On Atheist Criticisms of Libertarian Christianity

As a libertarian Christian, I believe that a Christian worldview is not only congruent with, but necessitates, libertarian policy positions. I’m at regular odds, then, with people who charge that Christianity is incongruous or incompatible with political liberty.

Conservative Christians, who I find to be widely and increasingly amenable to my arguments, are less and less among this group. Rather, it now seems to be made up largely of Christian socialists and libertarian anti-Christians. I’ll here discuss the arguments I most regularly hear from the latter.

Involving Religion in Politics

bibleflagWhen writing about the relationship between libertarianism and Christianity, I sometimes encounter a vague demand that I “just keep religion out of politics.” Yet this objection is incoherent.

My religious views include an account of the human condition that, if true, should be the foundation of my policy positions. On the other hand, if “keep religion out of politics” is really only an insistence that my religious views are not true, then it should be presented as such.

Granted, what most people mean by “keep religion out of politics” is simply “don’t force your religious values on me.” Yet this cannot be the meaning of a libertarian atheist who knowingly makes the demand of a libertarian Christian. In this case, the demand either asserts merely that Christianity is false, or it is senseless gibberish.

A better strategy for the libertarian atheist would be to concern oneself, first and foremost, with whether a religious person’s beliefs will expand or reduce the scope of government. My Christian belief in humanity’s fallenness and propensity to sin, for instance, disinclines me to entrust government agents with all-seeing omniscience. I would be more open to the prospect of sweeping data collection if I did not subscribe to Christian principles. If one’s goal is to limit government power, then it should be at least a relative good if I consult my religious text when picking up a legal pen.snake

In fact, this is true even if you don’t agree that Christianity predisposes its adherents to libertarianism. Even someone who thinks little of Christians should recognize that we will act with some measure of rational self-interest in the political arena. Note, then, that government power over social issues is increasingly being used against Christian values rather than for them. It will therefore be more and more in the interests of believers to limit government power, even putting other factors aside.

Suppose libertarian atheists could choose to live in only one of two societies: the first entirely secular but cripplingly authoritarian, and the second politically free but religiously mixed. Which would libertarian atheists prefer? If the latter, then working with libertarian Christians in order to promote liberty should be an easy choice.

The Doctrine of Hell

A common complaint of libertarian anti-Christians is that it is authoritarian to teach the Christian doctrine of hell. When Christians warn others about hell, after all, they are telling people that they will suffer unless they take a specific action. This warning, the argument goes, amounts to a kind of coercive threat.

If this is the case, however, it must likewise be authoritarian to warn someone that he’s about to be hit by a truck. If you call out to a man who is standing in front of a truck, then you are no less coercive than the Christian who warns others about hell. You are warning him that a horrible fate awaits him unless he take a specific action. We all understand, however, that “Look out!” is not coercive; the shouter is giving vital information to the person about to be hit.

lewisSome libertarian anti-Christians retort that, if there existed a God who allowed nonbelievers to go to hell, they would have a moral duty to oppose Him. Yet what is the source of this moral duty? If the morally good decision is the one which maximizes one’s happiness, as I believe it is, then some sort of divine command theory is true – as God has structured our reality and arbitrated the conditions that will lead to our happiness or unhappiness. If the atheist asserts that an invisible platonic “form” is the source of his moral duties, then it is actually this form that is demanding his suffering – all the while offering no reward in return.

An atheist might contend that my truck metaphor is invalid because it does not depict me as wishing the man to be hit by the truck. Yet neither do Christians want others to go to hell. If believers did not wish others to be saved, then they would keep quiet about eternity and anti-Christians would have no alleged threat to point to in the first place. This is a fact recognized by atheist Penn Jillette.

Granted, while I do not endorse your standing in front of the truck, I certainly do endorse the free will that allows you to do so. I also endorse the things that allow the truck to hit you, like the human ability to innovate and the physical possibility of speed. I endorse the existence of cliffs, of tools, and of many other things you might freely use to harm yourself. I would certainly not end free will or make the whole universe a padded cell in order to abolish the reality of conditional consequence – and I thank God for not having done so.

“Free will,” said C.S. Lewis, “though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.”

Lack of Free Will

steamIn an effort to exclude theists entirely, some more determined libertarian atheists will attempt to redefine libertarianism as an essentially metaphysical, rather than political, concept. “Libertarianism means that nothing – not just the government, but nothing – holds power over me,” the assertion goes. “Therefore theism is opposed to libertarianism.” I don’t accept this definition of libertarianism, but let us do so for the sake of argument.

If naturalism is true – as atheists typically hold – then everything you do and think is predetermined by an inevitable chain of material causation. Your body is a machine and your consciousness, to borrow a metaphor from Thomas Huxley, is a wisp of vapor. You are an effect but never a cause – a ghostly observer that has power over nothing and is wholly under the power of everything.

In contrast, the fact that I freely choose appears to me to be a properly basic belief, requiring no supporting argument. If proper basicality justifies my belief that the external world exists, my belief in free will is likewise justified. This seems to me to be a good argument – though there are others – for affirming the transcendence and causal power of the human mind. Someone who agrees with this argument should find naturalism false, and theism at least more probably true.

Given the definition of libertarianism that some libertarian atheists propose, theists can be libertarians while naturalist atheists cannot. Moreover, while there are some atheists who are not naturalists, they are few and far between – and hardly respected by their compatriots.

A History of Oppression

carolusIt’s difficult to deny that Christians have historically made a disproportionately large contribution to the sciences. Descartes, Pascal, Newton, Linnaeus, Mendel, Pasteur, Marconi, Lemaître and Collins come to mind. Point this out to most atheists, however, and their reaction is a predictable one: Christendom doesn’t deserve any particular credit for its scientists because it is old.

Ask militant atheists about the history of war, however, and this reasoning is suddenly inverted. It seems that the old age of Christianity is no reason not to credit it with the hostilities perpetrated by some professing Christians. It’s a striking paradox that Christianity – and religion in general – is given no credit for its great minds but full credit for its bad ones.

Yet religion – and especially Christianity – has not been the disproportionately oppressive force depicted in online atheist caricatures. As Matt Rogers has pointed out, about 7% of the wars in recorded history have involved a religious cause. These wars account for about 2% of people killed by warfare.

Conversely, the twentieth century was the bloodiest hundred years in human history – whether measured in sheer killings or in killings as a share of the world’s population. From 1900 to 1987, nearly two thirds of those killed by governments died at the hands of Marxists.jacobins

The thousands of murders committed at Verden, and later by the Inquisition, are without a doubt terrible blots on Christianity’s history. Yet it took Christendom centuries of power to muster up each atrocity. In contrast, practically the moment that the atheist Cult of Reason prevailed in France, thousands of Christians were sadistically drowned as part of Jacobin de-Christianization. In G.K. Chesterton’s words, “Once abolish the God and the government becomes the God.”

The actions of atheist governments, of course, do not mean that no atheist can be a libertarian. I hope that I’ve here helped to equip Christians and to sway atheists precisely because I wish for libertarians on both sides to work together. Collaboration is the best way to ensure that neither of us is ever again oppressed by the other.

This column was originally published in 2014.

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Punching Holes in the Public Goods Argument

Experts tell us that if we want things like bridges, parks, public streets and fire departments, then government must provide them. The private sector either can’t or won’t, or things would simply become awful if it did.

That conclusion is mostly justified by the theory of “public goods,” for which we can thank Paul Samuelson, the first American economist to win a Nobel Prize.

Paul Krugman — another economist and ceaseless supporter of government spending — makes the similar typical claim in this blog post, where he writes that to deny some things must be provided by the government is “stupid,” and to think so you must have slept through Econ 101. By “things the government must provide,” Krugman means everyone being forced to pay via taxation.

Disturbingly, the taxation solution requires many people to foot the bill for things they will never use, or to fund things they oppose. It also means people have less money to do with as they choose. Krugman maintains this is necessary because some things are “public goods whose benefits can’t be internalized by the market.”

A hole punched through a gigantic log at Kauffman Legacy Park; a private, yet free public park in Kansas City.

A hole punched through a gigantic log at Kauffman Legacy Park; a private, yet free park in Kansas City.

Fortunately, this is one case where “experts” like Krugman are embarrassingly wrong. Yes, we do need fire departments, free education and the like, but the government doesn’t have to pay for them. We will get them, sometimes via the market, and sometimes by different means such as charity and philanthropy. In fact, the aim of this article is to show you just how easy it is to punch holes in claims like Krugman’s — an example of what I will call the “public goods argument.”

Punching holes in the public goods argument is actually an old sport. In the 1960s, Paul Samuelson cited, in a footnote in his textbook Economics, John Stewart Mills’ example of the lighthouse as something that markets could not provide.

This prompted free market economist Ronald Coase to respond with historical documentation of private lighthouses built during the 17th Century in Britain. Since then, people have continued to provide empirical evidence to refute public goods arguments, and cheerleaders for government spending — the Krugmans of the world — have continued to ignore the evidence.

But we’ve got to keep showing them. So, I’ve located several things, right here in Kansas City, that stubbornly exist in contradiction to what experts claim and which serve to undermine the case for public expenditure by Krugman, et al. I’ll drive to each one, and document it with a digital camera. I’ll note how far the thing is from my home, and how long it took me to drive to it.

After seeing how easy it is to find things experts say you won’t, I hope you want to go out and try it yourself.

Exhibit 1: Private Public Street

Cedarbrooke Lane, Cedarbrooke subdivision
South Kansas City

80 ft (2 seconds)

I don’t have to go far before I reach my first destination. At the end of the cul-de-sac, about 80 feet from my garage door, runs Cedarbrooke Lane. This is a privately owned, public street, despite the fact that even most of its owners are probably unaware of the fact.  I roll off the gently sloping suburban curb onto a wide expanse of blacktop. Aside from one shallow pothole to the north of me, the street is in good condition and looks comparable to the city-owned Locust Street, which it adjoins. The street is freely accessible to the general public, as well as US Postal and other service vehicles, so it is truly public in the sense that it is available to all who wish to drive on it, yet it is paid for privately.

Such a thing shouldn’t be possible, but here it is.

Apart from their being constructed at all, a big concern about private streets is that they might fall into disrepair because the owners can opt to neglect them when money is short. In the face of such fears,  it is interesting that this street has existed for forty years and has always been kept in good condition.

But how? The answer is that it belongs to a homeowners association. When you buy a home in the Cedarbrooke subdivision, you agree to pay dues for the provision of things like trash, water and landscaping, as well as the upkeep of Cedarbrooke Lane. The HOA has a contractual obligation to maintain certain aspects of the member properties. If a particular homeowner fails to pay his or her dues, the HOA is empowered to put a lien on their property to ensure that it can fulfill its obligations.

As a result, not only do the homeowners who together own Cedarbrooke Lane benefit from the street, so does the entire South Kansas City community.

If only the public goods argument were in as good a shape as Cedarbrooke Lane.

Exhibit 2: Private Welfare

Great Temple Mausoleum at Mount Moriah Cemetery
South Kansas City

.25 miles (2 min)

Today it is taken for granted that government must take money from you to make sure someone else doesn’t “slip through the cracks.” Advocates of public social welfare claim that although everyone benefits by not having other people living in squalor, we can’t count on voluntary giving to provide for all who need help. Likewise, they say, private insurance surely won’t cut it because — being profit driven — insurance companies have an incentive not to pay.

Yet this Masonic hall (which spookily, doubles as a mausoleum) is a testament to how, for thousands of years, people have found inventive ways of taking care of one another voluntarily. The Freemasons probably originated as a guild of professional stonemasons in the middle ages. Among other things, guilds provided for the families of member craftsmen in the event of the member’s injury or death. Up until the first part of the 20th Century, such societies in America combined aspects of charity and private insurance: members pooled their resources and the organizations used those funds to help members address hardships.

As David T. Beito describes, these organizations flourished when times were toughest, like during the Great Depression:

The heyday… [of mutual aid societies in America] was during an era when millions of Americans lived on a scale of poverty which would be considered intolerable by today’s underclass. Despite this, millions invested their scarce resources in erecting a vast system of fraternal mutual aid. Although insurance gave some protection, those who subscribed to fraternal societies gained access to services not easily guaranteed in a commercial contract.

Today government programs have crowded out much of what these associations once provided. Yet a friend of mine, who belongs to a lodge, tells me that Freemasons still vow to help fellow lodge members should they lose employment or housing. Next time you are shopping for insurance try asking your new agent if he or she will swear to help you out of the next pickle in which you find yourself!

Just another chink in the armor of the public goods argument.

Exhibit 3: Private and Free Public Park and Botanical Garden

Kauffman Legacy Park & Kauffman Memorial Garden
Midtown Kansas City

11.5 miles (16 min)

Of all public goods, my favorite is the park. What would cities be like without them? But who would want a world where every park, if it existed at all, had a tall fence around it forcing you to pay to get in? What about people who could not afford to pay? These questions call to mind the dismal reality envisioned by the Krugman’s of the world if the government doesn’t provide us with parks.

So I have headed north and soon I’m in my old stomping grounds — Midtown Kansas City. I’m here to put paid to the supposed rule that parks can’t be private and free at the same time.

Amazingly, I find not only a free park, but also a free botanical garden thrown in for good measure. Together Kauffman Legacy Park and Kauffman Memorial Garden span six blocks just east of the wonderful Country Club Plaza shopping district. The park provides outdoor leisure while instilling conservation values by exposing you to the beauty of a native landscape in the heart of a city.  Kauffman Memorial Garden is a world-class botanical garden that looks like some medieval nobleman’s courtyard. It’s a favorite for wedding pictures.

Both were built in 2004 along with the Kauffman Foundation Conference Center. They are fast becoming two of the most cherished destinations in KC. Amazingly, all of this goodness costs the Kansas City taxpayer nothing, nor are people charged to use either of the two amenities. The Kauffman Foundation pays for these public amenities the same way it funds educational programs promoting entrepreneurship among disadvantaged youth — via voluntary contributions.

Krugman’s looking tired. Maybe he should take a walk in the park.

Exhibit 4: Private Public Radio

KCUR studios
Midtown Kansas City

7.1 miles (16 minutes)

As usual, as I drive today, I am listening to KCUR – 89.3 FM (Kansas City Public Media). The uniqueness of American public radio is underappreciated by libertarians: Whereas in most Western countries public radio is paid for via some sort of tax, in America, only 16% of its funding comes from government while a huge 39% comes from individual donations. The rest largely comes from charitable foundations and corporate benefactors. With such minuscule public funding, America’s public radio demonstrates that yet another public good arguably refutes what prevailing theory asserts about it.

Libertarians should make a point of contributing to public radio so as to raise the percentage of private funding even higher. We could easily see the day when all funding from taxation could be eliminated with no negative repercussions. By eliminating government involvement, NPR (National Public Radio) would only become more independent — and more secure: While the experts insist that the only way to guarantee the independent voice of public broadcasting to Americans is for government to provide it, according to NPR’s website, individual contributions are the most reliable source of funding in hard times!

Public radio gets my gift of support again this year. Paul Krugman gets a lump of coal.

Exhibit 5: Private Policing

Chesley Brown Security Vehicle
Midtown Kansas City

11.5 miles (16 minutes)

Photograph of a private security vehicle patrolling near The Plaza in Kansas City.

Chances are you feel safer at the grocery store or out on the town in recent years than you previously did. Well it’s not because we have more municipal police on the streets, but rather because we have more private security. Police are one of the standard examples cited as a public good not producible on the market.  Yet more and more, police forces are being supplemented by private security officers which can stand guard rather than simply respond after something bad happens — too late to help the victims.

In The Privatization of Police in America, James F. Pastor observes that private police now outnumber municipal police officers by as much as 4:1. Additionally, more support staff are employed, and the annual revenue of private security outstrips that of municipal police, as well:

Private policing has annual revenues over $52 billion with the industry employing 1.5 million people. In contrast, public police spend $30 billion with a workforce of approximately 600,000.

How is this possible? Stores and entertainment districts have an incentive to keep patrons safe as well as to protect their own property. Similarly, homeowners associations can better support property values by providing a safe environment while spreading the cost among the property owners. Just as with the public street I mentioned earlier, it won’t matter that non-residents benefit: if an HOA-contracted security service happens to deter rapists or muggers, thus protecting joggers in the surrounding neighborhood, it won’t cost the HOA any more.

So spill-over effects — what Krugman referred to in his blog post as “benefits not captured by the market” — are not the big problem experts claim they are. It’s a good thing that people who are not the intended objects of protection nevertheless benefit from the deterrence that protective services provide, and it won’t reduce the amount of services employed.

I chance on a good shot of a security vehicle. Judging by its proximity to both The Plaza and the Kauffman properties, I imagine its driver is probably patrolling for one of those organizations. Nevertheless, people who live close by benefit from the deterrence the roaming vehicle provides. Yet that fact has not stopped the client organization from contracting with the security company, despite what public goods theory predicts!

Go to jail, Paul Krugman. (Monopoly reference.)

Exhibit 6: Private Art Museums

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art
Midtown Kansas City

11.8 miles (17 minutes)

As with parks, museums are things we’d like folks not to have to pay for since we want as many people as possible to consume the knowledge and culture that such institutions conserve and expound. We want that because it betters our society.

But art is expensive, and so are the museums that house much of it. Cities like St. Louis, Chicago, and New York subsidize the expense so as to allow everyone admission at no cost. Like free parks, free museums fit the description of a public good to a T, because, by their very nature, they are non-excludable making them difficult to pay for.

If the experts are correct, it must be necessary to publicly fund art museums, as the cities listed above do. Except that that’s not what happens in Kansas City, where not just one, but two exceptional museums, not far from each other in KC’s Midtown area, defiantly remain privately owned, but nevertheless, free to the public.

The world renowned Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art has been around for 80 years and never cost the Kansas City citizenry a dime, either in taxes or entry fees.

Likewise, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art has not charged for use since its opening in 1994.

These museums — massively expensive as they are — are entirely funded by voluntary contributions: Large sums pledged each year by the well-to-do and corporate sponsors, and small gifts of dollars and loose change contributed by the people who give at the door.

The public goods argument belongs in a museum — a history museum.

Why They Get it Wrong

In some of the cases presented above, the difficulties for the market with regard to public goods was easily overcome — in hindsight.

To paraphrase a response by Richard Dawkins to skeptics of Darwinism, an appeal to your personal incredulity is not a strong argument against the market. The fact that economists sitting behind a desk or scribbling on a whiteboard can’t imagine how the market will get something done has nothing to do with whether it will.

But in the examples I found, it wasn’t always the market that got the job done: sometimes it was just good old civil society — the private sector rather than private enterprise — and always the result of human values, choices, and actions. In either case, government and taxation were not necessary.

As for cases where charity and philanthropy are the vehicles for providing public goods, one reason public goods theorists get it wrong, and assume people won’t do enough, is that they over extend the classical economist’s model of the self-interested rational actor, homo economicus.

That model helped illuminate the actions of the “businessman” as Ludwig von Mises explained;  but taken more broadly, it’s a bad caricature of a real human being. Unlike homo economicus, who wouldn’t lift a finger if it wouldn’t increase the value of his bank account, real people donate to help others or to fund a community undertaking they want to see accomplished. When they do, it is because they value others being better off or the success of a project, more than they value the money they contribute to that end.

But in order for people to voluntarily contribute to make society better, they have to have enough left over after other things are paid for. Since taxation reduces people’s expendable income, every government-provided public good reduces people’s ability to help voluntarily.

A Call to Action

Go out and find your own examples of privately provided goodness and punch some more holes in the the public goods argument. It’s fun and all too easy!

Thanks:
Ian Huyett, for introducing me to the concept of mutual aid societies.
Jeffrey Hull, for suggesting I change “Poking” to “Punching” in the title—just to add a little punch.
Erin Skornia, for letting me post photos of her irreverently running in a sprinkler at a cemetery.

Creative Commons License
“Punching Holes in the Public Goods Argument” by Tracey Zoeller , including all photography and illustrations, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

“Krugman Able to See at Last” by Tracey Zoeller is based on a photograph by 00Joshi on Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/00joshi/6331682723/.

Oh, the Monarchy!

“If you tremble with indignation at every injustice, then you are a comrade of mine.” –Che Guevara

“If you tremble with indignation at every injustice, then you are a comrade of mine.” –Che Guevara

Why did the internet left get so excited about the Duchess of Cambridge’s new baby? I have an answer.

As readers of this website are likely well aware, being a rebel is fun. And if I can think of one way in which leftists are at a disadvantage in modern political discourse, it’s that they don’t often get to be rebels. Today, after all, most powerful government institutions in the Western world have a decidedly left-wing character.

In the United States, only a minority of Democratic voters say it’s particularly important that we continue to have a Fourth Amendment. Where Republicans abandoned Bush en masse, most Democrats remain feverishly devoted to President Obama as he willfully expands Bush-era warrantless surveillance.

Likewise, more Americans now believe that “the First Amendment goes too far” than at any point since the months following 9/11. Who are these new opponents of free speech? They are predominantly left-wing, non-religious and young. To these nascent stormtroopers, your right to dissent is an impediment to social justice. 70% of liberals, for example, think that wedding musicians who personally object to same-sex marriage should be legally forced to go and perform at the weddings of same-sex couples who wish to hire them.

Presumably, the end goal is something like Europe. In Denmark, all churches, regardless of their beliefs, are required to host same-sex weddings.  The UK’s imperious left now jails its citizens for crimes like “revving [one’s] car in a racist manner.” Another way to be locked in a cell “for racism” is to complain to your middle school teacher that the other students assigned to your group project speak only Urdu.

Liberty is not being smothered in the flag – as was once predicted – but trampled beneath the Converse jackboots of tolerance.  Can police who jail schoolgirls for speech crimes be said to be in rebellion against a system of power? Not with a straight face.  The leftists-as-rebels narrative is just not believable: a dismal picture for any left-wingers who long for the rush of defying the powers that be.

Hard at work oppressing the proletariat.

Hard at work oppressing the proletariat.

But wait – here comes Kate Middleton’s baby to remind us all that the British monarchy still exists. To a leftist, the royals’ sins are a virtual compendium of all the evil in the world. The monarchy is traditional and, if history is linear, is committing a terrible crime merely by being so old. It’s also religious: Elizabeth II is the ceremonial head of the Church of England. It’s even a bit complementarian: the words “king” and “queen” sound nothing alike.  Perhaps worst of all: it’s relatively inexpensive and profitable. To the delight of nostalgic leftists, hungry for some tangible institution to oppose, the monarchy fits the bill.

Queue the fermenting bowels of the internet left. Having surveyed its reaction I’ll say, without getting into gruesome detail, that I saw that lovely Diderot epigram about the entrails of priests more times than I’d have liked. Perhaps the most widely circulated outburst was Gawker’s “Imprison the Royal Family and Abolish the Monarchy.”  The author of this column squeezes the royals for every drop of rebellion he can, stopping just short of saying we should euthanize the Queen’s corgis.

The piece revealed its underlying authoritarianism, however, when it called upon the UK to “burn the queen’s home to ground during a grand national celebration of the birth of a new society.”  The screed is emblazoned with an image glorifying the Jacobins, one of the most violently authoritarian regimes in the history of man. The Jacobin government drowned nuns for praying and beheaded people for using the word “monsieur.” As a libertarian, I will always work to decentralize power to whatever extent I can – but I would much rather live under British ceremony than whatever bloody utopia Gawker would install in its place.

The column’s strongest argument is that the royal family receives a great deal of money from taxpayers. Although Gawker grossly misrepresents the way this occurs, it is nonetheless true and objectionable. The Obama family, however, costs 20 times more than the royal family. The Daily Mail has noticed the irony:

Moreover, much of the money spent on Mr Obama’s family goes to perks such as entertainment and household expenses.

For example, the White House contains a movie theatre which is manned by projectionists 24 hours a day in case one of the family feels like a trip to the cinema.

And even the Obamas’ dog Bo costs the taxpayer thousands of dollars – his handler is reportedly paid over $100,000 a year…

226 members of Mr Obama’s staff are apparently paid over $100,000 – and the President can increase their salaries at any time.

I find it unlikely that Gawker has produced 20 times as much odium towards the Obama family as it has towards the British royals. For that matter, I find it unlikely that Gawker, in all its history, has directed against the Obamas even a comparable fraction of the hatred contained within this single column.

As long as he doesn’t take any corgis.

As long as he doesn’t take any corgis.

“But,” I hear you protest, “a majority of Americans voted for Barack Obama – and, by extension, his family. Isn’t that different?” Well, although Britain still locks people in jail for expressing opinions, republicanism has not been one of those opinions for some time. A famous political pressure group, Republic, has been calling for the abolition of the monarchy since 1983.

Britons have had plenty of opportunity to elect these republicans and then abolish the Crown by referendum. Yet modern polls consistently find that around 80% of Britons want to continue having a monarchy, with only 13% committed to abolishing it. I fail to see, then, how Britain’s opulence is any less democratic than ours.

On the other hand, Britain’s government has led our own in intrusive and sweeping surveillance. Britons are monitored by millions of CCTV cameras; the nation was already “the most surveilled country” in 2006. With an army deployed in more than 80 countries around the world, it is also one of the most interventionist nations on earth.

I am suspicious of anyone who weighs in on British politics to condemn the indignities of the nation’s symbolic monarchy but ignores ascending assaults on liberty and life. This selective moral outrage confirms the left’s prioritization of equality above liberty. Moreover, it reflects the left’s desire to reclaim something it’s rightly lost: its image of defiance.

Liberals Unmoved by Zimmerman Facts

In the minds of liberals (by which I mean those trying to instigate a racial dispute, not all liberals), the facts of the case and Zimmerman’s legal defense are not those presented in court, but what was imagined well over a year ago.

  • Trayvon Martin, an innocent unarmed honors student who happens to be black, makes a trip to the convenience store for a snack of tea and Skittles.
  • An angry white man, who aspired to be a police officer, saw a hooded young black person and, for no reason apart from his own biases, assumed the individual was up to no good in this almost exclusively white neighborhood.  This same angry white man had been arrested multiple times, having fought with his wife and even with police officers; however, his father was a judge, so he was able to make the charges disappear.
  • The angry white man proceeded to follow the youth in his car, and, when Trayvon tried to get away, Zimmerman eventually got out of the car to confront Trayvon.  A scuffle ensued, probably due to Zimmerman’s temper and bigotry.  Trayvon begged for help, and Zimmerman shot him dead.
  • Zimmerman’s only justification was that he ‘felt threatened,’ and, under Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law, this alone allows you to kill a person with a gun.”

martyrdom

It didn’t take long  for people to realize he might be partly, or even mostly, Caucasian, but he’s not what most people would call white. Beginning to stop calling him white would have ruined the narrative before it even got off the ground, so it was decided to call him a white Hispanic.

I’m not sure if this information came out previously, but this was the link I read when someone first mentioned Zimmerman’s past to me.

It shows the mug shot photo that was frequently juxtaposed with a picture of Trayvon from his younger high-school years.  No surprise there.

I had never heard of rollingout.com before, but at least they corrected themselves and said it was one arrest. They also acknowledged that the case didn’t magically disappear; Zimmerman completed a diversion program that I imagine was arranged in open court and available to anyone, not just the family members of judges.  Without any evidence, the site posited the question about Zimmerman’s father possible acting on his son’s behalf to get the charges dismissed.  I think Stephen Colbert, who of course generally makes fun of conservatives in doing so, has demonstrated how silly the “I’m just asking questions” approach is.  They’re deliberately designed to plant a thought.

Why else is this significant?  Well, I’ll tell you why: most underprivileged youths don’t have fathers for judges.  Even though Zimmerman is Hispanic, as a “white Hispanic” with a father as a judge, he can’t possibly be in the underprivileged category.  So that puts him in the privileged category with all the other whites.

A liberal I know from a Facebook group actually stated that Zimmerman’s place in the societal power structure, combined with his actions against black people, made him white even if his background did not.  Combatting blacks is a way to show the whites that you have joined them, apparently.

To discuss what he actually is, Zimmerman’s father may be a white ethnic Jew, but the only people who seem to have a vested interest in this topic are Jews and anti-Semites.  It’s safe to say that Zimmerman has substantial ancestry that does not originate from Europe.  As one of the blogs I will link to mentioned, would this story have even made news if Zimmerman were named Jorge Mesa or something similar?  Probably not even if his mother were a judge named Zimmerman.

Obama stated if he had a son, the son would look like Trayvon, but whether that’s true or not, I wonder if his life might have had more in common with Zimmerman’s due to having a mother and father of clearly different ethnicities.

There is extensive evidence that Zimmerman was not racist, including tutoring black kids and defending a black homeless man who was beaten by a police officer, but because he once complained (on Myspace) about Mexicans walking along the roadway, that confirms all the preconceived notions of racism.  Of course, there is no reason to believe that he would not have commented on it in the same way that if the same activity was being carried out by half-Jew/half-Peruvians .

pVqDQEXOf course, he didn’t suggest any desire to commit any crimes, as Trayvon had done multiple times in social media (including mention of fights, seeking to procure a gun illegally, and mention of taking and seeking drugs, including “lean”, which can be made with sugary drinks and candy such as what he had purchased).  Trayvon had also been suspended from school for having material with marijuana residue on it. This is why he was in Sanford rather than Miami.  Had he lived in Sanford full-time or had his father been with the girlfriend (whose house Trayvon was going toward) for a long period of time, Trayvon and Zimmerman probably would have been acquainted, and there would not have been a confrontation.  I don’t know what his grades were, but that’s hardly prototypical honors student behavior.

The final element to debunk is “stand your ground”, which only modified the common law theory regarding retreat. It used to be that self-defense could only be invoked once the party asserting it had retreated until he could no longer retreat (“retreat to the wall” was the phrase I learned in law school).  It isn’t some manufactured right to attack people arising because you think they look suspicious or have bad vibes.   Also, it has shown to be a mechanism that actually often helps black people stay out of jail, which should be a good thing if you really care about black people suffering for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  

Regardless, it was not relevant as they were both on the ground, and Trayvon apparently got a superior position where he was able to strike Zimmerman’s head on the concrete after breaking his nose.  Trayvon had no apparent injuries, not even bruises, apart from the gunshot wound.  Anyway, Zimmerman’s posture of lying on the ground is the relevant time period, because only then did he produce the pistol.  Zimmerman says that Trayvon reached for it first after telling Zimmerman he was going to die, but, even if none of that was true, there was still no option to retreat.  It’s far-fetched to believe that Zimmerman had a superior position at some point where he could have just ended it and withdrawn.  Such a scenario would not only have to be believable, it would have to be established beyond a reasonable doubt in order to overcome the self-defense argument.

Also, to be clear, “stand your ground” was not an issue in the trial.

Some of those who admit “stand your ground” was irrelevant to the case are still claiming that it caused Zimmerman not to get arrested or prosecuted by local officials.  Maybe in a retreat jurisdiction, he would have, but it’s also quite possible that the police and prosecutors would have thought self-defense without more evidence would have been too difficult a defense to overcome.

I mention more evidence for a reason. As O’Mara pointed out to Al Sharpton, making an arrest starts the clock on bringing someone to trial. I believe he said it was six months–I suppose Zimmerman didn’t insist upon that time frame (he was booked on April 11, 2012).  Regardless, you don’t want to start the clock unless you’re comfortable that the evidence is there.  A lot of what media and politically motivated commentators thought would be there in terms of evidence didn’t materialize.  Also, there could have been great evidence out there that just didn’t come out yet.  If Zimmerman had been arrested that night, and there were no time waivers, and he went to trial in August of last year, any information found out after that point would have been useless.  He would have already been tried.

I don’t know if this is serious or not, but it demonstrates how easily this could have gone in the other direction.  What if Trayvon’s remarks to Rachel Jeantel about Zimmerman were construed as anti-gay bias?  Couldn’t special interests and the left-leaning media have woven a narrative around that?  If they hadn’t chosen one already, that is.

piers-larry-elderSpeaking of sticking with a narrative, one of the most revealing conversations I’ve seen about this matter was between Piers Morgan and Larry Elder.  This isn’t surprising coming from him, but Morgan did admit that he thinks Zimmerman should be punished because he killed a person with a gun, no matter the reasons or circumstances.  Then he pretended to care about how many blacks die in Chicago.  I wonder how many of their names Piers knew or how many interview guests he’s had on who happened to be the last person to speak to any of them on a phone.  Larry Elder wasn’t a very cooperative guest, but that’s the only way to counter how Morgan runs his show.  He wanted to dwell on Jeantel’s intelligence (or lack thereof), when what does that have to do with the problems of black kids dying, if that really is what Morgan cares about?  What does that even have to do with disarming Americans, which seems to be Morgan’s primary cause in life?  But more important than that, whether we’re talking about Morgan or Sharpton or even Obama, it’s just about keeping the sideshow going and treating adults (especially black ones) like children.

I’ll leave you with what that radical tea partier Jimmy Carter had to say about the verdict, despite an interviewer desperately prompting him to validate liberal concerns of racism:

“I think the jury made the right decision based on the evidence presented because the prosecution inadvertently set the standard so high that the jury had to be convinced that it was a deliberate act by Zimmerman and that he was not at all defending himself,” Carter said.

“It’s not a moral question,” he continued, “it was a legal question and the American law requires that the jury listens to the evidence presented.”

What Conservatism Offers Liberty

“The conjunction of ruling and dreaming generates tyranny.”
Michael Oakeshott

Fictional libertarian Ron Swanson has become a TV icon.

The fictional Swanson has become a TV icon.

Recently, I had the great pleasure of attending a lecture by political scientist Donald J. Devine. Though the talk was my introduction to Devine’s work, the “Rasputin of reduction” has quickly become one of my personal heroes.

As Reagan’s civil service director, Devine was the original Ron Swanson: a stalwart libertarian placed at the head of a bloated bureaucracy. During his tenure as director, Devine slashed his office’s spending by 58% and fired one hundred thousand public employees. Taking an axe to government earned Devine several colorful monikers, including “Reagan’s terrible swift sword.”

In light of Devine’s actions, it’s a wonder why any libertarians say that Reagan’s administration was no better than Obama’s. Under the latter, IRS agents have spent some tens of thousands of dollars building a mockup starship Enterprise, violated government rules by booking top-dollar presidential suites, and hired costly speakers to lecture on subjects like “leadership through art.” This is precisely the sort of frivolity that Reagan’s sword would have razed.

Moreover, Devine’s latest book, “America’s Way Back,” has earned some revealing praise from Rand Paul. The senator has said that “Devine spells out the solution for the modern GOP – a fusion of the best of conservative ideas with those of the liberty movement.”

Rand Paul has been called “the effective leader of the Republican Party” by a prominent Democratic strategist.

Rand Paul has been called “the effective leader of the Republican Party” by a prominent Democratic strategist.

It’s not a coincidence that Senator Paul both identifies with Devine and has been recognized as “the effective leader of the Republican Party.” It’s thinking like Devine’s that enabled liberty-minded Republicans to surf into the House and Senate in a Tea Party tsunami in 2010. Conversely, the liberty movement’s alternative strategy – described as the “cosmotarian” approach by Justin Raimondo – has won no equivalent victories.

The futile overtures of the cosmotarians often involve abandoning libertarian positions in favor of leftist ones. Months ago, for instance, the chairman of the Cato Institute went so far as to offer a “libertarian case” for reintroducing an already defeated piece of gun control legislation.

Yet the strategy espoused by Dr. Devine and championed by Senator Paul requires nothing of the kind.* On the contrary, a brief survey of conservative thought reveals that it ultimately serves to strengthen and underpin the positions that libertarians already hold.

Cynicism

It’s no secret that the left perceives its every political victory as part of mankind’s linear and inexorable march into the light. Nor is it any mystery why. The left must disdain the past because most every serious thinker in human history to date would, today, be called a conservative.

In the words of Jonah Goldberg, “modern conservatism was born as a reaction to various utopian ideologies” that emerged in the 18th century. In the grand sweep of history, leftism is a particularly nasty rash that, only last week, cropped up on the body of human thought.

Russell Kirk wrote “To seek for utopia is to end in disaster, the conservative says: we are not made for perfect things.”

Russell Kirk wrote “To seek for utopia is to end in disaster, the conservative says: we are not made for perfect things.”

Thomas Sowell has suggested that the left originated when Rousseau first denied “the plain fact of evil.” That is, Rousseau advanced the biologically absurd position that humans have no innate behavioral traits: all of our differences and failings are the result of outside circumstance. From Rousseau’s premise, France’s Jacobin government inferred – quite reasonably – that it could perfect humanity by amassing enough sheer power to properly manipulate social conditions.

Yet, as Murray Rothbard would later note, this premise ignored the “ontological structure of reality.” The resulting Reign of Terror killed tens of thousands of people.

By denying the very “structure of reality,” leftism provides a bottomless justification for government violence. If everyone is the same by default, then any inequality is proof that someone has committed fraud or theft. To a leftist, government force is not initiatory violence, but the defensive appropriation of stolen property. Thus, “scratch an egalitarian, and you will inevitably find a statist.”

A leftist never quite runs out of people to kill.

A leftist never quite runs out of people to kill.

In the 20th century, this statism was borne out in full as communism blossomed across Europe and Asia. According to University of Hawaii professor R.J. Rummel, communists murdered nearly two thirds of all those killed by governments from 1900 to 1987.

This makes leftism the bloodiest and most authoritarian doctrine in the history of mankind. In the words of Russell Kirk, “the ideologues who promise the perfection of man and society have converted a great part of the twentieth-century world into a terrestrial hell.”

The conservative, by contrast, recognizes that humanity is fallen. Because people have intrinsic limitations, Kirk wrote, “all that we reasonably can expect is a tolerably ordered, just, and free society, in which some evils, maladjustments, and suffering will continue to lurk.” Pretending otherwise causes even more problems than we had to begin with.

The Parable of the Trees warns against political power.

The Parable of the Trees warns against political power.

If mankind is perfectible, the war on drugs has not gone far enough until there are no drug addicts. The war on prostitution has not gone far enough until no women choose to be prostitutes. “Humanitarian wars” have not been waged enough until there are no more Joseph Konys.

In other words, a state that abandons the principle of imperfectability will continue to grow either until it is stopped or no humans are left alive on Earth. To borrow from C.S. Lewis – who said that “it may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies” – the very worst right-wingers are robber barons.

While Friedrich Hayek had rhetorical problems with the term “conservative,” he called himself a “Burkean” – i.e. a conservative – and shared Burke’s objections to egalitarianism. Hayek wrote:

From the fact that people are very different it follows that, if we treat them equally, the result must be inequality in their actual position, and that the only way to place them in an equal position would be to treat them differently. Equality before the law and material equality are therefore not only different but are in conflict with each other; and we can achieve either one or the other, but not both at the same time.

Moreover, even if some sort of perfection were attainable, a conservative would not trust government to implement it. While a leftist may expect moral people to spring forth from democratic institutions, a conservative sees that politicians are as limited as the rest of us.

Kirk wrote that “knowing human nature for a mixture of good and evil, the conservative does not put his trust in mere benevolence.” Likewise, the biblical Parable of the Trees (Judges 9:8-15) warns against offering human beings power – arguing that the most evil humans will be most attracted to it. By contrast, the righteous leader Gideon rejects government in Judges 8:22-23, saying “I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the Lord shall rule over you.”

Cicero said “freedom is a man’s natural power of doing what he pleases, so far as he is not prevented by force or law.”

Cicero said “freedom is a man’s natural power of doing what he pleases, so far as he is not prevented by force or law.”

Continuity

Kirk’s conservative principles also included the sense that “modern people are dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, able to see farther than their ancestors only because of the great stature of those who have preceded us in time.” He wrote that conservatives adhere to “a long social experience, the result of centuries of trial and reflection and sacrifice.”

This principle is certainly helpful to political decentralism, which has deep and ancient roots. Humans lived in tribes of roughly 200 people for the overwhelming majority of a timeline on which centralized states are a mere blip. Conservatism counsels us to stand “on the shoulders of giants” rather than pretend that we can create a wholly artificial pattern from scratch.

A human thinks in terms of his immediate community and is not wired to conceptualize strangers in other regions as if they, somehow, were members of it. There is little reason, then, to place disparate communities under the uniform rule of an overarching government. Kirk agrees: “In a genuine community, the decisions most directly affecting the lives of citizens are made locally and voluntarily.”

Iceland had a libertarian legal system for almost 300 years.

Iceland had a libertarian legal system for almost 300 years.

Likewise, Yale historian Donald Kagan has said of ancient Greek polities that “the idea of taxation being normal would have gotten a Greek foaming at the mouth. When there’s no tyranny, there’s no taxation.” University of London historian Tom Asbridge has said that, during the Carolingian renaissance, Europeans were allowed “to follow quite different sets of laws depending on their local region, their traditions. And to have a loose umbrella of power that held it all together. That actually worked.” In Iceland, the nation was formally divided into a market of several dozen chieftaincies for nearly 300 years.

As Roderick Long has said of this final example, “We should be cautious in labeling as a failure a political experiment that flourished longer than the United States has even existed.”

Community

One of Australia’s top Aboriginal leaders is also its fiercest conservative thinker.

One of Australia’s top Aboriginal leaders is also its fiercest conservative thinker.

Look back to the Jacobins, and it’s not difficult to see today’s tolerant left foreshadowed. Under Jacobin rule, religious people were seen as backwards “fanatics” and drowned en masse. The government replaced the Christian calendar with a secular one, removed the word “saint” from street names, and adopted a 10-day week so that Christians would not know which day was Sunday.

Likewise, it became a capital crime to use the words “monsieur” and “madame” – which the Jacobins replaced with the gender-neutral and egalitarian “citoyen.” Even the guillotine itself was designed to be egalitarian.**

Inspired by the Jacobins, Karl Marx would later seek to bring about “the disappearance of all culture” and promote the “abolition of the family”, a unit that “will vanish as a matter of course when its complement [capitalism] vanishes.”

In response to leftist calls for human sameness, conservatives like Edmund Burke began to argue that plurality, in and of itself, is desirable.

Localizing government not only increases accountability, but promotes differences between communities that – like those between cultures, the sexes and individuals – are complimentary and competitive.

In his essay “The Relevance of Conservatism,” Noel Pearson argues that conservatism offers the best way forward for his people – Australian Aborigines – and the continued existence of their unique culture. Writes Pearson:

Conservatism is the insight into the imperfection and mystery of human nature. This imperfection and mystery will ultimately make liberal and social-democratic structures inadequate and unfulfilling.

Conservatism is the idea that distinct groups of people should continue to exist because deep difference (not just multicultural diversity) is an end in itself. We don’t know what the purpose of existence is, if any. The homogenization inherent in liberalism and social democracy is risky because it robs us of many possibly attempts to answer the unsolvable existential enigmas.


* FAQ on this point: See here for immigration and here for foreign policy and social issues.

** This was poetically fitting. As the Reign of Terror illustrated, there is death in equality as surely as there is equality in death.

The Left-Libertarian Pot of Gold

For the past three years, an ardent faction of libertarian Democrats has wreaked havoc on the D.C. establishment.

By grounding their libertarianism in progressive principles, these “Wacko Birds” have successfully shifted the Democratic mainstream towards liberty.

Their rebellion even seems to have influenced Joe Biden, who recently lamented that “our government spied on every one of your phone calls” and decried the notion that we should be “taking on more new interventions” in places like Syria.

Sorry: there is no pot of libertarians at the end of the liberal rainbow.

Sorry: there is no pot of libertarians at the end of the liberal rainbow.

This is, needless to say, mind-bogglingly wrong. This story is not only false, but the mirror opposite of what is actually occurring.

Some elements of the liberty movement, however, continue to regard the reversal I’ve just presented as more attainable than the actual trend unfolding in front of our faces. This vision is the sort of surreal inversion that can only be produced in the comfort of an internet echo-chamber.

In reality, it takes minutes to convince most conservatives that we should not raise taxes to protect drug users from their private mistakes. Convincing most liberals to let you own an automatic weapon, on the other hand, is a fool’s errand. The disparity is so obvious that I suspect people who don’t recognize it are not really having these conversations in their daily lives.

If the thought of “Wacko Birds” taking flight in today’s Democratic party strikes you as less than ludicrous, it’s time to take a break from blogging and start having more face-to-face conversations about libertarianism.

Unlike Bush, Obama’s approval rating has weathered scandal after scandal.

Unlike Bush, Obama’s approval rating has weathered scandal after scandal.

George Bush spent less on the military and spied on fewer Americans than President Obama. Yet, during Bush’s second term, Republicans responded to his big government policies with mass disillusionment – leaving him with an approval rating of 22% and making him the most unpopular president on record. Conversely, amidst an almost cinematic barrage of ridiculous scandals, the left continues to cling feverishly to the pillars of power.

Glenn Greenwald recently called the fact that liberals have stuck with Obama “a testament to their intellectual dexterity.” At the heart of this dexterity is an ideological addiction to force. Leftism casts aggression as defense: that’s why it has been the predominant ideology of authoritarian despots for a hundred years.

Libertarians, nonetheless, have been making overtures to the left since the early 90s. Curiously, this approach often seems to involve stabbing other libertarians in the back. In 1994, the San Francisco Libertarian Party criticized Justin Raimondo for campaigning against welfare. During Ron Paul’s first GOP presidential run, the Cato Institute eagerly disparaged him on the grounds that he appealed to flyover state retrogrades. More recently, of course, Cato came out in favor of gun background checks – compromising the one liberty upon which all others are ultimately dependent.

Where, I ask, are the fruits of this strategy? It has not produced a Rand Paul or a Mike Lee in the Senate, nor a Thomas Massie or a Justin Amash in the House.  Ron Wyden – the only Democrat to aid Rand Paul’s filibuster (albeit in a very brief and noncommittal way) – will never be called “the effective leader of the [Democratic] party.” The liberty movement’s recent victories have been won not because of the leftist strategy, but in spite of it.

There are, of course, potential libertarians to be found everywhere. But if the liberty movement wishes to become a viable political force, we must embrace a strategy that yields real results in the generality – even if it doesn’t necessarily mirror our own individual experiences as post-9/11 teenagers.

Lost Identity

When it comes to living and breathing politics, it becomes extremely hard to keep yourself from screaming at the top of your lungs. The web that our political system weaves in this country is complex and really starts to drag you down.

Lately, when getting involved with the Republican Party in my lovely state of Illinois, I realized why the party is failing in our state. It’s the ridiculous amounts of Republican ideologies that have started to fight  each other for a “power grab”. The Republican party has basically lost its identity and footing in understanding how to truly grab hold of voters. Before I ran for Precinct Committeeman, one of my college professors gave me something to think about; he told me to get involved, experience the system, change things, but always stay true to myself. I promised him I would stay true to myself and realized that it’s the hardest way to enter politics. Everything I do has to be logically thought out and reflected on myself before I create any sort of play in the game. The problem is when you start meeting and working with other people. Everyone is battling against each other for some kind of recognition, some kind of advancement that will benefit themselves and what they believe. They don’t play fair, like they teach you to do in Kindergarten ,and they want to accomplish what they need to by saying or being whatever will make it happen. I think my problem is that I’m not looking for recognition, advancement for myself, or to make people believe in words that come out of my mouth. I want to teach people to formulate their own opinions, while looking at the bigger picture. I want to put my blood into what I work towards because that’s one thing I can state is true to who I am. When you start working with people who selfishly care for the advancement of themselves and their followers, you see the holes in their work. Usually it’s half-assed and covered with a trail of money that will be disputed among the enemies they created by not understanding the terminology of true teamwork.

The Republican Party in my state likes to create sheep and destroy those that question what is currently going on. This is where members of grassroots small-government ideologies, like the Liberty and Tea Party movements, get annihilated by the establishment Republicans in the room. The GOP needs to realize the power in coming together on true issues that affect the citizens. Does the party ever realize that the sole reason they are in power is because of the voters? Usually they only recognize citizens when the votes to get elected matter, and schmooze them like a used car salesmen. The rest of the time, everyone fights back and forth to advance their opinion and themselves. Then you wonder why people have become fed up with our political system. The selfishness  that has engulfed the Republican Party has completely destroyed the identity that was originally created. The only way they can start to make a difference is recognizing how to truly sell a stance, get a community involved, and connect with the voters in a way that will make them want to understand what is happening to their country. The right change starts with incorporating technology and education within our county parties. Becoming a tactful group of people, speaking softly while carrying a big stick, and using true teamwork with proper leadership qualities will strengthen us.

The frustration I have is that achieving that “utopia” will probably not happen in my lifetime. Trying to clean up that complex web of stubbornness almost seems impossible. Then I realized that I can’t clean it all up at once, or by myself for that matter. The great leaders throughout history realized the inefficiency of working alone. They created these little groups in one big tent, but only the select few realize the value of the working as a united group. This is the opportunity of the Liberty movement to bring back the founding principles to the Republican Party. Not with fighting or taking over the GOP, but by uniting the party’s core beliefs in our Constitution.  It all starts with getting involved in your community and local government, educating, and spreading the word right in your neighborhood. Then the trees planted will start to grow.

The Feinstein Abyss

“If you gaze long enough into the abyss,
[Dianne Feinstein] will gaze back into you.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

dianne_feinstein_shadows_AP

I suspect that, until Monday, I still harbored a naive vestige of belief in “the Free World.”

Some part of me, I think, continued to imagine that an impassable moral wall separated the United States from, say, Henry VII’s England.

As I stumbled across the following snippet on Breitbart, however, I was overcome with a sudden gloom. In that gloom, I felt my last spark of authoritarian optimism die.

On Monday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) called Edward Snowden, the man who leaked secrets about National Security Agency surveillance of Americans to the press, a traitor. She told the press, “I don’t look at this as being a whistleblower. I think it’s an act of treason.”

… “He violated the oath, he violated the law. That’s treason.”

Treason can carry the death penalty.

Let’s quickly review the facts of this case.

  • The NSA’s court order was issued by FISC, a kangaroo court that rubber-stamps 99.97% of surveillance requests.
  • The sweeping order requires Verizon to give all of its phone records to the NSA on “an ongoing, daily basis.”*
  • Either one of the above facts tells us that asking for court approval at all was little more than a farcical formality.
  • The order is an obnoxious violation of the Fourth Amendment, which requires probable cause for a seizure.
  • The order was classified – preventing the rest of us from knowing that it was unconstitutional.

Democratic Lawmakers Introduce Assault Weapons Ban of 2013 LegislationThe facts of this case are so outrageous that even John McCain has criticized FISA, saying that “the burden of proof should be on the government.” Yet Feinstein’s worldview is different: she does not think that there is a burden of proof at all. Leaking FISA’s decision was the only way to make it accountable to anyone – and Snowden committed “an act of treason” by doing so.

Suppose that a president issued a classified executive order calling for the arrest of his political opponents. Applied with any consistency, Feinstein’s legal thinking would bring us to the same conclusion: secrecy should take undisputed precedence over constitutionality. In order for there to be any debate about the order anywhere, a sacrificial goat would first have to commit treason and risk death.

Feinstein’s disgusting premises proscribe even the vaguest semblance of republicanism. She believes in obscurity for the sake of law and law for the sake of itself.

The Senator is not the only leader of the hang-the-traitor crowd. She is joined by, among others, the quintessentially RINO John Boehner and the viscerally repellant Lindsay Graham.

Yet Feinstein differs from her autocratic colleagues in one critical way: both Boehner and Graham have – believe it or not – reasonable records on the Second Amendment. While all three would allow a future dictator to hijack our government with maximum ease, Boehner and Graham would at least permit us to defend ourselves against him. The Senator from California, conversely, would have us all stand helplessly before an infinitely unaccountable oblivion.

Dianne Feinstein has been a Senator since 1992. That our government is a place where so evil a creature can flourish ought to speak forebodingly about how endemically and hopelessly foul we’ve allowed it to become.


*Months ago, the NSA assured us that it was not collecting any data at all on millions of Americans. This lie leaves us with little reason to trust whatever reassurances the agency might give us moving forward.

Who Cares About Privacy Anyway?

Absolute monarchs are but men… I desire to know what kind of government that is, and how much better it is than the state of nature, where one man, commanding a multitude, has the liberty to be judge in his own case, and may do to all his subjects whatever he pleases, without the least liberty to any one to question or control those who execute his pleasure and in whatsoever he doth, whether led by reason, mistake or passion, must be submitted to.” (John Locke, Second Treatise on Civil Government, emphasis added).

By now, most readers are probably familiar with the evolving scandal involving the National Security Agency’s surveillance program and the release of Verizon phone records. Today, President Obama tried to reassure the nation that the program is seriously no big deal, guys, and we are all being just way too crazy about all of this.

“It’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100% security and also then have 100% privacy and zero inconvenience. “If people can’t trust not only the executive branch, but also don’t trust Congress and don’t trust federal judges to make sure that we’re abiding by the Constitution, due process, and rule of law, then we’re going to have some problems here.” (source)

So, in other words, if I don’t trust the government not to trounce on my liberties when given the opportunity, I’m going to have some problems?

I’ll say!

John Locke is judging you, President Obama.

In addition to reassuring Americans that it’s really okay if the government is seizing your phone records, because they have the best of intentions, Obama also managed to deliver some funny-if-it-weren’t-so-sad doublespeak, reassuring Americans that the programs aren’t “secret,” they’re “classified.” He continued, asserting that Americans don’t need to know the daily workings of homeland security anyway.

Whew! Where do I even begin?

First of all, I am pleased to see that many mainstream liberals are calling the President out for his ridiculously unsatisfying reasoning. Sadly, not everyone feels the same way. Amidst the chorus of intellectual gymnastics that many are going through to justify this, the familiar chorus of “who cares about privacy if you’ve got nothing to hide?” has become sadly common.

Privacy is at the heart of American liberty. We are, at our core, individualists. Although our constitution doesn’t specifically grant us a right to privacy, the underlying message of much of the language of our founding documents is that there are areas into which the government does not intrude, unless absolutely necessary. The fourth amendment in particular discusses the concept of ownership – and how the government shouldn’t intrude on people’s personal effects without warrants “particularly describing the place to be searched.” The fact that we have to defend the idea of personal privacy in the face of “who cares about privacy?” is really, frankly, quite sad. We shouldn’t even have to be defending against this asinine response.

“Who cares about privacy anyway?” – Alexander Hamilton [citation needed]

Now, I am one of those slightly more “statist” libertarians who believes that there is some validity to keeping sensitive information secret. I don’t think we need to know the daily workings of homeland security, the police, or the military as long as said activities aren’t actively infringing on our rights. That seems to be the point that the President and his apologists are missing here.

Of course, none of this is as ludicrous as the idea that the validity of power is based on whether someone has good intentions. I feel that John Locke’s quote that opens this article can also be applied even when the leader is not quite a monarch. The very reason that this system of government was created was for it to be “a government of laws, not of men.” We have The Rule of Law precisely so we don’t have to rely on the virtue of imperfect men and women. Regardless of whether the whims of the individual leader are based on “reason, mistake or passion,” or “balancing security and privacy,” I would rather rely on the Constitution. It is disappointing that this is anything less than obvious.