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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

“The defence of a free society is the defence of its procedures, not its output.”

Oliver Kamm

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17 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • From a short-term point of view, yes, but overall it must be defended because those procedures produce the best output overall. Surely that is why we value freedom since freedom is the least worst solution?

  • Surely that is why we value freedom since freedom is the least worst solution?

    No. Liberty is an end in and of itself rather than a matter of utility. I may detest “Piss Christ” or anything by Harold Pinter but their liberty to be odious and produce shite is, strangely enough, an objective good.

  • guy herbert

    In short, and in the long-term, Edward: No.

    What matter where, if I be still the same,

    And what I should be, all but less than he

    Whom thunder hath made greater? Here at least

    We shall be free; the Almighty hath not built

    Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
    Here we may reign secure; and, in my choice,

    To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell:

    Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.

    Freedom and fair procedure are valuable in themselves. A slave at will of someone else, however comfortable in the short-term, has no assurance of, and no influence on, the “output”.

  • James

    Freedom isn’t about “utility”. Dictatorship is. Communism is.

    We don’t value Freedom because of its return-on-investment value.

  • Dov

    So what exactly is the difference, in terms of utility, if it is involved, between libertarianism and objectivism ?

  • Kim du Toit

    Errrr with respect to Mr. Goldsmith, I would humbly suggest that procedure without output is pointless.

    That’s like playing a football match without keeping score.

  • Outputs matter but the correct analogy is not keeping score of the game but being allowed to play the game at all. The ‘output’ is the game, regardless of whether or not you keep the score.

  • The outcome of life is death (at least to the atheist wing of Samizdata). Therefore it is the process, and the quality of it, that matters; not the unchangable outcome.

    Best regards

  • kjm

    I’m afraid comments like this quote of the day and Perrry’s are precisely what undermine libertarianism. I wish Perry, that you would give an argument for liberty as an end in itself. For as far as I can tell, and this goes back to Aristotle–every action and every inquiry is for some good, which good is happiness (or eudaimonia, or human flourishing; call it what you will). And it is only this state that is the proper end, all other ends are subordinate.

    Now, to value liberty as good in itself with no concern to what it produces undermines any connection to the good–we place “right” or “justice” as primary, and then we realize that we’ve excluded from our theory people as they actually exist in the world (see Michael Sandel ‘Liberalism and the Limits of Justice’ on this).

    Yet, I am as committed a libertarian as one will find. The reason for this is that liberty is a necessary condition for (or, alternatively, the condition for the possibility of) autonomy. And this autonomy is necessary for us to be regarded as moral agents, where without moral agency we cannot be virtuous, and without virtue we cannot flourish.

    Liberal proceduralism, as a philosophical proposition, fails and fails miserably. Unless there is another supporting structure for libertarianism (or anarcho-capitalism) the project is doomed to failure. I present this argument because 1) I find it to be true; and 2) I find the continual emphasis on proceduralism to be misguided and counterproductive. If our attention is on anything besides human happiness or flourishing, we will find that our opponents have little trouble showing how misguided our attentions are. Yet, we also know that happiness can only be achieved when the individual is free–this is our best argument.

  • An argument for liberty can easily be made based on its output. It is because of its output that we are able to have this discussion on this medium. The output of liberty is the wealth and power of the West. That’s why people, whenever they can, seek it and fight for it – it works; it makes us stronger.
    The rubbish it produces is subject to the same ‘laws’ as its achievements. The first are cast off; the second used for as long as they serve. To argue from the happiness or otherwise of the individual introduces a whole set of equivocations and imponderables that flounder and run aground on their own definitions. (As an ex-catholic, however, I feel a sort of nostalgia for kjm’s argument – if you just replace ‘happiness’ with grace, it really works.)

  • mike

    “liberty is a necessary condition for (or, alternatively, the condition for the possibility of) autonomy..”

    In other words, freedom from others is indispensible to the freedom for pursuing one’s own inclinations. Two kinds of liberty, thus the one with the other together consitute liberty as an end in itself. Word pedantry aside, freedom for exercising one’s will is surely not the same as autonomy – robots and sharks may have a certain degree of autonomy but not free-will.

  • Now, to value liberty as good in itself with no concern to what it produces undermines any connection to the good

    A comment section is not a place to write lengthy essays and thus I try to keep is short and sweet and just deliver the ‘sound bite’ version of whatever it is I think. I will go write a Libertarian Alliance pamphlet or do an article if I want to expand a point.

    Just let me say what you are missing is that I am not unconcerned with what liberty produces (for example if it produces more apologias for mass murderers from Harold Pinter, I am concerned enough to write articles attacking him). But ‘concern’ for the product and seeing objective good in the process that produced the product (even if the product is a pile of steaming Marxism) is not contradictory. They are not the same thing.

  • An argument for liberty can easily be made based on its output.

    Absolutely! I just personally prefer a moral argument. Notions of eudaimonia also appeal to me. Yet certainly the consequntialist argument in favour of liberty is actually easier to make (though also easier to attack I fear).

  • Johnathan

    kfm makes a good point. The end of human life is happiness, and the best means of securing it is through the exercise of liberty, consistent with the minimal constraints required to preserve civil peace.

    The devil, of course, is in the details.

  • Liberal proceduralism, as a philosophical proposition, fails and fails miserably. Unless there is another supporting structure for libertarianism (or anarcho-capitalism) the project is doomed to failure. I present this argument because 1) I find it to be true; and 2) I find the continual emphasis on proceduralism to be misguided and counterproductive. If our attention is on anything besides human happiness or flourishing, we will find that our opponents have little trouble showing how misguided our attentions are. Yet, we also know that happiness can only be achieved when the individual is free–this is our best argument.

    I’m entirely with you, kjm. Liberty itself, of course, Johnathan, creates happiness at being a free agent.

    Perry:

    Just let me say what you are missing is that I am not unconcerned with what liberty produces (for example if it produces more apologias for mass murderers from Harold Pinter, I am concerned enough to write articles attacking him). But ‘concern’ for the product and seeing objective good in the process that produced the product (even if the product is a pile of steaming Marxism) is not contradictory. They are not the same thing.

    So you accept that there is a defence of free society based on both its procedures and its outcomes, but would merely place much greater emphasis on the procedures? Surely if that’s the case you disagree with Oliver Kamm’s statement where he appears to completely discount any consideration of outcomes?

  • Kolya

    Justifying liberty purely in terms of its procedures is philosophically incoherent, because without a consensus about the desirability of alternative possible outcomes, there can be no non-arbitrary basis for agreeing what makes one set of procedures better than another.

    The reason this philosophical flaw is so widely disregarded is that many libertarians treat as axiomatic, their undeclared and undefended assumptions about the ends of life. This intellectual sleight of hand is conducive to the subjective belief that the co-ordinates of criticism for objectively evaluating the relative merits of rival sets of political procedures are self-evident.

    But this just ain’t so. They are only self-evident with respect to a given set of intended ends.

  • Even libertarians with shared intended ends frequently disagree about what is self-evident.

    People who disagree about what is self-evident, and don’t see a problem with the idea of self-evidence, only the way everyone *else* applies it, are silly.