Better than being an irrational hermit

I’d planned to examine yesterday’s Best of the Web Today yesterday, but the Phillies are in town and the game didn’t get rained out as expected. That’s okay, because the absurdity of Mr. Taranto’s logic hasn’t faded. In the section titled “Rational Fools,” he discusses libertarians who believe we must keep an absolute protection on civil liberties while trying to prevent terrorism. The entirety is ridiculous, with Mr. Taranto reaching a conclusion that is nowhere on the map of his initial argument, but a few bits stand out.

Mr. Taranto begins by focusing on this passage from a recent editorial:

Richardson R. Lynn, dean of Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School, had an op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the other day in which he argued against any limitations on civil liberties in the name of preventing terrorism. This passage is especially revealing of the mindset of civil-liberties absolutists:

Even if a totally preventive legal system did work, should we adopt it? The horror of losing friends and loved ones in the inexplicable violence of terrorism is surely one of our deepest fears. But someone has to say: There are worse things.

Naturally Mr. Taranto can’t think of what might be “worse things,” although he acknowledges what I perceive to be the proper context for “worse things”. Seemingly, no “worse things” for individuals justifies eroding civil liberties for all. Mr. Taranto accuses Mr. Lynn of thinking only of the abstract notion of what is good for society, yet somehow fails to see that he’s doing the same in believing that erasing civil liberties for all is acceptable if it protects the good for one. Reverence for civil liberties can be absolute, but is the belief that any measure against the whole is reasonable as long as it protects any less absolute? In preventing terrorism there can remain no element of the risk of living. We must live in a safe world. Nonsense.

It is entirely rational to accept some level of terrorism, crime or disorder rather than live in a police state that claims to guarantee perfect safety.

That is from Mr. Lynn. Mr. Taranto responds with this:

Like Dukakis’s arguments against the death penalty, the truth of this assertion is debatable (and never mind that no one is seriously proposing a police state). But also like Dukakis’s answer to Shaw’s question, it misses the point in a profound way. Human beings are not “entirely rational.” If we were, we wouldn’t worry about losing loved ones in terrorist attacks, because we wouldn’t love anyone.

If you believe in all of the civil liberties protected by the Constitution, you also believe that human beings shouldn’t love anyone. Emotionally safe, sanitized, and encased in bubble wrap, so there is no interference in pursuing the libertarian dream of drugs, hookers, and firearms. Mr. Taranto may believe that libertarians live in a dream world that doesn’t exist, but I’d rather strive for a dream world than live in fear.

Or a police state. The defense against our march to police state is laughable. Of course no one is seriously proposing a police state. That’s what makes the erosion of our civil liberties so awful. For more than two centuries, our liberties were the goal of conservatives, but now they must be sacrificed for safety. Yet, no one wants to claim credit for the damage done. Blame the terrorists, for they are the ones who hate our freedom. Passing blame doesn’t change the reality of what’s being done to us, by us. Saying we want a police state is not necessary to enact a police state, or at least policies indicative of a police state. Implementing police state policies in secret speaks loudly enough for me.

Mr. Taranto concludes:

Wisdom entails not only rationality but also due regard for human feeling. In this regard, civil-liberties absolutists seem totally oblivious. Fear is the enemy of civil liberties. If America suffers another terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11, Americans will become more fearful–a reaction that is not entirely irrational–and civil liberties will become more vulnerable. Civil libertarians’ lack of concern with preventing terrorism may be “entirely rational,” but it sure is foolish.

Americans will become more fearful. I don’t doubt that, as the initial reaction to any attack will not be rational. But we’re nearly five years beyond September 11, 2001. Shouldn’t there be room for some rational discourse, with respect for our principles? I understand that the answer in practice is no. However, why do we accept our leadership selling fear? That may be due regard for human feeling, but by Mr. Taranto’s logic, it also makes our leadership the enemy of civil liberties.

2 thoughts on “Better than being an irrational hermit”

  1. As I’ve said at my own blog — I’d love to know where these “civil-liberties absolutists” are. One would think that someone like me would have met one by now. I never have.

  2. Perhaps the “free staters” in New Hampshire.
    Seriously, though, you’re right. I’m an absolutist only where the Constitution calls for it. That’s the real difference in what Mr. Taranto is saying, despite his unwillingness to say it. Small-l libertarians respect the Constitution’s actual text, while today’s conservatives respect what they want the Constitution to say.
    As you say, it’s not the wiretapping, it’s the warrantless.

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