Mr Sandefur claims in response to my allegation that he completely misconstrued my first essay, with an essay in which he thinks that a state has “no rights.” And to be honest, I agree with him on that point … it’s just that neither do people. However in the context of his own question:

This is interesting because this really is the very center of the dispute between libertarians and conservatives. Does the state itself have rights valid against its own citizens, to act for its own preservation at their expense?

On this question, Mr Sandefur has five “objections” to that notion that the “state has rights”. So does a state have a right to craft laws which it believes will lead to its continuance? Clearly virtually every state does so and believes it is right in doing so. Clearly as well, that some states craft laws which belie an incorrect assumption about what will allow them to continue … and they ceased to exist. But, it might be interesting to examine Mr Sandefur’s arguments in the light of those I’d propose. Mr Sandefur’s arguments are, I think, derived from classical Libertarian positions … mine are not classical anything, conservative or liberal. Mine largely derive from recent digestion and assimilation of Jouvenel and Solzhenitsyn viewed in the context of modern and ancient historical events.

I’ll examine those five and attempt a response … below the fold.

Mr Sandefur’s first objection to the notion that the state has rights is:

First, the libertarian would argue that the state itself has no “interests” or rights: it is simply a group of individuals who themselves have interests or rights. To say that the “state” may act to defend “itself” from the innovative or destructive acts of individuals is really only saying that a group of individuals who believe X have the legitimate right to limit the freedom of those who believe in not-X.

Much (Most?) of modern political theory is derived from Hobbes social contract and Locke’s defense of the person against the power of the state so conceived. Jouvenel, unlike almost all the rest of the political theorists since then, steps in a different direction. Rights are ultimately not useful in considering state and its mechanisms. Hobbes argument is flawed from, at the very least, anthropological grounds, people don’t “give up rights” to a collective. They follow a leader. Rousseau argued, successfully in Jouvenel’s view, that Locke’s notion of rights fails because it is impossible to give up “just some rights” and limit those which you think should be held back. The rhetoric of the Libertarian movement proves their fundamental error. They would hold to rights, and keep noting example after example, how a knowledge and sensibility of rights keeps failing to defend the same. Ultimately this is the fundamental Libertarian problem. There is no actual mechanism that can or does exist to limit the “rights” that the government might not, if it chose, take.

Second, if the state has rights of self-preservation valid against individuals who would like to act in a manner contrary to the status quo, where does this end? Obviously the worst sorts of tyrannies are built on the assumption that the state has the right to preserve itself against those who would challenge the prevailing social order. May the state, for example, force people to have children, as the polis of Sparta did? The libertarian account has a clear stopping point: the rights of the individual being the source and definition of legitimate state interests (“to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men…”), the state cannot go further than that …

Except that the state can and does go “further than that.” Yes, perhaps the state can “force” people to have children (as Mr Sandefur claims Sparta did). But It can also “force them” to manumit slaves as Lincoln did. Was Lincoln right or wrong? He set the Union at war with the Southern states with the claim that their secession, their attempt to determine their interests as more important than the preservation of the Union was right.

Next, Mr Sandefur offers a straw man argument:

Third, and closely related, is the vagueness of the proposition. What specifically qualify as “interests” which the state may legitimately protect? May the state only enforce those institutions that have some direct economic impact on the preservation of that state—so that, for example, preserving the jobs of buggywhip makers against the disruption caused by the invention of the automobile would not qualify, but preserving the jobs of American car makers against competition by Japanese car makers would?

This sally tries to make the distinction that a state might not be omniscient. That because some states have made errors in perceiving what their best interest is, that therefore they have no rightful stake in making any decisions on that matter. One begins to wonder what sort of state Mr Sandefur conceives? This jellyfish of a state, which cannot make decisions economic or otherwise, how can it protect itself or preserve its continuance for any reason or by any method.

This leads to the fourth objection: the proposition seems to commit the fallacy Thomas Paine identified in the first line of Common Sense: it confuses “the state” with “society.” The state is not society*: it is a social institution, one among many that exist within society. But it is not responsible for, or the guardian of, society.

Tell that to your libertarian knitting club as the Nazi war machine marches toward your home. When the Panzers division form up and move to attack your country what rights does the state have to defend itself? What “‘can” the state ask you to do when threatened, in order to maintain its existence? Mr Sandefur it seems argues … well, none if it impinges on the rights of individuals, which seems at best a prescription for suicide. Lincoln’s response to the Southern attempt to break the union also arises in this context. Was Lincoln right or wrong?

Finally, he offers:

Finally, into what objective hierarchy of values does this proposition fit? Assuming the state has a “legitimate interest” in preserving institutions “it” considers central, does that include preserving those institutions which are patently contrary to reality? May the state preserve itself at the cost of a “noble lie”? Take the abuse of women in Middle Eastern societies. Institutions like genital mutilation, honor killings, censorship, beatings, stonings and the like are all considered by many to be central to such societies. Do Middle Eastern states have a legitimate right to preserve those institutions against those who would seek to alter or to abolish them? And if the answer is no—which it is—then how do we make that decision? It must be by reference to some objective (i.e., not merely conventional) standard of good and evil. But if we judge politics by standards other than conventional, then the state cannot have a right to enforce conventional standards simply because they are conventional (which seems to me to be an appropriate way of rephrasing the proposition in dispute).

Does Saudi Arabia or other Islamic states have the right to continue Sharia? There are two ways of looking at this. By and large, members of those particular societies would argue that, yes indeed they happen, as it were, to value the values that their society encodes in law and would like them to continue. By Western, and Christian, standards Sharia is reprehensible. Internally speaking, those in the state would like the state to have the right to encode laws that ensure it’s continuance. Externally, we in the West might hope that this is not the case. But … from a generic point of view, this is actually a point in favor of the idea that a state as a collective naturally includes a notion that it has internally as part of being a state the right to enact laws to ensure it’s continuance.

In the discussion from which this flowed, on the notion that marriage and childbearing/rearing were in the interest of the state, we are faced at this time with a Northen Europe which is in the midst of a demographic crisis. They have decided that Mr Sandefur is correct. That it is not in the interest of the state to encourage and protect the family and the raising of children. Mr Steyn and others have noted result that much of Europe, especially when one considers the non-Islamic immigrants in Europe, have a birth rate of less than 1.3 children per couple, which is somewhat below a rate noted as unrecoverable by some experts. It is likely that we shall see shortly, in a generation or three, the results of those states which decides that Mr Sandefur is right in thinking that family and children are not rightly considered to be of interest to the state.

What happens for those, in those societies that disagree with it’s fundamental values? What is the dissident? How about the Christian in an Islamic society? My contention is that, in this context, talk of rights is nonsensical. What happens to the dissident is based not on rights, but has always been based on the authority granted to its leaders. If a Wilberforce arises, slavery is rejected because his ideas become followed. Rights talk and ideas of rights don’t reflect reality. Jouvenel’s notions of authority (see Sovereignty) and leadership, of dux and rex, match far better with a common sense historical picture of the state. It develops, in the context of forming a “more perfect union”, better ways of thinking about authority and leadership, of ways to make our Babylon a better place to live is more useful than inhuman and unuseful notions like rights.

In a linked piece, Mr Sandefur offers:

As to the conservative lie—and really, that is what it is—that libertarians don’t think about society or morals and just want to have sex with dogs and so forth, it is simply designed to make people believe that good folks aren’t libertarians. But the fact is that libertarians care just as much about their families and friends and loved ones, care just as much about their neighborhoods and their children’s future, care just as much about living a good, moral life, as any conservative.

This is not the claim regarding society and morals that I’m making against Libertarians. My claim is that Libertarians ignore the fact that for 500 years, Church, State, and Academia have been all been offering a concerted effort to “improve” our morals and society. And that, by and large, this effort has worked. If they acknowledge this, they seem to have the notion that it isn’t required any longer. Without this effort, the modern technological prosperity that we enjoy would, I would think, prove impossible. If the casual violence and lack of manner exhibited by the nobility (not to speak of the common folk) during the War of the Roses continued through to today our modern economic system could not prosper in the midst of that chaos. Those efforts to achieve and regulate our society and manners are integral to our properity and as well to the continued existence of our (civilized) civilization. Regarding the three pronged effort of Church, State and the Academy as a stool, supporting our civilization. Mr Sandefur would kick out the first “leg” of that three winged effort (the State) out of the party. Likely he’d also toss Church “leg” as well. For myself I doubt that the remaining “leg” of the Academy would suffice to hold up civilization under the weight of our tendency toward incivility and barbarism.

What that final part argues is that setting aside “rights” talk, the State has been an active party in the civilizing effort (in the West) which has taken 500 years to take root. This hasn’t been an easy effort, and it has been undeniably beneficial. To recall, this question:

This is interesting because this really is the very center of the dispute between libertarians and conservatives. Does the state itself have rights valid against its own citizens, to act for its own preservation at their expense?

which came up in a discussion of mores and marriage. In WWII, Nazi Germany posed a threat. It can be argued that the country which did the most to throw back that threat was the totalitarian Soviet state. That Soviet state certainly overstepped how far it should go in intruding on the lives of the individual, as I’d expect Mr Sandefur to argue and not necesarily find disagreement from me. However, absent that totalitarian state, it is less clear if any other means would have sufficed to stand against it. Could America and the free West have fielded the armies in the numbers necessary to face Hitler? Could a liberal Democratic Soviet state have sacrificed as much? The West didn’t, and not just because Stalin could and did. And yes, while Stalin couldn’t have stood without economic lend/lease aid from the US, it is also not clear where, how, or even if we could have put the necessary numbers into the field. Some 10 million of the Soviet soldiers died and yet they did not yield. In their part of the war, they lost just a little less than an order of magnitude more troops than we fielded. Half our our country now wants to yeild to the absolute evil of al-Qaeda-in-Iraq after the loss of about 3000! So the question of whether is it in a peoples, polis, or state’s interest for a state to trample “rights” when it is threatened, the answer is clearly not categrorically in the negative.

Mr Sandefur objects to my (and “conservatives”) using the term “polis”:

The U.S. has never had poleis, or anything properly analogous to them. The closest thing might be the nineteenth century religious communities like Amana or the Shaker communities or early Salt Lake City, but these too don’t count since they were very explicitly social compact societies. I don’t think this is a minor distinction. A polis is not a social compact, or at least, not in the way that American cities have always been. A polis was politically independent, and to a degree culturally independent as well: it consisted of the religious, cultural, economic as well as political institutions in which the Greeks lived.

Actually, unsurprisingly, I’d disagree. America has not “always” not been like that. The early colonial period had a lot of instances in which small localized political and cultural homogeneity could be compared to the technical Greek polis. Quaker and Puritan communities fought each other prior at times. I think it very well might be argued after reading Albion’s Seed by Fisher the four “folkways” defined in early American development did have political, cultural continuity and independence.

As well, the New England folkway’s notion of Liberty which Mr Fisher terms “Publick Liberty” is something which is a type Liberty which is today rejected very much to our loss. I think it’s recovery is likely all that can save our country from its slide into a authoritarian or even totalitarian state in the next century. Of the four folkways, the Virginian idea of Liberty and the New England has been set aside as flawed, the latter seemingly without much discussion or comprehension that it is being lost. Of the other two folkways, it is interesting to note that while the Libertarian backwoods idea of Liberty has achieved public acceptance, at the same time, most modern Libertarians would actually find the real life implantation of that most Libertarian of actual non-fictional societies abhorrent and repellent in practice.

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