Libertarian as Ethnicity

The past few months have been busy, to say the least. The Obama administration announced a series of executive actions regarding immigration and that has taken up most of my time. Meanwhile in my day job as a graduate student I’ve been overwhelmed with midterms and finals; I am sure my fellows in NoL can sympathize with this. The few moments of peace I have enjoyed have gone towards pondering one question: Who is an American? 

The question is not isolated. By asking who an American is, I’m really asking what ethnicity, and other social groups, really are. The best answer to my question was an old Cato blog post appropriately titled, What is an American? In it Edward Hudgins discusses what makes an American. It is not, as some believe, a common language, creed, or ancestry. What makes an American is his love for liberty. It is in his closing remarks that Hudgins hits on something amazing, there is no meaningful thing as ‘American’.

Unfortunately, the American spirit has eroded. Our forebears would look with sadness at the servile and envious character of many of our citizens and policymakers. But the good news is that there are millions of Americans around the world, living in every country. Many of them will never make it here to the United States. But they are Americans, just as my grandpop was an American before he ever left Italy.

There exists those individuals who can prefix themselves as Americans, but at best this only tells us that they are somehow affiliated with the American continent. There exists a group of people who yearn for liberty and are willing to fight for it, but many of them were neither born or live in the United States. Likewise there are those who were born and live in the United States who are no friends of liberty. And so my initial question has lead me to a new one. Why not promote being a libertarian as an ethnicity? Why not introduce ourselves as ‘Libertarios’ instead of Americans, Germans, or Turks?

At first my proposal may sound strange to some. Would it not be silly to define an ethnicity by political views? I don’t think so. Few ethnic groups have a concrete basis in reality and are based more on fiction than anything else. I was born in Mexico, raised in the United States, and am directly descended from Germans, Jews, and Cubans. I feel little fraternity to these latter groups though. Why should I? I didn’t elect to have Jewish or Mexican ancestry, but I did elect to be a libertarian. Anyone who proclaims to be a libertarian automatically has my sympathy and support, even if I know nothing else about them. As this is the case I would prefer to be identified as a Libertario than any other ethnic group.

I am sure that there are those who would prefer not to be identified by any collective label at all. For those of you who fall into this category I would offer a pragmatic case for identify as Libertario.

I hope it can be taken for granted that, as libertarians, we wish there to be more libertarians. In the best scenario more libertarians in the world might lead to better public policy. In the worst scenario we at least have more potential friends. By promoting our existence as an ethnic group we would encourage more people to remain as libertarians. I have often found people who have libertarian political views, but who withdraw from participation if they become discouraged about the hope for change in their lifetimes. If we were an ethnic group though these individuals would continue to promote liberty, if only to signal their membership in the group. An ethnic group therefore not only encourages members to remain active, but produces positive externalities to promote the group’s message.

For comparison consider the Mormon people. Many Mormons spend time advocating on behalf on their religion, with several even going abroad on missionary work. From anecdotal experience I’ve noticed that many of them are ill treated when they perform their advocacy. Why do they bother to do so then? Because, as I’ve noted above, it signals their membership in the Mormon community. The average Mormon may not particularly enjoy being harassed for their beliefs, but they do it anyway to tell other Mormons a simple message, “I’m one of you.”

It goes without saying that there must be a benefit to belonging to a given group for this to work.

Additionally the existence of an ethnic libertario community would make raising children to be libertarians much easier. I side with Bryan Caplan in the belief that a relatively easy way to grow the movement is by simply having more children than the general population. It doesn’t matter if you believe children’s political beliefs, and by extension their ethics and other characteristics, are shaped by genetics or their nurturing, a libertario community would help with producing children. If you believe in the genetic argument, then an ethnic community reduces the cost of finding a spouse who shares your political beliefs. If you believe in the nurture argument, then surely a child raised among libertarians is more likely to end up being one himself.

Thoughts? Am I just crazy? Or do you have a counter proposal to ‘Libertario’ as our ethnic label? Comment below.

32 thoughts on “Libertarian as Ethnicity

  1. An interesting idea, but I’m not on board. I’m already find with the term libertarian. I don’t consider myself a member of any “country” either, and I think that’s pretty common with libertarians. At least those who aren’t super constitutional. But point is, we’ve already got enough terms, libertarian, anarchist, anarcho-(insert thing here), agorist, voluntarist/voluntaryist. No need to go putting ethnicity into the mix because ethnicity doesn’t matter. It’s the thoughts that matter.

    • I agree that it is the thought that matters. However there is that subset of libertarians who are nationalistic, or constitutionalistic as you put it. On occasion their nationalistic beliefs conflict with their libertarian beliefs. For example, on the issue of migration which I focus on primarily, constitutionalists are in favor of more restrictive policies despite it going against their libertarian beliefs. Since I do not think it possible to eliminate feelings of nationalism I favor the 2nd best approach – redirecting nationalism for ‘America’ towards ‘Libertaria’.

      I concede that there are costs from this. Namely, nationalists will side with their ‘side’ even if they’re wrong. I suppose that’s the cost suffered by any group though.

    • I actually wrote something not too long ago referencing the “Thin Blue Line” that police have which cause a team vs. team mentality. I see it with libertarians too (the “Thin Yellow Line”), and it’s not good. The word ‘libertarian’ already separates enough just to extent that it’s a rough starting point for an explanation of a personal philosophy. Claiming ‘ethnicity’ is a separation that is no good under any circumstances. I don’t see it as anything but a separator from the rest of the world.

    • Ethan,

      Yours is the critique I would have made when I first read Michelangelo’s post.

      There is something subtle in his argument for “redirecting nationalism [from] ‘America’ towards ‘Libertaria’,” though. I cannot directly put my finger on it, so instead I will just write down my thoughts as they come to me!

      It’s worth noting, I think, that ethnicities such as ‘French’ or ‘German’ were political identities long before they became ethnic monikers. Michelangelo’s point about “ethnic groups [being] based more on fiction than anything else” is one that eluded me at first. Thus I’m glad you shared your thoughts here.

      Because there are Americans-in-heart-and-mind-but-not-body all over the world, and because there are collectivists in the United States who are politically American but not American-in-heart-and-mind, there is a case to be made that adopting an identity that reflects political preferences and also takes into account a more integrated world.

      Creating an identity that acknowledges the realities of a changing world by embracing a borderless identity that is also political would be a smart tactic. It would be too smart, I think, and too far ahead of its time. This is a heavily conceptual post, and I’ll definitely have more on it in the future.

      I do note that you seem awfully concerned about “managing” libertarianism (“No new monikers!”). If I were you, I’d be very careful about how you perceive what libertarians do and what you think they should do. In the meantime, here is Delacroix on race and ethnicity.

    • Well, I’d be careful about those claims as who what I’m concerned about. But nevertheless from your response the underlying issue seems to be, “How can I have a group national identity without supporting nations?” And my question in response is, why do you need a national identity when you have a philosophical identity that does indeed connect you with others and connects with people across arbitrary borders. One that is much more meaningful? Or do I confuse what you’re saying?

    • Ethan,

      I’m not making any “claims” when I admonish you to be careful. It simply appears that you are disgruntled with libertarianism’s meiosis. I am only suggesting that you cannot stop this meiosis, and that any attempts to do so will only make you look like a cranky old woman.

      I figured out where our misunderstandings are coming from:

      And my question in response is, why do you need a national identity when you have a philosophical identity that does indeed connect you with others and connects with people across arbitrary borders.

      I think the broader point being made here is that libertarians don’t have a political identity. This has nothing to do with national or philosophical identities. Again, ethnic groups often begin as politically-motivated (the pre-WWI French and Germans or the Sikhs of India, for example) and only morph into ethnicities after a long period of time.

    • And I’m telling you to be careful about suggesting what my claims are because you’re headed down a nasty path. Call yourself what you want, create all kinds of new words with new definitions that are already covered and I’ll continue to roll my eyes. I’ve no more interest in this topic of assumptions of what I am doing and who I am. I hope not to hear anymore of it.

      Getting back to the real subject, libertarians have a very strong political identity. The term libertarian is recognized worldwide, tell a stranger you’re a libertarian and they’ve already got a strong lock on where you’re coming from so long as they don’t live under a rock. If that person is a libertarian, you’ve instantly got a connection. If not, they instantly know where you stand. Again, I’m not seeing where this identity crisis is coming from.

    • Ethan,

      This is a place for thinkers, not churchgoers. One of the most troubling aspects of ideology is the urge to control where it goes and who it influences. I have that problem here at NOL, in fact.

      The term ‘libertarian’ is indeed recognized in some parts of the world, but definitely not all parts (nobody in Ghana, for example, knew what a ‘libertarian’ was when I was there). Libertarianism does not mean the same thing everywhere you go, either. A libertarian in Europe or India, for example, is an anti-state socialist. This is not about an “identity crisis,” although I can see where you got that impression.

      The fact that there is so much resistance to this idea suggests that Michelangelo is on to something big here. This is something that definitely needs to be fleshed out a little more, as – again – I think it’s a bit ahead of its time. It goes without saying that your thoughts have already contributed to my understanding of this concept.

    • I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about with church goers, and for an idea to have a lot of resistance it has to have a lot of recognition. This is the first I’ve ever heard of turning political and general philosophy into an “ethnicity.” (A definitive impossibility.)

      The rest of what you’ve said has nothing to do with that subject of ethnicity either, so I suppose there’s nothing left to say. =/

    • As I noted in my 2nd post, the cost of the ‘thin yellow line’, as Ethan Glover dubbed it, already exists and it unlikely we will see it diminished in the future. Humans think in terms of in & out-groups and have done for as long as I know. As with any other sunk costs we should ignore it when deciding what to do next.

      I for one would prefer a ‘yellow’ thin line than the ‘red, white, and blue’ line that many constitutionalist-libertarians have.

      The more I think about this issue though, the more I wonder whether one can consciously create an ethnic group. I ask pardons if this is a stupid question, but what is the consensus on what formed ‘Germans’ as an ethnic group? It certainly wasn’t a German Empire was it? To my knowledge the romantic ideal of Germany predated the Prusso-German Empire and the HRE didn’t attempt to seriously germanify its minorities. I know the Hapsburgs tried to germanify the Hungarians, but that failed. If anyone is better versed on the issue of ethnic group formation I would be delighted to hear their thoughts.

    • Michelangelo,

      On ethnic identity and formation, a Norwegian anthropologist by the name of Fredrik Barth is considered the standard-bearer on ethnicity within anthropology (for whatever that’s worth!). I found him to be insightful but too esoteric about the topic. An archaeologist by the name of Geoff Emberling has a great discussion – beginning at the bottom of page 304 and ending on 310 – of ethnicity in this paper.

      As far as the Germans go, I do not know if there is a consensus. I do know that Germans are considered to be a nationality as well as an ethnic group. I think ‘German’ as an ethnic qualifier disappeared in Europe after the unification of Germany under Otto von Bismark, but continues to be used in parts of the world where Europeans have settled (and still settle).

      The ethnic qualifier did not disappear in Europe overnight, though. There is an argument floating around – one that I find highly persuasive – that World War 2 was fought in part because of the mistreatment of Germans living in Eastern Europe under post-Hapsburg regimes. Berlin conveniently took the view that these Germans were part of the nation, whereas the capitals of the new states in Eastern Europe conveniently took the view that these Germans were an ethnic group that had long since worn out their welcome.


      It’s a pity you have nothing left to say due to my incompetence. I can only hope you continue to grace us with your presence and, more importantly, your thoughts.

    • Thank you for the link. I’ll be sure to read.

      As you can imagine, in economics we steer away from things like this so I have holes in my brain when it comes to it. Which is a shame really. What good is economics if it ignores institutions as important as ethnic/national/cultural groups?

  2. It’s no joke. It makes perfect anthropological sense for us to brand ourselves as a religion or ethnicity. It’s about becoming a culture, which we need to be if we’re going to make our mark on this world, at the very least…

    Look at Kurds, Sikhs, Maroons, Cossacks, Karen, Huns, maybe Hakka, as some examples. Learn from their successes and their mistakes. People that wish to be apart from the majority in any part of the world seem to form a new ethnicity, defined by whoever they happen to be rather than an actual common genetic lineage. Based on my casual readings, early Christians sound like they had that mindset, a new people, a new creation.

    • Do you think we have a distinct enough culture though? We certainly have a distinct political culture, but there is no such thing as a libertario cuisine or holidays. Oddly enough there is a strong sub-genre of libertario literature. Most of it is science fiction and/or otherwise set in the frontier, but it exists all the same.

    • I’ve been writing about this topic myself, though more from the perspective of culture than ethnicity, but it’s kinda the same thing. Some other things…

      We also take on names such as Sovereign, Voluntarist and Freeman. This is very much like the Sikh Singh (Lion) and Kaur (Princess).

      Bearing of arms. Many of us do this. It would be nice to acknowledge it. Compare it to the Kirpan tradition of the Sikhs.

      There is a whole other dimension in the areas of parenting and family life. I met some libertarian women recently with families. All were homeschooling or unschooling, were into a sort of midwife thing called Doulas that they were able to connect to their libertarianism. There’s also all the peaceful parenting stuff they were into.

      I see parallels with early Christianity during the fall of the Roman Empire as well. Take for instance the way we are characterized by our critics, either ridiculed as an unpopular cult, or branded a threat to social order. Roman authors did the same.

      I’ve been reading about how hill tribe cultures from the most remote regions of Southeast Asia adopt cultural features that are state-repelling by nature. There’s something to be said for being culturally incompatible with statists for its own sake. Look at all the other insurrectionist cultures out there in history, religions or peoples that arose from persecution and collapse, both what allowed them to propagate, and their mistakes.

      I’m seeing the beginnings of this, and have a few ideas of how to take it further. There is so much more we could be… need to be if we’re to have a chance of forcing a different outcome than the ultimate tyranny that I see humanity as headed towards presently. We will have to be the most badass traders, scholars, and warriors the world has ever known.

    • How much do you think ethnic/cultural/national groups can be actively shaped? That’s one of my biggest concern here.

  3. libertario cuisine … It’s called Paleo and it is turning us into superhumans.

    The rest could use some work but is definitely coming together. Porcfest is an annual festival. We have iconography (voluntarist V, the black and yellow, Ama-gi). Lots of other examples I can’t think of at the moment as I type this at work.

  4. Hah! Isn’t the paleo diet restricted to the Misean crowd though?

    I do suppose PorcFest and Freedom Fest are both annual festivals for the wider community. I do wish we had a more lively art community at any rate.

    • Like half the libertarians I’ve met in the last 3 years have been into it.

  5. “…there are collectivists in the United States who are politically American but not American-in-heart-and-mind…”

    Do libertarians really think that you have the right to decide who is truly ‘American-in heart-and-mind’? What monumental arrogance.

    • What do you think is an American ‘in-heart-and-mind’? I ask sincerely and look forward to your thoughts on the matter.

      For the longest time I took it for granted that an American was one with an unapologetic love for liberty. Certainly the average American still fits this description. I often hear friends from abroad who visit complain that we go overboard with liberty, especially in regards to guns. If this love for liberty is what defines an American though there are many Americans who were not born in the US or have ever visited. And there are of course those ‘Americans’ who would prefer to see us become a replicate of Europe or Canada.

      It is clear that things get silly when we define American by this. If not our love for liberty though what ties us together? A common ancestry? The largest ancestry group is German. A common language? Let us remember that the first President we had who had been born a US citizen (Van Buren) grew up speaking Dutch. English is certainly our lingua franca, but it is not what defines us. A common religion? Hardly. For most of our history fights within Christian denominations were as fierce as the current fight between ‘Judeo-Christianity’ and Islam.

      If an example exists of an ethnic group that is based on politics, it is the American nation. If that is the case, why not make it more explicit that membership is based on political beliefs instead of language, ancestry, or religion?

  6. It’s actually not as silly, nor as radical, an idea as you might think it is. I remember reading in the Nichomachean Ethics that Aristotle made an etymological connection between the word ἔθνος (an ethny) and ἔθη (ethics), that the very word for ethics came about from the word for a group of people. Aristotle saw the progression going in the opposite direction from what you envisioned, though. People came together, and then a common life and practice arose from the groups.

    Upon reflection I see no reason why it could not move in the opposite direction, as you suggested: practices defining a group, rather than groups defining practices. However, there seem to be many practical barriers to this, not the least of which is that many people are very invested in other group identities, and being a Libertario would not necessarily conflict with them. I could be a Libertario and a German, for instance, though I might not be able to be both a Libertario and a Jew, as the two ideologies may conflict.

    I am not so settled, though, about whether ethnic groups are always as mutable as you claim them to be. Selective breeding within groups creates a physical separation between them and other groups, so that a Mongol may be distinguished from, say, a Han Chinese. However, there are also ethnic groups that are primarily political, as other commenters have gone over, so that a Frenchman in Alsace may look more like a Düsseldorfer than a Parisian, and a Russian in East Prussia more European than one in Vladivostok. Just bumming around Nepal for the last month I have seen a great variation in facial features and religious practices, from Tibetan to Hindu to animistic, which reflects Nepal’s creation: a series of ethnic groups united under a king, and whose expansion was checked and later maintained by the connivance of the Raj. This seems to indicate that ethnic groups can be united under a variety of things, from genetic similarity to nationalist sentiment, and I see no reason why political ideology cannot be added as well. This also speaks to the linguistic looseness of the term, which probably should be tightened up just for the sake of clarity.

    • As for conflicts with other sorts of identities… I’ve thought about that a bit. I need to think about it more. There’s always going to be a complex interplay there. There are Mormons, Muslims, Christians and Jews that are into liberty now. It’s something very important to me, but not the only side to me.

      Look at the diversity within any belief system/way of life that’s widespread across the planet. Some might vary quite a bit, or have stronger traditions they hold in common and less mass appeal. I hope we can find some kind of balance between mass appeal, and strong adherence to core principles which might very well be exclusionary to most people. I’d like the level of libertarian belief in a society to be more of a predictor of what that society actually looks like, how it functions, how people behave, than any of the most popular religions.

    • As another note, we can’t be too rigid and exclusionary. That will be a barrier to achieving enough numbers to force our sovereignty over any geographic area (I would like to be able for us to practice our way of life openly at some point, not subject to the contradictory laws of any modern nation-state). We also need flexibility to adapt to other environments, give liberty plenty of chances to take hold in a meaningful sense. Currently we’re just a suppressed (e.g. not able to practice everything openly) people mostly concentrated in the U.S., that largely grew as reaction to increasing tyranny in that part of the world.

  7. According to wikipedia “An ethnic group or ethnicity is a socially-defined category of people who identify with each other based on common ancestral, social, cultural or national experience.[1][2] Membership of an ethnic group tends to be defined by a shared cultural heritage, ancestry, myth of origins, history, homeland, language (dialect), or even ideology, and manifests itself through symbolic systems such as religion, mythology and ritual, cuisine, dressing style, physical appearance, etc.”

    So yeah, I think libertarian, being an ideology, can count as an ethnicity. Also, according to the United Nations convention, there is no distinction between the terms racial discrimination and ethnic discrimination. So whenever anyone tries to fight libertarian ideals we can rightfully call them racists! 🙂

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