Preemptive Strike on LRC
adopts a deliberate no-brain strategyThe immediate source of de Havilland's ire was an article
by Gary North, "A Deliberate No-Exit Strategy,"
a piece which de Havilland calls "gibberish." However,
his criticism is directed more broadly at non-interventionist libertarians
I happen to think that The USA wants to invade Iraq to 'control'
the flow of oil." "Control" is placed in quotes,
implying that can't
imagine any government having any interest in controlling any natural
resource, as if North had written something like "The earthworms
in my backyard want to 'discuss aesthetics.'"
de Havilland is flabbergasted that North would use 'England' to
stand for the UK: "It is usually a good indication of someone
engaging in a cranio-rectal insertion when they refer to the UK
as 'England,' which is rather like describing the USA as 'New York
State.'" Well, yes, if New York State encompassed over half
of the territory of the US, contained roughly 80% of its population,
and had added the other 49 states to the union mostly by conquering
them, then the two figures of speech would be rather alike. One
wonders if de Havilland has never heard of the synecdoche,
which, according to YourDictionary.com,
is "A figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole…"
Havilland responded online to a number of readers' comments about
his original post. (You can view their comments and his responses
by following the same link
as above.) What I quote below is entirely from his responses, I
Havilland views himself, and presumably other libertarians, as faced
with a difficult choice: "[T]he way I see it if I have to choose
between nasty and occasional murder-by-proxy statists like one finds
in Western polities... and nasty psychopathic mass murderous ethnic
cleansing and village gassing statists like Slobodan Milosevic and
Saddam Hussein, then clearly I will side with the lesser evil."
de Havilland feels he has to choose between, say, Hussein
and Bush, then who could argue with his pick? But why are libertarians
forced to choose between the two at all? And choose between them
for what? One's brother-in-law? Best man at one's wedding? Personal
me be clear: I am happy that George Bush rather than Saddam Hussein
is ruling the country in which I live. And if there were some remote
possibility that Saddam Hussein was going to become the ruler of
the US, then I would certainly do what I could to prevent it from
occurring. But it is about as likely that one day Hussein is going
to be US president (or UK prime minister) as it is that Perry de
Havilland will be chosen to lead the Labour Party next year.
de Havilland seems to mean that, if some less nasty statists choose
to pick a fight with some more nasty statists, libertarians should
sensibly side with the less nasty ones. But why is that? Given that
the fight will almost certainly result in an increase in the scope
of government in the less nasty regime, why shouldn't we oppose
the fight itself, rather than feeling compelled to choose sides?
Well, one such circumstance might be if war seemed inevitable, and
the outcome of a loss by the less nasty side would be the conquest
of "its" territory by the more nasty side. For example,
that seems to be how Ludwig von Mises regarded the Cold War, and,
given his analysis of the international situation, his "hawkish"
position seems a reasonable one for a libertarian to have adopted.
the conflict between the US/UK and Iraq doesn't closely resemble
the Cold War. Even if one accepts the hawks' view of Hussein, and
believes that he still has designs on the territory of one or more
of his neighbor's, it is absurd to suppose that after knocking off
Kuwait or Iran, it's on to Liverpool or San Francisco for the Iraqi
Havilland continues: "All crimes are not the same: magnitude
matters." No doubt! But he then contends: "What the Rothbardians
seem to keep doing is choosing the greater evil on the basis of
a very parochial and blinkered Americocentric world view."
are a number of problems jammed into the previous sentence. One
is that Rothbard certainly did not intend to choose among greater
and lesser evils. He intended to choose liberty. And he thought
that the best American foreign policy for promoting liberty was
the non-interventionist one recommended by our founders. Therefore,
he was highly critical of American interventionism. During the Cold
War, for example, he certainly did not think he was "choosing"
the Soviet Union. He felt certain that the Soviet Union was doomed
to collapse, since its attempt to implement socialism was inherently
untenable. In fact, I believe that he thought that an aggressive
American Cold War policy helped to prop up the Soviet Union, the
same way that one could actually hold up a collapsing house by trying
to push it over in the opposite direction from the one toward which
it was collapsing.
course, de Havilland might contend that Rothbard didn't mean
to choose the Soviet Union, but that his policy recommendations
in fact forwarded Soviet interests. But that is a whole different
matter than choosing the greater evil. And even to make the
lesser charge stick, de Havilland would have to show why
Rothbard's belief in the inevitability of Soviet collapse was wrong.
difficulty is the curious charge of "Americocentric" leveled
at Rothbardian foreign policy critiques. Rothbard lived in America,
and probably the majority of those most influenced by his views
did or do live there as well. American foreign policy was both the
foreign policy upon which they could hope to have the most influence
and the one that was likely to have the most influence on them.
Therefore, it hardly seems surprising that they have focused their
anti-interventionist arguments on American interventionism.
(yes, we're still dealing with that sentence from four paragraphs
ago!), de Havilland casually equates "writer for LewRockwell.com"
with "Rothbardian." The underlying belief appears to be
that Lew Rockwell (and by extension, the Mises Institute) always
forwards a "plumb line" Rothbardian point of view.
belief is false. Although the issue is peripheral to my main argument,
it frequently crops up in libertarian circles, and is worth addressing
reason that I can assure you of the falsity of that belief is that
Lew Rockwell and the Mises Institute have vigorously promoted my
writing even though I am far from a plumb line Rothbardian, a fact
of which they are well aware. My own path to libertarianism was
probably somewhat unusual, in that I spent over a decade studying
libertarian ideas before I ever personally knew another libertarian
or had any connection to libertarian organizations. Therefore, my
influences were whomever I happened to stumble across in my solitary
wanderings, the main ones being, in order of acquaintance, Milton
Friedman, Ayn Rand, F.A. Hayek, David Friedman, and Ludwig von Mises.
When I first began writing for Mises.org and LewRockwell.com, I
was quite surprised to find that many people assumed that I was
a disciple of a writer, Murray Rothbard, of whom I was barely aware!
then, I have become more acquainted with Rothbard's writings. While
I greatly admire his tremendous accomplishments, I still do not
consider myself a Rothbardian. In retrospect, I recognize that one
of my earlier published pieces of libertarian writing was a criticism
of Rothbard's approach to ethics, written before I even knew that
Rothbard had an approach to ethics. And the publisher of
that article, critical of Rothbardian ethics, was… Mises.org.
based on my own reading of a few of the other writers whose work
has appeared frequently on LewRockwell.com, I believe it would be
a significant stretch to call Robert Higgs, Paul
Gottfried, Ryan McMaken, Humberto Fontova, Bob Murphy, Butler
Shaffer, or Michael Peirce strict "Rothbardians," although
Rothbard has probably influenced each of them. Indeed, I am hard
put to think of anyone writing for LewRockwell.com who doesn't
disagree with Rothbard on some significant issue.
back to de Havilland's post, where another dig at Rothbardians follows:
have even heard one Rothbardian tell me that Waco shows that the
USA is no better than Ba'athist Iraq, as if killing 100 people was
no different to killing hundreds of thousands. That is why
I regard the Lew Rockwell worldview when it comes to the world's
tyrants as actually rather ludicrous."
find the view of the "Rothbardian" in question ludicrous
as well. But it is hardly less ludicrous to cite one silly opinion
from some person vaguely associated with Lew Rockwell and refer
to it as the "Lew Rockwell worldview"! What would Mr.
de Havilland think of our trolling for opinions among the least
astute readers of Samizdata and calling the worst of what
we dredged up the "Perry de Havilland worldview"?
Havilland declares: "I do not support war against Iraq because
Iraq is a threat to the UK or USA, I do so because I support war
against 'the greater evil' by the lesser evil."
reasoning implies an interesting principle: libertarians should
support any regime going to war against any other regime that is
more evil than it is. So let's take a look at the Heritage Foundation's
Index of Economic Freedom
in which, for example, Singapore ranks ahead of the US. So, per
"The de Havilland Doctrine," libertarians should support
a declaration of war by Singapore on America.
can't be right! Perhaps he supports only those wars that the less
evil regime is likely to win? OK then: The US ranks significantly
higher than Greece in the index, and the Americans could surely
defeat the Hellenes. So does de Havilland support a US attack on
Havilland might protest that the difference between the degree of
freedom in the US and in Greece is too small to justify war. OK,
then let's take Hong Kong and Belarus, which are roughly as far
apart in their scores as are the US and Iraq. Presumably, libertarians
then should be angling for an attack by Hong Kong on Belarus.
de Havilland probably didn't mean any of those things. What he probably
meant was that in some circumstances, he will support a "war
against the greater evil by the lesser evil." But what are
those circumstances, and why do they hold in the case of Iraq? We
Havilland employs the odd tactic, at least for a libertarian, of
using taxation to justify an interventionist foreign policy:
I am all in favour of seeing tyrants the world over reap the fruit
of my stolen tax money, i.e., a smart bomb through the window of
their presidential palace….
is also why I supported the Cold War against the Soviets. I want
evil barbarians like Saddam Hussein dead and if the nation-states
in which I have worked and been taxed (i.e. the UK and USA) are
going to keep funding volunteer militaries with my stolen
tax money, then I would at least like to see some value for my money.
we do not yet live in a rational libertarian world, so until then,
I promise to stop demanding the military kills people I don't like
when the state stops taxing me to fund said military."
me offer an analogous case: I like open land, forests, parks, and
so on. I like tramping around in them. I love little critters. I
even, I confess, have feelings for trees similar to those of J.R.R.
Tolkien. It is my sincere hope that all of those things would exist
in relative abundance in a society without governmental coercion.
But should that not prove to the case, I am unwilling to violate
the rights of other humans in order to increase their supply.
if I adopted de Havilland's approach, I presently would be lobbying
for increased government seizure of open land. After all, as long
as the government is going to be taking my money, then I would at
least like to see some value for it! Similarly, libertarians who
enjoy the opera or ballet should be campaigning for increased subsidies
for the arts. Libertarians who abhor drug use ought to enthusiastically
back the drug war, as long as taxes are being collected anyway.
above strikes me as a startling argument to hear from a libertarian.
Rather than the de Havilland's position, I would think the libertarian
stance, for someone who feels as he does about Iraq, would be something
like: "I believe that a private army ought to be raised to
invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein. However, given that under
current circumstances the funding for any such invasion doubtlessly
will be supplied by stolen money, I must oppose a war against Iraq
Havilland might well contend that I have placed myself in an untenable
position. He could ask me: "Don't you hope, as long as you
are being taxed for law enforcement services anyway, that the police
arrest as many murderers and robbers as possible? Don't you want
the Postal Service, since you are paying for it regardless, to actually
deliver your letters? Wouldn't you want the US military to defend
your country if a foreign country invaded it?"
yes, and yes. But there is a crucial difference between those three
cases and the ones I mentioned previously: The government in the
US has monopolized the legal right to provide law enforcement, letter
delivery, and national defense. If those goods are to exist at all,
then the government must provide them. If the US government had
monopolized land ownership in America, then I would want
it to make some provision for the preservation of open space, just
as it would have to make provision for housing space and gas station
space. If it had monopolized the oxygen supply, then I would
hope it would provide me with some for breathing. And, if the US
government somehow had monopolized the service "overthrowing
Saddam Hussein," I would look more favorably at the possibility
of an invasion.* But there is no such monopoly. In fact, there is
a group of people who are much better qualified to weigh the costs
and benefits of overthrowing Hussein then are the US or UK governments,
namely, the residents of Iraq, as they are the people who will bear
the brunt of the costs. If they do decide to revolt, and Mr. de
Havilland heads over to help them, he has my best wishes and my
admiration for his courage.
Just because the government has monopolized the possibility of undertaking
some activity doesn't necessarily mean that it ought to undertake
the activity. For instance, if, by controlling all guns in the US,
the government was the only possible provider of "random sniper
attacks," that doesn't mean it ought to be engaging in such
2003 Gene Callahan
Callahan/Stu Morgenstern Archives