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Wednesday, July 16, 2014


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You seem to have the basic arguments correct, from what I've seen, but I doubt whether you could effectively 'pass' as a liberal due to the way they are presented. In particular, liberals tend not to use phrases such as "the coercive power of the state," or worry too much about what constitutes a "legitimate function of government." Not that these things are unheard of from liberal writers, but the distinction between society and the state tends not to get made clearly. Instead of "The state may do X," leftists tend to speak along the lines of "We must do X," and take it as granted that state power is the natural way to go about doing X. Of course, it is difficult to give an honest assessment since your readers already know that you are 'doing a voice.' I would be interested to see this experiment repeated with your attempts juxtaposed with quotes from actual liberal sources on the same issues, so that we might attempt to guess which is which.

Excellent comment. 'Coercive power of the state' and 'legitimate function of government' are not likely to be used by liberals. I unwittingly tipped my hand and flunked the test.

I am reminded of a discussion I once had with a liberal philosopher who would not admit that the state's power is coercive. I will have to re-read some Rousseau, but it might be that my interlocutor was thinking that when the individual will is in harmony with the general will then there is no coercion.

I would say that the state is coercive by its very nature and that it has to be if there is to be a state at all. For example, the Federal and state government do not suggest that I make a contribution to their coffers on April 15th; they demand that I do so or else.

As Mason Kinney has noted, you use a lot of right-wing ways of talking. Another problem that I see is that you fail to carve out the middle a lot of times. For instance:

"The provision of welfare cannot be left to such institutions of civil society as private charities."

No lefty would say that (in public, at least). Instead, they would point out how even though the institutions of civil society are important for the provision of welfare, they are not enough, and the state is needed to do what private charities cannot do.

Also, I don't think a lefty would use the term 'positive right.' Instead, they would largely dance around that issue, and just use the word 'right.' Using the adjective 'positive' tips the hand that you think there is a clear bifurcation between positive and negative rights, which rightys tend to talk about a lot more about. It's not enough on its own to fail the Turing test, but its definitely is damage to your ability to pass it.

I think your second point is a good one. But I think you misunderstood the quoted sentence. It means that the provision of welfare cannot be the sole concern of private charities and such.

I like this exercise. It's a good one for us, and it also helps reachable lefties see that we "get it" before seeing our critiques.

Your summaries are pretty fair, but I think a couple of them could be made a bit more plausible. For instance, on the size and scope of gov't a liberal could agree that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are fundamental, but deny that they are purely negative rights. We don't let parents leave their infants outside to fend for themselves - not even parents who are fans of Ayn Rand. For that matter, we don't let them abandon younger children who theoretically could survive on their own. We (speaking in the liberal voice here) have a duty to help those who can't help themselves (and to a lesser extent, those who can do something but not really enough), and this collective duty we meet, as needed, through government services.

On capital punishment, I would at least add the argument that while you can free a wrongly convicted prisoner from jail, you can't do anything to help him once he has been executed.

On health and human services, I'm with Harrison Searles. Liberals I know would be fine with letting churches and communities take care of all the needs; it's just that they don't and maybe can't, so the gov't has a duty to step in. (The Roman Catholic principle of subsidiarity, but from the secular side of things.)

A p.s. to my previous comment: I wish more lefties would do this sort of thing. In public they seem constitutionally incapable of avoiding straw men when presenting conservative views. Some of that is obviously polemical, but it seems to hold even with fairly non-volatile issues in humdrum settings.


I should think that if there is a right to life, then it is purely negative. Either I'm alive or I am not. If I am alive, then I can't be given life because I already have it. If I am not alive, then I am not available to be given anything.

If there is a right to pursue happiness, then surely that can only be a negative right. For what could it mean to be given the pursuit of happiness?

Perhaps you understand 'positive right,' 'negative right,' and 'right to life' differently.

That capital punishment argument is a very bad one, but it is one that libs use. If I employed all the bad arguments libs use, I might seem to be parodying or mocking their position.


Re the right to life, I'm not sure what to call what I have in mind, but the example of an infant's right to the goods and care it needs to stay alive is what I'm after. Someone has to provide it with those things, so it isn't a negative right. Maybe it's not a right to life per se, but it's in the ballpark.

(I didn't express myself as well as I should have when I said that "a liberal could agree that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are fundamental, but deny that they are purely negative rights". The point I meant to make is that they can acknowledge that those are the fundamental rights, but that they - or at least the right to life - is not a purely negative one, at least if my reasoning in the preceding paragraph is onto something.)

I agree that the argument from wrongful execution isn't a good in-principle argument against capital punishment, but why can't it be a good or at least interesting in-the-real-world argument (and part of a cumulative case), at least depending on the numbers? It seems that it operates analogously to Pascal's Wager and to one pro-life response to the pro-choice claim that no one knows when life begins. (To wit: Supposing ex hypothesi that the pro-choice claim is true, abortion should still be avoided as it may be the killing of an innocent life, while the danger of letting the fetus live is not correspondingly grave.)

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