Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Of Liberaltarians and the Declaration of Independence

      In thinking about the post regarding Wilkinson and Lindsey and their attempt to build a liberaltarian bridge to Progressives so as to make their political project more viable and also to liberate themselves from the Right, I was reminded of Pelosi's floor speech made before the vote approving Obamacare. Pelosi's comments were infuriating given her bastardized appropriation of the Declaration of Independence in the service of the healthcare reform bill. She stated that our Founding begins with the individual's pursuit of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. With hc reform each individual would now be liberated from the most pressing of concerns, i.e., securing healthcare, and consequently would be better able to pursue the Declaration's triad of objectives. This is, of course, a deeply flawed reading of the text and its history. However, upon reflection Pelosi acutely reveals the mind of Progressivism and the manner in which it takes up the dreams of liberalism proper into its overall project. Pelosi's real argument was that the autonomous individual rather than finding their freedom in emancipation from the state would actually find it in the state's common provisioning of healthcare. There would be one less thing to worry about, and that's a good thing, Pelosi implies. Thus the pursuit of autonomistic liberty's goals could be better made. 

In a basic sense, this is also the project of Wilkinson and Lindsey, both men deeply in communion with the individual emancipated from seemingly everything but self-interest and contracts freely entered into and freely broken. The rub, I think, and where Pelosi's position gathers steam is the absolute foundation and final purpose of the unencumbered individual to liberal and free government that she actually shares with these two gentlemen. If this is the summum bonum of existence, then why not cross over to modern liberalism and embrace certain statist objectives that will better achieve this end. After all, it seems, if autonomistic emancipation is your goal, why not bring the services of government in pursuit of that objective. What matters is the will and the pleasing of its needs. I think this concept is what unites the Wilkinson, Lindsey position with Progressivism in a far more enduring way than any momentary alliance that might be formed with conservatives on a specific policy. Ultimately, their desire is to live in a manner wholly unconducive to the givenness of the human person, and his attachments and relationships that are necessary to his flourishing. That welfare states devalue family and local attachments are none of his concern. He left these relationships, philosophically speaking, a long time ago. Big government, of course, becomes logical and needed once these contexts for liberty begin to dissolve.   

Discussions - 4 Comments

"The rub, I think, and where Pelosi's position gathers steam is the absolute foundation and final purpose of the unencumbered individual to liberal and free government that she actually shares with these two gentlemen."

You're probably right in principle, but libertarians of the Wilkinson/Lindsey variety stopped using these sorts of deontological arguments years ago. They're perfectly willing to concede the ends but argue that statist policies will not produce those ends. These arguments have the added bonus of being persuasive to ordinary people. It seems to me that every political victory for free-market ideas in the past century has come about as the result of a demonstrable failure of government programs to achieve their stated purposes, not on the strength of philosophical arguments on the nature of man.

I part company with Wilkinson and Lindsey when they think that left-wing intellectuals will learn the appropriate lessons from these failures.

John Marshall, thats a really thoughtful post and you may be right that the kind of freedom that some (but not all) libertarians agitate for might turn us into the helpless atomized clients of big government, but the logical conclusion would be for the Wilkinsons of the world to adopt social democracy - which they will not do. But in their unwillingness to give up free market economics AND affiliate with the left of center they find a huge problem in creating a liberaltarian politics that isn't just some free market tweaks to ever bigger big government.

They may have stopped using them but really the underlying dynamic holds. If it holds then the same process will unfold. The prizing of the unencumbered self naturally leads to the welfare state, entitlement state, and the inability to do big things like education, healthcare, even family formation apart from the state. If there is nothing above the will then you are left with something like democratic pantheism. We forget the arts of self government or the governance of the self as used in the Massachusetts colony by James Otis. Once lost, then Sweden, UK, Canada lurks in front of us.

The moments for free market ideas open, I contend, precisely because the nature of man continues to reemerge. I don't mean in some creepy Fukuyama sense.

Interesting, I do think that the declaration of Independence has been given so many different interpretations and been marshalled by so many different causes in our nations history that pelosi's version isn't inconceivable.

In almost every single sense the haunting specter of sweden, UK and Canada isn't. It just isn't haunting. It doesn't have standing with me. I am rather certain that I would rather live in Sweden, the UK or Canada than in Massachusets colonial days regardless of how interesting that might be as a possibility if it was a possibility, which it isn't. Now maybe if what lies ahead is Mexico, Panama or Columbia then the haunting can begin.

I actually think that the main problem is that 48% of all citizens pay no taxes. On the other hand proggressives are probably right that special interest groups and corporations actually run our government, contra proggressives this probably means that representation is tracking taxation fairly well. My guess would be that a lot of libertarians who could lean democrat don't even go so far as to do so because they like Lochner, Griswold and Roe, but rather because if you aren't paying for it, or even if you aren't paying full sticker cost then you really don't mind getting more things covered. In many ways if you aren't wealthy a liberal libertarian world view is considerably more authentic. Even if you embrace a certain sense of libertarian right to contract/exchange value for value justice protesting taxes you aren't paying is inauthentic. Protesting taxes you aren't paying is inauthentic, or if you prefer using legal terminology you lack standing.

Even from a libertarian right to contract Lochner standpoint that which we are alienated from is the right to work 10hour days...but few folks enjoy work so much, and even if they did and it was a curve, wouldn't it still be inflicted by diminishing marginal returns? From a subjective standard and as individualists libertarians generally should prefer these...from such a standard it is conceivable for some people to prefer working 10hours and it is a detriment to freedom to take the more objective standard(which really is the reasonableness standards of a community) but from an objective or community(non-individualist) standard the idea of diminishing marginal returns on work, conjoined with Adam Smith's observation that jobs typically pay less if folks find them enjoyable(i.e. fishing) means that authentically or if I can legalize the term to connect it with standing, it is likely that support of Lochner is ideological and not based upon experience of actual pleasure, benefit or harm.

It is probably not necessarily a coincidence that I thought of Griswold when reading a post by John Marshall. But Griswold if it represents the liberal libertarian seems more likely to give such a hypothetical creature standing. That is more people are likely to have standing or take authentic issue if the government were to decide to try to police the use of contraceptives.

Roe v. Wade is also a liberal libertarian decision, a woman's right to chose. If half of all libertarians are men then it is likely that they have limited standing, for the other half falling back on a subjective standard it is possible to immagine a person who would reasonably want an abortion. From a liberal libertarian perspective freedom to contract for an abortion is nothing more than a species of freedom to contract. Within this group there may even be some who find the idea of abortion morally questionable, or authentically undesirable, something they no doubt do not wish to have standing on. Indeed by never having an abortion or putting a woman in that situation such a libertarian could evade standing. In some sense those who avoid such standing are really pro-life, or they are really pro choice but the question is hypothetical and inauthentic.

Again the issue is less a question of if you support or oppose abortion than it is a question of it you have been benefited or harmed by an abortion, some argue that abortion is a moral stain upon the nation that harms all of us, others like stephen levitt argue that it has led to a drop in crime causing positive externalities. Such a debate over positive or negative externalities is likely too attenuated to qualify for standing in a court of law. But if the interest or harm doesn't have standing it is also likely not authentic.

By examining the likely standing of the libertarian with regards to Lochner, Griswold or Roe, I believe that you can understand why the libertarian liberal isn't such a theoretical beast. When you add to this the basic fact that 48% of all americans pay no federal income taxes and thus have no standing on the issue of taxation it makes even more sense to me at least.

The biggest obstacle to Libertarianism is really a question of standing, government doesn't really encroach without a rational basis and the unencumbered self is actually the self that has ordered his affairs so as to avoid harms. The problem with complaints alledging loss of freedom is that preoccupation with such deprives one of more proactive time management. Freedom in this sense is simply potential, and as ben franklin said idleness and pride tax with heavier hands than kings and parliments.

Theoretically speaking there has to be a group of people with standing to complain about the heavy hands of kings and parliments, just as theoretically speaking there has to be a group of people with fewer liberties today than existed in the times of Massachussets as a colony,but I really have neither standing, nor do I think those living in Canada, Sweeden or the UK have standing(are actually worse off) against peoples in some more free idylic state that has ever existed in world history.

I actually am rather convinced that this view is the correct one, if only because those who would have the most standing to make this argument would likely not bother making it, in this sense the non pesimistic view never really has standing because it never really has interest. Rather what occurs is a drastic exageration of connection to and harm from the law, system, government.

If you are not free, it is largely because you think you are not free, you expend your time and enegy dreging up ways in which you might not be free in the future, you extend your sense of self to others who are not free. You are not free because by finding standing you find harm. Like a fine pallate that can never enjoy a wine because it detects the lanyard at the bottom of a cask, so too must the modern political animal seek out those who are also victims by extenuated proximate cause of something done or not done in Washington.

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