Anti-Libertarian Philosophers Warned: Undermining Nozick Doesn't Mean Undermining Libertarianism

Political philosopher Matt "Bleeding Heart Libertarian" Zwolinski, writing at 3 a.m. Magazine, tells his colleagues in that field that they can't think of themselves as having disposed of libertarianism if they think they've disposed of Robert Nozick's particular arguments for it.

To the likely surprise of some who think of the bleeding-hearts as squishes when it comes to hardcore libertarianism, Zwolinski even had kind words for aspects of the "taxation is theft" argument.

Choice excerpts:

Libertarians recognize that their favored political and economic institutions are social constructs. But to note that an institution is a social contract is not the same as showing that it is arbitrary. As libertarians like John Hasnas have pointed out, institutions of private property and free exchange have evolved repeatedly throughout history as an effective means of resolving social conflict in a world of scarce resources and limited benevolence. Property rights give individuals and groups a kind of jurisdiction in which they can pursue their own goals and values without first seeking the approval of any political superior. Market prices emerge even when state authorities actively attempt to stamp them out because the information and incentives they convey play an essential role in social coordination and cooperation....

.....Actual governments, like actual businesses, are run by human beings with imperfect knowledge, imperfect rationality, and sometimes impure motives. But unlike businesses, who make their mistakes on a decentralized scale with their own money, and who face the constant discipline of a system of profit and loss, government plays its game on a grand scale, and with other people’s resources. Rent-seeking and cronyism are thus not temporary problems that we have only because the wrong people, or the wrong party, hold office. They are deep, structural problems with politics....

.....Some libertarians think that morality imposes an absolute prohibition on interfering with the persons or property of others, no matter how minor the infringement, and no matter how great the benefits to be gained from it. I have argued elsewhere that this position is implausible. But even if it is, it does not follow that coercive interference with the persons or possessions of others is morally trivial. Common sense morality supports the belief that coercion is a serious prima facie wrong: one that can sometimes be justified, but only in special circumstances and by very weighty considerations. Why, then, should we be any less critical of the kinds of coercion that governments employ? What governments call “taxation,” most of us would call “theft” if it were done by private individuals – even if it were done to support a very good cause like providing for the common defense.....how confident should we be that the coercion government currently employs is truly necessary for the interests of the public, and not the interests of the state itself or its cronies?

The libertarian vision of a society is one of free and responsible individuals, cooperating on their own terms for purposes of mutual benefit. It is a vision that draws its support from a wide variety of moral and empirical beliefs with deep roots in the public political culture. And it is one that contemporary critics of the market would do well to take much more seriously.

Reason on bleeding-heart libertarians.

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  • Almanian!||

    Wow. Jack Frapp is jsut NOT gonna be happy with that!

    www.anonolibertariansgonnabeanono.de/what

  • juris imprudent||

    Jack Frapp is jsut NOT

    Anon-bot unmasked?

  • Brett L||

    Did anyone really take Nozick seriously on that stuff? I've been a libertarian for a long time and can say definitively that AS&U was the reason I rejected anarchism for minarchism. Although, I am coming around to the anarchist points. But still not through Nozickian arguments.

  • Libertarius||

    "Hate the state" is not a philosophical argument.

    Nor is it intellectually honest to start with the desired conclusion of anarchy, then rationalize a series of deductions to reach that ("a priori") goal.

    "If this, then that; if that, then the other thing; therefore, therefore, anarchy--QED."

    It's not that easy. But rationalism, and its consonant "hypothetico-deductive" method, is pandemic in modern thought, in both philosophy and philosophy of science. This profound overreliance on deduction has reduced science (and much of cognition) to exercises in semantics.

  • OldMexican||

    Re: Libertarius,

    "Hate the state" is not a philosophical argument.


    Of course not. It is a feeling.

    Nor is it intellectually honest to start with the desired conclusion of anarchy


    Let's tar and feather anyone making such intellectual error.

    Because my arrival to anarchism comes after a series of logical deductions stemming from the axiom: it is wrong to steal.

  • Zeb||

    Yup. It's wrong to steal and it's wrong to use force to get people to do what you want. From there it's pretty easy to get to anarchism.
    It has always seemed to me that the only reason to be a libertarian and not an anarchist is the fact that some sort of state is almost certain to exist, so you might as well try to make it do as little harm as possible.

  • Floridian||

    Minarchism is the gateway drug to anarchism . When I first started reading the comments on reason I believed in minimal government. Now I'm on my descent to full anarchism.

  • cavalier973||

    Now I'm on my descent ascent to full anarchism.

    FIFY

  • OldMexican||

    Re: Zeb,

    It has always seemed to me that the only reason to be a libertarian and not an anarchist is the fact that some sort of state is almost certain to exist,


    You have to be careful to define the concepts you're using to argue, because you may be confusing State with Goverment. You may find a governing body made of individuals managing a collective effort performed by the local citizenry; such an arrangement, however, does not constitute a State.

  • Zeb||

    Certainly that is an important distinction. I still stand by my empirical claim that a state of some sort is nearly inevitable. A government even more so.

  • Brian||

    Even so, I'm still an anarchist because inevitable != ideal.

    It's inevitable that somewhere, someone is going to murder a baby. I don't adjust my philosophy around declaring everything inevitable acceptable.

  • CraterMaker||

    Could you explain this a bit more? I'm not familiar with the distinction between a State and a Government.

  • Juice||

    From there it's pretty easy to get to anarchism.

    That must be why whenever I argue that the government should force people to do X, someone is always quick to respond, "What do you want? Anarchy?"

  • Juice||

    woops. ...should NOT force...

  • Brett L||

    Well, I'd say the 2nd axiom is inviolate self-ownership. One cannot be sold into slavery, even voluntarily. (Although 2 or more individuals may agree to treat each other any way they wish in the privacy of their own relationships.)

  • np||

    Yeah I didn't start of with anarchism at all. I just came to that conclusion, and I believe anyone would, if you simply take the same principles and apply them consistently all the way to its logical conclusion.

  • Cytotoxic||

    it is wrong to steal.

    It is also wrong to pollute or steal IP. These things necessitate the state.

    The state is indispensable. Without the state, there can be no freedom.

  • Brian||

    And, as if my question begging comment from down thread needed an example, Cytoxic is here to provide it.

    Why embrace the silly rational argument, when you can just assume your conclusion? Declare your favorite conclusions necessary and inevitable. Ridicule your opponents' reliance on logic, and declare them naive. Use phrases like, "Clearly,..." in front of every statement, proudly declaring the lack of necessity for effective argument.

    Rinse, repeat, and pat yourself on the back for the sheer lack of self-reflection.

  • cavalier973||

    Al and Bob both come up with this terrific idea. Although Al comes up with the idea a week before Bob, and has evidence that he did so, Bob manages to get to the government bureau first, and so has the idea registered as "his property". So, legally speaking, Al can not use the idea--that he thought up first--without paying Bob some sort of fee, or he is "stealing" from Bob, right?

  • cavalier973||

    Is it wrong to pollute?

    Is it morally wrong to pollute?

  • Killazontherun||

    No one ever began with the premise of 'hate the state.' That is arrived at after asking the perfectly philosophical question, 'what is the state?' Nice try, but you scored no points.

  • Libertarius||

    psst, his name was Murray Rothbard. His entire anti-philosophy is a pathetic farce.

  • Emmerson Biggins||

    Including the part about taxation=theft?

  • Killazontherun||

    Face it, you're busted. Rothbard no more starts with 'hate the state' as a premise than Plato; he asks what it is, and arrives at a different set of conclusions. Your attempt at gate keeping here on philosophy itself is puerile.

  • Cytotoxic||

    No he doesn't but nice try at hagiography. Libertarius is right Rothtard was and always will be a joke and an anchor-weight to the forces of freedom.

  • Killazontherun||

    I assume you started from the question of 'who is Murray Rothbard?' and not the premise 'hate Rothbard', right? Why do I assume that, because one logically follows the other, as does asking 'what is the state?' before one actually does 'hate the state.' Pointing that out is hardly an apologetic for Rothbard.

    You Frumite gate keeper wannabes amuse the hell out of me with your ignorance. If Libertarius applied his belief system about what is and is not philosophy on the basis of deductive rationalism, then Averroes The Destruction of the Destruction would be removed from the canon, as it argued for the application of deductive reasoning, and al-Ghazali's The Destruction of the Philosophers would replace it as it argues against deduction as a means of obtaining knowledge.

    He gets it completely assbackwards.

  • ||

    "Hate the state" is not a philosophical argument.

    Nor is it intellectually honest to start with the desired conclusion of anarchy, then rationalize a series of deductions to reach that ("a priori") goal.

    Are you trying to say that is what Nozick does in Anarchy State & Utopia? Because it definitely is NOT.

    Also, Nozick's conclusion isn't even anarchy, it's a minarchist meta-government.

  • Sigivald||

    I always read Nozick as arguing that minarchy was unavoidable* if you tried for Anarchy, and as countering Rothbard's anarchic handwaving.

    (* That is, minarchy is the closest stable approach to anarchy, not that it's inevitable - you can easily fall into a strong-man state, for instance.)

    Thus all his arguments in AS&U about the "dominant protective agency" being both unavoidable in a "private justice" world and being logically indistinguishable from minarchy.

  • OldMexican||

    Rosenberg, for instance, seems to think that libertarians buy into the model of perfect competition as an accurate description of reality, and so that merely pointing out the existence of market failure is sufficient to refute them.


    That makes Rosenberg not much of a philosopher if he completely fails to understand the libertarian principles he intends to refute (creating an obvious strawman,) and also confusing libertarianism (the political philosophy that espouses freedom as the ultimate political goal) with economic theory.

  • Libertarius||

    "...confuses libertarianism the political philosophy...with economic theory."

    But that's exactly what the anarchists do! They see no difference between the functions of government and industry, so they say, "Why not have a market for competing governments, private courts, mercenary cops, etc.?" It's a disastrously bad philosophy posing under the mantle of sound economics.

    Nothing worth having can be had so easily; this idea that you can just abolish the state, and a market for political freedom will automatically spring into existence, is absurd, naive, and rationalistic.

    But I thought Nozick was a minarchist? In that case, despite his Kantianism, I would be more receptive to his arguments than the rationalistic fantasies of the Rothbard/Rockwell crowd (who need to be purged if libertarianism is *ever* to be taken seriously).

  • OldMexican||

    Re: Libertarius,

    But that's exactly what the anarchists do! They see no difference between the functions of government and industry,


    The second statement is contradictory. Either we're talking about anarchists or we are not. Anarchists do see a difference between the state and industry, as one is coercive in nature and the other is not.

    so they say, "Why not have a market for competing governments, private courts, mercenary cops, etc.?"


    I see now that you're confused about the argument. The argument is not that we can have competing goverments, but that anything people might find desirable about the public sector (e.g. police, courts, defense) can be provided by the private sector without relying on theft or coercion to maintain such services.

  • juris imprudent||

    ...can be provided by the private sector without relying on theft or coercion to maintain such services.

    Sure, once you refute the economics of public goods.

  • np||

    It's unfortunate the word "govern" is associated with the state. Since a government is just a body that governs and we already have all sorts of private governing bodies.

    Technically competing "governments" would just be something like phyles. Or the old free market of clan chieftans of the Icelandic system. You can easily change associations while still retaining ownership over your own property in the same geographic area.

  • ||

    "can be provided by the private sector without relying on theft or coercion to maintain such services."

    Unless a customer of my police force has a dispute with a customer of your police force. There's no voluntary police force, court, etc. to settle that dispute.

  • Brett L||

    Unless we have an arbitration compact that we follow between our police forces. We could call it a "treaty" if it makes you feel better.

  • Brian||

    Unless a customer of my police force has a dispute with a customer of your police force. There's no voluntary police force, court, etc. to settle that dispute.

    The same situation occurs when a person under one government has a dispute with a person under another government, or a government has a dispute with another government.

    Apparently, the fact that it's not police force and courts all the way down isn't a fatal problem.

  • Juice||

    Anarchists do see a difference between the state and industry, as one is coercive in nature and the other is not.

    It depends on the anarchist. Some of them see hierarchical structures in businesses as anathema to freedom. They're wrong, but they think that.

  • Sigivald||

    The argument is not that we can have competing goverments, but that anything people might find desirable about the public sector (e.g. police, courts, defense) can be provided by the private sector without relying on theft or coercion to maintain such services.

    True, but that's also the weakest part of Rothbard's argument (or at least that's what I found when I was reading Man, Economy, and State (with Power and Market)).

    The argument that competing for-hire justice systems can even work was ill-established, and Nozick (I think successfully) suggested that they will naturally congeal into a state-equivalent single justice system.

    (I never could figure out how Rothbard thought that competing "law" enforcement and justice systems would work unless almost all or most individuals already agreed on anarcho-capitalist legal assumptions.

    Which is a very handy assumption [and would probably lead to excellent results if it ever happened!], I suppose, but not one I find plausible for actual human beings.)

  • Brian||

    I hate rationalism and deduction, too. But, argument by adjective? Pure awesome.

  • Brett L||

    Deduction alone is eventually tautological, but the "science" Libertarius worships is a mixture of inductive and deductive reasoning, and cannot exist without both.

  • Libertarius||

    You use induction to form concepts, knowledge and theories; you use deduction to apply knowledge you already possess to a specific situation.

    We form the concept "stop sign" by observing it in reality and associating the stop sign with its physical characteristics and actionable properties (in this case, that you should stop your car); subsequently, we use deduction every time we pull up to a stop sign.

    But the best you can do with deduction in *theory* is to form hypotheticals; the anarchists are yet to discover this, or the meaning of Isaac Newton's famous indictment of rationalists, "I frame no hypothesis".

  • OldMexican||

    Re: Libertarius,

    You use induction to form concepts, knowledge and theories;


    That is quite wrong, Libertarius. Both inductive and deductive knowledge are derived from premises. Induction or inferrence only means that you draw your conclusions from experience but starting from a premise or premises, whereas deduction means you draw your conclusions from logic and reason; that does not mean one is better than the other a arriving at correct conclusions, only that one (inferrence) is better when the knowledge from which the conclusions are derived is limited by what can be observed.

    But the best you can do with deduction in *theory* is to form hypotheticals


    This is, again, wrong. You can form completely valid and validated theories based on deduction, as long as the premises are cogent and the conclusions are not fallacious.

    the anarchists are yet to discover this


    This is nothing more than an assertion. You're simply asserting that anarchism cannot be correct because it cannot be inferred from experience. In that case, most of your knowledge would have to be deemed incorrect by you because you haven't experienced it all.

  • Brian||

    Libertarius:

    We form the concept "stop sign" by observing it in reality and associating the stop sign with its physical characteristics and actionable properties (in this case, that you should stop your car)

    You don't seem to have discovered the meaning of David Hume's is-ought problem.

    If you want to reject deduction, you can't carve out special pleading exceptions for yourself.

  • Brett L||

    No. See, in science you use induction to form a basis, and then using deduction you say, "if these observations are true the way I have arranged them, what must follow?" Then you formulate a test for falsifying these deductive "what must follow" logical conclusions to test your hypothesis. Deductive reasoning is essential in the modern scientific method -- although perhaps not the post-modern scientific method.

  • Sigivald||

    We form the concept "stop sign" by observing it in reality and associating the stop sign with its physical characteristics and actionable properties (in this case, that you should stop your car); subsequently, we use deduction every time we pull up to a stop sign.

    What do you imagine we're deducing?

    (Please, for the Love of God, go refresh your Semiotics before using a sign as an example!

    "Stop signs(physical)" are symbols, semiotically - they refer to an action purely by interpretation rather than similitude. They're conventional and indeed legal Signs(semiotic).

    It has no "actionable properties" at all as a sign(semiotic) - or indeed as a sign(physical).

    The semiosis that turns the sign(physical) - sign(semiotic) - meaning is what you get something actionable from: the meaning of a stop sign(physical) is "the law requires you to stop", and one can infer "injury to self or others or property is more likely if one does not stop".

    This isn't really deduction, at least not as my philosophical training uses the term.

  • MJGreen||

    Hmm... fuck off.

  • Cytotoxic||

    the Rothbard/Rockwell crowd (who need to be purged if libertarianism is *ever* to be taken seriously).

    THIS

  • Killazontherun||

    Yeah, because you and Libertarius as the faces of libertarianism is just so much more appealing. Once the rest of us are out of the picture, how could you possibly lose, huh?

  • Sigivald||

    I dunno, the Hayekians are probably a hundred times more palatable to the average Joe than the anarcho-capitalists.

    It's simply true (from looking at their reactions!), even if you don't like it, or think Hayek was squishy-soft on the State or is less rigorous than Rothbard.

    (And contra Juice, below, if Paul is a Rothbardite, he's not doing very well on the whole "anarchy" thing...)

  • Juice||

    I don't know about purging them. Ron Paul is a member of that clan and few people were talking about purging him from libertarianism. They help bring many people into the philosophy, but I fear that they keep just as many away.

  • OldMexican||

    Some libertarians think that morality imposes an absolute prohibition on interfering with the persons or property of others, no matter how minor the infringement [...]


    Define "interfering."

    [...] and no matter how great the benefits to be gained from it. I have argued elsewhere that this position is implausible.


    In order for your contention that the moral prohibition against theft and interference is implausible, you would have to be able to foresee the very future so you could then establish a cogent justification for theft or interference (i.e. being able to see and know a much greater benefit compared to the lesser evil act.) Since we can't foresee the future, then the prohibition on evil acts offers the optimal outcome based on the information we have at hand and based on the reciprocity principle, e.g. treat others as you like to be treated yourself.

  • Brett L||

    I would rather phrase it that such interference cannot be justified against a member of the community who is considered to be able to have full adult rights and responsibilities on the basis that society knows better the "good" than the individual. Either the individual is capable of determining their own highest good or they are not able to participate in the polis.

  • MJGreen||

    There is no absolute prohibition on interfering with the persons or property of others.

    The problem is that so many philosophers think that "no absolute prohibition" means "any prohibition we can dream up is justified! 'Society' demands it!"

  • Brian||

    And, somehow, failing to support massive social programs for distributing every important material good becomes horribly, morally wrong.

    Funny how morality vanishes when we're dealing with private property, only to reappear when we're talking about social justice.

    Hell, the phrase "social justice" is tautological. Listening to an argument from a progressive so frequently reduces to pure question begging in support of their position, while they trash the libertarian position because it's based on deduction. Sorry, but assuming that "A and not A is false" is a lot more rigorous then "Assume social programs = justice. Voila!"

  • MJGreen||

    (right, sorry, that should be, "any interference we can dream up...")

  • juris imprudent||

    I think it is amusing how opponents of libertarian thought believe they can discredit the whole thing by knocking over one particular proponent; usually it is Rand, sometimes Mill, but in this case Nozick. I wonder if that has something to do with devotion to, or at least a dalliance with, Marx?

  • Brian||

    They also feel satisfied with never putting their own philosophy through any kind of gauntlet. As if the status quo has no burden of proof, as long as people aren't rioting in the streets in open revolt.

    The status quo has no burden of proof because it's based on widely accepted violence, not argument. That's not exactly philosophy.

  • JidaKida||

    There is a dude that knows what time it is.

    www.Privacy-Road.tk

  • Ted Levy||

    "Zwolinski even had kind words for aspects of the "taxation is theft" argument." I seem to recall, Brian, that Matt's primary problem was with the less common libertarian claim that "taxation is slavery."

  • Juice||

    Income taxation is akin to slavery. The state claims a portion of your labor.

    As a disclaimer, it's obviously not outright slavery. It's just analogous.

  • Cytotoxic||

    'Bleeding Heart Libertarianism' is a disgusting farce that attempts to elevates emotion and sentiment over reason and uses them to justify freedom. Such a perverse strategy was doomed to failure from the start. Thankfully, they haven't gone anywhere unlike the Rothtardians and therefore haven't done the same damage.

  • Brett L||

    Can we try winning before we hold purges? Just once? If we lose, then we can hold the purges and we'll still have lost.

  • Killazontherun||

    It's no secret where Brian Doherty falls on the libertarian spectrum, yet this clown is so un-selfaware he advocates for BDs purging on this very forum.

  • ||

    I don't think it's unfair to say that libertarianism can have a profound emotional resonance when properly framed.

    One way of making converts is to use the emotional appeal of liberty to get them to pay attention, and then hit people with the rational arguments later.

    Emotional appeals are a great way of overcoming the prejudice that libertarians don't have empathy.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Those fucking retards at Bleeding Heart Libertarians can kiss my ass.

  • Killazontherun||

    They made a decent argument here, so they get my nod without qualification.

  • ||

    Having read the entire 3AM article I have to say that I can find nothing wrong with it. Probably the most succinct response to anti-libertarian arguments I've yet seen.

  • AlmightyJB||

    I agree, I thought it was overall pretty fair.

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