Book Review: Libertarian Reaction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4/5

Twelve Observations On The Catalonia Independence Vote

On September 6, the government in Catalonia announced that it was going to hold a vote on October 1 to decide whether the region should secede from Spain and become a nation-state unto itself in the form of a republic. It also announced that should the people choose independence, the government would declare secession within 48 hours. Spain’s constitutional court declared the vote unconstitutional, and the central government in Madrid said that it would attempt to stop the vote. Neither side backed down. The Spanish government seized ballots and tried to shut down polling places, resulting in violence that left over 840 people injured. The vote still took place, with nearly 90 percent voting for independence. In response, pro-secession protests occurred throughout Spain and a general strike was called across Catalonia. Spain and the European Union have rejected Catalonia’s requests for mediation, and King Felipe VI has denounced the secession movement. Twelve observations on these events follow.

1. One cannot understand the present without knowing the past. The formation of the current Spanish state can be dated to 1469, when the Christian kingdoms of Castile and Aragon were united by the marriage of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon. Under their leadership, the last Muslim rulers were expelled from Spain, Christopher Columbus was sent to the New World, and royal power was centralized at the expense of local nobility. Even so, Spain has always been a multi-ethnic state, composed of Basques, Catalans, Galicians, and others. In the 19th century, nationalist feelings among these groups grew. These aspirations took a back seat during the Cuban War of Independence, Phillipine Revolution, and Spanish-American War. Regions of Spain were granted greater autonomy in the Second Spanish Republic (1931-39), but this was brutally repressed during Francisco Franco’s dictatorship (1939-75), such that people were not even allowed to give their children Basque, Catalan, Galician names. After Franco’s death, Spain was turned into a semi-federal state with 17 autonomous communities, some of which have their own languages and cultures, as Catalonia does.

2. The Catalan independence movement cuts across ordinary political lines. Some people in Catalonia believe that independence would bring order to the region’s finances, or make taxes paid by Catalonians provide more benefit to Catalonians. Others are migrants who became involved with the Catalan movement and have no loyalty to the government in Madrid. Still others have particular political objectives that they believe to be easier to achieve on a smaller scale, such as an independent Catalonia rather than the entirety of Spain. In American terms, the parties which are in a temporary alliance to achieve independence run the gamut from the Constitution Party to the Green Party.

3. The harder one clenches one’s fist, the more sand slips through one’s fingers. For the Madrid government, responding with peaceful dismissal of the independence vote would have been more effective. Instead, they met peaceful efforts by Catalans with violence. In the words of a Spanish politician, “We have given them the pictures they want.” By forcefully opposing the self-determination of Catalans, the Spanish government is pushing swing voters toward the independence movement, as such actions raise the specter of Franco that is still remembered, particularly among older people. Furthermore, the creation of a new state is much easier if existing states recognize it, and images for foreign consumption of people trying to vote and being hit with truncheons and shot with rubber bullets for it will create pressure on other governments from their people to recognize Catalonian independence.

4. The voting results are questionable. The Catalan government rushed through the legislation for the referendum and passed it in a late-night session without the opposition being present. They vowed to secede even if turnout was low, and engaged in smear tactics against those who opposed independence. Turnout was only 42.3 percent, and the anti-independence side did not campaign because the government in Madrid declared the vote to be illegal.

5. This will provoke greater nationalist sentiment in the rest of Spain. Whenever separatist sentiment grows in one part of a nation, a unionist sentiment tends to grow elsewhere in reaction to it. In some cases, this occurs because the separatists threaten to remove an economically important area from the nation, such as a mine or a seaport. In others, such as the American Civil War, the separatists are engaged in activities that the unionists find morally reprehensible. Sometimes, a central government simply wishes to keep separatists subjugated so as to discourage other separatist movements elsewhere in the nation, such as in the Basque country. Whatever the case may be, nationalism in Madrid is likely to grow alongside secessionism in Catalonia. This will be bolstered by the fact that Catalonia is more leftist than the rest of Spain, as nationalism tends to be more common on the right.

6. Nationalism is not an ally of liberty; merely an enemy of some of liberty’s enemies. The nationalist sentiments of Catalans or anyone else in Spain will not lead to liberty in and of themselves. Only by coupling such sentiments with the principles of self-ownership, non-aggression, and respect for private property can a libertarian social order emerge. Nationalism is also hostile to any decentralizations of power below the national level. That being said, nationalism is certainly a lesser evil than globalism, and may serve as a temporary makeshift on the path to a better political arrangement.

7. The EU will be weakened regardless of the end result. If Catalonia becomes independent, it will be outside the EU, having to either apply to rejoin or have its move toward independence also serve as a Catexit, so to speak. Given Catalonia’s population of 7,522,596 and GDP of $255.204 billion, this would remove 1.47 percent of the population and 1.23 percent of the GDP from the EU. By contrast, Brexit will remove 12.83 percent of the population and 13.45 percent of the GDP from the EU. Even though Brexit is a much larger issue, the impact of a Catexit would still be noticeable. Catalonians are unlikely to want to exit the EU, but doing so may be unavoidable if they cannot gain admission once they are independent.

As per the previous point, it is also necessary to contemplate a Spexit, with or without Catalonia included. Growing nationalism in Spain as a reaction to growing separatism in Catalonia may lead to euroskepticism there. This, combined with longstanding economic issues in Spain such as high unemployment, may lead conservatives to contemplate the possibility of a brighter future outside of the European single market. A complete Spexit would remove 9.08 percent of the population and 5.94 percent of the GDP from the EU, while only Catalonia remaining in the EU would remove 7.61 percent of the population and 4.71 percent of the GDP from the EU. Though not as impactful as Brexit, a second member state leaving the EU could signal the beginning of the end.

Finally, regardless of whether any exits occur, the EU will almost certainly appear to be weak and ineffectual as a result of recent events. Calls for it to mediate the dispute have gone unanswered, and the EU seems intent on ignoring repression of a democratic vote. Given the EU commission’s threats of sanctions against Hungary and Poland for their anti-democratic policies, this seems rather hypocritical. One must also consider that the EU has no mechanism for dealing with such an issue. Article 3a of the Treaty of Lisbon calls for the EU to “respect their essential State functions, including ensuring the territorial integrity of the State, maintaining law and order, and safeguarding national security,” so it is unlikely to help the separatists. Nor is it in the rational self-interest of anyone who wields power in the EU to intervene, as doing so would encourage separatists in other EU nation-states.

8. Secessionist movements are fueled by economic hardship and government mismanagement. The role of the Catalan people in Spain is both privileged and marginalized. Even though Catalans have maintained a distinct identity, they contribute more to Spain than they receive in return, especially in terms of institutional influence, which remains dominated by Madrid. Since the 2008 financial crisis, this has exacerbated tensions, and the continued economic problems in Spain lead some Catalonians to believe that they could do better for themselves with more local governance.

9. The state is legitimized only by force. The simple truth is that any other basis for legitimacy is subject to reason and defeated thereby. A deity fails because no such being is proven to exist. A constitution fails because any person or group can write one, leaving the state’s legitimacy constantly imperiled. An appeal to tradition fails because all traditions and states must begin somewhere, leaving them unable to be formed in the first place. A supranational body fails because it begs the question of how it gets its legitimacy. A social contract fails because a valid contract must be entered into willfully by all parties. Democracy fails because it is a logical impossibility, which could not even appear to function without the state already in place, thus resulting in circular reasoning.

Mao Zedong spoke truly on the nature of state legitimacy; “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” A state continues to operate because it violently subjugates anyone who would attempt to end its operation, and it maintains territorial integrity by violently suppressing any efforts by its people to secede from the state. The only factor preventing individuals or sub-national groups from gaining sovereignty is the fact that they lack the force of arms and/or the willingness to use them for that purpose.

10. Self-determination must be taken and defended by force. Given the previous point, the path to true independence is clear. A separatist movement must first declare independence, but this will never be sufficient. The larger state will seek to retain any breakaway provinces by force, and if the separatists wish to form a new nation rather than be imprisoned or executed on charges of sedition or treason, they must respond with defensive force to the aggressions of the larger state. This has been the norm at least since the American Revolution, and the Catalonian situation is shaping up to be no different.

In a more general theoretical sense, self-determination must be taken and defended by force because the failure to do so will result in some group of aggressors infringing upon one’s self-determination. As Vegetius said, “He, therefore, who desires peace, should prepare for war.” Only by doing this can one present an effective deterrent against those who would return a free people to a state of bondage.

11. Repression by the Spanish government may provoke terrorism. Should the violence escalate, as appears likely, some Catalonians may end up following the Basque model. In the Basque Country, there is a moderate nationalist and separatist movement, much like the Catalonian independence movement. But there is also the ETA, a paramilitary group that has engaged in terrorist acts for decades. The group was founded in 1959 during Franco’s regime, but continued carrying out attacks for decades after the restoration of regional autonomy. Other examples of this throughout the world include the Irish Republican Army and the PKK in Kurdish regions of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. Notably, the Kurds are also attempting to create a new state for themselves at the time of this writing.

12. The international community functions as a cartel. Catalonia and Iraqi Kurdistan are currently attempting to become independent nation-states, and both are being met with a mixture of indifference and contempt from existing nation-states. That such movements provoke hostility from the remainder of their current states is understandable and has been addressed above, as has the uneasiness of foreign governments to recognize the independence of separatist movements. But there is more at work here, which may be explained by considering the role of cartels in a marketplace and the effects that decentralization would have if taken to its logical conclusion.

The standard libertarian view is that cartels are inherently unstable, as the incentive of each member has a profit motive to betray the cartel. This incentive is frequently countered by state interference in the economy to protect a cartel from this effect. There is no more profitable venture in the current system than the management of a state, so this profit motive is amplified alongside the protectionist motive as an equal and opposite reaction. But libertarians tend to under-appreciate the role of aggressive violence in the marketplace, which is a service for sale like any other. This keeps them from fully understanding situations like these, in which established players seek not only to out-compete upstarts or hamstring them through regulatory capture, but to engage in direct violent suppression of competitors.

Finally, the rulers of nation-states must be aware at some level that the entry of new polities into the established order has the potential to remove that order from power. In the words of Murray Rothbard,

Once one concedes that a single world government is not necessary, then where does one logically stop at the permissibility of separate states? If Canada and the United States can be separate nations without being denounced as in a state of impermissible ‘anarchy,’ why may not the South secede from the United States? New York State from the Union? New York City from the state? Why may not Manhattan secede? Each neighbourhood? Each block? Each house? Each person? But, of course, if each person may secede from government, we have virtually arrived at the purely free society, where defense is supplied along with all other services by the free market and where the invasive State has ceased to exist.”[1]

Taken to its logical conclusion, political exit may be disintegrative, but stopping somewhat short of atomized individualism would both remove the Cathedral from power and create the opportunity to build a superior form of social order. The establishment has no interest in allowing this to happen and would rather nip it in the bud at the expense of looking oppressive and/or indifferent than risk losing their global hegemony.

Taken together, these explanations help one understand why the established nation-states, despite their contrary interests, can agree that no new members should be able to join their club.

References:

1. Rothbard, Murray (2009). Man, Economy, and State with Power and Market. Ludwig von Mises Institute, Scholar’s Edition, 2nd ed. p. 1051.

Thirteen Observations on Events in Charlottesville

On the weekend of August 12, 2017, various activist groups came together in Charlottesville, Va. for the Unite the Right rally organized by James Kessler and Richard Spencer. A torch-lit march to the statue of Robert E. Lee on the University of Virginia campus took place on the night of August 11. This resulted in clashes between alt-right and Antifa demonstrators, which the alt-right won. The next day, the mayor of Charlottesville illegally shut down the rally. Violence then ensued between alt-right and Antifa, which culminated in a car crashing into leftist protesters, killing one and injuring 19. Two police officers also died in a helicopter crash after monitoring the events. Thirteen observations on these events follow.

1. Permits are not worth the paper on which they are printed. One week before the event, Charlottesville mayor Michael Signer and vice-mayor Wes Bellamy illegally revoked Kessler’s permit. The ACLU took the case before a judge, arguing that civil liberties were being tread upon and that the city was not allowed to stop the march. Kessler and Spencer won a legal injunction, and the city of Charlottesville was legally responsible for enforcing it and providing protection for the rally. If the Charlottesville police had formed a line to separate the alt-right from Antifa, as was done in Pikeville on April 29, it is unlikely that most of the violence would have occurred. But Mayor Signer failed to uphold the court injunction and protect the rally. Instead, he illegally revoked the permit and sent police in riot gear to declare the rally an unlawful assembly and disperse it. Several participants were attacked by riot police, while Antifa attacked other participants. Not only this, but Mayor Signer issued a stand-down order to the police after the alt-right gathering was forcibly dispersed. This left the alt-right and Antifa to battle in the streets. Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe then declared a state of emergency and deployed the National Guard, after which the car crash and helicopter crash occurred, among more violence. If this is the result of trying to go through legal channels, then there is no point in doing so.

2. Unscheduled, spontaneous events are more effective for right-wing activism. Given the above result, going through the legal process to get permits and police protection is actually counterproductive. In fact, it is tantamount to a general handing his battle plans to the enemy. There was only token opposition from Antifa and no real interference from state agents during the torch march, and this was partly because it was not announced or planned ahead of time as an official event. All right-wing and libertarian activists would do well to be more spontaneous in future to keep leftists and politicians from having the intelligence necessary to attack and shut down activities.

3. Public property is an oxymoron. Property is an object external to a person’s physical body in which that person has acquired an ownership right through mixing one’s labor with unowned natural resources, trading, or inheritance. Ownership is a synonym for a right to exclusive control, and this requires either an individual owner or a collective that is in full agreement as to the use of the property. What is called ‘public property’ in a statist society is really state-occupied property that is set aside for state-approved common use. No one truly owns such property because no individual or fully agreeing collective exercises exclusive control over it. This leaves it open not only to use by groups of people who are at cross purposes with each other, but to an occupation by one group for the purpose of denying access to another group.

4. Coordinating with state agents is a tactical mistake. Though many rank-and-file state agents are sympathetic to various right-wing and/or libertarian causes, their commanding officers tend to be progressive leftists. When the order comes from above to shut down right-wing events or avoid suppressing communist rioters, they almost invariably choose to obey such orders rather than resign en masse to provide private defense or disobey their orders in order to perform their jobs as they normally would. This should tell the organizers of right-wing events in no uncertain terms that government police are not ultimately on their side.

5. The torches and some of the chants during the march provided terrible optics. When the average American sees a mass of people carrying torches, it makes them think of the Ku Klux Klan and all of the terrorist activity its members have perpetrated over the years. When the same people are chanting “blood and soil,” an English translation of the Nazi phrase “Blut und Boden,” and “Jews will not replace us” while carrying flags of a power that the United States waged war against, it causes a neutral observer to view them as alien enemies. These associations are not entirely inaccurate, as both neo-Nazis and Klansmen participated in the event. Though some critics of such a demonstration would never be satisfied (see observation #8), and some alt-righters would claim that they might as well act the part if they will be accused of Nazism anyway, marginal observers who could be swayed one way or another would be far more sympathetic to a candlelight vigil rather than a torch-wielding procession, a lack of Roman salutes, phrases which do not make anti-Semitic references, and a lack of Nazi and Klan flags.

6. Terry McAuliffe, Michael Singer, and Wes Bellamy wanted violence. They used the Charlottesville police and the National Guard to bring alt-right and Antifa groups together, then ordered them to stand down while the two groups fought. Previous incidents, such as the Battle of Berkeley, clearly demonstrated that these two groups cannot be in close proximity without violence erupting between them. Though the idea that the governor, mayor, and vice-mayor actually wanted a violent conflict on the streets of Charlottesville is a very cynical explanation, it fits best with the facts of the case.

7. Though the results were terrible, James Fields may have acted in self-defense. According to the establishment press, Fields engaged in domestic terrorism by intentionally running over leftist counter-protesters. His history of psychiatric problems and violent behavior does not help his case. But the press seems intent on ignoring two videos which support a much different chain of events. The first shows someone striking the car with what appears to be a baseball bat. The sound of the bat impacting the car is heard, followed by the sound of the car engine. The car quickly accelerates, crashing into other vehicles and the crowd that was blocking traffic by standing in the street. The second video thoroughly examines the chain of events, freezing at multiple points to point out a bicyclist on the sidewalk behaving normally, the car being operated at appropriate speeds, the strike by the apparent baseball bat, an attempt by Fields to brake and change direction, and finally Fields flooring the accelerator to escape a mob of people closing in on him.

8. It is impossible to appease the left without submitting to the left. President Donald Trump spoke on the events on the afternoon of August 12, saying in part,

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama, this has been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America. What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives. No citizen should ever fear for their safety and security in our society. And no child should ever be afraid to go outside and play or be with their parents and have a good time.”

That Trump accurately pointed to violence from “many sides” rather than just white nationalists set off a media firestorm, with pundits, Democrats, and establishment Republicans alike rushing to virtue signal against Trump and the alt-right. On August 14, he said in part,

“As I said on Saturday, we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of bigotry, hatred, and violence. It has no place in America. And as I have said many times before, no matter the color of our skin, we all live under the same laws; we all salute the same great flag; and we are all made by the same almighty God. We must love each other, show affection for each other, and unite together in condemnation of hatred, bigotry, and violence. We must discover the bonds of love and loyalty that bring us together as Americans. Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans. We are a nation founded on the truth that all of us are created equal. We are equal in the eyes of our creator, we are equal under the law, and we are equal under our constitution. Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America.”

This did not satisfy Trump’s leftist critics in the media or either major party, nor would it, for this is not how leftists operate. As Vox Day writes in SJWs Always Lie,

“Do not say you are sorry if anyone’s feelings were hurt, do not express regret, remorse, or contrition, do not say anything that can be taken as an apology in any way. Just in case I am not being sufficiently clear, do not apologize! Normal people seek apologies because they want to know that you feel bad about what you have done and that you will at least attempt to avoid doing it again in the future. When SJWs push you for an apology after pointing-and-shrieking at you, what they are seeking is a confession to bolster their indictment. They are like the police down at the station with a suspect in the interrogation room, badgering him to confess to the crime. And like all too many police these days, the SJWs don’t really care if you did it or not, they’re just looking for a confession that they can take to the prosecutor. Be aware that once they have launched an attack on you, they will press you hard for an apology and repeatedly imply that if you will just apologize, all will be forgiven. Do not be fooled! I have seen people fall for it time and time again, and the result is always the same. The SJWs are simply looking for a public confession that will confirm their accusations, give them PR cover, and provide them with the ammunition required to discredit and disemploy you. Apologizing will accomplish nothing more than hand them the very weapons they require to destroy you.”

Trump eventually showed some understanding of this concept, returning to his earlier statements when questioned by the media again on August 15. He also elevated the term ‘alt-left’ to prominence to refer to Antifa and other violent left-wing groups. But a stronger intellect would have resisted the urge to punch right while kowtowing to SJWs on August 14.

9. The mainstream press serves the establishment and mammon at the expense of truth. The news coverage of what happened in Charlottesville was perhaps more worthy of the term lügenpresse than anything in recent memory. Even though there appears to be exculpatory evidence for James Fields, the establishment press was determined to advance the narrative that he had intentionally planned an ISIS-style terrorist attack with his car. They have done all they could to portray everyone on the alt-right side as a racist terrorist, while tacitly supporting the communist terror group Antifa. They have done their best to portray anyone affiliated with Donald Trump in any way, real or imagined, as a white supremacist equal to the worst elements present in Charlottesville. Compare this to the response when a Muslim perpetrates a terrorist attack; the act is said to be independent of Islam itself and the focus is turned to anti-Muslim hate crimes. Never would the establishment press equate everyone affiliated with Islam to a terrorist, or investigate anti-white hate crimes.

The simplest explanation for the behavior of the establishment press is the desire for money and power. As long as they give the party line like good Soviet-era apparatchiks, they can enjoy a comfortable life of repeating state propaganda and running advertisements for large corporations whose leadership marches in lockstep with the political establishment while not performing any authentic journalism. Should they deviate from this, they will lose access to important political sources and events. As for the chaos, they thrive on it and hope for more, as it drives traffic to their programming and revenue to their bank accounts.

10. Ignoring the legitimate grievances of the alt-right will not work. Despite the lies of the establishment press, not everyone at Unite The Right was a Klansman or Nazi. Some attendees were simply concerned about the potential removal of historical monuments that reflect their heritage, the demographic shift toward a white minority in a democratic system, an economic system which threw them overboard decades ago, and the rise of identity politics among women and non-whites following decades of leftist agitation. Ignoring and suppressing the concerns of the alt-right will not be any more effective than any other form of prohibition; as has followed other prohibition efforts throughout history, the prohibited behavior will then manifest in a manner that is less open and more violent. Furthermore, when people feel that they have no exit and that no one will listen to their voices, their only remaining option is to revolt.

11. Democracy does not receive enough blame for heated rhetoric and political violence. Though it is important to deal with proximate causes and understand the nuances of a particular case, it is also important to address the ultimate sources of problems. One such root is democracy itself. Democracy replaces the theoretical Hobbesian war of all against all with an actual civil war of half against half, and it is only a matter of time before this cold war flares up. Rulers intentionally create such a system in order to manufacture perpetual conflict in society, which keeps the masses fighting amongst themselves so that they do not join together to overthrow the ruling class. Because a democratic system grants each citizen who is eligible to vote a small piece of political power, each person can—at least in theory—mobilize other people into a voting bloc to advance a political agenda that would use state power in a manner hostile to another group of people. This makes each politically active person an unofficial soldier in the aforementioned democratic war, and thus a target for various abuses by the other side. It is this dynamic that produces the degeneration of political discourse into physical violence. Though there will always be some level of societal conflict, removing such a disastrous generator of malignant incentives as political democracy can only be a net improvement.

12. The only solution to the problem of the commons is to eliminate the commons. As long the fiction of public property persists, groups will continue to fight over control of it. If all property in the Charlottesville area were privately owned, then the statue of General Lee would be on the property of someone who wants it to be there, and anyone taking action to remove it would be guilty of trespassing and vandalism. If the UVA campus and the roads in Charlottesville were privately owned, then their owners could decide which people to allow and trespass the others. There is a fundamental philosophical error at work, in that the state exercises monopoly control over certain spaces in the name of preventing monopoly control over those spaces. Until this error is resolved by eliminating the commons through returning common spaces to private ownership, conflicts over who gets to use the commons and when they get to use them will continue to occur.

13. Matters will only escalate from here. Because the problems outlined in observations #1, #3, #5, #6, #9, #10, #11, and #12 are unlikely to be addressed and resolved by the appropriate parties, violent conflicts will escalate in frequency and intensity. In fact, many local government leaders across the United States and social media companies have proceeded to do the opposite, seeking to de-platform prominent alt-right members and remove more Confederate statues. Unfortunately, the escalation of hostilities is a necessary development because humans tend not to do what is necessary to solve difficult problems until they run out of other options.

Book Review: Open To Debate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 3.5/5

A Squandered Opportunity Against Judicial Activism

On June 26, the Supreme Court announced its decision in the combined cases of Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project and Trump v. Hawaii, which involved challenges to Executive Order 13780. This order concerns the entry of foreign nationals into the United States, and is best known for suspending entry of nationals from six designated countries for 90 days.

The defendants challenged the order in two separate lawsuits, obtaining preliminary injunctions barring enforcement of several of its provisions, including the 90-day suspension of entry. The injunctions were upheld in large measure by the Courts of Appeals in the Fourth and Ninth Circuits. The Justices decided by a 9-0 vote that the defendants in both cases lack standing and that the injunctions against the 90-day suspension are partially removed, allowing the ban to take effect against “foreign nationals who do not have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”

Supporters of President Trump’s travel ban were predictably elated by the decision, even though the cases will not be heard in full until the next Supreme Court session in October. Detractors of Trump’s immigration policies were disappointed, calling it discriminatory, hateful, and Islamophobic. But there is a greater concern than public opinion of the preliminary ruling or the eventual outcome of the case. Regardless of this result or the next, Trump has largely squandered an opportunity to act against a much greater problem: that of judicial activism.

The Past Is Prologue

The judicial branch in the United States has a long history of overstepping its constitutional role. In Marbury v. Madison (1803), the Court invented for itself the power of judicial review, which is nowhere to be found in the Constitution. Because Congress and the state legislatures did not act to reverse this usurpation of power, it remains the statement of ultimate sovereignty in American law. Since Marbury, Supreme Court decisions usually have been the final say in a dispute, unless a Constitutional amendment or future Supreme Court reverses a decision. Furthermore, the Supreme Court regularly issues writs commanding action or inaction from the legislative and executive branches. In various decisions that “find” new rights imbedded within the Constitution and/or determine the winners and losers in society, the Court acts as a political branch of government that masquerades as an impartial arbiter. This is to be expected, as the judicial branch is not truly independent, being part of the same state apparatus of the other branches and thus subject to many of the same perverse incentives. The end result is judicial activism, in which the courts are used to advance a progressive socioeconomic agenda.

Three Presidents stand out in American history for their ability to defy the will of the courts and advance their agendas despite judicial opposition: Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. These administrations shared several characteristics; all had a strong executive, an agenda at odds with previous administrations, majorities in both houses of Congress to assist them, an appeal to the common man, flawed and/or weak political candidates opposing them, and were on the left side of the politics of their day. Interestingly, historians look upon these three Presidents as being among the best. The Trump administration has almost all of these characteristics, lacking perhaps the leftism and Congressional assistance that the others had.

Trump’s Options

If Trump wins the broader case in the next Supreme Court session, it will be a small victory for him and for those who seek stricter immigration standards. If he loses and accepts the result, then he is the next Ronald Reagan, who talked the talk but generally failed to walk the walk. But if he had ignored the injunctions from the US District Courts and the Fourth and Ninth Circuit Courts of Appeals, it could have been a decisive victory. Andrew Jackson apocryphally said when the Supreme Court ruled against his policies in Worcester v. Georgia (1832), “[Chief Justice] John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!” Trump would have done well to say something similar and act upon it when faced with the lower court rulings. He may still do so with the Supreme Court if it rules against him, but much of the effect will have been lost in the passive approach.

Ensuing Struggle

The response from the establishment to such an act of defiance by a maverick President would be swift and terrible. Democrats in Congress would unite in a call for impeachment, arguing that the President is acting like a totalitarian despot and is in contempt of court, a “high crime or misdemeanor” in Constitutional terms. The establishment press would devote all of their airtime to attacking him and accusing him of causing a constitutional crisis, to the exclusion of covering other important news stories. Academia and leftist organizations would likewise sound the alarm, using Trump’s conduct as both a funding opportunity and a casus belli for street violence. Let us consider the likely reponses to these developments by Trump and Congressional Republicans, as well as how the left’s response would help the cause of liberty.

A call for impeachment by all Democrats would show the American people just how little respect the coastal elites have for the heartland of America, as they would be seeking to overturn the election of the first President in decades who was elected by them to represent their long-forgotten interests. The support, ambivalence, or opposition to the call for impeachment from each Republican in Congress would give the American people important information about where each member stands. Trump, for his part, could respond by declassifying documents in order to release the skeletons in the closet of every member of Congress who opposes him. He could also hold political rallies to gather his supporters and mobilize them against his opponents. Finally, he could remind people that immigration enforcement is an executive function rather than a judicial function and make a separation of powers argument for ignoring the courts. Regardless of what happens to Trump, he could make the 2018 midterms a nightmare scenario for the GOP if they would oppose him as well. This would potentially help the cause of liberty by removing ineffective opposition to the Democratic Party.

A exclusive focus on attacking Trump by the establishment media would only hasten their demise, as he has routinely defeated them by correctly portraying them as enemies of the people and successfully turning their “fake news” phrase against them. Their credibility is at an all-time low and many people trust Trump more than them, meaning that a large segment of the population would not believe them even if what they say about Trump is true. The accusation of causing a constitutional crisis would be true, but such an action is necessary at this point to begin tackling the problem of over two centuries of rule by judges. The corresponding lack of coverage of other news stories coupled with the one-note chorus of the establishment media would work wonders for alternative media firms. Leftist academia would react in much the same manner as the media, which would provide a pretext to defund them, reduce government involvement in student loans, and encourage alternative career paths which do not require university degrees.

Leftist organizations would be unable to pass up the fundraising opportunity that a battle between Trump and the political establishment at the level of President versus Supreme Court would provide for them, and this could be used against them. Many of these organizations routinely overstep the bounds within which they are supposed to operate, especially for the purpose of maintaining tax-exempt status. Strictly enforcing tax laws against them would be a politically popular response which they could not argue against without undermining their stated political positions. Left-wing activists are no strangers to hypocrisy, but the extent of their exposure in recent years is a novel development. Using the IRS and DOJ against left-wing organizations would be a rare use of such powers to defend liberty.

The more radical leftists would join the communist terror group Antifa in the streets, calling Trump’s defiance of the courts the act of a lawless regime and responding with their own lawlessness by attacking innocent people and destroying property. But Antifa has already been found wanting as soon as counter-demonstrators showed up to confront them, and another surge on their part will likely be met by more anti-leftist mobilization of both police and private defense organizations. Violent suppression of the radical left would ensue, which is a necessary prerequisite for a stable social order. Meanwhile, Trump would be able to use such events to portray himself as the sane man against insane opponents.

Aftermath

Should such a move lead to Trump’s impeachment and removal, the American people would be sent a clear message that even a moderate change of course will not be allowed to take place by working within the political system. Thus, solving longstanding problems and moving toward a condition of liberty requires anti-political methods. The ruling class is almost certainly aware of where this strategic line ultimately leads them, so they are not likely to actually remove Trump from office. On a less extreme level, removing Trump would presently require the cooperation of at least 96 House Republicans and 19 Senate Republicans. This would endanger many of those members in their re-election bids, especially if Trump took an active role in funding and campaigning for their primary challengers. Finally, an impeachment effort that proceeds and fails at this point would cause the Democrats to lose even more political status, perhaps even making them a long-term minor party.

The greatest difficulty in determining the aftermath of Trump ignoring the courts is that enforcement agents within the relevant agencies may or may not side with him. The police response to incidents between Antifa and the alt-right indicate a potential conflict between rank-and-file enforcement agents and their commanders, which Trump could resolve in his favor in many cases by removing and replacing key subordinates in the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security. The most dangerous possibility is for a federal judge to have the US Marshals enforce an order against armed agents of ICE or another federal agency involved with homeland security, but the state physically attacking itself is a win for liberty. However, this is an unlikely result because everyone involved has an interest in preventing it.

The most likely outcome would be what happened in Australia when Prime Minister Tony Abbott faced similar circumstances. With a popular mandate to stop an influx of migrants after his predecessor attempted to do so and was overruled by the courts, Abbott stopped the migrants and ignored the courts when they attempted to overrule him. The judges backed down and the precedent that the executive gets to make decisions within the purview of the executive branch was set. American courts would likely react to Trump in a similar fashion, as the aforementioned escalation to one type of armed federal agent confronting another would be more damaging to the court’s prestige than retreating to the proper scope of the judicial branch.

Conclusion

Ignoring a federal court order is a dangerous proposition, but doing so has the potential to begin solving a larger and more pervasive problem than the current immigration situation. Judicial activism is responsible for much of the degeneracy in American culture and politics, including the immigration situation. Countering this is an ultimate imperative for those who would restore liberty. Though the travel ban is not a particularly libertarian undertaking in and of itself, the particular course of action recommended here is because of its wider implications.

A Perversion Of Service

Every year on Memorial Day, people visit cemeteries and go to parades in honor of those who died while serving in a government military. Those still serving in these militaries travel down roads normally reserved for civilian use, and the people that these military personnel ultimately oppress celebrate this fact. Meanwhile, politicians and the establishment press take the opportunity that a day devoted to deceased military personnel presents to promote statist propaganda concerning the nature of service and the provision of defense. The general structure of their propaganda narrative is as follows:

  1. We have freedom.
  2. Freedom and the rights associated with it are granted by the Constitution, the state, etc.
  3. Freedom is not free. This is because it is valuable, and valuables will be stolen by thieves and destroyed by conquerors if they are not defended.
  4. The state provides defense of freedom, and is the only means by which such defense can be provided.
  5. A society should revere its protectors, for they perform the functions that allow everyone else to do what they do in peace.
  6. Because of (4), government military personnel are those protectors.
  7. Because of (4), (5), and (6), people should revere the state in general and its military personnel in particular.
  8. Laying down one’s life to protect others is the highest cost that one can pay.
  9. Because of (4), (5), (6), and (8), those who die in military service should receive the highest honor.

Of course, like any effective propaganda, this narrative is a mixture of lies and truth. After all, a complete lie is easy to spot, while a lie wrapped in truth that has gone unchallenged by empirical examples for centuries is well camouflaged. The best way to counter this narrative is to challenge it on a point-by-point basis, examining each aspect and the connections between them for logical fallacies. Let us do this now.

Freedom

First, the statist asserts that we have freedom. Attempts to define freedom are rarely made by those who invoke it in this sense, for to do so would undermine their case irrevocably. However, we may proceed with the dictionary definitions of “the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action,” “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants,” “absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government,” and “the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved.” In the presence of the state, none of these are possible. The state is a group of people who exercise a monopoly on initiatory force within a geographical area. When people initiate the use of force, they are imposing necessity, coercion, and constraint in choice or action upon their victims. The laws that government agents create and enforce infringe upon the right to act, speak, or think as one wants by punishing behaviors which do not aggress against any person or property. Though the state does occasionally prevent foreign domination, it does this with less efficiency and effectiveness than could private defense forces, and states tend to become more despotic over time. The state imprisons and enslaves millions of people. Those who are left somewhat free are not in such a condition for their own benefit and flourishing, but because it produces superior results from the perspective of human livestock management. That we cannot have freedom under current conditions puts the entire narrative in jeopardy, but let us continue our examination.

Rights

The claim that rights are either a grant from a government or are protected by a government is the second step in the narrative. Leftists favor the former position and rightists favor the latter, but both can easily be shown to be in error. A right is defined as “something to which one has a just claim,” “a moral or legal entitlement to have or do something,” and “the sovereignty to act without the permission of others.” Whether or not a claim is just is independent of whether a government is present. Statists may contend that the absence of government means that there is no final arbiter of the justness of a claim, but there is no such thing as a final arbiter of disputes. Regardless, the truth value of a claim is independent of whether anyone recognizes its truth value, or even whether anyone exists to recognize its truth value. A moral entitlement to have or do something must be argued from first principles; it cannot be granted by a government. A legal entitlement may be granted by a government, but only because a government has forcefully suppressed any competing providers of law and order within its claimed territory. A state apparatus, by its very nature, infringes upon the sovereignty of its subjects to act without its permission through its legislation and enforcement mechanisms.

Moreover, the belief that rights must involve the state occurs because the state has corrupted the meaning of rights. Rights are supposed to be exercised through one’s own action without conferring any positive obligation onto someone else, but statists use the word to refer to a claim upon someone else’s life, property, and/or labor. These so-called “positive rights” are invalid because the state violates the negative rights of other people who are forced to provide for these positive rights.

Loss Prevention

That freedom is valuable, and thus vulnerable to destruction and theft if left undefended is true. But there is a non sequitur fallacy between this step and the belief that the state is necessary for the provision of such defense. In fact, the truth is just the opposite. Besides being the primary culprit behind the destruction of freedom, the state cannot possibly provide for the defense of freedom. As a compulsory monopolist of protection, the state charges what it wishes and uses force to prevent anyone from hiring a competing provider, going into business for oneself, or doing without. A threatening protector is a contradiction of terms, which in any context not involving the state would be appropriately recognized as a protection racket. Again, whatever benefit the state provides is done not to serve the people, but to serve itself. To whatever extent the state enjoys defense, its subjects are imperiled, for whatever means of defense the state has constitute potential means of offense against the people.

Reverence

That a society should revere its protectors is true. The problem comes with the belief that government personnel are the protectors of society. As shown previously, the state cannot provide defense for the people because it is a continuous threat against the people. Since the state is composed of people, it follows that those people cannot be responsible for defense in any absolute sense. They can only defend against other potential sources of exploitation so that the state may have a monopoly over the exploitation of the people. As such, reverence for the state in general and its military personnel in particular is misplaced unless it truly is the least of the evils. Fortunately, this is not the case.

Admittedly, there are no empirical examples of a free market of private military companies providing military defense services in lieu of a government military. A major reason for this is that governments will use as much force as necessary to keep such an idea from being tested, as its success would doom the state by depriving it of its most essential monopoly. Without a monopoly on military force, the state would cease to exist, as the response of the people to its taxes and laws would be to point military-grade weapons at its agents and tell them to stand down or be fired upon. That they are so fearful of such an attempt being successful indicates that even they believe it can work, and if anyone should have the deep knowledge necessary to make such an assessment at present, it should be them.

Without empirical examples, we must logically deduce our way through. The presence of a monopoly with involuntary customers necessarily leads to inferior quality of service and higher costs, as the monopolists need not provide superior quality of service and/or lower cost of service vis-à-vis a competitor. The opening of provision of military defense to a free market of competing service providers must therefore lead to an increase of efficiency, which in practice means superior quality of service and/or lower cost of service. There is no reason why the market should fail to provide a service that is strongly desired by everyone for everyone (except for a few criminals, who want it for themselves but not for their victims), to the point that most people will tolerate the oppressions of statism just to obtain a counterfeit version of it.

The most common criticisms of competing private defense companies are that they will fight each other, that they will lead to rule by warlords, and that they will become a new monopoly on force. Rule by warlords and monopoly on force describe the situation under statism, so if the worst-case scenario is that eliminating government militaries just gets us another government military, all other cases must turn out better than this, making these into powerful arguments in favor of privatizing military defense.

This leaves the concern that the private service providers will fight each other. We must recognize that the current service providers do fight each other, which caused roughly 100 million deaths in the 20th century. As such, the bar of service quality that private military defense providers must exceed is set quite low. Fortunately, private military defense providers would be limited in ways that government militaries are not. A private service provider must bear the cost of its own decisions, and engaging in aggressive wars is more expensive than defensive actions only. A company that sells war is thus at an economic disadvantage against a company that sells peace. Without the government monopoly on legal services granting immunity to private soldiers as it does to government soldiers, the private soldiers would be subject to the criminal punishments made prevalent by the private defense forces in the area in question in addition to vigilantism by individuals. The agencies that decide to fight also must take care not to damage or travel on ground held by customers of other agencies, as this would be considered trespassing, and a trespasser with an intent to murder others in a war is a trespasser who may be killed in self-defense. Thus one could expect to see every private property owner not involved with the warring agencies taking actions to destroy both sides of the conflict whenever they occupy land that is not owned by their customers. With no state to forbid ownership of certain types of weapons, the private property owners would be much more capable of stopping military hardware than they are now. There is no guarantee against such a fight, but there are enough incentives working against it to consider it a remote possibility.

Given the superiority of private defense markets compared to government militaries, the state is not the best option. Thus, we may put aside feelings of reverence for it and its military personnel.

Sacrifice and Honor

It is true that one’s life is the highest cost that one can pay, and that laying it down in defense of family and friends is the greatest sacrificial love that one can display. It does not follow that those who die while serving in a government military have done this. Many people volunteer for military service because they believe that this is what they are volunteering to do. Unfortunately, despite their best intentions, this is not the true nature of their actions. Contrary to statist propaganda, the state does not work for the people, for if this were the case, then the people would be free to fire the state, cease paying for it, and either hire someone else, go into business for themselves, or try to do without. Because the state does not work for the people or, as shown previously, provide defense for the people, those who die in its service are not due the honor of those who lay down their lives to defend others.

It must be said here that just because fallen members of a government military are not due honor, it does not mean that they are due dishonor. Like most other people, they are propagandized to the point of saturation by government schools, churches, establishment media programming, and recruitment advertising. Recruitment personnel then do their best to sell them the military life while making light of the arguments discussed here, if they even acknowledge them at all. The majority of people in a government military are not intentionally evil, but are victims of fraud and lies. The proper response, then, is to attempt to educate living military personnel and those who would follow in their footsteps rather than to engage in displays of disrespect toward the dead (or, for that matter, toward the living).

Conclusion

The desire to protect and serve others is commendable, but a government military offers only a perversion of service. Authentic service of others must be accomplished not through a top-down, coercive, centralized, territorial monopolist like the state, but through the bottom-up, voluntary, decentralized, competition of the market economy. While the state makes defense impossible for its subjects in an absolute sense, there is every reason to believe that private service providers can accomplish this critical task.

Self-defense is one of the most fundamental rights, and the most important personal responsibility, as the abdication of this responsibility endangers all other rights and responsibilities. Of course, there is nothing immoral about hiring help for such a basic need, but the decay of the role of the militia in society has created a vacuum that has been filled by government militaries. The troops are ultimately in the position they are in because too few of us do what is necessary to provide for our own defense and counter statist propaganda. It is therefore because of the selfishness (in the form of risk aversion with respect to confronting aggressors) and irresponsibility of most of the people in the modern West that soldiers are joining government militaries and sacrificing their lives at the behest of politicians in the first place. Until the people right themselves, true defense and service will remain unknown to us.

Strategy Against Antifa: 2nd Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Islamic Exceptionalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4/5

Song Lyrics: Stickman

This song is written in honor of Kyle Chapman, better known as Based Stickman. He bravely engaged communists in battle on March 4, 2017 in Berkeley, Calif. He was then arrested and charged with several felonies for defending protesters from street hooligans when the police would not. He has since been bailed out and has become a folk hero, appearing on several libertarian and nationalist podcasts. The song does not fit well with my vocal range, but I may attempt to record this anyway.

[To the tune of Spoonman by Soundgarden]

[Verse 1]

Antifa enters the fray
(Based Stickman will save the day)
Stickman
Policemen stand down and watch
(Save us from the Red assault)
Stickman

[Chorus]

Stickman, shield and stick are in your hands
Help us, we’re together with your plan
Help us
Help, oh

[Verse 2]

Volunteer to save our rights
(Based Stickman is our alt-knight)
Stickman
Cops try to put him away
(Their cells can’t keep him at bay)
Stickman

[Chorus]

Stickman, shield and stick are in your hands
Help us, we’re together with your plan
Help us
Help
Help us
Help us, yeah
Help, with your

[Bridge/Guitar Solo]

C’mon x12
With your shield
With your stick
With your
C’mon x4
Stick

[Interlude]

Good night to Antifa x8

[Chorus]

Stickman, shield and stick are in your hands
Help us, we’re together with your plan
Help us
Help, help us
With your, with your stick

[Outro]

Communists come ’round again
(More Stickmen will follow him)
Stickman

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