Where Sargon and the Libertarians Go Wrong: Principles vs. Values

I've had about six different articles in my head that I've been meaning to write, but haven't had to time to get around to them. Hopefully this will be the first in a series discussing some of the more fundamental premises of alt-right philosophy.

We get a lot of surface level questions in the alt-right asking about specific situations or specific implementations of the "ethnostate." These surface level questions aren't particularly interesting, except to the degree they shed light on deeper, underlying premises that different ideologies operate within. It are these underlying philosophical differences that I prefer to focus on.

The Libertarian Trap

Sargon of Akkad is a self-described "individualist." It would be fair to put Sargon in the "libertarian" camp on this basis, although I'm unaware if he embraces this label.

Sargon recently had a debate with Millennial Woes, and then another debate with Richard Spencer. His criticism of both opponents was basically identical: If you are willing to sacrifice individual rights, then you aren't an individualist, because individualism holds the principle that individual rights cannot be sacrificed in the name of a collective or anything else. And if you aren't an individualist on principle, then you are by default a collectivist on principle.

Interestingly enough, both Spencer and Woes explained they were willing to sacrifice some "collective" interests to uphold individual values. By Sargon's own logic, this would mean Spencer and Woes can't be "collectivists" either, since they don't hold collectivism as an inalienable principle. So if they aren't principled individualists, and they aren't principled collectivists, what are they?

What neither Woes nor Spencer were able to articulate was that they weren't operating in the realm of principles, but in the realm of values.

The Appeal of Principles

I was a principled libertarian for nearly ten years. What attracted me to libertarian philosophy were the existence of these principles. There is an appeal to starting with strict rules, which you then use to filter and determine all other political and moral issues by default. "My principle is individual rights, therefore my stance on (gun rights, free speech, taxation, etc.) is already determined by my preexisting philosophy." By the same token, libertarians like to criticize progressives and conservatives for being "unprincipled." For instance, Conservatives value freedom when it comes to guns, but oppose freedom when it comes to drugs, which to the libertarian is an obvious contradiction in principles. You can view it as an algorithmic approach to politics; start with an algorithm and filter any issue or question through that algorithm to come up with your canned resolution.

Thus, key features of a "principle" is that it cannot be compromised in the name of another value, and that it cannot contradict another principle. By extension, a key feature of libertarians is that they reject both compromise and apparent "contradictions" in political philosophy.

The problem with this algorithmic approach is that the real world, and human desires, do not operate on strict, uncontradictory principles. We are all a mess of competing and contradictory values, and that is a good thing. The natural consequence of taking a principled approach to life is that you run into many situations and scenarios where your principles lead you to clearly absurd conclusions. Rather than admit the absurdity of their conclusions, libertarians and anarchists merely double down on their principles and defend the absurdity. Thus, you can get autistic arguments from the likes of Rothbard et al. where they actually defend absurd conclusions such as "competing courts" and "competing rules of law." We've all seen the AnCap memes that humorously illustrate these absurdities.

The Necessity of Values

Now, it is true you can't value the "collective" as a principle, and also value "individual liberty" as a principle. The key difference in alt-right philosophy is a rejection of such simplistic principles.

We are pragmatists, and view the world through a lens of competing values.

If a key feature of principles is that they cannot contradict one another, then a key feature of values is that they can.

I can have one dinner tonight. Maybe I value having a bowl of spaghetti for dinner, but I also value having steak for dinner. But I can't eat both. And so those values are in contradiction, and I have to pick one or the other. That doesn't mean the one I picked becomes a principle. If I decide to eat spaghetti over steak, that doesn't mean I value spaghetti over steak as a principle. Which value I side with depends on the context and the circumstances of the moment.

Viewing politics through the lens of competing values is a more nuanced, and I would say more mature, way of understanding political and moral realities. The libertarian becomes dependent on principle because the libertarian at root wants easy answers, they want a moral system, they want an algorithmic philosophy with no contradictions. But the real world is too complicated and nuanced for such a simplistic, algorithmic approach to philosophy and politics.

My stance on issues isn't determined by principles, but by the context and the facts on the ground. A good example of this is the question of "diversity." I don't have a principled response to the question of diversity. It isn't either "all bad" or "all good." Some small degree of diversity is good in a homogenous society, but too much diversity ends up threatening to replace the dominant ethnicity which founded the nation. Diversity isn't simplistically "good" or "bad," the poison is the dose. It's good up to a certain point, and bad beyond a certain point.

And this pragmatic approach is the proper way to approach politics, morality, and philosophy generally. What is the context of the particular question? What are the actual consequences of a specific approach, and how do those consequences stack up among our competing values?

You can value a collective, and you can value individual rights, and there is no contradiction there. In some circumstances, it is better to sacrifice collective interests in the name of individual rights, and in other circumstances it is better to sacrifice individual rights in the name of the collective. It all depends on the overall net effect on the multitude of contradictory things we as humans value.

Date of publication: January 7, 2018