The “alt-right” is a strange movement, defined more by hostility than ideas. It’s the latest version of the hostility that has faced every immigrant group in the US, from the Chinese in California to the Irish and Italians in Boston. Some members of the alt-right try to hitch their sinking ship to libertarianism. We have nothing to do with them. We don’t want them.

Their views are the old, ugly doctrine of white supremacism, wrapped in identity politics. Libertarianism values the individual, but identity politics says that your ancestry or skin color says what you are. White supremacism says that some people are better, not because of anything they’ve done but because of their skin. Both ways, it’s collectivist thinking, pitting “us” against “them.” To maintain its dominance over “them,” the alt-right supports ICE raids, border walls, and registries of who’s allowed to work for a living. Richard Spencer, one of its top leaders, has called for “peaceful ethnic cleansing.” That’s not libertarian by any stretch.

 

Some alt-right people claim to be disillusioned former libertarians. We can’t control their thinking, but it’s unlikely that they really understood libertarianism and embraced it. People who jump from an idea to its polar opposite, like religious fundamentalism to atheism or vice versa, usually haven’t thought out either one. Some people hook up to libertarianism because they just see it as an anti-establishment philosophy. When they learn that it means respecting people’s rights, they look elsewhere.

All people have the same rights

As libertarians, we don’t think it’s the government’s business whether you’re white or black, whether you were born in the USA or Serbia, whether you’re Christian or Zoroastrian. All people have the same rights.

All people. Even members of the alt-right. If they want to say stupid things, that’s freedom of speech. The way to answer them is with better speech. Trying to silence them with mob attacks or legislation simply makes them martyrs. Beating them up is the thug’s approach to politics. The would-be censors are effectively saying they can’t win in an open debate, so they have to keep their opponents’ superior ideas from being heard.

The alt-right is good at claiming martyrdom. It spends a lot of time claiming to defend free speech. But notice that its greatest hero, Donald Trump, has called for revoking (non-existent) cable broadcast licenses, proposed a ban on anonymous news sources, and attempted to suppress the publication of an unfavorable book about him.

Real advocates of free speech support it even for those they don’t like. We support the alt-right’s freedom to say ridiculous things. We even support their freedom to oppose freedom. That’s not the same as supporting their opposition to freedom. But maybe the alt-right thinks we’re their friends because we oppose censoring them. They’re mistaken.

Anger vs. principle

As libertarians, we’re sometimes angry about what the government has done. It takes people’s money, spies on them, stops them from earning a living, and sometimes kills them. People who are inclined toward the alt-right may see just the anger and think they have something in common with libertarianism. But libertarianism is about principles, not rage. It’s about respecting people.

David Boaz said: “Some people may become libertarians because they’re angry… For a while, it’s enough to be angry at the government. But ultimately libertarianism is about peaceful cooperation — markets, civil society, global trade, peace — so it just isn’t angry enough for some people.”

These people have gotten on the wrong bus, but it would be nice if they listened long enough to learn a better way of thinking. Hopefully some people who arrive in anger learn to be more rational and adopt actual pro-liberty ideas. But if they can’t, then libertarianism isn’t the place for them.