May 29, 2005

Federalism AFTER Liberty (tip to DF)

In a rambling, tortured piece on federalism and interventionism from lewRockwell, we're treated to (punished by) an explanation for why nobody should intervene in the bad or evil actions of other government jurisdictions. Of course, I'd suspect this is partly due to the neo-Confederate sympathies known to come from the site, since it would justify the 'leave slavery alone' thesis if it were in fact a 'leave everything alone' thesis.

What's funny is that, despite an over-emphasis on the illegitimacy of states (states can't be illegitimate prima facie until they start initiating force, which is separate from the fact that every existing government seems to initiate force) the conclusion is fundamentally anti-vigilante, anti-humanity and anti-freedom. They believe that it would be a horrible thing if people started protecting the freedom of others, that it would lead to horrendous chaos and that the world would be one big warzone.

I remember that from somewhere. Oh yes, that was Hobbes on the state of nature: solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. That old totalitarian-lover believed that we're all mean, greedy and stupid and only by submitting irrevocably to a mega-monarch could we avoid the fate of choas. In other words, we're too evil and dumb to be free.

A good anarchist, which the authors seem to fancy themselves, would realize there's some inherent value to vigilantism. After all, if they wish to live in a stateless world, should we just allow women to be raped as long as it's not us? That seems like a pretty harsh view of things. While the libertarian question of whether you should be obligated to live for another by fighting for them is unquestionably that intervention is optional, the libertarian answer for whether it's morally acceptable to use force against force-initiators is laughably uncontestable.

In other words, while nobody should force you to help others under attack, there's absolutely no moral reason why you can't meet force with force.

Their objection, ultimately, is that it's bad in implementation. That for unrelated reasons, it's bad to use force to help others. The argument, though relayed in a mangled and confusing manner, seems to be mostly based on the practical side effects and the hypocrisy of breaking law or sovereignty to serve freedom.

Well, the poractical side effects are an important consideration. In that case, though, the authors would have to support in principle the intervention in Iraq while opposing on the margins the damages done to civilians. Of course, then we get into the question whether it's better to risk accidentally harming or killing a few thousand Iraqis or to knowingly let Saddam arrest, rape, murder and terrorize the millions of Iraqis that were under his domination. Once we get into the practical side effects, things get a little messy for philosophers. But either way, the authors ought to stand with the coalition in principle. Ten bucks says they don't.

The hypocrisy argument is unpersuasive twice over. First, the tu quoque fallacy; just because somebody is a hypocrite doesn't mean the act in question is wrong. I could say that all Iraqis deserve to be raped bu then save a Kurd woman from being raped. I'd be a hypocrite but I'd still be right. Second, it's insane to suggest that we should obey a law or principle that doesn't have us doing the right. The response shouldn't be resigned inaction but aggressive reform. If a law has us protecting slavery, defending Jim Crow or ignoring genocide, then it's the law that needs changing, not the intervention to defend liberty.

The article has clear confederal overtones and places the idea of federalism, limiting government's structure, above liberty, limiting government's power. It's a fallacy of paleo-libertarians that it's somehow more principled to have the government ignore slavery and ignore genocide than to risk it intervening to protect the freedom fo the victims. Beyond the obvious selfishness of not caring for the liberty of others, and the rank, stinking hypocrisy, it's not really libertarian.

Federalism is not more important than freedom. It is good if the federal government intervenes to stop infractions from the states, be it slavery and Jim Crow or wine tariffs and rent control. The fact that it doesn't give the state's a blank check to abuse liberty is why it's good, not why it's bad. The LewRockwell paleo-libertarians would have us believe that this sort of federal government reaction against the states or intervention in Iraq is bad because the power to do good is the power to do bad. While it's certainly true that doing good can easily lead to doing bad, the question of morality is found in liberty, not in federalism.

They seem to argue that if the feds intervene to stop wine tariffs between the states, it's bad because federalism is good. I would argue that it's good if the feds intervene for liberty, and the power to intervene is only bad when it serves to trample on or weaken liberty.

Federalism is not liberty; states do not have freedom. Federalism is practical, while liberty is ethical. Practical considerations should not masquerade as ethical ones.


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