What I Really Think about Libertarianism

 

My libertarian friends may be surprised to hear this, but my respect for libertarianism has grown quite a lot since my introduction to Ricochet two years ago. Admittedly, my estimation at the time was pretty low. I had lots of libertarian undergraduates, and I also encountered a handful of professors and grad students with broadly libertarian views, so I was well familiar with that “I’m-conservative-but-not-a-moral-nag” snobbery. That bothered me only a little bit. My real reasons for dismissing libertarians were twofold.

First, libertarianism struck me as reactionary in broad sense. It presents itself as a universally applicable theory about the relationship between the individual to the state, but on that score, I found Ayn Rand far less insightful than Thomas Aquinas, Plato or Aristotle. Her influence, I saw, related to more idiosyncratic conditions of her time: the rise of the administrative state. That was, I supposed, a real problem in our time, but in historical terms it was still contingent; not every society has these same problems. As a political theory, then, it seemed to me that libertarianism drew unjustifiably broad principles on the basis of historically distinctive challenges.

Second, libertarianism seemed morally lazy to me. You can see this especially clearly when you watch undergraduates learning ethics. We spend a lot of time working through the ins and outs of an Aristotelian-type virtue ethics. That means we’re discussing lots of detailed questions about what the good life involves and what it takes for human beings to be excellent. Some of the students get into it. Others become irritated by all the nitty-gritty details and also by the general sense that a virtue-based ethics reaches into every nook and cranny of their lives. It has things to say about their dietary and sexual habits, what they read, what they watch on television, and what they do with their friends. Of course we’re only talking about ethics here and not politics; nobody’s suggesting that we hire virtue police to ensure that everyone behaves well. But even on that score, some people yearn to escape from all the complication, and to find some area of life where the only ethical mandate is, “do whatever you want just as long as you’re not bothering anybody.”

Then we get to modern moral philosophy, and you can watch the relief spreading over their faces. We knew it didn’t have to be that complicated! Being good can’t possibly require us to wrangle with all those messy details! This is the appeal of utilitarianism, for example. If you want to know what to do, just add up the relevant pleasures and pains associated with the various alternatives, and see what makes people happier. There’s no need for all this complicated stuff about virtues and human nature and detailed analyses of the common good. And on an individual level, the fact that an activity makes you happy is a good enough reason to do it, provided of course that it doesn’t make someone else sad.

Libertarianism is not explicitly an ethical theory, but for many it has a similar sort of appeal. It dispenses with troubling moral and political questions by pushing them all under the convenient heading of “not the state’s business.” Undergraduates love this. It gives them that air-clearing feeling that they’re craving after wandering through the intricacies of Aristotelian moral theory. It feels to them like that scene in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and friends come out of the woods and look out over shining fields of poppies. Free at last!

Like the poppies, though, this shining simplicity is deceptive. One way to realize this is by reflecting on the complexity of the concept of “freedom”. From what do we need to be free? For what do we want to be free? When humans live together in society, one person’s exercise of freedom can obviously impinge on another’s in a wide variety of ways. My neighbor blasts his music at top volume, and I can’t sleep. Another family up the street starts feeding the squirrels and before I know it my porch pumpkins have fallen victim to the little monsters as well. Advertisers want to put up pornographic billboards, but then I’ll have to drive by them every time I grocery shop. My state legalizes pot, and now I don’t like going to the local park because I don’t want my kids running through clouds of sweet-smelling smoke.

Now, I said that my respect for libertarians has increased. That’s true. Some of them have arguments far more sophisticated I had encountered before, and some are extremely interested in promoting the good through private means. They persuaded me to take the problem of administrative bloat far more seriously. Their relentless focus on size-of-state questions has led them to some very astute insights on the nature of the technocratic state, and they make excellent watchdogs (or gadflies?) against the constant temptation to take advantage of administrative bloat. But in the end, I think my two original criticisms still stand. They’re enormously clever about suggesting ways for us to accomplish communal projects without the help of the state. That can be quite useful in its way. But they’re still elevating a theory of government beyond its contextual importance. And they still provide a large haven for the morally lazy at precisely the time when we need to be morally energetic.

Advances in science and technology have massively increased the state’s power to rule us in every minute detail of our lives. It’s also increased our ability to hector and impede one another. Advances in technology allow us to spy on one another every minute, to redistribute wealth on a massive scale without sending a tax collector door to door, and to manipulate life (plant, animal, human) on a very fundamental level. We’re wrestling now with new and sometimes terrifying questions about justice and obligation and what kind of society we want to build. Libertarianism seems like something of a haven in this storm, because its prescriptions seem so fundamental and principled, and because it doesn’t demand consensus on most of these challenging questions. It seems like a good out.

But ultimately, that’s just a dodge. Small-state principles can’t save us from working through these issues. Suppose we could achieve political victory on a “morality-free” limited-government platform, legalizing drugs and prostitution and abandoning any efforts to recognize traditional marriage or protect the unborn. None of that would deconstruct the technocratic state. Meanwhile, social breakdown would continue apace, and eventually (probably rather soon) people would cry out for government to step up its efforts to save them from themselves. We’d end up with more statism than ever. But actually, I’m not even very worried about that, because I don’t think such a platform has any chance of winning the country back in any case. If we want to win America back, we have to show real insight into the problems they’re actually facing right now. Americans think that the GOP has failed to understand or “care about” them, and to some extent they’re right. We haven’t given them any good answers to the deep social and spiritual problems that have arisen in our modernist, technocratic, democratic state.

We need to return to core principles, but not Ayn Rand’s. She doesn’t have the insights we need at this juncture. Plato and Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas all reflected on a much more sophisticated level on the relationship between humans and their neighbors and their communities and the state. That is the level of complex, careful analysis that we need to diagnose and respond to these intense challenges. And insofar as I’m hard on libertarians, it’s not because I think they have nothing useful to contribute to this effort. They do have things to contribute. But often I see conservatism’s relentless focus on small-state advocacy as something of an obstacle to the kind of conversations we really need to be having right now. That’s not because I doubt that we need to shrink the state. It’s because I don’t think we can do it without answering the bigger questions about human excellence and human community, family, life, and the complex relationship between political freedom and virtue. And regrettably, libertarians frequently use their small-state principles as a kind of excuse to avoid those conversations.

Mike H asked yesterday: what do social conservatives want? I would answer: human excellence, happiness, virtue and a thriving society. Those are my highest goals. And while I do have some interest in the thriving of the state, that’s only about the eighth or ninth question on my list of concerns. 

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  1. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    To those who distrust the democratic process to produce moral outcomes, I would quote Jefferson:

    “Men by their constitutions are naturally divided into two parties: 1. Those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes. 2. Those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe, although not the most wise depositary of the public interests. In every country these two parties exist, and in every one where they are free to think, speak, and write, they will declare themselves. Call them, therefore, Liberals and Serviles, Jacobins and Ultras, Whigs and Tories, Republicans and Federalists, Aristocrats and Democrats, or by whatever name you please, they are the same parties still and pursue the same object. The last one of Aristocrats and Democrats is the true one expressing the essence of all.”

    – Thomas Jefferson (Letter to Henry Lee, 1824)

    It seems to me that libertarians have the utmost faith in the morality of the people.  Faith enough to let them make their own decisions.  The elites (self-declared elites) lack that faith.

    • #61
  2. user_86050 Inactive
    user_86050
    @KCMulville

    Dan Hanson:

    The market is not and should not be a moral system. That’s not what it’s for. The market is the way we organize our economic lives to maximize our productive efficiency and maximize our economic choices. It will be exactly as moral as the morality of the people engaging in those transactions. Changing those morals are what churches and colleges and public debates are for.

    That’s right. By itself, a market is only a means to an end. It’s the most democratic and efficient means we have, but it is still only a means. 

    Therefore, if you want a “moral” society, you have to do more than maintain the means; you also have to pay attention to the ends. Having a democratic system is only half the battle.

    • #62
  3. user_86050 Inactive
    user_86050
    @KCMulville

    Dan Hanson:

    An ethical system is an emergent social construct, like language. 

     Here’s where libertarians and SoCons are going to part company. 

    The Hayek type of “libertarian” (like most other types) argues that we must let the decision process play out, using a market, to see what people actually decide. But the fact that it was freely chosen doesn’t make the result moral. 

    When you say that morality is an emerging social construct, like language, you’ve made an important moral claim. You’re saying that the process creates morality. In essence, you’re saying that the result of market choices is, by definition, moral. Morality is whatever the majority has chosen. 

    Obviously, for people who hold traditional values, that formula won’t work. We hold these values because we believe them to be moral; it’s not that we consider them moral because we hold them. 

    To argue that morality is whatever the market chooses is to equate choice with morality. It’s  to say that something is good because we wanted it. But that flies in the face of appreciating human sinfulness and weakness … no, we don’t always want the good. 

    • #63
  4. robertm7575@gmail.com Inactive
    robertm7575@gmail.com
    @RobertMcReynolds

    Here is where I depart from Libertarianism (or “l”ibertarianism just to cover that base as well), when discussing matters in terms of the system we have here in the US.  I agree with them on principle that the Federal government ought not be legislating laws forbidding, say, drinking or prostitution.  However, in our system that does not forbid the people of a town, city, county, or state from doing so.  It is actually what makes our chaotic system of government so compatible with society no matter the era.  But our Libertarian friends see this as an affront to absolute freedom and simply the use of the state by Christians to curtail personal behavior they don’t like.

    Like you said it is a cop out.  Libertarianism fails to take into account the idea that some people will desire some rules imposed by the government on society that curtail vice.  Libertarians, in their quest to achieve absolute freedom, fail to think that those who wish to police vice are also pursuing their own version of absolute freedom by setting moral boundaries.  And, in our system, if you wish to find a place allowing vice, then you can move.

    • #64
  5. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    Things I agree with:

    • Academics can be smug
    • Undergraduates are lazy
    • There are more insights in Plato, Aristotle and Aquinas than in Rand
    • It is meaningless to divorce the political from the moral

    I do not agree that we have to have solved or worked through “the complex relationship between political freedom and virtue” before we can take real and meaningful steps towards a state much smaller and less intrusive than we have today.

    Indeed, I am prepared to say that until we have demolished the administrative welfare state we can never answer that question in a moral way, let alone “the bigger questions about human excellence and human community, family, [and] life”. Because the administrative welfare state has already supplied and imposed its own answers to those questions, answers which are in opposition to the faith traditions of many of us.

    How to demolish the administrative welfare state is the pressing and urgent moral question of our time. Using the excuse of being interested primarily in “virtue” rather than politics might allow one to sidestep conversations about this question, but the world and the state presses in, regardless. The state we have today, and its relentless trajectory, is not “value[s] neutral”.

    • #65
  6. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    Robert McReynolds:

    Like you said it is a cop out. Libertarianism fails to take into account the idea that some people will desire some rules imposed by the government on society that curtail vice. Libertarians, in their quest to achieve absolute freedom, fail to think that those who wish to police vice are also pursuing their own version of absolute freedom by setting moral boundaries. And, in our system, if you wish to find a place allowing vice, then you can move.

     Robert,  Would you concede that there is something fundamentally different in having the freedom to act consistently with your own values, versus having the “freedom” to force other people to act consistently with your values?  (Keeping in mind, if you would please, that any system which gives you the freedom to force your values on other people will also have the potential for other people to force their values on you, no matter how distasteful you find those values to be.)

    • #66
  7. user_75648 Thatcher
    user_75648
    @JohnHendrix

    Thank you for an excellent, thoughtful post.

    • #67
  8. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    Great stuff as always, KC. And Robert, too. 

    Larry, I do place a high value on the freedom to act with integrity. That’s something that should be factored into our democratic decision-making process. But not every choice expresses something morally important (and positive) about the individual. I don’t think anybody has morally serious reasons for needing to visit prostitutes, for example. And even if you claim to hold people morally responsible for the things they do, you need to recognize realistically that bad choices generally affect lots of people who are not morally responsible for them.

    In that vein, I don’t see any reason why the democratic process can’t be used to regulate or ban certain vicious things. I agree that it’s usually better if regulation of, say, prostitution, happens on a more local level, where individuals have more power to influence the laws that influence them. With drugs that can be hard to do given supply issues etc. But if I and 90% of the people in my down want to use local law to prevent a brothel from opening in our town (not only because we’re snooty and moralistic, but also because we don’t like the sort of people it attracts, and we don’t want our sons tempted, and we don’t think it affects the culture in a healthy way when that sort of degrading, misogynistic activity is permitted in our community), I think that’s perfectly proper. 

    As I already mentioned, people’s bad choices almost always affect others besides themselves, so that’s one good reason for regulating some sorts of vice. Also, although it’s true that true virtue requires moral freedom, it’s also true that good habituation is necessary to virtue, and that depends to some extent on having a healthy culture. The virtuous man doesn’t need a law to tell him not to do meth or visit prostitutes. But on an earlier point in the path, before he’s developed proper discipline, he might be tempted by those vices, and that might derail his moral development well before he has the opportunity to be virtuous.

    So if I opine that I’d rather not have pot candy for sale in the fast station where my teenaged kids buy their snacks, that doesn’t prove that I misunderstand the nature of virtue. I just have a more realistic understanding of the process of moral development.

    • #68
  9. liberal jim Inactive
    liberal jim
    @liberaljim

    A dozen or so years ago I read a book by, Gertrude Himmelfarb titled, The De-morilization of Society, and if I remember correctly I found myself in almost complete agreement with her.  I have not read much of what you have written, but do not think a this point, that I would say the same thing about you.  Could you enlighten me?  You didn’t really expect that a bunch of young, fun loving, horny college students would not grasp on to something that provided justification for their current choices, that hopefully, latter on in life they would view as mistakes?

    • #69
  10. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    genferei:

    Indeed, I am prepared to say that until we have demolished the administrative welfare state we can never answer that question in a moral way, let alone “the bigger questions about human excellence and human community, family, [and] life”. Because the administrative welfare state has already supplied and imposed its own answers to those questions, answers which are in opposition to the faith traditions of many of us.

    How to demolish the administrative welfare state is the pressing and urgent moral question of our time. Using the excuse of being interested primarily in “virtue” rather than politics might allow one to sidestep conversations about this question, but the world and the state presses in, regardless. The state we have today, and its relentless trajectory, is not “value[s] neutral”.

     As you say, the administrative state already supplies a kind of “answer” to many of these deep questions. That’s why I don’t think we can destroy it until we can offer a better, truer answer. The problem with dependency is that it makes people, well, dependent. If you just tell them, “be independent!” they will probably tell you, “no!” And the uncommitted middle will just think you’re being mean.

    I think we have to be armed with a better, truer, more ennobling vision before we will have the opportunity to dismantle the administrative state.

    • #70
  11. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    Larry3435:

    To those who distrust the democratic process to produce moral outcomes, I would quote Jefferson:

    “Men by their constitutions are naturally divided into two parties: 1. Those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes. 2. Those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe, although not the most wise depositary of the public interests. In every country these two parties exist, and in every one where they are free to think, speak, and write, they will declare themselves. Call them, therefore, Liberals and Serviles, Jacobins and Ultras, Whigs and Tories, Republicans and Federalists, Aristocrats and Democrats, or by whatever name you please, they are the same parties still and pursue the same object. The last one of Aristocrats and Democrats is the true one expressing the essence of all.”

    – Thomas Jefferson (Letter to Henry Lee, 1824)

    It seems to me that libertarians have the utmost faith in the morality of the people. Faith enough to let them make their own decisions. The elites (self-declared elites) lack that faith.

     I just reject the dichotomy. The upper classes aren’t necessarily morally better or more trustworthy than the people as a whole, but neither can we trust the common people to be good, especially in a state where they are morally malformed by a degraded culture. Too much centralized power is problematic, obviously, but maximizing individual autonomy is no sure ticket to a healthy culture or state. Quite the contrary.

    • #71
  12. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    The thing about Utopians, whether they be Marxists or traditionalist social conservatives, is that they always see a vision of a wonderful, wonderful world that would exist if only everyone else could see it too. If only everyone else recognized the Truth that they can see so clearly. If only…

    So they start with re-education. Teach people the Truth. And when people don’t want to be taught, then the coercion starts creeping in. This is regrettable, and the Utopian will tell you so, but we just can’t have these non-believers messing up Utopia for the rest of us. And then the unbelievers rebel, so you need more coercion. And more. And if you follow that road to the end, you wind up with Gulags or the Inquisition.

    I’m not much of a believer in natural law, but if there is a natural law then this is it:  The world is full of differences. People of good faith are going to disagree with you. And if your Utopian vision requires them to believe as you do, or at least behave as if they did, then your good intentions are just paving the road to hell.

    • #72
  13. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Rachel Lu:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Also, no one looks good compared to Plato and Aristotle. For all their limitations and failings — and they had many — those two were unparalleled geniuses.

    They were geniuses. But why does that make them moral authorities? Seriously.

    Why shouldn’t the pagan philosophers be a lower priority?

    But of course, Christian philosophy is suffused with Plato and Aristotle, all through.

    Sure. So why doesn’t the ordinary Christian get enough Plato and Aristotle through reading Christian philosophy? 

    Newton’s Principia is “justly regarded as one of the most important works in the history of science”, yet as a teaching tool for basic classical mechanics, it has been superseded. Now, maybe you can blame this on the greed of the lucrative textbook industry. But also maybe doing problem sets out of a decent textbook teaches you the basics better than reading the Principia.

    At any rate, the genius of Newton lives on and has even been improved upon in later physics writing. Why couldn’t something similar have happened with moral philosophy?

    You point out (and I agree) that morality is a skill. Must we read Plato and Aristotle to master that skill?

    • #73
  14. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Tuck: If you think there’s a “market failure”, it simply means that your expectations are out of sync with reality, not that the market has failed. 

    Sorry Tuck. Markets can fail. There are cases where what people would value highly and pay for will not get created, it’s just in the vast majority of cases, government makes things worse, not better. And on net, the existence of the type of government we have means they are going to make many more things worse than they make better, no matter how much sheer will some of us have.

    • #74
  15. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Rachel Lu:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    You keep on talking about this substantive notion of human good. But what is it, exactly?

    I don’t ask because I believe I have no notion of it… but because I want to know what you think the rest of us are missing.

    OK, so here are some examples…

    I think the deliberate, serious self-impairment of human rationality (as an end, not an unintended consequence) is wrong. So, I think drunkenness is a vice, and some hard drugs probably cannot be used ethically.

    On the other hand, the guys in Plato’s Symposium apparently thought it was  necessary  to get drunk in order to discuss certain philosophical matters, yet one more reason to question Plato’s commitment to virtue ;-)

    Are there examples you can give that aren’t drugs, marriage, or surrogacy? It might be more constructive to focus on areas of potential agreement than known disagreement.

    You said in the OP that “[virtue-based ethics] has things to say about their dietary… habits, what they read… and what they do with their friends.” OK, so how do virtue ethics influence diet, reading material, or activities with friends? Maybe start with diet?

    • #75
  16. user_385039 Inactive
    user_385039
    @donaldtodd

    FloppyDisk90: #6 “So-Cons are more than willing to commit ritual seppuku over religious freedom on issues like SSM or abortion.”

    Seppuku is ritual suicide.  Interesting idea.  We abort our future and call it suicide.   Of course it is not the children who are being aborted who are committing suicide, it is the people who kill those children.

    Marriage has had a meaning for millennia and it did not involve homosexual practice.  Oh brave new world that has such people in it; and also has cheerleaders (libertarians) urging it on.

    • #76
  17. user_385039 Inactive
    user_385039
    @donaldtodd

    Mike H: #11 “I believe intuition, observation, and “common sense morality” leads humans to discover objective moral truth. Generally accepted morality has been improving over time, which is evident as more people eventually understand things like slavery and unequal rights for men and women are morally wrong. We will continue to improve our morality in time and even current common sense morality, when applied consistently, leads to libertarian conclusions.”

    Might I suggest a good history book?  We’ve improved scientifically, technologically, in our understanding of chemistry, biology, and physics; however our appreciation for the value of human beings has been suspect all along.  Cain killed Abel and the US has between 55,000,000 and 60,000,000 million dead children.  It would appear that “we will continue to improve our morality in time” has met the same response as other attempts to live up to the just demands of the moral law.  We don’t offer God much of anything.  We still kill.  We still steal.  We still hold marriage in contempt.  We still envy the Jones for their possessions.  Whether it is the Decalogue or your libertarian assumption we don’t seem to be gaining ground morally.

    • #77
  18. Gödel's Ghost Inactive
    Gödel's Ghost
    @GreatGhostofGodel

    Include me among those not knowing where to start with a post from one of the more sympathetic SoCons who thinks Ayn Rand even was a libertarian, let alone can be used as a touchstone definition of a libertarian! Oy.

    OK. Here are some homework assignments.

    Libertarianism: A Primer
    Radicals for Capitalism
    For a New Liberty
    Anarchy, State, and Utopia
    The Libertarian Idea

    As others have also asked: what of Rothbard have you read? Hayek? de Soto? Hülsmann?

    For what it’s worth, neither of your criticisms of “libertarianism” get anywhere near the mark. Unfortunately, since your only sources for them seem to be Ayn Rand and undergraduate intuition, this isn’t surprising!

    • #78
  19. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    KC Mulville:

    Dan Hanson: An ethical system is an emergent social construct, like language.

    When you say that morality is an emerging social construct, like language, you’ve made an important moral claim. You’re saying that the process creates morality… you’re saying that the result of market choices is, by definition, moral. Morality is whatever the majority has chosen.

    OK, not quite the majority (that’s not how markets work), but…

    I don’t see why there has to be a contradiction between the observation that people develop ethical systems as they interact and the intuition that there is some objective moral truth. After all, ethical systems could be better or worse, depending on how close they get to that truth.

    That is, ethical systems are emergent human creations, like language, but rather than creating virtue, they reflect its reality. Dimly, of course, “For now we see in a mirror dimly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

    The line between good and evil runs through every human heart. Perhaps the only feasible way to get good emergent ethics is to convert individual hearts.

    • #79
  20. Gödel's Ghost Inactive
    Gödel's Ghost
    @GreatGhostofGodel

    KC Mulville:

    Dan Hanson:

    Here’s where libertarians and SoCons are going to part company.

    The Hayek type of “libertarian” (like most other types) argues that we must let the decision process play out, using a market, to see what people actually decide. But the fact that it was freely chosen doesn’t make the result moral.

    When you say that morality is an emerging social construct, like language, you’ve made an important moral claim. You’re saying that the process creates morality. In essence, you’re saying that the result of market choices is, by definition, moral. Morality is whatever the majority has chosen.

     Actually, this Hayekian Libertarian claims no such thing: my faith community absolutely makes moral and ethical claims on me that are unsupported by the culture at large, and I certainly don’t accept them due to any kind of majority vote. However, they do indeed remain “an emergent social construct.” It’s just that the “emergent” has happened over millennia, the “society” is the global Christian community, and the “construct” is the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod (in my and Mollie Hemingway’s case).

    • #80
  21. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    Rachel Lu: the administrative state already supplies a kind of “answer” to many of these deep questions. That’s why I don’t think we can destroy it until we can offer a better, truer answer.

    But what if the answers supplied by the administrative state to the question of “human excellence” is that it is purely instrumental, to “human community” is that it shall be expressed only through the state, to “family” that it must be suppressed as inimical to ‘true’ i.e. state-centered, community, to “life” that it is only one item to weigh in a utilitarian balance and to “the complex relationship between political freedom and virtue” is that both political freedom and virtue are bourgeois shibboleths to be overcome? Surely anything — even anarchy — is better than that?

    • #81
  22. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    Rachel Lu: The problem with dependency is that it makes people, well, dependent. If you just tell them, “be independent!” they will probably tell you, “no!” And the uncommitted middle will just think you’re being mean.

    I agree that “you need to give up your dependence” is not an easy sell. However, I think “hey guys! after 3000 years of trying we’ve finally got the perfect moral system worked out!” is an even harder one. Particularly post-Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Taliban and ISIS.

    • #82
  23. user_86050 Inactive
    user_86050
    @KCMulville

    Gödel’s Ghost: Actually, this Hayekian Libertarian claims no such thing: my faith community absolutely makes moral and ethical claims on me that are unsupported by the culture at large, and I certainly don’t accept them due to any kind of majority vote. 

    Yes, but at that point, your church isn’t working as a market system … that is, your belief system isn’t based on what individuals choose for themselves, according to their desires. The belief- and ethical- systems that flow from faiths are considered true, not just because believers freely chose to support them, but because the believers are convinced that they represent a set of real-world, objective facts. 

    In other words, there’s something more (an objective component, i.e., reality) involved, beyond the mere fact that the believers chose it freely. 

    When Hayek analyzes a group decision process, he only asks whether the choices were made freely or under coercion. As for the object of the choice, Hayek was notoriously indifferent.

    • #83
  24. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    KC Mulville:

    Gödel’s Ghost:

    Yes, but at that point, your church isn’t working as a market system … that is, your belief system isn’t based on what individuals choose for themselves, according to their desires. The belief- and ethical- systems that flow from faiths are considered true, not just because believers freely chose to support them, but because the believers are convinced that they represent a set of real-world, objective facts.

    Similar things happen in markets all the time, though.

    Individual actors in a market don’t just choose for themselves according to their desires, but make their choices in light of the constraints the real world imposes on them. A lot of information about the real world ends up being built into a price signal.

    For example, information about natural disasters, such as crop failure and flash floods, often shows up in price-signals. You typically don’t get very far in a market by choosing to believe that your crop hasn’t failed when it has or that the bridge you rely on hasn’t been taken out by the flash flood that destroyed it yesterday.

    • #84
  25. Owen Findy Member
    Owen Findy
    @OwenFindy

    Larry3435: I’m not much of a believer in natural law

    A tangent re natural law:  have you read Randy Barnett’s intro to his The Structure of Liberty (which seems to be here:  http://www.bu.edu/rbarnett/Guide.htm)?

    That’s the extent of what I’ve read about it, and maybe you’ve studied it more, but it makes sense to me.

    (Very good comment, by the way…)

    • #85
  26. user_86050 Inactive
    user_86050
    @KCMulville

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    I don’t see why there has to be a contradiction between the observation that people develop ethical systems as they interact and the intuition that there is some objective moral truth. 

     Because you can’t put the cart before the horse.

    If there is an objective moral good, then it must exist before people interact. Indeed, it becomes the reason why we interact in the first place. People do create emergent systems, but the point under debate here is whether the moral good exists before the systems starts, or whether the moral good is a consequence of the system.

    Suppose I think that prostitution is morally wrong, and then we have a vote. The vote is utterly free, and yet we vote to legalize prostitution. Does that mean that I should change my mind and declare prostitution moral? By that same logic, if I am convicted of a crime I didn’t commit, then am I expected to say to myself, “gee, I guess I’m guilty after all?”

    No, because the results of the process don’t determine the objective reality. 

    • #86
  27. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    KC Mulville:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Because you can’t put the cart before the horse.

    If there is an objective moral good, then it must exist before people interact. Indeed, it becomes the reason why we interact in the first place. People do create emergent systems, but the point under debate here is whether the moral good exists before the systems starts, or whether the moral good is a consequence of the system.

    But people interacting help each other discover (or rather, more closely approximate) the truth in all branches of knowledge. Why should an observation so uncontroversial when applied to any other branch of human knowledge be considered evil when applied to morality?

    Even church doctrine has emerged over time through human interactions. Apparently, even when God Himself comes down to earth, He ends up relying on later human interactions to discover in greater depth who He is.

    The earliest Christians didn’t have an explicit formulation of the Trinity, for example, or of a lot of the stuff listed in the Nicene Creed. Instead, they had to cooperate with one another until truth emerged. The Holy Spirit’s guidance didn’t absolve them from the necessity of cooperation.

    • #87
  28. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Even church doctrine has emerged over time through human interactions. Apparently, even when God Himself comes down to earth, He ends up relying on later human interactions to discover in greater depth who He is.

    Hmm… I was short on words and wrote an ambiguous sentence here. Obviously God doesn’t rely on later human interactions  for Him  to discover who He is, but he does rely on those interactions  for humans  to discover in greater depth who He is.

    • #88
  29. Gödel's Ghost Inactive
    Gödel's Ghost
    @GreatGhostofGodel

    KC Mulville:

    Gödel’s Ghost:

    Yes, but at that point, your church isn’t working as a market system … that is, your belief system isn’t based on what individuals choose for themselves, according to their desires…

     I would argue that this is a misapprehension of how markets function. Markets are the most efficient known information-aggregation mechanism. This is, of course, seen most explicitly in prediction markets, but prediction markets are just a generalized market structure. All markets work that way. Read Robin Hanson and David Pennock for more details.

    In other words, there’s something more (an objective component, i.e., reality) involved, beyond the mere fact that the believers chose it freely.

     As there is in any market.


    When Hayek analyzes a group decision process, he only asks whether the choices were made freely or under coercion. As for the object of the choice, Hayek was notoriously indifferent.

     He was far from indifferent. However, he was adamant about avoiding the pretense of knowledge problem as an economist. Recall, also, that Hayek had first-hand knowledge of those who “know what’s best for society” being in charge. ;-)

    • #89
  30. user_86050 Inactive
    user_86050
    @KCMulville

    Midget Faded RattlesnakeBut people interacting help each other discover (or rather, more closely approximate) the truth in all branches of knowledge. 

     Well, we’re kind of in the weeds now, and we should be careful of the distinctions. 

    There’s a difference between a system that’s trying to reach a specific goal (and hits or misses it) versus a system that doesn’t really have a pre-set goal. A market-system is really the latter. It’s usefulness is precisely because the results aren’t pre-set, and therefore it works without any bias or coercion. And that’s great, but as soon as you say that it has no set goal, you can’t go back and say that the goal of it was morality. A pure market doesn’t have any goals – and that includes morality.

    A market system works best with the economy, and probably politics …but there are other dimensions of society beyond economics and politics. If we restrict libertarian principles to economics and politics, libertarian freedom works wonders. But we can’t make every system in society follow libertarian principles. It has its limits as a society-wide principle.

    • #90
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