Libertarians and Humanitarian Interventions

There is an interesting debate now underway between two of the moderators of the popular Bleeding Hearts Libertarian site, who also happen to be co-authors of a book on the morality of humanitarian military interventions. One author, Professor Teson, takes the view that such intercessions are permissible if they are in support of a just cause; if the harmful consequences of the military strike are proportional to the number of innocent lives at risk; and if the leader(s) authorizing the intervention have soberly and in good faith attempted to calculate the costs and benefits of their actions. Professor van der Vossen, in contrast, holds that the track record of such intercessions is so poor that Teson’s second condition can almost never be satisfied.

This is a timely and well-reasoned debate on an important ethical issue, and certainly worth reading. For the reasons outlined in my comments on the second of van der Vossen’s posts, I side with Teson. However, this piece is directed towards a separate, distinctly libertarian objection to humanitarian interventions. That is, even if we accept that such measures may sometimes satisfy Teson’s conditions, they are still impermissible because financed by coercive means.[1] Continue Reading »

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Libertarianism and Zoning

One reason why libertarianism is such a hard sell is that we have no political experience with any set of institutional arrangements other than the nanny/regulatory/welfare state. Accordingly, it is difficult for voters to imagine how a polity built on laissez faire principles would address the various social problems that may arise in a modern society.  Zoning is a great example. It is ubiquitous, and critics across the ideological spectrum have accused it of causing a wide variety of harms, including housing inflation, environmental degradation, thwarting educational choice, and so on. Yet it endures, with nary a dissenting voice in mainstream politics. Continue Reading »

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First They Came for the Florists…

I have written previously on this blog regarding antidiscrimination laws. I support them when they are employed, like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to end and then redress gross injustices committed against disfavored minorities. Antidiscrimination laws might at least in theory still be justified if required to protect an affected class. So to take an obvious example, medical professionals serving in emergency rooms must take all comers, providing each with the same level of service and care.

I think there are precious few examples in our present circumstances where such impartial treatment would have to be mandated by law. Instead, as discussed below, our antidiscrimination statutes are now being used to persecute dissenters from the majority’s worldview. They unjustly violate our basic rights of conscience and free association, privileges that belong even to bigots. Continue Reading »

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Jan Narveson on Libertarianism and Abortion

Professor Jan Narveson, a well-respected political philosopher, has written a piece titled “Resolving the Debate on Abortion and Libertarianism” in the journal Libertarian Papers, critiquing my argument in Libertarian Philosophy in the Real World that there is no doctrinaire individualist position on the ethics of abortion. That is to say, that there is no clear-cut logical path from the basic moral principles all (or mostly all) libertarians would affirm, to an aggressive pro-choice stance. I am putting the finishing touches on a reply, which I will forward to the editors of LP, and hope to see it published soon thereafter. At that time, I will cross-post my reply here. In the meantime, if interested, have a look at Narveson’s essay.

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Libertarians and Non-Interventionism, Part IV

I have written three prior posts (here, here, and here) expressing skepticism about non-interventionism, the foreign policy favored by most libertarians. As set forth in these essays, I contend that while non-interventionism is a credible defense strategy, it is not the doctrinaire individualist position and, indeed, that libertarians may reasonably reject it.

Part of the basis for my stance is the obvious potential counter-example presented by WW2. It is non-controversial that in the few years prior to our entry, Roosevelt flouted the principles of armed neutrality, actively and openly assisting the Brits against the Nazis, while coordinating with other Western powers to deny Japan access to the war materials it needed to continue its brutal aggression in East Asia.

Thus, more hawkish libertarians often cite WW2 as a triumph of the interventionist approach, saving the world from conquest by the Axis powers, and thereby sparing countless millions from death or enslavement. There is no denying the aggression of or the massive, unspeakable war crimes committed by Germany and Japan prior to our entry into this war, so non-interventionists wishing to vindicate their preferred policy are driven to formulate “creative” responses. Continue Reading »

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My Response to Dr. Post’s Positive Review of LPRW

As noted in my last post, Libertarian Philosophy in the Real World (“LPRW”) received a favorable review from Dr. Matthew Post in Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy. At the risk of “looking a gift horse in the mouth,” I offer my thoughts here about his comments. As mentioned in my earlier post, this review occurs in connection with the author’s efforts to find a plausible way to justify political liberalism in face of what he regards as the formidable obstacles erected by Richard Rorty. This contemporary philosopher has offered a highly influential critique of all attempts to ground philosophical reasoning, including with respect to politics, in any underlying objective truths or “foundations,” which he regards as disguised appeals to social conventions and practices. See Post, 478-9.  Continue Reading »

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Positive Review of “Libertarian Philosophy in the Real World”

I am delighted to learn that my most recent book received a quite favorable assessment by Matthew Post in his essay, “The Foundations of ‘Our Culture’: A Review of Three Works on Liberalism and Rights,” which appears in Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy 42:3 (Spring 2016), 477-94. Perhaps my favorite part is this:

It would be misleading, however, to suggest that Friedman simply speaks to shared beliefs. He often offers arguments that are remarkably lucid, succinct, and thorough, and he is honest when he does not know how to solve a problem (489).

I will respond in greater depth to Professor Post’s review as soon as I am able. But for the moment I will simply say that, as may be apparent from his title, my humble defense of libertarian rights against the encroachments of the welfare/regulatory state has been swept up in Post’s search for an answer to the much more daunting question of whether it is possible to establish a foundation for liberalism “while avoiding the problems Rorty identified” (492); meaning, roughly, if we give up our traditional notions of knowledge. Thus, while perhaps I am the first philosopher to in history to say this, I am not sure that Post’s praise (although welcome) is entirely justified.

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Libertarians And Gun Rights

Libertarians disagree about many important things, including: whether even a minimal state is morally permissible; if so, what functions may it legitimately undertake; the morality of abortion; foreign policy; whether intellectual property rights are morally defensible, and so on. One thing we don’t disagree much about is the right of law-abiding citizens to possess firearms, and to carry and employ them for purposes of self-defense. Continue Reading »

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Our Tesla Liberals

The epithet “limousine liberal” was apparently first used in 1969 to deride those politicians, celebrities, and other affluent members of society who advocate “feel-good” policies that impose huge costs on other segments of society, but from which they are completely or largely insulated. Although we might consider updating this epithet to “Tesla liberal,”[1] it is clear that nothing else has changed since then. Below I briefly catalog the many programs enacted by our politicians and supported by affluent progressives that harm the poor, while not affecting (or even benefiting), the wealthy. The evidence showing such consequences is provided in my book, Libertarian Philosophy in the Real World (LPRW), as referenced in the citations below. Continue Reading »

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For Prosecutors, Can the Ends Ever Justify the Means?

I outline below a hypothetical that poses a moral dilemma for an imaginary public prosecutor.  This case vexes me, because I cannot seem to summon up a convincing argument that supports my intuitive reaction to it.  I would love to hear the perspectives of other philosophers.

Suppose you are a state’s attorney assigned to prosecute a heinous crime, say an especially horrible murder, with multiple aggravating circumstances. The defendant has been previously convicted of a number of violent felonies, so you have good cause to believe that if he is not executed or put away for life, public safely will be seriously jeopardized. Continue Reading »

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