Libertarianism and Reaction: Pieces of a Whole

The rise of the neoreactionary or alt-right movement has brought reactionary thought back to the forefront. Its relationship to libertarianism eludes many people, who either claim that the two are antithetical in some way or that libertarianism is best served by making other allegiances. My first attempt at examining this relationship was necessary but not sufficient, so let us complete the examination by looking at how libertarianism and reaction work together to form a complete worldview, as well as why combining each of them with anything else leads to disaster.

Definitions

In order to produce a meaningful analysis, it is necessary to begin by defining terms. This essay, like the first, will use the following definitions:

  1. Libertarianism: a philosophical position on what constitutes the morally acceptable use of force. Libertarianism says that initiating the use of force is never acceptable but defensive uses of force are always acceptable.

  2. Reaction: in the broadest sense, a political position that favors a return to some status quo ante which is believed to have possessed desirable characteristics which are absent from the status quo. In a narrower sense, reactionaries oppose liberal democracy, socialism, communism, egalitarianism, tabula rasa, and Whig historiography while supporting hierarchical structures, traditions, nativism, and skepticism.

It is good to know what both libertarianism and reaction are, but it is equally important to know what they are not. While many people claim that libertarianism is more than non-aggression and says something more about how people should interact, this is not true. While there are some obvious prerequisites like the three laws of thought and self-ownership, this is true of any coherent ideology. The critics who claim that libertarianism is not a complete worldview are correct, but it was never intended to be; it is simply an answer to one vitally important question. In order to form a complete worldview, libertarianism needs something else to inform its adherents about other issues, such as economics, religion, race relations, gender roles, and collective concepts.
Likewise, reaction does not offer a complete worldview in and of itself. Much like conservatism, which favors the status quo rather than a status quo ante, reaction has no consistent definition because the nature of both the status quo and the status quo ante are dependent upon time and place. For example, a reactionary in 1995 Russia might seek to restore the Soviet Union, while a reactionary in 1795 France might seek to restore the Bourbon dynasty to the throne. In order to form a complete worldview, reaction needs something else to inform its adherents about the nature of the mistakes which occurred in the past so that they can understand how to get society back on the correct path.

It is in these senses that reaction completes libertarianism and vice versa. And complete each other they should, because if they do not, other ideologies will do so. If libertarianism will not inform the reactionary about what mistakes are in need of correction, then something else will. If reaction will not inform the libertarian about issues other than the acceptable use of force, then something else will. Let us examine what happens if reaction or libertarianism gets combined with something else.

Reaction Without Libertarianism

If reaction is not combined with libertarianism, then it will be combined with some ideology which accepts initiation of the use of force as legitimate. This has resulted in a dark and bloody history of authoritarian statism, from the emperors and kings of old to the more recent fascist governments. The amount of death and destruction that this has caused is second only among political ideologies to its leftist counterpart of communism. Even less extreme non-libertarian combinations with reaction can lead to ruin, though such ruin takes the form of slow economic and cultural decay rather than violent domestic suppression and foreign wars. The most common of these forms is that of reactionary populism, which tends to surface once in a generation or so. The primary problem with reactionary populism is that it tries to maintain welfare statism while seeking to return to traditional moral values, as its adherents do not understand that welfare statism is the method by which traditional moral values have been undermined. By subsidizing practitioners of degenerate behavior at the expense of people of good character, reactionary populists only produce more of the problems they claim to want to solve. As Hoppe explains[1],

By relieving individuals of the obligation to provide for their own income, health, safety, old age, and children’s education, the range and temporal horizon of private provision is reduced, and the value of marriage, family, children, and kinship relations is lowered. Irresponsibility, shortsightedness, negligence, illness and even destructionism (bads) are promoted, and responsibility, farsightedness, diligence, health and conservatism (goods) are punished.”

Non-libertarian combinations with reaction can also lead to state-mandated discrimination on a basis of unsubstantiated prejudice rather than any biological or cultural justification which may arise among private individuals or communities. Such activities weaken an economy and encourage internal strife between the different subgroups within a geographical area, as armies tend to go where goods do not, and vice versa. (This, of course, is in the rational self-interest of those who wield power in a reactionary authoritarian regime, as those who fight amongst themselves are less able to overthrow the government.)

Libertarianism Without Reaction

If libertarianism is not combined with reaction, then it will be combined with some ideology which actively promotes vices as though they were virtuous behaviors, as opposed to one which condemns degeneracy while stopping short of supporting initiatory force to stamp it out. This has resulted in a leftist infiltration of libertarian groups, complete with social justice warriorism, egalitarianism, hedonism, and other associated ills. The amount of confusion that this has caused is immense, and it is a major reason why libertarianism has failed to gain mainstream acceptance. When people seeking a reprieve from state oppression and violence encounter a movement of people who seem to believe that anything drug-related is inherently libertarian, standards of public morality are manifestations of rape culture and patriarchy, and using one’s private property rights and freedom of association for politically incorrect purposes is somehow anti-libertarian, they frequently decide not to take seriously such a movement as an avenue for the change they seek, and they are not wrong about that.

While the toleration of vices is required by the non-aggression principle as long as said vices do not lead to assaults upon people or destruction of their property, there is a difference between tolerance and encouragement. A successful libertarian civilization must have a well-functioning market economy and be capable of both stopping common criminality and repelling external invasions. Those who abuse drugs, engage in sexual promiscuity, gamble excessively, and so forth may not be directly harming anyone other than themselves, but these behaviors practiced frequently on a large scale not only fail to make a successful libertarian civilization, but endanger its continued existence and flourishing by weakening its members and attracting people who will fake being a libertarian for their own selfish ends while undermining the community.

While it may be unpleasant when bigots use private property rights and freedom of association to discriminate against people, it is better to have bigots within libertarianism than outside of it for two reasons. First, if bigots truly become libertarians, then they must start adhering to the non-aggression principle. This means that they would have to stop initiating the use of force in pursuit of their bigotry, as well as stop asking the state to do so on their behalf. Second, the presence of openly bigoted people has the welcome effect of repulsing social justice warriors.

Another negative side effect from non-reactionary combinations with libertarianism is an autistic sort of hyper-individualism. The thinking goes that because one is an individualist, one can no longer recognize groups or make collective judgments, even in dire situations where ideal libertarian solutions are not currently available. (The reader who had this kind of thought two or three paragraphs ago should consider oneself diagnosed.) The next step in this line of thinking is to believe that anyone who dares to do so is racist/sexist/etc. But this leads nowhere good, as inaction in the face of very anti-libertarian threats can cause far more damage in the long run than would an emergency makeshift which is less than optimal from a principled libertarian standpoint.

Finally, without reaction, libertarianism lacks a certain driving motivation. From a certain perspective, libertarianism is the most ancient and fundamental form of reaction. (One could attempt to argue that atheism could be a more ancient and fundamental form of reaction than libertarianism, but such an argument fails because statism is ultimately a form of religious belief, thus making libertarianism a necessary prerequisite for atheism.) Taken to its logical conclusion, libertarianism requires anarchy and views the creation of both ancient city-states and modern nation-states as a societal error. Recalling that a defining feature of reaction is a belief that a societal error was made at some point in the past which must be corrected before society can properly advance, this provides an impetus to do the hard work of correcting such errors that non-reactionary perspectives do not provide as well, if at all.

Conclusion

As Hoppe explains[2],

“The relationship between libertarianism and conservatism is one of praxeological compatibility, sociological complementarity, and reciprocal reinforcement.”

As shown above, the same is true of libertarianism and reaction; they are pieces of a whole. Combining one or the other with something else leads to disaster. Libertarians should be reactionary, and reactionaries should be libertarians.

References:

  1. Hoppe, Hans-Hermann (2001). Democracy: The God That Failed. p. 195

  2. Hoppe, p. 202
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