Principles

PRINCIPLES….Matt Yglesias responds to a piece by David Boaz in which Boaz remarks that one of the nice things about having principles is that you don’t have to examine every single new situation de novo:

This, to me, is more or less why it’s not a very good idea to try and debate policy specifics with libertarians. That it’s an ideology that precludes trying to decide issues through some dull “look at all the data and decide what we think about every issue” doesn’t, of course, demonstrate that it’s incorrect, but it hardly lays the groundwork for a productive exchange of ideas.

Normally, I’d say this is an unfair criticism. After all, we all have principles we believe in, and we all use those principles to guide us on topics that we don’t have encyclopedic knowledge of. It’s not just libertarians.

But of course I know exactly what Matt is talking about, and I find it puzzling in a way. My personal experience is that while everyone has principles, libertarians are far more likely than most people to go over the cliff with their principles, examining issues on a bright-line, unidimensional philosophical basis without taking into account real-world outcomes or real-world issues of human nature that might soften their views. I suppose a big part of the reason is that while most people become vaguely liberal or conservative just because those are the usual choices, libertarians choose libertarianism much more deliberately. And they choose it because the philosophy appeals to them.

Still, it seems at least slightly odd that libertarianism seems to produce such a large percentage of true believers. And it’s true: arguing with true believers just isn’t very useful or illuminating. cf. George Bernard Shaw and wrestling with pigs.

POSTSCRIPT: On a slight tangent, have you noticed that although “ideology” and “principles” have nearly identical meanings in common usage, we usually use ideology when speaking about people we don’t like and principles when talking about ourselves? For example, this entire post could have been made even more hostile to libertarians simply by using the word ideology throughout, rather than principles. This is apropos of nothing. Just rambling.