Close window  |  View original article

Liberty, Libertarians, and Scragged

Wherein we restate our founding principles.

By Petrarch  |  August 11, 2015

It's been eight years since we started Scragged, and what a wild ride it's been!  We have published several thousand articles, garnered a fair number of faithful readers and commenters, and honed our political views and writing skills.

But, have we accomplished anything?

On reviewing our inaugural essay, it strikes us as somewhat vague.  Yes, it communicates our irritation with unresponsive and unrepresentative government.  This is all well and good, but what do we actually believe?

Scragged is generally viewed as conservative, but we've gotten in disputes with staunch conservatives.  Yet libertarians disagree with us too.  Are our views purely random and idiosyncratic, or is there an underlying unifying theme that can be expressed?

We believe there is.  In fact, we don't even have to write one; it was done hundreds of years ago by John Stuart Mill is his famous essay, On Liberty:

The object of this essay is to assert one very simple principle, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle is that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right.

This paragraph is the fundamental premise of Scragged, underlying everything we write and each position we take.  If you don't agree with it - if, for example, you are an elitist liberal who believes you know best and everybody else must bow before your overwhelming wisdom - then you probably won't much like what we have to say.

Even within the confines of this principle, there is room for some pretty severe disagreement, leading to intense debates.  What, exactly, constitutes "harm to other people" which legitimizes government interference?

Liberty, And Justice, For All

For instance, consider "sins."  We all know that if you smoke and drink, you'll rot out your liver, lungs, and other organs.  As bad as it is for you, that doesn't directly harm anyone else, false claims of secondhand smoke notwithstanding.

In our view, government has no business preventing you from smoking or drinking in your own home - that would be an infringement on harmless liberty.  Government does have every right to forbid you to drink and drive - that kills thousands of innocent victims.

Government also has the right to forbid smoking on government-owned property like streets, sidewalks, and public buildings, but government has no right to forbid a private establishment, like a restaurant or club, from permitting smoking if the owners wish it.

Today, we often hear the argument that bad health choices do actually harm innocents - the taxpayers, who have to pick up the bills for care of indigent drunks and druggies.  That has nothing to do with booze or pills, though, it has to do with bad political choices.  If someone wants to contribute their own money to the care of inebriates, that is admirable, but they have no right to steal someone else's money for that purpose, even under color of law.

Similarly, on the subject of abortion: is not a pregnancy the most severe possible imposition on a free person, the woman?  By what right can we force a woman to go through all the pain and trouble of pregnancy if she'd rather not?

But when asked this way, the question avoids the most essential point: the woman is not the only person involved.  The baby is a human being too and should at least enjoy the right not to be murdered out of hand.

If you believe that a fetus is of no more significance than a hangnail, abortion rights are perfectly logical.  Hardly anyone actually believes this, though.  Most Americans feel ill at the thought of late-term abortions.  As we put it in an early article:

The Clintons were perhaps the first to reveal this truth, with their mantra that abortions should be "Safe, Legal, and Rare."

What in the world is that getting at?  Do we say that biting off your hangnails should be safe, legal, and rare?  Of course it's legal - it's your own darn hangnail, how could it not be?  Of course it should be safe - don't bite your finger off by mistake.  And who cares if it's rare or not?  If you bite off your hangnails every day, or never in your entire life, it makes absolutely no difference to anyone or anything at all, except possibly to yourself, and even then only in the smallest and most trivial of ways.

"But," you say, "Abortion is NOT trivial!"  No, it most certainly is not.  And the reason it is not trivial is precisely because a fetus is not just a scrap of tissue like a hangnail or a tumor.

It is perfectly consistent with the principles of liberty for abortion to be banned because it protects the rights of the unborn human being.  It's not our fault that biology forces babies to be borne in their mothers' bellies for 9 months, but that's no excuse for murder.

Freedom At Home and Abroad

Mill's principles of liberty can even be applied to foreign affairs.  The world is full of incompetent, murderous tyrants who have led their people into poverty and death.  Just as with people who have ruined their own lives through bad choices, this doesn't give us the right to force them to mend their ways until their depravity crosses an international border.

When Saddam Hussein invaded the sovereign nation of Kuwait in 1990, that was the international equivalent of a burglar breaking into your house to steal your stuff.  We all agree that it's legitimate for government police to pursue and arrest robbers; the same holds true when it comes to nations.

If you go back through the list of American wars, you'll find that most of them followed this model.  Germany invaded France twice; the Barbary pirates were robbing American ships and selling Americans into slavery; England was kidnapping our sailors and forcing them into their navy; the South was enslaving innocent human beings.

The wars which aren't clearly of this nature tend to be controversial.  Was the Spanish-American war just an excuse for a landgrab, as the Howard Zinn school of history would have it?  The reason given at the time was the destruction of the USS Maine, which certainly would have been an act of war if the Spanish had really done it, but that mystery will probably never be solved beyond reasonable doubt.

Civil wars are always messy.  Was the Vietnam war an example of a free people being invaded by foreign Red Chinese and their puppet allies?  Or was it a civil war between two groups of people who both had the right to decide who rules their own nation?  In hindsight, it might have been better simply to support South Vietnam without directly involving our soldiers in a war where it's impossible to tell friend from enemy just by looking.

The second Iraq war has this problem also.  At the time, we generally supported it because of Saddam Hussein's violations of international law.  It is a fact that he was pushing forward (unsuccessfully) with a nuclear program and that he possessed large quantities of (now rusty but still dangerous) chemical weapons, which was also against international law.

Alas, because the proofs of these crimes weren't clearly promulgated, all too many Americans fell for the lie that "Bush lied, thousands died!"  Now we find that we wasted a trillion dollars and thousands of American lives to make the Middle East safe for the barbarians of ISIS.

It's even possible to apply the principles of liberty to recent foreign-policy failures.  Twenty years ago we pressured Ukraine to give up its nuclear weapons, promising to protect them from an expansionist Russia.  When push came to shove, we left them in the lurch.

Ukraine is a danger to nobody.  If they'd been permitted to keep a handful of nukes, Russia probably would never have invaded and Eastern Europe would be a more peaceful place.  This is identical to the principle behind our beloved Second Amendment: each person has the right to defend themselves, as does each nation, and being well prepared makes it far less likely you'll actually have to.

By the same token, we are fervently opposed to illegal immigration, not because each and every last illegal immigrant is a blood-soaked murderer - they aren't - but because by their very presence, they make a mockery of the principle of equal justice under law.  If a certain class of people has immunity from our laws, are they not truly our masters?

Every decision in politics can be viewed through this lens.  Does this law make us more free, or less free?  Do we think this candidate will arrogate more power to the government, or return it to the people?  Is this court decision one which increases liberty, or binds us more tightly in chains?

Once again, it takes some thought to properly apply the principles.  The past month has seen a never-ending cavalcade of talking heads celebrate how the Supreme Court's decision on homosexual "marriage" increases liberty.  Isn't that a result we should support?

No, because it's not about increasing liberty for homosexuals.  The Supreme Court granted them that in 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down anti-sodomy laws as unconstitutional.

We agree with that decision, because government has no business telling consenting adults what they may do in their own bedrooms, no matter how revolting we may personally find their practices.  Our view is much like that of actress Beatrice Campbell, who on being asked a related question, responded:

I don’t care what they do, so long as they don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses.

Forcing states to permit homosexual unions doesn't give homosexuals any freedoms they didn't already have - they already had the freedom to do what they please in bed, and two (or however many) individuals can already sign legal agreements covering issues of medical care, inheritance, or whatever they feel is important.  The gay marriage decision is, instead, about ending the liberty of people of conscience to avoid practices they find abhorrent, and their liberty to refuse to endorse those practices.

Future Shocks

As these illustrations show, the fundamental political views of Scragged do have a clear and consistent basis in principle.  It ought to be possible to communicate these views in a way that most people find reasonable.

Yet, it's clear that despite our best efforts, this nation is suffering under a definite trend of decreasing liberty and increasing tyranny.  Can this be reversed?

Our Founders thought so, but only through extreme measures:

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.

- Thomas Jefferson

The last time America can truly be said to have done this, was during the Civil War: thousands of Union soldiers died to make men free, as the song goes.  Oh, we've shed blood watering the tree of liberty in Germany, France, and Japan, with rather less success in Africa and the Middle East.  Other than fighting the threats of Hitler and the USSR, which were never seriously acted upon against our homeland, we haven't shed any blood in defense of our own liberties.

Really, we'd rather not.  We'd much rather pay a less heavy price - which is what Scragged is all about.  If the pen is mightier than the sword, we'll wield the weapon of choice with all our might.