Mad Dr. K's Prescription for Your Freedoms

|

Fresh from declaring neoconservatism "a governing ideology whose time has come," Charles Krauthammer calls for "situational libertarianism," which he defines like this: "Liberties should be as unlimited as possible—unless and until there arises a real threat to the open society." At which point he supports "every measure of harassment and persecution from deportation to imprisonment." So he actually favors situational repression, but I guess that doesn't sound as good.

Civil libertarians needn't worry about a slippery slope, he continues, because "there is no slippery slope, only a shifting line between liberty and security that responds to existential threats." He expands the thought in this remarkable passage:

During the Civil War, Lincoln went so far as to suspend habeas corpus. When the war ended, America returned to its previous openness. During World War II, Roosevelt interned an entire ethnic group. His policies were soon rescinded (later apologized for) and shortly afterward America embarked on a period of unprecedented expansion of civil rights. Similarly, the Vietnam-era abuses of presidential power were later exposed and undone by Congress.

Our history is clear. We have not slid inexorably toward police power. We have fluctuated between more and less openness depending on need and threat.

Got that? The wartime oppression of the past, from the internment of Japanese Americans to Nixon's abuses, was simply a response to "need and threat." And if you were treated unjustly—say, if you were locked up for years because you have the same skin color as Tojo—then … well, you'll get an apology later on. Hey, we all have to make sacrifices. Get with the program, mister!

Meanwhile, since when was irreversibility a part of the slippery slope argument? Krauthammer essentially posits that a slope isn't slippery if we've managed to reclimb it, a position that misses the point on so many levels that I hardly know where to begin.

Instead, I'll just note that very few of the country's wars were even arguably fought against a threat to our open society, unless you seriously want to claim that Kaiser Wilhelm or Ho Chi Minh had designs on the American mainland. In the United States, the most persistent threat to the open society has been war itself, because it gives people like Krauthammer an excuse to prune the Bill of Rights. If I were the situational sort of libertarian, I guess I'd start hollering just about now to send Charles K. to Guantanamo Bay.

Advertisement

NEXT: Friday Fun Link

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Let bring back slavery, it can allways be reversed some time in the future.

  2. During the Civil War, Lincoln went so far as to suspend habeas corpus. When the war ended, America returned to its previous openness.

    That’s a dubious claim at best. First, that America was an “open society” prior to the Civil War. Second that the years between 1865-1877 were part of some idyll. I seriously question Krauthhamer’s thinking abilities because of this statement. Honestly, when Klu Kluxers were slaughtering blacks en masse in North Carolina and spreading their terrorism throughout the former Confederacy, di that have anything to do with openness? Krauthamer is a historically ignorant twit.

  3. I’m sure the good doctor will shortly be explaining that those who oppose his political philosophy are suffering from a mental illness. For a member of the APA, he certainly does a lot of that.

    He’s also way off the mark declaring neoconservatism to be the dominant national ideology. New Deal liberalism was a dominant national ideology. Reagan conservatism was a dominant national ideology. Neoconservatism commands maybe 40-45% of the public’s loyalty, and probably less. The neocons have seized the microphone, and decided that since they’re the loudest, that means they’re the most.

  4. First, is it not nirvana to have Maureen Dowd back columnizing? She was cast aside some years ago for Catherine Zeta Jones. What was he thinking? Maureen’s skin is peaches and cream. Mo has freckles on her butt they’re negligible.

    Okay now. Ironsides “K” and Richard Cohen duel in my local fishwrap.

    This thread is doing a service to besmirch and conflate Krauthammer with Henry the K.

  5. Even if it were true that in all past wars, wartime restrictions on freedom were rescinded after the war ended, there is a critical difference between all these and the War on Terrror: with all these previous wars, it was clear that at some point in the not-too-distant future the war would end, one way or the other. It is hard to see any end to the War on Terror–as long as *any* group of Muslims are angry at US and threaten violence against it, the war is still on. There is no Richmond or Berlin or Tokyo whose occupation wil bring an end to the war–occupying Baghdad didn’t do it and neither will occupying Teheran or Damascus…

  6. And Joe, do you notice how these neocons also try to co-opt emotional sides of arguments to appeal to the emotion of the ignorant chicago western burb football moms???

    Here’s a thought: with the Neocon’s being the dominant ideology with 42.5% backing – hardcore christian conservatives make up, say 5% (I’m making up numbers here. I should be an accountant for andersen, grin), and hardcore liberals are another 5%. The only way for a majority coalition could spring up, it would have to logroll with the small, swing constituency (sorry about the spelling – too lazy to look it up – am dreadfully confused now).

    So, while the neocons don’t have a dominant majority, they could possibly have a dominant minority position. (would that be doggie, to blend with another thread from today?)

    and how can we get that Mr. Microphone out of their hands? (although we each would have a different side with the microphone, we are in total agreement that we both dislike the current state, grin)

  7. APOLOGIES FOR THE DOUBLE POST.

    Hak: was the period of the “North Carolina Regulators” in the Reconstruction?

    And caning congresspeople to death would fit with krauthammer’s idyll 🙂

    amicalment,
    drf

  8. David T beat me to it. Someone should remind Chuck that the War on Terror isn’t a temporary threat.

  9. Well, everybody seems to agree that the War on Terror…um, Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism, is different from the wars of the past. It will go on for a long, long, time.

    In that case, it’s harder to justify a policy simply by saying that it’s purely temporary.

  10. Ha ha ha ha ha! I have not laughed this hard since, since, I don’t know when!

  11. “If I were the situational sort of libertarian, I guess I’d start hollering just about now to send Charles K. to Guantanamo Bay.”

    Even a true libertarian could support that, seeing as the good doctor has given his consent to such a practice.

    Hey, I’m just following that “neolibertarian” Hobbesean argument to its logical conclusion!

  12. Excellent work Jesse. Did I ever tell you that you slice like a fuckin’ hammer?

    Not much to add here, ‘cept to this following bit, otherwise I think you covered everything about as well as it could be covered by my drunk-ass reckoning:

    and shortly afterward America embarked on a period of unprecedented expansion of civil rights

    Krauthammer left out how “America embarked” on its expansion of civil rights dragged kicking and screaming. A lot of blood was shed over that expansion and a hell of a lot of America was pissed off about it; it was hardly some inevitable bounceback.

  13. Krauthhammer must be some sort of Hegelian. He’s certainly a soft-headed determinist.

  14. Neo-Libertarians are moles.

    I know… childish comment. But no less childish than Krauthammers’.

  15. That column made me adopt free-market libertarianism — I no longer want to buy the Post if they continue to run Krauthammer.

  16. “there is no slippery slope, only a shifting line between liberty and security that responds to existential threats.”

    Correct me if I am wrong but is this sort of like saying: “there is no slippery slope, just a low-friction inclined plane”

    Or is his point that the plane gets tilted back towards freedom when a threat is percieved to have subsided?

  17. Left out of the apology for the “shifting line” theory, as usual, is any discussion of whether the repression of civil rights during times of “crisis” actually make it easier to end the “crisis.”

    As a nonsituational libertarian, I suspect that Lincoln’s policies and the Reconstruction that followed his assassination, the internment of the Japanese-Americans, and LBJ’s shenanigans caused way more problems than they solved.

    Inalianable rights are good things. That’s why the Creator endowed us with them.

  18. ME- it’s the teeter-totter of democracy.

    Of course, if Fat Albert is sitting on one end, the analogy loses some luster.

  19. Hot dog! This means automatic payroll withholding, that emergency World War II measure, will be rescinded any day now. Or maybe Der Kraut doesn’t consider the right not to have your money immediately taken away by the government an actual, you know, right.

    Scratch a neocon and you find a collectivist.

  20. It would be interesting to see how you “non-situational” (non-pragmatic) libertarians react to a massive terrorist act by Muslims living within our borders.

    I notice that this board would rather avoid talking about it at all because it leads to some uncomfortable questions and answers.

    Also, I notice the board seems to be ignoring the moves Blair is currently making in Britain (or did I miss the post(s)? Isn’t this a perfect opportunity to discuss this sort of thing?

  21. So, Krauthammer advocates removing the freedoms of those who would remove freedoms.

    Doesn’t this mean that by using his own logic he ought to just go ahead and check himself into Gitmo?

  22. Gee, and now that I’ve read all of Jesse’s blog entry I feel like a shmuck for basically saying what he put in the last line of his post.

  23. Mike A.,

    Well, why not get the ball rolling, yourself? What are some “uncomfortable answers” to domestic terrorism by Muslim citizens? (Also, how do you know that posters here are “avoiding” the topic? And how do you know why we’re “avoiding” it? Are you in possession of some kind of extra-sensory powers?)

    Do you think that rights outlined in the Constitution should be denied whenever the government deems the denials to be “pragmatic”?

  24. I see where Laura “Deep Throat” Ingraham has endorsed Chuck the K’s article. Who was the genius who gave her a talk show anyway? Probably the same mental giant who gave Shelly Malkin her gig.

  25. I see alot of cretins here taking about rights that are taransitional at best refusing to address the points made by the author. What would you do to the Muslim population in Amnerica if several cities disappeared in mushroom clouds because of their activities?

  26. TJ Jackson,

    I see alot of cretins here taking about rights that are taransitional at best refusing to address the points made by the author.

    Cretin, heal thyself. Honestly, if you’re going to use language like “cretin” at least have the courtesy to properly spell terms like “transitional.” 🙂

    Further, his points have been addressed by numerous posters.

    What would you do to the Muslim population in Amnerica if several cities disappeared in mushroom clouds because of their activities?

    Whose activities? That is course the question that must be asked. Are you, an individual, subject to punishments directed at groups, even though you had nothing to do with the act in question or any other illegal act? You can be glib about the use of state power in this way all you want to, but it is generally considered an anathema to our civilization’s values for a government to act in such a way.

    I notice that this board would rather avoid talking about it at all because it leads to some uncomfortable questions and answers.

    No one is avoiding anything.

    Also, I notice the board seems to be ignoring the moves Blair is currently making in Britain (or did I miss the post(s)? Isn’t this a perfect opportunity to discuss this sort of thing?

    You missed one a few days ago. I commented on the post.

  27. What would you do to the Muslim population in Amnerica if several cities disappeared in mushroom clouds because of their activities?

    First, like Hakluyt asked, what “activities”? 99.999% of US Muslims would have no involvement in such a thing. Given the demographics of our major cities, I assume that there would be significant Muslim casualties in such an attack.

    What would I do in the aftermath? Well, as far as Muslims go, I’d probably put out a call for Muslims to assist as translators, undercover operatives, and scientific consultants (check out the demographics of the physics profession, and you’ll realize that Muslims would play a vital part in the response).

  28. “Meanwhile, since when was irreversibility a part of the slippery slope argument? Krauthammer essentially posits that a slope isn’t slippery if we’ve managed to reclimb it, a position that misses the point on so many levels that I hardly know where to begin.”

    “Hot dog! This means automatic payroll withholding, that emergency World War II measure, will be rescinded any day now. Or maybe Der Kraut doesn’t consider the right not to have your money immediately taken away by the government an actual, you know, right.”

    I’ll let you two fight it out.

  29. Where’s the contradiction, JDM? Krauthammer misunderstands the slippery slope argument, as I wrote, and he also misstates the extent to which we’ve gotten back the liberties lost during World War II, as Tim wrote. Not only did I not read Tim as disagreeing with me, but I thought about bringing up the withholding tax myself when I posted my original comments.

    In Crisis and Leviathan, Robert Higgs writes about the “ratchet effect,” in which government seizes new powers during real and perceived crises, such as wars and depressions, then loosens its grip afterward — but without returning to the status quo ante. Seems like a much more accurate description of American history than Krauthammer’s column.

  30. Well, Jesse, I had to read all the way to the end of the comments to find I had been preempted with the ratcheting of gov’t.

    Dr. K is just another collectivist, willing to dispose of individual lives (except probably his own) in service to his agenda.

  31. What would you do to the Muslim population in Amnerica if several cities disappeared in mushroom clouds because of their activities?

    The same thing I’d do to the Vatican the next time some nutcase shoots a doctor…

  32. “So he actually favors situational repression, but I guess that doesn’t sound as good.”

    Call it affirmative action. Works every time.

  33. “Krauthammer essentially posits that a slope isn’t slippery if we’ve managed to reclimb it, a position that misses the point on so many levels that I hardly know where to begin.”

    “In Crisis and Leviathan, Robert Higgs writes about the “ratchet effect,” in which government seizes new powers during real and perceived crises, such as wars and depressions, then loosens its grip afterward — but without returning to the status quo ante.”

    Maybe I’ll just let you fight it out with yourself. Mr. Cavanaugh need not get involved.

  34. Krauthammer used to drive me nuts back in the ’90s when he insisted that Arafat’s pursuit of peace with Israel was just a ruse and that Arafat had no intention of settling for peace with Israel, ever.

    Well, lo and behold, he was right about Arafat. Since then I tend to cut him some slack if something he writes sticks in my craw, under the theory that he was right before, maybe he’ll be right again.

  35. Show me the contradiction, JDM, and I’ll fight that bastard Walker to the death.

  36. I actually think it is quaint that Lincoln went to the trouble of suspending habeas corpus. It’s as if he thought that without a suspension of that right, he could not hold people in jail forever without charging them. Lawyers back then were not aware of the “inherent” powers of the commander in chief to simply ignore the Constitution at his whim. Which is weird, since they had just drafted the damn thing about 70 years previous.

  37. “Dr. K.”, like so many, fails to understand the economic issues that were the cause of the Civil War – slavery became a convenient public relations tool only when the North had failed to wrap the war up quickly – and therefore fails to understand the extent that economic liberties were irreparably damaged during the war.

    Lincoln’s actions were direct predecessors to Wislon’s slavery, er, draft and clamp down on free speech, as well as FDR’s new deal. Once it was established, by force, that the feds should be involved in “subsidies”, we’ve never even come close to the degree of economic liberty we enjoyed pre-civil war.

    Freeing the slaves was a great thing (though, note, Lincoln never actually did that, and that the U.S. was the only country in the world that required a war to accomplish it – compensated emancipation worked everywhere else), but we as citizens have a huge blind spot as to all the evil things that Lincoln did while in power, and how these actions reverberated down through our history…

  38. Here’s another snarky way to tell you what’s wrong with your post:

    Q: “Meanwhile, since when was irreversibility a part of the slippery slope argument?”

    A: Always. That’s what the “slippery” part means. And the “slope” part for that matter.

    I don’t know what “slippery slope” or “ratchet effect” means unless it refers to irreversibility. Neither does Krauthammer, Tim, or apparently – you. If the changes reverse easily, you aren’t further down a slope or deeper in a bore.

  39. It’s not your arguments against Krauthammer that are contradictory, it’s participating in the argument while simultaneously denying its terms that’s perplexing me.

  40. In common parlance, as opposed to hyper-literal readings of metaphors, a “slippery slope” argument holds that one encroachment will lead to more encroachments. For example, that postal censorship prior to World War I helped pave the way for the much more severe postal repression during the war. Or that the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970 cleared the path for many objectionable provisions in the Patriot Act. Or that each campaign finance reform law has made it easier for its successors to restrict political speech. Or that gun registration might be a prelude to gun confiscation. It does not hold that we are then paralysed from pushing those encroachments back.

    As for the “ratchet effect,” the whole point is that government will usually shrink somewhat after the crisis, but not all the way back to its previous size. So some reversibility is built into the thesis.

    And who said anything about the reversal coming “easily”?

  41. Sort of offtopic, but not really…

    On another thread in here, someone asked if anyone had ever changed their minds about something, or even their basic political orientation, on the basis of what they read in a blog. I think I have changed my positions on a number of issues and the change came from prolonged exposure to this site and these threads.

    A few years ago I would have read this piece and thought “hmm…well, it’s sad, and it’s scary, but he’s probably right…dangerous times demand hard choices etc. etc. etc.”

    Now I read it and think – WTF??? I’ve agreed with Krauthammer on some issues in the past, but this is just stupid.

    I was always vaguely anti-drug war, but what I’ve read in here has helped me clarify my thinking and moved me firmly into the “legalize drugs” camp. I was always uncomfortable with our public education system; I now view it with abhorrence and, in fact, I think I’m opposed to the whole idea of mandatory education to begin with. I never really felt any affinity to either the donks or the phants, and now I’m quite comfortable with that. (I still think Al Gore is a G’oauld. On this, I will not be moved.)

    I’ve changed my thinking on smaller issues as well, and I’ve been to thinking more deeply on a lot of other sociopolitical stuff in general.

    I don’t want to give all the credit to this site and these threads, however, as some egos would likely inflate to the point of popping.

  42. Since I’m not mentally retarded, I get what a slippery slope argument is, as does Krauthammer. Say what you want about him and his ideology, (or about me) but the man is not stupid.

    You can have a perfectly fine argument about this column without claiming that he doesn’t know what a slippery slope argument is, or that this column somehow shows that.

    If he can show that civil liberties move back to historic standards, or even improve on them after wars in which they are curtailed, the slippery slope argument is undercut, at least in terms of its importance long term. That’s what he’s trying to do. But his attempt to do so, right or wrong, shows that he has the understanding of the argument as the rest of us. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t be using counterarguments to show where it does not move back to pre-war standards. Christmas.

  43. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t be using counterarguments to show where it does not move back to pre-war standards.

    Again, I see nothing wrong with noting both that he misstates the meaning of the slippery slope argument — disingenuously, not stupidly — and that he neglects areas where a slope might be slippery even on his own terms.

    I should also point out that my chief arguments with the column didn’t have anything to do with slippery slopes, however you define them. It had to do with the fact that some serious injustices can take place while we’re waiting for that “long term” to kick in.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.