Matthew Sheffield, editor of the journal Praxis, recently explored the Paleolibertarian movement of the 1980s and 90s and tried to demonstrate that it not only laid the groundwork for today’s alt-right and Donald Trump, but that libertarians in general were somehow culpable.
It’s a misleading and even sad piece.
Here are the short answers to the questions posed by Sheffield’s story: Were there racist figures some libertarians associated with 20 years ago that overlap with today’s alt-right? Yes. What they did was indefensible then and remains so today.
But does what the alt-right believes and Donald Trump represents have anything to do with the Ron Paul-inspired liberty movement today? Not remotely. Is Donald Trump’s “racialized rhetoric” somehow rooted in Ron Paul’s libertarian ideology?
Are you f***ing kidding me?
Reason’s Matt Welch observes, “in making the highly reductive leap that ‘Trump and Paul speak the same language,’ Sheffield demonstrates that he’s more interested in dot-connecting than a genuine understanding of different ideological and tactical strains.”
To say the least.
Donald Trump is an authoritarian who sees no problem that government can’t fix so long as he is in charge of it. Ron Paul is a libertarian who not only believes government isn’t the solution to most problems, but that no one should have too much power.
Trump believes the Bill of Rights and civil liberties are annoying obstacles to his draconian plans to “keep us safe.” Paul believes no man is above the rule of law and the Constitution was designed precisely to protect us from people like this year’s Republican nominee.
Trump is a collectivist, who constantly stokes fear over immigrants, blacks and Muslims. Paul is an individualist who doesn’t believe in categorizing and judging people by groups, racial, ethnic, religious or otherwise. Paul has said time and again that Latinos should not become scapegoats in the immigration debate, that big government and the drug war targets blacks and other minorities unjustly, and that the world’s 1.7 billion Muslims are unfairly maligned. Islam-bashing “provokes the fear required for war-mongering,” says Paul.
The explicitly racist alt-right — of which the Republican nominee seemingly has no basic understanding or awareness — is even more the opposite of Ron Paul than the often accidentally racist Donald Trump.
The heart of alt-right ideology is white nationalism — a rejection of the classical liberalism that has defined the modern West in exchange for biological determinism. For the alt-right, “who” you are isn’t defined by your judgment, moral character or any discernible human actions, but by “what” you are: Your skin color and genes. Their entire worldview is racial.
This is not libertarianism.
The largely youth-driven liberty movement inspired by Ron Paul during his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns not only stressed individualism over collectivism as a philosophy, but reflected millennial attitudes about race, gay marriage, immigration that tend to be more tolerant. Senator Rand Paul has followed in his father’s footsteps by pursuing party outreach beyond old white Republicans, and Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson often gets more minority, millennial and independent support than Trump or Hillary Clinton due in no small part to his liberty philosophy.
Other than being “anti-establishment,” there is simply no commonality between Ron Paul and Trump and the alt-right. Philosophically, they are polar opposites. It’s intellectually dishonest to pretend otherwise. Matthew Sheffield had a better point in June when he blamed the rise of Trump on the mainstream conservative movement.
In his attempt to link Trump and the alt-right to libertarianism, Sheffield targets Reason (which Matt Welch defends here), the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and figures like Murray Rothbard and Lew Rockwell, among others. He cites the controversial Ron Paul newsletters and libertarian dalliances with genuine bigots like David Duke. It’s a shoddy piece but, again, the author is not wrong that aspects of libertarianism two decades ago were sullied by movement figures that decided to become involved with or to promote real racists.
Those who did so at the time did a disservice not only to libertarianism in general but Ron Paul specifically. The fact that Paul has never uttered anything remotely racist or bigoted over the span of decades should speak volumes about his true philosophy and character.
That some once attempted to misrepresent Ron Paul as something he wasn’t is despicable. So is taking this history and attempting to do it again today.
And blaming libertarianism for the success of Donald Trump and his online racist minions is sheer lunacy.
Disclaimer: I worked for Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign.