Like any emerging ideology, the alt-right didn’t just materialize out of nowhere. There were forerunners crying in the wilderness who were generally viewed as harmless kooks. “The paleo-libertarian seed that Ron Paul, Murray Rothbard, and Lew Rockwell planted in the 1990s has come to bear some really ugly fruit in the last couple of years as elements of the alt-right have made appearances in various libertarian organizations and venues,” writes Steve Horwitz, an economist who writes at Bleeding Heart Libertarians.
The Ron Paul Revolution might not have amounted to much electorally, but it would be wrong to underestimate the impact he has had on libertarianism and the alt-right. “In a way, Ron Paul is the guy who lit the fuse,” Nick Gillespie says. “And he embodies some of those contradictions [between libertarianism and the alt-right].” Gillespie tells me that Richard Spencer came up to him at the Republican National Convention in 2016 and said that he was activated into politics because of Paul. Gillespie sees Paul’s legacy as very mixed, as someone who was “simultaneously… positing this very libertarian worldview, but then he’s also speaking to people’s fears and anxieties.” If one were looking for the missing link to explain this phenomenon, Ron Paul (and his paleolibertarian allies) would be a good place to start.
– ‘The Insidious Libertarian to Alt-Right Pipeline’, Daily Beast 23/8/17
No report on Paul would be complete without mentioning certain ‘newsletters’. And this is where we start to see Paul’s significance as a liminal, bridging figure between the ‘respectable’ and intellectual libertarianism of Austrian-inspired economic theorizing, which he has popularized in several books, and the racist far-Right. In the process, we find a ‘way in’ to paleolibertarianism… a service Paul has rendered for many, though in a different way.
In the words of Mother Jones:
Published as far back as the late 1970s, under various mastheads bearing Paul’s name (Ron Paul Political Report, Ron Paul’s Freedom Report, the Ron Paul Survival Report), the newsletters are, at times, virulently racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, and conspiratorial.
Jonathan Chait managed to make himself useful – for once – by writing a handy little summary of (some of) the bile in these newsletters:
As early as December 1989, a section of his Investment Letter, titled “What To Expect for the 1990s,” predicted that “Racial Violence Will Fill Our Cities” because “mostly black welfare recipients will feel justified in stealing from mostly white ‘haves.’” Two months later, a newsletter warned of “The Coming Race War,” and, in November 1990, an item advised readers, “If you live in a major city, and can leave, do so. If not, but you can have a rural retreat, for investment and refuge, buy it.” In June 1991, an entry on racial disturbances in Washington, DC’s Adams Morgan neighborhood was titled, “Animals Take Over the D.C. Zoo.” “This is only the first skirmish in the race war of the 1990s,” the newsletter predicted. In an October 1992 item about urban crime, the newsletter’s author–presumably Paul–wrote, “I’ve urged everyone in my family to know how to use a gun in self defense. For the animals are coming.” That same year, a newsletter described the aftermath of a basketball game in which “blacks poured into the streets of Chicago in celebration. How to celebrate? How else? They broke the windows of stores to loot.” The newsletter inveighed against liberals who “want to keep white America from taking action against black crime and welfare,” adding, “Jury verdicts, basketball games, and even music are enough to set off black rage, it seems.”
Such views on race also inflected the newsletters’ commentary on foreign affairs. South Africa’s transition to multiracial democracy was portrayed as a “destruction of civilization” that was “the most tragic [to] ever occur on that continent, at least below the Sahara”; and, in March 1994, a month before Nelson Mandela was elected president, one item warned of an impending “South African Holocaust.” …
The newsletters were particularly obsessed with AIDS, “a politically protected disease thanks to payola and the influence of the homosexual lobby,” and used it as a rhetorical club to beat gay people in general. In 1990, one newsletter approvingly quoted “a well-known Libertarian editor” as saying, “The ACT-UP slogan, on stickers plastered all over Manhattan, is ‘Silence = Death.’ But shouldn’t it be ‘Sodomy = Death’?” Readers were warned to avoid blood transfusions because gays were trying to “poison the blood supply.” “Am I the only one sick of hearing about the ‘rights’ of AIDS carriers?” a newsletter asked in 1990. That same year, citing a Christian-right fringe publication, an item suggested that “the AIDS patient” should not be allowed to eat in restaurants and that “AIDS can be transmitted by saliva,” which is false.
(Quoted by Marxist Marginalia.)
Other newsletters claim that AIDS might’ve been created by the US government, and is being deliberately spread by gays. In a foreshadowing of the alt-Right’s “rapefugees” scare-tactic, a 1990 newsletter suggests renaming New York City “Rapetown” because of all the blacks living there.
There’s lots more of this kind of stuff. Here are some more choice quotes, selected by The Atlantic:
“Given the inefficiencies of what DC laughingly calls the criminal justice system, I think we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males in that city are semi-criminal or entirely criminal.”
“We are constantly told that it is evil to be afraid of black men, it is hardly irrational.”
After the Los Angeles riots, one article in a newsletter claimed, “Order was only restored in L.A. when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks.”
One referred to Martin Luther King Jr. as “the world-class philanderer who beat up his paramours” and who “seduced underage girls and boys.”
Another referred to Barbara Jordan, a civil rights activist and congresswoman as “Barbara Morondon,” the “archetypical half-educated victimologist.”
Other highlights, collated and quoted by Mother Jones, include:
“It’s the hip-hop thing to do among the urban youth who play unsuspecting whites like pianos. The youth simply walk up to a car they like, pull a gun, tell the family to get out, steal their jewelry and wallets, and take the car to wreck. Such actions have ballooned in recent months.
“What can you do? More and more Americans are carrying a gun in the car. An ex-cop I know advises that if you have to use a gun on a youth, you should leave the scene immediately, disposing of the wiped off gun as soon as possible. Such a gun cannot, of course, be registered to you, but one bought privately (through the classifieds, for example.)”
And here there is a very clear paleolibertarian synthesis at work in the Paul newsletters:
“[O]pinion polls consistently show only about 5 percent of blacks have sensible political opinions, i.e. support the free market, individual liberty, and the end of welfare and affirmative action.”
The essence of the paleolibertarian project. Get Austrian-inspired libertarian free market fanaticism into the popular consciousness by hitching it to what are supposedly the standard reactionary obsessions of the masses. The idea and practice of this synthesis eloquently demonstrates the inherent reactionary import of Austrian-libertarian theory.
Most libertarians still defend Paul from the opprobrium brought down on his head. To be fair, as almost everyone now acknowledges, Paul almost certainly didn’t write the newsletters himself, and now publicly rejects the sentiments in them. But according to Jamie Kirchick writing in The New Republic, Paul made almost $1M from publishing these newsletters in just one year, and he hasn’t given back any of the money. His attitude is opportunistic, much belying his supposed principled nature. As the blog Marxist Marginalia says, whatever his more recent anti-racist statements, Paul’s “political conduct reveals that he is more than willing to draw on the language of white supremacy when he thinks it will benefit his cause, and equally willing to discard it when he believes it will not”. If he has drawn upon it less – or more covertly – in the latter years of his career it can only be because of its increasing unpopularity and ghettoisation. And yet this very unpopularity and ghettoisation is part of how it has re-erupted in the form of the alt-Right… because the ghetto to which it has been confined by an increasingly liberally-minded populace is the one in which the increasingly angry young white men of the American squeezed-classes has congregated to huddle together for warmth and validation: the right-wing internet. And this ghetto of chans and chatrooms is precisely the sort of place where one finds a strata of the kinds of young men who had been, and continued to be, attracted to the style and rhetoric of Ron Paul’s ‘revolution’. The failiure of the paleolibertarian ‘outreach to the rednecks’ has been the fuelling of the alt-right.
The generally-agreed-upon prime suspect in the newsletters whodunnit seems to be Llewellyn ‘Lew’ Rockwell. Reason-dot-com makes a reasonable case for this. As mentioned, Rockwell is the chairman and co-founder (with Rothbard) of the aforementioned Mises Institute, where Ron Paul is – as the reader will recall – a ‘senior fellow’. The Mises Institute is a major hub of right-wing libertarian organising and propaganda, and is currently the main agency propagating Austrian dogma in the US, if not the world.
Yet another committed Austrian, Rockwell is also the man behind the modestly named website LewRockwell-dot-org, which pumps out not only Austrian, right-libertarian and paleolibertarian material, but also repeatedly posts brazenly racist and white supremacist filth. Rockwell also co-edited the ‘Rothbard-Rockwell Report’ (or the ‘Triple R’ as it was affectionately known to its basket of paleodeplorable readers) with (no prizes) Rothbard. It was devoted to the usual shit, including openly racist and white supremacist screeds which later ended up on LewRockwell-dot-org.
And here we begin to veer away from the liminal, connective figure of Ron Paul and delve into the milieu of ideas from which he draws his inspiration. We begin to peer into the storm drain and discern the grinning clownface of Rothbard.
Rothbard was open about calling for a Libertarian-led culture war to alter American politics. He was quite prepared to make common cause with people like David Duke, as he makes clear in his essay ‘Right-Wing Populism’, written for the Triple-R in 1992 and now available on LewRockwell-dot-org – and also, like so many of the pieces which appeared in those two venues, now collated in a book-style object obnoxiously (and embarrassingly) entitled The Irrepressible Rothbard.
In an article tracing the influence of libertarianism on Donald Trump’s rhetoric, the Washington Post writes that
[t]o solve the problem that few Americans are interested in small government, Rothbard argued that libertarians needed to align themselves with people they might not like much in order to expand their numbers. “Outreach to the Rednecks” was needed to make common cause with far-right Christian conservatives who hated the federal government, disliked drugs and wanted to crack down on crime.
All of these paleolibertarian positions were offered in Duke’s 1990 Senate campaign and 1991 gubernatorial campaign. But they were also offered by another politician Rothbard admired: Ron Paul, the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate in 1988.
Rothbard and Paul had known and worked with each other in the 1970s, when they came to know Rockwell. Rockwell would work closely with both men, serving as Paul’s congressional chief of staff until he left to found the Mises Institute with Rothbard.
Hence those newsletters which, as the Post reminds us, “also repeatedly promoted the work of Jared Taylor, a white nationalist writer and editor who is today one of Trump’s most prominent alt-right backers.”
Taylor is founder and editor of the white supremacist American Renaissance magazine, wherein he returned the compliment. In a 1994 issue, the magazine remarked that
The Rothbard-Rockwell Report is a refreshingly sharp commentary on the forces of lunacy that are destroying our country. The April 1994 issue has an excellent cover story by Murray Rothbard entitled The Vital Importance of Separation.
The fascists approvingly quote Rothbard’s case for ‘Grand Apartheid’ (i.e. ethno-nationalism) as a solution to South Africa’s problems, and his application of the same principle to solving America’s racial problems.
Duke, also praised in the newsletters, and is yet another Rothbard-adjacent American fascist to endorse Trump. Duke, it will be recalled, is the former high-ranking Klansman and chronic racist frother who was recently seen ‘strengthening’ the ranks of the alt-Right’s new besties when they coagulated at Charlottesville for a tiki torch rally and a spot of vehicular homicide. (It will be recalled that even Trump’s “many sides” comment was too mean to the poor picked-on fash for Duke to stomach.) In the early 90s, Duke managed to insinuate himself into Republican politics in Louisiana and picked up a hefty share of the white vote down there. Rothbard is not scandalised by this but by the fact that Duke was roundly condemned by almost everyone else – left and “Official right” – for being, well, David Duke. He laments the “massive campaign of hysteria, of fear and hate”… but the hate he’s decrying isn’t the hate issuing from the mouth of the racist, anti-semitic, holocaust-denying, former-Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan. No, no. Rather, Rothbard is upset by the hatred of said person by those who, for whatever reason, don’t think much of such things. Now why does this logic seem oddly familiar – even widespread – nowadays?
Rothbard explains that there is “nothing in Duke’s current program or campaign that could not also be embraced by paleoconservatives or paleo-libertarians; lower taxes, dismantling the bureaucracy, slashing the welfare system, attacking affirmative action and racial set-asides, calling for equal rights for all Americans, including whites: what’s wrong with any of that?”
Well quite. Who could be against equal rights for whites? Only the racists in the political correctness lobby, of course. The all-powerful Left. The statists. The establishment. The – it is all but said – globalists plotting a ‘great replacement’. I used ‘modern’ lingo there, but the assumptions and rhetoric on display are all too familiar to anyone alive in 2017. And Rothbard’s more-or-less openly stated rationale for embracing such assumptions and rhetoric – beyond convictions which were, I’ve no doubt, sincerely and passionately felt – is the need for the right to unite and fight for low taxes. Low taxes being, of course, the very essence of the right-wing populism so long touted as revolutionary by Ron Paul.
Next time, on to Rothbard.