March 23, 2006

This Post is Old!

The post you are reading is years old and may not represent my current views. I started blogging around the time I first began to study philosophy, age 17. In my view, the point of philosophy is to expose our beliefs to rational scrutiny so we can revise them and get better beliefs that are more likely to be true. That's what I've been up to all these years, and this blog has been part of that process. For my latest thoughts, please see the front page.

The Invisible Hand Newsletter

I was recently introduced to The Invisible Hand, a newsletter being put out by the Rutgers Libertarians (that would be Rutgers University, in New Jersey). The first edition came out last November and was distributed at two campuses in New Jersey. Now the group wants to get a wider distribution, by having individuals and groups on various college campuses throughout the country print the newsletter from the internet and distribute it. I am planning to submit an article on positive rights and why libertarians don't believe in them (based on this post) for the next issue, which is due out in late March/early April.

In the meantime, the the current issue has a couple of very good articles I would like to comment on.

First, the article "The Political Philosophy of Freedom" is a very good overall introduction to libertarianism. However, I have two problems with it: first, it makes it look as though libertarianism requires a very optimistic philosophical anthropology (that is, theory of humanity). This is problematic for me, because, while Christianity is very positive about what man was meant to be and what he can become with God, it is very negative about man's present fallen state, and I believe quite firmly that Christianity and libertarianism are compatible. I thought addressing this would require a whole separate post, but the end of the article came to the point and answered my concern quite nicely with this quote from Thomas Jefferson: "Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he then be trusted with the government of others? Or, have we found angels in the form of kings, to govern him? Let history answer this question." My second, less important, objection is that the author lumps 'anarcho-capitalists' in with libertarians, which I think may be misleading. In general, libertarians believe that the minimal 'night watchman' state is absolutely critical in order to protect us from force and fraud. It is just that when the government goes beyond this mandate and violates individual rights, it becomes fundamentally unjust.

Other articles explain why the government ought not to define marriage (at all) and why the only wasted vote is a vote for a candidate you don't actually want to see in office. The latter seems fairly obvious to me, but then I'm a third party voter, and an intense non-consequentialist. I think I have a moral duty to vote for the best candidate on the ballot regardless of his chances of winning. If you don't believe this, you should read the article, which will give some more pragmatic reasons for voting for third parties (if, that is, you are unhappy with the major parties - but who isn't these days?). The whole thing is worth a read.

Posted by Kenny at March 23, 2006 10:40 AM
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Hey Kenny,

I hope my comment doesn�t turn out to be longer than your entry!

You raise valid points about "The Political Philosophy of Freedom." I was trying to give a general outline of libertarian thought in about 2 pages, which I not surprisingly found difficult. As a result, I did not feel like I was able to fully explain everything.

I was worried that it sounded like my view of humanity was unrealistic � something libertarians are often accused of. I was not trying to say that people are supremely rational or moral, but that the vast majority are capable ENOUGH for self-government. People aren�t nearly perfect � which is one good reason why nobody should be allowed the power to initiate force upon others.

Though I am not a Christian and don�t consider myself an expert on the religion, I do not think that anything I meant to convey is incompatible with the idea of original sin as I understand it. I may enjoy activities that a Christian would consider sinful � however, so long as what I do does not involve coercion, then I may only be judged and punished by God for doing so, and never by any mortals. One can be sinful, but still be moral and rational enough for liberty.

Though it is somewhat unrelated, when I was thinking of this I also thought that independent, rational thinkers (which would be encouraged by a libertarian society) are probably more inclined to do good deeds than to inflict harm upon humanity. When people are lead by demagogues more than their personal thoughts and feelings, they can more easily be lead astray. For example, when church and state are one, the devoutly religious are more inclined to slay unbelievers, but when they are separate, the religious seem to be more inclined to charity, building hospitals, persuasion, etc. Remember that Adam and Eve were lead to taste the fruit by following the advice of a deceitful being.

Regarding the anarcho-capitalist/minarchist dispute, as I said I had limited space, and I hoped to at least introduce the reader to the idea that there is such a debate. My personal bias may be reflected in this part of the article in 2 ways:
1) I believe that minarchists and anarcho-capitalists should work together for the time being because the changes we seek are in the same direction and we have the same basic goal of achieving the most individual liberty possible. We disagree on what is the best way to insure such a state of affairs � this is not the same as the disagreement between libertarians and statists, who have a fundamentally different worldview.
2) I am a minarchist but I want a VERY minimal government that would strictly follow the non-aggression principle, which some would say borders on anarchy. I don�t feel the distinction is that important, and I would not strongly object to living without any form of government at all, even though I think that having some weak government institutions with strictly limited powers would be the best way to safeguard liberty. I think that the debate over whether to have government at all is largely a dispute over what an agency has to do to be considered �government.�

So, although I recognize there are minarchists and a-c�s who can�t live with the other side, I don�t personally find the distinction to be worth fighting over at this point (debating and arguing over it in our spare time would be productive, so long as this didn�t get too divisive). These views probably influenced how I portrayed the debate in the article.

Posted by: Darian Worden at April 5, 2006 5:49 AM

Darian, thanks for your response. I do think that you have an excellent point that human beings who live in a free society are much more able to develop to their full moral potential, whereas when the state makes nearly all of their decisions for them, they are like children and when they have the opportunity to do wrong (when the paternalist state is not looking) they tend to take advantage of the opportunity. When individuals must make their own decisions, they are better able to develop moral character.

I don't think anarcho-capitalism as I understand it is a tenable position, because I buy Robert Nozick's argument that an 'invisible hand' process will lead to the development of a 'dominant protective agency.' However, I suppose that if someone also believed this argument, but didn't believe that Nozick's 'protective agency' constituted a government (or didn't think that the last step - the part prohibiting enforcement of rights by independents - was morally legitimate), that person might be termed an anarcho-capitalist, and I would consider this to be a legitimate libertarian position.

Posted by: Kenny at April 5, 2006 9:45 AM

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