In discussing the Libertarian philosophy, a few things have becomes clear. First, liberty is not absolute. Not only are we unable to do certain things (a natural limit to freedom), we also insist that there are things we may not do (an imposed limit on our freedom.) Second, this imposed limit on our freedom must be based on a universal code of justice. It is impossible to resolve conflicts or promote cooperation between individuals and groups without accountability to some common conception of the good. Third, the principles that determine this common good must appeal to a common authority. If there is no common authority accepted by all, there is very little chance of cooperation and conflict and partisanship is almost inevitable.
This is all very well and good, but where are we going to find this “universal code of justice,” these “principles,” this “common authority?”
In order to implement any sort of code of justice that is common to all, we must first have an understanding of human nature. We must also have an understanding of what justice means. We must then be able to articulate our understanding into principles to be implemented as a binding and universal code from which we can determine appropriate use of our will. By whose authority, then, do we understand human nature and justice?
We could appeal to democratic authority. In other words, we can determine the answers to these questions by means of a simple vote. Whatever a majority of the voters holds to be true shall be considered true. There are a couple of issues with this. Although the minority may agree to enact policy based on the principles of the majority, there is no guarantee against abuse. The majority opinion could in fact reflect the interest or good of that particular majority of people or of all the individuals in the majority, but it is impossible to say that it also reflects the interest or good of all. In order to show that it does reflect the interest and good of all and is not just an imposition of majority opinion, the majority would have to appeal to an authority beyond just the majority will. It is also clear that in no body of knowledge is democracy used to determine the truth of something. Biologists do not take a poll to determine what the makeup of our blood is. Historians do not ask at the nearest pub who won the Battle of Waterloo.
If the sciences depend on expert opinion to determine the validity of a claim, should we not look to the experts to help us understand human nature and justice? But who are these experts? The understanding of human nature and justice has traditionally been the purview of the philosophers. Even if we believe that the “hard” sciences can tell us all we can know about human nature, that in itself is an act of philosophy and thus we have become philosophers. Not good philosophers, but philosophers nonetheless.
We must then depend on philosophers to study and explain human nature and justice and what the principles on which on our communities should be built. Our Founding Fathers in America depended on philosophers. In fact, politics is always formed by philosophy of one kind or another. In every society, there are the “experts” or the “wise” which are given respect and often reverence for their obligation to provide the society with the principles by which it is governed.
Even philosophers, however, disagree on human nature. Not all philosophers are equal in either understanding or articulation. We have some philosophers believing that religious practice is essential to human nature regardless of whether the accompanying religious belief is true or not. We have others who believe that religious practice is a contingent aspect of human nature the conditions for which have long passed. Still others believe that it is necessary to understand the nature of the divine reality in order to understand human nature.
Which is true? How can we know who is the greatest of philosophers? By what standard or authority are we to judge them? Is there something beyond the philosophers to which they are held accountable? Is there an ultimate authority that is authoritative on its own merits? If not, is it possible to have a universal code of justice? Is it possible to have principles of the common good? If there is no ultimate authority, some sort of unassailable rationality on which the authority of the philosophers is based doesn’t that leave us with only our own reason and will on which to depend? Still, we have already found that the libertarian, relativist philosophy (which also depends on philosophers for its articulation) is insufficient to meet the needs demanded by justice and human nature.
Until very recently, all, or most, philosophers believed in some sort of unassailable rationality that underpins reality and most saw this rationality as a being, whether personal or impersonal. The philosophers who do not believe in a rationality which pervades reality are those who believe that nothing has meaning and everything is absurd. It is a despairing philosophy and not very helpful in the practical considerations of politics and society.
Ultimately, then, this Rationality is the authority by which we must judge the philosophers and thus judge our principles and policies. We must give assent to the philosophers who give the most compelling account of this Rationality. Where will this lead us? Who can say, but not all of us are able to study reality to the depth that the expert does. We must, ultimately, believe something someone else says. We can not work out all answers ourselves; we have neither the time nor the single-mindedness to pursue the questions. We must trust those who have dedicated their lives to understanding this Rationality. If we do not, we stand on very shaky ground.