Libertarianism – a new field for the far right?

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By ROMARIC GODIN*

Libertarian thought opens up a perspective for the middle classes by defending a supposed meritocracy, while at the same time offering the poorest a way out of inflation

The consequences of Javier Milei's victory in the Argentine presidential elections may be more far-reaching than the peculiarities of this South American country would lead one to think. It could open a new field for the extreme right in the current economic and social context.

Of course, Argentina is a unique case. Endemic high inflation, Argentines' passion for the dollar, the spread of the Peronist legacy and the feeling of decadence make it difficult to consider this country as a “model”. However, the resounding victory of a libertarian economist will not fail to pique the interest of the global far right.

Over several decades, the far right gradually dissociated itself from libertarian thought. In the United States, the Libertarian Party remained microscopic and its influence on the Republican Party was weak. Under Donald Trump, a protectionist discourse prevailed that defended active action by the State and control of the Central Bank. This tone dominated the American far right.

In France, Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front (FN), which in the 1980s claimed loyalty to Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, reformulated its economic rhetoric around the nationalist defense of redistribution and a strong state also in terms economic.

In Germany itself, the far-right party Alternative to Germany (AfD), founded in 2013 by liberal economists, has been transforming into a party focused on criticizing immigration for undermining Germans' social protection. The party is now nationalist and claims to defend small pensions and funding for the health system.

The phenomenon took different forms in each country, but the discourse that fueled the extreme right in economic terms was that of protection in the shadow of a welfare state reoriented to national and ethnic priorities. This logic was understandable. The crisis of neoliberalism and its consequences in the years 2000-2010 left entire swaths of the population behind.

The far right could then try to focus on these victims of “globalized capital,” the destruction of the welfare state, and competition with immigrant labor. The libertarian view had little to do with this strategy and was quickly marginalized, although the far right often advocates middle-income tax cuts. The State, as the seat of sovereignty and agent of protection of “real” citizens, occupied a central place in the far right’s vision in the face of neoliberal attacks.

The revival of the libertarian critique of neoliberalism

But the crisis of neoliberalism has accelerated, especially with the health crisis. The relationship between capitalist accumulation and direct state support became evident and assumed considerable proportions. At the same time, the emergence of inflation and the resulting crisis in living standards across the West gave new weight to libertarian critiques of Central Banks and monopolies. It was state manipulation that now prevented the establishment of “fair” capitalism.

This view was further fueled by the effects of the restrictive and coercive measures adopted during the health crisis, which contributed to presenting the State as a coercive power that restricts freedom in general and economic freedom in particular. This view is particularly prevalent among young people, the first victims of confinement.

This revival of libertarianism as a component of the far right has been gradual and has materialized in certain communities, particularly the cryptocurrency community. This was demonstrated by Nastasia Hadjadji in her book In Crypto (Divergences, 2022): the convergence between thinking “tecnogeek” and libertarian behind cryptocurrencies is fueling far-right circles in the United States and Europe, but also in certain emerging countries such as El Salvador.

In front of the mainstream neoliberalism that increasingly demands State action over the economy, but also the terms sovereignty and protectionism, the neoliberal consensus that led to the triumph of these policies between 1980 and 2000 is fragmenting.

This consensus was formed by neo-Keynesian circles who now accept the primacy of markets, neoclassicals who focus on the efficiency and rationality of markets, and some libertarians (the historical “neoliberals” with Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises) who could only accept the policies of commercialization and globalization.

But with the crisis of 2008 and then 2009, the latter tended to become autonomous around the crisis of central bank quantitative easing and subsidy policies. This autonomization becomes a criticism of the neoliberal “center”, which would have ruined the positive effects of the market through its statism and its resort to the creation of money. It thus acquires a profoundly “anti-system” character.

A boon for the far right?

It was this phenomenon that brought Javier Milei to power in Argentina. Again, Argentina's situation obviously makes it an extreme case, where such rhetoric is much more “audible”. But a similar dynamic is not unthinkable elsewhere, where inflation has raged and collusion between state and capital is evident.

This is even more unlikely because libertarianism has all the necessary ingredients for the extreme right. It is a radically inequality-promoting way of thinking that is quick to justify all forms of interpersonal, geopolitical, and economic domination in the name of individual “merit.” Racism, xenophobia, sexism and hatred of “losers” and the “poor” – the usual and constant rhetoric of the extreme right – are found in it. a theoretical justification.

But the radical right also finds in libertarianism the means for political marketing and to develop its electoral base. The “social” critique of neoliberalism placed it in competition with what remained of the left, but blocked its access to a part of the middle and upper classes that despised the statism of the extreme right.

The interesting thing about libertarian thought is that it opens up a perspective for the middle classes by defending a supposed meritocracy, while at the same time offering the poorest a way out of inflation. All of this can even be wrapped into a double unit.

The first is the rejection of a “caste” that runs the State for its own benefit, not only to the detriment of the “people”, as in the “social” critique of neoliberalism, but also to the detriment of “meritorious individuals”, which allows for the regrouping of a part of the bourgeoisie that felt targeted by the classic “populism” of the extreme right and justified tax cuts. even for the richest.

The second unit is the rejection of “wokism” and environmentalism as “state dictatorships”, which is capable of attracting all those who want “change” without changing either their way of life or their mode of domination, that is, a deeply conservative electorate.

A competitive and dangerous far right

This is the main lesson to be learned from Javier Milei's victory: his ability to win over voters from the traditional right en masse and attract a large proportion of young people, regardless of their social class. This is enough to give respite to more than one far-right movement.

Therefore, it seems difficult for the far right to ignore the lessons of Javier Milei's victory. Libertarianism is not only capable of renewing the capacity for apparent criticism of the economic system, but, as it is an internal criticism of that system (a criticism of the degree of commodification and not of the nature of the system), it is capable of bringing together very diverse circles.

Even before the rise of Javier Milei, several far-right movements attempted to combine a form of market radicalism with ethnic nationalism. This was the case in France with Éric Zemmour during the 2022 electoral campaign, with mixed success, but also, for example, with the Japanese Innovation Party (Ishin), created in 2015 and which obtained 14% in the last Japanese general elections, in 2021, propelling him to third place.

There was also a part of this evolution, at a more moderate level, in the triumph of the Fratelli d'Italia last year in Italy, especially in its striking distinction from the League's positions on Atlanticism, fiscal policy or social redistribution.

The return of libertarian thought to the extreme right will naturally depend on several factors, including the history of the parties, and will always be “modified” to integrate into the national culture. It can only be biased and opportunistic.

But his ability to appeal to the right-wing should not be overlooked. And Javier Milei's victory could herald the more general emergence of a new form of far right that is as electorally competitive as it is ideologically dangerous.

Xiaomi Godin is a journalist. Author, among other books, of Social warfare in France. Aux sources économiques de la démocratie autaire (Discovery).

Translation: Eleutério FS Prado.

Originally published on the portal Without permission.


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