The Oath Fakers

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pat Buchanan writes a sympathetic column about a rather disturbing phenomenon emergent in what he calls "the age of Obama."

In the brief age of Obama, we have had "truthers," "birthers," tea party activists and town-hall dissenters.

Comes now, the "Oath Keepers." And who might they be?

Writes Alan Maimon in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Oath Keepers, depending on where one stands, are "either strident defenders of liberty or dangerous peddlers of paranoia."

Formed in March, they are ex-military and police who repledge themselves to defend the Constitution, even if it means disobeying orders. If the U.S. government ordered law enforcement agencies to violate Second Amendment rights by disarming the people, Oath Keepers will not obey. [minor format edits]
Except for the truthers, the groups Buchanan lists here are all examples of rebellion , some more blind than others, to Barack Obama's nakedly collectivist, anti-American agenda of expansion of the role of the federal government into every area of our lives. (Buchanan is wrong to speak of an "Age of Obama:" The inappropriate use and explosive growth of government was going on thanks to both parties long before Obama showed up to cash in on it.)

I sympathize with the last three groups, but emphatically disagree with the way the birthers and the so-called oath keepers are trying to save America from dictatorship. Only the tea partiers are acting in a manner appropriate to the situation we face, although many of them are low on intellectual ammunition.

The birthers, who believe that there is a massive conspiracy to cover up the "fact" that Barack Obama is not actually an American citizen are clearly the blindest of the lot. At best, they're fishing around for a bombshell revelation that will serve as a real-life deus ex machina to deliver our country from this (particular) menace. In the meantime, they waste their effort deluding themselves to the effect that such a huge conspiracy is even possible, as well as time they could spend learning what they can do to slow or stop him (and other dangerous politicians) now.

But at least the birthers, universally dismissed as nuts and impotently spinning their own wheels, aren't really hurting the cause of liberty. The oath takers are another matter entirely. These people are preparing to take action, and their timing indicates that they do not really know what they are doing.

First, consider what they plan to do: They -- members of the executive branch of the government -- plan to disobey orders based on their own interpretation of the law and the Constitution. That is, they are planning to usurp the function of the judiciary branch on a case-by-case basis as they work, and to bypass the legislative branch as well as the electorate, rather than to persuade lawmakers and other voters of the proper course of action for their country. (Part of this work consists of learning for oneself the principles behind proper government.) And, oh yeah, they're setting a very, very dangerous precedent in doing so: They are weakening one of the few good things left in this country: rule of law.

It is not immoral for someone to disobey an order -- in a dictatorship or during an open rebellion against a tyrannical regime. But, as horrendous as Obama is, we do not live under a dictatorship. We still have freedom of speech, and many of our rights are protected enough that we can act to turn the tide of public opinion back towards the direction of increasing government protection of individual rights.

The so-called oath keepers clearly fail to understand this because they are acting as if this is not an option -- as if we are already in a dictatorship. In addition to their failure to appreciate the importance of rule of law, they -- unlike the Founding Fathers -- clearly fail to understand the value of rational persuasion and this is due to a failure to grasp the role of rational principles in guiding man's actions.

To see this, let's do a thought experiment. Sergeant Arnold, a born-again Christian who thinks gambling is sinful and an "oath-keeper," is a member of his state's national guard. Suppose further that his state has passed a law banning gambling, which had just been legalized in the United States. The bill was very controversial, and because the governor knows that a large number of casino owners are planning to defy this law, he has called up the National Guard to keep them closed. Conveniently for the governor, some religious fanatics have threatened to bomb any casinos that remain open, so the governor claims to be "protecting" them from terrorism.

The President federalizes the guard and orders them instead to stand watch over any casino that wishes to remain open. Hoping to provoke a test case, James McGillicuddy, a casino owner, weighs his risks and does just this. Someone calls a bomb threat in to him as soon as he gets wind of it. Unfortunately for him, his business is being guarded by Arnold's unit, which has been briefed about the threat and given instructions on how to head it off.

That night, Arnold, a sniper, relieves watch in a building behind the casino. Just as he was briefed might happen, a bearded man in camouflage carries something out of the woods behind the business. Because he thinks that states' rights (a part of the Constitution) override federal power (another part) in this circumstance, though, Sergeant Arnold has decided he will not guard the casino. He's entertaining himself with an iPhone instead.

So he never sees the man, never calls on anyone to stop him and see what he's doing, and never has him in his sights. Instead, he has decided that not guarding the casino is the best way to protect America from Barack Obama and "secular humanists" like McGillicuddy. Since he happened to be the only person who could have seen the bomber, the casino bursts into flames while he's surfing the Internet on his iPhone. McGillicuddy and twelve of his employees die in the blast. All he had wanted to do was make a living, and to have his day in court.

If that scenario seems contrived, replace the casino with an abortion clinic, and recall the use of the Arkansas National Guard during Little Rock's desegregation crisis. Consider further the fourth item on the list of orders the "oath keepers" will not obey. We are a lot closer to personal harm than we might care to imagine with self-appointed constitutional "experts" like this in charge of enforcing the law.

At least the tea partiers understand that America remains free enough that moral and political debate can preserve the freedom we have left and bring the government back around to its proper purpose of protecting individual rights. Many of them are wrong about particulars, but they at least appreciate the proper approach to political change in a nation founded on the principle -- apparently forgotten by the "oath-keepers" -- of consent of the governed, and in a nation of laws, and not men. The tea partiers offer their views for the consideration of others, and, from what I have heard, many are actively seeking the intellectual ammunition they need to better understand what went wrong with America and what they need to know to appeal to the best within their countrymen before the next election.

Someone who does not understand an oath can only mouth its words: He cannot be trusted to uphold such an "oath." These are not oath keepers, or even oath takers. They are oath fakers.

You cannot protect the Constitution in any meaningful way by subverting individual rights, consent of the governed, rule of law, or any other principle which must be generally accepted in order for it to be anything but words on paper. Mutiny on the part of the armed forces or law enforcement is not the way to protect the Constitution, but -- at best -- a concession that it is no longer in force.

To anyone who has mistakenly joined this movement, I ask that you reconsider: It might help to imagine someone patriotic that you completely disagree with on one issue as an "oath taker" -- and that person being in charge of protecting someone you care about, where that issue plays a role.

-- CAV

Updates

Today
: Corrected some typos.

26 comments:

Wes said...

The framers of our constitution were oath keepers too, but not to their current king, to their Values. They believed it time to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature entitles them. But we regard them now as heroes, not law-breakers. Time will tell if these keepers of oaths who choose to thwart the current loose interpretations of the original constitution are heroes or law-breakers.

A "Constitution will not be able to keep the government limited; for given a monopoly Supreme Court selected by the self-same government and granted the power of ultimate decision-making, the political “ins” will always favor a “broad” or loose interpretation of the wording of the Constitution serving to expand the powers of government over the citizenry; and, over time, the “ins” will inexorably tend to win out over the minority of “outs” who will argue vainly for a “strict” interpretation limiting State power" (John C. Calhoun, A Disquisition on Government)

I consider myself an Objectivist in many ways. But Rand was just wrong about the necessity of the state.

"Most people...believe that once one concedes the importance, or even the vital necessity, of some particular activity of the State—such as the provision of a legal code—that one has ipso facto conceded the necessity of the State itself. The State indeed performs many important and necessary functions: from provision of law to the supply of police and fire fighters, to building and maintaining the streets, to delivery of the mail. But this in no way demonstrates that only the State can perform such functions, or, indeed, that it performs them even passably well.

"... Throughout history groups of men calling themselves “the government” or “the State” have attempted—usually successfully—to gain a compulsory monopoly of the commanding heights of the economy and the society. In particular, the State has arrogated to itself a compulsory monopoly over police and military services, the provision of law, judicial decision-making, the mint and the power to create money unused land (“the public domain”), streets and highways, rivers and coastal waters, and the means of delivering mail. Control of land and transportation has long been an excellent method of assuring overall control of a society; in many countries, highways began as a means of allowing the government to move its troops conveniently throughout its subject country. Control of the money supply is a way to assure the State an easy and rapid revenue, and the State makes sure that no private competitors are allowed to invade its self-arrogated monopoly of the power to counterfeit (i.e., create) new money. Monopoly of the postal service has long been a convenient method for the State to keep an eye on possibly unruly and subversive opposition to its rule. In most historical epochs, the State has also kept a tight control over religion, usually cementing a comfortable, mutually-supportive alliance with an Established Church: with the State granting the priests power and wealth, and the Church in turn teaching the subject population their divinely proclaimed duty to obey Caesar. But now that religion has lost much of its persuasive power in society, the State is often willing to let religion alone, and to concentrate on similar if looser alliances with more secular intellectuals. In either case, the State relies on control of the levers of propaganda to persuade its subjects to obey or even exalt their rulers." (The Ethics of Liberty by Murray N Rothbard)

Be careful in becoming one of the state's secular intellectuals.

Gus Van Horn said...

Wes,

I appreciate your admission up front that you are not in agreement with Ayn Rand. Many libertarians claim to be "Objectivists" when this term properly means, "one who agrees with the philosophy of Ayn Rand." I have no problem with people disagreeing with her -- people shouldn't agree with her until and unless they see for themselves and accept what she has said, anyway.

That said, I start by cautioning that being an Objectivist is like being pregnant: Either you are or you are not. On that score, I would appreciate it even more (and you'd help other commenters here know from whence you speak) if you characterized yourself more accurately from now on as an "Ayn Rand fan" or an admirer of Ayn Rand.

That said, let's move on to the body of your comments. Calhoun was correct that a Constitution cannot (alone) keep the government limited, but he ignores the limits it places on the Supreme Court, which include its members being chosen by the President and its powers being limited to interpreting, not passing or enforcing, the law. A bad Court such as he decides cannot exist in a vacuum, nor will it alone be able to bring about tyranny as bad decisions could be be reversed later or laws passed to invalidate others. (Look at what many states did after Kelo.)

Calhoun is wrong in that he -- like Rothbard -- puts too little stock in how the opinions of the populace affect the government. If members of the public do not generally favor individual rights, they will consistently elect bad officials and it won't matter how good their laws are: They will overturn them, ignore them, or misinterpret them to suit their tastes. Furthermore, their attempts to rectify the situation will be uninformed by what they OUGHT to do instead.

People like Rothbard -- anarchists, "minarchists", and proponents of "competeting governments" -- Rand very well addressed long ago:

"Anarchy, as a political concept, is a naive floating abstraction: . . . a society without an organized government would be at the mercy of the first criminal who came along and who would precipitate it into the chaos of gang warfare. But the possibility of human immorality is not the only objection to anarchy: even a society whose every member were fully rational and faultlessly moral, could not function in a state of anarchy; it is the need of objective laws and of an arbiter for honest disagreements among men that necessitates the establishment of a government."

Peter Schwartz, another Objectivist, elaborates on the above point very well (follow the first link above), and this is also very close to the point I am making here.

[continued, next comment]

Gus Van Horn said...

[continued from last comment]

This preemptive refusal to follow orders is, at best, an inappropriate, if well-intentioned attempt to influence public policy that will backfire for that purpose, and it can easily backfire in practice as I have indicated, and for the same reason that anarchy (or its variants) will fail: There HAS to be a way to arbitrate honest disputes.

In my example, Sergeant Arnold has taken it upon himself to interpret the Constitution and, in the process, failed to protect individual rights (which is the whole purpose of a proper government) in the process. Rothbard has no answer for him. Rothbard's ideas on non-monopoly government (a contradiction in terms) would unleash people like Arnold on all of us if put into practice.

One last point: The fact that the government is ill-suited for most of the things it improperly does does not make it ill-suited for its proper purpose, nor does the fact that someone argues in favor of a state make him, ipso facto an enemy of individual rights, as Rothbard implies.

I am arguing here that our state has not reached the point where it must be overthrown. It can still be salvaged and changed for the better.

In both anarchy and dictatorship, there is no one to protect the individual from harm by others. The only difference between an anarchy and a dictatorship is whether an individual has to fear one tyrant or many.

That sounds quite a bit like a fear expressed by many patriots during the debate over how America would govern itself after independence, doesn't it?

Don't let a charlatan like Murray N. Rothbard turn you into an inadvertent ally of arbitrary physical coercion by any and all comers as an "alternative" to dictatorship.

There IS a proper purpose for government, and for this purpose, government is the only proper tool. Its worthlessness for other purposes is of no more value in evaluating it than is the fact that you can't drive railroad spikes with a pair of pliers an effective indictment of a pair of pliers for gripping a bolt.

Gus

Gus Van Horn said...

Minor correction:

"people shouldn't agree with her"

should have read,

"people shouldn't profess to agree with her"

Wes said...

You seem to admit that Objectivism is doctrine and not reason. It is only obedience to a "charismatic leader" in Ayn Rand. That sounds like a religion, not a philosophy. It is apparently enough to appeal to authority and say Ayn Rand is smarter than Rothbard so I am wrong. It doesn't seem to matter what or how I debate. But I'll try.

I would say that the scenario she paints - that anarchy leads to the first criminal that comes along taking over is exactly what CAN happen add that that the criminal seems to change his name to "government" every time.

Rand, in your excerpt, conflates law and monopoly government. As Long points out ( http://libertariannation.org/a/f13l2.html ), law and monopoly government are distinct concepts.

But the problem here is that she could not see how a self-governed society could operate and so declared it impossible and further, absurd. That sounds a lot like every other politician. I see nothing underlying the idea that government is necessary other than fear and ignorance of the other path.

In a free society a person may defend himself, may invest in private security, may purchase defense insurance, etc

Does monopoly government really protect individuals from harm? It seems to me that our 'protection' (i.e., police) is largely a reactive force at BEST

Gus Van Horn said...

"You seem to admit that Objectivism is doctrine and not reason."

How? By pointing out that someone who doesn't agree with it is NOT an Objectivist?

I advocate capitalism. If I call myself a Marxist, how would that help people understand what my point of view is?

"It is only obedience to a 'charismatic leader' in Ayn Rand. ..."

How can I obey someone who has been dead for 27 years? I agree with what she said, and nobody is making me say that I do.

Aside from that remark being ridiculous, it is an insult. Do not bother attempting to post another comment that includes an insult.

"It is apparently enough to appeal to authority and say Ayn Rand is smarter than Rothbard ..."

Ummmm. No. I was hoping to appeal to your ability to grasp a fairly straightforward argument. The fact that it was HER argument really isn't important.

"I would say that the scenario she paints - that anarchy leads to the first criminal that comes along taking over is exactly what CAN happen add that that the criminal seems to change his name to 'government' every time."

Have you ever heard of the American Revolution? The first thug who happened to walk by DIDN'T take over then and I wouldn't equate the government the Founding Fathers created to a criminal gang or a dictatorship, either.

"But the problem here is that she could not see how a self-governed society could operate and so declared it impossible and further, absurd."

No. She argued -- quite successfully, I might add -- that a society can govern itself. To do so, it requires a "monopoly government" as you redundantly put it.

Please explain to me how a society can have law and order if there is no authority to enforce the law and to ensure that honest disputes and matters of interpretation of the law can be settled equitably.

The below does not count:

"In a free society a person may defend himself, may invest in private security, may purchase defense insurance, etc"

What's to stop someone with even more money from nuking this guy into the ground or his "insurer" from not honoring his contract?

And, finally,

"I see nothing underlying the idea that government is necessary other than fear and ignorance of the other path."

I'll keep that in mind the next time I read the Declaration of Independence or the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States. I wouldn't want to forget what ignorant, fearful men founded the United States of America.

Get serious and be polite, or go away.

Don said...

Gus, Roy Childs (in his open letter to Rand) annihilated the concept of "limited government" by showing that it is a floating abstraction.

" Why is a limited government a floating abstraction? Because it must either initiate force or stop being a government."

He goes on to demonstrate the validity of his claim.

There's either statism--and all the problems attendant with the coercive monopoly--or anarchy. There's no middle ground. Your view--statism--will always have a coercive monopoly which initiates force arbitrarily. Period. That is a sine qua non of the state (which is synonymous with government in the political usage).

Steve D said...

I agree with your stand on anarchism vs. limited government, Gus but your comments imply that this is an easy call. This is a very difficult and very crucial issue and it took a lot of thinking on my part to settle it to my satisfaction. A straightforward deductive argument from Ayn Rand's ethics does seem to lead directly to anarchism as the ideal political system - if you can call anarchism a political system. When I reread Ayn Rand's arguments in favor of government it seemed that she had made some leaps which were not at all obvious to me and this took a lot of thinking on my part to resolve.

So far as your point about the oath keepers goes, I am not sure I completely agree. While I would say that the situation does not call for rebellion at this point, it seems to me that what these people are talking about is mostly civil disobedience and anyway, aren't they no longer on active duty? In any event I would be interested in knowing your opinion on when protest, civil disobedience and finally open rebellion would be appropriate.

There are people have lost their property and homes to the government (eminent domain etc) and others have had their lives ruined (IRS etc). Their rights were not protected and in any event freedom of speech doesn’t necessarily imply freedom of action. Do they have the right to rebel?

Gus Van Horn said...

Don,

Childs does no such thing.

First, since he claims to accept Rand's definition of government, let's look at it for starters:

"A government is an institution that holds the exclusive power to enforce certain rules of social conduct in a given geographical area."

And later, she elaborates:

"A government is the means of placing the retaliatory use of physical force under objective control—i.e., under objectively defined laws."

The second of these is crucial to understanding what is wrong with Childs' argument. Properly, the government is the (non-emergency) representative of the individual for the purpose of wielding his right to use retaliatory force.

Childs posits that it is possible for someone to "[set] up [an] agency, which provides all the services of the Objectivist [sic] government."

But what are those "services?" Arresting criminals, performing the functions of the courts, military functions -- all of which involve the use of force.

Unfortunately, as even Childs realizes, this agency will run afoul of any legitimate government when it attempts to provide these services.

If he accuses me of murder, and his "police" arrest me, they are initiating force against me because I have neither delegated my right to self-defense to them as a citizen nor accepted them as local authorities as a foreigner. (And if I do, I join Childs' rebellion.)

The government can (and should) intervene on my behalf -- by means of my delegated retaliatory force. Childs has no right unilaterally to set himself up as my personal government, but as soon as he tries to use his "agency," that is exactly what he does.

Childs is basically attempting to rationalize setting up a rebel force or hostile foreign power within the borders of his own country and pretending that when the existing government acts to protect its citizens from it, that it is "initiating" force. (Libertarians who oppose any and all foreign military intervention by the US government make essentially the same mistake.)

There are other things wrong with Childs' argument, but since it rests on the very thin reed of ignoring the very definition of government (and its implicit purpose) he says he accepts for the sake of argument, this will do.

Steve,

Yes, it is not necessarily clear at first HOW Rand gets from her ethics to her theory of government, but from your thinking and this thread, it should be clear that starting mid-stream with the non-initiation of force principle -- as if it exists in a vacuum -- does not necessarily lead to a rational theory of government.

The exact nature of the oath keepers is not completely clear to me. If they're retired, they have no orders to disobey (unless they can get called back into service). And if they have orders to disobey, they're not retired.

However, they are NOT involved in civil disobedience: That is simply not possible to a government official acting in his official capacity. I haven't looked into this, but it's safer to say that at best, we have a bunch of retirees (a) advocating the abuse of power by government officials, or (b) inappropriately discussing how officials might choose to behave if the United States falls into a dictatorship.

Yes. There are people who have suffered monumental abuses even now, but even so, our government is NOT a dictatorship and it would be wrong to revolt against it as it is today.

Gus

Brad Harper said...

This group, however well-intentioned, is perpetuating the very cause of their revolt.

They cherry-pick a handful of ultimatums supposedly based on constitutional justification, yet they ignore the countless ways that very standard is ignored throughout the rest of American jurisprudence. Such inconsistency further clouds the already dismal state of our culture's ability to think in principles.

From their site:

“We will NOT obey orders to disarm the American people.”

Ok, great... but you’re perfectly fine with regulating (enforcing the laws that drive) the firearms market out of existence?

“We will NOT obey orders to conduct warrantless searches of the American people”

But you’re totally fine with peeking through my car windows at a random, warrantless DUI checkpoint?

“We will NOT obey any orders to confiscate the property of the American people, including food and other essential supplies.”

Excellent, but you’ll damn sure come arrest me for tax evasion…

“We will NOT obey any order to force American citizens into any form of detention camps under any pretext.”

Right, but an arrest leading to a life sentence for marijuana possession is an implementation of justice?

These seemingly less tyrannical (to some) laws facilitate and necessitate the more offensive ones because they all stem from the same immoral root.

Like a parrot squawking addition, the "Oath Keepers" positions may be valid, but lack the essential uniting principles necessary for consistency.

If this movement were properly based on a sound ideology which recognizes the basis of objective law as individual rights, their disobedience list would be substantially longer.

Gus Van Horn said...

Brad,

I'd add a couple of things to this.

First, while it is true that many things many of these people do in the course of their daily lives enables the state to trample individual rights, the proper course has never been to selectively obey the law, but to work to change it. Yes, this means that a law enforcement official will occasionally find himself enforcing laws he opposes, but doing so on the premise that preserving rule of law will ultimately enable the government to be improved.

Second, I don't agree that all the positions on the list are necessarily good. (Most notably, item 4, which is a blatant "states rights" type of position that ignores the fact that all rights ultimately belong to the individual. (Although even the ones that generally might be good are compromised as you indicate.)

Gus

Don said...

Gus,

Childs does annihilate Rand's floating abstraction. Rand snuck in that, as Childs pointed out, the collective must be objective, since non-emergency retaliatory force somehow cannot be left up to the individual (why? blank out). Rand turned her entire individualist philosophy on its head with her smuggled premise.

Then we come to your question-begging term "legitimate government". Sorry, but the legitimacy of government cannot be assumed; it must be demonstrated. And if you think consent theory is the answer, I have news for you: I--and others like me--do not consent. That annihilates consent theory. For if I do not consent, government must be imposed upon me by initiatory force. And the use of initiatory force between persons, according to Rand, is immoral. So your concept of a "rebel force" is, again, question-begging. And please don't beg the question that law (and order) can only come from government, either. Nor should you (quite wrongly) presume that not consenting to government is the same as not consenting to dealing with others in a civilized manner, respecting their rights. Rand was an atheist (like me), so she didn't believe that there needed to be a god to make people behave. Why should she then believe that a government is required to make people behave ala the Hobbesian Paradox?

As for your supposed dealings with the police forces with which you did not contract, why would you assume they would arrest you? Why be stuck in the concepts of the coercive monopoly which holds sway now? Why couldn't they simply notify you that such claim has been made against you and let you decide what course of action you will take?

Further, you haven't even explained how it is moral for a coercive monopoly to hold sway! Why should I not be able to set up a private court system to compete with the state? Why not a private police force with which people can contract, just like carpet cleaners and lawn care? Why do you believe that coercive monopolies are bad--except for the coercive monopoly known as government? Why be inconsistent? Why prevent competition?

If you can't answer those questions--fine. I know it takes time to digest and recover from the cracking of your worldview. I was there at one time. I too begged the question that there is such a thing as a legitimate government. I too begged the question that the state has the right to prevent competition with itself. I still have all my books by Rand--but I've come to see the errors she made. And the most egregious error she ever made was placing the collective (government) ahead of the individual.

Steve D said...

Gus:

Thank you for your response.

"Yes, it is not necessarily clear at first HOW Rand gets from her ethics to her theory of government, but from your thinking and this thread, it should be clear that starting mid-stream with the non-initiation of force principle -- as if it exists in a vacuum -- does not necessarily lead to a rational theory of government."

I think we completely agree on this issue. My main point is that the habit of this sort of deductive thinking is often very hard to break - one of the best features of Rand’s philosophy is her innovative use of inductive reasoning. Knowing where and when to apply this technique is crucial to understanding why anarchism is not correct. In this case the argument must invoke metaphysics (the nature of man and the nature of force) as well as ethics in order to clearly demonstrate the morality and utility of government. This is what Rand did. She didn’t state it this way, perhaps because it was obvious to her but working through on you own is a very good exercise in philosophical thinking. In my opinion Childs demolished the mid-stream deductive argument for government but it was mostly a straw man type of argument anyway. Since the argument for government is difficult and not at all obvious I think this is a case where tolerance should be shown to anarchists and the argument made with great care.

"The exact nature of the oath keepers is not completely clear to me. If they're retired, they have no orders to disobey (unless they can get called back into service). And if they have orders to disobey, they're not retired."

Yes, you are correct on this point.

"However, they are NOT involved in civil disobedience: That is simply not possible to a government official acting in his official capacity. I haven't looked into this, but it's safer to say that at best, we have a bunch of retirees (a) advocating the abuse of power by government officials, or (b) inappropriately discussing how officials might choose to behave if the United States falls into a dictatorship."

Your point that either way they are not involved in civil disobedience seems correct to me. However, if they are merely retirees then they should have the freedom to make inappropriate comments as you should have the freedom to criticize them for it. I disagree with the last statement because of the term dictatorship, though, and I would suggest that it would be better to use the term tyranny. The form of the government is not as important as its behavior. It's quite possible, especially in particular instances for a non dictatorship to behave in a murderous fashion while a dictatorship in the same situation acts in a more appropriate manner. The United States is not yet a dictatorship but it is becoming very close to being a tyranny. I think the crucial point here is the level of tyranny and at what when disobedience or even open rebellion is appropriate.

Steve D said...

continued from last comment

The big question here is what point and for what reasons should government officials (or for that matter private citizens) refuse orders. Should a policeman refuse orders to shoot into a crowd of peacefully protesting people. What if the law allows him to do this? In your post these officials are refusing to disarm the people which means they are refusing to steal their weapons and leave them defenseless. So, its ok for them to refuse to murder but not to refuse to steal? At some point a line is crossed. The other point I would like to make is that its not just an issue of obeying the constitution but also of their understanding and adherence to a code of ethics and their own conscience. I guess under these circumstances I might advise them to resign as government officials. That has to remain an option.

"Yes. There are people who have suffered monumental abuses even now, but even so, our government is NOT a dictatorship and it would be wrong to revolt against it as it is today."

I generally agree with this, but as above I would replace the term dictatorship with tyranny. It certainly not (yet) the time to rebel but that time may be drawing near. However, I would argue that at this time civil disobedience for private citizens is a perfectly moral response, limited of course by what it can practically accomplished and of course that it violates no ones true rights. So for example, there is nothing inherently immoral about a tax revolt, although it should not (presently) be taken to the extent which would cause a breakdown of law and order. We are plausibly beyond the stage where simple protest and/or persuasion can rectify the situation. Time will tell.

Steve

Gus Van Horn said...

Don,

No. Rand DID address the issue of why "non-emergency retaliatory force somehow cannot be left up to the individual." It's because an individual can be mistaken or wrong. I could THINK my next door neighbor is a serial killer and wrongly kill him in "self-defense." I could be wrong about my property line. I could misunderstand the terms of a contract I have signed. These things are ALL much easier to deal with (to put it mildly) if I delegate my retaliatory use of force to the state. (This is no more subordination to a "collective" than Childs' "agency.") If these are true of myself, they're true of others, and, yes, I DO want an authority standing between myself and these other people.

That said, you seem hung up on your personal lack of consent to the government of the United States as somehow de-legitimizing it.

Then renounce your citizenship. You have nothing to fear so long as you do not violate anyone else's rights.

Just be forewarned that if you decide to act as your own personal government (i.e., exercise your retaliatory right to force in a non-emergency situation), that I would hope and expect my government to stop you in your tracks.

You protest that you or Childs wouldn't do this. ("Why couldn't they simply notify you that such claim has been made against you and let you decide what course of action you will take?") Well, I don't know that everyone else would be so placid, and I REALLY don't know how you honestly could expect to stop a REAL criminal. If I were Jeffery Dahmer, I know that my next action wouldn't be to stop doing what I'm doing any longer than it would take to make my escape.

So, again, you show the weakness of Childs' anarchist position: You can't plausibly explain how anarchy will fail to cause massive confusion and unleash criminals of every description after you remove an agreed-upon arbiter with the power to enforce its decisions from the scene.

Steve,

I have to disagree on your point of substituting the term "tyranny" for "dictatorship" because it is when we have a dictatorship (which definitely exists when there is no longer freedom of speech) that the line you're asking about has definitely been crossed. Until that point, the option of changing the government through rational persuasion still exists.

Are there orders that government officials should disobey even outside the context of a dictatorship? Yes -- and someone disobeying them should openly state why he is doing so when he does so and accept whatever consequences will befall him.

But this country is NOT at the point where many of these these are likely to be given and, the military excepted, I am pretty sure most public officials have the option of stepping down rather than carrying out bad orders or policies. For this reason, although private citizens (e.g., retirees) have the right to speak of such things, I find doing so immoral and impractical. (This is especially so given the fact that Order #4 is actually a legitimate order. See Governor Faubus.) Persuading other voters to re-embrace individual rights is the only long-term solution to our problems and, if we do that, the better officials we need will start getting elected.

As for "tolerating" anarchists, I'll argue with them so long as they are civil (and doing so is not a sacrifice on my part), but I will not give that position sanction (not that you are) by permitting anyone to think that I regard it as consonant with capitalism. (Indeed, my point has been that it is indistinguishable at an individual level from dictatorship.)

Gus

Rational Education said...

Gus,
Thanks for clarifying a lot of the issues with the Oathkeepers group. I looked into the group a couple of days back and will admit that I had mixed views about the morality of their stance and what they are hoping to achieve. Your post certainly helped explain a lot of the issues.

On a slightly different note, would you have any suggestions for further readings about the issue of civil disobedience and where such political action may be appropriate? (The context is Mohandas Gandhi's using of that method in what has been accepted world over as India's "freedom" fight against the Britishers- I need a better understanding of the principles involved there.) Thanks for any pointers.
Jasmine

Gus Van Horn said...

Jasmine,

I'm glad you found this discussion helpful.

Nothing immediately comes to mind as a good source specifically for what you ask, but a book I read (and reviewed in TOS) a while back, Better Day Coming, about the struggle for Black equality, has many examples of civil disobedience that I would generally regard as appropriate, and might lead you to other helpful material.

Gus

Jim May said...

You seem to admit that Objectivism is doctrine and not reason. It is only obedience to a "charismatic leader" in Ayn Rand. That sounds like a religion, not a philosophy.

This is beyond idiotic.

Our position is that ideas that are not consistent with Objectivism, should not be identified as Objectivism.

That's all.

We don't care if you pick and choose the parts of Objectivism you feel like accepting.

We simply will not accept the designation of the resulting mess as "Objectivism" in any way.

There's a good reason for this: it's the same reason why the owner of a reputable brand fights against cheap knockoffs made with his label: to protect that brand against being discredited by the poor quality and failures of the knockoffs.

Now we begin to approach the real motive of those who get all hissy when they are told that their duct-taped ideology with various part of Objectivism glued on here and there, is not "Objectivism". They confess the value of the brand, in doing so, and resent having it ripped off their crappy ideological product.

If they have a better explanation, I'm all ears. Why would you want the label "Objectivist" applied to your ideology?

After all, to hear the mainstream BS going on about Ayn Rand even at this moment, you would wonder why anyone outside of Objectivism would ever want that label applied to them.

By the logic of their ideas -- and the sneering condescension often directed against Objectivists by such voices -- they shouldn't.

But they do. Quite tenaciously so.

Curious, no?

Gus Van Horn said...

That needed saying. Thanks, Jim.

Don said...

Gus,

You again fail to note that if the individual can be wrong--SO CAN A COLLECTIVE! As Childs noted, Rand is claiming the collective is somehow objective, and the individual is subjective. This completely turns Rand's individualism upon its head. You show not only the weakness of Rand's position, but you also show a distinct willingness to blank out how the collective is somehow objective, since a collective is comprised of individuals. If individuals can be wrong, so can the collective.

You seem to believe that you can beg the question of the legitimacy of government. tsk-tsk. You know that fallacies destroy arguments, right? You should also note that for your government to stop me from exercising my rights would be for your government to violate my rights. So you seriously believe that violating someone else's rights is a good thing? You're naught but a thug!

That you are incapable of coming up with ideas as to how police could act without busting down doors, tasing people, and tossing them in jail is YOUR problem, not mine. That you want some Big Daddy to protect you and violate the rights of others is your problem. Ignorance is not strength. Freedom is not slavery.

You show the weakness of your position by not explaining how government is legitimate. You have not explained how a coercive monopoly is moral. You have confused anarchy with chaos. You have begged the question that law and order can only come from government. In short: you've blanked-out. You have refused to think. Congratulations: you're a collectivist.

Gus Van Horn said...

"You again fail to note that if the individual can be wrong--SO CAN A COLLECTIVE!"

I have not.

I thought, from the subject matter of this post, that it was obvious that I know that a collective can be wrong.

The corrective in such a situation is rational debate, which depends, politically on freedom of speech, ethically on intellectual honesty, and epistemologically on adherence to logic and acceptance of the facts of reality. Part of the last is a careful look back at reality at every step of the way when making or evaluating an argument.

Not that I agree that Childs' argument is even formally correct, but it is possible for an argument to be correct in terms of formal logic, but still wrong due to incorrect premises.

A common indication of an incorrect premise is when an argument leads one to conclusions that are far removed from facts of reality one already knows.

Childs' argument in favor of argument fails this very basic "smell test."

"[Y]ou also show a distinct willingness to blank out how the collective is somehow objective, since a collective is comprised of individuals. If individuals can be wrong, so can the collective."

No. In the context of discussing the purpose of a government, the germane point is whether we need a government at all and, if so, why.

To do that, one has to imagine what life would be like in practice if one actually tried to live without rules everyone agreed upon to settle honest disputes and a means of delegating the task of watching one's back so one can think of things besides how not to get robbed or killed.

The below indicates that you are not doing that:

"That you are incapable of coming up with ideas as to how police could act without busting down doors, tasing people, and tossing them in jail is YOUR problem, not mine."

I've already mentioned Jeffrey Dahmer once. Some people are evil and the only way they leave civilized people to deal with them is exactly by the means you describe -- by exercising the right to use retaliatory force.

So the existence of evil men like this establish the necessity of using retaliatory force. What is the best way to do this? We can try having no government, where countless individuals have to worry about whether every Tom, Dick, or Harry might be out to get him, and have their own opportunities to make mistakes -- not just of the ordinary, daily variety, but also of reasoning. (If I'm so wrong, why would you want me to be free to do as I please about any threat I perceive (or cook up) coming from you?)

Or we can delegate those tasks, freeing ourselves to spend less time thinking about them and allowing people with more training and resources to handle people like Jeffrey Dahmer.

Unfortunately, we all need to delegate them to the same authority or the very same problem (See above.) that arises when individuals are left to fend for themselves will occur again, but between small collectives (or "agencies", as Childs might put it).

"That you want some Big Daddy to protect you and violate the rights of others is your problem."

You are putting words into my mouth. A proper government does not violate anyone's rights.

Again, renounce your citizenship. "Govern" yourself all you want. Mail me an arrest warrant for hate speech, if you want to. But lay one finger on me or threaten me and you initiating force against me since I have done absolutely nothing to violate your rights.

Do you understand that you have no right to initiate violence or threats against other individuals? Criminals don't. Hostile foreign powers don't.

My delegating my power of self defense to the government does not violate your rights.

"You have confused anarchy with chaos."

You have yet to provide even the most superficial argument to the effect that it can be otherwise.

"[Y]ou're a collectivist."

You're wrong, and you are rude on top of that. Your next comment is a sincere apology or it's not getting posted.

Gus Van Horn said...

Correction:

Childs' argument in favor of argument fails this very basic "smell test."

should read:

Childs' argument in favor of anarchy fails this very basic "smell test."

Steve D said...

"You're naught but a thug!"

It’s amazing how quickly the anarchists can nuke a conversation because of their rudeness and I guess I didn’t respond quickly enough to the points raised by Don (Oct 22, 5:19). There are still a few points I would still like to make so my views are clear. I’ll address them to anyone still reading this stream.

“No. Rand DID address the issue of why "non-emergency retaliatory force somehow cannot be left up to the individual." It's because an individual can be mistaken or wrong. I could THINK my next door neighbor is a serial killer and wrongly kill him in "self-defense." I could be wrong about my property line. I could misunderstand the terms of a contract I have signed. These things are ALL much easier to deal with (to put it mildly) if I delegate my retaliatory use of force to the state. (This is no more subordination to a "collective" than Childs' "agency.") If these are true of myself, they're true of others, and, yes, I DO want an authority standing between myself and these other people.”

I don’t disagree with this but more is involved than just making things easier. Let’s state this in terms of the metaphysical principles involved so we can clearly demonstrate that anarchism is wrong in theory as well as in practice. In addition to the non initiation of force principle there are two basic metaphysical facts we need to consider in order to prove that government (of the proper type) is necessary and efficacious. The first is man’s nature (he is neither infallible nor omniscient) as you allude to above. The second is the nature of force itself and also I think the nature of evil is important as well. Simply speaking, rights can be violated not just by the direct use of force but by indirect means (e.g. threats or actual force against a third party). An evil person who initiates force against one person is objectively a threat against others. This leads deductively to the conclusion that retaliation to force must (or at least may) be a collective activity and therefore the necessity of having an agency which regulates the use of retaliatory force. I don’t think Rand was as clear about this as she could have been but the correct induction of metaphysical facts along with ethical principles is critical to the argument.

Not that I agree that Childs' argument is even formally correct, but it is possible for an argument to be correct in terms of formal logic, but still wrong due to incorrect premises."

This is true and well stated. I haven’t read Childs’ argument but based on the above comments I have a pretty good idea how it must go. Specifically in this case I think I would say that he uses one correct premise (non initiation principle) misses a necessary one or two (the metaphysical natures of force and man) and ends up with an incorrect conclusion. I think even using Child’s incorrect starting point you could still come to more than a single conclusion (both anarchy and minarchy could be valid conclusions) however, I am not entirely certain about this last point.

“Childs does annihilate Rand's floating abstraction. Rand snuck in that, as Childs pointed out, the collective must be objective, since non-emergency retaliatory force somehow cannot be left up to the individual (why? blank out). Rand turned her entire individualist philosophy on its head with her smuggled premise.”

Obviously the argument for a proper government does not and actually can not be based on any assumption that the collective is objective. I don’t see how this can be extracted from Rand’s argument. Note you could turn this around and say anarchy assumes that the individual must be objective. The argument for government is based on metaphysics not epistemology.

Gus Van Horn said...

Steve,

I have three comments here, the first two relating to your comment and the third a correction to one of my own.

(1) I appreciate the support regarding the rudeness of Don's remarks.

(2) "I think even using Child’s incorrect starting point you could still come to more than a single conclusion (both anarchy and minarchy could be valid conclusions)"

I disagree. One might be able to reach a valid-SOUNDING conclusion from incorrect (or arbitrary premises), but in so far as that person has started from incorrect premises, he still is out of contact with at least some facts of reality.

(3) Earlier, I noted that if a "competing government" DID anything to me by means of force, it violated my rights. This is easy enough to see in cases where I have not done anything wrong.

But what if I have? It would still violate my rights AND those of everyone else in a society for a competing government to wield force, because in doing so, it would undermine that area's legitimate government, posing a threat to law and order.

Gus

Steve D said...

Gus,

“I disagree. One might be able to reach a valid-SOUNDING conclusion from incorrect (or arbitrary premises), but in so far as that person has started from incorrect premises, he still is out of contact with at least some facts.”

Well, this is a minor disagreement and semantic in nature, but given the premises: 1) all men are astronauts and 2) Socrates is a man, the valid conclusion would be: 3) Socrates is an astronaut. In this case we have a logically valid but incorrect and in fact absurd conclusion because of an incorrect premise. Garbage in, garbage out.

My point would have be more clear if I would have said ’logically valid’ to differentiate formal term used in logic from other meanings of the word.

I don’t know if this is the case with Childs, since I haven’t studied his argument, but it could be, and that might explain why so many intelligent people are taken in by it.

Steve

Gus Van Horn said...

"My point would have be more clear if I would have said ’logically valid’ to differentiate formal term used in logic from other meanings of the word."

Fair enough.