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Post 20

Tuesday, January 31, 2006 - 2:05pmSanction this postReply
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Andrew, if I gave you the idea that the US alone can do this that is incorrect - it cannot.  It can lead, but it will need help and better use of diplomacy than what we saw at the start of the war.  There also needs to be some radical changes in how the post-war reconstruction is handled.  However, while I agree that if all the forces "pull out now" it will turn out badly, it will not if we maintain and continue to improve efforts there.  It is actually already 2/3 functional with the Shia in the South and the Kurds in the north - the holdouts are the Sunnis who were the ones in charge before, therefore with the most to lose.  Just because the Shiites are the same sect as the Iranians doesnt mean they will become terrorists - first there is a racial difference (Persian vs. Arab) that exists, second is that it could work the other way around just as well, again assuming we don't cut and run.

I support the concepts outlined by Thomas P.M. Barnett (www.thomaspmbarnett.com). Ed Thompson doesn't like him but I don't know that he actually read his book (not that I expect it, just that I can't explain as well as he can).  I think he makes a lot of sense from a grand strategy perspective.  In fact, he actually changed my mind from how I thought of things before, something very rare.  I suggest you try reading some of it.  There is the occasional collectivist idea but I think that there is a lot more emphasis placed on private enterprise, individuals, and capitalism than one would expect.  In addition, I think the appeal to me is also that you could get support from many types of philosophies - that means it is workable. 

As he put it recently, the vision seems just out of reach of the possible, but just close enough that it just might work - and it is positive, not fear mongering so you simply wish to be apart from the world (like Vera sounds like she is reaching that point) and it helps you have a better "sense of life" about the world as a whole.




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Post 21

Tuesday, January 31, 2006 - 2:18pmSanction this postReply
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Kurt: "Ok, Jon, I believe that the people in the Middle East (of various groups be they Persians or Arabs or anything else) do share some basic understanding about the fundamentals of life with everyone else - that is the start - and that no, they won't over night create anything that comes close to what we have now in the West, which itself is flawed."

I don't know what you mean by the phrase "fundamentals of life with everyone else." If you're saying that Middle Easterners intereact with each other, trade goods, and that kind of thing, then yes. But the entire region is also dominated by mysticism and collectivism, and real political freedom has no chance of flowering in that kind of an intellectual climate. The best our government can realistically do is replace one bad regime with another.

"So to summarize - new governments have to crawl before they can walk, and walk before they can run, but as long as they are moving in the right direction and connecting with the world rather than the opposite, time is on our side."

I'm sorry, but I don't perceive any serious movement in the right direction. Holding an election engineered by the US military, electing a Shiite parliament, and ratifying a constitution that states that all civil law must be faithful to Islam is progress toward a free Iraq? Not really.

"Also - as to overall terrorism, go back to 1944 and ask the Allies how is the fighting after years of all-out war against Japan and Germany going? Is resistance less or greater? It is greater, as it often is when you are going to lose."

I don't know how that applies to "overall terrorism." And historians agree that the Nazis were doomed after invading the Soviet Union in winter. Of course, once the evil Nazis were defeated, the evil Soviets continued to expand their power over Eastern Europe and Asia.

The bottomline: Sustainable political freedom and economic progress can't be created by simply overthrowing a dictator. Those things derive from a deeper cultural commitment to reason and individualism. And if that kind of culture is lacking in contemporary America, it's nonexistent in the Middle East.



Post 22

Tuesday, January 31, 2006 - 2:40pmSanction this postReply
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Kurt,

============
I support the concepts outlined by Thomas P.M. Barnett (www.thomaspmbarnett.com). Ed Thompson doesn't like him but I don't know that he actually read his book ...
============

Yup. Didn't read his book, but I saw him interviewed on C-Span. He's articulate, and he's got good arguments (though that doesn't make him right). He's a little creepy though (check out his picture on his own website! Creeeeepy. He looks like that in person, too. Cold eyes staring at you, calculating.

Now it's not good argument to say you disagree with someone's ideas because you get a "vibe" about them, so I realize that my "potentially-dastardly" characterization of TPM Barnett (no, not PT Barnum) is really water under anyone's bridge. His big cliche (hackneyed theme) is "connectivity." According to his seemingly-invincible reasoning, we need to do what we can to connect up the world (the Muslims, the Aborigines, the Inuit, the Kung Bushmen, the Yanomamo, China, North Korea, Cuba, and the French, basically).

I don't buy what Barnett is selling. But my outlined alternative (perpetual, profitable, free-market assassinations of the leaders of unfree countries) has pretty much zero support from rational thinkers on the matter. I suppose that my critics will say that (though we keep knocking off their dictatorships) that folks'll never wise up and rise up and "constitute." I, on the other hand, have more faith in those folks -- who could only count on the strongest nation to leave them alone, if and when they get it right -- to, eventually, get it right.

Ed




Post 23

Tuesday, January 31, 2006 - 3:13pmSanction this postReply
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I'm agreeing with Jon here - Something seems totally nonsensical about the whole idea of American tanks rolling into Baghdad and The Iraqi's suddenly realising what a bad lot they've had over the years, right before going out and trying to culturally and scientifically revolutionise the world.

Just take a look at their neighbours. Objectivism is not welcome in the middle of deeply racist and misguided peoples. The most hlep we can offer to Iraq with a certain success rate is ensure that those people willing to be productive are allowed by law to come live in free places. Let the productive produce and the collectivists suffer through their own folly. Callous? Perhaps, but when the chips are on the table freedom has no other choice but to ensure that survival of the fittest continues and out-dated regimes die in the most fantastically spectacular way as possible.

We can't lose, but neither can we afford to slow down our victory. Quickest way to end the problem is to stop feeding it.



Post 24

Tuesday, January 31, 2006 - 5:41pmSanction this postReply
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In response to Joe's post #13, a proper response to 9/11 is a response that respects and upholds the principle of individual rights. Since there seems to be good evidence that Osama Bin Laden was involved in this crime of mass murder, the US government ought to aggresively search for and try to apprehend him. This means using personell, equipment, spy techniques, and cooperative relationships with law enforcement agencies in other states. What could be more clear or more obvious?

Tracking down and collaring Bin Laden, or any other criminal who has committed a crime against an American citizen, must not involve murdering innocent people. Obviously, it would have been wrong for the US Air Force to commence carpet bombing the state of Oklahoma in an attempt to "get" Timothy McVeigh.

A defensive war necessarily involves repelling an invasion. The invaders might kill a lot of innocent people, but the defenders won't, except in rare and tragic cases that are unavoidable, such as a hostage strapped to an approaching tank. If repelling an invading force sometimes requires killing innocent people caught in the cross fire, then that is a necessary unavoidable and tragic cost, and one more excellent reason that wars ought to be avoided whenever possible.

Saddam Hussein posed zero military threat tothe United States. The WMD and 9/11 connection turned to be more politcal hokum spun by Big State hugging politicians. Claims that he sponsored and trained terrorists are blown up and headlined for the purpose of justifying this horrendous war, after the other excuses were revealed as lies. Claims that "everybody" thought Hussein possessed WMD's are bogus too: "everybody" consisted of political organization men in the US and abroad who were reciting what they knew was "consensus" that would be well received by senior political operators.

In light of the above, do you actually think that the American military adventure in Iraq is somehow "proportional" to the nature of whatever you see as the offense committed by Hussein against Americans? The fact is, only opposition to this war upholds the principle of proportionality that you imagine war opponents are lacking.

It is true that the Iraqi people should have fought to overthrow Saddam Hussein, who was a bad dictator responsible for a lot of rights violations. If Americans such as yourself feel a desire to assist the beleagured subjects of Third World hell holes, such as Iraq, throw off their political oppressors, then you ought to be free to contribute money, time, or even risk your own life in pursuit of their liberty. But I think the cause of American liberty is far more urgent as concerns my own efforts.

As to your disavowal of having accused anti-war Objectivists of philosophical  agnosticism, I'm afraid I find that hard to believe. That seems to be the clear message of the commentary posted by you and Bob Bidinotto, and incidentally a favorite theme of his. It is of course true that many libertarians are philosophical agnostics, and many oppose the war. However, the fact that one opposes the war doesn't demonstrate agnosticism. Why should it? Because you and other war hawks keep insisting, contrary to plenty of evidence, that this war (and by implication, many previous American wars) serve the cause of justice and human flourishing?

It is unfortunate that Americans have absorbed uncritically the official dogma about the events leading up to and through the Second World War. Like WWI, that war featured FDR and Churchill dragging their reluctant subjects into a European war that was fought, not for the defense of the liberty of British and Americans, but for the purpose of social reconstruction. WWII serves as the collectivists' historical model for "the good war", and gets trotted out by war enthusiasts as the ultimate argument stopper against opponents of whatever happens to be the current fashionable military adventure. However, a careful reading of history proves that America's Crusade was another horrendously destructive government program that left great suffering in its wake.




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Post 25

Wednesday, February 1, 2006 - 1:47amSanction this postReply
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Robert B., you're very kind.  I'm glad to have your agreement with my post, and I've noticed how often you and I come to the same conclusions.  It's reassuring to have someone else really get what I'm saying.

Ed, I missed your post last night since I was writing my own.  Glad you found the article useful.  As for you comments, I think a case could be made that we could have picked a better target.  I don't agree that it's as easy as picking the most repressive.  There are many, many factors involved.  One thing Iraq had going for it was that they were violating the terms of the truce, we were already spending massive amounts of money with the no-fly zone, and there was some degree of international support for action.  The point isn't to prove definitively that it was the only possible choice we had.  Philosophy cannot settle that from an armchair.  We can only identify the standards for the debate.

Jon Tager, you address this to everyone: "Do you (and other similar-minded Objectivists) truly believe that a country's socioeconomic system is the outgrowth of its underlying philosophy? After all, Objectivists believe that we can't achieve pure capitalism until we achieve a culture of reason and individualism."

I do not think that there's a one-way causal link that makes philosophy control the socioeconomic system.  Just as a person's philosophy doesn't automatically control their choices and decisions.  Ideas matter, and they will have consequences, but it's not that simple.

Can you imagine a culture of entrepreneurship and respect of right occurring under a brutal dictatorship?  It's only when people are free to act and think that such a culture can grow.  People have made the argument for awhile that government policies have negative affects on the culture even in America.  Welfare encourages irresponsibility, the nanny state encourages dependence, etc.  Your arguments, if applied to America, amount to saying that we shouldn't get rid of the Nanny state because the culture is not ready for real independence.  Maybe they're not, but they likely never will be if the Nanny state continues.  While it's a mistake to think that a culture of freedom can be forced on a country, it's a mistake to think that liberating a country would have no affect on that culture.

Keith, there's a false dichotomy there between absolutism and relativism.  The former insists on context-free, arbitrary knowledge.  The latter argues that all knowledge is arbitrary, and thus equally good.  The missing alternative is contextualism, which is sometimes described as "absolute within a context".  It doesn't try to blind you of individual cases, nor does it try to say that for any one example, anything goes.  It says there are right answers, but you can't sever them from the conditions that make them true.

Mark, let me start with one of your later comments.  You say I'm accusing people of philosophical agnosticism.  If that means that I'm accusing people of blinding following rules without regard for context or the purpose of the original principles, I won't deny it.  But in your first post you said I was accusing people of that when they "respect rights".  I explained that severing principles from their purpose and conceptual roots is not a form of respect.  It's misleading to say that I accuse people who respect rights.  I in fact only accuse people who argue for a context-free, mindless obedience to an NIOF rule.  In this last response, you say that I accuse people of this agnosticism when they oppose the war.  I in fact do not.  Tibor Machan and Ed Thompson, off the top of my head, opposed the war initially (maybe still), but I don't accuse either of them.  But that's because none of them have made the ridiculous statements made by the anarcho-libertarians. So again, your statement is misleading.  If this is your attempt at trying to discredit the argument, it failed.

Now, a few other interesting points.  You say Saddam Hussein posed zero military threat to the United States.  I have to assume you mean that he had no chance of conquering our nation?  But is that really the road you want to go down?  You want to argue along this collectivist line?  You want to say that the US government only has a right to attack a country when our government is at risk?  I was under the impression the government was supposed to protect the citizens of the country, not just it's own control.  Are you saying Saddam Hussein posed zero threat to any Americans?  Which is it?  A collectivist argument, or a factually flawed one?

Then you once again bring up the idea of going and arresting Bin Laden.  But what happens if the local government doesn't cooperate, as Afghanistan didn't?  Do you have an answer?  You bring up spying, but somehow I can see you arguing against that under any other circumstances...a violation of privacy rights perhaps?  Bomb him from remote?  No...have to bring him to trial.  Send in special forces to find him?  Sounds like an invasion!  Sounds imperialistic!  Sounds like the typical American who thinks the US is the police force of the world!  Etc., etc.  Looking forward to your explanation there.

You finally do give a little ground suggesting that a defensive war might require killing innocent people.  Great!  You've taken the first step towards contextual rights theory!  Now I can turn the tables on you and call you a mass murderer!  Hear that everyone?  Mark is advocating the murder of innocent people!  He has no respect for rights!  Let's see...oh yeah, he has a cavalier disregard for enormous suffering.  He writes "as though killing and maiming innocent people in pursuit of justice is a routine part of life, like the necessity of washing one's dishes or mowing the lawn".  I can and will go on as long as you throw around terms like "murder" or "mass murder" whenever an innocent dies accidently in this war.




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Post 26

Wednesday, February 1, 2006 - 2:42amSanction this postReply
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Joe wrote ...

=================
Can you imagine a culture of entrepreneurship and respect of right occurring under a brutal dictatorship?  It's only when people are free to act and think that such a culture can grow.  People have made the argument for awhile that government policies have negative affects on the culture even in America.  Welfare encourages irresponsibility, ...
=================


... and (in support) I quote ...

=================
I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. --Thomas Jefferson
=================

=================
Many politicians of our time are in the habit of laying it down as a self-evident proposition, that no people ought to be free till they are fit to use their freedom. The maxim is worthy of the fool in the old story, who resolved not to go into the water till he had learned to swim. If men wait for liberty till they become wise and good in slavery, they may indeed wait forever. -- Thomas Babington Macaulay
=================

Ed
[but I still don't know if Iraq was the current best place to start this domino-effect 'round the world]




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Post 27

Wednesday, February 1, 2006 - 8:59amSanction this postReply
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Joe, thanks for responding to me. For the record, I respect your intelligence and dedication. Here are your comments interspersed with my replies:

"Can you imagine a culture of entrepreneurship and respect of right occurring under a brutal dictatorship?"

No, I can't.

"It's only when people are free to act and think that such a culture can grow. People have made the argument for awhile that government policies have negative affects on the culture even in America. Welfare encourages irresponsibility, the nanny state encourages dependence, etc."

All true.

"Your arguments, if applied to America, amount to saying that we shouldn't get rid of the Nanny state because the culture is not ready for real independence."

Okay, there you're wrong. My argument is not that we *shouldn't* get rid of the Nanny state because the culture isn't ready for real independence. My argument is that we *can't* get get rid of the Nanny state because the culture isn't ready for real independence (i.e., the culture hasn't yet returned to its roots of rational individualism).

It's still possible for us to stave off certain proposed government intrusions. But without first changing the basic philosophy of our society, the vast majority of Americans aren't going to seriously consider ideas such as removing government from healthcare or education (nevermind the idea of separating state and economy entirely). In my view, the failure to understand this point is the fundamental shortcoming of the modern-day libertarian movement.

"While it's a mistake to think that a culture of freedom can be forced on a country, it's a mistake to think that liberating a country would have no affect on that culture."

It's a mistake to think that simply overthrowing a dictator wouldn't change the basic ideas embraced by a culture for many generations? I don't think so.

Also, I'm afraid I have to outright reject the assertion that the US military "liberated" Iraq. Moving from a dictatorship, to foreign military rule, to a democratic theocracy with a blossoming terrorist presence doesn't qualify as liberation in my book.

Now I have an important question for Objectivists who supported the Iraq War and support military action against other countries.: Do you think that an Objectivist *must* support this view? Or do you think that Objectivists can disagree on this and still properly be considered Objectivists?
(Edited by Jon Trager
on 2/01, 12:02pm)




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Post 28

Wednesday, February 1, 2006 - 12:32pmSanction this postReply
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Thanks for the supporting quotes, Ed. I like the second one a lot.

Hi Jon. You argue that we can't get rid of the Nanny state because the culture isn't ready. That's fair enough if you just mean that removing it probably wouldn't last.

I think the problem is you mischaracterized the pro-war argument as saying a mere overthrow of an oppressive regime will create "a free Afghanistan, Iraq, or Iran". Nobody argues that they'll be completely free, like some kind of libertarian utopia. But they'll have a significantly greater degree of freedom.

Arguing that the culture is not prepared for truly free libertarian utopia doesn't negate this fact. It gives us reason to be a little skeptical of the results, but also to have more realistic expectations. At this point it looks like they'll have a significant increase in their freedom, and more importantly, will have the means to participate in their government allowing further changes. You can argue whether you think the improvement is enough, or will catch on, or anything else. But you can't simply write it off. A radical change to the political situation is almost assuredly going to affect the culture.

You say "It's a mistake to think that simply overthrowing a dictator would change the basic ideas embraced by a culture for many generations? I don't think so."

Maybe you're focusing on the phrase "basic ideas". I'm not sure what ideas those are. Mysticism? We have it rampant in the US. Collectivism? There's plenty to go around.

My problem with a lot of what you're saying is that you're trying to phrase things in an all or nothing kind of ways. It's easy to argue that no libertarian utopia is going to suddenly appear over there, but it doesn't contribute anything to the debate since nobody said it would. But by focusing on that kind of argument, you're ignoring the more important version, that an increase to freedom will affect the culture, probably in a positive way, and sets the stage for even greater freedom there and elsewhere. In the same way you reject the term "liberated" because it doesn't mean that freedom is absolutely and forever secured. All of your arguments end up ignoring the truth by trying to make all or nothing statements. You have read my "All or Nothing" speech, haven't you?

Finally, you ask whether "an Objectivist *must* support this view". I've hit on this a few times already, but I'll go ahead and answer again.

The simple answer is no. As with any major decision with so many trade-offs, the answer is not self-evident or even easy. So there could be anti-Iraq war Objectivists, and I think there are.

But the more complete answer is, it depends on the nature of the disagreement. Applying philosophical principles is tough and there's room for honest disagreement. But when the principles themselves are abandoned, then they stop being an Objectivist. This article discusses a few of these principles. The most blatant example is those who argue we had no right to topple Saddam.

The parallel is us having an argument over whether a particular person should go to college for a degree. We might reasonably argue about whether it's worth the time or money, or whether a different degree may be more in his self-interest. But if you were to suggest he has no right to go to college, or that he has a duty to stay home and take care of his family, you couldn't claim to be an Objectivist.









Post 29

Wednesday, February 1, 2006 - 1:59pmSanction this postReply
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Joe, all excellent observations.  One item I wanted to add to your last statement was that it gets harder and harder to apply Objectivism to issues further and further from the individual.  Now, no matter what we discuss here, we are discussing groups of individuals in very large numbers.  It is very difficult to do that while maintaining an individual perspective. 

Whose perspective is it we use?  People in the US?  The soldiers who fight or the citizens they protect?  The people in Iraq?  The casualties, the old bad guys, the new bad guys, or everyone else?  Are we not then applying some form of collectivism by comparing numbers rather than individuals?

That is why, ultimately, I find that a vision like Barnett's much better than the alternatives I see around me, which are:

Leftist/Libertarian anti-war of any kind away from US
NeoCon/4GW "constant war" or "US go it alone" scenarios

None of these are viable, none of them are positive.  This view consists of:

1)  War when necessary to topple dangerous regimes
2)  When not necessary, a strategy of engagement and interconnectivity, letting the "culture" win happen through connection to globalization, which is NOT the same as "Americanization" any longer (Japan, China, India, Brazil, even old Europe will be part of it).
3)  Billions still live in semi-barbaric conditions.  These are individual people.  Most are in this condition not as a result of mysticism but because they are brutalized and oppressed by small elites.  This is an appeal to altruism - why not?  Co-opt it!  The results will still be in our self-interest.
4)  Emphasis on Private Investment and Capitalism - markets are critical, but markets don't exist without laws (yes - private property rights!!!) and without security (can't have property rights without that, either!) - and no, it won't be anywhere near perfect, but there are vast differences in the middle ground that could mean everything to people living on the edge.
5)  Wealth - there is wealth there - selling to new markets, read the book (I have to get the name it escapes me damnit!) that shows how great wealth is achieved by selling to the poor, not the rich - and then wealth in minds that we seem to believe in, but somehow can forget about if they are in some 3rd world hell-hole, as if the elites that oppress them represent the way everyone in their country is.




Post 30

Wednesday, February 1, 2006 - 2:19pmSanction this postReply
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The purpose of government is to defend the individual rights of its client-citizens. So if Saddam Hussein, or anyone else, violates the rights of an American while in the territory of the US, then that violation ought to be addressed by pursuing and bringing the violator to justice. If the foreign national harms an American in the US, that is foreign invasion on a minute scale. If the government the violated individual has contracted with does not actively seek redress for his loss, at least as could best be accomplished under the circumstances, then that individual is getting a bad deal and ought to seek elsewhere for better value for the wealth he pays for the protection of his rights. Naturally, in the US the wronged individual lacks this alternative; he must serve the state and take whatever "protection" it offers. 

Of course, the effectiveness of a government's efforts to bring a foreign national to justice in its own court system is limited by the policy of the state controlling the area within which the culprit is thought to be hiding. Presumably, most states will have in place policies that provide for lawful collaring and extradition of criminals, based on some standard of evidence. However, some states may refuse cooperation for a variety of reasons. For example, a state might be a dictatorship in a sort of armed stalemate with the government of a freer society, such as the USSR versus Switzerland before the Iron Curtain fell. If a crime were committed against a Swiss citizen by a Soviet subject visiting Switzerland, and if the criminal escaped to the USSR which refused to apprehend and extradite him, then the Swiss government would face limited choices. First, it could inform the Soviet State that its further official recognition would require setting in place a policy of extradition cooperation. The Swiss government could also inform its citizens that in any future dealings they might have with Soviet subjects, that they run the risk of unredressed offenses in the event the Soviet decides to flee to the USSR after hurting a Swiss citizen.  Second, it could consider sending a covert agent into the USSR to capture the criminal and return him to the Swiss court, with the stricture that the agent can't machine gun down Russian shoppers as the criminal flees down some street. What the Swiss government cannot do, however, is bomb Minsk in the hopes that the resulting devastation will get their guy along with some unfortunate "collateral damage". For the Swiss government does not possess rights that its client citizens themselves do not first possess.

However, there is a broader context to this issue than what the Swiss government can actively do to apprehend a foreign criminal that is studiouly ignored by war hawks. Since the Swiss government must obtain some degree of cooperation from states that might in the future harbor criminals who have wronged Swiss citizens, the Swiss policy ought to be one that carefully avoids aggressive conflicts with states. That is, the Swiss government should never erect trade barriers against other nations, or meddle in their politics, or invade them, or bomb them from "no-fly zones", or conduct "wars of liberation" and so forth. The Swiss policy ought to be one of careful neutrality with states for the purpose of best achieving what the Swiss government is hired by its clients to do: protect their rights. In this way, Switzerland offers the subjects and the rulers of various nation states two valuable benefits as it solicits their official cooperation: the material abundance made possible through foreign trade with a highly productive and civilized country, and the assurance that they can avoid the costs and threat of armed conflict with a free society (that because of its economic and scientific achievement would be an ominous military adversary) devoted to exporting goods and ideas, not death and destruction.

Sadly, the foreign policy of the United States has been driven by the goals of international meddling since the latter part of the nineteenth century. In addition to the tremendous encroachment of state power into the lives of Americans, our military and foreign policy meddling have made American citizens targets of vicious foreign hatreds. Some of this hatred is an expression of fanatical altruism, as Tibor Machan persuasively explains in his recent article on this subject. As the leading cultural exponent of free enterprise and individual happiness, America tends to be singled out. But let's not forget what ought to be glaringly obvious: our military has killed hundreds of thousands of innocent and helpless foreign individuals as the US State pursued its
"wars of liberation" around the world. In Iraq alone, since the start of the Gulf War of GHW Bush, something like 500,000 Iraqis have died as a result of the force of US arms, or US sanctions. As you know, Saddam Hussein came to power in Iraq with some assistance from the US; he was aided to some extent in his prosecution of his war with Iran, in which two or three millions went through that (US-sanctioned) meat grinder.

Although the ethos that dominates the regions of American involvement invariably produces widespread vicious disregard of individual rights (such as the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia), US involvement has undoubtedly intensified and prolonged regional conflicts at the cost of millions of lives.While many Americans are sold on the notion that these wars altruistically "serve mankind", the purpose and end of these military adventures has been to install American hegemony, which features our politicans and statesmen "nation-building" and establishing vassal states around the globe (even as they remind everyone that America is the world's "only remaining super power"). These politicans couch their objectives in terms of appealing language like freedom and democracy, but their primary purpose remains an unbridled quest for power. How could their objective be freedom? These people oppose freedom at home and work constantly to further restrict the lives of their domestic subjects. Do you imagine that George Bush or Madeline Albright would favor a program to privatize the Iraqi oil fields?

It ought to be obvious that people in these regions resent US meddling. And in fact, Bin Laden stated in his remarks a year or so ago that the purpose of his murdering Americans is to remove American troops and military installations from the Middle East. Does my pointing this out mean that I sympathize with a heartless mass murderer? Of course not. I merely stress what is clear in this situation: out foreign policy makes Americans targets, and reduces the cooperation from other states (such as Afghanistan) that a peaceful and free America could otherwise routinely expect to inspire. 

How do you address the principle of proportionality with respect to the invasion of Iraq and 500,000 dead Iraqi individuals? How do you square your support of American "wars of liberation" with your advocacy of limited government? Is taxation theft? Is the military draft slavery? Should Americans be taxed, regulated, and drafted to "liberate" various foreign populations? Can the US state enforce Pax Americana without relying on these and other coercive means?

Sorry this post is so long. Our views about this are so different that I felt unable to explain what I mean without going on at some length.




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Post 31

Wednesday, February 1, 2006 - 4:59pmSanction this postReply
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          As the editor of both The Libertarian Alternative (1974) and The Libertarian Reader (1982), as well as, more recently, co-author of Libertarianism, for and against (2005) and author of the forthcoming Libertarianism Defended (2006), I am puzzled why this piece quotes nobody who is either a libertarian or an Objectivist. As it stands, the various statements about what is a libertarian position, what is not, what is an Objectivist position and what is not, simply do not add up since there are no examples to check out. I, for example, have never invoked something called "the non-aggression principle." Professor Eric Mack, also a prominent philosopher with libertarian politics, has in fact once spoken to a Libertarian Party convention criticizing that very principle as too simplistic.
          So, I am not sure what this piece is about. Is it meant to pick some kind of fight? As someone who has learned a great deal from Ayn Rand and other Objectivists and who maintains there is no difference whatsoever between libertarianism and Objectivist political theory, I await some kind of clarification here.

(Edited by Machan on 2/01, 9:35pm)




Post 32

Thursday, February 2, 2006 - 2:34pmSanction this postReply
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This post is going to be somewhat long, but I want to respond to several of Joe's comments.

Joe: "You argue that we can't get rid of the Nanny state because the culture isn't ready. That's fair enough if you just mean that removing it probably wouldn't last."

I mean that *removal itself* isn't feasible until after the intellectual climate in America changes. Eliminating government agencies requires a tremendous amount of popular support that simply doesn't exist now. And it will never exist as long as irrational and collectivist beliefs are so widespread. I think Ayn Rand was right on point here.

"I think the problem is you mischaracterized the pro-war argument as saying a mere overthrow of an oppressive regime will create "a free Afghanistan, Iraq, or Iran". Nobody argues that they'll be completely free, like some kind of libertarian utopia. But they'll have a significantly greater degree of freedom."

I wasn't referring to "some kind of libertarian utopia." And on that count, I disagree. I don't think Iraqis are much freer today than they were before the US invasion. First, tens of thousands of them are dead, which is a huge amount for such a small population. Second, life under military occupation or theocracy isn't fundamentally different from life under a dictator. If you can list specific ways that Iraqis have more liberties today than they did earlier (other than voting in an election, which itself is only a means to an end), then go ahead.

Joe: "Maybe you're focusing on the phrase "basic ideas". I'm not sure what ideas those are. Mysticism? We have it rampant in the US. Collectivism? There's plenty to go around."

Joe, as much as mysticism and collectivism are harming America, I'm sure you know better than to draw any kind of parallel between America and Iraq philosophically. They aren't even in the same ballpark.

Joe: "My problem with a lot of what you're saying is that you're trying to phrase things in an all or nothing kind of ways. It's easy to argue that no libertarian utopia is going to suddenly appear over there..."

As I already said, that wasn't my position.

Joe: "All of your arguments end up ignoring the truth by trying to make all or nothing statements."

Is it wrong to say that all government interference in the economy is harmful, because that's an "all or nothing" statement? No, because the evidence confirms it.

Joe: "Finally, you ask whether "an Objectivist *must* support this view"...The simple answer is no. As with any major decision with so many trade-offs, the answer is not self-evident or even easy. So there could be anti-Iraq war Objectivists, and I think there are...Applying philosophical principles is tough and there's room for honest disagreement. But when the principles themselves are abandoned, then they stop being an Objectivist. This article discusses a few of these principles. The most blatant example is those who argue we had no right to topple Saddam."

Good, I agree with you. I don't say that the US government had "no right" to overthrow Hussein. I say that from a standpoint of American self-interest (which is what I think should determine US foreign policy) it was foolish decision. But I don't think disagreement on this point need create enemies of fellow Objectivists, though I'm sure others feel differently. I'd be interested in hearing from them.
(Edited by Jon Trager
on 2/02, 5:06pm)




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Post 33

Thursday, February 2, 2006 - 9:53pmSanction this postReply
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I am an anti-Iraq war Objectivist, if you will, based on the idea that government must confine itself to the securing of our rights (from domestic or foreign criminals). So, the US military's task does not include ousting dictators unless these pose a clear cut threat or at least a demonstrable danger. It may be the Iraq seemed one of these but it wasn't established. So no war against them was justified. But I went through all this when the event was being contemplated and Linz decided I am a Saddamist! Ha!



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Post 34

Thursday, February 2, 2006 - 10:17pmSanction this postReply
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Tibor,

As I said in the article, it's difficult to make statement about libertarian ideology because they do not have a common philosophical base.  If I listed a number of people who have made the arguments (we've had dozens of them on the former incarnation of this site, and that LewRockwell site is riddled with them), it wouldn't be proof of what libertarians necessary views are.  But that's always a problem in trying to describe a group of people who have major disagreements but carry the same banner.  They will always point to exceptions as if that proves none of them believe it.  Or they can just claim that they don't really represent libertarianism.  I think that's an easy way to deflect any real criticism, but it's flawed.  It leaves us completely unable to analyze any trends or pattens in the modern libertarian movement.

Anyway, I'm more interested in your reasons for believing Objectivist and libertarians are exactly the same!  No difference!?!?  Really?  Are you suggesting that in practice libertarians all believe the same thing?  You and Lew Rockwell are in full agreement in your politics?  And that both of you agree fully with Leonard Peikoff?

Or are you suggesting that at least in theory you agree with these two men, but somehow theory and practice don't go together?

I'm genuinely confused.  Do you really think politics can be 100% severed from ethics without any differences?  Maybe I should be asking you for references since you suggest others have stated as much.  Or even better, an argument showing that politics can be effectively severed from ethics without the slightest difference. 

The only explanation for your post that doesn't seem absurd is that you thought I was painting all libertarians with the same brush.  Maybe you missed the part in the article where I said that was impossible.

Regardless, I'm in the camp that thinks severing politics from the rest of the philosophy does have differences.  I also think there are massive differences in so called "libertarian" thought, and these differences are extremely important.




Post 35

Friday, February 3, 2006 - 8:11amSanction this postReply
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Thank you, Tibor.

Thank you double, Mark Humphrey, for your series of posts on this thread.

Joe,
When you use the phrase Objectivist Politics, what do you mean by Objectivist? I'm serious. No tap-dancing. What Rand said of her philosophy standing on one foot is not enough to define her philosophy. What is your definition?

Stephen




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Post 36

Saturday, February 4, 2006 - 7:14amSanction this postReply
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I here offer two contributions. I will propose some limits on what should pass for Objectivist politics. I will dissent from the conceptual opposition of Libertarian and Objectivist politics.

 

Libertarians divide into those who think there is at least one proper function of government and those who donít. Libertarians who think there is a proper function of government think there is only one such function, and that is the legal protection of individual liberty. Under legal protection we should understand not only laws that prohibit or enjoin for the sake of individual liberty (such as the criminal and tort law) but laws that confer legal powers for the sake of individual liberty (such as laws of inheritance, wills, contracts, partnerships, and corporation; laws of adjudication and legislation; and laws of criminal and civil procedure). These basics of Libertarianism are familiar from principals who developed that school after mid-century (such as Hospers, Nozick, Rothbard, D. Friedman, and Narveson).

 

In Randís political philosophy, there is only one proper function of government, and that is the protection of rights. All rights are rights of individuals. The purpose of these rights is to protect the free exercise of the individual mind in the conduct and service of his life in a social context. That is a type of individual liberty. Objectivism is the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Therefore, Objectivist politics is always a type of Libertarian politics.

 

That is not to conclude that every rights-based non-anarchist variety of Libertarian politics is an Objectivist politics. Nozick, for premier example, would gladly not have his political philosophy in Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974) taken for Objectivist. Rightly so, for there is nothing distinctly Objectivist about that political view, notwithstanding its sameness with Objectivism in being rights-based and not anarchist.

 

By the way, Nozick wrote some serious things about the distinction of rules and principles in his book The Nature of Rationality (1995). The distinction and relation between them is important in all rational moral and political philosophies. I donít think it is distinctive to Objectivist philosophy.

 

Returning to political philosophy, Randís was enormously incomplete. She had, for example, no worked-out theory of property rights in land (in the economic sense). Without that and its integration with her concept of government as holding a legal monopoly on the use of retaliatatory force in a given geographical area, the way is open for various more developed political philosophies consistent with Randís as far as it went.

 

To proclaim any such further worked-out version of Randian politics as ďthe Objectivist PoliticsĒ requires a proof of unique trueness to Randís philosophy so far as she developed it. Consistency with Rand and trueness to reality does not warrant such exclusive name-taking. Not by any quarter.

 

Iím not suggesting one work on proving that what one takes to be a true view in politics is uniquely true to Randís philosophy. Seek not ďthe Objectivist PoliticsĒ in anything beyond Rand.






Post 37

Saturday, February 4, 2006 - 8:00amSanction this postReply
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Joe -- I echo all who congratulate you on your clear thinking and effective communications skills! You nail the essential differences between libertarians and Objectivists.

In late 2004 TOC and Cato held a joint event on issues surrounding the war. Here's the link to the online video of the event: http://www.cato.org/events/041022conf.html

Robert Higgs -- who's good on domestic policy -- was almost a cartoon of libertarian absurdity when he argued that America's just not a free country any more. I observed that here he is in Washington strongly criticizing the U.S. government, and that I've made my career here criticizing government excesses, and no stormtroopers have come to drag us away. Higgs dropped all context, equating a tapped phone here and there with Saddam's regime.

Keep up the good work Joe!




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Post 38

Monday, February 6, 2006 - 11:33pmSanction this postReply
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Hi Ed, glad you liked the article, and thanks you for the compliments.  I'm not surprised at all about the context dropping.  We've seen so much of it over the last few years.

Stephen, I take an integrated view of Rand's philosophy.  I wouldn't try to argue Objectivist politics from a few quotes.  I think it has to be understood in the context of her ethics which upholds life as the standard.  If we ignored everything she said about ethics and epistemology, we would end up with a very different beast.  And that's the important point.  Those who try to sever the politics from the rest will end up with a different view.

So no, I don't think anything that's true would properly be called "Objectivist politics".  Nor do I think many of the ideas that make up Objectivist politics are unique.  But it is more specific than libertarian politics, which is a wide reaching conceptual label.  It is a very rough approximation.  It just means that the Objectivist politics and the rest of the libertarian politics are closer to each other than they are to other political views.

Jon, as I said before, I think you're comments blur important distinctions and ignore degrees.  For instance, you discuss "military occupation", but there's nothing inherently rights violating about that.  And although Islam is enforced in their constitution, that doesn't make it a theocracy.  There is a huge difference between a democracy with a strong religious base and a theocracy.  The democracy has the ability to change over time as people become less religious.

But that moves us away from the big disagreement.  You made the statement "If you agree with this standard Objectivist viewpoint, then how could you think that overthrowing particular Middle Eastern regimes would create a free Afghanistan, Iraq, or Iran? A US military operation can remove a dictator, but it can't change the philosophical base of a predominantly primitive, irrational society." 

I answered the first question by saying I don't think it's a one-directional effect.  Removing the dictator doesn't solve all the problems, but it opens the door to positive change.  You're disagreeing a lot, but I can't tell if it's because you don't agree with the principle, or if you don't think in the case of Iraq that it can help.

Mark, in light of the recent cartoons, and the violence and threats that have ensued, I don't feel the need to try to rebut your argument that the mad muslims are just retaliating.

As far as proportionality, I don't know what you're talking about?  Where does the concept of proportionality come from?  If Saddam Hussein had launched a missle and killed a thousand Americans, would we have to limit our retaliation to a mere thousand of his soldiers?  Maybe your confusing the goal of criminal justice?  It all comes off as very collectivist.  There are various reasons to fight a war, and ultimately the goal is to win, not to exact some kind of collective retribution.  Weird.

It's hard to respond to your post since you come from a very different perspective.  I like Nathanial Branden's quote about ethics being about how to live, and not about when you should commit suicide.  The latter is my understanding of your view of rights.  You seem to view them as limitations on your actions, and a nice place to say throw up your hands in defeat.  But if ethics is about living, and politics is a derivative of ethics, it should be about how to live.  If that means bombing Minsk, so be it.

Rights aren't just for other people.  They define your own requirements in a society.  And accordingly, they provide you guidance on how to act to secure those requirements.

Perhaps I'll write more on this topic at some point.




Post 39

Friday, April 21, 2006 - 9:42amSanction this postReply
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But Tibor. Don't you think that Saddam probably had a hand in 9/11? Or was part of the setting of the general environment that lead to it?

All of these regimes could have been taken down simultaneosly by air/proxy/political/ and economic (tax substitution) warfare without putting Americans very much at risk.

For me its not the war that was the problem. It was the government putting its own men too much in harms way prior to the clear and present opportunity to launch the killer strike. The final blow which would secure the peace of your choosing in the broader sense.

Putting US citizens in the position where they can be blown up at any time has some ways to go as a method of fulfilling delegated rights (obligations seen from the governments point of view) to self-defense.

I can see your objections to the war. But if you seperate these things out it ought not be an anti-libertarian thing to project force against a set of regimes whose only justification IS force and hatred for Western Values.

By the way I know you are a serious philospher and am currently listening to you again at mises.org. So its not someone whose just read an Ayn Rand book and is going about lecturing all and sundry.

Not that this would be such a bad thing mind you.

I want to condense down my point of view here.

Regime change with barely any American casualties (and low 'collatorall damage').............. good.

Occupation.................bad.



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