Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

Can Libertarians be Feminists?

Please pardon the form of this; it's notes for an essay I eventually intend to use in a book on my metaphilosophy of values. Comments and questions are of course welcome.

Can Libertarians be feminists? Anti-racists?

  • Surface answer: Yes
  • But they are unwilling to use state power to fight these ills?
  • Does this make them shallow feminists at most?
  • Let us combine a statement of concern for a topic with a notion of what we are willing to do about it
  • If gender-fairness is a private concern, outside the purview of government, then we can imagine a libertarian using private power to promote it without being willing to use state power
  • But libertarians are not anarchocapitalists; they are generally minarchists. We note the choice then to place gender-fairness outside the core concerns that they believe government is set to address.
  • So a feminist libertarianism (at least a flavour that would remain minarchist) would consider feminism a notion of private justice, not public justice, leaving it to compete in the private sphere for dominance.
  • As a side note: this might take two forms: either exclusively using legal private power, or including some level of vigilantism; whether the latter is permitted is very defining for the kind of libertarianism being discussed, as if this category exists it suggests a three-tier system rather than a two-tier one.
  • How can we respond to this? The most productive argument I see would be to question why a commitment to gender-fairness is part of personal justice rather than the broader societal justice that the minarchist state enables. That the latter category exists but gender-fairness is left out of it is indisputable.
  • Note that we could imagine a libertarianism that would include gender-fairness in its (thin and formal) notion of libertarian social justice, although the more concerns included in that framework, the more recognisable it would be to mainstream society; selectiveness there is a defining feature of libertarianism. Thus while this is not directly an attack on libertarian philosophy, it is a good inroads to make against the dangerously pure forms of it. In general, the selection criteria for societal justice (rather than private justice) is a weak point of the particular libertarianism-as-minarchism philosophy I'm referencing.
  • As a general point in this discussion, I am not criticising libertarianism for not being maximally feminist. Maximality of any cause, no matter how worthy, is generally unhealthy; all the causes one might care for in society necessarily compete with each other in how they can be realised in any single system. Libertarianism is actually an example of this; by placing one good (autonomy) so highly, all the other values someone might have (perhaps ecology, perhaps feminism) cannot be realised in the system or have so little weight that they are left to chance. This weighting is so strong that at least with regards to governmental form, a masculinist libertarian would likely construct the same government as one who didn't care one way or the other about gender-fairness; the distinction in all competing values is substantially masked by an excessively narrow focus. I am suggesting that gender-fairness should be weighted strongly enough that it merits inclusion in the foundations of public fairness, and that it should therefore join all the other values that one might reasonably use to construct the compromise that is a notion of the good suitable for enshrinement in law. As part of that compromise, it will not win in every circumstance when it competes with another value; sometimes it will be balanced or lose, but it merits inclusion and consideration in how we structure the public sphere (as well as the private).
Tags: philosophy

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