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The Precarious State of Liberty in the USA

What is the state of liberty in the USA?

An answer to this question requires that we know what liberty is, and here is the problem, because the word “liberty” is taken to mean different things. The prevailing intellectual culture is becoming more and more convinced that concepts like liberty do not have any reference in reality. Rather, they are just expressions of various ideologies. Indeed, even among some contemporary libertarians, the very idea that to be is to be something—that beings have a nature, including even human beings—is more and more suspect, and hence the whole idea that individual human beings might have basic, negative natural rights to life, liberty, and property is not seen as a viable intellectual option.

Now my own work with Douglas Den Uyl—for example, Norms of Liberty and The Perfectionist Turn—has been and continues to be a defense of not only these natural rights, but the ontological and epistemological realism that supports them. Constructivism and conceptual pragmatism are our current targets, which are, more or less, the Anglo-American expression of what on the European continent often becomes what is called post-modernism. We defend realism and critique constructivism and conceptual pragmatism in our forthcoming book, The Realist Turn.

The defense of liberty as classical liberalism or libertarianism understands it is very much in intellectual disarray, because the appeal to a reality that is both the source and standard for truth has been rejected by many philosophical schools to which many contemporary classical liberals and libertarians adhere—such as constructivism and conceptual pragmatism. Further, many classical liberals and libertarians act as if metaphysics is not important, but they do so at their intellectual peril. As I think of it, that peril may turn out to be not only intellectual. For if there is no basis in reality that supports their championing of liberty, and if such a view does not comport to the demands of so-called public reason, then not only are classical liberals or libertarians without intellectual support but they are also seen as a threat to the prevailing Zeitgeist. Indeed, they are candidates to be shouted down or possibly silenced.

Yet, there is also here a second point that should concern free-market economists. Economics is simply being ignored by many thinkers, and, of course, by politicians, because there is no nature to human action for economics to describe and hence no laws of economics that capture natural necessities. The alleged negative effects of regulations, such as minimum wage law or tariffs, are not seen as anything that must result. Rather, economic laws are only intellectual constructions that derive their necessity and cogency from themselves and not from the real world. They do not describe “facts” to which public policy must conform. Instead, they are seen as a projection of a neo-liberal ideology that is really nothing more than a disguise for the rich and politically powerful. To put it crudely, and in classical Marxian language, economists are seen just as apologists for certain class interests.

The sociological and political scene is no better in the USA. Since the “Great Recession” and Obama’s election, there has been a rising tide of government control of not only greater parts of economic life, but also greater parts of social life. Social justice warriors have been about calling for the dismantling of organizations and structures that do not meet their conceptions of equality, and those who oppose such dismantling often have been labeled as racists. It might be difficult to recall at this time, but it should not be forgotten that the Obama years led to greater calls to remake the attitudes and practices of ordinary, hard-working Americans. Freedom of association, which includes the freedom of disassociation, has been subjected to greater and greater regulatory control.

Not surprisingly, as Stephen Davies has noted, many folks in the USA have not only found their economic way of life threatened by the so-called advocates of social justice but also the very activities that constitute their way of living and identity. And this is, for sure, a large part of Trump’s success, for he has tapped into a growing sense of frustration by many that their social institutions and habits are threatened by a government that not only regulates them more and more but gives folks no recourse when aliens challenge institutions crucial to their very identity.

Trump is the result of Obama. He is the right-wing response to the left-wing push of the Obama years, and Trump, like Obama, has very little concern for what classical liberals mean by liberty or what free-market economists teach. If state coercion can be used to advance that agenda and interests of one group in society against other groups, then it should not be be surprising to see such power used to advance the agenda and interests of opposing groups when they gain power.

Further, the Democratic Party has now taken the label once usually applied to the Republican Party. They are the stupid party—or at least so far—because they continue to offer candidates that want to double down on the Obama years and continue the practice of rooting out institutions and indeed histories that do not fulfill their view of social justice. Hence, unless there is a serious economic downturn—and there may be—I would bet that Trump will be reelected next year.

Trump’s possible reelection in and of itself does not bother me as much as what I perceive as the lack of intellectual ability and moral courage to challenge the rising tide of left- and right-wing collectivism in the USA. As noted at the beginning of these remarks, this seems to be due to an ever-growing sense that truth is merely intersubjective agreement and that what brings about such agreement is the consolidation of economic and political power. We are threatened more and more by a relativism that provides no checks or standards. It is an acid that not only destroys our ability to provide reasons for what is true and what needs to be done, but it also destroys our very confidence in finding answers or indeed in even thinking that anything is worth the struggle.

Power corrupts, and when there is no real standard by which it can be controlled, then it becomes absolute power that will corrupt absolutely.

I think this challenge can be met, but it seems that we do not have much time.

Reader Discussion

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on August 27, 2019 at 10:24:59 am

Truth is intersubjective agreement, but not "merely" intersubjective agreement. Truths are either revealed or reasoned. Many persons throughout history have claimed to be in possession of the former, but unless significant numbers of others accept it, it is not accounted a truth. Reasoned truths contain two parts: premises and conclusions. The manner of reasoning from the one to the other is widely accounted to be a more objective standard, one not as susceptible to refutation by disagreement (although lately our progressives are doing their utmost to refute politically the scientific reasoning that has prevailed for 300+ years). But the premises, axioms, are the last turtles of "turtles all the way down." Aristotle said that an axiom is that which cannot be demonstrated. Premises are not reasoned to. The truth of a premise cannot be of the same order as the truth of a conclusion. As The late Reiner Schurmann, himself a Dominican priest, said in Broken Hegemonies that axioms can only be established by intersubjective (not his word) agreement. That does not mean that any axiom on which 3 people agree is therefore entitled to the same consideration as any other axiom agreed on by 3 or 3 billion. We constantly dispute our premises; that is just what is happening right now in Western societies. Classical liberalism must be made the subject of greater intersubjective agreement (again). That means some people have to so make it. It needs constant championing and re-assertion, especially by political officeholders who lately are in the grip of the same anti-liberalism championed most notably by the "squad."

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QET
on August 27, 2019 at 11:03:54 am

I think I grasp libertarianism, and thus can understand some of these comments from that perspective. But I sense Rasmussen seeks to go beyond (or beneath) libertarianism--and there he loses me. My reading list runneth over right now. Any chance of getting a Cliff Notes version of Rasmussen's thesis?

To start, I often hear the term Aristotelian used to describe categorical thinking. I sense Rasmussen uses the term to focus on some other aspect of Aristotle's work. Could he clarify?

Does Rasmussen find "natural rights" theory persuasive? Or merely an assumption required to arrive at a desirable, not-law-of-the-jungle conclusion?

Can we make optimal trade-offs between negative rights? Taxation intrudes upon my right to be left alone--but taxation may finance a police department which may defend my right to be left alone. Does Rasmussen's philosophy recognize the "relativity" of negative rights?

I understand that social contract theory seeks to reconcile human liberty with governance. And I understand that Rasmussen's philosophy has no use for social contract theory. I would like to hear more about that.

Civil rights--imposing sanctions on people who engage in undue discrimination in hiring, providing housing, or providing public accommodations--intrude upon negative rights. Does Rasmussen oppose civil rights? Can he identify better means to achieve the goals of civil rights--and remedy the harms of governmental discrimination--than civil rights laws?

Thanks!

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nobody.really
on August 27, 2019 at 11:23:01 am

There is much in this comment with which I agree—especially the implication that not all knowing is discursive— but nothing in this comment shows that truth is intersubjective agreement. Indeed, such a view does not suffice, because it is possible for all of us to believe that “S is P” and yet we can all be wrong. Our basic goal should not be to get folks to believe what we believe, but for us to get our beliefs in line with reality. There is something bigger than ourselves. As Roger Trigg in REALITY AT RISK has noted:
It is a paradox that man can demand the centre stage, insisting that everything
should depend on him, and yet in the end find that in doing so he has lost his ra-
tionality and his freedom. Realism takes the possibility of error and ignorance
seriously, but it also gives men the chance of notable success in extending the
range of their understanding. It gives them something to reason about, while
acknowledging that they are free to make mistakes

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Douglas B. Rasmussen
on August 27, 2019 at 11:46:10 am

1. I suggest that you take a look at the works by Den Uyl and myself mentioned in the essay re the topic of natural rights. Also, the earlier work, LIBERTY AND NATURE, is relevant. I am sorry, but I cannot engage is an account and defense of natural rights in this forum. It is much too involved.
2. I am not sure if I get the point about Aristotelianism and categorical thinking. The only thing that comes to mind is that one cannot successfully translate an “A” proposition into a hypothetical one when it comes to understanding the square of opposition. But I am not sure how that relates to what I have said.
3. There is a difference between procedural and substantive social contract theory. The latter holds that moral truth is is itself the result of agreement, and this is most problematic. The latter does not claim that agreement is the source of moral truth, but instead tries to provide a narrative as to how the political/legal order might come about based on certain moral truths, e.g., natural rights. The former looks like Hobbes, the latter looks like Locke.
4. Before we answer what matters of morality are to be the concern of the political/legal order, we must first determine what is basis for moving from (A) “ X-ing is morally right (or wrong) and ought (or ought not) to be done” to (B) “X-ing ought to be legally required (or prohibited).” (A) and (B) are not semantically equivalent; and the truth of (A) by itself does not imply the truth of (B).

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Douglas Rasmussen
on August 27, 2019 at 12:26:12 pm

I think your conception of realism confuses fact and truth. Maybe I am just mincing words, but in one of the most famous examples of near-universal agreement that S is P that turned out to be wrong--that the Sun, stars and planets revolve around the Earth--I would not call the movements of heavenly bodies truth, but fact. Whether capitalism is a better system than socialism, however, is a matter for intersubjective agreement on the premises reasoned from, with no means to demonstrate the truth of one set of premises. You refer to reality in your article not in terms of physical nature but in terms of politics. I just don't see how one can escape the tautological nature of a concept such as liberty. Alternatively, we might expand our concept of reality to include, when discussing political behavior, things intersubjectively agreed on, because in politics when I am confronted with a widely agreed premise, or even a widely agreed conclusion though I may be able to show errors in the reasoning leading to that conclusion, these constitute part of the reality I must contend with.

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QET
on August 27, 2019 at 12:58:57 pm

Understanding the nature of truth has many facets, but for my purposes in this context I mean what Aristotle meant—namely, that to say of what is, that it is, and of what is not, that it is not. So, it is the proposition or statement, “S is P,” that is true or false. The locution “it is a fact that such and such is the case” is but another way of saying that it is true. I don’t think there is much gained by going down this road of distinguishing fact from truth. But now I see that the real source of your complaint is that you do not think that moral realism—particularly one that is based on the nature of human beings—can work. You are not alone in thinking this, but I am not alone in thinking that moral realism of a certain kind is indeed true. All I can say now is that you might want to look at the two works by Den Uyl and myself mentioned in the essay. We explicitly consider and defend natural rights and moral realism (of a certain sort) there. Thanks.

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Douglas Rasmussen
on August 27, 2019 at 13:02:19 pm

1. The topic of natural rights is much too involved for me to launch into an account and defense of them in this forum. Please see the following works by Den Uyl and myself: THE PERFECTIONIST TURN; NORMS OF LIBERTY; and LIBERTY AND NATURE.
2. I am not sure what is meant by the reference to Aristotelianism and categorical thinking. The only thing I can think of is that the “A” proposition in the square of opposition should not be translated into an hypothetical proposition. But I am not sure how this is relevant to anything I have said.
3. There are two ways of understanding social contract theory: procedurally and substantively. The latter holds that moral truth is itself the result of agreement, but this is of course a most problematic claim. The latter holds that social contract theory only provides a narrative as to how a political/legal order might implement some moral truths, e.g., natural rights. The latter is much like Hobbes; and the former is much like Locke. I endorse Locke.
4. Before one tries to answer what matters of morality are to be the concern of the law, it is vital to ask what justifies the move from (A) “X-ing is right (or wrong) and ought (or ought not) to be done” to (B) “X-ing ought to be legally required (or prohibited).” (A) is not semantically equivalent to (B), and the truth of (A) by itself does not justify the truth of (B).
5. Considering the question in 4 is the entry way to an understanding of and justification for basic, negative natural rights to life, liberty, and property. Yet, as already said, take a look at the works by Den Uyl and myself on this issue.
Thanks.

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Douglas Rasmussen
on August 27, 2019 at 13:37:42 pm

Thanks for the reply.

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nobody.really
on August 27, 2019 at 15:14:17 pm

Facts are proven truths; so they are a proper subclass of truths. Truths, as Rasmussen correctly says quoting Aristotle, are statements that say of [some part of] what is that it is. Whether there is general agreement is irrelevant. Once virtually unanimous agreement that the earth was flat turned out to be mistaken; then as now , the earth was more or less round. People believed otherwise, but their belief was false. In general, belief, whether shared or not, is irrelevant to truth, as is proof. That the star Betelgeuse has planets is either true or false, but I know no proof of either alternative, so believe that neither is a fact. A more inclusive name for proven truths is knowledge; facts are known truths. Facts on which there is general agreement because they were discovered by observation are sometimes called data and constitute the premises of scientific reasoning. But reasoning does not make these facts true, and neither does unquestioning belief.

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Max Hocutt
on August 27, 2019 at 15:55:57 pm

that to say of what is, that it is,

The second part seems trivial. I say of a unicorn that it is. Why is that not truth? Because the determination that it is must necessarily precede saying what (it) is. I can't say what is until I know that it is. And once I know that it is, saying so adds little or nothing to my knowledge. The interesting part is, how did I come to know what it is?

And by what criteria is "what is" determined if not by intersubjective agreement? The least common intersubjective denominator is one subject (which per Schopenhauer could even be just one insect). If a tree falls in the forest. . . . . The truth of the sound cannot be established without at least one subject present, who must agree with himself that it made a sound. If there are only two people present and one lacks the sense of hearing, how is the truth of the sound to be established between them?

Aristotle's definition that you rely on is a mere tautology, and gives no guidance to the question of "what is."

But again, applying this sort of definition to natural phenomena is (mostly) straightforward and non-controversial. Rasmussen's piece, though, deals with political phenomena, and really I can't see an obvious application of Aristotle's definition to such phenomena.

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QET
on August 27, 2019 at 16:07:04 pm

A few libertarian thoughts:

1. An intellectual rabbit who regards a hawk as a social construct is likely to come to a different end than is a rabbit whose impression of hawks is more instinctive. In the absence of hawks, or other predators, the former bunny may indulge in various theories and ideals about equality, and justice, and safety. Because his physical safety is not threatened by predators, he has the luxury of claiming his safety is compromised by things that may otherwise provide protection from predators. But reality shows up in the form of the hawk, and the bill for such indulgences comes due. Professor Rasmussen identifies the essential "truth" with his use of the word "peril." Perils exist in reality, stubbornly resistant to eradication by wishful thinking or ideology. When these perils seem remote, people indulge in the fantasy that they can be ignored, and Mr. Rasmussen's sentence "The prevailing intellectual culture is becoming more and more convinced that concepts like liberty do not have any reference in reality" may be altered to read "The prevailing intellectual culture is becoming impatient that concepts like liberty do not have any reference in wants. "

There is once concept lurking in the notion of peril that is recognized by pragmatists, ideologues, Burkeans, Marxists, social justice warriors, libertarians, etc. It is in fact the one concept the fact and truth of which are not controverted. This is the concept of power. The hawk imperils the rabbit because the hawk has certain power. Power is the ultimate end of modeling truth an d reality in particular ways, The penultimate paragraph of Professor Rasmussen's essay seems to confirm this.

2.) Are the following propositions equivalent?
a.) I know A is true, so I will behave as though A is true.
b.) I believe A is true, so I will behave as though A is true.
c.) I hope A is true, so I will behave as though A is true.
d.) I demand that A be true, so I will behave as tough A true.
With regard to the consequent behavior, the objective truth of the proposition that A is true does not seem to be essential. However if A is not true, i.e. does not conform to nature, the consequences of such error are insensitive to the reason for which A is treated as true. If natural law, and natural rights, etc. exist, it is because there are natural consequences to behaviors, which may be ascertained by reason, experience, foolhardiness or bad luck.

3.) The social justice enterprise is not based on altering reality, it is based on reallocating power. The social justice warrior does not deny the existence of, specifically the immutable truth of power, but instead attempts to redirect it by altering the way we think about it. To do this, they redefine words such as "safety," "equality," "hate," and "violence." They do not deny that nature contains such phenomena, nor that such are not "socially constructed." To the contrary, they are taken as natural consequences of how power is allocated, and attempt to redefine them in advantageous ways to facilitate transfers of power from one interest to another. They have the luxury to this because western civilization has largely mitigated the natural perils (e.g. famine, plague, wars of annihilation, etc.) that required more efficient delegations of power.

So, as a self-professed libertarian, I do not deny the existence of natural consequences for particular decisions or actions. I perceive that the the constant struggles for power have the potential to imperil liberty, with disastrous consequences that cannot be wished, legislated or defined away. I recognize that the current fashion of redefining terms that describe immutable natural phenomena so that they can be used for ideological discourse is fallacious and dangerous.

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z9z99
on August 27, 2019 at 16:13:25 pm

Yes, Aristotle's definition is a tautology; all correct definitions are tautologies.
Yes, a definition of truth is not a criterion, or test, of truth; it is not meant to be. Saying what truth is is not saying what is true, or how to determine what is true. That is a separate question. Thus Tarski's semantic theory of truth says, like Aristotle's, that "p is true = p." What is p? It doesn't matter. It is true that the moon is green cheese = the moon is green cheese. Does that tell you that the moon is green cheese? Of course not. It tells you what it means to declare the statement "The moon is green cheese" to be true, which was the question at issue. Your error is called a use-mention fallacy.

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Max Hocutt
on August 27, 2019 at 16:26:49 pm

Precarious?

In the United States:

The question of the "State of Liberty" might be better examined as:

What are the constraints on individual conduct and from what sources do the arise (or - are derived)?

Liberty like rights exists only in a group (sociality - aggregation of individuals) context, but it describes the conditions among, and relationships of, members therein.

That does not mean that individual Liberty and "Rights" are the same, or necessarily intertwined; although each require the recognition, acceptance and performance of obligations of members of a group to one another - AND, those obligations carry with them constraints on the conduct of the obligated.

In the U.S., massive, extensive and intensive obligations are imposed by legislation and through the use of the judicial system to attain economic, social and political objectives. The obligations require or spawn constraints on conduct (whether by prohibitions or by action requirements). Some defense or mitigation has been found in collective formats, usually to the detriment of individual status; but seldom permanent; almost never totally effective - always vulnerable to other "group interests."

We have a massive Administrative State based entirely on constraining and directing conduct, fundamentally in collective forms. Its very existence and continuing penetrations is demonstrative of the state of Liberty in the U. S..

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R Richard Schweitzer
on August 27, 2019 at 16:37:19 pm

Hm. Not bad. I largely share this view.

However, I don't conclude that progressives are uniquely prone to motivated reasoning. I find motivated reasoning among people of all ideological persuasions--and in all eras. So I find little new here, except perhaps that certain previously ignored groups now have the opportunity to express their own motivated reasoning in a public forum.

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nobody.really
on August 27, 2019 at 16:55:31 pm

They have the luxury to this because western civilization has largely mitigated the natural perils (e.g. famine, plague, wars of annihilation, etc.) that required more efficient delegations of power.

An excellent, and important, observation. There is a scene in Interstellar where one of the astronauts starts having a bit of an emotional breakdown because he realizes he is zillions of miles from home and the only thing separating and protecting him from the Infinite Void is a thin layer of metal. The social justice troupe has the luxury because processes and institutions established under that historical, more efficient allocation of power continue to operate, shielding them from the ravages of anti-capitalism and anti-liberalism (for want of a better description) and turning our coastal urban areas and especially university campuses into so many giant playgrounds for their amusement.

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QET
on August 27, 2019 at 17:08:18 pm

"However, I don’t conclude that progressives are uniquely prone to motivated reasoning."

I don't either. I cited the example of social justice warriors because their activism is more prominent at the moment. I think a reasonable non-progressive example is the second chapter of Mein Kampf, not for its theoretical discourse, which is nutty, but for its practical example of how Hitler was able to manipulate certain prevailing grievances and attitudes to his advantage, and thus, acquire power. Likewise, the principle that the reality of power over-rides even the most ardently held ideology can be found in the-ice axe in Trotsky's skull. I would argue that the reasoning behind this result was not that Trotsky was insufficiently "progressive."

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z9z99
on August 27, 2019 at 20:18:49 pm

"there has been a rising tide of government control of not only greater parts of economic life, but also greater parts of social life";

yes, we have seen calls for near complete control of student life. Forced busing, starting class before 9am, school uniforms, see-through backpacks, banning fattening school lunches, requiring people to take "electives" and go to assemblies and graduation ceremonies, etc.

You name it, parents want to control it. And kids get so used to being controlled that they want to control their neighbors.

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Charlie Browniest
on August 27, 2019 at 21:11:42 pm

nobody.really: Civil rights–imposing sanctions on people who engage in undue discrimination in hiring, providing housing, or providing public accommodations–intrude upon negative rights. Does Rasmussen oppose civil rights? Can he identify better means to achieve the goals of civil rights–and remedy the harms of governmental discrimination–than civil rights laws?

Rasmussen: Before we answer what matters of morality are to be the concern of the political/legal order, we must first determine what is basis for moving from (A) “ X-ing is morally right (or wrong) and ought (or ought not) to be done” to (B) “X-ing ought to be legally required (or prohibited).” (A) and (B) are not semantically equivalent; and the truth of (A) by itself does not imply the truth of (B).

Respectfully, I find it hard to imagine how this answer to the question would lead anywhere other than "Yes, I oppose civil rights laws." Largely because if you didn't oppose civil rights laws, I expect you would simply say so.

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nobody.really
on August 28, 2019 at 02:09:01 am

The advantage of exploring the issue of what connects the ethical order to the political/legal order is understanding what might be the basis for saying that an ethical claim s should be a matter of legality. No small matter, For me, the issue is understanding why something is so.

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Douglas Rasmussen
on August 28, 2019 at 02:23:15 am

I was going to reply, but I see Max Hocutt’s excellent response, I endorse what he says, but I would add only that tautologies can be informative—that is, tell us about the nature of something. One need not suppose that all definitions are merely nominal.

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Douglas Rasmussen
on August 28, 2019 at 02:37:58 am

A point that needs emphasizing here is that human beings need to know that their beliefs and conduct are justified, that there is something more than just power. That right makes might. Or, to put it slightly differently, that power ultimately emanates from what is real, not the reverse.

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Douglas Rasmussen
on August 28, 2019 at 08:44:52 am

For me, the issue is understanding why something is so.

For me as well. But I also care that something is so. And I surmise that it is so that you oppose civil rights laws--a view consistent with garden-variety libertarianism, though inconsistent with the past half-century of law.

You decry the state of liberty in the US today. Would you say that the state of liberty was better before 1964? If not, can we identify reasons that the state of liberty improved after that point?

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nobody.really
on August 28, 2019 at 09:31:09 am

The issue is what does liberty mean, and I have with Den Uyl in various works defined and defended what liberty means. Liberty in the political sense is achieved when there is a political/legal order dedicated to the protection of the basic negative rights to life, liberty, and property. Thus, in terms of what we have argued, I would say that the USA has generally been going in the wrong direction for some time. But this may not be the case for certain persons or groups. Applications of principles depends on many factors. The crucial point is that the current political situation is one in which the positive law is viewed as a device for remedying all manner of social ills, and that is a major problem.

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Douglas Rasmussen
on August 28, 2019 at 10:04:42 am

I sense you have a rigorous and elaborate conceptual framework. Does this framework lead to any conclusions that you recognize as differing from garden-variety libertarianism?

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nobody.really
on August 28, 2019 at 15:05:32 pm

Professor Rasmussen could have served himself by setting this political-identity complaint aside until he worked out a viable proposal to follow “this challenge can be met.”

First, to place Trump in Obama’s alien class expresses abject failure to comprehend the entity We the People of the United States. Obama never joined (but could yet repent and reform). Trump seems to understand the people’s proposition in the U.S. preamble more than most fellow citizens do.

Rasmussen could criticize today’s interpretation of the preamble to the U.S. Constitution (the U.S. preamble): A civic people of the United States communicate, collaborate, and connect in order to provide 5 public institutions that protect freedom-from oppression in order to approve-of and encourage responsible human liberty to the continuum of living citizens.

The human liberty to develop integrity is renewed each time a woman produces a viable ovum. The ovum’s right to develop integrity activates on conception. In other words, the actually-real human right is the liberty-to develop integrity. Individuals who accept the human-individual power, integrity, and authority (HIPEA) to develop integrity know this. “Life, liberty, and property” express an identity politics that is being challenged in practice more than in concept. Most people want to identify with mutual, comprehensive safety and security during their lifetime.
Statutory law does not completely encourage responsible human liberty. The articles that follow the U.S. preamble’s proposition may be amended in order to pursue statutory justice.

“Power corrupts, and . . . there is no real standard by which it can be controlled.” Statutory justice may be pursued by discovering the-objective-truth, the ineluctable evidence by which the truth is measured. The-objective-truth does not respond to reason or any other human construct. The-objective-truth is the standard Rasmussen seeks.

Fellow citizens can offer an achievable better future by promoting the U.S. preamble’s proposition---5 public protections of freedom-from oppression so as to secure the liberty-to pursue responsible human happiness during each individual’s life---under the-objective-truth as standard for statutory justice. Fellow citizens may develop civic integrity anytime they perceive they want responsible human liberty.

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Phillip Beaver
on August 28, 2019 at 15:13:27 pm

"Truths are either revealed or reasoned. "

The-objective-truth or ineluctable evidence does not respond to revealed or reasoned truths.

The entity that purports to know whatever-God-is may beg woe from whatever-God-is.

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Phillip Beaver
on August 28, 2019 at 15:29:07 pm

Aristotle missed the most important option in research. In addition to "S or P" there's "I don't know."

By embracing "I don't know" what I don't know, humans have more chance of minimizing error.

Consider the advantage in commitment to a god. Is your god God? Answer yes, no, or I don't know. People taking this public opinion poll have perhaps 2/3 chance of favor according to whatever-God-is.

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Phillip Beaver
on August 28, 2019 at 15:49:46 pm

I hope it is not rude to enter your dialogue with n.rs to comment on your next reply, " Liberty in the political sense is achieved when there is a political/legal order dedicated to the protection of the basic negative rights to life, liberty, and property. "

I think constraining responsible human liberty to "life, liberty, and property" rather than civic integrity is contrary to the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. It specifies Unity, Justice, Tranquility, defense, and Welfare to secure human liberty to living citizens. Both life and property may be sacrificed for liberty. On the U.S. preamble's proposition some fellow citizens divide as dissidents.

Thank you if my interruption is allowed.

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Phillip Beaver
on August 28, 2019 at 15:55:11 pm

Let me suggest that " the objective truth" is subjective. That is why I use to hyphens to distinguish as the-objective-truth the ineluctable evidence for actual reality. It does not brook reason, belief, revelation, or any other human construct.

The-objective-truth exists and it is humankind's noble work to discover and make best use of it.

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Phillip Beaver
on August 28, 2019 at 21:58:37 pm

https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=1714184776756974012&hl=en&as_sdt=6&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr

A 34-year-old woman seduces a 15-year-old boy and becomes pregnant. She gives birth to a daughter and thereafter applies for Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Is the child's father obligated to pay child support even though he is a victim of statutory rape? (Pen. Code, § 261.5, subd. (d).) We conclude he is liable for child support.

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Do libertarians believe rape victims owe child-support? If not, how is libertarianism any different from progressivism?

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Ovum Contessa
on August 29, 2019 at 02:55:59 am

Frankly, I found these comments confusing. Yet, I think the following reply is pertinent:
1. Something can be true even if we do not know it. For example, “the earth rotated on its axis” was true before anyone ever realized it. Yet, we can know the truth, even if this knowing is incomplete and we are subject to error, Further, unless one is talking about something that pertains to a specific person, I do not understand what subjective truth could be. Saying that P is true for me is but another way of saying I believe P is true, but this is of course no guarantee of its truth.
2. But the foregoing distinctions are being destroyed by our current intellectual culture. This affects everything we do—even constitutional interpretation.
3. In terms of basic negative natural rights that I discussed, I find little to applaud in either Obama or Trump.
4. Re interpreting the Constitution, this is not my exact field. But I like the remarks of Will in his CONSERVATIVE SENSIBILITY, and the works of Randy Barnett.

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Douglas Rasmussen
on August 29, 2019 at 13:27:50 pm

Professor Rasmussen,

I have no specific argument with any of the points that you have made in this thread, but I think it would add some context if you would complete the thought implied by your first sentence:

"A point that needs emphasizing here is that human beings need to know that their beliefs and conduct are justified, in order to_________________________________.

What do you assert is the purpose, or necessity, of justifying beliefs and conduct?

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z9z99
on August 30, 2019 at 09:05:15 am

Sure, thank for this question.
To flourish. See THE PERFECTIONIST TURN.

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Douglas Rasmussen
on August 30, 2019 at 09:35:29 am

Ladies and Gents, I'm going to cheat and address only one of the plethora of worthy ideas contested and weighed above. In Mr. Rasmussen's first paragraph he says: "[T]that beings have a nature, including even human beings—is more and more suspect, and hence the whole idea that individual human beings might have basic, negative natural rights to life, liberty, and property is not seen as a viable intellectual option."

I never got past this - so I'll address it - as my life experience has demonstrated humans do have a nature: self-interest. Just so, I frame economics as the most human of the pseudo-sciences as reduced to its basics, it is life's manifestation of self-interest.

We seek reliable data (truth, facts, axioms - call this what you please) so that we can make reliable acts producing the preferred results.

As an aside, the contests over the meaning of "fact" and "truth" etc. is fascinating. In real life, I liken it to the addition of modifiers to probable cause; over time I've seen courts address arguable probable cause, apparent probable cause, rebuttable probable cause (etc.), and of course, actual probable cause. I think this approach, combined with a slice of Dunning Kruger, is the most practical. That is, there can be one truth; to suggest otherwise is absurd. But, to determine that truth is nice, but not necessary. We need only find functional truths. And one of those is a reliance on man's basic nature of self-interest.

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John Tate
on August 30, 2019 at 10:08:33 am

My apologies for an addendum. Two points:

1. When I say "self-interest," I do mean perceived self-interest which is the product natural inclination modified by training, education and experience.

2. When I say "functional truth" ... well let me give an example. I'm a sailor, and from personal experience, I can assure you the world is functionally round. But, for most navigation, I use ... wait for it ... a flat map! Why? Because it is functionally true. Even for great circle routes, I said them in rhumb line segments. Why? Because this factual fiction is a functional fiction ... that is ... a functional truth.

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John Tate
on August 30, 2019 at 16:18:01 pm

Thanks for the response. I do not expect an answer to any of these, but some rhetorical questions raised by the issue:

1.) Is flourishing a telos or simply one of the turtles in the column, a milestone on the way to some deeper end?

1a.) If flourishing is not a telos, is it necessary? Can some people bypass flourishing and still arrive at the same end?

2.) Is flourishing binary, i.e., you either flourish or you don't? Or is it a matter of degree, some people being more flourish-y than others?

3.) Is flourishing simply a quality of existence, a measure of degree? That is, is to flourish merely to exist well?

3a.) If flourishing does mean to exist well then is there a point to saying "we exist to exist well?"

4.) Is flourishing subjective or objective? What are the criteria for flourishing? Who decides?

5. With deference to Camus, is it possible for someone to have flourished and then commit suicide?

I respect that you may have answered these questions rigorously in the works that you have cited and again, I do not expect any answers here. Just think of me as the annoying student who sits in the back of class, doesn't pay attention and comes up afterward to ask a question that you thoroughly covered in your lecture.

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z9z99
on August 30, 2019 at 20:42:47 pm

Not answering for Prof Ras, but since I have read his books, I believe one thinking along these Aristotelian liberal lines could answer as follows:

1. "Constraining responsible liberty to 'life, liberty, and property'” does not constrain all worthwhile human pursuits, to include community and social life (civic integrity?), to rights-talk. Rights statements ("life, liberty, and property") belong in a different conceptual order than normative statements (what kinds of things one ought pursue, like goods, virtues, relationships, family, community, etc.)

2. To paraphrase Bastiat, civil society should not be confused with the state or government. And to paraphrase Hayek, civil order does not need government direction or planning to emerge.

3. What we are doing when we are theorizing about the "deep structure" of liberalism is political philosophy. We are not engaged in constitutional interpretation. If the Constitution stands in negative judgment from the conclusions we reach, then so much the worse for it. Unless one begs the question and is pre-committed to to social constructivism, what the Constitution says is of no inherent authority.

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2046
on August 31, 2019 at 02:30:53 am

To John Tate:

1. Though human beings often act in self-interested ways. This is not always the case. It would seem more accurate to say that human beings act and their action is purposeful. Yet to say even this is not yet fundamental enough, because purpose involves reason and choice, Regardless, we are at least trying to characterize what it is to be human. This is the right direction,
2. There is of course a difference between the tools that we use to know reality and reality itself. Concepts, propositions, and arguments are the basic logical tools, and words, sentences, paragraphs, etc. are among the linguistic tools. They respectively tell us the what, whether, and why of things. They have different functions. It is vital, however, not to confuse the tools we use and their features with the reality that they cognize, Such confusion is the fundamental error of constructivism. As Aquinas notes:

For although it is necessary for the truth of a cognition that the cognition
answer to the thing known, still it is not necessary that the mode of being
of the thing known be the same as the mode of being of its cognition (Summa Contra Gentiles, II, 75).

So, we should indeed not confuse our flat maps with the more or less round world.

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Douglas Rasmussen
on August 31, 2019 at 10:48:08 am

Re #1. I fear I was not clear. Thus I restate and answer what I interpreted as your point: acts are purposeful, and purpose is the product of reason and choice. Might we make this simplistic and admittedly highly interactive chain? Motivation > observations > perceived/believed facts > reason > choice > action. It seems the key variable is choice. What makes my Maslow-self feel good? I may want physical, intellectual, moral , altruistic, etc. gratification ... but at its root, my want, my choice, is what makes me feel good. That is, self-interest rules.

Re #2. YES!

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John Tate
on September 01, 2019 at 16:09:30 pm

John, Re self-interest: Though it is indeed my choice, my want, my motivation, that does not necessarily show that what I am choosing, wanting, or motivated for is my self-interest—at least as that is normally understood. The egoism/altruism dichotomy is born from a view of morality that sees it as primarily a matter of relationships. An Aristotelian or neo-Aristotelian view, on the other hand, sees morality not as primarily a matter of relationships—be it to oneself or others. Rather, the human individual is the ground of such relations not merely a node in a network of relations. Thus, the primary focus is not seeking benefit for oneself but rather what kind of self one is making. So, it is much more complex. It is possible for choosing one’s good to involve doing good for others for their own sake.

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Douglas Rasmussen
on September 01, 2019 at 19:17:10 pm

I apologize for being an astoundingly poor communicator.

To, as they say, cut to the chase: You hit it - I am using self-interest for a more expansive meaning.

I referenced Maslow as an avenue to involve that continuum of self-interest from survival to altruism, (that "what kind of self one is making" of which I understood you to speak). For the wise or foolish, it's doing stuff that makes me feel good about myself. Beyond the raw "I want food and shelter survival" to jumping on a grenade to save my brothers-in-war, I'm acting in my self-interest, that interest in make me feel good about myself. If I run into a burning building for the thrill, to save a life, or because it's my job (I am a retired VFD firefighter), the product is the same while the motivation superficially is different ... but underneath the motivation too is same: I want to do this to feel good about myself - my ultimate self-interest.

Here, an exemplary aside. Let's say I'm a born a shy, cowardly person. To overcome that self-shame, I play the role of boldness and bravado. I play that role for so long and with such intensity that the actor becomes the role. But, do I? Or am I merely the same coward continuously (habitually), trying to make myself into that kind of self I wish I were?

To summarize where you and may (slightly) differ. I am focusing on the result (the nexus of all those relationships); you and Aristotle seem to focus more on the apparent, unitary, underlying cause. But if Aristotle be correct, how can the devoted coward and the genuine hero produce the same end?

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John Tate
on September 03, 2019 at 02:43:39 am

In answer to the last question in your comment: Because they are not the same end. One’ choices, and the habits created by them, make one who one is, and these belong to any description of what one does. “Virtue . . . is a state of character concerned with choice, lying in a mean, i.e., the mean relative to us, this being determined by a rational principle, and by that principle by which the man of practical wisdom would determine it (NE, 1107a 1–3). There is much to this, but the focus of morality is not and should not be on ends separated from the agent. This is discussed in Chapter 1 and 2 of THE PERFECTIONIST TURN.

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Douglas Rasmussen
on September 03, 2019 at 16:33:46 pm

I will pursue 'THE PERFECTIONIST TURN.' Likely over my head, but I'll jump in.

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John Tate

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