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>>>

Book Review: Reactionary Liberty

Reactionary Liberty is a book about libertarian philosophy by Robert Taylor that approaches this and related subjects from a reactionary perspective. The book is divided into fifteen chapters, with a short introduction preceding.

Taylor begins with a four-page introduction in which he explains his motivations for writing the book. Mostly, this involves the decisive leftward shift in American libertarianism since the Ron Paul presidential campaigns of 2008 and 2012, including a notorious open letter to Paul read at the 2015 International Students for Liberty conference and Gary Johnson’s disastrous presentation in 2016. He briefly explains what is wrong with left-libertarianism and gives an outline of the structure of the book.

In the first chapter, Taylor begins with the non-aggression principle (NAP), self-ownership, and private property rights. Although Taylor notes the important distinction between just property and currently-held property, he fails to properly account for the role of conquest in determining property rights over the long term. Taylor goes on to explain the social and economic difficulties that arise without secure property rights. The failures of central planning are discussed, as are the differences between negative and positive rights. He lays out the history of natural law in Western philosophy, beginning with early Christian thinkers, continuing through Enlightenment philosophers, and culminating in Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s argumentation ethics. Taylor contrasts this with the state, which routinely violates natural law and rights. He details the many crimes of nation-states, war and debt slavery being chief among them. Taylor concludes by proposing an alternative to Marxist class theory which vilifies the state rather than the capitalist, and elevates the producer rather than the parasite.

The second chapter deals with the Austrian School perspective on the subject. Taylor takes the reader through praxeology, the action axiom, marginal utility, and the role of prices in efficiently allocating resources. Next, he explains why government and central bank interference with prices is so destructive. The section on money deals with the history of money according to the regression theorem, beginning with barter and commodity money, then progressing to precious metals and receipts for those metals. Taylor shows the reader that modern fiat currencies are a corruption of these receipts into instruments of inflation and debt slavery that facilitate unduly risky financial behavior, state largesse, and wars. In the Austrian view, these behaviors fuel the business cycle of booms and busts by distorting interest rates, which leads investors astray.

Spontaneous order and free markets are the subjects of the third chapter. Taylor begins with the economic calculation problem, the knowledge problem, and public choice theory, showing that central planning cannot succeed because it cannot calculate prices without the market and is further hampered by cynical concerns. He then covers the concept of spontaneous order, making the important and oft-overlooked observation that “there is no such thing as an unregulated market; the issue is, rather, who is doing the regulating.” These regulations take the form of trust, reputation, and freedom to dissociate, unless the state interferes by imposing its coercive regulations. Taylor frames the difference between state and market in terms of who gets profits and who suffers losses. The state privatizes profits and socializes losses, while the market does the opposite. Next, Taylor proposes the term marketization to describe the proper procedures for converting state monopolies into free-market entities, as privatization has acquired the meaning of turning over state monopolies to politically-connected oligarchs, as happened in Russia when the Soviet Union collapsed. He concludes the chapter by providing an outline of how businesses may function in a purely libertarian market while noting that the particulars can only be observed in the future, not precisely predicted in the present.

The fourth chapter offers a much-needed treatment of Cultural Marxism, a concept often (and incorrectly) dismissed by leftists as a conspiracy theory. Taylor traces its roots to the failure of political and economic Marxism in Europe after World War I, at which time Antonio Gramsci and Georg Lukacs resolved to apply Marxism to culture and use it to destroy traditional Western culture, which they faulted for the failure of communism to take root in most of the West. Taylor traces the ‘long march through the institutions’ from its beginnings in the 1930s all the way to its modern manifestations of identity politics and campus craziness. He calls on libertarians to refute Marxism’s cultural application, just as they defeated its economic application. The next section begins to do this by making the case against egalitarianism, showing it to be both impossible and self-defeating in practice. The second half of the chapter traverses more dubious ground in the form of r/K selection theory. This is an interesting analogy for attempting to understand political dynamics, but it places too much emphasis on nature instead of nurture and encourages dichotomous thinking in complex problems. That being said, it correctly suggests that some authoritarian leftists are beyond reason. The chapter ends with an explanation of the necessity of traditional social and sexual norms, as well as how and why Cultural Marxists have attacked them.

Decentralization is the focus of the fifth chapter. Taylor gives the reader a history lesson in the creation of Western traditions and common law through decentralized institutions after the fall of the Roman Empire. He blames centralization elsewhere in the world for preventing those peoples from enjoying the liberty and prosperity of Europeans. Turning to America, these two descriptions show the difference between what the United States was supposed to be and what it has become. As a remedy, Taylor proposes breaking up the US into at least 100 smaller territories. He concludes the chapter by praising those who have taken a strong stand for decentralization in the face of oppressive state power.

The sixth chapter attacks state power as a concept. Taylor explains how people are ruled indirectly through propaganda and mythology rather than directly by force, as the masses are sufficiently numerous and armed to defeat such an effort. He discusses the role of government schooling in indoctrinating the masses to accept such an arrangement, as well as the insufficient efforts to resist the imposition of compulsory indoctrination in the 19th century. The concept of situational Leninism comes next, followed by an overview of famous psychological experiments that demonstrate the willingness of people to obey authority toward reprehensible ends. After this, the role of language control and thought policing in maintaining authoritarian leftist control is examined. Taylor finishes the chapter with Ludwig von Mises’ concept of statolatry, in which statism becomes a sort of secular religion.

The attack continues in the next chapter, as Taylor turns to the flawed ideas of minarchism. He returns to the American example to show how limited government does not stay limited. He explains that the Constitution was not actually written to limit government, contrary to popular belief. It gave the federal government more power than it had under the Articles of Confederation, which Taylor praises in relative terms. He shows how Americans of the time were deceived, taking the reader through the tax rebellions of the 1780s-90s and the Alien and Sedition Acts. In the next section, he contrasts traditional monarchies with modern democracies, finding the former to be far less limited and more destructive due to inherent incentive structures. The chapter concludes with a strong explanation of why democracy grows the state and harms the cause of liberty.

In the eighth chapter, Taylor addresses police statism and what Samuel Francis termed ‘anarcho-tyranny’, a situation in which real crime goes unpunished while those who try to defend themselves are attacked by the state. He begins by noting the difference between a peace officer and an agent of the state. His description of several US Supreme Court cases is accurate, but misses the larger point that a coercive monopoly has no enforceable obligations because no one can enforce obligations against them, regardless of any court rulings. Taylor reviews Cultural Marxism through the lens of anarcho-tyranny, then explains some of the more obnoxious leftist behaviors in terms of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. The successes of the alt-right are explained in terms of their willingness to use the left’s tactics against them, unlike conventional conservatives. Next, he covers the origin of modern policing in the UK and the US, then proposes a private alternative to state police forces. The last section contemplates violent resistance against the state, though not with nearly the length and depth that the topic deserves.

While the eighth chapter considers the enforcers, Chapter 9 is concerned with what they enforce. Taylor begins by illustrating just how much poorer everyone is today as a result of lost economic growth due to regulations. Next, he refutes the progressive narrative about the antebellum South and the industrial captains of the 19th century, showing the negative aspects of both to be the result of government intervention rather than its absence. He then profiles James J. Hill, a largely forgotten hero of free-market capitalism in the late 19th century. Hill’s good deeds are contrasted with those who used the state to get undue favors and suppress competition. Taylor also corrects the record on John D. Rockefeller. The following section covers the history of expanding regulations after the Civil War, through the Progressive Era, and on to the present. He accuses those who point to regulations as the cause of improvements in safety and reductions in pollution of committing the broken window fallacy and ignoring the fact that some regulations have made people less healthy. The chapter concludes with many examples of faulty regulations that do more harm than good.

The transition from voluntary mutual aid to coercive welfare statism is the subject of the tenth chapter. Taylor introduces the subject with the age-old statist question, “Without government, who would take care of the poor?” Of course, one must begin by pointing out that government does no such thing, as Taylor does. He spends the first part of the chapter educating the reader about mutual aid societies, which were common before the Progressive Era but were destroyed by government intervention into the healthcare and insurance industries. Taylor shows how the state has reduced the supply of medical care, thus increasing its cost and decreasing its availability. Unfortunately, Taylor’s approach ignores the Social Darwinist perspective that natural selection should be allowed to remove the least successful humans from the gene pool. The second half of the chapter debunks at length the myth of Scandinavian socialism.

The eleventh chapter deals with civil disobedience. Here, Taylor stumbles in the way that most libertarians do, in that he fails to understand raw power, celebrates small victories that will not occur on a large scale, and confuses the downfall of a particular regime with ending the state itself. He does this even while reciting the history of preparedness for the use of force among civil rights leaders and noting what the state has done to leaders of nonviolent resistance efforts. Taylor also manages to celebrate the effects of Western degeneracy among Middle Eastern youth. His encouragement of government agents to refuse unjust orders, leak information detailing abuses to the public, and otherwise engage in whistleblowing is more on point, though he notes the powerful incentive structure against doing so. The second half of the chapter details a plethora of private alternatives to services which have long been monopolized and/or heavily regulated by the state.

The growth of cryptocurrency and other peer-to-peer technologies is the focus of Chapter 12. Taylor provides a decent layperson’s overview of Bitcoin, then moves on to practical applications of cryptocurrency, such as funding dissidents suppressed by legacy financial networks, evading capital controls, and engaging in commercial activities forbidden by the state. Next, he covers the P2P revolution, which has greatly expanded liberty and privacy online and in the physical world. The remainder of the chapter runs through various examples of how P2P and blockchain technologies have solved problems and exposed corruption.

In the thirteenth chapter, Taylor addresses the open-borders dogma held by many libertarians. He demonstrates that open borders and forced integration are a form of the aforementioned anarcho-tyranny, with closed state borders being sub-optimal but less evil. The role of forced diversity in creating internal conflicts that lead to less liberty is considered, as is the biological phenomenon of kin selection in creating cohesive groups. Taylor makes the case that open borders are contrary to private property rights because in order to have open borders, the state must override the wishes of property owners who do not want migrants to enter. He then examines the history of US immigration policy from 1790 to the present, noting the shift in demographics admitted after 1965. The contention that the real problem is the welfare state rather than demographic shifts is rebutted both on the practical grounds of American politics and with the counterexample of European nations surviving socialism but falling into turmoil due to migrants.

The fourteenth chapter furthers the themes from Chapter 11 by discussing secession, nullification, and political migration. Taylor notes the myriad benefits of secession, but only briefly mentions the history of larger states violently suppressing such movements. Next, he covers the history of both legislative and jury nullification in opposing unjust laws. Taylor’s exploration of political migration is rather America-centric, but it can be adapted to other situations. His praise for the Free State Project comes off as overzealous, given the thoroughly leftist nature of that organization. He finishes the chapter with a concept called the Benedict Option, in which those who wish to preserve a tradition and begin a restoration retreat from the public and urban life of a degenerate culture.

The final chapter of the book is an argument against democratic government. This reads much like Hoppe’s Democracy: The God That Failed, quoting and borrowing from it extensively as Taylor explains the perverse incentive structures inherent in democracy and makes the case that monarchy has a superior incentive structure. But unlike Hoppe, Taylor contemplates physical removal as a means of achieving a libertarian social order in addition to a means of maintenance. As Taylor writes on page 283, “Economics teaches us that there is no such thing as a free lunch. But in order to achieve and maintain a libertarian social order, there will be free helicopter rides.” His defense of Augusto Pinochet’s actions in Chile and Lee Kuan Yew’s rule in Singapore as better than the alternatives is common in right-libertarian circles, but his defense of Francisco Franco goes a bit too far. Taylor ends with an exhortation to and description of a libertarian revolution, but this is, as before, too brief.

Overall, the book is good, but not great. For a book called Reactionary Liberty, it could have used more reaction in the form of lengthy explanations of traditional norms and power dynamics. Taylor seemed to lack an editor and proofreader, as some typos survived in very unfortunate places that render a few sentences absurd. A few chapters can become tedious when Taylor features a laundry list of examples. That being said, it is a strong presentation of right-libertarianism that is impeccably sourced.

Rating: 4/5

On Leftist Academics, Respectable Opinion, and Civil War

In recent times, there is a burgeoning industry in popular books on academic subjects aimed at the layperson or the educated person who is not an expert in the field discussed in a certain book. Most of these books, particularly in the fields of politics, economics, and sociology, are written by authors who have a leftist bias. This is to be expected, as academia has long been dominated by such people. But this bias seems to consistently impair such authors whenever they attempt to understand perspectives which are fundamentally different from their own. Three examples of this can be found in books that were reviewed here at Zeroth Position in the past fortmoon. The shortcomings therein are evidence of a much broader and more serious problem. We will consider extant theories which describe this problem. Next, we will posit some potential origins for this phenomenon, as well as some possible solutions. Finally, we will consider the potential negative consequences of leaving the problem unsolved.

Good Guys With Guns

This is a book about concealed firearms, the culture around them, and their effects on society by sociologist Angela Stroud, reviewed here on December 12, 2016. True to leftist thought, the roles of gender, race, and class in firearm ownership are major themes of the book. The series of interviews included in the book illuminate many interesting aspects of firearm ownership which are not adequately discussed elsewhere, and Stroud makes a genuine effort to understand people who disagree with her. But she commits a multitude of errors which are common among leftists and sociologists, and seems to be unable to keep herself from doing so. Her most egregious and oft-repeated fallacies include the broken window fallacy, confusing objective reality with subjective social constructs, false dilemmas, accusing people of contradicting themselves when they do not, and conflating society with the state. She also does a poor job of recognizing and assessing potential threats, ignores information which undermines her case, blames free-market capitalism and patriarchy when they were not in use, assumes that any inequality is the result of institutional oppression, and blames white people for problems caused by non-whites.

While there are many insightful points made in the book, Stroud commits far too many fallacies along the way for the book to be enjoyable or read smoothly. What could have been an excellent work on an important topic is instead bogged down by postmodern discourse, social justice rhetoric, and shoddy reasoning.

Islamic Exceptionalism

This is a book about the relationship between Islam and the modern nation-state, the role that Islam has played in the development of the Middle East, and the currently ongoing conflicts there by Brookings Institution senior fellow Shadi Hamid, reviewed here on April 30, 2017. Hamid’s explorations of these subjects leads him to question the mainstream liberal narrative of Whig historiography, democratic supremacy, and progressive determinism, though he never quite manages to reject this narrative. He provides an informative history of Islam from the beginning, illuminating several points that frequently elude Westerners. But when Hamid interviews youths who wish to break the Westphalian order of nation-states and are willing to use violence to achieve political goals, he seems unable to truly understand them.

That being said, of the three authors discussed, Hamid is the most perceptive of the lot. He correctly recognized ISIS as a state at the time of writing because it had a monopoly on initiatory force within a geographical area while providing the common functions of a state. He knows that moderates tend to lose in civil wars and revolutions because they lack both the fervor and resolve to do what the extremists on all sides will do. He understands that there are no such things as universal values in practice. But the Western liberal democratic biases of the author are inescapable. Hamid is unable to process the possibility that democracy is inferior to the older pre-Westphalian order, especially for the Muslim world. This is especially irksome, given the amount of evidence that he himself finds for this possibility.

The Euro

This is a book about the shortcomings of the eurozone currency project, the faulty policies pursued by European leaders thus far, and several potential alternatives by American economist Joseph Stiglitz, reviewed here on December 11, 2017. He is perhaps the worst of the three, in that while the others have difficulties in understanding right-wing thought, Stiglitz tends to either show no awareness of its existence, dismiss it out of hand, or mischaracterize it in ways which can only be deliberate for someone of his caliber. His Keynesian approach to economics is apparent from the beginning, as is his thoroughly statist worldview. He never mentions the Austrian School and ignores many practical possibilities for true economic and political liberty. The Chicago School earns nothing but contempt from him, as he recites the leftist caricature of Chile under Pinochet and derides monetarism. Meanwhile, he repeatedly blames markets for the 2008 crisis when they were only responding to the perverse incentives created by governments and central banks. He also blames austerity for Europe’s recent troubles when very little austerity has actually occurred.

Like Stroud, Stiglitz confuses collective action with state action. Stiglitz’s faith in democracy is even stronger than Hamid’s, as he never questions whether anything is wrong with democracy itself, even as he argues against incentive structures which are necessarily part of any democracy, advocates for a new monetary system which could offer states tyrannical control over their citizens, and denounces anti-immigrant groups in Europe which resist demographic replacement by a ruling class that they did not ask to replace them. Though Stiglitz does not appear to argue in bad faith, one could be forgiven for thinking that he does.

Current Theories

Before attempting to analyze the above examples, it is necessary to lay some groundwork concerning meta-politics. In political discourse, there is a range of opinions which are considered to be socially acceptable to varying degrees, with extremes on one or both sides of each issue regarded as anywhere from unfashionable at best to worthy of violent response at worst. This concept has been given various names; Hallin’s second sphere, the Overton Window, and the index card of allowable opinion, to name a few. Hallin’s analysis divides the world of political discourse into three spheres according to how the media covers various subjects. The first sphere is the sphere of consensus. This contains topics on which agreement is assumed. Hallin writes that for such topics, “Journalists feel free to invoke a generalized ‘we’ and to take for granted shared values and shared assumptions. …Journalists do not feel compelled to present an opposing viewpoint or to remain disinterested observers.”[1] The second sphere is the sphere of legitimate controversy. This sphere consists of matters on which rational, informed people have disagreements. Journalists are expected to be disinterested observers and reporters for topics in this sphere, not overtly supporting one position over another. The third sphere is the sphere of deviance. This contains topics which are believed to be outside the bounds of legitimate discussion. Hallin writes that in this sphere, “Journalists depart from standard norms of objective reporting and feel authorized to treat as marginal, laughable, dangerous, or ridiculous individuals and groups who fall far outside a range of variation taken as legitimate.”[1] Those who dispute the content of the sphere of consensus tend to find themselves here, as do those who lack sufficient influence to merit news coverage or are known for making baseless and outlandish claims. The boundaries of the spheres shift with changes in public opinion, journalistic standards, and media ownership, as well as advances in reason, science, and technology.

Joseph Overton’s conception of political discourse posits a range of ideas which are tolerated in public discourse. Whereas Hallin’s spheres describe media coverage, the Overton window describes voter sentiment and politician stances. Overton contends that the political viability of an idea depends on whether the idea is within the window or outside of it. Politicians who recommend too many policies which are outside of the window will be considered too extreme to be elected or re-elected. Most of the theory about the Overton Window is concerned with how to move it or keep it from moving, depending on whether the goal is to advance policies which are currently outside or inside of the window, respectively. Application of the door-in-the-face technique to Overton’s theory results in the deliberate promotion of ideas that are far outside of the window in order to shift the window toward ideas which are slightly outside of it. (This makes as much sense in ideological space as it does in physical space; one cannot push an object while one is standing on it, as such a force is both self-defeating and lacking in leverage.)

Tom Woods refers to this phenomenon as the index card of allowable opinion. Woods’ description combines the insights of Hallin and Overton, as the establishment media uses Hallin’s spheres while playing a large role in deciding where the frame of the Overton Window lies. Woods writes,

“On the left, sites like ThinkProgress and Media Matters smear and attack those uppity peons who stray from the ideological plantation that the Washington Post and the New York Times oversee. On the right, it’s neoconservative sites like the Free Beacon, who have built a nice little cabin on that plantation, and who rat out anyone who tries to run away.”[2]

One could easily add National Review and several others to the list of sites on the right (such as it is in modern America), as well as note such a presence in libertarian circles, denounced here as cuckertarians. The purpose of maintaining this range of allowable opinion is to prevent people from realizing the need for a radical change from the status quo by saturating them with ideas which never stray too far from the establishment narrative and presenting them with the illusion that they have meaningful choices in the current system. As Noam Chomsky writes,

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum—even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”[3]

The behavioral pattern that Woods notes later is the subject of the next section. He continues:

“The respectables of left and right do not deign to show where we’re wrong, of course. The very fact that we’ve strayed from the approved spectrum is refutation enough. …Once in a while they do try to show where we’re wrong, but they can almost never manage even to state our position correctly, much less muster an effective argument against it. [The] purpose of these alleged replies is not to shed light, but to demonize libertarians in the public mind.”[2]

Mechanisms and Remedies

The range of allowable opinion has the effect of a feedback loop on academia. The range of allowable opinion agreed upon by one generation of academics influences the next generation, limiting the range of ideas to which they are exposed in sufficient depth to truly understand them. Whereas true rightist thought is rigid, rationalist, and timeless while leftist thought is flexible, empiricist, and novel, it is no surprise that this process gradually pulls the Overton window leftward. There are several mechanisms by which this occurs, and if the problem is to be resolved, each requires its own remedy.

Whig History

Whig historiography views the past as an inevitable march of progress toward greater knowledge and freedom, culminating in liberal democracy and constitutionally limited monarchy. The name comes from the British Whigs, who supported the power of Parliament over the power of the monarch, thus opposing the Tories, who did the opposite. The term has acquired a pejorative use for good reason. Whiggism bears resemblance to Marxism, which follows the same narrative to a different end, namely that of a classless, egalitarian, communist utopia. It assumes without evidence that there will be no further progress past liberal democracy and limited monarchy toward greater knowledge and freedom. This explains why its adherents attack libertarians, as they propose further advances in freedom, which are disallowed by the Whig narrative. Indeed, Whiggism errs in assuming that history is necessarily goal-oriented at all, as this would require some collective unconscious and/or divine plan that is not proven to exist.

The present-mindedness of the Whig approach leads its adherents to believe that current ideals were held in the past, which ends up producing a great amount of ignorant eisegesis when historical figures are examined in a context that they would find to be alien. It keeps one from investigating the real causes of historical change by providing the false answer that the cause was the march toward progress.[4] Whiggism also motivates the sanctification of past leaders who advanced this progress and the vilification of those who worked against it[5] that is omnipresent in contemporary politics, for if an inevitable march toward progress is assumed, it follows that conservatives and reactionaries are engaged in a revolt against nature. As Allan Greer writes,

“They lost because they had to lose; they were not simply overwhelmed by superior force, they were justly chastised by the God of History.”[6]

The ongoing influence of Whiggism partly explains why leftist academics seem unable to grasp rightist thought. An inevitable march toward progress combined with the generally leftist nature of progress means that they view a rigorous understanding of and debate with rightist thought as unnecessary; we have progressed past it, never to return. Among the less academically inclined, this explains the “Its the current year!” response that is widely mocked among rightists.

The most potent antidote to Whig history is to relentlessly attack its fallacies while advocating alternatives such as cyclical history (a repeating cycle of ascent and decline) and agnostic history (the view that no such grand narrative can be known). Butterfield proposed a methodological remedy “to evoke a certain sensibility towards the past, the sensibility which studies the past ‘for the sake of the past’, which delights in the concrete and the complex, which ‘goes out to meet the past’, which searches for ‘unlikenesses between past and present.’”[7]

Filter Bubbles, Echo Chambers, and the Mirror-Image Fallacy

While Whig historiography can lead leftist academics to dismiss rightist thought as an unworthy opponent best left unengaged, other phenomena can leave them unaware of its existence. A filter bubble is a form of intellectual isolation that can occur when websites use algorithms to guess what a user wants to see based on the user’s history and other personal information. This keeps people from finding information that is presented from different viewpoints, thus trapping them in a cultural or ideological bubble.[8] This leaves them ill-equipped to deal with those who are unlike themselves. The term was coined by Internet activist Eli Pariser and discussed in his 2011 book of the same name. Pariser formally defined the concept of a filter bubble as “that personal ecosystem of information that’s been catered by these algorithms.”[9] The filter bubble is the technological manifestation of the echo chamber, a term describing the tendency of legacy media as well as one’s social and professional circles to create similar limitations in thinking and perception. Pariser notes that filter bubbles can harm a society by undermining civic discourse, creating confirmation bias, and increasing vulnerability to propaganda and other manipulations of public opinion.[10]

Although the extent of the effect of filter bubbles remains in contention[11], and some of the effect comes from user choice that emanates from and reinforces echo chambers in the physical world[12], the influence of exposure to only one’s own side of political issues is guaranteed to distort one’s perception of reality. In the worst cases, this can lead people to believe that everyone thinks and views the world as they do, a condition which Charles Krauthammer describes as the mirror-image fallacy. He writes:

“The mirror-image fantasy is not as crazy as it seems. Fundamentally, it is a radical denial of the otherness of others. Or to put it another way, a blinding belief in ‘common humanity,’ in the triumph of human commonality over human differences. …Its central axiom is that if one burrows deep enough beneath the Mao jacket, the shapka, or the chador, one discovers that people everywhere are essentially the same.”[13]

This predictably causes serious problems. Krauthammer continues:

“If the whole world is like me, then certain conflicts become incomprehensible; the very notion of intractability becomes paradoxical. …The more alien the sentiment, the less seriously it is taken. Diplomatic fiascoes follow… To gloss over contradictory interests, incompatible ideologies, and opposing cultures is more than anti-political. It is dangerous.”[13]

A more realistic approach is thus required, as Krauthammer describes:

“Ultimately to say that people all share the same hopes and fears, are all born and love and suffer and die alike, is to say very little. For it is after commonalities are accounted for that politics becomes necessary. It is only when values, ideologies, cultures, and interests clash that politics even begins. At only the most trivial level can it be said that people want the same things. Take peace. The North Vietnamese wanted it, but apparently they wanted to conquer all of Indochina first. The Salvadoran right and left both want it, but only after making a desert of the other. The Reagan administration wants it, but not if it has to pay for it with pieces of Central America.

And even if one admits universal ends, one still has said nothing about means, about what people will risk, will permit, will commit in order to banish their (common) fears and pursue their (common) hopes. One would think that after the experience of this [20th] century the belief that a harmony must prevail between peoples who share a love of children and small dogs would be considered evidence of a most grotesque historical amnesia.”[13]

The problem of echo chambers and filter bubbles is more difficult to solve than that of Whig historiography. This is not to say that solutions do not exist; one can make a conscious effort to look for these conditions and actively seek alternative viewpoints. Several websites have been created to aid people in that purpose, as have several browser plugins and smartphone applications.[14] In meatspace, this process is not as simple as installing a few programs, but there are a multitude of social clubs that one can join to meet new people with different perspectives. The difficulty lies in actually implementing the solutions. Just as the incompetent can lack the expertise to recognize their own incompetence, so too can those within an echo chamber fail to realize that they have a problem. In many cases, it will be necessary for people who are outside of such echo chambers to make an active effort to reach in.

Virtue Signalling

Whig historiography and echo chambers, while important factors, are only proximate causes of the intellectual limitations of leftists. A more fundamental source comes from the dynamics of social coordination and is known as virtue signalling. Virtue signalling is a conspicuous and/or invidious expression of one’s opinion on a moral issue done primarily to maintain or enhance one’s social status. The term originates from signalling theory, a body of work in evolutionary biology that examines communication between organisms. For example, a large mane on a male lion is a status signal that declares his fitness, as a less fit lion would lose contests with other males and have his hair torn out. The term later found use in economics, as an impressive building for a firm or a resume full of extraneous qualifications for a job-seeker declare financial and intellectual fitness, respectively. Less successful firms and less competent people would be unable to achieve such results.[15] Religious traditions frequently include rituals that serve a similar function for the purpose of aiding in-group cohesion.[16][17][18]

Beginning in the late 2000s, ‘virtue signalling’ came to be defined differently in various Internet forums. The newer meaning refers to superficial support for political views with the primary purpose of maintaining an appearance of respectability, as well as a focus on appearing to act rather than actually taking action.[19][20] As James Bartholomew writes,

“When David Cameron defends maintaining spending 0.7 per cent of GDP on foreign aid, he is telling us that the Tory party, or at least he himself — as a rather wonderful, non-toxic part of it — cares about the poor in the developing world. The actual effectiveness or otherwise of foreign aid in achieving this aim is irrelevant.”[21]

Notably, virtue signalling tends to involve expressions of hatred of the other, of the out-group. Bartholomew continues:

“It’s noticeable how often virtue signalling consists of saying you hate things. It is camouflage. The emphasis on hate distracts from the fact you are really saying how good you are. If you were frank and said, ‘I care about the environment more than most people do’ or ‘I care about the poor more than others’, your vanity and self-aggrandisement would be obvious… Anger and outrage disguise your boastfulness.

One of the occasions when expressions of hate are not used is when people say they are passionate believers in the NHS. Note the use of the word ‘belief’. This is to shift the issue away from evidence about which healthcare system results in the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people. The speaker does not want to get into facts or evidence. He or she wishes to demonstrate kindness — the desire that all people, notably the poor, should have access to ‘the best’ healthcare. The virtue lies in the wish. But hatred waits in reserve even with the NHS. ‘The Tories want to privatise the NHS!’ you assert angrily. Gosh, you must be virtuous to be so cross!”[21]

This ends up being counterproductive, in that it can harm the very people that those who are truly virtuous and not just signalling would desire to help. Bartholomew writes,

“No one actually has to do anything. …There was a time in the distant past when people thought you could only be virtuous by doing things: by helping the blind man across the road; looking after your elderly parents instead of dumping them in a home; staying in a not-wholly-perfect marriage for the sake of the children. These things involve effort and self-sacrifice. That sounds hard! Much more convenient to achieve virtue by expressing hatred of those who think the health service could be improved by introducing competition. …Virtue-signalling battles can soon take leave of any genuine concern for the low-paid or suffering. Indeed they can become highly damaging. The low-skilled whose abilities simply cannot command an absurdly high minimum wage become unemployable.”[21]

Virtue signalling is also responsible for the problem of Error Push, in which a factually incorrect position is advanced because a hated enemy is factually correct about a certain issue, and virtue signalling becomes more important to people than correct knowledge or telling the truth.

Fortunately, there are two powerful remedies against this sort of behavior. First, one may engage in the opposite behavior, known as counter-signalling or vice signalling. This should be followed by mercilessly criticizing the virtue signallers for their fallacious discourse when they resort to ad hominems instead of making appropriate counter-arguments. The purpose of this tactic is to show their support to be superficial and insincere, as a person with deeply-held, sincere beliefs should be able to defend them in rational discourse. Resorting to angry name-calling against a calm opponent who makes reasoned arguments is also damaging to the appearance of respectability that the virtue signaller so desires.

Second, one may take meaningful action concerning the subjects of the virtue signals. A person who supports minimum wage hikes and social programs for the poor may appear virtuous to the economically illiterate, but a person who directly helps the poor to become upwardly mobile is actually virtuous. A person who supports tougher environmental regulations against polluters may appear virtuous to those who do not understand regulatory capture, but a person who invents new technologies or uses capitalist principles to reduce pollution is actually virtuous. With “effort and self-sacrifice,” one can take the wind out of the sails of virtue signallers by acting while they talk. In the long run, the golden will defeat the merely gilded.

The Overton Bubble and Civil War

So far, we have considered examples of leftist failures to understand rightist thought, potential causes for this phenomenon, and possible remedies for each. Now, we will explore what may happen if this problem is not remedied. When the Overton window is combined with an ideological echo chamber and reinforced by copious amounts of virtue signalling, it can become thick and opaque, hardening into an ideological pocket universe which can only be entered or re-entered with great difficulty. This Overton Bubble, as neoreactionaries call it, can form when the establishment effectively controls the Overton window and uses this control to maintain political power. When the range of respectable opinion is policed with sufficient rigor, having an accurate understanding of opinions outside of that range is enough to make oneself the target of a political witch hunt.

When combined with the phenomenon of error push described in the previous section, an Overton bubble can leave a society in general and its elites in particular incapable of solving problems. As Neal Devers writes,

“If some thoughts are unthinkable and unspeakable, and the truth happens in some case to fall outside of polite consensus, then [the] ruling elite and their society will run into situations [that] they simply [cannot] handle.”[22]

It follows that wise elites would be exceedingly careful about allowing such a ‘polite consensus’ to form; in fact, they would take active steps to suppress the formation of such holiness spirals. Unfortunately, the perverse incentives inherent in political democracy ensure that the elite almost universally will be both unwise and insecure, thus perpetually goading them into destructive behaviors such as blowing Overton bubbles.

The problems that such an elite simply cannot handle may be domestic or foreign in origin. If foreign, then the typical result is conquest and subjugation under a power that would have no capability to assume control had a healthy system of governance and defense been in place. The particular dynamics of such events are outside the scope of this essay. Here, we are primarily concerned with political disputes within one society.

For centuries, the establishment exercised tight control over public discourse, burning heresies along with their authors. After such brutality fell out of favor in the West, the elites still managed to expel from official positions those who did not kowtow to the official narrative. Such exiles lacked the means to mount an effective counter-movement, so ‘point deer make horse’ was a favorite tactic of political control. Modern technology fundamentally alters this dynamic; being forced out of the Overton bubble is no longer fatal to one’s influence or career prospects, and as time marches on, existing inside the bubble will become a less and less attractive option for those starting out in life. But those who have established academic, media, and/or political careers inside the bubble will fail to understand the social dynamics in play, for gaining such an understanding would result in them being purged.

The trouble that lies ahead is thus clear. A leftist establishment that cannot peacefully engage with anything non-leftist and a non-leftist opposition that finally has the strength to organize an effective challenge existing in the same physical space is a recipe for violent conflict. Foreshocks of this political earthquake have already occurred in Chicago, Berkeley, and Charlottesville, to name a few. It is quickly becoming technologically impossible for the establishment to put the genie of opinion-making back into their bottle. Abolishing democracy, breaking up the institutions inside the Overton bubble, and secession into smaller, more politically uniform territories are considered unthinkable both by those inside the bubble and many of the people outside of it.

The immediate options will thus eventually reduce to the two options that all of us have in our personal lives: reason or force, words or weapons, truth or consequences, peace or utter destruction. Whereas it is not certain that the former set will be chosen over the latter set, and a civil war is always the most disastrous kind, it is necessary to de-escalate the situation before it reaches that point using the methods described in the previous sections. Only then can saner ideas be brought back into the realm of public discourse with a goal of either reaching a governing consensus or achieving an amicable geographic separation along political lines.

Conclusion

It may seem that we have traveled a long way from discussing three books to discussing civil war and its prevention. But the books were only meant to serve as small examples of a much larger problem. The formation of Overton bubbles is controlled by several key factors: a range of respectable opinion, the lingering influence of Whig historiography, filter bubbles in digital space, echo chambers in physical space, the plural solipsism caused by the previous two factors, virtue signalling, and the destructive incentives inherent in democracy. The civilization-destroying potential of our present bubble can still be thwarted if enough of these contributing factors are dismantled, but time is short and growing shorter.

References:

  1. Hallin, Daniel (1986). The Uncensored War: The Media and Vietnam. New York: Oxford University Press. p.116–118.
  2. Woods, Thomas (2014, Oct. 16). “How To Shred The Index Card Of Allowable Opinion”. Lew Rockwell.
  3. Chomsky, Noam (1998). The Common Good. Odonian Press. p. 43.
  4. Butterfield, Herbert (1965). The Whig Interpretation of History. New York: W. W. Norton. p.12.
  5. J. Hart. “Nineteenth-Century Social Reform: A Tory Interpretation of History”. Past & Present 1965 31(1):39–61.
  6. Greer, Allan. “1837-38: Rebellion reconsidered”. Canadian Historical Review (1995) 76#1:1–18, at p. 3.
  7. Ashplant, T.G.; Wilson, Adrian. “Whig History and Present-Centred History”. The Historical Journal, 31 (1988):1–16, at p. 10.
  8. Bozdag, Engin (2013, June 23). “Bias in algorithmic filtering and personalization”. Ethics and Information Technology 15(3):209–227.
  9. Parramore, Lynn (2010, Oct. 10). “The Filter Bubble”. The Atlantic.
  10. Weisberg, Jacob (2011, June 10). “Bubble Trouble: Is Web personalization turning us into solipsistic twits?”. Slate.
  11. Pariser, Eli (2015, May 7). “Fun facts from the new Facebook filter bubble study”. Medium.
  12. West, Joshua Bleiberg; Darrell M. (2017, May 24). “Political polarization on Facebook”. Brookings Institution.
  13. Krauthammer, Charles (1983, Aug. 15). “The Mirror-Image Fallacy”. Time.
  14. “5 Questions with Eli Pariser, Author of The Filter Bubble”. Time. ISSN 0040-781X.
  15. Bowman, S. (2016). “Stop Saying ‘Virtue Signalling’” Adam Smith Institute.
  16. Bulbulia, Joseph; Schjoedt, Uffe (2010). “Religious Culture and Cooperative Prediction under Risk: Perspectives from Social Neuroscience”. Religion, Economy, and Cooperation. p. 37–39. ISBN 3110246333.
  17. Steadman, L.; Palmer, C. (2008). The Supernatural and Natural Selection: Religion and Evolutionary Success. Paradigm.
  18. Irons, W. (2001) “Religion as a hard-to-fake sign of commitment”. The Evolution of Commitment, Randolph Nesse (ed.) New York: Russell Sage Foundation. p. 292–309.
  19. Yudkowsky, Eliezer (2009, Feb. 17). “Cynical About Cynicism”. LessWrong.
  20. Yudkowsky, Eliezer (2009, Mar. 20). “Why Our Kind Can’t Cooperate”. LessWrong.
  21. Bartholemew, James (2015, Apr. 18). “The awful rise of ‘virtue signalling’”. Spectator.
  22. Devers, Neal (2016, Nov. 24). “The Overton Bubble”. The Future Primaeval.

Nepal Has Fallen

Among Asian nations, Nepal is not high on Washington’s list of foreign policy priorities. The mountainous nation, which is consumed by the massive Himalayas, is mostly known for its Buddhism and its Gurkhas—a warrior people who still provide mercenary services for the British, Indian, and Singaporean armies. Overall, Nepal produces very little that Americans consume. Nepal is also not the home to a large American military contingent, nor is it seen as an important ally in America’s never-ending quest to be the major hegemony in West and East Asia. Nepal, to put it bluntly, is not important to American interests.

This view will almost certainly change, however. The reason for this is that a powerful Communist party, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) recently acquired the levers of power in Kathmandu after a democratic election. According to all international observers, the Communists in Nepal have close connections to the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing. This all but guarantees that rustic and rural Nepal will become a Chinese satellite on the border with India, a close American ally and a long-time opponent of China owing to a border dispute that once erupted in violence.

Democracy, Civil War, and Insurgency

In order to appreciate the importance of this victory, one must understand the history of communism in Nepal. Himalayan Communists are not the typical neckbeard professors that one encounters in the West; they are experienced guerrilla fighters who waged a war against the central government for almost two decades.

The Communist Party of Nepal is led by two former prime ministers, K.P. Sharma Old and Pushpa Kamal Dahal (both of whom fought against the center-left government during the 2000s). These two men managed to unify two competing factions of the far-left party in order to sweep the country’s Parliament and Provincial Assembly. With this mandate, Nepalese Communists are expected to both follow a harder line against India and be more cooperative to Chinese business interests in the country. It is predicted that one of the first orders of business for the new government is to pass through the Chinese hydropower project that the former prime minister, Kamal Thapa, cancelled less than a month before the election.

In 1994, the government of prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala, the first democratically elected leader of Nepal and a member of the center-left Nepali Congress Party, suffered a vote of no confidence. That same year, new elections brought the Communists into power. Communist leader Man Mohan Adhikari became the prime minister and briefly led a minority government. That same government dissolved less than a year later. After that, Nepalese Communists, especially the Maoists among then, began their long insurgency.

A brief paper written by Yurendra Basnett in 2009 laid out the reasons underlying the vicious civil war that rocked Nepal between 1996 and 2006. Basnett writes that Western scholars were baffled by the far-left insurgency given that “Nepal enjoyed [an] unprecedented level of economic and political freedom” at the start of the rebellion.[1] The Maoists themselves argued that their war began because of economic inequality, rural poverty, and chronic landlessness in the country. Basnett argues that these invocations of economic disparities do not amount to much given that they have been “omnipresent” since the formation of modern Nepal.[2]

What Basnett’s critique of the Maoist movement misses is that Communist movements rarely come from times of economic disparity. Except for the rise of far-left movements during the Great Depression of the 1930s, most of the seminal Communist movements have sought to obtain power just at the time when their respective nations have achieved some form of unprecedented growth or stability. When the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 erupted, the Russian Empire that they overthrew was far more liberal, progressive, and economically advanced than Western liberals and socialists realized. According to UNZ Review writer Anatoly Karlin, the Russian Empire of Tsar Nicholas II was even more “progressive” than such typically modernist bastions as London, Paris, and Berlin:

“Access to higher education was actually more meritocratic in the late Empire than in contemporary Germany or France by a factor of 2-3x. Women constituted about a third of Russia’s total numbers of university students, a far larger percentage than in any other European country—and Russia by 1913 had the largest number of university students in Europe (127,000 to 80,000 in Germany, around 40,000 in France and Austria each). Likewise, they constituted an absolute majority in grammar schools, many decades ahead of most of the rest of Europe. In 1915, restrictions on co-education were dropped across a range of Russian universities by decision of the Tsar and his Council of Ministers.”[3]

Tragically, this liberal attitude allowed a radical student body to fester and become many of the same Bolsheviks who oversaw the genocidal regime that would rule Russia until 1991. Such a scenario played out in China as well, for when the Chinese Communist Party began life in the aftermath of World War I, China was modernizing at a rapid pace. Thanks to World War I, which did not damage China, Chinese exports rose and the nation’s trade deficit dropped by an astounding 80 percent. While this success proved temporary, China before Mao was politically unstable but considered one of the world’s greatest jewels. Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s was a cosmopolitan city beloved by Asians and Westerners alike.

Maoism in Nepal follows a discernible pattern—as prosperity increases or stabilizes, discontent grows as well. Like Marx, the social leech who had servants and never worried about earning a dollar, many of today’s Communists are full of the same greed that they constantly accuse capitalists of harboring deep in their benighted chests.

In Nepal, Maoist violence reached a terrifying apex in November 2001, when more than one hundred people were killed in violent confrontations between rebels and government forces. As a result, the central government declared a state of emergency. An absolute monarchy returned to power amidst the chaos. All told, almost 20,000 people were killed and another 2,000 remain missing.

From Monarchy to Democracy to Communism

A reactionary analysis would find that Nepal’s troubles began with the decline and fall of its monarchy. When this stabilizing force fell, chaos came in its wake.

Nepal was unified into a central state ruled by a hereditary monarchy in 1768. The kingdom first began to falter due to military incursions by the British East India Company, which already had a sizable foothold in India by the late 18th century. Between 1814 and 1816, Nepalese forces lost the Anglo-Nepalese War to the soldiers of the East India Company and their Indian allies. Although the Kingdom of Nepal retained its independence, one third of the country would be a protectorate of British India until Indian independence in 1947.

When King Birendra came to the throne in 1972, political parties were banned in the country. However, this did not mean that the king could rule by fiat or whim; a system of regional councils called panchayats helped to disperse and decentralize authority. Because he ruled during an age of interventionist democratic liberalism, King Birendra often told the international press that he was a democrat rather than an autocrat. Still, the king wisely told his critics that due to Nepal’s “backwardness,” mass democracy would be a recipe for disaster. The political violence that often accompanies the rise of political parties would ruin the country, the king argued.

King Birendra would rule Nepal in this way for decades. Despite the relative peace and harmony, there were pro-democratic movements designed to bring down the monarchy. In 1980, King Birendra had the leaders of the center-left Nepali Congress Party arrested in order to keep the panchayat system in place. The king then called a referendum in order to see if Nepalese citizens would prefer a non-party government or one that allowed political parties to exist. Nepalese voters favored non-party politics by a score of 55 to 45 percent.

Ten years later, the People’s Movement used strikes to disrupt the monarchical state. This movement proved harder to suppress than one political party, as it was composed of several political parties, including the Nepali Congress Party and a unified group of Communist parties called the United Left Front. In February 1990, the government began arresting the leaders of the People’s Movement and shut down most of their media organs. A series of deadly confrontations between the Nepalese state and People’s Movement protesters followed this. For example, in the city of Bhaktapur, police killed 12 protesters in late February. Out of anger and frustration, approximately two million protesters descended on the capital of Kathmandu. On April 8, King Birendra removed the ban on political parties. A few months later, in November 1990, a constitution written by the People’s Movement forced King Birendra to remove the panchayat system and to democratize the government. Marxists were soon elected to office.

Although 1990 is often seen as the year when democracy came to Nepal, the continued existence of the royal family helped to maintain fears that an absolute monarchy could return at any time. These fears gained substance thanks to Crown Prince Dipendra, the king’s eldest son and heir. Unfortunately, he proved to be a murderous psychopath. On June 1, 2001, Dipendra consumed large amounts of alcohol and hashish at a dinner on the grounds of the Narayanhity Royal Palace. After misbehaving with a guest, the King told him to leave. He returned an hour later with a Franchi SPAS-12 shotgun, an H&K MP5 submachine gun, a Colt M16A2 rifle, and a Glock 19 9mm pistol, which he used to kill nine members of the royal family: the King and Queen, his sister, his brother, the King’s brother, two of the King’s sisters, the husband of one of the King’s sisters, and the King’s cousin. Dipendra then turned a gun on himself, dying after spending three days in a coma during which he was King. While many Nepalese citizens continue to question the official story of the massacre, there is no doubt that the future of the Nepalese monarchy ended on that late spring night in 2001.

The throne passed to Gyanendra, another brother of Birendra who briefly re-established the absolute monarchy due to political violence in the country. King Gyanendra blamed Nepal’s political parties for failing to form a government after the dissolution of the parliament. After taking direct control of the state, Gyanendra dismissed three prime ministers for failing to call for new elections. Interestingly for an autocrat, King Gyanendra demanded that Nepal acquire some form of democracy or parliamentarianism in order to legitimize the state in the eyes of foreign critics. King Gyanendra’s promises of “peace and effective democracy” were undermined by the Maoist rebels who continued to carry out their bloody war against the Nepalese monarchy. Like Bavarian minister Gustav von Kahr, King Gyanendra all but admitted that a “cell of order” must exist before democracy can take hold. Personal liberty is nothing if public safety cannot be guaranteed.

By 2006, King Gyanendra announced that he would give executive authority to a new prime minister. Interim prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala took power in 2006 while Nepalese politicians argued about the role the monarchy would play in the future democracy. That April, Gyanendra reinstated the country’s parliament.

The fall of the monarchy occurred under the watchful eye of the Indian government. Along with Prime Minister Koirala, who supposedly suspected that the monarchy would always threaten democratic governance, Indian officials weakened the King’s power to the point where the royal palace became just the head of the parliament. On May 27, 2008, King Gyanendra was ordered by the parliament to vacate the royal palace within fifteen days. The ruling came as part of peace talks between the transitional democratic government and the Maoists. This is how the Nepalese monarchy fell—as an olive branch given to ultra-left radicals who despise Nepalese traditions.

Lessons

There are several lessons to be learned from these events. First, in the words of Hans-Hermann Hoppe,

“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.”[4]

If democrats and communists are permitted to wield political power and advance their goals, they will eventually destroy the traditions and values that make civilization possible. It sometimes begins with something that seems innocuous—the Magna Carta in England, the Constitution in America, or the People’s Movement in Nepal—but the end is always some form of communist takeover, whether overt or covert. Monarchs (or private property owners in a libertarian society) must be willing to use the necessary amount of force to crush democratic and communist uprisings, however unpleasant the resulting bloodshed may be.

Second, it is no measure of health to kowtow to a sick global community, especially when the disease in question is such a virulent one as liberal democracy. Had King Birendra argued a passionate defense of traditional unelected governance, offered an ideological offensive against democratic thought, and called upon foreigners to respect Nepal’s sovereignty, the progress of the Maoists might have been forestalled. King Gyanendra was no better in this regard, and it cost him his crown. Unlike other countries that have had democratic experiments inflicted upon them by Western intervention, Nepal harbors no conceivable threat and has little that imperialist powers could want, so war propaganda would be more difficult to manufacture against them.

Finally, the greatest enemy is always the enemy within. A stable family, let alone governance structure for a nation, must have a means of detecting and removing threats like Dipendra. This could take many forms, from mental health evaluations to keeping inebriated people and deadly weapons away from the King.

What Lies Ahead

For India, the end of official hostilities in Nepal have been of little comfort. After all, India itself is still battling an internal Maoist insurgency that has ties to Nepal’s Communists. India’s war with Communist forces have been going on since 1967, and today, the “red corridor” of the country has claimed almost 18,000 lives. Violence is trending downwards, but there is no end in sight to the insurgency. A Communist victory in Nepal is likely to bolster the spirits of Maoists across the border in India.

For China, a pliant government in Nepal means that they move one step closer to realizing their “One Belt, One Road” dream. This plan, which has already seen China dump billions of dollars in investments in Asian and European ports, as well as investing heavily in the economies of sub-Saharan Africa, is the great issue facing the West. Contrary to starry-eyed Cathedral elites, the Chinese Communist Party is not reformed and has not embraced capitalism. Instead, the CCP is bent on pursuing a predatory economic policy that will make Asia and Africa into colonies of China’s limitless and cheap produce.

In order to achieve “One Belt, One Road,” do not be surprised if China dusts off an old gem from Communism’s history. During the 1930s, when fascism posed a grave threat to Soviet Communism, Joseph Stalin encouraged the Popular Front strategy, which saw Communist parties collaborate with liberal and socialist parties in France, Spain, the United States, and other nations. The elections of May 1936 brought the Front Populaire to power in Paris, and Leon Blum pursued a radically republican, anti-clerical, and socialistic platform thanks to support from Communist-backed labor unions. Across the Pyrenees in Spain, the Frente Popular installed the a rabidly anti-Catholic and anti-capitalist government headed by Manuel Azana. This was the last government of the Second Spanish Republic, for a right-wing coup led by the Spanish Army triggered what would become the Spanish Civil War in 1936. China, in pursuing their economic goals, may begin promoting Communist parties all across Asia. While Nepal is small potatoes in the grand scheme of things, its fall to a far-left rabble does not bode well for liberty in Asia.

References:

  1. Basset, Yurendra (2009). From Politicization of Grievances to Political Violence: An Analysis of the Maoist Movement in Nepal. Development DESTIN Studies Institute, Working Papers Series. p. 4.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Karlin, Anatoly (2017). The Russian Empire: Too Nice For Its Own Good. http://www.unz.com/akarlin/progressive-russian-empire/
  4. Hoppe, Hans-Hermann (2001). Democracy: The God That Failed. Transaction Publishers. p. 218.

The Not-So-Current Year: 2017 In Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The primary aim of politically active libertarians is to limit and reduce the size and scope of government, as well as to eliminate as much state power as possible. I made the case that in order to do this, it may be necessary to temporarily do the opposite.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should Libertarians Support Ethnic Nationalism?

The relationship between libertarianism and the alt-right has become a controversial issue in recent years. Views on the issue run the gamut from complete opposition to imperative alliance, with nearly every conceivable position between being advocated by someone noteworthy. Let us thoroughly explore the issue to see what support, if any, libertarians should provide to ethnic nationalist movements.

Ethnic Nationalism and Ethno-statism

Many people who support ethnic nationalism are also ethno-statists. That is, they seek to form nation-states that are ethnically homogeneous or nearly so, and they want these states to advance the interests of the majority population in an explicitly racial sense. While many ethnic nationalists advocate voluntary separation, it is unlikely that enough people would do this on a large enough scale to form the desired ethnic separation on the scale of contemporary nation-states. It would thus be necessary to initiate the use of force in order to achieve this goal, and this is nearly certain to occur regardless of whether leaders of ethno-state movements wish it to occur.

Libertarianism is a philosophical position on what constitutes the acceptable use of force. It says that initiating the use of force is never moral, but responding to an initiation of force with defensive force is always moral. This puts libertarians directly at odds with those who would use state power to force people into different associations from those which they would choose. In fact, libertarian philosophy justifies the use of any amount of force to defend against ethno-statists who attempt to forcibly separate people.

At first glance, this may appear to be an open-and-shut case, but there is far more nuance to consider. Unfortunately, most libertarian commentators stop here, failing to consider anarchic forms of ethnic nationalism as well as the role that ethno-statists may play in moving toward a free society, however unwittingly. Let us examine these and other considerations.

Anarcho-ethno-nationalism

The starting point for libertarian ethics is self-ownership; that each person has a right of exclusive control over one’s physical body and full responsibility for actions committed with said control. Note that in order to argue against self-ownership, one must exercise exclusive control of one’s physical body for the purpose of communication. This results in a performative contradiction because the content of the argument is at odds with the act of making the argument. By the laws of excluded middle and non-contradiction, self-ownership must be true because it must be either true or false, and any argument that self-ownership is false leads to a contradiction.

Each person has a right to exclusive control of one’s physical body, so it is wrong for one person to initiate interference with another person’s exclusive control of their physical body without their consent. This is how the non-aggression principle is derived from self-ownership. Each person has full responsibility for the actions that one commits with one’s physical body, so one may gain property rights in external objects by laboring upon unowned natural resources, and one owes restitution for any acts of aggression that one commits against other people or their property. The reason for this is that one is responsible for the improvements that one has made upon the natural resources, and it is impossible to own the improvements without owning the resources themselves. To initiate interference with another person’s property without their consent also violates the non-aggression principle because it denies them the just fruits of their labors.

It is possible to form and maintain an ethnic community using these principles. Someone may acquire land and form a community upon it, granting admission only to those who meet criteria chosen by the property owner. Alternatively, a group of like-minded people may purchase adjacent properties to achieve the same result. As long as no acts of aggression are committed, people who form a covenant community may choose whatever rules for admission and continued membership that they wish. As Hans-Hermann Hoppe explains,

“With respect to some pieces of land, the property title may be unrestricted; that is, the owner is permitted to do with his property whatever he pleases as long as he does not physically damage the property owned by others. With respect to other territories, the property title may be more or less severely restricted. As is currently the case in some housing developments, the owner may be bound by contractual limitations on what he can do with his property (voluntary zoning), which might include residential versus commercial use, no buildings more than four stories high, no sale or rent to Jews, Germans, Catholics, homosexuals, Haitians, families with or without children, or smokers, for example.”[1]

As Hoppe notes, these criteria may have a racial component, as a free society has no state to tell property owners that they may not discriminate on certain grounds that policymakers deem objectionable.

It would not do to leave unaddressed the apparent contradiction in anarcho-nationalism. This is a semantic problem; the word ‘nation’ has become convoluted in its meaning. In this case, nation is to be understood in the sense of the Old English word ‘thede.’ A thede is a group of people who share a heritage, whether this be cultural, genetic, linguistic, religious, or some combination thereof. They define an identity for themselves and consider themselves to be a group of which everyone else is not part. (The term ‘elthedish’ refers to those outside the thede.) A person may be part of multiple thedes or none at all, though the latter makes survival and reproduction much more difficult. Non-genetic thedes can and do exist, but as purely social constructs without a clear biological root, they are less stable and require effort to maintain. With this in mind, it becomes clear that anarcho-nationalism need not refer to the contradictory idea of a stateless state, but to the idea of a group of people with a shared identity and common heritage who reject statism in favor of voluntary forms of social order.

A Liberal Case for Illiberalism

Of course, at this point we may expect outrage from all of the usual suspects that one would lift a finger in defense of racists. The classical liberals among these people would do well to consider their own attitudes toward freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and other such freedoms that they hold to be universal human rights. When they defend these ideas, they frequently find themselves standing up for people who make controversial and/or reprehensible statements. This occurs because censors pursue such people almost exclusively. After all, they have no motivation to target people who make ordinary conversation that has no potential to cause meaningful change. Classical liberals defend their ideological opponents from censorship because they believe that there is a short and slippery slope between infringement of the rights of some and infringement of the rights of most. Thus, they follow the quote commonly misattributed to Voltaire but actually written by Evelyn Beatrice Hall, “I wholly disapprove of what you say and will defend to the death your right to say it.“[2]

What they fail to realize is that the same is even more true of private property rights. In the libertarian view, freedom of communication is not a universal right. As Hoppe explains,

“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. …Likewise, in a covenant founded for the purpose of protecting family and kin, there can be no tolerance toward those habitually promoting lifestyles incompatible with this goal.”[3]

More generally, one has no right to communicate ideas on private property that someone else owns if doing so goes against the wishes of the property owner. Because private property is a more fundamental right than freedom of communication, restrictions on property rights are even more injurious to liberty than assaults upon freedom of speech or freedom of the press. As before, those who use their property in a mundane manner that is unlikely to cause meaningful change are unlikely to encounter interference. Those who are confronted about their non-aggressive use of private property rights will be those who use their property rights in a controversial and/or reprehensible manner, such as excluding people on the basis of race. Because there is a short and slippery slope from interference with politically incorrect uses of private property to all manner of interference with private property rights, those who use their property rights in a controversial and/or reprehensible manner (as long as no force is initiated in the process) should be the first people that libertarians (or classical liberals) defend.

Ethnic Separatism

As explained previously, libertarianism stands against an ethno-statist takeover of an existing state apparatus followed by ethnic cleansing, endorsing the use of force to defend against and stop such events from taking place. But ethno-statism need not manifest in this form. Another possibility is the concentration of people of the same ethnicity in a particular area, who then decide to secede that region from a larger state. Although ethno-statism cannot be supported by libertarians in an absolute sense because it is still a form of statism, there are several beneficial effects which may result from a race-based secessionist effort. This may allow libertarians to offer limited support for such a movement as a lesser evil than the current state of affairs with a possibility for greater potential for libertarian efforts in future.

First, let us consider the political orientation of the typical racial separatist. Overt and elevated in-group preference combined with statism results in an affinity for socialism, which tends to manifest as fascism or national socialism among white nationalists and as communism among racial nationalists of other races. If such people become concentrated in a certain area, it follows that the political climate in said area will become more socialist while the political climate elsewhere will become less socialist.

Second, it follows that ethno-statists are useful for breaking up large, powerful states into smaller, less threatening parts. If, for example, white nationalists were successful in seceding Oregon from the United States, and black nationalists were to do the same with Mississippi, then the United States government would be weaker than it is currently, and the two ethno-states would be weaker still. While there would still be much to be desired from a libertarian perspective, it would be an improvement over current levels of state power.

Third, the departure of the most bigoted and hateful individuals of all races into ethnically homogeneous territories would produce a significant reduction in racial tensions. After all, a multiracial society is more likely to succeed if those who deem it impossible remove themselves from that society, and an ethnically homogeneous society is the only way to satisfy such people. That such a scenario would distinguish the true separatists from race-baiting charlatans so as to expose the latter is a decided plus.

Next, let us consider the possible fallout from such a development. Secessionist movements, irrespective of their impetus, tend to inspire a nationalist response in other parts of a state. While this is fraught with its own dangers because nationalism is hostile to decentralization of power below the national level, nationalism is certainly a lesser evil than globalism, and may serve as a temporary makeshift on the path to a better political arrangement than that presaged by the United Nations and the European Union. If secessionists succeed in their efforts, it will inspire other secessionists to try their hand, some of whom may be far more libertarian than the ethno-statists who began the trend.

Just as altering the concentrations of racists and socialists are two-way streets, so is altering the concentration of libertarians. If people who reject libertarianism in favor of ethno-statism wish to concentrate somewhere and separate from the rest of a current state, this is beneficial for the cause of liberty in the remaining area because it raises the percentage of libertarians there. This could be a deciding factor in achieving the critical mass of libertarians necessary to form a libertarian social order.

Crossover Effects

It is necessary to explore the consequences for the libertarian movement from explicitly standing up for the rights of ethnic nationalists. Because any collaborative interaction between groups is likely to result in some degree of personnel exchange, we may expect that some ethnic nationalists would become libertarians and vice versa. If ethnic nationalists would embrace libertarianism, that means that they would accept self-ownership, the non-aggression principle, and private property rights. As a result, they would have to stop initiating the use of force in their advancement of racism and advocating for politicians to do so on their behalf. This should be regarded as a positive development by any sane person. The presence of such people would also help to counter the worrying development of entryism by social justice warriors and other leftists into libertarian circles by triggering them into leaving.

We may also expect that some libertarians will become ethnic nationalists. They are more likely to become the sort of anarcho-thedists discussed earlier than to ally with national socialists, though the latter is not unheard of. This may be a positive development, in that there is a tendency toward politically autistic hyper-individualism in the contemporary libertarian movement. This is an individualism so extreme that it fails to comprehend group identities or interests, and may even deny their existence and relevance. Mingling with ethnic nationalists may awaken libertarians to the realities of demographic issues and alert them to the fact that they will consistently lose to those who organize around a group identity unless they do so themselves.

The Nature of the West

The final matter to consider is the role of ethnicity in libertarianism itself. Anyone who has been to a libertarian gathering knows that the attendees at any such event will skew overwhelmingly white, and anyone who has studied libertarian philosophy will know that most of its authors are white and/or Jewish. Ethnic nationalists have an explanation for this that fits with the available logic and evidence. Like any other species, humans adapt to their environment. Although humans are uniquely capable of adapting the environment to themselves, differences between individuals frequently outweigh differences between groups, and there has been significant mixing of human populations, these do not completely negate the former effect. Humans in different parts of the world have also developed different cultural norms, governing philosophies, and religious traditions as adaptations to their particular environments. This explains why universally preferable values are not universally preferred and why there is a correlation between ethnicity and the acceptance of libertarian ethical norms. Those who view the West only as a portable set of ideas should consider the above explanation for why the portability of those ideas has been relatively poor and why the continued practice of them outside of the West is linked to a legacy of Western colonialism in such places.

At this point, a few caveats are necessary. None of this is to say that individuals of color cannot become libertarians, or that the failure of non-Western cultures to produce a tradition of libertarian philosophy thus far proves that they cannot. Nor should libertarians who are not of European or Jewish descent be anything less than welcome in libertarian groups. But in the aggregate, demographic disparities are natural and should be expected. The disproportionate number of white or white-passing people at libertarian gatherings is neither a problem to be solved nor an achievement to be celebrated; it is simply a result explained by evolution and history. Thus, there is cause for cautious optimism that some white nationalists may come to reject statism and socialism in favor of creating a libertarian social order in their ethnic communities.

Conclusion

Depending on circumstances, libertarians can support some forms of ethnic nationalism, as long as they only involve voluntary ethnic separation and seek to use private property rights to create their ethnic enclaves. However, libertarians should forcibly suppress those who insist on aggressive violence in pursuit of racial agendas. Regardless of whether they agree with such action, libertarians should defend the rights of anarcho-ethno-nationalists to do this, as it is both a litmus test for true belief in private property and the first target that enemies of libertarianism will attack in a larger quest to diminish or destroy private property rights. This is an actual slippery slope that must be vigorously guarded.

No libertarian can support statism or involuntary socialism in an absolute sense, but the kind of self-quarantine of such ideologies that ethno-statists propose may prove useful for libertarians who do not live in an ethno-state. If ethnic nationalism leads people to break apart larger states into smaller ones, this would be a positive step toward liberty. A more general sense of nationalism may develop in response to ethnic secessionist movements, and while this will present an obstacle to further localization in the long-term, it may be a useful temporary ally against statist globalism.

The West, and the liberty that has thus far uniquely developed from its traditions, is neither exclusively genetic nor exclusively ideological; it is partly both. Libertarian philosophy was mostly constructed by members of particular thedes, and other members of those thedes are statistically more likely to accept this philosophy. Ethnic nationalists can inform and remind libertarians of this so that efficiency may be increased by focusing more on the aforementioned thedes in our conversion efforts.

References:

  1. Hoppe, Hans-Hermann (2001). Democracy: The God That Failed. Transaction Publishers. p. 139.
  2. S. G. Tallentyre (Actual author: Evelyn Beatrice Hall) (1906). The Friends of Voltaire. Published by John Murray, Albemarle Street, London. p. 198-9.
  3. Hoppe, p.218.

Book Review: Libertarian Reaction

Libertarian Reaction is a collection of fifteen essays by Insula Qui. The book explores various issues from a libertarian reactionary perspective. The book is divided into three sections; one focusing on reaction, one focusing on liberty, and a long final essay.

The first part begins with an essay on the limits of libertarian ethics. In Savages, Qui deals with several types of humans who cannot be properly be considered people, and must instead be dealt with as lesser beings. The point that there is a difference between colonialism (the imposition of law and morality on people who have no rational conception of it) and colonization (a parallel development of law and morality while not imposing upon others) is important and oft-overlooked. The essay finishes with a denunciation of both Islam and communism as incompatible with libertarianism if each is to be practiced rigorously. The arguments are correct but elementary, which the author has since remedied elsewhere.

In Borders And Liberty, Qui weighs in on the debate over border policy, concluding that while state immigration restrictions are not libertarian and the only justifiable borders are private property boundaries, closed borders are a lesser evil than the forced integration imposed by modern states. He recommends restoration of the right to discriminate, sponsorship of and vicarious liability for immigrants by those who wish to bring them in, and elimination of welfare programs as methods of improving the current situation. References to support the assertions regarding demographics would improve the case made here.

Prerequisites for Liberty deals with the problem of humans who are not savages as described in the first essay but are nonetheless inclined to aggressive violence. Again, references to support demographic arguments would be helpful. Qui notes several obvious but underappreciated truths here, most notably that a libertarian social order cannot exist below a certain intelligence level, as this would preclude people from understanding the necessary rules of such an order. He correctly states that some people may convert to libertarianism by seeing it in practice instead of reaching it through reason. In fact, this is by far the more likely method of conversion in the near future. The role of hedonistic practices in damaging a social order are discussed, as is the folly of accepting non-libertarians into libertarian circles simply to grow numbers.

The next essay is Voluntary Ethnic Separation, and it explains the difference between what libertarianism requires one to accept and the common caricature of all such ideas as hateful racism. Qui shows great insight in tackling common leftist arguments here. He also makes the important point that collectivism can arise as a benign heuristic to help with decisions because people lack the capacity to deal with individuals beyond a certain point. However, the same demographic claims resurface without proper support. Finally, the point that ethnostatism could be a step toward breaking up large nation-states into more local forms of governance is overlooked by most libertarians, but not Qui.

The Antistatist Case for Monarchial Government is a longer essay that Qui included despite having changed his views on the matter, as he views it as being theoretically important. He makes a distinction between government (a manager of land and provider of essential services) and state (an entity that exercises a monopoly on initiatory force) which is lost on many people. He also explains that while a libertarian society would be imperfect, a state has even worse inefficiencies. Later, Qui hints at a potential problem with wilderness areas falling victim to a tragedy of the commons, but this could easily be solved by homesteading such areas. There are two significant errors here: a lack of accounting for the arguments made by Stefan Molyneux and others in favor of private dispute resolution organizations with regard to how law courts could function without a state, and a contradiction concerning redistribution and efficiency. The final part of the essay reads much like Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s case that monarchy is superior to democracy, and is reminiscent of the real-world example of Leichtenstein.

Qui tackles an uncomfortable issue that perhaps interests too many people in libertarian circles with The Libertarian Solution to the Age of Consent. He quickly rebuts the left-libertarians who wish to let children make decisions regarding sexual conduct, describing parenting of young children as a sort of regency until the child gains the ability to use reason. But Qui errs in saying that damages done by improper parenting are no different from any other sort of crime, as one can never truly be made whole from the lifelong detriments caused by improper parenting.

Dysgenics and Market Nobility discusses the corruption of the phrase “all men are created equal” from a statement of equality before the law into a belief in human biological uniformity. In doing so, he distinguishes between the natural elite of a free society and the power elite of a statist society, which are often conflated by leftists. Qui then explains how the two tend to work together in statist societies to keep the same families at the top for centuries rather than let the rags-to-riches-to-rags cycle properly play out. The essay then turns toward dysgenics, which refers to programs that have the opposite of a eugenic effect. The roles of feminism, sexual liberation, and welfare statism are examined in this light.

The first part concludes with Civilization and Natural Law, which makes unconventional but strong arguments in favor of censoring and physically removing people on the basis of their political opinions. Qui’s case is more utilitarian and reserved than it needs to be, but he still reaches the correct result that freedom of speech is a privilege that comes with owning property, not a fundamental right. He then finds that the solution to intractable differences between people and groups is mutual discrimination and exclusion, as forced integration necessarily results in racial tensions.

The second section begins with The Freedom of Government, which revisits themes from several of the previous essays. Qui makes a powerful case that people who claim to believe in democracy but deny people the self-determination to choose their form of governance are charlatans. He also observes that a large enough number of small monarchies is effectively equivalent to a libertarian social order. The only problem with this essay is brevity, as more explanation of each point would greatly improve the presentation.

The Curse of Citizenship explores how the modern state makes its subjects into cogs of its machine through citizenship as a legal concept. Qui shows that democracy, contrary to leftist propaganda, only makes this worse by providing an otherwise absent appearance of legitimacy. He correctly recognizes the futility of localism as an ultimate strategy, as it fails to account for the supremacy of higher levels of government. But his contention that “corruption within the state is nothing other than the people who are creating the illusion themselves being aware of the illusion” is misguided; one can have this knowledge without weaponizing it into corruption, and one can be corrupt without such an awareness.

In The Role of Co-Operation in Competition, Qui refutes several myths about capitalism. First, he proves that capitalism is not as anti-social as its critics claim. Second, he corrects the misconception of competition as being necessarily aggressive in nature. Third, he explains how competition can actually be a form of cooperation, in that individuals or groups can agree to compete in order to find out which methods are superior. Qui segues into several examples of cooperation that are not strictly competitive, such as food companies co-marketing with drink companies and agreements between private road companies. To complete the argument, he examines how the contrapositive is also true; namely, that removing competition also removes an incentive to cooperate. He finishes with a brief discussion of cartels and makes the insightful observation that a labor union is not commonly recognized as a cartel, despite functioning much like one.

It is only in Reverse Claims to Property that Qui truly goes off the libertarian reservation in his thinking, though he admits at the beginning that he may be doing so. Here, he tries (and fails) to invent an inverse of property rights to resolve questions of state-occupied property and wilderness areas. Qui again neglects other libertarian theories on how to deal with pollution. This un-ownership would, as he suggests, legitimize rights violations in some cases.

In Who Watches the Watchmen, Qui explores the libertarian answer to this age-old question, namely that the watchmen (in the form of private defense agencies) all watch each other. Here he enters an off-topic though informative discussion on the impossibility of eliminating the state by democratic means. He then returns to the topic to find that re-establishment of a state is the worst case scenario in a stateless society, but all economic and military incentives work against it. That it is the worst case means that all other outcomes must be better, setting this particular objection on its ear.

National Defence Without Coercion is the last essay in the second part, and it deals with the subject at length. Qui begins by noting the common fallacy committed by statists: using a state to defend people against other states does not change the fact that people are subjugated by a state; it only changes which state is in control. He covers the basics of how a private defense agency should function, but is a bit too enamored with nationalism. His comparisons between a private defense agency and an insurance company make one wonder where such arguments were in earlier essays. The latter part includes some novel thought on how the facilities of a private defense agency might be employed in other ways during peacetime. The conclusion discusses the difference between pre-modern gentlemen’s war and modern total war, with libertarianism likely to end modern warfare and return us to the less destructive pre-modern type of warfare. This essay and the previous essay could have been combined.

The final part consists of one much longer essay titled Examining Cultural Destruction. Qui examines the causes and symptoms of cultural decay, then proposes solutions. The role of the state and central banking in reducing time preferences is explained, then Qui shows how capitalism makes this worse not by being bad in and of itself, but by amplifying whatever inputs it receives. Egalitarianism is blamed in the Rothbardian sense of a revolt against nature, as is the loss of autonomy and identity that statism causes. Symptoms of these causes are identified as the demonization of productive work, the collapse of stable interpersonal and family relationships, the loss of spiritualism and hierarchy, the ascent of shallow materialism, the prevalence of escapism, and the expansion of empiricism into inherently rational disciplines. To solve these problems, Qui recommends absolute private property rights, abolition of central banking and as much of the state as possible, and a restoration of traditional values.

The first word that comes to mind when describing the entire collection is ‘incomplete.’ Qui lacked an editor for the book, and it shows. The grammatical constructions and punctuation are frequently in need of revision, and each of the essays would benefit from a much deeper bibliography. But the thoughts expressed therein are sufficiently intriguing to merit reading despite these flaws.

Rating: 4/5

Guns Are The Only Bulwark Against Tyranny

On October 5, the New York Times published an opinion column by Michael Shermer in which he argues that the rule of law is a bulwark against tyranny, but guns are not. In this rebuttal, I will show on a point-by-point basis that he has made an erroneous case while committing numerous logical fallacies, and that the opposing view is correct.

“In the wake of the Las Vegas massacre — the worst in modern American history, with 58 dead and some 500 wounded — the onus falls once again to those against gun control to make their case.”

Shermer uses the qualifier “modern,” but does not bother to define it. It seems that to him, events like the Wounded Knee Massacre, in which agents of the United States government murdered 300 members of the Lakota Sioux tribe, including 200 women and children, do not count because they occurred before some arbitrary cutoff date. Ignoring such events is also convenient for the arguments he will make later. That the onus is on the gun rights side rather than the gun control side is simply asserted and may be simply dismissed.

“The two most common arguments made in defense of broad gun ownership are a) self protection and b) as a bulwark against tyranny. Let’s consider each one.”

Another common argument that Shermer ignores is the right to own property in general, of which the right to keep and bear arms is part and parcel. But that would require him to deal in a priori logic, which does not appear to be his strong suit.

Self-Defense, Crime, and Suicide

“Stories about the use of guns in self-defense — a good guy with a gun dispensing with a bad guy with a gun — are legion among gun enthusiasts and conservative talk radio hosts.”

This is because such events happen regularly, to the tune of at least 338,700 events in America in between 2007 and 2011. As will be explained below, this is a low estimate.

“But a 1998 study in The Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, to take one of many examples, found that ‘every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides and 11 attempted or completed suicides.’ That means a gun is 22 times more likely to be used in a criminal assault, an accidental death or injury, a suicide attempt or a homicide than it is for self-defense.

A 2003 study published in the journal Annals of Emergency Medicine, which examined gun ownership levels among thousands of murder and suicide victims and nonvictims, found that gun-owning households were 41 percent more likely to experience a homicide and 244 percent more likely to experience a suicide.”

It is curious that Shermer could not find and cite any more recent studies to support his case, but let us deal with his evidence, such as it is. All such studies suffer from two fatal flaws; they cannot count the number of crimes which did not occur because a potential criminal either saw a gun or believed a gun was present and chose not to offend, and empiricism cannot provide information about counter-factuals. For instance, criminals who have been killed by defensive uses of guns may have otherwise gone on to commit scores of murders, but they were prevented from doing so in this timeline. Without guns, other weapons would be used to commit homicides and other crimes, such as knives, bombs, and vehicles, as occurs in countries where firearm ownership is rare and difficult. That there is a difference between a legally justifiable shooting and a morally justifiable shooting further complicates matters.

Furthermore, Shermer implies that all suicides and accidents involving guns are bad, which is not the case. A person who has a short amount of time to live and will be in excruciating pain for the entirety of that time may decide that nonexistence (or going to whatever afterlife the person believes in) is better than existence as a terminally ill person. In such a case, a self-inflicted gunshot wound can act as a form of euthanasia compared to the protracted suffering which would otherwise lie ahead. (And because many governments still violate the sovereignty of their citizens over their own bodies by prohibiting physician-assisted suicide, these are cases of bad people with guns being defeated by good people with guns, albethey in a different manner.) The tragedy in such a case is not the gun death, but the terminal illness behind the gun death.

Another case can occur during an armed conflict. A person whose position is being overrun by enemy forces may commit suicide to avoid capture, interrogation, and torture at the hands of the enemy. Historically, many women did this to avoid becoming victims of war rape and many people with valuable knowledge did this to keep themselves from being tortured into divulging important information to the enemy. In such cases, a self-inflicted gun death can be the best of a multitude of bad options. Though these situations are unlikely inside of the United States, they are not impossible.

Third, a person whose brain does not function properly can come to believe that putting a bullet through one’s skull has some effect other than ending one’s life, or that self-preservation is not a worthwhile endeavor. While there are many cases in which intervention is needed and the death of the mentally ill person would be regrettable, there are some people who have a chronic and incurable mental condition. A strong desire to end one’s life in the absence of terminal illness or an impending worse fate is a mechanism of natural selection to eliminate organisms which are not sufficiently fit to reproduce and take care of the next generation.

On the subject of accidental gun deaths, some cases are best prevented by education of gun owners, but others are a mechanism of natural selection. The gun owner who handles his guns haphazardly or maintains them improperly can remove himself from the gene pool when the gun either shoots him or fails catastrophically in his hands. The gun owner who is a parent and fails to secure his guns around young children is less likely to get to be a grandparent, great-grandparent, and so on. At any rate, accidents are the fault of people, not guns.

With regard to the claim that gun-owning households are more likely to experience a homicide or suicide, to say that this is because guns are present is a cum hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. Additionally, Shermer neglects to mention studies that show a decrease in violent crime as gun ownership has increased. Perhaps he realizes that such data would undermine his narrative. The aggregate is a wash; there is no clear correlation one way or the other.

“The Second Amendment protects your right to own a gun, but having one in your home involves a risk-benefit calculation you should seriously consider.”

The Second Amendment’s utility in this regard is questionable at best, and Shermer’s empirical arguments are highly suspect, but the idea that the decision to have a firearm in one’s home involves a risk-benefit calculation is technically correct.

Tyranny and Rebellion

“Gun-rights advocates also make the grandiose claim that gun ownership is a deterrent against tyrannical governments. Indeed, the wording of the Second Amendment makes this point explicitly: ‘A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.’ That may have made sense in the 1770s, when breech-loading flintlock muskets were the primary weapons tyrants used to conquer other peoples and subdue their own citizens who could, in turn, equalize the power equation by arming themselves with equivalent firepower. But that is no longer true.”

Shermer unintentionally makes a strong argument that the right to keep and bear arms should be greatly expanded. In order to “equalize the power equation,” let us repeal the National Firearms Act of 1934 to remove taxes on certain categories of arms, the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 so that private citizens can own a nuclear deterrent, the Gun Control Act of 1968 to eliminate licensing of arms dealers and manufacturers, the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 to decriminalize private ownership of machine guns manufactured after that date, and numerous other federal, state, and local measures that further restrict what kinds of weapons may be owned by private citizens.

“If you think stockpiling firearms from the local Guns and Guitars store, where the Las Vegas shooter purchased some of his many weapons, and dressing up in camouflage and body armor is going to protect you from an American military capable of delivering tanks and armored vehicles full of Navy SEALs to your door, you’re delusional.”

Shermer follows in the pattern of most other leftists in straw-manning the nature of a violent uprising to overthrow the state. No one seriously believes that a single individual is capable of going up against the armed forces of a nation-state and emerging victorious. Instead, such an effort would require a few percent of the civilian population to use self-defense against agents of the state just as they would against common criminals. Nor is it necessary to achieve the sort of victory that one nation-state would enjoy against another in a war in order to succeed in such a revolution. A sustained effort of decentralized, anti-political, guerrilla attacks need only make the prospect of being a government agent within a certain territory too dangerous of an employment option to be worthwhile, thus physically removing the state from that territory without the need to meet the state’s forces in regular warfare. Note that even a single instance of government agents being killed can greatly reduce oppression, at least in the short term.

As Shermer suggests, a state is likely to deploy its military domestically in an effort to put down such a rebellion. If the rebels are competent, they will blend into the general population when they are not actively engaging their opponents. Thus, using military hardware against the revolutionaries would cause many civilian casualties, especially in the case of area-effect weapons. Just as drone strikes that kill innocents overseas cause more people to join terrorist organizations today, the state’s response to the rebels would cause more people to join the rebels to try to avenge their fallen friends and family members. The state would also damage the infrastructure that it needs to operate in order to maintain public support and carry out its functions.

Shermer seems to believe that military vehicles and personnel are invincible juggernauts that the average citizen could not hope to defeat. This is quite false, as many resistance movements have conclusively proven. Military vehicles are quite vulnerable to ambush in close quarters. Improvised explosives can destroy or disable them, as can large amounts of fire, such as from multiple Molotov cocktails. Aircraft are harder to deal with if the rebels present them with a target and cannot keep them grounded, but drones can be hacked and thermal evasion suits are not terribly difficult to build. Of course, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. All vehicles need to be fueled, controlled, and maintained, and all offensive vehicles need to be armed. Someone must perform each of those tasks. Someone must deliver the resources for both those tasks and the personnel involved. Those people are far more vulnerable than the vehicles themselves.

While leftists tend to deride such suggestions as pure fantasy, anyone who has bothered to seriously think through such possibilities knows that they are not, including high-ranking United States military personnel who are responsible for preparing plans for such scenarios.

“The tragic incidents at Ruby Ridge, in Idaho, and Waco, Tex., in the 1990s, in which citizens armed to the teeth collided with government agencies and lost badly, is a case study for what would happen were the citizenry to rise up in violence against the state today.”

That these are not useful case studies for the possibility of rebellion against the United States government has been demonstrated in the previous section. One must also consider the difference made by Timothy McVeigh. Although his actions cannot be defended from a deontological perspective, the Oklahoma City bombing appears to have had positive consequences with regard to how the state handles armed resistance. By the standard of Ruby Ridge and Waco, the Montana Freemen standoff in 1996, the Bundy Ranch standoff in 2014, and the Malheur standoff in 2016 all should have ended in mass casualties. But because McVeigh made such massacres costly for the state in terms of blowback, responding to such armed standoffs with overwhelming deadly force has become unpalatable.

Government Failure

“And in any case, if you’re having trouble with the government, a lawyer is a much more potent weapon than a gun. Politicians and police fear citizens armed with legal counsel more than they do a public fortified with guns. The latter they can just shoot. The former means they have to appear before a judge.”

The previous two sections clearly refute the idea that the politicians and their agents can just shoot the public. As for citizens armed with legal counsel, they are going into a government courtroom, of government law enacted by those very politicians, presided over by a government judge, funded by taxes that the government extorted from them via the guns carried by those very police. This is a conflict of interest of astronomical magnitude that would never be tolerated in any situation that does not involve the state. The idea that a lawyer is a much more potent weapon than a gun for resolving trouble with a government is thus risible at best.

“A civil society based on the rule of law with a professional military to protect its citizens from external threats; a police force to protect civilians from internal dangers; a criminal justice system to peacefully settle disputes between the state and its citizenry; and a civil court system to enable individuals to resolve conflicts nonviolently — these institutions have been the primary drivers in the dramatic decline of violence over the past several centuries, not an increasingly well-armed public.”

The correlation between declining violence and the civil society he describes does not establish a causal link, so Shermer commits another cum hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. He also assumes that the state is necessary to provide these essential services. In fact, the opposite is true. Rule of law is the idea that people should be governed by laws rather than by the arbitrary decisions of rulers. A state is a group of people who exercise a monopoly on initiatory force in a certain geographical area. People who have a monopoly on initiatory force necessarily have a monopoly on the enforcement of laws. This means that they can choose the nature of the law and the enforcement thereof. Thus, in the presence of a state, those who wield state power rule the law and not vice versa. Therefore, the only possibility for rule of law, as well as the peace and justice that follow from it, is to have no state.

The civil society Shermer describes has its own set of intractable problems. First, the professional military may protect its citizens from external threats, and the police may protect civilians from internal dangers, but this is the security of a farm animal rather than the security of a free person. The state uses its military and police to prevent exploitation of its subjects by other powers only so that it may monopolize their exploitation. And should this monopoly decline and fail, the citizens will be less secure than they were before its inception. The criminal and civil courts cannot perform their functions correctly due to both the conflict of interest explained in the previous section and the doctrine of sovereign immunity.

“States reduce violence by asserting a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, thereby replacing what criminologists call ‘self-help justice,’ in which individuals settle their own scores, often violently, such as drug gangs and the Mafia.”

The goal of those who wish to create a superior form of social order should be a reduction of aggression, which does not necessarily entail a reduction of violence because aggressive violence may be reduced by overwhelming displays of defensive violence. That being said, government agents murdered over 200 million people in the 20th century, which is hardly a reduction in violence compared to pre-modern conditions.

Shermer then presents a false dilemma between a state monopoly on criminal justice and a vigilante free-for-all, completely ignoring the possibility of market provision of criminal justice through competing private businesses. He also neglects the fact that drug gangs and other organized crime make much of their income through goods and services which do not involve aggression against people or property but have been outlawed by the state regardless. Without state interference in the economy, much of the economic activity which currently involves violent dispute resolution between criminals would instead involve peaceful dispute resolution between legitimate business interests.

Finally, given that the state monopoly on force creates a system in which justice for the crimes of its agents is functionally impossible coupled with anarcho-tyranny, there are cases in which “self-help justice,” better known as vigilante justice, is superior to no justice at all.

“Homicide rates, for example, have plummeted a hundredfold since 14th-century England, in which there were 110 homicides per 100,000 people a year, compared with less than one per 100,000 today. Similar declines in murder rates have been documented in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands and Scandinavia. (American homicide rates are around five times higher than in Europe, owing primarily to the deadly combination of guns and gangs.)”

Again, this does not tell us why homicide rates have fallen. Better economic circumstances and declining exposure rates to toxic substances that increase aggressive behavior also contribute to declining violence. That guns and gangs are primarily responsible for the higher homicide rate in America is simply asserted and may thus be simply dismissed.

“There’s no question that tyrannical states have abused the freedom of their citizens. But it is no longer realistic to think that arming citizens to the teeth is going to stop tyranny should it arise. Far superior are nonviolent democratic checks and balances on power, constitutional guardians of civil rights and legal protections of liberties.”

There is indeed no question that tyrannical states have abused the freedom of their citizens. What Shermer fails to understand is that all states are necessarily tyrannical and must abuse the freedom of their citizens in order to perpetuate their operations. The idea that it is no longer realistic to think that arming citizens to the teeth is going to stop tyranny should it arise has been thoroughly refuted above. Nonviolent democracy in the context of statism is a contradiction of terms because the state rests upon a foundation of aggressive violence, and democratic forms only pour gasoline upon the fire by setting part of the citizenry against another part. Checks and balances do not really exist in practice, as the various parts of a state apparatus invariably come to conspire together toward their common goal of dominating the society under the leadership of the most powerful branch of government. The Constitution itself and the laws passed under it are similarly useless as guardians of rights and protections of liberties because the very powers they are supposed to limit (if we ignore the fact that the Constitution expanded state power far beyond what the Articles of Confederation allowed) are in charge of their interpretation, enforcement, and amendment.

Conclusion

Shermer’s case is deeply flawed from beginning to end. His cherry-picked studies fail to demonstrate his case, as studies with opposing findings exist and the aggregate is inconclusive. He makes unfounded assumptions regarding self-defense and suicide, has thoroughly failed to understand the use of self-defense against the state, and presents a view of civil society that is starry-eyed and naive. Contrary to Shermer, the only bulwark against tyranny is the credible threat of forcible removal of tyrants from power, and this requires the possession and use of guns.

On Citizenship And Casual Totalitarianism

This article expands upon an essay found in Libertarian Reaction.

There are many statists who actively fight against totalitarianism. This may not seem inherently contradictory, but the key to understanding totalitarian ideology is completely ignored by them. The very machinations of the state require totalitarian control over the population. To say that there can be a state without totalitarianism is a contradiction. Totalitarianism originates largely from early fascist theory but has similarly been associated with authoritarian communism. This seems simple enough; a state that attempts to control all parts of society is totalitarian, while a state that does not is just liberal or conservative. Therefore, there is a distinction between a good justifiable state and an evil unjustifiable state. People can make more distinctions based on economic and political systems, but the vast majority agree that totalitarianism is ultimately what determines whether or not a state is ethical. Very few people act as if the Third Reich was a valid exercise in statecraft, and only a few more similarly defend the actions of the Soviet Union. There are also other such regimes, various authoritarian socialist experiments, and lower profile fascist states.

Control Through Law

It is physically impossible for a state to control the lives of everyone. This problem is solved by having the state legislate and regulate, then allowing the enforcers of these laws and regulations to have special privileges, so as to give the state the ability to convict any person the state wants to convict and punish in any way the state deems appropriate. In this manner, one may create a totalitarian state. For obvious reasons, these sorts of states have no regard for human rights or basic decency. Rather, they are directly opposed to the civilized nature of man. Although most people understand this, they do not understand that any state is inherently totalitarian. There are historical exceptions to this, but they are very few and far between and have long since disappeared. Because this is the case, we cannot act as if the historical possibility of a non-totalitarian state is a valid argument. Even if a state can be free of or largely lack totalitarianism for a limited time, this can never last.

Citizenship and Personhood

At the heart of the issue is the very thing that defines the state for all individuals: the aspect of citizenship. Every person under a state is the citizen of that state, which means that they have a relationship with the state in which the state is in a privileged position of control over the citizen. The relationship is even more integrated as without the state, no one can be a citizen. Due to the form of citizenship practiced in modern states, the ability to delegate citizenship gives the state the power to delegate legal personhood. In this system, a non-citizen is as good as a non-person, as they are without the legal protections that other people enjoy.

Because the actions of the citizens affect the relationship of the state with other states and the rest of the citizenry, the state has an interest in subjugating the people under it. This is because the people who live under a state are by necessity people whom the state must control and is expected to control by the rulers of other states and the citizens of that selfsame state. If the state does not control its people, then the state will lose perceived legitimacy as it fails to curtail adverse social effects that result from individual actors who act contrary to a state’s domestic and foreign policies.

From this, any actions taken in a statist system must not only require the consent of all parties involved, but also the consent of the state. The state effectively becomes a secular god, in that it can arbitrarily decide who is or is not legally a person and how people must or must not act. This must be the case with any state, no matter its size, scope, form, or ideological position. The state must hold a monopoly on law in a certain region, as failing to do so would both run afoul of the definition of a state and allow agents of the state to be held accountable for the crimes they commit under color of law. In order to do this, the state needs to make the people within its claimed territory into its citizens. The modern statist system relies upon citizenship, and the states within it would have no justification without such subjects.

Casual Totalitarianism

By this reasoning, there can be no state without totalitarianism. However, this is not the form of totalitarianism that was present in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. This is a casual totalitarianism, which is far more insidious than any explicit totalitarianism. In this totalitarianism, the state allows people to sell their labor to a crony capitalist who has swindled for himself special privileges from the state in what is called rent-seeking behavior. Thus, the worker has to either accept terms that no person would rationally accept if given a real choice or work in the black market. This is seemingly voluntary, and most people can get hired to work somewhere, so there can supposedly be no complaining. However, if a person actually tries to do the job that one wants to do as one wants to do it, one runs into mountains of regulations and legislation that an entire team of lawyers must review for compliance. They are also faced with licensing requirements and other privileges that the state keeps for itself and only distributes as the ruling class sees fit. Due to the involvement of the state, we cannot say that there is any legal voluntary economic activity in the current system, as there is no legal economic activity without the state. This is only possible because the state maintains a monopoly on law.

Furthermore, the state can legislate with regard to any relationship, whether interpersonal or political. One cannot engage in any activity without first getting the consent of the state. The state replaces faith and culture when it comes to marriage, as the state decides which marriages and types of marriages are valid and which are not. The state replaces any sense of morality when it comes to law through the doctrine of legal positivism. What matters becomes what is legal rather than what is morally righteous. The state assumes full control over one’s life without arousing suspicion in most people. The state even takes control over what happens between a citizen and himself. That is, the state replaces free will. In the modern world, the state may allow one to engage in any sort of degeneracy under the sun, but the moment the state is harmed or lessened in influence from whatever a person does with himself, the state will forbid it. The state is thus omnipresent, and for many people, this is enough; if they are forbidden from doing something by the state, even when it affects no other persons, they will not do it. People will actively avoid anything illegal, as the state has replaced morality and thinking for oneself.

Because of this, there is no such thing as individualism in the presence of the state. There is effectively only one real person, and that person is the state. No one other than the state can act in any meaningful manner without the consent of the state for fear of being shut down. The state will always make all decisions, even if we do not realize it. Neither will the citizens have a choice in their own minds, as the state has replaced them as people. Thus, we are stuck in a form of totalitarianism, which only differs from place to place and from time to time in the degree of apparent restriction. Some will claim that democracy counters this tendency towards totalitarianism, but if anything, liberal democracy only enables the total state. Without the apparent will of the people, the state cannot designate who the people are without breaking the casual nature of its totalitarianism. The citizens give up their own rights as humans and give the state the right to decide for them. The state needs some sort of mandate, as it needs the citizens to listen to its commands and the government agents to enforce these commands. This may be more or less explicit, but it is always present by necessity. Mass democracy demonstrates this better than any other system.

Ending Totalitarianism

The single greatest show of submission is to beg for the state to lengthen one’s leash, as no matter what happens, one will still be collared. The state will not be changed by begging, as the state is by necessity a totalitarian institution. The only meaningful exercises of power by the people are to subvert the state or overthrow it. The state is antithetical to morality, freedom, and humanity by design, and it cannot be designed otherwise. It is therefore necessary to create an alternative form of governance and defend it against the state. The precise nature of stateless organization will vary from place to place and must be decided by the organizers in each locality.

It is vital that we remove totalitarianism from society if we wish to ever achieve real human liberty. If one believes this, then the precise details become less relevant as it creates an entirely new paradigm of political theory. The alliances and conflicts of previous theories are subordinated to the point of irrelevance. This is not to say that we should support those who call themselves anarchists but simply want global socialism; rather, it is to say that regardless of whether people organize along socialistic, capitalistic, progressive, or reactionary lines, it will be of secondary importance because the highest priority for any living person today should be the elimination of the inherently totalitarian state. Personal preferences about the actions of others will only take precedence once we have freed ourselves from the state and created a society of distinct and free persons. If we do not do this, then we will necessarily choose totalitarianism.