Brink Lindsey, of the Cato Institute, has published a long u201Cblogu201D attacking u201Canti-war libertarians.u201D (Isn’t u201Canti-war libertarianu201D a redundancy?) I have to admit I hate the term u201Cblogu201D. It rhymes with flog and blob and it is hard to pronounce. Apparently, it is short for u201Cweb log,u201D which is what writers do who don’t have quite enough material for a real article. The blog ploy also gives you a little cover in case your blog doesn’t make any sense. You can say it was just a blog: spontaneous cerebral-cyber excretion.
Anyway, Lindsey’s stated purpose in the attack is to get these wacky libertarians in line with the establishment libertarian agenda of tinkering with the welfare state with welfarite school vouchers and private socialist security accounts. Lindsey does not say why he wants these misguided libertarians messing around with these banal issues. If they are wrong about the major issue of our time — war and peace — why trust them with any other issue? Pardon me if I am skeptical. It is standard operating procedure in politics to ignore your opponents unless and until they are beginning to win substantial support. Could it be that the anti-war libertarians are beginning to draw blood, metaphorically speaking, of course?
Lindsey makes some revealing arguments in his web log. (Come to think of it, I don’t like the term u201Cweb logu201D either.) Libertarian think tanks should not associate with anti-war liberals like Lewis H. Lapham. Strange, coming from a Cato man. Cato has had many left or liberal speakers over the years including Baltimore mayor Kurt Schmoke and drug policy scholar Ethan Nadelmann. Cato has published left-wing columnist Anthony Lewis. George McGovern even showed up at a Cato conference once and was treated with great respect. Horrors! And guess what. Cato once published an essay by a Lewis H. Lapham. The Crisis in Drug Prohibition, David Boaz, ed. (1990). Perhaps it wasn’t the same guy Lindsey is complaining about.
The next sin of anti-war libertarians was inviting Gore Vidal to speak at a conference. He is the u201CKing of All America Haters.u201D Gee, I thought the King of All America Haters was H. L. Mencken, the most vicious critic of America who ever lived, and after whom Cato named one of their fellowships. I don’t recall reading much where Gore Vidal attacks America; mostly he attacks the second branch of a supposedly limited federal government. Unless one equates America with the President of the federal government, that indictment must fail. Cato’s hero Mencken hated the President (which one? all of them), the Congress, and the Supreme Court, but he also took direct aim at the American people, u201CBoobus Americanus,u201D the culture, and the predominant religion.
If an u201CAmerica-hateru201D is one who strongly criticizes the bellicosity of the federation’s executive branch, Lindsey better look down his own hallway. There is, at Cato, a man who said about America’s most revered President: u201CAbraham Lincoln’s role in history may be memorable, but it is not praiseworthy. His most important decision — to plunge the nation into civil war — was wrong. In the end, he bears primary blame for mass death and destruction then and for the oppressive Leviathan state with which we must contend today.u201D Whoever uttered these words apparently thinks Lincoln — body count — 620,000 — was what Lindsey thinks Gore Vidal — body count — 0 — is: a monster. Warning: Senior Fellow Doug Bandow, you may soon get blogged by Brink Lindsey.
Lindsey’s coup de grace is to trace the error of anti-war libertarianism to its u201Canarchism.u201D Apparently, no Cato man or woman has ever supported a State-less world, at least not since Cato moved to Washington from San Francisco and banished co-founder Murray Rothbard to fly-over country. I note, however, that Cato apparently favors anarchy between and among States, or have they endorsed world government already? It is so hard to pin down those philosophically spontaneous Hayekians with their dynastic, strike that, their dynamist mindset.
Anyway — I can say u201Canywayu201D because I am sort of blogging (internet diary entrying) — Lindsey says he has previously posted about the evils of non-intervention. I guess that means I have to scroll through 138 pages of diary entries looking for this post. That’s the thing about blogging — you just sort of opine without worrying about marshalling facts, demonstrating the truth of first principles, and using logic to apply those principles to the facts at hand. Why bother with all that hard work? Just state your conclusion; everyone is just dying to hear it.
Lindsey does hint at an argument when he writes that anti-war libertarians refuse u201Cto accept the legitimacy of the state as the guarantor of our liberty… If you don’t accept the legitimacy of the state, you can never really embrace the necessity of war — since war is inescapably an affair of state…. War machines are creatures of the state–and [are] therefore inherently suspect.u201D It is difficult to conjure a better argument in favor of anti-war libertarianism than Lindsey’s purported argument against it. War is the greatest threat to human life, human liberty, human prosperity, and human civilization. Modern war, as developed by Lincoln and perfected in the 20th century, is solely the product of the modern taxing, conscripting, confiscating, and inflating State. No States, no catastrophic wars. Sounds good to me.
Lindsey complains that u201Cit’s very easy to drift from anti-state libertarianism into outright anti-Americanism. After all, if all states are bad, and the American state is the biggest, most powerful state in the history of the world, then it must be pretty rotten — right?u201D Again, there is a confusion here between the federal government of the United States, primarily its executive branch, and America. It should go without saying that State and society are one only in a totalitarian country. Let’s take the two quintessential Americans, Washington and Jefferson. Washington said u201CGovernment is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.u201D Jefferson said, u201CThe natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.u201D Sounds like these Americans understood the distinction between society and State.
Lindsey writes, u201CWe may claim our rights on moral grounds, but we enjoy them only by virtue of government…. Of course the dependence of liberty on government is tragic, because of the problem of u2018who guards the guardians?’ But whoever said life was easy?u201D I always thought Juvenal’s question — u201CBut who will guard the guardians themselves?u201D — was rhetorical. Theory and history demonstrate that the answer is u201CNo one.u201D Give state officials a monopoly on the use of force and they will abuse that monopoly to advance their power, wealth, and prestige. Depending on government to protect liberty is not tragedy, but insanity, which Einstein defined as u201Cdoing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.u201D
The u201Clibertarianu201D critics of anti-war libertarians invariably describe themselves as Hayekians. Hayek is in no position to object to this use of his name. Great as Hayek was as a scholar and economist, he was a wee-bit too vague and flexible in his policy prescriptions for my taste. For those who feel the need to maintain a substantial amount of ideological wiggle-room, however, Hayek is perfect. Is that why Rothbard is out at Cato and Hayek is in? (That’s a rhetorical question.) Let’s not be so cynical, though. Let’s take them at their word. They like Hayek’s ideas, or at least their interpretation of those ideas. They like spontaneous order, experimentation, trial and error, cultural evolution, dynamism, and distrust of rigid constructivist ideologies like natural rights.
Okay, why don’t you lovers of experimentation join us in a grand historical experiment? Having learned from hard and bitter experience that the modern state is the great evil of our time, why don’t you pragmatic realists face reality, reject that failed experiment in stasis and try another, more promising one. Why not try peace, liberty, and decentralization for a change? I don’t think Hayek would be too upset. Please, all we are saying is — give peace a chance. Think about that on April 15th when your beloved state guarantees your right to either cut a check to pay for its global military empire or live rent-free in a castle for five years. See photo; your accommodations may vary; bring a toothbrush.
April 9, 2002
James Ostrowski is an attorney practicing at 984 Ellicott Square, Buffalo, New York 14203; (716) 854-1440; FAX 853-1303. See his website at http://jimostrowski.com.