To many, libertarianism and white nationalism couldn’t be further apart. But there is a strand of individuals in the broader liberty movement that have espoused views akin to some of the Charlottesville protestors. This has prompted soul-searching, including a statement from the Libertarian National Committee denouncing white supremacists.
Now, some right-wing libertarians associated with a philosophy known as “paleolibertarianism” have begun a backlash. They complain that the party is “virtue-signaling.”
One such public dispute has arisen between the Libertarian Party’s National Chairman Nicholas Sarwark and controversial podcaster Thomas E. Woods, who comes from the paleo orbit.
In broad terms, paleolibertarianism aims to sell a form of libertarianism to populist and anti-establishment right-wingers. The idea has a long and contentious history, and was formulated and advocated by the libertarian economist and polemicist Murray Rothbard in his later years.
The ideology was carried on by persons associated with Lew Rockwell and his Ludwig von Mises Institute. With its focus on the far-right, more “mainstream” libertarians have chafed at it. Jeffrey Tucker, for example, has written in condemnation of what he called “libertarian brutalism.”
Woods cavorted with the ‘crying Nazi’ Chris Cantwell and others
But a passing reference to this “paleolibertarian” history on Twitter by Sarwark was enough to provoke a bitter and heated back-and-forth that culminated in several interviews. Tom Woods angrily denounced the Libertarian Party and urging his listeners to quit the party.
Woods, a senior fellow of the Mises Institute, is a founding member of the League of the South, a neo-confederate group that was among the participating organizations at Charlottesville. He wrote in 2005 in defense of its mission to “preserve Anglo-Celtic culture.”
One recent post-Charlottesville show featured alt-right leader Paul Gottfried to discuss his view that some “decent people” had simply been protesting the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in Virginia.
Tom Woods in 2014 also hosted an episode of show with Christopher Cantwell. Now nationally-mocked as the “crying Nazi” in fear of his own arrest, Cantwell had been booted from the libertarian Free State Project organization in New Hampshire in 2013.
Cantwell had made repeated threats of violence and other outbursts. Though he hadn’t yet embraced explicit racism by 2014, his appearance with Woods was an hour-long denunciation of “left-libertarians” and “political correctness.” His eagerness to offend the left soon bled into finding the most offensive way to repel the mainstream.
Tom Woods is not a Libertarian nor an endorser of its candidates
Although Woods has spoken at some Libertarian Party events, he has never joined the party or endorsed any of its candidates. Sarwark happily pointed all of this out when he was being bombarded by angry fans of The Tom Woods Show.
Still, the public imbroglio has fueled complaints of libertarian “infighting,” and the Twitter tit-for-tat has continued for several weeks.
While this split between paleos and mainstream libertarians has been simmering for decades, Charlottesville appeared to have accelerated internal divisions.
And with the Libertarian Party and its chairman distancing the party – and its four and half million voters for last year’s presidential ticket – from white nationalists on the ugliest fringes of the illiberal far-right, such a breach is unlikely to be soon repaired.