Feasibility claims in the debate over anarchy versus the minimal state

Taylor, Brad R. (2018) Feasibility claims in the debate over anarchy versus the minimal state. Libertarian Papers, 10 (2). pp. 277-293.

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Abstract

Feasibility is a concept often invoked but rarely defined in political argument. We hear claims such as “Your ideas are good in principle, but wouldn’t work in practice” or “Sure, but that’s never going to happen,” but the precise content of such claims is often unclear. Feasibility or practicality is obviously important and must in some sense be a hard constraint on political argument if political argument is meant to serve a practical purpose. It does not matter how good the proposed solution would be; the fact of infeasibility acts as a trump card removing any need for a balancing of feasibility against desirability. We need not entertain impossible ideas, even really good ones.

The idea of feasibility as a constraint on institutions and policy has played an important role in the argument for libertarian institutions. Buchanan’s (1984) characterization of public choice theory as 'politics without romance' and Munger’s (2014) gentle mocking of 'unicorn governance' have been powerful responses to those putting excessive faith in the willingness and ability of government to solve social problems. It may be possible to imagine an ideal set of policies through which a wise and benevolent dictator can produce a desirable result, but any real-world proposal relying on such assumptions is rightly dismissed as infeasible.

Feasibility arguments have also divided libertarian scholars. Anarchists and minarchists routinely accuse each other of making utopian arguments. I here consider these disagreements in light of the philosophical literature on political feasibility with the aim of both clarifying the points of disagreement in the debate on anarchy versus limited government and interrogating the role of feasibility considerations in political argument. I suggest that anarchists and minarchists often talk past each other because they are adopting different concepts of feasibility without clearly specifying their meaning. The dispute here is not merely a verbal one, but the argument turns on a variety of positive and normative questions that are often masked by loose talk about feasibility. This has lessons for the concept of feasibility more generally. The diversity of feasibility claims we see in political argument is too great to be captured by a single formulation, despite what recent work in political philosophy has attempted. I suggest that the concept of feasibility should be disaggregated using the method of elimination, and I show how this helps structure political argument and reveals sources of disagreement.


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Item Type: Article (Commonwealth Reporting Category C)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: This article is subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License (creativecommons.org/licenses).
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Current - Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts - School of Commerce
Date Deposited: 25 Jan 2019 02:56
Last Modified: 04 Feb 2019 04:15
Uncontrolled Keywords: feasibility; anarchy; minimal state
Fields of Research : 14 Economics > 1402 Applied Economics > 140213 Public Economics-Public Choice
22 Philosophy and Religious Studies > 2203 Philosophy > 220319 Social Philosophy
Socio-Economic Objective: E Expanding Knowledge > 97 Expanding Knowledge > 970122 Expanding Knowledge in Philosophy and Religious Studies
URI: http://eprints.usq.edu.au/id/eprint/35166

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