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When Libertarians Stand for Medieval Control Instead of Freedom

Debates on birth control in the US show how modern conservatism is just a neoliberal gloss on medieval domination.

There's recently been an eruption in the United States over the question of  birth control. The  controversy was initially prompted by the passage of the  Affordable Care Act (ACA), which mandates that employers provide insurance that covers birth control prescriptions. Earlier this year,  right-wingers began to charge that that provision of the ACA threatens religious freedom - the freedom of employers, like universities and hospitals that are run by the Catholic Church, not to be compelled to pay for their employees' birth control. A  compromise was quickly  reached.

But that  didn't stifle the controversy. It has continued to play a major role in the Republican primaries, and  states like Arizona are now moving toward legislation that would not only exempt employers from having to provide birth control if they have religious or moral objections to it, but would also allow those employers to interrogate their employees about why they use birth control.

If employees submit birth control prescriptions for insurance coverage, their supervisors will have the right to ask them if they intend to use the birth control for health-related reasons (such as hormone control) or for contraception.

Mises on women and feminism

This whole debate recently led  Mike Konczal, a blogger at the Roosevelt Institute, back to  Ludwig von Mises' classic 1922 text  Socialism. Mises was a pioneering economist of the Austrian School, whose political writings have inspired multiple generations of libertarian activists in the US and elsewhere.

Mike took a special interest in the fourth chapter of  Socialism, "The Social Order and the Family", in which Mises has some retrograde things to say about women and feminism. This led Mike to conclude - prematurely, it turns out - that Mises was against birth control, which he wasn't, but as I  made clear in the  comments thread to Mike's post, Mike's larger point - that Mises was neither in favour of women's sexual autonomy nor was he in favour of other kinds of autonomy that would free women from the dominion of their husbands - still stands.

All this back and forth about the text prompted  Brian Doherty, author of a  wonderful History of Libertarianism, to waspishly comment that, well, who really cares what Mises may or may not have thought about women and birth control. Libertarians care about liberty; all the rest is commentary.

Mises does go on to address "natural barriers" that socialists want to overturn, and doubtless some of his own personal opinions about what those natural barriers might be would differ from moderns, liberal or conservative, which is exactly why [Konczal’s] entire implied point doesn't make any sense to begin with.

Those concerns are far more matters of opinion, not political philosophy, and in no sense should bind even those who have sworn fealty to Mises' general views on economics and liberty.

(For example, I'm quite the Misesian in most questions of politics and economics, but can imagine an intelligent conservative argument that the "rationalisation of the sexual passions" is in some sense harmed by birth control, though not in the specific procreational sense he is addressing specifically.)

But let's address the larger point, if there is one, besides that atop all of our heads for even talking about this: That polemical points can rightly be earned laying some judgment, whether real or imagined, of an intellectual founding father or influence on a political movement or tendency on to the backs of its younger followers - either to mock them or to insist that, no, this is really what their intellectual mission is: not to promote liberty, but to work for whatever Ludwig Von Mises liked or didn't like.

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