“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
– Evelyn Beatrice Hall (often misattributed to Voltaire)

Acclaimed author Jeffrey Tucker recently introduced a new phrase into the libertarian lexicon: Brutalist libertarian. A brutalist libertarian is a libertarian whose views are racist, sexist, homophobic, or who leaps to defend racists, sexists, and homophobes. Tucker was not advocating for state prosecution of racists, sexists, and homophobes: Like Daniel D’Amico, he was simply stating that libertarians should think of other ways to fight racism, sexism, and homophobia, rather than leaping to the defense of racism, sexism, and homophobia.

Tucker was rejoined by a few notable articles. One author challenged Tucker’s terms, saying that, for linguistic consistency, we should use another term for Tucker’s position: Postmodern. Postmodernism is an architectural style, like brutalism, and reflects the hodgepodge of modern society. An absence of cultural consistency and homogeneity causes problems, in this author’s view, and he strongly identified himself in the brutalist camp.

Another author claimed that, in today’s world, the racists, sexists, and homophobes are who need defending the most: “What bravery does it take to make a stand against racism in 2014? How much intelligence is required to see a demographic disparity and shout ‘racist, misogynist, bigot’? None. How much courage does it take to stand up for a comedian’s right to tell a joke, while the full forces of the State are trying to censor anything disagreeable?” (referencing French comic Dieudonné)

So how does this all relate to concrete examples? For my case study, I take the fiercest of homophobes, the brutalist of brutalists: The Westboro Baptist Church. By protesting the funerals of homosexuals, troops, and pretty much everybody who differs at all from their views on Biblical fundamentalism, they have captured the nation’s attention and rage. People who generally argue for the right to protest now argue for throwing eggs or other violent assaults on these protesters. And there was not a whimper made when President Obama signed a law banning some military protests, a law explicitly aimed at the Westboro Baptist Church (a bill of attainder if I’ve ever seen one).

The humanitarian libertarian, or what some might call the postmodern libertarian, argument might be to say: “How can we stop these people without using the state?” I’ve seen some libertarians try to square egg throwing or other private action with the non-aggression principle. I’ve seen others argue how, in a world of private roads, funeral parlors and cemeteries wouldn’t open up where the roads allowed protests of their funerals (this is what I personally think would happen in a world of private roads).

But what is the brutalist libertarian argument? Hopefully, I’ve managed to offend both the self-identified brutalists and the self-identified humanitarians (or postmodernists) by now. But let’s go further and break the brutalist libertarians into two camps (dividing libertarianism into just two factions isn’t quite divisive enough for me). We can say that a “hard brutalist” is one who is racist, sexist, or homophobic, while a “soft brutalist” is one who isn’t personally racist, sexist, or homophobic, but who doesn’t consider it a worthwhile venture to fight and denounce racism, sexism, and homophobia.

Some hard brutalist libertarians might agree with the Westboro Baptist Church’s views. A soft brutalist libertarian, on the other hand, might say: “So what?” I’ve seen some libertarians say that, if the WBC wants to protest the funerals of homosexuals on a public road, how is that different from wearing a blue t-shirt on a public road? Both should be equally protected against state action, and it’s silly to denounce either, in this view.

I think both sides agree with the non-aggression principle here, so I won’t go into which side is on the side of the NAP. Let’s instead discuss the economics of private vs. public roads and sidewalks. We already have plenty of examples of private roads: Shopping mall roads and sidewalks, for instance. Would a shopping mall allow the Westboro Baptist Church to protest on their property?  We only need look at the ouster of Mozilla’s CEO to see how much power a boycott, or even the threat of a boycott, has in punishing homophobic businesses and/or businessmen in modern America.

But would a shopping mall in, say, Saudi Arabia, allow an anti-gay protest? That, of course, is another story. Perhaps if a shopping mall’s CEO in Saudi Arabia refused to host an anti-gay protest, he would be ousted as quickly as Mozilla’s CEO for fear of a potential boycott. Owners of private roads and sidewalks, to the extent that they are business(wo)men, are not humanitarians or brutalists: They are greedy. And the means of production are typically owned by for-profit businesses in a privatized society (economic calculation problems arise in nonprofits, and there is a strong incentive for for-profit business, as Mises wrote about in Bureaucracy).

As Mises wrote: “The market process is a daily repeated plebiscite (election), and it ejects inevitably from the ranks of profitable people those who do not employ their property according to the orders given by the public.” Just as the outcomes of state elections can benefit or harm us personally, the outcomes of market elections can benefit or harm us as well. Boycotts, protests, and diatribes aimed at influencing the market can, to the extent that they’re successful, greatly improve the lives of those who take part. So the soft brutalist approach of “So what?” when it comes to homophobia, sexism, and racism, would be a very passive attitude to take in a fully private society. People would have a strong economic incentive to be activists in such matters.

And so what about state-owned roads and sidewalks? So long as such things exist, most libertarians have accepted that equality before the law produces the most liberty possible, given the circumstances. It would be an egregious First Amendment violation for Obama to ban very offensive criticisms of the military (I moderate the page “The Troops are Welfare Whores”, and this would certainly not be beneficial to me). And banning very offensive protests of the military, such as Obama has done, is obviously contrary to the First Amendment and liberty in general. If protesters with some views are allowed on state land, protesters with all views should be allowed on state land.

And because state infringement on protest should be fought against, we should all defend the Westboro Baptist Church in their legal right to protest. But it does take some oomph out of our argument to use humanitarian libertarian phrasing: “In a free society, this protest wouldn’t happen, but we should fight to the death for their right to protest.” Unfortunately, this convoluted position is probably the correct one.