On Libertarianism and Statecraft, Part III: Governance, State, and Defense

<<<Part II                                                                                                 Part IV>>>

Author’s note: The main themes of this series will be further expounded upon in my upcoming book Anarcho-Monarchism, which will be available in April.

Alleviating Burdens of Property

As established in Part II, the entire burden of owning property is usually too much for a single person to bear. Any person who fully owns property in a libertarian social order has the responsibility of an absolute monarch. He would have to uphold all control over legislation, arbitration, and upkeep when it comes to his property. The only way to alleviate this burden is to outsource part of it to someone who is more capable of managing the property. This is necessarily a person or group of people who can harmonize the interests of multiple property owners into a cohesive social structure which allows for property to be used to the greatest possible extent. When market forces are properly in order, this is all but inevitable due to the effects of forming economies of scale and creating a more advanced division of labor.

If each person is fully responsible for his own property, then even the people who are least suited for managing property are in charge of their property. When the management of property becomes outsourced, this is no longer the case. The logic supporting the division of labor still applies even where libertarians might not want it to apply. Having a society means that there will be certain people who specialize in the management of property. There will be people whose job is to ensure that the burden of holding property is reduced. Even when there is no state, these people constitute a government.

Government and State

One must not conflate the government with the state. The state is an entity that monopolizes force, while government is simply the managerial entity in control of property. The state claims partial ownership over property, which gives it the ability to tax and legislate. It is difficult to conceive of a government that lacks a state, but this is simply due to a limited imagination. The abolition of the state does not imply an abolition of governance; quite the opposite. The proliferation of individual sovereignty will bring about an increase of governance and statecraft. Because owning property is a burden, governance services become necessary for human flourishing. The only exception would be if all people in society are capable sovereigns, which is never going to be the case.

There are individuals who are sufficiently capable at managing their own property so as to have no need for outside governance. However, a significant number of these people already have libertarian proclivities and are drawn to philosophical libertarianism. And since the majority of the population are not libertarians, we can only assume that most people are not capable of shouldering the entire burden of their property ownership. This produces the demand for governance, and this is why there is a natural tendency to form states. Even if one does not support them, governance structures will characterize human society even without a state.

Most anarcho-capitalists would argue that there is actually no demand for a government, and that the bureaucratic government would be replaced by decentralized market actors for managing land. This ignores that even small associations for managing apartment buildings and housing developments are structured like governments. There is no possibility that governmental structures will not emerge from the demand for systems which can harmonize different private interests. These governmental structures must be value-productive in order to survive, as they are still within the confines of the libertarian society and are not subsidized by a state. All states fundamentally weaken property rights to increase their own power, and will always act according to the taxes they collect.

The Myth of the Market

One reason why market governments are necessary is that not every problem can be solved simply by using the forces of material exchange. Social cooperation will not always be reached through economic competition. For example, an immense problem for which libertarians have no systematic answer is the imposition of negative externalities through the bad neighbor problem. Having the government be an agency bound by contract ensures that these negative externalities can be dealt with. It also means that social damage resulting from infringements upon property is minimized. This is due to the contractual nature of a government which preserves the power of property. This can solve the issues of monopoly and virtue that plague modern states and affect any potential libertarian society.

If one ignores contractualism, which forms the basis of libertarian interaction, one ignores the main practical reason for why one ought to support libertarianism. The right to form contracts is the right to choose how cooperation takes place and how to create a functional society. Contracts will form governments, and contractual governments will result in the practice of statecraft. This is a positive development; there is no reason to be dogmatically opposed to governance. Structures to govern a society are generally desirable for all people within that society. Most people benefit greatly from having a social management using proper statecraft.

State and Market

But what would prevent contractual governmental organizations from falling into the same pitfalls of federal entities? How can we prevent the adverse effects of the centralization of power when governmental structures lay claim over multiple sovereign areas? In order to answer these questions, it is necessary to determine the optimal size for governance. Most of the current nation-states are demonstrably beyond their optimal size and the supranational organizations are even more beyond the size at which good governance can occur. It is impossible to govern properly an area so large that the government loses all contact with those whom it governs. Although accurate economic calculation is impossible for any government, the problem worsens when the government is less aware about what the population wants. There can be no good governance on an impersonal basis. The only way to create a government of the optimal size is to enable market selection to find this size.

If market governments ever impose disutility, there will be a dissolution of those governments, for destructive governance cannot last without some form of coercion. This ensures that market governments can never be destructive in the same manner that states are. There should be no conflation of market governance and state governance, as the problems of central planning and coercion only apply to the state. Since all people are only bound by contract and personal loyalty in a libertarian society, the market governments are another expression of this. Governments will stop engaging in their own central planning and start harmonizing the plans of individuals. Furthermore, the coercive effects of power do not exist if there is no coercion. The contractual government cannot go against the interest of the population with impunity.

Contrary to libertarian instincts, the more an economy and society are governed, the better functioning they will be. Even though the state generally decreases value in society and is destructive, governance is a productive tool. The better property is managed, the more prosperity can be produced with that property. An efficient allocation of resources is achieved by having resources governed according to proper statecraft.

Violence

The other important part when analyzing social interactions between different property holders is considering what happens when there is conflict. Crime will always exist and is an important social issue to address. The state as it currently stands is the worst criminal offender and enabler of criminal activity, but this does not erase the importance of law and order. But how is it possible to organize the prevention of crime and foreign invasion in a libertarian society?

An easy answer is to simply say that the military and the police can be privatized. This is a respectable position and one that has been defended at length by other libertarian philosophers. If the market works, it must also work when it comes to defense. If the state cannot be trusted with production, it cannot be trusted with producing defense. The last industries the government should have control over are those that allow the state to gain control over every other industry.

However, it is possible that having a military force and a police force without an overarching system of governance could be sub-optimal. This is complicated by there being no benefits to the people when centralizing defense above the optimal point at which it would be provided in the free market. (The states, however, greatly benefit from centralizing violence.) The best way to determine the proper size of defense agencies is to have the market system figure it out.

Defense on the Governance Market

This does not mean that defense necessarily must function only as a private service. Both national and personal defense could better function under overarching co-operation. Libertarians often herald competition in the industry of defense and claim that violence is unlikely to erupt because it has a far larger cost than benefit. Although this is true to an extent, there are still perverse incentives involved. If a defense agency manages to increase the demand for defense, it will increase its own profits, all else being equal. When the demand for defense is increased, it must be due to additional overarching violence, or at least the threat or perception thereof. Defense agencies could intentionally cause violence to increase demand for their own services. This goes against the purpose of defense. This is also a problem with the state, but that does not mean that it is not also a problem with market defense.

The only way to prevent this is to have a meta-regulatory agency that has supreme authority over all defense agencies. Individual defense agencies can only keep each other in check to a limited degree. When there is a central agency which enables cooperation, it becomes much easier to solve problems caused by perverse incentives. When violence is put on the market, it will always have inherent problems because violence is the only thing that can disrupt a market order.

The meta-regulatory agency cannot, of course, have an ownership stake in the defense agencies. It can never directly contract these agencies; the only purpose it can serve is to protect the interests of the public if they are ever in conflict with the interests of the defense agency. This is done through contract, as everything else in market governance. The contract results in creating terms for the dissolution of or exit from the agency of market governance. As long as these terms are met and a person is no longer a part of the structure, the market government loses its authority. When this has been done, market government returns to the role occupied by all market agencies and cannot use its managerial or regulatory powers. If it attempts to do so, it will be met as any other invader would be. The potential for exit guarantees that the market government can never expand beyond its proper role.

The same governance structure can also defend against civil war. When market incentives are not enough, conflict can be avoided using cooperation to prevent coercion. Even if the public goods problem is not a serious issue, costs are lowered for individual persons if everyone is using defense companies. This is because law is better enforced when all people subscribe to it. Furthermore, the mitigation of perverse incentives is a similarly valuable goal. If an entity offers to mitigate perverse incentives and contractually obliges all people to pay for defense, there is the best possible allocation of resources. Of course, all of this would be possible only insofar as it is strictly voluntary.

The Anti-Socials

What happens when someone is not willing to cooperate and does not want to be involved in the social system? What happens to the anti-socials in society? The answer to this is quite simple and brutal: the incentive for any given person is to try to conquer the anti-social individual. In other words, the anti-socials will be physically removed from society. This is obviously in violation of moral decency and ethical norms unless there is an additional ethical reason to attack these anti-social individuals. If they have previously committed crimes or if they behave in a savage manner, this conquest can be ethically justified. Few people would stake much on the defense of anti-socials. But the ugly truth is that solitary individuals are vulnerable to violence, regardless of the ethics of the matter.

This is not to say that most people would immediately try to conquer solitary individuals. However, such individuals are much more likely to fall victim to crime. A system of governance mitigates this by joining a plethora of solitary individuals into a cohesive force with incentives to keep each other secure and safe from violence. The force that has made Western civilization possible is the militia, which gives men camaraderie and hierarchy through combat. This is only possible within a society and goes beyond any formal military. Having a well-ordered militia is integral to create a free and libertarian society that can remain competitive with statist societies. And as we have established earlier, forming these cohesive systems will naturally result in governance and not a disjointed and purely economic force.

Conclusion

The natural condition of man is governance, and the natural way of organizing the world is through governance. But the modern state has only arisen in the past few centuries. The civilized state has only outlasted the modern state by a few millennia. The vast majority of human existence occurred without a state, but this does not mean an absence of hierarchy or an absence of governance. The modern state is not inherent to man, but governance is inherent to civilization.

In a civilized society, governance must reach outside the tribe. This is simply due to the burden of property and the problems with having violence on the free market. The solution to this is not the state, but rather cooperative contractual structures functioning according to libertarian ethics. In Part IV, I will discuss other reasons why governance is necessary and who would govern in which way.

<<<Part II                                                                                                 Part IV>>>

Agreeing With Statists For The Wrong Reasons: Conscription

Conscription of individuals for civil or military service has been practiced since the dawn of statism, and has expanded to include almost all men since the French Revolution. The practice goes by many names: levying, impressment, national service, call-up, and the draft, to name a few. Though many states no longer use it, relying instead upon professional soldiers that enlist voluntarily, most claim a right to resume conscription if they cannot preserve themselves or achieve their foreign policy goals otherwise. This policy is controversial on religious, political, and philosophical grounds. Libertarians object to conscription as a violation of self-ownership, the root of all libertarian philosophy. As Ayn Rand explains,

“It negates man’s fundamental right—the right to life—and establishes the fundamental principle of statism: that a man’s life belongs to the state, and the state may claim it by compelling him to sacrifice it in battle.”[1]

According to Ron Paul,

“Conscription is wrongly associated with patriotism, when it really represents slavery and involuntary servitude.”[2]

The philosophical libertarian case against conscription is beyond reproach, but the perverse nature of statist systems of governance can make almost any deontologically indefensible policy into a useful strategy for libertarians. Let us see how conscription can backfire on the states that make use of it, and thus why one might agree with statists for the wrong reasons.

By forcing people to engage in an activity, the state provokes feelings of resentment and rebellion. With regard to conscription, this has a variety of effects that undermine the state. First, conscription fuels anti-war movements. Look at the unrest in America during the Vietnam War. Resistance to the draft played a major part in the protest movement, as people burned draft cards, evaded conscription by fleeing to Canada, and attacked draft board offices.[3] Similar examples go all the way back to the time of Hammurabi (r. 1791–1750 BC), when people avoided ilkum (the ancient Babylonian conscription system) by hiring substitutes to fight in their stead, leaving town, or selling property that had ilkum obligations attached to its ownership. These behaviors were outlawed by the Code of Hammurabi, but were widely practiced regardless.[4]

When Milton Friedman convinced the Nixon administration to end the draft in 1973, it knocked the bottom out of the anti-war movement, showing it to really be an anti-draft movement. The deep, unpleasant truth here is that many people do not care that the state is prosecuting a murderous war of aggression unless they feel personally inconvenienced by it. Thanks to central banking, fiat currency, and the monetary policies they enable, governments are able to hide the true cost of war from their citizens. Although the post-war recession always comes eventually, many people lack the economic literacy to connect the dots. A sufficiently strong military can keep the enemy from causing damage at home, and anyone who suggests that whatever terrorist attacks do get through are a retaliation for military misadventures overseas can be labeled a kook and run out of polite society by establishment politicians and pundits. But few things will inconvenience the citizenry more than receiving notice that they are to drop everything and report for basic training, after which they will get a one-way ticket to a war zone.

The feelings of resentment toward conscription also have an impact on performance. An unwilling workforce is very inefficient, as they lack the passion and work ethic for work that one enjoys or at least finds voluntarily acceptable. This has the effect of making the state’s forces less capable, which libertarians should seek to do, especially if those forces are deployed in wars of aggression abroad or suppressing dissidents at home. If the state is going to do such things, it is better that they be done by people who do not want to be doing them. They will lack the barbaric enthusiasm necessary to commit the worst atrocities. Some may even sabotage such efforts, raising the cost of imperialist expansion and domestic oppression so that they may become unfeasible.

Speaking of raising costs, conscription increases the number of soldiers, so it necessarily increases the number of future veterans. Since most governments have programs which are designed especially for veterans, to either take care of injuries sustained while in service or help them transition to a civilian life, these programs have to expand to meet the needs of more people. This has a similar effect on the national budget to growing the welfare state, and while libertarians should be trying to do the opposite at face value, any realistic assessment of political reality will find this to be impossible. The more practical strategy is to overload and collapse such programs, and using veterans programs instead of the welfare state for this purpose will be more effective. Welfare parasites are likely to engage in aimless riots if their programs are cut, as they will simply switch to direct theft of resources to fuel their unproductive lifestyle if the indirect theft of the state ceases to supply them. Veterans, on the other hand, will have an ax to grind with the state in particular, as they will feel that the state is in breach of a contract with them after they risked their lives to defend it. As happened with the Bonus Army incident in 1932, this can lead to civil unrest. A large movement of disgruntled former military personnel is one of the most dangerous domestic challenges that a ruling elite can face. Opposing such a movement will contradict their own propaganda and promises about military service. Cutting veterans benefits will turn the youth against serving the state. Using the current state forces to suppress the former state forces has the potential to foment rebellion. There are no good answers for the elite if they cannot keep their promises to military veterans.

On the subject of revolution, the aspect of conscription that undermines the state the most is that it gives training, experience, camaraderie, and organizational skills to potential rivals. This cannot be avoided because the alternative is to have inept conscripts, which defeats the purpose. A famous example of this dynamic is the Mamluks, children who were kidnapped from non-Muslim Iranian and Turkish families to serve as soldiers in Muslim caliphates and sultanates beginning in the 9th century. They became a powerful warrior caste over time, eventually seizing power for themselves in Egypt in 1250, forming the Bahri and Burji dynasties that ruled until 1517.[5] Though modern conscripts are not generally imported slaves or child soldiers, they still have the potential to become the paramilitary wing of a political movement capable of seizing power.

Finally, let us make use of the neoreactionary concept of formalism. This is the idea that in human affairs, official reality should match actual reality, the underlying power dynamics should be brought into the open, and accounting practices should be honest. The actual reality is that any state would conscript its citizens if the alternative were a collapse of the regime and/or conquest by a foreign power. Official reality should therefore refrain from denying this fact, so let us stop the deceit of saying that conscription is abolished.

To conclude, conscription is a terrible policy for any state to implement, full of perverse incentives and rights violations. But because those harm the state while breeding resistance to it, one may agree with statists for the wrong reasons when they advocate for conscription.

References:

  1. Rand, Ayn (1967). Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. Signet. p. 226.
  2. Paul, Ron (2003, Jan. 14). “Conscription Is Slavery”. Antiwar.com
  3. Zinn, Howard (2003). A People’s History of the United States. HarperCollins Publishers. p. 483–501.
  4. Postgate, J.N. (1992). Early Mesopotamia Society and Economy at the Dawn of History. Routledge. p. 242–43.
  5. McGregor, Andrew James (2006). A Military History of Modern Egypt: From the Ottoman Conquest to the Ramadan War. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 15.

On Libertarianism and Statecraft, Part I: Political Strategy

<<<Introduction                                                                                      Part II>>>

Author’s note: The main themes of this series will be further expounded upon in my upcoming book Anarcho-Monarchism, which will be available in April.

The Libertarian Party

There are few efforts within the libertarian movement that are as shameful and poorly constructed as the US Libertarian Party. It is famously a den of toxicity that is rarely able to have a positive impact on libertarianism. Every attempt of having innovation in the party and having the party be involved in anything other than mainstream politics is stamped out. The party that is supposed to represent the libertarian ideal and bring libertarianism into society is a complete mess.

There are many reasons for this. First, to even have a libertarian party goes against the fundamental nature of libertarianism. Libertarianism cannot be achieved from our current position by a strategy wholly concerned with top-down matters and working through the political system. The current political system is entirely based on corruption and collaboration with special interests. There is no institutional possibility to enact actual change as long as the current system persists. The entrenched interests are far more powerful than anyone who tries to challenge them from a libertarian or reactionary perspective. Libertarianism opposes parasitism and thus will lack funding as no concrete pressure group benefits from libertarianism. Furthermore, even if it was possible to have a drastic change of governance in the modern political system, there is still the issue of libertarians themselves not being prone to organization.

Becoming a libertarian is strongly correlated with cynicism and a nature that instinctively opposes the modern state. Furthermore, the pessimistic individualism that has characterized the movement since the 19th century has functionally thwarted any chance to have a sociable top-down movement of libertarians. In order to become libertarians, people need to lack trust in the state and reject most of what they have been taught about civics in the state’s education system. Few people would willfully embrace pessimism and individualism if they have other options which are more comforting to them.

Thus, a libertarian movement of significant size and influence must be optimistic and communitarian. This is the second reason why a libertarian party is contrary to reason. There is no optimism and little sense of community in trying to bring liberty into the federal politics of the United States. If libertarians do not find good leadership that can surpass these issues, there can be no hope or personal gain in working toward libertarianism in the political arena. The only way in which libertarians can create optimistic communities is to start small and work within areas in which individuals can truly have an impact. Libertarians must start from the ground up if there is to be any advancement of libertarianism.

The Libertarian Mantra

We have consistently heard that libertarians are “socially left and economically right” or how “gay married couples should be able to defend their weed farms with machine guns.” The examples of this particular combination of free-market advocacy and social degeneracy permeate the political rhetoric of politically active libertarians. This is an incredibly ill-fated approach, as most people are prone to take the exact opposite approach. The majority of people cluster around the social right and economic left. There is little appeal for the ideas that everyone ought to be able to do what they want and that hedonistic disregard for others is desirable.

Political Positions

What then should libertarians do? The entire libertarian philosophy is oriented around having a strong commitment to both social and economic liberty. Fortunately, there are great answers within libertarian theory, countless examples of how we are neither economically right nor socially left. The economic right is often associated with pro-corporate measures, but corporations are legal fictions created by the state. There is no sympathy for capitalists or for workers; rather, the market process is allowed to favor or disfavor as its actors please. That being said, libertarianism logically implies a higher level of control by workers, as without the state there would be neither systematic unemployment nor the barriers to entry created by government regulations. If there is no systematic unemployment, then workers will have more options, meaning that business interests will have less power over them. A lack of burdensome regulations would allow more wage earners to start their own businesses, eliminating the need for them to seek jobs at existing firms. The actual economics are more complex, but libertarianism is compatible with many forms of pro-worker advocacy. Libertarians tend to ignore this aspect of economic policy to their detriment.

An opposition to the state controlling banks through the fractional reserve system is a popular sentiment, as banking is not the most beloved industry. An opposition to corporate bailouts, pollution, and corporate welfare all perfectly coincide with an economically leftist view; the difference is the means libertarians seek to use. The commitment to free markets claimed by the economic right is simply rhetoric that is not actually practiced. Furthermore, many mainstream left-wing economists have views contrary to those of normal people who believe in economic justice. Even the average Bernie Sanders supporter could be brought to the libertarian side if there were not such a commitment to the economic right as it currently exists. The only major roadblock is the welfare state, which is wholly incompatible with libertarianism.

On social issues, nothing about respecting property rights implies that we ought to favor the social left. Private exclusion is as valid as private inclusion; what we oppose is the ability of the state to implement social policy and force people to associate or dissociate. Even though being socially left made political sense when the establishment still had respect for tradition, the pervasive degeneracy in our politics and culture has made that no longer the case. This does not mean that being on the social left is morally valid, but rather that it served as a viable strategy in the midst of the US cultural revolution. There is no commitment in any Western country to theocracy or reactionary politics. Thus, it is far more useful to work with the social right, as it is the left that is currently attacking personal liberties.

Finally, there is nothing within libertarianism that would imply that we should promote economic and social nihilism. Libertarians only contend that if the state gets involved in the economy or society, it will cause negative effects to the population as a whole. However, private individuals should be more than welcome to try to peacefully improve society and the economy. There is nothing wrong with voluntary and non-governmental forms of social and economic involvement contrary to nihilistic non-interventionism.

Regime Change

Even if libertarians were somehow able to gain an overwhelming majority in federal and local governments, there would be little that they could actually accomplish. This is because libertarians are not prepared to be dictators, and the only way in which to rework the entire corrupt system is to impose an autocratic, totalitarian change of the system. The entrenched interests are far too powerful to allow for less organized and less powerful entities to reduce their profits. The bureaucracy is also far more powerful than every politician combined, capable of taking a mile behind the backs of libertarians for every inch they gain. Even if libertarians somehow manage to change the entire regime, anti-libertarian, statist sentiment will erupt from the Cathedral, as all the entrenched interests will not wish to lose access to state violence. If libertarians ever would find themselves in a position of power, the degree of propaganda they would face is far greater than any other movement ever has. There is no way in which libertarians can create liberty by simply changing the regime. The only way in which libertarians have any hope at all through political processes is if the change is sufficiently local and ineffective that the entrenched interests find it too troublesome to oppose. Libertarianism is hopeless within the modern state no matter how overwhelmingly the population may vote for libertarian candidates.

Politics Within the State

The only way in which the liberals in England and the US gained power was through extensive civil wars and political struggles led by men so great that they are still remembered as some of the greatest political minds, and even those movements were unsustainable. Despite 19th century classical liberalism producing unparalleled prosperity, the state eventually turned from liberalism to interventionism and socialism. This will always occur, as the state will tax the prosperity and use the proceeds to fund socialism and wars.

The only consistent answer to how libertarians ought to participate in politics within a statist system is that politics is only a stopgap measure to effect temporary change. This can be useful, but it will never provide good governance. The state is a coercive monopolist and will never provide services like market entities can. However, having the state charge and provide less is both an economic and social good which can be accomplished in some cases. This will never result in thorough or pervasive change; it will only be a matter of temporary alliances of convenience. Another option is to deliberately worsen state oppression so as to wake more people up to the evil of the state. This may trigger a revolution to eliminate the state, or it may be needlessly destructive.

Secession and Revolution

Whereas politics is not an option for creating a libertarian society, other methods must be considered. These are secession and revolution. Due to the common responses of states to such behavior, secession implies revolution. States typically try to suppress secessionist efforts by force, as allowing any group of people to break off a territory would doom the entire scheme. As the direct goal for each person within the state who does not have explicit aims to provide good governance is to consolidate power, there is no chance that secession will not be met with an active military response. Such a response only ends with the rebels vanquished or the secessionists allowed to leave after a bloody and ruinous civil war. Preventing such a response would require a deterrent that they would not risk suffering, such as a privately owned nuclear arsenal. This is a rather bleak picture, but so is the prospect of allowing the nation-state model to continue with its high taxes, indoctrination of children, corruptions of justice, and murderous wars.

Furthermore, without the state, there could be a rise of governance that is positive and that aids in human flourishing. The efficiency of human cooperation could be unleashed in voluntary associations and the market formed by those associations. This is a question of whether we are prepared to fight for life and governance which is conducive to life, or if we will accept being only partially alive. There can be no libertarian statecraft if there is a state. Conversely, the abolition of the state will create the possibility of statecraft that far exceeds anything we have yet seen.

Conclusion

Provided that we need secession or revolution to achieve a stateless society, we now have to move on to what such a society would look like. A significant amount of libertarians think that this implies an alienated mesh of market transactions. However, we have to seriously consider the deeper implications of property ownership to have a proper understanding of what it means to own property. Is it true that property can be managed on an individual level? Is there really no inherent disutility to owning property? How can we describe statecraft without a state? These questions and more will be answered in the next part.

<<<Introduction                                                                                      Part II>>>

On Leftist Academics, Respectable Opinion, and Civil War

In recent times, there is a burgeoning industry in popular books on academic subjects aimed at the layperson or the educated person who is not an expert in the field discussed in a certain book. Most of these books, particularly in the fields of politics, economics, and sociology, are written by authors who have a leftist bias. This is to be expected, as academia has long been dominated by such people. But this bias seems to consistently impair such authors whenever they attempt to understand perspectives which are fundamentally different from their own. Three examples of this can be found in books that were reviewed here at Zeroth Position in the past fortmoon. The shortcomings therein are evidence of a much broader and more serious problem. We will consider extant theories which describe this problem. Next, we will posit some potential origins for this phenomenon, as well as some possible solutions. Finally, we will consider the potential negative consequences of leaving the problem unsolved.

Good Guys With Guns

This is a book about concealed firearms, the culture around them, and their effects on society by sociologist Angela Stroud, reviewed here on December 12, 2016. True to leftist thought, the roles of gender, race, and class in firearm ownership are major themes of the book. The series of interviews included in the book illuminate many interesting aspects of firearm ownership which are not adequately discussed elsewhere, and Stroud makes a genuine effort to understand people who disagree with her. But she commits a multitude of errors which are common among leftists and sociologists, and seems to be unable to keep herself from doing so. Her most egregious and oft-repeated fallacies include the broken window fallacy, confusing objective reality with subjective social constructs, false dilemmas, accusing people of contradicting themselves when they do not, and conflating society with the state. She also does a poor job of recognizing and assessing potential threats, ignores information which undermines her case, blames free-market capitalism and patriarchy when they were not in use, assumes that any inequality is the result of institutional oppression, and blames white people for problems caused by non-whites.

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

Islamic Exceptionalism

This is a book about the relationship between Islam and the modern nation-state, the role that Islam has played in the development of the Middle East, and the currently ongoing conflicts there by Brookings Institution senior fellow Shadi Hamid, reviewed here on April 30, 2017. Hamid’s explorations of these subjects 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 provides an informative history of Islam from the beginning, illuminating several points that frequently elude Westerners. But when Hamid interviews youths who wish to break the Westphalian order of nation-states and are willing to use violence to achieve political goals, he seems unable to truly understand them.

That being said, of the three authors discussed, Hamid is the most perceptive of the lot. He correctly recognized ISIS as a state at the time of writing because it had a monopoly on initiatory force within a geographical area while providing the common functions of a state. He knows that 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. He understands that there are no such things as universal values in practice. 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.

The Euro

This is a book about the shortcomings of the eurozone currency project, the faulty policies pursued by European leaders thus far, and several potential alternatives by American economist Joseph Stiglitz, reviewed here on December 11, 2017. He is perhaps the worst of the three, in that while the others have difficulties in understanding right-wing thought, Stiglitz tends to either show no awareness of its existence, dismiss it out of hand, or mischaracterize it in ways which can only be deliberate for someone of his caliber. His Keynesian approach to economics is apparent from the beginning, as is his thoroughly statist worldview. He never mentions the Austrian School and ignores many practical possibilities for true economic and political liberty. The Chicago School earns nothing but contempt from him, as he recites the leftist caricature of Chile under Pinochet and derides monetarism. Meanwhile, he repeatedly blames markets for the 2008 crisis when they were only responding to the perverse incentives created by governments and central banks. He also blames austerity for Europe’s recent troubles when very little austerity has actually occurred.

Like Stroud, Stiglitz confuses collective action with state action. Stiglitz’s faith in democracy is even stronger than Hamid’s, as he never questions whether anything is wrong with democracy itself, even as he argues against incentive structures which are necessarily part of any democracy, advocates for a new monetary system which could offer states tyrannical control over their citizens, and denounces anti-immigrant groups in Europe which resist demographic replacement by a ruling class that they did not ask to replace them. Though Stiglitz does not appear to argue in bad faith, one could be forgiven for thinking that he does.

Current Theories

Before attempting to analyze the above examples, it is necessary to lay some groundwork concerning meta-politics. In political discourse, there is a range of opinions which are considered to be socially acceptable to varying degrees, with extremes on one or both sides of each issue regarded as anywhere from unfashionable at best to worthy of violent response at worst. This concept has been given various names; Hallin’s second sphere, the Overton Window, and the index card of allowable opinion, to name a few. Hallin’s analysis divides the world of political discourse into three spheres according to how the media covers various subjects. The first sphere is the sphere of consensus. This contains topics on which agreement is assumed. Hallin writes that for such topics, “Journalists feel free to invoke a generalized ‘we’ and to take for granted shared values and shared assumptions. …Journalists do not feel compelled to present an opposing viewpoint or to remain disinterested observers.”[1] The second sphere is the sphere of legitimate controversy. This sphere consists of matters on which rational, informed people have disagreements. Journalists are expected to be disinterested observers and reporters for topics in this sphere, not overtly supporting one position over another. The third sphere is the sphere of deviance. This contains topics which are believed to be outside the bounds of legitimate discussion. Hallin writes that in this sphere, “Journalists depart from standard norms of objective reporting and feel authorized to treat as marginal, laughable, dangerous, or ridiculous individuals and groups who fall far outside a range of variation taken as legitimate.”[1] Those who dispute the content of the sphere of consensus tend to find themselves here, as do those who lack sufficient influence to merit news coverage or are known for making baseless and outlandish claims. The boundaries of the spheres shift with changes in public opinion, journalistic standards, and media ownership, as well as advances in reason, science, and technology.

Joseph Overton’s conception of political discourse posits a range of ideas which are tolerated in public discourse. Whereas Hallin’s spheres describe media coverage, the Overton window describes voter sentiment and politician stances. Overton contends that the political viability of an idea depends on whether the idea is within the window or outside of it. Politicians who recommend too many policies which are outside of the window will be considered too extreme to be elected or re-elected. Most of the theory about the Overton Window is concerned with how to move it or keep it from moving, depending on whether the goal is to advance policies which are currently outside or inside of the window, respectively. Application of the door-in-the-face technique to Overton’s theory results in the deliberate promotion of ideas that are far outside of the window in order to shift the window toward ideas which are slightly outside of it. (This makes as much sense in ideological space as it does in physical space; one cannot push an object while one is standing on it, as such a force is both self-defeating and lacking in leverage.)

Tom Woods refers to this phenomenon as the index card of allowable opinion. Woods’ description combines the insights of Hallin and Overton, as the establishment media uses Hallin’s spheres while playing a large role in deciding where the frame of the Overton Window lies. Woods writes,

“On the left, sites like ThinkProgress and Media Matters smear and attack those uppity peons who stray from the ideological plantation that the Washington Post and the New York Times oversee. On the right, it’s neoconservative sites like the Free Beacon, who have built a nice little cabin on that plantation, and who rat out anyone who tries to run away.”[2]

One could easily add National Review and several others to the list of sites on the right (such as it is in modern America), as well as note such a presence in libertarian circles, denounced here as cuckertarians. The purpose of maintaining this range of allowable opinion is to prevent people from realizing the need for a radical change from the status quo by saturating them with ideas which never stray too far from the establishment narrative and presenting them with the illusion that they have meaningful choices in the current system. As Noam Chomsky writes,

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum—even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”[3]

The behavioral pattern that Woods notes later is the subject of the next section. He continues:

“The respectables of left and right do not deign to show where we’re wrong, of course. The very fact that we’ve strayed from the approved spectrum is refutation enough. …Once in a while they do try to show where we’re wrong, but they can almost never manage even to state our position correctly, much less muster an effective argument against it. [The] purpose of these alleged replies is not to shed light, but to demonize libertarians in the public mind.”[2]

Mechanisms and Remedies

The range of allowable opinion has the effect of a feedback loop on academia. The range of allowable opinion agreed upon by one generation of academics influences the next generation, limiting the range of ideas to which they are exposed in sufficient depth to truly understand them. Whereas true rightist thought is rigid, rationalist, and timeless while leftist thought is flexible, empiricist, and novel, it is no surprise that this process gradually pulls the Overton window leftward. There are several mechanisms by which this occurs, and if the problem is to be resolved, each requires its own remedy.

Whig History

Whig historiography views the past as an inevitable march of progress toward greater knowledge and freedom, culminating in liberal democracy and constitutionally limited monarchy. The name comes from the British Whigs, who supported the power of Parliament over the power of the monarch, thus opposing the Tories, who did the opposite. The term has acquired a pejorative use for good reason. Whiggism bears resemblance to Marxism, which follows the same narrative to a different end, namely that of a classless, egalitarian, communist utopia. It assumes without evidence that there will be no further progress past liberal democracy and limited monarchy toward greater knowledge and freedom. This explains why its adherents attack libertarians, as they propose further advances in freedom, which are disallowed by the Whig narrative. Indeed, Whiggism errs in assuming that history is necessarily goal-oriented at all, as this would require some collective unconscious and/or divine plan that is not proven to exist.

The present-mindedness of the Whig approach leads its adherents to believe that current ideals were held in the past, which ends up producing a great amount of ignorant eisegesis when historical figures are examined in a context that they would find to be alien. It keeps one from investigating the real causes of historical change by providing the false answer that the cause was the march toward progress.[4] Whiggism also motivates the sanctification of past leaders who advanced this progress and the vilification of those who worked against it[5] that is omnipresent in contemporary politics, for if an inevitable march toward progress is assumed, it follows that conservatives and reactionaries are engaged in a revolt against nature. As Allan Greer writes,

“They lost because they had to lose; they were not simply overwhelmed by superior force, they were justly chastised by the God of History.”[6]

The ongoing influence of Whiggism partly explains why leftist academics seem unable to grasp rightist thought. An inevitable march toward progress combined with the generally leftist nature of progress means that they view a rigorous understanding of and debate with rightist thought as unnecessary; we have progressed past it, never to return. Among the less academically inclined, this explains the “Its the current year!” response that is widely mocked among rightists.

The most potent antidote to Whig history is to relentlessly attack its fallacies while advocating alternatives such as cyclical history (a repeating cycle of ascent and decline) and agnostic history (the view that no such grand narrative can be known). Butterfield proposed a methodological remedy “to evoke a certain sensibility towards the past, the sensibility which studies the past ‘for the sake of the past’, which delights in the concrete and the complex, which ‘goes out to meet the past’, which searches for ‘unlikenesses between past and present.’”[7]

Filter Bubbles, Echo Chambers, and the Mirror-Image Fallacy

While Whig historiography can lead leftist academics to dismiss rightist thought as an unworthy opponent best left unengaged, other phenomena can leave them unaware of its existence. A filter bubble is a form of intellectual isolation that can occur when websites use algorithms to guess what a user wants to see based on the user’s history and other personal information. This keeps people from finding information that is presented from different viewpoints, thus trapping them in a cultural or ideological bubble.[8] This leaves them ill-equipped to deal with those who are unlike themselves. The term was coined by Internet activist Eli Pariser and discussed in his 2011 book of the same name. Pariser formally defined the concept of a filter bubble as “that personal ecosystem of information that’s been catered by these algorithms.”[9] The filter bubble is the technological manifestation of the echo chamber, a term describing the tendency of legacy media as well as one’s social and professional circles to create similar limitations in thinking and perception. Pariser notes that filter bubbles can harm a society by undermining civic discourse, creating confirmation bias, and increasing vulnerability to propaganda and other manipulations of public opinion.[10]

Although the extent of the effect of filter bubbles remains in contention[11], and some of the effect comes from user choice that emanates from and reinforces echo chambers in the physical world[12], the influence of exposure to only one’s own side of political issues is guaranteed to distort one’s perception of reality. In the worst cases, this can lead people to believe that everyone thinks and views the world as they do, a condition which Charles Krauthammer describes as the mirror-image fallacy. He writes:

“The mirror-image fantasy is not as crazy as it seems. Fundamentally, it is a radical denial of the otherness of others. Or to put it another way, a blinding belief in ‘common humanity,’ in the triumph of human commonality over human differences. …Its central axiom is that if one burrows deep enough beneath the Mao jacket, the shapka, or the chador, one discovers that people everywhere are essentially the same.”[13]

This predictably causes serious problems. Krauthammer continues:

“If the whole world is like me, then certain conflicts become incomprehensible; the very notion of intractability becomes paradoxical. …The more alien the sentiment, the less seriously it is taken. Diplomatic fiascoes follow… To gloss over contradictory interests, incompatible ideologies, and opposing cultures is more than anti-political. It is dangerous.”[13]

A more realistic approach is thus required, as Krauthammer describes:

“Ultimately to say that people all share the same hopes and fears, are all born and love and suffer and die alike, is to say very little. For it is after commonalities are accounted for that politics becomes necessary. It is only when values, ideologies, cultures, and interests clash that politics even begins. At only the most trivial level can it be said that people want the same things. Take peace. The North Vietnamese wanted it, but apparently they wanted to conquer all of Indochina first. The Salvadoran right and left both want it, but only after making a desert of the other. The Reagan administration wants it, but not if it has to pay for it with pieces of Central America.

And even if one admits universal ends, one still has said nothing about means, about what people will risk, will permit, will commit in order to banish their (common) fears and pursue their (common) hopes. One would think that after the experience of this [20th] century the belief that a harmony must prevail between peoples who share a love of children and small dogs would be considered evidence of a most grotesque historical amnesia.”[13]

The problem of echo chambers and filter bubbles is more difficult to solve than that of Whig historiography. This is not to say that solutions do not exist; one can make a conscious effort to look for these conditions and actively seek alternative viewpoints. Several websites have been created to aid people in that purpose, as have several browser plugins and smartphone applications.[14] In meatspace, this process is not as simple as installing a few programs, but there are a multitude of social clubs that one can join to meet new people with different perspectives. The difficulty lies in actually implementing the solutions. Just as the incompetent can lack the expertise to recognize their own incompetence, so too can those within an echo chamber fail to realize that they have a problem. In many cases, it will be necessary for people who are outside of such echo chambers to make an active effort to reach in.

Virtue Signalling

Whig historiography and echo chambers, while important factors, are only proximate causes of the intellectual limitations of leftists. A more fundamental source comes from the dynamics of social coordination and is known as virtue signalling. Virtue signalling is a conspicuous and/or invidious expression of one’s opinion on a moral issue done primarily to maintain or enhance one’s social status. The term originates from signalling theory, a body of work in evolutionary biology that examines communication between organisms. For example, a large mane on a male lion is a status signal that declares his fitness, as a less fit lion would lose contests with other males and have his hair torn out. The term later found use in economics, as an impressive building for a firm or a resume full of extraneous qualifications for a job-seeker declare financial and intellectual fitness, respectively. Less successful firms and less competent people would be unable to achieve such results.[15] Religious traditions frequently include rituals that serve a similar function for the purpose of aiding in-group cohesion.[16][17][18]

Beginning in the late 2000s, ‘virtue signalling’ came to be defined differently in various Internet forums. The newer meaning refers to superficial support for political views with the primary purpose of maintaining an appearance of respectability, as well as a focus on appearing to act rather than actually taking action.[19][20] As James Bartholomew writes,

“When David Cameron defends maintaining spending 0.7 per cent of GDP on foreign aid, he is telling us that the Tory party, or at least he himself — as a rather wonderful, non-toxic part of it — cares about the poor in the developing world. The actual effectiveness or otherwise of foreign aid in achieving this aim is irrelevant.”[21]

Notably, virtue signalling tends to involve expressions of hatred of the other, of the out-group. Bartholomew continues:

“It’s noticeable how often virtue signalling consists of saying you hate things. It is camouflage. The emphasis on hate distracts from the fact you are really saying how good you are. If you were frank and said, ‘I care about the environment more than most people do’ or ‘I care about the poor more than others’, your vanity and self-aggrandisement would be obvious… Anger and outrage disguise your boastfulness.

One of the occasions when expressions of hate are not used is when people say they are passionate believers in the NHS. Note the use of the word ‘belief’. This is to shift the issue away from evidence about which healthcare system results in the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people. The speaker does not want to get into facts or evidence. He or she wishes to demonstrate kindness — the desire that all people, notably the poor, should have access to ‘the best’ healthcare. The virtue lies in the wish. But hatred waits in reserve even with the NHS. ‘The Tories want to privatise the NHS!’ you assert angrily. Gosh, you must be virtuous to be so cross!”[21]

This ends up being counterproductive, in that it can harm the very people that those who are truly virtuous and not just signalling would desire to help. Bartholomew writes,

“No one actually has to do anything. …There was a time in the distant past when people thought you could only be virtuous by doing things: by helping the blind man across the road; looking after your elderly parents instead of dumping them in a home; staying in a not-wholly-perfect marriage for the sake of the children. These things involve effort and self-sacrifice. That sounds hard! Much more convenient to achieve virtue by expressing hatred of those who think the health service could be improved by introducing competition. …Virtue-signalling battles can soon take leave of any genuine concern for the low-paid or suffering. Indeed they can become highly damaging. The low-skilled whose abilities simply cannot command an absurdly high minimum wage become unemployable.”[21]

Virtue signalling is also responsible for the problem of Error Push, in which a factually incorrect position is advanced because a hated enemy is factually correct about a certain issue, and virtue signalling becomes more important to people than correct knowledge or telling the truth.

Fortunately, there are two powerful remedies against this sort of behavior. First, one may engage in the opposite behavior, known as counter-signalling or vice signalling. This should be followed by mercilessly criticizing the virtue signallers for their fallacious discourse when they resort to ad hominems instead of making appropriate counter-arguments. The purpose of this tactic is to show their support to be superficial and insincere, as a person with deeply-held, sincere beliefs should be able to defend them in rational discourse. Resorting to angry name-calling against a calm opponent who makes reasoned arguments is also damaging to the appearance of respectability that the virtue signaller so desires.

Second, one may take meaningful action concerning the subjects of the virtue signals. A person who supports minimum wage hikes and social programs for the poor may appear virtuous to the economically illiterate, but a person who directly helps the poor to become upwardly mobile is actually virtuous. A person who supports tougher environmental regulations against polluters may appear virtuous to those who do not understand regulatory capture, but a person who invents new technologies or uses capitalist principles to reduce pollution is actually virtuous. With “effort and self-sacrifice,” one can take the wind out of the sails of virtue signallers by acting while they talk. In the long run, the golden will defeat the merely gilded.

The Overton Bubble and Civil War

So far, we have considered examples of leftist failures to understand rightist thought, potential causes for this phenomenon, and possible remedies for each. Now, we will explore what may happen if this problem is not remedied. When the Overton window is combined with an ideological echo chamber and reinforced by copious amounts of virtue signalling, it can become thick and opaque, hardening into an ideological pocket universe which can only be entered or re-entered with great difficulty. This Overton Bubble, as neoreactionaries call it, can form when the establishment effectively controls the Overton window and uses this control to maintain political power. When the range of respectable opinion is policed with sufficient rigor, having an accurate understanding of opinions outside of that range is enough to make oneself the target of a political witch hunt.

When combined with the phenomenon of error push described in the previous section, an Overton bubble can leave a society in general and its elites in particular incapable of solving problems. As Neal Devers writes,

“If some thoughts are unthinkable and unspeakable, and the truth happens in some case to fall outside of polite consensus, then [the] ruling elite and their society will run into situations [that] they simply [cannot] handle.”[22]

It follows that wise elites would be exceedingly careful about allowing such a ‘polite consensus’ to form; in fact, they would take active steps to suppress the formation of such holiness spirals. Unfortunately, the perverse incentives inherent in political democracy ensure that the elite almost universally will be both unwise and insecure, thus perpetually goading them into destructive behaviors such as blowing Overton bubbles.

The problems that such an elite simply cannot handle may be domestic or foreign in origin. If foreign, then the typical result is conquest and subjugation under a power that would have no capability to assume control had a healthy system of governance and defense been in place. The particular dynamics of such events are outside the scope of this essay. Here, we are primarily concerned with political disputes within one society.

For centuries, the establishment exercised tight control over public discourse, burning heresies along with their authors. After such brutality fell out of favor in the West, the elites still managed to expel from official positions those who did not kowtow to the official narrative. Such exiles lacked the means to mount an effective counter-movement, so ‘point deer make horse’ was a favorite tactic of political control. Modern technology fundamentally alters this dynamic; being forced out of the Overton bubble is no longer fatal to one’s influence or career prospects, and as time marches on, existing inside the bubble will become a less and less attractive option for those starting out in life. But those who have established academic, media, and/or political careers inside the bubble will fail to understand the social dynamics in play, for gaining such an understanding would result in them being purged.

The trouble that lies ahead is thus clear. A leftist establishment that cannot peacefully engage with anything non-leftist and a non-leftist opposition that finally has the strength to organize an effective challenge existing in the same physical space is a recipe for violent conflict. Foreshocks of this political earthquake have already occurred in Chicago, Berkeley, and Charlottesville, to name a few. It is quickly becoming technologically impossible for the establishment to put the genie of opinion-making back into their bottle. Abolishing democracy, breaking up the institutions inside the Overton bubble, and secession into smaller, more politically uniform territories are considered unthinkable both by those inside the bubble and many of the people outside of it.

The immediate options will thus eventually reduce to the two options that all of us have in our personal lives: reason or force, words or weapons, truth or consequences, peace or utter destruction. Whereas it is not certain that the former set will be chosen over the latter set, and a civil war is always the most disastrous kind, it is necessary to de-escalate the situation before it reaches that point using the methods described in the previous sections. Only then can saner ideas be brought back into the realm of public discourse with a goal of either reaching a governing consensus or achieving an amicable geographic separation along political lines.

Conclusion

It may seem that we have traveled a long way from discussing three books to discussing civil war and its prevention. But the books were only meant to serve as small examples of a much larger problem. The formation of Overton bubbles is controlled by several key factors: a range of respectable opinion, the lingering influence of Whig historiography, filter bubbles in digital space, echo chambers in physical space, the plural solipsism caused by the previous two factors, virtue signalling, and the destructive incentives inherent in democracy. The civilization-destroying potential of our present bubble can still be thwarted if enough of these contributing factors are dismantled, but time is short and growing shorter.

References:

  1. Hallin, Daniel (1986). The Uncensored War: The Media and Vietnam. New York: Oxford University Press. p.116–118.
  2. Woods, Thomas (2014, Oct. 16). “How To Shred The Index Card Of Allowable Opinion”. Lew Rockwell.
  3. Chomsky, Noam (1998). The Common Good. Odonian Press. p. 43.
  4. Butterfield, Herbert (1965). The Whig Interpretation of History. New York: W. W. Norton. p.12.
  5. J. Hart. “Nineteenth-Century Social Reform: A Tory Interpretation of History”. Past & Present 1965 31(1):39–61.
  6. Greer, Allan. “1837-38: Rebellion reconsidered”. Canadian Historical Review (1995) 76#1:1–18, at p. 3.
  7. Ashplant, T.G.; Wilson, Adrian. “Whig History and Present-Centred History”. The Historical Journal, 31 (1988):1–16, at p. 10.
  8. Bozdag, Engin (2013, June 23). “Bias in algorithmic filtering and personalization”. Ethics and Information Technology 15(3):209–227.
  9. Parramore, Lynn (2010, Oct. 10). “The Filter Bubble”. The Atlantic.
  10. Weisberg, Jacob (2011, June 10). “Bubble Trouble: Is Web personalization turning us into solipsistic twits?”. Slate.
  11. Pariser, Eli (2015, May 7). “Fun facts from the new Facebook filter bubble study”. Medium.
  12. West, Joshua Bleiberg; Darrell M. (2017, May 24). “Political polarization on Facebook”. Brookings Institution.
  13. Krauthammer, Charles (1983, Aug. 15). “The Mirror-Image Fallacy”. Time.
  14. “5 Questions with Eli Pariser, Author of The Filter Bubble”. Time. ISSN 0040-781X.
  15. Bowman, S. (2016). “Stop Saying ‘Virtue Signalling’” Adam Smith Institute.
  16. Bulbulia, Joseph; Schjoedt, Uffe (2010). “Religious Culture and Cooperative Prediction under Risk: Perspectives from Social Neuroscience”. Religion, Economy, and Cooperation. p. 37–39. ISBN 3110246333.
  17. Steadman, L.; Palmer, C. (2008). The Supernatural and Natural Selection: Religion and Evolutionary Success. Paradigm.
  18. Irons, W. (2001) “Religion as a hard-to-fake sign of commitment”. The Evolution of Commitment, Randolph Nesse (ed.) New York: Russell Sage Foundation. p. 292–309.
  19. Yudkowsky, Eliezer (2009, Feb. 17). “Cynical About Cynicism”. LessWrong.
  20. Yudkowsky, Eliezer (2009, Mar. 20). “Why Our Kind Can’t Cooperate”. LessWrong.
  21. Bartholemew, James (2015, Apr. 18). “The awful rise of ‘virtue signalling’”. Spectator.
  22. Devers, Neal (2016, Nov. 24). “The Overton Bubble”. The Future Primaeval.

Nepal Has Fallen

Among Asian nations, Nepal is not high on Washington’s list of foreign policy priorities. The mountainous nation, which is consumed by the massive Himalayas, is mostly known for its Buddhism and its Gurkhas—a warrior people who still provide mercenary services for the British, Indian, and Singaporean armies. Overall, Nepal produces very little that Americans consume. Nepal is also not the home to a large American military contingent, nor is it seen as an important ally in America’s never-ending quest to be the major hegemony in West and East Asia. Nepal, to put it bluntly, is not important to American interests.

This view will almost certainly change, however. The reason for this is that a powerful Communist party, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) recently acquired the levers of power in Kathmandu after a democratic election. According to all international observers, the Communists in Nepal have close connections to the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing. This all but guarantees that rustic and rural Nepal will become a Chinese satellite on the border with India, a close American ally and a long-time opponent of China owing to a border dispute that once erupted in violence.

Democracy, Civil War, and Insurgency

In order to appreciate the importance of this victory, one must understand the history of communism in Nepal. Himalayan Communists are not the typical neckbeard professors that one encounters in the West; they are experienced guerrilla fighters who waged a war against the central government for almost two decades.

The Communist Party of Nepal is led by two former prime ministers, K.P. Sharma Old and Pushpa Kamal Dahal (both of whom fought against the center-left government during the 2000s). These two men managed to unify two competing factions of the far-left party in order to sweep the country’s Parliament and Provincial Assembly. With this mandate, Nepalese Communists are expected to both follow a harder line against India and be more cooperative to Chinese business interests in the country. It is predicted that one of the first orders of business for the new government is to pass through the Chinese hydropower project that the former prime minister, Kamal Thapa, cancelled less than a month before the election.

In 1994, the government of prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala, the first democratically elected leader of Nepal and a member of the center-left Nepali Congress Party, suffered a vote of no confidence. That same year, new elections brought the Communists into power. Communist leader Man Mohan Adhikari became the prime minister and briefly led a minority government. That same government dissolved less than a year later. After that, Nepalese Communists, especially the Maoists among then, began their long insurgency.

A brief paper written by Yurendra Basnett in 2009 laid out the reasons underlying the vicious civil war that rocked Nepal between 1996 and 2006. Basnett writes that Western scholars were baffled by the far-left insurgency given that “Nepal enjoyed [an] unprecedented level of economic and political freedom” at the start of the rebellion.[1] The Maoists themselves argued that their war began because of economic inequality, rural poverty, and chronic landlessness in the country. Basnett argues that these invocations of economic disparities do not amount to much given that they have been “omnipresent” since the formation of modern Nepal.[2]

What Basnett’s critique of the Maoist movement misses is that Communist movements rarely come from times of economic disparity. Except for the rise of far-left movements during the Great Depression of the 1930s, most of the seminal Communist movements have sought to obtain power just at the time when their respective nations have achieved some form of unprecedented growth or stability. When the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 erupted, the Russian Empire that they overthrew was far more liberal, progressive, and economically advanced than Western liberals and socialists realized. According to UNZ Review writer Anatoly Karlin, the Russian Empire of Tsar Nicholas II was even more “progressive” than such typically modernist bastions as London, Paris, and Berlin:

“Access to higher education was actually more meritocratic in the late Empire than in contemporary Germany or France by a factor of 2-3x. Women constituted about a third of Russia’s total numbers of university students, a far larger percentage than in any other European country—and Russia by 1913 had the largest number of university students in Europe (127,000 to 80,000 in Germany, around 40,000 in France and Austria each). Likewise, they constituted an absolute majority in grammar schools, many decades ahead of most of the rest of Europe. In 1915, restrictions on co-education were dropped across a range of Russian universities by decision of the Tsar and his Council of Ministers.”[3]

Tragically, this liberal attitude allowed a radical student body to fester and become many of the same Bolsheviks who oversaw the genocidal regime that would rule Russia until 1991. Such a scenario played out in China as well, for when the Chinese Communist Party began life in the aftermath of World War I, China was modernizing at a rapid pace. Thanks to World War I, which did not damage China, Chinese exports rose and the nation’s trade deficit dropped by an astounding 80 percent. While this success proved temporary, China before Mao was politically unstable but considered one of the world’s greatest jewels. Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s was a cosmopolitan city beloved by Asians and Westerners alike.

Maoism in Nepal follows a discernible pattern—as prosperity increases or stabilizes, discontent grows as well. Like Marx, the social leech who had servants and never worried about earning a dollar, many of today’s Communists are full of the same greed that they constantly accuse capitalists of harboring deep in their benighted chests.

In Nepal, Maoist violence reached a terrifying apex in November 2001, when more than one hundred people were killed in violent confrontations between rebels and government forces. As a result, the central government declared a state of emergency. An absolute monarchy returned to power amidst the chaos. All told, almost 20,000 people were killed and another 2,000 remain missing.

From Monarchy to Democracy to Communism

A reactionary analysis would find that Nepal’s troubles began with the decline and fall of its monarchy. When this stabilizing force fell, chaos came in its wake.

Nepal was unified into a central state ruled by a hereditary monarchy in 1768. The kingdom first began to falter due to military incursions by the British East India Company, which already had a sizable foothold in India by the late 18th century. Between 1814 and 1816, Nepalese forces lost the Anglo-Nepalese War to the soldiers of the East India Company and their Indian allies. Although the Kingdom of Nepal retained its independence, one third of the country would be a protectorate of British India until Indian independence in 1947.

When King Birendra came to the throne in 1972, political parties were banned in the country. However, this did not mean that the king could rule by fiat or whim; a system of regional councils called panchayats helped to disperse and decentralize authority. Because he ruled during an age of interventionist democratic liberalism, King Birendra often told the international press that he was a democrat rather than an autocrat. Still, the king wisely told his critics that due to Nepal’s “backwardness,” mass democracy would be a recipe for disaster. The political violence that often accompanies the rise of political parties would ruin the country, the king argued.

King Birendra would rule Nepal in this way for decades. Despite the relative peace and harmony, there were pro-democratic movements designed to bring down the monarchy. In 1980, King Birendra had the leaders of the center-left Nepali Congress Party arrested in order to keep the panchayat system in place. The king then called a referendum in order to see if Nepalese citizens would prefer a non-party government or one that allowed political parties to exist. Nepalese voters favored non-party politics by a score of 55 to 45 percent.

Ten years later, the People’s Movement used strikes to disrupt the monarchical state. This movement proved harder to suppress than one political party, as it was composed of several political parties, including the Nepali Congress Party and a unified group of Communist parties called the United Left Front. In February 1990, the government began arresting the leaders of the People’s Movement and shut down most of their media organs. A series of deadly confrontations between the Nepalese state and People’s Movement protesters followed this. For example, in the city of Bhaktapur, police killed 12 protesters in late February. Out of anger and frustration, approximately two million protesters descended on the capital of Kathmandu. On April 8, King Birendra removed the ban on political parties. A few months later, in November 1990, a constitution written by the People’s Movement forced King Birendra to remove the panchayat system and to democratize the government. Marxists were soon elected to office.

Although 1990 is often seen as the year when democracy came to Nepal, the continued existence of the royal family helped to maintain fears that an absolute monarchy could return at any time. These fears gained substance thanks to Crown Prince Dipendra, the king’s eldest son and heir. Unfortunately, he proved to be a murderous psychopath. On June 1, 2001, Dipendra consumed large amounts of alcohol and hashish at a dinner on the grounds of the Narayanhity Royal Palace. After misbehaving with a guest, the King told him to leave. He returned an hour later with a Franchi SPAS-12 shotgun, an H&K MP5 submachine gun, a Colt M16A2 rifle, and a Glock 19 9mm pistol, which he used to kill nine members of the royal family: the King and Queen, his sister, his brother, the King’s brother, two of the King’s sisters, the husband of one of the King’s sisters, and the King’s cousin. Dipendra then turned a gun on himself, dying after spending three days in a coma during which he was King. While many Nepalese citizens continue to question the official story of the massacre, there is no doubt that the future of the Nepalese monarchy ended on that late spring night in 2001.

The throne passed to Gyanendra, another brother of Birendra who briefly re-established the absolute monarchy due to political violence in the country. King Gyanendra blamed Nepal’s political parties for failing to form a government after the dissolution of the parliament. After taking direct control of the state, Gyanendra dismissed three prime ministers for failing to call for new elections. Interestingly for an autocrat, King Gyanendra demanded that Nepal acquire some form of democracy or parliamentarianism in order to legitimize the state in the eyes of foreign critics. King Gyanendra’s promises of “peace and effective democracy” were undermined by the Maoist rebels who continued to carry out their bloody war against the Nepalese monarchy. Like Bavarian minister Gustav von Kahr, King Gyanendra all but admitted that a “cell of order” must exist before democracy can take hold. Personal liberty is nothing if public safety cannot be guaranteed.

By 2006, King Gyanendra announced that he would give executive authority to a new prime minister. Interim prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala took power in 2006 while Nepalese politicians argued about the role the monarchy would play in the future democracy. That April, Gyanendra reinstated the country’s parliament.

The fall of the monarchy occurred under the watchful eye of the Indian government. Along with Prime Minister Koirala, who supposedly suspected that the monarchy would always threaten democratic governance, Indian officials weakened the King’s power to the point where the royal palace became just the head of the parliament. On May 27, 2008, King Gyanendra was ordered by the parliament to vacate the royal palace within fifteen days. The ruling came as part of peace talks between the transitional democratic government and the Maoists. This is how the Nepalese monarchy fell—as an olive branch given to ultra-left radicals who despise Nepalese traditions.

Lessons

There are several lessons to be learned from these events. First, in the words of Hans-Hermann Hoppe,

“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.”[4]

If democrats and communists are permitted to wield political power and advance their goals, they will eventually destroy the traditions and values that make civilization possible. It sometimes begins with something that seems innocuous—the Magna Carta in England, the Constitution in America, or the People’s Movement in Nepal—but the end is always some form of communist takeover, whether overt or covert. Monarchs (or private property owners in a libertarian society) must be willing to use the necessary amount of force to crush democratic and communist uprisings, however unpleasant the resulting bloodshed may be.

Second, it is no measure of health to kowtow to a sick global community, especially when the disease in question is such a virulent one as liberal democracy. Had King Birendra argued a passionate defense of traditional unelected governance, offered an ideological offensive against democratic thought, and called upon foreigners to respect Nepal’s sovereignty, the progress of the Maoists might have been forestalled. King Gyanendra was no better in this regard, and it cost him his crown. Unlike other countries that have had democratic experiments inflicted upon them by Western intervention, Nepal harbors no conceivable threat and has little that imperialist powers could want, so war propaganda would be more difficult to manufacture against them.

Finally, the greatest enemy is always the enemy within. A stable family, let alone governance structure for a nation, must have a means of detecting and removing threats like Dipendra. This could take many forms, from mental health evaluations to keeping inebriated people and deadly weapons away from the King.

What Lies Ahead

For India, the end of official hostilities in Nepal have been of little comfort. After all, India itself is still battling an internal Maoist insurgency that has ties to Nepal’s Communists. India’s war with Communist forces have been going on since 1967, and today, the “red corridor” of the country has claimed almost 18,000 lives. Violence is trending downwards, but there is no end in sight to the insurgency. A Communist victory in Nepal is likely to bolster the spirits of Maoists across the border in India.

For China, a pliant government in Nepal means that they move one step closer to realizing their “One Belt, One Road” dream. This plan, which has already seen China dump billions of dollars in investments in Asian and European ports, as well as investing heavily in the economies of sub-Saharan Africa, is the great issue facing the West. Contrary to starry-eyed Cathedral elites, the Chinese Communist Party is not reformed and has not embraced capitalism. Instead, the CCP is bent on pursuing a predatory economic policy that will make Asia and Africa into colonies of China’s limitless and cheap produce.

In order to achieve “One Belt, One Road,” do not be surprised if China dusts off an old gem from Communism’s history. During the 1930s, when fascism posed a grave threat to Soviet Communism, Joseph Stalin encouraged the Popular Front strategy, which saw Communist parties collaborate with liberal and socialist parties in France, Spain, the United States, and other nations. The elections of May 1936 brought the Front Populaire to power in Paris, and Leon Blum pursued a radically republican, anti-clerical, and socialistic platform thanks to support from Communist-backed labor unions. Across the Pyrenees in Spain, the Frente Popular installed the a rabidly anti-Catholic and anti-capitalist government headed by Manuel Azana. This was the last government of the Second Spanish Republic, for a right-wing coup led by the Spanish Army triggered what would become the Spanish Civil War in 1936. China, in pursuing their economic goals, may begin promoting Communist parties all across Asia. While Nepal is small potatoes in the grand scheme of things, its fall to a far-left rabble does not bode well for liberty in Asia.

References:

  1. Basset, Yurendra (2009). From Politicization of Grievances to Political Violence: An Analysis of the Maoist Movement in Nepal. Development DESTIN Studies Institute, Working Papers Series. p. 4.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Karlin, Anatoly (2017). The Russian Empire: Too Nice For Its Own Good. http://www.unz.com/akarlin/progressive-russian-empire/
  4. Hoppe, Hans-Hermann (2001). Democracy: The God That Failed. Transaction Publishers. p. 218.

The Not-So-Current Year: 2017 In Review

Though the specific demarcation of the passage from one year into another is a rather arbitrary social construct, it does provide a useful annual period for self-examination and remembrance. Now that 2017 has entered the history books, let us take a look back at a year’s worth of essays and review the not-so-current year.

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

I began 2017 by addressing a recurring story throughout the 2016 election campaign; that of Russia hacking the DNC and phishing Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s email system. I argued that Russia would have been justified in doing not only this, but in actually altering the election to cause Donald Trump to win. I would later use this piece as an example in a guide on how to argue more sharply in order to throw opponents out of their comfort zones. The story lingered on, so I published a sequel detailing the benefits of a Trump-Russia conspiracy. The left’s activities after the election became ridiculous, so I decided to give them some free advice.

My first list of 25 statist propaganda phrases and some concise rebuttals was a major hit, so I started planning a sequel. I had no intention of taking almost two years to compile 25 more statist propaganda phrases to refute, but better late than never, I suppose.

Donald Trump became the 45th President of the United States, which of course meant that Gary Johnson did not. I explored in detail what was wrong with Johnson’s campaign that made him not only lose, but fail to earn 5 percent of the vote against two of the least popular major-party candidates ever to seek the Presidency. Once Trump was in office, the responses to his trade policies among mainstream analysts led me to explain why many of them are politically autistic.

Book reviews have long been a part of my intellectual output, but I decided to start doing more of them in late 2016. This trend continued throughout 2017, as I read and reviewed The Invention of Russia, The Age of Jihad, In Our Own Image, Come And Take It, Against Empathy, Level Up Your Life, Islamic Exceptionalism, The Science of Selling, Closing The Courthouse Door, Open To Debate, Calculating the Cosmos, The Art of Invisibility, Libertarian Reaction, and The Euro.

Antifa grew from a nuisance that rarely affected anyone other than neo-Nazis into a serious threat to anyone who is politically right of center and/or libertarian who wishes to speak in a public venue. A comprehensive strategy to defeat them was necessary, and I was happy to provide one. Kyle Chapman grew weary of Antifa’s antics and led the effort to take up arms against them, becoming known as Based Stickman. I praised him in song. After the events of February, April, and May Day, I revised the strategy.

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. I explored the many ways in which Negan’s group resembles a state apparatus. The first part covers the sixth season of the show, and the second part covers the first half of the seventh season. At least three more parts will come next year.

‘No Particular Order-ism’, or the belief that libertarians should take whatever reduction in the size and scope of government they can get, has become common among the more radical members of the Libertarian Party. I explained why this approach is misguided.

White nationalist and alt-right leader Richard Spencer was present in the bar of the Marriott hotel that hosted the International Students For Liberty conference. This did not go over well with Jeffrey Tucker, who loudly denounced Spencer, after which security removed everyone from the bar. I wrote about the incident and the philosophical underpinnings of it.

Sometimes, the lens of examination is best turned inward to correct one’s own missteps. Such was the case for an article I wrote in 2014 about the nature of fake libertarianism, so I published a revision.

Theories concerning the creation, acquisition, trade, inheritance, and defense of private property form much of libertarian philosophy. The role of conquest in the determination of property rights had gone largely unexplored, so I decided to remedy the situation.

Terrorism struck in London on the anniversary of the Brussels attacks. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

I argued against more amendments to the United States Constitution, namely the Second and the Eleventh.

A chemical weapon attack occurred in Syria, which led to US intervention via a cruise missile strike. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

Keynesians and others who support fiat currency and central banking frequently claim that there is not enough gold in the world to back the quantity of currency in existence, and thus returning to gold would set off a deflationary spiral while destroying several industries that depend on gold. I debunked that claim.

On the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, I applied ethical theories to the event to gain a deeper perspective of what happened and the aftermath of the event.

The primary aim of politically active libertarians is to limit and reduce the size and scope of government, as well as to eliminate as much state power as possible. I made the case that in order to do this, it may be necessary to temporarily do the opposite.

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

Fashion trends can be a useful barometer of the health of a society. I explained how the trend of clothing that is designed to mimic the appearance of wear and work for those who think themselves above the sorts of activities that would produce these effects naturally indicates that a revolution may come soon.

Memorial Day provides an opportunity to promote statist propaganda concerning the nature of service and the provision of defense. I decided to do the opposite.

The immediate danger standard says that using force against someone who is not presenting a physical threat at the exact moment that force is used constitutes aggression, and it has become far too commonly advocated in libertarian circles. I explained why it is wrong and why it has gained prevalence.

On June 14, James Hodgkinson opened fire on several Republican members of Congress and their staffers while they were practicing for the annual Congressional Baseball Game for Charity. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

The Supreme Court ruled against the stays on Trump’s travel ban, but he missed a greater opportunity by letting them decide rather than ignoring the courts. I explained how and why.

Political rhetoric has grown increasingly heated, with violence erupting as a result. I showed how democracy is the root of this problem and how abolishing democracy is the solution.

The meme of throwing one’s political rivals out of helicopters has become popular among certain right-wing and libertarian groups in recent years. Unfortunately, people from all over the political spectrum tend to misunderstand the historical context of the meme, and thus interpret it incorrectly. I wrote an overview of this context and explained why helicopter rides may not be the best option.

I welcomed Insula Qui, the first additional writer for Zeroth Position, in July. He provided two articles to keep the site going while I was preparing for, participating in, and recovering from the Corax conference in Malta. A piece describing the problems that led to the call for net neutrality and recommending against more state inteference in the Internet came first, followed by a critique of common libertarian strategies to date. Speaking of the Corax conference, a revised version of my talk may be found here, as they own the rights to the original. A topic that came up in the talk that needed further comment is that in the discussion of proper behavior beyond the basics of libertarian theory, right-libertarians in general and libertarian reactionaries in particular will use the term ‘degeneracy,’ but they do not always properly define the term. I attempted to do so.

In the August 2 episode of the Tom Woods Show, he asserted that libertarians and fascists are completely contradictory political perspectives and could never be combined, and that when one embraces fascism, one must have relinquished one’s libertarianism, as there is no other solution that would make sense. Qui countered these assertions and delved deeper into the relationship between libertarianism and fascism than I had previously, which is not as inimical as one might think.

An alt-right rally in Charlottesville, Va. on August 11-12 turned violent, with three deaths and about 20 injuries. I wrote a list of observations on the events. In response, the large technology companies of Silicon Valley, which have become increasingly hostile to right-wing and libertarian content creators over the past decade, ramped up their censorship efforts. I proposed a novel and radical plan to deal with this problem so as to avoid public utility regulation.

I welcomed Benjamin Welton, our second additional writer, in September. I had meant to write an article about using the historical concept of outlawry to deal with violent illegal aliens myself, but time constraints led me to outsource the project. He then explored several historical examples of private military defense, finding that something novel must be created in order to defeat the state and maintain a libertarian social order.

In the wake of two major hurricanes, the usual complaints about price gouging were made yet again. I explained why price gouging is actually beneficial.

Qui wrote a piece about the limits of the applicability of libertarian philosophy, explaining that humans can fall into the categories of personhood or savagery, and that it is important to deal with each accordingly.

Catalonia held a referendum to secede from Spain and become an independent nation on October 1. This was met with force, and much hostility ensued. I wrote a list of observations on the events.

Qui examined the role of the modern concept of citizenship in advancing a particularly insidious form of totalitarianism.

On October 5, the New York Times published an opinion column by Michael Shermer in which he argued that the rule of law is a bulwark against tyranny, but guns are not. I thoroughly rebutted his arguments.

Welton explored the history of judicial corporal punishment, then made a case for restoring its use as a replacement for imprisoning lesser criminals.

The debt ceiling became a political issue again. As it incites financial panic for no good reason and hides important truths from common view, I advocated for its elimination on formalist grounds.

Capitalism and consumerism are distinct phenomena, with the latter caused by high time preference, which in turn is caused by the flaws inherent in modernity. Qui explained this at length.

I welcomed Nathan Dempsey, our third additional writer, in November. He runs a project called Liberty Minecraft, and wrote an introduction to the project.

The relationship between libertarianism and racial politics has become a controversial issue in recent years. Views on the issue run the gamut from complete opposition to imperative alliance, with nearly every conceivable position between being advocated by someone noteworthy. Many libertarians either provide the wrong answer or are afraid to address the question, so I decided to address libertarianism and support for ethnic nationalism.

Black Friday is revered by most libertarians as a celebration of free-market capitalism. I updated my explanation of why this reverence is misplaced. I weighed in on holiday shopping again due to some misguided criticism of computer programs designed to scalp popular gifts. Finally, I detailed the problems with Santa Claus.

Qui offered a message of hope in dark times by demonstrating how the socialists and anti-capitalists of today are not usually as fanatical as those that the early libertarians opposed, then offered advice on how to argue against them. He quickly followed this with an explanation of his concept of autostatism, which closely echoed one of the other presentations from the Corax conference. He then dealt with traditional views on degenerate behavior, and how a compassionate, non-enabling approach is necessary.

Due to surging exchange rates, the opening of Bitcoin futures, and the likelihood of Bitcoin exchange-traded funds in the near future, there is renewed mainstream interest in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. There are benefits of cryptocurrencies which will be cheered by political outsiders to the chagrin of the establishment, and I listed eight of them.

Qui finished out the year by explaining why individualism and nationalism are not as incompatible as many people believe.

All in all, it was an interesting year full of occasions to make sharp libertarian and reactionary arguments. May 2018 bring more and better. Happy New Year!

The Case for Autostatism

Author’s note: The reader can find everything else I have written about the concept of autostatism here.

Introduction

Libertarians have always had ambitions that are both universalist and purist. Most libertarians are willing to admit that their vision will not be realizable in their own lifetimes and rather hope that future generations are wiser than they themselves have been. These libertarians take an approach that could only be considered rational when one takes into account the very nature of libertarianism. The search for liberty means always fighting against tremendous odds, as many people care more about increasing their personal power than about liberty. Power is a great direct gain, while liberty is a diffused social gain. This insight, combined with the logic of public choice, tells us that when people seek power, they are more likely to attain it than those who want to destroy power are to destroy it. These people seek power for themselves by being parasites on others, which is generally incompatible with achieving liberty.

The achievement of a libertarian social order requires collective motivation on a scale that is only present when the state has become so oppressive as to be intolerable. The state has adapted to this and tries very hard to avoid any loss of power by being as tolerable as possible and making its operations as covert as possible while openly integrating themselves into the lives of everyone. This helps the state remain an unambiguous sovereign and appear to be a fundamental condition of life from which it is hard to deviate psychologically and intellectually. The modern state makes itself into a leviathan not by lording over people, but rather by integrating itself into the population. This process is neither peaceful nor painless; the methods by which the state integrates itself into a society must be fundamentally based on indoctrination and coercion. But once sufficiently advanced, the state becomes a fact of life that is almost incontestable by any rational person, and support for the abolition of the state will be extremely sparse. Thus it is possible to say that up to a point, the more oppressive a state is, the more it can be expected to have popular support.

Collective Separation

The main premise from which the strategy of autostatism is derived from is that separating ourselves into multiple autonomous governments or stateless localities is a necessary precondition for abolishing the central state. In modern democracies, all sides of all conflicts are under immense pressure and are thus very hostile towards everyone with whom they are in conflict. Since all issues are to be decided by all people in a democracy, the people who have their lives questioned will be the people who resist those who challenge their ability to live their own lives as they please. Note that in a healthy social order, the challengers themselves would be the imperiled group. From this comes a desire to separate from the hostile factors that are directly antagonistic to the individual’s lifestyle and property. There is no reconciliation or common ground within the framework of democracy because democracy intentionally creates unresolvable antagonisms. The common decision-making process is irreconcilable with personal liberty. Having the masses govern the masses thus becomes a self-reinforcing structure of creeping totalitarianism.

This does not necessarily mean that the correct answer to the problems of democracy is statist fascism or monarchism, as the conflicts are still present but heavily suppressed, although a case could still be made for these kinds of states. Even though autocracy has a better incentive structure than democracy in most cases, the state is not the answer to all problems within democracy. Neither is a lack of state; when libertarians think that full rights in property will properly resolve all conflicts, they assume that all people desire to have full rights in their own property. The problem is then a conflict of whether or not there should be complete property rights or whether property rights ought to be limited for the sake of the common good. This is the question of whether property creates society or vice versa.

The answer to this fundamental conflict is the autostate. This is the practical, but largely forgotten notion of governance based on actual consent. The word “autostate” means a government by the self. It can also be explained as a state formed from autonomy. The fundamental difference between a state and an autostate is that the foundational principle of the autostate is that the system of governance ought to require the consent of everyone who is governed. If no such consent is acquired, the government must be invalid and must fall into internal conflict. The notions of tacit or implicit consent that play a prominent role in social contract theory only serve to elevate the conflict inherent in any system of compulsion and suppression.

Since an autostate has the unanimous consent of everyone governed by it, it functions as any other entity on the market. However, instead of a consumer good or a conventional service, the autostate provides governance, which is to say a legal framework and a means of enforcement. Many libertarians are caught up in a fantasy in which all governance is evil. Most people do not agree with that assessment and want to put together a semblance of a social and political order so they can realize their vision for what virtue and political organization should be.

Powerless Politics

The fundamental tenet of autostatism is that the government ought to be completely powerless and can only enact those edicts which people find to be tolerable or benevolent. If this is no longer the case, the autostate could be overthrown without any risk or violence. It is necessary to distinguish between a government and a state. A government is the manager of a land area while a state holds a monopoly of compulsion and coercion. Thus, the autostate is a government, but not a conventional state. The autostate fundamentally requires consent, and consent can be revoked when the autostate stops diligently fulfilling the duties that it has taken upon itself. The autostate can be fascist, socialist, or anarchist in nature and it does not need to have any formal structure at all. What matters is that this structure or lack thereof is first agreed upon. Many anarchists and libertarians see this as conflicting with spontaneous order, but the natural condition of society is deliberate action building upon spontaneous order. It does no good to assume that one system or another is objectively part of human existence.

Furthermore, the prevailing law system in any area is more powerful and consistent if all people within that area follow the same system. This does not mean that autostates need to be dependent on physical area, but autostates are composed of the individuals who subscribe to the legal structure of the autostate. The autostate is simply the reduction of governance to a market entity and the elimination of coercion within governance. However, the autostate can retain the political and personal values that people want to have enacted. The autostatist order can thus be acceptable to everyone who is not wholly influenced by their desire for power or domination. Autostatism can let everyone accomplish their utopian political structure unless it involves the direct subjugation of others. It allows for people to have their own ideals realized in a manner that does not impose costs on those who do not share these ideals.

In essence, autostatism calls for an abolition of competitive politics for the implementation of cooperative politics. Politics should not be a matter of majority consensus but rather the implementation of mutually agreed upon social goals. The politics right now are imposed upon an unwilling population; the politics of autostatism are collaborative and voluntaristic. This can be called either an abolition of politics or a revolution within the nature of politics. Politics should not imply coercive governance, but cooperation for the achievement of mutual goals. It may be true that these mutual goals are reprehensible to others, or that some people will not want to participate in seeking these goals, but the goals themselves are not a threat within the autostatist order because they are strictly confined within consensual relations. These consensual relations mimic governance in the traditional sense, yet they require no authority insofar as that authority is derived from force and compulsion. The autostate as a concept itself allows for a reconciliation between anarchists, libertarians, socialists, conservatives, and every other group that is able to be so intellectually honest as to admit that they are better off when they have their own ideal structures implemented.

Stateless Governance

Stateless governance may seem like an ultimate nonsensical contradiction. When there is no state, the government supposedly lacks the power to do what it needs to do. And within libertarian circles, the government is seen as an inherently coercive and violent entity. Thus, stateless governance seems impossible. But we must realize that without a state, the government is nothing other than a manager of a certain society or community. If a government is a voluntarily funded managerial entity which only ensures that the social order is kept functional, there is nothing inherently unethical about that government. A critique of the state cannot be a critique of governance, as the governance is derivative of the state only in modern society.

The distinctly libertarian view that all governance and control over an individual are inherently evil, and we should all be free and not tied to any obligation, is naive and unrealizable. Most people do not want to fully determine the path of their lives and do not want others to do so either. People have values that go beyond individual liberty and they want to exercise those values. The reality is that most people want society and themselves to be controlled, appealing to liberty as an ultimate end is only convincing when appealing to people who would inevitably become libertarians themselves if given enough time to reflect on their beliefs. We must acknowledge that government is not something that is inherently evil, but rather a tool that can be used for the accomplishment of certain goals. However, when the government is tied to a state, it will be fundamentally exploitative, as the incentive structures allow for such exploitation and cater to those who would engage in such behavior. The problem is statism and not governance.

Fourth-Wave Libertarianism

Libertarianism is currently in a serious identity crisis. To explain this, let us begin by sorting the development of libertarianism into four different periods. The first period was the classical liberal era, in which the primary conflict was between the liberals and the mercantilist-feudalist tendencies within the social order. Between the high point of the first period and the high point of the second period, there were the Anglophone anarchists. People such as Lysander Spooner and Benjamin Tucker developed a theory of natural law and individualist anarchism which would later be adopted in part by Rothbard. Although integral for the development of the third wave in libertarianism, they were not influences on the later or earlier thinkers. The second period was the most desperate period, in which Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich von Hayek, and Ayn Rand were the most active and the period in which the groundwork was laid for the modern libertarian movement. This was the active defense against communism and socialism as they were becoming the dominant forces in the world. This was followed with the wave of libertarianism that had Rothbard at the forefront. This was a drastic attack against the state itself that went beyond the anti-socialism of the previous wave. The third wave accumulated thinkers such as Hans-Hermann Hoppe and Walter Block, and reached a somber crescendo with the campaigns of Ron Paul. The neoliberal movement was also created at this time, although this movement does not follow the particular development of libertarianism and as such is excluded.

Each of these waves has a distinct attitude, and all of them shared the consistent strategy of trying to reach libertarianism by being the most reasonable and intellectual people. But this only works when libertarians are attacking something dangerous and imminent; the success was not due to rationality, but due to how threatening the opposition was. However, there is an emergent fourth wave, and although Hoppe falls solidly in the third wave of thinkers, he is either the eminent inspiration or the primary intra-movement antagonist for most of the fourth wave. These fourth-wave thinkers do not stick to political or economic issues, but rather involve social issues at the core of libertarianism and do not allow for libertarianism to be nihilistic without properly defined morality and values. The classical liberalism of the previous waves is also under scrutiny, with some calling for a more positive outlook on reactionary thought.

Since libertarians are split into the left, right, and neither camps when it comes to social and cultural values, the fourth wave is in a disorganized and dysfunctional crisis. If we wish to preserve the libertarian tradition, we need thinkers who can unite the libertarians who want to preserve the social orders that they value alongside the purist notion of liberty. Fourth-wave libertarianism must make a drastic change and must use different tactics than the last three waves. Libertarians have always been best when they face significant issues and behemoths that seem to be immortal, and there is no larger challenge today than forced integration and coercive democracy. Autostatism offers an answer to these issues that neither the status quo nor more conventionally purist libertarians can.

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.

On Citizenship And Casual Totalitarianism

This article expands upon an essay found in Libertarian Reaction.

There are many statists who actively fight against totalitarianism. This may not seem inherently contradictory, but the key to understanding totalitarian ideology is completely ignored by them. The very machinations of the state require totalitarian control over the population. To say that there can be a state without totalitarianism is a contradiction. Totalitarianism originates largely from early fascist theory but has similarly been associated with authoritarian communism. This seems simple enough; a state that attempts to control all parts of society is totalitarian, while a state that does not is just liberal or conservative. Therefore, there is a distinction between a good justifiable state and an evil unjustifiable state. People can make more distinctions based on economic and political systems, but the vast majority agree that totalitarianism is ultimately what determines whether or not a state is ethical. Very few people act as if the Third Reich was a valid exercise in statecraft, and only a few more similarly defend the actions of the Soviet Union. There are also other such regimes, various authoritarian socialist experiments, and lower profile fascist states.

Control Through Law

It is physically impossible for a state to control the lives of everyone. This problem is solved by having the state legislate and regulate, then allowing the enforcers of these laws and regulations to have special privileges, so as to give the state the ability to convict any person the state wants to convict and punish in any way the state deems appropriate. In this manner, one may create a totalitarian state. For obvious reasons, these sorts of states have no regard for human rights or basic decency. Rather, they are directly opposed to the civilized nature of man. Although most people understand this, they do not understand that any state is inherently totalitarian. There are historical exceptions to this, but they are very few and far between and have long since disappeared. Because this is the case, we cannot act as if the historical possibility of a non-totalitarian state is a valid argument. Even if a state can be free of or largely lack totalitarianism for a limited time, this can never last.

Citizenship and Personhood

At the heart of the issue is the very thing that defines the state for all individuals: the aspect of citizenship. Every person under a state is the citizen of that state, which means that they have a relationship with the state in which the state is in a privileged position of control over the citizen. The relationship is even more integrated as without the state, no one can be a citizen. Due to the form of citizenship practiced in modern states, the ability to delegate citizenship gives the state the power to delegate legal personhood. In this system, a non-citizen is as good as a non-person, as they are without the legal protections that other people enjoy.

Because the actions of the citizens affect the relationship of the state with other states and the rest of the citizenry, the state has an interest in subjugating the people under it. This is because the people who live under a state are by necessity people whom the state must control and is expected to control by the rulers of other states and the citizens of that selfsame state. If the state does not control its people, then the state will lose perceived legitimacy as it fails to curtail adverse social effects that result from individual actors who act contrary to a state’s domestic and foreign policies.

From this, any actions taken in a statist system must not only require the consent of all parties involved, but also the consent of the state. The state effectively becomes a secular god, in that it can arbitrarily decide who is or is not legally a person and how people must or must not act. This must be the case with any state, no matter its size, scope, form, or ideological position. The state must hold a monopoly on law in a certain region, as failing to do so would both run afoul of the definition of a state and allow agents of the state to be held accountable for the crimes they commit under color of law. In order to do this, the state needs to make the people within its claimed territory into its citizens. The modern statist system relies upon citizenship, and the states within it would have no justification without such subjects.

Casual Totalitarianism

By this reasoning, there can be no state without totalitarianism. However, this is not the form of totalitarianism that was present in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. This is a casual totalitarianism, which is far more insidious than any explicit totalitarianism. In this totalitarianism, the state allows people to sell their labor to a crony capitalist who has swindled for himself special privileges from the state in what is called rent-seeking behavior. Thus, the worker has to either accept terms that no person would rationally accept if given a real choice or work in the black market. This is seemingly voluntary, and most people can get hired to work somewhere, so there can supposedly be no complaining. However, if a person actually tries to do the job that one wants to do as one wants to do it, one runs into mountains of regulations and legislation that an entire team of lawyers must review for compliance. They are also faced with licensing requirements and other privileges that the state keeps for itself and only distributes as the ruling class sees fit. Due to the involvement of the state, we cannot say that there is any legal voluntary economic activity in the current system, as there is no legal economic activity without the state. This is only possible because the state maintains a monopoly on law.

Furthermore, the state can legislate with regard to any relationship, whether interpersonal or political. One cannot engage in any activity without first getting the consent of the state. The state replaces faith and culture when it comes to marriage, as the state decides which marriages and types of marriages are valid and which are not. The state replaces any sense of morality when it comes to law through the doctrine of legal positivism. What matters becomes what is legal rather than what is morally righteous. The state assumes full control over one’s life without arousing suspicion in most people. The state even takes control over what happens between a citizen and himself. That is, the state replaces free will. In the modern world, the state may allow one to engage in any sort of degeneracy under the sun, but the moment the state is harmed or lessened in influence from whatever a person does with himself, the state will forbid it. The state is thus omnipresent, and for many people, this is enough; if they are forbidden from doing something by the state, even when it affects no other persons, they will not do it. People will actively avoid anything illegal, as the state has replaced morality and thinking for oneself.

Because of this, there is no such thing as individualism in the presence of the state. There is effectively only one real person, and that person is the state. No one other than the state can act in any meaningful manner without the consent of the state for fear of being shut down. The state will always make all decisions, even if we do not realize it. Neither will the citizens have a choice in their own minds, as the state has replaced them as people. Thus, we are stuck in a form of totalitarianism, which only differs from place to place and from time to time in the degree of apparent restriction. Some will claim that democracy counters this tendency towards totalitarianism, but if anything, liberal democracy only enables the total state. Without the apparent will of the people, the state cannot designate who the people are without breaking the casual nature of its totalitarianism. The citizens give up their own rights as humans and give the state the right to decide for them. The state needs some sort of mandate, as it needs the citizens to listen to its commands and the government agents to enforce these commands. This may be more or less explicit, but it is always present by necessity. Mass democracy demonstrates this better than any other system.

Ending Totalitarianism

The single greatest show of submission is to beg for the state to lengthen one’s leash, as no matter what happens, one will still be collared. The state will not be changed by begging, as the state is by necessity a totalitarian institution. The only meaningful exercises of power by the people are to subvert the state or overthrow it. The state is antithetical to morality, freedom, and humanity by design, and it cannot be designed otherwise. It is therefore necessary to create an alternative form of governance and defend it against the state. The precise nature of stateless organization will vary from place to place and must be decided by the organizers in each locality.

It is vital that we remove totalitarianism from society if we wish to ever achieve real human liberty. If one believes this, then the precise details become less relevant as it creates an entirely new paradigm of political theory. The alliances and conflicts of previous theories are subordinated to the point of irrelevance. This is not to say that we should support those who call themselves anarchists but simply want global socialism; rather, it is to say that regardless of whether people organize along socialistic, capitalistic, progressive, or reactionary lines, it will be of secondary importance because the highest priority for any living person today should be the elimination of the inherently totalitarian state. Personal preferences about the actions of others will only take precedence once we have freed ourselves from the state and created a society of distinct and free persons. If we do not do this, then we will necessarily choose totalitarianism.

Privatizing State Security

The title of this article is an intentional contradiction. Not only is the modern state a coercive body that initiates and sustains itself through violence (thereby lying through its teeth about “national security”), but the real aim of this article is to bypass the state security apparatus altogether. In short, this article will make a modest proposal: in order to subvert the military-industrial complex, citizens and parallel alternative institutions should think of security in private terms.

First and foremost, security is the duty of individuals. Everyone should realize that nobody can care about their own lives as much as they do. Therefore, owning a gun or any other weapon is neither an extravagance nor an antisocial threat; it is the most effective means of protecting one’s most fundamental right, the right to life.

If a disability or some other impairment makes self-protection an impossibility, then families or communities should fulfill that role. In contemporary society, many people suffer when these steps of self-defense are bypassed completely and the state is given total control over security, especially those who live in urban centers or states with restrictive gun laws. The police cannot be everywhere at all times, and much of their time and effort is consumed by enforcing useless laws which actually endanger the public.

Besides inefficiency, relying on the state for one’s personal safety is a gross waste of money. On a national scale, there is no entity that drains the coffers quite like the Pentagon. Late in 2016, the Defense Business Board released a report criticizing the Pentagon for trying to cover up $125 billion in bureaucratic waste. Besides wasting roughly $400 billion on the clearly deficient F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the United States military apparatus wastes taxpayer money on such vague extravagances like “overhead” and “administrative fees.”

If such monumental waste is not enough to convince people that America has a problem, then the continuing mess in Afghanistan should. After sixteen years of warfare, the Taliban is still holding large swaths of the country, ISIS is putting up a fight, and the government in Kabul remains mind-numbingly corrupt. This is what $714 billion of taxpayer money has won us so far.

President Donald Trump came into Washington, D.C. with promises of making “America First” not only an economic slogan, but also a foreign policy motivation. Before he became a candidate, he railed against the waste of the Afghan war and hinted that, if elected president, he’d pull US troops out of the country.

The president had a chance to do just that in August 2017. He chose instead to send a small, additional force of 4,000 troops—the type of force that is big enough to look like his administration is doing something, but too small to have any meaningful significance on the ground. Half-measures usually mean nothing, but half-measures really mean nothing if they do not go hand-in-hand with policy changes or new modes of strategic planning.

President Trump’s Afghanistan strategy should only merit our attention because it briefly shined a light on a true alternative. Erik Prince, the former US Navy SEAL who founded Blackwater USA and now runs Frontier Services Group Ltd., proposed replacing America’s military with private contractors. Prince’s solution promised to not only save $40 billion a year, but its establishment of a “viceroy” (an old imperial term that Prince used in a somewhat cheeky fashion) and a smaller, more specialized American military force would mean less bodybags coming home on C-130s every year.

Prince’s proposal was not only shot down like an enemy plane, but, while discussing his plans on NPR, Prince was labeled a “warmonger,” criticized for trying to undermine the morale of military NCOs, and lambasted by nominal liberals for denying the state its right to unlimited control over violence. Throughout it all, Prince kept reminding his opponents that private warfare is as old as prostitution, and is certainly not uncommon in American history.

Private warfare is due for a comeback. However, not all mercenaries are equal. Each type of private warfare that can be found in history has had its downsides. Several will be discussed below with an eye towards finding which one could be best utilized in the fight against the tyrannical warfare-welfare state. A private military ethos could not only break the back of warfare socialism, which has become standard in the United States with or without war, but it could also begin the process of conditioning American citizens away from thinking about the state as being synonymous with security.

The Freikorps Model

Right after the armistice to end World War I was signed, millions of German troops returned to a Germany that they thought would welcome them as heroes. That is not what happened at all. Following the declaration of the German Republic, which was controlled by the Majority Socialists (the Social Democratic Party, or SPD), many on the German left seized the opportunity to formalize Karl Marx’s dream of a communist German state. The most organized of these groups were the Spartacists, a collection of radical Bolsheviks led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg (the latter of whom was a naturalized German citizen of Polish-Jewish ancestry). The Spartacists and their sympathizers briefly controlled Berlin, and were in certain parts joined in their rebellion by mutinous sailors from the major German port of Kiel.

For the Sparticists, this revolution was not only in fulfillment of Marx’s dream of a proletarian utopia in Europe’s most industrially advanced nation, but it was also a way to kill the “sellout” republic in its infancy. In this one respect they were right, for many of the Social Democrats like President Friedrich Ebert and Minister of Defense Gustav Noske were Wilhelmian patriots who had supported the war and who were not entirely committed to the aims of the leftist elements in their party.

The new government needed to put down these rebellions quickly. The problem was that several members of the German defense establishment were on the side of the communists. The Chief of Police in Berlin at the time was Emil Eichhorn, a member of the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD) and a man dedicated to supporting the Bolshevik takeover of the Prussian capital. At one point, Eichhorn released several political prisoners, including several well-known communists.

Desperate to suppress this communist rebellion, the Republic turned to the new private militaries known as the Free Corps (Freikorps). Not wanting to return to normal life and what they saw as the constraining norms of the bourgeoisie, thousands of soldiers volunteered to serve in regiments headed by authoritarian junior officers. From the very outset, these troops loathed the new German Republic and saw its supporters as the chief reason why they lost the war (the “Stab-in-the-Back myth”). But, for the time being, Ebert and Noske believed that these battle-hardened veterans would need little encouragement to begin attacking communists on German streets. They were right.

However, in making a pact with the devil, the Weimar government spelled its own doom in 1919. After all, Freikorps soldiers despised liberal democracy and always saw the eradication of “Western” values in Germany as their raison d’être. In the book Vanguard of Nazism, Canadian historian Robert G. L. Waite quotes one Freikorps soldier as saying that their mission was always political:

“These people still believe that could build on the same lies and false sentiments with which—in spite of unheard of sacrifices on the part of soldiers—they had lost the war against the Western world. Now this lie was fulfilled through the acceptance of Western democracy. Now this blasphemy was made official. The western bourgeoisie had triumphed…We [the students of 1918] replied: We must become nihilists in order to crush tis rottenness underfoot.”[1]

Not long after performing services on behalf of the government, the Freikorps soldiers became, in their own words, “outlaws” who rampaged and pillaged ostentatiously on behalf of German nationalism, but, more truthfully, on behalf of their own desire for action. Freikorps units, which designated their commanding officers as Führer, believed in the principle of “primitive man.”

One of the admirers of Captain Hermann Ehrhardt, the leader of the best Freikorps unit, the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt, was positively described as having a “primitiveness and simplicity” that exuded a “stoic soldierly instinct” that had no time for “political or philosophical convictions.”[2] Such mindless destruction saw Freikorps units pillaging the Baltic territories on behalf of Germany and the White Russian Army. Other Freikorps soldiers found more appeal in the violent radicalism of the Bolsheviks and the Führer Vladimir Lenin.[3] These “Freebooters” craved action and violence. They became a law unto themselves, as evidenced by the Feme murders, a series of political assassinations that may have killed as many as 354 “traitors” on behalf of the German Volk.[4]

The problem with recreating a Free Corps movement in America is obvious: such political militias can never be fully trusted by owners of property or those who seek a stabilized social order. The Freikorps glorified in chaos, and chaos is the enemy of liberty. The story of the “beefsteak” Nazis (brown on the outside, red on the inside) also sheds light on the fact that Freikorps soldiers routinely switched their allegiances, especially between the two most powerful totalitarian ideologies.

While a Free Corps movement made up of American veterans may not be so prone to utopian ideologies, America in 2017 is not Germany in 1918. American degeneracy is caused by prosperity, not material poverty or the shame of military defeat.

The Condottieri Model

It is easy to romanticize the military engagements of the Middle Ages. After all, unlike modern wars perpetrated by nation-states, warfare during the medieval age was a small-scale affair between kings and their private armies. Most of the time, medieval cities and villages were left alone so long as they paid a fee and offered up no resistance. In Anatomy of the State, Murray Rothbard quotes F.J.P. Veale in saying that “the rich burghers and merchants of medieval Italy were too busy making money and enjoying life to undertake the hardships and dangers of soldiering themselves.”[5] Therefore, these townspeople hired foreign mercenaries to defend them. When a threat was neutralized and the job was done, these mercenaries were paid and told to go away.

The benefit of this system was that civilians were mostly left alone and could continue with life and trade. Theoretically, these mercenaries would try to avoid unnecessary casualties, and would only attack villagers and burghers if their payment was not forthcoming. Unfortunately, this is not always how it played out. As noted by Joseph R. Stromberg, many mercenaries of the Early Modern period set out to become territorial lords, which essentially meant that they began wars of aggression in order to claim private kingdoms. “Many mercenary captains aspired to become outright political rulers—men on horseback—rather than mere subcontractors in the business of security provision.”[6]

Although these mercenaries, known in Italy as condottieri, did not engage in the type of warfare that indiscriminately killed civilians or created undue hardships to lives and property, they nevertheless injected political chaos wherever they went. Then as now, mercenary bands attracted men of action who grow easily bored with too much peace. Such men are prone to engaging in conflict only to satisfy their boredom. In the 19th century, American filibusters (not to be confused with the parliamentary tactic) undertook private military expeditions to Latin America in order to aid local liberals, establish private fiefdoms, and/or spread the business of slavery. In the 20th century, adventurers have had a hand in destabilizing Germany, Africa, and Asia.

The idea of creating modern mercenaries in America is downright silly. First, foreigners should never be in charge of another nation’s security. Second, mercenary warfare in the presence of states is almost always offensive in nature, thereby making imperial expeditions all but a certainty.

The Militia Model

The militia has a long and storied tradition in American history. Militia troops were key to the American victory in the Revolutionary War, for militia units utilized small-scale tactics, guerrilla warfare, and targeted assassination of British commanders that forced the British to penetrate deep into the American hinterlands. This over-extended British supply lines, thereby making it easy for American militia fighters to win the day in small to medium-sized battles.

Militias are also synonymous with republics. The Second Amendment not only enshrines the right to self-defense, but the right to form militias as well, though both came under heavy attack by the Supreme Court in the intervening years. In a better world, all American communities would be able to form their own militias in order to protect their property rights and dissuade the vampiric state from overstepping its official limitations. Militias do not have to be standing forces, but it would be in the best interest of a community if all able-bodied men were well-trained and adequately prepared for emergencies and insurgency-style warfare. The best feature about militias are that their small size and local focus make them best-suited for defensive warfare rather than offensive warfare. Militias are not designed for long, extended wars of conquest. Rather, a militia unit is designed for low-intensity conflict wherein they have the advantage in regards to intelligence, knowledge of terrain, and maneuverability.

Modern America will undoubtedly recoil at the very proposal of forming militias. Thanks to a campaign of disinformation during the 1990s, when homegrown militias became synonymous with white supremacist politics and domestic terrorism, any militia that forms today will be quickly infiltrated by government agents. A militia directly threatens the state’s monopoly on violence. The state and its supporters know this. Look no further than the overreaction surrounding the standoff between Ammon Bundy and Western ranchers against the Bureau of Land Management. The same people who fret over “Islamophobia” and police brutality towards blacks were the same ones advocating for dropping bombs on American citizens.

Conclusion

The painful truth is that all these options would be snuffed out by the modern Leviathan state. From a purely logical perspective, an American Free Corps might work, so long as sympathetic junior officers decided that it was right to let their men become political soldiers. The US military has many regulations dictating what service members can and cannot do while in uniform. Therefore, any Free Corps creation would automatically go against the oaths that many of its potential members took upon enlisting in the US military. Most take these oaths very seriously.

The likelihood of American mercenary bands serving stateside is nil. While libertarian or right-wing mercenaries serving abroad is a bettter idea than current practices, these men will undoubtably face prosecution on charges of treason or terrorism for daring to fight for a country or an idea that goes against progressive liberalism.

In the end, a militia force makes the most sense if Americans are serious about maintaining their local liberty in the face of an increasingly tyrannical state. That said, this militia must function in strict secrecy. Wearing uniforms and bearing flags is a sure way to draw the attention of the FBI or local law enforcement. Conversely, without such uniformity, many military bands lose cohesion and fall into infighting.

Unfortunately, there are no perfect answers to this situation. The idea of a powerful state is now unthinkingly accepted by Democrats, Republicans, and centrists. Republicans rely on the votes of military members past and present, and so would be unlikely to support any measure that threatens the force and violence monopoly enjoyed by the Pentagon. Democrats would shriek “racism” and “terrorism,” and would run to the receptive state in order to have these units put down with extreme prejudice. It is also unlikely that many ordinary Americans will rush to join bands of guerrilla fighters, despite the promise of status and a bit of excitement.

At this point in time, the best thing that could be hoped for is that a wide swath of Americans would come to accept the reality that the security of their lives and the lives of their neighbors depends on them and their willingness to use force in defense of life, liberty, and property. This thought crime starts the process of rejecting the state’s monopoly on violence, and could ultimately lead to a new, more privatized model of security. But until we can produce more thought criminals, arguing over how to best create private security entities is a fruitless endeavor.

References:

1. Waite, Robert G. L. (1969) Vanguard of Nazism: The Free Corps Movement in Postwar Germany, 1918-1923. W.W. Norton and Company. p. 55.

2. Ibid, p. 165.

3. Ibid, p. 274-275.

4. Ibid, p. 216.

5. Rothbard, Murray (1974). Anatomy of the State. The Ludwig von Mises Institute. p. 49.

6. Stromberg, Joseph R. (2003). “Mercenaries, Guerrillas, Militias, and the Defense of Minimal States and Free Societies.” The Myth of National Defense: Essays on the theory and History of Security Production, ed. Hans-Hermann Hoppe. p. 219.