The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
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.