David R. Henderson  

Welcoming Prejudice

Squalor and immigration... Hillary Clinton Was Wrong...

I don't believe in intellectual cooties.

Reason: This year there has been a lot of discussion about whether there's a pipeline between libertarians and the alt-right.

Sharpe: Yup.

Libertarian Party Chair Nicholas Sarwark has been drawing some bright lines.

It's a really bad idea. It's a really bad idea. Why would I tell anyone to leave my party? How can I turn you if I can't talk to you? Come, even white nationalists, come. If I can turn you, I'll turn you. My hero is that guy Daryl Davis. You know that guy? He's one of my brothers who was out there trying to get KKK members to turn. And he keeps their hoods as a trophy. He's turned like 44 of them in 30 years. That's my hero.

The vast majority of those guys are not Nazis. They're guys who are lost. There's a couple guys who are Nazis; there's always a couple of ringleaders. Those guys are never going to change, no matter what you do. But the big chunk of people who just think this is the right answer now? Turn them. That may take a month. That may take a year. It might take a hundred years. I don't care.

You want to stop racism? Let people be racist. You want to stop sexism? Let them be sexist. Let it out in the sunlight. Let people see it. Let them understand it and get it. You can turn them. I want them all to come to me, every one of them. The biggest Nazi? Come on in, I'm happy to talk to you. I will never stop that conversation, ever.

When 10 come, eight leave, two stay. I want those two. I'll take those two, because those two would have been Nazis. They're not. They're now Libertarians. Because you're free to be who you want to be in our party; just don't force it on others. You renounce the use of force.

This is from Matt Welch, "Selling Freedom," Reason, February 2018.

It's Matt's interview with Larry Sharpe, who almost won the vice-presidential nomination of the Libertarian Party in 2016. It's a fascinating interview.

I highlighted the section above because it expresses my view.

Back in the early 1990s, after having spent many weeks in a group with an amazing local man named Fred Jealous and then "graduating" to taking a course in Reevaluation Counseling, I worked with Fred and about 6 to 8 other people to start a local chapter of the National Coalition Building Institute. We had a 2- or 3-day long "training for trainers" put one by Cherie Brown, who founded the NCBI. One of the principles that I remember being emphasized was that we should welcome prejudice. Prejudice needed to be expressed if we were ever to get anywhere in reducing it.

I loved Sharpe's statement about Daryl Davis. I've kept on my DVR a program that my wife and I both enjoyed in which he talks to members of the Ku Klux Klan and, person by person, turns many of them away from KKK views.

I realized some years ago how differently I thought about this from many libertarians around me whom I respect. About 10 years ago, I was talking to my friend Steve Chapman and sensing that we thought differently about this. So I gave him the following thought experiment.

You are about to get on a coast-to-coast flight and you find out at the last minute that you are upgraded to first class. You get on the flight and sit beside a pleasant looking man. Before the door is even closed, he introduces himself as the head of the American Nazi Party. He seems to want to talk. What do you do?

Steve answered the way I think many libertarians would answer: I would speak to the flight attendant and ask to be moved.

Here's what I said: I wouldn't. My reaction would be that I was given a gift. I would get a chance to talk for up to 5 hours with someone so that maybe I could find out what makes him tick. I have no idea how someone would come to those views. Was it old hurts? Was it bad information? What was it? I would be careful how I asked, but I would try to ask questions rather than make assertions or tell him my views, unless he asked my views.

Sometimes I think that many people, including many libertarians, think that in talking to someone with views they detest, they can get "intellectual cooties." I don't think that.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (29 to date)
Hazel Meade writes:

I strongly disagree. Here is why. If libertarianism is to succeed politically in the future, we need to convince non-white voters, not white neo-Nazis, of our beliefs. Consorting with white supremacists alienates minorities and confirms the worst beliefs about libertarians held by people on the left, such as Nancy Maclean - that libertarianism is an intellectual front for the protection of white male political supremacy.

In your analogy, imagine that across the aisle from you is an empty seat next to the head of the NAACP. You can choose weather to talk to the head of the American Nazi Party or the head of NAACP. Who do you think is more worth talking to? You cant really talk to both, because if you talk to one the other will regard you with contempt. I choose to talk to the NAACP, and shun the Neo-Nazi.

You cant answer that we don't have the option of talking to black voters, because we do, and we must. And they aren't going to listen to us, justifiably, if were seen to be welcoming white supremacists into the movement.

David R Henderson writes:

@Hazel Meade,
If libertarianism is to succeed politically in the future, we need to convince non-white voters, not white neo-Nazis, of our beliefs.
I think we need to convince both.
Consorting with white supremacists alienates minorities and confirms the worst beliefs about libertarians held by people on the left, such as Nancy Maclean - that libertarianism is an intellectual front for the protection of white male political supremacy.
It depends what you mean by “consorting.” We should always make clear our own beliefs. Re Nancy Maclean, if she is willing to believe what she believes based on nothing, convincing her is a lost cause.
In your analogy, imagine that across the aisle from you is an empty seat next to the head of the NAACP. You can choose weather [sic] to talk to the head of the American Nazi Party or the head of NAACP. Who do you think is more worth talking to?
The head of the NAACP.
You cant answer that we don't have the option of talking to black voters, because we do, and we must.
And I didn’t answer that.

Thomas writes:

I agree with you, David. I find it hard to read leftists on the web, but that's because its like standing in front of a firehose of words and ideas. There's no chance to interact, which is what I can do in a one-on-one conversation.

john hare writes:

I really like this post. I listen to some conservative and some liberal talk radio from time to time. It may be selection bias, but the ones I hear seem to believe that even discussing an issue with their opponents is a fail. If there is no idea of how others think, there is no common ground for interaction.

I was a member of the local 912 Project for some time. I mentioned talking to a liberal friend of mine about several issues. The reaction from all the 912 people I talked to was "You should have straightened him out." with no idea of where he was coming from.

The vast majority of ideological people I have met seem to lecture or preach at the expense of communication. The approach you advocate here has been valuable in my general use. Listen, think, and make simple direct, but impersonal points on point and on topic and it is amazing how often people get it. One employee mentioned that he hated money so I suggested that I could respect his preferences and quit paying him. Seemed to get the point.

Hazel Meade writes:

I think we need to convince both.

Need to? Neo-nazis are a tiny, marginalized minority. We don't need to convince them of anything.
If it were feasible to talk to and recruit from both groups statistically independently, that might not matter.
But the reality is that the more racists are present in libertarian forums, the fewer black people will show up. The more racists show up at libertarian meetings, the fewer minorities will.

Lets go back to Sharpes statement:
When 10 come, eight leave, two stay. I want those two. I'll take those two, because those two would have been Nazis. They're not. They're now Libertarians.

No, in most cases, they're not really "libertarians". You didn't just magically turn two racists into perfect libertarians overnight. What really happened, what happens in real life, is that those two racists heard the libertarians oppose anti-discrimination laws, and decided that was in their interest. And they started calling themselves libertarians, without really changing their racial views. Maybe once in a while one of them evolves and stops being a racist, but people don't change their views overnight, sometimes, not at all.

So then the next time a black person walks into one of your meetings, first of all that black person is already uncomfortable because he's the only black person in the room, and secondly, he soon stumbles across people arguing that Africans are genetically less intelligent, and then he leaves, and never comes back, and tells all his friends about it. And pretty soon everyone "knows" that libertarians are closeted racists.

Intellectual cooties are real - who you associate with affects how others see you. I have had people explicitly say to me "I used to call myself a libertarian, but I stopped because I didn't want to associate with a bunch of people who are closeted racists any more." This person of course didn't mean all libertarians, just that there were enough of these people present in libertarian circles that he found it distasteful and left.

More:The alt-right influence on libertarianism is not just a one-way conversion street of right wing racists becoming converted to libertarianism. They help define the movement. Those two racists who decided to start calling themselves libertarians now start interpreting libertarians ideas through their own racial lens. They write their own blogs and present their own views to others as representative of libertarianism. They emphasize issues like opposing anti-discrimination laws and develop arguments against immigration from Latin America on the grounds that their voters won't support libertarian policies. That starts becoming not an abberation, but a distinct faction within the movement. So we didn't just turn two racists into libertarians, we created a racist version of libertarianism, and that racist version of libertarianism is pretty frequently the face of libertarianism that non-white voters see.

jc writes:

If the goal is to understand a different view, for an instrumental purpose or simply because knowledge is better than ignorance, then bravo.

If the goal is convince 2 out of 10 to change their minds (now or after having planted a seed that takes years to sprout), then you've made the world a better place on net. Bravo.

If one is hoping for people, in general, to adopt this approach, well, that's not happening.


Que Robin Hanson, etc., but most don't want to improve the world. Stated and consciously-believed beliefs systematically diverge from revealed preferences. Here, folks want to feel like a good person and get to judge and punish others.

Give people two buttons to push, (A) one changes the world in a positive direction on net, in alignment w/ stated goals (e.g., less Nazis), but doesn't allow them to express their outrage or condemnation, and (B) the other lets them judge and condemn and explicitly signal their rejection of heretics who break sacred norms...but converts exactly 0 Nazis. See which button gets pushed most (even by highly intelligent people who fully understand your logic).

In many social systems (including simulated systems), being a part of a tribe - a unified tribe - is vital. And those who fail to punish defectors are punished as harshly, or even more harshly, as those who actually violate sacred norms. It almost seems like a Law of Nature in Social Systems.

Violators must be swiftly punished (e.g., Mark Wahlberg waited too long). And those who publicly maintain a somewhat open, greyscale (vs. black and white) mind (cough, Matt Damon, cough) must be labelled apologists (especially if logic and/or evidence is on their side, because they're the most convincing and, thus, represent the biggest danger to tribal unity).

And sometimes positive feedback loops ensue and thing spiral out of control, e.g., most of us have the heart of a Witch Burner or Inquisitor...though thankfully times *have* improved, as we only *figuratively* burn you at the stake today.

Anyway, these patterns of thought/action seem important enough to have been offloaded to instinct, hardwired into our lizard brains as reflexive/automatic mandates, almost like the instinct to breathe, eat, have sex, etc. Just like there are no two-headed cats, because that design doesn't work, there are very few societies that tolerate people going too far off the reservation when it comes to the (sometimes fluid) shared beliefs that bind them.

(This may also be why socially inept "nerds" are harassed by children...being constantly out of calibration w/ the broader social system makes them threats to the cohesiveness - and thus the fitness - of the system. Violators of norms must be punished. And having a hard time picking up on social cues, or being stubbornly guided by logic rather than social mandates, they constantly violate norms. And if they're not physically weak and deferential? You get Donald Trump, heh. Also reflexively hated and attacked...it's like stepping on an ant mound, w/ a frenzied response designed to expel the invading threat.)

Anyway, there's a reason why libertarians and reasonable/logical Spock-types aren't found everywhere. Both seem to be niche species.

Prejudice is not a problem. It only becomes a problem when one side gets control of the power of the state. With a limited, night watchman state, it wouldn't hurt anyone because the state doesn't have the power to hurt anyone. Prejudiced people can't hurt anyone without the state power because their enemies can defend themselves. Only with an over powerful state can prejudice hurt anyone.

Cantman writes:

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Ed B writes:

@ Hazel Meade. I'm curious; have you ever heard of the "No True Scotsman" fallacy? I can't be a true libertarian if I disagree with your assessments? If I can disagree with some, which would those be? To be perfectly honest, I don't consider myself a true libertarian; so you can relax. Then again, I also believe a "true" libertarian party would have to be too inclusive to get elected; as such inclusivity would offend too many sensibilities.

Jon Murphy writes:

As a general comment to the group:

There's quite a lot of difference between conversing and acquiescing. There's no issue with conversing with people to get them to come around to your POV. What should be avoided here is altering to make things more acceptable (eg compromising on values).

By way of analogy, I am a Christian. I spend much of my time hanging around non-Christians and I will happily discuss my religion with them. I'd love to have them convert, but I won't force anything. Likewise, I won't compromise core beliefs. If someone says, "I'll join your church, but you need to drop this whole 'Christ is Lord' thing," that'd be an immediate deal-breaker.

It is the same way with liberty and freedom. We need to be missionaries for liberty and freedom, but it doesn't mean compromising. Converse with other people, but don't sell-out.

This is a hard thing to do. It requires courage and conviction. It requires knowledge. And it requires charm.

And what's more, this goes for the Left, too, not just the Right. Talk with "progressives" and socialists. I've recruited a few (and I am a former "progressive"). Liberalism, true liberalism, is a beautiful thing. We will not woo the "true believers," but we can, on the margin, sway people away from extremism and toward liberalism.

At least, that is how I interpret Prof. Henderson's remarks.

Mark Bahner writes:
...what happens in real life, is that those two racists heard the libertarians oppose anti-discrimination laws,...

Good. It's good that Gary Johnson didn't confuse them about what libertarianism is really about. :-)

P.S. I still can't figure out how a Libertarian presidential candidate never read the Constitution and its background, or at least had them explained to him...

Jonathan writes:

Great post. It is eminently re-readable and wonderfully reasonable.
The big problem remains, and will endure; that as long as we live in a society where certain words cannot be uttered, then we become too immature to even have a conversation about the problem, much less work towards an open-minded resolve. By all means, let the racist be racist, openly. Let the bigots talk.
Once a friend of mine expressed exasperation at evangelicals who he thought were always trying to persuade him to change his faith. I asked him if there was any chance that they could change his mind. He said, "no way". "So whats the problem?" I asked.
He thought about it for a long moment and finally said..."it disrespectful."
I believe even he was dissatisfied with that answer.

shecky writes:

You're betting you can turn them. Ever consider they're going to turn you? If not, why? Because it already happened with conservatives and to notable degree, libertarians. When non whites began asserting their rights, and the courts began to agree, all of a sudden, things such as State's rights becomes a big rallying cry among the people who used to prop up the racist laws, once supporting those old laws made them pariahs. They were successful in convincing many non racist conservatives of the policies that would not so coincidentally resist the ability of non whites to assert their rights, by placing a mask of respectability over those policies. But it bubbled beneath the surface for decades, and all it takes is an childish and reckless demagogue for that old mask to fall away, revealing a festering foundation. And here we are.

And conservatives are puzzled when non whites are skeptical of conservative politics!

Ever consider turning non whites? Or are they too liberal to consider? Are you truly puzzled what makes nazis and kkk folks so receptive to conservatism and libertarianism, and non whites so resistant?

Greg G writes:

Nice post David.

When I was younger, I was more interested in learning WHAT people believe. I wanted to be sure I was seeing the full menu of possible beliefs.

As I have gotten much older I have become a lot less interested in cataloging the full range of possible beliefs. It is virtually limitless and has very little connection to reality in many cases.

I have become much more interested in WHY people believe the things they do. I can't recall anyone (of any political stripe) ever changing their political beliefs because they were shown that their logic in defending those beliefs was wrong.

As near as I can tell, people change their political beliefs because they decide they would prefer to associate themselves with other people holding those different beliefs. So I think you are quite right about the importance of maintaining a respectful dialog as long and possible. But it is important to separate respect with people from respect for ideas.

As for the libertarian alt-right pipeline, there are a quite spectacular variety of different views among people self identifying as libertarians. There are anarchists, minarchists, left- libertarians, Objectivists, anarcho-capitalists, and garden variety Republicans who have never wavered in their support of Bush and Trump. The term can mean almost anything to people which is a quite libertarian linguistic arrangement when you think about it.

So you can and should dispute what the label stands for but you are right about the importance of maintaining dialog.

Mark writes:


I don't think there's much to worry about regarding 'alt right' people being semi-converted to and 'invading' libertarianism, as the connection mainly seems to be going more in the opposite direction, in my (entirely anecdotal) observations in libertarian forums. It's more a trend of white libertarians becoming increasingly frustrated at being assumed to be racist because they happen to belong to a disproportionately white group and being expected to prove to the world that they're not racist that leads them to sympathize with the uninhibited ethos of the 'alt-right.'

Hence the leftist claim that libertarianism is a gateway drug to the alt-right. There seem to be far more 'alt-right' former libertarians than vice versa.

Hazel Meade writes:


it's a good thing that the pipeline is (mostly) going the opposite direction right now, but it is indicative of the fact that most all those right-wing racist converts to libertarianism were never really converted at all. That's the failure of that Rothbard/Rockwell strategy. We didn't turn Nazi's into libertarians, we just got a bunch of Nazis to pretend to be libertarians, and then as soon as someone came along who told them he would keep out the Mexicans (and their products), they jumped ship.

The thing is that the Rothbard/Rockwell people didn't actually try to change their minds about racism. They sold libertarianism to them on the grounds that libertarianism would protect their right to be racist. And this is how that strategy worked out - it worked only so long as the racists thought that libertarians were more likely to protect their right to be racist than the Republican party.

Hans writes:

A lot of NAZIs in America ?

Yet, no one has found a single
Communist !

And all racists are beige.

America is lost.

Hazel Meade writes:

@Mark Bahner,

I'm not in favor of anti-discrimination law either. However, much of the alt-right not only thinks that it should be legal, they think it should be socially acceptable too. They object to the idea that businesses might be boycotted for exercising racist beliefs and that social norms might cause them to be ostracized. That's all just "PC" "SJW" stuff. But absent anti-discrimination law, that's what he have to rely on. I think there's a fair argument from a libertarian perspective that anti-discrimination statues are a necessary evil because the alternative is going to be a lot more moralizing and social coercion.

Also, to listen to the alt-right libertarians, you would think that anti-discrimination statues were the single most important issue of the day. And these same people largely support bans on immigration and either support Trump's opposition to free trade agreements or downplay it's importance. So we basically have a group of people who argue that there's an inalienable right to discriminate against black people, but not to purchase products made by Mexicans, or hire an alien from El Salvador.

Thaomas writes:

I feel the same way as Matt about trying to covert Libertarians to Neo-Liberalism. :)

DeservingPorcupine writes:

I tend to agree with Hazel Meade here.

It's already nearly impossible to convince people that I both

1) truly have no animus towards black people, and also
2) truly believe we should let racist people refuse to hire black people solely because of their being black.

It's a massive cognitive strain for the average person to see these two things as being compatible. Stack the deck any further, and you've no chance.

I have mad respect for Daryl Davis, but he has a little more freedom in this regard since he's not affiliated with, or in any way the face of, an ideology that is frequently associated with (and sometimes co-opted by) vile, racist groups.

martin Kessler writes:

Everyone is using a set of terms --"alt-right", libertarian" Nazi" etc. -- that has become a new PC language of talking tangentially about the troublesome underlying problem with which we don't seem to be able to find a solution. The problem is this: after importing 303,000 Africans as slaves and never returning them home after the work [ or War] was over we now have 30 million here as captives [ as prisoners] on a continent [ a prison without walls ] which the prisoners hate with a passion for all the forms of barriers [ prejudice] that make assimilation or intimacy with them impossible, notwithstanding the lovely sentiments of the unfortunate Brown decision or all the flowerly sentiments about "civil rights" and "all men are equal" nonsense. The solution? When most African-Americans will come in time to call themselves American-Africans. Marcus Garvey--where are you when we need you? Now, please don't call me names.

RPLong writes:

My favorite part of this post is when David writes, "My reaction would be that I was given a gift."

On the one hand, libertarians could try to change public mass perception of libertarianism. On the other hand, libertarians could try persuading people to adopt more libertarian views on a case-by-case basis. I think only the latter is something that an individual is likely to accomplish.

baconbacon writes:

@ Hazel Meade

I strongly disagree. Here is why. If libertarianism is to succeed politically in the future, we need to convince non-white voters, not white neo-Nazis, of our beliefs. Consorting with white supremacists alienates minorities and confirms the worst beliefs about libertarians held by people on the left, such as Nancy Maclean - that libertarianism is an intellectual front for the protection of white male political supremacy.

Which is a more powerful hook for minority voters?
1. We, just like all the other parties, have nothing to do with the KKK/Neo Nazis
2. We, unlike any of the other parties, are actively convincing people to leave the KKK/Neo Nazi party.

The Libertarian party isn't going to become relevant by playing the same politics as the Dems and Repubs. It will look bad if there are unrepentant racists prominently in the Libertarian party, but those optics will change dramatically (eventually) if the opposite is likely to be true.

Greg G writes:

Great discussion here in response to Davids's excellent post.

I didn't see anyone in this entire discussion making a single one of the claims that you heard as pervading it.

@ Roger
I disagree that prejudice is only a problem when the power of the state is used. Many minorities of all types have been abused with impunity by private actors when they were members of a large majority. I am constantly surprised that libertarians who are so alert to the real danger of a tyranny of the majority in democracy can be so blind to it in private interactions.

@ Hazel
Great points in every one of your comments. I don't think you and David are as far apart as you think you are. I expect in that conversation he wants to have with the Nazi he would make plenty clear where they part company.

David R Henderson writes:

@Greg G,
Thanks. I agree with all your responses above. I think prejudice is less of a problem when it doesn’t use the power of the state, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a problem. And yes, I absolutely would make clear where we part company.
@Hazel Meade,
I forgot to mention that over the years, I had a number of good conversations with the head of the NAACP. He grew up 3 blocks from me and I’ve known him since he was 16. I should say “former head.” And I haven’t talked to any Nazis (at least that I was aware of) in the last 29 years that I’ve known Ben Jealous. So by revealed preference . . .

Hans writes:

I didn't see anyone in this entire discussion making a single one of the claims that you heard as pervading it."

Greg, so true, however, this nation (1/2) over the past six months has been consumed by the Clan and NAZIs debate. My post was meant to reflect the general disheartening, discourse in America.

David Friedman writes:

I once had a real world experience along the lines of David's hypothetical airline conversation.

Many years ago I was invited to participate in a conference in Paris. A little while before it was due to happen, I was told that various of the participants had pulled out to protest the fact that one of the people invited was in their view a fascist--I think a member of Le Pen's party.

My reaction was that if he was a fascist that was a reason to go, since I had never had a chance to talk with one. Fascism was a sufficiently persuasive set of ideas to have persuaded quite a lot of people, some of them surely intelligent, and I would like to understand it.

I went. The "fascist" withdrew, I think in counter protest, but I was able to arrange to have dinner with him. It was quite interesting, although I don't think "fascist" describes his position very well. He wasn't exactly anti-semitic, since he was anti-Christian as well. His ideal seemed to be Europe in classical antiquity, before it was corrupted by Christianity.

His picture of the U.S. was more or less wall to wall McDonalds, so I enjoyed telling him about the SCA, the historical recreation group within which I research medieval cooking, tell medieval stories around a campfire, and engage in similar activities. Hopefully I shook his picture of the world a little. I did not, unfortunately, get a defense of fascism, but I did get a window into an odd view of the world.

WalterB writes:

Good comment thread. Personally, I don't accept the idea that I shouldn't talk to Person A because it might offend Person B. I say: Tell them both why you value individual liberty, and let God sort out the rest of it.

Hazel Meade writes:

To be fair, in a real life situation I would probably be interested in talking to the neo-Nazi for the same reasons. I just don't think it's an accurate analogy for what happens when white supremacists get involved with the Libertarian party or for the strategy pursued by Murray Rothbard and Lew Rockwell. That conversation has been less about attempting to convert them, and more about getting them to think that voting libertarian was in their interest.
The other thing is if I was at a LP meeting, and a black person showed up, I'd be WAY more interested in talking to the black person, to understand what they might get out of libertarianism, what might attract them to the movement. There's already five alt-right guys in the corner loudly complaining about the civil rights act, so I already know what they have to say.

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