Skepticism and Freedom: A Modern Case of Classical Liberalism

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Skepticism and Freedom: A Modern Case of Classical Liberalism, by Richard A. Epstein. Chicago, June 2003. $39

This is the fullest defense yet of classical liberal values and organizing rules by the prolific and respected University of Chicago law professor. Unlike some libertarians, Epstein happily acknowledges that markets and other arenas of personal choice and interaction depend "on a social infrastructure that often only the state can create." But he argues that the leap from that to the modern intrusive, regulative, welfare state is large and fraught with both logical dubiousness and real-world riskiness. He departs from the simple proposition that individuals are poorly positioned to even know the preferences of others, much the less judge their relative worth. Instead of a confidence bordering on hubris, skepticism is appropriate in these and similar matters. Just as some postmodernists argue that deprivileging competing values should lead to the affirmation of the singular value of tolerance, so Epstein argues that the best edifice to build on this foundation of skepticism is one of respect for the autonomy of individuals and their consensual choices. …