Arnold Kling’s essay on “Libertarianism and Group Norms” raises important issues. I have some sympathy with where Kling is going, very little with where he is coming from. Kling’s thesis:
I think it is unwise to dismiss altogether the case for group loyalty and adherence to group norms. My inclination is to approve of organizations that promote group objectives and attempt to limit individual choices, as long as participation in these organizations is voluntary. However, within libertarian thought, there are very different points of view as to whether or not the pressure to conform to group norms is morally justified.
He cites a lot of libertarian-friendly thinkers, including Adam Smith, J.S. Mill, Alexis de Tocqueville, Ayn Rand, and Friedrich Hayek, to show that libertarians are historically divided on the issue of “group norms.” To me, Kling seems to conflate group norms with morality. In other words, he presupposes that our morality is socialized, rather than that there is a real right and wrong which we perceive, sometimes of course with imperfect accuracy. For example, he writes that: “An important way to achieve status within a group is to adhere to and defend its norms.” Why not say that an important way to achieve status in a group is to practice virtue? Presumably because he thinks “virtue” is whatever the group says it is, so that to replace the words “practice virtue” with the words “adhere to and defend [a group’s] norms” is a way to avoid naivete. Note also this definition of morality, which Kling approvingly cites from Jonathan Haidt:
Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, technologies, and evolved psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate self-interest and make cooperative societies possible. Continue reading “Immigration and Group Norms” »