So what’s with all these libertarians injecting the language of social justice into the liberty movement lately? These bloggers talking about privilege? Wut? Those women. Such serious.
Dudes,* to be honest, I kinda empathize with your discomfort with the left-libertarian social justice chatter. Whenever I see feminism co-mingling with fat-activism, or LGBT rights, or economic lefties, it irks me in a hard-to-articulate way. All of these causes, well-intended though they may be, seem to my mind inherently separate from the goal of achieving widespread recognition of women’s equality and humanity. Sure, people-of-size face specific discrimination that thin people don’t, but we live in an ad-supported, media-saturated world, what are you gonna do? And what does Ellen Degeneres’s right to marry her partner have to do with rape culture?
Of course, I’m not obese, gay, or poor, so I leave space for the possibility that I’m missing something. It’s not obvious to me why these fights should all be under the same umbrella, but I assume a poor, black, transgender sex worker has some insight that my experience as a credentialed white aunty with no kids and a 401(k) has failed to impart. As such, I don’t typically barge into the website of such a person and 1.) demand that they justify themselves to me, or 2.) insist they’re not real feminists.
In a similar vein, I don’t know what life is like for a lonely divorced father, or for a woman whose spouse hurts her, or soldier suffering PTSD, or a person dealing with the lasting effects of child abuse. The hell if I know what life is like for hard-up nerdy young men who seem terrified of women. (NB: Almost everyone who hasn’t given much thought to their own behaviors thinks of themselves as basically “nice.” If anything, Tumblr should ridicule the clueless narcissism running rampant in America).
So what does any of this have to do with libertarians and priv-checking?
Familiar, buzzwordy arguments against “playing identity politics and collectivizing people” because it “reduces people to a skin color or body part” confuses a cause with an effect. Sure, we are all unique individuals. Of course, plenty of existing systems and institutions treat a lot of ostensible individuals as members of groups, and have considerable control and influence over their lives (see: criminal justice, urban planning, education, welfare, entertainment, advertising, etc). Describing the effect of an institution that sustains pervasive inequality isn’t the same as causing or reinforcing that inequality. Really, we should be smart enough to recognize this.
“So what, are you saying libertarians have a moral imperative to fight private coercion and systemic injustice?” Not exactly. If anything, you should do nothing. Stay out of the way of the self-described libertarians who want to address these issues. Even if you don’t agree with them or understand their aim, the fact that these conversations are happening is a good thing. Libertarianism isn’t going to suddenly change into a leftist, redistributionist movement just because a subset of activists are exploring the concepts of oppression and inequality.
I’ve heard a lot of skepticism expressed about the left-libertarian wing. That they’ll never convince lefties to abandon the “Oppression Olympics,” the focus on inequality, or the redistributionist politics. I think this opinion takes too short of a view. If we’re sure that economic freedom and personal freedom are inextricably linked, if free market economics really is responsible for “lifting all boats” and mitigating inequality, then isn’t it wise to widen the audience, rather than wasting our time fighting each other over messaging?
The Libertarian Party has so far proven to be a dead end. We can fight about whether this cycle’s candidate should be socially moderate vs. actively courting the LGBT crowd, but in the end we’re arguing over 0.5% of the popular vote. Right-libertarians and fusionists certainly have their role to play, but to my eyes, they’ve yet to accomplish much in the way of tolerance within the GOP. As I noted last week, the best outcome for the left-libertarian project is if it gradually produces greater acceptance of pro-market arguments and policies within the liberal-progressive movement. It’s admittedly a rather pragmatic approach, but a liberty movement that wastes its time on impossible, first-best outcomes (abolish the state!) isn’t a movement – it’s a circle-jerk. We can do better than this.
*”Dudes” is gender-neutral. Or should be, anyway.
To clarify the beginning of this post: I’m actually cool with all the aforementioned rights’ groups claiming space under the feminist umbrella. I’m cool with not understanding it on a gut level, and I’m cool with them being there even if I *wasn’t* cool with it. If that makes sense.