Saturday, October 15, 2016

Utilitarianism and Libertarianism

John Stuart Mill
Many libertarians try to use the theory of Utilitarianism to defend the idea of free-markets and property rights. They believe that free-markets and property rights are good because they promote prosperity in the society.

Utilitarianism has been described by John Stuart Mill as the Happiness Theory. In Utilitarianism Mill says that the theory is an outcome of the principle that “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness."

But what if the government promotes the happiness of one section of society at the cost of others?

To take care of this problem Mill has proposed the Harm Principle. “That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

But when there is no system to measure happiness how can the theory of Utilitarianism be applied? Mill has not provided any clear answer to this question.

In The Ominous Parallels Leonard Peikoff has explained why Utilitarianism is a flawed theory. Here’s an excerpt:
“Utilitarianism is a union of hedonism and Christianity. The first teaches man to love pleasure; the second, to love his neighbor. The union consists in teaching man to love his neighbor’s pleasure. To be exact, the Utilitarians teach that an action is moral if its result is to maximize pleasure among men in general. This theory holds that man’s duty is to serve—according to a purely quantitative standard of value. He is to serve not the well-being of the nation or of the economic class, but “the greatest happiness of the greatest number,” regardless of who comprise it in any given issue. As to one’s own happiness, says [John Stuart] Mill, the individual must be “disinterested” and “strictly impartial”; he must remember that he is only one unit out of the dozens, or millions, of men affected by his actions. “All honor to those who can abnegate for themselves the personal enjoyment of life,” says Mill, “when by such renunciation they contribute worthily to increase the amount of happiness in the world.”
The libertarians are wrong in thinking that the theory of Utilitarianism can support free-markets and property rights. If equal value is granted to the happiness of everyone then a criminal’s happiness is as important as the happiness of a productive individual.

When happiness of all is the moral ideal, then the government will try to spread happiness by ensuring that everyone has equal income. Therefore the logical outcome of utilitarian ideas is an egalitarian society with income equality. But such a society will be a slave society.

It is no surprise that John Stuart Mill, who began his career as an advocate of liberty, was proposing socialist political theories in his final years. 

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