In Defense Of Jeffrey Tucker

In a recent post for the Foundation for Economic Education, called “Against Libertarian Brutalism,” Jeffrey Tucker calls upon each libertarian to self-reflect on their reasons for adopting the label and in doing so, identifies and describes two broad categories of libertarianism. These are:

1.  The humanitarian, who identifies as libertarian because he’s concerned about the freedom and exploitation of others.

2.  The brutalist, who identifies as libertarian as a means to justify and excuse any disgusting or destructive behavior, so long as it’s non-violent.

Tucker makes the case that while both identities are permissible in the libertarian framework, the humanitarian is who we should celebrate and strive to emulate, not the brutalist. We should not cheer a victory for freedom every time a racist refuses service to a minority or a homophobe invests in a public relations crusade to dehumanize the LBGT community.

I thought this was an uncontroversial argument, so I was surprised to see that the majority of article comments were critical of Tucker’s view. After reading the responses, though, I realized, most simply didn’t get it.

This was apparent by the common theme of the responses—namely, dissenters attempted to rebut Tucker’s position on violating the rights of brutalists, bigots, etc., despite that fact that Tucker never argued for the negation or violation of anyone’s rights. To the contrary, Tucker acknowledged the legitimacy of the brutalist’s position within the liberty movement,

 “To be sure, liberty does allow both the humanitarian and the brutalist perspective, as implausible as that might seem. Liberty is large and expansive and asserts no particular social end as the one and only way. Within the framework of liberty, there is the freedom to love and to hate.”

“The brutalists are technically correct that liberty also protects the right to be a complete jerk and the right to hate.”

Tucker does not advocate for the use of guns or tanks to violently dissuade brutalists – or the bigoted jerks whose causes they champion – from their distasteful ways. He merely suggests that we should instead embrace and market the humanitarian position and that in doing so, we should be critical of, even publicly so, the brutalist’s motivations.

And his position is not inconsistent with property rights, nor does it contradict an opposition to the government’s favored approach of coercive intervention. As Sheldon Richman argued in “We Can Oppose Bigotry Without The Politicians,”

Now the moment anyone says that government should have no power to prohibit business owners from discriminating in public accommodations, a progressive interlocutor will respond, “So a business should be allowed to refuse service to someone because the person is black or gay?”

To which I would say, No, the business should not be allowed to do that. But by “not be allowed,” I mean that the rest of us should nonviolently impose costs on those who offend decency by humiliating persons by the refusal of service. As noted,this would include boycotts, publicity, and ostracism. The state should not be seen as a remedy, and considering that its essence is violence, it certainly should not punish nonviolent conduct, however objectionable.

It’s clear that no one, other than those defending the bigots, brutalists, etc., is talking about property rights or their violation. In actuality, the humanitarian situation Tucker et al, describes is an interaction between two or more individuals or groups, each perfectly respecting the other’s property rights. When one party publicly displays bigoted, antisocial or dehumanizing behavior, the other (humanitarian) shows their opposition nonviolently, through boycotts, negative publicity and ostracism. The humanitarian is still respecting the property rights of the bigot, but imposes on him social and economic costs through the humanitarian’s own rights of free speech and association. Neither party is a victim of coercion, but both are presented with a choice: the bigot can either modify his behavior or accept the organic consequences of his actions; the humanitarian can either accept the bigot’s behavior or forgo the social and economic offerings the bigot could provide. Such is the nature of markets. However, a third party – the brutalist – swoops in to play hero-of-the-day-purist-libertarian and declares, “By the affirmation of property rights, your bigot-shaming is coercive and must cease!”

To those who dismissed Tucker’s arguments on the above ground, I ask this: who or what are you really defending? You’re not defending property rights, as those were never under assault. You are not defending people from a positive obligation to seek out and publicly condemn all bigots in the world – that duty was never called for. When we examine your voluntary time investments, we find, in truth, you are only defending a world where racists, sexists and brutalists of all sorts are protected from the social and economic consequences of their actions.

Translations for this article:


Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory