Marijuana Legalization and the State

You might have heard that Canada is on her way to legalize marijuana possession, use and growth. I’m confused about the morality of the whole thing, but my attention was sparked by this journalist. Read:

But government exists to protect us from force and fraud and I subject him to neither when I drink a beer or smoke a joint even if, by doing so, I diminish his potential pleasure or profit from my company.

That is interesting. I reply that while it is true that the state exists to protect us from force and fraud, that does not exhaust its purposes. The state also exists to help us secure the good, particularly that which is good but cannot be secured by any lesser body or a person. Thus, if the prohibition of recreational marijuana use is good, and if no lower body or person can achieve that good, then the state is within its proper function to prohibit the recreational use of marijuana.

As I see it, men are persons, the grandest of all creations, but we are also lowly persons. We are too often inclined toward evil and depend upon each other for our well-being and goodness. The family, the most basic social unit, cannot meet every human need, particularly in large societies, and so the state serves to help attain and preserve public goods, those such as juridic order and public prosperity.

But what is juridic order and public prosperity? The constitution of the former is well understood but what about the latter, this idea of public prosperity? Public prosperity is the sufficiency and availability of temporal goods for the people. For example, these goods can be material things such as clothing, property and food. That’s pretty straightforward. But goods can also be immaterial. For example, public virtue and moral education are goods of public prosperity, because culture and education are formative influences in personal character and social direction. In helping secure such prosperity, the state helps direct society and people toward the good. That’s what the state is supposed to do and it is the basis for moral legislation.

It is important to understand me correctly: The claim here is not that the state owes these goods to a man, for the state owes nothing to a man that he can reasonably attain himself; it is just that the state plays a natural role in helping to secure and sustain these public goods, not because any man is owed, but because such an end is for the good of mankind. In this way, if recreational marijuana use harms the moral fabric of the public or common culture, then it is public evil, which thus puts it within the scope for state response. I’m unsure which sort of response is best deployed, and so I leave that to the prudential judgement of the state, but I will say that prohibition is not excluded from the range of appropriate responses.

Of course, such a state response would suck for those individuals who enjoy recreational marijuana use, but, hey, no one said that the good and moral life is easy. Moral life can suck. It can require sacrifice. But why might this sacrifice be part of the good and moral life? Well, again, by nature, man is a lowly type of person, one who is dependent upon others for his good; hence, he becomes a part of a whole, a whole whose common good can outweigh his perceived individual good. In this way, then, if recreational marijuana were a public evil, then he would have an obligation not to engage in its use, lest he harm the whole to which he is a part and undermine the public good. Thus, in this case, the state, a preserver of the public good, could legitimately call upon this man to sacrifice his marijuana use for the sake of the common and public good, and he would be obliged to make that sacrifice.

Sometimes critics call such moral legislation paternalistic; but, in this case, I would digress. If recreational marijuana use is a public evil, then such legislation wouldn’t be infantilizing, denying a man his natural rights or self-sufficiency, no. Instead, in this case, if recreational marijuana use were a public evil, then the state would call upon him to make this sacrifice for the good of the whole—that is, the state would call upon him to meet his obligation. It is far from infantilization to call upon people to meet their obligations; indeed, infantilization is a risk only when we do not hold people to their obligations, treating them as children.

What about the freedom to live and act as we choose? Well, what about it? The freedom of choice is surely a good, but it is only a good so that we can freely choose the good and moral excellence. Freedom is not license, remember. Our choices have consequences that extend beyond the individual and penetrate into the residing culture, which is why the state has an interest in our choices, not because it is intrusive on our private lives, but because our choices impact public life. We are not atoms: We live in a society and each person has an impact on public life and public virtue. Social conservatives should never tire of reminding people about this fact–we need to take responsibility for the impact we have, even if it is for those choices we take to be private.

Lastly, sometimes people deny the authority of the state on these matters. To be sure, the authority of the state is not absolute: The legitimate state is restricted by natural law, the principle of subsidiarity and it is restricted to its purpose to help secure the common good. Thus, any action or legislation outside of this can be met with resistance, perhaps even rebellion. However, to deny that the legitimate state has any authority while wishing the state to exist and function is inconsistent, at least if the state has the natural purpose of helping securing and enforcing the public good; for without that authority, then the state could make no such laws at all, which is to render it functionally impotent in respects to its natural end. The state, if it is to exist and function, has authority.

Lastly, I should also mention that respecting the laws of the legitimate state, provided that they are consistent with natural law, is obligatory; for if we did not, then that would undermine the authority of the state, frustrating its natural end, which therefore undermines the common good. Thus, if a legitimate state prohibits recreational marijuana use, then, unless it is contrary to natural law, or some other principle of right reason or true social ethic, citizens are obliged to follow. This does not mean that citizens cannot challenge or criticize the law, but it does mean that citizens are obliged to follow the law.

And that’s about all I will say in this blogpost. Perhaps next time I will address whether recreational marijuana use is a public evil, or maybe where the state gets its authority.


  1. But government exist to protect us from force and fraud…

    This is obviously question begging. Government exist to advance some conception of the good life. The standard Libertarian conception is only one of many. I think it is well within the proper authority of government to regulate recreational drug use and you did a good job of explaining why.

    On a related subject, I could never figure out why the same people that despise tabacco and spend millions on anti-tabacco advertisements are hysterically pro-marijuana.

  2. There are many if-clauses that need to be satisfied to justify a state power in your telling of things, and they can all meet with much resistance – especially where a by and large benign (and probably beneficial for many) substance such as cannabis is concerned. (The last grasp of the Failed-Drug-Warrior is to claim that if it’s not a good idea for kids to consume it, then no adults should be legally allowed to buy/use it, either. That seems to be the current premise of the failed Drug War, which is pretty sad commentary on the critical thinking abilities of those who still support it.) I won’t take the time to go through every if-clause since the counter-arguments seem to be intuitively clear enough as it is. (Heck, the libertarian arguments for outright decriminalization of all “controlled substances” probably work on the very same public-good grounds that the prohibitionist thought would support a continued failed Drug War. Point being we’re not even to the “the bad effects of hard drugs warrant a Drug War” position yet; what about the *costs* of prohibition in public-good terms or otherwise?)

    One can be an Aristotelian or Thomist or an advocate of just about any plausible philosophical-moral worldview and be a “radical” libertarian. The minimal-state libertarians even have their work cut out for them against the dialectically skilled anarcho-capitalist (David Friedman, Michael Huemer,…). Den Uyl and Rasmussen have been advancing for years the argument that a perfectionist ethics supports the framework of a non-perfectionist politics. Lots and lots of room for non-government organizations and the creative imaginations of the actors behind them to solve problems without the state stepping in and undermining the autonomy of the citizens it is charged to protect.

    There’s also one point I’ll challenge directly: there is no obligation to obey an unjust law. Either open civil disobedience or surreptitious disobedience is warranted, and one thereby takes one’s chances with the law. (Even if there is no obligation to obey an unjust law there is still that whole “if there are laws they should be enforced pending repeal lest law and order break down” issue, although that’s yet another “if”-claused disguised as a “lest.”) At least with this way of looking at things you don’t have dubious arguments for why the nonviolent individual should (or is under some obligation to) sacrifice her own freedom.

    In his (googlable) essay “What Libertarianism Is,” John Hospers stated a basic dictum of political libertarianism in the following terms: other men’s lives are not yours to dispose of. Put in general terms: an individual’s life is not others’ to dispose of. Not knowing any good argument against this principle, the freedom-infringer is left with more dubious arguments for how laws prohibiting private recreational cannabis consumption don’t amount to the state disposing of the individual’s life. Or perhaps the freedom-infringer actually does think that the state or other entities duly authorized have the moral authority to dispose of the individual’s life, that the entity is de facto or de jure owner (at least in part) of the individuals at its disposal, in which case the freedom-infringer should be forthright in saying so, and present this or that doomed argument for that position.

  3. I want to add to my previous comment that I’ve been a (sometimes quite avid) student of libertarian thought for some 2 decades or more now and in addition to all the other knock-down good-enough arguments out there for libertarianism I’m at a loss to imagine a plausible rejection of the libertarian position as Hospers formulates it (with obvious inspiration from Rand given their extensive correspondence) and which has essential similarities to the basic-gist version of libertarianism supplied by folks like Nozick, Rothbard, and Mack, along with the ‘Dougs’ Den Uyl and Rasmussen and others (Machan, Roy Childs, Hans Hoppe, Huemer, Bryan Caplan, myself, the list expands… not to mention all the other demigods and aces of laissez-faire thought like Mises, Hayek, Friedman, Buchanan, David Friedman, Lomasky, Narveson, Schmidtz, the list goes on and on…).

    So, you have that veritable inpenetrable wall, this buzzsaw of libertarian thought that not even the combination of Aristotle and Aquinas teamed up could put much of a dent in much less survive the buzzsaw-effects. Any combination of two or three of any of these thinkers is a buzzsaw in itself. What can I say, anyone who’s done their homework knows by now that hard-right laissez faire capitalist libertarianism is a slam dunk as far as political philosophy goes.

    Oh, and the point I came here to raise as my follow-up: my own neo-Aristotelian or perfectivist take on ethics pays such keen attention to the social dimension of human flourishing or eudaimonia that it leaves little if any room, wiggle room even, for statist interventions in the name of the “common good,” etc., as if people duly educated and accultured in Aristotelian-style memes would consider it so much as *proper* to use physical force to achieve anyone’s “good,” much less practical, advisable, doable, coherent, in accord with natural law, etc. What I seek in essence is a society characterized by a eudaimonist-perfectionist libertarianism with such an enhanced basic cultural framework, the background memetic institutions as it were, in (again) an Aristotelian vein, that criminal much less malicious activity would fall to a bare minimum (the incorrigibles as it were, but the rigorous social dimension of Aristotelian-style eudaimonia would preclude less than maximal effort to make these supposed incorrigibles come around, free will combined with self-interest combined with common sense and received wisdom being what it is, and all.

    So add these points up and you have a slam dunk for libertarian capitalism as well as perfectionist eudaimonism with rationality or intelligence as the fundamental virtue and life-shaper. And people such as Catholic Hulk apparently dismiss Rand as a thinker to be taken most seriously . . . how/why exactlty? (Shall we have a blog posting/thread on Rand/Objectivism and watch the opponents of Rand/Objectivism get demolished as has become the unmistakable pattern of late? Did you see the job I did over at Robert Paul Wolff’s blog when he posted about Rand recently, not to mention the contributions from Binswanger and other Oist professional philosophers there? Get with it, non-Objectivist/eudaimonist/libertarian folks!)

  4. What can I say, anyone who’s done their homework knows by now that hard-right laissez faire capitalist libertarianism is a slam dunk as far as political philosophy goes.


  5. Urban, I wasn’t aware that the question of whether one’s life is one’s own to live or whether it belongs instead to a state/collective/tribe, is a laughing matter.

    There isn’t a non-libertarian argument or assertion to which any number of top-notch libertarians haven’t provided knock-down defenses many times over by now. For instance, Catholic Hulk above goes all conceptually fuzzy when answering the paternalism objection. Here’s the deal, when you cut through all the non-libertarian bullshitty-sounding stuff: for the state to assume the role of a moral regulator of sorts, the sort that treats adult human beings as entities to which one can legitimately apply physical coercion, force, compulsion, is an insult to rational humanity of those being so “regulated” “for their own [sic] good [sic].” We’re not talking about minors or morons here (there may be much overlap in these cases, unfortunately), we’re talking adults with the capacity to exercise their own judgment based on their own knowledge and not what some parent- oops, *authority* figure endowed with the legal power to physically coerce and compel nonviolent people to enact choices others made for them (on the pretense that their own lives weren’t their own to dispose of, after all, as preposterous as that may sound to common sense), basically acting *no different than* (in the morally relevant ways) a big national Daddy that has declared everything within the national borders as *underneath this roof*, as in, underneath this roof as long as it is *I*, the Daddy, that sustains you, the subject, both morally and financially (is this not beginning to sound preposterous already?), you will obey my commands (as to how your life is to be disposed of, whatever the state of your legal competency past minor age). Don’t disrespect your elders now, etc.

    Is that how we are to understand the individual-state relationship? As like that between a dependent minor living under the roof (territory, jurisdiction) of the Authority Guardian Provider Figure? Is this the highly-sought-after sneaky route to your-life-is-mine-to-dispose-of-after-all conclusion that the statists want to put by us?

    C’mon, the most skilled libertarian thinkers have dispensed with this nonsense in one form or another countless times. Imagine they and not Bill Maher are your dialectical opposition, although libertarianism is such a no-brainer (among the homework-doing crowd) that even Maher could probably ably fend off the latest attempt to (in short) rationalize sneaking away with portions of others’ lives.

    • Ultimate Philosopher,

      And you think libertarianism is somehow neutral compared to conservatism and progressivism? That, libertarianism, when the rhetoric of “self-ownership,” “rights,” “freedom,” “coercion” is given philosophical legs, doesn’t promote a conception of the good life too at the expense of others?


    • Jan, I don’t see why it would be non-neutral that way. It is non-neutral with respect to a fundamental value as far as *political*-level values go: freedom. It is very pro-freedom and especially when the philosophical legs as it were is provided by a certain (eudaimonist) conception of the good for man with free rational decision-making as the primary potentiality to be actualized. Yes, freedom is tied directly to the good in that sense. As for “rhetoric” about whose life belongs to whom, I think common sense and a common law legal tradition have done an adequate job to separate what is initiatory force from peaceful action or defensive force; libertarianism has perhaps the (unfortunately) “unique” aspect of holding the state to more or less the same moral standards we apply to non-state actors. Talk about a social union of sorts doesn’t provide justificatory oomph for such forcible actions. And we recognize as forcible in the *introducing*-force-into-the-equation sense those actions which involve the attempt to appropriate that which is not naturally-lawfully yours (in a fully-integrated fact-value framework that you get with biological “teleology” of the usual Aristotelian-tradition brand (and Rand being a recent prominent advocate)), i.e., that when your brain is electrochemically tied to actions in your body, it is naturally-rightly you that does the controlling of you. I.e., your life is *yours* to dispose of in every common-sense rendering of that ownership-relation.

      Anyway are you not familiar with the magisgterial Den Uyl – Rasmussen thesis about the coordinative relation between a perfectionist ethics and a non-perfectionist politics? The state is a significant and important (in numerous ways) institution, but what is the *telos* as it were of an institution assigned the power to force people who are otherwise acting on their free independent judgment (the issue being whether their judgment impairs the natural ability of others to do likewise, under ordinary common-law boundaries of freedom and ownership). The power to use force against rationality-capable beings needs to meet a high justificatory standard and I don’t see how the state can make any special claim to such beyond its essential keeping-the-peace function/telos. There are all sorts of other institutions that can, should and/or do perform better than the state at promoting morally upright conduct, for instance. You’d think that conservatives of all people would be wary of applying the wrong institutional answer to a pressing problem, given the litany of failures of Big Govt to promote the common good despite considerable taxpayer expense.

      The left comes up with the same sorts of arguments (rationalizing appropriating parts of the lives of some people at the legal point of a gun, to treat them as sacrifical animals for the sake of others, society, the state, et al) when it comes to spending large amounts of GDP to “address the poverty and unequal opportunities problems” while having little or negative to show for it. The libertarians have already figured this stuff out multiple generations ago; isn’t only a matter of time before everyone else catches up? (It might take a longer period of time for everyone else to figure out that laissez-faire is the best political arrangement than it took them to figure out that socialism was doomed to fail, and the top libertarian thinkers like Mises were generations ahead of their time there as well.) I do think conservatives have the right emphasis on cultural values as prior to economic ones a la the left, but they’re talking about using the wrong (political) tool for the (cultural) job; for the latter you should provide good arguments for memetic change or progress – Aristotelian ones are a top candidate – and not the use of brute physical force which doesn’t change minds (only behavior, along with resentment about their freedom being usurped by pseudo-do-gooders).

      The libertarian arsenal is too tough to penetrate; I would recommend doing all the requisite homework the way Nozick did when he started out a leftist and ended up seeing right-libertarianism as basically slam-dunk (his subsequent writings notwithstanding). And then on top of that you have a sizable number of Aristotelian libertarians who provide the full one-two, cultural-political punch with rationality the primary virtue, eudaimonia as the telos, a culture of reason as the ‘end of history’ standard to aspire to, and freedom as the telos of political life. Quite beautiful to behold in its entirety, theoretically ‘to kalon’ I dare say. ^_^

    • Ultimate Philosopher,

      I never denied that your life is yours to live. You have the free will to make your own choices. Your life is certainly yours to live. What I deny is that libertarianism is somehow neutral on the question of the good. Libertarianism is itself a particular conception of the good, which by definition is not neutral. For each libertarian right granting a particular freedom there is a concomitant obligation restricting a particular freedom. Authority is simply the capacity to make moral demands that subjects are obligated to obey. Libertarian governments act as the proper authority making moral demands that subjects are obligated to obey (e.g. do not trespass, do not steal) while simultaneously denying that it does so. In this sense it is anti-authority authoritarianism — a contradiction. What is a laughing matter is your assertion that Ayn Rand and some libertarians have made “knock down” compelling arguments — more compelling the proof of Prim’s algorithm. That is something to lol at.

  6. Urban,
    (1) It helps to distinguish freedom in the free-will sense from freedom in the political sense. I am not among those who treat freedom in the political sense as anything other than the right to use and dispose of one’s own life using one’s own faculties, limbs, etc. In this political sense, no freedom is being restricted by prohibiting violence against person and property. Yes, it is a restriction on their freedom to decide how they wish to behave, i.e., freedom in the free-will sense, but that’s not helpful for speaking about political freedom, which is only freedom from violent, invasive action.

    (2) The arguments provided by Rand and many others may not be *obviously* knock-down ones but they are knock-down ones nonetheless. Taking the entirety of Galt’s radio address, for example, you have a knock-down argument against any incursions on free, human/rational action. Reason is supreme in Rand’s philosophy, so attacks on it are anathema. If you are all for reason, that’s knock-down stuff. But name pretty much any argument for a deviation from hardline right-libertarianism and there’s likely to be a libertarian author of high repute who provided a knock-down argument against it. The knock-down arguments are all over the place in the libertarian literature, which anyone can find by doing their homework. The idea that one can promote the human (rational) good through (introducing) physical force (anathema to rational action) into human affairs finds a knock-down in Rand as well as in Rasmussen-Den Uyl (RDU). (At this point I figured I’d throw in a tidbit about RDU, or at least about R: if you look for the subset of human beings who fit the following criteria: philosopher (presumably in academia), Catholic, and Rand-admirer, R is your guy. Any Catholic aware of this fact can’t really afford to ignore or dismiss what this guy has to say.)

    I mean, heck, do I need to even appeal to the body of literature out there to explain how force and mind/reason/intellect are opposites? The more you have of one, the less you have of the other? The knock-down-ness of this is already right there in pointing out the contradictory nature of “using force to promote the human good.”

    (3) Your assumption seems to be that any political vision involves the political/forcible promotion of a vision of the good, hence libertarianism like any other political vision must be about that as well – and you argue for this in the case of libertarianism by invoking a dubious distinction between different “freedoms” that libertarians must recognize. (Actually I’m unclear on something here, namely about what criticism of libertarianism the conservative critic wants to stick with: either libertarianism is neutral about the good and hence is unacceptable in a conservative worldview, or it is non-neutral about the good and hence meets your objection/argument that it is self-defeating or contradictory by in fact invoking a conception of the good (free action being the good, I guess? not merely a or the common form of human good activity but the very good itself?). Well, which is it? I think there is a knock-down argument against the critic either way.) I’ve already done part of the work by invoking a distinction between the political and the realm of human endeavor that isn’t political. I must also invoke (well, reiterate) at this point that the strongest defense of libertarianism comes from the Aristotelian tradition and usually and often in the writings of the aforementioned trio of thinkers. The broader ethical picture is one of what RDU call individualistic perfectionism (they reference the likes of the magnificent David L. Norton (‘Personal Destinies’) in addition to Rand. And the point of political institutions is the protection of that sphere of free (rational, intelligent – at least in potentiality and in action-form which is the only legitimate concern of political institutions qua such) action in which individuals can thrive, perfect themselves, self-actualize, etc. In *this* sense we can talk about the contextualization of political liberty in a broader ethical vision – but this doesn’t mean that the dictates for political action reduce to those of ethics broadly. (RDU go through this rather painstakingly to establish the proper framework of conceptual relations here. They distinguish norms of ethics from “meta-norms” of politics which prescribe only what the state qua forcible actor is authorized to do.) The way I put it is thusly: libertarianism qua political doctrine is focused on what political institutions are supposed to do (reduce as much as possible the incidence of force/violence against peaceful people), i.e., it is a doctrine that doesn’t conflate ethics and politics. You don’t need the state to generate moral guidance; in an advanced civilized society like ours we need only some top-notch ethical philosophers (preferably Aristotelians or Thomists or Randians) to spread the good news there. Framed thusly, there is probably a sense in which libertarianism is neutral about the good (about the desirable *goals* to be achieved) and a sense in which it is not indifferent to the good because the basic libertarian (meta-)norm of nonviolence is rooted in an understanding of the human good as a free, self-directed activity (freedom and self-directedness being formal characteristics of eudaimonic/perfectionist activity). In *this* sense, an Aristotelian ethos rejects the false good/right dichotomy that you see from some moral philosophers in favor of something more integrated and dialectically complete. (Something something constitutive goods, virtues being the main ones, virtues being expressive of rationality most primarily, the human good characterized by rational activity – the big thing for Kant but without a conception of flourishing activity being rational activity a la Aristotle – and not by matters of consequences, which would be at most a sub-genre of ethics devoted to *applying* the basic virtue-principles to everyday decision-making on matters that are or may be *philosophically* optional rather than mandatory.)

    How does the above not constitute all by itself something of a knock-down drag-out rejection of proposals for an expansive state premised on abridging individuals’ autonomy?

    • Also, in very briefest formulation, the Hospers/Rand/Nozick “an individual’s life isn’t others’ to dispose of” is in itself a decisive knock-down consideration against all kinds of un-libertarian mischief. Now, is there a knock-down argument for this rather foundational principle? Does it need one? Are attempts to reject it self-defeating, either directly or roundabout? (Yes.) Does anyone outside of a statist/fascist dare deny it? Does not all ethics-talk presuppose it directly or roundabout-wise? (Good question!) Does all sound ethical reasoning involve or lead to it? (Well, yes. Individualistic perfectionism being all about an individual’s own life in its prescriptions and all….) Does libertarianism uniquely respect this principle in ways other political theories do not? (I think so. What sets libertarianism apart from these others, after all?) Does marijuana being perhaps-not-good for some justify forcible prohibitions for all, given this principle? F no!

    • I only ask that the cannabis-prohibitionists (or their fellow travelers, or those who favor prohibitions conditional upon non-libertarian criteria having been met) try out their arguments in an imaginary setting: their opponents are Rand, Nozick and Hospers. (How you get all three together in the same room even assuming all are alive and well is another issue.) You *will* be blooded badly by the buzzsaw, and won’t emerge victorious as a consolation.

      Way too many non-libertarians imagine their opponents as someone lesser who hasn’t heard it all before and aren’t top-notch moral reasoners. And if you want “state of the art” political philosophizing that goes unquestionably in a hardline right-libertarian direction, there’s the 2010 ‘Social Philosophy and Policy’ journal issue entitled “Ownership and Justice” which contains essays from Mack, Narveson, Schmidtz and others. And if there are folks in the next most plausible political-theory groupings (something outside of libertarianism including even the “bleeding heart” versions which are state-of-the-art arguments from the center and left trying to combat the your-life-is-your-own hardline version of libertarianism), who make successful or even plausible arguments against your-life-is-you-own libertarianism, by all means someone please direct me there. I want to be sure I’ve done by homework very thoroughly (although by this point I think it’s a matter of showing where non-libertarian, non-your-life-is-your-own arguments go off the rails whatever else we might learn from them). And a ton of the bleeding-heart concerns are addressed quite thoroughly by economists like Mises, Hayek and Friedman(s), already.

    • First, to answer some of your questions. Yes, my assumption is the necessary function of government is to discriminate between different conceptions of the good. Libertarianism is one such conception where freedom in of itself is the good.

      Freedom is the capacity to make choices and act on them without constraint. Thus at first glance anarchy appears to be the most free society, however this would obviously privilege the freedom of the strong, wealthy, and intelligent over the freedom of the weak. If the purpose of government is to advance freedom it cannot simply advance the freedom of an arbitrary group of individuals. Again, if freedom is the end goal with no discussion of intrinsically evil acts or disordered desires, then all desires and choices are equal, since there is no objective way to rank them. This necessarily ties equality to freedom, thus the purpose of government is to advance equal freedom (i.e liberalism). This eliminates the problem of arbitrarily advancing the freedom of certain individuals. Individual choices, desires and behaviors obviously conflict, thus for each particular right there is a concomitant obligation. For example, the right to own property grants a particular freedom to the property owner while restricting the freedom of everyone else (e.g. no trespassing, no loitering). What libertarians fail to understand is that modern liberals are equally committed to freedom — in fact, I would argue more committed to freedom.

      Libertarians believe that government has the power to violate individual freedom, but what they don’t realize is that government is only one possible institution which such power. Large corporations, wealthy individuals, and powerful private institutions all have power to violate individual freedom. In a perfectly libertarian society, powerful corporations can deny service and employment to entire groups of people. This obviously restricts the freedom of these individuals to use the services. Again, granting the corporation the authority to deny service restricts the freedom to use the service. In a perfectly libertarian society, poor people are not as free as rich people, since wealth increases the capacity to make choices (e.g buy a beach house). The more freedom becomes a priority the more restricted choices become.

    • Urban:
      I’ll leave it to a couple points for now. You write:
      “First, to answer some of your questions. Yes, my assumption is the necessary function of government is to discriminate between different conceptions of the good. Libertarianism is one such conception where freedom in of itself is the good.”

      1. Since when was the state/govt an institution you consider competent or qualified to define a conception of the good? Have you noticed how bad the state/govt is at a lot of things?

      2. Since when it is up to the govt/state to do any such thing? Why can’t NGO, families, communities, churches, educators, philosophers et al fulfill such a function just fine?

      3. There are different libertarians out there. I’m a eudaimonist libertarian, which means that the good is eudaimonia and I advocate liberty or freedom since the individual requires freedom to pursue the good (and eudaimonia – *human* flourishing – involves the exercise of the human capacity for reason, and not merely involves but has freedom as a formal characteristic (a sine qua non if you will of flourishing) and eudaimonic activity is characterized by the fullest exercise or actualization of one’s rational potentials. I can’t speak for how other non-eudaimonist libertarians arrive at their political conclusions.

      4. What’s more, I don’t conflate the ethical and the political. Each domain – and yes, each is *normative* in some way – has its own prescriptive criteria. Roughly speaking, the ethical prescribes the good (eudaimonia) and the political prescribes the right (which has to do roughly speaking with formal characteristics of flourishing, e.g., virtue, or freedom), and the political prescribes the right only in regard to the ways in which the activities of one agent might affect those of another, freedom-wise (as in invasions upon person and property which evolved common law has managed to work out the details of in a decent way).

      Just these points alone make for a tough haul for those trying to justify non-libertarian political activities. There are a bunch more. There’s a bunch of high-quality libertarian literature out there that the opposition can hardly be all that responsive to (and remain non-libertarian). There’s a bunch of historical evidence of the widespread benefits of free minds and free markets. (Point 5 as an addendum: even with anarchism there is high-quality literature from the likes of David Friedman and Randy Barnett – legal experts – along with others (G.H. Smith, R. Long, M. Rothbard, H. Hoppe, J. Narveson, others) who’ve put abundant amount of time and thought into developing the “anarchocapitalist” framework. Your response doesn’t show any familiarity with points raised by these thinkers, much less by the likes of eudaimonist libertarians such as Den Uyl and Rasmussen, or indeed Rand, arguably the most formidable of the bunch with Galt’s radio address as Exhibit A.)

      We can get to the other points as we proceed.

    • I should especially like to have fun demolishing your conflation of freedom with other things in your last paragraph. It’s not at all evident how having an increased range of options through things like having wealth is an enhancement of one’s *freedom* (especially freedom in a political sense, and especially freedom in a free-will sense). It suggests that you aren’t familiar with the literature in which libertarians have rebutted such conflations.

  7. Since when was the state/govt an institution you consider competent or qualified to define a conception of the good? Have you noticed how bad the state/govt is at a lot of things?

    This question doesn’t make much sense in the context of how I defined government. It isn’t a matter of whether government is competent or qualified to advance some conception of the good — some governments are much more competent than others — but rather that advancing a conception of the good is what government is. For any social disagreement the government must decide on how to resolve it. It simply cannot be neutral on this anymore than you and I can be neutral on the morality of theft. Necessarily, we must act and we will either act as if theft is a moral wrong of as if it is not, but we certainly cannot remain neutral in our actions unless we fly off alone into outer space. Likewise, a government that remains in limbo is a paper government.

    Since when it is up to the govt/state to do any such thing? Why can’t NGO, families, communities, churches, educators, philosophers et al fulfill such a function just fine?

    Families, communities, and churches can and do advance particular conceptions of the good. The relevant question here is if the churches conception of the good is consistent with the states conception of the good and in modern liberal America we see that it is not. Abortion, same-sex marriage and homosexuality are moral evils that the state currently endorses. Evidently the “neutral” position is “thou shall bake cakes for same-sex ‘weddings'”. Furthermore, abortion is either murder or it isn’t. There is no “neutral” position in the matter for the state to take; the state will either treat it as murder or it won’t.

    There are different libertarians out there. I’m a eudaimonist libertarian, which means that the good is eudaimonia and I advocate liberty or freedom since the individual requires freedom to pursue the good…

    It appears to me that you do not hold individual autonomy and freedom as the highest good, but rather as instrumental goods for the sake of a higher good. Thus in practice it could be the case that the instruments you provide are not adequate for reaching the higher good.

    It’s not at all evident how having an increased range of options through things like having wealth is an enhancement of one’s *freedom*

    It follows from the definition of freedom. Freedom is the capacity to make choices and act on them without constraint. Wealth increases the range of choices. The lack of adequate wealth is a constraint on an individual’s choices. One is not free to buy a multi-million dollar beach home without the money to do so. This all makes sense if you take freedom and autonomy as the highest or only good.

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