Given the bare-bones description of property I gave in my blog entry two days ago — and given just how extensive the range of social interactions affected by that vision of property would be — you can now perhaps understand why I was aghast, during (and just before) last month’s “Month of Feminism” sparring with Wilkinson and Howley, by the suggestion that libertarianism (the legal and policy implications of which most libertarians take to be generated by a vision of property more or less like the one I was describing) should have various cultural side issues imported into it such as a certain take on gender.
It would be a bit like if Plato’s Guardians (much as I hate to use an authoritarian metaphor) had added to their very basic list of duties to the polis the arbitrary and faddish command “and ensure the populace always buys its groceries at Stuckey’s.” The Guardians are welcome to have their opinions — likely varying ones — about who has the best buys on produce, but somehow the very basic rules they are charged with enforcing and promulgating were meant to be something more neutral and potentially universally-respected. (And you understand intuitively what I mean even if in point of fact Plato envisioned a precise diet for all good Greeks — rework the analogy using the Bill of Rights and the insertion of a specific sports regimen if you like.)
Libertarians, irrelevant as we may often seem, have a big philosophical responsibility so long as no one else gets this bare-bones property idea, and it doesn’t help if we try to smuggle partisan culture-warrior positions into our ostensibly truce-like and unbiased philosophy.
Anything not violating property rights, including one’s right to one’s own body, is permitted — legally, that is. That doesn’t at all mean anyone’s obliged to consider it morally, aesthetically, or psychologically acceptable, of course, including libertarians themselves. Their diverse opinions on subtle ethical and aesthetic matters will be generated from places other than libertarianism itself or law itself, these things being by design limited in scope. That’s why conservatives (in particular) who talk as if libertarians are merely nihilists are either deliberately misrepresenting us or are too dense to grasp the difference between law and culture — essentially making them socialists or some other form of totalitarian.
I suspect a combination of misrepresentation and denseness, or rather the intellectually dishonest strategic deployment of a willful refusal to understand — selective denseness, if you will — of the sort that enables people to say (but never fully, honestly believe): “You’re not a Methodist like me? Well, then, I’m sorry to hear you love evil and depravity and misery so much.”
A property regime’s open-ended legal “neutrality” does mean, though, that I would do well to exhibit now — even overemphasize — the sort of diplomacy that would be required of everyone in a world where all but property violations must be tolerated — in the sense of tolerance that merely means not responding violently, as opposed to the sort of tolerance that means theatre critics must stop writing harsh reviews, priests cannot issue moral denunciations, and protesters must put down their picket signs. So in some limited sense, yes, all philosophies that do not explicitly call for property violations are compatible with libertarianism, and it might be intellectually worthwhile, like a game of Tetris, to see what their areas of fit and disjunction are.
I don’t think many present-day feminists embrace a feminism devoid of anti-libertarian legal ramifications, but, all right, ask what one might look like. Likewise, remind socialists of their non-statist voluntary-communalist roots in the early nineteenth century, if you wish. Ask yourself, too, just how puritanical a religious-fundamentalist society could be fostered without the use of law (beyond the libertarian laws against assault, theft, and fraud). But let’s not get so mesmerized in the process of these thought experiments that we think a newfound chumminess with such philosophies requires or even permits going back and altering the property rights groundrules — or changes the property rights focus of libertarianism proper.
Take that Cowgirl Hall of Fame bar gathering I mentioned going to in yesterday’s entry — that bar no doubt contained some gun aficionados (at least, it had me in it, reading Brian Doherty’s Gun Control on Trial), some who hate gun culture, some lesbians, people indifferent to lesbians, and as it happens a few people who go to the annual Burning Man art festival and call themselves part of a Freedom Community that prides itself on quietly and civilly talking itself out of all inhibitions, interpersonal conflicts, and insecurities. But none of these things were necessary for legal entry into the “neutral” space of the bar — and for that matter, much as I like some of the Freedom Community members, I wouldn’t say that getting rid of inhibitions is a necessary component of freedom, as I understand freedom.
Certainly, people being inhibited about taking stuff without permission, we’d all agree, would be beneficial whether they’re under my envisioned property laws or the resources-strapped confines of a Burning Man camp. Beyond that, my cultural allegiance to (or at least strong aesthetic preference for) even very strong inhibitions — the kind that keep fat guys from taking their shirts off in fancy restaurants — is perfectly compatible with freedom in the libertarian, property-respecting sense, and it’s very important to let people know that, so that they don’t think they have to abandon their existing cultural allegiances — their thick, local, traditional ties or their universalist anarchic or liberal principles — in order to sign onto this thing called property rights, which is unpopular enough as it is. (Girlfriend Helen and I differ slightly in our reasons for liking punk — me seeing it as individualistic and her seeing it as rigidly rule-bound and tribalistic — but it would be insane to think we need to resolve that dispute, or that anyone else even needs to care about it, before agreeing on a system of laws.)
To put it another way, I would hate to make people think that libertarianism is getting mushy or downright juvenile in such a way that concrete axioms such as “Cut the budget” and “Eliminate taxes to the greatest extent possible” were going to be replaced by vaguer, attitudinal axioms that might rub plenty of decent, property-respecting people the wrong way, such as “Just do it” or “You gotta be you” or “You’re not the boss of me!”
We are fans of economist Walter Williams, so to speak, not necessarily Walt Whitman (and all right, technically not necessarily even Williams, much as I love the guy). None of this means we have to be stodgy either. My libertarian novelist friend Katherine Taylor is plenty hip but still likes the slogan “Sassiness doesn’t pay” more than “You’re not the boss of me.” Stick that in your “Just do it,” if you see what I mean.
I just want budget cuts and deregulation, I often say — but in truth I’d also like better sci-fi movies and more New Wave-like music. I just recognize that the latter two items are not part of a serious legal philosophy.