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What Social Animals Owe to Each Other

Friday, April 29, 2022

TGIF: What Really Protects Liberty?

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated, as if we needed another demonstration, that little stands between the government and our liberty. Champions of individual freedom have been properly disturbed by how much power governments at all levels have seized since the pandemic hit in 2020.

To make matters worse, officeholders and public-health officials object when the judicial branch occasionally overturns their power grabs because judges are said to be unqualified to rule on "medical" matters. So, if judges furnish constitutional and other legal grounds against power grabs, we're supposed to ignore them because they in fact are issuing medical opinions for which they are not qualified. That's pretty inventive reasoning, but unfortunately it is in the service of tyranny and serfdom.

Some judges have made good, that is, power-limiting, decisions during the pandemic, though they might well have gone the other way. (See John Hasnas's "The Myth of the Rule of Law.") It's only a slight exaggeration to say the judicial process is a coin toss.

When judges get it right, the devout constitutionalists among us cheer: "The system works!" But what about all the times the rulings went the other way? Where does that leave the constitutionalists? They will say that the problem isn't with the Constitution; it's with the judges. But considering that the Constitution doesn't interpret itself, who were they expecting to interpret it? Robots that have been correctly programmed? Who would do the programming? Even people within the competing schools of constitutional interpretation don't agree on everything.

Since it's people all the way down and the process is internal, not external to society, don't the constitutionalists have a wee problem?

James Madison called the Bill of Rights, which he wrote, a "parchment barrier." But he couldn't have really meant that because parchment is a poor material for making the heavy-duty, barrier liberty requires due to the predatory nature of politicians. The only real barriers in this regard are the people themselves -- people, that is, who refuse to give, carry out, or obey unjust orders. Paraxodically, orders require consent, and that can be withheld. (Think of the scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian in which Brian tells a prison guard that he doesn't have to follow orders and the guard replies, "I like orders.")

Strictly speaking, constitutions and statutes cannot compel unjust conduct or compliance. They are merely words. When governors ordered "non-essential" businesses and schools to shut down and people to stay home in 2020, those politicians didn't point guns at anyone. People obeyed, but I suspect that only a few did so lest they be punished. If someone had disobeyed, armed agents of the state might have been dispatched, but why did they obey orders? No gun was held to their heads. They might have been fired and others put in their place places, but no one would have been subjected to force.

So all these state agents acted to suppress liberty freely. They followed orders. Why? Because they believed it was proper to do so. Most of the public believed it too. So they were unlikely to interfere.

Why do all these people behave as they do? They do it because of their moral-political values, which they've absorbed since childhood. They believe deep down that the state -- which is just a large gang of people -- is mystically endowed with a moral authority that permits them to do things that the rest of us must never do. In other words, the people, who always outnumber their rulers, subjugate themselves. (See Etienne de la Boetie's classic, The Discourse on Voluntary Servitude.)

This means that the real constitution in any society is not necessarily and usually is not the written one. The real constitution is reflected in most people's day-to-day actions, attitudes, and de facto institutions. It may conform to or conflict with the written constitution. As Roderick Long writes, “what matters is a nation’s ‘constitution’ in the original sense of the actual institutions, practices, and incentive structures that are in place.” (See “Market Anarchism as Constitutionalism.”)

The upshot is that if people's values are not consistently pro-liberty, it won't matter in the long run much what the Constitution "says," and if they are pro-liberty, then it won't matter whether there is a written constitution -- or a state for that matter. In this respect, the debate between libertarians over whether the state is either necessary or proper starts to look rather different. Stateless societies would have constitutions too. As Long puts it:

Anarchy thus represents the extension, not the negation, of constitutionalism. Instead of thinking of anarchy as a situation in which government has been squeezed down to nothingness, it might be more helpful – at least for minarchists – to think of anarchy as a situation in which government has been extended to include everybody. This is what Gustave de Molinari, the founder of market anarchism, meant when he wrote, in 1884: “The future thus belongs neither to the absorption of society by the State, as the communists and collectivists suppose, nor to the suppression of the State, as the [non-market] anarchists and nihilists dream, but to the diffusion of the State within society.”...

Anarchy is the completion, not the negation, of the rule of law. 

But didn't Madison give us liberty-protecting checks and balances? Not really. What he actually bequeathed was a simulacrum of what a fully freedom-based system would provide. While he hyped his Constitution as featuring a separation of powers (and a context in which ambition would neutralize ambition), he overlooked the likelihood that the branches and special interests may discover that collusion against the people is more profitable than competition among themselves.

In contrast, as Long points out,

Far from eschewing checks and balances market anarchists take market competition, with its associated incentives, to instantiate a checks-and-balances system, and to do so far more reliably than could a governmental system…. Separation of powers, like federalism and elective democracy, merely simulates market competition, within a fundamentally monopolistic context.

These insights are valid regardless of the content of a given written constitution, although libertarian and conservative constitutionalists' love affair with the U.S. Constitution is curious. As the Anti-federalists pointed out when the Constitution was first proposed, the taxing power, absent from the Articles of Confederation, is virtually unlimited and the necessary-and-proper clause is downright scary. Then there's that power to regulate trade, the commerce clause! It also was absent from the Articles of Confederation. (Not that I would have been satisfied with that document. But the comparison is illuminating.)

I won't mention the executive branch's royal power over military and foreign policy. Its consequences have been too terrifyingly obvious to need elaboration here.

And let's not forget the Constitution's implied powers. I know, I know: the Constitution has no implied powers. The national government may only exercise powers expressly delegated. Right? Sorry. As Madison himself said during the debate over the proposed Tenth Amendment," it was impossible to confine a government to the exercise of express powers; there must necessarily be admitted powers by implication, unless the constitution descended to recount every minutiae." Ouch!

Of course, no article about the Constitution would be complete without quoting Lysander Spooner's irrefutable "The Constitution of No Authority," published in 1870, a time much beloved by constitutionalists:

But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain—that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist

What's to stop a return of all the restrictions if COVID-19 rears its ugly head or when the next pandemic comes long? Not the Constitution. Constitutions are security blankets, and like all security blankets, they distract from real danger: the unspoken values people hold that are inimical to liberty. Only education and persuasion can instill pro-liberty values.

(Read more about these matters in my book America's Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited.)

Friday, April 22, 2022

TGIF: NATO and Collective Insecurity

Collective security, the official goal of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, seems plausible on its face. A group of nations ostensibly concerned about a common threat agree to defend one another in the event of an attack. "All for one and one for all," as the Three Musketeers said.

But like many things, the principle, even if sincerely invoked, is more problematic than the first glance indicates. This is particularly true with governments, and in no area more so than foreign policy and armed forces. Schoolyard analogies involving bullies do not hold.

NATO was established soon after World War II ostensibly to keep the Soviet Union from overrunning Western Europe. The Red Army was present in Eastern and Central Europe, including eastern Germany, having driven back the Wehrmacht in the Allied defeat of Nazi Germany. It is by no means clear that Soviet dictator Josef Stalin aspired to have his armed forces conquer Western Europe, and his doctrine of "socialism in one country," which suggests a conservative foreign policy, hardly supports a militarily aggressive posture toward the West. For one thing, the Soviet Union was exhausted from the savage war -- it lost well over 20 million military personnel and civilians -- and was hardly in a position to begin a new one against the Americans.

While many American politicians, fearing a return of the prewar public sentiment against foreign intervention, spoke of a Soviet threat, not all agreed. The influential Republican senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio, whom I will discuss below, questioned the consensus and thus the official premise of the Cold War.

On April 4, 1949, 12 countries -- the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Portugal, Italy, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland -- signed the treaty that created NATO. (The Warsaw Pact, the Soviet Union's counter-alliance with the Eastern European countries it occupied, would not be founded for another six years.) Since 1998, 18 more countries have joined NATO, for a total of 30, including former Warsaw Pact members and the former Soviet Baltic republics that border Russia -- with the predicted disastrous consequences. (Austria is not a member, having agreed to neutrality in 1955, in return for the Soviet withdrawal. West Germany became a member in 1955, and then a reunified Germany became a member in 1990 as the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact were being dismantled.)

The heart of the treaty, the "all for one and one for all" provision, is Article 5:

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.  [Emphasis added.]

Note the italic phrase: in the event of an attack on a member, each other member will assist by taking "such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force." Strangely, this clearly provided wiggle room is never mentioned in the news commentaries about NATO and the Russia-Ukraine war. Why would that be? The reason for the hedge was that, in light of the constitutional delegation of the war power exclusively to Congress, the Senate would have had a problem ratifying a treaty that obligated the country to go to war automatically. (Ironically, President Truman went to war in Korea, which was not a NATO member, without a declaration of war. He called it a "police action.")

The Senate ratified the NATO treaty 82-13 on July 21, 1949. Among those who voted nay was Sen. Taft. Who was he and what were the grounds for his vote?

Taft was the elder son of the late President and Chief Justice William Howard Taft. Sen. Taft had earlier voted to approve U.S. entry into the United Nations but doubted it would be effective, among other reasons, because, of the veto power held by the five permanent members of the Security Council: the United States, Soviet Union, Great Britain, France, and China.

Because of the influence and respect he had earned, Taft became known as Mr. Republican and was the Senate majority leader at the beginning of the Eisenhower administration, from January 3 to July 31, 1953, when he died. He had tried for the Republican presidential nomination three times, in 1940, 1948, and 1952, but failed because the Republican establishment had committed itself to bipartisan multilateral internationalism. As a principled noninterventionist, Taft had no chance.

Earlier, Taft had spoken against U.S. entry into World War II, having witnessed firsthand the unprecedented horrendous destruction and tyrannical aftermath of the first world war, propelled by U.S. intervention under President Wilson. Like other antiwar Republicans, Taft ended his opposition to entry into World War II after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. (He objected to President Roosevelt's shameful internment of Japanese-Americans beginning in 1942, which the Supreme Court later endorsed.)

Taft's opponents smeared him as an isolationist, an unfair charge. His default position was against U.S. foreign military intervention because he feared it would lead to war, a loss of American liberty and economic stability, constitutionally compromising alliances, and foreign resentment of America. On the other hand he supported an internationally administered rule of law, complete with a court and enforcement mechanism, to protect smaller, weaker nations from domination. That regime, however, would have had no power to meddle in the internal affairs of nations. Taft did favor giving Western Europe assurances regarding a Soviet military threat. (More below.) Taft also voted for, after initially opposing, both Truman's postwar military aid to Turkey and Greece and the Marshall Plan for Western Europe.)

He also opposed the U.S. government's encouragement of American investment in other countries because he foresaw that it would lead to imperialism, again, creating resentment against America. Taft thought the United States should set an example by protecting its own freedom, not by imposing values on others. Taft, who disliked the label conservative, which he associated with the plutocracy, was not a consistent libertarian, but it's clear that individual liberty and the imperative to limit centralized bureaucratic power topped his political values. For that reason he inspired several future libertarian stalwarts, including Murray Rothbard, Ralph Raico, and Leonard Liggio, to join Youth for Taft when the senator ran, unsuccessfully, against Dwight Eisenhower for the 1952 Republican nomination.

On April 12, 1949, Truman in a speech to the Senate urged ratification of the North Atlantic treaty, expressing the official line: "The security and welfare of each member of the community depend upon the security and welfare of all."

In opposing NATO, Taft gave a speech to the Senate on July 26, 1949. In it he criticized the alliance system for, among other things, subordinating U.S. foreign policy to the policies of the other member nations, which might unjustifiably provoke an attack. Note its current relevance:

[T]he Atlantic Pact goes much further. It obligates us to go to war if at any time during the next 20 years anyone makes an armed attack on any of the 12 nations. Under the Monroe Doctrine we could change our policy at any time. We could judge whether perhaps one of the countries had given cause for the attack. Only Congress could declare a war in pursuance of the doctrine. Under the new pact the President can take us into war without Congress. But, above all the treaty is a part of a much larger program by which we arm all these nations against Russia…. A joint military program has already been made…. It thus becomes an offensive and defensive military alliance against Russia. I believe our foreign policy should be aimed primarily at security and peace, and I believe such an alliance is more likely to produce war than peace. A third world war would be the greatest tragedy the world has ever suffered. Even if we won the war, we this time would probably suffer tremendous destruction, our economic system would be crippled, and we would lose our liberties and free system just as the Second World War destroyed the free systems of Europe. It might easily destroy civilization on this earth…[Emphasis added.]

Taft continued (again note the relevance):

If we undertake to arm all the nations around Russia from Norway on the north to Turkey on the south, and Russia sees itself ringed about gradually by so-called defensive arms from Norway and. Denmark to Turkey and Greece, it may form a different opinion. It may decide that the arming of western Europe, regardless of its present purpose, looks to an attack upon Russia....

How would we feel if Russia undertook to arm a country on our border; Mexico, for instance?

He also said America could not afford the foreign policy of which NATO is a part.:"we can’t let them [the Russian and Chinese communists ] scare us into bankruptcy and the surrender of all liberty, or let them determine our foreign policies.... If the President is unwilling to recommend more taxes for fear of creating a depression, then we must have reached the limit of our taxpaying ability and we ought not to start a new and unnecessary building project...."

And more: NATO "is a step backward -- a military alliance of the old type where we have to come to each others’ assistance no matter who is to blame, and with ourselves the judges of the law."

From his prominent position, Taft made sure the public would hear a debate about postwar foreign policy. The bipartisan establishment surely would have preferred he had not done so.

As he prepared to run for the 1952 Republican presidential nomination, he published his book A Foreign Policy for Americans, in which he called for American "moral leadership" rather than imperial domination:

I do not think this moral leadership justifies engaging in any preventive war, or going to the defense of one country against another, or getting ourselves in a vulnerable fiscal and economic position at home which may invite war. I do not believe any policy which has behind it the threat of military force is justified as part of the basic foreign policy except to defend the liberty of our own people.

For some time now, American foreign policy has been sadly contrary to Taft's advice. The price measured in lives and treasure, for Americans and non-Americans, is beyond measure. Taft would be horrified but not surprised by what NATO has wrought and by what is happening today.

Further reading:

"The Republican Road Not Taken: The Foreign-Policy Vision of Robert A. Taft" by Michael T. Hayes, Independent Review, Spring 2004

"New Deal Nemesis: The 'Old Right' Jeffersonians by Sheldon Richman, Independent Review, Fall 1996

Friday, April 15, 2022

TGIF: Shades of Gray in the Russia-Ukraine War

If you're looking for morality tales -- clashes between the clearly good and the clearly bad -- I suggest you look elsewhere than the geopolitical theater. There we find only conflicts between shades of darker gray.

This seems to have been the case throughout history. Empires and would-be empires vied with rival empires and would-be empires for territory, resources, taxpayers, and soldiers. No surprise: governments will be governments, and that's not good. This is not to say the shades of gray did not differ at all, perhaps even significantly on occasion, but the objective was always, first and foremost, booty and control of people. The interests of commoners were rarely if ever the cause.

We see this in Russia's war on Ukraine. Let's be clear: Vladimir Putin and his Russian government freely chose to send military forces across the border into Ukraine. Their military personnel complied. They ultimately are responsible for their choices and therefore the death, injury, and mayhem that is taking place. (I make an exception for proven false-flag operations on the Ukrainian side, should any come to light.)

Now that the issue of primary culpability is out of the way, we can go on to talk about contributory culpability. I hope I've left little room for anyone to argue assigning contributory culpability to others is intended to let the Russian government personnel off the hook.

What sort of culpability do I have in mind? It's on the order of setting a trap and loading it with bait in order to lure a target. Russia had to choose to step into it, but those who set the trap did not have to do what they did. Hence, they contributed to a terrible situation.

Many experts analysts have long pointed out that the U.S. government at least since the late 1990s has knowingly been provoking Russia by expanding NATO up to the country's western border, incorporating most of the allies and some of the republics of the late Soviet Union. For years the U.S. government and other NATO officials have talked publicly about inviting the former republics Ukraine and Georgia to join. Everyone knew that Ukraine was an especially sensitive matter because it had long been a buffer between Russia and states to the west, Poland in particular. The Soviet Union had been invaded three times in the 20th century, twice by Germany and once by Poland, both NATO members since the demise of the USSR.

The warnings against NATO's march eastward were too many to count and came from people as diverse as Henry Kissinger and Noam Chomsky, Soviet-rollback guru Paul Nitze and Soviet-containment architect George Kennan. The current director of the CIA, William J. Burns, warned in 2008, when he was George W. Bush's ambassador to Russia, that no Russian leader -- conservative or liberal -- would ever stand for the admission of Ukraine and George into NATO. Burns's leaked memo was written shortly after publicly NATO declared that it welcomed applications for membership from those states.

That was 14 years ago and six years before the U.S. State Department helped foment a Nazi-backed coup that drove a Russia-friendly but democratically elected president from power -- even though he had been making concessions to the opposition in the streets, including a call for early elections. What motivated the U.S. government was that president's intention to reject an exclusive economic and political relationship with the European Union in order to accept a loan with liberal terms from Russia.

Aside from the overt NATO talk, there's the matter of the U.S. government's putting missile launchers in Poland and Romania. As outfitted, they are for defensive anti-missile missiles, but that could be changed. Moreover, defensive missiles obviously can be useful in an offensive campaign. Remember that Donald Trump, the reputed Russian agent, had earlier denounced the Reagan-era treaty that banned intermediate-range nuclear weapons from Europe and elsewhere. No one could have been surprised when all this was worrisome to the Russians. (Recall what happened in 1962 when the Soviet Union tried to put missiles in Cuba. John F. Kennedy imposed a naval blockade on the island and was ready to launch a nuclear war if the missiles were not removed.)

Since the Russian invasion, Joe Biden and his foreign policy people have denounced Russia sanctimoniously for its violations of international law and brutality, including the inexcusable deaths of noncombatants. It is not inappropriate to ask when an American president has ever respected international law when it was inconvenient for U.S. objectives. In the 21st century alone, American presidents have launched illegal aggressive wars in the Middle East and other places to effect regime change and other geopolitical objectives even partially on behalf of other states, such as Israel. In the process Americans have killed untold noncombatants. They have tortured prisoners. They have wreaked sickening destruction, creating hordes of refugees -- and so on. Yet day after day, lying American officials -- but I repeat myself -- admonish Putin for his bad behavior. There's nothing like setting a good example.

The Ukrainian leaders must also share in the blame. Those leaders who have been West-leaning have not been shy about aspiring to join NATO, knowing full well how the Russians would interpret those words. Since the 2014 coup -- in response to which Russia annexed a long-standing security area, the Crimea with its Russian naval base, to keep it out of NATO hands -- Ukrainian presidents could have made overtures to Russia, assuring that they would not seek NATO membership and offering to make Ukraine neutral in the manner of Austria since 1955. They did not do that, even though the current president, Volodymyr Zelensky, a former comedian and actor, was elected on a peace-with-Russia platform.

Superfically, Zelensky is an appealing figure. He's young and charismatic, and he wears t-shirts. His country has been invaded, which of course puts him in a sympathetic light when he appears on television. But is that the whole story of the man? It also seems that despite the terms of the Minsk agreements, he has been unwilling to talk to leaders in the heavily Russian-ethnic Donbas region, in the far east of Ukraine, about home-rule. Two provinces there, Luhansk and Donetsk, have since declared their independence, which Russia has recognized. The Ukrainian military has been shelling the area since the 2014 coup, and Donbas forces have fought back. The casualties on both sides have been high.

Moreover, as Jacques Baud, an intelligence expert who has worked for NATO, the UN, and Swiss strategic intelligence  writes:

On [March 24, 2021], Volodymyr Zelensky issued a decree for the recapture of the Crimea, and began to deploy his forces to the south of the country. At the same time, several NATO exercises were conducted between the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea, accompanied by a significant increase in reconnaissance flights along the Russian border. Russia then conducted several exercises to test the operational readiness of its troops and to show that it was following the evolution of the situation. [Aaron Mate's video interview with Baud is here.]

Baud also writes, "In violation of the Minsk Agreements, the Ukraine was conducting air operations in Donbass using drones, including at least one strike against a fuel depot in Donetsk in October 2021. The American press noted this, but not the Europeans; and no one condemned these violations."

It begins to look as though Zelensky has cavalierly used the Ukrainian people for his own ends: instead of seeking peace, he sought or was willing to risk war with Russia, assuming the U.S. government and other NATO states would back him up with perhaps more than arms shipments. He still demands a NATO no-fly zone, which would all but assure a new world war and perhaps an all-out nuclear war. So he also shares in the responsibility.

As usual, there's blame aplenty to go around.

Friday, April 08, 2022

TGIF: In Defense of Ideology

The seemingly unprecedented mean-spiritedness of politics these days drives some people to think that ideology is the problem. To distinguish themselves from those whom they blame for the toxic atmosphere, some pundits declare themselves "above ideology," even anti-ideology. In effect they say, self-righteously: "In contrast to those 'extremists' (that is, the ideologues) I judge each issue case by case by its own merits. I'm a pragmatist." This is intended to display open-mindedness and a willingness to cooperate with those they disagree with. Cooperation is held to be a virtuous end in itself as long as it is presented as a pursuit of "good government."

That may be an understandable reaction to unpleasant shouting and name-calling, but it's nonetheless a mistake. No one can escape ideology, and actions taken in the name of avoiding ideology may have unintended, though not unforeseeable, bad consequences for society.

Googling the word ideology brings this definition: "a system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy." Ideology, then, is a subset of philosophy that addresses a combination of ethics and politics; it denotes a person's sense of right and wrong interpersonally, particularly regarding a matter of paramount importance: when the state may use force against persons whom it has no reason to believe have aggressed against others.

It's been said that everyone has a philosophy whether he knows it or not. The only question is whether that philosophy is explicit or implicit, accepted with care or in a slipshod way. The same can be said of ideology. It's an obligation of responsible adulthood to be clear with oneself about how one makes political decisions. But one way or another, everyone has a method of doing so.

This becomes apparent as soon as one examines what it would mean to judge each issue on its own merits case by case. Can we even make sense of that procedure? After all, what are merits, and how does one recognize them when considering a concrete issue?

Look at it in a nonpolitical context. I am walking down a street full of people. Should I steal that person's wallet? No? Why not, and if not, how about that person over there? Is the decision arbitrary? How could it be? I must have some reason for robbing only some people (say, the ones who appear too weak to resist) or no one at all -- ever.

People seem to realize this. Despite what they may say, they judge individual cases not "on their own merit" but according to an explicit or implicit measuring stick. We call that having principles. Having principles that transcend individual cases is contrary to judging situations case by case. It requires that one inquire whether, by some standard or other, a given case is significantly like other cases. Some people might think they don't do that, but they're mistaken. It would be impossible to face every situation as though it were unique without context and unrelated to anything else one has experienced or is otherwise familiar with.

Of course people are capable of suspending their typical principles in a given case; nothing is easier than rationalization. But that simply indicates that their implicit principles allow for the suspension. That license to suspend, which must contain an indicator for when the suspension is appropriate, is also part of their implicit or explicit philosophy.

Turning to politics, if a person thinks that in some cases state action is good, that implies a view of the state and the nature of its relationship to people, however vague that may be. That's an ideology.

Imagine the person who flips a coin to decide whether the state should act or not. Would such a person be above ideology? No. That would also be an (idiotic) ideology. It can't be escaped. The same goes for the person who endorses state action when he likes its sponsor and who opposes state action when he dislikes its sponsor.

The problem isn't ideology in itself but the merits or lack thereof of any given ideology. We judge ideologies according to our moral principles, which themselves may be explicit or implicit. That's also true of people who claim to rely on their feelings, which also are based on earlier accepted philosophical judgments, again, explicit or implicit.

The anti-ideologues often fault ideologues for refusing to compromise. This rankles them because they subscribe to the view that politics is the art of compromise. But a willingness to compromise is not an unconditional virtue. It all depends on what we're talking about. Ayn Rand put it well:

It is only in regard to concretes or particulars, implementing a mutually accepted basic principle, that one may compromise. For instance, one may bargain with a buyer over the price one wants to receive for one’s product, and agree on a sum somewhere between one’s demand and his offer. The mutually accepted basic principle, in such case, is the principle of trade, namely: that the buyer must pay the seller for his product. But if one wanted to be paid and the alleged buyer wanted to obtain one’s product for nothing, no compromise, agreement or discussion would be possible, only the total surrender of one or the other.

There can be no compromise between a property owner and a burglar; offering the burglar a single teaspoon of one’s silverware would not be a compromise, but a total surrender—the recognition of his right to one’s property.

Things are the same in the political context. Everything the government does requires the use of force against innocent people if for no other reason than that government gets its money through taxation, the politicians' method of extortion. (Try telling the taxman you'd rather not pay this year.) An alleged compromise between someone who favors a particular tax or regulation and someone who opposes it is not really a compromise at all. The principle of countenancing legal extortion and regulation of peaceful conduct either wins or loses. There is no in-between.

Much of the partisan and doctrinal rancor we see in politics is really just squabbling among people who share basic pro-plunder, pro-regulation principles. They merely argue over how the money should be used and whose conduct should be regulated. In many matters -- foreign policy and domestic surveillance, for example -- they don't disagree at all.

But occasionally the contenders might represent contrary basic principles. So it's understandable that they would refuse to compromise. Some things can't be compromised. The problem here is the blunt instrument of the state, the tool that allows one group to impose burdens on others.

Finally, the anti-ideologues claim to admire those known as "centrists" because they purportedly work together in the spirit of cooperation, thereby delivering what they all call "good government." As suggested above, such politicians are merely people who all share the same malign fundamental premises about the government, but since resources are limited relative to the politicians' appetites, the centrists have to compromise on how to use them. They prefer getting something through cooperation rather than nothing through gridlock. They, in the favorite words of the anti-ideologues, "get things done."

But is it really the case that centrists deliver good government? A few moments spent thinking about what the centrists have delivered decade after decade will answer the question. It is the bipartisan centrists who have routinely delivered foreign intervention, war, a humongous national debt, outrageous budget deficits, inflation, recession, mass domestic surveillance, the insidious prohibition of vice, and so much other bad stuff. Indeed, the centrists even gave us the Donald Trump, who won enough votes precisely because he crudely opposed the "adult" centrists who have been in charge and have messed things up so badly. If that's not a damning indictment of centrism, I don't know what is.

That leaves the question of what to do? As we've seen, bipartisanship screws the people, while hyperpartisanship pollutes the air. We do have an alternative: liberty. Let's increasingly limit power while working to abolish it -- leaving individuals free to arrange their own affairs in peaceful cooperation with others. It's called the free market, or voluntary sector, and it encompasses so much more than commercial transactions. (See my "Disagreement without Conflict.")

If power were unavailable to those who seek to impose burdens on other people, one source of public rancor would disappear. Live and let live would be realized.

Friday, April 01, 2022

TGIF: Joe Biden, What the Hell?

What's going on with Joe Biden? Is he oblivious to the fact that Russia has about as many strategic nuclear weapons as the United States has? Is he taking advice from the neocons, who apparently believe that we should not fear a nuclear holocaust because that's exactly what Vladimir Putin wants us to do? (I presume Putin also wants us to believe that the earth is round. Should we give that up too?)

How else to explain Biden's astounding statements in recent days, particularly while meeting with NATO representatives in Brussels and with U.S. troops in Poland? That's right: 9,000 U.S. troops are now in southeast Poland, not far from the Ukrainian border. Poland of course is a member of NATO, which means that if Poland clashes with Russia, the U.S. government has treaty obligations to its ally. To be clear, here's Article 5, which embodies the principle that NATO describes as being "at the very heart" of the treaty":

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area. [Emphasis added to indicate ambiguity in the provision that isn't often acknowledged.]

Are Biden's off-the-cuff-and-wall remarks signs of dementia? Or are they just the Bidenesque "Kinsley gaffes" we've become accustomed to? (A Kinsley gaffe occurs when someone important speaks his mind when he or his handlers know he shouldn't.)

By now, Biden's irresponsibly provocative remarks have made the rounds. He has said that Russia's use of chemical weapons in Ukraine would bring a NATO response, but left the nature of the response vague. His administration seems to be shying away from explicitly declaring "red lines."

And yet, when ABC News asked Biden, "If chemical weapons were used in Ukraine could that trigger a military response from NATO?" Biden responded, "It would trigger a response in kind. Whether or not -- you're asking whether NATO would cross -- we'd make that decision at the time." (Emphasis added.)

Say what? Response in kind? Does that mean he might order a chemical-weapons counterattack?

As others have pointed out, even a de facto red line is an invitation for a false-flag attack in which a Ukrainian group, hoping to bring NATO into the fight, would use chemical weapons while making the perpetrator appear to be Russian. This sort of thing seems likely to have happened in Syria.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Vlodomyr Zelensky is still lobbying for even more NATO intervention (in addition to arms and sanctions) in the form of a no-fly zone, which is now called "close the sky." The shameless public appeal includes this video, with the lyric "If you don't close the sky/I will die." The lyricist neglected to point out that if the sky is closed and the U.S. Air Force shoots down a Russian jet, we all could die in a nuclear exchange.

Biden still says no to closing the sky, but if he started saying the opposite, who'd be surprised?

As everyone knows, while abroad Biden also seemed to call for regime change in Russia with this ad-lib: "For God's sake, this man cannot remain in power." History teaches that implied policies such as that do not facilitate ceasefires and peace. The Gaffer-in-Chief and his people tried to walk it back, but the attempts were lame. "I was expressing the moral outrage that I feel," he said while insisting he wasn't walking back his statement, "and I make no apologies for it." (American presidents are always morally outraged whenever countries they don't like do what the U.S. government regularly does.)

A White House official dutifully insisted that what his boss meant "was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region. He was not discussing Putin's power in Russia, or regime change." If you buy that, they have a bridge you might be interested in.

Biden also appeared to tell U.S. troops stationed near the Ukrainian border in Poland that they would soon be in the war zone and that in fact some have already been on the other side of the border: "You’re going to see when you’re there, and some of you have been there, you’re gonna see — you’re gonna see women, young people standing in the middle — in front of a damned tank just saying, ‘I’m not leaving, I’m holding my ground.'”

In clarification mode, Biden explained that the words when you're there referred to the training of Ukrainian forces in Poland. Oh really? They're going to see women and young people blocking Russian tanks in Poland? What's he trying to tell us now?

The Deputy Assistant White House Gaffe-Follow-Upper quickly clarified, "The president has been clear we are not sending US troops to Ukraine and there is no change in that position.”

Yeah, yeah. So that means the guy's head is full of cotton.

Finally, Biden amazingly said two important things about the sanctions he's imposed on the Russians: first, that he never said the sanctions would force the Russian government to alter its Ukraine policy because he knew they wouldn't have that effect, and second, that sanctions will create food shortages (and so higher prices) for Americans and by implication, other non-Russians the world over.

As to the first, that was an outright lie or a case of senility. A long list of administration officials did indeed say the sanctions would work. As to the second, how can Biden -- father of noted entrepreneur Hunter Biden -- justify making innocent people go hungry?

Given the two things Biden has admitted, what is the point of the sanctions? Does it make him feel better?

Joe Biden, what the hell?