Essay on Pragmatic Libertarianism



Pragmatic Libertarianism Essay pdf


In this essay (above), I argue that appealing to natural rights is not the most attractive way to defend libertarianism.  As Bentham puts it, natural rights are ‘nonsense on stilts.’  That is going rather far, but still it is obvious, many ask, ‘Where are these rights?  Were they there at Auschwitz?  Were they there when the Soviets invaded?’  Whatever the truth of the matter – and, indeed, is does not make ought – there is a rhetorical issue present.  Can we not appeal to something besides rights, in defending the free market?

On the other hand, much of the specifically philosophical appeal is lost when natural rights go, and, indeed, I am no opponent of Revolution, etc.  I offer no universal defense of ‘liberty.’ But still some philosophical questions remain to the pragmatist, and I argue that a concern for utilitarianism with side constraints still leads us to accept a very full-blooded libertarianism.

I mention side constraints of:  1) concern for a stable property order, and 2) a concern to avoid, arbitrary inequality.  Then I suggest a la Mises, that even if we value very much, equality, still we see in socialism, many self-defeating attempts to achieve this goal.  Equality is no objection to libertarianism, if the available non-libertarian systems lead to greater de facto levels of inequality in power, and only very marginal gains for economic equality.  Libertarianism is the only viable political form today.

I argue for the ‘minarchist’ position, with government courts, police, armies, and roads, but reject a place for public schooling, UBI and other non-educational welfare spending, etc.  I suggest, there is no available justification for bans on:  face veils; heroin; private racial discrimination in employment and housing, etc.

In grounding my notions of side constraints or ‘fairness,’ I appeal to Aristotelian traditions and divine command theory tradition.  I point out, natural rights theories and utilitarianism, are only two of many possible philosophical bases for ethics and political life.

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