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Quote of the Day: Sept. 4, 2013

“Sticking Rawls into libertarianism is like attaching a washing machine to a soufflé.”

–Todd Seavey


  1. Paul Marks says:

    Quite correct Julie – and Todd Seavey.

    When I went to college (fighting off the sabre toothed tigers and so on).

    There was some effort at balance in the teaching of political thought.

    Indeed when I (and others) pointed out the terrible contradictions (as well as utter bias) of Bernard Crick’s “In Defence of Politics” it was withdrawn as the first year introductory text for Politics.

    Well we eventually got on to the high level political philosophy stuff.

    And the main text then (as now) was John Rawls “A Theory of Justice” (best refuted, I believe, by the late Antony Flew).

    But (and it is a big BUT) – Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia” was also taught as an alternative to Rawls. I did not (and do not) think that Nozick’s work is wonderful (indeed I was turned off by its introduction – where he plays nice with Rawls and his other Harvard co-workers out of fear of not being invited to any more department social events – after reading that I predicted that Robert N. would eventually just fall apart, he was not a man with much plain grit),

    It was accepted by all the lecturers at all three universities I attended in my life (Leicester, York and University College London) that Rawls was a writer of the statist left.

    Some of the lecturers (the Marxists) held that Rawls was not far enough to the left – but none of them pretended that his stuff was libertarian.

    On the contrary it was accepted that Rawls was on the left.

    Now we get people trotting out the concepts of Rawls as a basis for libertarianism.

    Sorry – but it is impossible to believe that they are doing this honestly.

    They are no good – it is that simple.

    They are trying to do the same thing to libertarianism that the left did to liberalism in the United States a century ago.

    Co opt it – DESTROY libertarianism.

    Remember “The Nation” used to be a free market roll-back-state journal (the arch enemy of Richard Ely and co) – then it changed……

    And when this sort of thing happens – it happens FAST.

    These “Bleeding Hearts” need to be rejected – and rejected hard.

    Without compromise – and without being nice.

    John Rawls stood for social justice – the doctrine that income and wealth should be “distributed” to the advantage of the “least favoured”.

    Libertarianism stands for the NON AGGRESSION PRINCIPLE – the traditional view of justice being TO EACH THEIR OWN (the idea that Plato attacks in “The Republic” – newsflash, libertarians do not agree with Plato and his academics).

  2. Paul Marks says:

    By the way – the way that so many “Bleeding Hearts” now in Cato (as there are in the Adam Smith Institute) means that Charles and David Koch (and everyone else) should stop giving money to this outfit.

    Refusing to give money is, as Ayn Rand pointed out, a legitimate “sanction of the victim”.

  3. Andrew says:

    And yet Cato gives these Rawlsian filth a platform…

    Laughing at them’s a dangerous business when they’re gaining inch by inch.

    The collectivists know what they’re doing and they’re quite happy to play the long game.

    To publish them, as Sean Gabb of the Libertarian Alliance does, is nothing short of suicidal.

  4. Julie near Chicago says:

    A government can protect each citizen’s liberty, or it can bind everyone tightly in a net of rules to ensure some “social” goal–for instance, that of “social justice.” But the condition of liberty is the antithesis of such binding, so the dreams of the well-meaning but not-really-libertarians such as Dr. Zwolinski will fail. Because you cannot have both.

    Dr. Zwolinski may think he’s a libertarian, but only if he stretches the definition to include people who do not think the primary object of libertarianism is liberty.

    –YrsTrly, commenting in response to a posting by Mike Rappaport entitled “Bleeding Heart Libertarianism III: Friedman versus Zwolinksi and Tomasi” at

    (The Friedman in question is David, not Milton nor Patri.)

  5. Julie near Chicago says:

    Just in case someone is curious, the reference is to a lead essay by M. Zwolinski and J. Tomasi, plus essays in response, plus more essays in response, at Cato Unbound. The topic is entitled “Where Next? The Past, Present, and Future of Classical Liberalism,” posted at

    The further essays, linked at the bottom of the page, are as follows:

    Response Essays

    ‘In Praise of Bleeding Heart Absolutism’ by Roderick T. Long

    Roderick T. Long criticizes the sharp distinctions drawn by Zwolinski and Tomasi between nineteenth-century classical liberals and the “Unholy Trinity” of Mises, Rand, and Rothbard. He suggests many areas in which the earlier thinkers were not as Zwolinski and Tomasi characterize them, as well as several where Mises, Rand, and Rothbard don’t conform either. Long stresses the importance of class analysis in the thought of nineteenth-century classical liberals and points to its resurrection as a key aspect of Rothbard’s thought in particular. This, he suggests, points the way toward a “bleeding-heart absolutism” – an ideology critical of every form of state power, yet also prioritizing the moral claims of the poorest in society.

    ‘Natural Rights + ?’ by David D. Friedman

    David Friedman argues that the pre-twentieth century classical liberals were motivated not by a concern for the poor per se, but by utilitarian reasoning. The “working poor” were a large majority of society in their time, and authors like Adam Smith must be read in their historical context. Doing so reveals Smith to be a progenitor of Jeremy Bentham, not John Rawls. Utilitarianism brings problems of its own, of course, but it should not be confused with social justice.

    ‘Let’s Reject the Purity Test’ by Alexander McCobin

    Alexander McCobin argues that libertarians often engage in unproductive debates about who or what is “more” libertarian. One thing lost in these debates is that, across the wide sweep of intellectual history, significant libertarian figures have usually felt free to draw from a wide array of justifications and policy approaches. Each was a product of a particular historical era, and there is no reason to find fault with any of them simply on that account. To advance liberty, we should think and write about libertarian principles in terms that unbiased observers will find persuasive today.

    The Conversation

    ‘Some Questions for the Panel’ by David D. Friedman
    ‘Property Absolutism and Social Justice’ by Matt Zwolinski and John Tomasi
    ‘Why “Social” Justice? More questions for Zwolinski and Tomasi’ by David D. Friedman
    ‘On “Concern for the Poor”’ by Matt Zwolinski and John Tomasi
    ‘Best of the Blogs: Where Next?’ by The Editors
    ‘The Bleeding-Heart Absolutist Strikes Back’ by Roderick T. Long
    ‘Defining Libertarianism’ by Alexander McCobin
    ‘More Libertarian Than Thou’ by Roderick T. Long
    ‘Clarity on How to Justify Economic Systems’ by David D. Friedman
    ‘Some Final Thoughts’ by Matt Zwolinski and John Tomasi
    ‘Three Parthian Shots’ by Roderick T. Long

  6. Julie near Chicago says:

    There’s some discussion of the whole set of postings, and especially of Z.-and-T.’s and Friedman’s, on the Web. Brian Doherty has a summary, with his opinions of course, entitled “Can Libertarians Learn to Love Social Justice?”:

    And lastly, Mr. Seavey’s posting containing the quote that started this orgy of sourcing. I like a good deal of it. Of course, I like my philosophy clear and settled — I am a good hobbit — but it’s nice to find others who at least are willing to admit the “liberal-tarians” don’t have that much of a point. I sort of hope some of our Felines –besides the Sage of Kettering :) ;) –will be interested in reading it.

    And by the way, the comments are very good.

  7. Julie near Chicago says:

    …Too good to leave unquoted:

    As the term is usually used, the advocates of “social justice” are not Rawlseans. You will not win them by quoting Rawls. You will not win them by thinking like Rawls. They know what they want, and Rawls isn’t it. Rawls is for the milquetoasts of the academy; social justice is radical stuff. Whatever their origins, the two have diverged, and there’s no sense denying it.

    (This leaves aside Rawls’ effect on libertarianism proper, which Todd Seavey has aptly described as “attaching a washing machine to a soufflé.” The only way to improve would be to specify, more elegantly than I’m doing right now, that the free market is the washing machine, a durable good that benefits everyone; and Rawls is the soufflé, a fragile, delectable confection, enjoyed for half a minute by a well-stuffed class of elites.)

    –Jason Kuznicki, in his posting “Rawls the Irrelevant,” at

  8. NickM says:

    I did physics at university. Absolutely no politics entered into it. I think if you study the social/economic/political “sciences” you are just asking for a load of overly complicated cock-waffle of the the first order. Bluntly put most of “how things should be” in the moral sphere (and this is an important moral question) are the rantings of the deranged crying at their “angry lesbian breast” (That’s one from Stephen King BTW – he quoted as an example of piss-poor writing – how afterall – magnificent though can be can a breast exhibit emotion?) He got that from some loon on a creative writing course his wife taught. So I have to say I honestly I didn’t have the experience Paul did. Nottingham University was noted at the time I was there ’92-’95 by the Student Union that we were the most apolitical university in the land. We talked about what happens if a Turing machine is chucked in a black hole. We didn’t discuss politics. But then I went to a university that taught stuff what matters and we knew the faculty of “farts and shitterature” was merely a tack-on for technically minded lads to meet female theology students with large breasts and then a few years later answer the fundamental question of the universe – “do you want to supersize that?”.

    Short version – the family sci don’t care as long as it ain’t just self justifying shit. We know truths universal like the transcendence of pi). The rest just invent such “truths” to get grants.

  9. Paul Marks says:

    I “like” (i.e. hate) the fake internal debates among the Bleeding Hearts best.

    For example, when Roderick Long pretends to argue with Matt Z, and others (in reality they are all laughing behind their hands). “No there was not this great conflict between the 19th century classical liberals and modern free market thinkers (such as Rothbard and Rand) because the modern free market thinkers are into class war as well”.

    Not that he uses those exact words – but that is the implication.

    In reality the only “class conflict” the free market thinkers (in the 19th century or later) were interested in was that between “tax payers” and “tax eaters”.

    The basic point of Classical Liberalism is the “harmony of the rightly understood long term economic interests of rich and poor” it is the DENIAL of the very “rich versus poor” doctrines of the Bleeding Hearts. We are not really dealing with people who attack such things as the Federal Reserve (that increase of the money supply that makes some people richer at the price of making many people poorer), we are dealing with people who are the enemies of all “the rich” (regardless of the source of their wealth).

    For example, Matt Z. is a deceiver (a liar) – he proudly proclaims that Hayek agreed with Rawls on justice and quotes Hayek seeming to say that he agrees. Yet ON THE VERY SAME PAGE that Matt Z, quotes Hayek says that he has never read the “Theory of Justice” by John Rawls (he is just going on some vague mist of words that Rawls wrote ten years before).

    In reality both Classical Liberalism and libertarianism held that justice was TO EACH THEIR OWN (the non aggression principle).

    No (Liberation Theology style) “priority for the poor” – that is not what the Classical Liberals (or the libertarians) mean by “justice”.

    Libertarianism without TO EACH THEIR OWN (without the nonaggression principle) is like Hamlet without the Prince.

    What the “Bleeding Hearts” or the “libertarian” left are trying to do to libertarianism is what was done to “liberalism” in the United States a century ago.

    Once liberal journals such as “The Nation” were the arch enemies of the interventionism of Richard Ely and others – but a century or so ago they started to advocate the very policies they had once attacked.

    Liberals (of the old school) faced a choice….

    They could either pretend that nothing was wrong (go along with what Woodrow Wilson called the “New Freedom” [i.e. slavery] or what was called the “New Liberalism” in Britain) or they could FIGHT the destroyers, the corrupters.

    Tragically they (the true liberals) decided not to fight – to pretend (perhaps even to themselves) that nothing was fundamentally wrong.

    And that is how liberalism died.

    Libertarianism must not go the same way.

    The “Bleeding Hearts” the “libertarian” left are a clear-and-present-danger, they are a threat to the very survival of libertarianism,

    They must be fought – by all necessary means.

  10. Single Acts of Tyranny says:

    “We talked about what happens if a Turing machine is chucked in a black hole”

    Nick, a post on this if you please, but keep it comprehensible for the non-physics literate

  11. NickM says:

    SAOT, OK. That is a challenge! Sure.

    Now here is a bigger question What number of matches dropped at random on the floor represents the greatest level of information/entropy? Now that’s had me for twenty years because it is almost the definition of mathematical/physical that doesn’t have a definite answer.

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