Peace, good will, best investment

Posted on December 26, 2009
Filed Under Commentary, Economic & Political Philosophy | Leave a Comment

I have been engaged in a vigorous exchange of views with an American, Walker Chandler, of Georgia, who calls himself a Libertarian. He says that Libertarianism is, essentially, the golden rule. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. He believes mankind, left to its own choices, will engage in a type of voluntary co-operation and self-interested sharing of intelligence and group survival activities.

That is his philosophical position. His life position is that an armed person is  a citizen while an unarmed person is a subject. A retired lawyer, he bemoaned the fact that he could not join the military and serve in Iraq.

I subscribe to Lord Acton’s dictum that “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

My sense of Libertarianism is that it inevitably leads to piracy.

The purpose of democracy is to protect the rights of the individual.

Normally I do not bother to argue with people whose minds I know will not change. I have been going toe to toe with this guy for three reasons.

One is that he said that Liberals have no arguments other than to claim their ideas represent what is fair. That offended and irritated me. I am determined to show him otherwise.

Another is that I wanted to try to learn how someone can come to so dearly and firmly hold ideas that are such anathema to me.

Finally, I wanted to take my beliefs into a hostile ring and test them against his in a vigourous contest.

The experience has not only solidified my beliefs, it has, I think, given me an even more pragmatic basis for them.

He believes that people need to be armed so that their government will not subjugate them by force. That led me to the conclusion that the Christmas wish, “Peace on earth. Goodwill toward men,” is not simply a warm, pleasant wish, it is the essence of investment in good government.

At the same time as I was taking the gloves off with Walker, I was enjoying Skype happy hours and online chats with Mihaela Dascalu. She is a Romanian we met in Greece where she was living and teaching at the time. She speaks five languages and has a Master’s degree in education. She is currently teaching English as a second language in a girl’s school in Abu Dhabi. She grew up under the Ceausescu dictatorship that ended 20 years ago this Christmas with the summary execution of Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Ilena.

This autum, Mihaela was excited to be casting her absentee ballot in the democratic elections in Romania. Those of us who have never lived under a violently repressive regime cannot truly appreciate what a treasure a free vote is.

Walker strongly feels that the citizenry has to be armed to prevent its government from forcing its will on the people. This seems to me an odd belief in a man who believes a Libertarian society would practice the golden rule.

He sent me a video of a woman testifying before a legislative committee in a state that had restricted her right to carry a handgun.

She was, on the one hand, livid with rage that the gun restriction had prevented her from shooting a lunatic who shot up a fast food restaurant with an automatic weapon and killed her parents.

At the very same time, she was livid at the idea that the legislators might restrict the ownership of automatic weapons like the one used to kille her parents and others. She said she was furious when people said you do not need an AK-47 to kill a deer.

“The second amendment was never about killing deer,” she said. “It is about our right to defend ourselves against (with a sweeping gesture of her hand at the legislators) YOU!”

Walker and his fellow gun rights advocates see nothing incongruous in this.

I pointed out to him that, in Canada, we do not fear that our government will use weapons to summarily suppress or arrest us. I pointed out that, just as in the U.S., the government IS us. Our politicians are not gun violent people and would not dream of using guns to bend us to their will.

All of us have laws with which we do not agree but we know there is a consensus for them or, at least, that penalties for violating them that fall far short of violence and torture.

In Canada, in 1849, there were riots in Montreal protesting the passage of a “Rebellion Losses Bill”. The Baldwin-LaFontaine government let the riots run their course and dealt with them in the courts instead of calling in the army to crush them. That set a precedent of not using the military against civilians that is the norm in Canada to this day.

Let’s get back to Mihaela Dascalu and the Romanian Revolution 20 years ago. What finally toppled the Ceausescus? During a public protest in Timisoara, the army followed orders to fire on the crowd and many were killed. A significant result of that was that the military turned against Ceausescu and refused to fire on the citizens again.

It turned out the officers and soldiers were citizens too and were not willing to shoot their unarmed brethren.

It would seem, therefore that the practice of peace and goodwill should produce governments and armies that do not want to use arms against their citizens.

In Canada, we live in a fairy tale bubble of peace, order and good government. Mihaela lived under the Ceausescus. Her mother, as an 11-year-old girl, with her own eyes, saw the Nazis execute 50 Jews in a public square in Romania.

Canadians are far too casual about our votes. If we do not take the trouble to become politically aware and to cast our votes diligently, we risk losing our rare and precious peace and freedom.

We also have to be extremely diligent to ensure that our politicians and military leaders never get the idea that we approve of or will tolerate human rights abuses against even our worst enemies. We all know that a person who will abuse an animal will abuse a human. We must remember that a politician or soldier who will tolerate the abuse or torture of a Taliban fighter is starting down a road that can lead to our doors.

We cannot afford the lazy populism that can so easily corrode the foundations of our precious freedom from fear of our government.

When we say “Lest we forget,” on Remembrance Day, perhaps we need to remember not only that so many died for our freedom but why they had to.

Let’s pay attention.                                     DAC

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