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Interesting takedown of Nozick's "liberty"

In Slate, of all places. I'm not conversant with what looks like a decades-long permathread, but here's the conclusion:

The ploy is to take libertarianism as Orwell meant it and confuse it with libertarianism as Hayek meant it; to take a faith in the individual as an irreducible unit of moral worth, and turn it into a weapon in favor of predation.

Another way to put it—and here lies the legacy of Keynes—is that a free society is an interplay between a more-or-less permanent framework of social commitments, and the oasis of economic liberty that lies within it. The nontrivial question is: What risks (to health, loss of employment, etc.) must be removed from the oasis and placed in the framework (in the form of universal health care, employment insurance, etc.) in order to keep liberty a substantive reality, and not a vacuous formality? When Hayek insists welfare is the road is to serfdom, when Nozick insists that progressive taxation is coercion, they take liberty hostage in order to prevent a reasoned discussion about public goods from ever taking place. "According to them, any intervention of the state in economic life," a prominent conservative economist once observed of the early neoliberals, "would be likely to lead, and even lead inevitably to a completely collectivist Society, Gestapo and gas chamber included." Thus we are hectored into silence, and by the very people who purport to leave us most alone.

Thanks in no small part to that silence, we have passed through the looking glass. Large-scale, speculative risk, undertaken by already grossly overcompensated bankers, is now officially part of the framework, in the form of too-big-to-fail guarantees made, implicitly and explicitly, by the Federal Reserve. Meanwhile, the "libertarian" right moves to take the risks of unemployment, disease, and, yes, accidents of birth, and devolve them entirely onto the responsibility of the individual. It is not just sad; it is repugnant.

Note that this is in 2011, well before the "you didn't build this" flap.

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Submitted by Lex on

That essay is such a mess as to be pretty much unreadable.

Of course how we use words, particularly in philosophical and political usage, changes over time ... hence why philosophers spend the bulk of their writing carefully defining the words they use. That being said, the American connotation of "libertarian" is a very long way from what the word has traditionally meant. As your excerpt points out, "libertarian" has been hijacked in the US and now means the exact opposite of its original usage.

The Anarchists claim it, but i think that's taking it perhaps a bit too far and does not take into account the changing meaning of Anarchist. Today we hear anarchist and assume property smash and tenuously political hooliganism. Of course Anarchism historically was more philosophically and politically developed and an offshoot of Socialism.

Terms like libertarian socialist are instructive to describe a subset of Socialist philosophy that didn't agree with the state owning the means of production (to over-simplify).

I call myself a Socialist libertarian, purposefully flipping the words from their traditional order to convey a point. It would take me thousands and thousands of words to carefully explain myself, but the short form:

The individual is an incredibly important concept in modern society and the idea of modern democracy requires the recognition of that importance. As such, the individual should be protected from excessive state coercion in regards to behavior, thought, speech, etc. However, it is not even theoretically possible to remove the individual from the context of society, from the family, the community, the nation, or even the global population. Individual behavior affects others as collective behavior affects individuals. Humans are a social animal, and while underknown, cooperation has had as profound affect on evolution as competition. This being particularly true of human, social evolution.

Therefore, the sanctity of the individual to be free exists within the matrix of society. The health of both requires balance, and a situation out of balance is dangerous to both. In an unhealthy society, there is little chance that the majority of individuals will have the ability to experience liberty. In a society based solely on individual liberty in extremis, the society as a whole will become unhealthy.

Or, you are not free so long as your neighbor is unfree. And freedom in the modern sense has a strong economic component. If i am wealthy enough so that money does not constrain my behavior (or does so very little), but my compatriots' behavior is excessively constrained by lack of money, the sum total of liberty is severely degraded.

Economic liberty is important, and as such i am not against the concept of private property; however, personal liberty does not spring from economic liberty. It is the opposite, and there cannot be true economic liberty until all the other forms of liberty are secure for individuals within the matrix of the society. To be free to be rich, while unable to freely voice your opinion or do whatever you wish in the comfort of your own bedroom is dangerous to the concept of liberty because it reduces the idea of the individual to monetary worth.

Even shorter form (and apologies as the above was simply typed rather than carefully constructed): Individual liberty is the product of a free and healthy society in which no individual unnecessarily experiences dire need.