Arnold Kling  

Libertarian Schisms

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At Cato Unbound, Roderick Long defends Rothbard, Rand, and Mises against charges of absolutism. Daniel Klein expresses his disagreement with Mises and Rothbard.


I am keen on liberty as a central principle and analytic fulcrum, and I depend deeply on the communities organized around such focal points. But I think the sacred things of liberalism are better served by Adam Smith and his community. Smith's tradition allowed principles to admit of exceptions and yet still be principles. David Hume and Adam Smith belonged to a tradition that formulated things in terms of by-and-larges and associated presumptions - much like the presumption of innocence.

I share David Friedman's point of view.

The implications of my moral intuitions are not as tidy as the theories of Rand or Rawls or, for that matter, Bentham. But then, I know of no a priori reason to expect the truth, in moral philosophy or anything else, to always be simple.


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COMMENTS (5 to date)
VangelV writes:

The implications of my moral intuitions are not as tidy as the theories of Rand or Rawls or, for that matter, Bentham. But then, I know of no a priori reason to expect the truth, in moral philosophy or anything else, to always be simple.

That is the problem with David and many others who call themselves libertarians. They do not believe in something as simple as the claim that the individual owns his own body or has the right to the production of that body. As such, it is easy for him and others like him to accept the argument that our rights come from government and to accept government activities to be legitimate as long as some utility condition is met. In such a world the rights of the individual are of no consequence when compared to the rights of the 'community' even though the community is not monolithic and the individuals who are a part of it do not fully agree on most of the goals that are being pursued.

Becky Hargrove writes:

Absolutism is not as tidy as it seems: indeed the insistence on the most concrete form of ownership possible can actually undermine the entire ownership dynamic in some instances. At the moment when some turn to philosophy, pragmatism kicks in for me and I want to know: what is actually being caught by this definition of ownership, and what is being lost? Be it either physical or mental: both need flexibility for economic interactions to actually take place.

If a person wants to simply retreat to property and assets that is one thing. But many people in the present define and crave wealth creation in very different terms, those that involve social interaction, knowledge utilization and especially the experience economies which became so important in recent decades. For those definitions of wealth to have meaning, they have to exist in social constructs that make it possible for them to happen, and they need to be considered as a whole, to see what so often stops the interactions from happening.

Nickolaus writes:

I regard the non-aggression principle as morally absolute. But I can also think of areas where there is no moral absolute -- patents, for instance, are an area that seems gray at best to me.

RPLong writes:

I don't really like how Mises got lumped-in with Rothbard in this series. I think Roderick Long (no relation BTW) is the only one who managed to state Mises' views accurately. For everyone else, the name "Mises" seems to be used synonymously with the name "Rothbard." That's disappointing. I don't think most are being fair to Mises here.

I'm a big fan of Rand's ideas, especially on morality, but there is no doubt that she shot herself in the foot with her own polemics. Had she spoken a little more softly, I think more people would take her ideas seriously.

John David Galt writes:

I support a big-tent version of the liberty movement, and even gradualism -- provided the rest of the team at least wants to move the ball toward the right goal line (a smaller federal budget). That means any candidate must want to (or, if in office already, have voted to) actually cut spending. Reducing it more slowly is not enough.

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