The EU, Iran, and Thomas Jefferson
The EU and the UN are discussing resolutions that might lead to tougher resolutions in which they might resolve to resolve that Iran’s development of nuclear weapons is not nice, leading ultimately to economic sanctions on Iran, if China and Russia will agree. We could cut short this seemingly endless process, during which the Iranians continue to develop a nuclear capacity, by getting the Eurocrats to answer a simple question: If the Iranians continue to develop a nuclear capacity despite all your resolutions and sanctions, what is the most that you will do to stop them? If the answer is, “further resolutions and sanctions,” then the simple truth will have been established that the EU has no way to stop the Iranians from developing nuclear weapons. We will know that other means are called for.
In an earlier incarnation of EU-style thinking, President Thomas Jefferson thought that the equivalent of economic sanctions—namely the end of all U.S. trade with France and Britain—would push the French and British, who were at war with each other, to drop their nasty policy of stopping our ships at sea and impressing our sailors. It didn’t work, because France and Britain were making war, and interfering with our neutral ships (which they didn’t see as neutral), for reasons that transcended economics. This was something Jefferson couldn’t understand, since his benign view of human nature led him to believe that enlightened self-interest could and should be the ultimate arbiter in international relations. President Washingon had said that the only way to avoid war was to be constantly prepared for war. Jefferson rejected Washington’s policy in favor of a reliance on sweet reason. The ultimate outcome of Jefferson’s rejection of military preparedness—which included his dismantlement of the U.S. Navy—was the War of 1812, the burning of Washington, D.C. by the British, and the humiliated flight of Jefferson’s Secretary of State and successor, President James Madison.
His dismantling of the Navy and his Embargo Act were logical expressions of Jefferson’s underlying political philosophy, and, indeed, he explicitly justified his policies in those terms. Jefferson believed that all men—and all nations—are capable of living completely independently and completely at harmony with each other, without the need of any coercive authority over them. Thus his belief in a strictly limited federal government and an almost invisible presidency (he gave only two public speeches during his eight years as president). His dislike of coercion and his belief in human reason convinced him that cutting off all trade with France and Britain would suffice to persuade those nations, since they were rational actors, to stop their warlike behavior. But the Embargo required Jefferson to employ the power of the federal government in an unprecedentedly intrusive manner, forcing the New England states to stop all foreign trade, destroying them economically, and pushing them to the brink of secession. In pursuit of a utopian belief in “no coercive government authority,” Jefferson pursued one of the most coercive and ruinous (and ultimately unsuccessful, leading to a humiliated Jefferson’s being forced to sign the repeal of his beloved Embargo Act two days before leaving the presidency) exercises of government authority in U.S. history.
What is the logic at the root of this contradiction? It is that, having rejected the proper use of authority and force, namely military preparedness and credible threats of military force by the United States government against the depradations of France and Britain, Jefferson had no choice but to employ improper authority against the New England states, violating his own principle of states’ rights.
This fits with the familiar liberal syndrome in which liberals eschew all normal manifestations of authority and end up with tyranny. Because liberals can’t conceive of legitimate authority, yet authority remains a necessity in human society, the inevitable outcome is a rule of illegitimate authority.
Or, to put it in terms familiar at VFR, because liberals cannot conceive of the principled use of authority, their use of authority must always be an unprincipled exception.