In a new post, CJay Engel at Austro-Libertarian examines what he calls “Antonio Gramsci Libertarians.”
Commenting on the “left-libertarian” strain of the movement, he writes:
This social agenda need not be embraced by all who carry the name “libertarian.” It is perfectly “libertarian” to peacefully picket for either the gay couple or for the baker. Libertarian theory and the NAP does not offer guidance beyond the respect for property.
When push comes to shove, however, I contend that all libertarians must fall on the side of property rights. Absent property rights, there is no NAP; absent the NAP and you can remove the word “libertarian” from “left-libertarian.” Recalling the history of the movement, you end up with the Marxist strain.
I one hundred percent agree with him on the issue of property rights – as does every true libertarian – but where this gets highly confusing and morally complicated is when we live in a society where certain people’s property rights are respected, while others are not, and the former uses this to take advantage of the latter.
I have experienced this myself in workplaces where coworkers knew that they could make highly offensive (and inaccurate) statements about my gender, ethnicity, and religion that, should I ever dare to even suggest about theirs, would have got me canned on the spot.
In the realm of theoretical and coffee-house talk, we can envision a scenario where we get to decide all these things and always “side” with the property owner. But in reality, you can have a situation where a person who violates other people’s rights all the time suddenly find themselves a victim of it, often as a consequence of coercing others.
We are now seeing this same dynamic play out in the public arena, and the consequences are obvious; if a person from a certain background or political ideology can say whatever they want or attend any rally no matter how radical, without fear of professional consequences, but others have to keep silent in both public and at work, how can you possibly expect the latter to have the same influence in shaping social, cultural, and ultimately political views?
Imagine, if you will, a family where one child is allowed to speak at family dinners, but the other cannot – a rule imposed by the parents at the behest of the other child. Which one do you think will have greater say in family matters? And are we really to blame the child that must remain silent when they try to get the other child silenced in order to create equal rules?
The inconsistent application of property rights, in my opinion, has and will always plague libertarians when attempting to apply the philosophy. The NAP addresses the abstract, but it does not account for context that can make seemingly obvious situations dicier to analyze, because as Bastiat said concerning economics, there is the seen and unseen.
All of this becomes tenfold complicated when it is libertarians’ rights that are not respected by their enemies. How can libertarians as a movement succeed when they advocate to protect the rights of their enemies, who don’t return the favor and, unlike libertarians, have stronger influence over the state and ultimately whose rights are respected?
This is where a form of barbaric libertarianism has appeal – a barbaric libertarian is only concerned about whether his rights are respected, not that of others. He may not violate their rights, but he doesn’t see it as his duty to advocate for their property rights, either.
He’s not going to lend them moral support or protest their ill-treatment. They’re not his people, and therefore not his problem. Also, if people don’t respect his rights, why should he be honor-bound to defend theirs.
As was said in the film LA Confidential, reciprocity is the key to every relationship.