Libertarianism

Farewell to the "Bleeding Heart Libertarians" Blog

One of the internet's most prominent libertarian blogs ends its run. But many of the contributors will continue write elsewhere.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

I am saddened to report that the Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog, one of the most important libertarian blogs on the internet is closing down, as of today. Matt Zwolinski, one of the regular contributors, announced the decision in this post:

Back in 2011, a group of academic philosophers started a blog called "Bleeding Heart Libertarians." The idea behind that blog was simple, but also somewhat vague in terms of its specifics: that you could be a libertarian who favored free markets and limited governments, and still care about the kind of things people on the left refer to as "social justice" – relieving poverty, racial and sexual equality, immigrant rights, LBGTQ rights, and so on. Hence, the slogan of the blog, "free markets and social justice…."

Reconciling free markets and social justice seemed like an especially worthwhile project to undertake in 2011. Academic political philosophy was largely dominated by followers of John Rawls, for whom a commitment to social justice (of a particular sort) was paramount. And libertarianism remained a fringe and unfamiliar view within the academy – for most academic philosophers, it was a view that was born and died in 1974 with the publication of Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia. But a critical mass of scholars were working out new ways of thinking about libertarian ideas; and many of us who were excited by the work of scholars like David Schmidtz, Gerald Gaus, and John Tomasi thought that there was a different style of libertarian thought beginning to crystallize. And we didn't only want to publicize that; we wanted to encourage it, to help build and develop the research program associated with it.

Moreover, if we sought to open mainstream Rawlsian political philosophy and theory to the influence of market-friendly classical liberalism, we also wanted to wanted to steer classical liberal scholarship toward taking egalitarian liberal ideas much more seriously than it often had….

Things have changed quite a bit in the last nine years, both in the realm of academic philosophy and that of real-world politics. Rawlsianism and its particular interpretation of social justice have receded in prominence. The variety of libertarian and classical liberal views within the academy has become better known, even by those who reject those views. And that variety is now a more firmly established fact among libertarian scholars and students themselves

I like to think that this blog, or at least the people who write for it, have played some role in at least the second of those two developments. We set out with the aim of articulating a new and distinct vision of libertarianism. And – while there are certainly a great number of important details of that vision that have yet to be worked out – I think we have succeeded. The project of establishing the intellectual space for bleeding-heart libertarian ideas has also more or less succeeded, giving way to the various different intellectual projects people are going to pursue in that space.

In other words, we've said what we needed to say.

I can understand Zwolinski's reasoning. But I wish he and his co-bloggers would reconsider.  The world needs the BHL blog today at least as much as it did back in 2011. The brand of liberalism that combines free markets with cosmopolitanism, rejection of ethnic nationalism, and concern for the poor and disadvantaged has never been more necessary than in this difficult time, when  liberty is besieged on both the right and left. Whatever may be the situation in the specialized arena of academic political philosophy, the forces of nationalism and socialism are gaining group in the broader intellectual and political world.

Fortunately, many of the BHL contributors will remain active in the public arena in other ways. Zwolinski lists some of the venues in which they will continue to write in his post linked above.

In the meantime, it's hard to deny that the BHL participants have had a big impact on political thought since they began the blog in 2011. While I am not a BHL-er as such, my own recent book  Free to Move: Foot Voting, Migration, and Political Freedom is very much in their tradition of combining free markets and cosmopolitanism. It is no accident that it is an outgrowth of an article I wrote for a volume edited by BHL-er Jacob Levy.

I have also been much influenced by the works of other BHL contributors, such as Jason Brennan's books on political ignorance, and the ethics of voting, and Fernando Teson's writings on democratic deliberation and international justice. Brennan's book In Defense of  Openness (coauthored with Bas van der Vossen) is one of the best political philosophy books on the morality of international trade and migration.

There are, of course, a number of issues on which I differ with some of the BHL contributors. But, even when we do disagree, I always learn much from what they have to say. Hopefully, they will continue to contribute to debates over politics and political theory elsewhere.

NEXT: Dark Mirror – Interviewing Bart Gellman

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  1. BHL was interesting for a while, but a lot like Reason itself, took a nosedive after the 2016 election. The writing got angrier and less interesting, even more full of virtue-signaling than it had been before. I think Jason Brennan was the only one who has been posting recently. The blog of its heyday will be missed, but the more recent incarnation will not. Rather than having said what it needed to say, it just fell prey to the what will inevitably kill off the Niskanen Center: you can only be the libertarian court jester of the progressive left for so long before it grows weary of your kooky antics and has you beheaded.

    1. BHL and Reason never changed. People who have become disillusioned with them never understood in the first place what libertarianism really means.

      1. No, they changed, especially BHL. After 2016, writers like Steve Horowitz went from fairly sane to unironically referring to Trump as “Cheeto Mussolini” and other names. Trump broke their little brains, and they weren’t able to maintain the objectivity needed to be a principled libertarian.

        1. It’s interesting that Trump and many of his supporters often claim he’s a significant ‘disrupter’ and ‘game changer’ and then react all ‘I can’t believe people are treating him differently!’

        2. Name-calling is a stylistic choice you may or may not find attractive, but it says nothing about their principles. A principled libertarian has no reason to defend Trump.

          Did you notice the link in the article to Horwitz’s 2011 critique of Ron Paul? The BHL folks have always opposed the Auburn style, collectivist pseudo-libertarian approach. I wonder what you see post-2016 that is inconsistent with this.

          https://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2011/12/how-did-we-get-here-or-why-do-20-year-old-newsletters-matter-so-damn-much/

          1. “A principled libertarian has no reason to defend Trump.”
            What about Obama? Biden? Either of the Clintons? Libertarian heroes all, I am sure…

            1. Are you serious? Obama is not the president anymore. He was awful when he was relevant but has not been relevant for years.

        3. I think such name-calling is often childish and more importantly distracting from the arguments people are making, but libertarians are of course not “objective” and don’t purport to be.

          If one isn’t vehemently criticizing Trump, one isn’t a principled libertarian.

  2. I’ve never quite fathomed combining individualism with social justice. Individualism by its very nature *does* provide social justice; and those who push social justice almost always want the government to provide some kind of favoritism to whatever group they think has been harmed before by government, prime examples being affirmative action racism to make up for Jim Crow racism, or throwing out freedom of association to make up for previous government homophobia. It is an oxymoron as ludicrous as democratic socialism.

    I’ve never looked at the blog. Maybe I am too pessimistic, and maybe their support is for society’s social justice, not the government-mandated variety. But I have never heard of social justice that didn’t demand government produce it where society didn’t.

    1. Individualism by its very nature *does* provide social justice
      This is begging the question. Some libertarians may disagree, no?

      affirmative action racism
      This is a pretty clunky non-argument.

      to make up for Jim Crow racism
      Hardly the only reason.

      throwing out freedom of association to make up for previous government homophobia
      And no one thinks that. Public accommodation law is not about restitution.

      This is just you delegitimizing anyone who disagrees with your narrow philosophy. Said philosophy being quite thin; mostly about strawmaning the libs.

      1. Affirmative action is racist by design.

        Whatever public accommodation law is “about”, it certainly abrogates freedom of association.

        Your word salad doesn’t do anything but make stuff up.

        1. “Affirmative action is racist by design.”

          Is giving money to the United Negro College Fund racist?

          Was it racist to give money to it in 1945?

          1. No and no. Personal choice is just that, personal choice. When the government mandates it, it becomes racism.

          2. You don’t really understand the differences between individuals, society, and government, do you? Your choices should be society’s choices, mandated by government, because you know better than everybody else.

    2. There’s lots of things that can be and are done in the name of ‘social justice’ that don’t involve government. Boycotts for example, or selective patronizing of businesses that one might think are advancing ‘social justice.’

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