Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

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Thursday, May 02, 2002
Instapundit does a wonderful job of skewering Francis Fukuyama for his WSJ piece on, well, it's not clear what it's about, but some notion that September 11 has ended libertarianism which, in Fukuyama's mind, is mostly about opposing war and supporting biotechnology. My own brief thoughts:

Most libertarians care more about domestic issues than foreign-policy ones. No libertarians I know are pacifists in principle. While they may see war as the health of the state, they are not opposed to self-defense at all. Libertarians of the stripe who think "American Empire" is the real threat to liberty (the crowd) have indeed been marginalized, as have libertarians who are civil-liberties absolutists (though the latter less so). But the Second Amendment, another libertarian fave, has gotten a real boost from September 11. In general, I think September 11's main political impact has been to boost patriotism and civic consciousness. That's orthogonal to libertarianism and could benefit a host of conflicting political philosophies, so long as these are in their various ways articulations of why America is great and how citizens can keep it that way and protect it from harm. Plenty of libertarians think America is great, precisely because America's Constitution and its involved (and armed) citizenry are the best protection against the loss of liberty to either paternalistic government or foreign invasion.

I also think Fukuyama divides the foreign policy world too neatly into libertarians and internationalists. There are Wilsonian internationalists, left-wing pacifists, libertarian isolationists, muscular realists, cautious realists, neo-imperialists, liberal unilateralists, and probably a whole host of other philosophies out there. The only ones that have been decisively weakened by September 11 are libertarian isolationism and left-wing pacifism. Libertarians can be mostly comfortable with realists and unilateralists of whatever stripe; they'll be most offended by any foreign policy that compromises national sovereignty and freedom of action. That leaves a lot of the field still open.

As for biotech, Fukuyama makes no sense at all. This has nothing to do with September 11, and, moreover, there's no evidence that the biotech revolution is being negatively impacted by the war on terrorism. Not that Fukuyama provided any plausible reason why it should have been. More generally, though, I think Fukuyama makes the worst of the various possible cases against cloning and other projects that could be classed as "eugenic" in a broad sense. Fukuyama's argument seems to be that we've reached a point where improving the human condition is actually worsening it, where improvements in health and in control over our health will change our nature and make us less human. The argument really verges on (or even crosses over into) Luddism. And if there's one thing that should have been decisively discredited by September 11 it's hatred of the future and of progress, since that's precisely the position of our enemies in this war.

There are grave pitfalls in the project to manipulate our genetic code. We don't want to open to door to humans being owned. We don't want to open the door to a genetic aristocracy. And we don't want to start thinking of children as products. But all of these are arguments for moral regulation. After all, we not only want to cure Alzheimers and cancer and a host of other horrible diseases. We have to pursue these ends if we want to remain a moral society. The job of the moral philosophers should be to help us make moral decisions both about how to pursue them and how to prevent that pursuit from being perverted to immoral ends, and some of the conclusions we come to will be expressed in regulatory legislation. Fukuyama is worried about dangerous procedures being used to produce sick children; don't we have an FDA to prevent things like this? How is it different from any other dangerous process that has to run the regulatory gauntlet? He's worried about parents choosing to "produce" a deaf child, as has apparently already happened. How different is this from the vegan parents who were starving their already-born child because of their beliefs? We have statutes against child-abuse; we will eventually have statutes against using reproductive technologies to cause harm to offspring. There are a whole host of other potential nasties - who the parents are of a clone, legally, for example. We will deal with these by banning certain procedures entirely and by regulating others. But this will all be done on a case-by-case basis. Libertarians will continue to argue for a market-driven approach that implicitly trusts parents to always make choices with the best interests of their prospective offspring in mind (which, I will note, is not a libertarian position exactly; libertarian thinking gets a little weird when you get inside the family and start talking about the preferences of children). They won't win all of these arguments, nor should they. But they'll win a lot more of them if their antagonists make arguments as weak as Fukuyama's.