Goldberg's Got Us

After reading National Review Online Editor Jonah Goldberg's latest putdown of Lincoln-hating states'-rights libertarians, I was reminded of that Monty Python skit, "Stake Your Claim." As I recall, a guy comes onto this Python game show and claims to have built the London Bridge. The host points out that the bridge was built long before the contestant was born. To which, the contestant blurts out, "I can see, you're more than a match for me!"

Apparently, Goldberg is more than a match for me, and for all the other devoted readers of LewRockwell.com. I mean, none of us had ever thought of it! The simple undermining of everything we hold dear was always right in front of us. All it took was a brilliant – and did I mention cheeky? – young neocon editor to point it out to us. Talk about cognitive dissonance.

The "it" was Goldberg's argument that if anyone can think of even one example in which force is justified, then the entire libertarian argument unravels. Goldberg used the example of a drunken friend who is about to commit suicide. Wouldn't a true friend use force to save her life? Of course he would. And, since any human being with any decency would save his friend from suicide, then we can't really be libertarians, at least not intellectually honest ones.

Here's how Goldberg puts it: "If it's moral for one person to use force to keep a friend from committing suicide – under these specific circumstances – would it be wrong for two people to do it? I mean, what if you're not strong enough to keep her from killing herself? Can you ask another friend to help? Again, the answer is supposed to be yes. From there it's downhill. Okay, so if it's right for two people, how about ten? If it's right for ten, how about a hundred? If a hundred, how about a thousand? And so on.

"And if instead of a thousand people, how about one person – called a u2018police officer' – whom the thousand people had hired to handle precisely such situations? Is he morally barred from doing the right thing because he gets a government paycheck?"

Certainly, libertarians – at least the "bad" Lew Rockwell-types, as opposed to the "good" Reason and Cato types who don't fuss about dead U.S. dictators – err in the direction of not allowing government to exert force. But using the same logic, the Goldberg argument could lead to a totalitarian state.

A drugged-out friend of mine is about to commit suicide. As a good neo-conservative, I would never dare to help him myself. So I call the trusted police. In about 10 minutes – 8 minutes after my friend shoots himself in the head – they arrive in SWAT teams and take over my neighborhood. They break into the wrong house, find marijuana and plug the residents in the back with their special-issue assault weapons. That's all OK, you see, because force is justified.

Tough to build a philosophy around ridiculous scenarios, no?

Fact is, under the libertarian worldview, there might be times that some beneficial government intervention was avoided. But at least oodles of bad uses of government are avoided also. And there's also a clear rationale for knowing when to employ force. Goldberg suggests that instead of seeing government as an evil, we should rely on time-tested traditions to determine the proper scope of government. If one person thinks force is good, and two and maybe 10 do, and the majority does, then it must be OK. Which, in reality, means government can do anything at all for any old reason – provided it has most of the public snookered.

I can hear the neocon protests already. They too are for limited government. They're simply reasonable limited-government people. They're just not fanatics or nuts like we are. But here's a little quiz to demonstrate just how meaningless the neocon approach is to limiting government.

Question 1: If a U.S. president waged a bloody war against his own people, took joy in implementing martial law, and replaced a relatively free republic with a centralized and less-free mega-state, is he: a) a tyrant or b) the nation's greatest president?

Libertarian nuts: a

Neoncons: b

Question 2: If a nation has troops in 143 nations, starves the defenseless children of a small far-off nation for no particular reason and routinely bombs foreign peoples on the whim of the nation's leader, its foreign policy is: a) evil; b) imperialistic; or c) wonderful, although not quite aggressive enough?

Libertarian nuts: a and b

Neocons: c

Question 3: The federal government is a large and out-of-control behemoth. If a Republican president slows its rate of growth from, say, 7 percent to 4 percent, and returns a sliver of its subjects' tax dollars, that is: a) meaningless or b) a revolutionary achievement?

Libertarian nuts: a

Neocons: b

You get the idea. Libertarian nuts may be hard to please, argumentative, adherents of a philosophy that has no resonance among the political class. We might even at times resemble the smelly guy Goldberg avoids on the bus. But at least our commitment to limited government is more realistic than the neocons'. They have no firm guideposts for deciding when and where to employ force.

That leaves us defending freedom, and them defending Lincoln, FDR, nuclear attacks on Japanese cities, child-killing sanctions, Teddy Roosevelt, murderous FBI raids, $2 trillion federal budgets, civil rights laws that outlaw the freedom of association and rampant police shootings induced by a federalized drug war.

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