This past week saw the death of one of my great comedy heroes, Don Rickles, along with one of my great libertarian heroes, William N. Grigg. As a libertarian humorist, that’s kind of a tough week!
Will Grigg was the great libertarian thinker and writer who is responsible more than anyone else (with the possible exception of Radley Balko) for shedding light on the atrocities committed by the modern American police state. Over the past ten years, Grigg wrote hundreds of articles at his own blog, Pro Libertate, most of them dealing with the American criminal justice system and the wreckage it leaves in its wake. Will Grigg also wrote countless articles and blog posts for lewrockwell.com, and was one of the founding members of the Libertarian Institute. I cannot (and do not) claim to be one of the many people Will Grigg’s work helped to get free from the clutches of the "punitive priesthood," as he called it; I am merely someone who learned from Will Grigg, but that, to my mind, is high praise as it stands.
Don Rickles, of course, scarcely needs an introduction. He was the legendary insult comic dubbed "Mr. Warmth," and was possessed of an inimitable ability to command a stage with his rapid-fire, ceaseless wit. No subject was off limits for Don Rickles, very much including the sacred shibboleths of modern America: race, sex, and handicaps. Rickles had a joke for any occasion, and usually a flood of them; he was callous, he was politicially incorrect, and he was a member of the old school of Jewish comedians who would spontaneously shift into Yiddish just to annoy the audience. He was, in short, the best.
The mincing communists over at Salon gave all four of their readers a bad case of the vapors a few weeks ago by calling on Twitter to ban Donald Trump. Their reasoning? He’s, like, rude and stuff. This sort of clueless line-toeing is par for the leftist course with Salon, to be sure, and I don’t intend to waste my time or yours refuting it, not least because I think it would be quite frankly hilarious if Twitter were to ban a popular celebrity loudmouth who will, in a few weeks, also be the sitting president of the United States.
No, what I’ve come to talk to you about today is Peter Van Buren, who is normally a reliable foreign policy commentator, but has apparently acquired some type of Trump Derangement Syndrome Derangement Syndrome, as he’s written an entirely madcap article entitled "Ban Trump, Twitter, and Free Speech" in which he seems to claim that the First Amendment compels the government to nationalize Twitter. You think I’m making that up? You tell me:
Walter Block is at it again. I do understand that I’m running the risk of turning this site into a commentary volume on the collected works of Walter Block; I soldier on regardless, since Dr. Block is once again staking out a position that many libertarians find repellent, in this case the spanking of one’s children. Among many libertarians, spanking is held to be an obvious violation of the non-aggression principle, and it’s not hard to see why; the actual hitting of another human being does appear to be a fairly clear case of aggression. Here, however, Dr. Block makes the case that not only is spanking not necessarily a violation of the NAP, but that it would be defensible even if it were.
Children (and the mentally handicapped, the senile, etc.) are not yet (will never be, unless somehow cured) full rights bearing human beings. It is licit to use force, violence, whatever, "against" them, for their own good, of course. To not do so is to abnegate parental, guardianship obligations.
On the face of it, this seems rather stark and no small amount arbitrary. After all, the argument could well run, at what point do "children" become "not-children" and therefore acquire full rights? At what stage of mental handicap do rights begin to decay? Set aside the borderline cases for the moment, though, and consider the other extreme. To allow Dr. Block to explain:
In the early stages of her career, Agatha Christie was known for writing engaging whodunits full of lively characters and utterly madcap plot twists. As she matured as a writer, however, Dame Agatha became less interested in zany new ways to kill the dead bodies, and more interested in pursuing heady philosophical investigations about the nature of justice. Many of the stories from her middle period have barely any mystery to them at all; the cast is so small and the events so clear that the focus becomes less on trying to figure out who the killer is and more on investigating the killer’s motivation and that of the detective exposing the truth — as often as not that indefatigable Belgian, Hercule Poirot.
All of which brings us to Curtain. Written at the peak of Dame Agatha’s career (though not published until the end), Curtain opposes Poirot with a villain who is utterly and unapologetically evil, who commits heinous crimes for the sheer pleasure of it, who cannot be dissuaded, and whose crimes, by their very nature, are beyond the reach of the law. If you’ve never read Curtain, beware the rest of this post, as it will be filled with spoilers. If you have, however (or if you don’t care), read on as we explore what Dame Agatha had to teach us about the relationship of justice, the non-aggression principle, and morality.
Dr. Walter Block made waves recently with his claim that stop-and-frisk policing is compatible with libertarianism. On the surface, the claim seems entirely lunatic; surely Judge Napolitano is correct when he labels it the act of "an authoritarian police state." One thing I’ve learned over the years, though, is that, while one may not always agree with Dr. Block, it is always and everywhere a mistake to disregard him. If Dr. Block thinks a thing, it should be regarded as a position reasonable people may hold, and this is no exception. So we can stipulate that it’s reasonable, but is it correct?
First, we should dispense with the case of private police. If the police are entirely private, operating on private property, then there is clearly no libertarian case to be made against stop-and-frisk. If it is my property, I can set whatever conditions I desire on its occupancy, and that includes submission to random pat-downs. If you don’t wish to submit to my stop-and-frisky police, then your solution is simple: leave (or do not enter) my property. Is this "authoritarian?" Perhaps, but it should be noted that a proper libertarian society would permit such pockets of authoritarianism as long as the authoritarians restrict themselves to being authoritarian over their own property.
That aside, we turn to the more difficult question: can a libertarian support a stop-and-frisk policy among government police in a non-libertarian world? It seems difficult to see how, but Dr. Block provides the following argument, after "stipulating that the purpose is not to stop victimless crimes like drug selling, but, rather, crimes with victims such as rape, murder, theft, etc.:"
A great many people, when first beginning to explore philosophy, will hit upon the idea that reality is not what it appears to be; in ye olden days, it was common to describe it as a dream or a vision, but, in a post-Matrix world, the zeitgeist has shifted such that people tend to describe this creaky old philosophical trope in terms of giant computer simulations instead. Regardless of the precise form, this is a very common idea, yet not one quite so common as to disabuse people of the notion that they are unique great geniuses when they first hit upon it. Said list of people now apparently includes a great many high-level political cronies, such as those at Bank of America:
Top bank analysts claim there’s a 50% chance our world is a computer simulation and we’re all plugged into a Matrix-style virtual reality.
And they also reckon if it’s true — then there’s no way we’ll ever find out about it.
The Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch made the astonishing claim in a research note citing comments by top scientists, astrophysicists and philosophers.
If you think this is breaking news, just wait until next week, when they unveil their startling conclusion that there’s a 70% chance that you’re being stalked by a giant, ferocious, man-eating tiger — but you’ll never be able to find it, because the tiger is invisible.