Why I Am Not A Libertarian – The Myth of Neutrality

3 Jan

It is shortsighted or dishonest to think that the legalization of hitherto illegal activities can ever be value-neutral. Another way of putting it: it is shortsighted or dishonest to think you do not have a way of life and that this way of life does not necessarily conflict with other ways of life.

The libertarian thinks: “You do not have to smoke Marijuana. Keeping it illegal is an oppressive wish to enforce your views on other people.” He has the corresponding thought: “I do not force my views on others because I want to legalize it. My views aren’t oppressing others because I am giving them the choice to smoke or not.”

First, I will make a simple plea to honesty. And then, I will give a possible example that refutes the libertarian claim to neutrality. In this post I am trying to convince the libertarian that “You too want the law to mirror your opinions of right and wrong.”559532_124365704380703_469266583_n-600x350

(1) Be honest libertarian-liberal friends, you have a “value system” just as much as anyone else. When you succeed in legalizing something hitherto illegal, your values have beaten somebody else’s values. It is not morally neutral to say it is OK to use marijuana, but a moral position just like any other moral position. The only difference is that it is a more permissive position, insofar as it permits human beings the choice of smoking. It appears to be the less oppressive option because it offers this choice, whereas the person who wishes to keep marijuana illegal appears to be more oppressive because he is willing to limit what others are legally allowed.

However, what if I find it oppressive to live in a world where nobody shares my way of life? A people are free when they are free to live their way of life. This requires two things: (1) that your political community shares your way of life, and (2) that your political community isn’t the slave of another political community. If your way of life is to smoke pot and eat McDonald’s, then you are free so long as your community says these are good things to do and another community hasn’t come by and enslaved you.

(2) Example: Pretend I am a political leader that works very hard to keep the people of my city moderate and strong. I know that it takes a great deal of work to do this, because human passions are hard things to compete against. They persuade most people. Nevertheless, I love the freedoms my people have earned through our courage, moderation and ability to wage war against our enemies and so I work very hard to persuade my people that listening to their base pleasures is bad. Suppose a libertarian swaggers into my city and says, “Don’t you all know you should be allowed to eat as much McDonald’s as you like and smoke marijuana as well!” What am I to think of this character? My first thought will be that he is trying to enslave me and my people. His people must have been exhausted by our strength and this is their insidious plot to weaken us. But what happens when I find out this little talking-box is sincere? What a wonder! Of course, his sincerity only makes him more of a threat. That is, his ideas will weaken my people whether he is sincere or not, but it will be harder to convince my people that he is evil if he is indeed sincere and not at all malicious. His sincerity has a better shot of winning my people over to the bad thing because he is sincere, and so he turns out to be a graver enemy for his sincerity. Now, say the libertarian, over many years, convinced my people to eat McDonald’s and smoke pot. Who will have conquered whom?

In the end it is not about any given choice, but about ways of life made up by many choices. There are very few ways of life that are not based in a political community. When someone wants to change the laws of a community that person wants to change the ways of that community. This is a zero-sum game. It is time we were all a little more honest with ourselves about politics.

Post Script: I am fully aware this honesty can be dangerous, but it seems that the present dishonesty is the real threat at the moment a la Tocqueville’s soft-despotism. We are striking down anti-polygamy laws for goodness sake! “Nothing is dangerous.” A dangerous (and boring) way of thinking.


The Death of Osama – Why we Celebrate

4 May

It is difficult to compare myself to my James Weaver; we are two different people. I attempt to be selective in my praise, but happily admit – James is someone I love. Among a small number of people, he has made my life here in Texas difficult, only by being so far away. But, we have deeply different characters. He is by nature a moderate human being, especially in his opinions. He is cautious, but almost never to a fault. And level-headed, to a degree infuriatingly perfect. Me? Well, I would rather not speak of ill of myself because I certainly will not flatter myself; silence is only fair.

If you haven’t yet, I suggest reading his post on his thoughts on our killing of Osama bin Laden. (His blog is OhYouKnow…)

“Should we be happy about the killing of Osama bin Laden?”

The concerns James articulates reveal that he is not decided on the issue – at a later date he will be decided. The next time we have a beer together, I want one of the toasts to be the death of Osama bin Laden, and not just to his death but to America’s role in that death. To that I end, I write this post.

I will not quote scripture because I don’t have the time, but I speak to you as a Christian and as an American. The scripture passages quoted by James are typical things you might expect from a sermon on the mount, New Testament quotation. With that in mind, I would like to argue that these are not politically relevant. The focus of these teachings is for you and I. They focus on how we must love each other. Unfortunately, the state is not involved in love, it is involved in creating a stable environment, within which people may love and may be Christians (and of course, pursue a number of other private and social goods). The state does not love because it is not a person; it exists by the will of many people, for the protection of their life, liberty and property.

James also quotes proverbs, and this piece of scripture is politically relevant.

Proverbs 24:17-18:
17 Do not gloat when your enemy falls;
when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice,
18 or the LORD will see and disapprove
and turn his wrath away from them.

What does this mean for us? To know that, we must know King David, and I am afraid that would take too much time for my little blog post. But David, on many occasions, acted with an exacting political prudence. Let us put it this way: David ruthlessly kills his political opponents through the hands of his servants, shows remorse, and, depending on the usefulness of the servant, either kills them immediately after they have accomplished his political task, or has them later killed by Solomon after he is dead. (Cf. Jo’ab). My point is simply: this is a piece of political prudence, and it is not bad advice whatsoever. In fact, it is brilliant advice, which matches Machiavelli in insight and outshines him in beauty. Scripture wins, suck it Machiavelli. In this light, such words do not represent a moral ought to be followed on principle, but very good advice to the political ruler, especially to kings (who are held personally responsible for actions of the state.)

Why our jubilation is different; that is, why it is a political good: For the first time in a long time, I saw Americans with a little swagger, a healthy confidence and a tangible degree of solidarity. Americans have been catching the European sickness of failing to distinguish between friend and enemy for fear violating their Postmodern Pseudo-Piety of inclusiveness. Thankfully, two nights ago, we roundly shed such false pretences and called a spade a spade.

James’ best point was: “Was it all worth it?”

We agree with the sentiment James here displays – it is highly doubtful that it was all worth it. In the prosecution of these wars our national institutions, our economic well-being, and the lives of our citizens have all seen significant losses. Our nation has forgotten that wise statement of John Q Adams: “But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. … She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.” I would like to say thinking people have come to realize just how much control we lose over our own destiny when we involve ourselves in the destiny of every “rogue state” or humanitarian crisis, but, then there is Libya…

Yet, we contend, we should still be celebratory. We need a reason to celebrate these days. We need to shake off that pseudo-piety of Europe. It is healthy for us to understand that not everybody is our friend, not everyone likes the way we live or thinks our institutions are just – it warmed my heart to see that Americans still have a fighting spirit.

That’s all I have time for, it is late and I have to go to bed! Go read James’ post now.

Keynes vs. Hayek, Rd. 2

29 Apr

Everyone who reads this blog knows by now – I am not a libertarian. BUT I have deep sympathies with them. One always quarrels most with those closest.

I am a Boy on The Playground

28 Apr

Yesterday I took the boys I babysit to a public playground. The oldest is not not quite in elementary school and the younger brother is around 2, I think.

First, a funny anecdote. One person asked me how young the little brother was. “um.” – pause – “somewhere around 2?” This answer invited a quizzical look and the reply, “you don’t know his age?” End of conversation.

Anyway, onto the reason I am writing this post. The older brother has been watching Peter Pan and has decided that he is Captain Hook, a “bad pirate.” (When I asked him why, he answered “I have to grow up someday.”) Now, he wanted to go to the park because, naturally, the playground is his ship and he has to make sure mean girls do not take it from him.

He takes a bucket of toys to the park. I neglect to inspect this.

Immediately upon arrival, he speeds over to the playground. A number of children were playing in one spot. The rest of the playground is relatively empty. He marches up to the children, having placed his pirate patch over his eye and withdrawn his sword (a spatula), he shouts “Get off my ship!” And this is how he continued to begin his interactions with other children throughout our time there. Either the children would begin to play with him, or, as was the case on several occasions (two with the same child), an overprotective parent would whisk the child away and give me a quizzical look. Now, a spatula was unfortunately not all the bucket contained. It also harbored several fake guns and knives, which were distributed the children who decided to play. Cries of “walk the plank” were shouted at girls from the top of slides, and “shoot him” at those dubbed peter pan. Several parents were not happy that such violent toys had been brought to the playground and I must admit, I cringed every time I noticed other parents removing their children from the action, or giving me dirty looks. I spent a good deal of the time thinking to myself what I would say if I was approached.

(This distaste was not universal, mind you. Several parents cared very little. It is interesting to note that the two were distinct groups. Upper class white fathers were universally appalled at my decided non-interference. Lower class moms were unconcerned or amused. Take from it what you will.)

As I watched the scene unfold, I wondered if I was ever that assertive as a child. I honestly can’t remember a time when I marched up to any group of strangers and told them, under no polite circumstances, to obey my will. ‘This is my ship, you have to leave.”

What struck me was one occasion where the father began to whisk his little girl away, the boy I babysit yelled “hey! don’t do that!”

When I had arrived to babysit earlier that day, he had run outside and was jumping up and down. “we’re going to the park, we’re going to the park.” (I had promised him the week before. It had been rainy, and we stayed inside the entire time.)

Remembering his enthusiasm at going to the park, and his dismay at the loss of his potential playmate, made me realize – he had been eagerly waiting, possibly all week, to go play pirates. The way he decided to get things rolling was to simply go be a pirate. Surely the other kids will respond by also playing pirates. You have to get the ball rolling somehow, right? His “embarrassing” assertiveness was just a call to a game, a game he really really wanted to play.

Anyone who knows me, especially those of you from my pre-UD existence, knows that I do exactly this sort of thing. That is, I say something absolutely certain to offend, or provoke, someone into conversation. (Interesting people see these as invitations.) I do this because talking is what I like to do, and I need other people to join in and, preferably, someone to oppose me. You see, we boys don’t mean any harm by it, but how else can we get everyone to play along?

“You could ask, nicely.”

Wrong! What if you don’t want to play? Or don’t understand how much fun the game is? What if part of the game – and this is the fundamental point – is pretending it’s real life? For the little guy and myself, the game is no fun if nobody cares.

Pride and Prejudice

25 Apr

I woke this morning at an unusually early hour and rather than fall back asleep was immediately attacked by my own thoughts. I suffered the attack for about 40 minutes before turning to relief. I found it in that old friend Jane Austen. I find that I am someone who, in those times of need, turns to something I know rather than seek out something new. My mind is not necessarily averse to novelty but I  am able to draw so much enjoyment from previously enjoyed things. You know how it is, one notices a new thing in the text or rediscovers a favorite part of the story previously forgotten. In any event, for those of you who have not read Jane Austen and find yourselves in a mental tail-spin, I recommend it. (Jake, I would like to see a Beer and Trembling review of Jane Austen.)

Some may wonder about this development of mine, that is, I used to be a George Eliot partisan. I certainly remain a lover of Middlemarch, but I no longer think Eliot has a leg up on Austen. They are different pleasures, simply.

“Mr. Darcy walked off; and Elizabeth remained with no very cordial feeling towards him. She told the story however with great spirit among her friends; for she had a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in any thing ridiculous.”

And, another part that brought me up into happiness:

Mr. Lucas: ‘What a charming amusement for young people this is, Mr. Darcy!- There is nothing like dancing after all.- I consider it as one of the first refinements of polished societies.’

Mr. Darcy: ‘Certainly, Sir;- and it has the advantage also of being in vogue amongst the less polished societies of the world.- Every savage can dance.'”

Blaise Pascal

21 Apr

“Hello, I am Pascal. If there is an answer to Nietzsche, I’m it.”

If he exalts himself, I humble him.

If he humbles himself, I exalt him.

And I go on contradicting him

Until he understands

That he is a monster that passes all understanding.

– Pascal, Pensee 130

The C.S. Lewis Bible

16 Apr

I just heard this morning that they are printing (have printed) a “C.S. Lewis Bible.” Ack, how tasteless. It is akin to wearing a shirt with a rapper’s face on the front. Dear America: Items that we use for life do not improve when they have your favorite person on the front.