Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Ron Paul Affair

You can find an extensive set of links to libertarians discussing it at Timothy Sandefur's blog. My only contribution has been to take issue with some of Timothy's less defensible arguments, including his claim that the central feature of the views of Rothbard, or at least "the Rothbardians," by which he means Lew Rockwell and the Mises Institute people with whom Ron Paul has been associated, is moral relativism.

I'm not a fan of Murray Rothbard, and the Mises Institute people are not fans of mine, as those readers who have been involved in libertarian back and forth may already know, but a moral relativist Rothbard wasn't and Tim's attempt to defend the claim that he was "at best equivocal" on that point I take as evidence of the corrupting effect that Objectivism can have even on a reasonable person, which Tim seems to be.

I thought the most perceptive post on the whole matter was one by Ross Douthat on why members of political fringe groups tend to have, and tolerate, and sometimes absorb ideas from, nutty friends.

23 Comments:

At 12:08 AM, January 13, 2008, Blogger TGGP said...

Your e-mail at Sandefur's was quite good. I think it's commendable that you defended the LVMI folks given how they've behaved toward you. I sent an e-mail to Sandefur that wasn't responded to (which I now know was because it wasn't to his gmail address, which I was unaware of) about his disputes with paleos that I've put up in this blog post, along with one to DiLorenzo about his attacks on "beltway libertarians".

Another good post you might find interesting is this one from Pete Boettke.

 
At 4:31 AM, January 13, 2008, Blogger ilovetheconstitution said...

You know, those of you who can't put stupid differences behind them, and have to resort to smear tactics are going to be left behind with the rest of the people from ALL parties who are similarly stuck in some ridiculous dualistic world.

Yes, this means you. If you think people like me care anything about your pathetic battles in light of the problems facing America today, then you have lost touch with reality and are a non factor.

Now, should I worry about some stupid newsletter, which everyone knows he obviously didn't write. Or, should I worry about the constant loss of civil rights, a war against a tactic, which is by default can't be won, the trillions of dollars spent on it, and the fact that only a total of 3 candidates, 2 of which are socialist even have the balls to touch the subject without lies?

It seems to me your priorities are more in advancing yourself, rather than helping America find solutions. Because if this is the kind of issue you think is important, you obviously aren't paying attention.

So either shape up, or get pushed aside like everyone else. This train is going to run today, one way or another.

 
At 4:37 AM, January 13, 2008, Blogger ilovetheconstitution said...

And btw, that goes for the "other" side as well if they read this. If you can't put such petty differences aside in times like these, then you aren't fit to lead anything. I'm sick of reading about these non-issues.

I would think being libertarian, we'd have had enough of that crap. Lets take a step back and look at what is actually important.

 
At 5:54 AM, January 13, 2008, OpenID hodja said...

What is corrupting about Objectivism?
Actually, I find that Objectivism defines higher, not lower standards of ethics than subjective value judgement.
I have just posted a piece in my blog about it.

 
At 12:14 PM, January 13, 2008, Blogger Trey said...

Who is We?

That is an excellent question, and where I think interventionist lose their moral justification for action.

Yes, if I see someone being attacked and intervene, that would be moral. If I force you, at gunpoint, to help me, it would not.

The more I learn about John Brown's action before the war, the more I respect what he tried to do. Another good example might be the actions of the 'Lincoln Brigade' in the Spanish Civil War.

 
At 5:54 PM, January 13, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

Hodja asks what is corrupting about Objectivism:

1. By "Objectivism" I don't mean "belief in objective reality," I mean "the philosophy of Ayn Rand and the associated movement."

2. I was referring to intellectual corruption, not moral corruption.

3. There is a well known essay by Peter Schwartz arguing, among other things, that libertarians are moral relativists, and targeting Rothbard in particular. The only reason I can think of why Timothy Sandefur would think Rothbard was a moral relativist, or "at best equivocal" with regard to moral relativism, is that he read that essay, or heard the argument, and took it seriously. Since the essay is, in my view, utter nonsense, and dishonest nonsense at that, that strikes me as an example of the corrupting effect of Objectivism.

 
At 5:56 PM, January 13, 2008, Anonymous William H. Stoddard said...

I find it ironic when Objectivists attack people for being relativist, because it seems to me that Objectivist rightly understood implies relativism rightly understood. I imagine that may sound like a deliberate exercise in paradox, so let me explain what I think those "right understandings" are.

Relativism is the position that there is not one standard of right action that is valid for everyone, but that different standards are valid for different people. This is not the same thing as subjectivism. Subjectivism says that the standard for each person is whatever they choose/feel comfortable with, which is a lot like saying there are no standards. Relativism says that there are standards, but that there are different standards for different people. "Different" does not have to mean "subjective." Einstein thought that a particle's mass and velocity were different depending on what reference frame you measured them from; he didn't think they were in any sense subjective.

Objectivism says that morality is a set of values adopted by choice, and that rational morality means adopting as values things that really have value. But in the Objectivist view, "have value" is not a complete predicate; it has to be completed as "have value for X," where X is a living organism, and in the Objectivist analysis, "have value for X" always and only means "serves X's survival." (I believe this is wrong, in that it's founded on a pre-Darwinian metabiology where survival rather than reproduction is the ultimate payoff for living organisms, but let's set that aside.)

Now, in plain fact, what serves X's survival depends on who X is. It's easy to come up with trivial examples—a good friend of mine is so allergic to nuts that eating a handful of cashews would kill her, so cashew chicken is not a value for her, but it is for me. But I find it plausible that there are values that are not trivial that are different for different people. See for example Jane Jacobs' discussion of survival by taking and the guardian ethos versus survival by trading and the merchant ethos in Systems of Survival, for a theory in which two different cultural/ethical syndromes are both needed for human survival, but are at odds with each other. If some people have qualities that make them good guardians, and others have qualities that make them good merchants, different standards of conduct are right for them to follow. (See Thomas Hobbes' comment that in war, force and fraud are virtues.)

This would apply more strongly if there were multiple intelligent species. Blake's maxim that "one law for the lion and ox is oppression" might be quite to the point.

 
At 12:49 AM, January 14, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another example of the intellectual corruption of Objectivism is the amazing ease with which Rand's followers--people putatively believing in individual rights grounded in man's nature and not simply a happenstance of being born in the USA; people who claim to believe in the importance of joy and the unimportance of fear--clamoring to supply moral justification for the US government bombing (including nuclear bombing) of huge numbers of people who happen to live under governments that US politicians claim to be 'a danger' to us. Any such claim, no matter how empirically dubious, constitutes a blank check to commit whatever mayhem "our" government determines is "necessary'. Any talk of using "objective" criteria is shouted down on numerous Objectivist sites as traitorous and denounced as collectivism. It is truly abhorrent that Rand's followers apply her principles in this way.

Another intellectual corruption common among Objectivists is confusion with the US government as originally constituted and the current US government.

 
At 6:00 AM, January 14, 2008, Anonymous Oog said...

The vicious attacks on moral relativism have sparked my curiosity. My own view is one of tolerance.

Even if you believe abortion is murder, you should still leave the people in society X, where abortion is legal, alone.

Even if you believe rape is immoral, you should let the people in society Y, where rape is legal, rape each other.

Society X and Y could be geographical territories, ruled by dictators, or groups of people that have voluntarily contracted to live under a certain set of laws.

In my opinion, what is immoral is not necessarily rape, but the fact that a dictator can demand that the people in society X accept rape. If they voluntarily choose to live under a system of law that allows rape, then I have no objections.

Have I committed the crime of moral relativism? A society where people are not trying to force everyone else to live under the "right" set of morals seems much more attractive to me than any "purely libertarian" society, whatever your particular brand of libertarianism.

 
At 7:01 AM, January 14, 2008, Blogger David said...

Although I strongly disagree with your views on Rothbard and Adam Smith and also wrote a critical review of one of your books, this does not at all imply a low opinion of you or your work.

 
At 11:52 AM, January 14, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

"Even if you believe rape is immoral, you should let the people in society Y, where rape is legal, rape each other.

Society X and Y could be geographical territories, ruled by dictators, or groups of people that have voluntarily contracted to live under a certain set of laws.

... If they voluntarily choose to live under a system of law that allows rape, then I have no objections."

I think it's important to distinguish your two cases--voluntary associations and states ruled by dictators. In the latter case, there is no reason to think the people in question chose to live under a system of law that allows rape--in particular no reason to think the victims of rape did.

Consider the obvious case of the holocaust. The people killed chose to live in Europe, in areas that the Nazis ended up ruling. But they didn't choose to live under legal rules that permitted the Nazis to murder Jews.

The case of voluntary associations is a harder one, and involves the old question of whether one can sell oneself into slavery--more generally, whether there are any limits to the contracts that people are entitled to enforce.

 
At 12:32 PM, January 14, 2008, Anonymous RKN said...

But in the Objectivist view, "have value" is not a complete predicate; it has to be completed as "have value for X," where X is a living organism, and in the Objectivist analysis, "have value for X" always and only means "serves X's survival." (I believe this is wrong, in that it's founded on a pre-Darwinian metabiology where survival rather than reproduction is the ultimate payoff for living organisms, but let's set that aside.)

I'm not sure the neo-Darwinian view of biology makes any difference to Objectivist morals and ethics, or any morals & ethics for that matter, because morality and ethics aren't attributable to all organisms, only humans. And since a significant number of humans don't live their lives for the "payoff of reproduction", they are arguably more concerned with the betterment of their life, at least for those who don't have to worry about obtaining the basic necessities for survival. Rand described this as "flourishing", which was obviously the crux or her "ought" ethics.

 
At 10:59 PM, January 14, 2008, Blogger montestruc said...

oog made some comments about rape being made legal. I think this is an oxymoron, as is any statement about murder being made legal.

By legal definition as I understand it.

Murder is defined as a willful and unlawful homicide of a human being.

Rape is defined as a willful and unlawful sexual congress with a person (human being) who either does not consent, or is not legally allowed to consent.

To make rape totally legal one would have to remove the right to refuse to give consent to have sex to all human beings. If you do that the legal consent to change the law is a joke.

Likewise a change to make all murder legal, is solved by killing all the legislators or dictators, that so voted and electing new ones. (or not).

 
At 11:45 PM, January 14, 2008, Anonymous William H. Stoddard said...

I'm not sure the neo-Darwinian view of biology makes any difference to Objectivist morals and ethics, or any morals & ethics for that matter, because morality and ethics aren't attributable to all organisms, only humans. And since a significant number of humans don't live their lives for the "payoff of reproduction", they are arguably more concerned with the betterment of their life, at least for those who don't have to worry about obtaining the basic necessities for survival. Rand described this as "flourishing", which was obviously the crux or her "ought" ethics.

I can't comment on this here at sufficient length; I have discussed in at some length in an essay, "Life and Value in Ayn Rand's Ethics," which you can find at http://www.troynovant.com/ . But, in brief:

The fact that a lot of human beings choose not to reproduce is not in itself proof of anything. A lot of human beings don't live their lives by the sole guidance of reason, but adhere to nonrational beliefs; but Objectivism does not therefore recommend a nonrational approach to life.

For human beings, there's more than one way to "reproduce": you can do so biologically, or by passing on capital to an heir, or by generating ideas and expressions of ideas that will outlive you.

Rand's own fiction gives a clear example of an ethically admirable character finding value in action that has no payoff to his own survival, and whose payoff will occur only after his death: Tony desperately struggling to warn Hank Rearden of the plot against him, after he's been mortally wounded by the conspirators. It's one of Rand's best scenes—and I can't see any way to make sense of it in terms of Rand's metabiology.

 
At 12:55 PM, January 15, 2008, Blogger Jonathan said...

Jack Vance on moral relativism: "In all the many-colored worlds of the universe no single ethical code shows a universal force. The good citizen on Almanatz would be executed on Judith IV. Commonplace conduct on Medellin excites the wildest revulsion on Earth and on Moritaba a deft thief commands the highest respect. I am convinced that virtue is but a reflection of good intent."

I strongly suspect that some future generation will look back on us in horror because we murder animals en masse for the purpose of eating them. I eat meat myself, but I see it coming.

Morality is a matter of subjective opinion. I have my own opinions about it, but I can't prove them correct, and I don't know of anyone else who has ever proved his own morality to be objectively correct.

 
At 12:55 PM, January 15, 2008, Anonymous RKN said...

The fact that a lot of human beings choose not to reproduce is not in itself proof of anything. A lot of human beings don't live their lives by the sole guidance of reason, but adhere to nonrational beliefs; but Objectivism does not therefore recommend a nonrational approach to life.

I didn't intend to "prove" something. My point was that it is irrelevant to morality/ethics whether or not most organisms have reproduction as their "ultimate payoff", which is what you said was the conclusion of Darwinian meta-biology. Many humans do not, in fact, have that as their "ultimate goal". Arguably, then, the highest value common to most humans is survival, suicide notwithstanding. (In fact, there are very many behaviors widely observed in humans that give lie to the belief that they act primarily to maximize their reproductive success. But that's something else.)

That doesn't mean that avoidance of reproduction was the basis for Rand's ethics, it wasn't.

For human beings, there's more than one way to "reproduce": you can do so biologically, or by passing on capital to an heir, or by generating ideas and expressions of ideas that will outlive you.

By expanding the definition in this way everyone nearly everyone is reproducer! How conveniently insulating that is for the neo-Darwinian "argument" ;-)

 
At 2:18 PM, January 15, 2008, Blogger Jonathan said...

montestruc: If a government carefully repealed all laws against killing other people and performing sexual acts with other people, then I think you'd find that acts previously known as murder and rape would become legal.

 
At 5:45 PM, January 15, 2008, Anonymous Arthur B. said...

As for Sandefur's response concerning Rothbard's alleged moral relativism, it is technically true (indeed, the quotes indicate moral relativism) but obviously not representative of his ideas.

I think Rothbard was often willing to go at extreme lengths to argue for his positions probably because he believed the success of the argument mattered more than its legitimacy. It makes it easy to quote a lot of nonsense from him, but it's also easy to look into his work and know where he actually standed.

By defending the legitimacy of interference, Sandefur is building a strawman as Rothbard's rejection of war principally from the existence of collateral damage.

Thinking about it, it can explain the quote about "people's will" in Vietnam. If I am being agressed, I can certainly give my claim against the agressor to someone who will defend me, but if I feel he will defend me by killing me and my agressor at the same time, I may very well refuse to concede that claim.

 
At 6:06 PM, January 15, 2008, Anonymous formerbeltwaywonk said...

A detailed analysis of the when and by whom the anti-Paul smear campaign was propagated on New Hampshire primary day:

The Orange Line: anatomy of a smear campaign

 
At 7:01 PM, January 15, 2008, Blogger montestruc said...

Jonathan,

If the government (legislators ect) repeal the laws against murder in total, it would be legal to kill those legislators, and people who did not agree with that change in the laws, could remove those legislators w/o legal penalty.

In fact w/o penalty against murder, the government pretty much loses all authority.

For practical purposes much the same is true about rape.

 
At 11:14 PM, January 15, 2008, Blogger Jonathan said...

Hello montestruc, you seem to assume politicians who take no measures to protect themselves. In real life, politicians in various countries are effectively protected against the many people who would kill them if they weren't protected -- regardless of law.

It's also true that killing someone with powerful friends may be very dangerous to your own health even in the absence of law.

I agree with you that murder is a pretty fundamental crime and a society in which it's legal isn't likely to remain long in that state; I'm just questioning your specific assertions.

I doubt that rape falls into quite the same category. I think there have been societies in which rape was legal in certain circumstances.

We seem to have wandered way off topic. Sorry about this.

 
At 10:52 AM, January 16, 2008, Blogger montestruc said...

Quote Jonathan WROTE:
--Hello montestruc, you seem to assume politicians who take no measures to protect themselves. In real life, politicians in various countries are effectively protected against the many people who would kill them if they weren't protected -- regardless of law.--
end quote

Of course they do, but if they do that (make murder legal) then they take away the incentive for the average Joe to obey the law and to not rebel, this takes away any figleaf of moral authority the government had, and much of the incentive to obey the law, ditto for making rape legal. It is just a badly run tyranny then, which commonly have rebellions.

I have visited a well run tyranny in the middleast recently. The monarch follows his self-interest (making lots of money and staying alive and in power) by protecting his subjects with stable well known law and strict enforcement of it, this makes that place (Dubai) an economic powerhouse. It is however a monarchy and if you publicly do anything to disparage the authority of the government, you will soon be sent packing (if not a national, and prison first if you did anything overtly illegal) or in prison otherwise.

Note that visitors do not have a "right" to stay, you stay at the pleasure of the government (king).

 
At 8:05 AM, January 23, 2008, Anonymous Pablo Escobar said...

Any libertarian who doesn't vote for/endorse Ron Paul because he isn't "libertarian enough" is just weird.

So what if Paul is a closet bigot? A lot of seemingly decent people are racists in private. The people who administer our government programs are racist, because they have special programs for different minority groups. Our own government doesn't see us as equal. Plus, I don't see many people volunteering to live in poor, black ghettos in L.A. Of the other candidates, only Paul seems like the type of person intelligent enough to evaluate the veracity of his own biases.

What matters is actions. What are people afraid Paul will do with his message of individual liberty that could be harmful to minority groups? He's actually got the guts to oppose the War on Drugs, probably the most anti-black laws on the statute books. His issues page on racism bears no resemblance to the newsletters.

Given Paul's position on drugs, he can't really be pro-choice and for freer immigration without becoming a non-viable candidate within the Republican Party. Even more so.

Based on what he's said at debates, his immigration position is similar to Milton Friedman's. Freer immigration is the goal, but until economic conditions here are changed from socialism to free markets, it's a burden. Besides, how is cracking down on illegals non-libertarian? Paul hasn't said he wouldn't support increasing the LEGAL immigration intake has he?

By the way, Ron Paul supported the Libertarian Party platform in 1988 (i.e. on abortion and immigration).

Being a politician is different from being an academic. You can be an average academic, get a tenured post and say what you like. But when you're running for president in the dirty game of politics, you have to try and please everyone.

The beauty of working a libertarian message around the Constitution is that it becomes a message of unity rather than divisiveness. You couldn't do that with a lot of other Constitutions -- for example, the Australian constitution, where federalism is given very weak protection.

The Ron Paul campaign has been an encouraging experiment.

 

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