The Not-So-Current Year: 2017 In Review

Though the specific demarcation of the passage from one year into another is a rather arbitrary social construct, it does provide a useful annual period for self-examination and remembrance. Now that 2017 has entered the history books, let us take a look back at a year’s worth of essays and review the not-so-current year.

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

I began 2017 by addressing a recurring story throughout the 2016 election campaign; that of Russia hacking the DNC and phishing Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s email system. I argued that Russia would have been justified in doing not only this, but in actually altering the election to cause Donald Trump to win. I would later use this piece as an example in a guide on how to argue more sharply in order to throw opponents out of their comfort zones. The story lingered on, so I published a sequel detailing the benefits of a Trump-Russia conspiracy. The left’s activities after the election became ridiculous, so I decided to give them some free advice.

My first list of 25 statist propaganda phrases and some concise rebuttals was a major hit, so I started planning a sequel. I had no intention of taking almost two years to compile 25 more statist propaganda phrases to refute, but better late than never, I suppose.

Donald Trump became the 45th President of the United States, which of course meant that Gary Johnson did not. I explored in detail what was wrong with Johnson’s campaign that made him not only lose, but fail to earn 5 percent of the vote against two of the least popular major-party candidates ever to seek the Presidency. Once Trump was in office, the responses to his trade policies among mainstream analysts led me to explain why many of them are politically autistic.

Book reviews have long been a part of my intellectual output, but I decided to start doing more of them in late 2016. This trend continued throughout 2017, as I read and reviewed The Invention of Russia, The Age of Jihad, In Our Own Image, Come And Take It, Against Empathy, Level Up Your Life, Islamic Exceptionalism, The Science of Selling, Closing The Courthouse Door, Open To Debate, Calculating the Cosmos, The Art of Invisibility, Libertarian Reaction, and The Euro.

Antifa grew from a nuisance that rarely affected anyone other than neo-Nazis into a serious threat to anyone who is politically right of center and/or libertarian who wishes to speak in a public venue. A comprehensive strategy to defeat them was necessary, and I was happy to provide one. Kyle Chapman grew weary of Antifa’s antics and led the effort to take up arms against them, becoming known as Based Stickman. I praised him in song. After the events of February, April, and May Day, I revised the strategy.

The Walking Dead comic series and the television show based on it contain many themes which are of interest to the student of libertarian philosophy. I explored the many ways in which Negan’s group resembles a state apparatus. The first part covers the sixth season of the show, and the second part covers the first half of the seventh season. At least three more parts will come next year.

‘No Particular Order-ism’, or the belief that libertarians should take whatever reduction in the size and scope of government they can get, has become common among the more radical members of the Libertarian Party. I explained why this approach is misguided.

White nationalist and alt-right leader Richard Spencer was present in the bar of the Marriott hotel that hosted the International Students For Liberty conference. This did not go over well with Jeffrey Tucker, who loudly denounced Spencer, after which security removed everyone from the bar. I wrote about the incident and the philosophical underpinnings of it.

Sometimes, the lens of examination is best turned inward to correct one’s own missteps. Such was the case for an article I wrote in 2014 about the nature of fake libertarianism, so I published a revision.

Theories concerning the creation, acquisition, trade, inheritance, and defense of private property form much of libertarian philosophy. The role of conquest in the determination of property rights had gone largely unexplored, so I decided to remedy the situation.

Terrorism struck in London on the anniversary of the Brussels attacks. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

I argued against more amendments to the United States Constitution, namely the Second and the Eleventh.

A chemical weapon attack occurred in Syria, which led to US intervention via a cruise missile strike. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

Keynesians and others who support fiat currency and central banking frequently claim that there is not enough gold in the world to back the quantity of currency in existence, and thus returning to gold would set off a deflationary spiral while destroying several industries that depend on gold. I debunked that claim.

On the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, I applied ethical theories to the event to gain a deeper perspective of what happened and the aftermath of the event.

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. I made the case that in order to do this, it may be necessary to temporarily do the opposite.

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

Fashion trends can be a useful barometer of the health of a society. I explained how the trend of clothing that is designed to mimic the appearance of wear and work for those who think themselves above the sorts of activities that would produce these effects naturally indicates that a revolution may come soon.

Memorial Day provides an opportunity to promote statist propaganda concerning the nature of service and the provision of defense. I decided to do the opposite.

The immediate danger standard says that using force against someone who is not presenting a physical threat at the exact moment that force is used constitutes aggression, and it has become far too commonly advocated in libertarian circles. I explained why it is wrong and why it has gained prevalence.

On June 14, James Hodgkinson opened fire on several Republican members of Congress and their staffers while they were practicing for the annual Congressional Baseball Game for Charity. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

The Supreme Court ruled against the stays on Trump’s travel ban, but he missed a greater opportunity by letting them decide rather than ignoring the courts. I explained how and why.

Political rhetoric has grown increasingly heated, with violence erupting as a result. I showed how democracy is the root of this problem and how abolishing democracy is the solution.

The meme of throwing one’s political rivals out of helicopters has become popular among certain right-wing and libertarian groups in recent years. Unfortunately, people from all over the political spectrum tend to misunderstand the historical context of the meme, and thus interpret it incorrectly. I wrote an overview of this context and explained why helicopter rides may not be the best option.

I welcomed Insula Qui, the first additional writer for Zeroth Position, in July. He provided two articles to keep the site going while I was preparing for, participating in, and recovering from the Corax conference in Malta. A piece describing the problems that led to the call for net neutrality and recommending against more state inteference in the Internet came first, followed by a critique of common libertarian strategies to date. Speaking of the Corax conference, a revised version of my talk may be found here, as they own the rights to the original. A topic that came up in the talk that needed further comment is that in the discussion of proper behavior beyond the basics of libertarian theory, right-libertarians in general and libertarian reactionaries in particular will use the term ‘degeneracy,’ but they do not always properly define the term. I attempted to do so.

In the August 2 episode of the Tom Woods Show, he asserted that libertarians and fascists are completely contradictory political perspectives and could never be combined, and that when one embraces fascism, one must have relinquished one’s libertarianism, as there is no other solution that would make sense. Qui countered these assertions and delved deeper into the relationship between libertarianism and fascism than I had previously, which is not as inimical as one might think.

An alt-right rally in Charlottesville, Va. on August 11-12 turned violent, with three deaths and about 20 injuries. I wrote a list of observations on the events. In response, the large technology companies of Silicon Valley, which have become increasingly hostile to right-wing and libertarian content creators over the past decade, ramped up their censorship efforts. I proposed a novel and radical plan to deal with this problem so as to avoid public utility regulation.

I welcomed Benjamin Welton, our second additional writer, in September. I had meant to write an article about using the historical concept of outlawry to deal with violent illegal aliens myself, but time constraints led me to outsource the project. He then explored several historical examples of private military defense, finding that something novel must be created in order to defeat the state and maintain a libertarian social order.

In the wake of two major hurricanes, the usual complaints about price gouging were made yet again. I explained why price gouging is actually beneficial.

Qui wrote a piece about the limits of the applicability of libertarian philosophy, explaining that humans can fall into the categories of personhood or savagery, and that it is important to deal with each accordingly.

Catalonia held a referendum to secede from Spain and become an independent nation on October 1. This was met with force, and much hostility ensued. I wrote a list of observations on the events.

Qui examined the role of the modern concept of citizenship in advancing a particularly insidious form of totalitarianism.

On October 5, the New York Times published an opinion column by Michael Shermer in which he argued that the rule of law is a bulwark against tyranny, but guns are not. I thoroughly rebutted his arguments.

Welton explored the history of judicial corporal punishment, then made a case for restoring its use as a replacement for imprisoning lesser criminals.

The debt ceiling became a political issue again. As it incites financial panic for no good reason and hides important truths from common view, I advocated for its elimination on formalist grounds.

Capitalism and consumerism are distinct phenomena, with the latter caused by high time preference, which in turn is caused by the flaws inherent in modernity. Qui explained this at length.

I welcomed Nathan Dempsey, our third additional writer, in November. He runs a project called Liberty Minecraft, and wrote an introduction to the project.

The relationship between libertarianism and racial politics has become a controversial issue in recent years. Views on the issue run the gamut from complete opposition to imperative alliance, with nearly every conceivable position between being advocated by someone noteworthy. Many libertarians either provide the wrong answer or are afraid to address the question, so I decided to address libertarianism and support for ethnic nationalism.

Black Friday is revered by most libertarians as a celebration of free-market capitalism. I updated my explanation of why this reverence is misplaced. I weighed in on holiday shopping again due to some misguided criticism of computer programs designed to scalp popular gifts. Finally, I detailed the problems with Santa Claus.

Qui offered a message of hope in dark times by demonstrating how the socialists and anti-capitalists of today are not usually as fanatical as those that the early libertarians opposed, then offered advice on how to argue against them. He quickly followed this with an explanation of his concept of autostatism, which closely echoed one of the other presentations from the Corax conference. He then dealt with traditional views on degenerate behavior, and how a compassionate, non-enabling approach is necessary.

Due to surging exchange rates, the opening of Bitcoin futures, and the likelihood of Bitcoin exchange-traded funds in the near future, there is renewed mainstream interest in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. There are benefits of cryptocurrencies which will be cheered by political outsiders to the chagrin of the establishment, and I listed eight of them.

Qui finished out the year by explaining why individualism and nationalism are not as incompatible as many people believe.

All in all, it was an interesting year full of occasions to make sharp libertarian and reactionary arguments. May 2018 bring more and better. Happy New Year!

On The Relationship Between Libertarianism and Fascism

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

Examining Premises

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

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

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

The Premises of Fascism

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

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

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

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

The Conclusions of Fascism

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

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

Libertarianism and Fascism

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

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

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

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

Book Review: 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