2010-05-23

In two paragraphs, an interesting description of the moral purpose of Libertarian (old Liberal) politics. 
From the essay Liberty, Dignity, and Responsibility: The Moral Triad of a Good Society by Daniel B. Klein
The Interdependence of Dignity and Liberty
If the individual consists of multiple selves, the question arises: Should the government protect  Dr. Jekyll from Mr. Hyde, just as it protects the innocent citizen from the criminal? If the individual is multiple, then in a way his actions are not so personal after all. One self imposes an externality on other selves, and externalities raise the issue of whether the government ought to intervene. Americans commonly make the assumption that intervention is called for with regard to opium use, gambling, Social Security, safety issues, suicide, and many other matters. But the support for paternalism rests not only on the notion of the multiple self, but on the presumption that the conflict among the selves represents a sort of moral collapse. It is rather analogous to butting into a domestic dispute. A married couple needs to learn how to respect and tolerate one another, their dispute belonging to the drama of their marriage. In the case of the multiple self, the paternalist solution can make sense only once the hope for self-respect is lost. The paternalist presumes that the crew has taken over the ship, that all respect for the captain is lost and the crew no longer responsive to him. Dignity is gone. It is time, reasons the paternalist, to sacrifice liberty, too.

Thus, low societal dignity leads to coercion.  The less the citizen preserves his own dignity, the less it makes sense to say that he acts in keeping with the captain’s mission. Such doubt about individuals’ mastery over their own behavior is manifest in the war on smoking waged by U.S. Commissioner of Food and Drugs David Kessler. He views the decision to smoke as resting in the hands of tobacco companies. Owing to their practices, he says, “Most smokers are in effect deprived of the choice to stop smoking.” Part of the reason Kessler is prepared to doubt the dignity of the people is that, in fact, their dignity is not as high as it might be. For example, John Gravett (1993) wrote a magazine column titled “Life-Long Smokers Should Welcome Hillary’s ‘Nico-Tax.’” Gravett declares that the First Lady’s tax hike of two dollars per pack “will surely bolster my resolve to quit.”  “I, like so many other life-long smokers, am only waiting for a good enough reason to quit once and for all”. Rather than searching as an adult to come to terms with his habit, Gravett glibly asks that he (and all other smokers) be treated as a helpless child. Citizens such as Gravett lend truth and legitimacy to Kessler’s presumptions.

A short thought.
  • The use of the multiple-selves psychological paradigm is for the purpose of explaining the indignity of government parenting.  Refutations should not focus on this. 
  • This quote is a very good explanation of the indignity of government parenting that is easy to understand and read.

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