Strickler, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Over the years, students who tell me they absolutely love to write have said they struggle with the application essay.
We are both convinced of, and this essay will take more or less for granted, that the political traditions of libertarianism and feminism are both in the main correct, insightful, and of the first importance in any struggle to build a just, free, and compassionate society.
Libertarianism and feminism, when they have encountered each other, have most often taken each other for polar opposites.
Many 20th century libertarians have dismissed or attacked feminism—when they have addressed it at all—as just another wing of Left-wing statism; many feminists have dismissed or attacked libertarianism—when they have addressed it at all—as either Angry White Male reaction or an extreme faction of the ideology of the liberal capitalist state.
But we hold that both judgments are unjust; many of the problems in combining libertarianism with feminism turn out to be little more than terminological conflicts that arose from shifting political alliances in the course of the 20th century; and most if not all of the substantive disagreements can be negotiated within positions already clearly established within the feminist and libertarian traditions.
What we hope to do, then, is not to present the case for libertarianism and for feminism, but rather to clear the ground a bit so that libertarianism and feminism can recognize the important insights that each has to offer the other, and can work together on terms that allow each to do their work without slighting either.
We are not the first to cover this ground. Contemporary libertarian feminists such as Joan Kennedy Taylor and Wendy McElroy have written extensively on the relationship between libertarianism and feminism, and they have worked within the libertarian movement to encourage appeals to feminist concerns and engagement with feminist efforts.
In the marriage that they propose, libertarianism and feminism are one, and that one is libertarianism; we, on the other hand, aver that if counseling cannot help libertarianism form a more respectful union, then we could hardly blame feminists for dumping it.
But we think that there is a better path forward. McElroy and others have rightly called attention to a tradition of libertarian feminism that mostly been forgotten by both libertarians and feminists in the 20th century: The individualists endorsed both radical anti-statism and also radical feminism as well as, inter alia, allying with abolitionism and the labor movementbecause they understood both statism and patriarchy as components of an interlocking system of oppression.
An examination of the methods and thought of these individualists—and of Second Wave feminism in light of the individualist tradition—does show what McElroy and Taylor have argued it does—but in a way very different from what they might have expected, and—we argue—with very different implications for the terms on which libertarianism and feminism can work together.
The libertarian completion of this thought is that the state sees and treats everybody—though not in equal degree—the way men see and treat women.
Despite these parallels, however, many libertarians — libertarian feminists definitely included — seems surprisingly unsympathetic to most of what feminists have to say.
And vice versa, of course, but the vice versa is not our present topic. When feminists say that gender and sexuality are socially constructed, libertarians often dismiss this as metaphysical subjectivism or nihilism.
Libertarians rightly recognize that legally enacted violence is the means by which all rulers keep all citizens in a state of fear, even though not all government functionaries personally beat, kill, or imprison anybody, and even though not all citizens are beaten, killed, or imprisoned; the same interpretive charity towards the radical feminist analysis of rape is not too much to ask.
Libertarianism professes to be a comprehensive theory of human freedom; what is supposed to be distinctive about the libertarian theory of justice is that we concern ourselves with violent coercion no matter who is practicing it—even if he has a government uniform on.
But what feminists have forced into the public eye in the last 30 years is that, in a society where one out of every four women faces rape or battery by an intimate partner, 2 and where women are threatened or attacked by men who profess to love them, because the men who attack them believe that being a man means you have the authority to control women, male violence against women is nominally illegal but nevertheless systematic, motivated by the desire for control, culturally excused, and hideously ordinary.
For libertarians, this should sound eerily familiar; confronting the full reality of male violence means nothing less than recognizing the existence of a violent political order working alongside, and independently of, the violent political order of statism.
Male supremacy has its own ideological rationalizations, its own propaganda, its own expropriation, and its own violent enforcement; although it is often in league with the male-dominated state, male violence is older, more invasive, closer to home, and harder to escape than most forms of statism.
This means that libertarians who are serious about ending all forms of political violence need to fight, at least, a two-front war, against both statism and male supremacy; an adequate discussion of what this insight means for libertarian politics requires much more time than we have here.
Although its political implications are fairly clear, The Fountainhead pays relatively little attention to governmental oppression per se; its main focus is on social pressures that encourage conformity and penalize independence.
Rand traces how such pressures operate through predominantly non-governmental and in the libertarian sense non-coercive means, in the business world, the media, and society generally. An uncharitable reading that the situation unfortunately suggests is that libertarians can recognize non-governmental oppression in principle, but in practice seem unable to grasp any form of oppression other than the ones that well-educated white men may have experienced for themselves.
A more charitable reading of libertarian attitudes might be this: So is patriarchy, actually, but it is most closely associated with a non-governmental form of oppression—that is, male supremacy and violence against women. All this makes it seem, at times, that libertarians—including libertarian feminists—are suffering from a sort of willful conceptual blindness; perhaps because they are afraid to grant the existence of serious and systematic forms of political oppression that are not connected solely or mainly with the state.
At least one libertarian theorist, the late Don Lavoie, makes our point when he observes that there is much more to politics than government. Wherever human beings engage in direct discourse with one another about their mutual rights and responsibilities, there is a politics.
I mean politics in the sense of the public sphere in which discourse over rights and responsibilities is carried on, much in the way Hannah Arendt discusses it. The force of public opinion, like that of markets, is not best conceived as a concentrated will representing the public, but as the distributed influence of political discourses throughout society.
In all those places there is a politics going on, a politics that can be more or less democratic. The culture is, in turn, an evolving process, a tradition which is continually being reappropriated in creative ways in the interpersonal and public discourses through which social individuals communicate.
And to severely limit or even abolish government does not necessarily remove the need for democratic processes in nongovernmental institutions.
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