Notes From Babel

Science:Knowledge :: Libertarianism:Political Theory

with 7 comments

As science is to knowledge, libertarianism is to political theory.  The former represents the most rigorous species of its respective genus.  But it cannot account for the full breadth of the genus.  Science relies on other forms of truth that can only be supported by different species of knowledge, and it cannot account for all useful human knowledge.  In a similar way, libertarianism cannot account for the full scope of laws that can be considered legitimate; it cannot account for the breadth and nuances of political and legal life that humans demand of their governing institutions.

Written by Tim Kowal

January 20, 2010 at 10:12 pm

7 Responses

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  1. However, libertarianism is a good place to start given the rest of the choices out there. I agree there is no perfect system in place or a system that will please everyone, but on a given scale there are ‘better’ systems/theories than others.


    September 10, 2010 at 10:35 am

  2. Libertarianism is attractive because it can be expressed in clear, unequivocal terms. Moreover, it purports to carry very few value judgments. (Incidentally, these are further ways it is similar to science.) But this does not make it “better” than other systems. In fact, we cannot make such judgments until we first define what we intend to achieve through a political system. I take this to be the fundamental difference among the competing political theories. E.g., conservatism generally takes the purposes of government to be the same as the Founders—ordered liberty through a dual system of sovereignty, self-rule, and civic virtue; libertarianism the perfection of “negative” liberty; progressivism the perfection of “positive” liberty.

    Tim Kowal

    September 10, 2010 at 10:46 am

    • I disagree that conservatism in todays political scene has the same purpose and intent as the Founders. Most people in this country can’t tell you who the Founders are much less what they stood for. Conservatism, I believe, has such a broad definition, that it is a hard sell in your argument for being the theory best representing the Founders. And lets not forget that political parties change over time and that the Democrats or Republicans of early history are different from those of today. I think the best theory that best represents the purposes of government as set out by the founders is Constitutionalism. Constitutionalism is a branch of Libertarian Conservatism, so maybe I do agree with your argument for conservatism if given a specific enough definition. Honestly I hate getting caught up in definitions and terminology. I believe in individual liberty, free markets, private property, and limited government. Just as the Founding Fathers believed in.


      September 10, 2010 at 9:42 pm

      • Ideologies, such as conservatism, libertarianism, etc., do not change at the rate of political parties. But I take your general point. I do think that properly identifying systems of thought is important, however, which I talked about recently here.

        The key struggle for anyone who venerates the Founders’ vision is how to maintain any semblance of the system government they devised following the Civil War and the Progressive legal tradition of the past century. In short, liberals’ over-zealousness for European-style social democracy poses a grave threat to the right to individual liberty, and libertarians’ over-zealousness for individual liberty poses a grave threat to the right to self-governance.

        Tim Kowal

        September 10, 2010 at 10:54 pm

        • I can agree with that….and I think that goes back to the point that no one system is perfect, it’s just a matter of striking a decent balance. However, as far as we have strayed from the founding principles of this country a little over-zealousness towards individual liberties would do more good than bad. Good conversation…look forward to following your posts. Take care.


          September 10, 2010 at 11:39 pm

  3. […] This source of this conversation and follow on comments are at NotesFromBabel […]

  4. Interesting post, but I’m not sure what you mean by “laws that can be considered legitimate”. Isn’t the legitimacy of a law dependent upon whether or not it can be justified within it’s present legal framework? For instance, if we have a libertarian legal framework, or constitution, then aren’t laws that promote negative liberties the only legitimate laws? Or are you using some standard of legitimacy that transcends the legal framework, and if so, what is it? I think that whether or not one agrees with you to your answer to that question will determine whether or not one agrees with you that Libertarianism “represents the most rigorous species of its respective genus”.


    October 4, 2012 at 2:47 pm

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