Steve G.

Comments on Mr. Beck’s 9/12 Project

In Activism, Law, Libertarian, Politics, Protest on September 2, 2009 at 11:51 pm

I do not watch much television, and thus the few clips I’ve seen of Mr. Glenn Beck have been YouTube clips that people have posted on Facebook.  Those that have been following Mr. Beck, however, are aware that he has a project called the 9/12 Project, which is “designed to bring us all back to the place we were on September 12, 2001.”  I have liked the few Beck clips I have seen, but knowing nothing about his 9/12 Project, I decided to look into it.

I see from its website that the 9/12 Project has nine core principles.  In this blog post, I shall analyse each of the nine principles from a libertarian perspective.

1. America Is Good.

This principle is vague and unexplained.  The first question that pops into my head is, What is America?

The Americas are a set of two continents that were brought into “continuing economic or social relation with the Western world” in the early sixteenth century (Rothbard, Conceived in Liberty vol 1, p. 15).  They got their name from a Florentine map-maker named Amerigo Vespucci (p. 26).

If we are to assume that “America” refers to the land comprising North and South America, then I would have to wonder what it means to say the land is good.  Does that mean it is fertile?  Does it mean the land is useful for humans in some other way?  Does it mean the land is somehow “intrinsically” good?

It is just as possible that the statement refers to that land solely monopolised by the federal government that goes by the style of “United States of America,” since it is often referred to as “America” for short.  But, then, the same questions regarding the land remain.  What about the land is good?

Perhaps we are completely off base insofar as we assume that this principle refers to land.  Perhaps by “America” the principle is supposed to refer to the people who inhabit the land, rather than the land itself.  But if this is the case, why not simply say “Americans are good”?

Finally, perhaps the principle refers to neither the land nor the people, but rather to the gang calling itself the federal government of the United States.  But if this is the case, then the principle is quite wrong.  The federal state is, like all other states throughout the world, too powerful, too big, too inefficient, too costly, and in severe need of being limited as much as possible.

2. I believe in God and He is the Center of my Life.

Libertarians can take either side on this matter.  Personally, I am not wise enough to know whether or not there is a God or gods.  I hope there is a God, that this God is good, and that this God will deem my actions in life to merit receiving whatever rewards one may receive in whatever afterlife may exist, but I am not wise enough to know either way whether this is actually the case.

Libertarians run the full gamut on this one.  There are atheist libertarians (especially those who call themselves Objectivists), there are Christian libertarians, there are libertarian Buddhists, there are pagan libertarians…the list goes on.

3. I must always try to be a more honest person than I was yesterday.

This is certainly not an invalid goal.  Methinks libertarians and non-libertarians alike can appreciate this.

4. The family is sacred. My spouse and I are the ultimate authority, not the government.

On this one, a libertarian is likely going to pause.  The libertarian certainly agrees that the government is not the “ultimate authority,” but she or he may disagree as to exactly what is the “ultimate authority.”

Those libertarians are are very religious may say that God is the ultimate authority.

There are many who, like myself, will say that the individual or natural law is the ultimate authority.  Personally, I see natural law as the law governing ethical human interaction which arises in each individual innately as a product of human nature.  Thus, I see no conflict in concurring with both the claim that it is the individual and that it is natural law, for they cannot exist independently of one another.

Natural law can be a secular or a religious concept.  Thus, a religious libertarian could also believe in natural law, and can also say that the individual is the ultimate authority in human society.

But what of the family?  Is the family sacred, and if so, what does that even mean?  In Atlas Shrugged, a mother tries to destroy her son.  Does the son owe any allegience to the mother?  Is the relationship somehow binding upon the son?  I have to think it is not, and that family, insofar as it is unchosen, holds no intrinsic value.

The husband and wife (or husband and husband, or wife and wife, or two husbands and a wife, or whatever other combination is deemed desirable by those entering into the union), for example, come together voluntarily.  Or, at least, they do so whenever the state or tribe or commune do not impose patriarchal or matriarchal regulations upon the couple (trio, et cætera).  But even these bonds are not necessarily “sacred,” and even if or where they are sacred, they are not eternally binding.  If the wife at some point wishes to no longer be wed to her husband, there is no legitimate reason to force her to remain within the union.  Secession is a natural right that must remain respected.

Finally, it seems problematic that this principle would say that “[m]y spouse and I are the ultimate authority,” for I am not married.  Do I only possess the ultimate authority when I have a spouse with which to share it, or do unmarried persons have just as much a right to the claim of “ultimate authority” as those who are wed?

5. If you break the law you pay the penalty. Justice is blind and no one is above it.

Insofar as “the law” refers to natural law and not to statutory law, I can agree with this statement.  Granted, not all libertarians claim to be proponents of natural law, but as all libertarians adhere to the non-aggression axiom (whether on utilitarian or on natural law grounds), we can, in effect, say that all libertarians believe that aggression (i.e. the initiation of force) is or should be prohibited.  Thus, even those libertarians who do not claim to believe in natural law, who instead claim to arrive at libertarianism through utilitarian or consequentialist rationales, still advocate a legal system based upon the prohibition of aggression.

Libertarians can be divided into many subcategories, but all libertarians fall into either one of these two groupings: minarchists, who advocate a very small state, and anarchists, who advocate no state at all.  (Not all who advocate the complete abolition of the state refer to themselves as anarchists; some call themselves autarchists, some sovereign individuals, et cætera, but for the purpose of this post, I shall simply refer to them as anarchists for simplicity.  Likewise, not all non-anarchist libertarians refer to themselves as minarchists, but I shall refer to them as such again for simplicity.)

Minarchists comprise the largest group of libertarians.  Around only one in ten of us call for the complete abolition of the state.  Thus, while all libertarians advocate the existence of law, minarchists (unlike anarchists) advocate the existence of statutory law.  Nevertheless, anarchists and minarchists typically advocate the same narrow set of laws, specifically those laws that adhere to the non-aggression axiom.  Some minarchists deviate here and there from the ideal of non-aggression, but all libertarians wish to see aggression limited as much as possible, and thus those libertarians who do advocate statutory law wish to see those statutory laws conform to the law of non-aggression.

As such, libertarians do not see laws against such things as drug use, prostitution, tax evasion, or gambling as necessarily binding.  (This is not to say that libertarians advocate these activities, only that they see those statutory laws that enforce these prohibitions as illegitimate, and the governments that enforce these prohibitions as criminal.)

When some random guy on the street places a gun against a person’s head, and tells the person that he will take violent action against the person should the person place Advil into her own body, the gun-man is clearly a criminal because he has violated the non-aggression axiom.  Whether a given libertarian arrives at libertarianism through natural law, utilitarian, or consequentialist reasoning, all libertarians agree that the actions of this gun-man are wholly illegitimate.  The libertarian continue to see such aggression as illegitimate and criminal even if it is a representative of the state holding the gun, and even if, instead of Advil, the gun-man is prohibiting the individual from placing marijuana in her body.  To the libertarian, there is no difference between these two acts of aggression.  In both scenarios, the aggressive act is criminal, and the gun-man should pay the penalty for breaking the law.  The libertarian, thus, more than anyone else, agrees that justice is blind and that nobody, not even the politicians, bureaucrats, and law enforcement, is above it.

Contrariwise, if this principle is meant to imply that one should accept whatever edicts the state issues simply because the state has issued it, then libertarians do not agree with this principle, for there is definitely such a thing as an unjust statutory law.  In fact, even most non-libertarians agree that such things as unjust laws exist.  Few people today, whether libertarian or not, would agree with the Socratic view of law.

6. I have a right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, but there is no guarantee of equal results.

Libertarians have no problem with this view, so long as it is properly understood that the right to life (et cætera) is a negative right and not a positive right.  In other words, I have the right to not be murdered, to not have my life wrested from me through aggression; but I have no right to enslave or aggress against others in order to sustain my own life.

7. I work hard for what I have and I will share it with who I want to. Government cannot force me to be charitable.

This principle, likewise, is consistent with libertarianism.  Although the state certainly is capable of forcing people to surrender the fruits of their labour, it ought not do so, and for the same reason that I ought not force my neighbour to surrender the fruits of her or his labour.

In an article titled Why You Are a Libertarian, Harry Browne wrote that,

When a neighbor isn’t willing to contribute as much to a social project as you are, you’d never think of:

Using a gun to force him to contribute;

Hiring an armed gang to threaten to kidnap him or confiscate his money if he didn’t contribute;

Using the government in place of the armed gang if he didn’t contribute—because every government program, in the final analysis, involves violence against those who don’t comply.

8. It is not un-American for me to disagree with authority or to share my personal opinion.

Libertarians absolutely agree with this.

But, here is where this entire 9/12 Project thing seems confusing to me.  Mr. Beck wants Americans to return to the way they felt on 12 September 2001, but on that date, it had become almost impossible to disagree with or question authority.

On 10 September 2001, questioning authority was happily accepted by many Americans.  But by the twelfth, questioning the government was considered by many, and especially by members of Republican Party, to be sacrilege.  If I recall correctly, Bill Maher even lost his ABC show because people were outraged when he pointed out that the terrorists were not cowards.  Mr. Bush, a man just as bad as Mr. Clinton and Mr. Obama, was virtually worshipped.

So why doesn’t Mr. Beck instead start a 9/10 Project?  Why 9/12, a day on which nationalism clouded out reason, a day when people wanted to nuke an entire region of the globe simply because a minority of persons, who were uninterested in adherence to the non-aggression axiom, came from said region?

9. The government works for me. I do not answer to them, they answer to me.

It is certainly a libertarian sentiment that the government, if it is to exist at all, should be the servant, rather than master, of the people.

But let’s be realistic: no state truly serves the people.  And this is why statism must be limited as much as possible.  Those in the cozy seat of power serve themselves, and even those politicians and bureaucrats who truly do believe that they can help and serve the people can only ultimately fail because coercion never achieves the desired goals.  The government is constantly promising us things.  It’s going to protect us from criminals and terrorists, it’s going to help us in our medical needs, it’s going to deliver our mail on time—yet it consistently fails to deliver on its promises because any system that runs on coercion will necessarily lack the signals necessary to indicate the best course of action.  Private firms use profit and loss signals to indicate whether to invest more in this or that, whether to increase or slow production; but the state has no profit or loss signals because it acquires virtually all of its revenues through confiscation.  Government cannot keep its promises even if all of the bureaucrats want it to.  It cannot keep our streets safe, it cannot properly teach our children, it cannot provide us with better healthcare—it cannot serve the people.

Conclusion

I really do not know what to make of Mr. Beck’s 9/12 Project.  It seems to have a mix of good ideals and confused positions.

I don’t know what “America Is Good” is even supposed to mean.

The question of belief in God, as addressed by the second principle, seems almost out-of-place.  My understanding is that the 9/12 Project wants to march on D.C., but what precisely is the objective of the march?  Is it to promote the nine principles listed above, and if so, in what way could the march in any way promote the second principle?  Politicians are free to believe in whatever God or gods they like, or to believe in none at all, as I’m sure Mr. Beck himself would agree.  What could possibly, then, be the rallying cry for this principle?  “We believe in God, but it’s okay if you believe in a different one, or even none at all”?  Surely, there would be no point in chanting such a sentence.

All in all, even the best principles listed above are vague, and do not constitute an actual objective for the project or the march.  Rather, it’s simply a list of general views, and most politicians are crafty enough (most are lawyers, after all) to spin these statements in a manner that allows them to pretend they adhere thereto.  Moreover, since no specific policies are promoted (e.g., tax cuts, separation of healthcare and state, devolution of power, gun rights), I still do not have a clue as to what the march actually explicitely wishes to achieve.

I obviously have my reservations, but I do wish to end on a positive note, for I feel I have been almost unfairly negative in this piece.  Insofar as Mr. Beck aims to get people to forget about the petty fighting that takes place between the red team and the blue team, he and his project are to be celebrated.  Far too often we let our parties speak for us, conforming our views to the expectations of one or the other side.  Yet we are individuals, and it is simply silly to think that anyone must agree with her or his party on every issue.  We all too often let the party shape our views and thus also our responses to those on the “other“ side, to the point where we actually convince ourselves of absolutely idiotic conclusions, such as “all Democrats want to see bin Laden win“ or “all Republicans hate the poor.”  Neither is true, and in fact both are untrue in the vast majority of cases.  But as long as we convince ourselves that such nonsense is true, we cut ourselves off from reality and cease having the ability to work to improve things.  It appears that Mr. Beck recognises this in a way that the likes of Ann Coulter and Janeane Garofalo do not.  And insofar as this is the case, Glenn Beck ought to be applauded.

—Alexander S. Peak

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  1. I think you need to, at least, familiarize yourself with “Atlas Shrugged” before you make reference to it. Did I miss the mother/son angle when I read it many years ago? Otherwise, you make some good points here.

  2. “Insofar as Mr. Beck aims to get people to forget about the petty fighting that takes place between the red team and the blue team, he and his project are to be celebrated. ”

    I’ve heard Beck on his radio show many times and much of it is nothing but partisan-type pettiness that is extremely devisive and is rarely even factual.

    “America is good” means that America can do no wrong and is morally above reproach in Beck’s mind. I’m also pretty sure that when Beck refers to God, he does not include Allah as he is quite the Islamophobe.

  3. Dear Favela,

    I’m referring to Hank Rearden’s mother.

    Mr. Blanton,

    You write, “I’ve heard Beck on his radio show many times and much of it is nothing but partisan-type pettiness…”

    Perhaps. I admit, I’m merely going by the few YouTube clips I’ve seen. If these clips are not actually reflective of Beck’s show overall, then my concluding comments may be disregarded. Correction: should be disregarded.

    Sincerely yours,
    Alex Peak

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