Monday, October 26, 2009

Reason: Todd Seavey vs. Kerry Howley

While all libertarians — all human beings — are well aware that voluntary interactions can prove more painful than the impositions of law (I’d rather get a parking ticket than a broken heart, for example), libertarian Kerry Howley thinks libertarians need to do more, as a matter of basic principle, to combat some of those non-legal forms of pain (and she does not address the important question of whether this will encourage a culture of whining, leading to more welfare-statism).

The Reason November issue’s symposium on Howley’s culturally left-leaning view of libertarianism — with Dan McCarthy and me as her critics — is online, as are Reason readers’ many comments on our pieces (here, too, are some thoughts about the debate from an entity named Publion, who e-mailed me this link).

I notice one Reason commenter accuses me of pushing a bare-bones property-rights-focused version of libertarianism because I’m simply trying to espouse the most marketable version of libertarianism regardless of whether it’s the correct one, which is not quite right — but as a utilitarian, I do think, looplike as it may sound, that a moral philosophy must take into account its own likelihood of being adopted.

I also notice many people saying that if I’m arguing against Howley she must have recommended property rights violations. Actually, I’m not saying she (already) wants coercion, though I’m saying that the views she encourages make coercion more likely than spreading conventional libertarianism would. Also, that she simply has no rational basis for identifying what oppresses, once she’s said property isn’t the litmus test. Old-fashioned behavior bad, new-fangled good, apparently?

Put another way: it seems to me there are three possible ways to interpret Howley, all of them disturbing:

1. Either Howley wants property rights violations (by normal libertarian standards) and somewhat disingenuously has thus far avoided saying so outright.

2. Or she doesn’t — and thus I’m still right that’s the crucial litmus test libertarians use to pick their positions (in which I case I sort of win the argument).

3. Or she’s relatively indifferent to whether her view leads to violating property rights, in which case I still win, in so far as I’m right to warn libertarians against her and right to see her philosophy as dissolving libertarianism in a warm bath of fuzzier, largely unresolvable cultural concerns.

My guess is that #2 is the case — and I say that mainly because I want to be generous (by my standards). But then, as Kerry’s husband (or fiance — forgive me if I’ve jumped the gun) Will Wilkinson says on his blog today, with a chivalrous defense of her almost as long as the symposium articles themselves, Howley knew — and warned — that she would be misunderstood. It can’t be easy.


Mostly-coincidentally, my own girlfriend, Helen Rittelmeyer, will have a piece on Doublethink soon criticizing feminist and woman-focused blogs, and it will mention Howley briefly — so we’re almost back to where we started one year ago when I first started dating Helen, reporting on the rise of “liberaltarians” like Wilkinson, and sparring online with Howley — but since I’m really the tolerant big-tent one here, I will endeavor to be nice to the liberaltarians after today. If I can work with mere market-friendly moderates or the occasional religious-rightist, after all, I should be able to get along with liberaltarians, even if they’re slightly wrong.

The Howley argument did begin, more or less, with the question of whether feminism is naturally compatible with libertarianism — and though she’s now framing her argument more humbly, as encouragement for libertarians to push beyond their usual property concerns and address cultural issues, it’s worth remembering that last year she was actually claiming that libertarianism already is a philosophy of cultural leftism/feminism and that some weird subset of libertarians like me are trying to revise it and make it a property-focused philosophy, as if I just got here yesterday.

She also quite explicitly said that there is this curious Gen X cohort of libertarians who encountered radical, p.c. feminism on college campuses and thus think of it as a censorious, anti-freedom philosophy. And as a forty year-old friend of mine said when I mentioned Howley saying our cohort got its impression of feminism that way: “No shit.”

Was our experience really so aberrant? Of course, nowadays (Howley is twenty-seven), young people may feel more like they can say whatever they want without fear of offending, but I expect that’s largely because the censorious prior wave of students was so successful in training everyone to talk as if there are no “essential” differences between the sexes. No need to censor anymore if no one can really think of anything to say (except, like Cartman, “Whatever — I do what I want!”).

Howley at least frankly says she wants libertarians to be more feminist, in this blog entry last week and in the course of her sparring with Ilya Somin, who also disagrees with her. Since she’s donated eggs (as she discussed at one of our Lolita Bar panels), expressed sympathy for transhumanism, and called the Catholic Church a major threat to freedom, I’m going to assume Howley considers abortion acceptable — and perhaps it is, but I have long thought (even before I was a libertarian, in fact) that abortion is a perfect example of why, by and large, we do not want people to be feminists. Whether or not abortion is murder hinges on the nature and moral status of the fetus, hopefully not on what its destruction will do to shake or bolster the patriarchy. Deciding an issue like abortion through the lens of feminism is like deciding the issue of slavery based on the relative merits of African and European art.

As libertarians, do we really want a world where, when someone is asked “What, if anything, do you think the government should do about the relative salaries of men and women?” she thinks not of property rights and company ownership but of the vague, ever-shifting kaleidoscope of culture and what she thinks can best be done to improve women’s status in it to wherever it should be in a culture-criticism sense?

(I regret, by the way, that Reason’s editing of Howley’s piece removed her praise of the profoundly anti-capitalist thinker Herbert Marcuse, not only because that praise revealed why we have legitimate reason to fear where her thinking leads but also because both my piece and McCarthy’s contained Marcuse references in reaction to that passage of hers. We didn’t just make up the Marcuse tendencies. Nor am I hallucinating when I remind you Howley likes Simone de Beauvoir, who explicitly favored forcibly removing children from their patriarchal families so that they could be raised communally — a perfectly logical course of action, really, if, like Howley, you think culture oppresses just like physical force. Seeing society as a web of “coercive” beliefs is precisely the paranoid habit of mind that created much of twentieth-century statism — as a supposed “cure” for social ills — and now Howley has belatedly rediscovered that there’s social oppression all around us, mercifully assuring us she won’t use statism as a means of retaliation but giving no reason to think others angered by cultural oppression will be as merciful.)


More deeply offensive, though, is Howley’s implication that the world is divided into people who think as she does about the way culture forms our characters and people who simply don’t think about culture forming character.

Implying that feminism, for example, is among things that libertarians obviously would/should embrace if they were thoughtful people is as ridiculous as saying (as people often do) that the alternative to shallowness is [whatever they happen to believe]. Thus: “It’s a shame people are so shallow and apolitical [since they would otherwise be Obama-supporters],” “It is too bad that people are satisfied by mindless entertainment [since thoughtful people would plainly appreciate my poetry],” “It is sad that people are morally weak [since they would otherwise become Christians],” “Surely you are tired of living stupidly [and thus are ready to embrace Scientology],” and so on.

I am not opposed to “thick” considerations of culture — I am opposed to assuming Howley has the culture/law causality all figured out, especially when many of my intuitions about which cultural trends are helpful seem to be the opposite of hers (machismo seems to produce a lot of libertarian folk like Clint Eastwood, for example –and, for that matter, worrying overmuch about cultural oppression seems, demographically speaking, to be one of the greatest manufacturers of statist footsoldiers). But we should always be wary of people feigning tolerance and neutrality while trying to slip their own preferences into the purported meta-narrative explaining everyone else’s story.

Before we go importing feminism (or whatever other left-cultural goods Howley has in mind) into the basic framework of liberty, we might at least want to address, for example, the argument that the major cultural force blinding people these days to history and the shaping of our minds by causal forces such as biology and culture is…Third Wave feminism, with its pretense that everyone is a newborn chameleon about whom no accurate predictions can be made and to whom no generalizations can ever be applied. Expecting profundity about gender matters from people who think like that, in my experience, is like expecting carefully-crafted ethical arguments from a relativist. A teenage girl relativist.

I’m sorry. That was slightly sexist, not just property-focused, but then, as Helen pointed out to me (in the form of this New York Times article), there aren’t many female philosophers, and some think that the very idea of intellectual combat may just not be as appealing to women as to men. Is it offensive to think that? Has that article oppressed us all? Has it oppressed Howley? Do we know it prima facie to be false, since nothing smacking of sexism can be true in the new-type libertarian future? Beats me. I have to wait for Howley to tell me what is proper thought now.

But in truth, feminism is a side issue, and let us hope it remains one.


The larger problem is just people importing all their favorite cultural baggage into the purported definition of what libertarianism (and liberty) is supposed to be — unless Howley imagines she will be the last person to do so.

I notice that one Micha Ghertner, for example, in one of Howley’s comment threads, says: “I personally take it as part of my libertarian project to attempt to convince Orthodox Jews to view their lifestyles as liberty-depriving and to abandon them, and also to gently prod monogamous people, not necessarily to experiment with polyamory, but to at least tolerate and respect those who do…”

Well, I don’t happen to go around encouraging Orthodox Judaism or being mean to polyamorists, but once more, I think you can see our constituency shrinking here instead of growing, if Ghertner’s attitude is ever taken to be mandatory for all libertarians as opposed to simply mandatory for Ghertner if Ghertner wants to keep being Ghertner with Ghertner’s set of preferences. And Howley is clearly suggesting that all libertarians ought to share her cultural mission, not just that we tolerate her continued existence.

She is the utopian (to return to my blog theme this month), pushing a specific cultural agenda, while I am more akin to Robert Nozick, wanting only a “meta-utopia” in which different people pursue whatever ends — including rigid and cultish ones — the market will bear. (McCarthy somehow strikes Howley as more tolerable than me, I think, even though his idea of a meta-utopia is clearly one in which paleoconservative, religious communities are presumed the most likely to win out over time, something I’m by no means asserting — I just say “let’s see how things shake out, even if they turn out very sexist, etc.”)

What will I absolutely not tolerate? Well, I’m a libertarian, so, again, it’s property rights violations. Would Howley deny that this is and has always been the easiest rubric by which to predict libertarians’ positions? Is she so confident that culture-criticism yields clear answers that she really wants people to drift away from using that as the clear-cut rubric? Aren’t we just back in the mix with all the econ-ignoring yahoos that make up the bulk of the body politic once we do that? It’s very, very hard to get people to put economic reasoning first, you know, and they’re frighteningly eager to use other, wildly unpredictable means of settling legal and ethical disputes — so why encourage them?


And it’s not just that cultural criticism might distract people from economic reasoning (so do sitcoms, after all). Rather, I think libertarians, of all people, should emphasize whenever possible that there is a real and substantial moral distinction between physical coercion and mental “coercion” — and our cause is lost once we abandon that distinction (the social conservatives will immediately say “Well, he coerced me by insulting my flag,” the left-liberals will say that hate speech demands legal redress, gang members will say they shot people but only people who disrespected them, etc.).

The distinction is not arbitrary. If indeed choice matters, then we should never, never forget that no matter how difficult it can be to weigh one’s options within a culture, one does choose. Once a gun is put to one’s head, the other person chooses. Libertarianism, above all else, is the philosophy that never lets people forget that distinction. Howley wants us to. The non-libertarians of the world will have much to celebrate if she succeeds.

The actual, empirical, historical pattern has been for tyranny to start by denying this difference, which is why I wonder how Howley or Wilkinson can pretend for a moment to have the “historically-informed” high ground. Have they not noticed that the form of “consciousness-raising” that treats traditional — and capitalist — social context as oppressive is precisely where the coercion tends to begin?

But if we must, for the sake of morality, bite the bullet and start creating a more libertarian culture, what, really, seriously does that mean, for those of us to whom it’s not as intuitively obvious as it is to Howley but who (believe it or not) genuinely want to be good people? Please enlighten us, damn it: When are we truly free? What things must I believe? Will Howley really ever tell us explicitly? (And isn’t it deforming to my character and limiting of my choices if I have to wait for her to tell me?)

It is precisely because these sorts of cultural issues are never settled that libertarians have for so long been keen to keep them out of the basic definition of freedom — and out of law. Howley doesn’t want to improve libertarianism. She wants, even if unwittingly, to undo it.


This past Friday I caught the very end of a Mercatus Center/Institute for Humane Studies event here in NYC that featured a discussion by William Ruger and Jason Sorens about their recent study attempting to rank the fifty states according to how free they are, using libertarian criteria. They looked at economic regulations, gun control laws, and so on. I can’t help wondering what a hopeless, subjective, incoherent morass a study like that would become if it attempted to use Howleyan criteria. Would it have to survey people to see where people were most polite? Or is politeness itself sort of oppressive, since it’s normally rooted in traditional social expectations (one might prefer loud, anarchic public farting, after all)?

Should New York and L.A. go up in the rankings because people seem less fazed by porn in these places (legal issues notwithstanding, I mean)? Or should those places be ranked even lower because porn oppresses women by reinforcing the patriarchy? I honestly don’t know. (That’s one the Third Wave feminists certainly don’t seem to have worked out either — so do we await their verdict and only then amend libertarianism accordingly? Howley? Guidance? Verdict?)

Howley and Wilkinson, incidentally, are in Iowa, as is Christine Whelan (my boss’s daughter), to whom I e-introduced Howley — and Whelan happens to address a very concrete recent example of cultural suasion doing damage as severe as law: the three people who died under instructions from a self-help guru to remain in a sweat lodge. Now, I can imagine Howley saying this is a perfect example of why we must not merely object to physical coercion but to guru-hood — but then again, don’t people normally find themselves in New Age sweat lodges because they are anti-traditionalists attempting some sort of “self-actualization”? Boy, this stuff gets complicated, so I’m glad Howley has it worked out. Otherwise, I’d just keep adhering to property rights and have no strong opinion on the sweat lodge guru.

(But maybe I shouldn’t imagine what Howley would say about anything — I certainly find it annoying when she ends her Reason piece with an entire imaginary dialogue with Todd Seavey, who, funny thing, somehow comes off sounding a bit stupider than in real life. In this, she is certainly behaving like a leftist, as I notice they’ve become quite enamored, in the era of blogs and cutting-and-pasting, of trying to indict people by, say, substituting the phrase “African-Americans” for the phrase “communists” in someone else’s writing to supposedly show that the person is a bigot…or rather would be if he had actually said that about African-Americans…or… something…)

Rather than merely speculate about one important aspect of Howley’s views, though, maybe we should come right out and ask her: Does she want more property violations than I do, or less? I am an anarcho-capitalist. What is Howley if not that? If she is as mysterious and easily-misunderstood as Wilkinson suggests, perhaps we should not assume we know. And come to think of it, if Howley does want us to think that her attitude leads to less, not more, coercion, should we perhaps be troubled by the fact that she and Wilkinson are so simpatico, since — rightly or wrongly — you have to admit that his shtick is arguing that libertarians ought to accept elements of the welfare state? Would it be so crazy to suggest that cultural leftism tends to be the natural ally not of libertarian law but, as most people assume, of creeping modern-liberal statism?

I’d be delighted if Howley demonstrated she’s bucking that trend by saying explicitly that she’s a strict anarcho-capitalist — in the conventional sense of the term, not in some secret new-fangled sense where, say, being a tolerant listener is more important than being someone who stays off welfare, etc.

In conclusion: in an important way, I’m the tolerant one here — because I’m saying once you’re over the hurdle of property adherence, you’re in the clear, qua libertarian. Howley says we must do more — and I’m not at all confident she hath revealed unto us the full list of specific things we have to do. I might be willing to do them all — heck, I’m a modern, tolerant guy, so I may already be doing them. But like Kafka, I resent not knowing — and the suggestion that she does know. Do I have to love modern art? Must I find gay sex as aesthetically appealing as straight sex? Should I talk about atheism even more than I do? Less? Differently? Become agnostic instead? Inquiring, freedom-loving minds deserve to know, and apparently only Howley can tell us.


Oschisms said...

“This past Friday I caught the very end of a Mercatus Center/Institute for Humane Studies event here in NYC that featured a discussion by William Ruger and Jason Sorens about their recent study attempting to rank the fifty states according to how free they are, using libertarian criteria. They looked at economic regulations, gun control laws, and so on. I can’t help wondering what a hopeless, subjective, incoherent morass a study like that would become if it attempted to use Howleyan criteria.”

Witness the following Reason magazine study that “[found] the best and worst cities for exercising personal freedom, reason ranked the 35 most populous municipalities in the United States in eight areas: alcohol, tobacco, sex, guns, gambling, drugs, freedom of movement, and a catch-all category of food and “other.”

That’s right, in the eyes of Reason magazine, “other” comes ahead of property rights. Tiger Beat is a more libertarian publication, if you ask me.

Karl Smith said...

I think the fact that Howley pushed feminism is really distracting from the larger point, about which she is correct.

That is, that libertarians qua libertarians ought to push for a more tolerant culture. Promoting moderate feminism fits in this vein but so does opposing more radical forms of feminism that would stifle a woman who wants a more traditional lifestyle.

It would mean promoting racial tolerance. It would also mean promoting tolerance of the Steve Sailer, crowd.

While in theory this is a less firm litmus test that property right, is it really less clear in practice? There are complex property rights questions, such as “should conspiracy to commit murder be a crime” , “does the state have the right to punish people for fraud when no explicit contract was broken”, etc.

At the same time, there are more or less cut and dry examples of cultural intolerance. Such as when women working outside the home are shunned. Or, no one will hire blacks.

The key difference I see between libertarianism and modern liberalism on these issue is that the libertarian is not willing to use the state to push tolerance. Tolerance is promoted via persuasion. In this way like is battled with like. Coercion from the state is met with armed resistance. Coercion from culture is met with cultural resistance.

Dirtyrottenvarmint said...


I find it difficult to read your blog because when I do, I just end up skimming through and nodding in agreement.

However, I will suggest that you Todd are not an anarcho-capitalist. Your brand of sociopolitical commentary in general tends to skirt with perhaps the fundamental issue of libertarian politics without actually coming out and saying it (so far as I have seen). Which is, to whit, that libertarianism is not a political theory. It is perhaps a moral outlook. Your focus on protecting property rights as a means of best preserving individual freedom may be spot on. In practice this means the wielding of power, which implies a wielder of that power. “Anarchism” is a misused loan-word; anarchy and property rights are incompatible as anarchy means the absence of order. Without order you do not have property rights, unless you happen to be the strongest beast on the block, in which case you can enforce your property rights, in which case you are providing order and that ain’t anarchy.

I suggest that you, Todd, would like not no State but an extremely small State with the capacity to preserve property rights perfectly. On a small scale this plays out relatively perfectly on a daily basis, in the form of “Don’t steal your brother’s toys son, or else.”

Howley, like all educated progressives, lives in a fantasy world in which it is possible to have your cake and eat it too, in which “anarcho-capitalism” is not a meaningless jumble. It would behoove us not to get sucked into their hallucinations.

Todd Seavey said...

I am insulted that you would call Kerry more anarcho-capitalist than me! Well, not really insulted, but I beg to differ:

You can plausibly claim that propertyless left-anarchism is more anarchist than property-rights-based anarcho-capitalism, but you can’t claim that anarcho-capitalists have failed to distinguish themselves from minarchists by outlining ways to enforce property law _without_ a state, namely through private, subscription-based protection agencies allied to arbitration-firm-like private courts.

People tend to have a _very_ hard time intuitively wrapping their minds around that idea, so I won’t defend it now or describe it further (simply referring people to the detailed writings of Randy Barnett and David Friedman on the topic) — I will merely point out that whatever its merits or flaws, it is not a _state_-based system, relying on multilateral deterrence of crime instead of top-down control by a monopoly on force. No one gets taxed, in short, not even for security.

I am less-than-anarchist in the bourgeois, moderate sense that I would grow less and less “concerned” about politics the closer we got to that ideal, so that a stable minarchist order would probably cause me to say “Close enough” rather than “Eternal revolt!” — and I’d be pretty happy just to see some damn budget cuts and deregulation, or, as I am increasingly inclined to think more efficient, the secession of all fifty states from DC.

Dirtyrottenvarmint said...

Karl Smith,

Tolerance within social communities is highly overrated. It is also impossible. You’ve got some good ideas there and you’re on the verge of taking it to the next step. It is impossible to promote tolerance of everything because people disagree. If you tolerate their disagreement, then you are just opting out of the debate. This is not tolerance, this is ignorance. (Sometimes ignorance is bliss.)

The most libertarian communities are intolerant and exclusive. This is intolerance of “You folks do whatever you want, it’s fine with us. But go somewhere else. We live here.” This is the natural human social dynamic and it appears in social groupings everywhere, even in societies where global “tolerance” is legally enforced by the intolerant proponents of “tolerance”.

I think you’ve sort of provided a back-of-the-envelope proof of this without coming out and saying it, which is why I say you seem on the verge of taking that next step. I encourage you to put your foot down.

On the other hand, in some ways I don’t know where your meds went wrong. If the “key difference [you] see between libertarianism and modern liberalism on these issue is that the libertarian is not willing to use the state to push tolerance,” then you need to pay more attention son. And what is this “libertarians qua libertarians” crap? Libertarians qua what else exactly? Ramones fans?

Todd Seavey said...

Yes, Ramones fans — _exactly_.

The “qua” is the most important word in this whole debate, without which the whole thing would be rendered incoherent, as I think Howley would agree.

Amy said...

I read her article, and I saw no point at which Howley said that in order to be a libertarian (or Libertarian, if you will) that you must not only respect property rights but ALSO have specific liberty-aimed cultural aims, determined by her and her alone. Rather, she seemed to be having a discussion within a libertarian group about why, in her opinion, it’s important to think and talk about things OTHER than property rights, OTHER than strictly the limits of the state… on a personal, cultural, non-political/non-state-coercion level. You’ve built up such a straw man for her and had such fun knocking it down, but none of it addresses the point that on an individual level, discussion of opinions are usually a good thing.

Many of the comments in reaction to your debate with her professed the idea that she was a “busybody” who should leave people alone and butt out of their business. Interestingly, expressing this opinion publicly was, in itself, busybodyness, and ignoring the concepts that a) while there may be not always be “right” or “wrong” choices for an individual to make, there are often “better” or “worse” ones, and that b) human beings, in order to figure out which ideas are “better” and which are “worse”, generally need to have open discussions and debates of the facts.

You may argue that of course this is true, and that I’m building a straw man for you… but I am not. I’m saying that when you absolutely refuse to discuss cultural issues in a libertarian forum, you spawn new libertarians with no sense of commenting PERSONALLY on anything that does not involve a property right. I’ve met more than a few of these folks, and the reactions from non-libertarians to their rhetoric is discomfort and dismay… not necessarily because of the political ideas they represent, but because of their inability to see a larger picture in terms of the world and not politics.

And these people are damaging the case for property rights in the eyes of the unwashed masses far more than an open acknowledgment and discussion of cultural issues might.

Todd Seavey said...

Libertarianism, crucially, is the view that absent property violations, all the imagined outcomes of such cultural conversations are equally compatible with libertarianism. Have them, by all means, but do not pretend some of their conclusions are more libertarian than others.

Libertarians are not devoid, as individuals, of opinions on whether Mozart is better than Beethoven, but (contrary to what Rand would claim) those opinions do not become part of libertarianism. More on Rand on Friday, though — and until then, I must focus on finding my leftist for a debate one week from tonight…

Todd Seavey said...

[...] I suppose I deserve my ironic fate, trying to scrounge up a leftist for next week’s debate, since I’ve spent this “Month of Utopia” (a) being skeptical of mostly-left idealism, (b) arguing against left-leaning libertarians, and (c) saying nice things about Ayn Rand in GQ. [...]

John David Galt said...

I agree with Karl Smith. Kerry’s “cultural libertarianism” is not a call for coercion of any kind. Rather, it is a cultural movement intended to operate in parallel with political libertarianism (or in place of it, for those libertarians who aren’t willing to vote).

The goal of “cultural libertarianism” is to get private actors, as well as government ones, to accept and foster more choice for individuals — especially in the most personal areas of life such as sexual choices — and to spread itself (the cultural-libertarian view) widely enough that it becomes the “normal”, “polite”, and expected way for people to treat each other. I submit that a society where this is true will be both more truly “tolerant” and more comfortable for most people to live in than either the society the “politically correct” Left would create or the one the Christian Right would create.

Of course, to qualify as a form of libertarianism, “cultural libertarianism” cannot be imposed by force, beyond the enforcement of contracts individuals may make that embody its principles. But I see no evidence that Howley or her allies would do so. (If you do, you may be unfairly conflating Kerry with the Left.)

Have you read Stephenson’s “The Diamond Age”, which shows the framework of a libertarian society that has both kinds of libertarianism for those who want them? The book is not perfect (it assumes away the problems of defense and welfare) but it is a good starting point for discussion of how to get there from here.

Murali said...

Libertarians are not devoid, as individuals, of opinions on whether Mozart is better than Beethoven, but (contrary to what Rand would claim) those opinions do not become part of libertarianism. More on Rand on Friday, though — and until then, I must focus on finding my leftist for a debate one week from tonight.

You seem to be claiming that what people have a right to do is necessarily morally on par with anything else they have a right to do. (Or at least you are afraid that if we say X-ing is morally wrong, we should use the state to coerce X-ers.)

I think Kerry is claiming that caring about freedom means that we should think about all threats to freedom, not just government ones. So, even if it is morally wrong (and creates a culture antithetical to freedom) to picket gay people’s funerals, they have a right to do so. However, we must say that such things are bad, that those are bad people etc etc.

i.e. we must call people out for having anti freedom norms whatever those norms may be.

Granted, there may be a legitimate question of what those norms are, but certainly libertarians can say that discrimination is bad, and boo discrimination.

Todd Seavey said...

I really don’t think that there’s any objective content in libertarian theory that enables one to say that telling people to be heterosexuals is wrong. It may well be wrong for other reasons to tell them that, but that’s my whole point: To the extent libertarianism has an actual methodology to it — free-market economics, etc. — it generates demonstrably-true conclusions, but simply embracing those elements of “tolerance” and “free-spiritedness” that strike one as psychologically appealing is not something one can back up with libertarian theory.

Saying that libertarianism means preferring or valorizing, say, liking people who talk in a sassy fashion to people who take religious vows of silence is almost as absurd and indefensible (through libertarian theory alone as opposed to other, separate moral considerations) as saying that libertarians must think that “free verse” is better than rhyming poetry. That’s an attitudinal, emotional position not dictated by the core, rationally-defensible parts of the philosophy.

But to put it in clearer, starker terms (before I move on to more broadly-agreed-upon topics like lamenting healthcare “reform” and stop fighting with more-or-less allies): Far from libertarians having a special obligation to talk about tolerance (more so than the rest of the population), we ought to be the ones biting the bullet and reminding people that affirmative action laws benefiting women — which it ought to be remembered we now have, lest we get carried away with all this “patriarchy” talk — are more manifestly wrong, from a libertarian perspective, than having sexist attitudes.

Agitating for, say, taxpayer subsidies for a gay culture center is more coercive, by libertarian standards, than saying that ballet is too effete and too many dancers homosexuals for one’s tastes (I’m not saying I hold these positions, I’m saying one can and still be a libertarian, and it is far more important to convey that point, which is still barely understood by more than a tiny percentage of the population, than to dictate specific attitudes that a libertarian _must have_).