This approach is, of course, not limited to feminism, but any kind of minority struggle. The recognition that power is shaped and influenced by factors unique to each individual, in particular identity markers such as gender, colour, sexuality and ability is an important one, as it is only through recognition that a truly free society can be created. To an extent the methods taken up by those who champion these struggles are statist, but that is by no means an inherent quality of the discourse of identity itself. In fact, identity discourse is quite compatible with state-sceptic political ideologies. Right state-scepticism is individualistic in nature, so the idea that not everyone experiences power in society in the same way should not be a radical concept. But the use of discourse, not a strong-armed state, to achieve social change is not only compatible with classical liberalism, but speaks to the essence of classical liberalism.
Liberalism is about autonomy. When it comes to matters of coercion, autonomy means nothing more than negative liberties, the freedom to be left alone and not interfered with by the state or another private citizen. But that doesn’t mean that all adherents to liberal philosophy should be content to remove themselves from civil society with no concern for voluntary, spontaneously-arisen, institutions and culture which do shape our society. It is a mistake to think that government is the only source of oppression, though historically it has been the source of much of it. Instead, liberals could aim to achieve what was dubbed by Reason Magazine’s Kerry Howley in November 2009 as a “culture of liberty” where, within a limited state, culture and civil society intertwine to fulfil functions which we believe to be not the jurisdiction of the state in a voluntary manner. There are a couple of ways in which this social activism manifests - the philosophical underpinnings of the ‘voluntary’ state as espoused by Philip Blond and his Red Toryism (though in practice it becomes more akin to social engineering than most would like) and then what certain libertarians refer to as ‘libertine’ society, in which dominant culture is subverted and changed through voluntary collectivist involvement in social change.
Since I used the ‘c’ word (collectivism), there’s a valid question as to what distinguishes this approach from progressive leftism and left-libertarianism. Plenty call me a progressive because I embrace the social movements listed above, but I prefer ‘liberal’ because progressivism is statist. The progressive left call themselves that because they believe that the government has an integral role to play in liberating society from both the perils of moral conservatism and also the pitfalls of capitalism. As I have established, the type of social change I envisage the liberal right adopting is entirely voluntarily, evolutionary, organic, with collective action being solely a means to an end. A limited interpretation of the use of voluntary collectivism is also what distinguishes this approach from the progressive left, as private property is a foundation of liberalism, which is not the case with the more communitarian approach to resources, property and wealth from the progressive left.
Generally, people on the liberal right advocate limited government for two reasons — one is that the natural state of mankind is freedom, and as such coercion is morally abhorrent, and the second is that limited government, rule of law and property rights create the best kind of society. The former group probably won’t put too much stock in what I’ve been saying, but for consequentialist and utilitarian liberals, being able to defend limited government as the best principle upon which to organise society is a necessity. And generally, those defences rest upon the idea that voluntary, spontaneous organisation solves problems better than a centrally organised unit does. Friedrich Hayek’s ‘fatal conceit’ considers knowledge problems and spontaneous order which form an important part of liberal notions about economics and distribution of resources, can also be applied to social movements and social change. Consider that the most famous struggles for freedom throughout took place in opposition to an encroaching, or unjustly coercive, state. Essentially, social movements and culture are types of spontaneous order that resist planned systems. A civil society that is able to solve its problems does not need a state to fix them, meaning that it is exactly this sort of active civil society which should be the goal of all who seek to reduce the role of the modern state.
Which brings me to why I think this cause is important: from a utility standpoint, it strengthens the case for liberty. There is a debate within libertarianism on these issues — called thick vs. thin libertarianism — between what I’ve described and paleo-libertarianism, of the Ron Paul variety, which combines state-scepticism with a kind of socio-cultural conservatism that is antithetical to my arguments. Culturally-conservative libertarians, while technically no more or less libertarian than those like myself, I feel are really only fighting half the battle that purveyors of limited government have taken up arms in. Oppressive social practices are also a threat to liberty, though it is arguable that conforming is more of a choice (in the sense that there is no coercion) than conforming to government legislation. Creating a culture of liberty that attempts to rectify social injustice is not only advantageous to the aims of the liberal right, it is also the heart of liberalism — an optimistic belief in the good nature of humanity, the innate value of the individual and our ability to fashion societies which reflect justice.