A One Weapon Rhetorical Repertoire

Mr Sandefur seems to use only one method of argument, deliberate misconstrual. In his latest sally before I respond, it might be instructive to count both his rhetorical points and his misconstruals and see which wins out [note: score is 0 arguments, 4 misconstruals]. Again, to save space, find the rest below the fold.

  1. [misconstrual] The essay begins with a picture (hot linked, theft or no?) of Tianamen Square with a caption “Olson’s publick liberty in action”. How many ways is this misconstrued. First, Publick Liberty (the spelling he objected to once) was spelled that way to connect with Puritan New England’s notion of liberty and that’s how they, not I, spelled it. I followed the spelling when referring to their notion. Their notion of Liberty, by the way, can in no way be connected to any sort of action in Tianamen Square because Publick Liberty was the freedom of individual villages and localities to each have the freedom order their village life and mores in the way they wished. How that is “tyranny” I’m unclear because … the extent of it is just one small village. Now, the wealth of your village may differ, but my town would struggle to purchase and man even one tank I think much less the parade seen in the picture.
  2. [misconstrual] “It’s darkly amusing to see this coming from a man who accused me of being anti-Lincoln.” A charge he has not defended himself, but instead mistakenly missed the attribution of his anti-Lincoln-seque stance. Lincoln used war to defend the Union against secession. His stated reason for going to war was not to rid the Nation of slavery, but to preserve the Union. The basis of this discussion is on whether a Nation state is right to use force to defend its dissolution. Lincoln did. To argue the state does not have that right, is in that sense countered by Lincoln’s example. I’ve been arguing that the state does have the right to preserve itself, how he counters to find that as a “Confederate” notion is a cute twist … or deliberate misconstrual?
  3. [misconstrual] Mr Sandefur offers “It is simply a defense of tyranny as not only a legitimate politics, but as the only possible politics. Nero, therefore, was right to throw the Christians to the lions, and the Christians had the right to stand and die. Justice is simply the will of the stronger. I think that Olson’s candid admission of this point qualifies as me winning the debate: he has revealed that his views of politics are utterly perverse.” At the outset, Mr Sandefur had noted he has read little of Solzhenitsyn and nothing of Jouvenel, on which I base my current political ideas. He noted at that time, we might spend some time talking past each other. Now on the one hand, it might be easy to claim myself as “clearly winning the debate” if I were to misconstrue, misunderstand and deliberately exaggerate beyond recognition something he said, and declare that the absurdity of that point clearly shows me to be winning the debate. However … that doesn’t go very far in the exchange of ideas. I will return to this later, but as a rhetorical point on his part that is also in the “misconstrual=rhetoric” category. My argument is that Nero was wrong to throw the Christians to the lions but that the state granted him the authority (the right).

That’s it. His entire response is predicated on deliberate misunderstanding. Wow, educational practices in schools these days must be waning badly.

I had asked him about whether Libertarian ideas could sustain a state and his answer:

But the difference is that libertarians do not believe that those mores should be preserved for the sake of the state. A culture has (so to speak) a right to change, and a state should not interfere. When people decide to change their fashions, their languages, their musical styles, their religious views, et cetera, the state should not interfere. We have a dynamic view of society as always changing; and the state as an institution solely for the protection of individual rights, including the individual right to change a culture. The conservative, by contrast, believes in what Karl Popper called “the arrested state”: the state with no change; the state in which anyone who demands change has “the right to stand and die.”

Again, Mr Sandefur, a request, … please pay attention to what I’ve been writing. I’ve noted (and you noticed then) that the notions of government and so on are not the typical conservative one. In what way do my ideas of requiring every village and town, precinct and county to each decide on its own how to deal with issues facing us today mean “change” will not occur? It seems to me a lot more freedom than we have today is granted by that sort of practice. It seems to me, if your village has the power to decide how to deal with same -sex marriage, drugs, immigration, or abortion then it also has the freedom to change its mind, … you know, to change. Now, my position isn’t Conservative, and it isn’t Libertarian either, because the freedom to let the locale decide much state involvement in their lives they wish.

In the previous essays, I noted that in the last 500 years that the Western states have been employing the state, academia, and the church have all been actively via law, via social and educational practices and by virtually every means at their disposal to civilize the people living withing those borders. This effort has been successful. Mr Sandefur it seems admits (partially) that the state cannot “rightfully” enter into this practice. The state has no right it seems trying to inculcate good manners in its people (except he also says it can oddly enough). In a footnote he notes that while a state can’t do this, it can saying “Perhaps I should emphasize that I by defend I mean defend through coercion. Things like education or establishing monuments are a different matter, I think.” Uhm, schools for example are not either free of coercion or a free choice in this country. Educational standards are set up “as a matter of national interest” and you can’t exactly opt out of them in this country. Does the state have that right? How far does that right go? In Sparta, Spartan boys were sent to “school” for the beginning of their military career at age 7. They were free to return to “civilian” life at age 60. That’s “just education” or is it? As “education” I wouldn’t grant the state that authority, but if some states might get that right (as was the case in Sparta … see below).

Returning to the question of whether Sharia is right or not. I’m tempted to first “miscontrue” Mr Sandefur right back and note that his position involving popular notions supporting change would mean that if America ever became majority Muslim then a “change” to Sharia law (at the Federal level) would mean that Sharia should rightfully and peacefully become the law of the land. However, I don’t think this is what he is getting at.

However, it seems to me our difference of how we look at the Middle East and the rights of states has to do with how we see ethics and the state. Mr Sandefur is of the opinion that “State” is a universal ethical concept. For Mr Sandefur “States” are concrete and have certain rights and restrictions. These things are absolute. He has an “ethical” framework by which he judges the State. I do not. I define ethics on an individual basis. States are not an ethical “thing.”

I define “State” a concept defined by the people gathering together to form a nation or union for their purposes. In that sense, that state has rights and restrictions and responsibilities assigned by its collective ideas of what is right for that instance of state. So therefore a state made up of people who think that left handed individuals should serve as slaves is has the “right” to enslave left handed people. Jouvenel defines authority in that way, reflexively. You have the authority to ask of me that which I will do when you ask and that I think is within your authority. An “authoritarian” state is one which lacks authority, and must substitute force. I believe the instances in which a state can “rightly” use force are limited, but not nonexistent. Stalin used force in keeping his nation continuing to resist Hitler. I’m not convinced that was wrong. He also used force to enslave millions of his own people and run horrific reign of terror. That was wrong, but an awful lot of people gave him and the NKVD terrible powers.

The problem for the Libertarian is two-fold, it seems to me. First is, it is not clear at all, that the state can be absent in the effort to civilize us. Mr Sandefur thinks that’s fine, I don’t think it would have worked in the past 500 years, and I’m doubtful whether it could bow out in the future. Secondly, like Communism before them which seemed to think communism could only really flourish if it eliminated the opposition, Libertarian states can really only exist if all the other nations agree to be Libertarian as well. A Libertarian state is even less suited than a democracy to stand up and resist an aggressive authoritarian state because it shackles itself with all sorts of restrictions.

Finally, Mr Sandefur’s Libertarian state is less free in many ways than the one I’d suggest. In Mr Sandefur’s Libertarian unrestricted world, Sam-the-drug-using-nudist and his four wives and two husbands can buy property in an Amish village and live there without any problems. This is “great” for Sam and his family but is not ideal for the Amish villagers who want the freedom to order their life the way they wish. My suggestion is that Sam should find a town of like minded free spirited people and let them cast laws to his liking and live there and let everyone else do likewise. Now this freedom to order their village in the way they see fit should not be unrestricted to prevent, well, serious human rights issues. However, that would be the job of the state and federal governments, which should insure commerce goes smoothly, to work for the general defense, and make sure the “authority” granted to towns and villages is not coerced but freely given.

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5 comments

  1. Mark,

    With all due respect, your links regarding Senator Obama leave you no moral high ground on deliberate misconstruing.

  2. TGGP says:

    You might be interested in this thread over at the Distributed Republic. It actually uses Popper (who Sandefur tried to cite on his behalf) to argue for the autonomy of the community.

    Neither of you is taking a Lincolnian position. Lincoln did believe in the authority of the Union to make war on the Confederate states in order to bring them back, and if he could maintain the Union without freeing a single slave he would. At the same time he rejected the Confederate states’ “public liberty” to do as they pleased. I asked what was so bad about the south seceding here. I also agree with Mencken: “The doctrine is simply this: that the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg sacrificed their lives to the cause of self-determination—”that government of the people, by the people, for the people,” should not perish from the earth. It is difficult to imagine anything more untrue. The Union soldiers in that battle actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves. What was the practical effect of the battle of Gettysburg? What else than the destruction of the old sovereignty of the States, i.e., of the people of the States? The Confederates went into battle free; they came out with their freedom subject to the supervision and veto of the rest of the country—and for nearly twenty years that veto was so effective that they enjoyed scarcely more liberty, in the political sense, than so many convicts in the penitentiary.”

  3. Mark says:

    TGGP,
    Technically speaking we’re in agreement on Lincoln, I was claiming Mr Sandefur was not following lead, but not that I was instead.

    I realize that much of my political musing has taken me afield of American political orthodoxy. However, I think Mr Sandefur thinks his ideas constitute the “true” American political orthodox (but isn’t).

  4. TGGP says:

    I think Mr Sandefur thinks his ideas constitute the “true” American political orthodox (but isn’t)

    Seems doubtful to me. He considers himself a libertarian/Objectivist, and they take a certain pride in being radical and outside the mainstream. That way they can blame all the problems with politics on people other than them! The even more radical become Against Politics.

  5. Accustomed Information Far this offshoot