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April 29, 2009

Libertarian laments women's suffrage, rejects democracy

Look what the CATO Institute dragged in...

Peter Thiel, an early backer of Facebook, penned an essay entitled "The Education of a Libertarian" which appeared in CATO Unbound. Thiel opens by asserting that freedome and democracy are incompatible.

But I must confess that over the last two decades, I have changed radically on the question of how to achieve these goals. Most importantly, I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible. By tracing out the development of my thinking, I hope to frame some of the challenges faced by all classical liberals today.

And why are freedom and democracy incompatible? Because women have the vote and poor people understand understand rational self-interest, too:

The 1920s were the last decade in American history during which one could be genuinely optimistic about politics. Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of “capitalist democracy” into an oxymoron.

Luckily, Thiel isn't advocating a rollback of women's rights or a violent insurrection. Rather, he proposes that libertarians retreat to the Internet, outer space, and the sea to escape the voting power of women and minorities.  I encourage him to try.

Amanda has a great takedown of Thiel.


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From Wikipedia:

"Facebook received its first investment of US$500,000 in June 2004 from PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel."

So yeah you can be smart in business but a moron in regards to other matters. The irony is that PayPal and Facebook have been good for the Internet and - I'd say - for freedom and democracy.

So-called Libertarians come off as solipsistic and selfish to me, it's all about their freedom. However they are good on some things like the drug war, the security/torture state, gay issues, etc.

But you're right, if all of this new wealth is turning Thiel into a crank, he should "Go Galt."

Thiel just casually asserts that women are "notoriously tough for libertarians" and then moves on to a discussion of PayPal without even an explanation. This is why libertarians - and liberty in general - gets a bad name. What a dope.

There is a tension between capitalism and democracy.

But the problem in our society is letting capitalism give too much power-to-the-rich, not letting democracy give too-much-power-to-the-poor.

My solutions include:

a) a more progressive tax code, and
b) lowering the maximum donation to political candidates and party committees (DSCC, DNC, RNC, etc.)

Rich people can currently donate $30,400 to the DSCC. That isn't compatible with democracy. It's compatible with plutocracy.

"Capitalist democracy" has always been an oxymoron, but it is capitalism, not democracy, that needs to go.

Libertarians talk a lot about "freedom," but most of them are just market authoritarians, preferring pure corporate authoritarianism over the usual government/corporate/religious authoritarianism of the Right.

look, you can't apply the level of sensitivity that exists in feminist spaces out to the real world then assume the worst if someone fails to speak correctly. even within feminist spaces, is bitchphd's recent insensitivity to transsexuals evidence of bigotry, or just insensitivity?

in all likelihood theil isn't actually lamenting woman's suffrage, just lamenting one of its effects. he's stating a matter of fact, not advocating a rollback or women's rights.

as to the tension between democray and capitalism, feminists should understand this. after all, abortion rights are not compatable with democracy either. theil just grants property rights the same protection.

Thiel is arguing that women's suffrage ruined democracy. He implies that, had it not been for women's suffrage and the welfare state, freedom and democracy might have coexisted. In his opinion, after women got the vote and disadvantaged people got a minimal social safety net, democracy was no longer compatible with freedom. In other words, he's accusing women and poor people of wrecking democracy. That's a charge that's absurd, unsubstantiated by evidence, and bigoted. You don't have to be a feminist to get that. Hell, even Gawker figured it out.

"Thiel is arguing that women's suffrage ruined democracy"

He is. But that's not an argument against woman's sufferage. That's a classic "tyranny of the majority" argument that the founders and enlightenment thinkers before them grappled with.

he's not lamenting woman's suffrage anymore than a pro-gay marriage advocate may lament Christians, blacks, Hispanics, or old people voting....though that may appear to be what they are doing depending on how the phrase themselves.

the favored solution to the tyranny, a bill of rights, has proven unworkable within the realm of property rights. ergo, thiel is frustrated.

the favored solution to the tyranny, a bill of rights, has proven unworkable within the realm of property rights. ergo, thiel is frustrated.

Oh so he wants to go back to a time when only the propertied could vote. Good luck with that.

"Oh so he wants to go back to a time when only the propertied could vote. Good luck with that"

well, your making my point: your railing against your own strawman construction of his argument, ie that he wants to rollback woman's suffrage or now, go back to a time when only the propertied could vote.

your choosing the worst possible interpretation of his argument, not the most likely

Manju: it's hard to tell what Thiel is actually saying, since he avoids making real arguments for anything. He's just condescending out loud, like H. L. Mencken but without the accompanying writing skills. As far as I can tell, he's making the following statements:

1. Women's suffrage and welfare are destroying capitalist democracy. This is idiotic. Welfare is destroying capitalism only if you define capitalism to exclude welfare. If, like most neo-liberals, you're instead concerned with how easy it is to start a business, how much red tape your business will deal with, and how much the government intervenes in industrial policy, then some of the most capitalist countries in the world are in Scandinavia. For example, Sweden was a very early adopter of both free trade and the welfare state. As for women's suffrage, a serious thinker would look at early adopters like New Zealand and Australia, and later adopters like Switzerland. (There's no obvious relation between being capitalist and not letting women vote). An unserious one would just rant about the fact that women are allowed to vote.

2. The Roaring Twenties were a period of great growth. This, again, is stupid - nowadays most economists will tell you that that decade was a bubble that culminated in the Great Depression. It's true that the early 1920s were a bad economic time, though - depressions happened about once every decade before the New Deal. After the New Deal, average economic growth was higher than before, and the US went 70 years without a depression.

3. Being smart means you have to worry about capitalism and democracy. This is true only for people who hate one or the other. Anti-globalists and movement libertarians complain about the tension between capitalism and democracy. Most other people don't see an obvious tension, and some even see them acting together. For example, in Thailand, Thaksin's capitalism-with-a-human-face policies were very popular, but led to backlash from state bureaucrats, the military, and the urban middle class, who feared loss of status, and backed a military coup. It just so happens that the capitalism supported by the masses is gentler than the absolutism backed by Cato and Reason.

The interpretation that Thiel really does want to go back to pre-suffrage days is very likely. People don't randomly lament the fact that democracy doesn't yield the results they like without also supporting authoritarianism. Nor do they idealize the distant past without knowing much about its history, without having some sort of revolutionary (or reactionary) hatred of the present. It's all fun and games, until your revolution succeeds and you get to shoot your political opponents. That's what happened with the socialists' darling Castro, and what happened with the capitalists' darling Pinochet.

Also, why frame your issue in terms of women's suffrage unless you want to denigrate women? If Thiel is just making a point about the tyranny of the majority, why bother mentioning women's suffrage at all?

If you leave gender and race out of it, Thiel's version of capitalist democracy has always been fragile and dependent upon what the electorate wants at any given time. Allegedly, women are significantly more resistant to libertarian views than men. He doesn't give us any reason to believe this, but let's assume that it's true. (Thiel seems to forget that a vanishingly small percentage of the U.S. electorate and an even smaller percentage of voters worldwide are libertarians, period. Maybe libertarian men outnumber libertarian women, but non-libertarians outnumber libertarians regardless of gender.) As he frames it, the problem is not "people don't like libertarianism" it's "women don't like libertarianism"--which, even if true, why single out women unless you are making some essentialist assumptions about them?

Alon Levy -

Re "Anti-globalists and movement libertarians complain about the tension between capitalism and democracy. Most other people don't see an obvious tension..."

"90 percent of respondents to a Harris poll, conducted Nov. 8-13, (2005) said big companies had too much influence on government, up from 83 percent last year."

I guess we should have never freed the slaves, because then they wouldn't have demanded equal rights under the law 100 years later.

Thiel says "the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of 'capitalist democracy” into an oxymoron.'"

I have heard the bit about welfare beneficiaries from other libertarians; they picture demagogues buying political support with government largesse, which in turn renders the bought supporters more dependent on the demagogues. This may be an often realistic view of corporate welfare, but libertarians like Thiel more typically target
the Aid to Dependent Children/Aid to Families with Dependent Children recipients of yesteryear as terribly fecund inner-city women of color enabled by something-for-nothing liberal bleeding-hearts. But did welfare mothers turn out to vote disproportionately to the rest of the electorate? I don't think so.

Eric: first, Harris Interactive is a notoriously inaccurate poll, because it uses internet polling. Second, big companies aren't the same as capitalism. You can have big companies without capitalism, for example with the East India Companies, or the state-owned oil companies of OPEC. And you can have capitalism without big companies, for example in 19th century Birmingham.

Lindsay: every person who thinks he's better than everyone else singles out specific groups of people to hate - e.g. H. L. Mencken hated everyone equally, but he hated black people more equally. This is especially true for libertarians, whose movement is already hostile to concerns about discrimination and equal rights.

Ideologies never rule. At most, ideologies influence people who rule. This is a problem for ideological purists, from communists to libertarians. ("The USSR wasn't real communism!") Thiel thinks the problem is with the particular nature of the electorate. The real issue is that libertarianism calls for power to be wielded without being exercised. (As opposed to, say, anarchism, which insists that no one wield power, or most ideologies, which say that power should be both wielded and exercised, although generally in a specific manner.) People with political power generally don't work that way.

Thiel might be happier with the results of a male electorate, or a male property-owning electorate, or a monarchy, but if so, that would probably because Thiel has anti-democratic views independent of his libertarian views. It's unlikely that the government that resulted would be any closer to libertarian ideals. The Sedition Act of 1798 was passed during a time of male property-owner only suffrage.

Big companies are part of capitalism in our society today.

People who say that big companies have too much influence on our government recognize a tension between capitalism and democracy in our society today.

What they might think of capitalism and big companies in other contexts is probably beyond the scope of that poll.

And the Electoral College is part of democracy in American society today. Does that mean that the majority of Americans who want it abolished are against democracy?

It seemed to me that he wasn't arguing that women's suffrage ruined democracy but that it ruined the chances for "capitalist democracy." Since "capitalist democracy" is shorthand for the kind of political structure he favors, he's saying that since the 1920s, there really hasn't been a chance that the system he favors is going to be the choice of a majority of voters because two large classes who don't support that system became eligible to vote.

If you oppose "capitalist democracy," as he describes it, it seems you'd agree, and say it was a good thing that these new voters guaranteed majority support for a more socialist or progressive approach to government.

He may be saying "I wish women couldn't vote," but he could also be just saying, "Do the math--since women were granted the right to vote, the chances of my vision of capitalism winning majority support have disappeared."

Parse: by your interpretation, his analysis of women's suffrage is on the same level as Bobby Henderson's analysis of global warming and pirates.

The 90% who "said big companies had too much influence on government" aren't against capitalism.

But they recognize that there is a tension between capitalism and democracy.

Parse: by your interpretation, his analysis of women's suffrage is on the same level as Bobby Henderson's analysis of global warming and pirates.

Then I haven't been clear. I think he's arguing that there's more than correlation. Look at the historical records on voting by women--I think there is a good chance they have voted disproportionately against the kind of economic issues Thiel favors. Again, if you oppose those kind of economic interests, you'd be likely to say two things: 1)well, I'm glad women have voted that way and 2)it's not surprising they're voting that way, because when they vote their self-interests, they don't support the status quo ante of America in the 19th and early 20th century.

Thiel may likely think the women are deluded and actually voting against their own self interest because they don't know any better. I'm doing a lot of guessing here, because I tried to read Thiel's original post and didn't find the writing terribly compelling, so I'm just working off a partial reading of the primary source and the posts about it here and at Pandagon.

Now that you mention it, Alon, we should probably run Bobby Henderson's numbers again. The activity off the Somali coast and in the Indian Ocean may be a hopeful sign that we're finally getting a handle on global warming!


There are many ways of getting around any limits that can be conceived

A personal acquaintance was essentially forced by a customer to attend a fundraiser for Dem Senator Lautenberg ( NJ ) and to make a large donation at a NYC townhouse. This goes on all the time.

And just as we should be concerned about the influence of individual or corporate contributors, we should also be concerned about the activities of often corrupt unions, who play the game well too.

They even create dummy political parties ( Working Families Party ) so as to better play the money and influence game.

The Phantom -

Yes, there are lots of ways around limits.

But if the maximum allowable to candidate committees, PACs, and party committees were much lower, then even doubling it by pressuring someone else to donate wouldn't achieve as much corruption.

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