Goldberg's Got Us

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reading National Review Online Editor Jonah
Goldberg's latest putdown
of Lincoln-hating states'-rights libertarians,
I was reminded of that Monty Python skit, "Stake Your Claim."
As I recall, a guy comes onto this Python game show and claims to
have built the London Bridge. The host points out that the bridge
was built long before the contestant was born. To which, the contestant
blurts out, "I can see, you're more than a match for me!"

Goldberg is more than a match for me, and for all the other devoted
readers of I mean, none of us had ever thought
of it! The simple undermining of everything we hold dear was always
right in front of us. All it took was a brilliant – and did
I mention cheeky? – young neocon editor to point it out to
us. Talk about cognitive dissonance.

"it" was Goldberg's argument that if anyone can think
of even one example in which force is justified, then the entire
libertarian argument unravels. Goldberg used the example of a drunken
friend who is about to commit suicide. Wouldn't a true friend use
force to save her life? Of course he would. And, since any human
being with any decency would save his friend from suicide, then
we can't really be libertarians, at least not intellectually honest

how Goldberg puts it: "If it's moral for one person to use
force to keep a friend from committing suicide – under these
specific circumstances – would it be wrong for two people to
do it? I mean, what if you're not strong enough to keep her from
killing herself? Can you ask another friend to help? Again, the
answer is supposed to be yes. From there it's downhill. Okay, so
if it's right for two people, how about ten? If it's right for ten,
how about a hundred? If a hundred, how about a thousand? And so

if instead of a thousand people, how about one person – called
a u2018police officer' – whom the thousand people had hired to
handle precisely such situations? Is he morally barred from doing
the right thing because he gets a government paycheck?"

libertarians – at least the "bad" Lew Rockwell-types,
as opposed to the "good" Reason and Cato types who don't
fuss about dead U.S. dictators – err in the direction of not
allowing government to exert force. But using the same logic, the
Goldberg argument could lead to a totalitarian state.

drugged-out friend of mine is about to commit suicide. As a good
neo-conservative, I would never dare to help him myself. So I call
the trusted police. In about 10 minutes – 8 minutes after my
friend shoots himself in the head – they arrive in SWAT teams
and take over my neighborhood. They break into the wrong house,
find marijuana and plug the residents in the back with their special-issue
assault weapons. That's all OK, you see, because force is justified.

to build a philosophy around ridiculous scenarios, no?

is, under the libertarian worldview, there might be times that some
beneficial government intervention was avoided. But at least oodles
of bad uses of government are avoided also. And there's also a clear
rationale for knowing when to employ force. Goldberg suggests that
instead of seeing government as an evil, we should rely on time-tested
traditions to determine the proper scope of government. If one person
thinks force is good, and two and maybe 10 do, and the majority
does, then it must be OK. Which, in reality, means government can
do anything at all for any old reason – provided it has most
of the public snookered.

can hear the neocon protests already. They too are for limited government.
They're simply reasonable limited-government people. They're just
not fanatics or nuts like we are. But here's a little quiz to demonstrate
just how meaningless the neocon approach is to limiting government.

1: If a U.S. president waged a bloody war against his own people,
took joy in implementing martial law, and replaced a relatively
free republic with a centralized and less-free mega-state, is he:
a) a tyrant or b) the nation's greatest president?

nuts: a


2: If a nation has troops in 143 nations, starves the defenseless
children of a small far-off nation for no particular reason and
routinely bombs foreign peoples on the whim of the nation's leader,
its foreign policy is: a) evil; b) imperialistic; or c) wonderful,
although not quite aggressive enough?

nuts: a and b


3: The federal government is a large and out-of-control behemoth.
If a Republican president slows its rate of growth from, say, 7
percent to 4 percent, and returns a sliver of its subjects' tax
dollars, that is: a) meaningless or b) a revolutionary achievement?

nuts: a


get the idea. Libertarian nuts may be hard to please, argumentative,
adherents of a philosophy that has no resonance among the political
class. We might even at times resemble the smelly guy Goldberg avoids
on the bus. But at least our commitment to limited government is
more realistic than the neocons'. They have no firm guideposts for
deciding when and where to employ force.

leaves us defending freedom, and them defending Lincoln, FDR, nuclear
attacks on Japanese cities, child-killing sanctions, Teddy Roosevelt,
murderous FBI raids, $2 trillion federal budgets, civil rights laws
that outlaw the freedom of association and rampant police shootings
induced by a federalized drug war.

is looking nutty now?

26, 2001

Greenhut [send
him mail
] is a senior editorial writer for the Orange County
Register in Santa Ana, Calif.

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