The State Is Negan, Part II

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

A New Community

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

Inside The Beast I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

Tax Collection, Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tax Collection, Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

Of Running, Hiding, and Fighting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

Inside The Beast II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Breaking Point

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Tucker, Spencer, Libertarianism, and Fascism

On February 18, white nationalist and alt-right leader Richard Spencer was present in the bar of the Marriott hotel that hosted the International Students For Liberty conference. He was invited by the Hans-Hermann Hoppe Caucus, a group of right-libertarians with no official affiliation with SFL. A sign and the claims of several Hoppe Caucus members made it seem as though Spencer was an official part of the event, although he was not.

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

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

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

The Exchange

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

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

Inaccuracies

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

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

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

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

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

Libertarianism and Fascism

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

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

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

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

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

Trolling, Heiling, Blocking, Lying

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

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

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

Aftermath

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

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

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

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

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

The Not-So-Current Year: 2016 In Review

Though the specific demarcation of the passage from one year into another is a rather arbitrary social construct, it does provide a useful annual period for self-examination and remembrance. Now that 2016 has entered the history books, let us take a look back at a year’s worth of essays and review the not-so-current year.

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

My first article proper of 2016 was A Case Against the Nineteenth Amendment. It was intended to come out before the New Year, but I was not satisfied with it until January 3. If I were to rewrite this article, I would say more about biological differences between the sexes and why these make the entrance of women into democratic politics a danger to the stability and sustainability of a society. I took down the First Amendment later in the year.

The Bundy standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Preserve began. I made nine observations on the event. Their later acquittal on several felony charges after the standoff ended in what was essentially an instance of jury nullification was cause for celebration.

As usual, leftists called for more gun restrictions and an end to gun violence without seeing that the former would both cause and be enforced by gun violence or the threat thereof. Rather than take the usual path of reductio ad absurdum, I argued the sharper point that gun deaths can be a good thing. This did not sit well with the editors at Examiner.com, who pulled the article. Given a long and contentious history with the site, I decided to part ways with them and start my own site. This proved to be a wise choice, as Examiner gave up the ghost less than six months later, with all content disappearing into the aether. My next task was to choose a name for the site and explain its meaning.

Christopher Cantwell argued the libertarian case for Donald Trump, and I gave him some pushback. Shortly afterward, Rand Paul suspended his campaign, and I wrote a list of observations on the event.

‘No victim means no crime’ is a common saying among libertarians, but an altogether too reductionist one. I explained why.

A Russian film crew flew a drone over the city of Homs and recorded the aftermath of Assad’s forces besieging the city. I rarely get emotional, but seeing the wanton destruction was quite triggering for me. Aleppo was conquered later in the year, and I wrote a list of observations on the event.

I decided to take an educated guess at whether Ron Paul could have defeated Barack Obama if he had been the Republican nominee in 2012. I believe he would have done so easily.

Twitter decided to give in to government and social justice warrior requests to censor their enemies. Unsurprisingly, this tanked their stock prices. I proposed several remedies for the situation, and Twitter has of course used none of them.

Jason Brennan published an article arguing that arguments made by libertarians against open borders have disturbing implications that said libertarians almost never address, so I addressed them and showed on a point-by-point basis that some such implications are not only not so scary, but are actually vitally important to the maintenance of a libertarian social order.

Charlotte City Council approved an expansion of its anti-discrimination ordinance to include transgender people, which I denounced as a violation of private property, freedom of association, public safety, and freedom of religion. Governor Pat McCrory and the state legislature responded with House Bill 2, and the controversy has brewed for almost a year.

An author known as Mr. Underhill published an article arguing that violent revolution is not the appropriate method for achieving liberty. I took the opposite view, which led to a lengthy exchange of four more articles on my part and four more on his part. Following this exchange, I decided to write about how I choose who to debate and for how long, which made me realize that I had entertained Mr. Underhill for far too long. Later in the year, I covered political violence more generally to argue that we need more of it as well.

When examining the intellectual foundation for private property rights, I noticed an unexplored quirk which turned into an original proviso. A critique in the comments section led to another article defending the proviso.

Islamic terrorists attacked the airport and a subway station in Brussels, killing 31 people and injuring 300 others. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

Social justice warriors seem to have their own language which is distinct from both the dictionary definitions and the common understanding of words by most of the general population. I created a glossary to help normal people better understand SJW rhetoric.

Donald Trump suggested that women could be punished for getting an abortion, which outraged both sides of the mainstream abortion debate. I weighed in with a view which did the same.

Having addressed water ownership and pollution in two articles in 2015, I decided to lay out a libertarian theory on air ownership and pollution.

Puerto Rico reached new lows of fiscal irresponsibility, and I explained why it is best to cut them loose from the United States to become an independent country.

The rise of neoreaction and the alt-right has brought reactionary thought back to the forefront. I deemed my first attempt at examining its relationship to libertarianism to be inadequate, so I took a second stab at it. A Jeffrey Tucker article prompted a third effort, and I made a fourth effort later in the year in response to a pro-Trump neoreactionary article by Michael Perilloux.

Peter Weber published an opinion piece arguing that the institution of the American Presidency is being delegitimized, and that this is a dangerous direction. I argued that this is actually a welcome and even glorious development.

Having already explained my decisions about debating other authors, I wrote two more articles explaining my lack of profanity and lack of satirical content.

Many incorrect arguments concerning libertarianism and punishment began to appear, so I laid out a theory of libertarianism and punishment which utilized heavy doses of Rothbard.

The Libertarian Party held its nominating convention, and it was a disaster from beginning to end. The Republican convention was not much better in terms of substance.

Many people have noticed a correlation between weightlifting and libertarianism. I explored this correlation and found many reasons for it.

A terrorist who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State attacked a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., killing 49 people and injuring 53 others. I wrote a list of observations on the event, but missed a major point in doing so. Democracy is partly responsible for terrorism because it gives the common person a political voice, which makes them viable targets in a way that absolute monarchies or stateless societies would not.

When the Supreme Court ruled against Abigail Fisher in her anti-white racism case, the Internet cheered. I did not, realizing that the decision was a rejection of pure meritocracy.

Against all predictions, the vote to remove the United Kingdom from the European Union succeeded. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

In my most controversial article to date, I argued the most extreme position in the gun control debate: a private individual has a right to own nuclear weapons, and this would be beneficial for liberty. The troll brigades were out in force making typical leftist non-arguments, and I thank them for granting me a then-record in daily page views (and thus advertising money). A few did raise legitimate criticisms which will require an addendum to be written in the future.

As the major-party presidential nominations were secured, the establishment media wasted an inordinate amount of time engaging in speculation about who would be the running mate of each candidate. When discussing the potential benefits that each potential vice presidential pick could have, they neglected the aspect of assassination insurance.

Several recent problems with the criminal justice system demonstrated that government will not hold government accountable, and that a market alternative is required.

Five police officers were killed by a sniper in Dallas. I used the event to argue that those who kill government agents now are not cowardly murderers perpetrating senseless violence, but neither are they heroic or helpful to the cause of liberty.

A certain type of policy analysis exhibits many symptoms which are also found in high-functioning autistic people. This is more common among libertarians than among people of other political persuasions, so I decided to address the phenomenon.

A significant portion of the media coverage leading up to the Republican convention focused on the possibility of violence on the streets involving leftist protesters and rightist counter-protesters. This possibility went unrealized for reasons which were covered up by the establishment media.

Hillary Clinton said that she was “adamantly opposed to anyone bringing religion into our political process” and that it is “just absolutely wrong and unacceptable.” I argued the opposite case.

Gardening is an enjoyable hobby and a useful metaphor for many things, a libertarian social order included.

Trump hinted at the assassination of Clinton should she win and threaten gun rights. Predictably, every element of the establishment went apoplectic. I argued that political assassinations are ethically acceptable, though not usually the wisest practical move.

Since the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, libertarians have had strong differences concerning how to engage with it. I explained the differences between their intentions and libertarian goals.

The 2016 Summer Olympics took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

Whenever disasters impact an area in modern times, governments play a large role in the cleanup and recovery efforts. But this causes a behavioral problem in the population, not unlike that caused by the Pax Romana.

The Commission on Presidential Debates decided to exclude third-party candidates yet again. I made cases for peaceful and violent protest of this policy, and longed for a future candidate who might actually motivate people to engage in meaningful resistance.

Liberty Mutual created more advertisements that contain economic fallacies, so I did another round of debunking.

The establishment media tells us that every election is the most important of our lifetime. I proved that this cannot be the case, then psychoanalyzed the establishment media to explain why they keep repeating this, as if to convince themselves.

Argumentation ethics has been controversial since its introduction, but Roderick Long’s criticisms of it had gone unanswered. I remedied this state of affairs.

Rioters plagued Charlotte for three nights in response to a police shooting, which happened to involve a black officer and a black suspect. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

Congress voted to override President Obama’s veto of a bill that allows relatives of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for any role in the plot. Though some libertarians argued against the bill, I celebrated it for chipping away at the anti-libertarian idea of sovereign immunity, giving victims of American foreign policy a peaceful means of addressing their grievances, and possibly revealing clandestine activities to the American people about which they have a need to know.

Having heard libertarians argue in favor of every presidential candidate except Hillary Clinton, I decided to give it a shot. Only a bootlegger’s case was possible, and it was rather grim.

The idea of market failure is a widely believed misconception which has found widespread use in statist propaganda for the purpose of justifying government intervention in the private sector. I gave the idea perhaps its most thorough debunking to date.

In the last quarter of the year, I began reading more books, which resulted in several book reviews. I can strongly recommend The Essential Guide to Freelance Writing and Our Sister Republics; The West Point History of the Civil War somewhat less so. Good Guys With Guns, on the other hand, is a disaster.

The month before the election presented several opportunities for rebuttals. Milo Yiannopoulos demonstrated both a misunderstanding of and an enmity toward libertarianism, and I rebutted his assertions, which gained a surprising amount of attention. Jeffrey Tucker tried to defend democracy as a superior alternative to monarchy or political violence, and I showed why this is misguided. Penn Jillette argued in favor of vote swapping, and I argued against it.

Finally, the 2016 election came and went, which presented many observations to be made.

Black Friday is revered by most libertarians as a celebration of free-market capitalism. I updated my explanation of why this reverence is somewhat misplaced.

Finally, Otto Warmbier spent all of 2016 detained in North Korea. I made the unpopular case that he should be left there.

All in all, it was an interesting year full of occasions to make sharp libertarian arguments. May 2017 bring more of the same. Happy New Year!

Neoreactionaries Are Off Their Heads About Trump

In a November 11 article at Social Matter, Michael Perilloux analyzed the election of Donald Trump with respect to its meaning for the neoreactionary movement, speaking in the voice of all neoreactionaries. In this much, he is mostly correct. But there is much to be criticized about the goals discussed therein as well as the means of reaching them. Let us examine what is wrong with the neoreactionary project and their thoughts on Trump through a libertarian reactionary examination of Perilloux’s article.

Hailing Trump

Perilloux begins with a statement of support and hope for President-elect Trump which would not be out of place in a mainstream conservative publication. Though it is debatable whether a Trump presidency or a Clinton presidency would have been better for liberty and/or Western civilization over the long term, Trump has positioned himself as an enemy of many enemies of liberty and Western decline while showing a willingness to boldly engage issues that other candidates would not touch with a ten-foot pole. For those who believe that there is hope for working within the system, this view of Trump’s victory is understandable.

However, as Perilloux correctly observes, being “a good president in the current system…will not halt the decline of America, and it will not truly Make America Great Again. If just being a good president is his game, there is no reason for us to get excited.” The neoreactionaries have a much different vision of what they hope Trump can do. But as we will see, this is where they lose their heads.

Understanding The Problem

The neoreactionary diagnosis of the problem is much like the libertarian reactionary diagnosis: the way that power works in liberal democracies is fundamentally flawed. The notions of division of power and checks and balances are false because the power is divided not among different societal organs (let alone competing non-monopolized service providers in a free market), but among different branches of the same organ. Just as one would not let one’s legs quarrel with one another lest one fall over, those who run a state apparatus have a powerful incentive not to diminish the effectiveness of said apparatus by setting different parts of it against each other. The incentives in a liberal democracy are particularly damaging; whereas a king owns the capital stock of his country and has an incentive to leave a good inheritance to one heirs, an elected official with limited terms controls only the usufruct of public lands and has an incentive to take what he can while he can. Rather than accept donations from and grant favor to special interests that help the society, elected officials are incentivized to do what is best for themselves at the expense of the citizens they are ostensibly representing. The citizens themselves are also subject to perverse incentives in a democracy, as they can vote themselves handouts from the public treasury, conflicting their personal interest with that of the nation. The citizens can also use state power to attack each other by using the ballot box to impose their criminal intent upon their fellow citizens without suffering the normal criminal penalties for engaging in such behavior oneself. The end result of subjecting everything to a vote is well described by Nick Land:

“[T]he politically awakened masses [are] a howling irrational mob, …the dynamics of democratization [are] fundamentally degenerative: systematically consolidating and exacerbating private vices, resentments, and deficiencies until they reach the level of collective criminality and comprehensive social corruption. The democratic politician and the electorate are bound together by a circuit of reciprocal incitement, in which each side drives the other to ever more shameless extremities of hooting, prancing cannibalism, until the only alternative to shouting is being eaten.”

Of course, kings can be bad and elected officials can behave better, but the incentive structures favor good monarchs and corrupt elected officials. But in either case, it is in the interest of the state to grow, so long as it does not interfere with private commerce to a sufficient extent to choke off its supply lines of tax revenue. There is nothing counter-intuitive about this, but it does require an intuition which is outside the realm of modern mainstream political thought. When we see government tyranny and deliberate cultural destruction, one need not choose between thinking that state power is bad in and of itself or asking why it is doing such things. In fact, contrary to neoreactionary thought, a thorough study of the latter leads to the former conclusion.

Two Different Ills

While it is true that elites damage and/or weaponize the civilized structure of society because it helps them to acquire and maintain power, this problem is present in monarchies as well. A truthful and inquisitive press may uncover and report embarrassing details about the king’s activities. A powerful economy that provides great wealth and options to the citizenry while creating a strong middle class may cause the public to question the king’s necessity, as occurred with the classical anarchists of the 19th century. Strong communities with strong virtuous culture may also question the need for a king to rule over them, viewing him as superfluous at best and malicious at worst. Big old families and religious leaders may challenge the king’s power and lead a rebellion against him on secular or religious grounds, respectively. A strong belief in free association can lead to anarchy, as people may seek to stop associating with the state apparatus. A strong belief in law and order can also lead to anarchy, as people may seek to hold agents of the state to the same moral standards as everyone else. The most important difference, then, is that monarchists would be more inclined to damage these societal organs while democrats would be more inclined to weaponize them. But both monarchy and democracy produce these ill effects to one degree or another, so both are enemies of liberty and restoration.1

Overthrow The Crown

In his examination of absolute monarchy, Perilloux demonstrates a complete ignorance of how challenges to monarchical power occur and succeed. When people are denied a voice and are either unable or unwilling to exit, they effect change by revolt. The royal military is generally unfit to deal with a hostile populace, as it is meant to protect the realm from foreign centralized threats, not the sort of decentralized but violent revolution which could depose a monarch by rendering his lands ungovernable. As long as the dissidents do not make the mistake of attempting to fight Goliath on Goliath’s terms, they can create a nightmare for the Crown through the use of guerrilla tactics and disappear back into the general population before they present a target to the royal military. Though the royal military has powerful weapons which are denied to the public, the use of these weapons will destroy the lives and properties of innocent people, as well as infrastructure that the Crown needs. This will only anger the public and cause fence-sitters to side with the rebels.

There was a time period in which adept rulers could shut down or co-opt conspiratorial challengers, but technology has made this all but impossible, and further technological development is both unstoppable and more helpful to rebels than to the Crown. Should one king decide to crack down, his subjects will either seek to move to a less restrictive state or, if this option is denied them, begin to revolt. If a large interest of some kind gets out of hand and the Crown tries to nationalize it, the people in charge of that interest could resist in a multitude of ways. They could shutter their business and blame the Crown, thus denying people of beloved goods and services while raising their ire against the king. They could move their headquarters to another country, thus presenting the Crown with the option of banning their products, which again raises the ire of the public. If they were desperate, they could attempt to assassinate the king to protect their business interests. Though this option was rarely used in history, it could make sense if there is nowhere to run or hide.

Though it is true that the Crown could relax and let civilization flourish as long as it maintains a decisive lead in political power, it is also trivial because advances in technology and philosophy have made divine right monarchy impossible in all but the most backward of societies (e.g. North Korea, and even that is debatable). Therefore, the libertarian reactionary must ask, given that monarchists are at a structural disadvantage against democrats, what protects your shiny new monarchy from the next wave of democratic revolutions?

Historical Errors

Perilloux writes:

“So this is the king-pill: that power we shall always have with us, and that it is thus much better for everyone to kneel, hail, and do the King’s will than to wear ourselves out in endless political conflict at the expense of our civilization.”

It is important to be careful with the word ‘always,’ for it denotes a very, very long time. The king-pill is a poison to those who swallow it, trapping them in an outlook of historical determinism that lacks both intellectual courage and imagination. This is one of the most notable quirks of neoreaction; neoreactionaries frequently show great intellectual courage and imagination on other questions, but imagine that the future must be like the past and present with regard to the presence of state power. Though there are many reasons to prefer monarchy over democracy, both are inferior to the sort of stateless propertarian social order favored by libertarian reactionaries. This possibility breaks the false dilemma between kneeling to a king and wearing ourselves out in endless political conflict.

Perilloux responds to a likely objection by democrats by asserting that the eras of history in which power was consolidated and secure were eras in which conflict was eliminated and society was the finest. To the contrary, violent conflict was exported to the edges of the realm, which were in constant need of expansion in order to obtain the plunder necessary to sustain imperial growth. Inside the empire, violent conflict was replaced with less destructive forms of exploitation, such as taxation and conscription for public works, but these are a lesser evil rather than a good. The plunder from foreign conquests disproportionately made their way into the coffers of elites, resulting in public resentment and populist uprisings. Once those empires fell, they left many people in a condition of helplessness, as they had monopolized essential services and left their subjects unable to provide those services for themselves. Finally, it is quite strange to suggest that life was finer in the Roman Empire or the Mongol Empire than it is in contemporary Western countries, at least in terms of knowledge, wealth, life expectancy, and respect for individual rights.

Bad Kings

Unlike the neoreactionary, the libertarian reactionary has no concern with a bad king, as a stateless propertarian society has no political power to accumulate, and thus no king to worry about. Instead, the power vacuum is artificially maintained through the continuous application of defensive force. Just as matter is forcefully expelled from a vacuum chamber, the state must be forcefully expelled from a libertarian-controlled area. Once this is done, there will be attempts by government agents, warlords, terrorists, mafiosos, and lone wolf criminals to re-enter the resulting stateless society in order to establish a new coercive enterprise, just as atoms attempt to re-enter a vacuum chamber and restore atmospheric pressure. These people must be physically separated and removed from the society, just as atoms must be continually pumped out of the vacuum chamber.2

Perilloux claims that a king should turn his will toward “the improvement of our race, the betterment of our civilization, and the glory of God” without any discussion of what that means. It is unfortunate that he does not dial this in because it could mean almost anything, as race is a social construct, betterment is partly subjective, and God is not proven to exist. Hopefully, the king would have a correct understanding of genetic differences between population groups, a proper sense of what betterment means, and an eutheistic concept of God. To his credit, Perilloux does understand that it is unlikely for elites who have gained power in the current system to meet these criteria.

Libertarian reactionaries agree with neoreactionaries that “[w]ithout democracy, [the elites] would either consolidate power and refocus on the problem of how to run a civilization, or they would find themselves replaced by someone who could.” The difference is that the replacement process in a neoreactionary monarchy or oligarchy is likely to be violent, while the same process in a stateless propertarian society need only involve people choosing to do business with different service providers who are more efficient and responsive to consumer demand, with mutually assured destruction between private defense agencies and the possibility of competitors gaining market share keeping the peace.

To leave the problem of whether a proposed king would have the right vision for future generations is not only a cop-out, but an impossibility. As Friedrich Hayek explained, no central planner can have the necessary knowledge and foresight to have a proper vision for the future because a central planner does not have access to all of the decentralized information in the market economy. All that could be hoped for is a king who would oppose degenerate behaviors and ideas while keeping his hands off the market. Unlike neoreactionaries, libertarian reactionaries would not consider Trump to be good enough in this regard. Much of his core platform was abandoned by other political factions many decades ago not because elites wished to bring about decline by moving in a different direction (though this certainly motivated many of their other actions), but because protectionism and welfare statism are bad economic policies. Also, should the king’s vision be sufficiently wrong, the neoreactionary project will come to a screeching halt as the king is overthrown and democracy restored by an angry citizenry.

Statist Pathologies

Though libertarian reactionaries may sympathize with the neoreactionary view of democracy as cancer, the libertarian reactionary view is that if society is an entire human body, then any kind of state apparatus is a malignant cancer. Cancer is a corruption of healthy cells and functions, it grows at the expense of healthy cells, it can kill the body if it becomes too prominent, and it can come back with a vengeance following an unsuccessful attempt at removal. All of these aspects are true of governments as well. The effect of democracy might be better compared to the effect of HIV in humans, in that it weakens a society’s natural defenses against mob chaos, correlates strongly with degenerate behaviors, and accelerates the course of other societal ills.

What Trump Can Do

Perilloux’s assessment of Trump’s potential is generally correct. Trump does not have the “very strong, sufficiently large, and ideologically conditioned organization to pull off any serious change in Washington,” if serious change is defined as fundamentally altering the system rather than just being a breath of fresh air within it. Given his loss of the popular vote, the historical antipathy of the American people toward monarchy, the rather desolate intellectual foundation of Trumpism, and the dearth of competent statesmen who could assist him in building a new governance structure and/or dismantling the current one, there is no way that Trump could elevate himself from President to King by normal means. Even if a crisis occurs and Trump is able to convince people to entrust him with singular executive power, the tolerance of the American people for a king would not outlast whatever crisis prompted them to grant him such power. Like the dictators of the Roman Republic, Trump would be expected to divest himself of such power once the crisis has passed. In sum, he will only be able to prepare the way for someone in the future. As Perilloux suggests, Trump can do this through his deal-making abilities as long as he refrains from kicking leftists too much while they are down and engaging in sideshows which have temporarily derailed his efforts on numerous occasions thus far.

What Trump Should Do

The libertarian reactionary view of what Trump could accomplish is much different from the neoreactionary view. The neoreactionaries seek to secure a responsible long-term elite coalition, and would have us make peace with leftists in order to accomplish this goal, even if it means “mov[ing] left on key causes like economics and health care.” The libertarian reactionary understands that no such long-term coalition is possible because the elites in a natural order will not be static and the current elites are too invested in the current system to make for useful allies in a transition to a new order. Making peace with the left is exactly what the right has done for decades, and anger at the resulting decline is what allowed Trump rise to power in the first place. If he does the same, it would signal to Trump’s supporters that he has abandoned them and is just another phony politician who will say anything to get elected. That, combined with the radicalization of the Democratic base carried out by Bernie Sanders and his fellow-travelers, would make Trump a one-term President and lead the right away from both democracy and neoreaction.3

While it is true that the left will be radicalized by an overzealous Trump administration, respond by “working overtime in the areas he doesn’t directly control” now, and create more chaos and division when they regain power, this is not necessarily a negative in the long-term. The neoreactionaries seek to have the cup of violent revolution pass from them, but the libertarian reactionary understands that liberty requires revolution. For it is not only the leftist elite which must be purged, but the rank and file as well. As Hoppe so wisely said,

“There can be no tolerance toward democrats and communists in a libertarian social order. They will have to be physically separated and removed from society.”

Better to let the leftists fully reveal themselves in opposition to Trump so that we have a better idea of who must be purged. The backlash is thus not something to be avoided, but something to be encouraged.

Perilloux’s other suggestions for Trump are to

  1. rebuild the Republican Party,
  2. expose, purge, and destroy all the crooks and radicals, including non-governmental actors like the foundations and Soros,
  3. strategically change immigration policy,
  4. deconstruct leftist ideological propaganda and disable their propaganda organs and speech controls,
  5. build the wall,
  6. get the universities and media to play nice,
  7. sow dissent among the enemy, and
  8. weaken democracy.

The second, third, fourth, seventh, and eighth objectives are well worth doing and merit no critique. However, rebuilding the Republican Party is largely unnecessary at this point, unless Perilloux means to rebuild it in Trump’s image rather than being content with defending the significant majority of governorships and state legislators. Building the wall is largely infeasible and counterproductive; should matters get worse, such a barrier will be used to keep us in. There is also no way to make Mexico pay for it; the best Trump can do is to garnish their foreign aid, which means only that American taxpayers will be forced to fund one project instead of another. The immigration restrictions which are necessary to prevent Americans from being overrun by people who are demographically hostile to liberty can be accomplished through other means, such as E-verify, harsher penalties, and denying federal funds to sanctuary cities. Finally, the mainstream press and universities are never going to play nice with the right, as they are fundamentally left-wing institutions at present, and Trump has not the time or resources to alter this. All Trump will be able to do on the education front is to extricate the federal government from the student loan and grant business, encourage would-be college students to consider trade and technical alternatives, and possibly abolish the federal Department of Education. Trump can do more against the media, in the form of revoking media credentials of establishment news outlets and instead relying upon alternative media, independent journalists, and direct communication with the American people via social media to deliver his messages.

Conclusion

Perilloux writes:

“But whatever happens, it’s not going to be enough. Democracy and communism will not be defeated this time, and when Trump is done, if democracy still stands, all the worst of the modern world will come crawling back to us. …Trump will not end democracy and bring about the coming golden age…because no one was ready with a männerbund of a thousand virtuous statesmen with a full vision and plan. Therefore, if that’s going to happen, while Trump and company labor valiantly in the Potomac swamp, someone has to be building that intellectual and human infrastructure for the true Restoration in the future.

It is not immediate power we need for the long game, but wisdom, vision, virtue, and solidarity. We will not get these from Trump’s administration. These things can only be built without the distractions of power. The men of the Trump administration will be busy playing anti-communist whack-a-mole and thinking about a very different set of strategic considerations than a long-term Restoration-focused research team must be. Their work will be valuable I’m sure, but they will not have the time or attention to think about the long game.”

In this much, he is correct, but it is libertarian reactionaries rather than neoreactionaries who must build said infrastructure. We must build private alternatives to government services which succeed where governments have failed. We must create black markets to deprive the state of revenue and lessen its ability to harm the economy. We must infiltrate the halls of power to obstruct government functions from within. We must protest and practice jury nullification to obstruct government functions from without. We must educate people to understand the necessity of eliminating the state apparatus by any means necessary, as well as the need to rely on oneself and one’s community instead of the state. Perhaps most importantly, we must train ourselves to be competent in the use of defensive force and irregular tactics.

If we accomplish these tasks well in the coming years, we will be prepared for the task of defeating the current state and keeping a new state from filling a power vacuum. Nothing less than this will allow us to end democracy, monarchy, and every other parasitism upon innocent and productive people. The neoreactionaries, on the other hand, would restore the Crown, and much like the mainstream conservatives who would restore the Republic, will only condemn our descendants to re-fight our battles for liberty.

Footnotes:

  1. This may help to explain why democracies largely replaced monarchies through the 19th and early 20th centuries, as weaponized, less-damaged institutions have a combative advantage against non-weaponized, more-damaged institutions.
  2. Notably, libertarian reactionaries have two advantages over the physicist using a vacuum pump. First, a vacuum pump cannot destroy atoms, but a libertarian reactionary can kill an aggressor. Second, the physicist will never turn the entire universe outside of the vacuum chamber into a vacuum, but libertarian reactionaries can come close enough to turning the entire world into a libertarian-controlled area to be able to live all but free from aggressive violence while standing by to eliminate any new threat.
  3. This could provide the impetus for the necessary violent revolution, so perhaps Perilloux is accidentally correct on this point.

Read the entire article at ZerothPosition.com

Democracy, Violence, and Libertarian Social Order

In an October 20 article at FEE.org, Jeffrey Tucker discussed the media panic over Donald Trump’s potential refusal to accept the election results on November 8. His explanation of the reasons behind the horror displayed by the establishment is accurate, if incomplete. The powers that be sense that the public are waking up to the realization that the current system not only fails to serve them, but is designed to oppress them in order to benefit the ruling classes. Knowing from history what people are capable of when such sentiments become sufficiently common and bold, and knowing that the current system is ultimately unsustainable, the rulers and those well-connected to them seek to keep the system going a while longer so as to pass the ticking time bomb to someone else. Thus “the demand that all candidates join hands in a celebration of democracy” which is “nothing but performative piety.” Where Tucker goes wrong is in his defense of democracy versus the alternatives.

Democracy and Violence

Tucker’s next act is to explore why the talking heads made much use of the phrase “peaceful transition of power” in their commentary. He writes,

“Along with the spread of human rights in the late Middle Ages, the theory of government began to change. The king or head of state did not possess legitimacy as a result of divine right; instead, the legitimacy of rulers is derived from the support given to them by the people. It is the social usefulness, and not some mystical magic, that grants them power.”

In reality, neither of these are true, regardless of the former or current opinion of most people. In a universalizable ethical theory, the state cannot be legitimate by any means, as its agents invariably commit actions which are considered criminal for anyone else to commit. In practical terms, a government is legitimized by its ability and willingness to martially defeat challenges to its power.

Tucker continues,

“The end result of this way of thinking is, of course, democracy, which gradually came to dominate governmental transitions between the 16th and the 20th centuries. It was widely believed that the more democracy you had, the less civil war and violence would interrupt the development of civilization.”

This was the historical outcome, but it was not necessarily for the best. Though the transitions of power became more peaceful, the power itself grew far more destructive. This was partly due to the increased productivity brought about by capitalism, as a large bureaucratic state cannot survive upon the meager portions which were available in the Middle Ages. But democracy’s tendency to sanitize statism played a larger role, in that it makes crimes easier to commit and removes incentives for the people to limit government. To rob one’s neighbor directly, one must risk one’s life, liberty, and reputation in the community. To vote for a politician to hire a tax collector to rob one’s neighbor is a far less risky proposition. If a property owner kills a thief in the act, few would fault him. If he kills a tax collector, he will be almost universally condemned. If there is an unelected monarch and no path to the throne for the citizenry, then they know who wields power and that it is not and will not be them. They are therefore incentivized to seek restraints on the king’s power. But give them democracy, and each citizen can come to believe that they are the state and might wield its power. One is less likely to seek restraint of a power that one might get to use.

The Misesian case for democracy, which Tucker echoes, asserts that peace is a necessary condition for human progress. To believe this, one must ignore all of the inventions which were borne of necessity in wartime. The anthropological record shows that intelligence and innovation occur as a result of adversity, and humans experience no other adversity like that which comes from opposing humans. While it would be a broken window fallacy to ignore the progress which could have occurred without the destruction of warfare, it would also be fallacious to ignore the powerful incentive provided by the stark choice to either make technological progress or lose a war. Even if it were better for people to, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, “suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed,” one must remember that no revolution in that time period sought abolition of the state, but rather the replacement of one form of statism with another.

In that view of democracy, it was to limit government be allowing people to vote out rulers who attempt a power grab without subjecting the law or the type of regime itself to democracy. But this is a logical impossibility; one cannot vote for people to determine the nature of the state without voting on the nature of the state. When presented with a choice between a democratic response to peacefully “throw the bums out” and a revolutionary response to violently overthrow the system itself, people usually choose the former, and this knowledge has been weaponized by the ruling classes. They have discovered that all they need do is to make sure that one group of bums will invariably be replaced with another by controlling who gets to run for office, who gets campaign funding, who gets seriously covered and discussed by the press, who gets into highly publicized candidate debates, and so on. As Noam Chomsky observes,

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

Democracy and Liberalism

The reason that classical liberalism and democracy went hand-in-hand is that the Enlightenment philosophers whose theories were brought into practice between the 16th and the 20th centuries were uniformly guilty of a contradiction. They started with what they claimed were self-evident truths (which were not, but that is another matter) which are incompatible with any form of statism. They then invented fallacious arguments using these premises to justify what is now called minarchism, or the belief in a state which only acts to enforce the universal ethics which are necessary for a free market. But rule of law, legal equality, private property, free association, peace, and justice cannot be provided by the state, as the state makes all of these logically impossible.

Over time, democracy has taken society further and further away from these ideals, and no other result should be expected. In a democracy, power is wielded by temporary caretakers who only own the usufruct of the country rather than the capital stock. Their incentive is not to take care of the country so as to leave a good inheritance to their descendants, but to loot and plunder while they can. Rather than accept donations from and grant favor to special interests that help the society, they are incentivized to do what is best for themselves at the expense of the citizens they are ostensibly representing. The citizens themselves are also subject to perverse incentives, as they can vote themselves handouts from the public treasury, conflicting their personal interest with that of the nation. They can also use state power to attack each other by using the ballot box to impose their criminal intent upon their fellow citizens without suffering the normal criminal penalties for engaging in such behavior oneself. The end result of subjecting everything to a vote is well described by Nick Land:

“[T]he politically awakened masses [are] a howling irrational mob, …the dynamics of democratization [are] fundamentally degenerative: systematically consolidating and exacerbating private vices, resentments, and deficiencies until they reach the level of collective criminality and comprehensive social corruption. The democratic politician and the electorate are bound together by a circuit of reciprocal incitement, in which each side drives the other to ever more shameless extremities of hooting, prancing cannibalism, until the only alternative to shouting is being eaten.”

In fairness, Tucker does realize toward the end of his article that democracy in practice has not played out according to theory, although his reasoning is again incomplete:

“Democracy with a huge and entrenched permanent bureaucracy, a deep state that is impervious to election outcomes, a thicket of laws and regulations created by people long dead that still exist on the books, and spending commitments that do not change regardless of who is in charge, is not really providing peaceful transition at all. It becomes a veneer that the ruling class uses to entrench the status quo. In other words, the problem has less to do with the elected than the problem of the unelected. And this realization is a part of what fueled Trump’s rise and will continue to empower others like him in the future.”

Democracy and Revolution

While it is true that the historic alternative to democracy has been not liberty, but authoritarianism and violence, Tucker hastily generalizes by claiming that this must always be the case going forward. To the contrary, a thorough analysis shows that removal of state power in favor of a libertarian social order can only be accomplished through violent revolution followed by the continuous application of force to subdue common criminals, organized crime, warlords, terrorists, and foreign government agents. This is because all of the other methods that libertarians have proposed and tried to increase the amount of liberty in society fail to address the fundamental problems posed by the state apparatus, which are:

  1. The people who manage, run, and/or benefit from it have become accustomed to existing parasitically upon the productive members of society, and at least some of them will not stop doing so unless they are forced to stop.
  2. An institution based upon initiatory force will resort to force to counter attempts to remove and/or dismantle it.

Note also that if we are to discount revolution as a method of ending the state because it has yet to succeed, then we must discount peaceful methods even more so, as people have attempted many more acts of nonviolent resistance than revolutions. It is for these reasons that political violence is a necessary step toward the goal of the anti-political democracy of the market economy.

Conclusion

While Tucker’s analysis of the current situation is generally correct, his view of the prospects of democracy and peaceful change are far too optimistic and his understanding of the phenomena at work leaves something to be desired.

A Libertarian Social Order In The Garden

Since the dawn of civilization, humans have engaged in agriculture. For millennia, gardens have been a source of nourishment, recreation, and social status. As such, many metaphors have been developed which refer to agricultural concepts to make a point about another subject. Examples can be found in both religious and secular texts from every culture. Therefore, it is only fitting that such a metaphor be made for libertarian philosophy in practice. Let us see how a garden can serve as a metaphor for a libertarian social order, as well as what insights this metaphor can provide for the creation and maintenance of such an order.

The Garden Kingdom

A garden is created and maintained by a gardener. The gardener rules the garden as an absolute monarch rules his kingdom, as there is no power within its bounds to challenge the gardener’s authority. The legitimacy of his rule is established like that of any private property owner; he mixes his labor with unowned natural resources to gain ownership of the improvements made. Ownership of the improvements is impossible without ownership of the things improved, so the gardener’s labor entitles him to the land of the garden and everything growing in it. He uses his sole dominion as he sees fit, determining which crops to plant where, which plants may remain where they are, which must be relocated, and which must be removed. He chooses which insects or other animals to allow to remain, which to import, and which to remove. All plants (and other lifeforms) that remain within the garden do so at the pleasure of the gardener, and they serve his needs and wants in exchange for his merciful provision and protection.

A kingdom is not worth much without its productive citizenry, upon whose production the king relies for sustenance. For the gardener, this role is fulfilled by fruit and vegetable plants, as well as pollinating insects. The gardener sows their seeds in the correct season and provides them with good soil so that they may be successful. This is necessary because unlike humans, the crops cannot optimally manage their own affairs and stand in need of a central planner. If the rain should be insufficient, the gardener irrigates the crops. If the plants need fertilizer, the gardener gives them some. If the plants are attacked, the gardener defends them. If the plants produce too much foliage and not enough crops, the gardener prunes them. If the plants drop seeds in an improper place, the gardener cleans up after them. If the plants cross-pollinate against the gardener’s wishes, he separates them further. In time, the plants will feed the gardener in exchange for his good stewardship of them.

Unproductive Citizens, Immigrants, and Threats

But sometimes, the citizenry are not productive. In some cases, this is because their particular environments are not conducive to their well-being. Some plants fare poorly in one part of the garden but would do well in another. But unlike human citizens in a kingdom, the plants cannot move themselves; the gardener must dig them out and move them. And as the gardener has legitimate powers of eminent domain as well as subjects without any human rights, there is nothing wrong with moving them. Other plants may not produce in the garden’s climate, no matter their location within it. If this happens, the gardener may choose not to replant them and instead buy seeds for new crops, just as a king might allow in immigrant workers to perform necessary tasks which no current citizens can perform. Should the new crops prove successful, the gardener may naturalize these new crops as permanent residents of the garden. If not, then the gardener will keep looking for a different crop to fill the void.

In other cases, the citizenry are not productive because they are under attack. Just as in human life, there are many threats to the safety of a fruit or vegetable plant. A kingdom will contain a criminal element which preys upon the productive citizenry. If a king has a duty, it is to safeguard the citizens from attack. The domestic criminals and parasites of the garden consist of weeds and some animals. Weeds deprive the crops of the nutrients that they need in order to thrive. Left unchecked, they can crowd out the crops, depriving them of sunlight. Some will even wrap around crop plants and strangle them. Rodents and other wild animals will eat the crops and sometimes even the entire crop plants, depriving the gardener of his just rewards.

A kingdom must also be guarded from external foes, as foreign invaders and terrorists can be just as devastating as the domestic criminal element should they be allowed to immigrate into the garden. Harmful insects play this part in the garden. They typically live somewhere outside the garden, but enter to prey upon the crops. They damage fruits and vegetables, destroy leaves, and even chew through stems to destroy entire plants. Left unchecked, they can reduce a gardener’s harvest to zero and leave behind eggs which will hatch new insects to do the same to a future year’s crop.

Defending The Realm

These aggressors are not amenable to any sort of reasoning. One does not ask a weed not to grow or a beetle not to eat, as it is against their inherent nature. The only way to deal with such a criminal element is through physical removal, and escalating to a full extermination is frequently necessary. Fortunately, the gardener has many tools at his disposal to deal with such problems, just as a king has guards, sheriffs, and armies. Weeds may be pulled, hoed, tilled, or sprayed with herbicides. Rodents can be handled with traps or by their natural predators, such as cats and snakes. Larger animals that attack the crops, such as deer, can be shot to feed the gardener as well as eliminate a threat to the garden. Insects can be thwarted by natural predators, traps, or a wide variety of insecticides.

Where are such plants and animals to go, if they may not stay in the garden? It is not the gardener’s concern. They are threats to his property, the fruits of his labor, and perhaps even his livelihood and survival. He is justified in using any means necessary to eliminate the threat and defend his property.

In the worst cases, insects may damage a plant beyond repair while marking it with chemicals that signal more insects to come. When this happens, the gardener must make a sacrifice for the greater good and remove that plant from the garden. Allowing that plant to remain and bring pestilence to the healthy plants of the garden will only cause further damage.

Collateral Damage

Like any tools, those that the gardener uses to defend the garden can be used in such a way that causes collateral damage. An errant blow from a hoe can destroy a crop plant, as can a gust of wind that blows herbicide where it should not go. Insecticides can kill bees as well as harmful insects. Fortunately, such mishaps only negatively affect the gardener’s harvest, and do little other noticeable damage. Although crop lives and bee lives matter to a competent gardener, no gardener has to worry about being retaliated against by the crops or bees in any meaningful way should he accidentally slaughter a few. This is partly because of the nature of non-sentient lifeforms, and partly because a gardener has none of the concerns about popular support that a democratic ruler has.

Conclusion

A garden is not a perfect metaphor for a libertarian social order, as none of the residents of the garden are sentient beings on par with the gardener. But this metaphor does illustrate the creation and maintenance of a libertarian social order according to individual preferences in a simplistic case of black and white morality. This example can be expanded and filled in with nuances as needed to extend it to tenants in a covenant community, which are the building blocks of a flourishing libertarian society.

Of History and Possibilities

On February 21, an author known as Mr. Underhill published an article in which he argues that revolution is not the appropriate method for achieving liberty. I rebutted the article, and Underhill responded with three counterrebuttals. I countered the first two of these here, and the third here. Underhill has responded yet again, so let us deal with this round of faulty logic as well. His historical arguments will be addressed here, and his arguments against the case for revolution will be addressed separately.

Reece contends that “semantics are important” in his dispute over whether the English Civil War was, in fact, a revolution, before proceeding to admit that “[i]t is not wrong to call the overthrow of Charles I and the establishment of the Protectorate under Cromwell a revolution”. So then what is the issue? According to him, it’s “not the most precise” – despite it meeting both the Webster’s definition I cited and the Oxford definition Reece favors. In what way is this not precise? I contend Reece cannot say other than repeating his claim that Marxist historical revisionists were the first to use the term.

I have already said; a civil war generally lasts longer and necessarily involves fighting between regular military forces representing each side, while a revolution does not necessarily involve this. One could further note that a successful revolution results in a change of organizational structures. But Oliver Cromwell was essentially a king by the different name of Lord Protector; he held the position for life, passed it on to his son, and wielded power on par with that of a king. The only structural change of note was the abolition of the House of Lords between 1649 and 1660, but the House of Commons had been gaining in influence for some time and was the more influential of the two by 1649.

…not even I would go so far as to argue that the Marxists are simply wrong about everything simply by being Marxists. If one cannot argue the error of something besides associating it with a group of people that is often wrong, there is no argument – only a genetic fallacy.

This is a straw man, as I said no such thing. The point I made is that contemporaries of the events who witnessed them first-hand used the term “civil war,” and it is better to trust the people who actually experienced an event than those who analyze their records much later.

Similarly, in his other article, Reece claims that it is the Oxford dictionary definition that “leaves room for a stateless system which would be brought about by an anti-political revolution and maintained by a culture of resistance”. Here he missed the point entirely.

It is impossible to the person who makes a point to miss said point.

The argument was not merely whether the dictionary definition included that as a theoretical possibility, but whether it was a rational possibility. As I will argue throughout this article and was arguing with that original statement, believing this is possible is simply wishful thinking; a forcible overthrow of a state will result only in death, disaster, chaos and a new state.

His arguments to this effect failed before, and I will show that they fail again.

Back in the first response, he argues that “[a] competent historian, much like a competent economist, does not think in a simple and linear fashion” in an attempt to counter the point that Charles II was invited peacefully to retake the English throne, saying that “an analogue about ignoring counter-factual possibilities in favor of historical determinism applies” to the analysis of history. This is just nonsense on stilts – nothing more than an attempt to smuggle in his hypothetical counter-factuals as if they were actualities. History is not economics, where logical laws apply that could present counter-factual truths.

The historical record does not work this way, but theoretical history does, and theoretical history is what we are dealing with here.

Reece claims that there is no guarantee that Charles II would have succeeded his father to the throne without the Revolution. But equally there is no guarantee that he wouldn’t have. Or what if the Gunpowder plot had removed Charles I’s father, James I? Or if the Nazis won WWII? Who knows what might have happened if events in history occurred differently?

This is a valid point which undermines the case for using history as an absolute guide for the future.

He continues to make this mistake later when talking about the French Revolution again, where he claims:

to say that Napoleon did not rise to power from violent revolution would require one to show that he would have taken power in the absence of the French Revolution. This is impossible because it is a counter-factual.

Similarly, “to say that Napoleon rose to power from violent revolution would require one to show that he would not have taken power in the absence of the French Revolution. This is impossible because it is a counter-factual.”

These are not equivalent because one happened and the other did not (at least in this timeline).

Yet it seems our critic would have us believe that the history of Napoleon’s reign in France can be attributed to the French Revolution, saying “[t]he idea that Napoleon’s beneficial accomplishments as the Emperor of France have no bearing on the result of the French Revolution itself is laughable.”

While a competent historian does not think in a simple and linear fashion, this does not mean that one should ignore the particular linear results of this timeline.

While accusing me of linear thinking about history, Reece claims “[e]very event that happens after a given historical episode has some bearing on the result of that historical episode.” I suppose we are to believe that the nature of the Roman Republic must be analyzed in the context of Obama’s presidential terms. After all, the latter happened after the former. Clearly, this is ridiculous, but the rationale is the same. Where do we draw the line?

That a given historical episode should be analyzed in terms of what events were set into motion by it is standard practice, and for good reason. That the Roman Republic must be analyzed in the context of Obama’s presidential terms is not clearly ridiculous, given that a link may be established between them in that the United States was founded in part upon knowledge of the Roman Republic. It is important to consider what the governing philosophy in a particular place and time motivates other people to attempt in a different place and a later time. I will grant that the time span of two millennia between them makes the link weak and obfuscated, but it is there. Where we should draw the line is in cases where a link may not be established; for example, the Olmec need not be analyzed in the context of Obama’s presidential terms because their governing philosophy did not influence the founding of the United States.

I’d contend that the failure of the French Revolution was evident in its leaders being replaced by Napoleon…

This is a valid point.

…and it is foolish to ascribe Napoleon’s rule, good or bad, to the taking of power by Robespierre.

Again, how does one know that Napoleon could or would have gained power without the French Revolution? It is impossible to say.

Reece then responds to the discussion of the French Revolution by pointing out that the coup by which Napoleon rose to power was “bloodless, not peaceful”. In my view, this is a distinction without a difference.

There is quite a difference between a situation in which no one is willing to use force and a situation in which one side is willing to kill the other but gets what it wants without having to escalate that far. Underhill’s failure to understand this shows that he has no real concept of how power works.

The point I was making when I noted that no one died in that coup was to note the difference between a shooting war and a bloodless coup. More precisely, what Reece is advocating is not a large show of force to get a weakened regime to capitulate, but a violent and drawn out war of resistance against powerful armies.

I am advocating a large but decentralized show of force to get a regime to capitulate, while recognizing that this is likely to lead to a war of resistance against powerful armies. But these armies are not nearly as powerful as most of us are led to believe, as explained in the previous articles.

He is also wrong when he claims that “[t]he War of the First Coalition began in response to the Declaration of Pillnitz, a threat made by King Frederick William II of Prussia and Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II against the revolutionaries if they should harm King Louis XVI or his family”. The Declaration of Pillnitz was specifically written to avoid war as Leopold II did not want to fight a war at that point; the language required a war if and only if every single other European power declared war first. Reece is basically arguing here that preemptive strikes are acceptable based on the nation-states equivalence of finger wagging.

A conditional threat is still a threat, and a threat is an initiation of the use of force. As such, defensive force was justified for the purpose of ending the threat.

The article continues to note that “[a]ggressive behavior by powerful nation-states occurred regardless of whether rulers were replaced by new rulers.” This can be addressed quickly: the question was not about whether a state in revolution was more aggressive than its neighbors, but whether the state became more powerful as a result. The French Revolution is a decided case of this happening. Debating over the specific details of the sequence of events only misses this point.

Debating over the specific details of the sequence of events is required to decide the point. Few events in history are solely the cause of one prior event. Most events have multiple causes, and they occur because of some events and in spite of other events. It is quite possible that the French state became more powerful in spite of the French Revolution, or that it would have grown more powerful if there had been no revolution.

Reece also declares that I am “intellectually lazy” for not debating whether Napoleon’s rule was a net positive for liberty or not. It seems that Reece does not understand the concept of a non-sequitur.

It seems that Underhill can only focus on immediate cause and effect, and is unable to take a longer view.

Chasing every red herring in a debate cannot produce a useful discussion of the original topic (in this case, the result of violent revolution for liberty), which I intend to stick to.

Underhill’s case against violent revolution as a means for achieving liberty consists mostly of historical anecdotes, so it is he who has organized the herring hunt, so to speak.

Similarly, he accuses me of hypocrisy, saying “[c]ounter-factuals for thee, but not for me? How hypocritical.” Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t cite any use of counter-factuals on my part to back that up other than the one used explicitly to point out that counter-factuals prove nothing.

That counter-factuals prove nothing is not in contention; at issue is that ignoring them leads on to historical determinism and all of the fallacies thereof.

Continuing on, Reece presents a false dichotomy with the claim that “[a] revolution is either peaceful or violent; the law of excluded middle forbids any other status.” This is no answer to my contention that isolated cases of violent actors does not a violent revolution make. The tarring and feathering of a tax agent does not inherently represent a revolution as a whole. The reason is obvious: such an act would not be deemed revolution if it occurred in isolation. Like a heap of sand, there is no strict dividing line, but a few actions here or there are not enough to constitute a rebellion.

That a revolution is either peaceful or violent is a true dichotomy. Violence can vary in degree, but it is either present or absent. Otherwise, Underhill manages to make sense here.

In fact, our critic goes so far as to claim that my ceding of the point that “it hasn’t happened before” defeats my entire case! What an example of poor logic. It is also true that the fact that no one has made a perpetual motion machine does not constitute an argument against it, but Reece would be a fool to think he could do that!

Recognizing that the fact that revolution has yet to end the state is not proof that it cannot does defeat Underhill’s case, as his case is that we should never expect liberty from revolution. With regard to the perpetual motion machine, Underhill makes a categorical error. The argument against a perpetual motion machine is that physical laws backed by rigorous mathematics say that one cannot be constructed. No such argument can be made against an anti-political revolution to end the state.

He continues by arguing that people clamor for the state’s protection because “they do not perceive their survival to be in danger.” This is a curious objection.

To be more precise, most people do not perceive their survival to be in danger from the state, but this is changing.

Thousands of people die in terrorist attacks and the people fear more such attacks, but they do not perceive their survival to be in danger?!

Most people understand that their odds of dying in a terrorist attack are far less than their odds of being killed by a car accident, a severe storm, or even a non-terrorist murderer.

On the contrary, it seems the more people fear for their life the more they turn to the state if it is viewed as legitimate. This is what is meant by legitimacy – the people believe the state exists for the sole purpose of keeping them safe and thus turn to it when they are afraid.

As technological and entrepreneurial advancement creates ever more private alternatives to state monopolies, this legitimacy is slowly but surely being eroded.

They will not turn away from it because of economic problems, immigration issues or any other such contentions: they will only engage in more clamoring for self-destructive policies. It takes generations to dissuade people of this. Nor will significant acute crisis make them turn from the state’s policy makers; crisis leads to ever more radical authoritarianism, whether it be in the election of Hitler or the turn to a politician like Trump promising protectionism and nationalism.

This cannot continue forever; eventually there will be a point at which people either destroy themselves or turn against the state itself, finally understanding that it is the cause of their problems rather than the solution.

Suffice it to say that Reece continually demonstrates poor handling of historical fact and causality and often misses the entire point of the argument to throw out a red herring in response.

Suffice it to say that Underhill continually demonstrates short-sightedness, lack of imagination, and linear thinking. He frequently relies upon an anecdotal case, only to then accuse a critic of red herrings for dealing with said anecdotes in detail. Additionally, Underhill accuses people of missing his point when they are simply using elements of his case to make a counterpoint.

The Libertarian Case Against Trump

On Jan. 24, Christopher Cantwell published an article arguing that libertarians should support Donald Trump in the 2016 election. In this rebuttal, I will show on a point-by-point basis how the case for supporting Trump is flawed.

It is true that democracy is a terrible system of governance. To quote Hans-Hermann Hoppe, it is a soft variant of communism, and only rarely in the history of ideas has it been taken for anything else. But because this system is almost certainly not going to be abolished before November 2016, someone will almost certainly be elected President of the United States. According to Cantwell, this leaves a libertarian with four options:

  1. Support a candidate who will do things which are unlibertarian, but is less harmful than the other candidates.
  2. Support a candidate who will do things which are so unlibertarian that society will be irreparably harmed and the government will collapse that we might rule the wasteland.
  3. Support a libertarian candidate who has absolutely no chance of winning.
  4. Renounce elections as unprincipled, wield zero influence, and remain in a powerless echo chamber of libertarian autism.

Cantwell argues for the first option, and expresses contempt for the latter three. There is another option, but let us deal with these four first by exploring the problems with the first option and the benefits of the next three. By engaging in the political process to support a candidate, one helps to legitimize the political system in the eyes of onlookers as a means of affecting libertarian change. Supporting Trump as the best of a bunch of bad candidates, or as the best candidate with a reasonable chance of winning a presidential election, is just typical “lesser of two evils” nonsense extended to a larger number of candidates. Also, any money donated to or effort expended for Trump’s political candidacy is money and effort that cannot be put to another use. In other words, focus put on politics is focus lost to anti-politics. Who knows what innovations that increase liberty by creating a way to ignore or fight the state will be lost because the efforts needed for those innovations were instead put toward the Trump campaign?

On the other hand, supporting a candidate whose policies are so bad that they will collapse the system could make the necessary revolution more likely. To quote from the Declaration of Independence, mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. While this may seem to be a pernicious deed in the moment, electing the worst candidates over a period of time could be the best long-term use of the political system by libertarians if it makes the revolution occur sooner. There is also the matter that states always collapse in time because people inevitably fall victim to their perverse incentives and steer the system toward ruin, so this outcome will occur eventually regardless of election results absent a libertarian revolution.

Supporting the Libertarian Party candidate in 2016 is not necessarily a worthless endeavor, especially if the election results are favorable enough to ease ballot access efforts in 2020, when a well-known anarchist activist plans to run. Even though victory would still be nearly impossible, such a campaign has the potential to convert more people to libertarian thought than even the Ron Paul presidential campaigns, and that is the most useful role that the Libertarian Party can play.

When one votes, one is helping to impose violent rulers upon peaceful people and give the appearance of legitimacy to institutions which deserve none. Voters are effectively asking a particular person who seeks to violently dominate society to command government agents to commit actions on their behalf which would be considered criminal by any objective standard, and which are considered criminal if an ordinary person commits them. The idea that voting can be an act of self-defense is false because voting harms bystanders who are not innocent shields. Also, renouncing elections as unprincipled need not result in wielding zero influence and remaining in a powerless echo chamber of libertarian autism. It depends upon what one does instead of voting on Election Day. If one sits at home and rants online in a libertarian chat room, then this will occur. But if one goes out to the polls not to participate in the election, but to protest against statism in general and democracy in particular, then there is an opportunity to engage with and convert new people to libertarian thought.

Finally, there is one more basic option to consider:

  1. Use force to shut down polling places and repel voters from them.

Because voting is an aggressive act, using force to stop it is morally justifiable. But it is tactically unwise on three counts. First, given the number of polling places, the manpower and resources needed to shut down each one, the possibility of alternative polling places, the length of early voting periods, and the possibility of voting by mail, it is safe to say that the election will continue despite any such efforts. Second, if libertarians actually had the means to stop a presidential election by force in just some parts of the nation, then it would be far more effective to use force to expel government agents from our lands and continue to use force to resist any government agents, terrorists, warlords, mafiosos, or common criminals that attempt to cause trouble afterward. Third, using force against voters and election personnel is likely to bring people into the fight between anarchists and statists on the statist side, as they will view the revolutionaries as an existential threat which must be quashed rather than a movement which they could join.

On the issue of dealing with aggressors, it is necessary to use both force and reason. One has a right to defend oneself by escalating the use of force as far as necessary to subdue the aggressors. After this is done, one should ready one’s argumentation ethics and denounce the aggressors as moral criminals in order to justify one’s use of force to one’s peers. The same must be done regardless of whether the aggressors consist of a lone common criminal, all government agents in a geographical area, or anything in between.

The crux of Cantwell’s argument for supporting Donald Trump is that years of arguing for revolution have proven fruitless because there are prerequisites for revolution which have yet to be met, and Trump will help to meet those prerequisites, the most important of which is the suppression of the political left. While it is true that left-wing influence is threatening the very survival of humanity, we must not be blind to threats to liberty from the right-wing. Ludwig von Mises wrote of European fascism in 1927, “It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aiming at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has, for the moment, saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history.” Immediately afterward, he wrote, “But though its policy has brought salvation for the moment, it is not of the kind which could promise continued success. Fascism was an emergency makeshift. To view it as something more would be a fatal error.” Mises would learn the hard way just what a fatal error this was, as it was ultimately fascists who forced him out of his academic position in Vienna and away to America to basically start over at the age of 60. He would go on to write Omnipotent Government in 1944, which remains one of the best anti-authoritarian works ever penned.

While the desire to do something besides making calls for revolution that land on deaf ears is certainly understandable, the installation of reactionary figures atop the democratic statist apparatus has been similarly fruitless. All historical examples have ended in failure for a variety of reasons. The reactionaries can over-correct, taking society backward beyond the point at which they believe mistakes were made, causing needless damage in the process; they can take society off of one wrong path and put it onto another, even worse path; or they can make changes only to lose power and see their changes reversed by a counter-reactionary movement. Most importantly, as Cantwell correctly recognizes, democracies inherently move leftward over time. The deep state is generally impervious to elections. Never has there been a reactionary movement that could achieve its goals and maintain them against attempts at reversal. The aforementioned failures also suggest that supporting Trump could be the second option listed above rather than the first one.

A useful metaphor for the appeal of a figure like Trump among anarcho-capitalists may be found in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. While Tolkien always strongly held that his works should not be seen as a metaphor for anything, there is scarcely a better metaphor in all of literature for state power than The One Ring, and Tolkien self-identifies as an anarchist in his letters. What Sauron expected was for a champion of men to wear the Ring in battle against him, and he knew that his vast military might could overwhelm the forces of men, take the Ring, and restore his full power to him. He could not foresee that the forces of good would have Frodo Baggins to sneak the Ring into Mount Doom to destroy it there until it was too late. But this almost did not happen. Had Faramir chosen to take the Ring from Frodo when they met in Osgiliath, the former outcome would have eventually occurred. Those who seek to wield state power against the leftist enemy through Trump are playing the part of Faramir, and they risk making the terrible mistake that Faramir avoided. The state itself is the primary problem; to instead try to use its power against the leftists who currently use it does nothing to prevent its power from eventually falling back into their hands, as it always has.

Cantwell mentions several behaviors as social negatives; drug use, sexual promiscuity, feminism, homosexuality, and racial and cultural diversity. But for many centuries, these behaviors were discouraged not by the market, but by theocratic states and the religions enforced by them. There are many examples of other societies throughout history where such behaviors were common, although one could argue that such societies experienced turmoil more frequently on average. Free markets would not necessarily discourage such behaviors; they would only prevent them from running rampant, as there would be no entity that could force people to associate or integrate against their wills or force the economic consequences of unbridled degeneracy onto the rest of society, as states do. This would mean that people would either have to learn to handle their vices or be destroyed by them, which would have a positive effect on a civilization.

While Donald Trump does offset leftist influence to a greater extent than anyone else in recent memory, this has been accomplished solely by his presence as a presidential candidate and public figure. He need not win the presidency in order to do this. Now that he has proven that the politically correct media machine is a paper tiger and the cuckservative and cuckertarian establishment has been repeatedly discredited, other candidates and public figures can and do speak uncomfortable truths without fear.

It is true that absent a democracy, we are left with a choice between anarchism and unelected government. But as Cantwell previously recognized, “A 17th century British monarchy may seem preferable by comparison (to democracy), but we can look at countries like North Korea to get our measure of liberty in a modern dictatorship, and cross that option off of our list.” This is because there are two factors of importance in citizen response to government: voice and exit. The reactionary seeks a system of no voice and free exit, and a world full of micro-nations operating in this manner would certainly be preferable to the current system of democratic nation-states, which offers only an illusion of voice coupled with significant barriers to exit. But this is not the likely outcome of a collapse of democracy that does not also collapse the statist system. The likely result of no voice and no exit is the worst of all possible worlds. At least in a stateless world guided by the likes of Cato, Reason, and C4SS, the market could sort out their nonsense and return us to better practices. To quote Cantwell, “Anarcho-capitalism does not require any number of people to agree with it, only that the system of coercion impeding it be rendered ineffective. Remove the systemic coercion, and economics will take care of the rest.”

The idea that the left should face political opposition from a true right-wing movement is appealing on its face, as this would make leftists deal with a political threat rather than focus their attacks solely upon libertarianism. But state power need not be used for this. A resurgence of right-wing libertarianism would be sufficient to repel the toxic influence of the new crop of left-libertarians, and Cantwell’s own efforts on this front have been quite valuable. Also, the danger of the right-wing movement coming to power and inflicting its own brand of statism upon us cannot be ignored.

To conclude, the struggle for liberty is a local, anti-political effort. Looking for a strongman to save us will only lead to further ruin, even if that ruin is of a different sort. Bleak though the outlook is at this point, the path to a free society is revolution or bust.

The Hobbit and its significance for libertarians