“A classical liberal view of the Iran crisis?”

Some initial thoughts:

Classical liberals will not be surprised by the repeated occurrence of violence and war in the Middle East and will understand the realities of the unstable region where Iran is an important player. Their analysis will view the regional balance of power in the context of the global balance of power. They will also take account of the history of US-Iranian relations […]

This is from fellow Notewriter Edwin, writing for the Institute for Economic Affairs in London. It was part of a nightcap a few days ago, but I thought I’d give it some more love with a post of its own.

Edwin likes to use the “balance of power” strategy to explain the classical liberal position (check out his now classic article in the Independent Review), but I don’t know how true this is. Traditionally, hasn’t the balance of power method been favored by conservatives like Metternich and Kissinger?

I know he’ll respond by telling me that I have a socially liberal view of IR because I favor more federation, but I don’t know how true this is either. Shouldn’t trade-offs and cooperation in the context of power take precedence in classical liberal theories of IR? What sounds more liberal to you, then: a strategy of balancing power between separate actors, or a strategy of finding trade-offs and binding actors together in a manner (federal) that maximizes those trade-offs?

Thinking globally, as a dad, and as a libertarian

There’s no reason to keep writing. I have an nine month-old (nine-month old?) boy and a twenty-nine month-old girl. My vote doesn’t matter. I’ve lost my zest for ideas and events. Nobody cares what a libertarian has to say anymore, anyway. We’re back in the wilderness, wandering aimlessly and pettily bickering with each other about the stupidest things. We had our moment, we truly did, and it got flushed down the toilet along with the big, racist turds we dropped in the porcelain bucket.

Something in the world of ideas has turned stale. Or, I’ve gone stale. I don’t think I have, though. I’ve been reading plenty of books and plenty of internet, and much of it is enjoyable and provides me with a better sense of the world I inhabit. Has the world of ideas always been this stale? Has “the world of ideas” been a Big Lie to begin with, a cover-up invented by political strategists to influence youth and vie for power?

Libertarianism itself is no longer what I thought it was. Consider Syria. What’s a libertarian to do? A libertarian from the US would probably say that his country’s military leaving Syria is a good thing. A libertarian from Syria would probably say that the US leaving Syria is a bad thing. Actually, this is pretty cool now that I’ve thought about it. What is the libertarian position on Syria? Abandon it and regroup somewhere else? Would this “somewhere else” then become a fortress of libertarianism? Would it become a launching pad for military action, for violent acts of aggression against an equally violent polity?

Libertarianism seems to work great in an American institutional context, but what happens when libertarianism moves abroad? Now, I’m not about to go all sideways (to borrow a phrase from an old black cook that I know here in Texas). I’m still a libertarian, but only because it’s the least bad option out there. The world could use more liberty. This liberty can be gained through non-violent indigenous means most of the time. As a citizen of the world’s big, bad hegemon, this is the position I have a duty to take. If I was born in, say, Kurdistan, though, or Angola, violence might be the best least bad option to take en route to more liberty.

Edwin’s 2014 post continues to impress. Is this because I am getting older? Is this because I have other shit to do besides ensure (online…) that liberty remains as pure as possible?

Freire’s book (in Portuguese) is up and it’s open access; Van de Haar’s glowing profile

Lucas had a busy, productive 2018 elsewhere, but he assures me that 2019 will be the year he gets back on track for blogging. I’ve uploaded his 2013 book on the rise of the state in the early modern period (“Do Império ao Estado: Morfologias do sistema internacional”) to the side bar, or you can access the whole thing here (pdf).

I don’t know about you, but I am really looking forward to Dr Freire’s thoughts!

Elsewhere, Garreth Bloor has paid a glowing tribute to Edwin’s lifelong work on international relations over at Law & Liberty. The context is in a review of Yoram Hazony’s recent book on nationalism, and I don’t actually agree with much of what Bloor says, but it’s really cool to see Edwin’s important work getting the attention it deserves.

From the Comments: New Republics, Westphalia, and Russian Strategy

Thomas L. Knapp (check out his two contributions to the most recent Cato Unbound symposium on voting) has a great comment about Ukraine (Russia) that deserves further scrutiny:

In order for Putin to “pull out of” Ukraine, he’d first need to be in Ukraine.

The new republics which seceded from Ukraine are not in Ukraine.

Knapp brings up an interesting point that most geopolitical outlets and experts rarely consider (the Washington Post‘s Worldviews is a notable exception, as is Ilya Somin over at Volokh Conspiracy), and because of that these outlets fail to provide any depth or light to the world around us. There are three aspects of Knapp’s excellent comment that I’d like to hone in on.

The new republics

First, what are these “new republics” Knapp mentions? If you don’t count Crimea (wiki), which Moscow formally recognized in 2014, then the new republics that declared their independence from Ukraine are Luhansk (wiki) and Donetsk (wiki). Both polities are roughly 3300 square miles in area and house roughly 1.5 million people (you can get the exact numbers from the wiki links I provided above). Here is a map:

74717073_ukraine_donetsk_luhansk_referendum_624
(source)

Alarmingly, both republics style themselves “people’s republics” and (less alarmingly) have aligned publicly with Moscow. Russia, by the way, has not recognized these “new republics,” for geopolitical reasons I hope to make clear below.

Westphalian sovereignty

Russia does not like to recognize new polities (“republics”) because of its adherence to the ideal of Westphalia, which is state sovereignty (elsewhere at NOL Barry Stocker argues that the Westphalian ideal can be better understood as an early modern cosmopolitanism rather than state sovereignty). All throughout the Cold War Russia and China were staunch supporters of the Westphalian ideal (as were states in Africa and Asia that broke away from colonial empires), and they became even more so after the collapse of socialism in 1993. State sovereignty is the idea that states (“countries”) have sole control over what goes on in their own borders, and that any interventions of any kind, by any type of organization, needs to be approved by the state. It is called “Westphalian” because of the Treaty of Westphalia that was signed by a number of major and minor European states in the 17th century. The major states were able to maintain a balance of power and the minor states were able to assert more sovereignty over their territories than ever before because they were signatories of an international treaty. (Edwin van de Haar’s article in the Independent Review [pdf] on the balance of power as the most libertarian option available is worth reading, and is made stronger, I believe, by Giovanni Arrighi’s argument [pdf] that the balance of power led directly to the “capitalist oligarchies” that eventually pushed feudalistic institutions out of Europe beginning in the late 15th century.)

Russia, China, and other autocratic regimes prefer an international system that is respectful of state sovereignty because of the fact that this idea helps their governments to administer an amount of coercion on populaces that Western states consider immoral or rights-violating.

Russian strategy

Why did Russia hint at recognizing Donetsk and Luhansk, but ultimately decide not to recognize them? Because the West has been recognizing separatist republics since the USSR fell apart, and it has done so in the traditionally Russian sphere of influence (noticeably carving up Yugoslavia at Serbia’s geographic expense). The West has not carved up post-Soviet space by simply recognizing the sovereignty of self-proclaimed republics, but also by incorporating these polities into the international system that it dominates. Russia wants to show elites (but not necessarily the public) that it is tired of policymakers ignoring Westphalian notions of sovereignty (which are enshrined in the UN charter that almost all recognized states have signed; when they sign it they get rent-seeking privileges, but that’s a story for another day…).

This is fairly straightforward logic on Moscow’s part. When the West supported Kosovo’s secession from Serbia (in defiance of Article 2(4) of the UN charter), Russia responded by supporting South Ossetia and Abkhazia breaking away from Georgia before annexing them. The interesting thing here is that Russia even mimicked Western use of force to back up its play. When the West supported Montenegro’s secession from Serbia (in defiance of Article 2(4) of the UN charter), Russia responded by supporting Donetsk, Crimea, and Luhansk breaking away from Ukraine before annexing Crimea. The interesting thing here is that Russia even mimicked Western use of force to back up its play. Both Russia and the West used minimal military resources to achieve their objectives, and both played the sovereignty card to back up their actions.

blog-map-of-caucasus
(source)

Western policymakers will never be able to bring liberty to Russia, and liberty will never be known by Russians if the rule of law is trumped by geopolitics. The West dominates the world’s international governing organizations. It has made the rules. It has drawn up the contracts. It has invited the non-West to participate. It has given concessions in order to gain the non-West’s support. So when the West breaks the rules it first outlined and drew up, the non-Western polities it convinced to join IGOs in the first place cannot be expected to take such rules seriously. The fact that Russia does play by the West’s rules, by taking seriously the claims of breakaway regions, suggests that the West has been in the wrong post-1993.

American media pundits and critical thinking

All of this leads me back to sensationalist headlines about nefarious Russian meddling in the American presidential election. Don’t believe any of that garbage. Firstly, look at how often American foreign policy pundits have been wrong. Just look! Amid the cries of Russian meddling in the Clinton-Trump contest you can surely hear the faint echoes about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Secondly, all good analyses of geopolitical affairs provide at least some bit of historical context to them. Does your foreign policy pundit use history as a guide? Thirdly (and lastly), when thinking about a country remember that most accounts will have a point of view that shadows the consensus found in the world’s political and financial centers, which are useful but will sacrifice important details in the name of efficiency (and efficacy).

American libertarians, of all the factions out there, realize this best. Unfortunately, until they can shake the isolationist dogma that has paralyzed the movement since the Rothbard era of the 70s and 80s, they will continue to be marginalized in contemporary discussions about foreign policy, either as token libertarians in a Republican administration or as token libertarians in the “anti-war” movement (I put “anti-war” in scare quotes because by now it should be obvious that this movement represents the Democratic Party [pdf], not an ideal; see, though, Michael Kazin’s excellent, if ultimately unconvincing, argument for a different take on the disappearance of the anti-war movement once Obama and the Democrats came to power). New republics, secessionist movements, and other endeavors of exit are often embraced by American libertarians because of their autonomist appeal, but if they don’t pay attention to how state actors view such movements, especially regional and global hegemons, they may end supporting some very nasty regimes in the name of liberty.

Large states, artificial borders, and the African exception

Large states have been shown to be correlated with a large number of poor developmental outcomes, including poor institutions (Olsson and Hansson 2009), conflict (Buhaug and Rød 2006; Englebert et al. 2002; Raleigh and Hegre 2009), and ethnic diversity (Green 2010a). Similarly, states with artificial borders have been shown to be correlated with boundary disputes and low GDP per capita (Alesina et al. 2010; Englebert et al. 2002).

Sub-Saharan Africa has been affected by large states and artificial borders perhaps more than any other part of the world. Indeed, while Sub-Saharan Africa and Europe both contain between 48 and 50 sovereign states each, Sub-Saharan Africa is around 2.4 times larger than Europe. Moreover, with 44% of borders drawn as straight lines, “Africa is the region most notorious for arbitrary borders” (Alesina et al. 2010:7). Scholars have thus suggested that Africa’s poor economic development and numerous conflicts have been at least partially a result of its large states and artificial borders (Alesina et al. 2010; Englebert et al. 2002).

However, there is very little scholarship explaining African state size or shape, with previous literature only focusing on the persistence of state size and borders in the post-colonial period rather than on their origins (Englebert 2009; Herbst 2000). Thus my goal here is to probe the origins of state size and shape in Africa.

That’s from this paper (pdf) by Elliot Green, an American political scientist at LSE. Here is Edwin arguing that size doesn’t matter.

Fretting over Christmas gifts?

Fret no longer! Dr Amburgey smugly reports:

My daughter is a political science major at Queen’s University. She’s putting together her applications for grad school right now [she’s interested in political theory]. Last summer she went to a Libertarian student conference in Montreal [I enthusiastically funded her travel]. At any rate I was doing my annual struggle to come up with good Christmas presents when a visual cue from NOL made the proverbial light bulb light up. She will be tickled when she discovers that Santa Claus gave her a copy of Degrees of Freedom: Liberal Political Philosophy and Ideology by Edwin van de Haar. 😀

I hope I don’t spoil anything here! If political philosophy isn’t your target’s cup of tea, there are plenty of other books by the Notewriters to check out in the book pile to your right (Dr Gibson’s new book comes out in January, but that’s no excuse not to pre-order it now!).

I realize, too, that there’s a way to work with amazon so that when you buy a Notewriter’s book from an NOL account a portion of the money goes back to us (meaning me), or something like that, but I’m lazy and this is a labor of love. Lazy love is the best kind of love.

Happy Holidays.

What I’m reading (but not yet writing about)

I have been reading a lot lately. I apologize for the lack of blogging on my part. I am reading through Mestizo Logics by the French anthropologist Jean-Loup Amselle, Degrees of Freedom by our own Edwin van de Haar (a Dutch political theorist), and A Cat, A Man, and Two Women by the Japanese novelist Junichiro Tanazaki. I’ll be blogging about Amselle’s book in the near future, so stick around!

I am also reading through some excellent papers on colonialism.

Michelangelo: I gave apples to the ladies and cigars to the gentlemen (and to a couple of ladies in the English Dept). That was as an undergraduate though…

Theory versus Common Sense? The case of the Dutch

Since the fifteenth century, [the Netherlands] has had several features which later liberal thinkers, such as David Hume and Adam Smith, enviously referred to. Compared to other countries, economic freedom was an important issue, just as the larger degree of religious freedom. Trade, tolerance, and cultural developments turned the Dutch into an early manifestation of liberalism. However, with the possible exception of Erasmus, Spinoza, and perhaps the Rotterdam-born but London-based Bernard Mandeville, the Dutch lacked great thinkers who could provide this liberal practice with a theoretical base.

This is from the introduction (page 2) to Dr van de Haar‘s excellent new book, Degrees of Freedom: Liberal Political Philosophy and Ideology, and I think it makes a good argument in favor of the “common sense” approach to the political. This common sense approach, for those of you wondering, is often contrasted in American libertarian circles with the theoretical approach espoused by academics. Common sense libertarians tend to be more socially conservative and more parochial than theoretical libertarians who, in turn, are less socially conservative and more cosmopolitan in outlook. This difference in outlook between the two factions leads to the former camp appealing to “the people” in arguments, whereas the latter often appeal to the authority of a scholar or school of thought. Dudes like Ron Paul and Lew Rockwell are in the former camp; dudes like Steve Horwitz and Eugene Volokh are in the latter. This is not a tension limited to American libertarians, of course. You can find it just about anywhere, but libertarians have made it interesting, mostly because – once they have acquired facts like the one Edwin reports on above – they ask questions like this:

How is it possible for a society like the Netherlands to exist when it had no great thinkers to claim as its own?

The common sense faction will reply with something like this: “That’s easy: because the Dutch people were left alone they were able to prosper. With no busybody do-gooder class of intellectuals around to make rules for the peons, folks were able to thrive thanks largely to personal freedoms and self-interest.” This line of reasoning has a lot of merit to it. In fact I buy it, even though it’s not complete.

I think the Dutch had plenty of good theorists whose work contributed to the peculiar nature of the 15th century Dutch republic, but it is also true that the high theory of guys like Smith and Hume is largely absent from Dutch political thought (I don’t remember reading any Dutch philosophers in my introductory philosophy courses in college, for example). I can clarify this in my own mind by drawing parallels with American political theorists up until the end of World War 2, when the US suddenly became a superpower and has received a great influx of the Really Smart People from around the world. Like the good Dutch political thinkers, nobody outside of the US knows who James Madison or Alexander Hamilton are (specialists excepted, of course). A few quirky weirdos out there might know who Ben Franklin is, but they won’t know him for his political theory.

Maybe this also had to do with the fact that the Dutch (and American) theorists were more concerned with keeping Spain (or other scheming Great Powers) at bay, and this could only be accomplished with a heavy does of pragmatism to supplement ideals; pragmatism is, of course, something that high theory avoids.

The great thinkers, who we all know (even if we have not all read), in contrast, don’t seem to have a lot of experience in policy and diplomacy. Furthermore, these guys all seemed to be in well-integrated outposts of cosmopolitan empires that were largely populated by minorities. Scotland, for example, was part of the British Empire, or Kant’s Prussia, which was technically independent of the Austro-Hungarian Empire but still very much a cultural and economic junior partner to Vienna at the time.

Here is my big question, though: If the Dutch had no Great Thinkers, how were they able to create the richest, most extensive overseas empire the world had ever seen?

Common sense libertarians, 1

Theoretical libertarians, 0

By the way, my answer to that last question goes something like this: the Dutch, as former subjects of the Spanish Empire, had intimate access to Madrid’s trading networks (cultural access as well as economic and political) and this, coupled with the federal republic that Dutch statesmen were able to cobble together, gave lowlanders just enough breathing room to raise the bar of humanity. Again, you can find Dr van de Haar’s new book here.

BC’s weekend reads

  1. Our own Edwin van de Haar being interviewed about Degrees of Freedom (audio interview)
  2. Does Gun Control Work? Ben Carson Says Yes. ADL Says No but Yes
  3. The Vanishing Europe of Jürgen Habermas
  4. Leviathan (movie review)
  5. Thinking Anew | What, precisely, changed in the 18th century? (book review)
  6. This Is What Russia REALLY Fears in Syria

BC’s weekend reads

  1. The debt of a Pope called Francis to past Syrian refugees, Part 1 (be sure to check out parts 2 and 3, too)
  2. Ten Things I Want My Children To Learn From 9/11 (and also “Ten (or So) Lessons of 9/11“)
  3. Hellburners Were the Renaissance’s Tactical Nukes
  4. The Inevitable Divorce: Secular France and Radical Islam
  5. How Petty Traffic Fines Ruin Lives in Milwaukee (and Everywhere in America)
  6. Edwin and Barry both have excellent posts on current events in Europe and the Near East (Jacques has a related post); be sure to scroll through all the comments in their respective threads…

Look at what just arrived in my hands

Van de Haar's "Degrees of Freedom: Liberal Political Philosophy and Ideology"
Van de Haar’s “Degrees of Freedom: Liberal Political Philosophy and Ideology”

It’s Dr van de Haar’s newest book, straight from the Netherlands. You can pick up your own copy here (mine was a gift from Dr V, one of the many perks of being an annoying blog editor!). He’s got more books that you can find either on his ‘About…’ page here at NOL or on the sidebar. Thanks Dr van de Haar!

I know Dr Khawaja (of Policy of Truth infamy) was thinking of getting this book reviewed for Reason Papers, too. I don’t have the training in political philosophy to do the job, but I can say, just by reading through the first couple of pages in his introduction, that I could have benefited immensely from this book if I had been introduced to it in Political Science 101.

Aside from the introduction, I also briefly read through Edwin’s section near the back of the book (pgs. 120-126) titled ‘The Neoliberal Phantom’, and believe that it would be very useful for liberals of all stripes when confronted with poorly constructed anti-liberal arguments (the geographer – NOT anthropologist – David Harvey, for example, gets the full Dutch treatment from Dr van de Haar). It should be noted that this section is probably (again, I don’t have any training in this area) a little less useful for academics confronting more sophisticated attacks against liberalism, but it’s a very good primer for intense undergraduates and graduate students who have to deal with the relentless, poorly reasoned attacks on liberalism in their studies and at seminars.

When I read the whole thing I’ll be sure to post a review here at the blog. If I get word of somebody who wants to review Dr van de Haar’s book for Reason Papers (check out what’s on tap right now, by the way), I’ll try to post the good news here, too.

Around the Web: Notewriters Edition

Woah, it’s been a slow week here at NOL. I can’t speak for anybody else, but I’ve been busy. Michelangelo and Edwin have both recently had their work published by the Cato Institute, and that’s cool.

I wish, of course, that my fellow Notewriters would toot their own horns a little more often, especially on the blog, but rest assured loyal readers, we’re staying busy.

Some notes I wrote that I’ll never finish

Here you go. Make of them what you will – BC.

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I would argue that it can matter, and often does, from a certain vantage point.

The West is not open-minded when it comes to recognizing centrifugal forces in a post-colonial state, though. The argument is that smaller states will have less power than the single, unified state currently in place. (when Democrat Joe Biden borrowed my arguments by suggesting Iraq be carved up into three states.) This doesn’t refute your musings, at all, but complements them in a way.

So size does matter, from a certain point of view.

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zero-sum game is not real; logic is sharp mostly in socialists and libertarians, so then we move on to facts to get at the truth of the matter.

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I tend to see the West as Europe, the Anglo-Saxon world, and Latin America. Korea, Japan, and India are also Western in my mind, but I am an open-minded son-of-a-bitch and realize that some folks just can’t see the connection. They see brown and yellow people, and they see the struggle between conservatism and liberalism being played out there, and they think to themselves “those aren’t Western societies!”

Russia is somewhere in-between the West and the other West. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Turkey, the entire Levant, North Africa, hell, the entire Arab world save for Saudi Arabia and Yemen were Western until the Cold War ramped up.

Why do Europeans and Latin Americans tend to be much more hawkish than North Americans? (I can’t say much about Indians and East Asians, though I suspect they are somewhere in between North Americans and Europeans.Latin Americans because their choices are very different from the traditional West’s; Pakistan and China are very different from Russia and the Arab world, and the US plays different roles in Asia as well.)

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Fuddy-duddy conservatives and large swathes of the Left are not advancing the conversation. Jacques complains that Foucault is full of shit. Leftists – far from being offended or threatened, simply roll their eyes (if he’s lucky), or – more often – simply ignore him.

Irfan’s link to Reason Papers shows this well. I think it’s absolutely true that postmodernism is dead. I think it was invented to replace socialism. The paper is correct in all of these things. What do conservatives do in response to this simple fact? Throw poo-poo at Leftists and stay stubbornly in their ideological cage.

This is why Barry’s posts are so impressive. They advance knowledge and understanding. The reactions – from both the monkeys in the cage on the Left and the monkeys in the cage on the Right – to Barry’s pieces range from vitriolic to rudely skeptical. This signals, to me at least, that Barry is on the right track. He is much closer to the Truth than the poo-poo flingers.

Unfortunately in the post-colonial world, those fuddy-duddy conservatives and murderous Leftists dominate the conversation.

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_princely_states_of_India

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“If free enterprise becomes a proselytizing holy cause, it will be a sign that its workability and advantages have ceased to be self-evident. (111)” – Eric Hoffer, True Believer 1951 (1989 reprint)

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I wonder if Falk includes supporting bad laws in this maxim?

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Is ISIS Islamic? Yes and no. Obviously, it is in some respects, but it’s a new kind of Islam. It’s political and has designated its ideological others as ‘the West’, while operating against the notion of the nation-state. I think it’s postmodernism carried to its logical end, with a regional twist of course. (Think of the destruction, real and imagined, of all those ancient artifacts. That’s post-modernism at work, not the strains of Islam we’ve been accustomed to for the last 1,500 years.

Another Warm Welcome

I’ve got exciting news: Notes On Liberty is finally going to have an international relations specialist on board. Without further adieu:

Edwin van de Haar is an independent scholar who specializes in the liberal tradition in international political theory. In the recent past he has taught international relations at Leiden University and Ateneo de Manila University. He is the author of Classical Liberalism and International Relations Theory: Hume, Smith, Mises and Hayek (2009) and Beloved Yet Unknown: The Political Philosophy of Liberalism (2011, in Dutch).

His most recent publications are a chapter entitled ‘Adam Smith on Empire and International Relations’ published in the Oxford Handbook on Adam Smith (Oxford University Press, 2013) and a chapter entitled ‘David Hume and Adam Smith on International Ethics and Humanitarian Intervention’ in Just and Unjust Military Intervention: European Thinkers from Vitoria to Mill(Cambridge University Press, 2013). He also published articles and numerous other pieces on Smith, Hume, and the wider liberal tradition in political thought, among others in The Review of International StudiesInternational Relations, and The Independent Review.

Van de Haar works and lives in The Hague, The Netherlands. With Lucas Grassi Freire and a number of other scholars he runs the Facebook group ‘Libertarianism and IR’. He received a M.A. in Political Science from Leiden University, holds a M.Sc in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science and got his Ph.D in International Political Theory from Maastricht University.

Not too shabby, eh? Dr van de Haar’s article in the libertarian journal The Independent Review can be found here if you want to become more acquainted with his work before he starts blogging.

Dr van de Haar, coupled with Mike, Kyle, and Dave, will give the blog a number of new voices and perspectives on what liberty is and what it means. Stay tuned, and keep those ‘comments’ coming!