Saturday, September 07, 2002

Hmm. Just hours after posting the below thoughts on blogging and peer review, I noticed that editor Todd Seavey made similar points in his excellent e-monograph "Libertarians, Smoking, and Insanity" (specifically in the epilogue).

"Libertarians, Smoking, and Insanity" is filled with good sense. The Randian and Rothbardian locks on some parts of libertarian thought has gradually been diminished, but the Szaszian lock apparently hasn't. I wonder whether the latter, like the former, isn't in part a generational thing. Those of us who came of age long after the 60s a) lived with the excesses of deinstitutionalization more than with the dangers of wrongful institutionalization; b) lacked the cultural affinity that 60s free-love-free-drugs types had for Szasz; and c) didn't grow up in an era in which Szasz was a rare expert voice for freedom. (By the time we'd heard of Hayek he was already a Nobel laureate; in the 60s his reputation was of course quite different. When there are few voices on one's side, there's a natural tendency to idolize those few.) In Rawlsian terms, many 60s libertarians were and remain comprehensive-libertarians-- convinced that, once you have a theory of the right and of individual rights, there is no legitimate place for a theory of the good, a theory of wrong-behavior-that-is-not-unjust. Or, sometimes, they were and are convinced that the existence of such a theory would undermine the case for the theory of the right. Libertarians and classical liberals of Todd's and my generation are, I think, more likely to be political-libertarians, seeing no contradiction between condemning a behavior and thinking it should be legal.

Of course, if we can see warning signs in the tobacco industry's behavior, we can also see them in the anti-smoking lobby's behavior. Fraud has been in plentiful supply in the smoking debate; and while the anti-smokers gave a long way to go to catch up to tobacco-industry junk science, the second-hand-smoke issue has allowed them to make up some of the gap.

Anyway: go read the piece. Those who've never encountered Todd's way with words should have a look. A favorite line: "Creeping socialism is a problem, but so is death."

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