Well, I had to scroll down through tracts of sarcasm in Logan’s response to get to something resembling reasonable argumentation--but it was there. In the interests of self-defense, however, I’ll start in the midst of the sarcasm (with rubber glove and Vaseline) and begin the fisking:
Of course, I'm not a philosopher, but if it will bring us together, I am willing to concede that rights don't exist in the same way as noses exist, or even in the same way as dumb ideas exist. Of course rights are a way of talking about things, and not some sort of object in and of themselves.
This is cute, but again sidesteps the primary libertarian question. He’s given us no argument for how, precisely, rights do exist—whether metaphysically, morally, socially, a prioristically or otherwise. And since Logan is the one who brought them up, he should be able to defend them. If he doesn’t know how they exist or – more specifically - how he arrives at them, then how can he or any other libertarian be so sure about all the positions and premises that flow from said rights? (Hey, I don’t deny we have rights. I deny we have universal natural rights, which is something Logan seems committed to. And this is what I find naïve.)
I, for one, would argue for individual rights on contractarian grounds. But not the Rawlsian contractarianism of 1971. Rather more like the Rawlsian contractarianism of 1993 or better, of Buchanan, Gauthier and Narveson if we’re going to play the name-drop game. Social contract theory allows one a lot more theoretical wiggle room, especially in fields like IR. But having an IR background, Logan should know this. Which brings me to:
But since I don't believe that pop philosophy has all that much to offer the field of foreign relations, I'd be content to take criticism from philosophers that IR people don't have much to offer contemporary philosophy. (If anyone is interested in what appear to my non-philosopher eyes to be pretty devastating critiques of Borders's application of his philosophy to the field of international relations, you can go here or here or here.)
Surely Logan sees the irony in appealing to mysterious Enlightenment rights theories on a daily basis as he did in his Critique of Sager, while maligning “pop philosophy” in the same breath… In any case, the “devastating critiques” to which Logan is referring have all been given responses either here or in comments sections he failed to read (like Fly Bottle's). Logan finds these critiques devastating in the same way that a kid finds the schoolyard retort “I’m rubber, you’re glue…” devastating. But this assessment neither treats my argument directly, nor offers anything substantive on the issue. In short, Logan finds these responses compelling simply because he agrees with them.
But the following represents the point at which Logan should have started his response to me, because - with due respect - this is where the substance of his debate begins:
I do know enough about libertarianism, though, to think that Borders has gone off the deep end when he asserts that "real rights...are conferred solely by...political institutions (and military power)..."
In the spirit of Jiu Jitsu [sic - Jujitsui!], I would turn Borders's own admonition back onto his formulation of "real rights." How do these real rights come about? Because governments give them to us? Can they just be taken away by governments? Are those who live under despotic governments simply holders of fewer rights, or is it that the rights they possess a priori are being violated by their governments? I can't quite make sense of this, but perhaps Borders can explain how it's a remotely libertarian position to claim that people don't have rights until governments (bless them!) bestow them upon us.
This is a good point. After all, it sure does seem like we should believe that people have rights not to live under despotic regimes. And, in a way, they do. But here’s the subtlety of a contractarian rights theory. I'll sum it up blog-style at the risk of attenuating the idea:
1) People are rationally self-interested and prefer peace to conflict (predation and defense are expensive - non-optimal – postures for all parties involved). The state of nature is not a fun place.
2) They will (or “ought to” where ought is rational) agree on reciprocal rules of non-harm - "rights". (Think of a variation on the Prisoner’s Dilemma.)
3) While it is rational to assent to such rules, not everyone does--so the rules must be enforced (and the people defended and adjudicated). Enforcement and adjudication is best left to a third party, i.e. a minimal state. Such is the basic function of the state, as construed by a contractarian.
4) The state, which ensures enforcement of the non-harm rules, becomes the outcome of rational agreement among actual (or hypothetical) people. (There is disagreement about this actual/hypothetical business, but either way, reciprocal rights of non-harm are derived rather than discovered by Kantian noumenal selves.) The people form a kind of contract with each other and the state that is enforceable (and thus the power checked).
5) Sometimes, a state acquires too much power, where “too much” is defined roughly as the amount exceeding that which is required to protect the rules of non-harm, provide for adjudication, and defense. Our constitution is the closest approximation to these rules, at the moment. If one has no Constitution (and even when you do) one has to get pragmatic. Sometimes even has to get revolutionary (as in the case of people who live under despotic regimes Logan mentions).
6) People who live outside the auspices of such a state and its underlying constitutional rules, are simply outside of it. It’s a brute fact of politics. A club is not a club if everyone's in it. This is the sense in which I took issue with Logan about this “mediated” and “unmediated” business. I wrote: “Huh? Mediated, non-mediated? Moral weight? OK, I don’t believe that the life of an Iraqi has the same “moral weight” as mine or any other American’s. But that is a political distinction, not really a moral one.” Rights are circumscribed by constitutions (i.e. social contracts, roughly).
So yes, if I have to give up a certain amount of power to a sovereign in exchange for protection, I expect that government to protect me and mine as best they can. The rest (like Iraqis) should be treated with decency, where possible--but this is not a normative should, rather a sentimental one. If you have to mistreat a terrorist to get information that will save the lives of American troops or innocent Iraqis, I’m not sure I give too much of a shit about Geneva or any other non-Constitutional “contract,” any more than I care about the ICC or the UN. Same with collateral damage. On this, I'm sorry, I have to be a hard-ass.
Finally, Logan argues that I close with a straw man when I say: “The burden of proof is on Justin Logan to show why any nation should not do what it perceives to be in its interests – but especially on grounds of so-called universal rights.” He replies:
I never recall having asserted that "based on universal rights, nations should not pursue their perceived interests." My complaint about the current course of our foreign policy is that the perceived interests have been so obscenely polluted by various influences that the present administration couldn't tell the national interest from a hole in the ground.
Of course he asserted this. Otherwise why the Nozick quote that he gave in the response to Sager? It’s a poorly disguised sleight of hand to try and move suddenly from a natural rights argument into the armchair strategist argument and deny fidelity to the former. I’ll save arguments about the latter for another post. Suffice it to say that dovish inaction and/or “containment” approaches are not, in my humble opinion, in our interests as Americans. Hole in the ground or no.
And here is a strawman of Logan’s own:
That is, when there is not an overwhelming need, you can't just go around slaughtering foreigners.
OK, no one advocates wholesale slaughter of innocents for fun and adventure. Not even the Bush administration.
Now, Borders thinks that there is an overwhelming need to change the social fabric of the Muslim world in order to secure the country…how does he get around the prudential/consequentialist argument? … I think it was best formulated by Matt Yglesias: "the notion that anything even remotely resembling libertarianism could underwrite an effort to conscript huge quantities of resources from the American public and deploy them in an attempt to wholly remake the social and political order in a foreign country is too absurd to merit a rebuttal. This is an argument properly directed at egalitarian liberals, and we have reason to be asked to produce some specific arguments about why the dim prospects for succeeding at this were ex ante knowable (such arguments can, I think, be fairly easily produced) and/or why, given the opportunity costs, nation-building in Iraq was not a wise place to deploy the resources in question (this argument, I think, can be produced very easily). As long as the conversation is supposed to be proceeding on the shared basis of libertarianism, however, one hardly needs to say anything. It's coercion, it's planning, it's every non-libertarian thing under the sun."
The first thing that I would disagree with Logan (and Yglesias) on is that this quote is an argument at all. It’s not. It’s incredulity. It’s the intellectual equivalent of ‘nuh uh! That’s not libertarianism!’ Of course, for the naïve libertarian it is not. But to those who understand that a social-political order requires something like a common defense, this isn’t too “absurd to merit a rebuttal.” And the common defense of the twenty-first century requires new thinking. Preemption. Even nation-building. Yes, all at the expense of the citizens who will benefit from it in the long term (Crisis and Leviathan notwithstanding)... Logan again:
And in addition to that, there's another theoretical point I'm not quite clear on. How is it that centralization and accumulation of state power domestically is a supreme bogey man, but the total aggrandizement and wielding of power by one's own state in the international sphere is an unmitigated good?
It’s neither good nor evil. It’s just strategy. Necessity. It could be poor strategy, which is an empirical question. I don’t think it is. I think it will be a long-term benefit to attempt to change the Middle East—fundamentally. To me bellyaching about paying tax money for such projects is like cancer patient bellyaching about losing his hair as he treats a cancer before it spreads out of control. But it’s got to be done.
We can certainly agree that U.S. state power is less malignant than, say, Chinese state power, but under what system of logic does it follow that we should therefore massively increase the existing power imbalances in the international sphere and make sure that at the same time we're increasing our power, we wield that power promiscuously and to the fear and chagrin of other power centers in the international arena? Is there a point at which libertarian instincts and reasoning should apply to an international Leviathan, or does American state power have some unlimited benevolent force behind it -- one that appears when entering the foreign arena -- that takes it out of the traditional libertarian views of power and into some statist views about the nature of one's own state and its infallible goodness vis-a-vis other states?
I wish the US didn't have to be the Leviathan, the world constable, or whatever. But history has handed us that peculiar position. In the case of the US, power was born of necessity, not of bloodlust.
Finally, I will end with the toughest question Logan asks: "Can the U.S. government ever have or wield too much power internationally in the view of the libertarian hawks?" My answer to this would be simply that "too much power" comes when the power is being used in ways that are not in the interests of the US. But then, we have returned to the strategic question of whether or not some action is in our nation's interest--and that is a question people in the Pentagon may be better equipped to answer.