Only a few days ago, when I signed up for inclusion on No Treason’s Metablog, I confessed to John T. Kennedy who runs the show over there:
I'm a market anarchist, but my views and interests are varied. Worse, I wobble back-&-forth between a utilitarian (Friedman) and moral (Randian) basis for anarchy. Oh well.
Then this from Greg Swann, and Billy Beck’s amen. These are two guys I’ve been reading for years, and my particular admiration of Beck is well established on this blog. I probably admire Swann just as much, only I’ve never established a private dialog with him. Now, for those unfamiliar with the background, both Swann and Beck are market anarchists, as is at least one of the economists (Friedman) writing in the article cited. The other economists, at minimum, advocate a tiny State. The implicit complaint being lodged by Swann and Beck (in my own view) is that these economists justify their anarchism (or "minarchism"), essentially, on doing the most good for the most people (maximum utility) and not on what they see as the underlying fact of man’s individual and unalienable right to his own life without any qualification. I have great sympathy for that complaint.
Well, as I said above, I wobble on this one. While I like to think that the moral principles underpinning individualism and liberty are the final word on issues of public policy (which necessarily lead to anarchy, if respected), my ideal as it were, I find it difficult to escape the practical, and guys like Prof. David Freidman, in particular, have always been a source of general confirmation that these principles to which I adhere lead to the sorts of consequences I hope that the respect of individual rights will lead to.
Is it not a classic chicken-or-egg scenario? I mean, it’s not as though we live in a malevolent universe where respecting individual rights leaves us (society) predominantly worse off. Nor is it that anyone worthy of a voice respects individual rights because they believe that it will lead to the domination of the weak by the strong. Are individual rights not practical? Is there not some element in all this that makes it important to us that society will flourish and we all wish for that?
If I begin with the moral, with individual rights, I find myself asking: to what end? The answer is clear: me. But it doesn’t end there. Why is that important to me? The answer, my answer, is equally clear: because I want a better world, which includes loved ones in particular and society in general. I’m not an island, after all. If society is better off, I think I’ll be better off too, so is this not somewhat a justification of rights on consequentialist or utilitarian grounds?
If I begin with utility or consequences, I need to know why such results are important. The answer I arrive at is that it’s important because of the nature of human beings, and that maximum utility can only be found in recognizing and adhering to man’s nature, which means, a set of moral principles that reduce to a set of rights.
So, I find myself justifying moral rights because their respect brings maximum utility, and then justifying maximum utility because rights are inherent in man’s nature. And round and round we (I) go. When I read the piece in question, it seems clear to me that the whole underlying point is a moral sense of rights. When I read other material by those advocating moral rights, it seems clear that they advocate such rights because they believe everyone will be better off.
I think it’s fair to assume that amongst these libertarians, whatever their justifications, that they are decidedly different from socialists. Socialism is nothing more than a set of political principles divorced from moral principles, and that merely pays lip service to morality in a manipulative quest for political power. That seems, to me, a critical distinction.
The title to this post is not nearly as presumptuous as it sounds. In no way do I believe I’ve offered even a good glimpse of a “unified theory.” I only hope to have provided the slightest glimmer that one might be a worthwhile goal.