Monday, November 3, 2008

Flexitarianism and Feminism


Well, if the panel I’m hosting this Wednesday at Lolita Bar (about the prior day’s election) is any indication, tomorrow will see even the undecideds go for Obama.

For you see, our panel is supposed to be a conservative (Abe Greenwald), a Democrat (Ben Geyerhahn), and an anti-ideological moderate with libertarian sympathies (Marty Beckerman). But here’s the thing: our moderate/libertarian just announced he’s rooting for Obama, too (and on the site Jewcy, which Abe has also written for — it’s like some kind of conspiracy). That’s OK, though — in this, Marty probably reflects sentiment in America. Indeed, you might say that Marty Beckerman is America this week.

But as for me, despite being a civil, non-combative host on Wednesday, I just spent yesterday’s entry railing against precisely this phenomenon of my libertarian brethren following the Pied Piper of hope. So I think I’ll complain about apostate libertarians all week long. There will be years ahead — long, difficult years — in which to complain about Obama. And there’s nothing I can do in the way of beating up on the conservatives that they haven’t already done to themselves. So let’s focus on libertarians this week, much as I love them, one error at a time.


Yesterday, we looked at attempts to make libertarianism complicit in tomorrow’s election of left-wing, pro-regulation Obama. Today, a small reminder that libertarianism and feminism should not be hastily commingled.

Kerry Howley did a Bloggingheads online dialogue with Megan McArdle (both to some degree Obama-sympathizers, much as I like them) about the supposed compatibility of libertarianism and feminism and said that “A book like The Second Sex is nothing if not a book about individualism, avoiding a collective identity, even though de Beauvoir was, in the end, a Marxist.”

I can see the temptation to subsume feminism under libertarianism, if only to prove the latter’s capacity for tolerance and flexibility (“anything that’s peaceful”), but I do not see the genuine pro-freedom streak in thinkers who say, as de Beauvoir did, that it should be illegal to raise children in conventional family units (they should instead, de Beauvoir argued, be forcibly removed from their families and raised collectively, an idea her genocidal fellow Marxists, the Khmer Rouge, would put into practice a few decades later).

Of course, feminism comes in many forms, not all of them as offensive as de Beauvoir, but then, philosophy always has its ambiguities, and so, mutatis mutandis, we can make any philosophy sound kind of, sort of like any other. For example, there are real historical overlaps between:

•monarchism and conservatism

•conservatism and libertarianism

•libertarianism and liberalism

•liberalism and socialism

•socialism and anarchism

So, presto-chango, one could make monarchy and anarchism sound like kindred spirits with enough use of the transitive property, albeit demolishing the usefulness of language in the process.


But here’s a more efficient idea: describe the world accurately and let the labels come later. I don’t think there’ll be much left in a frank, thoroughly-described free-market individualist worldview that carries echoes of monarchism — just as there is little in the world as described by today’s “progressive” Democrats that sounds to me like pro-free-market libertarianism. Old intellectual-family ties are not enough. They are in fact a distraction from making clear, useful analytical distinctions about the contemporary world.

The conscious, almost perverse attempt to frame libertarian views in a left-liberal way — as a sort of stunt or, to put it more kindly, intellectual experiment — can create a hybrid leftism-libertarianism lens, but it is not a minimally-confusing, maximally-descriptively-efficient way of talking about the world, and surely that is what we should want, not obfuscation or the creation of philosophical jungle-gyms for the intelligentsia.

So much easier and more accurate, then, to see libertarianism as a philosophy that encourages market ground rules with no preferred, patterned outcomes — and to see feminism as, almost invariably, a philosophy that denounces certain unacceptable (even if voluntary) social outcomes. One of several bridges to the left that must be abandoned.


Jacob T. Levy said...

“Old intellectual-family ties are not enough. They are in fact a distraction from making clear, useful analytical distinctions about the contemporary world.”

How un-Burkean and un-Hayekian and rationalist constructivist of you. There can be wisdom in looking backwards not to be found in the concepts of the sophisters and calculators!

Kerry Howley » Blog Archive » Libertarian Feminism versus Monarchist Anarchism said...

[...] Todd Seavey refers to some of my thoughts on feminism and libertarianism and notes that “we can make any philosophy sound kind of, sort of like any other.” Well, that’s true. But it was never my intention to “subsume feminism under libertarianism” and pretend that we should all band together under some anodyne platitude about universal tolerance. I am not that agreeable. It was my intention to point out that most libertarian cocktail party critiques of feminism are utterly insipid and incoherent. [...]

What’s A Libertarian? Can A Feminist Be One? « Matt Zeitlin: Impetuous Young Whippersnapper said...

[...] Posted by Matt Zeitlin on November 10, 2008 I’m not going to write a detailed summary of the interlibertarian squabble between Todd Seavey and Kerry Howley re: whether libertarians can be feminists and vice versa, but if you want catch up, click here, here, here and here.  [...]

TGGP said...

Hans Herman-Hoppe is an anarchist, but his second-best preference is monarchy.

Todd Seavey said...

He is a very _unusual_ monarchist, but you are correct. (And indeed, constitutional monarchy had a period of respectability within the liberal tradition — so I’m not completely dismissing these real overlaps.)

Todd Seavey said...

[...] •…as noted by Will’s girlfriend Kerry Howley, who, as it happens, I’d been criticizing on this blog for completely unrelated reasons — namely for not seeing why feminism (in most forms) is fundamentally at odds with the diverse and inevitably inegalitarian (though not necessarily predictable) outcomes tolerated by libertarianism, which normally describes people as free so long as their property rights and bodily integrity are not violated. Kerry objected. I responded. Kerry objected again. [...]

Ladyblog » Blog Archive » The Libertarian Feminist Debate said...

[...] Anyway, for the past week or so, Howley and self-proclaimed punk-conservative Todd Seavey have been engaged in a back-and-forth on the issue of feminism and libertarianism, which Seavey would like to assure us young whippersnappers is an oxymoronal concept: The Kerry view is news to me, and I’ve been a libertarian for about twenty years now. [...]

Social Libertarianism, & The Heart Of Freedom « Thoughts on Freedom said...

[...] This is the continuation of an earlier debate between Todd Seavey & Keri Howley, which you may read here, here, here and here. Essentially Ms. Howley argued that libertarianism ought be concerned with maximizing freedom and autonomy, and as it is not only the state which impinges on these, but also various social forces, then libertarians ought to be concerned about them. Mr. Seavey, on the other hand, takes the more traditional line, that libertarians ought be concerned with the power of the state alone. Cato’s Will Wilkinson also entered into the debate, stating “If libertarianism is the view that coercion is never social or emotional, and that coercive limits to liberty are justified only in defense of private property, or in the enforcement of contracts, then libertarianism is false, and I am not a libertarian. If libertarianism is the view that human well-being is best promoted by ensuring “that every man may claim the fullest liberty to exercise his faculties compatible with the possession of like liberty to every other man,” then I am a libertarian. If this is a libertarian view, then the goal to minimize or abolish wrongfully liberty-limiting social norms is a libertarian goal.” (There are many other instances in the blogosphere of comments on this debate, particularly regarding the feminist points made, but you can find those for yourself!) I would strongly encourage people to peruse these posts however. [...]