Libertarianism, Nationalism, and the National Anthem
Most reading this are likely aware of the issue of National Football League players refusing to stand for the national anthem. It has been featured prominently in the news in recent months.
Many, including certain individuals within the liberty movement, have expressed anger and indignation at what they view as blatant disrespect to the country as a whole.
Some of this is to be expected; it is no secret that the mainstream right is often as easily offended as the left when their sacred cows are prodded at. However, the inclusion of those identifying as libertarians in this group may come as a surprise to some.
Although anti-nationalism is not necessarily a defining aspect of the philosophy, libertarians in general tend to be better than most when it comes to recognizing and rejecting state propaganda.
This resentment among libertarians toward those who disrespect the national anthem primarily comes from the culturally conservative wing of the movement. Part of this has to do with the fact that some contend that the protests are an aspect of what they refer to as “cultural Marxism,” a subversion of traditional western culture that they believe is part of a strategy to destroy private property rights and the American way of life.
While it is true that outrage and victim culture has gotten out of hand, I generally reject the idea that everything classified as a non-traditional lifestyle is an attempt to usher in communism.
I would actually contend that those who choose to practice alternative lifestyles can be potential converts to libertarianism due to the freedom that the ideology prescribes, but I do not wish to make this piece of writing about that.
Rather, I would like to focus on the new obsession with nationalism that seems to be spreading through subsects of the liberty movement. Those outraged by the general refusal to stand for what some libertarians jokingly refer to as “the special song” often argue that America as an entity is not associated with the state, but rather refers to the people within it and the common culture they share.
They see symbols of the country, like the anthem and the flag, as being representative of the people and not the government.
This argument would hold much more water if the United States were a group of people who voluntarily chose to associate with each other, like a homeowners’ association, a sports team, or a chess club. In such instances, individuals are not coerced to participate; they are intentionally choosing to be part of a collective. In contrast, being an American does not mean believing in a certain set of principles or shared values and choosing to act upon these values to establish membership in a group; it simply means being born between a set of geopolitical boundaries decided upon by the state itself.
Although it is theoretically possible to create a “nation” voluntarily with each member willfully choosing to join, it would be ahistorical to attempt to apply this model to the US.
Even at the time the country was founded, unanimous consent was not asked for, but rather the consent of those who rose to power in each state.
And yes, it is perfectly consistent with the libertarian non-aggression principle for a group of people to establish a collective and call themselves a nation (assuming no one is coerced into joining).
I would in no way argue against one’s right to be involved in this. But having the right to perform an action does not mean that someone should invoke that action, nor does it make the outcome of said action desirable.
Rampant nationalism is a form of tribalism, in which the well-being of one’s countrymen is valued over that of those who are outside of one’s group.
I will happily concede that a preference for helping those close to you can sometimes be helpful or even desirable; I would not condemn valuing one’s family over another’s or assisting a neighbor going through hardship instead of focusing on someone who lives across the globe. In fact, it’s often easier for someone to help those who are closer in geographic proximity.
The issue that arises is that nationalism often leads to thinking of those who are not part of one’s nation as lesser beings who do not have or deserve the same rights as those within it.
An American nationalist is much more likely to think of foreign civilians killed by bombs as simply “collateral damage” than he is if those killed are fellow Americans. This can create an “us vs. them” mentality, in which all of those within a hostile country are viewed as enemies, even if said people have nothing to do with the actions of their government.
Even Hans-Hermann Hoppe, a favorite of many cultural conservatives and someone who does not expressly reject the idea of nationalism, recognizes this issue in his essay “Time Preference, Government, and the Process of Decivilization,” in which he writes, “Indeed, while dynastic rule promotes the identification with one’s own family and community and the development of a ‘cosmopolitan’ outlook and attitude, democratic republicanism inevitably leads to nationalism, i.e., the emotional identification of the public with large, anonymous groups of people, characterized in terms of a common language, history, religion and or culture and in contradistinction to other, foreign nations. Interstate wars thus turn into national wars.”
For the reasons above, I cannot in good conscience respect or espouse nationalism as a libertarian, nor can I participate in nationalistic rituals like the national anthem or Pledge of Allegiance. Engaging in such action only furthers the will of the state.
Although we have different reasons for doing so, I fully support the refusal of many NFL players to stand for the anthem. By kneeling, staying seated, or refusing to come out of the tunnel while the song is being played, they are helping to ensure that another sacred cow of the state is taken to the slaughterhouse.
John M. Hudak is an anarcho-capitalist writer whose work has been featured at Think Liberty, Antiwar.com, and JohnMHudak.com. He is the Connecticut State Coordinator for Adam Kokesh’s 2020 presidential campaign.