Authoritarians and Crackpots: A Marriage Made in….

Their Hero: Alexander Lukashenko

One of the oddest and most unhinged little groups of crackpots on the planet, associated with the misleadingly self-titled “British Helsinki Human Rights Group,” has come out foursquare for the Russian government’s moves to shut down organizations in Russia on the grounds that they are “foreign financed.” Ostensibly, the crackdown is justified (at least in some quarters) because some “NGO’s” are financed by the U.S. taxpayer, but note that the kooks who favor the crackdown admit that only “The major US “NGOs” are primarily funded by the US government,” although the new legislation threatens to shut down all such groups that document rights abuses. The malevolent little band of nuts who swoon over the wonders of Lukashenko’s Belarus (I kid not) now insist that for foreigners to be involved in promoting respect for individual rights is coercive: “There is nothing democratic or “civil” about foreign-funded political organizations maneuvering at the behest of their paymasters. It is the raw exercise of coercive power, plain and simple.” But then, they themselves go to other countries to whitewash the dictators there, but that can’t be “coercive,” since….um, let’s see…if you’re a foreigner, then every action in a foreign country is coercive, but if it’s in favor of a coercive regime, then the coerciveness cancels out. Yeah, that’s it.

24 Responses to “Authoritarians and Crackpots: A Marriage Made in….”

  1. Hello Tom,
    Interesting post. I work for Freedom House and I think it does a pretty good job in what it tries to do: help, not steer, specific dissident and opposition groups in totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, obtain a sizable momentum in order to bring about peaceful change within their societies (e.g. Serbia, Ukraine, Georgia, Cuba, Zimbabwe, etc.). I never though of myself representing a totalitarian NGO as the Lew Rockwell site describes us… Anyway, I wanted to know your opinion about these so called GONGOs, wether you think they are valuable or if you think they should be dispised by any old conservative or constitutionalist who see no leeway for this among the enumerated powers of goverment. In a way these guys are right that many of our activities are funded by tax-payers money without their direct consent, even though a big chunck is privately donated,but cleary most of our activities wouldn’t be posiible with that extra government aid either. It is really a sensitive issue.

  2. Tom G. Palmer

    Well, the remedy that they have so enthusiastically endorsed would shut down ALL organizations that are critical of the government and receive help from abroad. The Americans have a case to pressure their government not to take their money to support human rights groups in other countries, but the measure that the Rockwell corner has endorsed would shut down the non-governmentally funded ones, too. The fact is that they’re in favor of authoritarian regimes that they perceive as anti-American. And so they support the governments of Belarus, Russia, and everywhere else shutting down groups that criticize human rights abuses and that encourage independent media. The so-called “British Helsinki Human Rights Group” is little else than a front group for authoritarian strongmen. And Lew Rockwell and Co. are in on the party. They’re a disgrace, simply a disgrace.

    A constitutional case against taxpayer subsidies of human rights groups is fairly strong, I think. (There is no plenary power to spend money for whatever purpose, but only enumerated powers, so the burden of proof is on those who want to make the case for the expenditure.) The case in favor of subsidizing human rights groups would have to argue that promoting democratization is a part of the “common defense.” That’s a harder case to make, although a case can be made for it. (I’ll leave aside the issue of whether every single expenditure of taxpayer money is immoral and focus on the issue of enumerated powers.) Is financing human rights monitoring groups similar to paying money to decommission nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union and to secure stockpiles of nuclear material? I do think that such decommissioning and securing of dangerous materials is a more effective expenditure on defense than building another aircraft carrier and is justified on constitutional grounds. It’s less clear that promoting democratization will make us less vulnerable to attack or at least make potential rivals less bellicose, but a coherent case can be made.

    To make the case against taxpayer funding of such groups is one thing. To try to shut down all “foreign financed” organizations is another. The sock puppet for Alexander Lukashenko whom Lew Rockwell promotes is promoting censorship, pure and simple, and trying to clothe it in some kind of quasi-libertarian rhetoric. It doesn’t work.

  3. The man whose comment inspired this entry, whom you lump together with the rest of the “malevolent little band of nuts,” happens to be Ron Paul’s legislative aid. Do you think Paul — the only libertarian in Congress by a very long shot — and his office are as much a “disgrace” as Lew Rockwell?

  4. Maybe Rep. Paul should think about whether he should be hiring people who favor outlawing foreign organizations because some of them are taxpayer financed. That seems pretty unlibertarian.

  5. Sorry, I wrote the comment above. And I forgot to mention that the person who outed Rep. Paul’s assistant doesn’t bother to address the critique, other than to insinuate that if Rep. Paul hired someone who defends dictators and supports banning organizations, then defending dictators and banning organizations can’t be bad. Gosh, I’m really bowled over by _that_ argument.

  6. Tom G. Palmer

    I have to say that I’m also not convinced by the invocation of the author’s employment history that using force to shut down voluntarily financed organizations is consistent with libertarian principles. Call me old-fashioned.

  7. The United States has similar laws: no foreign contributions are allowed to be made to American presidential and congressional candidates. Yet the U.S. government expects that they will be allowed to do what they have outlawed in America. And what is a “private” organization? The National Endowment for Democracy is in partnership with unions, the Republican party, and the Democratic party — and also gets subsidized massively by the U.S. government. Also Freedom House is hardly “private”: it works with government officials to advance an agenda of “regime change” all around the world.

    You strain to make a case for allowing government subsidies to these groups in the name of “defense” — yet, somehow, according to your strict “libertarian” dogma, money for a mother of three on welfare with no father present is not permitted. Subsidize the powerful, defund the powerless: is that what you believe? It’s ok to give the taxpayer money to Tom Palmer as he cavorts around the world, but not to anyone else — in the name of “self-defense,” of course.

    What a joke.

  8. Tom G. Palmer

    Someone’s been hanging around Justin Raimondo too long (or is the very same), to have the same racist hatred of Kurds (see comments at ) and the same love of Vladimir Putin ( ), and the same claim that I used taxpayer funds to go to Kurdistan (which is a fairly unusual combination of strange views). So for the record, I raised private funds and do not have a DoD card and entered the country as a private citizen. For another, it’s true that foreigners cannot donate to a political party in the U.S. (Maybe it shouldn’t be; interesting question.) But they can donate to other organizations. And they do. The law that the sock puppets for authoritarian dictators at the “BHHRG,”, and defend clamps down on all foreign funded groups, and the most important are those that document human rights abuses, such as in Chechnya. Finally, “Kurdiya” (aka Justin or Justin’s clone) mistakes “making a case” for describing how one would make a case if one were to have an argument over the issue (some people can’t see the difference). To a dogmatic crackpot, there’s no difference. But other people actually try to see both sides of an argument and lay out what the strongest cases might be, even if they’re not convinced by them. But who needs reason when you’ve got shrill dogmas?

  9. A word or two on Luashenka’s Belarus — when I taught in Kyiv my Belarusian students were unanimous that he’s a Stalinist thug. Of course people *in* Belarus say they like him, since saying otherwise raises one’s risk of becoming a political prisoner.

    The only “libertarians” who like Lukashenka and hate Ukraine’s Yuschenko are Americans, self-declared experts, who know next to nothing about the politics of the region but who know they hate the U.S. government; so if the U.S. government likes Yuschenko and opposes Lukashenka, well, then they’ll do the opposite.

    To my pro-freedom friends who are Belarusian and Ukrainian, these pseudo-libertarians look more like today’s Communists than anything else.

  10. I’ll state upfront that I disagree with McAdams that Russia’s new law is a good thing. That being said, if Yuschenko is such a fantastic guy, then he certainly didn’t need American taxpayer money to win the election.

    To the person from Freedom House, I will simply say that the taxpayer money you recieve is not given to you freely. It was taken from Americans by force of arms, it is foolish to think the same mindset of force and coercion is not at work when it is handed out.

    I have no problem roundly condemning the Russian gov’t, the U.S. gov’t and both Ukrainian politicians. The word “thug” applies equally well to all four.

    One criticism of Tom that I believe Kurdiya has correct: I believe at least one of your trips required taxpayer funds to accomodate. Tom, how much do you think your security cost when you went to Iraq? Can you say that you paid for all of it or was it provided to you by the U.S. military?

  11. Tom G. Palmer

    The issue of taxpayer funds can indeed be a dodgy one. I’m not in favor of taking from people that to which they have a legitimate right. But I also don’t think that spending money to decommission nuclear weapons that are pointed at the U.S. (or that could be released into terrorist networks) is objectionable as an expenditure in the way that giving land taken from elderly ladies in Atlantic City to Donald Trump is objectionable. I don’t have a problem overall with what Freedom House does (and in fact I’m generally quite impressed with their work), but I don’t favor lobbying to get more taxpayer money, either. (That said, unlike the kooks at the “BHHRG,” I don’t favor shutting them down as a first priority just because they criticize Alexander Lukashenko. I had dinner this evening with a number of Russians and Belarussians, and I can assure you that the worst things you’ve heard about Lukashenko are not exaggerations. And it’s not the case that all politicians are equally bad; that shows serious moral naivetÃ?Â??Ã?Â?Ã?©. Some are much, much worse than others. And I would invite AG, in his or her own time, to reconsider the bizarre claim that if someone were “a fantastic guy” he would be guaranteed election; no argument pro or con on National Endowment for Democracy funding, but an implausible claim in its own right.)

    Now, to the claim that my trips “required taxpayer funds to accomodate.” If I address the U.S. congress and there are police officers providing security, was I subsidized to address congress? If I go to Iraq and benefit from the presence of guards during my visit to the Iraqi Parliament, am I getting a subsidy? If yes in the first case, then yes in the second, and if yes in the second, then yes in the first. My visits to Iraq aren’t junkets or pleasure jaunts. At some considerable risk I have gone as a private citizen (no Department of Defense card, for example); I have paid for my own tickets or been invited by private organizations (in one case with an invitation also from the Ministry of Education, which sponsored a conference at which I spoke on civics education.). I pay for my own body armor. I have also paid for my own security assistant, as well as for my own translator and for the rental of a car. I have not had my security “provided by the U.S. military,” except in the sense that AG has his security provided to him by the U.S. military. (It’s there as a public good; that’s what it means to be “nonexcludable.” How much did someone’s “security cost” the last time he walked down the street that was being patrolled by police officers, or went out on a boat in waters patrolled by the Coast Guard; it’s in the nature of a non-excludable public good, especially one that is non-rivalrous in consumption, that there is no answer to that question. ) I have taken advantage of security details of various forms (Iraqi police, U.S. security, Iraqi army, and others, depending on where I am), but I have never had a military escort, despite having passed through numerous military checkpoints (of various sorts). So if the point is that any American in Iraq is being subsidized by the U.S. military, on the grounds that he wouldn’t be there otherwise, where would that end? It’s an interesting counterfactual; what if some might have gone there in the absence of the military invasion? To take an extreme example, is it true that the presence of any American in Germany today “required taxpayer funds to accomodate”? (In the absence of the U.S. military, Germany would still be ruled by National Socialists; so maybe it’s only the presence of any American Jews there that “required taxpayer funds to accomodate.” So let’s make them all pay for their subsidies.) I am not a Defense Department official, but a private person. I go to Iraq as a private person. If the response is that (as most recently) I had a visa from the Iraqi government, well, I’m guilty, then. Just as guilty as I am of visiting Russia (where I am now) with a — gasp! — government issued visa, which is a requirement of entry. And I did and do regularly visit — gasp! — state-funded universities, much like the American college students who attend, say, the University of California, except that I make a donation to the university, rather than receiving a subsidy.

  12. Thank you for the well considered answer.

    I don’t get why use of tax money is “dodgy.” A less objectionable use of my stolen money is still an objectionable use. Just because we may agree that spending money on something is a good idea (nuke decomissioning) does not mean I should be required by force to fund such a thing.

    It is no thing to concede that one politician may be worse than another. It is also worth considering that, on the moral continuum, the differences between two politicians are usually a hair’s breadth relative to the chasms between those same politicians and a decent human being. Is Hitler worse than Stalin? I don’t know, there is no difference in my joy that they no longer coerce the peaceful.

    I didn’t say that being fantastic guarantees an election win. I said that if someone is so fantastic, they certainly don’t need American tax money to win an election. The same statement, coincidentally, applies to people that are not fantastic, and is applicable to any activity whatsoever.

    To respond to your second paragraph, I believe that you made a good faith effort to fund your own presence there. However, I see two large differences between your comparison of the U.S. military to local police:

    1) A local police force is nonexcludable because it pervasive. It is clear that the U.S. military in Iraq is not pervasive, it would have been quite possible. (though dangerous, certainly) for you to exclude their protection.

    2) A local police force is representative of and funded by the local community. A local police force reflects the baseline standards of conduct that a local community expects. The U.S. military in Iraq is not representative of or funded by the local community. The standards of conduct it enforces are determined by foreigners imposing their will on the local population.

    Finally, as to your question, “Where does it end?” It is a very easy thing and you shouldn’t be so exaggerative. Going back in history to examine “what-ifs” opens up all sorts of scenarios that can be used to back justify any action, regardless of the morality of the action. You must look at the now. It is unlikely that you would be able to go to Iraq if the American military was not there. If my local police force shut down, I would still be able to live here, though I might have to make some changes to my daily routine.

    For the record, I don’t want Jews to subsidize anything, that would be more coercion.

  13. An addendum: When I say I don’t want Jews to subsidize anything, I obviously mean that I don’t want Jews to be forced to subsidize anything. Voluntary subsidization of noncoercive enterprises is a-okay with me.

  14. To AG: Here’s an example of the difference positions of Kuchma and Yuschenko on the moral continuum. When journalist Hrihory Gongadze criticised Kuchma, he disappeared and later was found, minus his head. It was quite clear to everyone in Ukraine that Kuchma was behind this. When a journalist criticised Yuschenko, to his face, Yuschenko blew up and accused him of bias. The Ukrainian press immediately went nuts criticizing Yuschenko….something no one dared do under Kuchma.

    Yanukovich’s regime would have been a continuation of Kuchma’s. The change that has occured in Ukraine is enormous, and it utterly incorrect to imply it is comparable to the neglible difference between Hitler and Stalin.

    As for Yuschenko needing outside help to win the vote — he didn’t. He *did* need outside help to get a fair vote count, since Kuchma’s regime controlled the count. U.S. and other outside aid went into such things as training Ukrainian Supreme court justices, who proved instrumental in getting a fair rerun.

    This probably all academic to you, and in some sense, sure, all politicians are uusurpers and violators of rights. But to my Ukrainian friends this was all life and death serious; the difference between someone like Yuschenko and Kuchma (or worse, Lukashenka) is enormous.

  15. Tom G. Palmer

    Aaron G.: “I’m happy your Ukrainian friends feel better off.”

    It sounds like they *are* better off, despite the awful economic policies of Timoshenko and her cronies. Aaron G’s remark makes it sound like beheading or berating journalists is a trivial difference (“feel better off”). It’s not.

    And do recall that the anti-Yushchenko corner thought it immensely funny to make jokes about his terrible illness and to denounce him in remarkably foul and strong language. There’s lots of dirty money flowing around the world from Alexander Lukashenko. How many little “British Helsinki Human Rights Group”‘s are there out there to fund? How much was spent to send a handful of American and western European crackpots to eastern Europe to whitewash authoritarian regimes there? For what causes does the author of the essay that occasioned this posting really work? It’s sure not the cause of liberty.

  16. AG: I cannot even agree that there’s something inherently wrong with American government involvement in the region. The U.S. involvement violated no one’s rights in this.

    You will point out that tax dollars were spent. I agree that taxation is theft; but that is a different matter. What is objectionable is taxation, NOT support for pro-freedom, pro-rule of (good) law, pro-free-market endeavors.

    By analogy, if a policeman stops a criminal from murdering a citizen on the street, do you call this unjustified or objectionable simply because the policeman’s salary is paid via taxes? I assume you can see in this example that there’s an ethical distinction between an activity and how it was ultimately financed.

    As for whether or not the Orange Revolution was a pro-freedom, pro-rule of law phenomenon — it was and is. Anyone who contends otherwise is entirely ignorant of the facts.

  17. A couple of points that I hope resolve our quarrel:

    1) I do not deny that good things often come about as a result of improper actions, even ones that violate natural rights. My happiness for your friends is genuine and not a cavalier response to their situation. My assertions of principle do not rest on their good fortune. That would be utilitarianism.

    2) I pointed out that I disagree with the author of the post that occasioned this discussion. I do not support Lukashenko, or any exercise of coercion. I condemn American involvement first and foremost because I am American. It is my stolen money that is being spent by my countrymen. If I refuse to condemn the immoral actions by those closest to me the loudest, then what business do I have condemning the actions of others in far away lands?

    3) State money will always crowd out private investment. This is indeed a violation of natural rights. It is the nature of an institution that does not recognize issues of scarcity to misallocate resources. Look at what the public school system has done to education in this country. Also, state money is the same as mob money. It is never given freely, there are always conditions attached, and they are usually hidden or “flexible.” Ultimately, a state answerable only to itself is beholden to no contract, and most states feel no compunction about changing the terms of the contract to suit their desires.

  18. AG: Your three points missed my point. So I’ll expand mine to three to make it clearer:

    1. I am not making a utilitarian argument. Taxation is theft. That doesn’t mean that any activity financed by theft is similarly inherently immoral. This is a natural rights argument, not utilitarianism.

    State actions that defend rights are *not* inherently tainted simply because they are actions of a state. I say this as an anarcho-capitalist. (And I should note that there are proposals for financing of states that do not include taxation.)

    In particular, I find nothing disagreeable in the action of helping Ukrainians to develop the rule of law and a freer society. I agree that it isn’t the U.S. government’s proper role. But the activity itself is good.

    3. I don’t follow your arguments in 3 — are you saying that Lukashenka’s policies and U.S. gov’t support for reform in Ukraine are equally objectionable? If so, you are wrong. (Yes, I am saying that there are degrees of “objectionable-ness” by natural rights standards.)

    3. What is the proper function of the U.S. government (if any)? Presumably you’ll agree that it is the defense of Americans’ liberty. But by this standard, a successful transition of the ex-Soviet Union to market systems and liberal democracy is crucial. This is particularly true for the more developed NIS countries: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus. A small amount of soft dollars and soft power now can avert the need for massive hard power and big dollars in the future.

    Yes, this is a last is a ultilitarian argument, but it has a basis in a natural rights view of the proper role of gov’t.

  19. 1. On number 1, I disagree with you wholesale. Following your logic, one could justify even the central bank. Worse yet, you try to deny that a state inherently violates rights by its existence. That is an opinion, but it is not an anarcho-capitalist one. Perhaps you meant government, which is a different institution, and is not always exclusively monopolistic in its areas of authority. I don’t know.

    Anyway, your statements in number one are not the statements of an anarcho-capitalist.

    2. I’m not saying they’re equally objectionable. It is enough that they are objectionable, and therefore should be opposed vigorously. Objection to one thing does not necessarily mean support for another, though statists will always pose the question as if it does. (“If we pull out now, then you love terrorism and hate America.”)

    3. You would presume wrong. In the case of any state, the less it does the better. Certainly it should not be spending money it confiscates in foreign lands. Your utilitarianism shows your stripes, because it is totally incompatible with anarcho-capitalism. There is no basis of one within the other, they are exclusive.

    P.S. Since Tom hates LRC for the liberty haters they all are, I’ll take some quotes I found on the site yesterday that are clearly the work of crackpots and demagogues:

    -George Washington: “The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations to have with them as little political connection as possible.”
    -Thomas Jefferson: “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations — entangling alliances with none.”
    -John Quincy Adams: “America . . . goes not abroad seeking monsters to destroy.”

  20. AG — In your point 1, you’ve made “violates rights” a part of your definition of a state; so of course, by *that* definition it’s contradictory to talk of a state that doesn’t violate rights. Without necessarily endorsing the theories, I simply note that there have been proposals for “states” that do not violate rights, e.g. from Ayn Rand, Leonard Read, and others.

    And I never suggested that taxation is the only way a state violates rights. There’s nothing in my logic that would lead to the conclusion that a state monopoly central bank (with state enforced legal tender laws, etc.) is legitimate under natural rights approach. It isn’t a very interesting debate when you ignore what I’ve actually said.

    2. You did indeed earlier suggest that Yuschenko’s administration is essentially no different from the Kuchma regime, or Lukashenka’s. It isn’t a very interesting debate when you ignore what you’ve actually said. In general, these kinds of arguments come from people who have nicely developed theoretical moral calculus, but have neither lived under alternative regimes, nor are more than dimly aware of the facts on the ground.

    3. Utilitarianism is incompatible with anarcho-capitalism? Anarcho-capitalist David Friedman is also a ultilitarian; that’s the basis of his argument.

    I like the and agree with the three quotes you’ve included. If you read what I’ve written you’ll realize that this is not contradictory. I should also note that the American revolutionaries attempted to coach the French in their revolution. The coaching wasn’t successful, unfortunately.

  21. All very interesting. In the meantime, the apologists for dictatorship have proudly repeated their endorsements of censorship —

    Can’t have any “international busybodies” criticizing dictators, can we? Hey, while they’re at it, why not behead the leaders of Freedom House, like the Kuchma Gang did with a busybody reporter in Ukraine?

    Is there anyone who still considers Lew Rockwell a “libertarian”? There was a time when I was fooled, but not any more.

  22. The one thing I don’t understand about the Rockwellian position on foreign influenec in the U.S. vs. abroad: Why the charge of hypocrisy against the U.S. gov’t (that we don’t permit such foreign influence here)? Surely they understand that the Israeli lobby runs everything here, don’t they?

    More seriously, in fact foreign organizations are not legally prevented from election monitoring, rights monitoring, etc. in the U.S. Typically such groups simply establish U.S. branches, e.g. Amnesty International USA. And to the extent that barriers do exist, they are wrong and should be eliminated.