An international libertarian conference highlights the movement's overlaps with the far right

Since 2006 Hans Herman Hoppe, a German-American right-wing libertarian academic, has hosted the annual Property and Freedom Society (PFS) conference in Bodrum, Turkey. The conference has hosted academics from well-known institutions (this year’s speaker list includes one academic from King’s College in London) but also prominent far-right thinkers from across the globe. The likes of Peter Brimelow, John Derbyshire, Tomislav Sunic, Jared Taylor, Richard Spencer and Paul Gottfried have all spoken at the conference.

The combination of libertarian thinkers – whose politics allow for greater mainstream acceptability – and far-right activists makes the conference an interesting meeting point between the two movements, particularly given its international scope. It also highlights how libertarian principles can be used to make conceptual space for racism and the whitewashing of far-right views.

At Odds with Liberty

An example of this overlap is Hoppe’s own work which incorporates decidedly far-right ideas into a libertarian framework. At a speech to the PFS in 2017 on “Libertarianism and the Alt-Right”, Hoppe declared that “restrictive, highly selective and discriminating immigration […] is entirely compatible with libertarianism and its goal of freedom of association and opposition to forced integration”.

There are other examples of conference’s attendees whose views are in direct conflict with upholding liberties (though they may still argue otherwise in the way Hoppe attempts). One example comes from Janusz Korwin-Mikke, leader of the Polish anti-EU party KORWiN, who spoke at the PFS conference in 2017. Korwin-Mikke has a long history of directly extreme, authoritarian and unquestionably anti-liberal statements, such as opposing women’s suffrage on the basis that they are “on average less intelligent”, something he claims to have learnt from “a manual” at school. Nor can the PFS pretend to be in the dark about the views of past attendees like Korwin-Mikke, who was suspended from the European Parliament, where he was a representaive, after giving a Nazi salute in July 2015.

Although Hoppe has critiqued the far right, he is also frequently quoted by its adherents, particularly from the alt-right. Prominent alt-right activist, Richard Spencer (who appeared at PFS in 2010) has even cited Hoppe as an early inspiration but explained that Hoppe’s arguments eventually led him out of libertarianism and into the racist far right.

Spencer is just one among many alt-right activists that has trod such a path. One explanation for this is that the abstract notions of self-determination and minimal state intervention libertarians often rely on can be employed to argue for racist and discriminatory positions. Hoppe, for example, argues that what he calls “forced integration” is the result of open immigration policies, a way to frame anti-immigration ideas inside the libertarian discourse of individual liberty. The normalisation of such arguments could allow for greater far-right entryism (or acceptance) in the libertarian movement, and whilst the alt-right has fragmented since Spencer’s conversion, there’s no reason to think that this pipeline will shut off. 

A driving force consolidating such ideas is the Mises Institute where Hoppe is a Distinguished Senior Fellow. At this year’s PFS conference – which runs from 12-17 September and is being held at the Hotel Karia Princess – besides Hoppe, four speakers associated with the Mises Institute and other libertarian institutes from across the globe, including Brazil and the US, are speaking.

Amongst these are thinkers advancing right-libertarian ideas at the extreme, such as Frank Karsten from The Netherlands, whose most recent book Beyond Democracy tackles “the last political taboo: the idea that our salvation lies in democracy” and whose talk this year is entitled ‘Discrimination: Inescapable and Prudential’.

Also speaking are, again, those with clear affiliations with the far right, notably two British activists: Keir Martland, who also spoke at PFS in 2018 is back this year and who has previously spoken at the far-right Traditional Britain Group in London, a mainstay of the British far right which also attracts international figures, and Theodor Dalrymple (AKA Dr. Anthony Daniels), Senior Editor at the New English Review, a site which has played a role in pushing Islamophobic discourse.

A Dangerous Strain

Libertarianism is a broader church than the PFS and left-libertarians have recognised the potential for their movement to attract the far right. Kevin Vallier, an associate professor of philosophy at Bowling Green State University, Ohio and a writer at the left-leaning libertarian blog, Bleeding Heart Libertarians, writes that “it takes particular personality types to be open to taking unpopular views” and that some “simply enjoy holding outrageous and provocative views”. Vallier argues that we should expect there to be a large amount of these “contrarian” personalities in the libertarian movement and that some of them would also be inclined to join other unpopular or provocative movements. Far-right movements, of course, fit this bill perfectly.

Yet, this dangerous strain within libertarian circles is hardly new and, as I wrote last year in greater depth and have touched on here, it is one that can be explained by ideological features of libertarianism that run deeper than just a mere attraction to being contrarian. It is for this reason perhaps that the PFS and its network of attendees and their supporting institutions can persist in the libertarian ecosystem so easily. Libertarian writer Bonnie Kristian highlighted this issue recently in an article for The Week, pointing out that it is not enough for anti-racist libertarians to just criticise the far right or argue that they are incompatible (she recongises there is even agreement between white nationalists and libertarians in some cases). Rather, it is “incumbent on libertarians to create an ideological ecosystem that doesn’t welcome racism.”

The importance of shaping the wider movement is not lost on the movement’s far right. In an article from 2017 Jeff Deist, the Mises Institute’s President and a PFS speaker at the conference in the same year, made use of distinctly white supremacist rhetoric when he critiques mainstream libertarianism: “In other words, blood and soil and God and nation still matter to people. Libertarians ignore this at the risk of irrelevance”.

Fear of “irrelevance” for the likes of the PFS should be, for the rest of us, a concern about mainstreaming. If we are to tackle hate effectively, we must continue to track the international far right wherever – and with whoever – they convene.

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