Libertarianism Is Thicker than the Left

Cathy Reisenwitz has an article at the Center for a Stateless Society unpacking recent criticisms by Tom Woods of thick libertarianism (or rather, what he thinks is thick libertarianism). I mostly agree with her, but I want to examine a few points made by Woods that went unchallenged.

First, Woods seemingly conflates left-libertarians with thick libertarians, when it’s not the case that all left-libertarians are “thick,” nor vice versa. He is quoted as saying thick libertarians “have left-liberal views on religion, sexual morality, feminism, etc., ….” I could only wish. The problem is that he’s describing left-libertarians. Even still, a libertarian may be on the cultural left but not believe, as a “thick” would, that those values have to be widely adopted before a libertarian society could emerge.

Yet even among thick libertarians, they aren’t all on the left. Thick libertarians have commitments beyond those necessarily entailed by libertarianism, thinking those additional commitments are needed for the practical fulfillment of a free society. However, thick libertarians on the right believe those commitments should be culturally right-wing values, not leftist ones.

Second, a comment by Woods that thick libertarians believe only “thicks” to be a genuine libertarian is seemingly endorsed. From what I understand, a libertarian hypothetically could advocate for an authoritarian (albeit rights-respecting) social order, and still be a libertarian. It would seem strange, but it’s not out of the question. If a libertarian can support a social order diametrically opposed to personal autonomy, a libertarian could just as well endorse “anything that’s peaceful,” thick or thin.

Finally, it’s taken as a given that being libertarian means upholding the non-aggression principle and self-ownership. I agree that people who hold those views are libertarians, but that’s not what makes them libertarian. The defining feature is that they uphold people’s liberty as the utmost political value.

I like Tom Woods, so I hope he reconsiders an uncharacteristically hasty appraisal.