Jeff Deist’s presentation at this year’s Property and Freedom Society was on what he calls the “Zeitgeist Libertarians.” He did a decent job at trying to articulate the more fundamental differences between the tensions and skirmishes between those in the Ron Paul-Mises Institute orbit on one side, and the Cato-Reason-Libertarian orbit on the other. I think he is exactly right that it’s not just an arbitrary list of policy preferences or even differing understandings of the meaning of libertarianism that separates the two— though these are naturally part of it.
Rather, and as I have written about half a dozen times over the years, there is actually a deeper layer of difference to push people into these two camps. Deist refers to those mainstream libertarian outlets as “Zeitgeist Libertarians” because, as wonderfully notes, they agree with many of the ends of mainstream narratives, they just disagree with the means. As Deist was sure to note however, even though for the libertarian does not advocate the means of the state to accomplish various ends, these Zeitgeist Libertarians sometimes do betray their own libertarianism (especially on the most important issues of our time: war and the Fed).
However, even if they didn’t advocate the state get involved, even if they were NAP-perfect libertarians, there is still the Zeitgeist layer that I think needs wider recognition. As Deist said, we need to accurately understand them, and recognize where they were coming from in order to properly frame our critiques against them.
What is mean by the Zeitgeist phrase is that these mainstream-friendly libertarians agree with many of what I call “Dominant Social Themes.” For instance, we have certain themes blared at us in the media, in schools, in social platforms, and on and on— many of these are developed from Progressive-Leftist elites and “trickle-down” through the modern “institutions.” Some of these Dominant Social Themes include:
- Racism is a major problem
- Whites are privileged and need to be constantly aware of this
- Feminism is a needed movement to overcome male-dominated cultural norms
- Wage/gender /racial Inequality is a problem (it both exists and it is bad)
- Global secession and decentralization efforts are racist, xenophobic
- Suspicion about mass immigration is xenophobic and creates racial tension
- Equality and democratic efforts are signs of progress and to dissent from these as ideals is to be hateful and anti-human.
- The idea that inequality exists because there is injustice, and the rich owe the poor some of their wealth (even if the state isn’t involved in the transfer)
- To merely disagree with the alleged self-inherent goodness of LGBT movements, diversity qua diversity (diversity for its own sake), immigration, women in bigger socio-political roles (again, for its own sake, as if lacking this is somehow the sign of oppression), and so on is hateful and bigoted.
- Those that disagree with the Dominant Social Themes are alt-right extremists
Additionally, there is a very strong tendency in these Zeitgeist Libertarian circles to think of everything in increasingly centralistic, globalistic terms. That is, rather than the local-orientedness of the traditionally-sympathetic libertarians, the Zeitgeist Libertarians are not only against efforts to decentralize and secede from national political authorities, they also treat nationalistic efforts on the international scale as backwards, hateful, and unenlightened. Compare this to the traditionalistic libertarians who prefer the individual sovereignty to town sovereignty, town sovereignty to state sovereignty, state sovereignty to national sovereignty, and national sovereignty to global sovereignty. In this sense, they see anti-politically-international efforts like Brexit as healthy efforts at dissent whereas the Zeitgeist Libertarians are quick to criticize— on themes relating to Dominant Social Themes— such efforts (such as they are racist, tribalist, and non-diverse).
So again, the difference between a mainstream Progressive and a Zeitgeist Libertarian is that the latter would seek non-violent (non-state) means to address perceived problems and the former wants to increase state power. The traditionalist-libertarian, however, dismisses these Dominant Social Themes as false, misleading, and politically-created narratives that may just as well be ignored. This means that just as the traditional libertarians desire political and physical dissent they also despise the leftist-pietism that characterizes those who embrace the Dominant Social Themes, they also encourage mental dissent. The “change-the-worldism” is held in strong suspicion and instead the traditionalist libertarian (and this is why the paleo-libertarians, despite economic and political disagreements, enjoy the insights of traditionalist conservatives) embrace a mentality better stated as: if there is some problem in the community, we can deal with that— but we aren’t going to let Washington declare our problems for us.
Now, this problem of movements trying to stay relevant by adopting major mainstream talking points is also blatantly real in the evangelical community as well, and it is getting worse. Just as the Zeitgeist Libertarian sees racism and sexism and #hate everywhere it looks, so these evangelical leaders (such as Russell Moore, Tim Keller, and Matt Chandler) have adopted the Dominant Social Themes as especially relevant themes for national discussion. Now, I am not merely disagreeing with their opinions (though I often do), I am more fundamentally arguing that they are letting the Dominant Social Themes determine what needs to be discussed.
That is, they are embracing the need for, and nature of, a “National Conversation” that must be had. The nationalization (and these days it is even an internationalization) of social problems is why people like the above mentioned can make highly inaccurate and misinformed statements like “Evangelical churches have a race problem.” It seems to me that the more biblical approach for pastors is to consider: does my congregation suffer from a particular problem that needs to be addressed? The centralization of everything including social narratives has infected the church and turned the evangelical community into a tense, infighting, collection of confused folks following “Socially Enlightened” leaders who get their talking points from whatever is on CNN and MSNBC. This is true regardless of the extent to which the narratives are dressed up in biblical language. They are still letting the news cycle and Silicon Valley’s leftist algorithm determine the topics of conversation.
In other words, specific church-community problems have been replaced by “problems” chosen and determined by the press and the leaders of the Evangelicals, it increasingly seems, are Zeitgeist Evangelicals.
Additionally, they have adopted a leftist understanding of certain phrases and have embraced the indoctrinating redefinition and vagueness of very important words such as justice (to the leftist, justice is about equality), hate (to disagree with people’s preferences is hateful), love, violence, oppression. As I have discussed in numerous places (see my article The Vagueness of Words as Cultural Revolution) the vagueness of words is a not a coincidental phenomenon, it is in fact intentional, calculated, strategic. For it is by the vagueness of words that masses of people can be silenced into submission. If at first it is made clear at a cultural/social level that racism, sexism, and homophobia are the greatest of social sins, then the slow redefinition and broadening of their application can be used as leverage in pursuit of cultural consensus.
I am blessed in the church I attend in that most of the congregation focuses their minds on matters relevant specific to the congregation itself. While I wouldn’t consider us especially diverse in our members, our form of worship, and the general embrace of activities, there’s been no specific accusations of “racism” or “hate.” So therefore there is no need to address the issue of “racism in our church.” We refuse to let the Zeitgeist determine our congregational narratives.
Increasingly, I am realizing the artificial nature of social media and those who rely on these outlets for their discussion themes. The algorithms are carefully crafted to guide the conversation in certain ways, to silence those who dissent, and to decrease diversity of thought. Why are so many churches and church leaders jumping on this train?