How to Convert a Big Tent Into a Small One

Keith Preston (about whose work I’ve blogged here and here) has long been controversial in left-libertarian circles; he’s attracted praise for his economic analysis (see, e.g. his excellent essay “Free Enterprise: The Antidote to Corporate Plutocracy”), but criticism for a) his big-tent strategy of making common cause with all opponents of the central state, including ethnic separatists, racists, bigots, and the like; b) his favouring of ethnic and otherwise insular enclaves as the “natural” outcome of anarchy; and c) his increasingly insulting (e.g., homophobic and transphobic) language.

Hey, it's a strategyWell, tonight I return from (perhaps appropriately) San Francisco to find that Keith’s (b) and (c) have just dynamited his (a) – confirming my thick-libertarian suspicions about how attractive and repulsive forces operate in the Space of Reasons. Keith has penned an angry, whiny, bigoted, abusive, bridge-burning screed (you’ve gotta read it to believe it) calling for anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-patriarchal, pro-immigrant, and pro-counterculture folks to be purged from the anarchist movement.

This is the kind of thing the paleolibertarians used to say (back before most of them retreated from this suicidal strategy), but at least the paleolibertarians weren’t trying to build a big-tent movement, so their position made some kind of sense. But Keith, as Kevin Carson notes, has “‘evolved,’ if you can call it that, from a willingness to share a tent with racists and homophobes for the sake of defeating Empire as the primary enemy, to promoting an active purge of anti-racists and gays from the anti-Empire movement … in order to appease the right wing of [his] coalition.”

In 1773, Benjamin Franklin penned a piece ironically titled “Rules By Which a Great Empire May Be Reduced to a Small One.” Maybe Keith read it and didn’t catch the irony – because in the name of defending his big-tent strategy, he’s been taking an axe to the tentpole, prompting a flurry of hasta la vistas from the left-libertarian blogosphere (see Kevin Carson, Royce Christian, Mike Gogulski, Charles Johnson, Brad Spangler, Darian Worden, the ALL Forums, and now me with a belated ditto – go read ’em, at least they’ve all saved me the trouble of making this post much longer).

Keith’s critics have long charged that his willingness to make common cause with racists, sexists, and homophobes was a sign of his own racism, sexism, and homophobia; Keith’s defenders have insisted that it was all just part of the big-tent strategy against the Real Enemy. Well, Keith has now clearly decided that he prefers a coalition with racists, sexists, and homophobes to a coalition with anti-racists, anti-sexists, and anti-homophobes; make what you will of that. Make likewise what you will of Keith’s references to “psychologically damaged personalities … pissed-off, man-hating dykes with an excess of body hair … self-hating whites, bearded ladies, cock-ringed queers, or persons of one or another surgically altered ‘gender identity’,” which some of us politically-correct types might be hyper-sensitive enough to interpret as indicative of some sort of prejudice on Keith’s part, despite his assurances that, ooh, he’s personally known gays he didn’t hate and nonwhite women he was broad-minded enough to fuck. (It’s also strange how our lack of enthusiasm for Keith’s intolerant right-wing buddies is diagnosed by him as intolerance on our part, but their lack of enthusiasm for us cultural-lefty types is not similarly diagnosed.)

In any case, Keith’s big-tent ambitions, whatever life they ever had, are evidently dead – and at their master’s hands, to boot. Keith concludes:

I suggest that those of us who want to have a non-leftoidal anarchist movement simply go about building one, and ignore the personal attacks that will continue to be thrown our way.

Mutatis mutandis, amen. Keith is marching off in his creepy coalition and we’re dancing away in our cool one. May the best coalition win!

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98 Responses to How to Convert a Big Tent Into a Small One

  1. Charles H. May 25, 2009 at 8:54 am #

    Does this mean I can finally stop pretending to be nice to the neo-Dixiecrat Confederate apologists, anti-abortionists and young-Earth creationists over at

    Ah, who am I kidding? I didn’t even pretend to like them in the first place.

  2. Mike May 25, 2009 at 9:41 am #

    Yeah, apart form that one really good essay, I can’t say as I have followed Preston much.

    Now, not at all.

    Brad and Mike did a nice job so I’ll simply add my ditto as well.

  3. Brandon May 25, 2009 at 10:30 am #

    Who cares about racism, sexism, or homophobia. There’s nothing about Preston’s piece that’s particularly offensive. The language he uses is far less offensive and sarcastic than what you’d hear at a Lisa Lampanelli show.
    Preston wrote about how he thinks people can associate however they want in a libertarian world, so what else matters? He’s probably right that if libertarianism had no relations with feminism, gay rights or PC anti-racism thuggery, it would be more attractive to regular anti-government statists.

  4. Gary Chartier May 25, 2009 at 11:11 am #

    Can you say “Freudian slip”? What’s an “anti-government statist[]”?

    OK, probably a cheap shot: that was presumably a typo. But here’s the substantive point. What makes folks who don’t care about exclusion or subordination based on race, gender, or sexual orientation “regular”? This seems to imply that the the norm is lack of concern about these matters, and I can’t see why I should think this is the case.

    Who cares about racism, sexism, or homophobia? Well, I do: at least on my better days, I’m not an anarchist in order to express ressentiment against the state; I’m an anarchist because I don’t like oppressive hierarchies of all sorts, including ones based on gender, sexual identity and preference, and ethnicity. I have no interest in personally attacking Preston or anyone else; but I think there’s no long-term strategic advantage to be gained by building coalitions with people who seek to construct societies very, very different from the kind I’d like to inhabit. I also find the trivialization of harms resulting from subordination and exclusion pretty distasteful. Would I rather be excluded from a country club or shot? The answer’s obvious. But that hardly means the exclusion isn’t a real injury. Preston seems to suppose that anything other than being subjected to physical violence is relatively insignificant, and that some people’s taste for excluding others is no more troubling than other people’s tastes for sports teams. I don’t.

    Bottom line: I disagree that exclusion makes either strategic or moral sense. So I can’t react to Preston’s essay with “Who cares?”

  5. Sheldon Richman May 25, 2009 at 12:22 pm #

    Good post, Roderick. The presumptuousness of Preston’s “purge” language is remarkable.

    • Brandon May 25, 2009 at 11:26 am #

      An anti-government statist is typically a right-wing wacko like Rush Slimebaugh. A cretin that uses anti-government rhetoric but supports the state on its worst crimes, ie. slaughtering defenseless third worlders. Also lefties who don’t know anything about socialism but think they’re socialists because that’s the only way to oppose war, or lefty civil libertarians. In other words, probably most people (which I think is what KP was getting at).

      Don’t shoot the damned messenger. Of course Slimebaugh and the like are logically incoherent to say the least, but that’s the least of their crimes.

      • Aster May 26, 2009 at 5:11 pm #


        Thank you. Deep bow. And that makes everyone.


        Angelic hierarchies bite. Solidarity.

      • Stephan Kinsella May 29, 2009 at 10:49 am #

        The left tent is awfully big; why must Christians be excluded? BTW I am one LewRockweller who: is secular and atheist; believes in evolution, gay marriage (with caveats), abortion rights; has zero interest in the neo-Confederate, rebel-flag-waving rah rah stuff, nor in legitimizing the criminal CSA or the criminal institution of slavery (nor in legitimizing Lincoln’s illegal and immoral war against the CSA). The smears of the LRCers is unfair and ungrounded.

  6. Bob Kaercher May 25, 2009 at 3:30 pm #

    “I suggest that those of us who want to have a non-leftoidal anarchist movement simply go about building one…”

    Okay. Well, have fun.

    • Rad Geek May 25, 2009 at 2:49 pm #


      Do you suppose that Keith Preston’s failure to call out the government’s violence against the free associations of peaceful immigrants, and his willingness to go further and call for dramatic expansions to the size, scope, and power of government surveillance and government force against immigrants, in a deliberate attempt to restrict free association along aritificially drawn government borders, might possibly have something to do with the kind of people — among them paleoconservatives, conservative Ron Paul voters, cultural isolationists, “race-realists,” “white nationalists,” “national anarchists,” and other supposedly populist hard-Right types; in the most recent essay there’s also what looks to me like a couple of clumsy attempts at outreach to a mythical contingent of nativist trade unionists, straight out of 1963 — the kind of people, I say, that Keith is trying to attract into his coalition?

      I mean, I notice that a bunch of these people don’t really like immigrants very much, or just don’t like Mexicans very much, and that they are happy to chuck out anti-statism, civil libertarianism, and anti-militarist positions when it comes to maintaining their illusory sense of control over “our” government-fortified borders. Maybe trying to cater to those sorts of people tends to undermine a serious commitment to free association?

      • Brainpolice May 25, 2009 at 1:11 pm #

        I disagree. Social issues do have to do with the NAP. For an obvious example, spousal abuse violates the NAP. Spousal abuse is a social issue. Furthermore, I don’t think that a sound libertarian theory is as simple as the NAP alone.

        • Roderick May 25, 2009 at 12:44 pm #

          Matched only by the honesty of his “pogrom” language.

        • Rad Geek May 25, 2009 at 3:05 pm #


          [Keith Preston is] probably right that if libertarianism had no relations with feminism, gay rights or PC anti-racism thuggery, it would be more attractive to regular anti-government statists.

          Gary Chartier:

          What’s an “anti-government statist[]“?


          An anti-government statist is typically a right-wing wacko like Rush Slimebaugh. A cretin that uses anti-government rhetoric but supports the state on its worst crimes, ie. slaughtering defenseless third worlders.

          Oh, well, O.K. I agree that such people are opposed to the Government, but devoted to the State, in Randolph Bourne’s sense, and for roughly the same reasons as those Bourne lays out. I’m also sure you’re right that eliminating any connection between libertarianism and traditionally Leftist projects like feminism, gay liberation, and anti-racism would probably make libertarianism more attractive to people like that.

          But, remind me again why I should want to make libertarianism look more attractive to people like that?

          I mean, I’m not entirely clear on what I’m supposed to be gaining by making it easier for me to give an elevator-pitch version of libertarianism to a bunch of salivating sado-statist warmongers….

      • Brainpolice May 25, 2009 at 1:14 pm #

        There is nothing about the NAP that commits me to be neutral or willfully blind to social issues. In some cases, social issues arise as a consequence of NAP violations (and vice versa). And there are times when there are independant reasons from certain social causes, and one’s libertarianism does not restrict one from integrating those social causes into a broader libertarian theory.

      • Roderick May 25, 2009 at 3:07 pm #

        Well, some social issues are directly entailed by the NAP, while others are connected with NAP through causal and/or conceptual thickness relations.

        In any case, you seem to be shifting between the claim that libertarians needn’t have such concerns and the claim that they shouldn’t.

    • Anon73 May 26, 2009 at 1:27 pm #

      Keith’s anti-immigration statement is certainly reprehensible, but I think we have to face the possibility that a lot of communities in a free society will want something like closed borders – imagine ethnic communities of Kurds or Japanese who don’t want foreigners in their village. If they just use “social sanction” and “boycott” rather than force to keep outsiders away, then I can’t see how Roderick can make a coherent objection to that, since he himself favors thick libertarianism and boycott to enforce his conception of it.

    • Roderick May 26, 2009 at 4:03 pm #

      If they just use “social sanction” and “boycott” rather than force to keep outsiders away, then I can’t see how Roderick can make a coherent objection to that

      If you mean I can’t justify coercively interfering with them, then sure. But why can’t I object to it? Is the idea that if I favour using a certain means to a good end, I can’t coherently object to others using similar means to a bad end? That seems unpromising.

  7. MBH May 25, 2009 at 4:56 pm #

    This Keith clown appears to find the Space of Reasons to be strictly separate from the Space of Soul.

    But Roderick, my concern is that counter-economics separates the two as well–just not nauseatingly, nor in the same ballpark when it comes to degree. I guess I should note that I consider the Space of Reasons to be a mode of hermeneuticism and the Space of Soul to be a mode of empiricism. I think you might argue that we don’t need to make that distinction because the mode of rationalism dissolves the difference. And if perception from a unity of these Spaces is called ‘rationalism’ then I’m cool with rationalism as best mode of perception.

    So here’s where I think that counter-economics doesn’t measure up to a pure mode of rationalism. Our ultimate objective–as human beings in a shared universe–is to flourish collectively. Striving toward that end counts partially as thriving: since the proper means are not only ways to that end, but elements of that end. But, the means of counter-economics are not elements of that end, but only ways to that end. So counter-economics is a striving, but never a thriving.

    My sympathies are with the libertarian left. But my belief is that we have to work through, not contra, the System. And I’m making this claim, I think, through a mode of rationalism. If we look at it as Aristotle does–that the social scientist is like a medical doctor–then counter-economics is like bottling the cure without an end that opens.

    I very much look forward to feedback…

  8. Anon73 May 25, 2009 at 6:49 pm #

    If the president does it, it’s not illegal.

    -Some statist crook

    • Roderick May 25, 2009 at 5:41 pm #

      Brandon’s my blog provider/administrator/rescuer, so I don’t think it can count as trolling. 🙂

      • MBH May 25, 2009 at 6:16 pm #

        Maybe this reply was inappropriate for this particular post. I sure don’t mean to imply that Roderick’s libertarianism is anything like this Keith ass-clown. I’ve just been trying to think through my main objections to counter-economics, and I wanted to voice them asap.

        Is it a coherent objection?

        • Mike D May 25, 2009 at 5:28 pm #

          This is usually called trolling.

  9. Robert Paul May 25, 2009 at 7:47 pm #

    I think both Keith and Roderick are wrong on this. The only potentially offensive thing I saw in Keith’s post was the use of certain rude labels. Other than that, a lot of it can probably be explained by Keith having had enough of the statist “progressive” part of the Left. This isn’t an excuse, sure, but I’m a leftist, and progressives annoy the hell out of me, so it’s not surprising. (I just saw Kevin Carson’s explanation that this stems from a personal issue – also very plausible.)

    On cultural issues, I’m somewhere in-between the left- and right-libertarians, so this is like watching my siblings have a fight and seeing where both of them are coming from.

    On the subject of alliances, both the leftists and the right-wingers here are advocating risky strategies. It’s more obvious that allying with neo-Nazis could be problematic, and perhaps riskier. However, there is also a risk in allying with leftists who’ve bought into flawed Marxist theories. Nobody here has to be told what can happen when your intellectual foundation is hopelessly flawed.

    Yes, I know that’s probably not a good comparison, but again, my point is that any alliance with non-Austro-libertarians is risky. Many left-libertarians would have us ally with other left-wing anarchists, and many paleolibertarians were quite pleased with the paleoconservatives who were among those the Ron Paul movement attracted. Some, like Keith, seem to be willing to ally with anyone who opposes today’s State.

    I am extremely skeptical about every single one of these alliances. The neo-Nazis, of course. The paleocons, who I’ve spent a lot of time talking to, tend to get stuck in constitutional fetishism and America worship. The other left-wing anarchists, many of whom are still Marxists, are always in danger of heading down the wrong path.

    So when libertarians fight about who they should form alliances with, I tend to agree with almost all of them. I think a more prudent strategy is to focus on what nearly all libertarians are already doing: convert without forming alliances. Use common causes, sure, but relentlessly attack the flawed beliefs of others while you’re at it. These other nonsensical beliefs do not deserve equal footing with libertarianism.

    Austro-libertarianism is now spreading at an incredible rate, thanks in no small part to the internet. I’m not sure we need any of these alliances anymore, especially since there’s a strong case to be made that every alliance libertarians have ever entered into has led to disaster.

    To return to what’s happened here: Keith Preston has allowed some non-libertarian leftist positions to piss him off enough to ally with some non-libertarian right-wingers. Left-libertarians are, rightly or wrongly, taking Keith’s rejection of certain people very seriously, and this is understandable given Keith’s choice of words.

    I maintain, however, that 1) this isn’t really worth getting upset about and 2) alliances with any non-Austro-libertarians are potentially dangerous.

    This went on for a bit. Sorry about that.


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