by Dan Sanchez
The Bigotry of Anti-Bigotry
Left-libertarians who espouse “thick libertarianism” especially like to lump anti-“bigotry” (I’ll explain the scare quotes later) into libertarianism: e.g., anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-homophobia, etc. The more principled ones are careful to insert the proviso that “libertarian” efforts to combat bigotry must never violate the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP); e.g., laws against “hate speech,” business discrimination, etc, are out of the question. Instead, they favor non-state, non-coercive social harassment, including especially what they call “BOP,” which stands for “Boycott, Ostracize, Protest.”
One of the chief reasons left-thick-libertarians think anti-“bigotry” should be subsumed within libertarianism has to do with what is called “strategic thickness.” They argue that “bigotry” favors statism, and a more bigoted population will tend to be more statist. Therefore a good libertarian should combat bigotry as part of his war against statism.
There are three big dangers with this position.
The first one is a danger with “thick thinking” in general (which I discuss at length in “The Perils of Thick Thinking”). Even though more principled left-thick-libertarians cleave to the NAP proviso themselves, broadening “libertarianism” to include commitments that are potential rivals to the NAP linguistically makes it easier for other less-principled folk to sacrifice the NAP for those ends, and still call oneself a “libertarian.”
The second big danger with this position is how easy it is for the State to take advantage of it.
Left-leaning libertarians dismiss critics of “political correctness” and see PC anti-“bigotry” as a benign sign that society has “progressed,” and that “BOP”-ing the unreconstructed “bigoted” remnant on their figurative heads is just a matter of completing the happy cultural revolution and insuring against retrogression.
Yet, in many ways, society is not “progressing” at all, especially on the racial front. Through subjecting every person to an entire childhood of public school PC homilies, and every university graduate to at least four years of Marxoid identity politics, the State and its establishment has inculcated the population into a shallow and hypocritical, yet ostentatious and hysterical, anti-“bigotry.” This hollow morality, this river of received wisdom, hardly ever seems to flow into any anti-statist, or otherwise positive direction. Public anti-racism poses no real threat to the racism-sheltered-and-fueled War on Drugs/Crime (“criminal” being synonymous with “black” in the minds of many cops, prosecutors, and judges) or War on “Terror” (“terrorist” being synonymous with “hajji” in the minds of many soldiers).
Instead, the State and its pet establishment (especially the media) always seems to be able to channel PC hysteria into self-serving directions. One way it does so is by using such a divisive preoccupation to Divide, Distract, and Conquer, as I discuss at length toward the end of my essay “Identity Politics and Warfare Sociology”.
An even more broadly-pernicious way it does this, is by using anti-“bigotry” and “official minority”-pandering to foster statism more directly; for example, in the cases of Great Society welfare programs, doubling-down on public schooling, and the minority-housing policies that contributed to the calamitous housing bubble of the 2000s. What is particularly pernicious about these policies is that their alleged “beneficiaries” are generally their greatest victims. As Thomas Sowell has said:
“The black family which survived slavery, discrimination, poverty, wars and depressions began to come apart as the federal government moved in with its well-financed programs to help.”
Again, society is hardly “progressing,” especially with regard to the plight of the black man, who is now under a double burden. The public’s inculcated anti-“bigotry” fosters and shelters the “soft bigotry” of the debilitating and degrading welfare state (including especially the monstrous inner city public schools) which only serves him up to more likely be victimized by the “hard bigotry” of the War on Drugs/Crime, which the “anti-racist” part of the civic religion does almost nothing to counter. And what is the result of all this? Sure, it may be more culturally unacceptable to speak crossly about a black man. But there are more black, male slaves (which is what prison inmates are) now than in 1850. And yet the present state of affairs is alleged to be “progress,” given us by the PC cultural revolution.
Finally, even if the civic religion of anti-“bigotry” wasn’t such an artificial creation and tool of the State, still there would be a huge problem with the left-thick-libertarians’ espousal of BOP (again, Boycott, Ostracize, Protest) activism. The problem is that anti-“bigotry” BOP-activism is not an instance of what thick libertarians call “strategic thickness;” that is, it is not conducive to anti-statism. Rather, it is actually inherently conducive to statism.
Here, we finally arrive at the reason why I’ve been using “bigotry” in scare quotes, with reference to the PC project. I don’t think it’s fair to call someone a “bigot” solely based on their personal views and how they choose to arrange their own personal and commercial affairs. To me, true bigotry is antagonizing someone based on how they differ from you: whether it is a difference in background and biology or beliefs and preferences. And it is bigotry in that sense that is truly conducive to statism. (Also of course, when the State is wielded against someone over some difference, that State oppression itself is antagonization, and is therefore bigotry as well.)
Again, the State rules by dividing and conquering: by pitting its subjects against each other as mutual antagonists, and taking a cut of the loot when such antagonism escalates to mutual coercion and plunder. And, so antagonization of any kind is inherently conducive to the State.
Bigotry is not politely declining to cater a gay wedding, or relating racial opinions and misgivings to your girlfriend; neither involves active antagonization. Bigotry does include both wielding the State against gays, blacks, etc (like Jim Crow laws, etc), and such non-State antagonization as protesting a gay wedding or funeral, as do the Westboro Baptist Church bigots, or hostilely belittling a black man by addressing him as “boy” or some other epithet.
But bigotry also includes boycott organizers trying to destroy the business of religious bakers, feminists trying to get a disc jockey fired for playing the song “Blurred Lines,” and thought police publicly hounding elderly men over coarse things they get caught saying in private or merely politically incorrect or poorly phrased things they state in public.
The BOP strategy, when directed at people over their personal views and how they arrange their personal and commercial affairs, is predicated on antagonization over a difference in thought and behavior, and it is therefore bigotry. What else can you call even non-violent campaigns against people’s very livelihoods and against their welcome in society itself, over their different personal beliefs and unobtrusive practices?
Even after the State is abolished, would it really be conducive to liberty to move on to ferret out every tiny little Amish or Muslim community, and relentlessly BOP them, making their lives miserable, until they submit to reeducation? Which, after all, do you think will more likely resort to aggression and the State: a quiet, introverted, culturally stratified religious sect, or an activist movement of secular egalitarian puritanical busybodies. This is not to assert any kind of superiority of stratification and religion over egalitarianism and secularism. It is only to point out that, even if you favor the latter, whatever good traits those commitments may have will be swamped by the statist inclination inherent in antagonistic activism.
Now, this isn’t to say BOP is never to be resorted to. Not all opposition is antagonization; only the initiation of opposition is: that is, the creation of an enemy relationship where one did not already exist. Defensive or retaliatory opposition can be warranted and beneficial, since its prospect will tend to fend off antagonization.
Thus, the distinction between opposition-in-general and antagonization is analogous to that between force-in-general and aggression. It would be conducive to smooth, harmonious co-existence, and to the avoidance of possible escalation to violence, to as much as possible abstain from antagonization, and to only undertake campaigns of opposition against those who have already antagonized you: like boycotting Westboro, or protesting against “our enemy, the state” and its bigotry-fueled policies.
I will not call this a “Non-Antagonization Principle,” so as not to incur the risk that thick libertarians bring on when they linguistically make it easier to have other commitments take precedence over the Non-Aggression Principle. “Principle” means “first thing;” and when it comes to life in society, only the NAP comes first. Instead, I will follow Captain Barbossa when he said that the pirate code “is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.” Thus, let’s call it the “Non-Antagonization Guideline.” This results in what is perhaps an unfortunate acronym: NAG. However, it does, at least provide a reminder what not to do to people with different cultural values than you who are minding their own business. Don’t nag them; don’t BOP them.
If there is a “liberal” ethos beyond liberalism/libertarianism itself, and which fosters libertarianism itself, it is not “treat everyone exactly the same,” but “live and let live.” It is not egalitarianism, but tolerance.