Rummel Response to Knap

December 14, 2008

[First published on June 7, 2005. This is my reply to Thomas L. Knapp’s Acceptance (link here) of my freedomist challenge (link here]

Knapp says:

Context is, of course, always paramount, and what “kind” of libertarian Professor Rummel formerly [in moving from libertarian to freedomist] considered himself to be is relevant, since it goes to what he once accepted and what he has now chosen to reject. From the quote above, we glean some information as to what Professor Rummel is (a minarchist favoring democracy) and what he is not (many things, including but not limited to an Objectivist, an anarchist, etc.). Below we’ll learn that he is also not of a Rothbardian or other non-interventionist school (something that we might have already gathered, but this confirms it)

RJR: As to objectivism, the philosophy of Ann Rand, I’m in agreement on the morality of the free market and minimalization of governent, but not on the moral emphasis on self-interest (then why support freedom in Uzbekistan?), and total emphasis on reason. As to Rothbard, he was the paradigmatic isolationist, and I had his followers, the anti-war libertarians (see for example,, and the National Libertarian Party in mind in describing the libertarian isolationists in Knapp’s quote from me below:

“However, on foreign policy the libertarian, with some exceptions, is an isolationist, fundamentally opposed to foreign involvements and interventions. Let international relations also be free, the libertarians say, which means free trade and commerce, and freedom for other countries to do whatever they want with their people. Not our business.”

Knapp continues:

Professor Rummel seems to suggest that there has been some long-existing divide between his own previous conception of libertarianism and the conceptions held by all other libertarians — a divide which was only revealed by emergence of “the war question.” I find this suggestion untenable.

RJR: So do I. There is a divide here, surely, but from my vantage, the dominant majority are on the isolationist side. Note the platform of the National Libertarian Party (link here): “The Issue: Intervention by the government in Washington in the affairs of other nations is an attempt to impose our values on those nations by force.

 The Principle: The important principle in foreign policy should be the elimination of intervention by the United States government in the affairs of other nations. Solutions: We favor a drastic reduction in cost and size of our total diplomatic establishment. We would negotiate with any foreign government without necessarily conceding moral legitimacy to that government.”

Then on foreign intervention, the platform reads (link here): “End the current U.S. government policy of foreign intervention, including military and economic aid, guarantees, and diplomatic meddling. Individuals should be free to provide any aid they wish that does not directly threaten the United States.”

I don’t know how one can read this platform in any other way than isolationist, and this is the NATIONAL Libertarian Party.

Knapp says:

Many of those claiming the title “libertarian” share his views on the Iraq war. It follows, then, that there must be some other element — either instead of, or in addition to, “the war question” — driving his decision to dissociate himself from the “libertarian” designation.

What is that element? I believe that it is Professor Rummel’s advocacy of democracy as the standard against which states are to be judged

RJR: From my reading, talks to libertarians, and exchanges of emails, a majority of libertarians are not only negative on the American war against Hussein, but also are against an active policy of promoting democratic freedom abroad, and seem not to understand that we are involved in a war against terrorism that requires military aid and troops in many countries, such as the Philippines and Afghanistan, and an active homeland security. If the National Libertarian Party had its way, we would essentially leave ourselves defenseless at home and abroad. Add to this that democracy itself is thought by many libertarians to be a dirty word, and libertarian attacks on the idea of a democratic peace, and you should see why I sought a concept — freedomism — that while believing in maximum freedom separated those who agree with me from these isolationist, anti-democratic (see the last quotes from Knapp, below) libertarians.

Knapp alleges:

Professor Rummel’s characterization of libertarians as eschewing advocacy or action for freedom outside the borders of the countries in which those libertarians live is blatantly and irrefutably false, as the existence and work of (to name but three of many organizations) the International Society for Individual Liberty and Libertarian International Organization establishes. In the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse, libertarians and libertarian organizations — in person and with monetary and moral support — flocked to Russia and eastern Europe to encourage the flowering of freedom. A political movement whose members were unconcerned with freedom outside the borders of the states from which they hailed would not hold international conferences, fund new think tanks in countries emerging from dictatorship, raise funds to publish — often without any prospect of profit — libertarian texts in the native languages of countries other than the authors'[2], and so forth.

RJR: I am wrong only if I claim that all libertarians and their groups fit my characterisization. I do not. But, most do, so I’ve seen. And more power to the minority that have helped the establishment of freedom in other countries. This is one of those disagreements that depends on personal impressions. Citations and references do not help, since we all can be selective. But, surely the National Libertarian Party platform should have some weight in this.

We now get to Knapp’s surprising interpretation:

At one time, Professor Rummel held that “[t]o eliminate war, to restrain violence, to nurture universal peace and justice, is to foster freedom (liberal democracy).” It is apparent that, at some point since, he has drastically altered that conclusion: For he now holds that war and violence, even at the cost of peace (an obvious cost in any war) and justice (arguably a cost at least in the particular war at issue), are acceptable methods so long as they have the effect of spreading democracy.

In fairness to Professor Rummel, he advances his new argument along two axes: The imperative of spreading democracy, and the notion that not to do so endangers existing democracies:

“[I]n an age of readily transportable biological weapons, such as anthrax, and nuclear weapons, no longer can a country like the U.S. sit back and ignore what goes on elsewhere in the production and deliverability of such weapons. In the hands of those who hate the democracies and their libertarian values, democracies have too much vulnerability to attack. Now, involvement and intervention in the rapacious affairs of thug regimes is of necessity a protection of democracies, not to mention advancing human rights and the freedom libertarians praise.”

RJR: One, I do not advocate war or violence against any and all non-democracies. In general, I have argued that fostering democracy can and should be done nonviolently, unless the regime is a threat to the security of democracies. Two, even regarding “rapacious affairs of thug regimes,” war against them is not the only or necessarily best recourse (as of Sudan and Burma, for example). There are many nonviolent courses of action, such as sanctions, support for internal pro-democracy movements (as we are doing in Iran), appeals to the UN, submission of documents to the international Court of Justice, and so on.

Knapp says:

The existence of “readily transportable biological weapons, such as anthrax, and nuclear weapons” is a fact of life. Professor Rummel ignores the fact that the largest stockpiles of such weapons are held by: Democracies, particularly the United States, which is the only nation on the face of the earth to have ever used atomic weapons on another nation. While I agree with Professor Rummel that democracies as he has defined them are, in general, less prone to launch wars (especially when unprovoked) than dictatorships, Professor Rummel does us the service of hoisting himself with his own petard by advocating that they do exactly that. And, once a war has been launched, the imperative of victory makes it much more likely that these particularly nasty weapons will be used, whether the hands holding them are “democratic” hands or not. War as such clearly does not enhance the security of any nation, democratic or otherwise — which is why it is an activity that should be reserved for circumstances of dire necessity rather than of perceived benefit to either to a democracy or to those whom a democracy’s leaders propose to liberate.

RJR: This reveals our fundamantal difference. Democracies are no threat to each other. Period. Note that Britain and France have nukes, but they are not seen by anybody in a leadership position as a threat to each other or to the United States. Second, while democracies have the least foreign violence and don’t make war on each other, they do make war on nondemocracies, sometimes stupidly (the Mexican-American, Spanish-American, and Filipino-American Wars). However, sometimes the war is preemptive, as was Israel’s Six-Day War against the United Arab Republic), or part of a larger war (the Vietnam War as the Containment of communism during the Cold War). The current Iraq and Afghan Wars were preemptive, necessarily so.

Now to say that, “War as such clearly does not enhance the security of any nation, democratic or otherwise,” is questionable, given World II against Hitler and Tojo, and the Korea War that saved South Korea, which eventually became democratic. Indeed, didn’t World War II eventually enhance the security of Japan, Taiwan, Italy, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, etc, all of which are now democratic and would not be, for sure, had not the United States and Britain frought World War II and the Cold War.

Knapp is more revealing of our differences in this:

A precondition of freedom is life. Do the innocents who are inevitably killed in any war care that it was a “democratic” daisy-cutter rather than a “dictatorial” sarin shell which killed them? The dead know only one thing: It is better to be alive. War is antithetical to life and to freedom — to the lives of those expected to fight it and to the lives of the innocents caught in the crossfire, and to the freedom of those who are expected to bear the costs. It is a pursuit which those who claim to value freedom can only properly advocate as a response to exigency. One does not sacrifice what one values as a matter of policy, but only when there is no other choice.

RJR: It is this perspective, among the others I’ve mentioned, that led me to giving up on the label libertarian for freedomist. All I can say to this view is: tell that to the souls of those murdered or sufferring in agony under Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, . . . , and Hussein and the Taliban. What bloodbath would the world have gone through if these monsters had not been fought. We do have statistics relevant to this. In the last century 175,000,000 people were murdered in cold blood by governments, almost all by such thugs as named above. This is four (to repeat, 4) times more than died in combat in all the internal land foreign wars during the century. Yes, war is evil. But, a worse evil is letting people be murdered in the millions.

Knapp says:

Of course, Professor Rummel does not advocate war solely for the purpose of pre-empting attacks on democracy. He advocates it as a method for spreading democracy. And that begs the question of whether democracy is worth spreading, especially at the cost which he holds must be paid for the privilege of doing so.

RJR: To reiterate, I do not support (like I’m against, do not favor, and oppose) war to spread democracy. I don’t think I’ve ever said that I favor war to spread democacy anywhere. But words are treacherous things and easily get off the leash. Perhaps I wrote something that easily led Knapp to believe what he does.

Knapp turns to democracy itself, and this also displays a libertarian attitude that helped turn me toward freedomism. I will let this run on so that you get its full flavor:

Once again, I agree with Professor Rummel that democracies have a measurably better record than dictatorships with respect to democide. I disagree, however, with the conclusion that he implicitly draws from that fact — that “liberal democracy” is sufficiently different in kind from other forms of state that its practice may be considered a criterion of, or a standard for measuring, freedom.

With the possible exception of some forms of direct democracies — and even then, I’d limit it to those forms which require unanimous consent, consensus or overwhelming super-majorities in order to reach binding decisions — the primary imperative of states is the preservation and continuation of their own existence. This is true of representative democracies and brutal dictatorships alike: Their subjects are considered means, not ends. While America was founded on a contrary notion — “That to secure these rights [life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness], Governments are instituted among Men” — it didn’t take long for our own state to assert the primacy of its existence, with its purported purpose relegated to secondary status, when it was to be acknowledged at all.

What makes democracies unique is not that they regard their subjects as ends in themselves, but that they regard them as means which are more profitably exploited by leaving them relatively free: Extracting only a portion of their (renewable) productive value instead of demanding total sacrifice of all value (and, ultimately, of all life). Except, of course, when in Professor Rummel’s estimation, it’s time for the operation to liquidate some of its stock and launch a hostile takeover.

Democracies and dictatorships both treat their subjects as cattle. Over at Saddam’s Rockin’ I, they run beef (castrate’em and kill’em); across the pond at George’s Lazy W, it’s “round’em up morning and evening, milk’em dry and put’em out to pasture.” While, given such a choice, I’d certainly have a preference — and, moreover, believe that most people would share that preference — I think I’ll direct my energies toward living as a human being, thank you very much. To state that one is preferable to the other is not the same as stating that either is a substitute for true freedom; nor does it constitute a case for expanding one at the expense of the very virtues which allegedly make it preferable.

RJR: Note how Knapp reifies democracy, as though it were a person. That is, democracy does this and that, and this reification may have short circuited his thought on this. And thus he is able to equate democracy to dictatorships. But, democracies do nothing. They are only a political concept. It is living, breathing, elected officials in the main (recognizing the power of unelected justices) that do things. And the people can unelect, impeach, or fire them, if they go out of bounds. Hoover was defeated in his run for a second term in 1932 after the 1929 market crash, Nixon had to resign, the senior Bush was voted out after one term, anad Clinton was impeached.

But, I must ask the libertarians who make these anti-democratic claims. You want liberty. Great. But, tell me, how are you going to secure your liberty? Through some kind of government police, courts, and military, right? But, then, how are those who protect your liberty to be determined? Now, you have few choices. One, give it to a family, such that the rule can be inherited, e.g., monarchies as in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and a scattering of African countries. Two, they can achieve it by force, e.g., rule by the most powerful or ruthless, as in primitive societies, and many military dictorships. Or, three, you can elect them. If you choose three, and naturally stipulate that everyone will vote by secret ballot, that those who want to be elected have to fairly compete for your vote, and that if elected their term of office will be limited; and those who want to be reelected will have to periodically compete for your votes with others; then you choose democracy.

In sum, Knapp’s rebuttal amounts to this:

I mischaracterize libertarians, but his rebuttal displays some of the very characteristics that led me to issue my challenge.

War is evil and I favor war in order to spread democacy, to which I say, there are worse evils than war, and in any case I believe that in general democracy should be fostered nonviolently.

Democracy is different than dictatorship (see the last paragraph of the last quote), and cannot substitute for freedom, to which I say Knapp misconceives democracy, and that in fact freedom — civil rights and political liberties — is inseparable from liberal democracy.
Knapp ends with: “Res Publica Delenda Est!” Well, I don’t know what that means, so I’ll end with my own saying:

Let the international thugs thrive,
and be enslaved or die

Democratic Peace