Blood and Soil, MacLean, and Buchanan

Last week, at the Mises Institution, President Jeff Deist gave a speech on broadening libertarian appeal.  He concluded the talk thus [emphasis added]:

In other words, blood and soil and God and nation still matter to people. Libertarians ignore this at the risk of irrelevance.

Many libertarians objected to the phrase “blood and soil,” because of its historical context and ties to Nazi Germany and fascism (for example, see this piece by Steve Horwitz).  Others claim that the phrase is taken out of context and that it was referring to a Jeffery Tucker piece written earlier that month (personally, I find this explanation a bit problematic, but I won’t go into that here).

Also this summer, libertarians have taken aim at the book Democracy in Chains by Nancy MacLean, a highly erroneous account of the intellectual life of James Buchanan, founder of the Public Choice school of thought.  MacLean’s thesis is straightforward: despite the value-free wording of  Public Choice, James Buchanan and the Koch Brothers are working on a vast conspiracy to overthrow democracy and establish an oligarchy.  Despite lots of footnotes, she provides no hard evidence for her claims (as noted by various reviewers and fact-checkers, the sources cited in the footnotes tend to either be incorrect, incomplete, or downright contradictory).  And yet, she pushes on, undeterred and several on the left jump on board.

At first, I wondered how she could get away with this.  But then, I realized libertarians, and in particular, the methods espoused by Jeff Deist, aren’t doing ourselves any favors.

A quick history lesson is necessary (for a more complete, and probably more accurate than my retelling here, account, see here): back in the 80’s and 90’s, there was a movement within libertarians, lead in particular by Murray Rothbard, Lew Rockwell, and Ron Paul, to recruit as many people to libertarianism as possible, particularly as a conservative-libertarian fusion and oppose the left, which was becoming more socialistic, on cultural grounds.  Of course, this strategy appealed to many people who were of decidedly anti-democratic nature (white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, anti-foreigner, etc).  Whether or not recruiting these specific people was the goal of the policy is irrelevant; it was the consequence.  Many of these groups, which were now broadly calling themselves “libertarians,” were decidedly anti-democratic and decidedly racist and decidedly elitist and all the charges levied by MacLean against Buchanan.

One cannot fault MacLean for not knowing this history (although perhaps were she doing a better job on her book, she would have researched the matter).  I, who have been in the libertarian movement for about a decade, am just learning much of this.  But it does make her accusations, at least prima facie, more understandable.  Buchanan’s work is used in a lot of libertarian economics (although to call him a major influence is a bit much), he got money from the Kochs (who are libertarians), Stormfront and alt-right leader Richard Spenser have called themselves “libertarians,” therefore Buchanan and the Kochs must share similar goals as Spenser and Stormfront and others.

Jeff Deist may think he’s doing libertarians a favor by trying to make libertarianism have a broad appeal.  But, if you cast a wide net, you also risk dragging up rotten fish which can ruin the whole bunch.  This is the wrong strategy for winning people over.  Rather than admit libertarianism is weak, unable to face challenges of the day, and thus must turn to other areas and places (or, abandon our principles in the face of things like “immigration” and “feminism”), we must show that libertarianism and classical liberalism is still relevant.  If we continue to cast a wide net and drag up rotten fish (unintentionally or not), then we will continue to stink.

4 thoughts on “Blood and Soil, MacLean, and Buchanan

  1. One could argue that other libertarian factions are dredging up some pretty smelly fish as well. C4SS is a good example. The folks who push abolishment of borders at all costs, to the point of advocating for redistributive policies, are just as anti-libertarian as the fascists, though for different reasons.

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  2. Who are the fascists making a serious impact in libertarian circles today? I’ve heard Hoppe’s name thrown around, but certainly you wouldn’t claim that guys who regularly pal around with Jewish people are now-Nazis, right?

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  3. I wonder if Deist’s speech would have stirred as much controversy if he hadn’t used that unfortunately tainted phrase “blood and soil” to describe people’s natural affinity for the social institutions of family,
    community, church, nation, etc.?

    My tl;dr take on his speech is that libertarians may overemphasize utopian ideals and individual sovereignty while ignoring other human needs for social structures, thus losing potential support from non-libertarians. I don’t share his view that libertarians tend to downplay the importance of family and community, but I can see his point. “Don’t alienate people who might otherwise be receptive to your message of liberty.”

    I don’t think Deist is recruiting self-described alt-rights, neo-nazis, or other nationalists,, and yes, I’m familiar with the misguided political strategy of some libertarians in the past to widen support through “inclusiveness”.

    One of the misunderstandings that may exist relates to the libertarian notion of absolute freedom of association, which of course includes the freedom to NOT associate with someone else for any reason. Belief in this freedom shouldn’t be construed a endorsement of institutional racism or any other -ism that excludes others by group.

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    • The speech wouldn’t have. It was an unfortunate choice of words. As I said in my post, there is an explanation as to why he used those words, but the explanation is itself problematic.

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