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A thought that occurred to me about the difference between libertarians and progressives:

I think part of the reason libertarianism is so popular today (despite the poor showing of the Libertarian Party, which is a separate issue) is a result of the dominant ethical discourse being one of autonomy. When discussing ethics, people tend to come down to ideas like "as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else" and "don't tell me what to do." The corrolary to this is the idea of consent -- that any risk or harm is acceptable if the person at risk has consented (explicitly or implicitly) to it. It seems that almost any policy, no matter how progressive, is couched in terms of freedom and autonomy.

It occurred to me today that this system of ethics is based on a very analytical (as opposed to holistic) view of the world. Libertarianism views individuals as fully rational and autonomous free-willed beings, existing in their own inviolable sphere of influence. Crossing the borders into anyone else's sphere then requires the freely given consent of that person. This view is associated with the idea of rights, which are the rules that outline each person's sphere. Certain things become simply off-limits in order to preserve this autonomy.

A progressive (far left wing, in the US) viewpoint, on the other hand, seems to be very holistic. Progressive rhetoric is aimed at revealing the ways practices have unintended bad effects on things outside their spheres of rights. For example, "a corporation may have every right to move to Mexico, but look at how bad that is for its former employees." In this system of thought, because everything ultimately influences everything, we can't box people off into little autonomous spheres. Everyone needs a say. Hence the discourse of democratization associated with progressives. This kind of a holistic view would seem to lead to a consequentialist system of ethics -- things are right or wrong based upon how they affect the system.

But the funny thing is, progressives are often the first to talk about rights -- human rights, the right to work, etc. I guess it just goes to show how much more muddled these categories are in real life than in philosophical thought.


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