I’ve been reading the new Bleeding Heart Libertarian blog with interest. I’m not a libertarian by any stretch of the imagination, but I find myself in agreement with many of the principles that underpin it as a political philosophy. Jacob Levy gets at the heart of the differences between liberals and libertarians and then explains why, from a political perspective, they are not really very important:
So libertarianism as a doctrine in political philosophy had this distinctive contribution to make: it rejected state activity to increase the material well-being of the poor. I think by gradual drift, that came to seem like all libertarianism was concerned with.
But in the real world, state action to improve the material lot of the poor is not a very large portion of state action. This is politically predictable, almost trivially so. But that means that the focus on libertarianism’s apparent philosophical difference with Rawlsian liberalism gives us a very distorted sense of the work libertarians could do politically in the world. We don’t live in a Rawlsian world, separated from Nozick’s by the existence of poverty-alleviation programs. We live in a world characterized by massive state action of all sorts, most of which does nothing to alleviate poverty and a great deal of which is actively regressive or harmful to the worst-off.
If everyone in America understood those two paragraphs, this country would be a much better place.