Monday, April 26, 2010

More on Machan

Even as I beg to differ with Tibor Machan regarding benefit corporations, I think he's done quite a fine job of responding to Ted Honderich's charge that a libertarian society would be morally abominable here.

In essence, Honderich moves much too quickly from the claim that, in a libertarian society, it would not be viewed as just for the state (or any other entity) to take responsibility for redistributing income to economically vulnerable people to the conclusion that no one would in such a society would acknowledge any moral obligation to redistribute income to economically vulnerable people. It is perhaps not altogether surprising that the impermissibility of the use of force here would seem trivial and irrelevant to Honderich, an occasional apologist for political violence. It is disappointing, however, that Honderich, a capable philosopher, can’t see the difference between “I am morally obligated to perform action action A (or one of a class of actions of which A is a member)” and “Physical force may be used to compel me to perform action A.” Machan seems to me to be correct that

it is quite often morally wrong for many who know of such a case [of great deprivation] to fail to provide help. (If, however, they had more vital goals to pursue, say attending to their children’s medical needs, this wouldn’t be so.) Lack of generosity, compassion, or support for those who deserve it would be morally wrong. Indeed, it could well be true of many that they ought to help anyone in such dire straits and very wrong for them not to do so.

I would only add that responding to economic vulnerability in a stateless society is not just a matter of personal solidarity, valuable as this is, but also of ending privileges that make and keep some people poor and of effecting reparations for past acts of large-scale theft and land engrossment.


christopher said...

There's a interesting thing most statists neglect. The argument that the State is necessary to care for the poor just has to assume that those in charge (the majority in a democracy) have a starkly different view on moral obligations than the group being ruled. It sort of assumes the rulers are the poppers and the ruled are the misers. But if the rulers didn't care about obligations to the poor, there would be far less going to the poor. The rulers would spend revenues on themselves and their projects.

Furthermore, it's always ignored that the main reason there is support for government support of the poor is that people care about the poor. This can't be expected to shift dramatically if the state were abolished. The only reasonable defense would be that governments take care of the poor better than voluntary organization, but I've seen no evidence of this.

Gary Chartier said...

Chris, I couldn’t agree more. I tried to make some of these points here: