Gender Benders

I was all set to respond to this argument by Daniel Moore, but alas, Timothy Sandefur has already beat me to it, and twice, no less! Darn, you, Mr. Sandefur, for stealing the glory. Nevertheless, I still have a few arguments up my sleave which Mr. Sandefur, presumably out of either kindness or boredom, spared Mr. Moore. (I'm using all this "Mister" language 'cause that's how Sandefur engages his interlocutors. Ain't it quaint?)

Moore tries to make the following argument:

  1. Libertarianism is characterized by "a metaphysics of Objective Reality (as opposed to subjective experience), an epistemology of Reason (as opposed to emotion), an ethics of Self-Interest (as opposed to altruism), and a politics of Capitalism (as opposed to communalism or other)."
  2. Since libertarians favor the first in each of these pairs over the second, "Objective facts ... are placed in a superior position to subjective experiences; Reason maintains a superiority over emotion; self-interest is ethically maintained as superior to altruism or group-interest; and capitalism is considered superior to communalism."
  3. The adjectives "objective," "rational," "self-interested," and "capitalist" describe male attributes and the adjectives "subjective," "emotional," "altruistic," and "communitarian" describe female attributes.
  4. Thus, libertarianism is a "gendered, masculine belief system" because it favors the masculine attributes over the feminine attributes.

The first bit of advice I would give to Moore is, next time, choose your targets with greater care. Moore bases his description of libertarianism on an article from the Ayn Rand Institute titled, "Essentials of Objectivism." Note that the title is decidedly not "Essentials of Libertarianism." Moore tries to preemptively rebut this objection with the claim that "you can neither separate a philosophy from its political implications nor a political theory from its philosophical implications."

Nonsense. As a "reformed Randian and as someone who claims to have read Philosophy: Who Needs It?, Moore should know that Rand specifically disassociated herself from libertarianism:

Above all, do not join the wrong ideological groups or movements, in order to "do something." By "ideological" (in this context), I mean groups or movements proclaiming some vaguely generalized, undefined (and, usually, contradictory) political goals. (E.g., the Conservative Party, which subordinates reason to faith, and substitutes theocracy for capitalism; or the "libertarian" hippies, who subordinate reason to whims, and substitute anarchism for capitalism.) To join such groups means to reverse the philosophical hierarchy and to sell out fundamental principles for the sake of some superficial political action which is bound to fail.
- Philosophy: Who Needs It, pp. 202-203

Here Rand is separating a political theory from its philosophical implications, insofar as "libertarian hippies" share a similar political theory with Objectivists but do not share the broader philosophical commitments. One can argue, as Rand and other Objectivists do, as to whether it is valid to support free-market capitalism on grounds other than philosophical Objectivism. But whether or not this support is valid, it exists, and is widespread among libertarians (at least widespread enough for Rand to disassociate herself and her followers from the broader libertarian movement). This disproves Moore's claim that "libertarianism" and "Objectivism" are synonymous with each other.

I submit myself as a convenient foil. I am a libertarian, so I (mostly) agree with Rand and other Objectivists on politics, yet I completely reject her metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. As I have written elsewhere, I am an ethical subjectivist and an epistemological pragmatist.

And I am not the only non-Objectivist libertarian either. Indeed, Moore's entire post is targeted at Will Baude, who is an ethical subjectivist. Moore could not have chosen a worse target for criticizing Objectivism.

But none of this is to concede Moore's claim that Objectivism is a "gendered, masculine belief system." Far from it.

Let's go back to Moore's original argument. I'll concede points number one and two, so long as we replace "libertarians" and "libertarianism" with "Objectivists" and "Objectivism." That leaves us with point number three: the claim that the adjectives "objective," "independent," "self-sufficient," "rational," and "capitalist" describe male attributes and the adjectives "subjective," "dependent," "emotional," and "cooperative" describe female attributes.

This I reject most vigorously, and as Mr. Sandefur points out, Moore's gender-based attribution of these characteristics is itself offensive and sexist. On what grounds does Moore claim that men are intrinsically more objective, rational, self-interested, or capitalistic than women? Where is the evidence that women are intrinsically more subjective, emotional, altruistic and communitarian than men?

Yet again, Moore predicts this line of attack and attempts to preemptively rebut it. Moore writes,

A second counter-argument is that it is not libertarianism that creates these views of gender and so, it should not be held responsible for this actions. This is somewhat fair, but ignores the fact that libertarianism, though it may not be responsible for such gendered divisions, is implicit in perpetuating them, among those who follow it or if such a system were to be dominant.

But Moore cannot have it both ways. If libertarians and Objectivists reject these antiquated and patriarchal views of gender, as I do, libertarianism and Objectivism cannot be held responsible for "perpetuating" a system they oppose.

An analogy may be useful here. Suppose a racist claims that black people are genetically inferior to white people, and as such, it is only natural and good for white people to enslave black people. A libertarian responds by rejecting slavery in favor of freedom. Is the libertarian being racist by promoting a characteristic--freedom--traditionally associated with white people? Of course not, because the libertarian rejects the ugly notion that only white people are entitled to be free. Is the libertarian being racist by denigrating a characteristic--slavery--traditionally associated with black people? Of course not, because the libertarian rejects the ugly notion that black people are intended by nature to be slaves.

So too, Objectivism is not a "gendered, masculine belief system" if it promotes objectivity over subjectivity, reason over emotion, self-interest over altruism, and capitalism over communalism, so long as it promotes these values for men and women equally. If Objectivism rejects the notion that women are inherently subjective, emotional, altruistic, and communal and instead accepts the notion that women can and should be objective, rational, self-interested, and capitalistic, then Objectivists cannot be faulted for the sexist beliefs other people may have about the connection between women and the values Objectivists oppose.

Moore further observes:

And the system does more than just pigeonhole women in a role; it does the same to men. What of the man that is more inclined to be altruistic? More emotional? More subjective about his beliefs? This man is relegated to secondary male status. He is not living as an "ideal" man.

Moore is certainly correct that Objectivists (not libertarians) relegate the altruistic, emotional and subjective to secondary status by heaping scorn upon them. But this has nothing to do with gender and has to do with the values Objectivists reject. Ideal men AND women, according to Objectivists, are objective, rational, self-interested, and capitalistic. While one can criticize Objectivists for favoring the wrong values (as I do), one cannot claim that Objectivism is a ?gendered, masculine belief system.?

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Moore states: "The

Moore states: "The adjectives ?objective,? ?rational,? ?self-interested,? and ?capitalist? describe male attributes and the adjectives ?subjective,? ?emotional,? ?altruistic,? and ?communitarian? describe female attributes."

Does anyone else see the irony coming from a man who espouses a philosophy from a female? Alice Rosenbaum was a female, right?

Well, he did mention that in

Well, he did mention that in a prior post.

I could be mistaken here, I

I could be mistaken here, I think that when Rand refers to libertarian hippies she is referring to the left wing anarchist communists. I know that in Europe, that is generally what the word "libertarian" is associated with and before Rand and the Libertarian party, what it was associated with in the US.

here, this explains it somewhat: http://www.digitalronin.f2s.com/politicalcompass/faq.html#libandleft

Ugh, the political compass

Ugh, the political compass guys...

I agree with the note on what "libertarian" was considered in Europe (as anarcho-syndicalists), but in general that site is so confused on basic political definitions and historical fact that I can't spend more than a few minutes there before throwing up my metaphorical hands and leaving. For an example, scroll down just a bit on their discussion of what "fascism" is.
Oy.

they call them 'boho's' now.

they call them 'boho's' now. here on the west coast anyway. hippies, bacically.

I didn't mean to imply my

I didn't mean to imply my overall agreement with the political compass FAQ (don't get me started on their comment of how legislation in places like Sweden = something right wing libertarians should support). It just happened to be a good reference of how libertarianism means something different in Europe.

Micha, "As I have written

Micha,

"As I have written elsewhere, I am an ethical subjectivist"

I want to sharpen a distinction in my mind, and I thought you might be able to help. Would you explain what you mean by subjectivist? I am confusing ethical subjectivists with ethical skeptics.

Here is a test; if you think slavery is wrong and I think slavery is right, are we disagreeing?

Subjectivists would say no; we each are saying something about ourselves, and there is no conflict between our statements (any more that if you said you like chocolate and I said I like vanilla).

Skeptics would say that we are disagreeing; however, there is not necessarily a rational way we can resolve our disagreement. We might be able to persuade the other person to change positions, but perhaps only through rhetoric, not reason. (I am waffling because skeptics, I think, still require logical consistency in ethics).

Assuming I know what I'm talking about above :-) (and please comment if I don't), which are you defending?

Dave, I had a post on this

Dave,

I had a post on this issue a while back. While I am no expert on libertarian movement history, Rand had many falling-out's with the rest of the movement. The issue of associating with non-Objectivist libertarians split the Objectivist movement in half.

Bill, I don't like the

Bill,

I don't like the skeptic label because it is often used by people who believe there are objective moral right answers, but we do not know what all of them are, so we must remain skeptical. I don't believe this is the case; I don't think moral "truths" exist in the same sense that scientific truths exist. F=MA describes a fact about the world, apart from any subjective preferences of humans. Murder=Wrong does not describe a fact about the world, apart from any subjective preferences of humans. Morality is socially constructed in a way that the laws of physics and the existence of the table in front of me are not.

(The pragmatist in me is not supposed to make this distinction between fact and value, but that is a discussion for another day.)

If I had to choose the more attractive theory, I would choose what you label ethical skepticism. Most of us share enough intuitions in common that we can find some common ground for moral discussion, even if these discussions are objectively baseless.

I think I have muddied the waters and blunted the distinctions as much as possible. Glad to be of service. :-)

You're wrong.

You're wrong.

Micha, Good article, I'm not

Micha,

Good article, I'm not really knowlegable on Rand, I've never read any of her books so it's hard for me to say with any authority what she meant. However, the word "anarchism" triggered the ideology of left wing anarchists for me. Every one of them I have had the pleasure of debating with vehemently insists that anarcho-capitalism has nothing to do with anarchism.
Plus Rand's choice of description libertarians as replacing capitalism with anarchism sounds more like anarcho-syndicism than anarcho-capitalism since anarcho-capitalists think anarchy works with capitalism, not instead of it. Plus most Libertarians I know are not anarcho-capitalists.

Anyway, I didn't mean to nitpick or over analyze, which I sometimes have a tendency to do. :D Keep up the good work.

Dave, Your right; central to

Dave,

Your right; central to the debate between libertarians and Objectivists is the issue of anarchism. Rand seemed to find the idea so abhorrent that she and her followers lumped all libertarians together as a bunch of whim-worshiping anarchists.

Not the label isn't true in some case. ;)

Micha, Moore is of course an

Micha,

Moore is of course an ignorant chowderhead, but when he says philosophy cannot be separated from it's political implications he clearly means that this cannot validly be done. Rand was libertarian regardless of her pronouncements to the contrary.

I think Sandefur is not quite right when he says the term ?classical liberal,? is synonymous with ?libertarian?, since you are a libertarian but not, it seems, a classical liberal.

Micha, "Your right; central

Micha,

"Your right; central to the debate between libertarians and Objectivists is the issue of anarchism."

Anarchists comprise a distinct minority of libertarians. Most libertarians reject anarchism as Rand did.

There are also Objectivist anarchists - Billy Beck is an example.

JTK, Rand was libertarian

JTK,

Rand was libertarian regardless of her pronouncements to the contrary.

True, but that is because libertarianism is a broad category, of which Objectivism is just one sub-category. That is different from the claim Moore is making, the claim that libertarianism necessarily rests upon Objectivist foundations.

I think Sandefur is not quite right when he says the term ?classical liberal,? is synonymous with ?libertarian?, since you are a libertarian but not, it seems, a classical liberal.

John Stuart Mill is considered a classical liberal, even though he also considered himself a utilitarian. I consider myself a classical liberal as well.

Anarchists comprise a distinct minority of libertarians. Most libertarians reject anarchism as Rand did.

Yes, but one of the reasons Rand and her followers oppose libertarianism is because they (falsely) characterize all of us as anarchists.