Something Is Rotting at the Periphery of the Libertarian Movement…..

by Tom Palmer on December 11, 2004

What’s that terrible smell? It’s coming from a hatred of the United States that has become so strong that it has overpowered any lingering attachment to the ideas of liberty on which the United States was founded. Lewrockwell.com and antiwar.com are where the stench is strongest.

Some may wonder why I raise this issue, which is something I do in my own name only. It would be much easier to do what most of my friends do and merely ignore those who have taken up the mantle of malicious anti-Americanism and the defense of oppressive tyrannies, all in the name of “liberty.” I don’t relish getting slimed, having my personal life made an issue (Justin Raimondo and some of the lewrockwellites find my sexual orientation much more interesting than I do), or being denounced in pornographic comments and emails.

But this issue needs to be confronted. And real libertarians, people who actually value liberty, should — at the least — turn their backs on those who defend tyranny. I’ve posted on the astonishingly bitter hatred directed toward Viktor Yushchenko and the liberal opposition in Ukraine. (See the postings under “The Fever Swamp.”) I’ve discovered that that hatred of Yushchenko is not unique, but of a piece with a vigorous whitewashing of old-style Soviet tyrants generally. Lewrockwell.com and antiwar.com have become very tight with a rather mysterious and creepy organization called the “British Helsinki Human Rights Group” (here for official web site), the only group (and a tiny one, at that) that has argued that the government-backed Soviet-style candidate in Ukraine was fairly elected and that the opposition-backed free-market candidate was the one who cheated. A little research showed that the BHHRG is not in any way affiliated with the famous International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (click here for a contrast between them), which monitored human rights behind the Iron Curtain and still monitors rights abuses, but that does not stop the BHHRG from trading on the name and reputation of the Helsinki Committee. Mostly what the BHHRG does is to serve as a PR firm for dictatorships and to attack movements to dislodge the gangster-backed regimes of eastern European strongmen: Milosevic in Yugoslavia, Lukashenko in Belarus, Shevardnadze in Georgia, Kutschma in Ukraine, et al. The Economist, in their December 2, 2004 edition, refer to the BHHRG as “A human-rights group that defends dictators.” As the writers for the Economist put it,

The group sends observers to eastern Europe, usually to elections, who produce lengthy, annotated first-hand reports, with controversial (critics say bizarre) interpretations of events. They find plenty of evidence to back Russia’s foreign-policy grievances, for example. In Ukraine, they found numerous violations by supporters of the western-backed Viktor Yushchenko, but no significant ones by the other side.

The handful of people involved in BHHRG have flown to Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Serbia, and elsewhere to report that the tyrannical regimes there were (in the case of Belarus: still is) unobjectionable and that the mass movements to unseat them are nothing but stooges for the west, out to integrate those brave little authoritarian-socialist regimes into the “New World Order,” privatize their state industries, and strip them of their assets. The BHHRG website calls Viktor Yushchenko “A Candidate for the New World Order” and berates him for privatizing “to foreigners” electrical firms in western Ukraine when he was Prime Minister. They wrote warmly of the petty tyrant Aslan Abashidze, the dictator of the little police state of Ajaria, a breakaway region of Georgia. (Abashidze was overthrown by the people there and then whisked away to Moscow). They defended the genocidal regime of Slobodan Milosevic, a vicious tyranny that had plunged Yugoslavia into a series of terrible wars that killed hundreds of thousands of people. The BHHRG report characterized the revolution that overthrew Milosevic as follows:

Following the violent events in Belgrade on 5th October, especially the ransacking of the federal parliament and the seizure by force of the main state television station, the man who had dominated Yugoslav politics for a decade, Slobodan Milosevic, conceded defeat to Dr. Vojislav Kostunica, leader of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia. If Milosevic had not been forced from power in this way, his term would have ended in June 2001 even if he had lost the elections. This disruption of the constitutional order in Yugoslavia was to be only the first in a series of semi – or unconstitutional steps, by means of which the new regime in Belgrade has consolidated its power over all aspects of Serbia’s political and economic life.

Daniel McAdams (the fellow who has peppered me with abusive emails for being skeptical about the fairness of the Ukrainian election), who is a capitol hill staffer, a writer for lewrockwell.com and “honored to be associated” with BHHRG, uses scare quotes to refer to “the ‘authoritarian’ rule of current president Alexander Lukashenka”. Most commentators refer to Lukashenko as a dictator; the BBC offers a treasure trove of quotes from Lukashenko acknowledging that he is at least an authoritarian, e.g.:

“Pressure is currently being put on Belarus through weapons of mass destruction, there is no other name for them, that is, the mass media. The mass media are weapons of mass destruction today, the most powerful ones.” — June, 2003

“They tell me: you are a dictator. Am I a dictator? My position and the state will never allow me to become a dictator… But an authoritarian ruling style is characteristic of me, and I have always admitted it. Why? We could spend hours talking about this. You need to control the country, and the main thing is not to ruin people’s lives.” — August, 2003

The more I learned about the pro-dictatorship activities of the BHHRG and its connections with antiwar.com and with lewrockwell.com the creepier it felt. Their approach smells remarkably like the Lyndon LaRouche cult, as does their railing against the “New World Order” and their attacks on free trade, privatization, and classical liberalism generally. The language is remarkably like that associated with the more bizarre collectivist fringes of the extreme left and the extreme right.

Lewrockwell.com and antiwar.com are peddling the idea that, if you are opposed to U.S. interventionism abroad, you should therefore be opposed to anyone who might benefit from that intervention. Hence, recruits to the Iraqi police force are denounced as “quislings“, which is no less than an endorsement of the jihadist beheaders who are attacking them and U.S. and coalition troops. (Vidkun Quisling was a traitor to Norway who collaborated with the Nazi occupiers of his country; anyone who brands someone a quisling is endorsing the forces fighting against the alleged “quisling.”) Viktor Yushchenko is mocked for the disfiguring illness (widely believed in Ukraine, my friends there tell me, to be the result of deliberate poisoning) and denounced as a “neocon/CIA stooge.” That crowd also would have opposed U.S. involvement in the war against Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo. Would they have been so eager to denounce the victims or opponents of those regimes? The vehemence with which they have attacked the beneficiaries of U.S. policy around the world suggests the answer.

Rep. Ron Paul has charged that the opposition movement in Ukraine is funded by the U.S. government (although he also seems to express horror that George Soros is funding pro-democracy groups). Yushchenko supporters deny the charge. Still, U.S. tax dollars have gone to groups that have promoted democracy in Serbia, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Iraq, and many other countries. Paul asks important questions: Should the U.S. taxpayer, through USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy, be forced to contribute to more open societies, fair elections, the rule of law, privatization, and the dislodging of tyrants like Alexander Lukashenko and Aslan Abashidze? Should I be taxed for the benefit of other people? No, I shouldn’t. I am happy to contribute voluntarily, as I in fact have contributed. But it most certainly does not follow from moral objections to taxation that the people who benefit from such funds should be slimed. Being a friend of the U.S. government does not make someone my enemy, just as being an enemy of the U.S. government does not make someone my friend. To believe otherwise is to confuse being in favor of limited government and the rule of law with being simply “anti-government.” (Terrorists and criminals are “anti-government,” but they are not in favor of limited government.) To believe that anyone who has been favored by the U.S. government must be my enemy is to succumb to madness. It is horrifying to see people who claim to be friends of liberty vigorously defending the likes of Alexander Lukashenko and Slobodan Milosevic — on the grounds that they are opposed by the U.S. government — and sliming in the most extreme terms figures such as Viktor Yushchenko, Mikhel Saakasvili, Vojislav Kostunica, and Zoran Djindjic who have succeeded in ridding or tried to rid their countries of gangsters or genocidal madmen (the latter clearly applying in the case of Yugoslavia).

To be so angry at your own government that you will ally yourself with tyrants abroad is … well, words fail me. But when I become very calm, one comes to mind with perfect clarity: evil.

UPDATE: The Lewrockwellites and the antiwar.com-ites are up to their usual today. Daniel McAdams rails against the world of people who oppose dictatorship (referring to my critique without mentioning me by name or offering their readers any link to the criticisms of his bizarre pro-tyranny cult) and antiwar.com laughs off the news that Viktor Yushchenko was indeed poisoned by dioxin by repeating the claim of Ukrainian government apologists that it was just a case of “bad sushi.”

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

LB December 11, 2004 at 10:46 am

I agree with you in many respects, Tom. One should play the ball, not the man. And I agree with the principle that one should not have one set of standards for one side and others for the other. Criticism of a Yanukovych should not weaken your case against a United States government if the depredations of the institution of government/non-libertarian principles are the accused. It is not out of politeness or the need for the appearance of even-handedness that one should feel obligated to criticise the “enemy of your prime enemy” if in fact you see your ultimate “enemy” as the aforementioned depredations and its carriers as examples of the symptoms. If the government is the thing then let the chips fall where they may; it should strengthen your case.

Yes, the conditions in the regions are different compared to Soviet times and certainly better. But just because something is better doesn’t mean it should be spared from criticism. “Laissez faire it ain’t” seems to me to be insufficient. If one believes that government should be limited at home then it follows, generally speaking, that this principle should be extended overseas. It certainly isn’t inconceivable that a government that would be viewed with some suspicion at home if it argued that its purposes were only altruistic might not necessarily have just altruistic purposes overseas. You do note that taxpayers should not be forced to pay for Ukrainians but I would like to hear your opinion on this particular matter.

Brian Radzinsky December 11, 2004 at 9:53 pm

The entire situation is a bit disgusting, although I wouldn’t say on your part. The fact is this situation has moved beyond a fairly innocuous debate between you, the lewrockwellites and antiwar.com to vicious attacks against your reputation, sexual orientation, mental capacity, and all around humanity. They don’t care what you think or argue anymore, unless it gives them fodder for their cannon of illogic; this entire thing is about you. Period. They seem to be using the situation in the Ukraine as a front for just picking at you in whatever way they can. I’m not sure whether responding to their vitriol is good or bad, but this entire thing seems to have been blown way out of proportion.

Tom G. Palmer December 12, 2004 at 2:56 am

Thanks for the interesting comments.

Regarding my use of the phrase “Laissez Faire it ain’t,” I offered that in response to the truly bizarre and easily refuted claim of Daniel McAdams in regard to countries such as Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, etc. that:

“In reality it is an economic system every bit as closed to entry to those not “of the Party” as was the one they just over a decade emerged victorious from. It is only free in that they are free to steal that which is not theirs and to use the muscle that buys them to keep anyone else out of the game.”

My point was that they’re not as free as they should be (something that is also true of Americans, Koreans, Argentinians, etc., etc.), but that it is simply outrageous to claim that they are not freer than they were under Communism. My point was precisely that there’s not as much liberty as there should be and that libertarians in those countries should continue their work to limit government powers. But to say that conditions are not better and freer than they were when people were shot trying to escape, when it was illegal to set up new private businesses, when the stores were all state-owned [State Shoe Store #774], when it was illegal to own foreign currencies, when…..well, it’s just hard to know how to respond to someone who writes that the current economic systems of the post-Communist states are “every bit as closed to entry” as they were when the USSR ruled them. What planet does Daniel McAdams live on?

On the issue of U.S. government support for democratic movements abroad, I find the question best approached as one of “providing for the common defense” or not. The U.S. Constitution establishes a government to “provide for the common defense” of the United States, not to subsidize the defense of other countries (unless, of course, that were part of the common defense of the U.S., such as with our treaty with Canada governing north American air defenses). Now, let’s say that North Korea presents some threat. (Daniel McAdams may be upset by that claim, on the grounds that Kim Jong-Il is just a wonderful man who’s been slandered by the western media, but let’s just posit for the sake of argument that Kim Jong-Il may be dangerous.) Let’s also posit that the U.S. government could spend $5 billion to defend against him, or that it could try to get rid of his dictatorship by spending $50 million to foster a mass movement to unseat him. If the $50 million actually got rid of his dictatorship and made us safer (and the North Koreans freer), then that $50 million expenditure could be considered part of providing for the common defense. So in principle, if one doesn’t object to maintaining a military to defend the country by threatening to respond to agression, then one would not in principle object to expenditures that help to depose dictatorial regimes that pose a danger to us. But there’s the significant matter of whether the deposed governments were in fact threats. I don’t think that the French or the Dutch would be too happy if the U.S. government helped to fund mass reform movements of some sort in those countries, but then, they’re not dictatorships and they’re not a threat to us. Surely that matters.

I’m open to the idea of the U.S. government incorporating into its foreign policy some expenditures to promote more just regimes that would be less likely to start wars. But I don’t think that the same arguments could support the sort of thing that the government of Francois Mitterand did when he funneled French government funds into the coffers of German political parties.

Where does Ukraine stand on that spectrum? I’d be open to arguments on both sides of the issue; it’s a question that has to be answered with empirical evidence. But I don’t agree that if U.S. government funds went to support a movement that then led to a challenge to what most observers (setting aside one tiny fringe group that always sides with dictatorships, Mr. McAdams’s BHHRG) considered a fraudulent election process, it would follow that we should automatically prefer the candidate who seems to have won through vote stealing. That doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s purely perverse.

In the Ukrainian case, I do have some fear that a stolen election could tilt Ukraine toward the Belarusian model, which — Mr. McAdams and his ilk notwithstanding — is clearly less free and far more openly hostile to the west than, say, Poland.

Mr. Radzinsky’s comments are much appreciated. I don’t find writing about such craziness on the fringes of our movement at all pleasant. I spend most of my time worrying about much more significant matters. But I do think that it’s important for libertarians to recognize the presence on our fringe of a cult that promotes all sorts of zany, crackpot, and profoundly anti-libertarian views and projects. The left has had for years to deal with Lyndon LaRouche; the right has had to deal with its Citizens Councils; and we now have to deal with Lew Rockwell, who manages to appropriate the worst ideas from both fringes. God save us.

Otto Kerner December 13, 2004 at 2:09 am

I don’t think it’s true that “anyone who brands someone a quisling is endorsing the forces fighting against the alleged ‘quisling’.” Arguably, they are endorsing the fight, but certainly not the specific fighters. Surely there were hardcore Communists among the Norwegian resistance in WWII, but that doesn’t make Quisling any less of a quisling.

Also, I don’t know about Rockwell off the top of my head, but you will recall that Justin Raimondo was a harsh critic of Milosevic sympathizers and a big fan of Kostunica.

LB December 13, 2004 at 11:19 am

Tom, thanks for the post. Here are some questions/responses:

1) “On the issue of U.S. government support for democratic movements abroad, I find the question best approached as one of “providing for the common defense” or not. The U.S. Constitution establishes a government to “provide for the common defense” of the United States, not to subsidize the defense of other countries (unless, of course, that were part of the common defense of the U.S., such as with our treaty with Canada governing north American air defenses).”

- What if subsidising the defense of other countries was providing for the common defense of the US? For example, the opposition movement that has been helped into power faces the threat of being replaced by the regime it displaced. If the friendly group were to be replaced by the unfriendly group you would be in the same position as before and to be consistent would have to provide funds, etc.

2) Knowing of the resourcefulness of politicians and government, any kind of foreign aid and the like could be justified by the common defense principle, not limited to funding democratic opposition groups. Conceivably, the taxpayer could be milked for a massive amount of expenditures overseas, no matter how slim the connection between actual common defense and the outlays.

3) Should it be limited to just freedom-orientated opposition groups and movements? The constitution talks about common defense but does it talk about putting in freedom-orientated groups outside of its borders? If common defense is the rationale, many repulsive groups could be put into power if they would conceivably be more friendly to the US and wouldn’t attack you vs another tyrant from the same country who would.

For sake of argument, let’s assume that freer countries are less likely to attack you. So taking a long term point of view the more freer countries there are the less chance you have of being attacked. But what if a country had threatened to attack you or was deemed as a threat and no relatively free group existed to take over. Instead another brutal group existed who you knew that if they were put into power would not be a threat to you. Would you put them in if common defense was the rationale for funding groups outside of your borders?

4) The Ukraine case: if it went towards the Belarusian model and was more hostile would this still be enough of a threat to the security of the US to justify funding groups in other countries? Is Belarus at all likely to attack the US?

5) “Let’s also posit that the U.S. government could spend $5 billion to defend against him, or that it could try to get rid of his dictatorship by spending $50 million to foster a mass movement to unseat him. If the $50 million actually got rid of his dictatorship and made us safer (and the North Koreans freer), then that $50 million expenditure could be considered part of providing for the common defense.”

- Any govt would be crazy to cut out its direct defense spending completely and just fund mass movements. It is not either/or. I think I see what you are getting at but the specifics of the example doesn’t stand up. What amount to spend on a movement and calculating its successes are difficult but I wouldn’t be waiting until after a regime fell to see if the money was worth it. I presume what would happen is that the $50m would be added to the $5 billion and then how one could actually limit the amount spent would be the trouble (i.e. the $50m amount could spiral). It would not be a matter of taking the $50m out of the $5 billion budget either. A standing army is a lot more certain than an experiment in political means. Assuming the $5 billion of what is needed is an accurate figure, taking out $50m could be similar to cutting corners and could prove fatal.

6) “So in principle, if one doesn’t object to maintaining a military to defend the country by threatening to respond to agression, then one would not in principle object to expenditures that help to depose dictatorial regimes that pose a danger to us.”

- A military is a lot more visible than the expenditures you describe and remains in the country or in friendly countries by agreement. The expenditures interfere with sovereignty; which is different from interfering with sovereign countries if it actually involves responding to aggression or the real threat of aggression as opposed to a possible threat way down the track.

Mike December 13, 2004 at 4:51 pm

Tom–

As what I would call a pretty average libertarian, I try to keep an open mind to both sides of this debate. I don’t like any of the nasty personal attacks, of course. They are pointless. Furthermore, while I agree with your points on Hoppe, especially as to immigration, I have to say things seem a little less clear on the whole Ukraine business.

For example, you seem to champion the privitization in ex-Soviet areas, however, it does seem legitimate to ask is a state selling off its former businesses to private investors really makes for “privitization”. Just because the ownership has changed hands does not mean much. For example in the US, calling the FED private because it is owned by investors instead of elected government seems silly. So when asking how things work in Russia, it would be important to ask whether the Russian government simply sold off businesses to former party members and called it privatization. Furthermore, this McAdams guy seems to be attacking the people you refer to as the not-dictator party as dictators, and he does provide some evidence.

Now, I will grant that the raimondo-rockwell people are prone to a lot of excess. I would call the quisling bit possible excess. I don’t know what motivated that bit. But that doesn’t mean that the candidates in ex-soviet countries that raimondo-rockwell like are necessarily worse than the people you seem to like.

Also, you have to remember the issues of commerce. Just because a dictator is more willing to work with western buiness interests doesn’t make him any less of a dictator or necessarily a better dictator than the other guy.
Business issues seem to have had some involvement with the dictators we have liked in the past–even if the guy was a real bad dictator.

In the end it seems to me that more or less both parties in these foreign dictatorship issues are real bad. Even if Raimondo et al paint an overly rosy picture of one guy and an overly negative picture of the other doesn’t mean that both parites are real bad. I tend to read his stuff and wonder why the west should have a stake in either party.

Timothy Sandefur December 13, 2004 at 6:15 pm

Right on, Dr. Palmer. Another aspect of this absurd hostility to America is revealed by the attitude toward the Civil War that is embraced by the Lew Rockwell crowd. As I’ve written elsewhere, it’s shocking that those calling themselves libertarians would rally to the Confederate cause, which is nothing less than the right of states to oppress people without interference. In the 1850s, the term “Doughfaces” was used to refer to “northern men with southern principles,” and I’ve come to call the Lew Rockwell crowd “Doughface Libertarians”: they’re libertarians with slavery principles.

Where does this all come from? I suspect it’s Vietnam Fatigue. A great many libertarians came of age in the Vietnam era, and learned two lessons from it: 1) that war is never acceptable, under any circumstances, and 2) that “it’s none of our business what another country does.” The latter sounds reasonable enough until you realize that it really means, in Lincoln’s words, “the ‘gur-reat pur-rinciple’ that ‘if one man would enslave another, no third man should object,’ fantastically called ‘Popular Sovereignty….’”

There are perfectly sensible reasons to oppose particular wars–you yourself were opposed to our action in Iraq for entirely understandable reasons. But these folks have got the idea that if a governing authority wishes to oppress folks, we have no right to say anything about it. That bears little resemblance to the libertarianism that I grew up reading. We do need to confront the Doughfaces; thank you for calling attention to the issue.

Patrick December 14, 2004 at 12:37 am

Tom, where did Rockwell or Raimondo “defend” Lukashenko or Milosevic? How is pointing out the flaws of their opponents a “defense” of these thugs?

If I point out that, contrary to US government propoganda, the Germans didn’t spear Belgian babies, does that make me the Kaiser’s buddy? If I note that invading Iraqi troops didn’t dump Kuwaiti babies out of their incubators, does that make me a “Saddam-lover”? What if I argue that Saddam was never planning to invade Saudi Arabia, or — following Jude Wanniski — that the evidence on the gassing of Kurds at Halabja is not as clear-cut as has been supposed — do those things make me an “America-hater”? What if I claim that Slobo was no worse than our buddies in the KLA, or that Bosnian Muslims have massacred Serb civilians?

Neoconservative and liberal interventionists have to show that in any dispute, one side is Pure Evil and the other is Pure Good. That’s why they’re always playing the Hitler card. Look how many “next Hitlers” have been paraded about in recent years — Noriega, Ortega, Milosevic, Bin Laden, Hussein, etc. The Rockwellites do a great service, in my view, in pointing out that nobody in such conflicts is on the side of the angels. (The Rockwell crowd was well ahead of the curve, for example, in denouncing Chalabi and the INC, back when the neocon and leftist interventionists — and maybe you too, Tom? — were praising him as the soon-to-be Father of Iraqi Democracy.)

But in denouncing the KLA or Yushchenko or Kuwaitis or whoever, the Rockwellites have never praised the other side for its great commitment to liberty. To accuse them of being false libertarians, or closet dictators — or, heaven forbid, “anti-American” — is preposterous.

Tom G. Palmer December 14, 2004 at 2:05 am

I will respond to all of these comments later, as I have been busy writing several other things (including a response to Michael Otsuka on this posting:
http://www.tomgpalmer.com/archives/016336.php#comments
I will return to the comments above later on today.

James December 14, 2004 at 8:19 pm

Tom:

My friendly suggestion would be to drop the matter, rather than to embarrass yourself further. Whatever the perceived injury from or complaint you have concerning Rockwell, et al., the notion that this faction of the libertarian movement is analogous to a combination of the White Citizens Council and the LaRouche cult is pure nonsense, for which you should surely be ashamed. Your slanders amount to a type of meaness for which there is simply no excuse.

Tom G. Palmer December 15, 2004 at 1:22 am

Thanks for all the interesting comments. I’ll try to go through and respond as appropriate.

Otto Kerner’s point seems a bit of quibbling about “quislings.” Even if all that Justin Raimondo is doing is “endorsing the fight,” he is endorsing evil. The faster that the Iraqi government is able to defeat or at least suppress the beheaders and the Ba’athist insurgents, the sooner our troops will get out. That’s a reasonable prediction. The U.S. government is not going to allow Iraq to fall into the status of a “failed state,” and no friend of liberty should want that, in any case. A stable constitutional regime is preferable to warlordism, civil war, and organized terrorist training camps. Everyone knows that, except for the people at lewrockwell.com and antiwar.com. We should hope that more Iraqis join the police forces and the civil guard in order to establish a law-governed state, which in turn makes it more likely that troops from the U.S., the U.K. Poland, Australia, Italy, Holland, Denmark, and the other countries will be withdrawn. “Endorsing the fight” is endorsing the killing of American soldiers, endorsing the slaughter of Iraqi civilians, and endorsing the continuation of war when it could be replaced by peace and withdrawal of foreign troops.

The prominent posting of the “reports” of the so-called British Helsinki Human Rights Group (about which the more I learn, the more fraudulent I find it to be) on antiwar.com, complete with whitewashing of various post-communist strongmen, is evidence of a tilt toward supporting vicious tyrants, so long as they are anti-American.

LB raises a number of important questions and problems, but most of them are common to any issue of defense policy. Unless one were to say that the army should be disbanded tomorrow, choices must be made and risks will be run that those will be the wrong choices. LB has posed a set of problems to which a variety of reasonable answers could be given. So let me pose a counter problem that is equally difficult to answer in purely abstract terms: if supporting the defense of a petty tyranny would keep it from being taken over by a much more tyrannical and militarily expansive and threatening neighbor, should one support the petty tyranny? Well, as specified, probably so, if it would prevent a worse regime from coming to power and attacking you. But one could change the parameters such that the answer might come out differently. If you favor having a military, you are committed to making choices, and sometimes they will be choices from an unappetizing menu. (As to whether Belarus is a legitimate foreign policy concern of the U.S., let’s distinguish two questions: First, should one, just as a lover of liberty and not as a government policy maker, favor replacing Lukashenko’s hateful dictatorship with a more liberal government? I think that the answer is clearly yes, despite the implausible whitewashing by Daniel McAdams and his coterie of apologists for dictatorship. Second, would an entrenched Russian-nationalist authoritarianism that brought together Belarus [White Russia], Ukraine [Little Russia], and Russia pose a threat to the countries of the west? Well, it’s quite reasonable to think so, and the Poles and the Baltic peoples would probably feel rather threatened by them. Indeed, perhaps Americans and Canadians should be worried about the revival of such sentiments in that part of the world, as well. If helping a classical liberal movement to turn out Lukashenko would help to forestall that, it might well contribute to the national defense of the United States. To answer the questions more concretely would require information that goes beyond the scope of this comment; I’m skeptical that U.S. government assistance would be warranted, but as a libertarian I am eager to help my libertarian friends in Belarus and surrounding countries to turn out the gangsters who are running the country now.)

Regarding point 5, yes, it is not either or. I didn’t propose that it would be. I’d be happy to spend $50 million more if it made it likely that the $5 billion would not have to be spent indefinitely. The present value of ten years of $5 billion is a lot greater than, say, $50 million a year for three years. The numbers matter, but my point was that causing hostile dictatorships to collapse and be replaced by more accountable and less hostile regimes may very well save us from both military expenditures and actual conflict.

Regarding sovereignty, it’s also the case that espionage “interferes with sovereignty,” but it’s a necessary part of maintaining a military deterrence. Also, the sovereignty of a fellow democratic republic like Holland or Canada or South Korea is of quite a different moral significance than the sovereignty of a dictatorship like North Korea or Cuba. The latter is of significance only, or at least primarily, because of the dangers of armed conflict, but if political support for domestic movements to unseat dictatorship would make that armed conflict less, rather than more, likely, it could very well be justified.

Mike has raised some interesting problems, although I may not have understood all of them. The Fed is not owned by private investors and isn’t “private.” But transferring resources from state management to a system of defined, defensible, and divestible property rights is a big improvement. It can be done in better or in worse ways, but the general objective is to create a free market. As Ronald Coase and others who study the institutions of property and markets have convincingly shown, what matters more is the system by which rights can be defined, defended, and transferred; the issues that Mike raises concern the equity of who benefits first, but over the longer term that is much less important to liberty, to justice, and to the prosperity of all than having a functioning market system.

My friends in the old USSR (not the ones that McAdams is so friendly with, but the libertarians) used to say, “It’s easy to turn an aquarium into fish soup. What is hard is to turn fish soup into an aquarium.” That’s the challenge that people faced in the post-communist regimes and there has been a great deal of learning about how to do it and how not to do it. But the most important thing (from the perspective of wealth creation, which is certainly not the only issue to consider) is to create systems of law, property, and exchange.

Timothy Sandefur reminds us that perhaps the root cause of the Rockwellites’ bitter hatred of the United States of America is that the U.S. government defeated the slave-based Confederate States of America some 140 years ago. They’re still fighting that battle, but now they’re fighting it in Ukraine and Belarus. I find that bizarre.

Patrick has posed some especially interesting questions. No, to question whether the Kaiser had ordered the bayoneting of babies in Belgium is not to endorse Prussian military socialism. (However, to deny — in the face of mountains of evidence — the holocaust is something done only by people who defend German national socialism. And the fact that lewrockwell.com hero Joe Sobran speaks at holocaust denial conferences of the Institute for Historical Review should cause pause to decent people who are in any way involved with the rockwell group.)

Contrary to Patrick’s claim, I was not taken in by Ahmed Chalabi and I opposed going to war. But what distinguishes me from Justin Raimondo (well, one item from what would have to be a very long list) is that I don’t lionize the enemies that the U.S. has energized by embarking on a foolish and unjustified war. (Sorry to disappoint you, Patrick.)

It doesn’t follow that if one says, “Well, X may be bad, but Y has big problems, too,” one is not taking a stand in favor of X, especially when the claims about Y are outrageously false. The slandering and smearing and — well, utter lies — issued about Viktor Yushchenko are disturbing. Of the two candidates, there is little doubt who is better. Is Vojislav Kostunica (or was Zoran Djindic) as libertarian as I am? No. Is he more friendly to liberty than the gangsters who had been running Serbia for so long and who plunged the former Yugoslavia into a series of disastrous wars? Yes. Is Viktor Yushchenko as libertarian as I am? No. Is he more friendly to liberty than the gangsters who have been looting Ukraine for so long? Yes. To slime Viktor Yushchenko, including mocking him for being poisoned and for the resulting suffering and disfigurement, is an especially low blow in a campaign to keep the current gangsters in power.

Finally, James is in error. I gain no pleasure from it, but I am also not in the least embarrassed by unveiling the sleazy connections, the disturbing anti-Americanism, the chumminess with the BHHRG — a mere PR firm for dictatorships, the sickening glee shown by Lew Rockwell at the killing of Pat Tillman, the endorsement of killing American soldiers, the cultish behavior and low scholarly standards, and the sullying of the good name of libertarianism by lewrockwell.com and antiwar.com. Regarding the invocation of the despicable, racist, and oppressive White Citizens Councils, I invoked that group for a reason, because Lew Rockwell, as a Confederate revisionist and revivalist, is holding up the flag of the most detestable institution in American history, chattel slavery. How could one be so enthusiastic about a secession that was organized for the purpose of holding others in slaves? That such a cause is the driving force behind Lew Rockwell explains so much — starting with the complete abandonment of any pretence to favoring liberty. To associate such a cause with the name of a great and brilliant champion of liberty — Ludwig von Mises — is hurtful in the extreme.

I have met so many young people who have been turned off on libertarianism by the eager efforts to associate it with the most anti-libertarian, implausible, flakey, and cultish of causes. I have devoted my life to the defense of certain principles and I’ll be damned if I’m going to allow a group of crackpots and nuts to associate those principles with their crazy causes. There is no meanness in taking the lid off the bubbling cauldron of hatred, anti-Americanism, and anti-libertarianism that lewrockwell.com and antiwar.com are brewing.

Leo December 15, 2004 at 4:28 am

Interesting article on the libertarian’s struggle against the post war condition where citizenry seeks greater state intervention.

http://www.opinion.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2004/12/15/do1502.xml&sSheet=/opinion/2004/12/15/ixopinion.html

anonymous December 15, 2004 at 8:12 am

Tom, Just want to say that you’re doing good and important work with this series of posts. It can’t be fun– and the nastiness of the response to you seems designed in part to deter the rest of us who agree with you from speaking up as aggressively. But someone’s got to– both because there’s a responsibility (a la Michael Walzer and “Can There Be a Decent Left?) to monitor and be honest about those nominally on one’s own side, and because the Rockwellite institutions have such a substantial public presence that they’re at risk of discrediting libertarianism by association.

Patrick December 15, 2004 at 1:15 pm

I asked Tom to defend his claim that because LRC writers attack Yushchenko or Allawi or whoever Tom favors, they are therefore guilty of “defending” or praising Yushchenko’s or Allawi’s statist foes. Tom responds in a roundabout way, generally conceding the point but arguing that the latter are “much worse,” which is apparently supposed to put a lid on criticism of the former. (To avoid the dreaded “moral equivalence,” perhaps?)

Then, just a couple of paragraphs later, Tom returns to his usual slanderous form, referring to “the sickening glee shown by Lew Rockwell at the killing of Pat Tillman.” For readers who care, what Rockwell said (http://blog.lewrockwell.com/lewrw/archives/006778.html), in its entirety, is the following:

“It’s always interesting when the media trumpet a government story, and then suddenly shut up. Thus it was with Pat Tillman, RIP, the pro football player who enlisted in the Army and was killed in Afghanistan. He was awarded a silver star for bravery, and we were told stories of his derring-do. Now it turns out that the Army PR ops were lying (yes, amazing surprise). Pat Tillman was not killed by Afghani guerrillas. He was machine gunned by his own platoon.”

On Tom Palmer’s planet, this constitutes “glee” at Tillman’s death. Likewise, denouncing the Allawi administration, the Iraqi security forces, or Don Rumsfeld (whom Tom defended recently as not “technically” a war criminal) constitutes “the endorsement of killing American soldiers.”

Readers, please take Tom’s rants about the LRC crowd with many, many, grains of salt.

Tom G. Palmer December 15, 2004 at 1:16 pm

In response to Patrick, who never fails to rise to the defense of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, antiwar.com, and lewrockwell.com, I propose a test. For a remark to be “mocking,” does it have to carry a clause that says, “This is a mocking sentence”? It seems that it does not. (Patrick is of the school of semantics pioneered by the leftist historian Garry Wills in his silly book about the American Founding, in which he denied that the U.S Constitution established a government of separated and limited powers, since the words “separated” and “limited” do not appear in the Constitution.)

Now let’s pose a second test. For native speakers of English, read aloud Lew Rockwell’s post on the death of Pat Tillman, starting with the title that Patrick left off — “Poor Pat Tillman,” continuing through the phrase about how “we were told stories of his derring-do,” and concluding with “he was machine gunned by his own platoon.” Can one do so without a tone of sarcasm and mockery in one’s voice? It would take a serious effort. Or try this entry (http://blog.lewrockwell.com/lewrw/archives/006835.html ) on lewrockwell.com just the other day:

Tom G. Palmer December 15, 2004 at 6:45 pm

I just remembered why it seemed obvious to me to tie in Lew Rockwell with the pro-segregation Citizens Councils. It’s because he so frequently touts one of the weirdest and creepiest writers in America, Sam Francis, a man who rails against “race mixing” and who is deeply involved with the successor to the Citizens Councils, now called the “Council of Conservative Citizens.” Francis recently spoke at a CofCC conerence on the panel on “The CofCC Responds to the Bush Neo-Conservative Treason Lobby.” His topic: “NeoCon Racial Treachery.” Do a quick google search of lewrockwell.com and see how often you find glowing references to and articles by….Sam Francis! (The CofCC’s latest newspaper screamed the headline “White Conservatives Give Bush Win.” Subtle, no?) The CofCC is racist through and through. And Lew Rockwell has dirtied the name of such classical liberals as Ludwig von Mises by association with such disgusting and vile people.

Mr. X June 16, 2012 at 7:39 pm

Tom your old post has been taken up by Cointelpro wannabe thug tweeters like @ReginaldQuill. This jerk really does pretend to believe that Ron Paul supporters want to revive the old Confederacy with Kremlin support. Is it possible to be a loony tunes conspiracy theorist who attacks conspiracy theorizers like Alex Jones in defense of the Almighty Military Industrial Complex/fiat money and Federal Reserve? I think it is. @ReginaldQuill proves it with almost every sickening tweet. These people hate their fellow anti-war Americans
so much they’d love to see them droned or put in a FEMA camp. That is how sick I think these people are.

This is what it’s come down to…you’re being re-tweeted by folks who think they’re super patriotic for backing the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and denouncing/snitching on libertarians and conservatives who don’t like our foreign policy as foreign dupes/tools.
Well screw them. I’ll take Lew Rockwell even where I disagree with him over fake ‘conservatives’ who dream of denouncing their fellow Americans to a Homeland Security Gestapo any day.

http://www.dallasblog.com/201206141009099/dallas-blog/russia-today-and-the-u.s.-conservative-crack-up.html

abuhatem ?@abuhatem
NBC BREAKING: Russian troops are sent to protect Russian assets in Syria, handful of Russian forces.

Details Expand Collapse Reply RetweetedRetweet Delete FavoritedFavorite 15 Jun edward dark ?@edwardedark
@abuhatem Russian forces and “assets” are now a legitimate target for Syrian rebels. #Russia is the enemy of the Syrian people #Syria

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