The State Is Negan, Part III

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The Walking Dead comic series and the television show based on it contain many themes which are of interest to the student of both libertarian philosophy and reactionary thought. The character Negan, who appears in the Season 6 finale and is the primary antagonist in Seasons 7 and 8, is one of the most obvious allegories in recent memory for the nature of the state. Let us examine the third part of his character arc to see how he and his underlings deal with a developing hostile challenge to their rule. As we will see, there are many lessons to be learned for those who seek either to abolish state power or to wield it oneself. This part of the article series will cover the time period following Rick’s decision to resist Negan (Episode 709) up to the battle in Alexandria (Episode 716).

Reluctant Warriors I

In Episode 709, Alexandria, the Hilltop, and the Kingdom begin their resistance. The episode begins with Gabriel watching the gate in Alexandria at night. He leaves his post, fills crates with food and weapons, drops his Bible on the pantry floor loads them into a car, and leaves. A dark figure is seen in the passenger seat as Gabriel drives away.

Jesus and many people from Alexandria meet with Gregory in Hilltop. Gregory refuses to fight the Saviors, but upon leaving his office, the group finds others in Hilltop who will fight. The discussion turns to tactics. Daryl proposes bombing the Saviors’ compound, while Tara objects that this may kill innocent civilians. Rick suggests returning to Alexandria. Jesus reveals a walkie-talkie taken from the Saviors that can be used to spy on their movements, then proposes they visit the Kingdom, which they do. After meeting Richard and Alvaro, two Kingdom guards, the group enters the Kingdom. They are reunited with Morgan, who informs them that he found Carol but that she has gone. Rick’s group then meets King Ezekiel and his tiger Shiva. Rick makes the case for war while Morgan advises non-violence. Ezekiel invites them to stay the night while he deliberates.

During the night, Benjamin finds Carol in the woods, who gives him advice on being quiet and sends him home. Ezekiel puts Benjamin’s brother Henry to bed, then Benjamin asks Ezekiel to help fight the Saviors. The next morning, Ezekiel declines to fight but offers asylum to Daryl so that the Saviors will not find him. Dejected, the group leaves. Outside, Rick and Richard discuss matters, both realizing that while they lack numbers, they are making the Saviors stronger by paying tribute to them. Rick convinces Daryl to stay and try to change Ezekiel’s mind.

As the group returns to Alexandria, they encounter a roadblock of cars set by the Saviors, which they move. They then find a tripwire and explosives, which they appropriate for their own use. They hear on the walkie that Negan is looking for Daryl and see a large herd of zombies coming, so they hurry in order to get back home and avoid the zombies. Rick decides to keep the zombies on the highway in case they can be useful later. Accomplishing this endangers some of the group, but everyone survives and goes home.

Moments after returning home, Simon arrives with some Saviors and says he is looking for Daryl. They search and find nothing, noting only that the pantry looks bare. After the Saviors leave, Rick asks Aaron about the pantry. He and Tobin tell Rick about Gabriel’s actions. Rosita accuses Gabriel of theft, but Rick defends him. Rick finds Gabriel’s Bible on the floor, then finds a note from him in the inventory book that says “BOAT.” Rick and Aaron go to the boat where they found supplies earlier. They find a trail of footprints that lead to a parking lot. A large armed group surrounds them as Rick smiles.

* * * * *

Let us begin with Gregory, the weak and treacherous leader of Hilltop. He, like many people in positions of power today, is unfit for leadership on his own merits, and is accordingly the puppet of a higher authority. He knows on which side his bread is buttered, and that the people of Hilltop will probably remove him in favor of Maggie if not for the threat of what Negan might do to them if such removal were effected. Naturally, Rick’s group sets about building an alternative power structure to serve their interests.

Speaking of elites and rebellion, Jesus recognizes the need to have at least one more community leader on board with the plan, and so hopes to recruit Ezekiel. It is natural for someone in Ezekiel’s position to be cautious of such plots to overthrow the established order, as the Kingdom has a better deal with the Saviors than do the other communities. From his perspective, Rick is an unknown quantity who should not be entrusted with full allegiance as yet, but Ezekiel does offer a token gesture by protecting Daryl. Rick is wise to convince Daryl to stay and whisper in Ezekiel’s ear in the hopes of slowly warming him to the idea of revolution. Of course, a wise rebel leader will also work on the lieutenants of the elites that one hopes to bring on board, as Rick does with Richard. The decision to bring Morgan along was questionable, as his arguments for a nonviolent resolution both undermine the chances of bringing Ezekiel into their plot and are out of place in the ultraviolent context of Negan’s actions.

The discussion between Tara and Daryl is an important one that any serious revolution must contemplate. Will a war effort be total, or will there be rules of engagement that one will not cross, even if it means failing the mission? Many treatises have been written throughout history debating the merits and demerits of each position, and reaching a definite conclusion here is outside the scope of this article, but the particular context of The Walking Dead clearly indicates total war, as Negan is an existential threat.

The walkie that Jesus acquired from the Saviors demonstrates the importance of spying and gathering intelligence. Without this advantage, Rick’s group would not know how to stay away from Savior patrols. The group also shows good judgment in appropriating explosives and tripwires that the Saviors placed, as well as by using a zombie herd to block a road that the Saviors could use. It is important to impair the enemy in whatever way possible.

Finally, Rick trusts and defends Gabriel when others do not, treating him as innocent until proven guilty. This may come from his former life as a police officer or from his experience as leading the group; likely both. It is important to trust one’s subordinates to accomplish important tasks, even if they sometimes do so by questionable means.

Reluctant Warriors II

In Episode 710, the uneasiness before battle continues. The episode begins with a tribute meeting between Ezekiel and the Saviors. Gavin, the lead Savior, says their tribute is small but accepts it. Richard and Jared come to an armed standoff, but Richard backs down at Ezekiel’s command. Morgan stops Jared from attacking Richard again, then Jared attacks Morgan, then Benjamin attacks Jared. Ezekiel orders his people to stop fighting.

Once back at the Kingdom, Ezekiel admonishes Benjamin for being too eager to fight. Daryl asks Morgan why he tolerates the Saviors, saying that Carol would want to fight if she knew about Negan’s murders of Glenn and Abraham. Morgan agrees, adding “that’s why she left.”

Later, Daryl and Richard discuss killing the Saviors while practicing archery. They leave for a hidden camper in the woods, where they discuss making war against the Saviors and moving Ezekiel to fight. Daryl discovers that Richard’s plan is to get Carol killed by Saviors in order to anger Ezekiel, which angers Daryl enough to threaten to kill Richard if this plan is enacted.

The episode then picks up where the last one left off at The Heaps, where Rick’s group is surrounded by the Scavengers, a new group. Rick speaks to Jadis, a woman who leads the Scavengers, asking to see Gabriel. He is brought out, and Rick says that killing his people will anger the Saviors. He asks for help against the Saviors, but Jadis refuses. After a fight breaks out, Jadis takes Rick to the top of a trash heap. Thus begins a test, as Rick is pushed down into a pit with a zombie that has been covered in armor and spikes. Rick sustains hand and leg wounds, but kills the zombie. Jadis throws Rick a rope to climb out of the pit, then agrees to help Rick fight in return for one third of the Saviors’ supplies. Scavengers load the supplies that Gabriel took into Rick’s car. Gabriel thanks Rick for the rescue and for believing in him. Rick responds that enemies can become friends. Rosita argues against going home, saying they need to find guns for the Scavengers. Tara responds that Rick and Aaron need medical attention. Michonne asks Rick about where to look for guns. Rick asks Tara, but she does not mention the armed women she met in Oceanside.

Ezekiel and Jerry deliver food to Carol. She tells them to go, then Daryl arrives, who she is much happier to see. Carol tells Daryl that she left because she didn’t want to lose anyone and wanted to stop killing, but she would have to kill the Saviors if they killed anyone she loved. Daryl decides not to tell her about Glenn and Abraham. After dinner, Daryl hugs her and leaves.

In the Kingdom, Daryl sits next to Shiva’s cage. He informs Morgan that he found Carol and asks him to convince Ezekiel to fight. Morgan refuses, after which Daryl decides to return to the Hilltop. The next morning, Morgan watches him leave and sees Richard watching as well.

* * * * *

Here, we witness further evidence that Negan is not a competent sovereign. Lack of respect for one’s vassals breeds discontent, and his lieutenants clearly treat the Kingdommers with contempt. The Saviors only get away with this for so long before matters escalate and Ezekiel decides that war must be waged, and oppression in the real world is no different. As Frederick Douglass wrote, “The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

The tension between Richard and Daryl illustrates a problem that is always present within revolutionary movements. People will make plans of their own, sometimes without consulting with their fellow revolutionaries and even throwing them under the bus in some cases, as Richard plans to do with Carol. This can not only disrupt long-term strategies, as will be seen later, but can lead to splinters within the revolution when fights over leadership occur or hostility over perceived or actual betrayals boils over.

When Rick deals with the Scavengers, we once again see a hesitant leader who wants proof of Rick’s mettle. Jadis is far more open and direct about what will bring her on board, while Ezekiel does not show his cards. Of course, one must always be cautious of the establishment, who may demonstrate greater character, resolve, or ability, or may simply make a better offer.

In any martial effort, it is natural for some people to have mental breakdowns. Horror at the sight of blood and guts can cause this, but this is all but absent this long after the apocalypse, with almost all such people being zombies or zombie food. However, slower-onset cases in which one sees so much death and destruction that one simply cannot handle any more still occur. It is important to recognize the signs of this and handle such people with care, as Daryl does for Carol.

Tara’s refusal to tell Rick about Oceanside and the useful weapons they possess is important, but will be discussed later when the issue resurfaces.

Enemy Camp

Episode 711 returns to the Sanctuary immediately following Daryl’s escape in Episode 708. A group of Saviors finds Fat Joey’s body. Dwight notices a missing motorcycle, runs to Daryl’s cell, and finds it empty. Dwight grabs his walkie from his apartment and finds Daryl’s prison clothes there. He also finds a note given to Daryl that says, “Go now.”

Negan returns from Alexandria with Eugene, who is terrified. Laura, a female Savior, walks him to an apartment as he begs for mercy. He is surprised to find that the apartment is for him. Laura says that Daryl escaped and asks Eugene if he has any leads. Eugene says no and that he would not lie about it. He is glad to find the refrigerator stocked and to learn that Laura can get him other food as well. After being denied lobster, he settles for canned pasta in tomato sauce but is disappointed by a lack of pickles available.

After examining the note, Saviors barge in and beat Dwight as Negan looks on. Dwight is put into the cell that had housed Daryl. Negan tells him that Sherry ran away, then questions whether she or Dwight helped Daryl escape. Dwight is released with orders to find and return Sherry. In the infirmary, Dr. Carson stitches Dwight’s wounds and says that Sherry probably helped Daryl. Dwight gets his gear from his apartment and leaves on a motorcycle. He rides through a suburb and parks at an abandoned house which used to be his. He finds Sherry’s wedding rings and a letter from her, in which she admits to freeing Daryl and apologizes for getting them into Negan’s system. Shaken, he puts the rings in his cigarette carton and leaves pretzels and beer next to a candle, in accordance with her letter. When Dwight returns, Dr. Carson tends his wounds again. Dwight lies, saying he killed Sherry.

Laura takes Eugene on a tour of the factory floor, explaining the points system and that it does not apply to Eugene. She takes a pickle jar and gives it to Eugene. Outside, Negan orders Simon to lead a party to Alexandra to find Daryl. Eugene is brought out and intimidated by the Saviors. As he commonly does, Negan asks for everyone’s name. Eugene gives his own name, then everyone else says “Negan” together. Negan shows Eugene what his bullet did to Lucille, then asks if he is a “smarty pants.” Eugene lies as he did to Abraham long ago, saying that he has multiple doctoral degrees and was part of the Human Genome Project. Negan tests him by asking how to better preserve their fence-line zombies. Eugene proposes pouring molten metal on them, which will harden into armor. Negan is impressed, offering to send several of his wives to Eugene’s apartment and nicknaming him “Dr. Smarty Pants.”

Eugene plays video games while Tanya, Frankie, and Amber, three of Negan’s wives, are with him. One of them jokes about making a bomb, and Eugene lists the ingredients he would need. He walks outside with them, mixes ingredients, and ignites a balloon filled with hydrogen, to their delight. Later, Tanya and Frankie visit him again, saying that Amber wants to kill herself. Eugene agrees to make pills for her. He uses his rank to cut in line at the points market, getting cold capsules and a stuffed toy. Back at his apartment, he makes the pills.

Laura brings Eugene to the factory floor, where a crowd has gathered around the furnace. Negan tells Eugene to pay close attention to what is about to happen. Negan hits Dr. Carson with Lucille, accusing him of helping Daryl escape. Dwight had clipped part of Sherry’s farewell letter and planted it in Dr. Carson’s desk, framing him. Dr. Carson accuses Dwight of lying, but confesses under the threat of Negan’s hot iron. Negan throws Dr. Carson face-first into the furnace. After the execution, Negan stares at Eugene and remarks to Dwight, “Good thing we have a spare Dr. Carson.”

When Tanya and Frankie come to Eugene for the pills, he correctly guesses that they intend to kill Negan and refuses to help. Tanya calls him a coward before leaving. Negan then stops by, telling Eugene not to be afraid anymore. Negan asks Eugene for his name, and he eagerly says, “Negan.”

Eugene oversees the workers as they carry out his metallic upgrade of the fence zombies. Dwight joins him and asks if he is on board. Eugene apologizes for attacking Dwight in Episode 614, then says, “We are Negan.” Dwight reluctantly agrees.

* * * * *

Like many people who are captured and forced to work for the enemy, there is a delicate balance that Eugene must walk between doing enough legitimate work to fit in and engaging in whatever subterfuge is possible while saying what one must in order to survive. For the rest of the war, Eugene will have to deal with this, but he partly realizes that subterfuge must wait until he can gain Negan’s trust and partly is too scared to try anything just yet. This is evidenced by his unwillingness to help Negan’s wives assassinate him and his eventual willingness to take on Negan’s name. As for Negan’s side of this interaction, he is more perceptive than most people and knows how to make others believe that he knows more than he does, which both helps keep people in line in the short-term but makes him vulnerable to betrayal by his closest associates in the long-term. His tactic of bringing in resourceful people from the other side makes more sense than letting them keep working for the enemy, but he does not have the overall temperament to prevent eventual defection.

As for saying what one must, Dwight does this both to cover for Sherry and to spare himself Negan’s wrath. In a totalitarian regime, someone must always be to blame, which leads to Dwight’s use of Dr. Carson as a scapegoat. This is a natural tendency rooted in the instinct of self-preservation, and Negan’s treatment of Dr. Carson shows that this instinct is well-honed. But again, Negan takes ultraviolence too far. Making a public spectacle of shoving someone’s head into a furnace because a prisoner escaped just to have someone to blame is the behavior of someone whose power is insecure; secure rulers have made their example and do not need to regularly brutalize their own people. This helps explain the desire of Tanya and Frankie to kill Negan, along with his mistreatment of their former partners and his callous domination of them.

War Materiel

In Episode 712, the hunt for weapons begins. Rick and Michonne look for guns to fulfill their deal with the Scavengers. They find some Saviors playing golf in a field and manage to sneak over to their truck in order to use batteries inside to power their walkie. Driving their van, Michonne sees that Rick has fallen asleep. She pulls over, makes coffee, spots a deer in the woods, and grabs a gun. Rick wakes up and joins the hunt. They lose the deer but find an abandoned school in the distance. They approach, bang on the fence, and dispatch a zombie drawn by the sound. They see shell casings and guess that powerful guns are nearby. They climb onto the roof for a better view, seeing carnival rides and zombies carrying guns. The waterlogged roof caves in, dropping Rick and Michonne into the school. They get lucky, landing on a bed. Inside, they find many food rations and other supplies. Rick and Michonne discuss their future plans and what to do with the resources they found, deciding to give one third of the food as tribute to the Saviors and some of the guns to the Scavengers.

The next day, Rick and Michonne make a plan to kill the zombies outside. A zombie with a machine gun gets stuck in some re-bar in such a way as to make the gun fire at them. They take cover in a car, then escape through the sunroof as zombies swarm it. They split up to divide the zombies. Rick spots a deer and tries to shoot it from a Ferris wheel, but it cannot hold him. Zombies close in on him, and Michonne thinks he may be dead. She is glad to see him when he emerges. Rick sees Michonne crying as they gather guns from the fallen zombies. On the way home, Rick warns her that they will lose people in the fight against Negan, possibly each other. He says that such sacrifices will be worth it and that the struggle is about the future, not about them. He asks her to lead if he dies.

In Alexandria, Rosita is removing stitches from the cut on her face. Tara tells her that they have enough people but need more weapons. Rosita leaves to look for guns. She finds a toy gun and almost gets bitten by a zombie, which infuriates her. She returns to Alexandria and visits Gabriel. She yells at him for trying to discourage her from shooting at Negan. Gabriel remains calm, arguing that the rest of the group needs her alive.

Tara babysits Judith and debates whether to tell Rick about Oceanside or keep her promise to its residents to keep their existence a secret.

Rick’s group delivers 63 guns to Jadis, who says that she needs twice that many. This angers Rosita. Jadis agrees to let Rick keep 20 to help his group get more. When they return, Rick asks Tara if she has seen Rosita. Tara decides to tell Rick about Oceanside.

Rosita goes to Hilltop to see Sasha, asking for help with killing Negan. Sasha agrees to help as long as she gets to take the shot. Rosita says that she remembers Daryl’s and Carl’s descriptions of the Sanctuary, while Sasha has a map of the exterior from Jesus. They both acknowledge that it is probably a suicide mission, but decide to go anyway.

* * * * *

When building a revolutionary movement, it is important to avoid taking stupid risks. Rick and Michonne became far too careless in pursuit of their objective. Had a bed not been located in an implausibly lucky location, they would have been either killed or mortally wounded by their fall through the roof. In real life, this would have been the end for both of them. Their plan to escape the school almost fails, then Rick’s ill-advised attempt to hunt deer from a rusted Ferris wheel almost gets him killed again.

Once the two of them apparently wise up, they discuss the important realizations that they will lose people in the fight and that there must be a leadership plan if Rick dies. Many revolutionary movements lose their original leaders, especially if the revolution drags on for many years. That people will die fighting is obvious in principle but still difficult when it hits close to home, but the manner of Negan’s rule leaves them with nothing to lose. Another aspect of revolutions is that a victory easily won is hardly valued, whereas a victory that costs a great amount of blood and treasure will be defended more vigorously against later threats out of a desire that one’s friends and riches not be ultimately lost in vain.

Tara finally decides to help her own group instead of keep her word to outsiders by telling Rick of Oceanside’s weapons. The desire to keep one’s word to neutrals is generally a virtue, but out-group preference loses wars. Anyone in such a situation is best advised to share all available intelligence with one’s leader to help the war effort. Neutrals can usually be made to understand or brought to heel as needed, but leaving a resource untapped against an enemy like Negan is no way to win.

Once more, we witness splinter factions within Rick’s group jumping the gun and attempting their own private missions. Rick’s plans are moving too slowly for Rosita and Sasha, who believe they can carry out a targeted assassination against Negan. While such a plan may work in this case, it is not generally possible to remove a totalitarian regime from power by assassinating the head of state. The result is usually “the king is dead, long live the king” or “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”.

Uneasy Peace

In Episode 713, the Kingdom inches closer to conflict with the Saviors. The episode begins with several Kingdommers loading a blood-stained cantaloupe onto a truck. Morgan teaches Henry how to fight with a staff as Benjamin watches.

Carol wakes up, gets out of bed, and leaves her house for the Kingdom. She incapacitates a zombie but does not finish it off. Once at the Kingdom gate, she kills five zombies. The guards let her in, after which she goes to see Morgan. She wants to know why Rick’s group came to the Kingdom and if everyone in Alexandra is alright. Morgan tells her to ask Daryl and offers to return to Alexandria with her. She leaves. On her way out, Benjamin asks her to teach him to fight, and she refuses. Carol then finds that the zombie she did not finish off earlier has been killed. A shadow is seen watching her from a distance.

Richard digs a hole to bury a child’s backpack, which has the name “Katy” written on it. One of the Kingdom residents informs Ezekiel that a crop has weevils and must be burned. She assures him that it will grow back. Benjamin gives Morgan a painting.

Several Kingdommers load cantaloupes onto a truck for another tribute. Richard apologizes to Morgan, then warns him that someday he will have to kill. On their way, Ezekiel’s crew encounters a barricade of shopping carts in the road. They search the area as Richard covers the group from behind, and find an open grave that Richard dug earlier with a sign saying, “Bury me here.” They remove the roadblock and continue to the tribute meeting. Gavin reprimands Ezekiel for arriving late and will hear no excuses. Jerry tells Gavin not to interrupt, and gets hit by Jared with Morgan’s staff for his trouble. Benjamin mutters under his breath, which Jared hears. Gavin inspects the cantaloupes, then demands their guns. The groups draw on each other. Gavin says they have the same choice they have always had; try to use their guns or not. Richard advises Ezekiel to submit and is mocked by Jared. Ezekiel complies. Gavin says they are short one cantaloupe, but Ezekiel insists that all twelve are there. Gavin says he will teach them a lesson. Jared points his gun at Richard, who tells him to shoot. He shoots Benjamin twice in the legs instead. Gavin orders Jared to return Morgan’s staff, and orders Ezekiel to bring the last cantaloupe the next day. The crew loads a bleeding-out Benjamin onto the truck and leaves for Carol’s cottage. They try to save Benjamin, but he dies.

Morgan walks alone at the urban lot where the roadblock was. He sees visions of his past and considers suicide. He kicks a box and finds the twelfth cantaloupe. He deduces that Richard hid the cantaloupe on purpose. Morgan goes back to the Kingdom to confront Richard. Richard says that he was supposed to die, hoping that his death over something so petty would push Ezekiel to war. Richard tells Morgan about losing his wife and daughter, blaming himself for inaction then. Richard proposes they regain the Saviors’ trust, then destroy them with help from Alexandria and Hilltop. Morgan goes to his room and thinks about his next move.

The next scene returns to the beginning of the episode, as the last cantaloupe is loaded. At the meeting, Gavin asks about Benjamin, then realizes that he died. He angrily orders Jared to walk home, threatening to kill him if he disobeys. Richard brings the cantaloupe to Gavin, but Morgan beats Richard with his staff and strangles him to death, shocking everyone present. He explains what Richard had done and assures Gavin that their tribute relationship will be honored going forward. The Saviors leave. Morgan tells Ezekiel what Richard told him, but refers to Benjamin as Duane, his deceased son’s name. This confuses Ezekiel, who attempts to console him. A crying Morgan tells Ezekiel to leave him alone. Ezekiel leaves, then Morgan stabs Richard so he will not reanimate. Morgan drags Richard’s corpse to the open grave and buries him. He buries Katy’s backpack with him, then goes around killing zombies.

Morgan visits Carol and tells her about killing Richard. He then tells Carol the truth about Glenn, Abraham, Spencer, and Olivia. He explains that Rick came to the Kingdom looking for allies against the Saviors. Carol returns to the Kingdom, finding Ezekiel with Henry. She says that she is moving in to help them fight, and Ezekiel agrees, adding that the fight will not be immediate. Carol, Ezekiel, and Henry replant the burned crops.

Morgan sits on Carol’s porch, whittling the end of Benjamin’s staff into a spear.

* * * * *

With the confrontation at the tribute delivery, we see the age-old dilemma that every armed people facing oppressors has: submit and be disarmed, or try to use one’s arms. We also see the Kingdommers give the incorrect answer, as many oppressed people do. As is frequently the case in real life, one of the oppressed who does not make war against tyranny winds up dead anyway, for those who would disarm people seek to do to them what could not be done if they were armed.

Though it was Richard’s intention to get himself killed as a means of starting the war, intentions are irrelevant compared to results. One can never be sure of who will be lost in war; only that some people will be, so war is only worth waging once it is clear that some people will also be lost without war, as is the case under Negan. Note that Richard originally intended to get Carol killed to start the war.

Many people make sacrifices in order to keep the peace, even if the peace is phony. The Kingdommers give up their guns, and Morgan kills Richard just to maintain this false peace of subjugation and oppression. But the truth is becoming increasingly unavoidable, as it always does, leading Morgan to symbolically sharpen his stick into a spear. That the last holdout who seeks peace at any cost is now preparing for war foreshadows the coming breaking point. In any revolution, there tends to be “a long train of abuses and usurpations” by the establishment that will continue until enough opposing elites find revolution to be preferable. Morgan also tells Carol the truth about the Alexandrians that Negan killed, knowing that she will join the fight.

As always, timing is everything. If one waits too long, then tributes and sacrifices may make a revolution too weak to succeed. If one strikes too soon, then the people and resources needed for a successful revolution may not be gathered. Ezekiel wants to wait perhaps too long; Rick wants to strike once they are ready; Richard and others in Rick’s group want to strike too soon. There is a window of opportunity, and any successful revolution must have leaders who can recognize its boundaries.

Plans Interrupted

In Episode 714, plans unfold at the Hilltop while Saviors visit. Maggie teaches the residents how to throw knives. She works with Jesus on future plans. Sasha draws a floor plan of the Sanctuary. Enid sees Jesus hand his map to Sasha. Maggie sees Daryl sitting alone, so she brings him food. Gregory watches with suspicion as a group of Hilltoppers congregates in the courtyard. Rosita arrives and tells Sasha that she needs her help to kill Negan. Maggie apologizes to Jesus for taking over his trailer, but he says that he likes having her, Sasha, and Enid there. Maggie goes to see the blacksmith about making spears for trading with the Kingdom. Jesus begs Sasha to delay her mission, but she refuses. Enid tells Sasha that she will inform Maggie but give them ten minutes to get a head start.

Just then, a guard alarms them that a group of Saviors have come. Sasha and Rosita make for a secret escape hatch that leads them out of Hilltop. Maggie does not have time to make it to the hatch, so Enid guides her and Daryl to a root cellar to hide. Daryl looks out from the cellar, and Maggie calls him over to a dark hiding place. Sasha and Rosita escape through the woods.

Gregory greets Simon, who tells him that Negan wants one of the Hilltop residents. In the medical trailer, Simon tells Dr. Carson that his services are needed at the Sanctuary. This informs him that his brother has died, though not that Negan killed him. Simon gives Gregory a crate of aspirin. Gregory then pulls Simon aside. He assures Simon of his loyalty, then explains that he may have an insurgency on his hands. Simon gives Gregory a pass into the Sanctuary in case he needs Negan’s help with quelling a rebellion.

Roy, a Savior, walks toward the cellar doors and enters, despite Enid’s efforts to distract him, to which he responds in a rather creepy manner. Daryl is enraged, but stays hidden. Roy searches the cellar, and Daryl readies his knife. Maggie holds him back. Roy takes some supplies and leaves. Maggie senses Daryl’s anger and tells him that she also wanted to kill Roy, but it would have been counterproductive. Daryl apologizes for his role in Glenn’s death, and Maggie responds that Daryl is not to blame.

The Hilltoppers gather and watch the Saviors leave with their doctor. Gregory is uncomfortable.

Rosita fails to hot-wire a car. She notices Sasha’s necklace and says that she made it for Abraham, renewing tension between the two over their common ex. Sasha suggests sniping Negan, while Rosita wants to enter Sanctuary and kill Negan up close. Rosita burns a car to distract zombies in the area, then they climb a fence into the lot. Rosita successfully hot-wires a car, and they drive to Sanctuary. They enter an empty building near the Sanctuary, where Sasha discovers Eugene overseeing some Saviors. She tells Rosita, who believes Eugene must be pretending to be a Savior. While waiting for Negan, Rosita and Sasha discuss Abraham and their pasts, making peace with each other. The truck from Hilltop arrives and Negan walks out, but Sasha cannot get a clear shot before Negan goes back inside. Then they hear Eugene ordering Saviors to strengthen fence security. Sasha and Rosita decide to go in.

Back at Hilltop, Gregory summons Jesus. They quarrel over job assignments for the newcomers from Alexandria. Outside, Daryl asks Jesus where Rosita and Sasha went.

After nightfall, Eugene discusses security with a Savior, then Rosita and Sasha kill the Savior. They ask Eugene to escape with them, but he tells them to leave and goes inside. They cut through the fence. Sasha goes through and tells Rosita to keep watch. Sasha locks Rosita out and tells her that Alexandria still needs her. Sasha kills another Savior and goes into the Sanctuary. Rosita cries, then flees as Saviors approach and guns fire. She notices a dark figure with a crossbow watching her.

* * * * *

Gregory’s weakness and treachery is already well-established, and he behaves as one may predict in recruiting Simon to help him save his hide from a mutiny. It is interesting that Gregory does not reveal to Simon that Maggie is alive, but he probably realizes that this would get him killed by someone at Hilltop. Many puppet rulers eventually find themselves in such a situation, and their behavior can be difficult to predict, as they are eventually doomed regardless of what choices they make.

As for Maggie, her leadership qualities are on display. It is important to know one’s limitations and refuse to fight the establishment on their terms, such as when Saviors are in Hilltop. She shows this by restraining Daryl, who could have caused great trouble for himself and everyone else in Hilltop by killing Roy rather than staying hidden. Meanwhile, Enid demonstrates the importance of knowing the terrain. Without her knowledge of their community, Maggie and Daryl may not have been able to hide. Those who know the lay of the land have a decisive advantage over those who do not.

Again, there are members of the resistance who are making and executing their own plans outside of leadership. While there is some virtue to stating an overall goal and allowing for freedom in execution, this can easily go too far and compromise the greater strategy of the revolutionaries. Finally, there is Sasha’s willingness to sacrifice herself for the group. Almost all revolutions have their martyrs, and this one is no different. Some people are drawn to suicide missions out of a sense of civic duty, some believe there is no other way to accomplish their goals, while others are simply tired of living and want to go out with a bang. Still others are thrill seekers who believe they can defy the odds and be a hero. Regardless of the motivation, individual sacrifices can be powerful motivational propaganda to fuel a revolution.

Alternate Plans

In Episode 715, the gun hunt resumes and power dynamics continue to shift. Tara tells Rick about Oceanside, so they lead a group there. Meanwhile, a group of zombies moves down the shoreline to Oceanside. Rick’s group gets into position outside Oceanside: Michonne climbs a tree with her rifle, Jesus and Daryl plant explosives, and Aaron and Eric keep watch. Eric tells Aaron that he understands his resolve to fight the Saviors.

At Hilltop, Maggie offers farming advice to Eduardo as Gregory observes. He is unsettled by Eduardo calling Maggie “boss lady.” Maggie plans to transplant a blueberry bush into Hilltop from outside, explaining that they can produce for decades and that they should be making long-term plans. Jesus chastises himself for not stopping Rosita and Sasha, but Daryl reassures him and guesses that they could have returned already.

We learn that they did not; Sasha was captured and is in a cell much like Daryl’s. David enters to find her arms and legs bound. She asks for water, to which he responds by telling her that he will bring her water in exchange for sex. He tries to sexually assault her, but Negan interrupts. He says that rape is forbidden and executes David. Negan apologizes for the incident and orders a Savior to bring her a new shirt. He asks if Rick sent her, and she says no. Negan then unties her wrists, leaves her a knife, and leaves her with a proposal: let David reanimate and kill her, or stab David to prevent that, after which she must join his cause. Eugene comes later to bring Sasha a blanket and pillow. He tells her that he joined Negan because meeting him was the scariest time of his life and he never wanted to feel that way again. He advises her to join Negan, and she demands that he leave. Once Eugene is gone, David starts to reanimate. Later, Negan goes to Sasha’s cell to find that she saved herself. She agrees to join him, and he retrieves his knife. He says that she must do more to demonstrate her loyalty. He tells her that he knows Rick is plotting against him and wants her to help him stop Rick.

Maggie and Gregory go outside to get the blueberry bush. He contemplates killing Maggie from behind, but decides not to. A zombie comes at them, which Gregory fails to kill. Maggie kills it as a second zombie attacks Gregory. She has to save him again, as a passing group of Hilltoppers watches. One of them remarks that Gregory exaggerated his zombie-killing experience. After returning to Hilltop, Gregory takes out Simon’s note, studies a map, and calls for Kal to pack a bag and prepare to drive him somewhere.

In Oceanside, Tara sneaks into Natania’s home and holds her and Cyndie at gunpoint. She asks them to join their resistance, but says they are taking their guns regardless. The others detonate the explosives. Beatrice and Kathy are captured by Daryl and Jesus as others flee. Cyndie and Natania manage to subdue Tara, then Tara reveals that her gun was unloaded. Rick’s group rounds up the Oceansiders. Rick tells them that he does not want to hurt anyone. Natania appears, holding Tara at gunpoint. Cyndie and Beatrice both suggest joining the fight, but Natania refuses. Zombies approach, and Cyndie knocks out Natania. The groups work together to kill the zombies. Beatrice and Rick shake hands, and Natania concedes. She lets Rick’s group take the guns, but will not join the fight. Gabriel wonders whether they need all of Oceanside’s guns, but Rick says it is necessary. Cyndie thanks Tara for fighting but says that Natania has forbidden Oceansiders from joining them.

Eugene visits Sasha again. He assures her that she chose correctly, but she cries, worried that she will now be used against Rick. She begs for a weapon to kill herself, and Eugene says he will consider it. Later, he brings her the pill he made for Frankie and Tanya, but Sasha really wanted a weapon to use against Negan.

Late at night, Rick’s group returns home. Jesus asks about Sasha, but Rosita just says they have a visitor. She leads them to the Alexandria prison, where Dwight awaits. Daryl charges at him, but Rick and Michonne restrain him. Rosita says that Dwight wants to help. Rick holds Dwight at gunpoint and orders him to kneel.

* * * * *

The incident with David shows that even evil has standards. Negan engages in many forms of cruelty, but rape is one crime that he will not abide, even if his conduct toward his wives could be construed as such. This is perhaps best understood as the general hypocrisy of tyrants; many totalitarian rulers engage in behaviors that they criminalize for others. This provides insight into the purpose of such governance structures; they are meant to free those at the top by binding those beneath, which can be seen in Negan’s system more generally.

Gregory continues to be treacherous, even to the point of wanting to kill someone who ends up saving his life, but there is nothing to discuss about him that has not already been covered. Meanwhile, Maggie again shows herself to be the real and more capable leader of Hilltop, both in facing the ever-present threat of zombies and in making long-term plans. A revolutionary movement must have not only an endgame, but an after-game in which people live free from tyranny and build a new order that is better suited to their well-being. However, Natania demonstrates the opposite qualities. Her spirit is broken by the death and destruction that Negan brought to her community, and this impairs everyone in Oceanside. The younger women could be valuable fighters in the resistance, but they will not disobey Natania’s orders to stay at Oceanside.

Fools rush in, and Sasha’s Leeroy Jenkins-style strategy is a textbook example. Her myopic plan helps the enemy, as Negan now has her as a bargaining chip against Rick. This places her in a difficult position, although it is curious that she does not attempt to stab Negan once she has killed David. Almost any real person who has been captured, has a weapon, and knows the enemy leader is coming would lie in ambush. It is important to take advantage of any opportunity once captured by the enemy.

The end of the episode deals with one of the most important aspects of a revolution: how to handle enemy defectors. Though killing Dwight is tempting, Rick’s group correctly realizes that an enemy lieutenant working to undermine Negan can provide the edge that they need. Of course, any despot knows this, so one must always handle such cases with care, never trusting anyone without verification of a switch in loyalty. In the long run, bringing hostile elites over to one’s cause can be even more important than securing support from neutral elites, especially if the hostile elite is foreign. The Saviors will need new leadership if Negan is deposed, and Dwight could be a friendly leader.

The War Begins

In Episode 716, the uneasy peace can no longer hold. The episode begins with Sasha in a dark place listening to an iPod. She sees Abraham in a flashback, thinking back to Episode 616 just before everyone met Negan. Sasha asks him to stay, but he says he must go to Hilltop with Maggie and the others. In the present, Negan brings food to Sasha in her cell. He says that someone from Rick’s group must die, but it does not have to be her. She asks him what he needs from her. A second flashback shows Sasha with Maggie in a field.

Rick and company interrogate Dwight in their prison. Tara accosts him for murdering Denise in Episode 614, to which he says that she was not his intended target. Daryl slams Dwight against the wall and holds a knife to his neck. Dwight offers to work with them, saying that Sherry is gone, so he has no more reason to stay with the Saviors. Tara says to kill Dwight, but Daryl backs down. Dwight warns that Negan is coming the next day and presents a plan. He suggests attacking Negan and his crew in Alexandria, then using their trucks to go to the Sanctuary. Dwight will radio back that everything is normal, which will lead to the Saviors being caught off guard when Rick’s group comes out of the trucks instead of Negan’s group. Then, they can rally the workers to overthrow Negan’s lieutenants. Rick agrees, then Dwight leaves. Daryl vows to kill Dwight after Negan is defeated.

Sasha is shown in the dark place listening to music again. Her flashbacks with Abraham and Maggie continue. She tells Abraham that she dreamed that he died. In the present, Negan tells Sasha of his plans for her. He insists on killing three Alexandrians, but she bargains him down to one. Negan does not know that she means herself.

Maggie, Enid, and Jesus review Dwight’s plan. She considers whether to join the fight. Jesus says that he is glad she is deciding instead of Gregory.

Carol leads some Kingdommers toward Alexandria. They find the shopping carts and an unstable Morgan. He wants to hunt Saviors alone, but Ezekiel convinces him to join them as they continue toward Alexandria.

The Scavengers come to Alexandria with bicycles and garbage trucks. Rick greets Jadis. She propositions him, but he rejects her advances. Aaron, Daryl, and Rosita set up explosives near the gate. A Scavenger watches Tara set up a blockade near the gate. On a balcony, Michonne gives instructions to Farron, a Scavenger, and hands her a sniper rifle. Farron says, “We win.”

Dwight secretly fells some trees onto the road to delay the Saviors. Negan’s crew works to remove them, and Negan suspects that Alexandrians are responsible. He reminds Simon that they have a second plan. Eugene asks to negotiate with Rick to try to avoid war.

Sasha is shown in the dark with her headphones a third time. She struggles to stay conscious. In one of her flashbacks, she tells Abraham that in her dream, he drowned while swimming at the beach. He jokes that he hates the beach and gets up to leave. She asks for them to stay, but to no avail. In the other, she watches the sunrise with Maggie. In the present, the Saviors prepare to leave for Alexandria. Eugene tries to talk her out of using the suicide pill, but she is determined.

The Saviors arrive at Alexandria. Rick takes position at the front gate, with Jadis hidden next to him. Eugene steps out and asks Rick to surrender. He asks where Negan is, and Eugene says that he is Negan. Rick signals Rosita to detonate the explosives, but nothing happens. The Scavengers then betray the Alexandrians, with Jadis pointing her gun at Rick and the other Scavengers turning their guns on the other Alexandrians. Negan emerges to taunt Rick as other Saviors open the truck with the explosives. Michonne tries to leave her balcony, but Farron stops her. Dwight and Simon remove a coffin from their truck. Negan announces that Sasha is inside and offers to let her live if they surrender their weapons, lemonade, pool table, and Daryl in addition to someone of Rick’s choosing being executed. Otherwise, Negan will kill everyone. Rick insists on seeing Sasha, and Negan taps Lucille on the casket.

Another flashback of Sasha is shown. She kisses Abraham, then he reminds her that Maggie and her baby are the future of their group. They leave for their journey to Hilltop that was interrupted by Negan.

Before leaving for Alexandria, Sasha confirms with Eugene that the trip will take hours. Eugene gives her an iPod. Sasha asks for a bottle of water and to travel in the casket to rest. He agrees and thanks her for cooperating. In the coffin, she listens to “Someday We’ll All Be Free” by Donny Hathaway and takes the suicide pill.

In the present, Negan opens the casket to find a zombie Sasha who attacks him. The Alexandrians turn their guns on the Scavengers. Michonne and Farron fight, Alexandrians on the guard posts fire on the Saviors, and Rosita is shot and helped away by Tara. Jadis holds Rick at gunpoint. Roy saves Negan, and zombie Sasha kills him instead. Negan yells to Simon to use Plan B. Rick tries to negotiate with Jadis, but she shoots him and pushes him off the platform. Farron beats up Michonne and pushes her to the edge of the balcony.

The Saviors and Scavengers gain the upper hand in the street fighting. Several Alexandrians are killed and several more are captured. Jadis takes Rick to Negan and makes him kneel next to Carl. We learn that Negan learned of Rick’s deal with Jadis and turned her with a better deal. Negan had offered her twelve people in exchange for their help, but he bargains Jadis down to ten. Rick and Carl think they see Michonne thrown to her death. Negan says he will kill Carl, then cut off Rick’s hand. Rick, fearless, declares that he will kill Negan.

Before Negan can kill Carl, Shiva suddenly appears and mauls a Scavenger. Forces from the Hilltop and Kingdom arrive, catching the Saviors and Scavengers by surprise. Negan orders a retreat and is surprised to see Maggie alive and well, commanding Hilltop forces. Numerous Saviors and Scavengers are killed in the battle as Alexandria, Hilltop, and Kingdom forces push their enemies out of Alexandria. The Saviors escape in their vehicles as the Scavengers throw smoke bombs to obscure their exit.

With the battle won, Carl and Rick go to Michonne’s station and are relieved to find a dead Farron on the ground. Michonne is badly beaten inside the building next to the balcony.

With the battle lost, the Saviors prepare their next move. Dwight and Simon inform Negan that preparations are underway. Negan asks Eugene how Sasha died, suspecting subterfuge. Eugene supposes that she ran out of air. Negan doubts this but cannot prove anything. Later, Negan addresses his crowd and tells them that they are going to war.

Maggie and Jesus carry out the emotional task of going into the woods to put down zombie Sasha. Gabriel presides over Sasha’s funeral, then the alliance celebrates their victory. Morgan seems to have regained stability. Dwight left a figurine by the front gate that says “Didn’t know”, which Daryl finds. Tara sits with Rosita in the infirmary, and Rick stays with Michonne as she rests.

The final flashback shows Maggie and Sasha smiling as they watch the sunrise together. The episode ends with Rick, Maggie, and Ezekiel addressing their communities.

* * * * *

The handling of an enemy defector continues, and Dwight is put to the test. As with any such person, action is required for judgment. The action is inconclusive thus far and will continue in Part IV.

In Hilltop, we see the process of a shadow government coming to power, as Gregory is reduced to the figurehead for the Saviors. Building such alternative institutions and offering the masses a better governance structure is the most effective means of taking power away from tyrants and their vassals. Maggie and Jesus are doing this well.

As mentioned before, war can push unstable people to the breaking point. It is important to help unstable members of one’s group channel their impulses productively, as Ezekiel does for Carol and they both do for Morgan.

Negan apparently continues to misjudge the situation, as rule with an iron fist is the only method he understands. Had he made a better offer to Rick’s group from the beginning or at any time thereafter, he might have been able to bring them on board. To make an offer that requires Rick to surrender so much seems destined to fail, but perhaps that is the point. Negan massacred all of the men from Oceanside, and may wish to do something similar to Alexandria, so an offer they will certainly refuse is a way for him to justify an atrocity.

One must always be wary of mercenaries. Rick had no idea what Jadis was doing when his people were not around the Scavengers, and they found out too late that Negan was aware of their plans. Pure mercenaries in an environment in which reputation ratings are unavailable are best left out of a conflict unless one has no other options, and the Alexandrians learned this lesson the hard way.

In Sasha’s final acts, she becomes the weapon against Negan, as it is her only move remaining. Though it is best to avoid maneuvering oneself into a position in which suicide is the only outcome, it is commendable to strike at the enemy with one’s last breath once one is out of other options rather than simply die for nothing. Like a terrorist attack in the real world, her surprise attack on Negan gives the Alexandrians a much-needed advantage in a tough situation.

Just as state forces in the real world can be defeated with irregular tactics and the element of surprise, Negan’s forces must retreat when an unexpected attack comes from Hilltop and the Kingdom. But victory in battle and victory in war are two very different things, which both sides, to their credit, realize.

Conclusion

The third part of Negan’s story showcases his strengths and weaknesses as a statesman. He is adept at converting potential threats into allies, keeping his regime in order, and keeping himself enough steps ahead of his enemies. However, he engages in needlessly excessive brutality that can prevent people from perceiving a benefit from living under his rule. He also allows his rivals to have an unnecessary amount of contact that they can use to plot against him. Ultimately, these flaws prevented him from bringing Alexandria under his wing while encouraging the Hilltop and the Kingdom to make war against him. In the fourth part, we will examine the time period from the beginning of war between the Saviors and the alliance of Alexandria, Hilltop, and Kingdom (Episode 801) to the destruction of Alexandria (Episode 808).

<<<Part II                                                                                                 Part IV>>>

The Rise and Fall of the Sturmabteilung

Editor’s note: There is a faction of the contemporary left which denounces anyone who disagrees with them as fascists, Nazis, or “literally Hitler”. I figure that if we will be called such names anyway, then we have nothing to lose by studying real Nazis to see what lessons can be learned from their example.

One of the problems that has long deviled the Western Right is that of creating alternatives to the Leviathan state. For the Left, there is no such problem. West German communist Rudi Dutschke told his followers that, in order to win, the Left must take over the institutions of power. The Dutschke model has succeeded in the United States. To see how the Left has overrun American human resources and marketing departments, one need only consider the existence of “woke” corporate capital or the recent banning of Alex Jones for ill-defined “hate speech”. In Europe, the situation is even more dire thanks to the legal reality of “hate speech” laws and the existence of left-wing bureaucracies that think it is a good idea to provide former jihadists with housing and jobs. A mostly disarmed European populace also makes resistance all but impossible, thus giving the Left in Europe safety to pursue their desired population engineering.

The Right, on the other hand, always finds itself on the blunt end of the stick when it tries to organize because the Cathedral always views right-wing activism as much more serious threat to its power. This is arguably the most terrible legacy of the 1930s, when mass movements in Italy, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Spain, Portugal, and Poland seized power and established right-wing dictatorships. For opponents of the Western Right, any mobilization of supporters is seen as one step away from extermination campaigns.

Taken together, they belie the inherent weakness within democracy. As Hoppe writes,

“As soon as mature members of society habitually express acceptance or even advocate egalitarian sentiments, whether in the form of democracy (majority rule) or of communism, it becomes essential that other members, and in particular the natural social elites, be prepared to act decisively and, in the case of continued nonconformity, exclude and ultimately expel these members from society.”[1]

Unless egalitarianism is stamped out, countries will inevitably decline into avarice, sloth, and patterns of elite-backed racial guilt-mongering. Western countries that accept egalitarianism will come to resemble modern France, where government debt to GDP and government spending to GDP are both well over 50 percent. Philosopher Guillaume Faye recently made the point to interviewer Gregoire Canlorbe that “[France] is today more communist than the Soviet Union ever was.” In a country that represents less than one percent of the world’s population, Faye notes that “France represents 15 percent of the world’s welfare state redistribution.” The reason why France’s natural elites (the descendants of those not guillotined in the Revolution) do not rebel is because the French state provides then with the “good life”—wine, cheese, world-class food, and plenty of Internet pornography. In his book The Returned, French journalist David Thomson says that besides its nightmarish immigration policies, France’s problem with Islamic terrorism stems from the fact that the Fifth Republic is the archetype of the decadent and amoral Western “pleasure dome”.

The fact that democracies inherently accept egalitarianism, especially mass democracies like the ones currently ruling the United States and Europe, renders them pathologically incapable of expunging communism, whether overt or covert, from their bodies politic. After all, both communism and liberal democracy are predicated on the idea that all men are equal, should be afforded the same rights, and should never be under the thrall of a natural elite. As such, both are revolts against nature. As Murray Rothbard noted in his essay “Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature”, the reason why the Left enjoys such power is because they have been conceded “to have morality, justice, and ‘idealism’” on their side.[2] The Right, because it opposes the Left, is therefore rendered morally repugnant and the enemy of an ill-defined “progress”. The Left gets away with such easy moralizing because they rule over an unnatural state and have convinced the masses that what is unnatural is natural.

What is to be done? For both Hoppe and neoreactionaries, the answer lies in creating or restoring a new elite. This makes sense initially, but how can one find such an elite in a society so thoroughly imbued with an egalitarian, democratic ethos? One answer may lie in the history of Germany between the World Wars. During this age of great instability, several right-wing movements came to the forefront via violence, demonstrations, and ingenious political intrigue. Eventually one group, the National Socialist German Workers Party, seized power in 1933 and ultimately drove their nation and many others into the worst war in human history.

Despite this horrific end, and despite the hue and cry of the left-wing intelligentsia, the story of these Weimar-era groups in general and the Nazi Sturmabteilung (SA) in particular can teach the Western Right quite a bit about organizing for victory. It is necessary to learn from what they did right. Even more importantly, we need to study what went so terribly wrong.

The New Man

World War I forever changed the world for the worse. As Hoppe outlines, World War I deserves to be cursed simply because of what it did to Austria-Hungary—the last true Christian and free monarchy in European history:

“If the United States had followed a strict non-interventionist foreign policy, it is likely that the intra-European conflict would have ended in late 1916 or early 1917 as a result of several peace initiatives, most notably by the Austrian Emperor Charles I. Moreover, the war would have been concluded with a mutually acceptable and face-saving compromise peace than the actual dictate. Consequently, Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Russia would have remained traditional monarchies instead of being turned into short-lived democratic republics.”[3]

The fall of these nations set in motion the Soviet gulags, the Ukrainian famine, the Second World War, and the Holocaust. As for Austria-Hungary, it, the direct descendant of the medieval world and the Holy Roman Empire, was lost forever under a flood of war, nationalism, and Bolshevism.

However, World War I, with its machine guns, tanks, and gore-filled trenches, gave the world a new type of man. German writer Ernst Jünger, a veteran of all four years of the trenches, was the first to give voice and shape to this new man of the trenches. Jünger saw the new man as prefigured by the storm-troopers of the Imperial German Army:

“Like the Italian arditi whom they resembled, the storm-troopers were the prototypical Fascist ‘new man’, with straight jaw and empty killers’ eyes staring beneath the shadow of the steel helmet. The Nazis would regard them as their immediate precursors.”[4]

The storm-troopers of Germany and Austria-Hungary, along with the arditi of the Royal Italian Army, were considered the best of the best. These men were drawn from the battle-tested infantry divisions, sent to the rear for specialized training, then deployed during massed offensives as battering rams designed to poke holes in enemy lines. They often went into battle with sub-machine guns, grenades, and knives. These specialized troops received better food and housing than their mates in the trenches, and, like officers, they were given the luxury of wearing sidearms.

More importantly, according to Jünger, the storm-troopers embraced death and cultivated a mixture of aristocracy and democracy. The storm-troopers were “aristocrats of the soul” who came from the democratic masses. In the storm-trooper units, the stultifying stiffness of Prussian class distinctions were discarded, and the enlisted men called their junior officers by their first names. This tradition would come to full fruition during the interwar period, when right-wing movements in Europe tried to sway workingmen away from internationalist Marxism by destroying old class distinctions in favor of nationalism, national socialism, and promises of direct action in the form of street fights. Unemployed former soldiers joined these right-wing groups in droves, thus forming the backbone of the “New Man” class.

From Freikorps to Sturmabteilung

It is not surprising that the Nazis decided to call their armed street soldiers “storm-troopers”. Many SA men had been storm-troopers, and on the streets of Weimar Germany, they often proved their mettle by besting bigger militias like the Red Front of the German Communist Party (KPD) or the Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold of the Social Democratic Party (SPD).

The SA was born out of the ashes of the Freikorps (Free Corps). Historians like Nigel Jones and Robert G. L. Waite have long maintained that the Freikorps soldiers gathered by SPD politicians Friedrich Ebert and Gustav Noske provided the germ that became National Socialism. Following the declaration of the German Republic on November 9, 1918 (a declaration made by the SPD in order to offset a potential Communist takeover), Germany erupted in several massive strikes and far-left mobilization campaigns. The first Communist uprising, orchestrated by the Spartacists, briefly took Berlin in January 1919 and forced the SPD-led government to flee to the central German city of Weimar.

Despite their socialist credentials, the major figures of the SPD in January 1919 were mostly German patriots who, like President Ebert, “hated the mob, and hated the revolution”.[5] Noske, the Minister of Defense, was not averse to using violence to put down the worker and soldier soviets that sprung up all throughout Germany following November 9. The problem was that the government could not rely on its own soldiers. When soldiers returning from the Western Front were tapped in order to put down the remnants of the Kiel Mutiny, they were embarrassed and many soldiers defected to the other side. A majority of German troops just wanted to go home, and indeed most did.

Desperate to stamp out the raging fires of Bolshevism in Germany, Noske called upon patriotic German generals to form volunteer battalions of veterans, recently demobilized troops, and right-wing university students. These Freikorps soldiers put down the Sparticist rebellion with armored cars, rifles, and machine guns. They would do the same in Munich, central Germany, and in the Ruhr. Historian Nigel Jones quotes one Freikorps volunteer writing home to his parents in the spring of 1920: “We even shot some Red Cross nurses. How those little ladies begged and pleaded! Nothing doing!”[6] Such was the blood-lust born out both the “betrayal” of the German Army in November 1918 and the experience of totalitarian Red republics in Germany.

Not less than a year after their birth, the SPD government realized that it had created a monster. Freikorps soldiers were always up for a fight and did not want to listen to the central government that they considered illegitimate. Freikorps troops fought private wars in Silesia and the Baltic in 1919 and 1920. When the central government officially disbanded them, they created underground cells like the Organisation Consul which carried out hundreds of political assassinations and murders. In March 1920, the Freikorps-backed Kapp Putsch almost destroyed the Weimar government.

By 1923, the visible Freikorps were no more. They had been replaced by hunting and shooting clubs that were actually underground paramilitary organizations and political militias like the Stahlhelm, Bund der Frontsoldaten and the Sturmabteilung. Another was the so-called “Black Reichswehr,” a secretive, alternative army that was made up of the officially dead Freikorps divisions and was far away from the prying eyes of the League of Nations.

At this point, for today’s American readers, an important fact bears mentioning: large segments of the German judiciary, police, and military openly supported groups like the SA and the Stahlhelm. German judges, especially in Bavaria, often handed down lenient sentences to right-wing activists, even those who carried out murders. Similarly, men like future SA leader Ernst Röhm used their positions within the regular German Army to supply their paramilitary friends with light and heavy weapons. Hardly any right-wing groups in America can say that they enjoy these perks.

It should also be noted for fans of the Third Reich that the Freikorps included hundreds of patriotic Jews. Historian Thomas Weber notes that “158 Jews served in Bavarian Freikorps after the First World War.” Weber also adds that “Jews continued to join the Freikorps in the days and weeks after the end of the Munich Soviet Republic.”[7] For every anarchic and anti-Semitic “Freebooter,” the Freikorps included more men of all backgrounds inspired by a love of the Fatherland and a hatred for Bolshevism.

Rise and Fall of the SA

The SA began when Adolf Hitler, a virtually unknown Austrian corporal who had served in the Bavarian Army, attended a meeting of the small German Workers’ Party (DAP) in 1919. The DAP had been formed by the secretive Munich-based occult order, the Thule Society. The aristocratic members of Thule wanted the DAP and its leader Anton Drexler, a railway worker and ardent nationalist, to be the public face of their movement. The DAP was supposed to win over Bavaria’s working class, but by 1919 the DAP was a small cabal of intellectuals with no support.

Hitler changed all of that. Weber shows that the future leader of the Nazi Party was a self-declared social democrat[8] who was a part of minor bureaucracy in the Bolshevik-backed Munich Soviet.[9] By the time that Hitler first found the DAP, he was an intelligence operative under the command of German Army officer Karl Mayr.[10] Mayr wanted Hitler to infiltrate the DAP and turn it into a partner for the more conservative and monarchist German National People’s Party (DNVP). This plan backfired, as Hitler quickly became the leader and renamed the group the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. In order to protect his speeches from Communist and SPD thugs, Hitler formed a bodyguard of political soldiers known as the SA. These men, who would later adopt the brownshirt, were often former soldiers with easy access to firearms. Many also embraced the nihilistic ethos of the Freikorps, with a love for violence for its own sake.

Early on, the SA was also filled with political soldiers more interested in the socialist aspect of National Socialism. Because the SA drew recruits from the working class and the criminal underclass, many of the brownshirts had a strong thirst for class warfare and hooliganism. Indeed, while Hitler controlled the SA for a time in Bavaria, his followers in Berlin expanded the Nazi brand in the Protestant north and center by embracing far-left politics. Röhm, Joseph Goebbels, the Strasser brothers, and Walther Stennes all characterized the more left-wing SA of the pre-1933 era. In March 1931, Stennes and his SA followers, which included many former Communists, revolted against Hitler’s autocratic rule and occupied the party’s Berlin headquarters because they were fed up with Hitler’s slow approach and wanted their promised revolution.[11] They would not get it, and most of the SA hierarchy from this time was murdered during the Night of the Long Knives.

The problem with the SA was always its thuggish lack of discipline. For Hitler, who wanted to achieve power by using the means of democracy against itself, the SA increasingly became a liability. In 1933, major German industrialists and members of the army decided to put Hitler in power as the Chancellor of the Reich, and they demanded that he rein in the SA. The industrialists were afraid of the political radicalism of the SA, while the army was afraid of Röhm’s idea of using the SA as a “people’s army” that would be fused with the regular army. The officer corps wanted none of this, so Hitler used the SS, his more loyal bodyguards, to thoroughly weaken the SA.

The last great hurrah of the SA came immediately after Hitler’s bargained victory in 1933. SA units throughout Germany created wildcat concentration camps that housed their KPD and SPD enemies. These early concentration camps numbered as many as 240 by 1934, and Berlin alone had three such camps that were controlled by autonomous SA units. Historian Daniel Siemens writes,

“In the first weeks of the Nazi takeover of power, most of the captives were brought to the illegal SA prisons that mushroomed in the larger German cities. Cellars of SA taverns, sports facilities, youth hostels, barracks, and deserted factory buildings were all used as provisional prisons. These locations often existed for days or weeks before they were replaced by a string of larger concentration camps that were run either by the German states or by the SS and the SA.”[12]

The brutality and illegality of these SA camps, many of which were located in the middle of Berlin neighborhoods and therefore highly visible, drew the ire of Hitler’s conservative partners. The SA, they said, either had to be gutted or destroyed.

From 1934 until 1945, the SA took a distinct backseat to the SS, Gestapo, and Wehrmacht. A huge chunk of SA were drafted into the army, and only rarely did entire SA units form the nucleus of new German military divisions. As Siemens notes, the SA, which was originally created as the revolutionary volk community of future “Aryan” colonists, ended its days as both a bureaucracy—a public relations arm of the Nazis that was mostly kept away from the front linesand a low-level street militia. Siemens notes that during the war, “SA diplomats were not the driving forces behind this [Holocaust] policy, but they often acted confidently and independently to carry it out.”[13] The SA, as the most radicalized arm of the Nazi machine, never achieved its original aim of creating a new army, but many of its members did jump at the chance to beat, harass, and murder unarmed civilians.

Learning From the Nazis

The successes and failures of the SA as an organization contain valuable lessons for any rightist anti-establishment movement. The foremost lesson of the SA and the National Socialists is to always refuse totalitarianism. Authoritarianism is the goal—indeed, highly local authoritarianism is desirable in the form of the anarcho-monarch. Totalitarianism, whether fascist or liberal, is a stultifying force that leaves no room for “aristocrats of the soul.” Totalitarianism inherently means a massive bureaucracy; authoritarianism runs best when its power is decentralized.

Second, the story of the SA is the story of the futility of the Führerprinzip. Hitler was a megalomaniacal leader who gutted the SA—the very organization that brought him to political prominence—because it was expedient for his personal authority. If a leader lacks loyalty to his subordinates, as Hitler clearly did, then they will never be seen as anything other than expendable. Thus, organizations much choose their hierarchies wisely.

Third, right-wing movements need to know when to act openly and when to practice subterfuge. The failed Beer Hall Putsch made an enemy out of Gustav von Kahr, the arch-conservative Bavarian minister who had previously acted as a protector of right-wing militants in the large and Catholic German state. The failed putsch also split the Nazis, with Hitler and his followers in Bavaria and the more left-wing Strasser brothers active in Berlin and the Protestant states of northern Germany. This internal split would not be addressed until the Night of the Long Knives. Finally, the failed putsch also turned Erich Ludendorff, the former military dictator of Germany between 1916 and 1918, against the movement, thus severing the possibility of a more monarchist and national conservative element within the Nazi victory of 1933.

Fourth, it can be argued that the Nazis seized power in Germany too soon, thus forcing the Allies to gravitate towards the Soviet Union as a more attractive option. Similarly, Hitler’s willingness to sacrifice the SA to appease his more conservative backers shows the danger in cooperating too closely with groups seeking to harness revolutionary enthusiasms for their own gain. Cooperation between right-wing groups is good, but each group should be allowed to remain somewhat independent. Also, amalgamation should be avoided. One could theorize that had the DNVP and Stahlhelm stayed around after 1933, the excesses of the Nazis, especially Hitler’s suicidal war, could have been curtailed by more cautious conservatives.

Fifth, the SA’s story shows the necessity of having standards of inclusion. The SA was such a threat to the German order because so many of its men were criminal-minded and only cared about the chance to crack some skulls. Nihilism, which was such a large part of the Freikorps and the SA, has no place in a serious movement. The SA’s rotten core became all too apparent in the concentration camps of 1933 and 1934, thus dooming the organization within its own political movement. Any right-wing movement today must be highly selective in choosing its men. However, the men of a rightist movement need to be willing to use defensive violence. Also, the forced removal of egalitarians should also be encouraged in the public-facing organization, but carried out by secret arms of that same organization. The SA made a mistake in having both a public-facing bureaucracy and a public-facing army of street thugs. A smart movement would separate the two, thus allowing the public-facing and “respectable” part of the movement the ability to disavow the actions of the other.

Sixth, there is a warning about entryism. Owing to the name “National Socialism” and the thirst for revolution that characterized so many SA men, the group saw an influx of former Communist street fighters in the early 1930s. These “beefsteaks” undoubtedly played a role in the Stennes revolt of 1934, and many probably had a hand in the wildcat concentration camps of 1933–4. As Sergei Bulgakov observed, “Socialism is the apocalypse of the naturalistic religion of man.” Socialism in any form is antithetical to Christendom, and should therefore play no part in the Restoration. Even nationalists (nationalism itself being a kind of socialism) should not be included if they have pink or outright Red attachments.

The brutality of the SA following Hitler’s victory in 1933 should also serve to remind us that right-wing organizations will always come under more scrutiny than their left-wing counterparts. Again, the Left gets a pass because its motives are supposedly grounded in a higher morality. Therefore, right-wing movements must be careful not to engage in overly savage violence. Similarly, right-wing movements should always be wary of Hitlerian figures—men who preach violence while being themselves adverse to doing it. The other warning from Hitler is this: according to Weber, Hitler saw himself as a “genius” and therefore never questioned his own decisions.[14] Hitler’s self-aggrandizement often meant that his decisions went unquestioned by his underlings because of his central position as leader. Right-wing movements must avoid leaders who believe in their own infallibility.

What the SA got right included their eventual termination of the KPD. Whether it was a false flag operation or a legitimate act of left-wing terrorism (most historians now say the latter), the Reichstag fire of February 27, 1933 gave Hitler and the Nazis all the ammunition that they needed to enact emergency decrees listed in the Weimar Constitution. The SA seized on these decrees in order to destroy the KPD—a move that gutted the power of German communism until Soviet arms reintroduced it in 1945 and pampered West German students stormed classrooms in the 1960s. In America, right-wing movements should study how the attacks on September 11, 2001 gave Washington, D.C. a reason to openly expand the reach of the security state with a popular mandate.

The SA established an esprit de corps that sought to change the world. It just so happened that their vision of the world was anti-Christian and went against the best traditions of the West. The SA was also incapable of cooperating with other paramilitary groups, even the Stahlhelm (which the SA briefly joined with before completely engulfing). Because the Stahlhelm represented the ethos of the old Wilhelmine period (the Kaiser, the Prussian junker class, and militarism), the more revolutionary SA saw fit to confiscate their weapons and force Stahlhelm members to join their organization. Also, by this point, the SA included some “beefsteaks” (former members of the KPD) who gleefully brutalized their former political opponents in the Stahlhelm.[15]

Applying the Lessons

In order to restore the West, the Right must form organizations for young men. These organizations should specifically recruit active and former military members, patriotic students, and workers of all stripes. They should be willing to cooperate with other like-minded organizations, as political purity dooms any movement. This hypothetical movement should only use violence defensively, but must be prepared to do so. Giving into the offensive violence of the SA would see the movement quickly suppressed by the Cathedral, as happened to the alt-right after Charlottesville. Most importantly, any right-wing movement in our world should be explicitly pro-Western and dedicated not to pursuing totalitarian and impossible visions of racial purity, but achieving an ordered and authoritative liberty deeply embedded in the traditions of Christendom. As previously noted by this author, any new right-wing organization should focus on trying today’s youth to be competent in the wild, self-reliant, and independent. This explicitly right-wing organization should not have any truck with communist thinking, and should cultivate men of both action and education.

A good place to start would be to form armed groups contracted by private citizens to guard private property along America’s southern border and in various places in southern Europe. Border protection is popular with American voters. In Europe, some independent border patrols have already been established in Bulgaria and Macedonia in order to curtail illegal migration. In protecting American and European property, these armed groups would earn the goodwill of citizens who live close to the unstable borders and show the moribund nature of the professional border enforcement agencies of current governments.

Other options include reintroducing outlawry and letters of marque. In towns and counties near porous borders, local officials could contract independent militias to either deport or apprehend illegal immigrants guilty of certain crimes. If these militias prove more swift and efficient than the Cathedral’s police forces, then many citizens will begin to look to the militias for justice. This would be a step in the right direction towards more decentralized power. A vanguard of right-wing individuals should be at the forefront of this decentralization platform.

Conclusion

The Right in the West must finally get serious about organization. The Left is far better organized, even despite their clear internal divisions between the far, Marxist left and the moderate, liberal left. Only the common sense of populist voters in rural and middle class Europe and America has kept the Left from completely dominating every aspect of power and culture.

In reviewing the history of the SA, today’s Right must recognize that this was the force that bested the Left on the streets and in politics, but ultimately made subsequent right-wing mass movements all but impossible. The SA are still a bogeyman haunting the minds of our current elite. We need to understand what they did right and what they did wrong in order to better our chances of victory in the present and the future. A new right-wing movement must adhere to the steadfast principles of Christ, ordered liberty, property, hierarchy, and authority. There should be no talk of socialism or messianic leadership. The Right should also learn the importance of keeping the street toughs and the intellectuals separate while instilling in both a core set of values about self-defense and enmity toward communism. Unlike the SA, the next great right-wing movement must not frighten the burghers into submission, but convince them that the values of the ancient West are superior to the unnatural delights of mass democracy.

References:

  1. Hoppe, Hans-Hermann (2001). Democracy–The God That Failed: The Economics and Politics of Monarchy, Democracy, and Natural Order. New Brunswick: Routledge. p. 218.
  2. Rothbard, Murray (2000). Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature And Other Essays, 2nd ed. Auburn: Ludwig von Mises Institute. p. 1.
  3. Hoppe, p. xiii
  4. Jones, Nigel (2012). A Brief History of the Birth of the Nazis. London: Hachette Book Group. p. xii.
  5. Ibid., p. xiii
  6. Ibid., p. 192
  7. Weber, Thomas (2017). Becoming Hitler: The Making of a Nazi. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 61.
  8. Ibid., p. 66.
  9. Ibid., p. 102.
  10. Ibid., p. 101.
  11. Siemens, Daniel (2017). Stormtroopers: A New History of Hitler’s Brownshirts. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. p. 59.
  12. Ibid., p. 125.
  13. Weber, p. 190.
  14. Ibid., p. 300.
  15. Ibid., p. 158.

Agreeing With Statists For The Wrong Reasons: Impeach Donald Trump

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Ever since Donald Trump became the Republican presidential nominee in 2016, there has been a concerted effort by the establishment to do whatever they can to stop him. Publicizing scandalous materials, weaponizing intelligence agencies, voting, marching, protesting, and political violence were all tried, and none managed to keep him from gaining the Presidency. As such, the focus of the leftist vanguard has shifted to impeachment as a means to remove Trump from office, regardless of the facts of the case. Though the Democratic Party leadership has sought to distance itself from such efforts thus far,[1,2] more ardent leftist activists are pushing the idea in growing numbers. Let us see why this strategy is likely to backfire in such a way that the federal government itself will be damaged, and thus why one should agree with statists for the wrong reasons.

The Attempt

Before they can impeach Trump, Democrats (and a few cuckservative Republicans[3,4]) will have to mobilize greater support, given that the most recent attempt to bring the measure to the Congressional floor was defeated by a 66–355 margin.[5] The effort to drum up support for impeachment will anger Trump’s base, bringing them to the polls in greater numbers than would otherwise occur in a mid-term election. In the American system of government, an incumbent president does not stand for re-election in singly even years. But if impeachment is to be the result of Democrats winning control of the House of Representatives in 2018, Trump can argue with merit that he actually is on the ballot, even if informally so. Later, attempting impeachment going into the 2020 election will be seen as redundant, as the electorate will wonder why the decision should not be left up to them. Should Trump win re-election, the same argument for the 2018 mid-term voter turnout would apply again in 2022, and an impeachment effort against a lame duck president after that will be viewed as wasteful and needlessly divisive. It is also worth mentioning that impeachment proceedings would occupy the news cycle in the legacy media to the exclusion of other important events. This could both allow the Trump administration a freer hand in performing unsightly but necessary tasks and provide more fodder for mobilizing Trump’s base against Fake News.

Throughout his presidential campaign and ensuing administration, Trump’s signature move in the political arena has been to do unto others as they have done unto him. He counterattacks anyone who attacks him and defends whoever defends him. However, there is much more that Trump could do with the powers of the Presidency, such as pardoning people to remove leverage that the investigation led by Robert Mueller may have, unilaterally declassifying information that would be damaging to the Cathedral, issuing sweeping executive orders, and firing executive branch officials who serve at the pleasure of the President. He seems to be taking a relatively passive approach, perhaps sensing that Mueller could interpret the aforementioned maneuvers as obstruction of justice. But if Trump were to be charged and impeached, he would have nothing to lose by engaging in such vigorous countermeasures. The result of this is likely to be a revelation of massive amounts of criminal activity by government agents at all levels in all agencies which are currently hidden behind a veil of secrecy. In other words, if Trump goes down, he can probably take half of D.C. with him.

The (Likely) Possibility of Failure

So far, there have been two impeachment proceedings against Presidents of the United States, both of which had significant political motivation and both of which failed to produce the two-thirds super-majority required by the Constitution to remove a President from office. House proceedings were initiated against Richard Nixon, but he resigned before the House voted to impeach him. Should impeachment proceedings against Trump proceed to a vote in the Senate, 67 Senators would be needed to remove him. There is no realistic possibility at this time for Democrats to gain enough Senate seats to remove Trump on their own, and damning evidence against Trump of a caliber not yet seen would be necessary to convince enough Republicans to both remove a president of their own party and defy the will of voters who sent a clear message in 2016.

Should impeachment fail, Democrats and the establishment press will emerge from the process looking weak and petty, and Trump will be able to parlay this into political capital to a greater extent than any past President would be capable. The end result is difficult to predict, as the political milieux of 1868 and 1999 were quite different from the Trump era, but Trump’s support is likely to be buoyed by a failed effort to remove him. Even so, this would further strain his relationship with Congress and the media, leading to more rule by executive orders, more interference from judges, and escalating rhetoric from the chattering classes.

As for the Democrats’ next strategy, an example following the Johnson impeachment may be instructive. Some citizens of Massachusetts submitted a petition to Congress in 1868 that called for a constitutional amendment to abolish the office of the Presidency and transfer its powers to a body composed either of members of Congress or “other competent citizens” chosen by Congress.[6] Following a failed impeachment of Trump, it is likely that some leftists will pursue this tactic, as some have already called for abolition of the entire Constitution in recent years.[7–10] These efforts may be agreed with for what leftists may consider to be the wrong reasons, especially if amplified to the point of abolishing the federal government to create many independent nations of the several states and territories. Should leftists succeed in removing what few undemocratic features remain in the American system, it should only hasten the collapse or Balkanization of the United States, and a dose of pure democracy beforehand should inoculate whatever new systems emerge against such foolhardiness for the foreseeable future.

The (Unlikely) Possibility of Success

To review, there is no direct precedent for this outcome and little reason at this point to believe it is a realistic possibility, but it must be discussed in the interest of thoroughness. Should Trump be removed, the Presidency would go to the current Vice President Mike Pence. Given his positions on various social and economic issues,[11–19] it is almost certain that those who impeached Trump would dislike a Pence presidency even more. Successfully removing a President for the first time in history would embolden the Democrats and establishment Republicans to try again, especially because Pence was elected with Trump and the Speaker of the House (a Democrat in this case) is third in the presidential line of succession.[20] Pence would require a majority in both houses of Congress to appoint a new Vice President,[21] and a Congress that had just impeached and removed Trump would presumably deny him this majority, thus making the Democratic Speaker of the House next in line.

For Congress to remove one President from office, let alone two in quick succession, would greatly diminish, if not work to delegitimize, the office of the Presidency. This may seem counterproductive in terms of weakening a powerful office that can be captured by outsiders to use against the establishment, but such actions would only reveal a paper tiger to be such. A Presidency thus weakened would signal an important truth to the American people: that they are governed by a faceless monstrosity unresponsive to their needs that they cannot bring to heel by placing a man of their choice behind the curtain. Eliminating ineffective democratic means of change is sometimes necessary to encourage effective anti-political solutions.

It goes without saying that Trump’s base would be enraged by his removal, but what becomes of that rage could end the American system of government. There is a significant minority of people who are generally pessimistic about improving their fortunes by using the tools provided by the system, with a great amount of logic and evidence to support their position. Trump offered them a glimmer of hope for meaningful change, and they decided to give democracy one last try. Having that small candle in the dark snuffed out by the establishment and/or a part of the electorate that is openly hostile to them could teach them the lesson that the democratic process no longer serves their interests, if it ever did in the first place. This is fertile ground for both libertarians and reactionaries, and a growth of anarcho-capitalist, localist, minarchist, and neoreactionary movements should follow.

However, the short-term prospects favor force over reason. One possibility is a military coup, either to take power for a select group of top brass or to bolster Trump (or Pence) by forcibly closing Congress and thwarting their efforts of impeachment and removal. Whether Trump or Pence would actively coordinate such a power grab or participate in such a plot if presented to them is an open question, but their supporters may back such an extreme measure. A coup in the United States would be violently resisted by all parts of the left as well as establishment conservatives, but that resistance is likely to fail due to discrepancy in the ability to use force. Recent polling on this option has received a consistent level of support (20–30 percent) similar to that in South American countries which have had military dictatorships in the past.[22,23] The resulting junta may resemble those which once ruled there, which is very bad news for those leading the leftist vanguard, especially if they cannot fly once dropped from aircraft. But after progressive leaders are physically removed, the United States could very well get its own version of the Chilean Miracle.

Another possibility is a guerrilla campaign waged against the political establishment. They may wage a civil war or terror campaign to put Trump back in power, violently suppress the left, secede parts of the United States as independent nations, or simply eliminate the entire federal government. This is less likely to be successful and more likely to result in a more authoritarian state, especially if the rebels expect a short fight that they can win without much effort. That said, victory for the Cathedral is not guaranteed. Whatever the outcome, the divisions within America would be deepened, hastening the collapse of the current system to the benefit of all who are not part of it or dependent on it.

Conclusion

It is unlikely that the establishment will succeed in removing Trump, and any attempt is likely to backfire as such. But even if they pick this battle and win it, they will almost certainly lose the war in the long run. Because this would damage the most powerful and dangerous state in human history, one should agree to impeach Trump for the wrong reasons even if one supports his agenda.

References:

  1. DeBonis, Mike (2017, Dec. 6). “House votes to kill Texas lawmaker’s Trump impeachment effort”. Washington Post.
  2. Martin, Jonathan; Burns, Alexander (2017, May 18). “Democratic Leaders Try to Slow Calls to Impeach Trump”. New York Times.
  3. Smilowitz, Elliot (2017, May 17). “First Republicans talk possibility of impeachment for Trump”. The Hill.
  4. Seipel, Brooke (2017, May 16). “McCain: Trump scandals reaching ‘Watergate size and scale’”. The Hill.
  5. “Final Vote Results For Roll Call 35”. Clerk of the United States House of Representatives. Jan. 19, 2018.
  6. “Memorial Regarding the Abolition of the Presidency”. National Archives Catalog. Center for Legislative Archives, National Archives and Records Administration.
  7. Gibson, C. Robert (2013, Mar. 4). “Abolish It: It’s Our Right”. Huffington Post.
  8. Copple, Roger (2013, June 25). “Why a New Constitution is Our Best Hope”. Dissident Voice.
  9. Day, Meagan; Sunkara, Bhaskar (2018, Aug. 9). “Think the Constitution Will Save Us? Think Again”. New York Times.
  10. “Abolish the Constitution”. Sydiot, Jan. 25, 2017.
  11. Kliff, Sarah (2011, Feb. 16). “Pence’s war on Planned Parenthood”. Politico.
  12. (2016, July 15). “Donald Trump’s Running Mate Has Some Truly Strange Views on Modern Science”. Fortune.
  13. Ring, Trudy (2015, Apr. 1). “Mike Pence ‘Abhors’ Discrimination? His Record Shows Otherwise”. The Advocate.
  14. Drabold, Will (2016, July 15). “Here’s What Mike Pence Said on LGBT Issues Over the Years”. Time.
  15. Yglesias, Matthew (2009, Feb. 25). “Mike Pence Calls for Massive Anti-Stimulus”. ThinkProgress.
  16. Sahadi, Jeanne (2016, July 15). “On Social Security, Trump and Pence couldn’t be more different”. CNN Money.
  17. Heinz, Katie (2015, Aug. 26). “As congressman, Gov. Pence co-sponsored change to birthright citizenship rules”. WRTV.
  18. Hirji, Zahra (2016, July 15). “Trump’s Choice of Pence Adds a Conservative Fossil Fuel Backer to GOP Ticket”. InsideClimate News.
  19. Carden, Dan (3016, Mar. 21). “Pence reinstates mandatory minimum prison terms for some drug crimes”. The Times of Northwest Indiana.
  20. Mount, Steve. “Constitutional Topic: Presidential Line of Succession”. ussconstitution.net.
  21. 25th Amendment to the United States Constitution.
  22. Feierhard, German; Lupu, Noam; Stokes, Susan (2018, Feb. 16). “A significant minority of Americans say they could support a military takeover of the U.S. government”. Washington Post.
  23. Bell, Brandon. “When Do High Levels of Corruption Justify a Military Coup?”. AmericasBarometer Insights 2012, number 79. Vanderbilt University.

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The Myth of Tremendous Government: A Reply to Mark Christensen

Everyone please welcome Darien Sumner, our fourth additional writer at Zeroth Position.

On July 23, Social Matter published an article by Mark Christensen titled “We Need Tremendous Government: Why Conservative Mythology Must Be Disrupted”. His contention is that modern conservatism has long been dominated by libertarians who want to shrink government purely for its own sake, with no attention paid to the costs or consequences. Conservatives, therefore, should rebel against this negative influence and get back to what he contends is the root of conservative thought: Making America Great Again. To do so, it is necessary to embrace the power of the state as a tool for advancing conservative interests. Unfortunately for Christensen, his quest to disrupt conservative mythology runs aground on three major flaws, which we will explore below.

What Christensen Gets Right

Christensen is far from wrong about everything. Indeed, he is highly perceptive on the subject of President Trump. He writes:

“The political leader of Republican America is a man with a very different message. In his journey to the White House, the words from Donald Trump’s mouth rang very different. Something like this: ‘I am a successful businessman. I have built great things and hired great people. The U.S. government is not successful and does not build things right now, but it used to. When I am in charge, I will use my tremendous ability to make it a success which builds great things once more. I will Make America Great Again.’”

This is a fairly accurate assessment, and it is a point that most commentators miss amidst their own axe-grinding: contra the wishful thinking of many libertarians who really ought to know better, Trump’s “Make America Great Again” platform has nothing whatsoever to do with limiting the scope of the power of the federal government (and, of course, contra the left, it has nothing to do with racism and Nazis). Trump’s plan to “Make America Great Again” is all about “America”—read: the United States government—building “great things.” It is not merely compatible with big government; it positively requires it.

In this, Christensen is exactly correct, and his own views appear to be entirely in sync with those of the president. Indeed, were his article merely about how Trumpian American greatness is a big government philosophy, there would be no problems with it. Sadly, he attempts to position this philosophy as the One True Conservatism, and thus goes astray.

Flaw #1: Historical Knowledge

Christensen does not appear to be very knowledgeable about the history of conservatism, which is a significant problem. Indeed, the opening of his article reads:

“Since the days of Reagan—and perhaps those of Buckley’s then-new conservative movement—conservatism has been plagued by a false doctrine about government, which shapes both ideological theory and electoral slogans.

It goes something like this: for a variety of social and economic reasons, government is incompetent, inferior, and a necessary evil insofar as it must exist at all. It’s bad. The grand vision of the conservative movement is to roll it back and restrict it in future by whatever means necessary.”

The idea that conservatism owes its origins to William Buckley is patently absurd, and we need not engage in murky attempts to attach anachronistic political labels to the Founding Fathers in order to demonstrate this. It is sufficient, rather, to point out that the origins of conservatism lie in a reaction against what was arguably the first major “progressive” movement: the French Revolution. The true father of conservatism (though, as far as is known, he never used the word) is widely regarded as Edmund Burke, and as good a summary of his thought as can be found comes from his Reflections on the Revolution in France:

“But is it in destroying and pulling down that skill is displayed? Your mob can do this as well at least as your assemblies. The shallowest understanding, the rudest hand, is more than equal to that task. Rage and phrenzy will pull down more in half an hour, than prudence, deliberation, and foresight can build up in an hundred years. The errors and defects of old establishments are visible and palpable. It calls for little ability to point them out; and where absolute power is given, it requires but a word wholly to abolish the vice and the establishment together. The same lazy but restless disposition, which loves sloth and hates quiet, directs these politicians, when they come to work, for supplying the place of what they have destroyed. To make every thing the reverse of what they have seen is quite as easy as to destroy. No difficulties occur in what has never been tried. Criticism is almost baffled in discovering the defects of what has not existed; and eager enthusiasm, and cheating hope, have all the wide field of imagination in which they may expatiate with little or no opposition.”[1]

The essence of conservatism at its birth, then, was restraint upon the power of man to destroy that which exists and replace it with that he imagines to be superior. Even Joseph de Maistre, whom one may reasonably suspect of being more sympathetic to Christensen’s cause, called not for stronger or more dynamic government, but for stable and orderly government that certainly did not attempt to create “great things”:

“If perfection was an attribute of human nature, each legislator would speak only once: but, although all our works are imperfect and the sovereign is obliged to support political institutions with new laws to the degree that they become tainted, yet human legislation draws closer to its model by that intermittency of which I was just now speaking. Its repose honors it as much as its original action; the more it acts, the more human, that is to say fragile, are its achievements.

What a prodigious number of laws has resulted from the labors of three French National Assemblies!

From July 1st to October, 1791, the National Assembly passed 2,557

The Legislative Assembly passed, in eleven and a half months 1,712

The National Convention, from the first day of the Republic until 4 Brumaire year IV [October 26, 1795], passed in 57 months 11,210

TOTAL 15,479

I doubt if the three houses of the Kings of France have spawned a collection of such magnitude. Reflecting on this infinite number, two very different emotions are felt successively. The first is that of admiration or at least of astonishment; one is amazed, with Mr. Burke, that this nation, whose frivolity is a byword, has produced such obstinate workers. This structure of law is so huge that it takes the breath away. But astonishment must quickly change to pity when the futility of these laws is recalled, and then one sees only children killing each other to raise a house of cards.”[2]

Maistre was a monarchist, to be sure. However, he supported the monarchy not because he wanted a strong, dynamic leader with plans and visions for society, but because he believed, with quite a bit of evidence, that the monarch would keep things on an even keel:

“[T]he restoration of the Crown would weaken suddenly the whole machinery of the state. The black magic operating at this moment would vanish like a mist before the sun. Kindness, clemency, justice, all the gentle and peaceful virtues would suddenly reappear and bring back with them a certain general gentleness of character, a certain cheerfulness entirely opposed to the somber rigor of the revolutionary regime. No more requisitions, no more legal thefts, no more violence.”[3]

Modern American conservatism arose as a reaction against the rise of American Progressivism, which in turn was spawned by the revivalist movement of the mid-nineteenth century. As Murray Rothbard writes,

“The pietists were those who held that each individual, rather than the church or the clergy, was responsible for his own salvation. Salvation was a matter, not of following prescribed ritual or even of cleaving to a certain fixed creed, but rather of an intense emotional commitment or conversion experience by the individual, even to the extent of believing himself ‘born again’ in a special ‘baptism of grace.’ Moreover, the outward sign—the evidence to the rest of society for the genuineness and the permanence of a given individual’s conversion—was his continuing purity of behavior. And since each individual was responsible for his own salvation, the pietists concluded that society was duty-bound to aid each man in pursuing his salvation, in promoting his good behavior, and in seeing as best it could that he does not fall prey to temptation. The emphasis of the pietists was on converting the maximum number of persons, and in helping them to become and to remain sound.

Society, therefore, in the institution of the State, was to take it upon itself to aid the weaker brethren by various crusading actions of compulsory morality, and thus to purge the world of sin. The secular and the religious were to be conjoined. In the second half of the 19th century, the pietists concentrated on agitating for three such compulsory measures on the state and local level, to save liturgical ‘sinners’ despite themselves: Prohibition, to eradicate the sin of alcohol; Sunday blue laws, to prevent people from violating the Sabbath; and, increasingly toward the end of the century, compulsory public schooling to ‘Americanize’ the immigrants and ‘Christianize the Catholics’, and to use the schools to transform Catholics and immigrants (often one and the same) into pietistic Protestant and nativist molds.”[4]

We see in the pietists, then, the impulses that characterize a progressive: the desire to use the power of the state to compel everyone to live a moral life, and thus to “perfect” society, and, of course, the drive toward great “public works”. Indeed, it was the progressives who sought to “Make America Great Again” in the 19th century. The conservatives, meanwhile, were the poor liturgicals who mainly wanted those nosy Methodists to mind their own business. As Rothbard shows (drawing on the work of the late historian Paul Kleppner), the voting results line up exactly along those lines; in the regions of the country dominated by Catholics, high church Lutherans, and old-style Calvinists (the liturgical faiths), the laissez-faire, mind-your-own-business Democrats consistently come out on top, whereas the pietist regions predominantly elected busybody Republicans. Prior to the election of 1892, the expected party roles were reversed; it is no coincidence that Theodore Roosevelt, the first progressive president, came out of the Republican Party.

It takes but a cursory glance at history to determine that the conservative skepticism of big government does not originate from Ronald Reagan’s stump speeches, and the conservative movement altogether does not owe its origins to William F. Buckley, the man who arguably more than any other, is responsible for turning it into progressivism with a cigar and a monocle. Rothbard writes,

“[T]ake one of Buckley’s early efforts, ‘A Young Republican’s View’, published in Commonweal, January 25, 1952. Buckley began the article in unexceptionable libertarian fashion, affirming that the enemy is the State, and endorsing the view of Herbert Spencer that the State is ‘begotten of aggression and by aggression.’ Buckley also contributed excellent quotations from such leading individualists of the past as H.L. Mencken and Albert Jay Nock, and criticized the Republican Party for offering no real alternative to the burgeoning of statism. But then in the remainder of the article he gave the case away, for there loomed the alleged Soviet menace, and all libertarian principles had to go by the board for the duration. Thus, Buckley declared that the ‘thus far invincible aggressiveness of the Soviet Union’ imminently threatens American security, and that therefore ‘we have to accept Big Government for the duration—for neither an offensive nor a defensive war can be waged . . . except through the instrument of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores.’ In short, a totalitarian bureaucracy must be accepted so long as the Soviet Union exists (presumably for its alleged threat of imposing upon us a totalitarian bureaucracy?). In consequence, Buckley concluded that we must all support ‘the extensive and productive tax laws that are needed to support a vigorous anti-Communist foreign policy,’ as well as ‘large armies and air forces, atomic energy, central intelligence, war production boards and the attendant centralization of power in Washington—even with Truman at the reins of it all.’ Thus, even at his most libertarian, even before Buckley came to accept Big Government and morality laws as ends in themselves, the pretended National Review ‘fusion’ between liberty and order, between individualism and anti-Communism, was a phony—the individualist and libertarian part of the fusion was strictly rhetorical, to be saved for abstract theorizing and after-dinner discourse. The guts of the New Conservatism was the mobilization of Big Government for the worldwide crusade against Communism”.[5]

This was the Buckleyite doctrine from the very beginning: a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores. Surely the idea that Buckley’s ‘conservatism’ was just too small-government is patently absurd.

We see, therefore, that there is no merit to the claims that small-government philosophy somehow infiltrated conservatism during the Reagan years or through the work of Buckley. Indeed, the very origins of conservatism were in push-back against activist government attempting to “build great things” and produce “virtuous people”. If we jettison the historical errors and, with them, the pretense that the drive for a super-state is somehow going to return conservatism to its roots, we are still left with an article making the case for big government in a conservative guise. There are, however, flaws more grave than the historical errors cited above that sink the entire project.

Flaw #2: Philosophical Confusion

Christensen writes,

“Let’s first reframe the concept of competent government. After all, the concept depends heavily on one’s concept of a good society. Precluding the debates of moral philosophy, let’s state that a society is good when it produces virtuous people, cultural genius and beauty, and economic prosperity. By extension, a government is good when it provides the support for society to achieve such things. Now let’s ask the pertinent question: is it big government or small government which best achieves these things?”

This question cuts right to the heart of the matter. Christensen assumes a set of criteria for determining whether or not a government is “good”, which I will grant for the purposes of this rebuttal. He then asks whether big or small government is most likely to be “good”. Granted, his very next sentence—“[o]f course, the question is ridiculous”—almost throws the entire thing away; not only is that question not ridiculous, it is the entire core of the argument! If big government does not do a better job of being “good”, then what on earth would be its purpose? Surely a smaller, less expensive government capable of achieving the same or a greater level of “goodness” would be preferable; why would one not choose the less expensive means of identically achieving one’s ends?

Having thus thrown away most of his cards, Christensen is left in the unenviable position of having to argue that, while big government may not be more “good” in general, it is obviously more “good” in certain specific circumstances:

“The United States achieved domestic development in the 19th century with relatively free trade within and protectionist tariffs without—a policy mix which would alarm both libertarian Republicans and Clintonian Democrats. On the other hand, China is achieving it through massive government involvement via state-owned enterprises. We can find examples of government which failed: for example, American alcohol prohibition. We can also point out many circumstances where the problem has been a lack of competent government: here we have the border crisis and a heroin epidemic.”

Notice how slippery this is. The phrasing “lack of competent government” is carefully chosen to suggest that what is needed is more government; after all, if one lacks good water, the solution is to get more water, but if one’s yard is full of garbage, more garbage will exacerbate the problem. A cursory glance at these examples, however, should be enough to demonstrate that neither of the success stories is a tale of positive government action, and none of the failures would be solved by adding additional government.

While it cannot be denied that domestic development occurred in 19th-century America, no clear connection between that development and the protectionist tariffs is apparent. This is not to say that it is in any way odd that development would occur with tariffs in place; no serious argument has ever been advanced claiming that the existence of any tariff somehow prevents all economic development, merely that the existence of a tariff hampers economic development relative to what it would have been without the tariff. As Robert P. Murphy explains,

“In the long run, a country pays for its imports by exports. If the U.S. government makes it harder for Americans to buy Japanese cars, this will boost employment and production in Detroit. But if Americans spend less on Japanese cars, then the Japanese have fewer dollars with which to buy American exports, such as wheat. Thus, the U.S. government tariff doesn’t boost industry or create jobs on net but merely rearranges production and employment patterns. What’s worse, the rearrangement leaves Americans and Japanese poorer, on average, because labor has been diverted in both countries into lines where it is less productive, all things considered.”[6] [Emphasis original]

While the tariffs certainly benefited some people and some industries in the United States—those who were facing direct competition from cheaper or superior imports—they were a net harm to the development of the nation, even notwithstanding the fact that a disastrous war would eventually be fought over them.[7]

The example of China is often given to support the notion of state-created prosperity, but this example, placed into any type of context, is highly perverse. China is saddled with a “tremendous government”, and that government intervenes mightily into the economy, but China has also recently emerged from total communism—surely the move to the current “state capitalism” model represents a radical reduction in the level of government economic control! The fact that Chinese prosperity has increased alongside the move toward economic freedom is hardly shocking, though it should also be noted that the China boom has a number of serious problems caused explicitly by the government’s involvement; from the centrally-planned development of hundreds of empty cities[8] to the creation of a giant lake of radioactive poison[9], it is not hard to come by examples of truly grotesque mismanagement. Chinese prosperity is also highly overrated; to a great extent, it is built on a vast pile of debt, as China’s debt-to-GDP ratio now exceeds 300%.[10] In all, there are many signs present that the vast government China does possess is smothering the life out of the emerging prosperity.

We covered alcohol prohibition earlier in discussing the origins of American conservatism, though the border crisis has something significant in common with it: it is a problem that literally would not exist in the absence of government, and one does not need to be an open-borders advocate to see this. In a libertarian social order with fully privatized borders, immigration decisions would be localized to the greatest extent possible. Those who wished to allow open immigration could do so, but only onto their own property, and those who wished to forbid it could defend their own property precisely as they would against any other invasion. There would be nothing mystical about immigration that would make it any different from any other border crossing, of which number our daily lives are absolutely full. The only factors that complicate the border situation and turn it into a crisis are the one-size-fits-all border control approaches dictated by remote bureaucrats and the vast array of aggressions they will commit against the existing citizenry on behalf of the incoming immigrants. Those are problems of the state and by the state.

The heroin epidemic, on the other hand, is a genuinely perverse example; if anywhere there is a case of maximal government, the heroin epidemic is that case. The US government prohibits the sale, possession, or consumption of heroin and provides truly draconian penalties for violating this prohibition: up to thirty years of imprisonment and $50,000 in fines per count.[11] Not only this, but it is itself the world’s leading possessor, seller, and manufacturer of the drug:

[I]n Afghanistan…the first local drug lords on an international scale–Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Abu Rasul Sayyaf–were in fact launched internationally as a result of massive and ill-advised assistance from the CIA, in conjunction with the governments of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. While other local resistance forces were accorded second-class status, these two clients of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, precisely because they lacked local support, pioneered the use of opium and heroin to build up their fighting power and financial resources…

CIA involvement in the drug trade hardly began with its involvement in the Soviet-Afghan war. To a certain degree, the CIA’s responsibility for the present dominant role of Afghanistan in the global heroin traffic merely replicated what had happened earlier in Burma, Thailand, and Laos between the late 1940s and the 1970s. These countries also only became factors in the international drug traffic as a result of CIA assistance (after the French, in the case of Laos) to what would otherwise have been only local traffickers…

In this same period the CIA recruited assets along the smuggling routes of the Asian opium traffic as well, in countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, Italy, France, Cuba, Honduras, and Mexico. These assets have included government officials like Manuel Noriega of Panama or Vladimiro Montesinos of Peru, often senior figures in CIA-assisted police and intelligence services. But they have also included insurrectionist movements, ranging from the Contras in Nicaragua in the 1980s to (according to Robert Baer and Seymour Hersh) the al-Qaeda-linked Jundallah, operating today in Iran and Baluchistan…

Perhaps the best example of such CIA influence via drug traffickers today is in Afghanistan itself, where those accused of drug trafficking include President Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai (an active CIA asset), and Abdul Rashid Dostum (a former CIA asset).[12]

Given that the US government is the producer and trafficker of the heroin, and the institution that prohibits, polices, and punishes private use and distribution of the heroin, it is difficult to see what possible further role there could be for government in the heroin epidemic. This is another case of government run badly amok, and the solution, once again, is to eliminate it.

Christensen has one more example to point to in his attempt to show the folly of small government, and it is a doozy:

“We can even point to the financial crisis of 2008 as a perfect storm of incompetence: government was involved in the worst places (like encouraging banks to give mortgages to those who couldn’t afford them), while failing to govern precisely those areas which needed it (deregulation of a variety of financial devices and a pathetic bailout deal in the aftermath).”

The only part of this that is at all correct is the statement that “encouraging banks to give mortgages to those who couldn’t afford them” was in fact a failure of government. Everything else here is almost entirely counter to reality. Deregulation, as commonly understood and clearly as intended here, played no role in the financial crisis; the repealed portion of the Glass-Steagall Act, that piece of repealed legislation generally pointed to as the “deregulation” that brought on the financial crisis, did nothing but prohibit investment banks from taking demand deposits, and vice-versa.[13] Clearly this had nothing whatsoever to do with the financial crisis. Indeed, the only type of deregulation that was involved in the crisis was the type that allowed banks to take greater investment risks with a guarantee that the taxpayers would be forced to absorb the losses. In other words: the deregulation that led to the crisis was nothing more than a restatement of “encouraging banks to give mortgages to those who couldn’t afford them”—an action that certainly was not caused both by too much and too little government involvement! As Thomas Woods explains,

“Commercial bank deposits are insured by the federal government up to $100,000 (and, temporarily, up to $250,000). Any ‘deregulation’ of the banking system that permits the banks to take greater risks while maintaining government (that is, taxpayer) insurance of their deposits is not genuine deregulation from a free-market point of view.

When the moral hazard of deposit insurance is combined with the ‘too big to fail’ mentality, which will not allow large institutions to fail, the result (a conclusion compelled by common sense and bolstered by recent research) is that banks will take on considerably more risk than they would if they were subject to genuine market pressures.”[14][Emphasis original]

And what to make of the complaint of the “pathetic” bailout deal? Note carefully its inclusion under “failure to govern”; are we to conclude that the $700 billion in taxpayer money spent to preserve the monthly bonuses of a handful of bankers was insufficient? Is Christensen somehow reaching the madcap conclusion that, if only the government were more involved in the banking sector, the bailout never would have happened?

The remaining error in the above passage underlines the final large pothole in which Christensen finds himself.

Flaw #3: The Nature of the State

To recap:

“We can even point to the financial crisis of 2008 as a perfect storm of incompetence.”

We can do that, yes, but to do so is to look directly away from the truth. There was no incompetence involved whatsoever. The American financial sector, with the help of the federal government, had spent almost a hundred years building itself a rigged casino in which it literally could not lose. The financial crisis, far from reflecting any incompetence, demonstrated the amazing competence with which the system was designed. Everything went wrong—the wheels fell completely off—and the bets paid out anyway on the backs of the taxpayer, and even in the face of overwhelming, nearly-unanimous taxpayer opposition.

“[The] alleged threat to millions of policyholders was a beard—behind which stood the handful of giant financial institutions which had purchased what amounted to wagering insurance from the AIG holding company.

To be sure, AIG’s giant financial customers like Bank of America or Société Générale had not reached their tremendous girth due to their prowess as legitimate free market enterprises. They were lumbering wards of the state and…products of the cheap debt, moral hazard, and serial speculative bubbles being fostered by the Fed and other central banks. Not surprisingly, therefore, they were now desperately petitioning the treasury secretary for help in collecting their gambling debts from AIG.

Needless to say, Paulson did not hesitate to throw the weight of the public purse into the arena on behalf of these gamblers, because it resulted in an immediate boost to the stock price of Goldman Sachs and the remnants of Wall Street. Hank Paulson thus desecrated the rules of the free market, and for the most deplorable of reasons: namely, to make Goldman, Deutsche Bank, and the rest of the banking giants whole on gambling claims which had been incurred to carry out an end run around regulatory standards in the first place.”[15]

Surely there was no incompetence about this; there was only cold, calculated evil. This was not a series of innocent errors, but an intentional and callous plundering of the American people. Yet this is hardly an isolated example; it is not through incompetence that the government roads are terrible, but by design: only if the roads are unsatisfactory and lethal can the road bureaucrats increase their share of the power and pelf. It is not merest happenstance that the government schools are constantly becoming more expensive and less educational. It is not due to a lack of resources that the government’s wars drag on into eternity. “Incompetence” is the cover the government hides behind to obscure the fact that its very nature is to fail; the roads are terrible, the schools are terrible, the wars are a loss—why, they must all need more money and a greater priority in civic life, then!

One could surely advance the argument here, and not without merit, that these problems are a feature of democracy, and would be put to rest under a monarchic government. While I surely concede, following Maistre and Hans-Hermann Hoppe, that a monarchy would be far less damaging than a democracy, it would still suffer from the same problems, merely to a lesser degree. Any command activity—any action undertaken by the state—will of necessity be arbitrary and bureaucratic, as it cannot be guided by market incentives and the profit motive. Bureaucrats will rule in a monarchy as they do in a democracy, though likely to a lesser extent. No king can change this, for as Ludwig von Mises writes,

“As he lacks ubiquity, he must delegate a part of his power to subordinates. They are, in their districts, his deputies, acting in his name and under his auspices. In fact they become local despots only nominally subject to the mighty overlord who has appointed them. They rule their provinces according to their own will, they become satraps. The great king has the power to discharge them and to appoint a successor. But that is no remedy either. The new governor also soon becomes an almost independent satrap. What some critics wrongly assert with regard to representative democracy, namely, that the people is sovereign only on election day, is literally true with regard to such a system of despotism; the king is sovereign in the provinces only on the day he appoints a new governor.”[16]

Falling into the trap of believing that the government suffers from insufficient competence, and that this competence deficit can be cured by more government, is the means by which virtually all people throughout history have acquiesced to tyranny. At first it works; “great things” are built. The strong man makes the trains run on time. That is the bait; the initial “fix” one gets for free. Beyond this point lies nothing but an endless cynical game in which we are not the players—we are the prize.

Policy Proposals

Having thus cleared away the underlying philosophy, it may seem unnecessary to rebut Christensen’s policy ideas as well, but for one thing: the possibility remains that Christensen, though his premises are faulty, has nonetheless arrived at the correct conclusion. His proposals therefore still need to be dealt with on their own merit. He writes,

“The lesson is clear: big versus small government ranges from inaccurate to useless as a metric for policy-making. The bias either tilts toward government involvement in unnecessary areas or its absence in necessary ones. This is even true if we are considering things in purely economic terms. A pure devotion to free markets ignores political questions such as preserving cultural sovereignty and maintaining good relations between social classes. Meanwhile, the opposite tendency interferes with the ability of productive people and companies to work without the restraints of red tape; this is why modern Chinese socialism has taken advantage of policies such as special economic zones while preserving the state’s active role. We must demand a more substantive metric: competent government.”

It is odd to see the line “big versus small government ranges from inaccurate to useless as a metric for policy-making” in an article entitled “We Need Tremendous Government”. How can one assert both of these things? If the size of the government is truly so meaningless, why claim that we need it not only to be significant, but “tremendous”?

Notwithstanding that, the language of the rest of this passage is exceedingly slippery. It is tacitly asserted that “preserving cultural sovereignty and maintaining good relations between social classes” is a function of the state, and that those who wish to have less of the state are therefore unconcerned with culture and social peace, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. Far from ignoring such questions, we argue that the state is the wrong answer to them. Social peace and cultural sovereignty are best served by the minimization (or absence) of the state: that institution that preserves its own power by debasing the culture with its bread and circuses, and by destroying social peace through the divide et impera strategy—pitting the people against each other to keep them distracted and disorganized.

It is similarly perverse to describe the effects of socialism—the opposite of devotion to free markets—as “interfer[ing] with the ability of productive people and companies to work without the restraints of red tape”. This glib phrasing makes it sound as though a century of socialism had produced a handful of minor inconveniences for businessmen; so many forms to fill out! The reality of it is considerably less pleasant: impoverishment on a truly unbelievable scale, environmental catastrophes vastly worse than anything seen in the “free world”, and over 100 million deaths.[17] Christensen continues,

“Ironically, the conservative disdain for government has often become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The problem is that much of American government truly has become inept. But being a dominant power between two oceans, America has perhaps failed to check if this holds true elsewhere. In fact, there are many examples of competent government to be found. We need not even limit ourselves to the small-state powerhouses like Singapore and Switzerland. In a matter of decades, the Chinese state has achieved massive industrialization, the establishment of political norms and institutions after a chaotic era, extensive geopolitical power, and the lifting up of two hundred million souls from poverty. We can point to Poland, which has achieved tremendous economic growth that it has effectively translated into political clout within Europe, pursuing its own vision informed by Polish and Catholic values, rather than those of Brussels. Not just competent but even (dare we say?) dynamic and accomplished government is eminently possible. So why has it so often failed at all levels of American life: city, state, and federal?”

We have discussed the case of China already, and Christensen mentions but looks past the examples of Singapore and Switzerland, so we are left with Poland as his exemplar of big government being beneficial. But this example contains its own refutation; Poland, as Christensen acknowledges, is asserting its own interests against those of the European Union. This is a secessionist act. This is a smaller, more localized political unit asserting its independence from the super-state that allegedly rules it. Far from being an example of big government leading to competence and greatness, the case of Poland at most illustrates the principles of federalism—a smaller, more local government is pushing against the unwanted behavior of a larger government. The analogy is not to the United States government expanding its power in the world, but to one of the individual states deciding to go its own way. Indeed, one could argue that the reason efforts like this have so often failed in the United States is exactly because of the large, powerful federal government.

The case of Poland is remarkably similar to the Nullification Crisis. On November 24, 1832, the state of South Carolina adopted the Ordinance of Nullification, declaring that the federal tariffs of 1828 and 1832 were null and void inside the state of South Carolina. This is quite of a piece with Poland’s recent rejection of EU mandates that run counter to the interests of Poland, with both South Carolina and Poland asserting their own local interests in the face of the “greater good” being dictated to them by bigger governments. As Thomas Jefferson wrote earlier of this idea,

“[T]he several States composing, the United States of America, are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general government; but that, by a compact under the style and title of a Constitution for the United States, and of amendments thereto, they constituted a general government for special purposes—delegated to that government certain definite powers, reserving, each State to itself, the residuary mass of right to their own self-government; and that whensoever the general government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force…”[18]

If this is not a rejection of “tremendous government” to achieve “great works”, then nothing is, and this describes the current behavior of Poland precisely.

Not long ago, different states had different legal drinking ages, different speed limits, and a whole host of other local rules and customs that varied across the nation. Many of these are now uniform. This happened not as the result of reasoned discourse and competent evaluation, but as the result of naked force applied from Washington. It is surely not outside the realm of possibility that the different circumstances in different states warrant different rules; driving in Alaska is a different experience from driving in Nebraska. If we accept that government should set rules for driving in the first place, does it not stand to reason that the state of Alaska is more competent to establish rules for driving in Alaska than is the federal government, thousands of miles away? It would seem once again that bigness of government and competence of government are at odds with one another. Christensen writes,

“American political life has long suffered from a focus on means to the exclusion of ends. The most obvious example of this is the privileged position of the U.S. Constitution in moral and political life. Of course, many countries have great respect for their constitutions. But few if any treat theirs with the sheer awe and sacral emotion with which American conservatism treats that of the United States. Progressives have always seen the Constitution more as something to be expanded and fleshed out with the changing of the times, which is perhaps why they have managed to cement so many more of their political victories in law. It is easier to change society by writing new norms than by trying to repeal them.”

Actually, conservatives everywhere traditionally regard constitutions with a great deal of respect, if not veneration. A constitution, properly understood, is not merely a paper containing the daily whimsy of the ruling class. To quote Maistre:

“Modern philosophy is at one and the same time too materialistic and too presumptuous to see the real springs of action in politics. One of its follies is to believe that an assembly can constitute a nation, that a constitution, that is to say, the totality of fundamental laws which suit a nation and should give it a certain form of government, is an artifact like any other, requiring only intelligence, knowledge, and practice, that the job of constitution-making can be learned, and that, the moment they think about it, men can say to other men, Make us a government, as a workman is told, Make us a fire engine or a loom

If a man of goodwill, relying only on good sense and rectitude, asks what the old French constitution was, the straightforward reply can be given: ‘It is what you felt when you were in France: it is the mixture of liberty and authority, law and opinion, that made the foreign traveler in France believe that he was living under a government different from his own.’”[19] [Emphasis original]

The primary reason that few people nowadays hold constitutions in much regard is, of course, precisely because of the desire for political expedience championed here by Christensen. As Maistre understood it, a proper constitution was not a bill enacted by a legislative body, nor was it a fiat declared by a king. Rather, a constitution was an organic outgrowth of the culture and the society, and it defined and delineated what form the government should take. As such, it was not subject to breezy legislative overwriting; indeed, in Maistre’s view, a constitution should not even exist as a written document, since to write it down is to invite amendments devised by the minds of men.

The notions that the constitution should be given only symbolic value, and that it should even be conceivable “to change society by writing new norms”, are the essence of progressivism. Writing new norms is nothing more or less than the old pietist drive to perfect man through the power of the state. Christensen continues,

“Even for such fundamental questions as demographics, the nature of marriage, and the involvement of money in elections, the question of the common good appears to have often been absent. What was important was whether the policies around these issues aligned with the Constitution or not, the moral worldview behind them being of little consequence.”

It is one thing to suggest that the goodness of one’s means is irrelevant if said means fail to achieve a desirable end, but it is quite another to suggest that the goodness of means is irrelevant as long as a good end is reached. Yet:

“Conservatives have traditionally been so devoted to ideas like property and markets that they have aided their most ardent enemies in the process. For example, conservative voices rallied during Citizens United to protect independent spending from corporations and unions on political speech. This, despite the fact that many of America’s largest corporations back globalist free trade agreements and HR-mandated progressive norms that would make Hillary Clinton raise an eyebrow.”

If we are to abandon respect for property and markets, what is there to fear from “globalist free trade agreements”? I suspect the forest is being lost for the trees. Surely it is preferable to live under a government that enacts crony state capitalist deals but otherwise does not interfere with property and markets than it is to live in a society in which property and markets are abrogated. We need not even speculate; this is the precise situation in modern China, which was earlier being celebrated as a grand success.

Recall Christensen’s definition of good government given earlier: a government that enables “virtuous people, cultural genius and beauty, and economic prosperity”. I trust it has been sufficiently demonstrated that economic prosperity depends on property and markets. The other two conditions do as well.

“Cultural genius”, if the term has any meaning, no doubt refers to high art, sophistication, and refinement. Which societies in history have produced the best art and culture—those with relatively high respect for property and markets, or those with relatively low respect? Sparta certainly produced a highly efficient, effective government, but produced so little cultural genius that the word spartan is present in the lexicon meaning “marked by simplicity, frugality, or avoidance of luxury and comfort”. Athens, meanwhile, is still today considered a high point in the history of world culture. I trust the reader knows which of these states respected property and markets and which did not. With no art and no culture, the only beauty that can exist is the incidental; the beauty of a rainbow, or of a sunset. Man can encourage or develop beauty only by encouraging and developing culture.

How are we to define a people that is virtuous? Plato, of course, filled volumes attempting to answer that very question. For our purposes, I propose a very simple, basic definition: people are virtuous who respect the rights of others and the norms of their society. A society that denies property rights, however, puts those two conditions in conflict with one another, as Rothbard explains:

“[T]he concept of ‘rights’ only makes sense as property rights. For not only are there no human rights which are not also property rights, but the former rights lose their absoluteness and clarity and become fuzzy and vulnerable when property rights are not used as the standard…

In short, a person does not have a ‘right to freedom of speech’; what he does have is the right to hire a hall and address the people who enter the premises. He does not have a ‘right to freedom of the press’; what he does have is the right to write or publish a pamphlet, and to sell that pamphlet to those who are willing to buy it (or to give it away to those who are willing to accept it). Thus, what he has in each of these cases is property rights, including the right of free contract and transfer which form a part of such rights of ownership. There is no extra ‘right of free speech’ or free press beyond the property rights that a person may have in any given case.”[20] [Emphasis original]

There is no means of understanding rights that does not reduce to property; any other way of defining rights leads to unresolvable conflicts. As such, if one lives in a society that does not respect property rights, one cannot, by definition, respect any rights of one’s neighbors without violating cultural norms. It thus becomes difficult to see how one can jettison property and markets while retaining Christensen’s “good government”. Christensen writes,

“Red and blue America began with two different ideologies, each with a different agenda in the legal realm. Red America from the 1970s onward became committed to a philosophy of negative rights and the shrinking or decentralizing of government.”

Is this truly the case? If so, it becomes impossible to view Red America as having had any impact whatsoever on the country. The government has ballooned and centralized at an alarming rate over that period. If Red America means the Republican Party, then clearly there is no truth to the claim. However, the Republicans are responsible for some of the most outrageous expansions and centralizations of state power, from the closing of the gold window in 1971[21] to Medicare Part D and the USA PATRIOT Act. The idea that Republicans are the party of small government is laughable.

If not the Republican Party, then are we referring to the ordinary people in “flyover country”? It seems a severe stretch of credibility to describe such a broad swath of people as being committed to any particular philosophy. Christensen continues,

“Blue America was committed to the pursuit of positive rights and an activist government pursuing social issues (although we should note that by Clinton’s era it had abandoned economic ones). These translated into competing moral visions. Ironically, both are quite grounded in a version of individualism and freedom from coercion. But for the former this is a civic individualism and economic freedom, while for the latter this is a social individualism and moral freedom. The former subverts the political state while the latter subverts the moral community. America will not survive either tendency.”

This is the final argument raised, though it is merely asserted; neither logic nor evidence is provided to support the idea that America will not survive the subversion of the political state, which seems a bit difficult to accept when one considers that political states are subverted on a fairly regular basis, yet I am at pains to identify the last nation that failed to survive it. Indeed, America itself was born from the subversion of an existing political state!

The nation itself and the people taken as a whole are resilient. What is fragile is a given cultural order, and, indeed, the biggest threat American culture faces comes not from enemies in the Middle East, nor from some type of causeless malaise, but from active government programs specifically designed to disrupt it. From the welfare system and its destruction of the black family[22] to ceaseless militarism, from the constant attempts to push new sexual perversions into the mainstream to the CIA’s deliberate destruction of American art and culture[23], the federal government is that agency most likely to destroy the social order. Conservatives—who are meant to care about culture and tradition, after all—should be standing against this, not celebrating it.

Christensen’s next passage reads eerily like Theodore Roosevelt, a man who had no fondness for the Constitution when it interfered with his political goals and often declared that the federal government must intervene to mobilize resources and put them at the service of the people:

“American political life must regain a vision of the common good which the legal and political structures are tools to achieve. In other words, it must embrace a standard against which to judge the Constitution… America is a country of wealth with a huge population. It deserves a political order which can properly mobilize these resources and put them at the service of its families and its visionaries.”

Now Roosevelt:

“The object of the Government is to dispose of the land to settlers who will build homes upon it. To accomplish this object water must be brought within their reach.

The pioneer settlers on the arid public domain chose their homes along streams from which they could themselves divert the water to reclaim their holdings. Such opportunities are practically gone. There remain, however, vast areas of public land which can be made available for homestead settlement, but only by reservoirs and main-line canals impracticable for private enterprise. These irrigation works should be built by the National Government. The lands reclaimed by them should be reserved by the Government for actual settlers, and the cost of construction should so far as possible be repaid by the land reclaimed. The distribution of the water, the division of the streams among irrigators, should be left to the settlers themselves in conformity with State laws and without interference with those laws or with vested fights. The policy of the National Government should be to aid irrigation in the several States and Territories in such manner as will enable the people in the local communities to help themselves, and as will stimulate needed reforms in the State laws and regulations governing irrigation.

The reclamation and settlement of the arid lands will enrich every portion of our country, just as the settlement of the Ohio and Mississippi valleys brought prosperity to the Atlantic States. The increased demand for manufactured articles will stimulate industrial production, while wider home markets and the trade of Asia will consume the larger food supplies and effectually prevent Western competition with Eastern agriculture. Indeed, the products of irrigation will be consumed chiefly in upbuilding local centers of mining and other industries, which would otherwise not come into existence at all. Our people as a whole will profit, for successful home- making is but another name for the upbuilding of the nation.”[24]

Theodore Roosevelt, of course, was America’s first truly progressive president. Christensen concludes,

“In order for the healthiest segments of the conservative movement to move forward, it is vital that they embrace the power and institutions of government. They must be seen not only as a necessary evil, but as a positive good. The shocking paradigm shift of 2016 will be of little use if national and sovereigntist forces refuse to use the very tools which they now control. They can rest assured that the forces of neoliberalism will not.”

Shorn of its philosophical underpinnings, having failed to provide any evidence linking big government to the creation of the good society, our final policy proposal devolves into a purely defensive move: conservatives must use the power of the state to the maximum extent in a simple attempt to counterbalance progressives doing the same. I would suggest that it does not work that way; increases in government are cumulative, not competitive. When the Democrats controlled the government during the Obama years and granted unprecedented new powers to themselves, those powers did not dissipate when the Republicans took back the reins. Similarly, if conservatives now embrace big government and grant it a whole plethora of new powers, the progressives will inherit those same powers the next time they are in charge. A much better idea if one wishes to defend against progressive overreach is to work to reduce—even to eliminate—those very powers. That way, one does not hand one’s ideological enemies the ammunition they need.

If history is to be any guide, it shows us that no dynasty lasts forever. Even if the progressives are vanquished forever, are we to assume there will be no new enemies to guard against? Are we to assume that future generations of great leaders will be wise and incorruptible? This was not the assumption made of the monarchs of which Burke and Maistre wrote fondly. They wrote of kings who were a source of stability—whose personal interests were served by the maintenance of justice, peace, and tradition, and who, as such, kept society insulated from would-be great men and their utopian visions.

Conclusion

“Unfortunately, law by no means confines itself to its proper functions. And when it has exceeded its proper functions, it has not done so merely in some inconsequential and debatable matters. The law has gone further than this; it has acted in direct opposition to its own purpose. The law has been used to destroy its own objective: It has been applied to annihilating the justice that it was supposed to maintain; to limiting and destroying rights which its real purpose was to respect. The law has placed the collective force at the disposal of the unscrupulous who wish, without risk, to exploit the person, liberty, and property of others. It has converted plunder into a right, in order to protect plunder. And it has converted lawful defense into a crime, in order to punish lawful defense.”[25]

In writing the above words, with their strong echoes of Edmund Burke’s rebuke of the French revolutionaries, Frédéric Bastiat puts to rest the notion that “we need tremendous government”. The more force society places at the disposal of the unscrupulous, the more the law will become perverted. The more the law becomes perverted, the more we are all at the mercy of those who see us as nothing more than chattel. The drive to repose more and more power in the hands of strongmen in the hope that they will use it to create a “good society” is antithetical to conservative principles and doomed to fail.

References:

  1. Burke, Edmund (1790). Reflections on the Revolution in France.
  2. de Maistre, Joseph (1796). Considerations on France. (Jack Lively, trans.)
  3. Ibid.
  4. Rothbard, Murray N. (2017). The Progressive Era. Mises Institute. Ch. 4.
  5. Rothbard, Murray N. (2007). The Betrayal of the American Right. Mises Institute. p. 158–9.
  6. Murphy, Robert P. (2015). Choice. Independent Institute. p. 282–3.
  7. DiLorenzo, Thomas J. (2006). Lincoln’s Tariff War [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from http://www.mises.org.
  8. Mallonee, Laura (2016). “The Unreal, Eerie Emptiness of China’s ‘Ghost Cities’”. Wired.
  9. Maughan, Tim (2015). “The Dystopian Lake Filled by the World’s Tech Lust”. BBC.
  10. Durden, Tyler (2018). “China’s Economy is Held Together by Capital Controls. If Those Fail, the Whole System Fails”. ZeroHedge.
  11. LaMance, Ken (2018). Heroin State and Federal Penalties. Retrieved from http://www.legalmatch.com
  12. Scott, Peter Dale (2010). Opium, the CIA, and the Karzai Administration”. The Asia-Pacific Journal, volume 8, issue 14, number 5.
  13. Pearlstein, Steven (2012). “Shattering the Glass-Steagall Myth”. Washington Post.
  14. Woods, Thomas E. (2009). Meltdown. Regnery. p. 46.
  15. Stockman, David A. (2013). The Great Deformation: the Corruption of Capitalism in America. PublicAffairs. p. 9.
  16. Von Mises, Ludwig (1944). Bureaucracy. Yale University Press. p. 40.
  17. Courtois, Stéphane, et al (1999). The Black Book of Communism. Harvard University Press. (Mark Kramer and Jonathan Murphy, trans.)
  18. Jefferson, Thomas (1798). The Kentucky Resolutions of 1798.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Rothbard, Murray N. (1982). The Ethics of Liberty. Humanities Press. p. 113–4.
  21. Foss, Paul-Martin (2016). “Today in 1971: President Nixon Closes the Gold Window”. Retrieved from http://www.mises.org
  22. Chiles, Nick (2014). “7 Ways the War on Poverty Destroyed Black Fatherhood”. Atlanta Black Star.
  23. Saunders, Frances S. (1995). Modern Art was CIA ‘weapon.’ Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk
  24. Roosevelt, Theodore (1901). State of the Union address.
  25. Bastiat, Frédéric (1850). The Law (Dean Russell, trans.).

Book Review: The New Wealth of Nations

The New Wealth of Nations is a book about the decline of world poverty by Indian economist Surjit S. Bhalla. The book explores the role of education in bringing this about, the failures of current measures of inequality, and possible changes to government welfare programs to accommodate changing conditions.

The opening chapter considers the accelerated growth of the third world relative to advanced economies in recent decades. Bhalla posits greater equality in education as the cause, making the case through much of the rest of the book. His near-obsession with equality between the sexes and belief in its unalloyed goodness begins here and becomes tedious as the book goes on. His list of supposed benefits of the globalization demonstrate a thoroughly liberal worldview. Bhalla closes the chapter by introducing the topics that will be covered in most of the following chapters.

Chapter 2 deals with the impacts of the equalizing of education around the world. Bhalla cites data showing that since 1980, growth in developing countries has outpaced growth in the West. He notes that crediting globalization for all of the 700 percent growth in the incomes of poor people in China and India would be fallacious, but waits until the next chapter to deal with other explanations. He views Brexit and Trump as mostly a backlash against falling Western growth, partly racially motivated, and the latter partly due to Clinton’s incompetence as a candidate, which is more or less correct. Bhalla ends the chapter by framing globalization as good in Rawlsian terms, which also works against his case if one rejects Rawls’ conception of government policy ethics.

The third chapter examines economic history from 1500 to 2016, with projections to 2030. Bhalla relies heavily on the estimates of Angus Maddison, which are highly questionable even by Maddison’s own admission.[1,2] Bhalla outlines his methodology for the rest of the book, and problems here explain most of what is misguided going forward. He makes much of the Gini coefficient, which has its own set of faults. He contemplates why poor countries are poor, looking to industrialization, commodity trading, and colonialism, finally settling on lack of education. Never does the possibility of genetic differences in intelligence between ethnic groups cross Bhalla’s mind, as this would call into question his “natural experiment” of comparing Latin America to Africa and Asia in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The chapter finishes on a tangent about spread of democracy, which Bhalla treats as political freedom and an absolute good rather than a source of perverse incentives.

The advancement of China and India is the subject of the fourth chapter. Bhalla looks at the role of education in the rapid improvement of both countries in recent decades, as well as the relative lack of education during the previous five centuries. When discussing Chinese history, he presents as fact the 1421 hypothesis of Chinese discovery of the Americas, which is rejected as pseudohistory by historians.[3] He considers the similarities of China and India through the centuries, as well as their recent divergence, largely attributable to when each started economic reforms that freed their markets. At the end of the chapter are graphs showing the distribution of the middle class and of income throughout the world since 1950.

Chapter 5 deals with the connection between education and income more explicitly. While this explanation is tempting, Bhalla commits the glaring fallacy of equating education with years of schooling, neglecting self-education, on-the-job training, and the substitution of authentic learning with indoctrination. He notes the decline in fertility that accompanies increased education, but only considers this in r/K terms. Genetic quality of children in terms of age of the mother go unaddressed, as does the role of Enlightenment values. As for demographic shifts, Bhalla notices that in earlier times, the poorest and least-educated could not manage to migrate to the United States. That this is no longer the case is frequently overlooked by commentators, including Bhalla himself, who equates “open door” policies with “enlightenment”. Surprisingly, he mentions the higher average intelligence of Jews, attributing it to the need to be able to read the Torah and the fact that education is not left behind when fleeing persecution. This is contrasted with Hindu Brahmins, who did their best to keep their religious mysteries to themselves. The next chapter continues exploring income and education. Bhalla cites and critiques the findings of Oxfam and Credit Suisse on income inequality. He explains how the metric of Purchasing Power Parity functions. His great ambition for this chapter, that of estimating the wealth in education, suffers from the faults of equating education with schooling and using the Gini coefficient. He further assumes that the ultimate value of present schooling can be known in advance, and that PPP will reflect this.

The seventh chapter considers the implications of an expanding supply of skilled labor. Bhalla explains stagnant wages in the West in terms of an excess of college graduates, but fails to explain this as the government-created problem that it is. When discussing inflation, he points out that food and fuel are excluded from official measures of inflation and explains that this is because monetary policy cannot affect their prices as it affects other prices. He correctly criticizes the Keynesian Phillips Curve and several other schools of thought, as well as the blunders of US Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, but makes no mention of the Austrian School or the role of the Nixon Shock in causing inflation. But rather than propose less state intervention, Bhalla proposes more by looking ahead to basic income guarantees (Chapter 10).

Chapter 8 explores the role of women in a changing economy. Bhalla asserts without evidence that “there is no reason to think that men and women have different average abilities for the same education level”, ignoring both contrary evidence from neuroscience and the role of standard deviation, which is larger for men.[4] This leads him to blame “misogyny” for the relative absence of women in corporate board positions. Returning to the fertility decline, he suggests that the threat of population explosion of third-worlders flooding Western countries is overblown, as their fertility should decline as education increases there. However, his prediction that populations will reproduce below replacement levels is still worrisome in terms of protecting genetic stock and ethnic integrity. His contention that hiring men at greater cost than hiring women is irrational presumes no values beyond economic efficiency, but he does correctly explain away the myth of the wage gap. Bhalla closes by predicting a social revolution as women are on track to become the major breadwinners, but presents this with unfounded excitement.

The ninth chapter expands on the theme of equality. Bhalla correctly faults the establishment concern over world income inequality, given that by their own measurements it is already decreasing. He explains the work of Simon Kuznets on wealth inequality over time, showing that his model failed because it did not account for growth in education. He then discusses inequality in the US, UK, and China, comparing them to the rest of the world. The final three pages show graphs of income distribution across the West, the rest of the world, and the entire world.

Chapter 10 considers the likely changes to state welfare programs. Bhalla notes the decades-long policy discussions about poverty, then correctly criticizes the poverty industry for the make-work scam for bureaucrats and intellectuals that it is. He relays a personal experience of his own work going unpublished because the reality he found does not fit the party line. He introduces the reader to the Human Development Index (HDI), an alternative to GDP per capita for measuring well-being, then shows the strong correlation between poverty and illiteracy. Bhalla uses the examples of China and India to demonstrate faults in the World Bank’s methodology concerning poverty measurement. He ends by discussing what Mencius Moldbug has termed the Dire Problem (Bhalla does not use the term); the emerging economy will produce large-scale unemployment as automation takes away old jobs and does not produce enough new jobs. Universal basic income and negative income taxes are discussed as options, with the former being criticized.

In the eleventh chapter, Bhalla makes the case that education drives the middle class, explaining its relative size in different places and times. He considers several historical definitions of the middle class, most of which ultimately refer to private property owners. He comes to the empirical results that the middle class starts with the poverty line in advanced economies and ends at ten times that amount, with the poor and the rich being outside of this range on each side. Bhalla’s description of class dynamics is mostly accurate, though like any liberal thinker, he views the growth of democracy that tends to follow growth of the middle class as an inevitable and positive mark of progress. This makes the table included in this chapter rather puzzling. Of countries that have experienced accelerated growth since 1960, the highest per capita incomes are found in Singapore and Chile, both of which had lengthy periods of non-democratic rule.

The changes that expanded education brings to the elite are the subject of Chapter 12. Bhalla correctly points out the survival ability of traditional elites, but neglects the damage done to them in communist and socialist uprisings such as the Russian Revolution. But his predictions for changes in the nature of the elite do not go far enough, though correctly tumultuous they are; a highly educated demos is likely to think more of localism and anarchism than of democracy or populism, as they will see no need for expert rulers above them.

The final chapter begins with a brief note about the Trump presidency, in which Bhalla argues that immigration restrictions cannot raise American wages. This is correct but irrelevant, as the motivation of many Trump supporters is to protect their sense of culture and ethnicity. He then looks to the people left behind; the Charlottesville marchers in the United States and the cow vigilantes in India. Bhalla misunderstands their plight, arguing that a basic income will cure their antisocial behavior, when a handout will do nothing for their sense of dignity or for their lack of investment in society. This plan also reeks of appeasement, which has an extremely poor track record of stopping hostile people. The book ends on an error that is present throughout: the equation of progress with Mother Nature, when Bhalla’s feminized Gnon frequently represents the unnatural aberrations of modernity.

Overall, the book presents an interesting set of arguments, but there are simply too many fallacies and gaps in Bhalla’s reasoning and empirics for one to regard the case as proven. That being said, the book is still valuable on a secondary level for correctly rebutting many establishment positions on economic issues.

Rating: 3/5

References:

  1. Datta, Saugato, ed. (2011) Economics: making sense of the Modern Economy. John Wiley & Sons.
  2. Maddison, Angus (2007). Contours of the world economy 1-2030 AD: Essays in macro-economic history. Oxford University Press.
  3. Fritze, Ronald H. (2011). Invented Knowledge: False History, Fake Science and Pseudo-religions (Reprint ed.). Reaktion Books. p. 12, 19.
  4. Wai, Jonathan; Cacchio, Megan; Putallaz, Martha; Makel, Matthew C. (2010). “Sex differences in the right tail of cognitive abilities: A 30year examination”. Intelligence. 38 (4): 412–423.

The Producerist Theory of Society and Civilization

Producerism is a unique view of political and social philosophy. To completely understand this theory, we first have to establish how ideologies are constructed. For any ideology, it is important that there is a base value. There must be some value-judgment above all other value-judgments. (There are two other key requirements for a set of ideas to be an ideology, but we will deal with them later.)

For libertarianism I have identified the base value as efficiency. When presented with a choice between the value of liberty and the value of efficiency, most libertarians will choose efficiency. This value of efficiency is not necessarily the creation of the best possible GDP, but rather preventing unnecessary waste and striving towards goals in the best possible manner. On an individual level, efficiency means organizing one’s life so as to create the best path between a person and his goals.

This is why mainstream libertarians mostly advocate for liberty due to its efficiency. There has never been a libertarian who thinks that liberty is less efficient than the lack of it. The closest we get to this are those with immense classical anarchist influences, but their significance is constantly being reduced. One could also say that Rothbard valued liberty as self-ownership more than he valued efficiency, but his political action demonstrates otherwise. He was quite willing to ally with people who did not see liberty as the most valuable goal as long as he viewed them as the most expedient way to reach a particular goal. Even Walter Block, who frequently makes moral arguments for traditionally immoral behavior, supports libertarianism in large part because of purely economic reasons. His support of philosophical libertarianism has always taken a backseat to economic libertarianism. (In this context, we are speaking about Austrian economics and not neo-liberal economics; the Austrian School cares less about maximizing monetary value and more about individuals striving towards any goal that they value.)

Libertarians may claim that their key value is liberty, but if liberty brought universal misery, decay, and poverty, they would be the first to abandon their current ideal. We can see this in practice, as most people who abandon libertarianism slingshot toward the most authoritarian version of their new persuasion, whether they become Stalinists or national socialists (or even both). However, in reality, we know that liberty brings the most efficient form of organization. This does not mean that it is simple to establish a regime of liberty, but simply that people best achieve their chosen goals when they are given the freedom to do so.

Socialists, on the other hand, value equality above all other values. To a libertarian this seems odd; equality is inefficient and thus useless. But the socialist would rather have everyone equally poor than some unequally rich. However, the American socialist still functions within classical liberal cultural assumptions. The American people value efficiency far more than most other cultures. This means that American socialists will also constantly appeal to efficiency, but they do so to justify socialism as they do not actually value this efficiency.

Both of these values are ultimately arbitrary; there is nothing that makes efficiency objectively correct or that makes equality objectively desirable. The necessity to construct an ideology from principles that approach objectivity is thus clear. We cannot see the world without ideology; the best we can do is to switch the lenses of ideology so fast that it becomes unnoticeable. The only solution to this is producerism.

And finally, let us mention the other two key components for ideologies. One can be described as the secondary value or end goal, one that backs up the base value. For libertarianism, this would be property. For the libertarian, the moral value of efficiency should ultimately create a regime of full property ownership. The other is the method of analysis employed by different ideologies. This is a key part that differentiates left- and right-libertarians. Left-libertarians tend to focus on materialism and empirical data, while right-libertarians tend to be more concerned with rational systems and the results of applying moral principles.

Producerism 101

Let us begin with Ayn Rand. Rand posited that there are ultimately only two forms of value. One can either be dead or alive. One can prefer death, or one can prefer life. One can discount the possibility of valuing death, as all sane people will always value life, at least to a degree. The only section of the population that does not value life are the insane, or in the politically correct vernacular, mentally ill people. Thus, valuing life is the closest we get to an objective value. This means that the fundamental value for producerism is life. But life does not exist in a void, there needs to be production to facilitate life.

Producerism, as a term, is not a unique one. It is associated with the populist right and their focus on traditional middle-class values. Producerism mostly aligns with the same values. But for producerism to be a useful philosophy, it must be properly contextualized. First, we need to apply producerism to individual lives. This lies outside the broad apolitical theory that producerism signifies, but is still a useful application. The first step of this would be to categorize humans into two groups. The first is people who live to produce; the second is people who live to destroy. This can also help us understand what degeneracy means on an individual basis. Those who live towards destruction can be properly categorized as degenerates and maladjusts. Living for destruction is an ontological conflict.

Life, by its very nature is productive insofar as it exists to self-improve and self-perpetuate. This means that those humans who do not use their lives to produce anything are inherently misusing their life. But this does not mean that each unproductive or destructive action must be necessarily evil or wrong. We can all strive towards the saintly ideal of perfect production, life with no destructive vice. But this metric cannot be applied to most people. Someone who constantly engages in vice might make up for it by creating something that leaves such a positive impact as to compensate for his vice.

This fits well into my theory of privatizing society. Many people in the Outer Right signal their supposed ideal that all vice needs to be violently eliminated, but this is not necessarily the case. It is true that those who live for destruction can only be described as living in a cancerous state, but all vice does not inherently cause a person to live for destruction. When society is fully privatized in a perfect manner, exclusion becomes a matter of removing those who live for destruction. This is because all people in a society lose value when sharing a society with those who abuse that society, and society itself is a scarce good that retains value.

The individual application of producerism is far less important when contrasted with the apolitical application, and producerism is thoroughly apolitical. It can be seen as a political philosophy that is entirely focused on functioning outside politics. This is necessary because of the mutual co-dependence of society and civilization. Society is the nexus of values; when values are shared across a society, it creates a civilization. For example, when Peter feels that red is the most beautiful color, he is doing so within a society. If others follow Peter’s judgment of red as being inherently beautiful, the beauty of red becomes a part of that civilization. For instance, in the Russian language, the word for red is almost the same as the word for beautiful because of that attitude. Conversely, if a culture is based on the concept that work is a virtue in itself, most individuals will be driven to work. And if work is in reality a virtue, the culture drives most people to virtue. However, if a culture has a core value of egalitarianism, it drives most people to seek equality. This is unimaginably destructive, since equality will cause fundamental damage to a social order.

There is a feedback loop between creating civilizational values and having an established set of civilizational values. The better a civilization becomes, the more civilizing forces there will be. This requires an inherent degree of separation when we try to improve society and civilization. If we are to improve civilization at the cost of society or vice versa, we will ultimately find ourselves damaging both.

This makes a lack of specialization in these fields untenable. We can only improve civilization by only improving that civilization; the same is true for society. This is because a person who is trying to improve both at once will have to engage in trade-offs. For example, if an artist is also trying to be a social activist, he has to either sacrifice the values in his art and create a lesser overall product, or give up art altogether for the sake of being a social activist. However, if an artist tacitly ingrains his values into his art, he can create masterpieces that also spread his values. Classical masters did not imbue their art with the politics of their time, but their art still makes a significant statement. But this has an important corollary: if we improve one of the two, we improve both. And if we can improve both from the inside, we can create a productive spiral towards an ideal.

Practical Application

Instead of trying to get a firm grasp on the political apparatus, we ought to improve that which we can improve. Trying to do both at once will always lead to having to make sacrifices which are ultimately destructive. If one is blessed with a sociable nature, the best one can do is to create connections, lead people towards an ideal of connectedness, and imbue individuals with a higher regard for production. But if that person is instead talented in the arts, it is in his power to change the landscape in which aesthetic values are conceptualized to make people embrace that which is good.

However, destructivism is a similarly powerful strategy, with the important aspect that one is able to destroy both society and civilization at the same time. But when there is an agent that has acquired a controlling position over civilization and society, trade-offs are inevitable. And when one sacrifices civilization or society for the sake of building the other, the result will be a decay in both.We can look at Communist Russia and late 19th-century America as examples of this tendency. In Russia, the Bolsheviks seized the power over both art and interpersonal relationships. The art that the communist state created was created solely to promote the communist regime and philosophy. The social control of the communists created decay in relationships between family members or friends because communism is fundamentally an anti-social system. This further reinforced the destruction of civilizational values.

During the Progressive Era in the United States, the government increasingly got involved in both society and civilization, trying to improve both simultaneously. One such measure was the progressive school system, which was designed to get competitive young members of society locked up in schools for economic reasons and prevent the perceived social ills of idle young men. Furthermore, it was adapted from the Prussian school system, which was designed to further the power of the military. The school system was ultimately a perceived measure of improving society, but it sacrificed various civilizational values. It was an institution that was against efficient economic organization, strong familial relations, and individual growth and responsibility. Due to these values not being instilled in children, we have seen even worse social ills erupt.

Another example is Prohibition, which attempted to promote civilizational values such as temperance. To do so, the government sacrificed the social values of interpersonal trade and bonding over drinks. The result of this was a giant growth of black markets and an environment of alcohol consumption that was less inclined toward bonding. This era ended with civilizational values breaking down in a gang war between the state and various organized crime factions. In all of these circumstances, we can see how trying to use trade-offs for producing virtue results in adverse effects for both society and civilization.

Increasing this tendency is easy, but most people do not hate life and as such will not try to destroy these values. Most of this destruction is incidental and created out of incompetence. This leads us to the necessity of determining what increases production and how we can increase it. There are two methods for increasing the production of values. The first is improving the amount of productive social relations. It has been proven that people with productive social relationships are more successful, happier, and generally better off. This is integral towards creating civilization and maintaining a societal order. However, destructive social relationships have the exact opposite effect. One can improve social relationships by encouraging people to join organized religion or any other kind of virtuous community. No matter one’s religious views, religion has always been an effective way for people to find community and values.

The other possibility for improving a civilizational order is to increase the quality of the relations between people. The best way to do this is to remove all state influence. When every interaction has people looking down the barrel of an implicit gun, interactions will necessarily deteriorate. When people are allowed to peacefully interact without being restricted by force, those interactions will always have better outcomes in the long run. A spontaneous order is desirable if people are to enjoy a higher quality of life and a more consistent morality. Improving the human condition is dependent on whether or not people are restricted by aggressive force.

Leaving people free of state restriction also leaves them free to live for destruction, but this possibility is irrelevant. Most people have a far better understanding of how to live for production than the state does. Restrictions on people’s activities by a central agency with interests mainly in the proliferation of its own power will only tend to aid the state. Thus, it is vital to understand that the state is not a desirable source for preventing destructive behavior in individual people. Furthermore, we cannot only conceptualize society as that which does not bring profits. Organizations created for the purpose of profit are an integral part of society. If people have a greater freedom to seek profit without using aggressive violence, the generated wealth will greatly allow for producing that particular value.

The other side of the coin is that which is good for civilization. It is far easier to discover these values. To sustain a civilization, it is necessary to always value rationality above irrationality. Although rational judgment cannot solve all issues, it will allow for civilization to exist. Civilization will also need to value the concept of the individual; without doing so, envy alongside other ills will destroy that civilization. This does not require a worship of the individual, but rather the simple distinction between unique actions of unique people.

Occidental and Oriental Civilizations

To go farther, we need to find particular values that help civilizations prosper. This leads us to a rational conclusion of analyzing the values of the Far East and the Occident, as those two areas have created the most successful civilizations throughout history. The most counter-intuitive thing we can find from the Occident is the concept of a gynocentric patriarchy, a society in which the men traditionally have the ultimate power, but only as trustees. And although women cannot physically overpower men, the strong sense of honor has prevented men from tolerating harm against women. We can view this as a market trade between Western women and men. Men have the responsibility of protecting their women from all harm, and in exchange they can exercise the power necessary to do so.

This is reflected in the differences of mate choice between different cultures. The West is unique in that it is the only culture that has allowed women the ability to discriminate between mates, and this is necessary for the advancement of the genetic stock. When men are able to exercise mate choice, they will do so recklessly, as they have no consequence for it. We can see this play out with the massive amount of inbreeding in various patriarchal systems. Women have a far greater need for responsibility, as they suffer the entire ordeal of pregnancy and childbirth. Furthermore, women can have a limited amount of children while men can procreate endlessly. This leads women to more rationally appropriate the value of the ability to bear children, which is a scarce resource, to the best-suited men.

We can see that civilizations that deny this tend to have a greater proclivity towards in-breeding and dysgenics. The African and Islamic nations, which have the greatest degree of patriarchy while giving women the least autonomy, are more inbred, have lower IQ averages, and have barely accumulated sustainable wealth. The current prosperity of the Middle East was entirely created before the CIA-backed Islamist revival, and is only sustained by profiting off their vast abundance of natural resources. This can allow for a proper view of patriarchy. The concern is that female dominance would promote a form of polygamy in which the best men find themselves with the most women. But the nature of pair-bonding makes this concern fairly irrelevant; most people simply do not prefer to be in polygamous relationships. Furthermore, we can see improper patriarchies practice polygamy for the power-elite, which is incredibly dysgenic. State power is not allocated through rational means; rather, it is obtained by chance, demagoguery, or violence. This means that those who wield state power are not selected for good genetics, and practicing polygamy for a meritless group prevents those of actually good genetic stock from finding mates.

Another important value in the Far East and Occident is a general merchant culture. This may seem strange to the far-right, but the West and Far East have always had respect for the craft of trade. This is visible from guilds in the West to craftsmanship in the East. Furthermore, these are the only cultures that view the customer as the object of trade. In other nations, we see the seller being defined as the primary benefactor from trade where the customer only facilitates the profits of the one selling goods. This also lead the West to accept the industrial bourgeoisie, who were able to bring a healthy mode of free market production. This lasted until the 20th century, when the influence of the state defeated the instrumental power of relatively unhindered trade.

As for the religions of the West and the Far East, they tend to be quiet religions focused on cultivating virtue instead of trying to achieve concrete results. We can characterize this as a sort of trust in the metaphysical order, while other religions are concerned with manipulating it. This forms a sacral realism in which the consequences of reality are accepted to be imbued with will that leads to justice. The apex of this could be seen in the Christian view of Providence, where God looks over and maintains the entire order of the universe. Thus, each Christian can always resort to Providence and trust in reality itself. This is also reflected in the Shinto view of each object being imbued with a spirit. This is insofar as inactivity is not promoted under the auspice that all conflicts will eventually be righteously solved by God.

An additional value that allows the Occident to sustain its civilization is that of absolute honesty. Deceit is a fairly unique vice in the Western tradition. Many other cultures do not place moral significance to lying; we can see this from various experiments and from the fact that corruption is endemic to geographical regions. To understand the importance of honesty, we can take inspiration from propertarianism and its concept of testimonialism. Concisely put, testimonialism is the belief that we gain our knowledge from testimony; that is, we trust that other people represent reality correctly. This is an interesting exercise in epistemology, but even more interesting when practically applied. The Western notion of the militia has historically been able to unite the testimony of a large section of the male population in order to achieve the goals of that population. Another aspect of this is the fact that Western people respect the division of labor; they trust others to do honest work only from the testimony of the people who do that work.

Responsibility and Accountability

Responsibility itself is unknown in many cultures outside the Occident-Orient spectrum. Personal accountability is a fundamental requirement for a group of people to be able to produce any sort of society. Having responsibility as a fundamental value is also necessary to sustain a reproductive order. We can see what happens otherwise in African-American communities which struggle with single motherhood and the harmful effects thereof. This is not to say that this is a necessary part of the African-American culture, nor to dismiss the effect of the welfare state on responsibility. But promiscuity is not the only bad effect of a lack of responsibility.

To further analyze responsibility, we need to split it in two. First, there is individual responsibility. Each individual needs to internalize the costs of all of his actions; causing other people harm is unethical and rightfully scorned. When all costs are internalized, the social order is only met with the benefits of individual action and is always improving. Second, there is social responsibility. This is the responsibility a person feels towards his family, community, tribe, thede, and nation. Social responsibility aids in having each person work towards the betterment of his own environment and not only of himself. We can see this in the concept of respecting the environment, which is rarely a part of government policy in Africa, the Middle East, or Asia.

The concept of responsibility is also integrated with merchant culture. Since each person has their craft and their niche in the division of labor, each person can never get more out of the market than they put in without facing scorn. This creates the economic growth we see in Western and Eastern societies. Each person who gets more out of the marketplace than they put in is seen as a thief. This is reflected in law, as fraud is considered one of the worst nonviolent crimes people can commit, sometimes even judged more harshly than overt theft.

Conclusion

The fact that producerists aim to create the most production does not mean that those who are not producerists may want to create less life. However, as each non-producerist does not take life itself as the ultimate goal, they will always be less efficient in producing the values necessary for life. Lastly, it would be impossible to catalogue all values that create life in a single article. However, these values are truly endless, not in that any value can be a fundamental building block of civilization, but rather that everything that goes into building civilization is too complex to simplify to a limited number of values. The task of dissecting various cultures and analyzing values that help nations flourish is an immense and valuable field of research.