Perhaps I should re-introduce the distinction (made elsewhere on this forum) between public moralities and private moralities. Historically, moral philosophy has covered a lot of ground, and embraced everything from the foundations of law to cultivation of virtues to one's relationship with God to self-improvement tips. I take a theory of public morality to be concerned with one issue only: rules governing interactions between agents in a moral field. All other questions regarding acceptable or desirable personal behavior --- whether one should eat meat on Fridays, attend church on Sunday, donate to this or that charity, "turn the other cheek" if smote, refrain from sex outside marriage, smoke marijuana, peruse pornography, etc., etc., fall within the purview of private moralities. Government should take no notice, neither promoting or suppressing, any private morality, unless one of them conflicts with a rule of public morality --- a rule generated by a sound, rationally defensible moral theory.
You take public morality to be concerned with rules governing interactions between agents in a moral field. But whose moral field? What or who defines that ‘moral field’? Is it a particular authority or is it about consensus? How might consensus be achieved? ‘Moral fields’ differ in time and space, which is one reason why different governments frequently disagree. What you take to be public morality might not coincide with somebody else’s interpretation. A dogmatic theocracy, for example, might take a very different view. You write as if it is a straightforward and clear process to create, “a rule generated by a sound, rationally defensible moral theory” . I don’t think it is.
I think that you are trying to present what you believe to be a sound, rationally defensible moral theory but I don’t see what is moral about it and I think that the need to present it as such ignores pragmatic necessities. I talked about the need for governments to serve people of all beliefs (though many governments clearly do not agree with that) and you pointed out, quite rightly, that “personal needs and desires” may well come into conflict with those of others. That is one of the reasons why I have a problem with use of the term, ‘morality’. I regard the management of conflict, both internal and external, to be an essential function of government. It involves compromise.
I'm not quite sure what you're arguing here. Are you advocating some sort of moral relativism? Moral nihilism? Or that somehow government is exempt from moral scrutiny?
I don’t accept that there is such a thing as objective morality. I believe that morality is a personal thing, which is why I stated that there are thousands of ‘moral’ views. I should have said billions. A government can certainly set out a set of ‘moral’ rules and commands it if sets itself up as the moral authority. I think that is dangerous. It can also set out a series of principles and protocols – such as are found in a constitution - which are the product of discussion and experience. The processes of law and scientific investigation procede in the same manner. There is no need to call these processes, ‘morality’.
You wrote of “moral scrutiny”. When I mentioned the conflict between the declarations in favour of liberty at the same time as sustaining a slave economy in the government of Thomas Jeffersons’s time you ignored it but, when I addressed the same accusation at the man himself you called it an ad hominem attack. Of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention, 49% owned slaves. I could have made the same criticism of any of these whilst knowing nothing of their personal character.
I wrote, “If a government commits itself to a particular aim, such as improving some aspect of ‘welfare’, then it needs to devote resources to achieving that aim. If, however, that government is also driven by the imperative of frugality, then the two purposes are in conflict”. You replied:
No, they are not. Frugality means not spending money unwisely or unnecessarily. Spending it as necessary to achieve a desired aim is not a failure to be frugal.
You offered a source for a definition. I found it very helpful and I shall quote it, since it is brief, rather than requiring you to search for it elsewhere:
1. Spending very little money and only on things that are really necessary.
2. A frugal meal is simple, inexpensive and not very big.
I did offer further explanation; “Either you allocate sufficient resources or you don’t. If a particular aim is achieved, then the urge to frugality requires that the range of other aims must be necessarily limited. This is not the same thing as working with limited resources. By specifying frugality, a counteracting factor has been introduced. There is a contradiction and a logical flaw”.
It seems to fit in with your definition very well. Your “desired aim” is determined by your frugality. Your “desired aim”, if you wish to be frugal, is bound to limit what you think is “really necessary”. If your “desired aim” is for government to be “simple, inexpensive and not very big”, then frugality will fulfill that aim and vice versa. There will be no requirement that it be tasty, enjoyable or fulfilling. The aims of welfare or freedom or whatever else grabs you will be necessarily and strictly limited.
Well, some substantive objections would be helpful. "Silly" and "strange" are non-responsive.
‘Strange’ was used in the context of ‘context’. You linked ‘rights’ with ‘righteous’ Since both seem to refer to ‘moral’ judgements, I didn’t feel that one helped the understanding of the other. The use “of extraordinarily simplistic and silly beyond belief” was because you mentioned the principle of first ownership without mention that ownership can be claimed, disputed, bought, sold and transferred. It did not come out of the blue; I had previously commended on the issue of ownership. The fact that you have explained yourself subsequently has no bearing on that comment.
There is a serious danger that this conversation is going to drift into uncontrollable side-issues because of the complexity of your original post. If so, I shall rapidly lose interest.
In trying to focus a little, it seems to me that a critical section of your original post is concerned with concepts of liberty:
Not until the early 20th century did advocates for “positive” liberty and material equality begin to appear. The adoption of these novel interpretations of liberty and equality by entrepreneurial politicians and resultant acceptance by the public fostered the spectacular growth of government power in the following decades.
It is worth pointing out that the conflicts alleged between liberty and equality arise only with respect to “positive” liberty and material equality. There is no conflict between those two concepts as understood classically.
I am not desperate to have a discussion about the value of ‘positive’ liberty, of whether or not it is a paradox or whether there is a third way. I understand some of the arguments and the distinctions between ‘freedom from’ and ‘freedom to’. This is likely to become extremely complicated because you also claimed an aim to improve welfare and the two directions do not necessarily coincide.
You, as I understand it, would like to live under a government whose ‘proper’ role is, “minimal, typically limited to the rights-defending functions just mentioned, particularly by providing a collective defense against foreign aggressors and a rule of law to secure domestic order and peace (e.g., police, courts, and prisons)”. Please correct me if I have this wrong, but it appears that you are also prepared to consider the merits of an Augmented Minimal State, which includes, “managing natural commons and supplying certain public goods. Unless competently managed natural commons such as public lands, the atmosphere, and major bodies of water succumb to the “tragedy of the commons,” and without certain public goods, such as public rights of way and a sound money supply, many of the advantages of social living are unattainable.”
That is not a society in which I would like to live, nor does it accord with my personal values. Any society to which I could give allegiance would be concerned with helping the more vulnerable members of society. It would not leave health care and education to private initiatives. They would be at the core of government investment because they would be an investment in the long-term future of that society. I would base the principles of that society according to the maxim that, if, prior to ‘arrival’, I had no idea what level in that society I would arrive, whether it be the most deprived or the most advantaged. I would like that society to enable my needs to be met in exchange for appropriate duties and obligations.
Your interpretation is somewhat different:
But since the early 20th century governments in the developed world have also, incrementally, assumed a paternalistic responsibility for the personal welfare of their citizens, taking upon themselves obligations to supply them with food, housing, health care, employment, education, pensions, and even entertainments. In addition they now dole out subsidies to every interest group resourceful and persistent enough to gain the ear of a politician –– for everything from local transit and sewer systems to farmers to favored businesses to rail passengers and television viewers to scientists conducting research of marginal or dubious value to opera companies and dance troupes. Between 1789 and 1930 governments at all levels in the U.S. consumed, on average, about 7% of GDP. They now consume 36%, and the trend continues upward.
I was not being flippant when I asked you, “Is your argument that the world pays too many taxes? Or that governments spend irresponsibily? Are you a survivalist? It sounds as if you are”. I want a government system which is responsible to the needs of the 21st century world, not the 18th or 19th century. Like it or not, the world is now dependent on massive investments which enable, for example, the means by which we are currently communicating. These investments were initiated by government programs, often contracting to private or mixed corporations and thereby generating growth in research in science, technology and in the economy. Many investments are beyond the means of individual countries. CERN, for example, or global positioning networks. Medical advances have gained hugely by discoveries in quantum physics. The cost is astronomical but so are the benefits. On the other hand, when free market capitalism was allowed to grow with very few governmental checks, we ended up in with a global financial crisis and forced government interventions worldwide, the consequences of which we are likely to be paying for the foreseeable future.
The world does not owe anyone a living.
There was a time when seriously wounded soldiers, on returning home from service, were forced to beg on the streets to survive. I would not want to live in such a society today. If part of the taxes I pay goes toward helping people suffering from physical or mental disabilities, then I am happy for them to do so. I live in a state where public welfare is valued. I consider myself very lucky.
I would not want to live under a government dominated by your criteria.