On his blog, libertarian bestselling author and Ron Paul homeschooling curriculum writer Tom Woods has written some thoughts about thin and thick libertarianism and how they apply to the Duck Dynasty controversy.
If you’ve been living in a cave, the star of reality television show Duck Dynasty said some unfortunate things about gay people and some really unfortunate things about black people living in the Jim Crow South to GQ magazine. The remarks were homophobic and racist, and he was suspended from his show by A&E.
Somehow Woods ties this to thick libertarianism, and uses it as a jumping off point to critique a movement he dislikes.
First, he describes and takes issue with thick libertarianism. “Some libertarians say the traditional libertarian principle of nonaggression is insufficient.” He says, “If [people] support nonaggression, they are libertarians.”
The position thick libertarians take on the non-aggression principle is that it’s a starting place, not a place to end. The trouble with it is that there are multiple ways to define aggression. As Jason Brennan points out, “What counts as aggression depends upon what rights people have.”
Woods then defines thick libertarianism as requiring people to “have left-liberal views on religion, sexual morality, feminism, etc., because reactionary beliefs among the public are also threats to liberty.”
More accurately, thick libertarianism asks people to oppose racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of bigotry because bigotry against some is a threat to liberty for all. If Woods disagrees with this idea, it’s not clear how or why.
Speaking of the way thick libertarians see social views that aren’t “left-liberal,” Woods asks, “Why is it only the traditional moral ideas of the bourgeoisie that are supposed to be so threatening?” I didn’t realize the racism, sexism and homophobia thick libertarians critique were the traditional moral ideas of the bourgeoisie. I think it’s more realistic to say, and polling data bears this out, that these kind of socially illiberal attitudes are much more prevalent among the poorly educated than whoever Woods describes as “bourgeoisie.”
While it’s difficult to survey for racism, as most racists don’t self-identify as such, survey data has shown lower IQ scores are associated with not being able to agree with statements such as “I wouldn’t mind working with people from other races.” There’s actually a strong positive correlation between education and approval of interracial marriage. One survey and another study found a negative correlation between parental income and homophobia.
But whether they are bourgeois or uneducated has zero bearing on whether they’re threats to liberty. Again, it would be great for Woods to get into whether or not bigotry constitutes a threat to liberty.
I would argue that denying someone goods or services on the basis of their sex, gender, orientation, religion, etc. is a curtailment of their liberty, at the very least to enjoy those goods and services.
That does not justify legally forcing someone to stop discriminating. However, it does justify calling out the pernicious effects of discrimination. That, in essence, is thick libertarianism. It’s concerned with both kinds of threats to freedom, government-created and cultural. And it proposes voluntary solutions, like education, or reality television show suspensions, to those threats.
This post originally appeared in C4SS.
This is veering dangerously close to Pharyngula.
Just because I’m an atheist doesn’t mean I also have to support progressive policies.
In the same vein, just because I’m a libertarian doesn’t mean I have to support specific ideological stances outside of NAP / self-ownership.
Maybe I’m a racist? So what? As long as I do not support force to implement my views I’m a libertarian. An asshole, too, and you’re free to call me that. I just don’t think it is conducive to our overall goals to start thought-policing.
“Maybe I’m a racist? So what?”
Yes, so what?
You’re gonna call for the state to kill me?
Gotta love that line of reasoning. Oh, wait, you oppose bigotry – you must be a statist! SMDH
I was going to give Tom Woods the benefit of the doubt, that maybe he didn’t really agree with the absurdly idiotic remarks made by Phil Robertson, but that he just wanted to vent about how the left seems to focus on Christians’ problems more than other religions. But then I read his other blog post following the one you linked to.
After reading his follow up from yesterday, it does seem that Woods was focusing on the comments about homosexuality and not the one about blacks being happy under Jim Crow.
And big surprise here, LRC published this ridiculous defense of Phil Robertson (http://www.lewrockwell.com/2013/12/thomas-dilorenzo/a-lying-smear-of-phil-robertson/). DiLorenzo cites Walter Williams, but I’ve read Walter William’s opinions on this sort of thing, and his position is far more nuanced than what DiLorenzo would lead the reader to believe.
The only thing I take issue with in your post is:
Ostracism and other forms of nonviolent disassociation don’t curtail liberty. They are powerful tools, and yes they can be used for ends that we find immoral. But they can be used for ends we think are moral as well.
I haven’t seen evidence that Tom agrees with Robertson in substance. And DiLorenzo isn’t Woods, and it’s unfair to judge one by the writing of the other.
I didn’t confuse DiLorenzo with Woods. As for Woods, I said I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt until I read his followup blog post from yesterday. It’s clear that he agrees with Robertson regarding homosexuality.
What I mean is, it’s beside the point what DiLorenzo wrote. I don’t see how Woods’s followup suggest he agrees with Robertson as much as he thinks it’s important to defend his right to say it in a very broad sense.
My remarks about DiLorenzo had nothing to do with Woods. I was just pointing out that LRC managed to publish an absurd defense of Robertson, and that it was no surprise that they did so.
Regarding Woods, it’s not like he just threw words out there and they managed to form sentences. He had specific reasons for writing what he did, and it’s obvious that he, as a practicing Catholic, agrees with Robertson about homosexuality.
If you read his replies in the comment section, yes it is true that he sees a trend of the state working against people’s right to *not* associate with others, and that he is against this trend. BUT, in his actual blog post, that is *not* what his point was. He was praising the fact that American Christians with “their aversion to homosexuality” were able to triumph over GLAAD.
That’s a stark difference, and it reveals his frame of mind.
OK, understood on the DiLorenzo. I don’t know that most Catholics agree with Robertson on homosexuality.
Interesting points, and hopefully we can all agree that racism/sexism and all sorts of discrimination are bad.
That said, how are they a violation of liberty? If we accept that my refusing to sell you my goods/services is a violation of your liberty, wouldn’t that mean that you have an innate right to enjoy my goods/services?
I tend to see discrimination in action as parallel to discrimination in speech. When someone calls me a faggot (I hooked up with a couple guys in college before discovering I was straight), their comments are insulting and rude. But they’re not a violation of my liberty.
Or am I missing something here?
I think one big difference is that being called a faggot isn’t pleasant, but it doesn’t keep you from getting a wedding cake, or being able to find a place to eat or use the restroom.
Okay, that makes sense. But doesn’t seeing your examples as a violation of liberty presume you have a right to buy a wedding cake, eat at a restaurant, etc?
Rights imply you can use force. She stressed that she wants to induce bigots to change their minds peacefully. So no; what she is saying is that she wants to change make our culture more egalitarian in a way Tom Woods types will push back against (also using peaceful means) unless they are made to see that egalitarianism in the non-coercive sphere results in less aggression.
I think Cathy is using the word “right” broadly, just as Robertson’s defenders use “right” broadly to defend his “right to speak his mind.” She specifically opposed the use of force to stop discrimination.
“Interesting points, and hopefully we can all agree that racism/sexism and all sorts of discrimination are bad.”
No, no we can’t. The decisions you make are discriminatory. In choosing which words you typed, you necessarily and deliberately left out alternative words.
Discrimination is the means of human action.
Posted a few days ago but appropriate here.
Racial bigotry, or anti-gay prejudices, are examples of intolerance. Now, can an individual bigot be a libertarian? Technically, of course they can, if they don’t infringe the rights of others they are still acting consistently with libertarian values.
But, I would argue that while an individual can be bigoted and libertarian, a culture cannot. That, I think, is impossible.
Individuals live in a cultural bubble that surrounds them. Like it or not, it inhibits how people behave. Remove the cultural inhibitions and people act on their prejudices. When certain levels of intolerance are achieved within a culture restraints disappear and people act on their hatreds.
If we go to the Germany of 1900, it was unthinkable that people would attack Jewish-owned shops or put people into concentration camps. There were anti-Semites, but the culture only tolerated certain “acceptable” levels of anti-Semitism. Thanks to the Marxist attack on “Jewish capitalism” and the National Socialists promoting this theory, along with other historical factors, anti-Semitism increased and soon thought turned into very ugly action.
Hatred is imperialistic. It will take more territory when it can. We sometimes forget that lynching was common in this country, particularly in the South. We forget that the Puritans murdered people for being Quakers. The culture in which they lived allowed such things. Our nation once had a culture where slavery was tolerated.
When cultural values are dominated by intolerance they become more than a belief—they become a practice. And, it is a practice that means the violation of the rights of others.
Libertarians refusing to tolerate intolerance does not mean they are violating the rights of others, it means they are taking steps to prevent the actual future violation of rights. What is called “political correctness,” when practiced by individuals, corporations, businesses and organizations, is like getting a vaccination. It helps stop the spread of values which are directly destructive to liberty. Every instance of widespread intolerance, that I know of, has lead to a society where actions follow. How people act follows what people believe. More importantly, as has been noted in the wisdom of schoolyards: actions speak louder than words.
The problem here is, as usually is the problem, defining “bigotry.”
Preferences are now bigotry. If I prefer Latina women to others, am I a bigot?
“If I prefer Latina women to others, am I a bigot?”
Likely not. But if you disowned a family member for falling in love with a non-Latina, you likely would be a bigot. These things are sometimes difficult to sort out, and that’s why it’s good some people talk about them to try to distinguish damaging bigotry from peaceful and benign preferences in one’s most intimate life. There’s a tangle of issues here. And thick libertarians like to discuss them.
If it doesn’t justify force, then it’s not a threat to liberty in the way Woods will understand the expression. If you want to have a dialogue with paleos, use the same words to talk about the same things. I actually think the opposition between the two isn’t fundamental; this debate is largely a misunderstanding. Charles Johnson nailed it in Women and the Invisible Fist. Woods doesn’t have to add any moral principles to his views (like a concern for social justice) in order to oppose bigotry. I restrict myself to NAP + Lockean rights and I still think feminist social theory is important.
Assume Woods a) believes in the NAP and standard Lockean rights and b) is an active libertarian because he would like to help achieve a society with as little coercion–not vague, “lefty” pressures, but rigorous violations of property rights–as possible.
Right now, thin libertarians only oppose coercion when it comes from the state. They are active in this opposition; they recognize that advocacy of socialist views enables real coercion by the state, even though the advocacy itself isn’t coercive, and so they use voluntary means to affect the situation.
All you need to do in order to get Tom Woods to take a stand against sexist attitudes even when it doesn’t violate any rights is to show that, say, slut-shaming leads to disrespect of women’s self-ownership and property rights in that “sluttiness” begins to justify rape, both to rapists and in court. Bonus points if you show that this pattern of violence doesn’t hinge on the existence of a (non-limited) state.
If b) is true, then according to Woods’ own goals, he will want to put aside his personal views on promiscuity (I don’t know what they are, but assume he doesn’t approve) for the greater good of a freer society.
Note that this is a positive question, not a normative one. Woods’
application of libertarian moral principles and the one in the paragraph
above are the same kind of libertarianism with different understandings of how society works, in the same way that Hayek and
Milton Friedman aren’t libertarians of fundamentally different kinds
because they disagree about money.
When someone like me (am I a thick libertarian?) says “libertarians should care about feminism”, thins hear “libertarianism as a political philosophy requires feminism” and they’re like nope. What I would be trying to communicate, however, is that feminism is a useful tool for libertarian activism because it is complementary to libertarianism in that it reveals patterns of coercion which are not brought to light by the standard focus on the state. The reverse, of course, is also true: feminists can learn from libertarians by recognizing that the state is a double-edged sword, and that they are better off organizing outside of the traditional political sphere.
My big issue with “libertarians should care about feminism” the way Charles Johnson interpreted it was that he more or less allied this idea with the most authoritarian branch of feminism, the Dworkin/MacKinnon school. How he attempted to align a truly anti-statist/non-aggression libertarian principle to the most radically interventionist branch of feminism (one that can be reasonably said to have totalitarian aspects in the ways they wish to regulate sexuality) seemed to me to be an exercise in creative intellectual self-delusion, in that if you cherry-pick from any set of ideas thoroughly enough, you can make any contradictory set of ideas seem harmonious. It never seemed to occur to Johnson that there were already branches of feminism strongly influenced by anti-authoritarian ideas and that this would have been much more fertile ground for libertarian/feminist dialogue.
I’m not sure if Johnson eventually abandoned the Dworkinista kick he was on up to about 2007, after which he seems to have quietly dropped the subject. I don’t know whether or not he’d stand by his defense of Dworkin and MacKinnon today.
I don’t know either, and frankly, I know practically nothing about feminism–I’m just getting into it now that I’ve read Johnson’s essay. Long story short (if you haven’t read Women and the Invisible Fist), spontaneous orders can have emergent coercive features, in that many people unintentionally build the circumstances in which violence occurs without having wanted to that end result to occur or even being aware of it. This does not hinge on the existence of the state.
Johnson then tries to reconstruct Brownmiller’s “Myrmidon theory” of stranger-rape through the lens of spontaneous order and methodological individualism to explain rape culture and the violence it enables as a polycentric, emergent process as an alternative to Brownmiller’s Marxesque claim that “[rape] is a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear”.
Bravo on this article. This is an issue I’ve discussed with many people over the past year, we just never referred to it as thick or thin libertarianism. I hadn’t heard of the debate between thin and thick libertarianism before, have I been living under a rock?
The author states as fact that was Robertson said was homophobic. I disagree. Having a moral position on particular behavior isn’t any kind of phobic. It’s not bigotry either. There is nothing that endangers anyone’s liberty by saying that homosexual sex is a sin.
Global Political Awakening
Is it possible in your view for someone to disagree with you – to believe that the Bible consistently teaches sexual activity is intended for heterosexual marriage only – and for that person to not be a bigot or homophobic, motivated by ignorance or fear?
Absolutely! Some of my best friends disagree with me on this issue. I recognize that we are all fallible human beings, which means that either (or both) of us could be wrong, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t sincerely trying to seek the truth.
There are bigots who use religious language to justify their hatred, but that doesn’t mean that anyone who has a view I disagree with is a bigot. There are also many compassionate, loving Christians who sincerely want to be able to give their blessing to their gay friends’ relationships but are unable to because they believe the Bible forbids those relationships. I absolutely respect that.
Those who are seeking the truth are willing to consider new information such as Matthew Vines’ presentation about homosexuality and the Bible. http://www.matthewvines.com
G.K. Chesterton said that bigotry is “an incapacity to conceive seriously the alternative to a proposition.” If he is right — and he usually is — then I wonder if the Duck Dynasty fiasco says more about our bigotry than Phil’s.
The moment you accept the real you is the moment you accept others for who they really are. ~ Author Unknown
Michael Jon Barker
Their is some bigotry in the “Liberty movement”. It seems their is a shift going on within libertarianism. Those that stand against bigotry are thick Libertarians. Those that remain silent about bigotry are thin Libertarians . And those like Cantwell are fat libertarians because they let it all spew out. https://www.facebook.com/Antonio.Buehler
As somebody who’s coming from a left-libertarian, anti-censorship, and secularist POV, A&E’s actions illustrate *everything* that’s wrong with current trends toward political correctness, which is clearly about sanitizing the public square rather than actually addressing systemic inequality.
This “reality” show featuring Robertson already shows him to be a right-wing religious fundamentalist. And now they’re upset because he’s shown that this kind of fundamentalism often entails some rather base bigotry against gay people, as well as often going hand-in-hand with “benign” paternalistic attitudes toward black people? Color me shocked!
First, I don’t see how you can “fire” somebody from a “reality show”, unless you’re going to simply throw out the premise that it’s about unscripted reality at all. Second, as somebody who really wants to see the Christian right exposed for exactly what it is, I *want* to see people in that movement expose their ugly attitudes for all to see. Shout it from the rooftops, I say. Ultimately, it helps those opposing the religious right a hell of a lot more than it helps those supporting it.
I will note that I think this is very different from, say, a sponsor dropping Rush Limbaugh because that’s a message they don’t want to be associated with, or somebody boycotting Chick-fil-A for the same reason. That’s about withdrawing support for those enabling propaganda or funding of views that one is opposed to. The response to Phil Robertson is simply about sanitizing the media from showing those with reprehensible views, something I find quite cowardly.
“I would argue that denying someone goods or services on the basis of their sex, gender, orientation, religion, etc. is a curtailment of their liberty”
You would be wrong.
“I would argue that denying someone goods or services on the basis of their sex, gender, orientation, religion, etc. is a curtailment of their liberty, at the very least to enjoy those goods and services.”
It is an equal curtailment of the very same liberty to deny goods and services based on the inability to pay for them. Are you against that as well?
Discriminating on the basis of willingness to pay is not the same in any way, shape or form as discriminating on the basis of gender, orientation or race. I just cannot even.
Not talking about willingness to pay. I’m talking about ability. What if someone wants goods or services but cannot pay? Then the discrimination would be on the basis of income, or at least on the basis of immediately available funds. Is this less objectionable? Why or why not?
“I would argue that denying someone goods or services on the basis of their sex, gender, orientation, religion, etc. is a curtailment of their liberty, at the very least to enjoy those goods and services.”
So you’re arguing a person enjoys a positive right to services? Are you sure you’re not a plumbline liberal Democrat?
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