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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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Paternalistic assumptions

Sounds like a libertarian paradise, right? Society is dissolved into atomistic individuals, obstacles to our free choices are removed, everyone has the same rights and duties. But Mises is not celebrating this ideal; he's criticising it. Not because it makes people unfree, but because it makes people - specifically, women - free. The problem with liberating women from the constraints of "social and economic conditions" is that... women are liberated from the constraints of social and economic conditions.

Now Doherty will reply, well, that's just Mises' view of feminism, who cares, we libertarians stand for freedom. But the underlying logic of Mises' argument - in which the redistributive state is criticised not for making men and women slaves or equals but for making them free - cannot be so easily contained.

It can easily be applied to other realms of social policy - labour unions, universal healthcare, robust public schools, unemployment benefits, and the like, which  the left has always seen as the vital prerequisites of  universal freedom- suggesting that the real target of the libertarian critique may be the proposition that Mises articulates here so well: That all men - not just the rich or the well born - and all women will in fact be liberated from the constraints of their "social and economic conditions".

What's more, Mises' views haven't gone away.

Responding to  legislative proposal in Virginia that would have required all women seeking an abortion to get an ultrasound - as  Slate writer Dahlia Lithwick  pointed out, because most abortions occur in the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy, most of the women affected by this bill would be forced to have a probe stuck up their vaginas, as that's how ultrasounds in the first trimester are done - libertarian luminary  Tyler Cowen tweeted the following: All of a sudden requiring consumers to be informed is extremely unpopular on the "pro-regulation side".

Was Cowen serious? Hard to say. If he was, he's radically uninformed about the basic facts of biology and women. It's not like women don't know what's going on inside of their uteruses; they are, after all, getting an abortion. Or perhaps, Cowen, like many in the anti-abortion movement, thinks women don't know what they're doing when they abort their foetuses. Either way, it was a paternalistic comment.

But ah, my libertarian friends will say, that's the point - we on the left make similar paternalistic assumptions about consumers all the time. Cowen's just making a joke to point out our hypocrisy.

But if that's the joke, it doesn't quite work. Even if we assume that informing consumers is the purpose of the legislation - all the evidence, as Lithwick  points out, suggests that women don't need the information and  their choices influenced by the information when they get it - there's the tricky matter of the "instruments": Is the left really in the business of forcing consumers to get information by sticking probes up their various orifices?

'Once-probed, always-probed'

Whether he was serious or not, Cowen's tweet suggests that when it comes to the specifics of women's autonomy - not generic autonomy, but women's autonomy - he doesn't quite get it. And in not getting it, he shows that his is not a project of universal liberty. (Also check out  Scott Lemieux's take on libertarian blogger Megan McArdle; you'll find a similar pattern.)

One final note on this Virginia legislation and how it fits with a larger pattern on the right. As Lithwick noted in her piece:

 
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