Book Review: Reactionary Liberty

Reactionary Liberty is a book about libertarian philosophy by Robert Taylor that approaches this and related subjects from a reactionary perspective. The book is divided into fifteen chapters, with a short introduction preceding.

Taylor begins with a four-page introduction in which he explains his motivations for writing the book. Mostly, this involves the decisive leftward shift in American libertarianism since the Ron Paul presidential campaigns of 2008 and 2012, including a notorious open letter to Paul read at the 2015 International Students for Liberty conference and Gary Johnson’s disastrous presentation in 2016. He briefly explains what is wrong with left-libertarianism and gives an outline of the structure of the book.

In the first chapter, Taylor begins with the non-aggression principle (NAP), self-ownership, and private property rights. Although Taylor notes the important distinction between just property and currently-held property, he fails to properly account for the role of conquest in determining property rights over the long term. Taylor goes on to explain the social and economic difficulties that arise without secure property rights. The failures of central planning are discussed, as are the differences between negative and positive rights. He lays out the history of natural law in Western philosophy, beginning with early Christian thinkers, continuing through Enlightenment philosophers, and culminating in Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s argumentation ethics. Taylor contrasts this with the state, which routinely violates natural law and rights. He details the many crimes of nation-states, war and debt slavery being chief among them. Taylor concludes by proposing an alternative to Marxist class theory which vilifies the state rather than the capitalist, and elevates the producer rather than the parasite.

The second chapter deals with the Austrian School perspective on the subject. Taylor takes the reader through praxeology, the action axiom, marginal utility, and the role of prices in efficiently allocating resources. Next, he explains why government and central bank interference with prices is so destructive. The section on money deals with the history of money according to the regression theorem, beginning with barter and commodity money, then progressing to precious metals and receipts for those metals. Taylor shows the reader that modern fiat currencies are a corruption of these receipts into instruments of inflation and debt slavery that facilitate unduly risky financial behavior, state largesse, and wars. In the Austrian view, these behaviors fuel the business cycle of booms and busts by distorting interest rates, which leads investors astray.

Spontaneous order and free markets are the subjects of the third chapter. Taylor begins with the economic calculation problem, the knowledge problem, and public choice theory, showing that central planning cannot succeed because it cannot calculate prices without the market and is further hampered by cynical concerns. He then covers the concept of spontaneous order, making the important and oft-overlooked observation that “there is no such thing as an unregulated market; the issue is, rather, who is doing the regulating.” These regulations take the form of trust, reputation, and freedom to dissociate, unless the state interferes by imposing its coercive regulations. Taylor frames the difference between state and market in terms of who gets profits and who suffers losses. The state privatizes profits and socializes losses, while the market does the opposite. Next, Taylor proposes the term marketization to describe the proper procedures for converting state monopolies into free-market entities, as privatization has acquired the meaning of turning over state monopolies to politically-connected oligarchs, as happened in Russia when the Soviet Union collapsed. He concludes the chapter by providing an outline of how businesses may function in a purely libertarian market while noting that the particulars can only be observed in the future, not precisely predicted in the present.

The fourth chapter offers a much-needed treatment of Cultural Marxism, a concept often (and incorrectly) dismissed by leftists as a conspiracy theory. Taylor traces its roots to the failure of political and economic Marxism in Europe after World War I, at which time Antonio Gramsci and Georg Lukacs resolved to apply Marxism to culture and use it to destroy traditional Western culture, which they faulted for the failure of communism to take root in most of the West. Taylor traces the ‘long march through the institutions’ from its beginnings in the 1930s all the way to its modern manifestations of identity politics and campus craziness. He calls on libertarians to refute Marxism’s cultural application, just as they defeated its economic application. The next section begins to do this by making the case against egalitarianism, showing it to be both impossible and self-defeating in practice. The second half of the chapter traverses more dubious ground in the form of r/K selection theory. This is an interesting analogy for attempting to understand political dynamics, but it places too much emphasis on nature instead of nurture and encourages dichotomous thinking in complex problems. That being said, it correctly suggests that some authoritarian leftists are beyond reason. The chapter ends with an explanation of the necessity of traditional social and sexual norms, as well as how and why Cultural Marxists have attacked them.

Decentralization is the focus of the fifth chapter. Taylor gives the reader a history lesson in the creation of Western traditions and common law through decentralized institutions after the fall of the Roman Empire. He blames centralization elsewhere in the world for preventing those peoples from enjoying the liberty and prosperity of Europeans. Turning to America, these two descriptions show the difference between what the United States was supposed to be and what it has become. As a remedy, Taylor proposes breaking up the US into at least 100 smaller territories. He concludes the chapter by praising those who have taken a strong stand for decentralization in the face of oppressive state power.

The sixth chapter attacks state power as a concept. Taylor explains how people are ruled indirectly through propaganda and mythology rather than directly by force, as the masses are sufficiently numerous and armed to defeat such an effort. He discusses the role of government schooling in indoctrinating the masses to accept such an arrangement, as well as the insufficient efforts to resist the imposition of compulsory indoctrination in the 19th century. The concept of situational Leninism comes next, followed by an overview of famous psychological experiments that demonstrate the willingness of people to obey authority toward reprehensible ends. After this, the role of language control and thought policing in maintaining authoritarian leftist control is examined. Taylor finishes the chapter with Ludwig von Mises’ concept of statolatry, in which statism becomes a sort of secular religion.

The attack continues in the next chapter, as Taylor turns to the flawed ideas of minarchism. He returns to the American example to show how limited government does not stay limited. He explains that the Constitution was not actually written to limit government, contrary to popular belief. It gave the federal government more power than it had under the Articles of Confederation, which Taylor praises in relative terms. He shows how Americans of the time were deceived, taking the reader through the tax rebellions of the 1780s-90s and the Alien and Sedition Acts. In the next section, he contrasts traditional monarchies with modern democracies, finding the former to be far less limited and more destructive due to inherent incentive structures. The chapter concludes with a strong explanation of why democracy grows the state and harms the cause of liberty.

In the eighth chapter, Taylor addresses police statism and what Samuel Francis termed ‘anarcho-tyranny’, a situation in which real crime goes unpunished while those who try to defend themselves are attacked by the state. He begins by noting the difference between a peace officer and an agent of the state. His description of several US Supreme Court cases is accurate, but misses the larger point that a coercive monopoly has no enforceable obligations because no one can enforce obligations against them, regardless of any court rulings. Taylor reviews Cultural Marxism through the lens of anarcho-tyranny, then explains some of the more obnoxious leftist behaviors in terms of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. The successes of the alt-right are explained in terms of their willingness to use the left’s tactics against them, unlike conventional conservatives. Next, he covers the origin of modern policing in the UK and the US, then proposes a private alternative to state police forces. The last section contemplates violent resistance against the state, though not with nearly the length and depth that the topic deserves.

While the eighth chapter considers the enforcers, Chapter 9 is concerned with what they enforce. Taylor begins by illustrating just how much poorer everyone is today as a result of lost economic growth due to regulations. Next, he refutes the progressive narrative about the antebellum South and the industrial captains of the 19th century, showing the negative aspects of both to be the result of government intervention rather than its absence. He then profiles James J. Hill, a largely forgotten hero of free-market capitalism in the late 19th century. Hill’s good deeds are contrasted with those who used the state to get undue favors and suppress competition. Taylor also corrects the record on John D. Rockefeller. The following section covers the history of expanding regulations after the Civil War, through the Progressive Era, and on to the present. He accuses those who point to regulations as the cause of improvements in safety and reductions in pollution of committing the broken window fallacy and ignoring the fact that some regulations have made people less healthy. The chapter concludes with many examples of faulty regulations that do more harm than good.

The transition from voluntary mutual aid to coercive welfare statism is the subject of the tenth chapter. Taylor introduces the subject with the age-old statist question, “Without government, who would take care of the poor?” Of course, one must begin by pointing out that government does no such thing, as Taylor does. He spends the first part of the chapter educating the reader about mutual aid societies, which were common before the Progressive Era but were destroyed by government intervention into the healthcare and insurance industries. Taylor shows how the state has reduced the supply of medical care, thus increasing its cost and decreasing its availability. Unfortunately, Taylor’s approach ignores the Social Darwinist perspective that natural selection should be allowed to remove the least successful humans from the gene pool. The second half of the chapter debunks at length the myth of Scandinavian socialism.

The eleventh chapter deals with civil disobedience. Here, Taylor stumbles in the way that most libertarians do, in that he fails to understand raw power, celebrates small victories that will not occur on a large scale, and confuses the downfall of a particular regime with ending the state itself. He does this even while reciting the history of preparedness for the use of force among civil rights leaders and noting what the state has done to leaders of nonviolent resistance efforts. Taylor also manages to celebrate the effects of Western degeneracy among Middle Eastern youth. His encouragement of government agents to refuse unjust orders, leak information detailing abuses to the public, and otherwise engage in whistleblowing is more on point, though he notes the powerful incentive structure against doing so. The second half of the chapter details a plethora of private alternatives to services which have long been monopolized and/or heavily regulated by the state.

The growth of cryptocurrency and other peer-to-peer technologies is the focus of Chapter 12. Taylor provides a decent layperson’s overview of Bitcoin, then moves on to practical applications of cryptocurrency, such as funding dissidents suppressed by legacy financial networks, evading capital controls, and engaging in commercial activities forbidden by the state. Next, he covers the P2P revolution, which has greatly expanded liberty and privacy online and in the physical world. The remainder of the chapter runs through various examples of how P2P and blockchain technologies have solved problems and exposed corruption.

In the thirteenth chapter, Taylor addresses the open-borders dogma held by many libertarians. He demonstrates that open borders and forced integration are a form of the aforementioned anarcho-tyranny, with closed state borders being sub-optimal but less evil. The role of forced diversity in creating internal conflicts that lead to less liberty is considered, as is the biological phenomenon of kin selection in creating cohesive groups. Taylor makes the case that open borders are contrary to private property rights because in order to have open borders, the state must override the wishes of property owners who do not want migrants to enter. He then examines the history of US immigration policy from 1790 to the present, noting the shift in demographics admitted after 1965. The contention that the real problem is the welfare state rather than demographic shifts is rebutted both on the practical grounds of American politics and with the counterexample of European nations surviving socialism but falling into turmoil due to migrants.

The fourteenth chapter furthers the themes from Chapter 11 by discussing secession, nullification, and political migration. Taylor notes the myriad benefits of secession, but only briefly mentions the history of larger states violently suppressing such movements. Next, he covers the history of both legislative and jury nullification in opposing unjust laws. Taylor’s exploration of political migration is rather America-centric, but it can be adapted to other situations. His praise for the Free State Project comes off as overzealous, given the thoroughly leftist nature of that organization. He finishes the chapter with a concept called the Benedict Option, in which those who wish to preserve a tradition and begin a restoration retreat from the public and urban life of a degenerate culture.

The final chapter of the book is an argument against democratic government. This reads much like Hoppe’s Democracy: The God That Failed, quoting and borrowing from it extensively as Taylor explains the perverse incentive structures inherent in democracy and makes the case that monarchy has a superior incentive structure. But unlike Hoppe, Taylor contemplates physical removal as a means of achieving a libertarian social order in addition to a means of maintenance. As Taylor writes on page 283, “Economics teaches us that there is no such thing as a free lunch. But in order to achieve and maintain a libertarian social order, there will be free helicopter rides.” His defense of Augusto Pinochet’s actions in Chile and Lee Kuan Yew’s rule in Singapore as better than the alternatives is common in right-libertarian circles, but his defense of Francisco Franco goes a bit too far. Taylor ends with an exhortation to and description of a libertarian revolution, but this is, as before, too brief.

Overall, the book is good, but not great. For a book called Reactionary Liberty, it could have used more reaction in the form of lengthy explanations of traditional norms and power dynamics. Taylor seemed to lack an editor and proofreader, as some typos survived in very unfortunate places that render a few sentences absurd. A few chapters can become tedious when Taylor features a laundry list of examples. That being said, it is a strong presentation of right-libertarianism that is impeccably sourced.

Rating: 4/5

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.

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!

Book Review: The Euro

The Euro is a book about the shortcomings of the eurozone currency project by American economist Joseph Stiglitz. The book makes a case against many of the policies pursued by European leaders thus far and recommends several alternatives, including further integration, a flexible euro, and the exit of one or more members. The book is divided into twelve chapters which explore different aspects of the problem and possible solutions.

A short preface details Stiglitz’s view of the economic problems of Europe as being largely attributable to the creation of a single currency zone without the creation of other institutions that are found in other such places elsewhere in the world. He compares the euro to the gold standard, repeating the flawed mainstream view that deflation is bad. His Keynesian approach to economics and thoroughly statist worldview is apparent from the beginning. That being said, Stiglitz appears to want to solve problems and correctly identifies some people and institutions as being uninterested in doing so.

The opening section begins with a chapter that expands upon the preface and outlines the rest of the book. There is little here that is not covered in greater detail later, so let us move on. In Chapter 2, Stiglitz argues that the poor results of the euro should have been expected because economic integration of this sort cannot come before political integration. Here, he contends that military might no longer shapes outcomes as it once did, but this is dubious because nothing short of a nuclear exchange that no one wants could have stopped the United States from conquering and colonizing Iraq if that had been the intention and American leadership had used its full power. So too for Russia in Ukraine and Crimea. His responses to other arguments for a single currency make more sense. He states the fallacious mainstream position on public goods, claiming without logic or evidence that it is impossible for markets to provide basic research and common utilities. This amounts to a confusion of collective action with state action. Even so, Stiglitz does recognize that localization is better than central planning from afar, though his disdain for German policies makes him inconsistent on this point. He then turns to economic integration, discussing the importance of German history with hyperinflation and its prominent role in modern Europe for understanding the European Central Bank. Next, Stiglitz writes about effect that a shared currency has on economic integration, which is mixed. Like many Keynesians, he accuses the market of failure when this is actually impossible; such events are actually failures of government, resources, or individual people. He also regards economics as scientific, even though the scientific method cannot be applied to subjects in which counterfactuals are so important but also unobservable. As usual, the word ‘neoliberal’ says more about the person using it than anything else. He concludes by arguing that there is a democratic deficit in Europe, even though he argues elsewhere in the book against incentive structures which are necessarily part of any democracy.

Europe’s lackluster economic performance since the 2008 crisis is the subject of the third chapter. Stiglitz begins by claiming that Keynesianism is a success because it has lengthened business cycles and shortened downturns, but it has also made the downturns that do occur so much worse that markets were better off before such interventionism. Much of the chapter consists of empirical data for Europe since 2007. When discussing unemployment, he seems not to recognize that unemployment benefits subsidize a negative behavior and will thus produce more of that behavior. Stiglitz relies upon the Gini coefficient when discussing inequality, which is a faulty metric because it measures pre-tax income rather than after-tax consumption. This causes it to exaggerate the amount of income inequality. His detailing of the long-term adverse effects of recession in terms of destroyed human capital is largely correct, but he again recommends interventionism that tends to worsen such problems. He also takes the position that the state should protect those at the economic bottom, though almost every economist would avoid social Darwinism on this front. Stiglitz then commits a fixed pie fallacy by arguing that trade surpluses necessarily cause trade deficits elsewhere, when the reality is quite different. He concludes by correctly noting that the counterfactuals help critics of the euro, and that there is no better explanation for many of Europe’s troubles than sharing a common currency across uncommon societies and economies.

The second section argues that the euro suffers from a flawed initial design. In Chapter 4, the requirements for a single currency region to be successful are considered. Here, Stiglitz uplifts full employment and market stability as goals while denouncing those who favor economic freedom as a “lunatic fringe.” This leads him to contemplate a false dilemma between national control of money and supranational control. He blames market fundamentalism (which he calls neoliberalism) for the crisis of 2008, despite the fact that markets were altered by central bankers in such a way as to cause the crash, which he all but says elsewhere. In explaining the differences between the United States and the eurozone, Stiglitz highlights the freer movement of Americans, the identity of Americans at the national level rather than the state level (at least in modern times), and the federal nature of monetary and fiscal stimulus. He is correct to say that there must either be “more Europe” or “less Europe,” but sides with the former. He describes the Keynesian theory of business cycles, but makes no mention of the Austrian theory. Stiglitz then repeats the tired fallacy that austerity caused the Great Depression and the current malaise, rather than central bank shenanigans and tariff policies. His blame for the gold standard is similarly misguided. He somewhat fixes an error from the previous chapter by clarifying that trade imbalances are not a problem if currency exchange rates can change to compensate for them. He straw-mans the laissez-faire position on unemployment by saying that it views unemployment due to market adjustments as good rather than as simply necessary. Stiglitz then gets a few points correct: low wages undermine worker morale and productivity, falling wages may not amount to falling prices if firms are worried about their solvency, and monetary stimulus has a breaking point at which interest rates cannot be lowered further. But he again blames the private sector for being excessive when it is only reacting to perverse incentives created by governments and central banks. There is little to fault in Stiglitz’s explanation of why currency areas are prone to crisis except for the preceding error, but it never occurs to him to simply not have such an area. The chapter ends by repeating many of the fallacious arguments from the previous chapter concerning trade surpluses and deficits.

The fifth chapter considers the economic divergence of the eurozone countries. Stiglitz argues in favor of institutional frameworks to prevent the need for bailouts, as well as funds to make depositors whole and provide bailouts. This ignores the moral hazard created by such a regime that causes bankers to take excessive risks, as well as the powerful incentives that an absence of protection would have on depositors to act responsibly and hold bankers accountable. His view of regulation is starry-eyed, missing the entire concept of regulatory capture. This is especially striking, given his focus on institutional capture in the following chapter. Stiglitz rightly complains of capitalized gains and socialized losses among bankers. In his consideration of other sources of divergence, he again fails to consider the possibility of turning over infrastructure to private development, instead proposing expansion of the European Investment Bank, which is certain to become another statist boondoggle. His view of knowledge markets is flawed in the same manner as his view of economies; it fails to account for the distortions that statism necessarily causes which lead to various types of failure. He concludes the chapter by showing how policies in the eurozone have caused greater instability, but cannot seem to avoid blaming the private sector for responding to the incentives imposed upon it.

In Chapter 6, Stiglitz examines the European Central Bank. He begins by saying that open markets and free competition can efficiently allocate resources only in the presence of adequate government regulation. This is a contradiction because an absence of government regulation defines an open market with free competition. His arguments concerning the inflation-only mandate of the ECB and the problems it causes would be much stronger if the Austrian business cycle theory were anywhere to be found in the book. His description of events in Chile under Pinochet does not agree with the long-term result of economic prosperity relative to the rest of South America and neglects how much worse conditions would have been under Salvador Allende. His claim that markets are supposed to be efficient and stable are a straw man; instability in the form of creative destruction and inefficiency by some metrics rather than others are inherent in a market economy. Stiglitz correctly writes that monetary policy is always a political question, pitting creditors against debtors for control of the central bank. But he leaves unclear how democracy is supposed to hold central bankers accountable. He also must not know any libertarians, or he would know that some people have proposed taking away spending power from governments to ensure that they do not misbehave. The chapter ends with a history of fashionable central bank policies over time and what was wrong with them from a Keynesian perspective.

The next two chapters delve into the Greek situation in particular, as Greece has suffered a more severe economic crisis than any other eurozone country. The seventh chapter explores the effect that the Troika’s policies had on countries in crisis. Stiglitz accuses some European leaders of acting in bad faith by purposefully attempting to punish governments with different political views from their own, which may be accurate. He continues his misguided attack on austerity, though it has more merit against what Europeans have actually done than against real austerity. He correctly explains the problem with primary surpluses, but then commits the broken window fallacy by embracing Keynesian multipliers. Stiglitz accurately diagnoses the problems of increasing taxes, but seeks to aid governments in collecting them rather than encourage economic freedom and stronger property rights. He describes his ideal system of property taxation in the same tone that a proud and unrepentant thief might use to boast of his crimes. Although he is correct to say that particular moves toward privatization and economic freedom may produce adverse results in particular contexts, this is a justification not for state intervention, but for undoing even more statism so as to remove the problematic context. Stiglitz notes that the hegemony of American military power has put Europe into a Pax Romana problem in which it cannot fend for itself against a real threat, but advises that this problem be worsened in the name of fiscal restraint. He compares reductions in pensions to wage theft when the two are clearly different. It is the responsibility of workers to figure out that they are being offered terms which may be impossible for the employer to meet in the future and practice caveat emptor. As for bank bailouts and debt restructuring, Stiglitz describes the situation well except for his faulty view of austerity.

Chapter 8 delves into structural reforms in Greece that made matters worse. Again, Stiglitz’s views of austerity and democracy corrupt an otherwise sound analysis of trivial and counterproductive actions taken by the Troika. He claims without proof that industrial policies are required to advance countries that are lagging behind in technological development, neglecting that markets are not doing this because they are either disallowed from doing so or are assuming that the state will do this for them. He criticizes intergenerational transmission of advantage and seeks to use the state against it, when it should be championed as both eugenic and important for maintaining a natural aristocracy. Stiglitz argues for a price on carbon emissions and claims that the private sector will not address climate change, when again the state has kept this from happening. He finishes by discussing counterfactuals, which is interesting given his empiricist thinking on economics.

The final four chapters deal with various proposals going forward. In the ninth chapter, Stiglitz offers his advice for fixing the eurozone. As before, he embraces what Henry Hazlitt called “the fetish of full employment” as the goal of his policy proposals. Much of the content of the chapter rehashes proposals from previous chapters. He seeks to create common deposit insurance and common resolution while abolishing place-based debt within the EU. This will create moral hazards and work against people who wish to escape debt slavery inflicted upon them by their ancestors. He calls for wages to be raised in countries with surpluses, which will lead to unemployment in those countries as workers whose labor is not worth higher wages are laid off. He fundamentally misunderstands precious metals, failing to understand their role as a store of value and medium of exchange, even if no longer officially used in such capacities. Stiglitz seeks to make the financial sector and other corporations serve society, but fails to recognize that the organs of a statist social order inherently and irrevocably serve themselves at the expense of the society. The shortsightedness of markets of which he complains is actually caused by the institutions that he seeks to use to solve the problem. One of the few sound recommendations made in this chapter is the creation of a super-Chapter 11 bankruptcy procedure to quickly restructure debt. He goes on to propose that EU taxes be based on citizenship, and that some of the proceeds be used for foreign aid or resettlement of migrants, further impoverishing and culturally endangering Europeans.

Chapter 10 examines the possibility of what Stiglitz calls “an amicable divorce,” in which countries exit the eurozone. He considers the example of Grexit, or Greece returning to its own currency that he calls the Greek-euro but would probably be called the drachma, as it was before the euro. He proposes that Greece create a new electronic currency to ease concerns over producing coins and banknotes, stop tax avoidance, bring everyone into the financial system, and facilitate the ability of central banks to create credit. Stiglitz fails to consider that people are likely to reject such a system in favor of cryptocurrencies, which have all of the benefits of such a system without most of the drawbacks, and that such a system could offer states tyrannical control over their citizens. His view of credit indicates magical thinking, although this is quite common in modern financial circles. He again blames the private sector for problems caused by politicians and central bankers, while ignoring peer-to-peer lending as a substitute for modern credit systems. Stiglitz describes a potential system of credit auctions which could be abused with much the same ease as the current system. He admits and supports what should be abhorrent to any decent person: that fiat currencies are ultimately given value by extortion in the form of taxation. Stiglitz correctly says that a new Greek currency would enable them to devalue it to correct trade imbalances, but his proposed system of trade tokens for the same purpose would be redundant. He equates deflation with a deficiency of aggregate demand, neglecting the possibilities of an abundance of supply or improvements in efficiency and/or quality. His description of currency change as a debt restructuring is insightful. To end the chapter, Stiglitz considers the alternative of Germany leaving the eurozone, though it is unlikely that they would give up their current position of power so willingly. This segues into the topic of the next chapter, which is a flexible euro consisting of several subdivisions.

Stiglitz uses Finland as a counterexample against those who claim that profligacy in southern Europe is to blame, rather than the structure of the eurozone. Most of his argument here is correct, except for his view of austerity. His proposal in this chapter is to have several eurozones with fluctuating exchange rates, which could be brought closer together over time as political integration occurs, eventually resulting in economic integration. The details are borrowed from the previous two chapters. Though more likely to succeed than the proposals in those chapters, it is also the least likely to be adopted. Stiglitz correctly recognizes that having a single currency area is an interference in the market in and of itself, monopolizing exchange and interest rates in the area, but cannot seem to fathom that his flexible euro proposal also does this on a smaller scale. He claims that it can be better not to simply rely on prices for the allocation of resources, but does not explain how to solve the local knowledge problem or the economic calculation problem in a superior manner. He also says that history shows free banking to be a disaster, when the truth is quite the opposite.

The final chapter sees Stiglitz review many themes from previous chapters, but he also covers topics which are barely mentioned elsewhere. He denounces anti-immigrant groups in Europe, which are only trying to resist demographic replacement by a ruling class that they did not ask to replace them. So much for the “democratic accountability” that Stiglitz extols in the same breath. He blames right-wing economic ideology for rising inequality in the United States beginning with the Reagan administration, but incomes really began to diverge ten years earlier, when Nixon ended the gold standard. Stiglitz expresses a desire to preserve the Enlightenment values of Europe, but cannot comprehend how letting in migrants with distinctly anti-Enlightenment values will jeopardize that mission. On the issue of trade policy, he understands that free trade is not always best for all parties involved, as it can destroy important societal arrangements that prevent conflict. But then Stiglitz incredulously asks how one could have expected that Europe’s leaders would create such economic dysfunction, with massive unemployment and lack of economic security. The answer is that a proper amount of cynicism would require such an expectation.

Overall, the best thing that can be said for the book is that it is not an effort made in bad faith. Stiglitz correctly identifies many of the problems with the current state of affairs in Europe and seems to want to help, but his proposed solutions are thoroughly misguided. Despite his palpable disdain for Milton Friedman and other Chicago School monetarists, he suffers from one of the worst of their faults: a desire to solve the immediate problems set before him combined with a lack of broader perspective. This leads him to propose a banking system which could be used to terrible effect against political dissidents, tax collection schemes that would indicate criminal intent in any non-statist context, and forced political integration by means of stealth and subterfuge. He also seems to believe that everything would be fine if only state power were used by the right people to implement the right policies. It never occurs to him that the power itself might be the problem. The Euro is an interesting case study in leftist economic thought, but those looking for real solutions to Europe’s economic woes should keep looking.

Rating: 2.5/5

Book Review: Libertarian Reaction

Libertarian Reaction is a collection of fifteen essays by Insula Qui. The book explores various issues from a libertarian reactionary perspective. The book is divided into three sections; one focusing on reaction, one focusing on liberty, and a long final essay.

The first part begins with an essay on the limits of libertarian ethics. In Savages, Qui deals with several types of humans who cannot be properly be considered people, and must instead be dealt with as lesser beings. The point that there is a difference between colonialism (the imposition of law and morality on people who have no rational conception of it) and colonization (a parallel development of law and morality while not imposing upon others) is important and oft-overlooked. The essay finishes with a denunciation of both Islam and communism as incompatible with libertarianism if each is to be practiced rigorously. The arguments are correct but elementary, which the author has since remedied elsewhere.

In Borders And Liberty, Qui weighs in on the debate over border policy, concluding that while state immigration restrictions are not libertarian and the only justifiable borders are private property boundaries, closed borders are a lesser evil than the forced integration imposed by modern states. He recommends restoration of the right to discriminate, sponsorship of and vicarious liability for immigrants by those who wish to bring them in, and elimination of welfare programs as methods of improving the current situation. References to support the assertions regarding demographics would improve the case made here.

Prerequisites for Liberty deals with the problem of humans who are not savages as described in the first essay but are nonetheless inclined to aggressive violence. Again, references to support demographic arguments would be helpful. Qui notes several obvious but underappreciated truths here, most notably that a libertarian social order cannot exist below a certain intelligence level, as this would preclude people from understanding the necessary rules of such an order. He correctly states that some people may convert to libertarianism by seeing it in practice instead of reaching it through reason. In fact, this is by far the more likely method of conversion in the near future. The role of hedonistic practices in damaging a social order are discussed, as is the folly of accepting non-libertarians into libertarian circles simply to grow numbers.

The next essay is Voluntary Ethnic Separation, and it explains the difference between what libertarianism requires one to accept and the common caricature of all such ideas as hateful racism. Qui shows great insight in tackling common leftist arguments here. He also makes the important point that collectivism can arise as a benign heuristic to help with decisions because people lack the capacity to deal with individuals beyond a certain point. However, the same demographic claims resurface without proper support. Finally, the point that ethnostatism could be a step toward breaking up large nation-states into more local forms of governance is overlooked by most libertarians, but not Qui.

The Antistatist Case for Monarchial Government is a longer essay that Qui included despite having changed his views on the matter, as he views it as being theoretically important. He makes a distinction between government (a manager of land and provider of essential services) and state (an entity that exercises a monopoly on initiatory force) which is lost on many people. He also explains that while a libertarian society would be imperfect, a state has even worse inefficiencies. Later, Qui hints at a potential problem with wilderness areas falling victim to a tragedy of the commons, but this could easily be solved by homesteading such areas. There are two significant errors here: a lack of accounting for the arguments made by Stefan Molyneux and others in favor of private dispute resolution organizations with regard to how law courts could function without a state, and a contradiction concerning redistribution and efficiency. The final part of the essay reads much like Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s case that monarchy is superior to democracy, and is reminiscent of the real-world example of Leichtenstein.

Qui tackles an uncomfortable issue that perhaps interests too many people in libertarian circles with The Libertarian Solution to the Age of Consent. He quickly rebuts the left-libertarians who wish to let children make decisions regarding sexual conduct, describing parenting of young children as a sort of regency until the child gains the ability to use reason. But Qui errs in saying that damages done by improper parenting are no different from any other sort of crime, as one can never truly be made whole from the lifelong detriments caused by improper parenting.

Dysgenics and Market Nobility discusses the corruption of the phrase “all men are created equal” from a statement of equality before the law into a belief in human biological uniformity. In doing so, he distinguishes between the natural elite of a free society and the power elite of a statist society, which are often conflated by leftists. Qui then explains how the two tend to work together in statist societies to keep the same families at the top for centuries rather than let the rags-to-riches-to-rags cycle properly play out. The essay then turns toward dysgenics, which refers to programs that have the opposite of a eugenic effect. The roles of feminism, sexual liberation, and welfare statism are examined in this light.

The first part concludes with Civilization and Natural Law, which makes unconventional but strong arguments in favor of censoring and physically removing people on the basis of their political opinions. Qui’s case is more utilitarian and reserved than it needs to be, but he still reaches the correct result that freedom of speech is a privilege that comes with owning property, not a fundamental right. He then finds that the solution to intractable differences between people and groups is mutual discrimination and exclusion, as forced integration necessarily results in racial tensions.

The second section begins with The Freedom of Government, which revisits themes from several of the previous essays. Qui makes a powerful case that people who claim to believe in democracy but deny people the self-determination to choose their form of governance are charlatans. He also observes that a large enough number of small monarchies is effectively equivalent to a libertarian social order. The only problem with this essay is brevity, as more explanation of each point would greatly improve the presentation.

The Curse of Citizenship explores how the modern state makes its subjects into cogs of its machine through citizenship as a legal concept. Qui shows that democracy, contrary to leftist propaganda, only makes this worse by providing an otherwise absent appearance of legitimacy. He correctly recognizes the futility of localism as an ultimate strategy, as it fails to account for the supremacy of higher levels of government. But his contention that “corruption within the state is nothing other than the people who are creating the illusion themselves being aware of the illusion” is misguided; one can have this knowledge without weaponizing it into corruption, and one can be corrupt without such an awareness.

In The Role of Co-Operation in Competition, Qui refutes several myths about capitalism. First, he proves that capitalism is not as anti-social as its critics claim. Second, he corrects the misconception of competition as being necessarily aggressive in nature. Third, he explains how competition can actually be a form of cooperation, in that individuals or groups can agree to compete in order to find out which methods are superior. Qui segues into several examples of cooperation that are not strictly competitive, such as food companies co-marketing with drink companies and agreements between private road companies. To complete the argument, he examines how the contrapositive is also true; namely, that removing competition also removes an incentive to cooperate. He finishes with a brief discussion of cartels and makes the insightful observation that a labor union is not commonly recognized as a cartel, despite functioning much like one.

It is only in Reverse Claims to Property that Qui truly goes off the libertarian reservation in his thinking, though he admits at the beginning that he may be doing so. Here, he tries (and fails) to invent an inverse of property rights to resolve questions of state-occupied property and wilderness areas. Qui again neglects other libertarian theories on how to deal with pollution. This un-ownership would, as he suggests, legitimize rights violations in some cases.

In Who Watches the Watchmen, Qui explores the libertarian answer to this age-old question, namely that the watchmen (in the form of private defense agencies) all watch each other. Here he enters an off-topic though informative discussion on the impossibility of eliminating the state by democratic means. He then returns to the topic to find that re-establishment of a state is the worst case scenario in a stateless society, but all economic and military incentives work against it. That it is the worst case means that all other outcomes must be better, setting this particular objection on its ear.

National Defence Without Coercion is the last essay in the second part, and it deals with the subject at length. Qui begins by noting the common fallacy committed by statists: using a state to defend people against other states does not change the fact that people are subjugated by a state; it only changes which state is in control. He covers the basics of how a private defense agency should function, but is a bit too enamored with nationalism. His comparisons between a private defense agency and an insurance company make one wonder where such arguments were in earlier essays. The latter part includes some novel thought on how the facilities of a private defense agency might be employed in other ways during peacetime. The conclusion discusses the difference between pre-modern gentlemen’s war and modern total war, with libertarianism likely to end modern warfare and return us to the less destructive pre-modern type of warfare. This essay and the previous essay could have been combined.

The final part consists of one much longer essay titled Examining Cultural Destruction. Qui examines the causes and symptoms of cultural decay, then proposes solutions. The role of the state and central banking in reducing time preferences is explained, then Qui shows how capitalism makes this worse not by being bad in and of itself, but by amplifying whatever inputs it receives. Egalitarianism is blamed in the Rothbardian sense of a revolt against nature, as is the loss of autonomy and identity that statism causes. Symptoms of these causes are identified as the demonization of productive work, the collapse of stable interpersonal and family relationships, the loss of spiritualism and hierarchy, the ascent of shallow materialism, the prevalence of escapism, and the expansion of empiricism into inherently rational disciplines. To solve these problems, Qui recommends absolute private property rights, abolition of central banking and as much of the state as possible, and a restoration of traditional values.

The first word that comes to mind when describing the entire collection is ‘incomplete.’ Qui lacked an editor for the book, and it shows. The grammatical constructions and punctuation are frequently in need of revision, and each of the essays would benefit from a much deeper bibliography. But the thoughts expressed therein are sufficiently intriguing to merit reading despite these flaws.

Rating: 4/5

Book Review: The Art Of Invisibility

The Art of Invisibility is a book about methods of maintaining privacy and anonymity in an age of surveillance by American hacker and cybersecurity analyst Kevin Mitnick. The book gives advice on every aspect of modern technology which could expose one to nosy neighbors, identity thieves, law enforcement, and other sources of unwanted attention. The book is divided into sixteen chapters which advise the reader about various measures that can be taken to improve security.

The introduction begins with the revelations made about the NSA’s activities by Edward Snowden, then discusses the information that is publicly available about most people with very little searching required. The first chapter is about password security and security questions. Tips are given for choosing a strong password, using a password manager, creating answers for security questions, and using multi-factor authentication. The second and third chapters cover surveillance of email and phones. Mitnick covers the concepts of metadata, encryption, and social engineering. He explains how the Tor browser and MAC addresses work. He discusses several current and historic methods of wiretapping phone conversations and pinpointing the location of a phone, then explains how a burner phone may be used to obtain some privacy.

Chapter 4 is about the functionality and use of encryption to thwart eavesdroppers. This is discussed in the context of text messages, cell phones, and computers, each of which is remarkably vulnerable without it. The next chapter begins with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which is now being used to prosecute anyone who deletes browser history that federal prosecutors wish preserved. Mitnick makes the obvious recommendation of not collecting such history in the first place, then instructs the reader on how to do so. He then discusses how Internet browsers track a user’s location and how this may be countered. The chapter concludes with the dangers of connecting devices and cloud storage.

The sixth chapter details various tactics that websites use to track users, such as scripts, single-pixel images, cookies, and toolbars, then offers advice for stopping them. The chapter ends with a basic overview of Bitcoin for overcoming some current legitimate uses for tracking. The dangers of sharing an Internet connection make up the seventh and eighth chapters. Mitnick teaches the reader how to set up an Internet connection that is difficult for malicious users to find and use. Next, he discusses several cases in which webcams were used to spy on people, including underage students. The phenomenon of ransomware, in which a user’s files are encrypted by malware and can only be decrypted by paying an extortionist, concludes Chapter 7. After this comes the pitfalls of public computers and Wi-Fi connections. Lessons on avoiding man-in-the-middle attacks, using virtual private networks, resetting one’s MAC address, and more are found in the eighth chapter.

The second half of the book opens with examples of photo metadata being used to locate people, then tells how to delete such information and prevent it from being created. Mitnick then gives advice on how to get unwanted photographs of oneself removed from websites, though it may not always work. The dangers of posting sensitive personal information on social media or otherwise sharing it with strangers is discussed. The extent to which corporations track commentary on social media is detailed through examples of students found publicly discussing standardized test material. The absurdity of minors facing criminal charges for possessing nude photos of themselves is used to illustrate the potential dangers of Instagram and Snapchat. The chapter finishes with privacy problems that can come from using dating sites and mobile apps.

Mobile device tracking is the subject of the tenth chapter. Mitnick writes about the third-party accessibility of information recorded by fitness-tracking devices as well as the trackability of people through the GPS features of their devices. He also shares an interesting episode of social engineering combined with tracking in which he surprised a careless driver who almost killed him with a stern warning supposedly from the DMV. The use of drones and facial recognition to erode privacy come later in the chapter, along with some prototypical countermeasures. The next two chapters detail how cars and home appliances can be used to track people, then show people how to turn off many of these features. Doing so will deprive users of some convenience, but that is the general cost of privacy and anonymity.

Chapter 13 applies the information discussed in previous chapters to the workplace. The insecurity of copiers, printers, and other such office appliances is highlighted so as to warn readers not to use them for any purpose that one would not want one’s employer or any hacker to see. Videoconferencing and remote file storage systems are covered in the last part of the chapter, with advice given for increasing security on them. The fourteenth chapter details the myriad ways in which government agents violate privacy and interfere with private electronics and communications, then advises readers on how to protect themselves while being aware of the laws in various countries. Also included here are the privacy concerns with hotel keys, supermarket cards, and airline boarding passes should they fall into the wrong hands.

The fifteenth chapter is mostly about the arrest of Ross Ulbricht, describing the mistakes that led to his capture. Devices that masks geolocation, and could thus have hidden Ulbricht from law enforcement had they existed in 2013, are mentioned. The final chapter lays out a step-by-step guide to achieving as much anonymity online as possible.

From beginning to end, Mitnick shares a wealth of information with just the right amount of personal anecdotes and other stories to keep the reader engaged. The Art of Invisibility is an excellent reference that deserves a place on the bookshelf of all who care about online privacy and personal security until enough time passes to render the information within obsolete, which may be on the order of decades.

Rating: 4.5/5

Book Review: Calculating The Cosmos

Calculating The Cosmos is a book about the history and current practice of physics, astronomy, and cosmology by British mathematics professor Ian Stewart. The book gives the reader an overview of many topics, including gravitation, the solar system, spacetime, extraterrestrial life, and quantum mechanics. The book is divided into nineteen chapters, as well as a short prologue and epilogue.

The prologue begins with the mission to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, then gives a brief recounting of previous space missions. The role of mathematics in astronomy is discussed, followed by its role in cosmology. The first chapter takes us through the history of gravitational theories, from the ancient Greeks to Galileo, Kepler, and Newton, and onward to general relativity and quantum mechanics. More detail in the path toward relativity would have improved the book here. With the second chapter, Stewart begins discussing the solar system, starting with its formation. The nebular hypothesis of a collapsing gas cloud that forms stars and planets is the main focus, along with previous theories and why they were rejected. These are used to illustrate the importance of physics concepts like momentum and angular momentum. The chapter ends with a discussion of possible futures for the solar system, some of which involve planetary collisions and ejections.

The third chapter is devoted to the theories for the formation of the Moon. These include the giant impact hypothesis, as well as several other ideas that fail to explain the Moon’s composition, tidal locking with Earth, and angular momentum. Much of the chapter concerns the nature of constructing simulations for events like an impact between Earth and a Mars-sized object, or the formation of a solar system. In the fourth chapter, Stewart examines the Titius-Bode law, then expands to power laws in general. Their use in discovering Uranus comes next, followed by the use of perturbation techniques to find Neptune. The chapter ends with the accidental correctness of perturbation techniques concerning Pluto and their failed prediction of Vulcan, a hypothetical planet closer to the Sun than Mercury. Oddly, no mention is made here of the hypothetical Planet Nine, and Stewart does not note that Neptune is out of place by the Titius-Bode law.

The fifth chapter is called Celestial Police, in reference to a group of astronomers at the turn of the 19th century, though most pages have the chapter name “Number of Asteroids.” Stewart gives the history of discovery of the asteroids, then explains how resonances with Jupiter’s orbit explains gaps in the asteroid belt. This leads into a discussion of the 2½-body problem and the five Lagrange points of such a system. The chapter concludes with natural examples of objects in Lagrange point orbits, such as Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids and Saturn’s moons Tethys, Telesto, and Calypso. The next two chapters concern the moons and rings of Saturn and Jupiter, respectively. The discovery of Saturn’s rings and the path toward discovering their true nature comes first, then Stewart shows how resonances with Saturn’s moons explain both the gaps in its rings and how the F ring stays in place. Resonances appear once more in Chapter 7 to explain conjunctions between the moons of Jupiter and Pluto. The chapter ends with facts about some of Jupiter’s and Saturn’s major moons.

Comets are the focus of the eighth chapter. The comet 67P and the effort to land a space probe on it are examined in greater detail. Better known comets, such as Halley’s Comet, are discussed to illustrate the predictive power of mathematics. The origin of comets leads to sections on the Oort Cloud and the Kuiper Belt, then the chapter concludes with the 1994 impact of Shoemaker-Levy 9 on Jupiter. The ninth chapter gives a basic overview of chaos theory, and does a good job of clearing up common misconceptions in popular culture about the subject. After this, Stewart returns to the asteroid belt resonances to discuss a possible origin for the object that likely caused the Cretaceous extinction event.

The tenth chapter discusses various types of orbits and how they can be used to send spacecraft from one place to another with varying degrees of efficiency and travel time. In the eleventh chapter, Stewart brings optics into the discussion to write about stellar composition and classification, illustrated by the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. The nuclear fusion reactions that power stars, as well as the ultimate fates of stars of various masses comes next. The role of stars in producing all of the heavier elements is explained, from supernovas to newer stars. The observation of sunspots is the subject of the next section, as well as a possible explanation for their cycles. The last subject of the chapter is the means of measuring cosmic distances, from the distance from Earth to the Sun to the distances of various stars. The chapter ends with a few pages of color illustrations, the only ones in the book.

Chapter 12 is devoted to galaxies. Stewart begins with the Milky Way, observed since antiquity but only explained relatively recently. Hubble’s empirical classification of galaxies is cited, then attempts to explain the various shapes are discussed. The failure of galactic rotational speeds to match predictions is left as a puzzle for a later chapter. In the thirteenth chapter, the methods for discovering exoplanets are examined, along with possibilities for extraterrestrial life both elsewhere in the solar system and elsewhere in the universe. The chapter concludes with Stewart’s inventive imagination concerning a hypothetical alien world. The fourteenth chapter begins with the historical steps toward current theories about black holes. The difference between a static black hole and a rotating black hole are explained, as well as their possible role as a link to other universes and hypothetical white holes, which function as expellers of matter and energy that cannot be entered. Alternative explanations for black hole geometry, such as gravastars, are considered at the end of the chapter. The Penrose diagrams here could use more explanation, as they can be quite confusing to a lay reader.

The fifteenth chapter is about the distribution of matter in the universe, as well as the topology of the universe. Stewart does as well as he can without resorting to complex mathematical equations, but doing so would greatly aid the reader’s understanding of the subjects involved. In the sixteenth chapter, the discoveries and interpretations leading to the Big Bang theory are discussed, as well as the various proposals for how the far future of the universe may play out. The next two chapters deal with inflation, dark matter, and dark energy, which are correctives to make the Big Bang theory agree with experimental results. Stewart criticizes this standard cosmological model for its large number of unobserved conjectures, then discusses some alternative theories. The final chapter waxes philosophical about the unlikely combination of physical constants that seem fine-tuned to produce life, then Stewart critiques some of the more outlandish claims regarding this. The epilogue recounts many subjects from the book and points out the difference in procedure between science and mathematics.

Overall, Stewart does a good job of both exploring past and present scientific theories while stressing that science is always tentative, subject to new theories and empirical evidence, unlike his native mathematics. He helpfully notes the scientific jargon so that the lay reader can look up the relevant topic to learn more. However, there is relatively little mathematics in the book, and this can be disappointing for people who cannot see physics without the mathematics. Even so, Calculating The Cosmos is a good read for an intelligent layperson who wants an introduction to cosmology.

Rating: 4/5

Book Review: Open To Debate

Open To Debate is a book about the life and work of William F. Buckley, Jr. by American film and media professor Heather Hendershot. The book examines the role of his television show Firing Line (1966-99) in shaping the American conservative movement in particular and the overall political scene more generally. The book is divided into six chapters, bookended by a lengthy preface and introduction as well as a short conclusion.

The preface deals with Buckley’s formative years, including his experience at a boarding school in England, his time in the US Army during World War II, and his reaction to his time at Yale. His success with God and Man at Yale (1951) led to his founding of National Review magazine in 1955. He participated in mediated debates with ideological opponents through the 1950s and 1960s, which eventually led to Firing Line. A particularly bad performance in a debate against James Baldwin demonstrates Buckley’s weaknesses, many of which he would improve upon over the years. The New York City mayoral campaign of 1965 in which Buckley ran as a third-party candidate shows the stark contrast between Buckley and a politician, which is all the more interesting because his brother, James Buckley, was a US Senator and federal judge. An example of the types of guests who fared well on Firing Line versus the types who did not comes next, then the preface ends with a comparison between the show and what has replaced it (or failed to) in the news and public affairs programming category.

The introductory segment discusses the beginnings of Firing Line in 1966, including the discussion format, production values, nature of guests, the time of airing, whether to have commercials, and whether to have a moderator. Much of this was a matter of trial-and-error in the first few years of the show, with the show taking on its iconic form after moving to PBS in 1971. Hendershot includes some of Buckley’s media experiences beyond his own show, which illustrate that he could fit in on other programs despite being a Hollywood outsider. Much of the rest of the chapter highlights several 1960s episodes.

The first chapter begins with the aftermath of Barry Goldwater’s defeat in the 1964 presidential election. Buckley’s quest was to make conservatism respectable, which meant trying to purge conspiracy theorists, violent racists, religious zealots, and extreme anticommunists from mainstream conservatism, with a partial exception for the less unhinged anticommunists. Hendershot details Buckley’s opposition to the John Birch Society across several episodes. As for the charges of extremism, Buckley invited Goldwater onto the show in 1966 to show him not to be the person that Democrats portrayed him as during the election.

The anticommunism of Buckley is the focus of the second chapter. Hendershot begins by giving the context of the time and of Buckley’s upbringing to help the reader understand the approach taken on Firing Line. Buckley debated socialists and progressives rather than outright communists, and did so from a position of defending McCarthyism in general but not the excesses of McCarthy himself. She provides excerpts from Buckley’s discussions with John Kenneth Galbraith and Noam Chomsky, two prominent leftist intellectuals of the time, then discusses the appearance of Theodore White, a repentant communist sympathizer, in 1978. Hendershot then turns to the episodes with Victor Navasky, Nation magazine editor and critic of McCarthyism and Roy Cohn, McCarthy’s senior counsel during the hearings to show the difference between Buckley and more ardent anticommunists.

The third chapter covers Buckley’s opposition to the Black Power and civil rights movements, though he supported many of the ideas advocated by those movements. Hendershot returns to the episode with Cohn and Mark Felt, the senior FBI agent who would later be revealed as the Watergate informant Deep Throat, to show Buckley’s opposition to lowbrow tactics in government opposition to Martin Luther King Jr. Next, the episodes with Floyd McKissick, Judge Leander Perez, Gov. George Wallace, and Sen. Strom Thurmond are used to show Buckley’s rejection of the ideas that the civil rights movement was a front for communism, that racism was conservative, and that states’ rights were synonymous with racist policies. McKissick’s appearance also highlights Buckley’s agreement with Black Power objectives, if not some of their tactics and leaders. Hendershot uses the shows with Eldridge Cleaver and Milton Henry, along with his refusal to host LeRoi Jones or H. Rap Brown, to show the limits of Buckley’s tolerance for extremists, which went quite far.

In the fourth chapter, Hendershot examines Buckley’s opposition to feminism and women’s liberation. Again, Buckley supported equal rights but not the equal rights movement due to its fringe characters and goals. Here, the Firing Line episodes with Phyllis Schlafly and Midge Decter demonstrate his lack of far-right extremism, while the episodes with Betty Friedan, Germaine Greer, and Harriet Pilpel show his opposition to the feminist movement and some of its more outlandish goals. Hendershot also includes Buckley’s interactions with Clare Boothe Luce as a sort of middle ground.

The fifth chapter is about how Buckley dealt with the Nixon administration. Hendershot covers Nixon’s 1967 appearance on Firing Line and several episodes dedicated to Nixon’s policies and legal troubles to show Buckley’s independence from Nixon. The episode with Woodward and Bernstein has Buckley almost defending Nixon and arguing that he should have destroyed the tapes, while the episodes on war crimes were quite critical of Nixon’s policies in Vietnam. Buckley’s darker impulses are also revealed in this chapter with regard to censorship and laws against victimless behaviors, along with an unwillingness to take much action upon them. The final part of the chapter has Buckley making the argument that Nixon’s downfall was caused by non-conservative behavior and that he was a deviation from the correct course for the right.

Chapter six takes us through the Reagan years and beyond to examine the results of Buckley’s efforts. Hendershot begins by discussing Reagan’s rightward shift and the growth in his ability to keep up with television hosts. She uses excerpts of Reagan’s 1967 and 1971 Firing Line appearances to demonstrate his improvement, but only writes about his 1980 appearance while campaigning and 1990 appearance to review his presidency. Reagan’s 1978 debate with Buckley over ownership of the Panama Canal shows Buckley’s dedication to realpolitik and unwillingness to abide conspiratorial thinking. Ron Paul’s 1988 appearance is used to show the limits of Buckley’s libertarian leanings. Next, Hendershot discusses Buckley’s rejection of the religious right, which was instrumental in electing Reagan, and the differing perspectives on the 1980s that come from left versus right. The chapter concludes with Reagan’s opposition to PBS (which aired Firing Line). References to Buckley’s final book, The Reagan I Knew (2008), are sprinkled throughout.

In the conclusion, Hendershot offers praise for Firing Line despite her leftist personal views, even recommending that a Firing Line 2.0 be created to attempt to replace the role of contemporary political discussion shows that frequently devolve into unintelligent partisan bickering. She laments that this is unlikely to happen, and that many of the far-right groups that Buckley sought to suppress are now enjoying a resurgent popularity.

The book offers a thorough examination of Buckley’s television program, if not Buckley as a whole. The book feels longer than it is, but the subject matter of a show that ran for 33 years demands length. Hendershot could do a bit less editorializing, but this is not overly disruptive. Overall, the book excels at its core objective and is worth reading.

Rating: 3.5/5

Book Review: Closing The Courthouse Door

Closing The Courthouse Door is a book about role of the judiciary in the American system by law professor Erwin Chemerinsky. The book examines how Supreme Court decisions over the past few decades have greatly limited the ability of the courts to protect civil liberties, hold government accountable, and enforce the Constitution. The book is divided into seven chapters, each of which focuses on a different aspect of the problem of reduced access of the American people to the courts.

In the first chapter, Chemerinsky argues that if rights cannot be enforced and damages cannot be awarded by the courts, then the government and its agents may do as they please, as unenforceable limits are functionally equivalent to no limits. He views Marbury v. Madison as a cornerstone of American jurisprudence rather than a usurpation of power not granted by the Constitution, and views the Constitution as an effort to limit government rather than as an expansion of government beyond what the Articles of Confederation allowed. Chemerinsky makes a case for the judicial branch being the most suitable branch for enforcing the Constitution, then addresses and rebuts several competing views of the role of the judiciary.

Sovereign immunity is the focus of the second chapter, and Chemerinsky shows how the idea that the state can do no wrong is at odds with many American values and constitutional principles, including federalism, due process, and government accountability. However, the Supreme Court has made numerous rulings expanding sovereign immunity since the time of the Eleventh Amendment‘s adoption, making it virtually impossible for a citizen to obtain a redress of grievances when victimized by the state. He tackles several arguments in favor of sovereign immunity, such as protecting government treasuries, separation of powers, and the existence of alternative remedies. Next, Chemerinsky examines how case law has granted effective immunity to local governments, even though they do not officially have it.

In the third chapter, Chemerinsky continues with the theme of immunity by discussing it at the level of government agents. He discusses the Bivens case, which allows federal agents to be sued for damages if they violate constitutional rights, and the subsequent hostility of the Court to that decision. Disallowing suits when Congress provides an alternative remedy, when Congress says they are disallowed, when military personnel are defendants, when judges find it undesirable to allow such claims, or when private prisons and their guards are defendants, has all but overruled Bivens. Furthermore, Chemerinsky argues that absolute immunity for certain government officials should be replaced by qualified immunity to give the officials room to work but hold them accountable.

The fourth chapter details how various Supreme Court decisions have narrowed the ability of citizens to bring matters before the courts. Chemerinsky explains how the doctrine of standing has been invented and used to keep actions which do not have particular identifiable victims from being adjudicated. He argues that the narrow interpretation of what constitutes an injury and the refusal to hear claims based on a generalized grievance that all Americans suffer mean that no one is able to challenge the government in court when it violates the Constitution. The second half of the chapter covers the political question doctrine, and Chemerinsky makes the case that it is essentially a punt by the judicial branch to the elected branches of government with the end result of trusting them to follow the law, which history shows to be an unrealistic option.

The gradual erosion of the writ of habeas corpus is discussed in the fifth chapter. Here, Chemerinsky shows how the Supreme Court has upheld vastly disproportionate prison sentences on technicalities, kept federal courts from enforcing the Fourth Amendment through habeas corpus, disallowed claims not made and evidence not presented in state courts from being heard in federal courts, barred arguments for novel rights that the Supreme Court has not yet recognized, and prevented prisoners from filing multiple habeas corpus petitions. He explains how the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act has all but removed the right of habeas corpus at the federal level.

In the sixth chapter is called Opening the Federal Courthouse Doors, but the chapter actually shows even more examples of them being closed. For example, plaintiffs can now be required to show facts without being allowed to go through the discovery phase of a case that is required to learn those facts, setting up a catch-22. The abstention doctrine created in Younger v. Harris and is cited as a major barrier to the proper operation of federal courts as well as a means for state officials to abuse citizens. Chemerinsky then discusses the difficulties in using class action lawsuits that have been imposed in recent years as well as the rise in private arbitrations that favor corporations over individuals.

The final chapter begins with cases involving egregious human rights abuses by the CIA. These cases were dismissed on the grounds that state secrets might be revealed if the cases were tried, which is yet another way to keep courts from enforcing the Constitution. Chemerinsky concludes by addressing objections to the arguments made through the entire book.

The book is just over 200 pages, but feels as long as any 400-page book that I have read. To his credit, Chemerinsky’s left-wing political leanings do not appear any more than they must in order for him to make his arguments. Libertarians will undoubtedly think that the changes proposed in the book do not go nearly far enough, but Closing The Courthouse Door is still worth reading for those capable of handling the subject matter.

Rating: 3.5/5

Book Review: The Science Of Selling

The Science of Selling is a book about how science can improve the field of sales by American sales trainer David Hoffeld. The book explains what research in psychology says about each aspect of the sales process, as well as how to sell in accordance with how the brain makes buying decisions. The book is divided into ten chapters, which comprise three sections that focus on different aspects of the business of sales.

Hoffeld begins by discussing some of his background and what made him decide to use science to improve his sales performance. He then explains why sales is not an obsolete profession and why science works to improve sales performance. The remainder of the introduction lays out the framework of the rest of the book.

The first chapter explores why salespeople are struggling. The suggested remedy is to adjust sales techniques to conform to the manner in which the human brain makes buying decisions. The second chapter covers the functionality of influence. The peripheral route is explained first, in terms of building trust and understanding the heuristics that most people use when making decisions. The central route is explained next, which involves the actual message of the salesperson. What this message should contain is the primary focus of the third chapter. Hoffeld uses a proprietary method called the Six Whys combined with attending to the buyer’s emotional state in order to address a buyer’s questions and get the buyer to feel like buying. These questions allow a salesperson to understand a buyer’s needs and convince a buyer to purchase a good or service now from a particular company. The fourth chapter focuses on the role of emotions in decision making and how salespeople can alter a buyer’s emotional state away from negativity.

The second section, composed of the next five chapters, begins with a study of questions. Many types of questions are analyzed, along with their role in the course of securing a sale. These are used to gain a basic understanding of a subject, then prompt potential buyers to think through an idea, then get potential buyers to disclose their dominant motives. The sixth chapter delves into primary buying motivators to explain why buyers buy from particular providers, then turns to buying requirements. Advice for dealing with decision makers and those who influence them come next, followed by how to learn a buyer’s decision criteria concerning what they need, how soon they need it, and how much they can pay for it.

Hoffeld deals with value creation and countering obstacles to making a sale in the seventh chapter. He uses social exchange theory to explain how a salesperson can help buyers to see value in the product being sold. Next, inoculation theory as a means of neutralizing competitors is discussed. After this, Hoffeld returns to the Six Whys and positive emotional states when considering how to address objections. In the eighth chapter, Hoffeld shares his approach to closing a deal. The Six Whys factor in again, as he views the close as a commitment that follows from a series of commitments throughout the sales process. This is supported by evidence from psychology that shows the power of the desire to be consistent. The use of trial closes to guide buyers into making a decision to purchase are covered next. Hoffeld suggests handling non-commitments by addressing objections and reinforcing the commitments that the potential customer has already made. With that done, the only thing left to do is to make a closing statement or ask a closing question to finish a deal.

The ninth chapter is about the design of sales presentations. The experiment Hoffeld mentions with jam selections in a grocery store to show that more choices can reduce sales is illuminating in the field of sales and far beyond. The strategies of setting anchors that portray one’s product as superior to an alternative, activating a customer’s mirror neurons by exhibiting their body language, using visuals instead of words only, and the use of stories and testimonials are recommended for effective sales presentations.

Hoffeld closes with a final section/chapter concerning the future of sales and what changes he believes will occur in the coming years. The prediction that a scientific approach will take over an anecdotal approach almost has to be correct, as all of the incentives mandate it. This necessarily validates his second prediction, that sales research will blossom. The final prediction that sales hiring practices will improve is probably true, but likely to take longer.

The Science of Selling is an excellent resource for salespeople, as the strategies therein are more effective than the trial-and-error and guesswork that is commonly practiced today. However, I must admit to reading this book at three levels in addition to face value: how a jobseeker may sell oneself to employers, how a philosopher may persuade the public of one’s ideas, and how a political activist may succeed in advancing one’s agendas. At the jobseeker level, this book explains why certain people fail to get job interviews and/or fail in job interviews. At the philosopher and political activist levels, this book explains why certain people are unpersuasive, why certain political systems are constructed as they are, and why logical fallacies seem to work in the real world. Thus, this book is useful not only to its intended audience, but far beyond it as well.

Rating: 5/5