Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Libertarian Logic

by Drew Van't Land


Editor's Note: Throughout all the debates and campaigning done during the Canadian election, and those that continue in the United States, one issue remains consistently at the fore: the economy. Though philosophers talking about economics is often a recipe for misunderstandings and misrepresentations, it is also the case that, as Reformational philosophy long ago recognized, the modes of life are interconnected, which means economics is not a discourse internal to itself but contains a variety of presuppositions which can be illuminated through other discourses. In this post, ICS Alumnus Drew Van't Land takes on the philosophical foundations of a certain form of libertarian thinking about economics in order to see if the kind of philosophical anthropology that undergirds libertarianism stands up to such scrutiny. With economics at the forefront of contemporary political debates, a philosophical investigation of a view that generally promotes the freedom of the economy over and against political restrictions of the economy is especially timely.

“The madman’s explanation of a thing is always complete,
and often in a purely rational sense… his mind moves in a perfect but narrow circle.”
- G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Libertarianism is the contemporary classification for a political philosophy which used to be called (classical) liberalism, but is now associated more with conservatism (though it is anything but). And I should know; I used to count among their number: until this year, I was still technically registered as a Libertarian (though it's been years since I've voted that way). The last thing that libertarians could be accused of is inconsistency. Their political reasoning is airtight:

1. People should be free.
2. Power inhibits freedom.
3. Therefore the government should have as little power as possible.

However, the scope of this syllogism is not wide enough to embrace the complex modes of meaning which animate our socio-political being. The real significance of this political argument rests on three load-bearing assumptions, which are highly contestable upon the realization that their definitions have been loaded from the start.

...the scope of this syllogism is not wide enough to embrace the complex modes of meaning which animate our socio-political being.