The core of libertarianism is liberty: briefly, the negative right to be left alone - in one's person, pursuits, and property - as long as one leaves others alone. The problem with all such formulations, however, is that they gloss over two important questions: 1. What is harm and who defines it? 2. How does one ensure that one is "left alone" in a world where there are predators and parasites who will not subscribe voluntarily to a pact of mutual restraint? ... In summary: Liberty rests on an agreed definition of harm, and on an accompanying agreement to act with mutual restraint and in mutual defense. Given the variety of human wants and preferences, the price of mutual restraint and mutual defense is necessarily some loss of liberty. That is, each person must accept, and abide by, a definition of harm that is not the definition by which he would abide were he able to do so. But, in return for mutual restraint and mutual defense, he must abide by that compromise definition.This is a more sophisticated look at the question than Canada's Supreme Court managed not too long ago. Harm is not an objective thing, but a negotiated idea. Positing one's own definition as "objective" - as the court did - is insulting to the group dynamics of a healthy culture. In a healthy political culture, individuals meet in mind boggling number of forms to endlessly negotiate questions like these, and others. What does it mean to be human? What rights and obligations do we have to one another? How do we balance the claims of groups vs. individuals? etc. These are social and relational questions and should be answered as such, both in the law, and also in how the law is derived. The most powerful groups in these negotiations are our courts and legislatures. Unilaterally saying that "the debate is over and we won" is despotic, not liberal, and it is despotic on both fronts. As J.S. Mill wrote, as I quoted before:
Nor is it enough that he should hear the arguments of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. That is not the way to do justice to the arguments, or bring them into real contact with his own mind. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them; who defend them in earnest, and do their very utmost for them. He must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form; he must feel the whole force of the difficulty which the true view of the subject has to encounter and dispose of; else he will never really possess himself of the portion of truth which meets and removes that difficulty.It is telling in the extreme, I believe, that of the three major Federal parties in English Canada ONLY the Tory party believes in the merits of free votes. The NDP believes in voting as a whipped block, and the Liberals, shrewd operators that they are, choose to whip only their cabinet - which is nothing less than a whip by proxy. If you are a politico with any ambition (and are there any other kinds?), you will know what to do. Now, faced with a new government whose supporters are almost unified in their opposition to black robed declarations about what a free society can debate in it's highest chambers, how do we respond? The clumsy and wrong answer is to pass a law that the court has indicated that it will likely strike down, and to simply dare it to do so. The merits of the proposed law are only one fact to consider. We also want to pass it in a manner that is conducive to the open society that is our aim. As I said in my post on Toryism the other day, I will be looking to see that our Tory government acts with this kind of prudence in its' laws and in its' appointments. We can look to the example of the Liberal party over the last thirty years, who have adroitly managed to normalize parts of their agenda that seemed unlikely back then. The Liberals have had some luck in the form of technological advances like the Internet that have demystified things like SS attractions. We might get help in the future in the form of younger generations resenting the price that recent reforms are asking them to bear. The fruits of endless family experimentation might just be solid factual evidence that traditional families have a lot to recommend them. Wait for it, and in the meantime exert quiet, negotiated, acceptable changes when and where you can. Another example of this approach can be seen in our neighbors to the south:
One conclusion is that the confirmation of both Chief Justice John Roberts and Judge Alito marks the most important domestic success for President Bush since his 2003 tax cuts. These look like legacy picks. Despite the Harriet Miers misstep, Mr. Bush has now fulfilled one of his campaign promises. And with two distinguished conservative jurists joining Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, the Court is closer than it's been in 50 years to having a majority that can restore Constitutional interpretation to its founding principles. In this sense, the Alito-Roberts ascendancy also marks a victory for the generation of legal conservatives who earned their stripes in the Reagan Administration. The two new Justices are both stars of that generation - many others are scattered throughout the lower courts - and they are now poised to influence the law and culture for 20 years or more.There are no guarantees here but mature and sober people know that there never are. We have to be prepared to accept that in the sort of society Liberty Corner espouses, no one gets exactly what they want. Reconciling one's self to that is an act of love we should be prepared to make. Finally, I want to make the point that I am not compromising my beliefs in arguing as I am. I am in fact arguing from them, but have resisted going into it because I'm well aware that any mention of religion alarms and turns off some people, perhaps due to a bad experience or ignorance. Pope Ratzinger released his first encyclical yesterday, Deus Caritas Est,which Fr. Raymond DeSouza summarizes in today's National Post. Even if you only read this little snippet from DeSouza, you can see that respect for others - including those who dissent from our views - is well regarded in this tradition:
The central point is that love - which the Greeks called eros - has a possessive nature that requires the possession of the beloved by the lover. This erotic love, if not purified, can seek to dominate the other and ends up reducing the other to a mere object of desire. The answer is not to eliminate eros, which is good in itself, but to complement and complete it with another type of love, for which the Greek New Testament uses the word agape. Agape is self-sacrificing love, in which the lover offers himself for the good of the beloved. The deepest revelation of God's love is precisely this agape, in which Jesus on the cross lays down his life for those he loves.