Fashion As A Harbinger Of Revolution

There are many barometers for the health of a society, from economic prosperity to beliefs concerning social issues. One such barometer may be found in the fashion that is being promoted in that culture. The advocacy of modest clothing in good condition indicates a healthy society. Clothing that is deliberately ill-fitting, whether wasteful in material or skimpy in coverage, is a sign of degeneracy. A new clothing trend has developed in America that is symptomatic of the sort of cultural decay that foreshadows a revolution; that of clothing that is designed to mimic the appearance of wear and work for those who think themselves above the sorts of activities that would produce these effects naturally.

Current Examples

There are many instances of this, but four examples will serve to illustrate the point. First, let us consider Nordstrom’s Barracuda Straight Leg Jeans. The product description calls them “Heavily distressed medium-blue denim jeans in a comfortable straight-leg fit embody rugged, Americana workwear that’s seen some hard-working action with a crackled, caked-on muddy coating that shows you’re not afraid to get down and dirty.” These pants, available for $425, have fake mud and wear marks added to them. (They must be machine washed cold, lest these dubious decorations break off and leave one with an improved pair of pants.)

Another offering, the Damiana Splatter Paint Stretch Woven Jogger Pants, are described as “Slouchy, tapered-fit joggers crafted from extremely durable, destroyed stretch cotton appear as though they stepped straight out of the art studio, creating a disheveled style masterpiece that’s both one-of-a-kind and unafraid to play dirty.“ For $300, you can avoid the excruciating work of wielding a paintbrush and wear pants with fake paint splatters on them in order to pose as an artist or painter.

Third, there are the Maison Margiela Future Destroyed High Top Sneakers available at Neiman Marcus. The non-destroyed version is available for $995, but for the low, low price of $1425, you can have a pair that looks like they went through a car crusher. Multiple gashes, a mostly missing tongue, and inner layers hanging out are marketed as “deconstruction” and “heavy distressing.” As of this writing, they are on sale for $997, so perhaps there is hope in the fact that too few people were willing to pay so much more for an inferior product.

Finally, the fashion of intentional damage is not reserved for men only. Golden Goose offers women a multitude of sneaker designs, and one of them is designed to look like it has been through hundreds of miles of use. Scuff marks abound and the leather is crackled to simulate wear, though it looks more like it is covered in two paints which are incompatible. The $425 price tag is comparable to other offerings which do not always look new, but are not designed to look worn out.

Why It Matters

Some people may wonder why this is important. Why focus on fashion when there are so many greater problems in the world? It is true that fashion is a non-issue in and of itself when compared with the primary problems facing humanity. However, the concern is not with fashion in and of itself, but with what fashion says about the people who create, market, sell, and wear it. Moreover, there are fashion trends which indicate cultural trends, which in turn can serve as an early warning signal that the present system of governance has its days numbered.

Worse, some libertarians and conservatives might wonder why such fashions should not be celebrated. Is this not an instance of the market meeting a demand and freeing people from menial tasks to engage in other, greater labors? This view is misguided because the issue is not primarily one of economics, but of cultural attitudes concerning economic matters. A healthy culture has a strong correlation with liberty. A healthy culture celebrates work; an unhealthy culture mocks it and tries to avoid it whenever possible. A healthy culture values authenticity and living life; an unhealthy culture seeks a hollow and vicarious existence. A healthy culture venerates the ideal; an unhealthy culture worships the idol. The market is fundamentally amoral; its participants meet consumer demand as best they can in order to make profits. If that demand is degenerate in nature, then the goods and services produced will be as well. In other words, garbage in, garbage out. It is also worth noting that freeing people from having to wear a clothing item repeatedly and perform various activities in it so as to produce wear and tear naturally does not provide the increased utility that comes from labor-saving machines. One must still wear clothes to comply with societal norms, whereas one need not keep using older methods of performing tasks.

Mocking The Masses

The four products discussed above are designed to create the illusion of work. The prices of hundreds of dollars per pair of pants or shoes puts them outside the budget of most people who make a living in a trade that involves getting mud or paint on themselves. The end result is a class of products made for wealthier people that let them impersonate the masses beneath them while remaining oblivious as to why those who really engage in such dirty jobs might be angered. If this were done affectionately, then it might not be so bad, as imitation can be the sincerest form of flattery. However, the implications are more of mockery.

The idea of the wealthy imitating the poor for fun is nothing new. A famous example is the Petit Hameau, a mock farm area built in the gardens of the Petit Trianon in 1783 for Marie Antoinette. While visiting this area, Marie Antoinette and her attendants would wear dresses of simple gauze tied with satin ribbons and pretend to care for farm animals. The farmhouse interior, of course, was fully equipped with the luxuries expected by royalty of the time. The Petit Hameau was a reflection of France’s culture and moral values, but its artificial nature and lack of necessity made it a mockery of the daily grind of many French people. The exorbitant cost of her amusements did not help her case with critics of the ancien regime, and the public sentiment stemming from her lavish expenditures contributed to her execution by guillotine in 1793.

Though we are probably far from the masses shedding the blood of their economic betters and using their obliviousness and mockery as a pretext, there is no a priori reason why circumstances in America cannot eventually deteriorate to that point. After all, Marie Antoinette likely had no conception of her eventual fate back in 1783. Even if those who wear the items discussed above never meet a nasty demise at the hands of an angry proletariat, the sort of mockery once conducted by Marie Antoinette and now conducted by certain fashion designers and their customers indicates the sort of cultural illness that prefigures a mass uprising.

Inauthenticity

That there is a demand for clothes that come purposefully damaged and covered in fake signs of use says that people have not only lost the sense of dignity that comes from a hard day’s work, but have lost respect for that sense of dignity as well. Instead, a significant number of people prefer the illusion of effort, believe that physical labor is beneath them, and see nothing wrong with taking credit for another’s work. The illusion of effort is troublesome because it can lead people to prefer laziness over diligence. Should this sentiment become widespread, important work will go undone and the infrastructure necessary for civilization will decay.

This leads into the second problem, the sense that physical labor is somehow undignified. For the wealthy, physical labors can be hired out to others. For the intelligent, there is more money to be made in fields which are only accessible to them. But for many people, physical labor is their method for doing honest work for honest wages so that they do not have to live parasitically at another’s expense. It is no shame to work in a blue-collar profession; some people just have more lucrative options. The proper response from elites, then, is not to sneer at blue-collar workers but to be thankful for and respectful of them. The alternative response leads to a widening cultural gap and greater alienation between rich and poor, which cannot continue forever.

This, in turn, leads to the third concern, that of taking credit for another person’s work. By wearing clothes which show the signs of work that one has not only not done, but has paid someone else to create the illusion of having done, this is the effective signal that one is sending. The state is partly to blame for this, as its intellectual monopoly laws have come to serve as the basis for enforcing norms of giving credit where it is due. But such laws attempt to apply the norms of property ownership to that which is not scarce, is not rivalrous, and has no particular form in physical reality. As people realize the nonsensical nature of patents and copyrights, they tend to throw the baby out with the bathwater and come to reject all notions of giving credit where it is due. This undermines the respect between persons that is necessary for a stable social order.

Inverted Class Incentives

In a healthy society, those who are on the lower rungs of the economic latter seek to imitate the appearance and emulate the virtues of those near the top, so as to engage in the behaviors that allowed those who are near the top to climb up there. Conversely, the clothing items discussed above serve as evidence that the opposite is occurring. Those near the top have been made to feel guilty about their station in life by social justice warriors who condemn them as being ‘privileged’ and tell them to check themselves. While these fashions are primarily, in the words of Mike Rowe, “a costume for wealthy people who see work as ironic rather than iconic,” the shaming of wealth has led many affluent people to signal lower economic status in order to avoid harassment by the moral busybodies of the progressive left. Wearing such clothes is one means of doing this. Thus, we have high imitating low, and if this goes on with sufficient magnitude for enough time, it will lead the rich to poverty while leaving the poor without a good example to follow.

Conclusion

Fashion may seem an innocent playground for leftist elites and detached from the harsh realities of life in middle America, but it can serve as a warning signal that something is deeply wrong with the culture that produces it. The four clothing items discussed above indicate many problems which, if left untreated, will lead to a revolution. These problems have been present for decades, and may persist for a decade or two longer before they provoke an uprising, but that which cannot continue will eventually stop.

Authority, Anarchy, and Libertarian Social Order

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

Stateless In Somalia

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Case of Tudor England

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

He continues,

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

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

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

Chile and Singapore

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

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

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

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

Libertarianism and Reaction

Pendleton writes,

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

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

Final Arbitration

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of Rules and Rulers

Pendleton writes,

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

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

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

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

Mischaracterization

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

The Definition of Liberty

Pendleton writes,

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

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

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

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

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

Rationalism and Empiricism

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

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

Conclusion

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

References:

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

Book Review: Islamic Exceptionalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4/5

Book Review: Level Up Your Life

Level Up Your Life is a book about self-improvement and adventure by American entrepreneur, fitness instructor, publisher, and writer Steve Kamb. The book shows people how to define goals and use a game setup of experience points and levels to accomplish those goals while avoiding various pitfalls along the way. The book is divided into six sections, each of which contains three to five chapters.

Kamb begins with a brief introduction, describing several of his most interesting adventures as well as the life he led before deciding to change his life. He talks about the online community he founded about changing one’s life to be more active and adventurous, then invites the reader to join.

The first section begins by going into greater detail about Kamb’s own experiences and backstory than did the introduction. The middle is a warning about getting stuck in the research and planning stages of an adventure without ever actually going on the adventure. The final chapter of this section is an exhortation to stop waiting and thinking you cannot live the life you want to live.

Getting started on a hero’s journey is the subject of the second section. Kamb begins by laying out the basic story arc that almost all heroic characters follow. Next, he asks the reader to describe one’s normal life and then create the superhero alter-ego that one wishes to become. The following chapter presents several common excuses that people use to justify not living a more interesting life and rebuts each of them. The sixth chapter contains advice on dealing with people who offer discouragement and resistance to one’s ambitions. Kamb ends this section by explaining how game mechanics such as experience points and leveling can be used in real life to help one learn skills and achieve goals.

In the third section, Kamb discusses how to set up one’s Game of Life. He lays out the rules that his group uses, but one can create one’s own list. The ninth chapter gives examples of character classes from role-playing games and how they might translate into real-world skill sets. The point of the chapter is to describe one’s ideal leveled-up character. The next chapter explores various quests that one could pursue in order to get from one’s current state to one’s ideal state. Kamb ends this section by sharing how he used the methods from the previous two chapters in his own quest.

The fourth section begins with more discussion of experience points and levels, then proceeds to discuss the need to self-impose both positive and negative reinforcement in order to cultivate discipline. An excellent bit of advice is given here: rewarding yourself should take the form of something that will aid in one’s quest, not something immediately pleasurable that will hinder one’s efforts going forward. In the fourteenth chapter, Kamb explains the importance of willpower. He suggests altering one’s environment to make pursuing one’s goals require less willpower and working against those goals require more. Following this, the need to create flow and momentum in one’s life is explained. The section concludes with a chapter about team-building that describes the roles of mentor, peer, trainee, and wildcard. Finding people to fill each of these roles helps make a quest more productive and interesting.

The fifth section uses the examples of four well-known fictional characters and how they overcame adversity in their stories to discuss how to prepare the body and mind for any adventure, nurture an adventurous spirit, and make necessary sacrifices in pursuit of success. The stories of Bruce Wayne, Jason Bourne, Indiana Jones, and Katniss Everdeen contain a multitude of lessons, making this the longest section of the book.

In the last section, Kamb reminds the reader that tomorrow is not guaranteed and whatever is worth doing should be started now. He encourages those who have completed their personal quests to share their stories and knowledge so that less experienced people can learn from them. The final chapter encourages those who have done great deeds to avoid resting on their laurels and move on to another adventure. The book concludes with a list of resources, acknowledgments, and a repetition of the offer to join Kamb’s online community.

Level Up Your Life is one of the better self-help books out there, and the online community is an added bonus. The greatest criticisms of the book would be that it is too much of an advertisement for the online community, and that while it is excellent for someone who is enduring life but not enjoying it, it is far less useful for someone who already uses similar methods with great success in some areas of life but is held back by failures in other areas. Even so, Kamb has created a book that is worth reading (and a website worth visiting).

Rating: 4/5

Fourteen Observations on Events in Syria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Case Against the Second Amendment

One of the most controversial parts of the United States Constitution is the Second Amendment, which reads:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Unlike the previous entries in this series, this will not be an argument against the substance of the Second Amendment. Rather, this will be a case against both the exact language of the Second Amendment, its efficacy, and the effect of having it explicitly codified in the United States Constitution.

Language

Let us begin with the words themselves and how their meaning has changed over the centuries. This is a common problem for those who view the Constitution as a dead document, as well as a common exploit for those who view the Constitution as a living document that they can interpret to mean whatever they wish it to mean. In the eighteenth century, ‘well-regulated’ simply meant ‘functioning properly.’ But with the growth of the administrative state, regulation has taken on the novel meaning of law without proper legislation. Likewise, the concept of a militia has also changed from that of all able-bodied males of military age to that of fringe anti-government extremists, as the federal government has usurped the role of the militia and handed it to the National Guard, which it may more easily command and control.

Next, there is the matter of security of a free state. In one sense, ‘free state’ is a contradiction of terms because the presence of a state is a guarantee of an absence of freedom. In that sense, those who seek liberty should not want the state to be secure, but rather to be continually imperiled by its own subjects. But in the language of the time, a free state was one which was sovereign over its geographical area rather than one which was subject to another, more powerful state. In this sense, the Second Amendment is correct to observe that a heavily armed populace is the most effective deterrent against foreign invasion.

Efficacy

The Second Amendment concludes by saying quite plainly now as then that ‘the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.’ This is an absolute standard, setting a zero tolerance for infringement of the right to keep and bear arms. But how effective has this been? Given that the National Firearms Act of 1934 imposes taxes on certain categories of arms, the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 forbids private nuclear weapons, the Gun Control Act of 1968 mandates licensing of arms dealers and manufacturers, the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 outlaws private ownership of machine guns manufactured after that date, and numerous other federal, state, and local measures further restrict what kinds of weapons one may own, it is clear that the Second Amendment is mere ink on a dead animal hide rather than an authentic protection of essential liberty against the whims of legislators.

Another concern with the Second Amendment is the same as with any other part of the Constitution. The interpretation is decided by judges who are paid by the state in courts which are monopolized by the state. Thus, the Second Amendment means whatever people in black costumes say it means, which need not be in keeping with common usage or dictionary definitions because there is no effective challenge to their power once the appeals process is exhausted. (There are the possibilities that a judge will be impeached and removed or that the Constitution will be amended, but these possibilities are rare enough to dismiss in most cases.) The incentive of people who are paid by the state is to encourage the health of the state, which in the case of the Second Amendment means that there is a conflict of interest between defending the rights of the people to keep and bear arms and eliminating the danger to agents of the state that an armed population presents. This incentivizes judges to rule in favor of restrictions on arms, which constitutes a threat to individual liberty and tends toward infringement upon natural rights.

That being said, the case law on the Second Amendment is somewhat more favorable than the legislation. In United States v. Lopez (1995), the Supreme Court struck down the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990. In District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), the court ruled that there is an individual right to keep and bear arms rather than solely a collective right. The McDonald v. Chicago (2010) decision extended Heller to the state and local level, while Caetano v. Massachusetts (2016) extended these decisions to all forms of bearable arms. However, other decisions leave much to be desired. In United States v. Cruikshank (1875), the court ruled that the Second Amendment “was not intended to limit the powers of the State governments in respect to their own citizens” and “has no other effect than to restrict the powers of the national government.” (McDonald v. Chicago largely reversed this decision.) The Presser v. Illinois (1886) decision found that states may prohibit their citizens from forming private military organizations, which protects the coercive monopoly of the state over military defense. In United States v. Miller (1939), the court found that the Second Amendment does not protect particular classes of weapons if they are not ordinary military equipment and legislators cannot imagine how the weapon could contribute to the common defense, thus hindering innovation in defense. The Lewis v. United States (1980) decision says that felons may be prohibited from possessing arms, which is troublesome due to the wide variety of peaceful activities that are considered felonious in the United States. United States v. Rybar (1996) affirmed that Congress may regulate possession of homemade machine guns, thus infringing upon the private property rights of citizens. Overall, the courts occasionally defend the right to keep and bear arms, but are generally unreliable, especially for more powerful weaponry.

To Codify Or Not To Codify

To quote Frederic Bastiat, “The worst thing that can happen to a good cause is, not to be skillfully attacked, but to be ineptly defended.” Perhaps the most damaging effect of the Second Amendment is ideological in nature; it encourages people to rely upon it as an argument for their rights instead of making a stronger case from first principles. This helps to perpetuate the erroneous beliefs that rights come from the state or from the Constitution, as opposed to the correct view that rights are logical corollaries of the most fundamental right, that of self-ownership. As soon as one accepts such a statist basis for one’s rights, those rights are instantly jeopardized, for what the state giveth, the state may taketh away. The implication at that point is that there would be nothing wrong with gun confiscation if the Second Amendment could be repealed or reinterpreted by a future Supreme Court packed with progressive liberals, which is the goal of many leftists in the United States. In other countries which do not have counterparts to the Second Amendment, the laws concerning keeping and bearing arms are much more strict and invasive. But in many places with strict gun control measures, a large number of people still maintain firearms; they just do so illegally. Note that when a product is in demand and legal markets are forbidden from providing the supply to meet the demand, illegal markets will step in and make the banned goods easier to obtain than if the goods were legal but strictly regulated.

Conclusion

The Second Amendment is excellent in aspiration, but thoroughly insufficient in practice. Both the legislative and judicial branches have infringed upon the right to keep and bear arms, in flagrant violation of the promise made by the Framers. It is thus necessary to make a stronger case for private armament on both the theoretical and practical fronts. Theoretically, the case for keeping and bearing arms should be made from the first principles of self-ownership and private property rights. Practically, those who seek liberty must recognize and make use of the fact that one effectively owns that which one can take and defend. Put plainly, the right to keep and bear arms is not secured by some magical parchment or by agents of the state, but by the ability and willingness of the owners of those arms to use them in self-defense against anyone who would attempt to take them.

On Libertarianism and Conquest

The institution of private property is a fundamental aspect of economics and social interactions. It serves the practical purpose of avoiding conflicts over scarce resources so that efforts may be put toward better purposes. Theories concerning the creation, acquisition, trade, inheritance, and defense of private property form much of libertarian philosophy. What has gone largely unexplored in libertarian theory thus far is the role of conquest in the determination of property rights. Almost all inhabited land on Earth has been conquered by one group of people or another at some time in the past, so as long as this remains unexplored, libertarianism will be left open to attacks from all manner of enemies of private property rights. Thus, it is necessary to examine conquest from a libertarian perspective.

Man vs. Nature

The starting point for all of libertarian philosophy is self-ownership; each person has a right to exclusive control of one’s physical body and full responsibility for actions committed with said control. Note that in order to argue against self-ownership, one must exercise exclusive control of one’s physical body for the purpose of communication. This results in a performative contradiction because the content of the argument is at odds with the act of making the argument. By the laws of excluded middle and non-contradiction, self-ownership must be true because it must be either true or false, and any argument that self-ownership is false leads to a contradiction.

Because each person has a right to exclusive control of one’s physical body, it is wrong for one person to initiate interference with another person’s exclusive control of their physical body without their consent. This is how the non-aggression principle is derived from self-ownership. Because each person has full responsibility for the actions that one commits with one’s physical body, one may gain property rights in external objects by laboring upon unowned natural resources. This works because one is responsible for the improvements that one has made upon the natural resources, and it is impossible to own the improvements without owning the resources themselves.

In a sense, all property rights are based on conquest, in that property rights are created when man conquers nature by appropriating part of nature for his exclusive control and use. This is a powerful antidote to the contention of many opponents of private property that property titles are somehow invalidated by a history of conquest, of people taking by force what is not rightfully theirs. But we can do even better than this, as the next sections will show.

Man vs. Man

As stated earlier, property rights are useful in practice because they minimize conflicts over scarce resources by establishing who rightfully controls what territory. This results in a significant amount of loss prevention, which allows the people who would have died and the property that would have been damaged in such conflicts to instead survive and prosper.

But what happens when such norms are not respected? Let us consider the simplest possible example and extrapolate from there. For our first case, consider a planet which has only two sentient beings. Let us call them Archer and Bob. Archer has mixed his labor with some land and thus acquired private property rights over that area. Bob wants the land that belongs to Archer. That Archer has a right to defend himself and his property from the aggressions of Bob by any means necessary, and that Archer has the right to retake anything that Bob takes is not disputed by any reputable libertarian theorist. But what if Bob kills Archer? In that case, the property does not rightfully pass from Archer to Bob in theory. But Bob now has exclusive control over the property and there is no other sentient being present to challenge him. Thus, Bob becomes the de facto owner, even though this is illegitimate de jure.

The above case is interesting but trivial because social norms are irrelevant if there is neither a community to observe them nor a mechanism to enforce them. As such, we will spend the rest of this essay adding complexity to the first case to arrive at meaningful results. For our second case, suppose that there were another person present to challenge Bob. Let us call him Calvin. Because libertarian theory is a logical construct, it is subject to logic in the form of rationality and consistency. To violate the rights of another person while claiming the same rights for oneself is not consistent. Hypocrisy of this kind cannot be rationally advanced in argument; it has the same effect at the subjective level that a performative contradiction has at the objective level. In other words, all people do not lose the right to life because someone somewhere somewhen commits a murder, but the murderer does. This means that Bob cannot claim a right to his own life or to the property he occupies because he murdered Archer and stole his property. Thus, there is no moral prohibition on Calvin killing Bob and taking the property from him. With Archer and Bob both dead and Calvin the last sentient being on the planet, Calvin is now the de facto owner of the property. But unlike Bob in the first case, Calvin is also the de jure property owner because he has exerted effort to remove property from the control of a thief and the rightful owner died without an heir.

Another level of complexity may be added by giving Archer a rightful heir, whom we may call Delia. Let our third case proceed as the second case; Bob murders Archer and steals his land, then Calvin kills Bob to eliminate a murderer and take stolen property away from a thief. But with Archer dead, Delia is now the rightful owner of Archer’s land. However, without Calvin’s labor in killing Bob, Bob would still be occupying Delia’s territory. Thus, both Calvin and Delia have legitimate property claims. They may resolve this issue by one of the two methods available to anyone: reason or force. With reason, they may negotiate a fair settlement in which Calvin is compensated for his efforts and Delia reclaims her property minus the compensation. With force, they may fight, which will end in the first case if one kills the other. Short of this, fighting will only alter the particulars of a fair settlement or lead to the fourth case described below.

Family vs. Family

Because the moral limitations of groups are no different from the moral limitations of individuals, we may now extend these results to consider conflicts between small groups. For our fourth case, let us modify the third case by giving spouses to Calvin and Delia. Let there also be other people somewhere who can procreate with the aforementioned people, but do not otherwise involve themselves with the property concerns at hand. Suppose that Calvin and Delia do not resolve their issue, and Calvin continually occupies the property. Calvin and Delia each have offspring, then several generations pass such that Calvin and Delia are long dead. The descendants of Delia wish to reclaim their ancestral homeland from the descendants of Calvin. But do they have the right to do so? Calvin and his descendants have spent generations occupying and laboring upon the land, thus continually demonstrating and renewing their property rights. Delia and her descendants have not. One might argue that an injustice was done to Delia by Calvin, but the responsibility for crimes dies with the people who commit the crimes, and debts do not rightfully pass from one generation to another. This is because the descendants were not involved in the disputes between their ancestors, being as yet unborn. Therefore, they are not responsible for any wrongdoing that may have occurred, being non-actors in the disputes of their ancestors. The answer, then, is that the descendants of Calvin are now the rightful owners and the descendants of Delia have lost through abandonment the claim that Delia once had.

Man vs. Society and Family vs. Society

Next, let us consider issues that may arise when a single person has a property conflict with a large group of people. Though it is not a priori true that a single person will always be overpowered by a group, this is the historical norm, and it has occurred with sufficient frequency to take this as a given for our analysis. For our fifth case, let us reconsider the first case, only now Bob is replaced by a society. Let us call them the Bobarians. The morality of the situation does not change; if the Bobarians physically remove Archer and occupy his land, then the Bobarians who occupy the land are guilty of robbery and possessing stolen property while those who willfully aid them in doing so are accessories to these crimes. If the Bobarians demand that Archer obey their commands and pay them tribute, then they are guilty of extortion. Archer has a right to use any means necessary to reclaim his liberty and property, however unlikely to succeed these efforts may be. If the Bobarians kill Archer either during their conquest or afterward, then those who kill him are guilty of murder and robbery. But if Archer is dead without an heir, and there exists no other group of people capable of holding the Bobarians accountable for their crimes, then the Bobarian conquest of Archer’s property is valid de facto even though it is illegitimate de jure.

For our sixth case, suppose that Archer does have surviving heirs who wish to take back the property which has been stolen from them by the Bobarians. All of these Archerians have been wronged by the Bobarians, and thus have a right to reclaim the stolen property. But just as before, this needs to occur within the lifetimes of the conquerors and their supporters because descendants are not responsible for the crimes of their ancestors. Note if the Archerians had a timeless right to return to their ancestral lands or collect reparations from the Bobarians, it would encourage the Bobarians to finish exterminating them in order to prevent an effort to retake the land in future. A standard which encourages mass murder is questionable, to say the least.

Society vs. Society

The last set of issues to consider concern conflicts between societies. For our seventh case, let us consider what role might be played by another group who wish to hold conquerors responsible for their murder and thievery. Let us call them the Calvinites, after the role of Calvin discussed earlier. Suppose they witness the Bobarians kill Archer and all of his relatives to take their lands, as in the fifth case. What may the Calvinites rightly do? Of course, they may denounce the conquest and engage in social and economic ostracism of the Bobarians. But this is hardly sufficient punishment for the Bobarian aggression, nor does it do anything to deprive criminals of their ill-gotten gains. As per the second case, there is no moral prohibition on the Calvinites physically removing the Bobarians from the former Archerian lands by any means necessary. All Bobarians who took part in the conquest or aided the effort are fair targets for defensive force, and any innocent shields killed in the process are acceptable losses. Should the Calvinites succeed in removing the Bobarians, they become both the factual and rightful owners through their labors of justice.

For our eighth case, let us modify the seventh case by having some Archerians survive the Bobarian assault. With many Archerians dead and the rest in exile, the Calvinites intervene. The Calvinites succeed in removing the Bobarians from the Archerian homeland. The Archerians seek to return to their land. As in the third case, the surviving Archerians can come to terms with the Calvinites to resettle their lands and compensate them for their efforts in removing the Bobarians, try to remove the Calvinites by force, or let the Calvinites have the land and go somewhere else. A war between the Archerians and Calvinites will only result in alternate terms of negotiation or the Archerians leaving unless one side completely exterminates the other. If the Archerians leave and the Calvinites stay for several generations such that the original disputants die off, then as per the fourth case, the Archerians lose the right to return because the Calvinites now have the legitimate property claim.

The ninth and most important case to consider in terms of real-world occurrence is that of incomplete conquest, in which a conqueror does not exile or exterminate a native population, but instead conquers them for the purpose of ruling over them. Suppose the Bobarians seek not after an Archerian genocide, but only to annex them into the Bobarian empire. Of course, the Archerians have every right to resist their new rulers; there is not even the illusion of consent of the governed in such a case. But unlike the cases discussed above, a state apparatus initiates the use of force for as long as it operates. Whereas a forced exile or extermination is a crime typically done by one generation of people, a long-term occupation for the purpose of collecting taxes and/or breeding out the natives over the course of generations is a continuing criminal activity. In such a case, the Bobarian occupation will never become just and the Archerians will always have the right to declare independence and remove them. This only becomes difficult to resolve to the extent that Bobarians intermarry with Archerians and produce mixed offspring, but the historical norm is that cultural and genetic vestiges of an occupation remain with a people long after they declare independence from and remove an occupier. After all, the individuals born of such conditions cannot help their lot, the actions of particular individuals are not necessarily representative of the state apparatus, and carefully excising such a cultural and genetic legacy is generally impossible without committing more acts of aggression.

Conclusions

Through application of these nine cases to real-world circumstances, one can theoretically resolve most of the property disputes between population groups, however unlikely the disputants may be to accept these results. What cannot be justified through these examples, however, are the interventions of the state concerning instances of conquest. Any good that a state may do by punishing conquerors is fruit of a poisoned tree, for the state acts as a conqueror over its own people, extorting them for resources and demanding obedience to its edicts. Instead, this is an appropriate role for individuals and private defense agencies who may free oppressed peoples and take payment either in monetary terms or through property claims over territory that has been conquered and liberated from occupation. The libertarian must be wary of state efforts to imitate the market by hiring private contractors or issuing letters of marque and reprisal for the purpose of bringing conquerors to justice.

There is a legal maxim that justice delayed is justice denied, and the libertarian analysis of conquest shows that this is doubly true; not only does a delay in the provision of justice allow injustice to persist, but given enough time, it renders the plaintiff’s grievances invalid. This amounts to a natural statute of limitations and statute of repose, meaning that the arbitrary and capricious statutes of limitations and repose imposed by statist legal systems is generally unnecessary, at least with regard to the property crimes and crimes against the person involved in conquest. In this sense, the libertarian theory of conquest naturally stresses the urgency of seeking justice in a way that statist legal systems can only attempt to simulate.

Another legal expression reinforced by this analysis is that possession is nine-tenths of the law. The idea is that the current possessor or occupant of physical property is assumed to be the owner unless a stronger ownership claim by someone else is proven. This must be the case because the only other consistent position would be to assume that the current possessor or occupant of physical property is not the owner, which quickly leads to absurdity as claims rush in from people who wish to take all manner of property and continually redistribute it ad infinitum.

Finally, one might misconstrue the above analysis to say that libertarian theory defends the idea that might makes right. But in order to believe this, one must ignore all of the arguments in favor of defensive force to separate conquerors from the spoils they have taken. Rather, the libertarian theory regarding conquest recognizes and respects the fact that might makes outcomes. This is a fact which will never change; the only thing that changes throughout space and time is who will have might and how much power disparity will exist between opponents.

Book Review: Against Empathy

Against Empathy is a book about the negative effects of trying to feel what other people feel by Canadian American psychology professor Paul Bloom. The book makes the case that concern and compassion function better in the absence of empathy. It also makes the case that empathy is a driving force behind much of the cruelty and irrationality in the world. The book is divided into six chapters and two shorter interludes, each of which explores a different aspect of empathy.

Bloom begins by defining his terms and laying out the case he intends to make over the whole book and in each chapter, as any good academic would. Adherence to definitions for the purpose of avoiding confusion is done well throughout the book, and is especially necessary when a word as widely defined and misused as empathy is in play. Rather than arguing in favor of psychopathy, Bloom advocates thinking with our heads rather than our hearts so as to reach a more consistent and helpful morality. Nor does he argue that empathy is completely bad; only that it does more harm than good.

The first chapter makes the distinction between cognitive empathy (recognizing another person’s feelings without feeling them oneself) and emotional empathy (experiencing the world as one thinks that someone else does). The shortcomings of the latter are the primary focus of the book, namely that empathy can lead to ignoring unidentifiable victims, denigrating logical choices that have superior results, letting our biases lead us astray, overrating present costs versus future costs, and sending unnecessary aid. The chapter ends with responses to objections raised by Bloom’s colleagues during the writing of the book.

In the second chapter, Bloom explores the neuroscientific aspects of empathy, including mirror neurons, the role of preconceptions of other people, and the difference between understanding and feeling. The difference between cognitive empathy and emotional empathy is important here, and it can be detected in fMRI scans. Bloom then discusses how empathy is currently measured, as well as the shortfalls of such methods.

The failures of empathy in the pursuit of virtue are the primary subject of the third chapter. These failures occur because empathy works as a spotlight, illuminating some problems and leaving the rest in the dark. This causes people to choose to help suffering individuals instead of suffering masses, to care less about the problems of a perceived out-group, or to engage in high-time-preference thinking. There is also the matter that one person can never truly feel what another person feels because one person does not have another person’s aggregate experience. In short, empathy interferes with a rational assessment of how to make the world better. Bloom concludes the chapter by praising economists for avoiding empathy in their analyses.

Next comes a half-chapter-length interlude about empathy and politics, which deserves more attention than it gets here. Bloom correctly states that empathy is not a useful measure of where one falls on a map of political views, but says little about libertarianism and nothing about anarchist or reactionary thought. The shortsightedness discussed earlier leads to incorrect long-term policy decisions, and empathy can lead judges to take decisions contrary to the letter of the law.

The fourth chapter is about the relationship between empathy and intimacy. Bloom argues that empathy runs counter to the special nature of a close interpersonal relationship, instead leading one to treat one’s family no better than strangers. He mentions an interesting hypothetical case of a pathologically empathetic person and shows how psychologically harmful this condition can be. It is interesting that there is no clinical name for this condition. Next, Bloom explores the difference between cognitive empathy and emotional empathy in Buddhist philosophy, which contains a similar distinction and a similar recommendation about embracing cognitive empathy while rejecting emotional empathy. After this, the difficulties that doctors may encounter if they are distracted by emotional empathy are discussed, as well as the negative effects that receiving emotional empathy can have on patients. Then, Bloom makes important distinctions between having useful past experiences, caring about people without using empathy, and having emotional empathy in the present. The positive role of empathy in apologizing for misdeeds is examined, and Bloom has no counterargument on this point.

The second interlude considers empathy’s ability to serve as a foundation for morality, especially from the beginning of life. Bloom considers that empathy may be foundational for young children but harmful for adults, much like human breast milk. He considers that selfishness may motivate kind acts, but finds the explanation wanting on the grounds of misunderstanding both natural selection and psychology. The topic is left as an open question, but the evidence discussed suggests that even young children are capable of caring without internalizing another person’s feelings.

In the fifth chapter, Bloom explores how violence and cruelty are linked to empathy. In particular, he discusses how empathy can lead people to commit cruel and violent acts, especially toward people who have themselves committed atrocities. Bloom correctly posits that violence will always be with us, as some problems are insoluble without it. Here, the spotlight nature of empathy is seen to maximize the impact of victimhood while minimizing the impact of perpetration, which leads to escalations of hostilities between nations and blood feuds between families. Empathy can lead people to falsely believe that they are doing good deeds when they are being cruel and violent. It can also lead wartime leaders to fail to recognize sacrifices that must be made to win the war. Next, Bloom looks at the nature of psychopaths and the role that dehumanization plays in atrocities. He shows that these are concerns are different from concerns about empathy. He ends the chapter by comparing empathy to anger, and finding both to be unworthy of removal from a person’s psyche, but in need of subordination to rational deliberation.

The final chapter addresses the role of reason and defends it against several attacks. After all, an argument that presupposes rationality can be undermined by a case that people are fundamentally irrational. This chapter could have been improved by including the discourse ethics of Jürgen Habermas or Hans-Hermann Hoppe, as it would have added a strong defense of objective morality. Like so many controversial academics who encounter social justice warriors, Bloom was told to check his privilege, which he rightly dismisses as nonsensical, though “SJWs are the real bigots” is not a sufficiently sharp response. He addresses the concern that regardless of the virtues of reason, humans are incompetent at it. But this can be shrugged off by noting that reason is objective and thus not subject to individual competency. The arguments in favor of determinism lead to performative contradictions if taken to their logical conclusions, but Bloom does not attack them in this fashion. A second attack on reason comes from psychological studies that show how people can be subconsciously influenced, but to know this is to know to take corrective steps to eliminate the problem. Finally, Bloom makes the case for rationality by discussing the strong correlation between high IQ and success, as well as the correlation between self-control and success. He briefly returns to politics to note the irrationality there, but concludes that this is due to the political systems rather than the participants themselves. Bloom ends the book by conceding that empathy can have good results, but that this is the exception and not the rule.

In a sense, Bloom does not go far enough. The concept of conspicuous compassion is barely mentioned, and there are some cases in which psychopathy can be used for beneficial results. The final chapter is in need of stronger logical cases against Bloom’s critics. Even so, Against Empathy is thought-provoking and much-needed to stem a tide of books that take too bright a view of empathy.

Rating: 4.5/5

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.

Fake Libertarianism Revisited

A significant portion of my work consists of critiquing arguments, decisions, and statements made by other people. But sometimes, the lens of examination is best turned inward to correct one’s own missteps. Such is the case for an article I wrote three years ago about the nature of fake libertarianism. In retrospect, I failed to accurately present the structure of libertarian philosophy, and thus erroneously defined what it means to be a fake libertarian. Let us see what is wrong with my former case and make the necessary corrections.

Just as before, we must first have proper definitions for “libertarianism” and “fake” in order to consider the issue of fake libertarianism. Libertarianism is the philosophical position that the proper use of force is always defensive in nature. Initiating the use of force is never justifiable, while using force to defend against someone who initiates the use of force is always justifiable. A fake adherent of a position is either a person who claims to believe in that position while explicitly rejecting the premises of that position or their logical conclusions, or a person who misrepresents the premises of that position. Note that this does not compel action; a person is free to choose not to respond to initiated force with defensive force. Nor does this constrain one’s entire ideology to a single position; one may believe in additional premises beyond a certain position which are not in contradiction with that position without being a fake adherent, but to falsely represent such premises as being contained within that position does make one a fake adherent.

In my previous attempt, I argued that a fake libertarian is a person who claims to be a libertarian but does one or more of the following:

  1. Supports initiating the use of force for any reason;
  2. Rejects a logical conclusion of the non-aggression principle;
  3. Claims that another principle can trump the non-aggression principle;
  4. Claims that libertarianism contains something that it does not contain, or vice versa.

Points (1) and (4) are sound, but points (2) and (3) require some revision. The non-aggression principle is neither an axiom nor the basis of libertarian theory, as my previous attempt would suggest. The starting point for all of libertarian ethics is self-ownership; that each person has a right to exclusive control of one’s physical body and full responsibility for actions committed with said control. Note that in order to argue against self-ownership, one must exercise exclusive control of one’s physical body for the purpose of communication. This results in a performative contradiction because the content of the argument is at odds with the act of making the argument. By the laws of excluded middle and non-contradiction, self-ownership must be true because it must be either true or false, and any argument that self-ownership is false is false by contradiction.

Because each person has a right to exclusive control over one’s own body, it is wrong for one person to initiate interference with another person’s exclusive control over their body without that person’s consent. It is clear that self-ownership trumps the non-aggression principle on the grounds that the independent principle overrules the dependent principle. One may also reject a logical conclusion of the non-aggression principle if doing so is necessary in order to accept a logical conclusion of self-ownership.

The above would be true but trivial if there were no cases in which the non-aggression principle came into conflict with principles of higher rank, so let us consider three such cases.

Innocent Shields

Strict adherence to the non-aggression principle would suggest that innocent shields held captive by an aggressor are non-aggressors and that harming them is immoral. But if this is true, then anyone who is being more harmfully victimized by the aggressor is doomed. Additionally, considering an aggressor who hides behind innocent shields to be an illegitimate target would provide a means for an aggressor to escape punishment and restitution. Another means of dealing with such a situation is provided by Walter Block’s concept of negative homesteading. To quote Block,

“A grabs B to use as a shield; A forces B to stand in front of him, and compels him to walk wherever A wishes. A then hunts C in order to murder the latter by shooting him. C also has a gun. Is it legally permissible for C to shoot at A in self defense under libertarian law?

[…]

In ordinary homesteading, or what we must now call positive homesteading to distinguish it from this newly introduced variety, it is the first person upon the scene who mixes his labor with the land or natural resource who comes away with the property rights in question. It is the first man who farms a plot of land, who becomes the rightful owner. A similar procedure applies to negative homesteading, only here what gets to be ‘owned’ is a negative, not a positive. This concept refers to some sort of unhappiness, not a benefit such as owning land. The ownership of misery, as it were, must stay with its first victim, according to this principle. He cannot legitimately pass it onto anyone else without the latter’s permission.”

The homesteading principle is a direct corollary of self-ownership, just like the non-aggression principle. This gives them equal standing in libertarian philosophy, meaning that a conflict between the two must not give the non-aggression principle supremacy over the homesteading principle or vice versa.

To use the theory of negative homesteading, we must identify the first homesteader of the misery. In Block’s example, this is B. It is impermissible for B to transfer this misery to C. Thus, the theory of negative homesteading permits C to shoot A and risk hitting B even though a strict view of the non-aggression principle would not. None of this is to say that concern for the innocent shield should be disregarded; only that if an aggressor is too dangerous to ignore and it is impossible to subdue the aggressor without harming innocent shields, then the innocent shields are expendable in order to reduce the overall amount of aggression committed.

Reecean Proviso

The theoretical basis for private property rights in libertarian theory also starts with self-ownership. Because one is responsible for one’s actions, one gains an ownership claim over one’s improvements upon natural resources. It is impossible to own the improvements without owning the resources themselves, so property rights over external objects in a state of nature are established through mixing one’s labor with them. As property rights are established and maintained by exercising self-ownership, they are dependent upon self-ownership. As with non-aggression, self-ownership overrules private property in external objects because that which is dependent is subordinate to that upon which it is dependent.

Next, let us note that all sentient beings are equal in their self-ownership, in that all sentient beings have property in their own physical bodies through exclusive direct control over them. Although the nature of their bodies and minds will almost certainly result in different beings appropriating different quantities of external resources and in different beings having more or less capability to defend those resources from challengers in practice, the theoretical strength of a particular property right over an external object by one sentient being is equivalent to the strength of another particular property right over another external object by another sentient being. Applying this to the fact that self-ownership stands above private property in external objects, we get the result that the self-ownership of one sentient being stands above the private property rights in external objects of another sentient being.

A strict view of the non-aggression principle would not allow any appropriation of another person’s private property without their permission, but a case in which self-ownership is in conflict with private property could allow for this. Although this is subject to so many caveats in practice that the appropriate lifeboat scenario may never arise, the theoretical possibility for a situation in which a person is justified to appropriate a small amount of resources from someone else’s property in order to stay alive does exist.

Unrepentant Aggressors and Agency

Because libertarian theory is a logical construct, it is subject to logic in the form of rationality and consistency. For private property rights, the non-aggression principle, or indeed even self-ownership, to apply to a person who has violated another person’s rights of the same kind is inconsistent. As such, a thief has no standing to claim property rights, an aggressor has no standing to claim non-aggression, and a murderer has no standing to claim self-ownership until restitution is made for their crimes. In the latter case, restitution is impossible because a murder victim cannot be made whole. An unrepentant aggressor may be attacked in ways which would violate the non-aggression principle if done to a non-aggressor because the aggressor’s actions demonstrate a rejection of the non-aggression principle.

One might protest that a bystander lacks agency in a matter between an aggressor and a victim, but the concept of agency has been shaped in a world dominated by states. Thus, private citizens are discouraged (and sometimes prohibited) not to interfere in certain matters between other people because the state claims sole authority to resolve such matters. In a society organized in accordance with libertarian theory, there is no such monopoly on the creation and enforcement of laws, or on the final arbitration of disputes. The concept of agency in a libertarian social order would likely impose fewer limits on an individual’s conduct, thus leaving one free to use force against unrepentant aggressors even if not in an immediate self-defense situation. The possibility of becoming an outlaw subject to the every whim of anyone who cares to attack an unrepentant aggressor presents a strong deterrent against committing acts of aggression.

Strategic Thinking

A separate but related problem is that of libertarian purists denying the context of a situation and refusing to consider less than perfect alternatives. There are situations in which an option which adheres to libertarian principles is not politically viable and libertarians are not willing to do what would be necessary to make such an option viable. In such cases, there will be several options and all of them will involve acts of aggression. Navigating these situations requires us to figure out either which option is most likely to result in the least amount of aggression or which option is most likely to move society closer to a libertarian social order. Advocating for one such option over the others, or ranking them from best to worst, does not constitute an endorsement of aggression because one is not choosing an aggressive option as an ideal or because one wants to, but as a least evil and because there is no good option.

Parts Unchanged

The definition of what constitutes a fake libertarian was in need of correction, but the when, where, and why remain as they were. Fake libertarianism is still a widespread and growing problem. As before, the reasons for being a fake libertarian are to gain recognition in a smaller field of competitors instead of trying to compete directly with more powerful establishment commentators, to destroy the libertarian movement from within by being an entryist, and to gain capital through false representation of something valuable.

Taking a slightly softer tone with some of those identified instead of calling them fakes and running them off may be sound strategical advice in some cases, especially with respect to the anarchist-minarchist debate. But any movement that wishes to take political power for any purpose, including the destruction of said power, must beware of holiness spirals. Libertarian groups have a twofold problem in this regard; that of strictest adherence to libertarian principles and that of leftist infiltration. Those who reduce their circle of allies to only the most ardent libertarians will lack the numbers to accomplish anything. Meanwhile, leftists who infiltrate libertarian circles and fill them with progressive nonsense can manage to run off real libertarians, which helps to explain the growth of the alt-right movement. Both of these problems are dangerous to the goal of liberty and must be countered whenever they present themselves.

Conclusion

There is no better way to conclude than by restating the closing paragraph from the original piece:

“Just as counterfeiters do not make copies of worthless banknotes and forgers do not falsify meaningless signatures, political charlatans do not pretend to hold a position if doing so has no potential benefit. Thus, true libertarians should take heart. The very fact that there are fake libertarians means that true libertarianism is worth something, and that defending it against those who would falsely assume it and attempt to destroy it is worth doing.”