Over at Learn Liberty, I take up the question of what the rest of the world should do if Catalonia's referendum on independence on October 1 succeeds, as is expected. I apply some straightforward assumptions about justice and individual freedom to the case. Secession is hard because it always involves violating some people's rights -- … Continue reading Should the U.S. Recognize Catalonia If It Secedes from Spain?
Category: political philosophy
Immanuel Kant, Philosopher of Freedom
My latest Learn Liberty blog post is on the topic above and can be found here. Excerpt: Kant’s moral philosophy justifies extremely strong individual rights against coercion. The only justification for coercion in his philosophy seems to be defense of self or others. His ideal government therefore seems to be extremely limited and to allow … Continue reading Immanuel Kant, Philosopher of Freedom
Partisan Politics Makes Smart People Stupid
I've started a new blogging gig at Learn Liberty, a project of the Institute for Humane Studies. I'll be putting links to these posts here. My posts there will have the benefit of an editor, which is probably something I need. The first is on partisan rationalization and why epistocracy may not save us after … Continue reading Partisan Politics Makes Smart People Stupid
Talking with High School Students About Open Borders
New at e3ne.org, I discuss my conversations with high school students about the moral legitimacy of border restrictions: We started our discussion with a little bit of improv theatre. I played a foreigner trying to get into the United States without documentation. Students volunteered to play a border guard trying to keep me out. Between … Continue reading Talking with High School Students About Open Borders
Is the U.S. Government Illegitimate?
How can one group of human beings come to enjoy a right to enforce its authoritative commands on other human beings? In other words, how does government come to enjoy a right to rule, and how do citizens come to incur a duty to obey? I consider the answer over at e3ne.org. The reasoning depends … Continue reading Is the U.S. Government Illegitimate?
Mill on Paternalism
I have a "nutshell" summary and critique of John Stuart Mill's On Liberty now up at e3ne.org. Excerpt: Mill thus defends freedom of conscience, speech, and lifestyle on completely “practical” grounds, but he leaves some significant loose ends in On Liberty. For instance, there are lots of examples of “harms” that the government shouldn’t regulate, … Continue reading Mill on Paternalism
Legal Regimes for Secession: Applying Moral Theory and Empirical Findings
My paper on the political philosophy of secession is now out in Public Affairs Quarterly, an open-access journal. Read it here. Teaser: The United Kingdom currently sets the gold standard for management of secessionist politics. The British and Scottish governments negotiated in good faith over the terms of the independence referendum that Scotland held on … Continue reading Legal Regimes for Secession: Applying Moral Theory and Empirical Findings
Of Cupcakes and Progressivism’s Ratchet
George Will (Washington Post) has an interesting essay on “progressivism’s ratchet.” His “Cupcake Postulate” illustrates the dynamic: federal school lunch subsidies lead to regulation of food content,which justifies the regulation of competing foods from vending machines, and—finally—whether cupcakes sold at bake sales meet federal standards. Government authority spreads—“the cupcake-policing government” finds “unending excuses for flexing its … Continue reading Of Cupcakes and Progressivism’s Ratchet
The War at Home
Images of warfare abound these days, from Syria, Gaza, northern Iraq...and Ferguson, MO. As Dylan Scott (TPM) notes, the images out of Ferguson have been “harrowing.” “American law enforcement decked out in military fatigues, patrolling the streets in armored vehicles that look like they were plucked out of Afghanistan or Iraq.” I have blogged in the … Continue reading The War at Home
Michael Munger has a fun essay (at FEE) on what he calls “the unicorn problem” (i.e., when people make the argument for statism based on a state they can imagine—benevolent, efficient, omniscient—rather than the state that actually exists). Munger’s solution: Go ahead, make your argument for what you want the State to do, and what you … Continue reading Hunting Unicorns
How Dogmatic Libertarians Drive People Away
At the Daily Beast, Keli Goff has a piece on "Why Blacks Aren't Libertarians." In fact, however, she may be a libertarian; at least, nothing in this piece shows why she cannot be. However, she definitely rejects a kind of dogmatic, absolutist libertarianism that she has encountered - and reasonably so, in my view. Here … Continue reading How Dogmatic Libertarians Drive People Away
The Independent Institute has released a video of a talk given by Ron Paul on April 9, 2014 ("Liberty Defined: The Future of Freedom"). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-uAMz8xFH0 Some of you may enjoy a little Ron Paul to start those engines this Monday.
Can Acting on Moral Falsehood Ever Be Warranted?
I was never persuaded by Aristotle's argument that happiness is the highest good (because it is the only thing that humans seek for its own sake rather than for any other end). The reason I never accepted it is that it is either circular (happiness gets defined as whatever it is you seek for its … Continue reading Can Acting on Moral Falsehood Ever Be Warranted?
King’s Birmingham Letter
Martin Luther King, Jr's "Letter from Birmingham City Jail" remains one of my all-time favorite works of 20th century political philosophy. The moral foundation of the letter is essentially Lockean and Kantian. Those of you who have not yet read it are doing yourselves a disservice by not doing so now. Favorite passage: We know … Continue reading King’s Birmingham Letter
For a Right of Unilateral Secession, Part Three: Design
In the third and final part of my series summarizing my working paper, "Designing a Constitutional Right of Secession" (here are parts one and two), I examine the legitimate objections we can raise to a right to secede. Some of these other scholars have previously mooted, while others are apparently original. Regardless, I will argue … Continue reading For a Right of Unilateral Secession, Part Three: Design
For a Right of Unilateral Secession: Part Two
In my last post on this topic, I argued for a right of unilateral secession on the grounds that: 1) legalizing secession would reduce the risk of violence on net, and 2) codifying a plebiscitary, unilateral right to secede would reduce uncertainty without any compensating disadvantages. In this post, I consider some common objections in … Continue reading For a Right of Unilateral Secession: Part Two
For a Right of Unilateral Secession: Part One
In this three-part series of posts, I will be blogging my new SSRN working paper, "Designing a Constitutional Right of Secession: Applying Normative Principles and Empirical Findings." The paper defends a right of unilateral secession for any country in which the possibility of secessionist violence is non-negligible, or where central governments are already unwilling to … Continue reading For a Right of Unilateral Secession: Part One
Is Free Will a Noble Lie?
Belief in freedom of the will has many beneficial consequences. Lab experiments have shown that people reading deterministic, anti-free will statements are more likely subsequently to cheat in their own favor. Researchers have even identified some of the chemical processes in the brain associated with diminished belief in free will: Since the publication of these … Continue reading Is Free Will a Noble Lie?
A Libertarian Case for Compulsory Military Service?!
You have to admire the sheer gall of a man who defends compulsory national service on libertarian grounds. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry does so in this month's Cato Unbound. What really got my attention was this bit: Libertarians think it’s legitimate for the state to use violence to take people’s money. If you don’t think taxation is … Continue reading A Libertarian Case for Compulsory Military Service?!
Sen, Nozick, and “Breaking Bad”
A moral dilemma from the popular TV show "Breaking Bad" illustrates a critique Amartya Sen made of Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia and the reason why the refutation fails. In On Ethics and Economics, Sen makes the following critique of Nozick's libertarian philosophy (heavily paraphrased because the book has yet to be unpacked, and … Continue reading Sen, Nozick, and “Breaking Bad”
The more things change…
If you read enough political philosophy, at some point you wonder whether there really is anything new under the sun. On the heels of Edward Snowden’s wonderful and astonishing leaks, we get this: U.S. Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee's Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, called Snowden "a defector" who should … Continue reading The more things change…
How New Technologies Enhance Negative Liberty
Looking through the freedom index data over time, it can look like a depressing series of new laws and restrictions on people's lives. Now, freedom has increased at the state level on certain issues (local gun bans overturned, sodomy laws overturned, medical marijuana laws passed, eminent domain reforms enacted, same-sex partnerships spreading). But there are … Continue reading How New Technologies Enhance Negative Liberty
Social injustice and harms
Over at BHL, my friend Andrew Cohen has responded to my post earlier this week making a skeptical case against the normative credentials of the idea of “social justice.” Andrew thinks that part anyway of the problem with my skeptical argument is that is framed in terms of rights. He believes that “harms” are “more … Continue reading Social injustice and harms
Social justice as an emergent property
I have great respect and (in many cases) affection for my friends at Bleeding Hearts Libertarians. But I am not a bleeding heart libertarian, and from the outset I have resisted its siren song, mostly over its endorsement of “social justice” as a moral and/or political ideal. Unlike Hayek, I do not think the concept … Continue reading Social justice as an emergent property
Taking offence at thought experiments
I love Brad DeLong's academic work. He's way smarter than me and, more importantly, clearly works much much harder than I do. And he tackles interesting questions. But every time I check his blog, I get an awful "Everyone in the world is evil or stupid or both except Brad and a few of his … Continue reading Taking offence at thought experiments
The Libertarian Case for Affirmative Action
The Supreme Court yesterday decided to take up a new affirmative action case from the University of Michigan, along with the case from the University of Texas they are already considering. I don't know what the Supreme Court will decide, or what it ought to decide on the basis of constitutional text and judicial precedent … Continue reading The Libertarian Case for Affirmative Action
Best Amazon Review Ever?
On Sarah Conly's book, Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism (must quote the whole thing): Human beings are irrational. As Sarah Conly writes, "The truth is that we don't reason very well, and in many cases there is no justification for leaving us to struggle with our own inabilities and to suffer the consequences" (pg. 1). … Continue reading Best Amazon Review Ever?
Matt Zwolinski on Property Rights
Matt Zwolinski of Bleeding Heart Libertarians has written an excellent series of posts on the libertarian justification of property rights. Here's the latest. The first and most important thing to note about both Locke and Nozick’s arguments is that, unlike utilitarian arguments, they are individualistic rather than collectivistic in nature. For the utilitarian, all that … Continue reading Matt Zwolinski on Property Rights
Freedom as a Moral Concept (Update)
Over at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, there have been some interesting posts recently on moralized and non-moralized conceptions of freedom. Jason Brennan says defining liberty to mean only negative liberty is "linguistic revisionism" without philosophic import. He then makes the case that bleeding-heart libertarianism (or Rawlsianism or various other non-traditionally-libertarian conceptions of property rights) does not … Continue reading Freedom as a Moral Concept (Update)
*The Righteous Mind* by Jonathan Haidt
Jonathan Haidt is everywhere these days, giving interviews and TED talks, promoting his working papers in the media, writing for the websites yourmorals.org and civilpolitics.org, and publishing The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (New York: Pantheon Books, 2012). A moral psychologist by training, Haidt has successfully cleared the jump … Continue reading *The Righteous Mind* by Jonathan Haidt
In which I overstay my welcome
One of the regular Pileus bloggers asked me to elaborate on a claim I made briefly in my earlier discussion of BHL. I had said "there is an intra-libertarian debate [that it is useful to have about philosophical justification: is a system of individual rights ultimately justified because it accrues the best results for the … Continue reading In which I overstay my welcome
Natural rights are more than a rhetorical device
Judge Napolitano, an eloquent advocate of liberty, is in fine form here, in his discussion of the relevance of natural law theory to immigration. I was especially pleased with his observation that politicians are at most fair-weather friends of natural law: "This view of the natural law is sweet to the heart and pleasing to … Continue reading Natural rights are more than a rhetorical device
Do we read Shakespeare because it’s good or because it’s historically significant?
One of the most significant developments lately in terms of framing libertarianism has been the advent of the “Bleeding-Heart Libertarian” blog. I know most of the contributors personally (and I’m electronically-acquainted with all of them), and there’s not one I don’t respect. Their mission statement says they are “libertarians who believe that addressing the needs … Continue reading Do we read Shakespeare because it’s good or because it’s historically significant?
I got into an argument with a structural engineer the other day. I was saying that it would be really cool if the Navy had something like the Helicarrier used by SHIELD in the Avengers movie. He was trying to say that it “wouldn’t work” for some kind of technical reasons, like there’s no known … Continue reading An allegory
Interpersonal Comparisons of Dignity and Eleemosynary Duties
"Imagine that a Wall Street billionaire is passing a bag lady on the street. She begs for a dollar. Should the billionaire give it to her? It's just plain obvious that the bag lady would benefit more from the dollar than the billionaire. The donation would detract from his happiness less than it would add … Continue reading Interpersonal Comparisons of Dignity and Eleemosynary Duties
My Introduction to Political Philosophy Final Exam
Here are the essay questions from the final exam I gave in "Introduction to Political Philosophy" last semester. How would you answer these questions? 3.1 Rights to Property Answer one of these questions. 1. What is John Rawls’ “difference principle,” and how does he defend it? What are its implications for the welfare state? Is … Continue reading My Introduction to Political Philosophy Final Exam
Right-to-Work: An Inflammatory Analogy
Left-libertarians are dismayed at the support most libertarians and classical liberals have been giving to right-to-work laws, which withdraw recognition from clauses in collective bargaining contracts that require all employees in a workplace to pay agency fees to the union that represents that workplace. Many libertarians have supported right-to-work laws on the grounds that they … Continue reading Right-to-Work: An Inflammatory Analogy
*Free Market Fairness*
In Free Market Fairness, political philosopher John Tomasi sets forth a new research program in normative political theory that he calls "market democracy." Market democracy triangulates orthodox libertarianism and social-democratic, egalitarian liberalism and, Tomasi hopes, provides a principled moral grounding for a moderate classical liberalism that has room for both a modest welfare state and … Continue reading *Free Market Fairness*
A Thought Experiment on Freedom
Imagine two countries, each the size of the U.S. In one of them, the average tax rate is 1% (of income) lower than the other, but unlike the other it randomly selects ten innocent individuals for execution each year (perhaps ritual human sacrifice!). Assuming personal income of $12 trillion like the United States, the lower … Continue reading A Thought Experiment on Freedom
Must Libertarians Be Amoral?
A recently published paper by Ravi Iyer and coauthors on the "libertarian personality" has been getting a great deal of attention. To recap the findings, Compared to self-identified liberals and conservatives, libertarians showed 1) stronger endorsement of individual liberty as their foremost guiding principle, and weaker endorsement of all other moral principles; 2) a relatively … Continue reading Must Libertarians Be Amoral?