Saturday, December 08, 2007

Why I am not a Rothbardian

Having abandoned the core libertarian stance -- opposition to mass murder by the State -- [Brink] Lindsay [sic] and his ilk are on their way out of libertarianism, as I've explained elsewhere, while [Ron] Paul and his "backward-looking" brethren represent the future of the movement.

That's Justin Raimondo of AntiWar.Com, having a cow about Cato Institute Research VP Brink Lindsey's criticisms of Ron Paul as quoted in The Nation.

Most of my reasons for not personally supporting Ron Paul's campaign have been pretty clear, at least to myself.

For example, I believe that "major party" libertarian campaigns are a detour onto a dead end road; that they're inherently a waste of effort that can't produce meaningful change in the direction of more liberty. I believe that it's going to take a new party (maybe the Libertarian Party, maybe not, but they're the only game in town right now that isn't rigged in favor of more state power) to move us toward liberty, because the fortunes of the Democratic and Republican parties are too tied up in their shared monopoly on power for them to risk their piece of that monopoly by breaking away from the status quo in any significant respect.

That's my strategic problem with the Paul campaign.

My ideological problem with the Paul campaign is that Paul is libertarian on some issues, and not on others. What I've been unable to figure out, until now, is why arguing that point seems to not make a dent in the resolve of some that supporting Paul must constitute a litmus test for one's libertarianism or deficiency thereof. And Raimondo has just handed me the explanation.

... the core libertarian stance -- opposition to mass murder by the State ...

Well, no. The core libertarian stance is opposition to initiation of force, and the core libertarian stance in the context of politics is opposition to initiation of force in institutionalized form, i.e. by the state (I don't respect the state enough to give it capitalized proper name status, and seeing other libertarians do so is one of my pet peeves).

Initiation of force takes many forms. Yes, mass murder, including in the form of aggressive war, is one of those forms, and the worst ... but there are others. Day in and day out, the state steals little pieces of many, many more lives than it takes entirely. It steals some of your income. It steals some of your discretion as to what sexual behavior is appropriate between consenting adults. It draws imaginary lines on the ground and dictates who may cross those lines and for what peaceful purposes they may do so.

I'm Misesian to the extent that I recognize the applicability of calculation problems. I can't tell you whether or not three thwarted border crossings, two criminal charges for consensual acts of sodomy between consenting adults, and $20,000 in capital gains taxes are "less than," "equal to," or "greater than" one murdered Iraqi in some hypothetical unit of force initiation. I'm happy to take the word of Justin Raimondo that the answer is "less than" -- but I'm not willing to take the next step, because it leads off a ledge.

That next step is the Rothbardian proclamation, as trumpeted by Raimondo, of "the primacy of foreign policy in determining the politics and direction of an ideological movement."

I certainly give great weight to foreign policy issues, and have generally agreed with Raimondo and with the editorial line of AntiWar.Com on those issues. But primacy -- "the state of being first in importance?" No. At least not if that means in action what Raimondo now seems to be saying it means: That it is the affirmative obligation of libertarians to support a candidate who is libertarian on foreign policy, even if that candidate is anti-libertarian on other issues.

That seems to be the gravamen of Raimondo's approach to the matter of libertarian non-support for Ron Paul, as well as the approach of the "paleo-libertarian" bloc. To be honest, it strikes me as a mirror image -- admittedly distorted, but discernible -- of the Eric Dondero line on supporting Rudy Giuliani: "Who cares about the war, dude? C'mon -- he's pro-choice on abortion!"

In the absence of a "perfect libertarian" candidate (i.e. a candidate who agrees with me in every respect on what it means to be a libertarian, and expresses that agreement consistently in his or her policy positions, of course!), one obviously must make choices between "less than perfect libertarian" candidates on the basis of issues (or just write off electoral politics as a bad job -- which some libertarians have done and for which I cannot blame them).

I certainly weight my preferences among these candidates heavily on foreign policy, to the extent that I simply will not support a candidate who supports the war on Iraq, period, end of story. Far be it from me, however, to attempt to dictate the values of other voters. Back to Mises/Rothbard 101 -- value is subjective. I can't pick your values for you, and neither can Justin Raimondo. You have to choose them yourself.

If Paul was distinguishable from other candidates by virtue of being the only presidential candidate to oppose the war on Iraq, I'd probably vote for him, my other problems with his party affiliation and anti-libertarian policy positions notwithstanding. But make no mistake about this: That party affiliaton and those anti-libertarian policy positions would make this a "hold my nose and go for the lesser evil" vote. I certainly wouldn't consider the decision to cast or not cast that vote to be a litmus test on whether or not I am a "real libertarian."

Thing is, Ron Paul isn't the only presidential candidate who opposes the war on Iraq. I have a number of such candidates to choose from, even within the "major" parties (Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich, for example). And, running on the Libertarian Party line, I can choose between Steve Kubby, George Phillies and Christine Smith in full confidence that any of the three, if elected, would make unilateral, unconditional and immediate withdrawal of US forces from Iraq a first order of business. Or hell, Cynthia McKinney is seeking the Green Party line.

The electorate suffers from no shortage of anti-war candidates whom any voter may choose to support or not support. Nor, in my opinion, are libertarians bound by any a priori strategic or ideological constraints against choosing a candidate other than Paul to support.

Even setting aside partisan/strategic considerations, I prefer a candidate who doesn't hold the crossing of those imaginary lines on the ground hostage to his fear of "cultural balkanization" or to his (anti-Rothbardian, by the way -- see the 6th of the Libertarian Party Rothbard Caucus's "ten points") "particular orderism." I prefer a candidate who defends the rights of all people versus all states, not one who ascribes to some states a legitimate power to decree who may or may not marry whom, even if the Constitution must be damaged to implement that power. And I have plenty of candidates to choose from who are sound not only on foreign policy, but on those other issues as well.

Even as I've written this piece, I've been struck by the notion that perhaps I am a Rothbardian in at least some sense.

My logic is more Misesian that Raimondo's where values are concerned, and I suspect he's somewhat skewed in his evaluation of others' actual valuations in any case. Quoth he in the Nation article concerning the "beltway libertarians" at Cato:

As long as they can abort their babies and sodomize each other and take as many drugs as they want to, they are happy. They don't care who is being killed in Iraq and how many Iraqis are dying. That's their hierarchy of values.

... which, whatever my problems with some of Cato's line may be, I don't believe for a moment.

Furthermore, I've not only preserved "primacy of foreign policy" as a voting consideration (even if only through luck of the draw), but I've chosen a candidate who out-Rothbards Ron Paul on "particular orderism" as applied to immigration.

Go figure. Perhaps Rothbard's biographer should crack his own book.

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