The Saint Louis Hegelians, Adam-ondi-Ahman, and the Metaphysically Essential Center of the United States of America

Matt is whining about the implication that the Northeast isn't “real” America. I can't imagine why he's so defensive about it. He's so wrong that he should just quietly let it go. The core of real America is, of course, Missouri, and I can prove it. A mile from Missouri is a mile from the the essence of America and the fate of the human experiment.

The argument from Mormonism and St. Louis Hegelianism together provide irrefutable support for the proposition that the Show Me State is the quiddity of America.

sc2004_arch.jpgNot a lot of people know that there was a band of thinkers called the St. Louis Hegelians. This simply has to change. The thrust of Hegelianism from the STL is basically that the these United States are in fact the culmination of history. Who can doubt it? Hegel got the logic right but the time and place wrong. One of the STL Hegelians even provided a complicated dialectical proof that St. Louis is destined by the logic of history to be the greatest city of all the world! Understanding that that the east coast of America still gazed longingly across the Atlantic and would never fully slough off the political and cultural logic of the Old World, the STL Hegelians campaigned to move the capital of the US into the next phase of history and the “next great city of the world.”

Here's a taste:

During the Civil War, Harris and Brokmeyer [the leading STL Hegelians] had come to believe that the conflict was properly understood in much the same way that Hegel understood the French Revolution. Sectional tensions had come to a head, they believed, because abolitionists and slaveowners both appealed to the abstract, transcendent rights of the individual. Both groups conceived of the individual as existing over and against society. Abolitionists had argued that slaves had an inalienable right to freedom; Southerners defended slave ownership on the grounds that their property rights were sacred and inviolable. In Hegelian terms, both parties asserted merely formal morality, thus indicating that American Sittlichkeit, or concrete morality, was inadequate to the issue at hand. There was no common sense of morality adequate to the resolution of the conflict between abolitionists and slaveowners. Ultimately, Snider was also convinced of this analysis of the war, and developed it at length in several books. Harris’s and Snider’s activities in public education after the war, and Brokmeyer’s involvement in politics, were efforts to promote the formation of a progressive American Sittlichkeit in which moral and political disputes could be resolved without violence. The St. Louis Hegelians’ Journal of Speculative Philosophy was a key part of their efforts to reform society. Though the JSP is often characterized as the first journal in the English language devoted to philosophy; it was in fact equally devoted to the study of art and religion because the St. Louis Hegelians believed those subjects were the paths to Bildung and the formation of Sittlichkeit.

Isn't that awesome! If guys like that say St. Louis is the culmination of the American experiment, and the capital of the End of History, then I say they must be right!

Second, my birthplace, Independence, Missouri, just a jaunt across the state on I-70 is, according to Joseph Smith, the prophetic founder of the one truly and essentially American major world religion, the site of the Garden of Eden and the second coming of Christ.

Latter-day Saints know, through modern revelation, that the Garden of Eden was on the North American continent and that Adam and Eve began their conquest of the earth in the upper part of what is now the state of Missouri. It seems very probable that the children of our first earthly parents moved down along the fertile, pleasant lands of the Mississippi valley.” (John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, three volumes in one, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft 1960, p. 127)

More significant is the fact that America is the true promised land, and New Jerusalem sits in Jackson County, Missouri. Christ will return here first to receive the keys to heaven on earth from Adam. (Click here and scroll down to “Valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman”. Also check out the the RLDS Temple just above.) This is the purpose and destiny of America.

Now, it cannot be mere coincidence that two profound strains of American thought place the End of History in Missouri, at the same latitude, on the banks of a mighty river.

As someone born near the site of the second coming, who saved quarters as a child to rear a temple there in accord with God's commands, and who was raised amid the Iowa corn on the truth about America, and especially Missouri, as the cradle of humanity and God's promised land, I must say (as, I should mention, a small measure of Sioux blood courses through my veins) that city fancy boys like Matt know nothing of America. Any real American knows that New Yorkers are merely nominal Americans, and that that exotic, obscene Babelian city might as well be in Roumania so distant is it, both spiritually and geographically, from the deepest truths about America.

Flip Flop! Flip Flop!?

Regarding the Borders kerfluffle, Alina writes:

While Max should certainly be criticized for his erroneous views . . . , Will should also be criticized for his waffling and wish-washy positions. Sure, it's great to wait to until you see the results of the war become taking a serious principled position on it. But it is also futile and useless– it doesn't save lives, and it only saves the margins of ego. Better to be proven wrong about your criticism of a war than to hedge your bets. You can only afford to waffle about war when you aren't being forced to fight in the trenches.

Alina puzzles me. She mentions my short “non-committal” Doublethink piece as evidence of my moral/intellectual pusillanimity. It may help to know that the editor's assignment was to say something about the significance of the war for libertarians, once it was clear that it was going to happen, and specifically not to argue for or against it. I thought then, and still do think, the most significant thing American libertarians intellectuals can do regarding the middle east is offer intellectual, emotional, and material support to liberals in Iraq and Islamic theocracies. I have failed to do anything significant on this score, as have most of the libertarians I know (Tom Palmer being a notable exception.) Be that as it may, my sympathies, if not my actions, rest with the long-run effort to assist the development of something like liberalism in Iraq and elsewhere, rather than making a racket about the wrongness of the war. The war in Iraq is indeed unjustified and this is a point worth making, and forcefully. But the expense of the war, and the loss of American lives and liberty is morally trivial compared to the danger illiberal Islam poses for hundreds of millions around the globe. I've believed that from the beginning, and I believe it now.

I resent the charge that I've been waiting around to see how things pan out to take a position, that I ever lacked a “serious principled position.” What I was saying then is pretty much exactly what I'm saying now. Here you can see me saying in Novermber or 2002 what I said a few days ago (read down in the comments, too). And that's because my principles haven't changed. At the time I wrote the Doublethink article, it wasn't as obvious to me as it is now that Iraq had no WMD. If Iraq had proven a genuine imminent threat with ties to Al Qaeda, I likely would have supported the war, as I support the war in Afghanistan. I came to have better information, and thus believed Iraq not to be any sort of serious threat, and so concluded the war was unjustified. A change in confidence about the injustice of the war due to a change in information about the facts is, I'd think, a principal symptom of a genuinely serious, principled position. An unserious principled position is just dogmatism, and so, naturally, doesn't vary with a better account of the facts, since the facts never meant much to begin with.

My position has always been a set of solid, unwishy-washy, unwaffling conditionals. If such and such is the case, then the war is justified; if such and such is the case, it is not. It is an obligation of intellectual honesty to wait patiently for the world to clearly reveal the antecedents. However, I congratulate Alina on her commitment to principles that avoid this kind of unmanly reliance on the a posteriori.

Last, Alina is hallucinating or indulging fantasies of grandiosity if she really believes that a bold principled stand against war by minor bloggers will “save lives.” Naturally, I favor saving lives over saving “margins of ego.” But since I'm in no position to do either, I'll just continue to do something else altogether.

Hawk Logic

Aeon Skoble, something of a libertarian hawk (who is right to say that lib-hawkishness is a theoretically heterogeneous view), takes issue with my reply to Max below. First of all he thinks that rights are natural, not conventional. I agree with Max that he's wrong about this, but we need not get into it here (it does affect the form of the argument, though.)

Wilkinson’s main objection (and this seems to be the view of some of my co-bloggers) seems to be that American taxpayers shouldn’t have to pony up the cash to pick up the tab for overthrowing someone else’s dictator. Well, that’s true – but then, from a radical libertarian perspective, American taxpayers shouldn’t have to pony up the cash to pick up the tab for anything if they don’t want to. Saying the overthrow of Saddam wasn’t obligatory doesn’t mean it was unjustified. (Deontic logic, people!) An act may be permissible but nonobligatory. A subcategory within that group is the supererogatory. Maybe the Iraq war was one of these. It didn’t violate the rights of American taxpayers any more than anything else they spend our money on. It certainly didn’t violate the rights of the Baathist regime there. Ditto terrorists: Wilkinson writes “the fact that there are terrorists, murderers, and illegitimate regimes out there who have forfeited some or all of their moral standing does not begin to imply that the United States of America may swoop in and see that justice is done.” Sure it does – anyone may. Whether it’s mandatory, or prudent, are separate questions. But libertarians who prefer the “letters of marque” approach need Wilkinson to be wrong here just as much as the Pentagon does.

I thought I was making a point about deontic logic. If Trisha has a right, then she is entitled to a certain kind of forebearance from others, and we are obligated to forebear. If she loses her right, she is no longer entitled to forebearance, but this does not imply that we are no longer obligated to forebear, because there may be other grounds for obligation to restrain ourselves other than Trisha's right. We may, for example, have strong reasons, based in the general interest in the integrity of our own rights and civil peace, to place procedural constraints on the manner in which people who have lost their rights are to be treated.

Aeon's claim that “anyone may” sweep in to do justice is just flat wrong, and I think everyone recognizes it.

I think Aeon's screwing up the quantifiers. If a regime like Iraq is illegitimate, then, perhaps, there is someone or other that is justified in overthrowing the illegitimate regime. But it doesn't follow that that somebody is us, or even any state. (If it's true that somebody loves you, that doesn't mean that I do, or that everybody does.) Iraq, like Trisha, is not entitled to our forebearance. Iraq, or the Baathist regime, would not be wronged if we invaded. But that doesn't entail that we, or anyone else in particular, may invade. The state may be obligated to forebear for other reasons, namely, that the war is not in the interest of its citizens, and the actions of the state can only be justified in reference to the interests of its citizens. Otherwise, it's just a huge welfare transfer, no different in principle from sending hundreds of billions abroad to relieve hunger. The citizens who pay the taxes are wronged, even if the Baathists aren't. Seems sort of obvious to me.

I am not a radical libertarian. I think that states can be legitimate, and that citizens can have obligations to pony up for genuine public goods. So there is no room here for an argument to the effect that radical libertarians don't think the state ought to do anything, but the state does all sorts of stuff anyway, so they might as well do this, too. I'm saying that the state ought to do some things, and, by the same logic used to say what the state ought to do, they ought not to have gotten into this war. Our obligations to pony up are grounded in the benefits derived by the citizens. We cannot be obligated to pony up for deposing other states' dictators unless doing so is indeed in the our interests. So, for me, the whole argument comes down to this nuts and bolts empirical squabble: was Iraq a threat? The answer, as far as I can see is “No.”

Libertarian Hawks

Max Borders over at TCS attempts to deploy contractarian reasoning in the service of that unlikely composite creature, the libertarian hawk. Max argues the lib-hawk is no impossible monster, like the gryphon. More like the liger, although, sadly, more feracious and no less ferocious.

Insofar as Max is attempting to justify a doctrine of preemeption in general and the Iraq war in particular, he fails, and he fails on contractarian grounds.

Max writes:

The libertarian hawk takes her cues from Hobbes, not Locke, as the spaces mostly untouched by globalization are, in her view, like a state-of-nature. She sees threats that organize themselves in the shadows beyond civilization; operating, no less, in an age of deadly weapons proliferation. She fears the world's great, but nimble powers coalescing into a slothful and ineffectual global body — where the toughest decisions of life and limb must be made in committee. She understands that freedom does not drop like manna from heaven, but is earned drop-for-drop and coin-for-coin by the sacrifices of blood and treasure.

According to the contractarian, rights are conventions justified by their role in mutual benefit. Your entitlement to protection against the agression of others is conditional on your compliance with the convention. If you fail to heed the convention, then you cannot be expected to gain its benefits.

. . . if you stand outside the covenants of Man, you are presumed “enemy.”

This is all by way of establishing that terrorists lack “moral standing.”

Let's just say all this is fine. But at this point, we've barely even approached a case for preemptive war or for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. If my neighbor, Grover, kills his roommate Getrude in cold blood then he in effect opts out of the social contract and loses moral standing. May I therefore go next door and slay him at will? No, I may not.

Grover may have forfeited his rights, but I am not therefore at liberty to do whatever I like to Grover. Another element of the social contract is the prudent restriction of the power of citizens to bring criminals to justice. We leave it the relevant authorities, who are required to follow strict procedures in order to ensure that coercive sanctions are not abused. That Grover has lost his moral standing does not give just anyone permission to mete out punishment.

Similarly, the fact that there are terrorists, murderers, and illegitimate regimes out there who have forfeited some or all of their moral standing does not begin to imply that the United States of America may swoop in and see that justice is done.

Bizarrely, Max fails to even ask the contractarian question before accusing his friends and colleagues of being “unreflective.” Would well-informed, rational people who have their own interests in mind choose to empower their state with a doctrine of preemptive warfare? Well, it's certainly not obvious that they would, even if there are bad guys out there who don't deserve not to be killed. And if they would agree to such a doctrine, it seems likely that they would put such stringent conditions on use of preemptive war that Iraq would unlikely qualify.

If you're a contractarian libertarian then you think that counterfactually wise parties to an imaginary agreement would wish to restrict the power of the state to the minimum necessary to provide the public goods for which voluntary action is insufficient. Security is surely one of those public goods. But surely a libertarian contractarian, understanding the tendency of those with military power to use it to enlarge the domain of their political power (and dimish the scope of our liberties), will want to implement very strict standards for going to war. Here's a not very strict standard: the target state (or whatever) that the government wishes to go to war against must be an actual threat to the citizens. If it's not, then the state is simply wasting the “blood and treasure” of its citizens in violation of the terms of the social contract, becomes criminal, and loses its legitimacy.

The argument whether Iraq was anything more than a notional threat to the US has already been won. It wasn't. The US government is now wasting our money, and wasting soldiers' lives. Maybe there are good humanitarian reasons for the war, but they have nothing to do with the contractarianism Max espouses.

There's more to say here. The US's near-unilateralism is a problem for reasons a contractarian ought to appreciate. By demonstrating a willingness to bear almost any cost in what we take to be our own defense, we encourage others to free-ride. (Indeed, so many states (hello Canada!) have been free-riding off American defense for so long that American taxpayers don't even know to be indignant at this incredibly lavish scheme for redistributing wealth outside our borders.) And when others are encouraged to free ride, they do. As an auxilliary benefit to them, they become less visible to the enemy, providing even further motive to free ride. Of course, the ugly flip side of their benefit is our peril; we loom ever larger in the minds of our enemies. The absence of a serious coalition (in terms of leadership and cost-sharing) may in the end make more or less unilateral action against terrorists counterproductive, endangering the lives of US citizens, as attacks escalate agains us, the main antagonist of the bad guys. As anti-American animosity rises, and more and more groups plan attacks, the ability of our stretched-thin intelligence agencies to more or less singlehandedly detect all the chemical warheads that Max “doesn't fancy staring down the point of” is dangerously diminished.

These considerations, even if not decisive, would certainly be entertained by a community of rational agents deciding what they would like their defense policy be. I don't believe being persuaded by these considerations reveals any lack of reflection (even among the denizens of those “hashish dens of protest music and anti-Bush priggishness). If it turns out that engaging in wars like the one we're in, besides wasting money and lives, puts our citizens in even greater peril, then you can bet that rational citizens will be against them, and an ideal social contract will rule them out.

It's not clear to me that there is anything whatsoever about contractarian reasoning that supports the kind of hawkishness Max likes. Certainly not the kind of contractarian reasoning that leads to libertarian conclusions about the scope and powers of the state. As far as I can see Max simply jumps from the fact that terrorists cannot reasonably expect the protections of civil society (true) to the claim that the Iraq war was justified (false). I can barely even see how the two points are supposed to be related.

Maybe more later about Max's response to the Hayekian argument against nation-building, which I thought made almost no sense.

[Update: Yglesias fully admirably and unmisguidedly chimes in.]

Feed Me!

I've updated the blog to MT 3.1 and installed MT-Blacklist to rid myself of comment and trackback spam. It seems to be working. Good.

Also, you'll notice that I'm trying out Google ads. They're over there on the right. You'll notice that Google has yet to really parse what this blog is about. Dianetics!? But I certainly won't mind if you click on an ad or two when you come visit, which gives me a few cents. I could conceivably make up to $2.00 a month!

You may have also noticed that I've freshened up the Amazon book ads over on the left. If you're interested in reading what I'm reading, click through, buy a book!

That is all.

Moral Hazard and International Aid

Approaches to global justice like Nussbaum's are simply inadequate until they can seriously address the problems of moral hazard that seem to me to utterly swamp considerations in favor of large-scale global redistribution. This simply recapitulates the moral hazard argument against certain forms of welfare programs at the domestic level. The best work on this is David Schmidtz's writings on “Guarantees.” Nussbaum is very cavalier in her talk about “entitlements.” She needs to address Schmidtz's argument that we need to not be guaranteed all that we need in order to even begin to approach an answer to Peter Bauer.

Nussbaum is also facile about institutions:

The third of Nussbaum's Ten Principles for the Global Structure is: “Prosperous Nations Have a Responsibility to Give a Substantial Portion of their GDP to Poorer Nations.”

Well, OK. Earlier, with regard to institutions, she says:

In the domestic case, we can easily say quite a lot about what institutions bear the burden of supporting the capabilities of the nation's citizens: the structure of institutions laid out in the nation's constitution, together with the set of entitlements prescribed in the constitution itself. This structure will include legislature, courts, administration and at least some administrative agencies, laws defining the institution of the family and allocating privileges to its members, the system of taxation and welfare, the overall structure of the economic system, the criminal justice system, etc.

The difficulty is that almost no amount of money does much good unless domestic institutions are robust enough to actually facilitate their citizens' “entitlements.” Clearly, citizens of rich countries have reason to reject policies that throw their money down a hole. And how do you build minimally acceptable institutions? Well, that's the problem folks like Mercatus's Global Prosperity Initiative work on, and it's hard. GPI isn't very sanguine about the effectiveness of aid in the absence of certain institutional prerequisites. (Check out the critical public interest comment on the Millenium Challenge Account.)

So what is Nussbaum even saying? We already know that most aid is ineffective, and that there is no good reason to believe that more aid will be significantly more effective in the absence of deep institutional reform. And deep institutional reform cannot simply be bought or willed into existence, but, barring colonization, must generally emerge from within? So what is that bigger chunk of our GDP supposed to be doing?

It's not at all clear to me that Nussbaum even has a positive argument for her prescriptions. She strikes me as offering little more than a set of normatively toothless utopian aspirations.

Nussbaum on Capabilities

Interesting paper by Nussbaum: Beyond the Social Contract: Capabilities and the Social Contract.

I was already moving in a Sen/Nussbaum capabilities direction even before I started to become skeptical of the usefulness of happiness as the standard of evaluation in contractarian normative modeling. So I'm pretty interested in what Nussbaum has to say. My guess is that I'll feel a lot like I do when I read Rawls, that he's right about the way to think about the issue, but wrong about some of the important facts that feed into the normative analysis. Will report later.

[Update: I take it back. Nussbaum's is not the right way to think about the issue. She basically abandons the logic of contractarian reasoning simply because it cannot straightforwardly generate obligations to redistribute to people in poor countries. She does not argue that we have such a duty; she just asserts it. This is a problem not only because she punts on the question of the source of that obligation, but because she in effect ignores the logic of stable cooperation. If a system is not mutually advantageous for its participants, there is little reason to believe it will garner compliance, and thus define a stable order. But the point of contractarian reasoning is that it is non-utopian and has the analytical resources to identify the conditions for stable order. Nussbaum ends up merely stating an aspiration based in the assertion, rather than the reasonable derivation, of obligations to others. She therefore doesn't lay out a serious international political theory. She is, however, quite right about many of the problems of Rawls and Pogge/Beitz at the international level.]