One of the central ideas of modern leftism is that all human beings are entitled to equal concern and respect. This is why most leftists oppose racism, sexism, ethnocentrism and homophobia.
…leftists don’t automatically see difference as a matter of status. Some groups of people recognise one set of virtues while others recognise another. Leftists want to see a society where everyone can pursue their own ideals of excellence without being judged or looked down on. This is a vision they share with many libertarians.(emphasis added)
– Don Arthur at Club Troppo.
The sentence I bolded is not, in my view, 100% right. It is an area in which leftists and libertarians will often have shared social practices, but important if sometimes subtle differences in their underlying philosophy.
Libertarianism (or classical liberalism) does not require equal respect, or even any respect, of other people’s ‘ideals of excellence’. What it requires is tolerance, the virtue of putting up with the things that you don’t like. It isn’t so much equal respect as equal indifference.
For a liberal, equal respect demands too much and more than is necessary. For passionate religious believers (and liberal ideas of toleration began with the problems they cause) it is very hard to hold other faiths in ‘equal respect’ without calling into question their own beliefs. But all it requires to tolerate them is to hold off from intimidation and violence.
Indeed, the shift from liberal tolerance to leftist acceptance, the logical result of equal concern and respect, takes us back to where we started before the idea of tolerance took hold. Tolerance challenged the idea that everyone must fit in with a common set of norms, and replaced it with the idea that everyone must abstain from certain behaviours.
The practical differences between these two views came out in the reaction to the decision to allow The Peel hotel to exclude women and straight men. The left blogs I read came down against that decision, because they think that everyone should be accepted equally. But tolerance means letting gay men have their own venues without lesbians who frighten them or straight men who won’t be attracted to them.
As I noted, leftists and liberals/libertarians often have shared social practices. Few liberals/libertarians personally have any time for ‘racism, sexism, ethnocentrism and homophobia’. But when it goes beyond hardwired characteristics to beliefs and lifestyles, there is no inherent reason why liberals/libertarians should hold off criticising other people’s ‘ideals of excellence’. Religion? Superstition. Communism? Lunacy. Living off welfare rather than looking for a job? Dole bludger. Etc Etc.
In the Millian sense, it is criticism and debate that lead to better ways of living, so a doctrine of acceptance rather than tolerance leads to dysfunctional lives, as false beliefs and bad behaviours survive unchallenged. I suspect many liberals/libertarians see this as having happened in remote Indigenous communities, with the left following its doctrine of acceptance being reluctant to criticise Indigenous culture and autonomy, despite the disastrous social conditions in the settlements.
Don’s post was about status. Liberals/libertarians would, I think, generally have a more positive view of status differences than leftists. Status differences provide incentives to do things that others value and to not do things that are not valued (including being racist, sexist, homophobic etc). There ought to be endless debate about what should and should not be valued, but status differences can be a positive force in society. Another reason not to be overly concerned with eliminating ‘inequality’.