Rights Theory – Bleeding Heart Libertarians http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com Free Markets and Social Justice Wed, 15 Nov 2017 17:16:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.3 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/cropped-site-icon-BHL-32x32.png Rights Theory – Bleeding Heart Libertarians http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com 32 32 22756168 Moral Philosophy Needs a Moral License to Offend http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/04/moral-philosophy-needs-moral-license-offend/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/04/moral-philosophy-needs-moral-license-offend/#comments Mon, 03 Apr 2017 16:55:42 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=11696 Peter Singer and Jeff McMahan, two of the most prominent moral theorists alive, published a column at the New York Times  about the Anna Stubblefield sexual assault case. Among other things, they question whether Stubblefield could really be said to have harmed her victim: A central issue in the trial was whether D.J. is profoundly cognitively impaired, as … … Continue reading

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Peter Singer and Jeff McMahan, two of the most prominent moral theorists alive, published a column at the New York Times  about the Anna Stubblefield sexual assault case. Among other things, they question whether Stubblefield could really be said to have harmed her victim:

A central issue in the trial was whether D.J. is profoundly cognitively impaired, as the prosecution contended and the court seemed to accept, or is competent cognitively but unable to communicate his thoughts without highly skilled assistance, as the defense contended. If we assume that he is profoundly cognitively impaired, we should concede that he cannot understand the normal significance of sexual relations between persons or the meaning and significance of sexual violation. These are, after all, difficult to articulate even for persons of normal cognitive capacity. In that case, he is incapable of giving or withholding informed consent to sexual relations; indeed, he may lack the concept of consent altogether.

On Facebook and elsewhere, I mostly see philosophers react with outrage. Some say Singer and McMahan are monsters, others say that they suffer from outrageous moral stupidity, and still others say that Singer and McMahan are offensively ignorant.

Now, I’m not interested here in debating to what degree Singer and McMahan are right or wrong. Instead, I want to discuss a meta-philosophical issue.

Here’s my thesis: Moral and political philosophy require a license to offend. If we want to do good work, we have to give each other permission to argue on behalf of morally bad or evil things, and (as a corollary) we have to avoid getting outraged by one another. (I think something like that holds true of comedy, by the way.)

Why think that? Well, consider the questions moral philosophy has to ask: What makes something a moral patient, to which one can owe duties? What makes something a moral agent, which owes duties? Do different things have different kinds of standing? What rights do we have and why? When may we violate or trump those rights, if ever? When, if ever, do non-moral concerns trump moral reasons? What makes an action harmful? Why is rape or sexual assault wrong, and can it be less or more wrongful, more or less harmful under different circumstances?

These are difficult questions. One reason they are difficult is–as I think Peter Singer, among others, has shown us–is that most of us have conflicting and contradictory intuitions and judgments about the answers to these questions. If you ask the average person why an adult human has rights but a rock doesn’t, that person will give you answers which imply (even though the person doesn’t intend to say this) that very young children or severely mentally disabled people don’t have rights or only have very weak rights. If you ask the typical person what makes rape harmful, they’ll give you an answer which will imply (even though the person doesn’t intend this) that raping a baby is not as bad as raping a typical adult, etc.

Our commonsense moral judgments are a bit of a mess. Philosophers notice the conflicts, try to sort them out and resolve them, or argue we should eliminate some judgments in favor of others when we can’t resolve the conflicts. But it’s more or less inevitable that in their attempts to answer such questions, they’re going to defend positions which offend other people’s sensibilities. And sometimes, maybe not this case, but at least sometimes in other cases, the problem won’t be with the offending philosophers but with the offended other people.

Philosophy also has the job of critically examining our basic beliefs for granted. Most people have something like a set of metaphysical, epistemological, and axiological beliefs, but philosophy is in part supposed to challenge those beliefs and see if they withstand scrutiny. A great deal of moral progress comes from subjecting such beliefs to scrutiny. But it can also lead to bad results.

We can also learn a great deal from seeing and responding to arguments for things we find offensive. For example, I have students in my PPE course read Mussolini and Gentile’s “The Doctrine of Fascism” as well as sections of Hitler’s My Struggle. They regularly say these are two of the best readings. In particular, many of them are disturbed to discover that accept Hitler’s premises in his argument for why Germany should be able to conquer other lands. (This was especially true among students at Brown; less so at Georgetown)

I don’t want to push hard on the “everything’s offensive to someone” line, but there’s something to it. I joke in the beginning of my manuscript When All Else Fails that the historical purpose of political philosophy has been to rationalize evil. It looks to me like almost every political philosopher through history spends most of his or her time trying to explain why people in power should be held to lower than normal moral standards. Many of my colleagues see themselves as defending the poor and downtrodden, but to me it looks like many of their ideas about economics are simply outside the realm of reasonable debate. I expect that giving many of my colleagues (even the self-described anarchists) the policies they want would lead to gulags, mass starvation, democide, and authoritarian politics. I see many of my colleagues as providing moral cover for rent-seekers. Most democratic theory reads to me like a sixty pages of arcane Dungeons and Dragons bullshit followed by the conclusion that groups of people can violate individuals’ rights at will. When other people in the field are offended, half the time it looks to me like they’re pushing to get themselves and their friends increased status, power, and money.

(They of course disagree.)

If I wanted to, I could be offended all the time. But I’m not.

Imagine writing with the worry in the back of your mind, “If I get this wrong, my colleagues will say I’m evil, ostracize me, and try to get an Internet mob to come after me.” I don’t see much progress being made in an atmosphere like that, and, incidentally, it sure doesn’t seem to me like the departments where people are quick to take offense are the places publishing ground-breaking work.

If we’re going to do moral philosophy, we need to give each other license to defend evil things. Otherwise, the only reasonable alternative is for pretty much everyone other than Chris Freiman, Michael Huemer, Bas van der Vossen, and me to quit, since most of the rest of you keep offering arguments for morally wrong conclusions.

P.S.: I see certain people claiming that Singer and McMahan are only saying stuff like this because they are white men. If you’re going to assert something like that, be scientific about it. For instance, you could collect data on what people think, who they are (their demographics), and then test various cognitive traits (IQ, knowledge, logical aptitude, background in philosophy, or whatever might be relevant). With those three sets of data, you can then statistically determine whether people’s beliefs are explained by their demographics (while controlling for their cognitive traits) or by their cognitive traits (while controlling for demographics). Don’t just assert it.

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Safe Spaces, Snowflakes, and my Man Crush on J. T. Levy http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/03/safe-spaces-snowflakes-man-crush-j-t-levy/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/03/safe-spaces-snowflakes-man-crush-j-t-levy/#comments Fri, 10 Mar 2017 00:41:00 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=11647 I’m sorry Jacob had to find out this way.   But I have to come out:  I was wrong, and Jacob was right. About “safe spaces.” Jacob’s piece was here.

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I’m sorry Jacob had to find out this way.   But I have to come out:  I was wrong, and Jacob was right.

About “safe spaces.”

Jacob’s piece was here.

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Promises and the Right to Resist Injustice http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/03/promises-fiduciary-duties/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/03/promises-fiduciary-duties/#comments Mon, 06 Mar 2017 15:56:42 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=11633 I’ve been working on a project called When All Else Fails: Resistance to State Injustice. The thesis is of the book is simple: We have exactly the same rights of self-defense and defense of others against state injustice that we have against civilians. In the later chapters, I argue this holds true even if you are an … … Continue reading

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I’ve been working on a project called When All Else Fails: Resistance to State Injustice. The thesis is of the book is simple: We have exactly the same rights of self-defense and defense of others against state injustice that we have against civilians. In the later chapters, I argue this holds true even if you are an agent of the government. (For instance, if a democratic president is about to commit an atrocity, his government-appointed bodyguards have the right to shoot him.)

However, one argument for the other side goes roughly as follows:

Government agents promise to follow orders. In virtue of making such promises and voluntarily accepting their roles, they become fiduciaries of the government. Thus, they have duties to perform unjust actions, or, at the very least, they may not sabotage or interfere with certain other government agents who commit injustice.

The problem with arguments like this is that they misunderstand how promises work. They also misunderstand what it means to become a fiduciary.

Suppose I say, “I, Jason Brennan, being of sound mind, promise to obey my frequent co-author Peter Jaworski in all things.” Suppose Peter and I sign a contract—I agree to follow his orders and in exchange, he pays me $10,000 a month. Now, such a contract might indeed obligate me to do some things. If Peter demands I refrain from watching House of Cards, the contract obligates me to follow. But suppose Peter says, “I demand you murder an innocent Syrian child, and, in addition, that you stop feeding your own children.” I have no duty to obey Peter here; on the contrary, my pre-existing duties to avoid killing innocent children and to feed my own children trump my promise.

Now one might believe that promises to governments are different. But unless we have a good argument to that effect, we don’t have any reason to believe it. If I promise to obey the president, and the president then tells me to murder a Syrian child, I don’t acquire a duty to kill the child, and the child’s rights do not disappear. That’s not how rights work. Rights are stringent side constraints held against other people. They do not disappear because you make a complicated promise to someone with a fancy title.

Before you make a promise, there are some actions you are forbidden to do, some you are obligated to do, and others that are morally optional. What promises can do is move some of the optional actions into the forbidden or obligatory categories. But they don’t move actions out of the forbidden or obligatory categories.

The fact that government agents have promised to obey the government does not excuse them when they obey unjust orders, nor does it relieve them of moral culpability for following those orders. This is a misunderstanding of how promises work.

Similar remarks apply to becoming someone’s fiduciary. Suppose I’m a lawyer. I have no obligation to defend a stranger. But when I become that person’s lawyer, I do acquire new obligations to help that person. However, I may not, e.g., threaten to murder the DA’s kids in order to get him to drop charges against my client. A parent cannot bash the knees of the kids on the rival basketball team to helps his kids win. A manager cannot dump toxins in the local park to maximize the profits of his shareholders. Fiduciary duties are like promises–you don’t lose your pre-existing duties in virtue of becoming a fiduciary.

Now, promises can change the moral status of optional actions. Acting in self-defense or in defense of others is often, if not always, optional. Thus, we might ask: can one lose the right to engage in optional self-defense or defense of others in virtue of making a promise to follow orders?

Frankly, that seems implausible. Suppose Batman and Superman are walking down the street. Superman says, “Batman, I’m thinking about retiring. But I know you’d prefer that I keep saving people. So, I propose an exchange. I’ll spend one more year doing heroic deeds, but only if you promise to do something for me right now. Don’t worry—I won’t ask you to do anything you are forbidden to do or required not to do.” Suppose Batman agrees. Then Superman says, “Ha! Gotcha! What I’m going to do right now is murder that kid over there. And, as you agree, according to the correct moral theory, saving that kid from me would have been supererogatory rather than obligatory for you. So, ha ha, now you have a duty not to stop me!” In this case, it doesn’t seem like Batman has acquired a duty not to interfere with Superman. Rather, it seems that Batman’s promise did not relieve him of the right to defend others. Or, if Superman had said he planned to kill Batman instead, it seems permissible for Batman to defend himself, despite his promise.

 

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It’s Not a Thought Experiment Anymore http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/02/not-thought-experiment-anymore/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/02/not-thought-experiment-anymore/#comments Sun, 19 Feb 2017 18:05:20 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=11592 (co-authored with Steve Horwitz) We all know the thought experiment. There are a million versions of it. What do you do if the Nazis show up? Do you hide your Jewish neighbors in your attic? Do you protest in the streets? Do you throw stones at the Nazis’ parades? Do you shoot them on sight? … … Continue reading

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(co-authored with Steve Horwitz)

We all know the thought experiment. There are a million versions of it. What do you do if the Nazis show up? Do you hide your Jewish neighbors in your attic? Do you protest in the streets? Do you throw stones at the Nazis’ parades? Do you shoot them on sight? What are your ethical limits? What are the limits of a civil society?

Is it okay to punch a Nazi?

Classrooms across the US run thought experiments like these, show the movie “The Lesson Plan” about the Third Wave event in Palo Alto, and discuss the Milgram experiment. It’s supposed to prepare our students and ourselves to resist fascism.

We want students to say that the solution here is to engage the Nazis in reasoned debate, to resist them peacefully, and fight fascism by being living examples of civilized society.

Here’s the problem, though.

It’s not a thought experiment anymore. The philosophy classroom is no longer an intellectual version of matchstick poker. The stakes are real.

The attendees of the 2017 International Students for Liberty Conference—still going on as we write this post—no longer have to wonder what they would do if Nazis showed up.

Nazis—at least, one prominent member of the alt-right with neo-Nazi views and a handful of his supporters—showed up at ISFLC17 this weekend. They were invited by a few attendees who belong to a group (The Hoppe Caucus) that is not affiliated with Students for Liberty in any way. They arrived, got a table in the hotel bar, posted a sign that implied they were part of the official conference, and began to try to engage with passersby. It was—as the Hoppe Caucus made clear on their Facebook page—a scheme explicitly concocted in order to cause trouble.

After 30 minutes or so of what one SFL attendee called “fairly boring conversations with a Nazi” some of the SFL students began to get angry and shout. Jeffrey Tucker, who knows better than most how insidious this kind of thinking is within the libertarian movement, arrived, told the Nazi that fascists are not welcome at an anti-fascist conference, and argued with him for a few moments.

The hotel bar, quite justifiably, got tired of the disruption and asked everyone to leave. The neo-Nazi, at his own request, was escorted from the bar.

The news hit Facebook and Twitter, and the post-game analysis began.

While many felt that the situation was handled as well as it could be, others seemed intent on engaging in those familiar thought experiments. Jeffrey Tucker and Students for Liberty were called delicate snowflakes for not wanting to welcome Nazi ideology at a conference dedicated to liberty. People who supported the ejection of the Nazi and his supporters were told they were violating his free speech rights. Tucker was criticized for being visibly angry with the Nazi and for not sitting down and engaging him in reasoned debate. Many claimed that the Nazi got exactly what he wanted. People got angry. He got publicity.

We aren’t going to rehearse, here, the many arguments we have had about what happened and what should have happened.

We just want to say this: “What would you do when the Nazis show up?” is not a thought experiment any more. We never expected, in our lifetimes, to really need to know what to do when Nazis show up to one of our talks or to a conference we were attending. And because—just by chance—we were already on a flight home when all this occurred, we didn’t need to know that this weekend.

But we no longer believe that we won’t have to know. And soon.

And while we still hope that our responses to such a situation will serve as examples of a civil society, we are more resolute than ever in our conviction that believing in a civilized society does not require that one dine with neo-Nazis, white supremacists, or those who believe that ethnic cleansing is anything other than evil. Those who reject the ideas and institutions of a liberal social order are not entitled to being treated by others as if they accept them. Again, we believe it’s wrong to throw the first punch, but there’s no obligation to treat Nazis as reasonable conversation partners.

Today is also the grim anniversary of Executive Order 9066, which created internment camps for Japanese-Americans during WWII. It reminds us that it’s not just Nazis, but sometimes it’s our own government who forces to face these questions.

Do not ask yourself, any longer, “What would I have done?” in that situation. Do not ask yourself “What would I do if a Nazi had shown up?” Do not ask yourself “What would I do if my neighbor was hauled away?”

Ask yourself “What will I do?”

Because, these days, you need to know.

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Hurting Low-Information Voters’ Wittle Feelings http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/01/hurting-low-information-voters-wittle-feelings/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/01/hurting-low-information-voters-wittle-feelings/#comments Thu, 19 Jan 2017 17:56:58 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=11525 Opinion-haver Claire Lehmann calls me out for calling low-information voters low-information: A pernicious term used for those who voted for Trump and Brexit is the “low information voter”. Most likely uneducated, the low information voter doesn’t know much about “the issues”. He votes according to his gut feeling. He sabotages delicate democratic systems with the blunt … … Continue reading

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Opinion-haver Claire Lehmann calls me out for calling low-information voters low-information:

A pernicious term used for those who voted for Trump and Brexit is the “low information voter”. Most likely uneducated, the low information voter doesn’t know much about “the issues”. He votes according to his gut feeling. He sabotages delicate democratic systems with the blunt exercise of his democratic rights.

Bob Geldof calls Brexit voters the “army of stupid”. US philosopher Jason Brennan describes Trump voters as “ignorant, irrational, misinformed, nationalists.”

It’s hard to see what the problem is. It’s just science. We have 65 years of data showing that most voters know almost nothing about politics. A few know quite a bit. Many know less than nothing.

Lehmann has some good worries about high-information voters:

Depending on how you spin it, however, low information people might also be less prone to rationalization and high information people might be more vulnerable to ad hoc hypothesizing. Being high in intelligence or a need for cognition does not automatically indicate that one is high in rationality. Nor does it tell us much about a person’s practical wisdom.

But this isn’t a critique of Ilya Somin or me. For all I know, she learned these points by reading our books. After all, in Against Democracy, I argued high-information citizens are mostly hooligans, (My guess is that Lehmann is a hooligan–she has high information, but she straw mans the people she argues against.)

Does she have an actual criticism? Here’s the most telling bit:

In Brennan’s epistocratic paradise, a twenty-three year old who has recently graduated with a degree in political science and who has passed a civics exam would be more entitled to vote than the Army veteran returning from service in Afghanistan. People with PhDs who call themselves “social scientists” and who use taxpayer funds to write papers on pilates being the embodiment of whiteness and the importance of understanding icebergs from a feminist perspective would have more authority to vote than the common taxpayers who pay their wage.

I think this illustrates what gets Lehmann’s goat. Perhaps Lehmann views the right to vote as a kind of honorific. And she’s right that it is. In most modern societies, people use the right to vote as a kind of public affirmation of who matters and who doesn’t. We load suffrage with all sorts of expressive value. Getting the right to vote is like getting a gold star and a pat on the back. Being denied suffrage is like getting a big fat middle finger in your face. That’s why it seems so sinister to say that an ignorant army vet shouldn’t get the right to vote even though he served in Afghanistan.

But–as I argue in Against Democracy and elsewhere–the reason the rest of you people load up the right to vote with all this symbolic majesty is that you are, to a significant extent, vicious and morally defective. See chapter 5. No mention from Lehmann of my argument there. My guess is she knows her audience won’t know better.

Let’s be clear: Part of my mission is to downgrade the status we attach to politics. I argue for elitism about politics in the same way I argue for elitism about plumbing. The average person knows jack shit about plumbing, but that doesn’t make him an inferior person. Still, the average person’s opinions on plumbing aren’t worth much more than the stuff we flush down the pipes. Same goes for the average person’s opinions on trade policy, immigration policy, and so on. To have a reasonable point of view requires knowledge of particular relevant facts (let alone social scientific knowledge), but we have 65 years of data showing most people lack awareness or are uninformed about even the most basic relevant facts. “It hurts my feelings when you say that!” Sorry, precious, but I ain’t your mommy.

Now perhaps an army vet coming back from Afghanistan is a hero. Let’s suppose he is. His experiences in Afghanistan no doubt taught him many things, but it’s not like they magically imbue him with an understanding of comparative advantage or allow him to estimate the deadweight loss of immigration restrictions. I’ve been in a lot of fistfights (I think I have a 21-1 record, thank you), if not gunfights, and done a lot of camping. I don’t recall learning a single thing from those activities that would help me vote better. Some soldiers serve our country–and, I’d add, so do nurses, motorcycle mechanics, teachers, coffee makers, daycare workers, and hot wings restauranteurs--but we should honor them for the service they did, not pretend they do us a service by voting out of ignorance or misinformation.

Lehmann spends a lot of time complaining about crackpot academic work. So do I! But that’s irrelevant to my thesis, since it’s not like I argued that only and all academics should be allowed to vote. Here’s a tip for Lehmann: When you argue against a person, argue against what they think. But, again, she probably knows better, but knows her readers won’t know better.

On Lehmann’s behalf, I admit there is something indeed mean about saying low-information voters are low-information. As Ruth Sample says, there’s no polite way to say that. But sometimes you have to say impolite things. Here’s a relevant passage from a draft of chapter 5:

To illustrate: my surgeon brother-in-law David correctly believes that he has superior medical judgment to most people. It is not morally wrong for him to have this belief. But that does not mean he should walk around Target, telling everyone meets that he has better medical judgment than they do. This would express arrogance or contempt.

However, there are times when something important is at stake. In such cases, it can become permissible or even mandatory that one publicly judge and express who is superior to others along some dimension. Indeed, democrats seem to agree—most seem to think that when we’re voting for elected officials, we’re supposed to look for the better candidates, those better fit to lead.

For instance, if someone starts choking in front of David during his Target shopping trip, he should not be modest. Someone’s life is at stake. He should declare that he is a doctor—thus expressing that he has superior medical judgment to others and should be charged with helping the choking customer.

Suppose bystander Bob, who has no medical training, says, “Hey, Doctor David, I want to help the choking person too! It’s disrespectful of you to insist you help him. You and I are equals. We should flip a coin to determine who will help. Otherwise you’re hurting my feelings.” In this scenario, Bob acts badly. David should take charge, and Bob should get over himself. Even if Bob sincerely believed he and David are equals, Bob is negligent in holding this belief, and shouldn’t act upon it.

It can be immoral or disrespectful under some conditions to express the view that some have better judgment than others, but in other conditions, it can be permissible or even mandatory. Let us apply this to a political example. Suppose an evil demon said, “I will cast a spell condemning all of you to lower quality government—and thus more unjust wars, bad economic policies that harm the poor, more bigotry, and more poverty and suffering—unless you do a moderately decent job identifying which citizens tend to have better political judgment from others.” In this case, under the demon’s threat, we would have good reason to try to distinguish the more from the less competent. If people feel insulted, it is just too bad, and they need to grow up. The point of distinguishing the more from the less competent is not to insult the incompetent, but to save us from the bad government the evil demon will inflict upon us.

Yet this is more or less the situation epistocrats claim we are in, except that in the real world, the evil demon is democracy.

 

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Intervention and Revolution http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/01/intervention-and-revolution/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/01/intervention-and-revolution/#comments Fri, 13 Jan 2017 23:03:58 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=11510 I’ve been writing lately about war. Bas van der Vossen and I have a volume upcoming at Oxford University Press entitled Debating Humanitarian Intervention. Today I published a post over at the Stockholm Center for the Ethics of War and Peace summarizing my views on the relationship between intervention and revolution, presented in Chapter 3 of … … Continue reading

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I’ve been writing lately about war. Bas van der Vossen and I have a volume upcoming at Oxford University Press entitled Debating Humanitarian Intervention. Today I published a post over at the Stockholm Center for the Ethics of War and Peace summarizing my views on the relationship between intervention and revolution, presented in Chapter 3 of the book. Here’s the link. An excerpt:

It is widely held that violent revolution can be justified to end tyranny. It is equally widely held that foreign intervention is not justified to end tyranny. Intervention is justified, if at all, in a much narrower range of cases – perhaps to halt massacre or genocide, but not to end ‘ordinary’ oppression. On this view, state oppression may be sufficient to furnish internal revolutionaries with a just cause for violence, but simultaneously insufficient to generate a just cause for outside parties to do the same. Can this difference be justified? … I answer in the negative: the just cause for humanitarian intervention is exactly the same as the just cause for revolution, and both are subject to the same principles of proportionality (call this the equivalence thesis.) On my view, there may be cases in which intervention is impermissible while revolution is permissible, but this is simply because, for contingent reasons, the intervention will be disproportionate while the revolution will not. Their differential moral status does not depend on a difference between their respective just causes.

 

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Kant Unbound! http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/11/kant-unbound/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/11/kant-unbound/#comments Thu, 03 Nov 2016 16:42:20 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=11335 I neglected to post about this while it was actually happening, but I just finished participating in a Cato Unbound exchange on Immanuel Kant’s place in classical liberalism – with digressions on, inter alia, Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Rand. My interlocutors were a Kantian and two Randians. Reading it is categorically imperative! Catch … … Continue reading

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I neglected to post about this while it was actually happening, but I just finished participating in a Cato Unbound exchange on Immanuel Kant’s place in classical liberalism – with digressions on, inter alia, Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Rand. My interlocutors were a Kantian and two Randians.

Reading it is categorically imperative! Catch the phenomenal action here.

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Democracy and Freedom http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/09/democracy-and-freedom/ Wed, 14 Sep 2016 13:03:46 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=11129 I have a paper in the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Freedom called “Democracy and Freedom”. It’s available online first here. Abstract: There seems to be an intimate connection between democracy and freedom. But the nature of this connection is disputed. This chapter outlines possible connections between democracy and freedom. First, I show that there is indeed a … … Continue reading

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I have a paper in the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Freedom called “Democracy and Freedom”. It’s available online first here.

Abstract:

There seems to be an intimate connection between democracy and freedom. But the nature of this connection is disputed. This chapter outlines possible connections between democracy and freedom. First, I show that there is indeed a robust positive correlation between democracy and various forms of liberal freedom. Second, the chapter examines and critiques an argument purporting to show that exercising equal political power in a democracy directly enhances citizens’ autonomy by making them authors of the laws. Third, it examines and critiques the argument that republican democracy is essential to enhancing freedom because it prevents citizens from being dominated. It is argued that we should be skeptical of these latter two positions. Empirically, democratic countries tend to be more free. But there is probably no essential connection between democracy and freedom.

 

In other words, as a matter of fact, democracies typically do a better job respecting personal and economic liberty than other extant forms of government. (I discuss some hypotheses about just why that’s so.) But democracy does not in itself supply any interesting forms of freedom.

According to the website, I’ve been demoted to assistant professor, which I take as evidence the IT people disagree.

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Nozick’s Method http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/08/nozicks-method/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/08/nozicks-method/#comments Wed, 31 Aug 2016 14:53:09 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=11067 A great deal of Anarchy, State, and Utopia is meant to respond to left-liberals. Left-liberals think that each person has an extensive set of negative civil liberties, i.e., rights against interference from others in making personal decisions about what to wear, what to worship, what to read, and with whom to associate. But left-liberals think that … … Continue reading

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A great deal of Anarchy, State, and Utopia is meant to respond to left-liberals.

Left-liberals think that each person has an extensive set of negative civil liberties, i.e., rights against interference from others in making personal decisions about what to wear, what to worship, what to read, and with whom to associate. But left-liberals think that the extent of our negative economic liberties should be determined on instrumental grounds, on the basis of whatever turns out, empirically, to produce socially just results. So, suppose it turned out that forbidding Catholicism somehow helped to realize the Difference Principle. Rawls would say that, nevertheless, we must not outlaw Catholicism. But suppose it turns out that forbidding joint-stock companies helped realize the Difference Principle. Rawls would say that’s sufficient reason to outlaw them.

Nozick asks, why treat economic liberty this way? Why think that the economic liberties are outweighed by concerns for social justice, but the civil liberties have priority over these concerns?

One of Rawls’s arguments has to do with the idea of “two moral powers”. I don’t think this argument can be made to work. See chapter 4 of Against Democracy or see the critique starting on p. 105 of this primer on political philosophy.

 

Nozick’s general method in ASU is, first, to list purported reasons that the left offers for downplaying economic liberty, second, to find parallel cases with civil liberties, and third, to ask why the left-liberal’s purported reason to limit economic freedom isn’t also a reason to limit civil freedom. What this reveals, in most cases, is that the left-liberal’s purported argument against economic liberty isn’t doing any real work for him. Rather, the left-liberal has already decided, on some other grounds, that economic freedom is less important that civil liberty.

To illustrate, here’s an excerpt from a draft of the book Bas and I are working on.

….consider the following analogy, which we borrow in modified form from Robert Nozick[i]:

 

Suitors

Suppose Robert and Steve both want to marry Gjertrud. Suppose Gjertrud goes on a date with both men, and decides to pursue a relationship with Robert. She prefers Robert’s better looks and keen intelligence. Suppose this leaves Steve devastated. He feels life is not worth living without Gjertrud’s love. He later dies miserable and alone.

 

Suppose someone suggested that Robert and Gjertrud owe Steve compensation for the harm they’ve done to him. Or suppose someone suggested that Robert or Gjertrud owed it Steve money to get plastic surgery done, or to take classes to improve his intelligence, so that he would find another marriage partner like Gjertrud. Or suppose that Steve insisted Robert get plastic surgery and brain damage to worsen Robert’s looks and cut his intelligence, and thus to give Steve an equal chance of winning Gjertrud’s heart. Or, suppose Steve lobbied his congressperson to prevent Gjertrud from being able to marry Robert, with the hope that Gjertrud will then marry him instead. Most of us would regard such suggestions as absurd or evil, even though Robert in some sense greatly “hurts” Steve by out-competing him, or though Gjertrud breaks Steve’s heart when she picks Robert over him.

  Nozick uses a thought experiment like this to point out something odd about how some left-liberals (and others) think. They often maintain that certain arguments or reasons justify restricting economic liberty, or, at more weakly, forcing those who do better under freedom to compensate those who do worse. For instance, someone on the Left might say, “Allowing competition on the market can hurt competitors, so we should restrict economic freedom or require winners to compensate losers.” But, Nozick points out, none of them would also say, “Allowing competition for friends and lovers can hurt competitors, so we should restrict freedom of association or require winners to compensate losers.”[ii]

This shows that many of the putative arguments the Left gives for restricting economic freedom (or for requiring certain kinds of compensation and transfers) aren’t doing much independent work for them. When a left-liberal invokes the harms of competition as a reason to restrict economic liberty or to require that winners compensate losers, they tend to presuppose rather than prove that economic freedom has a lower moral status than personal or civil liberties. They have already concluded that people are not entitled to economic freedom (or that these entitlements are weak), and so their complaints about competition harming competitors are not doing much work.

UPDATE: Eric Mack told me he presented an objection like this to a famous left-libertarian philosopher, and the philosopher said that, yes, Robert and Gjertrud owe Steve compensation.

[i] Nozick 1974, 237.

[ii] Nozick 1974, 150-9. Cohen 1995. 229-244, takes the bait and wonders about redistributing eyes. Cecile Fabre, Whose Body Is It Anyway? (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), argues for the forced redistribution of eyes and other organs.

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The Page 99 Test: Against Democracy http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/08/the-page-99-test-against-democracy/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/08/the-page-99-test-against-democracy/#comments Wed, 17 Aug 2016 12:05:20 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=10984 “Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.” –Ford Madox Ford The Page 99 Test is a website that has authors post the 99th page of their book, and then comment on how it relates to the book as whole. You can read page … … Continue reading

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“Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.” –Ford Madox Ford

The Page 99 Test is a website that has authors post the 99th page of their book, and then comment on how it relates to the book as whole. You can read page 99 of Against Democracy there today. Page 99 contains part of my argument against Pettit, in which I claim that “stopping domination” arguments gives Pettit and other republicans no special reason to favor democracy over epistocracy.

Excerpt from the commentary:

Your individual right to vote does not stop you from being dominated, simply because your individual right to vote makes no difference. How we vote matters, but how any one of us votes does not. That’s why I say, at the beginning of the quoted passage, that if the rest of us decide to try to dominate you through politics, your right to vote provides you no more protection than a bucket provides against a great flood. Perhaps a better metaphor would be that your right to vote protects you from being dominated no better than a random lottery ticket protects you from dire poverty.

There may be other reasons to favor democracy or to hold that every citizen ought to have an equal right to vote. (I examine and debunk a bunch of these purported reasons elsewhere in the book.) But, my point here is just that republican political theorists have no particular reason to favor democracy over epistocracy. Or, more precisely, their arm-chair, a priori arguments give them no special reason to do so.

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