Bryan Caplan  

How Free Are Amish Women?

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By modern American standards, the Amish are extremely poor, and subject to intense social pressure.  It's legal to leave, but few do.  The pressure on Amish women is particularly intense.  Even their Rumspringa is heavily monitored by their parents, and Amish marital theory and practice are extremely patriarchal.

Question: How free are Amish women compared to other American women?  I say they're just as free.  I also say, against Will Wilkinson, that their "formal freedom" is morally significant.  If the Amish used threats of violence to keep their women in, it would be a terrible crime.  As matters stand, though, the plight of Amish women strikes me as objectionable, but far from awful.  I vacation in Pennsylvania Dutch country without losing sleep over it.  When an Amish girl marries an Amish boy, she knows what she's getting into - and her voluntary consent is meaningful despite her Amish upbringing.

Am I wrong?  Would it matter if 90% of people were Amish?

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    Bryan Caplan writes: Question: How free are Amish women compared to other American women?  I say they’re just as free.  I also say, against Will Wilkinson, that their “formal freedom” is morally significant. If the Amish used threats ... [Tracked on April 15, 2010 3:22 PM]
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OneEyedMan writes:

Great example. Community and family pressure are differences in kind and not degree from the coercion of the state. There is meaningful exit from the Amish community both in possibility and in actuality.

Andrew G. writes:

To add to OneEyedMan, there is meaningful exit when the Amish is a small % of the community. If 90% of the community were Amish, exit seems like it would be much less meaningful.

Kurbla writes:

Maybe you can say that Amish man has the right on non-violent pressure, but it still doesn't imply that freedom of Amish women is independent of that non-violent pressure.

To prove that, I'll again construct my example of Desertopia. Imagine society very similar to USA, but women have the choice to (a) accept the lifelong slavery contract and (b) exit - but only place that is not private property of some man already is - desert, and noone can survive one night in desert - except theoretically.

According to your understanding, women in Desertopia are just as free as they are in modern USA. They can chose the environment without coercion at all - the desert. Such a notion of freedom have no sense. In reality, these women are slaves.

Conclusion is that right to exit doesn't guarantee freedom, and that freedom depends on actual choices one have, and how these choices are formed.

Now, English woman has three choices:

  • (a) staying in family and working at home
  • (b) staying in family and have job
  • (c) exit

Amish woman has two choices

  • (a) staying in family and working at home
  • (c) exit

Amish woman is less free. Amish man took away one of her choices. (It still doesn't prove that Amish man hasn't right to do so, or that his decision is unjust - these are independent questions.)

Justin Martyr writes:

All people are influenced by social norms. Are modern women coerced if they choose a career over family because membership in the group of Enlightened and Sophisticated People deems that feminism is necessary? Sen talked about the "tamed housewife" but why not the "tamed feminist"?

How would you even go about measuring this empirically? I suspect that the Amish women have higher levels of happiness than feminists. Does that mean that unhealthy levels of tacit coercion are brought to bear on modern women?

kebko writes:

This seems related to the Brandon Fuller link in Arnold's earlier post.

RobertB writes:

If you had to give up your daughter for adoption, would you rather have her be adopted by the Amish, or by a family in a country that has 10% higher taxation?

David Maddock writes:

"Am I wrong? Would it matter if 90% of people were Amish?"

Yes, the % matters. Your argument stands when the women have viable, realistic options and I'm of the opinion that these Amish women do. I disagreed a few days ago when you attempted the same case for women circa 1880.

That said, I think you downplay the value of social norms with comparably smaller pressures against libertarian freedoms. Some may disagree, but I think that people on the whole are cowards and/or indifferent regarding most things. Societies get away with taking some freedoms because the cost of exercising freedom outweighs the individual's perceived benefit.

In that sense I'd agree that these people may be "optimally" free in some philosophically economic sense, but this is not the same as "most free" or even "equally free" as other societies with different social norms as these will have different states of "freedom optimization" which may be higher. (Does that make any sense at all to anyone but me?)

Amy writes:

Actually, a better example might be the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints. Many women and men are raised in large polygamous communities in rural areas of the US where meaningful escape is nearly impossible. They are taught from birth that non-FLDS members seek to harm them and that contact with non-FLDS members risks both their physical safety and their eternal salvation. Child sexual abuse and rape are common, marriages are arranged, and deviations from church-approved norms of behavior are swiftly punished, often with physical violence. Is it legal for them to leave? Under US law, yes. But the social norms of their communities are so strong as to cause them to fear for their lives, and local police, in violation of the law, will use physical violence to prevent exit.

That's what life is like in communities where no thick conception of liberty exists, even if the law technically endorses freedom.

Douglass Holmes writes:

If Amish are poor by American standards, then there is something wrong with American standards. I would rather be Amish in 21st century USA than middle-class prior to 1940.
The Amish women are restricted in their freedom because their lower formal education restricts their professional options should they choose to leave the Amish community. I go back to my previous opinion - more wealth makes for more freedom. An Amish woman who leaves the community is limited in her options to gain wealth.
That said, I'm not sure how free the "average" American woman is. How free is a black woman from the ghetto if she wants to date wealthier white men? Do you think that there wouldn't be pressure from her community? There are other immigrant communities that exert community pressure on their young women.

If I had to give up a child for adoption, I would prefer to give her up to the Amish. I wouldn't need to worry about the child getting too much exposure to television or the internet. ;)

Brian Clendinen writes:

Remember, Amish once they leave they are shunned and can no longer associate with their family. They often will be associated with other Amish communities in some manner but all prior relationships go away unless they leave also. They view one is actually rejecting the Amish religion if one does not want to live that way. This is common with Islam for though's who convert and many other religions.

One really can-not separate the culture from the religion with the Amish. It is true in general but it is more pronounced in some cultures. I would say Amish Woman are a lot more free than almost any Muslim woman in a country that is majority Muslim.

I would not call a culture that a key part of it is emotional friend/family non-violent blackmail a free one. Therefore, I would say Amish woman are in general less free than other woman in the U.S. However, this scenario could happen with any other non-Amish family. So there are large parts of the population who are as or less free than Amish Woman. The problem is the concentration of this behavior with the Amish, and some other religions. However, it is not a big difference.

Gwen writes:

On those facts, I'd argue that Amish women are perfectly free under the law and therefore that the state has no right to coercively intervene in their lives (unless crimes are committed against them). Their position seems to me to be equivalent to the position of, say, women in very traditional Muslim communities in England. All their basic liberties are protected by law and, provided that the law is actually enforced, there's no political problem with them choosing not to exercise the relevant liberties. But that conclusion depends on the rigorous enforcement of the law of the land, at any time that they choose to call upon it. If the law is being de facto ignored by the community and the state is too weak or corrupt to prosecute violations, then the women in those circumstances are just as unfree as - say - American women in the 19th century.

So if an Amish or a Muslim woman *decided* to enter into employment, it is a condition of her liberty that the state makes it possible to do so. That is, the law of the USA does not make it legally impossible for an employer to enter into a contract with her without her husband's permission. In terms of de facto enforcement, that means that, if her employer declines to pay her wage, the state will allow her to call on its coercive power to sue to enforce the contract without the permission of her husband. If she buys a house and decides that, actually, contra the norms of her society, she wants to live there by herself without permitting her husband to enter, she should be able to call on the police to prevent her husband or parents from evicting her and she can sue them as trespassers if she likes. Similarly, in cases of rape or assault, she should be able to call upon the protection of the state at any time. If she *can't* do any of these things, because of the social conditions, then the law's actually being broken and she is de facto as unfree as if those laws didn't exist. If she can, but doesn't, then she's free. Her situation might be unfortunate in other ways and people in the wider society might want to persuade her or her community to alter it but they have no right to use the coercive power of the state to *force* her to change them.

The difference between the circumstances of such a woman and those of a woman whose husband is entitled to call upon the coercive powers of the state to *prevent* her from exercising certain liberties should be obvious. That's why a Muslim woman in Britain is, broadly speaking, more free than the same Muslim woman under Taliban government. She might have a husband who hits her in both societies but, if she calls the police around in Britain, she's likely to get an injunction to keep him away from her and the chances are he'll go to prison. If she calls the Taliban around, they're likely to punish her for defying his authority. She's free in Britain - provided the police are actually de facto effective - whereas she is unfree under the Taliban. Similarly, if she decides to get a job in Britain in the 21st century, she can apply for one and whether she gets it or not depends on her choice and that of her prospective employer. If we transported her back a couple of hundred years, that wouldn't be the case - the state would refuse to allow her to sue an 'employer' who failed to pay her wages without the consent of a third party (her husband). I really can't see how this distinction is a difficult one.

Tom West writes:

My suspicion is that part of the disagreements about the important of social coercion are based on Bryan's personality.

Based on his postings, I'd say that, for better or worse, social pressure is likely almost non-existent for Bryan. (In fact, in many cases, the challenge is to recognize that the silent pressure exists so that the person can make a rational choice whether to accede to it or not.)

This could easily make it hard to understand on any visceral level that, for most people, social constraint and pressure, even unvoiced and free of threat, is vastly more significant than simple government threat of violence.

Without that understanding, it's quite easy to believe that social pressure is essentially meaningless.

Eric H writes:

Rumspringa formalizes the individual's introduction to technology and progress. Absent cultural forces like rumspringa, the individual's introduction to progress can be chaotic and alienating, but ultimately positive and productive.

Wilkinson and Kerry Howley created a libertarian teacup tempest within the We're All Cultural Libertarians debate, in which they largely derided cultural norms like rumspringa while using as evidence for the oppression of such norms a quaint story of female liberation through higher wages in China. Howley's brief synopsis ends with its heroine "advising her father on financial planning, directing her younger siblings to stay in school, and changing jobs without bothering to ask her parents’ permission."

The forgotten men in this narrative are progress and inherent cultural flexibility. Howley's heroine existed in a culture Howley presumed inflexible and patriarchal. It was nevertheless flexible enough to allow one of its least-valued members to exploit the gains of progress.

When the going was good, the Amish were as full-in as the Chinese or anyone else. They diversified; they migrated towards civilization and higher paying jobs; they ramped up their production of rustic furniture and cheeses and jams and joined construction crews in big cities. They didn't want to be left out of the boom. Change would have come to their culture, but at a rate slower than that preferred by Howley and Wilkinson.

Howley and Wilkinson and others of the liberaltarian confession see oppression where none exists, because they think real progress depends upon how successful they are at inspiring paradigmatic shifts amongst the masses. The masses have always been amenable to paradigmatic shifts. That's why economic freedom is a leveling force: it allows the uneducated and undoctrinated a chance at fulfillment without help from Howley and Wilkinson.

Nicholas Weininger writes:

Amy and Gwen have the right of it here. I would add that in practice it would make a huge difference if 90% of the population were Amish, because most people are not libertarians and do not observe the scrupulous moral distinction that we (rightly) do between nonviolent pressure and violence. So in practice, in a society with illiberal norms, even if the letter of the law respects people's freedom, there will in practice be private violence against violators of those norms, and the enforcers of the law will look the other way.

This is one of the best arguments for "thick" libertarianism. It does *not* imply that people don't have a right to nonviolent social pressure, or that we should support the use of government force against cultural norms. It *does* imply that we should condemn illiberal norms and recognize that they can lead to restrictions on freedom just as real as statutory restrictions.

frankcross writes:

Surely this depends on whether the definition of freedom is a legal one. This is conventional, that the restrictions on freedom are legal (i.e., poverty or acceptance of norms do not deny freedom). But, accepting that, the Amish women seem free. However, this is not a good parallel to the 19th Century example, because there it was the law that punished the free choice of marriage. Here the constraint appears to be extralegal.

Moron writes:

The amish have something a hyperindividualist like Mr. Caplan may not easily understand, but that's not to say he can't understand it at all.

They have a kind of freedom which is very deep - too great in circumference for the individual to wrap his hot little hands around. They have a population doubling time of about 20 years; they also have a cultural identity. Combining the two, they have an *immortality* that pervades every stage of their lives, and not least their youth, a time when one is consciously haughty over mortality, but unconsciously more subject to it than one imagines.

The amish people will probably have its demise one day. But the dying amish individual doesn't have to know that for sure. And even if it doesn't last forever, he still belongs to a *people* that is very old, yet also at the same time always stands in the flower of youth, as the individual instances of the people come to full bloom successively at the age of betrothal.

Let's consider ourselves from the amish perspective - and why not exaggerate rather haphazardly, just to set the point in high relief, and also just for kicks. The amish possess centuries the way we possess cars. While many of us oftentimes draw the curtains for the purpose of rutting, they draw them for the ecstasy of perpetuation. We have pals, and they have heirs. We have the freedom to do whatever, and they have the freedom to receive perpetuating guidance. We have vanity: accordingly, we have nihilistic high art, produced by the many who half-recognize our predicament but don't understand it.

Now, granted, I don't even have kids myself yet. Certain obstacles still stand in the way, such as the sheer terror of speaking to the opposite sex.

Unfortunately, it's not easy to be amish, or to be halfway between us and them. Our materialism is not foisted upon us by capitalists - not really. It's mostly just an outcome of status competition, ultimately an outcome of the mating game. Then there is the excessive anti-nationalism of the postwar period, without which we could all be at least subtly more amish.

RickRussellTX writes:

"If the Amish used threats of violence to keep their women in, it would be a terrible crime."

I think an accurate restatement would be, "When the Amish use violence to keep their women in, it is not treated as a crime."

Read anything written by an Old Order "survivor", especially one of the more conservative orders, like the Swartzentruber Amish. The autobiography, _Amish Deception_ is a pretty harrowing read ( I read it back before David Yoder was selling it (the book was just a rambling series of pages on his Web site), and it was absolutely gripping.

And while it's fair to say that Amish women are legally free to leave, they are minimally educated (as a matter of religious policy) and may not have the opportunity to learn English. Those are significant barriers to free movement.

Pandaemoni writes:

I disagree that social constraints can be completely disregarded as constraints. That I can always emigrate does not make me happier about the legal constraints I may face in my own country, largely because the costs of emigration (economic and personal) are quite high.

In fact, I am reasonably sure that if I move to the truly remote parts of the Alaskan wilderness I can live in perfect freedom, practically speaking, since the government is very unlikely to find me there to enforce any laws I may be violating. The problem with that, of course, is that the costs are too great. In effect the costs involved are weighed as if they were limits on my true freedom.

Social and economic constraints, even when extra-legal impose costs that do in practice limit my liberty.

Loof writes:

And, amish have humility with others and relative to their god; libertarians have hubris with others, absolutely with no god.

Steve Roth writes:

I think Kurdla nails it.

There was no feasible exit from the roles prescribed for (most/all) women in the gilded age. Not true for Amish women. (But it would be true if the country was 90% Amish.)

The economic system in which they lived was itself coercive, even if no particular entity was doing the coercing.

Dain writes:

Why we don't just ask Amish women if they think they are free?

Loof writes:

Bryan said: "If the Amish used threats of violence to keep their women in, it would be a terrible crime."
RickRussellTX responds: I think an accurate restatement would be, "When the Amish use violence to keep their women in, it is not treated as a crime."

Actually, not necessarily “an accurate statement” and perhaps black paint with too broad a brush. The website Amish Deception specifically qualifies, upfront, that the main problem is about the Swartzentruber Amish Culture and in no way implicates other less conservative sectors of Amish culture. This indicates the norm is otherwise and complementary to an absolute ideology: that threats of violence to keep their women in is considered a terrible crime.

Still, groups involved with absolute ideology (amish, libertarian, etc.) have problems coming to ground without contradictions in ideality & reality. Best be honestly humble and admit the sin; not falsely hubris and project the guilt.

dieter writes:

While I agree with the general sociological arguments, all of you are missing the big elephant in the room. These people actually believe in God. I am not farmiliar with the particulars of the Amish religion, but these types of monotheist religions usually include the proposition that there is an enourmous concentration camp flying in outer space to which everybody, who commits just the mildest transgressions, is sent for eternal torment. Or in the case of catholicism, a couple of thousand years of torment each for specific sin one hasn't confessed and properly repented for.

Catholic societies tended to be more permissive of vices such as gambling, prostitution and alcohol as opposed to Calvinists and Puritans for these theological reasons. These differences are actually still present in post-christian europe.

RickRussellTX writes:


"The website Amish Deception specifically qualifies, upfront, that the main problem is about the Swartzentruber Amish Culture"

Fair enough, but it's hardly the only source indicating that the Amish tradition of theocratic justice, and an unwillingness to speak to external law enforcement, is used as an excuse to dismiss complaints as "their problem". _Amish Deception_ is an extreme case from an extreme part of the community, but it's hardly a unique account.

To the specific point, equal protection under the law must be both promised and delivered. If Amish women and children are abused then taken back to their church fathers so "the Amish can deal with it", rather than offered the same protection as non-Amish, then equal protection has not been applied.

dieter writes:

Here is my take on the Guilded Age question. I've posted the same comment on Will's blog.

I happen to enjoy reading Guilded Age Austrian newspapers. Based on what I've read, which is certainly not an exhaustive study of the subject, I am coming out more, but not completely on the Bryan Caplan side.

The Viennese Housewife's magazine for example argued for equal rights, but was opposed to the radical feminists of the time, who denied sex differences, envisioned equal outcomes and attacked men. The advise columns read pretty much like those in contemporary women's magazines.

The humorist papers dealt alot with gender relations. It was pretty much taken for granted that spouses have affairs on the side and that women have alot of power over their husbands and make them and their lovers spend through the nose. There are also frequent allusions to the "nice guy vs. jerk" phenomenon. Think Honeymooners or Marx Brothers type of humor.

The social democrats thought that it was a disgrace that working class women had to work because of economic necessity rather than choice.

Human nature doesn't change that much and Voltairine de Cleyre's view is probably not representative, just as contemporary radical feminists, who describe gender relations today in similarily vitriolic terms, are off the chart with their perception.

But the minority of oppressive and abusive husbands of the times certainly did have the law and even more importantly religious doctrine and threats of eternal torment on their side. Not everybody was devout, but for those who were, that makes alot of difference.

The era of the housewife was to my knowledge a limited experience of the 50ies and 60ies. Before that, the economic contribution of women either on the farm or as workers was essential, so they had bargaining power. It is arguable that women in the housewife era were more disenfranchised than both their mothers and their daughters.

Loof writes:

“To the specific point, equal protection under the law must be both promised and delivered.”

And where is equal protection under the law, with the law, by the law, whatever the law in theocratic, democratic, any rule of justice both promised and delivered absolutely (i.e. “the law must be”)?

No pure existence, as far as I can see without absolute vision. But do see humility facing an absolute enabling the lessening of the problem; while hubris with an absolute makes the problem worse – and projects it onto others.

agnostic writes:

Most of you people obviously don't remember middle and high school. Talk about non-violent pressure and constraints on your freedom of choice! --

What hallways you can walk in, who you can date, who outside of your little tribe you can associate with, where you can park in the parking lot, what music groups you can publicly enjoy, what clothes you can wear, what hairstyle and hair color you can sport, what slang you can use, what leisure activities you can indulge in, where you can have a job, what kind of car you can drive, where you can apply to college...

Under the absurdly expansive view of freedom, all teenagers and most college students are slaves. Of course these pressures persist into adulthood, but the intensity is nothing compared to what it is in high school.

Yet teenagers have a right of exit -- to refuse to join any particular clique or crowd, even though these constraining crowds account for well over 90% of the high school population. Yet because teenagers choose to join them, we infer that they're free.

Joining a community that you value often involves paying a cost by giving up some of your ability to choice -- that's how they weed out freeloaders and others who don't want to contribute to public good production. As long as this is voluntary, like freely agreeing to not sleep with others when you get married, there's nothing wrong with it from a libertarian standpoint.

Damien writes:

I tend to agree with Tom West. I'm in individualist and, in my life, social pressure matters very little. I don't actually care what people think about me, how they react to my beliefs or how they judge my lifestyle. It doesn't affect me one bit. If someone gets abusive, I just think "what a moron" and shrugs it off.

Yet, I don't think that my experience is typical. If we were to poll psychologists, I think the consensus would be that there is such a thing as non-physical violence. It is possible to harm people without ever raising a hand on them or threatening their physical integrity. In fact, I have seen several studies of victims of domestic violence who reported that the non-physical abuse they suffered was much more destructive (in their opinion) than the blows they received.

I'm an individualist and a libertarian so it is very hard for me to understand how non-violent behavior can affect you in any significant way. But if you listen to the average person, they'll tell you that psychological damage is as genuine as bruises.

dieter writes:

Your example is problematic. Teenagers don't just put social pressures on each other but also engage in a lot of physical violence, which is somewhat kept in check by adults. If society was run by teenagers, we would live in a hellish thugocracy.

I share your general attitude, but I wouldn't be so confident that your emotional independence stems entirely from your innate personality type and not to a large extend from the trustworthiness of those who surround you.

Have you ever faced genuine perfidious betrayal or deceit by those who you love or trust? (wife/girlfriend, friend, relative, business partner, etc.)

These things happen much more frequently in certain strata of society.

PrometheeFeu writes:

I would go further than Kurbla and say that the "desert" option need not even be a desert for there to be no choice. If your choices are between staying in the community and the "land of milk and honey" but from birth all information you received has been that this "land of milk and honey" is in fact a deadly desert, you effectively are no freer than if it really was a desert. Acquiring information is costly. (especially in a closed community) You will in effect never gain the information you need to make a free decision.

I think Bryan that you are loosing sight of what freedom means. Being told that you will be beaten to death is not functionally different than being told you will starve. Sure, they may be different in terms of the moral implication for the person making the statement. (One is a threat while the other is simply stating a fact) But functionally, they both impose the same qualitative limits on your actions.

floccina writes:


- 1880 had no war on drugs.
- it might be that Amish feel freer in that they do not feel coerced to put on makeup everyday (which is work).

floccina writes:

"Yet teenagers have a right of exit "

Maybe Gov. schools and child labor laws may make exit harder for teenagers who find high school hellish.

I was very shy and wimpy (timid) and found school before the 6th grade hellish but fortunately back in Providence RI in 1968 they let people not attend school and the thugs all stopped going to school after the 5th grade and things got much better.

BTW Maybe the Amish are nicer on average than other people and that makes the trade off favorable for women.

Yonie Wondernose writes:

One thing the Amish have not done to their women is create a porno-slut ideal for them as Western culture has done,thanks in part at least to Hollywood

Snorri Godhi writes:

Am I the only one to see a contradiction in Bryan going on about formal freedom, when in previous posts he claimed that the letter of the law does not really matter?

All the same, on the balance I am on the Caplan side (if the other side is Wilkinson's). The basic reason is implicit in some of the above comments: all of us are indoctrinated, by our families, teachers, and fellow students, when we are young. To claim that this is an intolerable restriction on our freedom, is to give a license to totalitarian state indoctrination of the kind implemented by some xx century regimes which are best left un-named in a blog comment. (I am also reminded of the "stolen generation" of Australian aborigines.)

It is no defense of the Wilkinson position to say that the State should intervene only in "extreme" cases: who decides what cases are extreme? by what criteria? in the absence of convincing answers to these questions, I take "cultural libertarianism" to be a potential gateway to totalitarianism.

Snorri Godhi writes:

PS1: Will Wilkinson can easily get worked up about the rights of Gilded Age women, but cannot be bothered to defend the rights of Iranian protesters.

PS2: WRT the question "Would it matter if 90% of people were Amish?", one must first address the question: how did 90% of people become Amish? was there any coercion involved? or do the Amish enjoy special and unfair privileges (e.g. lower tax rates)? if the answers are no and no, then the prima facie evidence is that for most people, being Amish is an optimal choice.
(Of course, being born contrarian, you would find me in the other 10%.)

rk writes:

"It is no defense of the Wilkinson position to say that the State should intervene only in "extreme" cases: who decides what cases are extreme? by what criteria? in the absence of convincing answers to these questions, I take "cultural libertarianism" to be a potential gateway to totalitarianism."

I came to a similar conclusion.

Jayson Virissimo writes:

The disagreement between Caplan and Wilkinson, as far as I can make it out, is over whether or not social pressure is coercive. Caplan seems to think coercion must involve force or threat of force, while Wilkinson thinks ostracism or threat of noncooperation is coercive.

Am I right?

Loof writes:

Perhaps Bryan is re-airing, in disguise, a dirty persistent problem of "libertarian freedom". It seems strikingly similar to an issue that erupted on Internet in Sept.09, and aired filthy libertarian laundry relative to property in a person and what is not a coercive action (controversial among libertarians?) in a patriarchal private property organization. The story goes back to eminent libertarian Walter Block’s 1975 article in Libertarian Forum (p. 5) titled: ON THE WOMEN’S LIBERATION MOVEMENT or The Male Chauvinist Pig as Hero.

Quote (p. 6): “Consider the sexual harassment which continually occurs between a secretary and a boss...while objectionable to many women, is not a coercive action. It is rather part of a package deal in which the secretary agrees to all aspects of the job when she agrees to accept the job, and especially when she agrees to keep the job. The office is, after all, private property. The secretary does not have to remain if the ‘coercion’ is objectionable.”

So, when an American girl signs an employee-employer contract... the pattern is strikingly similar to me as: “When an Amish girl marries an Amish boy, she knows what she’s getting into – and her voluntary consent is meaningful despite her Amish upbringing.”

8 writes:

Theodore Dalrymple has a relevant essay about the case of the couple in Britain who were charged with a crime for refusing to let a homosexual couple stay at their inn:

The depressing, and perhaps sinister, aspect of the public commentary on the case is how largely it has ignored the question of freedom. For liberals, it seems, any trampling on freedom or individual conscience is now justified if it conduces to an end of which they approve. Thus liberalism turns into its opposite, illiberalism.

Messrs. Black and Morgan, who said they felt like lepers and went to the police as a result, condemned themselves out of their own mouths. They said that they had been together for decades, and that this was the first time they had ever experienced what they called “homophobia.” Not only does this suggest that the Equality Act was not, even on the false assumptions of liberals, necessary, but it means that anyone more mature than they would simply have found somewhere else to stay for the night.

Moreover, to waste police time on such a matter in a country with the highest crime rate in the Western world is nothing short of scandalous, a manifestation of the worst kind of inflamed egotism.

Loof writes:

Dalrymple’s article appears correlative; not relevant: to the basic problem of illiberal paternalism and the principle of property in the person.

Property in the person is closely connected to what's considered the basic paradigmatic problem in social philosophy going back to Rousseau’s “forced to be free” (logical point where classical liberalism became illiberal). In intellectual fashion it has supposedly been resolved nowadays by libertarians rationalizing voluntary slavery. Pre-eminent is Nozick saying: “a free system will allow him to sell himself into slavery.” Libertarian freedom, indeed(!)

Frankly, this is academic nonsense defying common sense and basic human decency. It’s hubris professing rational wholes, without being really reasonable.

Ray Gardner writes:

Some good points in the comments.

But I'm not clear on what Bryan was asking.

Is he correct in not being overly worried about it? I believe so. Amy brought up fundamental LDS women, but her post misses the point I believe Bryan was making. That Amish are not coerced the way the LDS women are, and yet they still remain for the most part.

The 90% question I missed. Would what matter? If 90% of the population of America was Amish, would it matter that the women were treated as such? Is that the question?

jstaples writes:

I think the whole argument is based on a false premise. That premise is the assumption that there is a meaningful distinction to be made among societal, cultural, and governmental coercion.

Government derives its power from societal consent. Yes, there is a certain amount of implied violence to maintain that power but ultimately government power develops from less formalized social power.

When we look at less developed societies, we see where those distinctions break down. In a small African or Native American tribe was there much difference between government, society and family power? In these cases the distinction becomes much harder to make.

The argument that the Amish women are free to leave makes almost as little sense as those who argue that if you don't like the overbearing US government you are free to leave.

I will grant that the smaller the power structure, the less tyrannical it can become. (It is much easier to leave an Amish community than abandon the entire US.) But to argue that there is no such thing as societal coercion doesn't hold water with me. I simply don't believe you can draw a clean distinction between government and society.

jstaples writes:

I don't want to beat a dead horse here, but I think this argument is a good one.

The basis of libertarian thought is the advancement of personal liberty over tyranny. In the US, we tend to focus on government, but the corrupt will always seek power regardless of the form it takes.

Whenever too much power is invested in one place tyranny ensues. Look at the inquisition. If religion is the basis for power it will eventually lead to tyranny. In Islamic countries we see where the two are practically indistinguishable.

You can't dismiss tyranny simply because it isn't being committed by a formal government entity.

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