Michael Otsuka is a bright young moral philosopher. His first book is a defense of left-libertarianism, which conjoins (in his words) “a libertarian right of self-ownership” with an “egalitarian principle of distributive justice.” You might think that, since his theory is a hybrid of libertarianism and egalitarianism, Otsuka would be sympathetic to both. In fact, he is scornful of libertarianism. Here is a passage from the penultimate page of his essay “Self-Ownership and Equality: A Lockean Reconciliation” (Philosophy & Public Affairs 27 [winter 1998]: 65-92):
The incompatibility of equality with such giving and sharing poses an enormous problem for egalitarianism. Whether it also poses a problem for my project of reconciling libertarian self-ownership and equality turns on the question of whether the second of the two rights of libertarian self-ownership (the right to all of the income one can gain from one’s mind and body, including one’s labor) implies a right to give away or share one’s income. If, as many would no doubt insist, it does, then I will have shown self-ownership and equality to be compatible only outside of a context that includes nonmarket giving and sharing. This would be a serious concession to those who deem self-ownership to be incompatible with equality. Nevertheless, I will have shown that a libertarian right of self-ownership does not make the world safe for selfishness unbridled by the constraints of equality even if it does make the world safe for a certain amount of altruism unbridled by these constraints. Libertarians should not be happy with this result, since they are interested in more than the right to be altruistic. They are also interested in the right to line their own pockets. (p. 91; footnote omitted)
The final sentence is nothing more (or less) than a snide comment on the alleged motives of libertarians. As such, it has no place in a scholarly essay. Otsuka is implying that libertarians are unprincipled. The reason they defend libertarianism is not that they believe it’s the correct theory of justice; it’s that they want to line their pockets. Their arguments, therefore, are so much window dressing.
Two things. First, how does Otsuka know what motivates libertarians such as Robert Nozick? Doesn’t charity require that he impute good motives, rather than bad motives, to them? Does he not teach his students to be charitable? Charitableness is one of the things that distinguishes philosophy from politics. It is why many of us were attracted to philosophy and repelled by politics. Second, if libertarians are motivated by greed, then why aren’t egalitarians such as Otsuka motivated by envy? Why would only one side of this classic debate be improperly motivated? It’s all very strange. One suspects that Otsuka is telling egalitarians (wink, wink) that he is one of them. “Look at me,” he seems to be saying; “I can cast aspersions on libertarians just like you can. Don’t think that because I’m a left-libertarian I have any sympathy for these selfish creeps. Libertarianism is a detestable theory of justice, rooted in selfishness, and libertarians are contemptible.” Am I making too much of this? I’m trying to be charitable, but maybe I’m failing. I hesitated to write about this for several days, while I thought it over. I can’t think of an innocent explanation for the snide remark.
By the way, I’m not a libertarian. I do, however, believe in such things as intellectual honesty, charitableness, fairness, and civility.