Thursday, April 28, 2005

Minarchy and Me

In a recent post, I took issue with an essay written by Thomas L. Knapp, to which he responded with a comment. If you’re interested, check it out and glean from it what you will. To the extent that I mischaracterized his position, if indeed that’s the case, it was unintentional.

Speaking of interest, Thomas’ blog is Knappster: Blog Naked for Jesus. In addition, he's the Publisher of Rational Review…from “About Rational Review”:
Rational Review was conceived as an answer to the conventional "conservative" and "liberal" commentary that dominates the American political scene. Building on the considerable intellectual strength of a growing freedom movement in the United States, our desire is to manifest the libertarian idea in an institutional manner. Much as The New Republic and National Review have come to be regarded as the periodical repositories of their respective philosophies' best offerings on the issues of the day, we aspire to become the libertarian movement's journal of record.
I’m going to accept the challenge Thomas proposed: A comment thread is hardly big enough to hash out the whole minarchist versus anarchist argument. However, I will note that I disagree that "the alternative is not an option" and that "no 'true anarchy is extant." As a matter of fact, I'd argue that anarchy is the natural, organic, ongoing, existent and extant form of human civilization and that the state exists only in anarchy's interstices, and on its sufferance, as a parasitic phenomenon. Maybe we can go at each other at length on this some time.

In the sense that liberty and natural rights are unalienable and the default human tendency, then I would agree that anarchy is "organic and ongoing". Further, mere laws and regulations are not always effectual in restraining or preventing individual aggression. And I too see the state as a “parasitic phenomenon”, which cannot but feed upon the individual. So what’s wrong with dissolving the state altogether?

When I think of a stateless existence, I’m struck by two opposing ideas. First, the beauty of full-orbed liberty, positive and negative. Second, the necessity of excessive vigilance and insecurity due to the irrational behavior of predators. It’s the latter that precludes, in my mind, the absence of a state. That said, any such “authority” ought to be irreducibly minimal.

Robert Nozick, in his book Anarchy, State and Utopia, articulated the essence of my view:
Our main conclusions about the state are that a minimal state, limited to the narrow functions of protection against force, theft, fraud, enforcement of contracts, and so on, is justified; that any more extensive state will violate persons' rights not to be forced to do certain things, and is unjustified; and that the minimal state is inspiring as well as right. Two noteworthy implications are that the state may not use its coercive apparatus for the purpose of getting some citizens to aid others, or in order to prohibit activities to people for their own good or protection.
The question is: can the “night watchman” be contained within the strictures of its mandate? History suggests not…but I’m an optimist. My optimism is fueled, in part, by the seemingly unlimited discourse that is enabled by the internet, among other things. This is, in large part, the reason that I decided to wade in to join the battle of ideas. Such is unquestionably more preferable than a violent resolution of political differences. Therefore, a minimal government comprised of citizens, that serves as a neutral arbiter and the Rule of law, to which all are fairly and equally bound, strikes a palatable balance between liberty and security…with individual liberty taking precedence.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

[A]narchy or non [A]narchy

Thomas L. Knapp of Strike The Root posted a polemical essay that essentially advocates anarchy.

Like any religion, American government has its holy books: We call them the Constitution and the Federalist Papers instead of Torah and Talmud or Bible or Q'uran. And, as with any religion, various schools of thought – Sadducee, Pharisee, Essene; Sunni, Sufi, Shiite, Wahabbe; Catholic, Protestant; Original Intent, Strict Construction, “Constitution in Exile” -- purport to interpret the Sacred Texts and to hold the key to their True Meaning.

Straight out of the gate, America’s founding documents are relegated to esoteric writ that need not to be seen as an objective framework for collective governance.

The difference between theistic religions and the cult of the state is that among the former, the different groups are empowered to carry on their theological struggles and to put their ideas into action. Even though blood may be shed or religious edicts given force of law, there exists an actual arena in which persuasion can achieve actual change, which can then manifest itself in the actions of the persuaded. This is not the case with the cult of the state: There is no argument of fact which will result in real, substantive change within the cult itself.

The metaphor is carried a step further and takes an unusual twist. The case is being made that religious dogma is more malleable than the secular “cult of the state”. Such is patently counterintuitive. A (representative) republic often devolves into a quasi-democracy, while religious sects claim the sanction of an unchanging deity and unalterable sacred texts.

The federalists, in particular Alexander Hamilton, longed for a more centralized government for the purpose of enshrining power and giving it permanence. Having unleashed Revolution on the continent, they now longed to bottle it back up and put it on a convenient shelf.

I can certainly identify with a strong desire for maximum liberty. But, the planet is a bit too crowded for one to live full-throttle without the worry of a collision with another. Hamilton and the Founders sought to establish clear and universal parameters to prevent interpersonal conflict and indeed to shield the individual from the abuse of government.

To the (small) extent that the Constitution may still be adhered to, and to the (even smaller) extent that that adherence may be directed to the benefit of freedom, we might as well use it. But let's not kid ourselves. The political class will not surrender its stolen power because its opponents come up with a better argument, a more historically accurate understanding, or a more accurate textual analysis. The problem is not a failure of adherence to the Constitution. The problem is the Constitution – or any other structure of state power.

Yes, the existence of state power is similar to pregnancy, in that once begun, it grows inexorably. That said, the alternative is just simply not an option. I would cite the post immediately prior to this one as example of the need for a collective defense apparatus. The reason that no "true anarchy" is extant can be explained by the fact that nature abhors a vacuum. Sure, you and I may respect one another’s libertarian freedom, but it’s the next would-be despot with an army that will not. Additionally, the "domestic brute" is not an endangered species. Therefore, property rights and the guarantee of same promote wealth creation to a greater extent than a lawless free-for-all ever could.

Lest there be confusion, Eric points out the following:

First, I think there is a misunderstanding of what rational anarchy is. Rational anarchy is not the same as the anarchists of the right and left who want to establish a non-state. That is, a society that has no government monopoly. A rational anarchist is one who recognizes that the following is true:
No matter what government, laws or regulations exist, the individual alone is responsible for their moral decisions.

Because of that recognition I don't need laws or regulations to be put in place, nor do I need someone else to tell me what is moral.

I am an adult, responsible in my own right for my actions. To quote Robert Heinlein speaking of rational anarchy: "A rational anarchist believes that concepts such as ‘state’ and ‘society’ and ‘government’ have no existence save as physically exemplified in the acts of self-responsible individuals. He believes that it is impossible to shift blame, share blame, distribute blame . . . as blame, guilt, responsibility are matters taking place inside human beings singly and nowhere else".

Rational Anarchy goes without saying for those of us that respect personal responsibility. However, a basic legal code is necessary because of those that don’t. The enjoyment of life, liberty and property is substantially compromised, for the reasons I mentioned, absent a social contract.

Acknowledgment: jomama

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

war: what is it good for...?

…So I’m listening to The Neal Boortz Show, and a caller throws him an internationalist curve ball. In short, the caller suggested that all war/conflicts should be subjected to a simple majority vote by the illustrious world governing body. Presumably, he imagined that if such a collection of wise-old-owls existed…why, world peace and harmony would be inevitable.

Hmm…ah, yes…it’s been tried. At the end of WWI, The League of Nations was just what the doctor ordered. That is, until WWII, which ceremoniously revealed that the Emperor was “nekid”. Not being dissuaded by abysmal failure, the world’s most powerful states created The United Nations. So, that stroke of brilliance achieved its lofty goals…right? No, there has been nearly continuous armed conflict somewhere on the planet since the inception of the UN Charter.

As the late (great?) Frank Zappa is reputed to have said (I’m paraphrasing): …at the end of the day, all war is about real estate. While this is hugely over simplistic, it’s not too far from the mark. Very rarely are military invasions ordered without a reason…legitimate or otherwise. Is such preventable? It seems to me that the UN is nothing more than an impotent bureaucracy that claims the authority to arbitrate between nation states. But when the former USSR had three votes to US’s and Europe’s one vote (each) and Libya sat on (chaired?) the The UN Commission on Human Rights, that pseudo-government can have little, if any, credibility.

What is really at issue is violent conflict; when/if it is ever justified. By today’s standards, The American Revolution would have violated “international law”. The fact is, our Founders advocated the usurpation of the colonies…by force. There are no doubt some, even now, that would criticize America’s first fight. The Civil War can be said to be quite similar, but with a much different outcome. The victor writes the history…without fail.

Let’s take Sadaam’s Iraq, for example. First, America supported its invasion of Iran in 1980, mainly because of the Iranian Revolution of 1979. However, America opposed Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, which was the catalyst for the 1991 Gulf War. In a cease-fire agreement, harsh sanctions and no-fly zones were imposed. A decade of noncompliance by Sadaam was one of the justifications of the 2003 “decapitation” of the Iraqi dictatorship…which was not approved by the UN Security Council.

Now, what can be said other than: “might makes right”. I know…I know…we’re civilized people who reject such barbarism. Do we, in reality? Coercion is antithetical to the framework of a free society. But I certainly don’t advocate global governance. For one thing, as government increases, individual liberty decreases. Moreover, from time to time, megalomaniacal thugs desire to rule others by force. Sometimes such thugs are dressed in civilian clothing and are duly elected by free people. Therefore, as long as there are human societies, there will be violent struggle. We do well to avoid it when possible, but must win decisively when avoidance is not an option.

Are you rich?

From the desk of Jane Galt, at Asymmetrical Information, comes the question: “what do you mean by rich?”
By the standards of, say, 1920, every single one of us, even welfare mothers, is rich. Every single one of us has enough food that we never need to go to bed with our stomachs crying out to be filled. Every single one of us has running water--running hot water--and bathtubs and indoor toilets to put the water into. We have stoves that do not need to be carefully tended to keep the fire going. We have central heat. We have cars or public transportation to take us wherever we want to go for a trivial sum. Almost every poor person in America has a color television, offering free entertainment 24 hours a day, and most of them can afford to buy cable to go along with it. We are so wealthy that even a welfare mother can afford to let her children stay in school until they graduate--indeed, so wealthy that a once-ubiquitous dramatic scene, the child vowing to drop out of school in order to help the family out, has entirely dropped out of the literary canon. The average middle class man of 1920 would have regarded all but the most hopelessly drug addled or mentally ill street people as wealthy beyond dreams of avarice.
Biannually, roughly one half of the electorate “pulls the lever” for the candidate that purports to represent “the little guy”, despite a priori evidence to the contrary. The irony is that the free market capitalist system, that is so often defamed, is responsible for the relative comfort that is currently enjoyed by the “less fortunate”. This is in spite of efforts to diminish its effects via decades of incremental socialistic policies.

Color me cynical, but I can’t help but assume that, for some, net wealth, material possessions, creature comforts and so forth, pale in comparison to the elusive grandeur of “equality”. What else could it be? When pejorative terms such as: greedy, selfish, heartless…libertarian…are essentially the coin of the realm in a time of such unparalleled prosperity, can those who propagate such pap be taken seriously?

If anything, the Great Society has crippled the nuclear family. Surely no rational individual can deny the fact that the majority of those receiving “public assistance” are not well served by that government crutch. I would argue that, when faced with the prospect of consequences, human nature tends toward survival. This natural urge is compromised when the extent of self-preservation entails cashing a government check and/or conceiving more children out of wedlock.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

an unlikely coincidence of uncommon sense

Being a junkie isn’t always a negative personal quality. That is…information junkie. After reading only a couple of my posts, one realizes that my thoughts and opinions don’t fit squarely into any of the tidy subsets along the political spectrum. Am I trying to buck the system for the sake of “individuality”…not hardly. The truth is that I really do my level best to weigh any and every issue, hopefully coming away with a reasoned position. This, of necessity, means that I entertain a wide range of ideas, including those that I perceive to be the antithesis of my own. Not being perfect, this intellectual sifting will be the work of a lifetime. As it happens, I’m not alone in this, which is heartening; I have two recent examples of this from my blogroll.

First, there’s dadahead, a self-described socialist. Whatever one thinks of his philosophy, he is to be commended for passionately (and often satirically) defending his point of view. In a post railing against prejudice reinforcement, dadahead wrote:
Many of the people who read this blog are to my right politically, and disagree with me often, and sometimes tell me so. What's wrong with that? Why do so many conservatives go out of their way to avoid hearing any dissenting opinions?
I’ll echo this sentiment…what’s wrong with subjecting your precious world view to scrutiny? Another great example of this comes from Stephen Littau of Fearless Philosophy for Free Minds. In a post entitled What I Have Learned From Air America: Part 1, he writes:
I am a very curious person that is not afraid to be challenged by views different from my own (I am increasingly noticing that many of the views of conservative radio are different from mine as it is so this is not really all that different). I am very comfortable with my political philosophy and my philosophy in general – perhaps too comfortable. Challenging one’s views is the best way to make one’s arguments stronger. By forcing oneself to consider new arguments and overcoming these arguments through reason, if one’s arguments are sound, he or she should not be afraid to be challenged by contrary opinions.
Rigorous debate is the cure for a myopic political philosophy…provided that the participants are willing to bring open minds to the fight. An obvious counter example is the cable news “debates”, in which two heads scream talking points at one another in rapid fire succession. Can such do anything other than cement the color-coded dogma that is American politics?

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


With the election of a new Pontiff, another ism is topic A. That being, of course, relativism. This term is generally understood to mean a rejection of absolutes, usually in the interest of withholding judgment. The rise in popularity of relativism coincided with the decline of discrimination. There was a time, long ago, when value judgments and positive discrimination were admirable qualities. Sadly, no longer.

Benedict XVI speaks of relativism with laser precision. For him, ecumenicalism is anathema. As one might expect, the former occupier of the office of the Holy Inquisitor is rather adamant in the view that the Catholic tradition is the one true faith, while all others are illegitimate. Such should be no surprise.

Once again, I find myself at odds with the vast majority of thought. Don’t misunderstand; I’m not contrarian for its own sake. I just happen to have a skeptical streak that I try to nourish. As I see it, error is the only thing lost in a rigorous analysis. So, I simply can’t abide relativism, as it fails to draw a qualitative distinction between rival ideas. Note that this is not the same as tolerance. To tolerate is to passively allow, which is altogether different from sanction or approval.

My fear is that the new Pope may well embolden the intolerant right-wing in America. This is to say that the distinction between tolerance and acceptance might progress from blurry to nonexistent. I’m a proponent of sturdy principles, but I stand in opposition to any attempt to compel others to share my worldview. The real problem, as I see it, is the confusion of objective and subjective.

The subjective speaks of opinions and the like. In as much as all individuals are absolutely unique, a wide divergence of tastes and proclivities is to be expected. The same holds for religious traditions; the inclination to imagine various deities is as old as humanity. Therefore, the regulation of belief is not unlike containing a tornado.

Objective reality is that which is empirical and demonstrable. For practical purposes, all things mystical are regarded as non-empirical. Just because the evidence of a deity can’t be pier reviewed in a conventional sense doesn’t relegate it to fiction. However, this does mean that matters of faith must necessarily be personal and voluntary. While the truth of God may be convincing for the faithful, it is no more than superstition for the non-believer.

This communication breakdown between the two camps is the source of untold strife. Both could certainly use a heavy dose of actual tolerance, but without compromising their core principles. The fact that one refrains from interfering with the lifestyle of another in no way requires tacit agreement. It’s called liberty…try it, you just might like it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

battlefield interrogations

Today’s Washington Post echoes my previous post…well not exactly. The WP draws attention to the US Military’s handling of detainees in Iraq. E-mails, purportedly expanding the list of acceptable interrogation techniques, were sent by Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, then commander of US troops in Iraq, to interrogators and Army officials. The article insinuates that the new “gloves off” approach led to the death of at least one prisoner.
Army investigative documents released yesterday, as well as court records and files, suggest that the tactics were used on two detainees: One died during an interrogation in November 2003 while stuffed into a sleeping bag, and another was badly beaten by inexperienced interrogators using a police baton in September 2003. The documents indicate confusion over what tactics were legal in Iraq, a belief that most detainees were not covered by Geneva Conventions protections and alleged abuse by interrogators who had tacit approval to "turn it up a notch."
After reading my take on the 24 scenario, one might think that my thoughts on Iraqi detainees are similar. Actually, my insistence upon “due process” applies to US citizens under the protection of the US Constitution. Detained foreign terrorists on foreign soil have no such protection. I tend to agree with the current Administration that stateless combatants can’t claim that the Geneva Conventions apply to them. By all accounts, these savages intend to kill and be killed. Furthermore, the gruesome films they make of decapitating civilians speak volumes about how they would deal with captured soldiers.
Another interrogator, with the 501st Military Intelligence Battalion, wrote a response to the headquarters e-mail with cautions that "we need to take a deep breath and remember who we are." "It comes down to standards of right and wrong -- something we cannot just put aside when we find it inconvenient," the soldier wrote. "We are American soldiers, heirs of a long tradition of staying on the high ground. We need to stay there."
I don’t advocate summary execution of detainees because I feel that sort of treatment is beyond the pale. We are, after all, not the barbarians that our brave men and women battle at this very hour. Indeed, those guys and gals are risking their lives to protect ours. This is apparently hard to see from the security of the Washington Post headquarters.

Monday, April 18, 2005

...with liberty and justice for all.

In the latest installment of the Fox serial: 24, art eerily imitated life. Essentially, terrorists have secured a nuclear warhead and the codes needed to detonate it. As you might expect, the full attention and resources of D.O.D. have been committed to the task of preventing a possible attack on American soil. Taking advantage of a misstep of one the terrorist, Federal agents apprehend a US citizen that happens to be a [former] Marine.

To thwart the authorities, the terrorist mastermind alerts “Amnesty Global” that the Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) may be inclined to torture the man in their custody in order to extract information. An attorney arrives with a warrant and a Federal Marshall escort. The AG lawyer insisted upon due process, as the suspect was neither formally charged nor had any prior arrests. The information known at the time is technically circumstantial. We know that the suspect has aided the terrorists tangentially, but the extent of his complicity is unclear. The CTU agents implore the President to override the Court order mandating that the subject's rights will not be violated, by way of extreme interrogation.

This sounds quite a bit like the situation we have with the detainees in Guantanamo Bay. I have to say that this is not an easily resolved issue. It may well be tempting to relax due process in the interest of security. I can imagine that the presumption of innocence could be viewed as a luxury for one suspected of mass murder or abetting those with murderous intent. Oh yeah, there's that whole rule of law thing.

When considering such a dilemma, I’m awed by the Founders' wisdom. The concept of an equal application of the law is invaluable. This becomes vividly clear when the “rogue” citizen suspect in the interrogation chair is you. Are you still a proponent of the cessation of habeas corpus and the presumption of innocence? The brillience of the Constitution is that it demands that the Government err on the side of liberty. The acquittal of the guilty is far less offensive than the unjust conviction of an innocent…especially if the innocent one is me.

old terms with new meanings

Language and the art of communication is perhaps the most valuable of human attributes. Arguably, without verbal acumen the species would not have reached the level of civilization that is enjoyed today. No doubt, the most eloquent among us seem to be more successful than those of us with limited skills. Even the most revolutionary ideas are worthless without the ability to convey the particulars.

For those of us that were born in the last half of the twentieth century, “political correctness” is all too familiar. PC is, in essence, the renaming of various human endeavors, habits, handicaps, shortcomings, et al. Such is asinine to be sure, but it’s not the target of this particular rant. That which is the cause of my ire at present is another form of verbal mutilation. Not knowing its actual name, I’ll call it: regressive etymology.

One glaring example is the misuse of the term justice. Justice has long been a hallmark of this country’s legal system. Historically, justice has been seen as blind, in the sense that all people, without respect for status or station, will be treated equally and fairly under to the law. As Neal Boortz is wont to say: “justice is getting exactly what you deserve”, which is, in a word: pithy. The new meaning of justice refers to one receiving that which is unearned because of perceived need. This done, purportedly to correct supposed inequality, with the use of government force.

Another misused word is responsibility. As a ‘l’ibertarian, I understand responsibility to be the other half of freedom. That is, the consequences of my free actions are the responsibility of myself alone…both positive and negative. However, the new usage of responsibility is the polar opposite. Now, it seems that one is “responsible” for one's neighbor (with tax dollars), but not responsible for oneself. Society (the government) is tasked with parenting it's adult children. The greatest achievements (or most atrocious pieces of legislation) of this mentality are The New Deal and The Great Society.

Since the previous two have been examples of “progressives” (Socialists), how about one from the other side of the fence? Lately “Christian Conservatives” have been the recipients of much ink and air-time. While they are less likely to redefine terms, there is one noticeable instance. The word heritage refers to inherited traditions or customs. Lately this term has been used to reinterpret the Constitution. It is often said that, since many of the Founders were Christians and Deists, then this nation's charter must therefore be religious. In fact, the First Amendment to the US Constitution precludes the possibility of such a “heritage”. I would suggest that one research the Inquisition(s) of the Middle Ages to recognize the potential dangers of advocating quasi theocracy.

The last but not least is one that's of particular interest to me. The usurpation of the word liberal, by the Left, is especially tragic. Eric has a blistering post that elucidates the principles of real liberals. Since Eric has articulated my exact sentiments on this one, I will refer you to his tirade. Enjoy.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

who owns you?

The title of this very blog may lead one to believe that I am a hopeless, dreamy-eyed ideologue. Nonsense. I’m actually much more of a pragmatist in real life than I would ever admit in public…ooops. The truth is that I see the value of lofty goals. My concept of human nature is quite unfavorable, in that we/they, more often than not, will do little more than the bare minimum of that which is expected or required. Therefore, as the official spokesman for Libertopia, I’m charged with delivering its creed: may the desire for maximum liberty result in an ever increasing progression toward that end.

Here in Libertopia, as one might suspect, individual liberty is paramount. Individuals are responsible for them selves alone and must respect the freedoms of their neighbors. In fact, the Libertopian Constitution is printed on a 3”x5” post card. In it, are the specifications for the limited collective endeavors. The braod categories are the following:
3.Legislative body
4.Military and Constabulary
6.Taxation: on consumption and equally applied

The overarching concept that guides the particulars of various legislation that, of necessity, should arise in a pluralistic society is: private property rights. Private property is not limited to inanimate possessions, but extends to the life of the individual and the products of his hands and his mind. The respect for private property is of utmost importance. Without private ownership, commerce would be impossible. Without commerce, wealth creation cannot occur. Without wealth creation, there is no incentive to innovate and no progression of the species...i.e. third-world agrarian subsistence societies. Mere survival is not enough for the pursuit of happiness.

Commensurate with private property is the concept of individual liberty. When speaking of liberty, it’s important to note that there are two distinct sub categories: positive liberty and negative liberty. Many people confuse these two, whether intentionally or not, I can’t say. It could be that some use manipulation to herd the masses in this direction or that…that’s just my cynical nature rearing its head, but I digress.

Positive liberty is also known as the “freedom to” act in this way or that, move to and fro, etc. Many on the left-wing of the political spectrum are vocal proponents of positive liberty. Democrats are well known for their support of “reproductive rights” and “free speech” and the like. Conversely, those on the right-wing of the spectrum often seek to restrict various positive liberties in the name of morality or “decency”.

Negative liberty is referred to as the “freedom from” X. This is typically invoked to argue against coercion, usually the force of the state. Here the ideological camps switch sides. Republicans tend to support property rights and lower taxation, but Democrats advocate “public good” initiatives that often call for “common lands” and costly social welfare programs.

It is clear to me that the two main players in American politics are “fair weather” supporters of freedom, yet they both claim to be advocates of liberty. Take the First Amendment for example. Democrats correctly recognize a freedom from religion, but promote politically correct speech codes. Republicans will decry silly “new speak”, but will pressure the Congress to reinstate compulsary prayer in schools. True freedom is obviously not what many people want; they want to control the behavior of others in order to reshape society according to their personal view of supreme morality.

The core of liberty speaks only to the individual. The question is: who owns you? When reduced to its essence, the issue is one of either-or. Either one is free or one is not. If I own my life, then I decide when, where, how and whether to act. If I’m merely a member of society and must hold the greater good in higher esteem than my own well being, then am I not a slave? I submit that a vast majority of our fellow citizens care far less about freedom than security. To that, I would say that prisoners have sufficient security. They are fed, housed, clothed, protected by guards with guns and they have the insulation of their cozy cells. I wonder whether they value security more than freedom. Do you really want liberty, with all of its implications?

Friday, April 15, 2005

validation by proxy

Alright, I’m not usually one to gloat…but…one of my recent posts has been echoed by a real, live economist. OK, so he may not have gleaned wisdom from my blog. Nevertheless, my opinions do indeed coincide with those of professional intellectuals. Draw your own conclusions people.

Fred Reed: irreverent philosopher

Thanks to jomama I now have yet another good info-tainment website to read. Fred Reed is an ornery former Vietnam War Journalist, as well as one with other colorful life experiences. His columns are thoughtful and insightful. Exhibit A: a bit of his latest rant
People want neither freedom nor democracy. They want a soothing mother domestically and an outlet, preferably overseas, for anger.

While political democracy does not exist, cultural democracy does. It can exist because it does not threaten those who govern. The common run of humanity has no interest in learning anything or in any sort of intellectual betterment. They resent anything they see as indicating superiority in others, though, and want assurance that, as kids used to say in Alabama, “you ain’t no gooder’n me.” The degradation of the schools serves to eliminate obvious distinction, improve docility, avoid unwanted study, and make people consumers of witless amusement provided from above, as for example terrible music and awful movies.

All of the foregoing I believe serve to make the public a somnolent mass paying taxes, buying things, and directing little attention to larger matters. The only freedoms most want are the freedom to drive nice cars, watch 300 channels on the cable, drink beer, and take an occasional vacation. Freedom matters to intellectuals. For most, prosperity suffices.
This guy is like the cool, but half-crazy uncle that you’ve been warned about. You may not agree with him completely…hell, you don’t agree with me entirely either, right?.

estate rape

Close, but no cigar. Our illustrious representatives in Washington almost acted responsibly this week. The question was: to repeal, or not repeal…the estate tax, which is nearly 50% of the value of that which is bequeathed. The argument for the continuance of this confiscation is, quite simply, the heirs don’t need it as much as those whom the politicians seek to endow. According to Matthew Yglesias, Better to tax inheritance since the actual concern is that I'll give $10 million to my son and he'll be rich, rich, rich without ever having worked.

If I understand this, at death, one’s wealth somehow becomes public property. What? Surely the collectivist types haven’t considered the implications of such an absurd theory. If an economy were constructed using such a framework, then sweat would be invaluable and the intellect…useless. Do our Leftist friends not extol the virtues of labor, while excoriating the “lucky” rich? It’s nothing short of an inverted view of reality; the notion that distinction by way of excellence is bad, while elevating mediocrity to a level beyond its natural state. Misplaced compassion can be the only explanation for this irrational thesis.
I might be an earnest, hardworking dude who works in the store. And somebody might die and give the store to me. The store may be worth millions and millions of dollars. If so, I ought to pay tax on it. Why? Because I've just inherited millions and millions of dollars, that's why. That I'm earnest and hardworking, and that my riches came in the form of a valuable store rather than a heaping plate of gold matters not a whit. What about those sad folks forced to sell the family business? Don't cry for them. Here you are, you inherit a store worth $X. You owe $Y in taxes, with Y being less than X. So you are "forced" to sell the store, and accept "only" $X-Y as your inheritance. Note that X is a figure in the millions, and Y a small proportion of X. This is a very good problem to have, abstracting away from the fact that someone you love has probably died and this is probably a bigger concern of yours that the tax bill. This is, in other words, a non-problem. The government ought, perhaps, to facilitate some kind of lending arrangement so that people who prefer to keep the store and pay the tax down over time out of operating revenues can do so.
How can one possibly convince those that actually believe this drivel of the vacuous nature of their position? Would they consent to the theft of their possessions, if they were left with a pittance? Not likely. I suspect that, for Yglesias and his ilk, utilitarianism is great, provided that they are on the receiving end. The offering up of a sacrificial lamb is prudent, as long as it’s not me.
The last point, however, is the first in importance. Liberals should not mistake getting self-righteous about estate tax repeal for having a serious program to combat inequality or reduce poverty in America. Repealing the estate tax is dumb. Putting it back in place would be a good idea. But a serious program to combat inequality or reduce poverty would be better. Resentment, my comrades, will only get you so far.
Ah, now it all makes sense. The reduction of poverty and inequality is the highest moral principle. Therefore, it is justified to use coercion to relieve successful person A of his earned assets, for the purpose of giving said property to unsuccessful person B. In this scenario, the paternalistic government bestows unearned assets upon its dependant children. But this is different from conventional inheritance, in that those bothersome private property rights are not regarded. Now do you see how much more ethical egalitarianism is? When will you intransigent individualists learn to be socially responsible? Is there no justice?

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


America has long been considered to be “the land of opportunity”. Practically since it’s founding, foreigners have come in droves. In fact, virtually the whole of the citizenry traces its lineage elsewhere. Immigration is not a new concept for the US. In light of this, the opposition to would-be Mexican immigrants seems odd. This is especially so in the context of our supposed free-market capitalist economy.

The current argument for tougher border enforcement is, theoretically, that terrorists might just waltz across the desert and become human grenades. At first blush, this sounds reasonable. But consider the following: 1. the 9/11 murderers blended into society with “valid” identification. 2. there are, ostensibly, already “cells” within our borders that could assault any bar or school or some other relatively soft target. 3. the Canadian border is a much more likely point of entry for well funded terrorists. Another typical argument against open borders is that the welfare system will be burdened further. This is contrary to the fact that, not only are people coming to work, they are willing to accept lower than “standard” wages for the privilege.

Those that call for a closed border (Pat Buchanan and co.) have been advocating this for decades…long before Islamo-fascists were perceived to be a direct threat to Americans. It appears that current events have merely become the latest excuse for our arcane immigration policy. That’s not to say that all of their arguments are weak. The rule of law rationale is perfectly legitimate. There is a mechanism by which one may become a legal citizen or simply receive a “green card” for residency. Therefore, I don’t advocate illegal immigration, but I do support a more liberal policy.

In my view, our immigration laws are much too restrictive. As it stands, the relatively low quotas (for unskilled laborers) are not practical, given the high demand. The crux of the problem, as I see it, is isolationist populism. It’s not uncommon to hear blue-collar types whining about the inability to compete with migrant laborers that ignore minimum wage laws and accept low pay, just to get jobs. Like it or not, that’s capitalism in action. The workers who demand high wages and minimal competition (trade unions) also demand low prices (from Wal-Mart) and maximum competition. Are they actually suggesting that they should be allowed to benefit as consumers while insisting that producers ought to be punished? Well, they are manual laborers, so I suppose it would be too much to ask for them to employ reason and logic.

If one assumes that rational thought (at least with respect to immigration) is beyond the working masses, then, those who bear the greatest responsibility are our elected opportunists. Yes, politics is a tight-rope-walk of trying to please everyone, or at least those most likely to grant them power via the ballot box. Even still, most office holders are educated people, many of whom are lawyers. They may be guilty of corruption, but not ignorance. It’s the ignorance of their constituency that sustains them. Unfortunately, neither party is innocent here, where laws and regulations are for sale to the highest bidding interest group.


For those of you who don’t read Catallarchy, you’re missing out. It is contributed to by over a dozen bright guys with wide ranging views and there are typically interesting comment threads to boot. There is a good mix of philosophy and frivolity, which I personally enjoy. Incidentally, my fledgling blog has mysteriously appeared on its blogroll…without fanfare, of course. At any rate, my appreciation goes out to the one responsible.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

standing on the shoulders of giants

Intellectually speaking, iron sharpens iron. Vigorous debate among mental giants redounds to the benefit of us all. As a capitalist, I’m grateful to those who fought in the trenches to resist the scourge of collectivist ideology. As it happens, rather counter intuitively, the renowned Objectivist, Ayn Rand and subjective economic theorist, Ludwig von Mises may not have had completely different ideas.
According to Rand, life itself is an objective value. "Life can be kept in existence only by a constant process of self-sustaining action. . . . An organism's life is its standard of value." (318) Richard C. B. Johnson reconciles the controversy over subjective vs. objective values by defining two distinct roles for ethics and economics. "[T]he science of economics should focus on trying to find objective economic principles, but in doing so should avoid the ethical dimension, leaving it to the science of philosophy. This seems only to be possible by treating the ultimate ends . . . of people as given—they might as well be totally subjective—and instead study the means by which people try to reach their ends. Making this distinction would keep the economic science objective as well, i.e., wertfrei, just as Mises claims. And values of ultimate ends still could be objective, as well as those of means, perfectly in accordance with Rand."

Sunday, April 10, 2005

blogs: pseudo info?

Editor & Publisher features an article about an April 8th National Press Club panel discussion entitled “Who is a Journalist”? I actually watched this in its entirety on CSPAN. "Jeff Gannon" (aka James Guckert) was the designated whipping boy.
Sitting on the panel, Gannon joined a wide-ranging group, including bloggers Cox and Graff; John Stanton of Congress Daily, who also has written for National Journal; and Matthew Yglesias of The American Prospect.

Also on the panel: Julie Davis from The Sun of Baltimore, chair of the Standing Committee of Correspondents on Capitol Hill, which oversees congressional press credentials and denied Gannon a pass last year.

Almost immediately after the panel was scheduled, opposition to Gannon's appearance at the highly respected journalism center started. Critics from both mainstream and online news outlets contended that he should not appear before the club on a journalism panel, since his credentials in that field were weak and he had also apparently worked as a male escort. They claimed his appearance only boosted his credibility and hurt the club's.
I was struck by the ideological imbalance on the panel. It was essentially “Gannon” versus all the others, who were left-leaning and dripping with disdain for Guckert and his conservative (Bush supporting) point of view. I'm not a Republican cheer-leader, at least not to the degree he is. However, the media's lynching of Gannon/Guckert is ridiculous. Even worse, his personal life was made a public spectacle in an apparent attempt to shame this guy into silence (it seems not to have worked so well). Aren’t the lefties the ones who condemn “gay bashing” and the like? I suppose being conservative is so evil that it negates the virtue of an “alternative lifestyle”.

The reason for the panel was, ostensibly, to define Journalism and Journalists. The whole group, less one, spoke of gray areas and credentials, but was emphatic that Guckert is not a Journalist. In response, Guckert said:
"We operate under the illusion of an objective media, but we have all seen, at least in the last election, that the objective media is an ideal that we no longer reach. You see a whole new group of journalists, bloggers, who have been the source of a tremendous amount of information, correct or incorrect, that credentialed journalists and mainstream media have used. That phenomenon is going to have to be dealt with in the future."
The free flow of information, made possible by the internet, is already blurring the distinction between “us” and “them”. Even so, my blog is not now and never will be aimed at “serious” journalism. No, its just an outlet for my thoughts and perhaps will generate some discourse. That’s not to say that all blogs are as frivolous as mine. Some are quite adept at ferreting out da’ news. Who knows, some of those pajama-clad mavericks may even overtake the ”real journalists” as the preferred source of information.
The first three questions from the moderator went to Gannon. He asked Gannon (Guckert) why he thinks he got credentialed when others did not, especially since he operated under an alias. Gannon said he went through the process that anyone could have gone through. He said he has never been a political activist, and pointed to George Stephanopoulos, who had worked for President Clinton, as someone who is now treated as a journalist.
The delicious irony is: ...due to the heightened interest in the event, NPC officials allowed only club members, reporters with press credentials, and bloggers who can show proof of their online site to attend. Really? Having a blog was sufficient to enter an event that tried to dismiss bloggers as wanna-be journalists? Renewing my driver’s license was more difficult that “creating” this blog. Are we to assume that the true line of demarcation lies with ideology instead of craft?

Saturday, April 09, 2005

supply-side slam

The concepts of conformity and labels have been of interest to me since I was a teenager. From a personal standpoint, I find it to be restrictive and requiring little imagination. That said, I’m always curious about anomalies. This is primarily because, by definition, they’re relatively scarce. It’s probably to do with the basic principle that a thing is more valuable when rare.

In another respect, an economy such as America’s, in which pop-cultural mass consumption abounds, producers likely prefer predictable trends. From a market perspective, I can see the benefits of promoting a Jones-following mentality. So, I entertain a bit of an internal conflict. Likewise, my political philosophy is bifurcated. Economically, I have a conservative bent; socially, I favor civil-liberty maximization. While I once considered joining the Libertarian Party, I've thought better of it, as they seem to be too hopelessly idealistic to have any substantive affect on the electorate.

I recently became aware of a new site that promotes a webzine entitled The New Libertarian, a monthly journal of "neolibertarian" commentary, policy and philosophy that attempts to lure libertarian-minded individuals away from the two major parties. For a while now, just such an idea has appealed me.
First, I should emphasize that, to my mind, Neolibertarianism is more about broadening libertarianism sufficiently to create a coalition (as opposed to the purity battles in most Libertarian circles) than it is about specific policy prescriptions. We differ on many things. –Jon Henke (The New Libertarian)
Sometimes though, when reaching out, core beliefs are compromised. Dale Franks, of QandO Blog, posted a critique of supply-side economics:
Even if we assume, charitably, that the last 5 years of Bush Administration GDP growth are as strong as Clinton era GDP growth, what does that tell us? In one case, that GDP growth followed a tax increase, and in the other case, similar GDP growth resulted from repealing that tax increase. It’s difficult to see how that becomes clear evidence of vindication for Supply-Side theory.
The “charitable” view of Frank’s post might be that he is courting disgruntled Democrats by down-playing supply-siders and implicitly endorsing Keynesian economics. I should say that I have no formal training in economics. However, common sense dictates that individuals create wealth and governments seize it. In the excerpt above, the two events that had the most profound effect on the economy in the last decade are conspicuous by their absence. Those being: the tech bubble burst and 9/11. Either of these individually would have crippled growth. The fact that they occurred in tandem is nothing short of disastrous.

Fortunately for us all, we’re not discussing the merits of a Gore or Kerry Administration’s economic policy. Instead, the likes of Paul Krugman and other Keynesian hacks decry Bush’s 2001 $1.6 trillion tax cuts. Now, I certainly take issue with current spending levels and would like to see an even deeper reduction in tax rates, but the irrefutable fact is that the unemployment rate is slightly below what it was at the beginning of the internet boom. To be sure, some will claim that lower wage jobs have replaced higher wage ones. The market will fluctuate and will only support that which is bearable at any given point. The goal is to increase the pie rather than merely redistributing the same pieces. It seems quite obvious to me that the profit motive, not government “compassion”, is what actually fuels the economic fire. Alas, as long as devotees of FDR and LBJ praise government spending, free-market types will have an up-hill battle.

Friday, April 08, 2005

If the Senate goes nuclear...

[The President] shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.
US Constitution Article II, Section 2, second paragraph

To prevent a hand-full of Bush’s nominees to Federal Courts, Senate Democrats have availed them selves of the time honored parliamentary obstruction tactic known as filibuster. Which, of course, is the extension of debate for the purpose of delaying or preventing a floor vote. This has enraged Republicans and ostensibly has galvanized conservatives as well as liberals. The Republicans argue that Bush ought to be able to appoint any Judge he deems fit. The Democrats counter that the select few nominees in question are “out of the main stream” and would likely seek to overturn Roe v. Wade. The truth may well be somewhere in the middle, as politicians of all stripes are prone to use hyperbole.

An interesting twist in the story is that noted liberal Matthew Yglesias, on his "reality based weblog", has expressed opposition to the use of filibuster.
What I think is important here is that there's a basic asymmetry between liberal and conservative legislative initiatives. There are a couple of different ways to frame this asymmetry depending on how generous to the right you want to be. The unkind characterization is that since liberals try to put good policy ideas on the table, once they're in place, people like them a lot, so they're very hard to get rid of. Kinder to conservatives would be the observation that big progressive measures (Social Security, Medicare, Civil Rights, etc.) create and empower large political coalitions to support them. Either way, the point I would make is that even during an era when liberals have been astoundingly bad at winning elections, it hasn't proven especially difficult to defend the key elements of the New Deal / Great Society settlement.

What has been hard is getting any new shit passed. Labor law reform, health care reform, etc. But if that stuff did get passed, it would be very hard to repeal it. Republicans no this perfectly well with regard to health care -- once universal coverage comes in, it's not going away short of a nuclear war. Robustly pro-union governance will create stronger unions which will make it very hard to mobilize anti-union politics in the future.
What the filibuster lets the GOP do, by contrast, is impede popular structural reforms of American social and economic life that, though controversial at the time (Social Security, Civil Rights) would, if implemented, rapidly become popular unrepealable measures. Ergo, ditch the filibuster.

To me, this seems to be the logical extension ot the "nuclear option", a rule change that would allow a simple majority to move for a vote. What I don’t understand is why Republicans fail to see this. Could it be that the benefits of expediency outweigh the cost of future fast-track liberal legislation? Conservatives would be well served by taking a cue from their opponents. Mark Schmitt, of the Decembrist points to history:
…procedural reform in the 1940s, 50s and 60s was built on the assumption that if the rules were different the results would change. Reducing the number of votes needed to end a filibuster from 66 to 60, breaking the "committee system" by which senile Southerners held total power over what was considered, and making votes public were expected to lead not only to passage of civil rights legislation, but to a much more activist, presidential government. Reformers assumed that they would help a strong president, who was likely to be liberal, set the congressional agenda.
As Mark Twain said, "History doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes." Would-be nuclear politicists ought to remember that. The Founders’ intent was to prevent a simple majority from easily saddling the nation with onerous laws. As Yglesias elucidated, laws are rarely, if ever, repealed. This is why bills (and nominees) should meet the highest of standards before being given the stamp of approval. Sure, some good legislation and able Judges may well not go forward because of filibuster. More importantly, we will all be spared the negative consequences of "extreme civil servants" (on either side) and atrocious regulations, be they socialistic or authoritarian. In fact, the legislative process and Presidential appointments were designed with built-in obstacles for good reason. If the party in power (whichever it may be in the future) is able to govern unopposed, Constitutional checks are rendered toothless. Yet again, a liberal Democrat, Kevin Drum of Washington Monthly, states the obvious facts that are eluding Republicans:
On a broader note, it's correct to point out that the United States government was set up by the founders to be inherently conservative, and the governance of the Senate has made it even more so. Passing a law requires a majority in one house, a supermajority in another house, consent of the president, and consent by the Supreme Court. Any of those four institutions can stop proposed legislation dead.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Philosophical Civil War

The more things change, the more they remain the same. Although it seems that the present culture war has reached a fever pitch, this struggle for hearts and minds is a perennial one. In a recent article at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Ralph Raico reintroduces a piece that initially appeared in the New Individualist Review, Volume 3, Number 3, Fall 1964. The topic of discussion was/is a juxtaposition of traditionalist (conservative) and classic liberal (libertarian) philosophies.

At the outset, a “definition of terms” is in order:
What the libertarian (or classical liberal) has to offer, the fusionists maintain, is a good understanding of the meaning of freedom, of the dangers facing it, and especially of the connection between economic and other forms of freedom. He is mistaken, however, in disregarding "value" and the moral law, and in having no understanding of the goal and raison d'être of freedom, which is "virtue."

The traditionalist, on the other hand, is the complimentary figure to the libertarian, and brings to the synthesis a—as the phrase goes—deep commitment to moral value, to virtue and so on. Moreover, he understands the part that tradition must play in the life of society, while the libertarian typically "rejects tradition." Thus, the stage is set for the synthesis, which will consist in a political philosophy developed on the basis of "reason operating within tradition," and upholding freedom as the highest secular end of man and virtue as the highest end of man tout court.

This is a rough sketch of each to be sure, but both are examined further in the article. Nevertheless, these descriptions are more or less the way one views the other. What is at the heart of the disagreement, as I see it, are the dispirit meanings poured into the term: morality.
The idea that moral rules must be absolute in the sense that they are binding under all empirically possible conditions appears to be a sense in which conservatives often use the term. And yet it seems to me hardly a defensible position. Is it, after all, possible to cite a single moral injunction with content (not, e.g., "It is good to do the Will of God") and with application to social questions (not, e.g., "It is good to love God") which is unconditionally valid? Would it, for instance, be impermissible under all possible conditions to take the life of a man whom one knows to be innocent? It seems to me that circumstances could well be imagined in which this would be the reasonable—possibly even the moral—thing to do. Whether or not supported by classical liberals, moral absolutism in this sense appears to me to be an untenable position, the rejection of which cannot rightfully be made the grounds for censuring anyone.

Morality in general and religious ideals in particular are often touted as a great American tradition. From this premise, citizens are expected to think and act in keeping with Pax Americana.
For to defend the truth of an assertion on the basis that it has been the traditional belief of our society, presupposes that any belief that has been traditionally accepted by our society is very likely to be a true one. But contrary examples are available in too great an abundance to permit of any confidence in such a premise. Thus, recourse to tradition in abstract, speculative argument is invalid.

It should be noted that not all traditions are in a single category. Without question, individuals have the right to assemble periodically with others…or not, as they may wish. And likewise, there are extra-legal customs and protocol of government. In either case, the sanctity of individual liberty must not be casually violated.
…there are traditions that are maintained in the social sector (typically the sector of free interaction among individuals) and there are traditions pertaining to the government sector (typically the sector of force or the threat of force). An example of traditionality In the social sector would be the continuance of Christianity in its received forms as the result of the private decisions, habits, etc., of people; an example in the realm of governmental activity is (or was, 200 years ago) the continuance of the persecution of Protestant "heretics" in France, Spain, etc.— that is, a tradition involving violent interference with the peaceful actions of individuals.
Can libertarians and conservatives ever reconcile…time alone will be the judge. At this point I can but hope so, as I see the ills of collectivist ideology as oil in the vast sea of freedom.

...the development of a common conservative doctrine, comprehending both emphases (traditionalist and libertarian) cannot be achieved in a surface manner by blinking differences or blurring intellectual distinctions with grandiose phraseology. Frank S. Meyer

Acknowledgment: Democratic Freedom

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

A gentle reminder

Mike, of No Angst Zone and an ally of Libertopia, has posted a great piece that thoroughly explains the how and why of the current “war on terrorism”. Lest we become complacent, I suggest that you read his post. I have nothing to add, as he has covered all of the relevant bases.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005


Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, its an honor and a privilege to announce the addition of not one, but two new blogs to the roll. Both of these fine sites deal with various and sundry issues that vex the weak minded and the faint hearted.

Why, you ask, do I extol the virtues of these blogs…because I can and they're solid reads. I now exercise my individual liberty and hereby inaugurate Fearless Philosophy for Free Minds and the evolved one: The Enlightened Caveman.

Go and bask in the fearless philosophy of caveman enlightenment. After that, come back and share with the good people of Libertopia.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Constitutional principles v. personal principles

I read a novel take on the formulation of one’s position on a particular subject at The Buck Stops Here. In it, Stuart Buck attempts to demonstrate that people often vacillate between competing principles in especially thorny dilemmas.
Let's suppose that a generic liberal values federalism at 3 (out of 10) and a generic conservative values federalism at 8. Do we know that the liberal or conservative are hypocrites for seemingly switching their position on federalism in the Schiavo debate? No. The liberal might simply think that the value of keeping Schiavo alive, given her circumstances, was worth no more than 2; thus, the value of federalism trumps. The conservative who desired congressional involvement might have simply thought that the value of protecting Schiavo's life was worth a 9 or 10, thus outweighing the value of federalism in this particular case. Thus, it is possible that neither one is being a hypocrite at all: They are merely placing different values on the competing interest of keeping Schiavo alive.

It may be that this pragmatic thought process is prudent for individuals, but [his] example considered the Constitution in general and Federalism in particular. I think such confusion of constitutional and personal principles muddy the waters. Actually, as I’ve mentioned before, the general public is (in many ways) ignorant of the role of our constitution(s). These documents are not immutable, but are subject to a well specified process for alteration, which in turn must NOT violate protected individual rights. The notion that the Rule of Law is precarious, malleable and bends to the “will of the people” is, in a word: ludicrous.