A Note on “Strict Liberalism”

You might as well get it straight from the horse’s mouth. Liberalism, loose or strict

If you’re coming here from Bogpaper or Libertarian Home you might be wondering why this blog isn’t called Libertarian something or other; if you’re coming here fresh you may be wondering the same thing. Why the much-abused word “liberalism”?

For one thing, I just like the word. But mainly it’s down to my admiration for that most rigorous critic of politics, Anthony de Jasay.

Why are there so many meanings of “liberalism”? Why can supporters of ever-bigger government and ever-shrinking government both be “liberals”? For Jasay, the answer is in liberalism’s foundations: they are far too “loose”. Liberalism has a “weak immune system”, leaving it vulnerable to illiberal ideas. To survive, liberalism must have new foundations with a minimal structure. It must become “strict”.

Jasay’s “strict liberalism” rests on just two foundations, one logical, one moral. The first, logical, foundation, is “the presumption of freedom”. Briefly, (the reasoning is parallel to “the presumption of innocence”), there are a possibly infinite number of objections that could be made against any given act. No matter how many an actor refutes he can never prove there aren’t more. To make him – rather than an objector – bear the burden of proof, ie, prove that he should be free to perform an action, is to ask the impossible. One consequence is that “rights” are seen for what they are – permissions (hence the tag-line of this blog).

The second, moral, foundation is the rejection of “the rule of submission”.* In other words, the rejection of “the obligation of all in a community to submit to the decisions of only some of them […] in advance to decisions that certain persons reach in certain ways, before a community knows what those decisions are in fact going to be”. While submission on a case by case basis can be voluntary and rational, a general rule (“signing a blank cheque”) cannot. Hence, the legitimacy of government is “morally indefensible”. A strict liberal must be an anarchist.

I’m more than happy to call myself a strict liberal.

*see also “The anarchist’s case” by Jan Narveson

Twitter @StrictlyLiberal

Google+ Rocco Bogpaper


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