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.

  • Not only is it plainly true, but it’s Friedman’s justification for his work. He’s saying, “I want to change your mind. I want to do so because, when the time comes, your and everyone else’s minds are what’s going to change national policy.” It’s a populist appeal rather than an elitist dictate. As Norberg points out several times in his short-but-sweet paper, Klein’s interpretation is demonstrably the exact opposite of what Friedman actually says.

  • Naomi Klein is going to be at Busboys and Poets on Thursday. How nice would it be if someone from Cato showed up with copies of Johan’s rebuttal report to hand out to the crowd?

  • John V

    I read Naomi Klein’s book. It’s one of the most intellectually bankrupt and comically silly stories I have ever read. It’s so weak, so wrong, so stupid and so misleading, I truly find it incredible that it could have been written as a serious book. She has no idea what she is talking about or what she’s criticizing.

    It’s one thing to draw debatable conclusions from truthful sources, it’s quite another to draw preposterous conclusions from totally wrong information. The latter is what Klein did.