Why Price Gouging Is Good

When a natural disaster strikes, it is almost guaranteed that there will be yet another uproar about price gouging. Media pundits will take to the airwaves to virtue signal against people who would dare to exploit disaster victims. Government officials will use the crisis to score political points by portraying themselves as defenders of the common people against greedy capitalists. But how accurately does this reflect reality? Let us explore the nature of price gouging to see the economics of such a situation and explain the behavior of journalists and state agents.

Economic Forces

In order to intelligently approach the concept of price gouging, one must first define it. Price gouging is a sudden, sharp increase in prices that occurs in response to a disaster or other civil emergency. Though this defines the act well, it does not explain the mechanisms behind it. When a disaster approaches, there are certain goods that people wish to acquire in greater quantities than normal, such as clean drinking water, non-perishable foods, wooden boards for protecting windows, and so on. If supply is held constant, then this sudden increase in demand for such goods will produce a sudden increase in their prices.

If left unhindered by the state, this upward pressure on prices will produce important benefits. First, it serves as a signal to producers and distributors of those goods that more supply is needed. The producers and distributors thus learn where their goods are most urgently in demand, allowing them to engage in mutually beneficial transactions with disaster victims. This is how free markets are supposed to function in order to meet the needs of customers.

Second, price gouging encourages proactive preparations. A potential business model for a firm is to invest in equipment that allows it to operate when a disaster would otherwise force it to close, and use the proceeds from price gouging to amortize the cost of the equipment. This helps consumers by allowing them to purchase goods at higher prices rather than be left without essential items during a crisis.

Third, price gouging provides an important benefit by conserving the fixed amount of resources which are present before more deliveries can be made to the disaster area. The higher cost of scarce goods disincentivizes people from buying up supplies that other people need, thus helping to keep the items in stock. This keeps scarce resources from being wasted on marginal uses, directing them toward their most valued uses and the people who most need them instead.

Markets And Malice

Unfortunately, not every instance of price gouging is so benevolent. Business owners who seek to exploit vulnerable people in order to make money do exist. But engaging in such behavior in a free market produces a short-term gain followed by a long-term loss. In a pure capitalist environment, reputation is everything for a business. Whatever profits may come from gouging disaster victims in the present will be more than outweighed by the sales that one will lose in the future because of the damage that this does to one’s brand. After all, most people would view such behavior as adding insult to injury and vote against it with their wallets. Though it is impossible to accurately count sales that do not happen, to dismiss this effect as nonexistent is to commit the broken window fallacy.

Enter The State

Most people are economically illiterate, so they tend to focus on the malevolent type of price gouging and be unaware of the benevolent type. In a democratic state, this has predictable results. Politicians and other government agents will frown upon price gouging and seek to punish anyone who they believe to be engaging in it. But it can be difficult to distinguish the natural effects of demand spikes and limited supplies upon price from the efforts of greedy exploiters of disaster victims, especially for government officials who are too far removed from the disaster area to be intimately familiar with the economic dynamics there. Thus, all price gouging is suppressed by the state, and while this may protect a few people from exploitation, it causes more harm than good by disrupting the market signals which would have informed producers and distributors that their goods need to be sent to the disaster area. The end result is that scarce goods are depleted and not replaced, leading people to once more blame the market for failing them when the actual cause of their shortage was a government failure.

Suppression of price gouging has several deleterious effects. First, by placing price controls on goods, the state deprives entrepreneurs of the profit motive to bring additional supply to the disaster area. Without state inteference, people who live outside of the disaster area and are willing to travel there in order to bring supplies could charge enough for their goods to recover their travel costs and be compensated for the inconvenience of spending time in a disaster area, all while making enough profit to make such a venture more attractive than other economic opportunities. Price gouging laws remove such action, leaving only state agencies and altruistic private groups to provide aid. Note that like all government regulations, price gouging laws are subject to regulatory capture by the largest businesses.

Second, removing the incentive for proactive preparations makes untenable the business model for operating during a disaster described above. Third, removing the conservation effect of price gouging forces business owners to sell goods below their market-clearing price. This incentivizes hoarders to buy more than they need and scalpers to buy goods for resale. The existence of scalpers also makes desired goods more difficult to find, as resellers will be more difficult to locate than established stores. Thus, laws against price gouging do not eliminate the practice, but rather shift it from primary markets to secondary markets and cause a different set of people to profit. Taken together, these effects result in artificial scarcity that makes conditions in a disaster area even worse.

A Pair of Razors

Given the clear case in favor of price gouging, one may wonder why so many people in positions of political power rail against it. Reece’s razor suggests that we look for the most cynical explanation when attempting to determine a motive for state policy. No other possibility prioritizes the self-interest of politicians and their minions over the lives and properties of citizens quite like the idea that government officials want to suppress the natural response of markets in order to make government disaster relief agencies look effective and necessary, thus justifying their existence and expansion, so Reece’s razor selects it.

However, it is not in the rational self-interest of elected officials to increase the suffering of disaster victims who are capable of removing them from office in the next election. A better explanation is offered by Hanlon’s razor, which says that one should not attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity. In this view, government officials are not trying to increase the harm done during a disaster; they simply know no better because they are just as economically illiterate as the electorate, if not more so. This razor is a better fit for the available logic and evidence.

Conclusion

It is clear that price gouging has an important economic role in ensuring that goods both go to those who need them most and remain available in times of emergency. Market prices are important signals that tell producers and distributors where their goods are most urgently needed. When the state interferes with this process by imposing price controls, it turns off the signal and incentives for market actors to send aid, encourages hoarding and scalping, and discourages conservation and farsightedness. These effects mean that laws against price gouging harm the very people that they are ostensibly supposed to help. Therefore, price gouging should not be punished by the state or demonized by the press.

Thirteen Observations on Events in Charlottesville

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Critique of Libertarian Strategy

Lack of Action

Even the slightest familiarity with most libertarians will show the observer how much libertarians love to talk about the slightest philosophical disagreements, as well as how much time libertarians devote to libertarian literature and propagating the ideas of liberty on the Internet. However, even with that immense passion, most libertarians seem to be averse to actual economic and political action that would increase the amount of liberty in the world. In fairness, some move to New Hampshire for the Free State Project, some work on start-up societies, and there are gray market alternative products sold by libertarians. However, the amount of effort put into learning liberty does not seem to match up with the amount of effort actually spent on advancing liberty in the real world. Libertarian philosophy may win hearts and minds until the end of time, but if libertarians are not willing to go outside the statist quo, there can be no real world change.

Contrast this inactivity with the progressive movement that swept the United States in the early 20th century. The progressives opened public areas, worked on local communities, and did so in order to spread their progressive beliefs. It was a complete hands-on movement intent on creating actual change and composed of people who were willing to work, leave their houses, and participate in their community. If libertarians want to achieve any level of cultural advancement in a libertarian direction, there can be no expectation of it being created by arguing on social media about whether or not abortions or borders are libertarian, but rather by engaging in social activities in a voluntary manner to spread liberty. Recently, a man built a $100,000 dollar staircase for just over 500 dollars for his community, and this great act of voluntary improvement was removed by the state. There are examples over examples of how children have their lemonade stands shut down when they are trying to make some pocket money. There are constant news stories of how adults who do business on a very small scale without any harm and without selling illegal items get shut down due to the lack of a permit. Every time this happens it gets massive media traction. Imagine if all these people were devoted libertarians and used their platform as a way to spread libertarian ideas, how much more exposure libertarianism could get. If these people flew the black and yellow flag and wrote “taxation is theft” on the side of whatever they were making, they could spread the message of liberty. They may be censored or ridiculed, but it would demonstrate how the libertarian philosophy is practical and beneficial.

This does not mean organizing Libertarian Party caucuses or running for office. Rather, it means breaking laws and making sure that breaking those laws will improve the community in which the law-breaker resides. When there are attempts to combat the injustice of the state, there must be people willing to take risks, and some people must be willing to improve their own communities to make their own lives and the lives of their communities better. If there is no one willing to go against the state and no one willing to get arrested, fined, or subjected to other injustices, then mouthing off on the Internet becomes a waste of time. It is good to try to increase the presence of libertarian ideas virtually, in think tanks, or in politics, but real change comes from individuals acting locally to create a more libertarian society.

This need not be non-political; any libertarian could go out, talk to people, hand out fliers, and do whatever else is necessary for the principles of liberty to be spread in a physical manner. But if libertarians cannot organize a local club, cannot make and print out some fliers to hand out, and are thus unable to actually advance the principles of liberty, they will get nothing done. In fairness, there are libertarians in Cuba who build libraries and take action; there are libertarians in Europe who translate great libertarian texts into their own languages. There are many libertarians who already do such things, but nowhere near enough in comparison to the amount of people who are passive libertarian cyber-intellectuals.

Lack of Charisma

Many libertarians are abrasive, intense, and ill-suited for social interaction. This is a problem which tends to arise when any ideology is based on abstract economic and intellectual arguments rather than arguments which are more relatable to the layperson. This means that libertarians must try to become more charismatic if there is to be a chance for spreading the principles of liberty without forceful imposition. Advocates of these principles cannot stay within a bubble of abstract arguments. Libertarians must become more sociable in order to recruit more people to become libertarians. It is easy to see how this has worked every time it has happened; Ron Paul brought more people over to the liberty movement than perhaps anyone else in the history of libertarianism. The intellectuals who have spent a lot of time being sociable (Walter Block, Tom Woods, and Murray Rothbard immediately come to mind) have converted more people than anyone else who wrote some treatises but never personally taught anyone the principles of liberty.

Music and art are great tools when it comes to spreading the message of different philosophical positions, and it seems that everyone else, from communists to fascists, understands this. That is why Ayn Rand was so important to libertarianism and Objectivism; she made philosophy accessible through her works of fiction. Since libertarian philosophy can affect people deeply and show them truths that they never realized before, it is vital that libertarians focus on making free-market and property-based positions more presentable without corrupting the message. Having to read dozens of dry books and have hundreds of intellectual conversations in order to properly and fully understand libertarianism when some good works of fiction and a few bands could expose the philosophy to a much wider audience in a more effective manner is a travesty. Backwordz is one such exciting libertarian project, as they serve to make libertarianism more accessible, but libertarians cannot relegate an important task in spreading the message of the cause to a few projects. Libertarians should focus more on creating works that are accessible to large audiences. There are many people who lack artistic talents, but if one is blessed with these talents in even the smallest capacity, they could use their time more effectively by utilizing these mediums in order to create a more libertarian society and to make libertarianism more palatable.

This is also the case for the “meme war” that has been happening on the Internet. This is a tactic in which the far-right uses poignant viral images to create propaganda that spreads on its own. This can captivate people who might never be convinced by a logical argument. Libertarians have mostly failed at this and have not often demonstrated the humor necessary to make this tactic work. This is just one small factor of the whole picture, but when one considers the possibility of free viral marketing just by demonstrating a small bit of humor, it becomes very odd that there so little focus on this. Furthermore, it is unnecessary to have this one strategy of viral marketing. Libertarians tend to be individuals who are at least moderately wealthy, so it would be easy for them to buy billboards, put up posters, or purchase online ads that direct people to libertarian websites and beliefs that focus on property and justice. Most people have never been exposed to a true representation of what libertarians actually believe, seeing only the gross caricatures of the establishment press and other statist propagandists. Being able to make the movement and the cause more present and more public would greatly increase the number of people who identify as libertarians. One incredible example, simply for comparison, is that of the flat-earthers who put up a billboard. They are a much more fringe community with an obviously false message, and they still managed to generate enough money for a billboard that gained them at least a small amount of media traction. How libertarians have failed to engage in this method boggles the mind.

Ignorance of the Opposition

One more item of criticism for libertarians is how most fail to understand the arguments of their opponents. Many people may have memorized points and counter-arguments from reading Rothbard, Hoppe, and other libertarian theorists, but there is usually a base assumption that the opposition comes mainly from ignorance and not from differences in knowledge, ethics, and sources. All ideas come from somewhere and although most people with those ideas parrot them to others, this does not mean that we can combat these points properly without knowing their intellectual origins. What makes this even worse is that libertarians may have come from the cultural status quo where most people started and understand those arguments; some libertarians may even have had a phase of being socialist without knowing what that would actually imply. However, most libertarians are libertarians in their premises. It is not an intellectual decision to be a libertarian for most people; we all tend to have some degree of libertarianism within our basic assumptions.

It helps a great deal to know where the opponents of property and capitalism are coming from. It helps to be able to assume their perspective without prejudice and be able to dissect their premises and arguments. Of course, by some metric of self-satisfaction, libertarians are able to think that they did something productive by telling socialists that they need to learn basic economics while ignoring the hundreds of years of socialist economic studies. This argument may have worked when socialism was something that people adopted just to be edgy and to rebel against the capitalist status quo, but in the age of the modern intelligentsia, Austrian economic arguments are less prevalent than socialist ones. In essence, libertarians are the ones who need to learn what other people consider to be basic economics if they are to refute socialists.

Furthermore, libertarians assume that everyone who is pro-state would stop being so if the violence of the state was exposed for what it is. This is false, as many people are completely fine with the state being an institution of violence as long as it serves their own interests. No matter how much anyone talks about the state being immoral or violent and how much taxation is theft, there will be a great amount of people who think, in a Hobbesian manner, that without this violence human beings cannot have civilization. These moral arguments may be fine, but libertarians need to present more perspectives that are better suited for people who approach the world more pragmatically. This is especially true for many socialists and alt-righters; they know that the state is violence and a pure forceful institution. Their question about this is simply, “So what?”. Libertarians cannot always change the moral premises of others by trying to get people to understand the conclusions of the personal moral premises that libertarians tend to hold.

Lack of Virtue

No matter the intellectual caliber of particular libertarians, there are a few problems that need to be solved with the ideology if libertarianism is to go forward. There are strategies and perspectives on how to create a libertarian society and what libertarians can do to approach the type of people who are ready to be libertarians. However, the overwhelming majority of libertarian theory focuses on how great everything would be if everyone already lived in a world where there was virtue, without providing methods of how to cultivate this virtue within the population that is to be made libertarian. The other minority focuses on how bad everything is while everyone is in an oppressive statist society, and other areas of concern are seldom talked about. Only in the past few years has there been even a start of sociological inquiry of these issues on a sustained and continuous basis.

Stefan Molyneux advocates peaceful parenting as an actionable solution for making the world freer. Many libertarians say that education is the best solution. Some propose economic solutions to show people how property benefits them. Some advocate violent revolution. But cultivating the sort of virtue that is necessary to maintain a libertarian social order is not so simple. Anyone can parent peacefully, yet still it can turn out that there is no virtue cultivated in the children within a society. People can educate a person who is not virtuous himself and he may not become virtuous when he knows all the facts. Libertarians can show people how property rights may benefit them, but they may still try to undermine it, provided they are not individuals who have the virtue of respect for property rights.

This needs to be a strong point of libertarian tactics; not only how to make people more receptive to a society based on virtuous behavior, but rather how to make sure that the people are sufficiently virtuous to maintain a libertarian social order. Libertarianism needs to come out of the value-free lull where the focus on intellectualism has left it and delve deeper into the fields of sociology, psychology, and other areas where further research is needed for how to increase the virtue within populations. As it stands right now, libertarians may have good strategies for libertarianism and how to create a more libertarian world when libertarianism already has this support, but far less on how to cultivate libertarian virtues within society.

Lack of Breadth

Libertarianism has overwhelming amounts of substance, but the substance it has is very limited in content when it comes to anything other than economics and philosophy. Though this is by design, in that libertarianism itself is only an answer to the question of when the use of force is appropriate, this does not a complete worldview make. Economics is never enough to run a whole society; there must be values and character traits beyond the economic. There cannot be a healthy society in which the only relations are that of material exchange; this kind of society would certainly fall apart as soon as it was revealed as the husk it is. Even though the intellectual side of libertarianism may call for a value-free economic analysis, a pragmatic and objective political strategy, and a philosophy that can create values beyond what people would consider moral, this is inapplicable to many people. Everyone has values, most people have morals, and people want to see these morals reflected in their societies.

This writer has proposed abandoning political libertarianism as a strategy and focusing instead on advancing local autonomy as much as possible. It would serve to make libertarianism more relatable and to show people how libertarianism can serve to bring their values into the world. However, there is much work to be done on this. Only now are the first efforts being made of a very deep examination and expansive practical project.

Blame Democracy For Heated Political Rhetoric

In recent times, concern has grown over the increasing hatred between competing political factions. As political rhetoric escalates into political violence, the various agents of the Cathedral have begun asking what may be done to reduce tensions. Naturally, they demonstrate obliviousness to their own culpability in ratcheting up hostilities, and reversing their own behavior would be a significant first step. Their actions are par for the course for leftists, as psychological projection—the act of accusing one’s opponents of whatever wrongdoing one is committing oneself—is an essential part of the leftist mindset. In the same vein, they accuse right-wing activists of causing any political violence that occurs, even when it is clear to any rational observer that rightists are taking action to defend themselves against aggression by radical leftists.

As for the radical leftists, it has long been the case that the right views the left as factually wrong while the left views the right as morally evil. This imbalance could not persist indefinitely, and because the elements of the left which are most vocal at present are pathologically incapable of rational discourse, the only rebalancing that could occur was for elements of the right to begin viewing the left as morally evil. This necessarily escalated matters, but in a manner that was necessary to restore a balance of political terror, which will result in less political violence in the long term by way of peace through mutually assured destruction.

Leftist Strategy

The leftist strategy at work here is that of high-low versus middle, better known by the Van Jones quote “top down, bottom up, inside out.” The academics, politicians, and pundits of the Cathedral are the high, the communist terrorists of Antifa and the minority criminal underclass are the low, and the middle is anyone who is middle-class, working-class, white, right-wing, and/or libertarian. The high-class group uses the privileges of state power to buy the loyalty of the low-class group, which is done by funneling money extorted from the middle-class group to them in addition to giving symbols of higher status to select members of the low-class group. In return, the low-class group is used to intimidate the middle-class group into compliance with this arrangement. The end goal is to transform society by defeating the middle, but in practice the low-class group tends to turn on the high-class group when times become hard and the high-class group can no longer afford to purchase their loyalty. Alternatively, this may end when the middle-class is tired of being abused and decides to violently suppress the low-class, then subject the high-class to vigilante justice.

The Real Culprit

The talking heads, politicians, and left-wing activists all deserve blame for creating a cultural milieu in which the political rhetoric has become increasingly heated and violence has erupted as a result. But as troublesome as these elements are, they are mere symptoms of a much larger and deeper problem. In the words of Henry David Thoreau, “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” The root that must be named and struck is nothing less than democracy itself.

Benjamin Franklin described democracy as two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. If Franklin were correct, then democratic impulses would quickly be exhausted, as the lambs would be consumed in short order and society would spiral downward into a Hobbesian nightmare of wolf against wolf, every wolf for himself. But the truth is even worse; who is a wolf and who is a lamb changes depending on the time and the political issue at hand. Over time, majority rule thus “allows for A and B to band together to rip off C, C and A in turn joining to rip off B, and then B and C conspiring against A, and so on.”[1] This allows the democratic state to survive much longer than it would if there were a static majority and a static minority.

In the aggregate, the theoretical Hobbesian war of all against all is replaced by an actual democratic war of half against half. Contrary to popular belief, this is not an improvement; rather, it is an intentional engineering of a particular kind of perpetual conflict for the purpose of diverting the energies of the masses away from revolt against the ruling class. For what exploiter of people would wish all of his victims to unite against him? It is far easier to victimize people who are too busy quarreling with each other to mount an effective resistance against their mutual enemy. Democracy works beautifully toward this end, making human farming not only possible, but highly lucrative.

Returning to the level of interpersonal relationships and conflicts between local groups, a democratic state grants each citizen a small piece of political power. The possession of this power by every person who is eligible to vote means that the political opinions of each such person are a relevant concern, at least to some degree. That each person can—at least theoretically—mobilize other people into a voting bloc to advance a political agenda that would use state power in a manner hostile to another group of people makes each politically active person an unofficial soldier in the aforementioned democratic war, and thus a target for various abuses by the other side. This democratic civil war is a cold one in most cases, but as in many cold wars, both sides engage in rhetoric that denounces the other side in strong terms. It is this dynamic that produces the degeneration of political discourse into insults and vitriol and the replacement of healthy interpersonal relationships with hostility. The escalation into physical violence is an expected outgrowth of this dynamic.

The Solution

If democracy is the root problem, then the abolition of democracy is the solution. The historical methodology of this has been an unelected government, whether a military junta, hereditary monarchy, or some combination thereof. Libertarians propose another methodology; that of a stateless propertarian society in which all property is privately owned and all goods and services are provided by competing firms in a free market. Both of these systems deny the general public—those who do not have an ownership stake in the society—a political voice. The restriction of political power to those who have an ownership stake, or the abolition of political power in the anarcho-capitalist case, means that it makes no sense for most people living in these social orders to insult, bully, and attack one another over political disputes, as the winner of such a dispute has no direct influence over the direction of the society. One may only influence such a society by convincing a mass of people to move elsewhere or by acquiring property in the anarcho-capitalist case. When only the king or dictator can vote, or only the private property owner can make decisions over the property in question, only they and whatever underlings they may have are worth attacking with words or weapons when they say or do something reprehensible. Everyone else is no longer a political target, and thus most people are incentivized to be apolitical (if not anti-political), resolving any disagreements with the established order through the right of exit.

Objections

There are two common objections to such a proposal that must be addressed; first, that it will not solve the problem, and second, that abolishing democracy may cause more violence than it eliminates.

The accusation that abolishing democracy will not eliminate heated rhetoric is true but trivial. There are no perfect solutions; there are only trade-offs. As long as more than one person exists and there is a disagreement about anything, there is the potential for heated rhetoric and physical violence. And although rational actors would not get into political disputes if they lacked political power, assuming rational actors is a folly of any rigorous socioeconomic theory. In the absence of mass-distributed political power, would people still bully other people? Yes. Would people still try to lift themselves up by putting others down? Certainly. Would people still make fun of others for having views that are strongly at odds with their own? Of course. But a major impetus for doing so, namely the quest for political power and dominance, would be removed. Though some people will always rebel against their incentives, most people do not. For these reasons, we may expect that the trade-off would be worthwhile.

The claim that abolishing democracy would cause more violence than it eliminates must be answered with both nuance and depth. Democratic statists will claim that without voting on ballots, people will start voting with bullets and the only real change will be greater bloodshed and destruction. First, democracy does not solve the problem of interpersonal violence; in fact, it does the opposite. Rather than eliminate the crimes that people commit against other people and their property, statists have created and maintained an institution with a monopoly on performing those crimes, giving them different names, and suffering no penalty for committing them. Theft becomes taxation, slavery becomes conscription, kidnapping becomes arrest, murder becomes war, and so on. The removal of the option of voting for politicians and their minions to do to other people what one would never be allowed to do to other people on one’s own will leave everyone with two options: engage in crime directly or live peaceably with others. Those who choose the former would quickly discover that it is far easier to vote for politicians to hire enforcement officers to victimize someone else than to try to commit crimes oneself. Though there would likely be an increase in violence in the short-term, the elimination of hardened criminals by people acting in self-defense would be swift, resulting in both less violence and less crime in the long-term.

Second, the democratic peace theory must be addressed. This theory claims that democracies do not go to war with each other, and thus a democratic world is a world without war. The evidence for these assertions is lacking on all counts. The democratic nation-state is a recent invention in human history, which produces the statistical uncertainties of a small sample size. What reason and evidence we do have is not promising; democratic states are aggressive both internally and externally, particularly toward individuals and states that are anti-democratic. The political power vested in each voter by the democratic state that makes the civilian population unofficial soldiers and targets during peacetime makes them official soldiers and targets during wartime. Whereas the historical wars between monarchs were mostly royal and knightly affairs over border disputes that had little effect on the peasants, the incentive structures of democratic states led to the total warfare of the World Wars. The entire economies of nations were disrupted for the purpose of war production, the civilian populations were militarized, and the mass murder of civilians became an accepted part of military strategy. By abolishing democracy, the perverse incentives that produced such carnage may be eliminated.

Finally, there is the possibility that people who are accustomed to democracy would violently resist an effort to disenfranchise them by returning to unelected government or by creating a stateless propertarian society. Though reactionaries and libertarians alike hope to convince the voting public to use democracy for the purpose of abolishing it, this is almost certainly a false hope. The incentive structure of the democratic state coupled with the institutional power wielded by the progressive left is probably too strong to overcome peacefully. The path from here to a superior form of social order thus becomes a violent one, as the people who wish to establish a new order must respond with force against determined and unrepentant aggressors. This is another sense in which there would be a short-term increase in violence followed by a long-term decrease. As before, there are no ideal solutions; only trade-offs which produce a net benefit.

Conclusion

Democracy is a sanitized, soft variant of civil war. The question is how long it can remain a cold war. For contemporary Western civilization, the answer is no longer. As shown above, the engine that drives heated rhetoric and political violence will keep running as long as democracy persists. Though there will always be some level of societal conflict, removing such a disastrous generator of malignant incentives as the democratic state can only be a net improvement.

References:

  1. Hans-Hermann Hoppe (2001). Democracy: The God That Failed. Transaction Publishers. p. 104

Book Review: Islamic Exceptionalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4/5

Book Review: Come And Take It

Come And Take It is a book about 3D printing of firearms and the implications thereof by American entrepreneur Cody Wilson. The book details Wilson’s experiences over nine months in 2012-13 when he decided to leave law school and figure out how to use a 3D printer to make a functional plastic handgun. It also conveys his thoughts on political events of the time, such as the re-election of President Barack Obama and the Sandy Hook school shooting.

The story of Wilson’s entrepreneurship is not so different from many others; he must decide whether to make his venture be for-profit or non-profit, decide whether to work for the state or the people, figure out how and where to get funding for his operations, find the right people to work with, wrestle with the impulse to continue his schooling versus working on his entrepreneurial idea, and deal with legal challenges and roadblocks thrown his way by established interests. What sets it apart is the unique nature of his work.

Wilson’s story takes some interesting turns, such as trips to Europe and California where he meets with everyone from left-wing anarchists in the Occupy movement to a club of neoreactionaries led by Mencius Moldbug. This shows that the project to allow everyone to be armed regardless of government laws on the matter changes the political calculus across the entire spectrum, thus making him a person of interest to people of a wide range of political views.

The book is a valiant effort in creative writing and storytelling, but its subtitle of “The Gun Printer’s Guide to Thinking Free” is rather misplaced. It is not so much a guide for someone else to follow as an example which future entrepreneurs may study in order to adapt proper elements thereof for their own projects. The technical details that one might hope for in such a book are only partially present, though we may fault the US Department of State for that, as Wilson tried to include details of the production procedure for his plastic handgun but was forced to redact the material with large black blocks in the final chapter.

In a strange way, the book feels both long and short. Though it is just over 300 pages, it takes much less time to read than most books of that size. Come And Take It offers an interesting look into the mind and experiences of a true game-changer in the world of technology and self-defense, though the reader who is looking for thorough details on 3D printed weapons or a general manifesto on liberty must look elsewhere.

Rating: 3.5/5

The State Is Negan, Part I

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. The character Negan, who was mentioned throughout Season 6 of the show and makes his entrance in the season finale, is one of the most obvious allegories in recent memory for the nature of the state. Let us examine the first part of his character arc to see how Negan uses the cult of personality around him to influence others, as well as how he makes a first impression on those whom he wishes to subjugate. As we will see, there are many lessons to be learned not only for those who would wield state power, but for those who seek its abolition. This part of the article series will cover the time period from the introduction of the Saviors (Episode 606) up to the conclusion of Rick’s meeting with Negan (Episode 701).

Introduction

The Saviors first appear in Episode 606, and Negan is first mentioned a few hours later in the storyline in Episode 608, when some of his underlings attack Daryl, Abraham, and Sasha. They claim that their truck and their guns now belong to Negan, then take their sidearms. In Episode 609, the leader of these underlings orders a subordinate to take Daryl to the back of the truck and inspect its cargo. The leader threatens to shoot Abraham and Sasha, but Daryl kills the gang with an RPG after fighting one of them behind the truck.

In retrospect, this incident shows that the first encounter that a group of free people have with a state apparatus is not substantively different from a first encounter with organized crime. Negan’s underlings act much like mafia members who carry out a shakedown, but unlike most targets of organized crime, Daryl, Abraham, and Sasha are strong enough to militarily defeat them and are unaware of the larger context in which they are operating. As we will see, this sets in motion an escalation of force until one side dominates the other, as happens in real-world conflicts between groups of armed people.

Protection Racket

In Episode 611, Rick’s group learns of a deal imposed on Hilltop, a community with which his community in Alexandria is trading, by the Saviors. Negan wants half of what Hilltop produces in exchange for protection, which in reality means not attacking them. This works exactly like a protection racket; an extortion threat in which the criminals are paid not to cause the very problem that they claim to be preventing. Negan kills two Hilltop members, kidnaps another, and makes another go back to Hilltop to stab Gregory, the Hilltop leader, because they brought him too little.

Rick’s group intervenes, killing the man who stabbed Gregory and making an alternative offer: half of Hilltop’s supplies once in exchange for wiping out the Saviors. Jesus, the Hilltop second in command, informs Rick of Negan’s actions toward them, which included beating one of their members to death when they first met. Gregory, recovering from his wound, agrees to the offer because Negan is draining Hilltop dry.

This illustrates a possible means of dealing with organized crime through market protection services. There is no perfect solution in such a case, but giving up half of one’s supplies once to a friendlier organization is better than continually being coercively taxed at 50 percent by a much more aggressive organization. The problems in this case are information and power asymmetry; Rick’s group and Gregory greatly underestimate the Saviors’ strength, and this will be their undoing. A real-world private defense agency would have to be better informed about and prepared for the nature of the threats being defended against.

Pre-Emptive Strike

In Episode 612, Rick’s group strikes a Savior outpost. They use a decoy walker head that looks like Gregory to distract the guards, then kill the guards quietly to sneak into the base. Once inside, they see photographic evidence of Savior atrocities and kill several Saviors who are sleeping. One Savior manages to get to a fire alarm and pull it before Rick’s group can kill him, and a shootout begins. When all is done, at least two dozen Saviors have been killed without any losses on Alexandria’s side. But then they hear on their radio that two of their people have been captured by another cell of Saviors.

In Episode 613, the capture of Carol and Maggie by four Saviors who lived at the base but were not present for the massacre is shown. They are taken to a safe house where more Saviors will come, and Rick’s group must find this place before more Saviors arrive. The Saviors treat Maggie more favorably upon finding out that she is pregnant, and Carol pulls off a convincing ruse to get the Saviors to believe that she is far less dangerous than she really is. This shows that they do have a shred of humanity left despite their brutality, and can thus be emotionally manipulated. In a conversation about Negan, one of the Saviors says, “We are all Negan.” Carol and Maggie manage to escape their restraints and begin working to kill their captors. One dies from a gunshot wound that Carol inflicted before their capture, and they use his reanimated remains to bite another captor and finish her off. The remaining two saviors are killed in a fight with Carol and Maggie, then the other Saviors arrive. Carol lures them into a trap and kills them, after which Rick’s group arrives. One captured Savior that Rick brought along also claims to be Negan, and is promptly executed by Rick. Alexandria and Hilltop falsely believe they have won.

The combat operations shown are rather typical in nature (aside from the undead, of course). Just like in the real world, a small band of determined guerrillas can create a nightmare for a state apparatus, even defeating local branches of it. But this tends to do only enough damage to provoke a greater response by the state, as its leaders know that such behavior can abolish the governing apparatus if it is not stopped. More force is required to remove a state from power, as Rick’s group will soon learn the hard way.

The self-identification of the Saviors with Negan is the other important element here. Negan has developed a cult of personality, just like many real-world dictators. His top lieutenants identify with Negan to a perhaps greater extent than Negan identifies with himself, just as Malcolm X describes the house slaves of old. And just like the field slaves of old and the average person living under a totalitarian regime, most of the lower-ranking Saviors play along because they know that as bad as things are for them, not playing along or trying to escape would likely be even worse. The tactic of training people to identify themselves as Negan is used to protect the real Negan and create a sense of collective identity. This sense is so strong that Negan’s underlings come to behave as he would have them behave without him needing to be present, which is what every dictator wants from his administrators. What Negan provides (or at least pretends to provide) in return will be discussed in Part II.

False Normalcy Shattered

Episode 614 takes place one week after the raid, hostage situation, and rescue. But the threat is not ended; another group of Saviors kills an Alexandrian who is on a supply run and captures Eugene. The group of Saviors is led by Dwight, whose face has been disfigured since Daryl encountered him in Episode 606. Dwight demands that they let his group plunder Alexandria, but several members of Rick’s group who are present fight off the Saviors and rescue Eugene. After losing most of his force, Dwight signals a retreat. Shortly thereafter in Episode 615, Carol is stopped by several Saviors on the road, but she manages to kill all but two and leaves one for dead, with one still pursuing her. Rick finishes off the one that Carol left, realizing that the threat is greater than he thought. Dwight’s group manages to capture Glenn and Michonne, then captures Daryl and Rosita. Maggie has complications with her pregnancy and needs to see a doctor in Hilltop, setting into motion the events that will lead Rick’s group to meet Negan.

Most of the lessons here are better illustrated elsewhere, and the disfigurement of Dwight will be explained in Part II, so let us move on.

The Man Himself I

Episode 616 begins with another group of survivors from a library in the area being murdered by Saviors for trying to resist their rule. They capture and beat the last member of that group. The Saviors set up increasingly elaborate roadblocks as Rick’s group try to take Maggie to Hilltop. At the first one, Simon (Negan’s second in command) tells Rick to give up his supplies. Rick retorts in kind, and then leaves instead of fighting it out. The next roadblocks are larger with increasing numbers of people. At the last roadblock, the last member of the library group is hung by Simon as he verbally intimidates Rick.

Meanwhile, the surviving Savior from the attack on Carol finds and wounds her with a bullet. Morgan arrives and rescues her, then two men on horseback approach and offer help.

The Saviors herd Rick’s group into some woods where the rest of his group has been captured and taken. Negan finally appears, introduces himself, says that Rick’s group have killed more Saviors than he feels comfortable with, declares that Rick’s group works for him now, lays claim to half of their belongings, decides to kill one of them with Lucille (the name he has given to his barbed-wire baseball bat), and threatens to have Carl’s one remaining eye removed and fed to Rick if anyone resists. The season ends with a member of Rick’s group being killed, with the revelation of who it is being left as a cliffhanger.

There are several lessons here. First, the lead-up to this confrontation shows that try as one might to avoid the state, it will find those who run from it sooner or later. Trying to avoid it rather than submit to it or fight it only delays the inevitable and makes civilized life all but impossible. Second, just as statists found long ago that slavery is more profitable than cannibalism or genocide, Negan has learned that it is more profitable to take half of what people earn than to simply eliminate them. Third, Negan’s policy of killing one member of a new group that he encounters in order to make the point that he is in charge and that punishment for defying him is real is also a common theme among statists. This is a theme that may be termed ultraviolence, which may be defined as violence which is overly gratuitous, done for the purpose of being seen by others, used to make an example out of a problematic person or group, and utilized in the hope of subjugating an enemy so as to use a lesser amount of violence against them over the long-term. The penalty for disobeying Negan is always death if one resists to a sufficient extent, and the state is no different. Just like the real world, the Saviors find that this is not always effective; some people choose to resist to the death, and just like historical dictators, Negan and his lieutenants have no problem with exterminating such groups. Fifth, contrary to appearances, the lesson here is not that resistance is futile; only that resistance requires a critical mass of defensive force and should not be attempted when one cannot bring nearly that much force to bear.

The Man Himself II

Episode 701 picks up where the previous season finale left off, and we learn that Abraham, Rick’s second in command, was murdered by Negan. Daryl responds by rising up and punching Negan, who retaliates by murdering Glenn with Lucille. Rick declares that someday, he will kill Negan for what he has done. Negan takes Rick away to an RV for some one-on-one time. Along the way, Negan dares Rick to kill him with an axe but stops Rick with a rifle, ordering him to drop it. Rick complies and Negan starts driving the RV. Eventually, the RV gets surrounded by walkers. Negan throws the axe outside and demands that Rick go get it. Rick nearly dies in the process, but manages to retrieve it as Negan begins shooting walkers to save Rick. Negan drives Rick back to his group, informs Rick that he is no longer in charge, and hands Rick the axe. Rick still looks at Negan the same way, so Negan orders Rick to either cut off his son’s arm with the axe or watch his whole group die. Carl finally tells Rick to cut off his arm, and Rick starts to, but Negan stops him and says, “You answer to me, you provide for me, you belong to me, right?” he asks. Rick agrees, Negan says that this is the look that he wanted Rick to give him, and takes back the axe. Negan tells Dwight to take Daryl away and threatens that Rick will have to mutilate him if Rick resists further. Negan leaves Rick’s group a truck for gathering tribute, and says they have one week to collect an offering. After the Saviors leave, Maggie continues on to Hilltop, and the others take their dead for burial and return to Alexandria.

This episode illustrates how far an authoritarian ruler is willing to go in order to gain compliance. Negan tolerates no threat to his rule, shutting it down promptly with a second display of ultraviolence. Also of interest is Negan’s investment of time and effort into breaking Rick. He does this because it is difficult for a ruler to control a large number of people directly. In order to rule over Alexandria, Negan needs Rick to do so for him, so he goes as far as he must in order to make Rick subservient to him. This also explains why Negan saves Rick from being killed by walkers.

The matter of when and where to violently resist a state apparatus is another important consideration here. Up until this point, Rick’s group had been engaging the Saviors either at times and places of their choosing or on neutral ground. They had mixed results on neutral ground and favorable results when fighting on their own terms. But when David tries to fight Goliath on Goliath’s terms, David has almost no chance, as shown by the fruitless token resistances offered by members of Rick’s group when surrounded by Negan and a large number of Saviors.

Finally, let us consider the truck that Negan leaves behind. The truck will make it easier for Rick’s group to conduct their affairs, but its main purpose is to make their exploitation by Negan more profitable. Like everything that a government provides to its subjects, it is provided not for the betterment of the subjects, but to help the subjects to be more productive. Any betterment that occurs is only a beneficial side effect about which the state is apathetic.

Conclusion

The first part of Negan’s arc presents him as a mysterious figure who is not known to actually exist in physical form, much like the state. The individuals who believe in the state and act upon this belief exist, the buildings, vehicles, and guns involved exist, and so on, but there is no physical form we can point to or touch and say, “This is the state.” But it seems real enough for the people who are on the receiving end of the violence, which is all that matters for those who operate and benefit from the apparatus. Unlike the state, Negan actually does exist directly, which may make dealing with him a different challenge going forward. In the second part, we will examine the time period after Rick’s meeting with Negan (Episode 702) up to the decision to stop living under Negan’s rule and fight him (Episode 708).

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 Not-So-Current Year: 2016 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 2016 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.

My first article proper of 2016 was A Case Against the Nineteenth Amendment. It was intended to come out before the New Year, but I was not satisfied with it until January 3. If I were to rewrite this article, I would say more about biological differences between the sexes and why these make the entrance of women into democratic politics a danger to the stability and sustainability of a society. I took down the First Amendment later in the year.

The Bundy standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Preserve began. I made nine observations on the event. Their later acquittal on several felony charges after the standoff ended in what was essentially an instance of jury nullification was cause for celebration.

As usual, leftists called for more gun restrictions and an end to gun violence without seeing that the former would both cause and be enforced by gun violence or the threat thereof. Rather than take the usual path of reductio ad absurdum, I argued the sharper point that gun deaths can be a good thing. This did not sit well with the editors at Examiner.com, who pulled the article. Given a long and contentious history with the site, I decided to part ways with them and start my own site. This proved to be a wise choice, as Examiner gave up the ghost less than six months later, with all content disappearing into the aether. My next task was to choose a name for the site and explain its meaning.

Christopher Cantwell argued the libertarian case for Donald Trump, and I gave him some pushback. Shortly afterward, Rand Paul suspended his campaign, and I wrote a list of observations on the event.

‘No victim means no crime’ is a common saying among libertarians, but an altogether too reductionist one. I explained why.

A Russian film crew flew a drone over the city of Homs and recorded the aftermath of Assad’s forces besieging the city. I rarely get emotional, but seeing the wanton destruction was quite triggering for me. Aleppo was conquered later in the year, and I wrote a list of observations on the event.

I decided to take an educated guess at whether Ron Paul could have defeated Barack Obama if he had been the Republican nominee in 2012. I believe he would have done so easily.

Twitter decided to give in to government and social justice warrior requests to censor their enemies. Unsurprisingly, this tanked their stock prices. I proposed several remedies for the situation, and Twitter has of course used none of them.

Jason Brennan published an article arguing that arguments made by libertarians against open borders have disturbing implications that said libertarians almost never address, so I addressed them and showed on a point-by-point basis that some such implications are not only not so scary, but are actually vitally important to the maintenance of a libertarian social order.

Charlotte City Council approved an expansion of its anti-discrimination ordinance to include transgender people, which I denounced as a violation of private property, freedom of association, public safety, and freedom of religion. Governor Pat McCrory and the state legislature responded with House Bill 2, and the controversy has brewed for almost a year.

An author known as Mr. Underhill published an article arguing that violent revolution is not the appropriate method for achieving liberty. I took the opposite view, which led to a lengthy exchange of four more articles on my part and four more on his part. Following this exchange, I decided to write about how I choose who to debate and for how long, which made me realize that I had entertained Mr. Underhill for far too long. Later in the year, I covered political violence more generally to argue that we need more of it as well.

When examining the intellectual foundation for private property rights, I noticed an unexplored quirk which turned into an original proviso. A critique in the comments section led to another article defending the proviso.

Islamic terrorists attacked the airport and a subway station in Brussels, killing 31 people and injuring 300 others. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

Social justice warriors seem to have their own language which is distinct from both the dictionary definitions and the common understanding of words by most of the general population. I created a glossary to help normal people better understand SJW rhetoric.

Donald Trump suggested that women could be punished for getting an abortion, which outraged both sides of the mainstream abortion debate. I weighed in with a view which did the same.

Having addressed water ownership and pollution in two articles in 2015, I decided to lay out a libertarian theory on air ownership and pollution.

Puerto Rico reached new lows of fiscal irresponsibility, and I explained why it is best to cut them loose from the United States to become an independent country.

The rise of neoreaction and the alt-right has brought reactionary thought back to the forefront. I deemed my first attempt at examining its relationship to libertarianism to be inadequate, so I took a second stab at it. A Jeffrey Tucker article prompted a third effort, and I made a fourth effort later in the year in response to a pro-Trump neoreactionary article by Michael Perilloux.

Peter Weber published an opinion piece arguing that the institution of the American Presidency is being delegitimized, and that this is a dangerous direction. I argued that this is actually a welcome and even glorious development.

Having already explained my decisions about debating other authors, I wrote two more articles explaining my lack of profanity and lack of satirical content.

Many incorrect arguments concerning libertarianism and punishment began to appear, so I laid out a theory of libertarianism and punishment which utilized heavy doses of Rothbard.

The Libertarian Party held its nominating convention, and it was a disaster from beginning to end. The Republican convention was not much better in terms of substance.

Many people have noticed a correlation between weightlifting and libertarianism. I explored this correlation and found many reasons for it.

A terrorist who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State attacked a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., killing 49 people and injuring 53 others. I wrote a list of observations on the event, but missed a major point in doing so. Democracy is partly responsible for terrorism because it gives the common person a political voice, which makes them viable targets in a way that absolute monarchies or stateless societies would not.

When the Supreme Court ruled against Abigail Fisher in her anti-white racism case, the Internet cheered. I did not, realizing that the decision was a rejection of pure meritocracy.

Against all predictions, the vote to remove the United Kingdom from the European Union succeeded. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

In my most controversial article to date, I argued the most extreme position in the gun control debate: a private individual has a right to own nuclear weapons, and this would be beneficial for liberty. The troll brigades were out in force making typical leftist non-arguments, and I thank them for granting me a then-record in daily page views (and thus advertising money). A few did raise legitimate criticisms which will require an addendum to be written in the future.

As the major-party presidential nominations were secured, the establishment media wasted an inordinate amount of time engaging in speculation about who would be the running mate of each candidate. When discussing the potential benefits that each potential vice presidential pick could have, they neglected the aspect of assassination insurance.

Several recent problems with the criminal justice system demonstrated that government will not hold government accountable, and that a market alternative is required.

Five police officers were killed by a sniper in Dallas. I used the event to argue that those who kill government agents now are not cowardly murderers perpetrating senseless violence, but neither are they heroic or helpful to the cause of liberty.

A certain type of policy analysis exhibits many symptoms which are also found in high-functioning autistic people. This is more common among libertarians than among people of other political persuasions, so I decided to address the phenomenon.

A significant portion of the media coverage leading up to the Republican convention focused on the possibility of violence on the streets involving leftist protesters and rightist counter-protesters. This possibility went unrealized for reasons which were covered up by the establishment media.

Hillary Clinton said that she was “adamantly opposed to anyone bringing religion into our political process” and that it is “just absolutely wrong and unacceptable.” I argued the opposite case.

Gardening is an enjoyable hobby and a useful metaphor for many things, a libertarian social order included.

Trump hinted at the assassination of Clinton should she win and threaten gun rights. Predictably, every element of the establishment went apoplectic. I argued that political assassinations are ethically acceptable, though not usually the wisest practical move.

Since the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, libertarians have had strong differences concerning how to engage with it. I explained the differences between their intentions and libertarian goals.

The 2016 Summer Olympics took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

Whenever disasters impact an area in modern times, governments play a large role in the cleanup and recovery efforts. But this causes a behavioral problem in the population, not unlike that caused by the Pax Romana.

The Commission on Presidential Debates decided to exclude third-party candidates yet again. I made cases for peaceful and violent protest of this policy, and longed for a future candidate who might actually motivate people to engage in meaningful resistance.

Liberty Mutual created more advertisements that contain economic fallacies, so I did another round of debunking.

The establishment media tells us that every election is the most important of our lifetime. I proved that this cannot be the case, then psychoanalyzed the establishment media to explain why they keep repeating this, as if to convince themselves.

Argumentation ethics has been controversial since its introduction, but Roderick Long’s criticisms of it had gone unanswered. I remedied this state of affairs.

Rioters plagued Charlotte for three nights in response to a police shooting, which happened to involve a black officer and a black suspect. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

Congress voted to override President Obama’s veto of a bill that allows relatives of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for any role in the plot. Though some libertarians argued against the bill, I celebrated it for chipping away at the anti-libertarian idea of sovereign immunity, giving victims of American foreign policy a peaceful means of addressing their grievances, and possibly revealing clandestine activities to the American people about which they have a need to know.

Having heard libertarians argue in favor of every presidential candidate except Hillary Clinton, I decided to give it a shot. Only a bootlegger’s case was possible, and it was rather grim.

The idea of market failure is a widely believed misconception which has found widespread use in statist propaganda for the purpose of justifying government intervention in the private sector. I gave the idea perhaps its most thorough debunking to date.

In the last quarter of the year, I began reading more books, which resulted in several book reviews. I can strongly recommend The Essential Guide to Freelance Writing and Our Sister Republics; The West Point History of the Civil War somewhat less so. Good Guys With Guns, on the other hand, is a disaster.

The month before the election presented several opportunities for rebuttals. Milo Yiannopoulos demonstrated both a misunderstanding of and an enmity toward libertarianism, and I rebutted his assertions, which gained a surprising amount of attention. Jeffrey Tucker tried to defend democracy as a superior alternative to monarchy or political violence, and I showed why this is misguided. Penn Jillette argued in favor of vote swapping, and I argued against it.

Finally, the 2016 election came and went, which presented many observations to be made.

Black Friday is revered by most libertarians as a celebration of free-market capitalism. I updated my explanation of why this reverence is somewhat misplaced.

Finally, Otto Warmbier spent all of 2016 detained in North Korea. I made the unpopular case that he should be left there.

All in all, it was an interesting year full of occasions to make sharp libertarian arguments. May 2017 bring more of the same. Happy New Year!

Ten Observations on the Fall of Aleppo

On December 13, Syrian government forces defeated rebels in the city of Aleppo after four years of fighting. A ceasefire was announced to allow civilians and rebels to evacuate, but the Syrian government resumed bombardment of eastern Aleppo on December 14. The death toll in the siege of Aleppo has risen over 30,000, many more have fled as refugees, and pro-government forces have deliberately targeted civilians with barrel bombs and cluster munitions. Ten observations on these events follow.

1. The international system under the United Nations has failed yet again. Just as it has in many other instances of democide, the UN Security Council failed to condemn the actions of the Assad regime. Once again, the ostensible purpose of international law, to protect civilians from atrocities that “shock the conscience of humanity,” was ignored. This is because Russia is involved on Assad’s side and has veto power in the UNSC, which it has used to block all resolutions against the situation in Syria.

2. There is an irreducible anarchy between sovereigns. The logical proof of this is rather simple. Suppose that there is not an irreducible anarchy between sovereigns. This means that there is a law governing sovereigns. This requires that someone be able to enforce this law against the sovereigns. But a sovereign is defined as having supreme power or authority, which means that no one is able to enforce a law against a sovereign. This is a contradiction, so the supposition is false. Therefore there is an irreducible anarchy between sovereigns.

Practically, this means that the UN fails because it must; it is logically impossible for it to succeed, as it is not a sovereign entity. The UN is incapable of imposing anything upon a state without the help of other states. Another important point is that there is no such thing as international law because there is no international enforcer of law. (That being said, the alternative is likely worse, in that a global government would be even less accountable than the nation-states of today.)

3. The strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must. This will be true regardless of the system of governance in use, but the current system empowers far more abuses than would any system other than a centralized global omnipotent state. The only answer to this problem is the elimination of weakness, which will either be achieved by the weak strengthening themselves by acquiring and maintaining means of force sufficient to deter the strong or by the strong exterminating the weak. So far, we have seen far too much of the latter and not nearly enough of the former.

4. There was nothing that America could have done to prevent this. Many Americans are left wondering if there was any intervention that could have been successful. Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding ‘no.’ A no-fly zone would not have stopped Assad’s ground forces, as they know that defeat means death at the hands of opposition forces. Enforcing such a policy with Russian aircraft involved could have escalated tensions with the Kremlin up to the sort of nuclear exchange feared during the days of the Soviet Union. Arming moderate factions has a terrible track record, as more radical factions defeat them and take the arms for themselves. Invasion also has a terrible track record, as shown by the failed efforts to nation-build in Iraq and Afghanistan. UN sanctions were vetoed by Russia, but sanctions are not very effective anyway. This leaves no good options for intervening.

5. When there is no one worthy of support, support no one. The atrocities of the Assad regime and their allies are well known. But those who would take over in the wake of his defeat are no better. There are a multitude of small groups involved in the war, but the only forces with enough might to govern all of Syria are Islamists of various types, such as ISIS and the al-Nusra Front. ISIS is well-known for human rights abuses, and the Syrian opposition has also committed its fair share. With this and the previous point in mind, the best course of action for Westerners is to sit back and watch enemies of liberty kill each other.

6. There is no such thing as non-lethal aid. Military intervention in Syria beyond limited airstrikes or special operations has never been popular with the American people, but non-lethal, humanitarian aid is viewed more favorably. But there is an economic fallacy being advanced by both sides of mainstream politics which applies to this case. Any organization has a total operating cost, which we may call C, and a total income, which we may call I. At issue here is the income from a particular source, which we may call S. Regardless of how S itself is allocated, the very presence of S means that the remainder of the total income, equal to I minus S, will be allocated differently than it would be in the absence of S. In other words, taxpayer funding for a non-controversial portion of an organization means that the organization can spend less of its non-taxpayer funding on that portion, thereby freeing up resources that the organization can now use for a more controversial activity.

In the case of Syrian opposition forces, money that they do not have to spend on food, medicine, etc. is money that they are now able to spend on armaments. The practical upshot is that there is no such thing as non-lethal aid to an organization that conducts lethal operations, and that economic and political commentators should take this into account.

7. President Obama’s red line was a mistake, no matter what he would have done afterward. In August 2012, Obama warned that Assad should not move or use biological or chemical weapons, and that doing so would “change his calculus” on whether to intervene. As terrible as the use of such weapons is, there was and is no effective method of intervention beyond limited strikes on the chemical weapons themselves. But drawing the red line and watching indifferently as it was crossed was worse than doing nothing, as it sent a message that American leaders are untrustworthy and do not need to be taken seriously.

8. This issue likely sealed the fate of the Gary Johnson presidential campaign. In a September 8 interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Mike Barnicle asked Johnson about Aleppo. Johnson completely blanked out on the issue. At the time, he was hovering around 9 percent in the polls and needed to reach 15 percent to gain access to the debates. This gaffe marked the beginning of his gradual decline from 8.8 percent on September 7 to the 3.3 percent of the vote he received on November 8. Attempts were made to defend his gaffe by claiming that Johnson could not bomb other countries like major-party presidents do if he did not know about them, but these rightly rang hollow. It is one thing to withdraw from foreign entanglements, but quite another to have no idea what is happening.

9. This problem is the result of Western meddling. Syria was a colony of France from 1920 to 1946. At the beginning of this time, Mandatory Syria was divided into six states: Greater Lebanon (now Lebanon), Sanjak of Alexandretta (now part of Turkey), the State of Aleppo, the State of Damascus, the Alawite State, and the Jabal al-Druze State. This arrangement kept opposing factions in their own territories, but France had combined the latter four by the end of 1936. These factions fought for control, resulting in a large number of military coups and attempted coups from 1945 to 1970, ending only when Hafez al-Assad was able to rule strongly enough to suppress dissent. After his death in 2000, his son Bashar succeeded him. In the Arab Spring protests of 2011, Assad’s rule was challenged by various factions which sought to remove him from power, leading to the Syrian Civil War. But if France had not tried to combine disparate peoples under one state and had instead left the four Syrian states separate, this bloody conflict could have been prevented. Bashar al-Assad, if he had come to power at all in this alternate timeline, would only be the ruler of a small part of western Syria. The rest of the country would have been ruled more locally and probably less oppressively by governments of their own people.

10. What we are witnessing in Syria is the true nature of the state. Governments do not maintain rule by divine right or popular consent; they do it by murdering anyone who dares to challenge their power, and even some who do not. Governments murdered 262 million of their own citizens in the 20th century, and if Aleppo is anything to go by, the 21st century is not off to a good start. One may object that not all governments have done such things to their own people in time memorial, or even ever, but that is not the point. The point is that all of them would if faced with a sufficiently powerful popular insurgency. The effect of power upon a ruler is intoxicating and addicting, much like substance abuse. Those who enjoy the power, wealth, and fame of being part of the ruling class will react with the utmost hostility toward any threat to their means of rule. The fear of reprisals by the people against the rulers should the regime fall coupled with the potential of having to produce rather than plunder for a living provides them all the motivation they need to violently crush rebellions. The tragedy of Aleppo, Homs, and other Syrian rebel strongholds is just the latest in a long line of murderous rampages by the ruling classes.