Daily Bread for 3.21.23: Libertarians, Bleeding-Heart Libertarians, and All that Lies Beyond

Good morning.

Tuesday in Whitewater will be mostly cloudy with a high of 52. Sunrise is 6:54 AM and sunset 7:08 PM for 12h 13m 53s of daytime. The moon is new with 0.1% of its visible disk illuminated.

 The Whitewater Common Council meets at 6:30 PM

 On this day in 1952, Alan Freed presents the Moondog Coronation Ball, the first rock and roll concert, in Cleveland, Ohio.

In the language of our time, a person’s stated past positions are his priors. All people have priors; a few fundamental are ones worth stating now and again.

Of Libertarianism. From A Sketch on Libertarianism:

Libertarians are those who believe that liberty is the critical political value: that from personal freedom for all will come a productive, diverse, and fair society. Liberty is not the only political value, but we think it’s decisive of a good society. Rather than the compulsion of the state (through mandates, taxes and tariffs, restrictions on association, and brute force) we seek a world of free and voluntary interactions (in the marketplace and in private life) of moral equals.

Here you are: individual liberty, free markets, limited & open government, and peace (though free trade with friendly nations). 

We are the inheritors and defenders of an old tradition, stretching back so many centuries, long before the term libertarian was coined (it’s a relatively recent invention). 

Voluntary transactions and associations are the natural, and often spontaneous, result of human sociability. Most people are sociable and friendly, and if it were otherwise society would have remained small and primitive. We believe people can organize well and best when they left to their own choices. The foundation of a productive (and so prosperous) society is private activity, not state action. Better still, free, voluntary interactions are fair in a way that state compulsion is not. 

Consent. As we believe in voluntary, mutual  interactions, we believe necessarily in consent in romance and relationships. Forced sexual encounters (including encounters with those who are by law too young to consent) are wrong and should be punished at law. Nonconsensual romance isn’t romance — it’s criminal assault.

Defense of Self and Others. While there are a few pacifist libertarians (there’s a Quaker Libertarian group), almost all libertarians believe in a right to defend themselves, others, and the country.  

Libertarianism is a political position, about the importance of liberty. It is a movement that began to take modern form during the Enlightenment, while looking further back into the political writings of the Ancients. In this way, libertarians are part of a teaching of centuries, from millennia (long before the term ‘libertarian’ was coined.) 

Liberty for the libertarian is an individual liberty, and it is free individuals who thereafter assemble and associate as they choose. 

This political philosophy does not encompass all fields and pursuits (by its very nature, it is limited). Religion, philosophy, art, science, literature — all are, or should be, beyond a particular political teaching. 

Bleeding-Heart LibertariansThere’s more than one kind of libertarianism. Those called bleeding-heart libertarians are committed to a specific intellectual and moral project: to unite free-market teachings with social justice principles. John Tomasi’s Free Market Fairness explains this undertaking nicely (by referring to it as ‘market democracy’):

Market democracy combines the four ideas I just mentioned: (1) capitalistic economic freedoms as vital aspects of liberty, (2) society as a spontaneous order, (3) just and legitimate political institutions as acceptable to all who make their lives among them, (4) social justice as the ultimate standard of political evaluation.

Here is a simple way to begin thinking about this view: market democracy affirms capitalistic economic liberties as first-order requirements of social justice. Market democracy takes a fundamentally deliberative approach to the problem of political justification. It sees society as a fair system of social cooperation. Within such a society, citizens are committed to supporting political and economic institutions that their fellow citizens can join them in supporting, regardless of their particular social or economic status. Being “democratic” in this sense, market democracy affirms a robustly substantive conception of equality as a requirement of liberal justice.

Market democracy approaches social justice in an unusual way: signally, by affirming a powerful set of private economic liberties as among the basic rights of liberal citizens. Market democracy does not assert the importance of private economic liberty merely on instrumental grounds (for example, because such liberties are expected to lead to economic efficiency) or even from the idea that a society based on such liberties might satisfy some hoped-for distributional ideal (for example, as in the empirical claim that capitalism benefits the poor). Instead, market democracy affirms the moral importance of private economic liberty primarily on deliberative grounds: market democracy sees the affirmation of private economic liberty as a requirement of democratic legitimacy itself.

John Tomasi, Free Market Fairness  (2012).

(When Tomasi writes of a liberal tradition, he’s describing classical liberalism, not contemporary American categories of left and right.) 

It’s no simple task, as this amounts to reconciling positions traditionally viewed as in opposition to each other. The project amounts to an understanding that these seemingly contrary perspectives can (and should be) reconciled.

There’s much ignorant trolling in America these days, in which those with a little reading but a great deal of hubris hurl insult after insult, often misusing terms and concepts along the way. That approach is meant to impress, intimidate, or somehow deter. A low approach doesn’t work on those who both by nature and nurture approach these topics with sangfroid. Part of this is simply one’s nature. A mongoose does not prevail against a cobra because it’s a ‘better’ animal; it prevails because of a natural agility, thick coat, and immunity to snake venom. (Practice on a few snakes may, however, improve the mongoose’s technique, as does practice among humans in their own pursuits.) 

Whitewater. As I hold to libertarianism, and to a bleeding-heart libertarian project, it’s unsurprising that I should see limits on what public institutions in Whitewater (city, school district, or university) can accomplish on their own. The federal government, or the state government, could by spending enough undeniably transform a small town. (A government-directed transformation would not be wise, but for a small town it would be possible.)

In Whitewater, however, it should be obvious to reasonable observers that no local government effort, no work of any public institution, would now be enough to heal this beautiful city. Perhaps once, but no longer. A focus only on the proper limits of government in the city is necessary but insufficient. 

Necessary: the basic public offices and public goods of the city must be distributed equally. There is more work to be done on this front — this city belongs to all and yet none, so to speak. The persistent efforts of a few to help themselves to more, and place themselves at the front of the line for offices and public opportunities, demands consideration.

Yet more is needed: Work beyond government, however, is now critical for Whitewater’s future. 

I’ve written this way for years. Whitewater’s boosters in the Aughts squandered the city’s opportunities, and we’ve now fallen into socio-economic conditions that local government action alone cannot heal. The populists who’ve come along through the elephant graveyard, insatiable for a culture war no one will win, will prove even worse for Whitewater. 

The way to community health requires more than politics, commentary, or reporting. See from FREE WHITEWATER, What Ails, What Heals, Waiting for Whitewater’s Dorothy Day, Something Transcendent, and in the MeantimeAn Oasis Strategyand The Community Space

One argues over politics, in contemporary Whitewater especially, to clear the path for something more curative. 

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