The Value of Political Concepts

My former colleague Will Wilkinson writes:

It seems to me that most of our high-level political concepts like “freedom” or “equality” are tailored and tweaked to justify the kind of political regime we already tend to favor. If you are offended by taxation, you’ll settle on a conception of liberty according to which taxation is a violation. If you think a relatively high level of taxation is necessary to give people what you think they ought to get, you’ll settle on a conception of liberty according to which taxation is not a violation, but not giving people what you think they ought to get is. That’s why abstract political philosophy is so often futile. It’s probably more useful to start out arguing over regime types in the first place, since mostly what we do is choose our favorite regime type and then reason backwards to conceptions of liberty, equality, and so forth that justify our pick.

I seldom disagree with him, but I can’t say I’m convinced here.

First, yes, of course we tweak our concepts. That’s what philosophy has always done, at least in the West. That’s not a bug; that’s a job description.

Clear thinkers will be frank hereabouts and explain what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, which defects the untweaked concepts had, and how their adjustments give analytical clarity. Obfuscators will deny that they’re doing anything in particular. This is annoying, but at least it makes recognizing the obfuscators easy. The real question remains either way — after the tweaks, do we find a more coherent and reasonable picture of the world? Or is our account less realistic? Or even a total mess?

That’s a useful question, in part because it leaves open the possibility of falsification, if not always for the proponent of a theory, then at least for the audience. (Proponents — does this scare you? It should!) That philosophy may begin with reflexive affinities or intuitions is irrelevant, as long as this is where it ends. Which is also why philosophy is so often understood as a dialogue.

Brand Blanshard seems appropriate here:

Philosophy is not an attempt to excite or entertain; it is not an airing of one’s prejudices—the philosopher is supposed to have no prejudices; it is not an attempt to tell a story, or paint a picture, or to get anyone to do anything, or to make anyone like this and dislike that. It is, as James said, “a peculiarly stubborn effort to think clearly,” to find out by thinking what is true. Any person who has made this attempt with the seriousness which alone justifies writing about it knows what an austere business it is. He knows that his hopes and fears and likes and dislikes are to be rated philosophically at zero or worse, that they not only make no difference to the truth, but get in the way of his seeing it. Of course he has such feelings; he may well have become a philosopher precisely because he felt so strongly about these issues. But… he knows from inner experience how often and how easily the needle of the compass is deflected away from truth by the presence in its neighbourhood of egotism, impatience, or the desire to score off somebody; and he would feel like a charlatan if he used on others methods he would resist in his own thinking (“On Philosophical Style,” South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2009, p 13-14).

I’m not at all convinced that it improves things to “argue over regime types” without attempting abstract analytical clarity. If we start with regime types, we will start with all the important questions unexamined, their answers presumed or implicit, never to be looked at again. Very often we will find ourselves arguing past one another unless we venture into the forbidden territory.

My suspicion is that the result will look a lot less like political theory and a lot more like political practice—nearly the opposite of Blanshard’s description of philosophy. Seldom do theory and practice so poorly coincide as in politics, but whatever political theory’s faults, it’s definitely the winner.

Here’s an example, drawn also from Will’s post:

Generally, libertarians rely on a tendentiously loaded conception of coercion that simply stipulates that commonsense forms of emotional, psychological, and social coercion aren’t really coercive in the relevant sense. And then they tend to want to tack onto their conception of liberty [sic, though I presume he means “coercion,” as libertarians routinely condemn fraud and do not put it in with “liberty” at all] a notion of fraud that has no obvious connection at all to their narrowly-specified notion coercion.

Let’s leave aside the first bit for a moment, though it is important and should be addressed elsewhere. Is there a connection between coercion and fraud? Are there important reasons to treat them similarly? One might easily deny it, as Will just did.

I suspect, however, that the denial is easier in word than in deed. If Will were robbed of $1,000, or if he were cheated of $1,000, he would feel similarly wronged, and he would probably want at least a roughly similar punishment for the perpetrator in either case.

Is there a way to describe in words the likeness that I intuit here? There is! Physical coercion and fraud both defeat the will without convincing the intellect, as my friend Timothy Sandefur has pointed out. In other words, they are both impediments to reflective self-rule, and any political theory that values reflective self-rule is permitted to find them similar problems. This is why both are properly censured in libertarian political thought as well as in mainstream liberalism. While there remain many salient differences between force and fraud, the likeness is not imaginary or arbitrary, at least not any more so than are concepts like “will” and “intellect.”

We can have that debate too, but we don’t need to do it here.

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59 thoughts on “The Value of Political Concepts

  1. Interesting point Jason.

    I’m not at all convinced that it improves things to “argue over regime types” without attempting abstract analytical clarity. If we start with regime types, we will start with all the important questions unexamined, their answers presumed or implicit, never to be looked at again. Very often we will find ourselves arguing past one another unless we venture into the forbidden territory.

    On the one hand, I agree with you, and in a philosophically rigorous account, any discussion of political principles or regimes would need to originiate, as nearly all other philosophical discussions do, with an explanation of the epistemic assumptions being worked with.

    But on the otherhand, in the less philosophical realm of public debate, the kind that “townhalls” try to capture or at least pretend to produce, regimes does seem like a more practical starting point, at least with regard to rooting out certain biases early on.

    But this gets at a fundamental split between a lot of libertarians an small r republicans. And that’s the split between concerns over self-rule and concernes over individual liberty and autonamy. You might correct me on this point, but it seems to me that the libertarian position implicitly prioritizes the latter, liberty/autonamy, over the former, self-rule (though of course both are needed), while the debate structure Wilkinson is advocating depends on puting self-rule, e.g. the institutions and extent of legitimate rule, above conceptions of individual liberty.

    So though he’s trying to start from an apparently more neutral position, I think Wilkinson is still excluding anyone who sees government as secondary.

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  2. The problem, I think, with claims like Wilkinson’s–that concepts like “coercion” are really just rationalizations that we tailor to account for our preconceived conception of a good regime–is that, if we strip this claim of its pejorative sound, this is just a description of plain-vanilla induction and deduction. Whenever we think of any phenomenon in the natural world, we start out with our sense data and then try to account for these data in terms of concepts that we tailor to suit the world as we learn more about it. We start out with “this thing feels painful in a way that differs from the way that other thing feels,” and we call one “hot” and the other “cold.” Then as we learn more about the world we tailor our concepts of hot and cold to include such notions as the kinetic energy of molecules, and the effects of air pressure on the boiling of water, and so forth and so on. Eventually we end up with a pretty nuanced conception of “heat” that the oh-so-clever cynic might deride as simply a rationalization, rather than a carefully analyzed account of genuine phenomena. In exactly the same way, we encounter various forms of tyranny and oppression and compulsion in the real world–everything from chattel slavery to Nazi atrocities to the Individual Mandate and taxation–and we engage in a process of analysis and synthesis by which we arrive at a nuanced concept of “coercion.” The fact that it is nuanced is hardly evidence that there’s anything disingenuous about this concept, or that it’s “stirring the cosmos in hopes of making cheese” (to quote the godfather of this sort of critique, OW Holmes). Instead, it’s because the classical liberal concept of “coercion” is a hardy, well-tested, sophisticated account of the political world, that comes at the end of centuries of political philosophical work. No, that doesn’t prove that it’s RIGHT–but it does mean that it’s really unfair to say that this concept of coercion is “tendentiously loaded” or only “tacked together” to suit our desires. What truth there is in that accusation is shared by all concepts human beings possess–everything from the concept of “hot” to the concept of “liberty”–and the rest is simply unfair.

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    • Here you mix the time tested liberal conception of “coercion” with each individual’s own experience and natural development. How do we compare a concept that’s grown over centuries with the individual’s empirical basis which has only evolved over a few decades?

      It seems like there’s plenty of room for the concept, which was around longer than the individual and with much more intellectual force, to be more formative on their thinking than their own experience and self-reflection. Of course it’s some combination of the two, but the historical tradition seems to be the more forceful component.

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      • Right, Sandefur’s mistake is a bald empiricism, forgetting that these concepts are generally not built upon raw sense data, but upon social data, and even when they are built on sense data, that data is interpreted through a social (and otherwise conceptual) lens. Put simply, we approach the world with a stance, with an interest that… distorts it in particular ways. This is particularly true of abstract social concepts.

        All concepts have baggage. I think this is part of Wilkinson’s point. I have no dog in the libertarian ideas of fraud hunt, but since my adult life has pretty much been devoted to studying concepts, I had to chime in on that particular issue.

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            • I’ll add that in this case, “abstract” is doing most of the work. Fraud refers to a social relation, of course, but at a fairly abstract level, and concepts like freedom, liberty, and even coercion are even more abstract. This makes them particularly open to interpretation and manipulation. The same is true of abstract concepts that aren’t (necessarily) social, like “good” or “evil” or “true.”

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          • I guess I’m saying only individuals form concepts, the concepts might relate to politics or society as a whole, but the concepts are formed in individual minds. Just as there’s no social lens, only individual lens. Perhaps you could say through the lens of an individual considering concepts regarding society influenced by other individuals in the society which the individual lives. Society doesn’t receive sense data through a social lens, because “society” is a number of individuals, each with individual lens and concepts, not a conceptualizing entity.

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            • Well, that’s not really relevant to what I was saying — my point is simply that we, as individuals, don’t come to the world as blank slates, we’re interested parties with both a natural and a social/cultural history from the start — but it’s also untrue. I mean, I suppose it’s true in the sense that, unless you’re a mad neuroscientist of the future, you can’t physically plant a concept in my my neurons, and in the sense that my own experiences will shape my representation of a concept. Plus, the medium for concepts is the brain (though we can represent them outside of the brain), and only individuals have brains (unless you’re Andy Clark and David Chalmers, and I’m partial to their view, but that’s another topic). But language alone and the way it evolves over time show that individuals aren’t the only ones who create concepts, in the sense of shaping what they come to be once they’re in individuals’ minds. Concepts may start with individuals, but they get communicated, and altered, and taught, and retaught, and altered some more, by groups of people over time and over space. This is why it makes sense to say something like, “The 16th century English conception of insanity,” for example, because it refers to content that really wasn’t just confined to an individual or individuals.

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              • This is exactly the point, and the difficulty. Individuals acquire most of their perspectives, thought patterns, opinions in the way we acquire language, tastes, style; we absorb them from our environment, or we adapt ourselves (quite naturally) to the pressures of our environment. The examined life is characterized in part by the repeated discovery that some thought or attitude or opinion, even a cherished one or one that’s informed many decisions, was not arrived at through reason or even genuine reasonableness, and was not well thought out, at least not by us.

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                • You’re making the case for reason. Yes, it’s true, if people fail to develope their capacity to reason and think freely, then they fail to become fully human, and become more like automatons, pinballs in a pinball machine following the push and pull of those who do think, but never sure if what they follow is wise or ignorant. This is why it’s so important to use reason, and not simply pick a regime to follow because emotionally it appeals to you. You describe the problem, not the natural or permanent condition of humans.

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        • Or, to phrase it another way, physics is a mathematically rigorous discipline while political philosophy is not.

          Our concepts of “hot” and “cold” may have begun with naked sensory impressions and common interpretations, but the nuance they now possess is the result of centuries of hard science backed by provable math. Political conceptions of “liberty,” “coercion,” and “fraud” don’t share that same level of definition.

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    • if we strip this claim of its pejorative sound, this is just a description of plain-vanilla induction and deduction

      Well-stated. While I didn’t take the time to think it through that well, I, too, was startled by Wilkinson’s critique of the concept of coercion. Surely he’s not arguing for a non-nuanced understanding of the concept? Because, oddly, that’s exactly the critique leveled at libertarians by some liberals–that our concept of coercion is too blunt and unsophisticated, so that we are calling things coercion (implying illegitimacy) that, in their minds, really aren’t (e.g., taxes).

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  3. I think we need both to argue over regimes (by which I include policy preferences, but that does not seem to be what Mr. Wilkinson includes) and over founding concepts/first principles. The two often inform each other.

    If my concept of “liberty” tells me not to endorse a policy that I believe to be just, then something has to give: maybe my notion of liberty is too ill defined; maybe my preferred policy is not as just as I think it is; maybe other values are more important than “liberty,” however it is defined.

    I’m also interested in the “fraud=coercion” discussion. But I’m willing to wait until you post on that.

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    • What you describe sounds a lot like reflective equilibrium, which makes sense to me.

      As to fraud and coercion, I hadn’t planned to go into the similarities further. I’d actually suggested a post about why things like peer pressure aren’t properly considered coercive.

      But since you asked, I certainly wouldn’t say that fraud and coercion were exactly equivalent. Putting both together under the one term “coercion” rings false for a lot of people, and I can easily see why. Putting them both under the term “fraud” is no better, either.

      If it were up to me, I might suggest that there are similarities enough between them that we need a third, more expansive term to encompass them both — a genus of which they are both species. The fact that we lack a term for it doesn’t mean that there’s no there there.

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      • I think Wilkinson’s use of the word “fraud” is actually a lot simpler than this, though this question of all coercion being supported by a foundation of fraudulent/illegitimate interpersonal relations that suppress an inherent autonomy of individuals is interesting. I think he’s just saying that he feels that the libertarian assignment of some coercions to a realm of fraudulence and others to a realm of legitimacy is a matter of unsubstantiated personal predilection and thus meaningless.

        Personally, I see falseness-of-foundation rife all the way from the ground up: No one loves you as much as your mother; Blood is thicker than water; This is for your own good; All government is local; What’s good for GM is good for America; We fight for Freedom; We fight for God; Give peace a chance; Make love not war; Happy days are here again; Why do you support terrorism; Every little things gonna be all right. But I don’t think that all those things at every level that are only partially true are really frauds, i.e., intentional deceptions for gain or malice. Any system we live in we see only opaquely, perhaps not at all. “The void is to the Buddha as water to a fish, as air to a man: inconceivable.”

        I think Wilkinson is griping about the use of highly-abstract buzzwords as conversation stoppers, and shines the spotlight on their essential meaninglessness when used this way to turn political discourse into the coercion of reified conventionalized idealism.

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        • Wilkinson might not like the stoppers because they prevent fanciful notions to justify many forms of State coercion, but with peer pressure and jingoism and such, a person who prepares mentally can think past these pressures, and everyone has the responsibility to use the tool of reason to do so, but with fraud, it’s misrepresentation in order to beat someone out of something, to coerce something from you that reason can’t detect — with government, which has set itself up as public protectors, it’s something worse. When government misrepresents reality in order to perpetuate fraud, its a form of coercion, because even if reason suspects something’s wrong, there is little that can be done immediately — you can’t run and file a police report. In business, there are laws preventing fraud, and this is because it’s seen as theft, whether from the point of a gun or from purposeful behavior to steal something valuable — the result is something valuable stolen against your will. Wilkinson often plays these intellectual games to avoid realities he doesn’t like, but like Jason said, in reality, if you’re conned out of money you can’t afford to lose, you don’t have much use for intellectual games — you feel just as violated as if someone held your arms as another took your wallet, just not as immediately terrified.

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          • but with fraud, it’s misrepresentation in order to beat someone out of something, to coerce something from you that reason can’t detect

            If I misrepresent you as a good candidate for a sub-prime loan, surgery X, or drug Y, have I committed fraud? Do imbalances in people’s ability to reason make fraud a relative thing?

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            • If it’s proven to be purposefully fraudulent, then yes, misresentation to get a loan is a punishable offense.

              Whomever is misrepresenting is doctoring the paperwork and committing fraud, and those who trust the paperwork to be correct can’t determine the fraud through reason, only after the fact, or through investigation.

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            • “Do imbalances in people’s ability to reason make fraud a relative thing?”

              Everyone has the ability to reason, except those suffering from forms of mental illness, but fraud would be coercive, regardless. Where reason comes into play is when peer pressure and such are compared to fraud. Reason can defend a person from peer pressure or media bias or propaganda, so it distinguishes that kind of pressure from fraud which implies an intentional plan to gain something of value against the will of the victim, and if successful against the defense of reason. Pressure from like-minded groups of individuals is not the same as an intentional act of fraud which is designed to “steal” something undetected through clever misrepresentation. If a group of supposedly official individuals, or a media cabal, however, designed a campaign and pressured people to go along through clever misreprentation, and the design was to “steal” from victims, then I would call that coercion of a sort. I think fraud relates to coercion when the design of the activity is such as to gain something valuable from others through deception. If I tell you that you will be better off if you follow my ideas, I can make a strong case, but it’s your responsibility to use your capacity to reason to decide if my case is valid — if I plan a deceitful, clever scam, and I intentionally misrepresent the facts to steal something valuable or if I put a gun to your head, or even a toy gun that looks like a real gun, and demand your valuables, then this is quite different and falls into the realm of coercion. The law has to make a distinction even when it’s difficult to determine one from the other, but there is a difference.

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      • What you describe sounds a lot like reflective equilibrium, which makes sense to me.

        That’s why Will Wilkinson has a serious critique. To the extent that our notions of freedom/liberty (or other broad principles) are revised when they contradict our considered judgements about political regime types, our insistance on those particular conceptions of liberty and coercion begs the question in favour of our preferred regime types. The best that reflective equillibrium can do then is clarify and deepen our understanding of the underlying ideas of a particular regime type. If wee are to argue convincingly, one way of doing so would be to take your interlocuter’s premises seriously, or show why we shouldn’t

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        • If wee are to argue convincingly, one way of doing so would be to take your interlocuter’s premises seriously, or show why we shouldn’t.

          But then the serpent eats its tail, because this is exactly what he doesn’t want us to do! Premises, he says, are automatic and not subject to debate anyway.

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          • Premises, he says, are automatic and not subject to debate anyway.

            1. We can, to a large extent uses as few premises as possible, or even reduce everything to one massive premise.

            2. We can try to use shared premises as much as we can. I f we can argue for libertarianism while still thoroughly accepting liberals’ notion of liberty, we dont have to keep harping on the difference in the first place.

            3. Where it is the premises which are in dispute, instead of relying on our intuitions about the conclusions that follow from the premises, we could try to get a sense of what the terms mean. For example, when we talk about liberty, is negative liberty really different from positive liberty or is a negative liberty violation merely an instance of positive liberty being directly restricted by others?

            Premises are often subject to debate. It may be that some of our premises are unsupportable, but that just means that we have to be sceptical about those premises. For a very select few premises, we could adopt them on a situational basis (i.e. the Constructivist approach a la Rawls and Kant or the Classy Lewisian approach)

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    • Pierre:

      The two often inform each other.

      You seem to be rebutting WW by assertion.

      The argument, as I understood it, is that political philosophy is fundamentally post hoc. In other words, they assuredly do not “inform each other” because the regime preference causes the philosophical rationale for the regime.

      If WW is right, all your “concept of ‘liberty'” contributes is a little extra energy into a feedback loop.

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      • If I offer only an assertion to what Mr. Wilkinson (or Mr. Kuzinicki, for that matter) wrote, then it’s not much of a rebuttal. I did, however, try to offer an example of what I meant. Even that isn’t much of a rebuttal, but more of an illustration of what I was trying to say. I was describing, I think, an approach that I think is more useful than debating “which came first.”

        You do make a good point, of course. I’m not so sure that political philosophy is necessarily post hoc, but I am open to the possibility. I do think my “concept of liberty” might occasionally take on a life of its own and lead to conclusions that on the surface at least, contradict my regime or policy preference. (Of course, one can always say that adopting something consistent with one’s concept of liberty that I might not otherwise adopt actually functions as a ploy to legitimate the regime/policy preferences that my “concept of liberty” serves so well.)

        I hope I’m clear on what I mean. I have tendency not to be.

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        • Pierre:

          (Of course, one can always say that adopting something consistent with one’s concept of liberty that I might not otherwise adopt actually functions as a ploy to legitimate the regime/policy preferences that my “concept of liberty” serves so well.)

          Coises! Foiled again! I know for certain that I anticipated going there. But more importantly, I have a hunch that that’s where WW is going (or going to go in future arguments). There’s a fragrance of disillusionment to the quoted passage, disillusionment with First Principles as the engine of social or political improvement.

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        • Pierre:

          Let me juxtapose, almost comically, two pieces of evidence, first the Declaration of Independence, thenMississippi Secession Resolutions

          Although it seems as if “concepts” are the prevailing motives, a close reading reveals that it’s actually regime preference at work. Not that Jefferson wasn’t a sincere creature of the Enlightenment nor that the MS legislature wasn’t not honestly committed to states rights, it’s just clear from the text that the real things perpetrated in favor or opposed to a particular regime preference were the driving motive.

          Another way to look at it. Remove the regime preferences from those documents and what do you have? Pretty-sounding and unexceptional banalities that don’t really do anything. Remove the the concepts and what do you have? You still have texts of political force that would by themselves justify the actions taken, Independence and Secession respectively.

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          • Another way to look at it. Remove the regime preferences from those documents and what do you have? Pretty-sounding and unexceptional banalities that don’t really do anything.

            Heh heh. Ace illustration, Mr. Gillis. But I’ll have to meditate more on whether yr point holds outside the slamdunk of race/slavery, which is sui generis and perhaps merely a corollary of the reductio ad Hitlerum. Perhaps not all real-world issues are equally reducible to black-and-white, rationalization, and unintentionally cynical rhetoric.

            I still remain at least a little idealistic about idealism.

            “But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

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              • I’m open, Mr. Gillis: Slaveowner Jefferson penning the D of I is an irony not lost on anyone, least of all the wise Dr Johnson:

                “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?”

                Pls do expand yr argument. Of course there are exceptions, but I attribute such apparent hypocrisies less to rationalization or cynicism but to our feet of clay.

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                • Tom:

                  I don’t think hypocrisy is the issue. I said I thought the DoI’s concepts were a sincere expression and the MS legislature honestly believed their philosophy.

                  The Emancipation Proclamation enacts a regime preference while the Gettysburg Address expresses a concept. I just think in all three cases the regime preference is dominant and prior to the concept.

                  As a matter of fact, as I cogitate I come to realize that when concepts are dominant and prior to a regime preference, the more likely that regime is to be ineffective and inhumane.

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                  • I hear you, Mr. Gillis: run with it. That the rule is that rationalization and the resulting rhetoric are hollow comes as unshocking. I have no idealistic view of human nature. The Emancipation Proclamation is no human rights document; it only set slaves free in the Confederate states, not the ones loyal to the Union: Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware.

                    And the liberal democratic Weimar Republic was but a handful of years away from Nazism and its horrors. Same country, same people. I have no illusions about the innate goodness of man or men, nor an overarching objection to the overall rule about men and their perfidies that you propose here.

                    I do reserve the reservation that sometimes people not only say, see, but also do what is right. For these moments of brief sparkling moments of clarity and courage, I live. It is of these that history is made.

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  4. I think it’s an overreading of Wilkinson to say he’s looking to throw philosophical concepts over entirely. I think he’s just trying to temper and realize our view of their utility in an effort to improve the accuracy of our prevailing conceptual model of the ethical component of the real-life political realm. I think he’s also trying to be generous or even just fair to those who he thinks honestly care about the concept of freedom, for example, even though they conceive of it in a different way from him. People of many stripes, not just libertarians, will need to rely on some conception of ideas like freedom and welfare and so forth to make their political-philosophical systems work, systems which while imperfect from the perspective of the libertarian may nevertheless be roughly decent and just ones which we should prefer to have in good order than bereft of a working concept of liberty. Is the winning nature of political philosophy really just the end that important terms be defined so rigidly that one or a handful of political systems are defined into a category of anointed ones, while the rest, despite perhaps espousing a version of such concepts, are found not to uphold their right definitions and are denied claim to them? Is that the game that is it really paramount to play and win? If Wilkinson is saying he thinks not and is pleading instead for a bit more flexibility to allow such conflicting systems to coexist in the ideas space, then I applaud his intention.

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  5. Will might be equally offended by being robbed of $1,000 or being defrauded of $1,000. But would he be equally offended at being told, “you can’t join our club unless you spend $1,000 on X (membership, the right clothing, etc.)”?

    Because if the latter doesn’t offend him as much as the first two, then there does seem to be a basis for distinguishing “social coercion” from the other two.

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  6. Also, arguing over regimes types is only enlightening among libertarians if the conversation is centered on limited government of which it wouldn’t really matter which “regime” has majority control as long as they efficiently perform their limited roles of protection and dispute resolution in courts. The libertarian will know that if government has become unlimited any regime will be a coercive disaster for far too many people, and to be okay with a coercive regime which violates the rights of those you dislike is a shriveled, illiberal mindset that will eventually destroy everyone’s rights.

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    • Also, arguing over regimes types is only enlightening among libertarians if the conversation is centered on limited government of which it wouldn’t really matter which “regime” has majority control as long as they efficiently perform their limited roles of protection and dispute resolution in courts

      You’re more of a utopian thinker than anyone here, I think, and that’s saying something.

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          • Calling political philosophies utopian without making a case is an avoidance of the issues. I could dismiss the progressive agenda as utopian, but I prefer to address it head on and make the case for why it leads to results that hurt the middle class and the poor.

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            • Here and elsewhere you’ve essentially said that in your system, things will work so perfectly that a monkey could run the country and freedom, liberty, prosperity — it doesn’t matter who’s running the show, and what their philosophy of governance or even morality might be, because limited government by itself gives us the things listed above, and more. It’s not only utopian, but it’s insidiously controlling: only one political view will matter, any other is either irrelevant (because it has no effect) or pernicious (because it makes the system not work, if that is possible; if not, then they’re all irrelevant). I’ve heard of systems like this before.

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              • What a gross misreading of what I wrote. I specifically said the regime would be efficient governing within the constitutional limits placed on it — far from monkeys, but good try. You don’t want to debate — you want to spin, dismiss, warp and denigrate what you obviously have no intention of seriously considering..

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                • His point is correct though, in the general sense. The whole point of limited constitutional government, the kind of libertarian regime where interests counterbalance one another, is that it doesn’t matter who is in power or what people think because the confines of the system are full proof against excess and corruption.

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                  • No, they’re not failsafe, and that is why you choose an efficient regime which complies with the limitations. Nothing is failsafe. It’s a bogus argument, and the Founders said it will require diligence from the American people to maintain a limited government. What doesn’t matter, if the country has agreed on a limited government, is what types of statist interventions one prefers, as it is now when voters choose a regime — I made that clear.

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                    • But it is true that the choices are much easier, since you aren’t battling over the feeding trough. But, still, it always matter what type of people you have serving in government — you want honest, capable people who serve the public with honor and integrity — not monkeys like we presently have running the show.

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                    • Not failsafe, but it matters at lot less (the people, their morals, etc.)

                      “No, they’re not failsafe, and that is why you choose an efficient regime which complies with the limitations”

                      I’m confused, are you talking abot choosing the regime, or the people that will inhabit it?

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                    • I would prefer voting for the individual regardless of party, and this way you assure that all the best people are serving. But even if you were voting for one regime over the other, you’d vote for the regime with the most individuals in it who meet your criteria for government service. What is a “regime” without the individuals in it?

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                    • “Not failsafe, but it matters at lot less (the people, their morals, etc.)”

                      What the hell is this supposed to mean — I explained those things matter. You are just being ignorant now. Go along with your safe, closed system of thought — run along.

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                    • 1. The whole point of deciding on the regime is to determine the starting set-up. Will there even be popular elections. Will there be a legislature or only an exectuive? And so on.

                      2. I’m a bit confused. The point of, and I’m not attributing this to you, but rather to the philosophy that forms the basis for the position, of limiting rule is to prevent the particularities that arise from moment to moment, from breaking the system/doing harm.

                      The point of the Constitution and the limitations it places is precisely to prohibit momentary passions and momentary lapses in good leadership/virtuous character, from resulting in poor decisions/ruinous legislation.

                      The whole point against activist judges and legislating morality is to make government impervious (to whatever degree it is possible to do so) to lapses in good judgement.

                      I’m not arguing with you, I’m simply stating the advantages of a procedural/morally neutral/limited “regime.”

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  7. I discuss the same idea about political concepts and ideological slants all the time on my own blog. Someone told me once that, “no matter what a person believes, they can always justify their bullsh**.” Truer words were never spoken, especially as they relate to our politically polarized landscape.

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