Thursday Miscellany

  • Some of you might not have yet encountered the Liberty Law Blog, the newest online offering from Liberty Fund. If you haven’t, it’s well worthwhile, and not just because of the nice posts my friend and colleague Mike Rappaport has recently put up on Bleeding Heart Libertarianism here and here.


  • I’ve been reading Jim Powell’s book, The Triumph of Liberty: A 2,000 Year History Told Through the Lives of Freedom’s Greatest Champions. It’s a terrific book for a number of reasons, the primary of which is its dramatic and highly readable accounts of the lives of great libertarians defenders of liberty like Cicero, Lysander Spooner, and Richard Cobden. But I think it’s especially valuable for libertarian academics and aspiring, who are wont to feel put upon by an academic world that is largely (though decreasingly) hostile to their ideas. I’ve felt this way too, and the feeling is understandable. But it’s not a very productive feeling, and Powell’s book is helpful in dispelling it. It’s hard to feel oppressed for being a defender of liberty because one’s journal article was rejected when one reads about John Lilburne getting his eye poked out with a pike for printing a pamphlet deemed offensive by the authorities, or about Hugo Grotius being imprisoned and having to escape by sneaking out in the trunk that was used to deliver him books, or any of the number of other horrifying stories recounted in Powell’s book. And you think you got it hard because you don’t get invited to the right cocktail parties anymore?



  • Finally, LearnLiberty just put up a video on price gouging, featuring yours truly. It’s about five minute long, and so obviously leaves a lot of the trickier issues unaddressed. But if you’re into that kind of thing, you can read some academic papers I’ve written on the topic here and here. I have a more detailed treatment still in the works for the book I’m writing on Exploitation, Capitalism, and the State.


  • M Lister

    It’s more than a little loose to call Cicero a “libertarian”, isn’t it?  I don’t just mean anachronistic, though it’s obviously that, too, but he was a great champion of the Roman Republic, a government which, virtues though it may have had, was not at all plausibly libertarian.  

    •  More than loose, really, a mistake. And actually one I meant to correct earlier. Thanks for reminding me. I think my fingers were on auto-pilot when I typed that.

  • Hume22

    At Cato Unbound, Proferssor Long writes: “I’m a bit puzzled by this. Ordinarily, to call something a
    right (at least a full-fledged as opposed to a prima facie right) just
    is to say, inter alia, that it trumps other considerations;
    in Ronald Dworkin’s memorable phrase, rights are trumps – and so
    claims that do not trump are not rights.”


    I do not think that this is as puzzling a proposition as you
    make it sound.  Joseph Raz provided an
    alternative account of rights that explicitly rejects Dworkin’s formulation of “rights
    as trumps.”  [see, e.g., Raz, “Prof.
    Dworkin’s Theory of Rights”, 26 Pol. Studies 123 (1978); Raz, The Morality of
    Freedom (1986), at 186-87].  For Raz,
    rights are grounds of duties in
    others.  [See, e.g., Raz (1986), at
    166-67].  Raz provides a definition:


    “’X has a right’ if and only if X can have rights, and,
    other things being equal, an aspect of X’s well-being (his interest) is a
    sufficient reason for holding some other person(s) to be under a duty.”  [Raz (1986), at 166].


    Note two features of Raz’s account.  First, to be under a duty is not to have an
    all-things considered reason to act. 
    Duties and what one ought to do all things considered are not the same
    thing.  Second, Raz says that a right
    grounds duties, that is, someone’s well-being is a “sufficient reason” for
    holding others under duties.  Once again,
    on Raz’s account we see that “sufficient reason” is not the same thing as an “absolute
    reason” [see Practical Reason and Norms (1975), at 27 (an absolute reason is a
    reason that cannot be overridden by any other reason)].


    So we can see in Raz’s account of rights that they ground
    duties, duties are both first-order and second-order reasons for action, but
    rights are not “trumps” in that that they tend not to be absolute reasons for
    action.  In order to determine the
    strength of rights, we look to the underlying values that justify them: the
    well-being of individuals they promote. 


    I am not endorsing Raz’s account.  I am only brining this up to indicate that
    Zwolinski and Tomasi’s account is not mysterious.  They have adequate conceptual tools to ground
    their claim that rights are not absolute.

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