Every so often, folks who learn about the political positions of Objectivists and Libertarians will ask why Objectivists are so careful to distance themselves from Libertarians, despite the seeming similarity of the political views they advocate.
Objectivists respond that the political positions they advocate are grounded on an entire philosophical system (starting with metaphysics and epistemology, then working up to ethics and politics), whereas Libertarians in general start from an entirely incompatible philosophical base (or bases).
Hence, Objectivists will not gain any real benefit from an alliance with Libertarians, despite their apparent agreement in the derivative field of politics because of their profound disagreement on fundamental philosophy.
Although I’ve already discussed this issue at length in a different essay, I recently ran across a concrete non-political example of the same principle in action.
Yesterday at the medical conference I’m attending here in Hawaii, we discussed a case of a woman from a small village in Guatemala who had been suffering from rapidly worsening seizures. The superstitious villagers wanted to “make a hole in her head and let the evil out”. Since she didn’t especially relish that idea, she fled Guatemala and escaped to the US. The first thing she did after landing at the airport in New York City was to make her way to the NYU Medical Center. The hospital arranged some emergency funding for her case, and after a series of tests including a brain MRI scan, they found the source of the problem — a certain type of benign brain tumor.
The neurosurgeons treated her appropriately and she has done well since.
Some might argue that the NYU neurosurgeons and the villagers agreed in their recommended course of action — after all, both parties wanted to “make a hole in her head and let the evil out”. But of course, this seeming agreement on the derivative issue is totally undercut by their radical disagreement in fundamentals, including their respective metaphysics and epistemology on the nature of seizures, health, human biology, and (ultimately) in the nature of the world.
Certainly, the NYU neurosurgeons had nothing to gain by working with the medicine man from the Guatemalan village.
And that’s why it’s important to agree on the fundamentals.
(As always, there are the usual interesting side issues on the merits of ad hoc alliances, etc., but I’ll save those for a different time.)