A blog about belief

“Compassionate libertarianism”?

In Philosophy on June 24, 2011 at 1:35 pm

Brian Leiter points out an interview with Robert Nozick from 2001.  Some of Nozick’s comments in this very late interview suggest that he didn’t turn away from the libertarianism of 1974’s Anarchy, State and Utopia as sharply as the recent Slate writeup claims.  However, it does illustrate a difference between Nozick, a respectable philosopher with whom I disagree, and Ayn Rand, who has intellectual rabies:

JS: You outline a series of different “levels of ethics,” as you call them, the most basic being characterized by, as you said, “voluntary cooperation for mutual benefit,” and the higher levels involving more responsiveness and caring for others and positive aid. Yet you say, and this is what seems particularly libertarian, that no society should go further than enforcing that most basic requirement of peaceful cooperation.

RN: Yes, and libertarianism never really claimed that all of ethics was exhausted by what could be enforced, by what one could legitimately be coerced to do or not do. That’s the political, interpersonal realm that libertarian principles were about, not what might be the highest ethical aspiration.

You mean the highest ethical aspiration might not be to make as much money as possible?

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  1. I have too little context to interpret your post in its entirety; however, the statement “You mean the highest ethical aspiration might not be to make as much money as possible?” is a bit weird: Outside of cheap leftist rhetoric, making money is not an issue directly related to libertarianism. A libertarian would say that those who want to make money should not be hindered in their efforts to do so, but not that making money was a higher purpose. At the same time, a libertarian would say that those who want to spend their lives as beggar monks should not be hindered in their efforts to do so… (In both cases with restrictions possible if the money-maker/beggar monk would infringe the rights of others.)

    Obviously, Rand, in as far as she can be considered libertarian, is certainly not a mainstream libertarian—often being on the fringe even by neoliberal standards.

  2. That’s pretty much the point I was making (sarcastically) – that genuine libertarianism is NOT all about making money. Rand is a fringe figure as intellectuals go, but in the United States she is far from culturally marginal, and some of her followers have made significant inroads into politics. When someone talks about “libertarianism” here there’s a pretty good chance they’re thinking about her, to the detriment of both serious libertarian thought and the overall sanity of the country.

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