Guns Are The Only Bulwark Against Tyranny

On October 5, the New York Times published an opinion column by Michael Shermer in which he argues that the rule of law is a bulwark against tyranny, but guns are not. In this rebuttal, I will show on a point-by-point basis that he has made an erroneous case while committing numerous logical fallacies, and that the opposing view is correct.

“In the wake of the Las Vegas massacre — the worst in modern American history, with 58 dead and some 500 wounded — the onus falls once again to those against gun control to make their case.”

Shermer uses the qualifier “modern,” but does not bother to define it. It seems that to him, events like the Wounded Knee Massacre, in which agents of the United States government murdered 300 members of the Lakota Sioux tribe, including 200 women and children, do not count because they occurred before some arbitrary cutoff date. Ignoring such events is also convenient for the arguments he will make later. That the onus is on the gun rights side rather than the gun control side is simply asserted and may be simply dismissed.

“The two most common arguments made in defense of broad gun ownership are a) self protection and b) as a bulwark against tyranny. Let’s consider each one.”

Another common argument that Shermer ignores is the right to own property in general, of which the right to keep and bear arms is part and parcel. But that would require him to deal in a priori logic, which does not appear to be his strong suit.

Self-Defense, Crime, and Suicide

“Stories about the use of guns in self-defense — a good guy with a gun dispensing with a bad guy with a gun — are legion among gun enthusiasts and conservative talk radio hosts.”

This is because such events happen regularly, to the tune of at least 338,700 events in America in between 2007 and 2011. As will be explained below, this is a low estimate.

“But a 1998 study in The Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, to take one of many examples, found that ‘every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides and 11 attempted or completed suicides.’ That means a gun is 22 times more likely to be used in a criminal assault, an accidental death or injury, a suicide attempt or a homicide than it is for self-defense.

A 2003 study published in the journal Annals of Emergency Medicine, which examined gun ownership levels among thousands of murder and suicide victims and nonvictims, found that gun-owning households were 41 percent more likely to experience a homicide and 244 percent more likely to experience a suicide.”

It is curious that Shermer could not find and cite any more recent studies to support his case, but let us deal with his evidence, such as it is. All such studies suffer from two fatal flaws; they cannot count the number of crimes which did not occur because a potential criminal either saw a gun or believed a gun was present and chose not to offend, and empiricism cannot provide information about counter-factuals. For instance, criminals who have been killed by defensive uses of guns may have otherwise gone on to commit scores of murders, but they were prevented from doing so in this timeline. Without guns, other weapons would be used to commit homicides and other crimes, such as knives, bombs, and vehicles, as occurs in countries where firearm ownership is rare and difficult. That there is a difference between a legally justifiable shooting and a morally justifiable shooting further complicates matters.

Furthermore, Shermer implies that all suicides and accidents involving guns are bad, which is not the case. A person who has a short amount of time to live and will be in excruciating pain for the entirety of that time may decide that nonexistence (or going to whatever afterlife the person believes in) is better than existence as a terminally ill person. In such a case, a self-inflicted gunshot wound can act as a form of euthanasia compared to the protracted suffering which would otherwise lie ahead. (And because many governments still violate the sovereignty of their citizens over their own bodies by prohibiting physician-assisted suicide, these are cases of bad people with guns being defeated by good people with guns, albethey in a different manner.) The tragedy in such a case is not the gun death, but the terminal illness behind the gun death.

Another case can occur during an armed conflict. A person whose position is being overrun by enemy forces may commit suicide to avoid capture, interrogation, and torture at the hands of the enemy. Historically, many women did this to avoid becoming victims of war rape and many people with valuable knowledge did this to keep themselves from being tortured into divulging important information to the enemy. In such cases, a self-inflicted gun death can be the best of a multitude of bad options. Though these situations are unlikely inside of the United States, they are not impossible.

Third, a person whose brain does not function properly can come to believe that putting a bullet through one’s skull has some effect other than ending one’s life, or that self-preservation is not a worthwhile endeavor. While there are many cases in which intervention is needed and the death of the mentally ill person would be regrettable, there are some people who have a chronic and incurable mental condition. A strong desire to end one’s life in the absence of terminal illness or an impending worse fate is a mechanism of natural selection to eliminate organisms which are not sufficiently fit to reproduce and take care of the next generation.

On the subject of accidental gun deaths, some cases are best prevented by education of gun owners, but others are a mechanism of natural selection. The gun owner who handles his guns haphazardly or maintains them improperly can remove himself from the gene pool when the gun either shoots him or fails catastrophically in his hands. The gun owner who is a parent and fails to secure his guns around young children is less likely to get to be a grandparent, great-grandparent, and so on. At any rate, accidents are the fault of people, not guns.

With regard to the claim that gun-owning households are more likely to experience a homicide or suicide, to say that this is because guns are present is a cum hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. Additionally, Shermer neglects to mention studies that show a decrease in violent crime as gun ownership has increased. Perhaps he realizes that such data would undermine his narrative. The aggregate is a wash; there is no clear correlation one way or the other.

“The Second Amendment protects your right to own a gun, but having one in your home involves a risk-benefit calculation you should seriously consider.”

The Second Amendment’s utility in this regard is questionable at best, and Shermer’s empirical arguments are highly suspect, but the idea that the decision to have a firearm in one’s home involves a risk-benefit calculation is technically correct.

Tyranny and Rebellion

“Gun-rights advocates also make the grandiose claim that gun ownership is a deterrent against tyrannical governments. Indeed, the wording of the Second Amendment makes this point explicitly: ‘A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.’ That may have made sense in the 1770s, when breech-loading flintlock muskets were the primary weapons tyrants used to conquer other peoples and subdue their own citizens who could, in turn, equalize the power equation by arming themselves with equivalent firepower. But that is no longer true.”

Shermer unintentionally makes a strong argument that the right to keep and bear arms should be greatly expanded. In order to “equalize the power equation,” let us repeal the National Firearms Act of 1934 to remove taxes on certain categories of arms, the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 so that private citizens can own a nuclear deterrent, the Gun Control Act of 1968 to eliminate licensing of arms dealers and manufacturers, the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 to decriminalize private ownership of machine guns manufactured after that date, and numerous other federal, state, and local measures that further restrict what kinds of weapons may be owned by private citizens.

“If you think stockpiling firearms from the local Guns and Guitars store, where the Las Vegas shooter purchased some of his many weapons, and dressing up in camouflage and body armor is going to protect you from an American military capable of delivering tanks and armored vehicles full of Navy SEALs to your door, you’re delusional.”

Shermer follows in the pattern of most other leftists in straw-manning the nature of a violent uprising to overthrow the state. No one seriously believes that a single individual is capable of going up against the armed forces of a nation-state and emerging victorious. Instead, such an effort would require a few percent of the civilian population to use self-defense against agents of the state just as they would against common criminals. Nor is it necessary to achieve the sort of victory that one nation-state would enjoy against another in a war in order to succeed in such a revolution. A sustained effort of decentralized, anti-political, guerrilla attacks need only make the prospect of being a government agent within a certain territory too dangerous of an employment option to be worthwhile, thus physically removing the state from that territory without the need to meet the state’s forces in regular warfare. Note that even a single instance of government agents being killed can greatly reduce oppression, at least in the short term.

As Shermer suggests, a state is likely to deploy its military domestically in an effort to put down such a rebellion. If the rebels are competent, they will blend into the general population when they are not actively engaging their opponents. Thus, using military hardware against the revolutionaries would cause many civilian casualties, especially in the case of area-effect weapons. Just as drone strikes that kill innocents overseas cause more people to join terrorist organizations today, the state’s response to the rebels would cause more people to join the rebels to try to avenge their fallen friends and family members. The state would also damage the infrastructure that it needs to operate in order to maintain public support and carry out its functions.

Shermer seems to believe that military vehicles and personnel are invincible juggernauts that the average citizen could not hope to defeat. This is quite false, as many resistance movements have conclusively proven. Military vehicles are quite vulnerable to ambush in close quarters. Improvised explosives can destroy or disable them, as can large amounts of fire, such as from multiple Molotov cocktails. Aircraft are harder to deal with if the rebels present them with a target and cannot keep them grounded, but drones can be hacked and thermal evasion suits are not terribly difficult to build. Of course, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. All vehicles need to be fueled, controlled, and maintained, and all offensive vehicles need to be armed. Someone must perform each of those tasks. Someone must deliver the resources for both those tasks and the personnel involved. Those people are far more vulnerable than the vehicles themselves.

While leftists tend to deride such suggestions as pure fantasy, anyone who has bothered to seriously think through such possibilities knows that they are not, including high-ranking United States military personnel who are responsible for preparing plans for such scenarios.

“The tragic incidents at Ruby Ridge, in Idaho, and Waco, Tex., in the 1990s, in which citizens armed to the teeth collided with government agencies and lost badly, is a case study for what would happen were the citizenry to rise up in violence against the state today.”

That these are not useful case studies for the possibility of rebellion against the United States government has been demonstrated in the previous section. One must also consider the difference made by Timothy McVeigh. Although his actions cannot be defended from a deontological perspective, the Oklahoma City bombing appears to have had positive consequences with regard to how the state handles armed resistance. By the standard of Ruby Ridge and Waco, the Montana Freemen standoff in 1996, the Bundy Ranch standoff in 2014, and the Malheur standoff in 2016 all should have ended in mass casualties. But because McVeigh made such massacres costly for the state in terms of blowback, responding to such armed standoffs with overwhelming deadly force has become unpalatable.

Government Failure

“And in any case, if you’re having trouble with the government, a lawyer is a much more potent weapon than a gun. Politicians and police fear citizens armed with legal counsel more than they do a public fortified with guns. The latter they can just shoot. The former means they have to appear before a judge.”

The previous two sections clearly refute the idea that the politicians and their agents can just shoot the public. As for citizens armed with legal counsel, they are going into a government courtroom, of government law enacted by those very politicians, presided over by a government judge, funded by taxes that the government extorted from them via the guns carried by those very police. This is a conflict of interest of astronomical magnitude that would never be tolerated in any situation that does not involve the state. The idea that a lawyer is a much more potent weapon than a gun for resolving trouble with a government is thus risible at best.

“A civil society based on the rule of law with a professional military to protect its citizens from external threats; a police force to protect civilians from internal dangers; a criminal justice system to peacefully settle disputes between the state and its citizenry; and a civil court system to enable individuals to resolve conflicts nonviolently — these institutions have been the primary drivers in the dramatic decline of violence over the past several centuries, not an increasingly well-armed public.”

The correlation between declining violence and the civil society he describes does not establish a causal link, so Shermer commits another cum hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. He also assumes that the state is necessary to provide these essential services. In fact, the opposite is true. Rule of law is the idea that people should be governed by laws rather than by the arbitrary decisions of rulers. A state is a group of people who exercise a monopoly on initiatory force in a certain geographical area. People who have a monopoly on initiatory force necessarily have a monopoly on the enforcement of laws. This means that they can choose the nature of the law and the enforcement thereof. Thus, in the presence of a state, those who wield state power rule the law and not vice versa. Therefore, the only possibility for rule of law, as well as the peace and justice that follow from it, is to have no state.

The civil society Shermer describes has its own set of intractable problems. First, the professional military may protect its citizens from external threats, and the police may protect civilians from internal dangers, but this is the security of a farm animal rather than the security of a free person. The state uses its military and police to prevent exploitation of its subjects by other powers only so that it may monopolize their exploitation. And should this monopoly decline and fail, the citizens will be less secure than they were before its inception. The criminal and civil courts cannot perform their functions correctly due to both the conflict of interest explained in the previous section and the doctrine of sovereign immunity.

“States reduce violence by asserting a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, thereby replacing what criminologists call ‘self-help justice,’ in which individuals settle their own scores, often violently, such as drug gangs and the Mafia.”

The goal of those who wish to create a superior form of social order should be a reduction of aggression, which does not necessarily entail a reduction of violence because aggressive violence may be reduced by overwhelming displays of defensive violence. That being said, government agents murdered over 200 million people in the 20th century, which is hardly a reduction in violence compared to pre-modern conditions.

Shermer then presents a false dilemma between a state monopoly on criminal justice and a vigilante free-for-all, completely ignoring the possibility of market provision of criminal justice through competing private businesses. He also neglects the fact that drug gangs and other organized crime make much of their income through goods and services which do not involve aggression against people or property but have been outlawed by the state regardless. Without state interference in the economy, much of the economic activity which currently involves violent dispute resolution between criminals would instead involve peaceful dispute resolution between legitimate business interests.

Finally, given that the state monopoly on force creates a system in which justice for the crimes of its agents is functionally impossible coupled with anarcho-tyranny, there are cases in which “self-help justice,” better known as vigilante justice, is superior to no justice at all.

“Homicide rates, for example, have plummeted a hundredfold since 14th-century England, in which there were 110 homicides per 100,000 people a year, compared with less than one per 100,000 today. Similar declines in murder rates have been documented in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands and Scandinavia. (American homicide rates are around five times higher than in Europe, owing primarily to the deadly combination of guns and gangs.)”

Again, this does not tell us why homicide rates have fallen. Better economic circumstances and declining exposure rates to toxic substances that increase aggressive behavior also contribute to declining violence. That guns and gangs are primarily responsible for the higher homicide rate in America is simply asserted and may thus be simply dismissed.

“There’s no question that tyrannical states have abused the freedom of their citizens. But it is no longer realistic to think that arming citizens to the teeth is going to stop tyranny should it arise. Far superior are nonviolent democratic checks and balances on power, constitutional guardians of civil rights and legal protections of liberties.”

There is indeed no question that tyrannical states have abused the freedom of their citizens. What Shermer fails to understand is that all states are necessarily tyrannical and must abuse the freedom of their citizens in order to perpetuate their operations. The idea that it is no longer realistic to think that arming citizens to the teeth is going to stop tyranny should it arise has been thoroughly refuted above. Nonviolent democracy in the context of statism is a contradiction of terms because the state rests upon a foundation of aggressive violence, and democratic forms only pour gasoline upon the fire by setting part of the citizenry against another part. Checks and balances do not really exist in practice, as the various parts of a state apparatus invariably come to conspire together toward their common goal of dominating the society under the leadership of the most powerful branch of government. The Constitution itself and the laws passed under it are similarly useless as guardians of rights and protections of liberties because the very powers they are supposed to limit (if we ignore the fact that the Constitution expanded state power far beyond what the Articles of Confederation allowed) are in charge of their interpretation, enforcement, and amendment.

Conclusion

Shermer’s case is deeply flawed from beginning to end. His cherry-picked studies fail to demonstrate his case, as studies with opposing findings exist and the aggregate is inconclusive. He makes unfounded assumptions regarding self-defense and suicide, has thoroughly failed to understand the use of self-defense against the state, and presents a view of civil society that is starry-eyed and naive. Contrary to Shermer, the only bulwark against tyranny is the credible threat of forcible removal of tyrants from power, and this requires the possession and use of guns.

A Consideration Of Helicopter Rides

In recent years, the meme of throwing one’s political rivals out of helicopters has become popular among certain right-wing and libertarian groups. Unfortunately, people from all over the political spectrum tend to misunderstand the historical context of the meme, and thus interpret it incorrectly. Let us consider the backstory of helicopter rides in order to better understand their use, ethics, and utility.

Socialism in Chile

In 1970, Socialist candidate Salvador Allende became President of Chile, winning a plurality of votes and allying with the third-place Christian Democrats to gain the necessary majority to rule. He was the first openly Marxist head of state in a Latin American country to come to power through democratic means. The CIA and KGB both spent significant amounts of money to interfere in the election.

Once in power, Allende’s government took over control of large-scale industries, health care, and education. He expanded government theft and redistribution of land initiated by his predecessor Eduardo Frei Montalva, such that no estate exceeded 80 hectares (198 acres) by the end of 1972.[1] Payment of pensions and grants resumed, and social programs were greatly expanded. The arts became funded by the state. Diplomatic relations with Cuba were restored, and political prisoners were released. Price fixing for bread, wages, and rent occurred. Taxes on small incomes and property were eliminated. College was made tuition-free. The voting age was lowered to eighteen and literacy requirements were removed. Between October 1970 and July 1971, purchasing power increased 28 percent.[2] In that year, inflation fell from 36.1 percent to 22.1 percent, while average real wages rose 22.3 percent.[3]

Like all socialist experiments, the short-term results were good. But as Margaret Thatcher would later observe, “Socialist governments…always run out of other people’s money.” Government spending increased 36 percent from 1970 to 1971.[3] The national debt soared and foreign reserves declined. Declining prices in copper, Chile’s chief export commodity, only worsened matters. Black markets in staple foods emerged as rice, beans, sugar, and flour disappeared from store shelves. The Allende government announced its intent to default on debts owed to international creditors, including foreign governments. Strikes began in 1972, to which Allende responded by nationalizing trucks to keep truckers from halting the economic life of the nation. The courts intervened and made Allende return the trucks to their owners.

By the summer of 1973, Allende’s government was ripe for overthrow. On June 29, Colonel Roberto Souper surrounded the presidential palace with a tank regiment but did not succeed in overthrowing Allende. In May and again in August, the Supreme Court of Chile complained that the Allende government was not enforcing the law. The Chamber of Deputies accused Allende of refusing to act on approved constitutional amendments that would limit his socialist plans, and called on the military to restore order. Following embarassment and public protest, General Carlos Prats resigned as defense minister and commander-in-chief of the army, being replaced in the latter post by General Augusto Pinochet. Allende accused the Congress of sedition and obstruction, and argued that the accusations were false.

The Chilean Coup

On September 11, 1973, the Chilean Navy captured Valparaiso by 7:00 a.m. They closed radio and television networks in the central coast. Allende was informed of this, and went to the presidential palace. By 8:00, the army closed most broadcast stations in the capital of Santiago, while the Air Force bombed the remaining active stations. Admiral Montero, the Navy commander and an Allende loyalist, was cut off from communication. Leadership of the Navy was transferred to Jose Toribio Merino, who worked with Pinochet and Air Force General Gustavo Leigh in the coup. The leaders of the police and detectives went to the palace with their forces to protect Allende. Allende learned the full extent of the rebellion at 8:30 but refused to resign. By 9:00, the armed forces controlled all but the city center in Santiago. The military declared that they would bomb the palace if Allende resisted. Allende gave a farewell speech, and Pinochet advanced armor and infantry toward the palace. Allende’s bodyguards fired at them with sniper rifles, and General Sergio Arellano Stark called in helicopter gunships to counter them. The palace was bombed once Air Force units arrived. At 2:30, the defenders surrendered and Allende was found dead by his own hand.

Following the coup, the military killed around 3,000 leftists and imprisoned 40,000 political enemies in the National Stadium of Chile. Ninety-seven of those killed were eliminated by the Caravan of Death, a Chilean Army death squad that flew by helicopters in October 1973. The squad, led by General Stark, would travel between prisons, ordering and carrying out executions. The victims were buried in unmarked graves. This is one origin of the meme of helicopter rides, though squads other than Stark’s were responsible for the literal act referenced, having thrown 120 civilians from helicopters into the ocean, rivers, and lakes of Chile.

Peronism in Argentina

In 1946, Juan Perón of the Labor Party became President of Argentina. The majority of the Radical Civic Union, the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, and the conservative National Autonomist Party had formed an unusual alliance against him, but lost by 10 percent. His two stated goals upon becoming President were economic independence and social justice, but he had no serious plans to achieve those goals other than to attempt to hire the right advisors and underlings while refusing to side with the US or the USSR in the Cold War. Perón was intolerant of both leftist and rightist opposition, firing more than 1,500 university faculty who opposed him[4], shuttering opposition media companies, and imprisoning or exiling dissident artists and cultural figures.

Perón’s appointees encouraged labor strikes in order to obtain reforms for workers, which aligned large business interests against the Peronists. Upper-class Argentine’s resented Perón’s reforms, feeling that they upset traditional class roles. He nationalized the central bank, the railroads, public transport, utilities, universities, and merchant marine. He created the Institute for the Promotion of Trade (IAPI), which was a state monopoly for purchasing foodstuffs for export. Average real wages rose by 35 percent from 1945 to 1949,[5] while during that same period, labor’s share of national income rose from 40 percent to 49 percent.[6] Healthcare and social security were made nearly universal during Perón’s first term. GDP expanded by over 25 percent during this time,[4] which was largely due to spending the $1.7 billion in reserves from surpluses from World War II.

The economic success of Perón’s reforms would not last. The subsidized growth led to an import wave that erased the surplus by 1948. A debt of roughly $650 million owed by Great Britain to Argentina went mostly unpaid, further complicating matters.[4] The Argentine peso was devalued 70 percent between 1948 and 1950, leading to declining imports and recession. Labor strikes began to work against Perón, who responded by expelling the organizers from the unions and calling for a constitutional reform in 1949.

Perón faced no serious opponent for his 1951 re-election campaign, despite being unable to run with his wife Eva, who had fallen ill and would die the following year. Exports fell as low as $700 million in 1952, producing a $500 million trade deficit. Divisions among Peronists grew, and many of Perón’s allies resigned. He accelerated construction projects and increased rank and pay to top generals in an effort to reduce tensions. After Eva’s death, opposition to Perón intensified. On April 15, 1953, terrorists bombed a public rally of Perón supporters, killing seven and injuring 95. He responded by asking the crowd to retaliate. They responded by burning down the Jockey Club building and the Socialist Party headquarters.

In March 1954, Perón had to replace his Vice President, and his preferred choice won in a landslide. This, combined with stabilized inflation rates, motivated him to create new economic and social policies. This brought in foreign investment from automakers FIAT, Kaiser, and Daimler-Benz, as well as from Standard Oil of California. But Perón’s legalization of divorce and prostitution turned the Roman Catholic Church against him, which excommunicated him in June 1955. Perón responded by holding a public rally, and for the second time it was bombed, this time by Navy jets that fled to Uruguay afterward. 364 people were killed, and Peronists again carried out reprisals by attacking eleven churches. This led to the coup that ousted Perón on September 16, performed by nationalist Catholics in the Army and Navy led by General Eduardo Lonardi, General Pedro E. Aramburu, and Admiral Isaac Rojas. Perón barely escaped to Paraguay.

Resistance, Return, and Repression

Shortly afterward, Peronist resistance movements began organizing among disgruntled workers. Democratic rule was partially restored, but political expression for Peronists was still suppressed, so guerrilla groups began operating in the 1960s. Early efforts were small and quickly quashed, but more successful movements formed toward the end of the decade. The Peronist Armed Forces (FAP), Marxist–Leninist-Peronist Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), and the Marxist–Leninist Armed Forces of Liberation (FAL) were the three major players before 1973. The FAR joined an urban group of students and intellectuals called the Montoneros, while the FAL and FAP merged into the Marxist People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP).

In 1970, the Montoneros captured and killed Pedro Eugenio Aramburu, a military leader in the 1955 coup. In a few years, such events happened on a weekly basis, as did bombings of military and police buildings. Some civilian and non-government buildings were also bombed. Juan Perón returned from exile and became President again in 1973, and sided with the right-Peronists and the government against the left-Peronists. He withdrew support of the Montoneros before his death in 1974. His widow Isabel Martinez de Perón became President after his death, and she signed a number of decrees in 1975 to empower the military and police to defeat the ERP and other such groups. The right-wing death squad known as Argentine Anticommunist Alliance emerged at this time. Isabel was ousted by a coup in 1976, and the military took power. Up to this time, leftists had killed 16,000 people in their guerrilla efforts. The United States government financially backed the Argentine military, while the Cuban government backed the left-wing terror groups.

The juntas that held power between 1976 and 1983 repressed leftist dissidents, being responsible for arresting, torturing, and/or killing between 7,000 and 30,000 people. Many were Montoneros and ERP combatants, but others were civilians, students, left-wing activists, journalists, intellectuals, and labor organizers. Some of those executed were thrown from airplanes to their deaths in the Atlantic Ocean, providing another basis for the meme of helicopter rides. The worst repression reportedly occurred in 1977, after the guerrillas were largely defeated. The junta justified its action by exaggerating the threat and staging attacks to be blamed on guerrillas.

The “National Reorganization Process,” as it was called, failed in its efforts to suppress the left. As the roundup was overbroad, it sowed resentment. Some of those arrested had done nothing other than witness others being arrested in public places. Severe economic problems only added to civil unrest. The military tried to regain popularity by occupying the Falkland Islands, but their defeat by Britain in the Falklands War led them to step aside in disgrace and restore democracy.

Aftermath in Chile

In Chile, Pinochet remained in power until 1990. His 1980 constitution remains in effect, though significantly amended in 1989 and 2005 and slightly amended on eleven other occasions. In the 1990 elections, a coalition of democratic and socialist parties with the Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin at the head was successful. Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, the son of Allende’s predecessor, led the coalition from 1994 to 2000. The Socialist Party and Party for Democracy led the coalition from 2000 to 2010. The center-right National Renewal won in 2010, but the Socialist Party regained power in 2014.

During Pinochet’s rule, Chicago School economists influenced the regime to adopt free market policies. Despite the prevalence of leftists in power since Pinochet’s rule ended, many of his economic reforms have remained in place and the economy is among the freest in the world. Aylwin and Ruiz-Tagle increased spending on social programs and reformed taxes, but avoided radical changes. Chile managed to avoid serious impact from the Mexican peso crisis of 1994 by using capital controls.

Aftermath in Argentina

In Argentina, voters elected Raul Alfonsin of the center-left Radical Civic Union once democracy was restored in 1983. He both created a commission to investigate forced disappearances and passed an amnesty law that stopped the investigations until 2005. His administration was unstable due to friction with the military and economic issues, leaving office early to let Peronist candidate Carlos Menem take office early after winning in 1989. Though he privatized many industries that Perón nationalized, he expanded both executive power and the role of the state in the economy. He won again in 1995, but the Radical Civic Union was growing and a new alliance called FrePaSo formed. By 1999, all three major parties supported free market economics. UCR and FrePaSo allied behind Fernando de la Rua to defeat Peronist Eduardo Duhalde. After some resignations and turmoil, Duhalde would get his chance in 2002. He managed to bring inflation under control, then called for elections in 2003. This brought another Peronist, Nestor Kirchner, to power. He overturned the 1986 amnesty for members of the military dictatorship and oversaw a strong economic recovery. His wife, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, took over in 2007. She distanced herself from traditional Peronism after Nestor’s death in 2010, favoring instead the La Campora movement that reveres the Montoneros guerrilla group. In 2015, her party lost to Mauricio Macri and his Republican Proposal party, which was allied with the Radical Civic Union.

The governments from the 1930s to the 1970s used import substitution to increase industrial growth, but this came at the expense of agricultural production. Import substitution was ended in 1976, but growth in government spending, inefficient production, and rising national debt led to inflation problems in the 1980s. The government responded to inflation in the 1990s by auctioning state-owned companies and pegging the Argentine peso to the US dollar. De la Rua followed an IMF-sponsored economic plan to deal with the government budget deficit, but an economic collapse occurred at the end of 2001. The peso was devalued again, and recovery occurred by 2005. A judicial ruling in 2012 led to a selective default in 2014 that was resolved in 2016.

Contemporary Application

Now that the context from which the meme of helicopter rides emerges is understood, we may consider its potential application against contemporary leftist rulers and agitators. Helicopter rides for political enemies are a form of ultraviolence, which is the use of force in an excessive and brutal manner as a public display to make an example out of a particular person or group. This is done for the purpose of establishing dominance and suppressing rivals within a territory, from which peace and order may follow. Utilized correctly, this will break the spirit of resistance movements and solidify one’s hold on power, which will prevent further death and destruction that would otherwise occur from terrorism and civil war. If misused, whether by subjecting overbroad numbers of people to cruel punishment or by utilizing methods that the population deems to be completely beyond the pale, ultraviolence will create resentment that will resurface later as another, stronger resistance movement. Misuse will also have a negative psychological impact on the perpetrators, causing them to lose their humanity through the commission of needless atrocities.

The above examples of Chile and Argentina suggest that ultraviolence by rightists against leftists appears to be insufficient to counter the leftward slide that naturally occurs in politics over time. One possible reason for this is that a continual march leftward is the political variant of entropy, the physical process by which the universe becomes increasingly disordered and chaotic over time. If so, this would explain why all great civilizations eventually fall and all attempts by right-wing movements to use the state to advance their agendas fail to produce lasting change. Another potential explanation is that the state is an inherently leftist institution, in that the nature of the state is to allow some people to do with impunity that which would be considered criminal if anyone else behaved identically, and the nature of the left is to disrespect individual rights in favor of their view of the collective good. This meshes well with Robert Conquest’s second law of politics; any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing. A third explanation is that power does what it wants due to its inherent lack of accountability, meaning that a military junta has no real incentive to limit its removal of leftists to those whom have actually committed crimes. Thus, the use of helicopter rides naturally becomes overbroad when coupled with the state, and the distrust and resentment that fuels a revolution against the military government naturally follow.

Many alt-rightists who suggest the use of helicopter rides to eliminate their political rivals do not understand the above context with sufficient clarity. This leads them to long for the day when they get to pilot a massive fleet of helicopters that drops their enemies from staggering heights. For their stated goals, helicopter rides are a tool not fit for purpose, as the cost of helicopters, fuel, and pilots far exceeds that of other methods of physical removal. Helicopter rides as historically practiced also fail at performing ultraviolence, as rumors of helicopter rides pale in comparison to theatrical executions carried out in the public square on live television. The obvious retort that the victims should be dropped onto a hard surface in the public square is likely to fail by being too gruesome for the public to stomach. And ultimately, no matter how many leftists are killed, their ideas and the state apparatus to implement them remain. Overall, the alt-right approach fails because its adherents seek to use the ultimate enemy (the state) against the proximate enemy (the left) without any intention or plan to eliminate the ultimate enemy afterward, which results in long-term losses for short-term gains.

Moral Issues

While the alt-right seeks to misuse the practice of helicopter rides, libertarians and leftists tend to decry the idea as mass murder. The leftists will typically assert that the use of deadly force against someone who does not pose a deadly threat at the moment is murder. But the immediate danger doctrine, as it is known in legal circles, is a standard used by the state to perpetuate itself by creating an artificial demand for its functions of legislation, security, criminal justice, and dispute resolution while rendering the population dependent and irresponsible. Such a standard is not provable from first principles and is clearly at odds with libertarian theory on the use of force.

Libertarian theory allows one to use any amount of force necessary to not only defend oneself against aggressors, but to make people who refuse to perform restitution do so, to stop people who recklessly endanger bystanders, to reclaim stolen property, and to eliminate crime bosses and other unrepentant aggressors. While this does not allow for the full extent of the helicopter rides given by the militaries of Chile and Argentina, it can allow for statists who held power and those who carried out certain acts of aggression on their orders to be executed. Of course, rightists who wield state power (or libertarians who wield private power) in an overzealous manner against leftists would also be legitimate targets for helicopter rides if they kill people who have not committed crimes worthy of death.

A more appropriate libertarian use of helicopters is not to execute anti-libertarians by throwing them out, but to transport them out of a libertarian-controlled territory and warn them not to return. Exile and ostracism, after all, are perfectly legitimate exercises of property rights and freedom of association. Furthermore, removing people who advocate against the norms of a libertarian social order from a libertarian community is a necessary preservation mechanism, but such removal need not be fatal unless all reasonable efforts that do not involve deadly force have been tried without success.

Conclusion

There is a rich historical context behind the idea of helicopter rides for leftist agitators. Unfortunately, most modern advocates of such methods do not understand this context, which leads them to make recommendations which do not align with reality. Though leftists and some libertarians decry all uses of helicopter rides as murder, there are cases in which such acts are morally justifiable.

References:

  1. Collier, Simon; Sater, William F. (2004). A History of Chile, 1808–2002. Cambridge University Press.
  2. Zipper, Ricardo Israel (1989). Politics and Ideology in Allende’s Chile. Arizona State University, Center for Latin American Studies.
  3. Larrain, Felipe; Meller, Patricio (1991). The Socialist-Populist Chilean Experience, 1970-1973. University of Chicago Press.
  4. Rock, David (1987). Argentina, 1516–1982. University of California Press.
  5. Dufty, Norman Francis (1969). The Sociology of the Blue-collar Worker. E.J. Brill Publishing.
  6. Dornbusch, Rüdiger; Edwards, Sebastian (1991). The Macroeconomics of populism in Latin America. University of Chicago Press.

Blame Democracy For Heated Political Rhetoric

In recent times, concern has grown over the increasing hatred between competing political factions. As political rhetoric escalates into political violence, the various agents of the Cathedral have begun asking what may be done to reduce tensions. Naturally, they demonstrate obliviousness to their own culpability in ratcheting up hostilities, and reversing their own behavior would be a significant first step. Their actions are par for the course for leftists, as psychological projection—the act of accusing one’s opponents of whatever wrongdoing one is committing oneself—is an essential part of the leftist mindset. In the same vein, they accuse right-wing activists of causing any political violence that occurs, even when it is clear to any rational observer that rightists are taking action to defend themselves against aggression by radical leftists.

As for the radical leftists, it has long been the case that the right views the left as factually wrong while the left views the right as morally evil. This imbalance could not persist indefinitely, and because the elements of the left which are most vocal at present are pathologically incapable of rational discourse, the only rebalancing that could occur was for elements of the right to begin viewing the left as morally evil. This necessarily escalated matters, but in a manner that was necessary to restore a balance of political terror, which will result in less political violence in the long term by way of peace through mutually assured destruction.

Leftist Strategy

The leftist strategy at work here is that of high-low versus middle, better known by the Van Jones quote “top down, bottom up, inside out.” The academics, politicians, and pundits of the Cathedral are the high, the communist terrorists of Antifa and the minority criminal underclass are the low, and the middle is anyone who is middle-class, working-class, white, right-wing, and/or libertarian. The high-class group uses the privileges of state power to buy the loyalty of the low-class group, which is done by funneling money extorted from the middle-class group to them in addition to giving symbols of higher status to select members of the low-class group. In return, the low-class group is used to intimidate the middle-class group into compliance with this arrangement. The end goal is to transform society by defeating the middle, but in practice the low-class group tends to turn on the high-class group when times become hard and the high-class group can no longer afford to purchase their loyalty. Alternatively, this may end when the middle-class is tired of being abused and decides to violently suppress the low-class, then subject the high-class to vigilante justice.

The Real Culprit

The talking heads, politicians, and left-wing activists all deserve blame for creating a cultural milieu in which the political rhetoric has become increasingly heated and violence has erupted as a result. But as troublesome as these elements are, they are mere symptoms of a much larger and deeper problem. In the words of Henry David Thoreau, “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” The root that must be named and struck is nothing less than democracy itself.

Benjamin Franklin described democracy as two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. If Franklin were correct, then democratic impulses would quickly be exhausted, as the lambs would be consumed in short order and society would spiral downward into a Hobbesian nightmare of wolf against wolf, every wolf for himself. But the truth is even worse; who is a wolf and who is a lamb changes depending on the time and the political issue at hand. Over time, majority rule thus “allows for A and B to band together to rip off C, C and A in turn joining to rip off B, and then B and C conspiring against A, and so on.”[1] This allows the democratic state to survive much longer than it would if there were a static majority and a static minority.

In the aggregate, the theoretical Hobbesian war of all against all is replaced by an actual democratic war of half against half. Contrary to popular belief, this is not an improvement; rather, it is an intentional engineering of a particular kind of perpetual conflict for the purpose of diverting the energies of the masses away from revolt against the ruling class. For what exploiter of people would wish all of his victims to unite against him? It is far easier to victimize people who are too busy quarreling with each other to mount an effective resistance against their mutual enemy. Democracy works beautifully toward this end, making human farming not only possible, but highly lucrative.

Returning to the level of interpersonal relationships and conflicts between local groups, a democratic state grants each citizen a small piece of political power. The possession of this power by every person who is eligible to vote means that the political opinions of each such person are a relevant concern, at least to some degree. That each person can—at least theoretically—mobilize other people into a voting bloc to advance a political agenda that would use state power in a manner hostile to another group of people makes each politically active person an unofficial soldier in the aforementioned democratic war, and thus a target for various abuses by the other side. This democratic civil war is a cold one in most cases, but as in many cold wars, both sides engage in rhetoric that denounces the other side in strong terms. It is this dynamic that produces the degeneration of political discourse into insults and vitriol and the replacement of healthy interpersonal relationships with hostility. The escalation into physical violence is an expected outgrowth of this dynamic.

The Solution

If democracy is the root problem, then the abolition of democracy is the solution. The historical methodology of this has been an unelected government, whether a military junta, hereditary monarchy, or some combination thereof. Libertarians propose another methodology; that of a stateless propertarian society in which all property is privately owned and all goods and services are provided by competing firms in a free market. Both of these systems deny the general public—those who do not have an ownership stake in the society—a political voice. The restriction of political power to those who have an ownership stake, or the abolition of political power in the anarcho-capitalist case, means that it makes no sense for most people living in these social orders to insult, bully, and attack one another over political disputes, as the winner of such a dispute has no direct influence over the direction of the society. One may only influence such a society by convincing a mass of people to move elsewhere or by acquiring property in the anarcho-capitalist case. When only the king or dictator can vote, or only the private property owner can make decisions over the property in question, only they and whatever underlings they may have are worth attacking with words or weapons when they say or do something reprehensible. Everyone else is no longer a political target, and thus most people are incentivized to be apolitical (if not anti-political), resolving any disagreements with the established order through the right of exit.

Objections

There are two common objections to such a proposal that must be addressed; first, that it will not solve the problem, and second, that abolishing democracy may cause more violence than it eliminates.

The accusation that abolishing democracy will not eliminate heated rhetoric is true but trivial. There are no perfect solutions; there are only trade-offs. As long as more than one person exists and there is a disagreement about anything, there is the potential for heated rhetoric and physical violence. And although rational actors would not get into political disputes if they lacked political power, assuming rational actors is a folly of any rigorous socioeconomic theory. In the absence of mass-distributed political power, would people still bully other people? Yes. Would people still try to lift themselves up by putting others down? Certainly. Would people still make fun of others for having views that are strongly at odds with their own? Of course. But a major impetus for doing so, namely the quest for political power and dominance, would be removed. Though some people will always rebel against their incentives, most people do not. For these reasons, we may expect that the trade-off would be worthwhile.

The claim that abolishing democracy would cause more violence than it eliminates must be answered with both nuance and depth. Democratic statists will claim that without voting on ballots, people will start voting with bullets and the only real change will be greater bloodshed and destruction. First, democracy does not solve the problem of interpersonal violence; in fact, it does the opposite. Rather than eliminate the crimes that people commit against other people and their property, statists have created and maintained an institution with a monopoly on performing those crimes, giving them different names, and suffering no penalty for committing them. Theft becomes taxation, slavery becomes conscription, kidnapping becomes arrest, murder becomes war, and so on. The removal of the option of voting for politicians and their minions to do to other people what one would never be allowed to do to other people on one’s own will leave everyone with two options: engage in crime directly or live peaceably with others. Those who choose the former would quickly discover that it is far easier to vote for politicians to hire enforcement officers to victimize someone else than to try to commit crimes oneself. Though there would likely be an increase in violence in the short-term, the elimination of hardened criminals by people acting in self-defense would be swift, resulting in both less violence and less crime in the long-term.

Second, the democratic peace theory must be addressed. This theory claims that democracies do not go to war with each other, and thus a democratic world is a world without war. The evidence for these assertions is lacking on all counts. The democratic nation-state is a recent invention in human history, which produces the statistical uncertainties of a small sample size. What reason and evidence we do have is not promising; democratic states are aggressive both internally and externally, particularly toward individuals and states that are anti-democratic. The political power vested in each voter by the democratic state that makes the civilian population unofficial soldiers and targets during peacetime makes them official soldiers and targets during wartime. Whereas the historical wars between monarchs were mostly royal and knightly affairs over border disputes that had little effect on the peasants, the incentive structures of democratic states led to the total warfare of the World Wars. The entire economies of nations were disrupted for the purpose of war production, the civilian populations were militarized, and the mass murder of civilians became an accepted part of military strategy. By abolishing democracy, the perverse incentives that produced such carnage may be eliminated.

Finally, there is the possibility that people who are accustomed to democracy would violently resist an effort to disenfranchise them by returning to unelected government or by creating a stateless propertarian society. Though reactionaries and libertarians alike hope to convince the voting public to use democracy for the purpose of abolishing it, this is almost certainly a false hope. The incentive structure of the democratic state coupled with the institutional power wielded by the progressive left is probably too strong to overcome peacefully. The path from here to a superior form of social order thus becomes a violent one, as the people who wish to establish a new order must respond with force against determined and unrepentant aggressors. This is another sense in which there would be a short-term increase in violence followed by a long-term decrease. As before, there are no ideal solutions; only trade-offs which produce a net benefit.

Conclusion

Democracy is a sanitized, soft variant of civil war. The question is how long it can remain a cold war. For contemporary Western civilization, the answer is no longer. As shown above, the engine that drives heated rhetoric and political violence will keep running as long as democracy persists. Though there will always be some level of societal conflict, removing such a disastrous generator of malignant incentives as the democratic state can only be a net improvement.

References:

  1. Hans-Hermann Hoppe (2001). Democracy: The God That Failed. Transaction Publishers. p. 104

A Perversion Of Service

Every year on Memorial Day, people visit cemeteries and go to parades in honor of those who died while serving in a government military. Those still serving in these militaries travel down roads normally reserved for civilian use, and the people that these military personnel ultimately oppress celebrate this fact. Meanwhile, politicians and the establishment press take the opportunity that a day devoted to deceased military personnel presents to promote statist propaganda concerning the nature of service and the provision of defense. The general structure of their propaganda narrative is as follows:

  1. We have freedom.
  2. Freedom and the rights associated with it are granted by the Constitution, the state, etc.
  3. Freedom is not free. This is because it is valuable, and valuables will be stolen by thieves and destroyed by conquerors if they are not defended.
  4. The state provides defense of freedom, and is the only means by which such defense can be provided.
  5. A society should revere its protectors, for they perform the functions that allow everyone else to do what they do in peace.
  6. Because of (4), government military personnel are those protectors.
  7. Because of (4), (5), and (6), people should revere the state in general and its military personnel in particular.
  8. Laying down one’s life to protect others is the highest cost that one can pay.
  9. Because of (4), (5), (6), and (8), those who die in military service should receive the highest honor.

Of course, like any effective propaganda, this narrative is a mixture of lies and truth. After all, a complete lie is easy to spot, while a lie wrapped in truth that has gone unchallenged by empirical examples for centuries is well camouflaged. The best way to counter this narrative is to challenge it on a point-by-point basis, examining each aspect and the connections between them for logical fallacies. Let us do this now.

Freedom

First, the statist asserts that we have freedom. Attempts to define freedom are rarely made by those who invoke it in this sense, for to do so would undermine their case irrevocably. However, we may proceed with the dictionary definitions of “the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action,” “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants,” “absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government,” and “the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved.” In the presence of the state, none of these are possible. The state is a group of people who exercise a monopoly on initiatory force within a geographical area. When people initiate the use of force, they are imposing necessity, coercion, and constraint in choice or action upon their victims. The laws that government agents create and enforce infringe upon the right to act, speak, or think as one wants by punishing behaviors which do not aggress against any person or property. Though the state does occasionally prevent foreign domination, it does this with less efficiency and effectiveness than could private defense forces, and states tend to become more despotic over time. The state imprisons and enslaves millions of people. Those who are left somewhat free are not in such a condition for their own benefit and flourishing, but because it produces superior results from the perspective of human livestock management. That we cannot have freedom under current conditions puts the entire narrative in jeopardy, but let us continue our examination.

Rights

The claim that rights are either a grant from a government or are protected by a government is the second step in the narrative. Leftists favor the former position and rightists favor the latter, but both can easily be shown to be in error. A right is defined as “something to which one has a just claim,” “a moral or legal entitlement to have or do something,” and “the sovereignty to act without the permission of others.” Whether or not a claim is just is independent of whether a government is present. Statists may contend that the absence of government means that there is no final arbiter of the justness of a claim, but there is no such thing as a final arbiter of disputes. Regardless, the truth value of a claim is independent of whether anyone recognizes its truth value, or even whether anyone exists to recognize its truth value. A moral entitlement to have or do something must be argued from first principles; it cannot be granted by a government. A legal entitlement may be granted by a government, but only because a government has forcefully suppressed any competing providers of law and order within its claimed territory. A state apparatus, by its very nature, infringes upon the sovereignty of its subjects to act without its permission through its legislation and enforcement mechanisms.

Moreover, the belief that rights must involve the state occurs because the state has corrupted the meaning of rights. Rights are supposed to be exercised through one’s own action without conferring any positive obligation onto someone else, but statists use the word to refer to a claim upon someone else’s life, property, and/or labor. These so-called “positive rights” are invalid because the state violates the negative rights of other people who are forced to provide for these positive rights.

Loss Prevention

That freedom is valuable, and thus vulnerable to destruction and theft if left undefended is true. But there is a non sequitur fallacy between this step and the belief that the state is necessary for the provision of such defense. In fact, the truth is just the opposite. Besides being the primary culprit behind the destruction of freedom, the state cannot possibly provide for the defense of freedom. As a compulsory monopolist of protection, the state charges what it wishes and uses force to prevent anyone from hiring a competing provider, going into business for oneself, or doing without. A threatening protector is a contradiction of terms, which in any context not involving the state would be appropriately recognized as a protection racket. Again, whatever benefit the state provides is done not to serve the people, but to serve itself. To whatever extent the state enjoys defense, its subjects are imperiled, for whatever means of defense the state has constitute potential means of offense against the people.

Reverence

That a society should revere its protectors is true. The problem comes with the belief that government personnel are the protectors of society. As shown previously, the state cannot provide defense for the people because it is a continuous threat against the people. Since the state is composed of people, it follows that those people cannot be responsible for defense in any absolute sense. They can only defend against other potential sources of exploitation so that the state may have a monopoly over the exploitation of the people. As such, reverence for the state in general and its military personnel in particular is misplaced unless it truly is the least of the evils. Fortunately, this is not the case.

Admittedly, there are no empirical examples of a free market of private military companies providing military defense services in lieu of a government military. A major reason for this is that governments will use as much force as necessary to keep such an idea from being tested, as its success would doom the state by depriving it of its most essential monopoly. Without a monopoly on military force, the state would cease to exist, as the response of the people to its taxes and laws would be to point military-grade weapons at its agents and tell them to stand down or be fired upon. That they are so fearful of such an attempt being successful indicates that even they believe it can work, and if anyone should have the deep knowledge necessary to make such an assessment at present, it should be them.

Without empirical examples, we must logically deduce our way through. The presence of a monopoly with involuntary customers necessarily leads to inferior quality of service and higher costs, as the monopolists need not provide superior quality of service and/or lower cost of service vis-à-vis a competitor. The opening of provision of military defense to a free market of competing service providers must therefore lead to an increase of efficiency, which in practice means superior quality of service and/or lower cost of service. There is no reason why the market should fail to provide a service that is strongly desired by everyone for everyone (except for a few criminals, who want it for themselves but not for their victims), to the point that most people will tolerate the oppressions of statism just to obtain a counterfeit version of it.

The most common criticisms of competing private defense companies are that they will fight each other, that they will lead to rule by warlords, and that they will become a new monopoly on force. Rule by warlords and monopoly on force describe the situation under statism, so if the worst-case scenario is that eliminating government militaries just gets us another government military, all other cases must turn out better than this, making these into powerful arguments in favor of privatizing military defense.

This leaves the concern that the private service providers will fight each other. We must recognize that the current service providers do fight each other, which caused roughly 100 million deaths in the 20th century. As such, the bar of service quality that private military defense providers must exceed is set quite low. Fortunately, private military defense providers would be limited in ways that government militaries are not. A private service provider must bear the cost of its own decisions, and engaging in aggressive wars is more expensive than defensive actions only. A company that sells war is thus at an economic disadvantage against a company that sells peace. Without the government monopoly on legal services granting immunity to private soldiers as it does to government soldiers, the private soldiers would be subject to the criminal punishments made prevalent by the private defense forces in the area in question in addition to vigilantism by individuals. The agencies that decide to fight also must take care not to damage or travel on ground held by customers of other agencies, as this would be considered trespassing, and a trespasser with an intent to murder others in a war is a trespasser who may be killed in self-defense. Thus one could expect to see every private property owner not involved with the warring agencies taking actions to destroy both sides of the conflict whenever they occupy land that is not owned by their customers. With no state to forbid ownership of certain types of weapons, the private property owners would be much more capable of stopping military hardware than they are now. There is no guarantee against such a fight, but there are enough incentives working against it to consider it a remote possibility.

Given the superiority of private defense markets compared to government militaries, the state is not the best option. Thus, we may put aside feelings of reverence for it and its military personnel.

Sacrifice and Honor

It is true that one’s life is the highest cost that one can pay, and that laying it down in defense of family and friends is the greatest sacrificial love that one can display. It does not follow that those who die while serving in a government military have done this. Many people volunteer for military service because they believe that this is what they are volunteering to do. Unfortunately, despite their best intentions, this is not the true nature of their actions. Contrary to statist propaganda, the state does not work for the people, for if this were the case, then the people would be free to fire the state, cease paying for it, and either hire someone else, go into business for themselves, or try to do without. Because the state does not work for the people or, as shown previously, provide defense for the people, those who die in its service are not due the honor of those who lay down their lives to defend others.

It must be said here that just because fallen members of a government military are not due honor, it does not mean that they are due dishonor. Like most other people, they are propagandized to the point of saturation by government schools, churches, establishment media programming, and recruitment advertising. Recruitment personnel then do their best to sell them the military life while making light of the arguments discussed here, if they even acknowledge them at all. The majority of people in a government military are not intentionally evil, but are victims of fraud and lies. The proper response, then, is to attempt to educate living military personnel and those who would follow in their footsteps rather than to engage in displays of disrespect toward the dead (or, for that matter, toward the living).

Conclusion

The desire to protect and serve others is commendable, but a government military offers only a perversion of service. Authentic service of others must be accomplished not through a top-down, coercive, centralized, territorial monopolist like the state, but through the bottom-up, voluntary, decentralized, competition of the market economy. While the state makes defense impossible for its subjects in an absolute sense, there is every reason to believe that private service providers can accomplish this critical task.

Self-defense is one of the most fundamental rights, and the most important personal responsibility, as the abdication of this responsibility endangers all other rights and responsibilities. Of course, there is nothing immoral about hiring help for such a basic need, but the decay of the role of the militia in society has created a vacuum that has been filled by government militaries. The troops are ultimately in the position they are in because too few of us do what is necessary to provide for our own defense and counter statist propaganda. It is therefore because of the selfishness (in the form of risk aversion with respect to confronting aggressors) and irresponsibility of most of the people in the modern West that soldiers are joining government militaries and sacrificing their lives at the behest of politicians in the first place. Until the people right themselves, true defense and service will remain unknown to us.

Authority, Anarchy, and Libertarian Social Order

On May 8, Fritz Pendleton published an article at Social Matter in which he argues that liberty is best preserved by authority rather than anarchy. He then proceeds to launch a misguided attack against libertarianism, all while misunderstanding authority, anarchy, liberty, and the nature of a libertarian social order. Let us examine what is wrong with Pendleton’s case on a point-by-point basis.

Stateless In Somalia

Pendleton begins with the old canard of Somalia-as-libertarian-utopia, though to his credit, he does not invite all libertarians to emigrate there. His description of the situation is essentially correct:

“It is a patchwork of warlords who have each parceled out a slice of mud to call his own, to rule according to his whims and fetishes. There are the Islamic warlords of al-Shabaab in the south, the government strongmen who collaborate with al-Shabaab when it suits them, the Somaliland separatists who want a separate nation in the north, and a thousand other men of questionable loyalties.”

Pendleton claims that “it takes a certain type of idiot to look at Somalia and see something promising,” then that “it requires an idiot of some erudition to see promise in a failed state like Somalia.” These are not equivalent. To look at Somalia and see something promising is to examine the entirety of their culture and find that there is at least one idea which could be adopted elsewhere to improve another society. To see promise in a failed state like Somalia is to believe that the situation in that particular place can be greatly improved in the foreseeable future. The former endeavor makes far more sense than the latter.

Though he is correct to say that “libertarians are interested in Somalia primarily because its central government is weak and has no effective presence throughout most of the nation,” his assertion that anarchy is not an effective solution to much of anything is confused. An absence of rulers is not meant to be a solution to anything in and of itself; its role in libertarian theory is to remove the statist intervention in the market economy that inhibits and/or prevents individuals from working together to find effective solutions to problems. Pendleton’s passing mention of human biodiversity is also misplaced, as the best means of analyzing anarchy in Somalia is to compare it to statism in Somalia, not to anarchy elsewhere or statism elsewhere. We are thus considering the same thede under different conditions rather than different thedes under the same conditions. His claim that “whatever the merits of decentralization in theory, in practice it mostly involves being subject to the whims of the local warlord and his cadre” is particular to the current cases of failed states. There is good reason to believe that a controlled demolition of a state apparatus by people who wish to impose a libertarian social order would not be like this because the people would have the will and means to disallow it. Even so, a nation-state government is essentially a warlord writ large. Localizing this evil and reducing its strength makes it easier to bribe, escape, or overthrow, which is a definite improvement.

Pendleton claims that a libertarian must search hard to find supporting evidence in Somalia, but the evidence is clear. Before Mohamed Siad Barre’s regime fell in 1991, the annual birth rate was 0.46 percent, the infant mortality rate was 11.6 percent, the life expectancy was 46 years, the annual death rate was 0.19 percent, the GDP per capita was $210, the adult literacy rate was 24 percent, and 35 percent of the people had access to safe water. The most recent measurements are that the annual birth rate is 0.40 percent (2016), the infant mortality rate is 9.66 percent (2016), the life expectancy is 52.4 years (2016), the annual death rate is 0.133 percent (2016), the GDP per capita is $400 (2014), the adult literacy rate is 38 percent (2011), and 45 percent of the people have access to safe water (2016). The telecommunications and money transfer industries have also improved to offer some of the best service in Africa.

It is easy to argue, as Pendleton does, that these improvements are negligible from his relatively cushy first-world environs, where such improvements on either a real or a percentage basis are barely noticeable. But in the third-world hellhole that is Somalia, such improvements can be the difference between life and death, not to mention the difference between having some basic quality of life or not having it. His claim that anarchy is not much different than communism is asserted without evidence and may therefore be dismissed without evidence.

The Case of Tudor England

Pendleton seeks to contrast the anarchy of Somalia with the historical Tudor monarchy of England. His contention that giving people more freedoms is not a prerequisite for a well-run society is technically correct but beside the point. The fact is that a society need not be ‘run’ at all in the sense of top-down management by a ruling class. People can (and in the absence of interference, do) form voluntary associations to solve problems without being ordered around at gunpoint by government minions. That people have flourished in times of gentle oppression, a strange phrase indeed, says more about human resilience than it says about the merits of oppression.

He continues,

“Henry VII and VIII set in motion a series of clever reforms that reached a climax during the rule of Elizabeth I. England had finally found its stride. It must be noted that Elizabethan England, despite its relative freedom, was not keen on handing out legal recognition of liberties to its people. The era was one of unapologetic centralization. The crown’s subjects were given no guarantees of free speech at all; in fact, the censors worked hard and fast to clamp down on anything they perceived as dissent. Freedom of speech was still very far over the political horizon. And yet, despite the book burnings, despite the cages, despite the severed heads around London Tower, the Elizabethan era gave us Shakespeare, Marlowe, Spencer, Jonson, and Bacon. Imagine an era that gave the English language so much genius and not one assurance of free speech to go with it!”

One must ask whether this occurred because of oppression or in spite of it. It is possible, of course, that the great writers of the day produced such memorable works because the adversity of censorship forced them to innovate novel speech patterns in order to evade the censors. In an earlier age, Chaucer gained a lasting place in the canon of English literature for doing just that. But one must wonder, what potential was wasted? What great works were never penned because their would-be-authors feared for their lives? Perhaps the literary marvels of Elizabethan England were due to its relative freedom rather than its censorship, and more liberty would have been better.

Pendleton asks us to consider that the Elizabethan era was when the British Empire began in earnest, but does not explain how this happened. Spain, Portugal, and even France were ahead of England in colonizing the New World and expanding trade routes in the latter half of the 16th century. It was not until Elizabeth died and James VI and I became King of Scotland and England that the English shifted their attention from attacking the colonies of other nations to the business of establishing their own overseas colonies. The burdensome regulations of the day may disappoint a contemporary libertarian, but the English trade policies were about as good as there were at the time.

Chile and Singapore

Next, Pendleton presents Augusto Pinochet’s Chile and Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore as examples of anti-libertarian success stories. Both pursued economic liberty while restricting social and political liberty; as Pendleton says of the left-libertarians, “a libertarian would rather choke on his bow-tie than defend [their political policies].” Though left-libertarians tend to recoil at such measures, a reactionary understanding of libertarianism provides quite a different view. The libertarian reactionary understands that the desired goal of a libertarian social order can only be achieved by physically removing the state from power. Doing this, however, requires a critical mass of the population to use self-defense against the current system. If such a critical mass is absent, then those who seek liberty must turn to other methods. Those libertarians who are capable of checking their autism and doing what is necessary within context may come to support a Pinochet- or Yew-type for the purpose of restoring a balance of political terror. The idea is for libertarians to use a reactionary authoritarian approach in order to suppress leftists and reverse the damage they have done, overthrow the regime once the left is defeated, then maintain the power vacuum by continuous application of defensive force. Furthermore, a libertarian social order will not necessarily offer a great deal of social and political liberty, especially to those who do not hold allodial title over private property and/or disagree with anarcho-capitalism. As Hans-Hermann Hoppe explains,

“As soon as mature members of society habitually express acceptance or even advocate egalitarian sentiments, whether in the form of democracy (majority rule) or of communism, it becomes essential that other members, and in particular the natural social elites, be prepared to act decisively and, in the case of continued nonconformity, exclude and ultimately expel these members from society. In a covenant concluded among proprietor and community tenants for the purpose of protecting their private property, no such thing as a right to free (unlimited) speech exists, not even to unlimited speech on one’s own tenant-property. One may say innumerable things and promote almost any idea under the sun, but naturally no one is permitted to advocate ideas contrary to the very purpose of the covenant of preserving and protecting private property, such as democracy and communism. There can be no tolerance toward democrats and communists in a libertarian social order. They will have to be physically separated and expelled from society.”[1]

This is quite similar to the standard of no voice and free exit advocated by Nick Land and some other prominent neoreactionaries. The only real difference is that the libertarian reactionary is especially concerned with making the sovereign units as small as possible. It is worth noting that both proposals blend anarchy with authority, in that there is an irreducible anarchy between sovereigns who have authority within their private properties.

Pendleton wonders how Singapore would have preserved liberty in the midst of conflicts between the various ethnic groups present there without Yew’s rule, and how the various religious groups could have been kept from fighting in England without Elizabeth I’s despotism. The possible answers to such questions are the same in each case. First, groups may hire neutral third parties to resolve disputes. Second, the groups may voluntarily segregate themselves so as to avoid contact with each other. Third, some groups that cannot get along with others may have a mass exodus. Fourth, a troublemaking group may be forcibly exiled by all of the other groups. Fifth, each side may be armed to such an extent as to create peace through mutually assured destruction. Sixth, the groups may simply choose to fight it out, as some hostilities reach a point of no return. In the first five cases, the preservation of liberty is maximized. The sixth case is far more troublesome, but such quarrels can be formalized and separated so as not to catch innocent bystanders in the crossfire. A system of dueling has filled this role in many historical societies. There are thus many options other than authoritarianism for preserving liberty; the only question is whether people care to utilize them.

Libertarianism and Reaction

Pendleton writes,

“The reactionary and libertarian both agree that small governments are good. But the reactionary feels that small governments are made not by relinquishing authority, as the libertarian would do, but by strengthening it. Liberty is too precious to be entrusted to anarchy in the same way that diamonds are too precious to be entrusted to one’s doorstep.”

Here, he misunderstands what a libertarian would do, at least those who are not leftists. A libertarian reactionary seeks not to relinquish authority, but to make it as absolute as possible in the hands of the private property owner within that person’s private property. And contrary to Pendleton, liberty requires anarchy because the freedom to do as one wishes as long as one respects the right of other people to do likewise and commits no aggression against them is violated by a state apparatus by definition. If a state is present, it will fund its activities through taxation and civil asset forfeiture, take private property through eminent domain, and restrict the use of property through intellectual monopoly, zoning, and environmental regulations. Its officials and agents will choose the nature of the law and the enforcement thereof, meaning that they rule the law and not vice versa. Its enforcers will initiate the use of violence against people who are known to disagree with government statutes and acts upon their disagreements, thus presenting a constant threat to peace. Its agents are allowed to do that which is considered criminal for anyone else to do, and the system is set up to keep them from being held to account. It will force people to associate with it regardless of whether they want to use or pay for its services. Therefore, it is clear that liberty cannot be protected by state authority; such a threatening protector is a contradiction of terms.

Final Arbitration

Next, Pendleton presents a case to make the ‘final arbiter of disputes’ criticism of libertarianism:

“Suppose we have one of those highly attenuated legal battles where the details of the case are complicated and emotionally charged. Let us suppose that a drunk driver crashed into a tree and his passenger was killed when she flew through the windshield; she had not worn her seat belt. The grieving husband of the passenger demanded compensation from the driver to help take care of his kids in place of his now deceased wife. Daycare is expensive these days, after all. The driver apologized profusely but pointed out that the passenger was just as responsible for her death because she was not buckled into her seat. The husband countered by saying that the belt would not have been an issue if the driver had not been drunk and crashed into a tree.

Since these men live in a libertarian utopia, there is no superseding legal authority to arbitrate: a third-party arbitration company will have to be hired. Now let’s suppose that one of these arbitration companies is owned by a brother-in-law of the driver, and not surprisingly, the driver only agrees to hire that company. The husband refuses. The driver in turn refuses to pay any compensation whatsoever. The furious husband now threatens to kill the wife of the driver to make him understand what it feels like to lose a loved one.

How can any libertarian who sings the praises of anarchy not see how this situation will only continue to escalate? How can there be any justice for the woman who lost her life in the original crash and what about the violations of liberty that will ensue when this conflict devolves into a family feud? If there had been one authority to take control of this dispute the liberties of everyone involved would have been much more safely guarded. In a world where emotion forms the greater part of human action, liberty requires authority.”

This situation may be resolved in advance through contracts. The owners of the road set the conditions for operating vehicles on their private property, with violators subject to physical removal not unlike the traffic stops, arrests, and impounding of vehicles today. They may demand that everyone using their roads have arbitration services which do not involve such conflicts of interest, and contrary to some myopic analysis to the contrary, are almost certain to frown upon drunk drivers. They might even have all cars on their roads driven by robots, which nips this scenario in the bud. Failing this, a person who has committed an offense and refuses to make restitution can be ostracized from society until compliance is gained. Furthermore, such a person may rightly be forced to make restitution because an unrepentant aggressor is not subject to the non-aggression principle through his continuing violation of it. The driver’s wife, however, is an innocent bystander unless she was responsible for getting him drunk and/or making him drive while intoxicated. Threatening her absent these conditions makes the widower an aggressor to be subdued. As a libertarian society would have several private defense agencies available to handle such applications of defensive force and almost everyone would have a protection policy with one of these companies, an escalation is quite unlikely. Even if this kind of situation does escalate, it pales in comparison to the carnage wrought by the one authority that Pendleton defends. States were responsible for 203 million democides and war deaths in the 20th century alone. This is hardly a price worth paying to stifle a few family feuds.

More generally, a final arbiter of disputes cannot exist because no person or institution can absolutely guarantee that any issue will be resolved forever with no possibility of review. The way that disputes ultimately end in any social order is that some party finds the dispute to no longer be worth continuing. Everything else, whether statist courts and legislatures or anarchic arbitration services and private defense agencies, is simply window dressing on this immutable truth.

Of Rules and Rulers

Pendleton writes,

“A libertarian who is honest with himself has to ask why even jungle tribes have a chief and why high schools have hall-monitors. Human beings require authority, and if authority is to mean anything at all, it requires the power of compulsion; liberty cannot last long in a nation that thinks of its authority as a polite suggestion.”

It is important to understand the true meaning of anarchy. Anarchy comes from Greek ἀναρχία, which is typically translated as ‘without rulers.’ More precisely, it means ‘without beginning to take the lead.’ This is not the same as ‘without rules’ or ‘without leaders.’ Having a ruler means that there are no rules because the ruler has authority over the rules and not vice versa. That the lead is not taken does not mean that no one can lead because leadership can be freely given. This is well-understood in every aspect of life other than politics. In the words of Mikhail Bakunin,

“Does it follow that I reject all authority? Far from me such a thought. In the matter of boots, I refer to the authority of the bootmaker; concerning houses, canals, or railroads, I consult that of the architect or engineer. …But I allow neither the bootmaker nor the architect nor the savant to impose his authority upon me. I listen to them freely and with all the respect merited by their intelligence, their character, their knowledge, reserving always my incontestable right of criticism and censure. I do not content myself with consulting authority in any special branch; I consult several; I compare their opinions, and choose that which seems to me the soundest. But I recognize no infallible authority, even in special questions; consequently, whatever respect I may have for the honesty and the sincerity of such or such an individual, I have no absolute faith in any person. Such a faith would be fatal to my reason, to my liberty, and even to the success of my undertakings; it would immediately transform me into a stupid slave, an instrument of the will and interests of others.”[2]

Additionally, compulsion and initiatory force are not equivalent. This is because compulsion may take the form of defensive force or of less violent means such as shaming and ostracism. Thus, if human beings require authority (and Pendleton does not prove that they do), a libertarian social order is quite capable of compelling people through contract law, ostracism, and private military forces.

Mischaracterization

Pendleton laments that not many libertarians will be swayed by his arguments, but does not understand why. It is not the case that libertarians are “far too busy sketching intricate political systems on paper to be bothered with considerations of human psychology.” Libertarianism, properly understood, is anti-political; its primary interest in political systems is in finding ways to destroy them without causing unnecessary damage to the social fabric. As for considerations of human psychology, they should lead one to reject the state as an enabler and multiplier of evil in the world. Ultimately, libertarians are not swayed by his arguments because they are easily refuted, as shown both above and below.

The Definition of Liberty

Pendleton writes,

“Liberty, as we now know it, is a set of unquestionable boundaries that are owed to all citizens: the right to peaceable assembly, the right to free speech, the right to a free press, and so on. The problem with these ‘rights’ is that they are very enticing ideas that are very murky in their specifics. They exist in the minds of Americans as a hazy bundle of entitlements, as things that they are owed, rather than things that they must earn.

The greatest problem with this notion of liberty as an entitlement is that once citizens start declaring rights as ‘universal’ and ‘God-given’ there is no mechanism to stop them from continually inventing new ones. The ‘right to privacy’ or the ‘right to universal healthcare’ are muddled ideas that our founding fathers never anticipated. Jefferson and Madison almost certainly would not have approved of them, but they are ideas that have as much legitimacy as America’s own Bill of Rights: if Madison can conjure up new rights with a few quill strokes there is likewise nothing to stop Supreme Court justices from doing the same thing. And so the list of entitlements owed to Americans steadily grows longer as its list of responsibilities dwindles.”

He correctly criticizes the contemporary understanding of liberty in liberal democracies. As I have explained elsewhere, these rights belong to private property owners within the spaces that they own. No one has a right to assemble, speak, print, and so on within private property if the owner disagrees with such activities. Those who would do so are trespassing and thus subject to physical removal. The current problem is that the state has greatly interfered with private property. This is a problem of the commons, and the only solution is to eliminate the commons and return it to private ownership.

From here, as Pendleton realizes, it only gets worse. When people fail to connect rights to logic and ownership of property, or more simply, to thought and action, they confuse negative rights with so-called “positive rights.” These positive rights cannot be valid because their provision violates the negative rights of other people. For instance, a right to healthcare implies that someone must be forced to provide healthcare, even if it against the provider’s wishes to serve that person.

But though he correctly identifies the problem, Pendleton proposes an incorrect solution. He seeks to restore the ancient Roman ideal of liberty rather than to correct the errors in the practice of modern liberty. The Romans viewed liberty in a collective sense, as imposing responsibilities to the state in eschange for individual rights. In truth, liberty is neither a list of entitlements nor a reward for serving society or the state; it is the result of gaining and defending private property. With this understanding, it is not ironic at all that libertarians would condemn a system which subordinates the individual to a collective as fascism (or more appropriately, as communism).

Rationalism and Empiricism

Pendleton claims that the Roman notion of liberty has the example of Singapore while the libertarian has no compelling models; only fantasies and Somalia. Implicit in this claim is a sort of historical determinism that demonstrates a lack of courage and imagination to look beyond what has been and see what is possible but as yet unrealized. As explained above, Somalia has shown improvement without a state. And fortunately, libertarians have more than fantasies; we have a priori theory. In the words of Hoppe, “A priori theory trumps and corrects experience (and logic overrules observation), and not vice-versa.”[3] This is because one may use rationalism without using empiricism, but one cannot use empiricism without using rationalism. That rationalism is independent and empiricism is dependent establishes a clear hierarchy between the two ways of knowing. Of course, this will not convince a strong empiricist of the historical determinist variety, but this has no bearing upon the truth value of the argument.

That being said, it is worth considering why there are no empirical examples of a stateless propertarian society in recent times. The obvious answer is that states initiate violence to sustain their operations, and libertarians have yet to suppress this aggression with enough defensive force to stop it. The other, less obvious explanation is that those who govern in statist systems know at one level or another that their institutions are unnecessary for the functioning of society, but that most people are more empirical than rational in their thinking. It is for this reason that they cannot allow a working example of a stateless society to be created, as this would permanently turn the masses against the state. They thus use force not only to maintain their power, but to ensure that most people never consider alternatives which do not include them.

Conclusion

Pendleton closes by contemplating the issues on the horizon for America, from racial tensions to Islamic terrorists, though he says nothing of the various economic issues. However, the “furious, explosive derailment” he fears is not only unavoidable, but necessary. The current system cannot be fixed; it must end in either a controlled demolition or a chaotic collapse. In any event, the answers are to be found in the restoration and enforcement of private property rights and freedom of association, with physical removal for those who challenge these norms. It is best to work toward emerging from this chaos looking neither like Singapore nor like Somalia, but as something completely novel in time memorial: a functional stateless society of covenant communities.

References:

  1. Hans-Hermann Hoppe (2001). Democracy: The God That Failed. Transaction Publishers. p. 218
  2. Bakunin, Mikhail (1871, 1882). God and the State. Mother Earth Publishing Association. Ch. 2
  3. Hoppe, p. xvi.

Book Review: Islamic Exceptionalism

Islamic Exceptionalism is a book about the relationship between Islam and the modern nation-state by American author Shadi Hamid. The book explores the role that Islam has played in the development of the Middle East, as well as the currently ongoing conflicts there. The book is divided into eight chapters, each focusing on a different Muslim country or other aspect of the situation.

The first chapter begins with the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, the 2013 coup against Mohamed Morsi two years later, and the massacre of Muslim Brotherhood members by the Egyptian military. These are contrasted with the activities of the Islamic State. Hamid spends much of the chapter laying out the subject matter and structure of the rest of the book, which include the role of Islam in political affairs, the unique history and teachings of Islam, and the effects that this history and these teachings are likely to have. Hamid’s explorations of these questions leads him to question the mainstream liberal narrative of Whig historiography, democratic supremacy, and progressive determinism, though he never quite manages to reject this narrative. He contrasts Muslim countries which have experienced great political unrest, such as Egypt, Tunisia, and Syria, with those that have not, such as Iran, Indonesia, and Malaysia. He then explains the differences between contemporary Muslim countries and European countries in the 1950s, suggesting that what worked in Europe will not work in the Middle East. Hamid ends the chapter by contemplating the compatibility of Islam and democracy.

Hamid goes into a history lesson of Islam in the second chapter, as the present cannot be understood without knowledge of the past. The idea of glorious achievements threatened by internecine killings permeates Islamic history from the beginning, and this coupling continues to shape the Middle East today. The decline and fall of the Ottoman caliphate has left a longing for the return of a caliphate, and ISIS has been more than happy to try to meet this demand. He compares the founding of Islam to the founding of Christianity, as well as sharia law to halakhic law. The relative flexibility and adaptability of Islam compared to other religions is explored in order to explain the simultaneous perceptions of Islam as both modern and medieval. The chapter ends with a discussion of the Christian Reformation, which segues into the next chapter.

The Islamic Reformation is the subject of the third chapter. Contrary to popular belief, Hamid shows that such a reformation has already occurred, as Islam adapted to modernity in a way that Christianity failed to do. The line of thinkers that led to Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, is discussed alongside the decline and fall of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of Salafism. That Islamism only makes sense in a modern context is an important point that Hamid makes here, which is an example of the larger truth that a term which describes everything really describes nothing. The founding and principles of the Muslim Brotherhood are addressed next, with emphasis on the differences between Banna’s view of Islam and the less observant practices of Muslims in prior centuries. The second half of the chapter returns to the 2013 massacre in Egypt, then goes back to Banna’s time and moves forward through the Brotherhood’s history of being suppressed under Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar el-Sadat.

The fourth and longest chapter continues the story of the Muslim Brotherhood, detailing how its members have responded to the 2013 massacre. Here, Hamid turns to interviews with Brotherhood members, many of whom are now in exile to escape imprisonment by the regime of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The massacre changed the minds of many in the Brotherhood, whose stance on political change had always been to play the long game and make gradual gains over decades. While the leadership was largely unmoved by this, the younger rank-and-file became radicalized. The Brotherhood’s shift to nonviolence in the 1970s has always been doubted by some as merely a tactical move, and this shift may well be undone. Hamid presents the differing views on the nature of the state and political change of the Muslim Brotherhood versus the Islamic State, and most of those interviewed were not willing to support ISIS. The youths Hamid interviews have come to understand the need to break the Westphalian order, but Hamid cannot seem to grasp this idea.

The fifth chapter considers the case of Turkey, in which Recep Tayyip Erdogan managed to take and solidify power after several cases of Islamist parties being banned. Here, the modern history of Turkey is covered, including the dissolution of the Ottoman caliphate, the role of Ataturk in transforming Turkey into a modern nation-state, and the enforced secularism of that project which alienated Islamists. Once more, the localist nature of Islamic law came into conflict with the nationalism and globalism of the state. The role and path of Erdogan in changing the secular nature of the Turkish state is discussed. No mention of the failed coup attempt against Erdogan is made because it occurred after the time of publishing, and the significant changes since then somewhat date this chapter.

The example of Ennahda in Tunisia is the focus of the sixth chapter, and it presents a much different outcome for Islamists there. Seeing the bloodshed in Egypt, Islamists in Tunisia conceded their Islamism and allowed more secular interests to govern in their stead in order to keep peace and order. Hamid portrays Ennahda as being in an impossible predicament; if they moderate, they will lose their base to a more radical party, but they can never moderate enough to convince secularists to accept them.

The stark alternative presented by ISIS to the whole debate over Islam, democracy, and the modern nation-state is the subject of chapter seven. Hamid shares an interview with a man whose son left Tunisia to join Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria and then ISIS, eventually dying in battle there. The discussion of Tunisia continues in this context because a disproportionate number of ISIS militants come from Tunisia. Hamid correctly recognizes ISIS as a state because it has a monopoly on initiatory force within a geographical area and provides the common functions of a state, even if the rest of the world refuses to accept this reality. He shares another important truth here: moderates tend to lose in civil wars and revolutions because they lack both the fervor and resolve to do what the extremists on all sides will do. Though Hamid predicts the eventual downfall of ISIS, it may take some time and the motivations that led to its formation can lead to other such efforts in the future.

The book concludes by summarizing the previous chapters. The last chapter begins with the attack on Charlie Hebdo‘s offices and the reaction to them, which was somewhat muted among hardline Muslims. Hamid discusses the rise of nativist sentiment around the world and the role that it plays for those who would restore older forms of governance in the Middle East. He presents another important insight: that there are no such things as universal values, at least in practice. The contradictions of imposing a democratic process by non-democratic means are explored, but in some cases Hamid finds restrictions on pure democracy to be a necessity to prevent collapse.

Hamid’s insights into the inner workings of the region are not to be missed. But the Western liberal democratic biases of the author are inescapable. Hamid is unable to process the possibility that democracy is inferior to the older pre-Westphalian order, especially for the Muslim world. This is especially irksome, given the amount of evidence that he himself finds for this possibility. That being said, Islamic Exceptionalism is a highly informative book, especially for those with only a passing knowledge of Islamic history or current events in the Middle East.

Rating: 4/5

Fourteen Observations on Events in Syria

On April 4, a chemical weapon attack occurred in Khan Shiekhoun, Idlib, Syria, killing at least 69 people. Western governments and media outlets have almost universally blamed the Bashar al-Assad regime for the attacks, while Russia and the Syrian government have blamed Syrian rebel forces. US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley indicated on April 5 that the US may take action against Assad in response. On April 6, President Donald Trump ordered a strike of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles against Shayrat Military Airport in Homs province, the place that US intelligence alleges as the point of origin for the chemical weapon attack. Fourteen observations on these events follow.

1. How people die is apparently more important than how many die. A person who dies convulsing and gasping for air following a sarin gas attack is just as dead as a person who is killed with bullets, conventional bombs, fire, or any other weapon of war. But the former looks more horrifying and thus causes more of an emotional response in empathic people than videos of bombed-out buildings or machine-gunned corpses.

2. The lügenpresse is fully aware of this tendency. This is why both sensationalist journalists and propagandists for Western military intervention would rather show videos of this sort than videos of more conventional warfare and its results. This allows them to short-circuit the reason centers of the American people and appeal to their moral outrage in a selective fashion, as Western countries tend to restrict their chemical weapons usage to less lethal levels, such as using tear gas against protesters.

3. It makes no sense for Assad to have used chemical weapons and every bit of sense for the rebels. In a speech on the night of April 6, Trump claimed that “[t]here can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and ignored the urging of the U.N. Security Council.” Military intelligence reports seem to confirm this. But this may be disputed on the grounds that both the United States government and the intelligence community have a long history of both incompetence and of lying to the American people. Furthermore, Assad was already holding his ground and gaining territory from the rebels, including the capture of the long-besieged city of Aleppo in December 2016. The use of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces could only invite intervention against their cause, and the rebels must know this, giving them the incentive to perpetrate a false flag operation.

Of course, this does not mean that Assad or one of his generals is not ultimately responsible, as assuming rational actors would be a fatal flaw in any analysis of events in the Middle East. But the incentives run counter to that scenario and favor a rebel use of chemical weapons.

4. There is a stronger national security interest in not intervening. In his speech, Trump said, “It is in this vital, national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.” This is debatable, but even if true, larger concerns loom. On April 7, Vladimir Safronkov, Russia’s deputy UN envoy, said to the UN Security Council, “We strongly condemn the illegitimate actions by the US. The consequences of this for regional and international stability could be extremely serious.” Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev charged that the US strikes were one step away from clashing with Russia’s military. Russia’s Defense Ministry responded to the attack by closing a communications line used to avoid accidental hostilities between American and Russian forces when US warplanes attack ISIS forces that are in close proximity to Russian forces. A Russian missile frigate was deployed to the area from which the two US destroyers fired missiles into Syria. None of this is beneficial for the fight against Islamic terrorism, and it makes a shooting war between nuclear-armed states far more likely.

5. Attacking Assad helps the Islamic State. Following the cruise missile strike against Shayrat, ISIS forces in Homs launched an offensive, storming the Syrian Arab Army checkpoints near Al-Furqalas. The destruction of Shayrat will temporarily prevent Assad’s forces from providing air support in the area, which could lead to ISIS gains there as well as on the Palmyra and Deir ez-Zor fronts. This is to be expected; a black swan event that negatively affects one side in a war necessarily has a positive effect on that side’s enemies, and ISIS has enough sense to seize upon this opportunity.

6. Actions like this make it difficult to take the War on Terrorism seriously. Attacking people who are at war with a terrorist state is counterproductive to winning the War on Terrorism. In fact, it raises concerns that defeating terrorism is not the true purpose of the War on Terrorism. Note that if the War on Terrorism were won, then the rationale for police statism and massive military spending would vanish. If the War on Terrorism were lost, then the state would fail at the one job that it is supposedly solely capable of performing, namely keeping its people safe. The ideology of Islamic terrorists disallows a draw, so the only other option is an endless war. An endless war allows politicians to continually expand state power and siphon money into the hands of the defense contractors who fund their campaigns. The idea that politicians care more about this than about the human lives lost on both sides of the conflict is the most cynical explanation, so it is the most likely to be correct.

7. The damage from the cruise missile strike can be easily repaired. Repairing a runway is a simple matter of bulldozing the affected areas and repaving it, which can be done in a few days. The buildings must be demolished and rebuilt, which could be done in a matter of weeks. Replacing the 20+ aircraft that were destroyed is the hard part, but Russia can solve that problem for Assad. In short, this one strike will be quite ineffective in the long term.

8. Trump’s moral outrage is inconsistent at best. The very strike that was supposed to stop civilian deaths actually contributed to them. Errant missiles missed the air base, hitting nearby villages. Five adults and four children were killed in Al-Hamrat, and another seven people were wounded in Al-Manzul. A few weeks earlier, an air strike aimed at ISIS in Mosul, Iraq killed 200 civilians. It makes no sense for Trump to be outraged about chemical weapons use in Syria but not about these atrocities carried out by the US military under his own orders.

9. Given the previous six observations, the strike makes more sense as a cynical political move than as an effort to help the Syrian people or punish Assad. As tensions escalate with North Korea, a targeted strike against Syria makes the threat of a targeted strike against North Korea more credible. This may alter the calculus of Kim Jong-un as well as the Chinese government, leading North Korea to be less aggressive and China to be more cooperative. At home, Trump faces continued allegations of links between his campaign and Russian government officials in addition to difficulties in accomplishing his legislative agenda. Acting against Syria while Russia is assisting them helps to rebut such allegations and give the appearance that he is not completely hamstrung by Congress. Trump may calculate that the number of isolationist supporters he would lose through such an act would be outweighed by the number of neoconservative and neoliberal war hawks he would win over. This combination of effects makes more sense as a motive than any humanitarian concerns.

As for future action against Syria, removing Assad would further destabilize the region and create a power vacuum which would be filled by jihadists. This would distract Trump from the aspects of his agenda that run counter to the globalist deep state. Backing down and patching over relations with Russia in a timely manner would bolster the leftist narrative of Trump as a Russian puppet. We may therefore expect more targeted strikes which leave Assad in power and do not really accomplish much.

10. Statecraft requires rational psychopathy. The unpleasant truth that no one wishes to acknowledge is that allowing third-world dictators to massacre their own citizens is the best thing we can do. As shocking as that may sound, there are only two alternatives, both of which have been tried and shown to be even worse. One alternative is to intervene decisively to help an oppressed people overthrow their ruler. This was tried in Iraq in 2003 and in Libya in 2011. The end result in both cases was sectarian violence that killed people at a faster rate than did the deposed dictators, and the same sorts of human rights abuses continued under new leadership. The other alternative is to intervene indecisively to keep a civil war raging. This was tried in Iraq and Syria in and after 2011. The end result has been the weakening of social order, the marginalization of moderate rebel groups, the growth of jihadist terror groups, and the ultimate transfer of arms to al-Qa’ida, Islamic State, and their affiliates.

The President of the United States, so long as there is going to be one, should be a person completely lacking in empathy. One should instead govern as a perfectly rational psychopath, thinking completely with the head and not at all with the heart, looking out for the interests of Americans and not for the interests of foreigners. One must be able to look at overseas atrocities and say, “This is not our problem. We are not the policemen of the world.”

11. This situation is the result of Western meddling. Syria was a colony of France from 1920 to 1946. At the beginning of this time, Mandatory Syria was divided into six states: Greater Lebanon (now Lebanon), Sanjak of Alexandretta (now part of Turkey), the State of Aleppo, the State of Damascus, the Alawite State, and the Jabal al-Druze State. This arrangement kept opposing factions in their own territories, but France had combined the latter four by the end of 1936. These factions fought for control, resulting in a large number of military coups and attempted coups from 1945 to 1970, ending only when Hafez al-Assad was able to rule strongly enough to suppress dissent. After his death in 2000, his son Bashar succeeded him. In the Arab Spring protests of 2011, Assad’s rule was challenged by various factions which sought to remove him from power, leading to the Syrian Civil War.

12. Syria must balkanize. If France had not tried to combine disparate peoples under one state and had instead left the four Syrian states separate, this bloody conflict could have been prevented. Bashar al-Assad, if he had come to power at all in this alternate timeline, would only be the ruler of a small part of western Syria. The rest of the country would have been ruled more locally and probably less oppressively by governments of their own people. This, rather than the removal of Assad followed by yet another wasteful failure of nation-building, should be the end goal of any intervention that might occur in Syria.

13. Trump has betrayed the raison d’être of his campaign. A major factor that caused people who normally do not vote for anyone to come out to vote for Trump was his “America First” rhetoric. Part of putting America first is to avoid unnecessary foreign entanglements by implementing a non-interventionist foreign policy. Many people supported Barack Obama in the hopes that he would do less damage overseas than George W. Bush. After being disappointed in Obama and seeing no difference in Mitt Romney, they gravitated toward Trump because his rhetoric was in stark contrast to that of establishment politicians from both major parties. Now he has also disappointed them, and hopefully they will come to realize that…

14. Peace can only be obtained by anti-political means. Peace is the status of being free from violence. A state is a group of people who exercise a monopoly on initiatory force in a certain geographical area. Initiatory force involves the use of violence. Thus, the very presence of a state is a guarantee of war, both abroad and against the domestic population at home. Therefore, the only possibility for peace is to have no state. The elimination of the state cannot be accomplished by political means, as political processes perpetuate the state by design. Thus, anti-political means are required.

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).

The State Is Negan, Part I

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 was mentioned throughout Season 6 of the show and makes his entrance in the season finale, is one of the most obvious allegories in recent memory for the nature of the state. Let us examine the first part of his character arc to see how Negan uses the cult of personality around him to influence others, as well as how he makes a first impression on those whom he wishes to subjugate. 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 from the introduction of the Saviors (Episode 606) up to the conclusion of Rick’s meeting with Negan (Episode 701).

Introduction

The Saviors first appear in Episode 606, and Negan is first mentioned a few hours later in the storyline in Episode 608, when some of his underlings attack Daryl, Abraham, and Sasha. They claim that their truck and their guns now belong to Negan, then take their sidearms. In Episode 609, the leader of these underlings orders a subordinate to take Daryl to the back of the truck and inspect its cargo. The leader threatens to shoot Abraham and Sasha, but Daryl kills the gang with an RPG after fighting one of them behind the truck.

In retrospect, this incident shows that the first encounter that a group of free people have with a state apparatus is not substantively different from a first encounter with organized crime. Negan’s underlings act much like mafia members who carry out a shakedown, but unlike most targets of organized crime, Daryl, Abraham, and Sasha are strong enough to militarily defeat them and are unaware of the larger context in which they are operating. As we will see, this sets in motion an escalation of force until one side dominates the other, as happens in real-world conflicts between groups of armed people.

Protection Racket

In Episode 611, Rick’s group learns of a deal imposed on Hilltop, a community with which his community in Alexandria is trading, by the Saviors. Negan wants half of what Hilltop produces in exchange for protection, which in reality means not attacking them. This works exactly like a protection racket; an extortion threat in which the criminals are paid not to cause the very problem that they claim to be preventing. Negan kills two Hilltop members, kidnaps another, and makes another go back to Hilltop to stab Gregory, the Hilltop leader, because they brought him too little.

Rick’s group intervenes, killing the man who stabbed Gregory and making an alternative offer: half of Hilltop’s supplies once in exchange for wiping out the Saviors. Jesus, the Hilltop second in command, informs Rick of Negan’s actions toward them, which included beating one of their members to death when they first met. Gregory, recovering from his wound, agrees to the offer because Negan is draining Hilltop dry.

This illustrates a possible means of dealing with organized crime through market protection services. There is no perfect solution in such a case, but giving up half of one’s supplies once to a friendlier organization is better than continually being coercively taxed at 50 percent by a much more aggressive organization. The problems in this case are information and power asymmetry; Rick’s group and Gregory greatly underestimate the Saviors’ strength, and this will be their undoing. A real-world private defense agency would have to be better informed about and prepared for the nature of the threats being defended against.

Pre-Emptive Strike

In Episode 612, Rick’s group strikes a Savior outpost. They use a decoy walker head that looks like Gregory to distract the guards, then kill the guards quietly to sneak into the base. Once inside, they see photographic evidence of Savior atrocities and kill several Saviors who are sleeping. One Savior manages to get to a fire alarm and pull it before Rick’s group can kill him, and a shootout begins. When all is done, at least two dozen Saviors have been killed without any losses on Alexandria’s side. But then they hear on their radio that two of their people have been captured by another cell of Saviors.

In Episode 613, the capture of Carol and Maggie by four Saviors who lived at the base but were not present for the massacre is shown. They are taken to a safe house where more Saviors will come, and Rick’s group must find this place before more Saviors arrive. The Saviors treat Maggie more favorably upon finding out that she is pregnant, and Carol pulls off a convincing ruse to get the Saviors to believe that she is far less dangerous than she really is. This shows that they do have a shred of humanity left despite their brutality, and can thus be emotionally manipulated. In a conversation about Negan, one of the Saviors says, “We are all Negan.” Carol and Maggie manage to escape their restraints and begin working to kill their captors. One dies from a gunshot wound that Carol inflicted before their capture, and they use his reanimated remains to bite another captor and finish her off. The remaining two saviors are killed in a fight with Carol and Maggie, then the other Saviors arrive. Carol lures them into a trap and kills them, after which Rick’s group arrives. One captured Savior that Rick brought along also claims to be Negan, and is promptly executed by Rick. Alexandria and Hilltop falsely believe they have won.

The combat operations shown are rather typical in nature (aside from the undead, of course). Just like in the real world, a small band of determined guerrillas can create a nightmare for a state apparatus, even defeating local branches of it. But this tends to do only enough damage to provoke a greater response by the state, as its leaders know that such behavior can abolish the governing apparatus if it is not stopped. More force is required to remove a state from power, as Rick’s group will soon learn the hard way.

The self-identification of the Saviors with Negan is the other important element here. Negan has developed a cult of personality, just like many real-world dictators. His top lieutenants identify with Negan to a perhaps greater extent than Negan identifies with himself, just as Malcolm X describes the house slaves of old. And just like the field slaves of old and the average person living under a totalitarian regime, most of the lower-ranking Saviors play along because they know that as bad as things are for them, not playing along or trying to escape would likely be even worse. 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. What Negan provides (or at least pretends to provide) in return will be discussed in Part II.

False Normalcy Shattered

Episode 614 takes place one week after the raid, hostage situation, and rescue. But the threat is not ended; another group of Saviors kills an Alexandrian who is on a supply run and captures Eugene. The group of Saviors is led by Dwight, whose face has been disfigured since Daryl encountered him in Episode 606. Dwight demands that they let his group plunder Alexandria, but several members of Rick’s group who are present fight off the Saviors and rescue Eugene. After losing most of his force, Dwight signals a retreat. Shortly thereafter in Episode 615, Carol is stopped by several Saviors on the road, but she manages to kill all but two and leaves one for dead, with one still pursuing her. Rick finishes off the one that Carol left, realizing that the threat is greater than he thought. Dwight’s group manages to capture Glenn and Michonne, then captures Daryl and Rosita. Maggie has complications with her pregnancy and needs to see a doctor in Hilltop, setting into motion the events that will lead Rick’s group to meet Negan.

Most of the lessons here are better illustrated elsewhere, and the disfigurement of Dwight will be explained in Part II, so let us move on.

The Man Himself I

Episode 616 begins with another group of survivors from a library in the area being murdered by Saviors for trying to resist their rule. They capture and beat the last member of that group. The Saviors set up increasingly elaborate roadblocks as Rick’s group try to take Maggie to Hilltop. At the first one, Simon (Negan’s second in command) tells Rick to give up his supplies. Rick retorts in kind, and then leaves instead of fighting it out. The next roadblocks are larger with increasing numbers of people. At the last roadblock, the last member of the library group is hung by Simon as he verbally intimidates Rick.

Meanwhile, the surviving Savior from the attack on Carol finds and wounds her with a bullet. Morgan arrives and rescues her, then two men on horseback approach and offer help.

The Saviors herd Rick’s group into some woods where the rest of his group has been captured and taken. Negan finally appears, introduces himself, says that Rick’s group have killed more Saviors than he feels comfortable with, declares that Rick’s group works for him now, lays claim to half of their belongings, decides to kill one of them with Lucille (the name he has given to his barbed-wire baseball bat), and threatens to have Carl’s one remaining eye removed and fed to Rick if anyone resists. The season ends with a member of Rick’s group being killed, with the revelation of who it is being left as a cliffhanger.

There are several lessons here. First, the lead-up to this confrontation shows that try as one might to avoid the state, it will find those who run from it sooner or later. Trying to avoid it rather than submit to it or fight it only delays the inevitable and makes civilized life all but impossible. Second, just as statists found long ago that slavery is more profitable than cannibalism or genocide, Negan has learned that it is more profitable to take half of what people earn than to simply eliminate them. Third, Negan’s policy of killing one member of a new group that he encounters in order to make the point that he is in charge and that punishment for defying him is real is also a common theme among statists. This is a theme that may be termed ultraviolence, which may be defined as violence which is overly gratuitous, done for the purpose of being seen by others, used to make an example out of a problematic person or group, and utilized in the hope of subjugating an enemy so as to use a lesser amount of violence against them over the long-term. The penalty for disobeying Negan is always death if one resists to a sufficient extent, and the state is no different. Just like the real world, the Saviors find that this is not always effective; some people choose to resist to the death, and just like historical dictators, Negan and his lieutenants have no problem with exterminating such groups. Fifth, contrary to appearances, the lesson here is not that resistance is futile; only that resistance requires a critical mass of defensive force and should not be attempted when one cannot bring nearly that much force to bear.

The Man Himself II

Episode 701 picks up where the previous season finale left off, and we learn that Abraham, Rick’s second in command, was murdered by Negan. Daryl responds by rising up and punching Negan, who retaliates by murdering Glenn with Lucille. Rick declares that someday, he will kill Negan for what he has done. Negan takes Rick away to an RV for some one-on-one time. Along the way, Negan dares Rick to kill him with an axe but stops Rick with a rifle, ordering him to drop it. Rick complies and Negan starts driving the RV. Eventually, the RV gets surrounded by walkers. Negan throws the axe outside and demands that Rick go get it. Rick nearly dies in the process, but manages to retrieve it as Negan begins shooting walkers to save Rick. Negan drives Rick back to his group, informs Rick that he is no longer in charge, and hands Rick the axe. Rick still looks at Negan the same way, so Negan orders Rick to either cut off his son’s arm with the axe or watch his whole group die. Carl finally tells Rick to cut off his arm, and Rick starts to, but Negan stops him and says, “You answer to me, you provide for me, you belong to me, right?” he asks. Rick agrees, Negan says that this is the look that he wanted Rick to give him, and takes back the axe. Negan tells Dwight to take Daryl away and threatens that Rick will have to mutilate him if Rick resists further. Negan leaves Rick’s group a truck for gathering tribute, and says they have one week to collect an offering. After the Saviors leave, Maggie continues on to Hilltop, and the others take their dead for burial and return to Alexandria.

This episode illustrates how far an authoritarian ruler is willing to go in order to gain compliance. Negan tolerates no threat to his rule, shutting it down promptly with a second display of ultraviolence. Also of interest is Negan’s investment of time and effort into breaking Rick. He does this because it is difficult for a ruler to control a large number of people directly. In order to rule over Alexandria, Negan needs Rick to do so for him, so he goes as far as he must in order to make Rick subservient to him. This also explains why Negan saves Rick from being killed by walkers.

The matter of when and where to violently resist a state apparatus is another important consideration here. Up until this point, Rick’s group had been engaging the Saviors either at times and places of their choosing or on neutral ground. They had mixed results on neutral ground and favorable results when fighting on their own terms. But when David tries to fight Goliath on Goliath’s terms, David has almost no chance, as shown by the fruitless token resistances offered by members of Rick’s group when surrounded by Negan and a large number of Saviors.

Finally, let us consider the truck that Negan leaves behind. The truck will make it easier for Rick’s group to conduct their affairs, but its main purpose is to make their exploitation by Negan more profitable. Like everything that a government provides to its subjects, it is provided not for the betterment of the subjects, but to help the subjects to be more productive. Any betterment that occurs is only a beneficial side effect about which the state is apathetic.

Conclusion

The first part of Negan’s arc presents him as a mysterious figure who is not known to actually exist in physical form, much like the state. The individuals who believe in the state and act upon this belief exist, the buildings, vehicles, and guns involved exist, and so on, but there is no physical form we can point to or touch and say, “This is the state.” But it seems real enough for the people who are on the receiving end of the violence, which is all that matters for those who operate and benefit from the apparatus. Unlike the state, Negan actually does exist directly, which may make dealing with him a different challenge going forward. In the second part, we will examine the time period after Rick’s meeting with Negan (Episode 702) up to the decision to stop living under Negan’s rule and fight him (Episode 708).

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