Libertarianism, Liberalism

The Liberalism of Classical Liberalism

I want to thank Matt for the invitation to blog through the semester at BHL. And contrary to Steve Horwitz’s depiction I don’t roll my eyes at the phase “bleeding heart libertarianism” but at the state of intellectual play in academia, and our broader intellectual culture, that makes the introduction of such an adjective necessary. As Steve highlights in his post on Jeff Sachs’s understanding of libertarianism, there should be no doubt that folks misrepresent the classical liberal and libertarian position. Why would Sachs believe that “Compassion, justice, civic responsibility, honesty, decency, humility, respect, and even survival of the poor, weak, and vulnerable – are all to take a back seat.” Did he read that in Adam Smith, in J. B. Say, in J. S. Mill, in F. A. Hayek, in Milton Friedman, in James Buchanan, or in Vernon Smith? Deirdre McCloskey’s perhaps more than another other contemporary scholar is really trying hard to set the record straight. She has already published 2 weighty volumes, which I have written review essays on — Bourgeois Virtues and Bourgeois Dignity — and is currently finishing up Vol. 3, of a projected 6 volumes,  and her work is so weighty because the argument requires that much elaboration in our current intellectual culture.

Our modern understanding of the technical economics, the structural political economy, and deeper moral philosophy of Adam Smith is so flawed that such a basic common concern of the Scottish Philosophers as that of creating the institutional conditions for a civil and compassionate society is lost in the rendering. Hume’s focus on private property, the transference of property by consent, and the keeping of promises through contract are not rules that only benefit one segment of society at the expense of others, but instead form the general foundation for civil society and peaceful social cooperation. Smith’s analysis of the wealth of nations is not ultimately measured in trinkets and gluttonous acts of consumption, but by a rising standard of living that is shared by more and more of the general population. It is an empirical matter as to which set of institutions best achieves that task. But the concern with raising the living standards of the least advantaged in society is never far from view. Sachs, in other words, I am arguing should know better. And so should others in philosophy, politics and economics. The atomistic neoclassical model has nothing whatsoever to do with liberalism as understood by classical political economist or the modern descendants of the mainline of political and economic thought.

The classical liberal political economists treat the individual not as atomistic, but as embedded within social settings – in families, in communities, in history. Yes there is both the self-interest postulate and the invisible-hand postulate, but these are not understood as the conventional critic wants to present them. The mainline of economic thought from Smith to Hayek has a rational choice analytical structure to the questions of the logic of choice, but it is rational choice for mortals, not robots. And there are invisible hand processes, but they depend on an institutional context to provide the filter processes which dictates the equilibrating tendencies exhibited. In short, the mainline of political economy from Smith to Hayek is one that does rational choice as if the choosers are human, and institutional analysis as if history mattered. No atomistic, ego-centric, prudence only analysis is to be found in this work properly read.

Furthermore, this mainline of political economy approach while rejecting the claims to resource egalitarianism, is firmly grounded in analytical egalitarianism. Anyone, who challenges the analytical egalitarian perspective is subject to scorn by Smith – e.g., his proposition that the only difference between the philosopher and the street porter is in the eyes of the philosopher, or his warning that the statesman who attempts to out guess the market would not only assume of level of responsibility he is incapable of judiciously exercising, but also would be nowhere as dangerous as in the hands of a man who thought himself up to the task. Hume and Smith presented a structural argument in political economy; an argument intended to discover a set of institutions where bad men could do least harm if they were to assume positions of power. As Hume put it, when we design institutions of governance we must presume that all men are knaves. And in a move that anticipated the modern political economy of both Hayek and Buchanan, Smith basically argued that our knavish behavior manifests itself in either arrogance or opportunism.

But the emphasis I have provided so far is on the restraints that classical liberals hoped to establish on the abuse of power by political elites. However, it is just as important to stress the emancipatory aspect of the doctrine as well. As Hayek writes in his essay “Individualism: True and False”, Smith and other classical liberal political economists were concerned “not so much with what man might occasionally achieve when he was at his best but that he should have as little opportunity as possible to do harm when he was at his worst.” Hayek continues: “It would scarcely be too much to claim that the main merit of the individualism which he and his contemporaries advocated is that it is a system under which bad men can do least harm. It is a social system which does not depend for its functioning on our finding good men for running it, or on all men becoming better than they now are, but which makes use of men in all their given variety and complexity, sometimes good and sometimes bad, sometimes intelligent and more often stupid.” And Hayek concludes, “Their aim was a system under which it should be possible to grant freedom to all, instead of restricting it, as their French contemporaries wished, to ‘the good and the wise’.” (emphasis added)

The difference in judgment between Hayek and Sachs is not one of philosophical concern with the least advantage, but an empirical assessment of what system best provides “Compassion, justice, civic responsibility, honesty, decency, humility, respect, and even survival of the poor, weak, and vulnerable.” The liberal vision has been throughout its history that sought to find a set of institutions that would produce a society of free and responsible individuals, who have the opportunity to participate and prosper in a market economy based on profit and loss, and who live in, and are activity engaged in, caring communities.

As Deirdre McCloskey put this point in her Bourgeois Virtues, one cannot answer empirical questions philosophically — they must be answered empirically. And that means that we must push the conversation about compassion, justice, civic responsibility, honesty, decency, humility, respect, and a concern for the poor, the weak, and the vulnerable, beyond romantic poetry and to hard-headed institutional analysis. Check out this recent discussion with Bob Lawson on the relationship between Economic Freedom and Income Inequality.

No doubt the liberalism in the classical liberal tradition reflects a bleeding heart libertarianism, but that compassionate concern for the least advantaged is always disciplined by the hard noised analysis of how the institutional environment within which we live together structures the incentives actors face in making decisions, and mobilizes the dispersed information throughout the social system that must be utilized in making decisions and learning from social interaction.

Matt linked to my course syllabus for Econ 828 – Constitutional Economics. This class is one I inherited from Professor James Buchanan and it is largely inspired by his work in political economy and social philosophy. The course ultimately is an invitation to inquiry into the rules of governance that enable us as fallible but capable human beings to live better together; to realize the gains from social cooperation under the division of labor.

  • Kevin Vallier

    Thanks for these careful reflections. A great post. Let me add a small but important point.

    You say:”The difference in judgment between Hayek and Sachs is not one of philosophical concern with the least advantaged, but an empirical assessment of what system best provides ‘Compassion, justice, civic responsibility, honesty, decency, humility, respect, and even survival of the poor, weak and vulnerable.”Yes, both Hayek and Sachs are concerned about what system best provides for Sachs’ list of goods. But I believe they also differ about the means that may be permissibly used to bring them about. From reading Hayek and Sachs, Hayek seems considerably more concerned about the use of coercion to bring about social goods than Sachs and not merely because Hayek thinks coercion is less effective but because  “coercion occurs when one man’s actions are made to serve another man’s will”  and so faces a high standard of justification (Constitution of Liberty, p. 133). I’d guess that Sachs, while surely concerned with the use of coercion, would reject the high bar that Hayek and the majority of the liberal tradition set for justifying it. One defining characteristic of social democratic liberalism which Sachs defends is that it is considerably less concerned about the justification of coercion than contemporary classical liberals and their historical forebears (including new liberals like Green and Bosanquet). Once a democratic order has been justified and established, most social democrats think that the legislatures have extraordinary moral authority to coerce so long as they do not violate the standard list of liberal liberties (minus most economic liberties embraced by classical liberals). I’m consistently impressed by contemporary liberal democratic theorists’ comfort with legislative coercion.I don’t think you disagree with this, but its worth adding. You can share a concern for the least well-off with social democratic liberals and still affirm a stricter set of means for meeting that concern. 

  • I was present at the last eye roll, and I must say that Steve’s interpretation of it isn’t unreasonable. Still, I believe Pete when he says why he actually did it. 🙂

    I agree that bleeding-heart libertarian is a bit of a redundancy — particularly insofar as libertarian means classical liberal. I’m a libertarian because of my concern for the poor. I am increasingly convinced that the poor are best helped by and through free markets.

    Now, as for romantic poetry, don’t discount it so quickly. Some of us poets argue the markets are what help the poor. 🙂

    • Anonymous

      >I am increasingly convinced that the poor are best helped by and through free markets.

      But how do you justify this considering what’s going on now. Sure we could free up the movement of capital now, but that wouldn’t necessarily make the poor more free and better off, now would it?

      •  Actually, it would. Freeing up capital would mean that it would be directed toward productive uses, meaning wealth and jobs will be created, meaning the unemployed will start working again, meaning wages will go up, meaning the working poor will be better off. And one is much freer in a real sense if you attain a certain level of financial freedom. Freeing up capital would most definitely necessarily make the poor more free and better off.

        • Damien S.

          “Aspirin cures my headache, so taking even more aspirin will be even better!”

          Freeing up capital was a good thing in 1776, and is a good thing for India with its layers of corrupt government.  It doesn’t follow that maximal liberty for capital is a good thing.

    • Anonymous

      So are you some sort of Rawlsian? I don’t disagree with anything Pete said in this post and I think it’s spot on, but since when was libertarianism solely about doing about how the “poor” are doing? We’re defending a social system in which “all men are knaves,” a system in which in can best deal with the problems of knowledge, interest, and power (channeling Barnett here), and let’s not forget, the moral foundation private property. Indeed, what is libertarianism if it’s not about protecting private property? What differentiates our political philosophy from all others if not for private property?

      •  I’m not sure what your objection is? That I said one of my own reasons for supporting the free market is that it makes the poor better off? How does that make me a Rawlsian? I think there are many reasons for supporting a liberal civil society — from the fact that people will be freer in it, to the fact that people will be more moral in it and the fact that the poor will be better off. I support having a more liberal civil society because I think people should be treated equally under the law, that it is the most natural system for a large, dense human population, and because property is an evolved trait that goes back to our lobe-finned fish ancestry, meaning we cannot do away with property rights without severe consequences. There are plenty of political ideologies that support property rights protections — they just differ (as libertarians and classical liberals themselves differ) on how those rights should be defined. Property rights is but one — vital — element of a complex network of social rules we ought to support if we want to realize a classical liberal civil society. It so happens (not coincidentally) that the same system that can turn someone’s selfish pursuits to the common good makes the poor better off. Why not support liberalism on the basis that it best helps the poor? Why outright reject it, as you seem to do?

        • Anonymous

          I’m a libertarian because of my concern for the poor. ” 

          That statement implies some kind of difference principle a la Rawls. Either way, Libertarianism isn’t a political philosophy whose moral foundations rest on solely helping “the poor.” That principle wouldn’t make libertarianism a coherent political philosophy because other political philosophies  also share that concern. I’m not trying to say that libertarianism, free markets, private property, etc. don’t help the poor (I believe that they tremendously do), but that’s not what makes libertarianism, well, libertarianism.

          •  Again, this is what attracted me to it, the fact that it would in fact help the poor. If it specifically harmed the poor, I would be against it. There are reasons it helps the poor that make sense to me, and match the way I understand how the world works. For example, I was attracted to Austrian economics because it most closely matches how I understand the world to work.

            If the world is a zero sum game, then libertarianism would harm the poor. But if the world is a positive sum game, then libertarianism helps the poor. More, if the world is a positive sum game, and you treat it like it’s a zero sum game, your policies will harm the poor.

            Thus, I am a libertarian because it is the political ideology that most resembles the way the world works, as a set of self-organizing network processes with emergent properties, needing external orderer to keep things going well and right. This is a world in which value is created, complexity emerges, and bond-creation enriches. It is because of the fact that the economy is properly understood as a self-organizing network in which, yes, the right get richer, but the poor also get richer, and that libertarianism itself understand the economy this way, and thus recommends we allow the economy to so self-organize without interference, that I am a libertarian.

            All of which is a fancy way of saying, I recognized that libertarianism helps the poor far more than does any other ideology. I don’t see that as even remotely Rawlsian in nature, but only an explanation of why I came to accept libertarianism. I was concerned with the least well off having better lives; free markets provide the conditions for their having better lives. I suspect we will have a much better time of it convincing people to support the free market if we can help them understand this fact.

          • Anonymous

            I share your enthusiasm for Austrian economics, libertarianism, and so forth and I’m glad to see that you also think that not only is libertariansim only moral grounded, but also that it is probably the most utilitarian, however, I just wanted to make a distinction as to what libertarianism really is. 

  • Anonymous

    Pete, Sachs was not attacking classical liberals. He was attacking libertarians.

    Libertarians append, to all the important reasons for thinking that *capitalism* is beneficial for all, and that *capitalism* works to the benefit of the least advantaged, two things that are not true of classical liberals you mention. (1) A commitment to total laissez faire, even anarcho-capitalism in some cases, due to (2) variants of what are loosely called “moral arguments for capitalism.” According to these (deontoloigcal) arguments, capitalism is just, because private property embodies “freedom” or “self-ownership,” *regardless* of its consequences.

    That is what makes libertarianism Sachs’s target, and rightfully so.

  • Anonymous

    Pete, Sachs was not attacking classical liberals. He was attacking libertarians.

    Libertarians append, to all the important reasons for thinking that *capitalism* is beneficial for all, and that *capitalism* works to the benefit of the least advantaged, two things that are not generally true of classical liberals you mention. (1) A commitment to total laissez faire, even anarcho-capitalism in some cases, due to (2) variants of what are loosely called “moral arguments for capitalism.” According to these (deontoloigcal) arguments, capitalism is inherently just, *regardless* of its consequences, because private property embodies “freedom” or “self-ownership.”

    If one were to read your post and know nothing else about libertarians, one would think: OK, so libertarians must believe that any arguments for laissez faire, as opposed to just capitalism, will have to be empirically based claims about which institutions tend to serve the interests of the least advantaged, or the interests of everyone, or something like that (some version of utilitarianism). And if the empirical analysis says we need to have Social Security, government health-care provision, public education, redistributive taxation, stimulus spending, drug prohibition, military conscription, or a war, then libertarians will support these things.

    Obviously, that is not true. Libertarians will not support these things, *regardless* of their possibly beneficial  consequences. (Not that classical liberals would support those things either; it’s too big a portmanteau for my tastes; but we aren’t talking about intellectual history right now, we’re talking about Jeff Sachs responding to contemporary libertarianism.)

    Libertarians’ “moral arguments” do, in their effect, say, as those adorable Ron Paul supporters shouted in a presidential debate: If people don’t have health insurance and they can’t find charitable support, “Let ’em die.”

    To combat this ugly reality, I don’t think just adding an adjective denying it will do the trick. One must also strip the deontology from libertarianism. Then you will achieve true BHL.

    • Anonymous

      Judging by your comment, I’m afraid you don’t know a great deal about libertarianism. Depending on the facts and circumstances that result in people not having health insurance (did they voluntarily decide not to purchase it on the expectation that they wouldn’t need it?), there are certainly libertarian philosophers, Loren Lomasky and Jan Narveson come to mind, who would not let people do without medical care. I think the best known academic libertarian, Robert Nozick, would also fall into this category, but this is a somewhat complicated story, and I won’t attempt to explain it to you here. 

      If, as you suggest, we strip deontology from libertarianism we might clear a wider path to the healthcare you desire for the uninsured (and similar worst-case scearios), but at the same time we open the door to other horrors that might be justified by a purely consequentialist approach to moral reasoning. What if forced organ donations prodeuced the greatest good for the greatest number, or for that matter, the enslavement of the most talented for the benefit of the masses. Of course, you may think that such cases are entirely fanciful. Fine, because libertarians can then adopt a similar absolutist stance: a society governed entirely by libertarian principles would be so rich and productive that all material needs–includng healthcare–would be available to all.

      • Anonymous

        How can you possibly find any equivalence between capital and human organs?

    • JH

      I don’t quite understand why we need to strip the deontology from libertarianism. Most deontologists accept that consequences matter. But they deny that consequences are the only thing that matter. It seems that libertarians can coherently believe that deontic concerns relating to rights and personal autonomy necessarily support respect for private property and markets. But they can also believe that consequentialist considerations also, on balance, support free market capitalism. Both deontic and consequentialist reasons point in broadly the same direction. In fact, something like this strikes me as the most plausible version of libertarianism (of course, this position might still be false). 

    • It is worth considering that an unwavering support for capitalism must not necessarily come as a result of a deontological approach to libertarianism.  I, for instance, do not think that there is an objective moral standard that we can weigh certain actions against and decide whether they are OK or not (whatever the consequences of these actions may be).  However, I am inclined to a priori (I use this term loosely) discard solutions –wrong or rightly — to problems that involve state intervention.  I’m not defending myself here, but I am bringing to surface the point that many libertarians (such as myself) believe that “the market” is really the best way to solve problems that people hold in high value.  Now, I cannot produce an exhaustive report on how “the market” does this in every single case, nor am I interested in putting the time and effort into mapping the world, all of its problems, and the market solutions out.  So, for instance, when we talk about healthcare I really do not know what a free market in healthcare would look like; this does not mean, though, that I cannot hold a free market in healthcare as a tenable solution to our country’s healthcare problems.

      Also, it’s not a dichotomy between beneficial and non-beneficial; a government program can be beneficial, but is the outcome as desirable as that which would have been produced as a result of a capitalist distribution of resources (that is, economizing between means and ends, versus government rationing of means and ends).  There is an opportunity cost in government spending, even if government spending can be seen as productive in some sense of the word.

      • Permit me to suggest that if one wants an example of a consequentialist example in support of a free market in healthcare, one could use veterinary medicine (where the price of the various services are both available in advance and negotiable, and the services rendered tend to be of high quality and reasonable (okay, that’s a term of art, and preference being heterogeneous one’s mileage may certainly vary) price.

    • Anonymous

      “If people don’t have health insurance and they can’t find charitable support, “Let ’em die.”

      To combat this ugly reality […]”

      From what underlying moral principle do you deduce that this is something that *must* be combated?

      You seem to imply that all other principles and utilitarian assessments are overtrumped by the principle that “we” (i.e. “society”) must not let anyone die if it is technically possible to avoid his death.

      I don’t believe that’s a tenable principle, neither morally nor practically.

      Here’s an interesting video in which Milton Friedman responds to this principle:

      • Damien S.

        Not letting people die IS the moral principle.  Especially when they’re members of our own society.

        • Anonymous

          “Not letting people die IS the moral principle.”

          “Especially when they’re members of our own society.”
          Disagree. (1) if this statement is based on a theory of a natural duty of justice, I agree with A.J. Simmons and the particularity objection. (2) if this claim is based on a theory of associative moral obligations, I agree with the common objection that currently-existing “societies” are based on (i) morally arbitrary and historically contingent boundary drawing (usually the result of morally pernicious violence, empire building, ethnic clensing, etc.), (ii) morally suspect propaganda (thus undermining any claim to spontaneously arising moral obligations), and (iii) in modern pluralistic states, law-subjects tend to have *resentment* towards rather than close personal ties to their “fellow citizens” (cultural diversity, economic class, and ethnic differences often produce conflic rather than compassion among citizens–a problem exacerbated by the recognition of culturally-motivated cognition).

        • Anonymous

          “Not letting people die IS the moral principle.”


          And how far are you willing to take this, in terms of political policies?

          If I go into the desert (where I’m not interfering with anyone or anyone’s property) and start to practice rock climbing without ropes for kicks, should the government send a team to follow me and put up safety nets under every rock I climb in order to prevent my death? Or simply arrest me maybe?


          Everyone dies, eventually.

          Many different things can increase the probability of it happening in a given time frame.
          Many of them could technically be prevented, given enough resource.

          But should it be the government’s job to do so, no matter the cost, and no matter how those resources could otherwise be spent? Don’t get me wrong , I do believe that prolonging a person’s life (or increasing the probability of that outcome) is a noble cause. I just don’t think that it automatically (i.e. irrespective of the circumstances) trumps all other causes, or that it trumps the non-aggression principle without limit.

          I believe that self-ownership, even in the narrowest sense, implies the right (and responsibility) for every individual to decide him- or herself how much to “invest” in prolonging his or her own life.


          Now, I’m not saying that the government shouldn’t ensure that even the poorest members of society can get access to health care.

          But is it the government’s moral responsibility to get into the business of actively decreasing the chance of death of people, by and (coercive) means necessary? I don’t think so. Nor do I think it’s practically doable without accumulating debt, this kind of active government interference is always very inefficient (i.e. costly to the taxpayer).

          Instead, I’d much prefer if the government restrict itself to making sure that people have the financial *means* to support a dignified and moderately safe life (including at least basic health insurance).
          Now I don’t have a perfect political solution to do that, but I believe that various ideas proposed in the past such as negative income tax, etc. would at least be less damaging than government bureaucracy meddling with the various worthy causes (employment, health care, etc.) directly.

          And if someone who *could* afford health insurance chooses not to, and uses it on luxury goods and services instead, because he makes the personal choice that a fun/fulfilled/etc. life is more important than a hight probabilirty of a *long* life, that that is a perfectly valid choice.

          It’s not the government’s job to overturn the consequences of the personal choices which individuals make for their lives.

          • Your points 1 and 2 are strawmen — no one is suggesting that “all other principles and utilitarian assessments are overtrumped by the principle that “we” (i.e. “society”) must not let anyone die” and no one is suggesting that “should it be the government’s job to do so, no matter the cost, and no matter how those resources could otherwise be spent” to prevent deaths. And I think most people would agree with your third point, that we should have a society such “that even the poorest members of society can get access to health care.” How we get there is the interesting debate. But polemics and false analogies about rock climbing in the desert are beside the point.  

    • Strip deontology from libertarianism, and what remains is “The end justifies the means.”

  • I had some thoughts similar to Jeff Friedman’s. Everything you say sounds exactly right regarding the people you say it about: 
    Adam Smith, J. B. Say, J. S. Mill, F. A. Hayek, Milton Friedman, James Buchanan, Vernon Smith, Deirdre McCloskey. But there are some names conspicuously absent from that list. You do not mention the three figures who, I would argue, both the general public and most academics associate with libertarianism: Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, and Robert Nozick. 

    Like Jeff, I think that there’s something different about these figures. Unlike Jeff, though, I don’t think it’s that they base their political views on deontological/moral arguments as opposed to consequentialist ones. There are strong deontological elements in people who I would classify as classical liberals, rather than libertarians. You see it in Hayek. And, of course, you see it in the father of deontology himself – Immanuel Kant. 

    So, what is it that separates off Rand/Rothbard/Nozick from the classical liberals? I would argue, and I take it that this is John Tomasi’s view too, that it is the absolutism with which they hold their deontological libertarian principles to hold. One can think that property rights are morally important, and even that they are morally important in a roughly deontological way, without thinking that they always and everywhere trump all other moral concerns. And I think that’s basically the view you find in the earlier classical liberal tradition. What seems problematic with the post-war libertarians, from this perspective, is that they seem to have latched on to an important part of the the moral considerations that go into thinking about the nature of a just government, and proceeded as though that part was the entirety. 

    • Anonymous

      Hi Matt,
      Although I will grant that it is a somewhat complicated issue, I question whether it is correct to lump Nozick in with Rand and Rothbard in holding that “[property rights] always and everywhere trump all other moral concerns.” As you know, Nozick expressly held open the possibility that side constraints might have to be violated “in order to avoid catastrophic moral horror.” This qualification at least leaves the door open for the sort of moral pluralism you describe. Moreover, his understanding of Lockean appropriation as taking place subject to a “historical shadow” that precludes a party from accumulating “all the water in the desert,” leaves some room for the redistribution of property in a wide range of circumstances, even under the express terms of his own theory of justice.

      Finally, and I don’t think you will disagree with this, it is not just property rights that might have to be sacrificed in the name of moral pluralism. If we knew for certain that allowing a politician to give a certain speech that would fall squarely within the protections of the First Amendment would through some causal chain lead to a nuclear exchange killing a billion people, we would (if we could) suppress the speech, right? So, moral pluralism would govern all rights.

      • Hi Mark, just want to say I think it would be great if bloggers would describe and expand upon what they think “Lockean appropriation” means.

        From a legal perspective, I believe Locke’s appropriation theory is why Jefferson, Madison, Adams, and others gave a fully public corporate entity (which we now call the federal gov’t) the right to issue Treasury-Direct currencies. 

        In other words, the U.S. Constitution appears to have created the world’s first fully public money-issuer, which is important if, as Locke stated, we are trying to give legal effect to the notion that “the earth and all inferior creatures [are] common to all men.” (And this is not to mention that Locke’s theory that “every man has a property in his own person” was a very likely the primary cause of the Civil War.)

        • Anonymous

          I am interested in the philosophical aspects of Lockean appropriation, and not especially in whatever legal connections you may think exist between the philosophical concept and our current laws/institutions. From the philosophical perspective, I use the term to refer to Locke’s theory of how unowned property may be reduced to private ownership, essentially through the process of farming/homesteading. Locke held that for originally appropriation to be just,it must not violate the rights of non-appropriators. There is MUCH, MUCH more to say about this, but I am just giving you here what you asked for, i.e. how I am using this term.

          • That’s what I’m curious about because I understand Locke as providing for a primary right in a person’s mind, body and labor, particularly when s/he “mixes” that labor with land and natural resources. 

            However, while I can see Locke providing some exclusionary rights for farming/homesteading purposes, I don’t see how Locke (and Henry George) could stand for private ownership of land (though owing buildings and land improvements is possible). 

            I’m just suggesting that our legal system may be putting the emphasis in the wrong places.

          • Anonymous

            I think it’s clear Locke did stand for the appropriation of land from nature as a private property. (You can say his Proviso make the position/conclusion invalid if you want.)

            You might find Buchanan’s  monograph “Property as the Guarantor of Liberty” of some interest.

          • “… bearing only scant resemblance to Locke’s own ideas.”

            While searching for the Buchanan article, I came across this footnote in another article about Lockean conceptions of property, which I think is relevant to the point I’m trying to make about the overemphasis U.S. lawyers are putting on some forms of property, such as real estate and intellectual property, while neglecting Locke’s primary goal of explaining a natural person’s right to self-ownership, including ownership rights in the actions or energy we sell to employers, which are almost entirely ignored by U.S. lawyers.

            “For a leading analysis of John Locke’s theory of property, see JEREMY WALDRON, THE RIGHT TO PRIVATE PROPERTY 137-252 (1988). I deliberately use the term “Lockean” rather than simply referring to Locke because of the unique way in which “Lockean” viewpoints of counter- government strong rights to private property have developed and intensified in legal and popular thought in the Anglo-American world, often bearing only scant resemblance to Locke’s own ideas. See Lior Zemer, The Making of a New Copyright Lockean, 29 HARV. J. L. & POL’Y 892 (2006).”

    • So, what is it that separates off Rand/Rothbard/Nozick from the classical liberals? I would argue, and I take it that this is John Tomasi’s view too, that it is the absolutism with which they hold their deontological libertarian principles to hold. … What seems problematic with the post-war libertarians, from this perspective, is that they seem to have latched on to an important part of the the moral considerations that go into thinking about the nature of a just government, and proceeded as though that part was the entirety.

      This. The best way to understand the nonaggression principle is not as some absolute axiom, but as a defeasible presumption in favor of liberty. Rothbardians want it to be near indefeasible, but how do they justify such a strong presumption?

    • Rawls of course proposed a deontological theory as well.

  • Anonymous

    “My challenge to you libertarians is to show me your productive discussions with liberals.”

    “Libertarians” and “classical liberals” have spent the better part of the last 40+ years engaging in “productive discussions with liberals.”  Nozick, Lomasky, Gaus, Narveson, Schmidtz, Simmons, etc. etc.  You cannot but find yourself in a discussion with liberals if you attempt to live a life as a classical liberal academic philosopher or law professor.  This “challenge” is perhaps the silliest thing I have read in a long long time.  My time as a student of philosophy found me devouring the pages of Rawls, Dworkin, Scheffler, Raz, Nagel, Cohen (both Joshua and Jerry), Christiano, Henry Richardson, Parfit, Scanlon, Gutman & Thompson, as well as the left non-liberals such as Marx, Althusser, Collins, Habermas and his followers, Foucault, etc etc..  My time as a law student found me saturated with evern more Raz, Rawls, Dworkin, Marmor, Hart, Leiter, Habermas, Foucault, Marx, Althusser, Gramsci, Selznick, MacCormick, Geertz, etc. etc.

    These are not libertarians / classical liberals.  These are, however, the philosophers and legal theorists that libertarians are constantly in discussions with.  Most academic libertarians spend most of their academic careers in internal and external dialogue with these more mainstreem “high liberal” and leftist thinkers.  In fact, I am utterly shocked when I come across someone with views anywhere close to my own (I think this is probably why libertarians are over-represented in the blogosphere–we are so damned tired of feeling alone in our beliefs).   

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  • Anonymous

    I’m a philosophy novice, more or less, so can you tell me what Hume texts you were quoting from?

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