Biddle, Borders Debate Moral Foundations of Liberty

Image: Ari Armstrong at FEE
Image: Ari Armstrong at FEE

As those who have followed my work over the years realize, I was once active in the Libertarian Party and the broader libertarian movement, but I no longer regard myself as a libertarian. (See for example, my 2012 essay for the Objective Standard on the subject.) The basic problem with libertarianism is that it regards objective morality as inessential (or even worthless) for establishing liberty. To my mind, Craig Biddle has written the authoritative critique of libertarianism. But I remain friends with many libertarians and seek them out as allies for certain specific reforms.

Recently Biddle and Max Borders of the Foundation for Economic Education debated the moral foundations of liberty. Biddle argued that objective moral foundations are possible and necessary for establishing genuine liberty; Borders argued that morality is subjective.

Here’s one of Biddle’s key lines: “[I]f you want to defend your freedom to act on your judgment, you need to be able to defend the idea that it is moral for you to act on your judgment—that you have a moral right to act on your judgment, to keep and use the product of your effort, and to live your life as you see fit.”

And here are a couple of Borders’s key lines: “There ain’t no such thing [as rights]. Rights don’t grow on trees. They are socially constructed reality just like if I pulled out a dollar bill—which I can’t because I already spent it in the drink machine. I can hold up that dollar, and if I give it to you, we all agree in some sense that this dollar has value—intersubjectively we can agree to that. . . . I think that societies that value freedom and make it primary, make it primary through intersubjective agreement.”

It’s an interesting debate, and the entire transcript is offered at no charge.