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Monday, May 04, 2009

The Church of Property

These thoughts are a culmination of a process that began months ago when I started examining the libertarian street’s position on various issues. The most notable of those examinations was looking at the relationship of libertarianism and social conservatism: a topic that this article will expand on.

Libertarianism is undergoing a renaissance of sorts. Its ideas are starting to permeate into the mainstream. Which is good. What is not good, is the flag-bearers of libertarianism. That is, its opinion leaders and the nature of the movement.


I believe in property rights. They are to me -- like most libertarians -- an extremely important facet of my philosophy. But unlike most libertarians, my faith in property as the solution to all social discord is, well, less than firm.

From the Libertarian Church of Property (LCP), comes the notion of private authority; a curious beast that serves as the basis for the libertarian alignment with social conservatism. 

I say it’s a curious beast, because private authority seems to imply a sort of trump card for justifying all sorts of unjustifiable things like racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.  

I brought my wife to the Manning Centre Networking Conference where she engaged with a thoughtful libertarian, and asked about women’s rights in the context of a libertarian society; as someone who has felt victimized by sexism, the explanation emanating from the LCP was less than enduring for her. It went something like this: “if people unreasonably exclude a member of society simply on the basis of an immutable trait like gender or race, it will lead to a market opportunity that will be exploited by others.”

Now, I know that many libertarians honestly believe this -- in fact, I do to an extent. But I have yet to run into a single person who views themselves as an oppressed group that has done anything but laugh off this economic-technocratic response. And why wouldn’t they? It’s asking someone for patience where they have no reason to have any; I’m sorry you suffer from social exclusion for the colour of your skin, but my libertarian free market ideology will sort it out in the end!

This is essentially the argument libertarians make. That’s it. It’s all there. Move along. Nothing else to see here. You might as well say: suck it up and deal with it, dumb bitch! -- in the end, the response will be much the same. 

To make matters worse, socially liberal libertarians bend themselves into pretzels trying to find common ground with the exact people who are so threatening to people like my wife.

It makes my life quite hard, and has turned me into nothing more than an apologist for libertarianism. And it makes me ask, why should I be?

There are socially liberal libertarians here at the Western Standard who lean over backwards to welcome social conservatives into their movement by effectively saying: hey social conservative, be a libertarian, and you can have your own homophobic private community, where the gays will be cast out, banned from “private community” and demonized within the community and to its children and future generations. This is a the vision of the libertarian utopia according to some.

It’s perfectly understandable to me, why my wife will never truck with libertarianism as long as this is the line of reasoning, and it’s plainly clear to me that libertarianism is well on it’s way to becoming the de facto social conservative apologist movement with glaring mascots like Ron Paul.

I reject the definition of libertarianism that is compartmentalized to a political framework. I reject it because it’s an incomplete thought, that fails to account for the cultural forces that enable a political disposition in the first place. I reject the social conservative who calls themselves a libertarian while asserting that gays and lesbians are immoral human beings. Why? Because I reject the idea that any human being acting in their own self-interest, in a voluntary relationship, which harms no one, is an immoral act. 

Social conservative libertarians believe they can take that principle and then add a series of special pleadings that are only defensible insofar as some piece of religious scripture validates them.

Socially liberal libertarians on the other hand, also seem to place an irrationally low level of suspicion on the propensity of these social movements to seek political legitimacy in the long run. There’s absolutely no reason to believe they won’t. For this reason, there’s no reason to believe that liberty will be of any enduring quality in a movement that embraces abject bigotry -- or in the case of libertarians, turns a blind eye to it and places it in the capable hands of "market forces".

So I say this to you my social liberal libertarian socon apologizers: good luck with that. I’ll be busy over here promoting liberty through a humanist lens, so I can actually sleep at night and have a wife who can relate to me.

Posted by Mike Brock on May 4, 2009 in Libertarianism | Permalink


Well put, MW.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-05-05 12:24:31 PM

A freedom to indulge in self-destructive behavior is no freedom at all.

Posted by: set you free | 2009-05-05 11:54:08 AM

That's not a decision for you or anyone else to make. Where do you draw the line?

Posted by: JC | 2009-05-05 12:29:16 PM


Thanks for that. It's something that has come to really bother me about the libertarian movement.

I consider myself a rational human being, who seeks the maximum liberty for myself and for all. I seek this, because I believe that the maximization of choice through free markets of ideas, goods and services will provide the most ideal outcome for everyone.

When people are left to their own devices to create both things and ideas, and trade those things and ideas with people in the spirit of voluntary exchange, with mutual respect for the liberty of all: I believe we are far better off. I believe the evidence supports this, and I believe it passionately.

But like you, I question why libertarian's across the Western world invite bigoted retrogrades into their wings. It is clear to me--as I see it is to you--that these bigoted retrogrades find libertarianism appealing, if only because of the safe-harbour it provides them from the hordes of formerly-oppressed groups that vengefully come after them.

It's not that they've repented from their sexist, homophobic, racist views... it's that they see they can use libertarianism to justify them in the auspices of the private sphere.

I have defended the rights of Reverend Boisson, like Ezra did. I believe expression should be protected. And I believe it's important to protect the free expression rights of those who you disagree with. If you don't, you do not believe in free expression at all.

That being said, I am not racing--as some are in the freedom movement--to take what they can get in terms of support. Which includes welcoming people like Boisson into their political march.

I don't want to march with Boisson. He's a hateful piece of shit. Let him spew.

The problem is, I think, if Boisson declared himself a libertarian while maintaining his hateful personal views, many libertarians would actually defend him as some sort of asset to the movement. And I want no part in "movement building" that looks like that. I'd rather leave the retrogrades on the shore.

For this reason I openly question any and all libertarians (including those I consider friends and deeply respect) why they tolerate this? Why do they fight for the inclusion of private bigotry in exchange for political liberty?

That isn't to say I demand they support anti-discrimination laws. Absolutely not. At the end of the day, I think anti-discrim laws are very not ideal.

But when you take a libertarian who's against anti-discrim laws and goes out of their way to dismiss bigotry of an individual because that individual ostensibly supports political liberty, I feel that I should be asking questions and casting aspersions. I know that deeply offends some people, but that's how I feel.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-05-05 12:48:09 PM


At judgementalism.

Posted by: set you free | 2009-05-05 1:17:34 PM

Freedom is freedom. Freedom has nothing to do with "nice", that's the realm of ethics and morality. I know that without laws in place I would certainly act on my natural compulsions to barbecue homos, coloureds and cripples and also have sex with sheep and young boys. Sarcasm-off.

Anyone who wants a high comfort level with the notion that a libertarian society would be nice must look around him and ask himself about how people he or she knows would act in the absence of so-called hate laws or HRCs. For example, given the essential amount of discrimination involved, you couldn't pay me to be a landlord with or without such laws. You will always get burned, probably why most landlords I have come across tend to be pretty tough or outright assholes.

The other thing one must ask themselves is that, given that libertarians represent at most a fraction of one percent of the population, what would the answer to the above question be after the ensuing time frame when a pivotal political threshold of support has grown, given the glacial speed at which libertarianism has caught on in Canada.

My thinking on this is that if libertarians were to ever get, say 25% of the electorate on side, these sticky issues would have been up front and already debated ad nauseum. If the uncertainty of "nice" is the main hold-back from such achievement then I guess the whole libertarian exercise is just mental masturbation.

Utopia was never on the table.

Posted by: John Chittick | 2009-05-05 1:31:29 PM

Mike says:

"The problem is, I think, if Boisson declared himself a libertarian while maintaining his hateful personal views, many libertarians would actually defend him as some sort of asset to the movement. And I want no part in 'movement building' that looks like that. I'd rather leave the retrogrades on the shore."

So in the name of appealing to non-libertarians, this libertarian movement would seriously question property rights and shun some actual libertarians. All respect to Mike, but I fear this is how we got the HRCs in the first place.

Posted by: Garnet | 2009-05-05 4:13:48 PM

At judgementalism.

Posted by: set you free | 2009-05-05 1:17:34 PM

And who elected you to judge?

Posted by: JC | 2009-05-05 4:29:00 PM

This is an...odd...view of freedom, to say the least. What is complicated in understanding that people have the _right_ to do what is _not right_, as long as that action is peaceful/noncoercive? Person A stating that gay person B is immoral to be gay or to engage in gay sex violates no one's rights. If person A uses the State to impose his believes, that is an action he does not have and is a violation of B's rights.

It is non-sensical (if you will) to state that freedom "justifies" racism etc. It does no such thing. That's the realm of morality, not politics (the latter is a subset of morality only to the extent that it creates social conditions that allow for _any_ noncoercive actions by adults).

The articles proposes actions that would lead to compossibility, thus invalidating itself.

Women have no special rights. Nor do gays or whites or blacks or old people or any other group. Only _individuals_ have rights.

This article complains that because freedom does not create a utopia in which everyone treats everyone nicely -- that because freedom is _difficult_ at times, in personal terms -- that there is something wrong with freedom.

This article commits so many logical fallacies that it would require more length than the article itself to correct them all. The ideas here are horribly confused and have only a passing resemblance to reality.

Posted by: Russ | 2009-05-07 12:31:32 PM

paragraph 3 should read, "...leads to noncompossibility..."

Posted by: Russ | 2009-05-07 12:33:19 PM


I think you misunderstand the point of the article. I disagree I am making the claims you accuse me of. Especially considering I am pretty dyed-in-the-wool libertarian. You should read through the comments as well as read the second article.

This article explicitly explorers the problem of "absolute property rights" and wonders if they have the potential to conflict with libertarian ideals.

The article also asks why libertarians would want to truck with racists, sexists and homophobes as part of their broader movement.

There's no implication that freedom leads necessarily to those things. If I believed that, I wouldn't be a libertarian to begin with. There's a lot of nuance in the arguments, and you might gain greater clarity on what I'm trying to say if you review the comments.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-05-07 1:07:58 PM

I believe H.L. Mencken was right when he said:

"The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all."

This, I think, might be the yoke the libertarian has to struggle under. Nobody needs to defend the freedom of the gentle lady who wishes to sing a lovely song to the gentleman she has fallen in love with. It is always some jerk, some dick, some bigot who offends us deeply who makes decent, ordinary people wonder out loud why we don't just toss him in the clink and be done with the incivility, barbarity, and nuisance.

Posted by: P.M. Jaworski | 2009-05-07 1:50:16 PM


That's why I do it on both ends. I go apeshit when the government goes after Boisson. And I go apeshit when libertarians hold Boisson up on a pedestal as some admirable soldier in the war for freedom.

The truth is: I can simultaneously fight government censorship, and simultaneously cast bigots out of my group. Defending someone's rights is not the same as associating with them.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-05-07 1:57:56 PM

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