Why I Am Not a Cultural Conservative Reply

by Keith Preston

In my earlier review of Hans Hermann Hoppe’s “Democracy: The God That Failed” I argued that Hoppe has “revolutionized modern political philosophy in a manner approaching Copernican dimensions”. With his skillful debunking of the core mythology used to defend modern democratic states as manifestations of enlightenment and progress, Hoppe has made a priceless contribution to anarchist theory in particular and political philosophy in general. For this reason alone, Hoppe’s work will rightfully take its place in the anarchist canon and Hoppe will find his way into the pantheon of giants of anarchist intellectuals along side Godwin, Bakunin, Spooner and Rothbard. Because of the enormous influence Hoppe’s work is likely to have on future developments in anarchist and libertarian thought, I now wish to address what I consider to be grievous errors within his overall system. When the history of anarchist movements is examined, it becomes apparent that crucial intellectual errors at certain points have had devastating consequences for the anti-state cause. One of the most serious of these was the adoption of Marxist theory by the nineteenth and early twentieth century anarchist labor movement. Anarchists subsequently came to view Marxists and state socialists as allies in a common struggle rather than as deadly enemies, as Proudhon and Bakunin had warned. The predictable result was the relegation of thousands of anarchists to the gulags and gallows once the state socialists came to power.

Hoppe seeks to align anarchism and libertarianism not with Marxism but with traditional conservatism. He correctly points out that most “mainstream” conservatives of today are not “true” conservatives, in the historical sense, but are in fact either right-wing social democrats (the so-called “neoconservatives”, whose principal leaders are typically former Marxists) or military socialists (the Buckleyites). Hoppe distinguishes between these forms of fake “conservatism” and the genuine cultural conservatism of the likes of Patrick Buchanan and Samuel Francis. He expresses sympathy for the reactionary social views of this lot but criticizes their support for a nationalist variation of the welfare state, correctly describing their views as “national socialism”. A true conservative is, in Hoppe’s view, someone who recognizes “a hierarchical order within a community of families-of apprentices, servants, and masters, vassals, knights, lords, overlords, and even kings-tied together by an elaborate and intricate system of kinship relations; and of children, parents, priests, bishops, cardinals, patriarchs or popes, and finally the transcendent God. Of the two layers of authority, the earthly physical power of parents, lords, and kings is naturally subordinate and subject to control by the ultimate spiritual-intellectual authority of fathers, priests, bishops, and ultimately God.”

I would agree that this is indeed the proper definition of historical conservatism but what in the world does any of this have to do with anarchism or libertarianism? What Hoppe is describing here is medieval feudalism and theocracy. However, the classical liberals of the Enlightenment era that Hoppe regards as his ideological ancestors specifically rejected the hierarchical, static, stratified order that comprised the Ancien Regime. Indeed, classical liberalism emerged as a revolutionary movement that aimed to bring down the Old Order that Hoppe is describing here. (1) He goes on to say that true libertarians must also be conservatives. The only arguments that he provides to defend this position are that in the absence of the welfare state intermediary institutions such as families, churches, communities and voluntary associations will be strengthened as individuals come to rely more on these institutions for support during childhood, old age, illness or unemployment and that in the absence of egalitarian “civil rights” legistlation individual property owners will be able to exclude anyone they wish from their facilities, including members of disfavored ethnic or religious groups. So far so good. But Hoppe mistakenly insists that such arrangements will strengthen “traditional bourgeois morals and manners”.

Hoppe vehemently denounces what he calls “countercultural left” libertarians whom he characterizes as reckless, irresponsible and immature bohemians. He says of this element:

“…the anarchistic upshot of the libertarian doctrine appealed to the countercultural left. For did not the illegitimacy of the state…imply that everyone was at liberty to choose his very own nonaggressive lifestyle? Did this not imply that vulgarity, obscenity, profanity, drug use, promiscuity, pornography, prostitution, homosexuality, polygamy, pedophilia or any other conceivable perversity or abnormality, insofar as they were victimless crimes, were no offenses at all but perfectly normal and legitimate activities and lifestyles?”

He then goes on to say that “the advocates of alternative, non-family and kin-centered lifestyles such as, for instance, individual hedonism, parasitism, nature-environment worship, homosexuality, or communism-will have to be physically removed from society, too, if one is to maintain a libertarian order.” What is this? Anarcho-Stalinism? One can easily imagine comparable rhetoric spewing from the pages of PRAVDA circa 1938. Even more distressing are Hoppe’s views on race, ethnicity and immigration. The following comments are typical :

“At all points of entry and along its borders, the GOVERNMENT (emphasis mine), as trustee of its citizens, must check all newly arriving persons for an entrance ticket; that is, a valid invitation by a domestic property owner; anyone not in possession of such a ticket must be expelled at his own expense.”

This “Where are your papers?” approach to libertarianism is indeed a unique one.

“…all immigrants must demonstrate through tests not only English language proficiency, but all-around superior (above-average) intellectual performance and character structure as well as a compatible system of values-with the predictable result of a systematic pro-European immigration bias.”

A similar policy was advocated by the late George Lincoln Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi Party. God knows no intelligent, virtuous or industrious person could ever originate from the mongrel hordes of Asia, Africa or Latin America. Hoppe insists that it is not enough to simply deny non-citizens access to entitlement programs or coverage under antidiscrimination laws for “(e)ven if no welfare-handouts were available to immigrants, this does not mean that they would actually have to work, since even life on and off the the public streets and parks…is comfortable as compared to “real” life in many other areas of the world.” Immigrants must be kept out by the most draconian measures necessary otherwise “(c)ivilization would vanish..just as it once did from Greece and Rome.” The barbarians are at the gates!! It is indeed disturbing that a scholar of Hoppe’s acumen would adopt rhetoric more worthy of a Ku Klux Klan rally than a discourse on liberty.

Hoppe is a leading theorist and proponent of what has become known as “paleolibertarianism”. Also known as “New Fusionism”, this tendency was developed by the late Murray Rothbard and his associates following their defection from the “mainstream” libertarian movement in the late 1980s. Rothbard was rightfully disgusted by the drift of libertarians of the Cato/Reason/Institute for Justice variety towards statist reformism, acceptance of central government and Republican-friendly Beltway-insider trendiness. Similarly rejecting the emphasis upon “lifestyle” libertarianism found among many Libertarian Party types, Rothbard sought to meld his “anarcho-capitalism” with the tradition of the isolationist Old Right that began to revive itself following the end of the Cold War. The primary citadels of this “paleolibertarianism” are the Ludwig von Mises Institute, an Alabama-based think tank, and the LewRockwell.com web site. Now, these projects are indeed superior to their more moderate counterparts at Cato and the LP. The Rockwell site, for instance, has been a consistent and outspoken opponent of the American regime’s current drive toward World War Three and includes many fine and perceptive writers. However, it does not follow that cultural conservatism is indeed a correct posture for anarchists, libertarians and anti-statists to assume.

Simply speaking, there is no “anarchist culture” per se. Anarchism is simply the doctrine that coercion should be completely removed from human political affairs and that the state should be dismantled entirely. Libertarianism is a more moderate version of this same idea, generally accepting the non-coercion principle but expressing more skepticism concerning the anarchist conclusion. Anarchism and libertarianism are political doctrines and nothing more. There is no “anarchist culture” just as there is no anarchist religion, anarchist race, anarchist music, anarchist basketball or anarchist astronomy. Anarchists and libertarians may come from any number of cultural, ethnic or religious backgrounds, engage in many kinds of artistic, athletic or recreational activities, or subscribe to a multitude of different philosophical or ethical beliefs or scientific theories.

Paleolibertarianism makes the mistake of confusing libertarianism with Euro-centrism, Christianity, bourgeois morality and the nuclear family. It is not that any of these things are necessarily incompatible with anti-statism but it does not follow that any or all of these values will necessarily be dominant in a stateless society. While all of the leading intellectual purveyors of anarchism and libertarianism have been of European ancestry or heavily influenced by European intellectual culture, there have been many actually existing cultures that contained characteristics essential to liberty such as decentralization, federalism or confederation, accountability of leaders and office holders, free exchange and migration and so on. Examples include the pre-colonial societies of West Africa that George Ayittey has written about (2), the confederal political structures of some of the indigenous peoples of North America noticed by a number of the American Founders (3), anti-centralist traditions among some early Semitic tribes (4), the Santal peoples of eastern India, the Islamic Berbers of northern Africa, certain strands of traditional Polynesian culture (5), the Chinese Taoist religious tradition and so on. (6)

Some have argued that the contemporary nation most closely approximating the anarchist ideal is the Islamic African nation of Somalia. (7) Libertarian and anarchical strands are also to be found in the pre-Christian pagan culture of Greece, including the Athenian tradition of strictly limited and accountable government (8) and the Stoic and Cynic philosophical schools. (9) Libertarian sentiments are also found in the Roman pagan writers Cicero, Cato and Strabo. (10) Pagan Iceland and Ireland approached states of anarchy. (11) Indeed, anarchical strands are to be found in many traditional and indigenous cultures world wide. Europeans were simply the first to intellectualize such concepts and these ideas existed in Europe long before the advent of Christianity to European culture. (12)

While it is no doubt true that family relationships would be strengthened in the absence of the state, it does not necessarily follow that these will be exclusively or even predominately conventional bourgeois nuclear families. Rather, it is likely that the demand for family relationships of many different kinds will increase. This will include traditional Christian and bourgeois conceptions of family, to be sure, but it is also quite likely that the older concept of the extended family and the blurring of distinctions between blood relatives and community members of close proximity will undergo a revival as well. An increased emphasis on extended families would likely have the effect of increasing the amount of polygamous and polyandrous families as well as arranged or other forms of non-companionate marriage. An increase in the number of non-companionate marriages would likely coincide with a decrease in divorce and singledom but lead to a likely increase in the demand for prostitution and pornography as extramarital companionate relationships as an antidote to marital sexual dissatisfaction became more costly.

Cultures with established traditions of absentee fatherhood (for example, urban American blacks) might well develop a strong matriarchal culture in the absence of the welfare state. The demise of the welfare state might result in a decrease in the number of unwanted pregnancies but, at the same time, a larger number of those unwanted pregnancies that do occur will result in abortion and, unfortunately, infanticide. Similarly, the demise of the welfare state would likely strengthen intergenerational ties and increase the general level of respect for the elderly however a greater number of unwanted or burdensome elderly might well be likely to undergo euthanasia of both the voluntary and, unfortunately, involuntary types. Among homosexuals, it is likely that in a stateless society long-term partnerships would become more common as would the adoption of children by same sex couples. All of these factors are fairly predictable simply by studying the relationship between the economics of the family and the welfare state and by observing what actually transpired in past cultures before the rise of the modern state. So the traditional conservative taboos against non-marital sexual relations, pornography, euthanasia and abortion would likely be weakened by the demise of the state.

A similar analysis can be conducted with regards to sexual taboos. Such taboos are socially constructed and largely emerge according to subjective cultural experience. (13) Among certain Middle Eastern cultures, for example, it is considered more shameful for a woman to uncover her head publicly than to expose her genitalia. A Thai woman who goes barefoot in public is akin to an American woman who publicly bares her breasts. In Bali, the public display of the soles of the feet is considered obscene. None of this has anything whatsoever to do with the absence of the state, decentralized or confederal political structures, free markets or free trade and migration, war and militarism, definitions of property rights, legal procedures or any of the other things that should be of primary concern to those seeking the advancement of liberty. (14)

Nor does the question of race involve any significant issue for the cause of anarchism, libertarianism or anti-statism. While there are of course anarchists who are also interested in racial questions (15) a libertarian society need not be populated by persons exclusively of even predominately of any one ethnic background. Hoppe raises the issue of multi-ethnic societies that have endured disruptive and even lethal ethnic or cultural strife. However, societies of this type, for example contemporary India, inner continental Africa or the Baltic region, are typically societies where centralized states or imperial empires have attempted to consolidate their power by playing different ethnic, religious or cultural groups off against one another in a type of “divide and conquer” strategy. Once central power collapses, these pressure-cooker antagonisms then erupt into race wars and ethnic cleansing. The American regime is current fueling such hostilities on a good number of fronts which is one of the primary reasons why the struggle against the state is so important in our own country. (16)

In a decentralized system, conflicting cultural groups tend to separate and go their own way. A marvelous example is the America approach to questions of religious conflict. Indeed, Hoppe discusses this matter himself. A number of religious denominations, some quite exclusionary in nature, were involved in the settling of America. Rather than engage in perpetual warfare with one another they simply went their own separate ways. Puritans went to Massachusetts, Baptists to Rhode Island, Quakers to Pennsylvania, Anglicans to Virginia, Mormons to Utah and Jews maintained their own enclaves. When Catholics immigrated to America en masse, they faced heavy discrimination so they responded by forming separate institutions of their own. At the time of the American Revolution, Puritan traditions remained strong in New England yet the “Founding Fathers” included such persons as Jefferson, Franklin and Paine who were more openly anti-Christian than would be tolerated in political figures of today. (17) Every religion in the world is present in contemporary America, from snake-handlers to Satanists, and the U.S. has the most tolerant approach to religious matters of any nation. Yet the U.S. is hardly a country torn apart by religious strife and violence. The same approach can be taken on racial matters as well. The key to avoiding ethnic conflict in America’s future is to abolish the state rather than declaring European culture to be supreme, building a Great Wall of China along the Mexican border or sending out the federal gestapo of the INS to demand the travel papers of immigrants.

Paleolibertarians are no more justified in mindlessly worshipping European culture and detesting immigrants or homosexuals than politically correct left-wing multiculturalists are justified in mindlessly worshipping Third World cultures and hating “dead white males”. It is high time for anti-statists to divorce themselves from the ridiculous extremes now waging the culture wars in the realms of government, media and academia. One reason that opposition groups in the U.S., libertarian or otherwise, find no more support than they do is because most of them, whether left or right, cannot avoid taking the most extreme, fanatical positions on cultural and social matters. Throughout my years of political activity, I have tried to focus primarily on issues of concern to all persons regardless of race, religion, culture or geography. Issues like taxes, economic opportunity and stability, war and militarism, crime and self-defense, jobs and labor relations, personal freedom and civil liberties, political corruption and bureaucratic arrogance. I encourage others to do the same.

Notes:

1) For a broader discussion of the incompatibility of conservatism and libertarianism, see my “Conservatism Is Not Enough: Reclaiming the Legacy of the Anti-State Left” at www.attackthesystem.com/conservatism.html.

2) Africa Betrayed, by George Ayittey. The author discusses how many indigenous African cultures were stateless. He denounces both European imperialism and the Marxism of continental dictators.

3) The influence of the Iroquois Confederation, for example, on the political thinking of the Founding Fathers is discussed by Albert Jay Nock in Our Enemy The State.

4) Aspects of these traditions are referred to in the Biblical Book of Samuel.

5) Harold Barclay discusses a number of stateless traditional societies in People Without Government: The Anthropology of Anarchy.

6) Anarchy In Action, by Colin Ward. Murray Rothbard considered the Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu to be the first libertarian.

7) My thanks to the writers at Anti-State.com for clueing me in with regards to the Somalian situation.

8) See “How Did the Ancient Greeks Do Politics?” at http://www.attackthesystem.com/commentary.html

9) Ward.

10) Nock.

11) Ireland is discussed by Murray Rothbard in For A New Liberty. Iceland is discussed in Machinery of Freedom by David Friedman.

12) This is not to say that Christianity has had no impact on the struggle for liberty. The idea of church/state separation originates from the Anabaptist sects of the Radical Reformation. The federalist structures of Congregationalist and Presbyterian churches were influential in the thinking of some of the American founders, particularly the Rev. John Witherspoon, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Wesleyans and Quakers were particularly influential in the movement to abolish slavery. One of the earliest advocates of prostitutes’ rights was an evangelical Christian woman, Josephine Butler.

13) The work of Michele Foucault on the history of sexuality is particularly instructive.

14) The exception, of course, is when sexual or other cultural taboos, such as drug use, are formally criminalized by the state.

15) See “Anarchism and the Black Revolution” by Lorenzo Komboa Erving. There is also a growing movement to synthesize anarchism with white separatist tendencies represented by groups like the American Front, Britain’s National Revolutionary Faction or the European Liberation Front. Anarchistic tendencies are also displayed by some of the Christian Identity factions in the U.S., such as the Posse Comitatus.

16) Thomas Sowell has produced much useful scholarship on the role of the state in fostering ethnic conflict.

17) “Religion in Politics”, The Mind of the Bible Believer, by Edmund D. Cohen.

Copyright 2002. American Revolutionary Vanguard. All rights reserved.

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