All "private judgments" are to have no public force...

Except those of Gerald Gaus:
A moral order of free persons rejects appeal to the natural authority of some people’s private judgments over those of others. A social morality that allows the (self-appointed?) “enlightened” to make moral demands on others that as free and equal moral persons those others cannot see reason to acknowledge is authoritarian. Just as authoritarians in politics hold that they should rule over others who are too unenlightened or corrupt to see the wisdom of their laws, so too do these “enlightened” moralists hold up their “right reasoning” about morality as the standard that warrants their demands about how others should live, even when those others, exercising their rational moral autonomy, cannot endorse the imperatives to which they are subject. -- Gaus, The Order of Public Reason, p. 16
Gaus's invocation of "private judgments" is simply rhetoric, designed to somehow seal off certain areas from the public realm. If I judge that, say, polygamy is wrong, the only thing "private" about this would be if I happened to keep it to myself. In that it is a judgment, I can publicly give reasons for it, and if I am trying to get the judgment enshrined in law, I am certainly not keeping it to myself!

And anyway, just who does Gerald Gaus think he is, to impose his moral views on authoritarians? This is, of course, the contradiction at the heart of liberalism: it purports to be a neutral scheme tolerant of all views, but in the end it wins up only tolerating liberal views.

(Thanks to Jonathan Finegold for bringing this quote to my attention.)


  1. Have you read through what Bob Murphy said in this comment thread?
    Bob claims that when he wants private property rights protected, he is not actually imposing his beliefs that property rights violations are immoral on others. He claims that the reason that he wants property rights violations stopped is not because he believes them to be immoral, but for some other reason. He didn't specify what that reason was, but he said that Rothbard in his book "Ethics of Liberty" provides an argument for why property rights violations should be illegal, even if you believe that it's never justified to make something illegal just because it's immoral.

    Personally, I don't see any possible argument for the illegality of murder that doesn't rest on the belief that murder is immoral (and wanting to impose that belief on others), but is Bob right that Rothbard made such an argument?

    1. I remember reading a writing of Rothbard's on the LvMI's website saying something to the effect of him not having the right to say drinking was immoral. Of course, t he was all over the map and can be seen making explicit moral condemnations like in his essay on egalitarianism.

  2. Gene, have you read this?

    Budziszewski is one of my favorite philosophers, and this essay, which I had read a few years ago, hit me like a brick. It comes to the same conclusion that you have made yourself; liberalism is a giant contradiction.

    1. I call foul: 'We meet this jealous and negating god on the philosophic right, where conservatives like Michael Oakeshott tell us that the specific and limited activity of “governing” has “nothing to do” with natural law or morals.'

      That is NOT what Oakeshott said: always be suspicious when you get these "quotes" with no reference!