Is libertarianism racist?

Will Wilkinson has a rather silly post arguing that libertarianism is not racist. Especially his sort of libertarianism, which is totally cool with intervention by the state to force people to favor certain racial, ethnic and sexual groups. Writing for The Economist must be a pretty nice gig.

As Bryan Caplan points out, before he tail-spins into his hobby horse that libertarianism requires us all to live in third world countries, Wilkinson’s sort of libertarianism justifies unlimited state intervention.

But it means well!

The more interesting question is whether or not libertarianism is racist.

People on the right tend to use a definition of racism as discriminatory thoughts or feelings or actions towards people of a different race (this is how Wilkinson uses it). People on the left have a definition of racism that’s best understood through the phrase “disparate impact.” Under this standard, racism is anything that has “a disproportionate ‘adverse impact’ on members of a minority group.” Note also that the left’s institutions get to define the various minority groups. Men, although they’re a minority, are not a minority group. Whereas women, even though they’re a majority, are a minority group.

Logically sound it is not. The point is political though, not logical.

Those on the right shoot themselves in the foot by using non-leftist definitions of racism that are operative nowhere but in the minds of rightists.

If you want to know if libertarianism is racist, the operative question (from the leftist perspective, which is the one that matters) is what would happen if libertarian policies were implemented on a large scale. There’s some room for debate here. On the one hand, many people believe that ending the drug war would benefit minorities. (I disagree with this line of reasoning. Lots of criminals would be freed if the drug war ended. Without the drug laws in effect, it would be really hard to convict these criminals of other crimes. My guess is the net effect would be bad for minority communities, as crime rates would go way up).

On the other hand, even if you wildly overestimate the minority gains associated with ending the drug war, you must acknowledge that big government is virtually synonymous with minority patronage. Just try walking through the offices of a large government bureaucracy. Welfare and other programs disproportionately benefit minorities, etc. The repeal of these sorts of programs would absolutely have a disparate impact.

Therefore, under the leftist/operative definition of racism, libertarianism is racist. What good does it do to pretend otherwise?

Even if you disagree with my line of reasoning, I’ll eventually be correct. Racism encompasses more and more things all the time. Eventually it’ll get to libertarianism.

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12 Responses to Is libertarianism racist?

  1. Steve Johnson says:

    “On the other hand, even if you wildly overestimate the minority gains associated with ending the drug war, you must acknowledge that big government is virtually synonymous with minority patronage. Just try walking through the offices of a large government bureaucracy. Welfare and other programs disproportionately benefit minorities, etc. The repeal of these sorts of programs would absolutely have a disparate impact.”

    This is a strange case though. Depending on context, noticing disparate impact can be racist as well.

  2. Alrenous says:

    If Wilkinson feels the need to defend against the charge, it has already been levelled against him – perhaps implicitly, but nevertheless.

    Libertarianism is just one variety of freedom. Freedom is racist.

    Indeed, that’s the whole reason the state enthusiastically endorses the racism thing. It needs must legitimize its continued internal imperialism. It must conquer or perish.

    Funny how every political theory is a lie. Just a coincidence, I’m sure.

  3. James says:

    Will Wilkinson:

    I used to think that if negative rights to non-interference were strictly observed, liberty was guaranteed, but I don’t now. Here’s how I had thought about the matter. One racist acting in a private capacity on his or her racist beliefs can’t violate anyone’s legitimate, negative rights. (No one is entitled to another’s good opinion!) Two racists acting as private citizens on their racist beliefs can’t violate anyone’s rights. Therefore, I inferred, thousands or millions of racists acting non-coercively on their racist beliefs can’t coercively violate anyone’s rights. I now think this is quite wrongheaded.

    Eventually I realised that actions that are individually non-coercive can add up to stable patterns of behaviour that are systematically or structurally coercive, depriving some individuals of their rightful liberty.

    If Will were to taboo the word “coercive”, I wonder how he might reduce it?

    The non-aggression principle is “structurally coercive”, according to Will, because given freedom to do so people choose to avoid black people. But “coercion” means “violation of the non-aggression principle” by definition, as libertarians tend to use the word.

    So Will pretends he’s a principled libertarian, but is willing to break from his principles when he doesn’t like the results.

    • Bill says:

      Those are pretty strange paragraphs for a libertarian. Personally, I think something like those paragraphs is basically true. Emergent social systems like norms can’t be separated from emergent social systems like laws by some bright line test. But denying this, fetishizing government, is absolutely constitutive of libertarianism. Once you notice that laws, norma, and other things are just ways of implementing whatever the ideals of a society are and that making bright line distinctions among them is a bad idea, you just are not a libertarian any more.

      The philosopher Ed Feser has a really interesting post about his travels away from libertarianism here. The considerations which moved him away from it are not exactly the same as what I mention above, but they are related. Instead of noticing that there was something screwy with the “non-coercion principle,” he noticed that there was something screwey with the “self-ownership principle.”

  4. Handle says:

    If you’re the state of Texas, other things the Federal Appeals Courts have recently confirmed to be racist are:

    1. Requiring people to present proper identification before voting, while still requiring them to present the same upon entering the courthouse.

    2. Not drawing districts guaranteeing the election of NAM democrats.

    Here’s what “disparate impact” really means: “Relatively more harmful to the vote-bank base of the Democratic party than that of the Republican party”. Since the Democrats have a higher proportion of NAM voters, then anything which hurts them in that way will, necessarily have a simultaneous “disparate impact” on “minorities”.

    So, logically, the real definition of “racist” is “not helpful to the Left”. If you’re not 100% in favor of the leftist worldview and agenda, you’re unavoidably and inevitably “racist”, no matter how anti-discriminatory or colorblind you are, what you do, or why you do it.

    Until the right finds a way to stop playing with this stacked deck and neutralize the potency of this rhetorical distortion, then it’s going to lose. By semantic definition, it cannot win.

    • Agreed. If disparate impact meant “harming any ethno/racial group more than another”, progressive (and perhaps flat) income taxes would be forbidden due to the damage the inflict on Whites and NE Asians.

  5. PA says:

    Can we please just say “yes, libertarianism is racist and so are the rest of us and so is all of humanity”?

    • Steve Johnson says:

      No, because that’s too much like “everyone is a sinner (except I’m less of a sinner than you)”.

      “Racism” has to be discredited as a term of attack which should be possible since the definition of “racist” amounts to noticing easily observable things.

      If you want to go with “everyone is bigoted” – because it’s a non-loaded word that’s fine. It also states what you’re getting at – that people prefer to spend time around those who are genetically similar.

  6. josh says:

    We need to take the word back! Wussup, my racists!

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