Apr
05

John Stossel and David Boaz at the SFL International Conference

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I just watched two video clips from the Stossel Show recorded at the Students for Liberty International Conference. Stossel’s guest is David Boaz from the Cato Institute. During the first segment, Stossel and Boaz describe their personal journeys discovering the value of liberty and free markets, and they have pretty interesting stories.


The second segment is on war and society. Boaz’s first statement isn’t terrible; he says war is bad for a variety of reasons. It is costly and does not accomplish anything, and he even blames American occupations as the cause of terrorism. Then Boaz completely refutes Stossel’s suggestion that surge was a good idea. Good for him, that’s correct. But then the Q&A session starts (starts at 3:40) and I just about hit the ceiling.


A students asks, “True or false: slaughtering innocent people is never justified.” Stossel, without missing a beat, says that we “had to kill innocent people to end World War 2.” Really? Regulating aspirin? Oh no! That’s an attack on liberty! Incinerating a city full of civilians whose government is trying to surrender? Fully defensible. Fire-bombing Dresden just because it’s a German city? Fully defensible. But gee whiz, if nuking a city into oblivion isn’t wrong, is there any killing in war that is not justified?

Boaz counters the original question by saying that “slaughter” is a charged term and we need to rephrase the question. Even granting that Boaz’s first counter is true, that the question is loaded, his answer that follows is horrifying. Essentially, he argues that killing innocent people probably is justified if it leads to creating freer countries. “Self-defense and national independence are basically the only reasons” that killing innocents is justified. So he is implicitly affirming exactly what Stossel said. I don’t care that he said it “should not be undertaken lightly,” trying to justify deaths of innocent people is always taking an issue too lightly.

I’m kind of a fan of a certain principle of morality, one stating that you do not get special privileges to do certain immoral things if the “circumstances” are right. Killing innocent people is one thing only: murder. You don’t get a free pass to kill innocents so long as “freedom” is in sight. So, an innocent British traveler dies in the American Revolution because an American soldier became angry? Murder. No special rights because you’re a “freedom fighter.”

And if you concede that innocents die in every war, then you have only one conclusion to draw: War is mass murder. Get it?

I’ll give Stossel some grace considering he has not been very exposed to our philosophy except in limited amounts. He is not being thoughtful toward the issue. Perhaps he would come around just as he did on free markets given a substantive and fair presentation of the information. I met him in Austin about a year ago and I think he is a good fellow, and I truly hope he can figure out this critical principle of libertarianism.

How Boaz can hold such contradictory thoughts in his head, though, is downright baffling. I would plead with him to reconsider such positions. Liberty means liberty for all.

Dear Christian reader, I hope we will not make the same mistakes in our own thinking, lest we fall prey to the next justification for mass murder.

UPDATE: This post is getting a lot of traction right now due to it being highlighted in places like LewRockwell.com and others, so I just want to make absolutely clear that I still think Students for Liberty is a fantastic organization and I am not implicating them at all in this particular breach of libertarian principle. I also hold a lot of respect for the work that Stossel and Boaz have done and I am urging them to become better by talking openly about this.

Norman Horn

Norman is the founder and editor of LibertarianChristians.com. He holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from the Austin Graduate School of Theology.

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  • http://www.financialseminary.org Gary Moore

    About a year ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that John Stossel was to do a special about how skaters liked being directed by some authority figure at the rink. It was to be a rationalization of his supposedly libertarian views. I suggested it would be a better test, and more representative of reality, if the casual skaters were mixed with a dozen NFL hockey players who would be compensated significantly to be the first around the rink twelve times and then ask if the casual skaters still wanted to do away with the referee. Surprisingly, the Journal printed my response. I never saw the special. Anyone else? I’d be interested to know what happened to it.  

  • Jwriter

    Fact of the matter is, we’ll never know how WWII might have turned-out hadn’t we area bombed Germany or dropped A-bombs on Japan to bring both into submission. Taking that train of thought one step further, we’ll never know how WWII might have turned-out if we’d simply adhered to our initial “isolationist” stance even after the Pearl Harbor attack because of one simple reason and that reason would be, we chose to react/act with instruments of violence, death and destruction instead of trusting that God would deal with the evil, empirical motives of the Axis powers as his will saw fit.

    Looking at the situation from a spiritual point of view, we (the Allied powers) fell into Satan’s trap, or you could say that we took the bait, “hook, line and sinker”. In turn, a blood sacrifice was ultimately paid to him (Satan), measured in the multitude of Allied soldiers sent off to their eternities in addition to the millions of innocents that were sent along with, simply because they happened to be born in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

    Keeping an isolationist policy (for spiritual, moral and ethical reasons) at that time and for the decades preceding the present day would certainly bear witness to our being a “Christian” nation, and I have to believe that God would have honored that commitment with abundant blessings, and within every aspect of our nation’s being. However, the die was permanently cast back in 1941 (while there was still some hope after WWI) and Satan could forever trust that America would be easy prey for him. Going forward, stirring-up zealous nationalism amongst American citizens by encroaching on America’s own empire building endeavors would be easily accomplished and would ultimately ensure a continuous stream of blood sacrifice…and finding more than willing foes to do the encroaching for Satan wouldn’t be a problem either (thanks to conflicting religious and national extremism with that of America’s found worldwide).

    To say that it’s “too late” in many regards is an understatement, being of course that we can’t change the past. Having said that, we now must strive to continually develop the Spirit indwelt Kingdom of God within each of us “followers of the way” (“the way” being the message of Jesus Christ). Doing so promises to draw us ever closer to the Christ-mind that when obtained, leaves us with an intuitive level of consciousness and subsequently with the ability to lead others to the doors of salvation and righteousness.

    Peace be with you all and regardless of HOW others might argue and debate the issues of past and/or present Earthly liberties (as shown above, Stossel and Boaz), remember that our actions as a Christ-ed Son of God, and as evidenced in all that we do and say, will have lasting, ETERNAL consequences for not only us but also for everyone we might have any present or future influence upon.

  • Brokebacka

    Sorry this question “True or false: slaughtering innocent people is never justified.” is deceitful, like the Pharisees questions, in the first place. If one answers TRUE then that means it is wrong to ever use a gun to defend oneself (as killing innocent people is always a possibility in such defense), and shuts down practically all freedom including the right of food and drink companies to sell food and drink as it is a fact that food and drink kills people and heart disease (caused by excessive calories/fat from food/drink) slaughters more innocent people than any other cause include even wars and democide! (See http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/VIS.TEARS.ALL.AROUND.GIF or/and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_causes_of_death_by_rate). And if we answer FALSE then the way the question is worded it suggests were all for killing innocent people and are monsters ourselves!

    Sorry the answer is NEITHER, as much as “educated” people would claim I’m being anti-scientific in not answer true or false. Killing innocent people INTENTIONALLY is wrong, killing innocent people UNINTENTIONALLY is an accident/by definition unintentional and thus is not desired but not to be outlawed for reasons above (outlaws self-defense, outlaws freedom – food/water).

    More honest questions would have been “Do libertarians believe in starting aggression?”, “Do they believe people have no right to defend themselves?”, “Do they believe in stopping the aggression of others?” “Do they believe life, liberty and right to own oneself’s own property are rights only for those in the country they are in or are these universal and they are to defend others rights to the same?” “If we see someone being murdered at the side of the street should we defend them or just watch?” “What about people being murdered in foreign countries?” and not putting true or false as the only answers but rather what is the truth.

    Mr. Horn, while you mocking said “Incinerating a city full of civilians whose government is trying to surrender? Fully defensible.” I’m believe you are an intelligent person can’t possibly truly believe Japan was trying to surrender when their government was saying to everyone to fight to the dying breath, lying that Americans would rape their families and for everyone to commit suicide if need be rather than surrender and it was witnessed that this was not just talk as japanese mothers threw their babies off cliffs before killing themselves in Saipan (http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwtwo/japan_no_surrender_01.shtml / http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/20/world/asia/20iht-oki.html?_r=0). And more importantly I’m also sure you realize that Japan started and maintained aggression on America and America did not get involved until Japan attacked the USA. Please note, I’m not an American (I just happened upon your site). Also if the US had even delayed the nuclear attack Japan would have carried out it’s plans for using it’s biological weapons of mass destruction on the US just a few days later, a Unit 731 refined version of Japan’s “Uji” bombs (flea bombs infected with Yersina pestis otherwise know as plague, the Black Death of the 14th Century). I know you were probably speaking rhetorically as I believe you are educated and intelligent, know about these things and doubt you could be suggesting the US had no right to defend itself and end the war quickly, but I had to make sure especially since not everyone might be aware. That being said I certainty can certainly agree with it being immoral to nuke these targets if they weren’t legitimate military / government targets. My understand however is that Japan was in a state of Total war (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Total_war) but even so America dropped leaflets attempting to warn civilians of impending bombing (tho the japanese government arrested and punished anyone who possessed one of the leaflets), Hiroshima was an embarkation port and industrial center that was the site of a major military headquarters and Nagasaki was a ship-building for the Imperial Japanese Navy, with dockyards and with Nagasaki harbor used as an anchorage under the control of nearby Sasebo Naval District.

    Dresden seems alot more suspicious and I can’t support much of what went on there but I do not know enough to be sure.

    But if “Killing innocent people is one thing only: murder.” without regard to intention then what does that mean? If we drive our cars and someone runs in front of us and they are killed we are guilty of murder? If an alcohol manufacturer sells their product and someone dies from abusing it we are to be executed for murder? Does that mean McDonalds should be tried for murder for selling french fries if someone dies of a heart attack from consuming them to excess? What freedoms can we possibly have if any action that can cause the death of others unintentionally is to be considered murder?

  • Alan C

    You don’t slap somebody in the face “as part of the act”, unless you have his permission “as part of the act”. So described, it is an agression, that sounds like it was meant as an act to “feed the pretense” than a simple “act”. A slap is a slap. Speech is speech. Sticks and stones.

    WWF itself is a scumbag operation in my opinion, not every kid that watches it knows it’s fake, and it feeds and feeds off of a sublimated blood lust for whacks. WWF telling him to slap Stossel, if Stossel won the suit, then if the WWF had really told this “Dr Death” to administer the slap as “the act”, then if it cost the guy’s career he should have sued WWF.

    Geography bees are much better battles than agression.

  • Alan C

    Always question your king’s excuses for war. Like Gaddafi, who was organizing a pan-African currency to open up prosperity for Africa based on metallic gold stores, for which he would provide the first. Oh yeah, only somebody crazy would do that, hunh, libertarians? Some African nations were warming to the idea, and then along came the “Arab Spring”. The Arab WHAT?!

  • Alan C

    Just a little factoid, Hiroshima and Nagasaki “just happened” to have the highest population of Christians in Japan.

  • Alan C

    God’s word also admonishes us to both pray and act as he directs us. Sometimes it’s “wait” and sometimes it’s “Do this”. God help us learn to discern his voice. More than ever, Christians need more people with a gift of prophecy, Paul encourages us to seek the gifts of the spirit earnestly. Israel often won battles without even having to kill one enemy soldier. The Boxer rebellion slaughtered all the missionaries they could find and attacked one British fort where many missionaries had sought refuge, but stopped when the Chinese rebels storming the fort, at the verge of overrunning it, began seeing giant men with huge swords behind the Brits with swords raised high. Many of the prisoners later recounted this vision.

  • texaschris

    Wow, I wrote that 2 years ago.

  • Brokebacka

    Correlation does not equal Causation. That makes perfect sense considering these were cities versus more rural areas. There was the highest population of many groups in said cities, not simply Christians.

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