After last week’s nationalist march in Charlottesville under the “Unite the Right” banner and the confrontations with civil rights protestors which ultimately left one person dead and several injured, calls for condemnation of the so-called alt-right and other “right wing” groupings have been widespread. President Trump has stoked the fire by (correctly) apportioning some of the blame for the violence to the leftist counter-protestors, but the mainstream media and public opinion see the “alt-right” and other (more extreme) white nationalist groups as the sole culprits. Libertarians and conservatives have been urged to publicly condemn the behaviour, rhetoric and violence of these groups – groups, it should be noted, with whom they are entirely unaffiliated – and many have done so. But some have refused, leading to a heated debate about the appropriate response to such incidents.
On the face of it, shouldn’t we all lend our voices to the chorus of condemnation? Condemning the actions of those who are so obviously in the wrong seems sensible just by merit, and it has the added benefit of silencing our political opponents (including the mainstream media) who are looking for any opportunity to infer association between the broad base of conservative/libertarians and the fringe racist movement. It doesn’t take great effort to put a statement on social media or sign a petition with a specific message, so why not just do it?
Unfortunately, it is not that simple. First, the idea that unless you specifically disavow these fringe movements you are implicitly showing them support, is simply not a fair assessment – and the left knows it: after recent Muslim terror attacks in London and elsewhere, the (broadly correct) consensus from the left has been that these are actions of single individuals who do not represent an entire religion – in other words, no-one from the demographic of the attackers is guilty by association. Yet the left does not extend the same curtesy to their political enemies: after the Charlottesville march, all of the right – or even all white people – were called upon to speak up or be deemed silent accomplices. The double standard is plain to see. The mere fact that libertarians feel compelled to speak, up out of fear of the backlash if they don’t, in some ways serves to acknowledge a kinship with actual racist factions such as the National Socialist Movement or the KKK. Why should a libertarian be more obligated to react than people with any other political affiliation?
Second, and most important, is the acknowledgement of the SJW left’s narrative that lies in the calls for vocal condemnation: that if you are not explicitly on the diversity and social justice band wagon, then you are under suspicion for being a closet racist or bigot. This is why the left calls everyone they disagree with “Nazis”; they actually believe that you cannot be honestly against the virtue signalling SJW agenda without it implying that you are against equal rights and opportunity per se. But we are not virtue signalling and do not aspire to be so, and speaking up against a specific event just because others are is just that: making an effort to align yourself with the virtuous view, for no other reason than to demonstrate to others that you are pure of thought. There are untold evils in the world, and addressing one specifically, just because your political opponents demand it, is accepting their narrative – a narrative of political correctness which we should vehemently resist, because PC is not about kindness and respect, but about thought control to further a left-progressive agenda.
As libertarians, we are not indifferent to how people treat each other. We believe that everyone has an equal right to be free, but where we massively disagree with the SJW crowd is that we also passionately believe that it is people’s right to be racist, even if we are equally passionately anti-racist ourselves – as long as their actions do not infringe on other people’s personal freedom or private property. And we do not believe in coercion to conform to any agenda, such as forcing employers to hire minority workers or bakers to make gay-themed wedding cakes. We may or may not think badly of such people, but it is for them to run their own lives according to their beliefs. We should oppose other people’s views when we find it appropriate to do so, but let’s leave virtue signalling to the left. Don’t call on the left to disavow statements and actions by radical elements on their side. It is fine to point out their hypocrisy when they are silent, but call on us to speak up – but we should be very clear that we do not require anyone to advertise their righteousness. Virtue is a private matter and we believe in individual responsibility. The consistent position is to reject the left’s narrative of political correctness.