LGBTs, Leftists and Libertarians
LGBTs, Leftists and Libertarians
By Duncan Whitmore
In a previous essay posted on this blog, the present writer explored the poisonous proliferation of identity politics in today’s political discourse. One of the themes of that essay was that identity politics has served to create false group identities which misrepresent the interests of the individuals who are supposed to make up those groups, solely for the purpose of being able to pit each group against other groups for political gain. The actual interests of the individuals within each group are served poorly, if at all.
Continuing on a similar theme, we will, in the present essay, examine how various minority groups that have been championed by the left – many of which, such as those characterised by race, religion or sexual orientation, have won genuine and much needed victories against prior legal repression – are being exploited by the left in the current culture war. Although libertarians are right to welcome a renaissance of traditional, local, cultural and religious values as bulwarks against the metastasising growth of the state, it is not minority groups (or the vindication of their rights) per se which are a threat to traditional cultures; rather, the genuine threat is the attempt by straight, white, middle class virtue signalling liberals to grant legal privileges to these groups in an attempt to attack and weaken what remains of Western civilisation. Far from having their own, long term interests preserved by allying themselves with the left, these minorities may well be leading themselves over a cliff edge if they are swept up in the backlash against leftism that is manifest in the resurgence of populism, nationalism, traditionalism and anti-globalism. Consequently, we shall why it is libertarianism that can allow minority groups to flourish, and why members of minority groups should become libertarians.
What is a Minority?
It is important to realise that not every minority group is worthy of consideration in this regard. Unrepentant rapists and paedophiles are minority groups but such people would, quite rightly, be hard pressed to find anyone to champion their cause – and we certainly wouldn’t want them claiming that their pursuits are compatible with libertarianism. Rather, the type of minority group we will be examining here is distinguished by the following qualities:
- The possession of either an engrained characteristic (such as skin colour) or the voluntary pursuit of a practice (for example, sexual intercourse between two men) that is not shared by the majority of the population;
- The characteristic or practice is at variance with the prevailing moral, cultural, traditional or religious attitudes, or is simply different or discomforting in terms of aesthetics or taste;
- The characteristic or practice is not inherently violent or a breach of the non-aggression principle, even though members of minorities may seek to enforce their interests through violence. (For instance, the fact of simply being black or practising gay sex with a consenting adult are not violent in and of themselves, nor do they breach anyone else’s rights. While legally enforced positive discrimination may be advocated by blacks or homosexuals for their own benefit, this is incidental. On the other hand, acts of rape or paedophilia are inherently violent, and so we must exclude rapists and paedophiles from the groups of minorities under consideration here);
- The characteristic or practice is not, from the point of view of the minority member himself, inherently self-destructive or self-harmful, even though the members of a minority may pursue paths that lead to self-harm either through choice or as the result of accompanying circumstances. (So, for instance, being black or practising gay sex does not, by itself, lead to a life of destitution or misery. While the excess welfare dependency experienced by blacks in the US may lead them to such destitution, and the choice of homosexuals to engage in wanton promiscuous sex may lead to a higher rate of STIs or other unwanted afflictions, these are, once again, accompanying circumstances or decisions. On the other hand, alcoholism or drug addiction is likely to be viewed as inherently self-destructive even from the point of view of the individual addict, so alcoholics and drug addicts must also be excluded from the groups we are considering).
An additional, common feature of such minorities from the point of view of the left is that they are all, in some way, “oppressed” by the straight, white, Christian, Western patriarchy. The mind of the leftist is so superficially wedded to the ideal of “equality” that all of those who have, some how, fallen short of the wealth and cultural riches that have been generated by the West must automatically be victims of “exploitation” or “oppression”. So gays must be oppressed by straights; females by males; Muslims by Christians; blacks by whites, etc. In fact the only common feature that unites the disparate groups under the leftist banner is this perceived mantle of “oppression”, while at the same time many of the specific interests and beliefs of these groups are at odds with each other. For instance, the left will champion the rights of LGBTs yet will also rail against “Islamophobia”, in spite of the fact that Muslim majority countries practise social and legal prejudice against LGBTs that has been all but vanquished in the west. This problem surfaced recently when a school in Birmingham attempted to teach LGBT rights and lifestyles to classes containing a significant number of Muslim children. Such discordance should give at least an indication of the eventual failure of the left to serve the interests of minorities; for how is, say, a gay man going to have his interests met if he must march in lockstep with a Muslim who hates his lifestyle (or vice versa)?
For the remainder of this essay, we will focus on the LGBT movement rather than attempt to consider a number of minorities at once. This is not only for the sake of clarity and brevity, but also this movement is probably the most straightforward to discuss for the reason that it transcends national circumstances more easily. Race relations, on the other hand, differ heavily between, say, Britain and the United States, as does religion. Moreover, any attempt to discuss Muslims as a minority in Britain is likely to lead us into the quagmire of debating whether Islam is genuinely a religion of peace, which would be a distraction from the points we wish to make. The non-violent nature of consenting, homosexual acts, or the desire of a man to dress and behave as a woman, is however, undisputed. (The present writer has also addressed the topic of immigration previously).
The LGBT Movement
Like most single-issue groups, the LGBT movement has been afflicted by a failure to understand properly the principles upon which its cause should be based. Strictly speaking, when it comes to legal rights, there are no such things as “gay rights”, “women’s rights”, or “rights of blacks”, etc. There are only rights that apply to every individual by virtue of his status as a rational, human being. According to libertarians, these rights consist of the right to self-ownership and the right to own property unmolested by the physical interference of any other individual. It follows, therefore, that the attempt by single issue groups to remove genuinely invasive incursions by the state into their lives is entirely legitimate. In other words, so long as the LGBT movement seeks to achieve the right of its members to be left alone and to be able to interact peacefully with whomever they wish (on a par with every other citizen) its aims are perfectly meritorious and, indeed, should be encouraged.
June 28th of this year was the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York City, the event which seemingly catapulted the gay movement out of the closet in under a year. Although consensual sex, in private, between adult males had been decriminalised in the UK two years earlier, on the eve of the riot “sodomy” was illegal in every US state except for Illinois. Fast forward to today and, while political oppression of homosexuals throughout the world is still active in many countries (particularly in those that are deeply religious), in the West homosexuals have achieved a high degree of political equality with heterosexuals. Any person may engage in sexual intercourse with members of the same sex without legal interference in the UK and, as of 2003, in all fifty of the United States; institutions set up specifically to attract homosexual customers such as gay bars, clubs, dating sites and so on are perfectly legal. Moreover, a same sex couple may now marry on the same footing as heterosexual couples in both countries (with the exception of Northern Ireland).
Unfortunately, the LGBT movement has not been content to stop at this point, having now co-opted the state into furthering the interests of LGBTs by invading the rights of other people – in other words, pressing for legal privileges rather legal rights. In this regard, we might mention in passing the cases of alleged “discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation”, where a heterosexual individual, or group of individuals, chooses not to do business with homosexuals. In the past this has involved gay couples wishing to stay at, say, a bed and breakfast at which the owner denies them lodging, or a Christian bakery refusing to decorate a cake with a pro-gay message. A court case usually follows, the result of which is that the business owner is forced to pay damages to the aggrieved gays for “discriminating” against them. In all of these cases libertarians can see that LGBTs have switched from ejecting the state from their own bedrooms to forcing the state into the sanctity of other people’s private property.
These are, however, small waves on top of a deeper current, which is that it has not been enough for the LGBT movement to gain liberty for its members. Rather, it has begun to crave the wider goal of positive social acceptance and celebration. In other words, LGBTs don’t just want to be left alone – they want their lifestyles and choices to be actively loved, desired, and represented by everybody else. Indeed, it is interesting to note in this regard that “Gay Pride” was originally called “Gay Liberation”, the former name having been adopted only in the 1980s. The shift in emphasis marked by this change is clear – from throwing off the yoke of state oppression onto shameless self-promotion and self-glorification. The parades which begun only a year after Stonewall as marches for civic rights have, today, turned into vast, corporately funded carnivals that celebrate gay culture – a metamorphosis which, incidentally, has not been welcomed without question by all LGBTs.
Such a desire for positive acceptance is not, in and of itself, morally reprehensible, or at least it is not difficult to empathise with. After all, anyone with an interest that is not shared by the majority is going to have relatively greater difficulty in having that interest fulfilled. Ludwig von Mises captures this succinctly in the economic sphere:
The fact that my fellow man wants to acquire shoes as I do, does not make it harder for me to get shoes, but easier. What enhances the price of shoes is the fact that nature does not provide a more ample supply of leather and other raw materials required, and that one must submit to the disutility of labor in order to transform the raw materials into shoes. The catallactic competition of those who, like me, are eager to have shoes makes shoes cheaper, not more expensive.1
From this we can see that if your need for shoes correlates with the majority’s need for the same commodity then it will be easier for you to obtain them because the productive apparatus of the economy will be geared towards producing shoes. If, however, you prefer an idiosyncratic style of footwear, or, in contrast to most people, you have one foot significantly longer than the other, it will be relatively harder for you to find suitable shoes because the means of production are not calibrated to fulfilling these less urgently demanded goods.
In a similar vein, if one pursues an interest or a lifestyle which is shared by most other people it is going to be easier to have that interest or lifestyle fulfilled for the simple reason that everyone is geared towards fostering it. If, however, a lifestyle or interest is esoteric or niche then its pursuit will be much more difficult. For instance, those who eat a standard, omnivorous diet will have far more food options in the supermarket or on a restaurant menu than, say, the minority of celiacs or nut allergy sufferers. Such people are required to live a frustrating life of picking out available foods carefully to avoid gluten and nut content respectively in an environment that is not geared primarily to catering for this avoidance. It would be much easier for celiacs if everyone was a celiac (or for nut allergy sufferers if everyone had a nut allergy) as then the entirety of the food industry would be oriented around the production of gluten and nut free foods. (Or, at the very least, it would be much easier if everyone else “understood” or “sympathised” with the plight of celiacs and nut allergy sufferers, and so were prepared to have a little of their own satisfaction curtailed by having all food production methods geared towards producing foods suitable for celiacs and nut allergy sufferers). Similarly, we libertarians are all accustomed to an existence on the fringes of political relevance. All of the support and all of the money goes to more mainstream outfits, to the extent that we must rely on precious few resources and the small number of sympathetic outlets we have in order to publish literature and hold events. How much better would life be for us if more people were libertarian!
Given all of this, it is no small wonder that the temptation for any minority to recruit the power of the state in relieving these pressures is so great. For LGBTs, the temptation is likely to be even stronger given that they have also endured the additional burden of a long history of religious and moral chastisement. Unfortunately, however, due to the unique circumstances of our time, this desire of LGBTs for greater social acceptance in order to more easily live their lives has been exploited by the globalising leftist elite, and is being promoted (along with the interests of other minorities) by the strong arm of the state at the expense of “traditional”, heterosexual lifestyles.
At first blush this phenomenon seems unusual given that, for centuries, it has usually been the case that minorities, such as ethnic enclaves, are the ones to have suffered persecution by a state that is run by and for a majority. After all, the existence and maintenance of the state depends, at the very least, on the tacit acceptance of the majority. Thus, in the past, not only could the interests of minorities be ignored as irrelevant in this regard, but they have also made convenient scapegoats for the plight of the majority. The difference today, however, is that globalisation is attempting to consolidate and centralise states and state institutions across national and political borders. Majorities around which the power of individual states has coalesced are a natural stumbling block to this project, and so the promotion of the interests of minorities is being utilised in order to weaken traditional religious, cultural and local allegiances that hold these majorities together.
The ongoing issue of gay marriage has illustrated this seemingly symbiotic relationship of gays nesting themselves firmly in the burgeoning bosom of the leftist state. Hitherto there has been nothing to stop two people of the same sex from hiring a venue, gathering all of their friends and family, exchanging vows and rings, and declaring their union that will forevermore be recognised by their community. The SWAT team was never about to break down the door after the committal “I do”. The real problem was the lack of legal recognition of the marriage by the state and the denial of the dubious benefits deriving from the state’s use of marriage as a shorthand for creating different legal rights and obligations between the two partners. Thus the issue has never really been about affirming one’s love for another person in front of your friends and relatives; it has been about achieving the state’s sanctifying blessing. Indeed, any victories in the legalisation of gay marriage seem to be celebrated as “acceptance”, “vindication”, “validation”, “recognition”, etc. – as if one needs the state to live one’s lifestyle with confidence. It would, of course, be better for everyone if the state relinquished its invasive usurpation of all marriage and returned it to its rightful origin as a religious or community affair. But the apparent win-win situation for gays and leftists is clear: gays get to feel “accepted” by society while leftists have succeeded in imposing upon everyone a universal definition of an ancient institution that frustrates its original cultural and religious meaning for many people.
In spite of these issues with gay marriage, at least we can say it is attempting to place the legal rights of gays on an equal footing to that of straights. Much more problematic, however, is the seeming attempt to dismiss, ban, redefine, or remould anything that pertains to what has come to be known as “heteronormativity” – the notion that the standard, or “default” sexual orientation is heterosexual, and that one’s gender identity is binary and wedded to your biological sex. Although “heteronormativity” is associated also with the notion that heterosexual lifestyles are not merely “normal” but are, in fact, superior to LGBT lifestyles, we are here going to concentrate on the most narrow interpretation: that heterosexuality, identification with one’s biological sex, and binary gender roles – regardless of how good, bad or ugly these things may be – are embraced by the majority and may, thus, be described as typical, or what one would expect when meeting the average stranger.
If the majority of people in a society live a certain lifestyle, then it will follow that the prevailing cultures, manners, customs and practices are going to reflect that lifestyle. In just the same way, therefore, that celiacs and nut allergy sufferers find themselves in a world where food production is geared towards foods that contain gluten or nuts, LGBTs are going to find themselves living in a world that is economically, technologically, culturally and aesthetically configured around heterosexuality, as well as around binary gender identities/roles. If, therefore, you look like a man, people are likely to refer to you as “he” and your possessions as “his”, regardless of whether you believe yourself to be a woman or prefer to live a female lifestyle. Similarly, people can expect you to use the men’s bathroom and not the ladies’. If your son is a teenager then one can expect friends and relatives to ask if he has started dating girls, not other boys. If typical family scenes are to be depicted on television it is likely that there will be a mother who wears dresses or skirts and probably does the majority of housework and cooking, while the father will wear trousers and does most of the DIY. Moreover, the boys will probably play with action heroes and soldiers whereas the girls will play with dolls and tea sets. In sporting events, it is expected that biological males will compete in the men’s events and biological females will compete in the women’s events because the reason for the separation is the natural, physical differences between biological men and biological women. In observing all of this we are not making any moral prescription – we are merely stating that, in the same way we can expect a dog to bark and a cat to meow, it is understandable that humans adopt attitudes and expectations that are in accordance with the categories the majority of people fit into and, moreover, configure the limited resources they have available in accordance with these expectations.
All of this is very frustrating for LGBTs, or for anyone who lives a lifestyle or pursues an interest that is atypical. Minorities can, of course, seek to spread awareness of their situations by reminding people that what is typical is not necessarily universal, and this may help to relieve some of the more egregious cases of casual or unwitting chauvinism. Ultimately, however, the majority will always be the mainstream, and the needs and expectations of the majority will always be catered for ahead of any minority, as difficult as that may be for the latter. Again, this is not a moral prescription – it is simply a fact of life.
Unfortunately, the response of the leftist/LGBT symbiosis has been to attempt to break the prevailing “heteronormative” milieu by enacting laws or taking measures that seek to ban or otherwise suppress it. In this regard we can cite any attempt to force establishments that provide public toilets to allow trans women (biological males) to use the ladies’ bathroom; the banning of traditional gender roles on TV; gender neutral school uniforms; the criminalisation of so-called “misgendering” or failing to use a person’s “preferred” pronouns; and where a mere expression of disagreement with a minority lifestyle (or even a rationally validated criticism of the science behind gender identity) can constitute a so-called “hate crime”, or cost you your job.
Ultimately, all of this is likely to be counterproductive for LGBTs. If the majority were willing to accept greater recognition and deference to minority lifestyles then laws would be superfluous. If laws are used, however, they will be viewed by the majority not as a welcome change in social attitudes but as a forced expunging from society of mainstream values, attitudes and etiquette. The feeling is likely to be that the majority is not merely having to accommodate the minority but is, in fact, being forcibly subsumed by it. Why, after all, should the habits of everyone else change just to suit a bare fraction of people? For instance, if transwomen are allowed to use the ladies’ bathroom to prevent their “discomfort” then what about the discomfort of the majority of ladies at the sight of a biological man in their bathroom? Why do their feelings not matter? Why are schools banning skirts for every girl when the majority of them may wish to wear skirts? Why must everyone change what has been a closed linguistic class for millennia by inventing strange new pronouns (such as “zie”, “hir”, ey” or “em”) to accommodate the needs of a mere handful of people who may identify with several dozen alternative gender identities? These are precisely the questions that will be raised by the majority, the attitude behind which has, perhaps, been summarised best by Vladimir Putin in a (much derided) interview where he challenged the longevity of “liberalism”:
[T]he liberal idea […] has come into conflict with the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population. Or take the traditional values. I am not trying to insult anyone, because we have been condemned for our alleged homophobia as it is. But we have no problems with LGBT persons. God forbid, let them live as they wish. But some things do appear excessive to us. They claim now that children can play five or six gender roles. I cannot even say exactly what genders these are, I have no notion. Let everyone be happy, we have no problem with that. But this must not be allowed to overshadow the culture, traditions and traditional family values of millions of people making up the core population. [Emphasis added]
This attitude is only likely to become more widespread because none of the measures taken by states to champion the lifestyles of LGBTs helps to relieve the social frustration that is felt by that minority. Instead, it simply multiplies it by heaping it onto the majority – a multiplication that is likely to result in an eventual backlash.
A problem that is seldom considered by proponents of increased state action in promoting their needs is what might happen if the boot was to find itself on the other foot – i.e. once the expanded power of the state for which you advocated falls into the hands of people fundamentally opposed to your interests. What people don’t realise is that a state which forcibly promotes LGBT lifestyles could just as easily flip flop and ban them; a state which mandates the existence of ten, twenty or fifty genders could one day do an about turn by deciding that there are only two. Co-opting the state is like signing a pact with the devil. Once you allow its tentacles to wrap themselves around your area of interest you leave the door open for people opposed to that interest to use the state to ban, regulate, suppress or control that area in a way that suits them rather than you. (Indeed, it is often amusing in this regard to ask “Remainers” in the current Brexit debate, who normally identify with the liberal-left, if they would be quite so keen on the EU in the event it was taken over by “far right” social conservatives). With regards to LGBTs, although the populist, nationalist, traditionalist backlash against globalism is a decentralising force, it is not inherently anti-statist, and so it remains within the purview of these movements to reverse all of the rights – legitimate and illegitimate – that LGBTs have won for themselves in the past. Thus, in aligning themselves with the globalising left, LGBTs may one day discover that they have nailed their rainbow colours to the wrong mast.2
Libertarians and LGBTs – The Way Forward
As we noted above, libertarians should welcome the renaissance of traditional, local, cultural and religious values as decentralising forces against the globalising growth of the state. However, in spite of the fact that we are living in an era when Western culture and civilisation needs to be rescued from leftist rot, it is incumbent upon us to avoid stooping to cultural conservative alarmism. There is a tendency in the course of human history for any extremity to produce an overcompensating reaction which simply pushes society to the very opposite and equally unsustainable extreme. It is akin to a pendulum swinging from one side all the way to the other instead of resting in a state of equilibrium in the middle. For instance, the excessive nationalism and imperialism that resulted in two world wars has now produced an environment where we are supposed to pretend that national identities do not exist. Racism and segregation have begotten a milieu in which we are supposed to acknowledge no variation between the races whatsoever, even though such variations may be true and understanding them is in the best interests of racial minorities. And now, after decades of LGBTs hiding themselves and “blending in” with the rest of society, we have a flamboyant and vociferous gay culture which, as we have noted, the strong arm of the state is endowing with promotion and privilege at the expense of the lifestyles favoured by everyone else. The risk with all of this is that it will simply provoke another reaction which pushes us all back to the other extremity of gays being banned and censured before the whole cycle of conflict and strife just repeats itself.
Libertarians cannot fall into this trap. We are radicals, but we are not reactionaries. Our goal is to produce a world in which everyone can co-exist peacefully, a goal which requires an understanding of how to persuade anyone from seeking the vindication of their ends through the state apparatus. This goal will not be achieved by simply denigrating whichever group happens to be the current beneficiary of the state’s largesse. The sections that follow, therefore, will attempt to flesh out the kind of approach that libertarians should take towards LGBTs and similar minorities – as well as some indication as to why LGBTs should consider becoming libertarians rather than leftists.
Majorities vs. Minorities
In the first place, we should remember that it is rarely, if ever, going to be the case that a bare minority of people is going to have the wherewithal to pervert, destroy or otherwise corrupt the lifestyles or interests of the majority. In fact, as we noted earlier, the precise opposite has been the norm, and it is minorities who have faced the risk of persecution and eradication by the majority. While the social acceptance of LGBT lifestyles and homosexual acts has an important effect on whether people choose to pursue any homosexual desires, most comprehensive estimates seem to place the number of people identifying as lesbian, gay or bisexual at fewer than 4% (may be even as low as 1.5% in the UK), while the number of people who have engaged in some form of same sex activity or mere “attraction” sits at a maximum of 11%. Interestingly, these numbers are small even for the most liberal and diverse cities in the world – with London claiming that just 2.5% of its population are lesbian, gay or bisexual. Moreover, according to the New York Times, only 5% of searches for pornographic sites, which can be viewed in private away from the glare of social exposure, are for gay sex.
Even if, therefore, we were to remove every single social barrier to the acceptance of homosexuality, it is unlikely that anything more than 10% of people will find themselves susceptible to pursuing or “experimenting” with homosexual activity any more than they do so already – and many of those whose sexuality is more “floating” or less intensely oriented towards the homosexual end of the spectrum may eventually settle for a heterosexual relationship. The number for transgenders is even smaller, sitting at a fraction of a percentage. All of this could add up to a significant minority to be sure, but a minority that will, nonetheless, be relatively powerless next to the heterosexual majority. The threat to traditional marriage, family, heterosexual relations and gender roles comes not from LGBTs – it comes from the straight, white, “cisgendered” liberal left who have the power to legally privilege these lifestyles in order to weaken and suppress the social bonds of everyone else.
Further, even when we look to the past at relatively stable societies where homosexuality has been more widespread, it was unusual for the practice to be unaccompanied by strict rules that reflected social and cultural priorities. For instance, in the ancient Roman Republic, freeborn males were expected to have sexual relations with both males and females provided that they took the penetrative role only, a role which reflected the Roman ideal of masculinity and physical integrity. The passive or receptive role was reserved for slaves, prostitutes, and entertainers. Sexual relations were, thus, governed not by gender but by social status, the same distinction having been a primary consideration in Ancient Greece. Moreover, family integrity, authority and patriarchy took precedence, and it was expected that sexual gratification would be pursued only with the kind of restraint and self-discipline that could be expected of an upstanding citizen. The later, extreme decadence associated with the Imperial era was already underpinned by social and economic decay.
Second, it would be incoherent for Austro-libertarians – who have made the greatest intellectual contribution to explaining the epistemological gulf that exists between the understanding of humans and the understanding of nature – to claim that any LGBT lifestyle is, in some way, “unnatural”. Traditionalists will, no doubt, find this to be a controversial suggestion. But is it not equally “unnatural” to eat with a knife and fork? Is it not “unnatural” to climb into a motorised machine called a “car” to transport oneself from A to B? Nature never gifted us houses to live in, chairs to sit on, televisions to watch, or baths to wash in. The whole point of humanity, the very quality that sets apart from mere animals, is that we do not simply sacrifice ourselves on the altar of nature’s determinism or succumb to uncontrollable instincts. Rather, we use our unique faculty of reason to improve upon what nature has given us in order to better our lives. The fact that some people view such betterment in a way differently from others doesn’t make one set of goals any less “natural” than the other. They are still taking means provided by nature and reconfiguring them to produce an outcome that was not ordained by nature. This can be asserted without having to detail all of the (presumably “natural”) non-reproductive sexual behaviour that is seen in other animals, which would seem to suggest that hetero-monogamy is the exception, rather than the rule in nature.
Moreover, most claims that homosexuality is “unnatural” are usually little more than a product of the so-called “yuck” factor – a moral judgment concerning human sexuality motivated by the personal distaste or disgust one may have at the thought of, say, two men kissing or the intricacies of anal sex (the latter of which, incidentally, can be practised just as easily by straight couples). This judgment simply comes from imagining oneself as a partner in a homosexual act and how “unnatural” it would feel. Yet to a gay person it may feel more natural than heterosexual acts.
In fact, libertarians must approach with caution the use of the adjective “natural” when describing the unfolding of any particular societal order, at least when discussing social phenomena scientifically. Such a description is permissible if one wishes to contrast the kinds of order that can be expected to emerge in a free society (families, communities, congregations, and so on) as opposed to those that result from the imposition of force and violence. But it is impermissible to use it in an absolute sense. The particular orders that emerge do so not because of any engrained, “natural” forces, but because people regard those orders as the best vehicles through which to meet their needs and better their lives – such realisation being a result of the particular combination of economic conditions and aspirations that are present. These orders are subject to change as and when these underlying conditions and aspirations change. Some orders will be relatively timeless, others may come and go in mere decades or centuries. But there is no guarantee that a particular societal order (or a particular set of social mores) will always to be optimal. It is true, of course, that the efficacy of particular orders will be influenced by natural circumstance. It is no accident that the family unit has crystallised as a result of the biological link between mother, father and child. But this natural, biological fact just serves to make the family, rather than some other mechanism, more advantageous for fulfilling its various economic and social functions. Ultimately the family is still a product of human choice rather than human nature. In fact, we have seen quite clearly how easy it is for the family to wane once the underlying economic circumstances change. When the welfare state has usurped the family’s historic functions – namely, the raising and education of children, care and welfare during times of sickness, unemployment, infirmity, and old age – then the efficacy of the family unit has been drastically reduced. Hence, we have more single parent families, more births out of wedlock, a decline in traditional, sexual morality, and so on. Libertarians and conservatives are used to lamenting this outcome because it is the result of state interference. In principle, however, there is no reason to rule out the possibility, at some given point in the future when the level of wealth and capital accumulation has proceeded to such an advanced state, that some mechanism other than the family unit (as well as the social mores surrounding it) will be regarded as more suitable for fulfilling the functions we just listed.3 Thus, while advocacy for a particular order such as the family may have a useful, strategic benefit in explaining to people how their lives are better served by freedom rather by the state, ultimately people will be deciding for themselves which structures best serve their needs once they are free from the state’s shackles.
Wealth, Productivity and Civilisation
In order to elaborate on this last point, an advancing civilisation based upon the sanctity of private property rights is precisely the kind of society that is able to accommodate minority interests such as LGBTs without much concern. The reason for this is that such a society is marked by a widening of the division of labour and an increase in capital accumulation and wealth that can serve an ever greater array of pursuits, interests and lifestyles. The fulfilment of these pursuits, interests, and lifestyles in turn permits the sustainable flourishing of a greater array of subcultures without them running into conflict with each other – even if their goals, tastes and aspirations would appear to be mutually exclusive.
For instance, three hundred years ago, your daily meal might have consisted of the same, basic foods every day. Walk into a supermarket today and you can probably eat a different meal, sampling different foods from all over the world, each day of the year. Moreover, those who prefer Italian food can eat more pasta, tomato sauce and lasagne while those with a keener taste for Chinese can indulge in more rice, chow mein or sweet and sour. Once upon a time, sport might have consisted of a few basic games with poor equipment. Now we have football, rugby, tennis, golf, motorsport, swimming, athletics, sailing, hockey, and dozens of others under the sun, all of which can be practised at the elite and amateur level, and to which a person can devote his entire life. Different lifestyles, customs, friendship groups, subcultures and so on can grow and sustain themselves as a result of our increased, economic power. It is, in fact, a poorer society with a narrow division of labour in which everyone is geared towards producing a handful of similar, basic goods (such as food) which necessarily subjects everyone’s lifestyles to a greater degree of restraint, and where people will be expected to conform to a very narrow, basic set of social mores channelled through a much smaller range of groups and communities. Indeed, the amusing aspect of those on the liberal-left who trumpet the mantra “diversity is our strength” is that their logic is entirely backwards – it is, in fact, strength that produces diversity. It is in this environment of strength that the kind of frustrations experienced by minority interests we mentioned earlier can be eased as much as possible. For LGBTs this can mean more LGBT communities, more gay-friendly establishments such as bars, hotels, bathhouses, dating sites, more magazines or periodicals catering to LGBT lifestyles, and so on. All of these may be unsustainable in an environment of reduced wealth and economic progress as what little resources there are have to be directed to serving the heterosexual majority.
What we can see from this is that it is a mistake for both libertarians and conservatives to regard the specific interests or tastes which may be associated with a decline in civilisation as being the cause of such a decline, nor is it “diversity” per se that brings about conflict and tension. Rather, what matters is the circumstances under which those interests emerge.
If the root cause of the emergence of “alternative” interests and lifestyles is the self-funding of their practitioners as a result of increased wealth creation, these minority interests can be pursued without interfering with the societal structure that serves everyone else. The sustainability of these lifestyles and interests will then stand or fall by themselves. A tree that is able to draw more water and nutrients from the soil will be able to grow and sustain an ever greater number of colourful branches. Moreover, this requirement of self-funding will mean that the fulfilment of such lifestyles must be underpinned by a whole range of beneficial traits – namely, prudence, patience, diligence, responsibility and productivity. Thus, this requirement of self-funding (and the necessity of bearing the full consequences of one’s choices) will usually be enough to take care of the most wayward kinds of behaviour, restricting many interests which have always skated on the fringes of morality to the realm of harmless pleasures. (For instance, a man can drink a pint of beer without becoming an alcoholic; he can place bets on horse races without throwing away his life savings; and he might be able to visit the occasional pornographic website without ruining his sex life and marriage.).
If, however, the root cause of the emergence of these lifestyles is economic debauchery – i.e. the forced confiscation of wealth from the productive order through mechanisms such as inflation and the welfare state – then the flowering of these interests will begin to weaken the structure of wealth creation. It is in this circumstance where the moral foundation and the cultural superstructure of society will begin to crumble, and civilisation will retrogress. A tree consuming its trunk in order to provide sustenance to its branches will eventually result in the collapse of the entire tree. Moreover, such economic debauchery brings with it other societal ills such as short sightedness, irresponsibility, impatience, imprudence, laziness, and so on, with which “alternative” lifestyles and interests are often associated. (And, of course, it is in this condition where mere pleasures are more likely to turn into unrestricted hedonism: drinking can turn into alcoholism; gambling can lead to bankruptcy; watching porn can make one a sex maniac; and so on.)
Thus, the key to tackling societal retrogression is not to attack the specific “beneficiaries” of state largesse and the “alternative” lifestyles which the state is able to create. Rather, it is to remove the state supporting economic incentives towards these things. The way to restore the family as the most basic unit is not to berate the single mothers, LGBTs, other kind of non-kinship lifestyles (who might properly be regarded as victims of the state). Rather, what must be demolished is the economic power of the state – and it is releasing that economic stranglehold which will, in the long term, provide the wealth creation through which LGBTs can better live their lives in harmony with everyone else.
Hoppe’s Remarks on Homosexuality
Finally, we should probably address the following, somewhat infamous quotation by Hans-Hermann Hoppe from his Democracy – The God that Failed:
In a covenant concluded among proprietor and community tenants for the purpose of protecting their private property, no such thing as a right to free (unlimited) speech exists, not even to unlimited speech on one’s own tenant-property. One may say innumerable things and promote almost any idea under the sun, but naturally no one is permitted to advocate ideas contrary to the very purpose of the covenant of preserving and protecting private property, such as democracy and communism. There can be no tolerance toward democrats and communists in a libertarian social order. They will have to be physically separated and expelled from society. Likewise, in a covenant founded for the purpose of protecting family and kin, there can be no tolerance toward those habitually promoting lifestyles incompatible with this goal. They – the advocates of alternative, non-family and kin-centered lifestyles such as, for instance, individual hedonism, parasitism, nature-environment worship, homosexuality, or communism – will have to be physically removed from society, too, if one is to maintain a libertarian order.4
Unfortunately, this passage has been subject to much misinterpretation and misrepresentation, even by libertarians. The purpose of the chapter from which this quotation is lifted is to contrast, on the one hand, liberty defined as the security of private property rights, with, on the other, liberty defined in a sharply different manner as “openness”, “tolerance”, “egalitarianism” and “non-discrimination” etc. – a definition most closely associated with so-called left-libertarianism. Hoppe’s point is a formal one: that a given piece of property, either standing alone or in a covenant community, cannot achieve its purpose or fulfil the ends of its owners without the ability to discriminate and exclude from the property those persons who behave in a manner which is antithetical to or otherwise frustrates that purpose. In other words, property owners need to be intolerant and highly discriminating when it comes to the kind of people they wish to invite onto their property once you consider the ends the owners are trying to achieve through that property. It is very important, therefore, to note the qualifying clauses that are italicised in the quotation above. Once you realise that Hoppe’s apparent advocacy for the “physical removal” of homosexuals is tied to a specific purpose of a particular property covenant then his imperative is no more shocking than the suggestion that people who cannot play football should be excluded from a football team.
Moreover, while it is clear that Hoppe believes that a particular social hierarchy based upon family and kin is the most conducive towards the preservation and protection of a libertarian order of private property, he explains that he is not pushing for bland uniformity across the entire world. Instead, he proposes a highly decentralised world of independent territories competing on their own terms:
[T]he predicted rise in discrimination in a purely libertarian world does not imply that the form and extent of discrimination will be the same or similar everywhere. To the contrary, a libertarian world could and likely would be one with a great variety of locally separated communities engaging in distinctly different and far-reaching discrimination.5
Secession increases ethnic, religious, linguistic and cultural diversity […] [I]t will promote the peaceful, co-operative competition of different, territorially separate cultures […] [S]maller territories [can] each have their own admission standards and determine independently with whom they will associate on their own territory and with whom they prefer to co-operate from a distance […] The world would consist of tens of thousands of distinct countries, regions and cantons, and of hundreds of thousands of independent free cities.6
Nevertheless, it is suitable, in closing, to comment upon whether Hoppe is substantively correct in the specific exclusions he cites as examples. In other words, if we agree with Hoppe’s formal conclusion that property owners must be able to exclude persons who frustrate the purpose of the property, is he right to suggest specifically that “democrats” and “communists” should be “physically separated and expelled from society” and that homosexuals must be removed from family and kinship arrangements? Here his conclusions are more wanting.
It is true, of course, that there is no particular reason why any libertarian should welcome socialists, communists, or anyone of that ilk onto his own private property, nor should we go out of our way to give them a platform for their ideas. Nevertheless, we should consider whether any form of “banning” or “exclusion” of people from a libertarian society purely for the ideas which they may advocate (and may honestly believe) is likely to be a good idea in the long run. Our ideas, which we know to be both good and true, do not need to fear the scrutiny of dissent. It is false and bad ideas that need to censure, silence, banish or even exterminate their opponents – just as the leftists are seeking to do today. They have to resort to these measures precisely because they realise, deep down, that their ideas cannot withstand exposure to rational argument. Moreover, the counterproductive result of banning, censuring, excluding or exterminating is to drive the targeted ideas underground, exacerbating the seething resentment of their adherents and lending their ideas a seductive veneer. Nothing fuels a movement like a martyr. Thus it is better to keep them out in the open where we can see what they are up to.
To be clear, this attitude should not be confused with a plea for “tolerance”. In fact, it is a call for the utmost intolerance of and rank dissent from any socialist or communist ideals that are to be forced on the rest of society. But such intolerance must take the form of rebuttal, ridicule and dismissal rather than forced silencing and exclusion. Austro-libertarians have the power of truth on their side, and, for the most part, we need to place our trust in that truth.
When it comes to homosexuals and kinship arrangements, it is worth bearing in mind that homosexuals are born into families rather than being new or unfamiliar outsiders trying to gain access. Therefore, regardless of whether homosexuality is caused by either “nature” or “nurture”, the exclusion of homosexuals would entail a breaking of existing kinship bonds of love and affection rather than the prevention of new ones from arising. At the very least, therefore, exclusion of homosexuals from a family should be the last resort, and only if the particular behaviour of a particular homosexual is a direct threat to the existence and sustenance of the family. If we get to this level of seriousness, however, it is likely that the individual concerned is afflicted by a host of other traits such as personal and financial irresponsibility, destructive hedonism, parasitic dependence, violent or threatening behaviour, and so on, all of which are themselves independent grounds for a severance of relations. In contrast, it seems unlikely that a stable and committed same sex relationship, the two halves of which lead independent, productive lives at regular jobs just like everybody else, would pose any kind of threat to a family and, moreover, are likely to be a positive contribution towards it.7 Thus, there appear to be no grounds for regarding homosexuality per se as a reason for ejection from the family unit. Indeed, the opposite belief is likely to have the ironic effect of ripping apart the very family relations one is trying to preserve, spawning instead lifelong bitterness and hatred between parents, children, sisters and brothers, rather than promoting family cohesion and unity.
Moreover, if we take Hoppe’s further dictum literally – that homosexuals should be excluded not just from a family unit or kinship covenant, but also from a libertarian society as a whole – then this is equally, if not more troubling. For exclusion from society does not, in the Misesian understanding of that term, mean simply ejection of a particular individual from one’s property; it means complete isolation from social co-operation under the division of labour. In other words, it entails no contact, no communication, and no trade whatsoever.8
The reasons why such an extreme measure would be ridiculous should be obvious from what we have said already. But we might like to remember also that dozens of great artists, poets, philosophers, composers, scientists and so on who made significant contributions to the very civilisation that we are supposed to be saving were/are homosexual, or at least expressed strong homosexual feelings during their lifetimes. For instance: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Virgil, Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Francis Bacon, Lully, Tchaikovsky, Henry James, Rimbaud, Oscar Wilde, Proust, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Diaghilev, Thomas Mann, Virginia Woolf, Nijinsky, Cole Porter, Jean Cocteau, Noel Coward – and, more recently, Sir John Gielgud, W H Auden, Alan Turing, Benjamin Britten, Andy Warhol, Ian McKellen and Stephen Fry, amongst many others. Are we suggesting that if all of these people were with us today we should proceed to banish them and their great achievements from polite society? Should Michelangelo have been “physically removed” from the Sistine Chapel? Should we ban performances of Britten’s operas, or kick McKellen off the boards of the Old Vic? To ask this question is surely to answer it.
Moreover, while Hoppe suggests (without naming homosexuals specifically) that assimilation into society “would not necessarily imply that one would have to give up one’s substandard or abnormal behaviour or lifestyle altogether” and that it could remain “in the closet, hidden from the public eye, and physically restricted to the total privacy of one’s own four walls”9, the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Tchaikovsky and Alan Turing at the relatively young ages of 53 and 41 respectively might suggest that this is not such a good idea. How much more of the greatness of these individuals were we denied because they could no longer tolerate the requirement to live “in the closet”? In any case, the consequence of forcing minority lifestyles underground is to make them susceptible to criminal exploitation. Indeed, the Stonewall Inn itself was run by the mafia for the purpose of blackmailing wealthy, closeted individuals from New York’s financial district, and police involvement in this ring of extortion was one of the reasons for the raid which led to the riot – a riot which materialised, of course, precisely because of legal and social suppression. No one should have to accommodate homosexual acts or lifestyles on their own property; but to force homosexuals into pretending that they are something they are not merely so that we deal with them at arm’s length within the division of labour is absurd.
1Ludwig von Mises, Human Action: A Treatise on Economics, The Scholars’ Edition, Ludwig von Mises Institute (1998), 670.
2It is also worth noting that the alignment of transsexuals and transgenders on the one hand with lesbians, gays and bisexuals on the other has not gone without question by members of these groups. Indeed, although they may all face similar political, social and personal pressures, sexuality and gender are conceptually distinct – the former concerning a preference and the latter an identity. It is also reasonable to suggest that the West has largely accepted sexual preferences both legally and socially, whereas trans issues – multiple gender identities, preferred pronouns, etc. – are a whole different kettle of fish. It would not be surprising if there was to be a splintering of the “T” from the “LGB” in the near future, either because “Ts” come to believe that their issues are better resolved as an independent movement or because “LGBs” perceive the backlash against Ts as an unnecessary threat to their own hard won rights.
3The moral dimension of this realisation should not be confused with ethical relativism – the notion that there are no objectively correct answers to moral questions. Rather, what we are making here is the far more modest assertion that the urgency of raising and answering correctly particular moral questions will change over time. Morality, after all, is the determination of the best way in which to devote scarce means towards ends (or the most important ends to which the available supply of means should be devoted). Whether or not we turn our attention to answering particular moral questions will vary depending upon the supply of available means vis-à-vis their demand. Nobody bothers debating the moral uses of breathable air because breathable air is available in such abundance that all possible uses can be fulfilled. If, on the other hand, a particular society suffered from a relative shortage of, say, fresh water then it would be extremely important for that society to ponder and answer correctly the question of what are the best uses for water. Pleasurable uses such as Jacuzzis or elaborate water fountains while others are suffering from thirst may, in such a society, be considered the height of vulgarity and depravity given the short supply. If, however, this supply constraint was to be relaxed and water became more abundant then the urgency of directing water to “better” or more “virtuous” uses would be less keenly felt, and the moral question of water use will be pondered, if at all, with reduced fervour. The once vulgar and tasteless hot tubs and water features may now become standard features of houses.
4Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Democracy – The God that Failed: The Economics and Politics of Monarchy, Democracy and Natural Order, Transaction Publishers (2007), 218 [emphases added].
7Indeed, the fact that homosexuals are unable to conceive their own children naturally does not mean that they are unable to contribute to the upbringing of other children in the family in a way similar to that of a maiden aunt or bachelor uncle.
8Hoppe provides some indication that this would be a correct interpretation of his statement, but he immediately qualifies this with the above-quoted passage where he says that different communities will observe different criteria for acceptance and discrimination. See Hoppe, 212.