Abraham Lincoln Brigade

From wikipedia:
The Abraham Lincoln Brigade was a loose organization of American volunteers supporting or fighting for the anti-fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War.

... the brigade was made up of volunteers from all walks of American life, and from all socio-economic classes. It was the first racially integrated American fighting force, and the first to have an African-American officer, Oliver Law, led white soldiers.

American volunteers began organizing and arriving in Spain in 1936. ... By early 1937, its numbers had swelled from an initial 96 volunteers to around 450 members.

The International Brigade was used by the Loyalist army for several battles in Spain. ...

The Brigade was a cause celebre in the United States, however. Liberal and socialist groups organized fund-raising activities and supply drives to keep the Brigade afloat. News of the Brigade's high casualty rate and bravery in battle made them romantic figures to an America concerned about the rise of Fascism around the world.
The Lincolns are the canonical example of what I am talking about when I say it is perfectly fine for people that want to try to save the world to do so. Voluntarily, using their own lives or money.

But the business of the USA - the government - is as follows: "to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity". It is not to "establish our rule over others", "ensure international Tranquility", "provide for the UN's defence", or "promote the welfare of foreigners". These goals may be good goals, or maybe not. Either way, they aren't what our government is empowered to do.

Save the World on Your Own Dime

Jim Henley has been having an interesting argument with Tacitus. But he has made the fundamental mistake of accepting Tacitus' worldview. Tacitus assumes (tacitly) that all possible worlds involve America pushing around the world. In doing so we create enemies; and they sometimes try to help each other out. Thus we must fight, fight, fight. We have allies (particularly Israel; but our support of dictatorships like Saudi Arabia also counts) that are themselves involved in wars or insurrections; and thus we take on proxy enemies.

Henley and Tacitus are, in essence, arguing about those proxy enemies. Are they really dangerous to Americans, or not? If so, how much? Etc. etc.

But this misses the point that if America followed a libertarian foreign policy - isolationism - we would not have foreign enemies; either directly on our own account or via proxy. Therefore it would not matter to us whether they are working together or not; and there would be no necessity for us to try to analyze intelligence to try to determine for every group in the world whether or it is "trying to kill us". Consider Switzerland. Nobody is writing long screeds arguing about whether or not Hezbollah is targeting Swiss citizens or not in their war with Israel. It's a non-topic. Isolationism works, at least against foreign terrorists (domestic is different; there, liberty works).

Now, Tacitus seems to be aware of the attractiveness of political isolation; and he tried to head it off via an analogy with personal crime: the Kitty Genovese analogy:
There are ample grounds for warring against these three groups within the context of strictly American interests. All three have posed, and do pose, a clear and present danger to the United States and Americans. But let us not pretend that there would be no such case for war against them in the absence of such direct threats. I would argue that it is enough that they are practitioners of jihad. Even if you don't accept that, it is nonetheless still enough that they are, by any objective standard, barbarous and evil, and perpetrating their monstrous crimes upon innocents. In my book, that merits my active opposition. I know that libertarians like Henley disagree: in their book, foreign policy must be run strictly on the Kitty Genovese principle. Which has the advantage of being simple and easy to apply, for sure. When you see the dead neighbor, though, it tends to tax the conscience.
In Tacitus' mind, there is no difference between state action and individual action. If there an evil anywhere in the world, it merits Tacitus' "active opposition"; but by this he means not that he, personally, will go to try to solve the problem - rather, he means all Americans should be taxed, to pay for yet others who will go, to go do what he, Tacitus, says they should do, to solve the problem. This is not generousity as a libertarian understands it.

America should be myopically concerned with evil only in America: defending ourselves against invasion. That does not, however, mean that Americans can do nothing about non American evil. They can send (their own) money; they can volunteer themselves (not others), and go try to help. But America as a state should do nothing - solving problems in Zimbabwe is not the business of America.

There are several huge advantages to isolationism, which I think Tacitus has a dim understanding of. One is, that it's very easy to crisply delineate boundaries for it; consider by contrast the neocons' "invade the world" idea: should "we" invade North Korea? Haiti? Where is there not evil in the world, other than possibly Antartica? Yet, "we" seem to be unwilling (or dare I say unable) to invade every country in the world.

A second big advantage to isolationism is that it involves no necessary invasion of our other liberties. A peaceful nation is compatible with liberty; a nation at war is not.

And a third advantage: it's moral. Unlike Tacitus' taxation funded strategy of invade the world.

And finally, there's a big practical advantage to fighting against evil with your own time, money and life, rather than others' forceably taken: costs are internalized, which (economics tells us) will result in solutions that work better; better bang for the buck.

Of course, there's a huge downside to a moral foreign policy, from the POV of secular millenarialists like Tacitus: when you can't use force to extract resources, the scale of what you can do to push around foreign people and "fight evil" is vastly reduced; and that's especially so for "evil" that's mostly in the eye of the beholder. To those who see America as the instrument of history or God or Progress, to uplift humanity and bring about Good everywhere, this is a big problem.

It's not to me, nor should it be to any decent libertarian. You'd think that the idea of using the state to achieve secular salvation would have died with the Soviet Union - but no, only the idea of domestic socialism was discredited. War socialism is alive and well in the American Right.

Presence of Mind

Via Billy Beck, just discovered (possible re-) Presence of Mind. All sorts of interesting stuff there; go play. This post got me hooked. It's funny, snotty, and the libertarians triumph in a little way!
I have always been very careful to insulate my son Cameron, just turned twelve a month ago, from my beliefs. He knows what they are, if only because he hears me talking to my wife ... I can't help it that Cameron knows what I think, but I can make damn sure that he knows what he thinks.

This is an issue right now because of an assignment he has in his Language class. (I have no idea what Language, as distinct from language, might be; presumably it's an excuse for not teaching English.) The assignment, the momentous '6th Grade Fall Project,' is due today. This is the challenge the sixth graders (note that in language, as distinct from Language, positive cardinal and ordinal numbers below 13 are spelled out) must surmount:
Assignment: You are designing a building or complex that would benefit your community in some way. You will present your building or complex to the class as if they are the City Council. You are attempting to get the 'City Council' to approve your proposal.

  1. 400 or more word essay that explains why you chose this particular project. You must include where you got the idea and how you created your model.

    • A. Model: Create a model of your building for the 'City Council' to see. Make sure you can carry it into class.
    • B. Blueprints: On poster board or large pieces of construction paper, draw your designs out. Make sure we get a clear picture of what you want.
    • C. PowerPoint presentation: You may create a PowerPoint presentation. Again, you must give a clear idea of what your building or complex looks like.

  3. Presentation: You will present your idea to the class. The presentation must be 2-4 minutes in length. Practice this at home and time it.
There is no limit to what I can find to hate in this assignment.

The kid comes up with a great idea: Robin Hood, Inc.:
At Robin Hood, Incorporated, we believe that so-called "community investments" which lose money are not investments. An investment that loses money is not an investment at all! It's just an oxymoron! So we take these so-called "community investments" and liquidate their valuable assets, raze or sell the structures, and sell the real estate back into the free market.
Good grade!

Tolerance and Rights-ideology

Animal rights, mentioned below, is only one of many areas where rights-theory fails to work. Another example is that of incompetent, irrational, or non-adult humans. Hitting people, we think, is wrong because it violates a right not-to-be-hit. Your right to swing your fist ends, etc. etc. But what of corporal punishment? Is that not "aggression"? Personally I think it is OK, suitably governed, but I'm surely aware that others disagree on that. Philosophically, I can tolerate error: anarchists tend to be localist. The only place I am concerned with the legality of corporal punishment is where I happen to live. But the statist cannot be philosophically tolerant.

If a statist really has no opinion on an issue, then the fight over it by others more idealist doesn't really concern him, but he will get one policy or the other as a result.

The tolerant statist with an opinion is always hit with an argument from ideals. If something is right for him, in an idealist world it must be right for everyone. And if that's true, then a Federalist argument - to let other sub-states determine a different policy - looks either wrong, or like moral cowardice. Why not use the Federal state to crush the incorrect policies?

To an anarchist idealist, things look different. "Crushing" other people's laws is tantamount to war. So ideals, even if attractive, must be worth fighting a war over. The practical result will be a lot fewer universal laws in anarchy, and a lot greater variety.

Animal Rights in Anarchy

I was once a libertarian minarchist. It's been a long time since then, and sometimes I forget the inescapable logic that lead me into the anarchist camp. But then all I have to do is read a libertarian blog for a while, and it comes back.

Case in point: this article at the Agitator:
While discussing animal rights with a couple of colleagues over happy hour a while back, we started discussing what value we ought to place on animals, and what rights animals have that ought to be protected by the state. ...

[Scenario:] A real life Cruella Da Vil systematically buys up cute, furry puppies, then tortures and slaughters them solely for entertainment value.
[Read the comments; they are worth the trouble.]

This is one of a myriad of places where traditional libertarian rights theory falls down. Our instincts assert to us that animals do have rights. Many people try to get around that, by worrying that torturing cute puppies might be a gateway to "real" human rights-violations. But let's assume not: Cruella has lived and worked with all manner of people for years, quite peacefully. She's never committed any crime, nor even raised her voice against a fellow human. She just likes the screaming of puppies, that's all.

If animals can be admitted to have any rights whatsoever (and that's exactly the compelling case that Peter Singer made in Animal Liberation), then it's hard to see where their rights begin and end. Here's the problem: we assume they have rights, less than ours, more than a mere inanimate piece of property. But they cannot articulate nor fight for their rights. Only we conceive of rights. So how to know what their rights are?

Failing to define animal rights means inevitable human conflict, as one human claims rights over an animal owned by another.

The problem of animal rights largely disappears once we give up on the notion of platonic Rights, and the State to enforce them. To my way of thinking, anarchy is something that will naturally unfold out of human nature. Its ideology will be libertarian as a practical matter, but anarchy precedes the ideology, not vice-versa. In anarchy, animal rights and human rights are exactly the same - ideas that humans have, not platonic solids out there somewhere. In both cases, they are things that human customers will try to get provided by their protection agencies. Within a given state, there cannot be two policies, so there must be conflict and forced agreement. In anarchy, there will still be some forced agreement - some things, like laws against murder, are not negotiable. But there is the widest possible latitude for multiple policies. (That's why we've already determined that federalism works - it allows multiple policies.) And animal rights, as with other areas of rights-theory that are fundamentally unclear, will be one of the areas where a thousand flowers will bloom.

Some protection agencies will take a "anything goes" view of animal rights. Animals are mere property and you can torture them at will, if you like. Your neighbors, of course, will be free to shun you if they find out. Landlords will be free not to rent to you. Employers will be free to terminate you. But no government will interfere. Other protection agencies, probably the majority, will have anti-abuse laws. Why? Because most people, decent people like "brooke" in the Agitator's comments, will demand them, and supplying them is not expensive.

As "brooke" says:
I can't quite say that someone's preference for torturing and slaughtering puppies is more important than the puppies' lives. It has an ickiness factor that I can't wish away with my libertarian principles.
Quite so.