This article was originally published at the Students For Liberty blog. 

For nearly a century libertarians had seemingly forgotten many issues their 19th century forerunners talked about. One of the most crucial ones was feminism, which gets a bad rap in most libertarian circles today, perhaps somewhat justifiably so because feminism is so closely knit with pro-government voices. However, rightly understood, libertarianism and feminism are natural allies and can learn from one another. Unfortunately the libertarian feminist went nearly extinct in the 20th century as libertarians increasingly aligned with the right.

During this time, the rise of state socialism and communism changed the direction of classical liberalism and radical individualist thought. In order to combat the forces of central planning, the individualist thinkers focused more and more on economic issues, spending less time on other aspects of the individualist tradition (such as minority rights, worker empowerment, and feminism), and starting to align with the right. The ever-growing libertarian movement grew as a subset, or more radical branch, of mainstream conservatism. This is why, even after the fall of the Soviet Union, libertarians are often lumped in on the right.

Enter Ron Paul in the 2008 election. While he did run on the Republican ticket, the growing student movement for libertarianism that he inspired has adamantly rejected being lumped into the conservative milieu. Instead, these millennial libertarians fully embrace social freedom as an integral part of their libertarianism, and want to talk about things beyond just free market economics. Millennials are recognizing that libertarianism is about much more than low taxes and getting rid of red tape.

It’s not that millennial libertarians are trying to alter libertarian principles or create a new philosophy. Instead, this shift is about embracing our core principles, which date back to the enlightenment, but with a wider focus, thereby destroying the old stereotypes. As Students For Liberty President, Alexander McCobin writes,

“What does it mean that a second wave of libertarianism is taking charge? …

First is a new prioritization of issues for second wave libertarians, particularly regarding social freedom, foreign affairs, and the environment.”

This libertarianism is about fully fleshing out our principles. It’s asking what a commitment to bodily autonomy and respect for human dignity really looks like. Even though this is referred to as second wave libertarianism, a lot of the things millennials are concerned with harken back to some of the very first libertarians: the 19th century individualists. As much as the Old Guard hates it, this “new” approach is merely a revival and continuation of many of the idea of the forerunners to 20th century libertarianism.

A subset of the millennial libertarian project is to view women’s issue through a lens of liberty – to create a revival of libertarian feminism. Many19th century individualists understood the connection between a commitment to liberty and feminism. In The Subjection of Women, John Stuart Mill points out,

“That the principle which regulates the existing social relations between the two sexes — the legal subordination of one sex to the other — is wrong in itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement; and that it ought to be replaced by a principle of perfect equality, admitting no power or privilege on the one side, nor disability on the other.”

Feminist activist and writer, Gloria Steinem, says a feminist is “anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.” Contrary to its detractors, it’s not fundamentally about hating men or advocating matriarchy (though there are definitely people who identify as feminists who say such things). The chief driver of feminism is the recognition of societal inequalities of power and advocating equal authority between the sexes.

Libertarianism, too, is concerned with equality, not of wealth, or outcome, or even opportunity, but of authority. The equality of authority position can be traced back through Rothbard’s non-aggression principle, to Spencer’s law of equal liberty, to Locke’s natural rights.

In The Second Treatise of Government, Locke argues equality is a condition,

“Wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another, there being nothing more evident than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another, without subordination or subjection.”

With the understanding that libertarianism is about equality of authority, feminism becomes merely a subset of libertarianism. It’s about applying libertarian analysis of  imbalances of power and authority to gender; the lens of liberty. While many feminists are unknowingly applying libertarian principles, unfortunately, many feminists don’t agree or don’t understand other libertarian ideas about economics or government.

Actually, libertarian ideas are of great value to feminists. Journalist Moriah Costa agues,

“As individualists, we hold something of great potential value to those who seek gender equality. We can offer an ethical framework of dignity and innate human value… whether as a libertarian you are on the right or the left, thick or thin, you are already a feminist. At its core, feminism is not about women getting special privileges. It is about men and women being respected equally.”

Second wave libertarianism – the new libertarianism – is, as it turns out, not so new at all. It is merely a rediscovery of libertarian insights from the 19th century. It is a synthesis of ideas and approaches from 19th, 20th, and 21st century figures, and from libertarian figures and feminist figures alike.

Understanding feminism as a subset or application of libertarianism more generally will be a key aspect of millennial libertarianism moving forward and it will be especially crucial in both smashing the state and the patriarchy.