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Friday, December 10, 2004 - 10:25pmSanction this postReply
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Chris,

The opposite of rationalism is grounding - the integration of philosophical disciplines with the facts of reality: of ethics with biology and praxeology, of epistemology with cognitive and developmental psychology and the rest of cognitive science, and of politics with history, cultural anthropology etc. Peikoff tended to rationalism, but Rand had pointed out that tendency to him, and he took considerable care to keep his rationalism under control - there is considerable grounding in history under nearly everything that Peikoff wrote about politics. Peikoff also kept some control over the rationalist leanings of the rest of NBI's associates, including Schwartz.

Yaron Brook has loosened the bounds to such an extent, that what Peikoff would have reined in - in this case, Schwartz's extreme rationalism - is now given pretty much free rein. In Schwartz's case, that is not a change for the better. In his earlier writings on Libertarianism, Schwartz already had a tendency to select facts and factoids that fit his rationalistic preconceptions - but at least he still felt compelled to present at least the appearance of grounding. Now Brook has set Schwartz free of the burden of grounding altogether. ARI still has Peikoff and John Lewis and some others who care about grounding, but it also has gaggles of rationalists and conservatoids and even nationalists, now free to indulge their floating ideologies, untethered from history.

An ironic development, because Rand herself insited on primacy of existence - which in Politics means the primacy of historical fact; Rand was herself a History major - and considered the primacy of consciousness, the driving engine of rationalism, the antithesis of everything she stood for.



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Post 1

Saturday, December 11, 2004 - 6:33amSanction this postReply
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Adam, you've made some very interesting and profoundly important observations here.  Just wanted to thank you for contributing your thoughts.  You are right in every crucial respect about Rand especially, and there is more of a need to remind current-day Randians of that primacy of existence, especially as it applies to historical and political studies.




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Saturday, December 11, 2004 - 7:18amSanction this postReply
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Chris,

As usual, an outstanding article. One minor factual error, you gave 3 examples of 'objectivist' that want to decimate Iran, the first was an objectivist; but the latter 2 were your responses to a poster that is NOT an objectivist. I have come into contact with him before, he is an Evangelical Christian that holds much of objectivism in disdain. The fact that he chose to post his foolish remarks on my article's thread annoyed me, in fact he ruined my article by making those absurd suggestions. The moderate surgical strikes I was advocating were lost in the verbiage of an extremist.

Your 5 part article was very interesting. More than once it made me pause and examine some of my positions. There really is much that I agree with you on (an admission that will haunt me - lol), especially your critique of the so-called 'right' to the Saudi oil fields. I have often found this claim by some objectivist to be odd given the context of the history involved (as you so correctly pointed out). Also, I agree with you that Iran is not a hopeless case requireing its complete decimation or occupation. That said, I vehemently disagree on the level of threat that a nuclear Iran would present to the West and America in particular (thus my advocacy for surgical strikes as soon as possible).

You are already aware of my position on scenarios about the probable outcome of an isolated Russo-German conflict, it is as I have expressed before, one to which I do not agree with; inspite of this having become a staple of objectivist argument. Interestingly, you touched on another subject to which I do agree with you yet again; the nature of our conflict with Japan not being the simplistic 'we were attacked for no reason' that is commonly assumed (of course the lions-share of the responsibility is still one that falls upon the expansionist and militarist Japanese of the time).

Your arguments against Schwartz were right on the money on many issues. I will admit, that I have read that book by him and agree with a great deal of its 'central premise'. But many of the criticisms you raised were dead on. Your ability to to take a broader and more expansive view of issues continues to impress me, as does your ability to tie them into the historical context.

Bravo!

George

(Edited by George W. Cordero on 12/11, 7:39am)




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Post 3

Saturday, December 11, 2004 - 1:00pmSanction this postReply
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Hey, George, thank you for your comments!  I wasn't aware of the philosophical status of our critic, so thanks for that.  I eliminated that link in the article---thanks to you. :)




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Post 4

Saturday, December 11, 2004 - 4:24pmSanction this postReply
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In part III of your critique, you quote Schwartz as follows:

 

America could readily take over the oilfields [in Saudi Arabia] militarily (they properly belong to Western companies anyway, which developed them and from which they were expropriated decades ago by the Saudi state). The only explanation is that we have morally acquiesced to the Saudis. We are reluctant to pronounce judgment on them. We don’t believe we are entitled to assert our own standards. We have concluded that we must compromise those standards—i.e., that we have to give up some of our freedom—in order to accommodate the wishes of tyrants. (38)

 

You then go on to say,

 

Well, this is not “the only explanation.”

 

You then give a detailed review of the evolution of the ARAMCO situation and how it was not a proper process of acquiring property, the point being, I suppose, that ARAMCO never had clear, legitimate title to the property.

 

So, is it your position that the real explanation for why we don't reclaim the oil fields is that Bush understands we never properly owned them?  Is it your position that if we had properly owned them, Bush would smash the Saudis tomorrow and return the property to its rightful owners?

 

Would you have us believe that Bush is, in fact, prepared to pronounce judgment on Saudi Arabia, that he is prepared to assert our standards and back it up with action against the Saudis, if only ARAMCO had not so badly screwed things up?  Are you saying that Bush is not willing to surrender some of our freedom to accommodate the wishes of tyrants?

 

And if you are not saying those things, what difference does all that detail really make?  It is the specifics of how an irrational foreign policy gets implemented by a mixed-economy, semi-fascist, partially-free country.   So what?  Schwartz might be wrong on the issue of who properly owns the oil fields, but that surely does not make him wrong about how altruism and pragmatism have corrupted our foreign policy.  And that is by far the more important issue.

 










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Post 5

Saturday, December 11, 2004 - 8:48pmSanction this postReply
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I've not read the Schwartz book, but I can readily imagine its being rife with that ARI blight, rationalism, as Adam suggests. Nor have I read Dr. Diabolical's 5-part critique, except in its previous incarnations here. But I can readily imagine my agreeing with Michael Smith, above. I often tease Chris that he's assuredly no rationalist, but an empiricist, splashing around in an ocean of details way beyond the point at which they are useful or suggestive of a course of action. Rather, they become an excuse for *inaction.* I note that here they are invoked in the cause of: "Don't reclaim the oilfields." I've seen them invoked on behalf of: "Don't invade Iraq," of course. The point is, one should treat details selectively, identifying those that are key to the big picture, & then get on & make big picture decisions.

I've said to Diabolical before that if a tidal wave arrived, while the rest of us were running/motoring/whatever for our lives, he'd be immobilised, paralysed because he hadn't yet seen the thing from every conceivable vantage point! The rest of us have seen enough to get the hell out of its way! :-)

Linz



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Saturday, December 11, 2004 - 11:08pmSanction this postReply
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Awww, Linz, you sure you don't want to bring out the big guns for this thread?

Well, just for good measure: you're all a bunch of Saddamites!




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Post 7

Sunday, December 12, 2004 - 8:28amSanction this postReply
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With regard to U.S. policy in Saudi Arabia, Michael S. asks:  "is it your position that the real explanation for why we don't reclaim the oil fields is that Bush understands we never properly owned them?"

No.

"Is it your position that if we had properly owned them, Bush would smash the Saudis tomorrow and return the property to its rightful owners?"

No.

"Would you have us believe that Bush is, in fact, prepared to pronounce judgment on Saudi Arabia, that he is prepared to assert our standards and back it up with action against the Saudis, if only ARAMCO had not so badly screwed things up?"

No.

"Are you saying that Bush is not willing to surrender some of our freedom to accommodate the wishes of tyrants?  And if you are not saying those things, what difference does all that detail really make?"

Let's back up. 

First, principles. 

I do not believe that the U.S. taxpayer or the U.S. military should be bailing out any corporation or conglomerate that chooses to enter into contractual relationships with governments that do not generally respect property rights.  If such companies choose to do that, they should keep whatever profits they gain by virtue of such contracts---even if these contractual arrangements are gained through monopoly concessions, as in the case of ARAMCO.  But they do not have the right to have their risks socialized by the U.S. government.  They take the risk, they can keep the profits, but they can't expect the U.S. to bail them out if things go south.

The truth is, of course, that things didn't go "south."  ARAMCO may have switched "ownership" but it is still, essentially, a corporatist structure that greatly benefits the same Western oil companies that continue to work in Saudi Arabia.

My point was that Bush has been and will be like any other President over the past 60+ years:  The ARAMCO relationship and Saudi Arabia will not be touched because of the incestuous triangular ties between the oil companies, the Saudi government, and the U.S. government.  To think otherwise, or to propose that Bush is suddenly going to assert "moral principles" to change the entire Saudi-U.S. relationship is to be living in a fantasy world.  The only way the U.S. military is going to enter Saudi Arabia in an activist capacity will be to prop up the Saudi government (and, by consequence, the ARAMCO institutional framework) if the extremist Islamic forces---which the Saudi government has encouraged and nourished through Wahhabi indoctrination schools---suddenly gains the upper hand, politically. 

My point is not that moral principles mean nothing.  It's that a policy based on rational moral principles requires a context, and that context is not going to be changed by simply changing the opinions of politicians to a more "pro-freedom" stance, as Schwartz would have it.  The context can only be changed by changing the system that breeds the objectionable policies.

Now, as for Linz:   I'm chuckling because somebody who seemed to be an ARI-leaning Objectivist posted at L&P, accusing me of being an empiricist.  LOL  Are you sure you don't have lots of fans in the ARI camp?

Now, as for my inaction:  Remember, I was for the military action in Afghanistan.  The details were known, and it was necessary to act decisively in that context---regardless of the fact that the U.S. had had a history of bolstering the very forces that it had to crush (the Al Qaeda and Taliban forces were constituted by a previous generation's "mujahideen" or "freedom fighters," who were fighting the Soviets at one time).  And I did not argue for inaction against Hussein; large-scale deterrence and a policy of containment are not inaction.  Such a policy entails vigilance in the face of a potential threat.  The U.S. relationship to the Afghan Taliban or to Saddam Hussein, however, was/is very different from the relationship that it has with Saudi Arabia. 

But the one thing that really made me chuckle was this comment by Linz:


I've said to Diabolical before that if a tidal wave arrived, while the rest of us were running/motoring/whatever for our lives, he'd be immobilised, paralysed because he hadn't yet seen the thing from every conceivable vantage point! The rest of us have seen enough to get the hell out of its way! :-)


As Linz is well aware, I don't advocate inaction in the face of a tidal wave.  In fact, I cause tidal waves.  Just turn on Mario Lanza, or any other music that emotionally moves me --- and run for your lives!  (See here.)

Sincerely,
Dr. S.A.D. Damite




Post 8

Sunday, December 12, 2004 - 11:32amSanction this postReply
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For the record, I don't at all consider Chris a "Saddamite." ;-)  It's more appropriate, probably, to go in Lindsay's direction and label him "Dr. Diabolical Dialectical." Altho' for me he's more like "Captain Cautious Contextual." (CCC) ;-)

However that may be, I think Chris makes a number of good and subtle points:  

I do not believe that the U.S. taxpayer or the U.S. military should be bailing out any corporation or conglomerate that chooses to enter into contractual relationships with governments that do not generally respect property rights.  If such companies choose to do that, they should keep whatever profits they gain by virtue of such contracts---even if these contractual arrangements are gained through monopoly concessions, as in the case of ARAMCO.  But they do not have the right to have their risks socialized by the U.S. government.  They take the risk, they can keep the profits, but they can't expect the U.S. to bail them out if things go south.



   
In the end, I think those Western and American oil companies brought their fairly high level of civilization/culture and respect for justice/property rights with them to the Middle East. Despite the genuine corruption and immorality of certain "monopoly concessions" outlined above, once they were in Arabia, the semi-civilized Westerners probably made the best, most normal, most moral deals they could under exceedingly difficult and strange circumstances. I imagine that in many cases they were utterly alone in a vast wasteland, and had to walk/ride for days until they found the nearest semi-official nomadic tribal leader or half-starving vagrant camel rider; then they offered to "buy" the land which that person "owned." No doubt the Arabian nomads looked at the Westerner like he was mad. Still, the wandering "chief" and/or nomadic "camel jockey" --people Ayn Rand tended to refer to with exquisite political incorrectness as "savages" -- was probably more than happy to take the foolish Westerner's money and then sign some remarkably silly and useless piece of paper transfering "ownership" of "his" land to the Western oil company, businessman, or speculator/investor. All this rigamarol in a place which had almost no concept of private property rights.

Seen in extreme context, the above business transaction was legit. The Western businessman or company did, in fact, successfully negotiate a sale and now possessed full legit ownership. His government should therefore back him on this. Trillions of dollars in Western property shouldn't be lost to tribal savages via the magic of the criminal term "nationalization." Of course, considering the difficulties and expense involved in recovering this property, and the corruption alluded to above, this oil property probably now properly belongs to the US people and our government should now auction it off.

The key point here is that in some overall and contextual sense Western Civilization created great wealth in a place which was otherwise filled with nothingness, desert sands, and starving nomads. In no sense is it just for the vagrants to suddenly become stunning millionaires at our expense. In no sense is it practical for the West to transfer trillions in dollars to people of raw savagery and/or their dictatorial leaders and then not expect evil results to follow such as the OPEC cartel, all those wars against Israel, and 9/11.

People nowadays feel great despair and hopelessness when confronted with islamic fanaticism. They simply don't know what to do. Well, I know something to do: stop giving trillions to raw evil, tyranny, and terrorism. This means: take back our oil!     



(Edited by Andre Zantonavitch on 12/12, 11:57am)




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Post 9

Sunday, December 12, 2004 - 1:17pmSanction this postReply
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People nowadays feel great despair and hopelessness when confronted with islamic fanaticism. They simply don't know what to do. Well, I know something to do: stop giving trillions to raw evil, tyranny, and terrorism. This means: take back our oil! 
   
 
I agree with you, Andre.  It is insane to allow our self-declared mortal enemies to build weapons of mass destruction with funds they are getting from oil we found, drilled and developed.  Pure insanity.




Post 10

Sunday, December 12, 2004 - 2:41pmSanction this postReply
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My point was that Bush has been and will be like any other President over the past 60+ years:  The ARAMCO relationship and Saudi Arabia will not be touched because of the incestuous triangular ties between the oil companies, the Saudi government, and the U.S. government. 

Here is where I think you are confusing cause and effect.  The existence of the incestuous ties is a function of the same thing that prevents us from taking the proper action: Pragmatism -- the unwillingness to identify and act on the proper principles.

My point is not that moral principles mean nothing.  It's that a policy based on rational moral principles requires a context, and that context is not going to be changed by simply changing the opinions of politicians to a more "pro-freedom" stance, as Schwartz would have it.  The context can only be changed by changing the system that breeds the objectionable policies.

What system?  If you are talking about the U.S. economic system, it is a mixed-economy tilted heavily toward fascism.  How do you propose to change that system without advocating a more "pro-freedom" stance? 

You are obviously willing to expend enormous effort at identifying the details of America's complicity in her own problems.  You provide endless examples and cases of the terrible consequences of America's past decisions -- but then you seem opposed to doing anything about those problems.  It's as if no one can identify any danger to America without you pouring on all the reasons why we are responsible for the existence of that danger and why we cannot do anything about it. Your critique of Schwartz's book is not a critique of what he has said -- it is, rather, a regurgitation of everything you have said.

You are willing to damn America for delivering Eastern Europe to the Soviets for half a century -- but you advocate the same sort of "containment" policy toward regimes like Iraq -- which simply condemns their populations to perpetual misery.  

Why are the consequences of a policy of containment acceptable when Chris recommends it, but unacceptable when America does it?




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Post 11

Sunday, December 12, 2004 - 6:29pmSanction this postReply
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With regard to the Arabian situation, I think you'll find that the Western businessmen who did business with the Saudis were not the James J. Hill type of capitalists that Rand celebrated.  They were very good at using the state on almost every level to create monopoly benefits for themselves.  But I think the point is being lost here:  Nobody in the U.S. government is currently seeking to "take back our oil."  They are, instead, firmly standing behind the political relationship that exists.  And that is entirely what I'd expect, given the incestuous ties between the regime, Big Oil, and the U.S.

Now, of course I advocate a more "pro-freedom" stance. But how is that stance being represented by advocating a U.S. government takeover of the oilwells in Saudi Arabia?  As I said in the article, the industry is already pretty much run by all the same clientele that existed prior to the Saudi "takeover."  That "takeover" was among the smoothest transactions imaginable, since the benefits of the monopoly concession have pretty much been retained. 

You want to know what to do about all these problems?  Work hard to spread the ideas of freedom; join the cultural war.  Change the political culture.  Only then will we be able to genuinely roll back the state, fighting those who benefit from political privilege, fighting the very mechanisms that allow the government to grant such privileges.

As for the delivery of Eastern Europe to the Soviets being representative of a policy of "containment".  Not quite.  It was a pure sellout manufactured by the likes of FDR; it was also one predictable by-product of entering that war on the side of the Soviets---but let's not go there again. :)

Finally, as for the "perpetual misery" of enslaved populations:  I do not believe (nor does Schwartz believe, ironically) that the U.S. has an obligation to relieve that perpetual misery.  I point out in my series where I think Schwartz is right (especially in Part V, where I compliment him quite a bit on everything from the role of America as the "world's policeman" to the folly of nation-building).  And on this subject, he is right:  The U.S. should only act militarily when its security is threatened, not to relieve other people's misery.  If that is a by-product of the prime security reason, all the better.




Post 12

Sunday, December 12, 2004 - 6:36pmSanction this postReply
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One point that Lindsay Perigo and Michael Smith need to bear in mind here is that in the early days Objectivism suffered from a real dearth of academic sophistication and scholarly respectability. Everything written was pretty much upsupported commentary and someone's mere "opinion." Chris's 'Journal of Ayn Rand Studies,' along with many other works, continues to change all that. I think it's fair to say that Chris Sciabarra is the finest Objectivist scholar on the face of the earth. On that basis he should be allowed to participate in the discourse here, unmolested, in whatever discussional manner he prefers or chooses.
 




Post 13

Sunday, December 12, 2004 - 8:11pmSanction this postReply
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Heavens! I don't think there was ever any idea of *not* allowing Dr. Diabolical Dialectical to "participate in the discourse here." Au contraire. He is one of our most valued contributors  & was among the first people to sign up to SOLO. I'm not sure about "unmolested" though - I have the distinct impression that he prefers to *be* molested.

Linz




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Post 14

Monday, December 13, 2004 - 6:08amSanction this postReply
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In reply to Andre, Linz writes: 

Heavens! I don't think there was ever any idea of *not* allowing Dr. Diabolical Dialectical to "participate in the discourse here." Au contraire. He is one of our most valued contributors  & was among the first people to sign up to SOLO. I'm not sure about "unmolested" though - I have the distinct impression that he prefers to *be* molested.

Well... NOW y'all know why I WAS among the first people to sign up for SOLO!  LOL

I mean, where else can I be routinely molested---and admired---all in the same thread, over and over again.  Some of my best friends disagree very strongly with me.  And still, we all keep coming back for more.

Perhaps we're all sadists and masochists---after reading Alec Mouhibian aka "Esinem," I'm beginning to wonder---but I think that, ultimately, we share enough in the department of "core values" to withstand all the boat-rocking that these discussions provoke.

That said, more seriously now:  I'm less inclined to keep posting on foreign policy at SOLO.  And obviously I don't mean this as a blanket statement or self-injunction.  And it's not because I don't think I have something to offer, or because I don't think people appreciate me.  I just don't think I enjoy repeating the same thing over and over again ("regurgitation" as Michael Smith aptly puts it) to the same set of people whose positions I also know like the back of my hand.  Even the "pedantic academics" among us know when to slow down.  And truly and sincerely:  I can count, on the fingers of one hand, the number of people who have changed their perspectives on the Iraq war, for example.   In both directions.  Several times!  I'm just not sure much is accomplished by constantly reiterating the same things over and over again in the same forum (which is why, in part, I published the Schwartz critique at L&P).

Sooo... now you know why I'm writing more about people like singer Mario Lanza or (forthcoming) film score composer Miklos Rozsa.  Sometimes, you just have to move on...




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Post 15

Monday, December 13, 2004 - 6:23amSanction this postReply
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You know, I just realized, not only was I among the first people to sign on to SOLO, but as "Member Number 4" it appears I signed on before its founder (Linz) who is "Member Number 7." 

:)




Post 16

Monday, December 13, 2004 - 11:00amSanction this postReply
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I was probably having second thoughts, based on who'd signed up already! :-)

This is a crucial point in Michael Smith's most recent post. It echoes something I've said time & again:

"You are obviously willing to expend enormous effort at identifying the details of America's complicity in her own problems.  You provide endless examples and cases of the terrible consequences of America's past decisions -- but then you seem opposed to doing anything about those problems.  It's as if no one can identify any danger to America without you pouring on all the reasons why we are responsible for the existence of that danger and why we cannot do anything about it."

As for no one changing his mind: I recently encountered a dramatic instance of someone switching to a pro-liberation position. This is someone well-known & deservedly respected here ... he'll be telling his story in due course.

Linz




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Post 17

Monday, December 13, 2004 - 3:31pmSanction this postReply
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Two quick comments:

1.  On that part that Linz quotes from Michael Smith:  Pointing out America's faults has not stopped me from (a) advocating military action in Afghanistan or (b) focusing on the nightmare that is Islamic fundamentalism, and the need for a necessary cultural transformation of that whole region of the world.

2.  I've no doubt that some people have changed their opinions, but it seems to me that the people who were fairly committed here Pro- or Anti-Iraq war, have pretty much stayed the course (I know of only a couple of exceptions).

Outside of the Objectivist/libertarian universe, I should point out that I've seen plenty of changes in opinion.  Most of those changes have been from pro-Iraq war to anti-Iraq war.  Among some of those who seem to have made the switch are conservatives William Buckley and George Will, and the very vocal Kenneth Pollack, whose book on Iraq made a persuasive case for invasion.

Anyway, that's all.  I think. 




Post 18

Monday, December 13, 2004 - 4:57pmSanction this postReply
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Now, of course I advocate a more "pro-freedom" stance. But how is that stance being represented by advocating a U.S. government takeover of the oilwells in Saudi Arabia?  As I said in the article, the industry is already pretty much run by all the same clientele that existed prior to the Saudi "takeover."  That "takeover" was among the smoothest transactions imaginable, since the benefits of the monopoly concession have pretty much been retained.
 


A pro-freedom stance, in this instance, would be one that denies material support to the enemies of freedom.  No part of the revenues from those fields should go to the house of Saud, which would help dry up the funding for all sorts of rotten activities, such as the Saudi-financed madrassas in Pakistan that teach Wahhabism.

The situation with the oil fields, of course, is one of the examples of how America's past actions is now coming back to harm her.  Granted, that whole "incestuous relationship" thing should never have come to pass. The question is, why not correct it now?

As far as the argument about "socializing" the cost of bailing companies out, there is no argument for "socializing" the cost of any government action, foreign or domestic.  The financing of a government in a free society is another topic, but surely it should be done on the principle that, to the maximum extent possible, users of government services should pay for them.

In this case, however, taking the oil fields out of the hands of the Saudi's would benefit the entire population of America.  So, there really is no financing issue in this case.


As for the delivery of Eastern Europe to the Soviets being representative of a policy of "containment".  Not quite.  It was a pure sellout manufactured by the likes of FDR; it was also one predictable by-product of entering that war on the side of the Soviets---but let's not go there again. :)
But since America is under no obligation to relieve perpetual misery, then you do not condemn FDR's action, correct?




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Post 19

Tuesday, December 14, 2004 - 4:21amSanction this postReply
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I agree with you that America is under no obligation to relieve perpetual misery; but I should also think that America is under an obligation not to take actions that deliver whole populations into slavery---as it did in the post-World War II era. The "greatest generation" that liberated millions from the darkness of Nazism soon found itself ceding to the Soviets all of Eastern Europe and East Berlin. 

I have just as much disgust with the Saudis and Wahhabism as you have; my point here was not to protect the status quo.  It was to state that the situation is what it is, and will remain so, regardless of what any of us thinks, precisely because the relationships are part and parcel of a system that needs to be changed from the ground up.  That won't happen, as I have argued, because it requires more than simply "taking back the oil fields."  It involves taking back our liberty---at home.  And because, as Rand said, "foreign policy is merely a consequence of domestic policy," it will require a veritable revolution.

Anyway, I think we've beaten this poor dead pony to a pulp.  :)




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