This paper aims to persuade its reader that libertarianism, at least in several of its varieties, is a species of the genus Michael Oakeshott referred to as ‘rationalism in politics’. I hope to demonstrate, employing the work of Oakeshott, as well as Aristotle and Onora O’Neill, how many libertarian theorists, who generally have a sincere and admirable commitment to personal liberty, have been led astray by the rationalist promise that we might be able to approach deductive certainty concerning the 'correctness' (...) of some political programme. Of course libertarians, in common with the adherents of almost any other political ‘stance’, are not a monolithic body, but exhibit a variety of more or less rationalist arguments for their views. For example, a thinker like Hayek, who is often placed in the libertarian camp, came to adopt much of Oakeshott’s critique of rationalism in his later work. And, of course, Oakeshott himself expressed an affinity for libertarian ideas in his essay, ‘The Political Economy of Freedom’ (1991 ). But a general predilection to enhance individual freedom as far as is deemed practicable is quite a different matter from taking a stance in which liberty, and liberty conceived in a rather narrow fashion, is the only value deemed admissible into ‘reasonable’ political discourse. (We will see in a subsequent section that Oakeshott recognized this urge to sanctify one value above all others as a logical requirement of striving for deductive political truths.) I believe that a critique of such libertarian rationalism is particularly relevant given the present situation in the United States vis-à-vis civil rights and the ongoing ‘war on terror’, in that many non- libertarian supporters of peace and strong civil rights find themselves allied with libertarians on these issues—if libertarians have gotten these issues ‘correct’, then how might they have gone wrong elsewhere? Furthermore, the critique may aid libertarians themselves, because, if the title of this paper is accurate, such a single-minded exaltation of one value above all others is an enemy of true liberty, so that libertarians might want to rethink adopting such a position. As Philip Pettit demonstrates (1997), freedom as non-domination is more robust and inclusive of all that we value about freedom than is the libertarian concept of freedom as non-interference; by allowing, say, immense economic power to be concentrated in a single corporation, as intervention to break the company up would violate the principle of non-interference, libertarian ideas may greatly diminish the liberty of the people subject to that corporate power. (shrink)
Peter Winch famously critiqued Michael Oakeshott's view of human conduct. He argued that Oakeshott had missed the fact that truly human conduct is conduct that 'follows a rule.' This paper argues that, as is sometimes the case with Oakeshott, what seems, on the surface, to be a disagreement with another, somewhat compatible thinker about a matter of detail in some social theory in fact turns out to point to a deeper philosophical divide. In particular, I contend, Winch, as typical of (...) those who only picked up on Oakeshott's work in the 1940s and 1950s, when Oakeshott became known for his critique of rationalism, failed to understand the idealist metaphysics underlying that critique. (shrink)
ABSTRACT Nassim Taleb?s dismissal of history as based on the ?narrative fallacy??which reads our present knowledge of past events into our reconstruction of the past?is based on a fundamental misconception of what historians actually do. Historians do not, as Taleb presumes, try to infer general, predictive laws from ?hard? facts, as do natural scientists; instead their aim is to discover the causes of unique historical facts among antecedent facts. This is no different, in principle, from ?narrating? the cause of a (...) supernova by referring to physical causes. The construction of universal historical laws would admittedly be a fool?s errand, but that is not the task historians?as opposed to historicists?actually set for themselves. (shrink)
Jeffrey Friedman has attempted to make a case for limiting state social engineering that is based on the skeptical epistemology of Sir Karl Popper. But Popper's epistemology is flawed, both in its rejection of a priori theorizing and its insistence on empirical falsification rather than confirmation. Classical liberalism of the sort that Friedman advocates requires, as its basis, positive knowledge of economics and social reality?not Popperian skepticism.