Tuesday, April 13, 2010

This week in libertarian blog fights

So David Boaz wrote an essay in Reason called "Up From Slavery" in which he defended the proposition that there really has never been a libertarian golden age. I read it, nodded a lot, and thought it made many sensible points. I thought about posting it to the blog, but since I didn't have many new thoughts of my own to add, I refrained.

Then other libertarians started debating some of his points. Perhaps the most vociferous was Bryan Caplan, who claimed that women were more free during the Gilded Age than they are now. I have been trying to grok how all of this is relevant to the problems of moving libertarianism forward today, but alas, nothing is coming. Also, what Jacob Levy and rapscallion said.

Really, though, I've very little interest in wading into this. Women's rights are good. More economic liberty would also be good. Can't we libertarians just all agree on those basic two points and start talking about say, cap and trade or immigration again?


  1. I think it's relevant to combating the perception (among liberals) that libertarians are somehow lacking in empathy/are sociopathic, to the ability of libertarianism to increase its appeal to women, and to the idea that non-libertarians can engage in productive and good-faith discourse with libertarians. Caplan's willful ignorance is undermining all of these things and he just continues to dig.

  2. Oh, I agree with all of that. I do feel a little badly because I've met Bryan a few times in person and read his work for awhile. There are annoying misogynist libertarians and conservatives out there, and he isn't one of them.

    My original point was meant to be something like this: this whole debate reminds me of sleepover party games when I was, like, ten years old and one of my friends would ask me something like, "If your mother and your father were both trapped in a burning building and you could save only one, which one would you pick?" Yes, I suppose it's in some sense revealing which person you pick. At the same time, the far more important point is that it would be tragic if anything bad ever happened to either. Trying to compare the value of different freedoms to me feels roughly the same way.

    Note that my distaste for absurd hypotheticals is reason no. 1,023 I should never try to be a law professor.

  3. The thing, is, even if the original hypothetical is at far remove from reality, the discussion that's ensued has put some really ridiculous stuff on display, such as Bryan's assumption that all marriages ever are composed of loving partners who make decisions in concert (which not only denies the reality of spousal abuse but reinforces the stereotype of out-of-touch libertarians who assume all actors are as rational as they are) and the idea that being raped was somehow not a significant infringement on liberty.

    I've met Bryan too, and he seemed like a nice enough guy, but this is too far. I actually had to drop out of the discussion yesterday because it was making me physically ill.