CJay Engelcomment One Commentaccess_time 6 min read
One of the difficulties that has come out of the more Progressivist libertarians in recent years is the threat of an inbred egalitarianism. There is a sort of contemporary presumption that libertarianism requires a variety of egalitarian tendencies. That is to say, we are told that, as libertarians, we ought to vocalize our support and enthusiasm for all types of personal habits, cultural practices, and worldview diversity. To do otherwise is “intolerant,” and therefore “hateful,” and therefore “unlibertarian.”
This is a mistake of the highest order. Not only is such doctrine simply not required by the libertarian thesis (which is simply that individuals must not breach the property rights of others), but it is also a sure way to make certain that persons with certain cultural dispositions never adopt the libertarian view at all. When it appears that libertarians demand cultural liberalism and social progressivism in public policy, it is profoundly off-putting to many cultural traditionalists.
First of all, tolerance does not presume agreement or approval, rather, and contrarily, it actually presupposes disagreement. To be tolerant is to refrain from using force to prevent someone from engaging in a lifestyle or activity with which we ourselves disagree. We are tolerant when, even if we vocally express our disapproval against an activity, we refrain from physically interfering with the activity. Tolerance is not present in a situation of agreement and approval.
In present age however, tolerance has been distorted. To most people, tolerance means that one actually accepts as morally or intellectually legitimate the views, actions, or lifestyles of all other people. Thus, the infiltration of this distorted toleration into the libertarian movement has given libertarianism a very dangerous spin. Libertarianism that has been infected by a deficient view of toleration, such that we actually equate disagreements with “hatefulness,” which is therefore, “intolerant,” which is therefore supposedly against the “libertarian spirit.”
Now, in a libertarian society where property rights allow the individual to discriminate based on whatever rubric he finds satisfactory, libertarians generally have no problem in letting business owners make decisions about their employees and customers. A black business owner sympathetic to the Black Panthers can legally refuse to service a white man if he so desires. And a Church can refuse to marry a homosexual if their convictions lead them to such a decision. But something interesting happens when we talk about the employment policies of a government agency. Some libertarians want to impose a rigorous egalitarian and diversity standard on the agency on the basis that the agency is public and therefore should not be allowed to discriminate. This desire sometimes trickles down to public services like State-owned university education. The standards for entry should focus, we are told, not necessarily on the individual merits of the students regardless of race, but rather on the diversity of the student body as a whole.
But it is my contention that all of this is profoundly misguided, a distortion of the demands of libertarian theory. Murray Rothbard addressed this issue during the early nineties when the Clinton administration sought the elimination of the ban on homosexuals in the military. Must the libertarian support this? Rothbard answers in the negative: “The military should be considered like any other business, organization, or service; its decisions should be based on what’s best for the military, and ‘rights’ have nothing to do with such decisions. The military’s long-standing ban on gays in the military has nothing to do with ‘rights’ or even ‘homophobia’; rather it is the result of long experience as well as common sense.”
In other words, it is not necessitated by libertarian theory, a political theory of property rights, that some public agency have a certain standard of employment. There is no “right” to be hired by a public agency like, say, the FDA. Even if this agency should not exist at all in a free society according to libertarian theory, there is no demand that in its existence it hires from every ethnicity or sexual orientation. While we hold that public colleges should not exist, it is not unlibertarian to have a preference that the college’s entrance standards focus on grades, test scores, and writing ability rather than the modern progressive-egalitarian standards of racial or sexual diversity. We breach no libertarian creed when we oppose the cultural-liberalism and moral subjectivism, the egalitarian-crusaderism, coming straight from the heart of the State.
Libertarianism is not to be confused with egalitarianism, progressivism, or centrally planned and promoted cultural engineering. The mistake takes place when progressivist libertarians misinterpret the meaning of libertarian property rights, or at least fail to emphasize their role in libertarian theory. Libertarianism is not about overcoming the “patriarchy,” social hierarchies, traditional tendencies, proper authority, or longstanding natural and social institutions (so long as these institutions are not artificially propped up by the State). The mistake is that the egalitarian libertarians draw a false parallel. They assume that since the State is not to interfere with the private decisions of free individuals, it should follow that the State breaks this rule when it demands that individuals meet a certain (non-egalitarian) standard when individuals work in the public sector. But this makes a crucial blunder when we consider that employment by the State is voluntary, that is, no one is (except in very rare cases) forced to be employed by a government funded agency. Also, they assume that since the State should not discriminate in its enforcement of property rights in society, it should follow that the State should not discriminate in its hiring policies. But this is absurd. Discrimination is a necessity. In fact, every single employee hired is a discrimination against all those applicants that were turned down.
Libertarianism is about property rights. The proper nature of rights in libertarian theory are negative, not positive. A negative right means that an individual’s right is a “restriction” on the actions of another against the individual. That is, the individual has a right to be free of another man’s physical interference. Example: an individual has a right to not be stolen from or murdered.
Far too often, progressivist libertarians fall for what is known as positive rights. A positive right is a so-called right to be provided something from the action of another individual. Positive rights manifest themselves in the form of things like “right to healthcare,” “right to education,” or “right to a basic income.” Positive rights are antithetical to, that is, they contradict negative rights. The distortion of language is seen quite clearly when the progressivists give their list of rights that various people groups (commonly seen as victimized minority groups) are entitled too. And it is a terrible thing that this mindset has infected the libertarian movement so that the egalitarian tendencies are demanded in the public agencies and public scenarios by self-described libertarians.
Libertarianism is about the use of physical coercion in society, it is about the State’s relationship to the private citizen. That is all.