Saturday, August 11, 2007

Thoughts on Ron Paul, Abortion, and Federalism

Because of Ron Paul's relatively strong showing in the recent Iowa straw poll I find it necessary to make a few comments about Rep. Paul and explain why I do not whole-heartedly support his campaign.

I have a friend -- a die-hard libertarian -- who supports Ron Paul with an enthusiasm I cannot muster for any politician, Republican or Democrat. I'm sure he wonders why I haven't jumped on the Ron Paul bandwagon yet. My reluctance to support Dr. Paul can be explained fairly simply: I do not think his beliefs can be fully reconciled with my own libertarian position.

From my understanding, Dr. Paul believes that a) the right to life extends to pre-born human beings; b) federalism is the best way of protecting all of our rights.

As a libertarian, I hold the following belief: c) rights, if they are anything at all, must be understood as what Nozick called "side-constraints" on action. This means that one person's rights may not be traded away in order to protect some other person's rights. I reject a "utilitarianism of rights," as do many other libertarians.

These preliminary remarks should be enough to set up the dilemma. If the right to life extends to pre-born human beings, then the killing of such a being must count as murder. The only conclusion we can draw from Dr. Paul's legislative record is that he accepts this implication.

Suppose you are anti-abortion because you think abortion is murder. If the killing the pre-born is murder, then we cannot allow abortion law to be decided on a state-by-state basis. Murder is murder. If it's wrong in South Carolina, it must also be wrong in California.

Suppose, instead, you believe that pre-born human beings have no rights. Or that the rights of the pregnant woman trump the rights of the pre-born human she is carrying. Either way, if you believe that women have a right to abortion, then you must believe they have this right regardless of where they happen to live.

The pro-choice libertarians I know are comfortable with Dr. Paul's belief (a) because of his belief (b), federalism. They believe that abortion law should be decided on a state-by-state basis.

Dr. Paul, himself pro-life, believes that federalism is the best approach to securing the abolition of abortion. Pro-choice libertarians must believe that federalism is the best way of securing the rights of women to have abortions. Both have an end in mind they would like to achieve and think that federalism is the best way to achieve that end.

From my point of view, it doesn't matter who is right about this, because both approaches conflict with my belief (c), that rights are side-constraints.

Suppose we knew that through various sociological processes, killing a certain group of people would result, eventually, in fewer murders occurring. Indeed, suppose we knew that, in the end, we would prevent far more murders than we would have to commit or allow to be committed in order to reach that goal. We should still not allow those prior murders to be committed.

In other words, it is not appropriate to violate the right to life of some in order to prevent the violation of many more rights in the future. It is certainly not appropriate -- ever -- to allow such murders to proceed with the full sanction of the law, even the law of another state.

If abortion is murder, it must be treated as murder. Likewise, if banning abortion violates the fundamental rights of women, it must be treated as such. We cannot allow, or hope, that through the machinations of state legislatures fewer rights violations will eventually occur.

Libertarians I know tell me that, despite Ron Paul's belief (a), we should hope for his nomination because his many other beliefs are fully consistent with our libertarian views. But this is again to fall into a utilitarianism of rights. Abolishing the IRS will prevent the occurrence of many property rights violations. It will drastically limit the government's ability to control our lives. All true, perhaps, but I find myself unable to cheer if the rights of women are going to be traded away to achieve that end.
We all know Ron Paul is not going to receive the nomination, no matter how many of us -- libertarians -- support him. Thus, support for Ron Paul is, at this time, a matter of personal expression, not a matter of changing the outcome of an election. Like much political activity, including voting, those who do it do so because the candidate projects views they hold themselves.

But precisely because support for Ron Paul is an expressive activity, the message such support sends must be clear and consistent with my own beliefs if the activity is to be successful. In this case, it is not. Despite the fact that I probably share many other beliefs with Dr. Paul, he is in the end a very bad reflection of my overall ideology.

It is no use and in bad faith to say, "I support Ron Paul, but I also support the rights of women to have abortions. And that's OK because he also believes in federalism. " Dr. Paul is counting on federalism, on state legislatures, to ban abortion, and violate the rights of women. He would like to amend the Constitution to prohibit abortion permanently In his own words, amending the Constitution to prohibit abortion is perfectly compatible with his version of federalism.

Legislatively, we should focus our efforts on building support to overturn Roe v. Wade. Ideally this would be done in a fashion that allows states to again ban or regulate abortion.

I suppose this is the part pro-choice libertarians focus on when they muster their enthusiasm for Dr. Paul. But here's what he says next:

The alternative is an outright federal ban on abortion, done properly via a constitutional amendment that does no violence to our way of government.

As far as I can tell, for Ron Paul, either alternative is consistent with federalism. But I can reconcile neither with my own understanding of libertarianism.

Rights are not chits to be exchanged one for another. Especially not the rights of others. One might as well say, in support of a candidate, "Well, he'd like to bring back slavery, but at least he'll certainly lower my taxes!" One should not say this even if one knows the candidate has no chance of winning an election, and no chance of ever bringing slavery back. It's the very idea that should be repulsive to anyone who loves liberty.

Friday, August 10, 2007

John Murtha's legacy of corruption

Over at Economics and Liberty, Larry Eubanks posts on the latest in earmark corruption.

Here's my "favorite" bit:

What is a voter to think when 326 members of Congress vote to spend $1 million on something they don't know exists?

Larry's talking about John Murtha's (D-PA) "Center for Instrumented Critical Infrastructure" in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

James Chang at the aptly named Through the Magnifying Glass has already investigated what this Center is supposed to be. It's a part of Concurrent Technologies (CTC), a firm based in Johnstown that seems to survive entirely on government handouts. Chang writes:

It would seem that back in 1988, Murtha asked the University of Pittsburgh to form a non-profit entity that would focus on excellence in metalworking. This entity would receive funding from the Navy. Over the years, this non-profit became CTC. It would seem that this "corporation" is totally funded by earmarks.
Furthermore, according to Chang, the president of CTC is part of an outfit called the PMA Group, one of Murtha's biggest contributors.

I really hate politicians...

Since Chang's investigated where Murtha's earmark is going to go, if it is going to go anywhere at all, I thought I'd look into Johnstown a little more. A bit of digging on CAGW's Pig Book revealed that Murtha has been sending money to Johnstown and the surrounding area in Cambria county for years. Here's a sampling:
  • FY 2001. $1,000,000 for a parking garage.
  • FY 2001. $400,000 for pedestrian and streetscape improvements.
  • FY 2002. $200,000 for a neighborhood recreation project.
  • FY 2003. $900,000 to continue building a recreation facility.
  • FY 2004. $450,000 for a a war memorial and conference center.
  • FY 2004. $150,000 for renovations of Point stadium.
  • FY 2005. $388,000 for improvements to Johnstown's "technology complex."
  • FY 2006. $400,000 for improvements to its convention center.

Whew, disgusted yet? Remember, no one is saying that these projects are unworthy of funding, but why must they use federal funds? Why should taxpayers in California, Arizona, North Dakota, Washington State, etc. pay for the construction of facilities they will almost certainly never get a chance to use?

Also remember that Murtha never had to justify these earmarks to the rest of us. We'd all like to think Johnstown really needed a war memorial and conference center -- but did it, really? When taxpayers in other states are picking up most of the tab, it's much easier to say "Yes, of course!"

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Lawrence Auster: "Is Women's Political Equality a Good Thing?"

On his blog, Lawrence Auster addresses the question, "Is women's political equality a good thing?"

Part of the discussion seems to take off from an interview Dr. John Lott gave to Frontpage Magazine discussing his new book Freedomnomics: Why the Free Market Works and other Half-Baked Theories Don't. Apparently, in the book, Lott links the growth of government to women's suffrage, claiming that "giving women the right to vote explain[s] at least a third of the growth in government for about 45 years."

Lott gives two (or maybe one) reasons to support his claim. First, women are more risk averse, and see government as a way to insure themselves against the bad things life can bring. Second, divorced mothers are particuarly likely to seek out the government for protection.

Suppose Dr. Lott is generally correct in his analysis. What comes next?

Auster writes:

There is much to be said for the view that affording women political rights (as distinct from the protection of their human rights, property rights, and civil rights) inevitably leads society in the direction of the Nanny State that we see in full bloom in today's Britain and Europe, leading ultimately to the end of national sovereignty and the onset of global governance.

But, even given Lott's conclusions, there's nothing that says the state must inevitably continue to grow and grow, until we're all trapped in a one-world socialist nightmare.

Think about it: why might women be more risk-averse than men? You can give an evolutionary story to explain some of the risk aversion, I'm sure. But surely, the way women have been historically treated might just have something to do with their risk aversion.

Traditionally, women have had few options and none of the most significant legal rights. Even relatively privileged women had few freedoms and little choice of opportunities. They could not own property, nor were people willing to hire them. Both the legal system (which defines rights) and general attitudes were against them. This placed them in almost state-of-nature kind of situation, their fate almost entirely in the hands of others -- men who were all-too-willing to inflict violence on them.

Wouldn't YOU be risk averse in that kind of environment?

Well, the legal system changed, as did attitudes. But arguably the law changed more quickly than attitudes, or at least the attitudes of those that mattered: those of the men who had control over the options -- employers, mainly. Women were granted formal rights but their substantive option set remained narrow and fixed. This got them a little further from the state-of-nature, but only a bit.

What women did gain was the opportunity to petition the government to expand their options, through subsidies, anti-discrimination legislation, and so on. Although it can be risky to increase the size of government, women were faced with an almost Hobbesian-like choice: give the government more power, or risk going back to the state-of-nature.

And, for Hobbes, the state-of-nature is so bad that any government is an improvement on it.

Having missed out on the Nazis, Hobbes was probably wrong about this... but he would have been the first to admit that legal rights are not enough to transcend the state-of-nature. The state-of-nature is bad, NOT because people are without legal rights, but because they have no options (life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short, etc.)


Lawrence Auster doesn't want to limit the rights and options women presently enjoy. At least, I don't think so. But he isn't looking at the big picture: women were granted formal rights, but their substantive option set was not expanded to the same degree. This was mainly because of the bad, anti-feminist attitudes of powerful men.

If we're all now under the boot of a powerful government, it's because we're paying the debts those men incurred for their misogyny.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Scott Beauchamp and the Hopes & Dreams of Lefties

According to the Weekly Standard, Scott Beauchamp has repudiated his "Shock Troops" article, published in the New Republic back in July. USA Today reports a military spokesperson's categorical denial of Beauchamp's accusations.

According to Little Green Footballs, the "Shock Troops" article is no longer available on the New Republic website.

What's this all about? In a New Republic exclusive, Beauchamp reported some nasty goings-on in Iraq. Problem is, none of it was true.

In a typically insightful analysis, Mark Steyn points out that Beauchamp's charade was "designed to confirm prejudices so ingrained the editors [of TNR] didn't even recognize they were being pandered to."

Steyn is right. Here's the proof: Go to the leftist Daily Kos website. Do a search for diaries and stories on Beauchamp. You'll find one diary on Beauchamp recanting the "shock troops" story, from Tuesday morning. 29 comments. Another diary in support of Beauchamp and attacking right-wing blogs for questioning his story has 170 comments.

Now do a Google search for "Beauchamp" on the leftist Democratic Underground message board, like this.

You won't find any discussion of Beauchamp retracting his claims. You will find a lot of discussion of how evil the U.S. military is. I haven't seen any recent popular postings on Beauchamp, either. None of the lefties seem to care -- or, worse, like a poster on Daily Kos, they think just maybe Beauchamp was tortured in order to get him to change his story.

So what does this little experiment prove? Beauchamp's narrative supported what the leftists already believed about the military; more, it supported what they desperately want to believe. Thus, you will find vehement support in favor of stories that portray the military in a bad, sick, twisted light, and silence when those stories are refuted. Do you really think any of them have changed their minds about the U.S. military because of this, even a little?

No: they'll jump on the next hoax just as quickly. Steyn is right. They don't even recognize they're being pandered to.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Conservatism: Libertarian means, traditionalist ends?

According to Donald Devine, lecturer at the Federalist Leadership Institute seminar I attended a while back, that's the definition of American conservatism. The free market is the best but by no means the only way of achieving the ends tradition sets for us.

Why should tradition set our collective ends, or have any say at all over the goals we as a society choose to pursue? Why can't we just dream up an end -- say, the abolishment of poverty -- and then use the power of the state to achieve that end?

Conservatism's reliance on tradition represents a rejection of what Hayek called "constructivist social rationalism." Modern liberals believe -- in a way classical liberals did not -- that society cannot only articulate its own goals, but effectively pursue those goals through legislation. To rationalists of this stripe, the "city of God" is attainable here on earth, if only the right legislators with the right ideas are given the power to pass the right laws.

Although constructivism is now rampant, it is not a modern ideology. Arguably, Plato was its first and most vociferous exponent. According to the constructivist, the authority of the state can abolish poverty (or poetry, as Plato preferred) and bring about social harmony. It can achieve the ideal -- the right, the true, the good -- here and now.

How does the conservative's acceptance of tradition as a source of ends repudiate constructivism? After all, whether they admit it or not, many of the ideals liberals espouse are ends conservatives would affirm themselves, e.g. ending poverty, religious coexistence, and ensuring the benefits and burdens of living in a society are distributed fairly. What differentiates the conservative's acceptance of these ideas?

There is nothing new about the desire to live in a tolerant, prosperous society. This desire is not something liberals discovered on their own, to be gradually introduced to the rest of us uneducated troglidytes when we are ready for it.

Nor, however, are the goals of mutual toleration, justice, and freedom innately pursued. In our society, these are traditional goals. But societies like ours, that value these goals, are historically uncommon. There is nothing inevitable about the fact that you have come to value toleration, justice, and freedom. You value them precisely because you were lucky enough to be born into a society that valued them first.

While constructivism may accept traditionalist goals and ideas, it cannot accept them because they are traditional. It must accept them because they are rational. This means: because unencumbered, detached reason has formulated them, and given them its authoritative stamp of approval. However, as both Nietzsche and Hayek well knew, there is no such source of authority. The idea that we can reason best by abstracting away from our cultural surroundings, from our upbringing, from tradition itself -- this is a Platonic sham.

Epistemologically, the abstraction process -- deluding ourselves into thinking we have sanctified ourselves of any vestige of prejudice or cultural conditioning -- only leads to a distortion of our ideas. Morally and politically, it leads to policies that may work well in theory, but have disastrous results when applied to the "real world."

"Ecce homo," says Nietzsche's saint, painting himself on the wall. That is man, the way man ought to be. But not everyone can be a saint, and not only because for most attaining sainthood would require them to completely demolish their current identity. It would be a bad thing for all of us to suddenly ditch our current lives for the life of St. Francis of Assisi. Or the life of Jesus Christ, for that matter.

Some must stay behind, if only to grow the food for which the rest of us will beg. And if many of us did suddenly decide to make the switch to sainthood, those remaining behind -- standing athwart history, yelling "Stop!" like William Buckley -- could have no more accurate label than "conservative."

Fortunately, most of us will not whittle down our current identities and choose to start from scratch as saints. When it comes to the preservation and maintenance of our identities, we are all conservatives.
The constructivist's repudiation of tradition leads to a distortion of conception. Policy-wise, the measures constructivists adopt to achieve their ends will suffer a similar theoretical bias. Imaginging themselves to be formulating their goals for the first time, they will ignore what has worked relatively well in the past in favor of social engineering more suited to the abstract, detached nature of their supremely rationalist ends.

Policy failure can easily be explained away -- "Well, at least we did something," will be the familiar refrain, just before another, newer policy is proposed. In repudiating the idea of traditionalist ends, the constructivist repudiates every traditional solution, and must always be on the hunt for the next social science "breakthrough" to supply the latest fix to age-old problems.

Freedom of Expression In Peril

This is the earliest version of an op-ed I wrote. Pretty primitive, isn't it? Oh well. It's fun to write like Anne Coulter!

U.S. Moves In An Ominous, Canadian Direction
By: Terrence C. Watson

If someone hurt your feelings recently, liberals want to charge him or her with a crime – but only if you hold certain beliefs.

At 23-years-old, Stanislav Shmulevich is immature and disrespectful. A punk, really. On separate occasions in October and November, he put copies of the Quran – neither of which belonged to him – in a toilet at Pace University in New York, where he is a student. Now he faces serious jail time for these acts of petty vandalism. Under pressure from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the police have charged him with a hate crime.

If he’d only smashed up a Hummer with a baseball bat, as happened to a D.C. resident’s vehicle recently, liberals would be lining up to give him a medal.

Eco-terrorists inflicted over $12,000 worth of damage to Gareth Groves Hummer to send him a message. They even scratched it into the side of the vehicle: “For the environment.” Now Groves' neighbors, mostly liberals resentful of the man's fuel-sucking vehicle, look at him with smug satisfaction. His right to property is apparently not so important when it leads to hurt feelings.

On the liberal message board Democratic Underground, posters gleefully report vandalizing conservative bumper stickers. “Anti-abortion troglodytes don’t deserve ‘free speech rights,’” one opines. Your bumper sticker isn’t harming anyone, but if it makes liberals feel bad, that’s enough to justify the violation of your rights.

It was inevitable that this liberal attitude towards rights would have an effect on the legal system.

If you want to see where this road goes, look to Canada. In 2000, Scott Brockie, owner of a small printing shop in Toronto, was fined thousands of dollars after he refused to print material for the Canadian Gay and Lesbian Archives (GLA) that conflicted with his religious beliefs. So far, Canadian courts have upheld the ruling. The board of inquiry convened to hear the case claimed, “It is reasonable to limit Brockie's freedom of religion in order to prevent the very real harm to members of the lesbian and gay community.” Matt Hughs, GLA’s board president, has said that Brockie’s refusal left the plaintiff in the case feeling “humiliated” and “demoralized.”

Brockie’s case is hardly unique. As recently as July 2006, Free Dominion, a Canadian Internet forum, was served with a complaint similar to the one Brockie received. A woman who is not even Muslim complained to the government about the forum allowing posts critical of Islam. In response to the complaint, the Canadian human rights commission might fine the owners of the website or even shut it down.

In Canada, we’ve gone from “Your rights stop where my nose begins,” to “Your rights stop whenever my feelings are hurt.” The result has been a disaster for freedom of expression.

If you think this couldn’t happen in the United States, think again. Even after Pace University responded to the Quran-in-the-toilet incidents, CAIR eagerly demanded the involvement of New York’s hate crimes unit. Like Brockie and the owners of Free Dominion, Shmulevich will be punished merely for hurting someone’s feelings, a charge impossible to disprove. Shmulevich can barely afford a lawyer, but even the best would find it difficult to prove that Pace’s Muslim students aren’t feeling “demoralized” as the result of his actions.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” Usually, liberals use this passage to admonish religious conservatives, but nowadays you could aim it back at them. Putting a holy book in a toilet – or posting insulting comments on a website; or refusing to print literature with which one disagrees; or putting a bumper sticker on one’s Hummer – this injures no one, even if it causes bruised feelings.

Canada never had a Thomas Jefferson, which is why it presently needs his wisdom even more than the United States does. However, as the Shmulevich case shows, America is inexorably moving in the Canadian direction, and away from the vision great men like Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers left to it.