Can a Principled Person "Rise Above Principle?"
By David Henderson
In a recent critique of Richard Epstein’s call for another U.S. military intervention in the Middle East, I wrote the following at the end of my piece:
One issue I did not address was the issue of whether President Obama has the constitutional power to go after ISIS without Congressional consent. He does not. Professor Epstein has always, to his credit, been a strong defender of the US Constitution. I assumed that he would want to defend it in this case also. But, although he has written a few times on this issue in September, he still has not written a word about this serious Constitutional issue. Professor Epstein badly wants the US government to make war on ISIS. He seems not to care about whether such a war would be unconstitutional.
A few days ago, Richard grappled with that issue. You can judge for yourself how well he did.
Right at the end of his grappling, Richard wrote:
My late father always said that in times of crisis “we have to learn to rise above principle.” Sadly, this is one of those occasions.
Here’s my question. Are these two statements coherent? There is no doubt in my mind that Richard Epstein has at least a few points of IQ on me. And he thinks deeply about many issues. That’s why I don’t ask my question rhetorically. I think his statements are not coherent, but maybe people with more a philosophical bent can tell me why they are or might be.
But if you do, you have to handle the following issue:
In which times of crisis do you need to “rise above principle?” What are the criteria for doing so? If you don’t specify criteria, then I think you’re saying that anything goes. If you do specify criteria, don’t those criteria amount to a principle? In that latter case, are you really rising above principle?
If you care to answer, then please, as co-blogger Bryan Caplan would say, “show your work” or, as I would say, “explain.”