So the Federal Marriage Amendment has failed. Thank the gods for small mercies!
This isn’t over, though. The Republicans are threatening to make this"an election year issue" -- that is, they'll be trying to get more bigots elected so they can bring the Amendment up again next year. Still, for now it's pleasant to see Congress frustrating the Bush gang's tyrannical ambitions on some issue. (And of course the Amendment's supporters have also forfeited any claim to be defenders of decentralisation.)
After the libertarian (r)evolution, when there's no more news about presidents and senators and occupation forces, what will fill our newspapers?
After all, as Gertrude Himmelfarb teaches us, the political realm is the Realm of the Rational. So after the death of politics, as Karl Hess called it, won’t we be thrown back on what Himmelfarb considers the irrational"inanimate forces" of civil society?
On the other hand, Hess described politics as a form of"residual magic" that"denies the rational nature of man." So maybe, just maybe, there's scope for rational activity outside the political sphere. And in a libertarian society some of the front page space currently devoted to blather about the State might give some attention to actual, rational achievements of the sort that under the current régime get buried somewhere in the back pages.
Which brings me to a subject far more interesting, and far better deserving of respectful attention, than the sanguinary antics of the ruling class. I refer of course to concrete.
The concrete of the future, that is. Concrete that's stronger, more flexible, and – would you believe transparent?
Well, translucent anyway.
Check out the story here.
Jacob Levy has responded to my previous post. Concerning the analogy I there drew between confused criticisms of anti-interventionism in military policy and confused criticisms of anti-interventionism in the economy, Jacob writes that it's"fallacious to treat the cases as so closely analogous" and indeed that I have"usefully offered one of the neatest accounts I've seen of the fallacy that leads people to treat strict non-interventionism as a matter of libertarian principle" -- since"Politics is not economics, and international politics is really not economics, and terrorism is really, really not economics."
Jacob has usefully offered another example of the mistake for which I chided him earlier: criticising antiwar libertarians (in this case, me) for something other than what they said. In the present case he has misunderstood the point of my analogy. The point was not to argue that, just as libertarians oppose intervention in the economy, so they should oppose intervention in foreign affairs. Indeed, as I said explicitly in my original post, the purpose of that post was not to argue for the antiwar position at all, but only to complain of Jacob's mischaracterising of that position.
The analogy I was making was thus not between the case for economic libertarianism and the case for antiwar libertarianism. Rather, the analogy I was making was between an (imaginary, and to libertarians obviously ludicrous) bad argument against economic libertarianism and an (all too real, and alas, apparently not obviously ludicrous to all libertarians) bad argument against antiwar libertarianism.
However, since Jacob has raised the question of the former analogy, let's consider whether there is one.
One possible misunderstanding needs to be gotten out of the way right off the bat. It might be thought that antiwar libertarians are treating military intervention per se as a violation of the nonaggression principle. We are not. Insofar as military intervention is being conducted in order to overthrow or defang an unjust régime, it could in principle be justified as defensive rather than initiatory force.
I say"in principle" because military intervention in the real world usually involves violations of the nonaggression principle, since such interventions cause collateral damage (for the libertarian case against collateral damage see here and here) and are funded through tax extortion -- as well as indirectly advancing aggression by fueling civil liberties violations and the military-industrial complex back at home."War is the health of the State," and all that. (See Chris Sciabarra's Understanding the Global Crisis: Reclaiming Rand's Radical Legacy and Arthur Silber's I Accuse: To Those Who Pave the Way for the New Fascism.)
But let's leave all that aside and asks whether, in purely economic terms, the libertarian arguments against economic intervention apply at all to military intervention. And surely they do. Remember, this is government action we're talking about; given the severe informational and incentival problems that governments inherently face, the odds that they will intervene where and how they ought are just about nil -- and the results of such failures are much more sanguinary than an inefficient Post Office.
As David Friedman reminds us:"It is difficult to run a successful interventionist policy, and as libertarians we do not expect the government to do difficult things well." (Machinery of Freedom, p. 215.) Jacob complains that in its handling (i.e., losing) of the Iraq War"the Bush Administration has failed basic tests of competence in policymaking and execution, and of trusteeship of long-term interests like alliances and trade negotiations and moral credibility." This apparently came as a surprise to him -- whereas it's exactly what the antiwar libertarians expected and predicted. Why should states stop acting like states when they're fighting terrorism? (Jacob thinks Kerry will be better; I'm not sure why.)
But the parallel between military interventionism and economic interventionism is stronger still. Back in 2002 I argued as follows, and the argument still strikes me as compelling:
Ludwig von Mises used to argue that a market economy regulated by governmental intervention, hailed by many as a middle path between socialism and laissez-faire, is an inherently unstable system: each additional interference with private commerce distorts the price system, leading to economic dislocations that must be addressed either by repealing the first intervention or by adding a second, and so on ad infinitum.Now Jacob's objection to this line of reasoning is that it assumes terrorist behaviour is predictable in the same way that the behaviour of economic actors responding to a price control is predictable -- that it ignores subjective factors like ideology. For Jacob there's"no invisible hand that leads the radical Islamists of the world to respond violently to our wrongs rather than our rights, or even more frequently to our wrongs than to our rights."
I'm reminded of Mises' argument every time the boosters of America's current rush to empire tell us:"Well sure, maybe you dovish types are right when you say that the 9/11 attacks could have been avoided if we'd pursued a less provocative Middle East policy. But it's too late to debate that issue now. We can't turn back the clock; we have to deal with the situation as it currently exists. Given the threat we face now, we have to pursue that threat and eliminate it."
The problem with this argument is that it's timeless. Hawks were saying things like this long before 9/11, about the threats that we faced then. Every time America goes off on one of its bombing or invading romps, resentment grows among the bombed and invaded. From this resentment sprout new threats to America's security. To protect against these threats, America engages in further bombing and invading, which creates still more resentment, which breeds still new threats, prompting still more bombing and invading, and so on ad infinitum.
Mises' insight that interventions breed more interventions is as true in foreign policy as it is in domestic economy. And just as the logical endpoint of the cycle of economic interventions is complete socialism, so the logical endpoint of the cycle of military interventions is world conquest. In both cases, the only way to avoid the goal is to stop the cycle.
Invisible hand? I'm talking about a visible fist. And I don't see how I'm ignoring ideology; I'm just making the quite ordinary observation that people are more likely to respond violently to people who attack them than to people who don't. That doesn't mean unprovoked attacks don't occur; it just means that provoking produces more violent responses than non-provoking. If what the terrorists hate about us is our freedom and prosperity, why aren't they attacking Switzerland? Can Jacob really claim with a straight face that U.S. foreign policy has nothing to do with al-Qaeda's behaviour?
Suppose I go out into any street in the world -- Peoria or Fallujah -- and start randomly punching people on the street. I feel fairly confident in predicting that the percentage of people who hit, kick, or shoot me will be far higher among those I hit than among those I didn't hit. As I wrote in my very first blog entry ever:
Do the terrorists hate us for our (relatively) libertarian culture, or for our un-libertarian foreign policy? Well, pretty obviously, both. The question is whether they would be motivated to give their lives in an attack on this country if they had only the cultural grudge against us, rather than the military grudge as well? Sure, I imagine some would still be willing. ... All the same, I for one find it hard to imagine al-Qaeda having quite as easy a time recruiting suicide hijackers on the basis of a mere horror of Baywatch.And recruitment is really the issue here. Jacob thinks it's"simply untrue that the Iraqi sanctions prompted 9/11," since those sanctions were not"a wrong of any great importance to Bin Laden." Now I don't know whether bin Laden cared about the Iraqi sanctions or not, but the sanctions certainly were one more grievance that helped to fuel resentment against the U.S. in the Islamic world. I rather suspect that bin Laden was thrilled with the U.S. invasion of Iraq, since it simultaneously hurts one enemy (Hussein) and makes another (the U.S.) look bad -- while bringing much closer the prospect of a fundamentalist régime in Iraq. But bin Laden has nevertheless loudly proclaimed his outrage over the invasion, because he's playing to an audience, and that audience isn't us.
What matters is not so much what bin Laden cares about aswhat his potential recruits care about -- and I don't see anything"mechanistic" about the assumption that there might be correlations between a) the amount of damage the U.S. inflicts on the Muslim world, b) the number of Muslims who feel angry and resentful toward the U.S., and c) the number of potential al-Qaeda recruits. This isn't any sort of praxeological law; it's just common sense. Assuming that there's no such correlation, that anybody who becomes a terrorist would have been a terrorist anyway, seems enormously unrealistic. Indeed, in the context of defending U.S. foreign policy it seems like wishful thinking of, well, Panglossian proportions.
My friend Jacob Levy, in answer to a query from my friend Aeon Skoble, writes that he won't be voting for Michael Badnarik because Badnarik's position on the War on Terror"falls below my threshold of a responsible understanding of the state of the world right now. It's out of the realm of policy disagreement and into the realm of a view of the world that I can't responsibly wish the inhabitant of the White House to hold."
The object of Jacob's condemnation is Badnarik's view that the 9/11 attacks were a response to previous U.S. interventions in the Middle East, and that continuing such interventions does more to exacerbate the terrorist threat than to combat it.
While I regard Badnarik's position on this matter as quite correct, my present purpose is not to defend that position (I think the antiwar libertarians have already made that case overwhelmingly), but rather to take issue with the way Jacob characterises that position.
Jacob describes Badnarik's position as a"silly Panglossianism about politics that says, 'Any wrong must be traceable to another wrong; if only we never did anything wrong, no one would ever do anything wrong to us.'"
That would indeed be a silly position. But it is not Badnarik's position, nor is it the position of antiwar libertarians generally. The following three propositions are distinct:
a) The kind of interventionist foreign policy the U.S. regularly pursues is likelier to provoke terrorist attacks than to deter them.Note that (a) does not imply (b), and (b) does not imply (c). We antiwar libertarians have been defending propositions (a) and (b), but in doing so we are not committed to (c) -- and no antiwar libertarian known to me has endorsed (c).
b) The specific attacks the U.S. suffered on 9/11 were primarily a response to its interventionist foreign policy, and the further interventions with which the U.S. has responded are making future terrorist attacks more rather than less likely.
c) The U.S. would never suffer any attacks if it did not have an interventionist foreign policy.
Compare the following three propositions:
d) The kind of interventionist economic policy the U.S. regularly pursues is likelier to provoke economic crises than to deter them.Most libertarians accept propositions (d) and (e); but of course this does not commit them to the absurdity à la Fourier of (f). Isn't accusing antiwar libertarians of Panglossian silliness a bit like accusing libertarians in general of not believing in earthquakes and floods?
e) The Great Depression was primarily the result of the U.S. government's interventionist economic policy during the 1920s, and the further economic interventions with which the U.S. government responded served mainly to lengthen the Depression rather than alleviating it.
f) The U.S. would never suffer any economic crises -- i.e., there would be no earthquakes, no floods, no hurricanes, etc. -- if it did not have an interventionist economic policy.
Is the Fourth of July -- or Independence Day, as I still like to call it -- a day for celebrating the United States of America, or is it instead a day for celebrating the principles on which the United States was founded? I suspect most Americans would answer:"both." But the nation founded in 1776 parted company a long time ago with the principles of ’76. We can celebrate one or the other, but not both.
According to the Declaration of Independence,"whenever any form of government becomes destructive" of people's rights to"life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," it is"the right of the people to alter or to abolish it." The Declaration adds that one sign of a government's becoming unacceptably despotic is its having"erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance." Today the (constitutionally unauthorised) Federal bureaucracy comprises over five million employees. Are they harassing our people and eating out their substance? Check out James Bovard's books Lost Rights, Freedom in Chains, and Shakedown.
The Declaration also maintains that governments"derive their just powers from the consent of the governed." Right now the U. S. government is also the government of Iraq, and has recently suggested it intends to remain so for the next ten years. [Update one year later: Now Iraq is governed by a U.S. puppet régime instead of by the U.S. directly. The same point applies.] Does that government in any sense rest on the consent of the governed? Odd that a nation born in rebellion against an empire should end by becoming an empire itself.
The Constitution protects, inter alia,"freedom of speech, or of the press,""the right of the people to keep and bear arms,""the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures," and the right to"just compensation" for any “private property ... taken for public use” -- all rights that are currently under assault from the U. S. government in the name of fighting the"War on Drugs" and/or the"War on Terror." The Constitution also guarantees that"no person" (not"no American citizen," but"no person") shall be"deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law" -- another provision currently plunging down the Memory Hole.
Moreover the Constitution specifies a narrow reading of delegated powers --"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people" -- and a broad reading of reserved rights --"The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." These provisions obviously bear no resemblance to any political system currently existing in Mid-North America.
Aristotle said that a political community is defined by its system of government; when it abandons one system of government for another, it undergoes not alteration but destruction. By that standard, the nation whose birth is commemorated on July 4th no longer exists. We cannot celebrate it, we can only mourn it. But we can celebrate, and reaffirm our commitment to, the libertarian principles on which it was founded.
Contrary to what the news media have been blaring, the most important news story today is not the sordid kangaroo-legal jousting between the deposed Iraqi despot and the puppets of the victorious American despot.
Of far deeper significance, in the long run, are the revelations coming to light -- dazzling, glorious light -- one billion miles away. The discoveries of the Cassini probe will be remembered when the names of George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein are long forgotten. It is not people of their ilk who will take human civilisation to the stars.
To paraphrase a passage from Atlas Shrugged:
There was a time when human beings crouched in caves, at the mercy of any pestilence and any storm. Could men such as Bush and Hussein have brought them out of the cave and up to Saturn? There's your proof that another kind of men do exist; think of them and forget Bush and Hussein.It’s often said that signals from space come to us from the past. In this case, they come from our future.
See the latest Saturn images here.
According to Saddam Hussein's lawyer, by officially relinquishing sovereignty over Iraq before relinquishing custody over Hussein, the U.S. has legally committed itself to releasing Hussein. Since Hussein has prisoner-of-war status and has never been charged with a crime, the transfer of sovereignty automatically triggers a requirement under international law that he be set free.
Claiming no expertise in matters of international law, I'm not qualified to evaluate this argument. But no matter how legally airtight the argument might turn out to be, we all know there's not a chance in hell that the Bush régime would ever go along with it. Although Bush appealed to international law to justify invading Iraq in the first place, his real respect for international law is as bogus as the"sovereignty" that was handed over today.
Now don't get me wrong; I'm no great enthusiast for international law per se. It's mostly a bunch of agreements among criminal gangs, and as such has no inherent authority. But it does have some utility as a check on especially bad behaviour by such gangs, and it keeps alive the idea that there are standards of justice higher than the State. In the current global climate, with the United States trying to play Roman Empire to the world, external institutional restraints on its arbitrary power are to be welcomed.
A tepid cheer, then, for international law. And if international law says to free Saddam Hussein, then by all means free him. At this point, George Bush unleashed is a lot more dangerous than Saddam Hussein unleashed.
A rant on the GOP website titled International Law Treachery denounces those"shallow and dangerous elitists" who"help the terrorists" by letting niceties like international law get in the way of"absolute victory" in what to right-thinking Americans is a"war unlike any other," a"battle between the forces of good and evil."
Golly, that sounds familiar…. Remember, back in the 1950s and 60s, when conservatives used to say that anyone who talked about constitutional rights had to be a Communist? The Cold War was a"war unlike any other" too, a war in which ordinary legal protections had to be sacrificed for a greater goal. That was when William Buckley urged us to"accept Big Government for the duration," since"neither an offensive nor defensive war can be waged" against international Communism"except through the instrument of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores."
Which in turn sounds a lot like Lewis Mumford back in 1940, arguing that the United States must"temporarily" adopt fascism at home in order to combat fascism abroad. World War II, I guess, was yet another"war unlike any other." Come to think of it, haven't they all been?
OpenDebates.org is hosting an online petition to include third-party candidates in the presidential debates, as well as to make the debates less like press conferences and more like actual debates.
As of this posting, 6626 people have signed the petition. We can do better.
Click here to sign the petition.
I've made two discoveries that I highly recommend.
One is a website called onelook.com/reverse-dictionary.shtml. On this site one can type in a definition and get a list of all the words that definition might fit -- a task it seems amazingly good at.
The other is a libertarian science-fiction trilogy by John C. Wright, comprising The Golden Age, The Phoenix Exultant, and The Golden Transcendence. (Thanks to Stephan Kinsella and Kevin Vallier for the recommendation.) While from a literary standpoint it's nothing spectacular, this thoughtful, imaginative, and suspenseful tale of a libertarian hero in rebellion against a libertarian utopia is definitely worth reading. Wright avoids the usual clichés of libertarian fiction by portraying conflicts among different varieties of libertarians, rather than between libertarians and statist oppressors. Even the most despicably evil characters turn out to be basing their actions, in a twisted way, on libertarian premises of a sort. And every time you think you've figured out the who, what, and why of the plot, Wright tosses a new surprise your way.
The books are also filled with sly references to delight both libertarians and science-fiction fans -- from Asimov’s three laws of robotics (mercilessly skewered here) and Lovecraft's"rugose cones" (who talk like Randian villains) to Spencerian sociology, Mises' Law of Association, and lines lifted from Roark’s courtroom speech. The dominant philosophical influence here is clearly Rand; even the main character's name is as much a nod to an incident in Atlas Shrugged as it is to Greek mythology, and a central plot point in the third book turns on the truth or falsity of Randian doctrine.
Along the way many issues of current contention in libertarian and/or Randian circles get raised and dramatised, including punishment, military ethics, survival-versus-flourishing, and Sciabarra-style concerns about the cultural prerequisites for liberty. And what other book features a Greek demigod and a Shunyavada Buddhist debating polylogism and spontaneous order while plunging into a star aboard a thousand-mile-long spaceship?
The only aspect that marred my enjoyment somewhat (apart from the inexplicably frequent misspellings and the like – can't Tor Books afford copyeditors?) is the presence of ludicrously antiquated gender stereotypes that one would be embarrassed to include in a novel set in the present day, let alone in a future thousands of years distant, populated by super-intelligent cybernetic minds who leap from one synthetic body to another at the drop of a hat. Good grief. Too much Heinlein, I suspect. (And oh yeah, one more thing -- the Oeconomicus is not Xenophon’s only surviving Socratic dialogue.)
LRC is"reprinting" two of my articles on the libertarian aspects of ancient Athens: The Athenian Constitution: Government by Jury and Referendum and Civil Society in Ancient Greece: The Case of Athens. (For the original versions see here and here.)
The articles were written in 1996 and 1998, respectively, and my thinking has undergone various sorts of evolution since, so I'm not prepared to stand by everything I said in them; but I certainly still endorse their central thesis: Contrary to the claims of so many historians, ancient Athens was neither a majoritarian, mob-rule democracy nor an organic, communitarian collective; instead, it was in many respects a quasi-anarchistic free-market constitutional republic -- and thus, like medieval Iceland, a valuable model for our libertarian future.
In addition to the sources cited in the articles, today I would recommend M. H. Hansen's wonderful book Polis and City-State: An Ancient Concept and Its Modern Equivalent, a devastating critique of modern-day mythology about the polis.
Congratulations to the team of the SpaceShipOne project, who achieved the first manned non-governmental space flight today.
The present may belong to messianic thugs like George Bush and Osama bin Laden, but the future lies with peaceful commerce, rational minds, and venturing spirits.
Today's triumph brings that future one step closer.
William Saletan of Slate has compiled a chronological series of quotations from Bush, Rumsfeld, etc., showing how, even as the abuses at Abu Ghraib were becoming public knowledge, the Administration continued to mouth the line that U.S. troops had forever rid Iraq of"torture chambers and rape rooms." (Thanks to Charles Johnson for the link.)
What ever happened to the Republicans who were so outraged by Clinton's lies about his sex life? Their capacity for indignation seems to have mellowed a bit.
I've spent the past week teaching at the Mises University, and the weekend before that at a Liberty Fund conference in Milwaukee (a surprisingly beautiful city, by the way). Hence the eerie lull in my blogging; things should pick up now.
On my return from Milwaukee I found the following red-white-and-blue love-note in my checked luggage:
NOTIFICATION OF BAGGAGE INSPECTIONThe note closes by thanking me (rather presumptuously) for my"understanding and cooperation."
To protect you and your fellow passengers, the Transport Security Administration (TSA) is required by law to inspect all checked baggage. As part of this process, some bags are opened and physically inspected. Your bag was among those selected for physical inspection.
During the inspection, your bag and its contents may have been searched for prohibited items. At the completion of the inspection, the contents were returned to your bag, which was resealed.
If the TSA screener was unable to open your bag for inspection because it was locked, the screener may have been forced to break the locks on your bag. TSA sincerely regrets having to do this, and has taken care to reseal your bag upon completion of inspection. However, TSA is not liable for damage to your locks resulting from this necessary security precaution.
On the reverse of the note, the same message is repeated in Spanish, except that the footnote identifying the relevant statute (Section 110(b) of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001, 49 U.S.C. § 44901(c)-(e), if you're curious) has been omitted (though not the footnote marker), as has the cryptic slogan"Smart Security Saves Time."
What a bunch of lies. The TSA is not"required by law" to inspect my baggage, since no statute in conflict with the Fourth Amendment has any validity as law. Had my baggage been locked (it wasn’t), the TSA screener would not have been"forced" to damage my property; where's the"force"? Nor is there any reason to suppose that the TSA"sincerely regrets" any of this. If folks at the TSA really are agonising over their participation in warrantless searches, they are free to quit any time and start looking for honest work.
I've just finished watching C-span's coverage of the Libertarian Party convention. The three-way race for the top spot was the closest I've seen; most observers had been predicting a final showdown between Aaron Russo and Gary Nolan, but in a last-minute upset, Michael Badnarik squeaked through with the nomination. (A vice-presidential candidate had not yet been chosen when C-span's coverage ended.)
While none of the three contenders has the glibness or the gravitas of Harry Browne, I had grown increasingly disenchanted with Russo, and Badnarik seems fine (a bit weak on abortion -- perhaps he needs to read today’s post from Charles Johnson -- but acceptable), so I am reasonably content with the outcome.
Badnarik for President!
The VP choice has now been announced: existentialist guru and liberhawk Richard Campagna. Oh well.
The latest issue (Summer 2004) of the Laissez Faire Books catalogue carries, on p. 46, a condensed version of my article"Roads to Fascism: Sixty Years Later." For the complete version, see here or here.
Lew Rockwell reminds us that while attention focuses on the Iraqi prisoners mistreated at Abu Ghraib, the thousands of Iraqi civilians slaughtered by U. S. troops pass unremarked in the press.
I'm off to London tomorrow -- back in a week!
The current (June 2004) issue of Reason magazine carries the following letter to the editor. (I've restored my original formatting, plus a section -- marked in brackets -- that Reason deleted for space.)
To the Editor:One clarification: while I agree with Kant’s indictment of the consequentialist conception of morality as an instrumental strategy for promoting human welfare, I disagree with his remedy. For Kant, the solution is to sever the connection between morality and human welfare entirely; I instead follow the classical Greek tradition in tying the two together more closely, making morality an essential component of human welfare rather than a mere external means to it. For details see my book Reason and Value: Aristotle versus Rand; my articles Egoism and Anarchy and Why Does Justice Have Good Consequences?; and my review of Leland Yeager's Ethics As Social Science.
In"Coercion vs. Consent" (March), Randy Barnett writes that"there are very few libertarians today for whom consequences are not ultimately the reason why they believe in liberty," while Richard Epstein cheerfully agrees that libertarians are"all consequentialists now."
Fortunately, it is not true that we libertarians are all consequentialists now. I say"fortunately," because consequentialism is philosophically indefensible as a normative theory.
The basic problem with consequentialism is that it recognizes no limit in principle on what can be done to people in order to promote good consequences.
Now consequentialists insist that in the vast majority of cases, killing, torturing, or enslaving innocent people is not the best way to get good results. And of course they are right about that. But by the logic of their position the consistent consequentialist (happily a rara avis) must always be open to the possibility that killing, torturing, or enslaving the innocent might be called for under special circumstances, and this recognition necessarily taints the character of even one's ordinary relations to other people.
[If the only reason I do not steal is that I'm afraid of being caught, then how am I morally superior to the thief? Likewise, if the only reason I don't slaughter my neighbors is that doing so happens not to maximize social utility at the moment, then how am I morally superior to a mass murderer?]
As Immanuel Kant pointed out more than two centuries ago, to subordinate -- or even to be prepared to subordinate -- one's fellow human beings to some end they do not share is to treat them as slaves, thereby denying both their inherent dignity and one's own.
Many consequentialists will say that they too can accommodate ironclad prohibitions on certain actions, on the grounds that utility will be maximized in the long run if people internalize such prohibitions. This is true, but it misses the point. Once one has internalized an ironclad prohibition, one is by definition no longer a consequentialist. One cannot treat certain values as absolute in practice and still meaningfully deny their absoluteness in theory; a belief that is not allowed to influence one's actions is no real belief. Most consequentialists are morally superior to their theory and, thankfully, pay it only lip service.
David Friedman is quite right to point out, in the same issue, that" concepts such as rights, property, and coercion" are complicated and not always susceptible to clear and easy rules. But this is not an argument for making consequences the sole test of right action. What it does mean is that non-consequentialist moral considerations establish only certain broad parameters, leaving it to consequences, custom, and context to make them more specific.
The parameters are not infinitely broad, however; and I do not see how they could be broad enough to license one group of people, called the government, to reassign title to the fruits of another group's labor at the first group's sole discretion. Hence even if taxation and eminent domain had good results -- which in the long term they rarely do -- they would stand condemned on non-consequentialist grounds as slavery and plunder.
Roderick T. Long
Department of Philosophy
I recently came across an article called Cooperative Urges by Glen Gibbons. It begins like this:
In London's Highgate Cemetery, about midway between the grave sites of Karl Marx and George Eliot, is an overgrown tombstone with the name Herbert Spencer inscribed on it. The generally neglected circumstances of the plot echo Spencer's failed effort to apply to human society some of the principles Charles Darwin espoused for evolutionary biology -- such concepts as survival of the fittest and natural selection. Consequently, the 19th century British social philosopher never earned the sort of lasting recognition accorded his eternal neighbors.And then the rest of the article goes on to extol the benefits of cooperation.
Against the arguments that human progress reflected the benefits of cooperation and community, Spencer's followers extolled the benefits of individuals and individual enterprises vanquishing the less effective among them, securing the place of the strong and weeding out the weaker.
But sometimes the world is not quite so Darwinian as it's made out to be, especially in human affairs. Sometimes qualities and resources are complementary and their judicious combination, synergistic.
By now I should be used to such misrepresentations of Herbert Spencer -- and Gibbons' article doesn't even come close to being one of the most egregious in this regard. (See my article Herbert Spencer: The Defamation Continues as well as this follow-up.) But to see Spencer, one of history’s greatest champions of"synergistic cooperation," being described as an opponent of such cooperation, and to see him being compared unfavourably in this regard to Marx, of all people, is truly surreal.
For Marx, society is characterised by inherent conflicts of interest among economic classes, conflicts that can ultimately be resolved only through violent revolution and expropriation; it's no coincidence that the chief legacy of Marxist régimes has been mass death. For Spencer, by contrast, such ideas belong to the misguided"militant" model of society, against which Spencer championed the"industrial" model of peaceful cooperation and mutual benefit. When Spencer speaks of the"survival of the fittest" (a phrase Darwin borrowed from Spencer, not vice versa), he means that cooperative modes of interaction, being"fitter," are destined in the long run to displace conflictual modes of interaction, and he regarded social progress as a matter of increasing fusion among people’s interests.
He explained his view over and over in books such as Social Statics, The Principles of Sociology, and The Principles of Ethics, but he might as well have been tossing his books into the ocean as far as modern discussions of Spencer go; everyone's sure what he said, what as a"Social Darwinist" he must have said, but no one seems to go to the trouble of actually reading him.
It is misleading in any case to think of Spencer as applying Darwinian theories to society; Spencer's Social Statics came out in 1851, predating Darwin's Origin of Species by eight years. As Friedrich Hayek notes in Law, Legislation, and Liberty:
It was in the discussion of such formations as language and morals, law and money, that in the eighteenth century the twin conceptions of evolution and the spontaneous formation of an order were at least clearly formulated, and provided the intellectual tools which Darwin and his contemporaries were able to apply to biological evolution. ... A nineteenth-century social theorist who needed Darwin to teach him the idea of evolution was not worth his salt.And far from being a"failed effort," Spencer’s work offers far more valuable contributions to the understanding of human society than does the work of essentially reactionary thinkers like Marx.
According to Gibbons, Spencer's modest gravesite is"overgrown" and"neglected" in comparison with its bombastic Marxian neighbour because Spencer"never earned the sort of lasting recognition" that Marx enjoys. It would be more accurate to say that Spencer has earned such recognition but hasn't received it. As contemporary society lurches ever further back into the"militant" mode of dirigisme at home and warmongering abroad, a thoughtful reassessment of this much-maligned but seldom studied philosopher is long overdue. (One of the goals of the Molinari Institute is eventually to make all of Spencer's works available online.)
Geekery Today reminds us of the following marvelous quotation from George Orwell's 1946 essay"Politics and the English Language":
In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright,"I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so." Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:My only quibble with what Orwell says here is the qualification"In our time." Though admittedly the vague, mushy sort of writing that Orwell criticises here is quintessentially contemporary, euphemism of some sort is a pervasive and universal feature of (nonlibertarian) political speech -- and not accidentally so. Government, by its nature as a coercive monopoly, necessarily violates the norms of peaceful cooperation and reciprocity whose approximate observance is a precondition for social existence.While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.
As Ludwig von Mises writes in Human Action:
It is important to remember that government interference always means either violent action or the threat of such action. The funds that a government spends for whatever purposes are levied by taxation. And taxes are paid because the taxpayers are afraid of offering resistance to the tax gatherers. They know that any disobedience or resistance is hopeless. As long as this is the state of affairs, the government is able to collect the money that it wants to spend. Government is in the last resort the employment of armed men, of policemen, gendarmes, soldiers, prison guards, and hangmen. The essential feature of government is the enforcement of its decrees by beating, killing, and imprisoning. Those who are asking for more government interference are asking ultimately for more compulsion and less freedom.This is why in political speech it is always necessary to"name things without calling up mental pictures of them." Admittedly, however, the rise of democratic and egalitarian ideologies has made the state's need for obfuscatory language all the more urgent, since such ideologies have largely disabled traditional appeals to natural social hierarchies. Even less than its predecessors can the modern democratic state afford to acknowledge its essential role as instrument of the ruling class.
Yet in the end it is not quite in the interests of state power for its basis in violence and exploitation to be entirely obscured. After all, the state's being known to command vast coercive means is crucial to its influence in the first place. Hence the need for language that mystifies the violence of the state. As I wrote in Equality: The Unknown Ideal:
On the one hand, statist ideology must render the violence of the state invisible, in order to disguise the affront to equality it represents. Hence statists tend to treat governmental edicts as though they were incantations, passing directly from decree to result, without the inconvenience of means; since in the real world the chief means employed by government is violence, threatened and actual, cloaking state decrees and their violent implementation in the garb of incantation disguises both the immorality and the inefficiency of statism by ignoring the messy path from decree to result.
Yet on the other hand, the effectiveness of governmental edicts depends precisely on people being all too aware of the force backing up those edicts. Hence statism can maintain its plausibility only by implicitly projecting a kind of grotesque parody of the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation: just as bread and wine must be transformed in their essence into the body and blood of Christ in order to play their necessary spiritual role, whilst at the same time they must retain the external accidents of bread and wine in order to play their necessary practical role, so the violence of the state, to be justified, must be transubstantiated in its essence into peaceful incantation, yet at the same time, to be effective, it must retain the external accidents of violence. (This sacralization of state violence explains how proponents of gun control, for example, can regard themselves as opponents of violence whilst at the same time threatening massive and systematic violence against peaceful citizens.)
But to ignore or mask the violence upon which socioeconomic legislation necessarily rests is to acquiesce in the unconscionable subordination and subjection that such violence embodies. It is to treat those subordinated and subjected as mere means to the ends of those doing the subordinating, and thus to assume a legitimate inequality in power and jurisdiction between the two groups.
During last night's press conference, when asked about the similarities between the Iraq and Vietnam quagmires, our Commander-in-Chief replied:"I think that analogy is false. I also happen to think that analogy sends the wrong message to our troops and sends the wrong message to the enemy."
The point of this answer was obviously not to give grounds for thinking the analogy false (something he made no serious attempt to do), but rather to suggest that invoking such an analogy is disloyal.
Of course, Bush has never shown any grasp of the distinction between grounded belief and motivated belief.