Friday, January 6, 2012

Some quick thoughts on the "Libertarian movement"

With all the Ron Paul hoopla these days, I thought I would add some quick thoughts on libertarianism that have been stirring for a while but are, alas, simply knee-jerk reactions to what I read on the internet, "libertarian" blogs, conversations (email threads!) with friends, etc.  The biggest problem with the “Libertarian movement” as I see it is that it is ignorant of good political philosophy. Thus, you find many vomiting the sound-bites of Mencken, Nock, and other journalists, quoting Mises and Rothbard ad nauseam (both economists who later hoped to dabble in political philosophy). Unfortunately, these ‘libertarians’ are often simultaneously badly informed of the most influential political philosophy of the last 50 years (Rawls, Dworkin, Nagel, Raz, Christiano, Gaus (a libertarian!), Pettitt, Waldron, AJ Simmons (philosophical anarchist!), Habermas, Scanlon, Scheffler, Walzer, Henry Richardson etc. etc.). To make matters worse, most libertarians, especially of the Austrian bent, have zero theory of ideal government in the face of massive disagreement on matters of justice and the good. Here’s a hint: go back and actually read Hobbes and Locke (and definitely Waldron and Jean Hampton on this point) to understand what Waldron calls “the circumstances of politics.” The insight of Hobbes and Locke is this: people come together, they trade, they interact in innumerable ways. Thus, certain fundamental decisions regarding the structure of these relationships must be made. A fundamental question of political philosophy is how are these decisions to be made when those who need an answer fundamentally disagree (to me, the identification of a “People” is the most important question for political philosophy; one answer is “those who have voluntarily agreed to live in political community; another is that in addition to contractualism, associative relationships can give rise to a legitimate claim to political community). As I see it, Austro-”libertarians” would simply force their vision of justice upon everyone else, coercing those who do not agree to get in line. This is because they do not have a theory of democracy. It’s unfortunate that such self-professed libertarians have lost sight of classical liberalism and its commitment to the democratic ideal.

My harsh criticism comes from someone who views himself as a libertarian. I have been profoundly influenced by Nozick, Rothbard, and Hayek. Yet the repugnance towards the democratic ideal found in certain contemporary libertarian cliques is disheartening indeed.

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