The Lesson of Alfie Evans

Alfie Evans, though he is probably doomed to die because of his physical ailment, deserves a better end than the one that government of Britain has decreed for him. This tone of this post is relatively calm compared to the black rage that I feel on behalf of Alfie and his parents.

When the state becomes your health-care provider, the state can kill you without benefit of a trial. It would be known as involuntary euthanasia were it not for the fact that the act of murder is passive rather than active.

When the state controls the output of a product or service, that product or service must be rationed. The state has no other way to respond to consumer demand. It is not a business competing for customers; drawing on available resources to respond to demand; or taking risks that may yield a profit (the reward for success) or a loss (the penalty for failure). It is just a machine dictating the rate at which the products and services under its control will be provided, and — with the help of algorithms and favoritism — determining for whom they will be provided. The state certainly doesn’t create supply in response to demand. In fact, it stifles supply with its often-ridiculously low reimbursement rates and onerous regulations. The state has no business being in business. It certainly has no business being in the health-care business.

But when, like Alfie’s parents, you challenge the state’s authority is such matters, you can’t expect compassion or flexibility. The rules are the rules, and a relaxation of the rules would call into question the authority upon which the state relies to maintain its monopoly power. If Alfie Evans were allowed treatment in another country, what would that say about the state of health care in Britain? Well, what it would say is what observant people around the world have known for decades: Britain’s National Health Service is a crime, wrapped in a bureaucracy, inside a pseudo-egalitarian facade.

Socialized medicine is of a piece with other examples of magical thinking, which abounds on the left; for example:

  • There can be a single-payer system of health care without “death panels”. (The case at hand.)
  • Women can do everything that men can do, but it doesn’t work the other way … just because.
  • Mothers can work outside the home without damage to their children.
  • Race is a “social construct”; there is no such thing as intelligence; women and men are mentally and physically equal in all respects; and the under-representation of women and blacks in certain fields is therefore due to rank discrimination (but it’s all right if blacks dominate certain sports and women now far outnumber men on college campuses).
  • A minimum wage can be imposed without an increase in unemployment.
  • Taxes can be raised without discouraging investment and therefore reducing the rate of economic growth.
  • Peace can be had without preparedness for war. (A reality that most British leaders ignored in the 1930s, despite Churchill’s warnings.)
  • Regulation doesn’t reduce the rate of economic growth and foster “crony capitalism”. There can “free lunches” all around.
  • Health insurance premiums will go down while the number of mandates is increased.
  • The economy can be stimulated through the action of the Keynesian multiplier, which is nothing but phony math.
  • “Green” programs create jobs (but only because they are inefficient).
  • Every “right” under the sun can be granted without cost (e.g., affirmative action racial-hiring quotas, which penalize blameless whites; the Social Security Ponzi scheme, which burdens today’s workers and cuts into growth-inducing saving).

Why do such fallacies persist, and so often dictate state action? To round out the psychological profile of leftism, one must add to magical thinking the closely related nirvana fallacy (hypothetical perfect is always better than feasible reality); large doses of neurotic hysteria (e.g., the overpopulation fears of Paul Ehrlich, the AGW hoax of Al Gore et al.); and adolescent rebellion (e.g., the post-election tantrum-riots of 2016).

The rhetoric of leftism — when it is not downright hateful toward non-leftists — has wide appeal because to adopt it for one’s own and to echo it is to make oneself feel kind, caring, generous — and powerful — at a stroke. It matters not whether the policies that flow from leftist rhetoric actually make others better off. The important things, to a leftist, are how he feels about himself and how others perceive him.

It is easy for a leftist to seem kinder, more caring, and more generous than his conservative and libertarian brethren because a leftist focuses on intentions rather than consequences. No matter that the consequences of leftist dogma could match their stated intentions only if Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy ruled the world.

In the leftist’s imagination, of course, government is Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. Government, despite the fact that it consists of venal and fallible humans, somehow (in the leftist’s imagination) wields powers that enable it to make “good” things happen with the stroke of a pen and at no cost. Or only at the expense of the despised “rich”, even though most of them, it seems, are elite leftists.


Related reading: David French, “Alfie Evans Foreshadows a Dark American Future“, National Review, April 26, 2018


Related posts:
Rationing and Health Care
The Perils of Nannyism: The Case of Obamacare
More about the Perils of Obamacare
Health-Care Reform: The Short of It
Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
Ruminations on the Left in America
God-Like Minds
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
The Left and Violence
Leftism
Leftism As Crypto-Fascism: The Google Paradigm
“Tribalists”, “Haters”, and Psychological Projection
Utopianism, Leftism, and Dictatorship
Social Norms, the Left, and Social Disintegration

Social Norms, the Left, and Social Disintegration

Leftists like to taunt conservatives by saying that it is “conservative” to accept the status quo. But leftists know that the much of the status quo was attained by applying the power of the state to override a status quo that resulted from voluntary interactions among people. To question the new status quo becomes an occasion for official abuse (e.g., Mike Pompeo), or for levying civil and criminal penalties against the questioner (e.g., Jack Phillips).

Michael J. Totten has issued a useful reminder about the facts of life under leftitst totalitarianism:

As Christopher Hitchens once said of North Korea, communist states are places where everything that isn’t absolutely compulsory is absolutely forbidden. Mounting any kind of resistance against them is nearly impossible unless and until the state loses its will to continue.

And if you believe that today’s American leftists aren’t totalitarians at heart, I urge you to read this and this.

How did we get here? In addition to the raw exercise of political power, the left has deployed a clever gambit, which some libertarians have adopted in all seriousness because of their inability to see that social norms underlie liberty. (More about that below.) The gambit is to argue for the normalization of behavior that would otherwise be socially discouraged or illegal (e.g., homosexuality, pot-smoking, and worse) because it “just comes naturally”. Why, leftists and libertarians ask, should “natural acts” be discouraged or penalized?

The “natural act” defense is shallow and diversionary. Anything that a person can do is a “natural act” — literally. Such acts include not only murder — which leftists are loath to punish properly — but also various forms of “sexual misconduct”. This is a new, amorphous category of crime which encompasses almost any kind of behavior frowned on by strident feminists and the eunuchs who worship at their feet. It is a “crime” which leftists are quick to punish without benefit of due process.

In that regard, given the nature of the male human being, what is more natural than an attempt to flirt with an attractive female? But in today’s version of leftism, a rather innocent thing like a wolf-whistle or even holding a door open for a woman has become an act of aggression. But a physically dangerous and potentially deadly act such as anal intercourse is a “natural” act of love. (Do leftists ever check their ideas for logical consistency?)

Such contradictions just go to show that the real issue isn’t the “naturalness” of an act, but whether it should be allowed, and who decides whether it should be allowed.

It is taken for granted, even by leftists, that murder, theft, fraud, and various kinds of assault are unallowable, if not punishable in ways that serve the causes of justice and deterrence. Those leftists who are rationalists (as most of them are) will say that punishment is necessary because the world (or the United States, at least) would be a terrible place in which to live if anyone could murder, steal from, or assault anyone else with impunity.

But that is a superficial explanation for the evolution and application of social norms. They are about bonding, the essential ingredient of liberty (discussed below). Punishment isn’t just a response to wrong-doing; it’s an essential means of preserving the bonds that underlie liberty.

Leftists — who like to argue for government programs in aid of this and that group or cause by saying (inter alia) that “we’re all in this together” — think and act in the opposite direction. That which leftists prefer is to be made policy by force rather than being tested in the acid of use.

A classic example is the decree by Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the 5-4 majority in  Obergefell v. Hodges, which brushed aside a social norm thousands of years old in favor of “doing what comes naturally”. Kennedy quotes a district court’s ruling in a same-sex marriage case:

[I]t is wholly illogical to believe that state recognition of the love and commitment between same-sex couples will alter the most intimate and personal decisions of opposite-sex couples.

It may be illogical, but only if one grants the premises implicit in that statement. A key one is that people ignore signals sent by the state. They do not, of course, because of behavioral conditioning and the power of the state to enforce its edicts. (Consider, for example, the cake-makers, florists, and photographers who dared to say that they wouldn’t provide services for same-sex “weddings” and have been punished severely for their impunity.) People do heed the signals sent by the state, and the minions of the state count on that because the state cannot be everywhere all the time. (For every brave cake-maker there are thousands of complaisant shopkeepers, managers, and executives — eager to line up behind the new dispensation for fear of ostracism, and worse.)

And so, when the state undermines long-standing norms that discourage divorce, sodomy, and homosexual coupling, such behaviors become legitimate despite their anti-social effects. Certainly, there were such behaviors before they were legitimated by the state, but they were the exceptions that underscored the norms. The state has normalized the exceptions.

If anyone can be blamed for the low estate of social norms today, it is John Stuart Mill. He is the father of modern leftism, though he is usually thought of as a proponent of “classical liberalism”. Mill’s harm principle, enunciated in his long essay, On Liberty (1869), is the sand upon which leftism is built:

That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. [Chapter I, paragraph 9]

This seemingly libertarian principle is in fact anti-libertarian, as I explain at length in “On Liberty”. In that post I focus on harm. As I say there,

the only plausible interpretation of the harm principle is as follows: An individual may do as he pleases, as long as he does not believe that he is causing harm to others. That is Mill’s prescription for liberty. It is, in fact, an invitation to license and anarchy.

Here is Mill, again:

Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practises a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough: there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development, and, if possible, prevent the formation, of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own. [Chapter I, paragraph 5]

There’s the rub. Who decides when the “tyranny of prevailing opinion and feeling” is too oppressive? In the end, it must be the state.

“State” is nothing more than an impressive-sounding word that really denotes the amalgam of elected officials, judges, bureaucrats, interest groups, corporate Quislings, and “reliable” voters who control the power of government — even when the more statist of the two major parties is formally out of power.

There are those who say that the state embodies the nation, which is like saying that the lion-tamer embodies the lion. The state most certainly is not society, but it is has the power to be far more tyrannical than society’s “prevailing opinion and feeling”.

Mill’s touchy-feely followers — libertarians and old-fashioned “liberals” — made a bargain with the devil when they opted to empower the state to overthrow those despised social norms. When long-established rules of behavior are sundered willy-nilly the result is a breakdown of the voluntary order known as civil society.

Liberty — the state of peaceful, willing, and beneficially cooperative coexistence, based on mutual trust, respect, and forbearance —  depends on the institutions of society. It is those institutions — family, church, club, and the like — through which individuals learn to treat one another with respect; through which individuals often come to the aid of one another; and through which instances of disrespect can be noted, publicized, and even punished (e.g., by criticism and ostracism). That is civil society, which the state ought to protect, but instead usurps and destroys.

The state usurps civil society through agencies vested with primary and even sole jurisdiction in many matters (e.g., public schools, health insurance for the elderly), and funding them with tax money that could have gone to private institutions. Worse, however, is the way in which the state destroys the social norms that foster social harmony — mutual respect and trust — without which a people cannot flourish. (Why should I — or any reasonable person who isn’t in thrall to “intellectual” fads — trust a person who advocates infanticide in the womb or birth canal, who believes that anal intercourse is a natural act of love, who insists that science is “settled” by consensus, or who wants to establish a single-payer system of health-care with its inevitable death panels? I could go on, but you get the idea.)

Yes, there have been some actual wrongs that have been sustained by social norms. The worst wrong in American history was slavery, which drew on a widespread disdain for blacks as intellectually inferior and a fear of them as violent savages. This isn’t quite the same thing as a norm that prescribes behavior, but it underlies the now mainly tacit agreement among most whites (even affluent “liberals”) to “hold the line” against social integration. It’s important to note that the norm wasn’t restricted to the South, nor did it die with the end of slavery. Nor could it die, because it has a basis in truth — a truth that leftists embrace subtly, but tellingly, in the bigotry of low expectations.

Let me be perfectly clear: I am by no means apologizing for slavery. But it wasn’t a social norm per se; it was a practice that was validated, in part, by a social norm (prevailing attitudes toward blacks). Slavery was far from a universal practice; in 1860, about one-third of the families in the South owned slaves. More families undoubtedly would have owned slaves had they been able to afford them, but slavery wasn’t the norm in the South, and far from the norm in the North, even though most Northern whites shared the prevailing view of blacks. On that score, I quote a quintessential Northerner, the Great Emancipator himself:

I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, [applause]—that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied every thing. I do not understand that because I do not want a negro woman for a slave I must necessarily want her for a wife. [Cheers and laughter.] My understanding is that I can just let her alone. I am now in my fiftieth year, and I certainly never have had a black woman for either a slave or a wife. So it seems to me quite possible for us to get along without making either slaves or wives of negroes. I will add to this that I have never seen, to my knowledge, a man, woman or child who was in favor of producing a perfect equality, social and political, between negroes and white men. I recollect of but one distinguished instance that I ever heard of so frequently as to be entirely satisfied of its correctness—and that is the case of Judge Douglas’s old friend Col. Richard M. Johnson. [Laughter.] I will also add to the remarks I have made (for I am not going to enter at large upon this subject), that I have never had the least apprehension that I or my friends would marry negroes if there was no law to keep them from it, [laughter] but as Judge Douglas and his friends seem to be in great apprehension that they might, if there were no law to keep them from it, [roars of laughter] I give him the most solemn pledge that I will to the very last stand by the law of this State, which forbids the marrying of white people with negroes. [Continued laughter and applause.] [Abraham Lincoln, in the 4th Lincoln-Douglas debate, at Charleston, Illinois, on September 18, 1858]

Slavery was, above all, an economic institution that was kept in place by the political power of slave-owners, to the benefit of not a few Northern manufacturers, merchants, and bankers. To put it another way, slavery was really the product of state action at the behest of special interests. It doesn’t take a social norm to produce a great evil. All it takes is political power.

In summary, neither slavery nor any other wrong negates the irreplaceable value of social norms as an essential civilizing force. Nor do such wrongs validate the state’s power to override long-standing norms. That power is a two-edged sword. A state that is powerful enough to abolish slavery is also powerful enough to enact slavery of a different kind: forcing people to surrender a large portion of their income (and thus wealth) for the benefit of groups favored by the state.

“Thanks” to the state — and despite long-standing social norms — we now have not only easy divorce, subsidized illegitimacy, and legions of non-mothering mothers, but also abortion, concerted (and deluded) efforts to defeminize females and to neuter or feminize males, forced association (with accompanying destruction of property and employment rights), suppression of religion, absolution of pornography, and the encouragement of “alternative lifestyles” that foster disease, promiscuity, and familial instability. The state, of course, doesn’t act of its own volition. It acts at the behest of leftists (and their clientele and enablers), who are bent on the eradication of civil society — nothing less — in favor of a state-directed Rousseauvian dystopia from which morality and liberty will have vanished, except in Orwellian doublespeak.

Those who scorn social norms often mock the “social oppression” that is captured in “What will the neighbors think?” But “social repression” is always with us. “What will the neighbors think?” has simply been replaced among leftists by “What will my ‘liberal’ friends think if I question today’s ‘liberal’ dogmas?” Those dogmas have ranged, over the decades, from eugenics (even before Hitler became a household word), prohibition, repeal of prohibition, peace through unilateral disarmament, overpopulation, global cooling, peak oil, global warming, carbon footprints, recycling, income inequality, unconscious racism, white privilege, forced integration, forced segregation (if blacks want it), coeducation, mixed-sex dorms, single-sex schools, any reference to or image of a firearm, keeping score, winning, cultural appropriation, diversity, globalization, free speech (not), homophobia, same-sex “marriage”, prohibition of smoking (pot excepted), gender “assignment” at birth, “free” college for all, “settled science”, collective guilt (but only for straight, white, conservative males of European descent, and Germans in 1933-1945), racial profiling and stereotyping (except when leftists do it), etc., etc., etc. All of which can be categorized as the triumph of hope over facts and experience.

“Social repression” — leftist style — now runs amok in the land. Witness political correctness in the nth degree, shout-downs of conservative speakers, trigger warnings, the demand for “safe spaces” where contrary views aren’t uttered, the banning of conservative views from social media, etc., etc., etc. Old-fashioned “social repression” didn’t hold a candle to the oppressiveness and destructiveness of today’s version.

Leftism, with its profusion of socially destructive dicta, is undoubtedly the least natural of political stances. It arises not from nationalistic or religious fervor, an informed view of human nature, or a principled view of rights and responsibilities. It arises from the political dilettantism of the spoiled children of capitalism. It has split the country into warring social camps — mostly in rhetoric but sometimes in actual battle.

It’s the left’s fault.


Related reading:
John Craig, “The Left vs. Natural Instincts“, American Renaissance, January 18, 2018
Theodore Dalrymple, “Mary Neal Lives On“, Taki’s Magazine, January 13, 2018
Theodore Dalrymple, “An Uncivil Society“, Taki’s Magazine, March 31, 2018
Brian Jones, “Civic Chaos and the Myth of Autonomy“, Public Discourse, January 25, 2018
John O. McGinnis, “The Divide between Jefferson and Adams on Human Nature Is Ours Too“, Law and Liberty, January 17, 2018
Francis Menton, “Climate Science and the Process of Orthodoxy Enforcement“, Manhattan Contrarian, January 14, 2018
Gilbert T. Sewall, “The Man Who Foresaw the West’s Fantasia“, The American Conservative, January 25, 2018
Amy Wax, “Are We Free to Discuss America’s Real Problems?“, Imprimis, January 2018


Related posts:
Refuting Rousseau and His Progeny
The Left’s Agenda
In Defense of Marriage
The Left and Its Delusions
Abortion and Logic
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
Society and the State
Abortion, Doublethink, and Left-Wing Blather
Abortion, “Gay Rights,” and Liberty
Liberty and Society
Tolerance on the Left
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
“We the People” and Big Government
The Culture War
Getting Liberty Wrong
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
Abortion Rights and Gun Rights
Getting “Equal Protection” Right
The Writing on the Wall
How to Protect Property Rights and Freedom of Association and Expression
The Principles of Actionable Harm
Judicial Supremacy: Judicial Tyranny
The Beginning of the End of Liberty in America
Turning Points
There’s More to It Than Religious Liberty
Equal Protection in Principle and Practice
Social Justice vs. Liberty
Economically Liberal, Socially Conservative
The Transgender Fad and Its Consequences
The Left and “the People”
Why Conservatives Shouldn’t Compromise
Liberal Nostrums
The Harm Principle Revisited: Mill Conflates Society and State
Liberty and Social Norms Re-examined
Roundup: Civil War, Solitude, Transgenderism, Academic Enemies, and Immigration
Equality
Academic Freedom, Freedom of Speech, and the Demise of Civility
Self-Made Victims
Leftism
Leftism As Crypto-Fascism: The Google Paradigm
What Is Going On? A Stealth Revolution
Disposition and Ideology
How’s Your (Implicit) Attitude?
Down the Memory Hole
“Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?”
Sexual Misconduct: A New Crime, a New Kind of Justice
“Tribalists”, “Haters”, and Psychological Projection
Mass Murder: Reaping What Was Sown
Andrew Sullivan Almost Gets It
Utopianism, Leftism, and Dictatorship
Pronoun Profusion
“Democracy” Thrives in Darkness — and Liberty Withers
Preemptive (Cold) Civil War
My View of Mill, Endorsed
The Framers, Mob Rule, and a Fatal Error
Abortion, the “Me” Generation, and the Left
Abortion Q and A
Whence Polarization?
Negative Rights, Etc.

“Holidays” I Can Do Without

The subject comes to mind because today is Earth Day, a quasi-religious day of observance for (mostly) irreligious types who claim to revere science but wouldn’t know it if it bit them in the hindquarters. It leads the list of irrelevant and concocted “holidays” that are mainly occasions for silliness (sometimes serious silliness, as on Earth Day), filling air time, selling greeting cards, and pandering to political correctness.

Others of its kind include Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, KwanzaaRosa Parks Day, Harriet Tubman Day, Malcolm X Day, Juneteenth, African New Year, Groundhog Day, National Girls and Women in Sports Day, International Women’s Day, April Fools’ Day, Arbor Day, May Day, Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day, Children’s Day, Helen Keller Day, Father’s Day, Women’s Equality Day, Grandparent’s Day, German-American Day, and Leif Erikson Day.

I have nothing against Washington’s Birthday, which honors a man who should be honored. But I object strenuously to its popular name, Presidents’ Day, which submerges Washington in a presidential pool that includes the anti-patriotic likes of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. Presidents’ Day belongs with the list in the preceding paragraph; it has become an occasion for selling automobiles, appliances, and furniture.

Whence Polarization?

America today is riven with racial, social, and political divisions. Why? Is there a way out?

It’s hard to know where to begin. So, rather arbitrarily, I begin with race. David Reich‘s hot new book, Who We Are and How We Got Here, is causing a stir in genetic-research circles. Reich, who takes great pains to assure everyone that he isn’t a racist, and who deplores racism, is nevertheless candid about race:

I have deep sympathy for the concern that genetic discoveries could be misused to justify racism. But as a geneticist I also know that it is simply no longer possible to ignore average genetic differences among “races.”

Groundbreaking advances in DNA sequencing technology have been made over the last two decades. These advances enable us to measure with exquisite accuracy what fraction of an individual’s genetic ancestry traces back to, say, West Africa 500 years ago — before the mixing in the Americas of the West African and European gene pools that were almost completely isolated for the last 70,000 years. With the help of these tools, we are learning that while race may be a social construct, differences in genetic ancestry that happen to correlate to many of today’s racial constructs are real….

Self-identified African-Americans turn out to derive, on average, about 80 percent of their genetic ancestry from enslaved Africans brought to America between the 16th and 19th centuries. My colleagues and I searched, in 1,597 African-American men with prostate cancer, for locations in the genome where the fraction of genes contributed by West African ancestors was larger than it was elsewhere in the genome. In 2006, we found exactly what we were looking for: a location in the genome with about 2.8 percent more African ancestry than the average.

When we looked in more detail, we found that this region contained at least seven independent risk factors for prostate cancer, all more common in West Africans. Our findings could fully account for the higher rate of prostate cancer in African-Americans than in European-Americans. We could conclude this because African-Americans who happen to have entirely European ancestry in this small section of their genomes had about the same risk for prostate cancer as random Europeans.

Did this research rely on terms like “African-American” and “European-American” that are socially constructed, and did it label segments of the genome as being probably “West African” or “European” in origin? Yes. Did this research identify real risk factors for disease that differ in frequency across those populations, leading to discoveries with the potential to improve health and save lives? Yes.

While most people will agree that finding a genetic explanation for an elevated rate of disease is important, they often draw the line there. Finding genetic influences on a propensity for disease is one thing, they argue, but looking for such influences on behavior and cognition is another.

But whether we like it or not, that line has already been crossed. A recent study led by the economist Daniel Benjamin compiled information on the number of years of education from more than 400,000 people, almost all of whom were of European ancestry. After controlling for differences in socioeconomic background, he and his colleagues identified 74 genetic variations that are over-represented in genes known to be important in neurological development, each of which is incontrovertibly more common in Europeans with more years of education than in Europeans with fewer years of education.

It is not yet clear how these genetic variations operate. A follow-up study of Icelanders led by the geneticist Augustine Kong showed that these genetic variations also nudge people who carry them to delay having children. So these variations may be explaining longer times at school by affecting a behavior that has nothing to do with intelligence.

This study has been joined by others finding genetic predictors of behavior. One of these, led by the geneticist Danielle Posthuma, studied more than 70,000 people and found genetic variations in more than 20 genes that were predictive of performance on intelligence tests.

Is performance on an intelligence test or the number of years of school a person attends shaped by the way a person is brought up? Of course. But does it measure something having to do with some aspect of behavior or cognition? Almost certainly. And since all traits influenced by genetics are expected to differ across populations (because the frequencies of genetic variations are rarely exactly the same across populations), the genetic influences on behavior and cognition will differ across populations, too.

You will sometimes hear that any biological differences among populations are likely to be small, because humans have diverged too recently from common ancestors for substantial differences to have arisen under the pressure of natural selection. This is not true. The ancestors of East Asians, Europeans, West Africans and Australians were, until recently, almost completely isolated from one another for 40,000 years or longer, which is more than sufficient time for the forces of evolution to work. Indeed, the study led by Dr. Kong showed that in Iceland, there has been measurable genetic selection against the genetic variations that predict more years of education in that population just within the last century….

So how should we prepare for the likelihood that in the coming years, genetic studies will show that many traits are influenced by genetic variations, and that these traits will differ on average across human populations? It will be impossible — indeed, anti-scientific, foolish and absurd — to deny those differences. [“How Genetics Is Changing Our Understanding of ‘Race’“, The New York Times, March 23, 2018]

Reich engages in a lot of non-scientific wishful thinking about racial differences and how they should be treated by “society” — none of which is in his purview as a scientist. Reich’s forays into psychobabble have been addressed at length by Steve Sailer (here and here) and Gregory Cochran (here, here, here, here, and here). Suffice it to say that Reich is trying in vain to minimize the scientific fact of racial differences that show up crucially in intelligence and rates of violent crime.

Those ineradicable differences mean that there is something like a permanent — and mostly black — underclass in America. But there is an American “overclass” (to which I will come) which insists that all can be made well by pushing the underclass into contact with people who (wisely) resist the push, and shoveling money and privileges at it. This, alone, would be cause enough for a chasm between the overclass and those who resist its misguided social agenda. But there is more.

I now invoke Robert Putnam, a political scientist known mainly for his book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2005), in which he

makes a distinction between two kinds of social capital: bonding capital and bridging capital. Bonding occurs when you are socializing with people who are like you: same age, same race, same religion, and so on. But in order to create peaceful societies in a diverse multi-ethnic country, one needs to have a second kind of social capital: bridging. Bridging is what you do when you make friends with people who are not like you, like supporters of another football team. Putnam argues that those two kinds of social capital, bonding and bridging, do strengthen each other. Consequently, with the decline of the bonding capital mentioned above inevitably comes the decline of the bridging capital leading to greater ethnic tensions.

In later work on diversity and trust within communities, Putnam concludes that

other things being equal, more diversity in a community is associated with less trust both between and within ethnic groups….

Even when controlling for income inequality and crime rates, two factors which conflict theory states should be the prime causal factors in declining inter-ethnic group trust, more diversity is still associated with less communal trust.

Lowered trust in areas with high diversity is also associated with:

  • Lower confidence in local government, local leaders and the local news media.
  • Lower political efficacy – that is, confidence in one’s own influence.
  • Lower frequency of registering to vote, but more interest and knowledge about politics and more participation in protest marches and social reform groups.
  • Higher political advocacy, but lower expectations that it will bring about a desirable result.
  • Less expectation that others will cooperate to solve dilemmas of collective action (e.g., voluntary conservation to ease a water or energy shortage).
  • Less likelihood of working on a community project.
  • Less likelihood of giving to charity or volunteering.
  • Fewer close friends and confidants.
  • Less happiness and lower perceived quality of life.
  • More time spent watching television and more agreement that “television is my most important form of entertainment”.

It’s not as if Putnam is a social conservative who is eager to impart such news. To the contrary, Putnam’s

findings on the downsides of diversity have also posed a challenge for Putnam, a liberal academic whose own values put him squarely in the pro-diversity camp. Suddenly finding himself the bearer of bad news, Putnam has struggled with how to present his work. He gathered the initial raw data in 2000 and issued a press release the following year outlining the results. He then spent several years testing other possible explanations.

When he finally published a detailed scholarly analysis … , he faced criticism for straying from data into advocacy. His paper argues strongly that the negative effects of diversity can be remedied, and says history suggests that ethnic diversity may eventually fade as a sharp line of social demarcation.

“Having aligned himself with the central planners intent on sustaining such social engineering, Putnam concludes the facts with a stern pep talk,” wrote conservative commentator Ilana Mercer….

After releasing the initial results in 2001, Putnam says he spent time “kicking the tires really hard” to be sure the study had it right. Putnam realized, for instance, that more diverse communities tended to be larger, have greater income ranges, higher crime rates, and more mobility among their residents — all factors that could depress social capital independent of any impact ethnic diversity might have.

“People would say, ‘I bet you forgot about X,’” Putnam says of the string of suggestions from colleagues. “There were 20 or 30 X’s.”

But even after statistically taking them all into account, the connection remained strong: Higher diversity meant lower social capital. In his findings, Putnam writes that those in more diverse communities tend to “distrust their neighbors, regardless of the color of their skin, to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more but have less faith that they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television.”

“People living in ethnically diverse settings appear to ‘hunker down’ — that is, to pull in like a turtle,” Putnam writes….

In a recent study, [Harvard economist Edward] Glaeser and colleague Alberto Alesina demonstrated that roughly half the difference in social welfare spending between the US and Europe — Europe spends far more — can be attributed to the greater ethnic diversity of the US population. Glaeser says lower national social welfare spending in the US is a “macro” version of the decreased civic engagement Putnam found in more diverse communities within the country.

Economists Matthew Kahn of UCLA and Dora Costa of MIT reviewed 15 recent studies in a 2003 paper, all of which linked diversity with lower levels of social capital. Greater ethnic diversity was linked, for example, to lower school funding, census response rates, and trust in others. Kahn and Costa’s own research documented higher desertion rates in the Civil War among Union Army soldiers serving in companies whose soldiers varied more by age, occupation, and birthplace.

Birds of different feathers may sometimes flock together, but they are also less likely to look out for one another. “Everyone is a little self-conscious that this is not politically correct stuff,” says Kahn….

In his paper, Putnam cites the work done by Page and others, and uses it to help frame his conclusion that increasing diversity in America is not only inevitable, but ultimately valuable and enriching. As for smoothing over the divisions that hinder civic engagement, Putnam argues that Americans can help that process along through targeted efforts. He suggests expanding support for English-language instruction and investing in community centers and other places that allow for “meaningful interaction across ethnic lines.”

Some critics have found his prescriptions underwhelming. And in offering ideas for mitigating his findings, Putnam has drawn scorn for stepping out of the role of dispassionate researcher. “You’re just supposed to tell your peers what you found,” says John Leo, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. [Michael Jonas, “The downside of diversity,” The Boston Globe (boston.com), August 5, 2007]

What is it about academics like Reich and Putnam who can’t bear to face the very facts that they have uncovered? The magic word is “academics”. They are denizens of a milieu in which the facts of life about race, guns, sex, and many other things are in the habit of being suppressed in favor of “hope and change”, and the facts be damned.

All of this is a prelude to some observations about the state of America:

The U.S. was undoubtedly more united — more tightly knit by “bonding” and “bridging” capital — in 15 years after the end of World War II than it has been since. Bonding has loosened among whites because of socioeconomic and geographic mobility.

Post-war prosperity enabled most of the descendants of the Greatest Generation (GG) to live high on the hog compared with the GG.

College-going rates boomed, giving the descendants of the GG access to social and cultural circles that weren’t open to most of the GG.

The descendants of the GG, because of their greater prosperity and movement in “higher” circles (which include even seemingly trivial things like book clubs and wine-tasting clubs), became (on the whole) distant from the morals and mores of the GG and its antecedents. The more educated and the more highly paid, the more distant.

The GG and their antecedents weren’t strangers to regional, racial, religious, and class differences, and the suspicions and (sometimes) hostility engendered by them. But the whites among them (i.e., the vast majority), were broadly united in their allegiance to God and country. The blacks were, too, though they lived mostly apart from whites, by design (mainly on the part of whites) and mutual choice.

That degree of unity was possible because the economic and educational differences among the GG and its antecedents didn’t span as vast a range as they do today, and because they were racially (if not ethnically) similar.

On top of that there are wide and growing racial-cultural fissures. (For who can deny that race and culture are deeply intertwined?) These fissures are due in part to the rapid growth of black and Hispanic populations in the United States since the 1960s, growth that will put whites in the minority by the middle of the 21st century, This will come after two centuries (from 1790 to 1990) when whites accounted for more than 80 percent of the population, and a 70-year span (1900 to 1970) when the population was 88-percent to 90-percent white. Throw in the huge numbers of illegal immigrants, and the picture looks even darker.

There is just no getting around it. Like prefers like, and it’s just as true among blacks and Hispanics as it is among whites. Throw in the deepening divisions among whites (discussed above), and you have a country unlike the one that existed in the first 60 years of the 20th century.

Throw in, on top of all that, dissensions bred by white elites (The Crust), and you have a country that is unrecognizable to almost anyone who came of age before 1960, or anyone who still adheres to the morals and mores of that earlier era.

The Crust consists of the information-entertainment-media-academic complex, huge swaths of the professional-managerial (college-educated) classes, and most of the politicians at the national, State, and local levels. Many of the politicians who profess allegiance to conservatism are nothing but vote-seeking, power-hungry, backslappers who would rather be reelected by pandering to special interests than actually try to conserve traditional American values like self-reliance and respect for others’ property and liberty.

What you have, in fact, is a culture war that has become a cold civil war. But it’s not a war of white vs. colored or North vs. South, though because of the “big sort” it does have a geographic dimension. At bottom, it’s a war of white traditionalists vs. The Crust and the “victim” classes (blacks, Hispanics, gender-confused persons, etc.) favored by The Crust to the exclusion of non-Crust heterosexual white males. You know the drill:

The Crust believes in sharing the wealth. Not all of its own wealth mind you, but just enough to assuage The Crust’s white guilt. But sharing means forced sharing (because The Crust knows what’s good for everyone), regardless of its long-run economic effects and the burdens that it places on taxpayers of modest means.

Sharing the wealth includes a commitment to demonstrably destructive and counterproductive schemes, some of which are the affirmative action, the minimum wage, universal basic income, expanded Medicaid rolls, “free” college, and that holy grail of feel-good schemes: single-payer health care. (You can be sure that The Crust would still have access to private-pay health care.) These are sure-fire vote-getters among blacks and illegal immigrants — both (not coincidentally) favored groups among The Crust.

Throw in other programs and policies to entice and keep the votes of aggrieved feminists, gender-confused persons, naive transnationalists, religion-haters, success-enviers, and everyone else who believes that white America is evil (The Crust excepted, of course) and that it’s government’s job to deliver nirvana. Sprinkle in a huge helping of idealistic and impetuous youth. Stir, stir, stir with all of the communications technology that can be mustered.

Suppress dissenting views by invoking the “victim” classes (women, blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, gender-confused persons, etc.).

Pump schoolchildren and college students full of The Crust’s crazy beliefs (small samples here and here), so that in a few decades those beliefs will be set in concrete among most of the populace. (Shades of the “flower children” of the 1960s and 1970s who became politicians, lawyers, judges, professors, and joined other influential pursuits.)

These economic and cultural differences underlie the fragmentation of America.

But it’s worse than fragmentation. The Crust is in charge of almost everything, including much of government. The Resistance (which Wikipedia doesn’t even acknowledge) is of The Crust’s making. In concert with its sub-rosa members in the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the central, State, and local governments, The Resistance is dedicated to the overthrow of the lawfully elected President of the United States. Why? Because he is perceived as a threat to The Crust’s agenda: one world under the technocratic control of administrative agencies dedicated to the pursuance of The Crust’s pseudo-scientific dogmas.

The spirit of it is captured by Theodore Dalrymple:

The threat to our freedom comes not from government, except when it cravenly capitulates to the demands of monomaniacs and tries to limit our speech by decree, but from pressure groups from within what used to be called, invariably as a term of approbation, civil society. Perhaps uncivil society would now be a better term for at least a part of it, which wants to reform not only laws but our minds and souls. It does this not for the sake of betterment, but as an exercise in, or as an expression of, power. The will to power seems to have infected people who once might have been content to live quietly, power itself now being the only goal worth aiming for in the absence of anything more elevated or elevating.

Stalin famously (or infamously) once said that writers were the engineers of souls, and that is what pressure groups believe themselves increasingly to be. They do not so much seek to persuade us by the force of their arguments as irreversibly to change our mentalities. Habit is character, and if we can be forcibly made to change the way we speak, eventually our thoughts will follow. Of course, such changes have always occurred, but less by design than spontaneously.

The totalitarian impulse did not die with the Soviet Union, but rather fractured into many different monomanias. The freedom that many people desire is the freedom to limit other people’s freedom, which they find much more gratifying than the mere expression of their own opinion, which has at most the effect of throwing a pebble into a pond, causing a ripple that soon disappears and is forgotten. Surely I am more important than that, and my opinion deserves to dictate to others?

Political polarization is about much more than culture. It’s about liberty. Freedom of speech is a threat to The Crust and The Resistance because their joint agenda can so easily be shown for the sham that it is. Thus it is imperative for The Crust and The Resistance to stifle freedom of speech and other freedoms that threaten their agenda: freedom of religion, freedom of association, and the right to bear arms.

Totalitarianism is on the march, and it is gaining strength daily.

I once again beseech Mr. Trump to undertake a preemptive (cold) civil war before it is too late to rescue liberty from its enemies within.

It’s the only way out.


Related reading:
Peter Leyden and Ruy Texeira, “The Great Lesson of California in America’s New Civil War“, Medium, January 19, 2018
Kurt Schlichter, “Liberals Announce Plan to Crush Normal Americans in a New “Civil War” (Spoiler: It’s Not a Great Plan)“, Townhall, April 9, 2018
Selwyn Duke, “Twitter’s CEO Endorses Call for Conservatism’s DestructionThe New American, April 11, 2018
Surnantra Maitra, “The Creeping and Creepy March of the Progressive Totalitarian Impulse“, American Greatness, April 11, 2018
John Derbyshire, “Ideology Trumps Reality in Reich’s Who We Are And How We Got Here“, The Unz Review, April 19, 2018

Related posts:
Slopes, Ratchets, and the Death Spiral of Liberty
The Slippery Slope of Constitutional Revisionism
The Ruinous Despotism of Democracy
A New (Cold) Civil War or Secession?
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare
The Culture War
Judicial Supremacy: Judicial Tyranny
The Tenor of the Times
The Answer to Judicial Supremacy
Turning Points
Independence Day 2016: The Way Ahead
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
The Rahn Curve Revisited
Polarization and De-facto Partition
Civil War?
Freedom of Speech and the Long War for Constitutional Governance
Roundup: Civil War, Solitude, Transgenderism, Academic Enemies, and Immigration
If Men Were Angels
Academic Freedom, Freedom of Speech, and the Demise of Civility
Liberty in Chains
Self-Made Victims
The Social Security Mess Revisited
The Public-Goods Myth
Libertarianism, Conservatism, and Political Correctness
Sexual Misconduct: A New Crime, a New Kind of Justice
Politics and Prosperity: A Natural Experiment
As the World Lurches
A Not-So-Stealthy Revolution
“Tribalists”, “Haters”, and Psychological Projection
Utilitarianism (and Gun Control) vs. Liberty
Utopianism, Leftism, and Dictatorship
“Democracy” Thrives in Darkness — and Liberty Withers
Preemptive (Cold) Civil War
Reductio ad Sclopetum, or Getting to the Bottom of “Gun Control”
Preemptive (Cold) Civil War, without Delay

Fine-Tuning the Electorate

George Will, who seems to have “grown” in his old age (i.e., become soft-headed), is now crusading for the restoration of voting rights to felons. Paul Mirengoff is on the case:

George Will argues in favor of broad restoration of felons’ right to vote. How broad he doesn’t say, but his column effectively presents the case for a more expansive restoration than exists in many jurisdictions.

There are good arguments against moving in that direction, however. Roger Clegg presents them in a critique of Will’s piece. This is an issue over which reasonable people can differ, but I think Clegg has the stronger case.

Will asks, “What compelling government interest is served by felon disenfranchisement?” Clegg responds: “If you’re not willing to follow the law, then you should not have a role in making the law for everyone else, which is what you do when you vote — either directly (in the case of a referendum or ballot initiative) or indirectly (by choosing lawmakers and law enforcers).”…

If the government did not “fine-tune” the quality of the electorate this would mean, as Clegg points out, that “not only criminals but also children, non-citizens, and the mentally incompetent must be allowed to vote.” In fact, he continues, “we do have certain minimum, objective standards of responsibility and commitment to our laws that we require people to meet before they are given a role in the solemn enterprise of self-government.”

I would go much further than Clegg. I have said for years that democracy is an enemy of liberty. In one of the posts that you will find by following the link in the preceding sentence, I say this:

It is well understood that voters, by and large, vote irrationally, that is, emotionally, on the basis of “buzz” instead of facts, and inconsistently…. Voters are prone to vote against their own long-run interests because they do not understand the consequences of the sound-bite policies advocated by politicians (nor do politicians, for that matter). American democracy, by indiscriminately granting the franchise — as opposed to limiting it to, say, married property owners over the age of 30 who have children — empowers the run-of-the-mill politician who seeks office (for the sake of prestige, power, and perks) by pandering to the standard, irrational voter.

There should be a movement away from enfranchisement, not toward it.

Abortion Q and A

A new entry at Realities. Using a Q&A format, this article summarizes my writings on abortion over the past 14 years, since I first voiced my opposition to it.

Preemptive (Cold) Civil War, Without Delay

I make the case for a preemptive (cold) civil war here. Here are some key passages:

Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, and other information-technology companies represent just one facet of the complex of institutions in the thought-control business.

A second facet consists of the so-called mainstream media (MSM) — the print and broadcast outlets that for the most part, and for many decades, have exploited their protected status under the First Amendment to heavily lard their offerings with “progressive” propaganda. MSM’s direct influence via the internet has been diluted slightly by the plethora of alternative sources, many of them libertarian and conservative, but Google and friends do a good job of throttling the alternative sources.

I need say little about a third facet — the “entertainment” industry — which also exploits its First-Amendment privilege to spew left-wing propaganda.

The academy and its spawn, public education indoctrination, form a fourth facet. The leftward tilt of most academic administrations and goodly chunks of the professoriate is no secret. Neither is the stultifying atmosphere on college campuses….

These information-entertainment-media-academic institutions are important components of what I call the vast left-wing conspiracy in America. Their purpose and effect is the subversion of the traditional norms that made America a uniquely free, prosperous, and vibrant nation….

Clearly, the information-entertainment-media-academic complex is striving for a monopoly on the expression and transmission of political thought in America. Such a monopoly would be tantamount to state action (see this and this), and must therefore be prevented before it can be perfected. For, if it can be perfected, the First Amendment will quickly become obsolete.

But there’s far more at stake than the First Amendment. As Malcolm Pollack puts it,

the tremendous fissure in American culture and politics…. goes far deeper than mere disagreements about policy; it has reached the point in which the two sides have entirely different conceptions of moral, political, cultural, social, historical, and even human reality — views that are not only incommensurable, but mutually and bitterly antagonistic.

Complete victory for the enemies of liberty is only a few election cycles away. The squishy center of the American electorate — as is its wont — will swing back toward the Democrat Party. With a Democrat in the White House, a Democrat-controlled Congress, and a few party switches in the Supreme Court, the dogmas of the information-entertainment-media-academic complex will become the law of the land….

Are my fears exaggerated? I don’t think so. I have lived long enough and seen enough changes in the political and moral landscape of the United States to know that what I have sketched out can easily happen within a decade after Democrats seize total control of the central government….

All bets will be off when Democrats regain control of the central government….

What kind of action do I have in mind?

Go to the original post and you will see.

Here’s a hint from a piece by Scott McKay:

[W]e’re well past the point where we start discussing Google as an old-fashioned trust which can be dealt a similar fate to Ma Bell and Standard Oil. And we’re also past the point where the market can start looking for The Next Big Thing in terms of social media platforms to migrate to.

I am revisiting this matter because the need for immediate action becomes more obvious every day. Consider the abrupt firing of Kevin Williamson from The Atlantic (and I’m not a slavish Williamson fan).

Consider especially the following prescient piece, written before the 2016 election, which eerily anticipates my earlier post:

It’s now abundantly clear that most of Conservatism, Inc. wants Trump to lose and is giddy at the prospect. They’re dancing not just on his political grave (prematurely, and perhaps mistakenly) but on the supposed despondency of the rest of us over Trump’s presumed impending loss….

What do they expect from the outcome—the regime—they are manifestly rooting for? The second possible explanation is they must think a Hillary Clinton administration won’t be so bad—for them. Does this mean they admit, if only implicitly, that it might be bad for the rest of us?…

“Yes, we’ve been fulminating for a generation against this specific person, her specific policies, and those of her party. Did we mean it? Of course we did! So why are we acting to help her win now? What a question! We’re not doing that! We’re merely denouncing her opponent as uniquely unfit in the history of the republic. So we don’t think her policies will be that bad after all? Oh, they will be bad. But survivable. The same way that Obama and the past 100 years of Progressive liberalism have been survivable? Well, when you put it that way—yes.

“Do we think that mass amnesty and massive refugee inflows won’t tip the electorate permanently into Democratic Party’s camp? No, of course not. That’s racist! All we have to do is Refine Our Message. Bring out the “natural conservatism” of Family Values Hispanics and Religious Muslims.”…

I will spare you more of this insipid banter. I toss it out only so that you may better understand the mind of the modern “conservative.”

Personally, I think what’s coming for them will not be as rosy as they assume. At first, little will change. At first. The think-tank, think-mag archipelago will go on as before. Subscriptions may be down a bit, but the checks will still roll in. For a while.

But I suspect that over time two things will happen. First, Conservatism, Inc.’s donors will wake to the enterprise’s utter uselessness and stop, or at least begin to slow, the money flow. In the beginning, this will feel like uncomfortable belt-tightening, but survivable. No conference in Palm Beach this year, but we still have the cruise! Then as the economy continues to drag and rates, returns, and yields remain rock-bottom low, the donors will pull the plug, calculating (correctly) that they’ve wasted quite enough for zero effect.  Last may be personally insulated from this, since The Weekly Standard is owned by a very deep-pocketed billionaire. But the rest of Conservatism, Inc. isn’t and I expect it to dwindle into irrelevance—not in terms of influence (that already happened) but in funding, personnel, and size.

That is, if it doesn’t simply go out of business altogether.

If I may, as an aside, respond to an anticipated objection: How can this idiot Decius say that we have no influence while at the same time accusing us of electing Hillary? To which I reply: You have as much influence as the Megaphone—the mass media and cultural elites—allow you to have. When you are committing fratricide against “your” party’s nominee, of course the Left is happy to use the Megaphone to let you amplify its message.

But the time is coming when you will no longer be so useful, which points to my second expectation. I believe the Left, as it increasingly feels its oats, will openly discard the pretense that it need face any opposition. It’s already started. This will rise to a crescendo during the 2020 election, which the Left will of course win, after which it will be open-season on remaining “conservative” dissent. Audits. Investigations. Prosecutions. Regulatory dictates. Media leaks. Denunciations from the bully pulpit. SJW witch-hunts. The whole panoply of persecution tools now at their disposal, plus some they’ve yet to deploy or invent. [Publius Decius Mus, “It’s Clear That Conservatism Inc. Wants Trump to Lose“, American Greatness, October 12, 2016]

It can still happen here: 2020 is only two years away. The squishy center, having been bombarded by anti-Trump propaganda for four years is just as likely to turn against him as to re-elect him.
There’s no time to lost. The preemptive (cold) civil war must start yesterday.

Abortion, the “Me” Generation, and the Left

The self-centered depravity that is all too common among the members of the “Me” generation (a.k.a. Baby Boomers) — and among leftists — is perhaps most clearly seen through the lens of abortion.

I’ll begin by dispensing with slogans: Pro-life means anti-abortion; pro-choice means pro-abortion. Person who claim to be pro-choice will dispute my assertion that pro-choice means pro-abortion. They will say that they simply want women to have the choice between aborting and not aborting a fetus, which is a child in the making.

But pro-choicers want that choice because they believe that abortion is (a) moral and (b) should be at the discretion of the person who is carrying the child. Many pro-choicers probably would skip over (a), but that is the import of (b). That is to say, they oppose the propositions that abortion is (a) immoral (i.e., murder) and (b) should not therefore be at the sole discretion of the person who is carrying the child.

There are rare cases where the mother’s life or health is at grave risk if a fetus isn’t aborted. In those rare cases, it would be immoral to sacrifice life of a mother who may already have children to care for, whose death might cause the death of the fetus, and whose incapacity would probably mean a life of misery. In any event, these rare cases shouldn’t be invoked in defense of abortion as a procedure that any woman may elect for any reason.

There is a phony pro-abortion argument that a fetus (the pro-abortion camp’s preferred word) is fair game (so to speak) until it is viable. That is, until it could survive (as a newborn child) outside the mother’s womb. But that is a circular argument because a fetus that is aborted before it could have survived outside the mother’s womb would have attained viability had it not been aborted. The viability argument comes down to this: It is all right to kill a fetus before it becomes viable, so that it cannot become viable.

Even more specious is the belief, prevalent among some of the pro-abortion crowd, that late-term abortion is acceptable because the child hasn’t yet been born. Gone is any pretense that viability matters. Now it’s simply a question of whether the child has made its way entirely through the birth canal. But because it hasn’t yet done so (and in some cases, even if it has), the fetus can be killed. Why? Because of a fine line (sometimes ignored) between almost-born and born.

What about the child who comes into the world by caesarean section, sometimes prematurely? And what about premature babies who survive, as they more commonly do nowadays? Such babies are a living rebuke to the savage practice of late-term abortion, which can only be called murder.

Is abortion a woman’s inalienable right because the baby in her womb is really part of her and completely dependent on her? The fetus is a separate human being, no matter how dependent on its mother. Further, dependency doesn’t end with birth. In fact, these days it often continues until a child is a twenty-something. There are some advocates of post-natal infanticide, but only enthusiasts of euthanasia would extend abortion murder beyond that stage.

There are other arguments for abortion (see the posts here). But I have yet to encounter a valid one, except the necessity to save the life or health of a mother. Support for legalized abortion is of a piece with the “youth movement” that began in the 1960s, and which should have taken “It’s all about me” as its motto.

As Daniel J. Flynn points out in a piece at The American Spectator:

Students did not end the Vietnam War. They ended the draft. And once the draft ended, their protests, at least on a mass scale, ended, too.

Wikipedia, not normally my go-to source for history, lists more than 100 major events on its page documenting protests against the Vietnam War. The very last one occurred one week before Richard Nixon ended the draft. Small, scattered protests, of the like that do not appear Wikipedia’s radar—one in Central Park in 1975 involving Joan Baez and others comes to mind—continued. But even as the killing continued the big protests did not because the draft did not.

And it is true that U.S. combat operations continued after the end of the draft. So I must agree with Flynn’s astute observation.

What does it have to do with abortion? It’s mostly about the “Me” generation — the Boomers who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s. Look at this:

The graph comes from this source, which addresses some of the causes of the decline in the abortion rate since 1980. There are others, such as easier access to contraceptives and the growing awareness (and fear of) HIV/AIDS.

But the most obvious cause of the decline is the aging of Boomers. A large fraction of the women who were born during the peak baby-boom years (1946-1960)  would have been “past it” by the mid-1990s*. And that’s when the abortion rate ended a period of relatively steep decline (see above graph). The abortion rate continued to decline at more gradual rate through the early 2000s, when it leveled off, then began to decline at a faster rate after 2008. (The most likely cause of the steeper decline since 2008 is the enactment by several States of stricter controls on abortion.)

This isn’t to absolve later generations of their sins. Most college graduates and college-goers** of the X, Millennial, and Z generations have drunk the kool-aid of political correctness and “liberal” fascism. But the Boomers were and are especially dangerous because so many of them became prominent in politics, the law, and the internet-media-academic complex.

The Boomers (or too many of them) epitomize the left’s arrested state of adolescent rebellion: “Daddy” doesn’t want me to smoke, so I’m going to smoke; “Daddy” doesn’t want me to drink, so I’m going to drink; “Daddy” doesn’t want me to have sex, so I’m going to have sex. But, regardless of my behavior, I expect “Daddy” to give me an allowance, and birthday presents, and cell phones, and so on.

“Daddy,” in the case of abortion, is government, which had banned abortion in many places. If it’s banned, the left wants it. But the left — like an adolescent — also expects government to cough up money (others’ money, of course) to quench its material desires.

Persons of the left simply are simply unthinking, selfish adolescents who want what they want, regardless of the consequences for others. The left’s stance on abortion should be viewed as just one more adolescent tantrum in a vast repertoire of tantrums.
__________
* The late Norma McCorvey (a.k.a. Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade) epitomized the Boomers. She was born in 1947 and began her eventually successful suit to legalize abortion when she was 21. McCorvey’s later conversion to Catholicism and anti-abortion activism do great credit to her memory.

** College-goers, as distinct from students who are striving to acquire knowledge rather than left-wing propaganda and to exercise their critical faculties instead of parroting left-wing slogans.


Related: See my page about leftism and posts tagged abortion.

Even More about Names

In previous posts about first names, I addressed names that had shifted from male to female, presidents’ surnames used as first names, the changing popularity of my grandparents’ first names, and the changing popularity of my high-school classmates’ first names.

I was reminded of those older posts (published in 2006, 2008, and 2012) by an analysis of gender-fluidity in names, that is, names which are becoming more neutral rather than being given mainly to boys or girls. The author, one Nikhil Sonnad,

calculated a “genderedness score” for every American baby name—and for the country on the whole. The score goes from zero to one. A zero means a name is perfectly non-gendered. That is to say, exactly half of the babies with that name are boys, and the other half are girls. A one, meanwhile, means the name is used exclusively for one gender. So a lower score means a name is more gender-neutral, and less biased.

How is it “biased” to use a boy’s name for a boy and a girl’s name for a girl? That statement should be damned to PC hell, along with the idea that gender is “assigned” at birth. It’s not assigned, it just is, except in rare instances. And it’s immutable, regardless of what the PC witch-doctors profess to believe.

Anyway, Sonnad continues:

The overall genderedness score was 0.97 in 1920, meaning nearly every kid had a name that was used almost exclusively for just boys or just girls. The score is falling, though. It hit 0.946 in 2016, the most recent year the SSA has name data for.

I’m gratified to learn that the generedness score is still almost 1. I’m further gratified to note that the genderedness score has dropped in the past, and then rebounded:

Part of the apparent decline in genderedness may be due to the fact that the Social Security database used by the author covers only the top 1,000 names of each sex in each year. The variety of names grows with population, so the top 1,000 isn’t as inclusive now as it used to be (see below). And gendereless or ambiguous names are undoubtedly rising in popularity (for now) because baby-naming is a faddish thing, like transgenderism.

The variety of names grows not only because of population growth but also because of its changing composition. There are many more Spanish names and Hispanic babies than 10, 20, or 30 years ago — and vastly more than there were 100 years ago. Also, blacks have increasingly branched out into African, pseudo-African, and black-redneck names — names that are identifiably black, but not always identifiably male or female (by whites, at least).

So the real news isn’t the rise of gender-ambiguous names, but the growing variety of names, which I will show in two ways. First, using the same Social Security database as Sonnad, I constructed the following tables. They list the 10 most popular baby names (male and female) for equidistant 17-year intervals spanning the 136 years between the first year (1880) and most recent year (2016) included in the database. The tables also show the percentages of male and female babies given those names in each of the years. (Right click to view enlarged image in a new tab.)


Source: Go here and scroll to the search tool at the bottom of the page (on the left).

Note the general decline in the percentages. Being in the top 10 these days is almost meaningless compared with being in the top 10 through the 1940s or 1950s.  Note also the generally lower percentages for girls’ names than for boys’ names until 2016. Girls have long had a greater variety of names, though boys are finally catching up.

The following graphs (derived from the same source) illustrate the same points. They also highlight the relative stability in the number of names until the 1950s and 1960s, when the percentages of babies with names in the top 10, 100, and 1,000 really began to dive.

Returning to the lists of names, I note that many of the recent top-10 names are throwbacks; the 19th century is “in” again. There are some old top-10 names that have fallen from popularity for good reason — they are grating, if not ugly; for example, Frank (Frank is a wiener; Francis is okay), Henry (better as Henri or Enrico), George (fit only for a king), Walter (a plumber’s name), Donald (rhymes with Ronald, as in McDonald), Richard (you know the nickname), Minnie (little fish), Bertha (as in “Big Bertha”), Florence (with the pursed lips), Ethel (ditto), and Dorothy, Shirley, and Doris (so 1930s and 1940s).

Anyway, those are my prejudices. What are yours?

It’s a MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD World

This post isn’t about the movie of that name, which is overrated by users of the Internet Movie Database (average rating, 7.6; my rating, 6). This post is about mutually assured destruction (MAD), which

is a doctrine of military strategy and national security policy in which a full-scale use of nuclear weapons by two or more opposing sides would cause the complete annihilation of both the attacker and the defender…. It is based on the theory of deterrence, which holds that the threat of using strong weapons against the enemy prevents the enemy’s use of those same weapons.

The main lesson of the Cold War and its sequel in the US-Russia[1] relationship is that MAD works among major powers.[2]

MAD works mainly because of ASSF – assuredly survivable strategic forces, or enough of them to retaliate (perhaps more than once). It was and is impossible, even with first strikes against all three legs of Russia’s strategic-nuclear triad, to nullify Russia’s strategic retaliatory capability. The same goes for the U.S. triad and retaliatory capability.

These truths have been and are understood by U.S. and Russian leaders. Were they not understood, MAD might have failed at any of the several stress points that arose in the past 70 years.

MAD works best if the major powers have strong and versatile conventional forces to go with their strategic-nuclear forces. Call it MAD-plus. The existence of large conventional forces is a kind of psychological safety valve. It allows the major powers to say to themselves “We can fight each other without having to destroy each other” (though the fight would entail a lot of destruction). But the major powers don’t fight each other (or haven’t yet) because MAD looms over them.

The possession of conventional forces also enables the major powers to manage their spheres of interest. Conventional forces also allow the major powers to skirmish where their interests clash, but without having to push the nuclear button. It’s the possession of the nuclear button that deters the escalation of skirmishes to more destructive levels of conflict.

In sum, the leaders of the U.S. and Russia knew and know that more than a skirmish between the powers was and is a remote possibility. (Never say never.) Yes, there have been some tense moments in the past 70 years. But the absence of a shooting war between the powers is evidence of the effectiveness of MAD (as between the two powers, at least).

Against this backdrop, the powers engage in ritual statements and actions. These rituals are meant to explain, justify, and explore the nuances of what is, at bottom, just a simple balance-of power relationship. The statements include strategic doctrines and elaborate scenarios for major wars, some involving nuclear exchanges. The actions include exercises that are advertised as practice for what might happen in a real war, including direct attacks on the other side’s strategic-nuclear forces.

In the end, however, the leaders know very well that what really matters is the fact of MAD. What would actually happen were MAD to fail and a shooting war ensue is unpredictable.

Yes, the forces engaged in such an implausible war might actually some of the things written about and practiced in peacetime. But which ones and in what circumstances, if ever? For example, the use or non-use of tactical nuclear weapons in a local or regional battle space – in the air, on land, or underwater – is unknowable in advance. Declarations or demonstrations by one side or the other about the use of various weapons are just that: declarations (words) and demonstrations (practice). And the leaders of both sides know it.

The essential purpose of these ritual statements and actions is to justify the possession of large and varied strategic and conventional forces, and to “prove” the worth of those forces. The justifications vary with time, as do the forces. And sometimes the forces are increased or reduced significantly, but never enough to undo MAD and MAD-plus.[3]

To repeat: MAD and MAD-plus rest on rough comparisons of the balance of forces between the powers, not on strategic doctrines, elaborate scenarios, or war-fighting capabilities “demonstrated” by peacetime exercises.

Here is a leading case in point: In the early 1970s, Russian Admiral-in-Chief Sergey Gorshkov issued a series of articles under the general title of “Navies in War and Peace”. The articles seem to have been aimed at preserving or enhancing his Navy’s standing with Russia’s leaders. Gorshkov did so by emphasizing the importance of Russian ballistic-missile submarines (SSBNs) to ASSF, and the role of the Russian Navy (especially its attack submarines, SSNs) in the protection of the SSBNs. (The Ns in the acronyms mean that the submarines are nuclear-powered.)

Before the defensive mission of the Russian Navy had dawned on most U.S. leaders, including leaders of the U.S. Navy, one of the Navy’s time-honored rituals had been to invoke the Battles of the Atlantic in the two World Wars. In those battles, the Navy had to cope with enemy submarines wreaking havoc on the sea line of communication (SLOC), along which arms, munitions, supplies, and troops were ferried to the European theater. Thus the Navy concocted scenarios revolving around a third Battle of the Atlantic, waged mainly against Russian SSNs attacking the Atlantic SLOC during a war in Europe (started by Russia, of course).

When the defensive nature of the Russian Navy finally dawned on U.S. and U.S. Navy leaders, they choreographed a new ritual: the Maritime Strategy. A stated purpose of the Maritime Strategy was to tie up Russian forces that were protecting SSBNs, so that those forces couldn’t be used against SLOCs. There was also the understood possibility of attacking Russian SSBNs in the event of a major U.S.-Russia war in Europe, though that was (and is) only a speculative stratagem (for reasons discussed above), not a central component of U.S. strategy, which (like Russia’s) boils down to MAD.

And so, despite strong evidence to the contrary, the leaders of the U.S. Navy continued to observe the SLOC-defense ritual. This had a long and successful record of attracting funds for versatile forces (e.g., aircraft carriers and SSNs) that could also be used to go after the forces defending Russian SSBNs, and even the SSBNs themselves. The SLOC-defense mission also attracted funds for forces and systems that were practically useless, but this mattered not as long as MAD and MAD-plus were in place and war between the U.S. and Russia was thereby averted.

The preceding narrative underscores my view that no one really knows how a real war (as opposed to a peripheral skirmish) might start or unfold. U.S. and Russian leaders must understand that. In the face of such uncertainty, they wisely expect the worst and factor it into their calculations. With respect to a possible U.S. anti-SSBN mission, for example, Russian leaders might reason as follows:

  1. The U.S. could try to take out our SSBNs and thereby deprive us of our ultimate bargaining chip.
  2. But it’s unlikely that the U.S. could take enough of them out, and quickly enough, to actually accomplish the deed.
  3. U.S. leaders must know that.
  4. Further, U.S. leaders must know that if they made a move toward our SSBNs in the course of a conventional war, our likely response would be to initiate limited but devastating nuclear strikes (tactical or strategic) as a warning not to proceed.
  5. U.S. leaders must know that, too. So it is very unlikely that they would mount an anti-SSBN mission — at least not in the course of a conventional war in which the U.S. homeland wasn’t at risk.
  6. U.S. leaders are rational (caveat for Trump-haters: at least those who are in a position to prevent precipitous action).
  7. Therefore, MAD remains in effect, despite U.S. exercises or policy statements which might seem to threaten it.
Similar reasoning (not about attacking U.S. SSBNs, but about parallel Russian moves) would prevail among U.S. leaders.

In summary:

It is MAD and MAD-plus that keep the peace between major powers (the U.S. and Russia, at least).

The forces that sustain MAD and MAD-plus are the result of rough balance-of-power calculations, not sophisticated strategic doctrines, complex war-fighting scenarios, or provocative demonstrations of war-fighting capabilities.

What would happen if MAD and MAD-plus fail to prevent more than skirmishes between the powers is unpredictable. Strategy statements, war-fighting scenarios, and decisions about when and where to use nuclear weapons (strategic and tactical) would be as useless as the paper they were written on. It would be a whole new ballgame. The only possible way to win it — if winning is the right word given the resulting destruction — is to be better prepared than the adversary. That means having bigger, better forces and systems, and better trained, more highly motivated warriors.

There’s a real strategy for you.
_________

[1] I use “Russia” and its cognates throughout for the sake of expositional simplicity. But references to Russia during the Cold War should be understood as references to the USSR, a.k.a. the Soviet Union and the Soviets.

[2] MAD doesn’t work with stateless terrorist groups. And it’s unclear that it will work on the in-between case of an unstable or quasi-terrorist state leader. As the nuclear club grows through the addition of in-between cases, so do the number of opportunities for a black-swan event.

[3] These reductions are another kind of ritual: a pretense of fundamental change to mollify a nation’s “peace party” or its budget hawks.


Related posts:
Defense as the Ultimate Social Service
The Decision to Drop the Bomb
Delusions of Preparedness
A Grand Strategy for the United States
Transnationalism and National Defense
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
My Defense of the A-Bomb
Today’s Lesson in Economics: How to Think about War
Planning for the Last War
The Folly of Pacifism

Stop, Frisk, and Save Lives II

I ended the earlier post with this:

If you want less crime, you have to lock up criminals. In order to lock up criminals, you have to identify them.

There’s new proof of the wisdom of “stop and frisk”:

[A] reduction in stop and frisks by the Chicago Police Department that began at the very end of 2015 was responsible for the homicide spike starting immediately thereafter. Good reasons exist for believing that the decline in stop and frisks caused the spike. Simple visual observation of the data suggests a cause-and-effect change. In the chart below, we depict the (seasonally unadjusted) monthly number of stop and frisks (in blue) and the monthly number of homicides (in gold). The vertical line is placed at November 2015—the break point in the homicide data. This is precisely when stop and frisks declined in Chicago.

chart

Detailed regression analysis of the homicide (and related shooting) data strongly supports what visual observation suggests. Using monthly data from 2012 through 2016, we are able to control for such factors as temperature, homicides in other parts of Illinois, 9-1-1 calls (as a measure of police-citizen cooperation), and arrests for various types of crimes. Even controlling for these factors, our equations indicate that the steep decline in stop and frisks was strongly linked, at high levels of statistical significance, to the sharp increase in homicides (and other shooting crimes) in 2016. [Paul Cassell, “The 2016 Chicago Homicide Spike – Explained“, The Volokh Conspiracy, March 26, 2018]

You can’t drum me out of the libertarian camp. I left it voluntarily several years ago.

Reductio ad Sclopetum, or Getting to the Bottom of “Gun Control”

Sclopetum is a neo-Latin word for firearm. The title of this post is an allusion to reductio ad absurdum,

a form of argument which attempts either to disprove a statement by showing it inevitably leads to a ridiculous, absurd, or impractical conclusion, or to prove one by showing that if it were not true, the result would be absurd or impossible.

In this case, I call your attention to today’s exercise in virtue-signaling and mass hysteria known as March for Our Lives. What’s it all about? According to the group’s website, this:

Our elected officials MUST ACT by:

1. Passing a law to ban the sale of assault weapons like the ones used in Las Vegas, Orlando, Sutherland Springs, Aurora, Sandy Hook and, most recently, to kill 17 innocent people and injure more than a dozen others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Of the 10 deadliest shootings over the last decade, seven involved the use of assault weapons.

No civilian should be able to access these weapons of war, which should be restricted for use by our military and law enforcement only. These guns have no other purpose than to fire as many bullets as possible and indiscriminately kill anything they are pointed at with terrifying speed.

2. Prohibiting the sale of high-capacity magazines such as the ones the shooter at our school—and so many other recent mass shootings used.

States that ban high-capacity magazines have half as many shootings involving three or more victims as states that allow them.

Limiting the number of bullets a gun can discharge at one time will at least force any shooter to stop and reload, giving children a chance to escape.

3. Closing the loophole in our background check law that allows dangerous people who shouldn’t be allowed to purchase firearms to slip through the cracks and buy guns online or at gun shows.

97 percent of Americans support closing the current loopholes in our background check system.

When Connecticut passed a law requiring background checks on all handgun sales, they saw a 40 percent reduction in gun homicides.

22 percent of gun sales in this country take place without a background check. That’s millions of guns that could be falling into dangerous hands.

A background check should be required on every gun sale, no exceptions.

The children of this country can no longer go to school in fear that each day could be their last.

It all sounds reasonable until you get to the bottom line, which implies that all of the preceding actions would somehow end the threat of gun homicides in public schools. But they wouldn’t end the threat of gun homicides, and they certainly wouldn’t end the threat of homicides, period.

What they would do — as long as schools are soft targets for outsiders, and as long as students themselves aren’t routinely and universally subjected to airport-like security checks — is increase the number of ways in which students are killed. Most schools will remain soft targets, and most students will not be routinely and universally subjected to airport-like security checks. (If they were, there would be hundreds of thousands of them marching to protest the invasion of their privacy.) So add bombing, arson, poison, knives, clubs, and what have you to the never-ending threat of mass murder by firearms.

All that the “reasonable” measures supported by March for Our Lives would accomplish is to up the ante after the next mass school-shooting. The omens are in the air. For example, a story by Jazz Shaw features a photo that shows a marcher holding up a sign which reads “Abolish the 2nd Amendment”. That’s a widely shared sentiment among the “gun control” crowd.

The Second Amendment wouldn’t be abolished right away, because that would be too hard. But it could be legislated practically out of existence, given a compliant Supreme Court. And that’s certainly what many of the marchers and organizers are hoping for when they urge the “concerned” to vote. (Against the GOP, of course, as Jazz Shaw points out.)

But what about the law-abiding citizens who will still need firearms to defend themselves against the lawless ones who will pay no attention to tighter gun-control laws, and who will evade confiscation of firearms by the authorities? We’ll be defenseless, that’s what.

Thus the reductio:  The boundless and futile attempt to prevent mass-shootings at schools will result in more killings (and assaults and robberies). But that’s “all right” because many of the new victims will be parents, and grand-parents, and great-grand-parents. It’s for the children, after all.

ADDENDUM, 03/25/18:

Thanks to correspondent RWB for an e-mail message that led me to the charts below. They underscore my point that gun confiscation (the real aim of “school safety”) will make most Americans less safe.

Guns per person vs homicide rate

Percent changes since 1993 in firearms and homicide rate
Source: Mark J. Perry, “Chart of the Day: More Guns, Less Gun Violence between 1993 and 2013“, Carpe Diem, December 5, 2017

ADDENDUM, 03/26/18:

As I point out here, it’s the moral culture (not the “gun culture”), stupid. Want evidence? Consider this:

Switzerland hasn’t had a mass shooting since 2001, when a man attacked the local parliament in Zug (the capital of the Swiss canton of the same name), killing 14 people and then himself.

… Switzerland, a nation of 8.3 million people, has about two million privately owned guns. Despite this large number of guns in private hands, the country had only 47 homicides in which firearms were used in 2016 and the country’s overall murder rate is near zero. [Warren Mass, “Swiss Example of Low [sic] Mass Shootings Despite Widespread Gun Ownership“, New American, March 26, 2018


Related reading:
Ben Domenich, “The Truth about Mass Shootings and Gun Control“, Commentary, March 1, 2013
Malcolm Pollack, “The Second Amendment and the Third Law“, Motus Mentis, March 25, 2018
Ed Morrissey, “WaPo: Wow, Did Stevens Give a Gift to [the GOP]“, Hot Air, March 27, 2018


Related posts:
Mass Murder: Reaping What Was Sown
Utilitarianism (and Gun Control) vs. Liberty

Bellicosity or Bargaining Strategy?

Yesterday, George Will doubled down on his previous invocation of the Nuremberg Trials. The first time, on December 8, Will opined that

[a] U.S. war of choice against North Korea would not be a pre emptive war launched to forestall an imminent attack. Rather, it would be a preventive war supposedly justified by the fact that, given sophisticated weapons and delivery systems, imminence might be impossible to detect….

It would be interesting to hear the president distinguish a preventive war against North Korea from a war of aggression. The first two counts in the indictments at the 1946 Nuremberg trials concerned waging “aggressive war.”

Now that John Bolton has been named Trump’s new national-security adviser, Will has again come off his hinges. This is from yesterday’s piece:

Bolton will soon be the second-most dangerous American. On April 9, he will be the first national security adviser who, upon taking up residence down the hall from the Oval Office, will be suggesting that the United States should seriously consider embarking on war crimes.

The first two charges against the major Nazi war criminals in the 1945-1946 Nuremberg trials concerned waging aggressive war. Emboldened by the success, as he still sees it, of America’s Iraq adventure that began 15 years ago this month, Bolton, for whom a trade war with many friends and foes is insufficiently stimulating, favors real wars against North Korea and Iran. Both have odious regimes, but neither can credibly be said to be threatening an imminent attack against the United States. Nevertheless, Bolton thinks bombing both might make the world safer….

Bolton’s belief in the U.S. power to make the world behave and eat its broccoli reflects what has been called “narcissistic policy disorder” — the belief that whatever happens in the world happens because of something the United States did or did not do. This is a recipe for diplomatic delusions and military overreaching.

Speaking of delusions, one died last week — the belief that this president could be safely cocooned within layers of adult supervision. Bolton’s predecessor, H.R. McMaster, wrote a brilliant book (“Dereliction of Duty”) on the failure of officials, particularly military leaders, who knew better but did not resist the stumble into the Vietnam disaster. McMaster is being replaced because he would have done his duty regarding the impulses of the most dangerous American.

Regarding Nuremberg, I wrote this on December 10:

The counts [in the indictments at the Nuremberg trial] refer to the aggression against Poland. There is no parallel between Poland, with its relatively primitive armed forces and lack of bellicosity, and Kim Jong-un’s North Korea….

Will himself has questioned the legality of the Nuremberg trials. It was an act of intellectual desperation to bring them into the discussion.

All in all, Will’s recent column is weak on the facts and weak as a matter of historical analysis. The main impetus for the column seems to be Will’s fixation on Trump. His doubts about Trump’s stability and soundness of judgment may be justified. But Will ought to have stuck to those doubts, and elaborated on them.

Will’s armchair psychologizing of Bolton (“narcissistic policy disorder”) is backwards. Bolton’s record — as I read it — is that of a person who wants the world to leave the U.S. alone, not that of someone who believes that whatever happens in the world is a consequence of something the United States did or did not do.

Will’s endorsement of McMaster’s Dereliction of Duty is misplaced. As I say here,

McMaster was derelict in his duty to give a full and honest account of the role of the service chiefs in the early stages of the Vietnam War.

The book’s focus is on the political-military machinations of November 1963 to July 1965. Most of the book is taken up with a detailed (almost monotonous) chronological narrative….

In the narrative and subsequent analysis, LBJ and McNamara come across as the real heavies, which is what I thought of them at the time….

Though McMaster goes into great detail about people and events, there’s nothing really new (to me), except for the revelation that the chiefs were supine — at least through July 1965. LBJ’s deviousness and focus on the election and his domestic programs is unsurprising. McNamara’s arrogance and rejection of the chiefs’ views is unsurprising. Service parochialism is unsurprising. The lack of a commitment by LBJ and McNamara to winning the war and devising a requisite strategy are unsurprising.

But there was something at the back of my mind when I was reading Dereliction of Duty which told me that the chiefs weren’t as negligent as McMaster paints them. It has since come to the front of my mind. McMaster’s narrative ends in July 1965, and he bases his conclusions on events up until then. However, there was a showdown between the chiefs and LBJ in November 1965. As recounted by Lt. Gen. Charles Cooper, USMC (Ret.), who was a junior officer at the time (and present at the showdown), “the chiefs did their duty.”

… Cooper’s story … is drawn from his memoir, Cheers and Tears: A Marine’s Story of Combat in Peace and War (2002)…. [Go here for a long, relevant excerpt.]

Will has nevertheless raised a question that is on the minds of many these days: Does the appointment of John Bolton, coupled with the replacement of Rex Tillerson by Mike Pompeo at the State Department, signal a change in Trump’s attitude toward involvement in foreign wars? Specifically, is Trump assembling a “war cabinet”, as several (left-wing) sources claim?

A much more likely scenario is that Trump is doing something that Barack Obama failed to do in his zeal to “lead from behind”, which is to say, in his zeal to undermine America’s strength vis-a-vis its actual and potential adversaries: Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea (to name a few). (I still maintain that Obama was guilty of “Presidential Treason“.)

Of course, it is risky to confront one’s enemies instead of lying supine before them. But it is no more risky than being kicked to death while one is lying supine. In fact, it is less risky because the upright warrior can do something to deter his enemies, or fight them if necessary; the supine warrior only invites abuse.

What I see, then, is the adoption by Mr. Trump of an upright stance — backed by a resolve that is made all the more credible by surrounding himself with men like Pompeo and Bolton.


Related reading: Roger Kimball, “Why John Bolton Is No Warmonger“, Spectator USA, March 24, 2018


Related posts:
Much Ado about Civilian Control of the Military
Presidents and War
LBJ’s Dereliction of Duty
Terrorism Isn’t an Accident
The Ken Burns Apology Tour Continues
Planning for the Last War
The Folly of Pacifism
A Rearview Look at the Invasion of Iraq and the War on Terror
Preemptive War Revisited

The Framers, Mob Rule, and a Fatal Error

The wise men who framed the Constitution would be aghast at the current, orchestrated, leftist-backed “children’s march” to stir up broad support for gun control confiscation. Not only because they saw gun ownership as an inalienable and necessary right, but also because they saw the mob for what it was — an enemy of reason and liberty. They saw, too, that a legislature could act like a mob; thus:

Federalist No. 10 (James Madison) —

[I]t may be concluded that a pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual.

Federalist No. 15 (Alexander Hamilton) —

Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice, without constraint. Has it been found that bodies of men act with more rectitude or greater disinterestedness than individuals? The contrary of this has been inferred by all accurate observers of the conduct of mankind; and the inference is founded upon obvious reasons. Regard to reputation has a less active influence, when the infamy of a bad action is to be divided among a number than when it is to fall singly upon one. A spirit of faction, which is apt to mingle its poison in the deliberations of all bodies of men, will often hurry the persons of whom they are composed into improprieties and excesses, for which they would blush in a private capacity.

Federalist No. 55 (Madison) —

Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.

Federalist No. 58 (Madison) —

[T]he more multitudinous a representative assembly may be rendered, the more it will partake of the infirmities incident to collective meetings of the people. Ignorance will be the dupe of cunning, and passion the slave of sophistry and declamation. The people can never err more than in supposing that by multiplying their representatives beyond a certain limit, they strengthen the barrier against the government of a few.

Federalist No. 63 (Madison) —

[T]here are particular moments in public affairs when the people, stimulated by some irregular passion, or some illicit advantage, or misled by the artful misrepresentations of interested men, may call for measures which they themselves will afterwards be the most ready to lament and condemn. In these critical moments, how salutary will be the interference of some temperate and respectable body of citizens, in order to check the misguided career, and to suspend the blow meditated by the people against themselves, until reason, justice, and truth can regain their authority over the public mind? What bitter anguish would not the people of Athens have often escaped if their government had contained so provident a safeguard against the tyranny of their own passions? Popular liberty might then have escaped the indelible reproach of decreeing to the same citizens the hemlock on one day and statues on the next.

Federalist No. 71 (Hamilton) —

The republican principle demands that the deliberate sense of the community should govern the conduct of those to whom they intrust the management of their affairs; but it does not require an unqualified complaisance to every sudden breeze of passion, or to every transient impulse which the people may receive from the arts of men, who flatter their prejudices to betray their interests. It is a just observation, that the people commonly intend the public good. This often applies to their very errors. But their good sense would despise the adulator who should pretend that they always reason right about the means of promoting it.

Federalist No. 73 (Hamilton) —

The primary inducement to conferring the power in question [the veto] upon the Executive is, to enable him to defend himself; the secondary one is to increase the chances in favor of the community against the passing of bad laws, through haste, inadvertence, or design. The oftener the measure is brought under examination, the greater the diversity in the situations of those who are to examine it, the less must be the danger of those errors which flow from want of due deliberation, or of those missteps which proceed from the contagion of some common passion or interest.

For all of their wisdom, however, the Framers were far too optimistic about the effectiveness of the checks and balances in their design. Consider this, from Hamilton:

It may … be observed that the supposed danger of judiciary encroachments on the legislative authority, which has been upon many occasions reiterated, is in reality a phantom. Particular misconstructions and contraventions of the will of the legislature may now and then happen; but they can never be so extensive as to amount to an inconvenience, or in any sensible degree to affect the order of the political system. This may be inferred with certainty, from the general nature of the judicial power, from the objects to which it relates, from the manner in which it is exercised, from its comparative weakness, and from its total incapacity to support its usurpations by force. And the inference is greatly fortified by the consideration of the important constitutional check which the power of instituting impeachments in one part of the legislative body, and of determining upon them in the other, would give to that body upon the members of the judicial department. This is alone a complete security. There never can be danger that the judges, by a series of deliberate usurpations on the authority of the legislature, would hazard the united resentment of the body intrusted with it, while this body was possessed of the means of punishing their presumption, by degrading them from their stations. While this ought to remove all apprehensions on the subject, it affords, at the same time, a cogent argument for constituting the Senate a court for the trial of impeachments. [Federalist No. 81]

Hamilton’s misplaced faith in the Constitution’s checks and balances is an example of what I call the Framers’ fatal error. The Framers underestimated the will to power that animates office-holders. The Constitution’s wonderful design — horizontal and vertical separation of powers — which worked rather well until the late 1800s, cracked under the strain of populism, as the central government began to impose national economic regulation at the behest of muckrakers and do-gooders. The Framers’ design then broke under the burden of the Great Depression, as the Supreme Court of the 1930s (and since) has enabled the central government to impose its will at will.

The Framers’ fundamental error can be found in Madison’s Federalist No. 51. Madison was correct in this:

It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure.

But Madison then made the error of assuming that, under a central government, liberty is guarded by a diversity of interests:

[One method] of providing against this evil [is] … by comprehending in the society so many separate descriptions of citizens as will render an unjust combination of a majority of the whole very improbable, if not impracticable…. [This] method will be exemplified in the federal republic of the United States. Whilst all authority in it will be derived from and dependent on the society, the society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests, and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority.

In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights. It consists in the one case in the multiplicity of interests, and in the other in the multiplicity of sects. The degree of security in both cases will depend on the number of interests and sects; and this may be presumed to depend on the extent of country and number of people comprehended under the same government. This view of the subject must particularly recommend a proper federal system to all the sincere and considerate friends of republican government, since it shows that in exact proportion as the territory of the Union may be formed into more circumscribed Confederacies, or States oppressive combinations of a majority will be facilitated: the best security, under the republican forms, for the rights of every class of citizens, will be diminished: and consequently the stability and independence of some member of the government, the only other security, must be proportionately increased.

Madison then went on to contradict what he had said in Federalist No. 46 about the States being a bulwark of liberty:

It can be little doubted that if the State of Rhode Island was separated from the Confederacy and left to itself, the insecurity of rights under the popular form of government within such narrow limits would be displayed by such reiterated oppressions of factious majorities that some power altogether independent of the people would soon be called for by the voice of the very factions whose misrule had proved the necessity of it. In the extended republic of the United States, and among the great variety of interests, parties, and sects which it embraces, a coalition of a majority of the whole society could seldom take place on any other principles than those of justice and the general good; whilst there being thus less danger to a minor from the will of a major party, there must be less pretext, also, to provide for the security of the former, by introducing into the government a will not dependent on the latter, or, in other words, a will independent of the society itself. It is no less certain than it is important, notwithstanding the contrary opinions which have been entertained, that the larger the society, provided it lie within a practical sphere, the more duly capable it will be of self-government. And happily for the REPUBLICAN CAUSE, the practicable sphere may be carried to a very great extent, by a judicious modification and mixture of the FEDERAL PRINCIPLE.

Madison understood that a majority can tyrannize a minority. He understood that the States are better able to prevent the rise of tyranny if the powers of the central government are circumscribed. But he then assumed that the States themselves could not resist tyranny within their own borders. Madison overlooked the importance of exit as the ultimate check on tyranny. He assumed (or asserted) that in creating a new central government with powers greatly exceeding those of the Confederacy a majority of States would not tyrannize the minority and that minorities with overlapping interests would not concert to tyrannize the majority. Madison was so anxious to see the Constitution ratified that he oversold himself and the States’ ratifying conventions on the ability of the central government to hold itself in check. Thus the Constitution was lamentably silent on nullification and secession.

What has been done by presidents, Congresses, and courts will be very hard to undo. Too many interests are vested in the regulatory-welfare state that has usurped the Framers’ noble vision. Democracy (that is, vote-selling) and log-rolling are more powerful than words on paper. Even a Supreme Court majority of “strict constructionists” probably would decline to roll back the New Deal and most of what has come in its wake.

That is why I endorse “Preemptive (Cold) Civil War“.


Related reading: Jared Taylor, “A Libertarian for Our Side” (a review of Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s Democracy — The God that Failed: The Economics and Politics of Monarchy, Democracy and Natural Order), American Renaissance, January 2002

Preemptive War Revisited

I discovered this post deep in my queue of unpublished drafts. It rounds off two posts of mine about preemptive war:  “Sorting Out the Libertarian Hawks and Doves” and “Continuation of ‘Sorting Out the Libertarian Hawks and Doves’“. (Other related posts are listed at the end of this one.) I had commented on Micha Ghertner’s post at Catallarchy, “Moral Relativism Isn’t What You Think It Is” (July 27, 2005). Joe Miller‘s comment on my comment led me to follow up with a hypothetical and some related questions. Joe replied thoroughly and thoughtfully to those questions, and then posed some of his own. This post documents our exchange.

PART I

This part reproduces my hypothetical and the related questions (roman type, flush left), Joe’s replies to those questions (italics, indented), and my response to Joe’s replies (bold, double-indented).

The hypothetical:

1. In Country A (just as in Country B), the armed forces are controlled by the state. (I don’t want to get off onto the tangent of whether war is more or less likely if defense is provided by private agencies.)

2. The only restriction on the liberty of Country A’s citizens is that they must pay taxes to support their armed forces. Country B’s citizens own no property; their jobs are dictated by the state; their income is dictated by the state; and all aspects of their lives are regimented by state decrees.

3. Though Country A’s armed forces are underwritten by taxes, the members of the armed forces are volunteers. The members of Country B’s armed forces are conscripts, and Country B’s armed forces are, in effect, supplied and equipped by slave labor.

4. Country A would liberate Country B’s citizens, if it could. Country B would subjugate or kill Country A’s citizens, if it could.

The questions (all of which I answer “yes”):

1. If Country B attacks Country A, what limits (if any) would you place on the measures Country A might take in its defense? Specifically:

a. Are civilian casualties in Country B acceptable at all?

1. a. Yes, provided that Country A doesn’t directly intend those casualties, that it takes pains to minimize such casualties, and that it ensures that said casualties are proportional to military gains.

I don’t know how to evaluate proportionality. Perhaps an empathetic decision-maker might make a seat-of-the-pants judgment that “enough is enough” or “the particular objective isn’t worth the cost in human life.” Do you have a more precise metric in mind?

b. Are civilian casualties in Country B acceptable if they’re the result of mistakes on Country A’s part or the unavoidable result of Country A’s attacks on Country B’s armed forces and infrastructure?

1. b. Yes, but see 1a. for caveats.

See my comment on your answer to 1.a.

c. Is the deliberate infliction by Country A of civilian casualties in Country B acceptable as long as Country A’s leaders reasonably believe that the infliction of those casualties – and nothing else – will bring about the defeat of Country B? (Assume, here, that Country A’s leaders try to inflict only the number of casualties deemed necessary to the objective.)

1. c. Maybe. I think that there are two components to supreme emergency. One is that there must be an imminent danger of losing and the second is that losing must be catastrophically evil. Worldwide Stalinism probably would count. I’m not sure, from your quick description of Country B, that it really meets the second part of that criterion.

It would always be a judgment call. I suppose there are many libertarians (not to mention pacifists) who would rule out any deliberate infliction of casualties, even under the circumstances I’ve outlined.

(Assume, for purposes of the next 2 questions, that Country A inflicts casualties on Country B’s civilians only to the extent that those casualties are the result of mistakes or unavoidable collateral damage.)

2. Should Country A attack Country B if Country A concludes (rightly or wrongly, but in good faith) that Country B is about to attack, and if Country B strikes first it is likely to:

a. win a quick victory and subjugate Country A?

2. a. Yes. I’ve no objection to preemptive strikes, provided that it really is the case that Country B is about to attack. If you and I get into a fight, I see no reason that I’m obligated to wait for your first punch to land before I can defend myself. Once I see that you’re going to throw the punch, it’s okay if mine lands first. I can’t see why that ought not apply in war, as well.

b. inflict heavy casualties on Country A’s citizens?

2. b. Yes, again. It’s not the winning or losing or the casualties that matter here. It’s a question of aggression. The scenario you describe makes Country B the aggressor, regardless of who actually fires the first shot. That said, finding real cases of preemption isn’t easy to do. Israel in the Six Day’s War comes closest. (Or is it Seven? Hard to keep up with countries that keep winning wars in less than a week.)

3. Should Country A attack Country B if Country A concludes (rightly or wrongly, but in good faith) that Country B is developing the wherewithal to attack, and if Country B strikes first it is likely to

a. win a quick victory and subjugate Country A?

3. a. Nope. Here’s the analogy I like to use in class. Suppose that you and I really don’t like each other. In fact, we really hate one another. As it happens, right now, I’m stronger than you and know a bit about fighting, so I’m not really in much danger from you in a fight. But now suppose that I see that you’ve taken out a gym membership and signed up for Kung Fu classes at the Y. Am I justified in beating you up now on the grounds that, in a few months, you might possibly decide to beat me up? The same has to hold true for nations, I think. The mere fact that Country B doesn’t like Country A and is arming itself doesn’t imply that Country A will actually attack Country B. After all, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. actively didn’t like one another and actively armed against one another without ever actually directly shooting at one another. Possibility of future attack doesn’t justify preventive war. Imminence of attack does. When Country B makes it clear that they actually mean to attack, then they’ve aggressed against Country A and war is justified.

Assume this situation: Country B is developing a devastating weapon that, if used, would kill half of Country A’s inhabitants. There is no way to defend against the weapon if Country B decides to use it. Country B hasn’t said that it would use the weapon, but the mere existence of the weapon poses a grave threat to Country A’s citizens. Country B has demonstrated through its past behavior that it is unreceptive to pleas, negotiations, and offers of economic “assistance” (i.e., bribes). The only way to ensure that Country B won’t use the weapon when it’s built is to destroy the weapon in a preemptive attack, while the weapon is still under development. Country B has deliberately placed the development site so that a preemptive attack would result in the deaths of one-half of Country B’s citizens. What would you do? I know what I’d do, given my opening statements about Country A and Country B: I’d launch the preemptive attack, as long as it had a reasonable chance of success (say 50%) and as long as I had the wherewithal to launch at least one more equally potent attack.

3.b. inflict heavy casualties on Country A’s citizens?

3. b. Same as 3a.

See my comment on your answer to 3.a.

PART II

Now we switch to Joe’s questions (italics, flush left), my answers (bold, indented), and Joe’s replies (italics, double-indented):

1. I’m not sure that we’re in all that much disagreement about whether it’s a
good idea to arm. I’m hardly a pacifist; if anything, I think that I make my
liberal friends a bit nervous with my defense of intervention. I suspect that
we’re in pretty broad agreement about why the U.S. is worth defending. We’re
both liberals in a broad sense, and both of us, I think, see freedom/liberty
as worth defending. I’m not really all that worried about or interested in
trying to convert pacifists; I tend to think that’s pretty much a lost cause.

Right. I think our disagreements are about how best to defend liberty. It seems to me that real pacifists (as opposed to isolationists or those who object to the way we’re going about fighting terror or those who simply oppose Bush for the sake of opposing Bush) have to ask themselves why they put pacifism above liberty, especially when pacifism can lead to the loss of liberty. Come to think of it, isolationists and those who oppose Bush for the sake of opposing Bush have to ask themselves the same question.

Agreed. I find pacifism to be more defensible than isolationism, actually, because there are at least some principled reasons for being a pacifist. If one really is an absolutist of a certain sort (i.e., one who holds that it’s never right to do wrong to do right) and also believes that killing is wrong (e.g., takes Jesus’ injunction to turn the other cheek seriously), then pacifism follows. I don’t accept the position, but it’s hard to know what to say about it, exactly. Isolationists, however, just strike me as deeply confused, holding a flawed pragmatism that fails to adequately address long-term consequences. Opposing Bush for the sake of opposing Bush is a political strategy (and maybe not a terrible one in terms of short-term political gain), but it’s not a philosophical position, so I’m not really all that interested in wrestling with it.

2. I wonder what you make of the question of aggression. I tend to think
that aggression is the international crime. I don’t much hold with
libertarians who try to make aggression the only crime period, but I think
that in international affairs, it probably is the only crime. So most of my
discussion of just war theory revolves around aggression. Based on some of
what you’ve written, I get the impression that you might think that aggression
(meaning something like willfully violating a nation’s sovereignty) is okay if
doing so is necessary for (or even useful for?) the defense of the U.S. Am I
reading you correctly there?

My reading of those libertarians who think that aggression is the only crime is that they find a way to push every crime — even non-violent crime (e.g., theft and fraud) — under the heading of aggression. I have no real problem with that, but instead of focusing on aggression, I focus on what liberty is all about and why it’s so important. (The short version: Liberty enables individuals to fulfill their potential. Potential isn’t a zero-sum game; your ability to fulfill your potential enables me to fulfill mine.)

Liberty is the name of the game; non-aggression is just a means to the end of liberty, but not necessarily the only means or the best means. Non-aggression works reasonably well in a society that is bound by an agreed and enforceable code of behavior. But the world at large isn’t bound by such a code; the United Nations isn’t a larger version of the United States or an Amish community. The question then becomes, how best to preserve or foster liberty. If the answer, in some instances, is to attack those who have shown that they would suppress liberty, so be it. Is that aggression or defense of liberty? I call it defense of liberty.

Thus, why not destroy or decimate the Third Reich’s military might before Hitler begins to dominate Europe? And why not destroy the USSR’s burgeoning nuclear arsenal before Stalin checks the power of the U.S. and forces communism on much of Europe? Hitler and Stalin, if unchecked, would have used the resources of their “empires” against the U.S. That’s why I wouldn’t consider preemptive attacks on the Third Reich or Stalin’s USSR to be aggression. Hitler and Stalin were aggressors in that they opposed liberty, not only for the people of other nations but also for their own people. Striking at aggressors isn’t aggression.

Interesting. I’ll start at the end and work backward. I think that part of the difficulty in waging preventative war is demonstrated in the examples that you give. Yes, it clearly would have been better, in retrospect, to have destroyed the Third Reich before Hitler. Your example with Stalin is much harder. Yes he was a bad guy, maybe even worse than Hitler. And yes the world would have been a better place had Stalin not come to power. But the question is not whether the world would be better without Stalin, the question is whether the world would be better without Stalin or without the massive war that would have been necessary to prevent Stalin from dominating Eastern Europe. As it happened, Stalin didn’t use the resources of his empire directly against the U.S. OTOH, invading Russia is rather notoriously difficult to do. Maybe the U.S. would have succeeded where the Germans had failed just a few years earlier. I don’t honestly know enough about the period or about the relative capabilities of the two sides to say. It strikes me that it would have been tough, especially while at the same time trying to rebuild Germany and Japan, and with the rest of Europe trying to rebuild itself.

This, I think, leads us to what will likely be a point of fundamental disagreement. I do agree with you in thinking that liberty is an important value. I’m a consequentialist, though (a utilitarian, specifically), so I don’t think that liberty is the only important value, nor do I think that liberty is intrinsically valuable. In other words, I think that there are other values that have to be weighed into our decisions. In the international arena, sovereignty is one of those other values. Arguably, sovereignty and liberty aren’t entirely unconnected. If a person has a right to be self-determining, then a collection of people surely ought to be accorded that same right. And what is sovereignty if not the collective right of a body of individuals to be free from outside interference. Now I might very much dislike what it is that some body of people decides to do with that sovereignty. I might also attempt to convince them to do something different (by, for example, refusing to trade with them unless they clean up their act). But I don’t see it as legitimate to force that group of people to do anything. Thus I have a pretty strong presumption against war.

That said, I’m still not a pacifist. When nation A violates the sovereignty of nation B, then A has now violated the rights of B. That is morally wrong, and opens A to a response from B…and also from C, D, and E. The international arena is more like (the romanticized version of) the old west before the town gets around to appointing a sheriff. Or rather, there is a sheriff (the U.N.) but he’s woefully unequipped to take on any really serious bandits. When the bad guys come around, then, the sheriff can (and does) deputize pretty much anyone with a gun to go stop the bad guys. So aggression (or the violation of a state’s sovereignty) is a crime that can be met with force. In the international arena, then, I’m pretty much a libertarian (gasp!)

This is all a long way of saying that I think that there must be some actual act of aggression, some real violation of sovereignty, before war is justified. Preemption is justified when you know (or at least have really good reason to believe) that the other side will strike soon. Prevention, or war with a nation that might just possibly plan to attack at some as-yet undetermined future date and which might be harder to defeat in the future, is not a response to aggression at all, and thus violates the rights of the citizens of some nations to hate me while building a big army.

3. So we’re on the same page, what is your criterion for a just war? Or, to
ask the flip side, what is your criterion for an unjust war? You point out
(half-joking I think) that liberals tend to like on the Revolutionary War, the
Civil War and WWII. I do like all of those (depending on which side we’re
taking in the second), but I happen to think that WWI, Korea, and Gulf War I
were all just as well (though the former was sort of pointless as it was
mostly over when we got there). I’d offer the Spanish-American War, the War
of 1812, and, of course, Vietnam as examples of unjust wars. The former all
involved responding to aggression (on behalf of someone else in each case, but
that’s okay too). The latter three all involve acts of aggression on our side
(we made up an act of war for the first, invaded Canada in the second, and
intervened on behalf of a puppet government that didn’t have enough support
from its citizens to stand on its own in the third).

A just war (for the U.S.) is one in which (1) the actions of the U.S. are aimed at defeating or neutralizing a threat to the liberty or well-being of Americans, whether or not that threat is imminent, and (2) the cost (to the U.S.) is worth the likely long-term benefits. By those criteria, I like the Revolutionary War, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War (but only because it ensured an end to slavery), World War II, the Korean War (because it was necessary to respond to communist aggression, after having practically invited it), and Gulf War I. The Vietnam War was entirely unnecessary, but having committed ourselves so deeply it was a grave mistake to cut and run.

Hmmm. This sounds a lot like a realist positions (attaching labels is an occupational hazard for philosophers). Perhaps this would be the place to focus, as it might really get at why we disagree. I worry that this sort of position really amounts to egoism nationalized. Micha sometimes posts on something similar to this at Catallarchy: the objection here is that there don’t seem to be any non-arbitrary reasons for thinking that one ought to favor the interests of Americans over the interests of non-Americans. To put the question a different way, why should the well-being of Americans be a reason for harming non-Americans? Maybe the “well-being” part is just a throwaway, but it strikes me that it leaves things pretty wide-open. If India keeps taking American jobs (I don’t endorse this position; I like free trade, but let’s just go with this for a moment), then mightn’t we make a good case that it is harming the well-being of Americans? Or if Saudi Arabia cuts back its oil production, doesn’t that harm Americans’ well being?

I suppose that I also wonder whether the two-part just war criterion you sketch here really is consistent with the value that you place on liberty. If liberty really is your core value, then doesn’t everyone’s liberty count the same? What then justifies acting only on behalf of American liberty or only when America benefits from the action?

4. Not to be flip here, but is there anyplace that George Bush could invade
that you would find objectionable? Conversely, is there anyplace that Bill
Clinton could invade that you wouldn’t? Again, I don’t mean to come across as
flip, but I detected considerable scorn when you talked about some of
Clinton’s military actions, particularly in his missile attacks during the
whole blow-job thing. The irony here is that those were actually aimed at
terrorist camps, unlike Iraq whose only terrorist camp was actually in
territory controlled by the Kurds, whom we were protecting from Saddam. It’s
probably fair that I answer the reverse of the question. So, for the record,
I supported the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. I also thought that Bush I
was right to intervene in Somalia and Clinton wrong to withdraw. Clinton
should have intervened in Rwanda, Bush in Liberia.

The short answer: Any president (authorized by Congress) should invade or take other “aggressive” action, whether military or not, whenever the action meets my criteria for a just war (previous answer).

Just to be flip, I would object to George Bush’s invasion of Austin, Texas, even though it is a left-wing stronghold. Seriously, my problem with Clinton’s military actions is that they seemed half-hearted. Halfway measures show a dangerous lack of resolve, which I think was the hallmark of Clinton’s presidency — except when it came to getting re-elected and avoiding conviction by the Senate. To be honest with you, I so distrusted Clinton that I found it hard to swallow anything he had to say about anything, military matters included.

I opposed Clinton’s intervention in Kosovo, and would object to Bush’s intervention in Liberia, because I’m opposed to humanitarian interventions. The commander-in-chief should be focused on defending Americans (as defined in my previous answer); helping others should be confined to those instances where it serves the purpose of defending Americans or protecting their well-being. Bringing down Saddam and helping to foster some sort of representative government in Iraq is good to the extent that it makes it less likely that Iraq’s oil will be turned against or denied to the U.S. It’s also good to the extent that it discourages state-sponsored terrorism or the spread of state-sponsored terrorism. The nation-building/humanitarian aspect of the Iraq War is desirable (in my view) only to the extent that it advances our ability to defend our interests in the Middle East.

I didn’t know that left-wingers were allowed in Texas. Surely in such a gigantic state, it’s okay if we congregate in one city? I might point out that Forbes’ ranking of the best places to do business are pretty much dominated by cities that are dominated by liberals (2004’s top five: Madison, WI; Raleigh-Durham, NC; Austin; DC; Atlanta). I guess that’s another story, though.

In this answer, my worries about the consistency of your view become more evident. If liberty is really the central value, then what’s the difference between military action designed to protect American liberty and military action designed to protect Kosovar liberty? Some interventions are surely imprudent (say, intervention on behalf of Chinese liberty). But again, I would ask why American liberty is so important?

5. To what extent do you think that war makes the world safer? You mention
in your post “War Can Be the Answer” that you think that U.S. could learn from
Israel in fighting terrorism. I’m inclined to agree, but probably for a
different reason. The only place that Islamic terrorists would rather bomb
than New York is Tel Aviv. Despite committing what I think are horrific war
crimes against Palestinian civilians (or perhaps because of), terrorists
continue to throw bombs at Israeli soldiers and blow up Israeli coffee shops.
It’s not clear to me that blowing up cities in retaliation for blowing up
buildings has been a successful strategy overall. This is not to say that we
shouldn’t hunt down terrorists, but do you think that the Army is always the
best way to do that?

War makes the world safer to the extent that it kills bad guys and deters other people from acting bad. I’m not persuaded that killing bad guys actually generates more bad guys. I think they’re already out there, looking for an excuse and opportunity to do bad things. If killing bad guys does generate bad guys, then killing good guys ought to generate good guys. We killed a lot of “bad guys” in WWII and it worked. In fact, for a long time, many “bad guys” became “good guys.” But it takes victory to do that. Which is one of the reasons we shouldn’t leave Iraq until it’s clear that the “good guys” are in charge.

Yes, you’re absolutely right that sometimes killing bad guys is the only way to make the world safer. Part of the difficulty, though, is that in a traditional war between nation-states, most of the people being killed are neither bad guys nor good guys specifically. The average German killed in WWII wasn’t a monster or a war criminal. He was a guy who thought that he was fighting for his country. Yeah, chances are that he was a pretty serious racist. The odds are that the American soldiers on the other side were, too; Americans just hated a different group of people for an arbitrary reason. Now I’m not claiming moral equivalence between Nazi racism and American racism. I’m only claiming a rough moral equivalence between the average German soldier and the average American soldier. In WWII, the really bad guys weren’t the people Americans were killing during the war. The bad guys are the ones we hanged at Nuremberg after the war. Victory there was necessary because that was the only way to get to the really bad guys who actually needed to be stopped.

It’s not so clear to me that this is the case in the Israel-Palestine contest. There are genuine bad guys (on both sides, I think). But bombing cities or sending tanks to demolish entire quarters isn’t the way to get at the really bad guys. In traditional war, armies fight other armies, and typically, when the war ends, the two armies stop fighting. In Israel, you have an army fighting against the general public. There is no way for one side to officially surrender, and it requires only the actions of a single lunatic fanatic to restart the entire conflict. That, I think, calls for a different strategy entirely.

Israel is in a “fight or die” situation, and forbearance hasn’t worked when it’s been tried. The bad guys keep showing up. Targeted killings and surgical strikes can do only so much damage to the terrorist element. Given the proclivity of Palestinian terrorists for mingling with Palestinian civilians, I’m inclined to blame Palestinian terrorists for the deaths of Palestinian civilians. Yes, Israel takes the blame, and it inflames Palestinians. But what’s the alternative?

I think that a good start would be more police work, and fewer tanks and missiles. Terrorism is really bad stuff, but mostly it’s criminal activity and not war activity. There are some exceptions, like 9/11 where you have what amounts to a state that sponsored the attacks (or at least knowingly and willfully harbored the attackers). Mostly, though, I think that the sort of terrorism we’re worried about today would be something in between an army and a police force, perhaps an entirely new entity. I have in mind something like a law-enforcement agency with a pretty serious military arm, but a military arm that consists largely of special-forces and light infantry types—the sort who did most of the work in Afghanistan. I worry that a lot of what is really needed in hunting down terrorists is law-enforcement types of skills, and while our military is, hands down, the best in the world, it’s not particularly good at law-enforcement jobs, because, after all, that’s not what it trains for. OTOH, law enforcement types rarely have the skills necessary to take on heavily-armed terrorist cells. That’s the sort of thing that the military is good at. To use a (probably bad) analogy, the army is a broadsword, the FBI a scalpel. What we really need is a good saber.

There are lots of ways to fight terrorists. The best way depends on where they are and how they’re operating. (That’s trite, isn’t it?) Military force wouldn’t be the answer inside the U.S. unless, for example, we happened to find a large training camp in the wilds of Colorado or a major munitions depot on a farm in Michigan. As for the use of military force overseas, large-scale military operations may be an effective means of combating terrorists when they’re massed for some purpose (e.g., in training camps or drawing on large munitions caches). Small-unit and special-forces operations are more effective in the pursuit of small bands of terrorists. In any event, good tactical intelligence is a key to success (as it is in any war), and that’s simply harder to come by when you’re fighting an enemy who blends into the populace and whose weapons are easily concealed and easy to transport. But, again, what’s the alternative to trying to find and kill them? Ignoring them doesn’t work, and the truly dangerous ideologues won’t be mollified by peace and prosperity.

No, you’re right that the truly dangerous ideologues won’t be mollified by peace and prosperity. But I’m not really trying to convert the ideologues. I’m worried about the disaffected who are more likely to be swayed by ideologues when they’re poor and miserable than they are when they’re driving shiny new Hondas and building TVs to sell to Americans. It’s going to be a lot harder to find suicide bombers when the average citizen knows that Americans buy the stuff his factory makes. After all, it’s not the real ideologues who strap on the bombs, it’s the disaffected youth who turn to ideologues who offer a scapegoat for their own misery.

The main difference between Israel and the U.S. is that Israelis (for the most part) realize that they’re fighting for their survival. Americans were more inclined to believe that right after 9/11, but the rage has subsided.

Not to sound too cynical here, but are we really fighting for our survival? As bad as 9/11 was, it’s not like it really threatened the very existence of the U.S. There are close to 300,000,000 in the nation. Fewer than 3,000 died on 9/11. The murder rate is somewhere around 7.4 per 100,000. We’re killing ourselves at a far faster rate than terrorists are managing.

I don’t mean to belittle the problem, but I do think that reaction to 9/11 was a bit overblown. It’s not like large-scale terrorism came into existence in September 2001. It was just new to us. I suspect that the biggest threat to American survival lies not in what terrorists can do to us but rather in what we can do to ourselves. I’m going to sound like a left-winger here maybe, but it seems to me that a lot of what we did in response to 9/11 was to make ourselves less liberal (in the broad sense that you and I share).

Let’s suppose that we do prevent another 9/11. What cost are we willing to pay to do that?

I’ll put the point another way. Andrew Sullivan pointed out a few months ago that, relative to their population size, Iraq was experiencing the equivalent of a 9/11 every day. That got better for a while, but it’s back to being pretty bad again. Despite all that horror, no one really questions whether or not Iraq will survive. Given that the U.S. is in almost incomparably better shape than Iraq, it’s hard to imagine that America’s survival is actually at stake.

And before you mention it, yes, the nuclear threat is a different story entirely. There’s a nice quote from the movie The Peacemaker, in which Nicole Kidman’s character says, “I’m not afraid of the man who wants 10 nuclear weapons, Colonel. I’m terrified of the man who only wants one.” Well, I’m also afraid of some men who want 10, since lots of them are the sort who wouldn’t mind having only 9 and selling the other to the lunatic who just wants one. It thus puzzles me deeply that we’re spending so much money to stabilize a place formerly ruled by a lunatic who had no nuclear weapons and wasn’t close to having any while completely ignoring another lunatic who does have nuclear weapons and cozying up to a bunch of criminals who have access to thousands of them.


Other related posts:
9/11 and Pearl Harbor
Vietnam and Iraq as Metaphors
Wisdom about the War on Terrror
Why Sovereignty?
Getting It All Wrong about the Risk of Terrorism
Final (?) Words about Preemption and the Constitution
More Final (?) Words about Preemption and the Constitution
Riots, Culture, and the Final Showdown
A Rant about Torture
What If We Lose?
The Best Defense . . .
A Skewed Perspective on Terrorism
Defense as the Ultimate Social Service
Not Enough Boots: The Why of It
Liberalism and Sovereignty
The Media, the Left, and War
Getting It Wrong and Right about Iran
The Decision to Drop the Bomb
Delusions of Preparedness
A Grand Strategy for the United States
Transnationalism and National Defense
The War on Terror, As It Should Have Been Fought
Preemptive War
Preemptive War and Iran
Some Thoughts and Questions about Preemptive War
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
My Defense of the A-Bomb
Today’s Lesson in Economics: How to Think about War
LBJ’s Dereliction of Duty
Terrorism Isn’t an Accident
The Ken Burns Apology Tour Continues
Planning for the Last War
The Folly of Pacifism

My View of Mill, Endorsed

Scott Yenor, writing in “The Problem with the ‘Simple Principle’ of Liberty” (Law & Liberty, March 19, 2018), makes a point about J.S. Mill’s harm principle that I have made many times. Yenor begins by quoting the principle:

The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. . . . The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. . . .The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part that merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

This is the foundational principle of libertarianism, and it is deeply flawed, as Yenor argues (successfully, in my view). He ends with this:

[T]he simple principle of [individual] liberty undermines community and compromises character by compromising the family. As common identity and the family are necessary for the survival of liberal society—or any society—I cannot believe that modes of thinking based on the “simple principle” alone suffice for a governing philosophy. The principle works when a country has a moral people, but it doesn’t make a moral people.

Here are some of the posts in which I address liberty as Mill saw it and as I see it:

On Liberty
Parsing Political Philosophy
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
The Meaning of Liberty
Understanding Hayek
Burkean Libertarianism
What Is Libertarianism?
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Why Conservatism WorksLiberty and Society
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
Defining Liberty
The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)
Getting Liberty Wrong
My View of Libertarianism
Social Norms and Liberty
More About Social Norms and Liberty
Individualism, Society, and Liberty
The Harm Principle Revisited: Mill Conflates Society and State
Liberty and Social Norms Re-examined

This Is a Test…

… of Facebook. Today I set up a special Facebook page (here) to publicize the posts at this blog.

In addition, I ordered a “boost” for one of my recent posts, which is decidedly negative about leftism (as all of my political posts are). It’s not as incendiary as this one, but it’s hot enough to singe any leftist who gets too close to it.

I’m now waiting to see if FB declines my order to boost the post and/or blocks the page on which my posts appear. Stay tuned.

UPDATE, 03/20/18

I received a notification this morning that Facebook has approved my promotion. That’s a step in the right direction. Next question: What will Facebook do to my page if (more likely when) it is flagged as objectionable by some readers?

UPDATE, 04/01/18

The “boost” resulted in some additional traffic, but not enough to make it worth my while to pay for more. The good news, so far, is that there’s been no backlash from Facebook or its users. I guess this blog is just too insignificant and non-inflammatory.

 

Realities

Realities presents the best of Politics & Prosperity in the form of polished and updated articles. Some of them consolidate material that was scattered among several related posts at this blog. Give it a look.

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