Liberty & Power: Group Blog
Introduction & Provocation
I want to thank David Beito for inviting me to join Liberty & Power for a week. I know some of the members of the L & P roster fairly well, and others not at all. I'm dork enough that a number of my most treasured friendships began on the internet. So I hope I come out of this with more couches in other cities where I could in principle crash.
A little about me... Until the middle of November, I worked at the Mercatus Center in the Mason Law School building. Before that, I was a program director at the Institute for Humane Studies, and I still direct IHS's Social Change Workshop for Graduate students each summer at the University of Virginia. I bailed from Mercatus to try to finish my PhD work in philosophy at the University of Maryland, where I'm concentrating on political philosophy (contractarian political philosophy in particular.) This semester I'll be teaching an introductory aesthetics course at Howard University, a few blocks from my house in DC. Right now I'm scrambling to put together a syllabus, since the gig just dropped in my lap in a couple days ago.
I have to admit to a skoche of trepidation at visiting L&P. I may be among the few to work at IHS for two-ish years and come out of it rather less libertarian, in the traditional sense at least. I started out in philosophy and politics under the sway of Ayn Rand, like several others here, but my intellectual trajectory has led me to be fairly skeptical of the cogency of most of the usual arguments that purport to justify a libertarian social order. More and more I'm finding unacceptable the usual terms of debate in political philosophy, and particularly among libertarians.
The upshot of this is that although I have deeply libertarian intuitions, I'm not sure exactly what I think any more, although I'm sure of what I don't think. Relative to this crowd, I am, without a doubt, a squish. (Yes, I'm even up in the air about heroin vending machines for tots.)
I hope this week to air a few questions I've been grappling with and to provoke some productive argument.
Let's start with this worry... Does libertarianism, understood as an ideal for society, require, in order to be feasibly realized, that all or most members of society accept and endorse a certain set of moral and political premises? If so, how is this convergence in views to be produced? Through reasoned argument? Rhetoric? If some level of agreement on basic premises is not required, how is it possible for a libertarian order to emerge and sustain itself? What I'm asking is: Can we get there from here? And if there is no feasible path to the ideal, then isn't the ideal utopian, and shouldn't we stop aiming at it?