Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Shoe-loving, boy-crazy libertarians

Rather than testing the limits on comment space at Amber's, here goes.

-I'm excited that "too brilliant to bathe" is now an official "type." I hope to apply these same language skillz to my dissertation.

-Necessary disclaimers: I haven't watched the video at Reason that Isabel Archer linked to, nor have I given much thought to libertarianism since college. So what follows is more like a poorly-thought-out blog comment than a post - and as we all know, blog posts require careful research.

-Perhaps there's a tendency of some libertarians to oppose not just government intervention, but an indefinite "they" - any and all entities that would impede in the ability of the individual to do as he pleases. This includes parents, teachers, churches, and - why not? - political correctness. ''They' don't want me saying this or that about women and minorities, so even if I'm in my heart of hearts a tolerant white dude, I want to show 'them' I can do what I want.'

-A related tendency - one that might be extra-pronounced among libertarians? - is to hold up telling-it-like-it-is as the greatest good. Even if the 'hard truths' this produces are nine times out of ten not true at all, but just provocative, just a way to get a rise out of the more sensitive members of the insulted group. 'Women don't have brains, and are basically orifices for men's amusement. I know this will elicit some angry emails, but it had to be said sooner or later.'

-But back to the specific question of why so few women. One way to look at it is that the 19th C bourgeois ideal of women as keepers of the faith - while men run off to deal with the big bad godless world - hasn't totally disappeared. It's probably still more accepted for a man than a woman to be an atheist. Think of the children! The political movements where one might see more women are ones with some connection to religion. Chastity-ring social conservatism and do-gooder social liberalism, civil rights promotion - heck, Zionism - these all have warm-and-fuzzy family-and-faith components. Even if women take these political movements and use them to reach all kinds of political heights, they can still portray their participation as 'feminine.' The only way I could imagine libertarianism as fitting into this role is if it were portrayed as being about pitting the family (warm and fuzzy) against the state (cold and godless).


Withywindle said...

Keeping in mind that Anarchists are not the same as Libertarians ... it would be interesting to read Ursula K. LeGuin's The Dispossessed into this discussion, along with the prequel short story about the female (!) founder of LeGuin's anarchist world.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Are there still Anarchists (or anarchists)? In great numbers? With any power? In this country? (I had a high school classmate who identified as a non-racist fascist, so I know everything is out there.)

Withywindle said...

Probably not. Still be interesting to read the LeGuin book.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Will have to take a look!

Andrew Stevens said...

An anarchist with power? Is that even possible?

Noam Chomsky is an anarchist.

And while it's certainly odd that you had a friend who claimed to be a fascist at all, racist or not, there is no necessary connection between fascism and racism. Mussolini's fascism was not particularly racist. He tried to convince Hitler that racism was unproductive back in '33, but decided to ally with Hitler anyway. It's absolutely true that after that alliance, Italian fascism became racist, but it didn't start out that way and, at least on Mussolini's part, appears to have been pure political calculation (not that this excuses it in the least).

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Andrew Stevens,

Either anarchists are viewed as a threat/influence at a given place and time or not. That's what I meant re: "power."

I'm aware of the distinction between Nazism and the fascisms not (initially) about "racial cleansing." What's more surprising is that there'd have been a non-racist fascist at a geeky high school in 1990s NYC.

Andrew Stevens said...

I agree. American fascists were unusual in the '30s when they were thick as thieves in Europe, so I'd expect them to be entirely extinct in the '90s when it's a practically dead ideology everywhere. (And certainly I've never met anyone who claimed to be a fascist.)

But, you know, there are still some communists hanging out, so perhaps it shouldn't surprise me.

Withywindle said...


There's a fair debate about how racist Italian Fascism was; I wouldn't take it as settled that it only became racist later on. There certainly is an anti-Semitic strain in it from 1919 on -- strongest in Trieste, I think the name Italo Balbo is one to conjure by. But the other part is the colonial legacy--the use of poison gas in the conquest of Ethiopia, the savage suppression of the Senussi in Libya (also with poison gas?)--where it is difficult to say 1) that Italian colonial policy was uninflected by racism; or 2) that it was no different from French or British or American colonial policy. If you consider Fascist attitudes and behavior in Africa, the case for their racism is much stronger.

PG said...

The problem of the family and women's likely low-status position therein is not peculiar to libertarianism. Susan Moller Okin pretty much made her name in political philosophy by giving Rawls and several other liberal philosophers a hard time for treating the family as a unit in its relations with the state and others, thereby ignoring the power dynamics and struggles that exist within the seeming unit.

My own experience of libertarianism has been limited to
(1) an Objectivist phase in high school, where I didn't know any other Objectivists personally and used an early dial-up connection to correspond with the keepers of Rand's light. (Who, fair play to them, were really great about replying to some deeply silly emails.) And
(2) being a Federalist Society chapter's resident liberal.

I don't remember the Objectivists very well, but the federalist libertarians seem to me to have gotten very muddled. In their objections to the power of either courts or the federal government, they frequently come across as quite accepting of local and state constraints on liberty. Among such folks, it appears to be thought much worse that the Supreme Court would interpret the Constitution to find a right to obtain an abortion, or to engage in sodomy, than that states were barring people from doing these things.

One sees a similar dynamic playing out with legal challenges to the health care reform law, where libertarians are far more focused on saying that the *federal* government can't mandate that you buy health care, than in fighting for a general freedom from *all* statist insurance mandates. (That is, if you don't think your state government can constitutionally make you buy health insurance either, you don't agree with the legal arguments put forth by the challengers to the health care law.)

I also wonder to what extent libertarianism didn't work for women because it would remove the statist element of marriage. To the extent that women avoided pregnancy and even sex before marriage, in order to avoid having the burden of a child without a partner to help, making marriage a purely emotional matter with no legal element was bad for women. In the context of a sexist society, statist interventions like requiring men to support their children, or entitling women to some income/assets upon the dissolution of the relationship, could be awfully useful.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

"I also wonder to what extent libertarianism didn't work for women because it would remove the statist element of marriage."

Maybe at the voting booth, but I can't imagine that's what's turning off 17-year-old girls who first hear of libertarians and who meet the too-brilliant-to-bathes who espouse that viewpoint in her area.

PG said...

This is kind of just rephrasing what you said at the end of your post, but to the extent that most teenagers are like me and encounter libertarianism through Ayn Rand, those young women who are already interested in future motherhood might find Rand's worldview rather sterile and devoid of interest in such relationships. Practically all parents in Rand's books suck, which is obviously appealing to teenagers who see themselves solely in the position of the offspring rebelling against Francon Sr. or Hank Rearden's mom, but not as much so for those anticipating that they will be in the parental role someday. Indeed, to the extent that a girl accepts her socialization as someone who ought to understand herself primarily through her relationships with others (as daughter, sister, friend, etc.), Rand's worldview is just nonsensical. You have to reject your gender socialization as a girl, much more than a boy must reject the gender norming applied boys, in order to find reasonable a universe in which your value is solely based on the work you produce.