Does Michael Moore support the 2nd Amendment?

bowlingforcolumbine-michaelmoore2In the wake of the Baltimore riots and the latest charges of police violence against unarmed suspects, Oscar-winning filmmaker Michael Moore has called for disarming American cops, saying in his Twitter feed, “We have a 1/4 billion 2nd amendment guns in our homes 4 protection. We’ll survive til the right cops r hired.”

Is that an implicit endorsement of private individuals’ right to armed self-defense?

Probably not.

Moore, who became the darling of the gun-control movement in 2002 for the movie Bowling for Columbine, is an outspoken critic of the 2nd Amendment, saying that the Founders themselves would have excluded gun rights from the Constitution if they had known what firearms would become over the next two centuries:

If the Founding Fathers could have looked into a crystal ball and seen AK-47s and Glock semiautomatic pistols … I think they’d want to leave a little note behind and probably tell us, you know, that’s not really what we mean when we say “bear arms.”

It’s tempting, therefore, to dismiss Moore’s April 30th tweets as conscious hyperbole — perhaps confronting law-and-order types with the logic of their own support for gun ownership.

But if you look at the full set of Moore’s tweets on the subject, a consistent libertarian logic is evident:

  1. Government agents currently do more to endanger private citizens than they do to protect us.

  2. That oppression can only continue while the government holds a monopoly on armed violence.

  3. We need to shift the balance of power away from the state and back to the people.

Is that too much to read into one angry Twitter rant?

If Moore’s goal was to outrage the American public, he has certainly succeeded. Pro-police conservatives are jerking their knees at the far-left filmmaker’s provocations. But advocates of liberty can find at least a sliver of common cause with those who see the visible fist of government power in Baltimore and too many other American cities in recent months.

Many libertarians consider the police to be among the few legitimate roles for a night-watchman government; defense and security are necessary to protect the rights of individuals. But there is no question that the government’s most heavily armed agencies have grown well beyond the role of night watchmen, if that was ever really their function. And then there is the proliferation of armed agents to organizations like the Fisheries Office, NASA, the EPA, and the Department of Education.

As the sharing economy chips away at other cartels in our over-regulated economy, we need to accept that the police, too, need competition — and we have the opportunity right now to ally with many on the American left who are beginning to suspect the same thing.

When government agents hold a monopoly on the tools of violence, is it any wonder when they behave like a cartel? Privately owned firearms are part of the decentralized solution to both looting and the police violence that triggers the protests.

By allowing individuals to defend themselves, their homes, their businesses, and their communities from crime and rioting, they need not rely exclusively on police forces that may be ineffective or corrupt. (The famous defense of Koreatown by armed shop owners during the LA riots shows this principle at work.)

If you don’t recognize the right to armed self-defense in principle, you are either dogmatically opposed to private guns, or you think the question is pragmatic and that there is a calculus of trade-offs: which is more dangerous at the moment, armed citizens or a police monopoly?

Michael-Moore-and-the-2nd-AmendmentThere isn’t much say to dogmatists on the matter. But the question of practical trade-offs may resonate with those on the left who currently see the police less as protectors and more as a danger.

Would such an alliance evaporate as soon as our allies perceive themselves to be in power again? Probably. Moore doesn’t see the problem as permanent: “We’ll survive til the right cops r hired.”

But we have the opportunity right now to drive home the point that the government needs more than checks and balances within itself. The people must have the ability to defend themselves independently of the state, and that’s harder to do when the government has all the guns.


This article originally ran on FEE.org’s Anything Peaceful.

This week in the Freeman: the black tradition of armed self-defense

TheFreemanArmedAndBlack

Armed and Black

The history of African-American self-defense

FEBRUARY 03, 2015 by B.K. MARCUS

A lot of people believe that blacks march in lockstep behind calls for gun control. But while the civil rights movement was largely about nonviolent resistance, many blacks exercised a legitimate right of self-defense. Many still do today.

1 Cheer for Police Corruption

Last night at Toastmasters, I delivered my most libertarian speech yet.


PoliceBribesLate at night, a tall, handsome cop is chatting up a hooker in New York City. He’s supposed to be patrolling 2nd Avenue, but he prefers to socialize with the streetwalker.

A short man with small spectacles and big teeth steps out of the shadows and tells the patrolman that he is neglecting his duty.

The police officer lifts his baton and threatens his accuser with a beating. The smaller man identifies himself as Theodore Roosevelt, the new commissioner of police, and tells the officer to report to his office the next morning.

There’s something very satisfying about this scene. A bullying cop brought down by a heroic reformer.

In 1895, before he was president, before he charged up San Juan Hill with the Roughriders, Theodore Roosevelt spent a brief spell as a police commissioner, conducting what the city papers called a “Reign of Terror” to root out corruption among New York’s Finest.

What does TR’s crusade teach us about police corruption in our own time? That’s what I’d like to address tonight.

The people of New York did not feel protected by the police. At best they found the cops negligent. At worst the citizens felt threatened by their supposed protectors.

Roosevelt’s early anti-corruption campaign made the city safer — and made him the most popular political figure in New York.

Three cheers for the great reformer, right? Well, I want to reserve one cheer for corruption.

If I were trying to persuade you that puppies are cute, or that love is good, I’m guessing I wouldn’t have a very hard time. But preaching to the choir is boring. Instead I’d like to play Devil’s advocate and argue that widespread corruption among the police is not necessarily a bad thing. It very much depends on which supposed duties the cops are violating.

OVER THERE

Let’s start with an almost absurdly easy case. In Nazi-occupied Europe, the law said it was a policeman’s duty — in fact, it was every citizen’s duty — to report Jews who hadn’t made themselves known to the government. The established wisdom in the West, ever since the Nuremberg Trials, is that “just following orders” isn’t enough to avoid culpability if the orders you were following were themselves morally reprehensible.

We look back on such corrupt party members as Oskar Schindler as heroic.

Has everyone here seen the movie Schindler’s List? A politically connected industrialist and a Nazi spy, Schindler helped 1,200 Jews escape the Holocaust.

We consider Schindler’s lawbreaking to be virtuous, but what about the Nazi officials he paid to let him get away with it? What if they had refused his bribes? Without their corruption, Schindler’s heroism wouldn’t have been possible.

That doesn’t make them heroes. But surely we should prefer their corruption to the duty-bound Nazis who followed the letter of the law and helped send innocent people to the concentration camps.

OVER HERE

Maybe it’s too extreme to invoke the Nazis. Let’s bring it closer to home.

Once upon a time in our own United States, it was the legal duty of a police officer, even a diehard Yankee abolitionist in the slave-free North, to assist Southern slaveowners in the capture of runaway slaves. There were heroic people, black and white, North and South, who risked everything for no immediate reward in order to smuggle escaped slaves into Canada. Again, these people were heroes — but what about the people they bribed? Shouldn’t we prefer the corrupt cops who profited from the Underground Railroad to those who insisted on obeying the law of the land?

HERE AND NOW

I’d like to bring it even closer to home. I have a friend who has cancer. He has an excellent chance of survival with chemotherapy — but the treatment is horrific. He feels like vomiting all the time, and the prescribed anti-nausea pills aren’t working.

Marijuana, however, makes the nausea go away. But medical marijuana isn’t legal in our part of the world. Think about how you felt the last time you were nauseous. For me it was on one of these puddle jumpers that fly in and out of CHO. I kept telling myself, Just hold out a little longer, just a little longer.

Now imagine feeling that way day in and day out, week after week, month after month.

Do we prefer the dutiful narcotics agent to the one who looks the other way, whatever his or her reasons for doing so?

BAD LAWS

I’m not trying to convince you that medical marijuana should be legal. I’m saying that there is some law on the books that you don’t want enforced.

If you doubt me, consider this short list of candidates:

  1. In Alabama, you can be sentenced to three months hard labor for playing cards on a Sunday. (And by the way, interracial marriage was technically illegal in Alabama only 15 years ago!)

  2. Over the mountain, in Waynesboro, there is still a law on the books that says a woman may not drive a car on Main Street unless her husband walks ahead waving a flag to warn other drivers.

  3. And throughout our fair state of Virginia, it is illegal to have sex if you are not married — and if you are married, you may only do it with the lights on, face to face.

Anyone with an ounce of moral sense has to consider some laws to be unjust.

Some laws should themselves be considered criminal.

For me, the distinction is easy: Good laws protect us from crimes — and by crimes I mean someone harming someone else. So-called victimless crimes aren’t really crimes at all.

BACK TO TR

This distinction must have been lost on Theodore Roosevelt. His anti-corruption campaign made him extremely popular with New Yorkers — at first.

Then he began to insist that the police enforce a very old and rarely observed law prohibiting the sale of alcohol on Sunday. For working-class people, that was their only day off. TR may have wanted all laws enforced equally, but the people of New York understood that buying a beer on Sunday was no more criminal than having a beer any other day of the week. TR went from being the most popular man in the city to the most reviled, practically overnight. And his campaign against corruption fell apart.

CONCLUSION

I’m certainly not saying that all corruption is good. We are right to be scared of bad cops. But whether or not the corruption is a bad thing depends entirely on whether the law being corrupted is itself a good or an evil.

Thank you, Madame Toastmaster.


For a far more hardcore libertarian treatment of this subject, see Walter Block’s “Defending the Dishonest Cop.”

Batman vs James Bond

BatmanVsJamesBondI just read over my old blog post on the economics of Batman and James Bond to refresh my memory. My wife and I have recently caught up on the Daniel Craig trilogy of 007 movies, and my seven-and-a-half-year-old son Benjamin and I have been watching a bunch of the more recent animated superhero shows from the DC universe, so my thoughts have been full of action heroes — particularly the Dark Knight and Her Majesty’s secret servant — for the past few weeks.

I remember my father complaining about both characters and contrasting them to the lone-hero tradition of hardboiled detectives and their fictional forebears, the cowboys.

In fact, my father’s point to my preteen self was a continuation of a point he made to me when I was about Benjamin’s age. I’d just gotten a set of “Undercover Agent” accessories for my GI Joe doll (we didn’t call them action figures back then). Gone were the camouflage fatigues and assault rifle; now Joe sported a dark trench coat and a walkie-talkie.

GIJoeUndercoverAgentI said, "Look dad: It’s GI Private Eye!"

My father then explained to me that my rhyming name for my new hero was self-contradictory. A GI was an American soldier, an official agent of the US government, whereas a "private eye" was a private individual, a lone hero in the fictional tradition. If dad had been more of a libertarian, he would have said that the military agent is paid by coercively extracted taxes and operates by state privilege, whereas the private detective is an agent of the market, authorized only by private contracts, and liable to the same restrictions as any individual citizen. My father doesn’t talk that way, even now, but he would acknowledge that description as making the same point.

So after GI Private Eye, I grew up with an awareness of the distinction between heroes like James Bond, who was funded and sanctioned by the government, and heroes like Philip Marlowe, who was funded by private clients and sanctioned only by his personal code of conduct. (And such detective stories often turned on the question of what limits that typically unspoken code imposed on the hero.)

Now, a few years later, my father was making a different but related point about James Bond, this time inspired by my love of another toy: my Corgi Astin-Martin DB5, James Bond’s super spy car from the movie Goldfinger. "Look dad, isn’t this car cool?"

1964_Corgi_Aston_Martin_DB5Ever philosophical, my father saw the car as symbolic, not only of that state-agent/private-individual divide he’d addressed a few years earlier with my GI Joe, but also of a divide in heroic literature. James Bond worked for the queen, he explained, in Her Majesty’s Secret Service. He was a knight for the monarch, and this tricked out vehicle from MI6’s Q Branch was the 1960s adventure-fantasy equivalent of the nobleman’s armor and mount.

I believe he felt the same about the Batmobile, but there are several important distinctions, some that put the historical emphasis on the “knight” in the Dark Knight, and some that put the “World’s Greatest Detective” more in league with the private eyes of American detective fiction.

For one thing, the medieval knight was a soldier for the king because he could afford to pay for armor, weapons, and a battle horse. He could afford to head off into battle instead of plowing the fields — and he could afford the time required for training between wars. The king didn’t pay him to be a knight. He paid the king for that honor. As far as we can tell, James Bond isn’t paying out of pocket for all those vodka martinis, and he certainly didn’t commission Q Branch for any of his gadgets. 007’s license to kill makes him a hired gun, even if he does restrict his paid murders to those sanctioned by his government.

Batman, on the other hand, pays his own way.

Like most of the medieval knights, his wealth originally came from privilege more than trade. The Waynes are old money. Even "stately Wayne Manor" suggests aristocracy, and where Superman’s Metropolis is shiningly new and forward looking, gothic Gotham is old, with deep roots in Europe. Frames of Batman on the rooftops harken back to Quasimodo atop Notre Dame.

But while WayneCorp may well have risen on government contracts, Batman is not on the payroll. Bruce Wayne is spending his own money to fund his war on crime. This may put him in the ranks of the feudal warriors, but it sets him apart from agent 007.

Finally, who are the bad guys?

For Bond, they are the enemies of the state — meaning that they are whoever Her Majesty says they are. In both the books and films, they are invariably evil, so James Bond will look like the good guy when he finally defeats them, but ultimately the double-O agents are weapons: the government aims them at its enemies and pulls the trigger. We know full well from history who ends up in the cross hairs.

Even my favorite fictional private eyes, however independent and heroic they may prove to be, don’t go looking for trouble until a client hires them to do so.

But for Batman, the enemy is crime — not mere violators of legislation and statute law, not people who manufacture without regulation, trade without license, or copy digital patterns in violation of copyright. A true comic-book fanboy could probably dig through back issues and show us the exception, but I can’t recall Batman ever even picking on drug users.

For Batman, as for libertarians, a crime isn’t a crime without a victim. And it is the victims Batman is fighting for; they are proxies for the parents he was too young and scared to rescue from the back-alley gunman. In the versions of the backstory that I prefer, Batman can never avenge his parents’ deaths, so even the target of his vengeance is a proxy: not a human criminal but crime itself. And by "crime," I mean rights violations, violence against person and property.

The Dark Knight may be on a perpetual quest, but it is not for a king; it is for the people.

[Cross-posted at LibertarianStandard.com]

DarkKnightReturnsPostscript

My vision of Batman comes from Frank Miller’s masterpiece of 1985.

Movies, TV, and comics have all kept the Dark Knight dark ever since.

As left-leaning Grant Morrison writes in Supergods, “Frank Miller brought the Dark Age style into line with a newly confident right-leaning America. His monumental Batman was no bleeding-heart liberal but a rugged libertarian.”

I introduced my father to Frank Miller’s work the very day I discovered it. He was reading issue #1 next to me as I read issue #2. I believe he loved it almost as much as I did. If he had been putting Batman in the same camp as James Bond back in the 1970s, he could only have had TV’s Adam West in mind. The campy television Batman of the 1960s may as well have been a costumed cop.

Here’s Grant Morrison again:

In the fifty years since his creation, Batman had become a friend of law and order, but Miller restored his outlaw status to thrilling effect. A Batman wanted by crooks and cops alike made for a much more interesting protagonist…

the right to say “I do” versus the right to say “I don’t”

GayStripesThe New Mexico state government has become significantly more gay friendly in the last week or two.

Sadly, one result is that individual freedom in the state is on the wane.

On Monday, a New Mexico judge ruled that the state’s marriage law "doesn’t specifically prohibit gay marriage," and the next day court clerks began issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

I look at the photographs of gay and lesbian couples tying the knot yesterday in Albuquerque, and I feel moved by them. Knowing how they’ve struggled to achieve the moment captured in those pictures, I feel much happier for them than I would for most strangers. And I think of the same-sex couples I know, none of them married by any legal definition, and I wonder if the piece of paper would matter to them.

This is how the state tricks libertarians into supporting the growth of government power.

Read more of this post

the power of habeas corpus

HabeasCorpusCoverMy friend and comrade Anthony Gregory, whom I blogged about here, has written a big, scholarly book: The Power of Habeas Corpus in America: From the King’s Prerogative to the War on Terror (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013). I’m sorry to say I have not read it yet. It lists for about a hundred bucks, but you can get a copy from the Independent Institute at a steep discount.

I knew that Anthony was writing it, and I knew the general topic, but it wasn’t until I read Allen Mendenhall’s review in the Freeman that I understood how radical, and how very Gregoryesque, the book turns out to be:

"Sometimes it takes a non-lawyer like Gregory to remind lawyers of the philosophical implications of the practical and everyday functions of the law. Likewise, it takes a philosopher, again like Gregory, to show that a series of small legal victories is really one big loss in a larger scheme."

The foundational legal principle of habeas corpus is really one big loss? Read more of this post

the question of intellectual property

Against Intellectual PropertyCommenting on my post "when private property isn’t," Starkwoman writes,

I’m left wondering whether or not any of this can be related at all to ‘intellectual property’ rights (or wrongs). When employed by a research firm, it is usually clear that what one creates or discovers while employed by that firm ‘belongs’ to the research firm. But this is never stipulated, before the fact, when employed by a university.

Of late, universities are increasingly ‘taking possession’ of the intellectual property of faculty members, sometimes using, as an excuse, that the faculty member used university resources in developing their ideas. Unlike, for instance, government employees who are often free to leave their work at their workplace, an academic’s ‘workplace’ includes the space that they traverse to and from ‘work’, their living rooms, even their bathrooms, and often happens well outside a 40-hr ‘work week’. The intellectual work of faculty members in Faculties like Computer Science, Engineering, Medicine, can be ‘saleable’, a ‘commodity’, but in the Humanities and Social Sciences the ‘products’ of our intellectual ‘work’ may have little commercial value; however, now even our course lecture notes are deemed the property of the university.

Have I, for decades, been freely giving away my creative ideas to colleagues and students, perspectives that I thought were my intellectual property–and hence mine to give–when in fact I’ve been giving away the university’s property? When did education–as distinct from university degrees that is–become a commodity? It used to be considered a service, like health care. Neither is free any longer, apparently, and both seem to be ‘for sale’.

Thank you for your comment, Starkwoman. I think your examples illustrate why IP is so problematic.

Read more of this post

why Rhett Butler’s weed is so strong

20130327_AprilFreemanBannerRhett ButlerFEE just put my first Freeman article up on their website:

“Why Rhett Butler’s Weed Is So Strong”

Prohibition has driven the development of ever-stronger drugs, where a free market would see a proliferation of lighter options.

Read the full article.

censorship schmensorship

The worst part of censorship is —Is censorship illiberal?

As with so many simply worded questions, the answer depends on how we define our terms. I don’t say that as a dodge. I don’t consider this issue "merely semantic." I just notice with some annoyance that many people use the same term to mean different things where the difference in meaning is critically important.

For libertarians, censorship is wrong when it is a coercive authority suppressing communication (assuming that communication itself is non-coercive and non-fraudulent).

For many of us, that’s the primary meaning of the term: a government power used to suppress peaceful communication.

But for many others, who seem to oppose censorship "in all its forms," censorship includes plenty of peaceful private decisions that individuals and groups make about their own private property.

When I was in high school, my girlfriend was one of the editors of the school’s literary magazine. She and the other editors rejected a submission that was explicitly sexual and full of "dirty" words. The school newspaper sent a reporter to talk to her about censorship in the literary magazine. She tried to explain that lower- and middle-school students read the magazine, that it was an official representation of the school, that they didn’t take a black marker and cross out the offensive parts. They just didn’t feel the piece was appropriate for their magazine.

When she told me about the interview, I said, "You might have also mentioned that it’s not censorship. It’s called an editorial decision. The magazine never promised to accept all submissions."

krazykatbeforeandafterShe replied, "Darn! Why didn’t I say that?"

Well, she didn’t say it, because censorship is one of those words used largely for its emotional effect.

Semantic precision is often at odds with people’s agendas, so they usurp the connotation of one (often precise) meaning of a term and apply it to a much vaguer (arguably inaccurate) use of the term.

If you have your own blog and you moderate comments, you’ve probably experienced this: someone posts a comment that is irrelevant or incoherent or a string of vulgarities posing as an argument; you reject it; their next comment accuses you of censorship. I’ve even been accused of censorship for the mere fact that my blog is moderated. The fact that the commenter doesn’t see his words appear instantly under my post establishes me as a hypocrite: a libertarian who censors his opposition.

If you’re not constantly on guard for that sort of semantic manipulation, it’s pretty easy to let it slip by. But once you’ve accepted the manipulative terminology, you’ve lost half the battle.

Am I saying it’s dishonest to use emotionally loaded language? There are plenty of people who do take that position, claiming that only neutral language and examples are intellectually honest. But I make the opposite point in my blog post of many years ago "Will the real fascists please stand up?" and a year later in my LRC article "In Defense of Referencing Hitler." I don’t think the "neutrality" of language is a worthy goal. I think precision is the honest goal. Neutrality can just be another form of manipulation, as my comrade and Invisible Order colleague Mike Reid illustrates in his great article "The Voice of Tyranny: A Libertarian Look at the Passive Voice."

My rant today is brought to you by the Wikipedia article "Life, the Universe and Everything," and its very silly section on "Censorship." (I should warn you that there are some off-color words in the following passage. I left them intact. I wouldn’t want to be accused of censorship.)

This book is the only one in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series to have been censored in its U.S. edition.The word "asshole" is replaced with the word "kneebiter", and the word "shit" is replaced with "swut". Possibly the most famous example of censorship is in Chapter 22 and 23, which in the U.K. edition mentions that a Rory was an award for the Most Gratuitous Use of the Word ‘Fuck’ in a Serious Screenplay. In the U.S. edition, this was changed to "Belgium" and the text from the original radio series describing "Belgium" as the most offensive word in the galaxy is reused.

I leave as an exercise for the reader a comparison of the preceding passage with my high-school newspaper’s treatment of the editorial staff of the school’s literary magazine.

When you pirate MP3s…

Via “Intellectual Properganda” by Stephan Kinsella