I call myself a classical liberal in part because I believe that negative liberties, such as Min’s freedom from government interference, are the best means to acquire positive liberties, such as Min’s ability to pursue further education. I also value the kind of culture that economic freedom produces and within which it thrives: tolerance for human variation, aversion to authoritarianism, and what the libertarian economist F.A. Hayek called “a preparedness to let change run its course even if we cannot predict where it will lead.”
But I am disturbed by an inverse form of state worship I encounter among my fellow skeptics of government power. This is the belief that the only liberty worth caring about is liberty reclaimed from the state; that social pathologies such as patriarchy and nationalism are not the proper concerns of the individualist; that the fight for freedom stops where the reach of government ends. It was tradition, not merely government, that threatened to limit Min’s range of possible lives. To describe the expanded scope of her agency as merely “freedom from state interference” is to deny the extent of what capitalism has achieved in communist China.
As former Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints leader Warren Jeffs can tell you, it’s possible to be an anti-government zealot with no interest whatsoever in individual liberty. If authoritarian fundamentalist compounds are your bag, the words personal agency will hold no magic for you, and Min’s situation will smack of social chaos. But libertarians for whom individualism is important cannot avoid discussions of culture, conformism, and social structure. Not every threat to liberty is backed by a government gun.
The response at the site, both from the first discussant, and especially in the comments section, is far from congenial. People like Jonathan Haidt have said that differences in moral intuition between liberals and libertarians are hard to detect in tests, that the divergence in views really traces back to substantive disagreements about the tendencies of different economic and political institutions. If the commentators at Reason magazine are representative of American libertarians though, that seems implausible to me. These aren't kinda-sorta liberals who're distinctively committed to the thought that freedom entails the freedom to be wrong, or who're atypically sensitive to state power grabs or bureaucratic inefficiency. Going by the views expressed, not to mention the level of vitriol, libertarianReason is closer to being a social and cultural conservative who in addition really, really hates the gummint, even when it does things he might like.
Howley does achieve a quite beautiful parody of her adversaries:
Potential Libertarian: What’s libertarianism?
Seavey: A philosophy of freedom and property rights.
Potential Libertarian: Oh, right. Freedom like civil rights?
Seavey: No, not that kind of freedom.
Potential Libertarian: Oh. Freedom like the freedom to be openly gay?
Seavey: No. That has nothing to do with liberty.
Potential Libertarian: Oh. Um…
Seavey: Let’s talk about easements!
Update: on the other hand, this discussion of Howley's post is not just thoughtful and civilized, it's carried out largely by people who do fit Haidt's profile. Perhaps I've just rediscovered for myself that comparable blogs can have comments sections of wildly differing quality.