The other essential tension

I spent the weekend at a joint Institute for Humane Studies and Mercatus Center policy seminar. Like all the events I’ve done with either, I enjoyed it tremendously. One thing always strikes me as a difficult question after events like this: the extent to which value-neutral social science and value-driven political positions can really be separate.

One of the hats I wear is that of a student of social science trying to answer questions about the world, answers that don’t depend on my preferring them to be one way or the other. Another is of a classical liberal who prefers things in the world to be one way instead of another and who, given the chance, would make them so. I don’t think these two really conflict with each other in the sense that I think the strongest justifications for classical liberal positions are lessons we’ve learned from social science, but I wasn’t always this way and can never really be sure my inner Rothbardian isn’t steering the whole ship. As a day-to-day matter I vent my political preferences occasionally on social media but spend most of my energy on the wertfrei stuff. The IHS seems to be able to blend these very naturally in a way I appreciate but can never quite force myself to do 100% when I’m on my own.