"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Liberals and War

In response to my piece on the New York Times and John Aschroft, which is currently appearing in The Daily Standard, a writer friend of mine asked, "Dear me, am I of the Far Right? I insist I’m a Jeffersonian of the Real Right; I think he’d be with me, as would Madison. Btw, I am not against a war on terrorists, and I did not object to going after OBL in Afghanistan, but … Iraq…?"

I think this an excellent question, and will offer a couple of points in answer. My Daily Standard piece was actually meant as a critique of the New York Times's approach to news analysis, not as a defense of Ashcroft. Note that I wrote "however much one might disagree with Ashcroft's actions as attorney general"; I am in fact one of those "one"s. My own position--which I published on www.vdare.com just a week after the September 11 attacks--is that the essential element in any internal U.S. measures against terrorism must start by recognizing the difference between citizens and noncitizens: the former have civil rights, and the latter absolutely do not. That, in my view, would still be a very good guide in how to approach these matters, and would have the advantage of being constitutional.

As to my friend's possibly being on the far Right, consider that by my own calculus I am a liberal. I am a liberal of the Right, aka a classical liberal. Another person on the Right could be either a conservative of the Right or a radical of the Right. See my first post for this site, "Why the Reform Club...", in the October archive, for a more detailed explanation.

I recognize that most modern-day libertarians classify themselves as classical liberals, but I don't think that most of them are exactly that--they would part from Burke and Smith and the other original Whigs in several important ways. For example, Smith was perfectly happy with lots of government intervention in the economy for national-defense purposes (and might very well have approved of the War in Iraq), and Burke's Catholic activism would horrify the Reason crowd, the Randians, and many others on the more-radical Right.

Consider, if you would, the following handy reference point:

Conservatives are primarily concerned about preserving civilization.
Radicals are primarily concerned about transforming civilization.
Liberals are primarily concerned about extending civilization.

As to the War in Iraq, we Reform Club Whigs are catholic on the issue: Hunter and I supported it, and Alan opposed it (see Alan's recent posting, "One Antiwar Zealot for Bush," on this). But all three of us approached the issue from the same premises--U.S. national security as the first priority for our federal government, pursued under any rational and appropriate means the Constitution allows. My position is that the Constitution allows a War on Terror but does not require it; hence I have fundamental assumptions in common with those who oppoosed the War in Iraq for national security reasons. Those who opposed it for economic or ideological reasons (especially pacifism) or because of simple fear of casualties, however, cannot really be considered liberals in my view.

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