Thursday, March 10, 2016

Freedom vs. Justice: Are They in Conflict?

-David Gordon
Libertarianism doesn’t often attract attention from The Atlantic, but a recent article, “The Information Revolution’s Dark Turn,” features philosopher Alistair Duff who attacks libertarianism in general, and Murray Rothbard specifically. Unfortunately, the article misrepresents libertarianism, but does so in a superficially plausible way. Many critics of libertarianism, I suspect, view it in the same way the article does.

The article is an interview of Alistair Duff, who teaches information society and policy at Edinburgh Napier University. Duff is interested in the information revolution in Silicon Valley, and he thinks that people who work there are too anti-statist.

Duff says of libertarianism, “I think it’s a mistaken philosophy.”
I have read [Robert] Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia, and Murray Rothbard’s Ethics of Liberty, and Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom — I’ve read it all, and it’s a flawed philosophy. The ultimate value is not liberty: It is justice. Liberty has to fit within the context of social justice. And where it violates justice, I’m afraid justice trumps liberty.

Libertarianism says that freedom is the paramount value. But I don’t think that’s the case. I’m a follower of John Rawls, the great Harvard political philosopher, and in his Theory of Justice, he makes clear that justice is the paramount virtue in political life.

It should incorporate a great deal of freedom, including some inalienable freedoms, but you cannot trump justice with liberty in the way Tim Cook is doing.
In brief, according to Duff, libertarians think that freedom is the highest value, but justice is in fact more important.

Readers might expect me to say that Duff is mistaken: freedom outranks justice; but this would not be a good way to proceed. To do so would be to accept the way Duff characterizes libertarianism, and it would be wrong to do so.