Saturday, August 18, 2007

A Great Piece by Raimondo

While in college, one of the most useful books I read was by Thomas Sowell, called "Knowledge and Decisions." Sowell's book led me in turn to some of Hayek's work on the importance and value of knowledge. Sowell shows how the fragmented and disconnected knowledge of millions of people can be coordinated into social processes in political, economic, and legal spheres. It is an intellectual stem-winder directed at all forms of socialistic planning.

One of the great disappointments of the Iraq war is seeing those I have so admired, such as Sowell, defending untenable positions. In his latest essay at, the indispensable Justin Raimondo applies analysis much like Sowell's to foreign policy.

Raimondo writes:
The case against interventionism can be made in a purely practical, empirical framework: i.e. it can be shown that it just doesn't work. Not because the wrong people are in charge, not due to incompetence, the wearing of ideological blinders, or some other disability or shortcoming on the part of policymakers – but because it is simply not possible, no matter who is in charge.

What rules out any really effective foreign intervention, either military or economic (i.e. taxpayer-funded "aid" programs of one sort or another), is the sheer complexity of the terrain we find ourselves on. There are just too many factors to fit comfortably into convenient equations, too many layers of historical debris to uncover and clear away, too many ancient disputes that can only be dimly understood by outsiders. The common complaint, by war critics and the neocons, is that there wasn't enough "planning" done by the administration, that insufficient resources made available to the Iraq war effort, etc., etc. Yet no amount of resources deployed under the constraints of even the most meticulous, well-thought-out plan can achieve what we set out to do in Iraq, i.e. create a stable democratic ally, or even a stable replacement for the despotism we upended.

The natural impulse of the state is to simplify complex matters. In this case, they lay the blame for each and every attack in Iraq at the feet of al Qaeda. But the "planners" that dragged us into the Iraq war were largely ignorant of the religious and social terrain there. Two weeks before the war, George Bush didn't know that multiple sects of Muslims existed. I guess that was an important piece of information.

Raimondo continues:
As a libertarian, I am opposed to central planning on principle: it couldn't work in Iraq for precisely the same reasons it didn't work in the Soviet Union, and doesn't work anywhere. However, at least the domestic advocates of economic planning in the US are reasonably close to, and knowledgeable about, the people whose fates they would hold in their hands. In the case of our "conservative" planners, who would map out the future of a foreign country on their drawing boards, they are treading on largely unknown terrain, without any first-hand knowledge or experience to guide them even provisionally. This is worse than hubris: it is sheer stupidity.
In short the "conservatives," obsessed with "National Greatness" and driven by the imperious virus, have forsaken all of their principled opposition to statist planning. Ultimately, it cannot and will not work because it is at odds with human nature, but the planners can do a terrible amount of damage in the meantime.


Blogger Shamgar said...

I'm so thankful for kindred spirits. :-)

It has been a regular source of consternation for me how quickly so many of our better conservative thinkers have abandoned the basic principles of conservative political thought.

9:50 AM  
Blogger Darrell said...

Well, I'm just happy to have someone reading.

I recall back in 1992 when I was younger and much more naive that I was shocked and appalled at the treatment accorded Pat Buchanan when he ran against George Bush I. Bush had raised taxes, supported affirmative action, was promoting a global New World Order, etc.

Buchanan was attacked by George Will, Jack Kemp, Bill Bennett, National Review, etc. At that point, I understood that much of the "conservative movement" had been corrupted.

Still, it is hard to see someone like Sowell descend so far. Very disheartening. And younger conservatives...forget about it. They don't care about Kirk or Weaver, wouldn't bother with Hayek or Mises, have never heard of Bob Taft and think Ann Coulter is the greatest thing since sliced bread (OK, sometimes I appreciated Coulter, too).

Overall, it's a sad picture.

By the way, if you're new to the blog, you can check out my regular website, which includes links to some of my favorite posts.

2:27 PM  
Blogger Shamgar said...

I'm definitely new, and I'll enjoy reading some.

Sadly, in 1992 I had just graduated High School. I had only the barest grasp on those things, and it was going to be several agonizing years of personal study and re-education yet before I could appreciate that.

I think we've all appreciated Anne at one time or another. It's a guilty pleasure or something. ;-)

3:13 PM  
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