The Great Libertarian Illusion, OR, Mike Huemer Spouts Nonsense

Huemer has apparently penned this twaddle:
What divides libertarians from everybody else is not a belief about rights or what rights people have, because the judgements libertarians make about the state are the same as the judgements almost everyone makes about private agents. So it's not that we believe in rights that other people don't believe in, or that other people believe in rights that we don't believe in. It's that other people think the state is exempt from the moral principles that apply to non-government agents.
Well, how was self-congratulatory of you, Professor Huemer! Only you and you friends have a coherent position! But consider:

* A parent is allowed to take his or her screaming and kicking child, forced them into a car, and strap them down in a car seat, and then drive away with them. "We are going on a family vacation, and I cannot leave my two-year-old behind to die at home in our absence."

But if a perfect stranger does this to a child, it is called kidnapping. Does this mean that people think parents are exempt from the moral principles that apply to non-parent agents?

* A homeowner is allowed to paint, on the side of their house, "Gene Callahan is Lord of all that is good and beautiful."

But for some reason, when I go do this, I get arrested for vandalism. Does this mean that people think homeowners are exempt from the moral principles that apply to non-home-owning agents?

* A school teacher is allowed to change a student's grade.

But when I break into the school's computer system to change my kid's grade, I am accused of breaking-and-entering. Does this mean that people think teachers are exempt from the moral principles that apply to non-teaching agents?

* An NBA referee may eject a player from a game.

But when I try to usher a player off the court, I am kicked out of the arena. Does that mean people think referees are exempt from the moral principles that apply to non-referee agents?

And it is really silly for the libertarian to try to invoke "consent" here to save this ridiculous position: "But, I never consented to the government's authority!"

The kidnapper never consented to give the parents special privileges vis-a-vis their child.

I never consented to give the homeowner special privileges vis-a-vis their home.

I never consented to the situation that only NBA referees can eject players from games.

And so on.

There is one morality that applies to everyone. But it may apply differently depending on the social role of a person. A parent or guardian may compel their child to come with them. A stranger may not.

A property owner may re-decorate his property. A non-owner may not.

A referee may control players in an NBA game. A fan may not.

And we "statists" think that properly constituted civil authorities may, for instance, compel those under their jurisdiction to contribute to projects forwarding the common good. These authorities, as we understand things, exist to solve collective action problems, and the way they solve them is by forbidding defection and free-riding. In doing so, they are not "stealing," they are fulfilling their proper function as civil authorities. (And, as a flawed human institution, of course they can and will go beyond this proper role, and attempt to line their own pockets or favor their friends, etc.)

Of course, we "statists" may be wrong about this: perhaps all of these problems can be solved without civil authorities, and their role is unnecessary. (And note: this is not actually the position of ancaps. What ancaps suggest is that they see a better form of civil authority: a network of ancap defense agencies, based exclusively on property rights. And maybe it would be better, but it is an alternate form of civil authority, and not a rejection of the concept.) Good God, libertarians, can't you cut out the moral preening, and recognize that this is the real issue at stake?!

7 comments:

  1. I'm glad you finally admit you are a statist.

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  2. Side question: Is the idea of a common good the same as utilitarianism or is it something different?

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    1. Something different. Utilitarian calculations are not subject to arrows theorem.

      But of course arrow only proved that the public good doesn't always exist not that it can never exist.

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  3. * A homeowner is allowed to paint, on the side of their house, "Gene Callahan is Lord of all that is good and beautiful."

    But for some reason, when I go do this, I get arrested for vandalism. Does this mean that people think homeowners are exempt from the moral principles that apply to non-home-owning agents?


    Now, this makes for an interesting example. Here a libertarian might say that this is because of property rights, but you find different notions at play as soon as you "translate" the claim into a different set of terminology. This could quite possibly be the vulnerability in this mode of thinking. I imagine that an atheist libertarian who has fallen down the rabbit hole would be confounded were he to converse with an Islamic fundamentalist, a hard green, or a pacifist, for example. I mean, how would they react to the claim that we are owned by God? Or, better yet, not that we are owned by God, but that we must obey him? Likewise, the part about the NBA relies on the notion of agreement instead of property.

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  4. Hello Mr Callahan

    Regaring your statement "we "statists" think that properly constituted civil authorities may, for instance, compel those under their jurisdiction to contribute to projects forwarding the common good."

    isnt' the fact that government coercion is needed proof that the project does not serve the common good?

    I believed austrian economical theory taught that the only interests people have in common are protection of life and property.

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    1. "I believed austrian economical theory taught that the only interests people have in common are protection of life and property."

      What in the world gave you that idea?

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  5. "isnt' the fact that government coercion is needed proof that the project does not serve the common good?"

    No. What would make you think that?

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