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What Social Animals Owe to Each Other

Friday, May 30, 2014

TGIF: Trivial Dispute: Obama Versus the Interventionists

American politics is largely a series of debates over unimportant details. These debates are conducted far above the fundamental level because the supposed contenders share the same premises. Where they disagree is at the level of application, and so the disagreements end up being fairly minor, especially if you think the premises are wrong.
This is an especially pronounced feature of what passes for foreign-policy debate within the accepted range of opinion.
TGIF is here.

The Danger is Intervention, Not "Isolation"

A lot of people are warning against America turning “isolationist.” We can dismiss the warnings—special pleadings, really—emanating from other countries, where people have free-ridden on American taxpayers for decades. If Europeans are worried about defending themselves, why are they cutting their military budgets? Not that we should mind if they do, but they should not look to us to pick up any slack.
President Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel are the latest to express concern that the American appetite for managing foreign conflicts is waning. In his West Point speech, Obama said the military is the “backbone” of American leadership, even as he claimed that force is not the first answer to every problem. And Hagel recently told some foreign-policy wonks in Chicago that it would be “a mistake to view our global responsibilities as a burden or charity.” How would he propose that we taxpayers view them? As a privilege?
Find it here.

UPDATE: I've appended this note to the article:
[Correction: I've removed a sentence which stated incorrectly that President James Monroe and Secretary of State John Quincy Adams intervened in a Greek civil war. In fact, while Monroe expressed sympathy for the Greeks, who were revolting against Turkey, in his annual message in 1822, Adams and key members of Congress opposed intervention.]

Monday, May 26, 2014

Revisionist History Day, 2014

Today is Revisionist History Day, what others call Memorial Day. Americans are supposed to remember the country's war dead while being thankful that they protected our freedom and served our country. However, reading revisionist history (see a sampling below) or alternative news sites (start with Antiwar.com and don't forget to listen to the Scott Horton Show) teaches that the fallen were doing no such thing. Rather they were and are today serving cynical politicians and the "private" component of the military-industrial complex in the service of the American Empire.

The state inculcates an unquestioning faith in its war-making by associating it with patriotism, heroism, and the defense of "our freedoms." This strategy builds in its own defense against any criticism of the government's policies. Anyone who questions the morality of a war is automatically suspected of being unpatriotic, unappreciative of the bravery that has "kept us free," and disrespectful of "our troops," in a word, un-American.

To counter this common outlook, which people are indoctrinated in from birth and which is shared by conservatives and Progressives alike, we should do what we can to teach others that the government's version of its wars is always self-serving and threatening to life, liberty, and decency.

In that spirit, I quote a passage from the great antiwar movie The Americanization of Emily. You'll find a video of the scene below. This AP photo is a perfect illustration of what "Charlie Madison" is talking about.
I don't trust people who make bitter reflections about war, Mrs. Barham. It's always the generals with the bloodiest records who are the first to shout what a Hell it is. And it's always the widows who lead the Memorial Day parades . . . we shall never end wars, Mrs. Barham, by blaming it on ministers and generals or warmongering imperialists or all the other banal bogies. It's the rest of us who build statues to those generals and name boulevards after those ministers; the rest of us who make heroes of our dead and shrines of our battlefields. We wear our widows' weeds like nuns and perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices....

My brother died at Anzio – an everyday soldier’s death, no special heroism involved. They buried what pieces they found of him. But my mother insists he died a brave death and pretends to be very proud. . . . [N]ow my other brother can’t wait to reach enlistment age. That’ll be in September. May be ministers and generals who blunder us into wars, but the least the rest of us can do is to resist honoring the institution. What has my mother got for pretending bravery was admirable? She’s under constant sedation and terrified she may wake up one morning and find her last son has run off to be brave. [Emphasis added.]
Enjoy the day. I'll spend some of it reading revisionist history and watching Emily.

Here's an all-too-incomplete list of books in no particular order (some of which I've read, some of which I intend to read):
  • We Who Dared to Say No to War: American Antiwar Writing from 1812 to Now, edited by Murray Polner and Thomas E. Woods Jr.
  • The Failure of America's Foreign Wars, edited by Richard M. Ebeling and Jacob G. Hornberger
  • America's Second Crusade, by William Henry Chamberlin
  • Great Wars and Great Leaders: A Libertarian Rebuttal, by Ralph Raico
  • Why American History Is Not What They Say: An Introduction to Revisionism, by Jeff Riggenbach
  • War Is a Lie, by David Swanson
  • War Is a Racket, by Smedley D. Butler
  • WartimeUnderstanding and Behavior in the Second World War, by Paul Fussell
  • Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War, by Jeffrey Rogers Hummel
  • The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, by William Appleman Williams
  • Empire as a Way of Life, by William Appleman Williams
  • The Civilian and the Military: A History of the American Antimilitarist Tradition, by Arthur Ekirch
  • The Politics of War: The Story of Two Wars which Altered Forever the Political Life of the American Republic, 1890-1920, by Walter Karp
  • The Costs of War, edited by John Denson
  • Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, by Stephen Kinzer
  • All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, by Stephen Kinzer
  • Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, by Chalmers Johnson
  • The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, by Chalmers Johnson
  • War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, by Chris Hedges
  • A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, by David Fromkin (This book has serious flaws, but it nonetheless shows the cynicism of the European imperialists.)
  • The Gun and the Olive Branch: The Roots of Violence in the Middle East, by David Hirst
  • Faith Misplaced: The Broken Promise of U.S.-Arab Relations, 1820-2001, by Ussama Makdisi
  • Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, by Max Blumenthal
  • Genesis: Truman, Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict, by John B. Judis
  • The Rejection of Palestinian Self-Determination, by Jeremy R. Hammond
  • The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, by Ilan Pappe
  • The General's Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine, by Miko Peled
  • Assault on the Liberty, by James N. Ennes Jr.
  • Wilson's War: How Woodrow Wilson's Great Blunder Led to Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, and World War II, by Jim Powell
  • American Empire: Before the Fall, by Bruce Fein
  • Endless Enemies: The Making of an Unfriendly World, by Jonathan Kwitny
  • The Emergency State: America's Pursuit of Absolute Security at All Costs, by David C. Unger
  • The War State: The Cold War Origins Of The Military-Industrial Complex And The Power Elite, 1945-1963, by Michael Swanson
  • Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, by Nicholson Baker
  • Pearl Harbor: The Seeds and Fruits of Infamy, by Percy Greaves
  • Infamy: Pearl Harbor and Its Aftermath, by John Toland
  • Day of Deceit: The Truth about  FDR and Pearl Harbor, by Robert Stinnett
  • Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers, by Daniel Ellsberg
  • The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, by Nick Turse
  • "War is the Health of the State," by Randolph Bourne
  • War, Peace, and the State, by Murray Rothbard
  • “‘Ancient History’: U.S. Conduct in the Middle East Since World War II and the Folly of Intervention,” by Sheldon Richman
By the way, if you can't help but think of this day as "memorial day," then at least spend part of it remembering how the U.S. government has caused the deaths of so many people.


Are we so desperate for explanations of horrific acts like Elliot Rodger's murder spree that we are willing to accept scientistic pseudo-explanations? Saying that Rodger killed because he was mentally ill is like saying David Copperfield can make things disappear and reappear because he has magical powers. It explains nothing, though it appears to. It's a placeholder where a real explanation should be. A sign of growing up is the rejection of pseudo-explanations and the demand for the real thing.

Behavior has reasons not causes. Persons are not reducible to brain chemistry.

This is what the late Thomas Szasz spent years courageously trying to explain to us. He was routinely misunderstood, misstated, and maligned. Contrary to common misconception, Szasz did not deny that people do "crazy" things, only that action -- purposive conduct -- is illness. He did not rule out that some people who do "crazy" things may have brain illnesses, even ones yet to be discovered. But he rejected "mental illness" as a category mistake because the mind is not an organ. ("Mind is a verb not a noun," he he once told me.) He liked this passage from the philosopher Gilbert Ryle in The Concept of Mind:
A myth is, of course, not a fairy story. It is the presentation of facts belonging to one category in the idioms belonging to another. To explode a myth is accordingly not to deny the facts but to re-allocate them.
Szasz spent his life restoring the facts of human action to the category in which they belong. For an unlimited number of reasons, people are capable of drawing conclusions about the world and themselves that in their view justify evil actions. To say they are sick is to tell us nothing about them, although it tell us much about the speaker, who seeks comfort and security, not understanding. The obvious danger in this is that proposals to prevent mass murder by the "mentally ill" will lead to greater violations of the civil liberties of people who are no threat to anyone. (Involuntary "medication" and "hospitalization" are common in the land of the free.)

If you want to see what Szasz had to say, you can start with The Medicalization of Everyday Life: Selected EssaysThe Manufacture of Madness: A Comparative Study of the Inquisition and the Mental Health Movement, or Psychiatry: The Science of Lies. If you want to get in more deeply, I recommend Insanity: The Idea and Its Consequences, Schizophrenia: The Sacred Symbol of Psychiatry, and the book that started it all, The Myth of Mental Illness: Foundations of a Theory of Personal Conduct.

TGIF: Immortal Keynes?

Whatever you may think of Keynesian economics, you have to give it credit for one thing: its staying power.
 Read about it here.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Further Thought for the Day

Here's a passage I've always liked from Albert Jay Nock's Memoirs of a Superfluous Man:
Another neighbour, a patriarchal old Englishman with a white beard, kept a great stand of bees. I remember his incessant drumming on a tin pan to marshal them when they were swarming, and myself as idly wondering who first discovered that this was the thing to do, and why the bees should fall in with it. It struck me that if the bees were as intelligent as bees are cracked up to be, instead of mobilising themselves for old man Reynolds’s benefit, they would sting him soundly and then fly off about their business. I always think of this when I see a file of soldiers, wondering why the sound of a drum does not incite them to shoot their officers, throw away their rifles, go home, and go to work.

Thought for the Day

“When men hire themselves out to shoot other men to order, asking nothing about the justice of their cause, I don’t care if they are shot themselves.” --Herbert Spencer, during Britain's second Afghan war.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Op-ed: More U.S. Intervention in Libya?

Except for the 2012 deadly attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission and CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya has dropped out of American news coverage since President Obama and NATO’s so-called humanitarian intervention in 2011. The American public has been led to believe that except for that terrorist outburst, things have been going pretty well in the country formerly ruled by Muammar Qaddafi.
So it might come as a surprise that Obama has sent over 200 marines along with Osprey aircraft to Sicily in case the American embassy in Tripoli has to be evacuated.
Read about it here.

Friday, May 16, 2014

TGIF: Rothbard's For a New Liberty

In 1973, nine years before he published his magnum opus in political philosophy, The Ethics of Liberty, Murray Rothbard issued a comprehensive popular presentation of the libertarian philosophy in For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto, first published by the mainstream publisher Macmillan.
 The full article is here.

The Neoconservative Obsession with Iran

Americans could be enjoying cultural and commercial relations with Iranians were it not for U.S. “leaders,” who are more aptly described as misleaders. Because of institutional, geopolitical, and economic reasons, Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan,George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton were not about to let that happen. They thought America needed an enemy, and Iran filled the bill.
President George W. Bush appeared to follow in his predecessors’ footsteps, Gareth Porter writes in his important new book, Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. But Bush added his own twist: the neoconservative zeal for regime change in the Middle East, a blind fanaticism about the magic of American military power that overwhelmed all sense of realism about the world.
Read it here.

Monday, May 12, 2014


Liberty.me is a "digital city" dedicated to furthering the discussion of libertarianism. But that hardly begins to describe this project launched by Jeff Tucker. Check out Liberty.me for yourself. And visit my personal section, where you'll find an archive of my writings.


TGIF: Rothbard's The Ethics of Liberty: Still Worthy After All These Years

In 1982 Murray Rothbard published his magnum opus in political philosophy, The Ethics of Liberty. It is a tour de force, a remarkable presentation of the moral case for political freedom. What a complement to Man, Economy, and State and Power and Market, Rothbard’s towering contributions to our understanding of free markets!
The first striking feature of Ethics is that the opening five chapters, which comprise part 1, seek to establish the validity of natural law, an approach to moral inquiry based on the distinctive nature, faculties, and tendencies of the human being;
 The full article is here.

Bill Clinton and the Bogus Iranian Threat

Tragically, President George H.W. Bush passed up a chance for a rapprochement with Iran because, after the Soviet Union imploded, the national-security apparatus needed a new threat to stave off budget cutters in Congress. Iran became the “manufactured crisis,” according to author Gareth Porter’s new book by that title.
Doubly tragic, Bush’s successor, Bill Clinton, compounded the dangerous folly by hyping the bogus threat. Why? That might be a good question for progressives to ask possible presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who enjoys basking in her husband’s supposed presidential successes.
Read all about it here.

Friday, May 02, 2014

TGIF: Libertarianism Rightly Conceived

The debate on thick and thin libertarianism continues, and that’s a good thing. Libertarians can only gain by the discussion. Often one comes to appreciate one’s own philosophy more fully in the crucible of intellectual argument.
So I, for one, welcome the debate — so long as it is a real debate and not merely a series of unsupported denials of the proposition on the table.
Read the article here.