We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata slogan of the day

All the ‘idiotarians‘, Left and Right, both subscribe to the same fallacy: violence is the greatest evil, the state has a monopoly of violence, the USA is the most powerful state, therefore the USA is the home of evil, and all evil events have their roots in USA policy. The idiotarians stand to the responsible anti-statists (such as our host) as the Ku Klux Klan stood to the sensible American patriots. They are what happens when a principled objection to force hardens into a reflexive aversion. They end up condoning the worst crimes a state can commit, provided the state in question is not their own, and if the alternative is inflicting violence themselves.
- Michael Brazier, in a comment on a post at Armed and Dangerous

14 comments to Samizdata slogan of the day

  • “They end up condoning the worst crimes a state can commit, provided the state in question is not their own…”

    My observation is that in the majority of cases, it’s the other way around. If you apply the UK government’s own definition of terrorism universally to all parties (state and non-state actors), it leads to some fairly uncomfortable places for almost everyone.

    Then again, one definite tic of ‘idiotarians’ is a habit of confusing ‘explaining’ actions (in terms of historical context) and ‘condoning’ them. This might be because the meaning of the word ‘idiot’ has changed from ‘person so deficient in mind as to be permanently incapable of rational conduct (etc.)’ (OED) to ‘person who holds the wrong kinds of views of a range of issues, often of a political or sociopolitical nature’ (not OED). Generally, it is the former kind who throw around invective at the latter kind.

  • Julian Morrison

    I’m a principled libertarian, the kind of which you disapprove. I opposed the Iraq war. I see state action as being much analogous to mediaeval surgery: blind bloody fumbling, more likely to harm than heal, best left alone unless you’re already certain to die without it. My principles aren’t silly; I don’t follow them “just because”. I follow them because I expect means and ends to be congruent.

  • Shawn

    As a principled Libertarian I supported the Iraq war, and still would regardless of the issue of WMD’s. The Libertarian principle is supposed to be that every person has the right to self defense, and that people have the right to constitute government for this purpose. However, the anarchists, posing as libertarians (which they are not), have taken the stand that no nation, and especially the U.S., has the right to defend itself. This unprincipled stand can best be seen at LewRockwell.com, which rivals Usama bin Laden in its demonisation of the U.S.

    Libertarians should take a clear stand that the anarchist hatred of the state in any form and of the military has nothing at all to do with Libertarianism. Ayn Rand was clear on the point that limited government is necessary and right, and that demonisation of any and all government is evil.

    Two articles on these issues by the editor of the Free Radical are worth reading.

    Freedom vs Anarchy:

    http://www.freeradical.co.nz/content/18/18perigo.html

    Saddam’s Succours:

    http://www.freeradical.co.nz/content/56/Editorial.html

    http://www.freeradical.co.nz/content/57/Editorial.html

  • Julian Morrison

    Libertarian anarchists take the stand that a nation – or any other collective orgaization – has no extra rights, beyond those resulting from the strict aggregation of individual rights.

    So individuals have a right to self defense, and can organize to do so in groups – but individuals have no right to kill inconveniently sited innocents, and thus nor do states. Also as no individual has the right to conquer and command another individual (absent previous initiated force), nor does a state have the right to do so. If force had been initiated, there would be a right to respond – but not to in addition go on and conquer bystanders.

    Rand was wrong, government is intrinsically immoral, and neither helpful nor necessary.

  • First, I also am not happy with either “conservative” Republicans or anarchists pooh-poohing libertarians as offshoots of their respective movements. Libertarians who believe that government and its force should be minimized, but who are realistic enough to realize that “minimum” will never mean “none” in anyone’s lifetime, are separate and distinct, as a group, from conservatives and anarchists.

    That being said, I have to say two additional things: 1) Libertarians believe in and support the use of force in defense; 2) Absent hard proof of an attack in progress, pre-emptive war is not defensive. It is offensive and incompatible with libertarianism.

    If people subscribed to the theory of pre-emptive war on an individual basis, we’d knock down the front door of any armed neighbor whom we ever argued with, and shoot him before he could shoot us. How embarrassing it would be for us, to learn that our newly-deceased neighbor had pawned his guns just the week before. How mortifying for us to learn that one of our bullets went through a wall and killed a child asleep in the next room. Oops! But hey, we might say, it was regrettable, but worth it. After all, our late neighbor was a very bad guy.

    What holds in interpersonal dealings is as valid in international relations: pay close attention to those who might be your enemies, but don’t move on them unless and until they move on you. If you move first, it’s not self-defense, even though they conceivably might have moved on you at some time in the future.

    It certainly would be easier to cripple or kill everyone who might attack you at some point. Then again, who — person or nation — can have infallible knowledge of an inevitable future attack? As an example, certainly US and British knowledge of Iraqi WMDs — the alleged means for a tiny Mideastern country to “hold a dagger to the throat” of the American Superpower — was anything but infallible.

    As a principled Libertarian, I thought that the US had some justification for going to Afghanistan after Osama bin Laden and others behind the 9-11 attacks, just as we would have when pursuing pirates or mobsters across international boundaries. I thought our retalliation (conquering and occupying Afghanistan) went too far, but at least we were responding directly to those who attacked us on our own soil. There was some element of self-defense in that action. As I saw it from the start, the Iraq War was not for US self-defense in any meaningful way, and it is becoming more and more clear that our leadership also understood this from the outset, although their antebellum propaganda and rhetoric screamed otherwise.

    One last thing: propagation of the insult, “idiotarian,” is not going to promote rational discussion. I hope we can all agree that, when considering the proper use of deadly force — whether by a person or a nation — the more rationality, the better.

  • So individuals have a right to self defense, and can organize to do so in groups – but individuals have no right to kill inconveniently sited innocents, and thus nor do states. Also as no individual has the right to conquer and command another individual (absent previous initiated force), nor does a state have the right to do so. If force had been initiated, there would be a right to respond – but not to in addition go on and conquer bystanders.

    This kind of logic eventually leads to pacifism because any action of self-defense has at least a small chance of injuring innocent bystanders.

    If you walked by a warehouse in which Dr. Mangele was conducting his ‘experiments’ on thousands a day, would you rally your friends to try to save as many people as you could, or would you keep on walking because you didn’t want to hurt innocent bystanders, i.e, the very people being killed?

    That being said, on the topic of the original quote in the post, I think a principled libertarian stand can be made against the war that doesn’t embrace moral relativism and leftist ideology. Yes, the US govt might be the least bad govt in the world in moral terms(although that is certainly debatable). There are no mass graves being unearthed in Alabama. People are not being tortured. But the US govt is certainly the most powerful.

    Most US libertarians believe that ‘creeping socialism’ is taking place, and if the trend continues, the least bad govt has the potential to corrupt into a much more morally corrupt govt. If intervention abroad today increases its power and increases the slope down to wretchedness, then intervention can be opposed on sound libertarian principles. If you think Saddam is bad, wait till a Saddam becomes president of the US sometime down the road, and has the US military, BATF, FBI, CIA, NSA, and Homeland Security, along with nepotistic govts around the world, at his disposal.

    I’m not saying I agree with that view, but just that I understand it.

  • David Dilks

    Actually, Jonathan, the mass graves were discovered in Georgia, as a result of a long-term government failure. Somebody’s got to keep tabs on those morticians, you know ;-)

  • “All the ‘idiotarians’, Left and Right…” is ridiculous. Those he goes on to describe are at very least 99.9% Left.

  • Jacob

    Those who say that the US (and Britain) had no right to attack Iraq, no right to remove a murderous despot , and rant about harming bystanders deserve the label

    idotarian

    . The US did a virtuous, valuable humanitarian act in freeing the Iraqi people and the region of a mad, murderous despot with the blood of more than a million people on his hands. You cannot plausibly claim that the Iraqi people have been abused or harmed by this war.

    A second and separate issue is: was the US Government right in inflicting on it’s own citizens the cost, in blood and treasure, of this humanitarian act abroad ? What additional factors, in terms of US self interest were involved ?
    This is a valid question. This is a big question. The answer to this one depends on your assesment of the threat that Saddam posed to the US and it’s vital interests (i.e. the vital interests of it’s citizens). It also depends how you interpret “vital interests”. This issue is debatable.

    The claim that a preemptive strike is always wrong is false. A preemptive strike can be justified and necessary – depends on the circumstances. To the anecdotal example with the abusive neighbour – many counterexamples can be brought.

  • Jacob says, “The claim that a preemptive strike is always wrong is false. A preemptive strike can be justified and necessary – depends on the circumstances. To the anecdotal example with the abusive neighbour – many counterexamples can be brought.

    James says, “do bring one, then.” And please provide both an international and an interpersonal example, as I did. Also please bear in mind, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 was, in their eyes, a pre-emptive strike. The Japanese hawks felt war with the US was inevitable, owing to the “pushing and shoving” behavior being exhibited by FDR at the time. War being “inevitable,” and the US having more resources and manpower to defeat the Japanese in a prolonged war (as we went on to prove), the Japanese decided to get their licks in first. How is that any different from George W. Bush’s maneuver in 2003? Just because the Japanese were “the bad guys,” or ultimately, the losers in WWII?

    Incidentally, I used the abusive neighbor example precisely because, in the run up to the war, it was used on ME as a reason why “good libertarians” ought to be in favor of getting rid of the despot Saddam. I figured that that example might have a little resonance for Samizdatists.

    Back before the Iraq war, I argued right here on Samizdata.net that history shows clearly that the people who founded the US deliberately structured the government to make the prosecution of aggressive, first-strike war as difficult as possible, short of being flat-out impossible. It is not among the duties of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people to arbitrarily clean up the global neighborhood, precisely because the prosecution of war uses resources that the people can better use themselves unless and until someone declares war on us, or an attack on our soil is in progress. The founders of the US knew — and often declared — that the best interests of Americans would be served by a US at peace, engaging in trade and cultural exchange with all the peoples of the world. They thought they had so tied the hands of the government in the area of war-making, that even if aggressive wars migh someday be launched, only defensive wars could be sustained. In that thought, they were obviously mistaken, although it took the 20th century to undo all of their carefully tied bindings, and I am sincerely hoping that the electorate will provide the topical remedy for that mistake in November.

  • Jacob

    James:

    1. For preemptive strike: how about the bombing of the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq, by Israel, in 1981 ? Do you think it would have been more in accordance with libertarian principles to wait until Saddam nuked Israel before “declaring” war ?
    Given the nature of modern weapons, waiting for your shores to be invaded is often not an option at all.

    2.With the Japanese Pearl Harbour analogy – do you wish to imply that Osama & co were provoked into attacking (like the Japanese) ?

    3. Your history, in the last para is wrong. The US had a war of conquest against Mexico in the 19th century, notwithstanding the constitution.

  • Jacob-

    1. Israel doesn’t run on libertarian principles, last I checked, nor was it especially based on them. To be honest, neither does the US government, the founders’ espousing of them and embedding of provisions based on in the constitution notwithstanding. You can make right decisions using wrong principles and wrong decisions using right principles, though one reason for having principles, of course, is to maximize the likelihood of making “right” decisions. Whether the Israeli first strike was a “right decision” is, in some sense, irrelevant to ideology. I don’t remember if Iraq was technically in a state of war with Israel or not at the time. If so, then even a Libertarian would admit a need to take advantage during wartime. If not, then I think the decision was wrong even if the outcome was positive.

    Your speculation that Saddam would have gone on to nuke Israel is just speculation. Many things could have happened in an alternative universe where Israel had not bombed the facility, which could have led to peace, or at least containment. Israel bombing the facility and Saddam nuking Israel were not the only possible outcomes or choices.

    Where’s the interpersonal example of a first strike being right, by the way?

    2. Osama thinks the US was provocative, and said as much in a 1998 interview with PBS. Whether his sense of provocation was justified is a matter for debate, but he didn’t talk about hating our freedoms. He talked about our pushing and shoving in the middle east, and our taking sides with Israel. Of course, I didn’t compare Osama with Bush or with Israel. I compared the US first strike against Iraq with the Japanese first strike against the US, and I asked you to tell me how one was any more justified than the other.

    3. I didn’t say we never did bad things, not to mention non-Libertarian things, before the 20th century. But the war you mention was quite controversial at the time, made palatable to American sensibilities only because it involved territory that was adjacent to ours. It took the whole 20th century to accustom the population and weaken the structural restraints that kept us from deploying military forces anywhere around the world on very little more than a rumor and a whim, much less a massive pre-emptive deployment in a country halfway around the world. Or are you going to tell me that the Mexican war involved anywhere near the resources and commitment that the Iraq War did, even in adjusted dollars?

  • Jacob

    James,

    “Israel doesn’t run on libertarian principles”. So what ? We are talking of an example of the principle of preemptive strikes. That was a good example.

    Now you say “maybe Saddam would not have bombed Israel, but would have made peace with it”. Maybe… this scenario is imaginable, but not plausible. You have to base your actions on realistic and probable assesments of future events. You have to act even if there is no 100% certainty that your evaluation is correct, as failing to act has disastrous consequences in the case your fears prove to be correct.

  • Jacob

    James,

    “Where is the interpersonal example of a first strike being right?”

    On an interpersonal level you don’t strike preemptive strikes, at least not in a civilized society. If you feel threatened you go to the police and lodge a complaint against the person that is threatening you. This is your preemptive action. This option is not available in international relations.

    Preemptive strike does not mean an arbitrary, capricious act of aggression, like you try to make it sound. It means a response to a threat. The threat must be real, plausible and probable. Such a threat is itself an act of aggression, recognized and defined as a crime by all legal systems. If you tell people that you’re going to kill them, you have committed a crime even if you don’t mean to, and haven’t yet, killed nobody. The preemptive strike is an act of self-defense, given the threat, so it is philosophically justified.

    In judging the intervention in Iraq as a preemptive strike – you cannot condemn it a-priori because of it’s preventive nature. You have to evaluate the nature of the threat involved. If Saddam posed a threat to the US, it’s allies or it’s interests – the strike was justified, else not. (There are, of course, other justifications for this war that I will not cover here).

    As to the analogy with Japan’s “preemptive” strike at Pearl Harbor: the US didn’t threaten Japan, did not prepare an attack against it. The US only demanded that Japan stop raping China. Japan did not have to strike the US to defend itself. It could have found some diplomatic compromise on China. Japan hit the US because it thought (correctly) that the US was blocking her expansionist and imperialist ambitions.
    The analogy you make between the Japanese “preemptive” strike and the American strike in Iraq is totally off. It was Saddam who had expansionist ambitions (against Kuwait, Iran and Israel), and the US blocking it. So the analogy is between Saddam and Japan, not US and Japan.