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A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Mon Jun 04, 2012 2:37 pm UTC
by hawkinsssable
I'm working on understanding libertarianism and its appeal. I'm pretty familiar with what the philosophy involves (I've read a few things by key libertarian thinkers like Nozick, Naverson and Rothbard and a few books on libertarianism, as well as hearing from the Institute of Public Affairs pretty much daily in the Australian media) and the key thing I want to understand is, basically, what justification for libertarian policies people find most convincing.

So far as I can tell, there are three main ones:

1. (negative) liberty is intrinsically and absolutely valuable: Liberty is a great thing in and of itself. In fact, it's the best thing. When it conflicts with other social values like utility (utilitarianism) or equality (egalitarianism), liberty always trumps them. Because liberty is inherently so valuable, people's rights to freedom (grounded in self-ownership) must never be violated.

2. (negative) liberty is instrumentally valuable: Liberty is a great thing because it's so important to human well-being. Freedom is a big element of individual well-being, so if we want people to be happy, we'd better make sure we protect their right to liberty. On a larger scale, the free market is awesome and efficient and drives much-needed innovation. Government intervention, on the other hand, is inefficient and stifles innovation. People would be better off if we just let the market take care of things like education, housing, medicine, etc.

3. (negative)Post-modernism is confusing: Coercive state actions are legitimate only in the face of universal agreement on the particualr moral rules they enforce. This might be possible in concrete moral communities where all members share a moral or religious framework, but in contemporary pluralistic societies this isn't the case. Here's the problem: there's no one definitive, unambiguous moral philosophy we can all agree with. Laws on what we must do (funding policies and programs we may not agree with through taxation) and what we can't (prohibitions on particular practices such as prostitution, taking drugs, selling kidneys, etc.) are all premised on particular moral traditions not everybody shares and that can't be proven to be correct. Instead of grounding policies on universal agreement (which can't be reached) we should ground them in the actual consent of the parties concerned. In other words, we allow any and all market transactions provided all parties involved consent and, possibly, that no third party is harmed.


So I've got a few questions. Firstly, is that list more or less exhaustive? Secondly, did I misunderstand any particular justification? And thirdly, which do you / most libertarian philosophers / most internet libertarians find the most convincing - which justification grounds people's dedication to libertarianism?

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Mon Jun 04, 2012 10:04 pm UTC
by Fire Brns
This is easy to read and logical enough. I want to ask for a clarification though: In what instance would liberty conflict with equality? I was confused a little bit in the first part.

To your second question: People makes mistakes, government is a collection of people. I think it's better for one to suffer at his own mistakes then at others.
Likewise anarchistic systems are far too impractical and cannot account for policing what is decidedly criminal behavior such as serial killery.

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2012 1:10 am UTC
by yurell
Fire Brns wrote:I want to ask for a clarification though: In what instance would liberty conflict with equality?


Not everyone is born equal, and forcing them to be equal (e.g. force everyone to install wheelchair ramps so disabled people can access the building) would promote equality, but cut down on liberty (since you're forcing everyone to do something, possibly against their will.

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2012 1:36 am UTC
by hawkinsssable
EDIT: Ignore this post. Yurell already explained in one sentence instead of a stupidly long wall of text.

Fire Brns wrote:This is easy to read and logical enough. I want to ask for a clarification though: In what instance would liberty conflict with equality? I was confused a little bit in the first part.


The idea I was trying express in justification #1 is that negative liberty violations are never justified even if they would improve overall well-being (utility) or equality. So, to take an extreme example of liberty conflicting with utility, because involuntary quarantine is a huge infringement of an individual's liberty, we should never quarantine an individual with a deadly and highly contagious disease without their consent - even if doing so would predictably cause thousands of preventable deaths. Likewise, we should reject redistributive taxation policies that improve the situation of the worst off, even if they improve equality.

This paper (which argues against right-libertarianism in the context of improving global health) is a nice example of some of the ways these social values can conflict:

This paper examines cumulative ethical and self-interested reasons why wealthy developed nations should be motivated to do more to improve health care in developing countries. Egalitarian and human rights reasons why wealthy nations should do more to improve global health are that doing so would (1) promote equality of opportunity, (2) improve the situation of the worst-off, (3) promote respect of the human right to have one’s most basic needs met, and (4) reduce undeserved inequalities in well-being. Utilitarian reasons for improving global health are that this would (5) promote the greater good of humankind, and (6) achieve enormous benefits while requiring only small sacrifices. Libertarian reasons are that this would (7) amend historical injustices and (8) meet the obligation to amend injustices that developed world countries have contributed to. Self-interested reasons why wealthy nations should do more to improve global health are that doing so would (9) reduce the threat of infectious diseases to developed countries, (10) promote developed countries’ economic interests, and (11) promote global security. All of these reasons count, and together they add up to make an overwhelmingly powerful case for change. Those opposed to wealthy government funding of developing world health improvement would most likely appeal, implicitly or explicitly, to the idea that coercive taxation for redistributive purposes would violate the right of an individual to keep his hard-earned income. The idea that this reason not to improve global health should outweigh the combination of rights and values embodied in the eleven reasons enumerated above, however, is implausibly extreme, morally repugnant and perhaps imprudent.


So the difference between justification #1 and #2 is that #1 places extreme weight on the value of liberty per se, while #2 places extreme weight on the value of liberty because it's usually or always considered the best possible way to increase overall well-being. In the case outlined above, somebody who's a (right) libertarian because they believe #1 could argue that the importance of not violating individual rights to income simply outweighs all the listed reasons for improving global health through government policies. Somebody who's a (right) libertarian because they believe #2 would have to argue something along the line that if we get rid of taxation, charities and/or free market would do a better job at improving global health than governments anyway.

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2012 2:40 am UTC
by Fire Brns
yurell wrote:
Fire Brns wrote:I want to ask for a clarification though: In what instance would liberty conflict with equality?


Not everyone is born equal, and forcing them to be equal (e.g. force everyone to install wheelchair ramps so disabled people can access the building) would promote equality, but cut down on liberty (since you're forcing everyone to do something, possibly against their will.

That's a lot more clear. Thx. I thought it was implying a completely different thing.
This is reasonable arguement, note that I'm not the best spokesperson on libertarian viewpoints; Libertarians feel that society can cause change without government intervention. Social or moral pressure can influence "positive behavior" better than punitive and/or regulatory laws. For example: assume a large business doesn't have handicapped ramps, "too expensive and money better allocated for test chambers and lemons or some nonsense", word of mouth and rumor can do more to influence change in company policy because of a bad public image.
Starbucks for example stopped using the bug based food dye over customer response. I'll keep this post short and not cite 10 instances but it is a quite frequent occurence.

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2012 3:42 am UTC
by lutzj
hawkinsssable wrote:So, to take an extreme example of liberty conflicting with utility, because involuntary quarantine is a huge infringement of an individual's liberty, we should never quarantine an individual with a deadly and highly contagious disease without their consent - even if doing so would predictably cause thousands of preventable deaths.


Of course, you could make the case that a highly contagious person who does not self-quarantine is actively harming other people, and so forfeiting their ability to move around freely.

Criminal HIV transmission is a relatively cut-and-dry example: people who knowingly go around transmitting their disease are sent to prison, where they ostensibly won't be able to spread it anymore.

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2012 10:17 am UTC
by jules.LT
OT:
Spoiler:
lutzj wrote:Criminal HIV transmission is a relatively cut-and-dry example: people who knowingly go around transmitting their disease are sent to prison, where they ostensibly won't be able to spread it anymore.

I so wish this were true.

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2012 11:26 am UTC
by lutzj
Regarding the OP; after giving each a bit of thought, I think I subscribe to all 3 notions, but #1 (liberty has inherent value) is the most philosophically compelling for me and the main reason I often find myself aligning with libertarianism.

This is further backed up by two contentious premises not in the OP: that the primary purpose of government is to preserve rights, and that people have natural rights. Both, again are closely tied to #1, and #s 2 and 3 are icing on the cake.


re: jules:
Spoiler:
jules.LT wrote:OT:
lutzj wrote:Criminal HIV transmission is a relatively cut-and-dry example: people who knowingly go around transmitting their disease are sent to prison, where they ostensibly won't be able to spread it anymore.

I so wish this were true.


Subtle language thing: I try to reserve "ostensibly" to precisely mean "apparently but not actually."

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2012 3:04 pm UTC
by jules.LT
Spoiler:
Ooooh, thank you. In the original French, it means that it's shown off but not that it's just an apparence

Seen from across the pond, Americans seem to have an atypical attachment to Liberty as an end in itself and often let it get in the way of the common good and fairness. I'm pretty sure that Libertarians, as an extreme case of that inclination, go for #1 any time of the week. I'd be interested to hear more from them.

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2012 4:04 pm UTC
by CorruptUser
Libertarians are more of that Firefly "right to be wrong" mentality. Many people would be happier suffering from their own mistakes than from someone else's; of course, many people assume that most of their own suffering is the fault of someone else.

In the US, we have 3 vague ideologies; Moralism, Individualism, and Traditionalism. Moralism is the belief that government exists to provide the best outcomes for as many citizens as possible. Individualism is the belief that government exists to protect freedoms. Traditionalism is the belief that government exists to protect the status quo.

It's hard to say which view is "right" and which is "wrong"; sometimes change brings too much disorder and causes more problems than it solves, removing some minor liberties may have better results longterm, or sometimes trying to help people has too many unintended consequences. If it was simple, well, it wouldn't be politics.

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2012 4:39 pm UTC
by iamspen
CorruptUser wrote:Libertarians are more of that Firefly "right to be wrong" mentality. Many people would be happier suffering from their own mistakes than from someone else's...


Of course, the fact that we live in a collective called, "society," and adhere by default to the philosophy that no man is an island, one's mistakes do typically have a measurable effect on those around them, making pure libertarianism not only a selfish philosophy, but one that, if enacted, would be inherently dangerous to the collective as a whole.

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2012 6:33 pm UTC
by folkhero
One important pillar of libertarian thought that the OP missed is the non-aggression principle which states that aggressive actions like violence, threats of violence, or theft. With the exception that aggression may be permitted in prevention or in response to other acts of aggression.

In the view of some libertarians (me included) just going about your daily life can be an aggressive act if you don't take reasonable precautions to prevent yourself from spreading disease. This means that if you have a very dangerous and contagious disease, and you don't voluntarily go into quarantine , then the state can legitimately put you into one to prevent your aggression of spreading the contagion. If you refuse to voluntarily get a vaccine that is safe, and effective at preventing a dangerous disease then the government can legitimately mandate it.

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2012 6:37 pm UTC
by iamspen
folkhero wrote:Stuff


And you are, of course, not the type of libertarian I'm talking about, because I can clearly have a discussion with you about what kind of tax scheme we should have and you won't go, "NONE, GET OFF MY MONEY!" I'm mainly concerned with the hardcore libertarians who legitimately think we should cut almost all government spending and who think the right to keep ALL the money is the only civil liberty that matters and who think market forces can solve things like racism.

Judging by your one post, I don't think you're that type.

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2012 6:37 pm UTC
by Charlie!
folkhero wrote:In the view of some libertarians (me included) just going about your daily life can be an aggressive act if you don't take reasonable precautions to prevent yourself from spreading disease. This means that if you have a very dangerous and contagious disease, and you don't voluntarily go into quarantine , then the state can legitimately put you into one to prevent your aggression of spreading the contagion. If you refuse to voluntarily get a vaccine that is safe, and effective at preventing a dangerous disease then the government can legitimately mandate it.

Are you a #2 libertarian and not a #1 libertarian?

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2012 7:01 pm UTC
by Griffin
iamspen,
So you aren't actually talking about libertarians, just idiots?

Seriously, that's certainly none of the types the OP was writing about, so why even bother bringing it up? Aside from the fact that someone like what you describe isn't even a libertarian (and I'm pretty sure its a strawman anyways).

None of the many libertarians I've ever met have been like that, anyway.

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2012 7:20 pm UTC
by folkhero
Charlie! wrote:Are you a #2 libertarian and not a #1 libertarian?

I'm not really an ideologically pure libertarian, so a little bit of both. I put liberty and utility on roughly equal footing, with liberty being slightly ahead, and I put both well above egalitarianism, which I put well above nationalism, regionalism and other tribalisms. I think that utility can, presently best be served by increasing liberty and decreasing aggression by the state. I'm also a little bit of 3 in that I don't trust the state (i.e. politicians and bureaucrats) to make good decisions when it comes to trading liberty for utility so I only want the doing so when the benefits to utility are extremely clear.

iamspen wrote:
folkhero wrote:Stuff


And you are, of course, not the type of libertarian I'm talking about, because I can clearly have a discussion with you about what kind of tax scheme we should have and you won't go, "NONE, GET OFF MY MONEY!" I'm mainly concerned with the hardcore libertarians who legitimately think we should cut almost all government spending and who think the right to keep ALL the money is the only civil liberty that matters and who think market forces can solve things like racism.
Are you sure that these libertarians are that think civil liberty is the only thing that matters are real? They don't seem to be a very significant part of libertarian thought. Anyway, I've seen the same argument about vaccinations and quarantines from libertarians that are much more ideologically pure than me.

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2012 7:22 pm UTC
by iamspen
Griffin wrote:None of the many libertarians I've ever met have been like that, anyway.


You've never encountered a libertarian claiming taxes are theft, or one who thinks welfare is fundamentally a bad idea, or who claims businesses should have the right to discriminate (almost always followed by, "even though it's wrong")? All the traits I listed, when rolled into one ball, create a portrait of a cartoon individual, but singularly, they're traits carried proudly by many, many libertarians.

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2012 7:34 pm UTC
by Griffin
I've certainly met people who say some of those things. Some of them were even libertarians. A surprising number were not, mind you. Very few of those who said them actually believed them when one dug a little deeper. Almost all the "taxes are theft" people seem to be of the opinion that taxes are only theft when it applies to them. Taxing other people is fine. :P

I have never heard ANYONE argue that
the right to keep ALL the money is the only civil liberty that matters

though. And its certainly not a libertarian stance.

The right to enjoy the profits of one's labour is certainly something many libertarians believe in, but I've never yet met one that gives it ultimate priority, forget about exclusive dominance.

So perhaps I was just influence by your hyperbole. You newest post seems much more reasonable a presentation.

(And the the free market CAN solve the racism problem. It's just probably not going to be a solution most people would like. ;) )

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2012 7:44 pm UTC
by iamspen
Yeah, I tend to use hyperbole a lot, but I try to use it deftly and in such a manner that it's obviously an exaggeration. Obviously, this is not an exact science. ;)

It's worth noting that I think I have more in common with libertarianism than I have grievances against it, but that which I do disagree with, I do so with a fair amount of vigor. I'm not a states-rights kind of guy, for instance, which is something a lot of Ron*Paul libertarians are, and something the Tea Party faux-libertarians erroniously claim to be, and I'm not a big tax cut guy, either. But if my two choices were Republican or Libertarian rather than Republican or Democrat, I think I'd plant my flag firmly in the Libertarian camp, thank you very much.

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2012 8:32 pm UTC
by Griffin
I think the big reason most libertarians is states right folks is a good commentary on one of your earlier comments:
Of course, the fact that we live in a collective called, "society," and adhere by default to the philosophy that no man is an island, one's mistakes do typically have a measurable effect on those around them, making pure libertarianism not only a selfish philosophy, but one that, if enacted, would be inherently dangerous to the collective as a whole.


Libertarians tend to believe that one of the most important rights is the right to be able to choose the society you want to live in - that so long as you avoid damage other societies, or preventing people from leaving your society to seek another one, you should have the right to come to consensus about the rules you wish to live under.

Essentially, that society is an agreement, and it's rules should not forcefully applied to those who can have no influence over their creation, unless there's a seriously important reason why this shouldn't be so. (the military is one of those important reasons, for many libertarians)

The states rights thing is an inherent outgrowth of that - the belief that those who live in a given society are the ones who should be able to govern it's rules. Obviously, we all live in the same "society", on some level - but it's hard to believe that, socially, Vermont is the same society as Texas but not the Canadians living just over the border.

wikipedia wrote:A society, or a human society, is a group of people related to each other through persistent relations, or a large social grouping sharing the same geographical or virtual territory, subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations.

Essentially, that local society is stronger than state society is stronger than national society, and things should be managed by the smallest society possible to make it easier to move between them, thus preserving the freedoms to live in accordance with ones beliefs.

This is how you wind up with libertarian communes, despite people being surprised that a libertarian would embrace communal living. But the a basic belief of libertarianism is based on the belief that people can form effective societies on their own, without it being forced on them by governments, and no one has the right to dictate culture and norms on a group that rejects them (unless it conflicts directly with the continuation of such a situation - basically, so long as they contribute to the larger society as needed and avoid the aggression rules and allow people to leave).

Most "libertarian utopias" are strongly built around a functioning local society, where people help each other and work together not because they are forced to, but for mutual benefit and because they want to. And maybe its a silly dream, but I think it's understandable.

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2012 8:35 pm UTC
by CorruptUser
iamspen wrote:
CorruptUser wrote:Libertarians are more of that Firefly "right to be wrong" mentality. Many people would be happier suffering from their own mistakes than from someone else's...


Of course, the fact that we live in a collective called, "society," and adhere by default to the philosophy that no man is an island, one's mistakes do typically have a measurable effect on those around them


...which is why even Libertarians believe that the criminal justice system and civil court systems should exist. If I pollute the river, I should have to pay the entire cost to clean it up and pay fair restitution to the people harmed. If I drive drunk, I should expect to face criminal charges, and if someone is killed as a result, manslaughter charges. All but the most hardline Libertarians believe there should be restrictions on dangerous activity even before damage occurs; I shouldn't be allowed to test my nuclear fission reactor in a residential zone, and should be stopped well before anyone gets radiation sickness.

Also, slight ninja.

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2012 10:22 pm UTC
by jules.LT
Griffin wrote:I've certainly met people who say some of those things. Some of them were even libertarians. A surprising number were not, mind you. Very few of those who said them actually believed them when one dug a little deeper. Almost all the "taxes are theft" people seem to be of the opinion that taxes are only theft when it applies to them. Taxing other people is fine. :P

Go and check Steroid's post history. It's frightening. Here's the first gem I could find.

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Tue Jun 05, 2012 11:39 pm UTC
by Whimsical Eloquence
hawkinsssable wrote:
1. (negative) liberty is intrinsically and absolutely valuable: Liberty is a great thing in and of itself. In fact, it's the best thing. When it conflicts with other social values like utility (utilitarianism) or equality (egalitarianism), liberty always trumps them. Because liberty is inherently so valuable, people's rights to freedom (grounded in self-ownership) must never be violated.



What's vital to understand here is the very particular, and Lockean, perception of liberty most Libertarians hold. They generally see Man as being at his freest in the State of Nature, they see property as a natural institution and that from a desire to secure that liberty and that property the State is justified. As part of their conception of Liberty, they mostly acknowledge as a belief that property is either sufficient and necessary for freedom, or that property is necessary and quite substantially though not entirely sufficient for it. What they very rarely acknowledge is that their perception of Liberty has enmeshed within it as an assumption a kind of conception about property very similar to that has historically been prevalent in the last two hundred years of western society. To see this you only at how the (very confused) idea of Negative/Positive Liberty is often explained.

Consider whether an American has the negative or positive freedom or the to go on holiday to the Bahamas? They are free to do so, say believers in negative freedom, as there is no law preventing an American going on holidays to the Bahamas. They are not, says the supporters of positive freedom, as if that American lives in poverty with barely enough money to get through their week they are obviously not free to go on such a holiday.

To the Libertarian the first is the only real kind of Freedom - where the State (or someone else's force) stops you doing something. This distinction breaks down though when one considers what happens should the impoverished citizen attempt to board the plane or enter one of the hotel rooms at the resort. The State will remove the American in question. What stops this person going on holiday? It is the law. The law says that people may not board aeroplanes without a valid ticket or stay in hotel rooms without a particular key. This is deliberate interference by others. The rules of our society create the conditions make property meaningful - they may well be the right rules. But the Libertarian often takes for granted that they are the given rules and conditions; that they are somehow naturally occurring and antecedent to our society and customs.

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Wed Jun 06, 2012 12:26 am UTC
by folkhero
Whimsical Eloquence wrote:To the Libertarian the first is the only real kind of Freedom - where the State (or someone else's force) stops you doing something. This distinction breaks down though when one considers what happens should the impoverished citizen attempt to board the plane or enter one of the hotel rooms at the resort. The State will remove the American in question. What stops this person going on holiday? It is the law. The law says that people may not board aeroplanes without a valid ticket or stay in hotel rooms without a particular key. This is deliberate interference by others. The rules of our society create the conditions make property meaningful - they may well be the right rules. But the Libertarian often takes for granted that they are the given rules and conditions; that they are somehow naturally occurring and antecedent to our society and customs.

The law doesn't say you can't get on a plane without a ticket, the airline does. The government merely enforces the airliners claim of trespassing. In theory it could be done with a private security force. (Although in reality, air travel isn't the best example because of how the government has, in a very un-libertarian way, has barged into the business of air travel security.) Libertarians do recognize that a society and specifically a state is required for any meaningful enforcement of private property claims and disputes, otherwise they would be anarchists.

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Wed Jun 06, 2012 1:44 am UTC
by lutzj
Whimsical Eloquence wrote:Consider whether an American has the negative or positive freedom or the to go on holiday to the Bahamas? They are free to do so, say believers in negative freedom, as there is no law preventing an American going on holidays to the Bahamas. They are not, says the supporters of positive freedom, as if that American lives in poverty with barely enough money to get through their week they are obviously not free to go on such a holiday.


So, in this example, the positively-defined rights camp believes that the ability to do something is necessary to have the freedom to do something; am I understanding that correctly? It seems that such a definition of freedom would make freedom impossible for many people.

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Wed Jun 06, 2012 2:39 am UTC
by Whimsical Eloquence
lutzj wrote:
Whimsical Eloquence wrote:Consider whether an American has the negative or positive freedom or the to go on holiday to the Bahamas? They are free to do so, say believers in negative freedom, as there is no law preventing an American going on holidays to the Bahamas. They are not, says the supporters of positive freedom, as if that American lives in poverty with barely enough money to get through their week they are obviously not free to go on such a holiday.


So, in this example, the positively-defined rights camp believes that the ability to do something is necessary to have the freedom to do something; am I understanding that correctly? It seems that such a definition of freedom would make freedom impossible for many people.


The Positive/Negative Liberty distinction was coined by Isaiah Berlin who himself believed that "Positive Liberty" is a ultimately nonsensical concept an, saw conceptions of its kind as having been used to justify totalitarian regimes. They're not really a "camp" at all - it's more how people like Berlin, and some Libertarians, characterise people who believe in economic or social rights. More importantly the Positive/Negative Liberty distinction is pretty useless; all liberties involve the absence of constraints (negatives) thereby allowing actions (positive) - that's how all liberties are framed.

folkhero wrote:
Whimsical Eloquence wrote:To the Libertarian the first is the only real kind of Freedom - where the State (or someone else's force) stops you doing something. This distinction breaks down though when one considers what happens should the impoverished citizen attempt to board the plane or enter one of the hotel rooms at the resort. The State will remove the American in question. What stops this person going on holiday? It is the law. The law says that people may not board aeroplanes without a valid ticket or stay in hotel rooms without a particular key. This is deliberate interference by others. The rules of our society create the conditions make property meaningful - they may well be the right rules. But the Libertarian often takes for granted that they are the given rules and conditions; that they are somehow naturally occurring and antecedent to our society and customs.

The law doesn't say you can't get on a plane without a ticket, the airline does. The government merely enforces the airliners claim of trespassing. In theory it could be done with a private security force. (Although in reality, air travel isn't the best example because of how the government has, in a very un-libertarian way, has barged into the business of air travel security.) Libertarians do recognize that a society and specifically a state is required for any meaningful enforcement of private property claims and disputes, otherwise they would be anarchists.


Yes, of course they do - I never said otherwise. In fact I said that Libertarians generally believe in the Lockean idea that the State is justified as a means of securing property rights. My point is that they see property as an arrangement that both pre-exists the State and is in some sense the natural default. In the example above their belief in "Negative Liberty" as a very distinct concept is rooted in the idea that a certain conception of liberty and a certain framing of property as an institution is natural. Take what you just said, "the government is merely enforcing the airliners claim of trespassing". A Libertarian would scoff if the State took food off you and gave it to me and I said "The government is merely enforcing my claim to nourishment". They treat "trespass" as a concept antecdent to the State - which it is merely enforcing, whereas my claim to nourishment they would see as simply being the State's invention.

In both scenarios - either indirectly through property or through outright banning my exiting the country or staying in a hotel - the Law is limiting my travel to the Bahamas. One or the other may be the correct sense in which to do so. But the Libertarian in general sees the the second as the State interfering with my natural liberty to travel while the first is simply the State enforcing some sort of relationship (of trespass or ownership) that would exist without the State.

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Wed Jun 06, 2012 3:07 am UTC
by hawkinsssable
folkhero wrote:One important pillar of libertarian thought that the OP missed is the non-aggression principle which states that aggressive actions like violence, threats of violence, or theft. With the exception that aggression may be permitted in prevention or in response to other acts of aggression.

In the view of some libertarians (me included) just going about your daily life can be an aggressive act if you don't take reasonable precautions to prevent yourself from spreading disease. This means that if you have a very dangerous and contagious disease, and you don't voluntarily go into quarantine , then the state can legitimately put you into one to prevent your aggression of spreading the contagion. If you refuse to voluntarily get a vaccine that is safe, and effective at preventing a dangerous disease then the government can legitimately mandate it.


Yeah, that's why Yurell's wheelchair ramp example was so much better than my epidemic one.

The boundaries of the non-aggression principle confuses me, though. If I understand correctly, the principle can be most convincingly derived along these lines: We have a moral, natural right to self-ownership, which entails property rights to exclusive control, use and sell our bodies and the products of our bodies' labour.* Therefore, taking other people's property without their consent (say, through theft or taxation) is considered aggression and is not allowed. Ditto stabbing random people.

Things seem to get a little messier and weirder in cases like cross-pollination of different farmers' crops, pollution, infectious diseases, etc. It seems really hard to draw a nice, clear line defining 'reasonable precautions' and 'very dangerous contagious disease' - should people with shingles be quarantined or told to try to avoid touching pregnant women? How about people with the common cold? I don't think where you draw the line is going to have very much to do with the non-aggression principle per se. Spreading around a cold infringes the exact same rights as spreading around a particularly debilitating and harmful disease - if they're equally virulent the only difference is that the deadly disease has worse consequences for those infected. If you're going to draw the line somewhere I think you'll have to draw on some principles and values other than non-aggression.

lutzj wrote:So, in this example, the positively-defined rights camp believes that the ability to do something is necessary to have the freedom to do something; am I understanding that correctly?


I understand it a little differently from Whimsical. Positive liberty isn't usually talked about in terms of doing specific things, but more in more general terms. It's about the possibility of acting — or the fact of acting — in such a way as to take control of one's life and realize one's fundamental purposes. To be free is to be self-determined, and the less control you feel you have over your destiny the less free you are. If you only have a limited range of options in life (impoverished, shitty labour market, evil authoritarian state controls your every move, etc) or if internal factors outside of your control define your priorities (addiction to cigarettes / heroin / whatever) then you're not particularly free.

So positive freedom is about the possibility of doing things that are meaningful to you and the ability to influence the conditions that shape your life (boo poverty! yay democracy!) It's less about ensuring everybody has the positive freedom to holiday in the bahamas and more about creating the conditions necessary for people to pursue the things that really truly matter to them.


*the whole concept seems a little silly to me, and I think there are better ways of capturing the intuition that 'stabbing people are wrong!' that don't involve property rights and also stop short of 'taxation is theft!'

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Wed Jun 06, 2012 4:06 am UTC
by Griffin
jules.LT wrote:Go and check Steroid's post history. It's frightening. Here's the first gem I could find.


Steroid is not what I would call a libertarian. His philosophy isn't maximum freedom or pretty much anything traditionally liberterian, it's "whatever is best for Steroid". His point there wasn't that taxes were worst than a million people dying, it's that a million people dying was less important than something slightly bad happening to him.

But I think it's better for all involved if we don't talk about Steroid, and I'm glad I've never actually met anyone like him, assuming everything he says here is the truth.
He may be a libertarian, but it's in the same way Stalin was a Marxist.

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Wed Jun 06, 2012 4:14 am UTC
by Griffin
I think the problem many libertarian's have with Positive Rights, is that they, almost by definition, require taking from someone else - they are state-compelled action. Which libertarians see as bad.

Negative rights, by definition, are NOT state compelled action - the state never requires someone to do something to help YOU achieve some goal - they simply do nothing to prevent you from achieving that goal.

Basically, a positive right doesn't add choice, it just redistributes it - taking choice away from some person to give to someone else, and at less than 100% efficiency. So purely on a freedom/choice metric, they are bad.


This is why I personally consider property rights and protection from others rights to be a bit of a grey area - by definition, they redistribute choice. I would consider them a positive right.

While abortion rights and drug rights are clear-cut negative rights, since no one else's freedom needs to be impinged to achieve them.

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Wed Jun 06, 2012 5:54 am UTC
by hawkinsssable
Griffin wrote:Basically, a positive right doesn't add choice, it just redistributes it - taking choice away from some person to give to someone else, and at less than 100% efficiency. So purely on a freedom/choice metric, they are bad.


Is this necessarily true? Let's say we agree that having access to food is important for self-determination (because, you know, without it you die) and so we 'steal' a little bit of food from the rich to give to the starving poor. The food is going to be of much greater utility to the starving poor than the rich because, you know, the rich can just buy some more. And not being severely malnourished opens up all sorts of options to the starving - suddenly they have the strength to do things like walk around, talk to people, maybe find employment - basically pursue their own ends in a way that's not possible when you're incredibly malnourished. Those incredibly rich people you stole the bread from have their choices restricted very slightly - they can't eat the exact food stolen from them, but they can easily eat some different food or buy some more. Doing so means they'll have to forgo a tiny proportion of their income, so maybe a few of their choices will be slightly restricted (maybe they'll have to get paid an extra day's worth of wages before they're able to book that holiday in the bahamas), but those starving people gain many more options. So the tradeoff seems like more than 100% efficiency.

folkhero wrote:One important pillar of libertarian thought that the OP missed is the non-aggression principle which states that aggressive actions like violence, threats of violence, or theft. With the exception that aggression may be permitted in prevention or in response to other acts of aggression.


Actually, a quick question about this - so are you saying that libertarianism is appealing because the non-aggression principle is intuitively appealing?

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Wed Jun 06, 2012 12:47 pm UTC
by Griffin
The utility point is a good one, and I was going to bring it up, but I figured it would be better to focus just on what many I've met see as a core element of the redistribution element of positive rights, that it's something you have to be given (or that is taken from) another - most libertarians I've met also support many positive rights for exactly the reason you've stated - because it allows more freedom in the long run.

It's a big reason why so many libertarians seem to support the Negative Income Tax or some variant thereof. Because if its agreed that there's a worthwhile value in taking some choice from others to increase the choice of a different group, the end result should be to maximize choice - so things like foodstamps are inherently inferior to giving someone money directly.

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Wed Jun 06, 2012 1:22 pm UTC
by CorruptUser
Hah, yes, every Libertarian I met hates foodstamps. If you figure out how to spend less than the allotted amount, congratulations, you win a can of nothing. So people with extra will sell their 'stamps on the black market, creating a small industry that shouldn't exist, which soaks up valuable labor from other sectors, all while spending just as much public cash as just giving people the money.

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Wed Jun 06, 2012 6:10 pm UTC
by EdgePenguin
The problem with Libertarianism, as I see it and as the OP defines it, is that there is no universal agreement on what liberty is - and that by claiming a unilateral right to its definition, Libertarians seem to define it in a way stacked in their favour. E.g. property rights are sacred, but there is nothing to address the origin of property in enclosure and bloody conquest. If you can extend the radius of your person to the absurd, you can claim that any threat to your interests is an attack on your personal liberty.

Frankly, it comes across as rather petulant. Libertarians do not distinguish between selfishness (always pursuing the maximization of some metric of personal gain, regardless of any other concerns) and individualism (being true to oneself, making choices). Worse, they are convinced that their selfishness is some kind of supreme moral imperative, and are willing (as the OP points out) to dismiss things that objectively make society better (in the US, the big obvious one is European-style universal healthcare) in favour of their ideal.

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Wed Jun 06, 2012 6:47 pm UTC
by LaserGuy
EdgePenguin wrote:Frankly, it comes across as rather petulant. Libertarians do not distinguish between selfishness (always pursuing the maximization of some metric of personal gain, regardless of any other concerns) and individualism (being true to oneself, making choices). Worse, they are convinced that their selfishness is some kind of supreme moral imperative, and are willing (as the OP points out) to dismiss things that objectively make society better (in the US, the big obvious one is European-style universal healthcare) in favour of their ideal.


This is sort of an aside, but libertarianism doesn't necessarily rule out big government or social spending per se. I mean, if a certain number of libertarians got together and entered into an agreement where they would agree to pay a tax proportionate to their income and use the revenues from that to provide a particular social service (or other types of government services), such as healthcare for whomever needs it, this is a perfectly acceptable course of action so long as (dis)association with the collective is voluntary. That is there should be a free market for different sorts of societies that people might want to live in, including societies that themselves lack free markets or other libertarian ideals.

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Wed Jun 06, 2012 7:15 pm UTC
by Zamfir
@LaserGuy, by that concept libertarians would be OK with pretty much any government that doesn't build Berlin Walls to keep its people from leaving. That's clearly not the case: they don't just want the ability to disassociate from a state, they want to be able to disassociate while staying, unrestricted, within the territory of that state.

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Wed Jun 06, 2012 7:28 pm UTC
by Griffin
Zamfir, it's an entirely different thing. In this example, you can choose to not be part of any libertarian collective or only be part of one you agree with.

Your state example isn't really relevant because living in a state is not voluntary. It is, quite literally, impossible to avoid living in a State (or equivalent) while remaining in the US. What's the freedom of being able to leave when there's nowhere else to leave to? There's no real competition allowed (since no organization or person that is not currently a state is allowed to compete with them), so it's obviously not the sort of society-by-market LaserGuy is describing, at all.

That said, I'm just pointing out the absurdity of saying those two things are the same or that states are somehow willing collectives. I don't actually have a problem with states.

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Wed Jun 06, 2012 7:36 pm UTC
by LaserGuy
Zamfir wrote:@LaserGuy, by that concept libertarians would be OK with pretty much any government that doesn't build Berlin Walls to keep its people from leaving. That's clearly not the case: they don't just want the ability to disassociate from a state, they want to be able to disassociate while staying, unrestricted, within the territory of that state.


Doesn't that massively restrict the freedom of others to live in whatever kind of society that they want? I mean, if you don't want to be part of the group who wants to have socialized benefits, I would venture that you ought to be free to leave (with your personal land and property of course), and form your own collective consisting of the lands you own and those of anybody who wants to join you. I'm not sure how a libertarian could justify restricting others from freely forming systems of private governance in whatever fashion they desire simply because they might produce a type of governance that the libertarian doesn't agree with.

[edit]This is sort of what I'm thinking about. I'll use Canada as an example. Suppose that we have a nation of Canada, which has a federal government responsible for the usual libertarian things: justice, international treaties, defense, etc. Within Canada we have 10 provinces with the same borders as currently exist, except that they're libertarian communes. Now, say you live in the province of Ontario, and the people there decide that they want to implement a system of taxation, and use those funds to pay for socialized healthcare. You don't wish to have socialized healthcare, so you decide to leave the province of Ontario. You can now form a new province, say, Zamfiria, either with just your own lands, or with your lands and those of anybody else who wants to join you. Or you can decide that you'd rather just join neighbouring Quebec, which doesn't have socialized healthcare. Either way, you're still part of Canada, but now you're in a different commune.

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Thu Jun 07, 2012 6:50 am UTC
by EdgePenguin
LaserGuy wrote:
I mean, if you don't want to be part of the group who wants to have socialized benefits, I would venture that you ought to be free to leave (with your personal land and property of course), and form your own collective consisting of the lands you own and those of anybody who wants to join you. I'm not sure how a libertarian could justify restricting others from freely forming systems of private governance in whatever fashion they desire simply because they might produce a type of governance that the libertarian doesn't agree with.


Look at the section I've highlighted. The implicit assumption is not only that some land is 'yours', but that it is so independently of the state you live in. That is a load of crap. Yes, you can sit on some land with your pile of guns, and shoot anyone who steps on it without your permission, but that isn't property - that is territory.

I think that this is another weakness of libertarian thought, that somehow property exists as a real thing, and you don't need the state to support it (hint: a situation where control over land is governed by whoever can bring the most force at a particular time is called 'feudalism' and isn't good). There is no notion of a social contract, which is unsurprising as it is an article of faith amongst libertarians that they do not owe society anything at all, and any attempt by society to make them give back (e.g. taxation) is at best theft and at worst violent assult.

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Thu Jun 07, 2012 7:41 am UTC
by BattleMoose
I appreciate that liberty primarily relates to the freedom to choose one's government but I don't believe it can be viewed independently from the protection of fundamental and inalienable human rights. The 1948 declaration of human rights is a great place to start.

Personally, I consider a person or a society that endorses the UDHR as liberal and one that does not, as not. Indeed the UDHR gurantees liberty and the right to choose and participate in ones governance and that any government has to be mandated by the will of the people. Perhaps this goes a little further than what has been commonly expressed as "liberty" or "liberal" views so far in this thread.

I also appreciate there is a lot of theory regarding liberty that I am both unfamiliar with and glossing over and even ignoring.

I am certainly closest to #1, as mentioned in the OP but disagree with the premise. Equality cannot conflict with liberty, it is a fundamental aspect of it, perhaps the foundation of it. Equality in terms of being equal before the law. I appreciate the wheelchair access example and indeed that is taken to the extreme of equality and indeed does present a conflict between liberty and equality. But we shouldn't and don't, by right, have equal access to every citizens private property.

Also I am very comfortable that those who threaten or abuse the rights of others risk their own rights being violated, as in being imprisoned as is allowed within the UDHR.

As a final point I am at a complete loss as to how the free market or how business is done within a country has anything to do with liberty? In my mind these things are completely independent from each other.

Re: A small, specific question about libertarianism

Posted: Thu Jun 07, 2012 11:22 am UTC
by Zamfir
Griffin wrote:Zamfir, it's an entirely different thing. In this example, you can choose to not be part of any libertarian collective or only be part of one you agree with.

Well, the context was 'big government or social spending', which implies the involvement of at least something state-like.

Otherwise it becomes trivial: there are plenty of voluntary collectives where the members pay money to the organization, which then distributes the money back. Depending on the details we call them insurers, or charities, or pension funds, or lotteries, or ponzi schemes, etc. No one calls them 'libertarian social spending', let alone 'big government'.

There's already a hint of this in LaserGuy's example:
Now, say you live in the province of Ontario, and the people there decide that they want to implement a system of taxation, and use those funds to pay for socialized healthcare. You don't wish to have socialized healthcare, so you decide to leave the province of Ontario. You can now form a new province, say, Zamfiria, either with just your own lands, or with your lands and those of anybody else who wants to join you. Or you can decide that you'd rather just join neighbouring Quebec, which doesn't have socialized healthcare. Either way, you're still part of Canada, but now you're in a different commune.

Taken literally, this is just a private health insurer that calls itself "The Province of Ontario". The largest insurer of the Netherlands is actually called "National Netherlands", and membership is completely voluntary. There is another insurer that calls itself the "Kingdom of the Netherlands", and this one puts you in jail if you don't pay, and on an outbound plane if you resign your membership.

I assume that LaserGuy means something more than just a normal private insurance firm. A kind of collective where the membership is voluntary enough to satisfy libertarian sentiments, but different enough from the trivial examples of already existing private organizations.

I am not sure whether this is possible, at least in the current social order. In practice, organizations become either full subsidiaries of a regular state, or they shed nearly of their semblance to a government. Perhaps organized religions fall somewhere in between, but they are hardly libertarian collectives.