Government decision making: Why political philosophy is the last consideration

March 29, 2021 by  

Some friends of mine were chatting via email about a high profile Objectivist, and a semi-well known libertarian (of the expressly anarchistic bent). They expressed concern that the Objectivist in question has said some things, or acted in ways, that reflect poorly on the philosophy of Ayn Rand, including positions on immigration, vaccines, or an interminable monomania about “Trump”. My friends essentially said that these two individuals nonetheless seem to get a lot of things right with respect to capitalist economics. I replied as follows.

Hi all:


I agree re: [the Objectivist]. It’s not that I dislike him or anything. However, he seems to share the libertarian curse of being indifferent to the role of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics in governmental decision-making. There’s a common fallacy – shared by libertarians and many Objectivists alike – that only the political branch of philosophy guides (i.e., has any relevance to) governmental decision-making.

As examples to the contrary, consider the various decisions that governments make, every day, about ethical, epistemological and metaphysical questions:

(a) That the pursuit of your own happiness is your highest purpose is a claim in ethics, not in politics. That achieving that happiness requires you to obtain objectively-determined values by rational means is a topic in ethics, not in politics. Why does government need to guide its decisions by such ethical concerns? Because it has to know *what* it is governing/defending, and *say* what it is defending. It is *making* only those laws that prevent others from preventing you from attempting to fulfill your ultimate purpose. If, according to government, Man’s nature is such that his highest purpose is to sacrifice of himself for the “greater good”, then government cannot justify making laws against someone taking your life, liberty, or property without your consent. If, according to government, Man’s nature is such that his highest purpose is to pursue his own happiness, then government cannot justify making laws pursuant to which it takes your life, liberty, or property without your consent. The moral issue of ultimate purpose is not a political non-issue. Every bloody day, government says or implies that our highest moral purpose is to stay locked down so that someone else’s granny doesn’t die. Every bloody day, government says or implies that your highest moral purpose is to sacrifice for the greater good. It says or implies such things because it has DECIDED such things to be the case. PURSUANT TO decisions about moral questions, it then makes political decisions to pass and enforce laws to lock us down, stick us with technology, and group us into those free to pass and not free to pass. The government’s political decision is preceded with its moral decision.

(b) That values are things that contribute – in the long term – to your *own* survival and happiness is claim in ethics, not in politics. When government decides that “We’ve got to deal with today’s problems today, and worry about tomorrow’s problems tomorrow”, it is deciding that your long term survival and happiness is irrelevant. That’s a moral decision, made by a government. It is not a political decision. When it says that fluoride is a good thing to add to the water supply, even if you take care of your teeth, it is deciding – at least implicitly – that value is intrinsic, not objective. That is a moral decision, not a political one. When it adds the chlorine, it is making a political decision that was preceded by its decision about the nature of moral value.

(c) That virtues are actions that facilitate your obtaining of objective values is a claim in ethics, not in politics. Before a government makes the political decision to impose a tax on “the rich” to fund a universal basic income, it first decides that it is virtuous for the governed to obtain values not by way of rational efforts but by way of force. That’s a moral issue, not a political one.

(d) When a government decides to impose lockdowns, mandatory vaccinations, or vaccine passports because 60% of physicians polled say that lock-downs, or vaccines, or vaccination passports save lives, the political decision to impose these measures is preceded by a decision about what to treat as a means of obtaining knowledge [i.e., the decision that a show of hands is a means of obtaining knowledge]. It makes an epistemological decision and, only thereafter, makes a political decision.

(e) When government decides to pass a law against “mis-gendering” because one’s gender is determined by how one “identifies”, or invests money in “the economy” because there reportedly is little “confidence” in the economy, it is acting upon its metaphysical decision that consciousness has primacy over existence. First it decides “mind over matter” metaphysically, then it decides “matter over mind” politically.

In short: a government is a *decision-maker*, and every political decision is preceded by a host of metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical decisions.

It is no different than you are, as a decision maker. Try it out on a personal basis. Pick any action on your part, and trace back all of the decisions that had to be made before you acted. Example: forcefully preventing a person from taking your glass of milk. Why should you do it? That’s not a political decision, that’s a moral one: “I decided that it is right that I put my own survival before that of a stranger who I do not value more than my survival”. Why did you decide that? That’s not a political decision, it’s an epistemological one: “Because I’ve experienced first hand that my nature is such that when I do not drink my milk I get hungry and suffer pain and ultimately could cease to exist; reason also tells me that I can expect that to be the case going forward…it’s a rational induction”. Why did you decide that it is a rational induction? That’s not a political decision, it’s a metaphysical one: “Because a thing’s nature is a thing’s nature: A is A”. Now wind the tape in reverse: I am what I am (metaphysics). I have sensory experiences to the effect that when I do not drink milk, I suffer pain; my experienced sensations of pain or pleasure are biological indicators that I’m doing something consistent with death or survival; reason tells me that it is rational for me to induce that it always will be the case that I must drink my milk to survive (epistemology). There are no shoulds or should-nots for me, if I’m dead – ethics is for the living – so my survival, hence my happiness, is my highest purpose (ethics). CONSEQUENCE: “I’ve decided to beat your ass unless and until you return that milk to me” (politics). No political decision is made without first making a host of metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical decisions.

Yet [the Objectivist in question] cozies up to the libertarians – and their belief that only political philosophy is relevant to government decision making; their belief that everyone who “loves freedom” can favour all of the same governmental decisions even if they have made different metaphysical, epistemological, or ethical decisions – as though Objectivism requires nothing other, when it comes to electoral politics, political parties, politicians, and governments.

Same goes for that [other] fella [the libertarian].

There’s not a single political position that anyone can advocate without defending the metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical decisions upon which it is founded. “It doesn’t matter why as long as we (or most of us) agree” is the same as saying that consciousness has primacy over existence. When that’s one’s position, freedom is no more defensible than any other popular stance (e.g., tyranny). Without a commitment to a foundation, a structural form, and materials of sufficient strength, a roof has no chance of remaining overhead. Political freedom doesn’t stand a chance without an unhidden commitment to reality, reason, and self.




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