Modern Liberalism: It Can Be Very Strange, Or, Don’t You Know People Have Traditionally Been Slaves?

In the latest of a now apparently endless stream of generic
attacks on libertarianism in more mainstream or liberal-leaning
intellectual outposts, see
this from Claude S. Fischer (a U Cal Berkeley sociology prof)

Boston Review

It refreshingly headlines what is pretty much the intellectual
heft of most such plaints against libertarianism: “Libertarianism
is Very Strange.”

Why? Is it because some of us advocate such avant-garde notions
as competing private defense agencies, tort over regulatory law to
keep businesses from harming people, or full liberty of drug and
food consumption?

Nah, libertarianism’s weirdness is deeper than that. We are
truly through the rabbit hole here, my mainstream liberal friends,
dealing with libertarian loons who seem to believe that people
are individuals and should be treated as such!

Why, don’t libertarians realize that:

For most of history, including Philadelphia, 1776, more humans
were effectively property than free. Children, youth, women,
slaves, and servants belonged to patriarchs; many patriarchs were
themselves serfs to chiefs and lords. And selling oneself into
slavery was routine for the poor in many societies. Most world
cultures have treated the individual as a limb of the household,
lineage, or tribe. We moderns abhor the idea of punishing the
brother or child of a wrongdoer, but in many cultures collective
punishment makes perfect sense, for each person is just part of the

What difference does this history and anthropology make to
libertarian arguments about the good life? Plenty. If libertarians
would move real-world policy in their direction, then their
premises about humans and human society should be at least remotely
plausible; we are not playing SimCity here.

In other words, post-Enlightenment modernity is very
, and libertarians take aspects of it so seriously it
freaks me out. It isn’t just that Mr. Fischer is bothered by
Rothbard, Nozick, or even Rand Paul. Everything that has led us as
far as we have toward modern democratic capitalism strikes him as
apparently anti-human in a deep and profound sense. 

Indeed, Mr. Fischer, we aren’t playing SimCity. It’s a shame so
much modern governance, even today, tries to pretend we are as it
tries to manipulate people by force to meet the goals of the

from Hit & Run

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