Home > economics, philosophy, politics > Bleeding Heart Libertarians Turn Two Years Old

Bleeding Heart Libertarians Turn Two Years Old

PrintTwo years ago today Matt Zwolinski launched a blog that shifted the philosophical paradigmBleeding Heart Libertarians. With an all-star roster of academic philosophers, economists, and political theorists, Zwolinski & Co. tout a brand of libertarianism that reconciles free markets with social justice. At the risk of oversimplifying, BHL is a fusion of ideas espoused by the likes of F.A. Hayek and John Rawls:

[W]e are libertarians who believe that addressing the needs of the economically vulnerable by remedying injustice, engaging in benevolence, fostering mutual aid, and encouraging the flourishing of free markets is both practically and morally important.

The libertarian tradition is home to multiple figures and texts modeling commitment both to individual liberty and to consistent concern for the marginalized, both here and abroad. We seek here to revive, energize, and extend that tradition—to demonstrate that contemporary libertarians can, in addition their traditional vindication of individual liberty, offer effective, powerful, and innovative responses to the problems of economic vulnerability and injustice and to their social, political, and cultural consequences.

In my unabashed valentine to BHL on their first birthday, I noted that the blog “instantly became a potent dose of perpetual libertarian schism-splitting-geek-squad crack – ringing the bell in your brain and leaving you itching for more.” Twelve months later, I can boldly declare that BHL is quite possibly the best thing to happen to the internet since the advent of pornography.

Earlier today, Zwolinski reflected on what to expect in the year to come:

[I]f my recent experience with my own son is any indication, the next year should be filled with lots of laughing about boogers and poop, defiant shouts of “No!”, and bickering with our little brother and sister blogs. So, basically, more of the same.

Indeed. But it should be noted that the concept of bleeding heart libertarianism itself is not two years old. The initial recorded use of the term “bleeding-heart libertarian” appears in a 1996 essay by BHL regular Roderick Long. Subsequent mentions of the term appeared by economists Arnold KlingBryan Caplan, and others.

On December 4, 2006, BHL guest authors Will Wilkinson and Brink Lindsey each published notorious fusionism pieces at Cato and The New Republic, respectively. Then in 2008, both Wilkinson and Lindsey appeared on a panel at Princeton with BHL charter member Jacob T. Levy and fellow BHL guest author John Tomasi.

During the panel, Tomasi encourages high liberals to acknowledge free markets and libertarians to do the same with social justice. These ideas culminate in his highly recommended book Free Market Fairness. BHL even conducted a Symposium On Free Market Fairness last summer that is extremely engaging and well worth reading.

Although the concept of bleeding heart libertarianism dates back well beyond two years, the academic crew that officially brought BHL to market is full of heavy hitters like Jason Brennan, Steve Horwitz, Gary Chartier, Jessica Flanigan, Kevin Vallier, and Sarah Skwire. In fact, their guest author roster rivals most any other blog’s regulars. Aside from the aforementioned, BHL bench players have included Kevin Carson, David Schmidtz, and Deirdre McCloskey.

If you haven’t been keeping tabs on this phenomenal enlightenment revival, here’s the according-to-Google top five popular BHL posts from the past two years:

  1. Factual Free-Market Fairness” – Deirdre McCloskey
  2. How Did We Get Here? Or, Why Do 20 Year Old Newsletters Matter So Damn Much?” – Steve Horwitz
  3. Why I’m Not a Bleeding Heart Libertarian” – Will Wilkinson
  4. What Are You Going to Do With Your Gun?” – Matt Zwolinski
  5. Dear Left: Corporatism Is Your Fault” – Jason Brennan**

And for good measure, here are Matt Zwolinski’s “not quite as numerically popular” personal favorites:

  1. Why Libertarians Should Oppose Sweatshops” – Roderick Long (even though he’s wrong, of course)
  2. Libertarianism…Starting Now!” – Matt Zwolinski
  3. Hayek on Serfdom and Welfare States” – Kevin Vallier
  4. Thoughts on Unions” – Jacob Levy
  5. BHLs and UBIs” – Jessica Flanigan
  6. The Distinctiveness of Left-Libertarianism” – Gary Chartier

However, a rare political moment came this past August when a photo of former New Mexico Governor and 2012 Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson sporting a BHL t-shirt accompanied by an endorsement from Zwolinski appeared on the blog. This post turned out to be a precursor to Zwolinski’s impeccable late-October endorsement of Gov. Johnson in a Daily Caller OpEd appropriately titled, “Why I’m wasting my vote on Gary Johnson.”

So here’s to the continued success of the Bleeding Heart Libertarians, and I’ll leave you with Matt Z’s parting thoughts:

So thanks, from all of us here at BHL, to all of you out there, for reading our stuff, talking about us with your friends, arguing with us – all of it. It’s been a blast.

No Matt, thank you. All of you.

**My personal favorite and most often quoted and excerpted BHL post. “It’s not rocket science. It’s public choice economics.”

Image via Bleeding Heart Libertarians

Cross-posted at Examiner.com

  1. March 3, 2013 at 11:39 pm

    This is the first time I have heard of BHL. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. I know what I will be reading this week. I have always been very libertarian in my thinking but the lack of concern for economically vulnerable combined with a laissez fair capitalist system that inhibits rather than encourages a meritocracy has been my biggest problem. I have spent years thinking of methods by which libertarianism can be given a heart so that the welfare of all can be taking into account rather than the cold system often proclaimed. You may have just shown me a piece to that answer. For that I thank you.


  2. March 3, 2013 at 11:43 pm

    Thanks so much Tracy! It’s my absolute pleasure to share the amazingness that is BHL. I hope you enjoy it.


  1. March 3, 2014 at 1:59 pm

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