You can't get to there from here! Saturday, February 09, 2008A recent comment on an older post is one in one sense similar to nearly every critique of libertarianism. Our commenter writes,
"Actually, the drug issue is only one reason I, personally, am instinctively averse to full-throated libertarianism.I won't address the straw man here. The more egregious error is one often made even by libertarianism's more astute critics. For example, Ezra Klein has recently written that
I'm naturally leery of any utopian screed, no matter whether they get there by leftist or rightist methods.
The libertarian open-borders policy, it's pro-drug stance, and most telling, the fact that every libertarian whose work I have read dreams openly of a world where all religion, but especially Christianity, is neutered and socially toothless, are more than enough to raise a stink."
"[Libertarians think] individuals are a whole lot more rational and economically capable than I do. I think folks, in many circumstances, need a bit more help, and that, as beings fairly aware of our own irrationality, lapses in long-term attention, and assorted other deficits and shortcomings, we often smartly conclude that the whole is stronger and wiser than the one, and build communal institutions that sacrifice some autonomy but create structures better fitted to the messy and occasionally disappointing ways in which we actually engage the world."Again, I'll leave off whether or not this is an apt characterization of libertarians.
This point I want to make is a different one: Libertarianism is generally a position on the use of coercion and specifically a position on the use of coercion by people in governments. In order to for a critical argument to reach a conclusion contrary to the libertarian position on coercion, that argument needs to involve some premise concerning the use of coercion. If that argument is to reach a conclusion about coercion by people in governments, it needs also to involve a premise concerning people in governments.
Now I doubt that Ezra Klein or RHJunior would support all forms of coercion regardless of who is doing the coercing to whom. Surely, they don't believe their views about moral theology or behavioral deviations from utility maximization imply that I should be free to coerce them! Presumably, they only favor coercion of people outside of the governemnt when it is committed by people in the government. In order to show why their view is superior to libertarianism, they need to show why this special case is so special as they claim.
Question for discussion: How would one show that coercion by governments and only coercion by governments is acceptable without simply assuming it from the get go?
- At Sat Feb 09, 08:11:00 PM EST, TAYLOR said...
Answer: Rely on some concept of "it just takes the right people," and the belief that the people in government somehow know more than other people/can make objective value determinations.
That's one way it's argued, anyway.
- At Mon Feb 11, 09:28:00 PM EST, James said...
I think even the folks who hold the "right people" viewpoint don't actually believe that coercion by their preferred right people is acceptable just because it's done by the right people. Their view is that it would be nice if coercion were done by the right people, but the coercion is acceptable because it is done by government.
For example: Even left wing statists will grant that taxation by a right wing congress is acceptable, even though they surely don't think the people in the right wing congress are the right people. And they probably wouldn't think it acceptable for unelected "right people" to coerce privately. It has to be done by a government.
- At Mon Feb 11, 09:30:00 PM EST, TAYLOR said...
You took a more nuanced form of my argument and bashed me back with it, and for that I applaud you... but didn't you just essentially agree with me, also? Aren't government agents "the right people" in this case?
- At Mon Feb 11, 09:38:00 PM EST, James said...
I think one might see it as an open question as to whether or not the right people happen to be those in the government.
Definitely, a devoted statist could say that whatever people happen to be in the government are the right people simply because they are in the government. But I think the people who would go to the trouble of trying to justify government coercion would probably not claim this.
- At Mon Feb 11, 09:49:00 PM EST, TAYLOR said...
Yeah, I see what you mean.