The Problematic Absolutism of Libertarianism

Thank you for joining the discussion, and clarifying the libertarian position.

I would like to try to establish what disagreements stems from a difference in subjective view of the world as opposed to what follows naturally from logic.

Let us start with the disagreement over the meaning of social contract. I did not quote the dictionary because I am overly pedantic about these things. Quite the contrary quoting the dictionary was a result of judging libertarian philosophy derive its logic from overly narrow definitions of anything of importance. To me and I belive most people, a social contract has always meant a loosely defined and implicit agreement between people within a society. I just looked up the dictionary to confirm this.

Even most Libertarians would agree that, as a practical matter, children aren’t capable of consenting to any contract. But at some point they do gain that ability.

Of course given a pointed question libertarians would agree children cannot make those decision. However my point was rather that a lot of libertarian thinking seems to have an implicit assumption that people are always rational consenting individuals. In my opinion, if one engages in closer reflection upon the ideas libertarianism is based on, one would realize there is a hidden assumption of individuals being rational consenting adults at all times.

In other realms your simpler way of looking at this would be called “slavery”. Back under the plantation system of slavery here in teh American South a few hundred years ago, some slave owners dictated which tasks their slaves would perform each day. Others allowed the slaves decide among themselves who would accomplish the various tasks. But letting the slaves decide what tasks they would each accomplish each day didn’t free them from slavery.

I struggle with understanding how you can make the leap from parents making decisions on behalf of their children to chattel slavery.

How can one enter into a contract voluntarily if, as you describe, they are simply born into it?

My point is that the instance that every implicit contract must be entered voluntarily is absurd, because we are not all through our lives capable of making consenting decisions. There are times when our legal guardians must do it for us.

You’ve taken the concept of slavery and renamed it “citizenship” and made your ancestors the slave owners who created the rules that you must abide by.

That seems like an absurd conclusion. You cannot exit slavery without the consent of the master. You can however exit citizenship without consent of your country of origin.

Your line of thinking uses a portion of Hobbes’ theory of the social contract — that people should cede their right to a sovereign (i.e. “government”) and then accept whatever rights that government grants back to you. What you leave out is part about each individual making the conscious choice to cede those rights to begin with.

Either your parents made that conscious choice for you as your legal guardian or you made that choice by immigration to said country.

Of course, if one follows the social contract theory as outlined by Locke or Rousseau, the government doesn’t “grant” anything. Under their concepts of natural rights, the individual claims their property rights through their labor and government exists to recognize and protect those rights.

I think here is the crux of disagreement. There are no universal truth that suggest there is anything like natural rights. That borders on metaphysical mumbo-jumbo. Legal and moral understandings are entirely constructed by humans.

It is an entirely impractical definition. Who defines what constitutes working the land? How do you define the exact border of this land, by such a vague idea? How does definition determine how much of the land you own below ground or above ground? Do you own the air above your land? Do you own the water flowing through your land? Your definition of ownership does not answer my challenge about whether you maintain some sort of absolute tyrannical rule over your plot of land or not. E.g. if I block water flowing through my land so the next plot of land gets none, am I within my rights to do so?

Nor does it follow that government should protect your land. If you maintain absolute power within your plot of land, why should government offer you protection? What exactly does government get back for that?

I suspect that most Libertarians would say that it is impractical to expect an infant to agree to anything. But most would also agree to the idea that once an individual reaches an agreed upon point in life, they should be treated as autonomous individuals and gain the ability to exercise the ability to consent (or not) to a social contract.

However you cannot cleanly separate the two parts of your life. Until you reach adulthood society had looked after you in a multitude of ways. You have already entered a social contract with society. That is no more slavery than a parent-child relationship should be deemed slavery.

In a libertarian fantasy land, the only one involved with raising a child are the parents, and the government is completely out of the loop. In reality government takes on a lot of responsibility for the welfare of children. They device laws to protect children. They offer child protective services. A government paid policeman may come and save you as a child from abusive parents. A child has no way of compensating that policeman for his/her services. Thus it is natural that the social contract is that society aids us when we are children in exchange for our contribution when we become adults.

That’s true in pretty much any discussion of various philosophies. One could pretty easily argue that your own points here are equally “religious”.

Many philosophies such as libertarianism, communism and fascism are extreme, taking on a religious dimension. But not all political philosophies are like that.

Calling my view religious has no merit. I am promoting a philosophy and a type of society which is already widely accepted by billions of people and has a proven track record. A libertarian society is mostly a fantasy, which has never worked. It is a fringe belief. Of course many great thinker contributed to it, but the same can be said of communism, but it does not make it any more practical for the real world.

Your argument of being bound by a social contract at birth via citizenship matches pretty closely with the feudal concept where one is born as a subject of a king (or queen) who rules by divine right and then grants you rights as they please. You’re just replacing “king” with “government”.

You are attempting to win the argument by tainting it by association with something which tends to be universally acknowledged as bad. It is sort of like make something somebody says, seem a bit like something Hitler said to invalidate it.

The problem is that your analogy just does not work on so many levels just like your slave analogy. In a Feudal state, citizens have no representation or ability to vote. They have not ability to undo or change the social contract. Citizens of a democracy do. Before you were born, all the grownups of the society you are now part of had the ability to vote and change the system if they disapproved of it.

If your parents had deemed society unfree, they could have left. They did not. They thus accepted the social contract, on your behalf, since you were a minor.

Geek dad, living in Oslo, Norway with passion for UX, Julia programming, science, teaching, reading and writing.

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