Culture War Contretemps: Et Tu, Brutalist?

Big changes are often terribly disruptive, even among those who favor the changes. For an example, one need look no further than the libertarian movement’s struggles to address itself to recent social, legal and political developments on what I’ll call, for brevity’s sake, “the same-sex marriage front.”

Libertarian opinions on that issue run across a fairly narrow range. Some of us want government out of the marriage licensing business entirely (some of us want government out of business, period!). Others are content, at least for the moment, to end government discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in licensing. And hey … we’re getting there much more quickly than anyone would have dared predict a decade ago, aren’t we?

Now that we ARE getting there, though, some beneficiaries of the positive change want … well, more. And some of them are apparently ready and willing to appeal to the same institution which oppressed them for so long to oppress OTHER people into giving them what they want.

I refer, of course, to same-sex couples demanding that the state force bakers, florists and photographers to bake, arrange and take their wedding cakes, flowers and photos, whether those bakers, florists and photographers want to or not.

Libertarianism, as philosopher Roderick Long puts it, is the radical notion that other people aren’t your property. You don’t get to tell them whom they may or may not marry … and you don’t get to enslave them no matter how badly you want a cake, a bouquet or a pretty 8×10 from them.

That last paragraph, stripped down to its rhetorical essence, is what libertarian writer Jeffrey Tucker characterizes as a “brutalist” exposition: “Bigots have rights too. Get over it.”

As a matter of aesthetics, Tucker prefers  a “humanitarian” exposition which accentuates the positive aspects of liberty: The flourishing of people and societies flowing from acceptance of freedom of association, non-association and so forth.” Same rule, but a spoonful of sugar, if you will, helps the medicine go down.

In the broad strokes, I agree (although I often and easily fall into “brutalist” mode — a personal failing of style) Unfortunately some libertarians, in an effort to avoid the ugliness of “brutalist” rhetoric, seem to miss actual brutality in painting their “humanitarian” picture. This failure was obvious in many libertarians’ responses to the “religious freedom” bills recently proposed by several state legislatures.

Yes, some of those bills had poison pills in them — violating the “other people aren’t your property” stricture in the other direction by forcing employers to retain rather than fire employees who refused to do this or that “for religious reasons.”

And yes, it was fairly obvious that the real purpose, as opposed to the advertised effect, of these bills was to let politicians tell their most prejudiced constituents, with a wink and a nudge, “we’re on your side — remember in November.”

And yes, it is always painful to watch people for whose rights you have advocated turn around and demand that they be allowed to violate the rights of others. It makes you want to close your eyes for a few minutes, not notice and hope it goes away.

It is to just this kind of situation that only the “brutalist” response really works: Bigots have rights too. Get over it.

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