A Fury of Accord

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P.J. O'Rourke argues that conservative radio and liberal publishing are vast wastelands. Since his main complaint is that both have become bilious echo-chambers (and have you heard bile echo? It makes a resonant splorch), it's weirdly heartening to note that half the H&R commenters think we're wrong about 75 percent of the time.

NEXT: Immaterial Support

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  1. It seems like O'Rourke's drunken conservative schtick has gotten a little tired over the years (I'm about 1/3 through his latest book, Peace Kills, and it can't hold a candle to Parliament of Whores or All The Trouble In The World). But he can still make me shoot milk out my nose on occasion:

    "Moore does include one chapter on how to argue with a conservative. As if. Approached by someone like Michael Moore, a conservative would drop a quarter in Moore's Starbucks cup and hurriedly walk away."

  2. O'Rourke was (ironically) on NPR's "Fresh Air" last night, as a counterweight to the publisher of The Baffler. He basically rehashed this entire Atlantic article, not really answering the question at hand (I guess he can only be on one theme at a time). Vacuous Terry Gross seemed less than comfortable when speaking to a self-described conservative. She tittered at O'Rourke's assertion that NPR leans to the left.

  3. Franken and Coulter had a "conversation" at the Bushnell Auditorium here in Hartford. The day tickest went on sale (and sold out in an hour) it was announced that OzzFest and a wrestling pay-per-view event would be in coming to town later in the summer on the same day. I pointed out to many of my co-workers that perhaps they could have re-scheduled the "conversation" to correspond with the other two events, as it would contain about as much substance and, no doubt, audience civility. The only difference would be that they'd sell wine instead of beer, and I'm certain the T Shirts would be of higher quality.

  4. "half the H&R commenters think we're wrong about 75 percent of the time"

    For the other half, is the percentage higher or lower?

  5. I heard that Fresh Air interview too, and my impression of why it was at times a bit painful to listen to was that O'Rourke was being unfunny and uninteresting, not that Gross was uncomfortable with him. But then I also don't think she's vacuous - I think she's an excellent interviewer, and Fresh Air is one of my favorite NPR shows.

    One more thing, and it'll probably get some comments from people who strongly (but respectfully, I'm sure) disagree - I don't think that NPR really leans to the left in the most meaningful area, its news coverage. Certainly the listeners lean left (although there are still a significant number of righties calling into shows like Talk of the Nation), a lot of the non-news personalities lean left, and some of the news analysts lean left (like that fuckwit Daniel Shore, who never met a petty, unsupported insinuation about W's incompetence and/or greed he didn't love). But I think the actual news coverage is pretty good. Take it from an NPR junkie, listening to Science Friday right now....

  6. O'Rourke never struck me as especially conservative. He seems more like a libertarian, except that people actually pay attention to him. 🙂

  7. "O'Rourke never struck me as especially conservative. He seems more like a libertarian, except that people actually pay attention to him. :)"

    Yeah, he usually seems like more of a libertarian to me too (and some of the comments in the Atlantic article fit with that). I've heard him refer to himself in libertarian terms a couple times, but for some reason he seems to really like the conservative title.

  8. John and Ken out of KFI in L.A. are worth a listen if you're within 500 miles or over the 'Net. They occasionally do non-journalistic stunts (like standing in front of Scott Peterson's house with a megaphone asking him to explain himself) and they occasionally get people on just to berate them, but they also cover things the other media is afraid or too biased to cover. Such as the immigration scam.

  9. I'm too much man for that shrew Gross, my prodigious sexual aura and lust-inducing visage were far too indimidating for her to continue my interview on that joke of a show they call "Fresh Air."

  10. it's weirdly heartening to note that half the H&R commenters think we're wrong about 75 percent of the time.

    Half of me thinks you're 25% right about that.

  11. O'Rourke refers to himself as a libertarian a fair amount too, but it does seem somewhat situational. In more broadly read pieces he seems to use conservative, and libertarian when writing pieces for Cato etc.

    One of my favorite shorter pieces from O'Rourke talking about libertarianism (warning pdf file) and the war of the we against the me.

    http://www.cato.org/pubs/policy_report/v24n4/orourke.pdf

  12. P.J. was especially funny to me in college because a lot of his simplistic and hilarious summarizations of the left were all around me.

    He still writes some good articles, but his books have just veered off into banality. Parliament of Whores is perhaps the funniest little political book ever written and Eat The Rich was probably the last book of his I don't regret buying.

    Don't know if he's as much libertarian as rock'n'roll conservative. Then again, I'm don't know that there's a difference there.

  13. I always liked his term "Republican party reptile" - conservatives who drive fast, smoke dope and generally raise hell... which is a fair approximation of libertarian, as you say. O'Rourke uses the term 'conservative' in the older sense (small government, civil liberties, fiscal restraint, free market), not as a synonym for Republican or right-winger.

  14. P.J. O'Rourke is a genius and doesn't get enough credit for his work with the National Lampoon Yearbook.

  15. If you live in a one-newspaper town, where that paper's staff hold opinions that mirror the recent Pew study on journos, and that rag's only competition is the free paper that makes all its profits from phone sex ads, and prints only commentary by Greens, Reds and Watermelons who think Ralph Nader is a moderate, local talk radio can actually be of some use. Two right-wingers in my town, who have shifts fore and aft of The Astounding Rotundity on the top two news/talk/sports AM'ers, regularly expose stories spiked by the liberal daily, leaks from anti-statist moles in the bureaucracy, and actual reporting about local office-seeker's closeted skeletons and actual voting records.

    One does have to put up with buckets of rhetorical dross to encounter the occassional pearl of new fact, however.

    Kevin

  16. Half of me thinks you're wrong 75% of the time, and the other half thinks you're right 75% of the time. The rest of me isn't sure.

  17. Kevin's post reminded me of a radio show I heard somewhere on the AM dial very late one night/early morning 6-8 years ago driving through West Virginia or Pennsylvania. The show was out of Atlanta but was apparently picked up nationally by at least some stations (they took calls on an 800 number from all over the country). It was called "The Royal Treatment" or something along those lines, and the main host was named Royal something-or-other. They were fairly libertarian in their political views, but it wasn't strictly a political show - they were all over the board in politics, arts/culture, sports, stuff going on in Atlanta, and just random shit. They weren't mean-spirited or dogmatic, and were fairly entertaining (but then it was 2:00 AM and it was either that show, the guy who'd been gang-probed by aliens, or the God-hates-fags preacher - ain't AM radio grand?). Anyone know of this show, if it's still on, if it's any good? At least for that one night, it was definitely a nice improvement over what I usually hear on AM driving around the country, but then maybe that's why it was on at 2:00 in the morning.

  18. On Rush- A long, long time ago, when Bush the First was in office and I was too young to work at any job other than delivering newspapers, I listened to him during the summer. He was entertaining. He had his updates and sound effects and it was great. Then Clinton was elected, and his show became an angry rant. So I stopped listening.

    On the echo chamber effect: It serves a valuable purpose in a nation that's politically dividecd 45-45-10 with 50% voter turnout (or whatever the precise figures are). There's 20 million people up for grabs, and only half of them will vote. There's 90 million people on your side, and only half of them will vote. The 20 million are important, but rallying higher turnout among the 90 million is even more important.

    Granted, the echo chambers aren't solely about get-out-the-vote efforts, many of the echo chambers say little (if anything) about voting, but they're just part of the machine that keeps the troops loyal.

  19. O'Rourke is a libertarian in the more classical sense in that he bases his core beliefs on indvidualism as espoused by Friedman, Hayek et al.

    He's conservative inasmuch that he refuses to go along with today's fringe element libertarian crowd.

    When I was first feeling out my own ideological roots, finding O'Rourke was a God send. I'd read some of the classics (Road to Serfdom etc) but could never find anyone actually walking the walk so to speak. And then of course the conservatives have Newt and McCain and Co. so that was totally frustrating.

    He has mellowed some in middle age but he's still as good as ever. It would be pathetic if he were still writing about whiskey soaked road trips to Southeast Asia to report on the current status of some decrepit Communist regime. He's in his 50s now, time to move on.

    More to the point of AM radio and liberal publishing; I think he's right.

  20. It's hard for me to think of someone with O'Rourke's foreign policy views as a "libertarian," but he's caused me to just about laugh myself into a rupture at times. The best thing I ever read of his was his review of Hillary Clinton's *It Takes a Village*. His summary of the book: "You are the child. Washington is the village."

  21. I don't have any evidence either, but I'd be very suprised if anywhere near a quarter of the people who regularly listen to Rush (as opposed to people who run across him occasionally scanning the dial) disagree with him. I think he's just to difficult to stomach for someone who doesn't buy into the ideology, because from what I've heard of his show he's incredibly rude and condescending (even to those who agree with him), and he's very dogmatic and conspiratorial in his arguments. I haven't listened to him that much, but when I have the tone has been fairly consistently this way. I can't imagine there are that many non-dittoheads who enjoy tuning in and having apoplectic fits at what he has to say and how he says it.

  22. O'Rourke's essay hits on an issue without really discussing it--how is it we ever change our minds?

    I think conservative talk radio has some effect, on both the converted (it stiffens their spines) and the undecideds (it puts arguments out there for them to consider, first or second-hand).

    O'Rourke may think both sides mostly live in echo chambers, but I must say, twas usually thus.

  23. If we assume everyone that disagrees with Rush does so to the state of apoplexy, then yes, 25% is too high. But I don't think this is the case.

    Keep in mind most people, even those who consider themselves up on current events, are not as well read and opinionated on such things as those who frequent places like this.

    So when Rush says something that they may not agree with whole heartedly, it is more likely to be a small, even vague disagreement.

    So if we're defining it down to a degree of disagreement, I don't think there are millions of people who are ardently opposed to Rush tuning in to his show.

    But you take the upper middle class moderate Republican and conservative Democrat and Rush saying a lot of things they agree with, but then he drills down on specifics (free market stuff, NAFTA, whatever) and they start to fall out with him. That's the quarter percentile I'm referencing.

    And these types are not an echo chamber crowd as they often follow personality over substance. You know the type; voted for Reagan and Bush but then thought, I'll show them and voted for Perot. Faced with the prospect of President Dole, they followed the charisma and voted for Clinton and then back to Bush, the younger.

    This is the real impact of Rush if not the rest of AM radio in that he does have influence on this crowd.

  24. The idea that libertarianism requires one to also be a pacifist is simply false. That O'Rourke and many other would be libertarians are not knee jerk anti-war types does not lessen their libertarian beliefs.

    This is defining libertarianism as the promulgation and protection of individual rights. Sometimes wars have to be fought to stave off those who would harm those rights. Just because the barbarians are not knocking on your front door doesn't mean that they're not at the gates nonetheless.

    So all of the pacifists can sit comfortably out on the political fringes (the pseudo libertarians and the leftists) while the rest of us stand to protect the rights that bring that comfort.

  25. There was a dip in the quality of O`Rourkes work after Parliament of Whores, but I thought CEO of the Sofa was really under rated. His later period will, I believe be regarded as fairly memorable.

  26. I can relate to thoreau's post. Back in the early 90s, I used to listen to Rush sometimes when I would head out to lunch from work and his show was interesting fairly often. But it got less interesting during the Clinton administration and especially during the Monica scandal and eventually I mostly stopped listening.

  27. The part of O?Rourke?s piece I disagree with is that the Wes Clark?s of the world aren?t listening to Rush. And that he hasn?t had an effect on our overall politics.

    Politicians have to listen to Rush, it?s like listening to the opposing team?s locker room half-time talk. They at least have one of their aides listening. Even if you hate him, he commands too large an audience to be ignored.

    Personally, I listen to Rush some because he?s the first to introduce so many ideas that you won?t get anywhere else. Left to my own devices I would still be suspecting Billary of sabotaging the Democratic hopes for 04 but I wouldn?t have that validation that Rush brings.

    I don?t listen to anyone else because, well, O?Rourke is right about the rest of them. Hannity doesn?t even know why he believes what he believes. He gets one of his favorite Democrats on the air to ?battle? it out and regularly loses though few of his listeners even realize it because he shouts them down once they start to trump his arguments.

    The smaller guys just seem so obscure; it?s the equivalent of reading a bunch of personal blogs, blah blah blah.

    AM radio has changed our political scenery through the validation reason I?ve already named. If our only mainstream (TV and radio) information came from the big 3 and CNN, it makes it tough for the non-political wonk to stand by their beliefs.

    This is a bit of an extreme example but think of how many people consider that all of our various government entitlements are in fact inalienable rights. They?ve come to believe this through the incessant repetition of our nanny state over the last 60 years. So I think it?s good that we maybe have a few echo chambers for people to go to but I?m still not listening to Hannity.

  28. Kevin C. and Ray make good points about foreign policy. I often put the argument this way: Methinks the Nolan Chart could use a Z-axis marked "foreign policy."

    I've got the Friday afternoon edition of a local talk show saved to an MP3 file on my hard drive*, and am listening to it as I do a little surfing. Whenever the host starts in on a topic where I know that he or his callers are full of it, I just fast forward it to "the good stuff." Yesterday he called down hellfire on the RINO state assembly leader for chickening out on calling a special session of the legislature for the purpose of passing a Colorado-style tax limitation amendment. One of the local reps called in to disassociate herself from the leaderships' CS approach to the issue. She is now on record as a strong supporter of a strong version of the amendment. Without somebody in the local media doing that kind of agitation, I suspect this particular solon would have been able to straddle the issue indefinitely.

    (Wait a second - time to fast forward through the traffic report..)

    If half the show is "why I love President Reagan" I ought to be able to speed through the 3-hour show in about 60 minutes.

    Kevin

    *Check out Total Recorder @ http://www.highcriteria.com/

  29. Rush's show is very likely little more than an echo chamber. However, I've still listened to him in spurts of a couple weeks here and there.

    Even though he's enragingly ignorant, I still feel drawn to listen and not flustered and forced to turn it off. It's as good an insight as you'll get into the unwashed mass conservative consciousness in this country.

    I'm not sure how many people like me comprise his audience. The very reason that it *is* an echo chamber makes it valuable for when I chance upon someone who spews out very similar sounding opinions. Within a minute I'll know what they're about and be able to predict with startling accuracy when they think about almost everything. Mass Psychology 101.

    Thanks Rush!

  30. Ray says "The idea that libertarianism requires one to also be a pacifist is simply false."

    Well, let's think about that. If you are a libertarian, you basically don't believe in using force against anyone unless they are forcefully keeping you from living your own life. I take that to mean that a libertarian respects others' equal right to life and property, and doesn't start fights. This kind of attitude promotes peace, and scales up to national and international affairs as non-interventionism and a repudiation of pre-emptive war. The libertarian preference for government to leave citizen lives and proprerty alone also constrains the scale and timeframe of any wars that might be started by ambitious political weasels. So far, libertarianism is sounding very pacifistic.

    The only place I can see where libertarians are not pacifistic is in the willingness to respond to aggression with equal or superior force. Although this is a big and significant exception to strict pacifism, in practice it is an exception that would rarely need to be made, since the respectful libertarian attitude and the non-interventionist libertarian approach help to minimize the stresses between nations that would lead to war.

    So, Ray is right. Libertarians aren't pacifists, strictly speaking. But as a practical matter, sincere libertarians stop just short of pacifism. I judge that to be a good thing.

  31. Well, let's think about that. If you are a libertarian, you basically don't believe in using force against anyone unless they are forcefully keeping you from living your own life.

    Well, no, actually, you don't. What you are describing isn't a libertarian; it is an anarchist, and a dumb one at that.

    Libertarians believe in some government, which means -- by definition -- that they believe in some use of force by people who are not personally being threatened. For example, if someone robs me, the police have every right to use force against him, and deprive him of his liberty (hopefully for many years), even though he never used force against the police.

    Hussein (for example) never used force against me. But he used force against millions of Iraqis -- so, as a libertarian, I saw it as not merely right, but *required*, to support his removal from power. That is a perfectly libertarian attitude.

    A libertarian is a person who believes in maximizing individual rights and individual liberty. That's the whole of it. There are lots of different approaches to that.

  32. A little aside ? about NRP. Has anyone listened to Bill Littlefield from ?Its only a game?. He is the biggest knee jerk liberal I?ve ever heard. Any sports victory or lose has some relationship to how stupid George Bush is.

  33. I thought O'Rourke had it pretty dead on. Rush doesn't have arguements. People call his show and mindlessly say, "dittos." Rush's show did change the landscape, but it's been a long time since the show was interesting or original. The rest of talk radio and conservative commentary tends to be a result of poor cloning of his show. Back in the early 90s his show was magic, but now it's pretty dull. It seems to be largely based on the rights need for validation. "Ditto's" How pathetic.

    What's even more pathetic is the democrats desire to copy the format. Rush was original. He spawned a bunch of crappy clones, and now the lot of them are tired.

  34. Deron and O'Rourke make good points on Rush's preaching to the choir if we assume that only the choir is listening. I believe that at least (just my opinion - nothing to back it up with) but I believe at least a quarter of his audience disagrees with him.

    Some listen as one might view a car wreck on the freeway, others are simply drawn to that with which they disagree (ala O'Rourke and NPR). Others still can't afford not to listen.

    Repeated surveys on such things show that only about 10% or less of a listening audience will ever call in and many of those are repeat callers.

    So just because there's no substantial argument coming from his callers doesn't mean that they're all in the choir.

    One other point is that Rush is very good at what he does, regardless of his ideology. He keeps the subjects within parameters that he controls and readily tells his audience this.

    I don't think much of the rest of talk radio but the validating effect that Rush and all of AM radio has is extremely valuable to the country as a whole. The need for validation is not simply a neurosis exclusively held by registered Republicans but it is a check on those in the more mainstream media.

    Harken back to the 1992 campaign. It seems absurd that Dan Rather and his commrades were able to convince the country that the recession was as bad as it was and that it was still in full swing so long after it was over. They still try to distort such esoteric information but they simply cannot do it with impunity as they used to.

    Thanks to Rush.

  35. Any statement that starts of in a manner similar to:

    "A libertarian is a person who believes... "

    sets off my BS detector. I like the free form attraction to liberty. Some folks here sound off like libertarians are some sort of form-fit adherants to a religious ideal. Maybe you read the wrong title at the door, marxists are two doors down.

  36. The stories O'Rourke wrote when he was editor of National Lampoon were also excellent, BTW.

  37. I don't know half of you half as well as I'd like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.

  38. thoreau:

    "I'm a big-tent libertarian, which means that a lot of people on this forum think I'm a leftist."

    I'm a big tent libertarisn, which means that a lot of people on this forum think I'm a neocon fascist. Here's to ya, you big ol' leftie you.

  39. Dan:

    "Hussein (for example) never used force against me. But he used force against millions of Iraqis -- so, as a libertarian, I saw it as not merely right, but *required*, to support his removal from power. That is a perfectly libertarian attitude."

    What?? I'm a big tent libertarian but I consider that such a sanction would render libertarianism meaningless.

    It is certainly anti-libertarian to force others to support his removal from power when these others are not threatened by Hussein. Also note; Hussein's victims are under no ethical, and are also under no legal obligation to reciprocally come to the defense of these others (in this case, American others).

    Voluntary action in these matters is, of course, ok in ways that forced participation could never be.

    BTW, consideration this question seems to argue that the more local the protection services of government are, the more ethical and fair they are.

    The whole question of why it may be fair and libertarian to have a tax (force) supported local police to protect against force and fraud, but not fair and libertarian to force others to support Hussein's removal from power is interesting.

    Dan has a real libertarian claim against our government, which is forcing him to support governments which use force against people, to desist from this requiring him to support these governments. For example: Israel, Egypt, and Uzbekistan. Does China also get US tax dollars via the IMF or the World Bank?

  40. Someone asked how we got off of the direct topic of Rush and AM radio.

    Many people don't consider O'Rourke a libertarian because he's not anti-establishment enough for them. And of course he pokes fun at them on a regular basis but he does so in semi-self depricating fashion.

    Can libertarians be pacificists? Of course. Are libertarians pacificists by definition? Absolutely not.

    One interesting point I noticed was that Merritt gave a libertarian prerequisite of being against pre-emptive war.

    Now that is far too broad of a statement.

    It would throw this thread too far off to discuss our current pre-emptive war in detail but more generally speaking; if one country sees another country as a viable threat and they know it is only a matter of time, by all means, protect my libertarian butt and send in the Marines.

    If it is done to protect me and subsequently my rights (when you protect my personal safety you are by default protecting my rights - many pseudo libertarians try to separate these two things) then pre-emptive war is well within the libertarian play book.

    And thoreau is a leftist but we like him anyway.

  41. I'm a big-tent libertarian, which means that a lot of people on this forum think I'm a leftist.

    To me, the libertarian label can apply to anybody who genuinely believes in smaller government, free markets, and individual liberty. Purity is not an issue for me; I'm happy to share the label with those who disagree on fine points but share the general approach.

    As to foreign policy, empirical experience shows that among those who believe in smaller government and free markets on the domestic front, there is still significant disagreement over foreign policy. Some favor a very aggressive policy, for our own freedom and/or the freedom of others around the globe. Others are skeptical of this approach.

    I have my own strong opinions on foreign policy, and I will debate many questions concerning those issues. One question that I do not enjoy debating, however, is "Can we apply the word 'libertarian' to those who disagree with [insert foreign policy stance here]?"

    Of course, to some, it is self-evident that the word "libertarian" implies a certain foreign policy stance. To me, that all depends on the definition of "libertarian." If you define the word in a very precise manner, with some of the more philosophically inclined posters checking all of the loopholes and fine print, then we could probably derive from that axiom some answers on foreign policy, and then say that, by definition, a person can't be called a libertarian unless he or she feels a certain way about foreign policy.

    But there are 3 problems with this:
    1) Somebody else could probably tweak the axioms and get a different outcome. So then arguments over "who's a real libertarian?" would boil down to "whose axioms describe the ideal philosophy?"
    2) Even with airtight axioms, when you apply them to real-life situations the application is contingent on possibly uncertain information about the real world. For instance, suppose that (for the sake of argument) you decide that the only defensible libertarian stance is that wars should only be fought in retaliation for an attack. Great. Now, some people on this forum claim (however rightly or wrongly) that there were strong ties between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. Others dispute that. So, 2 people might agree 100% on principles, but because of incomplete information they might still disagree on a policy.

    And incomplete information is not a trivial concern. The whole issue of "What do we really know about situation X?" goes to the heart of the scientific method, issues in criminal law, etc. So even a philosophical libertarian who's only interested in principle might still give some attention to the issues raised when you apply principles to the real world. Incomplete information is a fact of life with philosophical implications.

    3) If you restrict the word "libertarian" to those who subscribe to a very particular set of axioms, well, good luck trying to build a political movement (be it a third party or a faction within the GOP or whatever). On the other hand, if you build a big tent of anybody who wants to significantly downsize the government in pursuit of free markets and individual liberty (and you resist the temptation to argue that "free markets and individual liberty" is a redundant statement), well, you might actually have an impact here and there.

  42. Thomas Jeffeson, that icon of so many would be libertarians, engaged America in a little foray into the Mediterranean against the pirates of the Barbary Coast. To protect our rights no less.

    A true, swash buckling war hero that emerged from that little skrimish was one Stephen Decatur. His famous quote, said in a toast goes as this:

    "Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations, may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!"

    Amen brother.

  43. Dan says, "Libertarians believe in some government, which means -- by definition -- that they believe in some use of force by people who are not personally being threatened. For example, if someone robs me, the police have every right to use force against him, and deprive him of his liberty (hopefully for many years), even though he never used force against the police."

    The tolerance of libertarians for some government does not negate what I said about the beliefs of libertarians. Dan may mistakenly ascribe those beliefs to anarchists, but in fact, I have found them to be true of every libertarian I have ever met, seen, or read about in 25 years. I also said nothing about whether it is necessary for "the force" used in defense to be employed directly by the person being threatened. Dan attempted to refute my statement of beliefs with a tangential, irrelevant point. He'll have to do better, if he hopes to hit the target.

    It's perfectly reasonable, to every libertarian I know or have ever met, to authorize someone -- a bodyguard, a cop, or even a bystander -- to help with one's own defense. It is perfectly reasonable to authorize a defense agency -- a police force, a militia, an army -- to defend the local, regional, or national population against those who would use force to harm people, seize or damage property, or otherwise prevent people from living free lives: muggers, thieves, arsonists, kidnappers, mobsters, invaders, etc. The point is that the government is not a separate thing that exists to make us toe its behavioral line or use us as resources to achieve its purposes.

    To a libertarian, that government which exists, is authorized only to secure its citizens' liberty, and to protect them and their property. It is also generally understood -- not so much as a part of libertarianism, but as common-sense statecraft -- that a government's basic authority ends at its own borders. Even for libertarians, government exists to secure the liberty of its own people. Its laws have effect only within its own territory. To the extent it levies taxes, they can only apply to people who live or do business within the government's own borders or legitimate foreign possessions.

    Dan says, "Hussein (for example) never used force against me. But he used force against millions of Iraqis -- so, as a libertarian, I saw it as not merely right, but *required*, to support his removal from power. That is a perfectly libertarian attitude."

    The above quote from Dan sounds very confused to me. If he personally supported Saddam's overthrow, in a libertarian desire to maximize the freedom of others, then he should put his own time, effort, and resources toward that cause, and try to convince others to voluntarily do the same. As a libertarian, however, he must resist the appropriation of a neighbor's life or property, for the benefit of third parties, because such appropriations are aggressions upon the neighbor. The libertarian tolerance of government allows for a litle bit of such aggression (e.g., taxes to support police or the military) in the name of mutual defense, or the apprehension and punishment of criminals. Turning the US military into the world's police force or crusaders for global freedom, however, far exceeds both the libertarian tolerance for government and the US national charter. Ours is the government of the United States of America, not the government of Iraq, or the government of the world (no matter how some supporters of empire might wish otherwise). The constitution was ordained and established to, among other things, "insure DOMESTIC tranquility" and to "secure the blessings of liberty to OURSELVES and OUR posterity." There is no mention of ensuring tranquility outside our borders, or of securing liberty's blessings for anyone but us: "we the people of the United States." This is consistent with libertarian notions of the proper limits of government authority and action, as I have understood them this past quarter-century, and wholly inconsistent with Dan's support for foreign intervention on the grounds of promoting and spreading liberty.

    Dan says, "A libertarian is a person who believes in maximizing individual rights and individual liberty. That's the whole of it."

    So how does it maximize individual rights and individual liberty to pass the PATRIOT act and spend hundreds of billions of dollars -- killing hundreds of Americans and thousands of Iraqis in the process -- to boot out someone like Saddam? Paying the cost of this war in blood and treasure has required the loss of many American lives, and has indentured many other American lives for years to come. Those people are arguably less free as a result of the Iraq war. The rest of us have to deal with the ever-growing inconveniences and outright infringements of liberty that are said to be necessary to promote "homeland security." Nearly 300 million Americans are less free as a result. One might say that the infringements on our individual liberties are minor, compared with the wholesale delivery of freedom to some 30-odd million Iraqis. But news accounts from sources around the world seem to indicate that, at very least, the job of making Iraq truly free is far from done and will cost a lot more before it's all over. At worst, we still have a good chance of failing at this job, yet we will be paying the bills for decades, no matter what, and our dead will never return to us. From here, it looks like there may very well be a net decrease in individual liberty and the protection of individual rights, considering the US and Iraq in combination, as a result of our intervention.

    I challenge Dan's definition of "libertarian." I think it is, frankly, too childish and naive. He doesn't say what "rights" are, for instance, when he says a libertarian is for "maximizing" them. Does someone have a "right" to a job? To education? To a minimum income? To Healthcare? If we acknowledge such "rights," then a "libertarian" can support the full-blown welfare state. Does the maximization of individual liberty for some entail and justify a reduction in individual liberty for others who have never harmed or oppressed anyone in the first group? If so, then a "libertarian" can support affirmative action, bans on smoking in private businesses. There are many other examples I could mention, but the short story is that Dan's definition of "libertarian" is too broad and vague. Although it is a short, warm and fuzzy sound bite, it lets people claim to be "libertarians" who are actually gross authoritarians. It thus neutralizizes the word's power to provide for discrimination between things and people who stand inside the category, and those on the outside. I think we have to reject, or at least view with extreme suspicion, word definitions that allow things and their opposites to be members of the class that the word allegedly represents. I also think we have to conclude that proponents of such definitions either don't think very hard about the words they use, or perhaps have some interest in reducing the precision and meaningful content of speech. Either way, would we be wise to let them determine the conversation's vocabulary?

  44. J: "It was called "The Royal Treatment" or something along those lines, and the main host was named Royal something-or-other."

    Inside wsbradio.com: The Royal Treatment

    Blog: Royal Marshall: The Royal Treatment, Where Atlanta comes to talk at night.

    J: "...my impression of why it was at times a bit painful to listen to was that O'Rourke was being unfunny and uninteresting,..."

    I don't think I've ever heard O'Rourke do a good interview. Some people, who can write brilliant prose, are almost inarticulate when faced with a mike.

  45. Hasn`t this thread got a little off topic? I thought a lot of Limbaugh`s listeners would be `liberals` trying to keep tabs on the opposition. My father`s like that - claims he is a `liberal` & he is just keeping tabs on Rush while secretly agreeing with everythinbg he says. Personally I find Rush a bit of a bore - he`s for people that find PJ O`Rourke a little to risque.

  46. Charles,

    Thanks for the Royal links. Do you listen to his show, and if so what do you think of it?

    "I don't think I've ever heard O'Rourke do a good interview. Some people, who can write brilliant prose, are almost inarticulate when faced with a mike"

    He's also pretty hard to listen to on the NPR show Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, where he appears sporadically. I was initially excited about him being on it because he can be so funny on paper, but he doesn't seem to have much of anything working on the radio.

  47. Does libertarianism allow for the use of force against those who display the intent to harm you, but have not yet carried through on those intentions? For instance, if a man pulls a gun out of his jacket and points it at you, would you be justified in using force to disarm him?

    Of course. Non-initiation of force does not mean you sit back and wait to be harmed first -- if you do, you will lose most of the time, as many fights are won or lost with the first hit. Likewise, a pre-emptive strike against an adversary who clearly intends to use force against our nation does not contradict libertarian principles.

  48. J, you're welcome. I don't remember ever hearing Royal Marshall.

    Molly Ivins comes to mind. She could be very funny on paper, but very stiff in an interview. Now, she's not all that funny on paper either.

  49. I agree with crimethink's example of the man who pulls a gun on you, but in that case it is the bravo brandishing the pistol who has initiated the threat of force. One does not have to be battered to be assaulted, after all. The analogy does not hold when we move from individuals to states, however. Throughout the Cold War the U.S. and its allies trained thermonuclear-weapon-tipped missiles at the U.S.S.R., the commies did the same to us. Since we had "had a gun pulled on us" would that have justified a first strike? World War I's proximate cause may have been the Archduke's assassination, but the system of alliances that turned a local outbreak into a continental conflict kicked in due to countries that had not yet been attacked mobilizing for war. If some more skillful diplomacy had occurred, everyone could have "reholstered their guns" before a general war could break out. The ratio of sabres rattled to those actually drawn is high in modern international affairs. Preemptive war may sometimes be of benefit to the world. I'm thinking of the Israelis taking out the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osarak. A state that engages in it ought to be able to convince others that it was damn well necessary, as aggressors have used "they were about to attack us" as an excuse for a long time.

    If one accepts the premise that Iraq was deeply involved in the terror network that had attacked the U.S., then pre-emption doesn't even enter into it. Retaliation for such attacks is justifiable. Proof of that premise isn't all that strong, though there is some.

    Kevin

  50. >> "The best thing I ever read of his was his review of Hillary Clinton's *It Takes a Village*. His summary of the book: "You are the child. Washington is the village."

  51. Ray:

    "Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations, may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!"
    Amen brother.

    Yes it's still our country, and when our government goes awry in its "intercourse with foreign nations", because it is our country, we have a right to correct the government.

    And thoreau is a leftist but we like him anyway.

    Leftist? If all leftists were like thoreau; the world would be far freer, thus far more capitalistic, thus far more prosperous.

  52. crimethink at 06:02 PM:

    "Likewise, a pre-emptive strike against an adversary who clearly intends to use force against our nation does not contradict libertarian principles."

    The operative words here being "clearly intends", and the Iraq war fails this criterion in tragic proportion. Bush and many others were neo-conned.

  53. Throughout the Cold War the U.S. and its allies trained thermonuclear-weapon-tipped missiles at the U.S.S.R., the commies did the same to us. Since we had "had a gun pulled on us" would that have justified a first strike?

    Well, that's a really complicated situation -- the question becomes, who threatened whom first? -- and there's not an easy answer there. Indeed, most real-world situations are going to be far more difficult to analyze than a criminal pulling a gun on you.

    Also, just because one is justified in reacting with force does not make that the wisest course of action; in the gun-pulling example, it's not necessarily prudent to immediately rush the gunman and try to take his weapon, though such an act would surely be justifiable. Likewise with international relations; a just war is not necessarily a wise one.

    The main point I was trying to make, though, is that in principle at least, pre-emptive war is not necessarily inconsistent with the principle of non-initiation of force.

  54. Maybe you read the wrong title at the door, marxists are two doors down.

    Well, apparently Marxists are free to call themselves libertarians too, since you're horrified by the notion that actual English words might have actual English meanings.

  55. "Non-initiation of force does not mean you sit back and wait to be harmed first -- if you do, you will lose most of the time, as many fights are won or lost with the first hit. "

    "... Likewise with international relations; a just war is not necessarily a wise one."

    Thank you, crimethink. It was startin' to get lonely on this side. I'll go further. If a man on the street is mugging someone I don't know, I am completely unshackled by the principle of non-initiation of force. I am only constrained by prudence or risk tolerance.

  56. I see thoreau complaining (sarcastically) about being called a leftist a lot more than I see anyone actually calling him a leftist.

  57. Geotech-

    My complaints are a holdover from last year, when I got that label more frequently. But you make a good point. Maybe I should stop complaining about things that happened last year.

  58. Where we libertarians (and Libertarians) on US-Soviet relations (and proxy wars) during the actual Cold War? My guess is, too enthralled with the rhetoric of Goldwater and Reagan to notice their "statist" (an incorrect use of the term, but when in Rome...) foreign policy tendencies, but I'm not really sure. Was there a divide between hawks and doves then, too?

  59. There was a time when I would have agreed with some here, that pre-emptive war was not necessarily incompatible with libertarian principles. In fact, however, the number of pure pre-emptive plays -- where an enemy, who is committed to and in the process of doing harm to another, and is thwarted by a just-in-time first strike by the would-be victim -- is vanishingly small, internationally speaking. The key thing is to act not on mere suspicion of someone's malevolent intentions and capabilities, or on the potential that someday, the opponent will present a threat, but on HARD KNOWLEDGE that a strike is imminent: force is in process of being initiated against you, but you recognize the situation quickly enough to do something about it. The anti-libertarian thing about pre-emptive strikes is that you gamble with other people's safety and perhaps even their lives that you are right about them. In international relations, the intelligence supporting a policy of pre-emptive war must be impeccable. Diplomats, spies, and others should ideally work to maneuver the opponent into showing his hand, committing himself to a course of action that is intended and guaranteed to harm you: with this evident, your "first strike" is actually justified.

    Does the Iraq war qualify by this yardstick? Do most "first strikes"? No, not even close. The popular conception of "pre-emptive" war has come to be that it is a "kill it before it grows" maneuver, initiating force against alleged or potential enemies well before their status is confirmed or their potential threat manifest (except in the imaginations and heated rhetoric of the warmongers, of course). This bastardized notion of "pre-emption" amounts to clearing the decks to make way for #1, a most profoundly non-libertarian attitude, in my opinion.

    As far as helping others in distress, a libertarian can do that with resources that he owns, but he's on thinner ice to commandeer resources or people to use in his intervention. How can it be libertarian to take things that don't belong to you, or to force anyone to help you, even to benefit another? Again, by that yardstick, you could describe the full-blown welfare state as "libertarian." Here's the rub: in the US, there is no king to own all the property and command all the people. We, individually, own ourselves and our property. For the government to help anyone, it has to take time, effort, and property from the citizens. They can contribute voluntarily, or their property and participation can be coerced. We can put up with a little of the latter in the name of our own protection. But not too much. More importantly, going around the world, liberating other countries from the oppression of their evil rulers, at great cost to unwilling taxpayers or unwitting servicemen and women, isn't and never properly has been what the US is all about. We're supposed to be about making and keeping THIS country free. Saying that Presidents down through history have veered from that path is only to say that it's a hard road to travel, not that we shouldn't try to get back onto it.

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