Misconceptions of the Far-Right

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When you think of far-right ideology, what comes to mind?

You’re probably thinking of fascism, racial supremacy, antisemitism, and extreme authoritarianism. This is the standard view that the average person holds, and for this reason, an individual should fit at least one of these labels to be accurately considered far-right.

The trouble with this term is that it isn’t a specific ideology. Terms like “alt-right” or “libertarian” or “socialist” are well-defined. They may change over time depending on the beliefs of those that identify as such, but these terms will always have clear definitions and beliefs that can be used to define someone as a member of that ideological group.

For this reason, far-right has become the new favorite term for those that wish to lazily damage someone’s character without evidence. Accusations of racism and sexism were so loosely tossed about that they have now lost most of their meaning. It does appear to be the case that far-right views are becoming more popular, but this is difficult to measure when the definition is expanded to include even those strongly opposed to the far-right.

The misconception here is the assumption that most people being described as far-right actually hold fascist or racist views. Some certainly do, but the term is so often misused that such an accusation cannot be relied on.

Libertarians, classical liberals, and others in strong opposition to the actual far-right have reason to worry. The definition of far-right is expanding so greatly that it will soon include the guy that once talked to someone whose brother wrote a Breitbart article ten years ago.

Guilt by association (an ad hominem fallacy) has been used several times against prominent libertarians to brand them as far-right. What the accusers often forget is that associating with someone (whether it be merely speaking to them or collaborating on a common goal) does in no way indicate an endorsement of all of their views.

Throughout the history of the liberty movement, its members have often collaborated with conservatives, conspiracy theorists, and communists to promote liberty. Murray Rothbard talked about his temporary alliance with the New Left in the 1960s in his Libertarian Forum. This did not make him a leftist. John Stossel worked with establishment Republicans when hosting Stossel on FOX. This did not mean he endorsed everything produced by FOX. Anti-war libertarians regularly collaborate with left anarchists via antiwar.com. This does not make them left anarchists. Ron Paul and Michael Malice have both appeared on the Alex Jones Show. This did not mean they endorse everything produced by InfoWars.

Accusations of libertarians and classical liberals being far-right are too numerous to count. Most of these false characterizations are based on two types of association. The accused either holds a position that overlaps with the far-right (such as criticism of equality of outcome or opposition to affirmative action) or they have interacted with the far-right in the past.

Tom Woods has been accused of being far-right many times from many different groups. In 2005, Thomas DiLorenzo summarized the accusations against him from the neoconservatives. After the arrest of Christopher Cantwell at the Charlottesville rally, Dr. Woods was once again accused of being sympathetic to the far-right for having Cantwell on his podcast in early 2014. Back then, Cantwell was more of an edgy ancap, even co-hosting Free Talk Live for a period. Since that podcast appearance he has migrated to the alt-right, which led to numerous accusations at Dr. Woods of having “far-right sympathies” for conversing with Cantwell five years ago.

The entire libertarian movement has been accused of being far-right by providing “a safe space for fascists.” The so-called “libertarian to alt-right pipeline” is used to tie libertarianism to the far-right using guilt by association. The claim is that if libertarians are defending free speech and freedom of association, they are defending the far right and therefore must be sympathetic to them.

Carl Benjamin (known as Sargon of Akkad) is a centrist classical liberal that only recently was one of five people to be falsely labeled as far-right in a WIRED article (along with Milo Yiannopoulos, Tommy Robinson, Katie Hopkins, and Paul Joseph Watson). A Data & Society Report from 2018 linked him to the far-right by claiming he collaborated with Richard Spencer. The “collaboration” referenced was a debate between the two, where Mr. Benjamin argued against Spencer’s white nationalism. Later in 2018, the payment platform Patreon banned him for insulting white nationalists.

When centrists and libertarians are labeled as far-right without any clarification, the term can no longer be trusted. Many of the attacks against the far-right appear to be directed towards classical liberals and other enemies of the extreme right.

The far-right will not be defeated by shunning anyone that has the least bit in common with them. To defeat the far-right is to engage their ideas, to discuss them, and to refute them. Guilt by association is a fallacy that has no place in intelligent discourse. It deserves only ridicule.

Like the many other overused labels before it, the far-right accusation must always be viewed with skepticism. The more it is misused and assigned to classical liberals, the harder it will be to oppose the actual far-right.

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Nathan A. Kreider is the host of The Conversation, a podcast about ideas and how to spread them. He also publishes a blog and video content, including short book reviews, which can be found on his website nkreider.com. He can be contacted by email via [email protected]

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