Libertarian-Hating Day

I think we understand here that I am not personally anything like a Libertarian. However, we also know that at least two of my co-bloggers are. Half of that sample is female, which apparently makes it hugely unrepresentative. Today there's a mini-festival of hate aimed at the ideology around that fact.

Jeet Heer:
This type of yearning for the America of the Robber Barons has little to offer most women (who might not want to return to a world where they couldn’t vote and had severely restricted social lives) or for that matter most non-whites (who might recall Jim Crow segregation). As Brian Doherty notes, “American blacks or women … might find libertarian complaints about government growth silly. Most of them certainly feel freer in many important ways than they would have in the nineteenth century.”
Ann Althouse:
To put it very plainly and simply, to me, the libertarians lacked humanity and they were using their pride in their commitment to abstract ideas to resist examining the reasons why they liked the ideas they were wedded to. I think people like that would be very dangerous if they had political power. Intellectually, as people to converse with, I found them cold and rigid, not interested in talking about anything on the level that I am seeking, and creepily eager to insult me for being on the wrong level.
Kevin Drum:
Jeet Heer investigates a burning question today: why are most libertarians men? He offers several plausible explanations, but I think he misses the real one, perhaps because it's pretty unflattering to libertarians.

So here's the quick answer: hard core libertarianism is a fantasy. It's a fantasy where the strongest and most self-reliant folks end up at the top of the heap, and a fair number of men share the fantasy that they are these folks. They believe they've been held back by rules and regulations designed to help the weak, and in a libertarian culture their talents would be obvious and they'd naturally rise to positions of power and influence.... Few women share this fantasy. I don't know why, and I don't really want to play amateur sociologist and guess. Perhaps it's something as simple as the plain observation that in the more libertarian past, women were subjugated to men almost completely.
It's not a great argument, I will suggest. The argument can be pointed equally at any political philosophy that draws inspiration from any past era. But the past is the only place from which we can draw concrete examples to criticize the present approach. We can imagine the future, but we have no way to know if our imaginations of what the future might be like are just moonshine. The past really happened. The cases aren't exactly like our present cases, but they offer concrete analogies that can help us see where we are going wrong, or where we might do better.

Althouse aside -- she's arguing ad hominem against men she really didn't like -- these arguments are rooted in a frame whose purpose is to prevent concrete criticism of the current governing approach. That's no surprise: these are all supporters of the party in power, of the governing President, and of the philosophy he embraces. The sneering at a philosophy because it draws its examples from an imperfect past is really an attempt to disable a whole line of criticism of the present.


Tom said...

This type of yearning for the America of the Robber Barons has little to offer most women (who might not want to return to a world where they couldn’t vote and had severely restricted social lives) or for that matter most non-whites (who might recall Jim Crow segregation).

I keep seeing this argument pop up, in progressive attacks on both conservatives and libertarians. It's a silly straw man and nothing more. However, it's a standard belief among the progressives that, regardless of what their political opponents want to call themselves, they are really, in their dark, wicked hearts, regressives who pine for the days of slavery and politically powerless women.

Texan99 said...

If you define "libertarian" as anarchy, then of course anyone but the strongest, best armed person on the planet should hate it. But why be that silly? Equally silly is defining it as "whatever we happened to be doing in the 19th century."

If you define it as restricting government to some core functions like protecting its citizens from fraud and violence, and otherwise respecting people's autonomy and individual exercise of conscience, then I should think it might appeal to people who weren't likely to come out well in the average fistfight, without mystifying anyone.

I don't find libertarians (by my rough definition) any rarer among the women of my acquaintance than among the men. I don't know any libertarians of either sex by the "anarchy" or "19th century" definition.

Grim said...

I know some anarchist libertarians. As far as the 19th century goes, it applies pretty evenly to anyone who would hold for a constitution that limits the Federal government, including not only libertarians but Jeffersonians, Jacksonians, originalist Justices, and a fair number of Lincoln-type Republicans. But they're all subject to the same kind of complaint.

Texan99 said...

I'm sure some libertarians are anarchists. But to be baffled by how vulnerable people could possibly be libertarians, on the ground that vulnerable people shouldn't enjoy anarchy, you have to be believe that anarchy is the only thing that absolutely all libertarians are necessarily about. That requires some serious blinkers.

Grim said...

Perhaps it's hard to distinguish between "no more regulations than necessary" and "no regulations at all!". Although the anarchist-libertarians I know mostly believe that industrial society is a major source of oppression, such that anarchy (and a return to the land) would represent a kind of new freedom for the vulnerable.

That's madness, of course, but I don't doubt the sincerity.

Tom said...

When I've talked to progressives about libertarianism, the first thing they do is talk about how we need police and roads. They really do think libertarians are anarchists. Another interesting commonality is that they never seem to have an answer ready when I ask, "So, what do you think the limits on government should be?"

I think conservatives and libertarians both have utterly failed to communicate their beliefs to the American people. We have let progressives take over the university and the media to such a great extent that they have branded us and made it stick with most of the American people.

Texan99 said...

"Perhaps it's hard to distinguish between "no more regulations than necessary" and "no regulations at all!"."

No harder, I should think, than to distinguish between "enough government to do what needs doing and can't possibly get done another way" and "total government control of everything you can possibly imagine." If people can't draw that kind of distinction, it's not much use discussing politics with them.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

It has a Jonathan Haidt research touch of "Something about libertarians just feels bad to me," followed by a set of rationalisations about why that is. The examples above could not possibly be the positions that they reasoned themselves to, because they are smart people and would see the holes. These are reflexes, justified instantly with fluff.

Here's the hard part. I know libertarians who are indeed, completely nuts. Maybe that's a NH thing, and why the Free State porcupines picked us to come to. There are people who, in reflection of the non-reasoning above, have personal pathologies that they justify by hiding behind libertarianism. Not everyone is Charles Murray or Cato Institute. Smaller parties have more extremists - the Greens being another example.

Makes it tough to sell from a purely intellectual POV.

Texan99 said...

Fair enough. Something about tyranny--or even officious intermeddling--just feels wrong to me. I agree that it's a value judgment. Even if I were convinced that everything would work like magic if we merged ourselves into a collective, it's not my idea of why it's worth being alive. But in fact, as it happens, I don't believe things work better when they're forcibly collectivized, only when people voluntarily cooperate with each other for whatever they individually judge is their mutual benefit.

And even on this principle I advocate including collective limits on violence and fraud, which I suppose it what keeps me from being an anarchist. It's true that, even in the case of violence and fraud, if someone can show me a good remedy that doesn't require turning enforcement over to a government, I'll cheerfully embrace it. The more checks and balances on people's ability to force each other to do things, the better.

David Foster said...

There's a rather odd book, "The Testosterone Hypothesis" (Roy Barzlai) which attempts (rather unconvincingly, I think) to explain world history in terms of testosterone cycles. He references the systematizing-vs-empathizing paradigm favored by Simon Baron-Cohen, and argues that libertarianism appeals to those high on the systematizing (high testosterone) dimension, and that advocates of this viewpoint (he repeatedly references Ayn Rand) fail to understand that their arguments are simply not meaningful to those who fall primarily on the empathizing dimension.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

David, there may be something to the idea that they just can't hear it.

I liked Grim's history, noting that the argument offered would disqualify everything that happened before last Tuesday. Yet I think something like that is true. These are people who believe history began with them, and earlier events are rather vague affairs in black-and-white photography and cartoons.

If anything, Grim doesn't go far enough. What was life like for women in minorities in those countries which did not have robber barons? Far worse. The rights of women and people outside the dominant tribe in a state grew in precisely those places that had free-markets and thus abuse of free markets: NW Europe and the Anglosphere. I doubt it is coincidence, but even if it is accidental, it is certainly evidence that having robber barons and slavery does not prevent the expansion of rights to more individuals. What other societies could they possibly be comparing to?

Texan99 said...

Empathy is a great thing. But if other people's empathy makes them too sensitive to be able to deal with the idea that they need to back off and quit bullying me, I stop listening, even if that makes me seem unempathetic.

MikeD said...

It appears Tex did a fine job debugging this nonsense. But one thing I would like to draw issue with is the whole "anarchist/libertarian" thing. If someone truly is an anarchist (and most I've met are of the teen-aged variety who think anarchy is just awesome until someone steals their stereo) then a libertarian is a big-government squish to them. Because libertarians actually DO support laws and regulations. Specifically those preventing the taking of life, liberty, and property from another by force or fraud. If there is one thing I think all actual libertarians DO agree on (and there really is not a whole lot) then that is it. If it's one thing that actual anarchists agree upon (other than the relative "rad-ness" of Slayer and the Sex Pistols) it is that there should be no government at all.

I had a pretty liberal friend try the whole "libertarians want government so small as to be ineffective, QED they're anarchists and can therefore be ignored as quacks". When I turned that around and said that Democrats favored big government and therefore must be Communists by that reasoning, his response is that Democrats are too right-wing for that to make any sense. The conversation really didn't continue after that.

Texan99 said...

I do want government to be so small as to be ineffective--in those areas where I think government had best butt out. The problem being that they and I probably can't agree on what areas those are.