The Spirit of Anti-Neutralism

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.

  • bladedoc

    Can you point me to information about neutralism? This is my first exposure to some one and frankly have felt that 1. was universally accepted.

  • Irfan Khawaja

    “So I’m speculating saying 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 libertarians.”

    As a matter of discursive principle, do you think philosophy should be done by engaging speculations that amount to poisoning the well? Why not discuss arguments rather than speculative possibilities about motives?

    • Kevin Vallier

      Because most of the reactions you find in print, on the internet, and in person amount to little more than bald assertions. I’ve heard or read “But there’s no neutral!” more times than I can remember. So I’m identifying a sentiment and scrutinizing it. And since the vast majority of my posts discuss arguments, I thought a brief departure was acceptable.

      • Irfan Khawaja

        Well, it isn’t. There’s no such thing as a “brief but acceptable departure” into the commission of a fallacy. You’re not entitled to poison the well even after hearing a million bald, question-begging assertions that p. One fallacy doesn’t justify the commission of another.

        Why not leave it at saying that most arguments for p that you’ve encountered begs the question? Incidentally, the “you” in your response ought to say “I,” not “you.” There’s no way for you to know what reactions everyone else has encountered. And if you’re conceding that “most reactions” are mere assertions, then we can infer that some aren’t. In that case, why not discuss them?

        Incidentally, hearing something “more times than I can remember” is compatible with your not having a very good memory. For all the reader knows, you’ve heard it five or six times, and that’s all you remember.

        • Kevin Vallier

          Ah, it’s you. I forgot. Thank you for commenting.

          • Irfan Khawaja

            I suppose it’s unsurprising that a fallacious argument should, when challenged, lead to an unresponsive “answer.” As it has.

  • Sean II

    So you’re the guy who elsewhere argues that property rights are coercive, because it takes a certain threat of force to stop people robbing me of…whatever, some little apple I homesteaded off the tree.

    I’m curious why you don’t apply the same logic here. Clearly, it takes a certain threat of force to stop people from stoning adulterous women in places like Texas or Dearborn, Michigan.

    Why don’t you count that as coercive power, applied against anyone whose conception of the good includes the once fantastically popular idea that “adulterous women deserve to die”?

    • AP²

      I’m not “the guy”, but it seems clear to me that it’s because stoning women is itself applying coercive force, while taking an apple from a tree isn’t.

      Making an analogy, you’re asking the equivalent of, “if killing in self-defense is OK, why isn’t killing for economic gain OK?”.

      It’s not hard to understand that applying force to avoid unjust application of force is categorically different from applying force for any other reason.

      • Sean II

        “…it’s because stoning women is itself applying coercive force…”

        That gets you nowhere. If homesteading and property theory works, then stealing an apple is also coercive, aggressive, etc.

        • AP²

          I’m obviously over my head; what do you mean by “if property theory works”?

          As far as I see, taking an apple can only be coercive if we accept property a-priori, while forcibly preventing someone from taking it is coercion regardless (though, under a property system, it’s justified coercion).

          Say I have a system that claims that replying to posts is coercion, and it justifies beating people up, and you reject my system because beating people up is coercive, can I claim that, “that gets you nowhere; if works, then replying to posts is also coercive, etc”?

          • Sean II

            “As far as I see, taking an apple can only be coercive if we accept property a-priori…”

            There are two possibilities:

            1) You’re using the term “a priori” to mean simply “before”, in which case you’re using it incorrectly, but you DO understand my argument.

            2) You’re using the term “a priori” in its usual sense, meaning “independent of experience”, in which case you DON’T understand my argument at all.

            Can you clarify?

          • AP²

            Sorry for the late reply. I meant the former.

        • martinbrock

          Homesteading and Lockean propriety work insofar as people agree to respect these property rights.

          An alternate formulation, in which every possession is always subject to a contest of physical strength, clearly also works. It works everywhere in nature outside of artificial communities, and life covered the Earth for billions of years before these communities existed.

          • Les Kyle Nearhood

            I have thought of a name for your vision of society. Communotopian.

          • martinbrock

            I have no problem with Communitarian, but the name is already claimed. “Utopia” suggests some ideal community. I don’t envision any particular community at all, much less an ideal community. A community of your choice might seem a dystopian nightmare to me, but I wouldn’t interfere with it, and I don’t want anyone else interfering with it, except to ensure that people may leave it at will.

    • j r

      Don’t know Kevin’s answer, but mine would be that enforcing a legal and social norm against stoning adulterous women is about murder not adultery.

      It’s still perfectly legal to divorce your wife on the grounds of adultery or for a religious community to shun a woman based on her sexual behavior, although if you look hard enough I’m sure you’d find someone ready to argue against keeping those things legal.

      • Sean II

        “…enforcing a legal and social norm against stoning adulterous women is about murder not adultery.”

        I think you’ve just shown the absurdity of “liberal neutrality”, by the simple act of noticing that “neutrality” has an adjective in front of it.

        • j r

          I don’t see it. The absurdity that is. It just means that withing the range of behaviors that one considers liberal (I assume we’re speaking about classically liberal norms and not left-leaning ones), the political authority ought to be neutral. Adultery is within that range and so is “slut-shaming.” Murder is not.

          • Sean II

            So liberalism bans the leading political tool of every philosophy except liberalism – i.e. violence – and this you call “neutral”?

          • j r

            No. I call it liberal neutrality.

            A man has a right to set boundaries after all.

          • Phil

            It doesn’t ban violence. You’re free to use violence in a liberal neutral state. But the state will return violence with violence. It will also preempt your violence with violence.

      • Theresa Klein

        It’s still perfectly legal to divorce your wife on the grounds of adultery or for a religious community to shun a woman based on her sexual behavior,

        But it’s illegal to refuse to pay for her contraception.

    • martinbrock

      I doubt that “adulterous women deserve to die” was ever fantastically popular.

      The whole point of liberal neutrality is to permit people to live as they prefer. Adulterous women should benefit from this neutrality as much as people who dislike adulterous women; otherwise, the neutrality does not exist.

      If I don’t like adulterous women, I should associate with women who agree with me. If I happen associate with a woman who is adulterous, I should disassociate from her. Killing her denies the woman the same prerogative, so tolerating this killing is not optimally neutral.

  • It took some effort to figure out what we meant by “liberal neutrality” in this context, but once I figured it out, I was impressed. I definitely agree that most people reject (1) because they assume (2). That is a very clarifying way of viewing the matter.

    I’m left with some suspicion of what you call “ideological in the bad way.” It seems to me that there is no way to objectively unravel who is ideological in the bad way vs. the good way. The only way I’d ever know that I’m ideological in the bad way is if someone accused me of being so, and I decided I agreed with them. Until then, it’s everyone else who’s being ideological in the bad way.

  • Jameson Graber

    Most arguments I’ve seen against neutrality seem pretty simplistic to me. Something along the lines of, “Well, all laws are based on some conception of right and wrong, so therefore no laws can be neutral with respect to the good.” And that’s sort of true as far as it goes–it just doesn’t go very far, which proponents of such arguments don’t seem to acknowledge.

    But I speculate differently from you. My feeling is that many (if not most) opponents of neutrality have been driven to their opinion by the expansion of politics into every aspect of life. These days every moral aspect of our lives is seen as an indicator of our political leanings. The situation seems to generate suspicion of liberal neutrality.

    I, for one, regret that our government is not more neutral.

  • AP²

    Being anti-neutrality because it’s impossible strikes me as rather silly; it’s like being pro-corruption because it’s impossible to completely eliminate it.

    If neutrality is considered good, then being impossible to fully achieve it is hardly a reason to avoid trying.

  • martinbrock

    I suppose neutrality is impossible in the strictest possible sense, but we can distinguish more neutral states from less neutral states. “Liberal neutrality” describes my way of thinking if the aim is maximal neutrality, so we compare the relative neutrality of different models and agree that the most neutral of two alternatives always wins. I arrive at something like Kukathas’ liberal archipelago this way.

    Critics of neutralism prefer “moral relativism”, and the critics outnumber the supporters, so I long ago decided that “moral relativism” suits me just fine. I’m the most extreme moral relativist imaginable, because I believe I should be.

    • …we compare the relative neutrality of different models and agree that the most neutral of two alternatives always wins…

      Just thinking out loud here, but…

      One thought that comes to mind is that the most neutral outcome might not be the best in all cases. For example, one way to achieve a consistently neutral outcome is to design a fairly arbitrary rule and apply it consistently.

      One such rule is: In any rear-end traffic collision, the person in the rear is deemed to be at fault. Surely applying that rule consistently is a lot more neutral than exploring the nuances of every traffic collision and having a detective make what is ultimately a subjective judgement call. We know what is the more neutral outcome here, but do we agree that it is the best?

      • martinbrock

        A particular rule is not “neutral” in Kevin’s sense. Your rear end collision rule is neither more nor less neutral than another rule, and applying it consistently is not more or less neutral than applying it inconsistently either.

        Neutrality requires that people who want your rule applied consistently can have what they want and people who want it applied inconsistently can also have what they want and people who want an entirely different rule can have what they want.

        Clearly, all of these people can’t have what they want at the same place and time, so neutrality requires some separation of people with irreconcilable differences. Neutrality does not require agreement. It requires this separation.

        • Well, your description of neutrality seems more like a contradiction of terms: I cannot exist in a world in which we can both have what we want if what I want is that you cannot have what you want.

          In other words, the rule for resolving conflicts cannot be that everybody’s side is right; for if it is, then the conflict was not resolved.

          If you have stated Vallier’s case accurately, then there is no hope for it. It’s a paradox.

          • martinbrock

            You can live in a world in which we both have what we want.

            Surely, if we live no more than 100 years, and if more than 100 light years separates us, then (if we believe Einstein) nothing I do can possibly affect anything that you do. In this scenario, the Universe is liberally neutral toward us.

            What I want from a liberally neutral state is analogous to what I expect from the Universe when the laws of nature prohibit any interaction between us.

            I only want the state to isolate you and your associates from me and my associates, effectively enabling both of us to enact the laws we prefer among ourselves and prohibiting each of us from interfering forcibly with the enactments of the other.

            Of course, if you and yours want to interact with me and mine, then a liberally neutral state does not interfere.

        • Theresa Klein

          Your rear end collision rule is neither more nor less neutral than another rule, and applying it consistently is not more or less neutral than applying it inconsistently either.
          I can’t see how applying it inconsistently would be considered “neutral”. To me neutrality is somewhat equivalent to “equal justice”. To be neutral amoung parties in a conflicted state is to treat all parties equally under the law. And equal justice requires uniform enforcement, not inconsistency. You could have a very complicated rule to decide who is at fault, that is applied consistently, and that would be neutral.
          (Although, considering political imperatives chances are it wouldn’t be. Which is why complex bureaucracies tend not to be neutral and not to provide equal justice, but I digress…)

          But any group of people advocating inconsistent application of a law is effectively advocating lack of neutrality. And it would be nonsensical to say the law should be neutral between people who want neutrality and people who don’t.

          • martinbrock

            Rules are not neutral or not neutral. A state enforcing liberal neutrality is neutral with respect to different rules, so if you prefer one rule and I prefer a different rule, this state permits both of us to have what we want.

            A neutral state does not make laws as much as it prohibits you from interfering with me and my friends enacting laws of our choice while also preventing me and my friends from interfering with you and your friends enacting laws of your choice.

            The state doesn’t decide who is at a fault. It requires you to permit me and my associates to decide who is at fault in disputes among us and requires us to permit you to decide who is at fault in disputes among your associates.

            My associates and I may advocate any application of our laws we like, whether or not you think it consistent. If my associates and I agree that some guru decides every dispute, however he likes, according to his arbitrary whim after smoking pot and contemplating his navel, then that’s our business and none of yours. This choice of ours is completely consistent with liberal neutrality.

          • Theresa Klein

            Ok. When I think of the term “law” I think of something that is enforced by the state. Voluntary private associations can do whatever they want internally. But when the state enforces LAW, it must enforce it consistently, else it is not being neutral.

            In other words, if the state were to inconsistently enforce it’s laws regarding neutrality with respect to private associations, it would have to be interfering with some private associations but not others. Ergo it wouldn’t be neutral anymore, would it?

          • martinbrock

            If the state’s rules are “law” and a free community’s rules “terms of association”, then very few laws exist in a liberally neutral state, but associations may have an almost unlimited variety of terms, subject only to the state’s enforcement of individual rights to exit an association and to create new communities.

            The state’s enforcement of these individual rights is neutral with respect to associations, i.e. the state enforces the same rules consistently on all associations. An association’s terms need not be neutral with respect to its members. If an association wants to prohibit heterosexuality, or make only heterosexuals pay a membership fee, within the association, the state does not interfere. To interfere with these terms of association would not be liberally neutral.

          • Theresa Klein

            Ok. I think we agree. A liberal neutral state would tend towards being a minimalist libertarian state because it would be compelled to broaden the scope of permissible activity and must remain neutral amoung private parties. It’s scope would be limited to protecting the liberty of individuals to enter and leave voluntary private associations.

  • Theresa Klein

    I think we can agree that the law shouldn’t be completely neutral about everything. For instance, murder. I’m pretty sure that nearly everyone agrees that murder is wrong and the law shouldn’t be neutral about murder.

    What it should be neutral about is anything over which there is significant disagreement among members of society over what is morally right and wrong.
    It should not enforce moral beliefs that are not close-to-universally accepted.

    It’s worth nothing that most people’s moral beliefs include distinctions between what is morally impermissible, what is permissible, and what is obligatory. There’s a wide neutral ground between obligated acts and impermissible acts, and we generally make room for other people’s morals by holding some acts to be desirable but not obligatory. The more pluralistic a society is, the wider the space between the obligated and the impermissible tends to be, and hence the fewer things there are that are mandatory or forbidden. To be a genuinely tolerant diverse society, the only things that are legally mandatory or legally forbidden should be things about which everyone agrees.

    • martinbrock

      If pluralism implies a single community in which anything goes (anything acceptable to anyone is permitted), everywhere and always, then pluralism is inconsistent with liberal neutrality. A pluralistic community permits few people to live as they prefer, because people are tribal, chauvinistic, moralistic intolerant, and generally ruly but nonetheless disagreeable. Morality is exclusive by nature. One man’s ruliness is another man’s unruliness. A state can’t be neutral while forcing everyone to pretend to be one, big, happy family.

  • reason60

    You assert, as a moral postulate, that all humans have something called “Rights.” I dissent, yet am forced to comply with your position by Men With Guns, Cages, and all that.
    I think whats really doing all the work in your argument is the word “noncrazy”- as in, stuff that We All Just Know is right and good and true. You seem to assume there are ideas that are just so axiomatic, self-evident and uncontestable, that there acceptance can be hidden behind the veil of neutrality.

    What makes you think that our current governmental policies are NOT neutral, wrt “noncrazy” ideas? “To the extent possible”, of course.
    Whatever your answer, it would need to demonstrate that the moral postulate behind the policy is contestable; Yet what isn’t?

    So thats #1;
    Yet #2 is more intriguing- why would neutrality be a Good Thing, a desirable outcome? I could argue that neutrality is a terrible violation of human dignity and those things which are sacred.

    Again, your answer would require an alternative definition of Good- another moral postulate. Yet you believe that yours somehow is worthy of imposition, while mine isn’t.

    • murali284

      Dude, we’ve gone over this before. There is a difference between saying that X is genuinely good and saying that X provides grounds for making valid claims against others that can legitimately coercively enforced. What is genuinely good translates into something like what final ends people have objective reason to pursue for its own sake. While it may be possible to get at some formal necessary conditions for this, I’m not sure how far they can take us. The question as to what valid claims people can make against us and which can be coercively enforced permits that while there may be some reason to pursued for its own sake, that does not mean that it can base claims people make against one another. Consider the following example. Suppose a person had a conception of the good such that any amount of wealth, even the minimum required for mere survival was evil. Thus according to such a conception of the good, everyone ought to give up all their wealth and starve to death because life in this world is corrupting while life in the next is blessed.

      But, no stable society is possible if everyone accepted such a conception and a conception of the good can only ground a valid claim if some stable society in which everyone accepted such a conception of the good was possible in the first place. None of this means that such a conception of the good is not true. I know of no argument that tells us that we ought to prefer material adequacy to starvation. And I know of no argument that says that we ought to prefer stable societies to annihilation. But if we were to ask what social rules could best govern a well ordered society, any conception of the good which purports to ground such rules must be capable of stably ordering a society.

      Edit: Posted too quickly. That is to say, the question of what can legitimately ground claims against others and what ought to direct our own lives is distinct.

    • martinbrock

      #1: Eliminate “non-crazy” from Kevin’s formulate. States have banned many “crazy” things in the past (like homosexuality), and advocates of liberal neutrality now agree that states should be neutral toward these things. Saying now that these things are not “crazy” is immaterial.

      #2; Morality is a preference. I don’t believe that my preference is worthy of imposition while yours isn’t, but this assertion raises yet another semantic question. What is the meaning of “imposition” in this context?

      If I forcibly prevent you killing someone, then I have imposed a moral prohibition that you do not prefer. How else am I supposed to protect people’s liberty to pursue their preferences?

      Kevin’s position is “liberal neutrality”, not unqualified “neutrality”. Imposing on you an obligation to tolerate other people’s pursuit of their preferences is the “liberal” part, not the “neutral” part. Liberal neutrality does not pretend to be neutral toward personal liberty.

      • reason60

        “Liberal neutrality does not pretend to be neutral toward personal liberty.”
        Yes, exactly. It is assuming some baseline set of moral norms (such as “personal iberty”) which are objectively true, beyond debate.
        In other words, its draping a camouflage net of objective reality over what is nothing more than a subjective moral preference.

        Why not just say instead, that there is a community consensus on moral norms, and we agree to enforce these, even on dissenters?

        • martinbrock

          I do say that they’re objectively true, but they’re beyond debate as far as I’m concerned. They are tenets of faith if you like. I drape no camouflage net of objective morality over anything.

          I don’t say that we enforce moral norms on dissenters. I say that dissenters may respect any moral norms they choose among themselves but may not impose their norms outside of their association.

          To say that liberal neutrality thus enforces a norm on others seems nonsensical. What does it mean not to enforce a norm on others? You’re free of this imposition only if you may force anything you like on anyone, anywhere at any time? Only you may be free of imposition this way. If you are so free, then no one else is free at all.

          • reason60

            Of course we enforce moral norms on dissenters. As you noted, individual liberty is a moral, faith-based postulate. Yet we rigorously enforce this on those who dissent.

            Example- the majority agrees that a certain set of property claims are valid. All competing property claims are ignored.
            But choosing one set of claims over all others is a moral decision.

            Can I dissent and behave to the contrary? No, otherwise men with guns, etc.

            How is this not enforcing a norm on a dissenter?

            Even the most liberal, minimal state possible is founded upon moral norms which are granted exclusive monopoly.

            Note that I am not arguing against this monopoly- I think it is a necessary and appropriate thing to do, within limits.
            I just think we are better off when we call it what it is, instead of pretending otherwise.

          • murali284

            @reason60:disqus , @martinbrock:disqus
            the idea of liberal neutrality is not about being neutral with respect to all values except liberty. It is about being neutral with respect to all values and at most only appealing to neutral values. Liberal neutrality is the thesis that a liberal regime is neutral in that specific sense. It would be disastrous to the concept of neutrality if it question beggingly appealed to some substantive controversial value.
            What would a neutral value look like? Rawls’s project aims at neutrality by looking for conceptions of justice that are stable for the right reasons. That is to say, conceptions of justice which people will find acceptable and which they would be willing to support perpetually. The idea roughly is that any otherwise adequate conception of justice cannot be an adequate conception if it were adequate at time t, but through its own internal operations became inadequately just at some point in the future t+1. If its own evolution leads it to injustice, then there was already something seriously wrong with it at t. Stability in this Rawlsian sense thus requires that principles of justice be adequately and non-accidentally(not necessarily perfectly) acceptable to all.
            Given human propensity to reject sets of social rules that do not allow them to pursue what they see as their fundamental values and interests, the sets of rules which are adequately acceptable to all is sharply limited. It just turns out that non-liberal conceptions do in fact prevent some persons from pursuing what they would see as their fundamental values and interests. Obviously, not everyone’s interests are adequately served, but the conceptions of the good which are not provided adequate space for would not be able to regulate a stable society even if everyone initially accepted those conceptions.

          • reason60

            “…the sets of rules which are adequately acceptable to all is sharply limited.”
            An understatement of staggering proportions!
            Rawls’ argument, as you have paraphrased it, is a good one. As long as one is addressing educated, Western, secular people of a certain culture.
            I’m not sure how it would fare when addressing a member of the other 98% of the world’s population, for whom human chattel slavery, human dignity, individual liberty are all hotly debatable concepts.

            But essentially, it sounds like he is saying that basic rights can be found via consensus agreement.
            If thats correct, then logically that means dissenters are told to STFU. Politely, I am sure, but definitely by men with guns.

          • murali284

            There is a difference between consensus and general acceptability. Consensus implies that that basic rights are everyone’s first best option. That is indeed a tall order. Rather, it is the claim that basic rights are good enough for everyone. The claim, which I think is plausible, is that in any country as long as people are willing to settle with rules that are good enough, but not necessarily perfect from their own point of view, they will find the basic liberties acceptable.

            Edit: Also, in slave societies, clearly the slaves themselves do not accept the system they live in right? That’s why they’re slaves! They have to be forced to work

          • martinbrock

            I don’t agree that consensus implies everyone’s first, best option. Consensus implies that everyone is satisfied with a compromise given an effective choice. Exercising this choice may require disassociating from some people, who don’t share the choice, and associating instead with other people who do share the choice. Exercising the choice may be costly to the person exercising it. That’s unavoidable. Compromise offers benefits, and more compromising people enjoy these benefits.

          • martinbrock

            I don’t agree that consensus implies everyone’s first, best option. Consensus implies that everyone is satisfied with a compromise given an effective choice. Exercising this choice may require disassociating from some people, who don’t share the choice, and associating instead with other people who do share the choice. Exercising the choice may be costly to the person exercising it. That’s unavoidable.

            Compromise offers benefits, and more compromising people enjoy these benefits. Refusing to compromise particular principles can also offer benefits, but refusing to compromise a particular principle compromises the benefits of being more compromising.

            The most compromising Europeans never left Europe for the American frontier. Early European settlers were often religious zealots seeking the freedom to be less compromising. Yearning to be free in this way is difficult for a modern Liberal to grasp.

            I imagine free communities in which some people effectively “enslave” themselves to other people, i.e. the “slaves” surrender practically all independent judgment to other people. A better term for these people is “submissive”, rather than “slave”, because their “enslavement” is a free choice. They do only what they’re told, but no one is forcing them.

          • martinbrock

            @murali284 I agree. I’m not suggesting that liberal neutrality requires everyone, everywhere and always, to respect everyone else’s moral norms, everywhere and always. That’s clearly impossible.

            I don’t agree with Rawls that stability requires principles of justice to be acceptable to all, except insofar as free association is the only principle of justice. I might be perfectly happy in a community in which willing people have any sort of sex they like, anywhere they like, any time they like, including on the sidewalk outside my house on Sunday morning. Other people would find this degree of freedom horrifying. A liberally neutral state must satisfy both of us, but it clearly cannot satisfy both of us at the same place and time.

            I don’t expect any particular conception of the good to regulate all of society, and I don’t worship at the alter of stability either. If enough people want a particular social organization, among themselves, they should have it, even if they all decide that it’s a perfectly awful idea a year later and disband.

            I expect this sort of dynamic experimentation with moral norms in a free society, just as I expect countless, continuously changing brands of beer. In my way of thinking, personal morality is no more fixed and absolute than personal taste in beer. I don’t expect the same degree of stability that I expect in a social organization strictly governed by a powerful centrality authority, and I don’t want this stability.

          • murali284

            I might be perfectly happy in a community in which willing people have any sort of sex they like, anywhere they like, any time they like, including on the sidewalk outside my house on Sunday morning. Other people would find this degree of freedom horrifying. A liberally neutral state must satisfy both of us, but it clearly cannot satisfy both of us at the same place and time.
            But, would you find any other alternative horrifying? Suppose two people share a common space but are unwilling to move away, are there any sets of rules which no one will find horrifying?

          • martinbrock

            No. I would not find a less libertine alternative horrifying, and I accept a much less libertine alternative in reality, but my personal boundaries don’t seem relevant.

            Neighbors may compromise their preferences to enjoy the benefits of a larger, more inclusive community, of course. I expect every free community to involve compromise of this sort; however, if neighbors differ irreconcilably on the permissible behavior within their neighborhood, one of them must move to another neighborhood in order for both to be satisfied. What’s the alternative? Forcing a compromise that only one accepts or even a compromise that neither accepts?

            I don’t expect many people to live in nudist colonies where such colonies are permitted. I wouldn’t live in one myself, but I do want them permitted.

          • murali284

            I really doubt that people living in close proximity to one another are really so different as to have no mutually acceptable set of norms. People usually check out the neighbourhood before they move in. And if you grew up in a neighbourhood, I find it difficult to imagine that one would find the norms unacceptable unless they were genuinely oppressive.

          • martinbrock

            I agree. I don’t expect people often to find themselves in this dilemma in a freer society; however, I do expect people more often to leave one neighborhood for another where the constraints on neighborhood formation are fewer.

            If two or three beer producers monopolize the beer market and produce a much smaller variety of beer than I find in my local Kroger now, I don’t expect many people to commit suicide for want of their favorite beer, but I nonetheless prefer a world in which two or three beer producers monopolize the market.

          • martinbrock

            Again, we use “enforce moral norms” differently. If you are simply isolated from me, so that you may not force your will upon me but may do as you please with others freely associating with you, then my norms are “enforced” upon you in my way of thinking. I rather think that you may not force your norms upon me.

            Again, if space-time separates us so that neither us may affect the other, while we respect divergent and inconsistent moral norms (inconsistent if we were not so separated) in our respective regions, then I would not say that the Universe imposes my moral norms on you just because you can’t violate laws of physics and leap across space-time to impose your norms on me.

            I’m not discussing a realm in which a majority may decide that certain property claims are valid. I don’t want a majority exercising this authority over a minority.

            What you describe is enforcing a norm on dissenters, and I don’t advocate it. Opposition to what you describe is precisely what distinguishes my liberal neutrality from the position of someone advocating anarcho-capitalism universally, for example.

            I do advocate a minimal state, but this state’s only moral norm is free association and some degree of separation of different associations, as much as necessary to avoid conflicts over terms of association.

            If terms of your association require respect for Rothbardian property in the land, while terms of my association require all land to be held in common, then terms of your association and terms of my association clearly cannot govern the same land.

            I do not therefore say that my association imposes terms on your association, just because members of your association may not invade the land governed by my association and impose Rothbardian property rights upon it. If members of your association invade the lands of my association for this purpose, then I do say that you impose your norms.

            I don’t pretend anything here. I’m only trying be very clear about what I advocate.

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