The following was written by SFL blog team member Cory Massimino.
Earlier this week accomplished economist, author, and professor, Walter Block, made some controversial comments about the gay and feminist communities. His post claiming “feminists are not libertarians; neither are gays” quickly caused a social media uproar in libertarian circles.
The wave of animosity towards Block and his article prompted him to take it down and post an edited version. Block tries to amend the situation by apologizing and explains his last post was poorly written. He claims he didn’t mean for it to sound like he was criticizing all feminists and gays. Despite Block’s generous attempt to fix the situation, the rest of his updated post is not all that different from the original and is barely an improvement.
In regards to feminists, Block charges that while feminists have historically fought against rape, and rightfully so as rape is a violation of the non-aggression principle (which Block views as the philosophical core of libertarianism), “many of them also oppose “leering”.” He links a video about men leering at women. He explains, “at best, this video just muddies the waters; it takes time, effort, treasure, away from the only proper task, the elimination of rape.” While this might be true, it does not mean feminists who oppose leering are wrong, and it certainly doesn’t mean they aren’t libertarians. A woman’s personal preference to not be leered at because she thinks of it as objectifying her like a piece of meat doesn’t prevent her from embracing the NAP and being a libertarian. After all, she isn’t holding a gun to a guy’s head telling him not to leer at her. It is perfectly legitimate and compatible with libertarianism for women to request not to be leered at.
Furthermore, the idea that leering doesn’t deserve consideration because there are worse problems in the world is misguided. Block wrote a fantastic book on the privatization of roads and highways, but he would hardly say this is the most pressing issue facing society. We all can’t spend all of our time railing against the very worst ills of society. Sometimes we focus on lesser, but still important, issues and that’s okay.
Block’s only correct statement in the paragraph is that “leering is just looking. People have a right to look at whatever they want.” He is right in saying leering doesn’t actually violate any rights. No one has a right to not be looked at. However, this claim misses the mark since just because women prefer not to be leered at, doesn’t mean they view not being leered at as their right. It’s simply a request for respect. Just like when I request people I debate with to not call me names, it doesn’t mean I think I have a right not to be called names. People have every right to insult me, but I prefer they treat with me with respect.
Professor Block goes on to say, “now, of late, many in the homosexual community have been insisting that other people, who do not appreciate their lifestyle, and who wish to have nothing to do with them, be forced, against their will, to engage in commercial activities with them.” He cites an incident in New Mexico where a photographer was discriminating against lesbians. While I, and most libertarians, agree with Block that private firms should be allowed to discriminate all they want, he, again, misses the mark and makes faulty conclusions.
While it’s true that many homosexuals support laws preventing companies from discriminating, it is also true that most Americans support such laws as well. There is no reason to use the claim that because homosexuals support anti-discrimination laws they can’t be libertarians and not acknowledge that this applies to Americans as a whole. It is incorrect to single out gay people in this regard since most Americans also support anti-libertarian laws.
My final quibble with Block’s post is that it appears that he forgot one of libertarianism’s central tenants: methodological individualism. Libertarianism is unique in that it is one of few political ideologies that recognizes and stresses the fact that only individuals act. It identifies that groups, societies, and states do not act; only the individuals that make them up act. It is bizarre and un-libertarian for Block to criticize or label entire groups of people and entire social movements as un-libertarian.
He briefly acknowledges this at the end of the article when he writes, “certainly, I would not condemn on these or any other grounds all homosexuals or feminists. There are many homosexuals and feminists who are staunch libertarians.” Taken to its logical conclusions, this statement would invalidate the entire article so I don’t understand why he mentions it. It appears Block concedes he makes an un-libertarian argument, but then again refuses to admit it.
The truth is that there are some feminists and/or gay people who are not libertarians and some who are. There are also some people who are neither feminists nor gay who aren’t libertarians and some who are. Block’s charges are rife with collectivism and ignore that the feminist and gay movements are filled with unique individuals, all with their own views and opinions. This is the kind of groupthink the libertarian movement needs to reject.