Monday, December 15, 2008

Two Points in Favor of Libertarianism

1. I've argued on this blog that libertarians are wrong to maintain that it is in principle unjust for the government to take money from the able and give it to decent people who through no fault of their own have become unable to look after themselves. I still believe that. However, it may be that it is in practice wrong-headed to give the government this authority because it pushes us along the road to the oblivion of big government. In other words, it may be that human nature makes it unlikely that a lean welfare net can be maintained without its growing unwieldy, fat and oppressive. I think this is right. If it is, then abolishing government welfare is not an injustice to the unfortunate because they don't have a right to society ruining itself. They have a right to simple assistance, however, and it should come from non-governmental sources. So, I agree with libertarianism, though not in principle but only in conclusion.

2. Libertarians do not necessarily take rugged individualism to the absurdly extreme point that it entails the position that no one should ever need any help. At least, sensible libertarians do not do this and libertarianism doesn't entail it. Rather, libertarians countenance a society in which people need and receive help from one another without the involvement of government.

So, there is wrongheadedness in some strands of libertarianism, for example, the viewpoint that no one has a right to help unless he contracted for it and the opinion that an ideal society is one in which no one needs or receives anyone else's help. The first is essential to libertarian theory and the second is not. But the point is that neither is utterly fatal to libertarian political views.