Libertarians Who Fret About Libertarians Who Fret About Privilege

About a year later, has realized there’s a conversation in liberty-land happening about “privilege.” And writer Bretigne Shaffer is none-too-pleased.

Now, C4SS just held an excellent Mutual Exchange debate to which I contributed one essay, and many other far-more-brilliant minds submitted several pieces. But for whatever reason Shaffer only cites me and my FEE debate mate Julie Borowski on the topic.

When looking at my work on the subject, the first mistake Shaffer makes is to claim I failed to address criticisms to my “shaming is coercion” article that I actually did address. In the follow-up article. Which is linked to from the original.


What gets left out of this discussion are the implications of declaring something to be “coercive.” From a libertarian viewpoint, coercion implies force or the threat of force. And force is justified as a response to force. So when Reisenwitz asserts that “shaming” is a form of coercion, and doesn’t distinguish it from other forms of coercion (say, for example, actual coercion), then it should follow that some form of force is justified as a response to the “coercion” of shaming. It’s funny how these things get left out.

Also funny: When writers don’t do their due diligence. In fact I clarified that although I do acknowledge that shaming can be a form of coercion (something I’m not the only writer to assert) that fact doesn’t justify using even more coercion to punish it.

Shaffer claims I’m “confused” on the force distinction, and then offers no actual rebuttal to my definition of coercion than that coercion is “force.” Tautological much? No, in fact I’m not confused. I just disagree with you. Or might, if I understood what you were saying.

Moving on, Shaffer calls my claim that looking at the bigoted roots of bigoted laws and policies “complete nonsense.” “It is not a ‘lack of empathy’ that is at the root of these bad laws – it is the institution of the state itself,” she writes.

This is a statement so asinine it’s difficult for me to formulate a response. First, yes, sure, if there were no state there would be no laws. Unfortunately for all of us, there is one, so fighting specific laws is necessary.

Now, where, I’d ask Shaffer, does the will and drive to create and tolerate sodomy laws, redlining, vagrancy laws, laws against women owning property, and so on originate? The “state itself” isn’t a good enough, or actually helpful in any way, answer. States make laws to placate people and businesses. So if those people are businesses are bigoted enough to create and/or tolerate bigoted laws, then that’s what you get. That, among other reasons, is why bigotry matters.

Shaffer is claiming she’s taking “a principled stance against coercion,” by ignoring bigotry, and it’s result: privilege. In reality, she’s decided, arbitrarily, that the only thing that matters is that physical violence is threatened against an individual. Questions like why that violence is threatened, who it’s used on, why physical violence is coercion but character assassination or blackmail isn’t, are all unanswered.

It’s fine to be, for whatever reason, personally disinterested in identity-based oppression. But to pretend that disinterest somehow constitutes principle, or that there is nothing to be gained, regarding freedom, by examining the origins of laws which oppress unevenly based on gender, race, orientation or whatever arbitrary basis you want to pick is intellectually (and, I’d argue, morally) bankrupt.

This post originally appeared at

2 thoughts on “Libertarians Who Fret About Libertarians Who Fret About Privilege”

  1. Good piece. Only flaw here is that, while, yes, the state passes laws in response to people and business “expressing interest” i.e. bribing/lobbying, and if there were no bigotry by such people there would be no such laws, but thats just as much of a cop out as the “if there were no state” argument. There are as many, if not more, women in the voting population (what? 53% women vs 47% men?), than men, who are JUST as capable of bribing/lobbying the state to prevent such laws, or EVEN to pass misandric(ous?) laws against men, establishing female privilege (which is exactly what many MRA types claim has been happening in recent decades). So the real issue is that the entire issue is an unconstitutional overreach of legislative authority to even have such laws in the first place, for or against women, for or against privilege. De-privilege-izing the law in either direction, is what is necessary. At the same time, aren’t there things for which privilege is necessary? Women need to be able to breast feed in public accommodations without being ejected by management/owners. Thats privilege, as one tiny example.

  2. Everybody is bigoted to some degree, even if only against those perceived to be bigoted against the wrong people or ideas. It could be argued that bigotry is an inherent aspect of the human condition, because of the immediate need to make judgments based on limited information, or for other reasons. Whether or not that proposition is true, it seems safe to assume that bigotry, prejudice and privilege will also tend to exist in a stateless society, but it will not be possible for bigots to hide behind the moral cover of the state and use the privilege of a monopoly on law making to enact laws that systematize violence against disfavored classes or ideas. Whether the elimination of the state will increase or decrease privilege and oppression will depend on how the resulting stateless society is self-organized. If free to choose, how many people will prefer to invest their life energies in communities that are more tolerant of diversity, versus communities that are more exclusionary? It appears that both preferences will exist. The question for the moment is whether libertarians and voluntaryists with conflicting preferences on this question will be willing to allay themselves to work together for the diminution of state power, or cling to state power to enforce their preferences on those who do not share them.

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