Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The road from libertarianism

I have pretty much always been conservative.  For about a decade -- from the early 90s to the early 00s -- I was also a libertarian.  That is to say, I was a “fusionist”: someone who combines a conservative moral and social philosophy with a libertarian political philosophy.  Occasionally I am asked how I came to abandon libertarianism.  Having said something recently about how I came to reject atheism, I might as well say something about the other transition.

The claim to have been, at one time, both a conservative and a libertarian might sound odd to some readers, though the description I just gave of fusionism should explain my meaning.  The term “libertarian” is used in a variety of ways.  Sometimes “libertarianism” is described as a position that is “socially liberal and fiscally conservative.”  But that is misleading.  Some libertarians are “socially liberal” in the sense of approving of, or at least not disapproving of, various decidedly non-conservative activities (recreational drug use, sexual libertinism, etc.).   But not all libertarians are “socially liberal” in that sense, and I certainly never was.  For me (and for at least many libertarians) libertarianism is merely a view about the proper bounds of state power, and not a general social, cultural, or moral philosophy.  Libertarians typically hold that government should not interfere with activities of the sort in question, but they do not all regard those activities as advisable or even morally permissible.  A libertarian could say, for example, that using cocaine for recreational purposes is morally wrong but should not be illegal.  And that is the sort of thing I would have said in my libertarian days.

There are also different versions of libertarianism, and different sorts of arguments for these versions.  “Anarcho-capitalist” libertarians like David Friedman hold that at least ideally, all governmental functions should be privatized, and some (like Murray Rothbard) would even go so far as to claim that all government is per se unjust.  “Minimal state” libertarians like Robert Nozick and Ayn Rand would maintain that some governmental functions (the paradigm examples being national defense, police, and courts of law) are legitimate, but would allow government to do little or nothing beyond this.  Writers like F. A. Hayek and Milton Friedman represent a somewhat looser form of libertarianism, willing as they are to allow that government might legitimately go a bit beyond the minimal state.  (For example, Hayek allowed for a modest social safety net.)

Arguments for libertarianism fall into two general categories.  There are on the one hand what we might call pragmatic or prudential arguments either for the practical superiority of this or that specific libertarian policy, or for the practical superiority of a broadly libertarian polity in general.  Such arguments might appeal to economic analysis, historical evidence, or the like -- a comparison between the respective records of free versus centrally planned economies, an account of how market prices transmit information and provide incentives, an analysis of the effects of welfare programs on the poor, and so forth.   The main arguments of Hayek and Milton Friedman are more or less of this sort.  On the other hand there are principled or philosophical arguments to the effect that libertarian policies are more just or otherwise morally superior to their rivals.  Such arguments might claim that human beings have by nature a right to liberty that is so strong that it allows even in principle for very little if any governmental restriction on that liberty, or that there is a moral burden of proof on restrictions to liberty that non-libertarian positions fail to meet.  The characteristic arguments of Nozick and Rand are more or less of this principled sort.  

Of course, many libertarians deploy both pragmatic and principled arguments.  The pragmatic or prudential arguments tend to appeal to a larger number of self-described libertarians than the philosophical arguments do, and also appeal to many non-libertarians.  But it is also much harder to defend a thoroughgoing libertarianism -- as opposed to a libertarian position on this or that specific issue -- using only pragmatic arguments.  By contrast, the principled or philosophical arguments, if they work at all, will get you to a thoroughgoing libertarian position, but they are also far more controversial than the pragmatic arguments.  

In my own case, I found both sorts of arguments powerful, but it was the philosophical or principled ones that led me to a thoroughgoing libertarian position, and it was abandoning those arguments that led me to give up libertarianism.  I still find many of the pragmatic or prudential arguments powerful -- especially the Hayekian ones -- but they don’t get you to libertarianism per se.  Hence these days I would call myself a “free-market conservative” or “limited government conservative.”  But I’ll get to the content of my current views later on.

As to the content of my views during my libertarian days, I was never a convinced “anarcho-capitalist,” though I did at least flirt with the idea for a time.  My inclinations were generally in the direction of a Nozick-style minimal state -- my “settled” view insofar as I had one -- though toward the end of my libertarian period I was probably somewhat more open to a looser Hayek-style libertarianism.  But it’s hard to say for sure in retrospect exactly what my position was toward the very end, because the reasons that were leading me to be more open to a less doctrinaire form of libertarianism were essentially the same as the reasons that led me to abandon libertarianism altogether.  

Nozick and Hayek were in any event the biggest influences on my thinking, with Rothbard a secondary influence.  Rand was never a big influence, though like most libertarians I had a general regard for her.  But whatever there was of value in her political philosophy seemed to me more systematically and rigorously stated by others, and I had little interest in the distinctively Objectivist stuff.  Naturally the arguments of Friedman, Mises, and various less well-known libertarian writers had an influence as well.  But again, Nozick and Hayek had the deepest and most systematic impact on me, and I still regard them as by far the most significant thinkers to come out of the libertarian tradition, the ones with whom any serious student of political philosophy needs to engage.

So much for general remarks.  The actual development of my views was initially less systematic than all of that might seem to imply.  As I’ve said, I have more or less always been conservative.  But it took me some time to think through matters of political philosophy in a systematic way, even after getting interested in philosophy.  One reason for this is that, as my recent post on my atheist years indicates, the philosophy of religion dominated my attention in my earliest years as a philosophy student.  But there was also the fact that it is difficult for a philosophy student to become acquainted with the work of conservative philosophers.  

Academic political philosophy is, needless to say, dominated by left-wingers.  Perhaps by coincidence, introductory texts in the subject, while they will devote whole chapters or long sections to expositions of liberalism, Marxism, feminism, and the like, tend to say little if anything about conservatism.  To be sure, Christman’s introduction does include a significant section on conservatism, as does Goodin, Pettit, and Pogge’s A Companion to Contemporary Political Philosophy.  But you’ll find nothing more than a passing reference in prominent introductory works like Wolff’s, Kymlicka’s, or Hampton’s.  Any undergrad who takes several courses in political philosophy will almost certainly come away with a general knowledge of the main lines of argument put forward by liberals, Marxists, and feminists.  But he is unlikely to know much about conservatism, and indeed may not be aware that serious conservative philosophers like Michael Oakeshott, Roger Scruton, and John Kekes even exist.  

I may have first come across Scruton’s name when someone at Cal State Fullerton, where I was an undergrad, posted in the philosophy department office an article that was either written by him or mentioned him, and scrawled in the margin “Mrs. Thatcher’s favorite political philosopher,” or something to that effect.  It didn’t seem to have been meant as a recommendation, but I was nevertheless intrigued.  I also somehow found out that Antony Flew was a right-winger of some sort, and, through Flew’s work, that Hume had been a kind of conservative.  (Since this was during the time that I was questioning theism, the fact that two prominent critics of religion were nevertheless conservative was very interesting indeed.)  But it was not so clear at the time where one might readily find an exposition, by these writers or anyone else, of conservatism as a worked out philosophical position.

What an undergrad philosophy student could readily find (and can still readily find) by way of a systematic introduction to right-wing ideas were expositions of libertarianism, or at least of Nozick’s brand of libertarianism.  And that was indeed the first thing I came across, when, fairly early in my undergrad years, I took a couple of courses that touched on the dispute between Nozick and John Rawls.  But I was not, at first, particularly attracted to libertarianism.  Indeed, for a brief period in my undergrad years I was more attracted to the ideas then flying under the “communitarian” label, which seemed more in harmony with the moral conservatism to which I already tended and with the Aristotelian moral philosophy I was by then already familiar with.   (A guy in my social philosophy class whose name I don’t recall gave a presentation defending Nozick.  I seem to recall that he tried to convince me in particular that Nozick’s “framework for utopia” was something someone interested in virtue ethics should endorse.  At the time I didn’t buy it.)

But before long my views started to shift in a libertarian direction.  My friend Mike, a fellow philosophy major first at Cal State Fullerton and later at Claremont Graduate School, was a conservative and a Calvinist.  He was also one of the smartest and most well-read of my fellow students.  We used to talk for hours about philosophy, religion, and politics.  In religion, I don’t think either of us ever swayed the other an inch.  (This was at the height of my atheist period.)  In philosophy, we shared a keen interest in the philosophy of mind and the philosophy of language, but my naturalism kept me from taking too much of an interest in the dualism he endorsed, and his Calvinism kept him from taking too much of an interest in the Aristotelian ethics I defended.  In politics, though, our friendly disputes were more fruitful, at least for me.  While he was not exactly a libertarian, and was if anything even more socially conservative than I was, his views on current controversies reflected a staunch and principled commitment to limited government and the free market.  In particular, he was on principle generally hostile to government action even as a means of upholding virtuous behavior.  This forced me to think through more carefully my then very inchoate conservatism, and made me take libertarian arguments more seriously.

That a conservative could and should take such arguments seriously was a conclusion that was reinforced when I first came across Hayek’s The Fatal Conceit (about twenty years ago -- in, I think, the Fuller Seminary bookstore, which even a then-atheist like me loved to frequent for its philosophy section).  The back cover described Hayek both as “the preeminent proponent of the libertarian philosophy” and as “the ideological mentor of the Reagan and Thatcher ‘revolutions.’”   His arguments were secular but unapologetically anti-leftist and friendly to traditional morals.  He sounded like my kind of guy.  Before long I would be self-consciously committed to the proposition that a conservative should uphold both traditional morality and a presumption in favor of private initiative and against government action.  I have been committed to it ever since, even though I no longer take the latter component to the extremes a libertarian would.

What led me to take it to those extremes for several years were two main lines of argument, a negative one and a positive one, which for a time seemed to me compelling.  The negative line of argument was that Hayek’s and Nozick’s critiques of the very idea of social justice destroyed any egalitarian (or other) justification for redistributing wealth via taxation.  I defended such arguments against various criticisms in two articles on Hayek’s attack on social justice, which were published in Critical Review.  The positive line of argument was that Nozick’s and Rothbard’s critiques of taxation showed that such redistribution was not only unjustified but positively unjust, and thus that no taxation at all was legitimate except perhaps what was necessary to fund the minimal state.  I defended this claim against various objections in two articles on taxation published in The Independent Review (and still available online here and here).  Both lines of argument were further defended in my book On Nozick and in my Social Philosophy and Policy article “There Is No Such Thing as an Unjust Initial Acquisition.”  These were both completed in the summer of 2002 while I was a visiting scholar at the Social Philosophy and Policy Center in Bowling Green, Ohio, and constitute, you might say, the climax of my libertarian period.  

But immediately upon reaching this climax, the arguments started slowly to unravel.  The reasons had much to do with an idea I had picked up from Eric Mack, a libertarian philosopher whose work I have always greatly respected and who, after Hayek, Nozick, and Rothbard, probably had the greatest influence on my thinking about political philosophy during my libertarian days.  (Which may not seem like the compliment it is meant to be, considering what happened.  Sorry to blame you for my apostasy, Eric!)  

To explain what happened next requires a bit of background.  At the core of Nozick’s and Rothbard’s critiques of taxation, and of my own thinking about libertarianism, was the thesis of self-ownership, which holds that each of us is his or her own property, and thus that each of us has rights over ourselves of the sort that are typically associated with property.  Hence you have the right to decide what to do with your body and its parts and with your talents and labor power, and (so the argument goes) by extension have the right to determine what will be done with the fruits of your labor, such as your income.  Now several libertarian philosophers -- such as Ayn Rand, Tibor Machan, Eric Mack at one stage of his career, and Douglas Rasmussen and Douglas Den Uyl --have tried to ground a libertarian conception of natural rights in Aristotelian moral theory.  (A very useful survey of these arguments can be found in Fred Miller’s essay “Neo-Aristotelian Theories of Natural Rights,” which appears in Douglas Rasmussen, Aeon Skoble, and Douglas Den Uyl, eds., Reality, Reason, and Rights: Essays in Honor of Tibor R. Machan.)  I was already an Aristotelian in matters of ethics by the time I became drawn to libertarianism, and such arguments seemed a natural way to harmonize these commitments.  In particular, I thought the conception of natural rights embodied in the thesis of self-ownership -- which I took to be independently plausible and which was the very heart of my own libertarianism -- fit in naturally with the Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) natural law approach to ethics that had become my settled view by the early 2000s.

I was dead wrong.  There are two main problems with the idea of self-ownership -- the “self” part, and the “ownership” part.  Mack’s work got me on the road to seeing this, though that was hardly what he intended.  In his Social Philosophy and Policy article “The Self-Ownership Proviso: A New and Improved Lockean Proviso,” Mack had put forward what seemed (and still seems) to me powerful arguments to the effect that we cannot plausibly be said to own ourselves in a substantive way if the right to self-ownership protects us only “from the skin inward” and says nothing about whether we may bring our powers to bear on the world.  Suppose, for example, that you and I are castaways and wash up on some tiny island upon which no human beings have ever trod.  You immediately pass out on the beach, while I get to work constructing a bamboo fence whose perimeter happens entirely to enclose your body.  Upon waking, you accuse me of imprisoning you and thereby violating your self-ownership rights, and demand to be released.  Suppose I then respond as follows: “I have not imprisoned you at all!  I’ve simply homesteaded all the land around you -- which you had no right to, since it was virgin territory -- and I’ve built a fence around it, to make sure you don’t come onto my land and take any of the resources I’ve justly acquired.  True, you’ve got nothing in the way of resources in the seven-foot by four-foot plot of sand I’ve left you, but that’s not my fault.  That’s just your bad luck, sorry.  I suppose it would be nice of me to give you some of mine, but at most I’d be unkind rather than unjust if I decide not to do so.  And I was very careful not to touch you as I built my fence.  I do respect your right of self-ownership, after all!” 

Now even though I would not have directly harmed you in any way -- I haven’t so much as touched your body, nor (so the argument goes) taken anything that belonged to you, since it was virgin territory and “up for grabs” -- there is still an obvious sense in which I have harmed you indirectly.  For part of what you own by virtue of being a self-owner are powers that are of their nature “world-interactive” (as Mack puts it) and I have effectively nullified your ability to bring those powers to bear on the world.  And precisely by doing so I have, you might say, respected the letter but not the spirit of the thesis of self-ownership.  To respect others’ rights of self-ownership in a substantive and not merely formal way, then, we have in Mack’s view to avoid using our property in a way that effectively nullifies others’ ability to bring their world-interactive powers to bear on the world.

That is just a brief sketch of Mack’s point; I develop and defend it at length in my article “There is No Such Thing as an Unjust Initial Acquisition,” which I linked to above.  But it is a point that any Aristotelian-Thomistic natural law theorist has to take very seriously, for two reasons.  First of all, the A-T ethicist grounds morality in a teleological conception of human nature, and cannot fail to agree with Mack that many of our powers are inherently world-interactive.  In particular, no A-T natural law theorist can fail to agree that our realizing what is good for us, our flourishing as the kinds of beings we are, requires that we be able to bring those powers to bear on the world.  Secondly, for those A-T theorists who are open to the idea of natural rights, those rights have themselves a teleological foundation.   We have the natural rights we have precisely as a means of safeguarding our ability to flourish as the kinds of beings we are, to pursue what nature has determined is good for us and perfects us.  So, if an A-T approach to natural rights could ground the thesis of self-ownership, it would have to ground something like Mack’s self-ownership proviso as well.  So far so good, I concluded at the time I wrote the “There is No Such Thing” article.

But no sooner had I finished writing up that article than I could see that the implications of this conclusion were very far-reaching indeed.  For among our powers and capacities are various moral capacities.  And for the Aristotelian, our moral character is initially formed as a matter of acquiring the right habits, in childhood, and only later coming to understand the rationale behind those habits.  To cause a child to fall into bad moral habits is therefore to damage the distinctively moral powers he owns by virtue of being a self-owner, and thus (given Mack’s self-ownership proviso) arguably to fail to respect his right of self-ownership in a substantive rather than merely formal way.  But that in turn seemed to entail that at least in principle, certain governmental measures to protect children from moral corruption could be justified on self-ownership grounds!  There is also the fact that it doesn’t take a lot of effort to see how Mack’s self-ownership proviso might be deployed in an argument against abortion.  (To be sure, I was pro-life even when I was a libertarian.  But Mack’s proviso seemed to provide a further argument.)  I developed and defended these ideas at length in my article “Self-Ownership, Abortion, and the Rights of Children: Toward a More Conservative Libertarianism,” which I wrote during the same summer that I finished up work on On Nozick and wrote the “There Is No Such Thing” article.  It was later published in the Journal of Libertarian Studies.  

Certain libertarians freaked out after it appeared, and accused me of all sorts of ridiculous things.  They also missed the point, which -- as I made clear in the paper -- was not to endorse any particular piece of morals legislation, but rather to argue that contrary to what so many libertarians (including my younger self) supposed, shouting “self-ownership” simply does not by itself suffice to rule out certain kinds of morals legislation.  This includes left-of-center morals legislation, as I have made clear elsewhere.  If you think that public “hate speech” corrupts the youth, then you have grounds in self-ownership for curbing public hate speech by law.  Whether or not that’s a good idea, the thesis of self-ownership itself, when its implications are worked out, doesn’t tell you either way.  That was the main point -- that the thesis of self-ownership on its own simply doesn’t rule out nearly as much as people think it does.

Initially (and as the article indicates) I thought that this was still consistent with the idea that the thesis of self-ownership entails a kind of libertarianism.  But that didn’t last long.  For one thing, the “libertarianism” that resulted was very thin indeed.  For another, I came to see that the thesis was even more indeterminate than Mack’s “self-ownership proviso” already entailed.  For what exactly is this “self” to which the thesis makes reference?  As I argued in my Social Philosophy and Policy article “Personal Identity and Self-Ownership,” no matter what answer we give -- a Cartesian answer, or a materialist answer of some sort, or a Lockean answer, or an Aristotelian-Thomistic answer -- we will be left with an interpretation of the thesis of self-ownership that has implications most libertarians would be uncomfortable with.  In particular, we will either end up making most or even all of the body something strictly external to the self, and thus just another natural resource that others may at least partially homestead; or we will integrate the body into the self in a way that entails an Aristotelian view of human nature, and thus reinforces the morally conservative interpretation of self-ownership explored in the “Self-Ownership, Abortion, and the Rights of Children” article.

That the “ownership” aspect of the thesis is no less indeterminate than the “self” aspect also became more evident to me as I thought more carefully about John Locke, who was a defender of the thesis of self-ownership but also someone who denied that our rights were so absolute that we could have a right to commit suicide or to sell ourselves into slavery.  And after all, in everyday life we can rightly be said to own all sorts of things to which we don’t have absolute property rights.  For example, you might own the land your house sits on without thereby having the right to store nuclear waste on it.  But then, how absolute should we take property rights to be, and why?  That depends on your theory of rights.  And that reinforces the point that the thesis of self-ownership by itself doesn’t tell us nearly as much as many libertarians think it does.  If the theory of rights that underlies the thesis entails an absolute right of self-ownership, then our rights over ourselves are exactly what libertarians think they are.  But if the theory that underlies the thesis does not entail such an absolute right -- as it didn’t for Locke -- then we might in some sense own ourselves, but without therefore having the right to take heroin, or unilaterally to divorce a spouse, or whatever.  Again, the idea of self-ownership by itself won’t tell you either way.  You have to look to the underlying theory of rights to find out -- in which case the thesis of self-ownership isn’t doing a whole lot of work.

In my own case, the underlying theory was an A-T natural law theory.  And it became clear the more I thought about natural law theory that since the very point of natural rights was, on that view, to safeguard our ability to fulfill the ends nature had set for us, there could in principle be no such thing as a natural right to do what is positively contrary to those ends.  That does not mean that everything that is morally wrong should be outlawed; that’s not the point.  The point is rather that from A-T natural law theory, there is no way you are going to get the absolute right of self-ownership -- a natural right to do even what is morally wrong as long as it violates no one else’s rights -- that natural rights libertarians like Nozick and Rothbard thought we had. 

Now the thesis of self-ownership was, as I have said, the core of my own commitment to libertarianism.  But as I came to see, the thesis was hopelessly indeterminate, certainly way too indeterminate to ground libertarianism and even (as I now think) too indeterminate to be very interesting at all.   Meanwhile, deeper reflection on classical natural law theory led me to see that there was in any event no way to provide a natural law foundation for a distinctively libertarian theory of natural rights.  And it led me to see as well that an Aristotelian-Thomistic approach to natural law simply could not be reconciled with various specific theses associated with libertarianism -- such as the view that the authority of the state arises entirely through consent, and the idea that we can have no enforceable obligations to others that we do not freely choose to take on.  Since Catholic social teaching is grounded in natural law, it is no surprise that I also came to conclude that libertarianism could not be made consistent with that teaching either.  I’m not sure exactly when I finally decided that I was no longer a libertarian, but I don’t think it could have been any later than the Fall of 2004, and was probably much earlier.  (Though academic publishing being what it is, the fairly radically libertarian “There Is No Such Thing” paper didn’t appear until the January 2005 issue!)

Contrary to what some of my more unhinged critics seemed to think, that did not mean that I suddenly became a totalitarian right-wing moralist, keen to impose my Catholicism on others through force of law.  I simply moved away from doctrinaire libertarianism to a more modest but still quite firm commitment to limited government and private enterprise.  That libertarianism is false does not magically cause government to be competent or give it a blank check to tax and regulate as it sees fit.  Nor does the truth of the classical natural law approach to ethics and politics somehow give those committed to it competence in matters of economics and public policy (as the statements of certain Catholic theologians and churchmen prove conclusively).  Indeed, while I am now firmly opposed to libertarianism, I am also as opposed as I ever was to every form of socialism and egalitarian liberalism.  (Nor has distributism come to seem much more plausible to me now than I found it in my libertarian days, though I do confess that I think my former co-blogger Paul Cella was on to something when he labeled the financial meltdown of 2008 and beyond “The Great Usury Crisis.” )

For reasons I have explained in my Social Philosophy and Policy article “Classical Natural Law Theory, Property Rights, and Taxation” -- where the interested reader can find my current views on the matters referred to in the title -- I think that an A-T natural law approach to those matters entails the rejection of libertarianism, socialism, and egalitarian liberalism alike, and in most areas requires at least a presumption in favor of private enterprise and against government action.  In other words, I think that moral principle should lead us to take a broadly center-right approach to matters of politics rather than a broadly center-left approach.  But beyond that, abstract moral principle cannot tell us much, and we have to look to common sense, experience, history, current circumstances, and whatever economics and the other social sciences can tell us in order to decide upon concrete policy.  That doesn’t give us anything like the “single magic bullet” approach to politics that the thesis of self-ownership seemed to provide.  But if there’s one thing any conservative should know, it’s that looking for single magic bullets is after all a pretty stupid project where social and political philosophy are concerned.  All the same, on some matters -- such as opposition to the abomination that is Obamacare -- I am happy to stand shoulder to shoulder with libertarians.

This has been just a sketch of how my thinking on these matters gradually changed.  I have not tried to give much in the way of arguments, because I have done that elsewhere and the post is long enough as it is.  In addition to the articles linked to above, interested readers can look to the following earlier writings for more on the topics I’ve addressed.  

“Classical Natural Law Theory, Property Rights, and Taxation,” linked to above, is the most important place to look for an account of why I think libertarianism cannot be given a foundation in classical natural law theory.  I also address the issue in a lecture I delivered at the Austrian Scholars Conference in 2005:


For criticism of some of Rothbard’s and Nozick’s arguments concerning self-ownership and related matters, see:





Libertarianism is often presented as “neutral” between competing moral, religious, and philosophical views existing within a pluralistic society.  But this purported neutrality is illusory, as I argued in a lecture delivered at the University of Reading in 2006:


I had made similar arguments a couple of years earlier in a pair of articles for TCS Daily:



and later revisited the theme in a blog post:


For criticism of “fusionist” attempts to combine conservatism and libertarianism, see another TCS Daily article:


and another blog post:


I survey conservative objections to libertarianism in my article “The Conservative Critique of Libertarianism,” which appeared in The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism and which you can read via Google Books.   (The article is at pp. 95-97.  Unless you’ve got phenomenal eyesight and/or patience, you’ll probably have to click on the magnification button to read it.)

My rejection of Nozick’s and Rothbard’s libertarianism also led to a more critical attitude toward the broader Lockean political tradition that had influenced then, as can be seen from my book Locke and yet another TCS Daily article:


Finally, a response to a particularly egregious misrepresentation of my post-libertarian views can be found in another Journal of Libertarian Studies article:

133 comments:

traumerei said...

As an anarcho-capitalist with A-T leanings, your articles should provide for some interesting reading.

Unlike you, however, my appreciation stems primarily from pragmatic, rather than philosophical, concerns. Do you still largely support that sort of libertarianism?

PS. Have you come across any informed criticisms from the Distributist crowd against interest? Something that takes on the time-value of money, coordinating function of interest, Aquinas' use of Aristotle's "Money, then, acting as a measure, makes goods commensurate and equates them" vs subjective valuation etc.

Hunt said...

I don't see how as an atheist you could believe in traditional morality (i.e. largely religiously based morality) unless you had fundamentally blinkered conception of morality up to then. Were you just putting it on the back burner and waiting until you had the time to think about it?

Hunt said...

Interesting account. I kind of view the libertarian perspective as one of heartless self-interest, literally interpreted, the divorce from consideration or responsibility to others outside contractual obligation, and objectivism as one that goes a step further and attempts to make self-interest a virtue. So I can't help but see this as an account of a libertarian growing a heart. But instead of learning from the Mack example that the idea of self-ownership might be incomplete, can't you just as easily interpret it as saying that you have the moral obligation to be your brother's keeper? Once you open the door to the consideration of another person's natural place as complete human, you've shattered the paradigm of individual autonomy and sole interest and committed yourself, in part a least and who knows? perhaps in large part, to a collectivist view of society and economy.

Thomas De Aquino said...

Very good article! Also, much food for thought. Thank you.

Maolsheachlann said...

I hesitate to set foot in such deep waters, but your desert island example to me illustrates why all libertarian arguments seem to fail-- because, though they claim to be based purely upon first principles fastidiously developed, there always seems to be a hidden (and selective) appeal to intuition. Once you admit any reference to the "spirit" rather than the "letter" of self-ownership, how can you debar all the other moral intuitions that libertarianism seems to outrage? Sorry if this is a naive point.

My own, non-philosophical opposition to the free market is that I think it undermines the very things conservatives cherish-- tradition, family, community, chastity etc.

Gene Callahan said...

""decidedly non-conservative activities (recreational drug use, sexual libertinism)"

Ed, I can understand why you are against these things -- although drinking whiskey certainly is "recreational drug use" -- but I can't see why you would call them "non-conservative": drug usage and fooling around are about as old as humanity.

I once remarked to someone "It's odd that Oakeshott was a conservative but also had all of these affairs." My friend responded, "What is more traditional than having affairs?"

Maolsheachlann said...

What is more traditional than innovation?

Surely antiquity alone doesn't make a practice or institution conservative.

I am reminded of this article that Dr. Feser wrote, one of my favourite articles about conservatism:

http://www.ideasinactiontv.com/tcs_daily/2006/01/the-metaphysics-of-conservatism.html

Nate said...

"Nor has distributism come to seem much more plausible to me now than I found it in my libertarian days..."

Fair enough. Though I hope your thought will continually evolve towards it. If you joined up with Medaille and the other Catholic All Stars over at D-Review, what a world this would be!

P.S. Huff said...

"drug usage and fooling around are about as old as humanity"

True, but I think what that shows is that the real-world definition of conservatism is different from the dictionary definition. I would wager that murder and rape are as old as man, but are they "conservative" in anyone's definition?

Anonymous said...

You write as though you think these things through with logic, from the question to the conclusion. But I think you actually jump to a correct conclusion first and then go back and 'make it work out' with logic. It makes sort of interesting reading since you used to be so many things ... and then developed a more mature Catholic outlook.
But it also sort of comes out to be a too-detailed rendition of ... "I got up and got dressed (I almost wore the blue shirt, but then decided on the yellow - because my wife has told me I look good in yellow.) But I digress. I found my car keys. I opened the door. The front door of my house, which I own because of A-T natural ownership permissions ... it's a long story, read about it here ... and then I backed my car out of the driveway." and ten paragraphs later it turns out ... "Oh, I get it, you were out of milk and went to the store ... yes, we all do that."
You make it too hard, thinking backwards like you do. But you do make a good living doing it. Which is way more than I can say for me and the way I think.
(Just an observation from the peanut gallery that attempts to read philosophy.)
Sue

Pattsce said...

Ed,

I thought I'd relay my story from libertarianism since it kind of overlaps with yours (and You personally). During my post-graduateschool years, I was as libertarian as I'd ever been. I was always moved by philosophical and moral concerns. "Why is it wrong for me to take your property but it isn't wrong for the government to do so?" "If I am free, why must I do X?" etc. The answers to these type of questions never really convinced me or provided any substantive answers. They were mostly just utilitarian responses, and I Hated utilitarianism (and still do).

I was convinced pretty thoroughly at this point anyway. But I remember once debating with a friend who was very intelligent and who could hold his own against my libertarian positions---which had normally done well to succeed in most other political debates. Most political debates are just one platitude against the other without any real logic to the principles the people proclaim. If you can get a person to agree (and most do, especially in this country) to something like a "right to non-interference" or, as you note here, a "right to self-ownership," (abortionists love this one) you can usually win the argument. They never agree with the conclusions you present, but they don't know where it went wrong.

Anyway, I remember a friend and I were debating copyright, and I was having a lot of trouble justifying it at all. I'm not sure why I was trying so hard to justify it, but it annoyed me a great deal that my friend could be so flippant about infringing on a person's copyright. Something didn't sit well with me. The conversation kept going into the whole notion of owning property In General. I thought I had that figured out. His objections showed me that I did not. Something like your island/fence hypothetical came up a number of times.

This led me down a path of trying to both understand and justify what the right to non-interference was or, most importantly, what the right to self-ownership was. This process definitely led me down a path of sort of political nihilism (and nihilism in general actually!) I soon realized that my justification for both were weak. Very weak. This was distressing as I spent a great deal of my philosophizing figuring out how libertarian solutions could fix most of the world's problems. (Boy, I was a stupid kid.) This was distressing for another, very important reason. If my justifications for libertarianism were Moral, what did this say about my concept of morality! I had just, at all times, taken for granted the notion of "wrong" or "immoral" or the like. Stealing was wrong, I just assumed, but Why was it wrong?

CONTINUED...

Pattsce said...

...CONTINUED

In order to figure all this out, I went through the usual libertarian philosophers. I only liked two. One was you. I liked Nozick. I thought he had a good, sharp mind, and I still respect him a great deal, but I didn't feel like he was answering all the questions I had. I remember one day on the internet, though, searching around, and I came across YOUR book on Nozick. I thought, "boy, this guy gets it. I mean, he really gets it." At that point, I googled your name and came across your blog. I immediately thought, "man, what a goofy picture; this guy must be kidding." But then I kept reading your stuff.

From this point on, my libertarian beliefs kind of slowly fell away. I couldn't reconcile all the things you were pointing out to be true with my libertarian principles. It was a difficult, painful process, but it was ultimately for the best. What I find ironic about the whole thing is that I initially started following your blog because I thought, "this guy Completely gets it with regard to libertarianism. Libertarianism Must be true! Thank goodness! I wasn't wrong after all!" What's funny about that, of course, is that it was this blog that turned me away from libertarianism in the end and had a great deal with my becoming a Catholic.

I just wanted to tell you this story as a means of letting you know how I've appreciated your work. It's meant a lot to me, and it's answered so many questions that I just assumed Couldn't be answered. Thank you for sharing and thank you for writing. As always, I look forward to more!

John Médaille said...

Possibly everything on the earth can, in principle, be owned, save and except one thing: ourselves. That we cannot own because we do not create it, neither in the physical sense, nor, completely, in the moral sense. Our physical being is due to others, and we are called into being to the ready-made community of family. And for the first years, we are more acted upon than acting. We do get to create our personality, but even here, that is a relative thing rather than an absolute. This is because we can only use social materials which are given by society as a whole. For example, language, which we certainly do not invent. And so it goes, with our initial moral feelings, educational endowments, etc. In truth, we are not individual atoms, but parts of a whole, and there is no clear way to determine a precise boundary. The effort to create such a boundary creates stunted individuals; it creates, in a word, libertarians.

Touchstone said...

Ed,

On the neutrality issue, I find some irony in what I identify as a complaint that I almost always locate in far left-wing polemic; it seems you have this idea that "neutrality" somehow either must be a) something "equidistant" or otherwise balanced in *outcomes* between two or more poles, or b) perfectly plastic, and as such, useless, amenable to "stuffing" with whatever bias one chooses.

When I did some umping for youth baseball some time back, I had a coach come up to me, after the game, complaining that he had a scoresheet that PROVED was not a neutral, impartial umpire. Some large percentage of his pitchers' pitches were ruled balls rather than strikes, and his time incurred a large number of walks, contributing to his team's loss. Some much smaller percentage of the other teams' pitches were ruled strikes by me, he pointed out, via his score sheet (and this matched my own experience in the game).

"So what happened to being a fair ump?!!? How do you explain the difference here?"

It shouldn't be hard to guess my reply. The *strike zone* was a hazard for this coach's pitchers that particular day. There was nothing "non-neutral" about the calling of strikes and balls -- the pitchers for the losing team just were consistently less frequently in the strike zone than were the pitchers for the winning team that day.

My neutral position, then, carried a decisive bias in favor of the strike zone. I don't care (and this is the salient aspect of the neutrality that's important here) WHO through the pitch, or what color their jersey, but in I'm biased as hell against low and outside pitches being called "strikes".

Your complaints about the neutrality of libertarian neutrality strike me as polemically similar to the angry coach. Libertarian neutrality is strongly opinionated, strongly 'biased toward the strike zone'. But even so (and because of that!), it's quite withering in its overall treatment of illiberal ideas, particular those that are driven by urges toward conformance, social and cultural homogeneity, top-down strict hierarchies, etc.

Libertarian neutrality exists as a means of mitigating and attenuating such illiberal and anti-liberty urges. The left has its own predilections for tyranny and collective oppression -- it throws lots of pitches outside of the strike zone, too, so to speak -- but the kind of impulses that appear to be ultimately persuasive to you, and which you appear to go to great length to "backfill" and buttress after-the-fact are *precisely* those kinds of urges that libertarianism rejects WHEN it is upholding its neutrality in the most thorough and strong sense.

I'm at the character limit I'll wager, so will stop here, and give an example in a bit from a previous post of yours that you linked here.

-TS

Touchstone said...

Ed,

In your Libertarian neutrality so-called post, after enumerating the three tines of the fork of libertarian neutral (from Rawls), you say:


Howley, in effect, abandons any pretense that libertarianism is “neutral” vis-à-vis the competing moral, religious, and philosophical doctrines to be found within a pluralistic society; for libertarianism must favor, in her view, the culturally leftish ones.


I can't speak for Ms. Howley, but this is to abandon what was never held in the first place. Such neutrality, per the idea above (umpire example), is strongly opinionated. It's neutrality is based on the application of those *libertarian principles* without respect to other attributes that may attend competing claims. For example, libertarian neutrality is implacable in the face of claims like this choice example of fail from "Deuce", in the comments for that post:

Libertarian support for gay marriage is perhaps the best example. Marriage is an institution that pre-exists our government. It was created in its present form by an organic society, and is supported by tradition and culture. The government merely recognizes the institution, because it's such a fundamental and integral part of our society that it would be practically impossible for it not to.

To institute gay marriage is to remove the marriage institution as defined by society, and to replace it with a government-defined "institution". The resulting institution is no longer government-recognized, but government-invented.


Of course, that's completely wrong. To adopt laws that do not discriminate on the bases of sexual orientation in no way removes the institution from society, nor does it assert any definition for "marriage" on society beyond what uses for its own civic laws and institutions. This is where the principles of libertarian neutrality come to the fore, eschewing any such claims as unfounded, anti-liberty, and just freaking ignorant on the matter of what governments do and what private citizens and the larger society do outside of government.

If equality under the law for marriage were the law of the land, the Catholics, Buddhists, Jews, Atheists and Zoroastrians could all engage in and live out their own *separate* marriage arrangements as religious (or non-religious) private ceremonies and social contracts. Or, if they so chose, all or some of those groups could all collectively agree on a *shared* set of customs, arrangements, services and social contracts for "marriage" that they all agree on. Or anywhere in between.

I'm pointing at this comment because it's such an egregious example of misunderstanding what libertarian neutrality intends and ramifies, and I note that your (disappointing, maybe it was just hurried and careless) response to it was: "Absolutely spot on, my friend".

Ouch.

Libertarian neutral is a bulwark against claims supported with: "Marriage is an institution that pre-exists our government. It was created in its present form by an organic society, and is supported by tradition and culture." To dismiss that statement as irrelevant *is* the exercise of neutrality -- calling that kind of illiberal urge the 'way outside the strike zone ball' that it is -- unimpressed, unintimidated by such claims.

Which is just to say, then, the 'strike zone' of libertarian neutrality is located by its own principles, somewhat left of center as we measure things crudely in our current political culture. Conservative impulses, with respect to libertarian principles, tend to be "out of the strike zone" more often than liberal impulses.

-TS

Joe K. said...

Touchstone,

I daresay you slightly missed his point there. Gay marriage is not something that Can exist. It's like a square triangle. His point was merely that "recognizing" it would be to invent it. And if you Invent something, you are no longer being "neutral." It's your creation. You're picking a side.

There's nothing "ignorant" going on here. Even on a minimal-state model, the government wouldn't do anything like institute or recognize gay marriage. It might do something to protect people to gay "marry" in private and have gay "sex" in private, but it has no business, in any minimal state system, of Positively acting to Create something.

Also, to dismiss that phrase as irrelevant is an act of willful ignorance. Feser is making a metaphysical claim. The government cannot be "neutral" on whether triangles or square in the same way it cannot be "neutral" on whether marriage is an act of males with females.

W.LindsayWheeler said...

Off topic: FYI, The Platsis Symposium held at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, will conduct a symposium on "Natural Law" on Sunday, September 23.

Touchstone said...

Hi, Joe K,

I daresay you slightly missed his point there. Gay marriage is not something that Can exist. It's like a square triangle. His point was merely that "recognizing" it would be to invent it. And if you Invent something, you are no longer being "neutral." It's your creation. You're picking a side.
Libertarianism is a framework that seeks to maximize liberty for individuals through freedom of action and voluntary associations. It's a political philosophy concerning the relation of the state to the individual and its configuration regarding the powers, constrains and obligations of each. It is necessarily opinionated in that regard. That is its charter. That being the case, "libertarian neutrality", then, is fiercely opinionated in its assessment of various proposals and policies, in the same way an ump is in clearly calling balls and strikes as in or out of the strike zone.

Gay marriage, per libertarianism, is only relevant as a *government* institution. That is, libertarian is purposely indifferent to how private individuals or associations want to construe marriage. Want to believe it's "sacred", or "entailed by metaphysics"? Fine, knock yourselves kids. But that's a private, non-governmental construct. Equal treatment under the law for homosexuals would be a government construct, a government institution. And the very premise of libertarianism rests on government constructs as "inventions". Libertarianism is a philosophy about "inventing and maintaining government institutions.

As such, appealing to natural law or religious metaphysics as prohibiting gay marriage as something that CAN happen is a divide-by-zero, a category error. Such a law would be BY DEFINITION a social, political construct, an invention, no matter what the merits. This is true for ANY position held by libertarianism.

I think this is a good example of where libertarian neutrality shines in asserting itself. In response to: "Gay marriage is not something that Can exist. It's like a square triangle.", applied libertarian principles understand this to be antithetical to man's liberty interest, no matter if you think the statement is true or not. Libertarianism aims at maximizing inventions, if you will, and considers sentiments like this one above toxic to human liberty, *as* a matter of realpolitik.

Or, a more gruff way to resist that would be to say: "Nonsense. Let's apply it -- can equality in marriage laws be deployed without trampling on the rights and liberties of others?". Manifestly, it can, and you can keep your metaphysics just as you like them as part of your private practice and personal beliefs. Liberty is maximized by rejecting your claim.


There's nothing "ignorant" going on here. Even on a minimal-state model, the government wouldn't do anything like institute or recognize gay marriage. It might do something to protect people to gay "marry" in private and have gay "sex" in private, but it has no business, in any minimal state system, of Positively acting to Create something.

Well, the government has guns and will ability to use violent force, so that's something that should not be dismissed lightly, or ever ignored. But what it creates are, by definition, not cosmic principles, or "supernatural things", but government policies and practices. It can create a real institution under the law that issues a license that says "marriage" on it, to homosexuals and heterosexuals. That in no way entails that this surmised God approves, or that any putative natural law has be been abridge. It's a civic institution created by a secular government.

-TS

(con't)

Touchstone said...

@Joe K,

(con't)


Also, to dismiss that phrase as irrelevant is an act of willful ignorance. Feser is making a metaphysical claim. The government cannot be "neutral" on whether triangles or square in the same way it cannot be "neutral" on whether marriage is an act of males with females.

Well, you're close I think. A government animated by liberty interests, by maximized liberty across all its citizens, preserving the liberties of individuals against tyrannical majorities, etc., must with Dr. Feser good luck in the private indulgence of his metaphysics, and reject any claim for the priority of such claims over the liberty interest of others.

I'm not convinced that's Dr. Feser's position, but if so, as you have it, it's a very good example of the very kind of neutrality he apparently decries in action. The umpire calling that pitch *way, way* outside, because it hits the fence closer to the dugout than over the plate.

-TS

traumerei said...

Mr. Medaille,

You state:

"In truth, we are not individual atoms, but parts of a whole, and there is no clear way to determine a precise boundary."

Are you seriously unable to differentiate an individual from society?

Joe K. said...

Well, first of all, your unjustified principles of "equality" (which is Barely libertarian) and "liberty" are silly. They are just baseless claims. You assert them as if They have no metaphysical justification behind them. I know this is popular among libertarians (oh! oh! we just care about liberty! no, we don't have to even explain or justify liberty! it's just there, man!), but frankly, it's a little childish, and it won't fly around here.

But that's hardly the point.

The point is, a truly neutral position would be to not recognize Any marriage at all. The problem that runs in to, of course, is that heterosexual marriage just exists naturally. Feser is merely pointing out that a government simply Recognizes that thing that already necessarily exists. The government is Inventing something by recognizing gay marriage, though. Why? As has already been explained, because marriage between and a man and woman is a metaphysical necessity that flows naturally from the nature of sexual relations. Since children, and thus the necessity of marriage, do not flow naturally from the nature of homosexual relations (as it doesn't from the nature of man-animal relations), it's not a real thing. As such, it would have to be invented. You can be like, "but, but, we don't care about real things!" and completely miss the point. If "neutrality" means "choosing to be completely ignorant of the facts," then fine, you're super neutral, man.

But if you want to be Truly neutral, you should push for NO recognition of marriage. Why does ANY group of people gain privileges or recognition because they choose to have sex with one another? I rarely see this position advocated. This is what I'm not understanding. How can getting the government to provide More Positive benefits be seen as a Libertarian act? If you say "equality," I'll just respond with, "true equality can only be secured if Nobody was being babied by the government." I've known some real libertarians, and they are nothing like this.

Anonymous said...

TS said:
"That is, libertarian is purposely indifferent to how private individuals or associations want to construe marriage. Want to believe it's "sacred", or "entailed by metaphysics"? Fine, knock yourselves kids. But that's a private, non-governmental construct."

Why is that a private non-governmental construct? Is that a libertarian position? Is that position itself not grounded in metaphysics of some sort? And if that's the case, why do those metaphysics get a free ride?

Touchstone said...

@Joe K,

Well, first of all, your unjustified principles of "equality" (which is Barely libertarian) and "liberty" are silly. They are just baseless claims. You assert them as if They have no metaphysical justification behind them. I know this is popular among libertarians (oh! oh! we just care about liberty! no, we don't have to even explain or justify liberty! it's just there, man!), but frankly, it's a little childish, and it won't fly around here.
That would be a different discussion. My point on neutrality is that given Dr. Feser's *own* understanding of the terms and principles as he's outlined them and discussed them, his rejection of the tenability and superiority of libertarian neutrality vis-à-vis other framework is unfounded, based on a misunderstanding of what that neutrality principle seeks to address and harmonize.


The point is, a truly neutral position would be to not recognize Any marriage at all. The problem that runs in to, of course, is that heterosexual marriage just exists naturally. Feser is merely pointing out that a government simply Recognizes that thing that already necessarily exists. The government is Inventing something by recognizing gay marriage, though. Why? As has already been explained, because marriage between and a man and woman is a metaphysical necessity that flows naturally from the nature of sexual relations. Since children, and thus the necessity of marriage, do not flow naturally from the nature of homosexual relations (as it doesn't from the nature of man-animal relations), it's not a real thing. As such, it would have to be invented. You can be like, "but, but, we don't care about real things!" and completely miss the point. If "neutrality" means "choosing to be completely ignorant of the facts," then fine, you're super neutral, man.

I have no problem with the proposition that no action, no governmental construct regarding marriage would be neutral, and simpler, just by virtue of opting out of the question. But marriage equality is just an example to discuss; if it's not that, then there is some other interest government has in "inventing" a law, a policy.

Liberty is maximized by granting you and Dr. Feser your curious metaphysics, and permitting you to live according to them, on your own, while at the same time granting someone else, whose particular metaphysics are something quite different to live according to those principles, which may include the 'pursuit of happiness' via a homosexual marriage.

You are unburdened by this. You and your marriage choices can be as fundamentalist as you like. John Otherguy can marry according to his metaphysics, or his pragmatics, if that's how he wants to see it, and he's happy. It's no skin off your nose, no liberty lost.

This principle is applied with neutrality. It doesn't care or consider what "rank" or "class" or "color" or "creed" you are. Specifically, it denies that marriage, as a historical tradition, is it's own warrant on those grounds. All is analyzed through the competing liberty interests of the citizens, citizens who are diverse and conflicting in their metaphysics, along with many other issues.

In other words, on libertarianism, to give your claim -- "Gay marriage is not something that Can exist", as a prohibition on civil laws that might establish just such a thing -- equity *just* because it's based on your parochial metaphysics, and NOT on the principles of maximizing liberty, would be to trash that principle of neutrality it esteems. That would be to capriciously credit "Feserian metaphysics" with equity it does not have, and cannot have, on libertarianism (or maybe just "JoeKeysian metaphysics" is more apropos here, since I'm responding to you).

-TS

Touchstone said...

@Joe K,

But if you want to be Truly neutral, you should push for NO recognition of marriage. Why does ANY group of people gain privileges or recognition because they choose to have sex with one another? I rarely see this position advocated. This is what I'm not understanding. How can getting the government to provide More Positive benefits be seen as a Libertarian act? If you say "equality," I'll just respond with, "true equality can only be secured if Nobody was being babied by the government." I've known some real libertarians, and they are nothing like this.

"Truly neutral" is unbounded. The question is "neutral with respect to *what*?". On homosexual marriage, the position is that homosexuals are accorded the same freedoms everyone else is, specifically avoiding arbitrary and unmotivated distinctions as proposed by any religious tradition that demands heterosexuality (and monogamy, as the current religious conviction also has added).

That is, distinctions need a warrant, and "one man one woman" doesn't have any warrant on libertarian principles. Again, see above: 'it's tradition' is precisely the problem we're combatting with a libertarian framework. If "it's tradition", or "it's organic" (is that how "TheDeuce" put it in the other post) works, at all, then The Divine Right of Kings™ is unassailable, too, and so is the venerated claim for slaves as the spoil of conquering victors, and on and on.

Libertarianism is minimalist. Government should be small, limited, but must be established, because it's transcendentally necessary as the means of securing any liberties we aim at obtaining. Even government itself has to establish its necessity. Other provisions need to acquit themselves, as well. What is the compelling state interest in this policy? If one cannot answer that on libertarian grounds, how it respects and fulfills the goal of maximized liberty, then it's bogus. Government itself is a powerful, existential threat to liberty, and the empirico-historical evidence on this is overwhelming. So if a policy can't be justified on minimalist grounds, it's part of the problem a libertarian is trying to solve for.

Libertarianism is decidedly progressive and non-conservative in that respect -- "No more kings!", for example. A great and principled sentiment, but decidedly non-neutral in deferring to (Western) human tradition.

-TS

Touchstone said...


Why is that a private non-governmental construct? Is that a libertarian position? Is that position itself not grounded in metaphysics of some sort? And if that's the case, why do those metaphysics get a free ride?

If the (US) government just decided to remove itself from marriage, civil unions, and any other laws regarding solemnized social relationships, and wiped all of that stuff off the books, you'd still have marriage happening. It would be a private enterprise, a religious ceremony and a religious institution, a social understanding and social contract between private parties, governed, insofar as it is governed at all, by private institutions (think of the way the Catholic Church might annul a Catholic marriage based on some church rule or religious tenet regarding its understanding of marriage).

Libertarianism is highly opinionated, and "defends against all enemies" the principles of liberty maximization for the citizenry. It understands that strong position to be completely indifferent and unsympathetic to *other* claims and frameworks that aim to override its central goal. It doesn't give a rip if your "tradition" has metaphysics that demand policies that diminish liberty.

That's why I spoke up in the first place; "neutrality", on Dr. Feser's posts/articles that I've read, seem to demand "equal outcomes", as in requiring that libertarianism to be equally tolerant and sympathetic to his conservative, illiberal and liberty-diminishing ideas as it is of liberal and liberty-maximizing ideas.

No, that's not what is posited by the notion of neutrality, there. Rather it's just indifference to the credentials of other priorities. Positive and negative provisions under the law are justified on libertarian principles, "blind" to the medals on the chest of other frameworks that would claim priority on the basis of religious intuition, historical tradition, or any other basis that is at odds with those libertarian principles.

-TS

marycatelli said...

Those libertarians who object to laws about children should contemplate C. S. Lewis's observation that the French Revolution shows that the sort of life that aristocrats naturally enjoy is not necessarily the sort of behavior that naturally preserves aristocracies, and that people should generalize to consider whether it applies to their favored form of government. He chiefly applied it to democracy, but it would certainly apply in full force to liberatarism. For instance, life in the underclass shows that life where sexual couplings are unbound by force of law or custom produces children who will never support a libertarian state.

Joe K. said...

"That would be a different discussion. My point on neutrality is that given Dr. Feser's *own* understanding of the terms and principles as he's outlined them and discussed them, his rejection of the tenability and superiority of libertarian neutrality vis-à-vis other framework is unfounded, based on a misunderstanding of what that neutrality principle seeks to address and harmonize."

It's Not a different discussion. He is also not misunderstanding anything. He clearly understands these concepts. He is saying that the state Creating something is Not a neutral act. I cannot understand how you can't see that.

"I have no problem with the proposition that no action, no governmental construct regarding marriage would be neutral, and simpler, just by virtue of opting out of the question. But marriage equality is just an example to discuss; if it's not that, then there is some other interest government has in "inventing" a law, a policy."

No, in those cases you may not be talking about inventing anything at all. But that's not the point. With respect to gay marriage, it is obvious that the government would not be doing some neutral thing to "ensure equality" (it leaves out tons of people by adding just gay marriage). If it wanted to be neutral and ensure equality, it would seek to disassemble state-recognized marriage. You're not advocating That because you don't want that (also, it makes no sense, but you reject that metaphysics, yada yada, see below); you want gay people to be seen By The Government (for the Government to take a position) as valid. That's all that's going on here. Which is exactly what Feser is pointing out with those quotes.

"Liberty is maximized by granting you and Dr. Feser your curious metaphysics, and permitting you to live according to them, on your own, while at the same time granting someone else, whose particular metaphysics are something quite different to live according to those principles, which may include the 'pursuit of happiness' via a homosexual marriage."

I would not necessarily disagree with the foregoing (except your exchanging "moral code" or something similar with "metaphysics," see below). Until that last sentence. For a homosexual to "pursue happiness" and seek homosexual marriage in the way you describe here, the homosexual would have to be Very unlibertarian and Get the state to do something; namely, recognize gay marriage. If a homosexual wants to pursue marriage without the state, fine; you can do that and honestly still call yourself a libertarian. But you're asking for a positive action by the state here. (Incidentally, a person can "marry" his dog without any liberty lost to me. That would certainly maximize liberty. Not for the dog (though maybe the dog really likes his master), but are we concerned with dog liberty as well now?)

I think, also, perhaps you don't understand what metaphysics is? or what I mean by appealing to them. Metaphysics isn't like a person's personal quirky religious beliefs or something like that. It's not like "you can have your metaphysics and I can have my metaphysics." That's like saying "you can have your physics and I can have my physics." As that Anonymous poster points out, "Is that position [liberty without exception] itself not grounded in metaphysics of some sort? And if that's the case, why do those metaphysics get a free ride?" The entire thing falls in on itself when you take the position you're taking. In other words, why does the metaphysics and/or philosophy that justifies "liberty" stand separate from these "curious" beliefs, but every Other metaphysics of philosophy have to be just personal or unique?

Touchstone said...

@ Joe K,

Here's the three sense of neutrality Dr. Feser sets out for his discussion in this post:


First, it treats persons as “ends in themselves” and thus as moral equals entitled to impartial concern; second, it seeks to realize its vision of justice in a way that is neutral between the diverse moral and religious worldviews prevailing among citizens of the society it is to govern; and third, it also neutral between the various alternative philosophical doctrines (liberal and non-liberal) individual political thinkers who could support it might be personally committed to.


This is the formulation advanced by John Rawls, of course, and supports his claim that the libertarian imperative is to *avoid* advancing any particular notion of the 'the good' (along with Nozick, Barry and others).

That is a crucial principle, here. The positive goal is to eschew commitments to concepts of 'the good' as universal and normative. It's "neutral" in the sense that it's agnostic by design on that question. Libertarianism, on this view, holds "no particular concept of 'the good'" as the particular concept of good that is esteemed, meaning we might precisely say that libertarianism accepts NO OTHER concept of 'the good', beyond its own concept regarding this agnostic position. That's a mouthful, an awkward way to talk about it, but that captures the stack.

That neutrality, that "non-committal-ness" just can't cut both ways -- liberal and conservative -- in the same way. As I said above, left-ish thinkers are known to advance their own claims that run into problem with this principle, and require a "universal, normative concept of 'the good'". But conservative and illiberal traditions are positively rife with such requirements, and this means those dispositions run into trouble with libertarian principles (per Rawls, et al, anyway) than do dispositions we find on other parts of the spectrum.

-TS

Touchstone said...

@Joe K,

No, in those cases you may not be talking about inventing anything at all. But that's not the point. With respect to gay marriage, it is obvious that the government would not be doing some neutral thing to "ensure equality" (it leaves out tons of people by adding just gay marriage). If it wanted to be neutral and ensure equality, it would seek to disassemble state-recognized marriage. You're not advocating That because you don't want that (also, it makes no sense, but you reject that metaphysics, yada yada, see below); you want gay people to be seen By The Government (for the Government to take a position) as valid. That's all that's going on here. Which is exactly what Feser is pointing out with those quotes.

Getting the government out of marriage makes this a moot point. It's 'neutral' only in the sense that it's not an issue at all. And that's not problematic for me, but it doesn't speak to the general point about libertarian neutrality; it just retires one particular example. Government has many, many others to consider, and that can't be avoided, as *some* government must be "invented" to secure any liberties at all.

I do want homosexuals to be seen as "valid" by the government, but not as homosexuals per se. The government has no interest in knowing or caring about such information. The homosexual is "valid" under the law just as a "citizen", in the same, undifferentiated way a heterosexual is "valid", as a "citizen", not as a heterosexual.

On libertarian neutrality, your concept of "valid" is invalid. The neutrality principle holds that "valid" is not a substantive concept with respect to sexual orientation, any more than skin color is a means for being "valid" in the eyes of the state. Libertarianism eschews such semantics as ungrounded, and toxic to the maximization of liberty if granted standing by the law.

Really, this is a good example, as good as "TheDeuce"'s from the other thread, on how principled neutrality harshes on conservatives in a way it does not and cannot on liberals. Liberals pitch balls outside the strike zone too, but here is a clear case of throwing it in the dirt, so to speak, on Libertarian principles. The fact that you suppose the state possibly *can* endow "validity" on a citizen that way implicates the particular notions of 'the good' that Libertarian neutrality must reject, if it is going to *be* principled in its neutrality.

-TS

Aaron said...

A neat coincidence that this post came up today, as earlier this afternoon I was checking out Libertarianism Today by Jacob Huebert from my university's library. Since some commenters are talking about how libertarianism relates to same-sex marriage, I'll quote a few lines from the book with which I'm largely in agreement:

"Some libertarians (and non-libertarians) have suggested that libertarianism favors same-sex marriage. It is not obvious that this is so. Libertarianism as we have defined it in this book has nothing to say about same-sex marriage, except that if two people of the same sex want to consider themselves married to one another, the government should not stop them. But there is no libertarian "right" to have the government or anyone else acknowledge a particular type of relationship, and government recognition of same-sex marriage would not, in itself, reduce the power of the government over individuals.

...Some libertarians make the argument that as long as government is in the marriage-recognizing business, it shouldn't discriminate. But this is not a libertarian view per se,; it is presumably a view a person holds because of social views that person holds in addition to his or her libertarian views (and those views may be fine, but they are not part of libertarianism per se). The libertarian view is that there is no legitimate reason for government to recognize any type of marriage." (pg. 38, the former italics are mine.)

I'm only a few chapters into it, but so far I'd recommend this book for anyone looking for a good exposition of contemporary libertarianism.

Joe K. said...

"Libertarianism, on this view, holds "no particular concept of 'the good'" as the particular concept of good that is esteemed, meaning we might precisely say that libertarianism accepts NO OTHER concept of 'the good', beyond its own concept regarding this agnostic position."

If you seriously think that this is a legitimate philosophical position, then I don't even...

I'm done after this post.

"I do want homosexuals to be seen as "valid" by the government, but not as homosexuals per se. The government has no interest in knowing or caring about such information. The homosexual is "valid" under the law just as a "citizen", in the same, undifferentiated way a heterosexual is "valid", as a "citizen", not as a heterosexual."

This, of course, makes no sense. The word "marriage" has a meaning, even between homosexuals. The state is making a particular set of actions, a particular relationship valid. It is bestowing upon a particular group of people a particular advantage based on the nature of the people, the actions they commit, and the relationships they develop. This is the reason it makes no sense for the state to recognize man-dog marriage despite the liberty-maximization it might ensure.

James said...

@Joe K:

“This, of course, makes no sense. The word "marriage" has a meaning, even between homosexuals.”

With respect to Dr Feser, the word “marriage” in the common vernacular does have a meaning — but it is not the same meaning that he and you apply to it. Rather, to Joe Smith off the street marriage refers to the codification of a lifelong romantic commitment between two persons. Although marriage between same-gendered individuals may feel weird or seem off to a fair proportion of the American public, that doesn’t imply that gay marriage “doesn’t make sense” or is incoherent by definition.

IOW: whether or not you’re for gay marriage, to the vast majority of people the concept itself makes perfect sense. If I walked into a meeting of local conservatives and asked why they were against gay marriage, they’d say “Because it’s wrong!” not “Because it doesn’t exist!”. If you want the metaphysical argument to have any force at all, you’ll have to convince people that the only definition of marriage that matters is yours.

Douglas Johnson said...

Reading Dr. Feser's account of the two fellows on the island, I was reminded of the following passage from Josef Pieper's Leisure, the Basis of Culture:

"St. Thomas employs a distinction, which would seem to be a very modern one, between two ways of knowing: between purely theoretical knowing (per cognitionem), on the one hand, and knowing on the basis of an essential relatedness (per connaturalitatem), on the other. In the first way one knows something that does not belong to one, in the second way, per connaturalitattem, one knows what is peculiar to oneself. In the first way, a moralist or an ethical philosopher can judge what is good without himself being a good human being; in the second way, the good man known what is good on the basis of his immediate sharing and partaking of it, on the basis of an inner correspondence, thanks to the unerring sense of someone who loves (for love is that whereby the foreign becomes one's own, whereby connaturalitas comes into being, as Thomas also says!) And that person may judge of divine things on the basis of an essential relatedness, as if he were judging what is personally his own; who, according to Dionysius of Aeropagite, is not only learning the divine, but suffering it as well."

Douglas Johnson said...

James wrote:

IOW: whether or not you’re for gay marriage, to the vast majority of people the concept itself makes perfect sense.

James, from what do you arrive at this conclusion?

Mary said...

"Rather, to Joe Smith off the street marriage refers to the codification of a lifelong romantic commitment between two persons."

Witness the way that in every history class, if a teacher refers to any non-romantic union -- say the arranged political marriages of ancient Rome, where indeed a man could divorce his wife and order her to marry another as part of a political deal -- the students start to jeer -- except that the students don't start to jeer because they know perfectly well that the blather of sentiment about the union is not the union.

Maolsheachlann said...

I just noticed something wonderful about this blog. Even if you are at a computer where you haven't bookmarked it, you can simply type "Ed Feser" into a search engine, using five keys that are right beside each other in the same place, using three fingers on your left hand. I'm sorry this doesn't have anything to do with libertarianism, nor can I think of any philosophical implications.

Anonymous said...

Great, the touchstone trolling has commenced. It will continue until he is proven wrong, at which point he will refuse to conceed and abandon post.

James said...

@Douglas Johnson:

“James, from what do you arrive at this conclusion?”

From years of observing this debate and discussing it with individuals on both sides. Notice how the sentiment is phrased even by those who believe the traditional notion of marriage is definitionally correct: “marriage should be between a man and a woman”. They argue against the alternative scenario in which marriage would be between two same-gendered persons.

Really, you need look no further than the fact that — when you mention the possibility of “gay marriage” — everyone knows what you’re talking about. There is no confusion; the reactions aren’t comparable to those if you’d posited that π = 22/7 or that someone ran a thirty-second-mile yesterday. I’m not taking a stand on the debate here; I’m only arguing that “gay marriage is incoherent” puts the cart before the horse rhetorically.

Bobcat said...

James, just because the concept makes perfect sense to the vast majority of people doesn't mean it's coherent. For instance, I think the vast majority of people would say that Jamie Lee Curtis's and Lindsey Lohan's characters "switching bodies" in the film, Freaky Friday, makes perfect sense, but that doesn't mean that what happened in that movie is coherent (at least, a materialist about the mind would probably say that what happened in that movie isn't coherent).

Josh said...

Anon,

Great, the touchstone trolling has commenced. It will continue until he is proven wrong, at which point he will refuse to conceed and abandon post.

Right, and he shouldn't be allowed to say anything further until he directly responds to Aaron's quotations, imho.

Douglas Johnson said...

@James

I have exactly 1 min and 55 seconds, let's see if I can respond in that time:

I ask because in nearly every instance where voters have a chance to vote they shoot it down. That's what we know--we don't know why they voted against it, or whether the concept makes "perfect sense" to them.

It's true that 15-20 years ago even nearly all gay people wouldn't know what on earth you are talking about, let alone anyone else. So proponents had to explain why they wanted to redefine marriage (subversive reasons were proffered, political power, etc.). Today those reasons are kept quiet because they would do harm to the cause. But conceptually, nothing has changed.

I don't think the concept of redefining marriage makes "perfect sense." I don't just mean I'm against it. I don't think it makes sense as a concept. The concept would make a lot more sense if we were arguing whether or not the government should cease to recognize marriage in any form and anything that flows from it. After years of reading this debate and participating in it, I would say my understanding is not unusual in anyway. This is why I wondered how you concluded what everyone thinks.

Outta time!

Touchstone said...


"Libertarianism, on this view, holds "no particular concept of 'the good'" as the particular concept of good that is esteemed, meaning we might precisely say that libertarianism accepts NO OTHER concept of 'the good', beyond its own concept regarding this agnostic position."

If you seriously think that this is a legitimate philosophical position, then I don't even...


This is the position Dr. Feser is working from in his he linked to on libertarian neutrality. I have only read parts of Rawls' A Theory of Justice but have read his Political Liberalism in its entirety, in which this idea gets extensive treatment and exposition. This neutrality concept is the basis for Rawls advocacy of pluralism.

Note that libertarianism per Rawls does not deny the reality or potentiality of "the good". It just considers those private, subjective conclusions, positions that will compete and conflict do to the diversity of minds and views in a society. If such conflict is going to obtain, one must either take what he calls the "original position", by which Rawls means "not choosing a head of time among competing targets and ends, or one must be partial to one or more of those competitors. Rawls concludes that agnosticism and deference on this question -- partial to none up front -- is the path that maximizes liberty for a society.

That does NOT mean, as I suspect Dr. Feser thinks, that this is an "equal outcome" filter for all competing value systems. As I said above, it is a scythe that cuts down lots of conservative and authoritarian models precisely because those models are "top down" and problematic without the state establishing a privileged position for those values by fiat. The left has its share of authoritarian impulses that similarly run afoul of libertarian agnosticism, but in my experience, left-ish impulses tend to be more libertarian in their relativism by nature (a critic might say they are naturally more "libertine'), and thus not vexed by libertarian neutrality the way, say, Christian Dominionism is, for example.

In any case, I don't have a grasp of what you use as the criteria for "legitimate philosophical position" -- that sounds ironically authoritarian on the face it, given the context of this thread, no? -- but it doesn't matter; this is a central part of the libertarian framework that Dr. Feser was working from in that post, and which, ostensibly, he worked from himself in terms of his own views, at one point in the now distant past.


This, of course, makes no sense. The word "marriage" has a meaning, even between homosexuals. The state is making a particular set of actions, a particular relationship valid. It is bestowing upon a particular group of people a particular advantage based on the nature of the people, the actions they commit, and the relationships they develop. This is the reason it makes no sense for the state to recognize man-dog marriage despite the liberty-maximization it might ensure.

Words mean what we agree they mean. In the context of a government issued law, "marriage" in the US would provide regulation for a number of civil and commercial interactions -- tax filing, inheritance, child custody and guardianship, health care coverage, etc. If that's what "marriage" means in an American legal context, it means that because that's what the community has agreed on the terms to mean. It's a convention of language, that's all. It has no metaphysical entailments as to what is "God given" or "God approved" or any of that.

-TS

Touchstone said...

@Aaron,

"Some libertarians (and non-libertarians) have suggested that libertarianism favors same-sex marriage. It is not obvious that this is so. Libertarianism as we have defined it in this book has nothing to say about same-sex marriage, except that if two people of the same sex want to consider themselves married to one another, the government should not stop them. But there is no libertarian "right" to have the government or anyone else acknowledge a particular type of relationship, and government recognition of same-sex marriage would not, in itself, reduce the power of the government over individuals.

...Some libertarians make the argument that as long as government is in the marriage-recognizing business, it shouldn't discriminate. But this is not a libertarian view per se,; it is presumably a view a person holds because of social views that person holds in addition to his or her libertarian views (and those views may be fine, but they are not part of libertarianism per se). The libertarian view is that there is no legitimate reason for government to recognize any type of marriage." (pg. 38, the former italics are mine.)

As I understand libertarianism, and Rawls in particular (insofar as we are scoping this to Dr. Feser's citation of Rawls in the intro of his blog post), equality is transcendental, it's presupposed by the concept of neutrality. I think the "miss" here on that is that on libertarianism, "discriminating" in the technical sense (making distinctions) is not problematic per se, but "discrimination-in-the-colloquial-sense", distinctions made out of caprice or from illicit motivations NECESSARILY violate the neutrality principle.

This is also the reason for state minimalism on libertarianism. State actions and policies are in and of themselves threat potentials for liberty. If the aim is neutrality, then concrete distinctions are naturally risk factors for that neutrality and as such demand justification. That means a government construct is questioned for its necessity, its efficacy and its practicability in terms of maximizing liberty. If you can show that the judgment or distinctions in the law violate this neutrality, then you've undermined a key goal, and have supported a special privilege for one value system vs. another.

That doesn't mean discrimination, or tests, are off limits categorically. But it does mean that we cannot uphold neutrality if we are not treating people equally. Maybe a good way to put that is just to say that the question is irrelevant as a matter of theory: in practice, failure to apply equality will undermine neutrality, so at a minimum, it's practically required. I think that's putting it weakly, and that equality is entailed by the principle of neutrality itself, but the weaker version is strong enough to require it as part of the package, necessary to the practice.

Marriage equality is a good example of where this is required for neutrality. To privilege heterosexual monogamy, the state is NECESSARILY privileging some parochial view of solemnified relationships. There's an implicit concession in such a policy, a "nod" to tradition, as it were. And while this makes many here smile, approvingly, no doubt, this is precisely the problem Rawls-style libertarian neutrality aims to avoid. This is how the "divine right of kings" and slavery-as-ownership-of-human is preserved in society.

If one supposes that "equality isn't needed" here, on some other more austere view of libertarianism, then one must abandon the neutrality principle. For countenancing "traditional marriage" on the basis of it being traditional violates that neutrality, at the expense of maximized liberty and pluralist indifference to the competing value systems in society.

One can reject libertarianism as a whole, as Dr. Feser has apparently done, but it doesn't cohere *internally* if equality is not pressed in the interests of neutrality.

-TS

CantDecideontheQuestion said...

Hey All-

Im new to this blog and primarily concerned with theological/philosophical questions (see my username) but I'm just curious what you all think of Mitt Romney?

DNW said...

I've been trying to follow the line of reasoning in TS's torrential output.

And as I expected, we've seen a move from "neutrality", to a mention of a hypothetical "state interest", and now we see "equality" introduced and presented as a kind parallel to substantive due process.

Next, we could probably expect to see social "inclusion" and "affirmation" and "positive liberty" demanded in fulfillment of the "state's interest" in equality as well.

Nothing especially surprising in all that if you've actually read A Theory of Justice, and take it that the person commenting purports to be following a Rawlsian hypothetical.


But my question is, when did John Rawls, ever become a libertarian?

DNW said...



CantDecideontheQuestion said...

Hey All-

Im new to this blog and primarily concerned with theological/philosophical questions (see my username) but I'm just curious what you all think of Mitt Romney?

August 15, 2012 3:26 PM


Speaking of Rawls just now: What do you think of the current trend toward refashioning our polity into a no-limits distributive justice system?

That will help you to decide the question.

Gene Callahan said...

"Are you seriously unable to differentiate an individual from society?"

Of course one cannot do this, traumerei! Both are actually parts of an organic whole.

Sobieski said...

Excellent post, Dr. Feser. Thanks. I look forward to reading the other ones as well, but wanted to say that before it gets lost in a potential flood of further comments.

Also, have you looked into Heinrich Pesch, SJ and solidarism? I ask because he builds his system on an A-T metaphysic, emphasizing the importance of human nature. He has apparently been influential with regard to pre- and post-Vatican II popes and wrote a couple massive, multi-volume works on economics, which have been translated into English by Dr. Rupert Ederer.

Here are a couple articles I came across online:

Principles of Heinrich Pesch's Solidarism

A Giant Among Catholic Economists

Touchstone said...

@DNW,
But my question is, when did John Rawls, ever become a libertarian?
I think the closest I'd say he came is "proto-libertarian", in a similar fashion to the way libertarians view John Locke. Rawls was a titan of 20th century political philosophy, and among other contributions, his "separateness of persons" critique of the utilitarianism that had prevailed for so long before him served as the bedrock of modern libertarian thought.

Nozick, an earlier admirer of Rawls , and later critic (liked A Theory of Justice was dismissive of Political Liberalism), serves as something of a demarcation line for the perimeter of libertarianism proper, eschewing Rawls' liberal commitment to neutrality and pluralism as a kind of "collective agreement on first principles of the well ordered society" for a strong (strident!) notion of self-ownership that made it primary, and held that any coercive intrusion into the lives of the citizenry was necessarily a rights violation.

This is libertarianism from Nozick as we understand it today, as distinct from the proto-libertarian concepts that Rawls advanced (taking separateness of persons seriously as the basis for self-ownership, contra utilitarianism).

The labels used depend on meanings we agree on, of course, but in the current lexicon, Rawls catalyzed libertarian thinking with his contributions, but remained a liberal.

-TS

traumerei said...

"Of course one cannot do this, traumerei! Both are actually parts of an organic whole."

Sure you can. An individual is one person; a society is more than one. While an individual cannot live a normal life without society, they are nevertheless different things. While they don't belong to different genera, there is a specific difference that Mr. Medaille seems keen to ignore.

rank sophist said...

I wonder how the average libertarian would react to this article?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/15/i-wish-my-mother-aborted-me

DNW said...

Blogger Touchstone said...

" @DNW,
'But my question is, when did John Rawls, ever become a libertarian?'

I think the closest I'd say he came is "proto-libertarian" ..."

So below you did not mean to imply with reference to Rawls "in particular" that Rawls was a member of the class of libertarians ...


""As I understand libertarianism, and Rawls in particular (insofar as we are scoping this to Dr. Feser's citation of Rawls in the intro of his blog post), equality is transcendental, it's presupposed by the concept of neutrality ..."

... but merely that you were referencing Rawls in particular.

And that now you would characterize him, with his imaginary original position and veil of ignorance construct, and with his emphasis on distributive justice, his dancing with positive liberty, and even his notion that there may be a state interest managing the reproductive associations and outcomes of the citizenry in order to ensure a certain substantively egalitarian quality ... as a "proto-libertarian."


Sounds much more like some kind of communitarian fascism to me.

Josh said...

I've been trying to follow the line of reasoning in TS's torrential output.

Yeah, I still don't see a direct response to Aaron's quotes. Let's try this part:

Aaron (quoting): The libertarian view is that there is no legitimate reason for government to recognize any type of marriage.

Now let's see a one-sentence proposition formed carefully to the contrary and then a direct, reasoned exposition of why it is true. Too much to ask?

Touchstone said...

So below you did not mean to imply with reference to Rawls "in particular" that Rawls was a member of the class of libertarians ...
On the issue at hand, in Dr. Feser's post -- neutrality, the basis for pluralism that underwrites libertarianism -- Rawls is a member of the "libertarian pantheon". This is similar to the way many libertarians lionize Thomas Jefferson. He was a thought leader for libertarianism of the first order, but not a thoroughgoing libertarian in the modern sense we use it today, by any stretch of the term (see his "big government" commitments to public education, for example, in contrast to the ideas he advanced that are pillars of modern libertarianism -- maximal freedom, maximal individual rights, self-government, etc.

For the purposes of discussing pluralism and neutrality, Rawls is a modern anchor of libertarianism.


""As I understand libertarianism, and Rawls in particular (insofar as we are scoping this to Dr. Feser's citation of Rawls in the intro of his blog post), equality is transcendental, it's presupposed by the concept of neutrality ..."

... but merely that you were referencing Rawls in particular.



And that now you would characterize him, with his imaginary original position and veil of ignorance construct, and with his emphasis on distributive justice, his dancing with positive liberty, and even his notion that there may be a state interest managing the reproductive associations and outcomes of the citizenry in order to ensure a certain substantively egalitarian quality ... as a "proto-libertarian."

Yes, and I don't think that's a controversial position. If we are talking about impartiality, as Feser was explicitly in the post I was commenting on, this formulation from Rawls was the ground for the libertarian extensions thinkers like Nozick developed (taking ownership of self way far than Rawls countenanced, for example) which distinguished them as "full-blooded" libertarians.

Rawls is a liberal, and the divergence with libertarianism on issues like justice and property holding is wide. He's no libertarian there. But he's a heavy lifter, historically at least on the basis for pluralist neutrality, a basis libertarianism depends on heavily.


Sounds much more like some kind of communitarian fascism to me.

I'm sorry, I don't have any idea how to help you with that problem.

-TS

Touchstone said...

've been trying to follow the line of reasoning in TS's torrential output.

Yeah, I still don't see a direct response to Aaron's quotes. Let's try this part:

Aaron (quoting): The libertarian view is that there is no legitimate reason for government to recognize any type of marriage.

I'm not a libertarian, but have strong sympathies for much of libertarianism, and "thinking as a libertarian", I don't think I'd sign up to defend the enterprise. I would commend the government getting out of the marriage business completely on libertarian principles.

But that's changing the subject, and pivoting to the subject of marriage. If we stipulate that marriage is not a compelling venture for the state on libertarian grounds, that just means we need another example to use in examining Dr. Feser's (or anyone else's) claims about libertarian neutrality. So, that's my answer, but it's a distraction as a question on the question of libertarian neutrality.

IF we demur on such judgments and accept marriage as a fixture of government policy, legitimate or no, we can *still* apply tests for neutrality as it is implemented. That is, we can assess the impartiality of the current setup in terms of "no particular concept of the good", and the maximization of liberty under the current plan, and the identification, say, of victims of suppressed liberties we might identify, if any, under a new arrangement which extends equal treatment to homosexuals.

That all "keeps on point" in terms of libertarian neutrality, which is why I wasn't interested above in the tangent concerning the libertarian judgment on marriage's legitimacy as a government institution in the first place.


Now let's see a one-sentence proposition formed carefully to the contrary and then a direct, reasoned exposition of why it is true. Too much to ask?

Uh, yeah. Or maybe way too little. I think you've imputed a position to me I don't have. And I'm happy to answer questions you have, especially if you are willing to answer my questions given in return, but this is 'free time' posting, so I don't dance on command, or suffer pedantic requests like "one-sentence" or other invitations to perform like that.

-TS

Mr. Green said...

For everyone who is confused why a certain view claimed above should get a free ride, the reasoning is very simple: MY position is objective, natural, obvious, neutral, and correct. YOUR position is impractical, obsolete, incoherent, prejudiced, and funny-looking. Which would be clear to you if you weren't superstitious, dim-witted, question-begging, conspiring, or all of the above.

See how easy that was?

Anonymous said...

Yeah we're pretty much getting the dregs of Loftusminions now. Kinda sucks, they're long on wind, short on content.

Anonymous said...

Yeah we're pretty much getting the dregs of Loftusminions now. Kinda sucks, they're long on wind, short on content.

rank sophist said...

Touchstone isn't a bad guy. He's just very confused on a lot of issues, and he never admits to being wrong.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous: It will continue until he is proven wrong, at which point he will refuse to conceed and abandon post.

Yeah, we're in for more merry-go-rounding, but at least this time Out-of-touchstone supplied triple hilarity: first was the standard question-begging. Then his funny caricature of "tradition" as something that never ever changes. (Don't ask him where traditions come from in the first place, he might snap.) Kinda silly from someone so big on science, which is a pretty traditional system. And finally, not only does he miss the very point Ed makes about grounding libertarianism, but he comes up with this baseball example that illustrates the very problem Ed was pointing out!

Anonymous said...

traumerei,

Actually Mr. Medaille seems to be readily able to distinguish between the individual and society, it simply suits your rhetoric to ignore this.

Besides, there are many levels at which we may view the individual.

At certain social level, though he and the institutions he is part of remain in a sense distinct, they also have an interpenetration that unifies them whilst preserving the particularity of individuals.

That is, though we can see the individual is not simply defined by his family, we can note that his familial ties and relationships have been constitutive and formative on a lot of his social being. Without such ties he simply would be the social being he is. In this sense there is a unity, but not of course one that eliminates particularity of individuals.

Likewise, me can see that whilst the family is made up of distinct individuals, it is not reducible simply to such a sum of the parts. As an institution it has a reality.

This is a criticism of libertarianism, and classical liberalism in general, that Dr.Feser doesn't really mention. It entire framework (though a few figures like De Tocqueville) tends to the atomistic. It tends to see only the individual, or at least only to concern itself with him in terms of politics and social development, and to neglect the role of social institutions and society (and it goes without saying that intermediate social associations are at least as important as society at large, and society at large itself should not be simply equated with the state).

As Robert Nisbet liked to point out, it is the mark of conservatism that it (whilst at its best not forgetting it is the individual who should be the end of all politics) intimately concerns itself, as did Aristotle and St.Thomas, with the social nature of man.

As a distributist I too recommend Heinrich Pesch. I would be interested in hearing more of Dr. Feser's criticism of distributism. I would also point out that neoliberalism and the so called free markets of much mainstream conservatism simply do not exist. Our current globalised capitalism is state ridden. As those like Kevin Carson have persuasively shown, it simply wouldn't continue to exist without extensive and increasing state intervention. So to dismiss distributism because of 'free market conservative' arguments is flawed.

traumerei said...

"Actually Mr. Medaille seems to be readily able to distinguish between the individual and society, it simply suits your rhetoric to ignore this."

Really? Did he not say:

"and there is no clear way to determine a precise boundary. The effort to create such a boundary creates stunted individuals; it creates, in a word, libertarians."

I've read Fr. Pesch. Unfortunately he's not around to carry on a discussion of the issues in my first comment. Neither Medaille, nor Storck, nor Aleman at the Distributist Review give any kind of clear answers to those problems either. Ferrara is simply out of his depth as his recent polemics attest. Perhaps, however, there is some missing bit of scholarship I haven't discovered with which you might be familiar.

"At certain social level, though he and the institutions he is part of remain in a sense distinct"

I'm not sure why you caricature the libertarian position as operating from an atomistic perspective that sees "only the individual" and neglects the role of social institutions or of society.

If anything, the libertarian focus on economics and the state is especially concerned with social institutions and society.

Gyan said...

Prof Feser,

The notion of homesteading whereby one acquires property rights in a state of nature on a piece of land seems overly simplistic.

A right is an argument and thus needs a state of law, That applies particularly to the landed property since right to the fruit of one's labor exist pre-politically (aka Law of nations). Thus we may have chattel property in a state of nature and we may trade it.
But in a state of nature, any piece of land needs to be secured by force. Thus it should be called a Territory and not a Property.

The traditional theory lacks reference to the political nature of man. The political nature implies that man is always found in organized self-ruling communities. These communities possess Territories
(i.e. do not own them) which they secure by force. A political community defines s state of law and arguments as to claims to particular pieces of land may be made in that state of law.

Thus, I submit that while chattel property may be defined in a state of nature, property in land only makes sense within a state of law.

Gyan said...

Prof Feser,
To rephrase my argument:

A 'right' is an argument and
thus requires a state of rational intercourse between individuals.
There can be two levels of rational intercourse
A) Rational intercourse between strangers: think of a trading post
in Indian territory or at frontier between two tribes.
This is called the 'state of nature' and the arguments made in this intercourse
may be called 'pre-political' or the Law of Nations. It is libertarian utopia, as it were.
These arguments suffice for property in chattels and protection of persons ("self-ownership")
The justice is arbitrative.

B) Rational intercourse in the City.
This is called the 'state of law' and the arguments made therein may be called political.
It provides for full spectrum of property rights including property in land.
The justice is sovereign.

The absence of rational intercourse is called the 'state of war'. There is neither security
of person nor of property.

The reason why the 'state of nature' can not provide for property right in land have to do
with the definition of State. In Aristotelean scheme, the territory along with the people
constitute the material cause of the State.

Maolsheachlann said...

I think libertarianism is an attempt to regulate an extremely complicated and subtly-intervowen society with one simple principle, just as scientism is an attempt to comprehend an extremely elusive and subtle reality with one simple method.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't the Walter Block (thick libertarian) response to your man built into a 7x4 foot space by a mean early appropriator of surrounding land say yes, legally breaking out of the box and encroaching on the mean person's land is 'illegal' but what's the consequence? A libertarian would note you need a court and a judge...let's assume there is such a court and a judge on this island then this is where the libertarian would say there is room for reasonablness which you seem to ignore in your account. A judge would be unlikely to punish the 'law breaker' in this case. Same applies to other supposedly hard cases, eg physically preventing someone from committing suicide. Yes, that would be illegal in the sense you interfered with their person against their will but it would be up to the court to decide if any punishment was merited. There is a gap between committing a crime and if there is punishment.

DNW said...

" 'Sounds much more like some kind of communitarian fascism to me.'

I'm sorry, I don't have any idea how to help you with that problem.

-TS

August 15, 2012 7:58 PM"



No need to help me where no help is needed. The gap between the characterization proffered and the reality is nothing unfamiliar to most. Many of us grew up listening to Marxists describe themselves, even more outrageously, as democrats.

I however, will help you. I will help you by suggesting that you actually read through the "A Theory of Justice" text you had earlier adverted to.

You might run across some passages you had earlier missed. Such as:

" In justice as fairness men agree to share one another's fate. ... they undertake to avail themselves of the accidents of nature and social circumstance only when doing so is for the common benefit."

" [In considering objections] ... it is necessary to be clear about the notion of desert ...

Perhaps some will think that the person with greater natural endowments deserves those assets and the superior character that made their endowment possible.

... This view is surely incorrect. It seems to be one of the fixed points of our considered judgments that no one deserves his place in the distribution of native endowments ..."

The mere fact that Rawls frames the question of natural endowments and their use in terms of social desert starts driving the spike through the notion that he is in any way a real libertarian or even a "proto-libertarian" (Which, with its temporal series connotations, I don't think is the actual term you were looking for).

Rawls' yammering on about the difference principle as implying a mandated fraternity then adds a blow or two; and when Rawls says regarding "generations", or reproductive considerations:

" ... over time a society is to take steps at least to preserve the general level of natural abilities and to prevent the diffusion of serious defects. ...

I mention this speculative matter and difficult matter to indicate once again the manner in which the difference principle is likely to transform problems of social justice. We might conjecture that in the long run, if there is an upper bound on ability, we would eventually reach a society with the greatest equal liberty the members of which enjoy the greatest equal talent. But I shall not pursue this thought further"

... Rawls sets the spike head below flush.


And, well what's left to be stated in that regard anyway? His announcement that Gore Vidal was to been placed in charge of the brooder program?

DNW said...

ouchstone said...

So below you did not mean to imply with reference to Rawls "in particular" that Rawls was a member of the class of libertarians ...

On the issue at hand, in Dr. Feser's post -- neutrality, the basis for pluralism that underwrites libertarianism ..."


" that underwrites libertarianism"

What are you suggesting? That "pluralism" is some axiomatic good that in turn justifies the libertarian project, rather than being to some degree an inevitable social consequence of a libertarian political space?

Nick Corrado said...

I think Mr. Médaille's atom example is actually interesting because we're a lot more like atoms than he thinks. Atoms hook up in weird bonds that can make them share electrons and such and sometimes it's very hard to distinguish one from the other, and impossible to understand the emergent properties of the atoms together without at least understanding how they relate to one another as well. If we in society are like atoms, then we are atoms bound in a crystal lattice.

Touchstone said...

@DNW

What are you suggesting? That "pluralism" is some axiomatic good that in turn justifies the libertarian project, rather than being to some degree an inevitable social consequence of a libertarian political space?

Answering this "out of order" from your previous post as I only have a couple minutes and this one a much simpler answer:

"Justifies", no. It's a predicate, an enabling configuration that permits the libertarian project (and many liberal projects as well) to get off the ground.

I don't mind considering a "consequence", in the "working backwards from our goal" sense; if we accept a) diversity of moral frameworks and value systems in the members of our society and b) the priority of maximizing liberty across all of that, and in a way that takes self-ownership seriously (as opposed to utilitarian calculations of "net good"), then some form pluralism is implicated.

If you are wondering if I think pluralism is a "good" in a metaphysical sense, in and of itself, no. That kind of metaphysics doesn't work at all, in my view.

If self-ownership is important, then any calculus that respects that cannot satisfy the "maximizing liberty" goal without a substantial commitment to agnosticism and impartiality to competing value systems. The only way that could work is if the members of society did not have a diverse and conflicting set of value systems they were committed to. And manifestly, such diversity obtains, ergo pluralism as the predicate for a libertarian framework (and various liberal constructs, too).

I believe that's what you mean by "inevitable" above.

-TS

Nota bene re: Dr. Feser's complaints about neutrality, being "neutral" here is not to pursue "equal outcomes" for various competing value systems. In one of Dr. Feser's articles I recall him granting that "jihadism" was not reasonably amenable to a pluralist framework, and bound to cry "foul" because it is dismissed with prejudice on liberal (and libertarian) principles of neutrality. He seemed incredulous at the idea that Catholic dogma (or maybe he just invoked Aristotelian metaphysics, don't recall) could be similarly dismissed, and on the same basis. I find that to be a conceit, a "thou but not I, because I am I" reaction...

Touchstone said...

@DNW

And, well what's left to be stated in that regard anyway? His announcement that Gore Vidal was to been placed in charge of the brooder program?
Just quickly, where does your "fascism" apply here?

Use of "Fascism", just as a matter of experience, is strongly correlated with both an attraction to the emotional force of the word combined with confusion and carelessness for what that term means in that context. Maybe you're a pro at applying it, but from what you've said here, it looks now like another pebble on that pile.

What do use for the measure of "fascism" as you've applied it?

-TS


DNW said...



Just to clarify, and to attempt to do with narrow bounds,

No one here actually believes that "society" is a subsistent entity of some kind, with "its own" legitimate claims do they? "Claims", to utilize anthropomorphic language in reference to a concept, which somehow stand apart from those particular persons doing the associating?

No one would say that the state has a right to exist, rather than that persons form associations that may be called states, and that, perhaps with possible provisos, they have what can be called a right to do so, and to preserve what they have done.

Would all not then grant that human association is merely a necessary predicate for the long term existence of the human person; and, that some rock bottom conditioning principles for maintaining a successful association among humans are probably factually and logically extrapolate-able from that?

Also: Not to be too flippant, but while everybody by nature at some time needs somebody, that doesn't logically imply that one at anytime can be said to need everyone distributively.

Thus, it seems to me that for anyone to assume the framework of reciprocal concessions and obligations in poitical society as somehow being parallel to the complementarity of natural society, is to err (or in the case of progressives to conceptually cheat; in the same way it would be to expect that the naturally tolerated and assumed complementarity implied in natural society must by force of existential necessity be extended by some interpretive axiom to the operation of political society.


This would not mean that reciprocity is not the conditioning natural law predicate for sound political association.

But it would imply that complementarity and fellow feeling cannot be said or expected to automatically extend as either imperatives or as logically coherent principles from the natural society of the family, to the larger political society; without an addition of the contitioning principle of reciprocity; based one would think, on an assumed capacity for it.

DNW said...

Touchstone said...

@DNW

'What are you suggesting? That "pluralism" is some axiomatic good that in turn justifies the libertarian project, rather than being to some degree an inevitable social consequence of a libertarian political space?'

Answering this "out of order" from your previous post as I only have a couple minutes and this one a much simpler answer:

"Justifies", no. It's a predicate, an enabling configuration that permits the libertarian project (and many liberal projects as well) to get off the ground.

I don't mind considering a "consequence", in the "working backwards from our goal" sense; if we accept a) diversity of moral frameworks and value systems in the members of our society and b) the priority of maximizing liberty across all of that, and in a way that takes self-ownership seriously (as opposed to utilitarian calculations of "net good"), then some form pluralism is implicated.

If you are wondering if I think pluralism is a "good" in a metaphysical sense, in and of itself, no. That kind of metaphysics doesn't work at all, in my view."



I was merely asking whether you saw pluralism as a probable consequence of a libertarian project or a rationale for it.

You have stated that while pluralism is not to your mind a good" in a metaphysical sense, it somehow nonetheless acts as a "predicate", functioning as an "enabling configuration".


I do not know from this whether you believe that pluralism serves as a necessary premiss in some deductive scheme (and if so I would like to see the syllogism), or whether you merely mean that people should assume before embarking that it will be a practical side effect of any libertarian project.

To say that it is anticipated as a consequence, is not to say that it is a logically necessary or an existential cause or an "enabling configuration" (assuming I know what you mean by that).

To say on the other hand that it is merely a descriptive aspect of some possible manifestation of a phenomenon, is not to claim that it has causal efficacy, is necessarily conditioning of the possibility, or functions as an a priori normative predicate in the creation of any particular scheme.

DNW said...

Touchstone said...

@DNW

'And, well what's left to be stated in that regard anyway? His announcement that Gore Vidal was to been placed in charge of the brooder program?'


Just quickly, where does your "fascism" apply here?"


Answering quickly, I would say you have lost track of where you were.

What I actually had written in attempting to sort out your exact reference and sense was,

" ... that you were referencing Rawls in particular."

"And that now you would characterize him, with his imaginary original position and veil of ignorance construct, and with his emphasis on distributive justice, his dancing with positive liberty, and even his notion that there may be a state interest managing the reproductive associations and outcomes of the citizenry in order to ensure a certain substantively egalitarian quality ... as a 'proto-libertarian.'

Sounds much more like some kind of communitarian fascism to me."


Subsequent to that comment on Rawls, I quoted a number of passages out of Rawls' book; passages which you might or might not be familiar with, or which you might or might not remember from your admittedly partial past reading.

These quotes were intended to exemplify my contention that Rawls was neither a libertarian nor, as you would have it, a "proto-libertarian".

In fact, Rawls' peculiar allusions to a collective commitment to a shared fate under the circumstances in which he posits it; his role for fraternity; and the positing as allowable of what looks to be an apparent socially directed reproductive management scheme for ensuring a more perfect fraternity, don't leave much doubt where his thought was trending.



"Use of "Fascism", just as a matter of experience, is strongly correlated with both an attraction to the emotional force of the word combined with confusion and carelessness for what that term means in that context. Maybe you're a pro at applying it, but from what you've said here, it looks now like another pebble on that pile.

What do use for the measure of "fascism" as you've applied it?

-TS
August 16, 2012 11:38 AM


Again, given your laudably stated concern with context and exact application, you should take another look at what I really did write.

That way, when you place text which you attribute to me in quotes, it is more likely to be something I have in fact, actually written.

DNW said...

By the way, TS does quote me quite accurately with one remark I made.

Regarding Rawls' discussion of a "speculative and difficult matter", wherein he conjectured an implied social policy for reproductively ensuring a proper fraternity of talent: but, regarding which, he eventually said, " ... I shall not pursue this thought further" ...


I commented, "And, well what's left to be stated in that regard anyway? His announcement that Gore Vidal was to been placed in charge of the brooder program?"


Obviously the sentence should have read "And, well what's left to be stated in that regard anyway? His announcement that Gore Vidal was to *have* been placed in charge of the brooder program?"

Glad to have had the opportunity to set the sense right.

The reference to Vidal could obviously have been taken in different ways. I can think of one or two that would be equally apt.

Touchstone said...

@DNW (I think, it seems the authorship is sketchy on some of these...)

I was merely asking whether you saw pluralism as a probable consequence of a libertarian project or a rationale for it.

The former, although I'd go so far as to say "inevitable consequence", or even an "entailment" of the project.


You have stated that while pluralism is not to your mind a good" in a metaphysical sense, it somehow nonetheless acts as a "predicate", functioning as an "enabling configuration".

See my a) and b) items in my previous post. If you have diversity of value systems, and a goal of maximizing liberty for all, you need some form of pluralism to integrate those. Either that or you ignore diversity (say, enthroning "Aristotelian Metaphysics" and its products as the privileged value system) in individualistic (self-ownership) sense, or you forget about maximizing liberty.


I do not know from this whether you believe that pluralism serves as a necessary premiss in some deductive scheme (and if so I would like to see the syllogism), or whether you merely mean that people should assume before embarking that it will be a practical side effect of any libertarian project.

I'm a science type guy. As a practical, empirical matter, you *will* have diverse, conflicting and competing views, and owners that are passionate about preserving them and living by them. If you want to maximize the liberty for all of those individuals, across that diverse spectrum of value systems, you will have some sort of pluralism as a practical necessity (I'm tempted to say *by definition*).


To say that it is anticipated as a consequence, is not to say that it is a logically necessary or an existential cause or an "enabling configuration" (assuming I know what you mean by that).

No, and I've no interesting in defending such a proposition, with the proviso that there's some merit in saying that whatever you devise that is practicable and upholds both diversity in value systems and maximized liberty *is* pluralism, by definition. If you don't see that as merely tautological (I'm inclined to think it is), then no, there's nothing metaphysical, ontologically or logically necessary about pluralism as a "cosmic good" in its own right, so far as I'm aware.

-TS


To say on the other hand that it is merely a descriptive aspect of some possible manifestation of a phenomenon, is not to claim that it has causal efficacy, is necessarily conditioning of the possibility, or functions as an a priori normative predicate in the creation of any particular scheme.

Anonymous said...

traumerei,

That quote from Mr. Medaille simply does not support your accusation. It is a stretch to go from it to the claim that he cannot distinguish between society and individuals.

Your unsupported and unargued dismissal of the distributists is not particularly impressive, I'm afraid.

My comments were in no sense a caricature. Just as the Marxist will claim he is not simply a collectivist, the classical liberal and libertarian claim they are atomistic individualists. However, the truth is (with a few exceptions, like De Tocqueville, generally influenced by Burke or Catholic social teaching) the classical liberal (and his modern offshoots, whether libertarian or social liberalism)are entirely wed to psychological and sociological individualism. They simply do not consider the individual's relationship to society except in individualist terms that relegate social associations and culture and society at large to secondary aspects, largely formed by the rational, immediate actions of presocially formed individuals.

Marginalist economics, whether mainstream/neoclassical or Austrian, is an excellent example of a liberal social analysis that is completely underwrote by a methodological individualism.

One only has to look to Maggie Thatcher, whom as a traditionally conservative Englishman I'm ambivalent about, to see the quite open declaration that 'there is no such thing as society'. But that principle, in various degrees, is essentially at the core of liberalism and has been since Hobbes and Locke.

Anonymous said...

-that should have been the classical liberal and libertarian claim they are not atomistic individualists.

An excellent example of the problems liberalism has in being truly social is the so called communitarians that appeared a few decades ago. Despite calling themselves communitarians and supporting some collectivist, statist sort of measures and thinking, they were still essentially individualists in social and cultural terms. Indeed, it is interesting, as Robert Nisbet pointed out, how social and cultural liberalism and individualism can so easily be combined with statism and collectivism.

Daniel Smith said...

I have a lot of reading to do - with all the articles and authors mentioned here.

In the meantime some questions:

1. Even if self-ownership is disputed doesn't is still remain that one of the fundamental human rights is the right to be “unmolested in our persons without cause”? That is to say that there must be sufficient reason to use force or coercion against another human being. (And all government actions are backed by the threat of force or coercion.)

2. What about free will? God has given us the freedom to choose between good and evil - thus "natural rights" would seem to include the right to disobey God. That it is a right seems simple - God designed it into our nature and He allows it.

Of course with the right of free will there are consequences. If we do wrong, according to God, we will pay for it. Thus it would seem that this right must be coupled with personal accountability. We must then be accountable for how our actions affect others (and how they affect ourselves).

traumerei said...

"That quote from Mr. Medaille simply does not support your accusation. It is a stretch to go from it to the claim that he cannot distinguish between society and individuals."

I believe everyone can distinguish the part from the whole. The problem is with his ridiculous philosophical system leads him to the absurd conclusion that we are not individual atoms, but parts of a whole, and there is no clear way to determine a precise boundary.

"Your unsupported and unargued dismissal of the distributists is not particularly impressive, I'm afraid."

sigh. I'm not going to post my exchanges with Mr. Medaille and Mr. Storck here. But Mr. Medaille has stated that he believes:

1. inflation is natural in an expanding economy

2. credit must be injected before production can begin

3. hyperinflation in Weimar Germany was the fault of private banks rather than the government

4. inflation is categorically superior to deflation

And then there's this gem from a previous exchange with Mr. Medaille:

"In the pre-civil war period, there was a severe shortage of currency, so counterfeiters 'helped' the situation. It wasn't their intent, but they actually did improve the economy."

That's right. He believes counterfeiting can actually improve the economy.

Sorry, but if this kind of thinking is characteristic of Distributists, you guys have a long way to go.

And that's not even touching the topic of charging interest (usury). Let me ask you, "anonymous", is it legitimate to charge interest on loans?

"They simply do not consider the individual's relationship to society except in individualist terms that relegate social associations and culture and society at large to secondary aspects, largely formed by the rational, immediate actions of presocially formed individuals."

The problem being? The functioning of society and culture is done through the actions of various individuals - not the other way around. Society and culture do not exist without individual people.

"Marginalist economics, whether mainstream/neoclassical or Austrian, is an excellent example of a liberal social analysis that is completely underwrote by a methodological individualism. "

There is only a problem if you have a caricatured or undistinguished view of MI.

"One only has to look to Maggie Thatcher,"

Seriously? Well it's better than bringing up Ayn Rand or Somalia I guess.

traumerei said...

"Marginalist economics, whether mainstream/neoclassical or Austrian, is an excellent example of a liberal social analysis that is completely underwrote by a methodological individualism. "

Also, are you implying that Distributists don't believe in marginal analysis? Is there any particular reason you are singling out "marginalist economics"?

Gyan said...

Libertarianism involves a denial of the political nature of man.
The political nature implies a distinction between a citizen (or a tribesman or a national) and a stranger.

The libertarianism seeks to erase this distinction by turning citizens into strangers. That is, the neighbors are expected to have no common bonds other than the minimal bonds that strangers share, no common culture, no common vision of Good etc. The justice is therefore arbitrative and not sovereign.

The other denial of the political nature is Progressivism that issued from
the same sources as Libertarianism. Progressivism erases the citizen-stranger gap by turning strangers into citizens. That is, people that do not share a culture and a vision of Good are forced to share an necessarily imposed vision. The two streams of denial run concurrently and mutually reinforce each other,
the conservative floundering in midst.

Anonymous said...

You should investigate whether the Aristotelian-Thomistic concepts of the self-sufficiency of the houshold and the city would argue for a Distributist economics, indeed whether it would argue for Distributism as a foundational social condition for the practice of virtue and of eudaimonia.

Anonymous said...

traumerei

I'm afraid your attempt at a rhetorical attack on Mr.Medaille fails. At the most his comment is vague; it doesn't fully specify the fact that precise is clearly meant to mean an atomistic individualism that can completely socially isolate individuals. Other than that your attack is a massive leap.

Similarly, your brief, out of context claims, clearly biased by your own economic ideology, about some comments some distributists have apparently made to you, is again decidedly unimpressive.

The position of the Christian and Catholic social teaching is that the charging of loans for interest for consumption is a sin. Have you ever read the Divine Comedy? Or Aristotle?

Marginalism is here just used to describe both Neoclassical and Austrian economics. Both of these could be called liberal, and both are wedded to the flawed and silly position of methodological individualism. If a distributist has ever heard of Piero Sraffa or Joan Robinson, he may also not have much time for marginalism.

You basically confirm my main point when you state that "The functioning of society and culture is done through the actions of various individuals - not the other way around.".

Unlike how you treated Mr.Medaille's comments, I will give you the benefit of the doubt. But the above comments risk missing an important social point, as the atomistic individualist does. Yes, society and culture are made up only of individuals, in one sense. But, in another sense, they predate any one individual and they are not reducible simply to the sum of the individuals that make them up. Any liberal, in the broad sense, who ignores these facts, as is almost always the case (as such an atomistic position is, and always has been, an embedded premise of liberalism), misses essential social and cultural realities.

Btw, don't quote me out of context when my original comments are just a view posts above. I mentioned specific comments of Thatcher's. I did not hold her up as a bogeyman (In fact I said I was ambivalent about her; she was still our best PM since MacMillan.)

Anonymous said...

Btw traumerei , I do think some distributists are sometimes too lenient to social democracy. Mr.Storck is one such example. Distributism is quite different from social democracy, as different as it is from our current economy or the fable of 'free market' capitalism and must assert it differences in all directions.

I do find it quite ironic that an anarcho-capitalist is accusing distributists of making outlandish comments.

Anyway, one of the central arguments against distributism by the so called 'free marketeers' is to imply it would break with assumed benefits of our current globalised, state capitalist economy. Of course, what is passed over, aside from the vague and undefined nature of what exactly a 'free market' is , is the fact that the actually existing, capitalist economy is not a 'free market'. Nor is any significant section of it a 'free market'. But, even more than that, neither in the economy as a whole nor any significant section of it is the state intervention not structural. That is, it is not a matter of simply 'rolling back' the state and leaving the economy, or any part of it, in much the same way, but stronger; rather trying to turn our current economy to a 'free market' one would be as radical a transformation, from top to bottom, as distributism itself.

DNW said...



I noticed that in one of the Rawls quotes, I typed in the word "matter" twice.

It should be there once.


Maybe I'll try scanning next time.

traumerei said...

"traumerei

At the most his comment is vague; it doesn't fully specify the fact that precise is clearly meant to mean an atomistic individualism that can completely socially isolate individuals."

So, then it is HE who mis-characterizes libertarianism by using an outdated form of MI.

"Similarly, your brief, out of context claims, clearly biased by your own economic ideology, about some comments some distributists have apparently made to you, is again decidedly unimpressive."

Good use of weasel language. "rhetorical attack fails" "decidedly unimpressive" - again you've failed to actually address any of the issues I raised in favor of weaseling. Okay.

"The position of the Christian and Catholic social teaching is that the charging of loans for interest for consumption is a sin."

Ah, okay then. And what level of magisterial authority do such teachings have?

"Have you ever read the Divine Comedy? Or Aristotle?"

Yup. Not sure what Dante putting usurers in hell has to do with anything - unless the Divine Comedy enjoys some privileged theological status I'm unaware of. As for Aristotle, check the first post and try answering.

"Marginalism is here just used to describe both Neoclassical and Austrian economics."

Ah, so mentioning "marginalism" was unnecessary then. Okay.

"Both of these could be called liberal, and both are wedded to the flawed and silly position of methodological individualism."

Except you equivocate here. They use rather different versions of MI as you would easily discover with any elementary examination of the two schools.

"If a distributist has ever heard of Piero Sraffa or Joan Robinson, he may also not have much time for marginalism."

Anyone who accepted Sraffa and Robinson would not be a Distributist. For them, as with just about everyone else in economics (including Kevin Carson), interest rates are a natural part of the economy.

It's funny how the Distributist obsession with defeating Libertarians has brought them to utilize the analysis of anyone critical of the Austrians; this, despite the problems of adopting Keynesian analysis.

"Yes, society and culture are made up only of individuals, in one sense. But, in another sense, they predate any one individual and they are not reducible simply to the sum of the individuals that make them up."

Amazing, so you haven't made it past chapter 2 in Human Action.

As a thinking and acting being man emerges from his prehuman existence already as a social being. The evolution of reason, language, and cooperation is the outcome of the same process; they were inseparably and necessarily linked together. But this process took place in individuals. It consisted in changes in the behavior of individuals. There is no other substance in which it occurred than the individuals. There is no substratum of society other than the actions of individuals.

"Btw, don't quote me out of context when my original comments are just a view posts above. I mentioned specific comments of Thatcher's."

Again, what relevance does Thatcher have in this discussion? None.

"I do find it quite ironic that an anarcho-capitalist is accusing distributists of making outlandish comments."

Now here is some progress. Do you think the comments I attributed to distributists are outlandish? Because if you do ...

I've got some bad news for you buddy.

"Anyway, one of the central arguments against distributism by the so called 'free marketeers' is to imply it would break with assumed benefits of our current globalised, state capitalist economy..."

Not my argument so let's not go there.

Anonymous said...

traumerei,

"Good use of weasel language. "rhetorical attack fails" "decidedly unimpressive" - again you've failed to actually address any of the issues I raised in favor of weaseling. Okay."

You raised now issues, and now you appear to just be trying to come up with random insults. Well done.


"Ah, okay then. And what level of magisterial authority do such teachings have? "

I'm a high church Anglican, so it is less what the Magisterium teaches, as what the Scripture, Tradition, and Fathers of the Church teach that concerns me, though I believe the Roman Catholic Magisterial and social teachings still officially condemn usury. I will certainly say that such teachings were unanimous to pre-modern Christianity and were not abandoned, in principle, afterwards, except amongst certain Protestant sects. Dante puts the traditional the position well, during on Aristotle and Aquinas;

"Once more a little backward turn thee," said I,
"There where thou sayest that usury offends
Goodness divine, and disengage the knot."
"Philosophy," he said, "to him who heeds it,
Noteth, not only in one place alone,
After what manner Nature takes her course
From Intellect Divine, and from its art;
And if thy Physics carefully thou notest,
After not many pages shalt thou find,
That this your art as far as possible
Follows, as the disciple doth the master;
So that your art is, as it were, God's grandchild.
From these two, if thou bringest to thy mind
Genesis at the beginning, it behoves
Mankind to gain their life and to advance;
And since the usurer takes another way,
Nature herself and in her follower
Disdains he, for elsewhere he puts his hope."

You do not deal with the basic doctrinal issues. You simply appeal to current practice and popular thought. You also, no doubt, ignore the difference between lending on interest for production and lending on interest for consumption (or usury).

And the Time-Value theory of interest, as Joan Robinson, amongst others, has pointed out, has serious flaws. It not only is entirely based around the structures of a modern, capitalist economy (and could then in no sense be a universal theory of interest) and lacks definitive proof, but it also has serious flaws in its premises. As Robinson points out, it is simply not necessary the case that individuals prefer to have money now than in the future. Many have their retirement and future in mind, therefore they would prefer money in the future. But, obviously, it makes no sense to have a negative rate of interest, which would be quite possible if the Time Value theory of interest were a major factor in determining interest rates.

Both Sraffa and Robinson had complex attitudes towards usury. However, despite how some libertarians seem to feel, one does not have to subscribe to all an economists belief, and certainly not their ideology, to draw from them. That is why I can have a lot of respect for Hayek (the only major 'free market' economist worth reading).

I see you have resorted to one of the libertarian's other Bibles; Mises' Human Action. With many libertarians it is only a matter of time before such a solemn liturgy of the word is pronounced.

Anyway, that quote backs up my point. Despite a vague acknowledgement of the social nature of man, Mises quickly resorts to ignoring the complexities of man's social being. He simply ignores the fact that the individual's social nature is partially constituted and formed, as well as regulated, by social institutions and society and culture at large, and that these are not reducible simply to the sum of the individuals that make them up. Hence he makes a cardinal error in his sociological and psychological analysis, one ubiquitous to liberalism in the broad sense.

I just brought up Maggie because her comment that 'there is no such thing as society', though more extreme than most liberals will go, is obviously influenced by basic liberal premises and thinking.

traumerei said...

"I'm a high church Anglican, so it is less what the Magisterium teaches, as what the Scripture, Tradition, and Fathers of the Church teach that concerns me, though I believe the Roman Catholic Magisterial and social teachings still officially condemn usury."

Since you are an Anglican, I will excuse your ignorance of what the Magisterium is since you are using the term incorrectly. However, you probably shouldn't be making the assertion that usury remains condemned by the Catholic Church if you don't actually know.

"Dante puts the traditional the position well, during on Aristotle and Aquinas"

Sorry I don't understand what you are saying here.

"You also, no doubt, ignore the difference between lending on interest for production and lending on interest for consumption (or usury)."

Nope. I've had that exact discussion on Distributist Review. Care to produce any other falsehoods? But I am interested in the interest discussion so:

Is charging interest for the sake of consumption not permissible in Distributist society whereas interest for the sake of production permissible?

"As Robinson points out, it is simply not necessary the case that individuals prefer to have money now than in the future. Many have their retirement and future in mind, therefore they would prefer money in the future."

Wow, I can't believe the Austrians missed this class of people! Oh wait, they haven't. These are savers, i.e. people with low time preferences. Please don't tell me this is the first time you've come across time preference.

"However, despite how some libertarians seem to feel, one does not have to subscribe to all an economists belief, and certainly not their ideology, to draw from them."

That's true, though it would be nice if the Distributists came up with a coherent theory of their own.


"I see you have resorted to one of the libertarian's other Bibles; Mises' Human Action."

Not a bible - certainly not for me anyway. But it is very basic reading for anyone who wants to criticize the Austrian school.

"Despite a vague acknowledgement of the social nature of man, Mises quickly resorts to ignoring the complexities of man's social being."

If Mises had known the other side, the side that says "Real man is necessarily always a member of a social whole. It is even impossible to imagine the existence of a man separated from the rest of mankind and not connected with society. Man as man is the product of a social evolution. His most eminent feature, reason, could only emerge within the framework of social mutuality. There is no thinking which does not depend on the concepts and notions of language. But speech is manifestly a social phenomenon. Man is always the member of a collective."

"He simply ignores the fact that the individual's social nature is partially constituted and formed, as well as regulated, by social institutions and society and culture at large, and that these are not reducible simply to the sum of the individuals that make them up."

[citation needed] If by "simply ignores" you mean "outlines and replies", then sure.

By the way, just asserting "the fact that" does not make it true.

"I just brought up Maggie because her comment that 'there is no such thing as society', though more extreme than most liberals will go, is obviously influenced by basic liberal premises and thinking."

And yet, she has no place in serious discussion of libertarian philosophy. But hey, it's not like Distributists are wary of employing any source as long as it can be used to attack libertarianism.

Anonymous said...

So what does this mean in the context of the upcoming elections? Romney chose Ryan as his VP and he claims that the main influence on his politics has been Ayn Rand; someone who attacked Christianity, embraced Nietzscheanism and crude selfishness.

How exactly does that represent the values of the Republican party?

Is the choice of VP something that has made anyone think twice about how they will cast their ballot come November?

Crude said...

Romney chose Ryan as his VP and he claims that the main influence on his politics has been Ayn Rand; someone who attacked Christianity, embraced Nietzscheanism and crude selfishness.

I'm always in favor of someone who backs my variety of selfishness.

Anyway, Ryan's response from here:

"“I, like millions of young people in America, read Rand’s novels when I was young. I enjoyed them,” Ryan says. “They spurred an interest in economics, in the Chicago School and Milton Friedman,” a subject he eventually studied as an undergraduate at Miami University in Ohio. “But it’s a big stretch to suggest that a person is therefore an Objectivist.”

“I reject her philosophy,” Ryan says firmly. “It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person’s view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas,” who believed that man needs divine help in the pursuit of knowledge. “Don’t give me Ayn Rand,” he says."

How honest is that? Who knows. I doubt Obama would say he's a socialist either, but it's hard to say he doesn't look like one.

I'm not too thrilled with Romney/Ryan or Obama/Biden. It's yet another election where we get to choose from someone who sucks and someone who sucks worse, and from where I sit Obama looks like the one who's worse. Others' mileage may vary.

Anonymous said...

@Crude,

What do you mean by this:

I'm always in favor of someone who backs my variety of selfishness.

Isn't the idea of having concern and compassion for your neighbor a central tenet of Christianity?

Maybe you're using the word 'selfishness' differently than I understand it...?

Anonymous said...

traumerei,

You are wrong, I do know the Roman Catholic position. There are complexities involved, but it is essentially still that of Dante.

http://distributistreview.com/mag/2012/01/is-usury-still-a-sin/

I meant to write drawing, not during. Dante draws directly from Aristotle and Aquinas for that passage.

"Nope. I've had that exact discussion on Distributist Review. Care to produce any other falsehoods?"

You are taking my comments out of context again. I did not claim you had no knowledge of the distinction between interest on loans for production and that on loans for consumption; rather, I claimed you ignored this distinction in your comments here.


"Is charging interest for the sake of consumption not permissible in Distributist society whereas interest for the sake of production permissible?"

In basic, brief terms, yes.


"Please don't tell me this is the first time you've come across time preference."

Except, of course, the Austrians wave away these people. Theoretically it would be quite possible for such people to be the majority in an economy, and hence the interest rate to be negative. But, this makes no sense, hence undermining the time preference or time value theory of interest. As Robinson puts it, if the time preference theory were true;


"The rate of interest (excess of repayment over original loan) would settle at the level which equated supply and demand for loans. Whether it was positive or negative would depend upon whether spendthrifts or prudent family men happened to predominate in the community. There is no a priori presumption in favour of a positive rate. Thus, the rate of interest cannot be account for as the 'cost of waiting.'

"The reason why there is always a demand for loans at a positive rate of interest, in an economy where there is property in the means of production and means of production are scarce, is that finance expended now can be used to employ labour in productive processes which will yield a surplus in the future over costs of production. Interest is positive because profits are positive (though at the same time the cost and difficulty of obtaining finance play a part in keeping productive equipment scarce, and so contribute to maintaining the level of profits)."

Continued…..

Anonymous said...

….Continued.

"[citation needed] If by "simply ignores" you mean "outlines and replies", then sure."

Nonsense. Mises, in those quotse, notes the social nature of man. However, he then goes on to dismiss any import that may come from acknowledging that social institutions and society and culture at large partially form and constitute individuals and are not simply the some of the individual parts that make them up. He resorts entirely back to analysis in which social institutions and society and culture are secondary, and focuses completely on them only in relation to rational, pre-social individual action.

"By the way, just asserting "the fact that" does not make it true."

I thought it was the common sense of a moments unbiased and non-ideologically tinted reflection on the subject that an important part of the individuals social being is formed and constituted by his relations with social institutions, like the family and community, and society and culture at large. I should have also similarly have thought a little reflection would have made it obvious that a social institution, for example a family, is not simply reducible, on one level, to the sum of the individuals that make it up. That is, as a social unit coming together it forms something more than the individuals alone.

But it is interesting to note, despite the initial claims of accepting the social nature of man, you now appear to be backing away from central aspects of it - if, and again I'll give you the benefit of the doubt, your comments meant to question these facts.

"But hey, it's not like Distributists are wary of employing any source as long as it can be used to attack libertarianism."

It is you who repeatedly has resorted to quoting people out of context and distorting their words. Those in glass houses and all that...

Btw, I should have added Wilhelm Ropke’s name to Hayeks as a ‘free market’ economist actually worth a general read.

Crude said...

Isn't the idea of having concern and compassion for your neighbor a central tenet of Christianity?

Maybe you're using the word 'selfishness' differently than I understand it...?


It was a joke. :)

Crude said...

Joke aside, I really detest the idea that so many people have, where somehow people convert "concern, compassion, and even caretaking of your fellow man" into "welfare state enforced by guns and prisons".

traumerei said...

"You are wrong, I do know the Roman Catholic position. There are complexities involved ..."

But you don't know the complexities of the Magisterium and the levels of assent required. This is a vital consideration for understanding the Catholic position - a consideration you have not made. But that's fine, because it's not really in the interest of an Anglican to know that.

"http://distributistreview.com/mag/2012/01/is-usury-still-a-sin/"

Unfortunately, there is no discussion of the magisterial level of any of the sources used to support Storck's thesis. I'd argue with him there but, as you know, they shut comments down after a short time thus preventing any kind of comprehensive discussion.

"Dante draws directly from Aristotle and Aquinas for that passage."

And yet the fact that he does speaks nothing to his theological authority. He isn't one - but please keep trying to justify your employment of the Divine Comedy.

"I did not claim you had no knowledge of the distinction between interest on loans for production and that on loans for consumption; rather, I claimed you ignored this distinction in your comments here."

It's an irrelevant distinction for me, but if you can make a case for it, I'm happy to play along.

"'Is charging interest for the sake of consumption not permissible in Distributist society whereas interest for the sake of production permissible?'

In basic, brief terms, yes."

Okay, so it is not permissible to take out a home loan. Is that correct?

"Except, of course, the Austrians wave away these people. "

Who, savers? There's no value judgement in the Austrian school favoring people with low time preferences (people who tend to save) versus high time preferences (people who tend to spend). If there is a bias, it is for the savers who make production and increased future consumption possible

So, wrong again.

"Theoretically it would be quite possible for such people to be the majority in an economy,"

true

"and hence the interest rate to be negative."

Non sequitur. If I (and everyone else) saves nearly everything, that doesn't mean I'm going to loan my money out with negative interest.

traumerei said...

[cont'd]
"But, this makes no sense, hence undermining the time preference or time value theory of interest."

It makes no sense because of your bad reasoning.

"There is no a priori presumption in favour of a positive rate."

Except there is. Even if you don't buy praxeology, the empirical evidence overwhelming favors a positive rate.

Even the old Finance 101 question "Would you prefer a million dollars now or a million dollars in twenty years?" should answer the question.

what about retirement?

You can always save that million now in addition to having all the options available to you that wouldn't be if you waited.

"[citation needed] If by "simply ignores" you mean "outlines and replies", then sure."

"Nonsense. Mises, in those quotse, notes the social nature of man. However, he then goes on to dismiss any import that may come from acknowledging that social institutions and society and culture at large partially form and constitute individuals and are not simply the some [sic] of the individual parts that make them up."

Nope. He doesn't say that society and culture do not help form individuals. He's saying that to understand the operation of society and culture, you have to look at the actions and motives of the individuals that make up society and culture. Big difference.

"He resorts entirely back to analysis in which social institutions and society and culture are secondary,"

Which they are - if you want to understand them thoroughly.

"I thought it was the common sense of a moments unbiased and non-ideologically tinted reflection..."

Ah, that's where you go wrong in privileging your perspective as "unbiased". Everyone is biased, but not everyone admits it apparently.

"But it is interesting to note, despite the initial claims of accepting the social nature of man,"

Man's a social animal. There are institutions and customs and culture that are important for civilization and the development of individuals. But if you want to understand culture and society, you have to look at the individuals. Sorry if that's unpalatable to Distributists.

"It is you who repeatedly has resorted to quoting people out of context and distorting their words."

Unlike you, of course, who rarely bothers to quote at all.

"Btw, I should have added Wilhelm Ropke’s name to Hayeks as a ‘free market’ economist actually worth a general read. "

Considering your poor understanding of free-market thinkers, I'll give your personal canon a miss.

Tony said...

Since you are an Anglican, I will excuse your ignorance of what the Magisterium is since you are using the term incorrectly. However, you probably shouldn't be making the assertion that usury remains condemned by the Catholic Church if you don't actually know.

Actually, I think the official teaching of the Church is unchanged from the time of Aquinas: the charging of interest merely on account of the lending itself is wrong.

Interest may be charged, but not merely on account of the lending. For example, if a man lends to 100 people, he can be relatively sure that a few won't pay back. He can charge for that risk of loss of prinicpal, so that at the end of the day he gets back all of his principal that he started with.

Also, if a man spends all his time making loans, he needs the activity of lending to provide his daily needs - he can charge for the time he puts into the activity. (This will be incredibly low a rate for a professional lender).

It is still an open question whether a man can charge for "lost opportunity" in lending. If a man has the opportunity to invest in a wealth-creating project that will return him 7% profit, and he gives up that opportunity because you ask him for a loan, can he charge you for the opportunity he missed? Church has not said directly, but implicitly the answer seems to be yes, since the Church herself engages in lending.

Can you lend at interest to a business so can expand and create new profits? Yes. In that case, lending is really a modified form of investing, and (just as investing) you are OK getting a portion of the profits. The lending contract usually gives you higher claim on the property of the business than a shareholder has, so the interest rate should be lower than the profit margin rate, but still real interest is OK. In this case, the interest is not "simply on account of the lending itself" but is on account of being ordered to generating a profit.

Can you charge interest on a loan for consumption? The "for consumption" doesn't speak to the other categories above: the lender can charge interest for risk of loss of principal, for his personal time, and (potentially, anyway) for loss of opportunity. But he cannot charge merely on account of the lending itself.

Tony said...

I meant: "since the Church herself engages in lending at interest that seems to fit this profile."

traumerei said...

"Actually, I think the official teaching of the Church is unchanged from the time of Aquinas: the charging of interest merely on account of the lending itself is wrong."

Source? And in particular, since Aristotle's reasoning in the matter (and therefore Aquinas' conclusion) was incorrect, what is the line of reasoning behind the condemnation?

"Also, if a man spends all his time making loans, he needs the activity of lending to provide his daily needs - he can charge for the time he puts into the activity. (This will be incredibly low a rate for a professional lender)."

And for someone who has a relatively small amount of capital to loan, the interest rate will be very high. That's okay?

"It is still an open question whether a man can charge for "lost opportunity" in lending. If a man has the opportunity to invest in a wealth-creating project that will return him 7% profit,"

No guarantees there of course - particularly as the risk/return levels increase.

"and he gives up that opportunity because you ask him for a loan, can he charge you for the opportunity he missed? Church has not said directly, but implicitly the answer seems to be yes, since the Church herself engages in lending."

So it's licit to charge high interest as long as the person would ordinarily be making risky investments in the first place? e.g. startup investors.

Mr. Green said...

Traumerei: ...unless the Divine Comedy enjoys some privileged theological status I'm unaware of.

You mean you were under the impression that it didn't?!?

Daniel Smith said...

No one commented on my first post so perhaps I need to restate it a bit more coherently (I hope!)

1. God gives us free-will, so it is not out of line to consider the 'freedom to choose a course of action (or inaction)' to be a 'natural right'.

2. God also holds us accountable for our actions thus - though freedom to choose is a natural right - it must be coupled with personal accountability.

This is my own Christian understanding of libertarianism (which has nothing to do with 'the individual vs society' or 'self-ownership'). So am I even in the ballpark? (IOW - what am I?)

Mr. Green said...

Daniel Smith: one of the fundamental human rights is the right to be “unmolested in our persons without cause”?

I guess, but then it all comes down to exactly what counts as just cause…!

God has given us the freedom to choose between good and evil - thus "natural rights" would seem to include the right to disobey God.

There can't be a right to do wrong, though. We are able to do wrong, and sometimes there's no good way to stop someone from doing something wrong (trying to weed out the tares can be worse for the wheat than letting them be). But I wouldn't say that therefore the person has a right to act in such a way.

Unknown said...

I confess I've never been able to take the idea of "self-ownership" seriously. I recall once asking a libertarian friend if we could agree that it was a basic principle of morality that people should not be treated like things.

He enthusiastically agreed. So then I asked, "Isn't that exactly what self-ownership does? It makes you treat yourself as if you were a thing that can be owned."

He didn't have an answer. I'm inclined to think there isn't one.

Anonymous said...

TraumereLacking in wit or insight as they are, you appear to wish to intersperse your comments with petty little attacks. As I have no desire to simply try and respond to such non sense, I will simply ignore them and go straight to anything substantial, such as it is, in your comments.

“But you don't know the complexities of the Magisterium and the levels of assent required. This is a vital consideration for understanding the Catholic position - a consideration you have not made. But that's fine, because it's not really in the interest of an Anglican to know that.”

You are acting as many Roman Catholic libertarians like to. They ignore or brush away any condemnations of or clearly divergent spirit and philosophy between their beliefs and ideology by the Scriptures, the Fathers, the Schoolmen, and the Traditions of the Church and act as if all that would matter is if a recent Pope has made an Ex Cathedra declaration on the issue.
I do not wish to make windows into men’s souls. But, I prefer to try and be the best Christian I can. I do not look for loopholes to allow for action and ideologies based on principles other than those of traditional Christianity.


“And yet the fact that he does speaks nothing to his theological authority. He isn't one - but please keep trying to justify your employment of the Divine Comedy. “
The flaws in your comment here are analogous to those of your comments above: any loophole will do. The point is not that Dante is an infallible authority; the point is that he is here, as so often, and eloquent and intelligent summariser of Church teachings and Tradition.



“Okay, so it is not permissible to take out a home loan. Is that correct?”
It is the lender and not the borrower who is the sinner.

" Who, savers? There's no value judgement in the Austrian school favoring people with low time preferences (people who tend to save) versus high time preferences (people who tend to spend). If there is a bias, it is for the savers who make production and increased future consumption possible”

I was not talking morally, but in descriptive terms, obviously.



“Non sequitur. If I (and everyone else) saves nearly everything, that doesn't mean I'm going to loan my money out with negative interest.”
That is the point. According to the Austrians, time preferences are supposed to be the central determination of interest rates, yet logically they could easily produce negative interest rates. But, of course, that can’t be; hence the time preference explanation is flawed.



“the empirical evidence overwhelming favors a positive rate.”
You seem confused. The above is the point. The problem is that the time preference theory cannot guarantee a positive rate of interest.

“You can always save that million now in addition to having all the options available to you that wouldn't be if you waited.”
The obvious flaw in your example is that it has nothing to do with the real economy. In reality most people do not get offered a million pounds. The time preference theory has to show how interest rates are actually determined in something like a real economy.

Continued....

Anonymous said...

Continued....

“Nope. He doesn't say that society and culture do not help form individuals. He's saying that to understand the operation of society and culture, you have to look at the actions and motives of the individuals that make up society and culture. Big difference.”

I’m making this particular argument as a traditional conservative, as much as a distributist. Anyway, the above is simplistic and useless. What I meant by treating social institutions and society and culture was specifically that he treated them as only the ephemeral outcome of the immediate actions of rational and pre-socially formed individuals.

However, the individual’s social being has a number of levels. At a certain level the formative and constitutive role of social institutions and society and culture is so important, and they are so much unable to be reduced to simply the sum of the individuals that make them up, that not only is the way in which Mises and his ilk treat them as secondary absolute nonsense, but there is a sense we can almost treat them as independent from individuals. We can certainly treat them, at this level, as separate from any particular individual.


“Ah, that's where you go wrong in privileging your perspective as "unbiased". Everyone is biased, but not everyone admits it apparently.”

This simply misses the point – a little reflection shows that there is a level at which social institutions and society and culture are formative and constitutive on the individuals that make them up, and that they are not reducible simply to the sum of these individuals as they were alone. I’m not sure how that can be sensibly argued with.

Anonymous said...

traumerei has already been given a detailed source on the history of Christian, and specifically Roman Catholic, teachings on usury. It is, shall we say, interesting way to behave to then ignore that and ask Tony for a source on the same subject.

traumerei said...

"As I have no desire to simply try and respond to such non sense, I will simply ignore them and go straight to anything substantial, such as it is, in your comments."

Now you're cooking with gas!

"all that would matter is if a recent Pope has made an Ex Cathedra declaration on the issue."

Any pope will do actually. That or a Canon of a dogmatic council.

"I do not look for loopholes to allow for action and ideologies based on principles other than those of traditional Christianity."

Except maybe extra ecclesiam nulla salus?

"The point is not that Dante is an infallible authority; the point is that he is here, as so often, and eloquent and intelligent summariser of Church teachings and Tradition."

Sorry, I'm looking for something a bit more definitive than an author who you believe is a good "summariser".

"'Okay, so it is not permissible to take out a home loan. Is that correct?'
It is the lender and not the borrower who is the sinner."

Perpetuating the "sinful" practice of usury through patronizing the lender, that's not a sin?

"I was not talking morally, but in descriptive terms, obviously."

If you were talking in descriptive terms, then you were even more wrong because the Austrian school does very much account for savers. Time-preference isn't some obscure Austrian belief.

"That is the point. According to the Austrians, time preferences are supposed to be the central determination of interest rates, yet logically they could easily produce negative interest rates."

Please explain how time-preference could logically easily produce negative interest rates. Because simply having a large number of savers is insufficient.

"But, of course, that can’t be; hence the time preference explanation is flawed."

Again, non sequitur.

"The obvious flaw in your example is that it has nothing to do with the real economy. In reality most people do not get offered a million pounds."

Are you really that dense? The million is just for illustration. It could be ten or a hundred $ or £ or ¥ or whatever. All else being equal, people would rather have X amount of money now, rather than later.

"The time preference theory has to show how interest rates are actually determined in something like a real economy."

You mean, like the shape of a normal yield curve?

traumerei said...

"What I meant by treating social institutions and society and culture was specifically that he treated them as only the ephemeral outcome of the immediate actions of rational and pre-socially formed individuals."

They are ephemeral in that, if the individuals making up a society/culture disappear, then that society/culture ceases to exist.

"not only is the way in which Mises and his ilk treat them as secondary absolute nonsense, but there is a sense we can almost treat them as independent from individuals. We can certainly treat them, at this level, as separate from any particular individual."

Sure, at some level you can treat society/culture as separate from the individual. In fact, Mises would have agreed with you.

It is uncontested that in the sphere of human action social entities have real existence.

But if you want to understand a culture fully, you must find out about its members.

"This simply misses the point – a little reflection shows that [your perspective] I’m not sure how that can be sensibly argued with."

I repeat. that's where you go wrong in privileging your perspective as "unbiased". Everyone is biased, but not everyone admits it apparently.

"traumerei has already been given a detailed source on the history of Christian, and specifically Roman Catholic, teachings on usury."

Unfortunately, the authors have not attempted to provide any distinctions regarding the magisterial authority of the sources.

"It is, shall we say, interesting way to behave to then ignore that and ask Tony for a source on the same subject."

Nah, I'm just calling people out who are saying that the prohibition of usury is official Church teaching but don't know what level that teaching is at. At this point, you probably should have done some due diligence to understand what the Magisterium is before criticizing my questions regarding it.

Daniel Smith said...

Mr. Green: There can't be a right to do wrong, though. We are able to do wrong, and sometimes there's no good way to stop someone from doing something wrong (trying to weed out the tares can be worse for the wheat than letting them be). But I wouldn't say that therefore the person has a right to act in such a way.

Perhaps our difference is based on my thinking of rights in a political (as opposed to moral) sense. (It's like voting: we have the right to vote - whether we vote "right" or "wrong".)

My take on this is that God not only created us with the ability to do wrong, He also allows us to choose that path (and its consequences). To me, that is a fundamental aspect of humanity as a creation of God. God has instilled in us the rational capacity to weigh options and choose between them - right or wrong. Free will then, is God giving us the right to disobey him.

Freedom and Liberty are the foundations upon which Libertarianism is built so it has nothing to do with self-ownership for me - except in the sense of personal accountability (that we 'own' our actions).

I hope some of that makes sense!

Anonymous said...

traumerei

“ Now you're cooking with gas!”
Oh such a rare wit you have. Just how do you come up with these clever retorts?
Anyway, I think we have exhausted the debate on the morality of the issue. Especially if we recall we are not here primarily discussing the issue from standpoint of the spiritual health of the individual, but simply in terms of political or social philosophy. Like many Roman Catholic libertarians you set a very, very high bar to the condemnation of your ideology from traditional Christian sources, smacking of the desire of an ideologue to preserve your ideology at all costs.. You have been shown Scripture, Fathers, Councils, Schoolmen, universal Church Tradition, and Popes (including an encyclical from Benedict XIV made binding on the whole Roman Church in 1835) from recent centuries, all of which severely condemn usury. But you are quite happy to subscribe, without a hint of doubt, to actions and principles divergent from traditional Christians ones, as long as no recent, Ex Cathedra statement is made. Hardily the worthy attitude of a traditional Christian.


“Sorry, I'm looking for something a bit more definitive than an author who you believe is a good "summariser".”
Dante is one of the premier sacred artists of Western Christendom. He is renowned as a summer up in art, in an eloquent and intelligent fashion, of the doctrine of St.Thomas and the Schoolmen. I’m not offering him as an authority in his own right, but still you attitude towards him confirms that libertarians should spend less time chanting the mantras of Mises and rites of Rothbard, and actually read some classic literature. And Ayn Rand doesn’t count!


“Perpetuating the "sinful" practice of usury through patronizing the lender, that's not a sin?”
I’m not aware of any condemnation of it.

“Time-preference isn't some obscure Austrian belief.”
So? Time-preference isn’t accepted as main explanation of interest by Neoclassical/mainstream economics or the post-Keynesians or the Institutionalists. So the fact it is central to the Austrians is definitely no proof of its soudness.


“Please explain how time-preference could logically easily produce negative interest rates. Because simply having a large number of savers is insufficient.”
Yes, it is. As Robinson points out, if the prudential in the economy, and their demand for money, outnumbers the spendthrifts, then logically the interest rate will be negative.

Continued…

Anonymous said...

….Continued

“Again, non sequitur.”
You seem confused by basic reasoning. If what determines the interest rate is the time preference, and if more people want more money in the future than those who want it now, then the interest rate will be negative. But, this cannot be.


”The million is just for illustration. It could be ten or a hundred $ or £ or ¥ or whatever. All else being equal, people would rather have X amount of money now, rather than later.”

You seem quite confused by this whole debate on economics, despite the centrality you give to Austrian economics in your ideology. The point is Austrian economics must account for some time preference in something like a real economy. The million pounds example is nothing like a real economy. In a real economy there are plenty of people quite interested in having a good proportion of their money in the future, rather than now.


“They are ephemeral in that, if the individuals making up a society/culture disappear, then that society/culture ceases to exist.”

On the other hand, if one particular individual disappears then they do not decline by a necessarily set amount. Their relationship, at one level, to individuals is complex.


“Sure, at some level you can treat society/culture as separate from the individual. In fact, Mises would have agreed with you.

It is uncontested that in the sphere of human action social entities have real existence.”

The point is that, even in the quotes you gave, Mises resorts to ignoring the reality of social associations automatically. Indeed, to understand society you need to understand both individuals as discrete individuals, and within their social associations and society and culture at large. As Robert Nisbet puts it;

‘man is not a self-sufficing in isolation…his nature cannot be deduced simply from the elements innate in the germs plasm, and…between man and such social groups as the family, local group, and interest association there is an indispensible connection. We know no conception of individuality is adequate that does not take into consideration the myriad ties which normally bind the individual to others from birth to death’

Now what Mises does in the quote is to repeat the usual pattern for liberals: he admits the social nature of man, but then the next moment resorts back to atomistic individualism.


“I repeat. that's where you go wrong in privileging your perspective as "unbiased". Everyone is biased, but not everyone admits it apparently.”

You simply dodge the point, though at least you are now being honest and are arguing clearly against the social nature of man (which is this ‘my perspective’ you are referring to).

traumerei said...

"Oh such a rare wit you have. Just how do you come up with these clever retorts?"

Thanks, it's a gift.

"You have been shown ... all of which severely condemn usury."

Sure, but none of it meets the simple threshold of universal magisterium. That's the one thing hilariously absent in your list.

"as long as no recent, Ex Cathedra statement is made."

Like I said, it doesn't have to be recent. It doesn't even have to be Ex Cathedra as long as it's a canon of a dogmatic council.

"Hardily the worthy attitude of a traditional Christian."

Okay.

"Dante is one of the premier sacred artists of Western Christendom. He is renowned as a summer up in art, in an eloquent and intelligent fashion, of the doctrine of St.Thomas and the Schoolmen."

So what? In a discussion of official Church teaching, you need to cite ... official Church teaching. Dante, as great an artist as he was, doesn't cut it.

"chanting the mantras of Mises and rites of Rothbard, and actually read some classic literature."

Ommm, tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito! Oh wait, that's Virgil.

"And Ayn Rand doesn’t count!"

I've never read Ayn Rand but nice try. Your caricatured worldview is showing, by the way.

"I’m not aware of any condemnation of it."

That was actually an easy one. Aquinas doesn't believe it to be a sin Q78 IIae A4 reasoning from a false premise I pointed out in the very first comment of the thread

"Time-preference isn’t accepted as main explanation of interest by Neoclassical/mainstream economics or the post-Keynesians or the Institutionalists."

Is this what Distributists really believe? You should sign up for blogger so you don't unfairly associate other "anonymous" people with your ignorance.

"So the fact it is central to the Austrians is definitely no proof of its soudness."

Never said it was a "proof".

"if the prudential in the economy, and their demand for money, outnumbers the spendthrifts, then logically the interest rate will be negative."

This deserves to be Robinson Crusoe'd. Okay so let's say we have an economy of 100k people. 60k save most of their income whereas 40k spend most of their income.

Walk me through the steps of how negative interest rates arise.

traumerei said...

"You seem confused by basic reasoning. If what determines the interest rate is the time preference, and if more people want more money in the future than those who want it now, then the interest rate will be negative."

Firstly, I never said that the only factor determining interest rates is time preference (but it is most definitely a key factor).

Secondly, if most people are saving for retirement, why are they lending their savings at negative interest?

"But, this cannot be."

Of course not, because your reasoning is bad.

"You seem quite confused by this whole debate on economics, despite the centrality you give to Austrian economics in your ideology. The point is Austrian economics must account for some time preference in something like a real economy."

Which is does.

"The million pounds example is nothing like a real economy. In a real economy there are plenty of people quite interested in having a good proportion of their money in the future, rather than now."

Yeah, savers. People with ... low time preference

"On the other hand, if one particular individual disappears then they do not decline by a necessarily set amount."

What?

"The point is that, even in the quotes you gave, Mises resorts to ignoring the reality of social associations automatically."

No he doesn't, but I guess your worldview will not allow for such an interpretation (perhaps as you believe my worldview will not allow for yours).

"Indeed, to understand society you need to understand both individuals as discrete individuals, and within their social associations and society and culture at large."

Exactly.

"We know no conception of individuality is adequate that does not take into consideration the myriad ties which normally bind the individual to others from birth to death"

Yes, taking into account the relationships between individuals is important. Mises, and many libertarians, do not believe otherwise.

"he admits the social nature of man, but then the next moment resorts back to atomistic individualism."

Yeah, all of that discussion in Human Action regarding the division of labor, cooperation, trade, law ... that's all a denial of the social nature of man.

"You simply dodge the point, though at least you are now being honest and are arguing clearly against the social nature of man)"

The point is that you believe your perspective (where man has no existence outside of society) is some sort of self-evident axiom. It isn't. You're actually going to have to defend that position.

Mr. Green said...

Daniel Smith: Perhaps our difference is based on my thinking of rights in a political (as opposed to moral) sense. (It's like voting: we have the right to vote - whether we vote "right" or "wrong".)

OK, I see what you mean. I think we still have to be careful how we apply that — we have a political right to "vote wrong" not because it's acceptable in itself, but because there is no practical way to determine what is the right way to vote. (If we knew that, there would be no point to voting in the first place!) However, if everyone agrees that, say, a certain party is wrong, then it could be banned, i.e. there would be no right to vote for that party.

The freedom God grants us is parallel: some things we cannot do in the first place, e.g. defy gravity (like not being able to vote for a candidate because his name is not on the ballot); others we can do but will suffer the consequences if we do the wrong thing (like writing in an invalid candidate and having the vote rejected).

Freedom and Liberty are the foundations upon which Libertarianism is built so it has nothing to do with self-ownership for me - except in the sense of personal accountability (that we 'own' our actions).

But don't all political systems involve freedom or liberty? What would be specific to Libertarianism, then? The idea of self-ownership sets a certain baseline for what sort of freedoms and how much liberty are reasonable (or at least, it intends to, if there were a coherent way to frame that). I don't think that acknowledging the "permissive rights" God gives us provides on its own any particular guidance as to how permissive a government should be — one of the reasons God leaves some things possible to us is surely to allow us to step in and prevent them ourselves. But where to draw that line has to be based on something further.

Hume said...

Ed, I think you misunderstand the sense in which Rawlsian libertarians speak of "neutrality". The important point is their claim about the *type* of reasons that are legitimately appealed to in making moral and political demands on others. These reasons must be "neutral" in the sense that must be reasons that the person to whom the demand is made can accept *from his point of view*. For example, if Catholic Cal wanted to make a moral claim on an atheist Alf that Alf ought not to commit murder than Cal must, in justifying this moral demand, appeal to reasons that Alf can accept. These reasons cannot be based on the teaching of the Catholic church *even though this is why Cal believes in the truth of the moral claim*. Instead, Cal must appeal to the reasons that Cal knows Alf accepts from his own perspective.

How does libertarianism add anything to this picture? I would submit that the idea of self-ownership, when properly re-conceptualized as self-sovereignty or self-authority, actually plays a part in the justificatory story. Here's why. Self-ownership is a poor conceptualization of the underlying libertarian commitment ('ownership' is a mess). The concept of “ownership” is really just another way of expressing the idea of *sovereignty* or *authority* over a certain domain of issues. It is in and through these concepts that we are better able to conceptualize and express the moral commitments that underlie the self-ownership thesis. I believe that these moral commitments are a devotion to the idea that individuals are “masters of their own domain”, so to speak. We have the inherent right to make our own decisions, to set down rules for ourselves, to set out life plans, etc. Thus, my claim is that we should discard talk of "self-ownership" and recast the discussion in terms of "self-authority" or "self-sovereignty".

Now, how does this make any difference vis-a-vis the story of neutrality? Here's one explanation. The idea of self-sovereignty grounds what Stanley Benn called the "presumption of liberty" and provides the basis for the asymmetrical treatment of acting and acts of interference. Because of the self-sovereignty and the presumption of liberty, we can say that (1) individuals as self-sovereigns are under no standing obligation to justify their actions/non-actions/life plans to anyone else; and (2) interference with another, whether through moral demands to act in a certain way (authoritative prescriptions) or physical acts of aggression, require moral justification in order to override the individual's moral sovereignty and presumption of liberty.

In order to ties this back to neutrality, recall that liberal neutrality as I have conceptualized it has to do with the type of reasons that are legitimately appealed to in justificatory practices. Catholic Cal, in making moral demands on Atheist Alf by way of authoritative prescriptions, thus interfering with Alf's domain of self-sovereignty, must justify his prescriptions by appealing to reasons that Alf can accept *given his worldview*. If Cal cannot do this--if he cannot find reasons that Alf can accept from with his comprehensive worldview--then Alf cannot justify his interference with the domain of Alf's self-sovereignty and has not overcome the presumption of liberty.

DNW said...

@ Prof Feser,

Your “The Myth of Libertarian Neutrality” http://www.ideasinactiontv.com/tcs_daily/2004/08/the-myth-of-libertarian-neutrality.htm,

... is well and closely argued, and nicely highlights a number of question begging assumptions that go into the claims of libertarian neutrality.

Daniel Smith said...

Mr. Green: But don't all political systems involve freedom or liberty? What would be specific to Libertarianism, then?

Well, I guess you could say they all "involve" freedom and liberty, but I don't know that freedom and liberty would be their central tenet - as it is with Libertarianism. Most political systems seem more concerned with 'security', 'order' or 'the common good' and are willing to sacrifice all manner of freedoms and liberties to obtain those goals.

The idea of self-ownership sets a certain baseline for what sort of freedoms and how much liberty are reasonable (or at least, it intends to, if there were a coherent way to frame that).

I don't think you need self-ownership to do that though. It seems that the central tenet of 'maximizing freedom and liberty' would be enough. If all government action had to be justified within the context of 'maximizing freedom and liberty', we'd have far less government.

I don't think that acknowledging the "permissive rights" God gives us provides on its own any particular guidance as to how permissive a government should be — one of the reasons God leaves some things possible to us is surely to allow us to step in and prevent them ourselves. But where to draw that line has to be based on something further.

I agree. What I envision in my quasi-libertarian system is built-in checks and balances from the coupling together of liberty and accountability. If every individual is held personally accountable for how their liberty affects others, then we could have a semi self-regulating society. The government would have to be the ultimate authority and arbitrator of course, but there would not be any need for millions of carefully crafted laws and regulations. Disputes could be handled by a network of judges who would rule on each case individually within some basic guidelines - more along the lines of our civil courts than our criminal courts.

Daniel Smith said...

Mr. Green: I don't think that acknowledging the "permissive rights" God gives us provides on its own any particular guidance as to how permissive a government should be — one of the reasons God leaves some things possible to us is surely to allow us to step in and prevent them ourselves. But where to draw that line has to be based on something further.

One other thing: I was using God's "permissive rights" as a Christian justification for some forms of Libertarianism. I think the command to "judge not lest ye be judged" is also applicable; as well as many scriptures that tell us how to deal with those outside the Church. One scripture that always sticks in the back of my mind when thinking about whether Christians should push for 'a more Christian government' is Revelation 22:11 "Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy."

I can't help but think that God wants us to be less concerned with this world and more concerned with the next.

Tim H said...

An earlier comment asked about principled opposition to some forms of interest. Dr. Anthony Santelli appears to have reluctantly arrived at a position against compound interest here

http://netarchy.com/

traumerei said...

Hi Tim, I'm the one looking for the Catholic response to the error in reasoning contra usury from Aristotle/Aquinas.

Dr. Santelli seems to make the same mistake with regard to time preference that Anonymous does (that saving for the sake of future consumption invalidates Time Preference). But seeing as how he was also once a finance guy, I'll probably carry the discussion on with him.

Thanks for the find! It looks like the best bet so far.

Mr. Green said...

Daniel Smith: Most political systems seem more concerned with 'security', 'order' or 'the common good' and are willing to sacrifice all manner of freedoms and liberties to obtain those goals. […] If all government action had to be justified within the context of 'maximizing freedom and liberty', we'd have far less government.

Aren't all political systems an attempt to find the best (or most practical) trade-off between security and liberty? Anarchy would give us least government of all. But nobody really believes in anarchy because we all think that some degree of order and security is important and right.

The government would have to be the ultimate authority and arbitrator of course, but there would not be any need for millions of carefully crafted laws and regulations. Disputes could be handled by a network of judges who would rule on each case individually within some basic guidelines - more along the lines of our civil courts than our criminal courts.

I do agree that, broadly speaking, that is a much better approach. Of course, both conservatives and liberals can agree that law as we currently have it is too nit-picking. I would distinguish between what we legislate and how much we legislate it. The temptation to codify every last detail appeals naturally to the mind that seeks order, but the fact is that it is impossible to capture enough of reality in the right way with that level of detail. Hence the need for actual wisdom, which is what judges are supposed to have, to make prudent judgements. (I just don't think "libertarian" is a particularly good word to describe this; as you said, accountability is key, and people generally consider "liberty" as opposed to, or at least orthogonal to, "accountability". I could get behind "Responsibilitarianism" though!)


One scripture that always sticks in the back of my mind when thinking about whether Christians should push for 'a more Christian government' is Revelation 22:11 "Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy."

That passage refers to the next life; i.e., the kind of person we make ourselves during this life determines our fate in the next. Obviously it doesn't mean that I should let myself continue to be wicked or vile now; and the Scriptures clearly exhort us to correct our brothers too. We are not to judge in the sense of passing judgement, or condemning someone, based on the state of his soul; but we must judge in the sense of evaluating or distinguishing right from wrong.

I can't help but think that God wants us to be less concerned with this world and more concerned with the next.

Certainly, but we are still in this world, and must act in it. It is a common criticism against Christianity that it is only concerned with the next life, but it is a criticism that fails because Christian concern for the next life has resulted in a greater benefit to this life than any secular attempts to build earthly utopias.

I think part of the problem is that we sometimes imagine "Christian government" to mean that the police will be forcing you into church at gunpoint on a Sunday morning, but of course that doesn't follow. It would however at least have to follow the truth, for Chirst is the Truth, and it is not true that individual liberty is the highest good (even the highest natural good). Which I think brings us back to Ed's position and natural law: truths about everything from murder to marriage that are available to all men without special revelation.

Nick said...

My main objection to this post is that I don't think it takes a far enough step back to the root of the problem: conservatism. When the article opens with "I have pretty much always been conservative," this implies that conservatism is still being embraced, rather than questioned along with libertarianism.

The heresy of Conservatism is one of the most pernicious errors of our time, and this is precisely because most faithful Catholics think conservatism is the right path and thus let their guard down. The surest medicine for this ailment is to study and quote from the Papal Encyclicals of the last 150 years, particularly those of Leo XIII. What most people today don't realize is that the Papal Encyclicals of Leo XIII are some of the most sophisticated philosophical/theological concepts put into plain English, and with this knowledge one can easily demolish the heresies of conservatism and libertarianism.

Josh said...

@Nick:

The definition I quickly gleaned of "conservative" is: "a political or theological orientation advocating the preservation of the best in society and opposing radical changes".

This is heretical... how?

Nick said...

Hello Josh,

There is a 'generic' type of conservative and an 'ideological' sense of conservative, just as there is a 'generic' type of liberal (e.g. one who is generous) and 'ideological' liberal (i.e. one who is a Progressive).

The generic type of conservative is one who, as a matter of preference, likes to preserve any given sociological custom. This is fine. On the other hand, the ideological (big-C) Conservative is that which espouses the heresy of Separation of Church & State, particularly in the realm of 'privatizing' one's morality/religion. This is the crowd that says "I'm personally opposed to abortion, but I wont force my beliefs on others." The ideological (heretical) type is big-c Conservative, which is what 95% of Americans are.

To get a better understanding of this, one must step back and understand the heresy of Classical Liberalism (not the modern notion of "Liberal"). The so-called "Enlightenment" was founded upon the Libertarian notion that man is autonomous in every sense, particularly in matters of conscience. This was termed "liberalism" because it meant "to liberate, to free" from the "chains" of Christendom. In this new ideology, man was not bound to any authority, especially religious (including rejecting the divine "authority" of the Bible itself). This was the natural development of Protestantism, since what began as "liberating" oneself from the Church to be Christian however one pleased naturally devolved into "liberating" oneself from anything opposing you from doing whatever pleases you. With this error implanted in men's minds, this meant that public morals (or even legislation in general) had to be based upon something other than any objective Truth (be it Natural Law or Divine Law). This is why Classical Liberalism can be summed up as the heresy of Separation of Church & State.

Now among Classical Liberals, there were two sorts. The Liberal-Liberals were the minority who saw life in a purely Anostic-Utilitarian fashion, in which there was no sense of morality whatsoever. The Conservative-Liberals were the super-majority who held that man's private life should be guided by some kind of morality, including Christianity, but that (being a personal preference) could not be imposed on Society at large. So a Conservative Christian legislature can NEVER stand up in congress and oppose abortion on basis that it's "sinful". When it comes to laws, there is no such thing as "sinful," only 'legal' and 'illegal'. This is why Conservative Christians can never oppose pornography, but rather must positively protect this 'right' for others.

This description probably gave you a head-ache, and probably made you somewhat irritated, but let's apply what I just said to the definition you gave. The "Conservative" you described is someone wanting to oppose RADICAL changes. Now if you stop and think about it, this is not different in *principle* to someone opposed to change at any different degree. So any change is fine, just as long as it doesn't come about 'radically'. Notice the problem here: the notion of "change" is not linked to anything objective, and it is ultimately 'liberated' from Christian influences. Let me give you some examples of "non-radical change" that Conservatives have come to love and accept: divorce; contraception; the 'right' to publish pornography; bikinis; public schools; unbridled capitalism; and worst of all, Religious Liberty. All these "changes" could only come to be embraced because accepting them was never based upon their intrinsic goodness, intrinsic evilness, or intrinsic neutralness, but rather simply because enough people in society thought it useful to make a law legalizing them.

I don't want to ramble, so if you have any questions, please ask.

Edward Feser said...

So, "conservatism" is a "heresy" except when it is "fine."

Perhaps, Nick, you should draw the obvious lesson from the qualification you just had to make: that the term "conservative" has a wide range of uses, so that one ought to be cautious before making all sorts of accusations against those who use it (especially in a blog post devoted to another subject). And that is, of course, one reason you won't find "conservatism" on any list of heresies condemned by the Church. (Lists drawn up by anonymous guys in comboxes don't count.)

Charity and attention to well-known variations in usage are not as much fun as pontificating, I know, but there it is.

Nick said...

Hello Edward,

Your first sentence lacks the needed precision to understand my point. I could just as easily state your position as "So, 'being gay' is a 'sin' except when it's 'fine'." That's equivocation. Being "gay" is only fine if "gay" is meant "cheerful", otherwise if it refers to homosexuality then it's a sin, never 'fine'. And while homosexuality has been historically condemned by the Church, you wont find Popes using the relatively modern use of "gay" to refer to homosexuality. Now carry this over to what I'm saying about Conservatism.

The principles I stated relating to Conservatism are indeed condemned in formal propositions by the Church. I'm sure you would agree that the concepts being condemned are more important than whether the term "Conservationism" is actually used. After all, the term has morphed from what used to be understood by all as the ideology of (big-L) Liberalism. I want to strongly emphasize that this is not me pontificating, but rather calling attention to very specific teachings of Papal Encyclicals.

For example, look at what Leo XIII said in an encyclical dedicated to the true and false concepts of liberty:

"There are others [those we'd consider "Conservatives" today], somewhat more moderate though not more consistent [than Liberal-Liberals], who affirm that the morality of individuals is to be guided by the divine law, but not the morality of the State, for that in public affairs the commands of God may be passed over, and may be entirely disregarded in the framing of laws. Hence follows the fatal theory of the need of separation between Church and State. But the absurdity of such a position is manifest. (Libertas, 18)"

Here Pope Leo is talking about Liberals who are "more moderate" but "not more [logically] consistent" than other Liberals. So he has signified a specific sub-class of Liberals here, from which the modern Liberal vs Conservative distinction flows. This is precisely where the idea of "I'm personally opposed to abortion, but I won't push my views on others" comes from. And this is precisely why Protestants have historically been terrified of any Catholics being elected, especially to the seat of President, because the Protestants know full well that a genuine Catholic President would have to exercise his office according to the mind of the Church.

My simple question to you (and anyone who wants to answer) is: Do you believe that the voter/legislature (especially Catholic) must formally take into consideration specific moral teachings of the Church when it comes to any given legislation? Let's use the example of pornography. Would you as a Catholic legislature formally oppose it on the grounds that it is condemned in the Catechism, or would you not mention the Church at all and try to come up with another reason to oppose it? (Surely someone as informed as you wouldn't say that you must regretfully allow pornography on the basis that man is "free" to publish whatever he wants.)

Note: I'm not trying to create enemies with either you or Josh. I think that thinking about these issues will bring Catholics to the 'next level' intellectually of where they should be, and I say this as one who used to be oblivious to the richness of such Church teachings.

Edward Feser said...

Your first sentence lacks the needed precision to understand my point.

My first sentence lacked precision intentionally, because it was (obviously) meant as sarcasm.

Nor ought someone who uses the term "heresy" as loosely as you do, and ignores the nuances in the term "conservative," to accuse others of a lack of "precision"!

If you had simply said "Some ideas that are defended by some self-described 'conservatives' cannot be reconciled with Catholic teaching," that would have been precise and reasonable, and we would not be having this discussion.

Instead, you initially described "conservatism," without qualification, as a "heresy," and insinuated that I was a heretic merely because I had in passing described myself as "conservative." That is imprecise in the extreme. And unjust.

If you don't want trouble, don't make trouble.

Nick said...

I will try to be more careful with my wording in the future. I never intended to insinuate you or Josh were heretics, but rather that the ideology of Conservatism is erroneous. I actually enjoyed your deconstruction and refutation of Libertarianism and simply thought that it should be taken one step further.

Edward Feser said...

OK, Nick, thanks.

Robert Richards said...

Thanks for the article.

I think you need to revisit actual Libertarianism. For info on people using voluntary Libertarian tools on similar and other issues worldwide, please see the non-partisan Libertarian International Organization @ http://www.Libertarian-International.org ....

Alan Aversa said...

You say: "Leo’s teaching, and the emphasis in Catholic social teaching generally on subsidiarity, should make us think twice about whether all matters of justice are best dealt with via the blunt instruments of state power."

How would giving the state full power over the distribution of wealth be against Catholic social teaching?

thanks