Book Review: Our Sister Republics

Our Sister Republics is a book about the history of the United States and its relations with Central and South America in the early 19th century by history professor Caitlin Fitz. The book discusses the popular sentiment in favor of revolutions against Spanish and Portuguese control in Latin America following the War of 1812, which turned sour after 1826 as the new republics suffered civil unrest and incompetent governance while the United States turned toward racialist nationalism.

Fitz first presents a map of the Americas as they were in 1825, to which the reader should continually refer while reading through the book in order to have a better sense of the involved geography. In the introduction, she explains her terminology, briefly covers American history from the Revolutionary War to the War of 1812, and gives a short overview of what she covers at length in the rest of the book.

The opening chapter explains the context in which Americans first came to look fondly upon South America. Early references to Christopher Columbus would lead to the concept of a liberty-loving Columbia. Spain’s distractions with European wars resulted in less trade restrictions between the US and Spanish America. These factors led to affinities for Spanish America once they began to revolt against their colonial masters. Even then, there were some reservations about the ability of South Americans to form republican governments. From 1810 until the mid-1820s, these reservations came to be expressed only when revolutionaries faltered. It helped that the US fought a second war for independence while the South Americans were fighting their first.

The second chapter discusses the agents of revolution who came to the US to foster support for South American rebels. Occasionally exceeding neutrality laws and frequently using American presses for propaganda purposes, they helped provide revolutionaries with the materiel they needed to secure independence. Fitz shows that this was a colorful cast of characters in more ways than one, and illustrates the undercurrent of race which would eventually come to the forefront.

The third chapter gives an overview of the activities of the press in the 1810s, showing how they affected (and sometimes manipulated) public opinion in favor of the revolutionaries. There were occasional dissenters, but they would be marginalized and rebutted until some years into the 1820s. Fitz demonstrates that then as now, there is no such thing as objective journalism because editors are more likely to publish and treat favorably that which they support.

The fourth chapter is about Simon Bolivar and the perception of him in the US. Fitz shows through toasts and baby names that Bolivar gained much admiration in the US, even as Bolivar did not respond in kind. Both whites and blacks found something to like in Bolivar, even though these aspects were quite different. Whites saw republican unity; blacks saw an abolitionist leader.

In the fifth chapter, Fitz discusses the US government’s actions toward South America at the time. Some black and white pictures augment the chapter, and would have improved the book elsewhere had they been included in other chapters. The role of merchants in financing and supplying revolutionaries is examined, along with the activities of privateers and filibusterers. Many Americans today would be surprised to know how many in those days volunteered to serve in foreign militaries. The second half of the chapter focuses on the important American political personalities of the time: Henry Clay, James Monroe, and John Quincy Adams, but finally the rise of William Smith and those like him who eagerly defended racism and slavery.

The sixth chapter begins with the election of 1824 and the “corrupt bargain” that awarded the Presidency to John Quincy Adams instead of electoral vote leader Andrew Jackson. This event set the stage not only for the Whig versus Democrat party system, but for the turning of the tide in relations with South America. Fitz explains how the passivity of the egalitarian sentiments of the time left them vulnerable to growing slavery in the southern US and the arguments in favor of it. The controversy over the Panama Congress of 1826 furthered the shift in American views toward their southern neighbors. Though Clay, Adams, and Bolivar had high hopes, the congress was a disaster. It is interesting to note that some themes have been constant throughout American history; the Democrats’ antebellum platform of limited government, nationalism, racism, opposition to social reform, and economic populism has much in common with the views of the alt-right. And as always, when rhetoric and reality depart from one another, reality always wins in the long run.

The conclusion looks forward to the 1830s and beyond, showing how the sentiment of the 1810s and its reversal in the 1820s manifested going forward. Fitz ends the book by wondering how America could have turned out differently and for the better had the sentiments of the 1810s not been overthrown. The second half of the book shows how American exceptionalism originated as a pro-slavery, white supremacist idea, and how the US came to be a foe of anti-colonial movements in the 20th century.

Fitz’s appendix and notes demonstrate that she certainly did an appropriate amount of research for the project. Overall, this is an excellent book that covers an oft-neglected aspect of early US history in a manner which engages the reader much better than the average history book.

Rating: 5/5

Leave Otto Warmbier In North Korea

On January 2, 2016, then-21-year-old University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier (now 22) was on a five-day guided tour in North Korea when he was arrested at Pyongyang Sunan International Airport. He allegedly stole a North Korean propaganda banner from the Yanggakdo International Hotel on December 30, 2015 to take back to the United States, which the North Korean government called “an act of hostility against the state.” A video was released on March 18, 2016 that purportedly shows Warmbier in the act.

Warmbier said in a statement at his trial that he was offered a used car worth $10,000 if he could return the banner and that $200,000 would be paid to his mother if he was detained. He said that he took the banner in effort to help his family with financial difficulties and to try to join the Z Society, an organization at the University of Virginia. But this should be viewed with skepticism, as many people who have been detained in North Korea and made a public confession have recanted their statements after being released.

Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years hard labor in March by North Korea’s highest court after only a one-hour trial, leading to international condemnation. Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned the sentence: “North Korea’s sentencing of Otto Warmbier to 15 years hard labor for a college-style prank is outrageous and shocking,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW’s Asia division, in a statement. President Obama responded with new sanctions against North Korea.

Since his sentencing, veteran US diplomat Bill Richardson has been pushing for Warmbier’s release. As of late, Fox News host Tucker Carlson has also taken up the cause. But there is a case to be made against this effort and in favor of leaving Warmbier to his fate. Let us explore that case.

The Case Against Rescue

First, leaving Warmbier to serve his sentence has propaganda value against North Korea. Difficult though it may be to imagine North Korea in a positive light, there are those who do so, and thus it is necessary to engage them on the propaganda front. Many people are empiricists to the extent of being anti-rational, and thus need a clear example of statist tyranny to convince them that such regimes are a moral evil. His continued captivity provides such an example. At the national level, such actions harm North Korea’s standing among other nations. As Napoleon said, “When the enemy is making a false movement, we must take good care not to interrupt him.”

Second, Warmbier’s captivity will serve as a warning to those who would follow in his footsteps. As long as he remains in a North Korean labor camp, it will be clear to all who would think of traveling to North Korea that a long state-sponsored kidnapping and enslavement may be the result. Once again, there are people who need a current ongoing example to remind them of this.

Third, North Korea has a history of using the detention of foreigners as a means of exerting pressure on its adversaries. It is therefore likely that Warmbier’s release will come at a cost. At the time of this writing, it is too early to say how President Trump will handle such situations, but President Obama has established a dangerous precedent of not only negotiating with terrorists, but doing so incompetently. The Bowe Bergdahl exchange and the Iran nuclear deal both come to mind as transactions in which America offered far too much and received far too little in return. This has established a dangerous precedent that concessions may be obtained from the American government by harming American citizens or interests abroad.

Fourth, negotiating with and providing concessions to North Korea rewards them for bad behavior. Behavior which is subsidized will occur more frequently, so a generous offer made to secure Warmbier’s release will only encourage other malevolent actors to abduct Americans in the hopes of receiving their own hefty ransom. Therefore, those who seek Warmbier’s release may actually be contributing to the victimization of other Americans in the future.

Fifth, Warmbier’s continued imprisonment will send a message that if an American travels abroad to a hostile country and gets into trouble with the regime there, neither the American people nor the American government will save such people from themselves. An essential aspect of liberty is the ability to take one’s own risks, reap one’s own rewards, and suffer one’s own consequences without external interference. Warmbier did the first of these, and now he is doing the last. No one forced Warmbier to travel to North Korea. When he was there, no one forced him to steal a propaganda banner, if that is indeed what happened. He either knew or should have known that such behavior was dangerous and could result in his current predicament.

Objections

Mainstream thinkers will likely be protesting that the North Koreans are aggressors who are holding an innocent man captive. They will accuse anyone who advocates abandoning Warmbier of victim blaming, heartlessness, and letting North Korea get away with criminal behavior. Such thinkers should learn to avoid context denial. That the North Koreans are aggressors who are holding an innocent man captive is true, but beside the point. The point is that there is nothing to be done about it which does not have worse long-term consequences than letting Warmbier remain in a North Korean labor camp. Rescuing one man by force is not worth starting a war in which many more innocent people die. Diplomatically negotiating for his release sends the wrong message to others who would capture Americans for their own advancement.

As for victim blaming, there is nothing wrong with it in cases in which the victim really is to blame; i.e. the victim did something stupid in order to become a victim. While Warmbier does not deserve the treatment he is receiving, a rational person would have had every reason to expect it, given North Korea’s history of capturing foreign visitors and using them as bargaining chips to gain concessions from their governments. Furthermore, it is always better to be heartless than to be brainless.

Finally, there is the question of whether the state should block a private effort by the Warmbier family to offer a ransom in exchange for Otto’s release. Again, the theoretical libertarian answer is no but the realpolitik answer is yes. In theory, they should be able to use any means necessary to defend against the aggressors and reclaim their family member. In a better society, they might be able to rally private defense agencies to their side to overthrow the North Korean government and liberate everyone living under it. But because they are not going to subdue the North Korean government by force and ransoming Otto will only encourage rogue states and terrorists to capture more people in the future, it is best to block such attempts.

Conclusion

As terrible as Otto Warmbier’s situation is, leaving him to it is the least of several evils, so it should be done.

Ten Observations on the Fall of Aleppo

On December 13, Syrian government forces defeated rebels in the city of Aleppo after four years of fighting. A ceasefire was announced to allow civilians and rebels to evacuate, but the Syrian government resumed bombardment of eastern Aleppo on December 14. The death toll in the siege of Aleppo has risen over 30,000, many more have fled as refugees, and pro-government forces have deliberately targeted civilians with barrel bombs and cluster munitions. Ten observations on these events follow.

1. The international system under the United Nations has failed yet again. Just as it has in many other instances of democide, the UN Security Council failed to condemn the actions of the Assad regime. Once again, the ostensible purpose of international law, to protect civilians from atrocities that “shock the conscience of humanity,” was ignored. This is because Russia is involved on Assad’s side and has veto power in the UNSC, which it has used to block all resolutions against the situation in Syria.

2. There is an irreducible anarchy between sovereigns. The logical proof of this is rather simple. Suppose that there is not an irreducible anarchy between sovereigns. This means that there is a law governing sovereigns. This requires that someone be able to enforce this law against the sovereigns. But a sovereign is defined as having supreme power or authority, which means that no one is able to enforce a law against a sovereign. This is a contradiction, so the supposition is false. Therefore there is an irreducible anarchy between sovereigns.

Practically, this means that the UN fails because it must; it is logically impossible for it to succeed, as it is not a sovereign entity. The UN is incapable of imposing anything upon a state without the help of other states. Another important point is that there is no such thing as international law because there is no international enforcer of law. (That being said, the alternative is likely worse, in that a global government would be even less accountable than the nation-states of today.)

3. The strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must. This will be true regardless of the system of governance in use, but the current system empowers far more abuses than would any system other than a centralized global omnipotent state. The only answer to this problem is the elimination of weakness, which will either be achieved by the weak strengthening themselves by acquiring and maintaining means of force sufficient to deter the strong or by the strong exterminating the weak. So far, we have seen far too much of the latter and not nearly enough of the former.

4. There was nothing that America could have done to prevent this. Many Americans are left wondering if there was any intervention that could have been successful. Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding ‘no.’ A no-fly zone would not have stopped Assad’s ground forces, as they know that defeat means death at the hands of opposition forces. Enforcing such a policy with Russian aircraft involved could have escalated tensions with the Kremlin up to the sort of nuclear exchange feared during the days of the Soviet Union. Arming moderate factions has a terrible track record, as more radical factions defeat them and take the arms for themselves. Invasion also has a terrible track record, as shown by the failed efforts to nation-build in Iraq and Afghanistan. UN sanctions were vetoed by Russia, but sanctions are not very effective anyway. This leaves no good options for intervening.

5. When there is no one worthy of support, support no one. The atrocities of the Assad regime and their allies are well known. But those who would take over in the wake of his defeat are no better. There are a multitude of small groups involved in the war, but the only forces with enough might to govern all of Syria are Islamists of various types, such as ISIS and the al-Nusra Front. ISIS is well-known for human rights abuses, and the Syrian opposition has also committed its fair share. With this and the previous point in mind, the best course of action for Westerners is to sit back and watch enemies of liberty kill each other.

6. There is no such thing as non-lethal aid. Military intervention in Syria beyond limited airstrikes or special operations has never been popular with the American people, but non-lethal, humanitarian aid is viewed more favorably. But there is an economic fallacy being advanced by both sides of mainstream politics which applies to this case. Any organization has a total operating cost, which we may call C, and a total income, which we may call I. At issue here is the income from a particular source, which we may call S. Regardless of how S itself is allocated, the very presence of S means that the remainder of the total income, equal to I minus S, will be allocated differently than it would be in the absence of S. In other words, taxpayer funding for a non-controversial portion of an organization means that the organization can spend less of its non-taxpayer funding on that portion, thereby freeing up resources that the organization can now use for a more controversial activity.

In the case of Syrian opposition forces, money that they do not have to spend on food, medicine, etc. is money that they are now able to spend on armaments. The practical upshot is that there is no such thing as non-lethal aid to an organization that conducts lethal operations, and that economic and political commentators should take this into account.

7. President Obama’s red line was a mistake, no matter what he would have done afterward. In August 2012, Obama warned that Assad should not move or use biological or chemical weapons, and that doing so would “change his calculus” on whether to intervene. As terrible as the use of such weapons is, there was and is no effective method of intervention beyond limited strikes on the chemical weapons themselves. But drawing the red line and watching indifferently as it was crossed was worse than doing nothing, as it sent a message that American leaders are untrustworthy and do not need to be taken seriously.

8. This issue likely sealed the fate of the Gary Johnson presidential campaign. In a September 8 interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Mike Barnicle asked Johnson about Aleppo. Johnson completely blanked out on the issue. At the time, he was hovering around 9 percent in the polls and needed to reach 15 percent to gain access to the debates. This gaffe marked the beginning of his gradual decline from 8.8 percent on September 7 to the 3.3 percent of the vote he received on November 8. Attempts were made to defend his gaffe by claiming that Johnson could not bomb other countries like major-party presidents do if he did not know about them, but these rightly rang hollow. It is one thing to withdraw from foreign entanglements, but quite another to have no idea what is happening.

9. This problem is the result of Western meddling. Syria was a colony of France from 1920 to 1946. At the beginning of this time, Mandatory Syria was divided into six states: Greater Lebanon (now Lebanon), Sanjak of Alexandretta (now part of Turkey), the State of Aleppo, the State of Damascus, the Alawite State, and the Jabal al-Druze State. This arrangement kept opposing factions in their own territories, but France had combined the latter four by the end of 1936. These factions fought for control, resulting in a large number of military coups and attempted coups from 1945 to 1970, ending only when Hafez al-Assad was able to rule strongly enough to suppress dissent. After his death in 2000, his son Bashar succeeded him. In the Arab Spring protests of 2011, Assad’s rule was challenged by various factions which sought to remove him from power, leading to the Syrian Civil War. But if France had not tried to combine disparate peoples under one state and had instead left the four Syrian states separate, this bloody conflict could have been prevented. Bashar al-Assad, if he had come to power at all in this alternate timeline, would only be the ruler of a small part of western Syria. The rest of the country would have been ruled more locally and probably less oppressively by governments of their own people.

10. What we are witnessing in Syria is the true nature of the state. Governments do not maintain rule by divine right or popular consent; they do it by murdering anyone who dares to challenge their power, and even some who do not. Governments murdered 262 million of their own citizens in the 20th century, and if Aleppo is anything to go by, the 21st century is not off to a good start. One may object that not all governments have done such things to their own people in time memorial, or even ever, but that is not the point. The point is that all of them would if faced with a sufficiently powerful popular insurgency. The effect of power upon a ruler is intoxicating and addicting, much like substance abuse. Those who enjoy the power, wealth, and fame of being part of the ruling class will react with the utmost hostility toward any threat to their means of rule. The fear of reprisals by the people against the rulers should the regime fall coupled with the potential of having to produce rather than plunder for a living provides them all the motivation they need to violently crush rebellions. The tragedy of Aleppo, Homs, and other Syrian rebel strongholds is just the latest in a long line of murderous rampages by the ruling classes.

Book Review: Good Guys With Guns

Good Guys With Guns is a book about concealed firearms and their effects by sociologist Angela Stroud. The book discusses the rise in concealed carry permits, the way armed citizens interpret their environments, and the role of gender, race, class, and culture in firearm ownership through a series of interviews conducted by Stroud.

The interviews illuminate many interesting aspects of firearm ownership which are not adequately discussed elsewhere, and Stroud makes a genuine effort to understand people who disagree with her. But she commits a multitude of errors which are common among leftists and sociologists, and seems to be unable to keep herself from doing so. A survey of these errors will be more edifying than a more typical book review, so let us explore where and how Stroud goes wrong.

In the opening chapter, Stroud claims that gun advocates ignore empirical data which show that women might be more harmed than guns than protected by them, but there is good reason to ignore such data.1 She describes security, family values, individual freedom, and the defense of vulnerable people from criminals as being inherently masculine values rather than healthy values for any person regardless of gender. Later in the chapter, she describes her research methods, detailing the number of interviews, the types of people interviewed, the length and location of the interviews. She concludes the chapter by describing her own views and how they were changed by her research activities.

The second chapter opens with Stroud describing her concealed handgun license (CHL) test experience and criticizing her instructor for calling out incompetence and foolishness in other people during the shooting part of the test. She then argues that gender roles are social constructs while showing little recognition of the biological and environmental realities upon which such constructs are built. This is a recurring error that she makes toward a variety of subjects throughout the book. On the subject of good guys and bad guys, she neglects to mention a third type of character (who might be called an antihero guy) who breaks the rules not to take pleasure in violence for violence’s sake, but due to desperation and/or rules which promote injustice. Like most of her supposed binaries, this is actually a sliding scale between two pure extremes. Her interviews with men reveal some expected results: firearm ownership and use provides a bonding experience for males; men who are vulnerable due to aging or lack of size feel more secure when armed; and men carry guns as part of their traditional role as family protector. But she dismisses the concerns of the men who feel vulnerable as “elaborate fantasies,” seems to have no concept of peace through mutually assured destruction, and presents the vulnerability of women without guns against men as a social construct rather than a frequent empirical fact. She claims that men who want guns to defend their families but are frequently away from home and men who believe it is their job to defend their families because they are physically stronger but want women to have guns as equalizers are in contradiction, but there is nothing contradictory about these positions. Later, she suggests that a response to being robbed is to let the robbers get away with what they want, which shows no understanding of how incentives work.

The third chapter is about Stroud’s interviews with women who carry guns. Again, the interviews reveal what we might expect: women are usually introduced to guns by men instead of other women or their own initiative; many women who carry firearms do so to reject the need for men to protect them; women do not have access to as many institutionalized opportunities to learn about guns as men do; carrying firearms can restore a sense of strength and confidence in women who have been victimized; women can gain a sense of pride from mastering what is thought of as a predominantly male activity; and women with children typically value their children’s lives above their own. Stroud claims that it is paradoxical for women to fear men and rely on them for protection, but this is only true if it is the same men in both cases. Her analysis of women’s vulnerability as a social construction is flawed because it relies too strongly on empiricism; while it is true that men are more likely to be the victims of violent crime, the average woman is more victimizable than the average man due to the difference in size and physical ability. Her claim that arguing against common female perceptions about guns amounts to reinforcing the patriarchal nature of gun culture is an example of kafkatrapping. She continually attributes to patriarchy what is actually the result of male disposability.

The fourth chapter discusses perceptions of good versus evil, and how race and class shape those perceptions. Stroud claims that crime is a social construction, but because crime is defined as violating the law, it follows that the law is also a social construction. This makes the idea of determining good guys versus bad guys with respect to their obedience of the law or lack thereof entirely subjective, making her analysis of people who carry firearms illegally highly questionable. Her discussion of the perception that young black men are viewed as criminals neglects to mention crime statistics which show that they are responsible for a disproportionate amount of violent crime. This is especially interesting given her claim in the next chapter that there is a lack of awareness of data on criminal victimization. Stroud contrasts those who respect a business owner’s right to refuse service to anyone with those who will not support a business that prohibits firearms on its premises, but these positions are mutually consistent as long as one does not violate a property owner’s wishes. She glosses over an instance in which a female demonstrates privilege vis-a-vis males. She speculates about what might have happened to a man who caused an incident if he had been black instead of white as though it were a foregone conclusion that the police would have fired on him rather than restrain themselves and assess the situation. As mentioned earlier, good versus evil is not a binary construct, but a sliding scale with various shades of gray. That said, the reason that women are almost never mentioned as bad guys is partly because men are responsible for a disproportionate amount of violent crime and partly due to the relative disposability of males.

The fifth chapter covers self-defense and personal responsibility, from protection against criminals all the way to doomsday prepping. Again, Stroud seems to have no sense of objective reality, instead referring to threat perception solely as a social construct. The belief that the outcasts of society are necessary to define its boundaries demonstrates an inability to step outside of binary thinking and look at how a society can define itself in terms of what it is for rather than only what it is against. Stroud discusses free markets as though they have existed, and is critical of the supposed result of them, in effect blaming capitalism instead of cronyism or communo-fascism. She claims that white perceptions of the high rate of homicides among blacks can only be viewed as a case of white racial apathy, but it may also be a case of whites expecting blacks to take responsibility for solving their own problems and fixing their own communities instead of expecting the state to do it for them, especially because the state has caused most of their problems. She seems incapable of understanding privilege as something that is earned and inequality as something that is both extant and just, though perhaps not at its current extent. Ultimately, she regards individualism not as an empirically observable fact, but as a fiction of whiteness. That those who have enough wherewithal and firepower to survive would be the only survivors in a complete breakdown of civilization is the result of any logically sound consideration of disasters, with the exact nature of who survives a particular scenario providing the definition of “enough” for that scenario.

The final chapter discusses the social implications of an armed citizenry. Stroud repeats the mistake of viewing the idea of a threatening other as a social construct rather than an empirical reality. She asks how it can be that gun violence is both so common that good people need guns for defense but so uncommon that restrictions on gun purchases are unjustified, without considering that the answer is that the restrictions which do exist have a terrible track record of stopping criminals. For some reason, she believes that criminals will obey gun control laws even though they disobey laws by definition.2 The idea that gun restrictions represent a slippery slope toward confiscation is not a baseless conspiracy theory; it is demonstrated by a multitude of cases. She speaks of the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman incident as though it was black versus white, but it was really black versus Latino. She confuses social responses with state responses, which need not be equivalent. We know how Adam Lanza gained access to guns; he killed his mother and took her guns, meaning that no gun control law that forbade him from owning guns would have worked against him. That government must play a role in creating stronger communities and keeping guns away from violent criminals is asserted without evidence and may therefore be dismissed without evidence. To say that we must refuse to become victims in a democratic society is to ignore the fact that democracy necessarily victimizes people. Finally, she speaks of structural social inequality that perpetuates injustice while seeking more government involvement without realizing that government is inherently a structure that causes social inequality between its agents and the citizenry and perpetuates injustice in favor of its agents against the citizenry.

While there are many insightful points made in the book, Stroud commits far too many fallacies along the way for the book to be enjoyable or read smoothly. What could have been an excellent work on an important topic is instead bogged down by postmodern discourse, social justice rhetoric, and shoddy reasoning.

Rating: 2/5

Footnotes:

  1. Empiricism cannot provide a sufficient explanation of a situation in which counterfactuals are important. This is because empirical methods only allow us to look at the choices which were made and the consequences thereof. Examining what would have happened had a different choice been made requires one to use rationalism instead. With regard to gun issues, this means that studies which suggest that being armed could make one more likely to be harmed must be taken with a grain of salt, as there is no way to know what would have happened to armed people in a counterfactual in which they were unarmed, and vice versa.
  2. Also note that the Supreme Court has ruled in Haynes v. United States (1968) that some gun control laws which are supposed to apply to criminals do not because this would violate their Fifth Amendment right not to self-incriminate.

Book Review: The Essential Guide to Freelance Writing

The Essential Guide to Freelance Writing is a how-to manual on the subject by author and editor Zachary Petit. The book discusses all of the fundamentals of freelance writing that an aspiring writer needs to know.

Petit begins by discussing full-time versus part-time freelancing, as well as the different venues for which a freelancer can write. He offers the wise advice to avoid content mills and be open to writing for almost every other type of publication, which would have saved me a lot of trouble had this book been published four years earlier. The second chapter is about what to write and how to get ideas for articles. Again, the advice is sound: go out and find stories rather than expecting them to fall into your lap, use your knowledge and expertise from other disciplines, cover events local to you, express yourself, and never stop studying.

The next three chapters discuss the process of getting a freelance assignment. First, there is the matter of one’s online and offline presence, as well as adherence to stylebooks (which felt like it belonged in the fourth chapter rather than the third). Next, Petit takes the reader through the structure of a magazine and the writing opportunities (or lack thereof) presented by each part. The fourth chapter concludes with a brief discussion of what is necessary to write for major publications immediately. The fifth chapter explains in great detail how to (and how not to) query a publication in order to get a freelance assignment and briefly discusses the typical hierarchy of publishers, editors, assistants, and interns.

The sixth chapter covers everything that a novice writer needs to learn about interviewing people, from the pros and cons of in-person, phone, and email interviews to journalistic ethics to dealing with troublesome sources and celebrities (and both). In general, in-person interviews are better than phone interviews are better than email interviews, though one must take what one can get sometimes. The seventh chapter discusses almost every other type of writing available to a freelancer, such as front-of-the-book content, newspaper articles, feature articles, Q&As, and profile pieces. To Petit’s credit, the puff pieces and hit pieces which are far too common in formerly respectable publications are absent, as new writers should make an effort to be better than that.

The eighth chapter deals with a writer’s relationship with editors; how to treat them, how to think of them, and how to make sure that an article is ready to be seen by them. The most important advice here is to take no criticism personally, eliminate as many errors as possible on one’s own, double-check everything before submitting an article, and realize that editors can be busy people with tight schedules that limit their ability to respond promptly. The ninth chapter concerns the business side of being a freelancer, including proper payment, negotiating contracts, dealing with delinquent clients, avoiding shady clients, and navigating the unique tax situation of being an independent contractor. The book ends with a short conclusion of encouraging words and an appendix which mostly contains more information about writing queries.

Overall, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Petit explains the ins and outs of freelancing as only a veteran of the business can, and it can save an aspiring freelance writer a lot of trouble from learning the slow and hard way.

Rating: 5/5

Neoreactionaries Are Off Their Heads About Trump

In a November 11 article at Social Matter, Michael Perilloux analyzed the election of Donald Trump with respect to its meaning for the neoreactionary movement, speaking in the voice of all neoreactionaries. In this much, he is mostly correct. But there is much to be criticized about the goals discussed therein as well as the means of reaching them. Let us examine what is wrong with the neoreactionary project and their thoughts on Trump through a libertarian reactionary examination of Perilloux’s article.

Hailing Trump

Perilloux begins with a statement of support and hope for President-elect Trump which would not be out of place in a mainstream conservative publication. Though it is debatable whether a Trump presidency or a Clinton presidency would have been better for liberty and/or Western civilization over the long term, Trump has positioned himself as an enemy of many enemies of liberty and Western decline while showing a willingness to boldly engage issues that other candidates would not touch with a ten-foot pole. For those who believe that there is hope for working within the system, this view of Trump’s victory is understandable.

However, as Perilloux correctly observes, being “a good president in the current system…will not halt the decline of America, and it will not truly Make America Great Again. If just being a good president is his game, there is no reason for us to get excited.” The neoreactionaries have a much different vision of what they hope Trump can do. But as we will see, this is where they lose their heads.

Understanding The Problem

The neoreactionary diagnosis of the problem is much like the libertarian reactionary diagnosis: the way that power works in liberal democracies is fundamentally flawed. The notions of division of power and checks and balances are false because the power is divided not among different societal organs (let alone competing non-monopolized service providers in a free market), but among different branches of the same organ. Just as one would not let one’s legs quarrel with one another lest one fall over, those who run a state apparatus have a powerful incentive not to diminish the effectiveness of said apparatus by setting different parts of it against each other. The incentives in a liberal democracy are particularly damaging; whereas a king owns the capital stock of his country and has an incentive to leave a good inheritance to one heirs, an elected official with limited terms controls only the usufruct of public lands and has an incentive to take what he can while he can. Rather than accept donations from and grant favor to special interests that help the society, elected officials are incentivized to do what is best for themselves at the expense of the citizens they are ostensibly representing. The citizens themselves are also subject to perverse incentives in a democracy, as they can vote themselves handouts from the public treasury, conflicting their personal interest with that of the nation. The citizens can also use state power to attack each other by using the ballot box to impose their criminal intent upon their fellow citizens without suffering the normal criminal penalties for engaging in such behavior oneself. The end result of subjecting everything to a vote is well described by Nick Land:

“[T]he politically awakened masses [are] a howling irrational mob, …the dynamics of democratization [are] fundamentally degenerative: systematically consolidating and exacerbating private vices, resentments, and deficiencies until they reach the level of collective criminality and comprehensive social corruption. The democratic politician and the electorate are bound together by a circuit of reciprocal incitement, in which each side drives the other to ever more shameless extremities of hooting, prancing cannibalism, until the only alternative to shouting is being eaten.”

Of course, kings can be bad and elected officials can behave better, but the incentive structures favor good monarchs and corrupt elected officials. But in either case, it is in the interest of the state to grow, so long as it does not interfere with private commerce to a sufficient extent to choke off its supply lines of tax revenue. There is nothing counter-intuitive about this, but it does require an intuition which is outside the realm of modern mainstream political thought. When we see government tyranny and deliberate cultural destruction, one need not choose between thinking that state power is bad in and of itself or asking why it is doing such things. In fact, contrary to neoreactionary thought, a thorough study of the latter leads to the former conclusion.

Two Different Ills

While it is true that elites damage and/or weaponize the civilized structure of society because it helps them to acquire and maintain power, this problem is present in monarchies as well. A truthful and inquisitive press may uncover and report embarrassing details about the king’s activities. A powerful economy that provides great wealth and options to the citizenry while creating a strong middle class may cause the public to question the king’s necessity, as occurred with the classical anarchists of the 19th century. Strong communities with strong virtuous culture may also question the need for a king to rule over them, viewing him as superfluous at best and malicious at worst. Big old families and religious leaders may challenge the king’s power and lead a rebellion against him on secular or religious grounds, respectively. A strong belief in free association can lead to anarchy, as people may seek to stop associating with the state apparatus. A strong belief in law and order can also lead to anarchy, as people may seek to hold agents of the state to the same moral standards as everyone else. The most important difference, then, is that monarchists would be more inclined to damage these societal organs while democrats would be more inclined to weaponize them. But both monarchy and democracy produce these ill effects to one degree or another, so both are enemies of liberty and restoration.1

Overthrow The Crown

In his examination of absolute monarchy, Perilloux demonstrates a complete ignorance of how challenges to monarchical power occur and succeed. When people are denied a voice and are either unable or unwilling to exit, they effect change by revolt. The royal military is generally unfit to deal with a hostile populace, as it is meant to protect the realm from foreign centralized threats, not the sort of decentralized but violent revolution which could depose a monarch by rendering his lands ungovernable. As long as the dissidents do not make the mistake of attempting to fight Goliath on Goliath’s terms, they can create a nightmare for the Crown through the use of guerrilla tactics and disappear back into the general population before they present a target to the royal military. Though the royal military has powerful weapons which are denied to the public, the use of these weapons will destroy the lives and properties of innocent people, as well as infrastructure that the Crown needs. This will only anger the public and cause fence-sitters to side with the rebels.

There was a time period in which adept rulers could shut down or co-opt conspiratorial challengers, but technology has made this all but impossible, and further technological development is both unstoppable and more helpful to rebels than to the Crown. Should one king decide to crack down, his subjects will either seek to move to a less restrictive state or, if this option is denied them, begin to revolt. If a large interest of some kind gets out of hand and the Crown tries to nationalize it, the people in charge of that interest could resist in a multitude of ways. They could shutter their business and blame the Crown, thus denying people of beloved goods and services while raising their ire against the king. They could move their headquarters to another country, thus presenting the Crown with the option of banning their products, which again raises the ire of the public. If they were desperate, they could attempt to assassinate the king to protect their business interests. Though this option was rarely used in history, it could make sense if there is nowhere to run or hide.

Though it is true that the Crown could relax and let civilization flourish as long as it maintains a decisive lead in political power, it is also trivial because advances in technology and philosophy have made divine right monarchy impossible in all but the most backward of societies (e.g. North Korea, and even that is debatable). Therefore, the libertarian reactionary must ask, given that monarchists are at a structural disadvantage against democrats, what protects your shiny new monarchy from the next wave of democratic revolutions?

Historical Errors

Perilloux writes:

“So this is the king-pill: that power we shall always have with us, and that it is thus much better for everyone to kneel, hail, and do the King’s will than to wear ourselves out in endless political conflict at the expense of our civilization.”

It is important to be careful with the word ‘always,’ for it denotes a very, very long time. The king-pill is a poison to those who swallow it, trapping them in an outlook of historical determinism that lacks both intellectual courage and imagination. This is one of the most notable quirks of neoreaction; neoreactionaries frequently show great intellectual courage and imagination on other questions, but imagine that the future must be like the past and present with regard to the presence of state power. Though there are many reasons to prefer monarchy over democracy, both are inferior to the sort of stateless propertarian social order favored by libertarian reactionaries. This possibility breaks the false dilemma between kneeling to a king and wearing ourselves out in endless political conflict.

Perilloux responds to a likely objection by democrats by asserting that the eras of history in which power was consolidated and secure were eras in which conflict was eliminated and society was the finest. To the contrary, violent conflict was exported to the edges of the realm, which were in constant need of expansion in order to obtain the plunder necessary to sustain imperial growth. Inside the empire, violent conflict was replaced with less destructive forms of exploitation, such as taxation and conscription for public works, but these are a lesser evil rather than a good. The plunder from foreign conquests disproportionately made their way into the coffers of elites, resulting in public resentment and populist uprisings. Once those empires fell, they left many people in a condition of helplessness, as they had monopolized essential services and left their subjects unable to provide those services for themselves. Finally, it is quite strange to suggest that life was finer in the Roman Empire or the Mongol Empire than it is in contemporary Western countries, at least in terms of knowledge, wealth, life expectancy, and respect for individual rights.

Bad Kings

Unlike the neoreactionary, the libertarian reactionary has no concern with a bad king, as a stateless propertarian society has no political power to accumulate, and thus no king to worry about. Instead, the power vacuum is artificially maintained through the continuous application of defensive force. Just as matter is forcefully expelled from a vacuum chamber, the state must be forcefully expelled from a libertarian-controlled area. Once this is done, there will be attempts by government agents, warlords, terrorists, mafiosos, and lone wolf criminals to re-enter the resulting stateless society in order to establish a new coercive enterprise, just as atoms attempt to re-enter a vacuum chamber and restore atmospheric pressure. These people must be physically separated and removed from the society, just as atoms must be continually pumped out of the vacuum chamber.2

Perilloux claims that a king should turn his will toward “the improvement of our race, the betterment of our civilization, and the glory of God” without any discussion of what that means. It is unfortunate that he does not dial this in because it could mean almost anything, as race is a social construct, betterment is partly subjective, and God is not proven to exist. Hopefully, the king would have a correct understanding of genetic differences between population groups, a proper sense of what betterment means, and an eutheistic concept of God. To his credit, Perilloux does understand that it is unlikely for elites who have gained power in the current system to meet these criteria.

Libertarian reactionaries agree with neoreactionaries that “[w]ithout democracy, [the elites] would either consolidate power and refocus on the problem of how to run a civilization, or they would find themselves replaced by someone who could.” The difference is that the replacement process in a neoreactionary monarchy or oligarchy is likely to be violent, while the same process in a stateless propertarian society need only involve people choosing to do business with different service providers who are more efficient and responsive to consumer demand, with mutually assured destruction between private defense agencies and the possibility of competitors gaining market share keeping the peace.

To leave the problem of whether a proposed king would have the right vision for future generations is not only a cop-out, but an impossibility. As Friedrich Hayek explained, no central planner can have the necessary knowledge and foresight to have a proper vision for the future because a central planner does not have access to all of the decentralized information in the market economy. All that could be hoped for is a king who would oppose degenerate behaviors and ideas while keeping his hands off the market. Unlike neoreactionaries, libertarian reactionaries would not consider Trump to be good enough in this regard. Much of his core platform was abandoned by other political factions many decades ago not because elites wished to bring about decline by moving in a different direction (though this certainly motivated many of their other actions), but because protectionism and welfare statism are bad economic policies. Also, should the king’s vision be sufficiently wrong, the neoreactionary project will come to a screeching halt as the king is overthrown and democracy restored by an angry citizenry.

Statist Pathologies

Though libertarian reactionaries may sympathize with the neoreactionary view of democracy as cancer, the libertarian reactionary view is that if society is an entire human body, then any kind of state apparatus is a malignant cancer. Cancer is a corruption of healthy cells and functions, it grows at the expense of healthy cells, it can kill the body if it becomes too prominent, and it can come back with a vengeance following an unsuccessful attempt at removal. All of these aspects are true of governments as well. The effect of democracy might be better compared to the effect of HIV in humans, in that it weakens a society’s natural defenses against mob chaos, correlates strongly with degenerate behaviors, and accelerates the course of other societal ills.

What Trump Can Do

Perilloux’s assessment of Trump’s potential is generally correct. Trump does not have the “very strong, sufficiently large, and ideologically conditioned organization to pull off any serious change in Washington,” if serious change is defined as fundamentally altering the system rather than just being a breath of fresh air within it. Given his loss of the popular vote, the historical antipathy of the American people toward monarchy, the rather desolate intellectual foundation of Trumpism, and the dearth of competent statesmen who could assist him in building a new governance structure and/or dismantling the current one, there is no way that Trump could elevate himself from President to King by normal means. Even if a crisis occurs and Trump is able to convince people to entrust him with singular executive power, the tolerance of the American people for a king would not outlast whatever crisis prompted them to grant him such power. Like the dictators of the Roman Republic, Trump would be expected to divest himself of such power once the crisis has passed. In sum, he will only be able to prepare the way for someone in the future. As Perilloux suggests, Trump can do this through his deal-making abilities as long as he refrains from kicking leftists too much while they are down and engaging in sideshows which have temporarily derailed his efforts on numerous occasions thus far.

What Trump Should Do

The libertarian reactionary view of what Trump could accomplish is much different from the neoreactionary view. The neoreactionaries seek to secure a responsible long-term elite coalition, and would have us make peace with leftists in order to accomplish this goal, even if it means “mov[ing] left on key causes like economics and health care.” The libertarian reactionary understands that no such long-term coalition is possible because the elites in a natural order will not be static and the current elites are too invested in the current system to make for useful allies in a transition to a new order. Making peace with the left is exactly what the right has done for decades, and anger at the resulting decline is what allowed Trump rise to power in the first place. If he does the same, it would signal to Trump’s supporters that he has abandoned them and is just another phony politician who will say anything to get elected. That, combined with the radicalization of the Democratic base carried out by Bernie Sanders and his fellow-travelers, would make Trump a one-term President and lead the right away from both democracy and neoreaction.3

While it is true that the left will be radicalized by an overzealous Trump administration, respond by “working overtime in the areas he doesn’t directly control” now, and create more chaos and division when they regain power, this is not necessarily a negative in the long-term. The neoreactionaries seek to have the cup of violent revolution pass from them, but the libertarian reactionary understands that liberty requires revolution. For it is not only the leftist elite which must be purged, but the rank and file as well. As Hoppe so wisely said,

“There can be no tolerance toward democrats and communists in a libertarian social order. They will have to be physically separated and removed from society.”

Better to let the leftists fully reveal themselves in opposition to Trump so that we have a better idea of who must be purged. The backlash is thus not something to be avoided, but something to be encouraged.

Perilloux’s other suggestions for Trump are to

  1. rebuild the Republican Party,
  2. expose, purge, and destroy all the crooks and radicals, including non-governmental actors like the foundations and Soros,
  3. strategically change immigration policy,
  4. deconstruct leftist ideological propaganda and disable their propaganda organs and speech controls,
  5. build the wall,
  6. get the universities and media to play nice,
  7. sow dissent among the enemy, and
  8. weaken democracy.

The second, third, fourth, seventh, and eighth objectives are well worth doing and merit no critique. However, rebuilding the Republican Party is largely unnecessary at this point, unless Perilloux means to rebuild it in Trump’s image rather than being content with defending the significant majority of governorships and state legislators. Building the wall is largely infeasible and counterproductive; should matters get worse, such a barrier will be used to keep us in. There is also no way to make Mexico pay for it; the best Trump can do is to garnish their foreign aid, which means only that American taxpayers will be forced to fund one project instead of another. The immigration restrictions which are necessary to prevent Americans from being overrun by people who are demographically hostile to liberty can be accomplished through other means, such as E-verify, harsher penalties, and denying federal funds to sanctuary cities. Finally, the mainstream press and universities are never going to play nice with the right, as they are fundamentally left-wing institutions at present, and Trump has not the time or resources to alter this. All Trump will be able to do on the education front is to extricate the federal government from the student loan and grant business, encourage would-be college students to consider trade and technical alternatives, and possibly abolish the federal Department of Education. Trump can do more against the media, in the form of revoking media credentials of establishment news outlets and instead relying upon alternative media, independent journalists, and direct communication with the American people via social media to deliver his messages.

Conclusion

Perilloux writes:

“But whatever happens, it’s not going to be enough. Democracy and communism will not be defeated this time, and when Trump is done, if democracy still stands, all the worst of the modern world will come crawling back to us. …Trump will not end democracy and bring about the coming golden age…because no one was ready with a männerbund of a thousand virtuous statesmen with a full vision and plan. Therefore, if that’s going to happen, while Trump and company labor valiantly in the Potomac swamp, someone has to be building that intellectual and human infrastructure for the true Restoration in the future.

It is not immediate power we need for the long game, but wisdom, vision, virtue, and solidarity. We will not get these from Trump’s administration. These things can only be built without the distractions of power. The men of the Trump administration will be busy playing anti-communist whack-a-mole and thinking about a very different set of strategic considerations than a long-term Restoration-focused research team must be. Their work will be valuable I’m sure, but they will not have the time or attention to think about the long game.”

In this much, he is correct, but it is libertarian reactionaries rather than neoreactionaries who must build said infrastructure. We must build private alternatives to government services which succeed where governments have failed. We must create black markets to deprive the state of revenue and lessen its ability to harm the economy. We must infiltrate the halls of power to obstruct government functions from within. We must protest and practice jury nullification to obstruct government functions from without. We must educate people to understand the necessity of eliminating the state apparatus by any means necessary, as well as the need to rely on oneself and one’s community instead of the state. Perhaps most importantly, we must train ourselves to be competent in the use of defensive force and irregular tactics.

If we accomplish these tasks well in the coming years, we will be prepared for the task of defeating the current state and keeping a new state from filling a power vacuum. Nothing less than this will allow us to end democracy, monarchy, and every other parasitism upon innocent and productive people. The neoreactionaries, on the other hand, would restore the Crown, and much like the mainstream conservatives who would restore the Republic, will only condemn our descendants to re-fight our battles for liberty.

Footnotes:

  1. This may help to explain why democracies largely replaced monarchies through the 19th and early 20th centuries, as weaponized, less-damaged institutions have a combative advantage against non-weaponized, more-damaged institutions.
  2. Notably, libertarian reactionaries have two advantages over the physicist using a vacuum pump. First, a vacuum pump cannot destroy atoms, but a libertarian reactionary can kill an aggressor. Second, the physicist will never turn the entire universe outside of the vacuum chamber into a vacuum, but libertarian reactionaries can come close enough to turning the entire world into a libertarian-controlled area to be able to live all but free from aggressive violence while standing by to eliminate any new threat.
  3. This could provide the impetus for the necessary violent revolution, so perhaps Perilloux is accidentally correct on this point.

Read the entire article at ZerothPosition.com