Gun Control

Does the Libertarian Support for Gun Rights Lead to U.S. Foreign Policy Adventurism?

A response to Tyler Cowen

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Tyler Cowen made the interesting point last week that libertarians' support for gun rights was at odds with their disdain for America's foreign policy adventurism. He wrote:

[I]f America is going to be the world's policeman, on some scale or another, that has to be backed by a supportive culture among the citizenry.  And that culture is not going to be "Hans Morgenthau's foreign policy realism," or "George Kennan's Letter X," or even Clausewitz's treatise On War.  Believe it or not, those are too intellectual for the American public.  And so it must be backed by…a fairly martial culture amongst the American citizenry.  And that probably will mean a fairly high level of gun ownership and a fairly high degree of skepticism about gun control.

If you think America can sustain its foreign policy interventionism, or threat of such, without a fairly

Tyler Cowen
Mercatus Center

martial culture at home, by all means make your case.  But I am skeptical.  I think it is far more likely that if you brought about gun control, and the cultural preconditions for successful gun control, America's world role would fundamentally change and America's would no longer play a global policeman role, for better or worse.

This is a pretty novel argument, I admit, whose best feature is that it eschews the religious faith that liberals put in the ability of government regulations to reduce gun ownership (let alone violence). Just because there is a ban on something doesn't mean people won't find a way of getting it. (A little meth anyone?)

Still, to use Cowen's own words, I am skeptical.

For starters, if Cowen doesn't believe that gun restrictions would actually deter people from acquiring guns, how precisely will they change the culture? Perhaps he thinks, as many conservatives do, that rules and regulations, even when ineffective in achieving their intended purpose, can be useful signaling mechanisms of other things. For example, anti-cussing laws (which still exist), may not stop people from cussing, but they communicate social disapproval of cussing. But such laws usually mirror — not mold — cultural attitudes and so expecting anti-gun laws to change gun attitudes seems to put the cart before the horse. In other words, even if Cowen is right that support for gun rights leads to foreign policy adventurism, gun regulations won't actually change that. To stop foreign policy adventurism one just has to make the case to stop foreign policy adventurism, not engineer a cultural shift.

More fundamentally, I note in my column at The Week, as far as libertarians are concerned, to the extent that there is a connection between gun rights and foreign policy, it runs in the direction opposite to what Cowen suggests:

The central political problem for conservatives is maintaining virtue; for liberals equality; and for libertarians liberty — or avoiding government tyranny. This requires not just maintaining a balance of power — or checks and balances — among the three branches of government, but also between the government and the citizenry. Libertarians fear that a government that disarms its citizens while arming itself to the hilt shifts the balance of power and precludes the possibility of any serious resistance.

This vastly increases the danger that the government will conscript them without their consent for its overseas adventurism.

Go here to read the whole thing.

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  1. Tyler Cowen needs a helmet so he doesn’t hurt himself when the attendants aren’t watching.

  2. This guy needs a job.

    1. He has a job, an endowed sinecure at George Mason University. His ass is comfortably settled in the Holbert C. Harris Chair of economics.

      1. I think he meant a real job.

  3. Would it be Godwinning to point out that the Nazis had an adventurous foreign policy supported by a martial culture while confiscating guns?

    1. No, that would be bringing facts to a policy debate.

      Not unlike farting during a cocktail party.

  4. “If you think America can sustain its foreign policy interventionism, or threat of such, without a fairly Tyler CowenMercatus Centermartial culture at home, by all means make your case. But I am skeptical. I think it is far more likely that if you brought about gun control, and the cultural preconditions for successful gun control, America’s world role would fundamentally change and America’s would no longer play a global policeman role, for better or worse.”

    His premise falls apart because America *is not* a particularly martial culture.

    We’re not fighting these ‘interventions’ because we’re ‘martial’, we’re fighting them because we are so rich that we, the average Joe, don’t need to pay attention to what’s being done with the money drained from us. This attracts people who enjoy the exercise of power without accountability. They populate our government and are always turning the ratchet in the direction of more power – on the foreign side its always about how we have an ‘moral duty’ to intervene – with them as the ones in charge of the intervention (and the resources attached).

    That’s it. That’s all there is to these little wars that we keep getting in to. Just squirrels trying to get a nut.

    1. America has never been a particularly martial culture. And the American soldier, while he has sometimes come from rural or backgrounds Cowen considers martial, he just as often has come from very urbane backgrounds.

      Cowen is an idiot. He is one of those people who while academically no doubt smart and competent, has no idea how the real world works. He is proof that even people on your side can be stupid or hold idiotic ideas. I have never liked the guy.

  5. A more powerful and intrusive government will be less meddlesome and interventionist? What incredible nonsense.

    1. Exactly. Plus it implies that Prohibition can work when there is zero evidence in history supporting such a claim.

  6. I am, however, consistent. I also think we should have a cultural shift toward the view that alcohol ? and yes I mean all alcohol ? is at least as dangerous and undesirable. I favor a kind of voluntary prohibition on alcohol. It is obvious to me that alcohol is one of the great social evils and when I read the writings of the prohibitionists, while I don’t agree with their legal remedies, their arguments make sense to me. It remains one of the great undervalued social movements. For mostly cultural reasons, it is now a largely forgotten remnant of progressivism and it probably will stay that way, given that “the educated left” mostly joined with America’s shift to being “a wine nation” in the 1970s.

    Fuck this guy.

  7. I think it is far more likely that if you brought about gun control, and the cultural preconditions for successful gun control, America’s world role would fundamentally change and America’s would no longer play a global policeman role, for better or worse.

    IOW, if America were a completely different country, we could have gun control and different foreign policy.

    People actually pay for this dreck?

    1. Hence the desire on the Left to import a new population of voters, who will not balk at the Left’s policy proposals. We are currently involved in the process of ‘fundamentally transforming’ the United States. I doubt that Americans will like the result of that process. I imagine the rest of the world will not like it much, either.

    2. It’s not dreck, it’s an analysis of why a polity tends to think the way it does. He may be wrong in this particular instance (although I think he’s right), but in general he’s right that cultural ideas are mostly not separable from political ones. I wish it were otherwise, but I didn’t make it that way.

      1. it’s an analysis of why a polity tends to think the way it does.

        I think its both: As an analysis of anything, its dreck.

  8. He fails to make the case that gun-owning leads to a marital culture, only offering without any evidence his opinion that it is so. Cowan is very close to suggesting the deranged animism of the Left about guns, that the act of merely owning one–or very touching one–makes someone aspire to violence.

    Since his entire argument rests on this specious axiom, the whole thing falls apart.

    1. All of that and more. Even if his idiotic assertion were true, it would mean the left is less intervention minded than the right. And how could anyone think that? Support and opposition for intervention is present on both sides. There are tons of Wilsonian internationalists on the left and tons of real Jacksonian isolationists on the Right.

      How in the world could Cowen think this nonsense?

      1. His argument filled from his conclusion.

        He wants gun control. That individual firearm ownership does not imply a martial culture.

        I would counter his argument by saying a government which is less of a busybody on the domestic level is less tempted to be a busybody in international affairs. That has the virtue of perhaps being easier to implement.

        1. *argument followed from his conclusion…

    2. I was thinking the same thing.

    3. He also seems to be suggesting that, because foreign adventurism requires a martial culture, that having a martial culture must lead to foreign intervention. That’s not unlike arguing that, since you need a gun to go on a shooting spree, it’s reasonable to assume that a gun owner is likely to become a mass murderer.

  9. marital culture

    Nice johno.

  10. He fails to make the case that gun-owning leads to a marital culture,

    Actually, I can make the case for him.

    True fact: My wedding present to Mrs. Dean was a Sig P226.

    1. And think of how many marriages were started by a well-crafted shotgun.

      1. Painted white for a formal wedding.

  11. Tyler Cowen made the interesting point last week that libertarians’ support for gun rights was at odds with their disdain for America’s foreign policy adventurism.

    Yes, that is… um… interesting. Well, not really the word I would use, but okay. Cowen’s article didn’t deserve anything more than an “lolwut” response, but I appreciate Reason taking the high road.

    1. I suppose you can call “daft” a kind of interesting.

    2. I believe the relevant phrase in this instance would be “idiotic assertion” rather than “interesting point”..

  12. Recommend Mr. Cowan compare the US and Britain, in this respect.

    During the heyday of the UK empire, the military exploits made for great press, and successful leaders were practically deified. Look, for example, at pop art after Nelson died… evidence to me of a “martial” citizenry. And that from a society that, since feudal times, has been OK with various levels of government control over personal arms.

    People don’t need to be warriors to cheer for warriors.

    1. The first British Bill of Rights (1689) stated that “subjects who are Protestants [because they just fought a civil war against a Catholic monarch] may bear arms for their defence as permitted by law”. First time firearms were regulated was more than 200 years later, in 1903 with the Pistol Act. In between, you could arm yourself to your heart’s content. Proper controls came in 1920, coincidentally when Army’s prestige was at a nadir.

      And, while military leaders in time of war were celebrated (mostly when safely dead, as Nelson), most of the time being a soldier was looked askance at. Kipling’s Tommy didn’t come out of nowhere, and Wellington was extremely unpopular as a politician. On the flipside, US had a few former generals as presidents.

      Proper martial culture would be something like Prussia after Frederick, where being a soldier was a highest calling a man could have, and an obligation for a properly raised gentleman. Comparing firearms regulation is hard, because most tyrannical places of 19th century like Russia would balk at (or, to be fair, envy) the kind of policy most of Europe or Canada has today.

  13. If you’re gonna use Grecian Five in your hair, you should save some for your beard, too.

  14. Makes perfect sense. After all, the Swiss have high gun ownership, and they are constantly marching off to keep world order, right?

    1. See also the Fins. The Fins have a draft and because of the threat of Russian invasion a real martial culture in a way no one other than maybe Israel has. And we all know those damn Fins are out meddling and invading all over the world right?

  15. Nationally martial cultures, in recent history, have tended to stem from militant, totalitarian governments violently restructuring their respective societies to serve the causes of their particular interests and grievances by engaging in warfare. The Third Reich and the Empire of Japan are easy examples.

    1. Not necessarily true – both Poland and Yugoslavia after WW I had high respect for the military as bringers of national independence, coupled with strong tradition of soldiering, yet didn’t (yes, yes, spat with Lithuania over Vilnius acknowledged) engage in warfare. Difference, I guess, that in both those countries military was seen as being above politics (even though they ended as dictatorships, day-to-day activity was still managed by civilian politicians from different parties), whereas in Axis countries, military behavior was incorporated into daily lives.

      1. The US was much more gun owning and self reliant in the 19th Century than it is now. Yet, it never had a large standing peace time army and only engaged in three wars outside of the civil war during that time. And all three of those wars (the Barbary wars, War of 1812 and Mexican War) met with significant political opposition.

        The US only got into the foreign adventure business in the 20th Century, when it was becoming less and less gun owning and self reliant. Cowen’s assertion is completely counter factual.

        1. Various Indian Wars and Spanish-American War should count, too. Especially since it was the latter that turned you lot into a proper Empire. And just because people don’t have a flag, doesn’t make you conquering them not a foreign adventure…
          Also, out of 12 Presidents who rose to the rank of General, 11 were in 19th Century.

          1. It depends on whether you consider North America and manifest destiny to be “foreign”. I really don’t but will admit it is a question of semantics.

            As far as the Presidents being generals, most of that was post civil war and a reflection of the political power of the war veterans of that war more than society being particularly martial.

        2. The US was much more gun owning and self reliant in the 19th Century than it is now. Yet, it never had a large standing peace time army and only engaged in three wars outside of the civil war during that time.

          This actually is the perfect counterpoint to Cowen. We are LESS “martial” as a society/culture now than we have ever been, but our government is also MORE martial now than we have ever been.

          Cowen has completely backwards. Only in Academia.

  16. “To stop foreign policy adventurism one just has to make the case to stop foreign policy adventurism”

    That is way to much common sense for the left to understand.

  17. Tyler Cowen made the interesting point […] that libertarians’ support for gun rights was at odds with their disdain for America’s foreign policy adventurism.

    That sounds to me like a poorly crafted non sequitur than an argument.

    I think it is far more likely that if you brought about gun control, and the cultural preconditions for successful gun control, America’s world role would fundamentally change and America’s would no longer play a global policeman role

    You mean instead of simply going broke? Come on. The British Empire was acting like the world policeman during the better part of the 19th Century to the fall of the Empire after WWII, with interventionism and imposition of Christian values everywhere it made its presence felt. It wasn’t like the British were in love with guns and then changed their minds. They ran out of money.

    But such laws [like anti-cussing laws] usually mirror ? not mold ? cultural attitudes and so expecting anti-gun laws to change gun attitudes seems to put the cart before the horse.

    Of course, but most statists don’t see it that way. They think government is populated by especially-gifted people who can see what others can’t and so nudge the stubborn masses to the path towards enlightened progress.

  18. Progs are all for hiring others to point guns at their neighbors for them. I think this smoothly extends to pointing guns at people worldwide.

    Progs aren’t against guns, they’re against freedom, and those who would defend it. Any opposition to foreign adventurism is always conveniently aligned with some malignant thug and against those who would oppose him.

  19. Obama and Hillary both like to bomb foreigners yet at the same time want to guns away from Americans

    1. Well, governments hate competition. Why do you think the Mafia is illegal?

  20. Well, I’d think a goodly portion of libertarians agree with the founders who were pro-gun ownership AND warned us to keep out of foreign “entanglements”, so I would simply say – the answer is no.

  21. People like violence because weapons exist. Got it. Makes sense.

  22. ” if you brought about gun control, and the cultural preconditions for successful gun control, America’s world role would fundamentally change and America’s would no longer play a global policeman role, for better or worse.”

    I think this is idiotic horseshit.

    If there is any signifying psychological characteristic required to motivate “gun ownership”, it is entirely a prudently defensive.

    There are 300 million firearms in personal possession out there. There are not 300 million ‘shootings’, or even 200 million armed robberies, or even 100 million pistol-whippings, or even 50 million “Make My Day”-re-enactments, or even 1million ANYTHINGs involving a firearm.

    The notable fact is that all this firepower in civilian hands is largely left *entirely unused*. Almost never are weapons used in the manner that US military power is wielded abroad like some fucking instant mandate to ‘get involved’ in other people’s problems.

    Anyone with a brain would instantly note that there’s absolutely no indication that firearm possession influences people’s willingness to stick their dick in a hornets nest. Quite the contrary. The people who DO seem possessed of this desire are the POLITICAL class, who treat ‘being elected’ as a blank check to blow some shit up to prove their Bona Fides. If there are sociopaths out there, they are not gun owners = they are people who join political parties and pretend to maintain Moral Authority.

  23. Gun control by the government means civilians give up their guns but the government employees keep theirs.

  24. Let’s Play: PROJECTION

    “Steve Sailer December 10, 2015 at 2:22 am

    Guns are an ethnic pride thing for British-Americans.

    1. “‘Steve Sailer December 10, 2015 at 5:42 am

      Today, the most aggressively interventionists elites tend to be Jews

  25. I think Cowen’s pretty much correct. Don’t suppose most people think in the same terms you do. On many issues, it’s like having a video screen with control of its brightness but not its contrast. On a pretty fundamental level, it’s:

    Shooting, good!
    or
    Shooting, bad!

    So you can turn the brightness up or down depending on how light you want some part or how dark you want some other part, but you don’t get to make one part lighter & the other darker at the same time.

    Anti-gun sentiment, as I’ve thought for years, is a visceral revulsion against obvious violence. Its opposition unfortunately must be an embrace of violence. You can decide otherwise for yourself, but you don’t get to decide the lines along which others’ thinking breaks.

    1. Its opposition could also be a pragmatic recognition that policies driven by visceral opposition to violence, unthinking as they are, will not necessarily actually reduce violence, in which case it also a movement that opposes violence, just less stupidly.

      Don’t mistake good intentions for good outcomes.

    2. “Anti-gun sentiment, as I’ve thought for years, is a visceral revulsion against obvious violence.”

      Nonsense.

      The people who are the strongest proponents of anti-gun sentiment are the people who have the least contact with “obvious violence”. Suburban soccer moms in aren’t reacting the the daily shootings in ghetto Chicago.

      And the people with the greatest intimacy with ‘obvious violence’ – police – are often strong supporters of the right to defend one’s self. And encourage citizens to do so.

      1. None of that matters, only how they think about it. Suburban soccer moms don’t want to see otherwise respectable persons (even those who are a bit uncouth but still respectable) in possession of guns, because that says violence is legitimate. They don’t even like seeing the police, same reason. Police don’t mind seeing legitimate persons in possession of guns, because to think otherwise would delegitimize themselves.

        I don’t know about you, but HyR jams my browser something fierce! Task mgr. tells me it’s eating up all I got, computing-wise.

        1. +Adblock/NoScript, also prunes

  26. This guy can go fuck himself. I’m tired of libertarians having to take it both ways. Look, we can’t be the cause of foreign adventurism and be a bunch of kooky isolationists at the same time. We can’t be a bunch of losers living in mom’s basement and a bunch of monocle-wearing Koctopus tentatcles at the same time. We can’t be the reason that Obama can’t implement all of his policies while holding a whopping 3 seats in the House of Reps and one and a half seats in the Senate.

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