A Man Needs A Fish Like A Woman Needs a Bicycle
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
WHY WE ARE HAVING PROBLEMS WITH THE WAR ON TERRORISM--Or, How a Contradiction in Worldviews Threatens Us-The Contradiction (& Part Four):
The contradiction in the Administration's position is simply this: It wants to carry out a Hobbesian foreign policy together with a Lockean oriented domestic policy. And these two world-views do not mesh, apart from their agreement that the state of nature is a place we want to escape from.

Thus, the Administration will trumpet it's "get tough on terrorist" approach with "Dead and Alive" rhetoric, and secret prisons to hide and "interrogate" suspected terrorists. In a nutshell; "Screw 'em, they're terrorists! They don't deserve the rights they deny their victims. Fuck 'em!" There is a lot of sympathy for this position in the country. Hobbes would be all for this--after all, have not the terrorists put themselves back into the state of nature? Since they have chosen to do that, we are not obligated to treat them with justice, which only exists in the state of civil society. "Blow 'em up with a drone--why not!"

On the other hand, the Administration will also speak to its conservative base and the country with comments and speeches meant to show its committment to rights to private property in this country (as in: "Tax cuts return more of your money back to you!"). This also goes with protections of law like habeas corpus and other fundamental legal rights we have (though habeas corpus can be suspended in a time of national emergency for a finite amount of time). This is a Lockean position. I have inalienable rights more fundamental than the state of civil society. I have them in the state of nature, through God.

These two positions can coexist in more or less unhappy partnership (outside the US is the state of nature with non-Americans, and inside is the state of civil society with Americans) until we get a case that brings these two positions into sharp and obvious conflict. Arresting an American as a suspected terrorist does this. Spying on Americans conversations without probable cause will do this. And then, we have trouble. Which worldview dominates? Hobbes' worldview has no problem with the Administration's position. Any rights to personal liberty are given by the state. So, it can take them away as needed, especially if the reason is to protect the American populace. Failure to do so would be cause to leave the state of civil society. Locke would cringe at what is happening. A fundamental right is not made less fundamental or inalienable by the fact of a national emergency. Take it up with God.

Though there are hat tips to Hobbes in the Constitution (e.g., suspending habeas corpus), the way that most Americans (including lawyers and constitutional scholars) think of their Constitution is the way that Jefferson framed the issues in the Declaration of Independence:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — "

Ultimately, what this gives us is a huge case of cognitive dissonance. In a wartime situation, with a clearly defined enemy in a clearly defined place that can be actively met and assaulted, this contradiction is not overly destructive to the Republic. The Civil War is finished, and the rights of the populace restored. But, in a wartime situation with an almost infinite event horizon fighting against a shadowy enemy that roams across the globe striking in an apparently quantum mechanical manner, can we sustain this contradiction? Now, time is our enemy. Time entrenches precedent, and without a VT (Victory over Terrorism) Day, how can it ever change? When faced with cognitive dissonance, people will eventually change their minds to get rid of a contradiction. Since the WOT isn't going away, there is only one way that contradiction can be resolved. Are we prepared to accept that outcome?

To paraphrase someone else: A constitution divided against itself cannot stand.
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Thoughts on What One Experiences These Days

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Blogs I Read


Mike Spenis

Megan McArdle

Juan Cole

Joshua Micah Marshall



Emperor Misha I

Andrew Sullivan

Bob Somersby

John Quiggin

John Rogers


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