Blogs > Liberty and Power > Should Libertarians Suspend Critical Examination of Left-Wing Concerns?

Mar 5, 2004 10:00 am

Should Libertarians Suspend Critical Examination of Left-Wing Concerns?

Roderick Long continues promoting libertarian alignment with the Left. He expresses concern that

today's libertarians are, too often, all too close to the right in their insensitivity and dismissiveness toward feminism, multiculturalism, environmentalism, and other left-wing concerns.

Sorry, but this doesn’t advance us one smidgen beyond the overgeneralizing groupthink that I complained about a few days ago.

What kind of feminism? What variety of environmentalism? What sort of multiculturalism? As applied to what? Applied how, and under what rationale?

Wouldn’t genuine sensitivity require a closer examination of the concerns or positions in question? I hope “sensitivity” isn’t functioning here as a proxy for unquestioning adoption of hulking great slabs of ideology labeled “feminism,” “multiculturalism,” or “environmentalism”?

Don’t “environmentalists” include people who enjoy nature hikes, and want to make sure raw sewage doesn’t get poured into the local body of water? Don’t “environmentalists” also include tree-spikers, and people who believe that everything on Planet Earth would start being just dandy again, if Homo sapiens were no longer around?

Don’t “multiculturalists” include people who believe that the average American would profit from more extensive education in other languages and cultures? Doesn’t the designation also pertain to people who expect eternal struggle for supremacy between ethnic or racial groups, and seek hegemony for members of their favored groups, so long as they qualified for victim status in the past, and exhibit the behavior expected of them in the present?

Of 19th century libertarians, Roderick says:

libertarians were in the forefront of both the women's movement and the labour movement. … And this didn't mean merely that they wanted to abolish governmental interference with the freedom of women and of labourers (though of course they did want that); they also wanted to bring about (through noncoercive/nongovernmental means, of course) a radical social transformation of the power relations between men and women, and likewise between employers and employees.

Well, doesn’t it matter what kind of social transformation we’re talking about? Some environmentalists envision a world in which people living in Maine eat strawberries only when they are in season locally—no growing them in Florida, or in Mexico, then shipping them to Maine. Sticking to what’s grown or produced in one’s “bioregion” would be a significant change from what we are accustomed to today. Is it the kind of transformation that’s worth pursuing? Could it be accomplished without coercion and compulsion?

Some multiculturalists fear that children will lose their cultural identity if American schools teach them in English, instead of the language of their parents (or the language of their ancestors further back). So they want these children enrolled in “bilingual education” programs in public schools (really, programs that start out monolingual, in a language other than English)—whether their parents want that for them or not. And of course the public school monopoly must be preserved, so as to minimize the chance that children in certain designated groups will avoid being assigned to “bilingual” classes. All of this is obviously being done coercively.

We all know that some of the things that just about every environmentalist wants can be achieved without coercion. There would be less logging, and consequently less environmental damage, in relatively dry or rugged areas of the United States if the forests in question were privately owned. Some of the things that multiculturalists want (or at least, say they want) could be achieved without coercion—for instance, by setting up foundations to promote private instruction in Arabic or Chinese or Navajo or Yoruba. But there are a whole bunch of things that some environmentalists want—or that some multiculturalists want—that cannot be achieved without massive compulsion (or, when it comes to the desires of the anti-Homo sapiens crowd, a massive asteroid impact).

The same goes for the different varieties of feminism. But I’ve kept examples out of this post, because I’ll be taking them up in a later one.

Everything I’ve said here ought to be seen as obvious, commonplace, surface-scratching. It’s an extremely mild effort to make relevant distinctions. What frustrates me so about the recent exhortations to align with the Left (whether from Roderick, or from Gus diZerega) is that they haven’t gone even this short distance.

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Gus diZerega - 3/5/2004

see comments below Roderick Long's blog above.