Herbert Spencer Was Right

I note that Antiwar.com has been under attack, lately, from the more whacked-out wing of the ostensibly "conservative" movement, and under that general rubric I have to include the ravings of one Tom Palmer, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, who recently smeared one of our employees, Jeremy Sapienza. Palmer goes through his usual litany of lies about me, claiming that I want to see American soldiers killed – of course, the whole point of getting them out of Iraq immediately (which Palmer opposes) is so that they won’t be killed, but never mind … He then latches onto a statement made by Jeremy on another website:

"In the words of Mr. Raimondo’s colleague, senior editor at antiwar.com, Mr. Jeremy Sapienza: ‘I will stand up proudly for it. I have cheered on men attacking US troops. I will continue to cheer any defeat US troops meet.’ Perhaps I have misunderstood the meaning of those remarks. Perhaps Mr. Sapienza only meant that he would stand up and cheer when jihadis attack U.S. troops *and* simultaneously his favorite football team scores a touchdown."

The only proper answer to Palmer – who seems to spend an inordinate amount of time trying, without success, to smear both me and Antiwar.com as "anti-American"– is not printable, so this quote from Herbert Spencer’s famous essay on "Patriotism" will have to suffice:

"Some years ago I gave my expression to my own feeling – anti-patriotic feeling, it will doubtless be called – in a somewhat startling way. It was at the time of the second Afghan war, when, in pursuance of what were thought to be "our interests," we were invading Afghanistan. News had come that some of our troops were in danger. At the Athenæum Club a well-known military man – then a captain but now a general – drew my attention to a telegram containing this news, and read it to me in a manner implying the belief that I should share his anxiety. I astounded him by replying – "When men hire themselves out to shoot other men to order, asking nothing about the justice of their cause, I don’t care if they are shot themselves."

Is Herbert Spencer an "anti-Amerian" subversive? I’m waiting to hear from this fountainhead of pomposity that the author of Social Statics, The Man Versus the State, and other classics of laissez-faire liberalism is the nineteenth-century version of Ward Churchill.

Palmer tells us he is traveling to Iraq very soon, and bloviates on about his own bravery and supposed virtue, informing us that he is going there in order attend a conference on "constitutionalism" – presumably a conclave convened by the U.S. government, paid for by the U.S. taxpayers. So who is paying for Palmer’s trip? Cato? The U.S. Treasury? Or some combination of both? Is Cato sucking at the teat of the U.S. taxpayers? And even if they aren’t, and the whole shameful affair is privately funded, what is one of their top employees doing acting as an "advisor" to the U.S. government on how best to administer a newly-conquered colony? Is this what "libertarianism" (Beltway edition) has come to? There is just one word for this kind of craven opportunism: disgusting.

What’s even more disturbing, however, is that the Cato Institute, which has up until this point been very good on the Iraq war – i.e. implacably opposed — is now showing signs of going wobbly. A recent debate held at Cato featured speakers from the Objectivist Center (followers of Ayn Rand), Ron Bailey of Reason magazine, and conservative Bush acolyte Deroy Murdock for the pro-war side, and Charles Pena and Christopher Preble of Cato, as well as Robert Higgs of the Independent Institute and Jacob Hornberger of the Future of Freedom Foundation representing the antiwar side. The Cato boys, Higgs, and Hornberger made short work of Murdock and the Randians, and the event was a great success. But a recent article in Cato’s Policy Report describing this event oddly fails to mention either Higgs or Hornberger – they are simply dropped out of the proceedings, as if they never appeared. Furthermore, the event is reported in an "even-handed" way, helpfully informing us that "the hawks had arguments of their own," and approvingly citing the pretentious Nick Gillespie’s exhortation that "urged libertarians to debate divisive issues like the Iraq war openly. Libertarians, he argued, should cherish debate and dissent rather than demand conformity to dogma."

Gee, isn’t it funny but that fake "libertarians" like Gillespie – who stupidly claims that libertarianism isn’t a political philosophy but (God help us!) a "design for living" – find our government’s foreign policy of mass murder and permanent revolution "debatable," but abortion, gay marriage, cloning, and legalizing heroin so that we can put it in vending machines and sell it to schoolchildren – none of these things seem to be open to "debate and dissent" within the libertarian movement (or, at least, within those tiny precincts of it represented by Reason magazine.) Opposition to the Bush administration’s goal of global hegemony is "dogma" – but Nick Gillespie’s libertine monomania is not.

Reason has long been a sandbox for the overgrown adolescents who have taken it over, but what’s up with the Cato Institute? There are many good people at Cato, especially in their foreign policy division, and I don’t want to denigrate their work, but often it isn’t the scholars who make the policy, and in this case it seems that Cato is involved in some morally perilous activities. Is it really the function of a libertarian thinktank to advise the U.S. government in how best to put a liberal, free-market face on Iraq’s budding Shi’ite theocracy? There are a lot of donors to the Cato Institute who, I know, will question the wisdom of such a role, and I, for one, don’t blame them.

It’s worth reprinting the rest of Spencer’s remarks on "Patriotism," just to remind ourselves how a principled libertarian – as opposed to a two-bit whore like Palmer – views his relationship to the American state and its war machine:

"I foresee the exclamation which will be called forth. Such a principle, it will be said, would make an army impossible and a government powerless. It would never do to have each soldier use his judgment about the purpose for which a battle is waged. Military organization would be paralyzed and our country would be a prey to the first invader.

"Not so fast, is the reply. For one war an army would remain just as available as now – a war of national defence. In such a war every soldier would be conscious of the justice of his cause. He would not be engaged in dealing death among men about whose doings, good or ill, he knew nothing, but among men who were manifest transgressors against himself and his compatriots. Only aggressive war would be negatived, not defensive war.

"Of course it may be said, and said truly, that if there is no aggressive war there can be no defensive war. It is clear, however, that one nation may limit itself to defensive war when other nations do not. So that the principle remains operative.

"But those whose cry is – "Our country, right or wrong!" and who would add to our eighty-odd possessions others to be similarly obtained, will contemplate with disgust such a restriction upon military action. To them no folly seems greater than that of practising on Monday the principles they profess on Sunday."

This last defines the problem with phony Beltway "libertarians" like Palmer to a tee. The pontificating Palmer, who spends all his time defending the American state, and smearing anyone who opposes its war plans, isn’t even half the libertarian – or the human being – that Jeremy Sapienza is, and, what’s more, he knows it. So go to Iraq, Tommy boy, and suck up to the "libertarian" ayatollahs: I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to hear your views on "constitutionalism," gay marriage, and the evils of "homophobia."