Apartheid South Africa: Reality VS. Libertarian Fantasy

Ilana Mercer, December 20, 2013

One needn’t propagate lies about the state-enforced segregation that was Apartheid in order to condemn it. Yet in defiance of fact, one prominent libertarian economist has gone so far as to assert that apartheid was “a version of Castroite socialism.”

How can one credibly say that about a country that in its heyday had a gold-backed currency, enjoyed the confidence of investors the world over, sported low to no government debt and similar rates of inflation; the most opulent and spectacular shopping malls, the freest, finest medicine I’ve experience in life on three continents, near-unfettered legal access to handguns (for whites), and relatively secure property rights for the same minority? You can’t. Not if you wish to retain intellectual credibility.

Racial segregation, inequality under the law, injustice: yes, yes, and yes. But “Castroite socialism”?

Not quite as embarrassing, another wag asserted the following: “Apartheid was a system of government control and regulation to artificially keep South African blacks from competing against whites in the market place.” This is only partly true.

The problem with half-truths is that the conclusions that flow from their premises will likewise be deficient.


Distorting the facts about Apartheid’s raison d’être does nothing to promote the truth.

“Hermann Giliomee—whose grand historical synthesis and primary source exegesis (The Afrikaners: Biography of a People) is referenced extensively in “Into the cannibal’s Pot: Lessons For America From Post-Apartheid South Africa”—has concluded that Afrikaner anxieties were overwhelmingly existential, rather than racial. Leading thinkers at Stellenbosch University devised a system for the National Party to ensure “the security of the Afrikaners as a dominant minority.” (More about Apartheid as “A Strategy for Survival,” in “Into the Cannibal’s Pot,” pp. 67-70.) As noted in the same book:

Anybody who lived … among Afrikaners during the apartheid era can testify that crime and communism were foremost on their minds. To rationalize the cruel, Kafkaesque laws of apartheid, Afrikaners spoke of the Swart Gevaar (which meant the “Black Threat”), and of the Rooi Gevaar (the “Red Threat”). My Afrikaner neighbor would regularly admonish me for my incipient liberalism: “You want Black rule so badly, look around you at the rest of Africa! Anglos like you simply don’t understand what’s at stake.” (P. 70.)

The sweeping non sequitur that follows from the partial truth aforementioned has it that “black poverty” and misery stemmed solely from Apartheid’s “suppression of free market forces.” This is economic reductionism, typical of the impoverished analysis of South Africa, offered so authoritatively by libertarian economists stateside.

Apartheid is a necessary explanatory variable in the “black poverty” equation, but never a sufficient one.

As expounded in “Into the cannibal’s Pot,” “the maze of racial laws that formed the edifice of apartheid” had been dismantled by the offending National Party almost a decade before the transition to democracy; by 1986, the party had already brought down apartheid’s pillars, the “pernicious influx control laws,” for example.

In all, South Africa has now been racially desegregated for almost 28 years.

Documented in the same book are these immutable facts: “Twelve years into the Nationalist government’s rule, the rate of literacy among the Bantu of South Africa was already higher than that of any other state in Africa, or that of India. From the 8.6 million recorded in the 1946 census, the black population rose to 17.4 million in 1974 and 28.3 million by 1991. [in-migration from the north was just about non-existent.] From the 1940s to the 1990s, life expectancy for blacks soared from thirty-eight to sixty-one years!” (P. 178.)

“Since the dawn of democracy in 1994, life expectancy has plummeted by nine years. Crime has reached crippling levels … and is certainly much higher than in the Old South Africa. … unemployment had jumped from 19 percent in 1994 (before ‘freedom’) to 31 percent in 2003 (after ‘freedom‘), steadily rising until, in 2005, it stood at 38.8 percent. The trend is consistent and persistent.” (P. 178.)


These stubborn facts collapse the politically pleasing but reductive theory, promulgated by libertarian know-nothings, that holds Apartheid to be the sole cause of black South Africa’s dysfunction, economic and other. As the pesky facts attest, black dysfunction in racially desegregated South Africa is way worse than it was during state-enforced segregation. In fact, it now resembles that of the rest of Africa.


Apartheid was reprehensible. But dogma denuded of data does nothing to bolster this  uncontested, incontrovertible position.


Herein lies the difference between this writer’s paleolibertarian analysis and what this column has termed the lite libertarian one.


A crucial difference between lite libertarians and the Right kind is that to the former, the idea of liberty is propositional–a deracinated principle, unmoored from the realities of history, hierarchy, biology, tradition, culture, values. Conversely, the paleolibertarian grasps that ordered liberty has a civilizational dimension, stripped of which the libertarian non-aggression axiom, by which we all must live, cannot endure. “The pursuit of the … paleolibertarian ideal,” explained Catholic philosopher Jack Kerwick, Ph.D., “is the pursuit of an ideal of liberty brought down from the clouds to the nit and the grit of the history and culture from which it emerged.”



Indeed, the truth about the Old South Africa is far more nuanced. As this writer tried mightily to explain during an RT broadcast (embedded),“The color of money” did speak loud and clear to enlightened self-interest in Apartheid South Africa.

“‘The market is color-blind,’ said Milton Friedman. ‘No one who goes to the market to buy bread knows or cares whether the wheat was grown by a Jew, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim or atheist; by whites or blacks.’ As Thomas Sowell put it so well, ‘prejudice is free, but discrimination has costs.’ Added South African academic, Steven Farron: ‘[P]eople demand that their governments restrict the economic and occupational success of specific ethnic or racial groups. However, when the same people act as individuals or business owners, they actively resist and/or circumvent these restrictions.'” (P. 127.)

All people do this. Apartheid South Africa was no different.

During Apartheid, white industrialists—miners especially—”put continual pressure on the South African government to allow them to use more black labor.” Afrikaner farmers also chose overwhelmingly to ignore racial job quotas, despite their own racist predilections, and also despite high unemployment among rural Afrikaners. Well before the official dismantling of apartheid laws (carried out, as mentioned, by the white minority government), the agricultural sector, skilled and managerial jobs included, came to be dominated by blacks. As was the semi-skilled labor market—clothing, furniture, millinery, sheet metal, construction, mining, baking. Clearly, whites, acting as individuals, chose to subordinate ethnic advancement to optimize their livelihood. (P. 126.)


“Free market economists (the only kind worth consulting) have long since insisted that the rational, self-interest of individuals in private enterprise is always not to discriminate. Arguably, however, the good economists, while certainly not wholesale liars as are their Keynesian counterparts, are still offering up a half-truth. Rational self-interest does indeed propel people, however prejudiced, to set aside bias and put their scarce resources to the best use. But to state simply that ‘discrimination is bad for business’ is to present an incomplete picture of reality. This solecism stems from the taint the word ‘discriminate’ has acquired. The market, by which we mean the trillions of capitalist acts between consenting adults, is discriminating as in discerning—it is biased toward productivity. Hiring people on the basis of criteria other than productivity hurts the proprietor’s pocket.” (P. 127.)

“Thus, we can be fairly certain that, absent racist affirmative-action laws, the market would reflect a bias toward productivity.

In other words, what the good economists are loath to let on is that a free market is a market in which groups and individuals are differently represented. Parity in prosperity and performance between differently able individuals and groups can be achieved only by playing socialist leveler.” (P. 128.)


Contra the economic reductionism of the lite libertarian, free-market capitalism is a necessary but insufficient condition to sustain freedom in a country of South Africa’s complexion.

The truth absent from the phantasmagorical formulations critiqued is this: Economic freedom does not necessarily reduce so-called wealth inequality. Inegalitarainism is a feature of a free economy. If history is anything to go by, certain minorities will achieve prosperity from poverty, no matter how gravely the state and society impede them. Jews did it in Europe. Levantines and Indians in Africa and the Middle-East. Chinese in southeast Asia and everywhere else they go. Europeans in South Africa.

Moreover, “While all people want safety and sustenance for themselves, not everyone is prepared to allow those whom they dislike and envy to peacefully pursue the same.” (P. 4.) Free-market capitalism is not enough to safeguard ordered liberty in racially riven societies like South Africa, where the majority will always covet the possessions of immensely wealthier minorities and associate these riches with racial privilege.

Ultimately, the rights to life, liberty and private property will forever be imperiled in a country whose constitution has a clause devoted to “Limitation of Rights,” and where redistributive “justice” is a constitutional article of faith. (P. 101)

This, paleolibertarians (all three of us) know too well.

In “The Cannibal” chapter entitled “Saving South Africans S.O.S.,” secession is explored as one solution, it being a species of the private-law society delineated by Hans-Hermann Hoppe. Hoppe, of course, has never been afraid to speak to the “unequal civilizing potential” (in James Burnham’s coinage) of different people and peoples.


For the sins of man, hard leftists blame society, and the libertarian saddles the state. In its social determinism, the libertarian’s “the-state-made-me-do-it” argumentation apes that of the left’s “society-made-me-do-it” argumentation. Both philosophical factions implicate forces outside the individual for individual and aggregate group dysfunction. Arguably, this implies a certain egalitarian faith.


In the New South Africa, the left’s “argument” has been taken to a new level of abstraction: “The legacy of Apartheid” is said to explain the unparalleled depravity of Nelson Mandela’s dominant-party mobocracy.

While the state is a worthier culprit than society, both are analytical equals in as much as they absolve the individual of responsibility for his actions. For the philosophy of freedom is predicated on individual responsibility. “Societies are only as good as the individuals of whom they are comprised; individuals only as good as their actions.” (P. 4.)

If the sanctity of life is the highest value in a civilized society—then Mandela’s South Africa is uncivilized in every way possible. The unvarnished truth about democratic South Africa is that it is “now preponderantly overrun by elements, both within and without government, which make a safe and thriving civil society impossible to sustain.” (P. 4.)

Although absolutely essential, free-market capitalism is insufficient to the task of tackling this tide of sinecured criminals.

WND, Economic Policy Journal,
merican Daily Herald and Praag.org
December 20


CATEGORIES: Free-market capitalism, ILANA Mercer, Left-liberalism, Libertarianism, Liberty, Paleolibertarianism, Philosophy, Private Property Rights, South Africa