Libertarianism and the Myth of Radical Autonomy

Libertarians often insist that human beings are radically autonomous agents, uninfluenced in some crucial respect by the various causes that on a naturalistic understanding of ourselves explain behavior. This view tends to justify a laissez-faire political philosophy, since if people are mostly self-made, there is little society can, and therefore should, do to alleviate the difficulties of those who are unlucky in life. But interestingly enough, libertarians are also mightily concerned to limit government intervention, lest it have too much of an impact in our lives. This suggests that they actually do recognize the power of social and environmental influences, and that the self-originating autonomy they defend is simply a rationalization for keeping government "off our backs." What follow are some exchanges with libertarians, two in Reason magazine, another in the Boston Globe. I then critique of Ayn Rand's Objectivism, and take up the issue of what sort of state, the laissez-faire disciplinarian state, or the mentor state, maximizes liberty.

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