In August 1944, my mother was holding me in her arms while acclaiming US troops entering Paris. Period pictures show that both she and my father were starving, although slowly. Nothing original there . Pictures of citizens of occupied Europe indicate that most were starving.) No one knows how long my mother would have been able to continue nursing me if the Allies had not stopped the war for the French just about then. Do these life beginnings color my perception of American arms, even of American “militarism,” if you will? To ask the question is to answer it. Think!
Sometimes, no amount of discussion or of argumentation is likely to bring a resolution to a difference of positions between two parties. In spite of the low probability of resolution, it ‘s yet often worth discussing the positions for the benefit of the undecided. Among the undecided, are the intelligent young just waking up from a testosterone poisoned dream. (That includes young females.)
In my observation, the lack progress toward resolution happens under two distinct sets of circumstances:
1 The parties are separated by a chasm in their values.
Ex: Mr Hitler: I don’t think that racial purity matters.
2 The parties have drastically different grasps of basic reality.
Ex: Mr Hitler: I don’t think the Germans are a race in any sense
of the term.
As the examples above show the two bases of continued disagreement are easily confused. And they are often mentioned within the same sentence as if they were one of the same. Yet, they are distinct. I can believe that racial purity matters and that the Germans are not a pure race. I can believe that racial purity does not matter and that Germans are a pure race. I can agree 100% on reality with someone and reject his values. I can agree 100 % with someone’s values and disagree on what to do because I believe he does not really grasp what’s going on.
In this actual case, both kinds of differences keep me apart from what I think (believe, perceive) are orthodox libertarians (“OLs”): Some of their values I find unacceptable; their grasp on reality, in some respects, looks like a bad fairy tale. Although I am temperamentally close to them I think it worth arguing with them because I believe that the very existence of OLs poses significant obstacles to any progress of US society toward smaller government. Retired C Congressman Ron Paul, in particular, did much damage to this good cause through his irresponsible sallies when he was pretending to run for president.
Outside the main political parties, the Libertarian Party does much damage to libertarian ideas.
One important weakness of OLs is their immoral and impractical approach to the topic of war.
War and libertarianism
First something very important that I don’t wish to discuss much here because I agree with OLs on that point.
War is the worst thing that can happen to a libertarian program of action. Even the mere preparation for war is antithetical to progress toward a less government-ridden society.
That is true at least for the victors in a war. The generalization may be invalid for the losers: The defeat of Italy, Germany and of Japan in WWII surely did not correspond with the emergence of more authoritarian Italian, German and Japanese societies. (I am assuming we can all agree on this.) The change for other officially losing nations, Hungary and Romania, is either mixed or in line with the general principle above. It matters, of course, that they were “liberated” by a totalitarian power (the Soviet Union) unlikely to help birth democratic societies.
I repeat that I believe that, for the victors, war is a royal path to the diminution of civil society. This does not mean that we should close our eyes to the consequences of not defending our imperfect but reasonably good societies against frankly totalitarian enemies.
My general perception of the relationship between of OL and military issues
It’s derived from years of observation of the Independent Institute, to a lesser extent, of the Independent Review (to which I have contributed) and even less to libertarian periodical Liberty Unbound (to which I have also contributed). In addition, I browse blogs that are identified as libertarian and first and foremost, Notes on Liberty. The frequent mad pronouncements of (zany) former Congressman Ron Paul when he was a presidential candidate also played a role in my understanding. The eagerness with which his adepts defended his most absurd pronouncements including on this blog also feeds my concerns. (I confess that unconditionality troubles me.)
I am not interested in a strict definition of who the real orthodox libertarians are. Don’t engage me on this. If the shoe does not fit, just don’t wear it. If you think I am setting up a strawman, just say so and stop reading. For an example of an OL closer to home, one of several, see the comments of Brandon Christensen on this blog, and some of his articles in the blog he directs with talent: “Notes on Liberty” ( a blog I recommend, by the way).
OLs are military isolationists, and to a large extent, and the two are related, they are political isolationists. They are not economic isolationists. They should be in favor of borders open to all migrations but I don’t see clearly this to be the case. I am at a loss to explain why this position is missing(I can be educated on this.) The libertarian statement closest to taking this position is my own article co-authored with Sergey Nikiforov in the Independent Review ( “If Mexicans and Americans Could Cross the Border Freely.” It’s linked to this blog .)
I believe that Ols’ political and military isolationism is a cover for pacifism: No war, period! Pacifism is a doctrine deeply discredited by World War Two. The British pacifists helped opened the door to Hitler, I think. Widespread pacifist sentiment in the US encouraged the Pearl Harbor attack, I also believe.* OLs seldom or never admit to pacifism because they know this as well as a I do. Instead, they proclaim their support for specific actions that happen to bunch together as pacifism. Many of those actions involve abstaining from action. Right now, (08/03/13) for example, they reject the idea that the US should help some of the Syrian rebels against the fascist Baath Party of Assad Son.
* Poland, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, The Netherlands, Norway, France, Yugoslavia, Greece, had no major pacifist movements to speak of; they were just militarily beaten, for other reasons.
I have two quarrels with OLs;
First: I believe their isolationism is callous, morally bankrupt. Letting other humans die when you can save them is bad for you, for your soul, if you wish, even if you don’t believe in souls. It does not prepare you or society for a libertarian paradise where individuals may flourish but for a return to the jungle. It’s true that there are cases where intervention does more harm than good. This is an argument for rationality and avoiding making decisions in the heat of emotion. It’s not an argument for a blanket, rigid doctrine. There are many cases where intervention saves what’s worth saving (including my on life, possibly, in 1944, I hasten to add).
I believe squarely that, when possible, there is a duty to intervene against well-defined evil doing, including militarily. There is plenty of well-defined evil doing.
From a moral standpoint, the OLs seems to be affirming that nothing is worse than war.
I don’t think so, personally: I think that Auschwitz is worse than war.
Second: It seems to me that the OL isolationist doctrine implies logically that you may have to refrain from fighting until you have actually been physically attacked at home. I think the doctrine logically implies the absurdity that if the US had had advanced knowledge of the 9/11 terrorist attack, it should have stood by until the first plane hit the first tower in New York city.
My second quarrel is thus that I believe absorbing the first blow in a conflict is very dangerous. It has always been dangerous. With today’s weapons of mass destruction, it’s more dangerous than ever. Pearl Harbor was one well known case of involuntarily absorbing the first blow. It cost hundreds of thousands of American lives. That could have been avoided if the US has pre-emptively stricken expansionist, overtly militaristic, adventurous Japan. (That’s the Japan that had been attacking others for more than ten years at the time of Pearl Harbor.) The massive loss of American life may even have been completely avoided had the US merely threatened Japan with ruinous military action. (We have the memoirs of Admiral Yamamoto, the organizer of the Pearl Harbor attack on that.) It’s hard to see how such a pre-emptive strike would have made things worse than they actually turned out to be. I mean first in terms of American losses. I mean also in terms of Japanese losses, including civilian losses.
There are other, institutional damage I will address in a later installments.
Today, it seems to me that the OL doctrine requires, for example, that we be willing today to absorb any first blow the insane but calculating North Korean dictatorship might chose to inflict on us. (On Juneau, for example,
or, in a few years, on Seattle) where my wife’s grand-daughter lives. I am not make this up, the North Korean leadership threatened us (and its neighbors ) repeatedly.
What I tell take to be the OL posture on where to fight is so impractical it’s either blind or immoral. Sometimes it’s both. I did not mention the starvation camp that is North Korea at random. It’s one case where elementary morality and self-preservation combine to recommend a military attack.
More to come.