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To permit is not to condone

I saw a woman in full hijab on the platform at my local Underground station. It's a common sight in my neighbourhood. As a libertarian, I respected her right to dress as she likes. It does no demonstrable or significant harm to others, so it's entirely her business. It's certainly none of mine. If she is under family pressure to do so then, unless and until that involves violence, that's none of my business either.

That's all very simple, politically, but we libertarians often leave the impression that there's nothing more to be said. Or, worse, that we simply don't care. This post of mine was a good example - and a friend rightly reprimanded me for saying that I didn't "care" about group marriages, when I would be horrified if a family member or friend entered into one. He said libertarians give themselves a bad name by appearing to be uncaring and amoral, when actually we have as wide a range of ethical scruples as anyone else. All that we really agree upon is that the state should not interfere in matters of individual choice.

He's right and I think our perceived aloofness from morality does our cause great harm. Most people have richly-textured emotional and ethical responses and think odd those who seem not to. So, let me tell the full truth. I respected that woman's right to dress as she did, but I also felt a mixture of pity and contempt. My emotional response was much the same as if I had seen this man walking her on a leash. Nor would my response have differed if convinced that she freely consented. People are entitled to degrade themselves if they wish, so it should certainly be legal. That doesn't make it right.

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