Tag Archives: Classical Liberal

Liberty and Utility

Now for something a bit lighter than what has been posted over the last few weeks.  An initial look at liberty, freedom and other synonymous terms and an alternative.

This is a very generalised post written in late 2005.

Liberty is for Libertarians and those classed as Classical Liberals. Personally I can’t separate the distinction between Libertarians and Classical Liberals.

To most Liberty is about freedom.  So it is to Libertarians.

Liberty is about the freedom of choice.

Libertarians, the followers of the ideal of Liberty place only one restriction on people: that is that you do not force others to do what you want and prevent them from living by their own choices.

The major dilemma with Libertarians is that given the choice, they do not have to have concern for the social well-being of the rest of society.

Utility is the effective happiness and security of a group. In short, Utility is concerned with society’s welfare.

The major dilemma with utility is that what maximises utility under one set of circumstances may not under another. Utility is very context specific or judged on a case-by-case basis.

Utilitarians are willing to restrict the liberty of some to interfere with their choices, if doing so will promote greater benefit and general welfare of society than not doing so. This is something Libertarians cannot tolerate. As long as you are not interfering with other people’s choices, then no person, group, or government should disturb you in living the life you choose; not even if doing so would maximize happiness and security for the majority of society.

This is only the very basics of Libertarianism and Utilitarianism.

Liberty promotes choices. Utility promotes happiness. Which one do you prefer?

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What is a Liberal?

In the Australian context, the two major political parties are the Liberal Party and Australian Labor.

The Liberal party is a fusion of classical liberals, libertarians and conservatives.

Classical Liberalism is a doctrine stressing the importance of human rationality, individual property rights, natural rights, constitutional limitations of government, the protection of civil liberties, an economic policy with heavy emphasis on free markets, and individual freedom from restraint.

Libertarianism believes that every person is the absolute owner of his or her own life and should be free to do whatever he wishes with his person or property, as long as he respects the liberty of others. There are two types of libertarians. One type holds as a fundamental maxim that all human interaction should be voluntary and consensual. They maintain that the initiation of force against another person or his property – with “force”  meaning the use of physical force, the threat of it, or the commission of fraud against someone – who has not initiated physical force, threat, or fraud, is a violation of that principle. Libertarians generally do not oppose force used in response to initiatory aggressions such as violence, fraud or trespassing. Libertarians favor an ethic of self-responsibility and strongly oppose the welfare state, because they believe forcing someone to provide aid to others is ethically wrong, ultimately counter-productive, or both. Libertarians also strongly oppose conscription because they believe no one should be forced to fight a war they oppose.

Conservatism is a political philosophy that favours traditional values. The term derives from the Latin, conservare, to conserve; “to keep, guard, observe”.  Since different cultures have different established values, conservatives in different cultures have different goals. Some conservatives seek to preserve the status quo, while others seek to return to the values of an earlier time, the status quo ante.

In Australia, Conservatives are mostly of the status quo ante variety believing that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. The rule of law above a monoculture of absolutes.

Conservatives want to conserve particular forms of human identity and relationships. These include:

– the relationship between members of an ethnic group based on a shared ancestry, culture, religion, history and language

– our masculine identity as men or feminine identity as women

– our role as fathers and mothers or husbands and wives within a family and our place within a family tradition

– marital love and paternal & maternal love

– our sense of connectedness to nature and our attachment to a particular locality

– a positive sense of our moral nature and of the existence of an objective moral order

Conservatives believe that historically, individuals did not create these things for themselves. Instead these forms of relationships grew in a distinctive way within a particular tradition. Some of these oppose the very idea of classical liberalism.

Collectively this fusion of philosophies like to govern in the manner of economic rationalism or neoliberalism as it is called in other parts of the world.

Neoliberalism refers to a political-economic philosophy that de-emphasizes or rejects government intervention in the domestic economy. It focuses on free-market methods, fewer restrictions on business operations, and property rights.

There are other similar definitions:

  • Government policy combining domestic free markets with coercive opening of foreign markets by political means
  • A philosophy that takes the conditions of the market to be the moral perfection of mankind and unconnected to efficacy of producing goods.
  • The rule of the market entirely by microeconomic units and rejection of macroeconomic concepts and hierarchies such as the good of the state and society.

With the wane of trade union influence on Australian politics we can focus more on today’s underlying philosophy of the Australian Labor Party than the communist and socialist affiliations of the traditional union.

Today’s Labor consists largely of social liberals and social democrats.

Social liberals value liberty, rights and freedoms, and private property as fundamental to individual happiness, and regard democracy as an instrument to maintain a society where each individual enjoys the greatest amount of liberty possible. While the State does have an important role in ensuring positive liberty, social liberals tend to trust that individuals are usually capable in deciding their own affairs, and generally do not need deliberate steering towards happiness.

Social democracy, on the other hand, has its roots in socialism, and (especially in democratic socialist forms) typically favours a more community-based view. While social democrats also value individual liberty, they do not believe that real liberty can be achieved for the majority without transforming the nature of the State itself. Social democrats retain a strong scepticism for capitalism, which needs to be regulated (or at least “managed” ) for the greater good. This focus on the greater good may, potentially, make social democrats more ready to step in and steer society in a direction that is deemed to be more equitable.

I believe sensible libertarians or their offshoot known as minarchists would also find a home in Australian Labor along with the social liberals. Minarchists have a consequentialist or utilitarian viewpoint. Instead of having moral prohibitions against initiation of force, Minarchists support a limited government that engages in the minimum amount of initiatory force (such as levying taxes to provide some public goods such as defense, law, and roads, as well as some minimal regulation), because they believe it to be necessary to ensure maximum individual freedom.

Today’s Labor also governs in the manner of economic rationalism but are not entirely against socialist or arguably social democratic principles of nationalising infrastructure and they are not opposed to intervention in the economy in a Keynesian manner.

So we have liberally applied intervention in Labor and liberally applied individual autonomy in the Liberals.

So I ask, what is a Liberal?

My Political Conceit

This post is about education.

Please do not be fooled by the beginning of this post discussing the “War on Terror” as  it is really about taxpayers subsidising private schools and the often proposed voucher system for schooling.  It seems even the classical liberals who favour such proposal are having a disagreement over the issue.

Written Mid-2007

In March 2003, we decided to tag along again with the United States and invade Iraq as part of the Coalition of the Willing on the War on Terror. We had a number of reasons stated for this invasion, it is difficult to tell if any of them were ever true as the reason for “war” kept changing. Those of us with commonsense easily predicted that it would become the quagmire it is now. It has gone on so long now, and has not done many of the things it intended that no one but a few care about it anymore. You can see most new blog reports about it over at Road to Surfdom. As it is one of the few places that still care. Only a couple of Australians have been injured and only one was by an attack. Most Australians have no connection with involvement in Iraq and don’t care about it at all. Not to mention foreign affairs have always been determined by the Heads of State thus the general populous has no say over it.

Iraq will not be a factor in the upcoming Australian election because we do not have an intolerable death toll and thus it is not a domestic concern. And domestic concerns are what decide elections.

One of the stated reasons for the war on Iraq was the removal of the tyrant dictator Saddam Hussein. For the purposes of this post let us assume that this is true. The war or invasion has achieved this but the following result is the chaos of urban guerilla warfare that was predicted.

Now compare that to my long held view on private education vs. public education.

There’s an argument that’s often made that sending your child to a private school saves taxpayer money – I didn’t get it. It sounds like you are being taxed at a higher rate for sending the child/ren to a private school when you take private school fees into account.

Outside the curriculum private schools shouldn’t receive any public monies.

There is also usually a voucher system proposal in this debate.

Its a voucher worth $x so you can choose to go to either a public or private school.

Or alternatively the government funding private schools beyond the curriculum.

But doesn’t this make both schools public defeating the point of a private enterprise system? Thus making all schools public.

Before continuing I must say I still agree with the intent of that. However I have finally understood how sending a child to a private school saves the taxpayer money because it is a lesser burden on the public school system on having to support that child so in theory allows more money to spent on public school education as the parent is still effectively paying for both school systems, one via tax and the other via choice. The result is good as it initially appears to be with the Saddam Hussein and Iraq example but my problem with this is it is unlikely ever to be the child or children’s parents intent to alleviate the burden on the public school system. Even if a few do have that intent, it is unlikely that a large number of them share that intent.

Whilst I can support the intent of removing Saddam but not the following result, I can support the result of a parent to send to their children to a private school but not their perceived intent.

I cannot see how I can arrive at a synthesis of supporting the intent in Iraq but not the result and the result of private schooling but not the intent. As a result oriented individual I have no choice but to accept that Private Education when applied properly is a good thing.

Update: Dan at Kewpid.net recently addressed a similar issue.

Further Reading: School Vouchers: An Evaluation (pdf)