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Social Philosophy Today

Volume 18, 2002

Truth and Objectivity in Social Ethics

Alistair M. MacLeod
Pages 139-150

Freedom And The Role Of The State
Libertarianism vs. Liberalism

According to Libertarians, the freedom of individuals to make crucial lifeshaping choices is effectively and adequately protected if other individuals and agencies refrain from interfering with their freedom and if the state takes steps to ensure that such interference is either prevented or punished. This paper presents a “Liberal” critique of this position, in three stages. First, prevention of interference is only one of several conditions that must be fulfilled if an individual’s lot in life is to be legitimately traceable to his or her choices. Second, the additional conditions resemble prevention of interference in that their fulfillment cannot be secured by the unaided efforts of individuals. Third, these further conditions resemble prevention of interference in that their fulfillment cannot be secured on an equitable basis for all if the state does not assume responsibility for trying to ensure their fulfillment. The argument (of non-anarchist Libertarians) that the state has a role to play in securing the fulfillment of the non-interference condition ought consequently to be extended to support the view that securing the fulfillment of the other conditions of freedom of choice is also a legitimate function of the state.

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