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Monday, October 3, 2011

Why I Am Not a Conservative

I have borrowed the title of this piece from an essay by F. A. Hayek, published in his 1960 book, The Constitution of Liberty. Unlike Hayek, who wished to distinguish his free market and individual liberty ideas from the conservative tradition of the European continent, here I wish to explain why I have now entirely distanced myself from those in the United States (and to a lesser extent in the rest of the Anglosphere) who identify themselves as “conservatives”.

Over the years, I've gotten along fine with conservatives, finding many of their views and policy preferences congruent with my own. (Actually, I get along great with most people, regardless of their political views, because I try to spend as little of my time as possible occupied with politics, as there are so many more interesting things to do.) To the extent that conservatives promote sound money, limited government, low taxes, minimal regulation, and overall reducing the rôle of the state in the life of the citizen, we're singing from the same hymn book in perfect harmony. It's mostly when so-called “conservatives” try to use the coercive power of the state to impose their own agenda upon individuals or to export their beliefs outside their borders by military force that we part company. All such endeavours, by their very nature, involve using the power of the state to reduce the natural rights of individuals—what they choose to do with their bodies; how they earn, spend, and invest the fruits of their labour and intellectual accomplishments; and how and where they choose to live, travel, and what they do there, among a multitude of infringements upon liberty.

Among infringements upon liberty, it's difficult to top murdering citizens without any legal proceeding whatsoever. And this is what finally makes me draw the line between myself and “conservatives” in the United States. On September 30th, 2011, Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, both U.S. citizens, were killed in Yemen by a Hellfire missile fired from a Predator unmanned aerial vehicle controlled by the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command under the direction of the CIA. Al-Awlaki had been placed upon a targeted killing list by officials at the highest levels of the U.S. government. There is no indictment, trial, or other judicial process required in order for an individual, U.S. citizen or otherwise, to be placed on this list—purely executive discretion.

Please read al-Awlaki's biography (yes, Wikipedia can be unreliable, especially for contentious matters in the news, but the information in this case appears to be well documented). There is little, if any assertion, no less evidence that he ever committed an overt act worthy of capital punishment. Did he incite others to such acts? Of course—there is abundant evidence of that. But, isn't doing so free speech? And, as an American citizen (al-Awlaki never renounced his U.S. citizenship, nor had he been issued a certificate of loss of nationality pursuant to 8 USC 1481 due to an expatriating act), he was entitled to the protection owed to citizens abroad, not remote control assassination.

And what did Samir Khan do to merit his summary execution? Well, as far as I can determine, he operated a blog and later edited Inspire magazine. Apparently freedom of the press goes only as far as not offending those controlling the missiles which will rub you out if your content is deemed unsuitable.

As U.S. citizens travelling abroad, al-Awlaki and Khan bore U.S. passports, which contained the language:

The Secretary of State of the United States of America hereby requests all whom it may concern to permit the citizen/national of the United States named herein to pass without delay or hindrance and in case of need to give all lawful aid and protection.
Perhaps this should be amended to add:
Should this citizen/national irritate the regime in Washington to a sufficient extent it deems he or she needs to be blown to bits, please stand aside and let our missiles take out our citizen on your sovereign territory without collateral damage.

Now here's the thing: I believe that the world is better off without neo-medievalist advocates of terror such as al-Awlaki and Khan, but you have to do it the right way. If they can be indicted on conspiracy or incitement charges, brought to trial, and convicted, then they should serve whatever penalty their crimes merit. But if the U.S. can kill two of its own citizens on the territory of a nation with which the U.S. is not at war, for “crimes” which appear to be nothing more than speaking and writing their own (however misguided and pernicious) opinions, then what is to prevent the U.S. from targeting anybody who disagrees with its policies anywhere in the world, at home or abroad?

My dismay at this episode was compounded many times by the reaction among the “conservative” community where, with a few notable exceptions, the general sentiment was “Ooh-raah! U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!”. National Review Online ran an on-line poll asking “Was it legal and right for the U.S, to kill Awlaki?”. A total of 87% of the 17,228 responses said “Yes”, while only 13% replied in the negative. One can only conclude that the fifth amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not figure among the principles these “conservatives” wish to conserve.

I have no desire to associate with “conservatives” of this ilk and now draw a bright line of distinction between myself and them.

Posted at October 3, 2011 20:00