I had intended my first post-grading post to be about inheritance, but that will wait a bit.  Instead, I thought it was time I helped defend BHL a bit.

Stephen Hicks makes “Five quick points against BHL,” all of which I think are pretty much false.

First, Hicks thinks BHL as a “political-philosophical method” divides people into 2 groups: the poor and the non-poor.  I do not think BHL is a method at all.  It is, rather, a family of substantive views in political philosophy–and most of us use the standard methods used by all political philosophers (perhaps especially in the English speaking world).  I also do not think we are concerned with groups per se–I think all of us are normative individualists.  We simply recognize that some individuals are poor and some are rich and that others fall in between.  We all recognize, I think, that these categories are fluid and we (obviously) especially appreciate that unencumbered markets help people move from poverty to wealth.

Second, Hicks thinks our “moral principle is serving or benefiting others.”  I believe he thinks this because some of us would apparently reject libertarianism if it could be shown that libertarianism makes people poor (or, more generally, makes more people worse off).  As I’ve indicated here and here, I don’t quite hold that view, but I also don’t think that view justifies his claim since we are all in the “others” camp.  Put differently, what would be rejected is a political system that makes people worse off, ourselves included.  This isn’t about “serving or benefiting others,”  its about “serving or benefiting” everyone–or at least not making anyone worse off.  (Talk of the “least well-off” is a convenient way to discuss this.)

Third, Hicks thinks “BHL seems to make politics essentially or primarily about economics” because of its “focus” on the poor.  This one has the greatest chance of being true, but as has been remarked, that focus on the poor has probably been over-emphasized recently.  Still, its not a focus I think we should give up.  We should be concerned, I think, with anything that makes people worse off–and it is not only economics that makes people better or worse off.  Of course, some things that make people worse off are (at least plausibly) things we should not do anything about.  But on my own view–and I think that of all BHLs–any government policy that makes people worse off is, on that basis a bad policy.  A government policy, for example, that required everyone to wear 2 heavy sweaters regardless of the weather would clearly be rejected by any libertarian, including BHLs.  Similarly, all libertarians, BHLs included, should be OK with criminal laws (or some suitable replacement system ) that prevented people from intentionally harming others, making them worse off.  So too, I’ve argued that we should have a very different policy (a policy of social justice if ever there was one) about child-rearing.  So, yes, we have a focus on poverty.  But no, that should not be taken to mean we think politics is essentially about economics.  (Still, clearly its a lot about economics–many of the bad government policies, after all, are ultimately due to economic influences.)  (Another comment: while  I see no reason to fear talking of “social justice,” I largely think the qualifier “social” is empty.  What we are interested in on this blog is justice.  Hence, Jason’s comments recently about immigration and mine about child-rearing, etc.)

Fourth, Hicks speculates that BHL may be a marketing strategy, meant to broaden the appeal of libertarianism by showing that we “have feelings and care.”  Fifth and relatedly, Hicks speculates BHL might be a “rhetorical strategy to get lefties who dominate academic life to talk to us.”  I frankly find both of these somewhat insulting (as well as already tired).  While I don’t think these things are completely unimportant, I believe that the view being developed here (and elsewhere) is emerging with arguments at least as solid as any proposed by other libertarians (“hard libertarians,” “property absolutists,” or what-have-you)–and, indeed, at least as solid as any being developed by any political theorists.  I also think, in fact, that this is precisely why non-libertarian academics are willing to listen to us.  The arguments are rationally compelling.  (That said, I admit that I have not offered anything close to a full defense of my own views, though I’ve held them for a long while now.)

Print Friendly
 
  • Pingback: Stephen Hicks, Ph.D. » Bleeding-heart libertarianism?

  • http://www.realadultsex.com figleaf

    I dunno.  Maybe this is a bad place to ask.  But sweet mother of pearl,
    critics of BHL like this guy Bill Hicks are so achingly narrow minded
    and petty it makes me embarrassed for other people who want to call
    themselves libertarians.

    Which leaves me wondering what should we call the political ideal of maximizing liberty for the greatest number of people?  Because I keep thinking that would be called “libertarianism.” But evidently a lot of people think it has something to do with property rights (which is bullshit considering that in Singapore you can have pretty much sovereign rights to your property but you can’t chew gum in public) or social justice (which is also bullshit considering that, say, Cubans have relatively low differentials between rich and poor but practically nothing else.)

    Consider further that the privately owned Facebook restricts user liberty more than any fully-owned public university website.  Therefore it’s not as simple as private-sector = more liberty, public sector = less.  Consider further that Facebook is openly contemptuous of “citizen” privacy or the implicit right to the property of your personal information than the U.S. Census Bureau.

    And finally consider that the average resident of essentially no-government zones parts of, say, Afghanistan, Somalia, or Yemen have only fractions of the liberty available to the average Cato Institute “slave” of government.

    Point being, I don’t really care who’s infringing liberties — infringement by government vs. private interests is still infringement and you have to be a total moron to say “well, it’s terrible that the government imposes binding arbitration on me but it’s exciting when an indispensable private company imposes it.

    So…

    If “libertarianism” is, contrary to the plain meaning of the word “liberty” really means only “property rights” as “hard libertarians” like Hicks insists, then is there some other word that might more accurately describe those of us who are actual activist proponents of, you know, liberty and active opponents of infringements from any source?

    figleaf

    • Andrew Cohen

      figleaf: this comment makes me think you’re a BHL!  My only limit about this is that I wouldn’t say its about maximizing liberty at root, but maximizing well-being.  My well-being requires liberty.  I imagine yours does as well.  I imagine most people reading this blog are the same.  But I also think some people are better off with less liberty than I would otherwise think ideal–and I would not want to make them worse off by “forcing them to be free.”  In any case, I completely agree that it does not matter  “who’s infringing liberties.” We should be concerned, I think, about any accumulations of power–whether in the hands of government officials or private parties–because we should oppose any attempts to use such power to infringe on others.

      • http://www.realadultsex.com figleaf

         And of course I think I’m a BHL too!

  • 3cantuna

    BHLs are not really for “unencumbered markets”.  Supporting vouchers, school choice, choosing Friedman and Hayek over Mises, advocating a JS Mill approach to government provision (a long list indeed)…..  Just where is the libertarianism here, exactly?  What is missing from all this morality is economic grounding.  Reliance on government policy to institute libertarian policy?  An uneconomic monopoly predatorial institution is somehow going to be turned benelovent and free market oriented?  It is like BHLs are Dr. Moreau  from that HG Wells story– where he thinks he can tame the hybrid human/animal beasts he has made by giving them law. 

    Who is insulting who, really?  It has been a constant harangue of cynicism about propertarians and free market thinkers– in the name of what? Oh, right. When it adds up maybe it comes out as something like Liberclassipublitarianerablism.

    • 3cantuna

      Of course, there are notable differences with Profs Long, Chartier.  Once again it is the state that gets in the way. If one is going to be “left” libertarian, and allow for working people unions, mutualistic welfare/aid, communal living, tribal outliers, etc, it seems that tolerance must begin with a more non-statist propertarian outlook. Yes, this lets in Prof. Hans Hoppe’s views, too (which actually may be socially superior).  Private property does not equate freed markets– but is a prerequisite. And given that not all people want to participate, or would rather participate in the social division of labor in their own way, a range of propertarian outlooks– although some may seem backward or uncaring to others– must be tolerated, at least minimally.  In this sense, Left-Right libertarians, rightly understood, have a lot less between them than the rest of the BHLs would have you believe. It is the State that drives the biggest wedge. The public-reason liberals could even frame “property”, in this poly-interpretation, as the best minimal set of common shared belief.  Property incentivizes the maximum amount of justice while keeping open the possibility of economic rationality, peaceful cooperation under market terms.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1702318862 Jason Brennan

      Not all BHLers support that stuff. For me, it’s largely an empirical issue. If free market anarchism can generate the right outcomes, then I advocate free market anarchism.

      • 3cantuna

        Right. I fixed it in my follow-up comment. I did not use disqus in the first– so could not edit.

    • Andrew Cohen

      Well, there is “unencumbered” and then there is “unencumbered.”  Some people believe libertarianism is a form of anarchism.  I do not, so I am OK with the state (the ideal state), which of course means the market will be encumbered.  The trick is to do the encumbering right–which for me, means based on the right principles.  I’m still working on this, but see http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2011/03/liberalism/
      As for being insulting, I don’t think I even understand your point.  There has been much said against property absolutists (though not free market thinkers), but speaking against something isn’t necessarily being insulting.  

      • 3cantuna

        The most complete libertarians are anarchists.  If we make generic the use of coercion for a moment– and not bind it up in a state apparatus– then maybe the harm principle could be seen as more realistic. It is state forms of government– this ideological investment in a non-market, non-competitive, violent  monopoly I have problems with. On both moral and economic grounds.

        • Andrew Cohen

          I think we have a fundamental disagreement here.  On my view (usually) “complete libertarians” are statists, though minimal state statists.   The parenthetical is there because I do still occasionally waver, almost coming down on the anarchist side.  At the end of the day, I am a philosophical anarchist–which for me means that I do not believe any existing state is legitimate, but I also think there could be a legitimate state.  And, of course, I think the legitimate state would be the ideal libertarian state.

          • shemsky

            Andrew, how do you think a legitimate state could ever come about? I don’t see it happening, which is why I’m an anarchist. In my opinion, libertarian minarchism is much less a possibility than libertarian anarchism.

          • Andrew Cohen

            Shemsky: the truth is I don’t know.  I want to think it can happen.  In any case, I don’t see any reason to think anarchism is more likely than minarchism.  If I did, I might go ahead and endorse anarchism (I am not sure about that).  My reasons for not thinking anarchism more likely are largely Rousseau’s in his *Discourses,* particularly, *The Discourse on Inequality.*  Great stuff in there.  None of the general will stuff.

          • 3cantuna

            I see, so libertarian, in a strict sense, derives meaning only in juxtaposition to state. Maybe religious sects are a useful analogy? Protestants- from strict Baptist to Unitarian Universalist, for instance?  All Christians (ok, no jokes about UU hippie dippiness).

          • berserkrl

            Some of us here (Gary Chartier and myself (and at least in principle Kevin Vallier), plus guest bloggers Charles Johnson and Kevin Carson) are simultaneously BHLs and anarchists.

          • 3cantuna

            That is great!  See how diverse yet tolerant it can be. There is room for Block, Hoppe, Murphy and the Lew Rockwell folks.

          • Aeon Skoble

            Jessica too, I believe.

  • Chris

    I had several problems with Hick’s post.

    1. By forming political bodies, we have already divided
    ourselves into a group. Political parties further subdivide membership. So it
    seems irrelevant to complain that dividing people into groups is not the way to
    ground politics. As for ethical status, the claim that the poor’s priority
    status is prior to politics seems a fantasy. Their status comes as a result of
    the political system, not prior to it. Their status is a recognition of where
    there are currently and a recognition that the political and economic system
    contributed to it. Additionally, it is a recognition that their standard of
    living falls below a minimum standard (what that is would need to be
    more fully articulated).

    2. It seems that the author is very rigid in their view of “how
    to do politics”. “Not the way” insinuates that there is a universally recognized
    “way” when the truth is that there are many different political systems. Ethics
    is about what we “should” do and it seems obvious to me that the most ethical
    action is the action that benefits everyone (not to say that the action that
    benefits everyone is easy to come to a consensus on). The idea that certain applications
    of liberty are more morally justified than others because they benefit all
    instead of some, or just one, does not seem controversial.

    3. Our economic system largely determines how well equipped we
    as individuals are to pursue the things that make our lives fulfilling. In
    trying to address those things that make some people worse-off than others, it
    seems a logical place to put emphasis on, though not sole attention.

    Without any evidence to support a claim that libertarians
    actually feel this way, the claims in sections four and five seem farcical. If
    he is insinuating that intelligent libertarians adopt views that they don’t
    actually believe in solely on their sentimental ability to sway people to their
    arguments, then he is being intentionally insulting and undercutting his own
    integrity and believability in the process.

    • Andrew Cohen

      Thanks Chris!

  • geoih

    Quote from Andrew Cohen: “This isn’t about “serving or benefiting others,” its about “serving or benefiting” everyone–or at least not making anyone worse off.”

    Who decides what will serve or benefit “everyone”? Political systems are about the use of coercion and force. If you wish to serve or benfit everyone, then you can do that freely in a ‘hard’ libertarian society. Using a political system to do the same is using coercion and force to make everyone serve or benefit everyone. This is hardly libertarian, no matter what adjectives you put in front of the word.

    • Andrew Cohen

      geoih-If libertarianism required anarchism, then you would be right about what I say about the state.  Otherwise, not.  
      As to the “Who decides? question:
      http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2011/04/objectivity/
      http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2011/08/against-subjectivism/

      • shemsky

        Then, Andrew, do individuals have an enforceable obligation to help others who they have not harmed, or don’t they? I’ve never heard an objective answer to that question. I’m not claiming to know the true answer, but I believe the true answer is no. I can’t tell you why I believe the true answer is no. I just do. But I’d love to know the true answer, so that I could know what I must do. Do you think that there even is a true answer to that question?

        • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

          Before even remotely delving into those kind of questions, we have to agree on what constitutes harm, who is being harmed, and who is harming who first. Obviously there is not much consensus on that, as it seems most libertarians underplay if not outright ignore the negative externalities and power relations (and hence, systematic coercion) that exist in markets in order to construe it as if it were a kind of optimal playing field.

          • berserkrl

             most libertarians underplay if not outright ignore the negative externalities and power relations (and hence, systematic coercion) that exist in markets in order to construe it as if it were a kind of optimal playing field

            That’s a fair criticism of some libertarians, but it’s an odd criticism to make of the ones here.

          • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

            I think the people here (particularly the minarchist capitalists who dominate the discourse) do engage in presumptions that are in that direction. Most of the writers at this blog, to one degree or another, have ideological presumptions in favor of existing liberal capitalism – which treats it as already close to optimal.

            True, there is talk about a contingency plan should markets fail, but as I’ve been saying in my comments recently, this is coupled with a general view that liberal markets haven’t already failed in any significant sense. The proposals for remedying the shortcomings of markets are expressed as a hypothetical.

            Expressing the general intention or motive for considering the excluded and poor isn’t that substantive if it remains a thought experiment.

          • Andrew Cohen

            Alex-Who here do you think has “ideological presumptions in favor of existing liberal capitalism”?  I don’t.  If capitalism is what exists in America I am most definitely not a capitalist.  (I don’t care much for names, so I am OK giving up the term–but I am also OK saying “no, what America has is not capitalism, its crony capitalism.”)
            By the way, see http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2011/03/mercantalism-protectionism-promotionism/

          • shemsky

            So do have anything to offer, Alex, besides hostility for libertarianism?

          • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

            There’s nothing necessarily wrong with hostility to libertarianism. The fact that I’m making comments that are generally critical of libertarianism can only be seen as bad by already being ideologically connected to it strongly. So my answer to you is: shrug.

          • shemsky

            But why even bother, if you’re not going to ever offer any suggestions or alternatives? It’s like you just enjoy thumbing your nose at most everybody here.

          • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

            Well, I don’t believe any thinker has a responsibility to be a system builder, or that the act of negative criticism comes with it a responsibility to provide a positive alternative (in some cases, there might not even be one) – the criticism either stands or it doesn’t.

            But I’m curious what you think it would mean to offer an alternative – are you thinking about policy proposals? I’m approaching this as political philosophy about justice first and foremost, and the alternative in those terms is already  partly implied by the criticism:

            If I say that your theory of justice and the analysis of the world that goes along with it is lacking for sufficient consideration for X, that means that my “alternative” is to consider X more.

          • shemsky

            So what would you suggest should be done to fix the institutional inequalities in market and property systems? You say what you think is wrong (institutional inequities in market and property systems), but not what you think should be done to make it right. That’s what I mean.

            But, hell, go ahead and just shrug. I’ll get over it.

            By the way, Alex, I used to enjoy reading your blog. It was enlightening.

          • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

            I’m not making policy proposals yet. I’m still at the level of defining justice, and relatedly, identifying injustice. That’s what this debate is mainly about – our conceptions of justice and how we describe the state of the world, prior to considerations for praxis. This is about forming and tweaking political theories – I’m suggesting a tweak to the theory, not a policy proposal.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            You’re clearly hostile, but I can’t quite figure out your reasoning. I believe that it is undeniable that people’s talents, financially productive character traits (shrewdness, risk-taking, etc.) and dumb luck are distributed on the familiar bell curve–so there will be outliers. Even under ideal conditions of entirely free and voluntary interactions, this distribution will produce massive inequality. Is this your problem?

            You may plausibly think that the liberal capitalist state exacerbates rather than levels this inequality, and I tend to agree. So, the solution is to eliminate the state or at least reduce it to its core responsibilities, right? But this is precisely what libertarians advocate.

          • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

            I do not believe that anti-statism, as good as it may be, is a sufficient explaination of let alone answer to the problems of power relations and institutional inequalities in society. I’d take a more or less intersectionalist position on the question – there are many overlapping sources and centers of power. In my view, libertarians typically do not account for this sufficiently, in a way that causes them to *not* recognize coercion in places in which it exists. I don’t think that you can meaningfully reduce the overall social problem to a question of state power.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            No doubt references like “power relations” and “institutional inequality” make sense to you, but to me they are just vague, meaningless jargon masquerading as actual ideas. If in a state of nature, person A has a greater range of skills than person B, so that in a consensual exchange A extracts more from B, than B from A, is this a “power relation”? If over time a group of As have more power than the group of Bs because of their superior talents, is this “instittional inequality”? If so, what the hell do you propose to do about it under your own conception of justice?  Are you really proposing to enjoin “capitalist acts between consenting adults”?

          • Andrew Cohen

            Alex, I follow Feinberg in defining harms as wrongful setbacks to interests.  This admittedly complicates things and does not settle much.  What counts as a harm will be difficult to determine.  In my own view, that is just the nature of things–moral business is messy business.  Oh, and I think Rod’s point here is right.

        • Andrew Cohen

          Shemsky-I am inclined to think there is no enforceable obligation to help others one has not harmed.  Unfortunately, I think we in the U.S. and Europe are all complicit in a system that does harm (many) others.  We may not be directly responsible for it, of course, but that does not mean we should sit back and rest easy.  We should, in my view, seek to change it.  Now, is that the true answer?  I can’t say for sure, but I do have arguments for it (largely taken from others).  It may be that those arguments can be defeated–but thus far they seem right.

          • shemsky

            Andrew (and Damien below), I think that we all *should* help others even if we have not harmed them. And not just for benevolent reasons, but for self interest reasons as well (you help others and in return others will help you). But I can’t say that we have an enforceable obligation to help others we have not harmed because in part, I suppose, I just don’t trust other people to have the authority to make those kinds of decisions for me or for anyone else. And I guess you could say that my anarchist beliefs are somewhat based on not trusting other people with authority over others. In fact, I wouldn’t even trust myself with that kind of authority (and neither should anyone else trust me with that kind of authority).

        • Damien S.

           “do individuals have an enforceable obligation to help others who they have not harmed”

          That can have different answers in different contexts, like the Hobbesian state of nature vs. the implicit social contract of a particular society.  Which you don’t believe in, but the context exists nonetheless.

  • berserkrl

    The dichotomy between serving others and serving oneself applies only in ethical frameworks that embrace a conflictual model of interests.  Since Randians like Hicks, who take themselves to be theorising in the tradition of Aristotle, explicitly reject a conflictual model of interests, their endless emphasis on altruism versus the “virtue of selfishness” is puzzling.  Given her views, Rand should have called her book The Impossibility of Selfishness.

    • Aeon Skoble

      Depends how you define altruism, no?  See my essay in Reality, Reason, and Rights.

  • Counsellor

    The fundamental issues in Libertarianism are the
    functions of government and the effects of those functions on Liberty.

    There is nothing wrong with saying that in addition to those effects on Liberty
    (of prime concern to Libertarians) there should be [equal?] concern with other
    effects. There is nothing wrong with BHL demonstrations of the effects of those
    functions on the poor (or any other segment) as a class.

     

    Now, if BHL were limited to assertions that in addition
    to those effects on Liberty (of prime concern to Libertarians) there should be
    [equal?] concern with other effects, that would be a call for “opening of hearts.” But, to go
    further, and suggest that “concern for the poor” or correcting
    perceived maladjustments of the distributive system should be an objective of
    the functions of government for libertarians, is not fissaporous (another
    fragmented version); it is a different political concept; opposing to, and destructive
    of Libertarian objectives.

     

    On behalf of BHL, in side stepping the “Social Justice”
    positions, it has been asserted: “. . .  that consequentialism provides both a clear
    and defensible normative approach that explains why the poor should receive our
    special consideration – to an extent.”

    Do those
    convictions relate to the “normative” issues of Libertarianism; or, are they no
    more than an articulation of a philosophical justification of what “should” be
    (‘to an extent”) one of the conditions of human relations to be sought –
    implying [?] to be sought though our modes of governance (the functions and
    operative effects of governments)?

     

    Consequentialism
    is a philosophical “argument.”  Because
    it concerns judgments of actions on the basis of moral objectives to be sought,
    attempts to apply that philosophy to the determination of the functions and
    operative effects of governments is distinct from normative Libertarianism.

     

    One
    might say that philosophical issue and Libertarianism are each concerned with
    “consequences” of the determinations of the functions and operative effects of
    governments; a consequentialists for what “ought” to be the consequences (and
    particularly how they are to be judged); and a libertarian  for consequences to be avoided (to the extent
    possible).

     

    The
    determinations sought by consequentialists would appear to require creating
    constructs for governance; that is, creating governmental functions and
    operative effects for specific moral objectives.

    Normative
    Libertarianism does not encompass that course for attaining moral objectives.
    Further, the empirical evidence is not yet available to support a
    consequentialist “approach” to the functions of governments.

     

    The
    BHL so far disclosed may be a valid political philosophy; it is not Libertarian.

     

    • Andrew Cohen

      What is your reason for thinking libertarians can’t allow “concern for the poor” or “correcting perceived maladjustments of the distributive system” be “an objective of

      the functions of government”?  It seems clear to me that if the government caused those things in the first place, there is a prima facia case for it accepting such an objective.  I wish we lived in a world where the government did not cause those things, but we don’t.  Its surely disingenuous to say either “but I am not the government; I didn’t cause those things” or “there is no such thing as a government, just a collection of persons.”  Both claims are true, but basically irrelevant.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Philip/591615305 Michael Philip

        the concern should be man, the individual from the very rich to the very poor and all those in between. to focus specifically on the poor is not the proper way to structure a government

  • Counsellor

    Taking up from the last stanza as to the prima
    facie case:

    The focus of concern is on the effects of the
    form and operation of our representative government on the poor.

    In its present iteration, this form has become
    the representation of interests rather than a representation of commonly held
    principles of former ideology.

    Any
    consideration of the effects of those functions and operations, without an
    examination of how and why  those
    functions and operations have come into being, in their particular shapes,
    through the representation of interests in this representative form of
    government will lead nowhere, not to res ipsa loquitur nor a prima facie case for
    normative Libertarians to seek to establish functions or determine modes of
    operations for the interests of any specific segment of society; not for these
    specific interests, nor for the elderly, the infirm, the scholars, the artists,
    the children, ad spectra.

    However valuable
    or essential such examination may be, and fitting for normative Libertarian
    concerns, it is a distinct issue from adopting the doctrine of seeking or
    setting objectives of government for specific interests that may have been adversely
    affected , or might be advantageously benefitted; or, seeking or setting such
    objectives to attain moral goals.

    There are other
    political doctrines and theories available, fully manned and eager to undertake
    those tasks of setting those various objectives, but normative Libertarianism
    is not one of them.

    Libertarians do
    not want to use governments as instrumentalities to “do” things, nor do they
    want governments to be used by others to “do” things. Once that were to change,
    with Libertarians shifting to use governments, the stand against others using
    government for their interests evaporates. To depart from those limitations is
    to depart from Libertarianism.

    Returning to
    your opening:

    What I wrote was
    “But,
    to go further, and suggest that “concern for the poor” or correcting

    perceived maladjustments of the distributive system should be an objective of

    the functions of government for libertarians, is not fissaporous (another

    fragmented version); it is a different political concept; opposing to, and
    destructive

    of Libertarian objectives. “

    That seems to be
    a clear statement that the suggestion that a particular concern should be an
    objective of the functions of government for Libertarians is a political
    concept that differs from normative Libertarianism.

    So far as “allowing”
    consideration of seeking and setting such objectives for the functions and
    operations of governments, in the vein of other doctrines, the empirical evidence
    does not offer support for normative Libertarians to change their positions.

     

    • Andrew Cohen

      Perhaps I should restate my question:  What is your reason for thinking libertarians can’t allow “concern for the poor” or “correcting perceived maladjustments of the distributive system” be “an objective of the functions of government”?  (A) Reiterating your statement isn’t an answer.  (B) An answer can not assume what your opponent denies as if he or she accepts it–here, that “consideration of the effects of those functions and operations, without an examination of how and why  those functions and operations have come into being.”  I do believe we all would agree that such an examination is required.  (C) Nor can an answer can’t just assume your opponent is wrong, as when you claim “Libertarians do not want to use governments as instrumentalities to ‘do’ things, nor do they want governments to be used by others to ‘do’ things.”  (D) Finally, an answer shouldn’t assume something false–as with the claim mentioned in (C), since many if not most libertarians want police and/or army protection.

  • Pingback: Economics: Who Cares? | Bleeding Heart Libertarians

  • Counsellor

    You are quite correct. Despite the emphasis on the representation of interests, I did not make clear enough that is the opposition to use of governments to “do” for specific interests rather than the exigent need for government as a mechanism of general service and vehicle for mutual cooperation, that frames the distinction of normative Libertarianism. 

    As to the other, you implied a prima facie case might exist for affirmative action on a certain proposition, because certain conditions can be observed. Your observations are not wrong, without more they just don’t support the prima facie case for the action; nor do they speak for themselves to define a particular selection of objectives for normative Libertarianism.

    I will digress to add one thing more, so far not raised; that is, the effects of seeking and setting functions of governments and their modes of operations which result in the imposition of obligations not voluntarily undertaken and not for general services or to facilitate mutual cooperation. The imposition of such obligations diminish liberty. Normative Libertarianism does not encompass the doctrines that require the imposition of such obligations.

    Normative Libertarianism is a limiting doctrine. Perhaps there are arguments why it should not be limiting, but then it would be something different, not Libertarianism.

    • Andrew Cohen

      Counsellor-Good, now I can see where we are at.  By own basic view is that libertarianism (I assume I use that term the way you use “Normative Libertarianism”) is a full commitment to normative toleration defined by (something like) Mill’s harm principle.  That is, the only justifiable government policies and actions are those that prevent or rectify harms done (where harms are wrongful setbacks to interests).  Indeed, I think the only justified interferences by anyone into anyone else’s life are harms those others others do or seek to do.  I think it is fairly clear that policies and actions of the U.S. government have in fact harmed people (from kicking people out of their homes here in the U.S. to making it impossible for people to compete in the international market by giving subsidies to US corps to the war on drugs to…).  Hence, I think interferences to rectify those harms are likely justifiable.  Some of those interferences are likely (perhaps unfortunately) to be done by the same government that caused the problems in the first place.
      As to your digression: this may mean citizens will face a small decrease in their liberty, but (a) that decrease may be offset by other increases brought about by moving the government in the right direction more generally–i.e., it will stop causing harms.  (b) additionally, many of us were, perhaps unwittingly, the beneficiaries of the harmful policies, so it seems reasonable to think the decrease would fall in the right place.  I think (a) is most important though–there would be an overall increase in liberty.  This is precisely because, as you point out, libertarianism is a limiting doctrine.  It limits the sort of interferences the government may permissibly engage in.

  • Counsellor

    Your thoughtful and more concise (than mine) reply deserves a more detailed or at least more analytical response than I can muster this late into the next morning. But I will offer a comment that has not to do with why the suggested doctrine offends normative Libertarianism, but rather why the offense need not be considered.

    We return to harm resulting from the functions and operations of a representative form of government which is the representation of interests, principally in the uses of the mechanisms of government for the benefit or protection of particular interests.

    What would mitigate the the “harms” caused by that representative form?  Reduce the
    provinces of representative authority, of course. Reduce the uses of the
    mechanisms of government and thereby reduce those areas of representation of
    interests. Reduce the functions of government to reduce the uses of the
    mechanism. That will shift, if not absolutely reduce, the range and aims of
    creating and imposing obligations that diminish liberty.

    There is no “cure;” only mitigation.

     

  • Counsellor

    Your thoughtful and more concise (than mine) reply deserves a more detailed or at least more analytical response than I can muster this late into the next morning. But I will offer a comment that has not to do with why the suggested doctrine offends normative Libertarianism, but rather why the offense need not be considered.

    We return to harm resulting from the functions and operations of a representative form of government which is the representation of interests, principally in the uses of the mechanisms of government for the benefit or protection of particular interests.

    What would mitigate the the “harms” caused by that representative form?  Reduce the
    provinces of representative authority, of course. Reduce the uses of the
    mechanisms of government and thereby reduce those areas of representation of
    interests. Reduce the functions of government to reduce the uses of the
    mechanism. That will shift, if not absolutely reduce, the range and aims of
    creating and imposing obligations that diminish liberty.

    There is no “cure;” only mitigation.

     

    • Andrew Cohen

      So we agree!  If there is a difference, its only that I would allow that while we mitigate by reducing the roles of the government, one role that should be maintained by the government (for a while anyway) is the role of trying to compensate for the harms it has already done. 

  • Counsellor

    Your thoughtful and more concise (than mine) reply deserves a more detailed or at least more analytical response than I can muster this late into the next morning. But I will offer a comment that has not to do with why the suggested doctrine offends normative Libertarianism, but rather why the offense need not be considered.

    We return to harm resulting from the functions and operations of a representative form of government which is the representation of interests, principally in the uses of the mechanisms of government for the benefit or protection of particular interests.

    What would mitigate the the “harms” caused by that representative form?  Reduce the
    provinces of representative authority, of course. Reduce the uses of the
    mechanisms of government and thereby reduce those areas of representation of
    interests. Reduce the functions of government to reduce the uses of the
    mechanism. That will shift, if not absolutely reduce, the range and aims of
    creating and imposing obligations that diminish liberty.

    There is no “cure;” only mitigation.

     

  • Counsellor

    Your thoughtful and more concise (than mine) reply deserves a more detailed or at least more analytical response than I can muster this late into the next morning. But I will offer a comment that has not to do with why the suggested doctrine offends normative Libertarianism, but rather why the offense need not be considered.

    We return to harm resulting from the functions and operations of a representative form of government which is the representation of interests, principally in the uses of the mechanisms of government for the benefit or protection of particular interests.

    What would mitigate the the “harms” caused by that representative form?  Reduce the
    provinces of representative authority, of course. Reduce the uses of the
    mechanisms of government and thereby reduce those areas of representation of
    interests. Reduce the functions of government to reduce the uses of the
    mechanism. That will shift, if not absolutely reduce, the range and aims of
    creating and imposing obligations that diminish liberty.

    There is no “cure;” only mitigation.

     

  • Counsellor

    Your thoughtful and more concise (than mine) reply deserves a more detailed or at least more analytical response than I can muster this late into the next morning. But I will offer a comment that has not to do with why the suggested doctrine offends normative Libertarianism, but rather why the offense need not be considered.

    We return to harm resulting from the functions and operations of a representative form of government which is the representation of interests, principally in the uses of the mechanisms of government for the benefit or protection of particular interests.

    What would mitigate the the “harms” caused by that representative form?  Reduce the
    provinces of representative authority, of course. Reduce the uses of the
    mechanisms of government and thereby reduce those areas of representation of
    interests. Reduce the functions of government to reduce the uses of the
    mechanism. That will shift, if not absolutely reduce, the range and aims of
    creating and imposing obligations that diminish liberty.

    There is no “cure;” only mitigation.

     

  • Counsellor

    Your thoughtful and more concise (than mine) reply deserves a more detailed or at least more analytical response than I can muster this late into the next morning. But I will offer a comment that has not to do with why the suggested doctrine offends normative Libertarianism, but rather why the offense need not be considered.

    We return to harm resulting from the functions and operations of a representative form of government which is the representation of interests, principally in the uses of the mechanisms of government for the benefit or protection of particular interests.

    What would mitigate the the “harms” caused by that representative form?  Reduce the
    provinces of representative authority, of course. Reduce the uses of the
    mechanisms of government and thereby reduce those areas of representation of
    interests. Reduce the functions of government to reduce the uses of the
    mechanism. That will shift, if not absolutely reduce, the range and aims of
    creating and imposing obligations that diminish liberty.

    There is no “cure;” only mitigation.

     

  • Counsellor

    Your thoughtful and more concise (than mine) reply deserves a more detailed or at least more analytical response than I can muster this late into the next morning. But I will offer a comment that has not to do with why the suggested doctrine offends normative Libertarianism, but rather why the offense need not be considered.

    We return to harm resulting from the functions and operations of a representative form of government which is the representation of interests, principally in the uses of the mechanisms of government for the benefit or protection of particular interests.

    What would mitigate the the “harms” caused by that representative form?  Reduce the
    provinces of representative authority, of course. Reduce the uses of the
    mechanisms of government and thereby reduce those areas of representation of
    interests. Reduce the functions of government to reduce the uses of the
    mechanism. That will shift, if not absolutely reduce, the range and aims of
    creating and imposing obligations that diminish liberty.

    There is no “cure;” only mitigation.

     

  • Counsellor

    Your thoughtful and more concise (than mine) reply deserves a more detailed or at least more analytical response than I can muster this late into the next morning. But I will offer a comment that has not to do with why the suggested doctrine offends normative Libertarianism, but rather why the offense need not be considered.

    We return to harm resulting from the functions and operations of a representative form of government which is the representation of interests, principally in the uses of the mechanisms of government for the benefit or protection of particular interests.

    What would mitigate the the “harms” caused by that representative form?  Reduce the
    provinces of representative authority, of course. Reduce the uses of the
    mechanisms of government and thereby reduce those areas of representation of
    interests. Reduce the functions of government to reduce the uses of the
    mechanism. That will shift, if not absolutely reduce, the range and aims of
    creating and imposing obligations that diminish liberty.

    There is no “cure;” only mitigation.

     

  • Counsellor

    Your thoughtful and more concise (than mine) reply deserves a more detailed or at least more analytical response than I can muster this late into the next morning. But I will offer a comment that has not to do with why the suggested doctrine offends normative Libertarianism, but rather why the offense need not be considered.

    We return to harm resulting from the functions and operations of a representative form of government which is the representation of interests, principally in the uses of the mechanisms of government for the benefit or protection of particular interests.

    What would mitigate the the “harms” caused by that representative form?  Reduce the
    provinces of representative authority, of course. Reduce the uses of the
    mechanisms of government and thereby reduce those areas of representation of
    interests. Reduce the functions of government to reduce the uses of the
    mechanism. That will shift, if not absolutely reduce, the range and aims of
    creating and imposing obligations that diminish liberty.

    There is no “cure;” only mitigation.

     

  • Counsellor

    Well, there is a difference, tho’ I have always agreed on what is observed. I do not agree that the proposals of “what do do about” what we observe are encompassed within normative Libertarianism.

    Separately:

    Maintaining a role  for a representative  form of “government” (as the representation of interests) in the expectation that something designated as the interest of the poor (or the children, or the elderly, etc.) will use the mechanisms of that government to mitigate or repair harms caused by previous use, is not supported by the emperical evidence provided from the way in which that representative system actually works.

    We cannot use the scalpel that created the opening to close the wound.

    • Andrew Cohen

      Love the final analogy.  I agree that the empirical evidence is not good here.

  • Counsellor

    If analogies are in order, the issue of the BHL taxon might be
    seen as something like the experience of reported to me years ago over some
    glasses of Port at Hoth in Eire, by an internationally noted judge of Port
    wines:

    He had been invited to South Africa by a producers’
    association to pass judgment on the results of their several years in developing
    a form of Port. After numerous samplings, in various dinner and other settings,
    he was asked to designate the best and give his judgments. He did so by saying
    the wine was remarkable, well defined in characteristics, as full-bodied and
    well-made as many of the Ports available, in fact unique – “But gentlemen whatever
    it is, it is not Port.”

  • Andrew Cohen

    I think you’ll enjoy Matt and John’s book on the history of libertarianism when it is out.  Perhaps also Jason’s book on what libertarianism is.  To my mind–as I think theirs (we don’t agree about everything, of course!)–what many now perceive as libertarianism is not the real thing, but an alteration caused by years of influence by a few like Rand and Rothbard (and often, as Rod would like say, misreadings of their work!).

  • Counsellor

    Y’know you’re right about the “departures” (or whatever they are). I am puzzled by a Libertarian Party.  Parties exist to gain and exercise political power and that juxtaposition seems like a group of celibates wanting to take over management of a thriving bordello.

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.