Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

“Be wary of strong drink. It can make you shoot at tax collectors - and miss.”     Robert A. Heinlein,    Time Enough For Love

December 23, 2006

The Congruence of Rights and Utility

by Robert

At this point in history, the purpose or goal of politics—and, theoretically, politicians—is ostensibly a balancing act: on one hand is the moral obligation to respect the inalienable rights of every individual, with the maintenance of a civilized, peaceful society on the other. Unfortunately, individual liberty is rapidly becoming a nuisance that stands in the way of “progress” and “social justice”, which are clever code words for democratic socialism: coercive redistribution of wealth with the blessing of the majority.

There are, no doubt, well-intentioned individuals who have a utilitarian bent; they simply prioritize differently (incorrectly, in my view), with regard to positive vs. negative freedoms. For instance, take Joe Miller’s argument:

When I say, “Of course redistribution is consistent with autonomy”, I mean that it’s consistent with a notion of positive freedom. Forcing you to give your money to someone else is no different from forcing you to stop hitting the person. Failure to provide certain of his basic needs is exactly as wrong as clubbing him online pharmacy over the head. Both violate his autonomy.

I borrowed the title from an interesting Will Wilkinson post that begins cheapest perscription for xenical with a lengthy quote of Herbert Spencer who—according to Wilkinson—was a pluralist utilitarian.

Assuming it to be in other respects satisfactory, a rule, principle, or axiom, is valuable only in so far as the words in which it is expressed have a definite meaning. The terms used must be universally accepted in the same

sense, otherwise the proposition will be liable to such various constructions, as to lose all claim to the title—a rule. We must therefore take it for granted that when he announced

“the greatest happiness to the greatest number” as the canon of social morality, its originator supposed mankind to be unanimous in their definition of “greatest happiness.”

This was a most unfortunate assumption, for no fact is more palpable than that the standard of happiness is infinitely variable. In all ages—amongst every people—by each class—do we find different notions of it entertained.

Giving leftists the benefit of the doubt (excluding those who, out of pure jealously and spite, want to punish the rich), it seems that their ultimate goal really is “the greatest happiness to the greatest number”; but the means that they prefer not only have failed—and are failing—miserably, those means (coercion, confiscatory taxation, etc.) are intrinsically immoral. So, how can society, via government and politics, achieve “the congruence of rights and utility” without violating the concepts of individual liberty or political and economic freedoms?

The best bet politically is a general, neutral framework of rights that enable harmonious social cooperation in pursuit of one’s good, however one conceives it.

zp8497586rq

accutane mexican pharmacy

TrackBack URI: http://www.thelibertypapers.org/2006/12/23/the-congruence-of-rights-and-utility/trackback/
Read more posts from
• • •

2 Comments

  1. Giving leftists the benefit of the doubt … it seems that their ultimate goal really is “the greatest happiness to the greatest number”; but the means that they prefer not only have failed—and are failing—miserably, those means (coercion, confiscatory taxation, etc.) are intrinsically immoral.

    This is what I was talking about in regards to utilitarianism the other day. To a utilitarian leftist, coercion and confiscatory taxation are not immoral if they achieve the ultimate goal, being the greatest good to the greatest number.

    You’re entirely right that these methods don’t work, and won’t work, given human behavior and the incentives these methods create. But a utilitarian has no reason to see them as being immoral.

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — December 23, 2006 @ 12:46 pm
  2. But a utilitarian has no reason to see them as being immoral.

    That’s the crux of the issue. A hard-core utilitarian has already decided that coercion is a legitimate tool to fix various perceived problems. What he fails to realize, though, is the inconsistency of his position: that coercion is fine as long as long as a desired end is achieved, but he will cry foul when he is the one being coerced to satisfy a different conception of morality than his. For instance, when the Taliban uses coercion to enforce “piety”, the leftist utilitarian suddenly discovers that it actually is immoral to use force (or the threat of force) to institutionalize a narrow strain of morality. This works for the right-wing religious zealot as well.

    While true believers may be all but a lost cause, one hopes that average, middle-of-the-road folks who are naturally predisposed to either “social justice” or “tradition moral values” can eventually be persuaded by the value of logical consistency.

    Comment by Robert — December 23, 2006 @ 3:08 pm

Comments RSS

Subscribe without commenting

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by: WordPress • Template by: Eric • Banner #1, #3, #4 by Stephen Macklin • Banner #2 by Mark RaynerXML