Blogs > Liberty and Power > Greetings, "Enemy Combatants" and Liberty

Mar 30, 2005 1:01 am


Greetings, "Enemy Combatants" and Liberty




Greetings. As a new member of the Liberty and Power group blog, please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Anthony Gregory, and I am a Research Assistant at The Independent Institute, primarily working at its Center on Peace and Liberty as an assistant to Ivan Eland.

I also write regularly for LewRockwell.com (where I am also a frequent blogger), the Future of Freedom Foundation (where I am a Policy Advisor), and Strike-the-Root (where I am a Guest Editor); and have written for such publications as Antiwar.com, The Libertarian Enterprise, Rational Review, Liberty Magazine. I graduated from U.C. Berkeley in May, 2003, with a bachelors degree in history, specifically American history and the history of science. I wrote my undergraduate thesis on the Waco massacre of 1993 and government-media relations surrounding that atrocity. While I was at Berkeley I was active for four years and president for two in the campus student group, the Cal Libertarians. I’ve been a self-described libertarian since I was about fourteen years old, although I only became a full-blown market anarchist in college. I also love movies, fiction, and music (I’m in a rock band, for which I compose music, play bass and sing; and I play keyboards and guitar—however, aside from rock, I also much appreciate classical, romantic, Baroque and jazz music).

I must say I am quite eager and happy to be invited to this wonderful forum, where many modern intellectual heroes of mine share their insights, commentaries and views with the world. I've been a fan of this site for a couple years, and am thrilled to be a part of it.

For my first substantive contribution, I would like to draw attention to Ivan Eland’s last column, ”Three Strikes for Empire,” especially Eland’s mention of one unsettling and recurrent theme in the “War on Terror”:

[A] seemingly unrelated development to the Bush administration's brand of modern day imperialism may have the most consequence: the indefinite detention of a German man, Murat Kurnaz, by a kangaroo U.S. military tribunal on the basis of flimsy secret evidence that he is a member of al Qaeda. Yet that evidence shows that U.S. intelligence and German law enforcement agencies had concluded that Kurnaz had no connections to al Qaeda or any other terrorist organization. So the U.S. government has known for two years that it was incarcerating an innocent man. The Kurnaz case reinforces a U.S. district judge's opinion that the military tribunals are illegal, unconstitutional, and unfairly prejudicial against those being held in prison.

Detaining people indefinitely without a jury trial, and instead using a military tribunal that allows secret evidence and no legal representation for the defendant, may be normal practice in authoritarian regimes (such as Pakistan) but should not be used in the “home of the free and the brave.”

Now, I agree with this, and I wonder: what has become of our country concerning these “enemy combatant” indefinite detentions? There is precedent in American history for this, and nearly every instance I can recollect of such blatant disregard for procedural and habeas corpus rights and civil liberties—from Lincoln’s arrest of war dissenters without trial to Wilson’s incarceration of those who violated the ridiculous Espionage Act—has since been widely discredited and frowned upon. They often teach undergrads about these nightmares as historical aberrations from which we’ve since learned lessons about the frailty of liberty at wartime. In the years since 9/11, however, I’ve noticed an entire new re-revisionism emerge, where pundits and even scholars attempt to look at these past attacks on liberty as positive precedents for today’s war, as opposed to atrocities to be condemned and avoided.

In particular, I have seen many conservatives and “libertarians,” relatively reliable allies against police-state abuses only five years ago, turn into today’s greatest defenders of such grotesque legislation as the PATRIOT Act. I wonder, are there really that many people who believe that the government can’t be trusted to protect the environment and set wage rates, but can—indeed, must—be trusted with the power to detain people indefinitely without trial or due process? It seems to me that a government that has such power is only distinct from totalitarianism in how much its potential abuses fail to manifest themselves into real ones—a difference in degree, not in kind, meaning we are only spared the liberties the state cannot get away with assaulting. And, it also seems to me, the only way to prevent it from getting away with true totalitarian-level violations of our freedom is an outraged public, jealous of its freedom. Ironically, given this, the more people are willing to agree that it “can’t happen here,” the greater the possibility that it will.

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Mark Brady - 4/1/2005

Aeon Skoble: It's not a matter of criticizing hawkish libertarians or the very idea of hawkish libertarianism, it's the rhetorical devices I was questioning. 1, Calling them "so-called" libertarians or "libertarians" in scare quotes begs the question, implying without argument that it's oxymoronic to be a hawkish libertarian.

Mark Brady: Please read what I wrote. I was careful to avoid the phrase “so-called ‘libertarians’”, which I find prejudicial. The phrase I used was “self-indentified ‘libertarians’, ‘classical liberals’, and ‘free market’ economists” because that is how they identify themselves. I call anyone who identifies as a ‘libertarian’ (whether or not IMHO they are) a “self-identified ‘libertarian’”—and I include myself in that category.

AS: 2, the slide from "not a pacifist" to "give Bush a blank check" ignores the various degrees of agreement or disagreement about just what is morally permissible or consonant with libertarianism.

MB: I agree, and I guess Anthony does too. But so what? My remarks concerned only those “who … are perfectly happy to give George Bush a blank check when it comes to war and diplomacy” and sadly there are quite a few of them.

AS: And if OTOH you argue that only pacifism is consistent with libertarianism, then of course Iraq is the least of your problems - you'll have difficulty with Hitler and King George.

MB: It’s getting late so, without attempting to justify the idea, I’ll offer the observation that the cause of liberty in North America was probably not best served by turning the American Revolution (of ideas) into an armed struggle against a comparatively benign imperial power—benign, that is, by the standards of other empires, including the current American one.


Mark Brady - 4/1/2005

You write:

"Well, I remember in the 1990s, the Republicans seemed less pro-war than the Democrats, and now correctly cite it as an example of liberal hypocrisy—at the same time, inadvertently, exposing their own."

It's true that some Republicans expressed disagreement with some of Clinton's forays overseas (Yugoslavia, Haiti) and even voted against his actions. But was there any Republican opposition to economic sanctions against Iraq? Didn't those voting against Clinton do so with impunity knowing full well that their votes would not be successful? And what are those Republicans who struck a note of dissent in the 1990s saying now? (I'll make an exception for Ron Paul.)


Mark Brady - 4/1/2005

In response to my question,

"With regard to 'pro-war libertarians' (by which I assume you mean pro-war free market types), what did you have in mind when you wrote that they are 'nearly as partisan as the self-described conservatives, whom we can expect to be partisan'?"

you reply,

"Some libertarians seem to be more Republican than libertarian. Some seem to think that when Bush expands government, even in the domestic sphere, by 25%, it must be less than what a Democrat would hypothetically do if he were the president at the time.

Your phrase "self-described conservatives" threw me. I now understand what you mean and I agree--with the caveat that "Republican" with an upper case "R" means a supporter of the current administration and not just a registered Republican.


Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 3/31/2005

Precisely, Matt.

Actually, I agree completely that one must simply define one's terms---even if that is not always a simple task. Still, some critics may attack you for positions you ~don't~ hold because ~they~ have a conception of what it means to be an X or a Y. But they'll have to first grapple with how you define your terms if they actually wish to engage your perspective.


Matthew Humphreys - 3/31/2005

Hi guys,

Interesting discussion. Speaking as one of Chris' "Brit friends", I agree that Mr Skoble is "spot on" about the pacifism/legitimate force issue, in fact it seems to me there is a particular problem with the labels "anti-war libertarian" and "pro-war libertarian". Both labels suggest that the individual so described is in a sense "intrisically" in favour of or against any given war, irrespective of the justification or other contextual factors. To the extent that only a pacifist or a raving nutter could hold either position (I reluctantly accept it is possible to be a pacifist without being a raving nutter), both labels are essentially useless. I largely endorsed Chris' arguments against the Iraq invasion, but I'm by no means "anti-war", nor do I describe myself as "pro-war" because I favour ruthless action against al-Quaeda and other terrorist bastards.

As for other disagreements over the meaning of other labels such as Objectivist, libertarian, dialectical libertarian etc, at the end of the day I think it's fine to simply state what you mean by the term(s), and move on.

MH


Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 3/31/2005

Hey, Anthony: I already said Welcome to L&P... but, uh... WELCOME TO L&P. All you did was introduce yourself, and here we go! :)

In truth, though, I think Aeon is "spot on" as my Brit friends would say with regard to this central issue, namely, that "unless you're advocating pacifism, you're going to have to have _some_ kind of theory for when force is legitimate. If you do, you'll find that you need to have _some_ account of concepts like collateral damage or double-effect."

I, myself, have been ~grappling~ with some of these issues, and not to my full satisfaction, here and here.

And, quite frankly, there is so much shifting sand in political ideology, post-9/11, that I'm almost tempted to give up "labels" altogether. I had an issue with the use of the label "Objectivist," despite accepting fundamental Aristotelian-Randian philosophical premises; then, I had an issue with calling myself a plain ol' "libertarian"... and started calling myself a "dialectical libertarian." Which is very nice: Until one starts arguing over the meaning of both "dialectics" and "libertarianism." :)


Aeon J. Skoble - 3/31/2005

It's not a matter of criticizing hawkish libertarians or the very idea of hawkish libertarianism, it's the rhetorical devices I was questioning. 1, Calling them "so-called" libertarians or "libertarians" in scare quotes begs the question, implying without argument that it's oxymoronic to be a hawkish libertarian. 2, the slide from "not a pacifist" to "give Bush a blank check" ignores the various degrees of agreement or disagreement about just what is morally permissible or consonant with libertarianism. 3, as a philosopher, I for one would appreciate it if you would differentiate libertarianism as explained/defended by academics from libertarianism as espoused by talk-show hosts. Just because Larry Elder or David Gold says something inconsistent doesn't mean there's nothing to be said for their position. 4, while I concede that this fellow: "one who told me that if nuking the entire Middle East and killing one billion Muslims were needed to save a single American life, if would be worth it" is not the most thoughtful or consistent libertarian, this: "Advocating, or even toying with the idea, of killing millions of innocent people seems to me very unlibertarian" doesn't follow as a generic critique of the hawkish position. I don't know any _philosophical_ defense of killing millions of innocent people, libertarian or otherwise. But unless you're advocating pacifism, you're going to have to have _some_ kind of theory for when force is legitimate. If you do, you'll find that you need to have _some_ account of concepts like collateral damage or double-effect. And if OTOH you argue that only pacifism is consistent with libertarianism, then of course Iraq is the least of your problems - you'll have difficulty with Hitler and King George.
As you see, there's lots of room for _real_ discussion here, both internal to libertarianism and external. At the APA 2003, Roderick and I participated in a symposium on precisely this, the proceedings of which will be published in the Summer 2005 issue of Reason Papers. I assure you, there's some real differences here which cannot be solved by bumper-sticker shorthand or rhetorical devices.
Best,
Aeon


Anthony Gregory - 3/30/2005

"Certainly some of this is partisan but there's a great many 'conservatives' out there who would defend any war launched by any president. After all, most Republicans endorsed Democratic war-making from Pearl Harbor onwards. Perhaps if Robert Taft had lived, events would have turned out differently although I very much doubt it. Certainly almost all Republicans endorsed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution and LBJ's decision to fight the Vietnam War with half-a-million men."

Well, I remember in the 1990s, the Republicans seemed less pro-war than the Democrats, and now correctly cite it as an example of liberal hypocrisy—at the same time, inadvertently, exposing their own.

"With regard to 'pro-war libertarians' (by which I assume you mean pro-war free market types), what did you have in mind when you wrote that they are 'nearly as partisan as the self-described conservatives, whom we can expect to be partisan'?"

Some libertarians seem to be more Republican than libertarian. Some seem to think that when Bush expands government, even in the domestic sphere, by 25%, it must be less than what a Democrat would hypothetically do if he were the president at the time.


Anthony Gregory - 3/30/2005

Thanks so much for the warm welcome, Ken! Your blog does interest me.


Anthony Gregory - 3/30/2005

I'm often asked, after I criticize pro-war libertarians, why I don't name them. Sometimes I do. But I believe they are more prevalent than many people think. Many Objectivists could fall into the category. Many bloggers as well. There are people within libertarian think tanks and the LP that have pro-war views.

P.J. O Rourke is a pro-war libertarian. I read his books early on in becoming a libertarian. I never thought back then he would write a semi-serious book called “Peace Kills.”

What has perhaps been more common is for a conservative who used to consider himself basically libertarian to now either shun the term, or to continue using it at times, despite the major differences of opinion on the War on Terror. I was on the David Gold show, and Gold was this way. But I respect his recognition that the term is problematic in describing hawks.

Two radio-show conservatives with libertarian views on social issues and economics come to mind: Larry Elder and Neal Boortz, both of whom still call themselves libertarian, and both of whom have reached many, many Americans who now believe “libertarianism” allows for such horrors as the Iraq War and torture without due process in U.S. dungeons.

Usually, I don't name that many names because I assume—perhaps incorrectly—that most people I'm addressing know who these libertarian hawks are. A lot of them are just people in the movement. When I went to the Libertarian Party convention in Atlanta last year, most of the people I encountered were antiwar, but I did meet a number of pro-war libertarians there. Some were quite reasonable and willing to discuss the issues. Others—such as one who told me that if nuking the entire Middle East and killing one billion Muslims were needed to save a single American life, if would be worth it—were less reasonable.

Advocating, or even toying with the idea, of killing millions of innocent people seems to me very unlibertarian. But I've met enough people who understand that taxation is theft, that price controls don't work, that gun control and the drug war are immoral, and yet believe that it is possible to kill millions of innocence as an act of "self-defense," that I think it is worth criticizing pro-war libertarianism, even if names aren’t always mentioned.


Anthony Gregory - 3/30/2005

Thanks, Sheldon!


Anthony Gregory - 3/30/2005

Thanks so much, Chris; I look foward to it!


Anthony Gregory - 3/30/2005

Well, I'm glad I passed the musical-taste test!


Sheldon Richman - 3/30/2005

Welcome, Anthony!


Mark Brady - 3/30/2005

That's why I didn't just write "libertarians" but included "classical liberals" and "free market economists." And that's why I prefaced all three with the phrase "self-identified." All three ascriptions are used promiscuously both by the people themselves and also by commentators. Many of those who call themselves classical liberals or free market economists, if not many libertarians, are happy either to give Bush a blank check or, at least, to interpret his diplomacy and war-making very charitably.


Aeon J. Skoble - 3/30/2005

All true, but let's avoid simple caricatures like:
"It is certainly ironic--and very harmful to the cause of liberty--that so many self-identified libertarians', 'classical liberals', and 'free market' economists who are willing to use 'public choice'-type arguments in other contexts are perfectly happy to give George Bush a blank check when it comes to war and diplomacy."
Exactly which libertarians are giving Bush a blank check? It's true that some libertarians are more hawkish than others, but I can't offhand think of _any_ who could be said to be giving Bush a blank check. I hope this discussion doesn't need to depend on a straw man version of hawkish libertarians, many of whom have taken great pains to work through the arguments and none of whom are administration hacks.


Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 3/30/2005

Welcome aboard, Anthony; I'm confident we'll have some ~very~ interesting chats here at L&P.


Aeon J. Skoble - 3/30/2005

I second Steve's welcome, and relief that you give Rush their props. Looking forward to interesting discussions!


Steven Horwitz - 3/30/2005

They do indeed put on a helluva show. And you've given them the proper respect so that I can now FULLY welcome you. ;) Nice post as well.


Mark Brady - 3/30/2005

"Now, do you think a lot of this is partisan? That many people who currently defend the war in all its monstrosities would not do so if it were a Democrat in charge? I suspect this is true in general of the conservatives, but what of the pro-war libertarians? Are they nearly as partisan as the self-described conservatives, whom we can expect to be partisan?"

Certainly some of this is partisan but there's a great many 'conservatives' out there who would defend any war launched by any president. After all, most Republicans endorsed Democratic war-making from Pearl Harbor onwards. Perhaps if Robert Taft had lived, events would have turned out differently although I very much doubt it. Certainly almost all Republicans endorsed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution and LBJ's decision to fight the Vietnam War with half-a-million men.

With regard to 'pro-war libertarians' (by which I assume you mean pro-war free market types), what did you have in mind when you wrote that they are "nearly as partisan as the self-described conservatives, whom we can expect to be partisan"?


Kenneth R Gregg - 3/30/2005

Anthony,
Welcome to our cadre. I think you will find like-minded people here, questioning many of the same issues you present in your comment. As the title implies, there is a love-hate relationship between Liberty & Power.

Liberty is self-empowerment, self-control over one's life. As such, its essence is inner-directed. This sense of power takes control over your self, and the natural direction is control over the creations and products of your life. It presumes a social connection between your life and your labor, one which becomes the subject of ownership in a free society.

Power disjoins this connection through violence and force. Taxes, regulations, political controls, even war, are all examples of this fundamental disjunction, and which underlie the basic classical liberal or libertarian critique of power.

Sometimes when we move into higher orders of theoretical analysis, we slip into assumptions which are contrary to the basic issue of Liberty & Power. Sometimes it's easy to do! History has a way of reminding us of the problem with neglecting our roots in understanding freedom and the social structures which protect free personal relationships.

Celebrating the lives and experiences of previous classical liberals and libertarians make it easier to remember the traps and travails that we can fall into. Applying those experiences in today's context help us learn a little more about applying libertarian principles correctly. Not everything, of course, but points us in the right direction.

I have enjoyed posts of your on other websites and wish you well in your journey of life.

Just a thought.
Just Ken
kgregglv@cox.net
http://classicalliberalism.blogspot.com/


Anthony Gregory - 3/30/2005

Thanks for the gracious words, Mark.

"That observation is well taken. It is certainly ironic--and very harmful to the cause of liberty--that so many self-identified 'libertarians', 'classical liberals', and 'free market' economists who are willing to use 'public choice'-type arguments in other contexts are perfectly happy to give George Bush a blank check when it comes to war and diplomacy."

Now, do you think a lot of this is partisan? That many people who currently defend the war in all its monstrosities would not do so if it were a Democrat in charge? I suspect this is true in general of the conservatives, but what of the pro-war libertarians? Are they nearly as partisan as the self-described conservatives, whom we can expect to be partisan?


Mark Brady - 3/30/2005

Welcome! I've enjoyed many of your articles and posts and I look forward to your contributions to Liberty & Power.

You write: "I wonder, are there really that many people who believe that the government can’t be trusted to protect the environment and set wage rates, but can—indeed, must—be trusted with the power to detain people indefinitely without trial or due process?"

That observation is well taken. It is certainly ironic--and very harmful to the cause of liberty--that so many self-identified 'libertarians', 'classical liberals', and 'free market' economists who are willing to use 'public choice'-type arguments in other contexts are perfectly happy to give George Bush a blank check when it comes to war and diplomacy.


Anthony Gregory - 3/30/2005

Thanks! I don't know if I would call myself a "fan." I do like a lot of their music, and I do respect their musicianship and compositional sophistication. I also recognize the individualist and libertarian elements of their lyrics. I hear that they put on an amazing show.

Like Rush, my band is a trio. But we sound very different, at least most the time.


Steven Horwitz - 3/30/2005

Welcome aboard Anthony. Glad to have you. But I must ask a question on behalf of several of us here: you play bass and you love rock, but are you a Rush fan? ;)

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