Book Review: Against Empathy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4.5/5

Book Review: In Our Own Image

In Our Own Image is a book about the prospects of creating artificial intelligence as well as the cultural, economic, historical, philosophical, and political concerns about it by Greek author and scientist George Zarkadakis. The book considers the problem of AI from the perspectives of human evolution, cybernetics, neuroscience, programming, and computing power.

Zarkadakis begins by briefly speaking of his early years and doctoral research, then spends the rest of the introduction outlining what he will discuss in the rest of the book. The book proper is divided into three parts, each with five or six chapters. The first part covers the evolution of the human brain from the primate brain, especially the most recent 40,000 years. The role of language in accelerating human progress is discussed, as well as the effects of totemic thinking, story-telling, philosophical dualism, and theory of mind. The use of metaphor and narrative to understand the world is examined, along with the inaccuracies inherent in them. The invention, uses, and limitations of the Turing test are explored, as are Asimov’s laws of robotics and the role of AI in fictional stories throughout history.

The second part is about the nature of the mind. The differences in approach between dualism versus monism, rationalism versus empiricism, and materialism versus Platonism are discussed. The thought experiment of the philosophical zombie and the possibility of digital immortality are explained. On the matter of why there appears to be no other intelligent life in the cosmos, Zarkadakis shares an interesting hypothesis: science is an unnatural idea at odds with our cognitive architecture, and an intelligent alien species would be unlikely to widely adopt it. This means that the universe is likely full of Platos, as well as Ancient Greeces, Romes, Indias, Chinas, and Mayas, but is perhaps devoid of Aristotles and societies advanced beyond that of humanity in the early eighteenth century. Daniel Dennett’s explanation of consciousness is overviewed, as well as the contributions of a great number of scientists to the field of cognitive psychology. Finally, the field of cybernetics and its offshoots are examined, showing that the hard problem of consciousness is actually solved with ease. The brain-in-a-vat paradigm of consciousness is shown to be insufficient by applying cybernetic theory.

Everything up to this point lays the foundation for understanding the last part of the book. The third part details the history of computers and programming, from ancient theorists to more recent mathematicians, and from punched cards to modern electronics. The limitations of symbolic logic and the implications thereof against AI in conventional computers are explored, and possible solutions in the form of new electronic components and computer architectures are explained. Charles Babbage’s inventions are discussed, as well as the lost potential of their lack of adoption in their own time. The role of computational technology during World War II is considered, along with the results of government spending on computer research at the time. The development of supercomputers, including IBM’s Deep Blue and Watson, is outlined. The ‘Internet of things’ is compared and contrasted with true AI, and the possible societal impact of large-scale automation of jobs is considered. The possibility of evolving rather than creating AI is examined, as are the possible dispositions of an AI; friendly, malevolent, or apathetic. Interestingly, Zarkadakis shows that there is good reason to believe that a strong AI may exhibit autism spectrum disorders. A short epilogue that begins with a summary and then considers possible economic, political, and social implications of strong AI completes the book.

The book is well-researched and impeccably sourced, at least in its core subject matter. That being said, the book struggles to find an audience, as it can be a bit too technical for the average layperson, but does not venture deeply enough into the subjects it covers to interest a professional in AI-related fields. In other words, it is lukewarm where being either cold or hot is best. Zarkadakis also commits some ultracrepidarianism, particularly in the fields of economics and politics. He seems to believe that AI will overcome the limitations described by Hayek’s knowledge problem and Mises’s economic calculation problem, but unless AI can get inside of our heads and know us better than we know ourselves, this is impossible. In politics, he briefly mentions the possibilities of AI leading to anarchism or to neoreactionary-style absolute monarchies with computerized philosopher-kings, but does not give these possibilities the amount of consideration that they warrant. Finally, the book contains more typographical errors and grammatical abnormalities than a competent editor should fail to correct, though we may grant Zarkadakis some leeway because English is not his first language.

Overall, In Our Own Image is worth reading for those who already have some knowledge of the subject matter but would like to fill gaps in their understanding, but there is room for improvement and expansion.

Rating: 4/5

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On Libertarianism and the Alt-Right

On August 26, Jeffrey Tucker published an article highlighting what he perceives to be five important differences between the alt-right and libertarianism. Throughout the piece, he misunderstands various aspects of the alt-right, along with their connection to libertarianism. As such, let us examine Tucker’s article and what libertarians can learn from the alt-right.


We begin with Tucker’s introduction, in which he writes,

Let’s leave aside the question of whether we are talking about an emergent brown-shirted takeover of American political culture, or perhaps merely a few thousand sock-puppet social media accounts adept at mischievous trolling on Twitter.

Here, he both sets up a false dilemma and decides to ignore its resolution. The alt-right, as explained in an article that Tucker links to, is an umbrella term for everyone on the right who is opposed to establishment conservatism. This includes American nationalists, anti-egalitarians, fascists, men’s rights activists, monarchists, neo-Nazis, paleoconservatives, racial separatists, reactionaries, right-libertarians, and white identitarians. But many of these groups are at cross purposes with one another. The danger of such a broad term is twofold; that which describes everything really describes nothing, and this vacuum of imprecision may then be filled by anyone who wishes to denigrate everyone included within the broad brushstroke. Tucker spends the rest of his article doing the latter, as we will see. For the purpose of this article, I will focus on a (neo)reactionary, right-libertarian take on the alt-right that includes some aspects of men’s rights and anti-egalitarianism.

1. The Driving Force of History

The first difference Tucker notes is the theory of history that each movement has. His presentation of the libertarian view as one of liberty versus power, or market versus state, is essentially correct but lacking in detail. It is this detail that the alt-right can provide, but Tucker decries this as “long and dreary.” To the contrary, the “meta-struggle that concerns impersonal collectives of tribe, race, community, great men, and so on” describes the individual historical events that decide the victor between liberty and power, between market and state. To ignore this is to see a forest and have no concept of a tree.

While libertarianism does speak of individual choice and the alt-right does speak of collective action, these two are not mutually exclusive. The belief that libertarians must reject any concept of a group identity or a collective action just because they are individualists is the height of political autism. While a collective does not exist in the sense of having a particular form in physical reality, it is a useful mental abstraction and grammatical shorthand to describe many individuals acting in concert toward a common purpose. Contrary to Tucker, the alt-right does not claim that we “default in our thinking back to some more fundamental instinct about our identity as a people”; the claim is that while people have this instinct which is genetically hard-wired into us, some people embrace it while others reject it. Those who embrace this instinct have an advantage in forming a strong social unit, which is the basis of a strong society. To criticize this as racist is generally inaccurate, as there are many population groups within each race, some of which may be more different from one another than from a population group of a different race. Thedism, tribalism, or in-group preference would all be more accurate terms for this phenomenon.

The overarching theme here is that while an individual person has the ability to make minor course corrections to the general trend of a society, the arc of history is generally not subject to the whims of an ordinary person. This is because an ordinary person lacks the means to defend against nation-states or even large groups of opposing ordinary people, and many libertarians oppose the idea of them acquiring such means. Thus, something more powerful than an ordinary person is needed to “make a dent in history’s narrative,” as Tucker says. Where the alt-right goes wrong is to believe that this requires a Carlylian Great Man. Libertarians correctly recognize that a large number of ordinary people can make such a change directly, without acting through a Great Man or any other method of centralization.

2. Harmony vs. Conflict

The second difference Tucker discusses is the view of harmony versus conflict. He compares Frédéric Bastiat’s view of a “harmony of interests” with the alt-right view of societal conflict. What Tucker fails to realize is that these views are not mutually exclusive. People find value in each other and divide labor among one another in order to build a society, and this works best in the absence of central planning. Tucker correctly says that libertarians believe in a “brotherhood of man,” but then fails to understand that the alt-right does as well to some extent. The nnerbund (league of men) is a central element of neoreactionary thought, being the organ that defends a society from external threats, maintains the traditions of the society, and enforces social norms within the society. The decay of this organ due to various aspects of modernity (which are frequently misidentified as capitalism rather than communo-fascism) is lamented by the alt-right as a contributing factor to much of the moral degeneracy currently present in the West.

Voluntary cooperation and free markets are wonderful and liberating, but some people do not want us to be liberated, preferring instead to violently victimize the innocent and exist parasitically upon productive members of a society. Those people must be physically repelled and removed, and someone must do the repelling and removing. This deterrent must exist in order to keep the state eliminated as well as repel common criminals and foreign invaders. The subset of libertarians who think that we will all peacefully evolve into a utopia where no one initiates the use of force suffer from incredible naïveté concerning matters of violence as well as an ignorance of history. The history of mankind has been one of deep-rooted conflict, based on whatever happens to be convenient at the moment.

Tucker closes this section by noting a parallel in Marxist ideology about a conflict between labor and capital. He quotes Ludwig von Mises, who wrote, “Nationalist ideology divides society vertically; the socialist ideology divides society horizontally.” This is true but incomplete, as it puts the cart before the horse in terms of how human interaction actually occurs. Society is already divided horizontally and vertically by the inherent biases and prejudices that people have. Nationalism and socialism simply give people an intellectual basis to explain and amplify what they already believe.

3. Designed vs. Spontaneous Order

Third, Tucker looks at the nature of social order. Tucker describes the libertarian position thusly:

The libertarian believes that the best and most wonderful social outcomes are not those planned, structured, and anticipated, but rather the opposite. Society is the result of millions and billions of small acts of rational self-interest that are channeled into an undesigned, unplanned, and unanticipated order that cannot be conceived by a single mind. The knowledge that is required to put together a functioning social order is conveyed through institutions: prices, manners, mores, habits, and traditions that no one can consciously will into existence. There must be a process in place, and stable rules governing that process, that permit such institutions to evolve, always in deference to the immutable laws of economics.

This is an accurate description of the libertarian position, as well as how society should operate. The alt-right mind, on the other hand, has a better understanding of how the current system operates, and this is an understanding that libertarians must have. After all, one cannot get from point A to point B without knowing about point A. Statist societies are built through central planning, by “the will of great thinkers and great leaders with unconstrained visions of what can be,” as Tucker writes. However, what we see is not necessarily the result of someone’s intentional and conscious planning from the top down, as there are unintended consequences and bootlegger motivations that must be accounted for.

What Tucker alleges to be an obsession with conspiracy theories by the alt-right is actually something else; a realization that some consequences that people routinely claim to be unintended should not be assumed to be such. When there is an ample body of history and economics to suggest that a particular result will follow from a particular policy, it is reasonable to assume that someone wanted that outcome, or at least should have expected it. But Tucker does understand the desire to seize the controls, if only by accident. Some libertarians have proposed that the controls must be destroyed, this author included. But since there appears to be almost no popular support for this idea, we are left with a situation in which someone will use those controls, and far better that it is libertarians than anyone else. It could be the case that like the One Ring, someone must hold state power in order to eliminate it. We cannot use state power to create a stateless society, but we can set one enemy of liberty against other enemies of liberty in the hopes that they weaken or destroy each other, after which we can mop up what remains of them.

Finally, Tucker correctly criticizes Carlyle about economics, but then fails to provide the correct answer. Economics is not “the dismal science” for not being dismal, but for not being science. Economics, properly understood, is an a priori, rational discipline like logic and mathematics.

4. Trade and Migration

Tucker’s fourth point concerns trade and migration. He is correct to laud the positive changes that have occurred since the Middle Ages with respect to human rights, economic mobility, and free association. He is also correct to view protectionism as a tax on consumers and an unnecessary source of international conflict. But again, Tucker fails to appreciate the context of the situation. We do not live in a world in which tearing down our barriers makes everyone better off. The reality is that doing this would only impoverish and endanger the domestic population while empowering foreign governments and external organized crime. If we open our borders, they will be magnetic to those who would come here to take handouts from the state at our expense. And once those people are here, we will not only be forced to associate with them, but any opposition to them or the government programs that bring them here will be condemned as racist. Since a libertarian solution is not on the table and no one seems to be willing to do what would be necessary to put it on the table, we are left with a choice between forced integration and forced segregation. The latter is both less threatening to the liberty of the domestic population and easier to evade through illegal means.

Tucker also misunderstands the alt-right view of this issue. A community must be strong enough to thrive as an independent unit not because international trade is “inherently bad or fraudulent or regrettable in some sense,” but because entrusting the survival of one’s community to outsiders is a precarious position. Trade is generally good to engage in, but not to depend upon to such an extent as to lose the ability to provide for one’s own basic needs. The potential danger comes when trade causes a society to evolve too fast, which can bring destruction as delicately balanced social structures are swiftly toppled without a clear replacement ready to prevent chaos.

The reasons that migration is seen as a profound threat to the identity of a community are that assimilation occurs slowly (if at all), and the resulting multiculturalism weakens the männerbund of a society, which compromises the security and values of the society. A massive influx of migrants into a community will cause the culture of that community to change in their direction. It is amazing that so many libertarians fail to understand this, given that the Free State Project has this very objective for the state of New Hampshire. But the FSP is an exception to the rule; generally, migrants come from societies whose cultures do not value libertarian principles, which will weaken the culture of liberty.

5. Emancipation and Progress

Tucker’s final point is about human progress. He writes,

Slavery was ended. Women were emancipated, as marriage evolved from conquest and dominance into a free relationship of partnership and consent. This is all a wonderful thing, because rights are universal, which is to say, they rightly belong to everyone equally.

This much is true, but then he continues,

Anything that interferes with people’s choices holds them back and hobbles the progress of prosperity, peace, and human flourishing. This perspective necessarily makes the libertarian optimistic about humanity’s potential.

This is not always true. For example, laws against trespassing interfere with people’s choices to go wherever they choose. Laws against theft interfere with people’s choices to take whatever they choose from whomever they choose. Laws against rape interfere with people’s choices to have sex with whomever they choose. Need we go on? People’s choices must be tempered against the rights of other people as well as the social norms of the community in which they find themselves. To be fair, Tucker would be unlikely to dispute this, but avoiding poor wording prevents many problems.

The alt-right view is not that the libertarian view is incorrect, but that it is incomplete and devoid of context. Without the state, an overall increase in liberty would have occurred by freeing slaves and emancipating women, not that slavery or treating women as property could have been maintained in its absence for as long as they were in its presence. But with the state in place, empowering women and former slaves has not resulted in an overall increase in liberty, but in a struggle between races and genders. The result of that struggle thus far has been a decrease in liberty for men and for white people, as it is at their expense that women and the descendants of slaves have made many unjust gains. The corrupting and perverse incentives inherent in democracy only make this worse, as expanding suffrage to include more people has allowed them to use the state to attack elite men. The end result has been the expansion of a political view once found only in brothels to ensnare the society as a whole. This is why, as Tucker writes, “What appears to be progress is actually loss: loss of culture, identity, and mission,” at least for white males. The proper libertarian answer is not to expand suffrage to everyone, but to abolish it for everyone. It is for this reason that a libertarian with alt-right sympathies can “look back to what they imagine to be a golden age when elites ruled and peons obeyed” and “long for authoritarian political rule.” Traditional monarchies were far from perfect by libertarian standards, but the shift to hyper-inclusive mass democracy failed to solve the problems of traditional monarchy while introducing new problems of its own. The authoritarian political rule of a king or dictator more closely resembles that of a private property owner than the popular rule of the masses in a democracy, at least in terms of the incentives that apply to the participants. If a decentralized violent revolution to end the state is not forthcoming, and technological advances that push back against centralization are insufficient, then an intermediate step against the leftist Leviathan in the form of a right-wing dictator is the remaining option, risky though it is.

Contrary to the view of left-libertarians, libertarianism does not expressly forbid authoritarianism, but rather confines it within the boundaries of private property. The critics of libertarianism who say that we wish to replace the tyranny of the state with the tyranny of the private property owner are correct, in that libertarianism allows a private property owner, in terms Tucker uses elsewhere, “to assert their individual preferences, to form homogeneous tribes, to work out their biases in action, to ostracize people based on politically incorrect standards, to hate to their heart’s content so long as no violence is used as a means, to shout down people based on their demographics or political opinions, to be openly racist and sexist, to exclude and isolate and be generally malcontented with modernity, and to reject civil standards of values and etiquette in favor of anti-social norms.” This should be welcomed, as a society in which private property owners may freely express their preferences and prejudices is far more likely to confront and successfully deal with bigotry than a society in which the state either promotes or prohibits bigotry across its entire territory.

While libertarianism has an a priori true position on universal rights in theory, the alt-right once again excels in describing how the world actually works at present. That “rights are granted by political communities and are completely contingent on culture” and “some were born to serve and some to rule” is true in current practice, and the latter would be the natural result of the sort of Darwinian meritocracy that is the logical conclusion of libertarian theory. One has many sorts of rights in theory; property rights, freedom of association, freedom of communication, and so on. But if one cannot make use of them and defend them against those who would violate them, they are meaningless in the real world. And unless a person has a reliable means of self-defense against an entire community while being able to survive without said community, that person’s expression of rights are granted by political communities and are completely contingent on culture.

Tucker’s Conclusion

The alt-right knows who its enemies are, and while some libertarians are among them, others are not. The alt-right generally shows hostility only to left-libertarians, social justice warriors, moral degenerates, and other such subsets of the libertarian community. Many other libertarians are able to have peaceful, honest, and productive conversations with members of the alt-right, with some even identifying as both libertarian and alt-right with no apparent contradictions. Even so, one can make temporary common cause with a lesser enemy (unsavory elements of the alt-right) in order to defeat a greater enemy (the democratic state).

Tucker finishes by commenting on the common opposition to democracy among libertarians and the alt-right. He writes,

This was not always the case. In the 19th century, the classical liberals generally had a favorable view of democracy, believing it to be the political analogy to choice in the marketplace. But here they imagined states that were local, rules that were fixed and clear, and democracy as a check on power. As states became huge, as power became total, and as rules became subject to pressure-group politics, libertarianism’s attitude toward democracy shifted.

In contrast, the alt-right’s opposition to democracy traces to its loathing of the masses generally and its overarching suspicion of anything that smacks of equality. In other words, they tend to hate democracy for all the wrong reasons. This similarity is historically contingent and largely superficial given the vast differences that separate the two worldviews. Does society contain within itself the capacity for self management or not? That is the question.

These views are not mutually exclusive. One can loathe people, conclude that a state will not solve anything because it is composed of people, and therefore support abolition of the state in favor of an anarcho-capitalist society because it is the best that we can do. Furthermore, the 19th century classical liberals should have known better. As Hans-Hermann Hoppe explains,

Free entry is not always good. Free entry and competition in the production of goods is good, but free competition in the production of bads is not. Free entry into the business of torturing and killing innocents, or free competition in counterfeiting or swindling, for instance, is not good; it is worse than bad. So what sort of “business” is government? Answer: it is not a customary producer of goods sold to voluntary consumers. Rather, it is a “business” engaged in theft and expropriation — by means of taxes and counterfeiting — and the fencing of stolen goods. Hence, free entry into government does not improve something good. Indeed, it makes matters worse than bad, i.e., it improves evil.

What Libertarians Can Learn

With Tucker’s piece examined, let us conclude by considering some lessons that libertarians should learn (or re-learn, in some cases) from the alt-right. First, the alt-right has a better understanding of how to get media attention. The alt-right is most famous for using the Internet to troll and create memes to attack those whom they oppose. This gets them media attention to a degree that many libertarians only dream of, and libertarians can learn their skills in order to create better memes as well as troll enemies of liberty.

Second, the alt-right has found a way to deal with the nearly constant accusations of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. that spew from the left. They either ignore, dismiss, or embrace such accusations. To the surprise of many on the left, though it should surprise no one, this technique is effective. Throwing labels at one’s political opponents in response to their reasoned arguments is not a counter-argument; if anything, it is an admission of defeat and ignorance, as a person who is capable of making counter-arguments has no need for name-calling. Libertarians would do well to respond to such accusations in this way rather than accusing leftists of being the real bigots or backing down for fear of being accused of bigotry. As for embracing the accusations, it is better to have bigots within libertarianism than outside of it, for if bigots truly become libertarians, then they must start adhering to the non-aggression principle. This means that they would have to stop initiating the use of force in pursuit of their bigotry, as well as stop asking the state to do so on their behalf. The presence of openly bigoted people also has the welcome side effect of driving out social justice warrior entryists.

Third, the alt-right is better at avoiding political autism. Political autism is the manifestation of symptoms similar to those which are present in high-functioning autistic people, such as using reason and evidence exclusively while being unable to process that a listener is operating emotionally rather than rationally, an inability to identify or think about groups or shared interests, preoccupation with particular topics to an unusual extent, focusing on details while missing the big picture, and repetitive use of set phrases. It is important to learn to identify when one is engaging in such behaviors so that one may correct oneself and avoid incorrect conclusions. This is not a new problem; Rothbard identified an example of political autism at work without naming it in a 1967 essay called War Guilt in the Middle East. Rothbard writes,

The libertarian, in particular, knows that states, without exception, aggress against their citizens, and knows also that in all wars each state aggresses against innocent civilians “belonging” to the other state.

Now this kind of insight into the root cause of war and aggression, and into the nature of the state itself, is all well and good, and vitally necessary for insight into the world condition. But the trouble is that the libertarian tends to stop there, and evading the responsibility of knowing what is going on in any specific war or international conflict, he tends to leap unjustifiably to the conclusion that, in any war, all states are equally guilty, and then to go about his business without giving the matter a second thought. In short, the libertarian (and the Marxist, and the world-government partisan) tends to dig himself into a comfortable “Third Camp” position, putting equal blame on all sides to any conflict, and letting it go at that. This is a comfortable position to take because it doesn’t really alienate the partisans of either side. Both sides in any war will write this man off as a hopelessly “idealistic” and out-of-it sectarian, a man who is even rather lovable because he simply parrots his “pure” position without informing himself or taking sides on whatever war is raging in the world. In short, both sides will tolerate the sectarian precisely because he is irrelevant, and because his irrelevancy guarantees that he makes no impact on the course of events or on public opinion about these events.

No: Libertarians must come to realize that parroting ultimate principles is not enough for coping with the real world. Just because all sides share in the ultimate state-guilt does not mean that all sides are equally guilty. On the contrary, in virtually every war, one side is far more guilty than the other, and on one side must be pinned the basic responsibility for aggression, for a drive for conquest, etc. But in order to find out which side to any war is the more guilty, we have to inform ourselves in depth about the history of that conflict, and that takes time and thought – and it also takes the ultimate willingness to become relevant by taking sides through pinning a greater degree of guilt on one side or the other.

Fourth, the alt-right understands role of society in judging individual behavior and opposing degeneracy. Many libertarians believe that private actors should not be criticized because they have the freedom to do as they wish with their bodies and resources. While this is true in the sense that no one has the right to initiate the use of force to stop them, this does not mean that libertarians cannot condemn hedonistic behavior that is capable of collapsing a society if it becomes sufficiently prominent. It could even be said that there is a tragedy of the commons at work, in that everyone pursuing their own carnal pleasures without regard for the well-being of others results in less liberty and prosperity for everyone. Libertarians must learn to use non-violent means, such as shaming, ridicule, and ostracism, to peacefully promote beneficial social norms if the goal of a functional stateless society is to be created and maintained.

Fifth, the alt-right recognizes that blank-slate egalitarianism is false. This is because individuals vary in ability and populations groups adapt to their environments. These adaptations can give members of a particular population group an advantage in a particular activity. While these adaptations can be noticed in people who move to another place and live as the locals do, the extent of the adaptations which are present in a population group that has inhabited a place for many generations cannot be replicated in one human lifetime. The result is that there are both individual and demographic disparities in intelligence and athleticism, which cause disparities in socioeconomic outcomes. While these differences are not large enough at present to categorize humans into different species or subspecies, libertarians would do well to learn about gender dimorphism and human biodiversity, as their implications will alter the strategy for reaching a functional stateless society.


In Tucker’s foray into the alt-right, he seems to deliberately look for the worst that anyone in the movement has to offer while ignoring the positive lessons which may be learned. As a result, he sees what he wants to see; a separate and distinct movement from libertarianism with no legitimate overlap, an enemy to be fought rather than a potential ally. But as shown above, this is a thoroughly misguided approach. There is much common cause to be made with the alt-right and much to be learned from them, especially in defeating our common enemies.

We are not a country of anarchists: a philosophical rebuttal

On Oct. 4, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) made a blog post which presents a statist viewpoint of the necessity of government services as well as an incorrect association of Republicans with anarchism. Let us examine her sophistry and rebut it line-by-line. In the interest of reason, something which tends to make statists uncomfortable, we will skip around occasionally.

“If you watch the anarchist tirades coming from extremist Republicans in the House, you’d think they believe that the government that governs best is a government that doesn’t exist at all.”

Right out of the gate, there are multiple fallacies and falsehoods. Anarchism is an anti-political philosophy which holds the state to be an unnecessary, immoral, and harmful institution. Anarchists advocate for stateless societies with an absence of force, fraud, and coercion. This is not the position of any House Republican.

“Extreme” is a philosophically invalid term that is used frequently by statists, particularly those of a progressive bent, to dismiss a position without having to argue against it. As such, it is an example of argumentum ad lapidem.

No government exists; only its component parts (each person, each building, each gun, etc.) exist, because only those parts have independent forms in physical reality. To define existence in a way that does not require an independent form in physical reality allows for abstractions and universals to exist alongside concrete objects, which deprives the idea of existence of meaning, as anything can then be said to exist.

“But behind all the slogans of the Tea Party – and all the thinly veiled calls for anarchy in Washington – is a reality: The American people don’t want a future without government.”

“The American people” is a nonexistent universal, just like government. Each individual person exists; “the American people” does not. Therefore it cannot be a reality that the American people do not want a future without government. It is also not the case that each individual person wants a statist future. Some individuals within the geographical area of the United States are anarchists, this writer included.

“When was the last time the anarchy gang called for regulators to go easier on companies that put lead in children’s toys? Or for inspectors to stop checking whether the meat in our grocery stores is crawling with deadly bacteria? Or for the FDA to ignore whether morning sickness drugs will cause horrible deformities in our babies?

When? Never. In fact, whenever the anarchists make any headway in their quest and cause damage to our government, the opposite happens.

…The Food and Drug Administration makes sure that the white pills we take are antibiotics and not baking soda. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration oversees crash tests to make sure our new cars have functioning brakes. The Consumer Product Safety Commission makes sure that babies’ car seats don’t collapse in a crash and that toasters don’t explode.”

Here, Sen. Warren is going after her straw man caricature of House Republicans, but let us take the attack upon anarchism at face value. First, we should consider the nature of regulations imposed by the state. Such regulations are written by legislators, who are routinely bribed by lobbyists hired by the most powerful people in the very industries to be regulated. Under such a system, regulations serve not the interests of the common man, but the interests of the wealthy business owners.

On the other hand, all of the above examples can be handled through private dispute resolution organizations in a free market. People who destroy life, liberty, and property with their goods would be made to either perform restitution or be economically ostracized. Economic ostracism would make it impossible for them to continue their harmful practices, as no one would buy their goods or sell them anything for fear of being ostracized themselves. All of this can be forcefully backed by individuals acting in self-defense or by private defense agencies.

“After the sequester kicked in, Republicans immediately turned around and called on us to protect funding for our national defense and to keep our air traffic controllers on the job.

And now that the House Republicans have shut down the government – holding the country hostage because of some imaginary government ‘health care boogeyman’ – Republicans almost immediately turned around and called on us to start reopening parts of our government.”

By pointing to Republican efforts to protect certain government employees and services, Sen. Warren has contradicted her previous assertion that Republicans are anarchists.

A hostage-taker is a person who threatens to harm peaceful people unless certain demands are met. Any legislator who passes a law of any kind is doing exactly that, because anyone who peacefully disobeys a law is in danger of being harmed by agents of the state. Therefore, every member of every legislature is a hostage-taker, not just House Republicans.

“Why do they do this? Because the boogeyman government in the alternate universe of their fiery political speeches isn’t real. It doesn’t exist.”

Sen. Warren says that government does not exist. Even a blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut.

“Government is real, and it has three basic functions:”

And sometimes, a blind squirrel promptly loses the nut again.

“1. Provide for the national defense.”

Like a government and the American people, a nation is yet another nonexistent collective. There is no such thing as national defense apart from the sum of individual defenses.

“2. Put rules in place, like traffic lights and bank regulations, that are fair and transparent.”

As shown above, regulations in a statist society are anything but fair, as the affluent can easily bribe those who write the regulations. A state is not necessary for there to be regulations, as the free market imposes its own regulations which arise through spontaneous order.

“3. Build the things together that none of us can build alone – roads, schools, power grids – the things that give everyone a chance to succeed.”

Here, Sen. Warren commits the great fallacy of statism, which goes like this:

1. The state provides service X. X can be anything; in this case, Sen. Warren mentions roads, schools, and power grids.
2. Without the state, service X would not be provided.
3. Therefore, those who do not want the state to provide service X do not want service X to be provided at all, and do not care about people who need service X.

The problem with such reasoning is that step 2 is a positive claim, which carries a burden of proof. This burden is never fulfilled by statists, nor can it be, as one must ultimately disprove every possible solution to a problem that does not involve the state. This is an inexhaustible proof by exhaustion. On the other hand, all that an advocate of liberty must do is to find a solitary example of such services being provided in the free market. Examples of roads and schools which are built and maintained privately are abundant. Power grids can be more tricky to open up to free market competition, but it can be done.

“These things did not appear by magic.”

This is a straw man, as no one claims that they did.

“In each instance, we made a choice as a people to come together. We made that choice because we wanted to be a country with a foundation that would allow anyone to have a chance to succeed.”

From here on out, Sen. Warren continually uses “we” to refer to “the American people,” a collective which has already been shown not to exist. It is impossible for “us” to make a choice because there is no such thing as a collective mind; there are only individual minds. For the sake of avoiding unnecessary repetition, this rebuttal should be understood to come after each bit of text by Sen. Warren from this point forward. In this excerpt, the collective pronouns render all points invalid.

“We are alive, we are healthier, we are stronger because of government. Alive, healthier, stronger because of what we did together.”

This is a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. Just because individuals acted on the idea of government before people became healthier and stronger does not mean that the idea of government is the cause of such benefits. There could be any other cause for an increase in the health of individuals.

“We are not a country of anarchists. We are not a country of pessimists and ideologues whose motto is, ‘I’ve got mine, the rest of you are on your own.’ We are not a country that tolerates dangerous drugs, unsafe meat, dirty air, or toxic mortgages.”

Here, Sen. Warren proposes that one must either believe a government that regulates many aspects of the economy, or be a stereotypical bomb-throwing chaos-seeker who views selfishness as a virtue. This is a false dilemma fallacy, as it is quite possible to believe that people should form voluntary associations to solve problems without the use of force, fraud, or coercion.

“We are not that nation. We have never been that nation. And we never will be that nation.”

The future is unknown and unknowable. People once said that a constitutional republic would never work. People once said that (chattel) slavery would never end. People once said that landing on the moon was impossible. Now Sen. Warren says that the end of the state will never come. She is on the wrong side of historical precedent.

“The political minority in the House that condemns government and begged for this shutdown has its day. But like all the reckless and extremist factions that have come before it, its day will pass – and the government will get back to the work we have chosen to do together.”

There is no government shutdown; there is only a roughly 17 percent slowdown.

Sen. Warren comes full circle with the philosophically invalid terms “reckless” and “extremist.”