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

Needs must when the devil drives

A series of posts on Crooked Timber criticise pro-Iraq war libertarians, mentioning this blog in particular. The posts (and still more the comments) differ in their degree of charitability to our position but the general thrust is ‘… can we think of a new name for libertarians who think it’s a good idea to invade other countries and overthrow their governments, like maybe “shmibertarians”?’

Apologies to those who have heard me saying this before.

It is all much simpler than you think.

When I see my house burning down I do not wait for the evolution of private fire brigades.

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56 comments to Needs must when the devil drives

  • Well, I don’t understand why people insist calling Samizdata.net libertarian. I am not and neither are several of its contributors and so I find the whole debate in Crooked Timber pointless and irrelevant to us. The problem is not with Samizdata holding this or that opinion or a position, it is with those who persist in labelling it a certain way and then act puzzled or even indignant when we do not behave accordingly.

  • John Ellis

    Adriana, I never knew that you were not a flavour of Libertarian, and I guess that because many people on this Board self-describe themselves that way, members of the Editorial team are coloured with the Libertarian brush.

    If you don’t mind me asking, could you sum up your political philosophy with a label or one-liner…?

  • J

    “When I see my house burning down I don’t wait for the evolution of private fire brigades.”

    Except that to an anti-war like me the house isn’t burning down. It _does_ seem to me that pre-emptive strike is counter to the run of libertarian philosophy. We don’t want to arrest people just because they own crossbows. We do want to arrest people if they shoot people with crossbows. Big difference. No, if a guy starts stockpiling crossbows, fertiliser, agar jelly, glycerine and kevlar panels, you might get a tad suspicious. But you still can’t arrest him until he actually goes out on his one man killing spree – assuming he ever does.

    There’s undoubtedly a parallel between saying it’s OK for the state to have guns, but not the populace, and saying it’s OK for the West to have WMD, but not the rest of the world.

  • Hank Scorpio

    While I admire and agree with a number of Libertarian ideas I’ll never subscribe to it fully, because deep down it’s as flawed as every other ideology is. Now that doesn’t mean I reject the ideas that Libertarians espouse, it just means that taking anything to the nth degree is usually a bad idea.

    J, I think you’re living in a fantasy land if you think that we always have to wait to be attacked before taking action. It’s an inexcusable, indefensible position as far as I’m concerned. We know exactly who the bad actors in this world are. We know that they mean us no good will, and we know that they are plotting against us. What possible reason can we have for inaction? The smug morality of taking it on the chin first? No thanks. If someone threatens me I hit them first. Waiting for them to follow through on their threat may be “fair”, but frankly I don’t give a damn if I fight fair, I just want to win.

  • ernest young

    Hank,

    I couldn’t agree more, libetarianism, taken to the nth degree, is just plain impracticable. OK if you live on a desert island with no neghbours, but highly impracticable in a modern civilised society, but the basic idea is pretty good.

    I totally agree with your second paragraph also, you notice that is the young, ‘green around the gills’ types who are so touchingly naive… what age were you when you realised that life was totally unfair? it was around about puberty in my case….but then the loss of one’s first love always seems so unfair.

  • J

    “J, I think you’re living in a fantasy land if you think that we always have to wait to be attacked before taking action.”

    I don’t think that. But then, I’m not libertarian. I do think it’s hard to reconcile support for pre-emptive action of the sort seen in GW2 with a pure libertarian stance.

    “We know exactly who the bad actors in this world are. ”

    Well, firstly, no we don’t. But secondly and far more importantly, it’s a pretty weird moral system that says it’s OK to attack people for ‘being bad’. You may be jealous of my wealth, but unless you actually mug me, there’s no (sane) reason for me to harm you. Jealousy is a bad thing, but you can’t reasonably use force to eradicate it.

    “We know that they mean us no good will”

    So what? The tramp outside Sainsbury’s who scowls at everyone also means us no good will, but that’s not an excuse to lock him up. Yes, the tramp isn’t in charge of a large army like Saddam was, but then the tramp isn’t several thousand miles away, like Saddam was.

    “What possible reason can we have for inaction?”

    Because no action we could usefully take would be morally justifiable. It sucks, but I believe that such situations arise. Consider the parents of wayward teenagers – they know their children are doing stupid things, but there’s little either useful or morally justifiable they can do to prevent it. They just have to hope they grow up before going too far off the rails.

    “The smug morality of taking it on the chin first.”

    Smugness is neither here no there. I do believe there is an advantage to having a demonstrably better moral position, even in the murky realopitik of foreign affairs. So, yes, in that sense I’d be happy to sacrifice lives to obtain stronger moral position.

    “If someone threatens me I hit them first.”

    What a nice person you are. So when a drunk guy in a pub randomly says “hey, you shtop looking at my girlfriend, or there’ll be trouble”, you just punch them in the face right then and there? Better safe than sorry, eh? Charming.

    “Waiting for them to follow through on their threat may be “fair”, but frankly I don’t give a damn if I fight fair, I just want to win.””

    Ah, so you don’t punch them. You kick them in nuts. Even nicer!

    J

  • I should mention to anyone not aware of it that Samizdata contributors have quite varied opinions. For instance, as Adriana says, some contributors are not libertarians. Others (me, for instance) do describe themselves as libertarians.

    At least one of us, Philip Chaston, who usually posts on the blog Airstrip One is strongly against the war.

  • D. Timmerman

    Last I checked, Saddam Hussein was not just a grumpy old man scowling at people from his many palaces.

    How many of his own citizens did the current Prime Minister say died under his regime? How many citizens of neighboring countries did he kill?

    As Lewis Black put it, Saddam Hussein was not exactly a “snuggy bear”.

  • Saddam Hussein was also not a threat to the U.S. or U.K. at the time we attacked him.

    However, Iraq now is a threat, thanks to our excellent work in country.

    Some of the folks on Samizdata claimed in the past to be libertarians, but it is obvious you’re all, at best, “Shmibertarians”, as Crooked Timber has aptly called you. There is no other way to describe people who think that a giant government program to rebuild a country on the other side of the world is the best way for us to get rid of terrorists based in entirely different countries.

    If someone says “Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction” you folks revert to a non-sequitur like “but Saddam Hussein was a bad man!”. If someone says “what about all the wasted money that could have been spent hunting Bin Laden” you say “death to the Wahhabis!” even though there wasn’t a Wahhabi in sight in the Baath party. If someone notes that Iraq is a bloodbath, is filled with regions where US and UK troops don’t even dare venture, and is rapidly turning into a chaotic breeding ground for terrorists, you folks say “oh, shut up you silly pacifist!”

    Meanwhile, of course, I sit here in New York, having witnessed the deaths of thousands, watching as the Bushies, who you folks all seem to love, take away civil right after civil right, all in the name of “fighting terrorism” and not a one of which helps even slightly with fighting terrorism.

    It seems to me that if anyone is giving aid and comfort to the enemies of freedom, it is Samizdata.

    I’m sure I’ll get the usual impassioned rants against me, filled with corruscating wit like “pacifist idiot” or “but Saddam Hussein was evil!” or “don’t you see we’re at war with Islam?” or “we aren’t libertarians, we just say we are in the right hand column of the front page of the blog”. Luckily there won’t be a single rational argument in the lot.

  • “Well, I don’t understand why people insist calling Samizdata.net libertarian”

    Well, maybe it is because it was originally called Libertarian Samizdata or because a large proportion (if not a majority) of its contributors have also written for the Libertarian Alliance. Who can say.

    Anyway, as for the subject of the post, what is wrong with “pro-War libertarian”?

  • veryretired

    I have been listening to, and arguing with, this childish nonsense about morality coming from every two bit leftist I have had the misfortune to meet since I was in high school. It always starts the same way—a claim that the US must be perfect in every way, and then a list of all the terrible things that have been done in the name of “freedom” or “bourgeouis democracy” or “imperialism”. The end result is the sniffy dismissal, as in, “well, maybe you want to live in such a degraded world, but I don’t”.

    So, finally, it must be said very plainly to J, and all the other ideologues at this site who are so mortified that somebody might actuall, you know, do something sometime instead of just talk and talk and talk—the world doesn’t work the way you want it to.

    Human beings gather together and fight for what they believe in. Read the Declaration of Independence. Read the Constitution. These are not touchy-feely little love notes. They are open statements of war against tyranny, war against aristocracy, war against monarchy, war against despotism, AND war against religious repression.

    Repeatedly over the last 2 centuries, and in a series of life or death struggles in the 20th century especially, the free peopples of the US and her allies have demonstrated that they will not tolerate any threat to their liberty. If this means killing millions who would threaten it, then so be it.

    The autocrats of the Spanish Empire, the autocrats of the Hoenzollern and Hapsburg Empires, the dictators of the German, Italian, and Japanese fascisms, the dictators of the Marxist-Leninist collection of “soviet” states, and now the mullahs and self-appointed leaders of Islamic fascism, have all discovered a very important and valuable lesson.

    It is this: if we think you are a threat to our liberty and safety, we will kill you. And we will keep killing you until you stop being a threat. And we are the ones who decide all of these factors—not you, not the UN, not the academy, not the media, not the churches, and certainly not some sniveling collegiate at his keyboard drivelling endlessy about what he thinks is suitably moral enough for his delicate sensibilities.

    You can take your delicacy and put it right between where you sit and your chair.

    You are happy to call anyone with whom you disagree all sorts of names, and belittle the efforts of millions of brave and courageous men and women who have ACTED instead of engaging in the endless chatter you think constitutes serious thought about issues of life and death for entire cultures. And if I could push a button and trade all of you, and all your whiny friends, for the life of a single rifleman now patrolling in Iraq I would do it in an instant, and it wouldn’t bother me a bit.

    I apologize for the length, and anger, of this post.

  • Mashiki

    Patrick, I don’t know. Libertarian ideals cannot exist when you have no freedom, no choices except those given to you at the point of a gun or a hangman’s noose.

    I’m middle of the road Conservative-Libertarian, the truth of it is government is a necessary evil. Or groups organized for self defense are necessary in order to protect one another. Some people will always be on the lookout to take whatever they can. It doesn’t matter where you are, if they think they can they will.

    I’ve always preferred as little as government as I can, one that’s built around flourishing trade between other nations and defense is what I’d like to see. Let people work with each other at the state/city-state level for everything else. Once you start getting larger then that you get into corruption, pettiness and all the nasty things that you see now with big government.

    As for whomever above asked how many did Saddam kill on his own? Estimates put it at between 30,000 and 70,000 a year. I can’t remember where I read that, sorry. I did read that they’ve hit 300,000 bodies so far and I’ve heard it could hit 2 million. That’s his own citizens…not even counting the Iranians.

    You can’t have peace, security, and economic freedom in your own backyard when your neighbors are shooting at each other. That’s the simple truth of it.

  • Giles

    It strikes me that liberal – in the orgional sense of the word- would be a better description of this board. Libertarians are just extreme liberals.

    I think its this overalap that tends to irk some timberites who feel that they should be the true owners of the word.

  • Verity

    Perry Metzger, Despite Blair’s dishonestly tarting up the 45-minute claim, we didn’t prosecute the war in Iraq because Saddam was a danger to the West – just to George Galloway’s bank account if he stopped the payments siphoned off the Food for Fraud scheme.

    I don’t don’t believe that President Bush ever thought Saddam’s WMD were a threat to the West. I think this cleaving to the UN resolutions regarding the WMD was just the means to an end of prosecuting the war. Mr Bush doesn’t have any interest in UN resolutions. It was a figleaf.

    Iraq qualified for attack because it is a secular, as opposed to a theistic, country and thus could possibly be converted to democracy to provide an example to the theist countries surrounding it. The war was to serve notice on Boy Assad and the Saudi royal family and other assorted ME strongmen with a penchant for funding terrorism that the West intends to introduce democracy to the region and they’d better get used to it.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    The principle of non-intervention and/or waiting for the first strike just works so well against islamic terrorists with willing state sponsors, eh? Modern technology coupled with the power of the bomb means that you can no longer sit back and sneer. A global village means exactly that: borders and distance are no longer barriers. It’s simply too dangerous.

    Libertarianism to the nth degree works in a world where every human being is perfectly rational. Sad to say, that’s not the case. Just as socialism ignores human nature, so does extreme libertarianism to another extent.

    TWG

  • ernest young

    Perry E. Metzger,

    You really do seem to be very confused. Have you been getting your information re Iraq from the Kerry website?

    Looks very much as though that is the case, so many of your quotes seem to have the same ‘half-truth’ glaze, that touch of exagerration, almost of fantasy, that he is famous for. Just because you wish the worst scenario in Iraq doe not make it true.

    Just how is Iraq now a threat to the USA?

    Even your little man said he believed Hussein had WMD’s at the time, he voted in favour of the war. Was he a ‘true believer’, or was he just playing politics again?

    Part of libertarian theory is that Government should protect it’s citizens, if that means pre-emption, then so-be-it.

    Just what ‘civil rights’ have you personally lost or experienced since 9/11? Never a one, apart from a line at the boarding check-in.

    With so-called ‘friends’ like yourself, (and Kerry), who needs enemies? You really are the ‘Enemy within’.

    You people dislike Bush so much that you are quite prepared to destroy, not only Iraq, but also the USA, in your desire to topple the man…. pathetic.

  • J

    veryretired:

    There’s no either / or with regard to words and actions. You can do both, and both are worth doing.

    You say ” do something sometime instead of just talk and talk and talk—the world doesn’t work the way you want it to.”

    Well, of course I do things, why shouldn’t I talk, talk, talk in between? You and I both post on this blog – what makes you think you do more and talk less than me?

    And as for “And we are the ones who decide all of these factors—not you, not the UN, not the academy, not the media, not the churches, and certainly not some sniveling collegiate at his keyboard drivelling endlessy about what he thinks is suitably moral enough for his delicate sensibilities.”

    Huh? Do you have more votes than me or something? What do you mean that ‘we’ decide but I (and my snivelling college friends) don’t. That doesn’t make sense.

  • Hank Scorpio

    “Ah, so you don’t punch them. You kick them in nuts. Even nicer!”

    Damn straight. If it’s gotten to the point where I’m forced to fight someone I’m going to try to put them down as quickly as possible with as little danger to myself as possible. A kick in the nuts, a punch to the throat, goughing eyes: all fair game.

  • ernest young

    J,

    Yes, it’s one of life’s little tragedies that college students, and for that matter, anyone in academia, has a vote, absolute tragedy….:-)

  • Winzeler

    Was Saddam a real threat to the liberty of individuals accross the world? Do libertarians believe individuals should have the “freedom” to commit murder? …particularily mass murder?

    I guess I think I’m glad Saddam is not in power because I think he was a murderer with some seriously sadistic tendencies (addictions). His treatment of his own people makes me sick. So I have no real problem with him being displaced.

    HOWEVER, I think all (maybe most) the reasons we were spoon-fed for the war were absolute crap.

    Final question: Can a libertarian be pro-Iraq war while being anti supposed “reasons” for Iraq war?

  • veryretired

    J,

    You don’t have a clue, and that is all the “debate” you are going to get.

  • That lot has been blasting away a quite a few of us on the pro-libertarian/libertarian leaning side. Stephen Pollard and my blog have both been on the other end of their pointed stick.

    Their simplistic view of our pro-war view is rather amusing, if completely off the mark. Surely making sure that suicide bombers are not funded by a brutal dictator is a good idea? Or we suppose to wait until a dirty bomb goes off in London or Washington DC?

    It does not surprise me that most people consider this site libertarian, especially those round long enough to remember it being called Libertarian Samizdata. In fact I think you will find quite a few bloggers who still have this blog under that name on their blog-roll.

  • snide

    …many people on this Board …

    Board? This is not a board (or a forum or a chatroom), it is a blog with comments 😛

  • snide

    If the best those losers at ‘Crocked Timber’ can come up with is calling you guys silly names, I would not lose to much sleep over it. They vastly overestimate their own intellects. I prefer the term ‘Pro-Survival Classical Liberals’ myself.

    At least Metzger is occasionally coherent but as his rant above shows, he is a mite too obsessed with consistancy(Link). Sure, reduce the side of the state, scale back everything (such as halve the fleet and airforce, reduce the nuclear ballistic force to maybe 50 missiles etc.)… and overthrowing Ba’athist would still be both doable and desireable. Therefore wanting a smaller state and the end of Mr. Metzger’s favourite Middle Eastern fascist are by no means inconsistant desires.

  • Joe Miller

    I have a vague memory of Saddam doing something a while ago…was it?…or?…. Oh, yes, I remember now. He invaded Kuwait. I think even libertarians agree that that’s wrong. And then we drove him out of Kuwait and the hostilities ended with Saddam agreeing to certain conditions. Like inspections that would demonstrate his commitment to destroying his weapons programs, etc. Can anyone think of a single condition of the ceasefire that Saddam honored?

    It’s clear that Saddam gambled–and quite correctly so far as it went–that the UN would never have the stones to start another war. The Iraq situation festered for a decade while diplomats dithered. The Oil-for-Food program is probably the tip of the iceberg and represents what Saddam could do while the world and the UN watched him.

    I do call myself a libertarian. I believe if someone is chasing my neighbor and threatening force, I am justified in dispatching that threat even though it isn’t against me. I believe that no self-appointed bully has the right to torture and kill “his own people.” Morally speaking, I think it entirely acceptable to invade every country that mistreats its people. That’s not possible and that’s a shame. I have, therefore, no problem supporting Bush when he does it in Iraq. It’s one of the few things I agree with the President about.

  • Ken

    Libertarianism is perfectly compatible with an interventionist foreign policy.

    No one has a “right” to be in power. Thus removing someone from power does not violate his rights. In cases where a despot is threatening or violating the rights of innocent bystanders, especally ourselves, it is perfectly acceptable to overthrow him by force and institute a freer government in his place.

  • Mike

    I’ve long since lost interest in Crooked Timber. The site oozes a combination of arrogance, condescension, and intellectual maladroitness that gets to be grating after a while. The specialty of the house is long-winded arguments employing “analytic philosophy” that purport to prove that night is in fact day when that conclusion is doctrinally convenient.

    Colby Cosh linked to a few threads of the Crooked Timber response to Rathergate last week that were (for once) pretty amusing and typical of the quality of discussion that site specializes in.

    So — why bother with them?

  • sark

    … can we think of a new name for libertarians who think it’s a good idea to invade other countries and overthrow their governments, like maybe “shmibertarians”?’

    Or can we think of a new name for “liberals”(1) who think it’s a good idea to stand up for the rights of mass murderers who are prone to invade other countries? Like maybe “useful idiots”. Oh, yeah, that is not a new name, is it?

    (1) = meaning not-at-all-liberal really

  • There was that little thing of his using chemical weapons on his own people and the Iranians as well.

  • Dave

    Crooked Timber has devolved from a decent website for left-leaning views to childish ranting. Especially atrocious has been the addition of Belle Waring and John Holbo to the blog. Talk about bringing the level of discourse down to high school debate team level. These two have done nothing but cheapen what used to be a decent blog, even with all the nonsense that accompanied the sense. Remember the gems of “how capitalism creates poverty” and “marx was simply misunderstood”?

  • ATM

    Iraq may not have had WMD stockpiles and their nuclear program may have been slowed to a crawl by sanctions and inspections, but those same sanctions and the suffering caused by the corrupt Oil for Food program were #2 on bin Laden’s gripe list, with #1 being American troops defiling Arabia. So a contained Iraq may not have been an imminent threat to us, but containing Iraq was a dangerous and deadly business because of the second front opened up by al Qaeda. It’s a classic catch-22.

    The way I see it, you had three choices: continue the same policy, run away and let a ME arms race start and let the Kurds get slaughtered (bin Laden didn’t appear to think too highly of our protection of the Kurds since he wanted to attack the Turkish airbases that British and American jets enforcing the no flyzone were based at), or go in and take Saddam out. Given the 3000+ dead and similar number of wounded from al Qaeda attacks over the last decade, I would have to say that we have invested too much blood and treasure to run away or to just continue with containment.

  • Robert

    How can a libertarian be pro-war?

    If libertarian ideology states that governments only proper reason for existing is to secure and protect the lives, liberty and property of the individuals it governs, then how can a libertarian not be pro-war when the need arises? Certainly a libertarian can oppose a specific war for specific reasons, but I dont think they can oppose the need for war given a proper circumstance. I mean if a just nation was under attack from an unjust nation, would it be proper libertarian protocol to roll over? No. Why? Because as I said the protection of life, liberty and property is the only reason for government to exist and it would not only be improper but immoral.

    Now as for pre-emptive action, libertarian cases can be built for and against based on evidence (or the lack thereof, whatever) against a particular nation. But ask this, is it better to let X number of people die before said government takes action or is it better to take a massive risk in order to insure the citizenries security?

    Personally I’m in favor of the Iraq war and of preemptive action. Saddam Hussein was a threat, maybe not an immediate one but we could not allow him to become one in the future and unfortunately containment could no longer be considered an option what with the evident threat of international terrorists and the events of 9/11 and all. Also, if al-Qaeda was, or wasn’t, associated with Hussein it was important to sever that connection or prevent it from forming in the first place. The fewer places these sonsabitches can turn to for assistance and shelter the better.

  • Guy Herbert

    I was under the impression that libertarianism is a political orientation (opposite: authoritarianism) rather than a coherent ideological position. You’d think Crooked Timbers‘s rubric would warn them against setting up rigid straw men to knock down.

    [My position on the war: I can see a good strategic reason for an Iraq War, but not this one. Fighting back against chiliastic Islam was overdue. But that enemy is actually fairly weak, and “War on Terrorism” is an inane conception, a permanent emergency providing (tho’ not necessarily maliciously) a populist pretext for the rapid expansion of state power–a suped-up “War on Drugs”.]

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Guy Herbert hits the nail on the head. Libertarianism is not a hard-and-fast political line, more like a broad disposition in favour of liberty, individual rights, preference for private property, etc. Some libertarians are anarchists; some are minimal statists, some even go beyond that. It seems to be quite silly suppose that libertarianism per se must exclude pre-emptive wars against tyrannies as a matter of principle. I wrote a post on this blog a few weeks ago to make that very point.

    A lot depends about simple prudence. It may be just to knock off Saddam’s regime, but was it wise, given the likely results? Libertarians can disagree about that even though they may agree on every other issue, which has been my experience these last few years.

    And the problem with judging the wisdom of the Iraq war, etc, is that a lot comes down to how one reads the facts on the ground, history, previous experience, the intelligence available, etc. Seems to me there is no way one can turn a test of these things in to an ideological vanity contest.

    And by the way, as a long-standing contributor to this blog and LA supporter, I’d like to point out that it has never required its writers to adhere to some sort of “party line” on the war or anything else.

  • This does make me laugh…after are all Conservatives pro-war and all Labour people anti? So why should all libertarians have the same line on the war?

  • Robert,

    If you can show to me that a government (even your most ideal libertarian version) can “secure and protect the lives, liberty, and property” without engaging in systematic aggression against it’s citizens, then perhaps your kind of argument might work. But it doesn’t.

    How would the Ideal Libertarian Government be able to afford the kind of military might necessary to accomplish what the US military has done over the years in the wars that I assume you support? Certainly not by “voluntary user fees” or something. Taxes and tariffs – the things we are supposed to loathe as theft – are the only practical way to securing such revenue.

    Hey, I’m glad Saddam and his cronies are out of power. He’s just another in a long line of vicious collectivist bastards who should have been shot in the head a long time ago. But why force me to pay for it? Why force others? What is libertarian about that? It treats people as means, not ends. It is fundamentally no different than the kind of vicious ideology you’re trying to get rid of.

    You could pick posts at random from Crooked Timber and I’m almost guaranteed to disagree vehemently with most of them. But their criticism is spot-on this time. I’m a big fan of Samizdata but the bloggers here who support the war temper my enthusiasm for the site.

    When I see my house burning down I do not wait for the evolution of private fire brigades.

    Ms. Solent, this cannot escape the fact that no one should be forced to protect, fix, or secure your property. That’s your responsibilty, not ours. It also says that you seem unwilling to adhere to principles (assuming you have them; I’m not familiar with your writing) in all situations, thereby devolving any coherent argument you may have against state intervention in our lives into a “in most situations it’s wrong” kind of mush.

    Veryretired, all I can say to your angry rant (not necessarily directed at my perspective of the debate) is that my life and property are not yours to dispose of as you see fit. That goes for snivelling “obey the UN” types as well.

  • Patrick Crozier and others: yes, Samizdata used to be called libertarian… you may also note that it ain’t called that anymore and has not been so for quite a while. There is a reason for that….

    And while I am an editor of this esteemed blog, I shall protest anyone trying to challenge our views on the basis that they do not conform to libertarianism. They usually confuse us with someone who cares about whether we are worthy of that label.

  • Many of Samizdata.net’s contributing writers are self described libertarians… others are not. And I quote from the sidebar:

    We are also a varied group made up of social individualists, libertarians, extropians, futurists, ‘Porcupines’, Karl Popper fetishists, recovering neo-conservatives, crazed Ayn Rand worshipers, over-caffeinated Virginia Postrel devotees, witty Frédéric Bastiat wannabes, cypherpunks, minarchists, kritarchists and wild-eyed anarcho-capitalists from Britain, North America, Australia and Europe.

  • Mike

    “When I see my house burning down I don’t wait for the evolution of private fire brigades.”

    Unfortunately, a lot of people who call themselves libertarians do say that they would rather wait for the evolution of private fire brigades, not to mention privatised national security programs and police. I’m sorry, but if you don’t think the government should even provide firemen, police or an army what do you think it should provide and how are you different from a plain old anarchist?

  • limberwulf

    Exactly so Mike. Libertarianism, as I follow it, does leave a place for government, and government is not free. Taxation in and of itself is not theft, taxation for the purposes of redistributing wealth is. Government has a contractual obligation in a libertarian society to protect the freedom of its people. In return, that contract requires payment. If you do not like the terms of the contract, then you are not entitled to the security provided. Since said security tends to follow geographics bounds dues to logistics, then you must either follow the terms of the contract or live elsewhere, if you are lucky you may find a society whose terms you agree with, but I doubt it will last long.

    As for the Iraq war, Sadaam had given up his rights as a country leader. I beleive in the right to bear arms, I do not believe in the right of convicted criminals to bear arms. I totally support the right of the US to go in a remove a leader who, upon being given a conditional second chance, broke the terms of the conditions. My only regret is that is was not done sooner.

    Concerning CT, I too have basically given up on that site as being fairly worthless, and I care not for their labels or attacks. Libertarians may be liberals in the old sense, but the term has changed meaning in many circles. Libertarians oppose authoritarians, regardless of their “left” or “right” leanings. I do not mind the military action in Iraq, tho I am not a fan of “nation building”. The only thing is, in the non-ideal world in which we live, pure military action with no follow up would have been potentially worse and more expensive in the long run.

    The big issues I have with the current administration are all to do with defensive, fear based actions like “homeland security”, not to do with foreign policy. Using people’s fear to gain power has ever been the strategy of authoritarians. Right-wingers lean toward fear of an “enemy”, left-wingers use fear of circumstances, poverty, and environmental cataclysms. The right gets homeland security, the left get welfare, unemployment insurance, nationalized healthcare, and every environmental and safety regulation on the books. IF I seem to lean right it is because there are far more examples of left-wing stuff that has gotten through.

    Basically, not all people on this site are libertarians, nor would it be nearly the caliber site it is if they were. Further, however, and perhaps more importantly, libertarians are not definable by right and left wing, they can be either or both, as long as their beliefs do not follow the path of authoritarians.

  • Mike, so is it simply out of the realm of possibility that if you notice your house on fire, you’d be unable to combat that fire with the help of your neighbors who may have an interest in seeing it contained? It seems the notion of a fire brigade is under too rigid an assumption here.

    limberwulf, taxation is wealth redistribution no matter how you examine it. That wealth is distributed in the forms of plain handouts, wages to government workers, or services citizens use. I don’t recall being given the option of signing a social contract, or being told the details of such a thing, or being given notice that my only escape clause is moving away from land held by the United States. It’s just been dropped in my lap at some indeterminate period; all of a sudden I’m party to it. Sounds like the very shady kind of contract your ideal government would be charged with regulating out of existence…

    But then again, I’m just one of those kooky anarcho-capitalists.

  • limberwulf

    By that logic Charles, the market is also redistribution of wealth, and that actually would be true. The thing is, a standing military is sort of like insurance, you dont need it most of the time, but if/when you do, you cant just make one/come up with the needed funds overnight.

    The difference from insurance is that with insurance you get to choose to buy it, versus take the risk of not having it. That is because insurance is typically able only to pay for damage to you and your property. The military is only able to prevent an enemy from forcibly taking over an area, and all of it’s resources. If you are in a given area that is under a military protection, you are benefiting from the service whether you asked for it or not.

    If you are a landowner, feel free to make your little spot a sovereign land, but be prepared to defend it, because no one will do so for you. If you are not a land-owner, then you have no geographical area to defend, and your landlord would be well within his rights to make sure that you were paying for insurance, such as military protection, in order to live on his property, as anything else would be a risk to his property and therefore a violation of his rights. He can ensure this happens by adding it to your rent or by making you prove you are paying it yourself.

    The thing to realize is that if our current tax burden were reduced to cover nothing but the military, the courts, the representatives in the legislature, and the police, several things would happen.
    1) The tax burden would be reduced enormously.
    2) The size of government would be down to a manageable enough size as to make it more easily watched, and less likely to waste.
    3) The nation would be tho most desireable place to live on the planet, and even you would not likely have much to fuss about.

  • Perhaps the argument surrounding whether or not a lbertarian can support state wars is too broad. I am vehemently against this war, and even though I can respect a well-reasoned, pro-war argument, I cringe when I see anti-Iraq war libertarians suckered into a rhetorical fight regarding war in general when the real issue is Iraq.

    Look, we can debate war and pacifism some other day, but we have a real war going on right now.
    We peace proponents should just point to the sheer incompetence and evidence of malicious intent on the part of the US and British administrations to discredit the war.

    I do think that pro-war libertarians often lose their sensibilities and support these kinds of wars for emotional reasons, or perhaps to pony up to more conservative anti-leftst types(sometimes they can be more dogmatic than conservatives). But I think you all at samizdata run a cool site, regardless of your stance on the war.

  • Winzeler

    limberwulf, your comments about property ownership are interesting. The truth they point out is one of those things I have decided to not think about because it makes me so mad I’m afraid I’ll have aneurysm. Property taxes is in my book the hugest hurdle to be overcome to restore a free society. By having property taxes the government (state, federal, whatever) determined they own all the property. If you don’t believe me stop paying your property taxes (rent owed to landlord) and see how it goes. As long as a tax like that is in force, the government has the “right” to insure its property.

  • I’d like to make clear that my fire brigades analogy was not about minarchism versus anarchism. It was about urgency.

    For what it’s worth I think I am a very “min” minarchist. I have not quite sorted out my opinions on all ramifications of this issue, though. But even if I were an absolute anarchist I maintain I could without inconsistency use State-provided services when the consequences of not using them were very bad.

    Tax-funded governments, alas, provide so many of the things we use in daily life (roads, pavements, policing, fire brigades etc.) that to live without using them would mean becoming a hermit. I firmly believe that all the above should and could be provided voluntarily. Maybe the youngest of those reading this will live to see that happy day in the sunset of their years. I think waiting until then before supporting the overthrow of a tyrant with a penchant for novel weapons of mass slaughter is a bad idea.

  • Brett

    Just a note: I think a PRIMARY fallacy of certain sects of Libertarians is to assume that we must deal with those who do not accept Lockean rights the same way we deal with those who do. Re-read your social contract. We have no obligation to treat dictators who could care less about basic human rights the same as democracies who do meet a basic standard. The dictators, by their very actions, exclude themselves from the contract and have no standing. That said, we should then protect our society, which is legitimate, while respecting life and human dignity as best possible. I happen to think that deposing Saddam and the Taliban is a triumph for the ideals Libertarians claim. Is it made less sweet by the fact that it was an outside force? I dunno.

  • limberwulf

    Quite true Winzeler, the government does basically weild ownership of all land. I despise that as much as you do. Property taxes were one of those taxes sold as a “punish the rich” class envy sort of thing, but as usual, it ends up being a destroyer of the middle class and an incredibly subversive increase in the power of government. I would certainly support the idea of declaring owned property to be sovereign and as such pay no taxes at all. I know some people would do this, but most rational individuals would likely still support a government whose sole function was the protection of the freedom of its cititzens.

  • limberwulf,

    Yes, I should have been clear that it’s the forced redistribution of wealth that is wrong.

    Please understand that I’m arguing from the perspective of someone who grew up with a father who retired a full Colonel in the US Army and lived at the direct expense of the American taxpayer for more than 16 years. Hell, my dad is now a county sheriff, my mom works for the local public school district, and I myself work for a private corporation that provides insurance for public school districts. I live in Austin, one of the most collectivist regions in Texas. I’m well aware of the problems confronting my philosophy. I’ve been a free-rider for most my life.

    But you didn’t really address my point about taxation. A little is absolutely better than a lot and I would love to see the government reduced to the point where it were drownable or fully ensconced in a trailer home, but a little theft remains as immoral as a lot of theft, whether for good ends or not.

  • limberwulf

    I suppose my point concerning taxation for a function of government that is accepted, is that there is no difference between taxation and regular old market charges for a service requested, assuming the services were indeed requested. IMO the government is a necessary institution due to the existence of flaws in human nature. I would love a world in which defense was not required, who wouldnt? My view is that government is needed in the real world for the defense of the freedom of its cititzens.

    If defense could be privatised instead, there would still be a cost involved, and said cost would have to be charged to the recipients of that service. National defense is generally intended to defend not only a certain group of people, but a certain area. My personal property includes my “stuff” as well as my land. I do not want someone who is more powerful than myself on my land against my will, I want defense against that, defense I cannot reasonably provide for myself. Geographic areas are not easy to defend in small bits, strategic factors do not make it feasible for a military of any sort to efficiently defend my address and 7 others on my block but not defend my next door neighbor and the 4 remaining who do not wish to pay for defense. Either my enemy gains a foothold in the area, or I am obliged to see to it that my neighbor’s property is defended as well. If he does not pay, he is freeloading.

    I supose the bottom line is that the logistics of certain services to not permit them to be carried out on a small scale. The service of defense, provided by the government or private army, would defend an area, and all of those in that area would be benefitting from that service and billed accordingly. Thus, taxes spent soley on defense are not theft, but are simply a bill for a provided service, much like an insurance premium.

    Another example might be vehicle liability insurance. I do not carry full coverage on my vehicle. I am willing to take the risk of expense if I mess up my own car, etc. I am not opposed to having to pay liability insurance. I am not opposed to this because I potentially put others at risk by my driving choices, and should I mess up, I should be required to pay for the damage. Insurance makes certain that I am not only required, but able to pay up. I have had my car damaged by another driver in the past, that driver was able to pay the damage because he had insurance.

    Choosing to take a risk to yourself is perfectly acceptable. Choosing to risk someone else’s life and property is not. Some risks are manageable, and worht taking. Some risks, like betting that we do not need national defense, are historicly shown to be foolish risks, and should not be taken, particularly since those risks affect more than yourself. If you form a seperate society, or have an area that you can pronounce free from the rules and the protection of a nation, then you would have no need for taxation of any sort, but be prepared for the expenses and the risks that come with such a decision.

  • limberwulf,

    And what of the households who don’t want that service and instead would rather take their chances on their own in collective or individual self-defense, perhaps even viewing the likelihood of an enemy invasion to be too small to worry about? Historically, they may live somewhere such that the safe bet is they won’t see an invasion in their lifetimes. If they can’t opt out and are forced to pay, then it’s theft.

    By not wanting to participate in national defense, I do not risk anyone’s life or property because I’m not responsible for the actual risk to the life and property. I’m not obligated to protect either, and neither should anyone else. If someone wants to (for a variety of reasons), then fine.

    Your insurance example actually buttresses my side of the argument. Communities wishing to protect themselves from outside aggression would be free to contract with businesses willing to provide insurance coverage for their property. The businesses would persue rational market behavior to protect the liabilities.

  • limberwulf

    Charles,
    Your point is valid, but I contend as to its realism. If a community desires to self-insure, so to speak, in terms of defense, then there would be no use for government at all. At least that is, no use for a national government. Many of these arguments were put forth during the debates over the US constitution, hence the letters/news articles that ended up being compiled as “The Federalist Papers”. The arguments put forth for a national government versus individual state governments follow a similar path to my own.

    If a group wishes to be entirely free of taxation, then they would essentially have to be free of any service that government could provide. Services are not free. Historically, it is unlikely that a culture would last long without laws, courts, and enforcement. Such a society can exist quite easily among rational people. I have as yet seen no such society, which is why I support the existence of some government. Government must be checked by both democracy and law. Democracy must be checked by the rule of law and the enforcement of government. Law must be tempered by the flexibilty of democracy and the human element of government.

    Humanity gains great strength by cooperation, trade, and various other aspects of society. Societies that wish to survive in the long term, given the flaws of humanity, form governments to ensure the smoothest of possible societal relations. If you think that you can have a society with no government at all and have that society actually function in the real world for more than one generation, go for it. I personally find such thinking to be either naive or idealistic, tho I like the idea.

    Understand that I am not saying that you should have to pay taxes, I think it would be good for groups of people to have the freedom to form independent societies where they can try a no tax system, or even a no system system. The fact is that if we got the government down to a manageable level wherin its only functions were the functions originally intended, you would have the ability to build the resources necessary to go form your own society. I would also think that perhaps you could declare your personal property sovereign, but charges would be levied for resources you use that were paid for by the nation surrounding you. If the nation is attacked by a foreign power, you may be sent a bill for the protection of yourself and the surrounding area. This could be billed in the form of increased cost on resources you use, like roads, businesses, etc., even if all of these things are private. The bottom line is that you will likely end up paying for what you get, no matter what. If you are in an area that is seperate enough to be left undefended, then you will have to pay for defense on your own. You will still be paying for it, however.

    I have only catastrophic health care, but historically that is fine with me because I am healthy. I only need to insure myself against something like a pair of broken limbs, not standard medicine. History shows me that humans as a species are likely enough to include elements that would use force to steal resources form each other. I therefore find that insurance against such things is wise. I think that there will be occasions in which a court or some other manner of dispute settlement, that is paid for equally by the member sof the contract, will be necessary in my day to day life. These are functions most efficiently carried out by a government, and these services must be paid for somehow.

    If you do agree that there are necessary functions that government performs, how would you pay for them. If you disagree entirely on the need for government, then I can understand the idea that all tax is theft. My point is that that services received and charged for do not constitute theft. Only when services are not received yet payment is demanded do I consider theft to have occurred. You may argue that the service you received was not asked for, but in the case of defense, the government was here before your birth, providing this service. You have the option to relocate to an area in which you do not have to pay for it, or any other services of this government.

  • Well, as I said previously, I am an anarchist…just of the happy capitalist kind.

    We can set aside the discussion of whether or not I’ve recieved any useful or effective defense services from the Feds. But I do recognize your point about accepting a benefit and rejecting having to pay for it. I don’t have a clear answer for that that doesn’t involve me telling myself to move to some uncollectively governed island with a satellite Net connection to continue our discussion. 🙂

    Nice talking with you.

  • limberwulf

    you as well, it was an excellent discussion. I must say I prefer it to the version I normally have. My roomate is an anarchist, but very anti-capitalist. Believe me, you stance is far more rational than his. 🙂

  • Peter Sykes

    If war ultimately leads to more people in this world being free from the supression of rogue states, i’m happy.

    I like individuals to be free.

    So what am I?

  • limberwulf

    Peter, it sounds to me like you are a practical libertarian, as opposed to the boring, theory spouting libertarian that I am. Sometimes maybe you just have to do what works right? 🙂

  • Cobden Bright

    Charles Hueter wrote –

    “And what of the households who don’t want that service and instead would rather take their chances on their own in collective or individual self-defense, perhaps even viewing the likelihood of an enemy invasion to be too small to worry about? Historically, they may live somewhere such that the safe bet is they won’t see an invasion in their lifetimes. If they can’t opt out and are forced to pay, then it’s theft.”

    That’s a good point. Canada benefits from the USA’s very large military spending – would it therefore be legitimate for the US to demand the payment of their choosing from Canada, under threat of force? Can Canada charge the US a fee for being a peaceful or non-threatening neighbour? This would be absurd.

    If you provide a public good (i.e. one that benefits other people as well as yourself), that is a voluntary choice. You have no moral right to threaten someone to pay you for a service they don’t want to pay for. As an example, if you save someone from drowning by diving in and pulling them out, no legal system on earth then gives you the right to demand payment and threaten jail if the survivor does not pay.

    A better defence for taxation for military spending is simply one of survival. If persons A, B, and C face death or enslavement unless they force D to hand over a small portion of his income, then there is a reasonable case for them having the defence of moral necessity. It would be similar in some ways to a starving person stealing just enough food to survive, in the absence of any alternatives. Given the very real danger of war and national destruction, as demonstrated by history, I think this is a reasonably strong justification. Just as killing is not always morally wrong (e.g. killing someone stuck in an escape hatch so the 50 trapped inside can get out), so theft is not always wrong.

    However, I view this question as largely theoretical in a libertarian context, because a truly minarchist society would have such low tax rates that I suspect the vast majority of people would voluntarily pay them anyway. This would be especially the case if the taxes took the form of mild customs duties or corporation tax – in this case, the truly conscientious objector would not be obliged to pay any tax at all. Tax would only be levied on those entities that indisputably benefited from national security and law & order, such as foreign companies importing goods, and corporations doing business in the national territory in question. Charles would get his defence spending paid for without a single cent coming out of his bank account.