Libertarianism and Feminism

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?

24 thoughts on “Libertarianism and Feminism

  1. Brandon, i think you know perfectly well. A lot of us believe chemical or physical abortions are nothing less than the murder of a person, and obviously a serious intrusion on his rights. It’s one place where so-called socons and libertarians should actually be on the same side.

    • You may be right Neo. Alas, I don’t think libertarians will ever go for this type of argument:

      abortions are nothing less than the murder of a person

      Especially at the expense of the choices of living, breathing human beings (women). Forcing half the population to abide by rules enacted because of the imaginations of a few is definitely not a libertarian thing to do.

      I am open to hearing a defense of the argument quoted above, and I am always willing to change my mind if good evidence is produced, but the ball is in your court!

    • I know what you’re saying, Brandon, it was my belief as well, when I was younger. It’s a definitional thing as much as anything. If, like me, you believe life begins at conception, then it’s a fairly obvious thing: that you are killing a person for the convenience of another person, the mother. That’s the basis of the argument.

      A couple of minor points that go with it, many, many women who have abortions, have later many regrets and often psychological damage from choosing abortion. And there is also the question of the father’s rights buried in here, what if he does want the kid, does he have any rights.

      It’s a mess that I’m not entirely sure belongs in law at all, it’s really more a question of morality, which is a different can of worms.

      On the main point it comes down to: When does a person become a person, at conception? when he can feel pain? at birth? at 5 years old? To me, at conception is the only answer that doesn’t lead down one of those famous slippery slopes, but, in truth, it’s more a matter of belief than science.

    • If they ‘won’t be convinced’, so much the worse for libertarians.

    • Neo,

      Suppose, for the sake of argument, that a human baby was born during the first or second trimester.

      Would it be able to survive? If the answer is ‘yes’ then I think I might buy your definition. If the answer is ‘no’ then I think you’d have to seriously reconsider a position that takes away the choices of hundreds of millions of individuals in the free world.

    • You know that the prohibition on theft and murder takes away the choice of billions of people every day. I guess we better just legalize it!

    • Wilhelmina,

      Theft and murder are choices that take away other peoples’ rights. It is not so clear if this is the case with abortion. That’s why I asked Neo the question that I did.

    • I think it is perfectly clear, but people like to muddy the waters. ‘Abortion’ is a euphemism for child murder just as ‘taxes’ are a euphemism for theft.

      I know men don’t want to be convinced, especially because so much of my view is predicated on Christian scripture and theology, but that’s my straight opinion.

      Please don’t think I’m trying to denigrate you, I know a person can hold to Communism without being Stalin, but abortion bugs me the same way Communism bugged Mises. It’s just all wrong and the defenses seem to me patent nonsense.

      There is no defense of abortion I have ever heard that would not justify infanticide. That makes them functionally equivalent, even if someone believed there was some sort of floating abstraction that differentiated the cases.

    • Wilhelmina,

      You are committing logical fallacies that the Greeks identified thousands of years ago. If you cannot contribute something reasonable to the discussion, I have to invite you to stand on the sidelines until you can.

    • When accusing someone of fallacies it is customary to explain or at least name the fallacy in question. But, as I see no further use in arguing with modernist atheist liberals on a subject they are willfully obstinate on, I’ll just have to leave you and your blog be.

  2. I guess I’m a Paleo (not shocking at all). But even I can see the fear of the bleeding hearts about the church-government thing as somewhat legitimate. I can’t say I’ve gotten that vibe (pushing to make the church the new state) from very many Paleolibertarians (even Gary North has “mellowed” out over the years it seems), but certainly from a number of Paleoconservatives (not libertarians, really, but a lot closer to it than almost any other variant of conservatism). Most of the bigwigs in that “movement” are pragmatic (Buchanan, et al.), but a number of others, the lower ranks, including some people I know and love, would tend toward church-government, with varying ranges of coercive authority (but usually none at all). I find giving the church the same authority as the state to be as reprehensible as the bleeding hearts find it, and yet I don’t see it as anywhere near the likelihood they do. Perhaps coming from a more Paleo direction but being sympathetic to many bleeding heart concerns I have the best of both worlds when it comes to detecting exaggerations on both sides. Blessed are the peacemakers!

    And I think you don’t do justice to Tom Woods’ point. He’s not saying he has a problem with people bashing “religious whackos”, he’s just saying that if you do that, don’t be surprised and complain that the movement is so small and that the only people you are attracting are “cultural misfits”, and don’t reject the right of others to do the same from their Paleo POV. I bet even a number of the leftists they (the BHLs) think they could attract were it not for the socially backwards right-wingers trying to co-opt libertarianism would have some of their sensibilities offended by belligerent bleeding hearts. I’d like to go into the abortion debate too, but not here, not now.

    Also, to what extent are BHLs market anarchists and to what extent are they just progressive minarchists? I can’t figure that out just from reading their site.

    • I think most of the Cato/Reason crowd are just efficiency experts for the State. Look at their endless slandering of RJ Rushdoony and North, their cowardly submission to popular war fever, their perpetual fear of seeming uncool and constant drive to come up with new BS replacement religions like ‘Dynamism’, their flagrant homophilia and anti-Western, anti-White fixations, etc.

      The libertarian party, isn’t. I’m not even a libertarian and the hypocrisy and crypto-statolatry of these people nauseates me.

  3. The group Libertarians for Life was founded by an atheist. Of course, that isn’t proof that abortion is wrong from a libertarians or secular point of view, just that the assumption that pro-lifer means statist religious proselytizer is wrong. Albeit, as a generalization, it is a safe relatively safe one. I really like Walter Block’s (another pro-life atheist and a Paleo) take on it, although it is too futuristic to be applied today.

  4. My perspective on this is a bit different.
    I do not consider myself a libertarian (my father would approach that) but more of a John T. Flynn style Progressive. As far as many libertarian causes go (ending the Empire and massive robbery and dependency which the FedGov and States create, free trade and the abolition of State control over family life, killing ‘anti-discrimination’ laws) I am on board.

    An important thing to say up front, however, is that I am a theonomist (as the famous Paleo Gary North also is). I believe in Biblical laws, including many things I won’t get into here for ecumenical reasons.

    First of all, virtually anything that is called ‘feminism’ I loathe. I believe in educating your daughters well, and that daughters and wives have a responsibility to their families and communities (and I am not primarily talking a legal responsibility, though that also may be appropriate). This is not to say I think men don’t, but I do think their responsibilities and (in some cases) their rights do vary.

    I believe that women are legally (and justly) under their father’s power until they are married (and then they are under their husband’s). This would sound like a nightmare to most self-described feminists who think the only way for a woman to enjoy life is to be a man. Personally I think this is just HOW you make good families, and what is more the Bible says it, I believe it and that settles it.

    This is the point where the typical Feminist will imagine me to be “barefoot and pregnant”, but despite this I work for Rockefeller front and am getting a Masters degree with which I can write from home once I finally DO get a husband, and my father is generously paying for ever red cent of it.

    I do not have any problem with the notion that ‘women are people’ or that men should not treat them poorly. In the course of ordinary civil matters the legal differences I believe exist (and the social ones that should be practiced) are not especially relevant; a contract is a contract is a contract, whether with man, woman or martian.

    • Wilhelmina, I have some common ground with you. I too think the woman’s place is the home. And the transference of “authority” from father to husband a good idea. However, I guess I must not be a theonomist as I don’t think this is a legal question so much as a practical one. In other words, I think these are good things precisely because of the positive effect they have on society. The easiest group of people for the state to prey on, more so than downtrodden minorities, more so than greedy individuals and corporations looking for state subsidization, is fatherless and motherless (either literally or just because the parental figure in question is irresponsible or a loser) children. And amongst “downtrodden minorities”, unmarried women would be the next most susceptible. A woman, being physically the weaker sex, to say nothing of their intellectual and emotional qualities (which are different than, but neither inherently inferior nor superior to, those of men), if she is not in submission to a father or husband figure, will tend to have to (again, not morally, but in practice) submit to the “authority” of other men (ranging from harassment to rape) or worse yet, the state, ostensively to protect her (from harassment and rape and so much more). It’s their choice and I applaud the ones that make it for themselves. A lot of Biblical law does indeed rest on conditions presents in the time it was written, conditions that are no longer present, or no longer as common. Even orthodox Christian conservative theologians, some who you may be acquainted with, will acknowledge that, although some may be too frightened to follow the implications of it to their logical extremes. I think in this day and age, it is often practical for some women to break ranks, to be independent, and to do so without violating some fundamental Biblical precept.

    • I agree with everything you wrote, I would only add there is another layer behind it. To put it simply, God tells us to do those things so naturally they are sanctifying and have positive results. I feel the same way about honest capitalism – John D. Rockefeller saved more lives with cheap oil than every U.N. mission combined, and he did it without stealing one farthing.

      Also, when I am talking of the Law of God and even its enforcement by corporal or capital means, that does not usually mean I am talking about some sort of bureaucratic state. I think much of what is thought of as ‘political’ power is devolvable to communitarian populism and ecclesiastical networks, elders and judges so to speak. In the ultimate sense I approach anarchism. Or, more correctly, direct monarchy (to contrast with ‘direct democracy).

    • I have heard people use that term, too. I think of family – especially the familial core – as very important, as is community, but I’m fairly cosmopolitan in terms of what constitutes a community and I don’t have any regard for borders or the virtual anscestor-worship that comes along with some of these National Anarchist types.

    • @Keimh3regeh2umeg:
      Well, it depends on what you mean, but I will list two categories I have serious problems with.
      1. Kinism, which I think is abiblical (the marriage prohibition is on Israelites and pagan marriages, the Church is Israel). Not that I have a problem with people preferring those from similar backgrounds, I just think that making a dogma out of it is unbiblical and often little more than a cover for cartoonish ideas about anthropology.

      2. Any sort of medievalism. I respect the decentralization of the middle ages, but all of this capitalism-hating, anti-urban nonsense just makes them look ignorant. As much as the middle ages are unfairly maligned by the Enlightenment they were NOT a ‘holy age’. They were petty despotisms ruled over by barbarian despots who used religion as a pretext for rapine and arbitrary power; and if the middle ages were relatively less violent it was in spite of its aristocracy and not because of it.

    • I don’t know who coined the term, I don’t even know for sure that I know what it means. I have just heard the phrase used once by a likeminded person to describe their own political philosophy.

  5. And I know this is the expected response, but assassinating children is not a ‘right’.

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