Greatest Columnist in the World: Me!
the history of the world, there has been no greater, no more honorable
columnist, than me, Gene Callahan. No columnist has ever fought
so consistently for freedom, for justice, for liberty. No columnist
has ever set aside his self-interest so often, in order to attend
so selflessly to the good of others.
at times there have been errors in my columns. Once or twice, I
may have inadvertently injured an innocent person, gotten a fact
wrong, or made an invalid argument. But even these minor mistakes
were not the result of sloth or malice, but of an idealism that
at times tried to accomplish too much. If you ever find another
columnist disagreeing with me, you can be quite certain that I have
justice on my side, that the other columnist is wrong, and that
you should support my efforts to prevail at all costs.
You question my assertion?
you are right. Upon reflection, I see that the entire motive for
my columns has been pure greed, hiding in the guise of virtue. I
am a hypocrite through and through. There is no tactic, however
lowly, to which I will not stoop. If you ever find another columnist
disagreeing with me, you can be quite certain that he has justice
on his side, and that nothing I do in a dispute with him can be
taken at face value.
read this far, you might be ready to advise me to get some help.
Surely this kind of manic-depressive approach to my work can't be
helpful or healthy! "Gene," you tell me, "you're a mortal just like
the rest, a mix of good and bad, virtue and vice, truth and error.
The point is to try to see your own work clearly, correct the problems,
and enhance the good points. Those extreme mood swings aren't doing
you a bit of good."
truth be told, in viewing my own writing I am actually a paragon
of calm, dispassionate analysis. (Stop laughing, Lew!) But I would
contend that the manic and depressive states portrayed above characterize
the most common attitudes toward American foreign policy we find
in the media.
the manic camp we find the "patriots": National Review, FrontPage,
The Weekly Standard, The New York Post, and so on.
(I put "patriots" in quotes, because, as Joseph Sobran brilliantly points out,
such folks are actually nationalists, not patriots.) In their world,
the American state has the mystical status of world savior. American
foreign policy is by definition virtuous, whatever its actual conduct,
since the American state has a divine appointment with destiny.
To complain about innocent lives taken, dictators supported, or
national aspirations crushed is equivalent to griping that Jesus
Christ had poorly manicured fingernails.
I've pointed out previously, such an attitude is a form of idolatry,
since it places a particular, historical state above universal principles
of justice. America is not required to adhere to any norms of justice
in its foreign policy, since it is itself the historical manifestation
of justice. Needless to say, this view makes honest self-appraisal
flip side of the "patriotic" coin is usually found on the far left.
Here, no American foreign adventure can possibly be an honest, if
perhaps misguided, attempt to improve matters in some wreck of a
nation, but instead is always interpreted as a plot, usually by
multinational corporations, to profit at the expense of foreigners.
No errors in conducting foreign policy are ever the result of fallible,
fallen humans attempting to do more than humanly possible, but instead
are always the result of deliberate malice disguised as mistakes.
(And I'm not saying that there aren't sometimes plots and
conspiracies, just that there isn't always a plot or conspiracy:
history is composed of unique situations that must be interpreted
individually. Furthermore, the nature of the state as a coercive
apparatus will tend to spoil even the best of intentions, and, as
Hayek pointed out, the worst do tend to rise to the top.)
depressive view also prevents honest self-appraisal. Furthermore,
it tends to drive the average person toward the "patriot" camp,
since he knows that Americans aren't really as wicked as the left
says, and therefore he concludes that the other extreme must be
basically correct. And by making storybook villains out of American
government officials, it tends to obscure the institutional forces
(chiefly the state) that are the root of the problem and lead to
the belief that if we could only get some decent officials controlling
things (like the very leftists who hold this view, perhaps?), then
the state would be a fine thing.
side note: I think that the "quagmire" motif in anti-war rhetoric
springs largely from the depressive camp; we're so awful that we're
bound to completely screw things up and get stuck in War X for years.
Let me tell you, anti-war folks: This one is a dud. The U.S. military
has gotten very good at blowing things up, and can do most of its
work from 20,000 feet above the enemy. We should stress the point
that killing innocent people is wrong, not that it will take
a long time and, well, become tedious or whatever.)
an anarchist, I would ultimately like to see defense provided privately.
In the meantime, we have to recognize that we do have a national
government, that it will conduct a foreign policy, and that
its existence currently makes the full private provision of defense
impossible, both because of the laws limiting the weapons that can
be privately owned and because of the resources it expropriates
for its own provision of defense.
must try to gain a clear, unbiased view of American foreign policy,
since for the present it is certain that America will have one.
Neither of the views portrayed above is of any assistance whatsoever
in deciding any concrete question of foreign policy. If America
in the past had been the paragon of virtue that the patriots
claim, would that mean that now we're entitled to a few "no-guilt"
war atrocities? Or if America always had acted as vilely as the
far left contends, would we now be required to expose ourselves,
defenseless, to any terrorist who wants to take a whack at us? In
deciding how we should act today, neither national self-love
nor national self-loathing is very helpful.
Callahan [send him mail]
has just finished a book, Economics for Real People, to
be published this year by the Ludwig
von Mises Institute.
© 2001, Gene
Callahan/Stu Morgenstern Archives
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