Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Would a libertarian society deprive individuals of cultural roots and collective identity?

By Robert Henderson

There are many rooms in the libertarian ideological house. That fact often derails rational discussion of libertarian issues, but it need not be a problem in this instance because the question being asked is most efficiently examined by testing it against the flintiest wing of libertarian thought. If that pristine, uncompromising form of libertarianism is incompatible with the maintenance of cultural roots and collective identity, then all other shades of libertarianism will be incompatible to some degree.

The pristine libertarian has no truck with any form of government, believing that personal relations between individuals will adequately order society no matter how large or complex the society, and that such ordering will arise naturally if only the artificially constraints on human behaviour such as governments and laws are removed. Such a society would supposedly work along these lines. If the society is threatened by an invader, individuals will join together to defend it out of a sense of self-preservation. To those who cannot work for reasons of sickness, injury, age or innate infirmity, compassion and a sense of duty will ensure that private charity is extended to relieve the need. If public works such as roads and railways are required, self-interest and reason will drive individuals to join to together to build them. Matters such as education may be safely left to parents and such charitable provision as arises. Above all the individual is king and personal choice is only circumscribed if a choice involves the imposition of one individual’s will on another. You get the idea. The consequence is a vision of a society not a million miles away from Rightist forms of anarchism.

This concentration on the individual makes for a fissile society. If each person is to follow his or her own way without any requirement to believe anything other than to respect the conditions necessary to realise libertarian ends , that in itself would definitely weaken collective identity and probably affect cultural unity. Nonetheless in a truly homogeneous society, especially if it was small, the probability is that cultural weakening would not be great and the absence of a conscious collective identity would not present a difficulty provided the society was not subject to a serious threat from outside.

Serious problems for the pristine libertarian arise if the society is heterogeneous, because then there is a loss of collective unity. If the heterogeneity comes from class, the cultural roots may be largely untouched or at least develop in a way which ensures that there is still much cultural uniformity and that uniformity is clearly an extension of past cultural traits. It is also true that in a racially and ethnically homogeneous society, a sense of collective unity will be easily rekindled if the society comes under external threat.

The most difficult society for libertarians to deal with is one which is ethnically divided, especially if the ethnic divide includes racial difference. There a society becomes not so much a society but a series of competing racial and ethnic enclaves. In such a situation, it is inevitable that both cultural unity and collective identity is undermined because there is no shared general cultural experience and this plus racial difference makes a collective identity not merely impossible but absurd even in concept.

The brings us to the most obvious threat presented by pristine libertarians to the maintenance of cultural roots and collective identity. That is the idea that national boundaries should be irrelevant with people travelling and settling wherever they choose. This presumes human beings are essentially interchangeable and in this respect it echoes multiculturalism. The consequence of such a belief is to greatly increase the heterogeneity of a society through the mass immigration of those who are radically different from the native population. We do not need to guess what the result of such immigration is because it has happened throughout the western world in our own time. More specifically, it has happened in those countries whose populations which are most naturally sympathetic to libertarian ideas: those which may broadly be described as Anglo-Saxon; countries such as Britain, the USA and what used to be known as the old white dominions.

The influx of millions of people who see themselves as separate from the native populations of the countries to which they had migrated has resulted in the Anglo-Saxon states gradually destroying their tradition of freedom. Driven by a mixture of liberal internationalist ideology and fear, their elites have severely restricted by laws and their control of the media and public institutions what may be said publicly about immigration and its consequences. In Britain it is now possible to be brought to court simply for saying to someone from an ethnic minority “go home”, while any allegation of racist behaviour – which may be no more than failing to invite someone from an ethnic minority to an office party – against a public servant will result at best in a long inquiry and at worst with dismissal. Nor, in practice, is application of the law or the witch-hunts directed equally against everyone for it is overwhelmingly native Britons who are targeted.

At the same time as native Britons are being silenced and intimidated, an incessant tide of pro-immigrant and multiculturalist propaganda is pumped out by government, the public organisations they control such as the civil service and state schools and the mass media , which is overwhelmingly signed up to the liberal internationalist way of thinking. The teaching of history has been made a non-compulsory subject in British schools after the age of 14 and such history as is taught is next to worthless in promoting a sense of collective unity, both because it fails to give any chronological context to what is put before the pupils because it concentrates on “themes” rather than periods and because the amount of British history that is contained within the syllabus is tiny, often consisting of the Tudors and little else. The consequence is that the young of the native British population are left with both a sense that their own culture is in some strange way to be valued less than that of the various immigrant groups and the lack of any knowledge about their country’s past.

The most and sinister consequence of post-war immigration and the British elite’s response to it is the development within Britain of a substantial number of Muslims who not only do not have any sense of belonging to the broader society in which they live, but who are actively hostile to Britain and its values. But if this is the most dramatic example of the fracturing of British society, it is merely symptomatic of the separatist attitude of ethnic minorities in Britain generally, especially those from radically alien cultures allied to racial difference.

All of these developments are antithetical to pristine libertarian ideals, both because they undermine shared values and because they result in actions to control friction between competing racial and ethnic groups which in themselves undermine the conditions in which libertarian ideals flourish. That libertarians so often subscribe to the ideal of open borders despite the overwhelming evidence of its counter-productive effects for libertarian ends is indicative of the blinkered nature of much libertarian thinking.

The fundamental weakness of pristine libertarianism is its complete failure to take account of human psychology and the way humans behave as groups. This is unsurprising because of the central position given to the individual. But by doing this pristine libertarians ignore the central fact of being human: we are a social animal. Being a social animal entails two defining behaviours: all social animals produce hierarchies and all social animals place limits to the group. Homo sapiens is no exception.

Because hierarchies in the human context arise not only from the personal efforts, qualities and talents of each individual, as is the case with animals, but from the position each individual occupies through the accident of birth, this raises two difficulties for libertarians. The first is there is not a level playing field and without that the pristine libertarian ideal of society organising itself through freely entered into relationships is severely distorted because it is clearly absurd to say that a man born poor is freely entering into a master-servant relationship with a man born rich when the poor man needs money simply to feed himself. The second difficulty is that the very existence of an hierarchy, whether or not it is based on merit, undermines the notion of free choice because once it is established different power relationships exist.

The question of hierarchy becomes more complex as the heterogeneity of a society grows whether that be ever deeper division into classes or increasing ethnic and racial diversity . All social animals have to have boundaries to know where the group begins and ends. This is because a social animal must operate within a hierarchy and a hierarchy can only exist where there are boundaries. No boundaries, no hierarchy, because no individual could ever know what the dominance/submission situation was within their species or at least within those members of the species with whom they interact.

The need to define the group is particularly important for libertarians. Above all libertarianism requires trust. In the pristine libertarian society this means each individual believing that other people will keep their word and generally behave honestly. But as we all know only too well people cannot be trusted to observe societal norms and a society which is fractured by class, race or ethnicity is the least likely of all to have a shared sense of what is right. Therefore, libertarians need to recognise that however much they would like to believe that each human being is an individual who may go where he or she pleases and do what he or she pleases, the sociological reality precludes this and that the only sane ideological course for a libertarian is to advocate closed borders and the preservation of the homogeneity of those societies which are most favourable to libertarian ideals not because the society consciously espouses them, but because the society has evolved in a way which includes libertarian traits.

There will be libertarians who find it immensely difficult going on impossible to accept that the individual must in some respects be subordinated to the group. They will imagine, as liberal internationalists do, that human nature can be changed, although in the case of libertarians the change will come not from re-education but the creation of circumstances propitious for libertarian behaviour to emerge. Let me explain why this is impossible because of the innate differences between human beings and the effects of cultural imprinting.

Because Man is differentiated profoundly by culture, the widely accepted definition of a species – a population of freely interbreeding organisms sharing a common gene pool – is unsatisfactory, for clearly Man is more than a brute animal responding to simple biological triggers. When behavioural differences are perceived as belonging to a particular group by that group as differentiating members of the group from other men, they perform the same role as organic differences for they divide Man into cultural species.

An analogy with computers can be made. As hardware, a particular model of computer is practically identical to every other computer which is classified as the same model. But the software available to every computer of the same model is not identical. They may run different operating systems, either completely different or different versions of the same program. The software which runs under the operating system is different with different versions of the same program being used. The data which is input to the computer varies and this in turn affects the capabilities of the computer.

It clearly makes no sense to say every computer of the same model is the same even if the computer is loaded with the same software. But of course not all computers are of the same model. They vary tremendously in their power. The same software will run at very different rates because of this. Storage and memory size also vary tremendously. Some computers cannot run programmes because the programmes are too large. We may call all computers computers , but that is to say little more than that all animals are animals, for computers range from the immensely powerful super computers – the homo sapiens of the computer world as it were – to the amoeba of the simple chip which controls lights being put on or off in a room depending on whether someone is in it.

Are the circumstances of computers not akin to those of Man? Do not the racially based differences in IQ correspond to the differences in power of older and newer computers? Do not different languages represent different operating systems? For example, think how different must be the mentality of a native Chinese speaker (using a language which is entirely monosyllabic) to that of a native English speaker (using a polysyllabic language) simply because of the profound difference in the structure of the language. A language will not merely impose limits on what may be expressed it will affect the entire mentality of the individual, from aesthetic appreciation to social expression. Is not the experiential input analogous to the holding of different data?

But the most potent of human behavioural triggers are racial differences, for they exercise the strongest control over the group in a territory where different racial groups exist. Race trumps ethnicity where the ethnic clash is one of people of the same race but different ethnicities. Place a significant population of a different race into a territory where ethnicity rather than race is the cause of unrest and the ethnic factions of the same race will tend to unite against those of a different race.

To argue that racial difference is not important to the choice of a mate is as absurd as arguing that the attractiveness of a person is irrelevant to the choice of a mate.

In Freakonomics Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner cite a study made of a US dating site (the full story is on pp 80-84). The site is one of the largest in the US and the data examined covered 30,000 people equally divided between San Diego and Boston. Most were white but there was a substantial minority of non-white subjects.

The questionnaire the would-be daters had to fill in included a question choice on race as “same as mine” and “doesn’t matter”. The study compared the responses by white would-be daters (those from non-white were not analysed) to these questions with the race of the emails actually sent soliciting a date. The result in Levitt and Dubner’s words was:

“Roughly half of the white women on the site and 80 percent of the white men declared that race didn’t matter to them. But the response data tell a different story The white men who said that race didn’t matter sent 90 percent of their e-mail queries to white women. The white women who said race didn’t matter sent about 97 percent of their e-mail queries to white men.

“Is it possible that race really didn’t matter for these white women and men and that they simply never happened to browse a non-white date that interested them?”

Or, more likely, did they say that race didn’t matter because they wanted to come across especially to potential mates of their own race as open-minded?” In short, around 99% of all the women and 94% of all men in the sample were not willing to seek a date of a different race. How much stronger will be the tendency to refuse to breed with a mate of a different race?

If sexual desire will not commonly override the natural disinclination to remain racially separate nothing will.

Because the tendency to mate with those of a similar race is so strong and universal, both in place and time, it is reasonable to conclude that the behaviour is innate and that cultures necessarily include the requirement for a member of the society to be of a certain racial type. The consequence of this is that someone of a different racial type is effectively precluded from full integration because one of the criteria for belonging has not been met. That is not to say, of course, that many of the habits of mind of an alien culture may not be adopted by someone of a different race. What is withheld is the instinctive acceptance of the alien and his or her descendants as members of the society. Just as no human being can decide for themselves that they are a member of this or that group, no individual can decide that they belong to this or that nation because it is a two-way process: the other members of the group they wish to join have to accept them as a true member of the group. (Stephen Frears the English film director once wryly remarked that he had known the actor Daniel Day-Lewis “before he was Irish”).

Where does this leave us? In its present form libertarianism is a most efficient dissolver of cultural roots and collective identity. It is this because it ignores the realities of Man’s social nature. This results in the creation of the very circumstances which are least conducive to the realisation of libertarian ends. If libertarians are to realise those ends, they must recognise that the society most favourable to their beliefs is one which is homogeneous in which the shared values create the platform of trust which must underlie libertarian behaviour. Of course, that does not guarantee a society favourable to libertarians because the shared values may be antithetical to them, but it is a necessary if not sufficient condition for libertarian ideals to flourish. To that libertarians must add a recognition that there are profound differences between ethnic and racial groups and identify those societies which are most worth protecting because they have the largest element of libertarian traits within them.

Written for entry to the 2010 Chris Tame prize

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