Saturday, November 17, 2007

Some Pros and Cons of Ron Paul

Tibor R. Machan

Texas Republican House member Ron Paul is undoubtedly the most committed libertarian among all the presidential hopefuls. Dr. No, as he is sometimes called, opposes virtually all government spending and other forms of oppression. He believes that many of the laws passed by Congress aren't authorized by the U. S. Constitution—a document he believes is sound because of its support of the free society and a limited federal government—and could only be passed by state political bodies, not by the feds. He is pro-life but instead of wanting to outlaw abortion—a dubious libertarian idea in my book—he wants the issue of whether there is a right to have an abortion to be dealt with at the state level. His views on banking, the Federal Reserve Bank, hard money, the IRS, and, especially, military adventurism all follow sound strict libertarian principles.

On one or two points, though, even a libertarian could take issue with Dr. Paul. Is it true, as he claims, that 9/11 happened "because we are there"? And even if the American military presence in many countries where it has no warranted business has contributed to anger at the U.S.A., does acting on that anger by murdering 3000 people not guilty of aggression toward anyone constitute a justified response? That's clearly not the case. Even if I do you wrong, your response may not be to attack my children and neighbors! Moreover, even if the history of American military conduct gives evidence of arguably similar injustices—for example, the bombing of Dresden and, later, of Japan—that is no excuse for perpetrating similar injustices. Such military endeavors are intolerable unless carried out as a matter of defense. No wonder many find Ron Paul’s “blowback” theory highly problematic.

His theory may sound like just one bit of oddity in Dr. Paul's outlook but it is a very disturbing one since it has to do with the central libertarian issue of when is aggressive violence against others justified. 9/11 was undoubtedly aggression—certainly the attacks on the World Trade Center cannot be dismissed as anything else. (One might have a case arguing that attacking the Pentagon qualifies as a military action within the framework of the military confrontation between America and various Middle Eastern countries.) To a libertarian, for whom the right of an individual to his or her life is a core principle of community life, thinking that killing 3000 people is ok—because Americans went to Saudi Arabia and other places "there"—is quite disturbing.

Still, within the context of American presidential politics it is enough to just be against the war in Iraq and to be for substantially dismantling the federal government to come out a big winner to those who see liberty as central to human community life. The way Dr. Paul explains his position may not be perfect but the position in this instance is unassailable.

The United States military has no business in Iraq. Even the low level suspicion, encouraged by Saddam Hussein himself, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction does not justify going over there to put American lives at risk. The proper job of the US military is to secure the rights of American citizens, not to right the wrongs of the world. This is the substance of the view expressed in the Declaration of Independence and in George Washington’s prescient farewell letter.

What about Dr. Paul's states rights stance? Here those who love liberty may again have some reason to be concerned. However constitutionally sound it is to let the states vote in various oppressive laws, voting them in is wrong and should be discouraged however they can be, provided it is peaceful. The states-rights position can render governmental mandated racial segregation permissible as well as a state's banning of innumerable ways of exercising one's rights to life, liberty, and property. Would a war on drugs be fine if conducted in Connecticut or Texas but not if it is a federal policy? Why is the states' oppression so different from that of the federal government? Both have cops who ought to focus only on protecting the rights of individuals and when their majorities insist on a different course that is every bit as much in violation of sound principles of human community life as when the federal government does so, this is wrong.

Still, since on most other fronts Dr. Paul is as close to being right as it is possible to be within the framework of American politics, he really is the only one a devotee of liberty could possibly vote for, if only to send the message: Liberty matters!
Illiberal Approaches to Possible Global Warming

Tibor R. Machan

In the current rush to judgment about claims that anthropogenic global
warming is imminent—another one of these just came out from the United
Nations—some of the proposals are truly scary. To make the point that
is central, let’s recall that one of the core values of a liberal
society—and on
this score classical and modern liberals tend to agree—is due process. It
is, after
all, the central purpose of such liberal organizations as the ACLU to make
sure that the legal system adheres strictly and without fail to principles
of due process. So, no one may be arrested without making sure that the
charges
against him or her are clear, unambiguous, and that he or she is provided
with proper legal representation. No one may be subjected to prior
restraint. No one may be prejudged or convicted without proof of criminal
conduct. Even once someone has been convicted of a crime, all kinds of
legal protections are erected against abuse or other rights violations.

The recent concern liberals have shown about the way inmates at Guantanamo
Bay are treated falls in line with this basic concern liberals have had
with due process. Liberals, more so than conservatives, have insisted that
nothing justifies violation of the rights of accused persons, not even
when authorities believe there may be imminent danger that the accused
will again commit a crime, including terrorism.

Even in the area of foreign policy, modern liberals have recently stressed
that no military actions may be taken against a country preemptively. Only
if it
is certain beyond a reasonable doubt that such military action is
ultimately defensive rather than offensive could it be justified, even if
there is strong suspicion that something aggressive may be intended.

One liberal complaint about the Iraqi war has been that the Bush
administration failed to heed principles of just war theory, something for
which George W. Bush and Co. have been roundly condemned. Even the
majority of the American public, apart from the president’s liberal
critics, seem to embrace this criticism and will likely replace the
Republicans in the White House, after they have retaken the House and the
Senate in 2006.

So it is disturbing that such liberal icons as former Vice President Al
Gore
are insisting that the precautionary principle ought to prevail in the
realm
of environmental policy. That principle amounts to nothing less than
doing
away with concerns about individual rights—imposing Draconian restrictions
on American citizens (and preferably others, too) when it comes to
behavior
that may have an impact on global warming. The operative term here is, of
course, “may”. All projections in the global warming discussion are based
on probabilities,
suspicions, and estimates.

Even those who are most emphatic about the negative influence of human
behavior on the environment, the eco system, climate change and the
like provide but probabilities. Will sea levels rise? How much and by
when?
The answers are all given as estimates, more or less well founded in
current
science.

But just as with the sciences that study human criminal tendencies, having
such estimates and probabilities on which to base public policy does not
suffice as grounds for violating the rights of citizens in a free society.
Yes, some people may have a chromosomal predisposition to behave badly
but within the tradition of liberal jurisprudence this does not justify
taking action against them. A proof of clear and present—imminent—danger
is necessary. It must be shown that there is probable cause to act
against a suspect, it is not enough to show that he or she “may” be
dangerous.

Quite apart from the substance of the climate change/global warming
discussion, it is disturbing that when it comes to their own scary stories
modern liberals like Al Gore and all those who are on his side in the
debate do not even talk about the preemptive nature of the public policies
they propose. Their principles appear to have been left behind. Yet when
their political opponents are willing to compromise principles of just
war, the Geneva Convention, civil liberties, and the like in the war on
terror, somehow these opponents are acting in unforgivably unprincipled
fashion.

Is it any wonder that a lot of Americans are skeptical about the
motivations of the likes of Mr. Gore and suspect them of wishing to grab
power instead of trying properly to address and solve an real problem?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Good Argument Ain’t Enough

Tibor R. Machan

As rational animals, human beings do best when they think matters through and act accordingly. This is no less true in public policy matters. From the time of Socrates, political philosophers have urged us to be rational in our political affairs. Indeed, arguably the most famous Platonic dialogue, The Republic, is but a call to reason, what with the philosopher placed in the position of king, a symbolic role in a mythical society to remind us all that what matters most in both our personal and public lives is to think!

Some, however, have come to believe that if only someone has a good argument for some policy, law or institution, that’s all that is needed. So there is much consternation about why those with the best arguments do not always triumph in politics. In a recent comment on The Orange County Register’s efforts a while back to lay out the best public policy positions in its Sunday “Commentary” section the criticism consisted of claiming that the brief summaries presented were na├»ve, too simple and hopelessly idealistic. The Register’s libertarian political philosophy was then dismissed as unworkable.

Without realizing it, the critic could have commented on the American Founders’ political stance as laid out in the Declaration of Independence. It, too, could be dismissed in such terms. And such criticism would have a point if the editors had promised that with a rational approach to public policies, one that stressed the need for human liberty throughout human community life—liberty being, of course, a precondition for rationality—there would be a clear and smooth way toward sensible politics in the United States of America and wherever such an approach is tried. But that simply isn’t so.

Good arguments, sound ones, do establish what is best for a political system. But they are insufficient for purposes to get the policies adopted. An argument is only one side of the solution. Those considering it must also have a commitment to rationality. And such commitment is not always available.

Given, for example, that most Americans these days have irrational expectations of public policies and thus send irrational politicians to given the country at all levels of government, it is clearly not enough to approach them sensibly, rationally. Just the other day the prestigious PBS program, “The News Hour with Jim Lehrer” gathered together a little group of voters from Las Vegas. All of them chimed in with a wish list. Demands were voiced and it came through with the outmost clarity that every one of the voters selected for the interview—about eight of them—was captive to the entitlement mentality and the governmental habit.

Now when citizens of a country have such an attitude toward politics—seeing their government as Santa Claus—then the policies that they will welcome from their candidates and representatives will be anything but rational. The federal government is not only ill equipped to fulfill the Christmas wishes of the citizenry but it lacks the resources to do so.

By now the debt of the country is immense and the way nearly everything is funded is by coercively imposed credit, to be paid by the yet unborn citizens of the country whose “participation” even violates the principle of “No taxation without representation,” the is the only idea that might inject some slight measure of sanity in the economics of America’s public affairs. It has, of course, been abandoned completely by the various levels of government in the U.S. A. over the last century.

Hundreds of other examples of citizenship insanity could be cited to show that good arguments simply are ignored by millions who insist on trying to get blood out of a turnip, who insist not only on extorting funds from their fellow citizens but also on trying to extort funds that simply cannot be found. Like all those folks clocking to Las Vegas in the conviction that they will come away lucky, the bulk of the public now is hoping for the impossible.

You can advance great arguments showing what is rational, sensible in public affairs but when the public cares nothing about being rational, it will be a futile exercise, plain and simple.