An Incredulous Stare

— Matt Yglesias says:

“It strikes me as a tautology to say that coercion in the pursuit of the common good is justified, and, indeed, necessary, though as I say people disagree and I don't know how one could possibly resolve such a disagreement.”

Resolution might be forthcoming (some day, not soon) if Matt would take care to start making sense. It's strikes me as a tautology that a tautology just says the same thing twice. “X is coercion in the pursuit of the common good” and “X is justified” somehow do not strike me as redundant. Suppose I (or “we”) believe that I will serve that common good by cutting off Matt's head on TV. Maybe it's me, but I'm not sure this gets me far toward justification.

Maybe by “in the pursuit of the common good” Matt means something like “taking the necessary means to an objectively good end that everyone would endorse were we all fully rational and in posession of full information” or something like that, in which case justification may not seem wildly ridiculous. But of course, the counterfactuals leave us ignorant of exactly what would be justified, although we may be fairly sure that it differs from Matt's notion of the pursuit of the common good.

I think that there are cases where coercion in pursuit of the common good is justified. But it is a very small class of cases. There are many cases in which coercion in the pursuit of the common good WOULD be justified if the consequence of applying coercion in pursuit of the common good was the common good. But very often, the consequence is the common bad, for coercion is often abused, despite the fact that we drift to sleep each night wishing, hoping, praying that men always do good and refrain always from evil.

Whatever Nozick didn't exactly say to you, Matt, he was right. Don't be proud.