Balko’s Visit

I had Radley Balko at my college the last couple of days, talking to a couple of classes and giving a public talk about the increasing use of SWAT teams in America. He left a lot of depressed people in his wake, because the talk on SWAT teams is a real downer. Still, not enough people get it yet, so I hope he keeps talking about it.

For those who’ve never met him, he’s a pretty nice guy for a libertarian. No foaming at the mouth, no unscripted (or even carefully scripted) rants about the Federal Reserve, no calls for the reconstitution of the old South, etc., etc. In fact he seems like just a plain old decent guy. I emphasize that because he’s quickly becoming one of the country’s most well-known libertarians, and I’m so sick to death of the stereotype of the selfish, don’t-care-nuthing-’bout-nobody-else libertarian that I’m still pleased to see the stereotype rebutted not by argument but just by a real-live libertarian’s character.

Of course it’s not really surprising. Balko’s emphasis is on civil liberties, which is all about caring about what actually happens to people who get run over by the power of the state. Very simply, he cares a hell of a lot more about the victims of the war on drugs than most liberals do.

A big thanks to him for coming–a lot of people told me how much they enjoyed his talk.

Update: Our local newspaper, the Daily Telegram, has a nice article about his talk, including a video clip (which I can’t get to embed properly–sorry).

About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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13 Responses to Balko’s Visit

  1. Dr. X says:

    Balko seems like the kind of libertarian I knew in my earlier involvement with the Libertarians–honest, motivated by genuine decency and a belief in a better world (more of a Steven Chapman type), rather than libertarianism as cover for being an asshole who doesn’t exactly give a rats ass about the rights of other people–the freeper brand of self-proclaimed libertarian. You know, the anti-civil rights legislation person who doesn’t deep down really care about an underlying property rights argument as much as having a device to keep black people segregated from white people.

  2. Dr. X says:

    Will Wilkinson is another libertarian motivated by the better angels of human nature.

  3. I think Balko fits with your concept of marginal libertarianism, of not getting mired in theory and applying the ideas of libertarianism to solving the problems of the least fortunate among us.

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  5. Rhayader says:

    Thanks for highlighting Balko’s work, which is indeed a much more vigorous defense of civil rights than you’ll hear from nearly any Democrat or progressive.

    For the record though, I’ve never heard a single self-described libertarian advocate for the “reconstitution of the Old South.” Those goofy caricatures of libertarianism hold no more meaning than crying “socialist!” in the face of mainstream liberal policy.

  6. James Hanley says:


    They’re rare, but they exist. Rare enough that, yes, they’re just a goofy caricature. But unfortunately there’s just enough of them to make such a caricature possible.

  7. Rhayader says:

    OK sure, but I don’t think any philosophy or ideology is without its more unhinged adherents. To say that there are some crazy libertarians is to say that libertarians are human beings. It really has nothing to do with the validity of libertarianism’s philosophical precepts or its applicability to policy questions.

    I’m not saying there is no valid objection to the libertarian outlook. I just don’t think the oft-used stereotypes comprise such an objection.

  8. Lance says:

    I would never call for the reconstruction of the Confederacy but it is not altogether clear to me that the United States had the right to stop the southern states from seceding from the union.

  9. James Hanley says:


    There’s an argument I’ve heard from lawyers that the Constitution provides for a perpetual union because it does not specifically state that states may leave. The argument is that those who wrote the document would have written it into the document if they had intended for it to be possible, so it’s absence demonstrates their intent that it not be possible.

    I find that an overly legalistic reading, treating the overall purpose and concept of the Constitution as though it can be understood as mere statutory law. I think a more philosophical approach is better for understanding these big constitutional questions. I argue that the states entered an agreement voluntarily, and normally–in almost all cases–when you voluntarily join you can voluntarily leave. I think it takes an extraordinary argument, not garden-variety legal reasoning, to overcome that point. And beyond that there’s the political philosophical questions of whether compulsory membership can be justified, whether it makes sense (pragmatically) to compel membership, and the long-standing issue of self-determination.* Ultimately, I think Lincoln’s action is very difficult to justify.

    The only justification that’s evident to me is the prospect of having the conflict now to prevent perhaps greater conflict later, as the USA and CSA may have fought over western lands, or perhaps more sections of the USA might have split off. But justifying current actions by reference to hypothetical futures is a tricky business.

    * Self-determination is problematic, of course, because there’s no clear cut-off line. If my county in Michigan wanted to declare itself an independent country, would it make sense to allow it? What if just my town did? Of just my neighborhood? But whatever the difficulties in trying to discern a probably non-existent cut point, the CSA were clearly large enough to function as a self-sustaining country, as was the rump USA, so it’s hard to argue that self-determination shouldn’t function at that level.

  10. Lance says:

    I refreshed my memory about the issue after my post by checking a few resources.

    I read many justifications based on interpreting different parts of the constitution. One of the arguments was the one you first mentioned that the constitution made no provision for secession but, like you, I find that argument unpersuasive, especially in light of the tenth amendment.

    In Lincoln’s first inaugural speech he presented three legal arguments against secession. The first,

    I hold, that in contemplation of universal law, and of the Constitution, the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments. It is safe to assert that no government proper, ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination. Continue to execute all the express provisions of our national Constitution, and the Union will endure forever – it being impossible to destroy it, except by some action not provided for in the instrument itself.

    Of course this is also an argument against the colonies demanding independence from England so It’s a bit odd for a US president to make these claims.

    The second,

    Again, if the United States be not a government proper, but an association of States in the nature of contract merely, can it, as a contract, be peaceably unmade, by less than all the parties who made it? One party to a contract may violate it – break it, so to speak; but does it not require all to lawfully rescind it?

    it’s not clear to me that the constitution is a contract between parties and even if it were I think the southern states thought that the northern states were in violation of the terms of that contract.

    And the third ,

    Descending from these general principles, we find the proposition that, in legal contemplation, the Union is perpetual, confirmed by the history of the Union itself. The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured and the faith of all the then thirteen States expressly plighted and engaged that it should be perpetual, by the Articles of Confederation in 1778. And finally, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution, was “to form a more perfect union.”

    This one strikes me as the least compelling and appears to be nothing but question begging. The union is perpetual because it’s old and the words “perfect union” appear in the constitution?

    I suppose it was inevitable that the US would try to stop any dissolution of its integrity as have almost all other states in the past. Of course the shocking breakup of the Soviet Union in our life times stands as a stark and amazing counter-example.

  11. Lance says:

    Oops botched the blockquotes.


  12. James Hanley says:

    I think the contract approach is useful, although not indisputable. And Lincoln is wrong on that point. An individual party to a multi-party contract can leave; they just have to make appropriate compensation. It’s quite fair to claim that the South would have owed the North something for leaving. Then again, as many divorce lawyer would tell you, sometimes it’s better to just wave goodbye and let the other party go without a fuss.

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