Imposing Values: An Essay on Liberalism and Regulation

Imposing Values: An Essay on Liberalism and Regulation

Imposing Values: An Essay on Liberalism and Regulation

Imposing Values: An Essay on Liberalism and Regulation

Synopsis

A major question for liberal politics and liberal political theory concerns the proper scope of government. Liberalism has always favored limited government, but there has been wide-ranging dispute among liberals about just how extensive the scope of government should be. Included in this dispute are questions about the extent of state ownership of the means of production, redistribution of wealth and income through the tax code and transfer programs, and the extent of government regulation. One of N. Scott Arnold's goals is to give an accurate characterization of both modern liberalism and classical liberalism, explaining along the way why libertarianism is not the only form that classical liberalism can take. The main focus of Arnold's book, however, concerns regulation - specifically, the modern liberal regulatory agenda as it has taken shape in contemporary American society. This is the set of regulatory regimes favored by all modern liberals and opposed by all classical liberals. It includes contemporary employment law in all its manifestations, health and safety regulation, and land use regulation. The heart of the book consists of a systematic evaluation of arguments for and against all the items on this agenda. It turns out that there are good arguments on both sides for most of these regulatory regimes. Because of this, and because someone's vision of the proper scope of government will ultimately prevail, some procedural requirements that all liberalscould agree to must be satisfied for one side to impose legitimately its values on the polity at large. These procedural requirements are identified, argued for, and then applied to the elements of the modern liberal regulatory agenda. Arnold argues that many, though not all, of these elements have been illegitimately imposed on American society.

Excerpt

Perhaps the most basic and fundamental question of political philosophy concerns the moral justification for the state. Why should there be government? and if there should be government, what kind of government should it be, and what should be its proper scope? the question of the proper scope of government is an enduring one in liberal polities and has a salience that it does not have in societies where the line circumscribing the legitimate role of the state is drawn as an afterthought. This is because liberals of all persuasions believe that there are certain areas of social life that are and ought to be off limits to government.

A philosophically adequate response to the question of the proper role of government would seem to require an argument from first principles. in On Liberty, John Stuart Mill argues for the Harm Principle, which says that the only legitimate grounds for social coercion is to prevent harm to others. the argument of that book is of course utilitarian. If Mill were asked why utilitarian considerations should be determinative, he would refer the questioner to Utilitarianism, specifically chapter 4, “Of What Sort of Proof the Principle of Utility Is Susceptible.” in this way, his answer to the question of the proper scope of government is rooted in deeper political, and ultimately moral, principles. As a philosopher, my first inclination was to approach the subject matter of this book in this way. I soon recognized, however, that whatever answer I gave to any of these deeper philosophical questions would be unlikely to be persuasive to those inclined to disagree with me about the proper scope of government. Another strategy suggested itself, but it required that I resist the impulse to try to answer fundamental philosophical questions. Instead, a more modest goal might be to seek agreement among my fellow liberals, leaving to others the task of justifying more fundamental principles.

As I understand it (and as defended in chapter 1), to be a liberal involves a commitment to limited constitutional government, which in turn involves a belief in equal liberty, democratic governance, and . . .

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