On The Relationship Between Libertarianism and Fascism

In the August 2, 2017 episode of the Tom Woods Show, Woods talks about the moral outrage of left-libertarians and their tendency to call other libertarians fascists, Nazis, or whatever other insults they can muster. To follow up these complaints, he asserted that libertarians and fascists are completely contradictory political perspectives and could never be combined, alluding to the “libertarian fascists” and libertarians with fascist sympathies. He also said that when one embraces fascism, one must have relinquished one’s libertarianism, as there is no other solution that would make sense. In the historical sense of fascism, libertarian fascism is a contradictory term. A person who is a libertarian cannot actually and fully consider themselves a fascist in that sense, or vice versa. However, we can treat libertarian fascism as a placeholder term for a broader ideological shift toward a synthesis of libertarianism and fascism. We may also consider how a private property owner in a libertarian society could have a fascist structure within the bounds of private property.

Examining Premises

The first mistake that Woods (and many other libertarians) make is to assume that the combination of different ideological perspectives is dependent on policy and not the fundamentals of their philosophy. From this, Woods implies that fascism is about centralization and boundless idealism, while libertarians accept people as they are and favor decentralization. Some more simple-minded people also think that fascism is about authority and state power while libertarianism is the complete opposite. This may be true when we look at policy proposals, but policy cannot be the arbiter of ideological coherence or ideologies themselves. We need to analyze the premises of different ideologies if we are to analyze how compatible these ideologies are. This is necessary because ideologies are fundamentally systems of thought and analysis flowing from basic premises. A person using an ideology is a person looking at the world in a certain way and proposing policy positions from that set of value judgments.

To illustrate this, let us consider the example of Milton Friedman. Milton Friedman is claimed by both libertarians and neoliberals as representing their ideologies. This means that both libertarians and neoliberals see Friedman as using their methods of analysis and looking at the world in the same manner that they do. But here we find a contradiction; there appears to be a problem if we are to place neoliberalism and libertarianism on a scale of politics. First, we have to establish that there is a connection between Rothbard and Friedman when it comes to libertarianism; that is, that one could draw a straight line from Rothbard to Friedman and it would naturally follow from their ideological positions. This may be done; one can see that both men respect property rights, advocate for reducing the size of the state, and wish to increase the freedom of the market. But one must also draw a line from Hillary Clinton to Friedman, as they are both neoliberals. Both are cosmopolitan, fairly progressive, and advocate for a sort of economy that is not only free but also open. Although they differ in their degree of state intervention, one can ideologically connect Friedman and Clinton.

But there is a problem, in that no such connection is present between Rothbard and Clinton. There is no consistent line that could connect Rothbardian thought with Clintonian thought. Their philosophies and perspectives are mutually exclusive. There is no principled alliance or synthesis between them; only alliances of convenience may exist. However, when it comes to Friedman, there may be a synthesis between these ideologies. Both Rothbardians and Clintonians will have their criticisms of Friedmanites, but Friedman’s position is palatable for both neoliberals and libertarians. This is because Friedman used both the premises of neoliberalism and the premises of libertarianism. He analyzed the world in a way that followed from the neoliberal desire for openness and personal freedom and the libertarian desire for self-determination and liberty. We can boil down these two positions to this: the neoliberals want looseness while libertarians want property. Neoliberals tend to favor whatever makes national identity, economic policy, or social cohesion looser. Libertarians tend to favor whatever makes property rights stronger, whether it be self-ownership, non-aggression, or property rights in external objects. Coming from both perspectives, one would both appreciate property rights and self-determination but also a loose society without national identity or strong social norms, and this explains the desires of left-libertarians. Friedman was first and foremost an economist, so we see more of the propertarian side of him, but he was also a neoliberal.

The Premises of Fascism

We have already established that the libertarian premises are self-ownership, non-aggression, and property rights. Libertarians tend to favor whatever increases the power of the property owner over his justly owned property. But what do the fascists take as their premises? Contrary to popular belief, it is not opposition to property or to personal liberty. No fascist regime has ever gotten rid of property and the personal liberty question has only been a policy proposal, not something most fascists believe in strongly. There are some fascists who are against property, but they are few and far between and have never had a strong presence in a notable fascist government. In fact, most fascist governments suppress these left-wing variants. In fiction, some fascists are opposed to personal liberty on principle, but these are not reflected in reality; the closest real approximation are people who believe that control is necessary for virtue. But in that case, the premise is virtue rather than control, as the fascist does not want control for the sake of control. To really understand the fascists, we need to look at fascist movements.

In Italy, there were the national syndicalists that eventually became the fascists. They believed in creating a pseudo-syndicalist economy that combines worker interests and business interests to reduce class conflict. They also believed in strengthening Italian society and creating an incredibly traditionalist social order. The Nazis shared the second point, but they wanted an economy where there is comparatively stronger property and there are more capitalistic structures, but on the condition that these structures benefit the nation. In this form, national socialists treat property owners as trustees given property by the nation to take care of the wealth and resources of the nation. We can see many other movements that hold themselves to be both anti-communist and anti-capitalist, but eventually, end up with what we would call a fascist economic policy.

Other movements were somewhat different. The Francoists come from the more orthodox Falangist position, and they are outliers because Franco eventually liberalized the economy and created a more free market than many people would have favored originally. Though Hitler privatized multiple industries, this was nothing compared to the Spanish miracle. The Greek military coup lead by Papadopoulos constantly referred to their movement as being explicitly temporary, however, the attempts of liberalization by Papadopoulos were shut down by other people within the government. It is impossible to know how Greece would have developed if these liberalizations had occurred, but the government was overthrown and Greece eventually became a leftist mess.

One could include Pinochet and use the Chilean miracle as another example of success, but fascists often consider Pinochet to be a sellout, and it is not entirely clear whether Pinochet was actually a fascist or simply a paid CIA operative; an anti-communist or globalist agent. Finally, one can look at the American Nazi party. They are certainly fascists, but they are also constitutionalists. They want to return to the founding documents of the United States, and support sound money and free markets. This contradicts the common image of fascism, and thus may befuddle any libertarian who has not analyzed the premises of fascism.

The Conclusions of Fascism

What all these movements had in common was the ultimate goal of creating a better nation. This meant creating a world where the destructive forces that were threatening to the nation could not take hold and the nation could prosper. They all wanted a society and an economy based around the nation, which they believed would create a better life for the people within that nation. One can see how the policies of all these movements actually follow from the nationalism that fascists take as their ultimate premise. Many say that fascists have no coherent economic policy, but this is untrue. The economic policy of fascists is and always has been to strengthen the nation. The 20th century was marked by a struggle between Marxist world socialism and liberal world capitalism. The Marxists agitated the workers while the liberals agitated the middle and upper classes, creating an immense class conflict that fueled revolution and chaos. The fascists in the early 20th century came along and attempted to create an economy that would work both for the upper and the lower classes, an economy where the workers would get what they think they deserve while the capitalists could keep their capital and use it productively. To do this, they wanted the state to have control of the economy to make sure that no one is exploited (at least, by any entity other than the state) and that everyone will work for the nation to ensure a lack of parasitism for greedy or materialistic purposes (again, outside of the state itself). When this was shown to be unsustainable, the smart fascists shifted to a policy of privatization. This happened under Hitler and Franco to various degrees; they ultimately let go of some state property and handed it to people who used it productively. The Nazis were not ready to give up their desires for the aesthetic advancement of the German people, so they needed to expand their empire to fuel their faulty economy, but some privatization still took place.

The social policy of fascist regimes has always been to make sure that the nation is sustainable and that the nation does not slide into degeneracy. From this follow positions against promiscuity, homosexuality, drug use, and whatever else people do in order to derive hedonistic pleasure at the expense of a healthy society. It also has a strong connection to the view that traditional family structures should be the basis of society, meaning that incentivizing motherhood and the creation of strong men to take care of the women is proper for sustaining the nation. This explains the ethnic element of fascism, as all nations are ultimately determined by the genetic stock of their people and the historical condition where the people have developed. Furthermore, this explains why anti-Semitism is present in historical fascist movements, as fascists tend to view Jews as a hostile minority with disproportionate influence that works to undermine the nation with moral degeneracy and financial manipulation while refusing to assimilate into the host nation.

Libertarianism and Fascism

First, from the premises of libertarianism, fascism is a lesser evil than left-wing socialism. Fascism undoubtedly preserves property more than left-wing socialism does, thus fascist sympathies cannot be construed as completely anti-libertarian. But one cannot take as ultimate goals both nation and property, as the conflicts between these goals would have to be solved by means of arbitrary decision. This means that libertarianism and fascism cannot be combined as ideologies because their premises are different. One may combine republicanism, minarchism, monarchism, anarcho-capitalism, etc. into a broad political movement, as the premises of these positions are sufficiently similar. But there is no way to create a big tent movement that can accurately represent the interests of both fascists and libertarians; the premises come into too much conflict.

Second, there is some value in the notion of being a fascist politically while being a libertarian philosophically. This is a position that some people are becoming more and more sympathetic towards. Left-libertarians like to refer to these people as “helicopterists,” so we can use that term to describe this position. What these people tend to believe is that a military dictatorship is necessary or beneficial if we are to establish a libertarian social order and that we cannot simply transition to absolute liberty without first making sure that policies are implemented to push society toward that goals. These people often argue for violent suppression of leftists, which is not what libertarians traditionally favor, and for a general purge within society that would result in favorable conditions for the formation of a libertarian society.

Third, libertarians may take nationalism as a premise and fascists may take property as a premise, even thought these cannot be their ultimate premises due to the aforementioned conflicts. Fascists may advocate for free-market economics insofar as it increases the health of the nation, while libertarians may advocate for nationalism insofar as it strengthens self-ownership, private property, and non-aggression. In this manner, libertarians and fascists can find common ground by using common premises, and they can create a compromise that is palatable for both fascists and libertarians. We touched upon Milton Friedman earlier to show that it is theoretically and practically possible to embrace different premises even though the policy proposals may contradict themselves. Although there can be a degree of collaboration between libertarians who value the nation and fascists who value property, they will still ultimately be fascists and libertarians, respectively. The priority between property and nation determines with which camp people identify.

Finally, it is possible for a private property owner to administer one’s holdings according to the structure of a fascist dictatorship. Being the owner of property means having a right to exclusive control over it, including its governance structure. However, libertarian standards do not permit forcing non-aggressive people to come into such a structure or remain there against their will, so a libertarian running a fascist governance structure within private property will have to be far less oppressive than statist fascists in order to keep a regime populated. This kind of governance, which offers people no voice and free exit, has proven best at limiting state power throughout history. It would also be best for limiting the tyranny of the private property owner that so concerns critics of libertarianism.

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 Consideration Of Helicopter Rides

In recent years, the meme of throwing one’s political rivals out of helicopters has become popular among certain right-wing and libertarian groups. Unfortunately, people from all over the political spectrum tend to misunderstand the historical context of the meme, and thus interpret it incorrectly. Let us consider the backstory of helicopter rides in order to better understand their use, ethics, and utility.

Socialism in Chile

In 1970, Socialist candidate Salvador Allende became President of Chile, winning a plurality of votes and allying with the third-place Christian Democrats to gain the necessary majority to rule. He was the first openly Marxist head of state in a Latin American country to come to power through democratic means. The CIA and KGB both spent significant amounts of money to interfere in the election.

Once in power, Allende’s government took over control of large-scale industries, health care, and education. He expanded government theft and redistribution of land initiated by his predecessor Eduardo Frei Montalva, such that no estate exceeded 80 hectares (198 acres) by the end of 1972.[1] Payment of pensions and grants resumed, and social programs were greatly expanded. The arts became funded by the state. Diplomatic relations with Cuba were restored, and political prisoners were released. Price fixing for bread, wages, and rent occurred. Taxes on small incomes and property were eliminated. College was made tuition-free. The voting age was lowered to eighteen and literacy requirements were removed. Between October 1970 and July 1971, purchasing power increased 28 percent.[2] In that year, inflation fell from 36.1 percent to 22.1 percent, while average real wages rose 22.3 percent.[3]

Like all socialist experiments, the short-term results were good. But as Margaret Thatcher would later observe, “Socialist governments…always run out of other people’s money.” Government spending increased 36 percent from 1970 to 1971.[3] The national debt soared and foreign reserves declined. Declining prices in copper, Chile’s chief export commodity, only worsened matters. Black markets in staple foods emerged as rice, beans, sugar, and flour disappeared from store shelves. The Allende government announced its intent to default on debts owed to international creditors, including foreign governments. Strikes began in 1972, to which Allende responded by nationalizing trucks to keep truckers from halting the economic life of the nation. The courts intervened and made Allende return the trucks to their owners.

By the summer of 1973, Allende’s government was ripe for overthrow. On June 29, Colonel Roberto Souper surrounded the presidential palace with a tank regiment but did not succeed in overthrowing Allende. In May and again in August, the Supreme Court of Chile complained that the Allende government was not enforcing the law. The Chamber of Deputies accused Allende of refusing to act on approved constitutional amendments that would limit his socialist plans, and called on the military to restore order. Following embarassment and public protest, General Carlos Prats resigned as defense minister and commander-in-chief of the army, being replaced in the latter post by General Augusto Pinochet. Allende accused the Congress of sedition and obstruction, and argued that the accusations were false.

The Chilean Coup

On September 11, 1973, the Chilean Navy captured Valparaiso by 7:00 a.m. They closed radio and television networks in the central coast. Allende was informed of this, and went to the presidential palace. By 8:00, the army closed most broadcast stations in the capital of Santiago, while the Air Force bombed the remaining active stations. Admiral Montero, the Navy commander and an Allende loyalist, was cut off from communication. Leadership of the Navy was transferred to Jose Toribio Merino, who worked with Pinochet and Air Force General Gustavo Leigh in the coup. The leaders of the police and detectives went to the palace with their forces to protect Allende. Allende learned the full extent of the rebellion at 8:30 but refused to resign. By 9:00, the armed forces controlled all but the city center in Santiago. The military declared that they would bomb the palace if Allende resisted. Allende gave a farewell speech, and Pinochet advanced armor and infantry toward the palace. Allende’s bodyguards fired at them with sniper rifles, and General Sergio Arellano Stark called in helicopter gunships to counter them. The palace was bombed once Air Force units arrived. At 2:30, the defenders surrendered and Allende was found dead by his own hand.

Following the coup, the military killed around 3,000 leftists and imprisoned 40,000 political enemies in the National Stadium of Chile. Ninety-seven of those killed were eliminated by the Caravan of Death, a Chilean Army death squad that flew by helicopters in October 1973. The squad, led by General Stark, would travel between prisons, ordering and carrying out executions. The victims were buried in unmarked graves. This is one origin of the meme of helicopter rides, though squads other than Stark’s were responsible for the literal act referenced, having thrown 120 civilians from helicopters into the ocean, rivers, and lakes of Chile.

Peronism in Argentina

In 1946, Juan Perón of the Labor Party became President of Argentina. The majority of the Radical Civic Union, the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, and the conservative National Autonomist Party had formed an unusual alliance against him, but lost by 10 percent. His two stated goals upon becoming President were economic independence and social justice, but he had no serious plans to achieve those goals other than to attempt to hire the right advisors and underlings while refusing to side with the US or the USSR in the Cold War. Perón was intolerant of both leftist and rightist opposition, firing more than 1,500 university faculty who opposed him[4], shuttering opposition media companies, and imprisoning or exiling dissident artists and cultural figures.

Perón’s appointees encouraged labor strikes in order to obtain reforms for workers, which aligned large business interests against the Peronists. Upper-class Argentine’s resented Perón’s reforms, feeling that they upset traditional class roles. He nationalized the central bank, the railroads, public transport, utilities, universities, and merchant marine. He created the Institute for the Promotion of Trade (IAPI), which was a state monopoly for purchasing foodstuffs for export. Average real wages rose by 35 percent from 1945 to 1949,[5] while during that same period, labor’s share of national income rose from 40 percent to 49 percent.[6] Healthcare and social security were made nearly universal during Perón’s first term. GDP expanded by over 25 percent during this time,[4] which was largely due to spending the $1.7 billion in reserves from surpluses from World War II.

The economic success of Perón’s reforms would not last. The subsidized growth led to an import wave that erased the surplus by 1948. A debt of roughly $650 million owed by Great Britain to Argentina went mostly unpaid, further complicating matters.[4] The Argentine peso was devalued 70 percent between 1948 and 1950, leading to declining imports and recession. Labor strikes began to work against Perón, who responded by expelling the organizers from the unions and calling for a constitutional reform in 1949.

Perón faced no serious opponent for his 1951 re-election campaign, despite being unable to run with his wife Eva, who had fallen ill and would die the following year. Exports fell as low as $700 million in 1952, producing a $500 million trade deficit. Divisions among Peronists grew, and many of Perón’s allies resigned. He accelerated construction projects and increased rank and pay to top generals in an effort to reduce tensions. After Eva’s death, opposition to Perón intensified. On April 15, 1953, terrorists bombed a public rally of Perón supporters, killing seven and injuring 95. He responded by asking the crowd to retaliate. They responded by burning down the Jockey Club building and the Socialist Party headquarters.

In March 1954, Perón had to replace his Vice President, and his preferred choice won in a landslide. This, combined with stabilized inflation rates, motivated him to create new economic and social policies. This brought in foreign investment from automakers FIAT, Kaiser, and Daimler-Benz, as well as from Standard Oil of California. But Perón’s legalization of divorce and prostitution turned the Roman Catholic Church against him, which excommunicated him in June 1955. Perón responded by holding a public rally, and for the second time it was bombed, this time by Navy jets that fled to Uruguay afterward. 364 people were killed, and Peronists again carried out reprisals by attacking eleven churches. This led to the coup that ousted Perón on September 16, performed by nationalist Catholics in the Army and Navy led by General Eduardo Lonardi, General Pedro E. Aramburu, and Admiral Isaac Rojas. Perón barely escaped to Paraguay.

Resistance, Return, and Repression

Shortly afterward, Peronist resistance movements began organizing among disgruntled workers. Democratic rule was partially restored, but political expression for Peronists was still suppressed, so guerrilla groups began operating in the 1960s. Early efforts were small and quickly quashed, but more successful movements formed toward the end of the decade. The Peronist Armed Forces (FAP), Marxist–Leninist-Peronist Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), and the Marxist–Leninist Armed Forces of Liberation (FAL) were the three major players before 1973. The FAR joined an urban group of students and intellectuals called the Montoneros, while the FAL and FAP merged into the Marxist People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP).

In 1970, the Montoneros captured and killed Pedro Eugenio Aramburu, a military leader in the 1955 coup. In a few years, such events happened on a weekly basis, as did bombings of military and police buildings. Some civilian and non-government buildings were also bombed. Juan Perón returned from exile and became President again in 1973, and sided with the right-Peronists and the government against the left-Peronists. He withdrew support of the Montoneros before his death in 1974. His widow Isabel Martinez de Perón became President after his death, and she signed a number of decrees in 1975 to empower the military and police to defeat the ERP and other such groups. The right-wing death squad known as Argentine Anticommunist Alliance emerged at this time. Isabel was ousted by a coup in 1976, and the military took power. Up to this time, leftists had killed 16,000 people in their guerrilla efforts. The United States government financially backed the Argentine military, while the Cuban government backed the left-wing terror groups.

The juntas that held power between 1976 and 1983 repressed leftist dissidents, being responsible for arresting, torturing, and/or killing between 7,000 and 30,000 people. Many were Montoneros and ERP combatants, but others were civilians, students, left-wing activists, journalists, intellectuals, and labor organizers. Some of those executed were thrown from airplanes to their deaths in the Atlantic Ocean, providing another basis for the meme of helicopter rides. The worst repression reportedly occurred in 1977, after the guerrillas were largely defeated. The junta justified its action by exaggerating the threat and staging attacks to be blamed on guerrillas.

The “National Reorganization Process,” as it was called, failed in its efforts to suppress the left. As the roundup was overbroad, it sowed resentment. Some of those arrested had done nothing other than witness others being arrested in public places. Severe economic problems only added to civil unrest. The military tried to regain popularity by occupying the Falkland Islands, but their defeat by Britain in the Falklands War led them to step aside in disgrace and restore democracy.

Aftermath in Chile

In Chile, Pinochet remained in power until 1990. His 1980 constitution remains in effect, though significantly amended in 1989 and 2005 and slightly amended on eleven other occasions. In the 1990 elections, a coalition of democratic and socialist parties with the Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin at the head was successful. Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, the son of Allende’s predecessor, led the coalition from 1994 to 2000. The Socialist Party and Party for Democracy led the coalition from 2000 to 2010. The center-right National Renewal won in 2010, but the Socialist Party regained power in 2014.

During Pinochet’s rule, Chicago School economists influenced the regime to adopt free market policies. Despite the prevalence of leftists in power since Pinochet’s rule ended, many of his economic reforms have remained in place and the economy is among the freest in the world. Aylwin and Ruiz-Tagle increased spending on social programs and reformed taxes, but avoided radical changes. Chile managed to avoid serious impact from the Mexican peso crisis of 1994 by using capital controls.

Aftermath in Argentina

In Argentina, voters elected Raul Alfonsin of the center-left Radical Civic Union once democracy was restored in 1983. He both created a commission to investigate forced disappearances and passed an amnesty law that stopped the investigations until 2005. His administration was unstable due to friction with the military and economic issues, leaving office early to let Peronist candidate Carlos Menem take office early after winning in 1989. Though he privatized many industries that Perón nationalized, he expanded both executive power and the role of the state in the economy. He won again in 1995, but the Radical Civic Union was growing and a new alliance called FrePaSo formed. By 1999, all three major parties supported free market economics. UCR and FrePaSo allied behind Fernando de la Rua to defeat Peronist Eduardo Duhalde. After some resignations and turmoil, Duhalde would get his chance in 2002. He managed to bring inflation under control, then called for elections in 2003. This brought another Peronist, Nestor Kirchner, to power. He overturned the 1986 amnesty for members of the military dictatorship and oversaw a strong economic recovery. His wife, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, took over in 2007. She distanced herself from traditional Peronism after Nestor’s death in 2010, favoring instead the La Campora movement that reveres the Montoneros guerrilla group. In 2015, her party lost to Mauricio Macri and his Republican Proposal party, which was allied with the Radical Civic Union.

The governments from the 1930s to the 1970s used import substitution to increase industrial growth, but this came at the expense of agricultural production. Import substitution was ended in 1976, but growth in government spending, inefficient production, and rising national debt led to inflation problems in the 1980s. The government responded to inflation in the 1990s by auctioning state-owned companies and pegging the Argentine peso to the US dollar. De la Rua followed an IMF-sponsored economic plan to deal with the government budget deficit, but an economic collapse occurred at the end of 2001. The peso was devalued again, and recovery occurred by 2005. A judicial ruling in 2012 led to a selective default in 2014 that was resolved in 2016.

Contemporary Application

Now that the context from which the meme of helicopter rides emerges is understood, we may consider its potential application against contemporary leftist rulers and agitators. Helicopter rides for political enemies are a form of ultraviolence, which is the use of force in an excessive and brutal manner as a public display to make an example out of a particular person or group. This is done for the purpose of establishing dominance and suppressing rivals within a territory, from which peace and order may follow. Utilized correctly, this will break the spirit of resistance movements and solidify one’s hold on power, which will prevent further death and destruction that would otherwise occur from terrorism and civil war. If misused, whether by subjecting overbroad numbers of people to cruel punishment or by utilizing methods that the population deems to be completely beyond the pale, ultraviolence will create resentment that will resurface later as another, stronger resistance movement. Misuse will also have a negative psychological impact on the perpetrators, causing them to lose their humanity through the commission of needless atrocities.

The above examples of Chile and Argentina suggest that ultraviolence by rightists against leftists appears to be insufficient to counter the leftward slide that naturally occurs in politics over time. One possible reason for this is that a continual march leftward is the political variant of entropy, the physical process by which the universe becomes increasingly disordered and chaotic over time. If so, this would explain why all great civilizations eventually fall and all attempts by right-wing movements to use the state to advance their agendas fail to produce lasting change. Another potential explanation is that the state is an inherently leftist institution, in that the nature of the state is to allow some people to do with impunity that which would be considered criminal if anyone else behaved identically, and the nature of the left is to disrespect individual rights in favor of their view of the collective good. This meshes well with Robert Conquest’s second law of politics; any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing. A third explanation is that power does what it wants due to its inherent lack of accountability, meaning that a military junta has no real incentive to limit its removal of leftists to those whom have actually committed crimes. Thus, the use of helicopter rides naturally becomes overbroad when coupled with the state, and the distrust and resentment that fuels a revolution against the military government naturally follow.

Many alt-rightists who suggest the use of helicopter rides to eliminate their political rivals do not understand the above context with sufficient clarity. This leads them to long for the day when they get to pilot a massive fleet of helicopters that drops their enemies from staggering heights. For their stated goals, helicopter rides are a tool not fit for purpose, as the cost of helicopters, fuel, and pilots far exceeds that of other methods of physical removal. Helicopter rides as historically practiced also fail at performing ultraviolence, as rumors of helicopter rides pale in comparison to theatrical executions carried out in the public square on live television. The obvious retort that the victims should be dropped onto a hard surface in the public square is likely to fail by being too gruesome for the public to stomach. And ultimately, no matter how many leftists are killed, their ideas and the state apparatus to implement them remain. Overall, the alt-right approach fails because its adherents seek to use the ultimate enemy (the state) against the proximate enemy (the left) without any intention or plan to eliminate the ultimate enemy afterward, which results in long-term losses for short-term gains.

Moral Issues

While the alt-right seeks to misuse the practice of helicopter rides, libertarians and leftists tend to decry the idea as mass murder. The leftists will typically assert that the use of deadly force against someone who does not pose a deadly threat at the moment is murder. But the immediate danger doctrine, as it is known in legal circles, is a standard used by the state to perpetuate itself by creating an artificial demand for its functions of legislation, security, criminal justice, and dispute resolution while rendering the population dependent and irresponsible. Such a standard is not provable from first principles and is clearly at odds with libertarian theory on the use of force.

Libertarian theory allows one to use any amount of force necessary to not only defend oneself against aggressors, but to make people who refuse to perform restitution do so, to stop people who recklessly endanger bystanders, to reclaim stolen property, and to eliminate crime bosses and other unrepentant aggressors. While this does not allow for the full extent of the helicopter rides given by the militaries of Chile and Argentina, it can allow for statists who held power and those who carried out certain acts of aggression on their orders to be executed. Of course, rightists who wield state power (or libertarians who wield private power) in an overzealous manner against leftists would also be legitimate targets for helicopter rides if they kill people who have not committed crimes worthy of death.

A more appropriate libertarian use of helicopters is not to execute anti-libertarians by throwing them out, but to transport them out of a libertarian-controlled territory and warn them not to return. Exile and ostracism, after all, are perfectly legitimate exercises of property rights and freedom of association. Furthermore, removing people who advocate against the norms of a libertarian social order from a libertarian community is a necessary preservation mechanism, but such removal need not be fatal unless all reasonable efforts that do not involve deadly force have been tried without success.

Conclusion

There is a rich historical context behind the idea of helicopter rides for leftist agitators. Unfortunately, most modern advocates of such methods do not understand this context, which leads them to make recommendations which do not align with reality. Though leftists and some libertarians decry all uses of helicopter rides as murder, there are cases in which such acts are morally justifiable.

References:

  1. Collier, Simon; Sater, William F. (2004). A History of Chile, 1808–2002. Cambridge University Press.
  2. Zipper, Ricardo Israel (1989). Politics and Ideology in Allende’s Chile. Arizona State University, Center for Latin American Studies.
  3. Larrain, Felipe; Meller, Patricio (1991). The Socialist-Populist Chilean Experience, 1970-1973. University of Chicago Press.
  4. Rock, David (1987). Argentina, 1516–1982. University of California Press.
  5. Dufty, Norman Francis (1969). The Sociology of the Blue-collar Worker. E.J. Brill Publishing.
  6. Dornbusch, Rüdiger; Edwards, Sebastian (1991). The Macroeconomics of populism in Latin America. University of Chicago Press.

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.

Nine Observations On The Congressional Baseball Shooting

On June 14, James Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Ill. opened fire on several Republican members of Congress and their staffers while they were practicing at Eugene Simpson Stadium Park in Alexandria, Va. for the annual Congressional Baseball Game for Charity, which was held the next day. 20 to 25 Republican congressmen were present at the time. A ten-minute shootout followed between Hodgkinson and officers from Capitol Police and Alexandria Police. Hodgkinson died of his wounds, but not before shooting House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), Congressional aide Zack Barth, lobbyist Matt Mika, and Capitol police officer Crystal Griner, who was part of Scalise’s security detail. All were hospitalized, but are expected to survive. Scalise was the first sitting member of Congress to have been shot since Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was shot in 2011. Nine observations on these events follow.

1. A libertarian has no dog in this particular fight, even if this is not the case in a broader context. From a philosophical libertarian perspective, the state is a criminal enterprise. Its legislators give orders to commit acts that would be considered criminal aggression if anyone not involved with the state behaved identically. Its enforcement officers defend the legislators and carry out their orders, regardless of the morality of said orders. The lobbyists who engage government officials are thus seeking to secure unjust advantages for the interests they represent.

Although the people Hodgkinson attacked were legitimate targets for defensive force by libertarian standards, he was not motivated by a desire to defend himself and others against this cabal. Rather, he was a supporter of socialism who had a history of aggressive behavior with firearms. Before going on a shooting spree, he asked whether Democrats or Republicans were on the field, wanting to shoot members of a particular political party rather than members of the state apparatus in general. He sought not to attack the state as an institution, but to increase its size and scope.

Thus, there are no sympathetic characters involved from a libertarian perspective. It makes the most sense for a libertarian to pull for no one and hope for losses on both sides in such a case.

2. Calls to avoid politicizing this event are nonsensical. As an attack by a radical partisan against members of a rival political party, Hodgkinson’s actions are inherently politicized. Thus, calls not to politicize the shooting make as much sense as telling a person seated in a chair not to sit down.

3. Because the event is inherently politicized, the relevant question is how it will be politicized. A political narrative will be woven from the threads of this event, and rightists must choose whether they wish to be active in this role or to allow leftists to control the narrative. Republicans can allow this shooting to cow them into opposing the Trump agenda, or use the event to rally support for it. Everyone shot by Hodgkinson is expected to survive, but a death among the shooting victims would provide Republicans in general and Trump supporters in particular with a martyr. The question is whether they would be bold enough to use the memory of the fallen to advance a political agenda, something that has never bothered the left.

4. The reaction of Bernie Sanders was confused. In response to the shooting, Sen. Sanders (I-VT) spoke on the floor of the Senate, saying,

“I have just been informed that the alleged shooter at the Republican baseball practice is someone who apparently volunteered on my presidential campaign. I am sickened by this despicable act. Let me be as clear as I can be: Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms. Real change can only come about through nonviolent action, and anything else runs against our most deeply held American values.”

Sickened though Sanders might be, violence is apparently quite acceptable in our society. The state, of which Sanders is part, is an institution of violence. Thus, it is not violence per se that bothers him; rather, it is the possibility that the violence will no longer be unilateral and the fear that he and his ilk may be next. And of course, Sanders has done his own part to incite violence by advocating for the politics of envy. His statement that the belief that change through violent action is contrary to American values demonstrates a profound ignorance of American history. The United States was born in a violent revolution against Great Britain, expanded through violent conquest of Native Americans and others, and bonded together through violent suppression of the Confederacy. The truth about change and violence will be found not in the words of Sanders, but of Otto von Bismarck, who said, “The great questions of the time will not be resolved by speeches and majority decisions, but by iron and blood.”

5. Some leftists are incapable of rational thought concerning gun control. As usual, Democrats were quick to call for gun control measures and publicly wonder why Republicans would not support such measures. This, after Republicans were under attack by a gunman who was not disarmed by existing gun control measures while they were disarmed by those measures. Rationality would suggest that gun control was the problem rather than the solution. Had a special class of people not subject to gun control laws been absent, as they would have been without the presence of a high-ranking member of Congress like Scalise, no one would have stopped the bad guy with a gun.

6. Those who cannot use reason must learn by bitter experience. It is a shame that no Democrats were present to cower in the dugout with nothing more than baseball bats to defend against a rifleman. This is the kind of scenario that those who push for greater restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms seek to inflict upon the citizenry, whether they realize and/or admit to it or not. Just as the best way to stop a bully is to bloody his nose, the best way to change the behavior of errant legislators is to give them first-hand experience of life under the conditions imposed by their desired legislation.

7. Hodgkinson was radicalized by the establishment media. Since the election of Trump, leftist elites in Hollywood, New York, and Washington, D.C. have waged an unprecedented campaign of resistance against him, attacking everyone around him and showing no regard for basic decency. From Kathy Griffin posing with a bloody beheaded Trump effigy to a rendition of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar with Trump being assassinated to media personalities wishing for Trump’s death to Madonna ruminating about blowing up the White House, the left has been sending an unmistakable dog whistle to its most extreme elements. Just as Islamic State puts out radical material and counts on the few who might act upon viewing it to engage in violence on its behalf, the leftist media seeks this kind of result against Republicans in the age of Trump.

8. Shooting legislators makes sense in a democratic republic. Hodgkinson only had one vote as a Democrat in Illinois, and that vote was not only statistically unlikely to alter an election result; it was completely useless against 434 House members and 98 Senators. Had police not stopped him, his bullets would have done far more to advance his objectives than his ballots ever could, being effective where his votes were meaningless.

There are many things that a legislator cannot do after being killed, but the most important things one cannot do are vote and make public statements concerning important issues. Although anyone Hodgkinson would have killed would almost certainly have been replaced by another Republican, the replacements would always have the killing of their predecessors in the backs of their minds, which would have a chilling effect on their votes and public statements.

For a fringe extremist who had lived the majority of his life expectancy, was out of work, was living in his vehicle, and was increasingly frustrated by a political zeitgeist that was moving away from his worldview, Hodgkinson acted in a perfectly understandable manner according to the circumstances of representative democracy. He sacrificed himself for his cause and, had he been successful, would have eliminated several percent of his political enemies in Congress.

9. Calls for civility will not last, nor should they. The leftist establishment has done everything in its power to push its fringe elements to engage in political violence, all while hiding behind the euphemism that they support a diversity of tactics. From Hodgkinson to Antifa, they have gotten their wish. For far too long, there has been an imbalance of political terror in Western nations, with the statist left consistently on offense and rightists and libertarians consistently on defense. Until this balance is restored, the left will continue their efforts to destroy liberty and put all non-leftists in physical danger. It is for this reason that rightists and libertarians should rebuff calls for civility and prepare for war.

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.

Book Review: Islamic Exceptionalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4/5

Book Review: Against Empathy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4.5/5

On Sharp Argumentation

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

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

Accepting Absurdity

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

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

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

Discomfort Zone

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

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

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

Enough Versus Too Much

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Book Review: The Invention of Russia

The Invention of Russia is a book about the history of the Soviet Union and the formation of modern Russia by Russian journalist Arkady Ostrovsky. The book focuses on the time period of the rule of Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, and Vladimir Putin. Special attention is paid to the role played by the media in shaping narratives and steering the population from the Soviet era to the present.

The prologue deals with the author’s experience during and immediately after the assassination of Boris Nemtsov on February 27, 2015. He briefly overviews events over the past few decades that factored into Nemtsov’s murder, and the author’s experiences through those years are also discussed.

The book proper is divided into two parts, each with five chapters. The division between the parts is roughly set at the 1993 Russian constitutional crisis. The first chapter begins with the end of the Soviet Union, then backtracks to give the reader a sense of Soviet history up to Gorbachev’s rise to power, with emphasis on the events that foreshadowed it, such as de-Stalinization and the crushing of the Prague Spring. The second chapter covers the time from Gorbachev’s appointment to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The nature of perestroika and glasnost are discussed, as well as how the Chernobyl incident affected both. Later in the chapter, Ostrovsky details the split between the liberal reformers and the Stalinist hardliners, as well as the beginnings of the privatization of state assets which formed the class of Russian oligarchs. The third chapter explores the final two years of the Soviet Union, including the economic difficulties, the rise of Yeltsin, the worries of the KGB and other elements of the Soviet power structure, the January Events in Lithuania, and the 1991 Soviet coup attempt. The fourth chapter looks at the role played by the media in the dissolution of the Soviet Union and how the generational shift from the shestidesiatniki to their children affected the changes. The Kommersant newspaper is highlighted as an example of the new Russian media, as well as one of several examples of less than honest business practices in the early 1990s, which occurred due to the moral vacuum left by communism. The fifth chapter covers the time from the end of the Soviet Union up to the 1993 crisis, with particular attention to the role of television, radio, and print media in shaping the narrative and saving Russia from another Communist takeover.

The sixth chapter continues the discussion of the 1993 crisis, then moves on to the creation of NTV, Russia’s first Western-style television station. Of course, NTV had to compete with Channel One and other state media, which caused tensions with the state when NTV covered the first Chechnya war from the Chechen point of view. The chapter concludes with the 1996 election, in which the media played an essential role in bringing Yeltsin up from single-digit polling to a victory over Gennady Zyuganov, his Communist challenger. The seventh chapter continues with the events after the election, including a battle between oligarchs that turned into a political crisis, continued troubles with Chechnya, the search for a vision for Russia moving forward, and finally, the 1998 Russian financial crisis.The eighth chapter shows how this milieu combined with NATO airstrikes in Serbia and an overly propagandistic media was able to elevate an obscure KGB agent named Vladimir Putin to the presidency of Russia. The decision of most of NTV’s leadership to side against this was the beginning of the end for the station. The ninth chapter covers the time from the beginning of Putin’s rule to the invasion of Ukraine in 2014, including the ouster of several high-profile opponents of the regime, the bringing of NTV into the control of Gazprom and its gradual turn toward the regime, further trouble with Chechen terrorists, the Russo-Georgian War, and the activities of various media personalities. The tenth chapter looks at Putin’s rule in light of Russian popular culture, the rise of the bureaucrat-entrepreneur, the protests of 2011-13, the military operations in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, and the use of propaganda to manufacture support for foreign aggression.

The book is excellent at face value, providing a perspective that can only come from a native person who lived through many of the events described in the book. But it is even more valuable to libertarians and reactionaries for the obvious parallels between Russian history and the current state of affairs in the West, as well as for the warnings concerning the improper dismantling of government monopolies, as happened during the transition from the Soviet Union to modern Russia.

To conclude, the unique explanations of historical events and the focus on the role of the media in steering the ship of state make this book an invaluable addition to the collection of any activist, analyst, historian, strategist, or student.

Rating: 5/5