Friday, December 05, 2008

On Empty Formalism

Libertarians claim to be interested in making people as free as possible. Motherhood and apple pie, you'd've thought; who has anything to say against people being free, after all? On the other hand, there's something pretty suspicious about appeals to values which no-one disagrees with. Why not just offer the moon on a stick along with that magic pony? It's not really 'all moral worlds contain loss', is it? donpaskini doesn't get it quite right here, when he says that "[i]t's not the arguments against libertarianism that are most devastating for its adherents, it's their own attempts to apply their beliefs to the real world", since running around waving your arms and shouting 'freedom! freedom!' is hardly really an argument. What really matters is what the libertarians mean when they run around waving their arms and shouting 'freedom! freedom!', and in the absence of anything else, it seems like the policies probably are what they mean. Freedom is having to apply to an unaccountable charity to get a licence to procreate, or being mugged because the police are busy raiding your house to check whether you're beating your kids. Your take-home lesson today: the plausibility of a general claim is the plausibility of its instances.