Ron Paul is helping cops get stronger armor.
Hey, whose side is he on anyway?
Ron Paul is helping cops get stronger armor.
Hey, whose side is he on anyway?
[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
In a post about a month ago, I asked why (many of) Ron Paul’s supporters regard opposition to Paul on the basis of Paul’s views on, e.g., abortion and immigration as misguided, yet would not regard opposition to a hypothetical Randy Barnett candidacy on the basis of Barnett’s views on, e.g. federalism and war as misguided.
My friend Walter Block (whose views on abortion and immigration are, incidentally, closer to mine than to Paul’s) has recently offered an answer to my question. I quote from his answer, interspersing my comments:
First, as stated above, immigration and abortion are unsettled issues amongst libertarians.
True, but so are federalism and war. In any case, why does it matter whether these issues are settled or not? It matters what the correct libertarian position on some issue is; it also matters how important deviations from that position are. But neither of those considerations correlates particularly closely with which issues have achieved a consensus among libertarians and which ones haven’t.
We have to be able to tolerate some degree of uncertainty, of ambiguity, in our perspective.
I’m not sure what that means.
I defy Roderick Long or anyone else for that matter to cite acknowledged leaders of our intellectual movement, such as Rothbard, Hoppe and Kinsella, who favor the U.S. role in the Iraq war.
Well, “acknowledged” by whom? Randy Barnett would ordinarily, I think, be considered one of the intellectual leaders of the libertarian movement. Evidently Walter does not so acknowledge him. But in any case, what does it matter whether a position is or is not held by some “acknowledged leader” of the movement? That seems like an argument from authority (or maybe an argument from absence-of-authority). There was a time when the overwhelming majority of libertarian intellectual leaders rejected anarchism, embraced intellectual property rights, etc. Which proves what?
Second, the issue of what is a threat, what is coercion, is very central to libertarianism, and relatively straightforward. According to that old joke, if you can’t tell the difference between a living room and a bathroom, then “don’t come to my house.” If you can’t tell the difference between aggression and defense, then don’t get into political economy.
But all disputes over the interpretation and/or application of libertarian principles turn on “telling the difference between aggression and defense.” In libertarian disputes over abortion and immigration, no less than in libertarian disputes over foreign policy, each side accuses the other of confusing aggression and defense.
Randy Barnett fails this test dismally, while Ron Paul passes with flying colors. Indeed, to place the two of them in the same sentence in this regard is highly problematic. What can we say about anyone who seriously maintains that the U.S. invasion is justified on grounds of defense against attack from Iraqis? At the very least, it cannot be seriously maintained that they are libertarians at all in any meaningful sense.
I agree that in the case of the war, Randy (IMHO) confuses aggression with defense – just as I think that in the case of abortion and immigration, Paul (again IMHO) confuses aggression with defense. But given that they both draw the distinction correctly in the vast majority of cases, I have no problem saying that they are both libertarians. (Which by itself, I should add, doesn’t settle the question of whether either’s candidacy would be worthy of support. How much of a deviation makes a candidate unworthy of support and how much of a deviation makes a candidate no longer count as a libertarian seem to me different questions.)
In sharp contrast, abortion and immigration are highly complex issues, as the voluminous scholarly literature on them eloquently attests.
I agree that abortion and immigration are complex issues, though I think foreign policy is too. (And it’s not as though there isn’t a “voluminous scholarly literature” on the justice of war as well.) But I can’t see how the complexity of an issue matters to this debate. Is Walter assuming that how important, how seriously bad, a deviation from correct libertarian principle is, is inversely correlated with how complex the argument for its being a deviation is? I don’t see why that should be so.
Nor are they at all at the very core of our libertarian philosophy; rather, they are implications of it.
Here Walter seems to slide from opposition to aggression’s being central to libertarianism, to war’s counting as aggression being central to libertarianism. But why wouldn’t it be just as justifiable (or just as unjustifiable) to slide from opposition to aggression’s being central to libertarianism, to restrictions on abortion or immigration counting as aggression being central to libertarianism? What’s the difference?
Elsewhere in his article Walter elaborates on his remark on libertarian authorities:
[W]hen expert libertarian philosophers disagree with each other, it is a bit much to declare either side anti- or non-libertarian. It is therefore highly improper to castigate Dr. Paul for taking a position on immigration and abortion incompatible with libertarianism ….
Perhaps an analogy may be of use in this context. When physicists are not of one mind on a problem (is matter a wave or a particle) it is altogether too harsh to castigate an engineer from taking either side.
Of course, Walter’s use of this argument depends on a choice of which people will be regarded as authorities. Walter himself is certainly willing to castigate people who agree with Randy about the war – because he does not regard Randy as a libertarian expert. But isn’t there a danger of circularity here? Randy, despite what are surely prima facie credentials for inclusion, is excluded from the ranks of libertarian experts because of his position on the war – and deviation on that issue is grounds for expulsion from the ranks of libertarian experts because it’s not an area where libertarian experts disagree!
In any case, surely the relevant question is not whether Ron Paul (or Randy Barnett for that matter) is to be castigated for his deviations. Talk of “castigation” suggests that what’s at issue is whether a given deviation is, as it were, epistemically innocent or epistemically blameworthy – whether it was arrived at by culpable evasion or honest mistake. But again, it sounds to me as though Walter is assuming that how seriously bad a deviation is, must be reliably correlated with how intellectually culpable someone is for arriving at it; and that’s far from obvious to me. After all, I think there are plenty of reasonable, intelligent, well-intentioned non-libertarians (benighted souls though they be); so I have no problem granting that there are likewise plenty of reasonable, intelligent, well-intentioned “deviationist” libertarians. The question is not whether Paul’s deviations are grounds for castigating the poor guy (who I’m happy to stipulate is as intellectually conscientious as a summer day in Reykjavik is long) but whether they are grounds for declining to vote for him and/or support his candidacy. (For what it’s worth, I don’t think there are decisive reasons either for or against libertarian support for Ron Paul’s candidacy per se, though there may well be decisive reasons for particular libertarians to support or to oppose it; I’ll explain what I mean in a future post.)
In a comment on my earlier post, my friend David Gordon offers an argument similar (though not identical) to Walter’s, so I’ll quote it here too:
Some positions, e.g., support for conscription, can’t be defended as libertarian; someone who favors conscription can still count as a libertarian, though, if he holds a sufficient number of other libertarian views.
Thus far I think David may actually disagree with Walter, in that by David’s criterion here Randy would certainly have to count as a libertarian.
I think, though, that there are important issues, e.g., abortion and immigration, in which libertarian principles don’t mandate a single position as the only permissible libertarian one. There may well be, on these issues, a single best interpretation of what libertarianism requires; but we can’t say that anyone who adopts a different view is to that extent unlibertarian.
That’s the part where David seems to be taking a position similar to Walter’s. I’m not sure, though, that I understand David’s distinction between a position that deviates from libertarian principle and a position that deviates from the “single best interpretation” of libertarian principle. If a position deviates from the single best interpretation of libertarian principle, why isn’t that a way of deviating from libertarian principle?
Incidentally, I haven’t forgotten my promise to say more about the David Gordon / Charles Johnson debate. Coming soon!
I made these notes for a blog post a few weeks back and forgot to post them; I forget how many debates ago this was. But for what it’s worth:
Finally saw the most recent Repub debate in rerun. A few random comments:
1. I was glad to see that Paul focused on substantive rather than merely constitutional arguments this time; and I thought his answer to the conspiracy question was pretty good (in the strategic sense that it was so worded as to avoid annoying either believers or disbelievers in conspiracy theories).
2. Thank goodness for McCain, because his two attacks on Paul forced the moderator to let Paul respond, and so got some sanity injected into the foreign policy debate. But what an ass McCain is. When he gave Paul that “message from the troops,” I suspect maybe he actually didn’t know that Paul gets the highest support from the military – because if he had known, would he have been so foolish as to make a remark that would guarantee that Paul would get both an excuse and a chance to mention that fact?
As for isolationism making Hitler’s rise to power possible, isn’t it even the conventional wisdom that World War I was what made Hitler’s rise to power possible? (And anyway, is he suggesting that America should have invaded Germany as soon as Hitler was made chancellor? Or what?)
As for McCain’s remark that the U.S. never lost a battle in Vietnam, I doubt that the DEA has ever lost a shootout with drug dealers either. Does that mean the DEA is winning the “war on drugs”?
3. Giuliani, criticising Romney, oozed from the premise that some categories of crime rose and others fell during Romney’s tenure as governor to the conclusion that Romney succeeded in fighting some forms of crime and failed in fighting others. Post hoc, anyone? I mean, I can’t help noticing that the incidence of terrorism-related deaths in New York City was much higher during Giuliani’s tenure as mayor than during those of his predecessors’ ….
4. Duncan Hunter’s argument for not allowing gays in the military was that most soldiers are social conservatives and shouldn’t have to serve with people they disapprove of. I wish someone had asked him why this wouldn’t have been an equally good argument, back in the day, against racial integration in the military.
5. Huckabee talked about all the benefits that came to us from the government-funded space program. As a wise Frenchman would have pointed out: Those benefits are what is seen; the benefits that would have been produced if that money had been left in private hands are what is not seen.
6. Huckabee had all the funniest lines, but they weren’t usually intended as funny. For example, he said he wants to be part of a Republican Party that “touches every American from top to bottom.” (Hands off, buster!) Also, one of the Huckabee ads showed a clip of him saying something like: “We believe in some things! We stand by those things! We live and die by those things!” Okay, so maybe in context this generic profession of dedication to unspecified principles sounded less silly. But it was Huckabee’s own ad that gave it to us out of context.
7. Several of the candidates seemed uncomfortable about admitting that they didn’t believe every word (I suppose they really meant every sentence) of the Bible literally. (Huckabee bravely defended the controversial view that “The Bible is what it is,” presumably against all those who maintain that the Bible is not what it is.) I’d think it should be easy enough to answer this question. There are a number of cases in the Bible where someone interprets some saying of Jesus’s literally, and he himself explains that the saying is to be interpreted metaphorically. For example:
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?
Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. (John 3:3-7)
In the meanwhile his disciples prayed him, saying, Master, eat.
But he said unto them, I have meat to eat that ye know not of.
Therefore said the disciples one to another, Hath any man brought him aught to eat?
Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work. (John 4:31-34)
If Jesus himself says it’s okay not to interpret his words literally, what’s the problem?
8. Romney, criticising Huckabee for supporting tax-funded academic scholarships for illegal aliens, said something like: “You remind me of the liberals I argue with in Massachusetts. I understand that you thought you were using this money for a good cause. But it’s not your money.”
Gee, that’s a good point. Taking people’s property against their will in order to spend it on academic scholarships for illegal aliens seems a lot like theft.
Thank goodness it’s not theft if you take people’s property against their will in order to spend it on something else!
Well, okay, I think I know how Romney would respond. He’d say there’s a difference between taxing American citizens to spend money on programs for American citizens, and taxing American citizens to spend money on programs for non-citizens. But there are three problems with this response:
a. This is collectivist thinking; such a response apparently assumes that taxing some citizens in order to benefit other citizens counts as taxing some American collectivity in order to benefit itself. This is what Rawls and Nozick identified as ignoring the distinctness of persons.
b. Even leaving aside the distinctness of persons, taxing a person in order to benefit that person still doesn’t escape the “it’s not your money” objection. If I steal your money and then buy you a big bag of cookies with it, it’s still theft. Even if you like the cookies.
c. And even leaving aside both these latter objections, and granting for the sake of argument that it’s okay to tax people so long as the benefits go to people in the same group as the people taxed, it’s not as though illegal aliens don’t pay taxes. They pay some taxes directly (sales taxes, for example) and many taxes indirectly; plus hidden taxes like inflation hit them as hard as anyone. And as for the taxes they don’t pay directly, like income taxes, many citizens don’t pay those either – so the citizen/alien distinction doesn’t really help much here.