Edwin Lyngar of Salon.com attempts (and fails) to make a reasonable case against Cliven Bundy


It brings a smile to my face that I can tell that Edwin Lyngar writes a new article because I start getting page hits on my critique of his “Why I fled libertarianism—and became a liberal” piece. Because of that post, I currently hold a top five spot on Google when you search for “Edwin Lyngar”. It’s the little things in life that brings one joy, isn’t it?

Okay, so enough bragging about myself, I think I should critique this new article as well, called “Fox News’ demented poster boy: Why angry rancher Cliven Bundy is no patriot” on Salon.com. I’m not going to defend Fox News here or whether or not a person should be a “patriot” because of the implications of support of the state. Rather, I want to focus on how poorly Lyngar understands a lot of concepts that he uses to criticize Bundy. For the sake of some brevity, I cannot comment on all of his terrible logic, so I picked the major ones.

Lyngar complains that Bundy isn’t paying grazing fees to the government and is using public resources for free, going so far as accusing Bundy of being “clearly a straight up communist.”

It’s interesting that Lyngar would call Bundy a communist. Communists believe that the means of production should be owned commonly, but Lyngar’s communist line is sandwiched directly between: “Bundy thinks he should get to use public resources to make a personal profit” and “Bundy is using the language of freedom, patriotism and outright paranoia to further his business interests.”

Tell me, Edwin, if Cliven Bundy is “clearly” a communist, then what is he doing owning a business, making a “personal profit,” and furthering “his business interests?” Those things don’t sound very communist to me. I guess Lyngar doesn’t care about that (if he even realizes how ridiculous he’s being) because it would obstruct his goal of appealing to emotion to sway opinion in his favor.

Speaking of appealing to emotion, he justifies his position by saying:

Bundy is not a hero, a victim or innocent in any way. Just think of real injustice of America, like people spending life in jail for marijuana charges. It’s hard to imagine the “militia,” a mostly fat, white and ignorant group, showing up to defend a kid in the inner city who was arrested for no reason. Also think what would happen to you, if you opted not to register your car for 20 years. Bundy exploits the most sickening version of white privilege to justify what amounts to theft.

First of all, it’s amazing that Lyngar found a way to inject race into this story. Secondly, I do agree that it’s wrong that some inner city kids are in prison because of marijuana usage. But what in the world does that have to do with any of this? This red herring would be akin to someone telling Lyngar that he shouldn’t be so concerned about Bundy because of the injustice in North Korea. It doesn’t make any sense at all.

Lyngar then again makes it painfully obvious that he has no idea what he’s talking about. He writes:

I grew up on 40 acres of brown sagebrush. Particularly when I was a child, cattle roamed carelessly across our property.  They even had right of way on my father’s land unless he fenced the entire lot with four-strands of barbed wire, an expensive and ugly option. This is the freedom for which patriots are fighting: for cows to trump personal property rights.

Does Lyngar not understand that there’s a difference between cattle roaming across someone’s personal property and cattle roaming across “public” land? Whose personal property rights is Bundy violating?

Lyngar then demonstrates the main problem with his argument—the presupposition that the government can legitimately claim authority over land.

We could argue about whether the land should belong to the federal government, but what is not in dispute is that Bundy has no ownership of it.  He won’t even pay fees to use it.

How did the government originally acquire the land? In this case, the land in Nevada was purchased from the Mexican government by the United States. Did Mexico have a legitimate claim to the land or did they, for example, just write on a piece of paper that it was theirs? If Mexico did not have a legitimate claim, then the US bought stolen goods, so their claim to ownership was not legitimate. Had Mexico legitimately owned the land, the United States would have had to fund the purchase with properly acquired money. If they did not (just remind yourself how a government gets money), then they would not have properly purchased the land.

Michael Huemer in The Problem of Political Authority writes (p. 28-9):

For illustration, consider the case of the United States. In this case, the state’s control over ‘its’ territory derives from (1) the earlier expropriation of that land by European colonists from the people who originally occupied it and (2) the state’s present coercive power over the individual landowners who received title to portions of that territory, handed down through the generations from the original expropriators. This does not seem to give rise to a legitimate property right on the part of the U.S. government. Even if we overlook source (1), source (2), which applies to all governments, is not a legitimate basis for a property claim. Might does not make right; the mere fact that the state exercises power over the people in a certain region does not give the state a property right (nor any other kind of right) in all the land within that region.

As such, the federal government has no real authority to make Bundy (or any of the ranchers) pay rent. The fact that others “dutifully” do pay rent has no bearing on whether Bundy has the obligation to pay it. It largely doesn’t matter that Bundy doesn’t own the land where his cattle graze because no one else is making a legitimate claim to the land.

Furthermore, if Bundy is a thief (an accusation made by Lyngar), who is he stealing from? If he’s stealing, why is the government the only entity that seems to care to do anything about it? As far as I’m aware, no one else has objected to Bundy using the land (or at least do more than object by simply agreeing with the federal government and BLM). If nobody cares, why should the government, which is supposed to represent the will of the people? And if anyone did care, would Lyngar and the rest of these statists side with non-governmental agents if they rounded up and killed Bundy’s cattle and harassed the Bundy family as the BLM has? What right would they have to molest Bundy and his cattle if they didn’t own the land they were on?

Like so many statist arguments, Lyngar presupposes the authority of the government and bases his entire argument on this false claim. Question someone like him on it, and you’ll experience a dizzying ride of circular logic.

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[…] Lyngar, whom I’ve critiqued here before (and here), has written another piece of Salon.com, this one called “I was poor, but a GOP die-hard: How I […]