How Do They Say Things So Silly?

We've noted here before how Jonathan Chait seems to be a master of shallow-but-superficially-pluasible analysis. Now, Andrew Sullivan alertes me to his go at Ron Paul, in which Chait tries to imply something like "Libertarianism leads to racism."

Here is the Paul quote Chait goes after: “Libertarians are incapable of being racist,” he has said, “because racism is a collectivist idea, you see people in groups.”

Chait responds:

"In Paul’s world, state-enforced discrimination is the only kind of discrimination. A libertarian by definition opposes discrimination because libertarians oppose the state. He cannot imagine social power exerting itself through any other form."

Say what? Paul says that libertarians can't be racists, because they don't view people in terms of collectives. Now, I believe this is wrong: quite obviously, Rothbard in the 1990s was quite capable of lumping people in groups. Paul is implying that having a political platform fighting against collectivism makes one incapable of ever seeing people as a collective.

But it is not wrong in the way Chait says it is wrong: Paul's statement doesn't mention the state at all. It mentions not seeing people as collectives, which, were it always possible, would be a prophylactic against any possibility of racism. And there is no reason in the world why someone cannot be a libertarian and recognize non-state forms of discrimination as a problem; it just won't be a problem in which they wish to involve the government.

"The most fevered opponents of civil rights in the fifties and sixties — and, for that matter, the most fervent defenders of slavery a century before — also usually made their case in in process terms rather than racist ones."

Well, except that the great classical economists, most of whom would today be described as libertarians, were almost always opponents of slavery.

But no matter that the analysis is rubbish. The real point is Chait writes with style, no doubt dresses just right for Manhattan cocktail parties and says witty things while at them, and has told his audience what they want to hear: "libertarian = racist." That is enough to land one a gig at New York Magazine.


  1. "He cannot imagine social power exerting itself through any other form."

    Kinda like Chait cannot imagine a corrective for unjust social power exerting itself through any other form than state enforcement?

  2. Whenever one hears discussion of Libertarianism at outlets like this one can get a good idea where the idea that Libertarianism lacks any good critics comes from. This is not true, of course, but more people read the New York Review of Books than an outlet where someone might do the job halfway decently.


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