Libertarian Philosophy in the Real World: The Politics of Natural Rights
Nozick’s Libertarian Project: An Elaboration and Defense
A recent family vacation to Washington, D.C. crystallized my thinking regarding the statues and other tributes erected in earlier times to honor figures now considered disreputable and worse. Like gazillions of other tourists, we visited many of the majestic monuments dedicated by Congress to former presidents and public figures, including Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR, and MLK. It did not escape my notice that all of these men have flaws, when seen through 21st century eyes, not appreciably worse than exhibited by those Confederate generals, leaders, and veterans whose statues and memorials have been razed, hidden, or renamed by many of our cities, municipalities, and colleges/universities over the last few years. Should our presidential memorials be next in line?Continue Reading »
In my Libertarian Philosophy in the Real World (pp.162-67) and in blog posts here and here, I have defended the idea that a liberal state may permissibly impose immigration controls if required to maintain the tolerant, pluralistic nature of its polity. In light of the intense controversy surrounding this issue both within libertarian circles and more broadly, I wished to address this topic in a more thorough, comprehensive way.
As described in an earlier post, I was fortunate to recruit my friend Danny Frederick as a co-author, and we recently completed a draft that satisfies us both. Its title is “The Liberal Defense of Immigration Control,” and here is the abstract:
Liberal theorists generally support open borders and some recent work has argued that liberalism is incompatible with substantive immigration control. We argue that it has not been shown that there is an inconsistency in the idea of a liberal state enforcing such controls and that it may be obligatory for a liberal state to impose substantive, though relatively minor, restrictions on immigration. The immigration control on which we focus is that concerning people from societies that resemble closed societies, particularly those in which Islamic fundamentalism is endemic. We suggest that, if the threat we envision is real, then a liberal state has a right to limit, though not to prohibit, immigration from such societies.
We are still looking for a journal, but have decided to limit our search to those that permit self-publication prior to submission. Here is a link to our paper. We anticipate that it will undergo further revisions as part of the peer-review process, and so welcome all critical questions and comments in the hope of improving our arguments.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, a top-tier Democratic presidential candidate, is out with a proposal that would forgive most of the $1.5 trillion in higher-education student debt now outstanding. She and a number of other presidential hopefuls are also proposing “free” or heavily subsidized tuition at public colleges and universities.
These plans are, of course, anathema to libertarians because they impermissibly use the coercive power of the state to benefit some individuals at the expense of others. In this case, tax dollars are taken from those who elect not to pursue college degrees in order to first make, then forgive, student loans for those who do. And now, if these candidates get their way, to pay this tuition outright. Eighteen-year-olds are sufficiently mature to decide for themselves, without interference by the state, whether or not to pursue higher education, and to live with the consequences.Continue Reading »
It is fair to say that Nozick’s adaptation of Locke’s famous proviso regarding the just original appropriation of property serves as the linchpin of his “entitlement theory” of justice. By conditioning just acquisition on the satisfaction of certain criteria, Locke sought to show that the system of property rights he envisioned would not worsen the situation of non-appropriators. In an earlier post I explain that Nozick interpreted Locke’s construct to include a “historical shadow” following property from owner to owner, and show that this enables him to resolve what might otherwise be fatal objections to his view regarding the stringency of property rights.
The key insight is that Locke’s proviso regarding the original appropriation of property is grounded in the concern that such acquisition not violate any other party’s natural right of self-preservation. Given this perspective, we need not resort to a particular, hypothetical welfare baselines to judge whether a system of capitalist property rights is worsening the plight of others. Ultimately, any such baseline is arbitrary. Rather, we should look to the proviso itself for guidance. Continue Reading »
The First Amendment to our Constitution provides a near absolute level of protection against governmental censorship of expression based on its content. There are no exceptions for even obviously false statements or those that most people would regard as offensive or hateful. I defend the (non-utilitarian) moral basis for this protection in Chapter 3 of my Libertarian Philosophy in the Real World, and more casually here.
Some restrictions on speech, not based on the ideas presented, are morally permissible. For example, the state should punish expression that credibly threatens violence or seeks to incite it because this is an example of a crime committed by means of expression. Similarly, there is no constitutional protection for “Your money or your life!” or for publishing information on troop movements during wartime. Finally, state officials, provided that they do so in a fair and neutral way, may legitimately regulate the “time, place, and manner” of expression, so that the rights of other innocent citizens are not violated. There are gray areas, but the principle is clear-cut.
By its terms, the First Amendment applies only to Congress, but has been extended to the various states and their instrumentalities (administrative agencies, universities, etc.) by the Fourteenth Amendment. It does not apply to private citizens, groups, associations, and corporations. Thus, large social media providers (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and platforms (Reddit, etc.) may enforce markedly different rules, and they do. For instance, Facebook’s “Community Standards” expressly bans “hate speech,” which it defines as:
a direct attack on people based on what we call protected characteristics — race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, caste, sex, gender, gender identity, and serious disease or disability. We also provide some protections for immigration status. We define attack as violent or dehumanizing speech, statements of inferiority, or calls for exclusion or segregation.
An objection to libertarianism that comes up with surprising frequency is the question of roads and other infrastructure. Specifically, that without the use of state coercion, these vital projects won’t get built, and we’ll all suffer immensely. It’s a critique that is easy to dismiss: Okay, the state will supply military defense, law enforcement, and roads; deal?
But that’s a bit too quick. If a libertarian polity can only supply infrastructure by violating its own core principles, that’s a serious problem. Fortunately, this is not so. I briefly address this critique at the end of Chapter 4 of my Nozick’s Libertarian Project, which is excerpted below. In retrospect, I probably should have referenced here not only the potential “moral catastrophe” limitation of property rights (based on value pluralism), but also the restrictions imposed by Nozick’s adaptation of the Lockean proviso. Continue Reading »
Nozick devotes Part III of Anarchy, State, and Utopia to developing his conception of a “framework of utopias,” which would provide persons, qua rational agents, with the widest domain for the exercise of their agency. This ideal contemplates that people, freed from the shackles of state coercion, will create and live in a virtually unlimited number of distinct communities, each with rules and institutions that reflect its particular values. These would include highly illiberal ones.
Such an arrangement permits persons to choose the environment they believe offers them the greatest opportunity for personal growth and flourishing. In addition to preventing inter-community aggression, the minimum state would exist to safeguard the right of exit, when a particular community no longer meets an agent’s needs. Although there are a variety of perhaps insurmountable obstacles to implementation, it is a philosophically attractive ideal, which I have previously discussed.
However, one obvious objection to Nozick’s framework revolves around the potential mistreatment of minor children, specifically the possibility that parents in isolated communities grossly neglect their education. Such deprivation would not only leave children completely uninformed about alternative available lifestyles, but totally unprepared to function outside their birth community, thereby robbing them of the very freedom this framework is intended to promote. Nozick clearly recognizes this dilemma when he observes: “In some way it must be ensured that they [young children] are informed of the range of alternatives in the world” (ASU, 330), but forthrightly admits that this is one of many details he is leaving unresolved. Continue Reading »
I have written about immigration in a number of places, including a section of Chapter 10 of my Libertarian Philosophy in the Real World, and in a number of blog posts. In light of what I have learned in my many subsequent discussions/debates of this subject, I am in the process of consolidating my thoughts in a systematic way for publication in a philosophy journal. Thus, while I have some half-baked ideas on other topics that I may eventually share, I am taking a few weeks off to finish this paper.
UPDATE (5/24/18): I have been fortunate in getting my friend, Danny Frederick, to co-author this paper with me, thereby exponentially improving it. We have finished our draft, and have begin the process of journal submission. Stay tuned for further developments.
There are many terms in our political discourse that have become so corrupted in practice as to make it virtually impossible to hold a rational discussion of the ideas they purport to reference. While these words may have once had a widely accepted and thus useful meaning, they are now typically employed not as accurate descriptors, but purely for polemical purposes. These include “right-wing,” “neoliberalism,” “racism,” and the one discussed below, “nationalism.” Continue Reading »
As recent events in Ukraine, the Korean peninsula, Iran, and Syria demonstrate, we live in a turbulent and violent world. Since the end of WWII, it has been under American hegemony, counterbalanced for several decades by the Soviet Union. However, in the almost three decades since the “evil empire’s” collapse, the US has been the world’s only superpower.
This global dominance faces new challenges. A newly assertive Russia is leveraging its ability and willingness to employ military force, as seen in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine, and Syria, to seek influence. Moreover, China is achieving the economic scale and military capacity to project power beyond its region, and has defied international law with its “building project” in the South China Sea. Continue Reading »