Posts tagged Bruce Bartlett

Ridiculous Strawman Watch (Part 4 of ???)

It’s R.S.W. time again, which puts me in a bit of a quandary. Not about who to recognize in the Watch: Bruce Bartlett’s recent column on libertarianism and Jim Crow obviously deserves a place in the R.S.W. far more than any lesser imitator. But Bartlett’s post does raise a very serious problem: the problem of how I’m supposed to decide which pull-quote from the post actually represents the most ridiculous Ridiculous Strawman that Bartlett has to offer?

Is it Ridiculous Strawman A (of the free market):

The Court’s philosophy in these cases led logically to Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, which essentially gave constitutional protection to legal segregation enforced by state and local governments throughout the U.S.

As we know from history, the free market did not lead to a breakdown of segregation.[1]

Or is it Ridiculous Strawman B (of the libertarian philosophy and freedom):

In short, the libertarian philosophy of Rand Paul and the Supreme Court of the 1880s and 1890s [?! sic — Ed.] gave us almost 100 years of segregation, white supremacy, lynchings, chain gangs, the KKK, and discrimination of African Americans for no other reason except their skin color. … Thus we have a perfect test of the libertarian philosophy and an indisputable conclusion: it didn’t work. Freedom did not lead to a decline in racism; it only got worse.

Long-time readers may remember that Bartlett was already named as an R.S.W. laureate a little more than a year ago (in which he decided that the problem with American libertarians is that they never talk about interventionist foreign policy or the War on Drugs). But such a man of action is not content to rest on his laurels, and he has certainly outdone himself this year.

As usual, of course, I have little interest in defending a weaselly conservative statist like Rand Paul; and none at all in defending the Supreme Court of the 1880s and 1890s. But I do have some passing familiarity with the libertarian philosophy, and with the meaning of the term free market; and I think that if you consider almost a century of legal segregation enforced by state and local governments to be the right setting for a historical on free market outcomes; or looking at what happened under politically-enforced white supremacy, lynchings, chain gangs and the KKK to be a perfect test of the libertarian philosophy — apparently on the notion that libertarian anti-statism is identical with a doctrine of unlimited States Rights, and the free market is identical with the market outcomes that you get when pervasive racism and segregation are explicitly required by an extensive system of government economic regulation — well, then, you, sir, are eminently qualified for the R.S.W.

See also:

  1. [1] Of course, to be fair to Bartlett here, it is true that the free market did not lead to a breakdown of segregation in the American South. Neither did a Communist invasion of the United States, or a visitation by space aliens. Guess what all of these things have in common? —R.G.

Ridiculous Strawman Watch (Part 2 of ???)

(Via Roderick Long @ Austro-Athenian Empire 2009-05-30.)

For the moment, I’ll set aside the contemptuous mocking that Bruce Bartlett richly deserves for prolonging the life and expanding the scope of the utterly vile portmanteau liberaltarianism. Let’s focus on the content of his article, instead; here’s Bartlett’s advice to libertarians on libertarian priorities

The reason [libertarians don’t typically vote for Democrats] is that most self-described libertarians are primarily motivated by economics. In particular, they don’t like paying taxes. They also tend to have an obsession with gold and a distrust of paper money. As a philosophy, their libertarianism doesn’t extent much beyond not wanting to pay taxes, being paid in gold and being able to keep all the guns they want. Many are survivalists at heart and would be perfectly content to live in complete isolation on a mountain somewhere, neither taking anything from society nor giving anything.

. . . [T]here is a theoretical case to be made for liberals and libertarians at least continuing a dialogue. But for it to go anywhere, libertarians must scale back their almost single-minded focus on economic freedom as the sole determinant of liberty. They must work harder to defend civil liberties and resist expansion of the police state whether it involves suspected terrorists, illegal aliens or those who enjoy smoking marijuana.

Libertarians should also be more outspoken about America’s disastrous foreign policy, which Obama seems to be doing very little to fix. This would seem like an obvious area for cooperation. The main problem seems that neither liberals nor libertarians are up to challenging the loudmouthed bullies on talk radio and Fox News who equate anything less than a 100% commitment to the war on terror as treasonous.

It’s a fair cop: after all, libertarians hardly ever talk about encroachments on civil liberties, the police state, onerous immigration laws, the War on Drugs, or interventionist foreign policy. It’s true: I read it on the Internet.

I mean, look, dude, if your point is just that libertarians need to put more rhetorical and political distance between themselves and the Right, including even supposed small government conservative types, then, hey, I dig. But if your impression of what the modal libertarian is like is something that could be refuted by picking up a couple issues of reason (reason-fer-Christ’s-sake) at your local Barnes & Noble — or, hell, just walking by the newsrack and looking at the cartoons on the damn cover — well, then, sir, you have definitely earned a place in the R.S.W.

P.S. Also, there’s nothing wrong with not wanting to pay your taxes.

“It was a different time,” or: moral standards, part 2

At Distributed Intelligence 2007-08-06, Andrew Perraut has an interesting post considering the atomic massacre at Hiroshima in light of just war theory. He argues:

I’m not sure how anyone could argue that this was clearly justified, [as claimed elsewhere by Bruce Bartlett] since it seems, rather, prima facie unjust in the absence of strong countervailing reasons to drop the bomb. If the very existence or sovereignty of the United States would have been compromised by not destroying Hiroshima, perhaps that would be enough, but was that the case? And was it the case that only by deliberately targeting the civilian population we could save ourselves? The second questions is the most important, and most defenders of the decision gloss over it, because there isn’t a good answer. If detonating Fat Man over an isolated military installation would have convinced the Japanese government to surrender, Hiroshima looks less like a military/scientific triumph and more like a war crime.

— Andrew Perraut, Distributed Intelligence (2007-08-06): Hiroshima and Nuclear Weapons

I’d add only that, all things considered, I can’t possibly see how the very existence or sovereignty of the United States is worth a damn compared to the lives of 140,000 innocent people. How many real, individual people could be killed or maimed or otherwise ruined in the name of preserving the lines and colors on a map? If the only way to preserve the United States were the unprovoked, deliberate killing of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, then I’d say that the lives of those people are infinitely more important, and the abstract entity known as the United States properly ought to die.

That said, I’d like to turn my attention to the comments. A commenter named Michael says something very odd in his reply:

That’s not to justify it morally. But, looking at the time, World War II was so brutal and bombing was simply the allied answer to Axis atrocities on the ground and at sea. The firebombing of Dresden and Tokyo, as thorough as the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki attest to this. It was a different time and the traditional rules of war had been largely thrown out the window (interestingly we still observed proper treatment of POWs even then).

Of course, it was a different time in 1945. But Hiroshima happened only 62 years ago. This kind of argument might get some kind of grip if we were talking about an event so long ago that it happened in a radically different civilizational context — say, 600 or 6,000 years ago. I would still find it bogus, but I could understand where the arguer was coming from. But we are not even talking about that. We are talking about something that happened within living memory. Paul Tibbets, the man who flew the Enola Gay, is still alive today. Thomas Ferebee, the man who actually dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, died only 7 years ago. As of March 2005, Tibbets expressed no remorse over his acts, saying If you give me the same circumstances, hell yeah, I’d do it again. Sure, time is always passing and things are always changing. But just how soon in the past does something have to be for the war apologists of the world to allow plain old straightforward moral evaluation of the act or the people involved in committing it? Are we next going to throw up our hands about My Lai, or Abu Ghraib, or something that happened last Thursday, on the grounds that It was a different time?

Further reading: