By Nathan Goodman
Prominent feminist Alison Jaggar contends that discussion of the rights of third world women cannot simply center upon local cultural practices, but must instead address issues of global justice, especially militarism and economic globalization. She's correct, and we as libertarians must realize that individualist feminists are our rightful allies in the fight against these policies.
Jaggar argues that many global policies, while “superficially ungendered” are in fact “deeply gendered” (58). For example, she points out that globalization and other Western designed neo-liberal economic policies are increasing poverty and economic inequality within poor countries. This directly contributes to the subjugation of women, she argues, because “gender inequality is strongly correlated with poverty” (55). Poverty, she points out, makes women more vulnerable to rights-violations. Similarly, Jaggar argues that women are disproportionately harmed by militarism. She writes that women “suffer most from the absence of social programs cut to fund military spending and they also suffer most from social chaos.” Further, women “constitute the majority of war’s casualties and 80 percent of the refugees dislocated by war” (56). Jaggar argues that these global polices must be treated as a core part of intercultural discourse on the rights of third world women. This is in contrast to the focus on oppressive local cultural practices that has characterized a significant amount of Western feminist writing.
Some feminists might respond by granting that these issues are relevant to women’s rights, but that addressing illiberal cultural practices is also important. They may then argue that “an author cannot be faulted for choosing to address one topic rather than another” (50). In other words, global structural issues and local cultural practices are two different but important problems, and therefore it is reasonable for some authors to focus on local cultural practices to the exclusion of more global structural issues.
One problem with this view is that local cultural practices often cannot be separated from more global influences. For example, Jaggar cites arguments that repressive cultural practices including dowry murder, clitoridectomy, and the burning of widows all have origins in or were exacerbated by imperialism and colonialism (50-51). Furthermore, institutions and groups that violently impose patriarchal cultural practices, such as the mujaheddin in Afghanistan, have often been supported directly by Western imperial intervention. As “culture” is not static or monolithic, it makes little sense to attribute many repressive practices to “local culture” when there are global factors that have contributed to the practices.
Another problem is that, while arguments against repressive local cultural practices may not be made with imperialist intent, they can be appropriated to justify imperial intervention. For example, Jaggar points out that “President G.W. Bush and his wife Laura both rationalized the bombing of Afghanistan by the United States as necessary to save Afghan women from the oppression of the Burkha” (62). These arguments fundamentally are based on looking at repressive local cultural practices while ignoring how militarism disproportionately oppresses women.
A feminist discussion of third world women and their rights must look at global issues and how Western policies have adversely impacted women’s liberty. Solely focusing on local cultural practices does a disservice to women. While Jaggar is not a libertarian, her essay thus provides a great contribution to both libertarian and feminist theory. She shows us that we don’t have to choose between valuing the individual rights of women oppressed in the global south or opposing interventionist foreign policies. Instead, opposing US violence abroad is vital to protecting the individual rights of women in the global south.
Jaggar, Allison. “’Saving Amina’: Global Justice for Women and Intercultural Dialogue” Real World Justice. Ed. Follesdal, Andreas and Pogge, Thomas. Netherlands: Springer, 2005. 37-63.
By Chet Lake
One thing I have noticed in many libertarians is the overly confident attitudes about their own rationality or the irrationality of those with whom they disagree. It’s rather annoying and disheartening, but it helps me to remember that none of us are perfect. I believe it’s safe to assume that most of us are like this at least sometimes, usually depending on what mood we happen to be in. As (Liberty Minded Executive Editor) Kyle can tell you, I am guilty of doing this very thing that I observe in other libertarians. Also, make no mistake, I am fully aware that this is a nearly universal problem among people of all political movements, i.e., it’s not just a problem for libertarians. However, we should not use that as an excuse to ignore this potentially harmful behavior, especially if we want our movement to grow and gain more influence.
If we want to be successful as a movement, we need to be willing to self-reflect, critically examine ourselves and each other. We need to recognize where we might be making mistakes in our reasoning or in how we are presenting our arguments. Also, the importance of understanding why we believe what we believe should go without saying. If libertarians choose to avoid doing this, they may become victims of what I like to call the libertarian conceit: being so over confident, that effective thinking becomes much less likely and poor arguments resulting becomes much more likely. Frederic Bastiat said that “the worst thing that can happen to a good cause is not to be skillfully attacked, but to be ineptly defended.” So how does one ensure that liberty is not ineptly defended?
The first step is humility. If you are going to be as effective in your thinking as possible, you have to be honest with yourself, and that’s not always easy since all of us have an ego that tends to stand in the way. I believe one thing that all of us need to be willing to acknowledge is that we as human beings are not as rational as we like to think we are. We can be very emotional and can become victims of our own cognitive biases. This is as true for libertarians as it is for liberals or for conservatives. One may argue that libertarians still make it a point to be rational more than others, and I may agree with that, but it is still the case that we, by virtue of our nature as human beings, are prone to irrationality and erroneous thinking.
To be honest, I do spend a lot of time dealing with this topic because it concerns me quite a bit. It seems that as much as we detest dogma and group think we are quite guilty of those very things. In-group dissent is often resisted (quite strongly in my opinion) and homogeneity, or even purism, is a huge problem that we need to deal with as it tends to encourage dogmatism, which can weaken our ability to defend liberty and persuade others to its cause. Libertarians would do well to think about what Matt Zwolinski means when he says, “the fact is, being in a room full of people who all agree with each other—especially about politics—makes me profoundly uncomfortable. And that discomfort makes me start to question things.” I believe if libertarians in general started adopting this attitude, dogmatism would be kept at bay and libertarians would be better able to defend liberty and articulate good arguments, thus becoming much more persuasive. However, it’s going to take a little bit more than adopting such an attitude. It’s going to take some understanding how how people think and why they think the way they do.
In a later post, I plan on articulating why it is I believe human beings generally aren’t as rational as many libertarians like to think they are. I plan on doing this by explaining some social psychological phenomena—cognitive biases to be more precise, and I will hopefully be able to arm others with knowledge so that liberty will be much less ineptly defended.