Salmieri on the Concept "Libertarian"

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Writing at Check Your Premises, philosopher Greg Salmieri considers at length the question, "What's wrong with the concept 'libertarian'?" The whole post is worth reading for the similar term Salmieri uses as an illustrative example in a thought experiment:

To see what's wrong with this line of reasoning, suppose that someone tells you that he is a "sexual liberationist" and asks if you are too. When you ask what that term means, he responds that a sexual liberationist is someone opposed to the criminalization of sex. "The term applies," he goes on to say, "to anyone who thinks that all sex, or at least consensual sex, should be legal." "At least consensual sex?" you ask, and a dialogue ensues.

"Yes, there are some sexual liberationists who believe that all sex should be legal, including molesting children, sex with people who are unconscious, and sex with unwilling people at gun point. Those are the radical sexual liberationists. Moderate sexual liberationists don't go so far. They're opposed to laws against premarital sex or sodomy, but they don't oppose laws against rape. Despite this difference, both types are by definition sexual liberationists, because they both think that sex should be legal at least when it's consensual."
Salmieri argues that this term ends up serving the opposite purpose of promoting sexual freedom between consenting adults:
"But there's a huge difference," you reply "between a future in which I'm free to sleep with any consenting adult and one in which I'm 'free' to rape people and they're 'free' to rape me!"
And so, Salmieri argues, it is with the term "libertarian," which wrongly includes anarchists under the same umbrella as those who advocate a government limited to the purpose of protecting individual rights. Salmieri contonues, showing that this results from the fact that each term is an example of a "package deal," a term introduced by Ayn Rand, and whose usefulness these examples illustrate quite well.

-- CAV


Steve D said...


Seems to me you could use a similar line of argument against the concepts 'conservative' and liberal', or practically any wishy-washy political term. (Especially, conservatives. There are so many types it makes my head spin)

Of course Salmieri specifically makes that point later in the article.

OTOH, the difference between a small government and a no government libertarian is somewhat akin to the difference between night and day (they are almost opposites), even though the argument to demonstrate that might be less obvious. I am not sure the difference between neocons and paleocons, for example, is so great.

The key point he makes is that you have to determine each person's views individually and carefully and make the decision on the level and type of interaction you can have with them carefully as well.

Gus Van Horn said...

RE: "small" government, one thing I am always careful to do is indicate that it's not how "big" or "small" government is, but its scope that is important. That directly takes one to a discussion of why we have government at all (if we aren't already there already) and lays the groundwork for discussing why certain things like regulations are wrong across the board, vice "going too far" as too many Republicans are too fond of saying.