Hitchens, Left and Right

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

Since Christopher Hitchens gave up socialism, I’ve ironically enough gone from disagreeing with him 40% of the time to disagreeing with him 80% of the time. I used to look forward to his mordant skewerings of the mighty, but lately he seems to have morphed into a mean-spirited shill for the establishment.

Christopher Hitchens But at last comes a Hitchens editorial I can happily endorse; despite his having fallen to the neocon/prowar dark side, he makes a good case against executing Saddam Hussein. (Conical hat tip to Christopher Morris.) I share Hitchens’ misgivings both about the death penalty in general, and about the legitimacy of the vanquished being tried by the victors rather than by a neutral court.

While I’m on the subject of Hitchens, though, I also want to comment on something he said about libertarianism in his Reason interview a few years back. While this was after the beginning of his rightward shift, it’s basically a left-wing criticism, and like most left-wing criticisms of libertarianism it’s partly right and partly wrong:

I threw in my lot with the left because on all manner of pressing topics – the Vietnam atrocity, nuclear weapons, racism, oligarchy – there didn’t seem to be any distinctive libertarian view. I must say that this still seems to me to be the case, at least where issues of internationalism are concerned. What is the libertarian take, for example, on Bosnia or Palestine?

There’s also something faintly ahistorical about the libertarian worldview. When I became a socialist it was largely the outcome of a study of history, taking sides, so to speak, in the battles over industrialism and war and empire. I can’t – and this may be a limit on my own imagination or education – picture a libertarian analysis of 1848 or 1914. I look forward to further discussions on this, but for the moment I guess I’d say that libertarianism often feels like an optional philosophy for citizens in societies or cultures that are already developed or prosperous or stable. I find libertarians more worried about the over-mighty state than the unaccountable corporation. The great thing about the present state of affairs is the way it combines the worst of bureaucracy with the worst of the insurance companies.

Part of being a left-libertarian is that on the one hand you’re constantly trying to prod fellow libertarians into moving farther left, while on the other hand you’re constantly trying to show fellow leftists that libertarianism is already farther left than they realise. This is certainly an occasion for both responses.

Hitchens is certainly right to say that libertarians have often been less concerned about issues like racism, oligarchy, and corporate power than they should be – that they have stressed the evils of state oppression but often turned a blind eye to nonstate forms of oppression. On this general topic see this recent post of mine and this recent post of Wally Conger’s.

But at the same time Hitchens is certainly mistaken in supposing that libertarians have neglected these issues entirely. I need hardly point out to the readers of this blog that there exists, for example, an enormous libertarian literature both on war and on corporate power, and indeed on issues of class generally; in fact libertarians pioneered modern class analysis. (One suspects Hitchens hasn’t spent much time poring through Left & Right, Libertarian Forum, New Libertarian, or the JLS.) And he is also right to worry that his inability to “picture a libertarian analysis of 1848 or 1914” or other such historical events may stem from “a limit on [his] own imagination or education,” since here too there is plenty of such analysis available.

Thus I close with the ringing slogan, proudly inscribed on the streaming banners of the left-libertarian vanguard: Libertarianism: Less Left Than It Should Be, But Lefter Than You Think.

Meet the New Boss ….

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

Let a smile be your umbrellaYesterday’s election brought high points and low. It was a relief to see the unbearable Rick Santorum go down to defeat in Pennsylvania, but not so delightful to see the despicable Elliot Spitzer gain the governorship in New York. On the whole, though, I’m glad to see the Republicans get trounced as they deserve. And divided government is one step closer to no government.

The real question now is whether the newly empowered Democrats will stand up to Bush on questions of war and civil liberties, or whether they will merely take the opportunity to indulge in their usual programs of job destruction (a.k.a. “minimum wage laws”), victim disarmament (a.k.a. “gun control”), etc.

One reason for pessimism is the way the Democrats abjectly rolled over for Bush in the wake of 9/11. Another is the way they’ve been endlessly coy about whether they want to end the war or just fight it better. Still another is this observation that “[m]any of the newly elected Democrats come from the moderate to conservative wing of the party. They are national security hawks in the main and most do not favour a quick withdrawal from Iraq. Many of them are social conservatives and protectionists ….” Oh, goody.

On the other hand, one reason for optimism is that antiwar sentiment nonetheless clearly played a central role in bringing about yesterday’s Democratic victories. Thus the Democrats may have to throw some sort of antiwar bone to their constituents. We’ll see.

In longer-term electoral politics, what I’d really like to see is a Green/Libertarian coalition. The Greens’ ten values are perfectly consistent with libertarianism, though the means chosen to achieve them may not always be. I’m largely in agreement with this piece by Dan Sullivan, though I favour a different solution to the land question – and I also think making agreement on any one solution to the land question a precondition for Green/Libertarian cooperation is strategically self-defeating. (In practical terms the best solution for disagreements over land policy is decentralisation. Kick the disagreement downstairs and tussle over it at the local level; that way no one solution gets imposed on everybody else.) For some other Green/Libertarian proposals see here, here, here, and here. (One approach to Green/Libertarian cooperation that I don’t favour is this one, which I initially thought was a joke – but apparently not.)

In Defense of Voting (sort of)

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

I say “sort of” because I don’t really think voting is terribly important. And I certainly don’t think there’s a duty to vote – Athena forfend! Moreover, the usual arguments in favour of voting (like “if you don’t vote, you can’t complain” – which Spencer nicely disposed of in 1851) are generally much worse than the arguments against. Still, there are some common (in libertarian circles) arguments against voting that don’t convince me. Let me briefly say why.

A HAPPY VOTER The voluntaryist argument is that by voting one immorally and imprudently lends one’s sanction to the state. I’ve responded to this argument a decade ago (see here and here), and don’t have much to add.

Another common argument, especially popular with economists, is that voting is irrational, because (barring the overwhelmingly unlikely possibility of the election’s being decided by a single vote) the outcome will be the same however, or whether, one votes. Even if one’s aim in voting is not to get one’s candidate elected but merely to increase the candidate’s vote totals for strategic reasons, still whether that result happens is independent of whether one personally votes or not – so why vote?

But if that were a good argument against voting, it would be an equally good argument against contributing to any cooperative effort whose success depends on other people’s cooperating also. And so, for example, it would be an equally good argument against being a libertarian activist of any sort – since no one libertarian activist’s contribution is likely to make the crucial difference as to whether libertarianism triumphs or not.

I would even say that we have a duty to make a contribution to public goods. But it’s an “imperfect” duty in Kant’s sense, meaning that we need only contribute reasonably often to a reasonable number of public goods; we’re not obligated to contribute to every public good on every possible occasion. Hence one has no duty to vote (despite Peikoff’s bizarre assertion – which I’d love to see him try to make to Howard Roark – that “anyone who … abstains from voting in this election has no understanding of the practical role of philosophy in man’s actual life”), since it’s a matter of choice which goods one contributes to and when; but one is certainly free to pick voting as one of the occasions for the exercise of this duty.

I VOTED for some doofus In response to this reply John T. Kennedy writes that my comparison between voting and other forms of libertarian activism, such as blogging, would be correct only “if the expressive power of your vote were equal to the expressive power of your writing.” But in fact, he argues, “[t]he difference in leverage between the two actions is so overwhelming that it would clearly be counter-productive to waste time voting when that time could be better employed improving your next blog entry.” I would note, however, that this response is a retreat from the standard economic argument against voting to a weaker position, namely that voting makes a smaller contribution to the ultimate triumph of libertarianism than other forms of activism (though participating those other forms probably won’t make the decisive difference either). Well, then, should I specialise in whichever one form of activism I think will make the greatest overall contribution? Should I focus on scholarly articles and forget blogging? Or should I focus on blogging and forget scholarly articles? It seems to me to make more sense to diversify.

A third objection to voting, the agorist objection, is one I have more sympathy with. On this view, the best strategy for achieving a libertarian society lies not with an attempt to seize the reins of power (whether by electoral or revolutionary means) but rather with an attempt to encourage people to withdraw consent to the state through mass disobedience, and this strategy involves education and building alternative institutions, but not necessarily electoral politics. Indeed, so runs this argument, trying to get people to vote is counter-productive, since we should be discouraging rather than encouraging people’s attachment to the rituals of the state.

Now I certainly agree that as libertarian strategies go, education and building alternative institutions are much more important than electoral politics. And I also agree that the danger of reinforcing people’s attachment to the state is a count against urging people to vote libertarian. (I say “vote libertarian” rather than “vote Libertarian” because the Libertarian candidate is not always the most libertarian candidate – especially in light of the recent unpleasantness in Portland. On the other hand, I don’t think the “don’t waste your vote” argument against voting Libertarian is any good; see once again here.) But I also think voting can be useful as a means of self-defense in the short run; and while the ultimate revolution will be preimarily from the bottom up, it will certainly go more smoothly, and with less danger of a violent crackdown from a government desperate to maintain power, if we’ve got some support on the inside too.

The Randian Vote

Ayn Rand on the roof How should a good Randian vote?

The Randian Right is mostly supporting the Democrats (see Leonard Peikoff, Diana Hsieh, John Lewis, and Craig Biddle), though Robert Tracinski (a rare ARI dissident from the Peikoffian party line) and Robert Bidinotto (a Center-Randian by institutional affiliation but a Right-Randian in terms of recent advocacy and attitudes) favour the Republicans.

The Randian Center (see Ed Hudgins and Neil Parille) seem neutral but with a slight leaning toward the Republicans.

And the Randian Left (see Chris Sciabarra and Arthur Silber) are crying for a pox on both houses.

Rand’s own first vote was cast for FDR, so who knows?

I guess I count as a Left-Randian; and tomorrow I’ll be voting for LP candidates Loretta Nall and Dick Clark.

Send Women Back to the Sink Before They Kill Our Kids

Happy Day-after-Hallowe’en!

Had a good (but busy) time the past two weekends, at the Alabama Philosophical Society and the Mises Institute conference on imperialism respectively. And this coming weekend I’ll be at Tulane to give a talk on free will.

But now, on to some blog business:

I’ve complained before (see here, here, and here) that religious conservatives’ attitude toward women is too often one that regards womanhood as fundamentally other-oriented and thereby encourages women’s subordination to the demands of men and of families. (I’ve also suggested that one of Rand’s valuable, though partly inadvertent, contributions to the cause of feminism is her revival of the 19th-century libertarians’ insight that an ethics of self-sacrifice contributes to the subjection of women.)       

Sharon Valerii wears army boots Larry Beane’s piece on LRC today illustrates the point I’m making. Commenting on the case of a female U.S. soldier in Iraq who ran over a small boy because she’d been trained not to stop, Beane writes:

First of all, as a traditionalist Christian, I have to say that this is not the proper vocation for a woman. We strain the gnat by exempting women from combat duty, but swallow the camel by training them like men (and usually with men), dressing them in masculine fatigues and boots, outfitting them with weapons, putting them in trucks in combat zones, and expecting (even ordering) them to run over little children.

This is not the biblical understanding of womanhood.

God has designed the female body from the womb up. Even her arms bend differently than those of a man to accommodate her hips. Women are completely designed around the uterus. Their very bodies are temples where the miracle of life begins and is nurtured – the safest and most gentle environment for humanity on the planet. Women are equipped with breasts to feed and nourish babies once they have been delivered from the womb. Women are the cultivators of life, the primary teachers of the human race, the defenders of civilization. Theirs truly are the hands that rule the world by rocking the cradle.

But how many mothers are away from the cradle, neglecting their roles as the teachers and civilizers of youth, doing something “more fulfilling” – such as driving supply trucks in Iraq? And what has happened since women in large numbers have abdicated their vocation as defenders of civilization? Well, we now live in a society that expects mothers to be soldiers and to kill children – and they do it. Their maternal instincts and godly vocation of nurturer do not override their orders to kill.

On this, three points:

Slave Girl movie poster 1. To say that women are “completely designed around the uterus” is to reduce women, insultingly, to a biological function, and specifically an other-directed one, and to take that function as determining their destiny; it is to say that women’s function is to serve others. But an entity whose primary function is service to others is a natural slave. Calling women’s bodies “temples” and telling them that they “rule the world” does little to soften the insult. If, as I venture to suppose, women are persons, then, just as with men, a woman’s central and ruling faculty is her reason, not her uterus. In Aristotelean terms, the reproductive capacity belongs to the nutritive soul, not the rational soul, and so its operation is subordinate to the needs of reason and not vice versa.

Nor will it be any defense to say that men, too, are destined primarily to service. For a) that would make men slaves as well, which is no improvement; and b) in any case the religious conservative’s claim is generally that women are especially oriented toward service, and adding as an afterthought “oh yeah, but men are too, somewhat” does little to counteract the overall tendency toward the subjection of women in particular.

2. Beane’s argument seems to be this: women’s primary function is nurturing; hence, when women are encouraged to neglect nurturing in favour of seeking a fulfilling career, this goes against the natural order, and the result of this unnatural deviation is that women end up doing bad things like running over innocent children. But first, the inference from the perils of careers that require being desensitized to inflicting death on the innocent to the perils of careers, period, seems a rather heroic leap. And second, even if women’s running over children were an argument against women valuing careers, why wouldn’t men’s running over children – which presumably also happens – thereby be an argument against men valuing careers?

Now it’s obvious from Beane’s overall discussion that he thinks running over innocent children is wrong whether it’s done by a man or by a woman. I am happy to say that this is a point on which Beane and I are in complete agreement. But given that fact, it’s hard to see how this is a special problem about women in military roles. The purported fact that women are divinely ordained to be walking wombs can’t be the reason why it’s wrong for them to run over children, because it’s wrong for men to do so as well, even though men aren’t walking wombs. Well, whatever the reason is for its being wrong for men to run over children, why can’t that be the reason it’s wrong for women to do so as well?

Beane does suggest an argument to show that women’s focus on careers can be blamed not only for women’s but also for men’s running over children: “Most men no longer have examples of manly and honorable fathers and grandfathers, not having been taught by their mothers from the cradle to revere chivalry and decency, nor to defend life and to protect the weak. No, our mothers are too busy wearing army boots.” But this won’t do; for it suggests that male violence against the innocent is a recent development, a product of women’s liberation from the role of compulsory homemaker. A glance at history suggests otherwise: when the Israelites “utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai” (Joshua 8: 26), men, women, and children, was it because their mothers had been too career-minded to teach them chivalry? What about the Athenians in Melos? What about the Romans, well, anywhere? When the French soldiers at Agincourt killed “the poys and the luggage,” were their mothers all in army boots? The patriarchal family has reigned for millennia without preventing male violence against the innocent; indeed, male violence against the innocent has been a not infrequent occurrence within the patriarchal family itself.

Jael and Sisera 3. While I don’t regard the Bible as an authority one way or the other on such matters, it’s perhaps worth noting that it’s not entirely clear that the “Biblical understanding of womanhood” consistently places nurturing first. When Lazarus’s sister Martha is pursuing her feminine nurturing duties, “cumbered about much serving,” and complains that her sister Mary is neglecting her household chores by pursuing religious studies with Jesus instead, Jesus famously takes Mary’s side. (Luke 10: 39-42) One could read this as a vindication of a woman’s choice to reject homemaking in favour of some other vocation.

The Catholic Church, of course, has traditionally interpreted this passage as licensing only the choice of nun – another nurturing role – as an alternative to wife and mother, but this interpretation is hardly inevitable. After all there is also the prophetess Deborah, who (though herself in fact a wife and – unless Judges 5:7 is metaphorical – a mother as well) “judged Israel at that time. … and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment.” (Judges 4:4-5) Hardly a conventionally feminine role! Moreover, she even participated in military operations: when Barak “went up with ten thousand men at his feet” we are told that “Deborah went up with him.” (Judges 4:10) We’re not told that Deborah was personally involved in acts of warfare; but we are told this (Judges 5:24-27) about another woman, in terms of high praise:

Blessed above women shall Jael
the wife of Heber the Kenite be,
blessed shall she be above women in the tent.
He asked water, and she gave him milk;
she brought forth butter in a lordly dish.
She put her hand to the nail,
and her right hand to the workmen’s hammer;
and with the hammer she smote Sisera,
she smote off his head,
when she had pierced and stricken through his temples.
At her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay down:
at her feet he bowed, he fell:
where he bowed, there he fell down dead.

In short, Jael and Deborah wore army boots. Whether they did so in just or unjust wars is hard to determine given the Bible’s narrative vagueness, but they certainly did so with the Bible’s approval.

The Sound of Cylons

Cylon down on his luck Check out this funny song and video comparing the old and new versions of Galactica.

Since it’s on the new Galactica’s website, you can guess who wins.

It is done, Imperious Leader!

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