By Marko Marjanović on April 17th, 2014
The first thing that jumps out about the recent Jeffrey Tucker “Against Libertarian Brutalism” essay, which continues to make waves on the libertarian scene, is its confusion. With all due respect to Mr. Tucker, his argument is less than fully clear throughout and threatens at times to cross over into complete incoherence.
For example, Tucker explains that ideological brutalism is the tendency to push the most fundamental parts of an ideology to the foreground, coupled with a categorical refusal to go beyond these (that is to qualify, nuance or compromise them in any way). Yet at the very same time Tucker proposes a libertarian brutalist will be drawn to defend an arrangement where a “fundamentalist sect” takes over a town and “forces women into burka-like clothing.” But why should this be so?
In actuality, since non-aggression is a core libertarian principle, anyone who is dedicated to fundamental tenets of libertarianism can not but oppose such coercion against women. It is then logical to expect that people who are as devoted to core libertarian principles as Tucker’s “brutalists” supposedly are, could only surface among the strongest and most dedicated opponents of such coercion on the part of the aggressive sect.
Tucker likewise states that liberty “protects human rights of all against invasion”. What is more he counts this as a worthy reason to battle for liberty. In other words he appropriates this motive for the “libertarian humanitarians” who want to bring about liberty for good, positive reasons. Yet there is no escaping the fact that “protecting rights against invasion” is very much a core libertarian tenant, one that Tucker’s brutalists, if they are to fit his definition at all, have to be unflinchingly devoted to.
So on the one hand Tucker salutes libertarians (supposedly “humanitarians”) who want to bring about a libertarian system specifically because they are devoted to rights and non-aggression. But on the other he riles against “brutalists” who emphasize only the value of fundamental libertarian principles — albeit the respect and the protection of the rights of human beings is precisely one such core libertarian principle, and perhaps the defining one!
Tucker damns “libertarian brutalists” because they aspire to liberty so that they may freely live out their lives as boors. He specifically singles out racists, anti-Semites and misogynists, but he could just as easily be talking about people who are intolerant of believers or prejudiced against proletarians. In Tucker’s view it is not quite enough for libertarians to want to bring about a libertarian system. He asserts that because liberty allows for a great many practical outcomes that may be inspiring as well as ugly, it is likewise important what the supporters of liberty intend to do with their freedom.
It should be first noted that libertarianism is an extremely poor choice of political philosophy for a boor worth his salt to pick up and champion. As statists, boors who despise, say, gays and hillbillies may work to pass repressive laws against them or conscript them into a terrible war. As a libertarian they will be striving to eliminate all political power and by extension working to end systemic injustice against everyone, including individuals from the segments of the population they may personally hold in contempt. It seems then that as long as there are boors and bigots it is highly desirable that they be libertarians. In fact, none are more likely to profit from the libertarian orientation of bigots than the very people they are bigoted against. They will have lost a potentially significant enemy and won a functional champion of their rights.
Additionally we should note that boorishness is only one of countless human failings. We could also name timidity and cowardice, a lack of generosity, excessive judgmentalism, hedonism and miserabilism and countless others. Therefore, as long we are bringing matters of taste to the forefront why stop at demanding that libertarians privately do not give in to boorishness? What about other libertarians who dress badly, do not give out candy for Halloween or have an atrocious taste in music? What about libertarians who lack the personal courage to rush to the aid of their neighbors in an emergency such as a fire, or others who would never contemplate dedicating a penny to charity? Do we also condemn such libertarians for “missing the bigger point of human liberty” and for not being sufficiently dedicated to human cooperation and their fellow-man? Where does it stop? What human failing, if any, can we as libertarians tolerate, and why some and not the others?
Clearly the answer is that as libertarians we can tolerate any human failing. It is not our goal as libertarians to stamp out human failing. Advocating virtue is the work of priests, gurus and other moralists. Our job is ending systemic oppression and building a system that delivers equal justice to all. Libertarians are not in the business of making judgment calls and deciding the virtue, taste or beauty of actions, but only their justice.
In as much as we are true to libertarian theory the worst of us, as well as the best of us are striving for the exact same thing as libertarians — a world without systemic oppression and injustice. Freedom and justice for all. That humans would use this freedom to showcase their failings as well as their virtue, and their good taste as well as their bad taste, is a given. Yet this is not our concern as libertarians. The right of humans to be free of oppression and injustice does not diminish with their human failings. Every human being is fully deserving of full human freedom whatever their aesthetics may be. For libertarians justice for the boorish can not be a less urgent goal than justice for the tolerant, kind and well-behaved.
A libertarian who is without libertarian failings is as true a libertarian as any other. His human failings are his own matter, between him and his god. Indeed since a libertarian system delivers the maximum amount of freedom and justice it must maximally mitigate the impact of human failings on the lives of others. Thus even the most personally flawed libertarians are nonetheless working to contain the negative effects of bigotry, boorishness, hatred, meanness, miserabilism and so forth.
Nonetheless, we are not battling against human failings, but against systemic failings. We strive for an optimal system, not an optimal human being, society or outcome. Ours is not the quest for a perfect world. As libertarians, we want a world without systemic injustice, not a world without sin.
[image credits: Nerd Fighters]