Feb 042012
 

Other libertarian bloggers have written about this phenomenon already, that there have been a spate of attack pieces in the media about the follies of libertarianism, probably as a result of Ron Paul’s popularity, but not necessarily. We like to see this sort of stuff, because nobody bothers fighting against an unsuccessful opposing ideology. You don’t tend to see polemics against Nazis these days. If fatuous left-wing commentators are attacking libertarianism, it means we’re winning!

This is not to say there isn’t always anti-libertarian guff from the left wing, because that would be to deny the constant, low-level contempt thrown at us by Rousseauistes whose goal for humanity extends no further than meeting the animal instinct for a full belly. But I digress. To see high-level anti-libertarian guff is rarer, and therefore more meaningful when it shows up. It’s just a shame that our first instinct is to interpret this attention as victory.

***

Exhibit A: George Monbiot, that second-rate St Paul for the Guardian (motto: “Comforting the afflicted, afflicting the comfortable”), took on libertarians twice in two weeks. His first piece, “How Freedom Became Tyranny,” might as well have been nicked wholesale from the Brer Fox playbook.

Modern libertarianism is the disguise adopted by those who wish to exploit without restraint. It pretends that only the state intrudes on our liberties. It ignores the role of banks, corporations and the rich in making us less free. It denies the need for the state to curb them in order to protect the freedoms of weaker people. This bastardised, one-eyed philosophy is a con trick, whose promoters attempt to wrongfoot justice by pitching it against liberty. By this means they have turned “freedom” into an instrument of oppression.

Oh, no, Mr Monbiot, please don’t throw me in the briar patch!

Monbiot’s whole piece leads up to that conclusion with the standard dodgy rhetoric and facetious analogies that are no stranger to any libertarian. We’re argumentative creatures, so it’s tempting to fisk this pile of manure, but if I’ve done it once, I’ve done it a hundred times, and I credit Monbiot with enough sense to know he’s just putting libertarians into their comfort zone with this one. No, this article is merely the set-up. Draw libertarians into making their usual tasty rebuttals about negative freedom, property rights, and the non-aggression axiom, so that you can deliver the blow with this: “Why Libertarians Must Deny Climate Change.”

Look at the libertarian, trapped by his own arguments!

Let us accept the idea that damage to the value of property without the owner’s consent is an unwarranted intrusion upon the owner’s freedoms. What this means is that as soon as libertarians encounter environmental issues, they’re stuffed.

Climate change, industrial pollution, ozone depletion, damage to the physical beauty of the area surrounding people’s homes (and therefore their value), all these, if the libertarians did not possess a shocking set of double standards, would be denounced by them as infringements on other people’s property.

How neatly Monbiot skewers us. Either we care about property rights as a form of freedom, and we reveal ourselves as blinkered anti-science tribalists; or our denial of climate change exposes our devotion to property rights and freedom as a flimsy pretence for poor-hating selfishness. Either way, he’s happy, and we’re “stuffed.” You see, children? Don’t be seduced by the libertarian, after all. The puppet-master has just made him put a bullet through his own foot.

Or not. Good little libertarians have read their Rothbard, unlike Monbiot, so instead of shooting our own feet, we feel like we’ve patted our own backs. Well done to us, anticipating this trap by 30 years! Well done indeed. When the public at large gets round to reading Rothbard too—surely just around the corner, any day now—they’ll see we were right all along.

Exhibit B: Jeffrey Sachs, jumping on the bandwagon, holds forth in the Huffington Post with “Libertarian Illusions.” Unlike Monbiot, Sachs is writing to reinforce the average HuffPo reader’s herd instinct. (Take a look at the article’s tags, too: they’re hilarious.)

You see, children? Don’t be seduced by the libertarian—not because he is wrong, but because he is, like, unenlightened, man. His conscience is less exquisitely sensitive than yours, and in his quest for justice (a fine thing, to be sure), he overlooks the infinitely more spiritual delights of forgiveness.

It’s beguiling to focus one’s activist energies on something as unopposable as liberty (and it is a good thing, to be sure), but… what about all that other stuff, you know? Stuff like compassion, and help for the weak. Those are all good things too, as you already believe: don’t they deserve your energy too? Freedom isn’t the only unassailable good thing.

By taking an extreme view—that liberty alone is to be defended among all of society’s values—libertarians reach extreme conclusions. Suppose a rich man has a surfeit of food and a poor man living next door is starving to death. The libertarian says that the government has no moral right or political claim to tax the rich person in order to save the poor person. Perhaps the rich person should be generous and give charity to the neighbor, the libertarian might say (or might not), but there is nothing that the government should do. The moral value of saving the poor person’s life simply does not register when compared with the liberty of the rich person.

Most ethical and political systems find the libertarian position abhorrent, indeed preposterous. Most would hold that the government can, should, and indeed must, tax the rich person to save the poor person. That’s because most ethical and political systems hold that liberty is only one value among many important values, and that the value of the indigent’s life takes priority over the liberty of the rich individual.

For all of you philosophers out there (and there are many, you’re all such enlightened thinkers), libertarianism is unethical: it is a rejection of deep spiritualism!

This view is the opposite of Christian charity and Buddhist compassion, according to which moral worth is achieved by helping others.

For the economically-minded, remember that even the great free-market thinkers didn’t think liberty was the finest thing in life! You don’t have to be a Marxist to believe libertarianism is wrong.

The affirmative role of government includes public education, promotion of science and technology, environmental protection, and the provision of infrastructure. Friedman and Hayek both championed a state guarantee of basic needs for all citizens.

And for the political activists, well, you and I both know that government doesn’t have to be the enemy of liberty, any more than it is the enemy of compassion or helping the vulnerable.

Modern history has shown that activist democratic governments, ones that provide public goods and help for the poor, do not really threaten liberty. In Scandinavia, for example, where the governments are much more activist than in the United States, democracy is very vibrant and far less corrupt than in the U.S.

So while it’s tempting to be a libertarian and simplify everything to questions of freedom, the only people who really do this are vulgar materialists whose limited horizons prevent them from joining you in working toward a world of the impossible good. After all:

America has achieved it greatness not through a single-minded ideology but through pragmatism and the wisdom to embrace several important values. A vast majority of Americans today embrace liberty, civic responsibility, and compassion, and seek a government built upon all three. We are the better individuals and a much stronger society for it.

Good little leftists: the libertarian may have one or two ideas, but you were right all along!

***

Do these kind of attacks represent a victory for libertarians? I don’t know. It’s difficult to counter something like Monbiot when your vindicating text is fringe literature most people are never going to read, and with people like Sachs blowing smoke up the enemy’s backside, you need a much bigger prick than Ron Paul to pop that smug self-satisfaction.

This is what I always wonder about libertarianism: we have the tactics to advance, sure, but do we have the strategy to win? Somehow I doubt it. When, as a group, your dearest-held moral values are non-aggression and individual agency, you tend to eschew the Monbiot-Sachs Plan of ambushing your enemies and brainwashing your allies.

Jun 192011
 

Guest post by Trixy

We’re still fighting in Libya, still racking up the costs, still insisting we’re doing it to protect civilians and not for regime change. No, definitely not regime change, because that’s what Tony Blair did, the war monger, and this coalition is nothing like him, right?

Well, one thing’s for sure, and that’s that neither of them have or had a legal mandate from the United Nations Security Council to invade another country. Blair and his team may insist that they did, but for those of us who can, and who chose to, read the documents from the Security Council at that time, we know he was pulling a fast one. The US Ambassador John Negroponte insisted that UNSCRs 687 and 1441 were sufficient for war, and yet the Council were told by others that the latter was ‘not a smoking gun,’ and another resolution would be required before military action could legally occur.

UNSCR 1973 was for the protection of civilians and to maintain peace and security in the region. The latter is the reason that force can be used, under Chapter VII articles in the UN Charter. So is the bombing and killing of Gaddafi necessary to achieve this, without capture and a trial? Airstrikes destroy in a way that a crack team of soldiers performing a raid don’t. Sophisticated missiles can target but not so well as an SA80 MkII or an M16. So will Gaddafi find himself the victim of yet another airstrike in the name of supporting a group of his opponents whom we know nothing about, with whom senior figures in the Ministry of Defence are nervous of being involved? Will Gaddafi’s final moments be as a non-speaking extra in Pirates of the Caribbean: ‘The Naughty Dictator’ as his body is dumped into Davy Jones’ locker?

The details of what is going on and what will happen are being discussed in COBRA and the bowels of the MoD.

And what we’re hearing about now is Syria.

Hague has ruled out military action, yet the UK and France last week presented a draft UN resolution condemning Syria’s suppression of protests. China and Russia fear, understandably given recent history, that this is the first step towards yet more international intervention by the men in Disruptive Pattern Material. And certainly the calls for the end to violence must ring hollow in the ears of not only the Syrians, who see another group of civilians appearing worthy of ‘protection,’ but also those relatives of the victims of the Srebrenica massacre who had heard such platitudes before.

For whilst Mladic faces trial for genocide, War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity after 16 years of evading discovery, we are reminded of what peacekeeping forces not only allowed, but were forced to allow to happen. And we should remind ourselves of why the murder of 8000 Muslim men and boys occurred in this ‘safe area.’

The answer comes down to our rules of engagement, which did not permit the use of weapons to protect civilians. And Mladic and his men knew that, and thus made a mockery of any ‘peacekeeping’ which UN forces were supposed to be undertaking.

So what I am expecting from William Hague, if he does go back on his promise of no military intervention (something few would be surprised about if he did, I suspect), is fewer words and more action. It’s a tough call for the international community not to look like hypocrites, and if we know one thing about politicians, it’s that they value their reputations/egos very highly.

What we need, if we are going to shoulder the cost of more troop deployments and continue to view ourselves as being in the company of World Policemen, is more permissive rules of engagement. Otherwise Hague, Cameron and their successors are simply offering false hopes and empty posturing to a scared population. And we are wasting our money.

Of course, given MoD cuts, farcical procurement policy, and the ongoing war in Afghanistan, whether we should be getting involved in Syria is a question for another day. But another day soon.

Jul 212010
 

[I wanted to leave this as a comment over at John Demetriou’s original post, but his implementation of Blogger rejects comments of more than 4,096 characters.]

JD, unlike your usual rants, this post is dire. I don’t mean that to be harsh, but you’re coming at this from an angle of misunderstanding that makes your ‘I don’t understand’ claims all too believable.

For one thing, you refer to ‘Americans’ and ‘the American people’ as if there is one collective American mind, and you find its schizophrenia puzzling. Perhaps for the sake of simplicity, it might be better to think of Americans as two collective minds: those who voted for Obama, and those who didn’t. For all sorts of reasons, he is and has been a polarising figure. And so you have two poles, rather than the single mad hive-mind you say is so bizarre. It is one pole that exhibits ‘curious rage’ against Obama, not ‘the American people.’

For another thing, you massively overstate Obama’s popularity during the election and at the beginning of his term. You assert that he ‘won by a landslide’ and was the subject of ‘hero worship,’ ‘hagiography,’ and high approval ratings. In fact, he did not win by anything like a landslide. He won with 53% and 28 states.

By comparison, in 2004, George W Bush won with 51% and 31 states. In 1988, George H W Bush won with 53% and 40 states. And in 1984, Ronald Reagan won with 59% and 49 states. And that wasn’t even as impressive as the 1972 election, when Richard Nixon (Nixon, of all people!) won 49 states and 61% of the vote.

Obama has had nothing like the electoral success other presidents have managed. Your perception of hero-worship and hagiography, just like your perception of rage and hatred, comes from one pole of the American populace.

Furthermore, your understanding of the role of US president is woefully incomplete. You say that ‘Bush inherited an excellent, albeit imperfect, set of books from Clinton and very quickly wrecked it.’ As if either Clinton or Bush had anything whatsoever to do with the books or quality thereof. Congress controls the cash, and the Congress that delivered Clinton a budget surplus was, in composition, almost exactly the same Congress that fucked it all up for Bush. And the Congress Obama has been working with is, in composition, almost exactly the same Congress Bush was working with during his last two years in office. The state of the books in the US is entirely unrelated to the views and actual quality of the president.

You also say that Obama is hated ‘for having the temerity to actually carry out what he proposed to do.’ Again, the president does not ‘do’ things. He does not draft legislation, propose it, debate it, or vote on it. He merely signs it once it’s made its way through Congress. (Or not, as the case may be, but I don’t think Obama’s actually used his veto yet.)

So any carrying out during Obama’s term has been done by Congress. And what they have carried out bears little actual resemblance to the platform on which he campaigned. Sure, the health care bill, but what about everything else? What about the war, the ‘middle-class tax cuts,’ the great repeal of the Bush administration’s incursions on civil liberties? Neither he nor Congress have done any of those things, which were major selling points among Obama’s supportive node. Surely you don’t think the whole election revolved around the question of a healthcare bill?

A healthcare bill which you describe thus: ‘The timing…was perhaps ill-judged, even from a social democrat perspective, but this was one of those once-in-a-thousand-years opportunities, politically, to achieve this ambition.’ For a once-in-a-thousand-years opportunity, Obama and his Congress sure did fuck it up, didn’t they? Instead of doing thorough research, either before the election or after it, and determining the best possible way to ensure universal, affordable healthcare, they cobbled together a travesty of a bill, full of unrelated pork to get various hold-out politicians onside, that when all is said and done, could serve as an exemplar of what every rent-seeker (in this case, the insurance industry) hardly dares even to dream. That’s not even to mention the costs this bill imposes, both to individuals and to the body politic, which have been revised upward continually since the passage of the bill. And the bill fails to achieve even its basic objective, which is to ensure that the poor and low-paid have access to affordable, customised insurance and care.

Is it any wonder that a significant number of Americans are horrified and disgusted by it?

All of this is a far cry from, ‘Hey, you all voted for him, he did what he said he’d do, so what’s the big problem?’

Finally, you assert that les Americains sont fous because ‘their media and overall educational standards are so lacking in substance.’ This is, basically, not true. Unless by ‘their media’ you mean Fox News, and by ‘their overall educational standards’ you mean ‘those five schools in Kansas where they teach intelligent design.’

Or perhaps you just mean the rednecks, Tea Partiers, and Christians are poorly educated. Maybe you can confirm or deny.

What I don’t understand is why you are displaying so much contempt for a bunch of people who, for the most part, share your opinions. These are people who didn’t vote for Obama (as presumably you wouldn’t have, did you have the opportunity) and who loathe what he stands for and what he’s supported as president. Sure, some of them have authoritarian tendencies, but they’re with you on at least 50% of stuff. If you were in their position, wouldn’t you be angry? They didn’t want him, they didn’t vote for him, and his presidency is riding roughshod over their cherished conception of what the United States is.

I never expected you to take this position, I must say. That you would present Americans who disagree with their president and his Congress, and who display that disagreement with words, ideas, and peaceful legitimate protests, as ‘wild, irrational…mad and retarded’ comes as a great surprise to me.

And a serious disappointment.

UPDATE: JD rebuts here.

May 062010
 

Dear Election Fairy,

I have been a very good girl this year. If you could see your way clear to rewarding this, I would be most grateful. I have only three election wishes.

1. That Ed Balls should lose his seat.

2. That Nigel Farage should defeat John Bercow.

3. That Old Holborn should win in Cambridge.

And, Election Fairy, if you are feeling particularly generous and it’s not too much trouble, one further thing: Phil Woolas should suffer.

With many thanks,
Bella.

Jan 072010
 

H.R 808 The ‘Shining City on a Hill with Cuddly Puppies and Unicorns’ Bill is still in committee.

After routing its way through Foreign Affairs and Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, the bill is now being considered by the sub-committee for Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.

You may wonder why the education sub-committee had its furry little paws all over this piece of bogroll; if so, recall that one of its provisions is the establishment of a ‘peace education curriculum’ and a Peace Academy under a special Office of Peace Education and Training.

Every time I glance through this bill, I see something new to horrify me. On my last reading, I somehow managed to miss out on Section 110, Office of Human Rights and Economic Rights. On the ‘human rights’ side, this would somehow involve upholding and promoting the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights. On the ‘economic rights’ side, the secretary of this office would be required to:

(5) conduct economic analyses of the scarcity of human and natural resources as a source of conflict and make recommendations to the Secretary for nonviolent prevention of such scarcity, nonviolent intervention in case of such scarcity, and the development of programs to assist people facing such scarcity, whether due to armed conflict, maldistribution of resources, or natural causes;

(6) assist the Secretary, in cooperation with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of the Treasury, in developing strategies regarding the sustainability and the management of the distribution of funds from international agencies, the conditions regarding the receipt of such funds, and the impact of those conditions on the peace and stability of the recipient nations;

(7) assist the Secretary, in cooperation with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Labor, in developing strategies to promote full compliance with domestic and international labor rights law;

…which is basically international redistribution writ large.

The other piece of insanity I noticed for the first time this evening is the appropriation:

There is authorized to be appropriated to carry out this Act for a fiscal year beginning after the date of the enactment of this Act $10,000,000,000 for each fiscal year. Of the amounts appropriated pursuant to such authorization, at least 85 percent shall be used for domestic peace programs, including administrative costs associated with such programs.

Ten billion squeed a year! Obviously this is but a drop in the bucket compared to the US budget as a whole, but $10 billion is still a lot of money. For purposes of comparison, an American earning $25,000 per year (which, keep in mind, is lower than the median wage in the US) would have to work for 400,000 YEARS to earn ten billion squeed. That’s, like, longer than homo sapiens has existed.

On the other hand, that same American, could he live so long, would get to experience the joys of Peace Day 400,000 times:

The Secretary shall encourage citizens to observe and celebrate the blessings of peace and endeavor to create peace on a Peace Day. Such day shall include discussions of the professional activities and the achievements in the lives of peacemakers.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. Ah, if only $10 billion a year and sponsoring this bill could make one divine!

Alas for Dennis Kucinich, for it is indeed he whose brainchild this is, this bill will not make him a child of God, because it is an abomination unto reasonable people everywhere. I wonder if he ponders the irony of using the coercive power of the overbearing state to fund and promote what is supposed to be the most non-coercive principle on earth.

Nov 192009
 

There seems to be an awful lot in the news at the moment about the war in Afghanistan, along with the usual will-we-or-won’t-we tussle over Iran’s wanting to arm itself.

But there’s very little about the war in Iraq. Is the war in Iraq over? Did we win, and Iraq is as I type approaching peace, if not well-oiled then at least functional? Or did we lose, and the long dark night of tribal civil war has descended on Mesopotamia?

Either way, why isn’t anybody talking about it?

And if the war isn’t, in fact, over – why isn’t anybody talking about it?

Sep 252009
 

Being a politician must be so hard sometimes. Sandwiched between three mutually exclusive needs – to promote himself, to cover his ass, and to appear to be a normal human – any successful office-holder will, from time to time, find himself forced to make statements of extremely dubious morality, not to mention crass stupidity:

The paper quotes the mole as saying: “It’s not easy to watch footage on the television news of a coffin draped in a Union Jack and then come in to work the next day and see on your computer screen what MPs are taking for themselves.”

The mole claimed the contrast between conditions facing soldiers and the MPs’ claims “helped tip the balance in the decision over whether I should or should not leak the expenses data”.

Asked on Sky News if he understood the motivation for the expenses leak, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: “I don’t think so.”

What’s happened to you, Gordon? Did somebody polarise your moral compass to point south? Or do you truly not understand why somebody might feel morally obliged to expose how the nation’s representatives were busy enriching themselves at the expense of the lives of the nation’s defenders?

Hey, though, at least the soldiers have helmets, boots, and socks. What more could they possibly need? Never mind that, by your own admission, the taxpayers’ cash you spent on refurbishing your kitchen could have equipped two extra soldiers – or given nine of them a £1000 pay rise. But where’s the point in that, right? The more of them who die from lack of equipment, the fewer you have to pay for, making the pot of money available to you that little bit bigger.

May 292009
 

ZOMG, it’s like Israel is Darth Vader and the US is Emperor Palpatine! Only not at the beginning, when he was our loyal slave, but at the end, when the disloyal fucker is about to stab us in the back.

Actually, that’s not a metaphor that works well at all. But goodness – I really, really, truly thought Hillary and Barack would be uniters, not dividers, and that once they put their totally reasonable arguments to the Israelis and the Palestineans, everybody would see that carrying on fighting was really silly and settle down for a shared meal of milk and honey.

I feel so… disillusioned…

May 062009
 

It’s squillions for the price of one internet connection over on the list of bills currently before the US House Judiciary Committee. There’s some fascinatingly weird stuff in there.

However, Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) wins the biscuit with H.R. 808, the Department of Peace Act.

After a load of waffling on about the great American tradition of peace (wtf? – ed.), the bloody thing kicks off with:

We are in a new millennium, and the time has come to review age-old challenges with new thinking wherein we can conceive of peace as not simply being the absence of violence, but the active presence of the capacity for a higher evolution of the human awareness, of respect, trust, and integrity; wherein we all may tap the infinite capabilities of humanity to transform consciousness and conditions which impel or compel violence at a personal, group, or national level toward developing a new understanding of, and a commitment to, compassion and love, in order to create a ‘shining city on a hill’, the light of which is the light of nations.

Yeah, okay. This sort of cheap-pulpit rhetoric does not belong in a piece of official legislation.

And what, you ask, will this Department of Peace do?

(a) Establishment- There is hereby established a Department of Peace (hereinafter in this Act referred to as the ‘Department’), which shall–

(1) be a cabinet-level department in the executive branch of the Government; and

(2) be dedicated to peacemaking and the study of conditions that are conducive to both domestic and international peace.

If I force my brain through massive self-deception to ignore the heavy, in fact wholly unsubtle, Orwellian connotations of this bill – and even if I approach the idea of ‘peacemaking’ as a worthwhile endeavour on a federal scale – still I can see and hear nothing but (a) the laughter of the rest of the world as life imitates art, and (b) the ever-higher-licking flames of yet more piles of dollars burning on the altar of government expansion.

I mean, a new Cabinet department? Is Dennis on crack? Look what happened that last time we allowed that! Or am I wrong in thinking that the department of Homeland Security has not been a staggering success?

But allow me to suggest you read the full text for yourself. There’s some real gold in there: apparently animal welfare will fall within the Secretary of Peace’s purview, as will twinning US cities with places all over the world ‘for artistic, cultural, economic, educational, and faith-based exchanges.’

I think this bill needs renaming. It ought to be H.R. 808 The ‘Please, Jesus, Come Back and Make the World Happy’ Act of 2009.

UPDATE: Oh my… It gets even more sinister. This clause:

(7) create and establish a Peace Academy, which shall–

(A) be modeled after the military service academies; and

(B) provide a 4-year course of instruction in peace education, after which graduates will be required to serve 5 years in public service in programs dedicated to domestic or international nonviolent conflict resolution

is just the creepy precursor to this insanity:

SEC. 104. OFFICE OF PEACE EDUCATION AND TRAINING.

(a) In General- There shall be in the Department an Office of Peace Education and Training, the head of which shall be the Assistant Secretary for Peace Education and Training. The Assistant Secretary for Peace Education and Training shall carry out those functions of the Department relating to the creation, encouragement, and impact of peace education and training at the elementary, secondary, university, and postgraduate levels, including the development of a Peace Academy.

(b) Peace Curriculum- The Assistant Secretary of Peace Education and Training, in cooperation with the Secretary of Education, shall support the dissemination and development of effective peace curricula and supporting materials for distribution to departments of education in each State and territory of the United States. The peace curriculum shall include the building of communicative peace skills, nonviolent conflict resolution skills, and other objectives to increase the knowledge of peace processes.

My hackles just don’t go any higher. Perhaps I have slipped into a late-night hallucinatory state, and this will all turn out to be a hideous figment of my imagination. I hope the HJC have enough sense to drown this bill like a sack of unwanted kittens.

[shivers with dread]