Libertarians against nationalism and the nation

(Note: Ilya Somin informs me that he has replied to this entry and he invites me to continue the exchange with him, which I will do.)

Indeed, they are against every human community other than a single universal mankind consisting of nothing but right-bearing individuals. Ilya Somin writes at the libertarian website The Volokh Conspiracy:

I believe that nationalism is second only to communism as the greatest evil of modern politics. There are many different meanings of nationalism. Here, I refer to loyalty to one’s own nation-state based on ties of language, culture, or ethnicity …

In my view, the US—or any nation—is only great in so far as it effectively promotes universal principles such as the protection of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” [Emphassis added.] To the extent that the United States is more admirable than most other nations, it is in part because it was founded on those ideals rather than nationalism.

What libertarian ideologues like Ilya Somin are incapable of grasping is that while the United States at its founding promoted the idea of natural human rights, it promoted it through the form and for the benefit of a particular people and country. The Declaration of Independence, which Somin would make the sole criterion of the political good, makes this clear in its first sentence: “When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people [emphasis added] to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God entitle them … ” These words are not the political expression of universal mankind, they are the political expression of a people declaring their independent existence as a people. But, according to Somin, to see oneself as part of a particular people and to care about that people and to want that people to continue existing is a horribly dangerous attitude that must be scorned and crushed.

May we say that Somin’s article underscores the impression that libertarianism is second only to Communism as the greatest evil of modern politics?

- end of initial entry -

Alan M., who sent the item, writes:

Liberalism also contradicts the Christian God who has created us each with our own “talents.” They challenge our God who has so obviously created us unequal, thinking they know better than God. I’m sure you’ve said something like that before.

Finally, here is a simple test I’ve been trying out with those who argue for absolute equality. It stops them dead in their tracks with the few I have tried it with: “Does everyone deserve a spot on (insert the name of their favorite pro-sports team here) and would you still go watch that team?”

I know that’s silly—but it gives me a smile when I pull it.

Kevin C. writes:

If anyone is under the illusion that our founding documents (rather than her people) made American society what it has been, then let him explain the debacle that is Liberia.

LA replies:

Your point is correct that the same documents and political structures adopted by a different people would not have had, and did not have, the same result. But we must not reduce America and its accomplishments to nothing but the qualities of its people. If the same racial people instead of being mainly Protestant Christians who had passed through the forge of the American Revolution and were living under Anglo-American law and the U.S. Constitution, had instead been, say, conquered by Muslims and converted to Islam, they would not have made America what it has been. Do not reduce a phenomenon to one factor. Every phenomenon that exists consists of several factors. The intellectual calamity of so many peole on the paleo or White Nationalist right is that, having rejected universalist liberalism, they adopt an opposite heresy and say that we are nothing but our biological, racial qualities, and that these qualities alone would have been sufficient to make us what we are.

Ray G. writes:

Just a note, I read that discussion on “evil nationalism / good transnationalism” the other day and posted a comment. I find many of the libertarians there to be hopelessly idealistic dreamers, with contempt for their own country & culture—just like many liberals.

Bob S. writes:

You cited the first sentence of the Declaration. In addition, the preamble to the Constitution, its first sentence, declares:

“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

The U.S. was founded for the benefit of ourselves and our posterity, not for illegal aliens and their posterity, let alone for the world at large.

Leonard D. writes:

Libertarians are not “against every human community other than a single universal mankind.” It is fair to say that any libertarian will be against any coercive human grouping. Some libertarians (those on the left) do feel that essentially all affiliation is coercion. But most libertarians, I think, recognize that if the state should not do particular things, then other organizations must do them: the family, the churches, voluntary charity and other associations, business, etc. (For an example, try finding a negative reference to “the church” or “the family” on

It is true, though, that libertarians do conceive of all human relations in terms of atomic, rights-bearing individuals. Thus, while a libertarian might value “the family,” any “rights” that a family has must be simply the proxied rights of the individuals involved. If an asserted right cannot be such a composite, libertarians will reject it.

It is also true that most libertarians are against nationalism, namely, attachment to the state as the incarnation of the nation. But libertarians often make a contrast between nationalism and patriotism (loving one’s country, not the state).

LA replies:

But Somin said he regarded any love and loyalty to one’s own people and culture as the worst evil in the world after Communism. So what do you say about that?

Leonard D. replies:

Somin said “loyalty to one’s own nation-state based on ties of language, culture, or ethnicity.” I interpret this as meaning that the evil to be avoided is loyalty to the state, or more particularly, the transference of loyalty. Not the loyalty itself. Libertarians have specific reasons why they are wary of the state, as versus other groups. [LA replies: Leonard, I think you are missing the plain meaning of what Somin is saying. It is precisely the patriotic loyalty to language, culture and ethnicity, i.e., to a people, and the exclusion of others belonging to other peoples and cultures, that he sees as the worst evil and as the fount and paradigm of Nazism.]

Furthermore, Somin lays out reasoning as to why he thinks nationalism is bad, and that is, that he thinks it leads to mass murder, discrimination against minority groups, suppression of dissent, xenophobia, chauvinism, and protectionism. (Those are the specific bads he mentions.) So I do not agree with the simplicity of your summation: Somin is not opposed to nationalism per se, but rather those things which he thinks spring from it. Does this distinction matter? I think it does, because if we disagree with his connection of nationalism with these things, or with the badness of them, then we may have a different take on nationalism. [LA replies: You’re making distinctions that I can’t follow.]

For what it is worth, the only item on Somin’s list that I find indisputably evil is mass murder. And there, he explicitly admits that nationalism only leads to mass murder sometimes, and only when combined with the notion of human existence as zero-sum. Well, since I reject the latter notion, I have no particular agreement with Somin.

I don’t know Somin, but I regard loyalty to one’s family, at least, as admirable. I don’t find loyalty to one’s culture, language, and ethny as particularly admirable, but I do find their absence inexplicable and alienating. (This is one of the things that turned me against progressivism.)

Ilya Somin writes:

I think this is a pretty blatant misintepretation of what I said. I did not express opposition to “every human community other than a single universal mankind consisting of nothing but right-bearing individuals.” I am merely against loyalty to a state based on ties of language, ethnicity or culture. There are all sorts of human communities besides those based on ethnicity or culture, and some deserve loyalty for a variety of different reasons.

I’m also not against using an individual nation or people to promote various human rights. When it does so effectively, well and good (a point I emphasized in my follow-up post on patriotism). I do, however, oppose valuing the nation as an end in itself.

If you want to argue against me, please do so. But argue against what I actually said, not a clear distortion thereof.

Ilya Somin continues:

I have written a brief update to my original post, where I describe how your response misinterprets my argument. I think there is a productive debate to be had over the value or lack thereof of nationalism. But equating opposition to nationalism with opposition to all forms of community doesn’t do much to advance that debate.

LA writes:

I’ve informed Mr. Somin that I look forward to replying to him, but it probably won’t be until tomorrow. For the moment, I’ll just say this: when he says that he is “not against using an individual nation or people to promote various human rights,” he’s obviously not speaking of a nation as a nation, but as mere instrumentality to serve liberal universalist ends. People do not belong to an instrumentality. They do not have loyalty or love for an instrumentality. Also, Mr. Somin’s criterion of moral acceptibility would cancel out not just the nation, but all organic communities. So I disagree with his statement that I have distorted his position.

LA writes:

Here is the reply to me that Mr. Somin posted at his site:

UPDATE: Lawrence Auster attacks this post by claiming that I am “against every human community other than a single universal mankind consisting of nothing but right-bearing individuals.” I think it pretty obvious that I am only attacking nationalism, which I described in the post as “loyalty to one’s own nation-state based on ties of language, culture, or ethnicity.” There are all sorts of human communities based on other types of connections—religion, ideology, interest, profession, family, neighborhood, friendship, and so on. Auster also misinterprets my argument when he claims that I think that to “see oneself as part of a particular people and to care about that people and to want that people to continue existing is a horribly dangerous attitude that must be scorned and crushed.” I have no objection to seeing oneself as part of a people. That is a purely empirical claim, with no necessary moral implications. I also have no objection to wanting a particular people to “continue existing.” What I do object to is the idea that we have special moral obligations to those who are part of our “people” in the sense of having the same ethnicity, race, language, or culture—obligations that at least sometimes trump the universal human rights of members of “other” peoples. There is a legitimate debate to be had over the value of nationalism. But that debate is not advanced by falsely claiming that opposition to nationalism is the same as opposition to all forms of community or the mere existence of peoples with differing cultures.

John M. writes:

I think the error that many libertarians make is that they take only one strain of nationalism, civic nationalism, and define that as the only form of nationalism. Civic nationalism is the ideology that defines citizenship as based on loyalty to the State, and being born within its declared borders. In contrast, ethnonationalism is a form of nationalism that is about the people, not the State. In an ethnonationalist paradigm, you are simply born into your nationality, there is no necessary State recognition involved. Nor can your citizenship ever be “revoked,” you are always a member of your ethnic group. I suspect that some of the more paleo-libertarians may find ethnonationalism acceptable. Before he died, Murray Rothbard’s beliefs in the ’90s almost sounded like white nationalism, mixed with a libertarian political system. For whatever reason, Lew Rockwell and his followers broke ranks with paleo-libertarianism, and it doesn’t seem like paleo-libertarianism has much of a voice anymore. A pity.

I find myself in agreement with many libertarian policies, but can never accept the libertarian ideology. Before I became an American white ethnonationalist, I termed myself a fusion conservative, libertarian-conservative, etc because even in my Ron Paul days I was uncomfortable with the libertarian package of rugged individualism. Even back then I felt that the family and culture were important, and while there are libertarians who recognize the importance of such (like paleo-libertarians), many orthodox libertarians like over in Reason Magazine or Cato would deem the paleo-libertarians bigoted heretics. And they have a point; libertarianism at its core is about the individual. Solidarity with social and biological structures that define us, such as ethnicity, culture, family, religion, are all collectivist institutions that suppress the individual, because in order for these units to function, people have to set aside their own individual interests and think of the common good. This is true with ethnonationalism. While in an ethno-nation there is no need for a strong State, since the people are united by common heritage and culture, true libertarians will never accept ethnonationalism, as they will find the idea of being a member of ethnic group by simply being born into it repulsive.

Their world is a world of autonomous individuals that will only work amongst a very limited segment of the world’s population. Humans by nature are social and tribal creatures. And most of the people of the world find ethnic nationalism is to be a very natural thing. They are not going to give up ethnic loyalty in order to experience the joys of unrestrained private property and no taxes. And this is the error in the Western nations adapting libertarian social values, such as viewing everyone as individuals rather than groups. By doing so, we create a frail society that is falling apart now, and will continue to do so in the future. Almost everyone I know in this country, left-wing or right-wing, subscribes to some form of individualism, whether they realize it or not. Everyone operates on their own interests, doing whatever suits them economically. Families break apart under such a system, which is why all these Hispanic immigrants will inevitable conquer America as they are facing a native society made up of divorced families, and childless young couples that frequently break up. Americans are loyal to one thing these days: money. Yes this stings, it took me a long time to come to terms with this. But it’s true. And confessing to such a thing is not being a Marxist. I do not believe a State is needed to get people to think in terms of the interests of the group. Which is part of why any future American white nationalist movement that overthrows the Stormfront 1488 cultists must become a cultural as well as political movement. While politically we may call for white independence, culturally we must call for a renewal of cultural values that once held our ancestors together as stable family units. This has nothing to do with “Religious right” projects of calling for a federal ban of gay marriage or picketing abortion clinics, but rather calling together white Americans to think of their own people, their own culture, their own heritage, and how they can uphold such things, like being in a successful marriage and raising children properly. Stable families, something which is becoming a lost memory for white Americans.

I’m 22 years old, and I have friend who is my age who got his girlfriend pregnant. While the situation is not ideal, he is at least stepping up to the plate by agreeing to marry his girlfriend and raise his child with her. And yet many of his friends are telling him and his girlfriend to abort their child. I am disgusted with such a demand, even when its coated with statements like “children are expensive” and “you’re not ready yet.” Those things may be true, but to abort a child because it will be an inconvenience for two individuals, my friend and his girlfriend? The fact that is this is the answer of my generation, that facing the consequences of pre-marital sex is wrong, and its better to kill the child then give it a chance at a happy life, shows to me that we have our work cut out for us. I pray that white Americans do not become so degenerate that there is no chance for redemption. I pray that we do not become so individualistic that we view having children that we are obligated to raise as being a “suppression of the individual’s sovereignty.”

December 5

John M. writes:

I find it strange how Mr. Somin claims that you are not advancing the debate and yet he calls for our views “to be crushed.” [LA replies: “crushed” was my characterization of his position.] He arbitrarily declares that “ethnic, cultural, or linguistic” forms of identity are unacceptable while others like family, neighborhood, or religion are acceptable. Why? An ethnicity is in fact an extended family with a shared culture and often language. And most of humanity bases its identity on ethnic, cultural, and linguistics, usually a combination of all three. Somin claims he’s not opposed to all forms of communities or the mere existence of peoples with differing cultures. Well it just so happen that only through ethnic/cultural nationalism do peoples of different cultures continue to exist. Japanese culture is only upheld because the Japanese feel a bond to each other as a people. Japanese feel they are a unique people who are proud of their heritage, and thus have a reason to uphold their culture. Same with many other groups of people. And it’s also why Western culture is eroding; many white ethnic groups that built Western culture are not proud of their heritage and feel no bonds to each other as a people. For how can they when their whole world is nothing but autonomous self-serving individuals? Mr.

Somin speaks of ethnic/cultural nationalism needing to be crushed, yet the West is pretty much a Mission Accomplished for him. And look where that’s getting us. We in the West have forsaken our sense of identity and thus feel no loyalty to our peoples and therefore take in no interest in the survival of white ethnic groups. Hence the indifference towards sub-replacement fertility, mass immigration of peoples with high fertility, and the social decay of our society. Mr. Somin has got what he wants in the West, and I once believed that individualism was the way of the future. Not anymore.

LA replies:

Excellent comment!

May I suggest that you also rewrite this in the second person and send directly to Ilya Somin.

Also, I haven’t had a chance myself to reply to Somin, but I intend to. However, with comments being posted as good as John M.’s, I may not need to.

D. from Seattle writes:

I have read this discussion a few times to make sure I’m not missing any finer points (and I’ve also read Somin’s complete post on his site), and it still seems to me that he’s splitting hairs. Nation states exist precisely because people share language, ethnicity and culture—I can’t think of a nation state where this would not be true. That some nations have ethnic minorities doesn’t change the fact that they are nation states of the majority population.

Ilya Somin says “I’m also not against using an individual nation or people to promote various human rights. When it does so effectively, well and good.” But in the previous paragraph he says “I am merely against loyalty to a state based on ties of language, ethnicity or culture.” So if I get this right, he’s not against the nation, but he’s against the state of that nation, even though most people equate nation with a state, in a sense that the state as a political entity is an expression of that nation, i.e. a legal framework for organizing laws of the society and common defense, etc. That is why I said the argument is splitting hairs, trying to make a very clear distinction between a nation and a state. Most numerically large nations have states, or multiple states, and those nations who don’t have states wish they had them (Kurds, for example). There is no serious state without a founding nation, if one excludes micro-states like Lichtenstein and Vatican City.

Re: Somin’s remark that nationalism is bad because Nazis and fascist were mass murderers, well, the fascists (at least the Italians) were not mass murderers at all, while Soviets were very effective mass murderers not based on ethnic nationalism whatsoever, rather being explicitly against majority nation’s (Russian) ethnic nationalism. So that argument doesn’t hold.

I’m trying to find the motive of why someone would try construct an argument of this sort, and the only thing that comes to mind is that some people think that they should have the right to move to any country in the world and be accepted as equal members of the society right off the boat, while loyalty to nation state would prevent this. You can pull that off in the U.S., Canada, and many West European countries, not that it’s a good thing. Try pulling that off in Japan or Korea. Therefore it seems to me that globalists need a theoretical cover for their preferred behavior, hence we get essays like Somin’s.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 03, 2009 01:03 PM | Send

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