I’m a liberal neutralist. I think that if we must have politics, governments should try insofar as possible to avoid promoting one conception of the good and right, worldviews, religions, etc. over others, at least those that are non-crazy. This is not a neutrality of effect, as that really is a bizarre ideal. Instead, it’s a neutrality of aim. I won’t defend the view here. Instead, I want to focus on the two replies I frequently get:
(1) Neutrality is Impossible.
(2) Neutrality is Wrong.
Most anti-neutralists believe both (1) and (2). But they often seem to embrace (2) by way of (1). People say: the state can’t avoid promoting one conception of the good over another and, well, it might as well promote a good/true one because there’s no alternative.
Now, if they really embraced (2) in part because of (1), you might expect to see more anti-neutralists expressing regret that neutrality is impossible. After all, if true neutrality were possible, it might be philosophically attractive. Typical criticisms of neutrality, however, are seldom associated with regret. Instead I often encounter annoyance or frustration, along with the (often true) accusations that liberal neutralists aren’t really neutralists themselves, just dishonest liberal perfectionists.
I think it is worthwhile discussing the possibility that many people believe (1) because they already believe in (2) because they’re impressed by the truth of their worldview and would prefer to ignore philosophical obstacles to promoting that worldview with political force. This goes for many libertarians, by the way, and for a great many Objectivists.
What I’m suggesting is that many anti-neutralists are anti-neutralist because they’re ideological in the bad way (as I’ve blogged about before). And I think that if people were not ideological in the bad way, then they might be less likely to affirm (1). And that’s good, because if neutrality is a feasible ideal, it’s incredibly attractive. It means there’s a feasible method of free and equal people living together without one of them using political power (or market power in a market anarchy) to impose their views on others. Hallelujah!
This shouldn’t be a terribly hard pill for BHL readers to swallow. Many libertarians implicitly already find neutrality attractive. Libertarians frequently point out that one cool thing about the market is that it allows people with diverse worldviews to get along without some imposing their views on others. What’s more, plenty of thin libertarians are effectively liberal neutralists already, as they think political principles can’t settle questions of goodness or rightness broadly speaking. In other words, we can identify true political principles, ones that should govern human life, without vindicating a single or small set of doctrines of the good, right and true.
So I’m speculating that many people who oppose liberal neutrality hold their position because they want to impose their ideology on unwilling and dissenting others. And that includes some, but by no means all, libertarians.