I thought I’d throw in my two cents on the recent brouhaha between the two largest camps within the libertarian movement (the “paleos” and the “bleeding hearts”). Really quickly, the differences between the two camps are few and far between on matters of economics, but on matters of culture there is a wide chasm separating the two. The paleos are cultural conservatives and the bleeding hearts are not.
For the record, I consider myself in the “bleeding heart” camp, even though I spent more than enough time in Santa Cruz doing the co-op thing and hanging out out with lazy, dishonest, stinking hippies.
The bleeding heart camp initiated the brouhaha with the following:
This morning Julie Borowski, who makes videos as “Token Libertarian Girl,” shared her answer to the question “Why aren’t there more female libertarians?” [...]
Every single one of these things that she criticizes women for doing should be seen not as causes for shame, but as complex choices that smart, thoughtful women can and do make, without destroying their lives in the process. In addition, Borowski is making arguments that conservatives hurl at women all the time. If we want to pull young women away from liberalism and toward libertarianism, repeating the very same intellectually patronizing conservative arguments that pushed women to liberalism in the first place doesn’t seem to be the way to go.
And a follow-up post had this tidbit to add:
When some people hear “libertarian” it instantly translates to “asshole” or “idiot” in their heads. Given this perception, it’s probably more risky for someone who is a member of a socially marginalized group to depart from the mainstream [...]
Where Julie and I will disagree is about what libertarians should say when we talk about social issues. I think that libertarians should not oppose feminist cultural values. Libertarians should embrace feminism. Freedom is a libertarian and feminist ideal–an ideal that should inform our politics and our culture. States are not the only institutions that should aim to be more voluntary. So should the family and the workplace.
While I generally agree with the thrust (hehe) of these arguments, I’d say my fellow bleeding hearts were too quick to pull the trigger. I’ll get to why I think so in just a minute, but first I’d like to highlight the paleo camp’s response. In a post titled “The Central Committee Has Handed Down its Denunciation” Tom Woods writes the following:
[...] today, because of Julie’s video, they’re “a little embarrassed to admit” they’re libertarians. Poor babies. To my knowledge, they have not expressed any embarrassment when libertarians have (for example) gratuitously insulted the religious beliefs of tens of millions of Americans in crude and ignorant ways. I suppose that’s designed to bring people into the fold?
One thing that was missed in this dust-up is an actual definition of feminism. As most of you know, there are many variants of feminism, just as there are many libertarianisms and Leftisms and conservatisms. I’ll get back to this shortly, but first I want to take a crack at the ongoing culture war within libertarianism.
At the bottom of this brouhaha is a tactical argument: bleeding hearts want to reach out to the Left, paleos to the Right. Woods’s point that “gratuitously insulting the religious beliefs of tens of millions of people” isn’t going to convince many people in the US of libertarianism’s virtues is a good one. Yet, as somebody who is wholly in the bleeding heart (socially liberal) camp, I can’t help but think to myself: “so what?” Religious people and I don’t get along as it is, and many of their beliefs are downright insaaaane so why should I care if I insult them when I speak my mind?
Underlying the bleeding heart camp’s opposition to organized religion in general is a deep-seated fear that social conservatives – even the libertarian ones – simply view the state as a competitor to their own versions of imposed order, namely versions that have a church at the head of government rather than a secular institution. I can’t speak for all bleeding hearts, of course, but this is my suspicion and I’m pretty sure that most others think about the consequences of their alliance with the paleos in these terms.
Basically, bleeding hearts don’t like paleos because they fear paleos just want to replace one form of oppression (the state) with another (the church), and with the Right’s recent assaults on abortion rights (rights, not funding) and its obsession with maintaining a worldwide hegemonic empire, how can you really blame us?
I have good credentials for suspecting as much: as I mentioned, I spent two years in Santa Cruz, California living in hippie communes and attending the local community college. I have marched against the war in Iraq and been a foot soldier in various “community outreach” projects run by bitter, middle-aged Marxists. I have lived in culturally conservative places and found them wanting. There is a reason I live in coastal California, and beautiful, bikini-clad girls are only part of it.
Despite my mistrust of paleolibertarianism (or perhaps because of it), I think it would be a good thought exercise to flip the table and think through the culture divide from a paleo perspective. As a bleeding heart, I often read arguments put forth by paleos and immediately compare them with the arguments of non-libertarian social conservatives. As such, I only think it’s fair I do the same and compare the bleeding heart perspective with that of the Left.
If socially conservative libertarians want to vastly reduce the scope of the state so that the church can expand its influence, what do bleeding heart libertarians think will replace the scope of the state? The standard trope is that nothing will replace it except for voluntary actions, but paleos claim the same thing, so I think this is a line of questioning that deserves further scrutiny. The best way to think about this, in my mind, is to remember that bleeding hearts want the same thing as Leftists, but obviously have different notions of how to get to this Leftist vision of society. Here is where I find the bleeding heart argument weakest, for social conservatives have always made their authoritarian tendencies explicit (ban abortions, for example), while Leftist visions of grandeur have always been more vague, and vagueness is the mother of despotism.
Pick your poison: barbaric superstition or fascism.
The truth is, of course, that both sides are guilty of bad faith. At the end of the day libertarianism has plenty of room to accommodate bleeding hearts and social conservatives into the movement, and the philosophy itself is better suited than most for doing just that. I suspect this bitter infighting is a product of personal vendettas within the movement as much as it is about influencing the direction of libertarianism. The bleeding heart camp has been known to hold the paleos in high disregard, and the fact that the bleeding hearts didn’t bother actually procuring a definition of feminism before they launched their attack suggests that this was a petty sucker punch rather than a plea for serious discussion.
This infighting is proof of dynamism and staying power rather than stagnation and irrelevancy, though. Just think of the Left today (irrelevant) and the Left of forty years ago (Leninists, Trotskyists, environmentalists, trade unions, etc.). Political arguments that step above party factionalism are usually a sign of good health.
So, what exactly is feminism? Answer: the radical notion that women are people. From there, a vast number of strains emerge ranging from anarcho-feminism to conservative feminism. My own falls somewhere close to the anarchist strain, of course. The state has no place outlawing what a woman can or can’t do with her body, and this includes providing public funding that many factions find objectionable. Public funding of anything requires that it be publicly scrutinized (what would you call something that is publicly funded but not allowed to be publicly discussed?; Left-wing feminists who think women’s choices should be funded by the state while simultaneously protected from opposing factions epitomize authoritarianism), so eliminating public funding would go a long way towards liberating women.
On the other hand, public funding of abortion clinics is not high on my “to do” list. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, American foreign policy and its blowback, and the Departments of Education, Energy, Agriculture, Homeland Security are all much higher on the list. So are things like transportation reform, trade agreements, and paying off the debt. Additionally, I’m surrounded by enough morons as it is, and preventing unwanted pregnancies, even with public money, seems like a great way ensure tranquility and prosperity. To all of the social conservatives out there, I have just one question: why are abortion rights something you want to eliminate?