Libertarianism is for white men: The ugly truth about the right’s favorite movement


US senator from Kentucky Rand Paul speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, on March 14, 2013 PHOTO/Wikipedia

Republicans’ demographic challenges have been well documented. Libertarians’ problems are even worse

Why are libertarians so overwhelmingly white and male? This is a question that Jeet Heer of The New Republic explored last Friday, after a new CNN poll found that presidential hopeful Rand Paul, who happens to be the favorite among libertarians, is very competitive in the primaries amongst male voters, but almost completely rejected by females. This is a problem that has long haunted conservatism, but it is even more drastic for ultra-right wing libertarianism.

In a 2014 Pew poll, it was found that about one in ten Americans describe themselves as libertarian, and men were more than twice as likely to be libertarians. In a 2013 Pew poll that Heer states in his article, it was found about two-thirds (68 percent) of American’s who identify as libertarians are men, and 94 percent are non-hispanic whites. Compare this to “steadfast conservatives,” who were found to be 59 percent male and 87 percent white, or “business conservatives,” found to be 62 percent male and 85 percent white, according to another survey done by Pew. Clearly, the entire conservative movement is dominated by white males, but libertarians are the most male-dominated.

Obviously this is a major problem for anyone who is hoping for libertarianism to take off in American politics. So why are libertarians mostly white guys? Heer points out a few different possibilities that some libertarian writers have offered. One of them being that libertarianism has attracted many male-dominated subcultures, like computer programming (think Silicon Valley), gaming, mens-rights activists, and organized humanism/Atheism, and another, argued by Katherine Mangu-Ward, that libertarianism has long been a fringe movement, and fringe movements tend to be dominated by men.

Okay, so libertarianism attracts nerdy white males, but surely these are not the only ones making up the dedicated crowd? While looking at the larger conservative movement, it becomes a bit more clear that the hostility towards government and collective movements in general tends to attract white males who want to preserve their dominance in a society where they are quickly becoming minorities.

Take the following passage written by a young libertarian activist:

“[E]very piece of anti-discrimination legislation passed over the past few decades, ignores one of the basic, inalienable rights of man — the right to discriminate. [Though] eliminating racial and sexual prejudice [had] noble aspiration, [anti-discrimination laws] necessarily utilize the ignoble means of coercive force.”

That young activist? Rand Paul in 1982. Sure, that was more than three decades ago, and its not fair to go after someone for something they wrote back in those naive college days. But has Paul’s outlook changed at all? Not really. In his now infamous interview with Rachel Maddow, he admitted that he had a major problem with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, particularly the provisions that “harbor in on private businesses and their policies.” In other words, he didn’t like the government telling businesses that they had to serve black people. According to libertarians, this is a clear violation of one’s freedom to discriminate; that if a business owner does not want to serve a black person, that is their right. Of course this kind of philosophy is going to be very attractive to those racist business owners.

Libertarianism is inherently opposed to collective movements, and collective movements have long fought to achieve equal rights for women, minorities, workers, etc. Is it any surprise that libertarianism attracts white (and generally privileged) men? If we take a look at the larger conservative movement, a similar story presents itself.

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