Liberty, Gender, and the Family

In Tibor R. Machan (ed.), Liberty and Justice. Hoover Institution Press. pp. 83-103 (2006)
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DISCUSSIONS OF JUSTICE within the classical liberal, libertarian tradition have been universalist. They have aspired to apply to any human community, whatever the makeup of its membership. Certainly some feminists have taken issue with this, arguing that the classical liberal, libertarian understanding of justice fails to address the concerns of women, indeed, does women an injustice. Among these we find Susan Moller Okin, and it will be my task in this essay to explore whether Okin's criticism is well founded. Susan Moller Okin's justice, Gender, and the Family is a landmark feminist discussion of distributive justice that raises issues no political philosophy should ignore. However, libertarians have tended to ignore it. That is perhaps not surprising as Okin would have us believe that libertarian feminism is incoherent. Some libertarians seem to agree, leading one to believe that liberty is incompatible with justice for women. Perhaps libertarians and feminists agree on the "facts," but disagree on the values. Whereas the feminist is willing to sacrifice liberty for justice, the libertarian is willing to sacrifice justice for liberty. Although the libertarian might object to this characterization on the grounds that the demands of justice would be met by a libertarian scheme, the feminist can equally object that the "liberty" she is willing to sacrifice means liberty for men and domestic servitude for women. Okin finds libertarianism problematic for two reasons: its philosophical foundations and its unjust consequences for women. (She focuses, as will I, on women in quasi-democratic industrial societies.) I will argue, contra Okin, that neither the philosophical foundations nor the possible implications of libertarianism are as problematic for feminism as she claims.



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Jennifer McKitrick
University of Nebraska, Lincoln

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