The Levin-Woods Battle And The Foolish Conservative-Libertarian War - The Losses of "Winning"

I’ve watched the assertive and generally young libertarian/Ron Paul movement over the past few years, and have read a couple of times through the recent exchange between lawyer, radio host and author Mark Levin and historian/author Tom Woods. Let me summarize to begin with that I think Woods is accurate on the history and more objective than Levin who, though he has in many respects surmounted it, still resides in the bubble of 20th century legal consensus; which is another distorted contemporary perception. But, I have certain sympathy for Levin’s sentiments, both generally and in this specific case. However Levin’s style is combative and not real diplomatically missionary, and Woods was something less than magnanimous in claiming victory, which Levin obviously rejects. The tone of the exchange seemed relatively puerile and most importantly, accomplished absolutely nothing. It seemed more destructive than supportive of the cause that both men and their followers recognize as not just positive but critical at this point of American history; restoring America’s vitality, fiscal integrity, and constitutional fidelity. Honestly, I don’t quite understand the apparently short-sighted objective of so many disputes today. Is disparaging the opponent and doing a victory dance more important than everything? If so, my hopes for America will fade.

I should also say that I can only speculate about motivation, but will do so after watching closely and with honest intention. In that spirit I’ll discuss the history of and surrounding these players and movements. Speaking of honest intention, that is something that neither Levin nor Woods can permit of the other, the debate being liberally studded with accusations of duplicity. Unfortunately, that defines most disputes today on most subjects, especially in politics and on the Internet. The volleys of Woods and Levin were strewn with charges of knowing deception, propaganda and evasion. Obviously, one of conflicting assertions is wrong, but what do presumably clairvoyant assertions about intentions add to the discussion? Why not stick to the vitues or error of ideas and claims, and keep the character judgments to yourself? For Pete’s sake, these are two literate and decent adults, character aspersions notwithstanding.

Actually, I think they both are decent and serious men, and like them both. But here’s what I know from debates in every field, that really needn’t be so unclear. I studied philosophy, and it’s very basic that flawed premises can produce flawed conclusions with the best of intentions and perfect logic! You need only start off on the wrong foot with a supposition; no deceit necessary. And assuming or asserting deceit is a step backward in persuasion. Is persuasion the point or just entertaining your team and taking a bow? Perhaps it is the latter, in which case I am the one out of step with popular reality, and actual progress in society is unlikely if not impossible.

We can assess Woods and Levin in the context of the larger libertarian-conservative debate, though both individuals are more informed than the majority on their side. Ron Paul is the political ringmaster and godfather of today’s libertarian movement, having run for President with the Libertarian Party in 1988 and taking his philosophy with him as a Republican to Congress and a presidential candidate in 2008. Frankly, there is no one in Washington who is near to as clear and straightforward about fiscal folly and monetary sobriety. I wish there were. But it is politically exceptional today and neither Paul or his constituents are deterred by that fact. Neither am I. I even agree that American presidents have been too militarily assertive in my lifetime, though sometimes Paul just leaves me bewildered.

I also am certain that American presence and intervention will produce a response; what is called “blowback.” How could it be otherwise? But, I don’t believe that is the entire or even primary cause of aggression toward America, whether of Muslim jihad or any other variety. Aggression is a permanent and inexorable human fact. Get used to it. And, I know that we cannot police and order the entire world. But we can now do a lot more than could have been done in the founders’ time. And when I see Paul challenged about foreign oppression and brutality and he just shrugs his shoulders, I can’t morally live in that perspective. We can’t do everything, but we must carefully choose what we can do. In the day of the founders whom Paul cites and whose ideals I also admire, there were little productive “foreign entanglements” for the American state; cold reality was an entirely impenetrable barrier.

But a world where information, sound and video are transmitted in practically real-time, planes can circle in a day, and force can be much more powerfully and surgically applied, is another context altogether. I also understand that there needs to be an imperative reason for putting the blood of American young people at risk. But at some point which I think we are well beyond, we become the national equivalent of a healthy and armed man who watches out his window as someone is assaulted, but won’t get involved because it’s none of his business. In short, Paul (and Woods who says he agrees with Paul) is right on the constitutional prescription for war and the provision of war powers. But A) the world has changed and the disposition that was wise then, can now be foolish in both security and moral terms. And B) technological change has greatly expanded the nature the range of actions that might be regarded as defensive and urgent. A wise disposition at one point becomes somewhat anachronistic.

I also believe that what resources we have are overextended and many of them should be pulled back. We should as much as possible ask other democratic nations to build their own defenses, if necessary offering counsel and training. But in terms of technology and travel, the world will continue to shrink, and with it the extent of actual human community, as opposed to the fictional concept of communities defined only by similarities of demography and activity. But I supported the move into Iraq on a combination of justifications, though I thought George Bush should have asked Congress for an outright declaration of war and at the time I think he would have gotten it, which would have made retrospective criticism at least a little more awkward.

In all of this discussion, as in liberal disparagements, there is a grating and awkward use of the term “neoconservative,” without any definition of it. It seems only a handy popular pejorative label. Irving Krystol, the late father of Weekly Standard editor and FOX News commentator William Krystol, was probably the most prominent founder of what came to be known as neoconservatism. He described a “neoconservative” as “a liberal who has been mugged by reality,” which I take as someone who once appreciated left-wing objectives, but came to see them as practical folly and counterproductive. No doubt, those who love to throw the term around mean something different because I see nothing condemnable in the original definition.

Perhaps the evolution of the term grew from the fact that the founders and adherents were largely Jews, whom historically have been largely liberal. As humanitarians and supporters of Israel, they incline to both defend her and advance the privilege of liberty. Such assertion might leave both non-interventionists and peaceniks (again, passivism with aggressors) grasping for a stone of disparagement to cast.

But I think Tom Woods has had to swim upstream culturally and has with his study and writing, scratched a claw of truth into the mass-culture bubble of delusion such that has never happened in my lifetime, thanks largely to cable television and the Internet. Though I wish he were more temperate, I think Mark Levin is a thoughtful patriot who should be largely aligned with Woods and helping with what is important to both of them. Ridiculing him attracts neither he or his fans, but more likely repels them.

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