Posts Tagged With: election 2012

Obama’s Awful Drone Wars

Kudos to Ben for highlighting the Obama administration’s lawless drone violence. Undoubtedly, the best article I ever read from this past election cycle was by Conor Friersdorf, on the topic of Obama’s drone wars. Wrote Friersdorf:

[I]f you’re a Democrat who has affirmed that you’d never vote for an opponent of gay equality, or a torturer, or someone caught using racial slurs, how can you vote for the guy who orders drone strikes that kill hundreds of innocents and terrorizes thousands more — and who constantly hides the ugliest realities of his policy (while bragging about the terrorists it kills) so that Americans won’t even have all the information sufficient to debate the matter for themselves?

How can you vilify Romney as a heartless plutocrat unfit for the presidency, and then enthusiastically recommend a guy who held Bradley Manning in solitary and killed a 16-year-old American kid? If you’re a utilitarian who plans to vote for Obama, better to mournfully acknowledge that you regard him as the lesser of two evils, with all that phrase denotes.

But I don’t see many Obama supporters feeling as reluctant as the circumstances warrant.

The whole liberal conceit that Obama is a good, enlightened man, while his opponent is a malign, hard-hearted cretin, depends on constructing a reality where the lives of non-Americans — along with the lives of some American Muslims and whistleblowers — just aren’t valued. Alternatively, the less savory parts of Obama’s tenure can just be repeatedly disappeared from the narrative of his first term, as so many left-leaning journalists, uncomfortable confronting the depths of the man’s transgressions, have done over and over again.

Keen on Obama’s civil-libertarian message and reassertion of basic American values, I supported him in 2008. Today I would feel ashamed to associate myself with his first term or the likely course of his second. I refuse to vote for Barack Obama. Have you any deal-breakers? 

(Emphases added.)

The election has shown that millions of voters do not in fact have any deal-breakers, but rather will happily—joyfully—vote for someone whose behavior they would have vociferously condemned if engaged in by a Republican. I will go to my grave before I understand why Obama supporters apparently believe that continued funding for PBS is more important than ending the bombing of innocent civilians. But their willingness to accept horrible violence overseas in return for Big Bird and gay marriage at home can only be described as tragic.

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This Is What Every Election Should Look Like

From Reason:

When Ward 5 of Manchester, New Hampshire, elected a delegate to the state legislature this month, its voters rejected a Republican from the Free State Project who favors a minimal government. Instead they picked Tim O’Flaherty, a Democrat from the Free State Project who favors the abolition of government altogether. In the words of the Manchester Union-Leader: “O’Flaherty ran against a fellow Free Stater, housemate Dan Garthwaite, whom O’Flaherty called a statist.”

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President Obama and the Future of Conservatism

The re-election of President Barack Obama to a second term of office has sparked some intense debate about the place of conservatism in American politics in particular and in American society more broadly. This blog is no exception in its participation in this post-election evaluation of the state of conservatism at the precipice of a second term for the Obama presidency.

I am, perhaps, in the minority on this blog, because what I am going to say in this post-election autopsy differs from the majority on this blog who express a view which I think could be accurately labeled decadent conservatism. This is a worldview that turns history and experience on its head; it is a view that, to be honest, I don’t recognize as conservative, if conservatism is to be understood, defined and delimited by the Six Canons of Conservatism laid down by Russell Kirk so many years ago in his The Conservative Mind.

  1. Belief in a transcendent order, or body of natural law, which rules society as well as conscience.
  2. Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence, as opposed to the narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of most radical systems…
  3. Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes, as against the notion of a “classless” society.”
  4. Persuasion that freedom and property are closely linked…
  5. Faith in prescription and distrust of “sophists, calculators, and economists” who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs
  6. Recognition that change may not be salutary reform: hasty innovation may be devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress

Conservatism at its best is not supposed to be an ideology; conservatism at its best is supposed to be a practical, realistic and empirically-driven approach toward the world. In the lament over the re-election of President Obama, I think some conservatives miss out on being conservative. These conservatives have elevated the pure abstraction of ideology over the brass tacks that makes conservatism so, well, real. Really real, in a way that distinguishes it from and serves as its intrinsic appeal over all of its ideoligical opposites, such as the many varieties of leftism that have had the unpleasant fact of having existed.

However I fear that conservatism or conservatives – at least of some varieties – cannot legitimately or at least convincingly make that reference to reality in the wake of this response to President Obama’s re-election. Not if conservatives are rejecting history and experience in favor of celebrating abstract, vague and circuitous appeals to eras and ideas that are no longer relevant to the American cultural, social or political tradition. Well, a historicist cannot. A traditionalist, I suppose, can.

So, after this long, winding and lamenting encomium to conservatism, what do I think the re-election of President Obama means for conservatism? It means absolutely nothing. This is because conservatism is dying — conservatives are killing it.

If conservatives and conservatism want to begin to digest and respond to the re-election of President Obama, it would seem that we should take a page from Andrew Sullivan and read some Michael Oakeshott

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The Liberal Principle of Secession

President Obama’s reelection has people talking about secession again. Unfortunately, because of the historical accident that the last American secessionists were slaveholding southerners, most people today think that secession is somehow reactionary, racist, or right-wing. The fact that Obama’s reelection served as the catalyst for these new secessionist petitions certainly doesn’t dispel that notion.

Nevertheless, the popular notion is totally wrong. Rather than being a reactionary doctrine, secession is a principle rooted in the best of the classical-liberal, Enlightenment tradition. To believe in secession is to believe in liberty, peace, free trade, and self-determination——values that liberals once held, before they fell under the spell of omnipotent government. By contrast, to believe that whatever national borders happen to exist today are somehow immutable and therefore require eternal adherence is the truly reactionary and obscurantist doctrine, more reminiscent of the divine right of kings than of anything that can fairly be called “liberal.”

The foundational principle of secessionism is the same principle embodied in the Declaration of Independence: “That to secure [people’s] rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

The secessionist principle is based entirely on individual self-determination. That is, it doesn’t matter whether people have objectively good reasons for seceding, as judged by some outside observer. All that matters is that they wish to do so. As long as the secessionists believe that a new arrangement will suit their individual ends better than the current one, then we should wish them well and let them leave. It was in this spirit that former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan—hardly a right-wing white supremacist—described the Sudanese 2011 secession referendum as “democracy at its most basic, where people are choosing their future, and how and by whom they want to be governed.”

Nor must secession lead to war or economic isolation. When the left-wing MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell advocated secession, in response to President Bush’s reelection, he correctly noted that, “You can secede without firing a shot.” For while it is historically true that most secessions have been violent, that is not an argument against the principle itself. Rather, it is an argument against those who want to hang onto their own power by nullifying their citizens’ freedom of exit. In order to avoid violence, all we have to do is to convince its initiators to not initiate it.

Indeed, as far as peace and trade are concerned, a world of small, secessionist states is much better than a world of large, centralized ones. Small states cannot afford to close their borders to foreign goods, but need to cooperate with foreigners to survive economically. Such international interdependence will also make them much less likely to solve disputes violently through war. Of course, large states also suffer if they adopt protectionist or war-like policies. But they have enough resources within their borders that they can chug along with a much lesser degree of foreign cooperation than can small ones. As an illustrative example, compare the United States or the Soviet Union’s treatment of foreign countries to that of, say, Belize or Liechtenstein.

Finally, secession promotes freedom within a given state’s territory. Because the smaller each state is, the easier it will be for citizens to “vote with their feet” and move somewhere else, small states have an increased incentive to keep their citizens happy and free. When states are smaller they also have less tax money at their disposal to fund gratuitously oppressive programs like the TSA or to imprison one in fifty of their own citizens, as the United States currently does.

It is therefore no surprise that many of the greatest liberal Enlightenment figures also supported secession. Lord Acton, who coined every Bush-era leftist’s favorite phrase (“Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”), wrote to Robert E. Lee to say, “I saw in State Rights the only availing check upon the absolutism of the sovereign will, and secession filled me with hope, not as the destruction but as the redemption of Democracy. . . . I believed that the example [of the Confederate Constitution] would have blessed all the races of mankind by establishing true freedom purged of the native dangers and disorders of Republics. Therefore I deemed that you were fighting the battles of our liberty, our progress, and our civilization; and I mourn for the stake which was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was saved at Waterloo.” Likewise, Alexis de Tocqueville believed that the American Union was the result of a voluntary compact that could be dissolved at any time, while John Stuart Mill wrote critically of Southern secession in the specific context of the Civil War, but never denied the right to secede when it is exercised in service of admirable ends.

In response to such intellectual giants, the wise sages at . . . umm . . . Think Progress and the Daily Kos insist that there can be no right to secede. They tend to claim that the Civil War or the ratification of the American constitution emphatically ended that right, whatever it might once have been, and that to continue to advocate for it is unpatriotic.

That is certainly an internally consistent argument. I have no doubt that King Louis XIV would have found it quite compelling. But it is not a liberal argument. The classical liberal theory of government holds that all governments, if they can be justified at all, can only be justified to the extent that they serve their citizens’ ends. Therefore, if people conclude that their government lacks instrumental value, then they have the right to try something else. If they do not have that right, and if governments can create laws abolishing the freedom to leave, then government is no longer an instrument of its people. Rather, it is some kind of end-in-itself, that demands total obedience whether it aligns with all of its citizens’ preferences or not.

Let the Obama supporters argue that government is an end-in-itself that demands total obedience. (The Democratic National Convention came close.) But they have no basis for claiming that secession is somehow “reactionary” and that their nationalism is democratic and “progressive.”

Secession is a principle for those of us who really value peace, freedom, and international cooperation through free trade, and who believe that the sole justification for politics is individual welfare. The anti-secessionists, meanwhile, should stick to arguing as their eighteenth-century forebears did: for the sanctity of throne-and-altar and for the divine right to rule.

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“Vote or Die,” Indeed

Here’s someone who gives the “Vote or Die” movement new meaning (h/t Attack the System):

[An Arizona] woman critically injured her husband by running over him with an SUV during an argument about the presidential election, police said.

Holly Solomon, 28, was upset about President Barack Obama’s re-election and began arguing with her husband when she found out that he didn’t vote, authorities said.

Daniel Solomon, 36, told investigators that his wife believed her family was going to face hardship as a result of Obama’s election to a second term.

During the argument, Daniel Solomon got out of the SUV and gave his wife a dirty look, according to a police report obtained by Phoenix television station KPHO. That’s when she started chasing him through a Gilbert parking lot.

Police said he took refuge behind a light pole as she circled him numerous times while continuing to yell at him.

She struck him as he tried to run toward the road, pinning him between the SUV’s underside and a curb, police said.

According to Politico, Mitt Romney won Arizona by approximately 20,000 votes. So whether or not this woman’s husband voted for Romney is completely meaningless. The only way he could have made any kind of difference is if he were able to convince 20,001 Arizonans to switch from voting for Romney to voting for Obama–a proposition that seems . . . unlikely.

If some other ideology could motivate one spouse to run over the other in a car, it would be called dangerous fanaticism. That is especially so when a failure to conform has no real-world consequences. But the “everyone must vote” line has never corresponded to the realities of the electoral college or to the fact that aggregate phenomena are only determined by the actors on the margins. It seems, then, to have more in common with older mass hysterias like witch-burning than it does with rational political deliberation.

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No Compromise!: More Election Thoughts

In 2008, I was happy to see the Republicans lose. I hoped that a crushing defeat would force them to reevaluate the direction that the Party had taken during the Bush years, and to finally turn against war, the surveillance state, and economic interventionism.

Needless to say, that reevaluation never occurred. If anything, the Romney campaign represented a doubling-down on Bush’s foreign policy–a doubling-down that reached its most absurd when, in his RNC acceptance speech, Romney darkly denounced President Obama for simply “talking to,” rather than attacking, Iran.

Likewise, on the economic front, Tea Partiers are a definite improvement over the rank-and-file from the Bush years. But even still, they tend to only envision a rolling back of the regulatory state to the level it was at in, say, 1982, rather than engaging in a fundamental rethinking of the entire post-New Deal philosophy. They may dislike Obamacare, but they don’t like to question its predecessor, Medicare, too deeply. And their rush to embrace Mitt Romney, who enacted the same healthcare plan in Massachusetts that the Tea Party denounces on the national level, should give any consistent conservative or libertarian pause.

My old hope, then, that the Republicans would reevaluate themselves turned out to be totally misplaced. But if the Republicans refused to reevaluate themselves after 2008 (or 1992, 1996, or 2006), then what reason is there to think that they’ll do so after 2012?

Indeed, even if they did reevaluate and suddenly returned to being the laissez-faire, non-interventionist party of Robert Taft that I’ve been waiting to see, I am not at all convinced that that would bring them any more electoral success than they actually got. However difficult it may be for some of this blog’s intended audience to accept, the masses of people who opposed Mitt Romney did not do so because they thought he was just a watered down version of Barack Obama (as many of us did). Instead, it seems that they voted against him because they actually bought into the Democrats’ caricatures of Republicans slashing government programs, or waging a “war on women,” or something–however little these caricatures actual correspond to the reality of Romney’s political career.

Yes, it is tempting to believe that everything would go swimmingly as long as the Republicans adopted my own beliefs. But I don’t see any evidence to believe that, at this point in time, my own beliefs are nationally popular (despite smaller-scale, encouraging signs).

Many commentators take this electoral rejection of libertarian principles as evidence that the Republican Party needs to give up its appeals to the “anti-government” crowd and go back to being the “moderate” party of Eisenhower and Nixon. Apparently, according to such people, the two-party system already gives voters too many choices–what we really need are two parties that offer only oh-so-slightly different variations of the same liberal platform.

But the argument for moderation misses the hugely important fact that the choice between, for instance, increasing or decreasing taxes on the rich is not simply a question of whether the majority gets to implement its will. Indeed, what is at stake is not really a question of will at all; it is a question of economic law, which can no more be defied than can the laws of gravity.

If the majority believed that the way to achieve social prosperity was to jump out of tall buildings and flap your arms until you fly away, then people who understand physics are duty-bound to demonstrate that the majority program is doomed to failure, regardless of whether people want to listen or not. The same is true regarding economic issues, whether taxation, debt, inflation, or Obamacare. People who understand economics and fear for the fate of their neighbors should not give ground and adopt their enemies’ program. Rather, if they really care about their neighbors’ well-being, then they should continue to expose the fallacies of the majority even more vigorously than before. It was in this spirit that the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises identified as his life slogan, from Virgil’s Aeneid: “Tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito.” (“Do not give in to evil, but proceed ever more boldly against it!”)

As far as economics is concerned, whether the Tea Party decides to moderate its rhetoric or whether Barack Obama can claim a mandate for higher taxes is entirely beside the point. Actions have consequences that democratic majorities cannot abolish. Higher taxes will stifle savings and investment, and therefore economic progress, regardless of whether voters want them. As Mises proclaimed, a failure to understand the economic consequences of certain political actions “will not annul economics,” but will instead simply lead to general destruction and impoverishment. (Human Action: The Scholar’s Edition, p. 881.) (For more detailed arguments on why taxing the rich is economically destructive, see, e.g., herehere, and here.)

Of course, there is little hope that the Republican Party will become an effective vehicle for these ideas. If after eight years of Bush and four of Obama the best they could give us was Mitt Romney, then I take that as ample evidence that they are incapable of changing. That’s not to say that we should neglect the opportunity to elect a Rand Paul or Justin Amash if the chance arises, or even to search for and recruit other like-minded candidates who are yet unknown. But I do believe that placing our hopes for the future on reforming the Republican Party is an enormous waste of time.

Rather, the long-term interests of libertarians and conservatives can only be served by looking “beyond the GOP.” Ultimately, politics is only the manifestation of underlying cultural and ideological forces–what people on this blog call the pre-political. If you can change people’s hearts and minds, then they will cease supporting awful people like Mitt Romney or Barack Obama, and politicians will have to adapt in turn.

Thankfully, culture is the area where libertarian ideas are meeting with their greatest success. Ron Paul became popular among the youth not by channeling Richard Nixon, as the cheerleaders for moderation would recommend, but by presenting a refreshing and radical alternative to the status quo. This is the same phenomenon that catapulted The Road to Serfdom to #1 on the Amazon bestseller list, eighteen years after its author’s death, and that made the fledgling Ludwig von Mises Institute–a tiny think-tank in the Alabama hinterlands, with no source of federal funds–a vibrant and hugely popular educational source for libertarian students and scholars all over the world.

In a sense, it is disheartening to know that there is no viable political party that represents our ideas. But the times that we live in are doing much of our recruitment for us. The manifest failures of statism are becoming clearer and clearer. As people begin to realize that persistent problems of economic stagnation, higher prices, and falling living standards are not going away, they will start looking for non-mainstream political alternatives. We see this now in Europe, although, there, popular dissatisfaction has been translating into support for fascistic parties like the Golden Dawn in Greece and for real, flesh-and-bones socialists in France.

Nevertheless, “more statism” need not be the only alternative to Obama or Romney’s middling interventionism. Our job must be to promote a plausible and humane option that people can turn to as a credible means of improving their lot. Such educational promotion doesn’t have the luster of an election campaign, but, with the political world as it is, it is the only permanent cure for statism.

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I Love the ’90s, But I Live in the Present: Post-Election Analysis, Part 1

One of the great, failed movements of the twentieth century was the attempted “paleo” alliance between libertarians and conservatives. In the mid-1990s, such libertarian intellectuals as Murray Rothbard, Hans Hoppe, Justin Raimondo, and Lew Rockwell joined forces with conservatives like Russell Kirk, Paul Gottfried, Sam Francis, and Tom Fleming to fuse conservative arguments on the importance of traditional and localized culture with libertarian critiques of the state. As Hoppe wrote in his masterpiece Democracy: The God That Failed, statism is highly corrosive of traditional, bourgeois values, which are much more likely to thrive if people are left free to order their own lives in the way they see fit. Therefore, “conservatives must be antistatist libertarians and . . . libertarians must be conservatives.” (p. 189)

Though in a strong sense elitist (the movement centered around the John Randolph Club, whose namesake famously stated, “I am an aristocrat–I love liberty, I hate equality”), the paleos also had a broad populist strain. They based much of their power on appealing  to “Middle American Radicals” (MARs): middle-class, middle-aged, largely white voters in flyover country who felt dispossessed by the bureaucratic and politically-correct federal leviathan.

Ultimately, of course, the movement fell apart, in large part due to its leaders’ outsized personalities. Hoppe gave a speech in the ’90s denouncing then-presidential candidate Pat Buchanan’s economic policies and calling Sam Francis a “national socialist.” As late as 2010, emotions were still rancorous enough that Tom Fleming would write a response to Hoppe with gems like, “I know personal loyalty does not mean much to libertarians, but that is one more sign of their insanity,” and adding that, ever since the libertarians (“impoverished dead beats”) left the Randolph Club, the club could afford to host its events in nicer hotels.

In a sense, the death of the paleo movement is disappointing. But, though I personally wish it had flourished, the election results from Tuesday make me question whether a libertarian-conservative alliance can be politically beneficial at all and whether, even if it were not for personal squabbles, the movement could have realistically lasted much longer than actually it did. (Such an alliance may, however, be culturally beneficial. I’ll have a post up in a few days on the election’s cultural/ideological significance.)

Since election day, many commentators have noted that this country isn’t what it used to be. Mass immigration of Democratic voters, combined with a marked liberalizing of younger voters on issues like gay marriage and abortion have created a sizable voting bloc for socially-liberal candidates like Barack Obama–a bloc that seems impervious to the economic arguments against him. The MARs, by contrast, do not have the voting power they once had, even as recently as the 1990s, when they gave respectable showings to Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot.

In another sense too, libertarian successes in the past few years have materialized from throwing off past affiliations with the paleo-conservatives. Though Ben recently defended Ron Paul’s “conservatism” on this blog, the Paul campaign caught fire primarily through Paul’s libertarian positions on economics, the Fed, war, and civil liberties, and by downplaying his conservative opposition to abortion, gay marriage, and open immigration.

Moreover, the people fueling his campaign’s energy were emphatically not the Middle American Radicals that the ’90s paleo movement thought would lead to a rebirth of antistatism. In fact, from my personal experience, the people most hostile to Ron Paul are those very same white, middle-aged MARs, like the members of my local Tea Party. On the other hand, the people most sympathetic were socially-liberal–or at least socially-indifferent–cosmopolitan college-age kids. Even among Cornell law students (not a demographic receptive to right-wing ideas), people generally treat me with respect when they find out that I’m a Ron Paul supporter. (“Yeah, he’s a Republican, but at least he voted for Paul instead of Bachman or Santorum”). And when Ron Paul came to speak on Cornell’s campus during the primary campaign, he filled up our entire hockey stadium, with at least a thousand or so people left outside. The people who lined up to see him were not the culturally conservative MARs that Sam Francis envisioned.

Pile that on top of the disparity between libertarian election victories and mainstream Republican election victories that I pointed out yesterday and the cultural renaissance that Austrian economics and certain classic libertarian books have been undergoing since 2008. Libertarianism isn’t yet any kind of political steamroller. But nor is it the “political masturbation” that John David derides. It has achieved real progress in recent years, and it has done so with very little help from conservatives, whose star seems ever on the decline.

All of this is to say that, when looking at Tuesday’s election results, it is hard to see how an explicit libertarian-conservative alliance is an effective political path to smashing the state, as Rothbard and Hoppe hoped it would be. I wish this weren’t so. My personal values are much more in line with those of the John Randolph Club members than they are with the average college hipster. But politics should be the art of the possible (as long, of course, as achieving the possible doesn’t contradict your ultimate goal, as would be the case, say, with voting for the statist Mitt Romney). So if libertarians are to continue their political progress, then, demographic changes being what they are, a too-close affinity with conservatives seems more harmful than good.

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President Oakeshott

Joe Ptak believes that, with Barack Obama’s reelection, “we have [a president] who may fit the mold of a [Peter] Viereck or a[ Michael] Oakeshott.”

I have been gleefully waiting for someone here to write something like this. It sheds a lot of light on the debate we’ve been having on this blog on traditionalism versus rationalism. In the beginning of that debate, I tried to make fun of traditionalist conservatives by linking them to Paul Krugman. But for a conservative to link himself to Barack Obama of all people–that’s the jackpot!

Of course, I don’t disagree with Joe’s factual assessment. To the contrary, I think that Obama clearly does fit the mold of Michael Oakeshott.  (I don’t know anything about Viereck, so I can’t comment on that.) In his essay “On Being Conservative,” Oakeshott defined conservatism as essentially just a preference for whatever happens to exist at the present moment. And if there is anything that the Obamaphiles love, it is what happens to exist at this present moment.

But I also agree with Ben when he called this conception of conservatism “deeply flawed.” Indeed, if this is our definition of conservatism, then I’m with the Old-Right journalist Frank Chodorov, who reportedly proclaimed: “Anyone who calls me a conservative gets a punch in the nose.”

Just look at the list of Obama’s “conservative” accomplishments that Joe provides, courtesy of that other eternal defender of the status quo, Paul Krugman. Joe tells us:

  1. Obama’s stimulus bill was half the size that his Keynesian advisors advised. (Gee, thanks!)
  2. He continued Bush’s wars. (Nothing more conservative than demolishing one society and building a new one!)
  3. He put forward a healthcare plan, which all those Burkean Republicans like Newt Gingrich used to support, and which wasn’t even the socialist plan that he originally threatened–err–offered us.
  4. He supports tax cuts and deficit reductions.  That is, he has supported them “in the past few weeks,” after spending 95% of his political career denouncing them.
  5. The New Deal and the Great Society are here, presumably, until the end of time. No use fighting them–a conservative would just lay back and take them.

It is true that these “accomplishments” all fit into the twentieth-century American tradition. But that is also a tradition that gave us the IRS, the Federal Reserve, the Patriot Act, the TSA and body-scanning, indefinite detention of American citizens and non-citizens at the president’s say-so, permanent war and overstretched empire, mass incarceration (much of which stems from the criminalization of victimless conduct), and ever-increasing federal regulation of every aspect of personal and economic life, all accompanied by a decline in the importance of local centers of authority, an increase in single-parenthood and welfare-dependence, a permanent sense of economic instability, high unemployment, and little hope of any improvement in cultural or economic life in the foreseeable future.

One could look at all of that and reply simply, “Yeah, that’s our tradition. Therefore, I support it.” But if conservatism is to be something meaningful, it has to offer something more. It has to be able to engage in a critique of existing social and political structures. (In that sense, whatever my other disagreements with Ben’s traditionalism, it is at least better than Joe’s.) If conservatism cannot engage in that critique, then traditionalists will just end up playing second-fiddle to the Democrats. They will only serve to ratify each new expansion of federal power, with appeals to Oakeshott and continuity.

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The Rest of Obama’s First Term May Commence

Well, Obama begins his second term. But really, it’s more like his first. Stanley Kurtz explains:

Ordinarily, a president enacts various policies in his first term, the public test-drives the changes, and the president’s reelection campaign is a referendum on those new policies. The difference in Obama’s case is that in order to secure reelection, he has backloaded nearly all of his most transformative and controversial changes into a second term. Obama’s next term will actually put into effect health-care reform, Dodd-Frank, and a host of other highly controversial policies that are already surging through the pipeline yet still barely known to the public.

I want everyone reading this to remember, I told you so. So don’t you dare blame me, I voted for Kodos!

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Sean Hannity Was Right

Massachusetts has 76.5% of its votes in.  Politico lists 1,433,968 for Obama and 922,822 for Romney–a 511,146 vote victory for Obama.

If only I had listened to Sean Hannity and Karl Rove, and not wasted my vote on a third party!  Then Obama would have only won Massachusetts by 511,145 votes.  That would’ve shown him!

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Jason Brennan: Why Most Voting Is Immoral

Speaking of uninformed voting, Jason Brennan at Bleeding Heart Libertarians calls the entire practice “morally rotten.”  His argument is elegantly simple:

In the market, most of my fellow citizens are my civic friends, part of a great cooperative scheme. One of the vile and repugnant features of democracy is that it transforms these people–people who should be my civic friends–into my civic enemies. . . .

The overwhelming majority of them haven’t put in the proper care to develop their political beliefs in a rational way, on the basis of the best available evidence. They are like drunk drivers who force me to drive with them. They are like incompetent surgeons who force me to go under their knives. They are like jurors trying a capital murder case, who find the defendant guilty without having paid attention to the evidence, or because they evaluated the evidence in a bigoted or irrational way.

Those who exercise power over others have a moral duty to do so competently and in good faith. The overwhelming majority of my fellow citizens will violate this duty today. This makes them my enemies, when they should have been my friends.

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Be Merry!

No matter who wins tonight, it is difficult to be anything but despondent.  So let’s remember the example of two of the greatest (and most stylistically different) conservative and libertarian optimists.

G.K. Chesterton:

The mass of men have been forced to be gay about the little things, but sad about the big ones. Nevertheless (I offer my last dogma defiantly) it is not native to man to be so. Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul. Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labour by which all things live.

Ludwig von Mises:

This pessimistic point of view is completely mistaken in its estimate of the influence which rational and quiet reflection can exercise on the masses. . . . The power of Socialism too, is like any other power ultimately spiritual; and it finds its support in ideas proceeding from the intellectual leaders, who give them to the people. If the intelligentsia abandoned Socialism its power would end. In the long run the masses cannot withstand the ideas of the leaders. True, individual demagogues may be ready, for the sake of a career and against their better knowledge, to instill into the people ideas which flatter their baser instincts and which are therefore sure to be well received. But in the end, prophets who in their heart know themselves to be false cannot prevail against those filled with the power of sincere conviction. Nothing can corrupt ideas. Neither by money nor by other rewards can one hire men for the fight against ideas.

In this spirit of cheer, we read about Chesterton’s distributist followers:

The formal business of the League was followed by after-meetings in the general bar of the Devereux, where an account by one of the members describes pint pots banging on the tables and members ‘shouting texts of St. Thomas at each other, calling on the people of England for the overthrow of their taskmasters, and a return to the religion of their forefathers.’

There was also much singing. ‘I have always,’ writes Titterton, ‘regarded this singing as an essential part of Distributism.’

Likewise, while living in Vienna, Mises hung out with a merry group of economists who, at their regular meetings, would write and sing their own songs, with (translated) words like this:
I have a point of doctrine
That you should really hear.
Attempt a refutation
But you will not come near.
I call myself a liberal,
But not from days of yore.
I say all things differently
Than those who came before.
A liberal anyone can be
But in Vienna alone the reasons see.
I know this ’cause marginal utility
Sheds proper light on economy;
I know this ’cause marginal utility
Sheds light on economy.
Since I’ve come to political consciousness, Austrian economics is enjoying a renaissance, the center-left is pushed into the defensive position of lamenting “anti-government extremism,” Ron Paul inspired a whole generation of young activists, the tide keeps turning against drug prohibition, the most populous state in the union essentially nullified the Supreme Court’s awful Gonzales v. Raich decision, while legal academics quake that the Supreme Court could be entering a new libertarianish “Lochner era,” and F.A. Hayek and Ayn Rand’s books top the Amazon best-seller lists.
That seems like cause for cheer.  Sure, tonight the statists will be triumphant.  But in the long run, it is cliched but true that…
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Hope, Change and the Staid President

My apologies to readers and fellow contributors to the blog; this is later in the day than I wanted to post. That being said, here it is.

Up to this post, our readers have been given advice (with one notable exception) to behave in a way that in practice results in a repudiation of the two-party system in which we participate. I do not think that voting third-party is an effective behavior; I think it is a radical behavior that is contrary to the tenets and the practice of conservatism. So, like Chuck O’Shea, I advocate the support of one of the major two-party candidates in this election. The candidate I support will be the one running against him. I believe that a conservative should support President Barack Obama for re-election in 2012.

This post is broken up into two sections: the first section will provide an anchor for the argument by way of description of a practical conceptualization of the kernel of conservatism as uncertainty; the second section will shift to a description of a case (through secondary sources) for why President Obama has governed as a conservative and why this should be sufficient to persuade conservatives to support him for re-election.

Part 1: Conservatism as Uncertainty

The arguments that have dominated this blog revolve around the definition of conservatism and the corollary of who and what qualifies as conservative today? Many of us on this blog have input time and energy into answering a question that pundits more important than we are
have dwelt. This suggests a broadness, perhaps more accurately and precisely, a foundational uncertainty to be the characteristic which is hallmark of conservatism. Conservatism, in a sense, is so dysfunctional and confused (or at least antifoundational) that a prominent conservative magazine is subjecting itself to an identical tortured process that we are conducting at the same time we are conducting it.

This uncertainty can be understood as an effect of a fluidity the vocabulary of the traditionalist-historicist conservative would recognize as the universal being expressed in the particular; further, in its vocabulary, it is what the rationalist would recognize as a fundamental abstract principle being applied to or filtered by and through reality: it is a cornerstone of a conservative case to support President Obama for re-election in 2012.

Part II: President Obama as Conservative, or the Prudence of Practice

Let me move to the second portion of this post, which lays out a case for the conservative support of President Obama by a brief examination of his policies in his first term.

Bruce Bartlett summarizes the case for Obama the conservative in the following bullet points (h/t to paul krugman

His stimulus bill was half the size that his advisers thought necessary;
He continued Bush’s war and national security policies without change and even retained Bush’s defense secretary;
He put forward a health plan almost identical to those that had been supported by Republicans such as Mitt Romney in the recent past, pointedly rejecting the single-payer option favored by liberals;
He caved to conservative demands that the Bush tax cuts be extended without getting any quid pro quo whatsoever;
And in the past few weeks he has supported deficit reductions that go far beyond those offered by Republicans.

I think that list makes a compelling case for the conservative to support President Obama for re-election in 2012. This is not about abstractions such as ideological purity, pro-life bona fides or any other conceptualization of conservatism whose essence exists outside of time and space; rather, this is about an on-the-ground, historically contingent conservatism which recognizes that history puts us in a set of circumstances in which liberal “big government” of the New Deal and Great Society are essential, defining characteristics of the relationship between a citizenry and its government; furthermore, that to recognize this relationship is to be cognizant of the historical concreteness that is, allegedly, at the core of conservatism. Such that this historical reality of post-New Deal and post-Great Society liberalism means that President Obama is the one conservative candidate running for President during this election. The other choices you have – which have been discussed on this blog – occupy positions on the ideological branches of the left and the right. When the pundits recognize a continuity between the two major parties’ candidates’ policies; and, when progressives recognize you to be a conservative and make a case against your candidacy for re-election, then you must be doing something right behind which conservatives (no pun intended) can throw their support.

If other conservatives want to make a convincing case that Obama is a liberal or a left-wing President of any type, then they will have to respond to the policies that he has implemented by effectively demonstrating how they represent a liberal rather than a conservative style of governance. References to a vague, amorphous, and essentially content-less notion of history or tradition will not be a strong foundation for a persuasive case against the conservative’s support for President Obama’s re-election. Nor will an effective case be made by attempting to demonstrate that his policies are contrary to certain principles (free-market, big government, etc) which are inherently conservative, at least not in an American sense of the term; nor is it sufficient to argue (however effectively one does make the argument), that in certain instances he has been an advocate, instigator or ally of policymakers or policy proposals that are contrary to alleged tenets of traditional culture (e.g., religious freedom or individual rights in the example of the health care reform bill): cherry picking is left for the fruit, it does not belong in a philosophically abstract or an empirical argument against a case for the re-election of President Obama.

The responses the economic crisis, the policies of reform, and the foreign policy that President Obama has pursued and implemented during his first term in office, point to a candidate for re-election who chooses to maintain a steady course and extract a limited amount from the circumstances given to him. That is to say, his presidency has been a conservative one. Stories of his past notwithstanding, he makes a poor example of a radical liberal, and an even poorer boogeyman of conservative critique, analysis and alarm. President Obama has governed with restraint; he has pursued policies with an eye toward the possible and not just purity of principle; he has behaved in a way that conservatives can and should recognize to be in resemblance to the doctrine, tenets and canons of conservatism. It is easy to understand why that is the case if one disregards the rhetoric and emotion that are expended in response to President Obama, and consider for a brief moment the policies he has actually pursued and realize that he is a conservative (or at least a run-of-the-mill Democrat, who is, nevertheless, probably more conservative – in a non-ideological understanding of the term – than most Republicans or self-described conservatives are at this point in our political history).

At the end of the day, the conservative is not left wondering why he should support President Obama in 2012; rather, he is left to wonder why he should not.

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I Voted for Gary Johnson

My default position is not to vote.  As other, more illustrious people than myself have repeatedly argued, not voting is itself a political statement.  Voting, on the other hand, is the act that every supporter of intrusive government points to to prove that you aren’t really oppressed–after all, you have the opportunity to change your rulers every four years!  The more people who refuse to buy into this charade, and who refuse to believe that choosing who will be the one to tax, wiretap, and body-scan you actually makes you free, the better off we will be.

That said, I did vote this year, as I have most years, mainly on the belief that when you have a good-hearted person running for president, and when that person’s policies, though imperfect, would radically improve the country, then it is the neighborly thing to do to support him.  In 2008, that meant that I voted for Chuck Baldwin (of the Constitution Party).  This year, I voted (early) for Gary Johnson.

When it comes to his philosophical understanding of libertarianism, Johnson is certainly no Ron Paul.  As the linked interview shows, he opposes the gold standard and is generally unfamiliar with some of the the twentieth century’s greatest libertarian thinkers.  He also indicates support for the kind of “humanitarian” wars popular among Democrats of the Clinton-Obama stripe.  Moreover, because I am someone who came to his current positions largely through reading Hans-Hermann Hoppe, I am skeptical of Johnson’s support for open immigration.

Still, on serious issues like ending the war on drugs, the TSA, and the drone wars, as well as on his general stand against taxes and regulation, a President Gary Johnson would be a great improvement for this country and for all the overseas victims of the Bush-Obama foreign policy of perpetual war.  Of course, I wish there were a more consistent libertarian running for president.  But I think that the genial Johnson’s positives clearly outweigh his negatives.

Indeed, I had the relatively easy decision of only having to decide between voting for Johnson or not voting at all.  Every other option is totally unpalatable.

Though Chuck O’Shea makes a reasonable lesser-of-two-evils argument in favor of Mitt Romney, his argument rests on the false premise that his vote actually makes a difference–that is, that voting for Mitt Romney is a strategic means of advancing conservative ends.

In fact, the only way that Chuck’s vote will actually make a difference is if the election in his state hinges on a single vote, which itself will only matter if his state has enough electoral votes to affect the electoral-college outcome.  I don’t know of any election where this has actually happened.  Even in the infamous Florida recount of 2000, George Bush still won by 537 votes, which means that no single voter switching from Bush to, say, Pat Buchanan would have changed the election in any way.  And even if the upcoming election were decided by Chuck’s one vote, however unlikely that may be, then surely there would be a recount–which never leads to the same tally as the original count.  The same argument applies to the so-called “Obama cons:” voting “strategically” for the lesser of two evils is a pointless exercise based on the false notion that your own vote matters.  When you realize that it doesn’t, then it makes no sense to vote for someone unless you can give your positive support to their policies.  “Strategic” voting is no strategy at all.

At the same time, I believe that we should hold the minor parties to the same “don’t vote for evil” standard as the major parties.  We should not get caught up in thinking that they are somehow noble just because, unlike Romney or Obama, they actually live according to principle.  Thus, Ron Paul’s position in 2008 that his supporters should “pick any” of the third-party candidates makes very little sense.  Sure, I am willing to accept that Jill Stein is more consistent than Barack Obama and would be a great improvement over him in terms of civil liberties and foreign policy.  But her economic policies would be much, much worse.  Sticking to your principles is only admirable if your underlying principles are themselves admirable.

(As an aside, I also don’t buy “The Lancastrian’s” position that, because Stein wants to run a federal regulatory state with local implementation, that somehow makes her a Jeffersonian localist.  Rarely does the federal government act by a classic command-and-control economy, at least in this country.  Very often its policies are carried out with a great deal of state help, as is the case with Medicaid, or through subsidies or tax incentives to favored industries.  Does the Lancastrian believe that Medicaid also represents “the definition of subsidiarity?”  If so, then conservatism has fallen pretty far since the 1960s.)

On the same note, Virgil Goode supports protectionism and wants to continue the drug war (just at the state level, where most drug-related prisoners are incarcerated anyway).  And despite his non-interventionist turn in recent years, when Goode was a congressman and his positions actually mattered, he voted as a lockstep Republican for war in Iraq, the PATRIOT Act, and the Military Commissions Act.  I’m skeptical of a 66-year-old man who just so happens to suddenly see the light once his political career is over.  If anything, Goode is eerily similar to the 2008 “Libertarian” presidential candidate Bob Barr, who then went on and endorsed Newt Gingrich for president in 2012.

Therefore, given the failings of all the other candidates, I see no choice for those of us who support peace and freedom.  If we decide to vote at all, it can only be for Gary Johnson, who, though imperfect, has certainly done enough to earn our votes.  Intelligent people can come up with all kinds of clever arguments to show why conservatives should really vote for any given candidate.  But at the most practical level, Gary Johnson is the only candidate whose policies would do more good than harm.

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Yeah, tell me about it.

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Should Libertarians Oppose Inconsequential Laws?

An interesting question came up yesterday that challenges my position from a previous post that libertarians should be utilitarians.

Yesterday I had a discussion with a friend over one of the ballot initiatives in Massachusetts, the so-called “Right to Repair” law.  The law forces car manufacturers to allow competing repair shops to buy technology from them which will allow the repair shops to read code generated by a customer’s car’s internal computer.  This allows the shop to diagnose vehicle malfunctions.  As it is now, only the manufacturer has the ability to read this read this code.

I stated that I oppose the law for several reasons, mainly based on the facts that the law undermines contracts between individual dealers and manufacturers, makes it less profitable for dealers to enter into exclusive relationships with manufacturers in the first place, and discourages manufacturers from incurring research and development costs to create new technology that can then be bought up by competitors.  Each of these would lead to a poorer market for consumers.

But to be fair, the real-world impact that the law would be likely to have in any of these areas is probably very small.  My friend said that, even if she accepted all of my arguments, the costs that the new law imposes on car manufacturers is so remote to her that it would still be worth it to vote “yes” to the new law.  After all, most people only enter the retail market for cars around once or twice a decade.  But they got to repair shops much more often.

How does this affect my position on utilitarianism?

Well, if we judge restrictions on freedom by their negative consequences, what about those laws, like this one, that have not much of any consequences at all?  What, for instance, should a libertarian say about the birth control ban in Griswold v. Connecticut, which was on the books but never enforced?  What about a rent control ordinance that caps rent so far above the market clearing price (say, $5 million/month) that no one would ever violate it?  Or a law regulating a dying industry like the absbestos or quill-pen industries?  If we judge laws by their consequences, does that mean we can’t make any judgments about laws with few, if any, bad consequences?

I don’t think so.  Indeed, I think everyone should oppose all the laws I’ve mentioned.

Before we start judging the utility of individual regulatory laws, it makes sense to first judge the utility of the entire concept of the regulatory state itself.  To state a few of the most obvious problems, government regulations distort the market by substituting the choices of bureaucrats for the choices of free consumers and therefore make people worse off then if they were left free to pursue their own ends.  By their involuntariness, regulations also introduce social conflict into what was once free and mutually beneficial exchange (as in subsidies or tariffs, which direct consumers’ money away from where the consumers want it and toward government-favored industries).  The fact that they can be changed at will makes it harder for people to predict the future and disincentivizes people from entering long-term contracts, given that those contracts could be negated at any time by a change in the law.  The regulatory states’ enforcement mechanism also consumes huge amounts of tax money which could otherwise by invested in more productive areas.  Moreover, taxation itself leads to a decline in net income, which means that people have less money to invest or to put toward their own futures.

When we understand this destructive nature of the regulatory state, it is no longer necessary to judge each new regulation on its own terms, entirely independent of the rest.  Rather, we can understand that, though the new car law probably won’t have a huge effect on the market, to support it is to support a principle of interventionism that has been and will continue to be hugely destructive of civilized society.

Of course, it may be difficult to find the terms to oppose seemingly inconsequential laws in any given case.  But if we fail to do so, then we risk giving up necessary ground to the interventionists.  The burden should be on them to prove why any given law is so necessary that we should support it, rather than on us to show how each of their new machinations will be harmful in any given case.

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The Anti-Obamney Majority

Green Party candidate Jill Stein stated at last night’s third party debate that the half of all registered voters–double the amount who will vote for either Obama or Romney–will not participate in this election at all (see video at 1:20:00).  She says that “those are voters who are saying ‘no’ to politics as usual and saying ‘no’ to the Democratic and Republican Parties.”

I don’t think that anyone can know what 90 million other individuals are thinking.  Still–and whatever one might say about some of Jill Stein’s other ideas–I have to admire the sentiment in that quote.  Nonvoters get caricatured as lazy and uninformed.  But it is much nobler to just go to work, spend time with your friends, or even watch reruns of Tosh.0 than it is to give your vote to a candidate who supports drone strikes, indefinite detention, the TSA, or war with Iran.  Not voting is an implicit rejection of the status quo, or at least an indication that you can’t be bothered to care about the major parties.  Either way, the fact that the majority of all Americans won’t be casting a ballot for either Obama or Romney should give some hope to those of us who reject mainstream politics.

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