Some Thoughts on Racism

It seems that calling someone a racist these days is one of the fastest ways to discredit that person’s opinions. That is why, for a lot of people, “playing the race card” is nothing but an ad hominem attack. It is the attempt to beat someone in a debate without actually having arguments. And indeed, there are people who use this strategy. Often it is used by political groups that explicitly label themselves as anti-racist or anti-fascist. These groups usually themselves follow a very much totalitarian ideology that is only on the surface different from fascism. They really have more in common with fascism than not. The hope seems to be that labeling oneself anti-fascist somehow will distract people from their totalitarian agenda and make them good people. Well, they are not good people, but their distraction strategy, at least in the past, seems to have worked better than one would have hoped. But is it fair to say that everyone labeling another person as racist is just playing dirty tricks or are there maybe some people who really deserve the label?

How unpopular the label racist is became clear to me when years ago I stumbled upon a propaganda video of the Ku Klux Klan. In the video a KKK member complained that the Klan was viciously slandered in the media as a racist organization. According to him, the Klan loves all races that god has created. But they should not live in America next to the white man.

This is hilarious I thought. The poster-child organization for white supremacy racism in the US rejects the label racist. This seems nonsensical. But in order to understand why this is indeed nonsense we need to have a closer look at what racism is all about.

What is racism?

Different people have different opinions on this. The so called left for example often uses the word to label any kind of attack on an ethnic minority group that they think is underprivileged. This idea of racism is not very coherent. It is hypocritical and really just a form of totalitarian special interest politics.

For a more systematic theory of racism we first need to clarify the meaning of the word at the heart of it, which is race. On the face of it, it seems to refer to distinct genetic differences in a group of people that result in distinctive physical characteristics. This is how a biologist would define the word. However, these days, the word ‘race’ in racism usually means something broader. It refers to differences in ethnic groups. It therefore has a lot to do with culture and not so much genetics.

This broader interpretation makes a lot of sense. The opposition to biological races and the opposition to culture really appears to be politically the same thing. Is white supremacism really different in principle from anti-semitism? I would doubt that people ever really were opposed to genetics. What people have always objected to is culture. Those savages were praying to the wrong god, had strange traditions, spoke strangely sounding languages and were eating the wrong food. The different looks of people were only used as a possible explanation and identification. And as we know today, non of the things people objected to really have a lot to do with genetics. They are cultural. If this is true then objecting to another person’s culture really is politically the same things as objecting to someone’s race.

Until this point, I am willing to go along with racism. I do believe that there are different cultures in the world. I do not believe that all of these cultures are equally good. I am not referring to trivial things like food. I am a libertarian. I believe that the best way for everyone to live anywhere on this planet is to live in liberty. A lot, in fact most if not all, political cultures that we find at the moment disagree with me on this. One could argue that makes me an extreme racist, as I am in conflict with all ethnic groups, including my own. Alternatively, one could argue that I am a consequent anti racist, as I am equally opposed to all of them.

More seriously though, simply acknowledging differences between cultures is not really a racist ideology. Maybe there are some extreme egalitarians who really believe, or want to believe, that there are absolutely no differences between peoples. But even when I talk to people on the so called left they seem to be very aware of such differences. After all, a lot of them are practicing their very own form of ‘non-racist’ racism, by constantly blaming the evils of white, male culture for everything.

However, traditional racism, as a political ideology, does more than just acknowledge differences. I would argue that at the heart of political racism is and has always been the thesis that certain cultures cannot live in the same society together as equals. If they do live together, there needs to be a clear domination of one over the other. This can take the form of one overwhelmingly outnumbering the others, a legal division into first and second class citizens or can even go as far as an outright master/slave relationship, as we have seen in US history. The other alternative is to physically separate cultures from each other, at best geographically if possible. Abraham Lincoln, who famously freed the slaves in the US with very questionable means, continued till his death to work on a plan to deport all blacks back to Africa. That is exactly what racism is all about. The idea that societies can only work if they are culturally homogenous.

Racism has earned its reputation

It is no accident that this ideology has such a bad reputation. It has earned it throughout history. Wherever we see racist societies emerge, they come with a great deal of violence. It can go as far as an outright genocide like the Holocaust in Germany. This was another classic attempt to remove one ethnic group from a society. Of course not every racist society has ended in such an excess of violence. But violence is very much baked in the cake when it comes to racism. Given that racism cannot give everyone the same rights, there are groups of people that need to be suppressed. And suppression simply does not come peacefully. The preferred front line for racist violence in our time is the border of the nation state. Thousands of people die every year by trying to break the brutally enforced national segregation. Despite that you can still hear the racists scream that the state is not using enough force to keep the unwanted ethnic groups out.

Oh, but I hear the racists object. It is not racism that is causing the violence, it is multiculturalism. After all, good fences make good neighbours. This is of course nonsense. Good neighbours make good neighbours. You only need a good fence if you are living next to a socially incompetent asshole. The violence that racists predict from multiculturalism is a self fulfilling prophecy. If it wasn’t for racists disturbing the peace, there would be no problem with multiculturalism. So it is the racists that are the problem. And by racists I mean all of them. The Imam that preaches that western culture is evil and Muslims should fight it just as much as the members of the English Defence League.

Social incompetence seems to really be a problem of racists. Britain First is another one of those organizations that pretends to be only concerned citizens instead instead of racists. In this video you can see them systematically harassing and antagonizing people. Around 12.45min in the video they cause a confrontation with random people in the street. It almost ends in a fight. The spin that the Britain firsters have on the incident is that they are being threatened in their own country. But really what is going on is just a simple tit for tat strategy which is social skills 101. They antagonize people, so they get a hostile reaction. Their idea of a sociably acceptable behaviour seems to be that they have the right, as Englishmen in England, to not show any tolerance and don’t make any compromises when it comes to the lifestyle of the people around them. In return for this intolerance they expect a complete willingness to compromise and be tolerant from the other side. Of course that is causing trouble.

Political strategies of racists

Given my explanations, I think it is very fair to say that calling organizations like Britain First or the KKK racist organizations is not an ad hominem attack. However, that these organizations are uncomfortable with the label ‘racist’ shows that even hard core racists have realised that they cannot win political battles with it. That is why they are trying to make the word meaningless. The idea is to reverse the ad hominem attack. Anyone who labels anyone else as racist automatically disqualifies as an honest person who is seriously interested in a debate. That is because assumingly everyone knows that there could not possibly be such a thing as a racist movement in our times. Only some totalitarian left-wingers would call another person racist.

Of course this strategy can only work, if they manage to organize racist political ideas under a new, more acceptable label. The most popular label seems to be nationalism. Since most people still accept the idea of nation states, and also the rather strange underlying assumption that there is such a thing as a clearly identifiable nation, nationalism cannot be as easily discredited as racism. It seems perfectly acceptable to physically separate people according to nations. Every state on the planet has laws in place attempting to do just that. This reality seems to give the nationalist agenda a lot of legitimacy. The problem for the racists however is that, at least in the west, the central planning of migration increasingly does not serve to separate cultures from each other. It is just a more or less arbitrary bureaucratic machinery, which distributes visas to all kinds of people from all kinds of cultures. So it is not doing what the racists want it to do.

There are different attempts to deal with this. The most common one is to fight for the concept of the nation. Given visas to members of the wrong culture is simply a mistake. It is betraying the country and therefore treason. Another attempt however seems to be, to change the label again. Unfortunately, more and more of these people think that maybe libertarianism is a good alternative label. There are a number of reasons for that. Libertarianism is not in any form associated with the old racism. It is also anti-establishment. The establishment is perceived to be left wing. Therefore, although libertarianism really is neither left nor right, it can easily been portrayed as right wing. Libertarianism is all about individual, interpersonal liberty. And as it turns out, in order to have liberty, individuals need to have certain private property rights, that allow them to be left alone. To be left alone is nothing else but to be able to exclude people from your life. And here comes the wrong twist in this idea that suddenly makes libertarianism seem attractive to racists. Since individuals can exclude people, groups can do the same. In fact, so the claim of people like Hans Hermann Hoppe, not only can they, but they will. Naturally, so the argument, if you have private property, you will end up in some kind of voluntary segregationist society, in which every culture is living in their very own little harmonic and homogenous communities. And these communities will be big, even as big as a nation.

In principle, I don’t mind people preaching the virtues of private property. But there is a problem when you do that in order to support a false theory. The theory that private property will lead to some kind of culturally homogenous society seems false. Although it seems true on an individual micro level that birds of a feather flock together, all the evidence that we have suggests that this is not what is happening beyond the micro level. Whenever we see people being free to move where they want on the basis of private property they seem to mix up fairly quickly. There are huge economic benefits from doing that. That is why segregationist societies always had to be protected with the full power of the state. There goes the illusion that you can somehow have a harmonious racist paradise without the violence of suppression. And that is the problem with these racist allies of libertarianism. If you have a wrong theory about reality, you can either change the theory or try to change reality. The latter however is not very practical. And that is where the state comes in. The state pretends to be some higher being that can change reality according to an ideology. So the question is, will racists go along with liberty or try to use the state to make reality fit their wrong theories? I think the current migration ‘crisis’ has given us a good hint of what the answer is. Racists are very unreliable allies in the fight for liberty.