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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.

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It is interesting, for those interested in intellectual history, that Mises saw free love as part of some larger socialist mission to destroy the family. But for the libertarian the relevant question is, is this voluntary or not, does this infringe on anyone's life, liberty, or property or not? "Anything that's peaceful," baby, as Leonard Read, one of Mises' great popular disciples in America, wrote.

Thus, there's a libertarian case to be made against forcing anyone to cover any specific medical care, birth control or whatever, in the insurance deals they make with their clients. But it has nothing to do with whether Ludwig von Mises was comfortable with free love, or birth control, or with catheters, or blood transfusions, or any other specific medical procedure that might or might not become a political controversy when the government tried to force people to sell insurance only on the condition that that insurance cover that procedure or medication's use.

Intellectual histories of libertarianism

Let's set aside the strangeness of someone who's written - for what were obviously more than antiquarian reasons - one of the best intellectual histories of libertarianism, in which Mises plays a not insignificant role, telling us that intellectual history, and Mises' role in it, doesn't much matter.

Let's also set aside Doherty's declaration by fiat that Mises' views on women are just "matters of opinion", which can be discarded as so much ancient prejudice, rather than genuine "political philosophy".

(This chapter on Robert Nozick in Susan Okin's  Justice, Gender, and the Family should make any reasonably literate political writer leery of the notion that a libertarian's views on women are somehow contingent or incidental and separable from their larger worldview. In Mises' case, it's doubly important to remember that he saw his chapter on women as one part of his campaign against socialism, an effort in which he styled himself the lonely leader of a small, heterodox band.

Socialism is the watchword and the catchword of our day. The socialist idea dominates the modern spirit. The masses prove of it. It expresses the thoughts and feelings of all; it has set its seal upon our time. When history comes to tell our story it will write above the chapter "The Epoch of Socialism".

Mises did not think his views on women were refractions of the age; he thought they were the dissonant wisdom of someone who had thought long and hard, against the dominant view, about such issues. And given that many socialists were making feminist arguments and gaining ground across Europe - Remember  Red Vienna? It  wasn't all economics, you know - I'm not sure Mises was entirely wrong in his self-understanding.)

The real reason Mises' arguments about women are so relevant, it seems to me, is that in the course of making them, he reveals something larger about the libertarian worldview: Libertarianism is not about liberty at all, or at least not about liberty for everyone. In fact, it's the opposite.

Here's Mises describing the socialist programme of " free love":

Free love is the socialists' radical solution for sexual problems. The socialistic society abolishes the economic dependence of woman which results from the fact that woman is dependent on the income of her husband. Man and woman have the same economic rights and the same duties, as far as motherhood does not demand special consideration for the women.

Public funds provide for the maintenance and education of the children, which are no longer the affairs of the parents but of society. Thus the relations between the sexes are no longer influenced by social and economic conditions… The family disappears and society is confronted with separate individuals only. Choice in love becomes completely free.

 
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