I recently came across the following question in a Facebook forum: Why are many libertarians opposed to making the movement more inclusive to women and minorities? This question touches on the ongoing debate about privilege, discrimination, and thin versus thick libertarianism, so of course, the thread exploded almost immediately.

The main opposition to inclusion was presented as a marketing principle. The argument was that it’s unproductive to try and “sell” liberty to women and minorities because they’re the “wrong demographic,” (i.e. not the type to find value in the product), and that our energy is better spent trying to sell our product to an audience who’s already shown an affinity for the product—young white men.

I’ve heard versions of this sentiment before, and to be fair, I don’t think it’s (usually) about resistance to having a more diverse liberty community. I think a lot of the opposition to attempts at diversification comes from skepticism of any prescriptive actions that are most often associated with government solutions (like affirmative action) coupled with concern about the movement diluting itself to attract women and minorities from the left.

That being said, I do think the stance that “women and minorities don’t like liberty, so why bother,” is unfounded and counter to the marketing principles most of us embrace.

Saying it’s unproductive to market the liberty movement to women and minorities assumes one of two things: as a demographic, they’ve got nothing to gain from the “product” of liberty and therefore, it can’t be sold to them  (try as you might, you can’t sell shampoo to a bald man), or their “business” isn’t worth the effort/investment it would take to change our marketing strategy or expand our product.

If the former is true, and the movement can’t be successfully marketed to females or minorities because it isn’t really good for them, the best option would be to expand the product to meet their needs, unless we really want to throw our weight behind a system that only benefits the minority (white men). This option seems to run counter to what many libertarians would find palatable; it would set up a “liberty for me, but not for thee” situation.

As far as believing that women and minorities’ “business” isn’t worth the effort, we cannot legitimately say we don’t need to market to women and minorities if we want the liberty movement to thrive.  Women and minorities make up a majority of the population (a fact both liberal and conservative politicians recognize), so if we don’t either expand our product or alter our marketing, the liberty movement won’t thrive—it will lose ground.

Besides, it doesn’t do much for our ethos when the advocates of market-based solutions to social and political problems don’t care about expanding our reach via marketing. That’s kind of like someone claiming to be dedicated to fitness while simultaneously arguing that they can’t lose weight because all the parking spots at the gym are too far from the door.

I’ve long found this disparate behavior ironic. Rather than putting our best economics heads together and coming up with strategies to sell freedom to people who really could benefit from it, we approach the task like it’s an impossibility or undesirable obligation. I can’t imagine a successful business refusing to examine consumer trends and attempt new marketing strategies based on principle.

When I was first introduced to the liberty movement, I was a poor college student and a vegan to boot, so hearing white guys on campus talk about Ayn Rand and ending the Fed didn’t do much for me. I finally found the liberty movement appealing when an established member explained the concept of libertarianism and nonviolent voluntary solutions to me through issues that I, as a social liberal, could relate to.  This guy was invested in my buying the product he was selling, so he adjusted his marketing strategy to appeal to his audience and got me to want to know more about it.

As Jake Shannon says over at his blog: “it is not about necessarily spreading the argument that convinced us, it is about the argument that convinces others.”

To be sure, there are lots of libertarians who get it and who are actively attempting to bring women and minorities into the fold. However, it seems that there is still a large contingent that believes trying to figure out how to best market liberty to new audiences isn’t a good strategy for expanding freedom, at least in some factions. More often, I hear common questions being mocked (I know you’ve been asked about the roads a million times, but being snarky does nothing) and straw men being created to explain women and minorities who aren’t sold on libertarianism.

As long as we see attempts to expand our base as an unnecessary or unfair obligation instead of as an opportunity to prove that the market really can solve problems without coercion, we’ll continue to be viewed as a fringe movement of white, educated men and the demand for the liberty we’re trying to sell will never pick up.

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  • Noah

    I wonder whether the dominance rational-choice political scientific understandings among old-line adherents (generally conservative, market-oriented, cis power incumbents particularly attuned to these arguments) and, consequently, of clientelism as an explanation for political behavior moderates Erin’s finding of old-line libertarian recalcitrance to new voices.

    If we presume that material incentives are base and that people are motivated by material incentives, we will inevitably conclude that new adherents are motivated by “low” purposes, especially relative to old-line adherents motivated by “higher” ideological affinities. (For now, I will ignore the hypocritical and cynical presumption of the dominance of material incentives in particular groups and the presumed baseness of responses to them). This political science and the explanations it fosters has looked at women and minorities as seeking hand-outs to explain opponents’ (and even adherents’) successes.

    This is not only repugnant and offensive to others, as Erin noted; it may be invalid. One doesn’t have to white, male, and conservative to appreciate ideology and absolutist principle (which have their own drawbacks, but this is a story for another time).

    Validly or not, the preferences for ration-choice and economic explanations for political behavior has created the impression of “base” material motivations as dominant in political behavior, as opposed to “higher” ideological affinities (with which some libertarians might hypocritically self-identify, while excluding others from the same–again, story for another time).

    I think a major step in changing attitudes toward marketing ideas to motivate voters would be to change the understandings of motivations in political behavior along with their normative statuses.

  • JD

    “To be sure, there are lots of libertarians who get it and who are actively attempting to bring women and minorities into the fold.”

    The libertarians who “get it” are actively working on bringing anyone who will listen into their circles and changing perspectives there. Interactions, or “transactions” to look at it as a salesman/marketeer, aren’t initiated based on race or gender – they also have to be voluntary exchanges where the other party is receptive to not only the content of the message, but actively receiving a message at all. Despite anyone’s best laid plans and all the good intentions in the world, you cannot make someone listen or begin to shift their view if they have no desire to be engaged, and therefore cannot “target” demographics. You have to allow it to occur organically.

  • Its increasingly well known there is a high prevalence of people with aspergers in the libertarian community, ie the white males.

    Jonathan Haidt has researched the connection between aspergers and libertarians in detail.


    “Some of the more intriguing results reported in this study involve the Empathizer-Systemizer scale. The scale measures the tendency to empathize, defined as “the drive to identify another person’s emotions and thoughts, and to respond to these with an appropriate emotion,” and to systemize, or “the drive to analyze the variables in a system, and to derive the underlying rules that govern the behavior of the system.” Libertarians are the only group that scored higher on systemizing than on empathizing—and they scored a lot higher. The authors go on to suggest that systemizing is “characteristic of the male brain, with very extreme scores indicating autism.” They then add, “We might say that liberals have the most ‘feminine’ cognitive style, and libertarians the most ‘masculine.’”

    Since the label “aspergers” is used in a negative way, rather than positive, what is less well discussed is that there is actually far less autism spectrum among minorities and women.

    For example, this CDC data says autism occurs at 1 in 54 among boys, and 1 in 252 among girls.

    They’re having such trouble finding autism spectrum cases among minorities that they’re even running an advertising campaign to identify more.

    “AUTISM Speaks, the autism and science advocacy organization, this week is introducing a new public service advertising campaign aimed at Hispanic and African-American parents.”

    People are basically aligning with their genetic interests. So it may be a tough sell to get more women and minorities into the Libertarian movement.

    I post more info on this topic on http://unifyscience.org

    The movie “Fears of a Black Republican” discusses why the vast majority of American blacks vote democrat and is well worth watching:

    • Erin

      You know, I hadn’t thought about it, but I’ve known a few people with Aspergers in my life and I have noticed that need to systematically organize everything, which I’ve also seen in SOME libertarians (the movement is very diverse).

      I was once told that that tendency comes from the objectivistic origins a lot of libertarians share. Objectivists believe the objective truth can be known about everything, including people’s motivations and subjective value, and so any gray areas or uncertainties are met with hostility. I never got into objectivism (they don’t have too many nice things to say about vegetarians in my experience), so I can’t verify or deny this, but I thought it was interesting, as were the theories you presented.

      I’ll be sure to read those links.

      • my guess is that ayn rand, the founder of objectivism was somewhat autism spectrum. i will be discussing this later on my blog if you are interested.

        objectivism is a useful philosophy, because it clarifies natural selection and the view from the right. people seem to either decide objectivism should be embraced 100% or ignored 100%. balanced systems are what count. systems work when both the left and the right are strong. both the left and right seem to prefer to ignore each other currently.

        your perspective is very interesting and important – i suspect not too many female vegans are libertarian.

        my concern is if we’re not able to get more people to become libertarian – those who may not be genetically predisposed like yourself – that it will completely destabilize our democracy.

        please keep doing what you’re doing.

  • Christopher Cantwell

    Wow, what a lying piece of shit.

    • Antonio Buehler

      It’s ironic that a piece of shit who tries to engage in violence against others, who continually reinterprets what the NAP is to justify his low-grade threats of violence, who jokes about raping little girls, who promotes various forms of bigotry, and who endlessly makes up lies in order to promote his pathetic little website calls someone else a LYING piece of SHIT.

      Hope you’re enjoying your ban from facebook, loser.

      • Christopher Cantwell

        As I sincerely hope you’re enjoying losing more influence by the day since I’ve exposed you as a complete fraud.

        • Noah

          Do you have any relevant or topical thoughts to add or are you just here to troll?

          These comments are off-topic, unreasoned, self-aggrandizing, distracting to the purpose of the post and this page, petty, hypocritical, and just plain silly.

          Few comments, especially responses, have received so many affirmative votes from a normally reserved community. However, I don’t think they are in support of Buehler’s position either per se.

          The message is clear. All of these behaviors are undesired here. Respectfully, fuck off.

          I’m surprised that these comments, particularly the parent, haven’t been modded. However, consider this an organic and autonomous community response to iterate what others have been too kind to say or otherwise effect.

          I don’t think I am alone in my tiring of hearing about this petty dispute from Derrick J, Garrett, the both of you, and other apparently small-minded individuals. Yet, it has somehow meandered over here, where it has no place.

          My issue with this pissing match is not only that it is counter-productive. After all, why would I object to libertarians helping me by shooting themselves in the foot?

          This minor dispute is so obnoxiously, astoundingly petty that it doesn’t belong here specifically or in libertarian circles more broadly. It’s baseness and self-centeredness to the exclusion of even the fundamentals of basic conversation is so hypocritical to the supposedly high-minded purposes at play in the movement generally and this blog in particular that it hurts my head to see supposedly mature individuals self-consciously perpetuating these by behaving like petulant and narcissistic children (especially while attempting to seize the high ground of self-aware humility).

          It is mind-numbingly dissonant and dull in a page dedicated to mental sharpness. The thin pretense of supposed intellectual consistency or rigor makes all of this worse. Such evinces a repugnant hypocrisy or malign intent that should shame any reasonable libertarian.

          But then again, I’m not really surprised by this behavior. I see it everywhere else in libertarian circles in New Hampshire and on the Internet, often with the same players. Just not normally here.

          And this is my point. Keep this senseless circlejerk away from here. It is in violation of the guidelines of this blog in spirit and practice (see “active tolerance” and the comments guidelines).

          Yet, it is allowed to persist out of this blog’s self-righteously extravagant commitment to openness and tolerance even in the face of willful stupidity. If there is ever an example of Marcuse’s repressive tolerance in practice, it is this.

          You do a disservice to yourselves, your ideas, and your movement. Again, respectfully, fuck off.

        • Antonio Buehler

          The only fraud that’s been exposed is you. You have proven yourself to be a fake libertarian, as well as a dullard, a fool, a racist, a sexist and a violent thug.

          Of course I’m losing influence with the bigots of the liberty movement. I don’t care to associate with them. That’s why I’ve deleted over 2000 losers from facebook.

  • Noah

    The dominance of rational-choice political science in conservative circles (which guides libertarian understandings either through traditional conservative or free market attitudes and preferences) may lead to the conclusion that women and minorities are immune to libertarian ideas. Rational choice explanations attribute (primarily left-leaning) political support among these groups to clientelism.

    Further, conservatives have generally demonized clientelism (while ironically and selectively employing analyses of material incentives in political behavior to define appropriate, rational behavior as acting in this way). The disparate normative treatment of this same behavior may lie at the heart of the tension in libertarianism between “high” ideological affinity and “low” pursuit of material incentives.

    These are competing explanations for the same behavior selectively applied based on a fundamental attribution error to groups of the basis of existing biases. My people act on principle; other people act in the same way because they want stuff.

    The cynicism of this view toward human behavior may present the greatest obstacle to libertarian inclusiveness. As Erin noted, however, it doesn’t have to.

    As Erin began, a first step in unraveling this problem is to understand the motivations of the parties, particularly the old-line libertarians responsible for the exclusivity. The selective cynicism toward the motives of deviating behaviors presents artificial barriers to exclude or externalize political behaviors of which libertarians might disapprove, rather than internalizing them within ideological frameworks because some libertarians might fear that such might threaten the ideological legitimacy of their own beliefs because these (often white, male, cis) libertarians hold their libertarian beliefs more out of pursuit of material incentive than ideological affinity per se.

  • Dustin Harris

    I, for one, am a liberal turned libertarian and I know that liberty is for everyone. Keep at it, people are waking up.

  • Addie Hollis

    With the diversity that makes up the United States, limiting outreach to white males will get libertarians nowhere. I know it can be incredibly frustrating as I’ve gone through it myself trying to get non-whites and/or females to see the light, so to speak. Unfortunately, beliefs can sometimes be unbreakable. Expecting an entire group of people to suddenly change their beliefs is unrealistic.

    When I discovered libertarianism a few years back, I had beliefs that weren’t stable. I had a lot of questions and did a lot of research. I was sort of a liberal, but had, since I was a kid, the concept of individuality. I stumbled onto Ayn Rand via a friend who actually couldn’t stand her philosophy lol. But it was like everything clicked. I guess that’s how some people feel when they find religion lol. At the time, and to an extent even now, I didn’t know anyone who held libertarian positions.

    I think, perhaps, reaching out to those who are questioning their beliefs is more attainable than trying to reach those set in their ways. It’s easy to fall into the trap of having unrealistic expectations. I’m sure there are more “me’s” out there just waiting to be found. But I think libertarians will have to do a little more door-to-door selling to start.

    • Erin

      I think you’re right, though I’m a little unsure about the cause and effect. If people are questioning their beliefs–liberal or conservative–it shows that they’re the type of people who are analytical, introspective, and able to leave the comfort of conformity, so they might be the personality type pre-disposed to the liberty movement.

      When I went through “the change,” I was a philosophy student studying ethical theory and I started dating a guy whose idea of a hot date was sitting around listening to a recording of the Who is John Galt? speech. I don’t know that I was questioning my beliefs; I’d always thought of myself as an individualist. I think I was just starting to realize that most of my liberal comrades didn’t actually share those beliefs.

      • Addie Hollis

        Hmmm… actually, that is probably more accurate — at least for my own experience.

        There is also the extra step of how race can play in a person’s willingness to “come out” from what I observed. (and I’m sure with sex too, I’m just more familiar with the racial aspect so I will stick to that.)

        For example, I have a friend interested in steampunk cosplay. Apparently, there aren’t too many non-whites in some of the groups she’s looked at. She’s very race-conscious and so she was intimidated that there were very little non-whites involved in the group. She ended up finding one that was apparently an all-black steampunk group. It’s that fear of “will I fit in?” If that “fear” is just brushed off (as I’ve noticed people’s fears/feelings can be in some discussions), it’s potentially ignoring a possible solution to the problem. I understand that fear to some extent.

        But anyway, in my long-winded way, I’m saying you are spot on in your analysis haha.

        Oh random, btw I loved the post you had about who to call instead of the police. I was gonna comment but had several moments of dumbness and couldn’t figure out how to post a comment.

        • Erin

          Thanks! And btw, the commenting thing isn’t you; for some reason Gina and I have never figured out, the comments didn’t work on my articles for the first two months I wrote for TOL. 🙂

  • Bastiats Corner

    Great article! I especially hear you on the snark associated with common arguments (roads etc). There is a great deal of everyone-is-stupid-except-for-us thinking in the community that we need to address in the interest of making our rhetoric more palatable to any outsider, especially to women. I have learned this the hard way with my wife, who is very much a social liberal.