Below, Matt differentiated between “Contingent BHLs”
“This group has what might be described as standard right-libertarian views for standard right-libertarian reasons….What makes members of this group bleeding heart libertarians is the belief that libertarian institutions are good for the poor and vulnerable, and, perhaps, the belief that this fact about the consequences of libertarianism is something to be celebrated. However, the fact that a libertarian state is good for the poor and vulnerable does not play an essential justificatory role for this group. ”
and “strong BHLs”:
“The most important aspect of this view, and the aspect that distinguishes it from both the positions above, is that it holds that libertarian institutions depend in part for their moral justification on the extent to which they serve the interests of the poor and vulnerable. ”
But notice that the Contingent BHLs were given a joint definition: standard right-libertarian positions for standard right-libertarian reasons. The Strong BHLs, on the other hand, were defined just in terms of their reasons.
I think this highlights the distinction that has most struck me in our time here: between bleeding-heart as a reason for being libertarian and bleeding-heart as a qualifier on the way in which one is libertarian.
Descriptions of why and how market mechanisms help alleviate poverty, or of why and how state interventions are regressive and hurt the vulnerable, are a valuable core to both. But bleeding-heart-reason libertarians treat those general tendencies as reasons to be, well, libertarians, as that word is traditionally understood in the postwar U.S.
I guess that I incline toward bleeding-heart as a qualifier on the way in which, or the extent to which, I am a libertarian. And so, like our former guest-blogger John Tomasi, I think that libertarian property rights must sometimes give way to other values. John wishes to call the total hybrid “justice” and thinks that the other values have something to do with equality and equal standing as citizens. I’m tempted to reserve “justice” for the system of rights, but to say that justice is itself not the uniquely highest political value (here I am a Montesquieuian rather than a Rawlsian). And I would emphasize need and suffering, not equality or equal standing, as the countervailing value. (Though, like David Miller, Michael Walzer, and David Schmidtz, I think that need and equality are both sources of moral claim, sometimes, in some domains.)
One way in which I think this distinction matters: say that the bleeding-heart-reason libertarians are right about everything, on average and in the medium term. The bleeding-heart-qualifier libertarians will still say: need and suffering are valid sources of claim in the immediate term, and they need to go into the balance.
This is an idea I started to explore in my paper on responsibility. I doubt the institutional stability of any attempt to resolutely refuse to give material aid in response to acute suffering. And, given the inevitable surplus of social power concentrated in the modern state, that means that the modern state could not and should not just high-mindedly talk about moral hazard and future growth rates and rising tides when confronted with suffering here and now– even though those are all good and important arguments, and even though responding to the suffering here and now may well create moral hazard or sacrifice some larger future aggregate improvement.
But that’s just my own particular direction of the bleeding-heart-qualifier. In general, I think that there’s a genuine gap between theories that are more-or-less standardly libertarian for bleeding-heart reasons (however sincere and central the commitment to those reasons) and theories that aim to modify libertarian positions in a bleeding-heart kind of way. I value the former, and agree with them an awful lot of the time. But when push comes to shove my own views are of the latter sort.