Carthaginam Esse Delendam

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first exposure to a rigorous defense of liberty was in The Cato
Journal, published by the Cato Institute. I came across it almost
by accident in the journals section of my college library, and there
found an article advocating the abandonment of public education.
Nearly a decade later, I found an
issue devoted to the legacy of Mises and Hayek
, which aroused
curiosity leading me to the Mises
and eventually to
I continue to read Cato’s Daily Commentaries and Daily Dispatches,
which have nearly always supported liberty and (to repeat myself)
opposed war.

Cato’s Response to 9-11

September 11, however, the Cato Institute has given a rousing endorsement
of the administration's war on terrorism. Many of the commentaries
do, of course, suggest restraint in
different areas
(controlling the symptoms of the war). But the
call to war is unmistakable. One of the early Daily Commentaries
simply assumed, without analysis, that “military
action is the appropriate response
.” Another early comment stated
that waging war “is
entirely justified
,” although the “war” spoken of was that against
the terrorists involved. Then appeared a Commentary equating warfare
with wealth
(later followed by one stating that military
action increases stock prices
). Then, still early on, David
Boaz set the tone for the future, denigrating those who dissent
from President Bush's fight as enemies
of market freedom
. Mr. Boaz’ commentary was interesting. He
praised Bill and Hillary Clinton for their patriotism, then desperately
attempted to categorize every enemy of war as an enemy of “progress
and pluralism, tolerance and freedom.” His first target was Jerry
Falwell, for daring to suggest that God might not protect a wicked,
godless people. (Boaz edits “abortionists” out of Falwell's comments
to suit his point.) Falwell is then lumped in with Bush haters,
flag haters, and market haters, all of whom supposedly blame America
for the attacks out of a Puritan envy of pleasure, and none of whom
address the American evil most obviously linked to terrorism: our
government's conduct in the Middle East. Rather than address this
argument, Mr. Boaz prefers simply to join Bush in calling America
“good” and terrorists “evil.”

now we know the ethical philosophy of the Cato Institute: when our
enemy is indisputably evil, we can deflect without analysis the
question of our own evil. This is, apparently, a philosophy much
more suited to our times than one now two millennia old. Matt. 7:1-5;
Matt. 19:17.

taken up the cause of warfare, Cato did not look back. Gary Dempsey
took the war cry to its extreme, arguing that terrorists should
not be tried, but should be treated as illegal combatants “subject
to summary execution upon detection
.” The closest support which
I have been able to find for this proposition is that illegal combatants
are subject to “targeting” just as any other combatant (and thus
lose the protections of their apparent civilian status), that captured
or surrendered illegal combatants lose prisoner of war status (and
thus can be prosecuted under local law), and that illegal combatants
can be prosecuted for war crimes. I have found nothing to support
“summary execution upon detection” of those not in combat when encountered,
though I am open to correction if in error.

from positive law to legal theory, the only strain in liberal theory
which could support “summary execution upon detection” would be
anarchy. Anarchy would (under most constructions) uphold the individual's
right to be a judge in his own cause without granting him immunity
for making an erroneous judgment. Every theory of anarchy which
I have seen, however, also recognizes that making every man a judge
of his own cause creates such a threat of error and retaliation
that most will seek public legitimacy through some adjudication
generally accepted as reliable. In addition, the possibility of
error raises not just a utilitarian justification for public legitimacy,
but also a moral element: it is not just dangerous, but immoral
to take the life, liberty and property of the innocent. The power
to judge is not license to judge carelessly.

the government the power of summary execution adds the additional
likelihood that the conduct of the executioner will be attributed
to the governed by those threatened with summary execution, or by
the heirs of those summarily executed. If a power which endangers
innocents both foreign and domestic is to be employed, the government
should at a minimum support its claim by “let[ting]
Facts be submitted to a candid world
.” No facts, of course,
have been forthcoming.

President Bush moderated Mr. Dempsey’s “summary execution” approach
by providing at least the show of a military tribunal before execution.
(Another Cato writer later
to the domestic use of military tribunals.)

J. Michaels then claimed that our allies should drop their Kyoto
demands because (of all reasons) it hampers the government's ability
to pollute during wartime. He then assured our green allies that
it will be OK, since the war will leave the world with even bigger
governments, which they can use to make life even worse than under
Kyoto (he really
says this

Boaz then returned to the fray, arguing that all true libertarians
must support
the war
. He supported, among other questionable objectives,
the removal of the Taliban from power, now accomplished.

Three Historical “Catos”

for the Institute's name
is the pen name adopted by John Trenchard
and Thomas Gordon, who wrote the libertarian Cato
in the early 1720s. Trenchard and Gordon were in
turn inspired by the Roman statesman Cato the Younger and his opposition
to the same evils which they saw in the administration of Robert
Walpole: bribery and corruption. Colonial American political thought
was strongly inspired by the Cato Letters, to the point that
Americans considered them “the most authoritative statement of the
nature of political liberty.” Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins
of the American Revolution 36 (1992).

Since 9-11, however, the Cato Institute has assumed the position
of another historical Cato: Cato the Elder, also known as Cato the
Censor. Cato the Elder had developed a passionate hatred for Carthage
(there was apparently much to detest), Rome's enemy in two prior
wars. For the last seven or eight years of his life, Cato the Elder
ended every speech with the words: Delenda est Carthago (“Carthage
must be destroyed”). Cato the Elder was posthumously rewarded for
his persistence by the Third Punic War, in which Rome destroyed
Carthage and spread salt over the ruins. Now that today's Rome is
completing the destruction of today's Carthage, let it likewise
be remembered that this is Cato's war.

11, 2001

G. Black [send him e-mail]
practices law in Mesa, Arizona.


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