The Tyranny of Good Ideas

The United States was not designed to be a democracy, but it has become one to its detriment. This has created a situation wherein the popularity of “good ideas” overrides the established limits on government power. We are thus left with a system of governance in which any constitutional provision can be overridden by the extent to which an idea gains in popularity.

Sure, on paper the U.S. remains a constitutional republic. But how far does one have to stretch to believe that the constitutional parchment really is the central consideration in how laws are written or in how laws are implemented? The recent outrage over AIG bonuses, for example, has generated calls to tax the bonuses at 100%, or to take other onerous measures to punish those who receive such bonuses. But, the bonuses have already been distributed — wouldn’t any such tax therefore constitute an ex post facto law?

The proposed measures would also only apply to AIG bonus recipients. Wouldn’t any such measure be a bill of attainder?

Are not both such efforts therefore unconstitutional?


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Reading Minds

At this time there are no laws that protect “mental privacy.” If the technology advances a bit further, it should be possible to use it to read people’s minds without their knowing it. A huge number of commercial applications should then be possible.

If the technology does take off we will need anti-spying devices that would be wearable (or implantable). One wouldn’t want to be caught unprotected, after all.


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American History in 2 Bullet Points

  • The Constitution – triumph of conservatism over liberalism.
  • The Civil War – triumph of liberalism over conservatism.

Considerations: the revolution and ensuing constitutional draft were a victory for states rights and a limited federal state. The enumeration of powers in the Constitution was the key moment in this victory.

The Civil War marked the end of conservatism’s victory lap. That conflict might have been about slavery, but it was also about the underlying constitutional issues: slavery was being defended by those who believed in the ideal of a limited national government that allowed local governments to make local decisions. Hence there is a straight line from the arguments of the founding federalists to the arguments of the confederacy.

So, where do “conservatism” and “liberalism” come into play? There is a natural kinship between federalism and conservatism. The interest of conservatism lies in limiting the power of government. The power of a national government to effect change is thus in itself an anti-conservative creation. Therefore it is in conservatism’s interest to limit the power of that government, thereby limiting the reach of government in general. The more power the federal government has, the less power the states will have and therefore the less power the people will have.

Liberalism believes in the exercise of power as a tool for promoting the general welfare. For liberalism, the Constitution grants the federal government an unlimited sovereignty over all aspects of life. Since a national government is uniquely positioned to effect large-scale change in the lives of men, liberalism will typically argue against federalism. That is, liberalism does not believe in power-sharing, since such power-sharing will make it more difficult to effect desired changes at the national level.

Does this mean federalism died in 1865? If so, what are the implications of this death?

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Under what conditions may a man revolt? This question is growing in urgency.

Another question is even more important, however: What constitutes revolt? Are all acts of disobedience revolutionary?

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We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

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On Liberty

“Liberty” is too narrow a concept to serve as a foundation for libertarianism. Ultimately, this philosophy of government is not about liberty, but about the love of self. To love liberty, after all, is to love what one can do and be when in a free state — to love liberty is thus to love oneself, to love being alive.

What does it mean to be happy? Happiness requires freedom.

But wait, this is surely false. Even a prisoner can be happy in his cell. Indeed, in a tyrannical state the threat of prison is no threat at all. It’s just one more “right” to which the citizen is entitled. There will come a time in the not-so-distant future when Americans will all demand the right to be imprisoned.

No, happiness does not require freedom. The love of self, the love of being alive, is not happiness. It is something more primal, less tranquil.

Self-destruction, perhaps? Perhaps that’s merely the other extreme, a false hedonistic panacea.

What of these extremes? Is it really the sedative of contentment on the one side, and the drunken stupor of self-destruction on the other? What does this formulation tell us about the nature of self-love?

Perhaps this: to love oneself is not to seek escape via the sedation of contentment (Buddhism), and it’s not to be found in manic perversions. Instead, to love one’s liberty is to love what one can become. The love of liberty is ultimately the love of a future Me that is shaped by the present Me. In loving myself I muster the energy to make myself anew, to find a vision that energizes me for the battle against me.

This is the meaning of Nietzsche’s formulation that in self-love there is self-destruction, then. To this I merely add the necessity of freedom. Thus, we must beware of conflating self-love with happiness. The man who loves himself is not content, and he is certainly not drunk. The content one has run away from himself. The drunken one has fallen headlong into the moment. The self-lover, however, does neither: he looks to his future self for guidance, he acts out of an energizing vision that drives him onward because he loves himself — and in loving himself he hates himself all the same, hates what he has failed to thus far become, and thus loves what he can be.

There’s a reason that lovers of liberty come off as “hopeful.” They are lovers of the future, always thinking ahead to that time when a nation — or a man — will be better than he is today.

To be a libertarian is thus to love liberty for the sake of being able to carry out one’s own self-improvement even when it is not forced upon him. Why? Because it is harder this way! Because to “improve” through coercion is no improvement at all. This is what the libertarian thus resents most about liberalism: that the liberal wants not to improve himself, but he wants to improve others.

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The New Environmentalism

It has seemed to many during the last few years as if it were impossible to be an environmentalist without believing in the anthropogenic global warming argument. Of course, this is false: one can be quite concerned about environmental devastation without buying into the sloppy science of the global warming diehards. To wit:

  • Water shortages existed prior to the AGW argument, and they will exist after that argument has died out. The challenge of supplying water to the future billions who will populate the earth is a daunting one that will have to be addressed by serious people.
  • Rainforest depletion is still occurring at an alarming rate, and that trend has nothing to do with AGW. There might be serious concerns about eliminating such a potent carbon sink, though algal growth is probably a much better sink in any case.

Interestingly, the libertarian position on these concerns might be the best form of non-AGW environmentalism still extant. That position could hold that individuals have a moral obligation to assist in preventing these and other forms of environmental damage, and at the same time reject arguments calling for intrusive government intervention. The chief premise underlying this position is simple: if human beings can’t band together on a voluntary basis in order to “save the world,” then human beings deserve to perish.

This position can be defended:

  • Coercion is undesirable in itself – the default position in human affairs ought to be the rejection of coercion as a model for encouraging desired actions.
  • The claim that without coercion survival will not be guaranteed is, first of all, most likely false on its face: humans will be around regardless of how badly they manage the environment. Even if they were to go extinct, however, it is incredibly unlikely that they would take the whole of Earth’s ecology along with it. No one, not even Al Gore, is prophesying such a calamitous future.
  • If the second claim above is true, then the worst case scenario is the extinction of the human race. Therefore the important question is this: Is the guarantee of human survival (assuming such could be given) worth the consequences of coercion?
  • To answer “Yes” to this question is to believe that there is something special and good about human beings – but what could this be? What could possibly justify the use of violence and/or the threat thereof? Why should one accept that violence against our fellow man is justified solely because we want to survive?
  • In short – what good is man? What is his raison d’etre? If he is to exist solely by virtue of doing violence to other men, what is the point? And if he, in his free, uncoerced, and voluntary state, cannot muster up the desire to save the very planet on which he lives, then what good was he in the first place? Why would we save such a shortsighted creature?
  • Libertarianism offers at least a hopeful answer: Let us try to save ourselves (and the “planet,” if you wish) by relying on what is best in us: a free and uncoerced self-love that bids us to go on with our lives as free men. Let us save ourselves and our habitat because we love life.
  • But to love life — that requires freedom.

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One Thing to Know about Obama

9AM. He gets to the office at 9AM.

That bothers me more than anything else I’ve found out about him. I’d be less concerned about him being a Manchurian candidate-communist than I am at this revelation.

9AM. Lazy bastard.

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The Crisis

The “health care crisis” is not a funding crisis. It’s a crisis of expectations: residents of wealthy societies sometimes come to expect that society to guarantee certain outcomes. In this particular nation, it appears that its residents have decided to demand a comfy and pain-free 80 years of life. The unrealistic nature of this demand is by no means an obstacle to its being made. Indeed, this lack of realism makes the idea appear even more palatable to those who are enamored with utopianism.

Added to this crisis of expectations is another: a crisis of health. But this crisis is brought on by unhealthy living, and any efforts to fix the symptoms of unhealthy living will inevitably encourage unhealthy living. 

There’s only one solution to this: Americans must reacquaint themselves with the idea of Noble Death. The soporific of a “right to health care” should be replaced with a vibrant re-dedication to a good life that sees its climax in a noble and happy death. 

In short, America needs courage.

Filed under: Bioethics

Bush the Prescient

Yet more evidence of the greatness of the 43rd president:


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