Wednesday, July 13, 2005

L&S: Riding the First Wave

Steve Davies is currently working his way through a very informative history of the individualist feminism of the 19th and early 20th century. I love this lecture and I think it's one of the most fascinating for the students as few of them really know this history. Introducing them to the Grimke sisters, Harriet Martineau, Josephine Butler, and all the rest is really important to both understanding a key piece of the history of libertarian ideas and to realizing that articulating a modern-day libertarian feminism is a worthy and important project. My Liberty and Power colleague Roderick Long has done great work on this front, and I'm hoping that my own work (PDF warning) on the family can contribute to such a project as well. Opposition to the war is not the only place libertarians can find common cause with elements of the Left.

What's especially nice about Steve's lecture is that he links together the early feminists' critique of state intervention in the market, their support for voting rights and other forms of political equality, and their opposition to the "traditional" marital relationship under which men were the complete and total masters of the household. In all cases, women were treated as second class citizens, comparable to slaves, and saw these changes as providing them with the demand for equal treatment that is at the bottom of the first wave of feminism. In the US, as Steve points out, the individualist feminist movement was linked with the abolitionists, often via Quakerism.

For me, teaching history, or listening to it being taught, is a form of magic, as modern students are often so ignorant of elements of history that have direct bearing on their current beliefs and you can literally see their eyes and minds opening up when they learn things of which they were previously unaware. This is particularly true for libertarian students, who have often suffered through college courses where the parts of history that offer information about, and support for, their own intellectual traditions are frequently omitted or caricatured. Good history gives students something the desperately need: intellectual ammunition (to use an old Randian phrase). Frankly, if I were a student at an IHS seminar, the history lectures would be the ones I'd be paying rapt attention to, jotting notes furiously, as a way of preparing for returning to campus with new material for class discussions and research papers. Even as a faculty member, I always come home from these seminars with new bits of history that I previously didn't know.

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