Posts tagged David Gordon

Damn the facts–full speed ahead!

As far as I can tell, Jamie Kirchick, assistant editor for The New Republic,[*] has devoted most of his young professional life to becoming exactly the sort of bright boy at the The New Republic whom Randolph Bourne had in mind when he wrote The War and the Intellectuals, and who, decades later, would make the best and the brightest into a bitter national joke. In any case, here’s something from his latest, a TNR blog post on Barack Obama’s relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and his recent speech on race:

Finally, what concerns me most about the Wright controversy isn’t the Pastor’s racist statements or even his unhinged views of Israel. I don’t think Obama agrees with any of that nonsense. What concerns me is the sort of comment that Wright made about Harry Truman’s ending World War II, that We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye. This smacks of the Howard Zinn/Noam Chomsky/Nation magazine wing of the American left that Democrats serious about this country’s security (and winning in November) should not want within 100 miles of the next administration.

— James Kirchick, The Plank (2008-03-21): Thoughts on a Speech

Let’s set aside, for the moment, Rev. Wright’s confusion about personal pronouns. I didn’t bomb Hiroshima or Nagasaki, and I don’t think that he did, either. But that’s apparently not what Kirchick has a problem with. What he has a problem with is what such statements about the U.S. government smack of.

But, Mr. Kirchick, no matter what it may smack of to mention it, isn’t it true that the United States Army bombed Hiroshima?

No matter what it may smack of to mention it, isn’t it true that the United States Army bombed Nagasaki?

No matter what it may smack of to mention it, isn’t it true that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed somewhere around 210,000 civilian men, women and children — about 70 times the number of civilians killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon?

As far as I can tell, nothing that has provoked Jamie Kirchick’s outrage here is actually, you know, false. Perhaps he thinks that these are facts which it is rude to mention in public. But if being taken for serious about this country’s security (which is TNR-speak for this government’s wars) requires not mentioning them–that is, if being taken for serious requires silence or dissembling about the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people for the sake of a shared vision of American power, then it is well worth asking just who the hell these assholes are who we’re supposed to prove our seriousness to. And what their notion of seriousness really amounts to. And why anyone should think she has to prove a damned thing to them.

(Via David Gordon, via Lew Rockwell 2008-03-23.)

* You may remember Kirchick from an earlier piece he published in TNR during the late unpleasantness.

Further reading:

Paul Till You Puke

About a month ago, I criticized an article by David Gordon that criticized left libertarians who criticized Ron Paul. David Gordon later criticized my criticism of the criticism of the criticism; I posted a rejoinder; and Gordon posted a reply to the rejoinder. Meanwhile, Keith Halderman and I had a go-around about my views on libertarian feminism. Just in case that’s not enough dialog for you yet, Roderick has two long and very thoughtful posts at Austro-Athenian Empire, To Paul or Not To Paul, Part 2 and To Paul or Not To Paul, Part 3, about the exchange between me and Gordon in particular, and about libertarian electioneering in general. Be sure to read through the comments sections as well, for rejoinders from David Gordon.

I don’t have much to add beyond what Roderick has already said. One quick clarification about the use of terms, though. In comments, Roderick says:

I’m willing to grant that Ron Paul counts as a libertarian. (I think Charles denies this on the grounds that Paul subordinates liberty to constitutionalism, but I’m happy to grant the label.)

I have argued before that the positions expressed by Ron Paul in his campaign are constitutionalist rather than libertarian. Whether I would call Ron Paul a libertarian or not depends on what is meant by the term. There’s a broad, cluster-concept sort of sense in which Ron Paul could be called a libertarian, and, on some issues, a fairly hard-core libertarian at that. That is, he would fall pretty far towards that corner of the Nolan Chart if you mapped out where he stands on various questions of policy. There’s another sense of libertarianism, which has to do with the ideological reasons that underlie those policy positions — that is to say, a radically individualist theory of justice and political legitimacy, which happens to be incompatible with constitutionalism or any theory that subordinates moral claims for liberty and justice to legalistic proceduralism. To the extent that Ron Paul has been willing to sacrifice libertarian policies for the sake of non-libertarian or anti-libertarian goals, such as a fundamentalist reading of the U.S. Constitution or the so-called rule of law, he must be operating on some theory of political justice other than libertarianism, and so is (in the ideological sense) a Constitutionalist, or a decentralist conservative, or whatever, and not a libertarian. So how happy I am to grant the label depends on how the label is being used in a particular case. There are some reasons, both of temperament and of deliberate rhetorical choice, why I tend to talk about libertarianism in the ideological sense more than I tend to talk about it in the Nolan Chart sense, but I’m certainly happy to grant that Ron Paul has at least as good a claim (often a better claim) to the term libertarian as most of the Libertarian Party, or many of the paradigm cases of libertarians in the mainstream public consciousness.

Hope this helps.

Radical feminism, libertarianism, and the terrifying feminist menace to men’s wing-wangs

A couple of weeks ago, I criticized an article by David Gordon that criticized left libertarians who criticized Ron Paul. (David Gordon later criticized my criticism of the criticism of the criticism; I posted a rejoinder; and Gordon posted a reply to the rejoinder.) Along the way in my first remarks, I mentioned (by way of an example) my views on libertarianism and anti-statist radical feminism:

I don’t think that libertarianism should be subordinated to certain cultural values such as radical feminism. I believe that libertarianism, rightly understood, is both compatible with and mutually reinforcing with the cultural values of radical feminism, rightly understood. (For a more detailed explanation of the different kinds of links that there may be between libertarianism and radical feminism, see my reply to Jan Narveson on thick libertarianism.) The independent merit of radical feminism is one reason to support libertarianism as a political project (because opposing the patriarchal State is of value on feminist grounds), but that’s never been the sole reason or the primary reason I have suggested for being a libertarian. The primary reason to be a libertarian is that the libertarian theory of individual rights is true. From the standpoint of justice, the benefits that a stateless society offers for radical feminism are gravy.

The views I was briefly referring to here are views that I already expressed in much greater detail in an essay on libertarian feminism that I co-authored with Roderick Long, which was linked from the same post. Over at Liberty & Power, Keith Halderman picked up on the shorter version of my remarks on radical feminism and lodged objections. You can see how it goes from there in the comment section; I complained that his post indulges in a ridiculous cheap shot, that it falsely attributes a view to radical feminists that as far as I know none of them actually held or hold, that it falls into some vulgar libertarian confusion between free market principles and defending the socioeconomic arrangements that actually exist in our unfree market, and that libertarians perhaps oughtn’t get so worked up about the dreadful menace that angry feminists pose to the safety of men’s penises.

Halderman then responded to my complaints with what I think amounts to more confusion, along the way questioning [my] commitment to limited government. As well he should, I suppose; but his suspicious glances are pointed in the wrong political direction, and based on a clear misreading of my comments. For replies, see my first and second follow-up comments.

Dropping the plumb line

In his Open Letter to Libertarians on Ron Paul, featured on anti-state, anti-war, pro-market LewRockwell.com, anarchist David Gordon made the following objection to Steven Horwitz’s pro-choice libertarian objections to Paul’s position on abortion:

No power to regulate abortion is granted to the federal government. Some of course claim that the Fourteenth Amendment changes matters, but it requires very strained interpretation to conjure a right to abortion out of the text of this Amendment. One critic of Ron Paul has admitted that Roe v. Wade is bad law but thinks we should somehow get to the correct pro-abortion view. Is this not to surrender the possibility of constitutional limits on the federal government?

To which I replied:

Yes. So what?

Anarchists don’t believe in constitutional government.

In his recent rejoinder, Gordon responded:

Anarchists oppose a monopoly state, but it hardly follows from this that if there is a government, anarchists shouldn’t be concerned with restraining it.

But I do not claim that anarchists shouldn’t be concerned with restraining actually existing governments. What I claim is that anarchists do not recognize the legitimacy of constitutional governments any more than they recognize the legitimacy unconstitutional governments, since any government, no matter how restrained by a written constitution, must necessarily violate the rights of innocent individual people in order to remain a government. But if constitutional government has no special claim on our allegiance with respect to its legitimacy, then restraining government through the instrument of a written constitution is, at the most, a pragmatic strategy which should be pursued or abandoned in any given case according to its likelihood of success. If it turns out to be a foolish strategy, then abandoning it is no great loss for libertarians.

But if the question is one of practical prospects, then the strategy of trying to restrain the federal government through the instrument of the United States Constitution has already been empirically tested, and it has already failed. As Lysander Spooner wrote, 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. Thus I would argue that anarchists should be intensely concerned with the problem of restraining actually existing governments. What I deny is that there is either any moral or any strategic reason to try to do so through the instrument of paper constitutions.

Concerning Roe, I will pause to say that, unlike Steven Horwitz, I don’t regard the majority decision as bad constitutional law. Since I am an anarchist, I regard the U.S. constitution as having no color of legal authority, so I don’t much think that there is a right way or a wrong way to read the Constitution in legal contexts, and I don’t think that the failure of a ruling to line up with a restrictive reading of the ipsissima verba of the Constitution is any more of a vice in the ruling than its failure to line up with a traditionalist reading of shariah. If such rulings can be evaluated as good or bad law at all, it must be on the basis of other standards — such as how far they serve to restrain or to promote actual state aggression. To the extent abortion laws are invasions against the liberty of pregnant women to dispose of their own bodies as they see fit, a ruling that repeals those laws is a good ruling, even if it doesn’t line up with a literalist reading of the Constitution. To the extent that eminent domain laws are invasions against the liberty of homeowners to keep their own homes, Kelo was a bad ruling, even if it does line up with some literalist readings of the Constitution.

On Ron Paul’s support for a federal police state to enforce international apartheid, Gordon wrote:

Some object to Ron Paul because he does not support an open borders immigration policy. But why should one take this position to be essential to libertarianism? Hans Hoppe has raised strong objections to open borders; and Murray Rothbard, in his last years, abandoned the view. Free immigration combined with a welfare state is a dangerous brew: does it make sense to reject Ron Paul because he cannot accept it?

I replied:

Yes.

Anarchists don’t believe in national borders and they don’t believe in a federal police state to enforce them.

Gordon had this to say:

On immigration, Johnson says that anarchists should ignore national boundaries. Why? Once more, anarchism is a view about the justification of government. It is opposed to states, not nations.

But I did not say that anarchism per se is opposed to nations. I said that anarchists don’t believe in national borders. In anarchy there are no national borders, only the boundaries of individual or common property. Nobody has any just claim to enforce restrictions on any borders other than these. But the continent-spanning territory of the United States of America is not the common property of the American nation, let alone the proprietary domain of the United States government. Thus there is no entity that has any just claim to set collective terms for immigration that can be imposed upon the entire nation. Anarchism rejects all forms of coercion against peaceful people, including the coercion that must necessarily be committed against landlords, employers, and migrant workers in order for the federal government to exile workers from private property onto which they have been invited, or to stop them from doing jobs for willing employers. That includes not only existing federal immigration laws, but also the (more aggressive) federal immigration laws that Ron Paul supports, and the federal immigration laws that Hans-Hermann Hoppe has deluded himself into thinking that an anarchist can consistently support. Anarchists should take no notice whatsoever of government-enforced national boundaries, except to trample them underfoot as an usurpation.

In response to my complaints against a particular pseudo-libertarian argument in favor of immigration laws, Gordon adds:

He points out that some efforts to restrict immigration use violence against people; and he is right that here lies danger. Libertarians who favor immigration restrictions need to specify exactly what measures they think permissible. Ron Paul doesn’t favor beating and jailing people.

I have no idea why Gordon would say this. Of course Ron Paul does favor beating and jailing people in the name of his immigration control policy. He favors the creation and enforcement of federal immigration laws, including a paramilitary lock-down of the land borders, aggressive enforcement of the existing visa system, and the continued criminalization (no amnesty) of currently undocumented immigrants. He also favors the necessary means to these ends: border walls, paramilitary border patrols, government immigration dossiers and employment papers, internal immigration cops, detention centers, and all the other necessary means to interdicting, discovering, arresting, jailing, and deporting people who try to live and work peacefully in the United States without a federal permission slip for their existence. If you don’t believe that this process necessarily involves violent means, then just try to cross the border without government papers and see what happens to you.

For what it’s worth, I don’t claim that anyone who favors immigration laws is (ipso facto) no longer a True Libertarian. But I do claim that libertarians cannot hold the position consistently, and that attempting to hold the position while also holding a libertarian theory of individual rights necessarily involves grave cognitive vices, and probably grave moral vices, too. In any case support for coercive immigration laws is a good reason for libertarians to refuse their support to a candidate for political office.

On the relationship between libertarianism and leftist or feminist cultural projects, Gordon clarifies that he was not referring to the argument that Roderick Long and I advance in our essay on libertarian feminism, but rather to a different argument by a different writer. He has also stressed elsewhere that his argument is only intended to recommend Ron Paul as a candidate, not to claim that libertarians have some kind of moral obligation to support Ron Paul (or any other candidate in government elections). Fair enough. I’ll let those to whom his letter did refer speak for themselves, as far as the charge of subordinating libertarianism to leftist concerns goes. And for what it’s worth, my intention here is not to claim that libertarians have an obligation not to vote for Ron Paul, or even to make any recommendation for or against voting for Ron Paul. It is merely to take issue with the logic of certain arguments that have been used against libertarian critics of Paul’s campaign. In that vein, I don’t buy the argument that follows:

Johnson correctly claims that the concept of libertarianism doesn’t imply political support for libertarians in elections. I think, though, that if someone who defends political action refuses to support Ron Paul just because he is not a left libertarian, then he is subordinating libertarianism to leftist views.

When Gordon speaks of subordinating libertarianism to leftist views, he does not make it clear whether he means subordinating the left-libertarian’s libertarianism of as a political principle, or whether he means subordinating the candidate’s libertarianism as a criterion for supporting a that candidate in government elections. If the former, then Gordon’s conditional is obviously false. There are lots of practical considerations that affect whether or not one should support a particular candidate in government elections, and declining to support a particularly libertarian candidate for reasons other than her own level of libertarianism is not equivalent to subordinating your own libertarian principles to those other concerns. (I wouldn’t support voting for Murray Rothbard for President, either, even though he would be a much more libertarian candidate than Ron Paul. Since he’s dead, and therefore ineligible to run, such a campaign would be foolish. But this decision doesn’t mean that I subordinate libertarian principles to expediency.)

If, on the other hand, he means that such a choice reflects a subordination of criteria based on the candidate’s level of libertarianism to criteria that are based on other considerations, the conditional is still false, although less obviously so. If I reject X for lacking feature A, while X does have feature B, you cannot reliably infer from my choice that I subordinate preferences for B to preferences for A. It may very well be that B and A are valued equally and indepdently of one another, and that lacking either is considered a sufficient condition for rejecting an alternative.

But more to the point, even if Gordon’s conditional were true on this understanding, it is not clear why that would be objectionable. There is no reason for principled libertarians to treat a candidate’s overall level of libertarianism as the sole or the decisive or even the most important criterion in choosing whether to vote for that candidate, or someone else, or nobody at all. Insofar as voting has any worth at all for anarchists, it is only instrumentally, as a means of defense against government invasions of your own or the liberty of other people you are concerned for. But there’s no guarantee that that end will always be best served by adopting the candidate’s overall level of libertarianism as the sole or the decisive criterion for supporting that candidate. They may be or they may not be, depending on the breaks.

In either case, it is, once more, a serious mistake for libertarians of any stripe, and especially anarchists, to treat government elections as the be-all and end-all of libertarianism.

Gordon closes his rejoinder by saying:

Johnson apparently accepts this as a good argument: Johnson believes p; therefore, anarchists believe p. His post is unfortunately a prime example of the libertarian dogmatism I was most concerned with in my Open Letter.

Hardly. All that I claim is that a couple of propositions — in particular, rejecting the legitimacy of constitutional governments, and rejecting the legitimacy of enforcing restrictions on government-defined national borders, are well-established, core doctrines of anarchism as such.

Core, not essential; anarchism is a family resemblance concept, and some anarchists may deviate from some core anarchist beliefs without ceasing to count as anarchists. But certainly a letter which is written by an anarchist for an audience which includes many other anarchists ought to take such core beliefs seriously, and to recognize that arguments that either tacitly or explicitly presume the falsity of those core doctrines will fail to be persuasive to those who follow the plumb-line.

If this be dogmatism, let us make the most of it.

Further reading:

We put the “Arch” in “Anarchy” #2

David Gordon — a Rothbardian anarchist and frequent contributor to anti-state, anti-war, pro-market LewRockwell.com — wrote an Open Letter To Libertarians on Ron Paul in which he denounces the running-dog radical libertarians who oppose Chairman Ron’s Great Libertarian Electoral Revolution. Here’s what he has to say about opposition to Chairman Ron’s position on abortion:

No power to regulate abortion is granted to the federal government. Some of course claim that the Fourteenth Amendment changes matters, but it requires very strained interpretation to conjure a right to abortion out of the text of this Amendment. One critic of Ron Paul has admitted that Roe v. Wade is bad law but thinks we should somehow get to the correct pro-abortion view. Is this not to surrender the possibility of constitutional limits on the federal government?

Yes. So what?

Anarchists don’t believe in constitutional government.

On Ron Paul’s support for an even more aggressive police state to enforce international apartheid:

Some object to Ron Paul because he does not support an open borders immigration policy. But why should one take this position to be essential to libertarianism? Hans Hoppe has raised strong objections to open borders; and Murray Rothbard, in his last years, abandoned the view. Free immigration combined with a welfare state is a dangerous brew: does it make sense to reject Ron Paul because he cannot accept it?

Yes.

Anarchists don’t believe in national borders and they don’t believe in a federal police state to enforce them.

It may be true that when you combine something fundamentally moral — free immigration — with something completely immoral — a coercive welfare state funded by expropriated tax funds — you’ll get bad consequences from the combination. But that’s a good reason to try to limit or eliminate the immoral part of the combination, by undermining or dismantling the apparatus of taxation and government welfare. It’s certainly not a good reason to try to limit or eliminate the moral part of the combination by escalating the federal government’s surveillance, recording, searching, beating, jailing, and exiling innocent people. Anarchists have no reason to accept the latter, either as a policy position, or even as a matter about which reasonable libertarians can agree to disagree.

Oddly, some of the same people who condemn Ron Paul for apostasy are themselves so devoted to left libertarianism that they subordinate libertarian principles to certain cultural values. They favor gender equality and are concerned lest we think ill of certain preferred minority groups. Libertarianism, they think, will best promote these values, and this fact is for them a chief reason to support libertarianism.

Since Gordon refuses to identify any individuals whose specific positions he is criticizing, it’s hard to tell whether he’s referring to the essay on libertarian feminism that Roderick Long and I co-authored, or whether he means to refer to somebody else. (If so, whom?) So it’s hard to know whom he expects to answer him when he asks:

Does not the question then arise, should libertarianism be subordinated to these values?

If he does intend to refer to my position, then he’s made two serious mistakes.

First, I don’t think that libertarianism should be subordinated to certain cultural values such as radical feminism. I believe that libertarianism, rightly understood, is both compatible with and mutually reinforcing with the cultural values of radical feminism, rightly understood. (For a more detailed explanation of the different kinds of links that there may be between libertarianism and radical feminism, see my reply to Jan Narveson on thick libertarianism.) The independent merit of radical feminism is one reason to support libertarianism as a political project (because opposing the patriarchal State is of value on feminist grounds), but that’s never been the sole reason or the primary reason I have suggested for being a libertarian. The primary reason to be a libertarian is that the libertarian theory of individual rights is true. From the standpoint of justice, the benefits that a stateless society offers for radical feminism are gravy. If there were some kind of proposal on the table to advance radical feminist goals by statist means, then I would reject the proposal, in favor of proposals that advance radical feminist goals by anti-statist means.

Second, libertarianism is not conceptually equivalent to actively supporting the most libertarian candidate in a government election. Libertarianism is a theory of political justice, not a particular political party or candidate. If one invokes feminist, anti-racist, or any other reasons not to actively support Ron Paul’s candidacy, those reasons may be good reasons or they may be bad reasons. But they are reasons for subordinating one particular strategy for libertarian outreach and activism — a strategy which, by the way, has basically zero empirical evidence whatever in favor of its effectiveness — to other concerns. But so what? There’s no reason for libertarians, and especially not for anarchists, to treat government elections as the be-all and end-all of libertarian principle.

Further reading: