Why Would Libertarians Have the Tagline “Owning Civil Discourse and Social Justice”?
Some may wonder about our tagline. Some may even find it audacious. I think it’s worth considering how fitting it really is. While I admit it’s something of an exaggeration to say we “own” either civil discourse or social justice, I think we do have a special claim to discuss both—especially together.
Most of us on PSL are academics that happen to be libertarian. (I put it that way as I think we all consider ourselves academics first.) Being libertarians in academia has, I think, primed us for civil discourse. We are good at it for the very simple reason that academic libertarians—perhaps especially philosophers but also political scientists (and economists, though perhaps less so)—are always in dialogue with people with whom we disagree. We are inevitably in the severe minority in our professional academic departments, colleges, and universities.
Most of our closest colleagues are or seem significantly to the left of us—they overwhelmingly vote for Democrats and have views commonly accepted as “progressive.“ Many of us balance that by traveling to conferences, workshops and such where we find ourselves with people that are or seem significantly to the right of us—people who overwhelmingly vote for Republicans and have views commonly accepted as “conservative.” (This is due to the so-called fusion of libertarian and conservative ideas that was prevalent for several decades.) So, we find ourselves most often surrounded by others to the left of us and then spend time surrounded by others to the right of us.
Having these two very different circles of friends and colleagues left me, at least, feeling without a “home.” Despite this, though, we want to have careers as libertarians in academia and that simply requires being able to dialogue well with both of those groups with whom we may have overlapping views but also significant disagreement.
Finding ourselves in the this position—sort of the middle, sort of not—and yet able to engage in discourse with both “sides,” leaves us well-practiced in talking with people we adamantly disagree with. For us, it’s a matter of survival and it always has been. We thus find ourselves able to engage in civil discourse more generally. The fact that the country (or world) finds itself polarized with many unable to dialogue with each other leaves academic libertarians in the position to use the skills we’ve had to hone by necessity to help other groups get back into discourse with one another—or at least to try. This is why we claim we own civil discourse.
As libertarians we also tend to be very skeptical of power centers—whether in government or elsewhere. We tend to continually question where power comes from, who holds the power and why, and whether it should be respected. We are concerned about how power is used—especially when used over people. As PSLs—or just honest libertarians—we’re concerned that everybody have a chance to lead their own lives as they see fit. We are genuinely concerned about justice—including “social justice” if that is somehow a distinct thing. This is why we claim we own social justice.
We don’t expect anyone to agree with us about everything. We certainly don’t expect all of our readers to accept our more “pure“ libertarian views. We do hope that you’ll come along for the ride, that you can dialogue with us and with those on the other side of the aisle from you. We aren’t on the other side of the aisle; we straddle the aisle. We agree with the left that we have to care for those who are worst off. We agree with the right that stringent property rights and individual responsibility are necessary, both morally and for the greater good (and, we think, are in the interests of the worst off).
Again, we “straddle the aisle.” We are not really “in the middle.” When I say we “straddle the aisle,” I mean we accept positions on both sides. Indeed, we think our core view entails positions on the left (e.g., the state should not have laws or practices that favor the rich, as it does) and positions on the right (e.g., property rights must be protected). We believe people on both the left and the right often fail to appreciate the arguments of the other side. We also think people on both sides sometimes accept contradictory beliefs. People on the left, e.g., speak as if cancelling/silencing people is always wrong bad but then cancel people that speak against “wokeness.” People on the right, e.g., speak as if property is sacred but are all too happy to have hefty taxation to fund the military. Again, we straddle the sides—in some ways we will seem to be (in fact, are) to the left but in other ways we will seem to be (in fact, are) to the right. (I mostly think this shows how impoverished the bilateral view of politics actually is; hence there are attempts like that available here to improve on that.)
I hope you will stay with us here at PSL. We’ll have interesting posts about civil discourse, social justice, and other libertarian issues. My next post is likely to be a brief attempt at guidance for civil discourse.
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