Thursday, May 5, 2011

What Are Our Values?

With the passing of Osama bin Laden, the chattering classes on cable television, talk radio, and the new and old media have renewed their discussion on “what are our values.”  Going forward, should the U.S. engage in torture (even if torture provided the information to find bin Laden), wiretaps, preventive wars (Iraq invasion), killing foreign leaders and their family members (bin Laden and Qaddafi), and other aggressive actions?

The debate is really about the contents of one word: “our.”

Take the Hoover Institution.  Over the years it has developed a reputation as a home for conservative scholars and former government officials.  I and several of my colleagues disagree with members of the recognized Hoover foreign policy community.  Speaking for myself, I favor prompt full withdrawal from Iraq and Pakistan; they cost too much for a country borrowing 40% of its annual federal government spending. I oppose intervention in Libya and Syria.  Let the contending parties fight it out and limit U.S. measures to consequential direct threats to Americans and American vital interests.  I oppose trying to teach democracy to Middle East countries.  In the past few days (May 4-5, 2011), several dozen Iraqis have been killed and over a hundred wounded in suicide attacks, despite eight years of American occupation.

On domestic economic, social, and cultural matters, there is considerable variety of opinion within Hoover.  There is no consensus on a flat tax, a balanced budget amendment, pro-choice or pro-life, pro- or anti-climate change measures (or even if it exists), and other issues.

This post cites Hoover as just one an example of conflicting views and values on foreign and domestic policies and values.  Similar differences pervade think tanks, universities, talk radio hosts, and cable television programs.

So what exactly is “our?”  In the last analysis, “our” is rhetoric, whatever list of values an individual asserts to support his specific policy views and choices.  "Our" is Rousseau's "general will," the will of all, in modern parlance.  Or, I should say, the denial of diversity of opinion.  Unless, that is, diversity is our values, in which case there can be no consensus on a specific set of values.

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