James Leroy Wilson's blog

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Killing for Liberty

Timothy Sandefur has a general reply to myself and several other anti-war bloggers who answered his Ten Questions.

The gulf is quite wide. For instance, Sandefur takes the Bush Administration at its word a lot, and then claims that libertarians who curiously distrust the claims of the government (really? libertarians distrust the government?) are simply wrong. Sandefur promotes Bush Administration hysteria about Islamic terrorism, which was and is a predictable response to our immoral and insane Middle East policies of the past 15 years, as if the two have nothing to do with each other. Yet, the "hysteria" he's concerned about is that the anti-war side can't come up with an instance of a PATRIOT Act abuse, even though, as Kevin Carson has pointed out, the "very existence of such government capabilities is an infringement of our liberties."

Sandefur replied to a rhetorical statement I made, and said that if America ever has a dictator, other countries have the right to invade and overthrow the guy. But of course, we don't have a dictator.

And for this question "4) Precisely what (if anything) do you propose the United States do about the Iranian nuclear weapons program?" Sandefur's comments included this:
The worst answer, however, was from Independent Country, which answered,

"Nothing. Sovereign nations have the right to defend themselves and deter aggressors. And Iran has every right, and all the evidence in the world, to view the USA as a potential aggressor. Furthermore, we should remind ourselves that just because the Bush Administration claims that there’s an Iranian nuclear weapons program, that doesn’t mean that there is an Iranian nuclear weapons program."

Last things first: it is not only the Bush Administration, but the Iranians, who say that the Iranians have a nuclear weapons program. Although they have played rhetorical games on the issue, it is simply not deniable that the Iranians are developing nuclear weapons right now, and that their current leadership has the will to use them.

This is news to me. I thought this is what the controversy is about. Iran isn't denying that it seeks a nuclear energy program, but I thought they were denying that they want nuclear weapons. Even today, this BBC news story says,
"Iran denies US and European claims that it is seeking to build nuclear weapons."

Sandefur continues:
Second, Iran is simply not a sovereign nation, in accordance with libertarian theory at least. According to libertarianism, “sovereignty,” if it exists at all, exists only when a government respects the natural rights of the citizenry and is based on some form of consent (although, again, this last element is in some dispute). No sovereign is legitimate who tramples on individual rights and enslaves its people; such a “sovereign” is in fact a criminal, and can be dealt with as such, either by his own people or by bystanders who choose to intercede. To regard Iran as a sovereignty with a “right” to develop nuclear weapons is simply Doughface Libertarianism—the perverse notion that a dictator has the right to do whatever he wants without interference by others. To view the United States as a potential “aggressor,” somehow deserving of a nuclear attack by the most brutal dictatorship on the planet (with the possible exception of North Korea) is beyond the pale of rational discussion, and shows, I think, the level of silliness that animates a good percentage of the supposedly anti-war side of this discussion. Does it even deserve to be called “anti-war”? Is it anti-war to allow hysterical theocratic monsters, who have repeatedly and openly avowed their desire to harm the free people of the world, and particularly Israel, to gain control of the most destructive devices humans have created, and do nothing about it? Only if it is anti-crime to allow murderers and felons to conspire and arm themselves.[emphasis added]

Sandefur asserts the right of a "bystander," us, to intervene in Iran's affairs, and then ridicules the notion that the USA is a potential aggressor in Iran. And no, I did not suggest that the USA is deserving of a nuclear attack by Iran. But any nation's rulers will do what they think is best to defend their regime and their country from foreign occupation. And nuclear deterrence works. It is because the USA doesn't in any practical sense recognize the sovereignty of countries less free than ours that we get into these messes and put ourselves at risk of terrorism to begin with.

But I'm the one who violates a tenet of "libertarianism" by recognizing the sovereignty of Iran. This is because I'm not a believer in "libertarianism," especially when it views liberty as an abstraction to impose or a religion to kill for. I describe my beliefs as "libertarian" in that I believe in reducing the size, scope, and cost of government, and in moving toward individual or local solutions to public problems. I have both utilitarian reasons and moral reasons for my beliefs, but they are what they are and I don't care whether they consistently conform to a body of doctrine called Libertarianism. I'm not interested in purity tests. I have no theory of "sovereignty" by which the USA gets to be sovereign and Iran does not. I just look at the situation as it is now and perceive ways to preserve and promote liberty, justice, and peace within it. Beginning with myself, my family and community, up through the state and nation, with my hopes for these values to prevail worldwide. But "liberating" people halfway around the globe, in Iraq, Iran, or someplace else, is simply not a priority. If it is, I would go there and put my life on the line. But we have no right, as "bystanders" to occupy foreign countries or "liberate" people of a religion and culture we do not understand.

But even if "Libertarianism" was still a concern of mine, I would still not endorse Sandefur's version of Libertarianism. And it's quite an odd one, not representative of the beliefs of any "consistent" libertarian I know. Every time I encounter Sandefur's name, I recall this passage in Liberty magazine from three years ago:
My first answer to the question, Was it worth 600,000 deaths to free the slaves? is absolutely yes. It would have been worth it at twice that price; indeed, it would have been cheap at a thousand times that price. It would have been cheap if the war had lasted until the present day. It would have been cheap at the price of oceans of blood and mountains of bones. Thomas Jefferson once said, "Were there but an Adam & an Eve left in every country, & left free, it would be better than as it now is," and I have little sympathy with a libertarianism which does not share that estimation, which does not believe that freedom is more important than life, or which can speak of the freedom of "them" as separate from the freedom of "us."

Whereas I "have little sympathy with a libertarianism" which holds that one's own understanding of "freedom" is more important than other people's lives.

1 comment:

  1. This is why i don't generally fall into the reason/excuse justification trap. Because as soon as you come up with an answer the moderator doesn't like, it is his license to rip deeper into positions not implied by the answer. It was a waste of your time to even try to repond to sandefur, and now you've got a whole lot of worms squiggling out there for the birds to pick at.

    Of course Iran is a sovereign nation under today's definitions - it is the legitimacy of rome on the potomac that we should be questioning. did you ever vote on the constitution? isn't there some sort of rule in law that suggests that people 20 years dead have no binding say on the living? something about legalality of wills? i dunno - not a lawyer - which is a problem since everybody has to be a lawyer these days. But really - how is the jurisdiction of the constitution established?

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