Ronald Dworkin has the distinct honor of being properly regarded as one of the greatest political philosophers and one of the greatest legal theorists of our time (all times). In this section of his Carnegie Council talk, he discusses equality as a political ideal and argues that no government is legitimate unless it meets two conditions: (1) that it treat its citizens with equal concern and (2) that it show equal respect for the dignity of its citizens as responsible self-authors. He argues that the theory of economic equality fails to solve this “system of simultaneous equations” and as such no government should try to actualize this ideal. He goes on to argue against the idea that whatever market distribution emerges can satisfy the condition that the government treat its citizens with equal concern. Dworkin’s theory of equality poses a challenge to traditional critics and defenders of egalitarianism and opens up fruitful ways to think about the degrees to which our polities do and can live up to this normative standard.
Jessica Flanigan takes on the question of whether a non-paternalistic case can be made for prohibiting voluntary slave contracts. She considers and rejects both Sam Freeman’s and Seana Shiffrin’s treatment of this issue. However, as I will point out she fails to justify her rejection of Freeman’s approach, and since I think Freeman provides a compelling case for prohibition I will present his argument.
Let me begin by demonstrating why Flanigan’s own approach fails to get her anything like a justification for banning permanent voluntary slave contracts. She argues that such contracts can be prohibited on the grounds that your present self is imposing an obligation on your future self that the future self, because the self has radically changed over a significant period of time, may not be willing to accept. In this way, your present self is effectively imposing a harmful obligation on a different person (radically different future self) and as such selling yourself into permanent slavery is as morally objectionable as selling another person into slavery. Read more »
I felt I would add mine. I want to draw a distinction between rights in rem and rights in personam.
Rights in rem and in personam
A right in rem is a right which imposes correlative duties on everyone (except, perhaps, those with a stronger right in rem). A right in personam is a right which imposes correlative duties on only one person (or more – it depends).
A contract is the best example of rights in personam. The rights under a contract are only enforceable against the other party to a contract. The best example of a right in rem is a property right. If I own X then I have a bundle of rights in X which binds everyone. I can exclude anyone from land I own. Read more »
The social justice libertarian can go further and argue that the property claims of the Great are illegitimate. Their claims are illegitimate because the coercion required to maintain them cannot be justified to the Small given that their well-being is substantially set back by a lack of basic food and healthcare.
Vallier is invoking the Rawlsian approach to political justification, which holds that “if a set of political and economic institutions is to be just and legitimate, those must be justifiable to the citizens who are to live within them.” (Tomasi, xiv) As Tomasi notes, and as Vallier’s argument reveals, “this deliberative… approach is closely connected to a further idea: the idea of social, or distributive, justice.”
I just began Tomasi’s book, Free Market Fairness, where part of his project consists in combining the deliberative approach to political justification with the two central ideas of classical liberalism: “(1) capitalistic economic freedoms are vital aspects of liberty, (2) society as a spontaneous order.” I look forward to figuring out and commenting on precisely how he achieves such a synthesis, but I’m also interested in investigating how libertarians and classical liberals approach the problem of political justification with the goal of seeing how far they actually are from Rawls and other theorists of the “high liberal” tradition.
My name is Rajiv and I am a second year law student at Cambridge University (in the UK). Jake made the great mistake of allowing me to spam his blog.
I will kick start with exposing a conceptual difficulty in standard libertarian thought. This difficulty and how to resolve it underlies my belief in classical liberalism. For this reason I think it is appropriate to start with it.
Almost all libertarians believe that individuals cannot have morally enforceable obligations imposed on them without their consent. This is sometimes explained by the principle of Self-Ownership (SO).
This idea is what explains libertarianism’s rejection of positive duties to assist others (at least insofar as they are enforceable). This, it is argued, explains our rejection of redistributive taxation and other forms of welfare programmes.
The difficulty for libertarians is that this idea is in tension with property rights (which we take to be sacrosanct). Here is how: a property right is an enforceable right to exclude others from a particular resource (call it X). Read more »
Sanjay Reddy, an Institute for New Economic Thinking grantee, argues that economics must return to its origins as a science of moral reasoning. Professor Reddy contends that the public’s recent loss of faith in the economics profession, owing to their inability to help us avoid the great economic crisis, indicates the incredible need for economists to join the public in engaging in rigorous debates about what society’s guiding values should be. More importantly, Professor Reddy argues that technical economic research can only be coherent and succeed if it is grounded in a robust and well-articulated evaluative framework. In the absence of critical reflection on the underlying values informing economic inquiries, technical debates are bound to run aground and thus such reflection is essential to producing good research. Reddy first came to this position not as a philosopher of social science, but as an applied researcher working on the economics of poverty. The genius of Professor Reddy’s argument is that he is not merely recommending that economists conduct their investigations on the basis of an evaluative framework, but that economists have all along and always will be thinking on the basis of value judgments and presuppositions. Hence, Reddy is explaining to economists how to better do what they’ve been doing all along, rather than imploring them to do something that is foreign to their science.
John Tomasi is one of the most innovative political theorists in the field today, a distinction he has earned by attempting to reconcile the right and left-wing camps of liberalism. His latest work, Free-Market Fairness is a sustained, rigorous and compelling effort at such a synthesis. On his view, we do not have to choose between a commitment to social justice and private economic liberty, or between capitalism and democracy; rather, we can reasonably, and in fact we must, commit ourselves to the variety of normative ideals upheld by these two warring schools of liberal thought. Professor Tomasi’s project’s profound importance owes precisely to the fact that members of these respective traditions have for so long defined themselves in opposition to each other on the level of metaphysics and ethics. The video posted below provides a brief synopsis of the central claims Professor Tomasi makes in his book, Free-Market Fairness, which was recently released by Princeton University Press.
Here is a description Tomasi has given of the divide that currently exists between libertarians/classical liberals and what he calls, high liberals: Read more »