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Palmer the Desperate Smear-artist

Tom Palmer is at it again on the Liberty and Power blog. My reply to him is reprinted here in case it is deleted there:

Palmer: “What’s remarkable is that Mr. Kinsella sees no role for the federal government at all. And calls that “federalism.””

Well, as a–gasp!–anarchocapitalist, I see no “role” for any state.

But as I have repeated many times, I have never denied that our federalist system grants certain powers and functions to the feds. I just believe these powers and functions are limited to those enumerated in the Constitution; and I think that the feds exceeding their mandated authority sets the dangerous precedent that they are not limited by the very Constitution that authorizes its existence.

If Alabama (or Maine, of course) were to begin executing black people or shooting Muslims and a federal court were to rule that illegal, Mr. Kinsella would quickly condemn the federal government for the unjust usurpation of state sovereignty.

Palmer is quick to lie and distort, slander and smear, but then he must make an effort to live up to his reputation.

What I would do in this case is–if anyone asked what my view of the constitutionality of the ruling was–take a look at the Constitution and see if I could identify a power given there for the feds to intervene in such unlibertarian state actions. The question of whether a given federal ruling is unconstitutional or not is separate from the question about whether it is libertarian or not. Palmer appears to accept the childish reasoning that wishing makes it so. That we ought to first figure out what we want the Constitution to say, and then just make up a reason that it “must” say this.

I prefer the more honest approach. I prefer to accurately and honestly identify what the Constitution means and is designed to do, whether that is libertarian or not. For example, the Constitution allows the federal government to impose an income tax. The Sixteeth Amendment exists. No amount of handwringing or intellectual gymnastics can get around this. Better to admit it and condemn it, rather than to disginenuously pretend that it does not “really” allow an income tax–how could it, after all, if there “should not be” an income tax. In other words, Palmer is making the oft-made mistake of activist-minded libertarians of seeing everything in terms of strategy. But there is a difference between ought and is.

“State sovereignty” simply means that some group is alleged to be above the law; but for a libertarian (which excludes some of the states sovereignty crowd), no one is “above the law.” I recall Karl Hess saying many years ago that the only reason that conservatives favored states rights is that states were so good at oppressing people. Mr. Kinsella’s guru HH Hoppe (who was recently enthusiastically interviewed in the extreme rightist German nationalist paper Junge Freiheit) is eager to be able to exclude black people, gay people, and a long list of others he’s singled out in his writings as not deserving of toleration in his society. And what better way than to insist that states are “sovereign” and therefore able to oppress at will. How little has changed.

Palmer’s comment that I would condemn a federal ruling that Alabama’s executions of blacks is illegal on the grounds that it is an “unjust usurpation of state sovereignty” again shows a failure to understand the libertarian case for federalism (or what I have writen before). I don’t whine about the “unjustness” of violating state sovereignty. For me, all states are unjust. But I believe that if a state is created, it is useful to have various constitutional or structural features in place to attempt to limit that state’s abuses of individuals. These include enumerated & limited powers (especially for a central state in a federal system), specified rights, horizontal separation of powers (having equal and independent legislature, executive, and judiciary), and vertical separation of powers (sometimes called federalism, decentralism, whatever).

The question is whether it is wise, when setting up a central state, to limit its power by only granting it some powers, and leaving to the constituent states other powers. Just as horizontal separation of powers means each branch has certain roles and powers, as checks on the others, so in a vertically divided system, states would have some powers but not others, and the central state would as well.

It is quite obvious that it is a respectable libertarian position to favor both horizontal and vertical separation of powers as a mechanism designed to try to keep government within certain bounds. It is pathetic and disgusting for Palmer to try to smear someone holding this view as being in favor of execution of blacks. Palmer’s resort to such desperate, vile smears would make one wonder if there is really no principled, sincere, libertarian grounds to oppose federalism. Of course, there are, but Palmer’s hysteria and unfairness paints the opposite picture.

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