Last week, Mises Institute president Jeff Deist delivered what has become a controversial speech at a libertarian conference in Malta. The controversy around the speech, which was full of common sense advice for libertarians, centers around the use of the phrase “blood and soil”, which was used by the Nazi government to emphasize the importance of culture and land. While nobody can condone the behavior of the Nazis, simply using the phrase, which was actually a reference to a recent Jeffery Tucker article that also used the phrase, is hardly grounds to be called a Nazi. After reading and hearing the speech, it’s obvious that this is another case of hyperbolic faux outrage typical of “left libertarians”.
Here are some interesting points of the speech.
Because while libertarians enthusiastically embrace markets, they have for decades made the disastrous mistake of appearing hostile to family, to religion, to tradition, to culture, and to civic or social institution — in other words, hostile to civil society itself.
Deist begins by making the point that some libertarians hostility toward cultural and social institutions is misplaced. The reason is simple: those things can and do act as a bulwark against the power of the state. Strong families don’t need the government. People that help each other through religious and other voluntary mutual aid groups don’t need the government. Private and religious schools don’t need government.
Mecca is not Paris, an Irishman is not an Aboriginal, a Buddhist is not a Rastafarian, a soccer mom is not a Russian. Is it our goal to convince them all to become thorough Rothbardians? Should libertarians care about gay marriage in Saudi Arabia, or insist on the same border arrangements for Brownsville, Texas and Monaco? Should we agitate for Texas-style open carry laws in France, to prevent the next Bataclan?
Or would our time be better spent making the case for political decentralization, secession, and subsidiarity? In other words, should we let Malta be Maltese?
This is hardly “libertarianism for me, but not for thee” as some of Deist’s critics argue. Deist’s speech is one of uncompromisingly radical self-determination, which is as far away from Nazism as it gets. His point is that as libertarians, we believe that we don’t know what is best for other people and shouldn’t force our preferences, be they political or cultural, on others. With that in mind, libertarians should abandon the “universalist” mindset and instead focus on self-determination, that is, allowing people to choose their own political and social arrangements.
He ends with this point (emphasis mine):
what would you fight for? The answer to this question tells us a lot about what libertarians ought to care about.
By this I mean what would you physically fight for, where doing so could mean serious injury or death. Or arrest and imprisonment, or the loss of your home, your money, and your possessions.
I’m sure all of us would fight for our physical persons if we were attacked, or for our families if they were attacked. We might fight for close friends too. And perhaps even our neighbors. In fact we might like to think we would physically defend a total stranger in some circumstances, for example an old woman being attacked and robbed.
How about an abstraction, like fighting for “your country” or freedom or your religion? This is where things get more tenuous. Many people have and will fight for such abstractions. But if you ask soldiers they’ll tell you that in the heat of battle they’re really fighting for their mates, to protect the men in their units–and to fulfill a personal sense of duty.
In other words, blood and soil and God and nation still matter to people. Libertarians ignore this at the risk of irrelevance.
Does that sound like a Nazi hate speech? Of course not. Aside from those three words, what’s the issue? Replace “blood and soil” with “family and property” and no one bats an eye. Not to mention, his point stands: if libertarians refuse to acknowledge that most people care about their culture and don’t want to see it demolished, then they are going to continue to have a hard time drawing converts and affecting change. There is no incompatability between libertarianism and culture. Realizing that doesn’t make you a Nazi, regardless of what left-libertarians think or say.