philosophy

Opinion: “First, they came for the donor lists…”

Emboldened by the response to my piece last week, I put on my political theorist hat this weekend and penned another editorial that has now been published in The Daily Caller. Here’s an excerpt:

“Don’t we all have a right to know,” asks Obama campaign manager Jim Messina in a recent fundraising email, “exactly which corporations and individuals are spending millions in attack ads to influence elections – and what their agendas are?” While we should expect this type of rhetoric from bullies who think that the government should force workers to give up their right to a secret ballot in unionization proceedings, making it easier for Democratic supporters to rake new campaign funds from their peers’ paychecks, this is one of those times when “No” is a complete, forceful, and declarative sentence.

But in fairness to Messina, to whom I wish a swift and humiliating trip to the unemployment line this November, we should (for a moment) take his claim at face value. We should ask, “Upon what moral principle” – we’re talking about rights, after all – “is this ‘right to know’ predicated?”

Is Libertarianism Part of the Conservative Movement?

Last night I attended a debate held at the American Enterprise Institute between Jonah Goldberg of National Review Online (and the Institute itself), author of Liberal Fascism and other notable works, and Matt Welch, of reason fame and the author of The Declaration of Independents. The question posed by the debate has been argued over ever since Franklin Delano Roosevelt began the New Deal, and conservatives and libertarians—then known as “classical liberals”—allied in order to present a unified front to keeping the massive new nanny state at bay. It was reinforced in the fifties when William Buckley formed National Review, and presented his argument for a “fusionist” political movement. It’s been going on for a long time, and it will continue to go on long into the future. Despite the jokes about it, the debate did not solve the question for most people. I, however, left convinced more than ever that libertarianism and conservatism do not mix.

Why do you trust your government?

I mean, there’s things like SOPA and the NDAA and the Patriot Act and your typical corruption and whatnot, but then you have ridiculous stories like the Texas teen who was accidentally deported to Columbia:

Turner said with the help of Dallas Police, she found her granddaughter in the most unexpected place - Colombia.

Where she had mistakenly been deported by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in April of 2011.

“They didn’t do their work,” Turner said. “How do you deport a teenager and send her to Colombia without a passport, without anything?”

News 8 learned that Jakadrien somehow ended up in Houston, where she was arrested by Houston police for theft. She gave Houston police a fake name. When police in Houston ran that name, it belonged to a 22-year-old illegal immigrant from Colombia, who had warrants for her arrest.

So ICE officials stepped in.

News 8 has learned ICE took the girl’s fingerprints, but somehow didn’t confirm her identity and deported her to Colombia, where the Colombian government gave her a work card and released her.

The only thing going for ICE in this is that the girl gave a false name. Yes, she probably shouldn’t have done that—but how in the world could ICE, in her mother’s words, deport a girl to Colombia who knew no Spanish and failed to even do the basic work of, you know, confirming this claim? You would think law enforcement officials would expect teenagers to give false names upon imprisonment; it’s not that uncommon.

What is Truth?

What is truth? As I’ve been involved in conversations or debates about various issues of late, that is a question that has pressed upon my mind. Is truth objective or subjective? Is it influenced by our beliefs or does it exist independently of the thoughts of mankind? Do we each get to choose our own truth, to make “our” truth be whatever we want it to be?

No. Truth is not subjective, it is eternal and unchanging. It is not influenced by whether we believe in it or not. Gravity is an eternal truth, a physical law that exists independent of our belief in it. If you step off a 10-story building, barring a supernatural command of the laws of physics, the sudden stop at the bottom will be very unpleasant and very painful. The tree falling in the forest does make a sound, regardless of whether anyone hears it.

I believe, but cannot empirically prove, that God exists, and that he is intimately aware of our lives. I have been openly mocked and spoken to derisively over the last few months for putting that belief in writing. My belief in God is based upon faith, but not on blind faith. My belief is based upon what I see in the world around me, in the complex structure of living things which cannot be explained by Darwinian microevolution. These things lead me to believe in a Creator, as opposed to a belief in a cosmic lottery in which we “lucked out” and were formed by an infinite string of improbable events. Believers can’t prove it, nor can non-believers disprove it. I guess each of us will find out for sure once we reach the end of our mortal existence.

Statism, like Ebola, is a threat we must stop from spreading

Ebola

In our perpetual battle against the state, it’s helpful to have durable metaphors to frame the contest in which we are engaged. I think Ebola offers us one such metaphor.

Scientists are undecided about whether viruses are living things. Viruses use the machinery of living things to replicate; they hijack our cells, but are they, themselves, alive? It’s a difficult call. Several things are certain. Viruses do not act purposefully. They have no will. They have no mind. They are dumb, inanimate, strands of RNA wrapped in protein.

This fact presents a problem when we want to talk about viruses. Words fail us. Someone might say “Ebola infects” or “Ebola hijacks” or “Ebola replicates.” But these words seem to ascribe agency to the virus. They could be interpreted to mean “Ebola is a living thing that does something.” But a virus is dead, not living. It is only a thing. It doesn’t DO anything itself. Instead, it gets living things to do things “for” it, primarily: to replicate the virus and spread it around.

Theoretical libertariansm versus practical libertarianism

Libertarianism seems like an idea that the vast majority of people can get behind.  More and more people are approaching me, describing themselves as mostly libertarian.  The problem, as they describe it, is a matter of libertarians not really grasping the reality of the world we live in.

I’m going to concede that they make a fair point.  It’s not that libertarian ideals can’t be applicable to the real world.  Instead it’s that so many libertarians don’t bother to look at things in the real world before opening their trap.

A case in point is Reason.com’s J.D. Tuccille.  Yesterday, he arguing that right to work laws were actually not libertarian because they violated the power of the contract, telling employers and unions what they can’t do in a contract.

Needless to say, he was met with a great deal of resistance.  Later yesterday evening, he posted this at Reason:

However, there is a group that benefits from responding to laws with more laws, and that group consists of politicians and government officials. Note that the long-standing positions of the major political parties are represented both in the federal legislation mentioned above and the current battle over right-to-work laws. With the NLRA, Democrats positioned themselves as advocates for labor, while Republicans responded to business concerns with Taft-Hartley. Republicans now champion right-to-work on behalf of beleaguered businesses, while Democrats tout their opposition to such laws to their union-member constituents. By intruding the state into labor-business relations, politicians elevated their own importance and power in a way that simply staying out of the matter, or repealing laws, never could,

Politics Ruins Everything

Gene Healy, vice president of the libertarian Cato Institute in DC, is pretty much over politics:

I have a confession to make: Even though it’s my job to write about politics, I didn’t watch a single second of the Republican or Democratic conventions — not even a YouTube clip of Clint Eastwood talking to the chair.

I’ve long found electoral politics seedy and dispiriting, but that sensibility has lately become a debilitating affliction: like being a sportswriter struck by the unhelpful epiphany that it’s silly for a grown man to write about other grown men playing a game for kids.

These days, when I tune in to ABC’s “This Week” looking for a column topic, I can’t even make it past the first commercial break. Like Peter says to the management consultant in “Office Space,” “The thing is, Bob, it’s not that I’m lazy; it’s that I just don’t care.”
[…]
Politics makes us worse because “politics is the mindkiller,” as intelligence theorist Eliezer Yudkowsky puts it. “Evolutionary psychology produces strange echoes in time,” he writes, “as adaptations continue to execute long after they cease to maximize fitness.” We gorge ourselves sick on sugar and fat, and we indulge our tribal hard-wiring by picking a political “team” and denouncing the “enemy.”

What Healy is talking about is mostly elections and the actual governing process. He cites fellow Catoites Aaron Ross Powell and Trevor Burrus, who write in their Libertarianism.org essay “Politics Make Us Worse”:

Who Needs Economic Freedom When You Can Vote?

As the debate over voter ID becomes demagogued by the left, LearnLiberty.org has a good video from Georgetown University Professor Jason Brennan about why economic freedoms should matter as much as the right to vote.

Being involved in a democratic process may be important, but the right to vote is not the same as giving someone control over his life. Without constitutional limitations which preserve our rights and liberty, efforts to expand voting participation almost always reduce personal autonomy.

Anarcho-capitalism Revisited

To piggyback off of some of the thoughts going around about anarchism, I think that anarcho-capitalism is completely unworkable in modern society. I have three main reasons why this is so, and then two ways that society and humans would have to change in order to make anarchism and anarcho-capitalism in particular actually viable.

I think this is an extremely important topic for the libertarian movement to consider, because now, more than ever, we’re in a position where fatigue and frustration with the current political system can give us a major opening. People are sick of the left, and they’re sick of the right. They recognize that socialism is not a workable solution, but neither is the current miasma that is crony capitalism. They’re afraid more of big government than big business, but like neither, and just want honesty, integrity, and equality before the law to actually prevail.

All of these are libertarian themes, and we can have tremendous success, but not if we put forward a face that looks completely radical and unreasonable. People aren’t looking for that, aren’t going to buy that, and are likely going to be turned off by it. It’s all about the Overton Window. I may not want to be as vehement or vicious as others do towards anarchists, but I do think we need to challenge their assumptions (and have our assumptions challenged) and point out where they fall on their face

So, why do I think anarcho-capitalism is, in any case, not workable for the modern world, and does not increase liberty?

1. Anarcho-capitalism relies on everyone being perfectly rational

Comment Check: Defining Liberty, and my personal split with Ron Paul

I was looking through the comments on some of our posts, and I came across an interesting one on one of Jason’s entries. The article Jason wrote was “Ron Paul may not win, but his influence will be lasting,” and the comment in question was from a Jill. Q, who wrote (and here I am copypasting everything):

[T]here’s something weird going on when Paul, the small-government constitutionalist, is considered the extremist in the Republican Party…”

He’s not my idea of a “small government” anything. Ron Paul opposed the supreme court’s 2003 landmark decision on gay rights, Lawrence v. Texas. He said that it was an infringement on states rights to tell them that they can’t ban homosexuality.

Do you agree? Is this your idea of “liberty”, Jason? If it is, go ahead and vote for Ron Paul.

“Under those amendments, the State of Texas has the right to decide for itself how to regulate social matters like sex, using its own local standards. But rather than applying the real Constitution and declining jurisdiction over a properly state matter, the Court decided to apply the imaginary Constitution and impose its vision on the people of Texas.”

I think this is actually a good point to make, and I want to take it as an opportunity to discuss some ideas about negative and positive liberty and what I think about them as well.

First, a clarification: I don’t think anyone here considers Ron Paul to be the best, in terms of doctrinal purity, libertarian, but he is certainly a standard bearer, and has definitely put the movement “out there.” So we look to him as someone who is great for messaging libertarianism to others, but not necessarily the “best” libertarian. I think most of us here would prefer if Gary Johnson was in Paul’s place on that front.


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