May 15, 2015

What Libertarianism is Not: A Case Study

By In Blogs

Bionic Mosquito summarized, in list form, his comments and interactions with a variety of quasi-libertarians, that is, people who quite like the libertarian label and have jumped aboard the train, yet who do not comprehend the sheer simplicity of the libertarian vision.  Confusing lifestyle libertinism with the political doctrine of libertarianism, their efforts merely contribute to the misrepresentation of the libertarian vision, which is simply that each person should refrain from initiating aggression against the person and property of his fellow human being.

Among the categories from BM’s post was one titled “Cato Institute.”  Cato, as I have mentioned before is probably not the best place to learn about libertarianism.  Since the tragic excommunication of Murray Rothbard (and implicitly, Austrianism), from the Washingotn-approved “libertarian” think tank, Cato has been a well funded outlet that has fallen short of presenting a pure libertarianism, undefiled and unapologetic.  What this means in our age of libertine cultural trends and anti-traditional values mentality, is that Cato has, perhaps considering a pragmatic popularity, tended to misrepresent the libertarian doctrine by fusing progressive lifestylism with libertarian “politics.”  In other words, Cato is pushing the New Fusionism.  This time around, the fusionism is culturally leftist, not rightist.

Cato’s online “project,” libertarianism.org is largely ignored on my end. Yet this week, something caught my eye; primarily because, as soon as I saw the title, I knew for certain that it would prove an excellent “case study” for the present theme of “what libertarianism is not.”  First, libertarianism is the view that no person, not even if they call themselves the government, can initiate aggression against the person or property of anyone else.  Simple. As. That. Moving on.

Libertarianism therefore has no inherent views about “accepting” or “respecting” persons of different faiths, lifestyles, preferences, or habits to any extent beyond the stipulation that other people are not to be aggressed against.  No, libertarianism does not imply that we should “not judge,” or “support” or “not look down on” other people.  Perhaps you should do those things; perhaps you should not. But whatever the case, such a position stems from something other than libertarianism; because libertarianism is strictly a doctrine referring to the use of aggression in society. Thus, there is no “libertarian position” on homosexuality, transgenderism, marriage, or the like.  Sure, there is a Christian position on these things, or a Mormon position, or perhaps even an Ayn Randian Objectivist position; but again, these conversations are outside of the realm of libertarianism.

But over at libertarianism.org, the misrepresentation of this simple fact is in full gear.  Mikayla Novak writes on “The Condition of Transgender Women: Libertarian Perspectives.”  She starts off with broad, ambiguous language like “libertarian adherence to the freedom of the individual human being.”  Nothing there to distinguish our own libertarianism from hers.  This is part of the problem. You have to peel back the onion to see what is there. When words are defined, that is the tricky part.

She goes on to state one of her main points:

“Further, libertarian acceptance for transwomen, transmen, and genderqueer people and, indeed, cisgender people… is not contingent upon whether there are biological or non‑biological bases of gender identity.”

Problem: there is no such thing as “libertarian acceptance.”  Libertarianism says, it is a crime to aggress against another person.  If acceptance means anything other than the idea that individuals are not to be aggressed against, then it is outside the boundaries of libertarianism.  To suggest there is such thing as “libertarian acceptance” of a group of people with a certain lifestyle is an indication that one misunderstands libertarianism. For instance, libertarianism is no more “accepting” to the above mentioned group than it is to the fundamentalist Christian who, say, considers the above group as morally deviant.

Novak writes things such as:

Respect for transwomen, and for others who wish to self identify and express diverse gender identities in numerous ways, should also not be contingent upon the numerical strength of varied groupings within society.

Okay, but this has nothing whatsoever to do with libertarianism and so to push themes such as that under a title that reads “Libertarian Perspectives” leads one to the conclusion that either our author misunderstands what libertarianism is, or else is being purposefully deceitful.  My guess is the former.

Novak complains that Bradley Manning was a victim of the State because the Federal Government withheld “the appropriate medications for years in an obvious act of psychological torment.”  Manning was certainly a victim of the Federal Government, but not because the government withheld medications; rather, Manning dared to speak out against the policies and actions of this government and was in turn imprisoned for 35 years.  There is no “right” to medications, thus, in “withholding” what Manning has no right to, there is no victimization.  However, the government has no “right” to the secrecy of its war-related crimes and thus, to incarcerate Manning is to create a victim-criminal relationship.  Novak wants to use Manning’s sexuality as a means by which we can recognize victimization of the “trans” groups; but it is certainly not libertarianism which informs this position.

But if all the above is slightly misleading and a distraction against the libertarian message of the relationship between man and State, it is near the bottom of Novak’s essay where we find the true roots of the problem with the New Fusionism; namely, it is a revolt against libertarianism by way of redefinition. Novak articulates the problem that she sees as follows:

Decentralised efforts to maintain gender conformism, perpetrated by vigilante acts by individuals or groups, underlined by derogatory stereotypes of gender variance in popular film, literature, and music, induce among transwomen and gender‑diverse people limitations of movement, social isolation, the delaying or deterrence of gender self‑expression, and, at its worst, can lead to vulnerable, often young, people ending their own lives.

Basically, Novak feels that there still exists too much “traditional” mentality throughout society in relation to sexuality and related issues. I strongly dissent and hold the opposite, but I digress.  The point is that Novak, true to the age, is frustrated by “conformism,” which is essentially just the idea that society doesn’t go out of its way to make every single new “group” proud of themselves.  As if society was obligated to do such a thing.

In any case, the major point here is how Novak takes the problem she sees (with which I strongly disagree) and connects it to libertarianism:

From a philosophical standpoint which behoves interactions among individuals imbibing the spirit of “anything thatʼs peaceful,” libertarians can, and indeed ought to, play a very important role in rebuking the misguided and highly damaging acts by cisgender supremacists attempting to prevent individuals identifying and expressing their diverse gender identities.

Wrong, wrong, a million times wrong.  Libertarians qua libertarians need not, and indeed should not –because such would be a misleading effort– play a role in rebuking those who hold are greatly uncomfortable or unenthused with the so-called “trans movement.”  Libertarianism is about the role of coercion in civil society and it has nothing to do with tearing down “stereotypes” or rebuking those who have disagreements with others. In fact, the libertarian upholds the freedom of those who can’t stand the trans movement to speak out and articulate their own positions.  Moreover, the libertarian, as a libertarian, holds no position about whether the trans movement is good or bad and about whether they should be “accepted” in society.  The humanist may have his opinion about such a matter. And as a Conservative Christian, my opinions should be quite clear and unambiguous.  But contra Novak, I do not try to apply my libertarianism to this alleged “issue.”  Because my libertarianism falls short of making such a moral judgement about this lifestyle.  It is my Christianity (and even my more general cultural preferences) that does this.

To blur the line between libertarianism and other things is to set fire to the libertarian vision.

Novak:

Indeed, we should fervently celebrate the emergent social order which arises when transwomen, transmen, genderqueer, and other gender‑diverse people free themselves from conventions and norms most amenable to cisgender existences,

In context, the “we” there above refers to libertarians.  This is profoundly wrong and destructive to libertarianism.  Libertarianism has nothing to do with social norms. It has nothing to do with “celebrating [an] emergent social order.”  And while my own preferences for conventions and norms are strongly held, I at least don’t have the gall to redefine libertarianism for my agenda.

The cultural leftist war on society is quickly becoming a cultural leftist war on the political doctrine of libertarianism.

Novak:

the philosophy of libertarianism represents a broader cast of mind seeking to enhance the life of each individual person…

No. The “philosophy of libertarianism” does not seek to enhance anyone’s life.  Rather, it seeks to articulate where aggression against person or property is legitimate and where it is not.

…and to extend to them maximum respect for their dignity, freedom, and individuality.

No. Libertarianism does not seek to extend respect to people, and no one has a right to their “dignity.”

Clearly, this must incorporate the dignity, freedom, and individuality inherent in the ways in which people identity with, and express, their gender identity, if libertarianism is to maintain relevance and meaning to the lives of each and every human being.

No. Libertarianism does not need to change its message to stay relevant. Libertarianism is the age old idea that each person should refrain from initiating aggression against the other.  Libertarianism is not about promoting acceptance and approval for all these new lifestyle preferences that keep popping up. In the name of “maintaining relevance,” libertarianism as a label is now being applied far beyond its intellectual boundaries.

Don’t go around confusing libertarianism with libertinism.  Your only accomplishment will be pushing away those who who properly understand the doctrine and bringing in those who do not.

Written by C.Jay Engel

Editor and creator of The Reformed Libertarian. Living in Northern California with his wife, he writes on everything from politics to theology and from culture to economic theory. You can send an email to reformedlibertarian@gmail.com
  • JdL

    There is no “right” to medications, thus, in “withholding” what Manning has no right to, there is no victimization.

    I think I must be misunderstanding what you’re trying to say here. If you get cancer, and decide that an available medication, some chemo drug perhaps, is an appropriate treatment, and if I intercede to prevent you from having access to this medication, I’m not victimizing you? If that is what you’re saying, I couldn’t disagree more.

    • Brian K. Jacobson

      No, that’s not what he is saying. He’s explaining the difference between positive rights and negative rights. You have the negative right to your life and property, no one may aggressively interfere with your use or exchange of your property or actively harm your life. Meaning no one may stop you from getting whatever medicine you decide is best. To say you have a positive right to the medicine however would mean that you have the right to coerce others (using the government) into providing that medicine to you. In the case of a natural right or negative right, person A may purchase or research any medicine he chooses from person B without interference from person C. If you have a positive right to medicine (which you don’t) you would be justified in using force either personally or through person C to force person B to give medication to person A.

  • C.Jay Engel

    The debate was over whether the Army (a FedGov agency) would pay for it all. The author I was critiquing apparently thought Bradley had a right to these services. I dissent. http://www.politico.com/story/2013/08/bradley-manning-gender-surgery-95797.html

    Sorry it doesn’t make sense. Seems pretty clear to me.