Does Libertarianism Reject Anti-Semitism?
By David Henderson
Economist Steve Horwitz has just published an article titled “Libertarianism Rejects Anti-Semitism.” I disagree with his argument and the title.
The essence of libertarianism is the peaceful interaction of humans. It’s quite conceivable for humans to interact peacefully and not like, and even intensely dislike, each other. This dislike could be based on race, gender, or semitism. One can easily imagine an anti-Semite dealing with people completely peacefully.
How about an anti-Semite who doesn’t advocate coercion against Jews? That’s easy to imagine too.
Steve confronts the issue head on, writing:
Part of the problem is that too many libertarians think that claiming to believe in the Non-Aggression Principle is sufficient to establish someone’s libertarian bona fides. If this summer should teach us anything, it’s that the NAP, while a good rule of thumb and summary of an aspect of ethical teaching, is not enough. Libertarians have apologized far too often and far too long for those who claimed that their anti-Semitism or racism is compatible with their libertarianism because it’s just a “private view” and they don’t wish to enforce it with political power. That excuse making needs to end.
It’s true that claiming to believe in the Non-Aggression Principle is not the same thing as believing in it. But then that’s the point he should make. Also, if he thinks this is just an “excuse,” Steve is missing the point.
Steve immediately follows the paragraph above with this:
Anti-Semites and racists have rarely separated their personal views and their political ones so neatly, as the underlying hatred and distrust eventually become political because they are ineffective when done only in private. One need only look at the history of some of the former “libertarians” at the center of events in Charlottesville to see this.
He’s right that this is rare. I’m not sure he’s right that expressing distrust and hatred is ineffective when done only in private. Someone who is anti-Semitic, for example, will probably not knowingly marry a Jew.
But in any case, the point is that these are logically separable. Someone can be anti-Semitic and be against the initiation of force. Someone can love Jews, as I do (I married one and am the father of another) and be in favor of initiating force (as I do not.) The issues are completely separable.
In Steve’s next paragraph, he writes:
Plus, exercising those views through political power is not the only way to engage in aggression and the threat thereof. Ask the members of Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville if seeing neo-Nazis and alt-righters walking around and observing their synagogue felt like aggression, or the threat thereof. Ask Heather Heyer if political coercion is the only kind of coercion that matters.
He’s right, of course, that the only way to engage in aggression is not through political power. As he points out, Heather Heyer is dead because of private coercion. But, as Steve well knows, the non-aggression principle is not just about government coercion; it applies to private coercion also.
Also, while he may be right that having anti-Semites and walk around observe a synagogue would feel like aggression to some, we should distinguish clearly between feeling aggressed on and being aggressed on.
Here’s how J Peterson II put it in a comment on Steve’s article:
Steve, libertarianism is a political philosophy. Even if it’s a moral philosophy about non-aggression, that’s still irrelevant to anti-semitism except to say you don’t get to beat me up for being a anti-semite or for being a member of a certain social group.
Just because it might make sense to be a libertarian *and* also be against X, Y, or Z or for X, Y, Z doesn’t mean X, Y, or Z must be included within libertarianism. They might be *related* to matters of political philosophy but they are not a necessary part of that concept or “locus”. Just because X, Y or Z aren’t part of libertarianism doesn’t mean X, Y, and Z *don’t matter*. Libertarianism doesn’t account for “all that is good.” There are certainly very important social issues that are outside the scope of libertarianism. As a civilized human being I can take positions on those issues, it’s just not in my role as a libertarian. Whatever position I take there won’t be because of my libertarianism, but for other reasons.
In short, Steve has made a category mistake.