Thickness Gone Strange

Walter Block, who has long resisted the idea of thick libertarianism, now seems to have embraced it. In a recent piece, Walter writes: “I distinguish between being a libertarian, and agreeing with (virtually all) libertarian principles. The former implies that you act so as to promote liberty.”

Now clearly one can abide by the non-aggression principle without acting to promote liberty; the NAP is a purely negative duty, while an obligation to promote liberty would be positive. So Walter now thinks that being a libertarian involves commitments beyond non-aggression! (Indeed, that makes his libertarianism even thicker than mine, as I’ve never made acting on such commitments a condition for being a libertarian.)

Alas, Walter invokes this distinction in order to show that Wendy McElroy is not a libertarian – on the grounds that she does not support the candidacy of Ron Paul. Walter makes this argument despite the fact that Paul supports a number of policies that Walter would agree with Wendy are anti-libertarian (including anti-abortion laws, anti-immigration laws, and most notoriously the existence of the state itself). If we anarchists can lose our libertarian credentials for refusing to support a statist, something’s gone wrong somewhere.

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9 Responses to Thickness Gone Strange

  1. Chris Thomas December 16, 2011 at 4:46 pm #

    Firefox 3.6.8 Windows 7

    I wonder if you’re aware that David Friedman just commented on your “Some Distinctions and Clarifications” post, as well the Block piece you refer to.

    It’s at http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2011/12/george-orwell-dishonest-rhetoric-and.html

    • Brandon December 16, 2011 at 5:28 pm #

      Chromium 17.0.950.0 Ubuntu 11.10

      Probably not, since Blogger doesn’t support pingbacks, a key foundational feature of blogging.

  2. David Gordon December 16, 2011 at 5:40 pm #

    Firefox 8.0 Windows XP

    Couldn’t Walter reintroduce the thin-thick distinction by what he takes to be the content of the libertarian principles he has in mind when he speaks of “agreeing with (virtually all) libertarian principles”? The distinction would then apply to libertarian principles, not to whether one acted to promote these principles.

    • Roderick December 18, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

      Safari MacIntosh

      So would the thin libertarian be the person who agreed with the principles or the person who abided by them?

  3. Brainpolice December 18, 2011 at 3:36 am #

    MSIE 9.0 Windows 7

    BASH THE FASH :)

  4. David Gordon December 19, 2011 at 5:51 pm #

    Firefox 8.0 Windows XP

    I suppose Walter would have to say that the libertarian (unqualified) was the person who promotes the thin libertarian principles.

    There’s a problem with Walter’s article that I haven’t seen mentioned yet. It isn’t evident that Wendy fails to qualify as a libertarian on his definition. His criticism of Wendy is that she opposes what he takes to be a particularly effective means of promoting libertarianism. It doesn’t follow from that, though, that she isn’t promoting libertarianism in other ways, e.g., by writing and speaking in defense of libertarian principles. There’s a response he could make to this, but I’ve said enough for one post.

  5. David Gordon December 19, 2011 at 6:15 pm #

    Firefox 8.0 Windows XP

    In the second paragraph of my post above, the two occurrences of “promoting libertarianism” should be “promoting libertarian principles.”

    • Roderick December 19, 2011 at 10:03 pm #

      Safari MacIntosh

      His criticism of Wendy is that she opposes what he takes to be a particularly effective means of promoting libertarianism. It doesn’t follow from that, though, that she isn’t promoting libertarianism in other ways, e.g., by writing and speaking in defense of libertarian principles.

      And in fact he seems to grant that she promotes libertarianism in these other ways.

      In the second paragraph of my post above, the two occurrences of “promoting libertarianism” should be “promoting libertarian principles.”

      Can you place this normative statement on a scientific basis?

  6. David Gordon December 19, 2011 at 10:43 pm #

    Firefox 8.0 Windows XP

    Can you place this normative statement on a scientific basis?

    Not without falling into a performative contradiction.

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