Lining up libertarianism

24601 has a useful post over at Australian Libertarians blog. It links pretty well all the recent blog posts about the nature of libertarianism and the merits and otherwise of its various sub-cults. The principal features of the sub-cults themselves are also succinctly summarised and synthesised. I have to confess some of the finer gradations had escaped this little black duck. It tends to confirm my instinctive prejudiced view that they really do share in many ways the fanatic psychology of religious cultists or revolutionary socialists, both of whom are notorious for acrimonious divisions that only they themselves understand or give a rat’s arse about. However, the libertarians are in general less toxic than either of these bunches of loonies, because of their general commitment to non-coercion.

Moreover, I shouldn’t be churlish. At least 24601 has taken the time and patience to engage on a serious intellectual level with his blogospherical opponents, rather than just throwing insults from a distance. As I observed in my initial post, libertarianism is at the very least a useful antidote to the excessively intrusive “nanny” state, and in general terms I think we should address just about any issue with a libertarian presumption, leaving the onus of proof on the side of those who argue that the balance of public interest favours government intervention. Maybe that makes me a “neo-libertarian”: utilitarian, pragmatist and cautiously pro-war (on Iraq, that was).

On the other hand, my pragmatic observations lead me to conclude that the minimalist state results over time in a denial of freedom and equality of opportunity for an increasing proportion of the population, so that for me the onus of proof for interventionist policies is fairly weak where proposed policies are clearly aimed at fostering equality of opportunity, provided that they infringe individual freedom as little as reasonably possible. I’m not sure what that makes me; maybe just a pragmatic moderate “welfare” liberal. It really comes down, as Jason Soon observed, to drawing differing conclusions in good faith from the available evidence:

… the non-purist libertarians can be seen simply as a species of utilitarians/consequentialist who have arrived at different results from their fellow utilitarians/consequentialists who end up as left-liberals or social democrats because of different interpretation of history/policy/economic paradigms …

Presumably the differing results flow in part from different evaluations of the actual outcomes of various systems of national governance. But outcomes measured on what scale? Breadth of choice created for the greatest number of people (choice as a moral good in itself)? Maximal prosperity? Maximal happiness? If the latter, we run into those infernal happiness studies that Clive Hamilton loves (not to mention his unlikely and otherwise quite sensible mate Ross Gittins). Personally, I reckon any form of libertarianism is better than Clive’s patronising, elitist mung bean claptrap.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Dave Ricardo
Dave Ricardo
2024 years ago

Ah yes, the war. I forgot you were in favour of that. Good thing we stopped those Iraqis before they could launch their WMDs with just 45 minutes notice, eh? Not to mention their nukes made with plutonium from Niger.

Which leads to me to the topic of libertarianism. Crazy bastards they are, like Trots, but their visceral distrust of the state tends to be confirmed when we learn of these outrageous porkies that our political leaders told us about that country we invaded (and whose citizens we killed in their thousands).