The Jailhouse Theory of International Relations

Tesón’s reaction to my post reminds of me of this:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FnO3igOkOk&w=560&h=315]

It’s wrong in the way Jessup’s speech is wrong. We might need some men on some walls, but we don’t need Jessup on that wall. Isolating Cuba, refusing to trade with them, and imposing embargoes didn’t do any good, and did a lot of harm.

Tesón thinks the Iraqis should be grateful to the United States for liberating them from Saddam. I agree that Saddam was an illegitimate and non-authoritative ruler (heck, I don’t think even quite good regimes like Canada and Australia qualify as legitimate or authoritative), and that Saddam had forfeited his right to life, but that’s not enough to justify intervention. One has to take into account the likely consequences of such intervention, including projected deaths to innocent civilians. The case was weak before hand, and in retrospect, the most pessimistic predictions came true.

There is a case for a big and powerful US military. The analogy is to an stereotypical American jail: Imagine you’ve unfortunate enough to end up in an American jail, a brutal sodomy factory. You’ve got a bunch of gangs of misfits. To protect yourself, you’ve got to show you’re tough, so you’ve got to show you’re ready and able to kick ass. Moreover, if you can organize a strong enough gang on your side, you might be able to make the jail a bit more peaceful than it otherwise would be, because you keep the other gangs in check.

Many people, e.g., Loren Lomasky and Thomas Cushman in the comments on Tesón’s post, say the US is a bit like that. There are lots of crazies out there, and what keeps them in check is US military might. Europe can afford to spend lavishly on social welfare because we subsidize and enforce peace.

There’s something to this line of argument; it’s at least partly right, I think.

But this kind of argument suffers from the same problem that many theodicies face. (A theodicy is an attempt to explain and justify why God would allow evil.) For a theodicy to succeed, it’s not enough to justify some apparent evil, to show that some of what appears evil at first glance turns out to be necessary. Rather, one needs to justify all the (apparent) evil that actually obtains in the world. Similarly, for the conservative argument to succeed in justifying US military adventures, it’s not enough to justify some of what the US does. One needs to justify all of it.

That’s going to be really difficult to do with most US military action over the past 50 years.

  • IEIUNUS

    Loren Lomasky is a philosophical badass, as far as I am concerned (Let me in, UV!). Nonetheless, I disagree with some points of his comment on Teson’s response.

    “Fernando is right in saying that to the
    extent that there exists global order and security at even the
    disappointingly low level we observe, it is due to the commitments of
    the US military…that is, it would be catastrophically worse if American power had not been present and continues to keep a heavy thumb on the scaled.”

    I am not sure why this counterfactual is true. Although, even if we assume the proposition obtains, this does not transition from is to ought, in that the proposition does not make claim as to why the United States should act in this way and not only that it simply does.

  • Jeff R.

    “For a theodicy to succeed, it’s not enough to justify some apparent evil, to show that some of what appears evil at first glance turns out to be necessary. Rather, one needs to justify all the (apparent) evil that actually obtains in the world. Similarly, for the conservative argument to succeed in justifying US military adventures, it’s not enough to justify some of what the US does. One needs to justify all of it.”
    I don’t follow. If you can organize a big gang that is intimidating enough to deter some violence against members, but not all of it, that seems like a positive. And supposing the gang may still have to bust some heads now and then just to maintain its reputation. I would want to know both whether the gang’s formation has resulted in a net reduction in violence, as well as whether the violence it engages in is justified, right? Not just the latter. Furthermore, some of the culpability has to lay at the feet of individual gang members, does it not, without necessarily denigrating the value of the gang in and of itself? For a real world example: what does Woodrow Wilson’s decision to intervene in World War I tell us about the practical value of the US military itself, it’s legitimacy, or the moral character of, say, Sergeant York? It seems like you’re almost saying that because of Woodrow Wilson’s individual choices as CiC, the US military is culpable for the resulting senseless slaughter and Sergeant York is at worst a prison gang thug and at best a well-intentioned nitwit. I find this rather unsatisfying.

    • Jeff R.

      Is there some trick to keeping Disqus from mashing all my comments into one big unreadable mass?

      • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

        Well, if you register with them you can edit your posts, and then insert paragraphs, spacing, etc.

    • Jason Brennan

      You’re right that it’s definitely more complicated than that. I think it depends on what individual actions a soldier does. Some soldiers assist the US in doing evil things, some in doing justifiable things, and some in doing things of no moral import.

      • neal wigal

        Um, minor details. Rogue nukes, biological weapons.
        No philosphy in defusing a bomb. Just doing it, getting sick from exposure, and hoping the kids do not have to do that.

        There is morality in mechanics. Ask a plumber, or an old soldier.
        Worlds are made of such things. But that is high IQ, and getting the hands dirty. Bombs talk, every one not involved will not understand the mind and matter interface. That is OK.

      • TracyW

        And I strongly suspect that most of the time the soldiers in question don’t know whether they’re doing evil things, or doing justifiable things. Nor do the politicians ordering it. They’re just making their best guess.

  • I thought the question was whether soldiers are heroes and/or whether it is moral to become a soldier. Why would a soldier be morally responsible for every US military action over the past 50 years?

    Also, why did the question shift from “whether a military intervention has good consequences” in paragraph 2 to “whether US military policy is totally without the taint of evil” at the end. Your post has some weird lurch from consequentialism to deontology there I don’t follow. If we are being consistent, shouldn’t the question be, “does US military policy have good consequences vs. the alternative?”

    • Andrew Pearson

      “Why would a soldier be morally responsible for every US military action over the past 50 years?”
      They aren’t. However, the fact that these military actions have tended to involve atrocities should be taken as strong evidence that, by joining the army, a soldier bears a significant chance of becoming involved with atrocities in the course of his military career.

      • TracyW

        And a good person might take on that role in the hope of being in a position to prevent said atrocities in the future.

      • j_m_h

        But is it the soldier that is the enabler of those attrocities or the civilian population that makes the military the soldier joins even possible? Do those questoins even have anything to do with the soldiers being hero or politicians and many civilians calling them that on holidays?
        What I find a bit amusing about the dicussions is that the soldiers are getting blamed here the most it seem when from the start the holiday was a celebration that people were no longer dying and killing one another. I don’t think it was the military or the soldiers that were really driving the “we’re Heros, worship us” view of the holiday. Most people who were in combat are simply just glad to be alive and feel guilty that they killed and lived when their firends didn’t.

  • Fernando Teson

    I don’t want Jessup either.

    • Aeon Skoble

      I don’t like Col. Jessup either. But it seems to me that consequentialists ought to like him. His existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible, saves lives, right?

      • Sean II

        Maybe not. Sorkin took the easy way out and left us with no actual proof that Jessup’s methods really saved any lives. We have only his own lower-lip-ejected words as evidence for that.

        It would have been a better film – maybe even a good film – if he’d at least presented the audience with a dilemma.

        Interesting to note though: like Scarface and Gordon Gekko, people have shown a striking fondness for Jessup, despite recognizing him as the designated villain. His speech is quoted all the time, almost always approvingly. Perhaps some of them have fixed the movie’s flaw, in their own heads.

        • Moosebreath

          “Perhaps some of them have fixed the movie’s flaw, in their own heads.”

          Some of them I’ve met don’t seem to think it is a flaw. They think that, deep down, he’s right.

          • Sean II

            He might be right. Unless you’re hiding a definite answer to the trolley problem up your sleeve, you can’t say Jessup’s obviously wrong.

          • Libertymike

            No, he is obviously wrong – unless one cleaves to statist shibboleths like “we’d all be speaking German today if it was not for the brave men who stormed the beaches at Normandy.”

          • Sean II

            We wouldn’t be speaking German, but the French would probably have been speaking Russian, or at least as much Russian as it takes to scream “comrade, please don’t…”

            Sometimes I don’t get you, Mike. The Normandy beach guys were brave. Why deny that? Why even sneer at it? What important part of your belief system requires you to do that? What will fall to pieces if you don’t?

            You can be a libertarian, even an anarcho-libertarian radical cool guy, without denying obvious things like a) history is messy, b) sometimes violence is the answer, c) bad as they are, states have occasionally done some good, and most of all d) some states are better than others, so it’s perfectly useless to just throw the word “statist” around like some argument-ending trump card.

          • Libertymike

            Yes, history is messy.
            Who, in your view, is more likely to appreciate that history is messy, the person who recognizes that the declaration that we would all be speaking German today if not for D-day as balderdash or the person who utters and believes the statement?
            Who, in your view, is more likely to appreciate that history is messy, the Tom Woods and Prof. DiLorenzos and Murray Rothbards of the world or the folks who think we all should “thank the troops for their service” when we see them?
            Who, in your view, is more likely to appreciate that history is messy, the Dee Browns of the world or those who assert that “the Indians were savages and killed each other” when such people are presented with the facts that St. Abe and his henchman deliberately planned for the final solution of the plains Indians?
            Who, in your view, is more likely to appreciate that history is messy, those who know that Lincoln approved of the 1862 mass hanging of the Santee Sioux or those who belong to the Lincoln cult?
            Who, in your view, is more likely to appreciate that history is messy, the anarcho-free enterprise-individualist who has never worked in the public sector and who meets a payroll and who creates wealth or the person who has worked his entire adult life in the public sector?
            Who, in your view, is more likely to appreciate that history is messy, the person who knows that the United States government is the only entity to ever unleash atomic weapons upon civilians or the flag waving guy, obviously a few fries short of a happy meal, who proclaims that by dropping atomic bombs upon Nagasaki and Hiroshima a million American soldiers were spared?

          • Libertymike

            Interesting that you speculate that the Frenchies might be speaking Russian had there been no D-day. What did D-Day do for the Estonians?
            How about the Poles?
            How about the Czechs?
            How about the Romanians?
            How about the Germans?
            How about the Hungarians?
            How about the Latvians?
            How about the Lithuanians?

          • Libertymike

            Yes, sometimes, violence is the answer – when the state’s coercive caste is attacking indian villages at dawn and murdering women and children.
            Yes, sometimes, violence is the answer – when the state’s privileged purveyors of violence are shooting a woman with a baby in her arms or burning a “compound” full of children.
            Yes, sometimes, violence is the answer – when those in clown costumes throw flash grenades through a window in a botched drug raid resulting in the murder of 7 year old girls.
            Yes, sometimes, violence is the answer – when a homeless man is beaten to death by 7-8 “brave” men in blue.

          • Sean II

            What’s with not using commas?

            What
            are
            you?

            e.
            e.
            c
            u
            m
            m
            i
            n
            g
            s
            ?

          • Libertymike

            The Hunger Games, Mockingjay I, disappoints.
            See, life is messy.

  • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

    I find this extremely illogical: “Rather, one needs to justify all the (apparent) evil that actually obtains in the world. Similarly, for the conservative argument to succeed in justifying US military adventures, it’s not enough to justify some of what the US does. One needs to justify all of it.” Surely, justifying US foreign policy over the last 50 years is not like trying to establish God’s existence. We know that US foreign policy exists, so the relevant question is whether on balance it has had a positive or negative influence on the world.

    • RJL

      Brennan’s point is that a conservative argument to justify and morally legitimise the US military *tout court*, cannot simply point to the good consequences, and say “see, if the US military hadn’t existed this good wouldn’t exist”. Such an argument, if it wants to justify the existence and operations of the US military as a whole, must take into account and justify all of the attendent evil. If you concede that many individual operations are not justified by the consequences, then you must concede that the US military’s existence and operation is not necessarily justified by the production of some minimal good at some point in time – pointing at some good produced does not settle the question of whether the US military as a whole is justified or not. (Which seems to be what you also think, and so I don’t know where your disagreement with him lies.)

      Brennan just happens to think the minimal good that might have been produced is outweighed by the vast evil, and Teson thinks the scales tip the other way. Seems this is just an empirical question. Recent operations do not seem to have been sufficiently morally praiseworthy to suffice for heroism, and Brennan’s further point is that soldiers can’t just say “well, I didn’t know they were going to ask me to do *that*”. The publicly available knowledge about
      the destructive track record of the US military is enough to remove the presumption of
      epistemic innocence of those who join the military and give their
      efforts to it, and so they are morally culpable for the evil they
      produce in the course of performing their duties and obeying commands.

      • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

        Sorry, but I can’t follow your logic. The part of Brennan’s post I quoted was preceded by this: “For a theodicy to succeed, it’s not enough to justify some apparent evil, to show that some of what appears evil at first glance turns out to be necessary.” A theodicy is plainly not the same as an “on balance” evaluation. It is inconsistent with your summary of Brennan’s claim as being, “the minimal good that might have been produced is outweighed by the vast evil.” To the contrary, a theodicy must explain away ALL evil in the world (as Brennan himself states). This is not the burden facing a defender of U.S. foreign policy.

        • RJL

          The defender of US foreign policy does not have to explain all the evil of the world, but they do have to explain all the evil caused by the US military, no? Thus, the kind of defence that merely claims the US military has produced *some* good, is not sufficient to justify the institution simpliciter. It must say the US military has produced on balance, more good than evil. Don’t you agree?

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Of course I agree. Do you now see that this is not what Brennan mean by invoking “theodicy”?

          • RJL

            Not at all. He was drawing an *analogy* to theodicy – as theodicy must justify all existing evil, to justify God’s total providence, so must the defender of US foreign policy justify all its evil if one wishes to claim that the operations of the US military are, as a whole and on blance, justified. He is certainly not saying that the good US foreign policy provides must outweigh all the evil in the world – which is frankly a bizarre conclusion to draw, so bizarre I find it difficult to think that’s how you’re reading him.

          • You’re suggesting that Mark was reading Brennan as saying:

            God : All the world’s evil :: Military : All the world’s evil

            Which, I agree, is silly, and a straw man. But Mark’s reading of Brennan’s argument is actually:

            God : All the world’s evil :: Military : evil caused by the military

            This is not a straw man. But it has problems.

            The kind of “justification” involved in theodicy is not the same as the sort of “justification” involved in an balancing-of-considerations evaluation. The theist cannot accept _any_ stain on God’s omnibenevolence, so “justifying” is a much harder thing to do. Each evil thing must be shown to be not really evil at all. If you were to accept the same kind of burden for the military, you’d have to somehow explain why My Lai was not an evil thing in itself. This is not the same thing as saying that “you need to make sure you don’t ignore all the My Lai’s when you make your cost-benefit ledger.”

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Andrew: Thanks, but at some point it is not worth arguing with an interlocutor who is incapable of grasping basic logic or, in the heat of argument, is unwilling to acknowledge an obvious error. So I just gave up. You are a better man than I.

      • TracyW

        Recent operations do not seem to have been sufficiently morally praiseworthy to suffice for heroism,

        The problem is that we don’t see the counter-factual. But horrible things have happened before the US ever existed, when the USA was going through isolationist phrases (eg WWI, the 1930s), and when and where the US didn’t get involved (Syria, Rwanda), and where the USA has tried non-military ways of intervening (Afghanistan, Iraq, Cuba).

        The publicly available knowledge about the destructive track record of the US military is enough to remove the presumption of epistemic innocence of those who join the military and give their efforts to it, and so they are morally culpable for the evil they produce in the course of performing their duties and obeying commands.

        Do you accept responsibility for the evil produced in the absence of intervention by the US military then?

        • RJL

          “The problem is that we don’t see the counter-factual.” That’s always true. We can only estimate. And in Brennan’s estimation the counterfactual scenario of the US not invading Iraq results in less suffering than the scenario in which is does.

          “Do you accept responsibility for the evil produced in the absence of intervention by the US military then?” No, the responsibility would lie with whoever actually produced the evil.

          • TracyW

            . And in Brennan’s estimation the counterfactual scenario of the US not invading Iraq results in less suffering than the scenario in which is does.

            Yes, but this is a point in which anyone could be wrong. Eg, Churchill argued that Hitler could have been stopped if France and Britain had sent in troops to stop Hitler from remilitarising the Rhine. If Churchill was right that would have saved a great deal of suffering.

            Or, say, the USA had in 1946 put its weight on the side of the nationalists in the Chinese civil war, and prevented Mao from taking power. That could have saved a great deal of suffering.

            Or let’s say that France and Britain had not been pressured to withdraw from Suez by the USA and USSR, and thus France had not helped Israel (probably) get a nuclear bomb. That would have made it much easier for the USA to disengage from the Middle East, and arguably could have saved a great deal of suffering.

            Or let’s say South Vietnam had remained an independent non-Communist country and eventually transitioned like South Korea to a prosperous democracy. That could have saved a great deal of suffering.

            We just don’t know.

            “Do you accept responsibility for the evil produced in the absence of intervention by the US military then?” No, the responsibility would lie with whoever actually produced the evil.

            I don’t think that’s right. For example, if you are mugged in the street, the police are responsible for finding and convicting the mugger, even if the mugger had nothing to do with the police. If you are injured in the mugging and go to A&E the doctors and nurses there can hardly throw up their hands and say “We didn’t mug you, we’re not responsible for treating you.” Now perhaps the police and the doctors can’t do anything to help you in your particular case, but if they can do, they should. (And, quite frankly, I think you’d be better off being treated for your injuries by a competent A&E staff than by the mugger who inflicted them in the first place.)

            One of the responsibilities of the head of a state is defence of that state’s citizens against military threats, even ones that they didn’t create. In the case of the USA government during the Cold War, one of the threats it faced was a nuclear-armed dictatorship with an expansionist ideology and a past track record of taking over countries and murdering millions. And, what’s more, they were doing this in a world where most countries weren’t liberal democracies, and where there mostly weren’t any credible political forces that were pure as shining snow. Very often there were no nice options.

            If you or Brennan want to argue that the state should be drastically limited in how it carries out defence, then you bear some responsibility for the suffering that that causes.

          • Libertymike

            The suffering caused by the state in the last 150 years, i.e., the several hundred million people murdered, incarcerated, raped and forcibly expatriated and the trillions of dollars looted from productive people, is a tangible reality that should concern one far more than the suffering you speculate will occur without a trillion dollar military industrial national security never ending warfare / welfare state.

          • TracyW

            And yet, people in the Western world are far richer tahn 150 years a go and living far longer and violence has declined.

            So, another part of the tangible reality is that things are better than they are 150 years ago. This may not be because of the state, but, then all these evils you list may have also occurred worse in absence of the state.

            Sorry, but you can’t get away from the need to consider the counter-factual.

          • Libertymike

            They are not richer because of the hundreds of millions that the state has slain, are they?
            How can the world be less violent? If one looks at the total number of deaths caused by the state in the last 150 years as against the number of deaths caused by the state between 1710-1860, one recognizes that the asseveration that the world is less violent is demonstrably false.
            The counter-factual? Show me the evidence to support the proposition that there would have been several hundred million people displaced, forcibly expatriated, raped and murdered and that there would have been the spectacular misallocation of resources occasioned by what the state has done in the last 150 years if anarchy had prevailed.
            You know that there is no such evidence.
            Rank speculation is just too slender a reed upon which to predicate one’s position.

          • TracyW

            You know that there is no such evidence.

            On the contrary, there is indeed evidence. Here’s one source to that evidence:

            Amongst other things, some 33% of male chimpanzees die by violence.

            If one looks at the total number of deaths caused by the state in the last 150 years as against the number of deaths caused by the state between 1710-1860, one recognizes that the asseveration that the world is less violent is demonstrably false.

            Two problems with this. Firstly, you don’t point out this claimed evidence. This was when Britain and France were imposing colonies throughout the world, Czarist Russia was expanding and the USA and Brazil were importing slaves from Africa like mad. Not to mention the various genocides against native Americans and Australians.

            Secondly, it is possible that the state prevents more violence than it carries out. The world population has grown substantially in the last 150 years. If state-caused murders has grown in absolute terms but fallen in relative terms, where does that lead the counter-factual?

            Rank speculation is just too slender a reed upon which to predicate one’s position

            Yes, it is indeed pretty stupid to go into a debate assuming that you know everything, and that the opposing view is “manifestly unreasonable.” I recommend you practice some more modesty in the future.

          • Libertymike

            First, your citation to Pinker is not “evidence” that fewer people were victimized by the state between 1710-1860 than between 1861-2011. I note that the link you offered does not address the two points I raised, namely, (1) the number of people forcibly expatriated by the state, the number of people beaten, incarcerated, murdered and raped by the state and the total quantity of money and property the state confiscated from people between 1710-1860 compared to 1861-2011 and (2) whether there would have been as many people forcibly expatriated, beaten, incarcerated, murdered and raped in the last 150 years under anarchic conditions as there have been with nation states waging their world wars and perpetual wars on everything else.

          • Libertymike

            Thus, the proposition that which Pinker opines regarding the amount of violence that has transpired is to be viewed as credible and reliable is nonsense. As Stephen Corry has noted, “[a]lmost wherever one probes Pinker’s facts, they crumble.”
            One is not arguing effectively by citing Pinker for the proposition that the advent of the nation state, in general, and the nation state in the last 150 years, has resulted in less violence.
            Before the War of Northern Aggression, Britian, France, Portugal, Spain and Czarist Russia had all effected the manumission of their serfs and slaves – yet America chose to engage in a bloodbath.
            The very worst treatment of native peoples in America took place AFTER 1860. In fact, Lincoln and his generals, like Sherman and Sheridan, deliberately set out to wipe out the Plains Indians by mass murder (“the only good indian is a dead indian”).
            You assume, without having the facts, that the relative number of people who have suffered some form of violence by the nation state in the last 150 years has somehow lessened. Again, that is just speculation.
            If there is a possibility that the nation state “prevents more violence than it carries out”, that possibility should be consigned to the fairy tale department of life.
            I will credit you with acknowledging the truth that the absolute number of people who have suffered some form of violence by the state has grown in the last 150 years.

          • TracyW

            Libertymike: I rather get the impression that no amount of factual evidence would strike you as an effective argument against your position.

            But, I note, that you are hardly arguing effectively for your position. Coming in telling someone that their position is “manifestly unreasonable” and then, when they provide evidence to support it, trying to pretend that evidence never happened, and instead trying to demand they defend quite a different position that you are trying to assign to them, does not exactly indicate that your own position is based on facts.

          • TracyW

            LIbertymike: Your specific request to me was:

            “Show me the evidence to support the proposition that there would have been several hundred million people displaced, forcibly expatriated, raped and murdered and that there would have been the spectacular misallocation of resources occasioned by what the state has done in the last 150 years if anarchy had prevailed.”

            I responded to *that* request.

            It’s rather intellectually dishonest of you to ask me to show you evidence for one proposition, and then, when I show it, try to pretend that doesn’t count because it’s not evidence against another, quite different, proposition.

          • Libertymike

            You did not show me any such evidence.
            Just because you claimed that what you presented was evidence, it does not thereby follow that what you presented was, indeed, evidence.

          • TracyW

            Uh-huh, If you have any actual criticism to make of my evidence, let me know.

          • Libertymike

            Here is some criticism of Pinker. As I noted above, citation to Pinker for the proposition that nation states have prevented more violence than would have transpired with anarchy prevailing in the last 150 years, is not good evidence in support of that proposition. Not is it good evidence to support the proposition that there has been less violence caused by nation states in the last 150 years than in the previous 150 years.
            E S Herman and D Peterson, “Reality Denial: Steven Pinker’s Apologetics for Western-Imperial Violence” in ZNET. 25 July 2012, viewed on 18 March 2013, http://www.zcommunications.org/reality-denial-steven-pinkers-apologetics-for-western-imperial-volence-by-edward-s-herman-and-david-peterson

          • TracyW

            And as I noted above, I’m not trying to defend the proposition that “there has been less violence caused by nation states in the last 150 years than in the previous 150 years.” Your continued bringing up this claim (and ignoring my actual response to it) is part of what makes me think that no amount of factual evidence would strike you as an effective argument against your position.

            The link you provided produces a 404 error.

            I note that the link I provided was a defence of Pinker, and a response to Pinker’s critics, not to Pinker directly. But, here’s Pinker’s response to some critics

            And http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2011/10/relative-angels-and-absolute-demons/#.VG8GpfmsU8Q

            And
            http://www.hsrgroup.org/docs/Publications/HSR2013/HSR_2013_Press_Release.pdf

          • TracyW

            Or take this case from someone quite critical of Pinker. The author is very skeptical about the validity of comparing rates of violence with absolute numbers, but does come up with similar figures for the rates of violence in hunter-gatherer societies.

  • Rocinante

    How about this. If a system of soldiers’ blind obedience to the comparatively just player in international relations results in a more just world than a system in which soldiers selectively follow the will of the comparatively just player, then a system of blind soldier obedience is better. In that case, soldiers are morally praiseworthy even when they go into battle not knowing why they are fighting. The more just world might be “less coercion than the alternative.” If China, Russia, Cuba, and other countries have even worse foreign policies than the US but blind soldier obedience, the US is at a disadvantage and these other countries will be able to commit more injustice.

  • TracyW

    One has to take into account the likely consequences of such intervention, including projected deaths to innocent civilians.

    On the other hand, one has to take into account the likely consequences of not intervening, including projected deaths to innocent civilians. The Russian Tsarist regime was pretty nasty, but the Communist was even worse. The Japanese did terrible things to Chinese civilians when they invaded China. The Rwandan genocide arguably could have been stopped by aggressive Western action. There are plenty of violent regimes who will do nasty things to innocent people if they remain in power.

    I don’t think there’s any good solution to this.

  • TracyW

    The problem with your analogy is that many theodicy starts off by assuming God is both very wise and very powerful. Consequently, it’s reasonable to assume that God knows about the evil in the world and could easily end it.

    This is not a good analogy to purely human institutions. Generally humans, even elected heads of states, don’t know much about what is going on in the world, have little power to fix things, and no good evidence on what fixing might consist of.

    Let’s take the police. The police have done many bad things. They have been the source of many violations of human rights and have enforced many bad laws, such as prohibition. But it’s still very reasonable to argue that the world would be a worst place without the police (yes I know many anarchists argue that private protection could be provided in other ways). And, it’s reasonable to argue that the police should do more of some law enforcement, such as trying to stop domestic violence, or convict more rapists.

    • Libertymike

      No, it is not reasonable to argue that the world would be a worse place without the state’s coercive caste. It is manifestly unreasonable.

      • TracyW

        Hmm, so you’re claiming that counter-factual arguments are manifestly unreasonable? Is this all counter-factual arguments, or merely counter-factual arguments in some situations, eg when violence or coercion is involved?

        • Libertymike

          No, I claimed that the argument that the world would be a worse place without the state’s coercive caste is manifestly unreasonable and untethered to reality.
          Note, I did not argue that counter-factual argumentation, per se, is unreasonable.

          • TracyW

            Okay, so you agree that counter-factual argumentation is appropriate in some cases.

            So, how do you determine the cases in which counter-factual argumentation” is manifestly unreasonable and untethered to reality?

          • Libertymike

            Examine and consider the counter-factual argument being presented.

          • TracyW

            So, you claim that
            1. It is manifestly unreasonable to argue X.
            2. The only way to determine if it is manifestly unreasonable to argue X is for someone to argue X, so the counter-factual arguments can be considered.

            So, in other words, for reason to reign, it is, apparently, according to you, necessary for someone to be manifestly unreasonable.

            This strikes me as unreasonable.

          • Libertymike

            No, what I claim is that it is manifestly unreasonable to argue that the world would be worse off if we did not have legions of the state’s coercive caste to keep us safe.
            You are the one who asseverated the following:
            “But it’s still very reasonable to argue that the world would be a worst [sic] place without the police.”
            I rejected your argument that the world would be a worse place without the police. I did not raise any point regarding the validity of counter-factual argumentation.
            Note, that following my assertion, you introduced the issue of counter-factual argumentation when it was not the issue.
            Just because it is not, per se, unreasonable to raise counter-factual argumentation, that does not thereby mean that any old counter-factual argument is reasonable or should be accorded much respect or that those who employ counter-factual argumentation are spared the obligation of proving the counter-factual argument with facts in support thereof.
            Thus, you claim that the world would be worse off without the police. Prove it.

          • TracyW

            Look at it from my perspective. You came swooping in and blithely asserted that my argument was “manifestly unreasonable”.

            So, confronted with a new assertion that is surprising to me, I generally try to work out the reasoning behind it.

            The wording “manifestly unreasonable” implies to me that the whole approach to argument is unreasonable, to give an example of what I was thinking of, I remember once being in an argument with someone who asserted that the only reason people didn’t agree with him was that they’d “failed to imagine all the benefits” this would bring. That strikes me as a manifestly unreasonable line of argument. As opposed to, say, arguing based on evidence but happening to be wrong about the facts, which strikes me as wrong, but not manifestly unreasonable.

            So, I speculated that you might be thinking that all counter-factual argument was “manifestly unreasonable”, and asked about it.

            Just because it is not, per se, unreasonable to raise counter-factual argumentation, that does not thereby mean that any old counter-factual argument is reasonable or should be accorded much respect or that those who employ counter-factual argumentation are spared the obligation of proving the counter-factual argument with facts in support thereof.

            “Respect” is one of those very vague words. I think that if someone produces a counter-factual argument that you think is unreasonable, that should be accorded the respect of explaining why it is wrong, not just the blithe assertion that it is. I think this for an entirely independent reason: namely, that you might be the one that is wrong.

            Any given counter-factual argument might be based on a logical fallacy. So it would indeed be manifestly unreasonable to assume that any counter-factual argument is reasonable. But, if someone asserts that a particular counter-factual argument is manifestly unreasonable, they should identify the specific error at hand.

            The relevant burden of proof does depend on the topic to hand, and how good a proof is possible. If I was making a mathematical claim, I would have the obligation of the burden of proof. But, on matters of what makes for good policy, no one can prove these things with the confidence of a mathematical proof. Instead, we need to argue it out. And, under these circumstances, it strikes me as entirely reasonable for someone to argue the counter-factual.

            So I reject your claim that my even trying to argue the counter-factual in this case was “manifestly unreasonable”.

            Thus, you claim that the world would be worse off without the police. Prove it.

            I can’t, to the levels of mathematics. Neither can you prove that the world would be better off without the police. All we can do is accumulate evidence and do our best to weigh it.

          • Libertymike

            Look at it from my perspective and the perspectives of those who are not slaves and who do not worship the state’s coercive caste.
            You make this generalized, undifferentiated asseveration that the world would be a worse place without the police. You offer no proof nor do you offer any basis for making such an assertion.
            It is fine if you want to make a counter-factual statement without bothering to furnish facts in support of your counter-factual statement. It is also fine if you want to make a counter-factual statement without supplying a reasonable basis for making the statement.
            However, when you make a counter-factual statement bereft of facts and reason, you should not be offended by another pointing out that the counter-factual statement is manifestly unreasonable, particularly, where, as here, you put the reasonableness of your counter-factual statement on the table (“[b]ut its still very reasonable to argue that the world would be a worst place without the police”).
            Thus, without any development of your position, I viewed your statement, on its face, as being “manifestly unreasonable.” Why? Given the propensity with which the police assault and batter and brutalize and kidnap and murder and steal and feed from the public trough, it would appear that any person who asserts that “its still very reasonable to argue that the world would be” worse off without the police, has no basis upon which to complain about such a statement being criticized.
            Your position is that your counter-factual statement, without more, is reasonable. I beg to differ.
            In my view, you have allowed your ego to get in the way.

          • TracyW

            You make this generalized, undifferentiated asseveration that the world would be a worse place without the police.

            Well, to be pedantic, I said it was reasonable to argue that the world would be a worse place without the police.

            You offer no proof nor do you offer any basis for making such an assertion.

            This is because it was a supporting statement for my main argument, which was that it was invalid to compare a clearly human institution to the theodicy arguments, as no one thinks humans are all-powerful and all-knowing. And, if someone wanted to know my evidence for my supporting argument, they could have asked me directly. Eg “What would a reasonable argument for the world being a worst place without the police? I can’t think of any.” This was a comment on a blog post, not a PhD thesis.

            However, when you make a counter-factual statement bereft of facts and reason, you should not be offended by another pointing out that the counter-factual statement is manifestly unreasonable,

            I agree with you on this. I think that being offended when someone criticises my arguments in a debate denies me the chance to learn and means I lose. That’s why I was not offended. Instead I was curious.

            Any person … has no basis upon which to complain about such a statement being criticized.

            Again I agree with you. And I didn’t complain. Instead I asked a question about the basis on which you were criticising my statement.

            In my view, you have allowed your ego to get in the way.

            Hmm, so, let me see. You make an assertion that surprised me. Rather than be offended by this, I was curious. I respond by asking you some questions about the basis for this assertion. If I had kept my ego out of it entirely, in your view, what would I have done differently?

            As for effectiveness of the police, there are indeed some resources arguing that the police can be effective, in some situations using some tactics. I do not regard this as proof, I do not think that proof is possible for these sorts of questions.

            (And, let me note, I am not offended or complaining about anything you have said in your reply here. And probably I don’t have any other negative responses that you might think of either, unless you count me not agreeing with you.)

  • Salem

    There are two distinct positions here regarding “justifying evil”, and I’m not sure which one you are arguing.

    1) Defenders of US foreign policy have to justify all US actions over the past 50 years. The Mai Lai massacre (say) was indefensible. Therefore this fails.
    2) US foreign policy has been a net negative to the world over the past 50 years. The good can’t justify the bad.

    Position (1) seems a poor argument. Teson specifically concedes that the US is not a perfect agent, just that on balance the US has been, and continues to be, a force for good in the world. This is quite compatible with the position that occasional actions of the US military have been unwise, or even evil.

    Position (2) seems empirically indefensible. Teson shortchanges the role of America’s NATO allies, particularly Britain, but it is nevertheless the American commitment to global order that has been key to world stability over the past 50 years. The very real suffering that this policy has caused is trivial in magnitude compared to the benefits, and I think it likely that you are going wrong by focusing on US “military adventures.” When the US goes to war, that represents failure and waste, in the same way that imprisoning a criminal is a failure for law and order. But without the US willingness to go to war in extremis (or the justice system’s willingness to lock up criminals), there would be far more wars, in the same way that there would be far more crime if we let criminals go.

    • Rob Gressis

      “it is nevertheless the American commitment to global order that has been key to world stability over the past 50 years.”

      I’m genuinely curious about how you know this. Is there a book, article, etc., that you could recommend to me that would lend support to this claim? I’m extremely unschooled on all this — the only person I’ve read on foreign policy is Chomsky (about twenty years ago) and I’ve come to think I shouldn’t really trust his writings about foreign policy.

      • Sean II

        Try a little gedankenspiel. Imagine you’re the Esteemed Revered Doctor Field Marshal and President-for-Life of some regional bully looking to annex a weakling neighbor state sometime between 1945 and this morning.

        What would stop you? What could stop you?

        The essential goodness of human nature? A strongly worded letter from some well-mannered Eurocrat with an Ø in his name? A timely suggestion to renounce war and instead settle your dispute by means of a dance-off? The sudden appearance of a U.S. Carrier Strike Group in your local fishing hole?

        It’s not a terribly long list, and it might be that none of these things would do the trick. But only one of them even sounds like it might.

        • martinbrock

          Wouldn’t a Soviet or a National Socialist Carrier Strike Group deter you as well?

          Absent the Carrier Strike Group, what would enable you to succeed? An esteemed field marshal must be marshaling some forces. Why aren’t your forces the benevolent Strike Group ruling out bullying in the neighboring territory?

          • Sean II

            Respectively:

            1) No. They’d probably be on my side. U.S. backed regimes kill thousands or tens of thousands. The other guys kill millions or tens of millions. Thus it would take 1,000 of our nastiest puppets to equal the poison found in just one bowl of Total-itarian.

            2) I dunno…better goons, maybe just more goons, maybe luck, etc. Whatever it is that lets some states/tribes/clans get the edge on others. Doesn’t matter to the question at hand.

            3) You’re not well acquainted with the promotion process in 3rd world militaries, are you?

            4) Because they’re not.

          • martinbrock

            Your reverence for your motives is reverent, mein Striker.

      • A real eye-opening history to read would be Henry Kissinger’s Diplomacy (http://amzn.to/1uumI3l). It’s a history of Great Power relations from Richelieu to the end of the Cold War. I would sum up the main themes as these:

        (1) Establishing a world order is a complicated and messy business that’s inevitably full of compromises because different countries values and interests are different, and no one is powerful enough to unilaterally impose their values and interested on everyone else.

        (2) America is in some ways quite different from past Great Powers in its idealism and insistence that the World Order be governed by the same sorts of moral laws that govern personal relations.

        (3) Apparently contradictory positions in American politics–like liberal opposition to the Iraq war as unjust and neoconservative insistence on it as a crusade for freedom–are really two sides of the same idealistic coin.

        (4) In spite of our self-image, America is still a country with interests, so we are often quite hypocritical.

        (5) In spite of our hypocrisy, America has done some heroic things in the name of its ideals that have made the world a better place.

  • Andrew Pearson

    I feel like the issues of “Are soldiers heroes?” and “Should there be a Big, Interventionist US Military?” are getting placed together, which is bad because they require very different moral standards. Plausibly a BIUSM could be justified on consequentialist grounds even if it repeatedly caused serious injustices; on the other hand, for members of this BIUSM to qualify as heroes would require them to consistently act in a just fashion, and/or to engage in serious personal sacrifice in the course of being in the military.

    I can see the case for the BIUSM, although I’m sceptical. The side in favour of it obviously faces the burden of proof, but I’m not going to argue for a particular side of that debate here.

    The idea that soldiers are heroes, though, is manifestly false. The US military – as with pretty much any military outside of the Vatican – commits atrocities. Joining the US military does not represent a great sacrifice – it is not especially high-risk, I don’t know what the pay is like but I doubt it’s terrible, and being or having been in the military tends to give one a very substantial status boost. (Furthermore, many of those killed in past wars – “those who paid the ultimate sacrifice” – were conscripts, and so even under ideal conditions they would be less “heroes” than “victims”).

  • What about the idea that loving one’s country is a good and admirable thing, independent of a calculation of the consequences? It’s sort of like love of one’s family, city, church, or college. It’s doesn’t override every other consideration (consequences matter too!), but having a meaningful relationship with these communities is a virtue, and love and loyalty are a natural and admirable expression of this virtue.

    Under this framework, demanding that a person justify literally every action of his country in order to justify serving in the military is absurd. You don’t need to justify every action of your mother in order to love her and be loyal, although your loyalty might express itself differently depending on the balance of things. I wouldn’t buy her crack if she were an addict (out of love), but I wouldn’t put her under a microscope to justify every act of service, either. In fact, it would be strange and unhealthy to approach her with a utilitarian spreadsheet constantly updating in your head.

    That said, you could argue that the United States in her foreign policy is a bit more like the crack addict mother than the flawed-but-normal one. (I’d disagree) But could we at least agree that the standard of proof is a preponderance-of-the-evidence rather than beyond-a-reasonable-doubt?

    • murali284

      What about the idea that loving one’s country is a good and admirable thing, independent of a calculation of the consequences?
      Why is this the case? Hell, we could ask the same about why we should love our family? There are at least some reasons to think that loving one’s family is not necessarily a morally good thing (though it may be a natural impulse and thus not a particularly blameworthy one)
      Love for one’s country can motivate you to do things which are unjust just as love for one’s family members can motivate you to cover up for some crime they have committed, or treat them partially in a number of unacceptable ways.

      • if “not necessarily a morally good thing” = “not a 100% over-riding reason”, then, yes, you’re right about loyalty and love.

        If “not necessarily a morally good thing” means that loyalty and love have only instrumental value, and the right attitude for an individual is to be constantly calculating the consequences–and eager to betray if the calculation comes out wrong–then I hope that’s not actually the way you treat the people/institutions/communities you care about.

        • murali284

          Just because something only has instrumental value does not mean that we should be constantly calculating the consequences. Try to bone up on your rule utilitarianism. The basic point is that even if an institution like the family is justified only on instrumental grounds, then it would be counterintuitive to always second guess every action that one would take under the aegis of familial love or duty. Nevertheless, we can step away from the institution to take a bird’s eye view and ask ourselves which of the alternative sets of rules about familial institutions are justified and we may want to conclude that only those familial institutions which do not require graft and nepotism from family members are justified. If we have been satisfied that our own family satisfies these criteria, we can step back in and act for the sake of the institution without second guessing ourselves or the institution.
          The same can be said for countries. Only countries which do not require its citizens to commit mass murder are justified. It would then (if a country’s military did not tend to involve itself in morally dubious enterprises) be morally permissible or even supererogatory to join such a country’s military forces.

          • Ah, rule utilitarianism, my old friend. The picture you paint of occasionally stepping back and look at things from a “birds eye view” is quite reasonable–certainly better than my straw man (sorry!) of the constantly I calculating person.

            Where I think rule utilitarianism gets things wrong–and its a small point, because often a bit of rule utilitarian calculation is just what the doctor ordered–is in epistemological priority. The “data” we are trying to explain with our moral theory is precisely the particular gut level experiences that rule utilitarianism asks us to bracket. This can be a useful exercise, but if we were ever able to do this with 100% consistency, we’d be completely dumbfounded. I’ve been unimpressed by attempts to derive a “pure” basis to justify abstract moral principles without smuggling in some of these gut sensibilities (explicitly or implicitly). That’s why when I’m told by the rule utilitarian that I need to ignore or completely suppress one of these sensibilities (like admiring loyalty simpliciter), I get squirrly.

          • murali284

            The “data” we are trying to explain with our moral theory is precisely the particular gut level experiences that rule utilitarianism asks us to bracket
            I think you are wrong about this. The mere fact that people often do not theorise without smuggling in some intuitions does not mean that doing so is acceptable. If it is impossible to theorise without smuggling such intuitions, we may just have to be moral sceptics.

          • Are you a moral skeptic, or do have a way to “theorize without smuggling in some intuitions”?

          • murali284

            I have a way of theorising without smuggling in moral intuitions. Linguistic intuitions are a different creature and can be justified empirically.
            One way we can go about identifying the social morality of a given community is by looking for social rules and principles that help coordinate interpersonal claims and thus resolve any such conflicts.
            It is a conceptual truth that in order for a given set of rules to coordinate such claims, people must accept those rules.
            One basic psychological fact about humans is that we are predisposed to accept moral rules and principles that we perceive to be in our interest.
            Suppose, we knew nothing about what our true interests were (or at least disagreed extensively about them), then the best candidate rules that all of us could accept (in spite of such disagreement) would be those that did a reasonable job of advancing a person’s interests whatever those interests turned out to be.
            It turns out (after some careful and extensive argument) that one important step in identifying that set of rules is looking at what principles would be chosen by mutually disinterested parties behind a thick veil of ignorance.
            There are some conceptual claims which we can use to filter away certain putative conceptions of the good as being nothing of the kind.
            There certain other empirical claims we could use to employ to show that it is psychologically impossible for us to accept certain other value claims.
            This can get us enough of a handle to bootstrap our way to a liberal (neoclassical) account of justice.

    • TracyW

      I don’t get the relevance of this. One can love and be loyal to one’s country/family/city/church/college without helping said institution commit crimes.

      I say this as someone who disagrees with Brennan’s argument too.

      • It’s true that love and loyalty are not so strong reasons that they override everything else (like justice or benevolence)–see what I said before about crack addict mother.

        But it’s quite relevant that love and loyalty are virtues, because they suggest that Brennan’s epidemiological standard–that “it’s not enough to justify some of what the US does. One needs to justify all of it”–is not appropriate, at least when it comes to judging heroes in the military and whether or not they deserve our admiration on Veteran’s Day. You wouldn’t hold your mother to such a standard (I hope).

        • murali284

          How do you know that love and loyalty are virtues?

          • Love and loyalty seem to me to be at the root, psychologically as well as developmentally, of any person’s capacity to think or act morally at all. Even if the “higher” moral outlook requires a certain degree of dispassionate and general concern for all humanity and all consequences (which I think it does), we are only brought to this perspective through being inculcated in a more concrete practice of being concerned with some people in particular. You become good at loving your neighbor by loving your actual neighbor.

            In fact, I would go further than that–it’s not just psychological or developmental priority of the concrete over the abstract–its epistemological priority. I feel _way_ more confident that loving my family is the right thing to do than I do in some abstract philosophical theory. I can only come to be convinced of rule utilitarianism (and its not a bad theory as theories go) as a kind of generalization of the former. I feel way closer to my Kantian friend who treats his girlfriend nice than my philosophical clone who’s a dick to his mom.

            Similarly when I see someone acting with devotion or concern toward an institution or community that raises my moral heckles, I still feel a sense of kinship with them. In our guts, we share something, even if maybe they did something else wrong. Its not like I’m perfect, either

        • TracyW

          Loyalty strikes me as dangerous. Loyalty has led to a lot of people overlooking crimes.

  • martinbrock

    You can also protect yourself in a brutal, sodomy factory by learning to love brutal sodomy. Stockholm syndrome, and the prevalence of civil society subject to states, suggests that this strategy is at least as effective as the one you describe. You can also seek the least brutal sodomy available and might ultimately find that not so brutal sodomy is plentiful and satisfying enough, thus avoiding the cost of organizing a gang to dominate the sodomites.

  • CapitalistRoader

    Isolating Cuba, refusing to trade with them, and imposing embargoes didn’t do any good, and did a lot of harm.

    Harm to whom? When Cuba compensates the US citizens for the property it stole from them – the largest theft of US property in history – then we can talk. Until then, let them fester in their communist idiocracy without the benefit of trading with us.

    • Libertymike

      Ah, the irony!
      So, you think that the biggest crook going – the united states government – should be able to tell you with whom you can trade?

    • reason60

      I’m curious why anyone would accept the legitimacy of the property claims that Americans had in Cuba.

      • CapitalistRoader

        Ah, the idiocy! I’m curious why anyone – expecially someone claiming to be a libertarian – would accept the legitimacy of a totalitarian communist despot.

        Tell you both, what: Let the state rip off your house and your land, escape to another country within an inch of your life, and then bloviate about fucking wonderful free trade with a totalitarian dictator is.

        http://www.nytimes.com/1993/06/16/world/cuba-willing-to-discuss-us-reparations.html

        • reason60

          Well ok, we agree that the Communists stole land. How is this different than any other land theft in history?

          • CapitalistRoader

            For recent history, read up on Wolf Ladejinsky and his successful efforts in peaceful land reform. Castro, BTW, promised similar bonds that Ladejinsky introduced in Japan and Taiwan, but of course skipped out on the promise.

  • Libertymike

    Yeah, we need a multi-trillion dollar military industrial national security nation surveillance state complex with military installations all over the world constantly murdering and otherwise wreaking havoc and bankrupting us.
    Makes a lot of sense.