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Overheard on Campus

First: I have very noninterventionist tendencies, bordering on a position of pacifism. It is also well known that I am a staunch classical liberal. Our students here have managed to get several enterprises started to promote these ideas. So, there are over 50 students who in some form or another are studying classical liberal ideas and promoting them.

I am told that some students (not in our group) who themselves claim to be antiwar/noninterventionists, do not wish members of our enterprises to affiliate with or sponsor them in any way. That is cool of course, we are all about voluntary association. But it would be decent of folks to understand, like, you know, THE very thing that defines the classical liberal position is … the nonaggression axiom.

In case those kids want some “evidence” here is one version of the young libertarian “bible’s” description:

The libertarian creed rests upon one central axiom: that no man or group of men may aggress against the person or property of anyone else. This may be called the “nonaggression axiom.” “Aggression” is defined as the initiation of the use or threat of physical violence against the person or property of anyone else. Aggression is therefore synonymous with invasion.

If no man may aggress against another; if, in short, everyone has the absolute right to be “free” from aggression, then this at once implies that the libertarian stands foursquare for what are generally known as “civil liberties”: the freedom to speak, publish, assemble, and to engage in such “victimless crimes” as pornography, sexual deviation, and prostitution (which the libertarian does not regard as “crimes” at all, since he defines a “crime” as violent invasion of someone else’s person or property). Furthermore, he regards conscription as slavery on a massive scale. And since war, especially modern war, entails the mass slaughter of civilians, the libertarian regards such conflicts as mass murder and therefore totally illegitimate.

All of these positions are now considered “leftist” on the contemporary ideological scale.

Why the heck should I be upset? After all, it’s asking WAAAAAAY too much of kids attending a top 50 national research university to actually know something about people they seem to be hostile to.

Second: It was also pointed out to me that this sort of thing now counts as “scholarship”  in Advanced Macroeconomics courses in certain places around the country. It is certainly worthy of discussion, like after you actually learn the economics of inequality. I am sure those kids learned about mobility, the difference between the cross-section and the panel, and all of those other hard questions that come up when we try to say anything useful about inequality. And I am sure they learned about the definition of capitalism vs. crony capitalism, and understood Adam Smith’s warnings from here.

Have a nice weekend.

4 Responses to “Overheard on Campus”

  1. RIT_Rich says:

    “And since war, especially modern war, entails the mass slaughter of civilians, ”

    But modern war, in fact, reduces the number of civilian casualties since it reduces the need to attack civil infrastructure to achieve your aim. (yes I know people are going to say, “but what about WW2!”. Well, in WW2 the aim of the war was mass slaughter. Mass slaughter wasn’t a byproduct of that war)

    Second, I’ve never encountered anyone who is “pro-war”. I’ve only met people who are “anti-war”. Besides it being confusing how one can proudly identify themselves with being against something everyone else is also against, I also find it confusing how one can be against something with is a byproduct of human nature, and life itself. Its like being “anti-argument”. Well, you can be anti-argument all you want, they will still happen. The important thing is to figure out how to either channel them into being as harmless as possible, or as productive as possible. Trade, modern technology etc. have done that with wars. They have rendered war unthinkable in most circumstances, and where they haven’t, they have rendered war so unnoticeable that you don’t even feel a pinch when they happen (eg, when wars were fought in the past, the entire society had to be mobilized and directed towards the objective of war. Today, you only get to know one happens because CNN says so)

    Being “anti-war” makes as much sense to me as being “anti-greed”. “Libertarians” ought to sympathize with this. Capitalism keeps “war” under control the same way it keeps “greed” under control.

  2. Harry says:

    Tomorrow, because I have to dress up and ask people for money, I’ll wear my Adam Smith tie. (If anybody knows where to buy a Milton Friedman tie, please post it.)

    All libertarians should note that Mullah Achmed Khameni was educated in Moscow, and so was President Achmed Achminiejad. My apologies for the mangled spellings. Their vision is the elimination of the West and freedom, the same idea Putin got in Young Pioneer training camp, and the same fatherly advice Kim Jong Il got from his daddy.

    Therefore, it is foolish for us to disarm, or reduce our military power.

    Our country’s obligation is to provide conditions where freedom can flourish, and if that means sinking the boats of all hostile navys, and defeating their air, land, and space power, so be it. What should happen is that after 900 years, or 2000 years, or 96 years, they get off the totalitarian bus

  3. One basic track is to keep away from the “left-right” dichotomy unless you want to sit in the Estates General. The Nolan Chart has undergone several editions over the decades. All of them might be used together to build a Political Cube.

    Those hostile to business are not “anti-war” but only “against some particular war.” They want to goto war to seize the property of the rich, after all. We just call that an election: you add up the numbers on both sides, assume equal weaponry and leadership, and award victory to the side with the larger army. The winners then pick whom to tax next.

    In The Open Society and Its Enemies Karl Popper argued from doubt. But his enemies did not doubt. Eric Hoffer called them “true believers.” It is why, considering the linear scale “right” wing, the libertarians never make progress within the other camps: the libertarians expect mutual tolerance to be accepted as a virtue. It is not. Many on the linear “right” are plainly intolerant of what they regard as evil. They do not wish merely to not do these things themselves: they want to prevent other people from doing them as well.

    So, too, then on the linear “left” where it is permissible perhaps to sell marijuana, but not equities. When a tribe declares that you cannot marry your brother’s wife’s sister’s daughter even though genetically you are unrelated – they have no idea what a “gene” is -that is a cultural norm, to be respected. When insurance wholesalers get together to set their discount rate, that is not an equally valid cultural norm to be respected by outsiders.

    Ayn Rand called it “the sanction of the victim.” Your enemies on campus demand that you be tolerant of them, though in that, you admit that they need not be be tolerant of you.

    There is no easy answer to the complex problem, but identifying it for what it is is important.

  4. Rod says:

    I live near Quakertown, Pennsylvania, not far from Plymouth Meeting and other famous places where Quakers meet. I also live not far from Amish country, where the men in flat hats claim not just conscientious objector status but the right to “live apart” from the rest of us. Lucky for them there are lots of Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Roman Catholics and Jews who don’t have a problem with killing people when at war.

    While I agree that we should not be aggressors in war, I also agree with Richard Secord (Ollie North’s buddy) that one should endeavor to fight “far forward” whenever possible. When George Bush sought to topple Saddam Hussein, he had many good reasons to do it, including but not limited to the suspicion that Saddam was working on nukes. Indeed, even Joe Wilson reported back that Saddam was working on acquiring yellowcake uranium ore from Africa. But the main reason to go to war with Saddam was that Saddam was ready and willing to use whatever weapons he could buy or develop on his own against Israel. Remember his use of Scud missiles in the Gulf War? And just before we invaded Iraq, Saddam was shipping his chemical and biological weapons to Syria.

    Here’s another guiding principle about war: we should never go to war unless we intend to win. That, it seems, is the main lesson of the Vietnam War. We should not squander what we win on the battlefield.

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