The best thing on the Web today is by Chris Bertram, Corey Robin and Alex Gourevitch at Crooked Timber. It begins:
Libertarianism is a philosophy of individual freedom. Or so its adherents claim. But with their single-minded defense of the rights of property and contract, libertarians cannot come to grips with the systemic denial of freedom in private regimes of power, particularly the workplace. When they do try to address that unfreedom, as a group of academic libertarians calling themselves “Bleeding Heart Libertarians” have done in recent months, they wind up traveling down one of two paths: Either they give up their exclusive focus on the state and become something like garden-variety liberals or they reveal that they are not the defenders of freedom they claim to be.
This is a long post full of links to libertarians who are cranking out counter-arguments. The basic point, though, is libertarianism’s massive blind spot regarding coercion and oppression in the workplace. Basically, the same people who shriek that taxation is slavery wave away, for example, sexual harassment as someone else’s personal relationship problem.
I haven’t had a chance to click through all the links to all the arguments and counter-arguments. But we’re basically looking at a discussion among mostly (if not entirely) white men, who mostly work in think tanks and academia. These are not people who have had the personal experience of working for some soul-sucking martinet while being a couple of missed paychecks away from eviction. The Crooked Timber crew “gets it,” but once again I am struck that libertarian theory is mostly embraced by the relatively privileged, for whom genuine oppression is something they’ve only read about in textbooks.
I’ve written before that current political libertarianism, which sometimes parts company with theoretical/academic libertarianism, grew mostly as a pushback to court-ordered desegregation in the 1950s and 1960s. Libertarianism in the U.S. seems to have always been more about maintaining privilege than about actual civil liberties. In particular, they refuse to see that it is through democratic government that ordinary people are able to protect themselves from oppression by the privileged. Take that away, and most of us revert to being serfs.
That Libertarians have wrapped themselves in the mantle of Patrick Henry while arguing for the rights of King George’s aristocracy is brilliant. That they themselves can’t see that’s what they are doing is pathological.