The “deeply dishonest” opponents of the President …

by Stephan Kinsella on January 20, 2010

in Blog Posts

From LRC 2008:

The “deeply dishonest” opponents of the President…

Posted by Stephan Kinsella on July 9, 2008 03:13 PM

According to Lincoln idolizing, Bush-voting, Iraq war armchair general, and soi-disant libertarian Tim Sandefur:

Christopher Hitchens has a review here of Douglas Feith’s book War And Decision, which I’m currently reading. It is an outstanding book, serious, scholarly, reasoned, and fair, although of course Feith has an opinion which he makes clear. And Hitchens is right that there is something deeply dishonest about the way the President’s opponents (i.e., the press) have refused to even note the book’s existence.

This “outstanding” (and “serious,” natch) book, according to Hitchens, makes

it difficult if not impossible for people to go on claiming that, for instance:1. There was no rational reason to suspect a continuing Iraqi WMD threat. Feith’s citations from the Duelfer Report alone are stunning in their implications.
2. That alternatives to war were never discussed and that the administration was out to “get” Saddam Hussein from the start.
3. That the advocates of regime change hoped and indeed planned to anoint Ahmad Chalabi as a figurehead leader in Baghdad.
4. That there was no consideration given to postwar planning.

I suppose any “libertarian” who supported the Iraq War might want to seek partial redemption, but I’m reminded here of Ayn Rand’s angry cursing of Nathaniel Branden after she discovered his lies and affairs: “If you have an ounce of morality left in you, an ounce of psychological health—you’ll be impotent for the next twenty years! And if you achieve any potency, you’ll know it’s a sign of still worse moral degradation!” Likewise, one would think that Sandefur, after having the terrible judgment to support the Iraq War, might refrain from commenting in public on libertarian matters for a while, or at least on matters of war.

But, alas, no. No “impotence” there. See, e.g., more of Sandefur’s “wisdom” in How Libertarians Ought to Think about the U.S. Civil War, Reason Papers Issue No. 28:

Seeing the Confederacy through the lens of the Vietnam experience … is misleading. First, it ignores the fact that, unlike in foreign policy where a nation may choose whether or not to intervene in a conflict, the Constitution requires the president to faithfully execute the law, including the Constitution itself. Second, such a view obscures the ultimate values of libertarian political philosophy. Although it is true that Americans do not owe a duty to intervene when other nations’ rulers oppress their people, it is not true that other nations have the right to oppress their people. To say that another nation’s oppression of its people is “none of our business” is similar to what Lincoln described as the perverse notion “that ‘if one man would enslave another, no third man should object.’” The United States (and every other nation) does have the right, though not the duty, to liberate oppressed peoples held captive by dictatorships [like in Iraq! -- SK]. The federal government had the right, and the duty, to put down the Confederate rebellion.

War is a terrible thing. But libertarianism holds that it is justified at times, when undertaken in defense of individual liberty. As Jefferson said, “all men know that war is a losing game to both parties. But they know also that if they do not resist encroachment at some point, all will be taken from them …. It is the melancholy law of human societies to be compelled sometimes to choose a great evil in order to ward off a greater ….” The Civil War was an awful conflict, costing hundreds of thousands of lives. But the right side did prevail in that war, and libertarians should stop doing themselves the great disservice of defending a cruel and oppressive slave society.

See also this bloviating about the Iraq War:

I’ll be honest: it’s profoundly frustrating for me, as a supporter of both the decision to invade Iraq and the decision to remain there, to find myself having to defend the reputation of a man who is undeniably engaged in egregious violations of the Constitution. The notion that a President can take prisoners on the battlefield, send them to a prison camp off shore, and then hold them there, apparently indefinitely, without a genuine trial, is beyond shameful. It is a brazen violation of both the Constitution and the ancient common law tradition which I hold dear. It is profoundly to be hoped that the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision on this matter will help to set things straight.

Still, it is important to keep things a bit more in perspective. Franklin Roosevelt’s detention of the Japanese, and his use of military tribunals, was no less unconstitutional and illegal, and Roosevelt did a lot more else, besides. (At least Bush isn’t drafting people.) Yet it is still a cause for immense joy that we won that war. Abraham Lincoln censored opposition press and adopted other violations of important constitutional rights, yet it is also cause for rejoicing that he led the United States to victory in that war. War is all hell. It is a most efficient destroyer of individual liberties. That’s why libertarians hate it. But it would be a mistake to allow our frustration over such things to obscure our need and our desire for victory.

Sandefur also opines:

There are people who believe that… If the people in Iran or Iraq or wherever want to live in a brutal totalitarian dictatorship, then it’s not our problem, and we shouldn’t be meddling. This group can be broadly associated with Murray Rothbard, whose views on foreign policy are neatly summed up by his claim that America is “the single most warlike, most interventionist, most imperialist government” in the world, and that the Soviet Union “adopted the theory of ‘peaceful coexistence’…[which is] what Libertarians consider to be the only proper and principled foreign policy.” It is against this group, primarily, that I’ve aimed my attacks on the anti-war crowd. This group, I think, is not only profoundly wrong, but are not even properly described as libertarian. … If one begins from the premise of “self-determination”—i.e., that a collective has the “right” to create whatever (even oppressive) political institutions it pleases, without interference from another collective—well, then you end up making such arguments as that the south was right in the Civil War, and so forth. That may be a lot of things, but it is not libertarianism; it is paleoconservatism.

And here he is sniffing that those who oppose the Iraq war must really want “the other side” to win. And expressing tut-tutting skepticism at accusations of bad behavior by the central state’s goons.

My, my, how “respectable” Sandefur is. Notice that Sandefur scandalously equates anyone who opposed the legality and morality of Lincoln’s unconstitutional war as being a defender of slavery (like, say, famed abolitionist Lysander Spooner?–who nevertheless “denounced the Republicans’ use of violence to prevent the Southern states from seceding during the American Civil War”; see also DiLorenzo, Spooner’s Fiery Attack on Lincolnite Hypocrisy). This is a typical tactic of the “respectable” crowd of minarchists, neo-con libertarians, and quasi-libertarians.

Similarly, Sandefur writes that anti-war opponents of Lincoln “end up making such arguments as that the south was right in the Civil War.” This is not true at all. Real libertarians simply say that the US was wrong in the Civil War–as well as the CSA. They were both evil states. Sandefur, clearly not an anarchist–probably not even a minarchist–cannot see this, since he has to find some state to latch onto: it’s either the USA or the CSA for Sandefur. For an anarchist, we don’t have to make that choice. We recognize both states as evil and rights-violators (see, e.g., some of the resources linked below from LRC or Mises Institute writers).1 The CSA had no more right to tax and conscript its subjects than the USA did; and neither state had the right to condone slavery; nor did any slaveowners in either state have a right to engage in chattel slavery. Under my libertarianism, any pro-slavery legislator in either sorry government–or even any voter who endorsed slavery–is a criminal rights violator. Just because a libertarian does not endorse the USA’s unconstitutional, immoral, criminal, unlibertarian, illegal actions does not mean we condone its enemy’s actions either, as is plain to anyone with a lick of sense and a drop of honesty.

And in his comments on Rothbard, he reveals his collectivism and statism, when he characterizes Rothbard’s view as “If the people in Iran or Iraq or wherever want to live in a brutal totalitarian dictatorship, then it’s not our problem, and we shouldn’t be meddling.” Notice the strategic use of “we” and “our” here. Rothbard didn’t oppose violent opposition to totalitarians, either by its victims or even by outside liberators. He simply opposed the death and harm perpetrated by outside “liberating” states on both its own citizens (taxes, conscription, regulations, censorship, etc.) and on foreigners (“collateral damage”, colonialism, occupation). Sandefur is such a statist he can’t separate the people from the state, so he views “we” as “the American state and the people”. Rothbard opposes our state waging war, because, as a real libertarian, he rightly distrusts that state and recognizes the evil that states always do when waging war. But where does Rothbard oppose private citizens fighting their oppressors, or helping to liberate the oppressed?

Note also Sandefur’s description that anti-war Rothbardians are not only “not even properly described as libertarian”. Instead, they are “paleoconservatives”–not even paleolibertarians! This quasi-libertarian has the gall to read Rothbard out of the movement? Give me a break!

I’ve totally demolished his ridiculous “secession was illegal” reasoning elsewhere… but is any other comment really necessary? I’ve bolded a few of the key phrases that might make any true libertarian’s jaw drop, but res ipsa loquitur (the thing speaks for itself).


Update: Sandefur has replied here. A few comments.

1. Sandefur again calls me a “paleoconservative,” when I am neither paleo nor conservative. I’m a libertarian, straight out, as anyone who reads my publications knows. I happen to be an anarcho-libertarian, the most consistent type of libertarian, unlike Sandefur, whom I suspect is not even a minarchist. (Indeed, I have published several articles in the Journal of Libertarian Studies, as well as serving as its book-review editor for ten years; and published three papers in the libertarian journal Reason Papers, coincidentally, the one Sandefur also recently published in–and which I helped to put online a couple years ago. And which–including Sandefur’s own article–is hosted on the servers of the dreaded “neo-confederate” “fever swamp” Mises Institute itself! I guess I’m just a Trojan horse!)

2. He writes: “I have explained at length … why the word ‘libertarian’ just doesn’t apply to a political philosophy like his, which holds that government should be free to oppress citizens at will.”

I agree with this. I do not believe that “government” (I think here Sandefur must mean “the state”) “should be free” to oppress people. In fact, I think it should be fought and defeated, and abolished–unlike Sandefur, who is not opposed to “government” (or even the state), nor is he opposed to said governments oppressing citizens–after all, for “government” (the state) to exist, it has to tax and regulate people; and every government that has ever existed, or that ever will exist, will be far from even minarchist and will violate individual rights on a wide scale; and Sandefur clearly supports oppression by the state, e.g. in his comment that “slavery is so evil that it was worth all the awful depredations of the Civil War to end it, and would have been worth more” (to which Joseph Sobran bitingly replied, “I’ll raise [Sandefur]–I’ll stipulate that 600,000,000,000 deaths would have been a cheap price to free a single slave.”).

Tim Sandefur is not a libertarian, in my view.

3. He claims that his words that I bolded, to illustrate his unlibertarian views, “are to the effect that war, though a terrible thing, is not the worst thing, and that slavery is worse than war.”

This is simply not true. I have never expressed a view as to what is more terrible, slavery, or war. I am not sure how to make this comparison. Both are widespread, horrific acts of systematic aggression that are only possible with states–which, again, Sandefur supports the legitimacy of, not me.

He goes on: “Evidently he not only thinks that states should be able to deprive us of our rights whenever they want to, but also that freedom is not worth fighting for.”

This is either stupidity or mendacity. And Sandefur does not seem very stupid to me. Because in my very post, I wrote:

Under my libertarianism, any pro-slavery legislator in either sorry government–or even any voter who endorsed slavery–is a criminal rights violator. … Rothbard didn’t oppose violent opposition to totalitarians, either by its victims or even by outside liberators. … where does Rothbard oppose private citizens fighting their oppressors, or helping to liberate the oppressed?

This makes clear, as is almost everything I’ve ever published (see, e.g., the publications listed below)2 that I do not think states “should be able to deprive us of our rights,” nor that “freedom is not worth fighting for.” Again, the collectivist in Sandefur arises: if I don’t bow down to and praise the largest state in world history–the one that harms me more than any other in the world–and am not willing to condone the taxing and murdering it would have to engage in to invade another country, I don’t believe freedom is worth fighting for. I.e., if you don’t endorse the state fighting for your freedom, you don’t endorse fighting for freedom at all! Just like statists say: if you don’t support the state supplying us with roads, hospitals, schools, and courts, you are “opposed” to transportation, medical care, education, and justice!

Sandefur also notes that he “certainly stand[s] by” the comments of his I boldfaced–including, presumably, this statement of his: “The federal government had the right, and the duty, to put down the Confederate rebellion.” I have news for Sandefur: the federal government has no rights whatsoever: it’s a criminal gang of thieves, with no rights, and with one obligation only: the obligation to disband immediately. But then we can’t expect a “respectable” “libertarian” to recognize this, can we?

  1. Anthony Gregory:

    I must admit I am somewhat more skeptical of “states rights” conservatives than I used to be – they almost always end up favoring centralizing power in the end, whether we’re talking about some of the anti-Union hypocrites who sought federal protection of slavery and then centralism within the Confederacy, or today’s politicians who never seem to apply federalism consistently, especially once they have federal power.

    Michael Gaddy:

    The government of the Confederacy, born, as we believe, to the parents,’ self-determination and liberty, was nothing but coercion, violence and force wearing a butternut uniform.


    The basic root of the controversy over slavery to secession, in my opinion, was the aggressive, expansionist aims of the Southern “slavocracy.” Very few Northerners proposed to abolish slavery in the Southern states by aggressive war; the objection – and certainly a proper one – was to the attempt of the Southern slavocracy to extend the slave system to the Western territories. The apologia that the Southerners feared that eventually they might be outnumbered and that federal abolition might ensue is no excuse; it is the age-old alibi for “preventive war.” Not only did the expansionist aim of the slavocracy to protect slavery by federal fiat in the territories as “property” aim to foist the immoral system of slavery on Western territories; it even violated the principles of states’ rights to which the South was supposedly devoted – and which would logically have led to a “popular sovereignty” doctrine.

    Mark Thornton’s Tariffs, Blockades, and Inflation: The Economics of the Civil War–as one reviewer noted, “For libertarians who view a nascent Confederacy as a laissez-faire paradise (except for blacks), the authors provide a valuable corrective.”)
    (Thanks to Anthony Gregory for some of these links.) []

  2. Kinsella, What It Means To Be an Anarcho-Capitalist, 20, 2004)

    —-, How We Come To Own Ourselves, (Sep. 7, 2006)

    —-, Causation and Aggression, The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics, (Winter 2004)

    —-, Punishment and Proportionality: The Estoppel Approach, Journal of Libertarian Studies (Spring 1996)

    —-, Inalienability and Punishment: A Reply to George Smith, Journal of Libertarian Studies (Winter 1998-99)

    —-, A Libertarian Theory of Punishment and Rights Loyola L.A. Law Rev. (1997)

    —-, Estoppel: A New Justification for Individual Rights, Reason Papers (Fall 1992)

    —-, The Greatest Libertarian Books, (August 7, 2006)

    —-, How I Became A Libertarian, (December 18, 2002)

    —-, Fukuyama and Libertarianism, (May 6, 2002)

    —-, A Libertarian Theory of Contracts: Title Transfer, Binding Promises, and Inalienability, Journal of Libertarian Studies (Spring 2003)

    —-, Legislation and the Discovery of Law in a Free Society, Journal of Libertarian Studies (Summer 1995)

    —-, Book Review of Anthony de Jasay, Against Politics: On Government, Anarchy, and Order, The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics (Fall 1998)

    —-, Taking the Ninth Amendment Seriously: A Review of Calvin R. Massey’s Silent Rights: The Ninth Amendment and the Constitution’s Unenumerated Rights [1995], Hastings Constitutional Law Q. (1997)

    —-, Book Review of Patrick Burke, No Harm: Ethical Principles for a Free Market [1994], Reason Papers (Fall 1995). []


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