The Social Production of Libertarians

by Kieran Healy on June 9, 2004

I swear I had this post ready before “all”: “this”: “stuff”: about positive and negative rights. My appetite for that kind of thing isn’t terribly high, except as an opportunity to think up slogans like “Libertarianism is the Socialism of “Lawyers”:” But a few months ago “I made a passing comment”: that “Libertarianism has always seemed to me to depend for its realization on features of the social structure that it officially repuditates.” There’s probably a nice theory to be built about how this is true of _all_ programmatic ideologies for social reorganization. For now, “Peter Levine”: sketches “some sociological ideas about Libertarianism in particular”:

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Positive and negative liberty and rights

by John Holbo on June 9, 2004

Much good discussion – from our own Henry and Chris, for example – in the wake of Eugene Volokh’s critique of Steve Bainbridge’s TCS piece in praise of negative rights.

It seems to me clear that Eugene is quite correct in the points he makes. But I am left scratching my head, nonetheless, because I teach J.S. Mill and Isaiah Berlin every semester – for two semester’s now. So I think I’ve got my head tolerably wrapped around the whole negative vs. positive liberty thing. (I mean, they sort of turn into each other if you squint, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an important distinction to grapple with.) But it would never occur to me to talk about negative vs. positive rights. That seems to me like argle-bargle. But apparently there are grown-ups who talk this way, even write academic papers this way? (I guess these are the hazards of teaching intro political philosophy without being a specialist and actually reading the scholarly literature. I get blindsided by stuff other people are familiar with. But still. What’s this about, eh? If I’m totally wrong about everything that follows, someone take me to school, please.)

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Cat Stevens

by Harry on June 9, 2004

In his typically up-to-date fashion, Steve Harley devoted last night’s Sounds of the Seventies to Cat Stevens. He doesn’t say whether he’s a CT reader, but now I am starting to have suspicions. Go there and listen.

Picking up the gauntlet

by Daniel on June 9, 2004

I can never resist a challenge. So when Normblog passed on the folowing put-up-or-shut-up from John Keegan:

If those who show themselves so eager to denounce the American President and the British Prime Minister feel strongly enough on the issue, please will they explain their reasons for wishing that Saddam Hussein should still be in power in Baghdad.

I couldn’t resist putting up, even at the cost of perhaps repeating myself


I wish Saddam Hussein was still in power in Baghdad because if this were the case, then about 3,000 Iraqis would have been murdered by his regime and would be dead, the roughly 10,000 Iraqis we killed ourselves would still be alive, and we would most likely be well on our way to formulating a credible, sensible, properly resourced plan for getting rid of him and handling the aftermath.

In other words, this was not a “humanitarian intervention”, in the sense which Human Rights Watch uses the term, and it is entirely defensible to maintain principled opposition to the war without having to be painted as an apologist for mass graves. Norm has his own, somewhat more inclusive standard for what constitutes a humanitarian intervention, which I intend to write something about soon. But I simply don’t believe that this issue is anything like as cut and dried as the Keegan quote suggests; if one is using a standard which makes Saddamites of Human Rights Watch, then one is using a wrong standard.

Euro elections

by Chris Bertram on June 9, 2004

Euro elections tomorrow, and I, for one, am still at a loss for what to do. Here in the UK’s south-west constituency (bizarrely including Gibraltar!) we have full slates of candidates from all three main parties plus the fascist BNP, the Greens, the “Countryside Party”, UKIP, and RESPECT (the unprincipled alliance of Gorgeous George Galloway, the Socialist Workers Party and the Muslim Association of Britain). I’m definitely not going for any of the fringe parties, nor for the Tories, so it is down to Labour or the Lib Dems. I usually have no time for the Lib Dems, but I’m tempted this time. I’m tempted because Blair has clearly reached his sell-by date, and I think that’s largely independent of how history will judge him. Time for a swift and painless transition to Gordon Brown as party leader, and a bad Euro result may do the trick.

Eve Garrard responds

by Chris Bertram on June 9, 2004

“Eve Garrard has responded”: to “my post”: suggesting that she had misunderstood some recent statements by Amnesty International. I should like to note, for the record, that my post didn’t amount to an endorsement of the claim that I took Amnesty to be making, namely, that the current attack on principles of human rights is the worst for the last fifty years. Nevertheless, I have some bones to pick with Eve’s latest. The scope of the claim that Eve attributes to Amnesty varies somewhat through her piece. Sometimes Eve seems to be suggesting that Amnesty is restricting blame to America or to the liberal democracies. There may indeed by statements by Amnesty officials with this character, but the “most relevant report”: does refer explicitly to “governments around the world” and explicitly mentions a number of countries not best described as “liberal democracies” (Russia, China, Yemen, to name but three). Additionally, Eve singles out the Patriot Act as being at the centre of any charge that human rights principles are being undermined. No doubt it forms part of any such case, but I’d have thought that such matters as the legal limbo of Guantanamo, the export of a detainee for torture by Syria, and the recent legal advice on the admissibility of torture and the (non) applicability of the Geneva conventions, make up a significant part of the picture. Finally — and I’m picking nits now — Eve writes that “the idea that the force of an argument should be materially altered by an (allegedly) misplaced comma is … delightful and charming.” It may be, but my complaint focused not on the _force_ of the argument but on its _meaning_ , and it is pretty commonplace that commas can and do alter the meaning of sentences: “Eats, Shoots & Leaves”: .

Positive rights

by Chris Bertram on June 9, 2004

The debate going on between “Eugene Volokh and others”: is worth checking out (as “Henry”: notes), though some of the background assumptions are pretty odd, to my way of thinking. [1] But sticking to the central issue of positive and negative rights, the discussing sent me scurrying to look at Allen Buchanan’s seminal paper “Justice and Charity”: (accessible if you’ve got JSTOR, otherwise, tough). In a small section of the paper, dealing with positive and negative rights, Buchanan points out that — as in this debate — those seeking to argue that all rights are negative attempt to show (or at least claim) that any positive rights will lead to “unacceptably frequent and severe disruptions of individuals’ activities as rational planners or to intrusions that are intuitively unjust.” But, as Buchanan argues, that’s a pretty implausible move to make.

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You’ve got to hand it to the French

by Kieran Healy on June 9, 2004

“They’ve got class.”: I particularly like the line about “the best red wine I’ve ever tasted.”