A Double Standard?


In response to my column 'An Open Letter to Osama bin Laden,' Free Rabeman writes:

I feel sorry to say that while the arguments would have been proper within a discussion between libertarians only, such a letter supposed to be addressed to one of the most evil criminal in this world and history is an absolute outrage. Such a letter can not pass the test of a Randian analysis. Never mind, many libertarians hate Ayn Rand and dismiss her as a collectivist. To tell Bin Laden that he has become Dubya, that would be equating Pol Pot to Nixon. Nice and accurate! Libertarians (and I am one of those) well know that when individual rights are not respected, they must be enforced. Self defense applies to anyone attacked including those not attacked but acting on behalf of the victims. The only proper way and truly libertarian avenue to deal with Bin Laden is to bring him to justice, dead or alive, and to make him pay as a compensation for his crimes or if you wish a compensation for the lost properties. This means the use of force and not an attempt to persuade. But you do not understand that. You would agree that a robber should be punished and pay, but curiously, when that criminal is a charismatic leader, he deserved to be talked to or written to. If charismatic leaders are to be treated by you differently than ordinary thugs, I have to conclude that you are collectivist minded. Disguting [sic] yours, Free Rabeman

Mr. Rabeman complains that I treat bin Laden differently from the way I would treat an ordinary criminal ' that I would advocate force against an ordinary criminal, whereas I attempt to persuade bin Laden. Well, for starters, if Mr. Rabeman really believes that my letter was an attempt to persuade Osama bin Laden, he needs to develop a more sensitive ear for literary conventions. Bin Laden is obviously not going to read my open letter, a fact from which an attentive reader might have inferred that bin Laden was not its intended audience. But do I think it would be wrong to attempt to persuade bin Laden, should such a thing be possible? No, of course not. If a criminal can be stopped by persuasion, then one should employ persuasion. If a criminal can be stopped only by force, then one should employ force. If I could convince muggers and mafiosos to change their ways, I would do it. If I could convince the dictators and terrorists of the world to change their ways, I would do that too. If instead I could forcibly arrest all those people ' muggers and mafiosos, dictators and terrorists ' and force them to pay compensation to their victims, then I would do that. As libertarians, we must consider most of our elected representatives to be criminals, but on October 7 I wrote an open letter to them too. Why didn't Mr. Rabeman chide me for engaging in dialogue with them? Mr. Rabeman accuses me of dividing rights-violators into two classes: 'charismatic leaders,' to be persuaded, and 'ordinary thugs,' to be forcibly compelled. But I do not. I regard both groups as proper objects of persuasion when possible and compulsion when necessary. It is rather Mr. Rabeman who divides rights-violators into these two classes. That Mr. Rabeman commits the very error of which he mistakenly accuses me is clear from his criticism of my equating Bush with bin Laden, which he says is like equating Nixon with Pol Pot. What exactly is the problem? Nixon and Pol Pot were both mass murderers. (Which of the two killed more innocent Cambodians is a still-debated question.) Bin Laden is another mass murderer. Bush is about to engage in his own campaign of mass murder. Of course I equate them. To be sure, Bush has grievances; so does bin Laden. Bin Laden's grievances do not justify his assaults upon the innocent; neither do Bush's. If there are interesting moral differences between Nixon and Pol Pot, or between Bush and bin Laden, I look forward to learning from Mr. Rabeman what they are. Until he does, I can only assume that, in his eyes, some mass murderers are more equal than others. George W. Bush and his fellow thugs are on the verge on unleashing upon the innocent people of Iraq the same kind of destructive violence that bin Laden and his fellow thugs unleashed on the innocent people of Manhattan. Mr. Rabeman seems to think I should regard one of these men, but not the other, as an inhuman monster beyond the realm of civilised dialogue. But he doesn't explain why; he leaves us to guess. Could it be because President Bush is the 'duly elected leader' of our country? If that's the answer, then it is Mr. Rabeman who is 'collectivist minded.'

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Roderick Long's picture
Columns on STR: 22

Roderick T. Long is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Auburn University; President of the Molinari Institute; Editor of the Libertarian Nation Foundation newsletter Formulations; and an Adjunct Scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.  He received his Ph.D. from Cornell in 1992.  His last book was Reason and Value: Aristotle versus Rand; his next book will be Wittgenstein, Austrian Economics, and the Logic of Action.  He maintains a blog on his website, Praxeology.net.