Friday, November 4, 2011

Libertarianism.org

The Cato Institute has a new project, a website called Libertarianism.org. The site describes itself thusly:
Libertarianism.org is a resource on the theory and history of liberty, broadly construed. Libertarianism takes many forms and the blogs, essays, and videos here explore them all. None of the views exAnd itpressed at Libertarianism.org should be taken to represent the position of the Cato Institute or its scholars.
And it also offers a simple description for what it means to be a libertarian:
LIBERTY. It’s a simple idea, but it’s also the linchpin of a complex system of values and practices: justice, prosperity, responsibility, toleration, cooperation, and peace. Many people believe that liberty is the core political value of modern civilization itself, the one that gives substance and form to all the other values of social life. THEY’RE CALLED LIBERTARIANS.
That's consistent with my views on what it means to be a libertarian, as well. In academia, libertarianism--like any other "ism"--has been subjected to extended analysis, leading to the formulation of different "schools" of libertarian thought. Wikipedia identifies some thirty-one forms of libertarianism. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (an excellent resource, by the way) breaks the concept down somewhat differently, but still presents a number of sub-divisions within libertarianism, proper. Conservative that I am, I agree with the Stanford article, insofar as so-called "left"-libertarianism forms are based on a supposition that is antithetical to libertarianism, in general--that there is some sort of initial universal ownership of all resources.

But setting most of this analysis, there are two forms of libertarianism that deserve closer inspection: consequentialist libertarianism and deontological libertarianism. The first holds that the promotion of liberty is, in and of itself, a good thing that cannot help but lead to greater prosperity and peace. The second holds that the initiation of force is always wrong, no matter the goal or results.

Within the realm of the private individual, there is no question that libertarianism--as a philosophy--dictates that no one can pursue their own goals by using force (or fraud) against others. But what of libertarianism in the realm of public policy? Can the government--acting as an agent for the citizenry--rightly initiate force? Ever? The issue is significant because think tanks like Cato are engaged in assessing, criticizing, and creating public policy. If the underlying ideological bases are intended to be sound, then the bases must be clearly explained.

I would suggest that this is something the Cato Institute needs to address, openly and matter-of-factly. The site lists various libertarian thinkers--like Milton Friedman, Nathaniel Brandon, and Ayn Rand--but fails to differentiate their quite divergent views on this issue. This is not to suggest that only some of these thinkers are "real" libertarians, nor is it to suggest that one of these two schools of thought is the "right" one. But it's a serious  issue. For me, anyway.

All that said, the new site looks really good, is easy to navigate, and will hopefully turn into a top-notch resource. Good work, Cato!


Cheers, all.

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