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More on Kenneth Roth:

The Tikkun piece by Kenneth Roth referenced in my previous post provides some interesting insight into the mind of a leading modern NGO/human rights advocate, to wit:

My father had the good fortune to escape Nazi Germany in July of 1938. Among the lessons that I drew from his stories was that military force alone is not enough to combat the world's evils. Clearly military force was needed to stop Hitler, but military force was also a very blunt instrument, it took a long time to play out, and it didn't work until six million Jews had already been killed.

That's a rather odd lesson to draw, I think. Historians seem to agree that if Great Britain and France had challanged Germany militarily any time before the annexation of the Sudetanland, Germany would have been at a decided disadvantage, and would have had to retreat.

What is needed in addition to a readiness to use military force is a focus on the development of ethical views. We need a strong public morality that does not allow such atrocities to occur in the first place. I am not a pacifist by any means. I believe in using military force in places like Darfur, where it is necessary to stop the killing.

Note the example Roth gives. It's okay to use military force to stop genocide or other massive human rights violations, but not, e.g., in self-defense.

Fifty-eight years ago today (Dec. 10, 2006), in the aftermath of the Second World War, the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, not as a binding treaty but as a declaration. From this broad statement of principles emerged a series of legally binding treaties. Some are quite familiar to Americans, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which, in many respects, looks like the U.S. Bill of Rights. Some are less familiar, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which addresses issues such as the right to education, the right to housing, and the right to work—necessities that Americans often don't think of as human rights, but that most of the world does. There are also specialized treaties on such matters as genocide, torture, racial discrimination, and the rights of women and children....

Now, there are some frustrating limits to international human rights law. First, it does not establish an absolute right to education or to food, but rather it says that governments have a duty to progressively realize those rights on the basis of available resources. So it speaks in terms of trends and intentions rather than absolute results. Second, human rights law speaks only to governments, not to private individuals who may express discriminatory attitudes.

So, Kenneth Roth thinks that the "positive rights" of international law don't go far enough. This is surely enough to make anyone with libertarian sympathies shudder. But even left-wing civil libertarians may shudder at his disappointment that international law doesn't ban "private individuals" from expressing "discriminatory attitudes."

Another concept that is often a source of confusion is that of proportionality. You often hear people say that so-and-so responded in a disproportionate way or that a specific attack was not proportionate. The confusion lies in the fact that proportionality has two different meanings; one of them is of concern to organizations like Human Rights Watch, the other is not. What we look at is whether, in a particular attack, the reasonably anticipated military advantage of destroying a target is justified in light of the likely civilian costs. For example, if you expect to kill an entire family in order to eliminate one foot soldier, that would probably be considered a disproportionate attack. This jus in bello sense of proportionality, as codified by the Geneva Conventions, requires constantly weighing expected civilian cost against military advantage.

If you're wondering how in God's name an NGO, with no knowledge of various secrets governments are privy to, at best a shaky handle on the relevant strategic objectives, an assumedly limited knowledge of military tactics, and so forth, can possibility from its position determine in hindsight whether a "the reasonably anticipated miliary advantage" of destroying any parituicular target "is justified in light of the likely civilian costs," well, so am I. [And Roth has previously expressed the completely unworkable position that if one is engaged in war, one must treat the other side's civilians as equally valuable to one's own; in other words, if you can save 99 of your own civilians by bombing a target that would result in the deaths of 100 enemy civilians, doing so would violate international law.

We also are challenging America's method of fighting terrorism. There is nothing that is a greater affront to human rights principles than the deliberate killing of civilians. But the Bush administration has chosen to fight terrorism without regard to human rights.

Close your eyes. Think for a moment of what Iraq and Afghanistan would look like right now if the Bush Administration paid no attention to human rights. One can think that the Administration actually has some regard for human rights, or that it thinks that the negative publicity from, say, massacring civilians who support Sadrists, the Taliban, and Sunni terrorists in Iraq would outweight the benefits, but the idea that the U.S. is indiscriminately violating human rights, given the firepower available to the U.S. military, is facially absurd. Such overstatement hardly lends credibility to Roth and HRW.

Overall, I think it's fair to conclude that Roth and HRW, like Amnesty International, are part of the international far left. That's not to say that they don't sometimes do yeoman's work on human rights issues, but that their reports, public statements, et al., must be read critically in light of their underlying ideology, which despite Roth's protestations, is essentially pacifist.

UPDATE: Another stray thought: I'm sure that circa 1933, or even 1938, "public morality" in Germany was such that the German public would have overwhelmingly opposed the proposition that their government should murder six million Jewish civilians and another six million or so others for the greater glory of the Reich and the German people. That didn't stop it from happening. "Public morality" is hardly enough, especially in dictatorships where the leaders can feel free to ignore the public, suppress evidence of what they are doing, and manipulate public opinion through control of the media.

Justin (mail):
"Close your eyes. Think for a moment of what Iraq and Afghanistan would look like right now if the Bush Administration paid no attention to human rights. One can think that the Administration actually has some regard for human rights, or that it thinks that the negative publicity from, say, massacring civilians who support Sadrists, the Taliban, and Sunni terrorists in Iraq would outweight the benefits, but the idea that the U.S. is indiscriminately violating human rights, given the firepower available to the U.S. military, is facially absurd. Such overstatement hardly lends credibility to Roth and HRW."

This is an uncharitable reading of Roth's statement. You assume that Roth does not believe that Bush considers "publicity from, say, massacring civilians who support Sadrists, the Taliban, and Sunni terrorists in Iraq." By making that assumption, Roth indeed looks facile and silly, sure - but wouldn't the better response be to not make that assumption?

A far more charitable view of Roth's comments is that Bush considers practical implications of committing atrocities, but puts no value on human rights itself. One can still think this more charitable view of Roth's comments is unfair towards Bush (I don't think its fair, and I'm hardly a Bush supporter), but at least you can actually engage Roth's real views rather than a theoretical strawman.
3.15.2007 3:40pm
Thief (mail) (www):
Hence the increasing reliance on "customary international law" made by consortiums of internationalist judges and bureaucrats without any democratic consent or oversight. If Roth's kind of norms were proposed explicitly in treaties or domestic law, those who propose it would be laughed right back out the door.

Pacifism doesn't scale well. Never has, never will.
3.15.2007 3:41pm
davidbernstein (mail):
Point is, the Administration DOES pay attention to humanv rights concerns, whether for pragmatic or ideological reasons. Roth says it doesn't. Roth is obviously, laughably wrong.
3.15.2007 3:57pm
Goober (mail):
[Ad hominem personal attack deleted]

First, supporting military intervention for humanitarian purposes does not entail opposing it for purposes of self-defense, and it's frankly absurd to suggest that Roth believes "It's okay to use military force to stop genocide or other massive human rights violations, but not, e.g., in self-defense." Predictable, but still absurd. I'm not entirely sure it's fair to characterize Roth as wanting to "ban" private expressions of discrimination, either. Maybe he does, but it's not exactly supportable from this piece.

And, ahem, is Prof. Bernstein really suggesting that only the military can construe or apply the double-effect doctrine, because people not in the military lack the expertise to decide whether a military action was justified in light of predictable civilian casualties? That's a degree of skepticism I might expect from Felix Cohen and the Crits, but very few people on planet Earth.

[Personal attack deleted; and you'll be banned if you keep it up. BTW, I'll let you post any personal attacks you want--but only if you have the guts to use your real name and email address.]
3.15.2007 4:04pm
Paddy O. (mail):
When I think of the moral choices that could have stopped WWII I don't think of the late 30s. I go back to the post WWI era. A more gracious victory, with less punishment for German aggression may have allowed it to develop differently over the next 20 years, and thus not given Hitler a chance to rise to power, which would have saved 6 million Jews. The US model of helping to rebuild those we defeat seems to be the better path. Non-military approaches can be much better, but they have to start much, much earlier as well as in broader circumstances to be effective.
3.15.2007 4:09pm
I agree with Justin here:
Just an overall observation: For a series of posts meant to be a "take down" of Roth, he comes across as fairly thoughtful and nuanced in his view of international law and human rights. [ed: How about a substantive defense of Roth or critique of me, instead of awarding style points. I'm not saying that Roth isn't thoughtful, just that he's wrong, and that his human rights activism is based on a leftist philosophy that many people otherwise interested in human rights don't share.]
3.15.2007 4:23pm
Yankev (mail):

You assume that Roth does not believe that Bush considers "publicity from, say, massacring civilians who support Sadrists, the Taliban, and Sunni terrorists in Iraq." By making that assumption, Roth indeed looks facile and silly, sure - but wouldn't the better response be to not make that assumption?


A far more charitable view of Roth's comments is that Bush considers practical implications of committing atrocities, but puts no value on human rights itself.

Except that even with concern for human rights that far exceeds what the US extended to unlawful combatants in, say, WWII, the Bush adminsitration has come in for more than its fair share of criticism -- often exaggerated -- both domestically and internationally, whether from the press, opposition political parties, NGOs, and you name it. If the Bush administration did half the things it were accused of doing -- let alone the things it is accused of wanting to do -- there'd be a lot more dead enemy combatants, a lot more dead enemy and civilian non-combatants, a lot more people locked up -- and not that much more outcry. When the supposedly heavy handed tactics of GWB are contrasted with the actions of Pres. Lincoln or the liberal's sainted FDR, GWB comes off looking a lot more concerned for human rights, sometimes to the detriment of the safety of US troops and civilians.
3.15.2007 4:42pm
Jay Myers:
(link)Paddy O.:

When I think of the moral choices that could have stopped WWII I don't think of the late 30s. I go back to the post WWI era. A more gracious victory, with less punishment for German aggression may have allowed it to develop differently over the next 20 years, and thus not given Hitler a chance to rise to power, which would have saved 6 million Jews. The US model of helping to rebuild those we defeat seems to be the better path.

And isn't that precisely what we are trying to do Iraq? There are people fighting and killing in an attempt to prevent us from rebuilding Iraq into a peaceful, multi-ethnic nation but don't think that qualifies as a reason for us to withdraw from Iraq. The sectarian violence would only escalate and likely result in the rise to power of some group or individual that we will have to fight at some point in the future. It's better to try and correct things now than to sit back and potentially allow another Hitler or Lenin to gain power.
3.15.2007 4:51pm
smhten (mail):
Bernstein:

If you don't want to come off as "desparate, defensive, nitpicky" or "annoying" you might consider deleting your last comment.
3.15.2007 4:55pm
Colin (mail):
Prof. Bernstein, I can understand why you would delete comments that you find personally insulting from the comments here. As a regular reader, I would ask only that you notify us when you do so, as you did in Goober's post. A sentence has been deleted from "I agree with Justin here"'s 3:23 post, with no notification that it has been edited. I think the VC strikes a good balance in terms of moderation, but it seems like best practice to provide some notification on the relatively rare instances where you selectively delete portions of others' comments. How do we know which comments haven't been edited by the original poster, if there's no indication where it occurs?
3.15.2007 4:57pm
Steve:
Point is, the Administration DOES pay attention to humanv rights concerns, whether for pragmatic or ideological reasons. Roth says it doesn't. Roth is obviously, laughably wrong.

I'm not sure you've convicted him of anything other than hyperbole here.

One problem with the concept of "fisking" is that the very existence of the term seems to encourage a sort of unjustified triumphalism.
3.15.2007 5:02pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Hyperbole from a self-proclaimed guardian of international human rights is a serious matter.
3.15.2007 5:05pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
It's way too facile to say that had Britain gone to war with Germany earlier, it would have defeated Germany. Hitler started building the German war machine as soon as he took power. Meanwhile, England had ramped down after World War I. Chamberlain's appeasement bought Britain several years during which it not only militarized but received lend/lease aid from the US, and even with all that help, it would have lost WW2 to the Germans if either the US and the Soviets had not intervened. And France was overrun by the Germans.

Further, did I just mention the Soviet Union? If Britain had confronted Germany earlier, the USSR might have taken Germany's side, which would have been a disaster for Britain. (Hitler had not violatd his pact with Stalin yet.) Even if the Soviets had remained neutral, the British would have had to fight the Germans on one front rather than two.

Bottom line, there's a lot of people who use the run-up to WW2 to make general conclusions about the inefficacy of negotiations and the efficacy of military force. In fact, it was probably ONLY through appeasing Germany, and using the time thereby bought to build the British and American militaries, plus the USSR's joining the alliance, that the Allies could defeat the Axis. It's really more of the psychological block that people have to making deals with evil people, and not an actual analysis of the military situation before WW2, that drives this worldview.
3.15.2007 5:07pm
Yankev (mail):
Reminds me of our esteemed mayor, who vehemently opposes the war in Iraq. Several survivors spoke at the city's Holocaust observance the spring before we invaded. More than one talked about how Hitler yemach shmo told the world exactly what he planned to do, but the world refused to take the threat seriously. One of the survivors said that what he learned from the experience was "If someone says he is planning to kill you, believe him."

The mayor then gave his address, and said we would never permit a Holocaust because we believe in the Columbus WAY (I'm not making this up), which includes treating every person with dignity and respect, etc. He sounded like my Boy Scout Nanual from 1962. I remember thinking about the missed opportunity to stop Germany when it started rearming in violation of treaty, before it became too great a military power, and what his position would have been then. Reason with the Nazis and tell them the virtues of the Columbus Way?
3.15.2007 5:08pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Dilan, my understanding is that France had a pretty good army, and could have taken Germany, with England's help, pre-Sudetenland. The military reoccupation by Germany of the Rhineland, in '36, is widely seen as a successful bluff, last I heard. And the Stalin-Hitler pact wasn't until '39, if I remember correctly.
3.15.2007 5:11pm
Stacy (mail) (www):
Justin, re-read the original post. David didn't say the Bush Administration does or doesn't genuinely respect human rights, he said the criticism of Roth's argument holds up in either case. And he's right. If the US indeed acted without regard for human rights, it might use WMD against Arab population centers, many of which could be destroyed quickly with little effect on the valuable oil fields. This would be at least as effective against Islamist terrorism as Saddam's mass destruction of Kurds, Marsh Arabs etc. was against the militant groups attacking his regime. The fact that the US has chosen a drawn-out counterinsurgency campaign instead is prima facie evidence that it wishes to avoid serious human rights violations.
3.15.2007 5:15pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Goober,

I'm not entirely sure it's fair to characterize Roth as wanting to "ban" private expressions of discrimination, either. Maybe he does, but it's not exactly supportable from this piece.

Well, really, if you list

human rights law speaks only to governments, not to private individuals who may express discriminatory attitudes

as one of a set of "frustrating limits" to human rights law, what else are we to think?
3.15.2007 5:21pm
Justin (mail):
Stacey, either you fundamentally misunderstand my argument (which I don't think was very complex), or I'm not getting yours.
3.15.2007 5:42pm
Waldensian (mail):

Note the example Roth gives. It's okay to use military force to stop genocide or other massive human rights violations, but not, e.g., in self-defense.

Are you saying that Roth does not think, as a general matter, that it is okay to use military force in self-defense? If so, what is your basis for that statement?

If you are not saying that, what are you trying to communicate here?
3.15.2007 5:47pm
Byomtov (mail):
I'm sure that circa 1933, or even 1938, "public morality" in Germany was such that the German public would have overwhelmingly opposed the proposition that their government should murder six million Jewish civilians and another six million or so others for the greater glory of the Reich and the German people. That didn't stop it from happening.

Even if true, that's a weak argument against the proposition that public morality matters. Public morality did not stop the Nuremberg laws, or Kristallnacht. Whether average Germans thought this and other Nazi activities would lead to the Holocaust or not, they were clearly willing to take serious steps in that direction.
3.15.2007 5:49pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
Professor Bernstein:

France's army wasn't so good in practice. The Germans walked right around the Maginot Line and conquered France.

You are correct that Hitler's pact with Stalin didn't come until later, but as I said in my post, at best, Stalin would have been neutral if Britain had confronted Germany earlier, and at worst, he would have seen an opportunity for Soviet expansionism and allied himself with Germany.

The fact is, if you want to argue that Britain should have never demilitarized after WW1, that's one thing, but the British military in the condition it was in during the 1930's was not in a position to fight the German war machine (and indeed, wasn't even in that position when Germany invaded Poland).
3.15.2007 6:16pm
frankcross (mail):
Historians seem to agree that if Great Britain and France had challanged Germany militarily any time before the annexation of the Sudetanland, Germany would have been at a decided disadvantage, and would have had to retreat.

I believe this is wrong, at least for UK. They engaged in a major military buildup after Munich but Chamberlain may have been forced into appeasement by military weakness. The Army, Navy and Air Force had all been cut back to a state of weakness after WWI, and Britain only began rebuilding their forces by around 1935.
3.15.2007 6:18pm
Kevin P. (mail):
William Shirer, in his book "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich", is of the opinion that England and France, along with the 24 divisions of Czechoslovakia defending their own homeland, would have decisively defeated Hitler if they had gone to war during the Sudeten crisis.

After that point had passed, there was no turning back. The unwillingness of the Allies to engage in a conflict which may have caused tens of thousands to die, led to a world war in which tens of millions died.
3.15.2007 6:22pm
Paddy O. (mail):
Jay, I totally agree with you. The time to have used non-military methods was post WWI in helping to develop systems of peaceful governance. Peace methods have to start 50 years ahead of time, which is why in other areas we have to think not only of our present gains but how such will reverberate along the way.

Like a troubled teen, sometimes serious intervention is needed to get them to first stop destructive behavior, even though it's always better just to raise them right in the first place.

This can be seen historically too in the contrasts between English and Spanish governance of their New World territories.
3.15.2007 6:23pm
The Drill SGT (mail):
David B was correct that the German re-occupation of the Rhineland in 1936 was a bluff. The Germans had plans to withdraw if it was called, but it was not.

On the original topic. I have little use for HRW when I see them apply a multi-cultural spin on their critiques.

their view is that Chopping heads off aid workers is culture appropriate if done by terrorists

Touching a Koran inappropriately at GITMO is a human rights violation if done accidentally by a sailor.

equal condemnation of equivalent crimes would go a long way toward making me respect them again.
3.15.2007 6:27pm
Antonio Manetti (mail):
Michelle:

In response to Goober's point regarding whether or not Roth advocates legal limits to private expression, you write:

...as one of a set of "frustrating limits" to human rights law, what else are we to think?

As Roth states:

...human rights law speaks only to governments, not to private individuals who may express discriminatory attitudes.

As I read this, Roth recognizes the inherent limits of what can be accomplished through international law.
3.15.2007 6:35pm
Colin (mail):
I have little use for HRW when I see them apply a multi-cultural spin on their critiques.

their view is that Chopping heads off aid workers is culture appropriate if done by terrorists


Excuse me? Can you cite a statement to that effect, or are you just venting?
3.15.2007 6:38pm
Katherine (mail):
"It's okay to use military force to stop genocide or other massive human rights violations, but not, e.g., in self-defense."

What? Where do you get this one from?
3.15.2007 6:48pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Dilan, Winston Churchill, after it was all over, wrote that 'there was a time when Hitler could have been stopped with the stroke of a pen.'

If Roth, or anybody else, thinks we are (or ever were) at a point where today's murderers could have been stopped with the stroke of a pen, let's hear about it.

Otherwise, let's leave postwar Germany out of it. Not relevant to anything going on in the 21st century.

As for Roth's clarity of thought, he wrote 'it says that governments have a duty to progressively realize those rights on the basis of available resources,' which implies that he thinks they have a duty to do so even without 'available resources."

I don't really find it profitable to interpret the man's thoughts too closely. He's in the business of selective outrage, something we've already got plenty of.
3.15.2007 6:58pm
MnZ (mail):

France's army wasn't so good in practice. The Germans walked right around the Maginot Line and conquered France.


France and the UK allowed Germany to walk right into the Rhineland in 1936. It seems to me inconceivable that in 3 years Germany had rebuilt their military to the point that it bested both France and the UK.


You are correct that Hitler's pact with Stalin didn't come until later, but as I said in my post, at best, Stalin would have been neutral if Britain had confronted Germany earlier, and at worst, he would have seen an opportunity for Soviet expansionism and allied himself with Germany.


Interestingly, the Soviet Union would have been a more useful ally in 1936 than it was in 1939. The military purges didn't begin in earnest until 1937. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed from a position of weakness by the Soviets. Would a similar agreement have been signed in 1936? It is very hard to say.

In the end, the Soviet Army and Navy (even in 1936) would have been of little threat to the UK and France without positioning themselves on German soil. That strikes me as politically untenable in Germany and the pre-purge Soviet Union.
3.15.2007 7:00pm
Dick Schweitzer (mail):
All "rights" and "entitlements" are based on, and require the existence of obligations (positive and negative [thou shall nots]) on the part of other in order to subsist.

This is not a repeat of "all rights bring responsibilities." Those fall on the claimant or beneficiary of the right.

Thus, those issues about duties and obligations promulgated for the U.N., etc. all turn on whose is the obligation, and why does it fall there? Then come what is required for meeting the obligation and what are the ethics (or even morality) required for its performance?
3.15.2007 7:02pm
ed o:
isn't it orwell who said that pacifism is objectively pro-fascist, or words to that effect. individuals like Roth objectively empower groups like Hezbollah and weaken those trying to defeat them-is that a net benefit to the world that we tie our hands while the warped throwbacks get empowered? by the way, has HRW put out a position paper calling on military action against the Sudan and its genocidal regime? if in WWII our regard for human rights had been of such a level that we had lost, think of how dark this world would be. with people like Roth, we likely would have.
3.15.2007 7:03pm
MnZ (mail):

In the end, the Soviet Army and Navy (even in 1936) would have been of little threat to the UK and France without positioning themselves on German soil.


Oops...I should have broken that thought apart. My understanding is that the Soviet Navy was basically a coast guard with little ability to project power. Therefore, the Soviet Army would have had to come across on land.
3.15.2007 7:13pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
I'm sure that circa 1933, or even 1938, "public morality" in Germany was such that the German public would have overwhelmingly opposed the proposition that their government should murder six million Jewish civilians and another six million or so others for the greater glory of the Reich and the German people.

I'm not so sure about this. Remember at the time a lot of people bought into eugenics. (Not just Germany, much of the developed world. Allegedly some German eugenics laws were based on California's.) Look at what they were letting the German government get away with in the run-up to WWII:

1933 - Gypsies sterilized under the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring.

1935 - Gypsies included in the Nuremberg Laws (Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor).

1936 - 400 Gypsies are rounded up in Bavaria and transported to the Dachau concentration camp.

1937 - Special concentration camps are created for Gypsies (Zigeunerlagers).

1937 - Law Against Crime orders arrests of "those who by anti-social behavior even if they have committed no crime have shown that they do not wish to fit into society."
3.15.2007 7:13pm
elChato (mail):
Why is military action ok for Darfur- "necessary" even- but not for Iraq? And what was his position on the 1991 gulf war?
3.15.2007 7:19pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Not that I'm defending HRW. In some cases they seem to be a false beacon.
3.15.2007 7:26pm
larry rothenberg:
it is facile, to use another commenter's term, to claim that it was the allied treatment of Germany after WWI that caused WWII and the Holocuast. First, Germany was not actually treated that badly. After a few years, public opinion, except in France, shifted greatly against the terms of the Versailles Treaty and many of the restrictions were limited or ignored by the Germans, and the reparations system was essentially eliminated by the Dawes Plan, under which the US basically paid off the debts. Second, Germany was in fact at fault for the war, so the so-called "war guilt" clause was entirely reasonable. A country can't decide that it's wounded pride entitles it to engage in a second war of domination and genocide. Third, the peace that Germany imposed on Russia at Brest-Litovsk was far harsher than what was imposed on Germany. The Germans had no moral right to complain about Versailles. See Donald Kagan, On the Origins of War and Preservation of Peace.

It is no argument to say we should've been weaker at Versailles rather than stronger at Munich.
3.15.2007 7:28pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Antonio Manetti,

As I read this, Roth recognizes the inherent limits of what can be accomplished through international law.

Well, yes. I think Kenneth Roth and Goober and David Bernstein and you and I are all agreed that international law can't do anything about "private individuals who may express discriminatory attitudes." But if that seems to someone (as it does to Roth) a "frustrating limit," then presumably said someone would really like to do something about that "expression," only hasn't got the legal means.

If you can parse it otherwise, show me how, please.
3.15.2007 7:31pm
JB:
Niall Ferguson also agrees that war over Munich would have defeated the Nazis. The Czechs would be the anvil, France and Britain the hammer.

For that matter, a giant push across the Rhine in september 1939 wouldn't have ended the war, but would have captured the Ruhr, Saar, and enough of German industry to put Germany at a terrible disadvantage in the ensuing war. With the Krupp works producing for the Allies, things would have gotten ugly fast (assuming blitzkrieg didn't wipe out any gains the Allies made).
3.15.2007 7:51pm
rothmatisseko (mail) (www):
Having read the post, the story, and the comments, I have yet to see what the point is. Does Prof. B just want to tear down HRW? And if so, why? Because he thinks that Israel was the defender in Lebanon, as opposed to the aggressor, in general, in the region?
3.15.2007 8:05pm
Bottomfish (mail):
rothmatisseko,

I should think that Israel, having withdrawn from Lebanon years ago and having more recently withdrawn settlements from Gaza, would be entitled to a little bit of reciprocity. But that marvellous "in general" allows Hezbullah to grab Israeli soldiers presumably in response to what goes on between Israel and Gaza. "In general" ensures the general conflict will go on and on.
3.15.2007 8:51pm
Ron Hardin (mail) (www):
Hannah Arendt's observation is that the greatest evil is built on common decencies, like concern for the community, for the sick, for animals. Vicki Hearne

Levinas , that evil does not take predictable form that is expected in an adult society. It takes intellectual effort to recognize it.
3.15.2007 10:01pm
MnZ (mail):

If you're wondering how in God's name an NGO, with no knowledge of various secrets governments are privy to, at best a shaky handle on the relevant strategic objectives, an assumedly limited knowledge of military tactics, and so forth, can possibility from its position determine in hindsight whether a "the reasonably anticipated miliary advantage" of destroying any parituicular target "is justified in light of the likely civilian costs," well, so am I.


Ahhh...but it is situations like these in which HRW can exercise discretion. With discretion comes power.
3.15.2007 10:11pm
Stacy (mail) (www):
Justin: "Stacey, either you fundamentally misunderstand my argument (which I don't think was very complex), or I'm not getting yours."

I may have missed your last sentence. Either way, I got your argument wrong. My bad.

larry: "it is facile, to use another commenter's term, to claim that it was the allied treatment of Germany after WWI that caused WWII and the Holocuast. "

It isn't "facile". The historical record shows that Germany was dragged into that war every bit as much as the French. The British had a choice and chose to fight. Russia was in fact the first large nation to intervene in Austria's (brutal and ridiculous but limited and contained) punishment raid on Serbia. Besides not having "started the war" in any meaningful sense, the Germans ended it occupying foreign soil and having defeated every opposing force except the USA. Blaming Germany, disarming it and deliberately imposing reparations sufficient to cripple its economy was about securing Franco-British military ascendency, not justice for anyone.

Is that an excuse for WW2 and the Holocaust? Of course not, but it's ridiculous to say the Germans had no legitimate complaint about Versailles.
3.15.2007 10:24pm
rothmatisseko (mail) (www):
Bottomfish, I take your post to mean that my guess at the point of all of this was correct?

I really wasn't trying to take a position - I only asked if that was what the Professor was arguing against. Really, what is this thread about?

Truly, I'm agnostic on the whole "Middle East thing." Seems like a violent place where violent things happen, and that if assigning fault is appropriate for such a situation it belongs to everyone in the region.

Are you sensitive because Israel is the most powerful actor? I won't argue; perhaps they do have a special responsibility.
3.15.2007 10:56pm
Viscus (mail) (www):

their reports, public statements, et al., must be read critically in light of their underlying ideology


I agree 100% of this statement. But, I would apply it to libertarians as well as human rights activists.

Bernstein bolded the following:

it does not establish an absolute right to education or to food

And I think in response to this: "This is surely enough to make anyone with libertarian sympathies shudder."

I am not sure if I am interpreting Bernstein correctly. But I certainly am greatly disturbed if I am. Does he "shudder" at the thought of the esablishment of a right to food as a basic right???

Seriously. Are libertarians really against an absolute right to food? There cannot be any more basic right. If they really are against this (especially in light of our modern ability to grow sufficient food for every human -- perhaps it would be a different matter if feeding one person meant someone else would starve), they really are completely lost from a moral perspective.

I don't agree with Roth on everything. But I do respect him as someone with character and basic morality. As for those libertarians who deny that their should be an absolute human right to food, I cannot say the same about them.

Who argued that libertarians are not essentially moral relativists?? If they really think that a right to food is not so important, but a right to pornography is very important, then clearly, they have no values worthy of respect. Indeed, then clearly, they really have no values at all, at their core. All they care about is procedure (consent), not substance (sustenance and survival). Think about the worst things you could possibly think about anyone, and I would think that this would apply to such libertarians who would deny such a basic human right.

Which brings up a question. Do morally lacking libertarians who would deny the most basic rights (such as food) to others deserve rights we would otherwise gladly grant them?? I am not asking this question as a legal matter, but rather as a moral matter. It is like asking whether felons should be allowed to vote, as a moral matter. At what point has someone moved so far out of the moral community that they should face ostracization and deprivation of respect?
3.16.2007 5:59am
logicnazi (mail) (www):
I'm a big proponent of creating and developing international law. It is the great hope of humanity that the development of international law will reign in the struggles of nations the way the development of national law has civilized individuals. However, the attempt to pass one's vague moral standards off as international law is both ridiculous and a very bad idea.

These sort of vague standards (like the benefits of the strike must outweigh the harms) have no place in law, international or otherwise. They may be valid moral heuristics and we might want to urge generals and presidents to take them seriously but the essential property of the law is that it provides a clear warning about what not to do. The whole reason that we have laws rather than just letting the town vote on whether you should be punished is so everyone knows what they shouldn't do.

A law which said 'don't murder people unless they deserve it' would be useless. Almost every murderer thinks their victim deserves it. This law would just be an excuse to lynch people who did things you didn't like. It would neither be an effective deterrent nor would it gain the additional moral force that explicitly stated clear rules gain. On the other hand a law which says 'don't murder except in self defense which is...' is very useful as it tells people what they will be punished from doing (detering their behavior) and because everyone knows what they shouldn't do this prohibition gains additional force.

When people try and turn international law into a complete moral code they undermine the very soul of the law. The very benefit the law offered (a commonly understood list of prohibited behavior) that mere moral condemnation did not has been lost. Worse the uncertainty and opportunity for political manipulation that such a 'law' creates discourages countries from making themselves subject to anything that even smells of international law. If international law is to live up to it's promise is needs to move in small slow steps by making very precisely delineated activities off limits. This is what the early Geneva conventions did and were greatly successful while other more vague forms of international law (humans rights agreements) haven't been very successful. Also one should never overreach and establish laws that one can't deter people from breaking as it just erodes respect for the law.

However having said this I have a few points I want to agree with Roth on. I think in the long term we want international law to guarantee minimum living standards and freedom from governmental harassment for individuals. Just as US federal law evolved from a set of rules that governed relations between independent states but evolved into a system that protected blacks in the south from state power and other local abuses so too could international law. There is no reason to think that international law has to be any worse than national law and good reason to think that it could avert much suffering.
3.16.2007 7:17am
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Also I want to defend the idea that one *should* (morally not legally) value an opponents civilians exactly the same as one's own. However, I would interpret this in a different way than may have been intended.

In particular I'm a full on utilitarian so one must consider everyone's welfare equally. However, the only justification a good consequentialist can have to go to war is that the harm from not fighting the war is worse than the harm from fighting it. Often this harm is remote and diffuse (if we don't retake the Falklands many other countries will forcibly seize our territory) but the point is that in order to be justified in fighting in the first place you must believe there is a large moral good that comes from the triumph of your side.

Realizing that the death of their civilians disheartens them and protecting your civilians boosts your moral it is clear that the benefit per civilian death is vastly higher when it is their civilian being killed instead of your own. Hence even treating everyone's civilians equally you may be justified in killing 100 of theirs to save 1 of yours. Especially factoring in the benefit of deterring future attacks.

In fact I would endorse the much stronger statement that one should value your opponent's soldiers just the same as one's own. The reason you want your soldiers to live and theirs to die is that the death of your soldiers brings you closer to defeat (which you believe is a moral harm) while their death brings you closer to victory (which is a moral good).

Frankly I think the civilian soldier distinction is a bunch of bunk. There is nothing that makes the death of some poor 19 year old draftee any less bad than the death of the 45 year old factory worker who works to aid your enemies economy. The US or German factory worker in WWII who made tin cans or produced clothes was every bit as important to the war effort as the soldier who fixed tanks and every bit as much a volunteer. In fact it seems very troubling to me that we should say that in a democracy all the older factory workers who voted to go to war should be immune from the carnage while the poor young soldiers with no political power and no choice in the matter are fair game.

A person is a person whether they have a gun or a welding torch. The only justification for a rule against killing civilians is if it works to minimize the total casualties. So back when industrial/economic capacity was irrelevant to war (and some modern situations) such a rule is reasonable despite the equivalence of civilians and soldiers. However, when it is economic capacity that feeds the war effort refusal to bomb civilians and civilian targets just increases the length of time both sides can fight increasing the total casualties and is thus a horrible idea.
3.16.2007 7:39am
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Ohh and the reason Darfur is justified and Iraq not is simply that the expected utility calculus works out for one and not the other.

An informed unbiased individual should have seen the evidence about Iraq and concluded that it would be a mess with questionable net benefit while I believe Darfur would be much more of a clear cut benefit.
3.16.2007 7:41am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Viscus:
Seriously. Are libertarians really against an absolute right to food? There cannot be any more basic right. If they really are against this (especially in light of our modern ability to grow sufficient food for every human -- perhaps it would be a different matter if feeding one person meant someone else would starve), they really are completely lost from a moral perspective.
See, this is why it was sort of silly for you to be talking about libertarians in our earlier discussions on the subject: you really don't comprehend what we think.

Of course libertarians are against an absolute right to food. Libertarians are against all so-called "positive rights." Food (like other 'rights' often asserted by the international left, such as shelter, health care, etc.) doesn't spontaneously appear in one's fridge. It doesn't exist unless someone creates it, with his labor. So to assert one has a "right" to it is to assert that one has a right to have someone labor for you. Libertarians don't believe that.

Who argued that libertarians are not essentially moral relativists??
Every single person on the planet who understands the meaning of the phrase "moral relativism." Which is pretty much everyone except you. I don't want to be rude -- although I'm not as opposed to it as some -- but how many times do people need to tell you that you are completely misusing a well-established phrase?

This doesn't have the slightest thing to do with relativism. It's a completely different concept.
If they really think that a right to food is not so important, but a right to pornography is very important, then clearly, they have no values worthy of respect.
This evinces a complete misunderstanding, once again. We think you have a right to pornography in exactly the same way that you have a right to food. That is, if someone voluntarily gives it to you, nobody else has the right to take it from you. If you want to make it, and aren't forcing anybody else to assist you, nobody has the right to stop you. Etc.
Indeed, then clearly, they really have no values at all, at their core. All they care about is procedure (consent), not substance (sustenance and survival). Think about the worst things you could possibly think about anyone, and I would think that this would apply to such libertarians who would deny such a basic human right.
The fact that you don't care about liberty -- that's what "consent" refers to -- does not mean that libertarians "don't have values." Liberty is not "procedure."
3.16.2007 8:25am
markm (mail):
David beat me to it in his reply to Viscus, but:

the right to education, the right to housing, and the right to work—necessities that Americans often don't think of as human rights, but that most of the world does.

Are all "rights" that imply the violation of others rights to their own labor and property, and in practice, are used by oppressive governments as an excuse to maltreat some citizens in order to buy the loyalty of others.
3.16.2007 8:58am
Yankev (mail):
Viscus,

At the risk of repeating what David and markm have pointed out, you are using "right" to mean to very different things, and treating them as if they were the same thing.


If they really think that a right to food is not so important, but a right to pornography is very important, then clearly, they have no values worthy of respect.


Libertarians do not argue for a right to be given pornography; they argue that if one has pornography, there is a right not to have the government take it away, and, presumably, for government to provide a court system for legal recourse against any private actor who takes it away. The libertarian position on fodd is identical.

The fallacy you commit is called equivocation. Look it up.

To avoid confusion, many people reserve the term "right" to its classic enlightenment meaning of a freedom that limits government power, and use the term "entitlement" to mean the claim to receive something from the government. The 'right to life" does not mean that the authors of the Declaration of Independence believed that government had a duty to provide intro fertilization, artifical resuscitation, vaccinations or bulletproof vests. Rather they believed that government ought not arbitrarily have people killed. Do you see the difference?
3.16.2007 10:28am
Yankev (mail):
Errata in my preceding post:

to very different things


should be "two very different things"

"fodd" should be "food.

Proofreading should be done more carefully.

Query to Viscus: If I have the right to accurate information, doesn't that mean the government should provide me with a researcher and a proofreader, all at taxpayer expense, so that the information I post will be more accurate?
3.16.2007 10:47am
Stacy (mail) (www):
"Do you see the difference?"

I doubt it. And I think the language barrier i.e. the failure of some to see the difference between a 'right' and an 'entitlement' is perhaps the biggest single problem in discussing human rights. Roth seems to be guilty of this conflation as well.

Viscus, Libertarians don't believe anyone has a "right" to X, they believe everyone has the right to expend their own resources to get X if they want to (and if it doesn't significantly harm others) and that the government should not arbitrarily deny this right. So for example, your children have a right to be educated to whatever standard you prefer and can get for them, and government can't stand in your way. But they do not have a "right" (entitlement) to education provided out of the earnings of others--unless the voters decide to provide public education.

The latter is a legitimate point of contention with many libertarians, who fail to recognize the democratic nature of such a system and talk as if 'government' decided all on its own to levy taxes on an unrepresented populace. Certainly, even democratic governments do things like that from time to time, but in a democracy the people get, as they say, the government they deserve.
3.16.2007 11:01am
Waldensian (mail):

Does Prof. B just want to tear down HRW?

That's the only conclusion I can draw at this point. For example, Prof. B seems to insinuate that Roth wouldn't approve of the use of military force in self-defense. That would be a fairly radical view for Roth to hold, and one that most people would criticize heavily and (I think) justifiably.

Yet Prof. B apparently has no support for that insinuation, and hasn't responded to comments pointing that out. Hallmarks of a hatchet job.

Meanwhile, if you want to talk about what the Germans were doing in the earliest days of WWII, especially in the lovely world of eugenics, take a look at Action T4. I first learned about this program from a display at the Imperial War Museum in London -- it hadn't crossed my radar screen before. Absolutely horrifying.
3.16.2007 12:08pm
Yankev (mail):

The latter is a legitimate point of contention with many libertarians, who fail to recognize the democratic nature of such a system and talk as if 'government' decided all on its own to levy taxes on an unrepresented populace.


Excellent point. Another point of contention is over such public improvements as roads and bridges, or even sanitation systems. I have heard libertarians argue that governments should not tax people to not build such things, and should leave them to private industry. But competing toll bridges or roads over the same route is a tremendous waste in resources, and is not economically realistic -- that's one reason that government got into the road building business to begin with. And neither cholera nor typhus stop at the property line, nor do they distinguish between those who have paid to hook into the private santitation system and those who havenot.


Certainly, even democratic governments do things like that from time to time, but in a democracy the people get, as they say, the government they deserve.

Which is one reason that Franklin and so many others mistrusted democracy, preferring instead a republic --as Franklin said, "if you can keep it." Sadly, it is increasingly clear that apparently we could not, and have almost completely replaced our constitutionally guaranteed republic with a democracy. When I was 14 or even 20, I would have said that's a good thing. Like so many other things I believed then, I was wrong.
3.16.2007 1:04pm
anomdebus:
A general question is: how do you tell a priori what another's intentions are, especially when there is an information gap exacerbated by the need for confidential information?
To what degree is concern for others well being a selfish act? (not that there's anything wrong with that) There are aspects of reputation as well as expectations of reciprocity that enter into it that keep it from necessarily being selfless.
3.16.2007 2:13pm
MnZ (mail):

Of course libertarians are against an absolute right to food. Libertarians are against all so-called "positive rights." Food (like other 'rights' often asserted by the international left, such as shelter, health care, etc.) doesn't spontaneously appear in one's fridge. It doesn't exist unless someone creates it, with his labor. So to assert one has a "right" to it is to assert that one has a right to have someone labor for you. Libertarians don't believe that.


"Positive rights" should never be confused with traditional rights. First of all, positive are subject to a production constraint. Second, it is unclear "how much" of a positive right individuals are entitled. (I.e., if you have the right to "adequate" shelter, does that mean a single room apartment or a 3 bedroom house?) Both of these imply that positive rights must be adjusted up or down depending on the current state of the economy.
3.16.2007 2:32pm
Viscus (mail) (www):
David M. Nieporernt writes:


you really don't comprehend what we think...


First of all, do not talk about we when you talk about libertarians, as if all of you are the same and as if other libertarians have consented to your spokesmanship. Okay. Let us start there. I refuse to despise all libertarians without finding out what they actually think individually.


Of course libertarians are against an absolute right to food.


That is because these libertarians are immoral. How selfish. You are so against a positive right to food. Because it is "positive" while accessing pornography is negative. So of course, the right to access to pornography should be protected as a right, while absolute access to food should not. Why? Because it might mean you have to get off your ass and help someone else whether you like it or not. I have no sympathy. The difference is nothing more than a matter of laziness. You want to be able to sit on the beach, sipping your martini, while someone else is starving. How very noble. And how convenient to ignore that the consent of someone who is starving is much less meaningful. Nice.

I have no respect for you.

So guess what. I will tax you. And I will in fact ensure that your funds establish a basic right to food. And when you whine about "coercion" because of the very minor burden that taxation sufficient to prevent starvation exacts, I will simply have to say that you are not deserving of respect in the first place. So, even if such taxation was coercive (which it is not -- reasonable taxes are not coercive -- you can always leave society if you want to avoid taxes -- that would be fine with me -- good riddance), when someone has reach this level of immorality, they are no longer deserving of rights. (Though, pragmatically, I would not strip them from your type as the risk of misidentification is simply too high and the benefits of stripping away such rights are too low. That doesn't mean that you deserve your rights, as other people deserve theirs.)

*sarcasm on*
I am sure that access to food (which really means access to land, directly or indirectly) is all about individual labor and individual and merit. Of couses. There is no such thing as corruption or networks or other factors besides merits that explain such distribution. So, it is okay if some people starve while others sip martinis on the beach. Because distribution patterns have nothing to do with who you parents are or what country you happen to be born in. There is nothing arbitrary about it.
*sarcasm off*

By the way, starvation does in fact occur in the real world. So, apparently, charity is in fact inadequate to deal with the problem of starvation in many circumstances. When people are relatively ignorant of the problems of people far away, it seems that charity falls apart. But in any case, charity is the wrong approach philosophically. You have no more right to food than anyone else. In fact, given your morally reprehensible views, I would say you are less deserving.

Libertarians who think as you do are morally reprehensible. But I will not make such a blanket statement about all libertarians. I think you should speak for yourself. If you shared an ideological label with me, I sure wouldn't want you stepping forward telling a third party what we think. Who elected you as spokesman??

Surely, there must be decent and sensible libertarians out there. And morally respectable ones.

Finally, with respect to moral relativism, I think the one you are using is too narrow. All some libertarians care about is procedure, not substance. If any or nearly any substantive action is acceptable as long as a procedural element is met (consent), that is not morality.

My definition of moral relativism is simple:
Lacking any fixed substantive sense of moral order.

Under that simple definition, libertarians of your ilk are moral relativists, not to be respected.
3.16.2007 2:53pm
Colin (mail):
Yikes. Viscus, I'm no libertarian, but I'm more sympathetic to them now than I was before I read that. For starters, I think you've seriously misunderstood the libertarian concept of rights.
3.16.2007 3:08pm
Stacy (mail) (www):
Viscus, if that's really how you think then you have a lot in common with Osama bin Laden, Hugo Chavez, etc. Anyone who doesn't think like you is "immoral" and deserving of serfdom, banishment, and (because this is where that road always leads) ultimately death. And of course this all comes with a healthy dose of deliberate obtuseness about how the unworthies actually do think and believe.

You are a fascist.
3.16.2007 3:13pm
Viscus (mail) (www):
Colin,

First, your increase in sympathy for libertarianism in response to my rhetoric is entirely irrational. If, hypothetically, X misunderstands A philosophy, that does not mean that third party Y should regard philosophy A as probabilistically more likely to be a good, decent and true philosophy.

A lot of people misunderstand, say, postmodernism. Their misunderstanding does not increase the validity of the philosophy. While misunderstanding decreases the validity of a certain line of criticism, it does not actually establish the validity of the philosophy criticized.

So, your statement that your sympathies have increased is entirely irrational.

Second, I think I made it clear that my comments did not necessarily apply to all libertarians. Only those who would deny that there should be a positive right to food.

Third, you have not really provided a defense of libertarianism or suggested precisely how I am misunderstanding it. It is crystal clear to me that I am not misunderstanding David Nieporent. He is a libertarian who denies a basic right to food. I am not trying to apply my criticism to all libertarians, only ones with certain tendencies.

Unfortunately, I do not have time to explore this issue with you further, as I will be without internet access for the rest of the day. But those are three thoughts to chew on.
3.16.2007 3:21pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
To those citing Churchill, Shirer, etc., on how easy it would have been for Britain to defeat Germany in 1936 or 1938, I would ask the following: what if that judgment had turned out to be wrong? What if the Soviets HAD allied with Hitler in response to an attack on Germany? What if the French and British armies really weren't able to take on the German war machine? It seems to me that the result would have been much, much worse (i.e., surrender of the major western European powers to a functioning Nazi state) than what actually happened in World War II.

You see, this is why comments about how "the British shouldn't have appeased Hitler, and therefore appeasement is bad and should always be avoided" are so facile. The truth is, war is not easy. You don't know what the outcomes are going to be. And a lot of the potential outcomes are bad. This is why it is to be avoided whenever possible. And the people who always bring up Munich are trying to elide this point and say that as long as we have the will, capability is irrelevant, and that making deals with evil people is so pernicious that we should always default to the military option. It just isn't true, and it wasn't true in the 1930's either. Britain was on the winning side of World War II, but with a lot of help from its own crash-course militarization, the lend-lease and eventual military alliance with the Americans, and the involvement of the Soviets. It simply was not EASY to defeat Hitler and the Germans, and any scenario that starts with the premise that it was is at the very least a scenario that would have had very dangerous consequences had it been pursued and turned out to be wrong.

Appeasement may be distasteful, but you appease to buy time, to avoid or postpone the uncertainties and potential downsides of war, and to obtain additional needed allies. Chamberlain was doing all those things. He probably had a much better understanding of the situation Britain was in than most of the people who denigrated him, then and now.
3.16.2007 3:42pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Viscus-

More hate and vitriol from you.

Seriously. Are libertarians really against an absolute right to food? There cannot be any more basic right. If they really are against this (especially in light of our modern ability to grow sufficient food for every human -- perhaps it would be a different matter if feeding one person meant someone else would starve), they really are completely lost from a moral perspective.

No, libertarians are not "pro-starvation". They just don't think other people should (or can) be forced to provide these things for the world. Because guess what Viscus - when the communists ignorantly tried to force these things, just like ignorant totalitarian collectivists like yourself want to - it resulted in MORE starvation. And in fact it might be persons like yourself - who ADVOCATE for failed economic systems that are recipes for starvation, that are the truly "pro-starvation".

All they care about is procedure (consent), not substance (sustenance and survival).

Complete garbage. The economic system we support results in producing MORE sustenance and the capacity to provide aid for everyone.

Think about the worst things you could possibly think about anyone, and I would think that this would apply to such libertarians who would deny such a basic human right.

More cowardly hate and ingorance.

Do morally lacking libertarians who would deny the most basic rights (such as food) to others deserve rights we would otherwise gladly grant them??

First libertarians aren't "morally lacking" - that is a statement of ignorance on your part. Second, you or anyone else doesn't "grant" me my rights.

At what point has someone moved so far out of the moral community that they should face ostracization and deprivation of respect?

I don't advocate cowardly crap like ostracism, but I would say when they spew hatred and ignorance and advocate failed economic systems that result in starvation and misery, like yourself.
3.16.2007 3:47pm
Yankev (mail):
Viscus,

First, I did not recognize much difference in tone between the sarcasm tags and the rest of your message. That aside, can we agree that starvation also occurs notwithstanding government efforts — national and international — to prevent it? And that government distribution (because, you will agree, that we are talking about a distribution shortage, not a food shortage) is no more likely to prevent starvation than private efforts are? After all, starvation and inequal distribution is if anything more exaggerated, not less, in Stalinist, Maoist and other so-called progressive states than in the West, and the UN has particularly distinguished iteslf as a singularly corrupt and inefficient distributor of aid.

Next, do not assume that those who deny that there is a positive right to be fed by others are in favor of starvation. Research and anecdotal evidence both suggest that such individuals are likely to give more of their money, time and effort — both on a percentage and absolute basis — to alleviate suffering than those who believe that government should take care of everyone. This result holds true, by the way, across all income levels.

Next, why is any other individual's right to food greater than mine? Suppose that I am able to work but choose not to. How is my right to food less than that of someone who wants to work but cannot? Or who works but cannot feed himself? Or who cannot work but does not care to? And who determines who much is a fair amount for me to work? Suppose I am working myself 22 hours per day to feed others — how long until I work myself to death, and the number of food producers decreases accordingly?

Finally, do not assume that those who do not believe in a governmentally enforceable right to be fed do not believe in an obligation to support the poor. But not every obligation creates a reciprocal right. For example, I have a religious obligation to devote a specific amount of my income to tzedakah, which includes, among other things, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and caring for the sick. But no specific poor person has an enforceable right to my tzedaka dollar — that is, if I fail to give, or if I give to someone other than him, I may have violated my obligation, but I have not infringed on his legally enforecable right. And I most certainly cannot satisfy my obligation by using the power of government to take money from you to apply to my obligations.

Despite your high minded sentiments, societies organized along the lines that you propose have not only crushed individual initiative and reduced the prosperity of everyone falling under their power, they have also led to more deaths by starvation (to say nothing of more innocent deaths in general) than any other economic or governmental system of the 20th century. None for me, thanks — it just doesn't work.
3.16.2007 4:09pm
ed o:
doubtful as to Chamberlain but, using that logic, he was appeasing for purpose without having an illusion that the other side was "good" or worthy of trust. HRW and its ilk have no such excuse-they empower the bad guys by putting them on the same plane as the good guys (yes, good and bad, such concepts). the hezbollah terrorist lobbing a missile into a schoolyard is just the same as the soldier who shoots him-that is were HRW and its fellow travellers are coming from.
3.16.2007 4:10pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Viscus-

So guess what. I will tax you.

No, you're not going to tax anyone. Because you're a pompous, ignorant collectivist that doesn't have the authority to tax anyone.

Where is your authority to tax?

Why? Because it might mean you have to get off your ass and help someone else whether you like it or not.

By what authority do you claim to tell people what to do? I actually enjoy helping people sometimes. But if some pompous, ignorant, arrogant megalomaniac like you was trying to order me around I wouldn't budge. Especially if they were stealing from me and wasting the money on a failed economic system that was a recipe for more starvation, misery, and poverty. Especially if they also didn't respect liberty, individual rights, and property rights. (And especially if they were ethno-supremicist or religio-supremicist, as I suspect you are.)

Second, I think I made it clear that my comments did not necessarily apply to all libertarians. Only those who would deny that there should be a positive right to food.

The libertarians that deny it deny it because their cannot reasonably be one. Again, the communists tried it and it resulted in MORE starvation. But you keep setting up your phony emotional strawmen and claiming that libertarians want to see people starve. Anyone with any intelligence recognizes your cheap, ignorant tactics for what they are.
3.16.2007 4:17pm
Yankev (mail):
Tsk, tsk, ed o, you are sounding like one of the dreaded Zionists, and as everyone knows, the dreaded Zionists have no notion of good or bad except what benefits the nefarious and evil Zionist state (good) or what exposes the evil plans of the Zionists and their lobby that has hi-jacked the press and the US government (bad). After all, as Rothmatessiko and others have pointed out, what other possible motive could Professor B have for criticizing Mr. Roth and the HRW other than HRW having exposed Israel's misdeeds in responding to repeated acts of war and terrorism directed against it? And as the cartoonist of Dry Bones pointed out years ago, the most fundamental principle of international law is that Israel has no right to fight back.

By positing that Israel does have such a right, you are just proving the truth of these charges. (Of course, that doesn't explain why we Zionists don't just use our nefarious powers to manipluate the press and the government to crush Mr. Roth as we do to any who dare criticize us bwaaaahhhh!)
3.16.2007 4:19pm
ray_g:
Ref the quote from Roth:
"What is needed in addition to a readiness to use military force is a focus on the development of ethical views. We need a strong public morality that does not allow such atrocities to occur in the first place. "

My problem with statements like this and the people who make them is that I agree a strong public morality is needed -- but they are lecturing the wrong people. Tell it to those who are perpetrating the atrocities.

"I am not a pacifist by any means. I believe in using military force in places like Darfur, where it is necessary to stop the killing."

To quote the character played by Sean Connery in the movie the Untouchables, "What are you willing to do?!"
Do you mean some small, undermanned, unsupported, so-called "peace keeping" force ala Rwanda, or what it really takes - a large, well armed force with the mandate and rules of engagement so they can shoot the bad guys and destroy their supply sources? If not the latter, then you are a poseur.
3.16.2007 4:42pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Dilan, neither Churchill nor I was talking about 1936. Appeasement began much earlier.

Have you heard of the resolution carried in the Oxford Union: Resolved, not to fight for king and country?

Sounds like the Democrats in Congress in 2007. It was carried when Germany did not have an army. Pre-emptive surrender to evil, just what Roth wants.

Stacy, there are three powerful arguments to demonstrate that German resentment of the 'harshness' of the Versailles treaty was artificial and dishonest:

1. The conditions Germany imposed on France in 1870, which were intended (unsuccessfully, as it turned out) to prevent France from again becoming a military great power.

2. The conditions Germany imposed on Russia in 1918.

3. The conditions the German government was preparing to impose on the Allies if it had won in 1918. The 'Potsdam diktat' (or wherever it would have been imposed) would have been harsher than the Versailles treaty by an order of magnitude.

larry rothenburg is correct in his analysis. The sufferings of the Germans in the 1920s were real enough, but they were not the result of the Versailles Treaty, which the Weimar regime never complied with.

The decision of the socialists and the conservatives (from different political calculations) to destroy the German middle class in 1923 had more to do with it than any other one thing.

The stupidity of the American bankers in funding a bankrupt (morally, financially and every other way) nation didn't help either.
3.16.2007 4:43pm
Yankev (mail):
Ray_G


My problem with statements like this and the people who make them is that I agree a strong public morality is needed -- but they are lecturing the wrong people. Tell it to those who are perpetrating the atrocities.


Quite so. Remember the pious bleatings of your primary school teacher -- "It takes two to fight?" Perhaps so, but there are other situations in which it only takes one to get the living snot pounded out of him while another with fewer scruples does the pounding.

In a perfect world, perhaps, no one would ever be attacked while simply minding his own business. But that is not the world we live in.
3.16.2007 5:00pm
Stacy (mail) (www):
"The stupidity of the American bankers in funding a bankrupt (morally, financially and every other way) nation didn't help either."

I can't answer all your points specifically, but you seem to have some animus towards Germany. I'm willing to believe you aren't letting that cloud your analysis, but you understand it forces me to take you with a grain of salt.

I'm aware that the economic problems of the 1930s were not directly coupled to the Versailles reparations. And your own citation of the 1871 treaty and resultant revanchist movement in France would suggest, not that the Entente was justified in imposing excessively harsh terms, but that they should have known how counterproductive it would be. Instead they simply took their turn at trying to leash their geopolitical rival, and with the same predictable result.

I doubt we're going to agree on this anyway. Cheers!
3.16.2007 5:01pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
WRT the post-WW I treatment of Germany and its results:

We have the closest thing to a controlled experiement history is likely to see. What about the post-WW II treatment of Germany? Bit different, huh? Punded flat, occupied, run by the victors with intrusive presence until the victors thought the Germans could be allowed to run their own country.

And they've been nice as pie since. From 1870 to 1914 is forty-four years. 1918-1939 is twenty-one years. To 1936 is eighteen years. From 1945 to present is sixty-two years. Connection or coincidence? Just for poops and giggles, Japan got hammered pretty hard, too and has been just warm and fuzzy ever since.
Lesson there, someplace?
HITLER knew he'd lose in 1936 if he was opposed even solely by the French. He knew what o'clock it was, I believe.
The assertion that certain people like Roth have a standard that says military force for humanitarian reasons is good but not allowed for self-defense is not based on their statements to that effect. It's based on their choice of actions to support or condemn. That choice breaks down along the humanitarian-good, self-defense-bad. 'nother coincidence, probably.
You'll note they rarely oppose those who attack democracies, either. Always some talk about "resistance" or something.
3.16.2007 5:56pm
Malvolio:
I always wonder whether people who claim to believe in absolute positive rights have really thought it through.

If you have an apple and I am hungry, my "absolute right" to food would require you to give me (at least) half that apple.

If I take my half of the apple and feed it to my dog, I'm still hungry, so my "absolute right" dictates that you cut your half in half again and give me a quarter.

And I can do that again and again, until you have one apple molecule left and my dog has eaten the rest. Then I can move on to the next guy with an apple and eat that.

Which is basically what some people on welfare do: blow their money on drugs, or gambling, or whatever, and then claim public assistance on ground of poverty.

Obviously, real-world welfare agency erect all sorts of barriers to try to stem this moral hazard, but if we were to adopt this "absolute right" nonsense, that would have to end. A person with an "absolute right" to food must retain that right even after indulging in behavior other people don't like.
3.16.2007 6:26pm
K Parker (mail):
Dilan Esper ,
It's way too facile to say that had Britain gone to war with Germany earlier, it would have defeated Germany
Except there was apparently a large enough segment of the German general officer staff who were this facile, such that they planned a coup attempt if Britain and France had mobilized against Germany's Sudeten adventure. I'm not sure how to square that with your statement.


Waldensian,
Prof. B seems to insinuate that Roth wouldn't approve of the use of military force in self-defense. That would be a fairly radical view for Roth to hold, and one that most people would criticize heavily...
It's worth pointing out that both Gandhi and John Howard Yoder (dean of American, if not worldwide, Christian Pacifism) held exactly that position.

And Viscus demonstrates he doesn't have a clue what the terms "positive" or "negative" mean in the context of rights. Oy, veh...
3.16.2007 6:32pm
ed o:
Roth might not flat out say "no right to self defense". as with his opinions on Israel, he would couch it in such a way as to effectively give one no right to self defense ie. you have a right to self defense but if you shoot back at Hezbollah not knowing if the bullet might ricochet and strike one of the civilians they use as human shields, you are violating international law, deserve prosecution and are not engaged in self defense. or, he might just blather on about proportionality, giving cover and aid to those willing to hide behind civilians. in either case, the practical impact is to empower savages and ensure more deaths.
3.16.2007 6:54pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Viscus-

which it is not -- reasonable taxes are not coercive

This is false, taxes are inherently coercive because they are backed by government force. Whether a tax is reasonable or not is a matter of opinion.

Take criminal groups that "tax" other groups while living in luxury, getting plum jobs without merit, etc. There is nothing reasonable or moral about a "tax" like that. These are exactly like the "martini sipping" crowd you mention. Often these "taxes" are meant to control, subjugate, and prevent competition (economic competition). Some of them are even genocidal - subsidizing the families of one group while preventing the families of the other.

There is no such thing as corruption or networks or other factors besides merits that explain such distribution.

Note that libertarians are against this. But they don't want to scrap all property rights because that would also harm the rights of those that acquired property through merit, labor, innovation, value creation, etc.
3.16.2007 7:12pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Viscus:
First of all, do not talk about we when you talk about libertarians, as if all of you are the same and as if other libertarians have consented to your spokesmanship. Okay. Let us start there. I refuse to despise all libertarians without finding out what they actually think individually.
Libertarians are not an ethnic group, Viscus. We're people with a particular philosophy. People who don't have libertarian principles aren't libertarians.

Finally, with respect to moral relativism, I think the one you are using is too narrow. All some libertarians care about is procedure, not substance. If any or nearly any substantive action is acceptable as long as a procedural element is met (consent), that is not morality.
Well, it is. It's just one you don't understand or like. And again, it is substance. Liberty -- you might notice the root of the word "libertarian" -- is substantive, not "procedure."
My definition of moral relativism is simple:
Lacking any fixed substantive sense of moral order.
Your definition is wrong.
3.16.2007 9:36pm
Viscus (mail) (www):
David M. Nieporent,

(1)
As someone who supposedly went to Princeton, I find you intellectually lacking.

Libertarianism is not an ethncity. What a shockingly brilliant observation. That doesn't mean that all libertarians have the same beliefs about all things. Milton Friedman thought that a negative income tax was a good idea. That is, he believed that there should be a positive right to a certain minimum level of income. Friedman was also a libertarian. You do not speak for Friedman and you do not speak for all libertarians in your hateful crusade against positive rights.

I am sorry, but obviously consent is merely procedural. No substantive act is forbidden.

If consent is not procedural, then nothing is.

Certainly, it is not always equally meaningful. Obviously, if Bill Gates consents to X, the underlying substantive interpretation is obviously very different than if some starving individual consents to Y. Not only that, X and Y themselves are the substantive meat of the matter.


Your definition is wrong.


My definition is just fine. But even if it wasn't, arguments about mere definitions are not substantive. What is important is that the concept that I attached to the word moral relativism applies to your morally lacking libertarian selfishness.
3.17.2007 1:57am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Viscus-

I am sorry, but obviously consent is merely procedural. No substantive act is forbidden.

False, and we've been over this before. Libertarians oppose all kinds of acts that effect consent - situations which involve force, fraud, diminished capacity, etc. We went over this with your "million dollar glass of water, "arm-sawing guy", and "less than consensual sex" examples. In all of those examples most libertarians wouldn't believe what you said they would believe.

Perhaps you should come up with more examples of these claimed beliefs or stop making false, defamatory statements about libertarians.

Certainly, it is not always equally meaningful. Obviously, if Bill Gates consents to X, the underlying substantive interpretation is obviously very different than if some starving individual consents to Y. Not only that, X and Y themselves are the substantive meat of the matter.

You have also been proven wrong in this line of argument. Libertarians support economic systems that result in less people starving or in desperate situations. So that negates your ignorant, defamatory argument that libertarians want to create groups of people in desperate situations so they can take advantage of them. The goal of their economic system is LESS people in desperate situations and a higher standard of living for everyone. See also the past discussions on your "million dollar glass of water" example - there are laws protecting the person dying of thirst, and you don't see libertarians lobbying to have those laws changed or thrown out.

Come up with some examples of all these sinister beliefs you claim libertarians have or stop spouting the untruths that have already been debunked.
3.17.2007 2:24am
Viscus (mail) (www):

taxes are inherently coercive because they are backed by government force


That is like saying that property rights are inherently coercive because they are backed by government force.

But really, there is always the exit option. You do not have to live in this society and you can thus avoid taxes. Also, you do not have to earn money. Homeless people do not pay income taxes and they often do not even pay sales taxes.

Remember, from a libertarian perspective, that one has unsavory alternatives does not invalidate consent. You in essence consent to taxes by living in this society, enjoy the protection and benefits of the laws and of society and protection of property rights and your life. You can exit society if you don't think this is a good deal. You can also choose not to earn income.

For these reasons, reasonable taxes are not coercive, especially under a libertarian conception.


More hate and vitriol from you.


I don't hate libertarians. I just don't respect a subset of them or believe they are morally deserving of any rights.

You don't have to hate a felon to not respect a felon. You don't have to hate a felon to think that a felon should not have the right to vote or to bear arms.

Again, I don't hate libertarians. I simply have correctly identified the views of a subset of libertarians as morally repulsive. I respect other libertarians, such as Milton Friedman, even though I disagree with him on many issues.
3.17.2007 2:29am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Viscus-

morally lacking libertarian selfishness

Wrong. Libertarians support economic systems that will result in the least amount of poverty possible with the highest standards of living for everyone.

You propose "rights" that are impossible to provide and the efforts to provide them have resulted in MORE starvation and poverty in the past. Not to mention corruption, tyranny, despotism, totalitarianism, etc. So while you may claim to be altruistic in practice, where the rubber meets the road, your policies result in disasterous consequences.
3.17.2007 2:36am
Viscus (mail) (www):
Stacy writes:


Anyone who doesn't think like you is "immoral" and deserving of serfdom, banishment, and (because this is where that road always leads) ultimately death.


First of all, I was simply stating what a subset of libertarians deserve, not what I would do. And that is, to be banished from the protections of society, which in fact takes positive energy to enforce, because they think they owe nothing to others. Symmetrically, if libertarians owe nothing to society, then society owes nothing to them.

Second, that a subset of libertarians are not deserving of rights does not mean that we should deprive them of rights. Depriving this subset of libertarians of rights would cause more problems than it would solve.

Third, my main proposition is the following. Anyone who would deny an absolute obligation to provide food to someone who is starving (absent an emergency where providing such sustenance will result in dire harm to oneself or to one's family or to a third party) is morally lacking and not morally deserving.
3.17.2007 2:40am
Viscus (mail) (www):
Malvolio:

A person with an "absolute right" to food must retain that right even after indulging in behavior other people don't like.


I don't like murderers or rapists. Even though I do not like them, I would not deprive them of food. I would not use starvation as a mechanism of social control.

Someone who is merely lazy is certainly not more morally repugnant than a murderer or rapist and in fact, much less morally repugnant. So, unless you advocate allowing murderers and rapists to starve, I don't think it makes sense to use the possibility of starvation as a mechanism of social control to prevent undesirable behavior by those who are merely lazy.

And again, obviously, any positive right to food does not imply a positive right to food from a particular individual, as opposed to a general social obligation that is administered through tax revenue.

Third, any such positive right would rationally be limited if resources are so scarce that providing sustenance results in dire harm.
3.17.2007 2:46am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Viscus-

That is like saying that property rights are inherently coercive because they are backed by government force.

They can be, but they are also backed by individual force. But the force usually only arises when you are trying to take someone else's property, which is what the government does with taxation.

But really, there is always the exit option. You do not have to live in this society and you can thus avoid taxes.

Not a very feasible option. This is my country. The people that want to screw it up with high taxes and other mismanagement can also leave. There are plenty of places with higher taxes and even communist countries that they could move to.

Also, you do not have to earn money. Homeless people do not pay income taxes and they often do not even pay sales taxes.

Not very feasible either. I'll just stick to collecting my property and working towards achieving economic sanity in this country.

Remember, from a libertarian perspective, that one has unsavory alternatives does not invalidate consent.

Not as a rule. Remember, this has been addressed with your "million dollar glass of water" example and yet you still repeat this falsehood.

You in essence consent to taxes by living in this society, enjoy the protection and benefits of the laws and of society and protection of property rights and your life.

In a sense. But I don't consent to violations of the law and my rights. When those kinds of violations are committed I will collect what is due for the violation of those laws and my rights. Unless you are dishonest and hypocritical and don't think I should have the same rights as everyone else. You do believe in the golden rule, "Do unto others...", don't you?

For these reasons, reasonable taxes are not coercive, especially under a libertarian conception.

No, taxes are still coercive because they are collected by government force. And the "contract" isn't necessarily a valid one because there isn't a meeting of the minds, fraud, etc. And if you look at the Constitution as a contract it has been violated many times over, especially recently. But all of this might not cause one to leave the country - one might decide that the country can still be saved.

I just don't respect a subset of them or believe they are morally deserving of any rights.

And that's why you are immoral, because you engage in moral exceptionalism when you believe people that disagree with you don't deserve fundamental rights. (And this is especially so because your reasoning is false.) Which is common in some religious moral systems - the "unbeliever" can be dehumanized if they disagree with the believer enough, or in certain areas.
3.17.2007 3:05am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Viscus-

And that is, to be banished from the protections of society, which in fact takes positive energy to enforce, because they think they owe nothing to others.

This is blatantly false. What libertarians have said this?

Symmetrically, if libertarians owe nothing to society, then society owes nothing to them.

Wrong. They pay taxes and they live in this society - they are owed everything that you are.

Depriving this subset of libertarians of rights would cause more problems than it would solve.

No, depriving any subset of innocent people of rights is immoral and wrong. If you don't realize this you have zero credibility when speaking about morality or right and wrong.

Anyone who would deny an absolute obligation to provide food to someone who is starving (absent an emergency where providing such sustenance will result in dire harm to oneself or to one's family or to a third party) is morally lacking and not morally deserving.

And no libertarian has said anything like that.

Time to put up or shut up, Viscus. Can we take your house, car, and every possession of significant worth from you tomorrow, sell them, and give them to a charity fighting hunger? If the answer is no, then you don't believe in a fundamental right to food yourself and are therefore a lying hypocrite. Because that is exactly what the right you are advocating entails.
3.17.2007 3:17am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Viscus-

Someone who is merely lazy is certainly not more morally repugnant than a murderer or rapist and in fact, much less morally repugnant. So, unless you advocate allowing murderers and rapists to starve, I don't think it makes sense to use the possibility of starvation as a mechanism of social control to prevent undesirable behavior by those who are merely lazy.

Well since other people's legal behavior is none of your business I would say you have no right to even babble about "social control" of them.

And of course if someone like yourself thought that they had the authority to order me around I wouldn't lift a finger. And would prevent you from touching a dime of my property.
3.17.2007 3:23am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Libertarianism is not an ethncity. What a shockingly brilliant observation. That doesn't mean that all libertarians have the same beliefs about all things.
It means that there are core libertarian views, and people who don't share them aren't libertarians. Catholics may think many things, may apply Catholic doctrine in various ways -- but if they think that Jesus was just some guy and that the Pope has no special religious authority, they ain't Catholic.
Milton Friedman thought that a negative income tax was a good idea. That is, he believed that there should be a positive right to a certain minimum level of income. Friedman was also a libertarian. You do not speak for Friedman and you do not speak for all libertarians in your hateful crusade against positive rights.
You're wrong; Friedman was a pragmatist. He supported the negative income tax as a transitional phase from the welfare state, because he knew it would be politically impossible to simply abolish welfare. (Check out Free to Choose, if you want to see that point.)

I am sorry, but obviously consent is merely procedural. No substantive act is forbidden.

If consent is not procedural, then nothing is.
If you think the difference between rape and consensual sex is merely "procedural" and that rape is not a "substantive act," then I can't help you.

Remember, from a libertarian perspective, that one has unsavory alternatives does not invalidate consent.
Wrong, or at least incomplete. That one faces unsavory consequences by choosing one option does not invalidate consent. That someone forces those consequences on you does. There is a difference -- in the libertarian view -- between someone putting a gun to your head and saying, "Do this or I kill you" and the universe putting a metaphorical gun to your head and saying, "Do this or you die" (e.g., from starvation, falling, etc.)
For these reasons, reasonable taxes are not coercive, especially under a libertarian conception.
Wrong. We've already established that you don't understand the libertarian conception; your argument doesn't even make any sense, because you're bringing up irrelevant factors like "reasonable." Reasonable or unreasonable is unrelated to the issue of coercion.

And again, obviously, any positive right to food does not imply a positive right to food from a particular individual, as opposed to a general social obligation that is administered through tax revenue.
There is no "general social" anything. There's only individuals. A group of people can't have an obligation unless the people who make up the group do.
3.17.2007 3:37am
Viscus (mail) (www):
Yankev,


That aside, can we agree that starvation also occurs notwithstanding government efforts — national and international — to prevent it?


Inadequate efforts.


And that government distribution (because, you will agree, that we are talking about a distribution shortage, not a food shortage) is no more likely to prevent starvation than private efforts are?


This is obviously a context dependent statement. Sometimes, private actions are simply inadequate, as when those who are starving are mere abstractions outside of the awareness of private individuals. Do I think that girl scouts who stand in front of stores "selling" overpriced cookies would be the object of private philanthropy if they did not make themselves visible? No. A more active effort is needed to prevent starvation when victims are in effect invisible with respect to those in a position to help. I am not against private philanthropy. I do not care how the problem is solved, as long as it is solved. However, as the existence of starvation has demonstrated, private efforts have been inadequate, as have public efforts.


After all, starvation and inequal distribution is if anything more exaggerated, not less, in Stalinist, Maoist and other so-called progressive states than in the West, and the UN has particularly distinguished iteslf as a singularly corrupt and inefficient distributor of aid.


I am not a communist or a marxist. I have no interest in defending Stalin, Mao, or the UN. I am confident that the U.S., at least, could run a relatively non-corrupt program that would prevent starvation.


Next, do not assume that those who deny that there is a positive right to be fed by others are in favor of starvation. Research and anecdotal evidence both suggest that such individuals are likely to give more of their money, time and effort — both on a percentage and absolute basis — to alleviate suffering than those who believe that government should take care of everyone. This result holds true, by the way, across all income levels.


Reality shows that starvation occurs, despite an abundance of food in the world and economic effort directed at producing non-essential consumer goods indicates that we have the physical capacity to grow and distribute food to every human being.


Next, why is any other individual's right to food greater than mine?


You have a right to food too. So, it is incorrect to say that I am advocating that someone have a greater right to food than you. If you or a family member or third party you knew was in danger of starvation, I would not say that you have an obligation to provide food to anyone else, before providing it to your favored party.


Suppose that I am able to work but choose not to. How is my right to food less than that of someone who wants to work but cannot? Or who works but cannot feed himself? Or who cannot work but does not care to? And who determines who much is a fair amount for me to work? Suppose I am working myself 22 hours per day to feed others — how long until I work myself to death, and the number of food producers decreases accordingly?


It is immoral to use the threat of starvation as a means of social control or to coerce others into doing labor. The situation would be different if it was truly the case that such labor was necessary to produce sufficient food. That someone is not working to produce some useless consumer bauble is not sufficient justification to allow them to starve.

It should be noted though, that in reality, lazy homeless people in America do not starve. While non-lazy people elsewhere do starve. To characterize starvation as a matter of laziness is to mischaracterize reality. However, even if that was a correct characterization, it would be morally impermissable to allow someone to starve merely because they are lazy when we do not let murderers or rapists who are far more morally repugnant to starve.


Finally, do not assume that those who do not believe in a governmentally enforceable right to be fed do not believe in an obligation to support the poor. But not every obligation creates a reciprocal right. For example, I have a religious obligation to devote a specific amount of my income to tzedakah, which includes, among other things, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and caring for the sick. But no specific poor person has an enforceable right to my tzedaka dollar — that is, if I fail to give, or if I give to someone other than him, I may have violated my obligation, but I have not infringed on his legally enforecable right. And I most certainly cannot satisfy my obligation by using the power of government to take money from you to apply to my obligations.


That you have parallel religious obligations that you honor is laudable. However, that does not relieve you of your civic obligations. Just as you have a positive right to access courts and to police protection, there must be a positive right to sustenance and survival. If anything, the right to sustenance and survival is more fundamental and more important than the positive right to police protection or to access courts to protect your property or contract rights.


Despite your high minded sentiments, societies organized along the lines that you propose have not only crushed individual initiative and reduced the prosperity of everyone falling under their power, they have also led to more deaths by starvation (to say nothing of more innocent deaths in general) than any other economic or governmental system of the 20th century. None for me, thanks — it just doesn't work.


Beware of binary thinking. Is Enron representative of all business and all capitalism? I think not. Business is not simply either all evil or all good. In general, binary thinking that suggests we must either choose between total indifference to others with no unchosen obligations at all or slavery is a false choice.

By the way, last time I checked, libertarians who advocate against positive rights when it comes to preventing starvation seem to have no problem with a positive right to contract enforcement or police protection which must be funded by reasonable taxes. So, in fact, rhetoric aside, the idea of no positive rights is unrealistic.
Yes, the police protection is necessary to protect a negative right. But, the enforcement itself is a positive right. Which involves positive exertion, not merely negative restraint. Perhaps the morally repugnant subset of libertarians at issue think that protecting property is more important the preventing starvation, and thus a positive right to police protection to protect property is justified, but a positive right to not face starvation is not justified.


Finally, it should be remembered that not all libertarians have morally repugnant views. Milton Friedman, for example, advocated a positive right to vouchers for education and a positive right to negative income taxes.
3.17.2007 3:40am
Viscus (mail) (www):
David,

Of course consent is procedural. If you force someone to have sex with you in exchange for excess food that you control, you are the moral equivalent of a rapist.

Substance is the accused party believed that the sexual relationship is desired by the other party. Consent is the procedure that outsiders use to judge whether that belief was reasonable.


That someone forces those consequences on you does.


Your decision to stay in the United States of America is all the consent I need to enforce the law against you. You may say that the creation of the United States of America as an entity is the thing that creates this unsavory alternative between obeying the law or leaving the country. In other words, that you face unsavory alternatives is in fact created by the superior negotiating power and position of the United States of America vis a vis you.

But then, I must ask, what makes you think you have a right to be here anyway? You have no rights to be here without an implicit agreement to the benefits and burdens of citizenship. The rights of citizenship comes with duties. You don't like the duties, leave. Like I said before. Good riddance. If you stay and don't pay your taxes, you go to jail. If you wanted to avoid that situation, you shouldn't have agreed to remain a citizen or take advantage of the benefits and burdens of our laws.

A final point. Coercion is all about reasonable. It is coercion for me to point a gun to your head because your alternatives are not reasonable than to obey my wishes rather than your own. In fact, you actually do have a choice if I point a gun at your head. You can take a risk and find out if I am bluffing. It is not coercion to enter into a business relationship where I take 80% of the profits and you take 20% because if you don't like it, you have reasonable alternatives. My wishes are not dominating yours in a situation where you have reasonable alternatives, but they are if all your alternatives are unreasonable.

Finally, as far as Milton Friedman is concerned, if he really would have preferred to let people starve, but merely recognized vouchers for education and a negative income taxes for pragmatic reasons, then he is every bit as morally repugnant as you.

Nonetheless, I do not doubt there are in fact libertarians who believe that vouchers and a negative income tax are principled choices, not merely distasteful alternatives in the face of no better choices.
3.17.2007 4:03am
Public_Defender (mail):
Close your eyes. Think for a moment of what Iraq . . . would look like right now if the Bush Administration paid no attention to human rights.

You make some valid points, but do you really think this point helps your argument? Instead of one Saddam, Bush has unleashed thousands of little Saddams. Saddam was a brutal dictator, but there was only one of him.

It's sad for Iraqis that Bush found a way to make life even worse than it was under Saddam.

As to terrorism, Saddam had some minor contacts with Al Qaeda, but now terrorists flourish in Iraq.

So, Bush's "attention to human rights" has made a brutal life even more brutal and has created a fertile nest for terrorism. Good work.
3.17.2007 6:28am
markm (mail):
Viscus: And when you whine about "coercion" because of the very minor burden that taxation sufficient to prevent starvation exact. So 40% of my income is a "minor" imposition. And of course, you want to increase that, because somewhere someone is still starving! (Where people who think like you got your way, many are starving - because they took away the incentive for people to work to better themselves, and chose to not understand why production plummeted.)

Thank you for helping Colin understand collectivism.
3.17.2007 10:00am
Public_Defender (mail):
Close your eyes. Think for a moment of what Iraq . . . would look like right now if the Bush Administration paid no attention to human rights.

I forgot to add: There were no WMD's in Iraq when Bush invaded, but now Iraqis have low-grade chemical weapons (chlorine) exploding in their streets.

Life under Saddam was brutal, but Bush managed to make things worse.
3.17.2007 10:45am
neurodoc:
Viscus, you write, "As someone who supposedly went to Princeton, I find you intellectually lacking." What is the "supposedly," either you did or you did not go to Princeton.
3.17.2007 12:28pm
ed o:
poison gas is something that has a long history in Iraq-amazing how blind you have to be to maintain the bush hatred necessary to get through the day on the left. I am sure Mr. Roth would find some moral equivalence between gassing people and shooting those doing the gassing.
3.17.2007 3:15pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Viscus-

However, as the existence of starvation has demonstrated, private efforts have been inadequate, as have public efforts.

What about areas where the aid food is kept from the hungry? Are you prepared to intervene militarily in these areas, possibly for long periods?

Perhaps the morally repugnant subset of libertarians at issue think that protecting property is more important the preventing starvation, and thus a positive right to police protection to protect property is justified, but a positive right to not face starvation is not justified.

The two are intimately related. See Locke's Second Treatise of Government. If you can't protect your property you can't feed yourself.

Substance is the accused party believed that the sexual relationship is desired by the other party. Consent is the procedure that outsiders use to judge whether that belief was reasonable.

No, consent is what is relied upon by the parties at the time to determine whether both parties agree to the behavior. When there is no coercion or fraud, as is the case in the vast majority of interactions, consent represents an agreement made by both parties. So if say a woman gave valid consent and then lied about it later because she wanted money, wanted to hurt the man, or because her family found out and she didn't want them to be mad at her she has become a criminal.

Your decision to stay in the United States of America is all the consent I need to enforce the law against you.

That assumes the breaking of a law. If I don't break any laws, you have nothing to enforce. Also, if you fraudulently try to enforce laws against an innocent person you open yourself up to criminal and civil liability.

But then, I must ask, what makes you think you have a right to be here anyway? You have no rights to be here without an implicit agreement to the benefits and burdens of citizenship.

What are the "burdens" beyond paying my taxes (just ones - not discriminatory, fraudulent, or criminal ones) and not breaking any laws? Go into detail and define the term here, since you have a habit of throwing vague terms like "burden" out without defining them.

if he really would have preferred to let people starve

Another hateful, ignorant statement. Libertarians do not "prefer" to see people starve. We support economic systems that result in the least amount of people starving and in producing the most amount of prosperty, which can be used by individuals to provide aid.

Answer my previous question: You do realize that it would require military intervention in at least several places to get the food to the people, possibly for long periods. Do you support this?

Also, if you are so convinced that your US tax increase to stop world hunger is workable why don't you lobby and get the tax passed? Why do you spend time insulting libertarians with false and inaccurate accusations about their beliefs? You would have some credibility if you put YOUR time and money (not other people's, until you get your tax legally passed) working to accomplish your goal.
3.17.2007 5:12pm
Viscus (mail) (www):
markm,

Do you use public roads? Do you benefit from national defense? The existence of police to protect your life and property? Access to courts which act as a deterrent to those thinking of breaking contracts without compensating you? Publicly subsidized hospitals that will be there when you need them? Publicly subsidized airports? The existence of private enterprise that would not exist, but for publicly supported infrastructure?? I think you personally benefit a lot.

But, no one said you had to personally benefit from every dollar you pay in taxation. This nation is built on the efforts of many individuals, families, firms, and groups. If you don't like everything you get living here, then leave. Renounce your citizenship and leave. If you stay, you are consenting to pay to prevent starvation.

You are of course, free to start a pro-starvation political campaign to eliminate our already inadequate efforts in this area. But when you lose your political campaign, stop whining. Don't let the door hit you when you go if you decide to exit after your pro-starvation campaign fails.
3.17.2007 5:15pm
Viscus (mail) (www):
American Psikhushka writes:


If you can't protect your property you can't feed yourself.


So, a positive right to police protection and a positive right to access courts to protect your property is justified because it would help prevent starvation? Now your starting to think like me. Based on that reasoning, there should be a positive right to food, if such a right would prevent starvation.


We support economic systems that result in the least amount of people starving


Question:
If providing a positive right to food would lead to less starvation, would you support such a right?
3.17.2007 5:56pm
Stacy (mail) (www):
Viscus, I'll stipulate your argument that you were expressing a personal opinion and not making a policy statement. That being the case though, why not just admit that you flew off the handle and apologize for your intemperate statements? I'll accept it, and I think others will too.

You do have some lazy habits of mind, one of which I've noticed is the assumption that because a person does not believe in something, they must believe in the opposite of that thing as you see it. There is no reason to assume that a libertarian who denies a positive right to three square meals a day doesn't also volunteer in a soup kitchen or give to private charities. They have philosophical objections to government welfare and these are independent of their personal generosity toward their fellow citizen.
3.17.2007 6:56pm
Viscus (mail) (www):
Stacy,

Some libertarians are against a positive right to food, even if it means some people starve to death. To me, it is irrelevant that they do not affirmatively wish people to starve to death, when they think it should be allowed to happen in instances where private charity fails.

If you see a small child playing on a railroad track, not knowing a train is coming, and at no risk to yourself, you could remove the child from the situation, but you do nothing because you are too busy or indifferent, then you are no better than a murderer, really.
3.17.2007 8:57pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
However, as the existence of starvation has demonstrated, private efforts have been inadequate, as have public efforts.
The only starvation in the world occurs in places where there's no political and economic freedom.

But then, I must ask, what makes you think you have a right to be here anyway?
What makes you think I don't? More to the point, what makes you think you have the right to kick me out, or give me an ultimatum? You don't own my house.
3.17.2007 9:32pm
Viscus (mail) (www):
David M. Nieporent,

The point is that you must either comply with lawfully imposed duties as a member of the national community, or exit. If you don't comply with your lawful duties (for example, paying taxes which might then be spent on preventing starvation), you go to jail. If you don't want to comply with the duties but don't want to go to jail either, then leave.

The rights of citizenship also involve duties.


The only starvation in the world occurs in places where there's no political and economic freedom.


The precise reasons for starvation are varied and complicated. I would not doubt if political corruption, lack of economic opportunity, and lack of economic freedom had something to do with it in many cases. Lack of economic freedom may be the explanation in North Korea, but lack of economic opportunity might be the explanation in some parts of Africa. Also, a lack of justice in the control and distribution and control of resources that are available might be an explanation in some circumstances. There is a danger in generalizing too much without a careful examination of individual situations.

The reasons that starvation occurs is not really very relevant in terms of the morality of allowing it to continue. Most people who are the victims have no ability to create a more favorable environment as individuals. They are simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. As such, it is not moral to allow them to starve, regardless of bigger political, economic, and socioeconomic conditions that are responsible for the situation.

Finally, even if the individual did have more significant control over the reasons leading to the danger of starvation, it still would not be moral to allow them to starve. People who are merely irresponsible or misguided certainly are not more morally culpable than murderers and rapists. But we do not let murderers or rapists starve.
3.18.2007 2:19am
David M. Nieporent (www):
The point is that you must either comply with lawfully imposed duties as a member of the national community, or exit. If you don't comply with your lawful duties (for example, paying taxes which might then be spent on preventing starvation), you go to jail. If you don't want to comply with the duties but don't want to go to jail either, then leave.

The rights of citizenship also involve duties.
I think that the editors of Websters have copied these comments to illustrate the entry on "begging the question." From where do you, or "the national community," get the right "to "impose duties" on anybody? Surely everyone must comply with lawfully imposed duties -- but what makes these duties "lawfully imposed"? Where did you get the idea that liberty is a right of "citizenship," rather than a right of humanity?

The reasons that starvation occurs is not really very relevant in terms of the morality of allowing it to continue.
It's entirely relevant, because you were citing the existence of starvation as empirical proof of the inadequacy of a laissez-faire approach.

People who are merely irresponsible or misguided certainly are not more morally culpable than murderers and rapists. But we do not let murderers or rapists starve.
We let everyone, murderer, rapist, or innocent bystander, starve if they choose. If you mean that we don't "let" people in prison starve, that's different than "letting." Putting someone in prison and not giving them food is not "letting"; it's "causing." You don't accept the difference, but that distinction's part of the core of libertarianism.
3.18.2007 3:22am
Stacy (mail) (www):
Viscus: "If you see a small child playing on a railroad track, not knowing a train is coming, and at no risk to yourself, you could remove the child from the situation, but you do nothing because you are too busy or indifferent, then you are no better than a murderer, really."

I agree that you're a bad person if you don't try to get the child out of harm's way, but that is a moral imperative, not a law or a statement of rights. You are still conflating those things, though I am pleased that you seem to be backing off your blanket condemnation of libertarians. As I say, it is two radically different things to say that libertarians would not force one person to support another, or to say that libertarians would prevent a person from donating to another who can't support themselves. The former is true, the latter is factually incorrect and a heinous libel.
3.18.2007 11:17am
Viscus (mail) (www):
Stacy,

First, I would in fact impose a legal duty on a person to save a child in this particular circumstance. Which does not mean that I would always make legal duties precisely coextensive with moral duties. However, there should be a tight coupling, when not impractical or when there are are reasonable differences about what moral duties should be imposed. I do not consider any difference in opinion regarding whether one should have a moral duty to act in the circumstance I described to be reasonable, and thus would impose criminal sanctions for failure to act, given, of course, sufficient evidence of knowledge, opportunity to act, etc.

Second, I have not backed off from my condemnation of libertarians who disagree with a positive right to food. I think they are immoral and should be exiled from the community and ostracized. It never was a blanket condemnation of all libertarians. I simply do not think that all libertarians are so dogmatic that they would actually turn their back on people who are starving. I fully condemn the rest. If I could impose harsh sanctions on them with no risks of misidentification, I would do so. The only thing that would prevent me from doing so are practical difficulties in implementation and perhaps principled objections based on the First Amendment.
3.18.2007 10:18pm
Viscus (mail) (www):
David M. Nieporent,

Let us be honest. We are not going to be able to have a productive conversation concerning this matter. I consider your views to be immoral and despicable. I could care less for your distinctions that make starvation okay. The bottom line is that I believe that allowing starvation is immoral when anything can be done to prevent it. You feel otherwise. The reasons are immaterial, because from my perspective, there are no reasons that could possibly justify your position, other than absolute necessity.

If your standard is anything other than "starvation is only acceptable in cases of absolute necessity," you have my moral condemnation. We are enemies. I don't care for your reasons. Let us leave it at that.

A serial killer can continue to rationalize about why they did it. The conversation is not a productive one in the sense that you take it seriously, except for diagnoses and to understand the sort of monster you are dealing with.
3.18.2007 10:24pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Viscus, I don't care whether you approve of my views or not; if that's where we're at, I think you're no different than a slaveowner. I'm not trying to convince you that libertarians are right; I'm just trying to explain to you what libertarians believe, because your conclusions are always based on misunderstandings.


You exhibit them in almost every comment. For instance, you say:
I simply do not think that all libertarians are so dogmatic that they would actually turn their back on people who are starving.
I don't know if any libertarians "are so dogmatic that they would turn their back on people who are starving" -- or at least, no more so than followers of liberalism, conservatism, or any other ideology. Libertarians deny that anyone is obligated to provide assistance; that is not the same as denying assistance itself. I donate to charity. There's a huge difference between that and the government taking money at gunpoint.

If I see someone in need, my reaction is "I should help that person" -- not "I should get together with some other people, stick a gun in Viscus's face, and force him to help that person." Your reaction is the latter, except that for "Viscus," you substitute everyone else.
3.19.2007 6:47am
Stacy (mail) (www):
Viscus: "I do not consider any difference in opinion regarding whether one should have a moral duty to act in the circumstance I described to be reasonable, and thus would impose criminal sanctions for failure to act, given, of course, sufficient evidence of knowledge, opportunity to act, etc. "

So I was right earlier and you are a totalitarian. It's your way or the gulag. I also conclude that you just don't understand the principle involved, since you said this:

"I simply do not think that all libertarians are so dogmatic that they would actually turn their back on people who are starving."

You're still assuming that a person who doesn't believe in A automatically believes in the opposite of A as defined by you. In your starvation scenario, this means that libertarians who don't believe in a positive right to food must therefore believe in letting people starve who can't fend for themselves, a la the Spartans throwing deformed babies down the well.

Whether you believe it or not, that is just not true. There's at least one person out there who believes in anything you can think of, but your notion of more dogmatic v. less dogmatic libertarians is wrong, because providing (private, voluntary) charity is perfectly consistent with libertarian thinking, which objects only to having your wealth taken and redistributed against your will.
3.19.2007 10:16am
Yankev (mail):
So Public_Defender thinks that an elected government and trying to keep Sunnis and Shia from blowing each other up is worse than Saddam successfully keeping them from blowing each other up, but murdering political opponents at a rate of 10,000+ /year, having his soldiers gang rape women in front of their husbands and fathers as a means to control dissent, slow torture and maiming of athletes for failure to win first place, gassing and slaughtering masses of his own population and burying them in mass graves?

And Viscus tells us that people who can work but just don't want to should be supported by the public because


Someone who is merely lazy is certainly not more morally repugnant than a murderer or rapist and in fact, much less morally repugnant. So, unless you advocate allowing murderers and rapists to starve, I don't think it makes sense to use the possibility of starvation as a mechanism of social control to prevent undesirable behavior by those who are merely lazy.

Tou can't make up this kind of stuff. In the words of Ben Grimm, "If I'd a read this in a comic book, I wouldn't of believed it." (Stan Lee must have been channeling Sir Toby Belch that day.)
3.19.2007 11:35am
Public_Defender (mail):
Yankev,
The New York Times reports that 35,000 Iraqis died last year because of the conflict, that's 3.5 times higher than the rate Saddam was killing people, even if your number is correct (what is your source for the 10,000 figure?).

Yes, Saddam's henchmen raped women and girls, but I have seen no statistics that show that rape has decreased as disorder has spread under US occupation. I suspect that rape has increased under the chaotic US rule, but it would probably be impossible to get accurate figures.

My point stands--for ordinary Iraqis, things are worse under US quasi-occupation than they were under Saddam. I supported the war early on because Saddam was a brutal thug. I didn't think Bush could be so stupid as to start a war that would make things worse than they were under Saddam. My liberal friends just laugh when I say that.
3.19.2007 6:54pm
Yankev (mail):
Public defender,

You overlook that the vast majority of those 35,000 deaths were caused not by US or coalition forces, but by sectarian violence among Iraqi factions, deliberately aimed to maximize civilian casualties.

I have seen no statistics that show that rape has decreased as disorder has spread under US occupation. I suspect that rape has increased under the chaotic US rule,

And as you acknowledge, there are certainly no statistics to support your supposition. Can we agree that rape as a deliberate tool of governmental policy and suppressing dissent has ceased as a result of the US invasion?

Is your position that any government that maintains order, no matter how cruel, tyrannical or illegitimate, is preferable to the effects of terrorism that occurs when the government is displaced?
3.20.2007 11:42am
Colin (mail):
You overlook that the vast majority of those 35,000 deaths were caused not by US or coalition forces, but by sectarian violence among Iraqi factions, deliberately aimed to maximize civilian casualties.

I think he's probably aware of that fact. What is its relevance to his point?
3.20.2007 1:24pm