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David Neiwert @DavidNeiwert
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1) Yesterday I ended discussion with an interlocutor who became abusive (life is too short to converse with shitheads) after I told him that, in my view, libertarians often are some of the worst authoritarians. So let me explain. Long thread follows.
2) I’ll agree that the notion of libertarian authoritarianism seems counterintuitive. After all, it’s a worldview predicated on enshrining individual liberty as the highest possible social and political value. But it nonetheless is proving a massive gateway to authoritarianism.
3) Perhaps the single greatest indicator of this is the way libertarians have lined up in support of Donald Trump, who is the most authoritarian personality in the history of the American presidency, resembling nothing so much as a Banana Republic dictator in his ruling style.
4) I began exploring this in greater depth a couple of years ago upon realizing that an unusual number of the young men who were being swept up in the alt-right began their paths to radicalization by first adopting libertarianism as their preferred political philosophy.
5) Recall that alt-right founder Richard Spencer started out dabbling in libertarianism. Many other alt-righters claim it in describing their origins: Milo Yiannopoulos. Tim “Baked Alaska” Gionet. Augustus Invictus. “Crying Nazi” Christopher Cantwell.…
6) Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes still describes himself as libertarian. To this day, large numbers of Proud Boys I’ve spoken with describe themselves as libertarian. So do many of the “III Percent” and Oath Keeper militiamen I’ve interviewed.
7) Remember that guy in Seattle who got infamously decked for wearing a swastika armband? I looked into his background, and found that he too started out as an Ayn Rand-loving libertarian.…
8) So did “Seattle4Truth,” an alt-right conspiracy theorist whose murder trial I will be covering this fall. He was once a software worker who adhered to libertarian beliefs.…
9) But then, this is nothing new. Back in the 1990s, both Militia of Montana founder John Trochmann and key militia figure James ‘Bo’ Gritz described their own views to me as libertarian. As did dozens of their followers.
10) The nation’s most famous libertarian politician, Rep. Ron Paul, ran a presidential campaign that turned out to be a massive meeting and recruitment ground for radical-right extremists. In many ways it paved the way for the alt-right’s rise.…
11) Establishment libertarians like the folks at Reason angrily dispute any connection, of course. They also point to its supposedly robust defense of free speech and its putative opposition to authoritarianism.…
12) But let’s take a closer look at how, in fact, libertarianism is deeply appealing to authoritarian personalities – the folks who, at the end of the day, prefer to live under the rule of an authoritarian leader and who hold democracy in contempt.
13) I myself was briefly attracted to libertarianism in the late 1970s and early ‘80s. But I drew away after observing that the philosophy was, in the end, deeply incoherent, and actually ran deeply counter to my own core values.
14) Consider, for instance, its supposed advocacy of free speech and the free exchange of ideas as expressions of individual liberty. Yet you will find they are peculiarly hostile to the free expression of ideas that run counter to their own.
15) The key for me came early in my career, when I was dealing as a journalist with the crimes committed by neo-Nazis associated with the Aryan Nations in northern Idaho. It was clear that these crimes effectively negated the individual civil liberties of their victims.
16) And yet libertarians were (and remain) hostile both to civil-rights laws and hate-crimes laws intended to protect those individuals’ rights, because they use various classifications of protection: racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual.
17) Libertarians seemed to me then, and now, wrapped up in the notion that only the government can deprive individuals of their civil liberties. From my early experience onward, I have always known better. Their fellow citizens are in fact far more likely to do so.
18) I also read Ayn Rand quite a bit in this period. I slogged through the wretched, didactic prose in the hope of fully grasping her ideas, which my libertarian friends all loved. I found her ideas to be thinly veiled rationalizations for a shallow, toxic self-centeredness.
19) The clincher for me was the scene in ‘Atlas Shrugged’ in which she rubs out an entire trainful of people in a mountain tunnel, and writes it as though it is an unalloyed good thing. Anyone who views other human beings as disposable is, in my view, essentially evil.
20) This was also where I first observed libertarians’ authoritarian streak. When I told my libertarian friends that I found Rand repulsive, they derided me as stupid and short-sighted. Anyone who dissed Rand, for them, just didn’t dig hard enough. It was cult-like.
21) More to the point, Rand’s political philosophy is itself profoundly authoritarian. It essentially advocates the supremacy of the will of the powerful individuals who reside atop the economic hierarchy. We little people should happily submit to the rule of the John Galts.
22) Of course, in many ways this appeals to the American psyche. Steinbeck is credited (incorrectly, I gather) with the adage: “Americans never see themselves as poor, just temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” Whoever said it, it’s deeply true.
23) But it also appeals to authoritarian personalities. The first of the three behavioral/attitudinal clusters that define such personalities is Authoritarian Submission: The belief that in order to have secure civil society, we should submit to the rule of the Legitimate Leader.
24) The remaining two clusters are Authoritarian Aggression – directed at anyone who fails to appropriately submit, or any leader deemed illegitimate – and Conventionalism, the belief that people with their views represent the “real mainstream.”
25) These clusters combine to create a series of identifiable traits, many of which fit libertarians to a T, particularly in their real-life behaviors: Compartmentalized thinking. A high tolerance for bigotry, both in action and rhetorically. A tendency toward conspiracism.
26) But the defining trait of authoritarian personalities, both followers and leaders, is also a defining trait of libertarians: A contempt for the principles of equality, and a prevailing belief that inequality is the natural state of things, which should not be undermined.
27) This is where compartmentalized thinking plays an important role. This is the psychological device by which people are able to cope with the cognitive dissonance that naturally arises when a person holds two apparently contradictory beliefs simultaneously.
28) So now we have the spectacle of libertarians who ardently support an overt authoritarian as president, and are fans of a Russian premier whose authoritarianism is being spread throughout Europe in the form of anti-LGBT/anti-immigrant white nationalism.
29) We have anti-government militiamen who line up behind the same regimes and demand utter fealty to his government. We have far-right Proud Boys who violently respond to anyone who dares to exercise their own free-speech rights by protesting them.
30) This is all because compartmentalization produces a mindset in which only their point of view is deemed legitimate. It’s all “free speech for me, and none for thee.” Any objection to their views, or decision to deplatform their bigotry, is deemed an attempt to oppression
31) We have a generation of young men lining up to fanatically defend an authoritarian ideologue like Jordan Peterson, who claims on the one hand to be all about individual rights but promotes the values of male patriarchy.…
32) Peterson’s recent rants about how “it is only the individual who suffers” are a case in point. It’s abject nonsense. Families suffer, especially when one of their members do. Communities can suffer. Whole nations suffer during wartime.
33) This is simple, basic empathy, the foundation of all relationships and the communitarian values that have always sustained humans as a species. I mean, hasn’t Peterson ever listened to Sam and Dave?
32) Ultimately, libertarianism is a kind of grift, getting the rubes to focus on the shiny object of “individual liberties” on the one hand while hiding the deep, latent authoritarianism inherent in its incoherent philosophy.
35) Alas, we are awash in it – not just in the form of the radical right, but throughout American society. Libertarianism is phenomenally popular in the software world. It’s probably the dominant force in the modern conservative movement. Paul Ryan is a Rand acolyte.
36) You find it throughout media. Witness the recent dispute over Steve Bannon’s appearance at the New Yorker Festival, where his defenders posed it as a simple matter of the “marketplace of ideas”, as though fraudulent ideas are not bad goods that destroy that marketplace.
37) Mind you, I’m not entirely hostile to some of the ideas contained in libertarianism. I do value individual rights and initiative and think they’re important. I just believe they need to be balanced with the values of communitarianism and empathy and basic decency.
38) But we have to end the illusion that it is not fundamentally authoritarian. Because authoritarianism, and its rise in the age of Trump, is the single greatest challenge American democracy has ever faced from within.…
39) We’ll never be able to meet that challenge if we permit this illusion to persist. This really is a matter of survival. #30

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