The Servant's Got Your Back?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Amit Ghate discusses the important issue of how the question of innocents in war pertains to self-defense.

[E]ven for the legitimately innocent such as children, hostages or POW's, as terrible as it is, one's self-defense cannot be tempered by considering the harm they may come to. The moral blame for their fate falls squarely on the aggressor who makes the war necessary, and indeed the potential consequences to such innocents is a fundamental reason why any citizen must take the responsibility of opposing and denouncing the evil elements within his society -- before they can rise to power and wreak their havoc. If citizens fail to do this, they can not blame their government's foreign victims for defending themselves with every possible means, including killing and even targeting civilians.
You will note that underlying this argument is the premise that the sole purpose of a government is the protection of individual rights. This is a crucial point, for a man who has taken to calling himself an "imperfect servant" as he seeks the highest office in the land -- and who makes much of his military background -- has obviously forgotten or chosen to ignore it:
A prisoner of war in Vietnam at a time his own father commanded all U.S. forces in the Pacific, McCain said, "He prayed on his knees every night for my safe return. ... Yet, when duty required it, he gave the order for B-52s to bomb Hanoi, in close proximity to my prison."
Let us set aside such questions as whether the war in Vietnam was a proper war of national self-defense, and let us assume that all options to save the POWs without sacrificing American self-defense had been exhausted.

Such painful decisions can and do present themselves to military leaders during times of war. In a war of self-defense, we need men like the elder McCain who are able to set aside all considerations other than national self-defense in order to make decisions like this.

Good will normally makes one reluctant to take issue with someone publicly offering respect to a parent or to a war hero. Unfortunately, the same motive invoked by John McCain, patriotism, demands that I do just that. I love America for the fact that it is the only nation on earth founded for the only proper purpose a government can have: the protection of the individual rights of her citizens.

The context in which John McCain raised his father's painful decision to bomb Hanoi indicates to me that he does not understand what it is about America that makes it great (and, for that matter, worth defending). As a result, I think that he will work to do it great harm if elected. Here is that context:
In remarks both personal and philosophical, McCain recalled ancestors buried at Arlington National Cemetery, and mused about "the honor we earn and the love we give when we work and sacrifice with others for a cause greater than our self-interest." [bold added]
For John McCain, his use of the word "duty" is not just colloquial or sloppy. He is not merely referring to the oath his father took to defend America -- or even his mission to defend the lives and rights of individual Americans -- as "duty". He is speaking of anything but, as can only be meant by the words "sacrifice ... for a cause greater than our self-interest" -- and as the body of his political thought and his public record further indicate.

John McCain not only might, as commander-in-chief, be called upon to make the same type of decision his father once had to make, he seems eager to do so. And on top of that, he has just told us that he will use exactly the opposite criterion that he should as a basis for making such decisions!

The government, which John McCain wants to head, is the only social institution that can legally wield force. This force is that which we all have the right to use, as individuals, for self-defense, and which we have delegated to the government for that purpose and that purpose alone. Any other use of force by the government violates individual rights and as such represents a danger to individual rights.

As a rational adult, I do not want a "servant". And I need a servant able to wield government force like I need another hole in my head. The only thing I need from the government is the assurance that I will be left alone to lead my life as I best see fit. John McCain is practically screaming that he will violate his oath of office for some unspecified ideal greater than himself from the moment he takes it. I neither want a President distracted from his job by some pet cause nor some crusader empowered to force me to assist him in his mission. McCain wants to be both of these.

I disagree with his conception that sacrifice is a moral ideal and I don't want the "service" that someone like him wants to provide.

-- CAV


Grant said...

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3:16 ; John McCain 3/31.

Gus Van Horn said...

In addition to that parallel, it is to the theocrats that a self-effacing phrase like "imperfect servant" is supposed to appeal.

And, come to think of it, this tour he is on strikes me as egotistical.

Myrhaf said...

I think McCain's "imperfect servant" self-description is designed to answer the Keating Five corruption of his past. The idea that "we're all sinners" works with both Christians and leftists.

Gus Van Horn said...

I think you're right.

We're already all sinners according to them, so what passes for character starts with confessing guilt.

I dislike McCain more every time he opens his mouth.

Anonymous said...

John McCain is practically screaming that he will violate his oath of office for some unspecified ideal greater than himself from the moment he takes it. I neither want a President distracted from his job by some pet cause nor some crusader empowered to force me to assist him in his mission. McCain wants to be both of these.

I am in total agreement with this. However, one need only replace the name "McCain" with "Clinton" or "Obama" and the statement would be equally true. One of these other two has even written a little tome about it called innocuously "It Takes a Village", a smiley-faced primer for the kind of totalitarianism that stands behind every one of her vile utterances.

No . . . the simple fact is that each of the three top-runner candidates is, in absolutely equal measure, unspeakable. It is my view that, irrespective of the voter's intention or intellectual motivation, a vote for any one of these three persons must and will be counted as a vote FOR Fascism.

Gus Van Horn said...

I am on the same page with you regarding the suitability of these candidates for office except for two considerations, one that definitely rules out a vote for McCain and one that suggests that voting for the Democrat offers a practical advantage from the standpoint of achieving some measure of safety through gridlock.

(1) McCain's "crowning" achievement, McCain-Feingold confirms that he is an enemy of freedom of speech. Since we must be able to freely exchange ideas, including criticism of the government and political candidates in order to ever start INCREASING freedom again, this is an unforgiveable sin from any political candidate.

(2) Republicans seem to remember to at least pretend to be a party of small government when a Democrat is in charge. Since McCain and either Democrat have essentially the same agenda anyway, I'll take the one whom the Republicans will try to stop rather than the one they'll help.

Of course, if I learn that McCain's opponent also opposes freedom of speech, I am leaving the ballot for President blank.

Anonymous said...

I agree that Mr. McCain, as co-author of McCain-Feingold, must be considered disqualified for any public office in the United States of America by virtue of that disreputable bill's being in direct violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

But I also say that anyone who would support, acquiesce to and/or advocate for it in any form or to any degree is also disqualified from consideration. There lies the rub for Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama: neither has taken a position of staunch and explicit opposition to McCain-Feingold. There is even evidence, if news reports are correct, that Mrs. Clinton at least has utilized or attempted to utilize its provisions to foreclose discussion of "opposing" views.

But there is another way to test whether either of McCain's main Democrat rivals opposes freedom of speech: that is to consider his views on so-called "hate crimes" legislation and related notions. Any support for such legislation is, in fact, opposition to freedom of speech and thought.

There is also the matter of views with respect to the publication of, for example, the Danish cartoons or the public airing of "Fitna" and the proper role of government in responding to threats of violence against authors, artists, publishers and broadcasters who choose to print or transmit this material.

One could go on and on in this vein, of course. But these all speak to the very same violation or sense of it that McCain-Feingold represents.

As to the idea of "gridlock": the very prospect of a Legislature comfortably controlled by the Social(ist)-Gospelling Democrat Party and an identity-politics Democrat Executive should give one considerable pause.

Gus Van Horn said...

Your comments on where the Democrats are remind me that an empty ballot is probably going to be the way to vote for President this year, and you even forgot about recent attempts to revive the so-called Fairness Doctrine, which I doubt either Clinton or Obama would oppose.

As for one-party government, EITHER party in complete control gives me pause, and more so the GOP since (a) they're becoming dominated by theocrats and (b) capitalism will get the blame is the GOP is the party to cause disaster by significantly expanding the government or being "on watch" when things eventually go haywire.

Jim May said...

capitalism will get the blame is the GOP is the party to cause disaster by significantly expanding the government or being "on watch" when things eventually go haywire.

That is already happening NOW re: the financial meltdown. It's 1932 all over again, even down to the expansion of power for the government entity that caused the trouble -- the Fed.

How long before the 1930's show trials of financial leaders are repeated?

They are already happening for oil executives on a yearly basis. What I wouldn't give for one of them -- just one -- to grow a pair and tell the government to own up to its responsibility for the mess and get the hell out of the way.

Gus Van Horn said...

True. And the parallel you draw includes the oft-overlooked fact that Hoover, though a Republican, was actually a "Progressive".

I haven't had time to follow this closely, but when you hear talk about nationalization of some banks (even if "temporary" and even if various pundits and business journalists say it's unlikely to occur), you know that something very bad is brewing and that we have exactly the wrong people in charge.

Anonymous said...

There is no need to put quotes around the word "progressive" when used in reference to Herbert Hoover. He WAS a Progressive, as have been all of the Presidents of the U.S. -- save possibly one -- throughout the 20th Century to varying degrees. That one possible exception, incidentally, was Calvin Coolidge who, whatever his personal views with respect to Religion and/or the validity of the Progressive idea, fashioned his presidency on the 19th Century model. One could say with some merit that Coolidge's was the last 19th Century American presidency.

Otherwise, the central political dispute in America throughout the 20th Century and today has not been over the question of Religion vs. Secularism in the Public sphere. Rather, it has been over the nature of the Progressivism by which the nation is to be "governed": the nationalist/militarist variety of a Teddy Roosevelt, JFK, Reagan or McCain on the one hand, or the Social Gospel variety of a Woodrow Wilson, FDR, LBJ, Nixon, GW Bush, or Clinton/Obama on the other. But that dispute has been ultimately nothing more than a disagreement over titles. With the exception of Ayn Rand and today's Objectivists, nobody on either side of this dispute even questions the fundamentals of Progressivism any more, let alone whether those fundamentals are consistent with the founding principles of the nation. It is now the case that the Progressive Idea is taken for granted as the "authentic" American Way by the vast majority of U.S. citizens, and that the office of the President is to serve as a "bully pulpit" for the advocacy of that Idea.

That is why I think it extremely important that Objectivists NOT become obsessed over Religion per se at the political level -- to do so obscures the fact that even those "secularists" and "atheists" in this nation who likewise oppose the Public religious are themselves, unlike Objectivists, advocates of the very same Progressivism and its top-down collectivist, totalitarian impulses.

Gus Van Horn said...

My use of scare quotes with "progressive" was to note the irony of the way that term has been used in America for so long, to label a movement that is essentially totalitarian, as you indicate.

I would not regard Objectivists who warn against the religious right and its Trojan Horse, the Republican Party as "obsessed over Religion per se at the political level".

Both parties now have totalitarian leaderships. The more dangerous of the two is the religious, because religion, as an ideology, is on the rise, whereas leftism is a spent force on its way out.

Anonymous said...

Thank-you for so thoughtful an exchange.

Your point with respect to the danger posed by Religion, whether generally or as a foundation for political activity, and Objectivist warnings relative to same are well-taken, and I certainly agree. But I would ask which of the two Parties is the more religious?

To correct my previous comment, the obsession I mentioned is more properly a fixation on the Republican Party itself vis-a-vis Religion. Let me explain that. I view it as a very dangerous misperception to think that the Republican Party is, to a a certain degree of exclusivity, motivated by or serves as a home to the voices of Religion. A number of Objectivists have maintained this position in the past and continue to do so in the current election cycle. What is absent from this view is the demonstrable fact that a significant if not larger segment of the Progressive Left that now dominates the Democrat Party is as deeply inspired by and committed to those voices of Religion as are members of the Religious Right. To extrapolate further, the entire American Progressive project was launched, not from the Marxist debating societies of European capitals, but in the churches -- especially the Protestant ones -- on the greens of American towns. In my view, the only distinction between Republican and Democrat religionists is that the former are more "honest" about this church-heritage and the fairly narrow Biblical foundation for their positions, while the latter, in a perfectly calculated tactical approach, have advantageously obscured the same foundation by subsuming it within the more palatable, seemingly non-sectarian and therefore more broadly appealing notion of the so-called "Social Gospel".

It is vital, I think, not to lose sight of this. I believe some Objectivists have.

The religious character of the Progressive Left is perfectly manifest in the ostensible Democrat Party nominee, Barack Obama, who is at present THE religious candidate in this Presidential election. It is also instructive to consider that opposition to Mr. Obama from within the Democrat Party is predicated not upon his religious views per se and the Progressive ideals that flow from them, but on his sex, his race and/or his and his mentors' distincitively racialist ideas. It is further instructive to consider the fact that the Religious Right's man in this Primary season, Mike Huckabee, failed and failed miserably to win the nomination of his fellow Republican Party voters.

If, as you say, Religion is "on the rise" in America, that rise is occurring on the political Left and within the Democrat Party. But then, in my view this isn't so much a "rise" as it is a return to basic principles. If Mr. Obama is the Democrat presidential candidate this coming November, a vote for him would be a vote for this trend.

Gus Van Horn said...

Yes. Religion is also on the rise on the left. In fact, I and others have argued that the socialist left and religious right are in the process of merging.

The problem with the Republican Party is that under ts "Reagan coalition", the religionists win no matter whether a Huckabee wins or a secular candidate (who then turns around and makes concessions to them) wins.

In fact, the "secular" candidates of the Republican Party allow it to credibly maintain the fiction that it is NOT driving America down the road to a dictatorship since people can always say things like, "Yeah, but Huckabee got his clock cleaned," even as the judiciary gets filled with anti-abortion ists and jusges who want public buildings so full of scripture as to resemble churches.

It is the Democrats who are, at least, not putting a veneer on what they are doing, whereas every statist measure the Republicans take can get misconstrued as "capitalism" in the public vernacular.

Until the religionists are driven from the GOP, it is unworthy of support.

Anonymous said...

Once again, I find myself in agreement with what you have written here. In fact, I'm one of those people who have pointed out that this election represents a point of convergence between the Left and Right -- enter the screechy Ann Coulter among others and her "endorsement" of Hillary Clinton over John McCain to illustrate the point. Perhaps the making of a new coaltion -- the Clinton Coalition? Sounds "reasonable" to me.

It's also true that the Democrats are not puttig a veneer on what they're doing -- the veneer is as it has always been on the source for those actions. But one area of that veneer is wearing thin: more Americans are beginning to realize that the Democrats, while calling themselves "patriots" have, by actions demonstrating an explicit rejection of the principle of Individual Rights, positioned themselves as the opponents of the founding idea of the United States. And for that reason, they are insupportable.

One party falsely claiming to be defenders of Capitalism on the one hand, the other falsely claiming to be defenders of the idea of the United States on the other. Convergence?

And so we're back to where we began: two Parties unworthy of support.

Gus Van Horn said...

Unworthy of support, yes.

But if there is a readily apparent way to play them against each other to buy time, then one should do so.

Anonymous said...

I think where we differ is over the efficacy of the notion of "buying time". It is my conviction that, although the country has been hovering somewhat vaguely on the precipice for the last century, the United States is now finally standing poised in a diver's stance on the verge of the point of "No Return".

It really is later than we think.

Philosophical compromises of the "buying time" variety are now not only counterproductive but positively destructive because they can be and are -- rightly, in my view -- interpreted as sanctioning what is nothing more than another aspect of the bad.

I can have no part of that. To borrow a phrase from Ed Cline's Hugh Kenrick, "it would kill me inside, and nourish a wrong."

Gus Van Horn said...

How would I be making a philosophical compromise by, say working for divided government (if it might slow things down), so long as I made it clear I support neither side?

Anonymous said...

I know from your comments that you do not support either Party. I assume your opposition is founded in terms of philosophic fundamentals. A vote "for" either Party, therefore, must entail a philosophic compromise, even if as you say, your objective is to "slow things down".

But here's the problem: in point of fact, we already have a "divided" government, and there has been an exponential acceleration of very bad things in spite of it. How can more of the same reverse this trend?

And there's a further problem. Since in my view there is no substantive difference between the Democrat and Republican parties in terms of bad philosophic essentials, I fail to see how, at the present time, the U.S. government could ever be truly "divided" on any level other than that of surface, cosmetic appearances. How can anything of substance -- bad philosophical substance -- be slowed down by putting those with Hamil cuts on one side of the room and those with blunter Bobs on the other? They're both short haircuts with different angles, and both sets of heads are filled with the same wrong ideas.

Gus Van Horn said...

Ultimately, the solution is to spread better philosophical ideas through the culture or support those who do.

In the meantime, if (as I said) one can use, say, the power lust of one party to thwart the power lust of the other, then one should do so to make time for cultural change.

Yanking a lever (or even in some cases, donating to a campaign) for one political candidate or another is not identical to professing agreement with his ideas. Such "support", if one is careful, falls into the same category as the kind of ad hoc political alliances Rand herself advocated when pursuing specific, concrete goals. Only here, the concrete goal is the government's tripping over itself as much as possible and you aren't allowing what little you do to appear to offer moral sanction to the candidate(s) in question.

In this election, I'm either voting against McCain or not at all. Everything I have said up to this point makes it clear already that I don't support Obama.

If, for the sake of argument, electing Obama is, as I suspect, useful for stopping McCain from establishing a huge amount of statism WITH Republican help and that Republicans will actually try to stop Obama, then to NOT vote for Obama would be wrong.

Anonymous said...

I see your point, though I cannot agree with it. I suspect that the minority Congressional Republicans, for all their screaming, will be in no position to to "stop" a President Obama from establishing his and his fellow Democrats' longed-for Fascist dream world precisely because the Democrats will also continue to control -- comfortably, too -- both chambers of the the Legislative Branch thereby trumping any complaints from the "Right" side of the aisle. Of course, this doesn't take into consideration those on the "Right" side of the aisle who actually have the same longed-for Fascist objectives as their Democrat counterparts and who will, therefore, not even bother to scream.

Gus Van Horn said...

Okay, we seem to be talking past each other on some level, so this will be my last stab at the point I'm trying to make.

Yes. In terms of political philosophy, little separates the two sides. However, in politics, the game for low-lifes like this is gaining and keeping power. Both sides may ultimately want the same thing, but the side in danger of not getting the credit for it will sometimes stiffen up and oppose progress towards a goal if one side appears to be in danger of getting all the credit.

Of course, there is no guarantee that this will occur, especially with the way Obama is apparently going to play one from his deck of race cards every week of the year, but then, I never said there was.

It's too early to tell whether some variant of this strategy is really viable.

In any event, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

Anonymous said...

And I thank YOU for the exchange.

Actually . . . I don't think we disagree on much other than the fact that I have a much darker view of the current electoral situation and its prospects. But I hope that your more "positive" view is the correct one, because, despite my darker outlook, I know there are people out there who are ready for and open to the kinds of valuable ideas you so eloquently discuss here.

As you say, time will tell.

Gus Van Horn said...

Never give up.