Is Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism Evil?
By Bryan Caplan
I saw a lecture by (charming, charismatic, funny)
Brown professor of Africana studies Tricia Rose last night, and it was a
reminder how ludicrous the task is that the “bleeding-heart
libertarians” have set for themselves in wanting to incorporate “social
justice” into the heart of libertarian thinking…[…][I]t seemed to boil down to (or rather be
a taken-for-granted synonym for) talk of wealth redistribution,
fighting to preserve big-government programs like Obamacare, and, even
more creepily, encouragement of people like the school teacher who says
he is looking forward to teaching ninth-graders to be social justice activists themselves. Why, that’s just bound to mean a more libertarian society, right?
Perhaps the most condescending and
authoritarian bit, though, was when Rose had the whole audience raise
their right hands to recite a long, long pledge she had written about
how to work toward social justice without blaming yourself for society’s
past sins – and she had people begin pledging and reciting before
telling them what they would be swearing to.
Todd’s question: Why on earth would libertarians want to make nice with people like this?
These are our philosophical kin, Zwolinski (and Tomasi and Levy)? But not those awful moderate Republican types who talk about markets and individualism all the time, of course. Well, you go to the family reunion next time, then, because I don’t have the patience for it anymore. Nor for any further BHL nonsense.
Todd then all but calls bleeding-heart libertarianism an intellectual cancer:
If you treasure your status as intellectuals as
much as you seem to, there comes a time to admit you’re wrong, and it
would be impressive and admirable for the BHL faction to do so
immediately after the release of the liberal-tarian manifesto Free Market Fairness. Indeed,
they are plainly morally obligated to do so, as, all joking aside, they
are attempting to dilute the one philosophy that can save this society by transmuting it into the very philosophy that is rapidly destroying society, on campus and in Washington, DC.There is not some aspect of this that their opponents “don’t get,” “need to study more,” or are “resisting.” BHL is false and destructive, and, as usual, I have been entirely too kind in my criticisms. I will not continue to be if they persist in this self-indulgent,
Frankly, Todd’s going overboard. I agree that the philosophers and activists of “social justice” are extremely unlikely to change their minds. As Obi-Wan tells Anakin, they are lost. But they’re still very much worth addressing. When you debate, you don’t talk to your opponent in order to change his mind. (Yea, right). You talk to your opponent in order change the minds of the undecided members of the audience. Bleeding-heart libertarians aren’t going to convince social justice activists that “Libertarianism delivers what you want.” Bleeding-heart libertarians may however convince the undecided that “Libertarianism delivers what social justice activists want.”
But my defense of bleeding-heart libertarianism is more than merely strategic. While I often disagree with bleeding-heart libertarians, they deserve credit for pointing out the many neglected ways that government hurts the truly poor. Bleeding-heart libertarians realize, for example, that free migration is not just one issue among many, but the central libertarian issue of our time. Their willingness to play Jiminy Cricket for libertarians and leftists alike far outweighs their admittedly annoying habit of taking John Rawls seriously.
But let me go further. The anger in Todd’s denunciation convinces me that his targets have a valuable lesson to teach him. In my experience, bleeding-heart libertarians exemplify a rhetorical virtue that
libertarians desperately need to enhance: friendliness. Calling people “evil” because they slightly disagree with you isn’t just unfair. It’s strategic suicide. See Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
Yes, even the most pleasant conversation usually fails to change people’s minds. But pleasant conversation is far more persuasive than unpleasant conversation. And in the long-run, unpleasant conversation usually leads to no conversation at all. Bleeding-heart libertarians really are broadening the audience for libertarian ideas. A big part of the reason is that they know how to disagree without being disagreeable.