Seth Segal of BigLeaguePolitics interviews Ilana Mercer about paleolibertarianism.
BIG LEAGUE POLITICS: Being a preeminent paleolibertarian thinker today, how would you define paleolibertarianism and how does it differ from standard paleoconservatism?
ILANA MERCER: First, let’s define libertarianism. Libertarianism is concerned with the ethics of the use of force. Nothing more. This, and this alone, is the ambit of libertarian law.
All libertarians must respect the non-aggression axiom. It means that libertarians don’t initiate aggression against non-aggressors, not even if it’s “for their own good,” as neoconservatives like to cast America’s recreational wars of choice. If someone claims to be a libertarian and also supports the proxy bombing of Yemen, or supported the war in Iraq; he is not a libertarian, plain and simple.
As to paleolibertarianism, in particular, and this is my take, so some will disagree. It’s how I’ve applied certain principles week-in, week-out, for almost two decades. In my definition, a paleolibertarian grasps that ordered liberty has a civilizational dimension, stripped of which the just-mentioned libertarian non-aggression principle, by which all decent people should live, will crumble. It won’t endure.
Ironically, paleoconservatives have no issue grasping the cultural and civilizational dimensions of ordered liberty—namely that the libertarian non-aggression principle is peculiar to the West and won’t survive once western civilization is no more. Which is why, for paleoconservatives, immigration restrictionism is a no-brainer.
By the way, the statement is not meant to be culturally chauvinistic. There are indigenous tribal people (say, in Brazil) who’re peaceful and pastoral. I mourn their culture’s near-extinction, as well. Where such extinction has been brought about by the West’s chauvinism—it must be condemned.
In any event, paleoconservatives would typically grasp that libertarian principles would not endure in certain cultures. Libertarians, on the other hand, have had a hard time linking civilizational issues with the libertarian axiom of non-aggression. What do I mean? Libertarians will chant, “Free markets, free minds, the free movement of people.” Let’s have ‘em all.
They don’t always explain how these principles are to endure once Western societies are overrun by individuals from cultures which don’t uphold these principles. (From the fact that our own societies are turning out liberty hating individuals—it doesn’t follow we should import more.)
On the other hand, paleoconservatives are far less focused on the state as an evil actor and often appear more concerned with culture wars: gay marriage, cannabis, pornography, abortion. The paleolibertarian rejects any attempts by the state to legislate around the issues of:
Abortion: Completely defund it is our position.
Gay marriage: Solemnize your marriage in private churches, please.
Drugs: Legalize them and stop the hemispheric Drug War.
Wage walls, not wars.
As a creedal paleolibertarian, I see the road to freedom, primarily, in beating back The State, so that individuals can regain freedom of association, dominion over property, the absolute right of self-defense; the right to hire, fire, and, generally, associate at will.
Foreign policy—specifically, no meddling in the affairs of other countries!—is the be all and end all of both paleoconservatism and paleolibertarianism. Don’t let any of the radio or TV personalities fool you. If he or she liked, justified or rationalized Bush’s Middle-Eastern wars or Trump’s dabbling in Niger—he or she is no paleolibertarian. (Tucker Carlson is a fabulous paleoconservative.)
Both variants are for small government and big society. Again, more so than the paleoconservative, the paleolibertarian is radical in his anti-state position, sometimes even advocating a stateless society.
BIG LEAGUE POLITICS: In what ways does your political thought differ from CATO institute libertarianism?
ILANA MERCER: CATO’s political thought is left-libertarianism. I call it “lite libertarianism.” Lite libertarians equate liberty with abstract, lofty ideas, which—against all evidence, historic and other—purport to work magically when applied to every individual in the world.
You can say that the crucial difference between lite libertarians and the Right kind is that, to the former, the idea of liberty is propositional–a value, an idea that’s untethered from the realities of history, hierarchy, biology, tradition, religion, culture, values.
Bluntly put, the principles of American freedoms were not developed by progressive, libertine ladies, marching in pussy dunce caps; by the suffragettes or the LGBTQ community and their program. Are those significant facts? You bet!
The garden variety libertarian, CATO and Reason types, see liberty as a shared, universal quest. They appear to think that inside every Afghani or Yemeni or Iraqi is a Jeffersonian waiting to break free.
In essence, this left-libertarianism is one that underplays, underestimates or just plain refuses to recognize what I just referred to as “liberty’s civilizational dimension.”
Notice how similar are left-libertarians to neoconservatives in the tendencies just described.
INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY. Lite libertarians also tend to blame governments, principally, less so the individual, for barbarism in certain parts of the world. Your regular libertarian’s attitude to personal wrongdoing often runs to what I’ve characterized as a form of social determinism: “The state made me do it.”
In other words, if for the sins of man the left is inclined to blame society; a lot of libertarians fall into the same methodological error when they implicate the State. The conservatively minded paleolibertarian will recognize humanity’s innate, biblical capacity for evil.
Both factions (left-libertarians and neoconservatives) are short on punishment, individual responsibility and agency, all preconditions for ordered liberty.
RACISM. And this is vitally important: A lot of establishment libertarians have joined the neoconservative and neoliberal establishments in the habit of sniffing out racists. Sniffing out racists is an absolute no-no for any and all self-respecting libertarians.
True libertarians don’t, or should not, prosecute thought crimes or persecute thought “criminals.” Period.
BIG LEAGUE POLITICS: Which conservative thinkers resonate most with your beliefs?
ILANA MERCER: John Roanoke, John Calhoun, Edmond Burke, Russell Kirk, Frank Chodorov, Felix Morley, James Burnham (once a leftist), Paul Gottfried, Clyde Wilson, Samuel P. Huntington.
This interview was previously published on November 23, 2018.
Ilana Mercer has been writing a weekly, paleolibertarian column since 1999. She is the author of “Into the Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons for America From Post-Apartheid South Africa”(2011) & “The Trump Revolution: The Donald’s Creative Destruction Deconstructed” (June, 2016). She’s on Twitter, Facebook, Gab & YouTube