Archive | June, 2008

You Need Some Blood On That Résumé

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

So the pundits (including people who are usually smarter) are howling because Wesley Clark made what ought to be a patently obvious and uncontroversial observation: “I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.” This, apparently, amounts to “belittling” McCain’s war record.

John McCain Huh? Even for those who regard McCain’s war record as a valuable achievement, how is it “belittling” one achievement to point out that it’s not a relevant qualification for another achievement? Would you agree to be operated on by someone whose sole qualification is that he can speak fourteen languages? Or would you accept as a translator, for your visit to the headhunters of the Amazon, someone who could boast only surgical proficiency? And if not, are you “belittling” linguistic competency (or, in the second case, medical skill)?

Thomas Jefferson once silenced a proponent of hereditary monarchy by suggesting that the professorship of mathematics might also be made hereditary. Ah, why not make military service the basis for the professorship of mathematics too? How does combat experience qualify anyone to be president (assuming counterfactually that someone could be qualified to be president)? Does McCain run the risk of being kidnapped and tortured by Nancy Pelosi? Or will he need to bomb the Supreme Court?

So anyway, tonight Clark goes on Dan Abrams’ show and falls all over himself to assure us that nobody denies that McCain is a war hero. Well, I deny it. McCain was a serial killer in what by his own virtual admission was an unjust war. Heroism this is not.

Marriage Catch-22

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

A friend sends me a link to this story about several counties in California responding to the recent legalisation of same-sex marriage by refusing to perform any marriage ceremonies at all, whether same-sex or hetero. My friend asks whether this is a positive or negative development from a libertarian standpoint; although the motive may be homophobic, isn’t this policy a step in the right direction, i.e., toward getting the state out of the business of defining and regulating marriage, leaving it to private contract and custom?

gay Simpsons marriage Well, I think it’s a mixed bag. Recent events have actually gotten the separation of state and marriage onto the table in broader-than-libertarian circles, which is surely a good thing even if some of the motives are questionable. But under present circumstances, county governments refusing to perform marriages has a serious downside.

As things stand, the state imposes a variety of legal burdens on unmarried couples from which married couples are exempt; these range from higher taxes to restrictions on inheritance, refusal of right to make medical decisions on a partner’s behalf, and, in the case of citizen/alien couples, liability to deportation for the alien. In this context, when one branch of the state, charged with providing the only legal means of avoiding certain forms of aggression imposed by another branch of the state, refuses to provide those means, it arguably becomes an accessory to the aggression – while still collecting salary from the taxes of the victims, to boot. Now if county employees wish to resign their tax-funded jobs, that’s another matter. But in the meantime, it’s as though my henchman Sluggo says he’s going to rob you unless my other henchman Thuggo says not to, while Thuggo remains silent (and collects his share of the take).

Incidentally, another friend who’s doing academic research on marriage asks me for citations to articles (preferably though not necessarily in academic journals) by “prominent libertarians” who argue that the state should stay out of marriage. Any suggestions? (So far all my friend has found is Jennifer Roback Morse’s argument that a libertarian state should not permit divorce! For the honour of libertarianism we must do better.)

Abolition Past and Future

For thousands of years, slavery went unchallenged in principle. Then in a single century, slavery was abolished and more than seven million slaves were freed. The scope and speed of this transformation makes it one of the most amazing feats in modern history.
– blurb for Jim Powell, Greatest Emancipations: How the West Abolished Slavery

I haven’t read Powell’s book, but this quotation (along with the fact that, in most of the western world, abolition was accomplished without much violence, the American South being an outlier) should give today’s abolitionists reason for hope whenever the task of doing away with the state seems overwhelming.

Free Abortion Online!

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

The four published articles of mine that people most frequently request copies of are: “Abortion, Abandonment, and Positive Rights,” “Immanent Liberalism,” “Toward a Libertarian Theory of Class,” and “The Irrelevance of Responsibility.” So I’ve begun putting them online. The abortion one is up now; the other three to follow soon.

Vincent H. Miller R.I.P.

Vince Miller [cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

How sad to hear that Vince Miller has died. Vince, founder of ISIL (I still prefer the original name, Libertarian International), was a tireless champion of radical libertarianism.

I have pleasant memories of Vince, whom I first met at ISIL’s 1997 conference in Rome (one of my favourite trips ever); I last saw him at the Advocates for Self-Government 20th anniversary conference in Atlanta three years ago.


[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

As a number of left-libertarians have noted, both “capitalism” and “socialism” are ambiguous terms, bound up with various sorts of confusions. (That’s one reason I try to avoid using them, at least without some sort of qualifying prefixes, adjectives, or scare-quotes. Incidentally, I’m pleased to see that one of my own discussions of this problem is featured – for now – on Wikipedia’s Issues in Anarchism page.) But there’s one definition of the word “capitalism” that might seem perfectly straightforward and unambiguous. Yet actually I think it is no such thing.

Lenin and Trotsky The definition I have in mind is: private ownership of the means of production (henceforth pootmop). One thing that most libertarians in the so-called “capitalist” tradition don’t realise (it took me years to realise it) is that when most socialists hear or use this phrase they take it to imply, by definition, the ownership of the means of production by people other than the workers who do the producing – so that a society in which most firms are worker-owned co-ops would not count, in their eyes, as one characterised by pootmop.

This of course is not at all what “capitalist” libertarians take the phrase to mean; although they may tend to assume the traditional hiring-of-labour as the paradigm or default instance of pootmop, a society of worker-owned co-ops – whether or not “capitalist” libertarians would find such a system likely or desirable – would be a perfectly acceptable instance of pootmop. To “capitalist” libertarians, pootmop contrasts not with worker-owned co-ops but with the ownership of the means of production either by the state or by society at large.

Now there are, to be sure, many “socialist” advocates of worker control who envision such control as being exercised either via the state (e.g., Marx, at least in the short run) or via society at large (e.g., Kropotkin). But there are a good many “socialists,” particularly in the anarchist tradition, who favour something like decentralised, bottom-up networks of autonomous local workers’ co-ops – which would count as pootmop by some standards and not others.

A problem for mutual communication between the “capitalist” and “socialist” libertarians, then, is that one group hears the phrase “private ownership of the means of production” and thinks, “ah yes, producers getting to keep what they produce,” and the other group hears the same phrase and thinks, “ah yes, producers not being allowed to keep what they produce.” My advice to both groups, then, is: try not to use this phrase without explaining it, and don’t automatically assume you know what others mean by the phrase when they use it.

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