New York Times Hurts Survivors With Falsehoods About Domestic Violence

New York Times Hurts Survivors With Falsehoods About Domestic Violence

The dominant narrative on domestic violence (DV) during COVID-19 hurts survivors, like me. Decades ago, I was blinded in my left eye by a man who said he loved me even as his fist hit my face. I’ve tried to make sense of that insanity ever since. Why did he do it? Why did I stay? The one thing that anchors me to answers is reality—what is true of DV?—not what is emotional or political. The media delivers the opposite.

“Domestic Violence Calls Mount as Restrictions Linger: ‘No One Can Leave’” by Julie Bosman appeared in the New York Times on May 15 and addressed DV in Chicago; the article hurt rather than helped survivors to heal. Its central claim was that “the problems [of abuse] have only deepened since stay-at-home orders were first imposed. In Chicago, the number of people seeking help has increased significantly in recent weeks.“

The NYT article is typical of a DV meme that is spreading quickly through the media and may soon be embedded in legislation. The assumption that stay-at-home orders are increasing DV must be questioned because it is deeply flawed and takes survivors away from the reality they desperately require.

First, the article is factually inaccurate. It states, for example, “The Chicago Police Department said that domestic-violence related calls increased 12 percent during a period from the start of the year through mid-April, compared with the same time period in 2019.” This comparison is invalid on its face. Illinois’ stay-at-home order was implemented on March 21, and data from approximately three months prior is irrelevant to an analysis of the order’s effect on DV. Either Bosman is unaware of when Chicago’s stay-at-home order came into effect—the article does not state the effective date—or the numbers are misrepresented through sloppiness or deliberately. Since the article spins off these statistics, the skewed calculations are nontrivial.

More precise data offer a different picture. The Marshall Project examined police reports of DV since May 8 in three major cities, including Chicago, and stated, “reports of domestic abuse in three cities have dropped.” In Chicago, calls to the DV phone line increased while police reports declined; “Domestic violence [in police accounts is] down 23 percent” in recent weeks.

The article speculated that the difference between police reports and hotline accounts “may be because it’s harder for victims to get help during the pandemic.” This is possible, although dialing 911 should be no more difficult than dialing a hotline. The National Domestic Hotline (NDH) report for 2019 reveals another possibility. Hotline callers often inquire about peripheral issues, such as housing or immigration status. The NDH states, “14,590 contacts experience Housing…up 217% from 2018.” It is not clear whether an account of immediate abuse accompanied the housing query; it is clear that the hotlines are used to address a wide range of problems, especially when so many people are losing their housing and jobs. This is one reason why police reports are a more accurate measure of DV.

Table 9Bosman’s assumptions are also deep biased; for one thing, she refers to DV survivors as exclusively female. This is a false and harmful assumption. Estimates of male DV survivors vary widely, partly because men are notoriously reluctant to report abuse for fear of being ridiculed or dismissed. Nevertheless, the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2015 Data Brief reports 4,255,000 males experienced physical violence from an intimate partner in 2015 [Table 11] compared to 3,455,000 females [Table 9]. Data sources differ on the numbers, but they do not differ on presenting males as a significant percentage of DV survivors.

Table 11The bottom line: Men endure a high and, perhaps, an equal rate of DV abuse as women. If stay-at-home confinement increases violence against women, then confined men would be equally vulnerable. To leave out abused males, let alone to imply that males are the perpetrators, takes the reader far from what is real about DV. An analysis that does so deserves no more credence than would U.S. homicide statistics that acknowledged only white deaths.

Bosman mentions stay-at-home children as being at greater risk, along with women. As evidence, she refers to unnamed doctors who are “hearing accounts” of people “lashing out, particularly at women and children.” The clear implication: males are endangering women and children. It is impossible to disprove hearsay accounts from unnamed sources, of course, but hard statistics indicate a different picture. Data on child abuse is difficult to collect and verify, but a 2006 report from the Department of Health and Human Services found that 70.6% of abused children were brutalized by mothers, and 29.4% by fathers. Female abusers are unlikely to have disappeared since then, and it does children a great disservice to distort the reality of their abuse. It makes the abuse harder to address, for one thing.

Getting the facts straight on DV is not an academic matter. There are human beings crying out in pain. Moreover, the media spotlight on DV and shut-in order may be a prelude to a legislative push; laws could embed harmful bias and distortion into public policy under which we all live. Certainly, DV funding for women only was included in the last coronavirus relief (CARES) bill. The first package included funding for the National Domestic Violence Hotline and $45 million for other DV programs. An April 13 letter from 41 Senators from 29 states called for future relief bills to allocate an additional $413 million to programs that address the “horrifying…surge” in DV. The primary vehicle for dispersing funds and services would be the controversial Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which is widely accused of ignoring male survivors.

Survivors deserve better than what the media is delivering. All that survivors ask  for is an unprejudiced and factual view of an important issue. Nothing is more important than knowing the truth because this is where any hope of a solution begins.

No Evidence That Domestic Violence Is Rising Due To COVID-19

No Evidence That Domestic Violence Is Rising Due To COVID-19

A media blitz declares domestic violence (DV) is soaring during COVID-19 because stay-at-home orders have trapped women and children in close proximity to abusive men. Flawed evidence and assumptions underlie this claim but, with the panic of the crisis, it could be embedded in public policy, nevertheless.

A headline in Vice presents the perceived problem: “New York Is Seeing a ‘Frightening’ Increase in Domestic Violence Calls. Calls to New York’s domestic violence hotline rose by 30% in April, compared to the same month last year.” The information apparently comes from Crystal Justice, the Hotline’s chief development and marketing officer.

According to a report in the Chicago Tribune, however, “The New York City Police Department said that reports of domestic violence have ‘progressively declined’ since the onset of the pandemic. The crimes fell nearly 15% last month compared to March 2019.” Melinda Katz, district attorney in Queens, reports “domestic violence arrests have fallen nearly 40%.”  Perhaps the lesson of the Vice story is that calls to a hotline are not a good indicator of actual domestic violence rates.

An April 28 article in the Huffington Post offers a solution to the problem that it acknowledges as being only “likely” to exist. “Two advocacy organizations released a slew of recommendations for the next coronavirus relief legislation [CARES2], which Congress is drafting now. Chief on the list of demands is emergency funding.” The first CARES package included funding for the National Domestic Violence Hotline and $45 million for other DV programs.

A political push has been underway. In an April 13 letter, 41 Senators from 29 states called upon future COVID-19 relief bills to allocate an additional $413 million to programs that address the “horrifying…surge” in DV. The primary vehicle proposed for dispersing funds and services was the controversial Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which has yet to secure reauthorization.

It is time to pause in the race to legislation and ask the most basic question: is there a surge in DV? The supporting evidence seems anecdotal and often histrionic; it is usually provided by advocates or organizations with a vested interest in DV funding. These factors do not invalidate the data offered, but they heighten the need for scrutiny and for more neutral sources to be checked.

The Coalition to End Domestic Violence recently conducted a rough verification test. The CEDV did a Google search on the terms “coronavirus,” “domestic violence,” “police reports,” and each senator’s state. (Police reports are among the most politically neutral sources that are easily available.) The results from the 14 states that responded were categorized to indicate a decrease in DV (more than 10% under baseline), a steady mode (less than 10% change), or an increase (more than 10% higher). Eight states revealed a decrease; five were steady; and one confirmed an increase.

The increase occurred in Boise, Idaho. The Idaho Statesman (March 18) explained, “Local police saw a mild increase in domestic reports last week, compared to the same time last year, but it’s too early to tell if it is a real trend. From March 7 through March 14, Boise Police responded to 63 reports of domestic battery and domestic disputes. In the same week of 2019, Boise Police responded to 55 reports of domestic battery and domestic disputes.”

The point is not that one set of claims is true, and the other is false. The point is that the reports are preliminary and contradictory. The claims need to be checked before hasty legislation embeds bad data into law.

Some people will ask, “What’s the harm?” Apart from expending taxpayer money in a time of fiscal crisis, DV prevention is correctly considered to be a worthy cause that deserves compassion and cash. A great deal of harm occurs, however. DV is further politicized and pushed away from what is real about the issue. For example, media accounts almost always refer to the victim as female and the abuser as male even though the abuse of men is common.

How common? Studies and estimates differ, partly because men are notoriously reluctant to report abuse for which they are often ridiculed or dismissed. The Centers for Disease Control’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (2015) found that “In the U.S., about 1 in 3 (33.6% or 37.3 million) men experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime.” Meanwhile, “over 1 in 3 (36.4% or 43.6 million) women” experienced DV. The injuries to women tend to be more severe but the rate of abuse is roughly the same for both sexes.

The bottom line: Men endure a significant and, perhaps, an equal rate of DV. If stay-at-home confinement increases violence against women, then confined men should be equally vulnerable to greater abuse. Yet the proposed funding and protections are extended through the VAWA—with the ‘W’ standing for ‘Women’— which is notorious for discriminating against male victims. The Act’s language is gender neutral but its programs are not; shelters are almost always “women-only” places, for example.

The April 13 letter from the 41 Senators offers another example of anti-male discrimination. “American Indian and Alaska Native communities” are singled out as desperately needing DV services. “Shelters and Tribal advocacy programs,” the letter states, “are often all that stand between safety and Native women going missing and/or murdered.” This language echoes a section of VAWA—Title IX: Safety for Indian Women—which cites a stunning statistic from a National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. “More than 4 in 5 American Indian and Alaska Native women, or 84.3 percent, have experienced violence in their lifetime.” The VAWA citation has a curious omission, however. Immediately thereafter, the Survey states that “more than 4 in 5 American Indian and Alaska Native men (81.6 percent) have experienced violence in their lifetime.” In other words, the men experience only 2.7 percent less violence than the women. And, yet, only women are mentioned.

A head-long rush toward DV legislation that is based on fear of COVID-19 and on gender bias is far from harmless. It continues the problem by distorting the reality of DV and fixing prejudice against men into the law. Everything about COVID-19 claims should be checked and verified, including underlying assumptions.

Reform Title IX Now

Reform Title IX Now

The Department of Education’s (DOE) reform of Title IX — the law that bans discrimination based on sex at federally-funded schools — has been a long time coming. For three Senators, it has not been long enough. They strenuously object to the impact on how colleges handle accusations of sexual misconduct. No longer will an accused be presumed guilty until proven innocent. Instead, he will be accorded due process.

On March 31, Patty Murray — the leading Democrat on the Senate education committee — Elizabeth Warren, and Kirsten Gillibrand sent a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to express their opposition to finalizing the reform. “We urge you not to release the final Title IX rule at this time,” they argued, “and instead to focus on helping schools navigate the urgent issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

This is an odd argument. Now seems to be the perfect time for colleges to work on policy and administrative matters. Campuses are empty. No sexual misconduct hearings will be interrupted; students will be spared the confusion of a mid-semester policy change; administrators can implement regulations before the new academic year.

Colleges are hardly caught off guard. The reform began on September 22, 2017 when the DOE withdrew the controversial Dear Colleague Letter (2011) that governed the treatment of sexual misconduct accusations on campus. The Obama-era Letter was widely criticized for mandating a low standard of proof for findings of guilt and encouraging the denial of due process, such as a defendant’s right to a lawyer. The DOE’s replacement guideline was officially made public on November 29, 2018 when the Federal Register published “Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance.”

The proposed reform received vast attention and backlash in this time of #MeToo that demands automatic belief of women’s accusations. in January 2018, three national public interest organizations, including the highly influential National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), sued DeVos and the DOE to block the Title IX reform. The lawsuit claimed that the “new and extreme Title IX policy…was issued unlawfully and based on discriminatory beliefs about women and girls as survivors of sexual violence, in violation of the Constitution.” The lawsuit was eventually dismissed.

Senator Murray has also attacked the Title IX proposals. A news release from her office reported on Murray’s statements at a Senate hearing on campus sexual assault. “I stand with you [accusers] and I’m going to keep fighting to stop what happened to you.” Murray accused the DOE of being “callous” and ignoring “the experiences of survivors,” which would “discourage students from coming forward after being sexually assaulted.” Gillibrand has decried DeVos as favoring “predators over survivors.” Warren has stated, “There’s no greater example of how we’re failing students and teachers than Betsy DeVos, the worst Secretary of Education we’ve seen.” These statements do not argue for the delay but for the derailment of DOE’s plans.

Liberals view the new rules as a shift to the right and an abandonment of Obama-era policies. Consider two definitions of a key term, “sexual harassment.” According to the Dear Colleague Letter, “Sexual harassment is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature. It includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature.” This broad characterization includes bad jokes and leering glances. By contrast, DeVos uses the reigning Supreme Court definition of “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it denies a person access to the school’s education program or activity.” This is a far more limited definition.

Why, then, are the 3 Senators calling for delay rather than dismantlement? The coronavirus is unlikely to disappear as an issue before the 2020 election. And, if Joe Biden wins, he has promised the reform would be withdrawn. This process would be be easier, however, if policy changes were not already implemented.

Stalling the DOE reform seems to be a conscious strategy of its opponents. According to Tulane University Title IX coordinator, Meredith Smith, the NWLC orchestrated a sequence of delays with various victims rights groups. Smith stated, “So there was this delay strategy happening. We would hear that the Department of Education was about to release the regulations and then the National Women’s Law Center and all these other groups would parachute in and get more and more meetings on the calendar which push [the release date] back.” They requested a long series of meetings with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), for example. During the final public commentary on a regulation, individuals can meet in person or over the phone with OMB officials to share concerns; this process usually takes a couple of days, With the DOE regulation, the first meeting was November 13, 2019, and the process ended on March 27, 2020. It stretched over 4 months.

A recent article in the National Review, entitled “Coronavirus Is No Excuse to Delay the Education Department’s New Title IX Regulations,” declared, “Those making this argument [for postponement] are taking advantage of a crisis to try to keep due process out of college campuses.” They are gaming the system.

The DOE reform returns due process to campuses. It also offers relief to lawsuit-prone schools that now function as police, judge and jury in handling students and faculty accused of sexual misconduct. Increasingly, colleges are sued in federal court by those who were found guilty without a fair hearing. As a headline in the Detroit Free Press stated. “Courts ruling on side of students accused of sexual assault. Here’s why.” The “why” is the violation of their due process rights.

Justice delayed is justice denied. And Justice must not be further denied.

The Parallel Universes That Are America

The Parallel Universes That Are America

Many see recent attacks on Attorney General William Barr not as politics as usual but a call to overthrow the status quo. The intransigence of the Republican response indicates that many now view current affairs as a battle to destroy or preserve America’s defining political traditions, such as the electoral college, a separation of powers, and the Second Amendment. It’s not hyperbole to say that politics are tearing America in two along ideological seams. Whichever side people fall on, they should be aware of the dynamic.

It is akin to the Cultural Revolution of China (1966-1976). Formally known as the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, this sociopolitical movement aggressively purged society and the Communist Party of bourgeois, capitalist, and traditional values that did not conform to Maoism. Mao Zedong Thought was imposed by Red Guard groups—zealous youth groups who relentlessly attacked dissenters both physically and through public humiliation. Maoism literally destroyed symbols of the past, with the state acting as a remedial historian, because it recognized the immense power that culture and history exerted on people.

The ideological goal was to redesign the culture—the institutions and traditions of society—to make it express only “correct” views. Estimates of those killed for being “incorrect” vary widely during this veiled period. Educated guesses should be held up against the estimates of landlords murdered by radicalized peasants from 1947-1976: 8,500,000 to 13,500,000. The purges occurred throughout the institutions of society including religion, academia, and commerce.

In American society, the current revolutionary push is called “the narrative.” Which side, if either, will dictate the final script is not clear, but the battleground is. It is the institutions of society—including academia, the media, legislatures, the family, the arts, and the judicial system—which are key to what constitutes the culture.

Former President Barack Obama expressed the same insight into conflicted America using more colloquial terms. In late 2018, he lamented,

Whether people [in the past] got their news from Walter Cronkite or David Brinkley, they tended to agree on a common set of facts. That set a baseline around which both parties had to adapt and respond to.

Now Fox News viewers and New York Times readers proceed from entirely different realities with clashing sets of facts.

Obama pointed to the battleground that is the media, but he could have spoken of any other defining institution within society. The way to control or commandeer an institution is to control the narrative—what is heard and what is said—because the narrative determines the reality. Or so it is claimed.

Two institutions enduring a tug-of-war between those who seek redefinition and those who want the status quo are law enforcement and the judiciary. One label captures the ideological demand for change: “victim-centered justice.” It embodies a focus on the protection of those who make accusations, especially in sexual abuse cases. The status quo approach is “evidence-based justice.”

It focuses on principles of Western jurisprudence such as a presumption of innocence and neutral investigations. These conflicting worldviews are being played out through the institutions of society in a somewhat modified form; in academia, for example, the victim-centered approach is expressed through a bias in favor of minority rights or privileges and against the status quo rights of whites, especially conservatives and males.

When viewed through the lens of these conflicting worldviews, the circus of the Kavanaugh hearing makes sense. The Democrats believed the women and attacked Kavanaugh as a serial rapist who was hiding behind political apologists. The Republicans wanted to examine the evidence within the context of jurisprudence and Kavanaugh’s judicial record. Ideologically, they were not speaking the same language.

Far from the august Senate chambers, the same contest is occurring in the interrogation rooms of police departments across America. Victim-centered advocates want police to view all accusations and to “recreate the reality of the sexual assault from the victim’s perspective.” The benefit of any doubt is to be extended to an accuser; the police report should “not highlight the changing statements made by the suspect,” for example.

The quoted material is from a manual entitled “Effective Report Writing: Using the Language of Non-Consensual Sex,” which is issued by End Violence Against Women International (EVAWI)—an organization funded by the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women. EVAWI epitomizes the victim-centered ideology. It is belief-based. By contrast, the traditional role of police is neutral and evidence-based. Investigations seek out both incriminating and exonerating facts, and they take careful note of changes within people’s stories.

Currently, the two approaches to justice are clashing. A recent headline in The College Fix reads: “Judge smacks down Syracuse for ignoring myriad problems with rape accuser’s claims.” The article explains,

In a finding that echoes a ruling against Yale University…Judge Hurd said Syracuse [University] may have failed to follow its own evidence standard.

A lawsuit against Syracuse was allowed to continue because, among other violations, the hearing had not mentioned that the accuser’s account had changed dramatically.

From the highest platforms of power down to obscure precinct back rooms, the institution of law enforcement is being revolutionized. It has been politically weaponized to advance a victim-centered ideology over an evidence-based one. The public may have been made acutely aware of the phenomenon through the Kavanaugh hearings or other high-profile exchanges that dwelled upon salacious accusations rather than hard facts.

Institutions of society are changing at their core, and the core is waking up to this reality. In academia, social justice requirements for “correct” speech and attitudes now openly collide with freedom of speech and freedom of conscience. In the halls of politics, playing the race or gender card no longer has a silencing effect.

Two aspects, at least, are key to understanding the social phenomenon as it unfolds. First, everyone must answer for themselves as to which side is correct and to what extent. Second, people should be aware of the ideological deluge that is flooding over society. Until recently, until Kavanaugh, many were not. Now they are woke.

Republished from

Exporting Roosevelt’s New Deal through Aid, Investment, and Threat of War

Exporting Roosevelt’s New Deal through Aid, Investment, and Threat of War

The Marshall Plan is more than a historical event — it has become a modern myth. As such, it may be mostly true or mostly false, but it exercises a powerful hold over reality. And the perceived success of the Marshall Plan has influenced American policy since the late 1940s.

— Tyler Cowen

The European Recovery Program, known as the Marshall Plan was an American post–World War II program by which approximately $13 billion was used to rebuild the economies of nations in Western Europe. ($13 billion is about $130 billion in 2016 dollars. Some historians, such as Joseph Stromberg, place the figure as high as $17 billion.) The Marshall Plan set a precedent.

Western European nations were offered loans with which they purchased American goods. The U.S. government was now officially encouraging “private” investment abroad. For example, “political risk insurance” was issued by the government to protect American businesses abroad against adverse political situations, such as a civil war, which could cause financial losses. One provision of the Marshall Plan granted long-term guarantees for qualified investors to convert foreign funds into U.S. dollars even during periods of so-called dollar shortages. Qualified investors tended to be state-crony corporations or state-favored individuals.

Since the late 1940s, foreign investment and the resulting corporate profits have been a driving force in establishing U.S. military bases around the globe. The state-protected investments are falsely touted as expressions of the free market and foreign trade rather than cronyism and economic imperialism.

The Marshall Plan and ensuing U.S. policy

In 1942, shortly after America’s entry into World War II, the Committee for Economic Development (CED) was founded by Paul G. Hoffman in association with other businessmen, most of whom held positions in big corporations or government. The CED’s stated goal was to assist the U.S. in shifting from a wartime economy to a peacetime one. The goal quickly changed to promoting the Marshall Plan. In his essay “The Marshall Plan Myth,” free-market analyst Jeffrey A. Tucker explained that CED members included “heads of the top steel, automotive, and electric industries who had benefited from the New Deal’s corporatist statism.” In other words, the CED used the Marshall Plan to export New Deal economics to foreign nations in order to benefit crony corporations. State-favored corporations had profited richly from the war but all that was about to end. They wanted a way to continue their huge profits in a time of peace.

Fortunately for the CED, its interests and those of President Harry Truman aligned. The presidency was in trouble. By 1945, America was weary of war and wanted to loosen the reins of government which had tightened during World War II; Truman’s popularity and power declined. In the 1946 election, the Republicans seized control of both houses of Congress on a platform of rolling back government. In the 1948 presidential election, many were so certain that the Republican candidate, Thomas Dewey, would win that the Chicago Tribune prematurely printed newspapers with the front-page head-line “Dewey Defeats Truman.” He didn’t. But the vote totals were only about 4 percent apart.

Truman needed a popular cause around which the public and his party would rally. He found it in the bombastic campaign against communism both domestically and abroad. The Truman Doctrine of 1947 was a declaration of Cold War on a global scale and it had been well received. The doctrine offered U.S. military and economic support to nations that were threatened by communist troops or insurrections.

Truman found another popular cause in the Marshall Plan. First proposed by Secretary of State George C. Marshall, it was seen and sold as a moral campaign as well as a security matter; while showing compassion, it would diminish the influence of communism in Western Europe.

To the U.S. corporate state, a marriage of the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan must have seemed ideal. It was said to create employment in America; tax dollars in the form of loans bought products from corporations; corporate investment overseas was protected by state privileges and a U.S. military presence.

At least two things were wrong with the package, however. It didn’t work. And it damaged the true interests of America, including the free market and noninterventionism.

Read the rest at the Future of Freedom Foundation.

The Libertarianism Antithesis: War

The Libertarianism Antithesis: War

Until the longest war in U.S. history ends, substantive liberty will not return to American soil. Nothing is more important to freedom than to oppose the militarization of society because the two social models cannot coexist. Inevitably, one will overthrow the other.

What Is War? What Is Libertarianism?

The root of the conflict is expressed in the definitions of “war” and “libertarianism.”

War is traditionally defined as the situation in which one state officially declares open hostility against the territory and people of another. Sometimes the word “war” is replaced by euphemistic terms such as “police action” but this is sophistry.

The purpose of war is to defend the alleged ‘rights’ of the state(s) involved: territorial sovereignty, control of resources, treaties, spheres of influence, or a specific political system such as monarchy. War does not defend individuals or their rights except as an occasional and unintended consequence. Instead, a warring state deliberately violates the person and property of individuals within its own territory by using them as resources in the war effort; those who dissent – by refusing to register, for example – are punished. At the same time, a warring state destroys the people and property of an enemy nation as a matter of strategy or as acceptable collateral damage.

By contrast, libertarianism holds individual rights as primary and the initiation of force as anathema to them.

The two definitions are diametrically opposed and yet some libertarians defend war, at least in theory, on the basis of self-defense. Is this approach valid?

War as the Antithesis of Self-Defense

The so-called libertarian argument for war runs as follows: individuals have a right to self-defense, which means they can assign their self-defense to an agency in the same manner as signing a power of attorney. If necessary, an individual can properly use deadly force in self-protection, which means the agency can acquire that right as well. The agency involved in war is the state. But the foregoing argument is self-contradictory and otherwise objectionable on several grounds.

First, the objections. Pro-war libertarians assume war is an extension of individual self-defense. But a cursory review of history shows that wars are overwhelmingly fought to profit politicians, the military, specific industries and related corporations. Generally the higher ranks of society – the elite – are the beneficiaries with the lower ranks – the people – paying a savage price.

The argument also assumes that war places a population at less and not more risk of attack by both the enemy and by its own state. The opposite is true. ‘Enemies’ who are bombed and watch family members die are more likely to retaliate than to extend a hand of good will in response. Domestic resisters are persecuted.

But, even ignoring these objections, war as an assignment of self-defense is self-contradictory. In fact, it is the usurpation of self-defense in at least two ways.

First, individuals cannot refuse the so-called assignment of rights or withdraw it as they can a power of attorney. The state demands obedience and property from the individual, consenting or not. And it usurps the many choices that every individual properly makes about his or her own self defense. The decisions include:

  • When is self-defense (or war) justified?
  • Whose version of disputed facts should be believed and who decides?
  • Against whom should reactive violence be directed?
  • Against whom should it be withheld?
  • How is the self-defense to be conducted?
  • How much force is justified by the nature of the harm?
  • What circumstances end the matter?
  • What compensation is just?

The state stakes out a monopoly on all the questions surrounding self-defense.

Second, if the collective right of a nation derives from individual ones, then the collective right should also break down to individual ones. It doesn’t. For example, the state claims a collective right to aggress against ‘enemy’ civilians who have committed no harm. Declaring an entire nation to be guilty is comparable to a wronged individual demanding restitution from strangers in the street rather than from the actual aggressor. And, yet, that’s what a warring state does in retaliating against a population rather than against specific guilty individuals, perhaps through assassination.

It does not matter if the harm to innocents is an unintended consequence or something the aggressor regrets. Being unintentional does not mean a consequence was unpredictable. If I fire a machine gun into a crowd in order to kill an aggressor hiding there, then injury to bystanders is unintended but predictable. A libertarian theory of self-defense does not embrace the right to attack innocent people. The iconic Murray Rothbard placed that principle at the heart of the movement; “no violence may be employed against a non-aggressor. Here is the fundamental rule from which can be deduced the entire corpus of libertarian theory.” And, yet, the ‘right’ and propriety of harming innocents is asserted by the state in war.

The 19th century British Quaker Jonathan Dymond observed, “They who are shocked at a single murder on the highway, hear with indifference of the slaughter of a thousand on the field. They whom the idea of a single corpse would thrill with terror, contemplate that of heaps of human carcasses mangled by human hands, with frigid indifference.” The vicious double standard means the alleged collective right of the state does not break down to individual ones; it is not derived from them.

A warring state does not and cannot act as a duly authorized defense agent of individuals.

Antithesis of Methodology

Libertarianism embodies a specific approach to society through concepts that are closely associated with “anything that’s peaceful.” War also destroys this libertarian framework.

Individual rights is the libertarian concept most often discussed as a casualty of war but there are more subtle violations in play.

Individual rights rest on the assumption of a natural harmony of interests between people, which leads to universal rights. That is, my freedom of speech or conscience does not violate your equal freedoms which makes it possible to live together in peace. But war says my life necessitates the death of innocent others. War creates a world which is the mirror image of a natural harmony of interests.

Libertarianism also assumes the primacy of the individual, which is called methodological individualism. The concept is not anti-social but a recognition that a cooperative society is the sum total of its voluntary and individual acts. In war, the collective becomes all-important with the individual subordinate to its will and its demand for obedience, if not patriotism.

Individualism holds people responsible for their own actions and for restituting the damage they inflict upon others. During war, when individuals called soldiers put on a uniform, they are held harmless for killing innocent civilians on the grounds that they are “obeying orders.” Sometimes the soldiers receive medals and promotions for doing so.

A free society functions according to spontaneous order; that is, societal order emerges naturally from the actions of multitudinous individuals who pursue their own interests and coordinate with others in the process. The opposite of spontaneous order is the centralized, planned society that characterizes a totalitarian state. Nothing is more centralized than wartime coordination and the military apparatus.

Free markets are an expression of individual rights in property and in a person’s own labor. The wartime state commandeers production, property and labor to be used for its own purposes. Just as the centralization of truth leads to censorship, the commandeering of the free market is confiscation and slavery.

Thus war is not only the anti-definition of libertarianism, it also shatters the tradition’s framework.

Self-Defense Is Always Individual… But It Can Be Assigned

Methodological individualism should be applied to war as surely as to other interactions. All aggression and self-defense are individual. All aggression can be reduced to one person attacking another in some manner even if the person is standing in military ranks or directing a drone from afar. The libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick said that some bucks stop with all of us. One of those bucks is the responsibility everyone has for his or her own actions, especially when the act wrongs an innocent human being. Responsibility does not disappear when a soldier dons a uniform. The collective ‘right’ claimed by a warring state is a sleight-of-hand to avoid the responsibility that each facilitator or agent of war bears on an individual level.

The right to self-defense can be assigned to an agency that acts to secure the shared or collective safety of a community of contracting clients. The agency can repel invaders and pursue criminals. What the agency cannot do is to assume more powers than the individual clients themselves possess; that is, it must be a private agency, not a state one.

First appeared on September 05, 2016 at 
Republished with author’s permission.

The Libertarianism Antithesis: War

America’s Plunge from Republic to Empire

We have crossed the boundary that lies between Republic and Empire. If you ask when, the answer is that you cannot make a single stroke between day and night. The precise moment does not matter. There was no painted sign to say, “You now are entering Imperium.” Yet it was a very old road and the voice of history was saying: “Whether you know it or not, the act of crossing may be irreversible.” And now, not far ahead, is a sign that reads: “No U Turns.”

— Garet Garrett

It is difficult to pinpoint the moment at which America crossed from Republic into Empire but guidelines exist for doing so. In his treatise Rise of Empire (1952), the libertarian journalist Garet Garrett declared the “first requisite of Empire” to be “the executive power of government shall be dominant.” Arguably, the power most intimately connected to Empire or imperialism is conducting foreign policy, especially war.

America’s plunge into imperialism is evident in its abandonment of a constitutional clause. Article I, Section 8, Paragraph 11 (the “War Powers Clause”) reads, “[The Congress shall have power …] To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water.” The form of the declaration is not specified but the need to go through Congress is. The ability to declare war is coupled with other congressional powers over foreign affairs — namely, issuing letters of marque and reprisal as well as defining rules of capture on land and water. Congress is granted exclusive power over what are (or were) key areas of foreign policy.

The purpose was to rein in the executive, the president, by blocking his ability to declare war and otherwise initiate foreign conflicts. Having recently broken away from a monarchy, the Framers were determined to prevent one from arising on American soil. Since a defining power of monarchy was what William Blackstone referred to as “the sole prerogative of making war and peace,” the Constitution repudiated that kingly prerogative. James Madison wrote in a letter to Thomas Jefferson (circa 1798), “The constitution supposes, what the History of all Governments demonstrates, that the Executive is the branch of power most interested in war, and most prone to it. It has accordingly with studied care vested the question of war to the Legislature.”

Even Alexander Hamilton, an advocate of centralized power, found it necessary to reassure the public that ratification of the Constitution would not give the executive the power to declare war. In The Federalist Papers, he explained, “The President is to be Commander in Chief of the army and navy of the United States. In this respect his authority would be nominally the same with that of the King of Great-Britain, but in substance much inferior to it. It would amount to nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the military and naval forces … while that of the British King extends to the declaring of war and to the raising and regulating of fleets and armies; all which, by the Constitution under consideration would appertain to the Legislature.” In short, the president would have the authority to conduct war once a declaration had been approved by Congress.

Read the rest at the Future of Freedom Foundation.

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