Monday, July 23, 2007

Thank God we had Robert Nozick

Robert Nozick put John Rawls in his place. Thank goodness for that; it's too bad he left us way too early. The post-modern liberal socialist philosopher Rawls often had some useful arguments to make but when it came to practical politics he turned out to be a bit of a twit
What Rawls contributed to the political education of American intellectuals was not any sort of rigorous analysis, but an overall spirit or outlook detrimental to freedom. He coined a doctrine of what he called "excusable envy," according to which it is rational to envy people whose superiority in wealth exceeds certain (unspecified) limits, and to act on that passion. He cancelled out his ostensible prioritization of liberty by holding that liberty must first be given its "fair value," meaning that political liberties, including freedom of the press, may need to be restricted so as to ensure that the political process yields legislation that is "fair" to the poor. In his later writings, increasingly deferential to the Marxist critique of liberalism, Rawls wrote that securing people's equal rights and liberties must be preceded by government's first having ensured that their "basic needs" for economic goods were met -- thus sanctioning the alibis offered by assorted despots for violating their subjects' elemental rights to free speech, the freedom from arbitrary arrest, and the security of individual life and property.

John Rawls's intellectual legacy for American politics was an unfortunate one. Then again, he disparaged our political regime as only an "allegedly" democratic one anyway, and grew increasingly bitter in his last years, according to his closest associates, over our failure to institute the policies he happened to favor -- such as severe campaign-finance restrictions and universal health insurance. Whatever one's views on such issues, neither Rawls's principles nor his spirit offer a promising approach for addressing them.
Nozick was a great corrective for the excesses of Rawls's redistributionist anti-libertarianism. For a taste of Nozick's unabashed defense of capitalism, read this.

No comments: