I would like to preface this by saying that I have nothing personally against the people that I’m about to discuss in this article. All of them have contributed to spreading the message of freedom to various degrees, and for that I am grateful. One of them, Stefan Molyneux, was a strong influence on me personally when I was first exploring the concepts of self-ownership and voluntary interaction. Without him, my views might not be where they are today.
However, I would be remiss if I were to ignore the problems with the worrying trend that they’ve been a part of. Along with the rise of Donald Trump has come a strain of the liberty movement that looks more like a cousin of the alt-right than a philosophy based on freedom. Between the call for greater border enforcement and even a wall (more on that later), to the cries for “God Emperor Trump” to come down with an iron fist on those on those deemed to be degenerates, those involved often sound more fascistic than libertarian.
Whether it is a deliberate move to attract a bigger audience, a shift in philosophy, or the product of the conservative-minded side of the movement, these “anarcho-statists” have become a vocal and very real part of the libertarian and anarcho-capitalist community. Central to their thinking is that those on the left are the true enemies of freedom, while those on the right are the lesser evil (if not an ally in the fight against liberalism.) They are not necessarily ardent supporters of Donald Trump (although some are), but they often incorporate parts of his message.
Justin Moldow, self-proclaimed anarcho-capitalist and founder of the libertarian website Liberty Hangout, is a prime example of this. As I stated in the first sentence of this article, the specific individuals discussed herein (Moldow included), have been an overall plus for the causes of liberty and freedom. But this in no way makes him or any of the others immune to criticism.
In recent months, Moldow has written multiple articles about his issues with the left. Before I go any further, I must say that some of the assertions he makes are entirely true. There is a sizeable contingent of leftists who look to shut down speech they disagree with, as he states in “It’s Time to Admit That Leftists Can’t Be Reasoned With.” Yes, leftists do use the violence of the state to impose their views on others. And yes, many of them (at least those in the mainstream) do erroneously believe that the state is ultimately a force for good. We have no disagreement on these points; I would never claim that liberalism is in anyway synonymous with libertarianism.
The problem with Moldow’s assertions about leftists is not necessarily a factual error, although I do believe he often over-generalizes and overstates the contempt that those on the left have for the liberty movement. The problem is instead an error of omission; those on the right can be just as bad, if not worse, than leftists in these areas. In “Libertarians Who Side With Leftists are Tools for Their Marxist Agenda,” he says that “it’s not the alt-right… encouraging the ongoing violence against peaceful people.” Violence against peaceful people is not limited to the left, whether that be on an individual basis or a state level.
To anyone who believes otherwise, I would encourage you to try to peacefully burn an American flag in protest of the United States government in front of a group of conservatives (on second thought, don’t try that unless you’re able to defend yourself.) Needless to say, they would not respond kindly. There have been numerous occasions in which protesters attempting to peacefully burn flags (a constitutionally protected act) have been threatened with violence or even attacked. I have experienced the vitriol of the right first-hand in response to my article “No Thank You For Your Service: The Fallacy of Troop Worship,” and trust me, they were not comments about how they disagreed with me but still respected my right to free speech.
In the same way that the left advocates using the violence of the state for wealth distribution and forced association, the right uses it for their own means. Although there are exceptions (as there are on the left), those on the right-wing are usually more than happy to use violence against peaceful people if it will result in a larger military, the imprisonment of drug users and others who commit victimless crimes, and fewer foreigners coming into the country. Arguing over whether it’s worse to steal people’s money from them or to throw them in a cage for smoking a plant is like arguing whether it’s worse to get punched in the face or kicked in the groin. You might have a preference, but both are terrible outcomes.
This brings me to my next point and a defining characteristic of those discussed in this article: the demand for the state to crack down on illegal immigration. Those who advocate for this often say that being in favor of open borders is an un-libertarian position, as Moldow does in “Open Borders Are Not Libertarian. They’re Communist.” In it, one of the arguments he makes in favor of closed borders is that immigrants might vote to increase taxes and may support Democratic politicians. Effectively, he is arguing that because of a possible bad outcome, an organization that he deems to be illegitimate should use violence against those who peacefully cross an arbitrary line in order to defend territory that the organization does not rightfully own (the irony of this seems to be lost on him).
This utilitarian defense of initiatory violence is completely at-odds with the non-aggression principle and the philosophy of anarcho-capitalism and would result in an authoritarian state if taken to its logical ends. If it is acceptable to use violence against someone based on a hypothetical, the idea of self-ownership is completely thrown out the window. The fact that someone comes from a bad neighborhood is not enough reason to attack them in defense of them possibly attacking you, just as the fact that someone comes from a poor country is not enough to attack them in defense of them possibly stealing your money. Ironically, the same critique of using initiatory violence to stop initiatory violence that Moldow would likely (and rightfully) use to argue against a state is present in his thinking on immigration.
Rather than being a product of a belief in self-ownership and freedom, Moldow’s words look more like those of someone attempting to sell a conservative position to a libertarian audience. His follow-up article “Open Borders Advocates are Hypocritical Nationalists That Also Put America First” was even more perplexing. In it, he claimed that open-borders libertarians who were criticizing Trump’s immigration ban were actually nationalists, due to the fact that they were not speaking out against Iran’s ban against immigration from the United States.
Even ignoring the fact that Iran’s ban was a direct response to Trump’s, you would be hard-pressed to find a libertarian who believes in open-borders who would also be in favor of the Iranian government restricting immigration. The fact that Trump’s ban is focused on more often is a matter of priority, not an indication of support for the Iranian regime. There are far more people who are looking to immigrate to the United States from the seven countries affected than people looking to immigrate to Iran from the US. Using the logic of Moldow’s argument, someone who criticizes the murders committed by a serial killer does not care about or even approves of a murder committed by a one-time killer. Focusing on the greater evil before attempting to draw attention to a lesser one does not make someone a nationalist; it makes them a sane person following a logical strategy.
Christopher Cantwell is another example of this style of anarcho-capitalist that I find so troubling. When he’s not preoccupied with calling people “cucks,” Cantwell is outwardly racist and is a fervent supporter of Donald Trump. He argues for a strong authoritarian leader to rid the world of leftists, all while claiming to be an anarchist. I don’t plan on saying much more about him within this article, but I wanted to point out that there is a real problem with racism in this “Trumpian” brand of libertarianism. I’m not referring to the accusations of racism made by “social justice warriors,” in which innocent actions are deemed to be bigoted by overzealous college students. The type of racism that concerns me is one in which statements about the superiority of a specific race (in this case, whites) are thrown around.
Although Cantwell and his ilk would dismiss my critique as “virtue signaling,” racism is simply another ugly form of collectivism. A person with black or brown skin does not deserve to be judged by the actions of others with the same skin color, just as all whites do not deserve to be lumped in with the authoritarian megalomaniac some call our President. Cantwell and others who focus on race are only turning off potential converts to libertarianism and contradicting the individualism that we preach.
Although I’ve thus far focused on Moldow and Cantwell, there might be no greater example of this “anarcho-statist” mindset than prominent anarcho-capitalist Stefan Molyneux. He has been around for many years and has been a vital part of the liberty movement. Until recently, he argued against closed-border advocates and said that we had much worse things to worry about than immigrants. Around the time that Trump came onto the scene during the 2016 Presidential Election, he did a complete 180 on immigration and became maybe the most vocal Trump-supporting libertarian. His foray into presidential politics was especially ironic due to the fact that he had considered the presidential runs of Ron Paul (who had much greater libertarian credentials than Trump) a waste of time.
Molyneux uses many of the same arguments as Moldow when discussing his newfound desire for border enforcement. Whether they’re based on the idea that illegal immigrants may leach off taxpayers (even though the fact that these immigrants are fearful of being punished by the state is what forces them to work under the table), typical fear-mongering about Islamic Terrorism (you’re significantly more likely to be killed by a cop than a terrorist), or preserving what he vaguely refers to as Western culture (which has brought us the same state we decry as evil), his platform basically boils down to the idea that we must sacrifice our ideals to save them. Eerily reminiscent of George W. Bush’s assertion that he “abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market,” this Orwellian double-think will never result in the fulfillment of libertarian ideals.
Just as there has been up to now, there will always be another crisis that we’re told requires the suspension of our rights or the rights of others. Although the powers that be typically give us assurances that these restrictions will be temporary, they hardly ever are; one needs to look no further than the aftermath of 9/11 and the advent of the mass surveillance state to see this in action. If the state takes away our rights, even temporarily, it should be obvious to us all that the state (and those who support it) never considered them rights in the first place. In the same vein, if we must sacrifice our principles in order to achieve our goals, they were never really our principles.
We must think long and hard about what we believe and why. Are we the philosophy of fear-mongering, collectivism, and authoritarianism when it suits us? Or are we the ones who will stand up to the state and others who wish to take away the rights of those who cannot stand up for themselves?