What Sort Of Rapist Are You?

I know many libertarians who think there is really no such thing as a left libertarian; I’m not one of them.

For instance, Charles Johnson (aka Rad Geek) is certainly a man of the left and certainly a libertarian. I’ve read his posts for years and he says many wise and reasonable things with which I fully agree.  Sometimes though, his leftist commitments have him saying things I can make no sense of.

From an article Rad wrote with Roderick Long:

When radical feminists say that male supremacy rests in large part on the fact of rape—as when Susan Brownmiller characterizes rape as “a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear” (Against Our Will, p. 15)—libertarians often dismiss this on the grounds that not all men are literal rapists and not all women are literally raped. But when their own Ludwig von Mises says that “government interference always means either violent action or the threat of such action,” that it rests “in the last resort” on “the employment of armed men, of policemen, gendarmes, soldiers, prison guards, and hangmen,” and that its “essential feature” is “the enforcement of its decrees by beating, killing, and imprisoning”, libertarians applaud this as a welcome demystification of the state. Libertarians rightly recognize that legally enacted violence is the means by which all rulers keep all citizens in a state of fear, even though not all government functionaries personally beat, kill, or imprison anybody, and even though not all citizens are beaten, killed, or imprisoned; the same interpretive charity towards the radical feminist analysis of rape is not too much to ask.

– from Libertarian Feminism: Can This Marriage Be Saved?

I don’t think the attempt to parallel “all men keep all women in a state of fear” with “all rulers keep all citizens in a state of fear” works at all.

A “ruler’ in this sense is a ruler by choice. All such rulers intend to rule, they all freely choose to engage in unjustified aggression, whether they understand it to be unjustified aggression or not.

Can we reasonably say that all men freely choose to keep all women in a state of fear? I didn’t choose to be a man, nor do I think the fact that I’m a man commits me to keeping all women in a state of fear.

When Rad says,  “…libertarians often dismiss this on the grounds that not all men are literal rapists and not all women are literally raped”,  I find the use of the word “literal” particularly striking.  He could have simply said not all men are rapists and not all women are raped, but that would not really suit his analogy to government functionaries. When an IRS agent, or some other state functionary, directs you to do something as a legal part of his job you are under the threat of force to comply, so each such individual directs violence against you in a very real sense.

If his analogy is sound it would seem that Rad, a man, considers himself *some* sort of rapist, or at least someone who keeps all women in fear by invoking violence against women.

I’n that case it seems fair to ask Rad what sort of rapist he considers himself to be, and why he chooses to keep all women in a state of fear.

4 thoughts on “What Sort Of Rapist Are You?”

  1. At least government workers can swear off of their violent actions and threats of violent actions by walking away from their jobs. It seems there’s no out for men if you buy the argument in Libertarian Feminism.

  2. Hi John. Glad to see that No Treason is back on the air.

    I do not think that all men are rapists. At all. Nor do I think that Susan Brownmiller thinks that. I think she is saying something else. That is actually the point of the passage that you are looking at.

    You’re reading more into the word “literally” than is there. The point is not to somehow claim that all men are rapists, but in some other, non-literal sense. The word is being used strictly as an emphatic. The point is that an interpretation of this passage which reads Brownmiller as saying “all men commit rape” or “all men are responsible/to blame for rape” is the wrong interpretation of the passage. It misreads her view. In any case, whether I am right or wrong about Brownmiller, it is certainly not my view.

    I discuss at some greater length what I think Brownmiller actually is arguing in this talk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLyikDzsaZE which is based on this paper: http://charleswjohnson.name/essays/women-and-the-invisible-fist/ My view, and I take it Brownmiller’s view also, is that some men commit rape and others do not, but the fact that some men commit rape has systematic cultural effects beyond the control of either group of men.

    The short paragraph in the Libertarian Feminism paper that mentions Brownmiller is not supposed to be drawing an analogy between the government functionaries’ physical aggression and their non-physical aggression (say through verbal orders and threats). It is drawing analogy between a number of patriarchal cultural outcomes and things that government functionaries do that aren’t aggressive at all in themselves, but that are shaped by the fact of background aggression.

    So don’t think about the verbal orders of a police officer; think of, say, the management decisions of a public parks administrator.

    On the one hand, running a park is not aggressive. I assume there would be non-governmental parks in a flourishing free society, and there would be some people who make management decisions about how to run them. On the other hand, the position that actually existing parks administrator are in, in our actual world, is connected with the fact that other people, independent of them, do a number of things that are violent and aggressive (tax collection, policing, etc.).

    I agree with you that the analogy is not a perfect analogy, because the relationship between nonaggressive and aggressive components of the system is different in ways that are described in the Invisible Fist paper, and because people can choose to stop working for the government in ways that they can’t simply choose to stop being men, etc. But the point of the analogy is to suggest the start of a more accurate, closer reading of what Brownmiller is saying (which is, again, not that all men commit rape; she does not claim that anywhere), not to suggest that patriarchal culture is just like government in every respect.

    There are plenty of respects in which they are saliently different and I have written about the details of the salient differences in other papers.

  3. Charles,

    ” Glad to see that No Treason is back on the air.”

    Glad to see you back in the comments. As you can see we’ve traded our old crack staff of bloggers for a new staff, consisting of Nathan Byrd and a blogger to be named later. Or something.

    You asserted a parallel between A) “all men keep all women in a state of fear” with B) “all rulers keep all citizens in a state of fear”, and it so doing you made an analogy between men and rulers.

    It seems clear you’re saying to libertarians: You should accept A because you accept B for pretty much the same reason that A is true.

    For our current purposes I think it’s fair to say that to rule is to exercise legal authority, and a ruler is one who exercises legal authority.

    You said “not all men are literal rapists” and then paralleled this with with “not all government functionaries personally beat, kill, or imprison anybody”. Here the word “functionary” has been substituted for “rulers” If functionaries are not rulers then there has been a bait-and-switch here, because to make an analogy between men and rulers you have to be talking about men and rulers. Rulers aggress by ruling, even when no explicit violence occurs. This is the nature of legal authority. But it’s not any necessary part of the nature of men.

    So A is not supported by the reasons that libertarians accept B.

    And you have said that your analogy wasn’t perfect; so I’m explaining my reasoning. I never thought you thought all men were rapists, that was a reductio ad absurdum of the analogy.

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