Machan versus Locke: Is “pure” libertarianism possible?

Res Publica 3 (2):149-163 (1997)
Abstract
This paper is concerned with the distinction between classical liberalism and libertarianism and in particular with the claim of the latter to offer a theory of the good society which is independent of, and different from, that offered by classical liberalism. My argument is naturalistic in the following sense. A good society is one which delivers whatever is good for people, so that a theory of the good society (to ~ a theory of the good society) must say something about what people are like and what is good for them. That is to say, it must be capable of making such judgments coherently and on its own terms. I shall argue that libertarianism is incapable of making such judgments because it rests on a Hobbesian radical individualism in which, by analogy with classical physics, people exist only as particulars, as individuals. If there are no general classes we cannot say what people have in common; if we cannot say what they have in common, the only "general" good is the negative liberty which enables them to pursue their own goals in their own way. Radical individualism leads by the shortest of routes to moral subjectivism. Thus libertarianism derives such plausibility as it has by drawing illicitly on aspects of classical liberalism which do not depend on radical individualism. In doing so it undermines not only its claim to be a distinct theory with its own foundations, but most of its own claims about what is good for people
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