Altruism and Hamas

Many people find it hard to comprehend the widespread approval being showered upon Hamas. How, they wonder, can the perpetrators of unspeakable atrocities, captured on video for all to see, elicit the sympathy of tens or hundreds of thousands in the civilized West? Isn’t the evil of Hamas—and all its Palestinian supporters—indisputable?

Certainly, a growing anti-Semitism is at work. But the more fundamental explanation is the one provided by a schoolteacher in Atlanta, as reported in the Nov. 5 NY Times (“Across the Echo Chamber, a Quiet Conversation About War and Race”). She posted the following message on Facebook, defending her unequivocal backing of the Palestinians against Israel:

“The actual history of this situation is NOT COMPLICATED.  I will ALWAYS stand beside those with less power. Less wealth, less access and resources and choices. Regardless of the extreme acts of a few militants who were done watching their people slowly die.”

She is stating the essence of a moral code that is accepted by virtually everyone today: the code of altruism. According to that code, need is the ultimate standard of morality. If others are in need, nothing else matters—you have a duty to satisfy their needs.

Altruism is not a code of benevolence and goodwill. It is a code that says your life belongs not to you, but to anyone who displays a need that you are able to fulfill. It commands you to devote yourself, not to your own goals and your own happiness, but to the demands of all who are needier than you. It does not matter why someone is in need—it does not matter that fulfilling that need would be an act of injustice—you must sacrifice your money, your energies, your judgment in the name of altruism. You must subordinate everything to which you are justly entitled, in order to provide what someone is not justly entitled to. That is what self-sacrifice means: surrender everything, including your convictions about what is right, so that someone else’s needs can be met. And the more unjust your surrender is—i.e., the more unworthy, the more guilty, the recipient—the greater is the sacrifice and therefore the more imperative it is that you make it. That’s what altruism requires.

By the standard of justice, Israel is deserving of support. But by the standard of altruism, since Hamas needs your support—since Hamas is poor and besieged and helpless— you must take up its cause.

In stark contrast to Gaza, and the rest of the Arab world, Israel is a basically free country. Its inhabitants are free to express opinions without being jailed or executed, and an independent press, including many Arab publications, flourishes there; no independent press—Arab or non-Arab—is allowed in Gaza. Israel recognizes the freedom to practice one’s religion, and dozens of active mosques exist there; in most Muslim states, the public practice of religions other than Islam is not tolerated. Israel has free elections, and even Arab political parties are represented in the Parliament; the Arab world is dominated by dictatorial theocracies, kingdoms and emirates.

Every Arab living in Israel enjoys far greater freedom than any Arab in the Muslim countries of the Mideast.

Yes, the residents of Gaza live in poverty and oppression—but their condition is the product of the choices they and their governing body have made. According to altruism, however, it does not matter why someone is suffering. It does not matter that the homeless bum down the street is responsible for his misery because he is an alcoholic or a drug addict—he is needy, and you must sacrifice for his sake. It is selfish of you to insist that he clean up his life and find a self-supporting job—he is in pain, and you have a duty to relieve it.

Similarly, it is deemed irrelevant that Hamas is the cause of the suffering endured by Gazans as Israel retaliates for the Oct. 7 barbarism. It does not matter that the Palestinians’ commitment to aggressive war against Israel is the overriding cause of their plight. It does not matter that, by the standard of justice, Israel is the true victim. All that matters is that the Palestinians have “less power . . . less wealth, less access and resources and choices.” I.e., because their need is greater, their moral claim on us is stronger.

No, most people—unlike this teacher on Facebook—do not fully embrace altruism. But it is she who is applying that code consistently. And those who do not agree with her conclusions need to start questioning the validity of that code at its root.

HB: You nailed it. The other factor is loss of respect for—loss of the very concept of—reason.

Why not to vote Libertarian

Evaluating a candidate of the Libertarian Party (LP) is very different from evaluating a candidate of the Republican or Democratic Party. The major parties stand for no ideology. Each is an amalgamation of pragmatic, concrete-bound positions, driven by no discernible theme.

By contrast, the LP—like, say, the Communist Party or the Green Party—does represent an ideology. It is regarded as an advocate of an unorthodox set of ideas. It declares in its platform that it seeks to “challenge the cult of the omnipotent state and defend the rights of the individual,” and all its positions are supposed to follow from that premise. A vote for the LP is a vote for its ideology.

So the crucial question becomes: what in fact is that ideology?

Harry Binswanger, in his post, has already indicated the devious ways in which the LP’s platform has been crafted to accommodate the views of anarchists. But the LP does not explicitly endorse those views. It is nominally non-anarchist. What it does endorse, however, is not only a tacit form of anarchism, but worse: the equating of anarchism with capitalism.

  • When its platform declares: “We oppose all laws at any level of government restricting, registering or monitoring the ownership, manufacture or transfer of firearms or ammunition”—it is rejecting the means by which government protects the individual’s rights. In a free society, one is legally prohibited from engaging in any activity that poses an objective threat to others. While there is a right to use guns in self-defense, as defined by law, there is no right to the unrestricted possession of deadly weapons. Allowing anyone to have any firearms he wishes—allowing someone, for example, to walk the streets with a machine gun—clearly places everyone else’s rights in jeopardy.
  • When its platform declares: “We assert the common-law right of juries to judge not only the facts but also the justice of the law”—it is rejecting the means by which government protects the individual’s rights. The purpose of law in a free society is to make objective the prohibitions against the private initiation of force and the authorizations of government’s retaliatory use of force. By giving a group of citizens the power to nullify any law they happen not to like, including perfectly rational laws, the LP is negating the entire function of laws. (I agree with HB’s suggestions about recusing yourself if you are a juror on a case involving a patently unjust law.)
  • When its platform declares, in the very first sentence under “International Affairs”: “American foreign policy should seek an America at peace with the world”—it is rejecting the means by which government protects the individual’s rights. Peace is a byproduct of a policy of laissez-faire—and so, sometimes, is war. The fundamental value of any proper foreign policy is not peace, but freedom. A government committed to its citizens’ freedom will abide by two equally important imperatives: it will refrain from initiating force anywhere and it will resolutely take military action if and when that freedom is threatened.

A mentality that regards the existence of government per se as odious will not distinguish between initiated and retaliatory force on the part of a government. It will simply mandate, as stated in the LP’s platform, that we “avoid entangling alliances” and “end the current U.S. government policy of foreign intervention, including military and economic aid.” Can there be alliances that enhance our defense against aggression? Can there be military efforts that protect our freedom? It’s all part of one big hash called “intervention,” according to the LP, and should be condemned. (Yes, the platform states that we should maintain “a sufficient military to defend the United States against aggression,” but that’s just window dressing. Whenever there is occasion for the proper use of military force—against ISIS, for instance—the libertarian directive invariably is: “non-intervention.”)

The LP is thus guilty of more than making wrong applications of the principle of laissez-faire. It is conveying to the public the noxious message that laissez-faire means “non-interventionism.” The message of this anti-concept is that “liberty” requires the elimination of even legitimate functions of government. In the LP’s view, for the same reason that the state should not forcibly intervene in an employer’s decision on what to pay his own workers, it should also not forcibly “intervene” in Iran’s decision on whether to acquire its own nuclear weapons.

Is this how the cause of liberty is supposed to be advanced?

Given the major-party candidates in this election, I’m sympathetic to the desire to cast some sort of protest vote. But you wouldn’t cast a “protest” vote for the Socialist Workers Party, just because it opposes government bailouts of Big Business. Or for the Christian Liberty Party, just because it wants to end all government welfare programs. Why then vote for the Libertarian Party just because it wants to cut the size of government? The right conclusion for the wrong reason is the wrong conclusion.
Are there any circumstances under which I would consider voting for a Libertarian candidate? Sure. All that is needed is for the LP to issue a statement along the following lines:

“We disavow our past ties to, and tolerance of, anarchism. We hereby proclaim our repudiation of anarchism because it contradicts the principle of individual rights. We now regard government not as a necessary evil, but as a necessary good, so long as it restricts itself to its proper function of defending its citizens against all threats of force, domestic or foreign.”

Until and unless that happens, my vote will go elsewhere.

Libertarianism and anarchism

Ray Shelton asks why libertarians should be linked to anarchism when most of them are not anarchists.

As I’ve said often, today’s libertarianism is characterized by tacit anarchism. Even the libertarians who nominally accept the institution of government are largely tolerant of anarchists, seeing the latter as comrades-in-arms in the battle against the state. Libertarians evaluate people like Murray Rothbard as defenders, rather than enemies, of liberty.

Libertarianism attracts people who are motivated not by a desire to establish a political structure that protects individual rights, but by a hostility toward government. This is why they are so opposed to government’s legitimate function of military defense. This is why their guiding premise is the anti-concept of “non-interventionism.” This is why the Cato Institute, for example, regards Islamic jihadism as no threat to us, and opposes military action on our part to destroy the jihadists.

This anti-state attitude is why Cato has as its slogan, “Individual Liberty, Free Markets and Peace.” The first two are absolute values; the third isn’t. The refusal to wage war is not a virtue if we face foreign threats to our freedom. A genuine advocate of individual liberty would not hold “peace” as a fundamental principle. But an anarchist—whether overt or covert—would.

With respect to libertarian politicians, Ron Paul’s views on foreign policy are almost as bad as Rothbard’s. And while his son, Rand Paul, is moderately better, he too believes in “non-interventionism.” For instance, Iran poses a demonstrable danger to America, but Rand Paul has said that even if it acquires nuclear weaponry, we should simply accept that fact and refrain from any military action against Iran.

There is, sadly, a significant number of people today who have adopted the anti-state philosophy of “non-interventionism,” and apply it as a package-deal to both the military and economic spheres (thereby smearing capitalism in the process).  Consequently, there is a cognitive need to label the ideology they hold—and that label, widely accepted in the mainstream media, is “libertarianism.”

It is now a term that does not represent the political philosophy of Objectivism—or of any supporter of actual liberty.