The State Is Negan, Part II

The Walking Dead comic series and the television show based on it contain many themes which are of interest to the student of libertarian philosophy. The character Negan, who appears in the Season 6 finale and is the primary antagonist in Season 7, is one of the most obvious allegories in recent memory for the nature of the state. Let us examine the second part of his character arc to see the extent to which his behavior mimics those of historical dictators, and how his underlings and subjects react to him. As we will see, there are many lessons to be learned not only for those who would wield state power, but for those who seek its abolition. This part of the article series will cover the time period immediately following Rick’s introduction to Negan (Episode 702) up to Rick’s decision to stop living under Negan’s rule and fight him (Episode 708).

A New Community

In Episode 702, we meet another community that is plagued by Savior rule to a somewhat lesser extent. The men that found Carol and Morgan belong to a place called the Kingdom, ruled over by an eccentric former zookeeper who has a pet tiger. They all go back there so Carol can recover. When Carol is well enough to meet King Ezekiel, she feigns awe but tells Morgan later that it is a circus and vows to leave.

A team of Kingdomers leave to hunt pigs, corralling them into a building where a zombie awaits. The Kingdomers feed zombies to pigs, then slaughter the pigs and give the meat to the Saviors. A Kingdomer tells Morgan that he wants their bellies full of rot. Ezekiel is impressed by Morgan’s skill with a staff and asks him to train Benjamin, which he does. When the Saviors come, they are pleased to find the pigs larger than last time, but antagonize Richard, a Kingdomer. The Saviors say that next week is produce week and threaten to kill Richard if the shipment is too small.

Back in the Kingdom, Benjamin explains that Ezekiel deals with the Saviors because although many in the Kingdom would want to fight, they lack the means to defeat them in battle. Morgan was once against killing people, but says, “Sometimes we change our minds.”

Ezekiel catches Carol trying to sneak away, and they have a meeting of the minds. Ezekiel confesses his true background; he puts on an act because people wanted a larger-than-life figure to follow because it makes them feel safer. Carol still wants to leave, but Ezekiel convinces her to stay in a house just outside the Kingdom.

* * * * *

There is an important lesson for those who practice statecraft in the scenes about the pigs. While the Kingdomers do work under the coercion of the Saviors, they do so in a contemptuous manner. Just like the Chinese shipbuilders who were forced to work for the Mongols, they did a poor job on purpose in an effort to sabotage the efforts of their conquerors. In the Mongols’ case, it resulted in massive losses when they tried to cross the sea to invade Japan. In the Saviors’ case, the effect of eating pigs that are fed with zombies and all of the disease and decay inherent in them remains to be seen, but one must imagine that it would be hazardous to one’s health. The lesson is that it is far better to hire people to work voluntarily than to force them.

In some ways, Ezekiel is the good counterpart to Negan. While Negan exploits the desire to be led, Ezekiel tries to use it to help people. While Negan’s cult of personality is based on fear and violence, Ezekiel’s is built on love and respect. While Negan demands half of what everyone produces and offers far less value in return, Ezekiel only demands that one “replenish the well” if one “drinks from the well.” If one understands the state as a perversion of beneficial impulses in people, this makes perfect sense.

Inside The Beast I

Episode 703 gives us a look at many of the internal dynamics of the Savior compound. The entire Savior social order is one of the strong doing what they can and the weak suffering what they must. Because Dwight is a high-ranking subordinate of Negan, he can cut in line and grab a large amount of food. Meanwhile, a low-ranking Savior is beaten to death. Dwight then raids his room to steal food as his son and pregnant widow watch helplessly. After getting more food elsewhere, Dwight and others kneel as Negan walks by. Dwight makes a sandwich with everything he has gathered while watching two workers chain a walker to the compound’s outer fence.

Since the confrontation in Episode 701, Daryl has been naked and locked in a dark, empty cell where music plays to keep him from sleeping. Dwight regularly feeds him sandwiches with dog food in them. Finally, Dwight gives him some clothes and takes him to Dr. Carson’s office. The doctor examines Daryl’s shoulder injury from Episode 615 and says that Negan will take care of him. Dwight then shows Daryl the fence with walkers and says that Daryl will have to work out there if he makes wrong choices. Back in his cell, Daryl says he will never kneel for Negan, but Dwight says that he once said the same thing. The cell is shut and the loud music resumes.

Negan commends Dwight for his efforts with Daryl, then offers him sex with one of the women in his harem, including Sherry, Dwight’s wife. Dwight declines, which angers Negan. A voice on Dwight’s walkie mentions a runaway worker. Negan tells Dwight to send a subordinate, but Dwight goes to take care of it himself. Dwight finds the runaway worker, who begs Dwight to shoot him. He wonders why no one will overthrow Negan and initially refuses to return, but agrees to come back after Dwight threatens his relatives. Dwight kills him and brings his remains back, and his zombified corpse is added to the fence.

Joey brings a sandwich to Daryl, but leaves his door unlocked. Daryl escapes, but is warned by Sherry to go back. He ignores her and ends up getting stopped by a group of Saviors led by Negan, including Joey. Negan asks his followers who they are, and all respond, “Negan.” Negan tells Daryl he has failed to prove himself, and presents him with three options: die and be a zombie on their fence, work in their points system to survive, or serve under Negan and live like a king. Negan tries to intimidate Daryl with Lucille, which does not work, then leaves his followers to beat Daryl.

Dwight and Sherry have a moment alone to smoke and talk. “We did the right thing,” he tells her, “it’s a hell of a lot better than being dead.” Back in Daryl’s cell, Sherry apologizes for stealing his motorcycle and crossbow back in Episode 606. Dwight brings him food, but he refuses to eat. Dwight then gives him a photo of Glenn’s dead body, which reduces Daryl to tears. Dwight smiles slightly and leaves.

Later, Dwight leads Daryl to an apartment where Negan awaits. Negan tells Daryl the story of Dwight, Sherry, and Tina. They used to work for points, but Tina fell behind, so Negan asked her to join the harem. In response, the three of them ran away. Tina died, then they returned. Negan agreed to let Dwight and Sherry live in exchange for Sherry joining the harem and Dwight getting burned on the face with a hot iron, a common punishment for serious offenses under Negan’s rule. Dwight has been a top lieutenant ever since. Negan says Daryl can be a top man and live in the apartment, but only if Daryl says that he is Negan. Daryl responds to Negan’s query of “Who are you?” with his own name.

Back in Daryl’s cell, Dwight yells at him for his choice, but Daryl replies, “I get why you did it, why you took it. You were thinking about someone else. That’s why I can’t.”

* * * * *

With the torturing of Daryl, we see the lengths to which an authoritarian regime will go in order to break the will of dissidents. The tactics of sleep deprivation, malnourishment, physical abuse, threats of extreme punishment, reminders of past injustices committed by the regime, and promises of great rewards just for surrendering one’s will to the state are all used against Daryl. Whether Joey leaving the door unlocked was an oversight or a test is unclear, but Negan uses it as a test.

The conversation between Dwight and Negan, as well as the scene where all of Negan’s followers declare that they are him, demonstrates several important lessons. As discussed in Part I, Negan has developed a cult of personality, just like many real-world dictators. The tactic of training people to identify themselves as Negan is used to protect the real Negan and create a sense of collective identity. This sense is so strong that Negan’s underlings come to behave as he would have them behave without him needing to be present, which is what every dictator wants from his administrators. Another tactic that Negan uses is the mastery of body language. When he converses with someone, he makes consistent eye contact, staring down the other person. He also makes a point to invade that person’s personal space unless that person is a trusted direct subordinate. The other person is not allowed to do this back to Negan, under pain of the various punishments he uses. Third, Negan can read people very well, and he uses this toward psychopathic ends. It is likely that Negan gave Dwight the idea to give Daryl a picture of Glenn’s battered remains, knowing that reminding Daryl of the murder of one of his best friends would be one of the most devastating means of torturing Daryl.

Negan makes the rules clear in his regime, so that everyone knows for certain what will get them punished and what will get them rewarded. These rules are kept as simple as possible so that almost anyone can abide by them in theory if not in practice. Like most dictators, Negan has a clear circle of top lieutenants who serve the purposes of carrying out his will and projecting his power farther than he could himself. Negan takes good care of these lieutenants, for it is their loyalty that ultimately allows him to stay in power and govern his state.

The runaway worker incident shows that running away from the state is ultimately a fool’s errand. The state will eventually catch up to those who attempt to evade its grasp and punish them harshly. The only effective means of resistance are to undermine the system from within or destroy the system from without.

Finally, we learn what happened to Dwight between Episodes 606 and 615, including the explanation for his disfigurement. As occurs in many criminal gangs and more corrupt states, female members have an additional avenue of gaining entry or righting wrongs that male members do not have in the form of sexually servicing the dominant males of the power structure. Negan demonstrates this twice; first with Tina for going into debt, and then with Sherry for fleeing. The hot iron punishment serves as a powerful deterrent to disobedience, particularly because it is performed for public consumption and is excessively cruel. But needlessly cruel punishments also breed resentment, and the earlier refusal of Negan’s gift along with his decision to kill his friend rather than return him alive to face Negan’s punishment indicates that Dwight may not be fully loyal.

Tax Collection, Part I

Episode 704 is about Negan’s collection of his first tribute from Alexandria. Before this, Michonne leaves with a hidden sniper rifle, sensing that Negan may come and want to take it. Rosita and Spencer prepare to leave for a supply run and Eugene repairs an audio system to give to the Saviors. Negan arrives with a large group of Saviors, and Daryl is with them. Negan demands to be let in, and Spencer asks who he is after Negan enters because Spencer was absent from the meeting with the Saviors. Negan says Spencer must be joking, then Rick meets them and notes that Negan is early. Negan makes Rick hold Lucille.

Rick sees Daryl and tries to check in with him, but Negan forbids it. Rick says they have set aside half of their supplies, but Negan says he will decide what is half. Arat, one of Negan’s lieutenants, orders the Saviors to search the houses. Dwight takes Rosita and Spencer’s guns, then taunts Rosita by taking her hat and pouring out her water. He orders them to bring back Daryl’s motorcycle, then they leave.

The Saviors steal furniture from the houses in Alexandria. A lieutenant finds the video of Rick from when he first arrived in Alexandria. Negan watches it and says that “he would not have messed with that guy,” but Rick is not that man anymore. Negan asks about Maggie, and Gabriel lies to Negan, saying that Maggie is dead when she is really in Hilltop. Negan says he planned to make Maggie one of his wives, which makes Rick angry. He clutches Lucille, then relaxes.

They hear a gunshot in the infirmary. Carl holds a Savior at gunpoint and orders him to return some medicine he took. Rick begs Carl to stand down. Negan jokes about Carl’s fearlessness, then uses the incident as a pretext to confiscate all guns in Alexandria. Olivia is made to lead the Saviors to the armory. Negan decides not to take any food so the Alexandrians can keep themselves alive to collect for him. Negan commands Rick to thank him, but he will not. Negan says that Rick forced his hand, and that is why he should thank him. Negan asks if anyone keeps guns outside the armory, and Rick says no.

Arat informs Negan that two guns are missing from the armory. Negan threatens to kill Olivia if the guns are not found. Rick calls a meeting of Alexandria about the guns. Eric asks Rick how they will get out of the situation with the Saviors, and Rick says there is no way out. Later, they find the guns in Spencer’s house, along with stolen food and liquor. Gabriel is more optimistic than Rick about their chances against the Saviors.

Spencer finds Daryl’s motorcycle and questions Rick’s leadership. Rosita kills the zombies in the area where Denise was killed. She takes a gun from one of them, but it is empty. Spencer finds and chastises her. Rosita says she is looking for guns on the (correct) assumption that Negan will disarm Alexandria.

David, a Savior, taunts Enid in a creepy, pedophilic way. Rick brings the guns from Spencer’s house to Negan. Rosita and Spencer return with Daryl’s motorcycle as Negan’s group gets ready to leave. Rick sees Michonne lurking nearby and asks Negan for a moment. Negan makes Rick ask nicely, then allows it. Rick tells Michonne that he knows about her rifle and urges her to hand it over because the Saviors will kill more people if they find an Alexandrian with a gun. Michonne surrenders it, and Rick hands it to Negan.

Rick asks if Daryl can stay in Alexandria since they obeyed Negan. Negan asks Daryl if he wants to stay, but Daryl remains silent. Dwight takes the motorcycle from Spencer and rides up to Daryl. Dwight says Daryl can have it back if he says the word. Daryl remains silent, so Dwight drives off.

Negan refuses to leave until Rick thanks him, and Rick does. A zombie approaches, and Negan kills it. Rick again grips Lucille and thinks of bashing Negan with it. Negan retrieves Lucille, then the Saviors leave.

Rick closes the gate and berates Spencer for hoarding supplies. Spencer says they should have made a deal with Negan earlier and blames Rick for the deaths of Abraham and Glenn. Rick threatens to punch Spencer if he says anything like that again.

Rosita asks Spencer why he did not mention the hidden guns, pointing out what she did to get one. Spencer says he took them because he did not trust Rick’s leadership. He says Rosita was correct about them not having to live this way. When he leaves, Rosita retrieves the gun from her car.

Rick spreads blankets on the bedroom floor because the Saviors took most of their mattresses. Michonne says they have survived because they always fight, but Rick says they lack the numbers. Rick says they must accept their situation with Negan because it is how they live now. Michonne says she will try. The next day, Michonne investigates a wisp of smoke and finds the mattresses from Alexandria smoldering on the roadside, which enrages her.

Rosita picks up an empty shell casing from Negan’s gun, approaches Eugene, and says, “Make me a bullet.”

* * * * *

In this episode, we see the disrespect that naturally comes from a conqueror toward a conquered people. The invasion of the Alexandrians’ homes and burning of their mattresses even though they set aside half of their supplies further reinforces their subjugation. Wasteful destruction is a hallmark of statism, and Negan’s apparatus is no different in this regard.

Spencer’s reaction to Negan at the beginning of the episode highlights a common problem for oppressed peoples. Those who have witnessed atrocities first-hand have a different perspective from those who only hear about them, or those who have not heard about them. Though the direct witnesses can attempt to explain, there is really no substitute for being present for an event like Negan’s murders of Abraham and Glenn. Thus, the fears, resignations, and vengeful feelings of those who directly suffer will never be fully understood by other members of the population. This will help to explain some (but not all) of Spencer’s behaviors throughout this half-season.

Negan makes Rick hold Lucille not just to taunt him with the memories of Abraham and Glenn, but to make him feel powerless by letting him hold the symbol of Negan’s power and realize that the power is not his. This is typical behavior for a cruel king to exhibit toward puppet rulers of conquered lands, at least initially.

The ultimate act of subjugation is Negan’s strict gun control policy. Like rulers in the real world, Negan knows that a disarmed population is less capable of resistance, and that if he wishes to get away with acts that he could not commit if his subjects were armed, he must take away their guns. As Toyotomi Hideyoshi decreed in 1588,

“The people of the various provinces are strictly forbidden to have in their possession any swords, short swords, bows, spears, firearms, or other types of arms. The possession of unnecessary implements makes difficult the collection of taxes and dues and tends to foment uprisings.”

But these acts of subjugation do not destroy the Alexandrians’ spirit, as Gabriel lies to Negan about Maggie while Rosita is determined to fight. Rosita was smart to anticipate the gun grab, but attempting to hide guns that Negan would learn about when too few are willing to resist him, as Spencer did, was a poor strategy.

Negan’s decision to spare Alexandria’s food, like most actions taken by human farmers toward human livestock, are done not for the benefit of the livestock, but so that the livestock will be more productive. Rick, to his credit, understands this better than the average citizen in the real world. However, the Alexandrians committed a major mistake by keeping an inventory after they met Negan and learned of his system. This only made it easier for Negan to know what he should take, and there is certainly no moral obligation to point a thief to one’s valuables. A cooked book or hidden supply cache could have gone a long way toward saving some of the Alexandrians’ possessions, especially their arms.

The actions of David toward Enid, as well as the general demeanor of some of Negan’s lieutenants, show that some of Negan’s followers are potentially worse than him, which provides assassination insurance in the threat of a more terrible ruler coming to power if Negan is killed. This is no different from how real-world rulers construct their inner circles, even in liberal democracies.

The treacherous nature of Spencer will be an ongoing problem, but it will not truly manifest until later. The treatment that the other vassal communities of the Saviors receive shows that his idea of appeasing them would likely not have worked out much better. People like him will be present in almost any occupied people or resistance movement, and they have to be stopped before they can destroy the group from within.

It must be noted that with some preparation on Alexandria’s part, this day could have gone very differently. Resistance to Negan in this episode was far more practical than anyone seemed to believe. Had Rick’s group returned to Alexandria and told everyone to prepare an ambush for Negan to be ready at any time during the next week, they had enough guns, rocket launchers, and ammunition to exterminate Negan and his entire party. With this in mind, Rick’s despair and resignation during the town meeting are quite misplaced. A battle almost certainly would have cost Daryl his life, and others in Alexandria might have died in the fighting, but when the tree of liberty is watered with the blood of tyrants, some patriots invariably spill theirs as well. Also, it is not as though everyone will live if Rick’s people do not rebel, as later episodes will show.

In the real world, the state’s grasp on power is far more tenuous than most people realize. If only 2 percent of the population living under a state decided to forcefully defend themselves against government agents just as they would against common criminals, the apparatus would likely collapse, to be replaced by whatever governance structure is desired by that 2 percent. Some of those 2 percent would certainly die in the fighting, but there is no guarantee that one’s life will be spared by the state even if one complies with its edicts, given that 262 million people were killed by their own governments in the 20th century.

One must wonder if Rick as he was in the video found by the Saviors might have fought Negan tooth and nail. But Rick did get softer since arriving in Alexandria, and Negan’s investment of time and effort into breaking Rick pays off, as Rick convinces his people to comply with Negan’s demands rather than offer resistance. Having dependable puppet governors like Rick in Alexandria, Gregory in Hilltop, and Ezekiel in the Kingdom makes Negan’s job much easier, and arguably make it possible.

Tax Collection, Part II

Episode 705 mostly takes place in the Hilltop Colony. We learn that Maggie has suffered from a minor pregnancy complication, but will be fine if she rests and remains in Hilltop until she gives birth. Maggie, Sasha, and Jesus visit the graves of Abraham and Glenn. Gregory arrives and asks why Maggie’s people did not finish off the Saviors and whether they know about Hilltop allying with Alexandria. He orders the Alexandrians out of Hilltop so he can have plausible deniability.

In Alexandria, Rick and Aaron go on a supply run, but Carl refuses to join. Carl finds Enid leaving for Hilltop, but cannot convince her to stay in Alexandria. Later, Carl kills a zombie that is pursuing Enid and they go together to Hilltop. Carl tells Enid that he watched Negan murder Abraham and Glenn so that he would have the memory to motivate him to kill Negan.

Sasha asks Jesus to change Gregory’s mind and offers to scavenge on Maggie’s behalf. Maggie and Sasha wake in the middle of the night to find that the Saviors have attacked Hilltop. They have opened the gates, tied the guards to the lookout platform, set fires, and driven a car with a massive sound system into Hilltop. This draws a horde of zombies toward Hilltop. Jesus and Sasha kill the zombies while Maggie organizes Hilltop’s defenses and rescues the guards. Sasha finds the car sealed off with metal grates, so Maggie drives a tractor over the car to silence its speakers.

Gregory thanks Maggie and Sasha but refuses to let them stay. As they negotiate, Saviors arrive. Gregory tells Jesus to hide Maggie and Sasha as Simon leads about twenty Saviors into Hilltop. Simon says that the Saviors unleashed zombies on Hilltop to remind them that zombies are still a threat and the Saviors provide a service by killing them. He tells Gregory of the destroyed Savior outpost from Episode 612, and Gregory pretends not to know of this. Simon says he is the new Savior liaison to Hilltop and asks if Gregory wants to tell him anything. Gregory says he does, and leads Simon to the foyer closet with the intention of handing over Maggie and Sasha. He finds boxes of scotch instead, which Simon dislikes himself but says will please Negan. Simon orders Gregory to kneel, which he does. The Saviors leave as Carl and Enid arrive. Carl plans to hide out on a Savior truck, and Enid fails to talk him out of this.

Jesus lets Maggie and Sasha out of Gregory’s bedroom closet. Gregory yells at Jesus for hiding them there instead of where the Saviors would find them, but Jesus stands up to him. He threatens to tell the Saviors of the deal with Alexandria, which would strip him of plausible deniability. Maggie punches Gregory, reaches into his pocket, and takes Glenn’s watch that Gregory stole from the graveyard. Jesus tells Maggie and Sasha that initially, he could not imagine anyone but Gregory running Hilltop, but he can now. Whether this refers to himself or Maggie is left an open question. Sasha asks Jesus to find out where Negan lives, but not to tell Maggie.

As the Saviors leave, Jesus sneaks into a truck, where he finds Carl also hitching a ride to the Saviors’ compound.

* * * * *

In any resistance movement, there will be fair weather participants. Gregory was initially on board with the plan to destroy the Saviors, but turned on the Alexandrians as soon as times got tough. This is as true of the real world as it is of The Walking Dead. In most revolutions, only a few percent of the population are on either the establishment side or the revolutionary side. The majority are either apathetic or opportunistic, intending to be on the winning side, whichever that may be. Though this makes sense in light of treason being punishable by death and supporters of losing factions being pariahs in their communities for years afterward, self-preservation is less commendable than courage.

That being said, it is important to remember that Gregory is a puppet ruler. Ultimately, he leads Hilltop because Negan wants him to, and this is no secret to Jesus, Maggie, or Sasha. Much like Alexandria, the residents of Hilltop tolerate Negan’s rule through Gregory because they believe they lack the means to do something about it, which is another parallel with real-world citizens who submit to governments. The Hilltoppers do not even have ammunition for their guns, which is why Negan did not bother disarming them. (This may not have been Negan’s brightest move, given that ammunition can be found by scavenging or manufactured oneself with the correct knowledge and tools.) But Gregory should beware, as puppets often suffer a worse fate than the rulers they serve, whether at the hands of the ruler or an angry, revolting mob.

As discussed in Part I, the use of ultraviolence can make the establishment of a governance structure easier, but it can also breed resentment. Carl’s use of the murders of Abraham and Glenn as motivation to resist and defeat Negan is an example of this.

Like many good friends and romantic partners in the real world, Enid tries to dissuade Carl from taking direct revolutionary action, citing the danger in doing so. But like all brave warriors, Carl reassures Enid and goes off to engage the enemy.

When the Saviors send zombies to attack Hilltop and say that they provide a service by killing zombies, they are causing the very problem that they claim to prevent. This is no different from government ‘protection’ services; they force their subjects to pay for service, violently suppress any competing defense service, then do whatever they feel like doing instead of trying to provide quality service at a reasonable cost. Occasionally, governments will actually cause threats to emerge in order to justify their other activities, just as the Saviors do.

Of Running, Hiding, and Fighting

In Episode 706, we find out what happened to Tara, who was also absent from the meeting with the Saviors. She washes up on a beach and is found by a previously unknown group of survivors who live in a place called Oceanside. The young girl who finds Tara intends to kill her because their orders are to kill all strangers, but Cyndie, an older girl with her, says to spare Tara.

A flashback shows Tara and Heath eating in an RV after a two-week scavenging mission. Heath wants to return to Alexandria but Tara insists on scavenging more. They agree to look for one more day. Heath laments killing everyone at the Savior outpost in Episode 612.

In the present, Cyndie returns to find Tara asleep where she left her. Cyndie leaves water, fish, and a spear for Tara, then leaves. Tara, who was pretending to sleep, follows Cyndie into some woods and eventually into a village. She thinks she is being stealthy but the women arming and organizing. Eventually, they capture Tara.

Another flashback shows Heath and Tara on a bridge blocked with containers, cars, and tarps. They manage to release a group of zombies who were trapped in a sand pile and are attacked. Tara falls and Heath appears to abandon her.

In the present, Tara is handcuffed to a radiator. She is interrogated, but lies about where she is from. She claims to be from a fishing boat, but her lack of knowledge about fishing boat terminology betrays her. Tara offers to leave, but Natania, the leader of Oceanside, worries that Tara knows too much.

At dinner, Natania invites Tara and Heath to stay in order to keep Oceanside’s location secret. Tara observes that there are no men present, and Natania says that the men were all killed by another group, after which the women decided to move and hide. Tara confesses that she comes from a community that killed a threatening group to stay alive and suggests an alliance. Natania agrees to send a guide with Tara to find Heath and meet their community.

The next day, Tara leaves Oceanside with two of their women. Tara figures out that they plan to kill her. A zombie appears and Tara volunteers to kill it in order to get an opportunity to flee. Beatrice, one of the two, catches Tara and says that the Saviors are the group they both talked about earlier. She says it is too late, that Tara’s people are dead because the station they destroyed was only one of many. Beatrice said that the Saviors lined up all of their males over age 10 and shot them in the head. Before Beartice can kill Tara, Cyndie tackles Beatrice and tells Tara to run.

Later, Cyndie catches up to Tara. Tara swears to keep Oceanside a secret. Cyndie gives Tara a backpack and guides her back to the bridge. Tara looks for Heath but cannot find him as Cyndie snipes at zombies.

In a flashback, Tara is surrounded by walkers, but Heath saves her. Heath then gets overrun, but insists that Tara escape. Zombies shove her and she falls off the bridge.

In the present, Tara gets across the bridge. She finds Heath’s broken glasses and some tire tracks, suggesting that he escaped. She returns on foot to Alexandria. Eugene greets her with a devastated expression, and Tara learns of all that has transpired, including the deaths of Denise, Abraham, and Glenn. Rosita asks if Tara knows of any guns or ammunition, but Tara keeps her promise to keep Oceanside secret.

* * * * *

This episode is mostly about the toll that war takes on people and how they react to the prospect of further hostilities. Heath’s lamentation is quite similar to the post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by real-world combatants, though what one must continually do to survive in the world of The Walking Dead might make this easier to deal with, in that one never has much of a chance to return to normalcy. Meanwhile, the general mentality of most people in Oceanside is to do whatever is necessary to avoid further hostilities, up to the point of killing any stranger who might reveal their location. This is another common reaction by people who have retreated to a hidden stronghold in the hope of avoiding oppression.

As if the Saviors were not evil enough, we learn in this episode that they have put the entire male population of fighting age in Oceanside to death. Though this is an idea with a long tradition in warfare, it is commonly regarded as barbaric today, and for good reason. It is clear that Negan is determined to hang on to power by any means necessary, including exterminating entire communities. Though Oceanside is still alive and it would only take a few men to restore the long-term potential of this community, Oceanside is just a group of women waiting for death in its current state. Returning to the human farming analogy, this makes sense to Negan because he has enough livestock elsewhere to be able to lose a few who resist domestication. Furthermore, the women of Oceanside have a dark testament to tell of what happens to those who resist the Saviors, which could bring future groups who might think of resistance to heel. In this sense, ultraviolence is a measure used for foreign consumption as well as domestic consumption.

The other major theme of this episode is internal conflict in the forms of fight versus flight, false safety versus true liberty, and loyalty versus expediency. Tara wants to fight the danger of the Saviors, while Oceanside has chosen flight. Natania falsely believes that Oceanside is safe, but they can only gain true liberty by rejoining the struggle against the Saviors. Tara wrestles with whether to keep her word to the people of Oceanside or tell the truth to the Alexandrians about another armed resistance group out there. These are all internal dilemmas that a revolutionary who seeks to topple a ruler in the real world can expect to face.

Inside The Beast II

Episode 707 takes us inside the Saviors’ compound again, this time with Carl and Jesus. As they ride to the Saviors’ community, Jesus jumps out to follow on foot while Carl rides all the way there. When they arrive, Carl picks up a machine gun and kills a Savior, demanding to see Negan. He aims at Negan when he appears, as Negan hides behind another Savior. Negan calmly says, “You look adorable,” and Dwight tackles Carl after he shoots a second Savior. Daryl watches helplessly from the other side of a zombie-laced fence. Negan tells Dwight to stand down, then offers to show Carl around. Carl accepts under the threat of Daryl having his arm chopped off. Carl asks what will be done to him, and Negan tells him, “Number one: do not shatter my image of you. You’re a badass; you’re not scared of shit, don’t be scared of me. Its a disappointment.”

Meanwhile, Rick and Aaron are out looking for supplies. They approach a gate with a sign that says, “Keep going, only thing here for you is trouble.” They jump over the gate, knowing that Negan is coming again the next day and will expect supplies.

From a catwalk, Negan and Carl stand above a crowd of Saviors who kneel before Negan. He announces that the Saviors secured a large load and everyone gets fresh vegetables for free, which elicits applause. Negan whispers to Carl, “You see that? Respect.”

In Alexandria, Eugene and Rosita prepare to leave for a supply run, but Rosita has no intention of finding anything for Negan. Spencer says they must produce for Negan, and compares it to paying taxes. Rosita tells him he can pay his ‘taxes’ and leaves with Eugene.

Negan introduces Carl to his harem. Negan pulls Sherry aside, who tells him that Mark, a Savior, was with Amber, one of Negan’s wives, instead of attending to his work duties. Negan admonishes Amber, who cries and says she loves Negan. Negan boasts to Sherry that he went easy on Amber. Dwight arrives with Daryl, who is carrying a snack platter for Negan.

While scavenging, Spencer complains to Gabriel that Rick is a bad leader and hopes that Rick will not return from his scavenging run. Gabriel is angered enough to get out of the car and walk back to Alexandria, leaving Spencer alone. Spencer gets out of the car, hears a zombie, and finds it stuck in a tree stand. Spencer manages to take a compound bow from the zombie.

Negan takes Carl to his apartment. He orders Carl to remove his bandage and show his shot-out eye, then mocks Carl until he cries. Negan apologizes, then tells Carl that his eye is “rad as hell” and advises him to show it off to intimidate people. Fat Joey stops by to return Lucille to Negan. He orders Carl to sing him a song, and he does after some resistance. Negan asks about Carl’s mother, who he shot to prevent her from becoming a zombie. This impresses Negan.

The Saviors gather around a furnace, where Mark is tied up for punishment. Negan reiterates the importance of rules, then buns Mark’s face with a hot iron. Mark screams and passes out from the pain.

Rosita takes Eugene to a factory he had previously found. She orders him to make her a bullet. Eugene says that a single bullet will not be sufficient, but Rosita calls him a coward and says he is only alive because people feel sorry for him. Deeply hurt, Eugene gets to work.

Dwight and Sherry smoke in a stairwell again. She says their deal with Negan was only supposed to affect them, but Dwight says that everyone who is alive is so at someone else’s expense.

In Negan’s apartment, Carl says Negan is incapable of killing him, Rick, or Daryl. Negan suggests they take a ride. As they go, Daryl warns Negan not to harm Carl, but Negan tells Dwight to put Daryl back in his cell and leaves. Jesus, who was hiding on the truck Negan and Carl got into, gets off and stays behind.

Daryl hears footsteps outside his cell. Someone slips a note under the door that says “Go now” and has a key taped to it.

Michonne makes a barricade of dead zombies and uses it to catch a Savior. She demands to be taken to Negan.

Negan and Carl knock on the door of Rick’s house. Olivia answers, telling Negan that Rick has gone scavenging. Negan mocks her for being fat until she cries. He apologizes and proposes to have sex with her while they wait for Rick. Olivia slaps him, but he laughs it off. Negan takes himself on a tour of Rick’s house and orders Olivia to make lemonade. Carl tries to keep him away from baby Judith’s room, but Negan finds her. He is delighted and takes her out of the room.

Meanwhile, Rick and Aaron encounter a second warning sign that says anyone coming for the writer’s supplies will be shot. They proceed and reach a pond filled with zombies with a houseboat floating in the center.

Back near Alexandria, Rosita thanks Eugene for making a bullet and apologizes. Eugene rejects the apology, knowing she meant what she said. Spencer returns with a bounty of supplies, including a list of caches. Spencer whistles toward the gate and a Savior opens it.

Negan, Carl, and Judith are on Rick’s front porch. Negan rocks Judith as he contemplates killing Rick and Carl, as well as living in the suburbs. Negan smiles and kisses Judith’s nose.

* * * * *

The first part of the episode shows the danger of confused and insufficient resistance operations. Jesus intends a reconnaisance mission, but Carl plans to attack Negan. While a single person infiltrating an enemy base can be more effective than a large assault, Carl does not see through his mission, failing to kill Negan when he has the chance. This sort of haphazardness is far too common in the real world, leading many assassination attempts on rulers to end in failure. There is also the matter of failure to actually do the deed when the opportunity presents itself. In any sort of warfare or other resistance to a state, he who hesitates is lost.

The concept of consent under duress is explored in this episode through Negan’s interactions with Carl. Just as the social contract basis for the supposed legitimacy of governments is founded upon assumed consent that will be enforced by violence if necessary rather than actual consent, Carl’s compliance with Negan is not voluntary in nature. Negan gets Carl to comply with him by mocking him and threatening him, Rick, and Daryl. Mockery of resistance groups is a function mostly performed by the establishment press in the real world, but Negan does it himself in the smaller scale of The Walking Dead.

Negan’s focus on maintaining his image and cult of personality is shown again through his speech to his followers and the hot iron punishment. Like most real-world authoritarian rulers, Negan confuses respect with fear. Though the results may appear to be the same in the short-term, a conscious response to perceived virtue is much different from a subconscious response to perceived danger. Like many of Negan’s activities, the cultivation of fear and awe that he mislabels ‘respect’ actually breeds resentment and revolutionary thought. Negan’s insistence on strict interpretation of the rules and brutal punishments for breaking them is done not only to deprive his subjects of liberty and subordinate them to his will, but to make them dependent on him as the final arbiter of disputes, as all states claim to be.

Spencer’s direct comparison of Negan’s command to gather for him with taxation is surprising to find in a mainstream media production, but thoroughly accurate. Many modern states effectively tax productive people at rates in the neighborhood of 50 percent, as Negan claims to do, but in practice Negan takes what he wants, as states ultimately do. After all, if someone is able to take part of what one owns without penalty, one does not really have exclusive control over one’s property. Though modern states obfuscate their use of violence toward tax resisters in many cases to the point that many people can no longer see it, the threat of aggressive force still exists. Of course, Negan makes no such obfuscations, as he rules through direct fear and violence rather than a massive bureaucracy. But just like real-world governments, Negan has most people believing that “we have to produce for him, whether we like it or not.”

Spencer’s treachery continues, but will not come to a head until the next episode, so let us discuss it in the next commentary.

Rosita’s treatment of Eugene is understandable, especially given his full backstory, but insulting someone whose assistance is required is generally unwise. Though this is a different phenomenon from the work under duress that was discussed earlier, this can also lead a person to work in a contemptuous manner and produce an inferior product as a form of retribution. Whether Eugene actually does this is an open question, though events that will be discussed in Part III will raise this question.

What appears to be almost a throwaway scene actually contains one of the most important lessons in the episode. As Dwight correctly tells Sherry, everyone who is still alive is alive at someone else’s expense. This dead other need not be human, but it will always exist, down to a person’s very diet. The foods that one eats were once living beings. The broader point that one’s choices do not only affect oneself is also important, especially when a state apparatus is involved. Because the state steals, redistributes, consumes, and destroys rather than produces, it can only give one something by taking it from someone else. In other words, someone else is deliberately made worse off to a greater extent so that one can be better off to a lesser extent.

Some viewers may dismiss Carl’s taunting of Negan as typical teenage acting out and rebellion against authority, but there is something to be learned from it. In many cases, a resister will taunt the established powers, hoping either to beat them at their own game of projecting an image for public consumption or to provoke them into an overreaction that makes them look completely tyrannical. However, this tends not to work; in most cases, it simply motivates the established powers to dominate the resister. This is partly because the establishment has too many advantages in projecting an image and partly because the established powers are already tyrannical and everyone already knows it. The problem is not one of lack of information, but lack of apparent means of doing something about it. In this case, Negan dominates by taking Carl home and imposing himself into the role that Rick would normally play at home, more of which is seen in the next episode.

Speaking of mockery, this is something that comes naturally to Negan and fits into his larger persona. There is much to be said for the idea that autocratic rulers are playground bullies writ large, as the personality traits of both share important similarities, most notably an understanding of cognitive empathy coupled with a lack of emotional empathy. Belittling one’s rivals is done in both cases for the purpose of pulling oneself up at others’ expense, which is in alignment with the general nature of states to redistribute but never create. One can see this behavior even in liberal democracies, as evidenced by the Donald Trump presidential campaign.

Finally, let us discuss Negan’s treatment of Judith. Despite Negan’s psychopathic behavior in his dealings with adults, he seems to have a genuine soft spot for children, especially babies. This is not unusual in the real world. Often, people who commit atrocities in one part of their lives are perfectly capable of caring and compassion in other parts. For example, the Nazis were cruel toward Jews, but many Nazi leaders are known to have had great concern for the welfare of animals, especially Hermann Göring. An additional element that affects rulers is the knowledge that younger children are both more likely to have more years left to live and more vulnerable to indoctrination, both of which make them important to a ruler’s long-term vision. His efforts to instruct Carl in the proper use of public perception also demonstrate this. Negan has such a vision, as he declares that the purpose of the Saviors is to “bring civilization back to this world.”

The Breaking Point

In Episode 708, the tide finally begins to turn against Negan’s oppressive rule. In Hilltop, Maggie takes her post at the front gate. Gregory warns her not to let her popularity go to her head, and Maggie tells him not to let it bother her. He rubs an apple on his jacket, which irritates Eduardo, another guard. Gregory reluctantly tosses the apple to Maggie, who eats it.

In Rick’s house, Negan shaves and instructs Carl about proper shaving technique. Then, Negan cooks pasta.

At the Saviors’ compound, Daryl escapes his cell and sneaks down the hallways. He ducks into Dwight’s apartment. He eats a jar of peanut butter, changes into Dwight’s clothes, and smashes Dwight’s carved figurines. Once the Saviors he hears in the hall leave, he leaves.

Back in Alexandria, Tara hands Olivia some powdered lemonade. Olivia declines to let Tara take over, saying she promised to watch Judith. Negan tells Carl to place one more setting in case Rick returns. Olivia makes and pours lemonade for Negan.

Meanwhile, Rick and Aaron find a boat full of holes. They try to reach the houseboat in it, but sink. After fighting off zombies, they manage to reach the houseboat. They look through the supplies in the houseboat and find a note that says “Congrats for winning, but you still lose” and shows a middle finger.

Negan says he is tired of waiting for Rick, so he, Carl, and Olivia have pasta and lemonade.

A Savior looks through what Spencer has collected and commends his work. A female Savior offers to show Spencer around the Saviors’ compound if he plays his cards right. She calls out Eugene for watching them.

Near the Kingdom, Carol is visited by Morgan, who brings a sack of produce. She invites him in and reveals that Ezekiel also brings her food. Richard stops by as well. Richard tells Carol and Morgan that he believes the Saviors will destroy the Kingdom and asks them to help him convince Ezekiel to attack. Carol refuses to help and insists on being left alone. Morgan does not want to disrupt the peace. Richard leaves.

Rick and Aaron move the houseboat to shore and load the truck with supplies. Rick mentions that Michonne believes this is not living, to which Aaron responds, “Your loved ones hearts are beating or they aren’t.” They finish loading and prepare to leave as someone watches them.

Michonne demands that Isabelle, the Savior she captured, drive to Negan’s compound. Michonne asks her why she was alone in the woods, but she does not respond. Later, they see hundreds of Saviors in the distance. Isabelle tells Michonne that attacking Negan would be pointless. “We’re all Negan,” she says, and advises Michonne to kill her and lose the car. Michonne does.

In Hilltop, Sasha tells Maggie that a resident’s daughter wants Maggie to lead Hilltop. Maggie asks about Jesus, and Sasha tells her that he left for a supply run. Maggie leaves to get milk. Enid calls out Sasha for lying about Jesus and guesses that Sasha plans to kill Negan. Sasha tells Enid to keep it a secret so that Maggie will not try to help, which might endanger her baby.

At the Saviors’ compound, Daryl runs down a hallway and finds a pipe. He finds Joey when he exits the building. Joey surrenders, but Daryl beats him to death with the pipe. Jesus finds Daryl as he beats Joey. Daryl takes Joey’s gun, which was originally Rick’s gun. Daryl and Jesus get on a motorcycle and escape.

In Alexandria, Gabriel urges Rosita not to attack Negan yet. Meanwhile, Spencer dresses up and rehearses in front of a mirror for a meeting with Negan. He takes a bottle of liquor and leaves his house. Spencer goes to Rosita’s house and says that he plans to get close to Negan so he can move against him in the future. Rosita agrees to a dinner date with him later. Spencer then goes to Rick’s house to meet Negan.

Rick and Aaron return to Alexandria and are surprised to find Saviors there. They inspect and unload the goods. The note with the middle finger and “congrats for winning, but you still lose” is found, which enrages the Saviors. One of them beats Aaron. Rick tries to intervene, but is stopped by two Saviors. Another Savior joins in the beating. Once the beating is done, Rick helps him up. “My heart’s still beating, right?,” he asks Rick.

Negan drinks with Spencer and wishes for a pool table. Spencer tells him where they have one. The table is set up in the middle of the street. Negan and Spencer play, and Alexandrians gather to watch. Spencer tells Negan that Rick’s ego is out of hand and informs him that before Rick came, his mother had led Alexandria and now she is dead. He proposes that Negan kill Rick and make him the new leader. Negan points out that Rick hates him, but deals with it and produces for him, which “takes guts.” Spencer, on the other hand, sneaks around instead of killing Rick himself. Negan says that Spencer has no guts as he plunges a knife into Spencer and disembowels him. “There they are. They were inside you the whole time!,” Negan jokes as Spencer’s guts spill out onto the asphalt.

Rosita loses composure, pulls her gun, and fires the homemade bullet at Negan. The bullet hits Lucille and stays in the bat, which enrages Negan. Arat tackles Rosita and holds a knife to her face. Negan picks up the casing and realizes that it is homemade. He demands to know who made it. Rosita claims to have done it and cuts her own face on Arat’s knife. Negan does not believe Rosita and orders Arat to kill somebody. Rosita screams, “It was me!,” as Arat kills Olivia. Rick arrives with Aaron. Negan says Rick should thank him for getting rid of someone who wanted to usurp his position and for getting rid of someone who must be eating a lot of food. Rick says Negan should leave, which Negan agrees to do as soon as he finds out who made the bullet. Tara falsely confesses, but Eugune admits that he did it when the Saviors point guns at Tara. Negan takes Eugune with the Saviors as they leave. Rick sees Spencer zombifying and stabs him dead again.

Michonne returns and tells Rick that there are even more Saviors, but they should fight anyway. After the events of the day, Rick agrees.

Back in Hilltop, Maggie spots Carl, Michonne, Rick, Rosita, and Tara coming to Hilltop. Rick says Maggie was right all along; they must fight. Daryl and Jesus come out to join them, and Daryl gives Rick back his gun. They all go to the mansion that serves as Hilltop’s headquarters.

Gabriel watches the Alexandria gate at night. The person who watched Rick and Aaron earlier watches him, then moves toward Alexandria.

* * * * *

Maggie’s rise in status coupled with Gregory’s loss in status could one day dislodge Gregory from power, and it is clear that Maggie would lead Hilltop should Negan lose his grip on power. She is more popular and does not have the baggage of being Negan’s puppet. Similar personalities tend to arise in puppet regimes, and whether they can mount a successful coup depends on several factors, including popularity, strength of the regime, and willingness of the puppet governor to crush opposition. The passing of the apple from Gregory to Maggie symbolizes that he is not long for his position, and perhaps for the world.

Negan shaving himself could be a mocking jesture at Rick, considering the juxtaposition of Rick in the video versus Rick now made in Episode 704. His acts of cooking, directing Carl to set the table, and then eating at the head of the table with Rick absent further symbolize that he is now in charge instead of Rick. The real-world analogy is that of the state gaining power at the expense of the family, especially by displacing the role of fathers through the welfare state and conscription into either military or civil service.

The note incident shows how oppressors can be willing to use whatever justification they can find to resort to violence. Though Aaron did nothing to deserve his beating and the Saviors might still have beaten someone in the note’s absence, it would have been wise to anticipate that a beating would come because of that note and get rid of it before the Saviors could find it.

Richard’s efforts to convince Carol and Morgan of the need to revolt are not so different from the efforts of people who advocate for revolution in the real world. He sees an oppressor who will continue committing acts of aggression unless forcibly prevented from doing so. He understands that meeting them with defensive force is the only solution, and is better done sooner while the resistance is more capable and the oppressor is less ready than might be the case at a future date. But like so many people in the real world, Carol wants no part of a violent resistance and Morgan falsely equates living under oppression with peace. Just like Carol and Morgan, most people must come to terms with the need to forcefully resist statism through bitter experience.

The Saviors lose two of their own, as Daryl kills Joey and Michonne kills Isabelle. Each event is of interest for different reasons. Daryl kills Joey in the same manner that Negan killed Abraham and Glenn, which is symbolic of taking back power that has been wrongfully taken. Another example of this is that Joey has Rick’s gun, which Daryl returns to Rick. Just as Lucille is Negan’s symbol of power, Rick’s service revolver from his days as a police officer before the zombie apocalypse is his symbol of power. Daryl’s effort to return Rick’s gun to him symbolizes the importance of teamwork and friendship in a revolutionary effort, as Daryl does what Rick could not manage to do and helps to restore Rick’s role as their leader.

Michonne’s killing of Isabelle illustrates both the degree of indoctrination in authoritarian states and the need to make hard choices in war. Isabelle says that she is Negan-and so is every other Savior-even when faced with death. She even recommends that Michonne kill her. Killing a person one-on-one, face-to-face is never easy, but Isabelle’s unflinching loyalty to Negan makes this necessary. Any resistance effort in the real world will encounter people like this, and their deaths are unfortunate but unavoidable if the revolutionaries are to be successful.

Spencer’s treachery finally comes to a head, as the female Savior’s interest in him seems to partially motivate his plan to cozy up to Negan. But Negan sees right through him, calling him out for the backbiting coward that he is. Spencer’s brutal and public execution is not so different from how his kind have been treated through most of human history, and the message is the same. Attempting to get the state to do the dirty work of killing people who are useful to those who run the state is against the rational self-interest of those who run the state. Rick serves a useful purpose for Negan in his current role, but killing Rick to put Spencer in charge would send all the wrong signals while replacing a proven leader with an unpopular coward. If one wishes to topple puppet governors, one must do so oneself, though this is likely to invite punishment as well.

The real game-changer is Rosita’s assassination attempt. She was completely justified in trying to kill Negan, just as any subject of a state would be justified in trying to kill the head of state. By leading such an organization, the head of state bears ultimate responsibility for all of the crimes committed by agents of that organization. Especially in such autocratic regimes as Negan’s, removing the head has a significant chance of killing the beast. But that which is morally justifiable can also be tactically unwise. As discussed previously, there are people worse than Negan among his lieutenants, and one of them could take power. Also, the various communities under Savior domination have yet to decide to fight, and attacking too soon plays into the establishment’s hands by giving them a pretext to crush the resistance before it is ready.

The punishment that Negan chooses in response to the assassination attempt goes back at least as far as the Roman punishment of decimation. If a Roman legion did something particularly cowardly, inept, or disastrous, they received a punishment in which a random tenth of them were put to death. Anyone could be marked for death in a decimation, which gave everyone an incentive to avoid it. Likewise, Negan makes a point to kill people who appear to be chosen at random in order to keep a group in line. The only exception appears to be Abraham, who may have been chosen for being the second in command, thus leaving Rick without a clear heir apparent or right-hand man.

What Negan decides to do with Eugene also has historical parallels. When one finds an intelligent person who innovates and manufactures for the other side in a conflict, it is better to turn that person to one’s own side than to harm them. For example, the Americans and Soviets each acquired several Nazi scientists, who would help each side in the space race of the 1950s and ’60s. The details of Eugene’s time with the Saviors will be discussed in Part III.

At long last, all of this convinces Rick to fight. He finally realizes that surviving under Negan’s system is not really living, if one even manages to survive. Negan overplays his hand, doing what successful dictators must learn not to do. He gives the people under his rule a feeling that they will suffer and die no matter what, and so they might as well get their money’s worth and make their hardships and possible deaths count for something.

Finally, a note about physics. In reality, almost any bullet would go right through any kind of wooden baseball bat, which would have thrown potentially deadly shrapnel into Negan. But then, we would have a much different story to analyze.

Conclusion

The second part of Negan’s story presents him as an authoritarian ruler who runs a regime that is not much different in principle from a real-world nation-state. Give him half your income and obey all of his rules, or you and the people you care about get hurt or killed. Resist him and he will escalate as far as he must in order to gain compliance. His crude methods would be no stranger to many historical dictators, nor would his spoils or points systems. But cracks are beginning to appear in his regime, and these will become more apparent in the second half of Season 7. In the third part, we will examine the time period following the decision to resist (Episode 709) up to the season finale (Episode 716).

Book Review: The Age of Jihad

The Age of Jihad is a book about political unrest in the Middle East by Irish journalist Patrick Cockburn. The book is a compilation of his notes and articles over a 20-year period (1996-2016) while traveling throughout the Middle East. Cockburn did direct reporting where possible, and relied upon first-hand accounts when venturing into certain places was too dangerous.

Cockburn begins with his reporting from Afghanistan in late 2001 as the United States began its intervention to remove the Taliban from power. Next, he shares his experiences of Iraq under sanctions from 1996, 1998, and 2001, followed by his experiences there during the American occupation from 2003 to 2010. This is followed by his next forays into Afghanistan from 2009 to 2012.

The next part of the book focuses on the Arab Spring and the events that followed, with particular emphasis on countries in which the rulers were not quickly deposed. Cockburn begins with the Libyan Civil War of 2011 that removed Muammar Gaddafi from power, along with the difficulties that followed. Sectarian violence in Yemen from 2009 to 2015 and the failed uprising in Bahrain in 2011 each get a chapter.

The last part of the book covers recent developments in Syria and Iraq. First, the Arab Spring in Syria and its development into the Syrian Civil War from 2011 to 2014 is discussed in two chapters. Another two chapters are devoted to the contemporaneous destabilization of Iraq. This culminates in the rise of ISIS and the establishment of the Caliphate, in and near which the final four chapters take place.

The book gives important insight into just how terrible daily life is for people in war-torn lands, including the near-absence of basic utilities, shortages of essential items, rampant unemployment, and fear of mistreatment both from rebel groups and one’s own government. The book is filled with anecdotes of behavior which have not been seen since the Renaissance in the West, and knowledge of this behavior helps to explain animosity toward migrants from that region. The reader may be familiar with some of the events described, but almost anyone would find new information somewhere in the book.

One comes away from the book with a sense that both Western and regional powers had to be trying to perform so poorly. Western powers sought to punish Saddam Hussein without regard for the Iraqi people who bore the brunt of sanctions. They ignored cultural attitudes and sectarian divisions while turning a blind eye to mass corruption that greatly weakened the nation-building projects in Afghanistan and Iraq. They removed dictators who were stabilizing forces, thus creating power vacuums which were filled by al-Qa’ida and its affiliates. It is difficult to be so maliciously incompetent without intending to do so.

Overall, Cockburn does an excellent job of conveying the reality on the ground in most of the conflicts in the War on Terrorism and the Arab Spring. The only real improvement would be to add sections on recent events in Egypt and Tunisia, which only get passing mentions as sources for jihadists in other places. The Age of Jihad belongs on the bookshelf of any serious student of recent history, the Middle East, revolutions, war, and/or the effects of foreign intervention.

Rating: 5/5

Book Review: The Invention of Russia

The Invention of Russia is a book about the history of the Soviet Union and the formation of modern Russia by Russian journalist Arkady Ostrovsky. The book focuses on the time period of the rule of Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, and Vladimir Putin. Special attention is paid to the role played by the media in shaping narratives and steering the population from the Soviet era to the present.

The prologue deals with the author’s experience during and immediately after the assassination of Boris Nemtsov on February 27, 2015. He briefly overviews events over the past few decades that factored into Nemtsov’s murder, and the author’s experiences through those years are also discussed.

The book proper is divided into two parts, each with five chapters. The division between the parts is roughly set at the 1993 Russian constitutional crisis. The first chapter begins with the end of the Soviet Union, then backtracks to give the reader a sense of Soviet history up to Gorbachev’s rise to power, with emphasis on the events that foreshadowed it, such as de-Stalinization and the crushing of the Prague Spring. The second chapter covers the time from Gorbachev’s appointment to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The nature of perestroika and glasnost are discussed, as well as how the Chernobyl incident affected both. Later in the chapter, Ostrovsky details the split between the liberal reformers and the Stalinist hardliners, as well as the beginnings of the privatization of state assets which formed the class of Russian oligarchs. The third chapter explores the final two years of the Soviet Union, including the economic difficulties, the rise of Yeltsin, the worries of the KGB and other elements of the Soviet power structure, the January Events in Lithuania, and the 1991 Soviet coup attempt. The fourth chapter looks at the role played by the media in the dissolution of the Soviet Union and how the generational shift from the shestidesiatniki to their children affected the changes. The Kommersant newspaper is highlighted as an example of the new Russian media, as well as one of several examples of less than honest business practices in the early 1990s, which occurred due to the moral vacuum left by communism. The fifth chapter covers the time from the end of the Soviet Union up to the 1993 crisis, with particular attention to the role of television, radio, and print media in shaping the narrative and saving Russia from another Communist takeover.

The sixth chapter continues the discussion of the 1993 crisis, then moves on to the creation of NTV, Russia’s first Western-style television station. Of course, NTV had to compete with Channel One and other state media, which caused tensions with the state when NTV covered the first Chechnya war from the Chechen point of view. The chapter concludes with the 1996 election, in which the media played an essential role in bringing Yeltsin up from single-digit polling to a victory over Gennady Zyuganov, his Communist challenger. The seventh chapter continues with the events after the election, including a battle between oligarchs that turned into a political crisis, continued troubles with Chechnya, the search for a vision for Russia moving forward, and finally, the 1998 Russian financial crisis.The eighth chapter shows how this milieu combined with NATO airstrikes in Serbia and an overly propagandistic media was able to elevate an obscure KGB agent named Vladimir Putin to the presidency of Russia. The decision of most of NTV’s leadership to side against this was the beginning of the end for the station. The ninth chapter covers the time from the beginning of Putin’s rule to the invasion of Ukraine in 2014, including the ouster of several high-profile opponents of the regime, the bringing of NTV into the control of Gazprom and its gradual turn toward the regime, further trouble with Chechen terrorists, the Russo-Georgian War, and the activities of various media personalities. The tenth chapter looks at Putin’s rule in light of Russian popular culture, the rise of the bureaucrat-entrepreneur, the protests of 2011-13, the military operations in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, and the use of propaganda to manufacture support for foreign aggression.

The book is excellent at face value, providing a perspective that can only come from a native person who lived through many of the events described in the book. But it is even more valuable to libertarians and reactionaries for the obvious parallels between Russian history and the current state of affairs in the West, as well as for the warnings concerning the improper dismantling of government monopolies, as happened during the transition from the Soviet Union to modern Russia.

To conclude, the unique explanations of historical events and the focus on the role of the media in steering the ship of state make this book an invaluable addition to the collection of any activist, analyst, historian, strategist, or student.

Rating: 5/5

In Defense of Russian Hacking

One of the most prominent news stories both during and after the 2016 presidential campaign is the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and phishing of then-Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s email system, along with the public release of thousands of emails, many of which included damaging revelations about the Democratic Party and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The US government publicly announced on October 7, 2016 that it was “confident” Russia orchestrated the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations of the Democratic Party. On December 29, 2016, the FBI and DHS released a report which details evidence that Russia was behind the attacks. President-elect Donald Trump rejects this assessment, pointing to the intelligence community’s numerous failures over recent years as cause to view their conclusions with suspicion. Of course, the establishment media have used this as an opportunity to attack Trump, and Trump’s opponents have used this to try to delegitimize his electoral victory.

Many of the most important facts of the case are dubious and/or classified, so the general public may not have the full details for many years to come. Even though there is no evidence that the actual voting process was hacked, let us assume for the sake of argument that the Russian government was responsible for the most extreme charge made by anyone: that of altering the outcome of the election to hand Trump the Presidency. I will attempt to show that if they did this, they were justified in doing it.

Preventing Nuclear War

Those who believe that the state is a necessary institution almost unanimously take the position that a government’s primary purpose is to defend its subjects from external threats. In the world today, there is no greater potential threat to Russian citizens than a war with the United States. Of the two major presidential candidates, Clinton was the most bellicose toward Russia, and her interventionist position on the Syrian Civil War had great potential to bring American and Russian forces into direct conflict with each other. Once two global powers are at war, developments can quickly spiral out of hand. Given the great advantage that the United States enjoys in conventional military firepower, the Russians could very well escalate to the use of nuclear weapons. Thus, Clinton was more likely to cause World War III and the end of life as we know it than Trump. Therefore, in the estimation of a competent Russian policymaker, it was in the best interest of Russian citizens (and everyone else, for that matter) for Russia to interfere in the US presidential election to help Trump win.

Ancient Liberty

From ancient times, there has been a sense that at least some of the citizenry should have a voice in determining the nature of governing structures which affect them. If we take this premise to its logical conclusion, one should not only have some means to alter the state in one’s own jurisdiction, but every state which has a measurable effect on one’s life. Being the most powerful and dangerous state apparatus in human history, the United States government affects everyone in the world through its foreign policy. Non-citizens of the United States are legally prohibited from voting in US elections under pain of fines, imprisonment, inadmissibility, and/or deportation. Non-citizens are also legally prohibited from funding political campaigns, parties, or communications. But a foreign national does have the means to alter a US election result by hacking political party servers, emails of campaign staff, and/or voting machines. Though a state does not legitimately act as the agent of its citizens in theory, this is the current way of the world. For the state to monopolize the service of representing an individual’s interests on the global stage is a travesty, but to monopolize this service and then fail to provide it is even worse. So again, if the state is to defend its subjects against external threats and act as their agent in foreign affairs, then a government may interfere with another government’s democratic process to attempt to ensure favorable results for its people.

The Moral Low Ground

The establishment media is attempting to sell outrage over Russian interference in American democracy, but is conveniently omitting the fact that espionage is a nearly universal aspect of statecraft, and cyber-warfare is an essential aspect of this for all states which are capable of it. Even allies spy on each other in the hopes of avoiding being blindsided by a sudden shift in foreign policy. The idea that the Russian government is aggressing against Americans absent any cyber-attacks by the US government against Russia is too naïve to take seriously. Furthermore, as the US has a dark and bloody history of dealing with unfavorable election trends by means of carrying out political assassinations, aiding coups d’état, and militarily invading other countries, American political leaders have no room to talk about another state interfering non-violently in a foreign country’s political processes.

Conclusion

Regardless of the actual facts of the case, the Russian government would have been justified in trying to prevent a war between two nuclear states, as well as in acting on behalf of its citizens rather than failing to do so. Such a sharp line of argumentation has gone completely unexplored by the establishment media, and one may speculate that this is due to a combination of their role as propagandists for the US government, a lack of insightful boldness, and the implications of such reasoning for the status quo global political arrangement.

The Not-So-Current Year: 2016 In Review

Though the specific demarcation of the passage from one year into another is a rather arbitrary social construct, it does provide a useful annual period for self-examination and remembrance. Now that 2016 has entered the history books, let us take a look back at a year’s worth of essays and review the not-so-current year.

We begin, of course, with last year’s article of the same kind. Some articles in this list are sequels to articles in that list. Aside from that, we may move on.

My first article proper of 2016 was A Case Against the Nineteenth Amendment. It was intended to come out before the New Year, but I was not satisfied with it until January 3. If I were to rewrite this article, I would say more about biological differences between the sexes and why these make the entrance of women into democratic politics a danger to the stability and sustainability of a society. I took down the First Amendment later in the year.

The Bundy standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Preserve began. I made nine observations on the event. Their later acquittal on several felony charges after the standoff ended in what was essentially an instance of jury nullification was cause for celebration.

As usual, leftists called for more gun restrictions and an end to gun violence without seeing that the former would both cause and be enforced by gun violence or the threat thereof. Rather than take the usual path of reductio ad absurdum, I argued the sharper point that gun deaths can be a good thing. This did not sit well with the editors at Examiner.com, who pulled the article. Given a long and contentious history with the site, I decided to part ways with them and start my own site. This proved to be a wise choice, as Examiner gave up the ghost less than six months later, with all content disappearing into the aether. My next task was to choose a name for the site and explain its meaning.

Christopher Cantwell argued the libertarian case for Donald Trump, and I gave him some pushback. Shortly afterward, Rand Paul suspended his campaign, and I wrote a list of observations on the event.

‘No victim means no crime’ is a common saying among libertarians, but an altogether too reductionist one. I explained why.

A Russian film crew flew a drone over the city of Homs and recorded the aftermath of Assad’s forces besieging the city. I rarely get emotional, but seeing the wanton destruction was quite triggering for me. Aleppo was conquered later in the year, and I wrote a list of observations on the event.

I decided to take an educated guess at whether Ron Paul could have defeated Barack Obama if he had been the Republican nominee in 2012. I believe he would have done so easily.

Twitter decided to give in to government and social justice warrior requests to censor their enemies. Unsurprisingly, this tanked their stock prices. I proposed several remedies for the situation, and Twitter has of course used none of them.

Jason Brennan published an article arguing that arguments made by libertarians against open borders have disturbing implications that said libertarians almost never address, so I addressed them and showed on a point-by-point basis that some such implications are not only not so scary, but are actually vitally important to the maintenance of a libertarian social order.

Charlotte City Council approved an expansion of its anti-discrimination ordinance to include transgender people, which I denounced as a violation of private property, freedom of association, public safety, and freedom of religion. Governor Pat McCrory and the state legislature responded with House Bill 2, and the controversy has brewed for almost a year.

An author known as Mr. Underhill published an article arguing that violent revolution is not the appropriate method for achieving liberty. I took the opposite view, which led to a lengthy exchange of four more articles on my part and four more on his part. Following this exchange, I decided to write about how I choose who to debate and for how long, which made me realize that I had entertained Mr. Underhill for far too long. Later in the year, I covered political violence more generally to argue that we need more of it as well.

When examining the intellectual foundation for private property rights, I noticed an unexplored quirk which turned into an original proviso. A critique in the comments section led to another article defending the proviso.

Islamic terrorists attacked the airport and a subway station in Brussels, killing 31 people and injuring 300 others. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

Social justice warriors seem to have their own language which is distinct from both the dictionary definitions and the common understanding of words by most of the general population. I created a glossary to help normal people better understand SJW rhetoric.

Donald Trump suggested that women could be punished for getting an abortion, which outraged both sides of the mainstream abortion debate. I weighed in with a view which did the same.

Having addressed water ownership and pollution in two articles in 2015, I decided to lay out a libertarian theory on air ownership and pollution.

Puerto Rico reached new lows of fiscal irresponsibility, and I explained why it is best to cut them loose from the United States to become an independent country.

The rise of neoreaction and the alt-right has brought reactionary thought back to the forefront. I deemed my first attempt at examining its relationship to libertarianism to be inadequate, so I took a second stab at it. A Jeffrey Tucker article prompted a third effort, and I made a fourth effort later in the year in response to a pro-Trump neoreactionary article by Michael Perilloux.

Peter Weber published an opinion piece arguing that the institution of the American Presidency is being delegitimized, and that this is a dangerous direction. I argued that this is actually a welcome and even glorious development.

Having already explained my decisions about debating other authors, I wrote two more articles explaining my lack of profanity and lack of satirical content.

Many incorrect arguments concerning libertarianism and punishment began to appear, so I laid out a theory of libertarianism and punishment which utilized heavy doses of Rothbard.

The Libertarian Party held its nominating convention, and it was a disaster from beginning to end. The Republican convention was not much better in terms of substance.

Many people have noticed a correlation between weightlifting and libertarianism. I explored this correlation and found many reasons for it.

A terrorist who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State attacked a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., killing 49 people and injuring 53 others. I wrote a list of observations on the event, but missed a major point in doing so. Democracy is partly responsible for terrorism because it gives the common person a political voice, which makes them viable targets in a way that absolute monarchies or stateless societies would not.

When the Supreme Court ruled against Abigail Fisher in her anti-white racism case, the Internet cheered. I did not, realizing that the decision was a rejection of pure meritocracy.

Against all predictions, the vote to remove the United Kingdom from the European Union succeeded. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

In my most controversial article to date, I argued the most extreme position in the gun control debate: a private individual has a right to own nuclear weapons, and this would be beneficial for liberty. The troll brigades were out in force making typical leftist non-arguments, and I thank them for granting me a then-record in daily page views (and thus advertising money). A few did raise legitimate criticisms which will require an addendum to be written in the future.

As the major-party presidential nominations were secured, the establishment media wasted an inordinate amount of time engaging in speculation about who would be the running mate of each candidate. When discussing the potential benefits that each potential vice presidential pick could have, they neglected the aspect of assassination insurance.

Several recent problems with the criminal justice system demonstrated that government will not hold government accountable, and that a market alternative is required.

Five police officers were killed by a sniper in Dallas. I used the event to argue that those who kill government agents now are not cowardly murderers perpetrating senseless violence, but neither are they heroic or helpful to the cause of liberty.

A certain type of policy analysis exhibits many symptoms which are also found in high-functioning autistic people. This is more common among libertarians than among people of other political persuasions, so I decided to address the phenomenon.

A significant portion of the media coverage leading up to the Republican convention focused on the possibility of violence on the streets involving leftist protesters and rightist counter-protesters. This possibility went unrealized for reasons which were covered up by the establishment media.

Hillary Clinton said that she was “adamantly opposed to anyone bringing religion into our political process” and that it is “just absolutely wrong and unacceptable.” I argued the opposite case.

Gardening is an enjoyable hobby and a useful metaphor for many things, a libertarian social order included.

Trump hinted at the assassination of Clinton should she win and threaten gun rights. Predictably, every element of the establishment went apoplectic. I argued that political assassinations are ethically acceptable, though not usually the wisest practical move.

Since the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, libertarians have had strong differences concerning how to engage with it. I explained the differences between their intentions and libertarian goals.

The 2016 Summer Olympics took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

Whenever disasters impact an area in modern times, governments play a large role in the cleanup and recovery efforts. But this causes a behavioral problem in the population, not unlike that caused by the Pax Romana.

The Commission on Presidential Debates decided to exclude third-party candidates yet again. I made cases for peaceful and violent protest of this policy, and longed for a future candidate who might actually motivate people to engage in meaningful resistance.

Liberty Mutual created more advertisements that contain economic fallacies, so I did another round of debunking.

The establishment media tells us that every election is the most important of our lifetime. I proved that this cannot be the case, then psychoanalyzed the establishment media to explain why they keep repeating this, as if to convince themselves.

Argumentation ethics has been controversial since its introduction, but Roderick Long’s criticisms of it had gone unanswered. I remedied this state of affairs.

Rioters plagued Charlotte for three nights in response to a police shooting, which happened to involve a black officer and a black suspect. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

Congress voted to override President Obama’s veto of a bill that allows relatives of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for any role in the plot. Though some libertarians argued against the bill, I celebrated it for chipping away at the anti-libertarian idea of sovereign immunity, giving victims of American foreign policy a peaceful means of addressing their grievances, and possibly revealing clandestine activities to the American people about which they have a need to know.

Having heard libertarians argue in favor of every presidential candidate except Hillary Clinton, I decided to give it a shot. Only a bootlegger’s case was possible, and it was rather grim.

The idea of market failure is a widely believed misconception which has found widespread use in statist propaganda for the purpose of justifying government intervention in the private sector. I gave the idea perhaps its most thorough debunking to date.

In the last quarter of the year, I began reading more books, which resulted in several book reviews. I can strongly recommend The Essential Guide to Freelance Writing and Our Sister Republics; The West Point History of the Civil War somewhat less so. Good Guys With Guns, on the other hand, is a disaster.

The month before the election presented several opportunities for rebuttals. Milo Yiannopoulos demonstrated both a misunderstanding of and an enmity toward libertarianism, and I rebutted his assertions, which gained a surprising amount of attention. Jeffrey Tucker tried to defend democracy as a superior alternative to monarchy or political violence, and I showed why this is misguided. Penn Jillette argued in favor of vote swapping, and I argued against it.

Finally, the 2016 election came and went, which presented many observations to be made.

Black Friday is revered by most libertarians as a celebration of free-market capitalism. I updated my explanation of why this reverence is somewhat misplaced.

Finally, Otto Warmbier spent all of 2016 detained in North Korea. I made the unpopular case that he should be left there.

All in all, it was an interesting year full of occasions to make sharp libertarian arguments. May 2017 bring more of the same. Happy New Year!

A Campaign Against the Commission on Presidential Debates

This is the third essay in a three-part series. This essay will detail the campaign a hypothetical future third-party presidential candidate who makes use of the tactics described in the first and second essays, which discuss peaceful and forceful tactics, respectively.

In the weeks leading up to every United States presidential election, a series of debates between the candidates are held. When the current series of regular debates began in 1976, this was handled by the League of Women Voters. By 1987, the Republican and Democratic parties decided to take over control of the debates by creating the Commission on Presidential Debates, which was co-chaired by Frank Fahrenkopf and Paul G. Kirk, the Republican and Democratic national chairmen at the time. The CPD has controlled all presidential debates involving Republican and Democratic candidates since 1988. With the sole exception of Ross Perot in 1992, all third-party candidates have been excluded from the debates since its inception, and they have now succeeded in doing so for the 2016 election cycle.

Various efforts to resolve this matter peacefully, such as protests, lawsuits, boycotts of debate sponsors, and the organization of other presidential debates have failed. The use of force to remedy this situation is morally justifiable, but no candidate has yet showed a willingness to resort to such methods. But as this may not always be the case, let us now consider a hypothetical future election in which there is a third-party candidate who decides to use force to either get onto the debate stage or shut down the CPD’s activities.

The Candidate

Let us call our candidate Aurelius. Aurelius is a tall, imposing man of forty. He is well read, both inside and outside of the libertarian philosophical tradition. He has a quick wit, a sharp tongue, and a gift for public oratory. His personal views on issues are rather reactionary, and he distances himself from the hedonism embraced by some libertarians. He is a man who has endured much hardship at the hands of government agents, and he will have his vengeance. But he knows that taking power by force, even if he intends to dismantle that power from the inside out, is a hard sell in a democratic system. He also knows that the Republicans and Democrats want nothing to do with anyone who is as radical and controversial as him, and he is the wrong sort of radical for the Green Party. As such, he decides to run for the Libertarian Party presidential nomination. (We will assume that no other right-leaning third party becomes a better avenue for his candidacy in the next eight years.)

2016-2020

Aurelius makes his first attempt as soon as he is old enough to be constitutionally eligible for the Presidency in 2020 and is narrowly defeated, but only on account of shenanigans pulled by the party establishment to deny the nomination to a firebrand revolutionary in favor of yet another milquetoast mediocrity. Not deterred by this disappointment, he strengthens his resolve. His concession speech at the 2020 Libertarian National Convention blasts the party establishment and the nominee, intensifying a rift within the party. This gives him mainstream press coverage for several days for his bold rhetoric and controversial views, but then the press largely moves on.

In mainstream politics, the 2016 election turns out to be not as important as most people thought. Donald Trump has been elected and fails to deliver on his lofty campaign promises, the gridlock in Washington continues, as does the economic stagnation and growing political divide throughout the nation. In the 2020 election, Trump seeks re-election, a radical progressive wins the Democratic nomination, and third parties are denied a fair chance yet again. This also offers no relief, as no one in a position of power understands the problems facing America. As the 2024 campaign season approaches, America is ripe for revolution, and it is only a question of who will begin the revolt, where and when it will happen, why it will be done, and whether the revolution will be political or anti-political.

2021-2023

Aurelius spends most of these years touring the United States, giving speeches, making alliances, performing outreach, training people in electioneering, and doing everything else that is necessary to set up his campaign strategy for 2024.

2023 – Second Half

In September 2023, Aurelius announces that he has formed an exploratory committee for a potential presidential campaign and filed the necessary paperwork with the Federal Election Commission. During the next few months, Aurelius and his surrogates discuss his plans with his SuperPAC as well as with local militia groups all over the nation, many of which he has played some part in establishing or expanding over the past few years. The exploratory committee does not do as much work as many have done historically because Aurelius has spent several years carefully considering campaigns slogans and themes, developing media appeals, and writing position papers and speeches. He realizes that endorsements from powerful individuals and groups would actually harm his cause, as it would diminish his credibility to have their blessing. Aurelius is also quite wary of hiring consultants and pollsters, recalling how the Gary Johnson campaign in 2016 spent entirely too much on consultants who provided far too little service for the pay they received. His exploratory committee does act more normally in hiring staff and in organizing state campaigns. Aurelius focuses on swing states, particularly Ohio, as he is determined to make a difference one way or another.

On September 27, the CPD announces that the presidential debates are scheduled for September 25, October 8, and October 14, 2024, with the vice-presidential debate scheduled for October 3. Five venues are named; one for each of the aforementioned events and one alternate location. These locations are passed on to the militia groups so that they can make strategic assessments.

On October 26, the CPD announces its criteria for inclusion in the debates. As always, they are designed to exclude all non-duopoly candidates, requiring 15 percent across five national polls. Aurelius begins publicly condemning the CPD but does not disclose his eventual plans.

On December 21, Aurelius announces that he is running for the 2024 Libertarian nomination for President of the United States. After this time, Aurelius uses unofficial surrogates and former campaign staff to relay messages to supporting SuperPACs, knowing that his campaign will likely be given more scrutiny by the Federal Election Commission than the major-party campaigns, which regularly violate the ban on SuperPAC coordination with impunity.

2024 – First Quarter

Aurelius spends the first quarter of 2024 raising money, getting his supporters to attend state party conventions and become delegates to the nominating convention, strategizing with liberty groups on college campuses, and debating the other Libertarian candidates. His opponents consist of the usual Libertarian field; several nobodies who run to make a name for themselves with no serious chance at the nomination, a former politician of a major party with non-standard views for that party, a few professionals in non-political fields, and a libertarian activist or two. Their views of Aurelius range from fear of his boldness and disgust at his right-libertarianism to agreement with most of his positions but not with the means he is willing to use. His poll numbers start off somewhat low but steadily rise as he outperforms his challengers in debate after debate.

In early March, Aurelius speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference, just as several Libertarian candidates have done before him. He offers himself as an alternative for disaffected conservatives and far-rightists who are disappointed in Trump’s performance and do not like the Republican frontrunner in the 2024 primaries. He uses the opportunity to attack the Republican and Democratic frontrunners as well as the CPD. In late March, the first televised Libertarian primary debate of the season airs, and Aurelius is among the participants. He presents himself and his candidacy well, getting the attention of many voters and pundits for the first time.

2024 – Second Quarter

The Republicans and Democrats have their nominees all but secured by April, and most Americans are none too happy with their choices. Aurelius and the former major-party politician opposing him in the primary gain attention as a result, as the nobodies are forgotten and the other candidates who are invited to primary debates prove no match for the two frontrunners. The campaign between the two gets nastier, and the rift opened at the 2020 convention grows wider.

This comes to a head at the nominating convention in May. Aurelius narrowly manages to secure the nomination after two ballots, but tempers flare during the vice-presidential nomination as the establishment wing of the party tries to saddle Aurelius with the former politician who opposed him rather than give him the running mate of his choice. This vote goes through several ballots, but Aurelius finally manages to win over the room with a rousing speech.

Just as Trump’s candidacy altered the composition of the Republican Party eight years earlier, Aurelius’s nomination alters the composition of the Libertarian Party. The former major-party politician walks out of the convention, several party stalwarts resign their posts, and many left-libertarians either leave the party or decide not to support the nominee in the general election. This has an impact, but many Aurelius supporters have already entered the party and more than outnumber those who leave. Aurelius gives another powerful speech denouncing those who abandoned the Libertarian Party over his candidacy.

The General Campaign Begins

Aurelius does a round of interviews following his nomination, and it quickly becomes clear to everyone that he is not the calm, soft-spoken, non-threat to the establishment that past Libertarian nominees have been. Talk of a three-way race begins, and pollsters being including Aurelius in their surveys. The first surveys show him at a startling 10 percent of the vote, with both major-party candidates near 40 percent and the rest either undecided or supporting other third-party candidates. The establishment becomes nervous to an extent that they have not been since the Trump campaign of 2016, though for different reasons. In June, the CPD names moderators for the debates. Aurelius and his running mate participate in a live town hall on June 26.

In July, the Aurelius SuperPAC begins airing campaign advertisements, but carries out a novel strategy of attacking the CPD as much as promoting the candidate. The reason for this is to vilify the CPD and make the American people hate them in order to make countermeasures against them more palatable. These anti-CPD ads continue airing through the middle of September, with several ads left on the back burner for various possibilities in late September and October. When asked about this in interviews, Aurelius declares that he is come to fight the enemies of the American people, and that the CPD is the first such enemy that he must defeat. He assures the press that he will not allow the CPD to silence him or his supporters, but stands up to media pressure when asked to divulge the full meaning of this, saying that he will not reveal his strategies to his enemies and the establishment press can find out when everyone else does. Most interviewers move on to other topics, but Aurelius does walk out on one interviewer who will not stop trying to discern his plans.

In August, Aurelius supporters on the college campuses chosen by the CPD ally with other third-party and non-partisan liberty groups to acquire as many debate tickets as possible in an effort to disrupt the debate, especially at the campus chosen for the first presidential debate. His poll numbers slowly move upward into the low teens, prompting the establishment press to dig deeper into his background and question him more rigorously in interviews in an effort to derail his candidacy. But unlike many previous third-party candidates, Aurelius does not gaffe or back down, having a strong answer for everything they throw at him. Aurelius and his running mate participate in more live town halls on August 7 and 21. Aurelius finishes getting nationwide ballot access in late August.

Showdown With The CPD

In September, the major-party candidates are worried. The final polls which are used to determine debate access have Aurelius in the neighborhood of 15 percent. The surrogates for both duopoly candidates are scrambling to try to convince voters not to support Aurelius, warning them that “a vote for Aurelius is a vote for the other duopoly candidate” and “electing such an extremist endangers the republic.” He effortlessly slaps down their arguments. Both major-party candidates wish for the CPD to exclude Aurelius despite having poll numbers which could qualify him to debate. The CPD responds by choosing the five polls which have Aurelius at the lowest level of support for its average, giving him 14 percent support and the CPD an excuse to exclude him.

Later that week, the plan to disrupt the debates by filling the audiences with hecklers is discovered. The CPD decides to cancel all of the admission tickets, hold the first debate without an audience, and let Republican and Democratic party officials decide who to let into the audience for the other three debates. Aurelius disavows any direct involvement in this plan, saying that it was the work of his supporters as well as concerned citizens who seek fair debates. However, he expresses sympathy toward the means and the end. Interviewers again pressure him to divulge any more plans for disruption that he might have, but he still refuses.

On September 21, scouts for the militia groups show up to the five debate venues in plain clothing. Some of them enter the venues, hide until late at night, then open the doors to allow a large number of militia members to enter each venue with enough armament and supplies to carry out an occupation for the duration of the scheduled debate season. They allow non-militia members to leave the buildings but not enter, as they do not wish to create a hostage situation. On the morning of September 22, everyone becomes aware of the situation and an armed standoff ensues between the militia groups and federal agents. The militias demand either fair debates or none at all, and inform all concerned parties that more groups are ready to respond to any hastily organized plans to hold CPD events elsewhere or retaliate if federal agents massacre them. Aurelius is contacted by federal agents and the media, and he informs both that he will hold a press conference at noon the next day to discuss the situation and will not discuss the matter with anyone until then. The two major-party candidates give campaign speeches in which they denounce Aurelius and the militia groups.

At noon on September 23, Aurelius delivers a lengthy address explaining the history of the CPD, its role in determining who can become President and who cannot, and the reasons why the tactics used by his supporters are necessary and proper. He answers all of the objections raised by the major-party candidates, the press, and the CPD over the past 36 hours. He leaves enough plausible deniability for himself in order to avoid conspiracy charges, but makes clear that he stands with the militia groups and welcomes their efforts in his fight against the CPD.

Negotiators attempt to dissuade the militias from their occupation, and representatives for the militia groups attempt to dissuade the CPD from its policies, but both sides refuse to budge. The establishment press does its best to vilify Aurelius and the militia groups, but alternative media personalities along with his speeches, supporters, and campaign ads largely blunt their efforts. The desperation of the American people to finally have real change that the Republicans and Democrats have continually failed to bring them makes many of them sympathize with Aurelius and his supporters, even if they view their methods as extreme. The CPD and major-party candidates decide to cancel the first debate on September 25 rather than risk a battle at the debate site, and no press outlets offer to hold a debate elsewhere, heeding the warning from the militias.

Possible Outcomes

At this point, the ball is squarely in the court of the CPD, major-party candidates, and federal agents. How they decide to respond from here on out is difficult to predict, but let us consider some likely possibilities. The best outcome is that the CPD relents and allows Aurelius to debate. However, it is difficult to imagine the major-party candidates agreeing to debate under such circumstances. They would be more likely to deliver some rhetoric about not negotiating with terrorists. Thus, a lack of presidential debates in the 2024 election would likely result. But from Aurelius’s perspective, this is a superior result to one in which they debate and he does not.

Another peaceful resolution would involve working out an agreement with the establishment press, Aurelius and his running mate, the major-party candidates and their running mates, and any other relevant third-party campaigns. In lieu of the CPD events, the networks could air 30-minute segments with each of the candidates. This is more likely than having a multi-candidate debate with the CPD’s involvement, but it is still a somewhat remote possibility.

As we are dealing with an armed standoff, it will not do to leave the possibility of violence unexamined. There are five major concerns in this regard; a medical issue, a surrender, a move against Aurelius, a false move, and a move-in order. Given the duration of the occupation from several days before the first scheduled debate until at least one day after the last scheduled debate, it is quite possible for someone to have a medical issue of some kind that must be addressed. If this happens, then a militia member will need to leave the premises. It is almost certain that the person will be placed under arrest, and the person would do well to accept this and be transported to a local hospital. A surrender by some members of a militia group would function almost identically, except that they would be transported to a police station rather than a hospital. The issue here is that government agents have been known to exact a blood price against a resistance movement by killing a member who is surrendering. While this in isolation could create sympathy for the militia groups and by extension, the Aurelius campaign, shots being fired in response by the militia members could needlessly escalate the matter into a pitched battle. The militia members would certainly have difficulty in holding their fire in such a case, but they would need to do so.

Given the entirety of the situation, it is quite likely that the government would attempt to break the occupation by neutralizing the person(s) on whose behalf they are acting. It would not be difficult for prosecutors to trump up charges upon which to arrest Aurelius (and any other third-party candidates who may stand to benefit from the occupation). Given the history of candidates continuing to run for office while in jail, this is unlikely to have a major effect, except that Aurelius would be hindered in his ability to deliver speeches. There is a chance that an unstable member of a militia could use this as an excuse to start shooting, and the other militia members would need to be prepared for this possibility and contain that individual. An assassination attempt against Aurelius by the establishment cannot be ruled out, but this would signal desperation and inspire a more direct revolution than that proposed by Aurelius, as it would make a martyr of a person who has 15 percent support to become President.

Much like the first two concerns, a false move by either side could have disastrous results, and it is imperative for the militia members and the Aurelius campaign that any such flinch occur on the part of the federal agents and not the militia groups. It is standard procedure for governments to provoke armed resistance movements into firing a first shot so that they have justification to respond with overwhelming force. The occupiers must not fall for any such provocations if they are to maintain proper public perception.

Finally, it is possible that the state may allow the occupations to go on for a time, but finally decide to move in and crush the militia groups. If this happens, then a battle with hundreds of casualties on both sides is probably unavoidable. Fortunately, recent history suggests that this is unlikely, given the results of the Bundy standoffs as well as the blowback and negative press that resulted from more aggressive postures in previous standoffs.

Conclusion

It is impossible to predict the outcome of the 2024 election without knowing how the standoff is resolved. One could not even say for certain that there would be an election if battles occur at the debate sites and unrest grows to the point of civil war. After all, history shows us that great wars can be started by a single shot, and that shot may occur at any place and time. But as the most likely result is a campaign season without presidential debates, a peaceful end to the occupations, and efforts to bring the militia members to trial stretching several years into the future, let us assume that the election does go forward and that Aurelius performs much better than most third-party candidates due to his oratory skills, level playing field with respect to presidential debates, and increased exposure due to the armed standoffs.

A victory for Aurelius would have the political establishment scared for their lives, and they may lash out violently against the American people. He could use the presidential pardon to immunize the militia members as well as himself against any charges related to the occupations, effectively normalizing armed resistance. This would represent a massive cultural shift in a pro-liberty direction unlike anything in time memorial, although it may lead to a civil war between the political establishment and Aurelius’s supporters. This would also have the effect of keeping Aurelius from becoming tyrannical, as armed resistance could turn on him if he did. A narrow defeat may have similar cultural effects, though the boot of state power would aim to crush the Aurelius faction instead of being worn by it.

A massive defeat for Aurelius would indicate a complete failure in messaging or tactics, and would be the likely result of the militias firing first or Aurelius going too far with his rhetoric. This might speed up the efforts to subject the militia members to the criminal punishment system, as the election result would make clear that popular opinion is against them. This result would indicate that no remedy is to be found through political means, so the options for those who desire liberty are to continue suffering or revolt.

Whatever the final result may be, one thing is certain: a campaign against the Commission on Presidential Debates would change the political landscape forever.

Book Review: The West Point History of the Civil War

The West Point History of the Civil War is a book derived from course material used at West Point to teach students about military history, strategy, and tactics. The book offers analysis of the political context of the events during the Civil War, as well as the events immediately preceding and following.

The book begins with an introduction that focuses on the role that West Point played in the lead-up to the Civil War, as well as the effect that the war had on the military academy. The main part is divided into six sections, each written by a different expert historian on the particular subject being discussed. An extensive bibliography ends the book, featuring a multitude of references and image credits.

The first chapter covers the events leading up to the Civil War, beginning with the end of the Mexican War and going through the Compromise of 1850, the battles over slavery in Kansas and Nebraska, the Caning in Congress, John Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry, the election of 1860, the secessions resulting from Abraham Lincoln’s election, and the battles of First Bull Run and Shiloh. The second and third chapters are devoted to the war in the east in 1861-1863, which at the time meant the territory from the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. The fourth chapter covers the western theater in 1862-1863, which was the territory from the Appalachian Mountains westward, although relatively little warfare occurred west of the Mississippi River. The fifth chapter discusses the coordination of Union forces and their strategy of hard war during 1864-1865 that led to the Confederacy’s defeat. The final chapter begins with a strategic discussion of the entire war, and finishes with a brief account of the Reconstruction Era that followed.

Throughout the book, many pictures, posters, and political cartoons from the period provide important evidence of the conditions and popular sentiments at the time. Accounts by troops of battlefield events help to show the harsh reality of war. Maps that show the locations and troop movements involved in each major battle help the reader to get a sense of what happened when, and the historians do a decent job of explaining why most of the commanders made the decisions they made. The greatest fault of the book is its incompleteness; important campaigns along the Atlantic coast get only brief mentions, and the Battle of Pea Ridge is completely omitted. In short, this is no West Point Atlas of American Wars, but it is one of the better new books on the Civil War.

Rating: 4/5

The Ethics Of Political Assassinations

At a campaign rally on August 9, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump was discussing the possibility of Hillary Clinton appointing justices to the Supreme Court who could weaken gun rights, as well as what might be done about it. He said,

“Hillary wants to abolish — essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, if she gets to pick, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know. But I tell you what, that will be a horrible day, if Hillary gets to put her judges in, right now we’re tied.”

Predictably, every element of the establishment went apoplectic. Though the Trump campaign tried to clarify that he was speaking of energizing voters to stop Clinton at the polls, the Secret Service spoke with the Trump campaign, Clinton used the remarks for political hay, other Republicans denounced the remarks, and the lapdog media devoted entire blocks of programming to attacking Trump, accusing him of calling for Clinton’s assassination. How dare anyone speak of self-defense against a tyrannical government, they effectively said? How dare anyone inform the populace, even accidentally, of the true purpose of the Second Amendment? How dare anyone to the right of Leon Trotsky even think of political violence? On and on they went, decrying such a move as yet another sign of Trump being too dangerous a choice for the Presidency.

But should Trump be backpedaling? Was he really wrong to make such a suggestion, or is there a case to be made for political assassination? Let us examine both the moral and practical cases for political assassinations at an abstract and philosophical level, that we may apply them not to one politician, but to all.

The Moral Case

The word ‘assassinate’ is defined as “to kill (someone, such as a famous or important person) usually for political reasons.” Thus, it is just a fancy term for killing a particular kind of person for a particular reason. But a person’s fame or importance in the opinion of other people is of no concern with regard to objective moral standards. As such, we need only consider when it is justifiable to kill any person, regardless of their standing or affiliation. Fortunately, libertarian philosophy makes this simple. The non-aggression principle says that initiating the use of force is never acceptable, but using force defensively to stop an initiator of force is always acceptable. The question of how much defensive force may be used is also easy to answer. If a defender may not use any amount of force necessary to subdue an aggressor, then all an aggressor need do to get away with aggressive behavior is to use force in such a way that the defender cannot use enough force to subdue the aggressor. To believe in limitations on defensive force is to believe that might makes right, which is the antithesis of both philosophy and morality. Thus, unlimited force is justified in order to defend against an aggressor.

The state is defined as a group of people who exercise a monopoly on initiating the use of force within a geographical area. Some people are directly involved in this; these are the police, military, and other enforcement agents of the state. Other people are indirectly involved; these are the politicians, bureaucrats, and regulators. The enforcement class are clearly legitimate targets for defensive force, as they are direct aggressors. Their job is to initiate the use of force on behalf of the latter group, escalating the use of force as far as they must in order to gain compliance. But the political class are also involved in aggression, as they give the enforcers the orders that they carry out. To say that they may not be forcefully defended against equivalent to saying that one may kill aggressors in self-defense but must hold harmless any people who are hiring and directing the aggressors. This is an absurd result because it places the onus upon the would-be victim to spend one’s life either evading a practically endless series of aggressors or giving into their demands rather than allowing the would-be victim to end the threat. Because the political class gives commands to the enforcement class and will hire more members to join the enforcement class should some be killed by the civilian population, members of the political class are as legitimate a target as members of the enforcement class. Therefore, political assassinations are morally justifiable.

Practical Concerns

Although political assassinations are morally justifiable, they tend to be tactically unwise. Whenever a politician is assassinated, another one steps into the office to take his or her place. Abolition of a political office solely by the means of eliminating its current occupant is impossible by design. Whereas people have been assassinating politicians for almost as long as there have been politicians, those who wield state power have figured out the necessity of having a line of succession for positions which are essential for the functioning of the state apparatus in order to ensure continuity of said apparatus. In many cases, there is even a mechanism to keep power within the same political faction should a politician have to replace an assassinated politician. The state is a hydra; cut off one head and more grow back in its place. If the state is to be abolished by force (and it must be), its body must be destroyed, which is to say the enforcement class rather than the political class. After all, the political class cannot rule if no one is willing to enforce their rule because the citizenry have made that occupation too hazardous.

Another disadvantage is that assassinations are frequently used by the ruling class as a pretext to disarm the citizenry and seize more power for themselves. Not only does it follow the dictum of never allowing a crisis to go to waste, but it allows state propagandists to fear-monger and portray an environment of random predation that can strike even the rulers, necessitating an expansion of state power and curtailment of civil liberties because according to them, it is the only possible provider of security. The lapdog media would, of course, do its part to paint those who would use violence in self-defense against government as deranged lunatics and those in government as the heroes who will protect everyone from this “danger.” Lone assassins lack the means to shut enough of their lying mouths, and there are still few people in the alternative media who are willing to defend political assassinations, so the establishment narrative would become dominant. The end result is that the state is empowered by small, isolated attacks upon its figureheads. Only a more robust resistance against the enforcement class rather than the political class could overcome these challenges.

That being said, political assassinations can serve as a form of vigilante justice. Everyone knows that government will not hold government accountable, as the practical purpose of the state is to do that which would be criminal for anyone else and use the state’s monopoly on criminal justice to escape punishment. Politicians and their minions frequently victimize people, then hide behind the legal shield of sovereign immunity should people try to use the courts to seek justice. When people are wronged and they can find no justice through the system for dispute resolution because the system will not turn on itself, vigilante justice is better than no justice at all.

Finally, political assassinations can have value to an anti-state movement as propaganda of the deed. In any revolution, someone must make the first move, and there are usually many people who would be willing to revolt but are unwilling to make that first move. One assassin willing to eliminate a high-profile target and sacrifice one’s liberty (and possibly life as well) by doing so can be both the catalyst and the martyr for a revolutionary movement that topples an oppressive regime.

Conclusion

The probability that political assassinations will bring liberty by themselves is slim, but there is no objective moral prohibition against utilizing such tactics. Whether to resort to such measures is a subjective value judgment that each individual or group must make. As always, an essential feature of liberty is to take one’s own risks, reap one’s own rewards, and suffer one’s own consequences. What is certain is that, in the famous words of Otto von Bismarck, “It is not by speeches and majority resolutions that the great questions of the day are decided—but by iron and blood.”

What Recent Killings Of Police Are Not

On July 7, five police officers were killed by a sniper in Dallas who said that he was upset about recent police shootings and the Black Lives Matter movement, and stated he “wanted to kill white people, especially white officers.” Other people have since attacked officers in Ballwin, Mo., Valdosta, Ga., Roswell, Ga., and St. Joseph, Mich.

When such events occur, the response from the political class and the establishment lapdog media is predictable. They will always side with government agents, regardless of merit. They will always condemn violence, regardless of their complicity in it. They will always use certain adjectives to describe such events, even though they do not fit upon closer examination. As such, let us delve into such an examination.

Senseless

In order to be senseless, an activity must be “without discernible meaning or purpose.” What exactly is senseless about either criminals or concerned citizens attacking government agents? A criminal may seek retaliation for earlier interference by government agents with his criminal activities, may want a greater challenge than victimizing a common person, may want to break fellow criminals out of police custody, or may want to scare government agents into doing less police work. A concerned citizen may have tried all available peaceful methods to right a wrong done by government agents and gotten nowhere, or may act out of a reasonable fear of being aggressed against. In many cases, the Dallas shooting included, the shooter will even inform people about the motive for the attack.

Although such attacks make sense, there are reasons for the establishment to lead people to think otherwise. For as long as such attacks remain senseless, they remain unpredictable, unpreventable, and inexplicable. This is exactly what those who wield state power want people to think because it provides them with an excuse to fulfill their political agendas which would otherwise be opposed and stopped. There is also the matter that the modern nation-state is an inherently left-wing institution, and an environment of random predation (or, at least, a popular belief that one exists) is more likely to produce support for leftist ideas.

Conversely, if people were to identify agency, meaning, and purpose concerning attacks on government agents, then they might come to understand the problem and find a solution. The problem, of course, is that government police do not restrict themselves to enforcing laws which prohibit attacking people or their property. This is because they are part of the state apparatus, which monopolizes initiatory force within a geographical area. Because the state has such a monopoly, it controls the nature and enforcement of the law within its domain. As such, if a legislature criminalizes an activity which harms no one or allows government agents to do that which would be criminal for anyone else to do, government police will enforce those laws just as they would enforce morally legitimate laws. When they do this, and they do so frequently, this makes them the aggressors. If enough people realize this, then they will take appropriate measures to defend themselves, up to and including the use of force. This is not in the interest of those who wield state power, as such a solution means the abolition of state power, and the implementation of said solution would endanger their well-being.

Cowardly

In order to be cowardly, an activity must be done “in a way that shows lack of courage” or “carried out against a person who is unable to retaliate.” Government agents are more likely to be armed than people of any other demographic and are more likely to have combat training. They also have a monopolistic criminal justice system on their side. The idea that they are unable to retaliate is risible at best. As such, we are left only with the question of whether attacking government agents shows a lack of courage. In order to be courageous, one must have “the ability to do something that frightens one” and “be ready to face and endure danger or pain.” Attacking an enemy who is almost certain to cause one’s death would be frightening to anyone but a fool, and doing so requires one to be ready to face and endure danger and pain. Therefore, we may completely dismiss the idea that people who attack government agents are cowardly.

Murder

In order to be murder, an activity must be “an unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another.” Of course, killing government agents will almost always be unlawful by the state’s standards. But what about the higher standard of natural law? Natural law begins with self-ownership; that each person has a right to exclusive control over one’s body. This must be true because arguing against exclusive control over one’s body requires one to exert exclusive control over one’s body, thus creating a performative contradiction. Self-ownership is absolute except for the self-ownership of others; it is immoral to initiate interference with another person’s self-ownership. If someone does this, the person who is wrongfully interfered with may use force to defend against this interference. In libertarian circles, this is called the non-aggression axiom or non-aggression principle (although as a corollary of another principle, it is not an axiom; “non-aggression theorem” may be the most appropriate term). The amount of force that one may use to defend against aggression cannot be limited because placing a limit upon it means that might makes right, as an aggressor who wishes to get away with criminal behavior (and nearly all do) could simply escalate beyond the force limit to win a conflict with those who seek subjugation of and restitution from the aggressor.

As discussed above, the job of an agent of the state is to enforce all of the state’s laws, not just those which are in accordance with natural law or universal ethics. These laws are enforced by presenting a consistent threat to use as much force as necessary to stop a person who is known to be breaking the laws. In other words, they will escalate until a person submits, is killed, or kills them. Salaries for agents of the state are paid with money collected through taxation, which violates the non-aggression principle and private property rights by forcing people to turn over their money to the state or be subject to initiatory force. Thus, to become a government police officer is to choose to present a consistent threat to use as much force as necessary to stop a person who is known to be breaking immoral laws, or in other words, acting morally. Thus, killing them to defend innocent people from their predations is a defensive act from a natural law perspective.

In Fairness

While such attacks make sense, are not cowardly, and are not murder when viewed in a natural law perspective rather than a state law perspective, there are also some adjectives with positive connotations which are being used by sympathizers of the shootings, but which do not fit the circumstances. Let us explore these as well.

Heroic

Whether it be state apologists who have an apoplectic reaction to the above reasoning or ardent but autistic libertarians who appreciate force in self-defense against government but fail to recognize context, attacking and killing villains does not automatically make one a hero. Those who kill government agents in the name of Black Lives Matter generally have an endgame not of a free and stateless society, but of a dindutopia where criminal behavior goes unchallenged by either police or anyone else. It is necessary to recognize that the enemy of one’s enemy can still be an enemy, and that those who fight against villains can themselves be villains. Thus, when government agents and common criminals fight, it is best to pull for no one, hope for heavy losses on both sides, and recognize it as a battle without heroes.

Productive

In order to produce a positive result of forcing out the state and leaving those who seek liberty with only a private criminal element to defeat, there would have to be many more incidents like these. Resorting to force before there are sufficient people and resources available to defeat an enemy is likely only to embolden that enemy, increase public support for it, and result in the defeat and violent suppression of one’s uprising. And given the nature of the contemporary anti-police movements, this is not their goal.

Government Will Not Hold Government Accountable

Since the beginning of statism, rulers have sought to monopolize the provision of justice and criminal punishment for obvious reasons. Not only is it lucrative to do so, in the form of rulers taking for themselves in fines what should be given to victims in restitution, but it also allows for agents of the state to engage with impunity in activities which are criminalized for the commoner. Since time immemorial for those alive at the time of this writing, the nation-state has done so the world over. But when a government politician or enforcement agent is examined by government investigators or tried in a government court, this creates a conflict of interest. Government prosecutors and judges may be interested in promoting justice (or an illusion thereof), but they must also interested in maintaining the structure of state power, which may be endangered by indicting or convicting a politician or enforcement agent. And then there is the matter that the laws being used by said investigators, prosecutors, and judges are monopolized by the state, the common result of which is that a politician or enforcement agent is exonerated for what would land a commoner in prison.

While there is a long line of abuses and usurpations stretching back millennia, three well-publicized concrete examples of these problems have manifested themselves just in the United States in the month prior to the time of this writing. These are the non-indictment of Hillary Clinton for her mishandling of classified information, the overturning of Bob McDonnell’s conviction for political corruption, and the acquittal of Caesar Goodson in the Freddie Gray case. Let us consider each of these cases.

Hillary Clinton

While Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, she used private email servers and mobile devices to conduct government business. On July 5, 2016, an FBI investigation found that “from the group of 30,000 e-mails returned to the State Department, 110 e-mails in 52 e-mail chains have been determined by the owning agency to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received. Eight of those chains contained information that was Top Secret at the time they were sent; 36 chains contained Secret information at the time; and eight contained Confidential information, which is the lowest level of classification. Separate from those, about 2,000 additional e-mails were ‘up-classified’ to make them Confidential; the information in those had not been classified at the time the e-mails were sent.” Three additional classified emails were found outside of the group of 30,000, one Secret and two Confidential. Evidence was found that Clinton or her colleagues were “extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.” According to FBI director James Comey, “None of these e-mails should have been on any kind of unclassified system, but their presence is especially concerning because all of these e-mails were housed on unclassified personal servers not even supported by full-time security staff, like those found at Departments and Agencies of the U.S. Government—or even with a commercial service like Gmail.” It was assessed that hostile actors could have gained access to Clinton’s email account and that they did gain access to email accounts belonging to people who corresponded with Clinton on classified matters.

Despite such a damning litany, Comey recommended that no charges be brought. Although the requirements for criminal charges under USC Title 18, Section 793, Subsection F were clearly met, Comey set up a straw man by claiming that there is not sufficient evidence of intent, even though intent is not part of the statute. This is for good reason because negligence in protecting classified information that can put innocent people in danger, and is therefore a malicious form of incompetence. Comey’s language concerning a “reasonable prosecutor” (whatever that means) was especially concerning, as it condemns as unreasonable anyone in the Department of Justice who might disagree with Comey’s recommendations. It is also noteworthy that Gen. David Petraeus and Maj. Jason Brezler were pushed out of the military in recent years for less.

The most likely explanations for this result are that Attorney General Loretta Lynch received her major career push from former President Bill Clinton, that Hillary could expose much deeper issues and many more violations in response to being indicted, that Comey lacks the fortitude to upset the electoral apple cart, and that Democrats care more about keeping power than accountability.

Bob McDonnell

In 2014, former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen were convicted of accepting more than $175,000 in gifts, loans and other benefits from Star Scientific executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. in exchange for the governor’s help in securing state testing of dietary product. Bob was sentenced to two years in prison for bribery and extortion, while Maureen was sentenced to one year and one day for corruption. He appealed his conviction, which was upheld by the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in July 2015. The Supreme Court reviewed the case and overturned the conviction on June 27, 2016.

At issue was whether Gov. McDonnell committed (or agreed to commit) an “official act” in exchange for the loans and gifts. An “official act” is defined as “any decision or action on any question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy, which may at any time be pending, or which may by law be brought before any public official, in such official’s official capacity, or in such official’s place of trust or profit. The Court decided 8-0 that the prosecutor’s view of an “official act” was too broad, and that although McDonnell conduct was “tawdry,” it should not have resulted in a criminal conviction.

Jack Abramoff, a former congressional lobbyist who was imprisoned for fraud, corruption, and conspiracy, said of the ruling,

“I continue to be concerned by what seems to be a lack of understanding on the part of the justices that a little bit of money can breed corruption. When somebody petitioning a public servant for action provides any kind of extra resources — money or a gift or anything — that affects the process. People come to think those seeking favors and giving you things are your friends, your buddies. Human nature is such that your natural inclination is, ‘He has done something for me, what can I do for him?’ The minute that has crept into the public service discussion, that is a problem.”

Whereas the overarching theme of this article is conflict of interest, it is worth noting that the very Supreme Court justices who decided this case are themselves the recipients of lavish paid trips and gifts from private donors.

Caesar Goodson

On April 12, 2015, Baltimore police arrested Freddie Gray for possessing what was alleged to be an illegal switchblade. While Gray had a prior criminal record, some of which was comprised of crimes against people and property, simple possession of a switchblade knife would not be criminal in a free society unless one were on private property whose owner disallows such armaments. While being transported in a police van driven by Officer Caesar Goodson, Gray was rendered comatose and was taken to a trauma center where he died on April 19. His death was caused by injuries to his spinal cord. It was found upon investigation that Gray was not secured properly in the van; he was handcuffed and foot shackled, but not buckled to his seat.

Goodson opted for a bench trial rather than a trial by jury. On June 23, 2016, Circuit Judge Barry Williams acquitted Goodson of all charges, including second-degree depraved heart murder, second-degree assault, involuntary manslaughter, manslaughter by vehicles (criminal and gross negligence), reckless endangerment, and misconduct in office. These charges could have resulted in up to a 30-year prison sentence. Williams claimed that the prosecution lacked the evidence to prove its case. Williams acquitted another officer involved in the case in May 2016.

The Common Problem

The thread which ties together these seemingly disparate cases is that all of them involve certain or nearly certain misdeeds by government personnel. These personnel are then subject to what is essentially an internal review, as they are investigated by another branch of the same organization. The investigation predictably finds that no wrongdoing worthy of prosecution or conviction occurred unless the conduct was so egregious that it is simply impossible to cover up, and the bar for this is set quite high.

Government will not hold government accountable because it is not in their interest. The only way to solve this conflict of interest is to eliminate it. If we are to have justice for the crimes of government personnel, we must take direct action to end the government monopoly on criminal justice. The remainder of this essay will consider what forms this might take and address likely objections.

Solving The Problem

The first response of most people when confronted with a proposal to end a government monopoly on a service is that one must be objecting to any organized provision of that service at all. In other words, they assume a false dilemma between state laws, police, courts, and prisons, or a vigilantist free-for-all. There is something positive to be said for vigilante justice, in that it can be better than no justice at all, and no justice at all is what the government system tends to provide for those who are victimized by the state. Vigilantism can also demonstrate that an oppressed people have had enough, and that those in power should listen to their grievances lest they be removed from power by an angry mob. But vigilantism has a tendency to descend into directionless violence that accomplishes nothing in the long run. As such, it is necessary to construct competing criminal justice systems which can replace the government monopoly and provide the due process that a lynch mob cannot.

Laws

We must, of course, start with the law itself, for no good cider may be made from poisoned apples. Government laws have extended into every facet of life and have become so complex that most people run afoul of the law on a regular basis without even realizing it. Without a government monopoly on laws, people would have the freedom to choose their own legal codes by either choosing from a number of law service providers or going into business as such a service provider. This system in which only the laws that people are willing to financially support through voluntary means can be enforced would have the effect of shrinking the laws which are mandatory for every person to the bare minimum; no murder, slavery, rape, kidnapping, assault, theft, vandalism, and so forth. Any activity which does not constitute aggression against a person or their property would not be criminal unless one had agreed not to engage in that activity as part of a valid contract, which is a contract that all parties enter into without fraud or coercion and that does not demand the impossible. This would swiftly eliminate police confrontations with citizens over such issues as possessing a state-disapproved kind of weapon or drug, or engaging in a state-disapproved business venture.

Police

Next, we must consider the enforcers of the law. When the state has a monopoly on law enforcement, its agents can break the law with impunity to the extent that the statist system will not hold itself accountable. But in a system of competing private enforcers, the agents of one police company may be held in check by agents of all of the other police companies as well as a considerably more armed citizenry, as gun control laws would almost certainly be among the government laws which would fall by the wayside. Without the ability to enforce higher-order aspects of legal codes to which people have not consented and with the much greater probability that overreaching enforcers may be fired or martially defeated, non-government police lack the mechanisms that make government police so oppressive.

Courts

Third, we must consider private court systems. Without government laws and courts, every interaction between people of any complexity would need to involve a contract to specify how the people involved in the interaction agree to handle disputes which may arise between them. Individuals would likely hire insurance companies to co-sign their contracts for the purpose of ensuring that victims get restitution without having to wait for a contract breaker to provide it. Should one engage in criminal activity, one would be tried in a court specified by one’s contracts, with the appeals process also specified. Failure to abide by the ruling that one contracted to abide by would be economically crippling, as private defenders and dispute mediators would treat this as a risk worthy of raising a person’s rates significantly or even dropping them as a customer. Being without private defenders and dispute mediators would leave one in a difficult position, as one would have trouble buying, selling, entering into contracts, or even defending oneself.

Punishment

Fourth, we must consider how a private legal system will deal with punishment and restitution. While the libertarian theoretical limits of punishment are quite broad, there is no reason why these limits must be approached in every case. Punishment in a libertarian society would generally take the form of forced restitution in cases where an aggressor refuses to make restitution without being forced, with the possibility of “eye for an eye” punishments where restitution is impossible.

In a private justice system, prisons would be tailored to the purpose of helping criminals provide restitution by keeping them safe and in decent living conditions while they do so. Several incentives are at work toward this end. The private prisons are competing with each other to house prisoners, so they each must try to offer the best service for the least cost. The prisoners are paying customers of the insurance companies which are affiliated with the prisons, so they can take their business and transfer their prison time elsewhere if they feel mistreated or endangered and can find a better option. The insurance companies wish to reduce violent crimes for which they must pay claims, and so have an incentive to keep prisoners from harming or being harmed by anyone. Getting criminals to go to prison could be accomplished by making their continued coverage contingent upon going there and making restitution, with the alternative being life as an outlaw in the traditional sense.

Note that unlike a statist system with mandatory sentencing requirements, a private justice system may allow the victim of a crime to negotiate an agreement with the criminal to reduce or even eliminate the criminal’s obligation to perform restitution. One could even specify in one’s will what should be done to one’s murderer if one is murdered.

Additionally, there is one punishment that one may undoubtedly inflict upon anyone for any reason without any need for judicial oversight: ostracism. To be denied association with one’s fellows as well as with one’s trading partners by said fellows and trading partners can certainly meet all of the above definitions of punishment. Psychologists have found that the pain of ostracism is quite similar to the pain of physical injury in terms of the effect it has on a person. The long-term effects that an episode of ostracism has make it an effective way to enforce beneficial social norms without violating the non-aggression principle. The lack of government anti-discrimination laws in this proposed system makes the full realization of ostracism possible.

Objections Rebutted

Such a proposal typically meets three criticisms which were not addressed above. First, there is the “public goods” argument that this system may leave behind the poorest people who cannot afford to pay for it. Aside from the fact that “public goods” are a myth, the amount of productivity that could be unleashed by ending the government monopoly on laws should ensure that no one who does not wish to be poor would have to be. Even if this were not the case, the poor could still receive charity or form neighborhood watch groups while using the aforementioned newly legal heavy weapons, which would also be cheaper due to loosened restrictions on manufacture and ownership.

Second, there is the argument that competing private police forces will fight. The problem with this argument is that the incentives are all pointed in the opposite direction. Fighting will result in deaths for both private police forces, which makes it harder and more expensive for the surviving officers to serve their customers while hurting the public relations of the fighting forces. This creates an opportunity for other private police forces to step in and provide services more efficiently, thus sending the fighting forces into an economic death spiral. Note also that heavy area effect weapons cannot be used in such a fight without harming innocents and bringing legal claims and militant reprisals against the offending officers and companies. Failing all of this, such forces would still be less capable of destruction than nation-states currently are.

Finally, there is the contention that the state will not allow such a system to replace its monopoly. The state is quite profitable to those who run it and those who benefit from its influence, and they will not simply surrender this power. This would be the ultimate result of losing a monopoly on criminal law, as a private law system would treat government crimes committed under color of state law as though they were committed by private citizens. This is why liberty requires revolution, as the answer to the state disallowing a challenge to its power is to put it out of a position of being able to allow or disallow anything.

Conclusion

While government will not hold government accountable, the people living under it can, and it is they who must do it if they wish it done. The above market solution outlines an alternative to the statist criminal justice system, but it is up to the citizens afflicted by state crimes to build and operate such a system. The sooner this is done, the sooner all people can be held to the same basic standard of conduct and the crimes of the state can end.