to gays or only to women or blacks, they soon morph into campaigners for special privileges that breach the rights of everyone else. Hence, the removal of racist laws turns into positive discrimination; the right to have sexual intercourse with a member of the same sex in the privacy of your own property becomes the right to force an hotelier to accommodate a homosexual couple. Rather, it must be emphasised that rights are enjoyed equally by all people by virtue of their status as human beings, and any injustice must be dealt with on that basis. Second, the lack of political unity does not mean a lack of international co-operation. Rather, such co-operation should be between private individuals and entities trading their own goods and services on the international markets. Those who think that increased political sovereignty and the reduction of inter-governmental co-operation through supranational outfits such as the UN, the EU or NATO drag us back into “isolationism” are unable to comprehend any kind of human endeavour that does not have the state as its primary motivator. For them, the choice is between “unity” and atomistic barbarianism. However, the lack of political globalisation – a relatively recent phenomenon – does not preclude economic globalisation, which has been around for centuries. Brexiteers, for instance, are not “little islanders” who hearken back to some Romantic vision of England’s green and pleasant land – being anti-EU is not being anti-Europe. Rather they, wish to have their own, British government making their laws while simultaneously co-operating and trading with Europe and the rest of the world. In other words, the goal is harmony, not unity. Indeed, as the mutual benefits of trade are the primary motivator towards peace and co-operation while anything the state does can only every interfere with trade, it is better for harmony if your government leaders are not sat around a table together trying to seek their mystical unity. Moreover, harmony means that it is much less likely that any expression of patriotism or pride for one’s national, ethnic or cultural background will translate into either explicit or politically relevant displays of supremacy or superiority – whereas “unity” implies that one set of circumstances must dominate and is, therefore, an open invitation for ethnic and cultural warfare.

In conclusion, therefore, while the “bad” and the “ugly” of identity politics are very “bad” and “ugly” indeed, there is quite a lot of “good” that libertarians can take away from understanding it and, more importantly, how they may best proceed in response to it by avoiding and countering its pitfalls.

Notes

1“Epistemological relativism” may be a more suitable term for some of the political tactics we examine below; but the aim of these tactics is the same as that of polylogism and, as we will show, they are vulnerable to the same Misesian critique. For a devastating, praxeological assault on relativism, see Hans Hermann Hoppe, On Praxeology and the Praxeological Foundations of Epistemology, Chapter 9 in The Economics and Ethics of Private Property, 2nd Edition.

2https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/07/02/looking-white-in-the-face/

3Ludwig von Mises, Human Action, pp. 85-7. Stated more formally, as all humans are united by their need to make choices of suitable means to bring about desired ends in the same reality, then the reasoning employed to give effect to these actions must be the same. As Hoppe, delivering the coup de grâce to polylogism, explains “the structure of knowledge must be constrained by the peculiar function which knowledge fulfils within the framework of action categories; the existence of such structural constraints can never be disproved”; Hoppe, p.281. And “praxeology constrains the range of things that can possibly be experienced in the field of actions”; Ibid p. 293.

4Mike Robbins, Speak your Truth, www.oprah.com/spirit/speak-your-truth_2/all#ixzz56QcTPTYX

5For an example of an activist falling back on general, subjective “experience” in the face of contravening evidence during a debate concerning racism, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pXgYNo624-I.

6Maisha Z Johnson, Six Ways Well-Intentioned People Whitesplain Racism (And Why They Need to Stop) https://everydayfeminism.com/2016/02/how-people-whitesplain-racism/. With no hint of irony the author goes on to criticise those who attempt to defend themselves from charges of racism for making it “all about them”.

7Hillary Rodham Clinton, What Happened.

8For an interesting discussion on where this development might lead, see Gary North, Guns or Granny: the Looming Political Battle of the West, https://www.garynorth.com/public/16615.cfm.

9Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Libertarianism and the Alt Right. In Search of a Libertarian Strategy for Social Change, speech delivered to the Property & Freedom Society, September 17th 2017. https://misesuk.org/2017/10/20/libertarianism-and-the-alt-right-hoppe-speech-2017/

10Ibid.

11https://www.lifesitenews.com/blogs/jordan-peterson-is-helping-disillusioned-boys-become-men.-heres-why-liberal

12http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/life/only-7-per-cent-of-britons-consider-themselves-feminists/

 

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21 comments

  • I found this article a tough read. I think it would be better divided into smaller paragraphs. But the content is excellent.

  • Splendid analysis. I agree with Mr Lock to the extent that I felt some sentences had too many subordinate clauses perhaps, but that is a minor criticism.
    But I feel it might help if we were to define our terms; – what is ‘The State’ exactly? I’ve been thinking about this, and it seems to me that, to mis-quote Margaret Thatcher, there is no such thing as the state …. only individuals. The ‘state’ consists of people, does it not? People like you and me. Your or I could become part of ‘the state’, merely by seeking employment in that sector. So what is the driving force behind ‘the state’? From where I’m standing, there is a very weird philosophy behind everything ‘the state’ says and does. I remember maybe forty years ago being told, for example, that ‘black refuse sacks’ were offensive to Negroes or some such nonsense, and we grumbled about it in typical British fashion, and I wondered then where all this was going to end. Now we are told that children (formerly known as boys and girls) have the right to choose their gender from any of 57 varieties, and that peeping Toms are encouraged to indulge their proclivities in ladies’ lavatories, and we grumble about it, and I find myself still wondering where this will all end. Maybe it won’t.
    But to get back to my point, if I were to go and become part of ‘the state’, I would just dismiss this stuff as patent nonsense. But that’s just me. It seems to me that a surprising number of otherwise perfectly normal people are happy to adopt the wildest ideas when they go and work for the government, or for any part of ‘the Establishment’. ‘Going native’ if you like.
    So what is driving this, and why do so many otherwise intelligent people appear happy to swallow it without any objection?
    Just thinking out loud here.

  • I agree with what seems to be implied here: that respect for sovereignty is the basis for reducing conflict and that sovereignty-stripping institutions and arrangements are largely a cause for conflict. I am not sure I agree with the premise that conflict and aggression are bad things in and of themselves, but maybe that’s a different matter. For the moment, I observe that ‘sovereignty’ and ‘liberty’ can only exist in any meaningful sense within a community of shared values. If there is no agreement as to what sovereignty means because are heritage and values are too different, then of what value is my ‘sovereignty’? Hence, any sensible arrangement has to embrace individuality, true, but must also acknowledge the national and the social dimensions of living. Sovereignty cannot find true expression on an even plane: it can only exist where there are borders and some attention is given to shared priorities.

    Actually the neo-Marxists/leftists have a point when they argue that science is ‘social’, but what I think their ‘social science’ or ‘democratic science’ really amounts to is differing scientific rationalisations. You can say that 2 and 2 makes 5 instead of 4 or 22, but what happens when Nature delivers unhelpful feedback based on your ‘social’ conclusion? The neo-Marxist/leftist is just explaining the same phenomena in a different way. That we can do that at all suggests that the importance of science is popularly overstated: most of what we know seems to be empiricism rather than science proper. For instance, we might ask: is ‘gravity’ science? Or is it just a believable and (within the corpus of ‘science’) coherent explanation for a series of common observations? Maybe a ‘communist science’ or an ‘Africa-centric science’, or whatever, would come up with an entirely different conceptual framework for what we call ‘gravity’.

    That the neo-Marxist Left could be right and Duncan Whitmore could be wrong is exemplified in the following statement, which could be seen as a kind of credo for Whitmore’s naive centrism:

    [quote]We must counter the move towards subjective and relatively defined visions of the truth – all variants of polylogism – with rational ideas and rational argument that steer people away either from utter despair or from seductively attractive yet ultimately destructive ends.[/quote]

    That brings me to the question of human nature and the moral neutrality of Whitmore’s libertarian universalism and ultra-rationalism, which to my mind is a sort of ‘moral nullification’ in which we all abandon our man-animal instincts and instead pretend to apply a common behavioural ethic, regardless of self-interest. To me, ethics – true ethics – are interest-laden not morally-laden. I reject your artificial neo-Christian morality in its entirety, and instead embrace a natural morality, as must any white man if he wishes to see his particular people survive and thrive.

    Identity is presented here within an ‘either/or’ framework of thinking, which to my mind represents a fallacy. It is common for libertarians to argue that collective-ism is the opposite of individual-ism and all things collective are bad, while all things individual are good. I do not accept this premise and I believe the heuristic is in error. For one thing, liberalism itself was not a universalist philosophy, but an outgrowth of a particular society at a particular time.

    Isn’t it possible that one could acknowledge a nationalistic/tribal type of thinking and at the same time regard oneself as an individual? By which I mean that the individual is only an individual because of his identification with a broader group that defines him. This, to me, seems very elementary, almost common-sensical. If I were thrown into a Moslem society, I would certainly stand out as an individual, but my individuality would be notional only: I would enjoy little practical freedom unless I adjusted my mores and habits to the culture around me. Without this subordination, any residual individuality I might retain from my previous culture would mean little as I would not be able to fully express my autonomy.

    Like it or not, individuals do group together (tribes, nations, businesses, hobby groups, etc.) and form cultures (ways of living). This seems to be human nature (or, if you prefer, common human behaviour). Some of these group identities take on a definite collective character and require subordination of the individual to communal needs and priorities, others are looser in orientation.

    The libertarian position on the social facility of individuals seems to vary between, on the one hand, denying its existence – which, it seems to me, is just another way of wishing it away – and on the other hand, acknowledging it and urging people to abandon it.

    If we take the more realistic position – the latter – as our starting point, why should people abandon an aspect of human nature that sustains their way of life and defines who they are? Where is the common sense in this? Of course, this is all normatively-premised one way or the other; all I can say is that the viewpoints represented here on this issue do not reflect my experience of human nature and I do find it difficult to respect people who think and argue about social matters purely in abstract while ignoring observable verities. Surely a true intellectual has to start with reality and work from there? That does sometimes mean that the intellectual ought to and should stoop to common sense – and occasionally needs to. Certainly, putting doctrine before reality is not intelligent or intellectual, rather it reflects a religious mentality. Libertarianism is supposed to be a philosophy, not a rigid doctrine.

    The plain reality is that people are racist. Racism is human nature. This suggests that human beings have an innate socio-collective facility, which any discourse on history, psychology, politics, philosophy, biology, etc., etc., even medicine and the hard sciences, must account for.

    • I’d like to add one thing to the above, which is that in a way, and to an extent, Duncan Whitmore is doing exactly what he accuses the neo-Marxist left of doing: he is using social science to occlude, ignore or minimise reality. That is what social science is. A classic sign of this is the way that he refers to the issue of identity through both sides of his mouth: on the one hand, he wants to deny it as a facet of human nature and pathologise anybody who advocates it, on the other hand he thinks we should have identities, as long as they are ‘natural identities’. Like most libertarians, he needs to make up his mind what he thinks.

      • Duncan Whitmore

        You have confused my critique of identity politics as a critique of identity per se. Nothing in this essay denies that identity is a “facet of human nature”, nor have I sought to “pathologise anybody who advocates it”. Rather, my criticism is of the creation of false identities to which are assigned false interests which can then be “pitted against each other in order to sow distrust and resentment” – in turn, providing the state with a role “to step in and ameliorate the supposed antagonisms”. Criticising the false application of a concept does not invalidate the concept itself – pointing out that two plus two equals five is wrong would not expose me to the absurd charge of having rejected mathematics. Thus it is perfectly valid for me to criticise identity politics on the one hand while advocating for what I have called “natural identities” on the other. Moreover, I fail to see how you ascribe to this advocacy an attempt to “occlude, ignore or minimise reality” on a par with that of the “neo-Marxist left” when my detailed explanation of the difference between their position and mine almost exclusively concerns what is real and what is not.

        From this misunderstanding of what I have written you have extrapolated a supposed dichotomy, an “either/or framework of thinking”, between the individual and the collective. But nothing that I have said supports your characterisation that “collective-ism is the opposite of individual-ism and all things collective are bad, while all things individual are good”. I absolutely agree that “individuals do group together (tribes, nations, businesses, hobby groups, etc.) and form cultures (ways of living).” Moreover, I think that the recognition and promotion of these serve to enhance, rather than deny, the sanctity of the individual – or, to put it in your own words, “‘sovereignty’ and ‘liberty’ can only exist in any meaningful sense within a community of shared values.”

        In this regard, allow me to elaborate on what I say in the penultimate paragraph of the essay:

        Libertarianism has one central axiom – that no one may initiate violence against the person or property of another individual. The question then is how to bring about a world in which such violent acts are minimised. The overwhelming agent of these aggressive incursions is the state, and so it follows that the libertarian goal becomes, firmly, one of reducing the power of the state. Decentralisation – breaking up the state into smaller, geographical units, denoted by commonalities of language, culture and custom – is likely to be the best way to achieve this. To summarise:

        A) Decentralisation reduces the size of each state vis-à-vis each individual, and the greater degree of cultural homogeneity within much more localised states means that each state is likely to act in a way that is in congruence with its citizens. Thus, the smaller a state gets the more the difference between its characterisation as a coercive institution on the one hand and as a voluntary one on the other begins to break down. Furthermore, the ability of one social group to exploit another through the ballot box is reduced if they reside in separate states while the only remaining potential victims of such exploitation are your closest neighbours;

        B) Cultural homogeneity greases the wheels of social co-operation and cohesion, reducing any tendency towards private criminal acts and creating a shared interest in their prevention.

        In which part of this have I failed to acknowledge the importance of both the “individual” and the “collective”? Have I not provided a symbiotic reconciliation between the two that you suggest is wanting? Moreover, is this not a firmly “realistic” and obtainable goal, given that it reflects how the political map was drawn in various parts of the world for much of human history? Indeed, it is precisely because “natural communities […] form[ing] their own jurisdictions based upon their own values, and [making] decisions for themselves” is an anathema to centralising and consolidating state projects that states are trying to destroy natural identities and allegiances – and it is why I, on the other hand, am trying to promote them. I would suggest, therefore, that it is statists who ignore “human nature” and that it is statists who argue “about social matters purely in abstract while ignoring observable verities”.

        Given your emphasis on the need to be “realistic” (with which I agree), it is somewhat incongruous for you to then cast doubt upon the efficacy of science and reason in assisting us with understanding this reality. My own plea for reason and rejection of polylogism is denigrated as “moral neutrality” and “moral nullification”, or some kind of suppression of “human nature”. You do not appear to have grasped that this argument is primarily epistemological rather than moral. In congruence with Mises, my argument states that there is an objective reality in which humans must act to achieve their ends, and that they must employ reason in order to understand the best means for attaining these ends. If I wish to make a cup of tea then I’m sure you would agree that the best means for me to do so is to boil the kettle; and that the water heating properties of electricity which the kettle uses were discovered by the application of our reason to the world around us. On the other hand, singing a little song and hoping that the fairies will heat up the water for me is not likely to be the best means. I expect you would agree also that the same truth exists regardless of whether I am male, female, white, black, British, Chinese or whatever. The left embraces polylogism because reason can demonstrate that their understanding of reality is flawed and that their chosen means of attaining people’s desired goals is unsuitable. My plea for reason is therefore made to attack this intentional distortion of reality that the state makes in order to further its goals while providing no real solution to fulfilling the goals of everybody else. In your own words, “putting doctrine before reality is not intelligent or intellectual, rather it reflects a religious mentality” – does this not encapsulate my criticism of polylogism as a tool of continuing, rather than addressing, the aura of “oppression” and “privilege” that the left bleats on about? However, I have not said anything at length about what people’s goals should be – merely that those goals, taken as a given, are best served by embracing reason. Given that you link the goals of “survive and thrive” with your own embracing of a “natural morality”, I would be surprised if what I have said was at odds with this latter concept.

        • I have not misunderstood you. In fact, further thought on this has deepened my conviction that you are fundamentally wrong (though if you do bother to read what follows, please note that I have not had time to re-read the original piece in its entirety, I am relying on recollection, and if in what I now say I fail to attribute to you some important nuance or precision, that will be why).

          First, I would actually question whether in what you write you are referring to ‘identity politics’ at all, and even whether such a thing even exists. It seems to me that coining that term in a critique is just an extended way of begging the question. Might we more fruitfully ask whether this ‘identity politics’, so-called, is actually based on the expression of interests and is therefore just plain politics? I don’t believe you have undertaken that important examination. Instead, you have taken ‘identity politics’ at face value and gone down the route of arguing that activists such as these are making a sort of giant category error, that by lumping everybody in a group or class together they play the game of the powerful, and they also cannot represent individuals because they ascribe interests to the group in toto. I find that view unsatisfying, and will here will expand somewhat on why.

          You state in the original piece:

          [quote]”Identity politics is political action or discourse that categorises each individual under a group identity, with political positions and interests assigned to the group as a whole rather than to each individual.”[unquote]

          I won’t dispute this definition, but we differ in what we believe is the basis of identity politics and its utility. We should consider that natural communities might exist in tandem as communities of interest: for instance, women could be said to form a natural community of interest, in so far as they have biological interests as women, and this may explain the existence of female ‘identity politics’. For another thing, even with your definition, I don’t accept your assertion that identity politics does not represent the interests of individuals within the ascribed class or group. Assigning interests to a socially-constructed group or class is politically-efficient, it need not imply the dismissal of complex individual interests. For instance, if I claim that white Europeans are in danger of becoming a minority in their own countries, I mean exactly what I say; it doesn’t follow that I am claiming to speak for every white European even on that point, nor does it follow that I am ignoring the interests of white Europeans on other matters; but it does imply that I think the preservation of a white European majority is in the interests of individuals by extension, because (among other reasons) white European individuals are (whether they like it or not) part of the white European race. Every white European is free to disagree with me, and is also at liberty to claim to have a different racial identity altogether viz. the point under consideration (though I think most wouldn’t – at least, not in private).

          The identity politics you see and criticise is an outcome of identities, which sounds obvious but in this discussion is perhaps a controversial statement due to the position you take, but those identities are in turn the outcome of interests. I think so-called ‘identity politics’ would exist in any situation where different types of people live together: which actually is just another way of saying that identity-based conflict (politics) is permanent, since even in the most homogeneous community or group, there will (in my view) be rivalry and conflict leading to “identity politics”, as well as a tendency towards dominance on the part of some and submission on the part of others. You can call me simple for believing these things, but as I see it, this is just Nature. Maybe all that isn’t too far removed from what you are saying, to be fair – or at least, you have not exactly come out and stated this to be untrue – and I agree that the nation-state distorts what identity is, having made the same point independently elsewhere myself, but here we can slip into what I would see as futile (and facile) utopianism. Futile because man-animal nature can’t be changed, and would – if anything – find its fuller expression in the type of society I assume you want. Facile because you can’t seriously think that man-animal nature will be ignored in a libertarian meta-utopia: people would form into hierarchies and divide and sub-divide, then merge and super-merge, etc., etc. until a manageable civic-geopolitical agglomeration is attained with regard to physical and demographic reality, certain social realities (such as shared values and languages), and importantly, with regard to who is the strongest and most unscrupulous. The civic equality you refer to is simply impossible, barely operative in a purely formal sense. That is why I think you are in denial about human nature and the vicissitudes of reality and their relevance to politics.

          A further example is this paragraph from your essay:

          [quote]”Rather, it must be emphasised that rights are enjoyed equally by all people by virtue of their status as human beings, and any injustice must be dealt with on that basis. Second, the lack of political unity does not mean a lack of international co-operation. Rather, such co-operation should be between private individuals and entities trading their own goods and services on the international markets.”[/unquote]

          I don’t accept this reflects reality. Human beings are not equal and therefore cannot enjoy equal rights in any meaningful sense. The ‘paper equality’ that pertains is not reflective of the real world – and everybody knows this. Pieces of parchment, ‘Be it enacteds’, statutes, are all very well, but aren’t real currency. I don’t even accept there is such a thing as ‘humanity’, and if I invoke the term and its derivatives euphemistically – ‘human nature’, etc. – that is purely for brevity. I also don’t accept that in reality co-operation can be entirely multi-lateral. Again, I don’t believe such an assertion reflects ‘human nature’.

          The state, I accept, is a criminal mafia, but the state is just a result of the natural (biopolitical) processes described, and group identity itself implies necessarily the collectivisation of identities and some element of acquiescence under pressure or compulsion. Even in a libertarian society, identities and value systems would be unsatisfactory for many people but would have to be accepted all the same. I don’t anyway believe the identities that exist now are false, ergo (as per my logic on the issue) I don’t accept the critique offered of ‘identity politics’. The major identities extant: I am English, I am British; you could say that those identities are constructed and their development involved the suppression of subsidiary identities: for instance, an antiquated identity as a Yorkshireman [you won’t be surprised to note that I’m from Yorkshire: you can’t tell a Yorkshireman nowt] or Southern Northumbrian, or whatever, but whatever the provenance of the major identities, and while acknowledging that I had no choice in the matter, I remain British and English, and also a white European, and these things do have meaning, including as evolutions (and even conquerors) of the earlier identities. I’m not exactly in thrall to these socially-constructed hand-me-downs, I’m not a Little Englander or a red-faced Colonel, but I think to say that these identities mean nothing or are false or inoperative [in the context that you argue this] is to depart from reality. To amplify that point (necessary, because I know you will jump in and say I am misrepresenting you), let me make it clear that I will NOT accept a situation where parts of Britain are handed over to Moslems or other sundry interlopers. Their time here is strictly a temporary affair. If what you have in mind for “decentralisation” are non-white statelets in the British Isles, then let it be known that I will fight in the streets before that happens and I’m pretty sure I am not alone. In the end, your non-aggression principle is inoperative. Violence and aggression cannot be minimised as identity is constantly threatened and we are constantly in conflict in innumerable ways – this ‘identity politics’ is just a manifestation of it; however your harmonious devolved utopia (I use utopia here technically not pejoratively) already exists: it’s called Britain, but it is under threat. And – as I see it – indigenous European identities are under threat. Hence, ‘identity politics’. Here we have turned full circle: we have this ‘identity politics’ thing, and I defend it (perhaps, admittedly, in a defensive, aggressive and bullheaded way), because that is man-animal nature (though I also defend it for more rational, considered reasons that I need not expand on here).

          Identity, if it is of the meaningful kind, cannot possibly be voluntary – which anyway would be self-defeating – and cannot fully reflect the interests of discrete individuals. You can’t separate out ‘identity politics’ from ‘identity’, one following from the other. You also can’t somehow ‘depoliticise’ society (i.e. I believe that a morally-privileged authority, in some form, and a political climate, will always exist, where individuals group together as ‘communities’ or ‘societies’). I think it is on the latter point, in particular, that I part company from purist libertarians quite considerably, and given that I am coming at this from a different axiom, that means there’s going to be some friction between our views (in so far as your views reflect those that are typical of libertarians – maybe you have a slightly different view on how libertarianism can be practically actualised, but the general point I think reflects what you have said).

          Right or wrong, that is what I think. You are free to take your own view. If I have time, I will come back and cover the other points.

          • Your further response has compounded the same misunderstandings as in your first, and your elaborated views regarding the relationship between “identity” and “identity politics” are equally mistaken. Further, although I need not do so to defend my arguments, I will comment on your superficial understanding of “human nature”, seeing as it appears to misinform so much of your worldview.

            Also, we appear to be using terms such as “identity”, “collective”, “group” etc. interchangeably. To confirm, for the sake of clarity, I am happy to proceed on this basis.

            <>

            Not to the extent that the two concepts are readily interchangeable. For instance, I could advocate policies that I believe benefit everyone (such as lower taxes, environmental policies, or healthcare spending); or policies that benefit my mother. I don’t always have to have a specific group in mind. Further, what has materialised as “identity politics” does not appear to be based on the interests of the groups concerned, and I gave examples of a few critics who believe that identity politics is a distraction from other, more basic issues. Thus it is clear enough that identity politics, as it is manifest today, is a distinct method of political engagement.

            <>

            I have not suggested that any group could not form a “natural community of interest” – I explicitly advocate for them at the end of the essay. My argument is that the groups deemed to be politically relevant today do not appear to form such communities nor do these groups tend to represent the interests of these people. I explained why in the last four paragraphs of the essay, with the particular example of women. But I did not rule out in principle that women, or anyone else, may form such a community.

            <>

            I did not suggest that such a dismissal was a necessity. I explained in paragraph four the utility of categorisation in understanding people’s most pressing political concerns. My subsequent discussion was of the difficulty of trying to do this without any kind of appreciation of the wider context, and I gave explicit examples of criteria that would help to determine whether a group identity successfully encapsulates its members’ concerns to an extent that they are politically relevant. This is in contrast to the attitude of the left when, as in the example I gave, they appeared to expect that “women” should necessarily have been interested in voting for Hillary Clinton. Much of the rest of the piece examined why they would be motivated to make this claim.

            <>

            Again, I have not disputed this. If you were to make this claim regarding “white Europeans” it would be because you genuinely believe such a claim represents the pressing interests of all or most whom you regard to be “white Europeans” and that a corresponding amelioration of the identified problem would actually benefit their welfare as they understand it. My argument in the essay is that this is not how identity politics tends to be manifest in mainstream political discourse.

            <>

            I do not believe that the specific identities that are at the forefront of today’s politics, the subject of my criticism, are an outcome of the interests of the people who make up those identities. Like Marx’s bourgeoisie and proletariat, they are invented not to serve the interests of the people in each group but to serve the interests of the political elite as tools that can be, I quote again, “pitted against each other in order to sow distrust and resentment” – in turn, providing the state with a role “to step in and ameliorate the supposed antagonisms”. In principle, however, I am perfectly happy to accept that identities can encapsulate the interests of their members.

            <>

            <>

            <>

            If “identity politics” always consists of the antagonistic relationship between “identities”, then it is not true that “identities” beget “identity politics” to the extent that this is the rule as opposed to the exception. The world is not a zero sum environment. Different civilisations have co-existed peacefully for centuries through the mutual benefits of trade, just as individuals have co-existed peacefully through realising that the mutual benefits of social co-operation outweigh the one-sided benefits of theft and plunder. I do not doubt that there will always be zero sum conflicts and strife, but for every collective identity that is conflicting with another I can name twenty more that are not. It is not even clear that apparently competing entities do not benefit from each other’s existence. The fact that I have a demand for clothes, for example, is helped, not hindered, by the fact that everyone else demands clothes also. This combined demand makes large scale production of clothes more feasible and so they become, for me, cheaper and more readily available than they would be if they were just my idiosyncratic fancy. The same logic applies when, say, both Britain and France demand steel or copper. Every business is vying for the spending of the same consumers; but the fact that many businesses want to set up shop leads to the creation of shopping centres and malls which serve to make shopping more efficient for the consumer and, thus, make him more likely to shop in the first place. Thus every business benefits from increased sales by virtue of the existence of other businesses.

            Conflicts and strife have appeared in their most virulent forms only as a result of the systematic interference with these relationships by the state – when the state has promised some people benefits by thieving from others. For instance, the German drive towards autarky, which originated as a result of the introduction of the Bismarkian welfare state, was one of the fundamental causes of both World Wars. Private crime, by comparison, has always been an insignificant irritation rather than a pervasive disruption. The precise examples of conflict you provide exist because of state action. Is not the threat to British and European identities a consequence of the statist policy of open borders? And is the state not exploiting the resulting conflicts for its own benefit? If so, then, we have indeed come full circle and concluded, as per my critique, that “identity politics”, in anything other than a rudimentary and trivial form, is a tool and derivative of the state and need not have anything to do with identities per se.

            <>

            <>

            <<Identity, if it is of the meaningful kind, cannot possibly be voluntary – which anyway would be self-defeating – and cannot fully reflect the interests of discrete individuals.>>

            <>

            This is moving onto your second misunderstanding, which is this pre-existing perception that libertarianism implies a denial of any kind of collective – that libertarianism demands the abandonment, by each individual, of any kind of group identity in the social setting, or, perhaps, that a failure to achieve such abandonment will lead to non-libertarian outcomes. In fact, the libertarian acceptance of collectives is remarkably straightforward and is conceptually distinct from the collectives of “collectivisation”, i.e. “statist collectives”.

            The libertarian understanding of a collective is one that exists in order to better serve the needs of its individual members – their lives are made better, as appraised by them, by being a member of the collective and co-operating with each other under its aegis. This is why, to quote again from your first response, “individuals do group together (tribes, nations, businesses, hobby groups, etc.) and form cultures (ways of living).” To the extent that there are, as you put it, any “element[s] of acquiescence under pressure or compulsion” – i.e. the degree to which the individual is subordinated to the collective – these are endured because the cost of doing so is perceived to outweigh the benefits gained. I also agree with you that a collective “cannot fully reflect the interests of discrete individuals” as it would be absurd to hold it to such a high standard. Any one collective does not have to account for all of an individual’s interests, and, moreover, it simply has to be the case that membership of a particular collective provides net benefits, not pure benefits. The collective will thrive so long as it continues to provide those net benefits to the individual members, and it will die if it ceases to do so. For example, marriages end, hobby groups disband, companies liquidate, nations split – and new ones form in place of the old.

            The statist collective, on the other hand, is one that exists to benefit the collective itself, regardless of the benefits conferred upon the individual members as appraised by them (although it may feign to care about such benefits). Because any collective does not exist literally as a thinking and acting being such benefits, of course, end up being judged as such by the collective’s leaders. Individuals may still appear to be co-operating under the aegis of this collective, and will they still shed blood, toil, tears and sweat. There is not now, however, any corresponding benefit to them as they understand it. That is why socialist economies have to threaten to shoot their workers. Moreover, the collective thrives regardless of whether the individuals want it to – and the collective will not hesitate to dispose of any individual who proves to be a threat to its existence or its accomplishments. Everyone is merely a pawn on a giant chessboard.

            The difference can also be encapsulated by comparing the libertarian and statist understandings of the wider term “society”. For the libertarian, “society” is social co-operation between individuals in order to meet their own, different ends; for the statist, it is social co-operation to meet the same, imposed end (although few statists acknowledge, or even realise, that this is the logical consequence of their arguments).

            Few, if any, collectives, even states, represent perfectly the libertarian variety or the statist. But this does not rule out the fact that we can appraise any particular collective as being more like one rather than the other. For example, it is clear that the Soviet Union was a collectivist hell which condemned tens of millions of its people to death and left the survivors languishing in misery. Yet the cantons of Switzerland are clearly not and it is likely that the Swiss believe that their particular canton serves them to an extent far in excess of the degree to which the Soviet Union served its citizens. It is, therefore, far from futile for libertarians to advocate for the qualities that tend to push organisations towards being of the “associative” type that meets the needs of their members and away from the “collectivist” type that does not. These qualities, namely, tend to be a reduction of absolute and relative size, and homogeneity of members – hence, my advocacy for decentralisation (and yes, your understanding of the implications of this concept is also mistaken, but that topic will have to wait for another essay).

            Moreover, it would also be perfectly consistent for the libertarian to agree that people might always end up grouping themselves into some kind of state and, thus, that states will always exist. This would not stop him from trying to ensure that each state is more like the Swiss canton variety and less like the Soviet Union. And it is clear that a world populated by states that resemble Swiss cantons would be more “libertarian” than a world populated by Soviet Unions – and far more “libertarian” than the world we have today. A difference in degree is appreciable as much as a difference in kind. Nor is such a goal unattainable, given that it has existed in the past and does exist in some parts of the world today. Given the remarkable difference between the aggressive qualities of the Soviet Union on the one hand and of the Swiss canton on the other, to suggest, as you do, that “violence and aggression cannot be minimised” is clearly nonsense.

            For one to expect to be able to get rid of all violence and aggression in perpetuity would, I agree, be utopian. But the inability to achieve perfection does not render the objective morally void. For instance, it is probably the case that we will never eradicate all incidents of rape and murder. But it does not follow from this that we should not make the attempt or that nothing can be achieved by doing so. So if you are judging libertarianism by its (in)ability to eradicate the state, or by the possibility that even the slightest morsel of collective that inflicts some kind of violence on its members will always remain, then your yardstick of what is “realistic” is a disingenuous masquerade for what is “perfect”.

            Human nature:

            It is not possible to ascribe anything other than the most simple, proximate or spontaneous acts of co-operation or violence to any kind of “man-animal instinct.” Humans created the systematic apparatus of co-operation on the one hand – businesses, factories, offices, family homes, etc. – and of violence on the other – states, parliaments, bureaucracies, armies, complex weaponry, etc. – not because they were nature-bound to do so but because specific people at specific times and places decided, of their own volition, that such things were worthwhile. When George Gilbert Scott and the executives of the Midland Railway laid out St Pancras station on the drawing board, I’m sure they’d had plenty of time to realise that their desire to proceed with construction was the product of a conscious choice rather than a scramble to fulfil some biological urge to associate.

            The aspect of human nature which most certainly does exist – that which separates us from other animal species – is the mental faculties necessary to gain knowledge of the world around us and to determine how we can use that knowledge to each achieve our ends in exchange for the lowest possible burden (including the burden of moral responsibility, lest you think I am omitting the moral dimension). One decision in this regard has been the choice between three broad routes – an isolated, atomistic existence; social co-operation; or violence, pilfer and pillage. The first of these has been almost universally discarded on account of its failure to accomplish anything other than dire impoverishment (not that this stops the occasional attempt – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_McCandless). The other two, however, have the ability to prove very fruitful for individuals who pursue them.

            Whether the particular circumstances at any one time (including the outcome of previous actions and ideas) have favoured the pursuit of social co-operation on the one hand or of violence on the other is a datum of human history. Appreciation of those circumstances is a product of mental effort, not of any innate “man-animal nature”, and neither outcome is a physical or logical necessity. Indeed, the incidence of each has waxed and waned throughout the sands of time. Each millennium has been punctuated by periods of relative tranquillity and periods of relative turmoil, with the violent route peaking in the most recent hundred years or so. Meanwhile, social co-operation received significant boosts during the agricultural and industrial revolutions.

            Motivating this choice between either is the persistent condition of material scarcity – that we have to work for our wealth, we have to choose which riches are most worthwhile striving for and the best methods with which to pursue them. The gradual conquest of scarcity, however, slowly diminishes the necessity to make these choices. It would not be impossible for economic progress to one day reach a level where any good or service, including the provision of private security and defence, could be produced at the touch of a button. If this was the case then the need for any human to pursue either social co-operation or violence on a wide, systematic scale would be all but obliterated. Shorn of any achievable purpose, the large collectives of either aspect – states, companies, etc. – would dissolve and the only ones likely to remain would exist solely for pleasure – families, friendship groups, congregations, and groups revolving around pastimes, etc. Thus, what would emerge is something akin to that which is advocated for by the “purist libertarians” – human existence where systematic collectives and pervasive violence are largely relegated to distant memory. Such a society is, no doubt, a whimsical fantasy, at least in our lifetimes. But its failure to emerge would not be on account of any discord with human nature.

          • My apologies but the use of a certain character to denote a quotation appears to have removed them and formatted the remainder of the text. I will repost the entire reply shortly.

          • Here is the entirety of my response reposted. Hopefully it will post correctly this time.

            Your further response has compounded the same misunderstandings as in your first, and your elaborated views regarding the relationship between “identity” and “identity politics” are equally mistaken. Further, although I need not do so to defend my arguments, I will comment on your superficial understanding of “human nature”, seeing as it appears to misinform so much of your worldview.

            Also, we appear to be using terms such as “identity”, “collective”, “group” etc. interchangeably. To confirm, for the sake of clarity, I am happy to proceed on this basis.

            [Quotation] Might we more fruitfully ask whether this ‘identity politics’, so-called, is actually based on the expression of interests and is therefore just plain politics? [End Quotation]

            Not to the extent that the two concepts are readily interchangeable. For instance, I could advocate policies that I believe benefit everyone (such as lower taxes, environmental policies, or healthcare spending); or policies that benefit my mother. I don’t always have to have a specific group in mind. Further, what has materialised as “identity politics” does not appear to be based on the interests of the groups concerned, and I gave examples of a few critics who believe that identity politics is a distraction from other, more basic issues. Thus it is clear enough that identity politics, as it is manifest today, is a distinct method of political engagement.

            [Quotation] We should consider that natural communities might exist in tandem as communities of interest: for instance, women could be said to form a natural community of interest, in so far as they have biological interests as women, and this may explain the existence of female ‘identity politics’. [End Quotation]

            I have not suggested that any group could not form a “natural community of interest” – I explicitly advocate for them at the end of the essay. My argument is that the groups deemed to be politically relevant today do not appear to form such communities nor do these groups tend to represent the interests of these people. I explained why in the last four paragraphs of the essay, with the particular example of women. But I did not rule out in principle that women, or anyone else, may form such a community.

            [Quotation] I don’t accept your assertion that identity politics does not represent the interests of individuals within the ascribed class or group. Assigning interests to a socially-constructed group or class is politically-efficient, it need not imply the dismissal of complex individual interests. [End Quotation]

            I did not suggest that such a dismissal was a necessity. I explained in paragraph four the utility of categorisation in understanding people’s most pressing political concerns. My subsequent discussion was of the difficulty of trying to do this without any kind of appreciation of the wider context, and I gave explicit examples of criteria that would help to determine whether a group identity successfully encapsulates its members’ concerns to an extent that they are politically relevant. This is in contrast to the attitude of the left when, as in the example I gave, they appeared to expect that “women” should necessarily have been interested in voting for Hillary Clinton. Much of the rest of the piece examined why they would be motivated to make this claim.

            [Quotation] If I claim that white Europeans are in danger of becoming a minority in their own countries, I mean exactly what I say; it doesn’t follow that I am claiming to speak for every white European even on that point, nor does it follow that I am ignoring the interests of white Europeans on other matters; but it does imply that I think the preservation of a white European majority is in the interests of individuals by extension, because (among other reasons) white European individuals are (whether they like it or not) part of the white European race. Every white European is free to disagree with me, and is also at liberty to claim to have a different racial identity altogether viz. the point under consideration [End Quotation]

            Again, I have not disputed this. If you were to make this claim regarding “white Europeans” it would be because you genuinely believe such a claim represents the pressing interests of all or most whom you regard to be “white Europeans” and that a corresponding amelioration of the identified problem would actually benefit their welfare as they understand it. My argument in the essay is that this is not how identity politics tends to be manifest in mainstream political discourse.

            [Quotation] The identity politics you see and criticise is an outcome of identities, which sounds obvious but in this discussion is perhaps a controversial statement due to the position you take, but those identities are in turn the outcome of interests. [End Quotation]

            I do not believe that the specific identities that are at the forefront of today’s politics, the subject of my criticism, are an outcome of the interests of the people who make up those identities. Like Marx’s bourgeoisie and proletariat, they are invented not to serve the interests of the people in each group but to serve the interests of the political elite as tools that can be, I quote again, “pitted against each other in order to sow distrust and resentment” – in turn, providing the state with a role “to step in and ameliorate the supposed antagonisms”. In principle, however, I am perfectly happy to accept that identities can encapsulate the interests of their members.

            [Quotation] We are constantly in conflict in innumerable ways – this ‘identity politics’ is just a manifestation of it; however your harmonious devolved utopia (I use utopia here technically not pejoratively) already exists: it’s called Britain, but it is under threat. And – as I see it – indigenous European identities are under threat. Hence, ‘identity politics’ [End Quotation]

            [Quotation] You can’t separate out ‘identity politics’ from ‘identity’, one following from the other. [End Quotation]

            [Quotation] I think so-called ‘identity politics’ would exist in any situation where different types of people live together: which actually is just another way of saying that identity-based conflict (politics) is permanent, since even in the most homogeneous community or group, there will (in my view) be rivalry and conflict leading to “identity politics” [End Quotation]

            If “identity politics” always consists of the antagonistic relationship between “identities”, then it is not true that “identities” beget “identity politics” to the extent that this is the rule as opposed to the exception. The world is not a zero sum environment. Different civilisations have co-existed peacefully for centuries through the mutual benefits of trade, just as individuals have co-existed peacefully through realising that the mutual benefits of social co-operation outweigh the one-sided benefits of theft and plunder. I do not doubt that there will always be zero sum conflicts and strife, but for every collective identity that is conflicting with another I can name twenty more that are not. It is not even clear that apparently competing entities do not benefit from each other’s existence. The fact that I have a demand for clothes, for example, is helped, not hindered, by the fact that everyone else demands clothes also. This combined demand makes large scale production of clothes more feasible and so they become, for me, cheaper and more readily available than they would be if they were just my idiosyncratic fancy. The same logic applies when, say, both Britain and France demand steel or copper. Every business is vying for the spending of the same consumers; but the fact that many businesses want to set up shop leads to the creation of shopping centres and malls which serve to make shopping more efficient for the consumer and, thus, make him more likely to shop in the first place. Thus every business benefits from increased sales by virtue of the existence of other businesses.

            Conflicts and strife have appeared in their most virulent forms only as a result of the systematic interference with these relationships by the state – when the state has promised some people benefits by thieving from others. For instance, the German drive towards autarky, which originated as a result of the introduction of the Bismarkian welfare state, was one of the fundamental causes of both World Wars. Private crime, by comparison, has always been an insignificant irritation rather than a pervasive disruption. The precise examples of conflict you provide exist because of state action. Is not the threat to British and European identities a consequence of the statist policy of open borders? And is the state not exploiting the resulting conflicts for its own benefit? If so, then, we have indeed come full circle and concluded, as per my critique, that “identity politics”, in anything other than a rudimentary and trivial form, is a tool and derivative of the state and need not have anything to do with identities per se.

            [Quotation] You can’t seriously think that man-animal nature will be ignored in a libertarian meta-utopia: people would form into hierarchies and divide and sub-divide, then merge and super-merge, etc., etc. until a manageable civic-geopolitical agglomeration is attained with regard to physical and demographic reality, certain social realities (such as shared values and languages), and importantly, with regard to who is the strongest and most unscrupulous [End Quotation]

            [Quotation] I think to say that these identities mean nothing or are false or inoperative [in the context that you argue this] is to depart from reality. [End Quotation]

            [Quotation] Identity, if it is of the meaningful kind, cannot possibly be voluntary – which anyway would be self-defeating – and cannot fully reflect the interests of discrete individuals. [End Quotation]

            [Quotation] You also can’t somehow ‘depoliticise’ society (i.e. I believe that a morally-privileged authority, in some form, and a political climate, will always exist, where individuals group together as ‘communities’ or ‘societies’). I think it is on the latter point, in particular, that I part company from purist libertarians quite considerably [End Quotation]

            This is moving onto your second misunderstanding, which is this pre-existing perception that libertarianism implies a denial of any kind of collective – that libertarianism demands the abandonment, by each individual, of any kind of group identity in the social setting, or, perhaps, that a failure to achieve such abandonment will lead to non-libertarian outcomes. In fact, the libertarian acceptance of collectives is remarkably straightforward and is conceptually distinct from the collectives of “collectivisation”, i.e. “statist collectives”.

            The libertarian understanding of a collective is one that exists in order to better serve the needs of its individual members – their lives are made better, as appraised by them, by being a member of the collective and co-operating with each other under its aegis. This is why, to quote again from your first response, “individuals do group together (tribes, nations, businesses, hobby groups, etc.) and form cultures (ways of living).” To the extent that there are, as you put it, any “element[s] of acquiescence under pressure or compulsion” – i.e. the degree to which the individual is subordinated to the collective – these are endured because the cost of doing so is perceived to outweigh the benefits gained. I also agree with you that a collective “cannot fully reflect the interests of discrete individuals” as it would be absurd to hold it to such a high standard. Any one collective does not have to account for all of an individual’s interests, and, moreover, it simply has to be the case that membership of a particular collective provides net benefits, not pure benefits. The collective will thrive so long as it continues to provide those net benefits to the individual members, and it will die if it ceases to do so. For example, marriages end, hobby groups disband, companies liquidate, nations split – and new ones form in place of the old.

            The statist collective, on the other hand, is one that exists to benefit the collective itself, regardless of the benefits conferred upon the individual members as appraised by them (although it may feign to care about such benefits). Because any collective does not exist literally as a thinking and acting being such benefits, of course, end up being judged as such by the collective’s leaders. Individuals may still appear to be co-operating under the aegis of this collective, and will they still shed blood, toil, tears and sweat. There is not now, however, any corresponding benefit to them as they understand it. That is why socialist economies have to threaten to shoot their workers. Moreover, the collective thrives regardless of whether the individuals want it to – and the collective will not hesitate to dispose of any individual who proves to be a threat to its existence or its accomplishments. Everyone is merely a pawn on a giant chessboard.

            The difference can also be encapsulated by comparing the libertarian and statist understandings of the wider term “society”. For the libertarian, “society” is social co-operation between individuals in order to meet their own, different ends; for the statist, it is social co-operation to meet the same, imposed end (although few statists acknowledge, or even realise, that this is the logical consequence of their arguments).

            Few, if any, collectives, even states, represent perfectly the libertarian variety or the statist. But this does not rule out the fact that we can appraise any particular collective as being more like one rather than the other. For example, it is clear that the Soviet Union was a collectivist hell which condemned tens of millions of its people to death and left the survivors languishing in misery. Yet the cantons of Switzerland are clearly not and it is likely that the Swiss believe that their particular canton serves them to an extent far in excess of the degree to which the Soviet Union served its citizens. It is, therefore, far from futile for libertarians to advocate for the qualities that tend to push organisations towards being of the “associative” type that meets the needs of their members and away from the “collectivist” type that does not. These qualities, namely, tend to be a reduction of absolute and relative size, and homogeneity of members – hence, my advocacy for decentralisation (and yes, your understanding of the implications of this concept is also mistaken, but that topic will have to wait for another essay).

            Moreover, it would also be perfectly consistent for the libertarian to agree that people might always end up grouping themselves into some kind of state and, thus, that states will always exist. This would not stop him from trying to ensure that each state is more like the Swiss canton variety and less like the Soviet Union. And it is clear that a world populated by states that resemble Swiss cantons would be more “libertarian” than a world populated by Soviet Unions – and far more “libertarian” than the world we have today. A difference in degree is appreciable as much as a difference in kind. Nor is such a goal unattainable, given that it has existed in the past and does exist in some parts of the world today. Given the remarkable difference between the aggressive qualities of the Soviet Union on the one hand and of the Swiss canton on the other, to suggest, as you do, that “violence and aggression cannot be minimised” is clearly nonsense.

            For one to expect to be able to get rid of all violence and aggression in perpetuity would, I agree, be utopian. But the inability to achieve perfection does not render the objective morally void. For instance, it is probably the case that we will never eradicate all incidents of rape and murder. But it does not follow from this that we should not make the attempt or that nothing can be achieved by doing so. So if you are judging libertarianism by its (in)ability to eradicate the state, or by the possibility that even the slightest morsel of collective that inflicts some kind of violence on its members will always remain, then your yardstick of what is “realistic” is a disingenuous masquerade for what is “perfect”.

            Human nature:

            It is not possible to ascribe anything other than the most simple, proximate or spontaneous acts of co-operation or violence to any kind of “man-animal instinct.” Humans created the systematic apparatus of co-operation on the one hand – businesses, factories, offices, family homes, etc. – and of violence on the other – states, parliaments, bureaucracies, armies, complex weaponry, etc. – not because they were nature-bound to do so but because specific people at specific times and places decided, of their own volition, that such things were worthwhile. When George Gilbert Scott and the executives of the Midland Railway laid out St Pancras station on the drawing board, I’m sure they’d had plenty of time to realise that their desire to proceed with construction was the product of a conscious choice rather than a scramble to fulfil some biological urge to associate.

            The aspect of human nature which most certainly does exist – that which separates us from other animal species – is the mental faculties necessary to gain knowledge of the world around us and to determine how we can use that knowledge to each achieve our ends in exchange for the lowest possible burden (including the burden of moral responsibility, lest you think I am omitting the moral dimension). One decision in this regard has been the choice between three broad routes – an isolated, atomistic existence; social co-operation; or violence, pilfer and pillage. The first of these has been almost universally discarded on account of its failure to accomplish anything other than dire impoverishment (not that this stops the occasional attempt – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_McCandless). The other two, however, have the ability to prove very fruitful for individuals who pursue them.

            Whether the particular circumstances at any one time (including the outcome of previous actions and ideas) have favoured the pursuit of social co-operation on the one hand or of violence on the other is a datum of human history. Appreciation of those circumstances is a product of mental effort, not of any innate “man-animal nature”, and neither outcome is a physical or logical necessity. Indeed, the incidence of each has waxed and waned throughout the sands of time. Each millennium has been punctuated by periods of relative tranquillity and periods of relative turmoil, with the violent route peaking in the most recent hundred years or so. Meanwhile, social co-operation received significant boosts during the agricultural and industrial revolutions.

            Motivating this choice between either is the persistent condition of material scarcity – that we have to work for our wealth, we have to choose which riches are most worthwhile striving for and the best methods with which to pursue them. The gradual conquest of scarcity, however, slowly diminishes the necessity to make these choices. It would not be impossible for economic progress to one day reach a level where any good or service, including the provision of private security and defence, could be produced at the touch of a button. If this was the case then the need for any human to pursue either social co-operation or violence on a wide, systematic scale would be all but obliterated. Shorn of any achievable purpose, the large collectives of either aspect – states, companies, etc. – would dissolve and the only ones likely to remain would exist solely for pleasure – families, friendship groups, congregations, and groups revolving around pastimes, etc. Thus, what would emerge is something akin to that which is advocated for by the “purist libertarians” – human existence where systematic collectives and pervasive violence are largely relegated to distant memory. Such a society is, no doubt, a whimsical fantasy, at least in our lifetimes. But its failure to emerge would not be on account of any discord with human nature.

            • You keep claiming I have misunderstood you, which seems to me rather arrogant. Just to be clear – the lack of a response from me should not be taken to imply that I accept your comments.

  • If you’ve achieved nothing else, Mr Whitmore, you are to be congratulated for shutting up the somewhat unhinged Johnny-know-all. resident around these parts.

    • Has he? Unfortunately, some of us have to work for a living, so I don’t have time to harass people on the internet, unlike some.

      • Well you seem to be able to rather more than most.

        • Really? Could you point to a thread on this blog where, like you or other chronic offenders like David Webb or Thomas Knapp, I have gone out of my way to make off-topic comments and insult other posters? You can provide links, yes?

          Your own intervention here is off-topic. You initiated this exchange. You are an obnoxious and psychopathic abuser and harasser who is intent on wasting my time. Where is the evidence that I have ever done the same? You will, please, provide proofs.

        • Oh, I don’t seem to have had a reply from you, Philip Norman? What a shame. I never forget a name, and should you and I ever cross paths in the real world, you WILL regret it.

          • Your words, reasonably construed, are that you will give him a piece of your mind. Unreasonably construed, they can be turned into accusations against the moderation of this Blog. Perhaps a clarification?

            • Then let me add some clarification:

              I post here under my real name and I can back up everything I say in reality.

              In my time here, I have never engaged in unprovoked name-calling. On the occasions when I have lapsed in my behaviour and been rude to somebody without reason, I have almost-always made it a point to apologise.

              I stand up to bullies, including the one above, wherever they appear. I see nothing wrong with violence. Perhaps I am a little old-fashioned, but I take name-calling seriously.

              I have always obeyed the wishes and directions of the owners of this blog, and as such, this is my last post here.

              Thank you.

  • If you are referring to Mr Rogers, I don’t think that is an accurate characterisation, at least not from what he has said here. Much of what he has said is not untrue. I expect that he read this piece through the lens of some pre-existing (but not unreasonable) opinions on how libertarians with a crude understanding of the subject tend to discuss certain issues. My response was limited to pointing out that I have neither demonstrated a similar crudity of understanding, nor committed the errors he points out. It was certainly not my intention to shut him up – constructive comments are always welcome.

    • Sorry, but I don’t accept that I have misunderstood you in any way. I read your piece carefully and I commented carefully. I explain, briefly, one point above, but might not have time to respond fully.

      • In the end, it wasn’t a brief response, but I can only cover the identity point. I may or may not come back to the other points if I have time.

  • Pingback: Free Trade and the US | The Ludwig von Mises Centre

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