Language Wars: White Privilege vs. Libertarianism
White privilege is a concept in the language of oppressor versus oppressed—Us Against Them; libertarianism is its counter-concept, the language of individuals versus the collective—Freethinker Against Groupthinker.
In researching this article it turns out that virtually every book about white privilege accepts and embraces the concept, and they’re all written from the collectivist “oppressor vs. oppressed” viewpoint.
Nearly all rejections of white privilege are found in online articles, webzines, forums and YouTube channels and are expressed from a conservative “civilization vs. barbarism” belief system.
The only libertarian discussions seem to be a few attempts at placating these two sides and are presented from a “liberty vs. coercion” worldview.
That’s why no one should even attempt to take on a subject like this until they’ve come to understand that the primary disconnect involved is exemplified in a quote from the old 1967 Cool Hand Luke movie:
"What we've got here is failure to communicate."
Thankfully this is all explained in Arnold Kling’s insightful book The Three Languages of Politics. Put simply, the three languages in modern America are Left-Speak, Right-Speak and Libertarian-Speak.
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This book is required reading for anyone who cares about understanding and attempting to intelligently discuss such issues as white privilege. The three languages in American politics are of course progressive, conservative and libertarian.
Or as libertarians would define them more precisely: Collectivism, Traditionalism and Individualism. The problem as libertarians see it is that progressives are intransigently locked into their groupthink collectivist ideology, conservatives have little ideology beyond religion, conventionalism and the status quo, while libertarians seek a free voluntary society for everyone.
Communicating with people who speak a different language requires learning their language. This book is your political translator.
Defining White Privilege
This article is written not from “the” but from “a” libertarian view. Libertarians are individualists by definition. Libertarians will typically accept responsibility over their own lives, understand that reality is reality, and go about dealing with that reality.
So the first step from a libertarian perspective is to (a) understand Kling’s message, (b) stake out a position, and (c) make an attempt to define what we’re talking about.
Libertarians don’t downplay or dismiss racism in America; rather they believe they have the best response to it. Libertarianism is where the groupthink of white privilege ends and the individualism of true human relationships begin.
In his article “White Privilege and Other Hot Air” on The Ludwig von Mises Centre website Keith Preston explained how white privilege is just another Marxist red herring to distract everyone from the real issue in the world: Individualism versus authoritarianism.
But more on that later. To discuss white privilege we first have to get some idea of what it is.
White Privilege and Collectivism
Unfortunately, “white privilege” is like “social justice;” ask a hundred people what either one means and the response is a hundred different definitions, typically based on whatever a person happens to feel those terms mean at any particular moment.
Since one definition is as good as another we might as well begin with Wikipedia:
“The definition of white privilege, as with many terms, varies from source to source, but is generally distinguished from active bias or prejudice against non-white people.”
So if white privilege—also called “white skin privilege”—is “generally distinguished from active bias or prejudice” that means it is generally distinguished as being inactive bias or prejudice.
Isn’t that exactly what every person of good will has been seeking forever—rendering bias and prejudice inactive?
Then if the bias or prejudice is inactive it clearly means anyone accusing another person of white privilege has to be able to read that person’s mind since that person isn’t actively being biased or prejudiced.
Ultimately that means white privilege is a “thought crime” or at the very least a “thought bias.”
Still, some white privilege warriors (WPWs) will still attack others with claims like “You exhibit white privilege through your words or your subconscious actions even if you don't realize it.”
Don’t realize it? That leaves the accusation of white privilege itself as being little more than an unknowing, unintentional and subconscious mental activity of the accuser. It comes down to “I feel like you are a white privilege racist therefore you are.”
It effectively turns the accuser into a race-baiter, even if unknowingly, unintentionally and subconsciously.
White privilege then is explicitly, unambiguously, based on collectivist feelings. The one universally agreed-upon definition for white privilege is that white people, not as individuals but as a category, somehow, through some supposedly rigged system that 99% of white people had no hand in rigging, victimizes black people as a category.
But Marxists, including, presumably, white Marxists, just don’t like it. That same source, Wikipedia, goes on to explain how Marxist philosophy rejects the very idea of white privilege.
CAUTION: The following may come as a shock to America’s Sanders-inspired Free Stuff Millennials (FSMs):
“The idea that white privilege has functioned as a social tool to divide white and black workers has proved particularly controversial. A Marxist critique of this perspective holds that racial differences are secondary to economic difference, and that white privilege is therefore secondary to class privilege. According to this view, analyzing white privilege is misguided because it distracts from class struggle.”
Distracts from class struggle? To the contrary, in the US the alt-left progressive form of Marxism consciously and purposefully incorporates white privilege into its class warfare mantra. It’s an extension, not a distraction from, their groupthink divide-and-conquer political warfare. It’s just another elusively defined, vague, nebulous tactic in their authoritarian toolbox in which racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, economic inequality, social justice, the shape-shifting social contract and good old Marxist class struggle are all used as justifications for imposing their anti-freedom collectivist workers’ paradise worldview on everyone.
And that’s the crux of American socialism—racism trumps classism because in America racism sells better than classism.
The worst thing about believing in white privilege is that it becomes an alt-left conspiracy theory that disastrously encourages an easy excuse for some people never taking any responsibility for their own lives: “That white person got the job I was more qualified for!”
And all the while it invites counter-racism: “Affirmative Action and the quota system gave the scholarship I was more qualified for to a black person!”
And why aren’t all other minorities like Chinese, Japanese, Mexicans, Jews and the worst-treated minorities of all, America’s native tribal peoples relegated to their reservation gulags, whining about white privilege? Could it be that they’re willing to challenge themselves to do the best they can rather than blaming others?
Do today’s Free Stuff Millennials understand any of this?
White Privilege vs. Individualism
Added to these theoretical problems with the idea of white privilege is this: Reality.
In addition to poor blacks, Mexicans, native tribal peoples and other minorities there are literally millions of desperately poor white mostly Scots-Irish descended people all over this country barely surviving in urban slums and rural backwaters who are typically marginalized and insulted as white trash, trailer trash, hillbillies, rednecks, crackers, clodhoppers, bumpkins, yokels, hicks, hayseeds, rubes and much worse.
These are the people who the compassionate, tolerant, inclusive, loving, caring Hillary Clinton called “The Deplorables.”
So the question is, where’s the white privilege for those white people?
One typical response is “White privilege does not mean EVERY white person never has to struggle or every white person has it easy.”
Ah, yes. When your definition is slippery to begin with it’s easy to slip in slippery revisions whenever one feels like it for the sake of always getting one’s predetermined conclusion.
But such a comeback introduces several other twisty logical problems.
If white privilege doesn’t mean every white person then it’s not really about white privilege at all and therefore should be called “some white privilege.”
What About “Some Black Privilege?”
If black people are victims of white people are they also victims of “some black privilege” as well? After all, “some” intelligent, educated and successful black people are better off than other black people because they didn’t have to struggle or because they grew up having it easy.
Where are the cries of “black privilege” or “some black privilege?”
But white privilege is a systemic problem we’ll be told. But of course it is, because collectivism itself is a systemic problem.
Libertarianism is individualist. If one individual doesn’t respect or treat a libertarian as an individual the libertarian will typically move on until they find others who will. But collectivism won’t allow that because people belong in a class and will always treat people like a class. What people get from collectivism is never-ending class warfare.
This is usually when the white privilege true believer simply ignores difficult questions and gets personal. A typical accusation might be:
“White privilege is the audacity of you as a white person telling me as a black person how I think and questioning my individuality because I am part of an ethnic background you will never understand.”
But that just volcanos up even more questions. Everyone of every race and ethnicity and physical circumstance and economic condition and social situation and educational background can never really understand someone else when their only interest is labeling people by broad collectivist categories.
It also begs an answer to the question of why some people obsessively seek understanding from the very people they don’t like in the first place.
Beyond that, the very words “white privilege” that unambiguously identifies the privileged ones by the color of their skin betrays what is arguably Dr. Martin Luther King’s most important message to all people of all colors:
“I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
If attacking white people for their “privilege” isn’t judging them by the color of their skin what is it?
But putting all that aside many libertarians will still be confronted with the white privilege true believer challenge of “So how are you libertarians going to deal with white privilege?”
The answer is far simpler than they think, but few will either understand or accept it since it will likely not match their own preconceived answer explained in their own “tribal language” as Arnold Kling puts it in The Three Languages of Politics. Collectivists typically demand that a large, powerful coercive government step in and force everyone to be “equal.”
The answer is that white privilege is not a “thing,” not an “object.” It’s a concept, and a concept can only be countered by another concept.
White privilege vs. Libertarianism
Fortunately, there is already a concept that deals with white privilege: The libertarian Non-Aggression Principle and all the other concepts that go with it beginning with the rejection of coercion, intimidation and fraud.
The only cure for unearned privilege is merit and merit requires freedom. No person will ever be free until they stop thinking of themselves as “a racial person” or “a collectivist person” or “a group person” and start thinking of themselves as “an individual person” which is exactly what they are in the real world.
Libertarianism is individualist, not collectivist. Libertarianism is for everyone who chooses to accept it. The non-aggression principle makes no distinction about race, ethnicity, gender, age or any other red herring issue. It’s about individualism vs. collectivism, self-ownership vs. imposed group dependence, voluntaryism vs. authoritarianism.
There is no room in libertarianism for any coerced, intimidated or fraudulently acquired privilege.
Here is the crux of that Keith Preston article mentioned earlier:
I think libertarians (of whatever kind) can do better than to rely on theories developed by Communists like “white skin privilege,” and which found their way into the Western Left via Maoist groups like the Weather Underground.
The problem with this kind of thinking is that it shifts the focus away from the Power Elite as the target of enmity, and merely becomes a matter of promoting demographic conflict, e.g. blacks against whites, men against women, gays against straights, atheists against religious believers, natives against immigrants, trees against bulldozers, meat eaters against vegetarians, poor Appalachian whites against Jewish bankers, etc.
By “the power elite” Preston means everyone’s real enemy: corrupt politicians, corporatists, banksters and all the politically connected sycophants who care only about their own power, wealth and egos. “The power elite” includes all people of all colors who place personal privilege above individual rights.
Playing the white privilege racist game, or any other game that treats unique individuals as mindless groups, is a racist’s game. You’re being outplayed and used. It couldn’t be stated more clearly.
Or could it? Again from his book The Three Languages of Politics Arnold Kling gives an example of what he calls “the three-axes model of political communication.” Progressives communicate along an oppressor-oppressed axis, conservatives along a civilization-barbarism axis, and libertarians along a liberty-coercion axis.
About all a libertarian can say at this point is that the acceptance of the modern American libertarian message IS the rejection of groupthink white privilege.
So maybe it’s time for everyone to listen to Eric July, self-identified on his Facebook page as “Libertarian. AnCap. Vocalist in BackWordz & co-founder of Being Libertarian. Pissed off Christian.”
“Yes I’m black, yes I’m a libertarian, but I do not speak for all black people nor do I speak for all libertarians.”
“Maybe we should treat people like they’re individuals. More Liberty, less statism.”
Everyone has a choice of not just what but how to think. White privilege is a concept in the language of oppressor versus oppressed—Us Against Them; libertarianism is its counter-concept, the language of individuals versus the collective—Freethinker Against Groupthinker.
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References and Links
Article From a Black Female Libertarian “We might be small in numbers; but we are growing. And on the Internet at least, I’ve observed that we are always welcome. No defensiveness and no judgements based on the color of my skin.”
Black Libertarians Facebook Page Rejects collectivism by proclaiming that each individual has the right to control his or her own body, action, speech, and property. Government's only role is to help individuals defend themselves from force and fraud.
White Privilege and Other Hot Air An article that takes on the white privilege debate from an individualist view and chides libertarians who ignore cultural issues when they fall back on de facto liberal or conservative positions.
Marxist Critique of White Privilege The entry “Marxist Critiques” has been expunged from Wikipedia’s article on “White privilege” and replaced with “White fragility” but it can still be found via this link at the Internet Archive Wayback Machine (scroll down).