Saturday, July 30, 2005

Column on Sources of Anti-Americanism [please proof]

A Source of European Anti-Americanism

Tibor R. Machan

Hamburg, Germany. I learned last night something about
why there?s dislike
for America in Europe. It?s worth considering.

No, it?s not the war in Iraq, not at least for quite a lot of people in
Germany and elsewhere. In fact, I noticed more support for Bush?s policy
on the continent than I would have expected. Prominent party people and
journalists with whom I spoke do not consider this issue all that vital in
European-American relations.

It is Kyoto that came up as a source of contention far more often than
Iraq. And oddly it isn?t even the substance of the Kyoto treaty that those
folks I spoke with found to be the problem?they admit that on that score
there is much disagreement and uncertainty that can be respected. What
seems to upset many Germans and, judging by what I heard, many Europeans
is that the American government isn?t being ?cooperative? within the
international community concerning resolutions such as the Kyoto treaty on
the environment.

A point that?s worth considering is that some of these critics believe
that the American government ought to deal with environmental topics
exactly as it is dealing with North Korea or Iran on nuclear arms. In this
latter matter the Americans appear to them to be following the path of
international cooperation. So why will they not do the same vis-à-vis
Kyoto? For many of those I spoke with Kyoto is just as crucial an
international issue as nuclear weapons in the hands of rouge rulers. But
is this correct?

If you are a European, it will indeed appear to you that the two matters
are similar. That?s because you will take it as natural that national
leaders should forge policies for the international community in both of
these matters, nuclear proliferation and environmental policy. The general
idea that guides the thinking for many Europeans is that national leaders
are the legitimate representatives of a country?s citizens in any issue of
public concern and it is up to them to make decisions in such matters. The
notion that the issues involved in nuclear proliferation are likely to be
more appropriately dealt with by governments, including by international
commissions and via international treaties, while problems vis-à-vis the
environment may well best be dealt with in a more decentralized fashion
leaves most of these folks cold. It is distinction without a difference.

The reason seems to be plain: Whenever a concern is such that many people
share it, it automatically takes on a political character to most
Europeans. In the USA, of course, there is at least some differentiation,
at least for many people and even for many politicians, between what is
properly the province of public policy and what isn?t. Environmental
matters are, of course, treated by many in the USA as a matter of public
policy but there is considerable sceptical thinking afoot that sees things
differently. Instead of dealing with environmental issues in a top-down,
centrally planned sort of fashion, pollution, for example, could be
addressed mainly at the local levels and via tort law. How much air
pollution is acceptable is something that needs to be determined on the
basis of local information, not by way of broad governmental goals and

This idea may not be universally embraced in the USA
but it is much more
conducive to how at least a sizable and influential group of Americans
view social and economic problems, namely, in a substantially
decentralized fashion. One region of the country may require certain
measures, while another quite different ones, and indeed no
one-size-fits-all approach is likely to work.

Accordingly, Kyoto type ?solutions? would not come so naturally to many
Americans, who distrust bureaucrats and politicians far more than do
people around the rest of the world. It was quite evident in the
discussions with the Germans and other Europeans that they consider it as
a given that social and economic matters are all susceptible to the kind
of top-down policies that even they admit, once they are reminded of it,
brought down the USSR?s centrally planned economy. The good will and
effectiveness of those who would administer Kyoto type treaties are simply
undisputed. There appeared to be no concerns at all with the kind of
issues that public choice theorists, who worry about the incentives of
bureaucrats and politicians, have identified in America and a few other
places with strong enough classical liberal political economy traditions.

This utter naiveté about what may be expected from national leaders when
it comes to most social and economic matters is very likely a source of
much of the current animosity toward the USA. Of course, some classical
liberals would not even entrust the nuclear proliferation problem to
public officials, but at least there is a wide consensus that this being a
matter of national defense, the government may well have a role its should
not have when it comes to Kyoto type issues and that public choice type
problems do not routinely beset the area.

Mainly, however, the fact that in America there is
considerable genuine
distrust of international agreements pertaining to what ought to be dealt
with in a bottom-up fashion, including environmental problems, seems to
account for why America is unpopular with many in Europe. The great
majority of folks still believe that there is a superior class of
individuals who know better how social and economic issues must be dealt
with from above, period. The individualist, decentralized approach is
entirely unpalatable to nearly all of them.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Column on Comparative Justice [proof please]

On More or Less Just Societies

Tibor R. Machan

When I first became familiar with some aspects of American society, I
considered the country to be vastly superior to the one in which I was
living at the time, namely Hungary during its communist era in the early
1950s. I was no expert, nor a student of history, so my impressions were
just that, impressions. And my confidence in them was appropriately
hesitant, although by certain common sense criteria I was sure
enough. For example, the government simply didn?t oppress people as
flagrantly in the USA as it did throughout the Soviet bloc. Also, in the
USA there had been a reasonably consistent and principled adherence to the
policy that everyone has the right to air his or her ideas with no
censorship of them from the government. Commerce, too, was widespread and
nowhere nearly so impeded by bureaucrats and politicians as in Hungary.
This much was evident to any reasonably aware human being during those

Even after I arrived in America and witnessed its general political and
social situation directly?e.g., its insidious and widespread racism, the
silly ways in which communism was combated by its Congress, the immoral
victimless crimes spawned by the voters and their
the country was far more just, as countries go, than where I came from and
many others I knew of from my studies of history, recent and ancient. As
people on many measures, such as their moral character or their health, so
their large and small communities, there has always been a continuum
the grossly deficient ones, those that are more or less mediocre, and
those that verge
on being quite excellent.

Once my ideas on what constitutes a just human community began to
crystallize, and as I was attempting to apply these ideas to the world
around me, I continued to find justification for ranking communities as
more or less just, although the ranking had to be done with great care
since on some fronts a community can be quite outstanding while on another
it can be a disaster. All in all, though, I kept to my conviction that as
big countries go, the USA is still comparatively superior when it comes to
matters of justice. Yet I also modified some of my earlier impressions,
especially in light of becoming aware of just how vicious and widely
embraced the institution of slavery had been in this country and how, even
after its abolition, how racial segregation undermined the principles of
the American founders on so many fronts. I also realized that in other
spheres American law and public policy fell far short of the kind of
community that would be loyal to the principles of the American founders
whose ideas I have concluded really did capture accurately, albeit in mere
outline, what
a just society should be.

All this comes to my mind now as I continue to try to make sense of both
domestic and international politics, including the discussions about
America?s recent role in world affairs. For instance, it intrigues me how
often the ?moral equivalence? theme is still confidently embraced
vis-à-vis international terrorism, with folks suggesting that what the
terrorists in London, Madrid, New York, Cairo, and elsewhere perpetrate is
pretty much comparable to what the American government has wrought across
the globe via its foreign and military policies.

This is by no means the place to hash all this out but it is very
disturbing to notice now many people are unwilling to do any kind of
comparative ranking, involving the kind of wrongs done by different
people, including governments, in terms of a sensible broad standard of
justice. Often the very same people who embrace value-subjectivism or
multiculturalism or cultural relativism?in short, people who reject the
very idea of an objective morality?advance judgements about the conduct of
different people and governments that are oblivious to any nuances, to
distinctions of severity, of intentionality, of complicity and so forth.

It seems to me that unless one has a reasonably well worked out idea of
what is more or less just?an objective measure of right and wrong in
matters of how communities should be organized and governed?issuing
approvals or indictments of various international agents as they make
their moves is impossible and amounts to little more than venting of ones
feelings. And that can do nothing at all to help set anything right.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Column on Relativism v. Terrorism

It?s all a Matter of Perspective, Isn?t It?

Tibor R. Machan

An amazing thing about a good deal of higher education is how little one
hears form the professors when it matters most. Take the famous idea,
endorsed by many very prominent teachers in innumerable Western
universities, that what is right and wrong is all a matter of perspective.
The prominent?indeed, arguably most famous?American radical pragmatist
philosopher Richard Rorty (who is teaching now at Stanford University)
made it clear several years ago that no one can know right and wrong apart
from how his or her own community see it. There is no right and wrong
apart from one?s group. As Rorty put it, in his comment on the demise of
the Soviet Union: ?[We] cannot say that democratic institutions reflect a
moral reality and that tyrannical re¬gimes do not reflect one, that
tyrannies get something wrong that democratic societies get right.?

If you change the particulars, Rorty would have to agree that neither can
we say that terrorists get it wrong when they murder children in London or
Madrid or New York City. No, all we can say is that we stand with our
group, while they stand with theirs.

Of course, this kind of thinking is ancient, not at all new, but in most
periods of human history the major thinkers rejected it. Socrates, Plato,
Aristotle, Aquinas, and Spinoza, to list just some of the greatest
thinkers in the Western philosophical tradition, held that while it is
difficult, human beings can learn of some basic truths. Or at least they
held out hope for this, especially in the realm of ethics and politics.
The American founders were among these, which is why they declared
themselves in support of unalienable individual rights to life, liberty
and the pursuit of happiness for everyone.

But today, probably more so than ever before, the dominant idea in most
universities is that no basic truths about ethics and politics are
possible to identify. Multiculturalists teach this. Moreover, the books
the likes of Richard Rorty write are brought out by the most prestigious
publishers in the world?e.g., Cambridge University Press. Yet, when bombs
go off killing dozens and more in New York, Washington, London, Madrid,
and Cairo, one doesn?t find Richard Rorty and his followers parading their
seriously crafted views to the general public. No matter how hard one
looks to see if such missives have been published, there is nothing
written by those folks about how it is false that terrorists ?get
something wrong that democratic societies get right.?

Surely at this point one can wonder whether Rorty & Co. really mean what
they claim to believe in their more academic publications. Or perhaps they
are merely teasing their students with outrageous ideas and when they
leave their study, in the fashion the 18th century Scottish philosopher
David Hume described, they no longer take their ruminations seriously.

But this is a luxury we cannot afford, to make reckless pronunciations
about truth, justice, knowledge or virtue in our professional capacity but
reject them when we step out of our offices into the real world. Because
out students often do listen to what we say and when they take the
material we so strongly champion with them into their lives, the stuff can
turn out to be deadly for them and indeed the rest of us.

The practical implications of the kind of view Richard Rorty and other
relativists propound amount to no less than that the positions of the
terrorists and of the victims of terrorism are basically indistinguishable
as to their merit or worth. In the total scheme of things, as best as we
can tell, the two are on the same footing?or, put another way, neither has
any better footing.

Maybe Rorty & Co. would reply, but this doesn?t mean the victims must
accept their victimization, must believe they shouldn?t resist. Such
declamations, however, are unconvincing because the thrust of the original
relativist idea is exactly that, namely, terrorists do not have positions
that are in the end worse than those of their victims. Such a view is
debilitating, practically, and can utterly confuse people about where one
ought to stand on terrorism. It is, indeed, just the view terrorists would
most likely want us to embrace so we become impotent, philosophically and
ethically, as we try to come to grips with their vicious conduct.

I think Rorty & Co. know this. This is why we do not hear from them in
these times. But then they should remain silent at other times, too.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Column on Service & Citizenship

Service and Citizenship

Tibor R. Machan

Once again a famous public figure chimes in with complaints about how
America has seen the end of the connection between service and
citizenship. I am talking about David M. Kennedy?s Op Ed in The New York
Times, a recent exercise in finger wagging if there ever was one.

Let?s just see?must there be a connection between service and citizenship
in the first place? Dr. Kennedy, who is a professor of history at Stanford
University, believes that serving in the military should be coerced, that
conscription is best, and that a volunteer military is a mercenary

To start with, those are false alternatives?volunteers can be far more
dedicated and dutiful than conscripts, although they also get paid.
Indeed, citizenship is antithetical to a certain kind of service, to
servitude. It was prior to the emergence of citizenship, when those living
in a country were deemed to be subjects and serfs, that service was big on
the agenda for everyone. They were all supposed to serve the king and the
upper classes. With the emergence of citizenship came the idea that people
lived for their own goals, not those of the king and his buddies.

So, yes, in a sense American society has abandoned the insidious notion
that people are to serve the state or monarch or some other self-selected
bunch as soldiers or anything else, for that matter. Sovereignty for
everyone means just that?none of us is a conscript to other people and
their purposes for us. But perhaps there is another, more benign sense of
service, the disappearance of which is being lamented, although I am not
sure. But let?s be charitable?the service Mr. Kennedy may have in mind is
helping our fellow human beings when they are in need, being generous,
even charitable, to those who are in dire straits. Maybe it?s this that he
sees disappearing from American society.

Here is an idea: Maybe the welfare state itself is to blame. After all,
when we are taught by our public philosophers that people have a right to
public assistance?health care, minimum wages, unemployment compensation,
education and so forth?the idea might come across that as with all rights,
all that?s required from everyone is to stand aside. Your right to your
life is, after all, something everyone respects by standing aside, by not
murdering you. Same with your right to freedom of speech or religion?these
require for others to abstain from intrusive conduct, period.

Generosity or charity, being of service to those who are in need, on the
other hand requires of us that we do something for people of our own free
will, because we deem it the right thing to do, not because they are
entitled. I help others not because I am their servant but because I
believe I should help them. If I have already been coerced to support all
those government entitlement programs, my helpfulness becomes moot.

So, it seems, what is undermining service is actually that forced service
that everyone must be part of, the welfare state. It is this insidious,
coercive program of assistance to all, deserving or not, that has produced
the demoralization that shows up in people not going that extra yard to
help their needful fellows. And who is to blame for this? The very people,
like Mr. Kennedy, who are eager to put us all into the service of others,
into what is best called plain old involuntary servitude.

What Mr. Kennedy & Co. do not seem to appreciate is that coercion kills
generosity and charity and, yes, service. It substitutes forced taking and
labor for free giving. It
turns citizens into subjects, people whose own will doesn?t count and who
must, instead, bow to the dictates of the government and fork over their
resources not because they are convinced there is a worthy goal to be
served but because a gun is pointed at them and they have no choice but to
come up with their resources to fend off that gun.

Is it any wonder that under such a system voluntary help?even voluntary
military service?is a bit hard to come by?

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Column: In The Shadows of Terrorism

In the Shadows of Terrorism

Tibor R. Machan

London, UK. The little hotel, The Sanctuary House, where I stayed this
time was located, unbeknownst to me, just the other side of the New
Scotland Yard, so when I got there on July 21st after my flight from JFK,
I felt some relief. Terrorists probably will not do their vicious deeds in
the backyard of the cops. I was invited to give a talk on ?The Free Market
and Its Moral Foundation? at a small classical liberal-conservative
institute, Civitas, by my friend and fellow philosopher David Conway.

It was ironic?the very day I was laying out the moral case for a
society, four new attempted bombings occurred in London, based, in part,
on the terrorists? conviction that nothing about Western Societies is of
any moral worth at all. Of course, the big question is what is to count
as moral. They believe duty to tribe is, whereas in fact self-perfection
as human beings is our true moral purpose in life.

As I left Civitas and did some walking about London while
plenty of jitters, I recalled some similar feelings from when Budapest was
being bombed in my very early youth. I reflected on why these terrorists
have such a warped view of human morality. (I also stopped to call my
mother who brought up that very thing, about how living in Budapest during
World War II felt much like it feels living in the shadows of terrorism

I was also assisted in my reflections by a novel I was reading, by
Silva, The Prince of Fire, which is all about terrorist doings throughout
Europe, all in the name of their warped sense of morality.

The bottom line is that terrorists believe in the virtue of tribal
loyalty. It is, for most of them, a matter of us against them, as a group.
No, it?s even worse?as a bee hive or ant colony. For these terrorists a
baby is not some innocent individual human being but something that?s part
of the evil body, the body that?s those infidels who are not with us. It
is all ?we,? ?we,? and ?we? again, or ?us,? and ?us,? and ?us? again.
Individuals do not matter. Even parents and siblings are just part of the
tribe?if they are hurt or killed it is because this was an act against the
tribe that it is a bad thing, never mind them as individual persons. That
is why revenge needs to be carried out against anyone deemed as part of
those bad others?children, neighbors, relatives, people who look like
them, who eat the same kind of food, what have you.

What is so outrageous as well as frightening about this is that
much of
the world has viewed human affairs along such lines throughout human
history. Individualism, while far more true than tribalism, has not been
fully appreciated by people. Even in much of Europe, the idea of the Serbs
versus the Croats or the Irish versus the English, the Jews versus the
Christians, or the immigrants versus natives is still very prevalent, even

It is no wonder that so many Europeans feel more ?understanding?
the terrorists! The distinctive American view of individualism, wherein
it?s the individual?s actions that establish who someone is, not where
someone comes from, what tribe one belongs to, is novel, unfamiliar. Even
in America it is mostly a matter of the gut, not of the mind?too many
people are philosophical collectivists or communitarians, not

Yet, of course, it is individualism that is truer about us and it
is also
this viewpoint that encourages more peace and harmony among people. With
any individual there lies only a tiny bit of power, whereas tribes, even
small ones, pack quite a punch. So if individuals within some tribe get
crazy angry about something, chances are considerable that major damage
will be done. An individual is relatively impotent in these matters and
the risk of angry outbursts and barbaric temper tantrums are thus

In the end, of course, tribes are mainly disguised ways for some
of them to gain and keep power. They are nasty fictions behind which the
few who are privileged and unjustly favored hide their vested interests.
They are the ones who are most threatened with the idea of individualism,
of a rejection of collective duty and guilt. So they will carry on with
their terrorism seeing that without it, they have really nothing left and
nothing of value to fake.