The Library of Law and Liberty published JMC fellow Michael Munger’s piece defending “directionalist” libertarianism and Nathan Schlueter’s essay disputing libertarian claims about government and human nature. Schlueter is also a JMC fellow.
Can Libertarianism Be a Governing Philosophy?
The discussion we are about to have naturally divides itself into two aspects:
First: Could libertarianism, if implemented, sustain a state apparatus and not devolve into autocracy or anarchy? By that I mean the lawless versions of autocracy and anarchy, not stable monarchy or emergent rule of law without a state. Second: even if the answer were “Yes”—or, “Yes, if . . . ”—we would still need to know whether enough citizens desired a libertarian order that it could feasibly be voluntarily chosen. That is, I am ruling out involuntary imposition by force of libertarianism as a governing philosophy.
I will address both questions, but want to assert at the outset that the first is the more important and more fundamental one. If the answer to it is “No,” there is no point in moving on to the second question. If the answer is “Yes,” it may be possible to change people’s minds about accepting a libertarian order.
No, But Classical Liberalism Can
Can libertarianism be a governing philosophy? This is an excellent question, in both senses that Michael C. Munger identifies and explores in his Liberty Forum essay. I am largely in agreement with Munger’s conclusions, for reasons I give below. But I also think his argument is at times unclear and ambiguous in unfortunate ways. That lack of clarity could be remedied by drawing a sharper distinction between libertarianism and classical liberalism, which gives rise to a third sense of the question: Assuming that libertarian principles can support limited government, is a libertarian psychology/anthropology sufficiently nuanced to provide the unique kind of prudence that governing requires?
Professor Munger received his Ph.D. in Economics at Washington University in St. Louis in 1984. Following his graduate training, he worked as a staff economist at the Federal Trade Commission. His first teaching job was in the Economics Department at Dartmouth College, followed by appointments in the Political Science Department at the University of Texas at Austin (1986-1990) and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1990-1997). At UNC he directed the MPA Program, which trains public service professionals, especially city and county management.
He moved to Duke in 1997, and was Chair of the Political Science Department from 2000 through 2010. He has won three University-wide teaching awards (the Howard Johnson Award, an NAACP “Image” Award for teaching about race, and admission to the Bass Society of Teaching Fellows). He is currently director of the interdisciplinary PPE Program at Duke University.
Nathan Schlueter is a professor of philosophy and religion at Hillsdale College. His research spans a variety of topics, including the libertarian-conservative debate, the thought of Wendell Berry, and family ethics. Professor Schlueter received his BA at Miami University and his PhD from the University of Dallas.
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