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"Ordered Liberty"

The reason "destriction [sic: "restriction" or "destruction," I take it] of ordered liberty would be 'okay'" is that liberty's value is purely instrumental. Many restrictions on liberty (see, e.g., restrictions on people's ability to engage in gay sex) are wrong, because the thing being restricted is not harmful. When restrictions on liberty really are an efficacious means of preventing harmful behavior (not just harm to others, but harm to yourself as well) then they are justified, libertarian dogma to the contrary notwithstanding. Now over here Virginia Postrel who sparked this whole fracas described herself as a "consequentialist, empiricist classical liberal." I, too, am a consequentialist and an empiricist, and find this attitude hard to reconcile with Postrel's position on the topic in question.

August 9, 2004 | Permalink

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» Liberty: Two Views from Explananda
Matthew Yglesias thinks that "liberty's value is purely instrumental". I doubt that's true. I doubt that's true because . . . oh but why should I bother to explain why when my colleague Paul has already done such a marvellous... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 12, 2004 11:40:29 AM

» Liberty: Two Views from Explananda
Matthew Yglesias thinks that "liberty's value is purely instrumental". I doubt that's true. I doubt that's true because . . . oh but why should I bother to explain why when my colleague Paul has already done such a marvellous... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 21, 2004 5:45:15 PM

» Liberty: Two Views from Explananda
Matthew Yglesias thinks that "liberty's value is purely instrumental". I doubt that's true. I doubt that's true because . . . oh but why should I bother to explain why when my colleague Paul has already done such a marvellous... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 13, 2005 12:09:44 PM

Comments

Miner left free to do his land what he chooses > me free to deal with downstream pollution and a hideous view as I choose.
Kid (or adult) free to experiment with meth
> married to it for life.
Which destriction of liberty is preferable?

Posted by: PIckem | Aug 9, 2004 1:52:36 PM

Almost certainly meant to be "destruction" rather than "restriction," seeing as how "u" and "i" are side by side on the keyboard whereas "d" and "r" are not. Which makes his argument considerably more hyperbolic and annoying.

Posted by: JP | Aug 9, 2004 2:04:39 PM

When restrictions on liberty really are an efficacious means of preventing harmful behavior (not just harm to others, but harm to yourself as well) then they are justified, libertarian dogma to the contrary notwithstanding

Says the smoker...

Or are you just enjoying yourself until the FDA crackdown?

Posted by: Tom | Aug 9, 2004 2:11:28 PM

The Krell finally achieved a civilization of pure instrumentality. But they forgot the primordial beast, and when after a million years of peace, reason, and science the creatures from the id attacked in the night, the poor Krell didn't even understand what was destroying them.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 9, 2004 2:18:26 PM

Liberty's value is purely instrumental? Nerts. Too much time in the academy, laddie.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis | Aug 9, 2004 2:33:48 PM

Umm, what was the topic in question again because I have definitely gotten lost in the abstraction.

Is this an empirical defense of using eminent domain so that General Motors can build a plant right where Detroit wants it to? Does this defense work for the Trump casinos that did the same thing? Or have I totally lost the thread of the conversation?

Posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw | Aug 9, 2004 2:34:21 PM

Sebastian, MY's was making the point that if you scratch a "consequentialist, empiricist libertarian" you are likely to sniff a deontologist underneath.

Matt is pretty close to a pure consequentialist and empiricist, and although once he mentioned the ultimate goal of "general well-being" I often get the feeling of some kind of post-modern means to other means to other means without ends.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 9, 2004 2:52:04 PM

Liberty's value is purely instrumental?

Imagine that the state passes a law requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets (classic case of paternalism), and that I ride a motorcycle but wore a helmet voluntarily before the law was passed.

If I take issue with the new law, then the specific liberty in question does have some non-instrumental value to me. If not, then liberty's value is, in this case, purely instrumental.

Posted by: son volt | Aug 9, 2004 3:06:18 PM

I like this stuff. To be fair, perhaps it is the case that ultimate individual "ends" are non-rational and unarguable, and that all we can sensibly discuss is the means to maximise individual satisfaction while minimizing conflict.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 9, 2004 3:08:34 PM

Golly, I can't figure out anymore if I'm an "ialist", an "ologist", or simply so post-sequential that all my deons need replacing. Probably the latter, in any case.

I will say this is all pretty good birth-control. I used to talk like this when I was younger, but eventually I learned you should only open your mouth when she opens hers and leans towards you.

We used to call it "taking liberties".

Posted by: serial catowner | Aug 9, 2004 3:12:16 PM

"Many restrictions on liberty (see, e.g., restrictions on people's ability to engage in gay sex) are wrong, because the thing being restricted is not harmful."

This is not a statement totally beyond dispute.

Postrel is trying to make the point that since the trend is put most private activity to some level of consequentialist, empirical assessment, liberty as a end in itself is in jeopardy. Perhaps Matt would say such a thing never really existed in practice.

I find Matt's position very dangerous, for it was indeed the consensus for a couple thousand years that gay sex was a net harm to society.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 9, 2004 3:41:33 PM

Mr catowner was quite witty. But MY does have a record, and a consistency I find interesting and entertaining. Reference this paragraph from a recent post:

" Trying to win over the public by misleading them about the substance of public policy debates is a tactic that has very limited utility to a person -- whether liberal, conservative, or otherwise -- who wants to pursue a coherent policy agenda. If, like Bush, you're trying to seize the levers of political power for a limited period of time for the purposes of enriching your cronies, however, it's a great idea."

I have also shown a position, less consistently and often misunderstood, that if you are going to abandon idealism or transcendentalism, you should at least recognize the dangers of doing so.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 9, 2004 4:07:42 PM

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Posted by: Brautigan | Aug 9, 2004 4:24:26 PM

find Matt's position very dangerous, for it was indeed the consensus for a couple thousand years that gay sex was a net harm to society.


So, liberty would, then, be an instrumentality to protect members of society from the harms inflicted by erroneous judgements of the harms of other actions?

But, then, that just reinforces Matt's position that the liberty's value is as an instrumentality.

Posted by: cmdicely | Aug 9, 2004 4:29:49 PM

"When restrictions on liberty really are an efficacious means of preventing harmful behavior (not just harm to others, but harm to yourself as well) then they are justified..."

As a paranoic libertarian, I think this is a scary concept. Isn't it harmful to overeat? To have unprotected sex? Now that I think of it, mandatory condoms are in the same ballpark as mandatory helmets. I can see it now, wear a hat on your helmet.

Posted by: jacob | Aug 9, 2004 5:12:39 PM

Well, cmdicely the quote on Will Baude's post from Lawrence certainly tends toward Lawrence being an extension of "natural rights" rather than a empirical reassessment of consequences.
I doubt the majority determined that an "erroneous judgement" had previously been in effect.

IIRC, on the other hand, among other arguments, Scalia's dissent did include a conseqentialist argument.

But I have misunderstod Lawrence before, and it is not entirely clear to me on what basis the majority decision had been made.

Look, I doubt that Postrel's or Baude's position is anywhere near some kind of Anarcho-libertarian absolutism, and they are probably just desiring a "stricter scrutiny" on regulation. But they also seem to want to retain "liberty" as some sort of quantifiable value in itself.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 9, 2004 5:13:59 PM

If liberty is to be interpreted in strictly consequentialist terms, it loses all meaning. I don't have a problem with that, since most claims to liberty can be more persuasively put in consequentialist terms, particularly in economic areas. Just sayin'.

But some can't - particularly political rights. There are good utilitarian reasons for limiting rights to political participation - for instance, to informed voters. This argument is rarely made, though, because it is so offensive to our sensibilities as to what it means to be free.

Posted by: David Meyer | Aug 9, 2004 7:59:09 PM

I wrote up an outline of a critique of libertariansm here: http://tinyurl.com/6qzac

Sorry for the shameless whore, but it's moderately relevant.

Posted by: David Meyer | Aug 9, 2004 9:13:30 PM

Remember, a large component of the "benefit" of any activity you might seek to regulate is subjective, meaning that, as a practical matter, you're likely to be an awful judge of whether the restriction you're proposing on somebody else's liberty for THEIR benefit really is beneficial. Unless, of course, you've already decided that their opinion doesn't count, in which case you're just lying to yourself about it being for their benefit.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Aug 10, 2004 8:19:07 AM

But some can't - particularly political rights. There are good utilitarian reasons for limiting rights to political participation - for instance, to informed voters.

There are good utilitarian reasons for not doing that, too; for instance, the fact that any measure of "informed" voters implemented in practice is likely to select for agreement to one perspective in addition to objective information, and the harm of that bias is likely to be greater than the benefit from excluding the uninformed.

Posted by: cmdicely | Aug 10, 2004 12:54:33 PM

cmdicely. I strongly agree that there are good utilitarian reasons not to limit political participation. My broader point is that I don't think we should be having that debate. I think rights to political participation are related to some version of liberty that should be treated deontologically. To that extent, I was disagreeing with out gracious host.

As for Brett Bellmore's point about the subjectivity of "benefits." One, he overestimates the difficulties of intersubjective utility comparisons. It is hard at the margins, not at the core. Two, that is why we have mediating political institutions, i.e., government, which are designed to arrive at legitimate approximations of aggregate utility.

As for the not so veiled elitism charge, it is much more elitist to say that what someone thinks about how their government should work is a violation of some god-given ordered liberty.

Posted by: David Meyer | Aug 10, 2004 2:47:39 PM

cmdicely. I strongly agree that there are good utilitarian reasons not to limit political participation. My broader point is that I don't think we should be having that debate. I think rights to political participation are related to some version of liberty that should be treated deontologically.

As a priori beliefs go, that's a perfectly acceptable one, I just think that (other than the inherent fallacy of argument to the consequences of belief) the argument that the reason we shouldn't have that argument is because there are utilitarian arguments in favor of limited political rights seems to rely on the impression that those would be the conclusive utilitarian arguments (and, ironically, is a consequentialist argument for treating freedom deontologically).


Posted by: cmdicely | Aug 10, 2004 7:31:51 PM

cmdicely. I did not mean to give that impression. I think high political participation is dramatically more lkely to produce good government. I'm not sure that that belief is held by a majority, though, especially in light of the lack of outrage at the Bush administration's opacity.

Luckily, the argument that participation rights are necessary for good government isn't one we have to rely on. Its moral foundation is also strong, and is an easier argument to make in light of American history.

Posted by: David Meyer | Aug 10, 2004 9:12:56 PM

I fundamentally disbelieve in the existance of "agregate utility". Kick me in the shin, and provide the guy next to me with an orgasm, and that's not in any meaningful sense the same as leaving us both alone. Any more than walking ten feet south, and ten feet west, lands you at your starting point. We are orthogonal, even incomeasurate. Which is why utilitarianism would be a crock even if we were all ominscient, which we'd have to be to follow it.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Aug 10, 2004 9:13:13 PM

Brett Bellmore. You wrongly assume that leaving people alone entails not making intersubjective utility comparisons. Different people have different levels of satisfaction with current institutions. Refusing to take any action favors those who are more satisfied at the expense of those who are less satisfied, and those who advocate neutrality or inaction are favoring those who prefer it.

That is why we have processes designed to confer legitimacy on attempts to change the system. Democratic and representative structures are designed both to change people's perception of current institutions and to allow people to alter those institutions.

Posted by: David Meyer | Aug 11, 2004 8:53:27 AM

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