Hiroshima: Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

Inasmuch as Bret Stephens’ op-ed on Hiroshima in the Wall Street Journal (Thank God for the Atomic Bomb, August 3, 2015) was the inspiration for this writing, it is appropriate that I begin it with my emailed  response to Mr. Stephens:

Dear Mr. Stephens:

Your editorial piece of August 3 reveals an unfortunate type of tunnel vision, a point of view that always finds the United States on the right side of things and finds everyone else suspect. It is a view that easily justifies this country’s role as world policeman while simultaneously trying to deny it.

Your writing focuses on the notion that the use of the newly developed atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was decisive in ending the war and protecting thousands of GIs from having to face death once again in a putative invasion of the Japanese homeland. The tunnel vision comes from a chronic lack of information on your part.

You are either not aware of, or are studiously ignoring, facts which have come to light since August 8, 1945 which suggest that your thesis is false.

The first, and perhaps most important of these, is the existence of multiple peace overtures made by the Japanese with the explicit approval of the Emperor beginning on or about January, 1945. In all of these overtures, the only stumbling block to acceptance was the concept of unconditional surrender, specifically that the Emperor’s position must be protected. All other conditions were acceptable to Japan and identical to those ultimately included in the final surrender.

You say “ …Japan was defeated. Totally defeated. Modern Japan is a testament to the benefits of total defeat [ otherwise known as unconditional surrender], to stripping a culture prone to violence of its martial pretenses.” Wow, and the U.S. has historically no such culture of violence and martial pretenses, no warrior class? All of our hundreds of foreign interventions were somehow pristine. There is no light at the end of this tunnel.

These above-mentioned multiple surrender attempts were totally rebuffed by the U.S. government, including Roosevelt’s refusal to countenance that which was transmitted by none other than General MacArthur, who urged Roosevelt to begin negotiations. No doubt you will spend a lot energy trying to discredit these revelations because their existence suggests a deliberate will by those in high places to persist with the notion of unconditional surrender to the detriment of those who would die at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

I found and read the essay you quote by Paul Fussell, and my impression is that he believes that the immediate life experience in battle of those sent to execute the war should trump any later observations which may be made by others once the dust has settled and a fuller set of historical facts may be in evidence. Such thinking surely short circuits much discussion ( I think that was your intention).

The second fact featured by you is the oft-repeated notion that estimates of anywhere from 250,000 to 500,000 American lives would have been lost in the invasion of Japan. There was more than one advisory group that was tasked with making such estimates ahead of time; the primary one was commissioned by the Joint Chiefs, and their conclusion was around 46,000 for all the planned offensives. Although Truman was reputed to have talked about as many as a million lives saved, this was only years later; he had no such input before Hiroshima.

If one is at all concerned, as Paul Fussell seems to be, about the plight of the ordinary soldier or sailor forced to fight and possibly die, then one needs to understand and illuminate the role of those in exalted positions, most especially the President and his cadre of advisors, in creating the conditions which lead to war, and then, once war is begun, to further sacrifice these same souls to some abstract notion like unconditional surrender. One value of historical post-examination is to realize that the insistence in 1919 on unconditional surrender gave birth to the Treaty of Versailles which is subsequently implicated in the rise of the demagogic Hitler, leading to what in retrospect has to be considered a continuation of the first World War. One needs to delve into the deceitful role of Franklin Roosevelt in provoking the Japanese into an incident like Pearl Harbor in order to fulfill his wish to enter the European war. All of these things caused a tragic loss of life and treasure, all because of hubris and personal aggrandizement on the part of our leaders. It is not the people of the United States who owe an apology for anything—it is supposed leaders like Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman and Woodrow Wilson, and their close compatriots who urged them on.

All of the assertions I make here can be supported by the citations for the main article, of which this email is the preamble. The post is to be found on my blog, www.NotAllRadishesAreRed.org. But you probably won’t bother to read the post or the citations, I am thinking. After all, you don’t have to worry—God  is on your side.

Rob Chrisman
Nevada City, CA


Harry S. Truman was the person responsible for the final decision to drop atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Mr. Truman often claimed full responsibility for whatever he did, saying famously “the buck stops here”. So what did Truman know at the time his decision?

First, we have already mentioned that not one, but two advisory groups had studied the issue of casualties ( deaths, wounded, and missing) for a number of invasion scenarios on the different Japanese islands, set to begin around November 1 of 1945. They were known as the Joint War Plans Committee and the Joint Staff Planners. The estimates for lives lost ranged from 20,000 to 46,000. The latter group noted that the situation on the Tokyo plain did not resemble the tight and restricted situations which had prevailed on the Normandy beaches since many amenable sites for landing existed and enemy forces could not be concentrated on all of them. The conclusion from these facts is that Truman and the Joint Chiefs were operating on the basis of these smaller numbers, not a million, and not a half-million.1

Secondly, Truman was certainly aware of the peace overtures which Roosevelt had so summarily rejected while still alive. Apparently, this rejection was enough reduce his credence in the matter to zero. The details on this matter are best expressed by Harry Elmer Barnes from his piece entitled “Hiroshima: Assault on a Beaten Foe?”:

These Japanese peace feelers were not irresponsible, anonymous, fly-by-night proposals but came from responsible Japanese acting for Emperor Hirohito. Gen. MacArthur urged President Roosevelt to start immediate negotiations with the Japanese on the basis of these overtures, and warned against inviting or urging the Russians to enter the war in the Far East. Roosevelt rejected MacArthur’s advice, and, figuratively, threw MacArthur’s vitally important information into the wastebasket, with the remark that MacArthur “is our greatest general and our poorest politician.” Roosevelt proceeded to Yalta, where he granted the concessions to Russia that made the Soviet Union the dominant power in the Far East and played a crucial role in the later victory of the communists in China. The bloody warfare in the Pacific was allowed to drag on for six more months without any real military necessity. Specifically, the terms of these Japanese peace overtures of late January 1945 were the following:
1. Full surrender of the Japanese forces on the sea, in the air, at home, on island possessions and in occupied countries.
2. Surrender of all arms and munitions.
3. Occupation of the Japanese homeland and island possessions by Allied troops under American direction.
4. Japanese relinquishment of Manchuria, Korea and Formosa, as well as all territory seized during the war.
5. Regulation of Japanese industry to halt present and future production of implements of war.
6. Surrender of designated war criminals.
7. Release of all prisoners of war and internees in Japan proper and in areas under Japanese control.

Bret Stephens and others may hasten to point out that Truman, Churchill and Chiang Kai-shek offered a peace plan at the Potsdam Conference in July of 1945, and that said plan was rejected by Japan. In point of fact, the “peace plan” was in fact nothing more than an ultimatum, the form of which in effect said to the Japanese: don’t bother us any more with your peace offers; this is our final declaration on the matter. The last item of the Potsdam Declaration reads as follows:

“We call upon the government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces, and to provide proper and adequate assurances of their good faith in such action. The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction.”2

A third matter of fact that Truman was aware of is the status of the target cities: namely that they were primarily urban areas, and only by a logical stretch could they be construed as military targets. Thus, Truman certainly understood that the decision to use the bombs on the city centers ( this was a military decision) amounted to a kind of terror bombing, as opposed to accomplishing some specific military objectives. The President was lying or practicing deliberate self-deception when he said:

“I have told Sec. of War . . . Stimson to use it so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children. Even if the Japs are savages, ruthless, merciless, and fanatic . . . [t]he target will be a purely military one.”((Truman’s Diary on the Atomic Bomb, found at:       http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=3&psid=1186))

This brings us to perhaps the heart of the matter regarding the use of these new weapons, namely that their use was similar to what was already happening in Japan, i.e. the use of incendiary bombing to wipe out huge swaths of Tokyo and other cities, in other words, the deliberate targeting of civilian populations to, as various military figures have expressed it, break the will for resistance. Pursuing this strategy in Japan was just a continuation of the mass bombing of civilians in Germany in cities like Dresden, a demonstrably non-military target.

By early 1945, World War II — especially in the Pacific — had become virtually total war. The firebombing of Dresden had helped set a precedent for the U.S. air force, supported by the American people, to intentionally kill mass numbers of Japanese citizens. The earlier moral insistence on noncombatant immunity crumbled during the savage war. In Tokyo, during March 9-10, a U.S. air attack killed about 80,000 Japanese civilians. American B-29s dropped napalm on the city’s heavily populated areas to produce uncontrollable firestorms. It may even have been easier to conduct this new warfare outside Europe and against Japan because its people seemed like “yellow subhumans” to many rank-and-file American citizens and many of their leaders.3

The policy marks a change in the moral outlook regarding the targeting of civilians. Up to a certain point in time, most politicians and military men would have agreed that such a policy was unacceptable. It started early in the 20th century with the decision in the Great War to employ poison gas. (Mr. Stephens—Note Well: ALL the belligerents were guilty of this.) It continued with the mass bombing in WW II of civilians in urban areas that were non-military targets, and, contrary to conventional wisdom, it was not the Germans who initiated it, but rather Winston Churchill, in 1939.4

So the real issue here, as I see it, is how the use of the bombs against civilian targets in a manner that generates terror in the populace, is merely a continuation of the breach of the rules of war supposedly accepted in the Hague Convention of 1907. In other words, all the rules are now officially by the boards. The Hiroshima incident seals it. War is now total and there is no turning back.

It more than slightly ironic that Neo-cons and hawkish conservatives of all stripes are making such a big deal out of Islamic and other terrorism, when a moment’s reflection reveals that it is not a new phenomenon and that we have a large conceptual share in its propagation.

For an even more complete view of the issues touched upon here, the reader is urged to read the chapter on Truman ( pp. 577-586) in Reassessing the Presidency: The Rise of the Executive State and Decline of Freedom ( John V. Denson, Ed.), an article by Mark Weber, entitled “Was Hiroshima Necessary?” and “Hiroshima: Assault on a Beaten Foe? by Dr. Harry Elmer Barnes.

Please observe that none of the arguments here presented bear any resemblance to “leftist politics” and “a kind of insipid pacifism” as alleged in Bret Stephen’s article. They are simply an attempt to catalog and bring to the fore a set of facts in opposition to the conventional wisdom that dropping the bombs was somehow a good thing.

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  1. Bernstein, Barton J., “A Postwar Myth: 500,000 U.S. lives saved”. []
  2. Wikipedia on the Potsdam Declaration: https://en.wikipedia.org_wiki/Potsdam_Declaration []
  3. Bernstein, Barton J.,  “The Atomic Bombings Reconsidered” in Foreign Affairs, 1995. For a discussion of American propaganda against the Japanese, see:  https://www.msu.edu/~navarro6/srop.html and the Google images of American posters of the era accessed by entering “american propaganda against japanese” into the search engine. []
  4.  Dr. A.R. Wesserle, “Bombs on Britain” at http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v02/v02p381_Wesserle.html []

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How not to stop future mass killings

As things now seem to be developing, various so-called “solutions” to the problem of deranged or mentally ill persons killing innocents en masse are being proposed by lawmakers and others. Without even knowing the details, I can pretty much assert right now that the approaches being considered will have little or no effect. Let’s first agree that there are really only two broad areas to be considered: (1) various changes to gun control laws, and (2) some changes in the way mentally ill people are dealt with. The first area affects the means to an end, and the second affects the motivation for the act itself. If you were our current President with his obsession for a “balanced” approach, you would insist on action both fronts, while in actuality only planning to influence one of them; I leave it to the reader as an exercise to speculate on which is which.

Gun Laws

There are already calls for banning the sale of “assault rifles” on the basis that their firepower is what enables the perpetrator. Similarly, there will be calls to limit the size of ammunition magazines for various weapons, as well as the need to closely regulate and/or restrict the sale of many types of ammunition. None of these will have any serious effect on the frequency or scope of future mass killings with firearms.This is a fairly bold statement to make; one might think that such actions should have some effect, and are at least a “move in the right direction”. I will explain why I believe my emphatic statement to the contrary will hold.

First, there are over 300 million firearms in private hands in this country. Of these, perhaps 1%, or at least 3,000,000 are semi-automatic long guns (rifles) of the type which resemble those in use by the military and might be construed under any new law as “assault rifles”.[1] (A semi-automatic weapon is one that shoots a single shot for each pull of the trigger; if you can pull the trigger fast enough, you can deliver a lot of shots in short period of time, however aiming those very quick shots is another matter.) The most likely legislative scenario is to ban the sale of some subset of these rifles, as was done under the expired Clinton-era legislation; it has already been pointed out that the specific rifle used in the recent tragedy would not have been included in the definition of an assault rifle, and is also not included in the still-existing Connecticut assault rifle ban. The next most likely scenario is that any rifle that even remotely resembles a military type weapon will meet the definition in the proposed law. Going further, the next most likely scenario beyond that is that any long gun that shoots semi-automatically will be considered for banning. And so on up to, and possibly including the type of legislation adopted in Australia [2] after a 1996 mass killing there. Normally, laws of this type apply to future sales and production. But what about the 3,000,000+ so-called assault rifles that are still out there in private hands? So, even if all sales of such weapons ceased immediately, it would still be possible for someone who was determined ( and this is defined by the degree of advance planning [3] involved) to obtain one of the remaining 3,000,000 examples extant, even if, as was the case in the most recent (2012)  incident, it had to be stolen from someone.

So, there are various degrees of additional restrictions on the use and possession of firearms which could be embraced, from re-instituting recently expired laws to the extreme positions taken by the Australian measures. The reality is, however, that nothing short of (1) banning the sales of all types of firearms, and (2) taking severe measures to confiscate or seize the firearms which are currently in the hands of the populace will result in an absence of the type of event characterized as a mass killing at a school, workplace, or public venue. If any significant number of weapons remain in circulation, bad people, deranged people, unhinged people  will get them and cause mayhem yet again. Only the near total absence of weapons which could be purchased, stolen, or otherwise commandeered will prevent such tragedies. It may reduce their numbers somewhat, but it will not prevent them.

Why is it not the case, that if we simply banned all semi-automatic rifles, it would not change things for the better? The reason is, that the exact same amount of damage could have been inflicted with, say, a pair of semi-automatic pistols, and a suitable number of ( say 6-8) 10-round magazines, all of which are easily concealed on the person. So now, semi-automatic handguns must be included. Taking a second look at handguns as easily concealed, why not just go further and ban all handguns? There have been many demands for this over the years. Continuing in this pattern, one really does arrive at the situation which prevails in certain countries like Australia or the U.K., where the number of guns of any type in private hands is vanishingly small.

The other, and more important reality surrounding this, is that if both (1) and (2) above are actually implemented, it would require our conversion to a police state, with all of the loss of rights and liberties that that entails.  Now one could object by saying that Australia, after all, does not appear to be a police state, but there are two prime differences between the implementation of the severe measures cited there and in this country. First, there is more than one firearm for every adult in the U.S.; in Australia, a country of around 22 million, there was approximately one firearm for every five (5) persons before the stricter measures were undertaken, and one firearm  or less for every ten (10) persons  afterwards. Given the fundamental differences in both numbers and likely public support, what do you think would be the result of such an attempted compulsory gun buyback ( or worse, confiscation) in this country? Second, there was and is no existing bill of rights type of protection for the individual right to keep and bear arms in Australia or the U.K.  Third, our Supreme Court has recently found that the Second Amendment rights are in fact individual rights and not contingent upon anything having to do with the militia or military service. Fourth, the attempted  imposition of such stringent measures might finally trigger what should have been observed in first place, that is, that even the existing laws in the various states, and federally, constitute, by any reasonable construction, an actual and considerable infringement on the right to own and carry firearms; so, in order to go much further down that road  we are faced with the need to discard or repeal said Second Amendment in order to proceed to a situation where such tragedies might be somewhat reduced simply due to the virtual non-existence in society of the weapons of choice used by the deranged individuals. There are, of course, some of us, but not many, who want to go this way.

So, I ask you, do you think any of the gun law measures likely to be adopted in this country will make a significant difference in the final results over time? I don’t, but I do know that additional restrictions over those already in place will result in further liberties being denied the vast majority of those who will never commit such heinous crimes. This makes the implementation of such measures one additional instance of the unfortunate prevalence of Utilitarian thinking in our culture, including the notion that individual liberty is not important if it gets in the way of some desired aggregate result, and this is true, I suggest, regardless of whether or not the liberty in question is explicitly protected in a constitution. We discuss this concept at length with regard to distributive justice in our three blog posts on Justice and Fairness (q.v.).

Now before I depart the discussion re: firearms, I want to once again reflect on what the meaning and importance of the Second Amendment is. I cringe whenever I hear either a supposed supporter, or critic, of “gun rights” speak of gun use not being influenced for sportsman and hunters by whatever new measures are being discussed. The Second Amendment is not now, and never was, intended to protect the sporting use of firearms. This is pretty much the case for guns as personal protection, too, although there is some evidence to support its inclusion as an expression of the unspoken natural right of self-defense which we all presumably have.  See the Ninth and Tenth Amendments.

What the Second Amendment says is this: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed ”. I am informed that the militia, at that time, was construed to be the whole of the able-bodied male population,[4] who might, on fairly short notice, be called into service in the defense of the country. It is not incoherent to interpret the amendment as guaranteeing that the populace be armed, which, of course, is totally contrary to the disarming which will now be proposed. Moreover, the reason for wanting an armed populace is twofold: first against foreign invasion, and second, as a counterweight to those in government who would exceed their authority and become tyrants. If the second notion is not an issue, why  then would Jefferson say:

“What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance. Let them take arms.”
Thomas Jefferson
to James Madison

Or would the Declaration also note that

…whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it….

It goes almost without saying that should our government “become destructive” of our rights, it may not sit idly by while we attempt to abolish it, but may well be obliged to restrain itself if the whole of the populace can rise up with arms and resist. It is the height of naiveté to insist that we are somehow beyond this threat; how many bloody dictatorships have come and gone in this world  in the last 75 years?

To now say that the Second Amendment is outmoded, is old-fashioned and behind the times is only a flimsy excuse to do away with a fundamental protection. That the U.K. and Australia are not at this moment in any serious danger of becoming overarching police states does not diminish the necessity of an armed counterweight to the abuse of power. This is even more the case with our instant President, who, in his first term, showed no reticence about ignoring the Constitution, and in his second term, may have no restraint at all in using executive power to achieve what he cannot get from Congress. Hear what one newly elected dictator in the 20th Century had to say about gun control:

“This year will go down in history. For the first time, a civilized nation has full gun registration. Our streets will be safer, our police more efficient, and the world will follow our lead into the future!”
Adolph Hitler
Chancellor, Germany, 1933

Had I not already been aware of the author, the tone of this statement suggests to me that it might well have come from our current White House occupant; notice especially the phrases “civilized nation” and “follow our lead into the future”. Yeah. Forward!

A final observation regarding the type of weapons which civilians possess. It is clear that, if one accepts the notion that the Founders intended possible resistance to a government gone astray, then the type of weapons available to the people must bear at least some resemblance to those in general use by the military and other enforcers in government. Thus, the remarks that so-called semi-automatic “assault” rifles are inappropriate for civilian use would seem to confirm the gun control advocates real agenda—the elimination of effective armed resistance to their political aims. [5]

Mental Illness

The general run of comments so far seems to settle on the fact that the mental health system ( if there can be said to be such a thing ) is broken in that individuals who perpetrate mass killings are not being identified, or, having been identified as troubled, are not receiving treatment or other intervention.

Also, it is noted that the state of affairs was greatly worsened during and following the so-called “de-institutionalization”[6] which began in the 1970s and proceeded into the 1980s. During this time, many state mental hospitals closed their doors and the patients were transferred to various types of community mental health treatment centers where the level of supervision and follow-up was minimal. It is said that many of those qualifying as homeless are a direct result of this ineffective arrangement.

The impetus for de-institutionalization can be traced back to problems which existed in the state hospitals, which were viewed by many as simply warehousing institutions rather than curative ones. Failure to accurately diagnose and treat [7], as well as abuse of patients motivated those who pushed for change.

With consideration of the foregoing, the issue to be solved is how to identify, isolate, and , if appropriate [8], treat those in that tiny fraction of the population who may come unhinged and wreak such violence; it is most assuredly not one of reforming, under federal auspices and control, the entire panoply of mental health services, It is because it is this latter “solution” which I fear is the one which will be the most promoted, I again assert that the solution, at least partly because it is so unfocused on the real perpetrators, will not yield the sought-after results.

My explanation for the failure of the proposed overhaul of the “system” is as follows: first, if we revise the entire apparatus so that we encompass all the mentally ill out there on the streets or in homes and schools who are dysfunctional but not inclined to violence, then we are looking at a huge additional taxpayer-funded expansion to provide treatment. If the avowed purpose is to improve the lot of these unfortunate sick people, then fine, but it diverts us from, and obscures what should be the major goal of any changes—the early identification, isolation, and possible treatment of that very small number of potentially violent offenders. The resources for this are not unlimited and there is an urgent need for prioritizing here.

As you have no doubt gleaned from other posts, the thrust of this work ( i.e. this blog) is a manifest concern for individual liberty, and a true and effective modus operandi to prevent mass killings will, unfortunately, involve involuntary confinement for varying lengths of time, and, for those of us who refuse to countenance abuse, an iron-clad procedure to guarantee that the rights of those identified for confinement are preserved to the greatest extent possible.

After reviewing the histories of those individuals perpetrating past mass killings, there certain aspects which these individuals and the events themselves have in common.

First, persons having a close relationship to the perpetrator were frequently killed along with ( and often prior to) others who appeared to be innocent and of no personal acquaintance with the perpetrator.

Second, these latter victims were often construed ( even if by a somewhat tortuous logical path) as being members of some class of people who deserved to be punished.

Third, there appears to be the presence of deep-seated and persistent anger in the perpetrator, and feelings of being the victim of some sort of injustice or unfairness.

Finally, in too many cases, the perpetrator takes his own life, seeming to be unwilling to permit scrutiny of his persona and thus denying us any way to de-brief or learn what was in his troubled mind.

For some subset of past perpetrators, there was some sort of record of questionable behavior, some of which resulted in sanctions of one sort or another. For others, including the instant case at Newtown, there was apparently very little antecedent behavior on which anyone could make a case for intervention.

These problems (i.e. minimal prior record of disturance)  will likely lead to a poorly conceived, shotgun type approach to screening out individuals like Adam Lanza. Already, the current administration is suggesting “universal background checks” that would likely include current gun owners as well as prospective purchasers, with the apparent intent of ultimately defining certain characteristics which might lead to a prohibition on gun ownership, in much the same way as existing laws regarding guns and those alleged of committing, or being considered likely to commit, domestic violence.[9]

*                                    *                                    *

In summary then, I assert that with respect to new gun control laws, no additional laws are justified because they would, in essence, render the Second Amendment meaningless, and would produce no tangible results unless carried to the extreme of the Australian example. Those who want to proceed in this direction should declare their intention to repeal the Second Amendment and stop the hypocrisy of pretending any level of support for it.

I also assert that this tragic event (Newtown) should not be the justification for a comprehensive overhaul under the direction of the Federal Government, of the mental health “system”. I would suggest a call for a group of behavioral specialists, including psychiatrists, psychologists, and others to study intensively the characteristics of all the recent massacres from say, 1960, and their perpetrators to glean what is common to them all, and perhaps raise some ideas for action in identifying this tiny fraction of the mentally ill ahead of incidents like Newtown. I am not aware of any such intensive study, and I think it would be the most focused and appropriate response we could make.

This consists of the limit of what should be done. Laissez-faire? Yes. Radical? Yes. Likely the correct approach? I say yes, again.


[2]. The severe restrictions adopted in Australia can be found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_politics_in_Australia
[3] With regard to advance planning, were any of the last dozen or so such mass killings (Columbine, Aurora, etc.) done on the spur-of-the-moment? In fact, it was a notable characteristic of most of them that they were planned ahead in great detail.
[4] “A militia, when properly formed, are in fact the people themselves…and include all men capable of bearing arms.” (Richard Henry Lee, Additional Letters from the Federal Farmer (1788) at 169)
[5] The threat of the attempt to ban semi-automatics is made abundantly clear in a short piece entitled “Freedom’s Last Stand.. ” at:  http://www.firearmsandliberty.com/will.you.fight.html
[6] See the extensive discussion at:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deinstitutionalization#cite_note-Eisenberg-2
[7] See the Rosenhan Experiment detailed at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosenhan_experiment.
[8] One needs to face up to the possibility that some of the relevant offenders are not mentally ill in a treatable sense, i.e. that they are incorrigible sociopaths who are examples of unmanageable evil for which no explanation or excuse can be made, but who may give clues to their ultimate behavior in time to be recognized as threats.
[9] See the discussion of the so-called “Lautenberg Amendment” at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domestic_Violence_Offender_Gun_Ban.
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Libertarians and Conservatives: The Upcoming Unpleasantness

Most people think that libertarians and conservatives are largely in agreement about political issues and hence, can reciprocally count, in some cases, on mutual support; and, that this is especially true when the alternative to a conservative candidate ( usually a “conservative” Republican) is so odious to both factions that allowing the success of the left-leaning candidate is all but unthinkable. However, as we approach the election of 2016, I am predicting a major breakdown in this putative alliance. This will occur because of the advent of a presidential candidate who may be more acceptable to the libertarians than to conservatives1.

What is the nexus of agreement between libertarians and conservatives? It would appear to me to be pretty much restricted to economic issues, and only a subset of those, in any case. Conservatives characterize their libertarian acquaintances  ( not necessarily friends ) as “fiscally conservative and socially liberal”, as if the libertarian is some sort of piebald hybrid politically.  The libertarian, because he is not in complete agreement on issues, is seen ( and frequently cited critically)  by the conservative as “inconsistent” in his positions . The truth, as is so often the case with foundational issues, is precisely the opposite: the libertarian totally owns the territory of consistency in principles, politically.

Let us begin with perhaps the most basic statement of libertarian principle: the entire political philosophy of libertarianism hangs on the notion of individual rights—everyone has an identical set of rights to action, which are considered “natural” (I prefer “inherent”) rights in that they are indispensable for survival and/or flourishing as human beings; moreover, the only legitimate purpose of all governmental action and institutions is the protection ( the “securing”) of these rights. It is understood that government does not grant or create rights, but only recognizes and secures them.

All things, then, proceed from the need to maximize liberty. Libertarians assert that the context of rights is basically focused on the individual, and that all that government does is for the sake of individual freedom of choice and action, the only caveat being that one person’s action may not take away, interfere with, or negate another’s  rights.

Since it is non-interference that is paramount in human relations under this political scheme, the only coercion allowed would be in self-defense or retaliation against others who would use coercion to achieve their own ends. Government, when limited in this way, is constrained to use force only when dealing with those who initiate force or are aggressive2 against others.

Unfortunately, this notion of non-interference ( or non-intervention ) brings libertarians into conflict with conservatives, who say they are advocates of liberty, but, in my estimation, fail to view liberty as essential.  For many conservatives, coercion for reasons other than retaliation or protection of rights cannot be ruled out, because conservatives believe that they know in which domains control over human behavior must be exercised, and in which domains humans might safely be allowed free rein. So, it would not be unseemly to declare that the conservative is no friend of liberty, when broadly construed. Let us say that their liking for liberty is selective, at best. One suspects that they tolerate the concept because, they think that, since the Founders used the word a lot, and moreover that was a long time ago ( i.e. through longevity has become traditional ) , it can’t be all bad. Hence, the conservative lip service re: liberty.

This attitude, that there is an elite or a group of anointed ones, who are given special knowledge of what is moral, what is virtuous or desirable, what should or should not be permitted, and that agreement among the populace (especially among those most resembling the elite!) on these matters is widespread is the basis for a developing enmity between conservatives and libertarians.

So, aside from a tenuous agreement on certain economic matters ( e.g. the huge national debt, excessive taxation, onerous regulations, property rights) there is, frankly, not nearly as much common ground as I see it, between libertarians and conservatives as you might think. The result of this is my earlier prediction: a growing unpleasantness, and indeed a growing and caustic intolerance, of any candidate who might realistically stand a chance at the Republican nomination in 2016 if such candidate displays anything other than a minimal interest in libertarian principles.

Thus, there are several areas where conservatives will attempt to pillory any even moderately libertarian candidate: these are (1) foreign policy, (2) drug policy   ( including especially the “war on drugs”), and (3) so-called “social issues”, relating to marriage, the family, and sexuality.

Foreign Policy.  The crucial difference between libertarian and other political philosophies is the emphasis on non-interference in all aspects of the lives of individuals   ( and that includes voluntary associations of individuals ). In the economic sphere, this means that the state should not be permitted to intervene in the economic affairs of individuals and firms, and not dictate or mandate or prohibit any actions which are the purview of the individual to make as long as such actions do not violate the similar rights of other individuals. Because they are often business-oriented, many conservatives find themselves on this same page re: the desire for economic non-intervention and non-interference; I suggest, however, that it is not necessarily because conservatives look at this from a perspective of a loss of liberty generally, but only inasmuch as it affects their bottom line.

Having been exposed to a number of libertarian writers and their ideas, I believe I can state without too much risk of error the following notion regarding foreign policy: libertarians believe that nation-states are fundamentally like individuals ( or, as previously noted, associations of individuals) in that the moral (and, indeed, practical ) treatment of other nation-states requires the same adherence to principles of non-intervention and/or non-aggression as those that apply to relationships with individuals, i.e. it would be improper to be an aggressor in those relationships. The strict avoidance of intervention into the affairs of other nation-states is thus seen as parallel to the need for non-interference by individuals ( or the government)  in the economic ( or other)  affairs of other individuals. Conservatives, however, frequently believe ( or act as though they believed) that all that is required to justify military or other intrusive  interventions3 into the affairs of another country is that some supposed “interest” of the United States is at stake. Especially important is that this need not be some vital interest such as a territorial violation of the U.S. by military forces, or the threat of military action; it could be as simple as some postulated economic interest, such as the need to have long-term access to petroleum or other raw materials. It is not an exaggeration to say that there are many in both the conservative and modern liberal camps who firmly believe that “war is simply an instrument of state policy, to be used whenever it would promote the ends of the state.”4 The libertarian would, by way of contrast, limit war to situations involving our vital security interests, i.e. direct military or terrorist acts or threats to act on American soil or against American property5 or citizens. It is interesting to note that the Constitutional requirement that wars be declared by Congress is totally consistent with this point of view; the increasingly common use of military force by the chief executive in the absence of any legislative authorization at all, or by some alleged substitute ( e.g. the War Powers Act ) is totally consistent with the view of war as an instrument of policy, as expressed above.

That the “instrument of state policy” factions have at most times been in the seats of power and influence when war is contemplated is illustrated by the number of military ( and other covert operations type ) interventions which have occurred over the years.  In the 114 years since 1900, I have noted, after consulting various lists, around 112 such interventions, or about one intervention a year on average. Now, admittedly not all such interventions could be considered major ones inasmuch as many lasted a few days to a few months, and many of them were represented to involve a need to protect American citizens or diplomatic facilities in times of civil strife. But the sheer volume of interventions is such that their frequency tends to inure one to the apparently continuous need for America to manipulate the foreign policy reality using force. If we focus instead on some of the more egregious ventures, the wisdom of such policies is drawn more and more into question.

Of the more than 100 interventions, there are at least ten which merit discussion:

Date Duration Description Declaration of War?
1917 2 years World War I YES
1951-53 3 years Korean War ( AKA "Police Action") NO
1960-75 15 years Vietnam War NO
1969-75 6 years Cambodia NO
1981-90 10 years Nicaragua NO
1989 2-3 months Panama ( Noriega ousted) NO
1991 3 months First Gulf War (Kuwait) NO
1999-2001 2 years Yugoslavia (Kosovo, Bosnia) as NATO NO
2001-2014 13 years Afghanistan NO
2003-2013 10 years Second Gulf War ( Iraq) NO

As suggested above, the only reasonable criterion for military action that satisfies the non-interference requirement as described above is that, if the action were not undertaken, some serious security threat would exist and manifest itself in short order on the homeland or on some specific American property or citizens; in other words, such action to be taken has the character of being defensive and the threat has the character of being more or less imminent. Except for the first several years of operations in Afghanistan, none of the actions cited meet these criteria for going to war.

 It is not reasonable to say that, had the United States not intervened in the first World War, Germany, or some other European powers would have invaded our country, or done significant and continuing harm to U.S. property and citizens. The same is true of the Korean “police action” and the Vietnam war: no foreign power would arrive on our doorstep to threaten us; the alleged justification for these wars, from Korea onward, proceeded from some theoretical constructs concerning the overall threat presented by Communist China and the Soviet Union, or possibly the ideological threat of communism in general. The theoretical constructs included such ideas as the so-called Domino Theory6  and the Truman Doctrine7.

Libertarians do not deny the concept of a “just” war; all such wars are defensive, however. While invoking some theory about the likely future actions of certain nations or organizations may be construed by some as defensive, and hence justified,  such a long-range view does not meet the criterion of immediacy and the required degree of threat to our “vital security interests”. Indeed, we have gone so far down this road as to undertake ( and attempt to legitimize )  war as a strictly  preemptive measure, as with the 2003 conflict in Iraq.

That Libertarians generally accept the just war concept implies also that they are not pacifists, even though often accused as such.  Pacifism involves a complete rejection of force and violence on principle, and one of the more important individual rights that Libertarians recognize is the right of self-defense. And carrying the analogy between persons and nation-states further, they, too, have a fundamental right to make war in defense of their homeland. One also needs to recognize that in every war, there is a party who is the aggressor, and a party forced into the defensive mode; it is never the case that both parties are equally at fault for pursuing  a policy of war.

Also, conservatives frequently claim that Libertarians who espouse a non-interventionist foreign policy as described above are, in fact, isolationists, as if these terms were somehow interchangeable. The lie of this assertion is given by the fact that nation-states which are isolationist frequently have the following characteristics: (a) they wish to isolate themselves from contact with others; (b) they have minimal trade with other countries; (c) they express a wish to become self-sufficient, especially in important commodities and raw materials, i.e  to practice autarky.8 All potential libertarian candidates who could influence foreign policy are great believers in international freedom to trade and diplomatic relations and exchanges with other countries.

Finally, when war is viewed as an instrument of state policy, and not as a last resort to counter aggression, the reasons to go to war are frequently peculiar to a limited set of the ruling class, and pursue goals which, if they were generally known by the citizenry, would result in its unqualified rejection of the idea.  It has been almost universally observed that the common people of a nation are against going to war in most cases, and that it takes massive propaganda, and continuous efforts by the authorities to whip up a fervor against the proposed enemy, painting him in the most grotesque strokes. Those among us against the war are vilified or worse.9

Could it be that ordinary citizens of the lower and middle classes possess a wisdom beyond the usual attribution of limited intellect by the elites, and that they realize that all war is an unmitigated disaster, i.e. a net negative, even when done in defensive mode? It creates goods, only to see them destroyed or used up; the lives of great numbers of innocents and combatants alike are invariably either lost or ruined. When defense is not the motivation, war is the ultimate attempt by one person or group to gain something at the expense, frequently the ultimate expense, of others. Did not Kant suggest that morally this is categorically unacceptable?10

So, to summarize my points regarding foreign policy:

  • Libertarians follow a morality in which non-interference in the lives and affairs of others is fundamental.
  • They also believe that relations between countries or nation-states are fully analogous to relations between individuals or groups domestically; if conservatives believe otherwise ( i.e. subscribe to the notion of the war being “an instrument of state policy” with few, if any, restrictions), then it is incumbent on the conservative to make a rational argument for violating the moral imperative of non-intervention. I have observed that on this they typically are unable to hold forth without resort to rants, diatribes, and other pretty much emotional displays, devoid of reasoning and argumentation.
  • Libertarians are not completely opposed to war if it can be justified as absolutely necessary to defend the homeland and its citizens; they are not opposed to all violence on principle. They simply have a fairly strict interpretation of what a serious threat is to the country’s vital interests.
  • The recent history of American foreign policy is replete with a number of ill-considered major interventions into the affairs of other countries ( as noted in the table above), virtually all of which do not meet the “vital security interest” criterion. They can all be easily shown to have originated in the minds and wills of a select group of leaders and government officials, often based on some questionable theory of foreign relations. In some cases (e.g. the First World War), the real reasons11  for the war were concealed from the populace and justified instead with some bogus imperative ( “making the world safe for democracy” or “fighting the war to end wars”)   In almost all instances, the wars which resulted were not forced by the populace upon the leaders at the top; there was, in most cases, no insistence by the citizenry that we go to war, and, in the case of both World Wars, an extreme reluctance initially when war first broke out to enter these European conflicts.

The conservative who would put himself in the position of criticizing a libertarian-leaning presidential candidate on foreign policy would therefore seem to be required to adopt the following positions:

(1)  Non-interference by one person ( or country) in the affairs of another person (or country) is not a fundamental moral imperative; moreover, there is no significant analogy between persons and nation-states when it comes to what is appropriate to their relationships.

(2) War is an appropriate national response whenever some foreign policy end is desired by the nation-state, i.e. it is an acceptable “instrument of national policy”. All that is required is that we be sufficiently powerful to carry it off.

(3) Wars do not have to be defensive in nature, and leaders should not have to satisfy some super-stringent criteria ( like a direct attack on the homeland, or getting a declaration of war from Congress ) in order expend huge resources and send people to their death.

As I implied above, these positions are not easily defended.  Let us move on to the second issue.

Drug Policy:   Once again, the centerpiece of libertarian thinking places the individual and individual rights in the vanguard, and so, libertarians assert that first among all property rights is the fact the individual owns himself! One of the incidents of true ownership is that the the owner gets to make all the decisions regarding his property, including, in particular, what substances to ingest.  For the state to create a list of “controlled substances” which may  not be possessed or consumed, is, to the libertarian, an abuse of the law and a denial of a fundamental property right.  Certainly, it cannot be said that we own ourselves if others may use force against us for possessing or ingesting a controlled substance because the purpose of the criminal law is to prevent violation of rights and no rights are being violated per se by such ingestion.

Now the conservative, who is quite certain he knows which substances are harmless and which must be controlled, will claim that rights are being violated by using illicit drugs because of the possible or potential criminal ( i.e. rights-violating) behavior of those who take them. The key words here are possible and/or potential—it is hardly a certainty that an individual, having ingested one of the substances in question, will invariably violate someone else’s rights. It cannot be denied that individuals under the influence of controlled substances have violated others’ rights by driving while impaired, assaulting others, and through other forms of negligence. The conservative will argue that the drug, not the person, is responsible for the bad behavior, and hence, the banning of the drug  is justified. Yet this argument fails when applied to the culturally accepted drug, alcohol, which is statistically responsible for much more negligence, violence, and mayhem than all the other controlled substances put together. We tried to ban alcohol but the unintended consequences of that ban forced us to rescind that decision and to take the position that  the individual must regulate his behavior vis-a-vis alcohol, i.e. must choose not to over-indulge, not to drive, not to quarrel, etc.  And we hold him ( not the drug ) responsible for his transgressions, subject to the criminal code.  So, the question is, why accept the premise that other so-called “controlled substances” cannot be used without being abused?  It seems to be virtually mandatory for anyone still arguing for drug prohibition to hold out that every single illicit drug has characteristics that are so much more powerful, so much more  threatening, so much more addictive, that individuals cannot be just casual users, and cannot moderate or control the circumstances of their use. The problem is, if you look about you, poll your friends and acquaintances, or simply stop to reflect on things only momentarily, it could not be the case, given the volume of illicit drugs claimed to be in illegal commerce, that the typical user is  a strung-out addict; more likely he or she uses a moderate amount, perhaps only on weekends, and likely holds down a paying job.  A perusal of a table showing usage percentages for any illicit drug usage broken down by lifetime, last year, and last month strongly suggests that, with respect to any particular drug, users come and users go throughout life. 12

For those not already wedded to the collectivist notion that we do not own ourselves, and who will not uncritically accept the authoritarian pronouncements about what is or is not harmful, and who can understand that drug prohibition per se is a bad idea which has already proved itself to be so in the case of alcohol, the foregoing should be enough for them to at least consider adopting the libertarian position. For those I can still hear cursing me for even suggesting decriminalization, consider these additional, practical arguments against the war on drugs.

First, virtually all of the criminal activity that deserves to be called such ( stealing, violence, etc. ) associated with illicit drugs stems from their illegality; the lion’s share of such activity is either (1) gang violence regarding who gets to be sellers, or (2) burglary and theft by those who wish to buy the drugs. There are some instances of crimes arising from negligence ( child endangerment, DUI, etc.) but they are dwarfed by the property crime and internecine violence. And all of this is because the drugs cost so much!! Their very illegality and the risks in trafficking causes a particular amount of any given illicit substance to sell for anywhere from 10x to 50x its intrinsic worth, i.e. what it actually costs to produce, procure, and transport in an unregulated, fully legal environment. For example, one gram (1/28 of an ounce) of cocaine costs about $ 2.78 if you ignore the costs associated with illegality, while the illicit equivalent costs $ 66.00 per gram to the ultimate consumer. Similar costs are estimated for heroin ( $ 3.00/g and $ 140/g respectively ), and for marijuana ( $ 12.50 per pound versus $ 200 )13.

So, it is the huge profits to be made in the illegal drug trade that are behind the related criminal activity: the extreme violence seen with gangs fighting over territory, the high rate of residential burglary  and other property crime by users who simply do not have the money to pay the exorbitant prices generated by the substances’ illegality. Make the production, procurement and transportation such that one will not be incarcerated for doing so, and the price will quickly come down to something approaching the much lower costs involved; yes, the number of sellers and the general level of competition will ramp up, but this is a phenomenon of the market without which the lower prices will not emerge. What is advocated here is decriminalization, not legalization. Not taxation and regulation, either. To do these once again raises costs, and depending on the taxes and regulated price, may well create black markets in spite of the legalization.  Furthermore, by decriminalizing rather than taxing and regulating, you remove at least some of the potential government imprimatur or tacit approval; it may develop that venturing into neighborhoods where people typically transact for drugs will inhibit the casual experimenter. Many conservative opponents of decriminalization seem to think that hordes of people who now appear to have no interest in taking drugs will suddenly line up as customers just because the fear of arrest has been removed; my own opinion is that this attitude is not too dissimilar to the notion of original sin—everybody has it within them to bad things in the absence of explicit restraints!

If you add to the foregoing the additional societal evils that the “war on drugs” has spawned, including in particular, the militarization of police departments, even in smaller municipalities, the now routine SWAT team raids, many of which have tragic outcomes like the flash-bang grenade that lands in a child’s crib before exploding14, and the advent of prosecutorial tactics like asset forfeiture15.  Add to the preceding the damage done  in the form of an arrest and/or conviction to those whose only crime is possession and its influence on the ability  to obtain gainful employment; add also the huge number of additional incarcerated persons such that the U.S. now leads the world in total prison population per capita, which is indisputably related to the increased enforcement levels of the drug war.

Alas, the conservative who advocates for the punitive authoritarian position in this matter often proves himself to be an enemy of liberty in general and exhibits a willingness to ignore or deny all manner of practical arguments.  Notice, in particular, the vitriol with which he will castigate the libertarian candidate who dares raise these issues.

I now move on the last area of concern, the “social issues”.

Social Issues.   This topic includes abortion, same sex marriage, laws involving various sexual practices, and various proposals to encourage or discourage certain behaviors on the grounds that they either represent the practice of virtue, or when discouraged, the promotion of vice and/or sinfulness.

Libertarian views on the use of force in human relationships require that its use be restricted to self-defense, retaliation, or in response to those who initiate force.  With the exception of immediately required self-defense, we give government a monopoly on the use of force. That being the case, and force being the mode used for enforcement of laws, libertarians want to see the number and scope of laws reduced to the absolute minimum. This would, it seems to me, absolutely preclude laws which are the product of subjective opinions about what is morally or socially acceptable, outside the realm of inappropriate use of force. Laws then, are primarily for the prevention and/or punishment of situations involving people who initiate the use of force.

This is not to say that libertarians do not sometimes ( maybe even often ) wish to discourage or eliminate certain behaviors which they regard as crass, ugly, inconsiderate, unhealthy, etc., etc.  But it is felt that the strong arm of the law is too blunt an instrument to wield, and prefer the sanctions and expressed disapproval found in civil society to mitigate against this type of behavior. Critics of relying on civil society and the various mechanisms of disapproval which it can employ frequently characterize this as a form of interference or intervention and brand the libertarian as a hypocrite. But these critics make the same mistake as those who accuse a corporation of stifling an employee’s free speech rights,  namely that it is only government that can violate these rights because only government can employ the force necessary; civil society can make one a pariah, and corporations can fire you,  but they cannot throw you in jail.

Repeating what was said earlier about non-interference ( or if you like, non-intervention ), there is no way libertarians could tolerate government attempts to control who marries whom, who has sex with whom, what reading ( or media ) materials are allowable,  whether to allow games of chance, and a whole host of similar, personally chosen activities or behaviors that do not directly impact others.

Now, I can hear the conservative saying that the impact need not be direct, it is the myriad impacts of indirect, publicly obvious, and to them, revolting practices that pollute the social environment and we would be better off to be rid of them.  Can you not see how utterly subjective and capricious such an attitude is? So much so, that to give such preferences the force of law is an essential affront to liberty. And this is true, I aver, even when 50% plus one of the voting adopters wish to have it so.  It is the basis for most of what has been called the “tyranny of the majority” and is a major failing of unconstrained democracy.

Perhaps the issue is put more succinctly in this discussion, from an essay by Nathan Schlueter, which attempts to justify the authoritarian mode of government which has become the norm for many conservatives:

“The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” The “harm principle,” first formulated by J.S. Mill, is a moral claim. It cannot be derived from moral skepticism without committing a self-referential fallacy: The argument, “We don’t know what is right or wrong, therefore it is wrong to do x,” is obviously invalid.

As a moral claim, the harm principle is not neutral with respect to competing conceptions of the good. Underlying it is the conviction that the good for human beings is to live according to one’s own conception of what is good, and to live in a society in which that freedom is protected. For the sake of this conception of the good, it requires the repeal of legislation enacted by those with a different conception of the good. It thus deprives them of their right to choose and live according to their own conception of the good. In effect, libertarians wish to compel other persons with whom they disagree to live in a society that these others find, often with very good reason, to be hostile to human flourishing.16

What I would say to Mr. Schlueter is this: you are not in a position to determine what is or is not hostile to human flourishing such that you may make rules that have nothing to do with aggression and compel others to obey these rules. Only the individual can discern what is hostile to him or not. The fact that legislation “was enacted by those with a different conception of the good” does not invest this conception with any special relevance, save that some gang of people got together and mandated it. That is all. To call it the wisdom of the collective, is to give it the name it deserves—collectivism. The only pretense to moral authority in democracy is that of “my gang is bigger than your gang”.17 Furthermore, and more importantly, the so-called “right to choose and live according to their own conception of the good” which depends on supporting legislation is bogus because it can and often does conflict directly with other rights that are inherent to humans, such as the right to own and keep property.  Your right to enact legislation which forcibly removes my income or wealth for the use of you or your kin is incompatible with my right to keep and use my income. Hillel Steiner has noted that rights in a set of rights that conflict with one another are considered not compossible, to use his term. 18

So, I will wrap this up by asking you to reflect on the fact that all three areas where libertarians disagree with conservatives can be derived from a single common libertarian theme, that of non-interference or non-intervention.

  • Foreign policy should be conducted as if individual nation-states were entitled to be treated as individual persons are treated, without interference in their internal affairs. Just wars exist when it is necessary for a nation-state to defend itself and is the only exception to the first norm of international behavior.
  • It is a fundamental truism for libertarians that each person has the right to property and the singular property which all possess is oneself. Ownership of the self implies that all decisions regarding that self normally be made by the individual, including what to ingest.  To  mandate what one may eat, drink, or otherwise ingest, is so basic an interference that such mandates are deemed totally inappropriate and hence, unacceptable.
  • In opposition to the authoritarians among the social conservatives, libertarians believe in “laissez-faire”, which basically means “leave it alone”; let a person live the kind of life he, and he alone decides is appropriate; legislation which imposes positive or negative duties with respect to non-aggressive social behavior is outside its proper realm, and is the height of inappropriate intervention.

On the other hand, there is no such consistency by conservatives with respect to what they believe about foreign policy, drug policy and social issues:

  • On foreign policy, it would seem that most conservatives are not constrained by any moral qualms and are willing to settle for any policies which they, in their infinite wisdom, deem to be “in the interest of the United States”. Some conservatives are willing to appeal to the notion of “the lessons of history”, but my experience is that their assertions are, often as not, contradicted by history.
  • Suggesting an end to drug prohibition ( while failing once again to recall the problem with that other Prohibition ) makes most conservatives apoplectic, such that they are almost disabled from entertaining any logical dialogue on the subject. The primary objection to drug use appears to center on its on being an example of vice rather than virtue.
  •  Conservatives seem to view social issues that relate to the family, sexuality, etc. as being fair game for the coercion inherent in government, i.e. that the creation of laws are perfectly appropriate to mitigate or, better still, eliminate societal problems, and are preferred to the voluntary nature of efforts by civil society to tackle the same problems.

So, in the last analysis, the conservatives would seem to have no central guiding principles which inform their decisions in the three areas discussed ; it’s all pretty eclectic. Like Edmund Burke, though, they aren’t real keen on rationality, on making cogent arguments, relying instead on tradition, religion, and various other sentiments to justify their opinions. I tried examining various lists or collections of conservative “principles” or “tenets” which might be applied to our three areas, but, alas, I found most of them to be simply lists of policy positions or platform planks with little in common to bind them into a coherent whole. 19

For the most part, the items discussed did not qualify in my mind as principles. As I see it, a principle is a statement which can be logically applied to a situation resulting in a solution or resolution. For example, conservatives talk a lot about ‘being in favor of limited government’ as a principle. Limited how? In size? In powers? A limited government principle might be stated as follows: “The role of the federal government is to be limited to certain specific and enumerated powers; the required appropriations should be commensurate with this limitation.” Since when was any conservative you can recall responsible for actually moving in the direction of eliminating those programs, agencies, or institutions that are clearly not provided for in the U.S. Constitution? Fat chance!

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  1. Rand Paul, Senator from Kentucky. []
  2. Aggression, as used by libertarians, usually takes in more than simple force or violence—it includes such things as fraud and deception, embezzlement, extortion and threats, etc. In other words, the whole panoply of actions we normally consider as being the criminal realm. []
  3. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italian_general_election,_1948, for example,concerning the interference by the U.S. in the post World War II Italian elections. See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1953_Iranian_coup_d%27%C3%A9tat for information on the CIA intervention that led to the 1953 Iranian Coup d’Etat and the installation of the Shah of Iran. []
  4. Narveson, Jan. Moral Matters, 2nd Ed., 1999, p. 110 []
  5. NOTE: this would by definition include diplomatic missions in foreign countries. []
  6. “The domino theory was a theory prominent from the 1950s to the 1980s, that speculated that if one state in a region came under the influence of communism, then the surrounding countries would follow in a domino effect.”, Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domino_theory []
  7. …”a US policy to stop Soviet expansion during the Cold War.  United States President Harry S. Truman pledged to contain communism in Europe and elsewhere and impelled the US to support any nation with both military and economic aid if its stability was threatened by communism or the Soviet Union. The Truman Doctrine became the foundation of the president’s foreign policy and placed the U.S. in the role of global policeman.”, Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truman_Doctrine []
  8. Autarky or economic self-sufficiency is a state of affairs where there is no foreign trade at all; every nation consumes only goods produced within its own borders. []
  9. “During wartime, criticism is characterized as treasonous, defeatist, and unpatriotic. Civil liberties are abandoned, censorship imposed, newspapers shut down, and spying on citizens authorized. Fellow citizens are designated enemies, demonized, harassed, arrested, interned, expelled, or killed.”  — Peace and Liberty, Tom G. Palmer (Ed.), p. 13 []
  10. “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.” —Immanuel Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals []
  11. The main reasons for the First World War included pressure from the largest U.S. banks who had loaned huge amounts to the Allies and feared for possible losses; also, President Wilson and his advisers were persuaded of the necessity to show “solidarity” with  the English-speaking peoples against the aggression of  the Hun… []
  12. See Table 13 at this URL: http://www.drugwarfacts.org/cms/Drug_Usage#sthash.l07iw9gw.dpbs []
  13. These statistics, plus many more, can be found at the website DrugWarFacts.org; see Item #46 under the section titled Economics. []
  14. For a description of this incident, go here. []
  15. Asset forfeiture is a form of confiscation of assets by the state pursuant to law. It typically applies to the alleged proceeds or instrumentalities of crime. Some jurisdictions specifically use the term “confiscation” instead of “forfeiture”. Civil and administrative asset forfeiture, or forfeiture without a conviction and sometimes in the absence of evidence, both draw major criticism. Civil Asset Forfeiture is a part of the Criminal Justice system. []
  16. From  “Why I am not a Libertarian” by Nathan Schlueter, at http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2012/03/5002/; the title is an obvious play on the famous essay by F.A. Hayek entitled “Why I am not a Conservative”. []
  17. I think this can be attributed to Ayn Rand, but I can’t cite the source.  []
  18. The intellectual errors and problems of such misguided rights theory are brilliantly analyzed by University of Manchester philosopher Hillel Steiner in his book An Essay on Rights, the result of years of hard thinking about the topic. Steiner has gained a reputation in the field of moral and political philosophy by his insistence on “compossibility” as a criterion of rights. A set of “compossible,” or mutually consistent, rights means that the actions they legitimate must be jointly performable. Steiner indicts almost all of contemporary rights theory—the kind that has generated the rights explosion—as fundamentally mistaken: “Any justice principle that delivers a set of rights yielding contradictory judgements about the permissibility of a particular action either is unrealizable or (what comes to the same thing) must be modified to be realizable.” []
  19. The most frequently cited source for a set of something resembling  principles is an article by Russel Kirk entitled “Ten Conservative Principles”. (Can be found at  http://www.kirkcenter.org/index.php/detail/ten-conservative-principles/) In brief, they are:

    1) The conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order.

    2) The conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity.

    3) Conservatives believe in what may be called the principle of prescription.

    4) Conservatives are guided by their principle of prudence.

    5) Conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety.

    6) Conservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectability.

    7) Conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked.

    8) Conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism.

    9) The conservative perceives the need for prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions.

    10) The thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society.

    For my part, I think this only allows conservatives to make any sort of argument as the spirit moves them; there are no integrating concepts in this eclectic list. []

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