Authority, Anarchy, and Libertarian Social Order

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

Stateless In Somalia

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Case of Tudor England

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

He continues,

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

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

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

Chile and Singapore

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

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

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

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

Libertarianism and Reaction

Pendleton writes,

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

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

Final Arbitration

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of Rules and Rulers

Pendleton writes,

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

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

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

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

Mischaracterization

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

The Definition of Liberty

Pendleton writes,

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

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

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

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

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

Rationalism and Empiricism

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

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

Conclusion

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

References:

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

On the Imbalance of Political Terror

The primary aim of politically active libertarians is to limit and reduce the size and scope of government, as well as to eliminate as much state power as possible. The means of doing this has consisted of forming libertarian political parties and think tanks, voter education efforts, and allying with members of major political parties on key issues. But a competent strategist must always subject one’s strategies to the available evidence. Over the past half-century, the state has grown tremendously in both power and influence, reaching into every aspect of our lives. This has occurred despite continuous activism in pursuit of the opposite result. It is thus time to consider a different strategy, one which may seem counterintuitive at first but which has far more likelihood of success than continued face-value efforts to limit state power.

Many libertarians and rightists have realized that the modern liberal democratic state is an inherently left-wing institution. Even the soi disant conservatives in such systems of governance hold positions on issues that would be far to the left of acceptable opinion in a traditional monarchy or stateless propertarian society. Whenever an authentic right-wing and/or libertarian movement does manage to take power in a democratic state, it does not last long. Whether by elections, assassinations, or coups d’état, its leaders are removed and its reforms are reversed in short order by establishment hacks who are incensed that anyone dared to disrupt their progressive vision. They then double down on leftism, accelerating the destruction of society, which leads some to believe that right-wing activism will always fail.

There are several explanations for this state of affairs, but there are four aspects of anti-progressive political movements which might be remedied to great effect. First, when libertarians and/or rightists gain political power, they tend to take a principled stand against using that power to reward their friends, punish their enemies, funnel money into their activist organizations, disrupt their opponent’s activist organizations, and engage in social engineering. But leftists have no such scruples about using the state as a weapon to advance their agenda, deftly wielding this dark power to push society toward their dystopian ideals.

Second, the left has gained a stranglehold on the institutions of power. Neoreactionaries refer to these collectively as the Cathedral. The Cathedral consists of bureaucrats, regulators, non-governmental organizations, the establishment press, and most of academia, which tow a nearly consistent party line. These are headed by and staffed mostly by people who share incorrect basic assumptions and perverse incentives which lead them to act in a manner threatening to both tradition and liberty. Though libertarians and rightists have had some success at gaining political figurehead positions, they rarely do any significant infiltration, restructuring, or demolition of the Cathedral. This means that the leftist establishment can continue pressing its thumb on the scales of demographics and public opinion, thus making future attempts at thwarting their efforts more difficult.

Third, leftists have shown themselves to be far more willing to engage in direct action, such as street violence, social harassment and stigmatization of their opponents, and economic ostracism. Though rightists tend to balk at the social disorder that such methods cause, and libertarians tend to dismiss such methods as anti-libertarian even when they are not, refusing to use a weapon that is in play and being used by the enemy is tantamount to willfully entering into a boxing match with one’s hands tied behind one’s back.

Fourth, few moderate leftists are willing to denounce the most extreme elements of their faction, silently acquiescing to rioters who have no respect for private property or even the lives of anyone who is remotely right-wing. Conversely, the right and the libertarians (or what passes for them) seem obsessed with respectability, purging anyone who leftists might deem beyond the pale from polite conservative/libertarian (or cuckservative/cuckertarian) society. While it would be best if both communists and neo-Nazis could be relegated to the fringes of society, it makes no sense to run out one’s most ardent and willing fighters if the other side will not do the same.

The combination of these four factors produces an imbalance of what may be termed political terror, which may be defined as the use of violence, threats, fear, and intimidation by one political faction in a society against its opponents. This imbalance strongly influences a wide range of activities throughout a society, including government legislation and regulation, business practices, media bias, academic curricula, and limitations on the free exercise of fundamental natural rights. All of these activities are skewed in a leftward direction because there is currently no fear that the right will engage in its own social engineering to offset leftist efforts. For the sake of both liberty and tradition, this must change. Let us now consider what forms this change may take.

Principles, Political Autism, and Realpolitik

The first problem is mainly the result of political autism on the part of libertarians, and insufficient ardency and/or authenticity on the part of rightists. Libertarians must come to understand that although using the state is not the ideal option, their apparent refusal to overthrow the state by force means that the state will remain in operation and be used by someone, which will be their enemies if it is not them. Rightists must come to understand that conserving the status quo is not only undesirable but impossible, if for no other reason than entropy. To have any hope of restoration without collapse, the right must push against progressivism and attempt to reverse the degenerative course charted by the left. Both must realize that a set of principles that leads to consistent failure is a set of principles worthy only of abandonment, and both must purge the leftist entryists from their ranks.

Let us consider what this may look like in practice by considering several examples. The IRS targeting scandal outraged many conservatives, and for good reason. The state’s revenue collection arm was being used as a weapon against the political speech of opponents of the then-current regime. Many congressional hearings were held, including the infamous Lois Lerner hearing. But as satisfying as it would have been to see Lerner behind bars (not that there was any serious effort to put her there), that would not be the best political strategy. It would be far more effective in the long-term for a Republican administration to use the IRS as a weapon to attack left-wing foundations and activist groups, deny them tax-exempt status, meticulously audit them, and prosecute any violations to the fullest extent of the law. Once that is done, Congressional Democrats would be far more likely to entertain proposals to abolish the IRS, their activist base having been on the business end of it.

Another ongoing debate concerns the limits of freedom of speech, especially on college campuses. Left-wing activists claim that anything to the right of Marxism is hate speech and must be silenced, following the teachings of Herbert Marcuse and Karl Marx himself on the subject. For now, most libertarians and rightists are insisting that the antidote to speech that one dislikes is more speech rather than less. Though some success is being had by showing up and speaking despite leftist protests, it may be more fruitful for libertarians and rightists to agree that freedom of speech may be overrated and seek to ban communist propaganda rather than hate speech. Such a ban should be as vague and fear-provoking as the hate speech laws which muzzle rightists, particularly outside of the United States. And of course, any non-critical discussion of hate speech would count as communist propaganda. The end goals of such a measure are both to suppress radical leftists and to show moderate leftists that any power they wish the state to have can and will be used against them when they are not in power, so limiting state power would be wise.

The use of the state’s monopoly on law to sue companies which are disfavored by leftists and allow them to settle lawsuits by donating to third party non-victims instead of helping people who have actually been harmed by those companies is a known problem. According to a recent report, the Obama administration effectively funneled $3 billion into the coffers of left-wing groups through such methods. This is part of the reason why large corporations can be counted on to side with the left on the various social issues of the day. Congressional Republicans argue that such an abuse of power should be stopped, and there is merit to that argument. But again, the more effective course may be for rightists to funnel such funding into their groups in order to balance the scales. This would both make leftists think twice about such tactics and provide an opening for libertarians, who could appeal to companies who wish to be free of extortion from both left and right. Meanwhile, large corporations would be less hasty to jump on board with the leftist agenda du jour, as they would have a backlash to think about when the right next comes to power.

That demographics are destiny is a fact clearly established by historical precedent. The use of immigration policy to alter the demographics of Western countries has been a leftist project for decades. Mainstream consevatives seek immigration reform, while populists like Donald Trump are willing to build border walls and restrict immigration. But this alone will not undo what leftists have done to the genetic stock of Western nations. If a libertarian immigration system is not an option, and no one is willing to do what would be necessary to make that option available, then immigration policy will remain a tool of social control which could be used by the right to counter leftist policies. This could consist of repatriating foreign arrivals, repealing birthright citizenship, and offering asylum to imperiled white people in sub-Saharan Africa to offset non-white third-world immigrants. The latter policy would be particularly effective at both angering the left while also demonstrating their hypocrisy and anti-white racism. The left would be less likely to use immigration policy to advance their agendas in future if the right shows a willingness to both reverse their maneuvers and make counter-maneuvers.

There are many more examples that could be discussed, but the general pattern should be clear. Reverse a leftist policy, then impose a counter-policy to further undo their efforts. Make life difficult for leftists, just as they have made life difficult for their political opponents. Stop adhering to rules which are designed by the left but never followed by them.

Besiege the Cathedral

The second concern is the result of decades, if not centuries, of leftist infiltration and commandeering of universities and media outlets, which have been the occupations of choice for sophists since the historical Cathedral in the form of the Catholic Church lost its formal secular power. The result has been generations of people thoroughly indoctrinated with leftist thought. Some of these people took bureaucratic and regulatory positions in government, while others founded and worked at leftist NGOs. This played a large role in shifting society leftward toward democracy, socialism, and communism. Fortunately, there is much that can be done to besiege the Cathedral, and some of it is already being done.

The root of the Cathedral problem is the government education system because it is there that the next generations of leftists are minted. Libertarians would seek to eliminate this system in favor of private alternatives, and they are not wrong in theory. The private alternatives which already exist should be promoted and encouraged, perhaps officially. National departments of education should be abolished in favor of local control of school curricula, and governments should be extricated from the student loan business. This would do much to reduce both the power and reach of leftists in academia. But as long as government schools and universities exist, some political faction is going to use them to promote their agendas and employ their members. If rightists and libertarians can infiltrate such institutions and take over teaching positions, they will be able to prevent future generations from being fed leftist propaganda. The power of the purse may also come in handy, as a right-wing administration could deny grants and other funding to professors who are clearly biased in favor of leftism while funding researchers in what are currently politically incorrect endeavors. Nothing would make leftists support private education and homeschooling like the possibility of their children being taught a reactionary curriculum.

The spread of dissident thought is far easier in the age of the Internet, and opponents of the progressive agenda have taken advantage of this opportunity. This must be done to an even greater extent, and attempts by the establishment to censor right-wing and libertarian content must be stopped. Free market methods of addressing this problem include crowd-funding and creating alternative social media platforms, and these methods have demonstrated some success. State power could help here by holding all companies that receive government funding to the standards of conduct that the government is supposed to follow, which (in the United States) means that most major social media companies could be given an ultimatum to stop censoring rightists and libertarians or lose all government funding and contracts. Alternatively, a right-wing administration could give illiberal progressives a taste of their own medicine by encouraging social media platforms to censor leftists instead of rightists. Finally, the state could be set against the establishment press by increasing taxes and regulations on them while granting a free hand to alternative media and independent journalists. These measures should be effective at disabusing leftists of the idea of silencing speech that they dislike.

Another obstacle is presented by NGOs, which will take whatever actions they can against the implementation of the strategies outlined in this article. It is best to shut down and ban NGOs in order to rid the system of their influence, as it is far easier to do this than to try to infiltrate them while doing everything else recommended in this article. Note that most of the activities associated with shutting them down and banning them would fall under some other recommendation made in this article.

Finally, the Cathedral could be weakened by restoring the power of the real Cathedral, i.e. the church. But in a society that is increasingly reliant upon reason and evidence while being increasingly skeptical of faith and divine revelation, this is highly unlikely to be implemented despite its historical efficacy of providing a check on state power. It is therefore more useful to stick to secular solutions to the problems at hand.

The Ground Game

The third disparity is caused by the very nature of the average right-wing activist versus the average left-wing activist, and this problem will be exacerbated by the solutions to the first two problems as leftists take to the streets to protest right-wing social engineering policies. The rightist is more likely to have a family to support, a job to worry about losing, and other such concerns than the typical Antifa member. This may change if the economy continues to stagnate, thus leaving more right-wing people out of work, keeping them from forming families, and pushing them in a revolutionary direction, but it remains a problem for now. Anti-communists are also far behind radical leftists in fundraising, organization, strategy, tactics, volunteers, and much else. The deep state is clearly in league with the leftists as well, seeing that the FBI would rather investigate patriot groups than communist rioters.

That being said, there are some recent successes on this front. 4chan’s /pol/ community has done an excellent job of identifying masked Antifa members so that they can be prosecuted for their crimes. In other words, Internet trolls are doing the jobs of government investigative and national security agencies for them. The Antifa loss in Berkeley, Calif. on April 15 has tempered their activity somewhat, as has the fact that the police there and elsewhere have begun taking the threat posed by Antifa more seriously. No longer are they being allowed to wear masks in public, which is already illegal in many places. The presence of firearms on both the Antifa side and the rightist side in Pikeville, Ky. on April 29 helped to keep the peace there, which was not a factor in Berkeley, Calif. or Auburn, Ala. Public opinion also seems to be turning against Antifa, despite the best efforts of the establishment press.

The trend is positive, but more must be done. More of the comprehensive strategy against Antifa should be implemented, especially declaring them a domestic terrorist organization. More lawyers and medical personnel are needed to get anti-communists out of jail and tend to any wounds they sustain. More security personnel are needed to make sure that libertarian and right-wing speakers are safe. Donors who can put their capital against the capital of George Soros and others like him are needed to provide funding for grassroots counter-terrorism. Above all, more libertarians and rightists must show up against the leftist hordes because they appear to behave far less dangerously when they are outnumbered.

However, it is important not to go too far in this regard. Just because Antifa makes violent threats to shut down events does not mean that we should also resort to terrorist activity, even if that would meet the lex talionis standard being advocated more generally in this article. Antifa also use explosives and other area-effect weapons, which should generally be avoided because they are likely to harm innocent bystanders. That said, it is necessary to walk up to the line, even if crossing it would be counterproductive. For example, descending upon a venue that is hosting a leftist speaker in order to heckle and disrupt the event would be fair game, as would informing the employers of Antifa members who have jobs of the nature of their employees in an effort to get them fired. Radical leftists use both of these tactics against their political opponents, so turnabout is fair play.

Unholy Alliances

The fourth problem is the result of leftist infiltration into right-wing and libertarian circles in the forms of neoconservatism and left-libertarianism. This has led to an obsession with respectability in the eyes of the left, which in practice can only mean conformity with leftist agendas. The problem began in earnest for the right with William F. Buckley’s purges at the National Review, and although it was always present at some level within the modern libertarian movement, Samuel Konkin bears much of the blame for this. One does not have to like white nationalists, fascists, or any other far-right group to realize that they are an asset in a street battle against the left and that however bad they might be, communists are even worse. Thus, the first order of business is to stop denouncing such people, at least until the left is either defeated or willing to denounce its violent extremists. Then, and only then, may the worst elements of the right be jettisoned. Second, those who insist on playing respectability politics and purging people toward that end must themselves be purged. The difficulty of this will vary widely, as leftist infiltrators vary widely in how much resistance to their agendas they must face in order to become sufficiently triggered to leave libertarian or rightist groups, but most will leave once it is clear that they and their ilk are no longer welcome. These two measures, if thoroughly implemented, should move the balance of the political scales away from the left and toward the center.

Response and Counter-Response

Leftists will respond to this new strategy from libertarians and rightists in one of three ways. Some will complain but take no meaningful action. These people may more or less be ignored. Some will come to their senses after decades of using the state as a means to their ends after seeing firsthand that, as the quote frequently misattributed to Thomas Jefferson goes, a government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take away everything you have. These people will suddenly appear to become libertarians, with degrees of sincerity ranging from zero to absolute. It is best to treat them as repentant sinners, accepting them for the moment but keeping a watchful eye on them for any relapses into leftist advocacy. But others will only be angered, hardened, and emboldened by such an approach. They will take to the streets and riot like nothing seen in recent times. The only solution to this problem is to violently suppress and physically remove them, as they are unrepentant aggressors who have proven incorrigible by lesser measures.

It must be noted that some elements of the right are enemies of liberty as well, and there is a significant danger associated with empowering them to defeat the left. But if history is any guide, even the worst authoritarian rightists cause no equal in death or destruction to that caused by communist regimes. Nor can they, as right-wing statists at least show some nominal concern for ethical norms of private property and non-aggression, even if they frequently violate those norms. Communists, on the other hand, seek to completely abolish these norms and accomplish their goals by any means necessary. It is thus a matter of priorities to physically remove communists first and then find a way to toss whoever our Pinochet might be from his own helicopter.

Conclusion

What is being advocated here will understandably make many right-wing and libertarian people uncomfortable. After all, this proposal moves in the opposite direction from where both generally wish to go, and both are rightly skeptical of the idea that anyone alive today is qualified to use state power to engineer society. But qualified or not, as long as that power exists, someone is going to be using it for that purpose. If no one is willing to do what is required to dismantle that power, then we are faced with the stark choice of using it when we get a chance or leaving it to the enemies of liberty to continually engineer society against us without meaningful counter-engineering on our part. If we cannot have non-aggressive peace with the left, then the only remaining options are the aggressive peace of mutually assured destruction or a political civil war between leftists and their opponents. The implementation of this proposal is guaranteed to provide one or the other. This concludes the proposal for restoring a balance of political terror.

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

Nine Observations on the Westminster Attack

On March 22 at 14:40 GMT, Khalid Masood, 52, drove a Hyundai Tucson vehicle into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge in London, killing three and wounding over 40 others. The vehicle then crashed into the railings outside the Houses of Parliament. Masood exited the vehicle, entered the grounds of New Palace Yard, and fatally stabbed an unarmed police officer. Armed police warned Masood, then fatally shot him. In response, Parliament was placed on lockdown and later closed for the day. The National Assemblies in Scotland and Wales suspended proceedings. Nine observations on this event follow.

1. Security personnel should not be unarmed. Matters of violence are generally decided by who is more able and willing to use force. As it was, the attacker brought a knife to a fight without guns, giving him a strong advantage that he used to terrible effect. If Officer Keith Palmer had been carrying a firearm, he could have stopped Masood before he got close enough to use his knife, as the armed police who arrived later did.

2. Citizens should not be unarmed. In the United Kingdom, access to firearms by private citizens is regulated by strict gun control laws. But criminals are defined by the fact that they disregard laws. As such, the only people who would have a gun in a legally disarmed society would be government agents and criminals (but I repeat myself). Had someone on the bridge been armed, they could have stopped Masood at some point before he reached the railings outside of the Houses of Parliament. Gun control did nothing to prevent the Westminster attack, nor will it do anything to stop the next attack. The politicians prefer it this way, of course; a well-armed populace has little need for the state to protect them and is much harder for the state to victimize.

3. Government prison systems do a poor job of rehabilitation. Masood had a lengthy criminal record, beginning with an arrest for criminal damage in 1983 and ending with knife possession in 2003. His convictions include assault with grevious bodily harm, possessing offensive weaponry, and public order offenses. A better criminal justice system may have been able to reform him, but the government penal institutions certainly failed to do so. In fact, the opposite occurred, as it was reported that Masood converted to Islam while in prison. Spread of Islamic radicalism in prisons is a known problem.

4. ISIS may be lying. In a tweet, ISIS’s Amaq News Agency said, “A soldier for the Islamic State carried out the operation in answer to calls to target the people of coalition states.” But it is in their interest to claim responsibility regardless of whether Masood had any connection to or drew any inspiration from ISIS, as doing so helps them to maintain relevance and prestige. Home Secretary Amber Rudd cast doubt over whether Masood was affiliated with ISIS, and analysts monitoring ISIS point to the lack of biographical information and operational specifics in the ISIS statement suggest a lack of direct involvement.

5. Islam is incompatible with Western civilization. Contemporary Western values include separation of church and state, equality before the law, and rational skepticism. All of these values are largely absent in the Islamic world. The reason that the West has these values is that a great amount of blood was spilled over their recognizance and defense. The Islamic world has yet to undergo the sort of reformation that Western society underwent, and the Quran is particularly hostile to the aforementioned innovations of the West.

Whereas immigrants from Eastern Europe to Western Europe or from Central America to the United States have different customs and traditions, they do have similar (though corrupted) legal and political systems. This makes those immigrants functional within the established systems, even if not as functional as the current populations. Muslim immigration, on the other hand, involves people who support a competing and adversarial worldview. Note that large percentages of Muslims wish to live under Sharia instead of Western common or civil law systems.

6. Preventing vehicle attacks before they start is likely impossible. There have been several incidents in which terrorists have driven vehicles into crowds of people, such as Nantes in 2014, and Nice and Berlin in 2016. Carrying out such an attack is far easier than other methods, in that there is no need to manufacture explosives, acquire arms and ammunition, or engage in multi-stage plots such as hijacking airplanes and crashing them into targets. Given that a terrorist could stay out of sight of the authorities, as Masood did after leaving prison in 2009

7. Successful attacks inspire copycats. One day after the Westminster attack, a French national of North African origin attempted a similar attack in Antwerp, Belgium. The vehicle was intercepted before it could hit anyone. Inside, police found bladed weapons, a riot gun, and a container filled with an unidentified liquid. The Westminster attack was itself carried out on the one-year anniversary of the Brussels bombings. As many attacks are attempted on anniversaries of previous successful attacks, it would be wise to increase security measures on those days.

8. Terrorist attacks make sense in a democracy. A system which does not grant the public a political voice, such as absolute monarchism or anarcho-capitalism, gives terrorists far less reason to kill members of the public, as there is little need for the monarch or the private landowners to listen to whatever calls for action that such an attack may prompt from the public. Conversely, a democratic system politicizes the masses like no other. It explicitly codifies the idea that everyone who is allowed to vote has some degree of political power. This means that targeting civilians becomes useful for promoting political change, both in the form of denying the vote to those who are killed and in the form of coercing the survivors toward a terrorist’s desired political changes. Furthermore, the voters are viewed by the victims of a state’s foreign policy as bearing responsibility for the crimes committed against them by agents of that state, thus causing terrorists who are motivated by vengeance to target civilians. For fringe elements of a society, voting will probably never get them what they want, as they simply lack the numbers to accomplish anything. But terrorism allows them to compensate for this by voting for their extremist causes multiple times over all of the elections that their victims would have otherwise lived through and voted in. While we cannot abolish terrorism by abolishing democracy, it would be a step in the right direction.

9. We should not expect anything to change unless we make it change. Through terrorist attacks in Orlando, Brussels, Paris, and Beirut, the response has generally been for people around the world to hashtag “Pray for Wherever” on Twitter, change their Facebook profile pictures to incorporate the flag of the attacked nation, and do little else. Meanwhile, governments do not change the policies that both encourage terrorists to strike and give them access to their victims. Thus, the terrorists win, which may be exactly what the politicians want. Until the people of Western nations demand real solutions under threat of taking matters into their own hands otherwise, citizens will continue to live with the fear and uncertainty of Islamic terrorism.

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 Age of Jihad

The Age of Jihad is a book about political unrest in the Middle East by Irish journalist Patrick Cockburn. The book is a compilation of his notes and articles over a 20-year period (1996-2016) while traveling throughout the Middle East. Cockburn did direct reporting where possible, and relied upon first-hand accounts when venturing into certain places was too dangerous.

Cockburn begins with his reporting from Afghanistan in late 2001 as the United States began its intervention to remove the Taliban from power. Next, he shares his experiences of Iraq under sanctions from 1996, 1998, and 2001, followed by his experiences there during the American occupation from 2003 to 2010. This is followed by his next forays into Afghanistan from 2009 to 2012.

The next part of the book focuses on the Arab Spring and the events that followed, with particular emphasis on countries in which the rulers were not quickly deposed. Cockburn begins with the Libyan Civil War of 2011 that removed Muammar Gaddafi from power, along with the difficulties that followed. Sectarian violence in Yemen from 2009 to 2015 and the failed uprising in Bahrain in 2011 each get a chapter.

The last part of the book covers recent developments in Syria and Iraq. First, the Arab Spring in Syria and its development into the Syrian Civil War from 2011 to 2014 is discussed in two chapters. Another two chapters are devoted to the contemporaneous destabilization of Iraq. This culminates in the rise of ISIS and the establishment of the Caliphate, in and near which the final four chapters take place.

The book gives important insight into just how terrible daily life is for people in war-torn lands, including the near-absence of basic utilities, shortages of essential items, rampant unemployment, and fear of mistreatment both from rebel groups and one’s own government. The book is filled with anecdotes of behavior which have not been seen since the Renaissance in the West, and knowledge of this behavior helps to explain animosity toward migrants from that region. The reader may be familiar with some of the events described, but almost anyone would find new information somewhere in the book.

One comes away from the book with a sense that both Western and regional powers had to be trying to perform so poorly. Western powers sought to punish Saddam Hussein without regard for the Iraqi people who bore the brunt of sanctions. They ignored cultural attitudes and sectarian divisions while turning a blind eye to mass corruption that greatly weakened the nation-building projects in Afghanistan and Iraq. They removed dictators who were stabilizing forces, thus creating power vacuums which were filled by al-Qa’ida and its affiliates. It is difficult to be so maliciously incompetent without intending to do so.

Overall, Cockburn does an excellent job of conveying the reality on the ground in most of the conflicts in the War on Terrorism and the Arab Spring. The only real improvement would be to add sections on recent events in Egypt and Tunisia, which only get passing mentions as sources for jihadists in other places. The Age of Jihad belongs on the bookshelf of any serious student of recent history, the Middle East, revolutions, war, and/or the effects of foreign intervention.

Rating: 5/5

The Political Autism of Anti-Protectionism

There is a certain species of policy analysis which exhibits many of the symptoms which are commonly found among high-functioning autistic people. Among these symptoms are an inability to understand context, a troubling need for routines, an obsession with particular topics, difficulty with abstract thinking, difficulty in understanding other perspectives, a lack of empathy, an inability to process social cues, repetitive use of set phrases, and an inability to identify or think about groups or shared interests. Analysis that suffers from some (or even all) of these shortcomings can be found all over the political spectrum, but it seems to come disproportionately from libertarian thinkers.

The rise of Donald Trump has brought a protectionist view of trade policy back to the forefront for the first time in decades. Naturally, this gives libertarians pause, as protectionism violates individual liberties, is economically inefficient, and gives more money and power to the state. In a textbook-style vacuum, free trade is both more libertarian and more beneficial than protectionism. But to stop there and fail to address the relevant current conditions would be politically autistic by way of context denial. Thus, it is necessary to examine how protectionist policies can make sense in certain contexts, as well as the problems with supporting a policy of free trade in all circumstances.

On January 26, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer floated the idea of a 20 percent import tariff on goods coming from Mexico as a means of funding a border wall. This prompted outrage from the establishment media, along with claims and analysis showing that Americans would pay the tariff rather than Mexico because Mexican products would be more expensive for American consumers as a result. This would be true if all else were equal, but this is not the case.

The Context

Mexico already has import tariffs which can be as high as 140.4 percent and average 13.97 percent. For Mexico to tariff US goods while the US does not tariff Mexican goods puts American companies at a disadvantage. While the libertarian may note that smuggling to evade the tariff would be a morally acceptable response, this is not feasible on the level necessary to conduct a national economy. Revolution to abolish the governments that impose the tariffs would also be morally acceptable, but this is likewise unfeasible, at least for the immediate future. Eliminating government interference in the economy that makes it harder to do business domestically is another option which is better than protective tariffs, but doing so to the extent and with the quickness which would be necessary is unlikely. The next best option, then, is for the US government to respond with an equivalent counter-tariff to attempt to even out the discrepancies caused by another state’s tariffs, with an aim toward negotiating abolition of the tariff on both sides.1 Given that 81.2 percent of Mexican exports for a worth of $309.2 billion go to the United States and 15.7 percent of US exports for $236.4 billion go to Mexico, the threat of a trade war clearly gives leverage to the United States. Peter Navarro, who heads the White House National Trade Council, said as much to CNNMoney:

“The tariff is not an end game, it’s a strategy…to renegotiate trade deals. Tariffs wouldn’t put U.S. jobs at risk.”

It is important to remember that much like nuclear weapons, the primary purpose of tariffs is not to be directly utilized, but to alter the behavior of other states by serving as a deterrent. The threat of a trade war by way of tariffs and counter-tariffs helps to keep the economic peace, just as peace through mutually assured destruction does with nuclear weapons. A response to another nation’s tariff to gain leverage against it is the secondary purpose, as explained earlier. Those who fail to account for this are exhibiting political autism by engaging in context denial.

The Analysis

A 20 percent tariff would discourage Americans from buying Mexican products. This would also raise the cost of goods which are currently provided at the lowest cost by Mexicans. The increase would not necessarily be 20 percent; to illustrate this, let us consider a simple example. Suppose that avocados from Mexico currently cost $1 each, while equivalent avocados grown in California cost $1.10 each. The tariff makes it so that initially, the Mexican avocados increase to $1.20 while the California avocados remain at $1.10. Initially, the American consumer pays 10 percent more but switches to the California source as much as possible. This diversion of funds from Mexico to California allows the Californian producers to make investments to improve their techniques and expand their operations, which will lower the cost of their products over time, potentially even below the $1 level that consumers originally paid to Mexico.

Whether this is a superior outcome for the American consumer depends upon a variety of factors, such as the available farmland in each location, the weather patterns over the next several years, the intelligence of American agriculturalists versus Mexican agriculturalists, and so on. What is known is that as few Americans as possible will be paying the tariff to the US government, and as many as possible will instead pay only part of it to American producers. This will not create net jobs, but it will have influence over where jobs will be created, which will give some American consumers more money to spend. The inability to think abstractly to get beyond the basic free trade position is an example of political autism.

Rationalism, Not Empiricism

Many economists will attempt to argue for free trade on empirical grounds, but this is a flawed approach. Economics is not a science, but an a priori discipline akin to logic and mathematics. The logical truths of economics can be illustrated by using empirical examples, but the discipline itself is not data-driven.

Most empirical cases for free trade rely upon David Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage. But comparative advantage makes several starting assumptions which are not always true, such as non-diminishing returns, the presence of multiple trade commodities, inelastic demand, domestically mobile labor, and internationally immobile labor. Although the available evidence suggests that free trade raises living standards, increases purchasing power, and accelerates economic development, these studies suffer from both the cum hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy and the absence of counterfactuals for each case. This is not cause for dismissal, but it is cause for suspicion. A proper case for free trade must rest on logic, not observation.

Although free trade usually provides more net benefit than protectionism in the long run, people do not live in the long run; they live their lives and feel economic pain here and now. Furthermore, a net benefit does not mean that each individual person benefits; only that the sum of all benefits and malefits is greater than zero. It may be the case that a minority sees great gains while a majority suffers somewhat smaller losses, and this would explain why a democratic system would produce protectionist policies. Political autism manifests here in the form of the lack of empathy for those who are harmed by free trade in the short-term, the difficulty of understanding their perspective, and the inability to think properly about individuals versus groups.

Trump And Adaptation

The desire for protective tariffs among Trump supporters fits into a larger picture. Following Trump’s election, many leftists have criticized Trump supporters as being unwilling or unable to adapt to a changing world, and Trumpism as a reaction to that changing world. But an organism faced with a changing environment has three options: fail, adapt itself to the environment, or adapt the environment to itself. Most species are almost exclusively capable of the former two options, but humans are uniquely capable of the latter option. In seeking to reverse unfavorable societal trends, Trump supporters are doing something uniquely human and perfectly understandable. A libertarian may question their methods, but their motives make sense. Those who oppose Trump but express a desire to understand the other side would do well to consider this point.

Conclusion

There are good reasons to oppose protectionism in the abstract, but to simply state these reasons and fail to appreciate the context in which protectionism is advocated is an example of political autism. In theory, there are better courses of action, but these options are not always feasible. The threat of tariffs as a means to deter other states from imposing tariffs is an important tool for deterring trade wars, and a nation that refuses to consider such a deterrent is at a disadvantage against other nations that have no such scruples. The empirical case for free trade, while intriguing, is not true for all people in all circumstances, and does nothing to help those who have lost their livelihoods to foreign competition. In a perfect world, no protectionism would be justifiable, but that is neither this world nor the world of the immediate future.

Footnotes:

  1. Note that the use of barriers to free trade as a negotiating tactic is nothing new in US-Mexico trade relations. When Mexico tried exporting avocados to the US in the 1990s, the US government resisted at first, but gave in when Mexico started erecting barriers to US corn exports. The end result of using counter-barriers against barriers to free trade in this case was freer trade.

How The Left Can Still Win The 2016 Election

So, dear leftist, it is 2017. The current year, as it were. Donald J. Trump occupies the Oval Office, and the “her” you were with does not. All of the accusations of bigotry and threats of violence you could muster were simply not enough to sway people who were hurting economically and were tired of being talked down to by the likes of you. Your massive street demonstrations against the election result after many of you never made it to the polls only earned you derision and scorn. Your plan to throw the Electoral College to the House of Representatives by convincing electors to vote against the results of democratic elections in their states actually cost the Democratic candidate more electoral votes than her opponent. Your protests at the certification and the cabinet hearings have only gotten you physically removed from the Capitol building. Your actions at the inauguration have resulted in many of you facing significant prison time for felony rioting. I know it must be difficult to lose one dream (socialism) after another (the first female president), but all hope is not lost. You still have options, and believe it or not, this libertarian reactionary is here to help.

If you wish to live in a world in which Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, or some other left-wing candidate won the 2016 election, your only options now are to go back in time and alter the results or to go to an alternate universe in which the person of your choice is President. These could very well be equivalent, for reasons we will discuss later. Of course, this amounts to election tampering and voter fraud, but when has that ever bothered the left? Everyone knows that you only really believe in democracy when it gives results that you like. Although no one has yet accomplished backward time travel or inter-universal travel, general relativity does appear to allow for it. You are going to need far more knowledge of mathematics and science than your major in gender studies and minor in queer literature gave you, but why let this stop you? You are a special snowflake, and you can do anything if you just believe in yourself.

You may encounter difficulties in obtaining funding, as Trump and Congressional Republicans would never appropriate funds for their own retroactive removal from power. Being out of political power, you will have to subject yourself to market forces by funding your project through voluntary means and providing investors with a reasonable return. Being a productive capitalist will go against your beliefs, but consistency is of no concern for a leftist, especially when serving the greater purpose of removing “Literally Hitler” from power.

There are four ways to accomplish time travel into the past, go to another universe, or both: faster-than-light travel under certain conditions, use of cosmic strings, use of black holes, and use of traversable wormholes. Each of these methods requires a form of exotic matter with negative energy density to avoid infinities and imaginary numbers in the calculations, but it may be that the insanity of leftist thought is caused by the presence of such substances in the brain. Additionally, the Casimir effect might be able to produce the negative energy density needed to power a time machine or traversable wormhole. If finding what you need becomes a problem, just demand that the exotic matter check its privilege. I am sure that it will do as you ask, since reality is just a social construct for you.

On second thought, the time travel idea might not work. If you go back in time and make a Democrat win the election, you will remove the reason for time traveling, along with the knowledge that there ever was a reason. This means that you will not time travel because you will have no motivation for creating your time machine, thus undoing all of your work. Another possible mechanism for the avoidance of temporal paradoxes is the many-worlds interpretation. In this view, you would not be preventing Trump’s election in this universe, but in another parallel universe that is branched off from this universe by your interference.

We are left with the idea of using a traversable wormhole to go to another universe where you can live under your leftist ruler of choice. Alternate reality may seem like a stretch, but you already live there in your mind; we are just making it official. I know, I know, you want to stay and fight. But given that the most radical elements of your coalition are going to keep escalating their violence until most non-leftists cheer a brutal crackdown on all of you, and none of you seem willing to rein them in, you are not safe here.

I ask only one thing in return. In whatever alternate universe you choose or create, there will likely be people there who disagree with you. Please let them travel in the opposite direction through whatever portal you open. You are getting your own universe; at least give us this one (or whatever new one is formed by their exodus here) in return. You say you believe in fairness and justice, and what could be more fair and just than a one-for-one trade? And should not an open border work both ways?

But let us be realistic. The technology required to do this is decades away at the earliest, and may turn out to be impossible. So sit back and enjoy the Trumpenführer’s time in office. There are many reasons to oppose him, but that is true of every President. Perhaps the institution itself is the real problem, but you are a leftist, so that is a bridge too far.

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