Machan versus Locke: is “pure” libertarianism possible?
Res Publica, 3, (2), . (doi:10.1007/BF02333602).
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This paper is concerned with the distinction between classical
liberalism and libertarianism and in particular with the claim of the
latter to offer a theory of the good society which is independent of, and
different from, that offered by classical liberalism. My argument is
naturalistic in the following sense. A good society is one which delivers
whatever is good for people, so that a theory of the good society (to ~ a
theory of the good society) must say something about what people are
like and what is good for them. That is to say, it must be capable of
making such judgments coherently and on its own terms. I shall argue
that libertarianism is incapable of making such judgments because it
rests on a Hobbesian radical individualism in which, by analogy with
classical physics, people exist only as particulars, as individuals. If there
are no general classes we cannot say what people have in common; if we
cannot say what they have in common, the only "general" good is the
negative liberty which enables them to pursue their own goals in their
own way. Radical individualism leads by the shortest of routes to moral
subjectivism. Thus libertarianism derives such plausibility as it has by
drawing illicitly on aspects of classical liberalism which do not depend
on radical individualism. In doing so it undermines not only its claim to
be a distinct theory with its own foundations, but most of its own claims
about what is good for people.
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