There are a great number of libertarians who abhor bigotry of all kinds—racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. But libertarianism as a party and as a movement has always been vulnerable to extremists and bad actors. Influential thinkers like Murray Rothbard flirted with white supremacy and racist ideas, while Hans Hermann Hoppe was an open and enthusiastic white supremacist. Ron Paul was associated with white nationalists for decades, and his newsletters long promoted racist and homophobic ideas. In the past most libertarian organizations had the decency to be embarrassed about this, but far too often the modern libertarian movement embraces this kind of bigotry.
Today, an alt-right wave has overtaken the Libertarian Party. As reported by Reason and the Southern Poverty Law Center, a group calling themselves the Mises Caucus (named after the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises) recently assumed control of the nation’s foremost libertarian political organization. This caucus is closely linked to white nationalists, the alt-right, Trump-world, and the worst actors on the political right.
The Mises Caucus
The Mises Caucus is the culmination of years of racist influence on the libertarian movement, and the embodiment of that trend. Their website offers soft-peddled defenses of Hitler. Their preferred presidential candidate is a white nationalist who says he thinks it’s a ‘scientific fact’ that blacks are genetically less intelligent than other races, is virulently transphobic, and pals around with a Who’s Who list of alt-right figures like Michelle Malkin, Stefan Molyneaux, Nick Fuentes, Richard Spencer, Gavin McInnes and Chris Cantwell. The Mises Caucus even removed a statement that “we condemn bigotry as irrational and repugnant” from the Libertarian Party’s platform, although a desperate effort from party elders kept a compromise version in.
One could write a book exhaustively documenting the extent of racism and bigotry within this group if that was the goal. Suffice it to say that the Mises Caucus is driving the Libertarian Party and movement directly into the racist lane pioneered by Hoppe, Rothbard, Paul and other ‘paleos’. And they’ve succeeded – they won 17 out of 17 seats on the Libertarian National Convention. The Libertarian Party has been successfully hijacked by bigots.
If you’re a libertarian aghast at this, my unfortunate message is that the ship has sailed. If you need any further proof, look at how easily the ‘liberty’ movement embraces not just racism, but outright anti-democratic and authoritarian politics. Even those considered as principled libertarians are often openly skeptical of democracy, and the less principled ones coordinate with Trump’s ‘Stop the Steal’ team that attempted to overturn the 2020 election. The trend here reaches its absurd peak with the Liberty Hangout organization, which is now openly monarchist.
The Mises Caucus is extremist enough (and frankly, uneducated enough) that they boo quotes from Ludwig von Mises himself for not being ideologically stringent enough. They can’t be reasoned with and they control the Libertarian Party completely now. Luckily, there’s another movement promoting liberal and libertarian ideas that libertarians should consider.
Advancing liberty through neoliberalism
Libertarians and neoliberals agree on some of the most important issues facing the world today. You’ll find no greater defenders of the value of free trade and immigration than neoliberals. Neoliberals are intensely skeptical of occupational licensing regimes that hamper poor people’s ability to make a living. Neoliberals are strident YIMBYs who want more development and more housing free from local regulations. Neoliberals are proud capitalists who believe in the power of (mostly) free markets. Neoliberals want to end the drug war and reform America’s overly punitive criminal justice system.
And neoliberals are invested in the core philosophical ideals of liberalism. They stand for liberal democracy and the classical liberal values like equality before the law, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, etc. They reject all forms of racism, sexism, and bigotry, and notably there’s no internal struggle required for neoliberals to proudly and publicly declare that. The modern neoliberal movement is explicitly against the rising tide of illiberalism that characterizes so much of today’s politics. If you’re a principled libertarian, there is a huge amount to like about neoliberalism.
The overlap between neoliberals and libertarians isn’t perfect, of course. Neoliberals are far more friendly to spending on the social welfare state than most libertarians. And while they’re often skeptical of regulations, neoliberals aren’t absolutists and do support many government interventions in the economy. As a self-identified neoliberal I’m admittedly biased, but I’d like to think that neoliberals emphasize the best and most important parts of libertarianism. The evidence that government restrictions on housing or immigration are harmful, for instance, is incredibly strong. These are trillion-dollar opportunities if we simply loosen restrictions. The economic case for eliminating social spending is much less convincing, and there’s clear evidence that simple social spending programs can greatly reduce poverty. Some libertarians will hold to a maximalist argument that all taxation is theft, and I won’t attempt to dissuade those purists. But if you’re the kind of libertarian who thinks some social spending might be okay, as long as the government isn’t overreaching… you might be a neoliberal.
The good news is that not only does neoliberalism exist—and not only does neoliberalism emphasize the best parts of libertarian thought without any racism or authoritarian leanings—but neoliberalism also works.
Libertarians have mostly stayed on the fringes of US politics, and libertarians who committed to working within the Libertarian Party have failed to make any appreciable electoral impact despite several decades of organizing. Even Justin Amash, the only Libertarian Party member to ever serve in Congress, won all his elections as a registered Republican with libertarian leanings (he switched parties as a lame duck who was not running for re-election). Neoliberals, by contrast, have long worked within the two-party system to great effect. Whether you’re a libertarian or a neoliberal, working within the two-party system produces far more tangible results than trying to build a third party. You can see this in the ‘fusionist’ movement that influenced the Republican Party, the neoliberal push towards Bill Clinton’s trade deals, and in scores of other policies. Today’s neoliberals work within the party system, which has a proven track record for changing policy. Libertarians who want to make a real world impact should abandon third party dreams and join them.
I have a lot of sympathy for libertarians and libertarian-leaners who feel disgusted by what’s currently happening with libertarianism. I got into politics by reading libertarian writings, and still have libertarian instincts in many ways. But the libertarian movement—both its official party and the broader interest groups—are a sad shadow of what they could be. Libertarians who care about rejecting the Mises Caucus’s blatant bigotry, who want to stay true to the classical liberal values, and who want to advance liberty in practical and meaningful ways—come join the neoliberals.
Featured Image is Free Trade Wharf, by James McNeill Whistler