Debating First Principles: 'Freedom From' vs. 'Freedom To'

Friday, April 01, 2011

First Principles is a series of three debates on the moral underpinnings of today's politics co-sponsored by Demos, The Ayn Rand Institute and It's A Free Country. Part one explored the role of government, and part two, slated for April 7th, explores Freedom: For Whom and From What?

»» Get ready for the THIRD debate: Is Capitalism Moral?

Watch the First Principles Debate II: Freedom: For Who and From What?




Benjamin R. Barber, the internationally renowned political theorist, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos and President of CivWorld (at Demos), the international NGO that sponsors Interdependence Day and the Paradigm Project. He consults regularly with political and civic leaders in the United States and around the world, and for five years served as an informal consultant to President Bill Clinton.

Like the concepts of democracy, equality and justice, the term liberty is both value-laden and essentially contested. Its core meaning is in dispute at a deep level that cannot be refereed by science or reason in some objective fashion.

"She is free" is not an assertion like "she is young" or "he is wet," which can be subjected to empirical observation.

Because it is prescriptive and contested, what it means to be free depends on theories about our world, and what we want from and for that world . Do we have free will at all? And if so, what augments it? Education? Discretion?

What diminishes it? Fear? Addiction? Propaganda? Are marketing and advertising to be deemed forms of education that enhance choice or forms of propaganda that limit or even coerce choice?

Our views about these issues also turn on whether we regard women and men as "social beings," embedded in relationships, or "natural solitaries" born alone. Freedom can be seen as something to be preserved against social and political relationships, or something to be achieved through them.

The debate about freedom is really a debate about how we define human nature - as individualistic or social - and how we define social relationships – as always coercive (and hence freedom-robbing), or cooperative (and hence freedom-producing).

Libertarians and anarchists and Randians (yes, I know they are not the same) all start with the abstract philosophical premise that men and women are solitary individuals defined by their separation from others in an abstract "state of nature" that is the human condition.

On the other hand, democrats posit that human beings are by nature social, born into families, embedded in clans, tribes and other groups. Freedom for humans is not something that comes "before" those associations but something to be produced and secured within and through those associations.

In this sense, this debate about freedom debate is a natural continuation of the debate about government with which the series opened.

The libertarian/Rand position sees government as contrived, coming "after" the natural state of liberty, and thus as inherently coercive. If individuals are free, a government that constrains them - even if only through laws - is coercive. More government equals less freedom, a concept neo-liberal conservatives and the Tea Party enemies of "big government" argue nowadays.

The democratic position sees no liberty in the lives of isolated individuals who live in a fictional world of natural coercion ruled by the right of the strongest. Such “free” people in practice live lives that are nasty, brutish and short.

So perhaps we shouldn't be arguing about the abstract philosophical meanings of freedom. Rather we should debate the character of the human condition. For it is what we make of the human condition that determines what freedom means to us in a world where we do in fact live together and aspire to do so without being subjected to brute force.

To my mind, this means freedom is about autonomy, not capricious willfulness; it is about self-legislation, making the laws we live under ourselves, rather than about being left alone, left in a place where there is no law. To be free is not to live without or beyond the law. That is merely living—lawlessly and licentiously—and is usually an excuse for the rule of the strong over the weak. Liberty requires not the absence but the presence of society and law.

Harry Binswanger, a longtime associate of Ayn Rand, received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Columbia University. During the 1980's, he was editor of The Objectivist Forum, a bimonthly journal devoted to Ayn Rand's philosophy. Since 1994, he has been professor of philosophy at the Objectivist Academic Center of the Ayn Rand Institute.

The individual is an autonomous being. His life belongs to him, not to society, his neighbors, the needy, an imagined God, or the state. He is not born owing anything to anyone. He owns his life free and clear. He does not have to live at all, much less live a life of servitude.

This radical view of the individual sets the context for the Objectivist view of freedom. Freedom is "freedom from" - freedom from interference by others. "Hands off!" - that's what freedom demands. There is no freedom from nature, from the law of cause and effect, from the necessity of acting to sustain one's life, achieve one's goals, and use one's mind. Rain may spoil your picnic, but it does not limit your freedom. Gravity does not deprive you of the "freedom" to flap your wings and fly. It is against men, not nature, that we have freedom.

But freedom must be universal. There is no "freedom to rob." As someone once put it, the limit of your freedom to swing your fist is my nose.

This is what sinks all notions of "positive" freedom - "freedom" from want, "freedom" from hunger, "freedom" from poverty. My "positive freedom" would require your unfreedom - since you would have to work to supply me with the benefits my "positive freedom" supposedly requires.

It is claimed that a hungry man is not free. This is the destruction of the concept of freedom. It implies that someone else must feed the hungry man. Food, like all human values, has to be produced--produced by someone's time, thought, and effort. Either the producers of those goods are free to use and dispose of them or not. If an individual must surrender the product of his effort to others, he is not free.

This cannot be disguised or evaded by imagining that the supplier of the goods claimed by"the hungry man is "society" or the government. Society is just a group of interacting individuals, not some vague abstraction floating above them. The government is a group of individuals empowered to make laws backed up by coercive penalties. Only individuals create values. For "society" or the state to supply these values to "the needy," it must first seize those values from those who have created them.

Thus Freedom" is a negative concept. It specifies an absence: the absence of interference from other men. And from the government. Though it is an absence, it is supremely important. The *factual* negative of non-interference is a *moral* positive, just as the absence of cancer is a medical positive.

What makes the absence of interference morally positive is that it is required for man's survival, progress, and happiness. That's the lesson writ large by the whole of human history. Philosophically, it reflects the fact that the operation of the human mind requires the absence of coercive interference by others. As Ayn Rand observed, "Freedom is the fundamental requirement of man's mind."


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Comments [24]

Richard Vertrees

"The debate about freedom is really a debate about how we define human nature - as individualistic or social - and how we define social relationships – as always coercive (and hence freedom-robbing), or cooperative (and hence freedom-producing)."

Did anyone else read this and ask, "Doesn't the fact that a human can ask this question prove his individuality?"

The fact that someone can look that their surroundings and make decisions on their own proves an inherent individualistic nature. This this nature didn't exist the debate would not exist because everyone would be happy in their society. Its a self answering question.

If someone asks, "Do i exist?" The answer is, "Well if you didn't how did you ask that question?"

Apr. 26 2011 06:34 PM
Louis from Bayside


You are one angry dude. Why take personal shots at me? You said "but the conversation goes more smoothly if you are sociable enough stick with the standard usage or at least cite your “sources” accurately for the egocentric meanings you inflict on the rest of us."

The #2 entry on is
"having autonomy; not subject to control from outside; independent." This definition matches the usage in my refutation just fine as it is a refutation of Harry's statement "The individual is an autonomous being." Harry's usage was certainly not entry #1 since that is an adjective pertaining to government and not people. Harry in that quote is making a statement about human nature and that is what I refuted as being false.

Since you have no rebuttal to my refutation you are descending into excessive fault finding (yes citing the Biology definition was a mistake but it still doesn't change the nature of the discussion about whether people are independent entities or not).

Since you accuse me of "defining English words by any arbitrary meaning your purpose needs", I ask you -- is the #2 entry of the dictionary not an appropriate source for standard usage?

Since you are accusing me of "egocentric meanings" I also ask -- is remembering that you depend on others for everything egocentric?

I am shocked by the condescending tone and sarcasm you employ just because you don't like what I am saying. Your statements about my "over-strenuous efforts to pay off the “womb debt” and bolstering my self-esteem are rude. Why would I want to have tea with someone who treats me so badly?

Apr. 20 2011 03:21 PM

Another point that freaked me out during the debate was Mr.Barber's argument that objectivism's concept of individual rights leads to the 'Law of the Jungle.' It shocks me that so-called educated people don't have a clue what 'Law of the Jungle' or Darwin's theories actually, accurately mean in the real world. If Mr. Barber's version of Law of the Jungle was accurate, there would only be lions or, better yet, only elephants surviving in the wild. All wild animals don't compete head to head on the same level for survival. Same with humans. Shockingly, wild animals compete and cooperate and now there is even evidence of interspecies play. Same with humans.

The old collectivist theories of what government and society should be or ought to be are becoming so far removed from reality as science keeps advancing. Read Sam Harris' new book, The Moral Landscape, where he suggests that science can chart and calculate an objective morality! It's a pretty mind-blowing read and I can't help seeing how it almost scientifically leads to proving Ms. Rand's concept of an objective reality!

Apr. 11 2011 01:18 PM

Hey Al:

Worker's of the World Unite!
You Have Nothing To Lose But Your Lunch!

"Workers (or at least their children)
Lose Lunch"
[It's not like they're being offered a job]

"At his public school, Little Village Academy on Chicago's West Side, students are not allowed to pack lunches from home. Unless they have a medical excuse, they must eat the food served in the cafeteria.",0,4567867.story

Do you think that the slacker-enabling doctors
who facilitated the Wisconsin union demonstrations will be as generous with their medical notes for these students or their parents? How will the upsurge in apparent "cafeteria-food-allergies" interfere with various efforts to track actual medical conditions?

Time for a cup of tea?

Apr. 11 2011 12:32 PM

Well "Barbera from Brooklyn", "Albertine Brand from NYC" does not appear to be looking for anything "lite" (if I may be permitted a bit of "snark", Al seems to be seeking to avoid any "light" under the shade of his moldy Marxist tracts).

I think we're going to be handicapped as we continue the discussion of Mr. Barber's comments because we have no recourse to an archived copy of those remarks (or at least I cannot find one)

My notes contain another troubling comment that seems to belong to Mr. Barber, something about progress being "the irrational thievery of Nature being replaced by the rational thievery of the State".

Now as I said, I am relying on my notes, and it's possible that he was saying such things as a quotation of other parties view of progress - not his own. But it would be most reliable to have access to a recording of the actual remarks.

See you at the movies : )
April 15th is almost upon us.

feel free to pass along the recommendation.

Apr. 11 2011 11:47 AM
Albertine Brand from NYC

The remarks last Thursday about philanthropy were very interesting. The Rand speaker says we should rely on private philanthropy for social services and disasters, etc. Mr. Barber asked "what if it isn't enough?" He should have cited how it is never enough with examples like the Irish Potato Famine.

It was precisely the "laissez-faire" attitute in 19th Century Europe which led to 1/3 of the Irish population killed by that famine, while the ladies of London had bake sales to raise chump change to fix the problem, even though their husbands and their entire economy lived off the "efficient" but non-resilient agribusiness perpetrated on the colonized for 500 years Irish, and Indians for that matter!

What the Randian guy left out is that the humanitarian disaster that arises sends countless millions into misery and then penury as wage slaves for capitalists. 1/3 of that Irish population that didn't die got sent all over the English speaking world into decades of uncertain wage slavery to build railroads all over USA, South Africa, Australia. Those families were permanently de-racinated and made dependent instead of independent on their own little plots and in their clans back in Ireland. This is what these theories set up.

The same thing happened in New Orleans with Katrina. The truth is philanthropy doesn't come near addressing the needs of a wage slave population for social supports, which is why so many are in misery and so many young men end up in crime in the US.

But, all these conditions suit the capitalists who profit from misery, chaos, and social degradation because that creates new generations of desperate wage slaves! All that is the evidence despite their slight-of-hand deceit about "freedom" and "independence". In the days before the social safety net, US streets were filled with children as street urchins, and orphanages were full of children whose parents couldn't keep them. Many of them were Irish-American. And that is the case in every country where these conditions are allowed. Only a small group benefits.

Historic evidence shows exactly what happens with this theory about reliance on philanthropy. It shows exactly who prospers, and who doesn't! In the US, it also shows the cultural engineering made possible by the philanthropists, such as with this funding free Ayn Rand paperbacks for kids so long after her death, and so long after social science and knowledge has evolved beyond those mid-20th Century Red Scare era notions! The evidence shows exactly what has happened here with the proliferation of these ideas across what was once a unified Middle- and Working-class here. Unity! Very dangerous for the ruling elites!

Apr. 11 2011 11:08 AM
Barbara from Brooklyn

Anyone in the mood for a lighter note? See the video link posted here by geTaylor today.

geT: I believe Barber was trying to illustrate the idea of society as a relational web. To personalize his example about mothers is your choice, but that misrepresents his point, IMO.

Apr. 09 2011 06:18 PM

@Barbara from Brooklyn:

I was at the "debate" also; I have to "confess" to some heightening of my own feelings of "distaste" for Mr. Barber's twitchy presentation, seemingly buttressed by his cloying rhetoric that his position is correct because of the "womb" debt we owe to our mothers.
(I would have thought that such matters would be between left to attention of my mother and me - how did Mr. Barber become the "collection agent" for a debt he is not a party to? And just to explore what the dimensions of his conceptual claim are - do orphans from birth owe the same debt as children whose parents live a long life? What are the implications of "in vitro" gestation?)

Certainly, the are many ways to experience the phenomena of life in the wondrous universe (or any of them); a single track is a requirement for a moving train - not so helpful to a human mind. But it seems to me that each way and every track requires someone or some group to gather, pay for, invest in, or expend the time / effort they need to join the phenomena of the world beyond the auto-pleasure of the conceptual. I say that the decisions as to value of those gatherings, payments, and expenditures should be made by those individuals who will actually make them.
And that the essence of tyranny is the requirement that what I value should be valued by you as a matter of law.
(Didn't achieve the "parallelism" intended; but just so this hasn't been a total bore, here's a little parody you may enjoy.
: )

Apr. 09 2011 12:24 PM
Barbara from Brooklyn

I attended the debate last evening. Thank you, NPR. Brian: I confess, no change in my position.

I found the gentle tone of Harry Binswanger, to be disarming. Not so, the core his Rand teachings.

Reason is not the only pathway to knowledge. Any system of thought that espouses freedom while undermining the intuitive and emotional pathways, is, itself, repressive.

Unfettered individualism is simply another invitation to tyranny. I suspect Objectivists would try to circumvent any evidence running counter to their self-interest, including the scientific discoveries in quantum mechanics.

Morality transcends systems. No one system of thought - or form government, or social system, or religion - produced the horrors of the twentieth century. Individuals did - via absolute power obtained through blind egoism, and the tools of dehumanization, fear and violence.

Our founders designed a constitution calibrated for checks and balances: to minimize the potential for abuse of power, and the risk of tyranny.

I have witnessed young minds held hostage to closed systems of thought. It happened long ago to people I love. Mr. Barber's refutations were heated, but understandable. He was pointing to the heart of decency and freedom within our democracy.

Apr. 08 2011 10:12 PM

@Louis from Bayside:

Sorry Louie -
(wasn't that the slogan of an iconic canned tuna commercial?)

If you look at the "sentence fragments" that you "sourced", mis-apprehended, and then conflated
i.e., "independent of others ; existing as an organism independent of other organisms or parts ."),
I think you should admit that you have, I’m sure unintentionally, misquoted the entry that appears under the “Biology” section of the definition. (I've copied the entire “ “ entry below along with the actual url) (Do you think the dictionary authors meant to identify a specialized use of the word by people engage in the field of “Biology”)?

The entire and accurate entry found at :

   [aw-ton-uh-muhs] Show IPA
Government .
self-governing; independent; subject to its own laws only.
pertaining to an autonomy.
having autonomy; not subject to control from outside; independent: a subsidiary that functioned as an autonomous unit.
Biology .
existing and functioning as an independent organism.
[ ]

Now, you and Louis Carroll’s Walrus are free to use or define English words by any arbitrary meaning your purpose needs; but the conversation goes more smoothly if you are sociable enough stick with the standard usage or at least cite your “sources” accurately for the egocentric meanings you inflict on the rest of us.

(BTW: As I said, the misquote could have been unintentional, possibly a product of fatigue brought on by your over-strenuous efforts to pay off the “womb debt” that Mr. Barber introduced last night as the maximum justification for his schemes to enslave, first the young and then their elders, with his schemes of involuntary national service, notwithstanding the prohibitions of the 13th Amendment.

I make such unintentional errors myself sometimes; I fact, in order to bolster your self-esteem, I’ve included several in this posting for your discovery. Can you identify them?)

Maybe we can share a cup of tea at the next "First Principles" Debate? : )

Apr. 08 2011 03:00 PM
C. Morano from New York City

The troubling part of Mr. Barber's well articulated argument is that LAW is the highest moral authority. If it is the LAW then we should all be coerced after we have signed the mystical 'social contract.' I can't accept this. Practically all laws are morally ambiguous and we have so many laws that they can only be arbitrarily enforced. Man's rational mind is above LAW and the bad laws (my conservative guess is 90% of laws suck) must always be modified or disregarded but rarely ever are! We still have absurd Puritanical laws on the books and most new laws are equally absurd.
Adult human beings must freely choose their social interactions. To just say we are social animals and that it okay to force us into herds like cattle is anit-man. The bottom line, to think like Mr. Barber I always ask a basic question, "Do you believe in the afterlife or reincarnation?" That is the ONLY logical explanation for believing that 'man must sacrifice for others' is his only chance at existence. It turned out equally horrible for Jesus and all the other mythical characters that sacrificed themselves. Only if resurrection becomes a scientific fact will I ever consider giving up a second of my life for another human being by force. If it's by my choosing, fine, okay.
My personal favorite moment of the debate was when Mr. Binswanger honestly said that if someone was dying the state does not have the right to force him to pay to save the man. The audience gasped as if Mr. B had blood on his hands, as if he practically murdered the imaginary man! I'm sure at the moment of our discussion, people were dying at the very moment the debate was happening. Was everyone guilty of murder who was sitting in that plush auditorium. Why weren't we out saving lives? Who's lives? It's a moral dead end and paying taxes for healthcare programs does not make you morally a good person.

Apr. 08 2011 11:20 AM
P Brandt from NYC

It is really sad to see this debate paid for by rich people in NYC to promote ideas they love that are 100 years old. Rich people in NYC never present complexity economics ideas that blow all these 20th Century post-communist/red scare stuff out of the water about what really creates real wealth on this planet.

It is unbelievable they get to keep perpetuating these ideas that the low-tax/no-tax crowd since the 1950s loved as soon as they laid eyes on Ayn Rand. She was their useful tool and their money to promote her ideas in kids' minds remains their useful tool like at events like this one. The proof is in the pudding however. After 5 decades of this "kill the beast" diatribe financed from these quarters, "the beast" is dying and the social consequences will be very severe for property owners everywhere.

Already, real estate is in a devaluation mode because of the financial collapse brought on by the "freedom" of these uber-mensch running capital here to do what they wish with mountains of money like in the Napoleonic Era. That is a big deterrent to "freedom" from want, and freedom to be self-determined in this "democracy". The damage done by these Randian ideas are evident. The history of Athens also shows clearly what happens when Uber-menschen can trod rough-shod over the ordinary decent hardworking people i.e. the majority. When their daughters are prostitutes on the street, they'll see what they did, what they were complicit in. Well, their daughters won't be...

In the meantime, Santa Fe Institute provided the alternative to the bought Chicago and Fresh-water Schools that still get paid by their trustees to push this crap only because it reinforces low-tax/no-tax! Rich people in NYC if they really care about their children's future should be promoting debates with Complexity theorists, not Simplicity Theorists- Over-Simplicity Theorists. What do hedge fund managers know about complexity? What do they know about evolution of knowledge? Once they learn to do a few trades, in a few obscure asset classes, that's all they need.

This "debate" was a waste of time and a waste of tax exemptions. I'd rather see the tax money from these rich sponsors pay the deficit they created by their taxcuts in service of their Stockholm Syndrome to the Uber-menschen! The Uber-menschen have jets at Teeterboro, and will NOT be in the cash only lines at the airports when the s#I*T really finally hits the fan here, as it has done in many other places with these debt-money bubbles! They'll have their daughters with them!

Apr. 08 2011 11:07 AM
Michael Caution from Columbus, OH

Unlike the first, I was very disappointed with this debate. Mr. Barber showed himself to be a strong speaker. That in itself might have been a good thing however Barber used his podium more as a bully pulpit. All throughout the debate he was belligerent and always trying to have the last word while Dr. Binswanger was polite and respectful. Mr. Barber was even close to using personal attacks against Binswanger at the beginning. Of course this is without criticizing Barber's woeful ignorance of Objectivist ethics/politics.

Enthusiasm is one thing, ignorant rancor is another.

Apr. 08 2011 12:50 AM
Louis from Bayside

I didn't state any definition of autonomous in my post. It is odd that you think I did. I merely posted a refutation of why human beings are not autonomous assuming a particular definition of autonomous. Clearly there are some differences in the way you and I are using the term.

I sourced the definition of autonomous from (the sense I am using -- there are others on the page)
"independent of others ; existing as an organism independent of other organisms or parts ."

The article Harry Binswanger wrote certainly contains this usage when he says things like "He is not born owing anything to anyone" as if he was born of a vacuum. What I am pointing out is that everything he has comes from others (his clothes, food, house, language, education, and even his body comes from others).

In reality we exist in a vast web of interdependent relationships from which we cannot extricate ourselves.

The quote you cited is interesting:
"In moral and political philosophy, autonomy is often used as the basis for determining moral responsibility for one's actions."

We can take responsibility for our actions if we understand how our actions affect others which, if you check, is an understanding of interdependence and is not based on a view of living beings as independent entities (which in my view autonomy implies).

I feel there is definition creep in Harry's article because I understand that another aspect of his usage of the term autonomous is freedom from coercion and wrt that usage I agree.

Apr. 07 2011 11:28 PM

There is a certain false equivocation argument used by collectivists against individual freedom that goes like this: "Humans are social animals, therefore we need the government to do X, Y, Z."

But this is a play on the word "need." Nobody ever "needs" to be robbed, raped, enslaved, murdered, or coerced. so this is invalid. The fact that human beings are social is a boon to Harry Binswanger's argument. Man's interactions and cooperation with other men are beneficial ONLY ON CERTAIN CONDITIONS, viz. individual rights.

Social cooperation is achieved by the principle of voluntary interpersonal actions, trade and exchange to mutual benefit. The reason why men do associate and form relationships is because they recognize they are better off, i.e. it is a matter of self-interest. Initiating physical force is not social cooperation and it is not freedom, it is theft, slavery, and ultimately murder.

Apr. 06 2011 09:15 PM

@Louis from Bayside:

Where did you get the idea that " . . . Seems to me like . . . " is the proper way to determine the definition of a word or a concept.
For example, the following seems to be a standard definition of "autonomy":

"Autonomy" " . . . is a concept found in moral, political, and bioethical philosophy.
"Within these contexts, it refers to the capacity of a rational individual to make an informed, un-coerced decision.
"In moral and political philosophy, autonomy is often used as the basis for determining moral responsibility for one's actions."

Where did you come up with the definitions that include: "taking a photograph of one's self"; tailoring one's own clothing: etc,. etc.

Apr. 05 2011 01:11 PM
Louis from Bayside

Harry's article asserts: "The individual is an autonomous being." This is refuted by Harry's photograph. Did Harry make his own clothes? Did he produce the textiles his clothes were made from? Did he construct his own glasses or produce the materials they were made from? Seems to me like the "autonomous being" depends on others for quite a bit. Not to mention the food in the fridge, the sidewalks he uses, and the home he lives in. Harry if you believe that the individual is autonomous then how come we depend on others for so much?

Harry also says "He is born owning nothing to anyone." How about the kindness of a mother? If it were not for our mother taking care to avoid certain things during nine months of pregnancy and make sure not to do anything that would hinder our development we would not have been born with a healthy body and mind. That seems like a pretty existential kindness to repay don't you think?

It seems like his entire philosophy is concerned with freedom from interference from others. As long as human beings kill, lie, cheat on their partners, steal, and use divisive speech we will find others interfering in our lives. Thus the freedom we are seeking will not be found on the level of politics since only morality can uphold the laws of men.

Apr. 04 2011 04:29 PM
JohnPattillo from Timonium, MD

Mr. Barber says, " "She is free" is not an assertion like "she is young" or "he is wet," which can be subjected to empirical observation."
Did Ayaan Hirsi Ali escape the oppression of Islam in Somalia? Did she receive death threats from Islamists in the Netherlands? Does she require bodyguards even here in the U. S. against those death threats? Pretty easy to answer “Yes,” unequivocally and empirically. The threat of death is pretty easy to grasp and confirm, but I guess not for a subjectivist like Mr. Barber.
Was Galileo threatened with death and torture by the Roman Inquisition unless he recanted? Were slaves regarded as property in the pre-Civil War South?
One could go on ad infinitum giving self-evident examples of what freedom, or its absence, mean. But perhaps Mr. Barber just doesn't understand how science and reason operate.

Apr. 04 2011 02:39 PM

Hey Mr. Barber:

Would you care to state how you would explain that "freedom" is " . . . both value-laden and essentially contested. Its core meaning is in dispute at a deep level that cannot be refereed by science or reason in some objective fashion . . . " to Mr. Weiwei.
Or would you advise Mr. Weiwei to be more cooperative with his social milieu?

Apr. 04 2011 01:54 PM
Stephen Grossman

>[Barber]liberty.... cannot be refereed by science or reason in some objective fashion.

Barber confesses that he has no rational justification for his ideas and thus for debating. Binswanger has already won the debate.

Apr. 04 2011 10:45 AM
Alan McKendree

"ROLE"!! The proper ROLE of government, not ROLL. Sheesh!

Apr. 04 2011 10:20 AM

Harry Binswanger is right on the money, and Benjamin Barber is hopelessly mired in "complexity-worship" and arbitrary "positing."

Where Binswanger and his Objectivist mentor Ayn Rand methodically and simply locate freedom in the facts of observable reality, i.e. the social requirements for an individual's survival and flourishing, Barber founders on the shoals of subjectivity.

Consider Barber's initial broadside, that liberty is "value-laden," "contested," and "cannot be refereed by science or reason in some objective fashion." Well, it can: every "is" implies an "ought. If you want to live, be happy, and successful, there are certain steps you must take in life.

The corollary is: you must be left physically free to act on your own independent judgment, in order to accomplish that.

Barber obviously hasn't done his homework about Objectivism, particularly Ayn Rand's essays "Man's Rights" and "The Nature of Government," which calls into question his credibility as an opponent.

Likewise, Barber philosophizes in midstream, leaving the question of free will unanswered, and arbitrarily assigning subjective, unexamined "wants" as moral-political primaries.

In contrast Binswanger makes the useful distinction between "negative" and "positive" conceptions of rights, and points out the contradictions in the latter.

Would that we had gotten over this latter, Marxist conception of rights, after its spectacular failure in practice.

Barber is perhaps most confused when he says: "Our views about these issues also turn on whether we regard women and men as "social beings," embedded in relationships, or "natural solitaries" born alone."

Where Ayn Rand points out that we perceive entities before we perceive how those entities interact, Barber wants to champion process as the epistemological primary.

Of course individuals are "natural solitaries" in an (emphatically non-Hobbesian) "state of nature": that's directly observable. In reality, there's no collective super-organism, only individuals. They have their own respective needs and wants, which may be met by voluntarily interacting with other individuals with whom they have values in common.

Finally, Barber is hopelessly muddled in his understanding of individual rights as "rule of the strong over the weak," and contravening the rule of law.

In the former case, he's obviously ignorant about the Objectivist distinction between the power of the gun (of the initiation of physical force,) and the power of voluntary persuasion (capitalism.)

In the latter case, he equivocates on the distinction between a constitutional republic, dedicated to the protection of individual rights (whose leaders happen to be elected democratically) and the "capricious willfulness" of the mob.

The rule of law should be dedicated to protecting individual rights, not the enslavement or massacre of a minority.

I encourage everyone to witness an interesting debate.

Apr. 04 2011 05:50 AM

Chaplinsky v. State of New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568 (1942) was a case badly decided by the Supreme Court of the United States, in which the Court created out of whole cloth the fighting words doctrine, a limitation of the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech

Apr. 03 2011 08:39 PM

Mark the date;
Freedom dies from complicity of its citizens in the cowardice of its elected representatives.

"Free speech is a great idea, but we're in a war," Graham told CBS' Bob Schieffer on “Face the Nation” Sunday. (on 4/03/11)

As reported by
on Sundeay, April 3, 2011.

Apr. 03 2011 07:37 PM

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