There is a small war brewing among libertarians. Strangely, the battle lines seem to have been drawn on something that most people wouldn’t associate with libertarians: sex. In an article unfortunately titled “This is How Many Shits I Give About Converting Conservatives to Libertarians”, author Gina Luttrell argues that “conservatives, as they currently exist in American politics, have a pretty narrow view…[and] attempt to ‘persuade’—and by that I mean shame—others away from the peaceful ways they choose to live their lives.” Ashley Rae Goldenberg, writing for this blog, responded by criticizing Thoughts on Liberty’s supposed view that “sex is the most important topic in the entire universe!” writing that “perhaps these libertarian women think the only way they’re able to convert people to libertarianism is to use sex as a tool.”
Whew! Let no one say libertarians hate a vigorous debate! (No one would say that).
I do not feel that such infighting does any good to anyone in the liberty movement. However, I feel that a debate such as this, quite frankly, ridden with ad hominems on both sides and showing no sign of waning, could benefit from a middle ground perspective. Perhaps no one can fully reconcile the two sides, but I think the liberty movement would benefit from seeing more than the left/right paradigm, on this issue as on all others.
1) My personal perspective.
I am a libertarian. I am a feminist. I do not see any contradiction between the two and feel that both movements have at their heart a similar message: that all individuals should be treated as individuals, and not treated differently based on their race, sex, gender, gender identify, sexual orientation, etc. What makes me libertarian is what makes me a feminist, and vice versa. Of course, there will be feminists who disagree with me, but nobody ever said we have to be a conglomerate of agreement, did they?
2) Prudence is not just for prudes.
I tend to agree with Goldenberg, who argues that the only “libertarian” perspective on issues such as polyamory, casual sex, homosexuality, etc., is that the government should not pass laws restricting or regulating such activities between consensual adults. You can be a libertarian who doesn’t believe in sex before marriage, you can be a polyamorous libertarian, or you can be an asexual libertarian. These things have nothing to do with the liberty movement. You do not have a right not to be “judged” or “shamed,” regardless of how damaging these two experiences may be.
I disagree with Goldenberg that merely talking about sexual issues is necessarily about promoting casual sex or decrying monogamy. I also agree that there is, “no right way to have sex“, and that there is value in discussing cultural issues! But you’re never going to win anyone over to liberty by waging a culture war. Prudence must come into play when deciding which issues you want to attach to the liberty movement. There is value in discussing, for example, rape culture, which is inherent aggression against men and women. But what can be gained by trying to convince social conservatives that they have to agree that there’s nothing wrong with polyamory, or else they are shaming those who practice it? Not a whole lot, I would argue.
Of course Thoughts on Liberty “gives no shits” about winning over conservatives, but this is foolish. As the aforementioned article points out, there is a great deal of hypocrisy from conservatives who claim to want the government to stay out of their lives and then ask it to intrude into other’s bedrooms. Hypocrisy is human. There is no reconciling a leftist philosophy that does not even pretend to reject all kinds of government intervention with the non-interventionism of libertarianism. That’s not to say that liberals are not won over by libertarianism. But our ideologies are completely different. Writing about how you don’t “give a shit” about winning over half of the country, the half that is closer to your philosophy than the other, no less, is not only imprudent, but it is arrogant, short-sighted, and juvenile. And make no mistake; this is coming from someone who agrees with 90% of what Thoughts on Liberty writes on culture and sexuality.
3) On Lines in the Sand.
There will be times such “cultural” issues come to the forefront of American political consciousness and answers are demanded from libertarians. It is okay when libertarians give different answers! Obsession with extreme intellectual purity has never served the liberty movement well (see: hysterical objections to Rand Paul based simply on the fact that he is not like Ron Paul 100 percent of the time). To give a non sex-related example: I do not feel that something like support for charter schools should not be on a checklist of libertarian intellectual purity, just as issues of culture/sexuality shouldn’t be. But who knows? Maybe I’m just repressed.