Why I am Not a Libertarian

I did not haphazardly choose Cato as the inspiration for this blog’s name or for my pseudonym. Both the historical Cato as well as the collective of Gordon and Trenchard are inspirational figures. The latter, in particular, are truly the forerunners of the American Revolution and the ideals of the early American republic. These are ideals that, I believe, have been abandoned by the majority of Americans on both sides of the spectrum.

I am not a libertarian, though I am about as close to being one as you could be without actually being one. Am I a classical liberal? Perhaps that’s a better descriptor. Whatever the case may be, I have never been a full-fledged libertarian, and so-called libertarians do their damndest to regularly remind me why I never will be one. Two recent controversies remind me why.

Let’s take the more serious issue first. Recent anti-abortion bills have passed in Georgia and Alabama. The former prohibits abortion once a heartbeat has detected. Alabama’s law is more sweeping, completely banning abortion except in cases where the mother’s life is at risk.

There are prudential reasons even pro-lifers object to these laws. These laws will almost certainly be struck down by lower courts, and there is no guarantee that the Supreme Court will take up the cases. And if it did, there’s a better than even chance that the Supreme Court will not vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.  Clarence Thomas is arguably the only bedrock certain vote against Roe, though Alito would likely join him, as Gorsuch probably would. Justice Kavanaugh and especially Chief Justice Roberts, however, seem to be of the judicial temperament that would incline them against overturning Roe. Therefore we’re back to the drawing board, and arguably we could take a step back.

David French is one of the few voices against restraint, and I agree with him. I think he’s particularly correct in suggesting that instead of simply upholding Roe and laying the hammer down on these states, the justices could work out a middle-ground that modifies the Casey decision. While Kavanaugh and Roberts are temperamentally conservative jurists, I would guess they also do not agree with the Roe decision. I don’t think they would vote to uphold it, full-stop.

While I might understand these prudential concerns, I am much more distressed by some of the feedback from the larger pro-life community. Here’s one example, from Guy Benson.

“I’m pro-life but a bill that actually bans abortion is too extreme.” What? This is incoherent to me. This is more than a pragmatic objection and gets to the heart of the debate. If you’re pro-life, then what exactly are you supposed to be fighting for? This isn’t some debating society thought experiment we’re talking about. The ultimate aim of the pro-life movement is to, you know, ban abortion. This may come as a surprise to some people who call themselves pro-life, but pro-lifers view unborn children as human beings endowed with the right to live. An abortion is thus the deliberate taking of human life. This is not some icky thing we disapprove of but otherwise tolerate legally because we recognize humans must be free to act as they choose. That freedom to choose ends when that choice necessitates killing another person. This is one of the basic building blocks of human society, and I thought it was a sentiment shared by all pro-lifers. Evidently not, because when confronted by the logical conclusion of their position, they are suddenly balking.

Others, however, don’t even bother trying to defend the sanctity of life. The twitter user by the name of neontaster offers up what I think is the position of many libertarians:

So let’s get this straight – it’s not a life deserving of legal protection unless it can survive outside the womb. Of course, this is an even more obscure standard than the heartbeat standard. Medical advances continually reduce the age by which fetuses can survive outside the womb. Fetsuses as young as 21 weeks have now survived. So is the standard the lowest possible age a fetus can live outside the womb? The lowest typical age it is likely to survive?

Aside from being an impossible standard to apply, it’s not logical from a moral and legal standpoint. Either the fetus is a human life or it is not. Its dependence on the mother for continued existence doesn’t diminish this reality.I won’t even get into argument that, taken to its logical conclusion, this would be an argument for permitting the murder of any child up to about age 18, or any special needs child, or anyone dependent on another life. I’ll grant neontaster’s distinction about the ability to live outside the womb, although logically this distinction doesn’t really add up when you think about it. If the child cannot survive without my ability to nurture it, how does that make it any less dependent? Sure, a mother can beg off once the child is born, but the child is still dependent for quite a long time. But, again, for the sake of argument I’ll just grant this distinction. It still fails to address the fundamental humanity of the unborn child. A legal standard that permits abortion as long as the child cannot live outside of the mother’s womb is still a legal standard that permits murdering human life. There is no law if this is law.

Unfortunately this is the standard argument of many libertarians. Some, such as Rand Paul, reject this form of thinking, but they are in the minority. As long as libertarians cherish bodily autonomy at the expense of defending human life, then this is a movement I want no part of.

Another issue where I depart from libertarians, at least in part, is on foreign policy. A kerfuffle surrounding Senator Tom Cotton’s remarks about potential war with Iran is what reminds me of the extremism of the libertarian position. Here is a link to a tweet in which the video is embedded.

Cotton is asked if we could win a war with Iran, and he replied, instantly, that we would. He adds, “Two strikes. The first strike and the last strike.” In the rest of the clip he then clarifies that he does not in fact want war with Iran. The question which was postulated was based on a scenario in which Iran struck us or our allies first. Cotton makes it very clear that he doesn’t want war and wants to exhaust every peaceful solution possible. He things regime change ought to happen, but that it isn’t going to come because we sparked a war with Iran. His response, again, was predicated on whether we would win the war.

This naturally outraged many who accused Cotton of being some neocon warmonger.

Cotton’s “two strikes” comments are admittedly worrisome. A particularly negative interpretation is that he’s talking about nuclear strikes. If not, he is perhaps widely over-estimating the ease with which we would win a military confrontation with Iran. Whichever interpretation you go with, Cotton’s remarks on this score merit criticism. But beyond that, the blowback is hysterical.

First of all, there seems to be a wide contingent of Americans who seem offended by the notion that someone would dare to be confident about America’s military capabilities. Yes, how dare a sitting US Senator think America could win a war – the nerve of the guy. Better for Senator Cotton to respond that America would curl into the fetal position and immediately surrender were Iran to attack us. That’s the sort of 21st century American spirit we have come to know and love.

The rest of the criticism comes from those who have not seemingly watched the entire clip – in other words, the overwhelming majority commenting on it. To accuse Cotton of being some kind of neocon warmonger based on these remarks is a calumny. He does not in any way indicate some desire for pre-emptive war. But to an increasing number of Americans – both on the libertarian side and for large swathes of the right – any mention of military action, even theoretically, sends them into paroxysms of rage. To even think about a military action, even a theoretical one based on the idea that we’ve been attacked by a foreign power, is basically the same thing as wanting to just bomb every country in existence.

Noah Rothman doesn’t exactly address this specific video, but he writes about this general sentiment in Commentary. He shoots down this notion that there’s just some large neoncon cabal itching to fight endless wars.

Rothman is hardly a fan of this administration, but he gets it right. While the Trump administration (and one would think any rational human being) wants regime change in Iran, military action to achieve it would be counter-productive.

Sadly our conversations around foreign policy seem to assume there are only two options: Paulite isolationism or McCain-like bellicosity. There are, in fact, other approaches. A reasonable approach – okay, my approach – is to be incredibly circumspect about military action without completely abandoning the possibility that we might, as a last resort, have to engage militarily with other countries. Discussing the potential of what might happen were we to engage in military conflict doesn’t mean you’re actively pursuing that agenda.

Again, not all libertarians necessarily subscribe to the extremist “don’t even think about it” approach to potential military entanglements, but this is certainly the view of the overwhelming majority. What’s more, for some it seems to go beyond mere principled opposition to military conflict and becomes an almost paranoid fear of the subject, and even a subtle deprecation of the American military.

I’m sympathico with much of the libertarian agenda, but these are just some of the reasons why I will never be a libertarian myself.

 

What An Incredibly Stupid Week

I’ve said I hope to refrain from discussing current events on this blog, or at least reacting to every news story other than to talk about larger constitutional and philosophical principles surrounding them. One of the reasons is my complete frustration with the state of the media and how things are reported, and what stories are reported. This past week served as confirmation of at that approach. Let’s recap the week that was, where things just dumber each day.

First, there was this Gillette toxic masculinity ad, which I think became viral late Sunday or last Monday. This is one of those moments where the reaction to it, and then the reaction to the reaction were more the story. Count me among those who just gently shrugged his shoulders at it. I can see what Gillette is trying to say, though why a razor company feels obligated to spread the message is beyond my poor ability to comprehend. Perhaps the reaction to it would have been more muted had it not come on the heels of the idiotic APA guidelines on “toxic masculinity.” I have only daughters, but I’m more afraid of them coming home with any of these guys than that I’m going to confront some toxically masculine son-in-law.

And then it got dumber from there.

President Trump then had the temerity to buy fast food and serve it in the White House to the National Champion Clemson Tiger football program. He said the government shutdown meant his cook staff couldn’t prepare a meal, so he bought a whole bunch of Burger King, McDonalds, and Wendy’s. I think the most overwrought reaction to this were those who claimed this proved that the president was a racist – because I guess only non-whites eat fast food and no member of the Clemson team is white. Amazingly this dominated the next two days of the news cycle, because we just needed to hear every possible analysis of just how wrong it was for the president to serve fast food to probably the only set of humans who can afford to eat fast food calorie-wise – athletes.

This was only displaced in the news cycle when BuzzFeed published a story by Jason Leopold claiming he had seen evidence proving President Trump had directed Michael Cohen to lie about the Russia investigation. Most sensible people waited for confirmation of the story, while others put on their impeachment party hates and started counting the days to his big Senate trial. But the story never was confirmed, and Robert Mueller’s office responded, saying “BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the special counsel’s office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony are not accurate.” This may seem like a non-denial denial, but I have to question why the Special Counsel’s office would have responded if the report were completely true. I don’t think this completely forgoes the possibility that Trump will wind up in legal hot water, but at this point BuzzFeed’s credibility should, again, be called into question. Still no other outlet has come forth to corroborate this story, and it seems more likely than not that this a nothingburger.

But that was all just the warmup for the stupidest, most despicable event of the week. Fortunately for me I was at a family event on Saturday, and thus could only briefly scroll through Twitter and Facebook. Therefore, I only saw some mentions of the altercation that had taken place near the Lincoln Memorial for the March for Life. So when I finally had an opportunity to sit down and watch the videotape, much more evidence had emerged. Some things became immediately obvious to me. First, there were no chants of “build the wall.” It’s possible some voice shouted that at some point, but it’s not clear who or even if that’s what was said.

Second, the original story of some high school kids getting in the face of a lone Native American protester were manifestly untrue. The longer videos clearly show it was the black Israelite* organization who were hurling all sorts of racist, homophobic, and other slurs at the boys, not the other way around. Then Nathan Phillips entered the fray, and things did not de-escalate, though that was his stated purpose for walking up to the group.

*: Just to be clear, that’s what they call themselves. I once saw them in New York, and as I called them by that name in response to a friend who asked me who they were, some woman chided me for using a supposed slur. 

I’m not going to recount everything that happened. By now I’m sure anyone reading this has already seen the videos or is familiar with what took place. Robby Soave has one of the most detailed and accurate assessments.

As I said, I fortunately came to this story a day late, so didn’t have the opportunity to opine about matters before more details became available. Others, however, were quick to condemn the kids, especially Nicholas Sandmann, who emerged as the Emmanuel Goldstein of the weekend. I’ve never heard of a Nazi smirk, but he has one according to the bright lights of the internet.

The treatment of Mr. Sandmann is particularly galling when you consider that he acted more responsibly than any other human being in this affair. There’s even a point, caught on video, where he clearly signals to one his classmates to knock it off when said classmate began getting into it with one of the other protesters. Rather than representing the smirking face of hate, Sandmann was a young man who showed great resolve and fortitude in the face of – let’s call it what it is, hatred.

There are numerous takeaways from this event. Perhaps none are as important as this: maybe wait a moment before posting your social media hot take. It’s true that waiting for “all the evidence” to come in may entail literally waiting forever, but it couldn’t hurt to wait for more than one initial viral video.

But at least some who initially attacked the boys repented and apologized when moire evidence started coming in. Others, however, just dug in their heels. Either they’re lying about seeing the longer videos, or else these people are so blinded by their ideological hatreds that they refuse to see truth when it is literally in front of them.

There are many to blame in this fiasco, and few who come off well. Let’s start off with who deserves the least amount of blame or hate: the aforementioned Nicholas Sandmann. As for the bulk of his classmates, I’m starting to take the position that they, too, largely acted well. Did some of them act foolishly and respond poorly to some of the antagonism? Perhaps, but how should a 16 or 17-year old respond when a bunch of nutjob racists are yelling at you, or some other weird dude begins playing a drum in your face? As for the MAGA hats, this is the only semi-legitimate criticism, but only insofar as wearing any partisan political regalia should be frowned upon at the March for Life because we want to try to keep partisanship out of the event as much as possible. But the idea that the hats themselves are inherently bad or equivalent to a Klan hood, as was repeated throughout the Twitterverse, is obscenely stupid.

Next up, we have the chaperones. I have not heard a satisfactory answer to where they were during this. Could any of them have stepped up to protect the boys, or did some try only to be shouted down? This is one part of the story I’d like to investigate further before passing judgment.

Nathan Phillips, meanwhile, at best exaggerated his role in this or just blatantly lied, intimating that he went in there to play peacemaker, when it is clear he was dead set on stirring up the agitation. Of course, the black Israelites are the worst direct actors in this story. They are an insane group of angry bigots, and anyone attempting to defend them in any way should be shunned.

Then there’s the media. Oh, suddenly they had something to report on during the March for Life. Let’s ignore those anti-Semites marching in Washington the very next day, we’ve got some southern, Catholic, white boys to demonize. It took most major media outlets a full two days before some of them started to say, “Hey, maaaaaaaybe we kinda sorta got this one completely wrong.”

But I reserve my greatest ire for both the school and for the archdiocese of Covington, with special mention for the archdiocese of Baltimore. These venerable institutions wasted no time in throwing these students under the bus. What’s more, when the situation began clearing up and the real news began trickling in, they failed to retract their earlier groveling statements. Only very recently did the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Covington walk back a little bit, but only through mealy-mouthed statements saying that they were “investigating” the incident. What’s there to investigate? It’s the same mealy-mouthed shit being spewed by Fr. Jim Martin, who refuses to fully apologize for throwing stones at these boys, and instead chooses to offer passive-voiced, conditional-laden non-apology apologies.

Amy Welborn has more to say about Jim Martin and that other noted guardian of charitable speech, Mark Shea. Donald McClarey, meanwhile, has noted the cowardice of Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville and his failure to retract his earlier condemnatory comments.

For those who are not fans of harsh language, I advise you to skip this next paragraph.

Hey, assholes, you know how you buried your heads in the fucking sand while your colleagues were out there diddling boys and seminarians, and how you continue to evade all sense of responsibility? Yeah, you might want to think twice before you trash faithful Catholic boys and men before all evidence comes in. But I guess you don’t much care about evidence, because you obviously didn’t give two shits while seminarians were telling you what was happening inside the walls of your seminaries. So the next time you mail your pleas for your archdiocesan appeals, just know the envelopes and the papers inside are going to be used for their only useful purpose: toilet paper.

Ahem. So that’s where we are. The only confident prediction I will offer from all this: we will learn absolutely nothing from this.