Thursday, May 22, 2008


Eric Alterman on Libertarianism --
I agree with what Eric Alterman has to say.

I share the libertarian concern with the growth of bureaucracy and as Brink was kind enough to mention, also locate the core of liberal thought in the experiences and insights of the Enlightenment--and focus on their implications for the rights of the individual. But as John Dewey argued, "liberty" should be imagined not as an abstract principle merely to be admired but as "the effective power to do specific things"--things that could not be done by people enjoying only the theoretical ability to act on their freedoms. No longer could the slogan of political liberals be "Let the government keep its hands off industry and commerce," as the government became necessary to protect the individual's freedom from the growing power of just those forces. "There is no such thing as the liberty or effective power of an individual, group, or class," Dewey explained, "except in relation to the liberties, the effective powers, of other individuals, groups or classes."

I feel that libertarianism, as I understand it, is overly concerned with theoretical liberty at the expense of its actual practice. The freedom to starve, to see one's labor unfairly exploited, to drink polluted water or breath polluted air, are not freedoms I strongly value. And to battle these and others like them, society requires collective institutional action and in many cases, government (or labor union) protection. I'm no fan of "big government" per se--and neither was Dewey. It's merely that powerful forces like global corporations require powerful forces to balance them.


My version of liberalism tends to be a pragmatic choice which understands that an idealized world is not possible and which accepts the necessity of trade-offs.
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