I have never believed (and I still don’t) all the claims made against Pat Buchanan (by people like William F. Buckley) alleging that he is some kind of anti-Semite or racist, but I have always been alarmed by his inability (shared by most conservatives) to recognize the incompatibility between his quasi libertarian side and his raging nationalist side. Some recent comments that a friend pointed out from this interview were particularly worth second guessing:
What do we have in common that makes us fellow Americans? Is it simply citizenship? Or is it blood, soil, history and heroes?
Blood and soil? Uh, there is one word to describe this line: creepy. What’s next, a speech on how we’re “one people, one fatherland”, etc.? ~Ryan McMacken
I have never believed (and still don’t) the claims made against libertarians that they are bunch of self-absorbed individualists who care nothing for their nation, but I have been alarmed by their inability to recognise the incompatibility between their quasi-patriotic side and their raging ideological side.
I suppose I can’t blame a libertarian for finding references to “blood and soil” creepy, since I suppose it would have to be creepy for people who idolise Freedom to imagine having loyalties to anything so concrete as kin and place. How atavistic! How communal! It must have something to do with red-state fascism! Now I happen to know that a lot of libertarians, especially paleolibertarians, do value kin and place and typically do not go galloping off into the wild and wooly regions of abstract theory in which nations are merely conventional demarcations on a map with no inherent significance and where a people with a similar way of life and similar customs has no moral claim to preserve the character of their country. But you would have a hard time telling that from Mr. McCracken’s immediate resort to Nazi parallels, or the more general Rockwellian habit of denouncing everything they oppose in modern conservatism in the most extreme terms as revived fascism and Nazism. As it is apparently necessary, I will repeat: the fascists and Nazis are all dead (or possibly living in Argentina). There are certain parallels with historic fascism with what has been happening to this country, but all this talk of generalised fascism has started to reach the point of derangement. I stay away from this sort of rhetoric, as it has a tendency to reach a level of self-parody and, like the administration’s use of the same language, it tends to muddy the waters and introduce confusion into the debate when precision and not hyperbole is essential. It also hardly helps to throw the word fascist around when the time comes to debunk bogus neocon uses of the word fascist and their equally bogus foreign policy parallels that rely on invoking Nazism.
As it happens, I think their criticisms of administration policies are almost always right on every point, and the comparisons with certain aspects of fascist regimes are sometimes quite apt, but it has got to be the height of laziness to reach for the rhetorical club of shouting, “Nazi!” in this case. Yes, we know, Blut und Boden was a slogan in Nazi Germany. That’s fascinating. Michael successfully sets this objection aside here by literally setting it aside and ignoring it. Well done, Michael. That is the treatment such rhetorical tantrums deserve.
The Nazis also built a federal highway system and represented the interests of artisans, so presumably these things are automatically “creepy” as well. (And, yes, there are good decentralist arguments against federal highway systems as mechanisms of state control and cultural revolution, and I agree with these arguments, but I think you get the point that the old resort to Nazi parallels is not a real argument–it is a gesture in search of an argument.)
Do libertarians have any arguments against thinking of national identity in these terms, except that it has been abused in the past? Not really–none that I have seen anyway. Abuse does not invalidate use. This is as basic as it gets. Do any libertarians have an understanding of national identity that is more credible that does not fall back on the (from my perspective) creepy ideological definitions of the “proposition nation”? Does anyone opposed to the “blood and soil” rhetoric have an idea of what constitutes national identity that does not lean on fatuous “nation of immigrants” and “proposition nation” slogans? Anyone?
Do libertarians think that nations as such really exist, or are these just myths perpetrated by the state? Do they have any coherent model of society that rises above the level of the mass of individuals or the exchange mechanism of the market? Not as far as I can tell. I would be glad to be proven wrong on any of these points, since it would suggest that there is some serious side to libertarian discussions of immigration that goes beyond appeals to the “free movement of labour” that is beloved of no one so much as Eurocrats in Brussels.
The funny thing about my disenchantment with libertarianism is that I used to consider myself a libertarian about ten years ago. I devoured Bastiat and Friedman and I was a convinced believer that there was something deeply insidious about Blue Laws (someone is imposing morality! get your gun!) and even entertained seriously Friedman’s claim that prostitution was just a contract no different from any other. Had the Wal-Mart debates been going on back then, nobody would have been a more eager apologist for corporate power and the concentration of wealth than I would have been (though I could hardly have written panegyrics to the home of low prices that included quite as many saccharine appeals to helping the poor), and nobody would have been more liable to scoff at the obvious oppression of the early child labour laws. Then somewhere along the line I mentioned in passing to another self-styled libertarian that I believed the federal government should adhere to the limits set forth in the Constitution, whereupon I was denounced as a statist (though not a fascist!). It was from that point on that the libertarians began to lose me, and they have been losing me ever since. The tendency among their more doctrinaire fellows to denounce as fascist or statist almost any law that intrudes on the hallowed sphere of individual autonomy has made it increasingly difficult over the years to take their positive positions seriously. Now Mr. McCracken has just made it that much harder for me to take libertarian arguments on immigration and national identity seriously.