Reductio Ad North Korea

For sometime now (much to the chagrin of some) I have been using North Korea as an example with which to compare the United States in order to demonstrate that some countries can indeed be “more free” than others. In my mind this comparison clearly makes the point that if one country can be more free than another, then prioritizing the freedom of citizens (i.e., liberalism) is a coherent aim for a government to pursue.

I would think most reasonable people would be in agreement as to this point but apparently a certain small population of people are not. One person (who goes by the name Zippy) sticks out in particular. Not only does he stubbornly reject the notion that North Korea is less free than the United States but he does so in an arrogant and condescending manner.

He often refers to my argument as reductio ad North Korea. Specifically he stated recently in a comment section:

Your reductio ad North Korea has been dealt with extensively and repeatedly in multiple venues. You’ve never demonstrated an adequate understanding, let alone mounted an actual argument against, the repeatedly demonstrated incoherence of liberalism. Any pretense to symmetry here is just that: mere pretense.

Notice the sneering tone he adopts. I have often wondered why he seems incapable of simply discussing the logic of the argument rather than resorting to ad hominem attacks. In my mind this calls into question his true motivation behind refusing to see what most people would consider obvious. It seems very clear that he has some other ax to grind.

He then attempted to refute my argument in greater detail:

The rhetorical method is obvious to
anyone not stuck to the tar baby:

1) Observe that two actual countries are different.

2) Observe that some of the features of one country are preferable to some of the features of the other.

3) Label those preferable features – and only the preferable ones – “freedom”.

4) Completely ignore the substantive reality of what liberalism actually is. Discount the fact that both countries profess liberalism. Etc, etc.

5) Completely ignore the substantive criticism of liberalism itself. Avoid at all costs actually addressing the argument.

6) Fog up the discussion with maximum virtue signaling and ad hominem.

If one can look past his sneering comments, his six point analysis is actually quite helpful for me in that it demonstrates the specific parts of my argument that he seems to be incapable of understanding. This allows me to provide him with the information and reasoning he seemingly lacks.

As to point 1 – We are in agreement that the United States and North Korea are different countries specifically as to the amount of freedom each country allows its citizens to enjoy.

As to point 2 – Yes, the first amendment of the United States constitution states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

To my knowledge, the citizens of North Korea (with the possible exception of the elite class) are not allowed the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press nor the right to peacefully assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Yes, I believe the situation in the United State is better and so does everyone else (I suspect including Zippy). Why else would people flock to the United States and not to North Korea?

As to point 3 – I agree that the situation in the United States is preferable, but not for some arbitrary reason as Zippy seems to imply. We are talking about the basic freedoms that all people aspire to. This is proven by the petitions made not only by the European and American revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries but also by Tienanmen Square and the Arab Spring movements. It is not as if one could equate the freedom of speech with the right to eat ice cream while walking on one’s hands. I suspect any reasonable person would agree as to this point.

As to point 4 – North Korea does not have the rule of law. It has the rule of Kim. Therefore it does not matter that it’s laws or official statements profess it to be a liberal regime. It’s laws are meaningful to the extent the Kim regime wishes to enforce them. For this reason we cannot look to its laws in order to determine whether it is liberal or otherwise. We must look to the way the state acts. For this reason it cannot be said that North Korea is a liberal regime even though it professes to be so because in action it clearly does not prioritize the freedom and equal rights of its citizens.

As to point 6 – Zippy was the first one to cross the ad hominem line. It seems that Zippy wants to present the fact that I have called him out on this to be a worse ad hominem than his original ad hominem which started all of this. To me this seems like the whining of an adolescent rather than a man taking full responsibility for his actions. I don’t doubt that his echo chamber will view it otherwise.

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44 Comments

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44 responses to “Reductio Ad North Korea

  1. Terry Morris

    Well, you’re not the only person Zippy rubs the wrong way, I’m sure. But in any case:

    We are talking about the basic freedoms that all people aspire to.

    I’m curious to know how you liberals can know this. It is like the feminist claim that all women aspire to a 50/50 relationship with their husbands. You know, the two headed freak egalitarian family arrangement. Oh, and if certain women *don’t* aspire to this egalitarian arrangement, then it’s because they’re ignorant and we gotta teach it to ’em good and hard.

    • I gave examples of the Arab Spring movements and the Tienimen Square protests. I could also add the American and French Revolution and the various movements that brought about the end of the Soviet Union.

      • Terry Morris

        Well, there is no doubt (at least to my mind) that the French Revolution in particular promoted the Jacobin idea that unfettered liberty, equality, fraternity are universal human aspirations. Same with the American Revolution, except that it was tempered somewhat by Christianity.

        Per the Soviet Union and the Communist Revolution that gave rise to it, don’t forget that Marxism also claims liberty, equality, fraternity as mankind’s highest and universal virtues and aspirations. As I have pointed out before, all liberals share the same basic ideas, they just embrace different means of achieving it.

        As far as Tienanmen Square and the so called “Arab Spring” movements go, most historians agree that it’s generally not a very good or reliable method to write the history *as it is happening*. That is to say, to assign a given current event or events a definite cause-effect analysis.

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  3. donnie

    To quote Strother Martin, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

    At least that’s how I see it. You and I have gone back and forth on a lot of these points by now and I’ve watched a lot of other commentators do the same. Not to mention the ol’ Zip, who appears to have long since exhausted whatever reserve of patience he may have started with when it comes to this topic. To quote Strother Martin again, “Some men you just can’t reach…. I don’t like it any more than you.”

    But I’ll give this another try, mostly because I like having you around to challenge our political notions. I’ll try to make this response as all encompassing as possible in the hopes that it’s easier to see how all the points fit together. Whether this will actually help bridge the communication gap, I don’t know. But I hope so.

    For starters, in order to have a meaningful disagreement about political liberalism we have to agree on what political liberalism actually is. Definitions have their limits, and words alone are insufficient to capture the essence of any given thing, but we have to at least agree that liberalism has an essence independent of what we label it, and then come to some agreement on which words best approximate that actual essence (keeping in mind the aforementioned inherent limits of definitions). If our agreed upon definition of liberalism is just a nominalist label we use to move the conversation forward, we’re not going to get anywhere. So if we agree upon Zippy’s definition of liberalism it has to be because we agree that his definition is the best approximation of what liberalism actually is. Failure to complete this first step will result in a failure to communicate.

    As I’m sure you’ve noticed by now, within this Orthospherian “echo chamber” there is an array of different opinions as to what liberalism actually is. Bonald is a good example of someone who espouses a substantively different definition of liberalism based upon a substantively different understanding of what liberalism actually is. But the key is this: if we can’t agree that liberalism has an actual essence independent of the labels we give it, we cannot communicate at all.

    Second, if we can agree that a particular definition of liberalism is the best approximation of liberalism’s actual essence, then we can proceed to debate as to whether or not the essence of liberalism is a coherent one. You’ve already gone round and round with myself, Terry, Zippy, and a slew of other commentators regarding this point of contention, so I won’t rehash all of that it here. My position is simply that if Zippy’s definition is an accurate approximation of liberalism’s actual essence, then the essence of liberalism does in fact contradict itself. Therefore, per the principle of explosion, it can be used to justify any act of authority at all, or its opposite. This is consistent with the observed state of polities that claim to be liberal: it is plain to see that liberalism has in fact been used to justify almost every kind of authoritative action (the good, the bad, and the horrifically vile) and their opposites.

    Third, the rule of law does not solve the coherency problem, because laws cannot rule. Only people can rule. As you point out, North Korea does not have the rule of law, it has the rule of Kim. Kim claims supreme authority over all of Korea (an authority he does not, in fact, actually possess, which makes him a tyrant) and all of the written laws that profess freedom for all, equality for all, socialism, self-reliance, etc. get interpreted in accordance with his vision. The USA, thank God, does not have this sorry state of affairs. But that does not mean it has a “rule of laws” because, again, laws cannot rule. What it does have is a rule of courts, where judges exercise authority in interpreting the written laws, and deciding controvertible cases in accordance with their visions and understandings of the legal texts and the philosophy of liberalism which underpins all of them. The reason why the USA is a vastly superior country for you, me, and almost everyone we both know (with some notable exceptions) is because those who actually exercise rule in this country are, in most instances, orders of magnitude better than Kim at exercising their authority in accordance with the Good. Again, however, there are some notable exceptions.

    Fourth, the fact that horrific crimes against humanity have happened in the past under non-liberal regimes does not absolve liberalism of having been the justification for the horrific crimes of polities which profess to be liberal. Sin, like the poor, will be with us always. But that is not an excuse to tolerate industrial scale mass murder of the defenseless and inconvenient, and least of all when such an atrocity is being specifically perpetrated in the name of freedom and equal rights.

    Finally, your observation that us denizens of the “echo chamber” are great at picking apart liberalism but lacking when it comes to offering up alternatives is valid, but also not very relevant. A doctor needn’t come up with a cure for cancer before diagnosing a deadly tumor. And you won’t get a cure for cancer from an interlocutor like Zippy, his solution to liberalism is simply to get back to basics with the patriarchal family unit, and then let everything fractal out naturally from there. That said, there is some diversity in this little “echo chamber” of ours. I linked to Bonald above but he’s also an example of someone who has posted several essays along the lines of proposing an alternative to liberalism. I would also be remiss not to mention Catholic historian Charles Coulombe, he’s written an entire book on what a possible alternative to the present state of things might look like. A good review can be found here.

    • Thank you Donnie for your civil and reasoned response. I will definitely consider it. I respect anyone who can make their point with logic and without ad hominem attacks, arrogance and condescension.

    • The reason why the USA is a vastly superior country is because those who actually exercise rule in this country are molded and constrained by our legitimate liberal process.

      • Terry Morris

        What is a legitimate liberal process? Does your denominating ours such mean that, to your mind, there are liberal systems which are illegitimate?

      • The legitimate liberal process that I am referring to is a system of government that prioritizes the freedom and equal rights of its citizens through a legal system which limits the government’s authority combined with a respect for the rule of law.

      • Terry Morris

        Okay, thanks. But you didn’t address the main question of whether or not there are, to your mind, illegitimate liberal systems – either currently existing or which have existed in the past.

      • Any government that declares itself to be liberal but does not prioritize the freedom and equal rights of its citizens or does not adhere to the rule of law would not be a legitimately liberal form of government. Examples of governments that neither prioritize the freedom and equal rights of its citizens nor adheres to the rule of law would be dictatorial police states such as Nazi Germany, Stalinist Soviet Union and modern day North Korea.

      • Terry Morris

        You forgot to add to the list the early United States, which of course claimed to prioritize the freedom and equal rights of her citizens, but still authorized slavery, second class (unequal) citizenship for women and other “free” minorities and so on.

      • Those were certainly flaws that required correction through the legitimate, liberal process.

      • Terry Morris

        Those were certainly flaws that required correction through the legitimate, liberal process.

        Right. As Washington said in his Farewell Speech, “the Constitution which exists at any time, till changed by Civil War and mass slaughter of certain of its citizens, is sacredly obligatory on all.” Wait, what?!

        I was once a commited liberal too, so I know something about what that feels like, but I can’t say that I know what it feels like to be an ideologue. So I guess my commitment to liberalism was never really that strong to begin with. …

      • I wouldn’t say that I am committed to liberalism. I just reject the notion that it is evil (or any more evil than any other type of political philosophy you can come up with).

      • Terry Morris

        Winston:

        I wouldn’t say that I am committed to liberalism. I just reject the notion that it is evil (or any more evil than any other type of political philosophy you can come up with).

        So all political philosophies are of equal moral value to you. Come on now – you don’t really believe that; if you did you wouldn’t be a liberal committed to the idea that “prioritizing freedom and equal rights” is superior to its alternative.

      • All things being equal I would rather have a less intrusive government than a more intrusive one.

      • Terry Morris

        Me too! I like the idea of being among the favored class(es).

    • Not everyone is in favor of abortion. Yes abortion exists under our current system. There was a time when abortion was illegal under our liberal system of government and yet it still happened under unsafe conditions. Moreover abortion has been a reality of the human condition since the dawn of man. Just because liberalism has given rise to a safe, legal and medically supervised means of having abortions does not mean that a government prioritizing the freedom and equal rights of its citizens is specifically responsible for this sin. It just means that it is regulating what would have happened anyway.

      • Terry Morris

        Just because liberalism has given rise to a safe, legal and medically supervised means of having abortions does not mean that a government prioritizing the freedom and equal rights of its citizens is specifically responsible for this sin. It just means that it is regulating what would have happened anyway.

        Winston, are you listening to yourself? – “…does not mean that a government prioritizing the freedom and equal rights of its citizens is specifically responsible for this sin.” Huh?!

        Well, no, that’s not what it means exactly. What it *does mean* is that because liberalism has given rise to safe(r), legal and medically supervised means of procuring and having abortions (and in the meantime has promoted feminism and sexual liberationism on a broad, nationwide scale, while simultaneously destroying the influence of the Church and traditional morality – and by what means was this accomplished? That’s right; by prioritizing freedom and equal rights.), the proportionality of women who are today opting to procure an abortion, compared to the number who opted for an abortion when it was illegal, is much much greater.

        Therefore liberalism is directly responsible for the massive increase in the number of abortions in this country since it legalized abortion.

        (I have a sibling who is involved in all manner of self destructive behavior. She has burned bridges with pretty much every single member of the family over the course of time. She claims to believe in a radical form of female autonomy and “independent womanhood,” but of course she’s always got her hand out since her lifestyle involves several habits she cannot support on her own. But in any case, I used to help her with money quite a bit until I learned what she was doing with it. In typical narcissistic fashion she got very angry at me for abruptly cutting her off. What I told her was this (almost verbatim): Look, you’re a big girl and you are therefore big enough to go out and live any ol’ lifestyle you decide to live. That is *your* decision to make. By the same token it is *my* decision to make about how I distribute, and to whom, what money I have to give to charitable causes. It is also my *responsibility* to withold it from persons like yourself engaged in self-destructive immoral behaviors. So until you clean yourself up and begin to live a licit lifestyle what you can count on from this quarter is that I will *not* be party to nor participate in funding it any longer.”)

      • So would you say liberalism gave rise to your behavior and decision making process?

      • Terry Morris

        Winston, let me ask you something:

        Do you think the rise in illegal immigration the U.S. has experienced in recent decades is due to a) the relaxing of U.S. policy towards illegal immigraton, or b) a more illiberal U.S. immigration policy?

      • Terry Morris

        In this connection, here is Gloria Steinheim explaining the connection between abortion on demand and relaxed U.S. immigration policy, and why these policies must be maintained at all costs.:

        http://www.dailywire.com/news/904/feminist-icon-says-abortion-gave-me-my-life-right-ben-shapiro

        In short, that the U.S. must continue to prioritize freedom and equal rights amongst citizens and non citizens alike. Especially “reproductive rights” for women, because that determines in large part who controls immigration policy in the U.S..

        It seems like everybody understands all of this except you.

      • I am not arguing in favor of abortion or a relaxed immigration policy so I’m unclear as to the point you are trying to make.

      • Terry Morris

        You’re arguing in favor of an ideology which encourages, promotes, subsidizes and demands abortion on demand and open bordersism policy. That’s the point I’m making.

      • So you are saying that a government that prioritizes the freedom and equal rights of its citizens will necessarily always promote abortion on demand and open borders?

      • Terry Morris

        That is the evolution, yes, but is not what I’m saying, no. That is a different discussion. I’m really more concerned (in this particular context) with what we can determine about liberalism in the here and now, and why good people ought to reject it *on that basis alone*.

    • Again, a system of government is necessary. You cannot just tear it down and expect something good to replace it. Look at Iraq and Lybia for example.

      • Terry Morris

        Of course not. No one on our side has said so to my knowledge. If anyone on our side has said so, then (s)he must be oblivious to the fact that we’re in the extreme minority, and therefore do not have the numbers nor the influence necessary to just “tear it all down.”

    • Terry Morris

      Zippy’s definition *doesn’t* contradict itself; it demonstrates that liberalism contradicts itself.

  4. donnie

    Winston,

    I’d like to respond to each of your points but I’m short on time. So let me address what I think is most pertinent. You said:

    Just because liberalism has given rise to a safe, legal and medically supervised means of having abortions does not mean that a government prioritizing the freedom and equal rights of its citizens is specifically responsible for this sin. It just means that it is regulating what would have happened anyway.

    First, I am glad you recognize that liberalism has given rise to legalized abortion in this country. I don’t think you yet realize how big a deal this really is, but I’m hopeful you will.

    Second, if you think I’m trying to pin liberalism for the existence of abortion then we are still having communication problems. I am merely pointing out that in this country, where you and I actually live, mothers have the authority to decide whether to murder their unborn children. The justification for granting mothers this vicious, tyrannical authority over the most innocent and defenseless among us was to increase the individual freedom and autonomy that women are legally allowed to have over their own bodies. The seven men who authoritatively settled this dispute back in 1973 did so specifically with the intention of expanding the individual freedom and equal right to privacy of “Jane Roe” and, by extension, women as a class. Under the political doctrine of liberalism, this is the primary responsibility of all those vested with authority over others: to expand the freedoms and equal rights of all. As you correctly note in your comment above, it was liberalism (not Roman paganism, not Hellenistic Stoicism, not any other doctrine or philosophy) that gave rise to the scourge of legalized infanticide in this country. It is liberalism which also keeps this scourge going today. You will be hard pressed to find a proponent of abortion who justifies it’s legality without appealing to liberal principles. Liberalism is directly responsible for this particular evil in this particular country.

    Lastly, let’s stipulate for the sake of argument that Zippy is wrong and liberalism is a coherent political doctrine. If it is coherent, then there ought to be an answer to the question: is legalized abortion consistent with liberal principles? Furthermore, there ought also be an answer to the reverse question: is criminalized abortion consistent with liberal principles? I want to highlight here that if liberalism is coherent there will be answers to these questions. Legalized abortion is either consistent with liberal principles, or it is not. Criminalized abortion is either consistent with liberal principles, or it is not. As someone who believes liberalism to be a coherent political doctrine, I’d be very interested to hear how you would answer those two questions. Which state of affairs do you think is consistent with the political doctrine of liberalism?

    • Whether legalized or criminalized abortion is consistent with prioritizing freedom and equal rights of citizens would legally turn upon whether an unborn child is a citizen. I don’t think that issue has ever been decided. If an unborn child is a citizen then there would be a conflict between the freedom and equal rights of the mother and the freedom and equal rights of the unborn child. Obviously, that is a situation without a clear answer. I don’t think, however, that just because there are situations without clear legal solutions that the whole system fails. If the law was perfectly clear as to every possible situation we would not need courts. I don’t think any system of government or political philosophy has achieved that state of affairs.

      Is it your contention that this conflict makes liberalism “incoherent”? Do all political doctrines have to provide a clear answer to every legal question in order to be coherent in your mind?

      • donnie

        Whether legalized or criminalized abortion is consistent with prioritizing freedom and equal rights of citizens would legally turn upon whether an unborn child is a citizen. I don’t think that issue has ever been decided.

        I hope in re-reading this sentence it set off some alarm bells in your mind. To wit, if a political doctrine approaches a question like, “Should it be permitted for one class of human beings to murder another class of innocent, defenseless and vulnerable human beings,” by saying, “So long as the innocent, defenseless and vulnerable human beings in question are not citizens it is consistent with our principals to permit their extermination,” then that political doctrine is wicked. Full stop.

        Is it your contention that this conflict makes liberalism “incoherent”? Do all political doctrines have to provide a clear answer to every legal question in order to be coherent in your mind?

        I think you miss the point of the question. If the notion that political disputes can and ought to be settled in a way which secures the individual freedom and equal rights of each party is a coherent notion, then in any given political dispute (such as the dispute over abortion) there will be a solution which does, in fact, secure the individual freedom and equal rights of each party. You’ve observed that the only way for the abortion dispute to be resolved in a way that secures the individual freedom and equal rights of each party is for the freedom and rights of the victim party to be discarded with entirely; effectively defining them out of existence by labeling them non-citizens. Note how this is only possible under a nominalist framework: the infants murdered in utero don’t actually cease to be living, breathing human beings with God-given human dignity, they are simply defined away so as to be no longer relevant. In Zippy-speak, they are the class of human beings designated as untermensch trampled under the heels of the free and equal supermen (or in this instance, superwomen). There can’t be authentic individual freedom and equality unless they are a) defined away as sub-human nonentities to whom the free and equal citizenry owe nothing, and b) sacrificed so that the citizenry are able to secure their individual freedom and equal rights. Their blood is spilled necessarily, in order to square the circle.

        This example is not meant to be a case in point for the incoherency of liberalism, but it ought to at the very least get you to be somewhat suspicious of liberalism. Any political doctrine that needs the innocent, defenseless victim party to be defined out of existence in order to reach a definitive resolution to such a dispute is a wicked one indeed. I hope we can agree on that much. On the other hand, any political doctrine that cannot resolve a dispute as basic as, “Should this kind of infanticide be permitted?” has some pretty astounding gaps in its dispute-resolving capabilities. Perhaps liberalism needn’t be able to resolve every dispute. But if it can’t resolve that dispute without defining away an entire class of human beings, then hopefully there are now some alarms inside your head that are blaring like the opening theme to Ironside.

      • Don’t get me wrong, what you have written is persuasive and I will continue to process it over time. My initial reaction is that just because liberalism prioritizes freedom and equal rights of citizens does not mean that it must use this priority to solve every legal dispute. It is a priority but there are other priorities as well such as law and order, peace, prosperity and justice for example. I see freedom and equal rights existing alongside these priorities not in their place and not as a means of solving every dispute.

      • Terry Morris

        …by saying, “So long as the innocent, defenseless and vulnerable human beings in question are not citizens…

        We’ve long since moved past the question of whether preborn babies are citizens entitled to certain protections as citizens, and are on to whether they are human beings or just parasitical blobs of tissue.

      • Terry Morris

        Don’t get me wrong, what you have written is persuasive and I will continue to process it over time.

        A hard or difficult won convert is highly preferable, by my lights, than his opposite as a general rule.

      • A respectful tone as Donnie has demonstrated goes a long way in that regard.

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  7. 7817

    Winston, I agree with your view of that echo chamber. By their fruit you will know them. It’s a pity too, because some of the ideas are very good.

    Fortunately those ideas can be found in other parts of the Internet that have improved people skills (or possibly just more neurotypical social interaction; I’m not convinced it’s totally their fault).

    • It’s telling that some of them are so quick to defend shame and shaming others which is as diametrically opposed to the fruits of the spirit as one can get.

      • 7817

        Eh, I would say shame has value in the right places. Some of us at some times need to be ashamed for things, fix it, then move on.

        To me (not a Biblical languages expert) that echo chamber seems more like a culture of Scoffing. I have been guilty of this to, mocking others while offering no solutions, but the end of that is a kind of self hatred.

        What I have found is that God is very merciful, and when He convicts you of a sin He also offers mercy and a way forward to be a better man (more like Christ).

      • What you refer to as scoffing is what I’m talking about. I agree that it is a kind of self hatred which attempts to spread itself by making other people feel the same way. And there is a certain amount of short term pleasure associated with achieving this goal. It’s like a virus and an addiction that does its best work when the person infected with the virus is unaware of the infection.

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