Libertarians Are Shit at PR, Part II: The Chase Rachels Controversy & the Importance of Being Earnest

If you belong to any of the anarcho-capitalist forums on Facebook or elsewhere, you may have noticed over the past couple of days that there has been some dust-up over a new book written by one Christopher “Chase” Rachels that originally had a foreword by Hans-Hermann Hoppe and a somewhat, to put it mildly, controversial cover. I know that it probably sounds like I beat this drum a lot, but I’m going to say it one more time for the cheap seats in the back: Libertarians are absolute shit at PR.

The unfortunate title of Rachels’ book is White, Right, and Libertarian. Bluntly stated, I cannot imagine what thinking person, especially a thinking libertarian, would believe that this title is anywhere in the ballpark of Good Ideas. It’s a homerrun in the ballpark of Utterly Fucking Terrible Ideas. I will state upfront that I do not know Rachels personally, although something tells me that I wouldn’t want to. He was a member a while back of one of the forums where I often lurk and sometimes post. He was an active member, but he received a fair amount of ridicule from other members for posting things that were intentionally baity and often somewhat racist or just outright ludicrous.

Giving credit where it is due, I think a lot of people liked his previous work, Spontaneous Order. I have seen quite a few people acknowledging that they read and liked it. I have not read it, but the reviews being what they are, I assume that it’s a reasonably good piece of work that does not include the lesser characteristics of his more recent thoughts and writings.

Returning to the current situation, Hoppe had agreed to write the foreword for the book. At some point over the last few days, Hoppe retracted his permission to use the foreword. Rachels wrote a lengthy exposition on the events that transpired (click here to read his account and here to see the image over at Libertarian Vindicator), claiming that the Ludwig von Mises Institute had a hand in Hoppe’s decision to withdraw support from the project and that this occurred after some employees at LvMI had a chance to see the cover art. I have heard conflicting stories about this art and whether or not it is the actual piece Rachels was going to use or whether it is a mock-up based on a partial visual of the original and an explanation of how it was supposed to look. In any case, this is the version making the rounds, and to say that it is disturbing would be quite accurate, at least for me personally.

I got tired of the Pinochet memes and edgelord shitposting quite a long time ago. This takes it to a whole new level. How he thought that the image of people dangling by nooses from a helicopter alongside such an inflammatory title was a good idea, I will never know. I can’t believe that Rachels thought he was doing the libertarian community some great service by publishing such trash. The content of the book itself, even if it turned out to be good, would be completely obscured by the fact that the art and title are so out in that ballpark of Utterly Fucking Terrible Ideas. This is what I’m talking about, folks. This is why I am repeating myself about libertarians being complete shit at PR.

The great news is that I have yet to see more than one or two even vaguely approving remarks about this stunt. Almost everyone unanimously condemned such stupidity, and that goes a long way towards proving the point that most libertarians simply do not share these opinions. The problem, however, is the general silence on the part of the more prominent, vocal libertarians.

I come back to Deist’s “Blut und Boden” remarks and Tom Woods’s defense of it. From a strictly logical standpoint, Woods has the argument. I agree with him in principle. The problem is that when it comes to winning the PR game, logic is mostly irrelevant. People make the vast majority of their decisions based on their feelings, whether or not they even know it. Even libertarians, as rational as they want to believe they are, can be and are heavily influenced by their feelings about things.

This is relevant because perception does matter, at least if we are serious about having fruitful discussions with people who don’t necessarily share our beliefs and if we are genuinely serious about spreading the message of liberty to the maximum number of people. This is not me being soft, and this is not me going against Deist or Woods or anyone else. I have great respect for both men, and I have a great affection for Woods on, yes, an irrational, personal level. He just seems like a good guy, and that helps when he brings me arguments. I have good feelings about him. The thing is, not everybody “knows” Tom Woods, and most people don’t understand libertarian ideals that well – even other libertarians sometimes.

The problem with libertarianism, racism, and the need to separate the two can be explained thusly: Libertarian ideals allow for the existence of racism, and it is incredibly tough for a lot of people to stomach the idea that is not ethically incumbent upon anyone to eradicate racism. Libertarianism, by virtue of being what it is, allows for free association, and if you can associate with whomever you want, it allows you equally to exclude others from associating with you. This is discrimination, and discrimination is not, contrary to popular believe, inherently negative.

We all discriminate every single day and for whole hosts of reasons. For example, I do not like to hang out with negative people. If someone is known to be a complainer, whiner, or Debbie Downer, I distance myself from them immediately. I tend to absorb somewhat the moods of those around me, and for that reason, I like to be around people who are upbeat, ambitious, and who make the greatest efforts to say good things about others or nothing at all. This particular discrimination on my part is based upon conclusions I have made that I feel are the best for my overall wellbeing.

Of course, there is discrimination that is based on race, religion, or other things. Discriminating strictly because of race is stupid, but there are people that do it, and that is their right, as far as I’m concerned. I discriminate back by not wanting to be friends with them. That’s how it works. A man is known by the company he keeps.

I think it is necessary for smart libertarians to explain this position when it comes up. There needs to be a rational defense behind the PR. The PR element, the element that deals with fostering and maintaining positive associations, instructs us that we should condemn this sort of stupid collectivism in all its forms. We must first appeal to people’s raw emotions. That is imperative. It is imperative that the bigger libertarian names make their voices heard. Once we have convinced people emotionally, we have to back ourselves up with solid explanations of our positions.

Woods made the argument that “virtue signaling” was pointless. In a perfectly rational world, he would be correct. The straight truth of the matter is that we do not live in that world. Most people just frankly don’t think that hard. Given the world that we do inhabit, and given that we want to convert as many people to the path of liberty as we can, I think we have a responsibility to articulate our own positions in an honest but convincing way. We must be clear that people like Rachels are the nutjob fringe. Most every movement has some of those.

I do not view this as a copout; I view it as common sense. The truth is, I want to talk to people that do not share the exact same beliefs as I do. I do not want to be in an echo chamber. There are other people out there with wonderful ideas, and I want to hear them, too. I also want to bring the libertarian values to the table with me in hopes that we can integrate as many of those values and ideas as possible. There is far more opportunity in conciliatory conversation than there is in stubbornly refusing to even broach the subject just because you do not want to be guilty of virtue signaling.

Let me clear here. I love Woods, and if it sounds like I’m picking on him, that is not my intention. It is a well known example though, and since I do disagree with it in practice if not in theory, it is worth discussing. Anyway, I think Tom Woods can take the heat off of one unknown writer.

I suppose it goes without saying, at this point, that I think Chase Rachels is a moron. He’s exactly the kind of thing that the liberty movement doesn’t need. Regardless of how he reached his decision and whether or not people at Mises made some phone calls, Hoppe did the right thing in withdrawing his support from this project. This thing should never have seen the light of day. Assuming Rachels’ account of the whole thing is accurate, I have to say that I’m disappointed that Hoppe was ever willing to attach his name to it. It makes me wonder, frankly, if some of the accusations made against Hoppe may not be a bit true. This is mental meandering, incidentally – I have no evidence other than this incident to suggest it might be true.

My closing thoughts on the whole thing are as follows: Perception matters. Libertarians owe it to the message of freedom to be good representatives of it. Stubbornly refusing to appeal to emotion because you value reason over feeling is a poor strategy for creating positive associations with society at large. I am heartened by the response of my fellow libertarians at roundly condemning this moronic attempt to be an edgelord.

Libertarians are largely great folks. We really are. And quite a few libertarians I know personally and with whom I have interacted online are incredibly gifted intellectually. Sometimes it is difficult for people with such powerful intellects to bridge the gap between reason and effective communication, but I think we will get there. It is increasingly obvious to me that the remnant is larger than we first thought, and there is a growing number of people who are thirsty for real ideas and honest conversation. When those people come to our door, I recommend we do not waste the opportunity clinging to our own (emotionally-held) ideas of the way the world should work. Instead, we should do everything in our power to make our package, including its presentation, the best that it can possibly be.