Category Archives: Ethics

Raico on Klaus and the Czechs

The LRC Blog publishes Ralph Raico’s appraisal of Vaclav Klaus:

Sorry to have to disagree with a couple of my LRC pals, but as far as I’m concerned Vaclav Klaus was no hero of freedom. In the mid-1940s, the Wehrmacht withdrew from Bohemia and Moravia, and the Czechs, who hadn’t uttered a peep (some resistance fighters had to be flown in from Britain), suddenly found their virility. Led by Edvard Benes, all Germans were expelled from their ancestral lands in the Sudetenland, from Prague, and elsewhere. “Czechoslovakia” from the beginning was a fraud cooked up at Versailles; it contained more Germans than Slovaks, and the Slovaks were discriminated against to the advantage of the Czechs, as was the Hungarian minority (expelled with the Germans). Probably around one and a half million Germans–almost all women, children, and old men–died in the brutal expulsion. Some years ago, the Czech president, Vaclav Havel, apologized for the crime, defying public opinion. Vaclav Klaus ostentatiously refused to do so. So, no, Klaus was no freedom fighter, just another amoral center-right politico.

Klaus

Raico posits Klaus is an amoral figure because, unlike Vaclav Havel he refused to apologize for the expulsion of the Germans from Czechoslovakia when Klaus was 4-years old. I must admit I am not entirely clear on the details of this apology business. Why was it expected Klaus would apologize when his predecessor, Havel had already done so? Is one time enough, or are these apologies something the Czechs are obliged to issue periodically, every so-and-so years?

More to the point, absent actual discontinuation of injustice, what difference does an apology make? How come the amoral Klaus may be contrasted to Havel when neither did anything to enable the expelled Germans to reclaim their property? Suppose you were driven from your home. Suppose that after a while the people who drove you away apologized to you, but still did not allow you to return. (“We’re sorry for continuing to keep you from your home. Please forgive us.”) Would you feel the apology had partially corrected the injustice you were suffering, or would it just increase your anger? Would you even consider it an apology at all? Since it is clear you would not, it follows the only real difference between Klaus and Havel was that Klaus did not insult the intelligence of expellee-Germans with apologizing for something he was obviously not sorry about.

In fact such apologies by heads of states are problematic in themselves. In his apology Havel stated he was apologizing on the behalf of the Czech people. This reeks of a ridiculous level of pretentiousness and self-importance. The only valid apology a stateperson may make is one on the behalf of the state itself. But they should never be encouraged to appoint themselves the spokesperson for an entire people, least of all by libertarians such as Raico. Havel could not speak for the Czechs as a whole and it was outrageous of him to claim otherwise. Furthermore, the ultimate logic of such an apology, made in the name of an entire people, implies the guilt of the people as a whole (regardless of any caveats and disclaimers to the contrary in the statement itself). It implies the notion of collective responsibility, which is something that Raico has (correctly) argued against in the context of the crimes of Nazi Germany and the German people.

The Czechs

Raico writes that the Czechs “hadn’t uttered a peep” during German occupation, but when “in the mid-1940s, the Wehrmacht withdrew” then “suddenly found their virility” and went about expelling the Germans. It is safe to say stating the Czechs “hadn’t uttered a peep” is a very uncharitable characterization of the level of Czech resistance to the German occupation. The Czechs offered less resistance to the forces of the occupation than some occupied nations, but more than others. On May 5th 1945 the Czech resistance launched an effort to eject the Wehrmacht from Prague and fought it on its own for four days until the Red Army rolled in on May 9th.* Altogether some 5,700 Czechs were killed in Bohemia in May 1945.** Some of these were killed in German reprisals, as civilian victims of German artillery or bombs, or were executed as alleged collaborators, but many of them perished in combat as members of the Czech resistance fighting the armed forces of Nazi Germany. If one is so inclined, one may cavalierly dismiss this level of resistance as not arising to a level of a “peep”, but if so, it seems to me such a severe judge of the Czechs better be certain that in similar circumstances he would have done more. Failing such conviction a measure of caution, and even respect, would seem to be more appropriate.

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Shock TV: Pavlik Morozov Redux

Recently I once more found myself thinking about what was probably the most shocking moment in the history of television. It was after I stumbled on an article that wraps up the story of the Iraqi youth who was one of the main actors in that event. Here is what I mean.

Ages ago, in elementary school I was told the former Soviet Union had been a very bad place to live in. I was told the regime there had been so rotten it encouraged children to inform on their parents and report them to the authorities, if they suspected their guardians were plotting against the state. The authorities would praise the children for having done so in the press and handed them trinkets as a recognition for a job well done. Certainly I thought then, and since then, that any authority which engaged in something like that must had been beyond contempt and redemption.

Scroll forward to 2005 or 2006. I am seated in front of the TV set, flipping channels. There’s Oprah Winfrey Show — normally I would keep on going, but something makes me hesitate. There’s Oprah’s best therapist voice, and there are people in camo seated on her couch. This could be Iraq-related, which means I’m definitely interested.*

The TV has my undivided attention as Oprah ask a Middle Eastern-looking boy sitting next to the soldiers: “And when did you realize your father was involved with some very bad people?” I grow momentarily uneasy, and as I continue to follow the conversation I find myself sitting in disbelief, completely at a loss to assimilate what my ears are undoubtedly hearing. They are praising a boy for turning in his father to the occupational authorities, in the clear sight of hundreds of millions of people the world over. Have they gone completely mad??

Long story short, a 14-year old Iraqi youth, Jamil, sought out American troops and informed them on his father’s role in the Iraqi resistance. By his own claims his father was abusive, and reading between the lines it seems likely this was the reason he turned him in to his enemies. This led to the arrest of Jamil’s father by the Americans, and soon thereafter the murder of his mother and sister by vindicative guerrillas, after his father — having learned it was his own son who had turned him in — broke under interrogation and gave up the names of the people he had been fighting with.

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Aggressors and the Citizenry – Theories on Anarcho-Capitalist Revolution

Broadness is fairly spread throughout ideologies and worldviews, with each ideology having their own “school,” or “branch.” Very few worldviews have been capable of escaping this kind of disorienting divide, a separation creating quarrels between individuals due to the fact that their sociopolitical ideologies can be expanded so broadly. The reason for this is quite simple really – these “ideologies” and “worldviews” that I speak of all target the state as a way to control the masses into doing what these individuals believe is best (or worst) for the world. Governance, as anyone with a basic understanding of political science knows, can be done in a variety of different ways, due to the fact that the state itself is a monopoly – an institution that has a monopoly on whatever it chooses through the “ideologies”. Therefore these ideologies which I speak of only vary on the level of violence they want the monopoly to utilize – this is what creates the “schools” and the “branches.” Continue reading

Thoughts on Cultural Evolution

Merlin

The main idea: Hayek’s concept of cultural evolution must be furthered by taking into account the conflicts between different replicating entities: the group, the individual and the meme itself.

11. Cultural Evolution

1.1 Friedrich Hayek’s last work (and the one I personally find the most compelling) The Fatal Conceit  elucidates his concept of cultural evolution. In short, Hayek states that social mores, intermediate in nature between reason and instinct, are subject to an evolutionary process. Those human groups that sport the mores which are better suited to boosting their numbers will expand at the expense of groups following less adapt traditions. Though such norms are (most of the time, at least) not the products of any deliberate human rationality, they still ‘behave’ as if some human intelligence periodically reviewed their usefulness, a special case of Hayek’s celebrated spontaneous order.

1.2 I will have to skip here Hoppe’s critique of Hayekian cultural evolution (we may meet again, but for now let me state that this lecture sounds very Hayekian for a critic of cultural evolution), and rather focus on but a single issue: namely, that as stated by Hayek this model is clearly one of group selection, a set of theories which have been extensively (and, to my mind, convincingly) critiqued. Can Hayekian cultural evolution jump past this limitation and can we gain any additional insights in the process?

Of course, but we must go deeper!

Of course, but we must go deeper!

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Voluntary Slavery and Lawful Consent

godfatherIn the movie, The Godfather, Michael Corleone relates to his sweetheart Kay Adams a story about his father:

MICHAEL: Well, when Johnny was first starting out, he was signed to a personal services contract with this big-band leader. And as his career got better and better, he wanted to get out of it. But the band leader wouldn’t let him. Now, Johnny is my father’s godson. So my father went to see this bandleader and offered him $10,000 to let Johnny go, but the bandleader said no. So the next day, my father went back, only this time with Luca Brasi. Within an hour, he had a signed release for a certified check of $1,000.

KAY: How did he do that?

MICHEAL: My father made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

KAY: What was that?

MICHAEL: Luca Brasi held a gun to his head, and my father assured him that either his brains or his signature would be on the contract … That’s a true story.

Of course, we all recognize the pun – making “an offer he couldn’t refuse” ordinarily means an offer so good it can’t be passed up. In this case, it means literally an offer that cannot be refused because Luca Brasi will kill you.

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Least, Sufficient Force: Libertarian Theory of Defense

reddawnwolverinesIn The Ethics of Liberty Murray Rothbard made the remark that punishment theory has been scarcely treated by libertarians. The very same thing could be said for the theory of defense. If there has been little attempt by libertarians to determine what sanctions may be taken against an invader of property of another, there have been just as few attempts to determine what means may be used to thwart such an invader.

Rothbard himself devoted a chapter of The Ethics of Liberty to each of these two questions, but then spent a number of paragraphs in the chapter on defense discussing punishment instead, and so himself treated the latter question even more briefly than the former. This brief treatment of defense in The Ethics of Liberty is inspirational, but underdeveloped and insufficient.

In his treatment of defense Rothbard first poses a question of how extensive one’s right to defense of person and property is. He then proposes a basic answer: “Up to the point at which he begins to infringe on the property rights of someone else.” This can scarcely be argued with, for it is simply the principle of non-aggression restated. To infringe upon the property rights of another is indeed impermissible in any circumstances.

Rothbard’s elementary answer is useful in that it settles the matter of how much force may, in the conduct of defense, be brought to bear against people other than the aggressor. The answer is none at all. The non-aggression principle does not permit for any amount of “collateral damage” against third parties. Any act of intimidation, fraud or violence against people other than the aggressor carried out under the veneer of repelling aggression is in fact an act of aggression in its own right, and does not fall under defense.

There is one matter Rotbard’s basic answer does not resolve, however. That is, the question of how much force may in the conduct of defense be brought to bear against the aggressor himself? If there is a right to self-defense — and Rothbard showed that for libertarians there has to be — then there can only be one answer. Against the aggressor, the aggressed-upon may use up to exactly the amount of force that is necessary to thwart the aggression.

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Power’s Struggle to Transcend Legitimacy

just_say_noImagine you are a young adult, say, sixteen or seventeen years old. Driving down the highway, you and your friends are laughing and joking. Without warning, you see a police cruiser, circus lights blazing, in your rearview mirror, and quickly pull to the side of the road. You are gripped with terror in the knowledge that you have been breaking the law in a very serious way. When the police officer approaches, you reluctantly roll down your window. He immediately recognizes the smell emanating from your vehicle – he orders you to step out of the vehicle and calls for backup. You are cuffed, your car is searched and a bag of cannabis is found. You are going to jail – it will be the first step in a very long journey that is going to have lifelong consequences. We could have told the same story of a young adult walking down the road with friends, laughing and carousing while drinking, circa 1920’s. During Prohibition, the consumption of alcohol under most circumstances was illegal and punishment could be very severe.

Of course, most people subjected to alcohol prohibition or drug prohibition feel that the measures taken against them are simply unfair. But this doesn’t matter in the eyes of the exponents of prohibition because, as they see it, any criminal feels that the legitimate exercise of power in curtailing or correcting his crimes is unfair.

Alone in your jail cell the first night, you might begin wondering how you ended up in this mess. Did you make a wrong choice somewhere along the way? Had you fallen into the wrong crowd? Perhaps you really are as anti-social as the system is treating you and you’re just not wise or mature enough to realize it. This could be the wake-up call you needed to grow up and straighten your life out.

Funky64 (www.lucarossato.com) / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

But as the weeks and months and years drag on, as the legal fees, the court’s fines, the community service, closed-off education and work opportunities – perhaps even some serious jail time – begin to pile on, you will probably lose all thoughts of where you might have gone wrong and your need to reform yourself. The haranguing of your parents will gradually begin to sound like the intolerable screeching of Harpies and will lose its grip on your conscience entirely. You will know, deep inside, that the punishment which you are being forced to endure is out of all proportion to whatever you did wrong – if you did anything wrong at all. Your thoughts may begin to turn to the law itself, and wondering how it is that such an innocuous act as being in the presence of friends smoking a joint could be punished with such medieval abandon.

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