Author Archive | Roderick

Ron Paul in the Debates, Part 3

Once again, summaries (paraphrases, not exact quotes) of Ron Paul’s answers from tonight’s debate.

Introduce yourself briefly.

I’m a Congressman from Texas in my 10th term; I’m the champion of the Constitution.

How soon should we leave Iraq?

Ron Paul The sooner we leave, the better; it was a mistake to go in and it’s a mistake to stay; if you get the diagnosis wrong you should change the treatment. We’re not making progress; there were no weapons of mass destruction; we went in under a UN resolution and not because we were threatened; we’re more threatened by staying than by leaving.

You voted for the bill calling for a 700-mile fence between the U.S. and Mexico. Do we need a similar fence for Canada?

No, and anyway the fence was the least of my reasons for voting for that bill. Border security and enforcing the law are important. I’m against amnesty. If you subsidise something, you get more of it. We subsidise illegal immigration with amnesty, birthright citizenship, and publicly-fund education and health care. We do need immigrant workers, but if we had a genuine free market they wouldn’t be the scapegoat.

If you think English should not be the official language, raise your hand.

Paul didn’t. [I’d like to ask Paul where in the Constitution it says we should have an official language. – RTL]

As a former Libertarian candidate, how do you view issues of church and state?

The First Amendment says Congress shall make no law. We shouldn’t have laws made at the Federal level; leave it to local people, local officials, the state level. We don’t have perfect knowledge and shouldn’t have some central authority in Washington telling us all what to do and imposing a one-size-fits-all solution on everybody and ruining things for the whole country, as in Roe v. Wade.

In 2005 President Bush signed an energy bill giving tax breaks and subsidies to oil companies; at a time when they’re making record profits is this appropriate?

The profits as such aren’t the issue; they would be fine if they were earned in the free market. I object to their receiving subsidies and R&D money. But any discussion of energy policy has to deal with foreign policy; we’re fighting in the Middle East, we overthrew Mossadegh in Iran, because we succumb to the temptation to protect the interest of the oil industry.

Should the military’s policy on gays be changed?

I think the current policy is a decent one. The real problem is that we see people as groups instead of individuals. We don’t have rights as gays or women or minorities; we receive our rights from our Creator as individuals. If homosexual behaviour in the military is disruptive it should be dealt with; but if heterosexual behaviour in the military is disruptive it should be dealt with too. Apply the same standards to everybody.

If you think gays should be able to serve openly in the military, raise your hand.

Paul didn’t. [Why doesn’t this contradict what he just said above? – RTL]

Would you pardon Scooter Libby?

No. [Candidates were asked to stick to one-word answers. This didn’t stop Giuliani from blathering on forever. – RTL]

My brother died in Iraq. What can you tell me?

We’ve been doing this for four years and it’s not working. We’re losing 100 men and women a month, over 1000 a year. If we want the Iraqis to take up the responsibility, we need to give them an incentive. We should stop patrolling the streets; that’s a job for the police, not for the army. Yes, we should promote our goodness overseas, but through setting an example and encouraging emulation, not through the barrel of a gun and through armed force as the neocons believe. Woodrow Wilson also told us we could promote democracy that way; we’ve seen that it doesn’t work.

What is today’s most pressing moral issue?

The recent acceptance of the promotion of preemptive war. In the past we declared war in defense of our liberty or to aid someone. We’ve now rejected the just war theory of Christianity; and tonight we even hear candidates who are not even willing to rule out a preemptive nuclear strike against a country that has done us no harm. We should defend our liberties and rights, but not try to change the world by armed force, by starting wars.

What has the Republican administration done most wrong?

Bush ran on a platform of a humble foreign policy, no nation-building, not policing the world. Instead we’re spending a trillion dollars a year to maintain the power of our empire around the world. We need that money for education and medical care here.

How can the GOP reach out to disaffected moderate Republicans?

(Almost everyone got to answer this question, but not Paul.)

P.S. Having grumped earlier about Jon Stewart’s dissing of Ron Paul, I owe Stewart a nod for his excellent interview with Paul last night.


JLS 21.1: What Lies Within?

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

The latest issue (21.1) of the Journal of Libertarian Studies offers a symposium on the topic “Market Anarchism: Pro and Con,” featuring Nozick and Rothbard Eric Roark vs. Robert Nozick on whether a dominant protection agency can justly evolve into a state, Randall Holcombe vs. Walter Block on whether the state is inevitable, Walter Block vs. Tibor Machan on whether government is essentially coercive, and Jordan Schneider vs. myself on whether the market can provide objective law.

Read a fuller summary of 21.1’s contents here.

Read summaries of previous issues under my editorship here.

Read back issues online here.

Subscribe here.


Do Not Overestimate the Power of the Dark Side

Have you noticed how, when a good character is temporarily turned evil via magic or alien science or what have you, he or she generally tends to become much more self-confident? And so it is in Spider-man 3, which I finally saw last night.

Spider-man This frequent association of evil with self-confidence suggests some deep confusion of values; and those who accept it thereby become susceptible, I fear, to one of two temptations: either to renounce self-confidence (in order to avoid being evil) or to embrace evil (in order to hold on to self-confidence). Such a perspective contrasts with the more salutary Platonic-Aristotelean-Thomistic understanding of evil as a lack, an absence, a falling short, a descent into weakness and inefficacy.

Even Tolkien seems to succumbs to the prevailing notion when he says of Frodo, at the moment when Frodo finally succumbs to the temptation of the Ring: “Then Frodo stirred and spoke with a clear voice, indeed with a voice clearer and more powerful than Sam had ever heard him use ….” I say “even” because Tolkien generally holds the opposite view: his heroes tend to grow more forceful with time, while his villains, corrupted by their own evil, become weaker and slimier. (That’s one reason I prefer the book version to the movie version of Saruman’s end; the movie gives him a grandiose ending befitting a grandiose villain, while the book reduces him to a sordid con man before finishing him off in a back alley.) And I say “seems” because the Ring is not really strengthening or liberating Frodo, though it offers the illusion of strength and liberation, like the Biblical serpent’s promise that “you shall be as gods.”

Rand, like Tolkien, expressed a Platonic-Aristotelean-Thomistic understanding of evil when she wrote in We the Living that our true enemy is not “a tall warrior in a steel helmet, a human dragon spitting fire,” but rather “[l]ittle puny things that wiggle,” or again in The Fountainhead that “men had been so mistaken about the shapes of their Devil – he was not single and big, he was many and smutty and small.” And I’ve blogged previously about Rand’s observation of the tendency of writers to smuggle the forbidden “fire of self-assertiveness” into their works in the form of the “fascinating villain or colorful rogue, who steals the story.”

Incidentally, one of the great benefits of Peikoff’s Ominous Parallels, for all it faults, lies in the way it undermines the popular (and dangerously seductive) image of the Nazis as, in effect, human dragons spitting fire, and reveals them instead as the puny wiggling things they were.


Caning Darwin

[cross posted at Liberty & Power]

Joseph Sobran suggests (conical hat tip to LRC) that people’s willingness to help or praise others refutes Darwinism and atheism, and defies Randian egoism. Let’s take these in turn.

Charles Darwin Darwinism: Sobran seems to imagine that if Darwinism were true, people would be interested solely in their own narrow survival and would have no genuine concern for others. This is wrong on two different levels.

First, Sobran mistakenly assumes that Darwinism commits us to holding that all our mental contents, all our beliefs and desires, are there solely because they promote survival. Yet Darwinism implies nothing of the kind. Natural selection explains our possession of various capacities for learning, choosing, being influenced; but natural selection by itself does not guarantee that these capacities will be exercised solely in survival-conducing ways. How could it? My belief that 666 is the square root of 443556 isn’t there because that belief has survival value; there may be cases where it would, but I doubt that it ever has. Instead my belief that 666 is the square root of 443556 is the product of a general capacity to figure things out (i.e., reason), and that capacity has survival value.

Second, even if Darwinism did imply that all our mental contents are directly explainable by natural selection, it still wouldn’t follow that we should be surprised at the existence of genuine other-concern. Suppose (and this does not seem to be an especially heroic assumption) that creatures who are inclined to cooperate with one another are more likely on average to survive than those who aren’t. What more does one need by way of an evolutionary explanation? Has Sobran never read Spencer? Or Darwin himself?

Sobran thinks it should be a puzzle for the Darwinian why human beings express varieties of concern that other animals lack. But he himself offers the answer: reason. And as I noted above, this is a perfectly Darwinian-compatible explanation.

The weirdest section of Sobran’s article comes when he suggests that “killing your own children” (this is Sobran’s tendentious description of abortion; he seems to have forgotten that before a woman has given birth she has no “children”) “makes some sort of sense from an atheistic and Darwinian point of view,” since “[i]f survival is a ruthless competition, your kids are your competitors.” Um, Darwinian natural selection promotes traits that enhance the likelihood of reproduction; survival is selected for only insofar as it promotes reproduction. (Of course we can outwit natural selection, and a good thing too; the view, mysteriously popular among many religious conservatives, that we should bow to the purposes of our genes surely contradicts Genesis 1:26.)

Atheism: I was initially puzzled as to how Sobran’s argument was supposed to be relevant to atheism, until I realized that he is treating atheism and Darwinism as equivalents. But they aren’t. One can be a Darwinian without being an atheist (for this we have the assurance of no less an authority than Pope John Paul II), and one can likewise be an atheist without being a Darwinian (as all atheists were, prior to the 19th century, and as many have been since).

Randian egoism: Sobran treats Randian egoism as though it counseled against genuine concern for others. But Randian egoism says no such thing; its conception of self-interest is modeled on Aristotelean eudaimonia, and most definitely includes various forms of other-concern. There is a dispute in Randian circles as to whether such concern is related causally or constitutively to self-interest; but such concern remains genuine in either case. Egoism is a doctrine of the ground of our legitimate concerns, not of their scope. If egoism is Sobran’s basis for rejecting Rand, he should reject Thomas Aquinas for the same reason.


The Wild Abyss

I’m a big fan of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, which has been called the “anti-Christian answer to Narnia.” (Though I’m a big fan of Narnia too. Knee-jerk pro-Christian attitudes and knee-jerk anti-Christian attitudes are both impediments to literary enjoyment, among other things.) It has also inevitably been compared with the Harry Potter series, though IMHO it’s much better written.

Lyra Belacqua and friend The books (mainly a trilogy, though there’s a fourth book of sorts, and rumors of a fifth on the way) take place in a parallel universe in which everyone’s soul is externalised in animal form (think “familiars”), and follows the adventures of a girl who may hold the secret to … well, it’s a long and complicated story, involving witches, gypsies, balloons, trepanning, talking bears, homosexual angels, human sacrifice, the rooftops of Oxford, holes in the fabric of reality, the I Ching, original sin, mental illness, the afterlife, lapsed nuns, Neanderthal skeletons, a frail and senile Jehovah, and a substance called “dust” which bears some resemblance both to the “dark matter” of contemporary physics and to the Jain version of karma. (Some plot points seem borrowed from Steven Brust’s To Reign in Hell.)

The theme of the series is the interplay between what Blake called “innocence” and “experience,” and the danger of overvaluing the former at the expense of the latter. At the end of the day I’m not sure that Pullman offers a coherent account of these two concepts, or that the ethical outlook of the third book can be reconciled with that of the first two, but the books are terrific nonetheless. The series is marketed as children’s fiction, but there’s nothing essentially juvenile about it.

The title comes from these lines of Milton’s:

Blake's Satan Into this wild Abyss,
The womb of Nature, and perhaps her grave,
Of neither sea, nor shore, nor air, nor fire,
But all these in their pregnant causes mixed
Confusedly, and which thus must ever fight,
Unless th’ Almighty Maker them ordain
His dark materials to create more worlds –
Into this wild Abyss the wary Fiend
Stood on the brink of Hell and looked a while,
Pondering his voyage

Anyway, the first book, The Golden Compass (known as Northern Lights in England), is being made into what looks to be a beautiful, well-cast, and fairly faithful movie; check out the poster and trailer.

Some comments from the filmmakers have suggested that they plan to tone down the anti-Christian content. Other comments from the filmmakers have suggested that they don’t plan to do so. There’s not much anti-Christian content in the first book, though, so we’ll have to wait for the later films to see. Clone Wars (Some fans have also wondered how the films will handle the ending of the last book, which seems to imply sexual intercourse between the two main characters, both about thirteen years old. But that’s easy. The books take place within a few weeks of each other, but the studio plans to make its three films one every two years: thus by the time they get to the third film the stars will be 18.)

In other news, here’s the trailer for the new Clone Wars cartoon series, which seems to take place in the chronological interstices of the old one.

More clone wars? Hmm. That’s one period of Star Wars history that I don’t really feel I have a whole lot of still-unsatisfied curiosity about. Oh well.


More Spencer Nonsense, Part Deux

Earlier this month I wrote a letter to the New York Times and posted it here. Then I discovered that the Times would only print letters that haven’t appeared previously, so I deleted the letter from my blog. But since they didn’t print it anyway, here it is again:

To the Editor:

Patricia Cohen’s May 5th article “A Split Emerges As Conservatives Discuss Darwin” contains the following remarkable sentence: “Victorian-era social Darwinists like Herbert Spencer adopted evolutionary theory to justify colonialism and imperialism, opposition to labor unions and the withdrawal of aid to the sick and needy.”

Ms. Cohen’s charges against Herbert Spencer are false in every particular.

Herbert Spencer First: Spencer was in fact Victorian England’s leading opponent of imperialism; in Social Statics he described Western colonialism as bearing “a very repulsive likeness to the doings of buccaneers.”

Second: in his Principles of Sociology, Spencer hailed labor unions as a bulwark against the “harsh and cruel conduct” of employers, and advocated replacing the “slavery” of the wages system with self-governing workers’ cooperatives.

Third: far from advocating the “withdrawal of aid from the sick and needy,” he regarded the provision of such aid as a positive moral duty (though he stressed that it should be given in such a way as to avoid encouraging dependency).

Finally, inasmuch as Spencer developed and published his basic ideas on biological and social evolution prior to and independently of Charles Darwin, it makes little sense to describe him as a “Social Darwinist.”

Why do these bizarre distortions of a great humanitarian thinker persist?

Roderick T. Long

While, as I said, the Times didn’t print my letter, they did publish the following partial retraction:

A front-page article last Saturday about a dispute among some conservatives over whether Darwinian theory undermines or supports conservative principles erroneously included one social Darwinist among Victorian-era social Darwinists who adopted evolutionary theory to justify colonialism and imperialism. Herbert Spencer opposed both.

Score a victory for the Herbert Spencer Anti-Defamation League!


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