Tragedy of Boromir
is always distressing to find a good libertarian melting when the
heat is turned up. There are so few articulate defenders of liberty
in the world that we feel each loss keenly.
Suprynowicz, a veteran libertarian writer, is a case in point. Suprynowicz
has consistently taken bold stands against taxes, gun control, the
drug war, asset forfeiture, and other violations of liberty.
when the smoke from the terrorists attacks of September 11th cleared,
Suprynowicz was found enthusiastically backing
the warfare state. He fondly recalled how "We turned the major
cities of Japan into smoking ruins and molten glass." He called
for making "Afghanistan, Iran, Libya, Gaza any [country] which
can be demonstrated to have harbored, funded, or offered aid and
comfort to Tuesday's terrorists... into wildlife preserves." (Yes,
apparently even the infants in those countries deserve to die because
someone, somewhere within their nation's borders, aided a terrorist.
But I'm not sure why the animals and plants are off the hook: Shouldn't
they die too?) In one
column about the attacks, Suprynowicz mentions virility so often
that I began to think he was going to try to defeat Al Qaeda with
not wanting to leave any doubt that he had gone completely over
the edge, Suprynowicz finishes up by endorsing the rape of conquered
women and asking: "Do we have the nerve to drop nuclear bombs on
every nation that has now declared 'jihad' against us?" (Mass slaughter
from afar, with no risk to yourself: now there's a "nervy," courageous
happened? The answer became clear upon reading Suprynowicz's recent
of the Rings. I thought the review was pretty good, until
I came to this passage:
quest is not to deliver the One Ring to the right king, but rather
to haul it back to the mountain of fire where it was forged in
darkness, and destroy it.
that? Not merely to reassign government power to its rightful
heirs, but to reduce and limit it for all time?
Vin! What did you misunderstand about "destroy it"? Frodo didn't
try to "reduce" or "limit" the use of the ring. So now we have the
explanation for Suprynowicz's support for the "war on terrorism":
He thinks Boromir was the hero of Lord of the Rings. It was
Boromir, not Gandalf, Elrond, or Frodo, who thought that the ring
could be used in a "limited" fashion. His failure unequivocally
to say "No" to the power of the ring led to him to threaten Frodo
with violence in order to acquire it, and ultimately led to Boromir's
one ring is the ring of domination over others. To destroy it is
to renounce all attempts to use power to get one's way. We may defend
ourselves, of course, but we refuse to employ power to get others
to do our bidding. For example, shooting down a Japanese fighter
attacking Pearl Harbor is self-defense. Melting hundreds of thousands
of Japanese civilians in order to get others to persuade their government
to unconditionally surrender is domination.
supposed friends of liberty, are unable to throw the ring into the
fire. Like Isildur, they hold back at the last moment after all,
they think, "We might be able to do some good things with that ring
maybe a little bit of national greatness or a nice program to
teach virtue in the public schools!"
conservatives who try to claim Tolkein as one of their own would
do well to re-read Tolkein's Foreword to The Lord of the Rings,
where Tolkein denies the book is an allegory for World War II. If
it had been, he notes, then the "Allies" would have certainly used
the ring against Mordor, and both sides would have slaughtered hobbits
are faced with the problem that most of the means of defense are
currently concentrated in state hands. In the midst of a crisis,
asking people to first eliminate the state will hardly do. So how
can we apply libertarian principles to such a situation? We must
try to get the state to act according to the same guidelines we
would apply to an individual facing a similar situation.
say that some criminal shoots a member of my family dead. As he
flees my yard, he yells, "I'll be back for the rest later." I see
him disappear into a nearby, privately-owned apartment building.
I follow, gun in hand, and am stopped at the door by security. That
fellow who just ran inside? It turns out he's a resident, and I'm
not allowed in to "visit" him without his permission.
can I justly do about that situation? First of all, I might try
talking to the people who own the building. I'd explain to them
what had occurred. Logically enough, they'd ask me for some evidence.
That would hardly seem to call for shooting them. But, apparently,
when the Taliban asked for evidence before turning over bin Laden,
that was an act of war. And bizzarely, when India began threatening
Pakistan after the attack on India's parliament, the U.S. told India
that they should present Pakistan with evidence that the terrorists
were supported from within Pakistan.
perhaps the apartment owners aren't negotiating in good faith. I
present them with reasonable evidence, and they still don't turn
the guy over. At that point, I might have to tell them that my friends
and I are going in anyway, and that they'd better stay out of the
way. The analogy here should be obvious: the next step in American
escalation, after presenting reasonable evidence of bin Laden's
guilt, should have been to tell the Taliban that we were going after
Al Qaeda whether or not they helped. If the Taliban interfered,
they would become valid targets, but as long as they stood aside,
they'd be left alone. Again somewhat oddly, the U.S. seemed to focus
its wrath on the Taliban, allowing most Al Qaeda members to escape
are some actions on my part we would never call just, however great
my anguish and loss. Who would recommend that I be allowed to rape
the women who live in the murderer's apartment building in order
to punish him? To turn the apartment building into a "nature preserve"?
To launch a nuclear attack, wiping out the whole city the building
is in? Somehow, despite his obvious libertarian credentials, Suprynowicz
manages to completely miss the distinction between acting against
an aggressor and acting against anyone who happens to be somewhere
near the aggressor.
I believe that Mr. Suprynowicz is motivated by a sincere desire
to see that no more Americans suffer through events like those of
September 11th. And Boromir was motivated by a sincere desire to
defend Gondor against Mordor. But they have made the same mistake
the ring can't be used in a "limited" way for good purposes.
Once we begin to wield it, its power will seduce us, and soon we
will be no different than those we fight.
believe that libertarianism is essentially a spiritual commitment.
Each of us is potentially a ring-bearer traveling the Middle Earth
of the human spirit. The one ring resides in each of our souls and
must be destroyed there. The journey is frightening. To complete
it, we must travel to the land of Mordor, where the shadows lie,
and up the very slope of Mount Doom. There is no guarantee that
our enemies will not overtake us on the way. It might seem safer,
more prudent, more "virile," to turn the power of the ring on those
enemies rather than risk destruction. But even plain, ordinary hobbits
like you and me can change the world if our journey succeeds.
Callahan [send him mail]
has just finished a book, Economics for Real People, to
be published this year by the Ludwig
von Mises Institute.
© 2002, Gene
Callahan/Stu Morgenstern Archives
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