Month: August 2006

Eternity Road Takes It Up Several Notches

Francis W. Porretto, proprietor of Eternity Road, takes my humble post of yesterday (“Utopian Schemes“) and builds upon it a towering edifice of erudition and logic. Go there and read the whole thing. I’m still digesting it, and I may — or may not — have more to say on the subject.

Utopian Schemes

In the preceding post I referred to anarcho-capitalism. Anarcho-capitalism rests on the utopian proposition that peace and liberty can reign in a stateless world in which human beings freely contract with each other for all goods and services, including justice and defense. But admitting that justice and defense might be necessary is tantamount to admitting that peace and liberty might not reign, that there are renegades — potentially powerful ones — who are uninterested in peaceful cooperation, free markets, property rights, and all the rest of it. From there it is but a step to imagine that such renegades might prevail. And it is but another step to acknowledge that they have prevailed in many places and at many times, up to and including the present.

Anarcho-capitalism is not the only utopian worldview, of course. Consider this definition of utopian: “The ideals or principles of a[n] . . . idealistic and impractical social theory.” Communism and socialism also fit that definiton. The difference between anarcho-capitalism, on the one hand, and communism and socialism, on the other hand, is that communism and socialism have reigned in some places and at some times. But they have reigned in name only; like anarcho-capitalism, pure communism and pure socialism are idealistic and impractical.

And it is practicality that matters, not imaginary schemes based on implausible assumptions about human nature. Most persons know instinctively that anarcho-capitalism is nothing but a pipe dream, an ideology not worth their time and attention. Anarcho-capitalism (like its close relative, Objectivism) is mainly the refuge of naïfs, cranks, malcontents, and persons under the age of 25 who are still searching for “the meaning of life.” Anarcho-capitalism, in other words, can actually harm the cause of liberty to the extent that it is mistaken for realistic libertarianism.

What is realistic libertarianism? It is Hayekian classical liberalism, which focuses on the maximization of liberty under the aegis of a state that dispenses justice and provides for the common defense. (See this, this, and this, for example.) Our most realistic hope for living in something close to a state of classical liberalism is the realization of the principles of the Constitution of the United States. Those principles more or less held sway for 120 years, until the advent of the “progressive” movement about 100 years ago.

Is the Constitution a perfect statement of libertarian principles? No. Are the principles the Constitution still attainable in practice? Perhaps not entirely. But the Constitution still says what it says — its words cannot be obliterated. It is therefore a realistic and practical project to restore something like constitutional government to the United States. As I suggested in the preceding post, we may be only a Supreme Court justice or two away from beginning to undo the damage of the past 100 years.

What Is the American Constitution?

I recently came across an essay written by Donald J. Boudreaux in 1998: “What Is the American Constitution?Boudreaux — who is now a co-blogger at the excellent Cafe Hayek and its companion, Market Correction, and also serves as chairman of the Department of Economics at George Mason University — wrote the essay when he was president (1997-2001) of the Foundation for Economic Education.

Boudreaux is an idealistic libertarian who, in my reading of him, seems to be an anarcho-capitalist (a.k.a. stateless capitalist). Eerily, “What Is the American Constitution?” parallels the views of Roger Scruton — a conservative, statist, monarchist, skeptic of free markets — as expressed in his The Meaning of Conservatism, which I am now reading. (I won’t say more about Scruton’s book until I’ve finished it.)

Here I comment on several excerpts of Boudreaux’s essay. In the end I offer a much different view of the American constitution than that offered by Boudreaux.

I begin with Boudreaux’s thesis:

The constitution is neither a document nor the collection of words in a document. Instead, the constitution is the dominant ideology within us, an ideology that determines what we permit each other to do, as well as what we permit government to do. No words on parchment, regardless of the pedigree of that parchment or of the men and women who composed those words, will ever override the prevailing belief system of the people who form a polity.

Boudreaux suggests that the constitution is only what “we” allow each other to do. But “we” are, to a large extent, bound by the decrees of government (popular or not) and government’s ability to enforce those decrees. That there is not a one-to-one linkage between the “prevailing belief system” of the people and what the people are allowed to do (or not do) can be seen, for example, in the imposition of integration in the South, the legalization of abortion, and the collection of taxes to support for several years what had become an unpopular war in Vietnam.

Moreover, it is far from clear that there is a “prevailing belief system” that enables “us” to agree about what “we permit each other to do, as well as what we permit government to do.” Can there be such a monolith in a republic whose citizens are so heterogenous in ethnicity, religion, education, economic status, social status, intelligence, and exposure to the arguments for and against free markets (to name only a few aspects of dissimilarity)? I doubt it. There may be general agreement about such matters as the wrongness of murder and theft, but that general agreement does not translate to a national consensus about what constitutes murder or theft, or how (or whether) they should be punished. (Consider, for example, the disparate ways in which murder and theft are parsed in the laws of the States, the equally disparate sentences that may be applied to those various degrees of murder and theft, and the broad latitude exercised by prosecutors and juries in their application of the law.) The meaning of liberty (and how best to secure it) is similarly surrounded in discord. Thus we inevitably fall back on government as the means by which to reach and enforce compromises about what we permit each other to do and what we permit government to do.

Let us return to Boudreaux, as he discusses the disparity between the written Constitution and the de facto constitution:

We have at hand ready proof that the constitution is ideology rather than words in a document. Read the document popularly called “the Constitution” and ask if it accurately describes the law of the land. Your answer will almost certainly be no. That document clearly gives to the national government only very limited powers for example, to coin money, to operate post offices, and to supply national-defense services. Today, however, Washington knows almost no restraints on how deeply its regulatory arms reach into the lives of American citizens. No species of economic regulation is off-limits to the national government. Likewise, Washington routinely and without a whiff of apology exercises governmental powers clearly intended by the framers of the Constitutional document to be reserved to each state.

Of course, the de facto constitution does not and cannot represent a coherent ideology, for the reasons discussed above. Like the written Constitution, the de facto one represents a compromise among varied interests. It has been shaped willy-nilly by generations of elected and appointed government officials, for the benefit of the shifting coalitions of special interests that have enabled those governors to govern. FDR, for example, was not elected because he promised to nationalize the means of production and institute socialistic schemes — but that is what he tried to do after he was elected. A majority (but never a super-majority) of citizens then rallied around FDR out of desperation and in the false belief that his methods were effective.

Boudreaux nevertheless tries to salvage a role for “prevailing ideology”:

Those instances in which the Constitutional document has teeth (such as the First Amendment’s prohibition of government interference with the press) are those instances in which the prevailing ideology of the American people happens to correspond with what’s written in the Constitutional document. But in those many instances when the prevailing ideology runs counter to the text of the Constitutional document, the document is toothless.

The apparent survival of freedom of the press has little to do with prevailing ideology, such as it is, and much to do with political power — not the power of “the people” but the power of special interests. Freedom of the press is fiercely defended by parties with a strong interest in the enforcement of that prohibition (e.g., the press and the liberal elites for whom the press is a mouthpiece), and by courts eager to check executive power. By the same token, a provision of the Constitution that might seem to be of interest to the people — namely the First Amendment’s prohibition of governmental interference with political speech — has been gutted by campaign-finance “reform” in the service of the nation’s most powerful special interest group: members of Congress. (I have just demonstrated public choice theory, which has several proponents and exponents among GMU’s economics faculty.)

Returning to Boudreaux:

In the past, when I got furious at the government for doing things clearly prohibited by the Constitutional document, I would declare “That’s unconstitutional!”

I was wrong. Those innumerable government actions that are at odds with the Constitutional document as well as with the principles of a free society are in fact constitutional. These actions are constitutional because the constitution is the actual legal framework of our society—and the actual legal framework in America today grants to government extraordinarily vast powers for intruding into the lives of peaceful people.

And yet, if President Bush were to appoint one or two more Supreme Court justices in the mold of John Roberts and Samuel Alito, the government might suddely find itself with fewer of those “extraordinarily vast powers.” The successful appointment of another Roberts or Alito would come about not through the osmotic application of a mythical “prevailing belief system” but, rather, through politics as usual (e.g., public relations “blitzes,” horse-trading with Democrat senators, and the enforcement of party discipline among Republican senators.)

Boudreaux proceeds to a hypothetical illustration of the power of “prevailing ideology”:

[A]sk what would happen if Congress enacted legislation banning interstate travel by Americans. Can you imagine Americans today respecting such an odious statute? Of course not despite the fact that the Constitutional document does not explicitly prevent Congress from passing such legislation. To avoid enforcement of this statute we wouldn’t have to wait to throw from office the bums who enacted it. Because of the prevailing American ideology, which is hostile to such legislation, this statute would be a nullity from the moment the President signed it.

Here, Boudreaux conjures another Prohibition. He appeals (if only subconsciously) to the popular but misguided notion that Prohibition didn’t work. In any event, Prohibtion, which lasted for 13 years, resulted from a century-long campaign against the consumption of alcoholic beverages. It wasn’t a sudden, broadly unpopular legislative whim of the type suggested by Boudreaux’s example.

There would have to be strong but far from unanimous support for a ban on interstate travel (e.g., among environmentalists, their allies on the Left, and paternalistic politicians of the McCain-Feingold ilk), which such ban would certainly grant exceptions for certain interest groups (e.g., truckers and bus companies). Lobbying and clever media campaigns could do the rest. In any event, even legislation that is not broadly popular will be honored broadly (if not by everyone) if it is seen to be enforced. (Consider, for example, the integration of Southern schools and the registration of black voters, both of which came to be the rule rather than the exception in spite of broad popular opposition to those measures.)

In any event, Boudreaux’s resort to an extreme and implausible example tells us nothing about the piecemeal subversion of the Constitution, which owes little to a mythical prevailing ideology and much to leadership, opportunism, political alliances, elite opinion, lobbying, media manipulation, interest-group log-rolling, pork-barrel legislation, judicial fiat, and the “followership” tendencies of most Americans.

Boudreaux next exalts the power of ideas:

It follows that ideas matter enormously. Ideas, not words, are the principal ingredient of the American constitution. If ideas change, so does the constitution. And the only way really to change the constitution is to change the ideas accepted by the great swath of citizens.

Yes, it does matter if ideas change. But it especially matters whose ideas change, and whose interests are served by adopting new ideas. I refer you to the final paragraph of the preceding discussion.

Boudreaux closes with this:

Liberty cannot be secured by asking its foe-the state-for more respect. Liberty cannot be secured at ballot boxes or in courtrooms. Liberty must reside in the hearts of people if it is to reign. And the only way that liberty can find its way into the hearts of people is through the promulgation and circulation of the ideas of liberty. In these ideas lies liberty’s only hope.

The promulgation of the right ideas is necessary but far from sufficient. Anti-statist ideas have gained much respectability in America since the advent of Ronald Reagan, but I cannot see that we have gained liberty as a result. Elected and appointed officials who are dedicated to liberty must come to the fore and lead the way. And then we must be lucky enough to avoid, for a very long time, another Great Depression or similar national trauma, so that the idea of liberty can sink deep roots and withstand the attempts of demagogues and power-hungry politicians to diminish liberty by appealing to fear and building coalitions of anti-liberty interests.

What, then, is the American constitution? It is whatever our governors make it out to be, regardless of the written Constitution. The people, by and large, seem willing to acquiesce in almost any unwritten constitution, as long as they retain the illusion that their particular interests are being served. Most Americans harbor that illusion because they focus on the special benefits which with their votes are bought, while failing to grasp the very high price they pay (in money and liberty) for the benefits received by others. Contrary to the proponents of campaign-finance “reform,” the money that corrupts politics flows from the governors to the governed, not the other way around.

It will take more than ideas to reform the unwritten constitution so that it passingly resembles the written one. It will take acts of moral courage and leadership. Those acts must come mainly from generations that have yet to enter the political arena. And those generations must embrace liberty in spite of the misconceptions, propaganda, and outright lies that emanate from the media, the academy, special-interest organizations, the vocal Left, and — most of all — from the governing classes, the elites whose agenda they serve, their entourages, and their constituencies.

In the meantime, the best we can hope for is another good Supreme Court justice, or two.

Remembering Katrina

It is au courant to observe the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall in Louisiana and Mississippi. But there is more to the observance than the recounting of a natural disaster and its attendant human and material cost. Katrina has been translated from a natural phenomenon to a political one. Katrina has become the weapon of choice for those who willingly embrace government as “big brother” (except when it legitimately seeks to defend them against foreign enemies), and those who like to characterize their political opponents as “uncaring” and “bigoted.” (But I repeat myself.)

Well, my way of remembering Katrina is to link to the several posts that the weaponizing of Katrina caused me to write:

Katrina’s Aftermath: Who’s to Blame? (09/01/05)
“The Private Sector Isn’t Perfect” (09/02/05)
A Modest Proposal for Disaster Preparedness (09/07/05)
No Mention of Opportunity Costs (09/08/05)
Whose Incompetence Do You Trust? (09/10/05)
An Open Letter to Michael Moore (09/13/05)
Enough of Amateur Critics (09/13/05)

Conspiracy Theories

Wikipedia offers a thorough discussion of conspiricism and a long, annotated catalog of conspiracy theories that have been popular at one time or another. The final theory in the catalog goes a long way toward explaining the present state of affairs. It also justifies the use of the somewhat controversial term “Islamic fascists.” Here it is:

IslamicFascist Axis

Radio talk show host David Emory claims that Nazi leader Martin Bormann never died and has built a global empire involving, among many others, the Bush family, Hassan al Banna, Grover Norquist, Meyer Lansky, and Michael Chertoff. This may have sprung from the factual World War Two alliance between Nazi Germany and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, a religious and political leader of the area then known as Palestine.

There’s a conspiracy theory for you: a Nazi, the Bushes, an Arab-Muslim extremist, an anti-tax conservative, a Jewish gangster, and a Jewish lawyer-prosecutor-cabinet secretary.

I can’t wait for the movie.

P.S. On a serious note, check out this piece about the “9/11 “Truth” movement.

P.P.S. In the same vein, there’s this at RightWingNutHouse.

Fire Ward Churchill

PirateBallerina has posted a petition to fire Ward Churchill:

Fire Ward Churchill

We, the undersigned faculty members of US institutions of higher learning, in order to protect and ensure the integrity of academic scholarship, applaud and support the efforts (however belated or inept) of the University of Colorado at Boulder to terminate the employment of Professor Ward Churchill, a documented historical fraud and serial plagiarizer.

The petition may be signed only by academics who teach (or taught) at U.S. institutions of higher learning. Two college professors have had the courage to identify themselves and sign the petition. If you qualify as a signatory, get in on the action. Follow this link for more information.

The Anti-Phillips Curve

The Phillips Curve, as you probably know, depicts an inverse relationship between inflation and unemployment: Inflation abates as the unemployment rate rises, and vice versa. That inverse relationship, however, holds only in a stagnant or slowly growing economy. In an economy with robust gains in productivity, inflation can abate even as the unemployment rate falls.

As Lawrence Kudlow notes, in a post at Kudlow’s Money Politic$, “over the last 25 years, unemployment and inflation have actually moved in tandem and they have both moved down.” That’s exactly right. From 1929 until the early 1980s, when inflation was brought under control, inflation (as measured by the GDP deflator) tended to move in a direction opposite that of the unemployment rate. Since the early 1980s, both inflation and the unemployment rate have been moving generally downward, that is, in the same direction:

Expectations of higher inflation, ceteris paribus, drive up interest rates and make capital investments less attractive; expectations of lower inflation, by the same token, make capital investments more attractive. Expectations of lower and then consistently low inflation since the early 1980s have encouraged investments that, in themselves, help to contain inflation by making it possible to produce goods and services at lower (real) cost. Those investments also have fueled more rapid (and less volatile) economic growth than that experienced from the end of World War II to the early 1980s. As a result, job creation has tended to outpace the growth of the labor pool; thus the downward trend in the unemployment rate. The postive frame of mind caused by lower inflation, coupled with more robust economic growth, has been reinforced by having had two tax-cutting presidents (Reagan and Bush II) and the Republican-enforced fiscal discipline of the Clinton presidency. It’s all a virtuous cycle.

Thus endeth the Phillips Curve, unless and until our “masters” in Washington decide, once again, to stifle economic growth by raising taxes and reinstituting the regulatory excesses of the Clinton era.

The Price of Liberty

Justin Logan, one of Cato Institute’s nay-sayers, asks: “What Would You Rather Have, The War in Iraq or $1,075?” He notes, “That’s how much you’ve spent on it so far.”

Well, I know his answer: He’d rather have the $1,075. That’s because he’s one of those paleo-libertarians who’d rather wait until he sees the whites of his enemy’s eyes, that is, until it’s too late.

My answer: I’d rather have a successful war in Iraq, even if it costs me a lot more than $1,075. World War II cost the average American more than $20,000 in today’s dollars, not to mention the vastly greater number of casualties inflicted on American forces in that war than in Iraq.

Regardless of what paleo-libertarians and their Leftist allies may think, the war in Iraq is a facet of a larger effort to defeat terrorism, in part by neutralizing its state sponsors. It is not an exercise to slake the blood-lust or power-lust of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld axis.

It is imperative to win in Iraq, just as it is imperative to keep the airways safe, even if that means inconveniencing travelers. Terrorists win when they kill us, not when we thwart them. They certainly do not win when a flight is diverted or canceled, as whiners and scoffers (of all political stripes) would have it.

Related posts:
Not Enough Boots
Defense as the Ultimate Social Service
I Have an Idea

I Have an Idea

Let’s just pack up and go home. That’s what the paleos (conservative, libertarian, and liberal) want us to do. So let’s just do it:

  • Let’s pull all of our armed forces back to the United States and its territorial waters. (Better yet, let’s disband the armed forces: threats to the U.S. are merely illusory.)
  • Let’s leave Western Europe to rot in its own socialistic, Muslim-infested juices.
  • Let’s leave the Turks, Kurds, sheikhs, Jihadists, and others to fight it out over the fate of the Middle East and North Africa and their vast reservoirs of oil. (Though we should ensure that Israel is well-stocked with nuclear weapons before we leave.)
  • Let’s leave Central and South America, with their oil and other natural resources, to Hugo Chavez and his ilk.
  • Let’s leave China, North Korea, South Korea, and Japan to fight it out over the fate of East Asia.
  • Let’s leave India, Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan to fight it out over the fate of South and Southwest Asia.
  • Let’s allow the resurgent imperialism of Vladimir Putin to feast on Eastern Europe, the Balkans, the “Stans,” and who knows what else.
  • Let’s just pretend that everything will turn out all right: that someone else will deal with the predators out there; that natural resources won’t be monopolized by despots; and that international trade will flow apace.
  • Let nothing stand between us and the Stalins, Hitlers, and Maos of the 21st Century.

Let’s just do it — and leave this legacy for our descendants:

  • More widespread poverty than at any time since the Great Depression. (Not the “simple but happy” life of the Luddite Left’s imagining.)
  • A garrison state, devoting a large share of a reduced national output to the (perhaps futile) task of keeping predators at bay.

Is that what the paleos want? That’s what they seem to want, given their inability either (a) to find a real threat to our existence or (b) to offer a coherent strategy for dealing with those enemies whose existence they are willing to acknowledge.

Related posts:
Not Enough Boots
Defense as the Ultimate Social Service

The Meaning of Conservatism: A First Reaction

I am reading Roger Scruton’s The Meaning of Conservatism. I have finished the first two chapters. There is, thus far, much with which I agree and that I have said already: here and here, for example.

That is all for now. I will say no more about the book until I get deeper into it. Perhaps not until I finish it and have mulled it thoroughly.

Excellence

When it comes to athletic events, I do not root for an underdog just for the sake of doing so. An underdog is an underdog for a good reason — he, she, or it has compiled a record that is not as good as that of the athletes or teams he, she, or it is up against. I may root for an underdog because the underdog is (for some other reason) an athlete or a team that I favor. But that’s the end of it.

I prefer enduring excellence. That is why, for example, I enjoy watching Tiger Woods play golf. It will be a sad day for me when his skills diminsh to the point where he is no longer the golfer that he has been for most of the past ten years. I just hope that he is succeeded by another electrifying talent, not by a “committee” of also-rans.

Defense as the Ultimate Social Service

After posting “Not Enough Boots” I remembered Strategy for the West, by Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir John Slessor. There, Slessor says:

It is customary in democratic countries to deplore expenditures on armaments as conflicting with the requirements of the social services. There is a tendency to forget that the most important social service that a government can do for its people is to keep them alive and free.

Not Enough Boots

Mike Rappaport of The Right Coast despairs about Iraq:

[I]t does seem to me that we are now clearly losing in Iraq in large part because the President and Secretary of Defense refused to put enough troops in a couple of years ago. Hardly the first time people will have heard this, but it is the first time that I feel convinced of it.

Perhaps it is not even too late now militarily to put more troops in, but politically the White House seems unlikely to do so. They don’t seem to understand that when it comes to war, it is essential to win. And they are not doing that.

Combined with the Lebanon situation, it is enough to make you despair. Five years out from 9-11, and things look pretty dangerous.

Rappaport, like many another conservative, seems to have been hypnotized by the incessant drumbeat of defeatism in the mainstream media. But he points, nevertheless, to a significant truth: At a time when our forward military strategy requires a larger ground-combat force than it did after the end of the Cold War, that force (i.e., the Army and Marine Corps) remains at the low, post-Cold War levels reached during the Clinton era. Here, courtesy of infoplease, is a history of active duty manpower levels since 1940:

Active Duty Military Personnel, 1940–20061

Year Army Air Force Navy Marine Corps Total
1940 269,023 160,997 28,345 458,365
1945 8,266,373 3,319,586 469,925 12,055,884
1950 593,167 411,277 380,739 74,279 1,459,462
1955 1,109,296 959,946 660,695 205,170 2,935,107
1960 873,078 814,752 616,987 170,621 2,475,438
1965 969,066 824,662 669,985 190,213 2,653,926
1970 1,322,548 791,349 691,126 259,737 3,064,760
1975 784,333 612,751 535,085 195,951 2,128,120
1980 777,036 557,969 527,153 188,469 2,050,627
1985 780,787 601,515 570,705 198,025 2,151,032
1990 732,403 535,233 579,417 196,652 2,043,705
1991 710,821 510,432 570,262 194,040 1,985,555
1992 610,450 470,315 541,886 184,529 1,807,177
1993 572,423 444,351 509,950 178,379 1,705,103
1994 541,343 426,327 468,662 174,158 1,610,490
1995 508,559 400,409 434,617 174,639 1,518,224
1996 491,103 389,001 416,735 174,883 1,471,722
1997 491,707 377,385 395,564 173,906 1,438,562
1998 483,880 367,470 382,338 173,142 1,406,830
1999 479,426 360,590 373,046 172,641 1,385,703
2000 482,170 355,654 373,193 173,321 1,384,338
2001 480,801 353,571 377,810 172,934 1,385,116
2002 486,542 368,251 385,051 173,733 1,413,577
2003 490,174 376,402 379,742 177,030 1,423,348
2004 494,112 369,523 370,445 177,207 1,411,287
2005 488,944 351,666 358,700 178,704 1,378,014
2006 (June) 496,362 352,620 353,496 178,923 1,381,401
NOTE: Figures for 1998 through 2006 include cadets/midshipmen.

1. Military personnel on extended or continuous active duty. Excludes reserves on active duty for training.

Source: Department of Defense.

Information Please® Database, © 2006 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.

The problem isn’t so much with the present administration (though it can be faulted) as it is with the unwillingness of adminstrations and Congresses since the end of the Cold War to provide adequately for the common defense.

More generally, the problem lies in the mindset that takes the end of a war as a signal to demobilize — as we did after World War I, World War II, Vietnam, and the Cold War. It is considered dangerous to prepare for the last war. But it is even more dangerous to assume that the next war will not happen, or that it will be easier than the last.

Englishman Douglas Jerrold, speaking to the Empire Club of Canada in 1949, put it this way:

“But”, say the strategists, “what is the use of attempting to build up ground forces, because who knows what the next war is going to be like, and anything we do now will be out of date?” That is always the argument used in progressive circles for doing nothing. It is what the politicians call “statesmanship”, but statesmen call it by a harder name. There is no record in history of a war which has been lost by preparing for the last war; on the contrary, wars are always lost by those who, failing to do this, inevitably make no preparation at all. If we take the last two great wars, 1914 and 1939, the immense initial successes of the German forces were due solely to the fact that they, and they alone had prepared for the last war. In 1914 they had prepared for the Russo-Japanese War, the war of entrenchments and massed field artillery, and in 1939 they had prepared for the new mechanized war which was used by the British in the Battle of Cambrai in 1917. Had the British and French in 1940 had even half the number of tanks that they employed at Cambrai in 1917, the battle of France would have been won and not lost.

We have got to realize that we have imperative obligations in this matter. The whole of history is one long lesson of the fatal and irrevocable consequences of not being prepared militarily, and there is no technical, financial or other reason why we should not be adequately prepared. Today it is a matter of will power and will power only, and a matter of instructing public opinion in the elements of the necessities of the case.

Hear, hear!

An Opportunity for Libertarian Relevance

Republicans should do the wise thing and back the Libertarian Party’s candidate for Tom DeLay’s seat, as Don Luskin suggests. Such a move — if successful, or nearly so — might encourge the LP to follow some sage advice and back those major-party candidates who are closest to their views, instead of wasting time and money by running LP candidates, who are almost always doomed to defeat. A Republican-LP rapprochement would be good for the libertarian cause, in that it would push the Republican Party back toward its limited-government tradition. Only die-hard libertarian purists could object.

Conspiracy Theorists’ Cousins

The nut-cases who believe that 9/11 was an “inside job” won’t be deterred or converted by facts and logic, but perhaps their paranoia will not spread too far if Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can’t Stand Up To The Facts is well publicized. Austin Bay writes about Debunking at TCS Daily:

[It] expands to book-length a collection of articles Popular Mechanics published in March 2005. The book contains new appendices and updated analyses. . . .

[T]he book follows a “Claim” and “Fact” format. Here are excerpts from the section entitled “Melted Steel”:

“Claim: … ‘We have been lied to,’ announces the Web site AttackOnAmerica.net. ‘The first lie was that the load of fuel from the aircraft was the cause of structural failure. No kerosene fire can burn hot enough to melt steel.’ The posting is entitled ‘Proof Of Controlled Demolition At The WTC.’ …”

“FACT: … Jet fuel burns at 1,100 to 1,200 degrees Celsius … significantly less than the 1,510 degrees Celsius typically required to melt steel. . . . However, experts agree that for the towers to collapse, their steel frames didn’t need to melt, they just had to lose some of their structural strength — and that required exposure to much less heat…”

The “Fact” section includes analysis from structural engineers, a professor of metallurgy and explosives experts.

The 9/11 conspiracy theories have overt and covert promoters. Some are more nuisance than threat. Howard Dean verbally toyed with 9/11 conspiracy theories when he was playing primary election footsie with hard-left constituencies. . . .

[Popular Mechanics editor-in-chief James] Meigs analyzes eight 9/11 conspiracy-spinner techniques. I’ll mention two:

  1. Attempts to “marginalize opposing views.” Meigs says thousands of eyewitness 9/11 accounts and the analyses of numerous universities and professional organizations (including Underwriters Labs and the American Society of Civil Engineers) are dismissed as “the government version.”
  1. Circular reasoning. Meigs writes that ” … among 9/11 theorists, the presence of evidence supporting the mainstream view is also taken as proof of conspiracy.” He concludes: “Like doctrinaire Marxists or certain religious extremists, conspiracists enjoy a world view that is immune to refutation.”

Meigs’ analyses of “demonization” and the “paranoid style” are particularly crisp and compelling.

That should be that, but . . .

Bay’s mention of Howard Dean’s pandering to “hard-left constituencies” leads me to the conspiracy-theorists’ cousins:

  • First, there are the Leftists, who will seize on any excuse to bash a Republican administration. Such Leftists are not true conspiracy-theorists; they would not countenance an “inside job” theory were Al Gore or John Kerry in the White House. They are merely unprincipled, and unhinged in their own way. (See this and this, for example.)
  • Then there are the radical libertarians, who do not subscribe to “inside job” theories. No, their conspiracy theory runs on a parallel track: The undeniably evil state is interested only in power, and it seizes on every opportunity to accrue more power. Thus it overblows the threat of terrorism and takes away our liberties, a slice at a time. (See this, for one example.)

Radical libertarians would be a greater threat to liberty than conspiracy nuts and Leftists, were there more than enough rad-libs to fill a high-school football stadium. Why? Because they seem more plausible than conspiracy nuts and Leftists; that is, they do not foam at the mouth.

Rad-libs are quick to assign evil motives to the state, without examining the evil motives of our enemies or acknowledging the necessity of state action against those enemies (given that we do not live in the stateless nirvana to which rad-libs aspire). Rad-libs are quick to minimize the dangers of terrorism by comparing the risk of being killed by terrorism to such risks as dying in an auto accident or falling off a ladder — as if one could nullify terrorism by driving or climbing ladders more often.

Finally, rad-libs fail to acknowledge the likelihood that the low risk of being killed by terrorism is owed to those very actions that rad-libs assail as inimical to liberty (e.g., NSA surveillance, “sneak and peak” warrants). They prefer death in a pure state of liberty, which is not liberty at all.

Good News Sometimes Comes in Small Packages

It’s not headline news, but it’s good news for employers and for employees — who benefit when their employers are allowed to operate their businesses for a profit. PointofLaw.com has the story:

Courts in [California] had been in the forefront of chipping away employers’ right to terminate employees at will, a process I documented in my book The Excuse Factory some years ago. But the trend has been in retreat in recent years, and earlier this month the state Supreme Court delighted employers with a ruling declaring that when a company tells a worker that employment is at will, it means just that. . . .

The California Supreme Court . . . threw out the appellate precedent which had creatively conjured a tenure promise out of the very effort to deny one. . . .

Being offered a job, with no guarantee of getting to keep it forever or of it never changing its character. Imagine that.

Yes, imagine that. It might be an incentive to do a good job, help your employer turn a profit, and earn more money as a result. The chipping away at the doctrine of at-will employment by the courts has enabled the “worst and the weakest” to keep jobs for which they are not qualified or that they do poorly, to the detriment of their fellow employees.

The Purpose-Driven Life

The Purpose-Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?, by Rick Warren, has been on The New York Times‘s list of best-sellers (in the Hardcover Advice category) for 184 weeks. I hadn’t heard of the book until today, when I happened to channel-surf by an interview with the author. The title of his book flashed on the screen and piqued my curiosity. I didn’t linger to watch the interview, but instead turned to the web for enlightenment. Here is Amazon.com‘s review:

The spiritual premise in The Purpose-Driven Life is that there are no accidents—God planned everything and everyone. Therefore, every human has a divine purpose, according to God’s master plan. Like a twist on John F. Kennedy’s famous inaugural address, this book could be summed up like this: “So my fellow Christians, ask not what God can do for your life plan, ask what your life can do for God’s plan.” Those who are looking for advice on finding one’s calling through career choice, creative expression, or any form of self-discovery should go elsewhere. This is not about self-exploration; it is about purposeful devotion to a Christian God. The book is set up to be a 40-day immersion plan, recognizing that the Bible favors the number 40 as a “spiritually significant time,” according to author Rick Warren, the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, touted as one of the nation largest congregations. Warren’s hope is that readers will “interact” with the 40 chapters, reading them one day at a time, with extensive underlining and writing in the margins. As an inspirational manifesto for creating a more worshipful, church-driven life, this book delivers. Every page is laden with references to scripture or dogma. But it does not do much to address the challenges of modern Christian living, with its competing material, professional, and financial distractions. Nonetheless, this is probably an excellent resource for devout Christians who crave a jumpstart back to worshipfulness

That’s all well and good if you like your self-help with a heavy dose of Warren’s brand of religiosity. For those of you who are not inclined in that direction, I recommend Victor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy, which I read (and re-read) some 20 years ago. Frankl survived a Nazi concentration camp, and he uses his experiences there to introduce what he calls “logotherapy,” or “meaning-therapy.” As Frankl puts it, logotherapy

focuses on the meaning of human existence as well as on man’s search for such a meaning. According to logotherapy, the struggle to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man.

I will not try to summarize Frankl’s psychotherapeutic approach, which he outlines in the second half of the book, except to say that he addresses such topics as the meaning of life, the meaning of existence, the meaning of love, and the meaning of suffering.

Even if you’re not interested in logotherapy, the first half of this inexpensive book ($6.99 in paperback at Amazon.com) — which recounts Frankl’s experiences in the concentration camp — is well worth the price. The story is candid without resorting to graphic sensationalism, and it sets the stage for Frankl’s explanation of logotherapy in the second half.