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With all due respect

An interesting Q&A article between Congressman Ron Paul (R, Texas) and Jacob Hornberger, an Independent Candidate for the U.S. Senate from Virginia, brings forward several of the reasons that I both like, and regularly disagree with Ron Paul on many issues.

Rather than do a lengthy take down, I will confine my remarks to Hornberger’s remarks in question 17 in the Q&A:

From a moral standpoint, we should not only ask about American GI casualties but also Iraqi people casualties. After the Allied Powers delivered the people of Czechoslovakia, Poland, and East Germany to Stalin and the Soviet communists after World War II, those people suffered under communism for five decades, which most of us would oppose, but who’s to say that they would have been better off with liberation by U.S. bombs and embargoes, especially those who would have been killed by them? I believe that despite the horrible suffering of the Eastern Europeans and East Germans, Americans were right to refrain from liberating them with bombs and embargoes. It’s up to the Iraqi people to deal with the tyranny under which they suffer – it is not a legitimate function of the U.S. government to liberate them from their tyranny with an attack upon their nation.

For a start, the Iraqi ‘nation’ is not by any reasonable measure under the control/ownership/whatever of the Iraqi people, it is under the control of the Iraqi flavour of Baathist Socialists lead by Saddam Hussain and his family… so attacking Iraq is not attacking the Iraqi ‘nation’ and certainly not the Iraqi people, but rather the regime which controls it.

However Hornberger is quite right that as a result of that huge moral blot on Roosevelt and Churchill, the Yalta Agreement, the Western Allies did indeed “[deliver] the people of Czechoslovakia, Poland, and East Germany to Stalin and the Soviet communists after World War II”. Given that both Hornberger and Paul have chosen to frame their views firmly within the state centred meta-context of ‘national interests’, thereby at a stroke moving their position off the true moral high ground, I will follow them for now into the murky valley in which congressmen and would-be senators choose to dwell.

Well if the US and ‘Western Powers’ were indeed responsible for people in Czechoslovakia ending up under Soviet control, as it was indeed US troops which liberated much of the country from the Nazis, then how is it such a reach to see how ‘Americans’ did indeed bear a responsibility for undoing the state of affairs which condemned two generations of Czechs and Slovaks to communist tyranny?

Likewise, is Jacob Hornberger really going to suggest that Czechs and Slovaks are going to thank people like him for not actively trying to liberate them? It is not as if they were passively accepting communist rule and yet in 1968, the likes of Hornberger did nothing. If he thinks people in Czechoslovakia were happy they were not supported on the ‘moral’ grounds it would not be good for them I suspect he is in for a shock. Hornberger’s responses to Ron Paul wear moral clothing but frankly it is as phoney as three dollar bill. Hornberger is actually talking about utility, not morality. The only moral position is to oppose violence based tyranny with force. That was my view in the Cold War and it is my view regarding Saddam Hussain.

The destruction of tyranny whenever it is possible is never a bad thing for any libertarian to support, if liberty is to be more than just some abstract thing bandied about in debates.

What all neolibertarian hawks should be driving these days

17 comments to With all due respect

  • Julian Morrison

    “The destruction of tyranny whenever it is possible is never a bad thing for any libertarian to support”

    Agreed except:

    1. There are many ways and means of destroying tyranny, but the only ones that are “libertarianly correct” are those which do not involve harm to innocents. Asassination is far preferable, for example, to war – and hand-to-hand war is preferable to blanket bombing. There exists no right to murder, regardless of how convenient it might be.

    2. What is tyranny to be replaced with? Puppet pseudo-democracy (voters may freely choose from amongst N carefully picked obedient stooges), judging by all recent American conquests.

    3. Is even proper democracy a thing to be desired? I say not – it’s just another form of more subtle tyranny, by ballot (and implicit bullet).

    4. You can’t serve a right by breaking a right; a just war paid for by theft isn’t just. Why not let the hawks volunteer – or at least volunteer to hire mercs.

  • I have several problems with that, Julian:

    1. …the only ones that are “libertarianly correct” are those which do not involve harm to innocents…

    Sorry, but that is nonsense. By that logic no war is possible under any realistic scenario. The nasty fact is that as long as harming innocents is not the objective, if a given use of force is justified then innocent bystanders are often just a regrettable consequence. To think otherwise is a charter for hostage takers.

    2. What is tyranny to be replaced with? Puppet pseudo-democracy (voters may freely choose from amongst N carefully picked obedient stooges)…

    Actually so far as the Middle East goes, yes, that sounds perfect. The model should be Turkey: moderately democratic but at the first sign a majority might vote for a non-secular Islamic government, the army stages a coup d’etat. Sounds perfect for a place like Iraq (just add ‘Baathist’ to the list of no-no democratic options).

    3. Is even proper democracy a thing to be desired? I say not.

    And I agree.

    4. You can’t serve a right by breaking a right; a just war paid for by theft isn’t just. Why not let the hawks volunteer – or at least volunteer to hire mercs.

    In an ideal (i.e libertarian) world, I would completely agree. However the example of a democratically elected member of the US congress (Ron Paul) and a would-be senator was put forward (by you)… so lets not kid ourselves we are talking about some theoretical future. we are talking about the here and now. There are no alternative mechanisms for dealing with the Saddam Hussain’s of this world because nation- states (like the USA) have not allowed non-state centric ones to appear. Thus right now the only way to crush the mass murderous regime in Iraq is with the militaries of the US and UK. Sure, they are funded by tax monies taken by force, but that is the reality now. That is no excuse for doing nothing and at least I feel I will get some value for my stolen money. I would rather it be spent on that than on so called ‘welfare’ at home.

  • Timothy Sandefur


    Sing it, brother! It’s true now–and it was true when Abraham Lincoln said it in 1861. But so many alleged libertarians don’t see it in either case.

  • John Norton

    Paul and Hornberger are just plain wrong – here is my lengthy takedown of questions 28+:

    Interesting that Congressman Paul would ask a question like this:

    28. Why is it that those who never wore a uniform and are confident that they won,t have to personally fight this war are more anxious for this war than our generals?

    In the wide world of politics, this has become known as the “chickenhawk” argument. That those who will not fight the war are most anxious to fight it.

    It will ALWAYS be the case, in this Constitutional democracy, that those who will not be fighting the war will be deciding when to do it. FDR, for example, was commander in chief longer than anyone, and through most of World War II. Confined to a wheelchair, he never wore the uniform.

    While it may seem appealing to those who were in the military that only military and prior military people should be deciding such things as war, again, in our Constitutional democracy, it does not work that way. The world of “Starship Troopers” this is not Citizenship – the right to vote and to serve in the government – is a God given right and is protected, not granted, by the Constitution. It does not have to be earned. Surely Congressman Paul knows this.

    Perhaps the most applicable answer to why the generals are not the most anxious is found in the words of General MacArthur in his farewell address at West Point:

    This does not mean that you are warmongers. On the contrary, the soldier above all other people prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war. But always in our ears ring the ominous words of Plato, that wisest of all philosophers: “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”

    If that isn’t answer enough, you might look to Peter Beinart of the The New Republic. He has a very good article (and TNR is a magazine from the left side of the aisle) which concludes thusly:

    “At root, the ad hominem anti-war argument denies that thought can transcend experience. And that, in its way, represents a more ambitious effort to foreclose debate than anything dreamed up by Donald Rumsfeld. It certainly doesn’t sound like ‘national dialogue’ to me.”

    The whole article can be read here:


    29. What is the moral argument for attacking a nation that has not initiated aggression against us, and could not if it wanted?

    First of all, this question is based on the false premise that Iraq could not initiate agression agianst the US. As if an attempt to murder a former President of the US was somehow not agressive. That a country that sponsors and harbors terrorists who not only could but DO initiate aggression against the US must not bear responsibility for that. That a country that could arm terrorists with nuclear weapons should not be stopped before it does so. I ask, what is the moral argument for letting New York get nuked before we act? If we had known before 9/11 last year of the coming attacks, would we not have been justified in ending the Taliban regime that supported it? 2 years ago, I am sure people thought Afghanistan (Afghanistan!) could be no threat to the United States.

    30. Where does the Constitution grant us permission to wage war for any reason other than self-defense?

    Hmmm – surely Congressman Paul knows his Constitution better than that. For the Constitution grants to the Congress authority:

    “To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water”

    Doesn’t say anything about why. If the Congress were to declare war on Greenland “because it would be easy to beat” it would certainly be Constitutional.

    But of course, this goes back to the “Iraq is not a threat to us” argument. And Congressman Paul is just plain wrong if he thinks that the tyrnnical regime in Iraq is not a threat to the US.

    31. Is it not true that a war against Iraq rejects the sentiments of the time-honored Treaty of Westphalia, nearly 400 years ago, that countries should never go into another for the purpose of regime change?

    This question HAS been raised – by none other than Henry Kissinger. Yes, it is true that our new stated policy of preemptive regime change rejects the sentiments of the Treaty of Westphalia. But I don’t think seeing New York a pile of radioactive rubble is a worthy price to pay to uphold some 17th Century treaty. A treaty, by the way, signed between the Holy Roman Emperor and the King of France. The Treaty of Westphalia also requires this:

    “The Emperor shall likewise declare, That within the Investiture of the Dutchy of Mantua are comprehended the Castles of Reygioli and Luzzare, with their Territorys and Dependencys, the Possession whereof the Duke of Guastalla shall be oblig’d to render to the Duke of Mantua, reserving to himself nevertheless, the Right of Six Thousand Crowns annual Pension, which he pretends to, for which he may sue the Duke before his Imperial Majesty.”

    Should we be upholding this, too?

    32. Is it not true that the more civilized a society is, the less likely disagreements will be settled by war?

    No, it is not true.

    33. Is it not true that since World War II Congress has not declared war and- not coincidentally- we have not since then had a clear-cut victory?

    It is true that Congress has not declared war since WWII. Though it is not true that we have not since had a clear-cut victory. The Congressman presumes that a declaration is necessary to provide clear-cut victories, but the resolution of some declared wars is less clear than of undeclared ones.

    34. Is it not true that Pakistan, especially through its intelligence services, was an active supporter and key organizer of the Taliban?

    It is true.

    And of course Congressman Paul is not the only person asking this question, and it has NOTHING to do with the coming war in Iraq.

    35. Why don’t those who want war bring a formal declaration of war resolution to the floor of Congress?

    Again, not the only person asking the question. Of course, Congressman Paul, being the good student of the Constitution that he is, might ask what a “formal declaration of war” looks like. The quote in the Constitution is found above. If the Congress votes a resolution giving authority to the President to use military force, isn’t that a declaration of war? For example, the Congress did this for our current war in Afghanistan and other fronts. These are the actual words of that resolution:

    “That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

    Sounds like war to me.

    And if the President determines that Iraq aided in the 9/11 attacks, this is all the authority he needs.

    Ron Paul’s claim to fame is that he will never vote for something he doesn’t think is Constitutional. I note that the Congressman voted Yea on this resolution.

    Must mean that he thinks it is Constitutional.

  • RobertWMcCormick

    A message from the owners of this blog to: RobertWMcCormick

    This blog and comment section is private property. Feel free to disagree with us but if you cannot be civil, you are not welcome here. Your ignorant drivel has been deleted.

    Another pea-brained blogroach killed dead.

  • David Carr

    Bravo to Mr.McCormick and well said, sir!!

    Do you see, ladies and gentlemen, how the incisive McCormack sets out, from his very opening lines, to utterly demolish these faux-hawk positions by the impeccable application of the purest Aristotlean logic built on a secure foundation of sincere moral principle.

    It is nothing less than a devastating critique which authoritatively stamps the high-water mark of intellectual discourse on this hitherto arid, simplistic and low-brow debate.

    More, Mr.McCormack, more!!!

  • The nasty fact is that as long as harming innocents is not the objective, if a given use of force is justified then innocent bystanders are often just a regrettable consequence. To think otherwise is a charter for hostage takers.

    I don’t disagree with this theory, but I have some difficulty working out its implications in a morally satisfying way. For example, one obviously absurd way of reading your statement would be to conclude that, if we are justified in using force to kill an individual terrorist, then as long as that is truly our objective, we can use any means to do so without regard to the loss of innocent life. We could, for example, carpet bomb an entire country, despite the regrettable but unintended deaths of millions.

    Obviously, that’s not your position. But this means that whether or not a given use of force is “justified” has to depend on more than the justice of its “objective.” It has also to depend on whether the force used is reasonably tailored to achieve its end while minimizing innocent casualties. And in fact we talk a lot about how the actions of our military in Afghanistan (and of Israel in the territories) follow this principle, thus creating a clear moral distinction between our actions and those of terrorists. This makes perfect sense to me, as long as I don’t think about it too much. As soon as I do, I find myself confronted by questions I’m not sure how to answer. At least, I don’t know how to formulate a clear formula that enables one to make objective and consistent judgments.

    First of all, it seems that for every justified objective, there are probably a number of possible ways of achieving it. Each will have differing levels of efficacy and different levels of attendant risk both to civilians and to soldiers. So our moral calculus has at least three variables: the importance of the objective, the efficacy of a given type of force in achieving that objective, and the cost in innocent lives of using that type of force. Presumably, for any given values of the first two variables, there will be a point at which the value of the third becomes too high, so that the action cannot be justified.

    Or perhaps not. Once we admit such a principle, we immediately have the “charter” problem you refer to. By adopting it, we announce to the terrorist that there is some point at which the danger of harming civilians may outweigh the justice of killing him, and this gives him an incentive to surround himself with as many civilians as possible. So perhaps we have to take a sort of “rule utilitarian” position on this and say threats to innocent life are actually minimized by refusing to take them into account when pursuing a necessary military objective. In which case the only reason we don’t carpet bomb is that usually it’s not that efficient. Otherwise we’d be justified in doing so. Am I back where I started?

    In addition, we still have the problem of deciding when a military objective is “necessary”, and whether the risk to civilians goes into this determination. Some objectives—say, destroying the army of an aggressor—seem pretty clearly necessary. But very quickly that idea gets widened to destroying the aggressor’s “ability to make war,” which could encompass virtually all the civilian economic infrastructure. In fact, if we’re talking about a country in which public opinion has any effect on control of the armed forces, one could logically conclude that it is legitimate to destroy the country’s ability to make war through attacks directly on the civilian population that will destroy their will to make war. We thus reach the perverse result that, if you have a legitimate reason to be at war with a country, the more democratic it is the more justified you are in targeting civilians.

    Which brings to al-Qaeda, which obviously believes it has a legitimate reason to be at war with us. I don’t believe they do, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that they did. We define them as terrorists because they deliberately targeted civilians. Why can’t they legitimately respond that since we practice the notion of popular sovereignty, we are all ultimately members of the command structure of the U.S. military and thus legitimate targets? Their ultimate “objective” isn’t killing civilians per se—it’s getting the U.S. to stop doing X, Y and Z, which they regard as acts of aggression. If this is not a legitimate position, why not exactly?

    Don’t get me wrong—I am not claiming that we are morally equivalent to al-Qaeda. I’m groping toward a clearly articulable set of principles with which to establish beyond peradventure that we’re not. One that I can apply rigorously and objectively to our actions as well as those of our enemies, in order to make consistent moral judgments. Any help would be appreciated.

  • shawn O'Neal

    Isn’t it odd that even though we have more accurate precesion guided weapons that more and more innocent people are being killed?

    When Abe Lincoln decided that war on Non combatants was justifiable to bring the Confederacy to it’s knees and decided to let Sherman and Sheridan make war on men, women, children livestock, and property he once again opened Pandoras box.
    It becomes part of the strategy of war even though on the surface it is treated as a regrettable thing to be avoided.

    And of course the winner is always right. Just read the History books that the victor publishes and it’s all there.
    I have yet to read a historical account where the winning country or army admits that ” Hey, we are the evil scum of the earth, we are immoral and wrong in our aims but we have won just the same.

    As far as Jacob H. goes he would like to assume the omnipotent mind and decide that history would be different if it could be replayed in a manner fitting his political views.
    Don’t we all?

  • Robert McCormick: Hilarious! What eloquence and intellect , what a splendidly simple reduction of the world to a series of angry grunts. Of course a ‘man’ who bravely calls another a sissy from the safety of his computer, rather than making an eloquent argument, is always going to be an easy source of hilarity.

    Here we are presented with several insights into the ‘mind’ of a man who not only seems to presume to know what passport I hold and what I may or may not have done (I have seen a real war up close and personal, I wonder if Robert McCormick has?), but also does not believe in civilian control of the military: i.e. he thinks the only people with any right to have an opinion how a volunteer military is used, is the volunteer soldiers themselves, rather than the people who pay for them. Presumably Robert McCormick feels that fireman are the only ones with the moral right to call out the fire brigade.

    This sort of pseudo-fascist view, fascist in sentiment without actually understanding the implications, pretty much defines the people who use the ‘chickenhawk’ argument. If someone volunteers to join the military of a country with a long history of intervening in far off lands (militaries such as the US or UK), then I fail to see how they can complain when they get asked to go and do exactly that… and the fact is most do not complain. They at least choose their careers, the people who paid for their equipment were given no choice in the matter… which is why they can indeed call for a war to be fought in their name with the tools they paid for.

  • Isn’t it odd that even though we have more accurate precesion guided weapons that more and more innocent people are being killed?

    Shawn O’Neal: Do you seriously think that more civilians are killed by the US war machine now than, say, in World War 2, before the advent of PGMs? You cannot be serious!

    Likewise, Abe Lincoln, of whom I am not fan, was hardly the inventor of the killing non combatants in order to undermine an enemies ability to wage war. I suggest you read a book about the Mongol Empire, or the Hundred Years War or the Thirty Years War. It is not an American ‘invention’.

  • OK, my military vehicle skills are rusty. What sort of toy is that? Troop carrier of some sort, Bradley or the Brit version?

  • Chuck: It is a British Alvis Sabre, a modernised version of the Alvis Scimitar Tracked Reconnaissance Vehicle. They are quite similar but the Sabre has a lower profile turret, improved secondary weaponry and sundry other tweaks.

  • Robert W. McCormick

    Perry can dish it out, but he sure can’t take it. Big Macho Perry, king of the “libertarian” warriors — what a joke! So why haven’t you joined up? You’re young enough to fight. Instead of spending all your time urging AMERICANS to go to war, why not do it yourself — enlist! Oh, you chicken-hawks are really something: all talk, and no action.

  • I guess ‘brave Robert from Santa Clara with the phoney e-mail address’ didn’t actually read that I wrote (no surprise there). Still, what can one expect from a ‘man’ who thinks calling someone names from the safety of his computer is a replacement for having a reasoned argument.

  • Horus

    yup…you is right to not let a dickless name callin’ troll get yer goat. i was in the gulf in ’91 and i sure agree wid ya!

  • Thanks, Perry. Never quite saw the point of these sorts of vehicles. Other than their spectacular destruction indicates that the enemy’s main battle tanks are, in fact, in the area. Kinda similar to those tiny frigates that many navies produced until the Falklands pointed out that one Exocet = on ship is really bad math.

    However, by owning one, one never, never has another parking problem outside the old condo.

  • Chuck: Ah, the number of times I have heard this argument between US and British/European military types.

    Fact is that the US idea of conducting ‘reconnaissance’ tends to be to send a main battle tank equipped armoured cav regiment forward in what in any other army would be considered not ‘reconnaissance’ but a probing attack. The concept behind vehicles like the Sabre is for an agile vehicle to go take a look at, as opposed to bite out of, the enemy, hopefully unobserved. A Challenger 2 is a rather expensive and noisy way to do that sort of job!

    Also, in the sort of limited war situations that make up the majority of post WW2 actions, such light vehicles are actually extremely versatile. Small wars is what the Brits are very good at and these sorts of vehicle are very good in situations like that. The Brits have a long tradition of light armoured vehicles like Sabre (i.e. Scorpion, Scimitar, Fox, Saladin, Ferret)… you just have to know how to use them correctly. If you think they are too vulnerable to MBTs, well yeah, that is for sure, but if they are being put in front of an MBT then the people using them are not very good at what they doing.