A Response to BULS

BULS recently did a ‘joke blog’ ridiculing libertarianism so we thought they needed a little lesson as to why libertarianism is so important:


15 thoughts on “A Response to BULS

  1. Not only is that video thought-provoking it’s also very topical. Those ruling over us should have no more rights than us, do not have the right to nanny us or impose their vision on us and should not enslave us with punitive taxation.

  2. I clicked through and saw the ‘joke’. Har-de-har, very clever. But then if you’re staring political annihilation in the face and know there’s *nothing* you can do to make things better, you’ve gotta get your laughs somehow. June 4th is going to be very interesting…

    I’ve seen ‘The Philosophy of Liberty’ several times now – and it always reminds me of what right-thinking people should be aiming for.

  3. I do like the fact that you seem to have ignored the link I put up to the defence of Libertarianism in Somalia, which if anything was more authoritative than the video that was clearly satire and while it held important lessons was not meant to be taken as an academic critique.

    This video though seems to be trying desperately to punch above its weight. The ‘inspirational’ music is a classy touch. I’m a big fan of Liberty (despite what you might think) I spent my third year in America and I have a great admiration for the work ethic there and in the attitude of you deserve to get what you work for. However, I also saw the role that the luck of birth played in determining life chances no matter what that individual might want to become and to follow an extreme negative freedom path of Libertarianism you do not give people the rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness but compound them to Death, Destitution and Despair.

  4. “to follow an extreme negative freedom path of Libertarianism you do not give people the rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness but compound them to Death, Destitution and Despair.”

    yeah, yeah – best not to overplay your hand – people won’t listen to you.

    Did you understand from this video that libertarianism involves protecting people from other people doing them harm (i.e. killing, enslaving or stealing from them)? And so the manifestation of a libertarian state is pretty far from Somalia. The other article similarly makes this basic error and reinforces an inaccurate premise that informs the rest of the ‘arguments’.

  5. “I’m a big fan of Liberty” – as opposed to what?

    Liberty = You have the right to your life, and noone else can tell you what to do with it.

    Is it practiced with perfection today? No.
    Should it be aspired to? Yes.
    Can anyone be whatever they want to be? No.

    What on earth is an ‘extreme negative freedom path of Libertarianism’?

  6. What on earth is an ‘extreme negative freedom path of Libertarianism’?

    Good question. It sounds like sheer noise….

  7. I’m guessing he means negative freedoms as opposed to positive freedoms?

    As in the difference between “there is no law forcing you to smoke or stopping you from smoking” and “we will enforce your right to health by making you stop smoking”.

    Albeit thats a slightly cynical construction of a positive freedom, could also just be “a right to work” or even less controversially a “right to an education”.

    I think anyway…

  8. as Richard said I was arguing the primary right to positive freedom as an often necessary component of ensuring any rights. So while we might have the right to vote there needs to be some form of duty and pro-active step in order to ensure that people can enact this right, so a public body must put in procedures (bureaucracy if you will) that guarantees this right. In order that people are not enslaved, killed and stolen from you cannot revert to some basic, stripped out state structure that does nothing to help anybody.

    In relation to Richards point it would be closer to argue that “second hand smoke kills” -> “the government has a right to protect its citizens” -> “banning smoking in enclosed public spaces saves citizens lives.” There are limits of course to government intervention, hence why they did not ban smoking altogether or within peoples homes. However, the pro-active step of banning smoking in enclosed spaces was in order to protect its citizens lives. This is to say nothing for the democratic arguments that it was a majority wish.

  9. Well leave aside any arguments that it was the democratic wish as being in the majority is very different from being right.

    What about peoples freedom to ‘run the risk’ of the possible (and I don’t want to argue about smoking itself but honestly fairly negligible) risks of second hand smoke. If a bar is privately owned and is happy to allow smoking in its premises then people must elect of their own volition to enter there.

    Why are people more free to have an option removed from them? I should say I very much take Isaiah Berlins view on this, positive freedoms may seem attractive but following they line of thought they provide seems to result in anything but ‘freedom’

    This bureaucracy that is put in pace to protect us from our own ill judged choices sounds to me like the prime source of danger for ensuring our eventual enslavement.

  10. Sorry i Just realised that my first comment – that being in the majority isn’t the same as being right – is why positive freedoms worry me so much. Positive freedoms are inherently collective, being in the minority is most definitely wrong if you believe in positive freedoms, otherwise how can you decide how best to ‘make people free’

  11. you’re right being in the majority isn’t necessarily being in the right, even if it is in this instance :) and to be honest I wouldn’t really put my emphasis on the argument that you should support the smoking ban purely because the majority do.

    The freedom to ‘run the risk’ is in a lot of instances applicable yet when the risks are too great then clearly the government has a role to come in to protect its residents, including those who do not have a vote (be they children, resident aliens etc) if action is not taken by the private sector. If they didn’t you would be left with the Victorian fallacy that laissez-faire equals greater freedom for all.

    In the instance of the smoking ban you have a risk of second hand smoke that according to the NHS kills thousands per year and is having an impact upon those who have no freedom of choice in whether to breath it in. The argument that private establishments should have the ultimate choice is no basis upon which to argue against government regulation, if that were the case then we would likely still have child labour and the dirty excesses of industrial revolution factories. I personally consider the deaths of thousands of individuals a big enough risk for the government to take action to defend its people. This is what it comes down to, the right of some individuals to have a fag or the right of some individuals to live. Even according to most negative freedom advocates I think they would choose the latter.

  12. Well I agree that positive freedoms are certainly more justifiable when used with regard to those (such as children) who for whatever reason lack, or are thought to lack, the ability make make voluntary decisions for themselves (and by voluntary I mean free and to an extent informed).

    I don’t agree that the smoking ban is an example of this, when people choose to enter, or freely contract to work, in a smoking permitted establishment they are making a voluntary decision to do so. I certainly would not consider myself or the government capable of making better decisions for others than they are for themselves.

    By removing that choice you are not giving them freedom but infantilising them. Governments should be prevented from doing this as much as is possible.

    Based on the same principle, and without any real extension of degree, all sorts of behavior seen as injurious to the publics own good could be curtailed, from drinking (appalling health statistics and far more social reaching consequences than smoking) through to casual sex and if you accept the principle and apply generally (and why not if you accept people cannot make decisions for themselves) to a failure to study well enough for exams and beyond.

    If we are discussing over a principle then I most definitely see causal links between each chain in the increases of “freedom” listed above.

    However your argument appears more based on a pragmatic weighing of consequences than upon principle, and to a certain extent I agree – as a conservative I am loathe to argue that libertarianism is some sort of universal absolute since it runs into big problems of its own (drug abuse being an obvious example) where most people would say some interference with freedom is desirable. To this more limited extent I agree.

    However I would justify it honestly in terms of protecting the harm done to others in society not be claiming it makes people more “free”.

    Sorry for such a terribly in-cohesive post, I’ve just got back from library and am exhausted !

  13. thanks for the response, to be frank I enjoyed it, I prefer these types of debates that are somewhat cordial yet hopefully can get to the crux of the disagreement between us and then people can make up their own minds.

    Firstly on the issue of freedom of choice to work there, you are neglecting that most people need to work, for some there is little choice as to if they are going to work in a smoke filled atmosphere, they need to do it to pay the bills. The principle that you can find somewhere else to work if you don’t like the situation has generally been struck down legally and morally as an argument for the past 100+years owing in no small part to the likes of Dickens, Mayhew et al and the growing exposure of factory life in the Victorian era when there was a realisation that what happens in the private sector is of no small concern to the population at large. Now I don’t wish to argue that life in a factory back then is equivalent to working in a smoke filled room but the principle still stands that freedom of choice on where to work is no excuse for poor working conditions.

    The argument that drinking is not dealt with in a comparable way is somewhat of a misnomer. It needs to be acknowledged that the direct causal effect of alcohol damaging somebody elses body is not a constant. Whereas second hand smoke will always damage the body of somebody else breathing it in, somebody having a pint next to me will not always lead to them beating me up. If that was the case then I’d imagine there would probably be strong calls for alcohol to be banned. Luckily it’s not and most people can enjoy the pleasures of a drink at the local. Also where there is a possibility that the serving of alcohol will damage others, for example with somebody who is aggressively drunk then bars have a legal obligation not to serve them or they are issued with a fine. Again it is easy to draw the parallels. The right to smoke and drink does not include the right to harm others and where this happens there is action to prevent it. In relation to exams, it is generally seen that you damage yourself and not others. Although perhaps having no education can be damaging to others in a roundabout way, which could form as a justification for compulsory education. However, that is more tenuous and my point here is merely that the example you give does not seem to be of damage to others, altho i’d be happy to respond if you elaborate more. In regards to casual sex we obviously have consent laws but also there is a strong debate at present on how to regulate those who intentionally spread HIV/AIDS. I would argue that in many instances the intentional spread should hold some form of punishment.

    I think both of our arguments are pragmatically principled (if such an oxymoron can exist) as you point out, you would not support a dogmatic libertarianism as I in turn would not say the government should have a role to play in every aspect of ones life.

    We are both arguing for the same ends of protecting the harm done to others in society but we have different methods/means. I might also be incline to make a moral case of assistance beyond a certain point where we ‘could’ rather than ‘should’ take action but that’s probably for another day in drawing such a line.

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