Agreeing With Statists For The Wrong Reasons: Conscription

Conscription of individuals for civil or military service has been practiced since the dawn of statism, and has expanded to include almost all men since the French Revolution. The practice goes by many names: levying, impressment, national service, call-up, and the draft, to name a few. Though many states no longer use it, relying instead upon professional soldiers that enlist voluntarily, most claim a right to resume conscription if they cannot preserve themselves or achieve their foreign policy goals otherwise. This policy is controversial on religious, political, and philosophical grounds. Libertarians object to conscription as a violation of self-ownership, the root of all libertarian philosophy. As Ayn Rand explains,

“It negates man’s fundamental right—the right to life—and establishes the fundamental principle of statism: that a man’s life belongs to the state, and the state may claim it by compelling him to sacrifice it in battle.”[1]

According to Ron Paul,

“Conscription is wrongly associated with patriotism, when it really represents slavery and involuntary servitude.”[2]

The philosophical libertarian case against conscription is beyond reproach, but the perverse nature of statist systems of governance can make almost any deontologically indefensible policy into a useful strategy for libertarians. Let us see how conscription can backfire on the states that make use of it, and thus why one might agree with statists for the wrong reasons.

By forcing people to engage in an activity, the state provokes feelings of resentment and rebellion. With regard to conscription, this has a variety of effects that undermine the state. First, conscription fuels anti-war movements. Look at the unrest in America during the Vietnam War. Resistance to the draft played a major part in the protest movement, as people burned draft cards, evaded conscription by fleeing to Canada, and attacked draft board offices.[3] Similar examples go all the way back to the time of Hammurabi (r. 1791–1750 BC), when people avoided ilkum (the ancient Babylonian conscription system) by hiring substitutes to fight in their stead, leaving town, or selling property that had ilkum obligations attached to its ownership. These behaviors were outlawed by the Code of Hammurabi, but were widely practiced regardless.[4]

When Milton Friedman convinced the Nixon administration to end the draft in 1973, it knocked the bottom out of the anti-war movement, showing it to really be an anti-draft movement. The deep, unpleasant truth here is that many people do not care that the state is prosecuting a murderous war of aggression unless they feel personally inconvenienced by it. Thanks to central banking, fiat currency, and the monetary policies they enable, governments are able to hide the true cost of war from their citizens. Although the post-war recession always comes eventually, many people lack the economic literacy to connect the dots. A sufficiently strong military can keep the enemy from causing damage at home, and anyone who suggests that whatever terrorist attacks do get through are a retaliation for military misadventures overseas can be labeled a kook and run out of polite society by establishment politicians and pundits. But few things will inconvenience the citizenry more than receiving notice that they are to drop everything and report for basic training, after which they will get a one-way ticket to a war zone.

The feelings of resentment toward conscription also have an impact on performance. An unwilling workforce is very inefficient, as they lack the passion and work ethic for work that one enjoys or at least finds voluntarily acceptable. This has the effect of making the state’s forces less capable, which libertarians should seek to do, especially if those forces are deployed in wars of aggression abroad or suppressing dissidents at home. If the state is going to do such things, it is better that they be done by people who do not want to be doing them. They will lack the barbaric enthusiasm necessary to commit the worst atrocities. Some may even sabotage such efforts, raising the cost of imperialist expansion and domestic oppression so that they may become unfeasible.

Speaking of raising costs, conscription increases the number of soldiers, so it necessarily increases the number of future veterans. Since most governments have programs which are designed especially for veterans, to either take care of injuries sustained while in service or help them transition to a civilian life, these programs have to expand to meet the needs of more people. This has a similar effect on the national budget to growing the welfare state, and while libertarians should be trying to do the opposite at face value, any realistic assessment of political reality will find this to be impossible. The more practical strategy is to overload and collapse such programs, and using veterans programs instead of the welfare state for this purpose will be more effective. Welfare parasites are likely to engage in aimless riots if their programs are cut, as they will simply switch to direct theft of resources to fuel their unproductive lifestyle if the indirect theft of the state ceases to supply them. Veterans, on the other hand, will have an ax to grind with the state in particular, as they will feel that the state is in breach of a contract with them after they risked their lives to defend it. As happened with the Bonus Army incident in 1932, this can lead to civil unrest. A large movement of disgruntled former military personnel is one of the most dangerous domestic challenges that a ruling elite can face. Opposing such a movement will contradict their own propaganda and promises about military service. Cutting veterans benefits will turn the youth against serving the state. Using the current state forces to suppress the former state forces has the potential to foment rebellion. There are no good answers for the elite if they cannot keep their promises to military veterans.

On the subject of revolution, the aspect of conscription that undermines the state the most is that it gives training, experience, camaraderie, and organizational skills to potential rivals. This cannot be avoided because the alternative is to have inept conscripts, which defeats the purpose. A famous example of this dynamic is the Mamluks, children who were kidnapped from non-Muslim Iranian and Turkish families to serve as soldiers in Muslim caliphates and sultanates beginning in the 9th century. They became a powerful warrior caste over time, eventually seizing power for themselves in Egypt in 1250, forming the Bahri and Burji dynasties that ruled until 1517.[5] Though modern conscripts are not generally imported slaves or child soldiers, they still have the potential to become the paramilitary wing of a political movement capable of seizing power.

Finally, let us make use of the neoreactionary concept of formalism. This is the idea that in human affairs, official reality should match actual reality, the underlying power dynamics should be brought into the open, and accounting practices should be honest. The actual reality is that any state would conscript its citizens if the alternative were a collapse of the regime and/or conquest by a foreign power. Official reality should therefore refrain from denying this fact, so let us stop the deceit of saying that conscription is abolished.

To conclude, conscription is a terrible policy for any state to implement, full of perverse incentives and rights violations. But because those harm the state while breeding resistance to it, one may agree with statists for the wrong reasons when they advocate for conscription.

References:

  1. Rand, Ayn (1967). Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. Signet. p. 226.
  2. Paul, Ron (2003, Jan. 14). “Conscription Is Slavery”. Antiwar.com
  3. Zinn, Howard (2003). A People’s History of the United States. HarperCollins Publishers. p. 483–501.
  4. Postgate, J.N. (1992). Early Mesopotamia Society and Economy at the Dawn of History. Routledge. p. 242–43.
  5. McGregor, Andrew James (2006). A Military History of Modern Egypt: From the Ottoman Conquest to the Ramadan War. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 15.

On Libertarianism and Statecraft, Part I: Political Strategy

<<<Introduction                                                                                      Part II>>>

Author’s note: The main themes of this series will be further expounded upon in my upcoming book Anarcho-Monarchism, which will be available in April.

The Libertarian Party

There are few efforts within the libertarian movement that are as shameful and poorly constructed as the US Libertarian Party. It is famously a den of toxicity that is rarely able to have a positive impact on libertarianism. Every attempt of having innovation in the party and having the party be involved in anything other than mainstream politics is stamped out. The party that is supposed to represent the libertarian ideal and bring libertarianism into society is a complete mess.

There are many reasons for this. First, to even have a libertarian party goes against the fundamental nature of libertarianism. Libertarianism cannot be achieved from our current position by a strategy wholly concerned with top-down matters and working through the political system. The current political system is entirely based on corruption and collaboration with special interests. There is no institutional possibility to enact actual change as long as the current system persists. The entrenched interests are far more powerful than anyone who tries to challenge them from a libertarian or reactionary perspective. Libertarianism opposes parasitism and thus will lack funding as no concrete pressure group benefits from libertarianism. Furthermore, even if it was possible to have a drastic change of governance in the modern political system, there is still the issue of libertarians themselves not being prone to organization.

Becoming a libertarian is strongly correlated with cynicism and a nature that instinctively opposes the modern state. Furthermore, the pessimistic individualism that has characterized the movement since the 19th century has functionally thwarted any chance to have a sociable top-down movement of libertarians. In order to become libertarians, people need to lack trust in the state and reject most of what they have been taught about civics in the state’s education system. Few people would willfully embrace pessimism and individualism if they have other options which are more comforting to them.

Thus, a libertarian movement of significant size and influence must be optimistic and communitarian. This is the second reason why a libertarian party is contrary to reason. There is no optimism and little sense of community in trying to bring liberty into the federal politics of the United States. If libertarians do not find good leadership that can surpass these issues, there can be no hope or personal gain in working toward libertarianism in the political arena. The only way in which libertarians can create optimistic communities is to start small and work within areas in which individuals can truly have an impact. Libertarians must start from the ground up if there is to be any advancement of libertarianism.

The Libertarian Mantra

We have consistently heard that libertarians are “socially left and economically right” or how “gay married couples should be able to defend their weed farms with machine guns.” The examples of this particular combination of free-market advocacy and social degeneracy permeate the political rhetoric of politically active libertarians. This is an incredibly ill-fated approach, as most people are prone to take the exact opposite approach. The majority of people cluster around the social right and economic left. There is little appeal for the ideas that everyone ought to be able to do what they want and that hedonistic disregard for others is desirable.

Political Positions

What then should libertarians do? The entire libertarian philosophy is oriented around having a strong commitment to both social and economic liberty. Fortunately, there are great answers within libertarian theory, countless examples of how we are neither economically right nor socially left. The economic right is often associated with pro-corporate measures, but corporations are legal fictions created by the state. There is no sympathy for capitalists or for workers; rather, the market process is allowed to favor or disfavor as its actors please. That being said, libertarianism logically implies a higher level of control by workers, as without the state there would be neither systematic unemployment nor the barriers to entry created by government regulations. If there is no systematic unemployment, then workers will have more options, meaning that business interests will have less power over them. A lack of burdensome regulations would allow more wage earners to start their own businesses, eliminating the need for them to seek jobs at existing firms. The actual economics are more complex, but libertarianism is compatible with many forms of pro-worker advocacy. Libertarians tend to ignore this aspect of economic policy to their detriment.

An opposition to the state controlling banks through the fractional reserve system is a popular sentiment, as banking is not the most beloved industry. An opposition to corporate bailouts, pollution, and corporate welfare all perfectly coincide with an economically leftist view; the difference is the means libertarians seek to use. The commitment to free markets claimed by the economic right is simply rhetoric that is not actually practiced. Furthermore, many mainstream left-wing economists have views contrary to those of normal people who believe in economic justice. Even the average Bernie Sanders supporter could be brought to the libertarian side if there were not such a commitment to the economic right as it currently exists. The only major roadblock is the welfare state, which is wholly incompatible with libertarianism.

On social issues, nothing about respecting property rights implies that we ought to favor the social left. Private exclusion is as valid as private inclusion; what we oppose is the ability of the state to implement social policy and force people to associate or dissociate. Even though being socially left made political sense when the establishment still had respect for tradition, the pervasive degeneracy in our politics and culture has made that no longer the case. This does not mean that being on the social left is morally valid, but rather that it served as a viable strategy in the midst of the US cultural revolution. There is no commitment in any Western country to theocracy or reactionary politics. Thus, it is far more useful to work with the social right, as it is the left that is currently attacking personal liberties.

Finally, there is nothing within libertarianism that would imply that we should promote economic and social nihilism. Libertarians only contend that if the state gets involved in the economy or society, it will cause negative effects to the population as a whole. However, private individuals should be more than welcome to try to peacefully improve society and the economy. There is nothing wrong with voluntary and non-governmental forms of social and economic involvement contrary to nihilistic non-interventionism.

Regime Change

Even if libertarians were somehow able to gain an overwhelming majority in federal and local governments, there would be little that they could actually accomplish. This is because libertarians are not prepared to be dictators, and the only way in which to rework the entire corrupt system is to impose an autocratic, totalitarian change of the system. The entrenched interests are far too powerful to allow for less organized and less powerful entities to reduce their profits. The bureaucracy is also far more powerful than every politician combined, capable of taking a mile behind the backs of libertarians for every inch they gain. Even if libertarians somehow manage to change the entire regime, anti-libertarian, statist sentiment will erupt from the Cathedral, as all the entrenched interests will not wish to lose access to state violence. If libertarians ever would find themselves in a position of power, the degree of propaganda they would face is far greater than any other movement ever has. There is no way in which libertarians can create liberty by simply changing the regime. The only way in which libertarians have any hope at all through political processes is if the change is sufficiently local and ineffective that the entrenched interests find it too troublesome to oppose. Libertarianism is hopeless within the modern state no matter how overwhelmingly the population may vote for libertarian candidates.

Politics Within the State

The only way in which the liberals in England and the US gained power was through extensive civil wars and political struggles led by men so great that they are still remembered as some of the greatest political minds, and even those movements were unsustainable. Despite 19th century classical liberalism producing unparalleled prosperity, the state eventually turned from liberalism to interventionism and socialism. This will always occur, as the state will tax the prosperity and use the proceeds to fund socialism and wars.

The only consistent answer to how libertarians ought to participate in politics within a statist system is that politics is only a stopgap measure to effect temporary change. This can be useful, but it will never provide good governance. The state is a coercive monopolist and will never provide services like market entities can. However, having the state charge and provide less is both an economic and social good which can be accomplished in some cases. This will never result in thorough or pervasive change; it will only be a matter of temporary alliances of convenience. Another option is to deliberately worsen state oppression so as to wake more people up to the evil of the state. This may trigger a revolution to eliminate the state, or it may be needlessly destructive.

Secession and Revolution

Whereas politics is not an option for creating a libertarian society, other methods must be considered. These are secession and revolution. Due to the common responses of states to such behavior, secession implies revolution. States typically try to suppress secessionist efforts by force, as allowing any group of people to break off a territory would doom the entire scheme. As the direct goal for each person within the state who does not have explicit aims to provide good governance is to consolidate power, there is no chance that secession will not be met with an active military response. Such a response only ends with the rebels vanquished or the secessionists allowed to leave after a bloody and ruinous civil war. Preventing such a response would require a deterrent that they would not risk suffering, such as a privately owned nuclear arsenal. This is a rather bleak picture, but so is the prospect of allowing the nation-state model to continue with its high taxes, indoctrination of children, corruptions of justice, and murderous wars.

Furthermore, without the state, there could be a rise of governance that is positive and that aids in human flourishing. The efficiency of human cooperation could be unleashed in voluntary associations and the market formed by those associations. This is a question of whether we are prepared to fight for life and governance which is conducive to life, or if we will accept being only partially alive. There can be no libertarian statecraft if there is a state. Conversely, the abolition of the state will create the possibility of statecraft that far exceeds anything we have yet seen.

Conclusion

Provided that we need secession or revolution to achieve a stateless society, we now have to move on to what such a society would look like. A significant amount of libertarians think that this implies an alienated mesh of market transactions. However, we have to seriously consider the deeper implications of property ownership to have a proper understanding of what it means to own property. Is it true that property can be managed on an individual level? Is there really no inherent disutility to owning property? How can we describe statecraft without a state? These questions and more will be answered in the next part.

<<<Introduction                                                                                      Part II>>>

Eliminate The Debt Ceiling

The United States debt ceiling is a limit placed on the amount of money that the federal government can borrow. This is done by placing a cap on the amount of national debt that can be issued by the US Treasury. About 99.5 percent of the debt is covered by this ceiling, but $238 million in United States Notes and $74 billion owed by the Federal Financing Bank as of September 2016 are not covered.

Because the ceiling applies to the total national debt rather than to annual deficits, and expenditures are authorized by separate legislation, the debt ceiling does not directly limit government spending. As the Government Accountability Office explains, “The debt limit does not control or limit the ability of the federal government to run deficits or incur obligations. Rather, it is a limit on the ability to pay obligations already incurred.”

When this occurs and the ceiling is not increased by legislation, the Treasury must resort to “extraordinary measures” such as suspending investments into federal employee retirement funds or exchanging Treasury securities for non-Treasury securities. Should such measures be exhausted before Congress agrees to raise or suspend the ceiling, a default on at least some of the national debt would occur. Most mainstream economists believe that this could cause an economic depression as well as a financial crisis.

Whether the nature of this ceiling should be altered and whether such a limit should exist at all are subjects of debate among economists and political commentators. This article will overview the history of the debt ceiling, make the case that it should be eliminated on both practical and moral grounds, and deal with common objections to elimination.

History

Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution gives Congress sole authority to borrow money on national credit. Between 1788 and 1917, Congress would pass legislation to authorize each bond issue by the US Treasury, with the particular amount specified in each legislative act. This would authorize specific loans in some cases, while in other cases the Treasury would be given discretion over which type of debt instrument to issue for specific purposes. Except for a short time in late 1835 and early 1836, the federal government has continuously had a national debt. Although there were parliamentary procedural rules concerning debt limits, there was no debt ceiling in the current form until 1917.

In 1913, the Sixteenth Amendment and the Federal Reserve Act both became law, which greatly expanded the taxing and spending capabilities of the federal government. As originally defined, the Federal Reserve was not allowed to purchase debt instruments from the US Treasury because members of Congress understood the fiscal danger that could arise from granting such permission. The desire for financial flexibility regarding American involvement in World War I led Congress to pass the Second Liberty Bond Act of 1917. This Act allowed the Treasury to issue bonds and take on other debt without specific Congressional approval, and allowed the Fed to purchase Treasury instruments. The debt ceiling was created as part of the deal to pass these changes, and took the form of limits on the aggregate amount of debt that could be accumulated through each category of debt, such as bills and bonds.

In 1939 and 1941, Congress passed the Public Debt Acts, which establish an aggregate limit on nearly all federal debt. Since then, the mechanism for raising the debt ceiling has been to amend these acts. The 1939 Act consolidated the separate limits from the 1917 Act into one limit, while the 1941 Act raised the debt ceiling to $65 billion, eliminated the tax exemption of interest and profit on government debt, and consolidated almost all government borrowing under the US Treasury. The Act was amended to raise the limit in each of the next four years, then the limit was reduced from $300 billion to $275 billion in 1946. Increases resumed in 1954, and there have been 72 increases and four decreases since then, with no decrease since 1963. As such, the debt ceiling has usually been a mere formality. After the Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 created more opportunities for Congress to hold debates and hearings on the federal budget, the debt ceiling became less useful as a budgetary tool.[1] From 1979 to 1995, the Gephardt rule was in effect, which was a parliamentary rule that deemed the debt ceiling raised whenever a budget was passed, effectively nullifying the debt ceiling during that time. This rule was removed during the resolution of the 1995-96 government shutdown.

Treasury first implemented extraordinary measures on December 16, 2009 to avoid a government shutdown. Due to the lack of normal annual budgets during the Obama administration, Congressional Republicans used the debt ceiling as leverage for deficit reduction in 2011. This nearly caused a sovereign default, with Standard and Poor’s downgrading the United States credit rating and the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropping 2,000 points in late July and August. The Government Accountability Office estimated that this incident raised borrowing costs for the government by $1.3 billion in 2011, and the Bipartisan Policy Center extrapolated this estimate to $18.9 billion from 2011 to 2020. The debt ceiling was reached again at the end of 2012, which led to the Treasury adopting extraordinary measures again, as well as far more absurd measures being proposed.

On February 4, 2013, President Obama signed the No Budget, No Pay Act of 2013, which suspended the debt ceiling for the first time. This lasted until May 19. During that time, Treasury was authorized to borrow to the extent that “is required to meet existing commitments.” On May 19, the debt ceiling was raised to $16.699 trillion to accommodate borrowing performed during the suspension and extraordinary measures were resumed. In order to avoid a default when extraordinary measures were exhausted on October 17, the debt ceiling was suspended a second time until February 7, 2014. On February 12, the Temporary Debt Limit Extension Act suspended the debt ceiling until March 15, 2015, at which Treasury used extraordinary measures yet again. The debt ceiling was suspended again on October 30, 2015 until March 2017, and the suspension has been extended until the time of this writing.

Before And After

To begin making the case against the debt ceiling, let us consider the effect that having a debt ceiling has had on the national debt, which will show the effectiveness of the debt ceiling at reducing government spending over the long-term. Records begin in 1790, with the debt at the beginning of that year at $71 million. The debt grew to $127 million in 1816 from the War of 1812, then was steadily paid off until reaching zero in 1835. It would never be paid off again, growing gradually starting in 1836, then up to $68 million in 1851 as a result of the Mexican War. The next low was at $29 million in 1857. The Civil War caused an unprecedented debt, going from $91 million in 1861 to $2.77 billion in 1866, an increase of 2,962 percent. The next low was $1.55 billion in 1894, just before the Spanish-American War and other expansionist endeavors. The gradual growth during the early 20th century was accelerated by World War I, going from $3.06 billion in 1915 to $27.39 billion in 1919, an increase of 796 percent. Recall that the debt ceiling was instituted in 1917, with a national debt of $5.72 billion. The debt would be gradually paid off during the 1920s, reaching the next low of $16.8 billion in 1931. The debt grew again during the 1930s to fund government programs aimed at curtailing the Great Depression, reaching $48.96 billion in 1941. World War II ballooned the debt to $269.42 billion in 1946, an increase of 450 percent from 1941. The debt would never go below $250 billion again, gradually increasing past $300 billion in 1963. The Vietnam War accelerated the debt to $620.43 billion by 1976. In 1982, the national debt exceeded $1 trillion and has grown every year since 1958. On September 8, 2017, the debt passed the $20 trillion mark. Note that these figures do not include unfunded liabilities, which in recent times have become much larger than the official figure.

From 1790 to 1917, the debt increased by 7,946 percent, or 7.34 percent per year. From 1917 to 2017, the debt increased by 3,398 percent, or 8.5 percent per year. By this measure, the debt ceiling appears to be somewhat counterproductive for restraining spending, as the national debt has increased an additional 1.16 percent per year since its inception. However, one must be wary of cum hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning. National debts are influenced by a great multitude of variables, and attributing this change to a single cause would be fallacious. The larger role played by the United States on the world stage, with the attendant expenditures on military presence and foreign aid, contribute a great deal to the debt, as do social welfare programs, which were nearly nonexistent before 1917.

Now And Later

To make a stronger case, we must consider the current effects of having a debt ceiling versus the likely effects of eliminating it. In the process, we will make use of the neoreactionary concept of formalism. This is the idea that in human affairs, official reality should match actual reality, the underlying power dynamics should be brought into the open, and accounting practices should be honest.

The recent history is that the debt ceiling is always raised to avoid running into it. Starting in 2013, the practice has become to suspend the ceiling entirely. It goes without saying that a ceiling which is always raised and can be made to disappear is not really a ceiling at all. The effect of this is for the state to continually take on more debt rather than pay its bills properly. This is politically convenient, as it allows politicians to bribe voters with the fruits of the labor of their unborn descendants while avoiding the backlash that inevitably results from austerity measures. To call this a Ponzi scheme is an insult to Ponzi schemes, as all of the beneficiaries and victims in those scams are willing investors. A private sector Ponzi scheme involves no inter-generational debt slavery or other forced participation.

Although even the most ardent deficit hawks are loathe to be blamed for a sovereign default, the threat that a default will occur in this manner spooks investors needlessly. As mentioned earlier, the Dow Jones dropped 2,000 points in response to the 2011 debt ceiling crisis. If investors are convinced that a default may happen in spite of the apparent unwillingness of politicians to cause a default, then the markets will be sent into turmoil for no good reason.

Eliminating the debt ceiling would be a change that moves official reality closer to actual reality on several counts. First, the opponents of fiscal restraint know that those who would use the debt ceiling as a tool to reduce government spending will always cave before a default, even if they do cause the occasional partial shutdown of government functions. For this reason, their bluff is always called and they lose the hand by playing the debt ceiling card. Removing this card from the deck not only takes away an ineffective option, but forces reformers to seek out other methods which may be effective.

Second, eliminating the debt ceiling would signal that the federal government has no interest in paying off its creditors. It should be obvious enough that an entity which increases its debt burden every year for 60 years does not have fiscal responsibility as an objective, but the Treasury seems to have no shortage of lenders, especially because the Federal Reserve serves as a lender of last resort. Note that because the federal government monopolizes law, declares itself immune from suit, and has the firepower to repel those who would seek to collect by force, it is not accountable for the national debt in an absolute sense. Accountability thus becomes an indirect, external affair which would be aided by the consequences of signaling the aforementioned truth to the world.

The admission of no intention of paying off the debt, which is essentially an admission that a default will eventually occur, would make interest rates rise. This would be necessary in order to compensate investors for the fact that they may lose their principal, or at least take a haircut on it at some future date. Aside from the obvious benefit to savers, who would see financial progress for the first time in over a decade, the increased spending on interest on the national debt would force a combination of tax increases and spending cuts in other areas. This would make current supporters of government programs pay more for them up front through taxation and inflation, constrain the pathologically undisciplined federal government, and reveal the true priorities of the power elite when decisions about whom to tax more and which expenditures to cut are taken. As such, it both brings the underlying power dynamics into the open and makes accounting practices more honest.

Objections

At this point, let us consider some likely objections. First, there is the possibility that having no debt ceiling would cause the debt to grow even faster. The above examination of the history of the national debt suggests that this objection is ill-founded, as the annual percentage increase has been higher with a debt ceiling in place. But even if it is true that eliminating the debt ceiling would accelerate the growth of the national debt, this is not necessarily bad. The faster the debt accelerates, the sooner the events described in the previous section will occur, meaning that the current unsustainable dynamics will be replaced earlier than they otherwise would.

A second objection is that this course of action may cause an economic collapse. This is entirely possible, but again, not necessarily bad. The end of the United States dollar would result in either a monetary reform and/or the replacement of government fiat currencies with something more sound, such as a gold-backed currency or a cryptocurrency. Because the US dollar is the world reserve currency, the US government can abuse its economic system more than other governments can. Losing this status would be another step toward forcing the government to behave more responsibly, as it would curtail the amount of debt that can be issued by reducing foreign demand.

The resulting collapse of the bond market leads to the third objection that this would cause a great amount of hardship. However, one must remember that the investors in government bonds have bought instruments which are funded by extortion and debt slavery. From a moral standpoint, those who lose on such investments deserve to lose. That being said, this course of action does not actually cause the collapse; rather, it makes the inevitable collapse occur more quickly.

Conclusion

The debt ceiling was created with the intention of limiting the ability of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve to behave irresponsibly as they were allowed to provide more liquidity to fund World War I. But over the past century, quite the opposite has happened. The national debt has grown significantly faster than it did previously, and is now on a path toward default which is not reversible given current political realities. Eliminating the debt ceiling may seem like a counterproductive maneuver, but it would do much to formalize the true nature of the American fiscal situation. The only real debt ceiling is that established by lenders and creditors. When they deem a borrower to pose too much of a default risk, they stop lending and call in their debts, thus forcing the debtor to behave responsibly. The sooner this happens to the United States government, the better.

References:

  1. Kowalcky, Linda W.; LeLoup, Lance T. (1993). Congress and the Politics of Statutory Debt Limitation. Public Administration Review. 53 (1): p. 14.

The Benefits of a Trump-Russia Conspiracy

One of the most prominent news stories of the early days of the Trump presidency is the alleged conspiracy between officials in the Trump administration and members of the Russian government to help him get elected. The allegations that Russian intelligence agents interfered in the 2016 election are not going away, despite a lack of clear evidence for such claims. Relationships between senior administration officials and Moscow have come under intensified scrutiny in recent weeks, following Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, who was investigating such connections. But so far, what collusion is known to have occurred did not violate any laws.

As expected, the political and pundit classes are divided along ideological lines. Democrats and establishment Republicans are determined to find a scandal, while Trump supporters insist that this is a conspiracy theory and witch hunt. As usual, the sharpest argument on the issue is going unexplored by the chattering classes: that such a conspiracy, if it has occurred, would be beneficial. Therefore, let us consider the positive results that would occur if a conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and/or administration and the Russian government is proven, as well as the benefits of such collusion.

Un-Intelligence Agencies

If investigators find an improper connection between Trump and Russia, it will thoroughly discredit all of the US government’s intelligence agencies. A foreign power managing to successfully conspire with a presidential candidate in order to install someone who owes them favors at best and is their puppet at worst is exactly the kind of event that those agencies are supposed to prevent. A failure of that magnitude would signal that the leading positions in the US government are vulnerable not only to foreign interference, but to a hostile takeover by agents of a foreign government by means of a Manchurian candidate. Should this be the case, it would be clear for all to see that the government in general and the office of the Presidency in particular are too powerful.

To fail to prevent a declining second-rate power like Russia from altering the outcome of an election should finish off the American people’s trust in these agencies. Their trust has already been diminished by the revelations of Edward Snowden and the general failure of these agencies to do much besides entrap ‘terrorists’ of their own manufacturing, so such a spectacular failure might be the last straw. In a world where centralized statist means of security are increasingly ineffective and decentralized private alternatives are necessary, such a revelation could provide the impetus for a complete rethinking of the provision of security.

Preventing War

As the quote frequently misattributed to Lenin goes, “The best way to control the opposition is to lead it ourselves.” If Trump is compromised by Russian influence, as the conspiracy theorists claim, then war between the United States and Russia becomes pointless from a Russian perspective. Why engage in hostilities with a nation when one has influence over its leadership, but not enough influence to overcome the disparity in military capability? More progress can be made from their position by working with a friendly American president who is compromised by them.

In the world today, there is no greater potential threat to American and Russian citizens than a war between their governments, as each side has nuclear weapons and the great advantage that the United States enjoys in conventional military firepower would encourage Russia to escalate to a nuclear exchange. Of the two major presidential candidates, Clinton was the most bellicose toward Russia and its client state in Syria, and her interventionist position on the Syrian Civil War had great potential to bring American and Russian forces into direct conflict with each other. In the estimation of a competent Russian policymaker, it was in the best interest of Russian citizens (and everyone else, for that matter) for Russia to interfere in the US presidential election to help Trump win, especially by means that would create a sense of reciprocation once Trump is in office. Given the stakes involved, increasing cooperation between the United States and Russia is more important than the means used in so doing.

Delegitimizing The System

Those who hope for the accusations against Trump to be true may not appreciate the logical conclusions of the result they anticipate. If Donald Trump, why not anyone else? If the Presidency, why not any other office? If 2016, why not any other election year? Such a scandal would call into question the democratic process in the United States at every level. Senators, governors, mayors, county commissioners, and all of the rest would be at least as suspect, if not more so. Though such offices lack the power of the Presidency, the resources needed to infiltrate and commandeer such offices are far fewer. These offices could be used to accomplish particular foreign policy goals of Russia, China, or another rival power, such as hampering the construction of a military base in a particular state or blocking funding for anti-ICBM defense systems. Given the power that state and local governments have over the daily lives of citizens, a few solid plants in key positions could do significant damage.

If the process for selecting politicians is compromised, then the laws they pass and policies they enact are compromised a fortiori. The chaos injected into American political life by this realization is scarcely imaginable. Reams of legislation and regulation would need to be examined and possibly invalidated on the grounds that they were not properly ratified. Politicians and judges would be scrambling to figure out the correct precedent to set for dealing with such an event. Should they be in error (and they likely would be), their perceived legitimacy would be greatly diminished. Leaving dubiously passed laws and regulations in place would taint the perceived validity of the whole United States Code and federal regulations, while examining them all would take entirely too much time. The third option of eliminating many of these policies would provide a rare opportunity to repeal a large amount of burdensome legislation and regulation.

Additionally, all of the appointments the politicians have made would come into question, from department heads all the way up to Supreme Court justices. This would call all of their decisions into question as well. When someone points out that these politicians and judges have a conflict of interest because they themselves might be compromised by foreign influence, the American people might even get to witness a Mexican standoff of “Are You A Soviet Spy?” between government officials, which would be thoroughly entertaining, if nothing else.

Should Congress try to impeach Trump over a revelation that his election was compromised by Russia, it is likely that he would respond by declassifying and speaking about all of the underhanded means that they have used to bribe their way into their House and Senate seats, as well as any other scandals in which they might be involved. The American people would suddenly learn that the system is far more hopelessly corrupt than they ever imagined. Tu quoque may be a logical fallacy, but it has tremendous moral and emotional weight. If Trump went down, he could take many members of Congress with him when the 2018 midterm elections come.

Though everyone in the establishment would consider these events to be unthinkably dangerous, for libertarians this chain of events would be nothing short of glorious. Though it might endanger Americans in the short term to have such a government failure, it would provide an excellent opportunity for market actors to step in and provide more effective services. The loss of faith in democracy would allow for more libertarian forms of governance to be considered with less public hostility.

Conclusion

Regardless of the actual facts of the case, a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government would be beneficial to Americans on multiple counts. The aftermath of such a revelation is impossible to predict, but no one could reasonably conclude that more statism is the answer. Thus, let us hope that the conspiracy theorists are correct. Such a sharp line of argumentation has gone completely unexplored by the establishment media, and one may speculate that this is due to a combination of their role as propagandists for the US government, a lack of insightful boldness, and the damning implications of such reasoning for the status quo political arrangement.

Authority, Anarchy, and Libertarian Social Order

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

Stateless In Somalia

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Case of Tudor England

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

He continues,

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

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

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

Chile and Singapore

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

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

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

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

Libertarianism and Reaction

Pendleton writes,

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

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

Final Arbitration

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of Rules and Rulers

Pendleton writes,

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

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

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

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

Mischaracterization

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

The Definition of Liberty

Pendleton writes,

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

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

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

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

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

Rationalism and Empiricism

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

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

Conclusion

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

References:

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

On the Imbalance of Political Terror

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Principles, Political Autism, and Realpolitik

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

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

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

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

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

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

Besiege the Cathedral

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

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

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

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

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

The Ground Game

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

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

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

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

Unholy Alliances

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

Response and Counter-Response

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

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

Conclusion

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

Felling The Oak Of Statism

Several years ago, I went on a vacation with my family to the mountains for a week. On the day before we returned home, a line of severe thunderstorms hit back home. We arrived the next day to find that a large oak tree near the house had been struck by lightning. Debris was all over the yard between the woods and the house, and huge chunks of bark that had been blasted off were looped around the branches. The strike killed the massive tree, and its continued presence posed a danger. It was large enough to fall onto the house from where it stood if left to its own devices, so it had to be felled. But due to these circumstances, it could not be cut down haphazardly and without regard for what damage might be done if it were to fall in the wrong direction. We called in professional loggers to remove the tree in such a way as to avoid hurting anyone or damaging anything. The tree was removed properly and all was well.

There is a useful lesson here for those who seek to end the state. The state is like that oak; large, weighty, and with great potential to destroy. A thunderstorm consisting of economic, social, and cultural decay masked by technological progress has come. A lightning strike of discontent with the status quo is charging up, and sooner or later the tree of statism will be fatally struck. But if we leave the tree to die and fall by its own weight and decay, immense and possibly irreparable damage may be done to the social order. Just like the oak, the method used to dismantle the state apparatus cannot be haphazard in nature.

Those who subscribe to ‘No Particular Order-ism’, or the belief that libertarians should take whatever reduction in the size and scope of government they can get, are exhibiting a dangerous myopia that borders on political autism. There are certain aspects of government which, if abolished, would result in a potentially catastrophic outcome if other aspects were not also abolished beforehand or concurrently. There are other aspects of government which, if abolished, would leave people in a dangerous lurch in which they have neither a government monopoly nor a private alternative to provide them with service. There are also forms of privatization of state-controlled assets which could potentially be worse than leaving them in the state’s hands. Let us consider one example of each type to show what can go wrong if certain improper felling techniques are used on the oak of statism.

Improper Order

An example of abolishing government functions in the wrong order is that of open borders before welfare elimination. Many libertarians argue that state immigration controls should be completely lifted because they violate freedom of movement of immigrants, private property rights of residents, and freedom of association of both. But doing this while welfare programs are in place would encourage foreign peoples to flood a nation, displacing the native population while using the state to steal from them en masse. (Note that this also violates the private property rights and freedom of association of the native population.) The people who would be attracted to the country in this scenario would not be people who wish to be productive and make the nation better, but people who seek to exist parasitically upon those who have been forced to pay for the welfare state. Although this is a potential strategy for eliminating both state borders and welfare by using the influx of immigrants to crash the welfare state, this was originally proposed by leftists as a means of expanding the welfare state to the point of a basic income guarantee. (Notably, some people who call themselves libertarians actually want to expand the state in this way.) The likely outcome of all of this is not a freer society, but a loss of culture and identity to demographics which have a less libertarian disposition, the promotion of parasitism as a way of life, and the denigration of meritocracy.

Left in the Lurch

An example of leaving people without any kind of service would be the abolition of government militaries without any private replacement to protect people in their absence. This is the one part of the proverbial oak which is sure to fell the entire tree if it is cut, as a state without a monopoly on military force within its territory is a contradiction of terms. However, it is necessary to account for the Pax Romana problem. Students of history will be familiar with the time of relative peace and stability from the time of Augustus (r. 27 BCE-14 CE) until the time of Commodus (r. 177-192 CE). During this time, the economy, the arts, and agriculture flourished because the tribal battles that predated Roman conquests as well as the rebellions and riots that predated the Pax Romana were largely suppressed. But there was a dark side to this, particularly in parts of the empire which were much closer to the border than to Rome. With Roman forces in charge of law, order, and security, many peoples suffered losses in the ability to provide these services themselves. After all, societal organs tend to decay from disuse just as individual people do. When the Pax Romana ended, these peoples were without the stabilizing forces which they had come to rely upon and were out of practice in providing these services for themselves. The end result was that several of these peoples suffered raids, conquest, and murder at the hands of various barbarians and empires. Returning to our time, the restoration of the role of the militia in society as well as the development of privately owned military hardware (and perhaps a nuclear deterrent) are necessary prerequisites for an orderly elimination of government militaries. The only workable alternative to this (and only possibility before the aforementioned steps are accomplished) is a violent uprising by enough of the population living under a particular state so as to make that population ungovernable.

Soviet Dissolution

An example of improper privatization is that of handing control of state monopolies over to politically connected oligarchs. As Gustave de Molinari writes,

“Private property is redundant. ‘Public property’ is an oxymoron. All legit property is private. If property isn’t private it’s stolen.”

This is true, but the path from here to there matters. There are two proper methods of privatization of state-controlled property. One is to figure out the tax burden levied upon each person and distribute shares of state-controlled property accordingly. This is the most just method, as it attempts to compensate victims of state-sponsored theft for their losses. The other is for private citizens to seize control of whatever state-controlled property they can take and defend. This is not as just as attempting to return property to its rightful owners, but a person who takes property from a thief has a better claim to the property than the thief. For the state to hand over its monopoly over some good, service, or property to a particular private interest contributes to the creation of an oligarchical class which wields informal political power in promotion of its own self-interest to the detriment of everyone else, as happened in Russia during the dissolution of the Soviet Union. These oligarchs can cause more damage than the state in certain situations, particularly if they use their ill-gotten gains to influence who gets to wield state power, as they invariably have throughout history.

Conclusion

As always, it is important to think strategically and play the long game. Enemies of liberty are certainly doing this, and failure to do so by libertarians needlessly puts us at a disadvantage. Considering the likely consequences of cutting one part of government before another, cutting a part of government before a private replacement is viable, or privatizing state-controlled assets in certain ways can help us to fell the oak of statism in such a way as to safeguard essential elements of the social order and avoid needless unrest.

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

Book Review: The Invention of Russia

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 5/5

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!