Assigning blame in democracy

There's some interesting back-n-forth going on between the ex-prolific-libertarian blogger Jim Henley, who's currently sadly reduced to a once-in-a-while blogger, and Diana Moon, with a jolt of Justin Raimondo and Steve Sailer thrown in for spice. At issue: whose fault is the Iraq Attaq?

Well, it is quite obvious that the ultimate mover here was Bush himself. Only he is commander in chief. But what's motivating him? Are the neocons pulling on his puppet strings?

Moon is, I think, correct that ultimately the "American public" in general is to blame, or at least, the 50% of them (or whatever) that were and still are for the war. And she understands some of their motivations, but only the amoral ones:
The real story is that this was a war for oil, supported by a majority of Americans, and ignorant as they are, the gas-guzzling public knows one thing: it needs the slick stuff, and its willing to kill for it. If the people they have to kill are Muslims, so much the better. They don't care about Iraqi deaths and they don't care about Abu Ghraib. And they don't care if some guy with a name like Jorge Lopez dies for it. They want their toys. They know that Presidents have to lie and say nice things about Why We Go To War, and maybe some of them even believe it, but deep down they know what the score is.
Or in her followup:
The American public was salivating for war. They hate Arabs, they want oil. [an example:] A couple of regular guys, hardcore conservative, belligerant, hostile ... they were quizzed on the Iraq/9-11 link, which has been shown to be completely false. They said, "Nothing will convince me that Iraq wasn't behind 9/11." That's it: Nothing. No evidence. Nothing. This is the white, male, prosperous American electorate that will vote for Bush. Arrogant, insufferable, callous and vicious. These are the people who supported the war, and still do.
Let me put aside the overgeneralization here for later. The point here is, the public wanted war. And that's certainly true. But as for the motivations ascribed - no, the public is both better and worse than that. The public doesn't care about oil - the elites do. The public does care about 9-11, and wanted blood. And the public does, at least titularly, care about our own "security", about saving people from dictators, and about helping people by giving great (though abstract) gifts of the American Way to the world. These latter impulses are not strong, but neither are they base. (Neither are they realistic.)

You surely didn't see Bush promising cheap oil as his primary reason for war. You did see him promise security, and a world transformed in a way not good only for Americans (though definitely good for us); but rather, transformed to Good Good Democracy for everyone, starting with Iraqis. They were to be the first beneficiaries.

So the public is certainly somewhat to blame. They bought it. But the masses don't think up complex ideas on their own. They repeat ideas thought up by intellectuals. This is not surprising: someone has to think of an idea first, and a complex idea is unlikely to be thought up in parallel by everyone. Take an idea like "we've got to depose Saddam for the good of the Iraqi people". That's not something the average American will come up with: Americans don't care about Iraqis. We care about them now only insofar as "our boys" are over there; once the US forces leave, we'll care about Iraqis about the same as we now care about the Vietnamese; that is to say, nearly zero. (People, in general, don't care about people they don't know. This is part of human nature, perfectly sensible.) Intellectuals had been agitating for war against Saddam for a variety of reasons, for years. Only after 9-11 did they break through, because the public was finally ready to hear them.

So where did the public get inobvious ideas like "preemptive war for peace", "America can reform any society into a nice happy democracy", "Iraqis will welcome us as liberators", "the hijackers were Iraqis", etc.?

Neocons. As Raimondo writes to Henley:
Ideas rule the world, and it is the neoconservative idea that brought us to where we are today. I don't see how anyone can dispute that and still retain a modicum of intellectual honest.
Well, I can dispute it somewhat, for it was not only neocon ideas, I think, nor only neocons spreading them. Some of these are older ideas. Many are not the exclusive provenance of neocons - for instance the left has been saying for years that "we can rebuild America (via government tax/spend)". Neocons merely adapted that from the inner city to Iraq.

To my mind, being "neocon" isn't a boolean thing. It's fuzzy. You're a neocon to the extent that you believe and/or propound various neocon ideas; and what exactly are neocon ideas is a moving target, the set of ideas held by, well neocons. It's somewhat circular; nonetheless grounded in the a history of various ideas. Included in that set is the idea that America can successfully reform other societies and/or religions by force. That Islam needs a reformation for us to live with it. That "national greatness" is worth seeking via the state.

To me, Bush, Rumsfield, and Cheney are neocons, to the extent they hold or act on neocon positions. So they are semi-neocons. Humans don't fit into boolean pigeonholes - never.

But the larger point is important. Intellectuals do have real influence, even if it is hard to trace. Ideas do come from somewhere, and they do matter. Not just to us (the intellectuals), but to the man on the street. He may not come up with stuff on his own, but he knows a good argument when he sees it. Look at any comments section on a warblog and you'll see this. All of them repeat the "Saddam was evil justifies invasion" meme, the "drain the fever swamp" meme, the "world has changed due to WMD".

All of which is not to say that intellectuals control anything; we don't. In that sense, we can't be blamed, neocons or otherwise. We propose; the public and politicians dispose. But at the same time, in the long run, ideas are practically all that matter. (To take one example: imagine what would happen in our society if everyone woke up tomorrow with the idea that the government had the same level of legitimacy that the Iraqi government has.)

As the Russian said: "A political battle is merely a skirmish fought with muskets; a philosophical battle is a nuclear war."

Given the power of ideas in the long run, it's impossible not to think that they are important, and that therefore there is some blame to be assigned for thinking up and/or propounding bad ideas, and credit for good ones. This is, in fact, common sense.

So who is it? The intellectuals? The public? The politicians? Well, it's all of us, and none. Each group draws support from the others. Each group is self-interested in one way or another. Blame is not easily assigned. It is, instead, the system that we should look at. For it takes two things to implement policy: the ideas implemented, and the system they are implemented within. We've agreed that our system is producing bad policy. So it must be either bad ideas, or a bad system (or both) that is to blame. We've found bad ideas, but found it remarkably difficult to pin down who's to blame. Without blame and effective punishment for bad ideas, they'll keep coming; and that's a perfect description of politics within the state.

As an anarchist, let me through in my 2c. Blame the state. Without the state, America would have no large standing army, and thus, no adventurism abroad regardless of how we felt about a hypothetical 9-11. And that attack would be very hypothetical since, without a standing army nor the ability to support Israel via taxation, we'd have no involvement to speak of in the middle east. There would have been no Gulf War, no sanctions, no American troops in Saudi Arabia, no American relationship to Israel nor the Intifada. Without the state, there would be no push by the military industrial complex to open up new markets. Without the state, the oil industry would have to find a way to get its raw materials without relying on the taxpayer to fund the enforcement mechanism.

Ms Moon will not give up the state, of course. She needs it for her liberal/socialist ideas. So she is reduced to blaming the evil People, and the evil regime. (The neocons are evil too, she says, and should be run out of town, but they cannot be blamed. That's antisemitism!) Since the people cannot be changed (damn!), her vitriol is directed to Mr Bush and co., with a nice side helping directed towards those who are fighting the neocons in the war of ideas.

As for Ms Moon's charges of antisemitism: well, "shrill" is right. You cry wolf often enough, nobody pays attention. Is there a pogrom afoot in the US? I think not. You're just going to have to face a harsh fact: individuals who are Jewish do have some power. They do bear responsibility for what they do, including espousing neocon ideas. This isn't about being Jewish, it's about propounding bad ideas.

Incidentally, I find it quite offensive to see someone crying antisemitism who is so willing to use hateful invective and overgeneralization like that I quoted above: "This is the white, male, prosperous American electorate that will vote for Bush. Arrogant, insufferable, callous and vicious." Please, tell me again what I am?

One more small nit to pick with Ms. Moon: I'm not exactly a paleo but I feel closer to self-identified paleos than about anyone else. Lew Rockwell and the Rothbardians are anarchists of my stripe, and many of them call themselves paleoconservatives. Anyway, I can testify that their/our beef with the neocons has nothing at all to do with Judaism. It has to do with the state and socialism. Neocons are for both. Paleos (and libertarians in general) are against both.

Neocons are little-c conservative, in most domestic policy; they do want some change, but perhaps marginally less than also little-c conservative Democrats. But both groups have basically accepted socialism as good and proper. Bush and the neocons support everything socialist that America already does; social security, daycare prisons, welfare. They've created a new socialist agency (the TSA), want "no child left behind", and want citizens to surrender a few more rights to the central state "for our security". Abroad, the neocons and Bush differ somewhat on how grandious should be the plans to Invade the World: Bush may think we should invade the whole thing, but only the neocons say it. Nonetheless this is a 180 degree reversal from the "humbler" foreign policy we were promised. In all these things, neocons are wrong, and leading America towards socialism and thus, ultimately, collapse.

Update - a reader reminds me that all societies have "standing armies" in a sense, so I cannot claim "no standing army" in anarchy. And that's true enough - anarchy (or a truly limited libertarian state) would have a much smaller army than America has, but not no army at all.

The Joy of Internment

Thus far the best review I've seen of Michelle Malkin's vile book. Anthony Gregory horselaughs:
Malkin explains that the term "Japanese Internment" is loaded, because there are technically different correct names for all the distinct policies Roosevelt had for relocating and detaining people without trial. ... In fact, Roosevelt – always inclusive and progressive – not only interned and detained those with Japanese heritage; he had the multicultural good sense also to intern Germans, Italians, Hungarians, Romanians, and Bulgarians. More than one might gather from the conventional wisdom, FDR practiced Equal Opportunity Internment.

Malkin shows that the Japanese were not the only ones who had to sacrifice for the Good of the Fatherland:

"Enemy aliens from all Axis nations–not just Japan–were subjected to curfews, registration, censorship, and exclusion from sensitive areas… And beginning in September 1940, more than a year before Pearl Harbor, more than 10 million young men of all backgrounds were conscripted into our nation’s armed forces. Approximately two-thirds of the 292,000 Americans killed and 671,000 wounded in the war were forced to serve."(xiv)

So there you have it! Roosevelt wasn’t just picking on the Japanese. Even before the war he had the foresight to begin drafting young men (just in case the Japanese ever attacked in a surprise strike of which FDR had no expectation whatsoever). And by the end of the war he had forced nearly 200,000 young men to fight to their deaths! Compared to the conscripted war dead, the internees were lucky FDR didn’t kill them.

Malkin also points out that the United States wasn’t the only country to detain "enemy aliens" without trial. "During World War II," she writes, "virtually every major country – from Japan to Germany, from China to Egypt, from Holland to New Zealand – interned its enemy aliens." (54)

Even the Germans and Japanese did it during World War II! So it’s not like the US government did something the Nazis weren’t willing to do.
Hee. Gregory does note an interesting point regarding MAGIC. (Malkin relies on the new availability of declassified documents as the "hook" to hang her book's radical new view on. Surely new information should lead us to revise the tired old received view that imprisoning innocent people is wrong.) Gregory:
Malkin shows that government officials who opposed internment, like J. Edgar Hoover, were unaware of the US government having cracked the MAGIC code. On the other hand, the top leaders in the administration, such as War Secretary Henry Stimson, who were aware of the code breaking, also tended to support internment. Hmmm. I wonder if the same people were also privy to the naval code that revealed Japan was going to attack Pearl Harbor. How interesting, if the same people who knew about all these codes also happened to support Japanese internment.
That is interesting.

Sailer (and Adams) on Interventionism

Love it. Wish Sailer had decent permalinks. Sailer on Neocons and Chechnya:
I'm still wondering why the neocons insist on having a dog in this particular fight. As a conservative, my Burkean prejudice is: 'First, do no harm.' I look at the Chechen tragedy and say, 'Sheesh, I have no idea what should be done over there. If I got involved, I'd probably just make it worse.' So, instead, I think more about how I can help my country avoid getting involved in that kind of mess.

In contrast, neocons seem to wake up every morning thinking, 'What far-off, complex, interminable conflict should I turn my penetrating brilliance upon today?' It must be nice to feel that self-confident, but it sure isn't conservative.
John Quincy Adams:
... friends and countrymen, if the wise and learned philosophers ... should find their hearts disposed to enquire what has America done for the benefit of mankind?

Let our answer be this: America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government. America, in the assembly of nations, since her admission among them, has invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity.

She has uniformly spoken among them, though often to heedless and often to disdainful ears, the language of equal liberty, of equal justice, and of equal rights.

She has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations while asserting and maintaining her own.

She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart. She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama the European world, will be contests of inveterate power, and emerging right. Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.

She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all.

She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.
In other words: a moral foreign policy. What's that worth in lives?

How to Analyze Anarchy

Over at America's Outback, Garth is challenging himself thinking about anarchy (read down for two more posts). Meanwhile, it appears that Arthur Silber has reluctantly seen the light of reason, and converted. So it's a good time to talk a bit about anarchy.

I see all sorts of objections and arguments raised by libertarians (sometimes minarchists, sometimes just small-government types) against anarchy. Many of these are, in my opinion, pretty weak. But others hold water. In any case, thinking about anarchy is something most people aren't very good at. There are lots of real life models that are applicable, but most people don't think about these. I'd like to lay out a few ways that I think about anarchy, using some examples seen over at Garth's place.

Perhaps the first way to look at any proposed challenge to anarchy is to say: would it really be a problem if I can opt out of my protection agency? Most libertarians do, I think, get this. So they see some of the attractiveness of anarchy.

The next thing to think about when considering a problem in anarchy is: is that problem soluble here and now, in the real life of America 2004? If not, then in expecting anarchy to solve it you're expecting utopia. Consider Garth's example:
...a waste disposal company has bought up 30 acres abutting your back yard and will proceed to use it as a landfill. ... You send [your protection agency] over and they discover that there is nothing in any contract that forbids the construction of the landfill. You are informed that the only way to prevent it would have been a purchase of the land yourself.
Well, that's tough. But the same thing can happen under the state; in fact, due to eminent domain it's more likely to happen. In anarchy, landfills would logically be placed only on the cheapest, most worthless land. Land next to a housing development would probably not be used because it would cost too much. With eminant domain, however, a state is often shielded from the true cost of land (and is spending someone else's money even if they do have to pay a market price). So you can expect many more landfills to end up next to neighborhoods under statism than anarchy.

Again, anarchy doesn't solve all problems. No system can.

Now let's assume there is some solution to a problem here in the real (statist) world. A second way to approach a potential problem is to understand the solution for it here in the real world, and see if that works in anarchy, too. Consider, for example, the problem of a protection agency turning into a state. This is certainly a valid worry. Here's Garth:
Over time PEI becomes a protection monopoly, sets the pricing it wants for its service. Some people drop out and do without, of course, but what happens in the long run is that PEI becomes, de-facto, our government. But one without the constitutional checks and balances that we currency enjoy.
So from anarchy, Garth is seeing the evolution of an unchecked protection agency into an unchecked state.

But in the real world, we have a number of practical institutions by which we rein in the power of the state. Here are some:
  • democracy - the idea that the elite decisionmakers of the state must be accepted by the majority of the citizens
  • constitutionalism - the idea that a the state will follow written rules
  • right to jury - the idea that citizens are each other's judges, and the ultimate judges of the law itself
  • federalism - the splitting of power into subunits of a weakly integrated whole
  • RKBA - the idea that average citizens must be given tools capable of overthrowing the state
  • bill of rights - the idea that people's rights are explicitly written out and understandable to the average man
  • civil rights - the idea that the state must observe extra safeguards when dealing with citizens
  • judicial review/veto - the idea that law can be nullified by agents of the state
Now, look at that list and consider the difference between a state and a protection agency. The difference is that the state has a monopoly on force; the agency doesn't. But how does that matter for any of these? It doesn't. All of the practical institutions that rein in the state, above that men have invented over the ages that rein in the state can be applied just as readily to a protection agency.

If you are the sort who worries about the state evolving from anarchy, ask yourself this: would I sign up with a protection agency that did not have a written law, a constitution, a bill of rights, etc.? If you want these things (I would), don't you think most other people would too? (I do.) These things strike me as very cheap to provide, practically costless for an honest protection agency. I think most people therefore would want them, if only as insurance. Given them, even if the agency did evolve into a state, it would be a "nice" state, akin to a modern social democracy, not the sort of nasty state that people seem to imagine by crossing the United Fruit Company with America under Bush and a dash of Stalin.

Thus, as a sort of worst case result, we get basically what we have now. This is not that bad.

I summarize this whole mini argument as follows: protection agencies are weaker than states. Thus anything we've invented that works to rein in the state, will also work to rein in a protection agency, unless it relies on the monopoly power of a state to work.

Finally, let me assume that you've found a problem that would appear in anarchy but not under statism. Well, that I'd be very interested to hear about. But before you're so sure your problem really is novel, remember that anarchy lurks within of our system, in more ways than one:
  • anarchy among the state elite within a state
  • international anarchy
  • anarchy in the power of the people
  • anarchy in certain uncontrolled institutions, notably the internet
Go ahead, make my day.

So now let's assume you've got in hand one of those rare things that anarchy does worse than statism. Are you really willing to give up all the positives of living in a peaceful libertarian society society for that? Are you willing to give up on living in a moral society for that?

I'd be willing to give up a great deal to live in a moral society.