But while we're excommunicating people from the libertarian movement, why not include Palmer and his associates at CATO? After all, many of them endorsed the concept of preemptive war, which last time I checked violates oh, the entire philosophical underpinning of libertarianism. And it is CATO that is chiefly responsible for the view that libertarians are mere apologists for Big Business. ... By all means, lets cleanup the libertarian tent -- but lets make sure we're thorough when we do it.Look, if we start kicking people out every time we disagree with them on one issue or another, pretty soon it’ll be an empty tent. There are very few issues I would consider libertarian litmus tests, and almost none of them fall in the difficult realm of foreign policy. Yes, I think libertarians who supported the war made a big mistake. But there’s an awful lot of Monday-morning quarterbacking on this issue. I’m pleased with myself for having opposed the war in Iraq before it started, on grounds that it would lead to a quagmire and incite terrorism. But at the time, I confess that I considered it something of a close call, especially since I thought it likely Iraq actually did have WMDs (yes, I too was fooled).
I wouldn’t even categorically rule out preemptive attacks, although I think they’re generally a bad idea, as Iraq so aptly demonstrates. When I was in middle school and the target of multiple bullies, I remember a lesson my dad taught me: “Avoid a fight if you can,” he said, “but once you know it’s coming, it’s better to hit first than to go down before you get the chance to hit back.” To delve into libertarian theory just a tiny bit, libertarians say it’s wrong to initiate force or the threat of force against another. But threats aren’t always explicit and verbal, and some judgment is required to identify them.
Point being, there are plenty of debatable points within libertarianism. I’ve argued far more with libertarians than with any other ideological group, despite being a libertarian myself. If every one of these debates led to schism, there would be no libertarian movement left. And the problem gets even worse if excommunications are based on association with a particular organization, simply because someone there has taken a disagreeable position. Take Cato, for instance; the commenter quoted above says that “many” people there supported the Iraq war. It’s true, some Cato staff did support the war. But their actual foreign policy experts did not! Those who supported the war did so on their personal blogs and in other publications, and they spoke only for themselves. To excommunicate everyone at Cato based on the position taken by a few individuals would result in a pretty substantial error of over-inclusion.
So why have I taken a different stance with respect to the Mises Institute? First, I have been careful to distinguish between the Institute generally and the specific individuals responsible for the racist material in question. If the Institute deserves blame of a general nature, it is only because its founder and president is one of the more execrable people involved.
Second, I’m not actually proposing a policy-based litmus test. I’m not saying we should denounce these people for their position on, say, immigration (though I do strongly disagree with them on that issue). I’m saying we should denounce them for their racism, regardless of what policies it leads them to endorse. Even if their racism leads them to policy conclusions we find attractive on other grounds (like rolling back the welfare state), the racism itself is a problem. Why? Because racism is poison. Even just tolerating racists is a damn good way to make sure most decent people will never listen to you again.
Third, as commenter Gil says, “I've never felt aligned with Rockwell, but I can’t keep him from calling himself a libertarian. There isn't an official libertarian seal of approval, and I don't think there should be.” So we’re not talking about actual censorship here. We can’t stop these people from blogging, writing newsletters, publishing papers, and calling themselves whatever they want. What we can do is refuse to associate with them, refuse to publish with them, refuse to acknowledge them as part of our community. Not because they have the wrong policy prescriptions – sometimes they are right – but because we find them unsavory, and because by allowing ourselves to be associated with them we run the risk of tainting our own views.