How much of a liberal was Kant?
When I first read A Theory of Justice (1971), around 1975, the two principles of justice (p60) seemed, at once, to be anarcho-liberal, even though Rawls was no witting anarchist but quite the contrary, he seemed to have loved the state.
As Rawls made a fuss about Kant I might have, back then, thought the same about Kant too, for treating all persons as ends in the first place and only as means with their permission, is indeed pristine liberalism: I do not want to use that ugly long word “libertarianism” very much here [or elsewhere] but I agree that liberalism since the 1880s has been taken over by statists, both the word and the movement too. So the longer ugly word has, maybe, proved useful but I still do not want to use it very often. Neo-liberalism did not all begin with J.A. Hobson, but he was in the first wave of the true neo-liberals or statists. Rawls wrote just as pristine liberalism was finally reviving.
[Far more on the metamorphosis from pristine to statist neo-liberalism, and indeed about Hobson, is due from me later on this blog, in the history section].
Oddly, it was only a few years back, about 2012, that the same thought did occur to me with Kant. That the pristine liberal idea has been the top idea since about 1750 with almost one and all has seemed clear to me since about 1970, though, even within the socialist movement! Clearly, most people feel that rival memes restrict the liberal idea, especially where the state is concerned. The state is clearly illiberal but most people feel we simply have to have a state so they accept it scotching liberty as a mere practical necessity. They effectively agree that the state can be licensed to kill, and to abuse people in many other ways too. They privilege politics on the idea that we simply have to be realistic.
The LA differs from common sense just being consistent with treating one and all as ends first of all whereas most others feel that we all need to be realistic about the state. To be realistic they overlook that the state is licensed to do many things that if done by the ordinary person would make that person a criminal. This privilege allows most to feel that the liberal idea is compatible with the state. This is where the LA disagrees with the general public. Most people do not vie their ethical ideas. They do not bother very much about possible clashes of ideas. But most people do realise that the pristine liberal idea applies fully when boy meets girl. They show a full knowledge of it there; maybe because literature and song has caused them to think a bit more about that sort of encounter.
A fond friend of mine sent me a copy of “TGIF: What Social Animals Owe to Each Other” by Sheldon Richman. He suggested to me that the article took a similar position to me on Kant and liberalism. Other pieces that have read of this author seem way too statist for my liking, even though I advocate toleration for statists on the idea that they most likely feel we must have the state, even if it is negative sum. They also might not realise how illiberal the state really is. Most people do not. So statists should be tolerated. Tolerance is maybe the chief liberal idea after all. Indeed, the LA is an alliance between anarcho-liberals and minimal statists. However, Richman has, hitherto, looked to me to be more like 1880s neo-liberal Rawls or Hobson than like a statist LA member.
I never did think much of common idea amongst many libertarians of the USA of reducing pristine liberalism to non-aggression. Illiberal acts like theft do not usually look like aggression, for example. But it does abuse those we steal from as it fails to treat them as ends but rather theft just ignores their property rights rather than being aggressive towards them. Moreover, reactive or defensive aggression might be perfectly liberal. Liberals are near pacifists, but not quite pacifists, as they reserve the right of self-defence. Richard Cobden got John Bright to renounce his Quaker, or Society of Friends, pacifism to embrace the liberal right of self-defence. Bright ran the risk of being expelled from the Friends when he did so, but they did not expel him in the event.
Below, I wish to discuss what Richman says. He begins with:
“If I were compelled to summarize the libertarian philosophy’s distinguishing feature while standing on one foot, I’d say the following: Every person owes it to all other persons not to aggress them. This is known as the nonaggression principle, or NAP.”
By contrast, I would say that liberalism stands for social liberty. Thomas Hobbes felt we had wild individual liberty in any case. Even if gaoled, whatever we do is either a means to some end or an end in itself. This does not exclude criminal behaviour. We always do have Hobbesian individual liberty.
By contrast, John Locke thought there was a natural law, that God made, which all humans could intuitively comprehend, though he feared most people were nevertheless still going to be sinners, that would get them to respect an equal liberty of one and all as being right, thus social liberty was this respecting of the liberty of all human beings, even if the ethics, theology and philosophy of Locke puts that meme in terms that might seem quite unreal to a modern atheist. Social liberty is just respecting the liberty of one and all.
But this liberty is not only just no proactive aggression, let alone no aggression at all. It is respect for any person as an end first of all. We need permission to use any person as a means, thus we have no liberal right to use anyone as a mere means without explicit consent from that person. NAP is not enough. But treating others as an end is enough. To that extent Kant, like Rawls, embraced the liberal principle, even if he did not see the clear-enough the ramifications.
“What is the nature of this obligation?
The first thing to notice is that it is unchosen. I never agreed not to aggress against others. Others never agreed not to aggress against me. So if I struck you and you objected, you would not accept as my defense, “I never agreed not to strike you.”
Even an explicit agreement rests on an unchosen obligation.”
Yes, we find rather than choose the moral law. Kant went back to Plato in realising that ethics was a matter of Form or of abstract memes. Many of his critics have thought that Form, or mere categories, were empty but we fill the space with guesses, and the guesses need to be coherent but observation is not applicable to ethics in the ordinary sense, thought the likes of J.S. Mil might plea that we do observe the results of our arithmetic, which in on par with ethics in this respect. The later Plato, thus his student Aristotle also, erred when they threw out the Forms completely instead of revising them towards being more realistic but the likes of Karl Popper and Roger Penrose have done well to revise them more realistically in the twentieth century.
Karl Popper is roughly right with his materialist realms of world one [W1] to do with matter, world two [W2] to do with mind and world three [W3] to do with memes or ideas, though we can add an immaterial realm that is prior to those, but that Popper might well have rejected, of facts, ethics, and the like that I would call world zero [W0]. This latter is not only metaphysical but ontological. Large brained animals may well intuit moral rules in this realm of W0 roughly as Locke imagined for this seems to be roughly what Locke was getting at with natural law, I would say but it was not created, it seems not to an atheist like me, anyway. But it is a realm that large brained animals are highly likely to discover. We create the means to realise what there is [W3] but not ever the facts [W0] nor what there is in matter or events [W1]. So Richman is right that the moral law is not chosen. Nor is moral pluralism even possible, as the backward Politically Correct [PC] adherents tend to assume.
Injustice is not material [W1] but it is finally a matter of right, if not ever quite of fact. We cannot make a science of ethics, as there is nothing that we can observe, or to experiment on, any more than there is in mathematics; both use only coherence for we cannot experiment nor observe. Moreover, we all do know the basics of morals as young children, in that we can repeat what is right or wrong, even if we do not quite adopt them as such. So no science of ethics ever was needed by the masses though lots of realisation or adoption of them is needed by very young children and even some adults. Ethics maybe only has the role in study of getting some questioning adults to see that what the small five years olds can usually repeat is adequate for society. Otherwise, ethics, that needs to be very simple to be practical at all, is way too simple to ever be a serious science. Any normal human being can guess the ethics content needed without instruction from others, though all are free to think they might abuse others by flouting what they are told is right and wrong. Socrates and Plato held that if ever anyone adopted those simple ideas as well as just guessing the content then they would, indeed could, do no wrong but Aristotle held that they both flouted mere common sense there and most have agreed with Aristotle on that ever since.
“Even an explicit agreement rests on an unchosen obligation. Let’s say you lent me five dollars, I refused to repay the loan, and when you demanded repayment, I said, “Why am I obligated to repay the money?” You would probably reply, “Because you agreed to repay me.” If I replied, “True, but when did I agree to abide by my agreements?,” what would you say? If you said that failure to repay constituted aggression, and I replied that I never agreed not to aggress against you, we’d be back where we started.”
Clearly, not repaying a loan has nothing to do with aggression and not agreeing to honour an agreement hardly implies a lack of agreement but rather it implies, at least, some agreement. Richman seems to be poor when he overlooks that.
“Of course this would point the way to absurdity — an infinite regress of agreements to keep my agreements. We would get nowhere. There has to be a starting point.”
But why do we need any beginning?
Ontology does not seem to need one, even if material events do. Different materials change in different degrees, but facts never do, though the longer a person lives, the more facts he will know about his own life to put in his autobiography, though most of us maybe think the actual mundane facts of our past is not going to be interesting enough aid us much to write a book that many others will ever want to read.
“If I were to ask, “Why do we owe it to others not to aggress against them,” what would you say? I presume some answer rooted in facts would be offered because the alternative would be to say this principle has no basis whatsoever, that it’s just a free-floating principle, like an iceberg. That would amount to saying the principle has no binding force. It’s just a whim, which might not be shared by others. In other words, if a non-libertarian demands to know why he is bound by the unchosen NAP, libertarians will have answers. Their answers will differ — some will be more robust than others — but they will have answers. At least I hope so.”
Richman has this bias in favour of grounding answers in facts or against mere assumptions but the sceptics refuted this backing up, or grounding, idea about 2500 years ago.
The sceptics saw that any observation creates only an assumption; as does any valid argument. Evidence can, in principle, refute but never quite back up any thesis.
This hardly means that our word means nothing. Richman looks confused there, as so many in the colleges are. Few, if any of us, look to ground a promise that we will do this or that in some justification beforehand. But justificationalists imagine all sorts of such unreal prerequisites.
A true anti-liberal might not be immediately impressed by any answer that a liberal can give as to why he cannot gratuitously attack others for fun, if ever he fully feels it is all right to begin with. But few actual people are that illiberal. The near ubiquitous golden rule, found in eastern authors, like Confucius, as well as in Christian and pre-Christian authors, will normally have some hold on almost anyone, anywhere.
However, George Bernard Shaw did have a pertinent criticism of the golden rule of “treating others as we would like to be treated ourselves” for we are all different. Indeed, a thug might accept that we treat each other others thuggishly but a lady might insist in all personal relations being ladylike but that is not that treating all persons as ends so much as two dysfunctional universal ways of treating others. But liberalism dodges the Politically Correct meme that there needs to be same treatment for one and all rather than holding that each person has liberty and is to be treated as a personal end. So the liberal principle is even better than the golden rule is. But the golden rule does ensure that we do not wontedly attack others as we want no one to wontedly attack us.
“Now if we have an unchosen obligation not to aggress against others and that obligation is rooted in certain facts, this raises a new question: Might the facts that impose the unchosen obligation not to aggress also impose other obligations? If one unchosen obligation can be shown to exist, why couldn’t the same foundation in which that one is rooted produce others?
To the question “Why do we owe it to others not to aggress against them,” I would respond along these lines: because we individually should treat other persons respectfully, that is, as ends in themselves and not merely as means to our own ends. But some libertarians would reject that as too broad because it seems to obligate us to more than just nonaggression. They might answer the question this way: “Because one may use force against another only in defense or retaliation against someone who initiated the use of force.” But this can’t be sufficient because it amounts to a circular argument: To say that one may use force only in response to aggression is in effect merely to restate the nonaggression principle. One shouldn’t aggress because one shouldn’t aggress. But the NAP can hardly justify itself.”
NAP, on the face of it, is completely pacifist for any defensive aggression is clearly aggression. The alternative to a circular argument is an invalid argument. We use logic as a test of coherence. We use observation as a test of truth. Neither ever can back nor build a thesis up, as the Sceptics of old rightly saw. Deduction tends to reduce valid content rather than to amplify by logic for valid logic is all downhill. Justification is the will of the wisp.
NAP is clearly an inept idea of what liberalism amounts to but Kant’s moral law idea, that Richman says he would answer as being liberalism, does gives us liberalism as it is, free of property or of the market, which both serve the liberal idea in our modern world very well but are not of its essence even though they do clearly both serve this liberal principle. Richman says Kant’s moral law justifies, in some way, but that looks like a mere figment of his imagination. It is the liberal idea rather than any justification of some sort, all of which are as imaginary as unicorns. Nor is such a silly imagined condition needed. That is just as well, as it is not available. But Richman lacks the wit to realise that.
However, Richman feels a justification is needed. He goes on:
“So we need a real justification for the NAP, and the one I’ve offered seems like a good start. The NAP is an implication of the obligation to treat persons respectfully, as ends and not merely as means. Of course this also requires justification. Why should we treat other persons respectfully?
NAP needs to be dumped rather than justified. Properly understood, it is a small part of liberalism, but on the face of it, NAP looks pacifist. Anyway justification never did exist. It is a mere superstition.
Kant’s moral law requires no justification; nor does any idea. Justification is mere whimsy. We should do the right thing as it is the right thing. But we can hear criticism as to why some might feel it to be the wrong thing instead. Such criticism should be welcome by any liberal propagandist. All ideas should be tested, as far as possible, by criticism.
Richman goes on:
“Many libertarians, though certainly not all, approach the question of just conduct — specifically, as it relates to the use of force — from egoistic considerations, such as those provided by Ayn Rand. They say we should never aggress against others because doing so would be contrary to our self-interest: the dishonesty required by a life of injustice would be psychologically damaging, and we’d eventually run out of victims.”
This is not so far from the golden rule, which is very common around the world. It is empathy rather than justification. Ayn Rand is hardly original in what she says. As John Hospers reported, she hated anything remotely like thought, and she was not even polite enough to read his book that he gave here on ethics. She longed only for flattery. She was lucky enough to get it in superabundance. There seems to be nothing else worth saying about her. Her books are hardly worth reading.
Richman goes on:
“Socrates and Plato saw a problem with the first part of this answer. If one could act unjustly toward others while appearing to be just, could unjust conduct serve one’s self-interest? Egoistic libertarians can be asked the same question. What if you could lead an unjust life with a guarantee of the appearance of justice? Must dishonesty be damaging? The same people who would say yes to that question, however, would also say that a person who spins a complicated web of lies to keep the Nazis from learning he is harboring Jews in his attic won’t suffer such damage. If that person can escape harm, why not the unjust liar? Saying that one set of lies is for a good cause doesn’t strike me as an adequate answer. How would a good cause save someone from the harm of “faking reality”?”
Apart from flouting the moral law, which we might not like to do, it is not clear that lying damages us, It does slightly abuse others, at least, maybe it might sometimes badly abuse them too, though there are also many so-called white lies that most seem to think are near-enough completely harmless.
“So it seems that a simple self-interest model doesn’t take us where we want to go: to the unchosen obligation to respect people’s freedom, or more broadly, to treat persons as ends and not merely as means. I would be a little uneasy if a libertarian told me that it is only his self-interest that prevents him from clubbing me on the noggin and making off with my wallet.”
Well, any liberal will usually want to respect social liberty as an end, ipso facto. It hardly matters why one embraces liberalism in the first place but the chief reason might be that it is the only coherent morality and that it might one day get explicit universal agreement, thereby solving problems that the state gives rise to like the problem of war.
“And yet, self-interest still might provide an answer. Roderick Long tackles this problem in his extended essay “Reason and Value: Aristotle versus Rand” (PDF). What Long shows, to my satisfaction at least, is that Rand’s notion of self-interest as expressed in her nonfiction essays is too flimsy to support the libertarian prohibition on aggression and the general injunction to treat people respectfully. To be more precise, Long shows that Rand’s explicit writings on ethics are a tangle of at least three different and inconsistent defenses for the nonaggression principle (one of them Kantian — how’s that for irony?).”
But this support, or the need for it, is all imaginary anyway, Long and Rickman are as backward as Rand was in that respect. The liberal principle does float free of any foundation, as does all other memes; including all those used in science. And liberalism is the respect for one and all, thus for their liberty rather than only about everyone being free from gratuitous aggression.
Richman now takes a detour into confusion:
“Before we get to this, however, we must invoke an important distinction that Long emphasizes: instrumental versus constitutive means to an end. An instrumental means is external to the end. A constitutive means is intrinsic to the end; we can’t imagine the end without it. Long uses the example of a man dressing up for evening out (where “dressing up” includes a necktie). Shopping for a tie is an instrumental means. Wearing the tie is a constitutive means — it is part of what we mean by “dressing up.” One can dress up without shopping for a tie, but one cannot dress up without wearing a tie.
We can look at justice, which includes respect for other persons’ rights, in both ways. Does respect for their rights serve our self-interest merely because we would earn good reputations and others will cooperate with us? (This is Thomas Hobbes’s position.) Or is respecting their rights also a constituent of living a good human life? The answer is crucial. In the first case, one’s self-interest could be served by acting unjustly so long as one could appear to be just. In the second case, one could not flourish by acting unjustly even if one could go undetected. As Socrates suggested, it is preferable to live justly with a reputation for injustice than to live unjustly with a reputation for justice.
Long shows that Rand has both instrumental and constitutive elements in her nonfiction writing on ethics; in some places she says a person’s goal should be survival, while in other places she speaks of survival “qua man.” It isn’t entirely clear whether individuals should aim at the longest possible life regardless of the type of life or at a particular type of life regardless of its length. (Her novels appear to take the latter position — suicide is even contemplated by heroic characters.) If it’s the first, then violating someone’s rights might occasionally be to one’s self-interest. Imagine that at 4 a.m. you pass an alley in a deserted part of town where a man is passed out and a hundred-dollar bill is sticking out of his pocket. The chances of getting caught are zero. Do you take the money? If not, why not? An instrumental model of justice should say to take the money. A constitutive model would not.”
Richman errs badly here for what idea of justice would ever endorse theft? Hobbes might say it is not just as there is no justice in a state of nature but he will not say it is actually just, or morally right, to abuse others in a state of nature. Richman as tied himself up with this irrelevant distinction between what is constitutive and what is instrumental and he has fallen into this muddle owing to a search for an impossible foundation that is not possibly available; or ever needed. Liberalism is clearly about our end of social liberty for all not about any instrumental means.
Richman then says:
“It might be said that a rational person acts on rational principles even if in particular cases his or her self-interest is not served.”
But here we are on about liberalism, not Hobbesian individual freedom, which has no need to respect others, but rather a social liberty with the ain to respect a similar liberty for one and all. Richman seems to forget that in his attempt to make some sense out of Roderick Long.
“But Long points out that such “rule egoism” ends up being no egoism at all, since the rule is followed regardless of its consequences. This approach is deontological, not teleological, as Rand would want it. So the reply is inadequate.”
Yes, liberalism is deontological but then the idea that utilitarianism describes another rival moral law is fanciful. Natural rights describes the same moral rules as does utilitarianism, as Joseph Priestley repeatedly pointed out in the eighteenth century; but his supposed epigone, Jeremy Bentham, lacked the wit to realise that when he went on about natural rights being nonsense on stilts. The difference was merely in the choice of words rather than in what the likes of Locke were referring to out in the world to by natural law. As Hobbes said, words are mere counters rather than actual money.
Many say they cannot find “the greatest happiness of the greatest number” in Priestley’s writings but Priestley may well have reached more people by talking than even he did by his many books. He was a one man eighteenth century open university.
“What are the grounds for accepting the constitutive model of virtue, including justice?”
There Richman goes again, looking for imaginary grounds, or foundations, when there can be no such thing. And there never were any such thing, as the sceptics made clear 2500 years ago.
Richman goes on:
“Turning to Aristotle, Long writes,
For Aristotle, a human being is essentially a logikon animal and a politikon animal.…
To be a rational animal is to be a language-using animal, a conversing animal, a discursive animal. And to live a human life is thus to live a life centered around discourse.”
If Aristotle held that reason required language then he merely over rated language.
Most thought is tacit.
Richman goes on:
“Our nature as logikon is thus closely allied with our nature as politikon. To be a politikon animal is not simply to be an animal that lives in groups or sets up governments; it is to cooperate with others on the basis of discourse about shared ends.…”
If Aristotle held that man was a political animal then he over-rated politics too. Most men have always been apathetic about both religion and politics.
Anyway, politics is about proactive coercion rather than free co-operation. Politics is intrinsically illiberal. It is anti-social rather than the social boon that Aristotle imagined that it was. The state needs to be cut out if all are to be treated as ends. If this cannot be quite done then it needs at least to be rolled back as much as is possible.
“Being politikon is for Aristotle an expression of being logikon; just as logikon animals naturally conduct their private affairs through reason rather than through unreflective passion, so they naturally conduct their common affairs through public discourse and rational persuasion, rather than through violence.…”
But all politics is about proactive coercion or government, if not open violence. Gratuitous coercion, that politics always involves, certainly risks open violence. Here Long, and Richman too, is overlooking that politics is always unfree, that it is about coercing others proactively or gratuitously, always about abusing people by ignoring that they are personal ends thus politics is intrinsically illiberal.
The two authors concerned here, Long and Richman, also hold that the passions are free of reason, and that is false too. They hold that reason is social, but that is never quite the case. We think as we die in an individual way, thought others usually do aid us in thought if not with dying. But even a great teacher cannot do the thinking for us entirely, no more than a good cook can usefully eat for us. Hobbes was right on the biological units of humanity for we are all individuals.
We discover and shape our passions though thought, for there is no thought-free passion that neglects how the world seems at any one time to the thinker, as the Stoics rightly saw back 2500 years ago.
Locke was roughly right when he said the natural law was for respecting the liberty of one and all and Kant that we should be all respected as personal ends rather than as mere means, as Richman rightly endorses,
“Thus, Long adds, “To violate the rights of others, then, is to lessen one’s humanity.… To trample on the rights of others is never in our self-interest, because well-being cannot [quoting Aristotle] ‘come about for those who rob and use force.’”
One’s goal is to flourish by achieving excellence in those things that make one human — Aristotle says that “the task of man is a certain life, and this an activity and actions of soul with logos.” One cannot flourish if one lives in a nonhuman way. If this sounds like Rand, it’s because her fictional characters understand it, even if her nonfiction essays do not express it unambiguously.
A truly human life, then, will be a life characterized by reason and intelligent cooperation. (Bees may cooperate after a fashion, but not on the basis of discourse about shared ends.) To a logikon animal, reason has value not only as an instrumental means to other goals but as an intrinsic and constitutive part of a fully human life; and the same holds true for cooperation. The logikon animal, insofar as it genuinely expresses logos, will not deal on cooperative terms with others merely because doing so makes others more likely to contribute instrumentally to the agent’s good; rather, the agent will see a life of cooperation with others as an essential part of his own good.
Aristotle’s book on friendship in the Nicomachean Ethics beautifully elaborates on this point. Long and Neera Badhwar’s article on Rand at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is also worth reading, especially the section on virtue, vice, and egoism.”
But Aristotle endorsed the city state, that was illiberal in its use of coercion. Ayn Rand thought she could have a state without taxation, but it is far from clear whether we ever can, and even about half of the LA membership might hold that anarchy is either impossible or undesirable but that the anarchist members are going the right way, even if they are deluded that we can ever get rid of the state entirely. The statist LAers tend to hold that liberalism is a mere ideal, that cannot be completely achieved, but that is still useful, as it is good to try to get as near to the liberal ideal as possible. They held that the smaller the state, or the lower that taxation is, the better. We might not get complete social liberty, but the nearer we got to it the better, those statist LAers may well hold. But they tend to thereby agree that the state, or that government itself, is intrinsically illiberal; that to govern people is thereby to scotch treating the governed as proper ends.
“If this is right, we owe respect to others’ humanity, via respect for their rights, because the activity manifesting that respect is a constituent of our own flourishing as logikon and politikon animals. We owe it to ourselves to owe it to others. This Aristotelian insight points to an interpersonal moral realm in which the basic interests of others meld in important ways with our own. “To the extent that we are logikon animals,” Long writes, “participation in a human community, together with a shared pursuit of the human good, is a constitutive part of a truly human life.”
But does this show that we owe anything more than nonaggression? It seems so. We abstain from aggressing against others because, as logikon and politikon animals, we flourish by engaging the humanity of other individuals. Clearly, abstaining from aggression is not the only way to engage their humanity, just as aggression is not the only way to deny their humanity. Thus these Aristotelian considerations entail the obligation to treat others respectfully broadly.”
Maybe, but there are also people who do not like company every much and liberalism allows them to refrain from joining in. To treat such people as ends we need to respect their liberal right to remain on their own. The scientist, Henry Cavendish, is an example of such an eccentric from the history of science. Cavendish was basically friendly but also very shy in that he hated company. He was always willing to lend out books but he would prefer not to meet to do it, so he arranged to put the book in a certain place at his home so the borrower could collect it at a later time without ever meeting him.
Richman goes on:
“One last question remains: Is this obligation broadly to treat other persons as ends and not merely as means a libertarian matter? It is, at least in this way: The obligation broadly to treat other persons as ends and not merely as means is validated by the same set of facts that validate the nonaggression principle.”
This looks like a mere delusion, as there is no process of validation of mere assumptions. We can test them by logic or observation as best as we can, but we are thereby testing for truth or coherence, that the assumptions must have prior to any test, rather than epistemologically promoting them by later work that we do on them in some way. So any achievement of truth is by mere assumption itself. We have no ability to promote any assumption by use in science or epistemology.
Later tests simply attempt to see if we have the truth. We cannot deny that, though it passes all tests, the assumption might still be false. As this might be so, we all do have the Popperian duty to always try to refute our own pet ideas.
We can get others to attempt this for us by entering into debate with them, where we usually return the favour by attempting to refute their ideas. No matter how eristic debaters argue, or how hostile they feel towards each other personally, the institutional aim of all debate is at the truth.
“Nonaggression is simply one application of respect. Thus a libertarian society in which people generally thought that nonaggression was all they owed others would be a society that should fear for its future viability qua libertarian society.”
Non-aggression is inept in many ways, and it is certainly not liberalism. Kant’s idea that Richman adopts by implication is, but note that Kant never saw it as such, no more than Rawls did his social contract version of it. It is way better at summing up the liberal idea than the non-aggression slogan, but no words exclude some misunderstanding. The cited slogan suggests pacifism but that is not meant by those who say it. They mean only no gratuitous aggression. The Kantian words are way clearer as well as way more comprehensive. They also show it is about people not about mere property, which is another all too common misunderstanding of the liberal idea.
Richman goes on:
“Finally, I’m sure libertarians do not have to be reminded that nonaggressive affronts against persons may be responded to only in nonaggressive ways. Neither governmental nor private force may be deployed to counter peaceful offenses. Why not? Because the rule of proportionality dictates that force may be used only to meet force. In other words, some obligations are enforceable and others are not.
(While thinking about this article, I profited mightily by conversations with Gary Chartier.)”
Richman is right to reject the misleading non-aggression meme in favour of the Kantian meme of treating of one and all as a personal end. Kant was far from being a consistent liberal, but he was, as were maybe most people since, or even before his day, to our own, a liberal of sorts but also way too tolerant of many illiberal ideas too, to further the liberal paradigm very much. Kant was no liberal propagandist. Toleration is maybe the chief liberal idea but it cannot viably tolerate the negation of social liberty much and still survive as such. It must try to insist that others are not abused but that is not only to have mores against gratuitous aggression but also no other abuse of people such as theft or cheating. So tolerance is a major liberal virtue, maybe even the chief liberal virtue, but it is not tolerant of illiberal activity if ever we can get rid of it.
Kant famously said that he would sooner see the world destroyed rather than to tell a lie. That was ironically not particularly honest of him! It was the sort of white lie that was sheer hyperbole, but did not seem to cheat anyone. What Kant would have most likely have seen as too extreme is to advocate, wittingly and openly, the sort of liberalism that the LA advocates but to do so is way less eccentric than the fuss he made, inconsistently, over mere lying.
All illiberal acts are not equal, as Richman says in his conclusion, for some are trivial but others may be as grave as murder. No nation-state has been unwise enough to outlaw lying, as far as I know, but all that I know of do outlaw murder. Kant would not have needed to be as extreme as he was about lying to be the sort of liberal propagandist that we badly need today to roll back the state. But Kant was no liberal propagandist. So, like most people, he held the liberal idea as a moral idea but he was not enthusiastic enough about it to advocate it as the solution to many problems that faced the people of his day, problems that still faces people today, as they are owing to the dysfunctional nature of the state. Like most people, Kant was basically liberal, but only in a passive way. However, his formulation of the moral law is clearer than the non-aggression slogan as a short way of presenting the liberal idea.