Search This Blog

Monday, May 21, 2007

Tyranny of no Tyranny

update: oops, for some reason, comments were turned off. I've enabled them 'cause I know you're all just dying to post a comment :-)

Russell Roberts at Cafe Hayek is apparently getting more negative feedback on his post condemning the trans-fat ban in Montgomery county than he expected. In today's post he writes:

I think it is a big deal for many reasons. But before I make my case, I'd like to hear you make yours on either side of this issue.

Here's my response...


I'm generally in complete agreement with nearly everything you write here at Cafe Hayek. However, in my opinion, your post regarding the Montgomery County trans-fat ban crossed into territory that I feel could lead to a sort of a libertarian tyranny.

This ban is a local community (Montgomery County) imposing a restriction on its members. The idea that all communities should never be able to impose even a relatively mild restriction on its members by duly elected representatives is too extreme for me.

I also consider it to be beyond the libertarian framework. Consider the following passage on page 320 of the paperback edition "Anarchy, State, and Utopia" by Robert Nozick (a prominent libertarian thinker):

"The operation of the [libertarian/utopian] framework has many of the virtues, and few of the defects, people find in the libertarian vision. For though there is great liberty to choose among communities, many particular communities internally may have many restrictions unjustifiable on libertarian grounds: that is, restrictions which libertarians would condemn if they were enforced by a central state apparatus. For example, paternalistic intervention into people's lives, restrictions on the range of books which may circulate in the community, limitations on the kinds of sexual behavior, and so on. But this is merely another way of pointing out that in a free society people may contract into various restrictions which the government may not legitimately impose upon them. Though the framework is libertarian and laissez-faire, individual communities within it need not be, and perhaps no community within it will choose to be so. Thus, the characteristics of the framework need not pervade the individual communities. In this laissez-faire system it could turn out that though they are permitted, there are no actually functioning "capitalist" institutions; or that some communities have them and others don't or some communities have some of them, or what you will."

In other words, while Nozick just spent the previous several hundred pages of his book explaining why the "central state apparatus" must morally be libertarian, he's very quick to agree that communities themselves, need not be at all.

Many people simply want to have restrictions imposed on themselves and others. To insist that every community such as Montgomery county not impose restrictions is paradoxically, in my opinion, the tyranny of no tyranny.

No comments: