Adaptationism: A better architectural analogy for Jeffrey Tucker’s brutalists

The conversation surrounding Jeffrey Tucker’s Freeman article “Against Libertarian Brutalism” resurfaced once again recently, this time from Wendy McElroy in a piece entitled “Relationship of Politics to Morality.

In Tucker’s article, published back in March, he divides libertarians into two main groups: humanitarians and brutalists — good people and bad people. Humanitarians “seek the well-being of the human person and the flourishing of society in all its complexity” whereas brutalists are “rooted in the pure theory of the rights of individuals to live their values whatever they may be.” If we were to go off of these descriptions alone, Tucker’s dichotomy would be merely laughable since benevolent and rights-based justifications for liberty are hardly mutually exclusive. Unfortunately, he takes the distinction a step further by attaching opposing moral and aesthetic visions to the two invented camps, with far more troubling implications.

Tucker pinpoints the supposed tension between the two groups by explaining that humanitarians stress the “beauty, complexity, service to others, community, the gradual emergence of cultural norms, and the spontaneous development of extended orders of commercial and private relationships” that develops in a free society while brutalists advocate for liberty because it “allows people to assert their individual preferences, to form homogeneous tribes, to work out their biases in action, to ostracize people based on ‘politically incorrect’ standards, to hate to their heart’s content so long as no violence is used…to be openly racist and sexist.”

He uses the label “brutalist” to identify this nefarious cabal of (unnamed!) libertarians because of the parallels he draws between their supposedly uncivilized ideological underpinnings and the brutalist architectural style of the 1950s through the 1970s which, according to Tucker, emphasized “large concrete structures unrefined by concerns over style and grace.” Brutalists, says Tucker, “valued inelegance, a lack of pretense, and the raw practicality of the building’s use” because they “reject beauty on principle.”

If it seems odd to you that he characterizes those with reactionary views with a modern architectural style, you’re already overthinking it. This taxonomy is more about making a break with views Tucker was formerly associated with and would now like to distance himself from. It’s entirely a matter of marketing. Those who acknowledge the question of scale are brutalists; to say a libertarian order necessarily permits a certain amount of evil to exist rather than tolerate the power required to eradicate it is now a suspect idea — the cardinal sin of a humanitarian libertarian is suggesting things may not work out in the end. In contrast, Tucker’s brave new humanitarian world is a cornucopia of blog posts about structural oppression and hosannas to the conveniences of consumer culture. Surely you can’t be against that!