The contradiction of classical liberalism and libertarianism

The contradiction of classical liberalism and libertarianism

Issued: Mon, 06 Feb 2017 14:59:00 GMT

Dr Michele LombardieThe London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) Review recently discussed ‘Liberal Egalitarianism & the Harm Principle’, an academic paper written by Michele Lombardi, Senior Lecturer in Economics at the Adam Smith Business School; Roberto Veneziani, Reader in Economics at the School of Economics & Finance, Queen Mary University of London; and Kaname Miyagishima, Associate Professor at the Department of Economics, Aoyama Gakuin University.

It is often assumed that classical liberalism or libertarian views represent a radical alternative to a progressive or egalitarian agenda in policy analyses and political debates.  However, it is difficult to overestimate the philosophical and political relevance of classical liberalism and libertarianism.  Developed over many centuries, the key concepts of libertarianism draw on the economic writings of Adam Smith and are a political ideology that value the freedom of individuals.  This includes the freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, markets and limited government intervention. 

The paper analyses the implications of classical liberal and libertarian approaches for distinctive justice in the context of the challenges that modern societies face, such as environmental problems and the allocation of resources between generations.  The study uses modern economic analysis to answer whether liberal views of individual autonomy and freedom can provide consistent foundations for social choices and discusses the implications of classical liberal and libertarian approaches for distributive justice and economic policies.  In particular, the paper studies the liberal non-interfering view of society first introduced by John Stuart Mill in 1859, the ‘Harm Principle’.

The fundamental idea of the harm principle argued by John Stuart Mill is that ‘the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.’  The belief is that ‘no one should be forcibly prevented from acting in any way he chooses provided his acts are not invasive of the free acts of others’ has become one of the basic principles of libertarian politics.

With recent academic papers raise doubts on the possibility of an impartial and efficient liberal approach to distributive justice that incorporates a fully non-interfering view, this research sheds new light on the established foundations of egalitarian principles and progressive politics. 


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