What Peter Viereck Can Tell Today’s Conservatives

In later editions of his bookConservatism Revisited: The Revolt Against Ideology, Peter Viereck includes a second part with the provocative title “The New Conservatism: What Went Wrong?” In his provocative post on “cool kids” conservatism, Kelse mentions Viereck fairly negatively in a discussion about just what it is that conservatism is worth. I think Viereck presents a challenge to the libertarians and the conservatives on this blog (as well as a lot of what counts as the conservative right today) in those few pages. It is relevant today, just as it was when it was first published around 40 years ago.

Here are some passages which, I think, require contemporary conservatives to face some unpleasant political realities.

(from page 134 of the Transaction edition 2005)

In America, Southern agrarianism has long been the most gifted literary manifestation of the conservatism of yearning. Its most important intellectual manifesto was the Southern Symposium I’ll Take My Stand, 1930, contrasting
the cultivated human values of a lost aristocratic agrarianism with Northern commercialism and liberal materialism. At their best, these and more recent examples of the conservatism of yearning are needed warnings against shallow practicality. The fact that such warnings often come from the losing side of our Civil War is in itself a merit; thereby they caution a nation of success-worshippers against the price of success. But at their worst, such books of the 1930s, and again of today, lack the living roots of genuine conservatism and have only lifeless ones. The lifeless ones are really a synthetic substitute for roots, contrived by romantic nostalgia.

Such romanticizing conservatives refuse to face up to the old and solid historical roots of most or much American liberalism. What is really rootless and abstract is not the increasingly conservatized New Deal liberalism but the romantic conservatives’ own utopian dream of an aristocratic agrarian restoration. Their unhistorical appeal to history, their traditionless worship of tradition, characterize the conservatism of writers like Russell Kirk.

In contrast, a genuinely rooted, history-minded conservative conserves the roots that are really there, exactly as Burke did when he conserved not only the monarchist-conservative aspects of William the Third’s bloodless revolution of 1688 but also its constitutional-liberal aspects. The latter aspects, formulated by the British philosopher John Locke, have been summarized in England and America ever since by the word “Lockean.”

And he states further (this on page 142 of the previously mentioned edition)

What about the argument (very sincerely believed by National Review and Old Guard Republicans) that denies the label “conservative” to those of us who support trade unionism and who selectively support many New Deal reforms? According to this argument, our support of such humane and revolution-preventing reforms in politics—by New Dealers and democratic socialists—makes us indistinguishable from liberals in philosophy. Shall we then cease to call ourselves philosophical conservatives, despite our conservative view of history and human nature?

So, conservatives, what is your answer to his question?

Categories: 2012, Cultural renewal, Ideology, Rand Paul, Robert Nisbet, The Constitution, Traditionalism, Tyranny | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Northerners Against the Civil War

As a libertarian from Massachusetts—an opponent of aggressive war and a supporter of peaceful secession—I take a kind of ambivalent view of my state’s history. I certainly support the South’s right to secede from the Union and condemn the brutality that northern troops inflicted . . . but it’s still hard to side with people who found slavery morally acceptable. The standard line that “the South was wrong about slavery but right about everything else” is a little weak. Being wrong about slavery is to make a pretty huge mistake. It isn’t quite the same as being wrong about mandatory seat belt laws. Even though Massachusetts tends to always side with the statists, at least it didn’t make that mistake.

So I’m very excited to see this new movie (with a screenplay by Bill Kauffman, no less!) about Yankee opposition to the Civil War.

At least in the book version, the hero of the story is not an abolitionist. Still, it’s nice to see a portrayal of the Civil War that admits that other people wanted peace besides slaveholding southerners. There’s a whole forgotten tradition of Yankee libertarianism—perhaps best exemplified by the abolitionist Boston lawyer Lysander Spooner—that supported both the right to secede and the slaves’ rights to emancipation. After all, both derive from the uniquely libertarian right to private property.

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Libertarian Blind Spots on Gay Marriage

Some spokesmen for a group called “Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry” have an op-ed in The Daily Caller making the libertarian case for gay marriage. They write:

As conservatives and libertarians, the three of us believe that we’d all be better served if government extricated itself from the business of marriage altogether, leaving it as a private contractual matter. Government is already big and intrusive enough, and too invested in telling ordinary Americans what is right and wrong. And as Senator Rand Paul said last week, getting government out of marriage would also take away the time-worn opposition talking point about efforts to “redefine marriage.”

However, for the time being, getting the government out of marriage is not a realistic possibility, especially given the many legal issues tied to marriage today. The next best thing, then, is for the government to act equitably in its involvement in marriage, and that means allowing all committed couples the freedom to marry and to have their marriages recognized by all levels of government.

This is an argument you often see on the libertarian left. I wonder, though: is there any other issue where libertarians would say that the cure for a government entitlement is to expand and federalize it, so that it involves more people?

You would never hear a libertarian say, “I believe that we should end foreign aid. But until we end it, it’s only fair that each country gets an equal share.” Most people would realize that, far from ending foreign aid, a program of “aid equality” would just increase the demand for it.

So why is gay marriage any different? If it is “unrealistic” to imagine the government leaving the marriage business today, won’t it be even less realistic when millions more people are entitled to federal marriage benefits?

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Nullification Comes to Cornell

I’ve written an article for the Cornell Daily Sun‘s law student column, defending state nullification. I argue that the people of the states—and not the Supreme Court—must to be the final decider of federal law. This is quite the minority position in law school, which, for various reasons, teaches everyone to think of federal litigation as the only way to solve contested constitutional issues.

You can read it here.

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Rand Paul on Lochner

During the middle of his epic filibuster last week, Rand Paul made a very unexpected reference to the 1905 Supreme Court case, Lochner v. New York. (Randy Barnett has the full transcript here.)

Lochner is a case that all law students are taught to hate. It involved a New York law that limited the amount of hours that a bake shop employee could legally work. Later revisionist scholarship has shown that the law was actually a piece self-serving special interest legislation, backed by the unions that represented established bake shop employees, who feared new immigrant competitors. The immigrant bakers tended to work long hours in order to catch up with and displace their established competitors.

But regardless, Lochner has earned the hatred of the legal mainstream because the Supreme Court ultimately invalidated the law, holding that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protected workers’ freedom to contract with their employees for whatever terms they wanted. By limiting the amount of hours they could work, New York violated the workers’ “liberty of contract.” It wasn’t until the New Deal that the so-called “Lochner era,” in which the Court would strike down these kinds of economic regulations on “liberty of contract” grounds, was actually reversed.

It is pretty impressive that Rand Paul could speak extemporaneously (and accurately) on Lochner, hours into his filibuster. Even more impressive are his references to the extremely obscure  Buchanan v. Warley case: another Lochner-era decision, where the Supreme Court struck down a segregationist law prohibiting people in majority white neighborhoods from selling their homes to black buyers (and vice versa). Obviously, this law also interfered with the liberty of contract—legal scholar David Mayer believes that, if it had been allowed to stand, it could have ushered in a South Africa-style apartheid system in America.

I certainly support liberty of contract too, and I want desperately to be able to applaud the Lochner era. After all, as Paul stated, the liberty that the Supreme Court protected wasn’t just about economic freedom, narrowly defined. The justices understood it to refer to a broader liberty to live your life free of legislative interference, unless there was some overriding reason for the government to step in. (David Bernstein and David Mayer have explained this in more detail in two excellent books.) If the Court still protected individual liberty the way they did in the Lochner era, it is hard to believe that it would stand for drone bombings of American citizens. As it is, however, Lochner‘s concern for actual rights has given way to the mushy Mathews v. Eldridge case, where life, liberty, and property are just personal “interests” that can always be tossed aside without a prior hearing if the government has a good enough reason to do so. Unsurprisingly, Mathews is one of the first cases cited in the Obama administration’s notorious drone memo.

But, while the Lochner justices’ hearts were in the right place, the era is best considered a tactical mistake—kind of like YAL endorsing Ted Cruz or Murray Rothbard going hippie.

For one thing, much of the Lochner era’s advances came from overturning state—rather than federal—laws. In the short term, it is certainly nice to see obnoxious state regulations get knocked down. But in knocking them down, the Lochner Court really just transferred power from local communities to the central government, treating the federal government as the ultimate source of power.

At the time, that might not have been so bad, given that the federal government was relatively laissez-faire. But when the old laissez-faire was replaced by Hoover and FDR’s statism, the central government could only face resistance from weakened and emasculated states. By focusing on immediate gains, the Lochner justices undermined the states’ power to fight bigger threats to liberty later on.

Second, the whole premise of “rehabilitating Lochner” assumes the Supreme Court as the proper arbiter of all constitutional issues. I’ve commented before on Murray Rothbard’s anecdote about the eighteenth-century “Burgundy Circle,” which also tried to impose top-down reform and failed miserably—the Burgundy Circle is, I think, a great cautionary tale for contemporary libertarian centralists. Over-reliance on the Supreme Court places our faith in a group of people who don’t necessarily have any personal interest in promoting liberty. And even if they did, there are only nine of them, which means that small changes in personnel could lead to huge reversals of earlier gains. The Lochner era famously ended when a single justice, Owen Roberts, switched allegiance from liberty of contract to the New Deal. Even if we work as hard as we can to revive Lochner, a similar switch—our even something as banal as Clarence Thomas forgetting to look both ways before crossing the street—could prove our undoing.

Unlike Rand Paul, I can only muster at most one cheer for Lochner. The mainstream hatred for it stems mostly from an unwarranted hatred for libertarianism in general. But, as a libertarian, I see more hope in empowering individuals and local communities to check the central government than I do in convincing the central government to check itself.

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Rand… Randy… Oooh Yeah

As Ben, Kelse and others consider the profundity and efficacy of Rand Paul’s epic filibuster, and while I think of a response to Kelse’s awesome critical examination of my self-identified conservatism, I counsel us to take a step back to remember what’s really important:

Tell the White House to designate May 20th as Macho Man Randy Savage Day

I have seen it on facebook and I’d like our readers to be aware of this important step for American national pride, unity and occasional monarchy.

Let’s reminisce this man’s profound effect on our country

As I watched Randy Savage call out with confidence and certainty the then-World Wrestling Federation President, I immediately thought of Rand Paul’s epic filibuster: not because he’s the cream of the crop, but because Randy Savage lost to Ricky Steamboat in Wrestlemania III. That doesn’t give me confidence in a long view of the effect of Senator Paul’s action. It just makes me think that, after everything is said and done and the script is finished, he will lose. Randy Savage lost to a great technician from Hawai’i; Senator Paul will ultimately lose to a great technician from Hawai’i (perhaps with some outside interference from his allies). Just call me a pessimist.

But don’t let that stop you: work for your democracy, don’t wait for your democracy to work for you. Rand Paul is working for our democracy. So, too, can the memory of Macho Man Randy Savage.

Categories: Constitutional Law, Cultural development, Cultural renewal, Ideology, Libertarianism, Rand Paul, The Constitution, Traditionalism, Tyranny | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Enigma of Rand Paul

Ben hopes that Rand Paul’s filibuster yesterday can turn civil liberties and checks and balances into bipartisan issues.

I hope so too—and I think there’s some reason for hope—but I’m still extremely skeptical. While lots of people are “standing with Rand,” the support isn’t nearly as universal as one might hope.

Among liberals, the MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell called the filibuster “rambling madness,” while Dave Weigel at Slate breezily writes it off as silly “paranoia.” Nancy Pelosi claims that “life is too short” to care about it—though for many future drone victims, life would be much longer if Pelosi cared a little more.

Likewise, if you read the comments sections of the various Slate and Huffington Post articles on the filibuster, you will find a shocking amount of virulently anti-Rand, pro-drone comments, presumably from regular, middle class, non-pundit voters who would have been up in arms if Bush ever claimed the right to target American citizens like Obama does. The vitriol hit a particularly horrifying note when one HuffPo commenter—jocrin—fantasized about Obama sending a drone to murder Rand Paul in the middle of his speech. Checks and balances, indeed.

And of course, the other side is nearly as bad. It is very hard to imagine people like Ted Cruz opposing drone strikes if it were a President Romney ordering them. Anyone who can remember back to last week might recall the Tea Party’s hyperbolic attacks on Chuck Hagel, for Hagel daring to suggest that the Iraq War was anything less than sunshine and roses. Lest we also forget, Rand Paul did not carry himself well through the Hagel hearings, though he ultimately did the right thing.

It’s possible to take these claims of hypocrisy too far. Many of the HuffPo commenters tend to focus myopically on such Tea Party hypocrisy—a tactic that looks a lot like a coping mechanism to avoid the uncomfortable question of whether their own president is pursuing policies that they should, consistently, oppose. Just because some people are hypocritical doesn’t mean we should oppose them when they do good things. But it does mean that we shouldn’t take what they say at face value.

Still, the powers of partisanship notwithstanding, it seems safe to say that Rand Paul has never been more popular than he is today. Principled liberals like the ACLU, Code Pink, and even Van Jones have expressed their support. Van Jones went so far as to call him a “hero.”

Maybe this will be a lesson to Rand that he can garner more support by standing against war and supporting civil liberties than from endorsing Mitt Romney or pledging war on behalf of Israel. He can never please the Obamaphile hordes who have sworn allegiance to their leader, right or wrong. But maybe he will realize that his cultural base lies more with the younger generation of antiwar civil libertarians than with the Fox News-watching septuagenarians that he has hitherto courted.

We will have to wait and see. Like all else with Rand Paul, his filibuster was an enigma.

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Donald Livingston at the South Carolina State House

My college honors thesis advisor, Donald Livingston, recently testified at the South Carolina House Judiciary Subcommittee in favor of state nullification. Tom Woods has the full text of his remarks.

Dr. Livingston is a brilliant paleo-libertarian philosopher who first got me to realize that decentralism and freedom go together. In college, I profiled him for the Young Americans for Liberty.

One South Carolina Democratic congressman complains that Dr. Livingston’s testimony “insults the institution we serve” and continues, “I fundamentally reject his vision for our country.”  Of course, Livingston’s vision is about empowering local communities, not bureaucrats. I’m it sure it would threaten this congressman’s way of life. For that alone, he deserves our acclaim.

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A Conservatism the Cool Kids Will Like

Being a conservative academic can be tough and thankless. On college campuses, all the accolades will go to the Left. When you apply for teaching positions, you have to hide your own convictions just to get the job. If you do get the job (remember that F.A. Hayek won the Nobel Prize but couldn’t get tenure at the University of Chicago), your peers won’t really respect you, or they’ll only grant you the grudging respect of an outsider who doesn’t belong. Intelligent media outlets like the New York Times and NPR will feed your colleagues an endless stream of tidbits on just how dumb people like you really are, and how superior they all are in comparison.

Given the culture we live in, it’s understandable that a lot of conservatives will start longing for the praise that their liberal friends receive, but which is always denied to them. It’s a process that anyone who’s spent any time around conservative students and academics has seen countless times. You realize that you can’t win any praise by pushing conservative ideas, so instead you push liberal ideas from a so-called conservative perspective. People like Bruce Bartlett, David Frum, and Sam Tanenhaus have turned it into an art form.

Ann Coulter recently made a lot of waves by calling libertarians “pussies” for doing essentially the same thing. Libertarians like to focus on their support for gay marriage and legalized pot, which earns them a few pats on the head from liberals. But at the same time they downplay their positions on things like economics and employment discrimination, which would invoke liberal hostility. She’s right to call this cowardly. Drug legalization is certainly important, but so are free markets—and focusing on one and not the other is just a cheap way to court praise and avoid confrontation.

Joe Ptak’s recent string of posts on this blog represents a perfect example of the cloying conservative begging for praise.

Most recently, he tells us that conservatives must accept gay marriage, because, in his words, it isn’t as bad as “some radical left wing gay orgy.” Okaaay. They should also oppose the March for Life because—gasp!—it is “ideological.” And if they object to the massacre of peaceful Branch Davidians at Waco, well, then they’re just a bunch of “tin-foil hat wearing oddballs” who “ignore or deny the fluidity and tension of the temporal that is at the heart of a historical understanding of politics.” (I’ll admit I’ve heard the tin foil part before, but the second part . . . well, that’s a new one.) Rather than attacking the modern state, conservatives are also supposed to “touch the ‘why’ of power.” (I don’t know what that means, or even what a “why” feels like. I just know that touching one doesn’t seem overly important, especially if it takes away from real opportunities to delegitimize the state.)

Oh, and, beyond all that, conservatives should also vote for Barack Obama, because, hey, he decided not to build a Death Star.

Of course, though all of these positions are justified from an allegedly conservative perspective, they all reach conclusions that perfectly align with the Democratic Party platform.

In this kind of “conservatism,” the liberal is the one who makes history; the conservative just lives in it. So, if the world that the liberals made empowers the government to massacre peaceful separatist groups, so be it. Conservatives will just make sure the liberals don’t go too far. (Joe writes: “It’s our thing to keep the society from becoming overwhelmed by its baser instincts.”) But of course, with every successive change, the definition of “going too far” expands. Twenty years from now, we can expect Joe to support “radical left wing gay orgies” as being preferable to pedophiliac orgies.

Here, the liberal is the rock star who passes through town impregnating groupies and trashing hotel rooms. The conservative is the meek lawyer who stops by the next day to settle accounts and smooth over hard feelings. But never does the conservative question that preventing destruction in the first place is a worthy goal. Nor does he question the justice of a world that leaves only destruction in its wake.

No: “Theirs not to reason why/Theirs but to do and die.” After all, to call social destruction “unjust” would be radical or ideological or . . . something.

Maybe Michael Oakeshott or Peter Viereck would recognize this as conservatism, but—as Joe asked of the Waco massacre—why should we care? If your version of conservatism just so happens to justify everything the Left does, then what’s the point of even calling it “conservatism” at all? Does it really matter if you like Burke’s epistemology if you also vote for Barack Obama and make peace with the modern state? Why not just drop the pretense and call yourself a liberal?

It’s always respectable to stand up and fight for your principles. So conservatives should be willing to accept the Left’s ire if that’s what sticking to your principles leads to. But to constantly tailor your positions just to fit in with the popular kids—that’s just a middle school morality that should be totally rejected.

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Rand Paul’s Filibuster and the Separation of Powers

Senator Rand Paul held the floor of the Senate in a bid to prevent a vote on the nomination of John O. Brennan to be Central Intelligence Agency Director on Wednesday.

Frustrated by what he sees as the Obama administration’s refusal to answer a direct question- whether the administration claims the power to kill non-combatant American citizens on American soil- Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky took to the Senate floor at 11:47 AM Wednesday morning to stall the nomination of John Brennan for CIA director.

Regular readers will know that several of the contributors here at Beyond the GOP (including myself, Kelse Moen, and Radagast) have addressed the Obama administration’s drone policy as one of the most pressing contemporary constitutional issues. Even still, the true value of Senator Paul’s filibuster today does not so much lie in the fact that the use of drones is a bad policy as it does a reaffirmation of the constitutional system of checks and balances that holds the American constitutional order in place.

Senator Paul makes it very clear that his filibuster has little to do with the selection of Brennan as CIA director and everything to do with the legitimate role the Senate plays in limiting the power of the Executive Branch. “This is not so much about Obama; this is not so much about John Brennan. This is about the rule of law,” declares Paul, approximately three and a half hours into his speech.

The Constitution makes it clear that the war-making powers of the President are subject to the oversight of the war-declaring and war-funding powers of the legislative branch. Whether or not Americans agree with the President’s drone policy, it is within the best interest of all Americans to have a Senate that will fiercely defend any intrusion on their express constitutional duty to give oversight to the Executive branch.

For far too long, Beltway insiders have done far too little to combat the growth of what Political Scientists have described for decades as the “Imperial Presidency”- that is, a Presidency that is no longer bound by the Constitution or by competing branches of government. Perhaps this time the Obama administration has gone too far. Perhaps this time, the self-declared “Checks and Balances Caucus” of Rand Paul (R-KY), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Mark Udall (D-CO) will stand together in bipartisan support for civil liberties.

Personally, I doubt it. But one can still hope…

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The Gaypocalypse and the Conservative Cause

PRSanco has written a provocative post which gives to the conservative a pragmatic solution to the gay marriage debate that currently divides the country and causes conservatives to break out in cold sweats as they lie awake at night waiting for the gaypocalypse.

The problem is that this is not a new solution. Andrew Sullivan did it first. In 1989 he wrote a now seminal article arguing that conservatives should support gay marriage. From that time, conservatives have only stood against history, yelling their throats raw in an effort to defend “tradition” instead of becoming a guide of social and political change. So, while there is a debate, let’s not mistake that it is an academic one. Instead of pining for the old, why don’t conservatives get on with a justification for their existence, which is to conserve the social order? Conservatives can’t do that if they’re scaring the crap out of us in an effort to warn us of the great Gaypocalyse. We get it. The world is changing. Traditional marriage is coming to an end. If we accept gay marriage we are spelling the end of traditional marriage by fundamentally rejecting the definition that has undergirded Judeo-Christian culture for thousands of years. Now do your thing and guide the change so that it doesn’t devolve into some radical left wing gay orgy (literally). It’s what we’re supposed to do. It’s our thing to keep the society from becoming overwhelmed by its baser instincts. Yet we’re not doing that. We’re too busy telling the world about how society is succumbing to the democratic whims of its lesser selves. Way to drop the balls, guys.

Categories: Cultural development, Cultural renewal, Ideology, Localism, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Waco, The Modern State and the Why of Power

Ben has written a very insightful post which problematizes the norm of the use of state power against religious minority sects in way that encourages the deeper exploration of this matter both as a theoretical and empirical problem. That being said, I don’t feel like agreeing with what Ben writes.

The first question I have to ask is: does anyone really care about the massacre at Waco? Don’t misunderstand me, it was a tragedy. But, it was a tragedy that occurred 20 years ago. As an exemplar of the voracious appetite of the state, it’s not so unique. And conservatives have been warning of the statist apocalypse for a while. In any or none of the following figures and laws on this arbitrary and woefully incomplete list may be found the conservative root of all statist evil

I hope that the few people reading this list can sympathize with the difficulty I have when I attempt to determine an adequate causal pattern to explain the rise of the state. When reading typical anti-statist literature, I just can’t figure out a time when the modern state was not present. If encroachment and centralization are the names of this game, then the modern state has been around in various iterations for a long time. So, the fun of variations on a theme notwithstanding, this makes for perplexingly selective history and even more baffling and unhelpful analysis.

The second question I have is: did Ben and I read the same article? Ben’s blame-the-big-state trope is undermined by the Jenkin’s article from which he extensively excerpts: it was not the big state as such which is to be pointed to as the cause, but rather the linkage of “separatist compounds” with violent and extremist political movements that helped to make the raid possible. That is excised from the excerpt Ben uses to support his argument in his post. I don’t quite get the logic of Ben’s analysis at the point that we’re excluding from discussion this seemingly central perceptual frame which played so important a causal role in the tragedy. Jenkins himself writes in his piece that these patterns of relationships that preceded the Waco siege contributed to the perception of the Branch Davidians as being more of the same – and the behavior of the Branch Davidians simple confirmed for the feds their belief about the group in a tragic example of feedback.

Ultimately, what Ben has done is to refute the traditionalist dictum of history, instead to be in favor of an ideologically appealing and comparatively thin abstract explanation which ignores or denies the fluidity and tension of the temporal that is at the heart of a historical understanding of politics.

And that is a problem for conservatism. If conservatives want to produce work that is read, that is thought about and that is engaged, then we’re going to have to do a better job than the empirically thin, theoretically vague and maddeningly irrelevant material of mass produced replications of a theme that conservatives have not moved away from since conservatives started complaining about how much the world is changing.

Seriously, we’ve been writing about the demise of community and the ascent of the state for years now (even before Russell Kirk). Waco is just another confirmation of this pattern that I can’t help but begin to think is the norm – which makes us look like tinfoil hat wearing oddballs. We’re busy trying to chronicle and explain something that really isn’t all that abnormal, finding causal, phenomenal or rhetorical significance in events – like Waco – while ignoring the events, effects, and patterns that can produce some neat insights into a social phenomena (like state power) and contribute to our cumulative knowledge of it. We conservatives need to think of some new stuff to say, instead of pimping out themes that were battered and chapped even thirty years ago. But here we are… new puzzle, new problem, same answer. And we still haven’t bothered to touch the “why” of this power. Sure, we theorize about it. But the theory is stale. We need some new stuff. For a class of people who prides ourselves on being historically acute and astute, we’re not living up to our claim.

While Ben’s post is an interesting meditation on the nature, structure and behavior of the modern state, it’s reliance on the Waco example – or, Jenkin’s on Waco – obscures more than it illuminates. It’s heavy theory and light fact produce an interesting, albeit confusing and ultimately dissatisfying, thought experiment.

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The Immortal Murray Rothbard

Murray Rothbard would have been 87 tomorrow. He has been dead for 18 years, and yet he is more popular and more widely-read now than he ever was in life, especially among the young.

Paul Lyons, a radically leftist historian who chronicled his experience teaching a class on American conservatism, had this to say about Rothbard:

[W]e began a lively, focused discussion . . . about the different takes on libertarianism by Frank Meyer and Murray Rothbard. Rothbard’s principled libertarianism, castigated as libertine by Meyer, is attractive to many of my students, including some of the liberals, because his style is modest and direct and his argument seems consistent—any state intervention is coercive, from taxation to the military draft, from censorship to drug laws. Meyer, on the other hand, argues that liberty must be a means but not an end, that it must serve the good, the quest for virtue. Rothbard unashamedly counters that libertarianism isn’t concerned with “what a person does with his or her life,” which he sees as “vital and important but . . . simply irrelevant to libertarianism.” The class came alive in our discussion of Rothbard’s notion that given the mix of good and evil in all humans, that with limited government [sic?---Rothbard was an anarchist and viewed "limited government" as an impossibility] “bad men can do least harm.” (Emphases added.)

When I first graduated from college, I worked for a while at the Leadership Institute, and spent my time helping out libertarian and conservative college activists in Georgia and South Carolina. College-age libertarians, whether citified Atlanta hipsters or rural, traditionalist, paleos, would always light up whenever I mentioned Rothbard. I spent many hours discussing and debating his brand of pure, untarnished libertarianism.

But though more people read Rothbard than ever before, this popularity is not itself surprising. As Justin Raimondo writes:

Young people were drawn to Rothbard, and he received them gladly, generously ladling out great dollops of his time and hospitality while still managing a rate of high-quality literary output that would be hard to beat. The reason for this magnetism was, first of all, his passion, and not only for justice but for good conversation, good laughs, good food, and a good time. Exuberant, vociferous, his laughter easily heard above the din, Rothbard was welcomed by the young because he was, in at least one important sense, one of them. Like Lord Acton, Rothbard grew more radical as he grew older, and this, combined with his intractably bourgeois tastes and mode of living, so distinctly old culture, charmed the young. He appealed to the best in them: to their idealism, their fearlessness, and their sense of life’s unlimited possibilities. Rothbard was a man who knew what Bourne touted as the “secret of life,” which is “that this fine youthful spirit shall never be lost. Out of the turbulences of youth should come this fine precipitate—a sane, strong, aggressive spirit of daring and doing. . . . To keep one’s reactions warm and true is to have found the secret of perpetual youth, and perpetual youth is salvation.” (Emphases added.)

May his spirit live on and his ideas never die!

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Bridging the Gap on the Same-Sex Marriage Debate

I just read a book review on the American Conservative Magazine website. The book written in four hands (Maggie Gallagher and John Corvino) is entitled “Debating Same-Sex Marriage”. According to the review, their point is not to get in agreement, but to show the differences between their positions. Although they are exercising an important role in this debate, that happens worldwide, not only in America (even in my beloved Brazil, but we can talk about what is happening there later), the premise that there is no common ground from which one could start to negotiate a solution is striking. If there is no possibility of accommodation, the only way to solve the problem is to impose a position over others, which is not socially healthy. Based on the review, I will try to find a common ground from where both sides can meet and negotiate a solution.

First of all, I need to say that I agree with Gallagher: “Marriage is intrinsically a sexual union of husband and wife, because these are the only unions that can make new life and connect those children in love to their co-creators, their mother and their father.” The very idea of marriage is linked to procreation and family, and that is prior to law. The law of marriage comes from such recognition, it does not give it. Although I do not know if she states this in the book, marriage where the couple has no interest in becoming a family is a “marriage” in name only, which is the same to say that is no marriage at all; and, that is valid even for couples formed by people of different genders. Therefore, the concept of “marriage” goes beyond the “one male + one female” statement. I would never honk for that. Please, do not insist.

Well, this puts me in an awkward position. After all, I am stating that a considerable amount of marriages out there are, or at least should be, not marriages, even if between men and women. But if not, what are they, after all? Relationships that have no interest in procreation, they are SOMETHING, and this is undeniable. The current law of the United States even considers some of them to be marriages, which shows there is a social interest in such recognition. But the law only recognizes marriages in cases of unions between men and women, even if there is no intention of the couple in having children. This brings the question: what is the difference between such relationships and those between people of the same sex?

Andre Archie gives a hint of the answer in his review: “If marriage refers to a natural kind that consists of a mother and a father, and it is not created by law because it is prior to law, why does the law regulate marriage? Because civic order, according to Gallagher, has a stake in regulating the sexual behavior of men and women for the purpose of ensuring that children are raised by married mothers and fathers in a context that provides a sense of familial permanence, monogamy, and fidelity.” As I will show, according to this quote, the answer to the question above would be “none”.

Although I would again agree with Gallagher here, I believe she falls short on the matter. I believe civic order has a stake that goes beyond that. This is easily noticed since no married couple is obliged to have kids, in the first place. So if you take away the children part of her statement, what remains? Monogamy and fidelity. That is where Corvino’s position on the book comes in. He touches an interesting problem: there are people that want the recognition of their relationship with people of the same sex the same way law already does with people of opposite sex but has no interest in becoming a family.

This is clear in Corvino’s definition of marriage, one with which I disagree. For him, marriage is a “couple’s commitment to each other and to society that they are each other’s main line of defense in the world, for life. It [marriage] is an exclusive commitment, not in the sense a spouse doesn’t care for other people (children, friends, parents), but in the sense that only one person can be your Number One Person.” This definition works perfectly for marriages that already are recognized as such, where there are no children involved. But, I agree with Gallagher that marriage and family are inseperable.
However, and here it is what I want to stress, there is a point that Corvino makes that is already in Gallagher’s position: one can identify a bond with someone else (monogamy) that is expected to endure (fidelity). Monogamy and fidelity, therefore, are the common ground where an agreement between both parties is possible. People can get together and share a home for different reasons, and those reasons are enough to the recognition of the validity of such relationships. They are not marriage, because Gallagher is right, but they are very close related to it, as Corvino shows. There is an undeniable resemblance between them. They are all sexually based: there is a mutual sexual interest on them; and they are friendly based: there is a mutual trust and care on them. And if those are enough for the law to establish the validity of such relationships when they are made between men and women, there is no reason to treat differently others just because they are made between men or between women.

This is an actual social and political problem that needs to be addressed. The challenge here is: how to protect “marriage” while, at the same time, recognize the union of people that cannot, or do not want to, become families [the question of adoption notwithstanding; let’s not go so far]? The only solution I could find, and it has its own problems, I admit, is the complete separation of “marriage” and “civil union”. Law, that is, statutes made by governments, can only regulate what “civil unions” are because they have interest in that. Marriage, on the other hand, should be a RELIGIOUS matter, sacred as it is. In such a case, all marriages would be civil unions, but the contrary would not be true.

Politically, I would defend that civil unions should remain monogamic, and that divorce should be a very difficult thing to obtain, because they should be as close to marriage as possible, although I know that the former is easier to get support for than the latter. Hence, my position on the matter is in favor of changing the law to subtract the word “marriage” altogether. Use “civil union” instead, and give same-sex couples the same rights [adoption being another matter] of different-sex couples. This way, I believe the gap between Gallagher and Corvino can be bridged. The notion of marriage being sacred, an essential part of family and related to the perpetuation of the species is preserved, and, at the same time, the interest of those that do not want to start a family but still want to share their lives with someone else is attended.

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The Waco Massacre and the Modern State

Waco tanks

The Wall Street Journal has published a very provocative piece by Philip Jenkins on the federal government’s 1993 massacre of the Branch Davidians, a fringe religious sect in Waco, Texas. This Thursday marks 20 years since the initial attack by ATF agents that would lead to 50-day siege by the FBI and, ultimately, leave 80 sect members, including 20 children, dead.

What makes Jenkins’ article unique is that he emphasizes the extent to which Americans have historically allowed a high degree of toleration for fringe religious sects, a toleration that has become endangered by the consolidation of all political power into the hands of the centralized American state:

Though some religious groups (most notably the Mormons) have occasionally faced violent opposition, Americans have proved remarkably tolerant of religious separatists. If people who believe in imminent apocalypse feel the need to flee the wrath to come and seek refuge in the wilderness, why shouldn’t they?

Only gradually, in the 20th century, did the state begin to encroach, as military conscription during World War I and the welfare state made it impossible for sects to maintain complete isolation.

….

The outcome of the Waco siege left people stunned by the sheer amount of bloodshed. But the broad popular hostility to Waco also suggests that Americans generally do respect the rights of believers to follow their own paths, however far removed from mainstream.

Over time, though, those rights have in practice been limited by the state’s growth. If America’s religious frontier is not exactly closed, then it is far more constrained than it ever has been.

Why exactly the centralization of power should lead to the targeting of minority groups within society is an interesting question. On the one hand, the national government has often grown in strength while attempting to protect certain favored minority groups from discrimination: a very worthy goal, in most cases. But to the extent that it has done so, it has also introduced a minimum level of mandatory national conformity to which all groups- even fringe religious sects in out-of-the-way places- are held.

What makes the modern state different from every previously existent social-political association is that it reserves to itself a total, unquestionable authority to enforce its will. This absolute authority is equally threatened by the leader of a fringe sect as it is by a discriminatory employer. Both of these individuals, to the extent that they disconfirm the illusion of national conformity and challenge the authority of the state,  pose an existential threat to the state, and thus neither can be tolerated.

And herein lies the danger of relying on the power of the centralized state to protect minority rights: the moment at which a minority ceases to be in danger of extinction and instead begins to try, however meekly, to assert some degree of self-determination, it becomes an enemy of the centralized state.

The great conservative sociologist Robert Nisbet provides one of the best articulations of this phenomenon in his timeless book The Quest for Community:

The State becomes powerful not by virtue of what it takes from the individual but by virtue of what it takes from the spiritual and social associations which compete with it for men’s devotions.

….

The absolute political community, centralized and omnicompetent, founded upon the atomized masses, must ceaselessly destroy all those autonomies and immunities that are in normal society the indispensable sources of the capacity for freedom and organization.

————–
Fortunately, as Jenkins’ article reminds us, Americans are still naturally suspicious of attempts to curb the power of fringe groups within society. As long as this remains the case, there will continue to be a remarkable degree of toleration for those challenging the supremacy of the state. But the federal slaughter of the Branch Davidians in 1993, like the assault on the Weaver family at Ruby Ridge in 1992, serves as a reminder that the state’s desire for power, supreme and uncontended, remains unsated.
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The Philosophers and the Conservatives

Alexander Rosenberg and Daniel Little have written excellent books which introduce to the student of the social sciences the many different philosophical problems that the student will implicitly explicitly confront in his progress towards his mastery of the discipline(s). While both books provide excellent and overlapping overviews of the major philosophical dilemmas that are inherent to the social scientific enterprise, the Little book has one feature that elevates it above Rosenberg’s effort: examples. While Rosenberg’s book provides a philosophically rich discussion of the themes and arguments in the philosophy of social science – whose questions and answers have significant implications for the design, execution and expectations of the practice(s) of the social sciences, his book lacks the kind of (con)textual references which would appeal to the student or practitioner of the social sciences who would like to know how topics and perspectives on matters such as causality; cultural and moral relativism; the other sciences; or, Marx and Freud, have to do with them.

Little comes through where Rosenberg lags. Whereas after reading Philosophy of Social Science, the reader (whether or not he is a student of the social sciences) may be left wondering how the themes discussed in the chapters are relevant to what is placed on the average political science syllabus, journal article or book, very early on and consistently in Varieties of Social Explanation, the reader is made aware of the implicit and explicit relationships between the philosophical themes under consideration and the nuts-and-bolts work that comprises social science. Each chapter of the book contains within it any number of separate and brief boxes highlighting social scientific research, which provides concrete examples of topics of study in order to connect the abstract philosophy of social science with the concrete reality of social science practice.

I recommend both books to any student of political science, political theory or other social science disciplines. In particular, I think the political theorists would have a lot to say in response to the philosophical topics dealt with in the philosophy of social science. The bloggers and readers of beyondthegop.com would, I think, have many opinions – some strong, others weak – on the philosophical matters that social scientists and social science confront. On whether or not human behavior is rational; whether or not human behavior is best understood as a product of the structure or function of a particular social system; whether or not there are universals in human cultures or whether or not there are incommensurable differences in beliefs, morals and/or cultures; whether or not a science of human behavior is either possible or desirable; and, how the answers to these and other questions affect our study of human behavior. All of this is taken under consideration in both of the books.

 

So what is a conservative to say to the person who wants to be a social scientist? I think that the answer depends on the conservative. I say this to, I suppose surreptitiously, point out that conservatism per se really has nothing to say to the study of human behavior. After all, conservatism claims to be the anti-system. Anti-ideology, anti-rationalism (enlightenment), anti-change, anti-dreams, fantasies and fancies. The does not leave much for conservatism to say to a person who wants to systematically study and produce conclusions about the social world. Conservatism is not Marxism (some of whom, working in that tradition, have produced some interesting stuff).

I don’t think that conservatives should be looking to conservatism in order to find any guiding wisdom for the study of the social world. The conservative – traditionalist, neo, paleo, christian, etc. – should realize that the self-acknowledged limitations of conservatism imply that the conservative has to search elsewhere if (s)he wants to actually make conservatism matter. Decouple and unpack the assumptions that the individual traditionalist has about the world and then come back to conservatism after the traditionalist has a slightly better understanding of the relationship between his view of the world that is independent from the conservatism that is supposed to be its source. Is it at this level where I think that the conservative theorist can meet the philosophy of social science.

After that meeting, when the conservative has engaged the topics, then return to conservatism with a better understanding of the philosophical issues at risk and then improve upon the presentation of conservatism. Philosophy of social science has the potential to give a great deal to conservatism. I hope that the conservatives will be willing to dialog with it.

Categories: Cultural renewal, Ideology, Libertarianism, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Human Rights: True and False

At the American Conservative, Paul Gottfried takes on “human rights” talk. He writes:

I am arguing against the use of human rights bombast whenever some individual, institution, or state wishes to express a political preference or a program of social reconstruction. Just make your arguments and let the listener decide. Further, I don’t object to listening to moral arguments against societies that do horrible things. Mention what the leaders of these societies do and then leave it to others to decide whether your indictment is correct. Saying that what you deplore violates human rights fills space with noise without contributing anything substantive to human knowledge. . . .

There are sharp and even growing differences in our society about fundamental behavioral questions, and appeals to supposedly universal rights language will not likely heal these divisions. Significantly, both those who favor and those who oppose the right to abort a fetus shower us equally with human-rights rhetoric. That practice settles nothing of importance, except for allowing the speakers to feel good about their cause and about themselves for upholding it.

I’m inclined to agree. “Human rights” (and “natural rights” more generally) have become what Ayn Rand would call anti-concepts; they are attempts to win people over by ill-defined and contentless appeals to emotion.

Here at Cornell, for instance, we get bombarded with a litany of human rights appeals. But it is hard to figure out what a “human right” actually means—unless “human rights” are just whatever the left-wing zeitgeist decrees, which, in all honesty, they probably are.

Thus, there is no absolute right to property, but there is a right to “dignity” (whatever that is). There’s a right to a minimum wage, but no right to work below that wage if you’re willing. There’s a right to smoke pot, but probably not to snort cocaine, and definitely not to own a gun, though yes to owning a knife . . . probably. In constitutional law, you have no right to grow wheat above government-specified allotments but you have the absolute right to be free from non-sectarian high school graduation prayers. Of course, abortion and gay marriage are clear human rights. What you do with your own body is nobody’s business but your own, unless you’re using your body to eat food, drink soda, smoke cigarettes, or to not insure your own health. None of those are rights, silly; they can all be regulated. All nations have an absolute right to self-determination and to form their own governments—unless you live in the American South, in which case even suggesting this right makes you are a dangerous extremist. If, like the Libyans or the Iraqis, you have a government that isn’t human-rightsy enough, then the UN has the right to authorize an invasion to replace it with one better suited to human rights. And if you don’t know what “better suited to human rights” means, please read this paragraph all over again. Clear enough now?

Of course, the people who believe this stuff have their own rationalizations for it. Around law school you hear that “economic” rights are unimportant and therefore properly regulable, whereas “social” or “dignitary” rights go to the essence of a person’s being and can never be justly infringed upon. In other words: whether you’re able to earn a living at the profession of your choice is just an “economic” right undeserving of real protection, so the government can put up as many regulatory obstacles to it as it wants. But when it comes to sodomy, the slightest infringement would undermine your very personhood. This befuddles those of us who ever venture outside the campus grounds. After all, “what do you do for a living?” is one of the most common questions that people hear each day. Questions about sodomy . . . not so much. How does sodomy impact your personhood in a way that your job doesn’t?

Professor Gottfried is therefore right to call out “human rights” for the self-serving nonsense it is. Unfortunately, however, the point is lost on many libertarians, just as it is on leftists. The comments on Gottfried’s article are filled with hyperbolic libertarian claims to that effect. Many cite the Declaration of Independence—these rights are inalienable, and that’s that.

But if “human rights talk” is sloppy thinking when leftists do it, then it is sloppy thinking when we do it too. Just stating that you have a God-given right to life, liberty, and property doesn’t make it so. We need to be prepared to ask “why?” and to come up with a justification for why life, liberty, and property are rights worth protecting.

If we do that, I think we will find that rights come about because they satisfy some higher end. They are social contrivances—tools to make life better.

In other words, if people value life and happiness, then they will need to find some social structure that furthers those goals. Because all worldly goods are scarce, people need to find some way to divide up ownership to them. Because people live and flourish better when property is secure, we want to protect their property against invasion. We say that the first person to find a piece of unowned property and put it to use becomes its owner, and that thereafter any trading with the property must be founded on every affected person’s consent, because to say otherwise would be to introduce strife and violence into society. And on and on—the nature of reality determines the necessary social structure.

But that doesn’t mean that rights can be changed at will. Even though they’re instrumental, they all depend on external realities, like the existence of economic scarcity, that are fixed and unchanging, and that we can expect to last as long as the universe itself. Theft (or taxation) will always be bad, because it violates these prerequisites for social life and peace.

Something like this is what Randy Barnett meant when he spoke of natural law theory and utilitarianism existing in “creative tension” within libertarian thought. Indeed, the first chapter of Barnett’s The Structure of Liberty presents what I consider to be one of the best formulations of natural law theory that I’ve read, mainly because it grounds it in practical reality with an eye always to promoting beneficial outcomes. It is no surprise, then, that Henry Hazlitt’s The Foundations of Morality comes from a utilitarian (or, as Hazlitt would say, “utilist”) perspective, but ends up justifying the same kinds of rights that Barnett and I support. I’ve also recently discovered the Aristotelian Henry Veatch, who similarly grounded natural law in a highly practical “practice of living.” And of course, there’s Murray Rothbard. Rothbard is often portrayed as the kind of purely abstract, “do right though the heavens may fall” kind of guy. But his historical and economic writings, as well as his essays on current events, show that he had a deep understanding of how his theories played out in the real world. Indeed, in Egalitarianism as a Revolt against Nature, he specifically writes that if something “does not work in practice, then it is a bad theory.” He had nothing in common with the people who just toss the label “human right” onto anything that sounds nice.

The nuances of Barnett, Hazlitt, Veatch, and even Rothbard are not appreciated by lots of modern libertarians. Of course, we can’t expect a mass movement to read a lot of dry philosophy. But to the extent that we want to bring people into libertarian philosophy, it is probably much easier to convince them that libertarianism would leave society better off than it is to convince them that any other theory violates the “rights of man.”

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The Sip that Rocked the World

I didn’t watch the State of the Union last night. When I’m in the mood to watch a show about nothing, I just watch reruns of Seinfeld. But apparently a lot of people did watch it, because, when I logged into Facebook today, everyone was abuzz.

Abuzz about what? The president’s escalation of deadly drone strikes? The continued politicization of Sandy Hook as a pretext for more gun control? Questions about when the “mess that Obama inherited” will ever end?

If you think so, then you’ve never met the kinds of people who obsessively follow politics. For most of these people, politics is an all-consuming hobby or a career path, not an opportunity to worry about important moral questions.

So, the buzz focused on something quite different. That is: it turns out that Marco Rubio took a sip of water during his reply speech.

The news was important enough that Politico still kept as its headline well into the evening today.

Politico Rubio

The linked article begins:

Sen. Marco Rubio’s inopportune case of cotton mouth during his State of the Union response may slow his rapidly rising stock, but will likely have no little [sic?] lingering impact on his 2016 prospects, Republican operatives said Wednesday.

Well, that must be a relief for Rubio. According to one of the best-trafficked political websites, the fact that he took a sip of water during a yesterday’s speech should not impact a presidential race 3 years from now. Genius! With analysis like that, I could be writing for Politico, and would be reaching a much wider audience than I do right now.

In case you need more analysis, see also the Atlantic‘s article, “Marco Rubio’s Awkward Drink of Water: A Deconstruction.”

This seems like the time to mention how low the news media have actually fallen. But what’s the point? The Atlantic and Politico are only focusing on what their readers care about. And the fact that this is what their readers are focusing on—on Facebook and elsewhere—tells us all too much about modern political culture.

 

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Il Papa

Il Papa

Learning this morning that Pope Benedict is stepping down, the first to do so in nearly 600 years, made my heart heavy. I really loved this Pope, and I wish that I had had the time to know him more. I was a little too young to know JPII, but Benedict was MY Pope.

Reactions so far have been somewhat uncharitable. The man is very old, and he stood by JPII for years as that great man’s health deteriorated. He must know some of the dangers, sorrows, and difficulties of becoming incapacitated while still Pope.

I was in Toronto for World Youth Day in 2002. That was still three years before JPII’s death, but even then he was suffering tremendously and his health was very low. It was hard to understand him when he spoke. Perhaps Pope Benedict knows better than us all what it means to deteriorate while Bishop of Rome. Though saddened, I am ready to understand and trust that he does this not out of selfishness, as some have suggested, but knowing what is best for the Church.

God watch and keep him.

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First They Came For The Serial-Killers…

Fugitive cop-killer Christopher Dorner has just become the first human target of an unmanned aerial drone, according to Express.

This news comes just days after a leaked Justice Department white paper laid out the Obama Administration’s legal arguments for using drones to target U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism. A response to the paper by Herbert Titus and William Olson was published in American Thinker and highlighted some of the more troubling aspects of the white paper, including the very real possibility that drones could be used on American soil.

According to the white paper, there are only three requirements to order a killing.  First, “an informed high-level official of the U.S. government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.”  Second, capture is “infeasible.”  And third, the ” operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with the applicable law of war principles.”  Indeed, from the white paper, it is not clear why killings of U.S. citizens on American soil would be judged by a different standard.

The fact that these targeted killings have heretofore been conducted on the other side of the world might have allowed the Administration to shelter American voters from the true horror of what their government is unleashing. Having a drone strike on U.S. territory might change all of that. It doesn’t seem far-fetched to say that it would take extraordinary circumstances for American sensibilities to become accustomed to the presence of unmanned drones on American soil. Using them against a burly, Manifesto-writing, assault-weapon-wielding cop-killer would seem to be a perfect storm for those in the Obama Administration anxious to put a positive face on their drone program. The fact that Dorner’s string of killings comes in the wake of other highly-publicized mass shootings only makes the situation seem more desperate.

At this point, there is no way to tell what the long-term implications of drone use on U.S. soil will be. But if the media continues to hype up the recent surge in gun violence, it would be reasonable to expect to see more, not fewer, gunmen targeted by aerial drones. And at the end of the day it doesn’t matter whether those gunmen are ex-cops with personal grudges or part of an elaborate international conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government; American citizens are bound to get caught in the crossfire either way.

——————–

Addendum:

It should be clarified that the use of drones to find Christopher Dorner has been questioned by some sources and that the LAPD has yet to confirm their use. Furthermore, the official quoted in the Express article implied that drones were being used merely to locate, not kill, Dorner. To the extent that my initial post failed to bear out this distinction, apologies are due. Finally, if unmanned drones are used to find Dorner, it wouldn’t be the first time they were used against American citizens: local police used an unarmed drone in 2011 in a standoff against a North Dakota family accused of stealing cows. I’m not kidding. Unarmed drones have also been used along the Mexican border.

That being said, I believe there are several points made in the original article that are still valid:

1) The recently-leaked Justice Department memo laying out the legal arguments for using drones to assassinate U.S. citizens fails to rule out the use of drones on U.S. soil, implying that the Obama Administration sees no legal barrier to their use on U.S. soil, against U.S. citizens.

2) We might not see the first lethal drone strike on U.S. soil today or tomorrow, but I found it hard to believe that it will not come soon. Both the escalating use of unarmed drones domestically- as well as of armed drones overseas- point to them playing an increasing role in eliminating perceived threats both at home and abroad. On this point, I hope that I am proven wrong.

3) The use of drones- whether armed or unarmed- without judicial oversight and authorization is troublesome from a constitutional perspective, as well as from a privacy perspective. Article III of the Constitution lays out the legal basis for treason against the U.S. government. For the executive branch to claim the authority to ignore standard judicial proceedings and summarily execute citizens without a trial process represents a gross violation of the separation of powers.

4) While I reject the argument that the LAPD is bound by the Fourth Amendment ban on “unreasonable searches and seizures,” I am deeply troubled by the use of high-tech aerial spy machinery, used without judicial warrant or public oversight.

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Coolidge and Materialism

The Acton Institute has a nice post on Calvin Coolidge and materialism. Coolidge was one of the few presidents to actually reduce the size and scope of government.

Coolidge was lambasted by political opponents and the intellectual class as a “tool of big business,” but he was deeply critical of materialism and profit for merely profit’s sake. While he is famously quoted as saying, “The chief business of the American people is business,” he is not as well known for another line in that same address where he said, “Of course the accumulation of wealth cannot be justified as the chief end of existence.” He warned Americans against sinking into “pagan materialism.” Over his entire career, he argued that economic policies and taxation were indeed moral matters.

Support for free economics should be situated in a larger account of the whole of existence, which includes the moral matters of which Coolidge was distinctly cognizant. I wonder if we are presently capable of producing a politician with such an awareness.

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Maybe It Is Just Wrong: More Reflections on the March for Life

Ben has written an eloquent, provocative critical reflection on the perception and power of the March for Life. The post has generated a considerable discussion.

Ben is critical of what he perceives to be excessive Catholic symbolism at the event; he makes the claim that in order for the March for Life to be victorious in the battle against abortion, the March will have to reduce its Christian symbolism and message in order to appeal to larger segments of the pro-life population and be more than a “rite of passage for Catholic teenagers.” I’d like to bring that discussion back to the front.

First, I am sympathetic to Ben’s claim of the necessity of reducing the blatant Christian (particularly Catholic) symbolism of the March for Life. While public religiosity is welcome—especially by traditionalists and conservatives—it seems that the religious expressions that color and dominate the March for Life are inconsistent with the concrete and historical tradition set forth by the Framers.

Second, I think that at best the March is an ideological—political—act. It may be, as Ben observes, merely a “rite of passage”; but more to the point, I think it is a political movement through and through. It is uncertain to me the extent to which religion acts as a catalyst for these marchers, causing them to travel to DC and participate in this protest parade year after year; I suspect that it cannot be separated from their ideological fervor.

If that is the case, then what is the use of increasing the size of the tent by diluting the religiosity of the March? I don’t think it is very useful, because while the religious symbolism may shrink, the ideological fervor remains. And, perhaps that is where the problem sits. In Ben’s post, the commenter “J” wrote that it is unlikely that Roe v. Wade will be overturned and that abortion will become illegal. But he also asked us to consider whether or not, if the abortion dilemma were returned to the states, the March for Life would survive (or at least remain as vibrant as it is now). I wonder, in response, if such things even matter. Won’t the march for life just carry on, re-defining itself (retaining its ideological bent) in order to find the next political cause to place in its sights? It makes me wonder whether or not the March for Life is useful at all. If the best we can say is that it is Catholic (as seems to be a consensus among those who participated in the discussion), and the worst is that it is in some fundamental way an ideological (read: political) phenomenon, then for whom does it speak, to whom does it speak, and who actually listens? Perhaps most importantly: are pro-lifers just fooling themselves if they participate?

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Ron Paul and The “Virtue” of Compromise

Our newest blogger, Radagast, begins his commentary at Beyond the GOP with a criticism of Ron Paul. He brings up an important point when he writes:

 [Ron Paul] is neither an ideologue nor a narcissist . . . but his uncompromising commitment to his principles is politically objectionable in my view. . . The “games” of American politics are utterly corrupt and broken, but the game is the game. It is not a concession to choose to play it when you know you can’t win everything. Compromise is not a dirty word – it is a necessary element of a just and enduring order.

First of all, one might reasonably ask: if the game really is “utterly corrupt and broken,” why continue to play it?

But the crux of Radagast’s argument comes later. He asserts that Ron Paul wrongly sticks to “moralism in an imperfect world.” Rather than doing that, Paul supposedly needs to learn from Machiavelli and Bill Clinton—he needs to learn to get his hands dirty to achieve what he wants. According to Radagast, a successful politician needs to adopt morally grayer means to achieve his (good) ends.

The issue of reconciling political means to ends is one that constantly reoccurs, especially in marginalized and relatively powerless groups like our own.

Yet, as in much else, I think the best discussion of the issue comes from Murray Rothbard, who argued that there really is no conflict between the two. Every end requires means to attain it, so the means can only be justified to the extent that the end can—and if an end can’t be justified, then no means can either. Conversely, if a particular means is bad, that can only mean that it is inconsistent with a more important end.

To bring this down to earth: I see nothing wrong with Ron Paul voting for a 1% tax cut, even though I would prefer a 50% or—best of all—100% decrease. My end is to roll back the government until it can drown in a teacup—the quicker we can accomplish that the better. Still, the 1% decrease might just be the best we can get at the moment, so it would be pointless to hold out for more if more were not forthcoming. Here there is no conflict between means and ends; the means are less than we might like, but they are still consistent with the ultimate goal.

On the other hand, Paul would be unjustified if, for instance, he threatened to murder the congressional Democrats unless they agreed to a bigger tax decrease. Murder is even worse than taxes, so by threatening it Paul would be acting inconsistently with another important end. He would also be unjustified if he promised his support for, say, ethanol subsidies in return for tax cuts—the classic “one step forward, two steps back.”

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But just because sometimes a half-way measure is the best we can realistically accomplish, that doesn’t mean that compromise is somehow a good in itself. As G.K. Chesterton memorably put it, “Compromise used to mean that half a loaf was better than no bread. Among modern statesmen it really seems to mean that half a loaf is better than a whole loaf.”

It appears that many of Ron Paul’s critics take the “modern statesman’s” approach and value compromise for its own sake. But if they do, then they have little to worry about. Most everyone who doesn’t write for Mother Jones understands that the Republicans are nowhere near adopting laissez-faire purism. Those of us who can remember back to last month might recall how the Republicans ultimately capitulated to tax increases and then agreed to a truce over the debt ceiling. Those of us who follow politics a little more closely might also remember the Ron Paul-endorsed Kerry Bentivolio call himself “not really a Ron Paul person” after he was elected. Or the supposedly “libertarian” senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee’s attacks on Chuck Hagel’s non-aggressive foreign policy during the recent confirmation hearings. And of course, Rand Paul’s own deviations from his father are well-documented. If anything, the “uncompromising” politicians quickly start compromising once their careers begin. Despite what Radagast might fear, Machiavelli is alive and well in Washington.

By contrast, Ron Paul is so popular because he stands out from the crowd. He doesn’t compromise, while everyone else does. Does anyone really believe that he would have made more of an impact if he conducted his career like Lamar Alexander? Sure, he hasn’t had many political successes, but he did open up a whole generation to libertarian ideals. That’s a huge accomplishment. As for Lamar Alexander . . . well, you can look him up on Wikipedia.

Nevertheless, Radagast is correct that the Right needs to do more than just nay-saying. Ron Paul has done great things, but we need something more if we eventually want to win.

The problem is that most of the solutions offered essentially constitute a surrender of principle—they are inconsistent with ultimate goals. We hear incessantly, for instance, that Republicans need to make their peace with the welfare state or accept mass immigration. But if that’s what it takes to win, then what’s the point of winning? Just being able to say “We won” is small consolation for embracing and ratifying destructive political principles. To take a less dramatic example being willing to “vote trade”—swapping a vote for higher taxes in exchange for spending cuts—is almost as bad. If our ultimate goal is rolling back the government, it is hard to come up with a non-sophistical justification for how higher taxes will accomplish that.

So what then to do?

I’m not exactly sure. But I do see some promising options. For instance, I have written here before about “bleeding heart libertarianism” and about the states’ rights/Tenth Amendment movement. Though the two movements seem very different, they are both strategic, political means of advancing good ends without violating higher principles. They’re both about making libertarian or conservative ideas appeal to a wider array of normal, working people. As such, I think they offer much more promising avenues for change than some fuzzy “compromise.”

They are both incomplete and wouldn’t lead to any kind of victory overnight. But they are still helpful in the long-run by re-branding libertarian goals while staying true to libertarianism. I’m sure there are many other options too. Off the top of my head, opposition to war and support for breaking the state’s intellectual property grants are two other issues where pure libertarianism could be widely popular.

Above all, we just can’t lose sight of principle. I fear that Radagast’s proscriptions would do just that. They would turn the Republican Party into a party of Lamar Alexanders, not a party willing to fight for the principles we share.

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Impeach the Drone Warrior

Americans today have come face to face with a disturbing truth that those of us concerned with liberty have suspected for a long time. It has come to light that an official memo circulating within the administration justified drone strikes on American citizens suspected of terrorism as “legal,” “ethical” and “wise.”. The Memo, which was surprisingly revealed by Obama’s own state-run media, laid out the rather vague circumstances in which un-manned aerial aircraft can eliminate someone without a trial, without due process, and even without intelligence as to whether or not they present an imminent threat to American national security. The official DOJ white paper can be found here: http://msnbcmedia.msn.com/i/msnbc/sections/news/020413_DOJ_White_Paper.pdf

Article II, section 4 of the Constitution states that “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” And it is my controversial contention that Obama and his justice department’s blatant violations of the V, VI, and VIII (not to mention his disdain for the I, II, and most of Article III) qualifies as a high crime.  Still, I doubt he will be impeached until his followers in the media abandon him.

Of course, one is likely to accuse me of hyperbole, over-reaction, and irresponsible impulsivity. Fair enough. Let’s hear your argument then, shall we? First, who cares about the rights of terrorists! They hate America, would happily kill other American citizens, and would probably be given the death penalty anyway. Why not save some time and take them out? Second, why are drones objectionable when presumably the only lives lost are those of the enemy? Sure, a civilian may be in the wrong place at the wrong time now and then, but these are risks we all have to take. Third, if we do not keep up the drone warfare, other countries will get ahead of us and use them against us. They will prey on our “weakness.” Fourth, drones can be used by the private and public sectors to run surveillance and enforcement in ways that would otherwise be cost prohibitive and difficult to do in any practical manner. This is especially true in policing America’s borders and enforcing land use regulations.

Well said, my friend, but at the end of the day I am completely unpersuaded. First, by making exceptions to the rule of law for the killing of American terrorists who do not present an imminent threat to U.S. national security the terrorists ultimately win. Our fear of them causes us to abandon the very law that upholds and orders the liberty we are meant to defend. I believe this is more important than killing terrorists for some illusion of national security. And indeed, it is certainly an illusion.

Second, the extraordinary number of civilian deaths caused by drone strikes in the Middle East and elsewhere has inspired and created more terrorists than it has killed.

Third, we could just as easily produce anti-drone technologies as the drones themselves. Why not scrap them for the sake of liberty, instead of throwing liberty out the window for the sake of a false security? Yes, other countries will take advantage of us. But I disagree with the assumption that the best defense is a good offense. The best defense is the best defense.

Fourth, the use of drones by the private sector and by regulatory agencies is terrifying. Who honestly believes such power will not corrupt as it always has? Consider the story of Plato’s Ring of Gyges or Tolkien’s Ring of Power. The premise is no different. We, as fallen human beings, do not possess the moral compass to wield this authority and should therefore run from it.

The drones do not defend liberty, but undermine it at every turn.  This is why Obama so enthusiastically supports their use, why he views the Constitution more as a suggestion and obstruction than a law, and liberty more as a problem than a fundamental basis of human personhood and dignity. He, along with Janet Napolitano and Eric Holder among others, should be impeached  and removed from office for the good of the union, for the promotion of peace, and for the sake of a truly ordered and enduring liberty.

It will be said that my words are uncivil, ungenerous, and unbecoming of deliberative democracy. Indeed they are, but the enemies of liberty feed on such  reservations. Violence is not the answer of course, the rule of law and Constitutional democracy provide all the necessary tools for overcoming the enemies of liberty and order. We need only have the courage, moral discernment, and will to use them.

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Tarkenton on Taxes (yes, that Tarkenton!)

Fran Tarkenton (yes, that Fran Tarkenton!) has an op-ed in USA Today defending Phil Mickelson’s recent disparaging comments regarding the high California taxes he has to pay. Tarkenton makes the usual points about the unfairness, no matter your wealth, of paying more that 50% of your income to the government. He also points out the counterproductive nature of high taxation: companies flee high-tax states for low-tax states, thus causing there to be less government revenue overall. However, his most profound point is regarding the effect of high taxation directed at the rich and big corporation on the middle class and especially the poor.

[Mickelson] was talking about an increasingly complex tax code that also reserves special punishment for small businesses, working families and even the little guys. The rich, like Mickelson, can hire high-priced lawyers and accountants to compute their taxes and take advantage of loopholes. Or, they can pick up and move. The middle class is not quite so fortunate; most cannot simply pick up and move to a better economic climate.

A high income-tax state like California is not just driving away successful men and women like Mickelson, but driving businesses out, too. This ultimately results in even less tax revenue, which sinks California’s economy even more.

Massive state government spending leads to higher taxes. More taxes lead to less government revenue because overtaxed businesses and higher income individuals depart for more business-friendly states. This vicious cycle hurts average citizens and the most vulnerable alike.

From the payroll tax hike surprise that most workers found in their first paycheck of 2013 to Medicare tax increases to raising top tax rates to nearly 40%, Washington has made life more difficult for most Americans. When companies raise prices to pass the cost of the corporate income tax — now the highest in the developed world — on to consumers, these “hidden taxes” hit fixed-income families the hardest.

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