How To Rein In Censorious Technology Giants

Over the past decade, the large technology companies of Silicon Valley have transitioned from a mindset of attempting to make government censorship impossible to a mindset of attempting to make government censorship unnecessary. Those with views which are in opposition to the progressive narrative have increasingly found their posts removed and accounts suspended on the social media platforms created by these companies. Though this is not a new problem, it has escalated since the firing of James Damore from Google and the unrest in Charlottesville. Those who are not part of the progressive movement, such as conservatives, libertarians, reactionaries, and the alt-right are increasingly finding themselves shut out of open discourse online, having to either signal compliance with the left or risk being de-platformed on the most popular social media sites. Though the alt-right has borne the brunt of this so far, it is unlikely to stop there, as the contemporary left does not value discourse in the same way as their classical liberal predecessors. There are several proposed responses to this situation, but none of them are likely to effectively deal with the problem. Let us examine these to discover their shortcomings, then craft a novel response that is more likely to succeed.

The Mainstream Libertarian Response

In the mainstream libertarian view, the large size of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, GoDaddy, Paypal, and others are astonishing success stories of free-market capitalism. They tend to view these technology companies as private businesses whose owners should be able to freely choose with whom they will associate or not associate. Indeed, many libertarians view ostracism as a nearly universal positive, working to reward preferred behavior while punishing dispreferred behavior. If these companies behave improperly, mainstream libertarians believe that the market will punish them by elevating an alternative to prominence.

Though ostracism on the basis of behavior is nothing new, the crowdsourcing power of the Internet has transformed it into a political weapon that can be used to ruin people unjustly. Moreover, it is capable of dividing an entire society along ideological lines. When reasoned discourse is shut down and unpopular viewpoints are suppressed by howling irrational cyber-mobs, those who are de-platformed are likely to have their internal victim narratives confirmed, radicalizing them further. This may serve as a precursor to a novel type of civil war, one which arises when the heated rhetoric that is naturally produced as a byproduct of democracy escalates into political violence and there is no peaceful outlet to reduce tensions before they consume the entire society.

In a free market, censorious behavior from the largest companies would be of little concern. As John Gilmore, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said, “The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” But it is also true that those in positions of power view checks, balances, and competition as damage and seek to route around them. Technology giants accomplish this partly by lobbying governments to regulate their industries in a manner that they can capture, as any other large companies would. But they have another weapon which can be even more potent: they can use their platforms to keep their upstart competitors out of search results and application stores. This can keep their competitors from gaining the brand recognition necessary to build the user base to become successful social media platforms. This was less of a problem in the early days of social media when turnover of the most popular sites was higher, but the near-monopolies of the largest companies are no longer as vulnerable.

The Conservative/Alt-Right Responses

In the view increasingly expressed by conservatives and alt-rightists, the Internet is an essential aspect of life in the 21st century, and the technology companies that deny people access to the most popular social media platforms, domain hosting services, and payment processors are curtailing both the civil liberties and economic opportunities of those people. The largest technology companies are effective monopolies, in that these firms are the only sellers of products and services that have no close substitutes. In response, they call for the state to regulate these companies as public utilities, much as they do to providers of electricity, water, and natural gas. This line of thinking also leads to support among these people for net neutrality regulations. Some argue that government regulation is even more necessary in this case, as the network effects and first-mover advantages of the largest technology firms mean that a competitor cannot provide the same quality of service even if there are no significant barriers to entry into the business of creating social media platforms, search engines, and payment processors.

However, treating social media as a public utility is likely to cause more problems than it solves. When governments began regulating other industries, innovation in those industries slowed. The companies which were nearly monopolistic either remained so or became real monopolies, as competition became even more difficult. Freezing current troublesome companies in place as major players rather than allowing upstarts to displace them is an undesirable outcome. This is exacerbated by the fact that public utility regulations are just as vulnerable to regulatory capture as any other regulations. It is also strange to equate losing social media presence with losing access to goods and services like clean water or garbage disposal, as one can live a healthy life without access to social media. Furthermore, the cost of regulation is likely to be high, and the regulated businesses will pass this cost onto their customers.

A Radical Proposal

To summarize the above responses, the mainstream libertarian would do too little while the conservative or alt-rightist would do too much. What is needed is an approach that can stop the censorious technology giants from abusing the power they have accumulated without causing the innovation-stifling and monopoly-calcifying effects of government regulation. This approach should use state power in a manner which does not expand said power beyond its current size and scope, but will solve the problem with minimum malign interference in the economy. Fortunately, there is a simple and powerful solution which may be explained in a straightforward manner.

To begin, let us note that all of these technology giants are incorporated companies. A corporation is a legal fiction created by the state to shield business owners from full financial liability and ease the enforcement of laws upon those businesses. It is impossible to create a corporation without involving the state, as attempting to do so without registering the corporation with a government will have no effect. The closest one could come would be to negotiate recognition of a business entity with limited liability with each customer of that business, but this would not be identical to a state-recognized corporation in terms of its interaction with the state. Two results directly follow from this. First, registering a corporation amounts to participation in a government program. Second, state-recognized corporations are not truly private businesses, but public-private partnerships in which the state provides limited liability through its monopoly on courts and the private business fulfills its purpose, whatever it may be.

In order to participate in a government program, a person or other entity is supposed to be in compliance with government laws. In the United States, the highest law with which a state-recognized corporation should be in compliance for this purpose is the Constitution. The Constitution contains a number of provisions which are supposed to limit the conduct of government, including provisions to protect freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, security against unreasonable search and seizure, and due process, among other rights. Because state-recognized corporations are public-private partnerships, they should be held to the same limitations on their conduct.

Thus, we arrive at an approach that meets the conditions described above. The technology giants that are currently engaging in censorious activities against viewpoints that they find disagreeable should be approached by the state and given two choices. Their first option is to begin respecting the aforementioned rights in accordance with the above argument and stop their censorious behavior. Their second option is to forfeit their corporate charters and right to do business as a corporation in the United States. This means that they would lose access to all government contracts, loans, and grants, could not be bailed out by taxpayers if their businesses falter, could not receive property taken through eminent domain, and the personal assets of everyone in the company would be available for paying civil damages. In other words, the leadership of the technology giants would have to choose whether to contribute to a more open marketplace of ideas or to become free-market businesses, either of which would be an improvement upon the current state of affairs. Even the hint that such a proposal is being considered by high-ranking federal officials would have the technology giants rushing to behave better, and could accomplish the same results as public utility regulation with far less threat to innovation.

Now let us apply the test described above,

“This approach should use state power in a manner which does not expand said power beyond its current size and scope, but will solve the problem with minimum malign interference in the economy.”

Currently, the federal government enforces anti-discrimination laws on bases other than those involving the people being de-platformed by the technology giants. This proposal implicitly adds the basis of political ideology to race, gender, age, sexual orientation, and other currently protected categories. While this may appear to be an increase in scope, it would actually work to level out some of the discrepancies caused by protecting only the aforementioned categories. In order to evade constitutional restrictions, the federal government typically uses carrots rather than sticks to gain compliance from state government and large corporations, in the form of only awarding federal funding to compliant entities. Here, strings attached to continued recognition of corporate charters takes the place of strings attached to funds, but the overall methodology is unchanged.

As for malign interference in the economy, the latter option may appear to be so, but it is not upon closer scrutiny. First, no rational person in a leadership position at a technology giant would choose it due to the enormous risks involved in running such a large business without the legal shield of a corporation. Second, if any technology giants did choose the latter option, the change of ending state-recognized corporations in favor of government independence and full responsibility would be a beneficial move toward a more free-market economy.

Objections

Such a novel and radical approach is certain to meet objections, so let us attempt to anticipate and deal with some likely criticisms. First, there is the potential for technology giants based in the United States to balk at this dilemma and respond by leaving the United States for more favorable conditions elsewhere. Though this may be extremely disruptive in the short term, it would remove the canopy that is blocking the sunlight needed by the seedlings that seek to grow and replace the technology giants. The end result would almost certainly be both a more open and a more free market in the long term. But this is an unlikely result, as they would not wish to lose such a large and wealthy customer base as the American people.

Second, such a move would certainly be challenged in court, and the Supreme Court may see fit to rule against it. If this happens, then nothing will be lost and awareness of the need to appoint justices who are more friendly to the anti-censorship cause will be raised. It would also provide a strong President with a chance to ignore the Supreme Court and force the issue, especially if public opinion is against the side of the technology giants. The dominance of the judiciary in the American system is a longstanding problem, and any opportunity to challenge its power is a welcome development.

Third, there is the claim that this proposal is more about open markets than free markets. This claim is not without merit, but the current market conditions are neither open nor free. Working toward free markets is the primary economic objective of libertarian philosophy, but in the meantime, an open unfree market is superior to a closed unfree market. It is important not to fall into the trap of political autism by doing nothing until an ideal libertarian textbook solution hopefully comes along, which may not happen.

Finally, one may wonder why the issue cannot be left up to the market. In the long term, the market is essential for solving the problem posed by the technology giants. But although this is necessary, it is not sufficient for dealing with the immediate problem at hand. Through their current market share and their abuse of the power that said market share provides them, the technology giants are making the market unfree. Like it or not, the state is the weapon currently in play, and unless it is going to be eliminated in the near future, its power will either be used to favor the established companies or their upstart competition.

Conclusion

The technology giants have managed to acquire an unprecedented amount of power over the lives of people all over the world. As Frank Herbert observed, “Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible.” If the leadership of these companies decide that they wish to silence someone and ruin their finances for whatever reason, it is within their capabilities to do so. Some may cheer because such a fate is currently befalling the alt-right. But what they do to Christopher Cantwell and The Daily Stormer today, they can and will do to anyone they dislike in the near future. Unless the technology giants are reined in, they will provoke the state into regulating their industries as public utilities, which will set back innovation by decades. The mere threat of the above proposal is capable of not only stopping their censorious behavior, but of opening the markets enough for private competitors to free them.

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

A Critique of Libertarian Strategy

Lack of Action

Even the slightest familiarity with most libertarians will show the observer how much libertarians love to talk about the slightest philosophical disagreements, as well as how much time libertarians devote to libertarian literature and propagating the ideas of liberty on the Internet. However, even with that immense passion, most libertarians seem to be averse to actual economic and political action that would increase the amount of liberty in the world. In fairness, some move to New Hampshire for the Free State Project, some work on start-up societies, and there are gray market alternative products sold by libertarians. However, the amount of effort put into learning liberty does not seem to match up with the amount of effort actually spent on advancing liberty in the real world. Libertarian philosophy may win hearts and minds until the end of time, but if libertarians are not willing to go outside the statist quo, there can be no real world change.

Contrast this inactivity with the progressive movement that swept the United States in the early 20th century. The progressives opened public areas, worked on local communities, and did so in order to spread their progressive beliefs. It was a complete hands-on movement intent on creating actual change and composed of people who were willing to work, leave their houses, and participate in their community. If libertarians want to achieve any level of cultural advancement in a libertarian direction, there can be no expectation of it being created by arguing on social media about whether or not abortions or borders are libertarian, but rather by engaging in social activities in a voluntary manner to spread liberty. Recently, a man built a $100,000 dollar staircase for just over 500 dollars for his community, and this great act of voluntary improvement was removed by the state. There are examples over examples of how children have their lemonade stands shut down when they are trying to make some pocket money. There are constant news stories of how adults who do business on a very small scale without any harm and without selling illegal items get shut down due to the lack of a permit. Every time this happens it gets massive media traction. Imagine if all these people were devoted libertarians and used their platform as a way to spread libertarian ideas, how much more exposure libertarianism could get. If these people flew the black and yellow flag and wrote “taxation is theft” on the side of whatever they were making, they could spread the message of liberty. They may be censored or ridiculed, but it would demonstrate how the libertarian philosophy is practical and beneficial.

This does not mean organizing Libertarian Party caucuses or running for office. Rather, it means breaking laws and making sure that breaking those laws will improve the community in which the law-breaker resides. When there are attempts to combat the injustice of the state, there must be people willing to take risks, and some people must be willing to improve their own communities to make their own lives and the lives of their communities better. If there is no one willing to go against the state and no one willing to get arrested, fined, or subjected to other injustices, then mouthing off on the Internet becomes a waste of time. It is good to try to increase the presence of libertarian ideas virtually, in think tanks, or in politics, but real change comes from individuals acting locally to create a more libertarian society.

This need not be non-political; any libertarian could go out, talk to people, hand out fliers, and do whatever else is necessary for the principles of liberty to be spread in a physical manner. But if libertarians cannot organize a local club, cannot make and print out some fliers to hand out, and are thus unable to actually advance the principles of liberty, they will get nothing done. In fairness, there are libertarians in Cuba who build libraries and take action; there are libertarians in Europe who translate great libertarian texts into their own languages. There are many libertarians who already do such things, but nowhere near enough in comparison to the amount of people who are passive libertarian cyber-intellectuals.

Lack of Charisma

Many libertarians are abrasive, intense, and ill-suited for social interaction. This is a problem which tends to arise when any ideology is based on abstract economic and intellectual arguments rather than arguments which are more relatable to the layperson. This means that libertarians must try to become more charismatic if there is to be a chance for spreading the principles of liberty without forceful imposition. Advocates of these principles cannot stay within a bubble of abstract arguments. Libertarians must become more sociable in order to recruit more people to become libertarians. It is easy to see how this has worked every time it has happened; Ron Paul brought more people over to the liberty movement than perhaps anyone else in the history of libertarianism. The intellectuals who have spent a lot of time being sociable (Walter Block, Tom Woods, and Murray Rothbard immediately come to mind) have converted more people than anyone else who wrote some treatises but never personally taught anyone the principles of liberty.

Music and art are great tools when it comes to spreading the message of different philosophical positions, and it seems that everyone else, from communists to fascists, understands this. That is why Ayn Rand was so important to libertarianism and Objectivism; she made philosophy accessible through her works of fiction. Since libertarian philosophy can affect people deeply and show them truths that they never realized before, it is vital that libertarians focus on making free-market and property-based positions more presentable without corrupting the message. Having to read dozens of dry books and have hundreds of intellectual conversations in order to properly and fully understand libertarianism when some good works of fiction and a few bands could expose the philosophy to a much wider audience in a more effective manner is a travesty. Backwordz is one such exciting libertarian project, as they serve to make libertarianism more accessible, but libertarians cannot relegate an important task in spreading the message of the cause to a few projects. Libertarians should focus more on creating works that are accessible to large audiences. There are many people who lack artistic talents, but if one is blessed with these talents in even the smallest capacity, they could use their time more effectively by utilizing these mediums in order to create a more libertarian society and to make libertarianism more palatable.

This is also the case for the “meme war” that has been happening on the Internet. This is a tactic in which the far-right uses poignant viral images to create propaganda that spreads on its own. This can captivate people who might never be convinced by a logical argument. Libertarians have mostly failed at this and have not often demonstrated the humor necessary to make this tactic work. This is just one small factor of the whole picture, but when one considers the possibility of free viral marketing just by demonstrating a small bit of humor, it becomes very odd that there so little focus on this. Furthermore, it is unnecessary to have this one strategy of viral marketing. Libertarians tend to be individuals who are at least moderately wealthy, so it would be easy for them to buy billboards, put up posters, or purchase online ads that direct people to libertarian websites and beliefs that focus on property and justice. Most people have never been exposed to a true representation of what libertarians actually believe, seeing only the gross caricatures of the establishment press and other statist propagandists. Being able to make the movement and the cause more present and more public would greatly increase the number of people who identify as libertarians. One incredible example, simply for comparison, is that of the flat-earthers who put up a billboard. They are a much more fringe community with an obviously false message, and they still managed to generate enough money for a billboard that gained them at least a small amount of media traction. How libertarians have failed to engage in this method boggles the mind.

Ignorance of the Opposition

One more item of criticism for libertarians is how most fail to understand the arguments of their opponents. Many people may have memorized points and counter-arguments from reading Rothbard, Hoppe, and other libertarian theorists, but there is usually a base assumption that the opposition comes mainly from ignorance and not from differences in knowledge, ethics, and sources. All ideas come from somewhere and although most people with those ideas parrot them to others, this does not mean that we can combat these points properly without knowing their intellectual origins. What makes this even worse is that libertarians may have come from the cultural status quo where most people started and understand those arguments; some libertarians may even have had a phase of being socialist without knowing what that would actually imply. However, most libertarians are libertarians in their premises. It is not an intellectual decision to be a libertarian for most people; we all tend to have some degree of libertarianism within our basic assumptions.

It helps a great deal to know where the opponents of property and capitalism are coming from. It helps to be able to assume their perspective without prejudice and be able to dissect their premises and arguments. Of course, by some metric of self-satisfaction, libertarians are able to think that they did something productive by telling socialists that they need to learn basic economics while ignoring the hundreds of years of socialist economic studies. This argument may have worked when socialism was something that people adopted just to be edgy and to rebel against the capitalist status quo, but in the age of the modern intelligentsia, Austrian economic arguments are less prevalent than socialist ones. In essence, libertarians are the ones who need to learn what other people consider to be basic economics if they are to refute socialists.

Furthermore, libertarians assume that everyone who is pro-state would stop being so if the violence of the state was exposed for what it is. This is false, as many people are completely fine with the state being an institution of violence as long as it serves their own interests. No matter how much anyone talks about the state being immoral or violent and how much taxation is theft, there will be a great amount of people who think, in a Hobbesian manner, that without this violence human beings cannot have civilization. These moral arguments may be fine, but libertarians need to present more perspectives that are better suited for people who approach the world more pragmatically. This is especially true for many socialists and alt-righters; they know that the state is violence and a pure forceful institution. Their question about this is simply, “So what?”. Libertarians cannot always change the moral premises of others by trying to get people to understand the conclusions of the personal moral premises that libertarians tend to hold.

Lack of Virtue

No matter the intellectual caliber of particular libertarians, there are a few problems that need to be solved with the ideology if libertarianism is to go forward. There are strategies and perspectives on how to create a libertarian society and what libertarians can do to approach the type of people who are ready to be libertarians. However, the overwhelming majority of libertarian theory focuses on how great everything would be if everyone already lived in a world where there was virtue, without providing methods of how to cultivate this virtue within the population that is to be made libertarian. The other minority focuses on how bad everything is while everyone is in an oppressive statist society, and other areas of concern are seldom talked about. Only in the past few years has there been even a start of sociological inquiry of these issues on a sustained and continuous basis.

Stefan Molyneux advocates peaceful parenting as an actionable solution for making the world freer. Many libertarians say that education is the best solution. Some propose economic solutions to show people how property benefits them. Some advocate violent revolution. But cultivating the sort of virtue that is necessary to maintain a libertarian social order is not so simple. Anyone can parent peacefully, yet still it can turn out that there is no virtue cultivated in the children within a society. People can educate a person who is not virtuous himself and he may not become virtuous when he knows all the facts. Libertarians can show people how property rights may benefit them, but they may still try to undermine it, provided they are not individuals who have the virtue of respect for property rights.

This needs to be a strong point of libertarian tactics; not only how to make people more receptive to a society based on virtuous behavior, but rather how to make sure that the people are sufficiently virtuous to maintain a libertarian social order. Libertarianism needs to come out of the value-free lull where the focus on intellectualism has left it and delve deeper into the fields of sociology, psychology, and other areas where further research is needed for how to increase the virtue within populations. As it stands right now, libertarians may have good strategies for libertarianism and how to create a more libertarian world when libertarianism already has this support, but far less on how to cultivate libertarian virtues within society.

Lack of Breadth

Libertarianism has overwhelming amounts of substance, but the substance it has is very limited in content when it comes to anything other than economics and philosophy. Though this is by design, in that libertarianism itself is only an answer to the question of when the use of force is appropriate, this does not a complete worldview make. Economics is never enough to run a whole society; there must be values and character traits beyond the economic. There cannot be a healthy society in which the only relations are that of material exchange; this kind of society would certainly fall apart as soon as it was revealed as the husk it is. Even though the intellectual side of libertarianism may call for a value-free economic analysis, a pragmatic and objective political strategy, and a philosophy that can create values beyond what people would consider moral, this is inapplicable to many people. Everyone has values, most people have morals, and people want to see these morals reflected in their societies.

This writer has proposed abandoning political libertarianism as a strategy and focusing instead on advancing local autonomy as much as possible. It would serve to make libertarianism more relatable and to show people how libertarianism can serve to bring their values into the world. However, there is much work to be done on this. Only now are the first efforts being made of a very deep examination and expansive practical project.

Blame Democracy For Heated Political Rhetoric

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

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

Leftist Strategy

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

The Real Culprit

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

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

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

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

The Solution

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

Objections

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

References:

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

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

Strategy Against Antifa: 2nd Edition

Three months ago, I released a list of eighteen tactics that could be used to defeat the communist terror group known as Antifa. Several confrontations between Antifa and anti-communist activists have occurred since the list was published, and there are lessons to be learned from each case. Some of the suggestions in the list have been implemented to excellent effect, while others have gone unused. Predictably, those which involve private citizens tend to be in the former group while those that exclusively involve the state tend to be in the latter group. This should make clear that the deep state does not mind Antifa at best and is in league with them at worst. Ideas which were not on the list have also been responsible for success against Antifa. As any empirical hypothesis is subject to revision as a result of new theories and empirical evidence, let us do this now in order to create a second edition of strategy against Antifa.

1. Stop giving in to their demands. When a behavior is rewarded, those who engage in that behavior will do so more frequently, and other people will emulate that behavior in search of their own reward. Because public universities and other speaking venues continue to kowtow to pressure, it is necessary to take both action against them and counter-action to Antifa. The state has yet to make the funding of taxpayer-supported institutions contingent on defying efforts to silence speech in such venues, so direct action is required. Alumni of these universities and customers of other venues should announce boycotts in order to deny them funding directly. When official events are cancelled, unofficial events should be held anyway in the same place or a nearby place, which is already being done to excellent effect. Finally, if the far-left is going to attempt to silence anyone they perceive as being rightist, then the far-right should respond in kind against anyone they perceive to be leftist. After all, turnabout is fair play.

2. Fight fire with fire. When a behavior is punished, those who engage in that behavior will do so less frequently, and other people will avoid emulating that behavior for fear of being punished themselves. Where Antifa members continue to assault people and destroy property, it is because they face far too little defensive violence in response to their aggression. Fortunately, this has changed in many places. The rank-and-file police do not typically wish to stand down, but are ordered to in many cases because their commanders are sympathetic to Antifa. The bright side of this is that it has encouraged right-wing citizens to take to the streets in order to defend against Antifa themselves. The formation of the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights (FOAK) is a sign of progress on this point. This will build confidence in people to be more self-reliant for their security needs rather than dependent on the state. As predicted in the first edition, Antifa members have shown themselves to be physically weak and lacking in combat experience, needing superior numbers or weapons to win a skirmish.

3. Stop discouraging defensive violence. The maintenance of liberty requires the ability to bring overwhelming defensive violence to bear against aggressors. While some people in libertarian and right-wing circles are still decrying the use of force against Antifa, the victory at Berkeley and the stalemates at Berkeley, Pikeville, Ky. and New Orleans show that defensive violence as well as the possibility thereof is an effective deterrent.

4. Hire private security. Since the sucker punch against Richard Spencer on January 20 in Washington, DC, most high-profile libertarian and right-wing personalities have hired private security to protect them at protests and other speaking engagements. Though this has not completely stopped Antifa from assaulting people, no personnel who have had bodyguards have been successfully attacked. This turn of events should continue.

5. Go after members of Antifa by going after their employers. This is a favorite tactic of Antifa in particular and social justice warriors in general. They will accuse a person of racism, sexism, or some other form of bigotry, often with no regard for merit, then contact their employers to get them in trouble. Their intention is to shame employers into firing their political rivals, or to disrupt businesses that refuse to bow to their pressure. Because they routinely do this to people, they have no right to complain when it is done to them. This could be a useful measure when Antifa members can be identified and are found to have employment rather than to be living on government handouts, though it has not had much success thus far.

6. Parody their websites and other online presences. The first edition recommended hacking Antifa’s websites and other online presences. This has been done to some extent, but a more effective measure has emerged. There are now many parody websites and accounts that falsely represent themselves as Antifa while actually mocking them. The most effective aspect of this is that it can be nearly impossible to distinguish fake Antifa from real Antifa, and this needs to be weaponized in furtherance of the next tactic.

7. Infiltrate Antifa to gather intelligence and spread misinformation within. This is standard procedure for government agencies in taking down a criminal organization. The extent to which such operations are underway, if at all, are not publicly known. This needs to be done so that Antifa’s efforts can be blunted and its key personalities arrested. Additionally, Antifa can be baited into actions which will make them look more foolish than they already are, get them arrested, or both.

8. Call them what they are: rioters and terrorists, not protesters. The establishment media frequently refers to Antifa as protesters, regardless of their conduct. As Confucius said, “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper names.” We must hold the lying press to account and correct the record whenever and wherever possible. Antifa are not mere protesters; they are rioters and terrorists. A few establishment media personalities are beginning to come around on this point, but much more work is needed.

9. Remove and/or punish police commanders who give stand-down orders against Antifa. For the state to monopolize law and order within its territory is a travesty. For it to monopolize these services and then refuse to provide them is far worse. Anyone who is in command of police officers who are supposed to defend the public against Antifa’s crimes and tells those officers to stand down is not only in dereliction of duty, but is actively aiding the enemy. These administrators must be removed, and ideally, subjected to criminal charges as well. A small amount of progress has been made on the conduct of police commanders, but only out of necessity on the part of said commanders. For instance, the reason that Berkeley police started enforcing bans on masks after the April 15 battle is probably that the mayor, who has ties to Antifa, did not want to see another battle lost by Antifa. Thus, the situation was de-escalated by the Berkeley police. Other police departments in less leftist communities did not wish to see similar street battles in their communities and took similar measures. No police commanders, mayors, or other such officials have yet been removed or punished, and it is necessary to push for this to happen.

10. Declare Antifa a domestic terrorist organization. The simplest definition of terrorism that covers all instances of it is that it is the use of violence, threats, fear, and intimidation against innocent people for the purpose of achieving political or social goals. Antifa operates by these methods, has various local chapters throughout the United States, and is organized, so the label of domestic terrorist organization clearly fits. This would allow for federal funding to be allocated specifically for combating Antifa, as well as the involvement of the Department of Homeland Security, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, and other such agencies. The Trump administration’s lethargy in taking this step may be attributed to deep state influence or to an unwillingness to anger the left to the extent that such a measure would.

11. Unmask Antifa members. Where this has been done, the result has been a nearly complete shutdown of Antifa terrorism. Where this has not been done, their violence has continued. It is important that this be done everywhere. Although investigators in 4chan’s /pol/ community have successfully identified Antifa members even though they were masked, such work could be made unnecessary by strict enforcement of mask bans. Mask bans have resulted in Antifa members being arrested for refusing to either leave protests or remove their masks, and this has effectively disrupted some of their activities. Furthermore, any anti-communists who can lay hands upon masked Antifa members should pull off their masks, record their faces, and expose their identities.

12. Charge rioters with felonies. This has already happened to many rioters from the presidential inauguration, but felony rioting charges against Antifa and similar groups need to become more widespread. Lengthy prison terms and hefty fines will discourage people from involvement with Antifa while sidelining current activists and confiscating funds which would otherwise be used by Antifa. Ideally, such fines would be payable into a fund that would reimburse private property owners for damages caused by Antifa members. Little has been done on this point since the first edition, which is unfortunate because it would impose costs that would scare off the average misguided youth in Antifa.

13-15. Charge anyone who aids Antifa in any way, freeze their funds, and send illegal aliens involved with them to Guantanamo Bay. Because Antifa has yet to be declared a terrorist organization, there has necessarily been no implementation of these measures. These measures must therefore be tabled unless and until action occurs on tactic #10.

16. Eliminate gun-free zones. The vast majority of Antifa activity has occurred in gun-free zones or places in which carrying rights are restricted to some degree. By eliminating gun-free zones, the state can ensure that more citizens are capable of defending themselves from aggressors like Antifa. This will also lessen the burden on government security forces. The peaceful nature of the demonstrations in Pikeville on April 29 showed the importance of this measure. The police presence between the two was credited for this in the establishment media, but the real reason for peace was that both Antifa and the alt-right showed up with firearms, resulting in peace through mutually assured destruction. Like most measures involving the state, almost no progress has been made on this front.

17. Privatize public property. An underlying problem of which the surge in left-wing political violence is a symptom is the existence of state-occupied property. No one truly owns such property because no person exercises exclusive control over it. This leaves it open not only to use by groups of people who are at cross purposes with each other, but to an occupation by one group for the purpose of denying access to another group. If all property were privately owned, then it would be clear that whenever Antifa attempt to shut down a venue by occupying the premises, they are trespassing. This would make physically removing them a less ambiguous matter. This is unlikely to occur in the near future, but many problems would be solved if it did.

18. Find more support staff. No group of warriors can succeed without support staff backing them up. There are networks of attorneys to help Antifa with their legal troubles, medics to tend to their injuries at rallies, volunteers and paid activists who harass employers and speaking venues. Anti-communists are currently at a disadvantage in all of these categories. It is thus necessary to organize and recruit people to fill these roles in order to support activists in the field and undo the damage done by those who threaten employers and speaking venues on behalf of Antifa.

19. Get more funding. Everything that is worth doing in the world requires capital, even for enemies of liberty who reject capitalism. Antifa has funding from wealthy donors who support their causes, along with grassroots crowdfunding. Anti-communist efforts are relatively weak in this department, so it is necessary to both increase crowdfunding efforts and seek out libertarian and/or right-wing billionaire patrons who can see the danger that communist rioters pose to their well-being.

20. Above all, stop trying to be better than the enemy and focus on defeating the enemy. There is no need to alter strategy, virtue signal, or make any other effort to be better than Antifa. That they are violent criminals and we seek to defend against them means that we already are better than them. Let us do what is necessary to defeat Antifa, as detailed in the previous measures, and leave worries about improving ourselves until after this is done. Remember, this is a war, and in war, nothing is more honorable than victory.

The State Is Negan, Part II

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

A New Community

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

Inside The Beast I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

Tax Collection, Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tax Collection, Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

Of Running, Hiding, and Fighting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

Inside The Beast II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Breaking Point

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

On Sharp Argumentation

In chess, the term ‘sharp’ is used to denote a move, position, game, or style of play that involves highly tactical positions in which there is the potential for great reward and little or no room for error. The term may also refer to a player who regularly plays in such a manner. A sharp position frequently contains a significant amount of asymmetry, meaning that the position has differing goals for each player. Players may use sharp moves in order to take an opponent out of his or her comfort zone and see if this can produce a mistake that one can use to win the game. But this can also backfire; a mistake on one’s own part can lose the game in such positions. The essence of sharp play is to play aggressively, making threats and responding to threats with counter-threats rather than with passive or retreating moves. Common advice to novice players is to practice playing sharp lines, but doing this in tournaments or against stronger players is likely to produce defeats, as one is likely to make a mistake. It is more effective to be a sharp player than to try to find sharp moves here and there.

An analogy may be drawn with a particular style of argumentation. Sharp argumentation aims to step outside the Overton window in order to take an arguer out of their comfort zone and make them defend ideas that they assumed were universally accepted. The goals are different for each participant in sharp argumentation, in that the mainstream commentator is trying to defend the range of allowable opinion while the sharp arguer is trying to challenge and move it in their direction. This tactic has the high risk of making one look foolish if one cannot defend such a position with great skill, and it has the high reward of making an opponent look foolish if they cannot attack the position well. The goal of a debater should not be to seek out particular sharp positions just to troll and trifle with one’s opponents, but to become sharper in a more general sense.

Accepting Absurdity

With the nature of sharp argumentation established, let us now consider a situation in which one might use this tactic. Consider a libertarian who supports the right to keep and bear arms and is going to debate with a progressive who supports greater gun control measures. The progressive says, “The right to keep and bear arms is not absolute. For example, no one thinks private citizens should have nuclear weapons. There are reasonable restrictions that we can all agree upon.” The goal of the progressive here is to define a certain position as out of bounds while stealthily taking ground.

How might the libertarian respond? One could agree that there should be some restrictions, but believe that the state is not the best way to accomplish this. While this is not anathema to libertarian theory, in the sense that the rules of membership in a stateless community may require that one not be in possession of certain weapons if one wishes to remain in that community, it is a dull response because it both accepts the opponent’s framing of the issue and makes a concession where none need be made. Another possible response is to accuse the progressive of throwing out a red herring because the discussion is about guns that are commonly used by individuals, not weapons of mass destruction. This is not as dull of a response because it calls out the tactic that the opponent is using, but it is not sharp because it does not answer the claim in a robust manner.

Now let us consider a sharp response. The libertarian says, “Speak for yourself. I support private ownership of nuclear weapons,” and offers a detailed explanation of why nuclear weapons are better in private hands than under state control. This line is sharp because it rejects the opponent’s framing of the debate, robustly accepts an idea that the opponent regards as absurd, and strongly challenges all mainstream views about nuclear weapon ownership. The progressive may become so flustered as to regard the libertarian as beyond reason, responding with insults, dismissals, and other such non-arguments. Getting an opponent to react in this way does not necessarily mean that one’s reasoning is correct, but it does make one the winner of the argument as long as one remains calm and reasonable while the opponent loses composure. Short of this, the progressive may attempt to pick apart various aspects of the case for private nuclear weapons. In this case, the libertarian must be able to defend against such attempts because a false move can easily lose the battle for public opinion, while a solid defense against every objection will make the progressive look poorly versed in the subject matter.

Discomfort Zone

Some lines of sharp argumentation require an arguer to leave one’s own comfort zone in order to battle the opponent on unfamiliar ground. Consider a Republican who is debating a Democrat concerning the 2016 election. The Democrat says, “The 2016 election result, and thus the presidency of Donald Trump, is illegitimate because of Russian interference during the general election.” Here, the Democrat is making a strong claim backed by what is an unproven accusation at the time of this writing.

How might the Republican respond? One could say that there needs to be a full investigation into connections between the Donald Trump campaign and the Russian government to find out the extent of any collusion between the two, but stop short of agreeing with the Democrat. While a Republican may have legitimate concerns over foreign meddling in the democratic process, this is a dull response because it accepts the Democrat’s framing of the situation and concedes that the Democrat may be correct. Another possible response is to point out that there is no evidence of tampering with the election process itself, other than the usual questions about turnouts exceeding 100 percent in a few heavily Democratic districts. This response is not dull because it reframes the issue in terms of hacking of email servers belonging to Democrats, as well as in terms of election tampering done by Democrats. But it is not sharp because it fails to challenge the Democrat’s claim that Russia was involved and that this would delegitimize Trump.

In this case, going sharp requires one to depart from Republican orthodoxy and take a libertarian-leaning position that is too extreme for most Republicans to entertain. The Republican says, “There is no evidence that the Russians altered the outcome of the election to hand Trump the Presidency, but if they did, they were justified in doing it,” followed by a case for why they would be justified. This line of argumentation departs quite far from Republican orthodoxy about national security and foreign policy, but is very capable of throwing the Democrat for a loop. As before, the leftist may forfeit the argument by losing composure, hurling insults and dismissals. Otherwise, the Republican would need to defend the positions that Hillary Clinton was more likely to cause a war with Russia, that the Russian people have a right to influence the US election because they are affected by its result, and that the US has no room to talk given its track record of overthrowing governments when its leaders dislike election results. The latter two are certainly not conventional Republican arguments, but they are defensible. Again, failure to defend such bold positions effectively would make the Republican look crazy, but a skilled defense may leave the Democrat speechless.

Enough Versus Too Much

Just as there are problems with being too dull, one can also argue too sharply. Consider a conservative who is debating a social justice warrior on almost any topic that one cares to imagine. At some point, the social justice warrior is likely to resort to calling the conservative and/or the case the conservative is making racist, misogynist, or another such epithet. The SJW is doing this in an effort to cow the conservative into backing down from the case being made.

How might the conservative respond? All too frequently, the conservative will say, “I am not a misogynist/racist/etc.,” or “No, it isn’t,” followed by an apology or rationalization. This is dull because it plays into the SJW’s narrative. When a SJW resorts to name-calling, they are no longer engaged in rational discussion, and attempting to bring the discussion back to rationality once one of the participants has renounced reasoned debate is like administering medicine to the dead. An apology is even worse, as this concedes the point to the opponent and emboldens other SJWs to shut down debate by similar means. A better response is to inform the SJW that name-calling is not an argument and leave it at that, though this lacks the necessary boldness to be a sharp response. It also fails to challenge the frame set by the SJW.

A sharp response by the conservative would look something like this: “Fine, it is misogynist/racist/etc. It also happens to agree with the available facts. Now, make a valid counter-argument.” This response is sharp because it refuses to back down while challenging both the SJW’s framing of the issue and definitions of terms. Many SJWs have no argument beyond calling a person or idea bigoted, so this response is likely to make a SJW lose any sense of composure and fail to say anything else of substance. In the rare instance that one must continue, one must be able to make the case, as failing to do so can get one labeled a misogynist/racist/etc., which can have many adverse consequences.

A response that would be too sharp would be to reply to an accusation of racism or sexism by displaying clearly hateful bigotry toward the SJW. A response along the lines of “Shut up, (insert misogynist/racist/etc. slur here)” may be satisfying in the moment, but this is a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. An impartial observer will view the SJW as the victor for getting the conservative to respond in such a vulgar fashion. Meanwhile, the media career of someone who does this will take a major hit, which is exactly what the SJW wants.

Conclusion

Used properly, sharp arguments can explore new avenues of thought while making inferior debaters look foolish. However, improper usage can be disastrous not only for one’s argument, but for one’s reputation. As always, research and practice are necessary in order to perform properly in an intellectual setting. Sharp argumentation is not for everyone, but it is a useful tactic to know even for someone who is not naturally inclined to argue in such a manner.

Book Review: Come And Take It

Come And Take It is a book about 3D printing of firearms and the implications thereof by American entrepreneur Cody Wilson. The book details Wilson’s experiences over nine months in 2012-13 when he decided to leave law school and figure out how to use a 3D printer to make a functional plastic handgun. It also conveys his thoughts on political events of the time, such as the re-election of President Barack Obama and the Sandy Hook school shooting.

The story of Wilson’s entrepreneurship is not so different from many others; he must decide whether to make his venture be for-profit or non-profit, decide whether to work for the state or the people, figure out how and where to get funding for his operations, find the right people to work with, wrestle with the impulse to continue his schooling versus working on his entrepreneurial idea, and deal with legal challenges and roadblocks thrown his way by established interests. What sets it apart is the unique nature of his work.

Wilson’s story takes some interesting turns, such as trips to Europe and California where he meets with everyone from left-wing anarchists in the Occupy movement to a club of neoreactionaries led by Mencius Moldbug. This shows that the project to allow everyone to be armed regardless of government laws on the matter changes the political calculus across the entire spectrum, thus making him a person of interest to people of a wide range of political views.

The book is a valiant effort in creative writing and storytelling, but its subtitle of “The Gun Printer’s Guide to Thinking Free” is rather misplaced. It is not so much a guide for someone else to follow as an example which future entrepreneurs may study in order to adapt proper elements thereof for their own projects. The technical details that one might hope for in such a book are only partially present, though we may fault the US Department of State for that, as Wilson tried to include details of the production procedure for his plastic handgun but was forced to redact the material with large black blocks in the final chapter.

In a strange way, the book feels both long and short. Though it is just over 300 pages, it takes much less time to read than most books of that size. Come And Take It offers an interesting look into the mind and experiences of a true game-changer in the world of technology and self-defense, though the reader who is looking for thorough details on 3D printed weapons or a general manifesto on liberty must look elsewhere.

Rating: 3.5/5

Tucker, Spencer, Libertarianism, and Fascism

On February 18, 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. He was invited by the Hans-Hermann Hoppe Caucus, a group of right-libertarians with no official affiliation with SFL. A sign and the claims of several Hoppe Caucus members made it seem as though Spencer was an official part of the event, although he was not.

“We started the Hoppe Caucus with just a small group of people to spread diversity of conversation into the libertarian movement,” said Mitchell Steffen, founding member of the Hoppe Caucus. “We don’t agree with what Spencer believes in a lot of ways, but we still wanted to hear his point of view.”

For the better part of an hour, he and a small gathering of supporters, other listeners, and some SFL attendees engaged in political conversation in a peaceful and mostly quiet manner. Things got more raucous over time, then Jeffrey Tucker and others arrived to loudly denounce Spencer. Tucker left the scene, but those who came with him kept yelling, prompting hotel security to ask the entire crowd at the bar to leave. Spencer requested an escort out by hotel security, which they provided.

“It was really unfortunate how it turned out,” Steffen said. “I think the Hoppe Caucus did a good job of pushing the envelope and exposing hypocrisy though. Spencer’s ideas should be challenged with better libertarian ideas. He should not be bullied.”

The Exchange

First, let us analyze the exchange between Tucker and Spencer, transcribed below from the source video:

“JEFFREY TUCKER: I think fascists are not welcome at an anti-fascist conference! Not welcome! Students For Liberty is about human dignity, about liberty for all and not about fascism and that is what that man represents! You know the only reason you’re here is because of public accommodation laws; otherwise you’d be thrown out immediately, buddy.
RICHARD SPENCER: Oh, its Jeffrey Tucker! (unintelligible)
JT: (unintelligible) Yeah, this hotel, because you’re devaluing this property, my friend.
RS: Oh, really? By you, Jeffrey? I’m not sure you could throw out a fly, little Jeffrey. Hey Jeffrey, I used to read those articles by you, Jeffrey.
JT: Look, you don’t belong here. You absolutely don’t belong.
RS: Oh, I don’t belong here? What?
JT: You know why? Because we stand for liberty.
RS: Do you support the deep state, dude? That’s awesome.
JT: You stand for fascism, and you don’t belong here. Students For Liberty opposes everything that you stand for, buddy.
RS: You tweeted that you support the deep state over Trump. I think you might be a little fascist there, little Jeffrey.
JT: You are a troll. You can’t organize your own conference, so you come to our conference.
RS: That’s not an argument.
JT: You know the last time you tried, you had a bunch of losers in a room making Nazi salutes. That’s what happened at yours.
RS: That’s not an argument.
JT: So you come to our conference and troll us. If you were on Twitter right now, we’d all block you.
RS: I was invited by people here to come speak to them, Jeffrey.
JT: You are a liar! You are a liar! Fascists are liars! (exits)”

Inaccuracies

First, despite potentially misleading statements and signage made by the Hoppe Caucus, Spencer was not technically at the conference. He never went inside the part of the building reserved for the conference that required paid admission, but rather remained in a bar outside which was not reserved for ISFLC participants. Nor did Spencer himself claim to be part of the conference. Tucker is free to voice his opinion that fascists are not welcome at an anti-fascist conference, and although he does not officially speak for SFL, SFL released a statement in support of Tucker’s actions. However, the wisdom of such a position is questionable. The reaction of Tucker and his ilk is precisely why the alt-right is growing. Neutral observers see a fascist engaged in rational discussion while leftists angrily shout him down and cause a disturbance that gets the venue’s security involved, thus making the fascist seem reasonable by comparison.

Tucker then said that SFL is about human dignity, whatever that may mean, which means that it is not really about libertarianism. Libertarianism is a philosophical position on what constitutes the acceptable use of force. It says that initiating the use of force is never moral, but responding to an initiation of force with defensive force is always moral. Libertarianism says nothing about human dignity one way or another. In a libertarian social order, those who overindulge in vices, engage in criminal behaviors, and/or refuse to be productive people could very well find themselves living a life without dignity, especially if their particular community has a more socially Darwinian ethos. To be fair, Spencer is in the wrong here as well; while peaceful methods could partially achieve his stated goals, many of his goals could only be fully achieved by initiating the use of force.

Tucker claimed that Spencer would be thrown out if not for public accommodation laws and was devaluing the hotel’s property. It is impossible to know whether this is so because it is a counterfactual, but the fact that Spencer has been there several times beforehand without incident suggests otherwise. Ironically, Tucker used the pragmatic libertarian case against open borders to justify his outburst. Open state borders are a form of public accommodation, in that they require the force of government to prevent people from using their freedom of association and private property rights to exclude other people. He cannot be unaware of this inconsistency at this point, so we may reasonably conclude that Tucker is being malicious rather than simply ignorant. What is known is that chanting obscenities, as people accompanying Tucker did, diminishes the quality of experience for bystanders, thus devaluing the hotel’s property.

As an aside, one must wonder if Tucker would be so quick to denounce a similar figure who is of a protected class, such as a member of the Hotep movement, which is in many ways the black counterpart of the white nationalist alt-right. Perhaps inviting someone like Ali Shakur would be a more effective move at ISFLC 2018 than inviting Spencer. Then we could see whether Tucker would be consistent or would fear the social justice warriors around him calling him racist.

Spencer asked if Tucker supports the deep state over Trump, and suggested Tucker might be a bit fascist for doing so. This referred to a February 15 article by Tucker, arguing that however bad the establishment may be, Trump could be worse. While his analysis in that article is suspect, the only hint of fascism from Tucker is in his reaction to Spencer’s presence.

Libertarianism and Fascism

Tucker claimed that SFL stands for liberty while Spencer stands for fascism, and thus Spencer did not belong there. Let us examine the relationship between libertarianism and fascism, for there has long been a link between the two. Ludwig von Mises wrote favorably of fascism in 1927, saying,

“It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aiming at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has, for the moment, saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history. But though its policy has brought salvation for the moment, it is not of the kind which could promise continued success. Fascism was an emergency makeshift. To view it as something more would be a fatal error.”

Mises was prescient on the matter of how fascism in particular and reaction in general arises. There is no need to fix that which is unbroken, so a healthy social order will contain nothing to the right of conservatism, meaning the desire to maintain the status quo. Reactionary thought arises when a society makes a mistake and the social order becomes unhealthy, and fascism in particular arises as a response either to the threat of a communist takeover or to the suffering caused by socialism. Libertarianism and reaction are pieces of a whole, and libertarianism and fascism can work together in some circumstances because they share the common enemies of democracy, socialism, and communism. There is a danger here, as Mises would learn the hard way when fascists forced him out of his academic position in Vienna and away to America, but history clearly demonstrates that as bad as fascism can be, communism and socialism wreak more havoc.

The 1973 Chilean coup d’état led to another confluence between libertarianism and fascism. Before Augusto Pinochet took power, Chile was suffering from 140 percent annual inflation and contracting GDP under Marxist leadership. Pinochet was willing to listen to Milton Friedman’s students, and although the Chicago School of Economics is not as libertarian in disposition as the Austrian School, this led to an important series of market reforms and improvements in the mid-1970s and the 1980s known as the Miracle of Chile. These policies were continued after Pinochet’s rule ended in 1990, and the percentage of people living in poverty was reduced from 48 percent to 20 percent from 1988 to 2000. In 2010, Chile was the first South American nation to win membership in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, an organization restricted to the world’s richest countries.

In more theoretical terms, if a private property owner under libertarian standards wishes to administer his estate after the form of a fascist dictatorship, it is his right to do so. Being the owner of the property means that he has a right to exclusive control over it, including its governance structure. However, he cannot force people to stay, so a libertarian fascist will have to be far less oppressive than statist fascists in order to keep his regime populated. This kind of governance, which offers people no voice and free exit, has proven best at limiting state power throughout history. It would also be best for limiting the tyranny of the private property owner that so concerns critics of libertarianism. This sort of libertarian fascism is not what Spencer advocates, but Tucker’s claim that fascism is necessarily opposed to libertarianism is both logically false and contradicted by the historical case of Pinochet’s Chile.

Trolling, Heiling, Blocking, Lying

Tucker claimed that Spencer came to ISFLC because he could not organize his own conference, then contradicted himself by referencing Spencer’s National Policy Institute Conference in November 2016 at which Spencer said, “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!,” and several people in the audience responded with Nazi-style salutes. Though Spencer’s conference was much smaller (275 attendees versus 1,500+ attendees), Tucker’s claim is clearly false.

Tucker accused Spencer of being a troll and of lying about being invited to the venue. Spencer was not lying about being invited, as the Hoppe Caucus invited him and Spencer never went into the part of the building reserved for ISFLC where he was not invited. Whether Spencer is a troll or not is mostly a matter of opinion. He is not the most informed person, having been caught in numerous errors of fact throughout the years, but he was engaging in a peaceful discourse. Being offended was a choice made by Tucker and his ilk because Spencer was attracting enough attention to make the SFL establishment uncomfortable. It is telling that Tucker and company would resort to causing a disturbance and involving security forces because his side appeared to be losing in the marketplace of ideas that night.

Tucker said that if the confrontation had occurred on social media rather than in the physical world, then all ISFLC attendees would block him. This is another untestable counterfactual, but judging by the amount of people engaging with Spencer, Tucker’s claim stretches credibility.

Aftermath

The Hoppe Caucus released a statement on their Facebook page, saying,

“The Hoppe Caucus hosted Richard Spencer at ISFLC not because we were trying to start some kind of commotion, but rather an important dialogue. Hans-Hermann Hoppe invited him to his own Property and Freedom Society Conference several years ago for that very reason. After all, event organizers thought it would be a good idea to have leftists and even full-blown communists at the event as apart of the ‘big tent.’ So why not discuss the alternative right? Why not enlarge the tent a little bit further? Furthermore, who gets to define the tent? Is it the big money funders? Is it the oligarchs? Is it is the intellectual elite? Or is it the rank-and-file libertarians? These are all questions we should be pondering considering what happened this weekend.”

SFL has declared that “[t]hose responsible for the disruption have been identified, and are no longer welcome at Students For Liberty events.” Again, this is their right, but Spencer was not inside the event proper and attempting to silence Spencer and the Hoppe Caucus only makes them look like winners of the debate to a neutral observer.

Robby Soave demonstrated an ignorance of the facts of the case and libertarian principles, as well as political autism concerning group dynamics in his write-up of the matter. This would not be so notable, except that media outlets from Salon to The Blaze ran with his deeply flawed narrative. But this is to be expected, as accepting a narrative from someone else is easier than researching and thinking for oneself.

Overall, this incident illustrates why the libertarian moment seems to have passed and the alt-right movement continues to grow. Regardless of what one may think of Tucker, Spencer, fascism, or libertarianism, the tactics employed by Tucker and his ilk ensured that Spencer and fascism emerged victorious while the flawed application of libertarian ideas by those who either do not understand them or intentionally misuse them harmed the cause of liberty.