I’m not, in any way, a Noam Chomsky fan. However, I couldn’t help be struck by his description of anarchism in a recent interview.
Primarily it is a tendency that is suspicious and skeptical of domination, authority, and hierarchy. It seeks structures of hierarchy and domination in human life over the whole range, extending from, say, patriarchal families to, say, imperial systems, and it asks whether those systems are justified.
First of all, yes, exactly, brilliant.
But second, “patriarchal families” is something I’d generally skip over. The pithiness of the entire statement, plus me going through and deciding where and when to cut off the part I wanted to quote, had me pass over it again, and notice it.
Anarchy asks whether patriarchal families are justified.
The answer I’ve come to, after years of thought, beginning while I was still embroiled in Evangelical Christianity, on through self-identifying as a non-practicing deist Christian anarcho-capitalist, is, essentially, sometimes.
First we’ve got to decide what we mean by justified. I don’t know Chomsky’s moral system, but from the fact that he’s an anarcho-syndicalist I’d guess that maximizing human prosperity isn’t the aim of his ethics.
It is mine.
And what I have decided, after looking at the evidence, is that patriarchal families are not conducive to maximizing human prosperity. So to me, they are not justified.
Part of why I broke up with the Evangelical church is that I lost faith in its moral system. I overgeneralize and hyperbolize here, I realize, but, for the sake of clarity, I’ll summarize the Evangelical moral philosophy as:
We think Jesus or Paul said this activity is right or wrong, so that makes it right or wrong.
The idea that it is morally wrong for women to teach men, or that premarital sex is wrong, is justified on the exact same grounds that one could use to justify requiring that women must cover their heads in church in order to be right with God. That they don’t cover their heads is clearly a matter of practicality, but pointing that out made my fellow churchgoers hella uncomfortable.
Similarly, I overgeneralize and hyperbolize when I describe the moral system of social conservatism to be,
This activity is different than the activity I’m comfortable with and that has a long track record so it’s wrong.
Though my social conservatism was inextricably linked with Evangelical Christianity, and fell away as I dumped it, I similarly reject its premise. Accepting or rejecting an activity as moral requires more, for me, than approval by a person or persons or a long track record. Cab companies have a long track record. Uber is better.
I get, intellectually, the idea that humans are incomplete and fallible in our intellect, information and understanding. The idea is that because we are not omniscient, we need a supernatural power to tell us how to act. How interesting that faith in the supernatural (but not church membership or attendance) negatively correlates with education and intelligence. It’s almost like the more faith one has in one’s own intellect, information and understanding, the less able one is to buy into this particular moral system.
Because when you look at it, the Evangelical moral system is actually opposed to intellect, information and understanding. God loves us, right? So surely he’d set up a moral system which would maximize our self-interest. Surely being a devout Christian would make us wealthier, happier, more fulfilled and living longer, healthier lives. But, no, it says in the New Testament pretty clearly that following Jesus will lead to alienation, persecution and suffering.
I don’t know, man. I’m just not sure I’m into that. I really mean that. I don’t know. Maybe I should be proclaiming the Gospel and being shunned and sacrificing my worldly happiness for eternal glory. But I do know that the moral code I preached when I was Evangelical, a path to heaven which consisted of renouncing homosexuality and saving yourself for marriage and eschewing drugs, was wrong. And worse, incredibly alienating and hurtful. So since following that moral code brought me to a place I shudder to remember, hurting people and making their lives more difficult, I’ve rejected and replaced it.
As well, I intellectually understand the socially conservative idea that because institutions like marriage and monogamy have “worked” over millennia, they should be protected and enshrined, and that deviation from them threatens the entire working system, and should be punished accordingly. But worked for whom? Yes, marriage and monogamy and insisting women maintain modesty and sexual purity has in the past helped establish and maintain stable, two-parent households in which children could grow up relatively unscathed. However, at what cost to the women involved? And, are we mistaking cause and effect here? Stable marriages, marriage at all, really, has always been most easily and readily available to the wealthiest, the most educated, the most intelligent and the most emotionally strong among us. Is it possible that it’s all those factors which make for the best parenting among the married, and not the marriage itself?
Furthermore, is it possible that what we’re actually seeing is a vicious cycle, in which our ideas about a woman’s proper place help keep her from being able to be economically independent, which then makes her solo parenting marred by grinding poverty, which helps bolster support for the idea that she should be parenting within a marriage?
And even beyond that, is it possible that a man as head of the household, which is what I believe Chomsky was referring to when he said “patriarchal families” only makes sense when women are poorly educated? Now that women are earning more degrees than are men, why relegate decision making to the less-informed of the two?
Another data point which challenges the justification for “patriarchal families” is whether it makes sense for men to head households when their wives outearn them. Since single, childless women in cities outearn their male counterparts, insisting that a family be headed by a man will lead to women eschewing marriage entirely, for lack of a suitable partner.
No, I find both moral systems irredeemably flawed. That’s not to say either get everything wrong. It’s to say that I reject the foundations upon which they are built. No, it’s not enough for me to accept something as moral that Jesus or Paul reportedly said it is. I’ll wear my head fully uncovered should I go to church, thankyouverymuch. And no, that people have always done it and it’s worked okay is not reason enough for me to accept that in the here and now, it’s something worth doing. You can take your admonition for me to submit to my husband and shove it where the sun don’t shine.
My moral system is essentially this: Something is moral if the empirical evidence indicates it makes people happier, more connected or wealthier. Is this arbitrary? Arbitrary as hell. I could have as easily said that something is moral if it increases equality. And I do enjoy equality, but I justify it by the evidence that equality of opportunity, and equality before the law is generally conducive to happiness, connectedness and prosperity.
So, basically, all that is part of why I’m an anarcha-feminist.
This post originally appeared in C4SS.org.
Really appreciate this article/your work. Found you through C4SS and have a practical advice question: what is your view on how social-justice oriented libertarians can begin to the bridge the gap with religious conservatives that might be sympathetic to libertarianism on some level, but are very suspicious/resentful of social justice theory? I have seen quite a bit written about how to speak to left-leaning non-libs, but not too much about approaching cultural/religious conservatives in a way that isn’t a bit dismissive/divisive. Have you had any luck with this?
I ask because, like you I am from a conservative religious background. My family is divided between cultural/religious conservatives living in the mid-west and urban liberals living in the DC area. The divide is sharp and painful, many members of my family haven’t spoken in years. I see left-libertarianism as a powerful tool to bridge the divide between folks like this, but have had more luck discussing the hierarchy-crushing power of libertarianism with liberal friends and family than the importance of a social justice component to my conservative friends and family. Hoping to turn the tide on that.
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