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Public Land, Public Schools, Public Philosophers, and Public Policy

The Journal of Libertarian Studies
07/05/2005Roderick T. Long

Issue 19.2 of the Journal of Libertarian Studies continues the journal's interdisciplinary tradition, with intriguing new contributions in policy analysis, political theory, intellectual history, and jurisprudence. Here's what you can find in this latest issue:

  • It is usually assumed that under free-market anarchism all property would be private. In "Common Property Under Anarcho-Capitalism," Randall G. Holcombe challenges this traditional assumption. While a stateless society would of course contain no "public property" in the sense of governmental property, Holcombe argues that some areas of common property - property to which the public at large has a right of access - could justly emerge, either through homesteading or through endowment, and would indeed be likely to emerge. While granting that such common property may be vulnerable to certain inefficiencies, Holcombe questions whether it is radically unworkable; he also explores the circumstances in which the privatization of previously common property might be feasible and legitimate.


  • "Lookism" is discrimination based on a person's physical attractivenesss or unattractiveness. While lookism is not currently one of the legally prohibited forms of discrimination, its similarity to other forms of discrimination (e.g., against the disabled) raises the question of whether it might become one. In "Is Lookism Unjust?: The Ethics of Aesthetics and Public Policy Implications," Louis Tietje and Steven Cresap offer a number of arguments - some rights-based, some epistemic - against legal interference with such appearance-based discrimination. Tietje and Cresap also explore the question of whether judgments of attractiveness are socially constructed, biologically hardwired, or some of each.


  • Jürgen Habermas has arguably been the most influential German philosopher since Heidegger. Despite Habermas' reputation as a "democratic" opponent of "authoritarianism" and champion of "domination-free discourse," Paul Gottfried argues, in "The Habermasian Moment," that a disturbing strain of dogmatism and intolerance can be found in Habermas's work. In particular, Gottfried marshals evidence to show that Habermas is quick to brand those who disagree with him as fascist sympathizers, and that his commitment to free speech is unreliable. Gottfried's discussion locates Habermas' reputation within a broader German cultural context in which authoritarian tendencies are highlighted when they occur on the right but too often downplayed when they occur on the left.



  • Ludwig von Mises famously argued that economic calculation in a socialist commonwealth would be impossible because, in the absence of a price system, socialist central planners could have no rational basis for their allocation decisions; the inevitable result, Mises concluded, would be chaos. In "Archipelagos of Educational Chaos," Benjamin Marks applies a similar analysis to public education. Since the public school system is controlled and funded by government, it is insulated from market signals of profit and loss and so is bound to be less responsive to consumer needs than a voluntary system would be. In addition to such epistemic problems, Marks argues that government schools are likely to be motivated to inculcate an unhealthy deference to state authority.


  • Finally, J. H. Huebert reviews Randy E. Barnett's recent book Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty. Synthesizing arguments from Lysander Spooner's pro-Constitution The Unconstitutionality of Slavery and anti-Constitution No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority, Barnett argues that the legitimacy of the U. S. Constitution derives not from consent (since few if any American citizens have genuinely consented to be bound by it) but from the Constitution's content, which when interpreted in line with its original meaning (which Barnett, like Spooner, distinguishes from its framers' intent) is highly libertarian. In response, Huebert applauds Barnett's libertarian intentions but argues that Barnett overstates the extent of the Constitution's libertarian content. Huebert also criticizes, on decentralist grounds, Barnett's endorsement of and confidence in the use of federal power to impose libertarian standards on the states.

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Contact Roderick T. Long

Roderick T. Long is a senior fellow of the Mises Institute and a professor of philosophy at Auburn University. He runs the Molinari Institute and Molinari Society. His website is Praxeology.net.