Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Vallier's Libertarian Rehabilitation of Hobbes

Check out Kevin Vallier's interesting post on Hobbes, public reason, and libertarianism.  From the post:

However, the problem with traditional libertarians is that they confine the range of reasonable disagreement to disputes about how to make libertarian property rights more determinate and resolve disputes among legitimate property holders. In other words, they think the range of disagreement is rather small and so arbiters have limited authority.

But let’s confront traditional libertarians with an undeniable truth: reasonable people disagree about way more political and moral matters than the scope of libertarian property rights. In fact, the large majority of reasonable people find libertarian conceptions of property rights deeply objectionable. And many of those reasonable disagreements remain after they become familiar with libertarian arguments.

So let me pose a question to traditional libertarians (related to one of my previous posts): you want to set up a libertarian society because you think it is required by justice and to serve the common good. But your free and equal fellows reasonably reject your conception of property rights. As a result, the coercion you are prepared to use to defend your property against their encroachments will be coercion that they have strong reason to reject.

Libertarians avoid the problem of private judgment by implicitly assuming that libertarian property rights are the default no-coercion point. A society without coercion is a society with property rights. But that’s false. Property rights are coercive. That does not mean that property rights cannot be justified. It just means that the coercion involved in defending property rights must be justified to all persons.


Traditional libertarian, in at least one sense, Hobbes was less authoritarian than you.

Take a look at the whole post. Worth the read. I had a follow up comment in the Comments section:

Great post, Kevin, although I prefer more of a Lockean framework (very similar to Hobbes on the need for public authority due to differing interpretations of right reason, the umpire function, etc.).

Doesnt Hobbes allow for an existing Sovereign to conquer others, and thus, in the end, all that really matters is the power/ability to enforce norms?

How much of this relies on a prescriptivist view of "moral talk"? Is the Gausian view undermined if moral practice and moral claims are not authoritarian in the face of disagreement?

Gaus seems to pooh pooh the particularity problem (see OPR, p. 471, n.39), but it seems to me that he simply pushes it back a level to the level of "social morality." Hobbes and contractualism also seem unable to adequately answer Simmons: who ought to be subject to the contractarian requirements in the first place? What makes up a legitimate polity? How do we determine the boundaries? I'm not pursuaded by the "well, we'll just rely on history to answer that one" argument.

Kevin's response:

I think that constructivists about moral and political authority (which includes most contractarians) will answer that moral authority requires shared norms, practices, ideas, etc. The reason that Rawls privileges nations, in my view, is that they have a much higher degree of shared social practices and ideas and so can form a moral and political order with a thick enough set of norms to warrant other nations treating them as a unit. I think Jerry has a similar view, though he explicitly extends public justification to trade networks, as I remember from OPR. You might also read the appendix in Justificatory Liberalism on this subject.         

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