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Posts tagged LewRockwell.com

Semantic quibbles #3: Conservatism

Here’s Mike Tennant at LewRockwell.com Blog, quasi-approvingly quoting Jacob Heilbrunn’s summary of Bill Buckley:

Jacob Heilbrunn writes: Buckley wasn’t a radical conservative. He didn’t believe in trying to destroy the Eastern Establishment; instead, he wanted to reform it. Therein lies the entire problem.

Hold up. I’m lost.

In what possible sense of the word conservative is it a genuine conservative’s goal either to smash or to reform the ancien régime?

Maybe this political debate is really about something other than what Tennant, or Heilbrunn, or for that matter Buckley, thinks it is about.

Further reading:

The Protection Racket

Last weekend, Jeff Tucker put out a really good article on LewRockwell.com, on the State’s so-called criminal justice system, and its sanctimonious claims to protect us, especially the poor and oppressed. He writes:

If you think about it, it is inherently implausible that the state could be an effective administrator of justice, for which there is a supply and demand like any other good. Shortages, inefficiencies, arbitrariness, and underlying chaos all around are going to be inherent in the attempt.

Because we are dealing here with the meting out of coercion, we can add that inhumane treatment and outright cruelty are also likely to be an inherent part of the system.

Even so, nothing had prepared me for what I witnessed in the courtroom the other day. …

… I got an education. It turns out that in a courtroom packed with criminals, not even one of the people who appeared before the judge was a danger to society. Nearly all were in for victimless crimes. The two who had perpetrated actual crimes ?? petty theft from Wal-Mart and the local mall ?? could have easily been dealt with without involving the state. So far as I could tell, the place could have been emptied out completely and our little community would have been no worse off, and massive human suffering could have been avoided.

But that’s not the way it works. These people, overwhelming black and poor but dressed very nicely in the hope of impressing the master, found themselves entangled in the web and thereby elicited the glare and killer instinct of the spider. How painful it was to watch and not be able to do anything about it.

The machine continued to operate. The judge hardly looked up, not even to notice how much these nice but exceedingly poor people dressed in an attempt to impress him. They and their lives meant nothing. It was all about keeping the machine working.

Finally 11am rolls around. The court had already raised for itself about $20,000, from my calculation. The judge says that there will be a short recess before he hears the not-guilty cases, mine among them. He will then assign public defenders to those whose income is low enough and then schedule jury hearings.

In other words, I would have to wait and then return at some later date.

My kids, who came with me, persuaded me that this was hopeless and ridiculous and very costly. I should declare my guilt and pay the $200 and be free. They didn’t want their Dad entangled anymore in this system. This is what I did, and I was free to go and join the multitudes who put up with this system of blackmail and money extraction every hour and know better than to attempt to use the system to challenge it.

Most people in my position would have never gone to court, and thereby they will never have seen just how cruel this system is for the poor, for minorities, and for everyone who gets tangled up in this web of coercion and legalized plunder.

But now I understand something more fully that I once only understood abstractly. I see how utterly ridiculous it is to think that the state can be the right means to help those who are poor or living at the margins of society. The state is their enemy, as it is for everyone else.

— Jeffrey Tucker, LewRockwell.com (2007-12-15): How the Justice System Works

Read the whole thing.

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:

Dr. Strangeread, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Our Troops

Robert Bidinotto is pissed off. He’s pissed off at me in particular and he’s pissed off at anti-American scumbags in general. So much so that I have been denounced as, inter alia, a scumbag, a liar, a sophist, disingenuous, a complete fraud, and incapable of arguing straight up and honestly. So much so that I have been informed that I am no longer welcome to comment at Bidinotto’s blog. Others have gotten tagged with most or all of these terms, and just for good measure some of them have been denounced as bitches, contemptible, bottom feeders, and complete lunatics. Here’s why.

Late last month, Bidinotto was pissed off that Joel Stein, Leftist columnist for the Los Angeles Times, wrote a column in which he took issue with the popular cant of supporting the troops.

Leftist columnist for the Los Angeles Times, Joel Stein, has become notorious during the past couple of days for writing, I don’t support our troops. Not I don’t support the war in Iraq or even I don’t support the war against Islamist terrorism. No — I don’t support our troops.

And the scumbag means it. Sure, we could blame just Bush, he wrote. But blaming the president is a little too easy. The truth is that people who pull triggers are ultimately responsible, whether they’re following orders or not. An army of people making individual moral choices may be inefficient, but an army of people ignoring their morality is horrifying.

Yup. He’s blaming the troops.

But he’s not the only one.

Then follows a long invective, frequently updated with new bellows of outrage, against libertarians — mostly those in the orbit of LewRockwell.com and the Ludwig von Mises Institute — who have similar things to say, or other things that don’t bear much relation to Stein’s column but strike him as outrageous anti-American scumbaggery. In reply to all this, I asked two days ago (2006-02-03):

From Rad Geek on 02/03/06

Here’s the comment of Joel Stein’s that Bindinotto [sic] singles out, apparently for special outrage: The truth is that people who pull triggers are ultimately responsible, whether they’re following orders or not. An army of people making individual moral choices may be inefficient, but an army of people ignoring their morality is horrifying.

Isn’t this true?

To which Bidinotto replied (2006-02-04):

From Bidinotto on 02/04/06

Hey Geek, do you know what question begging means? It means assuming what it is that you’re supposed to be proving.

Let me spell it out for you: You are assuming (1) that the American soldiers are acting immorally, and (2) that they know their activities to be immoral, but are ignoring that fact. Neither is the case. So — no, the last statement is not applicable.

I point out to one side that I have a long-standing professional interest in the teaching of logic and that I’ve written philosophical work on the nature of question-begging fallacies. Not that that means anything. In any case, since this didn’t answer my question, I replied yesterday (2006-02-04):

From Rad Geek on 02/04/06

Bidinotto:“Let me spell it out for you: You are assuming (1) that the American soldiers are acting immorally, and (2) that they know their activities to be immoral, but are ignoring that fact.

No, I’m not. I’m asking you whether or not it is true that individual soldiers bear at least partial moral responsibility for the actions they carry out, even when they are acting on orders. And further whether large-scale surrender of individual conscience under military orders (whenever it happens) is horrifying. Neither I nor the passage I asked you about says [sic] anything at all about whether in fact the conduct of soldiers in the Iraq War specifically is immoral.

(And yes, I realize that the rest of the article does make that point. So what? The question is about the passage that you singled out for excoriation, not the rest of the article.)

Bidinotto: Neither is the case. So — no, the last statement is not applicable.

I didn’t ask whether it was applicable to the Iraq War or not. I asked whether it is true or false.

Bidinotto came around to the question and added one of his own (2006-02-04):

From Bidinotto on 02/04/06

EVERYONE bears moral responsibility for his or her actions. Soldiers, too. And in fact the disobedience of soldiers to improper orders is a time-honored tradition. So is the prosecution of those who give, and follow, transparently improper orders. Remember Lt. Calley in ‘Nam? Hell, what about the Abu Graib prison abuse?

But none of that is what Stein’s disgusting piece was about, as you well know and acknowledge. His I don’t support the troops was about the troops fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq; it was they whom he calumnied as horrifying by declaring that they were ignoring their morality; and THAT was what I indeed target for special outrage.

Now a question for you: in the context of Iraq, do you agree with Stein that our troops are acting immorally — and knowingly so?

Which I then answered, with a clarification of the point I was interested in:

From Rad Geek on 02/04/06

Now a question for you: in the context of Iraq, do you agree with Stein that our troops are acting immorally — and knowingly so?

I think that some of them are and others aren’t; the issue is complicated by the fact that soldiers are not free to stop participating in the war and thus some of them are acting under duress. Those that are willingly doing it are, I think, willingly participating in evil, and I see no reason to celebrate them for that or sanctimoniously declare my support for them on that account (even if they do things that require a lot of physical or intellectual skill, and even if they do things that are very daring).

If that makes me an anti-American scumbag, so be it; my main concern here, though, is that the argument over that should be played from where it lies. Your real complaint here isn’t that Stein, Rockwell, Snider et al. don’t support the troops. It’s that they don’t support the war in Iraq. Fine; that’s an argument to be had. But fuming about the fact that people who already consider the war to be an unjustifiable campaign of State murder afortiori consider those foot soldiers who willingly carry it out to be murderers, really seemsto me to be a bit much. The debate is better served by arguing over the premises, not shouting back and forth over the conclusion.

To which Bidinotto replied earlier today (2006-02-05):

From Bidinotto on 02/05/06

So, Geekie, now you admit that what I said earlier WAS true: You are assuming (1) that the American soldiers are acting immorally, and (2) that they know their activities to be immoral, but are ignoring that fact.

Initially, in reply, you said No, I’m not — maintaining that you were not referring to soldiers in Iraq, but to generic soldiers who blindly follow orders.

But now you admit that all along you WERE referring to our soldiers’s activities in Iraq, and that Those that are willingly doing it are, I think, willingly participating in evil… You now admit that you consider those soldiers to be murderers.

In short, in trying to get my original response, you lied.

I do not welcome sophists who argue disingenuously, just to try to score debating points. Besides being an anti-American scumbag, Geekie, you have revealed yourself to be a fraud, and any future comments by you will be deleted. And should you, Betsy, or similar sorts try to sneak in here under assumed names, you will only underscore the fact that you are complete frauds who cannot argue straight up and honestly.

Second, Geekie, don’t tell me what my real complaint is with Stein, Rockwell, you, et al. I made it very clear in this post that I have friends and colleagues who strongly oppose the war in Iraq; but they remain friends and colleagues precisely because they do NOT mock, insult, and belittle our SOLDIERS over that policy disagreement.

No, Geekie, my targets in this post are anti-American scumbags like you, who DO sully American troops.

Got it?

Everyone else: got it?

Since I’m no longer welcome to post comments at Bidinotto’s website, I’ll mention a couple of points here.

First, a point about logic and language. It’s not accurate to say that I’m assuming that American troops are acting immorally, and that they’re doing so knowingly. I’m concluding that on the basis of an argument. The argument is mostly left unexpressed in my comments at Bidinotto’s blog; but that brings us to the second point: the reason it is left unexpressed is that nothing turns on it in the discussion with Bidinotto. The passage from Stein that Bidinotto singles out for outrage is true — and Bidinotto later concedes that it is true — whether or not the principle set out in it is (as Stein thinks it is, and Bidinotto does not) applicable to the situation of those soldiers who are willingly fighting in Iraq. (I think it’s important to note that not all soldiers fighting in Iraq are doing so willingly, in any meaningful sense. But that’s a side issue.) That’s all I was asking, and all I was interested in; There is a difference between stating that you’re going to discuss a principle without applying it to a particular situation, and stating that you’re going to discuss a principle that doesn’t apply to that particular situation. The question (and my implied endorsement of the principle) presupposed nothing (neither a Yes or a No) about its applicability in this particular case. Which is what I was saying. The invective against my dishonesty and fraudulence is, thus, based on something hard to distinguish from wilful misreading.

Logic lesson for the day: in order for an argument to beg the question, the argument must first be made. Or at least alluded to. Or something.

Second, the fact that Bidinotto is willing to bestow sentimental praise on some opponents of the Iraq war is not even remotely to the point. Here is a rough version of the argument being used by the folks that he is outraged at:

  1. The things done in the prosecution of the Iraq War are evil.
  2. There are some (many) American soldiers who willingly do the things done in the prosecution of the Iraq War.
  3. If soldiers willingly do things that are evil, they bear (at least some) moral responsibility for them.
  4. You shouldn’t support people who bear (at least some) moral responsibility for doing things that are evil.
  5. Therefore, there are some (many) American soldiers you shouldn’t support.

As far as I can tell, this is a valid deductive argument (if somewhat roughly expressed). Bidinotto strongly disagrees with the conclusion; and he’s pretty pissed off about those who would draw it. But what is it that he disagrees with in the argument? He explicitly states that he agrees with 3. 2 is a matter of manifest empirical fact. He doesn’t say anything one way or the other about 4 in this article, but as an Objectivist it’s unlikely that he’d want to deny it. So which premise does that leave in dispute: (1), the premise that the things done in the prosecution of the Iraq War are evil. If you accept all of the premises but don’t accept the conclusion, then you’re being inconsistent. If you avoid the conclusion only by rejecting premise 1, then the real issue in the debate just isn’t the scumbaggery of failing to support our troops. It’s the damned war. Acting as if your decision to sanction or not sanction the actions of American soldiers in Iraq should be insulated from any moral considerations about the propriety of the ongoing use of militarized violence in Iraq, or the direct individual roles that the soldiers play in carrying out the force, or the individual decisions that they make to comply or not to comply with that policy, requires you to either (1) deny one of the other premises (i.e., to give up on the idea that you shouldn’t sanction willing participation in evil, or to give up on the idea that individual soldiers are morally accountable for their actions under the banner of war); or (2) blank out. Neither of these is an option that should recommend itself to rational and civilized people.

It’s one thing to get pissed off about deep disagreements of moral principle over the nature, justice, and effects of the Iraq War. It’s quite another to fume at people for refusing to hypocritically profess to support for our troops when they have concluded that some (many) of those troops are willing participants in evil.

There is no nobility in blanking out the conclusions of your premises, and no honor in palavering hypocrisy. Modus ponens is a tough cookie.

That’s all I’m saying.

Update 2006-02-09: I fixed an issue of sentence order in the first paragraph.

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