Thursday, August 09, 2007

Guido is wrong

It is rare that I disagree with Guido; I don't necessarily find a great deal of interest in his Westminster gossip, but his professed arch-libertarianism does agree with me. However, I have found an article that I entirely disagree with.
British governments should protest violations of human rights wherever they occur.

Whilst I do not dispute the fact that we, the British, are the finest race on Earth and more than capable of showing everyone else how they could treat their citizens (or, rather, this was the case until a decade ago), it is not the government's place to "protest violations of human rights wherever they occur."

Why not?

There are a couple of strands to the argument, but they come back to libertarian thought. Under this philosophy, the initiation of force against a party—whether by government or private agents—is strictly prohibited. So we could not actually force any foreign government to enforce human rights.

And this makes any protestations about the treatment of any government's citizens empty and hollow; it diminishes our country's clout by threatening what we cannot—or, rather, should not—enforce. We look stupid or ineffectual: both options diminish our ability to do anything effective.

The only way in which we can interfere in another sovereign state's policy is if we are invited to defend those who are being atacked. The philosophy being that we may not initiate force, but those who are being atacked may ask others for help in defending their property.

It sounds weird that a libertarian should defend isolation in a country, but my reading of it allows for nothing else. If we protest about innocence of prisoners, we have to be able to back it up and, especially now, we cannot do so with military action. We could try to enforce good behaviour with trade blockades except that we do not control our own trade policy, so we cannot.

Our only option is either to shut the fuck up, or to sit and protest and hope that the offending countries do not realise how utterly ineffective we are.

17 comments:

Machiavelli's Understudy said...

Amongst libertarians there is no hard and fast prohibition of pre-emptive action against another sovereign nation. Libertarians are divided on the issue (by how much, I don't know), because of the belief in universal and inalienable rights.

I appreciate your point about being invited to take action against other governments, but being practical, how would this be done? Would we require a plebiscite of the population in question? Is it on the strength of those requesting action? How do we validate a request?

Where action is needed sooner rather than later, and negotiations and discussion are a luxury ill-afforded, what would happen?

Personally, I believe that we should hold situations and the actions of others to what we know are universal and inalienable rights. Because they are such, surely we should ensure that all others are afforded those rights and protected where possible?

This is one of the very, very few areas of state or collective intervention that I believe in, but I believe (know) that we would be right to intervene and protect the lives of people being threatened by others.

Obviously this raises all sorts of questions, like how we present the armed forces as a voluntary force. I think that if we were to have an interventionist foreign policy, we should perhaps have a separate set of armed forces that volunteers can join up to- otherwise, their role is simply defence of British territory, treaties and people. Those who joined the forces to defend their country, but disagreed with Iraq, would be have been free to join up for the role they believe in.

There's plenty of scope for me to accept an alternative reason as to why we shouldn't intervene, but for the moment, this is the conclusion I have come to.

Mark Wadsworth said...

1. There's no point attacking other countries. You always lose. Whereas if you are attacked, you are allowed to hit back any way you like and always win. This is not a value judgment, this is just what I have observed from reading history books. I ran the idea past my history teacher chum and he now uses this as an aide-memoire in history lessons.

2. Trade boycotts are pointless. There do not hurt the ruling Junta, they hurt the people. Obviously, don't sell them weapons or anything, apart from that, free trade is the overriding objective. We all know that the Chinese are a bit lacking in the HR department but we happily buy their stuff (and sell them stuff).

3. A bit of posturing and whining never went amiss. There is no need to actually back this up with any threats. If you choose your trading partners wisely (sod the Saudis, bu the Chinese are too important, we'll have to turn a blind eye) then this'll all be fine.

Roger Thornhill said...

What Mark says, especially about being attacked. I make a HUGE difference between the general "insurgent" behaviour in Iraq (blowing up bus stations, sectarian murder) and mortars lobbed by Iraqis (not Iranians or other foreigners) at the British. The first is to be condemned on moral grounds, the second is, I am afraid, not.

As for a plebiscite, an example could be Burma, where a valid election occurred but was simply ignored. The leader of the party who won could invite Britain in to sort it out, but as Mark says, it is likely to be a hiding to nothing even if 'successful'.

China will be, I repeat WILL BE a very difficult case, for I am pretty certain they are gearing up for some neo-Imperialist, hyper-colonial behaviour in the next few decades.

"Get in our way and we will shoot down your GPS" I think they will say to the US at some stage.

How do we, the UK, exist? To me, we should become the Hong Kong of the Atlantic - highly efficient, low tax, low regulation by robust and transparent Rule of Law. We should be the place the Chinese stash their loot, where the Indians hedge and trade, where the US steps into Europe. Piss off the Brits and your "tub room privileges" in the UK will be suspended. We also need to be "aggressively defensive" in protecting our citizens abroad.

I say citizens, not residents. The Nat West Three?

That said, there is nothing wrong with the UK calling a spade a spade and telling countries when it feels it is acting incorrectly - just don't threaten what you cannot deliver.

Mark Wadsworth said...

In fact, going back to the very first bit of MU's comment:

Amongst libertarians there is no hard and fast prohibition of ...

That's the beauty of it. Amongst libertarians there are no hard and fast rules on anything. And preferably no rules at all.

Kate said...

"If we protest about innocence of prisoners, we have to be able to back it up"

Uh, why? Does that mean that if you kick my cat, I can't object to it unless I'm 6'6" and built like a brick shithouse?
It's perfectly possible, and indeed desirable, for people to express their opposition to or dislike of things they don't have any control over. They're merely expressing their viewpoint.

In relation to the specific piece of writing you're commenting on, however (ie. Guido), I thought his comment you've quoted was so vague as to be platitudinous, and hence not worth the labour you've expended.

Guido Fawkes Esq. said...

Well it may have been "platitudinous" but my blog isn't really the place to discuss my philosophical approach to human rights.

But if you are interested, here is something I wrote 17 years ago for the Libertarian Alliance. I still stand by it (although the context has changed a lot since the collapse of communism.).

Kate said...

Yes, I'd seen it. It's fairly circular though, since it lacks any meaningful definition of 'human rights', other than to appear to correlate them with 'property rights', but again failing to provide a definition. Is 'possession is nine-tenths of the law' a basic human right?

Kate said...

Oh and one more thing - DK, I would have thought a far more profitable libertarian line of thought in terms of Guido's original comment would be to argue that, since government should be as small as possible and do as little as possible, it's simply not the role of government to protest human rights violations abroad. Individuals, should they so wish, could do the protesting both individually and through the formation of campaign/lobby groups.

Steve_Roberts said...

Kate is right. There may be a role for government in securing our property rights and rights against force and fraud at home, but this does not extend to intervening on behalf of third parties abroad who are complaining about their government. While we can usefully stop supporting, financially and otherwise, regimes abroad, helping people to organise themselves to undermine oppressive regimes is a matter for individuals - and far more effective this way.

Mark Wadsworth said...

"helping people to organise themselves to undermine oppressive regimes is a matter for individuals - and far more effective this way"

What about the CIA's fine work in Poland in the 1970s and 1980s? They kept very quiet about it for years afterwards. These were proper spies smuggling in typewriters, paper for printing leaflets, walkie-talkies, money, forged documents etc.

I can't see private individuals doing this.

Machiavelli's Understudy said...

Kate is right. There may be a role for government in securing our property rights and rights against force and fraud at home, but this does not extend to intervening on behalf of third parties abroad who are complaining about their government. While we can usefully stop supporting, financially and otherwise, regimes abroad, helping people to organise themselves to undermine oppressive regimes is a matter for individuals - and far more effective this way.

So are we for terrorism or against it? I'm lost.

Mark Wadsworth said...

MU, as you say yourself "there are no hard and fast rules". One man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist.

The CIA backed the winning side in Poland (backing people who were no doubt denounced as terrorists by the Polish government), but made lousy choices elsewhere.

As far as the Islamic world is concerned, forget it, they are all as bad as each other, steer well clear.

But with (say) Burma, there can be no harm in directing a bit of practical support in the general direction of Aung San Suu Kyi, she seems like a nice enough chappess.

JuliaM said...

"Does that mean that if you kick my cat, I can't object to it unless I'm 6'6" and built like a brick shithouse? "

No. It just means that you objecting will do squat to deter the kicker from doing it again.

Unless you know karate, or have a gun. Or are friends with some one who is 6'6''.... ;)

Kate said...

That's an argument for the inefficacy of protesting, though; not for the principle of not-protesting.

Graf von Straf Hindenburg said...

...And this makes any protestations about the treatment of any government's citizens empty and hollow; it diminishes our country's clout by threatening what we cannot—or, rather, should not—enforce...

This appears to me to be the crux of the matter.

JuliaM said...

"That's an argument for the inefficacy of protesting, though; not for the principle of not-protesting."

What's the point of protesting if you can't back it up.? Just to feel good about yourself?

That doesn't really help does it...?

Henry North London said...

Trouble is that the government have wiped our civil liberties here so how can they seriously be expected to do it outside, that smacks of gross hypocrisy.

Sorry but its true.

Henry North