The Not-So-Current Year: 2018 In Review

Though the specific demarcation of the passage from one year into another is a rather arbitrary social construct, it does provide a useful annual period for self-examination and remembrance. Now that 2018 has entered the history books, let us take a look back at a year’s worth of essays and review the not-so-current year.

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

Benjamin Welton and I began 2018 by addressing some leftover matters from the end of 2017. He explored the quick decline of Nepal from monarchy to democracy to communism in less than a generation, while I responded to a thoroughly misguided attack by Bill Wirtz on Hans-Hermann Hoppe and other right-libertarians.

The left’s warfare on language and the dangerous potential thereof is important to understand. I began exploring this phenomenon by examining common shortcomings among leftist popular authors, looking for the origins of their follies, and showing how these factors can cause a civil war if left unaddressed. In a follow-up essay, I contemplated how the innovation of language becomes stunted and weaponized in political struggles, as well as what may be done to counter such tendencies.

Book reviews have long been a part of my intellectual output, and 2018 was no different. I read and reviewed less books than in 2017, which included Robert Taylor’s Reactionary Liberty, Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus, Surjit S. Bhalla’s The New Wealth of Nations, James Ledbetter’s One Nation Under Gold, and Insula Qui’s Anarcho-Monarchism.

I began a new series called “Agreeing With Statists For The Wrong Reasons”, in which I consider how government policies which seem terrible at face value can be exploited to achieve liberty and/or undermine statist goals. This was loosely inspired by Morrakiu’s series “Agreeing With Liberals For The Wrong Reasons”, in which he showed how progressives unwittingly help the alt-right. The subjects covered in this series in 2018 included cryptocurrency bans, conscription, anti-discrimination laws, minimum wage, and impeaching Donald Trump. More episodes will come next year.

Insula Qui presented a grand project called “On Libertarianism and Statecraft” to lead into her book Anarcho-Monarchism. The introduction discusses other schools of thought and makes the case for why a libertarian theory of statecraft is necessary. Part I explains the folly of political activism. Part II explores the implications of property rights in a libertarian social order. Part III deals with the differences between states and governments, as well as the basics of private defense. Part IV explains the necessity of governance, what form it might take, and who will govern. Part V considers the effect that trust levels in society may have on the form of a libertarian social order. Part VI explores the relationship between authority and liberty. Part VII uses social contract theory to expand libertarian philosophy. Part VIII considers the nature of the natural elite. Part IX explores the role of trust in society. Part X examines the role of time preference in forming a libertarian social order. Part XI considers the role of externalities that go beyond strictly material concerns. Part XII explains how greed is frequently overrated by libertarians. The series may or may not have more entries.

In 2017, I argued that the United States debt ceiling should be eliminated. However, the debt ceiling is only part of the problem. Another part is the practice known as a government shutdown, and I argued that this practice should also be ended.

On March 9, right-wing activists Martin Sellner and Brittany Pettibone were detained and deported while attempting to enter the United Kingdom to give speeches and interview other rightist personalities. A similar fate also befell Lauren Southern on March 12. I wrote a list of observations about these events.

Following the Parkland shooting, a student movement to restrict access to firearms became prominent. I deconstructed this effort to show how it is orchestrated by the political establishment using tactics common to other such movements.

My glossary of social justice warrior terminology is the most popular article ever posted at Zeroth Position. After two years of continued craziness from radical leftists, I decided to revise and expand it to create a second edition. This is likely to need continual updating, and two years is a proper amount of time between editions, so look for the third edition in 2020.

I began an article series called “The Color Theory of Conflict”, in which I attempted to provide a grand unified theory of conflict. Part I defines the various colors and defends those definitions against likely objections. This was unfortunately put on the back burner, but more parts will come next year.

In human discourse, logical fallacies are quite common. But when opposition to these fallacies goes too far, further fallacies and sub-optimal behaviors can result. I examined the most common examples of this behavior in an effort to counter such second-order problems.

Sometimes, the lens of examination is best turned inward to correct one’s own missteps. Such was the case for an article I wrote in 2017 about the concept of degeneracy, so I published a revision in which I considered the possibility that civilization can be degenerate.

Welton returned with a case that American intervention in Syria is not only not right; it is not even wrong.

My poetic side suddenly came out in May, resulting in song lyrics critical of elected politicians in general. It resurfaced in September with song lyrics about Bitcoin, in November with an anti-election song, and in December with a Bitcoin Christmas song.

Libertarians have mixed views about capital punishment, but no one else seems to have considered the value of forming communal bonds by working together to execute the worst offenders. I did this at great length through the lens of ritual magick. Later, I used the problem of pedophilia among Catholic clergy to consider the limits of capital punishment, and found that there is a strong case for executing child molesters.

Welton offered an excellent history of the rise and fall of the Boy Scouts, along with the characteristics that a replacement organization should have in order to prevent a similar leftist takeover.

Doxxing has long been a problem in political circles, but it became worse in 2018. I reasoned through the limits of its acceptable use, then proposed a comprehensive solution for reining it in to those limits.

Since the beginning of recorded history, a teleological element has been present in historical narratives. I argued against this practice, promoting instead an agnostic historiography.

An incident on cable news over Trump’s immigration policies provided an opportunity for examining useful tactics for making leftists look more unhinged than usual. I showed how Corey Lewandowski’s treatment of Zac Petkanas was a master class in this regard.

I attempted to find the ideal amount of force that a civilization should use to maintain itself, coming to the conclusion that, contrary to mainstream liberalism and libertarianism, the bare minimum is not ideal.

Welton took on an important issue that has long been waiting for a proper reactionary response: the undue reverence given to the Magna Carta by liberals of all stripes.

In 2017, I argued the case for reining in censorious technology giants by threatening the revocation of their incorporation. I followed this up with an argument against the corporate form itself as a creature of statism that would almost certainly not exist in a free society. Continued problems with corporate censorship that touched me personally led me to formulate a holistic approach to solving the problem.

Qui returned with a thorough survey of the producerist school of thought, which has both significant overlap with and significant difference from libertarianism.

On July 23, Social Matter published an article by Mark Christensen in which he argued that conservatives should favor larger government. I welcomed Darien Sumner, the fourth additional writer at Zeroth Position, in August to rebut Christensen’s arguments point-by-point. A September 25 article by Henry Olson that criticized libertarianism from the right merited a more measured response.

Welton and I figured that if libertarians and rightists are going to be slandered as fascists and Nazis no matter what, then we have nothing to lose by examining real Nazis and seeing what can be learned from their example. The result was an excellent piece on the rise and fall of the Sturmabteilung (SA).

The Walking Dead comic series and the television show based on it contain many themes which are of interest to the student of libertarian philosophy and reactionary thought. I explored the many ways in which Negan’s group resembles a state apparatus, as well as what one can learn from those who resist his rule and ultimately overthrow him. The third part was released in 2018, covering the second half of Season 7. The fourth and fifth parts, covering Season 8, were planned for 2018 but will instead appear in early 2019.

In 2016, I wrote a guide to political autism as it pertains to libertarian commentators. I followed up that effort with a similar overview of autistic conservatism.

On September 4–7, the United States Senate held hearings on the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court to replace outgoing Justice Anthony Kennedy. I wrote a list of observations on the events. After Democrats launched an unprecedented smear campaign, I wrote another list of observations.

Nathan Dempsey returned after an 11-month hiatus to begin a quarterly series of updates on his Liberty Minecraft project, the first of which ran on October 24.

Clashes between different strains of political universalism, as well as proselytization into territories ruled by non-universalist governance structures, led to the unprecedented losses of life and property in wars and genocides during the 20th century, and is capable of doing much more damage going forward. I examined the history and practice of universalism, its pathway to genocide, and what libertarians may do about it in a sweeping essay.

Welton offered a history of imperialism and colonialism, considering the bad name it has unjustly acquired, the joint-stock and free state models, and how colonialism might be used to create a libertarian social order.

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

My final think piece of the year will continue into 2019, but the first part offers a detailed explanation of the concept of immaterial technology.

All in all, it was an interesting year full of occasions to make sharp libertarian and reactionary arguments. May 2019 bring more and better!

Book Review: Anarcho-Monarchism

Anarcho-Monarchism is a collection of 30 essays by libertarian author Insula Qui. The book explores various issues from a libertarian reactionary perspective, all of which factor into a synthesis of anarchy and monarchy.

The introduction sets out the purpose of the book, which is to synthesize liberty and authority in such a way as to avoid the apparent contradictions in doing so. According to Qui, this is done through careful nuance. She recommends an alternate order in which one may read the book, but this is only necessary for those unfamiliar with any libertarian reactionary thought. She includes here a disclaimer that the work is not professionally edited, which unfortunately is more glaringly obvious than in her previous book.

In What is Anarcho-Monarchism?, Qui offers an extended introduction. She proposes that the non-aggression principle is necessary but not sufficient, and that property rights will lead to natural hierarchies that culminate in monarchs. These monarchs are different from the absolute rulers of history, in that they rule based on merit and ability rather than coercion.

The Contradiction of Freedom explores the limitations of freedom as pertains to the mutual incompatibility of each person being free to do as one will, which naturally leads to people violating each other’s freedoms. The differing conceptions of freedom offered by competing political ideologies motivate further conflicts in this regard. She summarizes these conditions thus:

“To fight for freedom qua freedom is to fight for other people to be able to impose their vision of freedom onto you. To fight for freedom is simply to fight for the dominance of an unspecified party, and as such if you fight for freedom you fight for subjugation. However, there is still the slight hope that you will be the one doing the subjugating.”[1]

She resolves this problem by advocating as a pragmatic matter that there must be a pursuit of autonomy to avoid needless conflicts in which people seek to impose their vision of freedom upon everyone else. Qui concludes the essay by denouncing the egoism of Max Stirner as the worst combination of freedom and autonomy.

In The Final Arbiter, Qui deals with the problem of final resolution of disputes. She considers various possibilities for how such a final arbiter may exist outside of a monopolistic legal system. Unfortunately, she accepts the opponent’s framing of the question and spends all of her effort in trying to answer it rather than rejecting the concept of a final arbiter as either nonsensical (in that no person or institution can absolutely guarantee that any issue will be resolved forever with no possibility of review) or guaranteed by nature (the dead cannot dispute and every person eventually dies, so the Grim Reaper is the final arbiter).

The fourth essay is The Centralization of Defence, and it argues against the contention of Robert Nozick and others that market anarchy would eventually be undone by centralization of defense agencies leading to the re-establishment of states. Qui admits the advantages of centralizing defense, such as volume discounts and the reduction of transaction costs. But as she explains,

“[P]eople do not constantly need viable alternatives. Rather, what is necessary is the possibility of alternatives emerging.”[2]

In other words, the mere threat of competition can inspire existing companies to provide better service. But more importantly,

“[T]he system of law enforced by the agencies of defence is independent from those agencies that provide physical protection. There is no one agency that should have control over both law and force, and these industries would always be separate. If these industries are not provided by different agencies, the defence agency would become a dictator and would become what it was supposed to defend against.”[3]

The separation of law creation and law enforcement into entities that are not under the same umbrella would be absolutely necessary to avoid the tyranny of modern nation-states. Finally, there is the problem of a powerful defense agency simply conquering a territory and declaring itself a new state. Qui admits that this is possible but not certain, which while less than ideal, is better than the certainty of the current system.

Pro-War, Anti-Nation offers a strong case for the incompatibility of nationalism with warmongering, noting the dysgenic effect of sending the best men to die, the economic ruin brought by wartime destruction and production diversion, and the loss of moral foundation. Qui argues that true nationalism has been corrupted by imperialism, and restoring non-interventionist thinking is the path back to sanity. To her credit, she recognizes the possibility of restoration of martial virtues in a defensive war.

In The Necessity of Force, Qui argues against the utopian ideas of some left-libertarians who advocate a goal of universal nonviolence. She writes,

“ There will always be people who use force and there will always be people who need to respond to force with force to ensure that the original initiator of violence can be brought to justice. …If there are no people who are willing to use force to secure relative peace for people who do not want to use force, then people who are willing to use violence for personal gains would always achieve unjust outcomes for the sake of themselves.”[4]

She also demonstrates that this need not devolve into a state, as the incentive structures involved give advantages to defenders over aggressors.

Qui considers the corruption of libertarian philosophy for the purpose of appealing to leftists in Brutal Freedom. Here, she considers the flip side of full personal responsibility to its logical conclusion of social Darwinism, though she does not use the term in this essay. Though charity may mitigate brutality somewhat, Qui argues that some brutality will remain, as these charities will only help those who are willing to help themselves and just need a temporary step up.

All Men Are Created Equal is a brief essay that addresses that all too common liberal fiction. As usual,

“Definitions change and juxtaposing a modern notion with a classical one results in a misunderstanding of much thought in the classical tradition.”[5]

As such, she compares modern notions of equality with the classical liberal idea of getting rid of titles of nobility and other such birthrights. This classical idea of human biological diversity and meritocracy is contrasted with the modern idea of equality of outcome. But Qui commits an error at the end, arguing for classical equality instead of natural inequality.

Social Darwinism is given direct treatment in the ninth essay. Qui argues that far from trying to deny such an accusation, capitalists should embrace this sort of thinking. She illuminates the difference between actively killing and passively allowing death, showing expectation of survival to be a revolt against nature. But then she makes a dubious assertion:

“If a system allows people to gain unearned advantages, that system ceases to be a social darwinist [sic] one. This is because it starts to encourage parasitism and negative qualities instead of the advancement of all individuals.”[6]

Left unsaid is what constitutes an unearned advantage. There is also the problem that one does not earn one’s own genetic code, and that parasitism and other negative qualities are part of the evolutionary process. However, she correctly recognizes that a Darwinian process applies not just to who can survive, but who will occupy each station in life. She argues that social Darwinism will prevent charity from being wasted on those who will never become productive members of society, with resources instead flowing to those who prove themselves best at managing them.

In The Rule of Law, Qui briefly contemplates the impossibility of any political system securing the rule of law, as any such system places someone above the law. She argues for a separation of law and state:

“The only solution to this is to remove the managerial position when it comes to law from being legitimized by the coercive use of force and to put law on the same level as every other industry. We can have the managerial position of law be put onto the free market where each person is able to patronize the providers of law and where each person is also free to not do so. Thus the people who are in the position that is traditionally one of governance become reduced to the level of every person who is not within the system of governance. In that manner, it is possible to create a situation where there are no privileged positions and there is real equality before the law.”[7]

Of course, this raises the usual objections of the wealthiest patrons ultimately deciding the law by which enforcers they will hire for which purposes, the free rider problem, and the possibility of re-emerging states, none of which are adequately addressed in the essay.

Against Taxes is the first long essay of the book, and approaches the case against taxation in economic terms rather than the usual moral arguments. Qui uses opportunity cost, price mechanisms, the lack of market accountability of the state, the cost of collecting taxes, the cost of prosecuting tax resistance, wealth transfer from competent stewards to incompetent stewards, and the impossibility of creating a taxation scheme that does not disproportionately harm the poor to make this case. She concludes the essay by debunking the idea of public goods.

In High Trust, Qui provides an overview of various types of individualism, settling on ethical individualism as most conducive to a libertarian social order. She also considers the role of homogeneity in strengthening trust. Unlike mainstream libertarians, Qui accepts the impact of genetics:

“Due to evolutionary pressures in different ecosystems and climates, genes change in humans when they are in different areas of the world. [T]hese genes affect the culture and they create the basis for culture. Furthermore, even if a member of a genetic group comes into contact with the culture of another, they still have the genetic incentives of their original culture.”[8]

The essay concludes by explaining why high trust is important. Where Qui goes astray is with her insistence on nonviolent means of enforcing social norms; violence has almost always entered into this process and will likely continue to do so. There is also no mention of the possibility for technology to reduce the need for trust.

In Liberty, Property, Society, Qui argues against critics who accuse libertarians of being anti-social because they reject coercive institutions. Defining liberty as self-determination and explaining property as a rational method for allocating scarce resources, she concludes that this allows for social interaction to be maximized. She explains the difference between capitalism and corporatism, which critics of libertarianism (and many libertarians as well) frequently confuse. The essay concludes by exploring the reversal of the argument, that a lack of liberty and property will undermine society.

With The Family in Capitalism, Qui begins addressing the relationship between libertarianism and the far-right. She addresses the far-right contention that capitalism is anti-family. Unlike left-libertarians, many of whom view the breakdown of traditional family structures as a positive, Qui argues that the state and the corporatism it enables has done this to everyone’s detriment. She shows that both states and corporations are incentivized to destroy the family as a challenger and impediment to their power. She understands that capitalism is an amoral process; garbage inputs result in garbage production, while good inputs result in the production of virtue. The ending deals with women in the workforce, and bears quoting at length:

“[T]here is the…point that capitalism pushes women into the workforce…so there is a need for fascist economics to avoid this phenomenon. This argument has a compelling point. Capitalists are directly benefited by there being a surplus of labour to make those who own capital able to lower wages in the economy. This would eventually correct itself and, given enough time, the supply of capital would reach the demand for capital. But capitalists hold political power in an unfree market. We can say that when the capitalists hold both political and economic power, capitalism has inherent forces that destroy the family. This cannot be achieved with economic power alone. There would be no way to force women into the workforce and keep profits from increasing the size of the workforce. However, in a free market, the capitalists cannot prevent additional capital from entering the market and cannot alter the amount of labour in the economy by incentive structures.

Furthermore, it is simply profitable due to the division of labour for women to stay home and take care of the children while the father works. This is for multiple reasons, usually men earn more since they are more productive and more willing to work longer hours. Women are more apt at taking care of children and more emotionally attached to the process of child-rearing. Thus, if a couple aims to produce healthy children in a good family with enough wealth, that couple needs a division of labour that would fit the strengths of all people in the family.”[9]

The Case for Tradition argues against “libertine hedonihilism,” as Qui terms it. This is the left-libertarian view of liberty as freedom to engage in any degenerate behavior whatsoever as long as no one else is aggressed against. She argues that the family is the bedrock of society, therefore a stable libertarian order will be undermined by anything that erodes family values. She writes,

“Every society is organized along some lines, even a society with no coercive power system creates a system of exclusion, rules of interaction, and other norms to stabilize social life under the system. These social foundations may be implicit or explicit, however, they will always exist and thus we should make sure that the everpresent [sic] organizational principles result in a society that produces the best quality of life for the people involved. The libertine recoils at this statement as he firmly believes that all people should be left alone to be as degenerate as they want to be and no person should be bothered by any sort of moralism. But even the libertine must function within a society and that society will have organizational principles.”[10]

Qui explains the difference between individualism as isolation and individualism as independence. She then describes tradition thus:

“[T]radition is not to be understood as the corrupted american [sic] concept of tradition. So-called family values, military histories, and constitutions do not constitute a historical basis for organizing society. Rather, tradition is the all-encompassing concept of the cultural heritage and the knowledge of all people involved in those traditions. Tradition is the manifestation of the cultural group that created the traditions. …Simply put, tradition is the spontaneous historical order of a nation and to not respect tradition would be to not respect proper social structures.”[11]

She urges libertarians to appeal to rightists instead of leftists as a more natural fit, much as Murray Rothbard did in his 1992 essay Right-Wing Populism. She finishes the essay by thinking of tradition as a collection of best practices through the ages, which while imperfect, was good enough to bring people this far.

In Community, Tradition, Liberty, the same matters are approached from the angle of community as a mitigating factor for the degeneracy that can result if people regard themselves as atomized individuals. The role of social capital as an economic factor is also discussed, along with lower transaction costs and better economic calculation as people form tight-knit communities. She then considers the problems of implementing traditional values absent liberty.

The Two Laws of Nature begins a streak of five controversial essays, in which Qui attempts to bridge the liberty-authority divide. She describes her undertaking as follows:

“In the niche sphere of radical politics, you find two very contrasting American intellectual traditions with their own notions of what is the natural law. American white nationalists and fascists occasionally claim that the law of nature forms a brutal order of self-defence and racial animosity. Radical libertarians interpret the law of nature as something that guarantees rights to each person. I would propose a synthesis of these two laws of nature to combine them into a proper set of moral values. This could form a social order that is a combination of libertarian and extreme traditionalist-nationalist values. Furthermore, this synthesis is highly similar to classical concepts of natural law which combine both personal morality and rights.”[12]

She considers fascist ethics as being rooted in animal behavior and adapted to take account of the differences between humans and lower animals. This sets up hierarchies as the natural form of organization, while egalitarianism and democracy are revolts against nature. By contrast, Qui views libertarianism as constructed from reason, from which the non-aggression principle and private property rights emerge. But curiously, she refers to libertarian theory as “empty tautologies.” She describes her proposed synthesis thus:

“Each person ought to value their tribe, know their place in society, attempt to form a family, and defend themselves. This is not to say that each person can succeed at all of these, there are certain inherent limitations. [H]owever, these things should be required for living a perfectly moral life. The tribe does not have to be a race or a nation, the tribe would rather be the community in which you find yourself.”[13]

The next essay is National Socialism and Libertarianism, and it deals with common premises shared between libertarians and national socialists, which are commonly believed to be diametrically opposed. Qui believes these to be that society should emerge organically, opposition to parasitism, recognition that the state is an institution of force, and intolerance of communism. The manifestation of each of these differs greatly; is the parasite the state or Jewry, are parasites best removed by the market or the state, and so on. She closes with a warning:

“[I]t is very easy to become disillusioned with freedom when one realizes for which purposes freedom is used. Because there are overlaps in the general worldview of fascists and libertarians, it becomes easy to simply remove the seemingly problematic aspect of freedom that leads to various ills within libertarianism.”[14]

“However, this does not mean that libertarians are similar to fascists or that it is necessarily libertarian to intermingle with fascists.”[15]

Authoritarianism Versus Libertarianism deals head-on with the central issue of the book. Qui argues that liberty and authority are incompatible in the political realm, but can come together outside of politics. Again defining liberty as self-determination, she finds the enemy of liberty to be not authority but coercion. She writes,

“When strong command structures and a social order predicated upon a strong focus on authority can defeat coercion at large in society, then authoritarianism is more libertarian than perceivedly unauthoritarian structures. This may seem impossible. After all, when there are strong structures of command it seems like there could not be any room to exercise liberty. But this ignores human action and psychology. These strong command structures do not liberate people from command structures but rather give them the liberty to decide what they do outside authority.”[16]

This kind of liberty under authority comports well with both traditional and neoreactionary thinking. Qui also has an explanation for why this is poorly understood among libertarians:

“But the people who want to be left alone to practice their liberty are also the people who are viscerally opposed to being constrained by command structures. This means that they often overlook how these seemingly oppressive structures can actually benefit the ability to exercise control over your own life. A government that makes a few demands in a very authoritative manner should always be preferable to a government that makes many demands in a democratic manner.”[17]

She spends the remainder of the essay considering the benefits of non-coercive command structures over coercive ones as well as a lack thereof.

Qui’s flirtation with neoreaction continues in Strong and Small. Here, she argues that an ideal state exercises hegemonic control and strong political authority, but does not needlessly involve itself in every facet of society. She uses public choice theory to show that states are inclined to grow, either by becoming stronger or larger (or both). She contends that a strong state will primarily look after its own interests, while a weak state will do the bidding of various special interests. But this contention is dubious because a strong state can have special interests and factionalism internally rather than externally, leading to similar problems. Her conclusion is that a state can either function as an anarcho-tyranny (as many currently do) or as a liberal autocracy, a strong state that does very little.

Libertarianism and Fascism began as an article here at Zeroth Position, though the version in this book is significantly different. Qui compares the spectrum between libertarianism and neoliberalism that leads to left-libertarianism to the spectrum between libertarianism and fascism that can lead to a type of libertarian reaction. She provides a history of the various fascist movements, though this history is not exhaustive. Next comes an overview of fascist ideology, which Qui explains as placing the advancement of the nation above all else. Of a potential synthesis of libertarianism and fascism, she writes,

“Fascism undoubtedly preserves property more than left-wing socialism does, thus fascist sympathies cannot be construed as completely anti-libertarian. But one cannot take both nation and property as ultimate goals. This is because the conflicts between these goals would have to be solved by means of arbitrary decision. This means that libertarianism and fascism cannot be combined as ideologies because their premises are different. One may combine republicanism, minarchism, monarchism, anarcho-capitalism, etc. into a broad political movement, as the premises of these positions are sufficiently similar. But there is no way to create a big tent movement that can accurately represent the interests of both fascists and libertarians; the premises come into too much conflict.”[18]

She concludes that although fascists and libertarians are incompatible in the long-term, they can work together against common enemies by setting aside their incompatibilities to deal with common enemies.

Conversely, the lengthy essay Producerism was later adapted from this book into a Zeroth Position article. Qui’s contention that efficiency is the base value of libertarianism is questionable at best. She describes producerism (differently from most sources) as trying to increase production in general, both of material and immaterial goods. Her claim that producerism is the only metaphysically consistent form of political philosophy requires more support than is given, as she does not prove uniqueness as needed. Much of the rest of the essay repeats material from earlier in the book. This essay would have benefited greatly from exploring the dangers of overproduction as a source of degeneracy instead of containing so much repetition.

Communitarian Libertarianism deals with yet another possible synthesis between libertarianism and another school of thought. Qui blames the strategic errors of Friedrich Hayek for the top-down focus of political libertarianism, which has so far failed to convince elites to be more libertarian for entirely predictable reasons. Though she correctly notes that warfare against the state would be required for the masses to implement libertarianism, she does not contemplate the possibility of a rogue elite leading the way to liberty, as neoreaction does. Qui instead focuses on building communities as a bulwark against the leviathan state, as this is what worked in pre-modern times.

The provocatively titled The Final Solution to the Banking Question argues for a fundamental reform of banking systems. Qui begins by explaining what is wrong with contemporary banking, which essentially functions as a globalist system of debt slavery. Before proposing a solution, she describes a conflict between two sets of critics of banking:

“Our approach to banking should not be about turning a blind eye to unethical action, rather it should wholly be a method of critique and instituting a market solution to a state problem. And there are plenty of people who critique banks from an anti-market perspective. They propose different solutions as they feel that banks are unethical by nature and not by circumstance.”[19]

She provides a standard free-market defense of interest as a measure of time preference. Her proposed solution is quite similar to the Banking Act of 1933 (better known as Glass-Steagall), in that she would separate savings and loan banks from investment banks, disallowing any institution to practice both. Strangely, there is no mention of cryptocurrency and its potential to eliminate the need for banks as we know them.

Familism refers to primacy of the family rather than the individual or any larger collective. Qui argues that families cannot be separated into discrete sub-units in economic analysis, as the income and spending of the individuals is too intertwined. More broadly,

“In cultures that have not been subject to American cultural imperialism, there is often no such thing as individualism divorced from the family. In most of the world, individualism does not imply that the individual should be independent from the constraints of the family, but rather that individuals should be focused on their own family. However, due to the increasingly westernized [sic] nature of the world, this is not a commonplace meaning.”[20]

She contends that unless families consist of degenerate and/or aggressive people, alienated individualism and non-familial collectivism are less optimal than familism. According to Qui, one redefines one’s family through redefining oneself, and advancing one’s family by giving rise to the next generation is the purpose of economic action.

Neo-Feudalism explores the common ground between libertarianism and feudalism, which is quite rich despite libertarianism’s origins in anti-feudalism. Qui makes the case that a natural landed aristocracy will arise out of libertarian standards for property ownership, but the absence of coercion would allow for more turnover of incompetent landowners. Second, the defense structures of anarcho-capitalism greatly resemble that of feudal lords, but Qui again hand-waves the issue of potential re-establishment of states. Even so, the destruction wrought by modern nation-states dwarfs anything under feudalism. She also notes the benefit of using mercenaries for lessening “my country, right or wrong” sentiments.

The Case for Guilds argues that trade unions are a statist corruption of the older system of guilds, which should be reborn and adapted for the future economy. Qui highlights the issue of guilds being run by the best in their line of work, while unions are run by the best at rent-seeking. The means by which guilds ensure quality in ways that unions, trade schools, and universities do not are also discussed.

In Greatness, Qui contemplates the conflict between modernity and potential for excellence. She blames the Enlightenment for abandoning the virtues of previous eras:

“Rationalism became replaced by populism, religious tolerance became replaced by institutional secularism, human advancement became replaced by anti-traditionalism, and an opposition to absolute and tyrannical monarchs became an opposition to monarchy. This was not helped by the opponents of the enlightenment [sic] as they were not staunch traditionalists, but rather simply anti-rationalists and similarly opposed to greatness. They only helped create the monsters of the enlightenment and the popular philosophy that started the downfall of the world.”[21]

This assessment of the Counter-Enlightenment is only partially accurate; for example, Joseph de Maistre opposed a rational foundation for governance because he believed it would only lead to arguments devolving into violence over whether this or that particular government was legitimate. Qui goes on to expose the contradiction between popular democratic will and eternal values. She then describes the progression from Enlightenment values to progressivism:

“Without equality, liberty, fraternity we would have never reached egality, entitlement, collectivity. It is a logical progression from wanting to abolish institutional privilege to wanting to abolish every kind of privilege. The same is true with wanting the ability to be undisturbed by other people and the ability to be undisturbed by the fundamental realities of the world. Respect for your fellow man can easily lead to demanding that the focus of each person be on their fellow man.”[22]

In Kings by Merit, Qui advocates authority as the means for creating virtue, which she believes liberty cannot do on its own. Why this would involve removing authority from economics or politics is left an open question, as degeneracy is especially prone to manifest there. She describes the libertarian king as a societal patriarch who is followed voluntarily for his leadership skills, which she believes is necessary for most people to avoid being led astray by the various demagogues that arise from time to time. Qui views the king’s function as combating parasitism and embodying virtue. She writes,

“The king would logically then be the person in society who has the highest degree of virtue and the highest degree of merit, voluntary monarchy is the ultimate meritocracy as the most qualified person would have the most power. The…person who is the most righteous and most capable would be the king. …Monarchy in any other way and democracy in all ways results in situations in which the rulers are people who do not embody virtue, although this happens far more with democracy than with monarchy. It does not mean that involuntary rule will always necessarily be against virtue, but we need exemplary kings to embody virtue and we only get exemplary kings through voluntary monarchy”[23]

The final essay, For an Anarchist Monarchy, closes the book on its central theme. Qui discusses the failures of combining monarchy with democracy, then proposes a synthesis of monarchy with anarchy by retaining the best principles of both while mitigating the potentially destructive aspects of both with a voluntary monarchic system.

The book ends with a single page advocating further reading of her series “On Libertarianism and Statecraft” here at Zeroth Position.

The first word that comes to mind when describing the entire collection is ‘unfinished.’ The grammatical constructions and punctuation are awkward throughout. A book of this many essays should be categorized into sections of similar subject matters, and the table of contents lacks page numbers. Each of the essays would benefit from a much deeper bibliography, as there are many important points which are simply asserted without proper support. The essays are also somewhat disjointed, in that they do not refer to each other to save space. That being said, the thoughts expressed in this book are sufficiently intriguing to merit reading despite these flaws.

Rating: 3.5/5

References:

  1. Qui, Insula (2018). Anarcho-Monarchism. p. 22.
  2. Ibid., p. 38.
  3. Ibid., p. 40.
  4. Ibid., p. 57.
  5. Ibid., p. 66.
  6. Ibid., p. 71.
  7. Ibid., p. 80.
  8. Ibid., p. 104.
  9. Ibid., p. 123–4.
  10. Ibid., p. 127.
  11. Ibid., p. 129.
  12. Ibid., p. 146.
  13. Ibid., p. 153.
  14. Ibid., p. 162.
  15. Ibid., p. 160.
  16. Ibid., p. 168.
  17. Ibid., p. 169.
  18. Ibid., p. 189–90.
  19. Ibid., p. 224–5.
  20. Ibid., p. 232.
  21. Ibid., p. 257.
  22. Ibid., p. 259–60.
  23. Ibid., p. 268–9.

An Introduction to Immaterial Technology, Part I

Merriam-Webster defines technology as “the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area”, “a capability given by the practical application of knowledge”, “a manner of accomplishing a task especially using technical processes, methods, or knowledge”, and “the specialized aspects of a particular field of endeavor”. There is an inclination to think of technology in terms of physical goods, but such material manifestations are only made possible by immaterial forms of technology. These consist of behaviors, beliefs, and relationships that are used for social organization. This has historically been called social technology, but we will introduce the term immaterial technology to avoid conflation with material technologies that are used for social organization, as has occurred with the former term in recent times.[1,2] Immaterial technologies include (but are not limited to) political power, laws, cultural norms, religions, symbols, decision-taking systems, information transfer mediation, and behavior pattern creation among individuals and groups.[2]

The idea of immaterial technology originated with Charles Richmond Henderson, who referred to it as social science and social art. In his terminology, social science makes predictions, while social art introduces improvements to society.[3] In 1901, he defined social technology as “a system of conscious and purposeful organization of persons in which every actual, natural social organization finds its true place, and all factors in harmony cooperate to realize an increasing aggregate and better proportions of the ‘health, wealth, beauty, knowledge, sociability, and rightness’ desires.”[4] In the 1920s, Ernest Burgess and Thomas D. Eliot broadened this definition to include results from psychology and other social studies.[5,6]

These concepts took on a distinctly Marxist flavor in the 1930s (and have never truly lost it), as both social technology and its intentional use to achieve particular goals, known as social engineering, became associated with the socioeconomic plans of the Soviet Union. The Soviet economist Yevgeni Preobrazhensky defined social technology as “the science of organized production, organized labor, of organized systems of production relations, where the legality of economic existence is expressed in new forms.”[7] Karl Popper criticized the Soviet-Marxist theory and use of social technology. He distinguished piecemeal social engineering, which adopts “the method of searching for, and fighting against, the greatest and most urgent evils of society, rather than searching for, and fighting for, its greatest ultimate good,” from utopian social engineering, which seeks “an ideal state, using a blueprint of society as a whole, is one which demands a strong centralized rule of a few, and which therefore is likely to lead to a dictatorship.” According to Popper, the former was democratic while communism and fascism were examples of the latter.[8]

Just like material technology, immaterial technology is often complex. Although immaterial technology can be subject to design, it does not always have a clear inventor, instead being produced by a vast iterative process for which no single person can take credit or blame. In this sense, the development of immaterial technology bears some resemblance to Darwinian natural selection. This necessarily makes it more difficult to understand, but it is vital for any practitioner of statecraft or contributor to political theory to understand the role of immaterial technology because the types available in a particular place or time form part of the boundary conditions within which a civilization located there will develop. Moreover, it is the advance or regress of immaterial technology that determines not only how societies will evolve, but how they can evolve.

To gain a greater understanding of immaterial technology, we will first explore the nature of interaction with technology in general, then apply this to immaterial technology in particular. In Part II, we will examine proper and improper modes of functionality of immaterial technology, explore the concept of social engineering, then consider how to apply immaterial technology toward the purpose of eucivic social engineering.

Levels of Interaction

Let us begin by considering the eight levels of interaction that a subject may have with a particular piece of technology. These can be illustrated by considering various responses to encountering a physical artifact. We will use for this purpose an iconic firearm: the Colt Single Action Army. Designed by William Mason and Charles Brinckerhoff Richards in 1872 and released the following year, it was the United States Army’s service revolver for the next two decades (three decades for the Artillery Model), and has remained popular in the civilian market to this day even though it has been outpaced in terms of performance.[9] Although this is an example of material technology, the same levels apply to the handling of immaterial technology.

First, a technology may be beyond one’s understanding. Consider a snake slithering across the ground who happens upon our revolver. The snake may investigate, but will find no use for it, for a snake is both physically and mentally incapable of using a firearm and understanding its use. Firearms made for humans by humans are simply outside the context of a snake’s ordinary existence. The most primitive response to a technology is to ignore it, and beyond a momentary examination, this is precisely what the snake will do unless it manages to accidentally discharge the firearm.

Second, one may use a technology in a manner inconsistent with its intended purpose. Suppose that our revolver is found by a gorilla. The gorilla will not understand how a firearm is intended to be used, and may not be physically capable of getting its finger into the trigger guard, but it may find that the gun can be smashed into fruits and nuts to crack them open. This is not the function that a revolver is built to perform, but it can serve this purpose. To understand another form of misuse, imagine a small child encountering our revolver. A toddler can fire a gun, but is likely to accidentally kill himself or someone else because he is mentally incapable of handling and using it properly. This form of misuse occurs not because the proper use of the technology is beyond the limits of the user’s abilities, but because the user’s abilities are not yet developed to handle the technology with competence. Misuse in this case is to be understood as inability to understand the proper operation of a technology; technically proper use for evil purposes, such as a criminal using a revolver as a murder weapon, is another matter to be discussed in Part II.

Third, one may be able to use a technology but be unable to repair or replicate it. Suppose our revolver is sent through a time portal to ancient Rome. It is likely that people from this context would figure out how to use the revolver. However, once the ammunition runs out or the gun breaks, they would not be able to keep using it because they did not know how to make gunpowder or manufacture the parts to repair it. Note that one can be at this level in the short-term due to a lack of material resources, in the medium-term due to a lack of knowledge, or in the long-term due to physical or mental limitations.

Fourth, one may be able to repair a technology but not replicate it. Suppose our revolver is sent through a different time portal to a gunsmith of the late 16th century. Matchlock firearms had just been invented[10], but the development of cartridges was still far into the future. A gunsmith from this time could probably repair a Colt SAA if he could figure out the mechanically indexing cylinder, but a user would still be limited by ammunition. Note that the gunsmith of this era may seek to avoid this limitation by re-purposing it as a matchlock revolver rather than a cartridge revolver. Repairs that are technically improper but functionally useful are an important aspect of immaterial technology as well as material technology.

Fifth, one may have the ability to replicate a technology but not innovate it. In modern times, copies and near-copies of the Colt SAA are made by Beretta, U.S. Fire Arms Manufacturing Company, and STI International. This level can be difficult to distinguish from the next. Efforts to invent a new technology are rarely uncontested; it only appears to be so because of the human tendency to remember winners instead of also-rans. Additionally, replicas manufactured later tend to be enhanced in some way that was unavailable when the original was invented; e.g., the modern STI version of the Colt SAA has a modified hand/spring assembly designed for more durability, thus placing it in the sixth level. In some cases, this level is reached and not surpassed because a particular technology cannot be further improved but is useful long-term in its current form, thus avoiding the higher levels.

Sixth, one may have the ability to innovate a technology. Here we include both invention of a technology and making improvements upon it, for most inventions are improvements upon prior inventions. After all, it would be rather myopic to treat the development of magazine-fed semi-automatic pistols as a separate line of technology rather than a different branch on the same technology tree. With respect to the Colt SAA, Mason and Richards were at this level, along with later gunsmiths who improved upon their design.

Seventh, one might take notice of a technology but decline its use because one already has superior technology. Suppose that an away team from Star Trek happened upon a Colt SAA. They are just as vulnerable to bullets as humans are today, but their phasers are generally superior weapons to firearms. Even so, they might find a revolver useful if their phasers should become inoperable or unavailable for some reason. In other words, if one’s current technology moves down to the third level and then fails, a less advanced technology may move down to levels of use from the higher levels of neglect.

Eighth, one may ignore a technology not because one is too primitive for it, but because one is too advanced for it. Suppose a Colt SAA is found millennia from now by an advanced “species” of sentient robots. Perhaps they are made of materials beyond our understanding, have an energy shield that vaporizes incoming projectiles, or can transfer their “consciousness” out of one robotic body and into another. Whatever the mechanism may be, they are immune to bullets. While they may have interest in such an artifact as archaeological evidence and/or a museum piece, it is not a useful technology for them. Just like the first level, this level is the result of broader context, but now the positions of subject and technology are reversed.

Further Observations

Let us make a few additional observations before applying these levels to immaterial technology. Note that this system refers to individual technologies, so each subject is at a particular level with each technology. Thus, a person or a civilization may be at level three with respect to one technology while being at level seven with respect to another.

Whereas a productive discussion of immaterial technology necessarily dwells on the practical and useful, we are primarily concerned with the middle six levels and not the first or eighth. Technologies which are so far ahead of or behind a particular subject as to be in level one or level eight tend to be matters of speculation. The first level is primarily of interest to experimental archaeologists, while the eighth level represents Outside Context Problems of one form or another. That being said, there is a nebulous boundary between the first two levels; just as a snake or a toddler may accidentally discharge a firearm, one may attempt to use methods of social engineering that are beyond one’s comprehension, with randomly destructive results. There is generally a greater gulf between levels two and three, as a certain mental capacity is required to cross this boundary. Accordingly, it is more difficult for a civilization to fall back from level three to level two than to fall through other level boundaries, as this is indicative of a general loss of knowledge that only accompanies great cataclysms. Aside from such disasters, the general trend is for technology to advance.[Footnote 1]

Levels three through five are much closer than they might appear to be. Though there can be many centuries of developmental difference between these levels in a particular technology, as there were between ancient Rome and 19th century America in the above example, the ingenuity of humans (and presumably other sentient lifeforms) allows for advanced technology to be reverse-engineered with astonishing rapidity. Should someone manage to send a relatively modern weapon back to that time, such weaponry would likely be in common use by perhaps a century later.[Footnote 2] In the same vein, level four is a spectrum of sorts. At the low end, only the most basic repairs may be performed, and losing even this ability returns one to level three. At the high end, the ability to repair blends into the ability to replicate as the production of repair parts eventually leads to the ability to produce copies of the entire artifact, thus blurring the boundary between levels four and five.

Level six requires yet another step in intellectual ability, as inventing one’s own technology is more difficult than figuring out how to use extant resources. Progressing along one branch of technology is the natural result of this level over time, but will usually lead to a different kind of technology, thus advancing one to level seven. Failure to make the transition to level six or level seven is a sign of stagnation, which usually precedes a decline. At level seven, we find one more important observation: “inferior” is not a synonym for “bad” when it comes to technology. If a rival is expecting to encounter more advanced technology, then using less advanced technology may be an effective surprise, as the rival may not have prepared defenses for it. Thus, archaic technology need not be discarded and should not be forgotten until one is at level eight with respect to it.

The eighth level represents an enormous step in ability, by far the greatest of all the level transitions. So great, in fact, that it is difficult to imagine a technology with respect to which humans at the time of this writing are at level eight. Even the most primitive tools of pre-human primates have modern improvements that perform the same functions more effectively, but the root functions are still necessary. Therefore, we are at level seven with respect to them. To be at level eight with respect to a hand ax, for instance, is to be so advanced as to have no need to use physical objects to apply force to other objects. To use another Star Trek example, the Q Continuum is at this level.

Application to Immaterial Technology

With the eight levels of technological interaction hopefully well-explained, let us apply them to immaterial technology. Here we will use several examples to illustrate some phenomena which do not generally occur with material technologies. As mentioned earlier, we will focus on levels two through seven, as this is where subjects are with respect to all useful and comprehensible immaterial technologies. We will proceed through these levels out of order for reasons which will soon become clear.

It must be noted that not all immaterial technologies are useful to all beings. For example, patriarchy would make no sense to a species that reproduces asexually. For them, patriarchy would be non-scoreable on the eight-level scale; regardless of their ability to understand the concepts involved, it would be impossible for them to apply such knowledge unless their biology were to change. One could only make an educated guess at their development with respect to this immaterial technology by examining similar technologies, such as those involved in their dealings with other species.

Invention and Replication

Let us begin with level six, for no technology can be used, misused, repaired, replicated, or improved upon before it is invented. As with material technology, people invent immaterial technology because they believe it will improve their lives in some way by giving them additional capabilities through the practical application of knowledge. In other words, to the extent that immaterial technology is the product of deliberate design, people are seeking to alter social structures to produce greater net goods per unit of effort. In the absence of deliberate design, immaterial technologies build up over time as cultural traditions through a process of survival of the sufficiently fit. These efforts fail at times for reasons which will be explored in Part II, but the intent is always the same if one remembers that what constitutes “greater net goods” is subjective because value is subjective. We see again that most inventions are built upon prior inventions, or at least have necessary prerequisites. For instance, one does not get democracy if there is not timocracy first. The most notable difference is that advances in immaterial technology are not necessarily improvements; using the previous example, though democracy seems to be a natural progression from timocracy, this was regarded as a devolution from good governance to tyranny of the majority for most of history, and for good reason. Of course, accounting for such false advances blurs the distinction between levels six and seven, but the theory must adapt to reality, not vice versa.

Next, let us discuss level five. Once an immaterial technology is invented, it must be replicated in the minds of enough people to make its practice possible. After all, one does not have a männerbund of ten men providing defense for a tribe of thousands or a religion with a dozen believers providing moral guidance for a great empire. In order to grow to the point of practical use, an immaterial technology must produce a perceived benefit for the right people, which is to say that the elites must find it superior to what they already use. Here we see another difference versus material technology. It is rare for there to be a successful effort to suppress the adoption of physical inventions; such efforts tend to be targeted and suppressed in short order.[11] Only when these physical inventions are intertwined with immaterial values that oppose those in power do elites spring into action against material progress, as happened in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge.[12–14] Immaterial technologies which work against current elites are far more likely to be suppressed, such as heretical religious doctrines or alternative political systems.

When immaterial developments are not hindered, their proliferation is somewhat different from that of material technologies. Many societies have intellectual property laws that slow the advance of physical invention by restraining market forces to give inventors a monopoly on production for a number of years. Although these laws frequently deter the spread of ideas by lessening the availability of the media in which they are expressed, the ideas themselves are not scarce or rivalrous. Once released into the public domain in one way or another, they tend to remain there and be used freely. In the strictest sense, the replication of immaterial technology is as simple as you reading this article after I have written it. Failure in this sense is most unusual, for language is one of the most basic immaterial technologies. However, the use and repair of immaterial technology after replication is much more complex.

The adaptation of an immaterial technology from one societal context into another typically only occurs on a mutatis mutandis basis. The culture which produces an immaterial technology will necessarily leave its imprints on it, and some aspects of this may be incompatible with another culture. For example, Islamic feminism looks quite different from Western feminism because it must contend with another dominant set of immaterial technologies (the religion of Islam and everything that comes with it) that will not allow feminism to be expressed in the same ways that it is in the West. This kind of adaptation leads us into the matters of repair and maintenance.

Repair and Maintenance

The fourth level, that of repair, is quite different with immaterial technology. Indeed, maintenance may be a better term for what is done with ideas, especially when they still seem to function as intended. Whereas continuous replication in the sense of instructing future generations in the use of particular immaterial technologies is an essential part of this maintenance, the boundary between levels four and five is blurred once more. But education is only one aspect of this level; there are several others to discuss.

The proper maintenance and repair of immaterial technology involves the defense of orthodoxy against heresy, enforcement of social norms, restoration of lost traditions, and adaptation to conditions. An immaterial technology cannot be maintained if it is replaced by another, so it is necessary for the brahmins of a society to defend the immaterial technologies in use against alternatives whose advocates seek to replace the current paradigm. Contrary to the liberal ideology prevalent in modern times, this behavior has no inherent morality; the good or evil of suppressing heretical viewpoints depends on whether the immaterial technology being protected is proper or degenerate compared to the ideas being suppressed, and immaterial technologies that function well can still require such protection. The kshatriyas also have a role to play in this defense, for their role is the defense of civilization against enemies foreign and domestic, and immaterial technologies that can be wielded to wreak havoc upon social order certainly qualify.

Unfortunately, there are many cases in which the defense of proper immaterial technologies fails and degenerate forms manage to dominate a society. Even worse is that the very mechanisms that once reinforced a healthy social order are turned against that purpose. When this happens, a restoration is necessary. This involves purging the degenerate forms and reintroducing proper immaterial technology. The details of performing this operation are a primary concern of most schools of reactionary thought.

The role of adaptation to conditions was partly discussed in the previous section, but only in the sense of immaterial technologies crossing borders between societies and making necessary changes to accommodate the inherent differences between peoples. Changes must also be made to deal with temporal differences; just as there was a cultural difference between Han Dynasty China and the Roman Empire, there is a difference between Rome two millennia ago and Rome today. Shifts in demographics, economics, and even geology can alter the cultural institutions of a society, which must keep pace with conditions without being subordinate to them.

Improper maintenance and repair usually takes the form of doing the above incompetently, whether accidentally or maliciously, and tends to result in failure of the immaterial technology. But there is another form which need not end in failure, and is done out of necessity by well-intentioned people who are doing their best but are in over their heads. Bastiaan Niemand uses the example of horse-drawn cars in rural India to illustrate this phenomenon. He writes,

“First, a horse-drawn carriage is replaced by a car. The car soon becomes a junker, which is even worse than a carriage. So the junker is discreetly retrofitted into a jugaad horse-drawn car. The jugaad car looks like a car, but it only works because it is, in fact, powered by a horse. Yet it doesn’t even work as well as a horse because it has to pretend to be a car.

…[It is] likely that proper horse-drawn carriages existed in that part of rural India within living memory. But imagine that you have grown up without ever having seen a working carriage (let alone a working automobile, for that matter). All you know is horse-drawn cars. You might harbor vague doubts that things are not quite fitting together as envisioned, but compared to what? Who would you even ask about your suspicions? Everyone you know drives a horse-drawn car, even as the rusting frames seem to require more urgent maintenance every year.”[15]

The word jugaad is borrowed from Hindi, and roughly means “makeshift” in its adjective usage. As a verb, it means “to make existing things work with meager resources”. Niemand applies this idea to various immaterial technologies in his article, but describes only part of the cycle; in the example of the jugaad car, the rusting frames will eventually require greater repairs than can be performed. This leaves people riding horses and carrying only what will fit in their saddlebags. Eventually, someone rediscovers how to build chariots, then carriages and wagons. Perhaps the next time that something like an automobile comes along, the resources to maintain it will be present. Otherwise, the cycle begins again, as entire societies generally do not reject as transformative a technology as an automobile. The same sort of cycle can be seen in immaterial technologies; the political doctrine of anacyclosis described by Polybius, in which rule progresses through monarchy, kingship, tyranny, aristocracy, oligarchy, democracy, ochlocracy, and back to monarchy, is an example.[16]

As with material technology, level four is a spectrum. At the low end, some civilizations prove incapable of repairing and maintaining their mechanisms of social organization, resulting in decline that leads to foreign conquest, a dark age, or both. In the middle range, this can be forestalled by the jugaad method discussed above, but this sort of ingenuity receives far more praise than it deserves. The presence of such improvisation indicates that the leaders of a civilization are incompetent or malicious, causing the brightest minds of that civilization to exert effort toward solving problems which would not exist under better governance, thus keeping them from other accomplishments. At the high end, repairs and maintenance are performed properly, which keeps a civilization stable and healthy.

Intermission

So far, we have covered the history of immaterial technology as a concept, justified our novel terminology, devised a eight-level scale for describing interaction with technology, and started applying this scale to immaterial technology. In Part II, we will finish this application by discussing levels two and three, which include the use and misuse of immaterial technology as well as proper versus degenerate forms. We will conclude by discussing the use of immaterial technology for social engineering and determining how this is best done to promote eucivic good.

Footnotes:

  1. It is through this observation that Whig historiography appears as a corollary of technological determinism. If technology is a creator of potential, technology has continually advanced in time memorial, and reality is downstream from potential, then history will appear to be an inexorable march of progress.
  2. This is strong evidence either against time travel or in favor of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. Any artifact left in the past by time travelers should dramatically alter the course of history, as it would be figured out by the people of that time period and put into widespread use thereafter, thus creating a temporal paradox of who actually invented a particular technology. The only escape from paradox is for this chain of events to create a new timeline.

References:

  1. Leibeseder, Bettina (Jan. 2011). “A Critical Review on the Concept of Social Technology”. Socialines Technologijos/Social Technology: 7–24.
  2. Tamošiūnaitė, Rūta (2018). “Integrated social technologies for citizen participation in modern public governance decision making”, in conference proceedings of The 5th European Interdisciplinary Forum 2017. Bologna, Italy: EDITOGRAFICA s.r.l. p. 28.
  3. Henderson, C. R. (1895). “Review”. Journal of Political Economy, 3(2), 236–8.
  4. Henderson, C. R. (1901). “The Scope of Social Technology”. The American Journal of Sociology, 6(4), 465–86.
  5. Burgess, E. W. (1923). “The Interdependence of Sociology and Social Work”. Journal of Social Forces, 1(4), 366–70.
  6. Eliot, T. D. (1924). “The Social Worker’s Criticisms of Undergraduate Sociology”. Journal of Social Forces, 2(4), 506–12.
  7. Preobrazhensky, E. A. (1926). Novaya Ekonomika. Moscow. Translated by Pierce, Brian (1965); with an introduction by A. Nove, 1st ed. Oxford: Clarendon. p. 55.
  8. Popper, Karl (1945). The Open Society and Its Enemies. Routledge & Kegan Paul. p. 158–9.
  9. “History: The Colt Legend”. Colt’s Manufacturing Company.
  10. 趙士禎 (Zhao Shi-zhen) (1598). 神器譜 (Artifact spectrum).
  11. Walters, Karly (2004). Law, “Terror”, and the Frame-Breaking Act. University of London.
  12. Kiernan, Ben (1997). The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975-79. London: Yale University Press. p. 31–158; 251–310.
  13. Bergin, Sean (2008). The Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian Genocide. Rosen. p. 31
  14. Seng Kok Ung (2011). I Survived the Killing Fields: The True Life Story of a Cambodian Refugee. p. 22–6
  15. Niemand, Bastiaan (2018, Nov. 13). “Jugaad Ethics”. Social Matter. https://www.socialmatter.net/2018/11/13/jugaad-ethics/
  16. Polybius (146 BC). The Histories, Book VI.

On Private Imperialism and Colonialism

In the modern academy, no “sin” is seen as more reprehensible than racism. Colonialism and European imperialism (and only European imperialism) are equally damned by the professoriat as the arch-manifestations of racism. Take, for instance, a scholar like the German-born, Harvard-reared Sven Beckert, whose books claim that capitalism in the Western world is inextricably tied to the enslavement of Africans. Therefore, capitalism equals slavery, which equals racism, thus capitalism is illegitimate. This is the logic of post-Marxism in a nutshell.

Given this reality, how could anyone with a modicum of respectability stand up and cheer for imperialism? There are two worthy cases within living memory, and both merit discussion.

Colonialism’s Bad Name

Dinesh D’Souza penned “Two cheers for colonialism” in 2002. D’Souza argues that “the articles of faith” spouted by “Third World intellectuals” are not true. D’Souza uses two examples; the first is the Marxist historian Walter Rodney, whose book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa says that European colonial powers are responsible for “draining African wealth and making it impossible to develop more rapidly the resources of the continent.”[1] Rodney’s view is echoed by millions of leftists around the world, who, like Karl Marx, make the fatal mistake of assuming that wealth is only generated through labor and material extraction.

A more insidious writer was the Francophone psychiatrist Franz Fanon, whose book The Wretched Earth became one of the most popular reads among the Western counter-cultural set of the 1960s. D’Souza quotes Fanon,

“European opulence has been founded on slavery. The well-being and progress of Europe have been built up with the sweat and the dead bodies of Negroes, Arabs, Indians and the yellow races.”[2]

According to Fanon, Europeans have nothing about which to be proud.

D’Souza contends that this is all hogwash. “The West did not become rich and powerful through colonial oppression,” writes D’Souza. “It makes no sense to claim that the West grew rich and strong by conquering other countries and taking their stuff.” Rather, D’Souza notes that Western imperialism (namely British imperialism) added vital resources to their foreign territories (e.g. the introduction of rubber to Malaysia), introduced such thoroughly Western concepts as scientific inquiry, democracy, and capital investment, and rose the overall standard of living for non-white populations from Africa to the Philippines.

“Two cheers for colonialism” did not make too many waves because it was written by a well-known and outspoken mouthpiece of the Republican Party. The same cannot be said about the article published by Prof. Bruce Gilley of Portland State University. In 2017, Gilley wrote an article titled “The Case for Colonialism” that was published in Third World Quarterly. The outrage was immediate. The journal called the piece “offensive,” while online mobs howled not only for Gilley to be fired, but to be stripped of his doctorate. The journal’s editor claimed that he had received threats of violence against his person. All of this was for the apparently extreme assertion by Gilley that good governance by Europeans in the colonies lifted millions of people out of wretched poverty.

Besides elucidating the intolerance of the Left and academia (a fact hardly worth noting anymore), Gilley’s reviled article also put forward a proposal to bring back some form of colonialism. Gilley’s example includes the poverty-stricken nation of Guinea-Bissau, which until the 1970s, was a Portuguese colony. He writes,

“Suppose that the government of Guinea-Bissau were to lease back to Portugal the small uninhabited island of Galinhas that lies 10 miles off the mainland and where the former colonial governor’s mansion lies in ruins. The annual lease would be US$1 so that the Portuguese spend their money on the island and the Guinea-Bissau government is not dependent on a lease fee. Suppose, then, that the US$10 million to US$20 million in foreign aid wasted annually on the country were redirected to this new offshore colony to create basic infrastructure.”[3]

Gilley’s idea is not only controversial, but inconceivable. Portugal’s electorate would never vote to absorb Galinhas, regardless of whether or not it is inhabited. No democracy would vote for imperialism, no matter how conservative or “racist” the voters are. Imperialism is simply too expensive and has too many ugly connotations to appeal to any voting public. This is why none of the great European (or non-European) empires were brought into being by voters.

How then can imperialism be revived? A possible answer lies in imperialism without the state. There are at least two models of non-state imperialism from history which could be resurrected in the modern world. More importantly, these stateless empires could appeal to libertarians, despite the oft-cited contention that libertarianism and imperialism are diametrically opposed to one another.

The Joint-Stock Company Model

The greatest overseas empire in history, the British Empire, did not come about thanks to a professional army or Parliament’s funding of a world-dominating navy. Rather, Britain’s rise as the world’s most powerful state occurred because of royally chartered, quasi-private companies like the Virginia Bay Company and the East India Company. While some of these joint stock companies later became indistinguishable from the central state in London, they began as semi-independent entities cherished by the English, then British crown for their cheapness and the revenue and taxes they kicked back to the home isle.

The genesis of the joint-stock company began in the late 16th century, when Richard Hakluyt suggested to Queen Elizabeth I that company-controlled colonies in the New World would provide the Kingdom of England with a way to both harass the Spanish and remove from the metropole debtors, vagrants, and other “undesirables” (e.g. Scottish and Irish POWs).[4] Elizabeth I was not swayed, mostly because Sir Walter Raleigh’s adventures in the New World had generally failed.

King James I, the founder of the Stuart dynasty in England, had more of a gambler’s personality. In 1606, he established the Virginia Company as a way to colonize the New World. The fear of failure was high, and the starting costs for this venture were enormous. However, England at that time had plenty of willing investors. The second sons of noble families were willing to invest in the venture because English common law barred them from inheriting property. Merchants in southern England, many of whom had become stiff-necked Puritans, saw in the Virginia Company and others a possible way to flee the strictures of the Anglican Church. Helping matters too was the fact that England was awash in the landless poor, thousands of whom would wind up as workers (or slaves) in the plantations of Virginia, the Carolinas, and New England.

Unlike the colonialism of Spain or France, England’s joint-stock model gave investors as sense that the colonial enterprise belonged to them, not just the king. Whereas New Spain and New France were conquered by brave men filled with either religious zeal or the lust for gold, England’s Empire in the New World began as a business venture. This business venture proved highly enduring. In the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which had been founded by the Massachusetts Bay Company, English settlers were left to handle their own affairs. Massachusetts formed its own militia, created its own courts and churches, and even established its own schools and universities.

Such semi-independence derived from the Massachusetts Bay Charter of 1629, which legally bound the Massachusetts Bay Colony as a company-ruled plantation with only minimal supervision from England. The charter reads,

“Wee will, and by theis Presents, for Us, our Heires and Successors, doe ordeyne and graunte, That the Governor of the saide Company for the tyme being, or in his Absence by Occasion of Sicknes or otherwise, the Deputie Governor for the tyme being, shall have Authoritie from tyme to tyme upon all Occasions, to give order for the assembling of the saide Company, and calling them together to consult and advise of the Bussinesses and Affaires of the saide Company, and that the said Governor, Deputie Governor, and Assistants of the saide Company, for the tyme being, shall or maie once every Moneth, or oftener at their Pleasures, assemble and houlde and keepe a Courte or Assemblie of themselves, for the better ordering and directing of their Affaires, and that any seaven or more persons of the Assistants, togither with the Governor, or Deputie Governor soe assembled, shalbe saide, taken, held, and reputed to be, and shalbe a full and sufficient Courte or Assemblie of the said Company, for the handling, ordering, and dispatching of all such Buysinesses and Occurrents as shall from tyme to tyme happen.”[5]

Such autonomy was the norm in New England until 1686, when the crown in London consolidated the New England and Mid-Atlantic colonies in order to form the Dominion of New England. Under Governor Edmund Andros, England tried to remake the Dominion of New England in the image of the motherland. These attempts ran into trouble when the Church of England was instituted in the Puritan heartland. The Dominion of New England did not last past the Glorious Revolution and the unseating of the last Stuart monarch, King James II.

Besides the New World companies, the most famous English/British joint stock company was the British East India Company. Founded and incorporated by royal charter in December 1600, the East India Company’s original goal was to enhance English trade with India and Southeast Asia. Much like the Virginia Company, the East India Company was born out of England’s desire to take the trade in spices, tea, and other items away from its imperial adversaries; namely, Spain, France, the Netherlands, and Portugal. By 1757, the company was the ruler of Bengal. From this time until the passage of the India Act in 1784, all sovereign decisions made in company-ruled India were made by the East India Company’s shareholders.

Today, companies are far more wealthy and powerful than the East India Company ever was. Although most corporations cooperate hand-in-glove with governments (both foreign and domestic), they have the resources and the wherewithal to establish private empires in the world’s less developed regions. A new East India Company could be easily established today. For instance, in borrowing Dr. Gilley’s idea, some import/export company could buy Galinhas island and protect it with private military contractors. Other countries in Africa, Asia, or Latin America could be similarly enticed to sell off parts of land that are either unproductive or too expensive for their meager government budgets. These countries would then be granted favored status in trade.

As far as issues of immigration or citizenship are concerned, such matters would be left up to the company. However, the easiest solution would be to grant citizenship or residency only to those who hail from the company’s country of origin or the country that sells the land to the company.

The Congo Free State Model

Only Nazi Germany is more reviled by the contemporary Left than the Congo Free State, which lasted from 1885 until 1908. Many people know about the cruelties of the Congo Free State thanks to the book King Leopold’s Ghost by lifelong leftist Adam Hochschild. According to Hochschild, the Congo Free State was King Leopold II of Belgium’s private sweatshop, and it culminated in one of history’s deadliest genocides. Hochschild puts the number of people killed by the awful Leopold II at 10 million.

Ryan Faulk argues that Hochschild’s numbers do not conform with the censuses taken of the Congolese population in the late 19th century. For instance, there were only 9,801,150 people in the Congo in 1885 (the first year of Leopold II’s rule). The number of Congolese citizens rose by 1900 to over 10 million souls.[6] Such numbers should be taken with a grain of salt given the high population of transitory slaves in northeastern Congo and the haphazard nature of census-taking in 1900. Still, these numbers call into question not only Hochschild’s body count, but his assertion that Leopold II was one of the world’s greatest butchers.

Similarly, when other European imperial powers investigated the Congo Free State after journalistic investigations into the practice of torturing and mutilating native rubber plantation workers, they found that such practices were not official Congo Free State policy.[7] Instead, members of the Force Publique, an armed constabulary made up of black Africans commanded by white, mostly Belgian officers, were singled out for committing cruel acts without official sanction.[8]

We can now highlight the unique innovation of the Congo Free State. Namely, this colony was not ruled by Belgium, but was ruled by King Leopold II as his private property. At the Berlin Conference of 1884–85, Leopold II convinced Europe’s major powers that he was interested in philanthropic work in the Congo. Rather than annex the Congo on behalf of the government of Belgium, he used the International Association of the Congo, a private company that he controlled, as the governing institution of the resource-rich African state. This is why Roderick Long and Tibor Machan labeled the Congo Free State as “anarcho-capitalism”.[9]

Under the rule of the IAC, the Congo became the world’s largest exporter of ivory, rubber, and minerals.[10] Its borders and internal divisions were guarded by the Force Publique, which attracted local men looking for steady work, as well as Belgian, European, and American mercenaries looking for profit. Between 1892 and 1894, this minarchist state even fought and won a war against Arab slave traders supported by the Islamic sultanates of Zanzibar and Muscat. This war ended the Arab buying and selling of Congolese flesh. Despite these successes, the Congo Free State is only remembered today for atrocities and gross exploitation. To be sure, the health and wellness of Congolese workers mattered little to the IAC, and it is certainly true that horrible things happened under the watch of King Leopold II. That being said, the design of the Congo Free State remains one of the few truly libertarian states in world history.

Imagine if Galinhas was purchased today not by a country, but by a country’s ruler. Consider American President Donald Trump. Trump, a billionaire businessman who specializes in real estate, could be enticed to personally buy some uninhabited island or chunk of real estate in some cash-strapped country. In return for American investment, Trump, acting only as a private citizen, could legally purchase this land and rule it as he saw fit. Trump’s critics would be horrified by such a proposal, but nonetheless such a legal transaction between a private citizen and a foreign government would be binding. Europe’s remaining monarchs, as well as wealthy businessmen the world over, should consider following in Leopold II’s footsteps while simultaneously avoiding those mistakes which cost Leopold his free state.

Libertarian Objections

It can be argued that imperialism is the antithesis of the libertarian social order. If the conquerors have no legitimate claims to land, then their invasion is no different than a highwayman sticking up fear-struck travelers. If conquerors colonize a land, rule it, but do not exterminate the local natives, then they forever become a thorn in the side of the people. By any legal definition these locals have a right to strike against their unwanted occupiers. However, there is a caveat here. If a colonial power invades a territory, exterminates the local population, then imports their own people, then it becomes less of a legal issue and more of a moral one. Although claims of genocide end with that generation that experienced and committed the genocide, a moral nation would disdain both conquest and genocide.

The problem in making a libertarian alternative to the contemporary state lies in modernization and state formation. The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism defines an empire as “a state of affairs in which one nation, tribe, or political entity (or, actually, their ruling elite) exercises political power over others.” By this definition, the United States, China, and Russia are imperial powers that resort to violence in order to maintain their control over a racially, ethnically, and religiously heterogeneous civilization, despite their stated federalism or anti-colonialist feelings. The power of these states have become so normalized that few today find it possible to rethink the central state model. Therefore, right-libertarians see imperialism as coercive and immoral.

One voice decrying the usual libertarian hatred for imperialism, Faré of The Distributed Republic dismantles the Rothbardian notion that one’s government is always the primary enemy:

“Of course, applying the same ‘logic’, the respective citizens of those countries whose government are in conflict with USG should in turn support the US government in its fight against their own—if only their own government wouldn’t murder them immediately at the mere utterance of such a support. And to take this line of reasoning to its conclusion, a Pole in 1939 should have supported Hitler and Stalin as opponents to his current oppressive government.

A ‘logic’ that reaches different conclusions for different people is actually…polylogism, a fallacy of double standards, a rhetorical device to back whichever absurdity one fancies. Moreover, underlying this fallacy, we see another typical case where people who should know better fall into an accounting fallacy: just because a current oppressor is identified (current account negative) current non-oppressors (current account zero) are considered a better alternative as part of an unrelated future choice between oppressors.”[11]

For Faré, some oppressors are better than others, and the article notes that “the British and French Colonial Powers should have been supported in their conquests of barbarian and totalitarian powers that previously existed in Africa, India, Vietnam, etc.” Although London and Paris exported oppressive states, at least their market-centric states were more beneficial to the average colonial subject than their own prior regimes.

Another complaint is that libertarianism is a peacetime philosophy. This line, which is often used to mock online libertarians, does get to the root of a major problem. Namely, extralegal force must be used in some cases to protect liberty. By extension, in the face of aggressive globalism, it could be argued that the exportation of the libertarian social order is the best defense. To square colonialism with libertarianism, certain factors must be met first before a colonial enterprise can be undertaken. First, can colonial expansion be justified under the idea of defensive violence? If not, then it is not guided by libertarian ethos. Second, the colonial campaign cannot be justified under collective punishment. Finally, colonial violence in the name of protecting a libertarian social order is legitimate only after softer measures have been exhausted against anti-libertarian opponents.

Possible Opportunities for Libertarian Colonialism

If Galinhas were purchased outright by an American company and protected by a private military outfit, then the cost to the American taxpayer would be zero. American and African consumers would benefit from efficient management and trade without having to foot the bill. Even better, if Galinhas proved to be a success, then it could serve as a model for other societies, especially those enduring illegitimate, oppressive, and/or poorly managed regimes. Other American or international companies could also be enticed to purchased uninhabited or sparsely inhabited territories in order to establish local governance overseen by a private entity.

Another possible example of libertarian colonialism could occur somewhere in the Middle East. Because of exhaustive chaos and warfare, perhaps a city in Syria or Iraq decides to become completely independent. As a city-state in the 21st century, this entity would need major outside assistance, as internal objections from its neighbors (especially its former state overseer) would put this hypothetical city-state in troubled waters. Like Galinhas, this city-state may turn to a well-armed private company in order to meet some of its security and economic needs. Employees of the chosen company would then receive citizenship or special privileges within the city-state. Again, as in the case of Galinhas, the Middle Eastern city-state’s foreign backers would be involved in governance because of a private contract between two parties.

Since colonialism is often interchangeable with imperialism, libertarians must find a way to distinguish the two. One way to do this would be to reintroduce a sense of Roman imperium, which means the right or authority to rule. For the Romans, this typically meant a general’s right to rule a legion or the emperor’s right to rule his empire. Imperium almost always meant an individual’s power rather than a nation’s. If this ideal could be wedded to the colonialism of the Archaic Greeks (Greek city-states built commercial centers on mostly uninhabited land), then few libertarians would object.

Finally, defensive colonialism is a possibility. Let us consider South Africa. The serially corrupt South African government led by Cyril Ramaphosa is considering an amendment to the South African Constitution to legalize the taking of private property without compensation.[12] Ernst Roets of AfriForum proved that such illegal land seizures target mostly (if not only) white South African farmers. He and his organization were pilloried by the mainstream media in South Africa and the West.[13] Without fail, when the land seizures began, they not only threw the unstable country into an economic tailspin[14], but white farmers were the ones targeted by the government and wildcat squatters alike.

In the case of South Africa, a private company, a private military order, or some other kind of non-state actor hoping to create a libertarian social order is justified in providing farmers in South Africa with money and security. If the South African Army initiates violence against these hired guns, then the farmers and their supporters would be justified to use violence against the South African state. The aim of this war would be the creation of a separate state within South Africa that would be recognized and supported by those counties currently denouncing Ramaphosa’s land seizures.

Conclusion

Private imperialism would provide the economic benefits of imperialism without the evils of state domination. To be sure, private companies are fully capable of evil on their own, and thus any company considering taking on non-state imperialism must make sure that they do not sink to nepotism, brutality, or any acts that would raise the ire of the always critical (and leftist) international press. Given human fallibility, such strictures may be too difficult to overcome, but private imperialism could be the best solution to the current problems facing the most impoverished nations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

References:

  1. Rodney, Walter; Qtd. by D’Souza, Dinesh (2002). “Two cheers for colonialism”. San Francisco Gate. www.sfgate.com.
  2. Fanon, Frantz. Qtd. Ibid.
  3. Gilley, Bruce (2017, Aug. 15). “The case for colonialism”. Third World Quarterly.
  4. “2b. Joint Stock Companies”. U.S. History.org.
  5. “Charter of Massachusetts Bay 1629”, reprinted by American History from the Revolution to Reconstruction and Beyond. www.let.rug.nl.
  6. Faulk, Ryan (2016, July 24). “Mythologies About Leopold’s Congo Free State”. The Alternative Hypothesis. http://thealternativehypothesis.org/index.php/2016/07/24/mythologies-about-leopolds-congo-free-state/
  7. Report of the British Consul, Roger Casement, on the Administration of the Congo Free State. https://web.viu.ca/davies/H479B.Imperialism.Nationalism/Br.report.Congo.atrocities.1904.htm
  8. Renton, David; Seddon, David; Zeilig, Leo (2007). The Congo: Plunder and Resistance. London: Zed Books. p. 31.
  9. Long, Roderick T. and Machan, Tibor R., Ed. (2016). Anarchism/Minarchism: Is Government Part of a Free Country? Abingdon, UK: Routledge. p. 50.
  10. Gondola, Didier (2002). The History of Congo. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 66–7.
  11. Faré (2009, Nov. 25). “In Defense of Libertarian Imperialism”. The Distributed Republic. http://www.distributedrepublic.net/archives/2009/11/25/in-defense-libertarian-imperialism/
  12. Merten, Marianne (2018, Nov. 8). “The politics of land expropriation without compensation in the ANC constitutional review proposals”. Daily Maverick. https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2018-11-08-the-politics-of-land-expropriation-without-compensation-in-the-anc-constitutional-review-proposals/
  13. Steenkamp, Hesti (2018, Sep. 26). “South African farmers are indeed in a serious crisis – Ernst Roets”. AfriForum. https://www.afriforum.co.za/south-african-farmers-indeed-serious-crisis-ernst-roets/
  14. Montanari, Lorenzo; Thompson, Philip (2018, Aug. 31). “South Africa Land Seizures Begin, Economic Decline Accelerates”. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/lorenzomontanari/2018/08/31/south-africa-land-seizures-begin-economic-decline-accelerates/

Song Lyrics: Election Song

Verse 1:

(E7) Wake up in the morning
Long before first (E9) light
(E7) Smell the coffee (Bm7) brewing in the
(E7) same pot that you didn’t wash last (A) night
(A7)
(E7) Gonna be alright
(E)
(E7) Pull out of the driveway
Head down to the (E9) polls
(E7) Odds are better (Bm7) that you’ll die in
(E7) a car crash than change the way it (A) goes
(A7)
(E7) Oh, don’t you know?
(E)
(Bm7) Tweedle Dum or Tweedle Dee
(F#m7) whoever wins the system keeps (E) control
(E7) The status quo

Verse 2:

(E7) Stand there in a long line
Wrapped around the (E9) block
(E7) Brave the pouring (Bm7) rain and cold damp
(E7) air so you can say you cast your (A) lot
(A7)
(E7) Wish you forgot?
(E)
(E7) Get inside the polling place
Know just how to (E9) vote
(E7) Gotta do your (Bm7) civic duty
(E7) Mark the ballot for devils you (A) know
(A7)
(E7) Is it all for show?
(E)
(Bm7) After all its in the hands of
(F#m7) whoever is there to count the (E) votes
(E7) What a sick joke

Verse 3:

(E7) Go about your busy day
Gotta work your (E9) job
(E7) That “I voted” (Bm7) sticker is your
(E7) ticket out of lectures from the (A) mob
(A7)
(E7) Their minds are locked
(E) from propaganda slop
(E7) The hours finally pass
Time to go back (E9) home
(E7) Stuck in traffic (Bm7) listening to
(E7) the last ads play on the (A) radio
(A7)
(E7) Glad they’ll be gone
(E) for two years or so
(Bm7) But the next election season
(F#m7) promises another stupid (E) row
(E7) Hackneyed ebb and flow

Verse 4:

(E7) Supper’s done and now its time
To sit down and (E9) rest
(E7) Switch on the (Bm7) idiot box and
(E7) Watch the results come in too (A) fast
(A7)
(E7) Election’s done at last
(E) Glad its in the past
(E7) One seat stays with Team Red
Another flips for (E9) Blue
(E7) Counting votes like (Bm7) counting sheep and
(E7) sheep are those who vote to put them (A) through
(A7)
(E7) Tell me, is that you?
(E) Yeah, is that you?
(Bm7) Wake up the next morning to find
(F#m7) nothing’s getting better; what a (E) ruse
(E7) and you’ve been fooled

Verse 5:

(E7) No matter who you vote for
The system stays in (E9) place
(E7) Ever growing, (Bm7) ever reaching
(E7) ever looking for more things to (A) claim
(A7)
(E7) A monster without face
(E) Liberty erased
(E7) One hand in your wallet
Another ’round your (E9) neck
(E7) Threaten you (Bm7) with prison time
(E7) unless you obey and send that tax (A) check
(A7)
(E7) That’s truth direct
(E)
(Bm7) Starting wars, funding terror,
(F#m7) turning the whole world into a (E) mess
(E7) Its all grotesque

Verse 6:

(E7) Then you start a-thinking
Is this all there (E9) is?
(E7) Can’t we find a (Bm7) way to solve our
(E7) problems that works out better than (A) this?
(A7)
(E7) Or call it quits
(E) and take our own risks
(E7) But they won’t let us do that
They’ve too much at (E9) stake
(E7) Their vested interest (Bm7) is to stand in
(E7) our way until we cause them to (A) break
(A7)
(E7) Make our escape
(E) Freedom retake
(Bm7) But we’ll have to build and plan and
(F#m7) bide our time until they seal their (E) fate
(E7) with a mistake too great

Outro:
(Bm7) Yeah, we’ll have to build and plan and
(F#m7) bide our time until they seal their (E) fate
(E7) Await that day
Await that day
Await that day
(E)

On Universalism, Genocide, and Libertarianism

One element which distinguishes modern political ideologies from their pre-modern counterparts and predecessors is universalism. That is, each of them makes several objective truth claims, and their adherents believe that everyone should convert to their point of view. Most also believe that everyone eventually will. This is due in large part to their Whig historiography, with the dominance of their particular system as the “end of history”. Clashes between different strains of political universalism, as well as proselytization into territories ruled by non-universalist governance structures, led to the unprecedented losses of life and property in wars and genocides during the 20th century. The currently dominant form, which will be examined at length, has the potential to motivate even greater destruction going forward. Let us explore the origins of political universalism, its implications, and what might be done with this knowledge.

Origins: Universalism, Calvinism, Unitarianism

Like most Western political ideas, the dominant strain of universalism in contemporary politics has its roots in Christianity. The doctrine of universal reconciliation says that all humans will eventually be saved and reach Heaven, that no permanent Hell exists, and that the idea of eternal damnation comes from a mistranslation of Scripture.[1] This belief can be found among some of the early church fathers[2], and persists in some sense within Catholicism through the belief in Purgatory. From a Protestant perspective, universalism is perhaps best understood as an extreme form of Calvinism. Calvinists believe that God has predetermined the fate of every soul, with some going to Heaven and others going to Hell.[3] A Christian Universalist believes that all souls are in the former category in the long-term. The Calvinist view of election is in contrast to Arminianism, which holds that election is conditional[4], and to open theism, which claims that God does not know in advance how a person will respond to the Gospel.[5]

The other four points of five-point Calvinism are total depravity, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints. Total depravity means that all people are enslaved to sin and cannot by their own faculties choose salvation. Limited atonement means that salvation is intended only for the elect and not for all people. Irresistible grace means that the elect will be saved regardless of their resistance to the Holy Spirit. Perseverance of the saints means that the elect cannot fall out of communion with God; apostates either never had true faith or will be divinely chastened into repentance. All five points have important implications in the political realm which will be discussed in the next section. The teachings of John Calvin eventually led to his own de facto rule in Geneva, the rule of Oliver Cromwell following the English Civil War, and the dominance of the Puritans in New England, the latter of which has never truly lost influence over American politics. Each of these produced its own horrifying and deadly results, from the burning of heretics like Michael Servetus[6] to Cromwell’s massacres of the Irish[7] to the Salem Witch Trials.

Christian Universalism proper can be traced to a liberal denomination formed in 1793 to uphold belief in universal salvation, which would later become known as the Universalist Church of America. This denomination merged with the Unitarians in 1961 to form the Unitarian Universalist Association. The early Unitarians rejected several fundamentals of mainstream Christianity, such as the doctrines of the Trinity, the pre-existence of Christ, original sin, and substitutionary atonement. During the 19th century, through the influence of Transcendentalism, they moved away from liberal Protestantism to become more theologically diverse.[8] This trend continued with 20th-century secular theology.

Unitarian Universalists have seven fundamental principles: 1) the inherent worth and dignity of every person; 2) justice, equity, and compassion in human relations; 3) acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations; 4) a free and responsible search for truth and meaning; 5) the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large; 6) the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all; and 7) respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

These principles look remarkably similar to secular progressive liberal rhetoric, and for good reason. As Unitarian Universalism became pluralistic and no longer explicitly Christian, it lost whatever minuscule resistance to leftism it once had, and Conquest’s Second Law took effect as usual. Unitarians and Universalists were active in social reform movements during the 19th and 20th centuries, including slavery abolition, alcohol prohibition, women’s suffrage, feminism, civil rights, LGBTQ rights, environmentalism, and social justice.

As the Unitarians in America became more secular, they formed a bridge between mainline Protestants and various types of radical leftists. The allegiance of these forces took some time, but was finally accomplished during the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Their takeover of academia and the mainstream media after World War II led to their dominance in political life, so much so that non- or anti-Universalist ideas were steadily pushed outside of polite discourse and into the fever swamps of far-right conspiracy theorists. Only in the age of the Internet is this hegemony beginning to crack, though this may be partly attributable to backlash against the sheer extremity of the leftist vanguard, which is a natural consequence of their dominion.

Social Justice as Secular Calvinist Universalism

Taken together, the twelve beliefs listed above explain many facets of contemporary leftist behavior, and the contradictions between them are responsible for much of progressive doublethink. Although progressive liberal ideology claims to advocate for the seven Unitarian Universalist principles, its practice looks more like the five points of Calvinism. Like Calvinists, progressive activists believe that the world is fundamentally unjust, and that people cannot save themselves. But since they generally reject the Christian God, they substitute the secular god of statism and view themselves as its agents and advocates. This also leads them toward total depravity, but their self-righteousness and use of statism to avoid the consequences of bad personal decisions shield them from this understanding.

Unconditional election manifests in the form of oppressor classes and victim classes. For all of their supposed opposition to essentialism, social justice warriors group people into what would in earlier times be called the elect and the damned based on race, sex, orientation, and other biologically immutable characteristics. Since they define bigotry as prejudice plus power, they contend that members of the elect (victims) cannot be bigoted against the damned (oppressors). This paradoxical view echoes the parable of the rich man and Lazarus[9], in that the eternally wealthy are temporally impoverished and vice versa. Just as a Calvinist never is sure of one’s salvation status, so too is a progressive activist never sure of whether one is sufficiently far to the left or whether one has done enough work for the cause.

Limited atonement takes on two forms with the radical left. First, despite their claimed universalism, they do not intend that all people and their descendants should have a long-term part in their planned future society, especially if they are classified as oppressors and prove resistant to social justice ideology. We will return to this later, but let us now consider the second form. Because a progressive activist is never sure of one’s status, one must endlessly engage in ritualistic privilege-checking confessionals and sacrifices, such as ceding platforms and resources to those deemed less privileged and more oppressed. These offer only limited atonement and are never sufficient to resolve one’s “burden of original sin” for being part of an oppressor class.

Irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints manifest together. Members of oppressed classes who reject social justice ideology are said to have “internalized oppression” in general, which includes particulars such as “internalized misogyny”, “internalized homophobia”, “internalized racism”, etc. Universalism rules out the possibility that nonbelievers never had true faith, and secular progressives reject divine chastening, so they themselves must chasten nonbelievers and apostates to repentance. This chastening never ends because of the doctrine of irresistible grace; the elect must be saved regardless of their resistance, and universalism extends this chastening to all of society.

Against Unitarian Universalism

At the surface level, the seven fundamental principles of Unitarian Universalism may seem harmless or even beneficial. Worse still, they may fool one into thinking that they are an antidote to secular progressivism. But the way that these principles are interpreted through a Calvinist lens leads down very dark paths, and has already done so on multiple occasions.

It is possible to have reasonable disagreements with six of these seven principles. First, both the labor and the subjective theories of value reject the idea of inherent value, so taken to their logical conclusions, human life does not have an inherent worth or dignity and can become a negative in some cases. The replacement of the culture of honor with the culture of dignity may also be lamented for its amplification of uncivil conduct and decline of martial virtues. When offensive speech carried the possibility of being challenged to a duel, and either risking one’s life or being branded a coward, it was necessary to engage other people in a more dignified manner. That social justice warriors view only some people as elect seems to conflict with the inherent worth of human life, but this is resolved by dehumanizing their opponents.

Second, the idea of justice, equity, and compassion in human relations may be rejected at a shallow level as an excuse to intervene in affairs that are none of one’s business. All too frequently, social justice warriors will insert themselves into private transactions and relationships which do not concern them, using the promotion of social justice and equality as a pretext. At a deeper level, whereas social justice rarely means the same thing as actual justice, one may dispute the meaning of justice. The ideal of equity may be rejected as a revolt against nature, with the alternative view that human individuals and collectives have differing capabilities as a result of both genetics and environment. Fewer people will argue against compassion, but there are times when rational psychopathy, social Darwinism, and so forth produce superior results.

Third, universal acceptance rejects the idea of discriminating against anyone for any reason. In practice, this is both an assault on private property and on freedom of association. If one cannot exclude people, then it is impossible to have quality control. The result is a predictable decline in quality of human relationships, economic goods, and standards of living. Encouragement to spiritual growth may be rejected by materialists who deny the existence of the spiritual, though some progressive activists will do this as well.

While no one should disagree with the fourth principle, a free and responsible search for truth and meaning, such a search has the potential to undermine the entire progressive program. Leftists will instead attempt to create the illusion that this is both occurring and finding results consistent with their ideology, with any discrepancies blamed on lack of funding, poor communication, and any other cause besides the possibility that they might be wrong. Of course, this means that anyone who finds contrary results and publishes them will feel the full force of the establishment machine.

Fifth, the right of conscience can be opposed as an assault on contract law. While conscription by the state should be rejected as a form of slavery (or agreed with for the wrong reasons), it is also a consequence of universalism in the political realm. The democratic process may be rejected as an affront to individual liberty, private property, freedom of association, the iron law of oligarchy, the right of might, and/or the divine right of kings, depending on one’s political views. One may also critique democracy for empowering those who are unworthy of having a voice, creating conflicts of interest, encouraging demagoguery, and perpetuating social unrest.

Sixth, the goal of world community is in opposition to all political ideologies which call for non-globalist, non-universal political organization, such as nationalism, localism, anarchism, and individualism. This point in particular is the path to darkness, and will be addressed at length later.

Seventh, respect for interdependent ecosystems cannot be fully rejected, but can be subordinated to human concerns. Alternatively, one may approach ecology from a reactionary perspective; not as a pretext for state intervention in the economy, a broader social justice movement extended beyond humanity to all living things, or a myopic desire for a nice place to live, but as respect for cosmic order, hierarchy, bravery, harmony, and beauty.

Other Universalist Ideologies

Before we continue, it is necessary to take note of other kinds of universalism. The progressive liberal variety described above at length traces its lineage through the political philosophy of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and the Young Hegelians in particular. Other Young Hegelians were the forerunners of various socialist and communist ideologies, such as Leninism and Stalinism. Right-Hegelianism, another school of thought founded by Hegel’s disciples, was a contributing factor to fascism and Nazism.

Conflicts involving these schools of thought have provided the philosophical backing for the great wars of the 20th century. In World War I, universalists defeated their non-universalist opposition in the form of the traditional monarchies of Europe and Russia, leading to the rise of the Soviet Union and the collapse of Austria-Hungary. World War II was a victory of Young Hegelians over Right Hegelians in Europe and non-universalists in Japan, respectively. The Cold War was a conflict between two different branches of Young Hegelians, the Soviet communists and the progressive liberal West.

The War on Terrorism in the 21st century is a struggle between the ascendant progressive liberals and the forces of political Islam. Some Islamists embrace a universalist ideology, seeking to bring the whole world under the rule of a global caliphate. Others are non-universalist, seeking an exit from and alternative to postwar progressivism. But both of these are rivals of the Western hegemony, except when the establishment sees fit to weaponize them against the remnants of non-universalism in Western countries.

The Path to Genocide

The fundamental characteristic of any universalist ideology is that it posits at least one common factor among all people. Such factors may be formulated as “All people are W”, “All people believe X”, “All people do Y”, “All people require Z”, and so forth. But what shall a universalist do with a person who is not W, or believes the opposite of X, or deliberately avoids doing Y, or has no need of Z? Like a scientist who encounters data which does not comport with the hypothesis being tested, the universalist faces a binary choice: reject the hypothesis and formulate a better one, or alter the data to fit the hypothesis. In science, the latter is (hopefully) condemned as academic fraud, but it is standard practice in the political realm. In other words, because the presence of people who steadfastly reject universalism is an empirical falsification of universalism, a universalist must either renounce one’s ideology or renounce those people, and the latter tends to occur. The method by which this renunciation of people is performed is best known as “no true Scotsman,” and declares them to be less than human.

The path from universalism to genocide is thus clear; dehumanize the inconvenient people, systematically reduce their role in socioeconomic life, then remove them from society. Because it is impossible to remove people to a location outside the Universe, which is what would be necessary to preserve universalism from those who reject it, the universalists are left with the option of murdering the incompatible. Regardless of whether the universal ideal is the Nazi master race, the Soviet industrial worker, the Khmer Rouge agrarian peasant, the Islamic State interpretation of Sharia, or the Calvinist-Unitarian-rooted system of progressive liberal values, any belief system which posits a mold that all people must fit will ultimately dehumanize those who do not fit, often with ghastly results.

But what genocide are progressive liberals carrying out? Surely the United States government is not forcing its own citizens into concentration camps or murdering them en masse, even though it has done both in the memorable past. Merriam-Webster defines genocide as “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group”, “the deliberate killing of people who belong to a particular racial, political, or cultural group”, and “acts committed with intent to partially or wholly destroy a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group.” Note that only one of these three definitions explicitly mentions killing. The other two are far broader in scope, including any acts intended to destroy a group of people. Whereas the size that a group must have in order for its destruction to be considered genocidal is rather arbitrary, this is also absent from the definition. Culture is defined as “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group”, “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization”, “the set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristic”, and “the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations.” All four of these definitions denote aspects of traditional Western thought that radical leftists seek to transform and destroy.

Because progressives have acquired such immense cultural power in the West, it is not necessary for them to directly murder their domestic opposition in appreciable numbers at this time. Such treatment is currently reserved for third-world peoples abroad. It currently suffices to use corporate power to censor their opposition, use social shaming to render them unemployable, promote milquetoast moderates as controlled false opposition in the political arena, wield state power to stop open attempts at real opposition, and steadily import migrants who are culturally incompatible with American and European rightists to demographically displace them over the course of generations. But no one should doubt that progressive universalists would resort to shooting like the others if nudging and shoving were to lose their efficacy, and this is beginning to happen throughout the Western world.

Genocide and Libertarianism

At this point, one may wonder what any of this has to do with political libertarianism, the idea that the use of force should only be defensive in nature. It may seem so obvious as to go without saying that genocide is incompatible with libertarianism, but let us take a closer look. By inserting the definition of culture into the definition of genocide, one finds that deliberate action intended to partially or wholly destroy a political or cultural group and eliminate the set of shared attitudes, beliefs, conventions, goals, practices, and values that characterize them is technically a form of genocide. Therefore, if a political or cultural group has a set of shared conventions and practices which are inherently aggressive in nature, then certain forms of genocide against said group would count as defensive uses of force.

That libertarian philosophy does not forbid genocide, but rather provides guidelines for its proper practice is a shocking realization that must be understood correctly, so let us contemplate these guidelines. First, of the four universal factors listed in the previous section, only the behavioral factor can form the basis of a libertarian genocide. It is aggressive action or the threat thereof that merits the use of defensive force. All forms of universalism based on a person’s essence, beliefs, or requirements are enemies of liberty because they lead to violence on the basis of factors which do not involve initiating the use of force against people. Only a group of people who actually behave in an unrepentantly aggressive manner merit partial or whole destruction.

This leads to the second requirement, that collective punishment should be minimized. While it is acceptable and may be necessary to use the authority of private property to censor and exclude those who provide the ideological motivation for criminal behavior, each person has the agency to decide whether or not to attack innocent people and/or their property. Thus, the people who are responsible for crimes are the people who committed the crimes or hired others to commit crimes in their stead, and defensive force should be focused on them. Broader nonviolent measures to suppress cultural norms which are anti-libertarian may be less targeted in application.

Third, a genocidal effort against an anti-libertarian faction should be the culmination of a long train of lesser measures and escalations, all of which have failed. One should not reach for a rocket launcher when a fly swat or a handgun will suffice, and one should not attempt to eliminate an entire political or cultural faction if lesser measures will restore orderly peace. The amount of force which is best for civilization is dictated by the strength and cohesion of the enemies of that civilization, and partial or complete suppression of a political faction is only necessary for ending existential threats to a libertarian social order.

Conclusion

Let us conclude by considering libertarian strategy in light of the points discussed above. There exists an established order that has permeated and controlled established organs of politics, academia, media, business, and finance. This order originated with a heretical Christian sect despite the denials of its membership that this is the case, but has since become almost entirely secular. Examining the tenets of this religion is useful for understanding why progressive liberal activists argue and behave as they do. The practice of this religion has brought unprecedented aggression, destruction, and death to the world, and will continue to do so unless and until it is stopped.

In order for a libertarian social order to succeed, it must stand against this creed with both the might and the willingness to defend itself from the proselytizing acolytes of secular Calvinist universalism. Of course, libertarians will need to make the advocacy of such ideas within their territories punishable by exile and outlawry. But because the establishment is universalist, the very existence of islands of liberty in the ocean of progressive liberal statism refutes their ideology. For the reasons and by the processes enumerated above, peaceful libertarians minding their own business in their own societies can expect to be attacked. This necessitates considerations of robust defense, as failure to do so will result in said libertarians being genocided by statists.

While part of the practical answer to globalism is local governance protected by nuclear deterrence, another part is a counter-universalism that fights fire with fire. A behavioral standard that all people refrain from engaging in the worst forms of criminal activity, with those who do regarded as having forfeited their personhood in an ethical sense, is not only necessary to prevent social order from being disrupted, but is essential for dealing with persistent external threats. Just as an individual need not spend a short life dodging hired assassins instead of stopping the person who hires them, libertarian communities need not live on the precipice of annihilation by an all-consuming global statism. By resorting to the methods discussed in the previous section which happen to fall within the dictionary definition of genocide, a libertarian social order can prevent itself from being defeated by the nation-state system and stand defiant against secular Calvinist universalism.

References:

  1. “What Is Christian Universalism?”. Auburn.edu.
  2. Knight, George T. (1953). The Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, vol. 12, p. 96.
  3. Calvin, John (1994). Institutes of the Christian Religion. Eerdmans. p. 2206.
  4. Allen, R. Michael (2010). Reformed Theology. Doing Theology. New York: T&T Clark. p. 100–1.
  5. Gregory A. Boyd (2001). “The Open Theism View”, in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, ed. James K. Beilby, Paul R. Eddy. InterVarsity. p. 14.
  6. McGrath, Alister E. (1990). A Life of John Calvin. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. p. 118–20.
  7. Breton, Albert (ed. 1995). Nationalism and Rationality. Cambridge University Press. p. 248.
  8. Engaging Our Theodiversity. Unitarian Universalist Association.
  9. Luke 16:19–31.

An Overview Of Autistic Conservatism

There is a certain species of political theory and public policy analysis which is marked by an inability to understand context and/or a denial of it, difficulty with using abstract thinking and concrete thinking in the correct situations, deep knowledge in very narrow topics, difficulty in understanding other perspectives, repetitive use of set phrases, and an inability to identify or think about groups or shared interests. People who routinely produce such content tend to have a troubling need for routines, a lack of empathy, and difficulty in processing social cues. Analysis that suffers from some (or even all) of these shortcomings can be found all over the political spectrum to varying degrees. While it is most common among libertarians, such myopic content is produced by many conservatives as well, particularly those who are politically connected.

The term political autism has come into use as a descriptor for this phenomenon because the above symptoms are commonly found among autistic people, particularly the high-functioning or mildly autistic. Other symptoms, which are more common in severe cases of autism, do not manifest politically because they are socially crippling, keeping a person from organizing in the political realm to advance one’s interests. Therefore, let us focus on the autism symptoms which manifest among some conservatives and impair their intellectual output. We will examine each of these symptoms, then consider how they typically manifest in order to provide a guide for self-diagnosis and self-treatment to the afflicted. Finally, we will compare and contrast autistic conservatism with the related but distinct phenomenon that has been labeled cuckservatism.

Personality Problems

People who have autism spectrum disorders typically have a lack of interest in sharing achievements, emotions, or interests with other people. They frequently lack empathy for other people’s feelings and have difficulties in forming and sustaining relationships. They can have difficulties in understanding other perspectives as well as non-literal speech. These personality problems amplify pathological political positions taken by certain subsets of conservatives, frequently denounced elsewhere as neoconservatives, Beltway bandits, chicken hawks, and imperialists. In argumentation, these symptoms manifest when conservatives answer leftist rhetoric with dialectic, or vice versa. A related problem is the use of faith-based persuasion toward the faithless. The autistic conservative is unable to process the operational mode of the opponent and is therefore only able to frustrate leftists.

Context Problems, Abstractness, and Concreteness

As with many other disciplines, there is a dichotomy between abstractness and concreteness, between theory and practice in politics. Given the human element which is necessarily present, a multitude of variables are introduced, some of which will escape account by even the best theorist. Furthermore, peoples’ lives are only ever lived in context; there is no such thing as human existence devoid of setting. It is thus only natural that a theorist should present a simplified model of the world for the purpose of illustrating an argument. Doing so avoids presenting a cacophony of background noise, distracting the recipient with instances of his own ignorance, and maintains the presenter’s frame of reference. Political autism takes this several steps further; the politically autistic will not only neglect certain elements of context, but will ignore important parts which fundamentally alter the calculus of a policy decision. More extreme examples will present completely abstract arguments devoid of any real-world considerations.

Depth Without Breadth

A related problem is the practice of delving deep into the weeds in a narrow topic while missing the larger picture. Again, there is a lesser version which naturally occurs for understandable reasons. As Carl Schmitt writes,

“Every religious, moral, economic, ethical, or other antithesis transforms into a political one if it is sufficiently strong to group human beings effectively according to friend and enemy.”[1]

This insight broadens the breadth and depth of knowledge required to be a general expert in politics far beyond that which any one person can possibly acquire. Accordingly, political theorists and commentators will specialize in certain aspects of statecraft. Political autism frequently involves taking this to the extreme of knowing almost everything there is to know about an esoteric, even trivial topic while being unaware of the larger context in which such knowledge could be useful. This hampers the political autist’s efforts by peppering one’s work with useless details that do not advance the case being made and reducing one’s ability to predict future results. Notably, this aspect almost never occurs in the absence of the others, so the issues tend to overlap.

Plural Solipsism

Another symptom of political autism is the tendency to view other people as being similar to oneself, and other nations as being similar to one’s own despite overwhelming contrary evidence. In other words, the political autist denies Schmitt’s insights into the nature of the political. Charles Krauthammer termed this behavior plural solipsism, writing:

“Solipsism is the belief that the whole world is me, and as mathematician Martin Gardner put it, its authentic version is not to be found outside mental institutions. What is to be found outside the asylum is its philosophic cousin, the belief that the whole world is like me. This species of solipsism—plural solipsism, if you like—is far more common because it is far less lonely. Indeed, it yields a congenial world filled with creatures of one’s own likeness…

The mirror-image fantasy is not as crazy as it seems. Fundamentally, it is a radical denial of the otherness of others. Or to put it another way, a blinding belief in ‘common humanity,’ in the triumph of human commonality over human differences. …Its central axiom is that if one burrows deep enough beneath the Mao jacket, the shapka, or the chador, one discovers that people everywhere are essentially the same.”[2]

This predictably causes serious problems, but is understandable. Humans have a very small amount of genetic variation, such that one would have to delve two or three levels below that of species in order to classify subgroups of humans. In terms of lived experience, many people in the modern world are surrounded in their daily lives by people who are sufficiently similar to them so as not to get into violent conflicts. This is especially true of people who write essays in political theory. Many people also live within a rather small bubble compared to the scale of international relations, so plural solipsism is a naturally occurring heuristic that allows people to devote mental resources to more pressing concerns.

Krauthammer continues,

“If the whole world is like me, then certain conflicts become incomprehensible; the very notion of intractability becomes paradoxical. …The more alien the sentiment, the less seriously it is taken. Diplomatic fiascoes follow… To gloss over contradictory interests, incompatible ideologies, and opposing cultures is more than anti-political. It is dangerous.”[2]

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

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

And even if one admits universal ends, one still has said nothing about means, about what people will risk, will permit, will commit in order to banish their (common) fears and pursue their (common) hopes. One would think that after the experience of [the 20th] century the belief that a harmony must prevail between peoples who share a love of children and small dogs would be considered evidence of a most grotesque historical amnesia.”[2]

Once more, a politically autistic person takes a mechanism which is beneficial in moderation for certain purposes and applies it in excess toward purposes for which it is unwarranted. It is also worth mentioning that one can engage in plural solipsism in one aspect of one’s thinking while being fully cognizant of the fallacy in another aspect.

Hyper-Individualism

Another symptom of political autism is a sort of hyper-individualism in which a person seemingly lacks the ability to identify or think about groups or shared interests, as well as make collective judgments. This is put into stark relief by the fact that rightist, conservative, reactionary, and other such labels specify a political group identity based on a common value set. This hyper-individualism hinders the ability of conservatives to organize into groups to accomplish tasks which are too difficult to complete on one’s own and to recognize large-scale threats in the form of demographic shifts which will alter their culture to be hostile to their interests.

Seeing and judging people as individuals rather than as stereotypes of a collective identity is the best approach whenever it can be employed, and bigotry frequently manifests in an ugly manner. But there exist situations in which one lacks the time and resources to judge each person individually, thus a collective decision must be made. In a sense, hyper-individualism is also a form of context denial. Identity politics and intersectionality have been successful driving forces on the left, but have been denounced by the conservative establishment. Refusing to use an effective weapon that the enemy gleefully employs leaves one’s side at a disadvantage. Additionally, no one living in civilization is truly an atomized individual, as everyone has collective ties to some degree.

Thought-Terminating Clichés

A thought-terminating cliché is a phrase that is used to end a debate prematurely without addressing all important points. These do have legitimate uses; one may employ them to avoid repetitious arguments against points that have already been refuted a thousand times, to end an engagement when one no longer feels like participating, or simply because the cliché is a true statement that applies to the subject being discussed. It is important to distinguish between proper and improper uses so that one does not incorrectly accuse others of using logical fallacies.

That being said, autistic conservatism frequently manifests in the use of abbreviated talking points, snarl words, and triggers. This is done to create a Pavlovian response in voters and activists to get them to denounce leftists and their policies absent the reasoned arguments which should accompany such references. Political autism is thus exacerbated by democracy, for denying the masses a political voice would eliminate the need for such behavior. Note that such clichés need not be true; indeed they can be outright fabrications and conspiracy theories.

Current Examples

With the symptoms covered, let us turn to current instances of political autism among conservatives. Context denial is the most common symptom of political autism. Two examples at the time of this writing are the establishment conservative positions on trade and social media censorship. Mainstream conservatives pay lip service to free trade, arguing that it would be best for the economy if no nation enacted tariffs or embargoes against any other. In a perfect world, no protectionism would be justifiable, but that is neither this world nor the world of the immediate future. The current context is that other nations have high tariffs against the United States which are not reciprocated. One means of lowering tariffs in the long term is to respond with an equivalent counter-tariff to attempt to even out the discrepancies caused by another state’s tariffs, with an aim toward negotiating reduction or abolition of the tariff on both sides. In this view, tariffs do for trade policy what nuclear weapons do for foreign policy; their primary purpose is to alter the behavior of other states by serving as a deterrent. The threat of a trade war by way of tariffs and counter-tariffs helps to keep the economic peace, just as peace through mutually assured destruction does with nuclear weapons.

Although free trade usually provides more net benefit than protectionism in the long run, people do not live in the long run; they live their lives and feel economic pain here and now. Furthermore, a net benefit does not mean that each individual person benefits; only that the sum of all benefits and malefits is a net positive. It may be the case that a minority sees great gains while a majority suffers somewhat smaller losses, and this would explain why a democratic system would produce protectionist policies. Political autism also manifests here in the form of the lack of empathy for those who are harmed by free trade in the short-term, the difficulty of understanding their perspective, and the inability to think properly about individuals versus groups.

The recent censorship of conservatives by social media companies has also produced a great amount of context denial. Establishment commentators typically declare that these technology giants are private companies and should be free to deny service as they see fit. According to them, anyone who disagrees with the terms of service can go build their own platform. Real-world conditions thoroughly contradict such a view. Those who have tried to build their own platforms find themselves stymied by domain registrars and payment processors who refuse to host their websites and handle their assets, as well as the ability of established companies to use their platforms for anti-competitive practices, such as keeping their upstart competitors out of search results and application stores. This can keep their competitors from gaining the brand recognition necessary to build the user base to become successful social media platforms. This was less of a problem in the early days of social media when turnover of the most popular sites was higher, but the near-monopolies of the largest companies are no longer as vulnerable.

As for private companies, the technology giants are not as private as mainstream conservatives seem to believe because all of these companies are incorporated. A corporation is a legal fiction created by the state to shield business owners from full financial liability and ease the enforcement of laws upon those businesses. Without registering or chartering a corporation under the laws of a state, it is impossible to establish such an entity as we know them. The closest one could come would be to negotiate recognition of a business entity with limited liability with each customer of that business, but this would not be identical to a state-recognized corporation in terms of its interaction with the state or its liabilities for negative externalities. Two results directly follow from this. First, registering a corporation amounts to participation in a government program. Second, state-recognized corporations are not truly private businesses, but public-private partnerships in which the state provides limited liability through its monopoly on courts and the private business fulfills its purpose, whatever it may be. Because taxpayers are forced to pay for the legal structures that corporations use, any funding grants or bailouts they receive, and any public works they perform, to let taxpayers be denied service by these entities compounds the injustice of taxation.

As mentioned earlier, plural solipsism occurs most prominently in the efforts of liberal democracies to proselytize their civic religion to non-democratic governments, often violently. The West, from ancient Athens onward, produced a unique set of values that led to liberal democracy. This occurred in a distinct historical context; enough particular people living in particular environments eventually came to view liberal democracy as, in Winston Churchill’s words, “the worst form of government, except for the others that have been tried from time to time.” People of different genetics in different environments need not and have not developed the same values, and there is no logical reason why they should. Indeed, there is no logical reason why the West need retain democracy in light of the loss of essential liberty that has occurred under its watch and the degree of havoc its adherents have wrought upon non-democratic countries.

A second example of plural solipsism is that of conservative strategy versus liberal strategy. Liberals tend to view conservatives as being evil, while conservatives tend to view liberals as merely wrong and assume similar good faith. Leftists simply ask who can do what to whom, while what passes for the right gets bogged down in concerns over civility. The political autist lives in search of a neutral referee to penalize leftist transgressions, unable to discern that no such creature can possibly exist, and if it did, it would instead be the field being played on or the goal being scored on. A less autistic approach would recognize the difference and change course accordingly.

Hyper-individualism is best evidenced at the time of this writing by open-borders advocacy by big-business conservatives who enjoy cheap immigrant labor at the expense of native populations that must deal with lower wages, higher crime rates, and cultural dispossession. Recall that lacking empathy for others, difficulty sharing achievements with them, and not understanding other perspectives are part and parcel of political autism. That the people who seek to import massive numbers of culturally incompatible immigrants are typically shielded from the adverse effects thereof by their location and wealth make this behavior more prominent and reprehensible.

Finally, the thought-terminating cliché has recently taken the form of Make America Great Again, despite the lesser degree of political autism in Trumpism vis-à-vis establishment conservatism. Although this is a grammatical shorthand for a wide range of quasi-right-wing populist policy measures, it is also a rallying cry for low-information voters to excite them enough to vote Republican, whatever that may ultimately mean for them, as well as a means of accusing opponents of opposing American greatness.

Autism Versus Cuckoldry

Although there is some overlap between autistic conservatism and cuckservatism, they are distinct phenomena. Now that the former has been described thoroughly, let us compare and contrast the two.

Both autistic conservatives and cuckservatives pay lip service to the defense of traditional conservative values, but recommend policies which work against those values. However, the disposition of each is different. The autist has intellectual handicaps, while the cuckservative prioritizes establishment respectability over implementing conservative policies. For example, the same argument for an open-borders immigration policy can be autistic or cuckolded, depending on whether the arguer cannot understand the potential dangers to one’s own people or is too afraid to argue for the preservation of one’s people out of fear of being called a racist. Another issue on which both produce the same misguided arguments is that of corporations, but while the autist will confuse them for purely private businesses due to context denial, the cuckservative will oppose anything that threatens the power of corporations, even going so far as advocating a soft variant of fascism.

The two groups differ in their most common goals. The autistic conservative is more likely to defend incorrectly, while the cuckservative is more likely to attack incorrectly. The autist defends institutions and practices that conservatives should oppose because they do not understand the greater implications of what they are doing, while the cuckservative spends more time punching right than punching left. The autist will attempt to strictly adhere to principles that no one else observes because they are useless handicaps in the political arena. Meanwhile, the cuckservative may articulate a set of principles, but will seldom stand by them in the face of criticism from the left.

Both autistic conservatives and cuckservatives are tolerated by the leftist establishment and occasionally paid well, but for different reasons. The autists are useful idiots who are incapable of doing serious damage to the Cathedral, while the cuckservatives are false opposition who take up valuable political space in a two-party system in order to keep real opposition from ever gaining power through democratic means. For all of the above reasons, autistic conservatism is more forgivable than cuckservatism, as ignorance and innocence are more forgivable than malice and subterfuge.

Conclusion

Political autism is perhaps best interpreted as a tragic flaw, the result of normal human behaviors taken to extremes which produces poor results precisely due to their immoderation. Although autistic conservatives present works which are predictably incorrect, they are not usually doing so in bad faith. The best way to handle them is to correct them when they go astray, with the aim of helping them to recognize their political autism and check it as needed so that other, non-autistic rightists no longer have to do so for them.

References:

  1. Schmitt, Carl (1932). The Concept of the Political (Expanded ed.). (George Schwab, Trans. 1996). The University of Chicago Press. p. 37.
  2. Krauthammer, Charles (1983, Aug. 15). “The Mirror-Image Fallacy”. Time.

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.).

The Case Against Corporations

Libertarianism within a leviathan state functions not as a governing philosophy, but as a critique of excesses, i.e. the cases in which state power is used in an unusually pernicious manner. These efforts have had varying degrees of success, depending on how well libertarians can convince major party operatives and wealthy financiers of the wisdom of restraining the state on one issue or another. Unfortunately, mainstream libertarians seem to have a blind spot, if not an outright case of political autism, when it comes to corporate power. Free-market conservatives, reactionaries, and traditionalists also view corporations far too positively. Let us examine the history of corporations, construct a case against their existence and power, and offer solutions for reining them in.

History of Corporations

The word “corporation” comes from Latin corpus, meaning “body”. Originally, it was the gods of Uruk that fulfilled the function of imaginary entities that owned property and conducted commerce. Like modern corporations, Enki, Inanna, Lagash, Shurupak, and the other deities of ancient Mesopotamia outlived any human and were not troubled by inheritance disputes, but needed humans to conduct affairs on their behalf. The ancient Egyptians merged this concept with a physical embodiment to create the concept of Pharaoh.[1]

By the time of Justinian I (r. 527–565), Byzantine-Roman law recognized several types of corporate entities, such as collegium, corpus, and universitas. The state itself was considered a sovereign corporation, the Populus Romanus. Smaller municipalities were also categorized as such, along with occupational guilds, political groups, and religious cults. The privileges of these early corporations were granted by the emperor in their charters, such as owning property, making contracts, engaging in commerce, and pursuing legal action.[2] Local governments and religious institutions were also incorporated in medieval Europe for the same reasons. Other forms of organization such as partnerships were offered by common law, which arose whenever people acted together with an intent to profit.

The era of the modern corporation began in the 17th century with the chartered companies that led European colonial ventures in India, the Americas, and elsewhere. The Dutch East India Company (VOC, from Dutch Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie) was chartered by the Dutch government in 1602 and sold shares to investors, who traded them on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange. The charter granted limited liability to investors and allowed the company to use military force pursuant to its purposes, which it did by defeating Portuguese forces in the Maluku Islands.[3] The English government chartered corporations with a territorial monopoly. For example, Queen Elizabeth I chartered the East India Company of London in 1600 to monopolize trade with all countries east of the Cape of Good Hope.[4] Like the Dutch company, the English company would use force on the government’s behalf, becoming integrated with English and later British foreign policy. The English East India Company would become a symbol of both corporate success and exploitation.[5] Shareholders made almost 150 percent returns in 1711. Its first stock offering in 1713–1716 raised £418,000, and its second in 1717–1722 raised £1.6 million.[6]

However, the apparent success of a similar entity, the South Sea Company, turned out to be illusory. Established in 1711, its monopoly rights to trade with Spanish South America were supposedly backed by the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht. In reality, the Spanish remained hostile, only allowing one trade ship per year. Investors made the South Sea Company immensely wealthy despite the fact that it did no real business. It took on the burden of British public debt in 1717, further accelerating the share price. War with Spain in 1718 cost the company its prospects of trade profits.[7] The Bubble Act 1720, which prohibited the establishment of companies without a Royal Charter, contributed to Britain’s first speculative bubble.[8] South Sea Company shares eventually collapsed from £1000 in August 1720 to under £150 in October, causing many bankruptcies.

Modern Developments

As the 18th century ended, mercantilism was displaced by capitalism and agrarian economies became industrialized. Corporate forms also evolved to be less dependent on state direction and permission. Many business ventures during this time were unincorporated associations with up to thousands of members. Litigation was thus very difficult to coordinate, keeping the courts from being clogged with corporate lawsuits. The Bubble Act was eventually repealed in 1825. In 1844, Parliament passed the Joint Stock Companies Act, which allowed companies to incorporate by registration for only £10 without obtaining a royal charter.[9] Until 1855, company members were still fully financially responsible for their collective actions, but the Limited Liability Act changed this by only holding investors responsible up to the amount of their investment[10], thus allowing the remainder to be externalized to the public.[11] Insurance companies were excluded from limited liability at first, but the Companies Act 1862 changed this.[12] The 1897 House of Lords decision in Salomon v. Salomon & Co. confirmed the separate legal personhood of corporations by affirming that creditors could not sue the shareholders of an insolvent company for outstanding corporate debt. In 1892, Germany introduced the Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung (GmbH), the forerunner of the modern limited-liability company (LLC). These were considered separate legal personalities with limited liability like corporations, but could be owned by a single person.[13]

In the United States, corporations were usually formed by acts of Congress until the late 19th century. The captains of industry therefore made more use of the trust model than the corporate model, under which Rockefeller’s Standard Oil and Carnegie Steel Company became enormously successful.[14,15] State governments had more permissive corporate laws than the federal government in the 19th century, but most were designed to prevent corporations from gaining much wealth or power.[16] In the 1890s, New Jersey and Delaware adopted enabling corporate statutes.[17,18] Around this time, mergers and holding companies led to larger corporations, and governments responded with anti-trust and anti-monopoly legislation. Forming corporations was also made easier in most jurisdictions, though some places had many state-owned corporations that effectively nationalized certain industries. In recent decades, many countries have moved toward privatizing state-owned corporations, though ownership was transferred to politically connected oligarchs in many cases.[19,20,21]

Inherent Problems

The history of the corporate form makes clear the intractable problems of such entities. Fittingly, their roots are in the realm of religion, where fictions that operate on the intersubjective level of human experience have traditionally resided. Formalism demands that official reality should reflect actual reality, which is the first argument against corporations. Physical existence requires a concrete particular form; corporations are defined as lacking this, instead being legal persons without individual humanity. Furthermore, an association of individuals who agree upon a group identity and common purpose may be formed and continued without being accorded special privileges by a state, and power should not do what it need not.

A new set of problems arises when the state takes on a corporate form. For a sovereign to incorporate is redundant, as it already has all of the privileges of a corporation by virtue of monopolizing the legitimate use of force within the territory it controls. For good or ill, it can use its power to declare itself immune from suit and limit its liabilities by debasing currency or declaring a sovereign default. Only a loss of sovereignty from losing a war or sufficiently damaging measures taken against its trade by other sovereigns could force a sovereign to pay its creditors. More generally, a sovereign entity can have no law at all enforced against it except by the previously mentioned means. This is because the very concept of international law is a contradiction of terms; a sovereign cannot be subject to a higher law by definition.

Additionally, for a ruler to invite others to share power in a joint venture is to create offices which will eventually be used for evil ends, regardless of any well-intentioned efforts to create checks and balances. Eventually, these powers will be used to usurp the rights of the ruler and redistribute them. The road from there to democracy and all of its ills is heavily worn and in no need of additional traffic. Once that occurs, politicians can demagogue against the very corporations that the state has empowered to convince voters to support regulations that will increase state power and control over the economy. It is better to nip this recipe for rebellion and totalitarianism in the bud.

There is also danger in any sovereign entity, from private property monarch to nation-state government, granting such privileges to business interests. Corporations become the most powerful and profitable business entities wherever they can be formed without the tight constraints of pre-modern times (and even under those constraints in many cases) because of their ability to capitalize gains and socialize losses. That is, their state-granted privileges allow them to protect their interests by means unavailable to purely private businesses and push the tab for their mistakes onto the rest of society. This has long been a problem with regard to environmental pollution. Recent examples of this that still cause lingering resentment are the various corporate bailouts following the 2008 financial crisis. These privileges and safety nets, combined with their abilities to bribe state officials to regulate smaller competitors out of existence with compliance costs and spend vast amounts of money on political campaigns[22], creates a feedback loop by which economic and political power is centralized into a quasi-fascist oligarchy.

This oligarchic power is weaponizable just like any other power. Once an industry is dominated by only a few large corporations because the state has altered the market to keep any other upstarts from having a chance to compete, it becomes possible to deny essential services to people who are considered undesirable by the elite, such as political dissidents or ethnic minorities. It is here that the political autism of mainstream libertarians manifests itself, as they will defend the rights of business owners to discriminate without regard for context. Corporations, acting at the state’s behest, can effectively force people to stop participating in socioeconomic life by reducing their options and then cutting off those options. Those who lose their stake in society are both at risk of being destroyed by it and incentivized to destroy it in order to create a new system that serves their needs, paving the way for both genocides and terrorist attacks.

Solving the Problem

Fortunately, there are several methods which may be used to confront the problem of corporatism. The initial step is to gain enough political power to turn against them the very legal systems that empower them. Once that is done, the process of eliminating the corporate form may begin.

First, the worst behaviors of overzealous corporate leaders must be curtailed. If a corporation is chartered or registered under the laws of a particular state and that state has a constitution demarcating the limits of its claimed powers, then no such corporation should exceed those limits, for no entity should delegate powers to others that it does not have itself. For example, an incorporated social media firm or payment processor in the United States should be prohibited from banning users who are not breaking laws because of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.[23] Only a purely private business should be able to discriminate in this fashion within territory governed by US law. Because taxpayers are forced to pay for the legal structures that corporations use, any funding grants or bailouts they receive, and any public works they perform, to let the taxpayers be denied service by these entities is doubly unjust. This method could be used against almost all corporations as of this writing, though corporations in countries with unwritten constitutions may be unaffected.

Second, the power to tax and regulate is the power to destroy. Libertarians and free-market conservatives tend to balk at the prospect of wielding this power, but so long as they are unwilling and unable to mount an effective challenge to it, it will exist and be wielded by someone. Progressives have no scruples about using state power to perform social engineering, and the presence of such scruples among their opponents explains much of the current imbalance of political terror. If the goal is to eliminate the corporation and the concept of limited liability, then the taxes and regulations on such companies could be made so onerous as to give them no choice but to adopt another business model. Of course, an adjustment period of perhaps two years would be necessary to avoid unnecessary economic disruption, and carrots for adjusting to a type of unincorporated unlimited liability company with haste could be employed alongside the aforementioned sticks. Once all companies have either transitioned to a new model or failed because they cannot survive under free-market conditions, the doorway back to corporatism can be sealed.

Third, it is necessary to break up the largest and most powerful states. Corporate power is ultimately derived from state power, and a large tree cannot be supported without large roots. In a world of thousands of smaller polities, no governance structure would be powerful enough to grant the dangerous advantages that corporations currently enjoy. Whether by amicable separation, cryptographic disempowerment of states, secessionist movements, or civil wars, the scale of governance must be reduced as much as possible in as many places as possible so as to limit the potential power of whatever corporations survive the purge.

While the plan of using state power against corporations followed by a localization of state power is being carried out, there is an important role to be played by private actors. Technological innovations, such as cryptocurrencies, enable new forms of business organization. These forms should be innovated and developed in order to create more alternatives that can help businesses transition to a model which does not depend on the state. Smart contracts built into blockchains can offer most of the legitimate advantages of incorporation without the illegitimate advantages or negative externalities. Moreover, purely private businesses can be built for the primary purpose of competing with establishment-favored corporations.

Rebutting Objections

One may anticipate several objections worthy of consideration. First, there is the sheer difficulty of the task at hand. Corporations wield immense power, and will exercise that power to defend their privileges. It is true that eliminating corporations will be a daunting task, but that which is created and perpetuated by humans can cease being created and perpetuated; it is only a matter of who has the will to do what is necessary to win. In fact, there was a time when people faced great challenges precisely because they were difficult for the sense of accomplishment and pride in achieving real progress. Doing battle against such a formidable foe may be just the sort of challenge that people need to give their lives meaning and purpose.

Traditionalists are most likely to object that corporations have existed in one form or another for millennia, and are thus a natural outgrowth of governance structures. This is both an appeal to tradition and an appeal to nature. Traditions can emerge in one set of circumstances as a collection of best practices, but be counterproductive in a different cultural milieu. It is also possible for traditions to form not as best practices, but as practices which are just functional enough to avoid being abandoned or as practices which keep a particular group of people in power, regardless of merit. That corporatism seems to naturally emerge from statism and become worse as democracy spreads is not a defense of corporatism, but an indictment of statism and democracy.

Another reactionary objection is that corporations can increase the effectiveness of governance by coupling the efficiency of markets with the functions of government. If governments ruled justly, this objection could be valid, except for the potential pitfalls already discussed. Unfortunately, this is frequently not the case, meaning that entrusting state functions to private actors results in the worst of both worlds: criminality under color of law carried out in service of profit above all else.

Critics from across the political spectrum will likely point out the role of limited liability in encouraging risky but beneficial ventures by protecting investors from losses beyond a certain point. In more modern terms, the absence of corporate privileges can lead to missing markets because of coordination failures that would occur without government intervention. This objection commits the broken window fallacy twice. First, it ignores the coordination failures that corporatism causes by creating negative externalities, thus resulting in missing markets in pollution mitigation. Second, it overlooks the economic activity that could have occurred had chartered and registered corporations not attracted investment capital to them and away from purely private companies. It also fails to interpret missing markets as a market signal that a certain market should not exist. Additionally, reactionaries should understand the shortcomings of basing economic considerations on utility alone, working instead with the principle of sacrifices producing greatness.

From a laissez-faire perspective, the economic growth that followed easing of restrictions on corporations and greater privileges granted to them may seem to prove the case in their favor. This is a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy; the fact that an enormous increase in prosperity occurred after limited liability became common and the creation of corporations changed from charter to registration does not mean that the latter caused the former. It is impossible to determine how much of modern prosperity has occurred because of corporations, in spite of them, or because of other factors, such as the exponential growth of knowledge and technology.[24] Of course, any other factors are inextricably linked to corporations. What can be said for certain is that economic growth is not the be all, end all that some capitalists make it out to be. For what shall it profit a people to be physically enriched but morally and spiritually impoverished?

Finally, libertarians will object that state power in general and taxation in particular are morally criminal and should not be used in pursuit of any socioeconomic goal. The political autism of this approach has already been addressed, so let us focus on the particular policies being advocated. The policy of taxing and regulating corporations out of existence is not designed to collect taxes. The idea is to require businesses to avoid the tax by changing their form. If this succeeds, then the economy has been engineered in the direction of liberty. If this fails because businesses opt to suffer through exorbitant taxation and regulation rather than reform, then this gives and advantage to purely private businesses while engineering society against obstinate stupidity. The idea of localizing state power by whatever means are necessary will meet opposition from libertarians who misunderstand the non-aggression principle, but this is resolved by articulating a correct understanding of libertarian philosophy.

Conclusion

The ancient root of corporations is in myths about deities which exist nowhere except in the minds of believers. The current form of corporations empowered by nation-states is only possible due to the monopoly of the state, which is based on aggressive violence rather than any legitimate property claim. While the pre-modern chartered companies were created by more legitimate powers, especially in pre-democratic times, they are still legal fictions that a rational philosophy should oppose. Corporations are therefore incompatible with libertarianism and should be replaced by other forms of business organization, such as common-law partnerships and cooperatives. Recent technological advances offer novel means of aiding this replacement, but turning state power against the corporate power it has created will almost certainly be necessary. Though there will be many objections to such a radical approach, none of them withstand proper scrutiny. Everything that corporations have done that should be done can be performed by purely private companies without the drawbacks of greater statism.

References:

  1. Harari, Yuval Noah (2015). Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. HarperCollins Press. Ch. 4.
  2. Berman, Harold Joseph (1983). Law and Revolution (vol. 1): The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition. Cambridge University Press. p. 215–6.
  3. Prakash, Om (1998). European Commercial Enterprise in Pre-Colonial India. Cambridge University Press.
  4. Imperial Gazetteer of India vol. II (1908), p. 6.
  5. Keay, John (1991). The Honorable Company: A History of the English East India Company. MacMillan-New York.
  6. Ibid., p. 113
  7. Carswell, John (1960). The South Sea Bubble. London: Cresset Press. p. 75–6.
  8. Harris, Ron (1994). “The Bubble Act: Its Passage and Its Effects on Business Organization”. The Journal of Economic History. 54 (3): 610–627.
  9. Davies, Paul Lyndon (2010). Introduction to Company Law. Oxford University Press. p. 1.
  10. Mayson, S.W; et al. (2005). Mayson, French & Ryan on Company Law. London: Oxford University Press. p. 55.
  11. “Limited Liability and the Known Unknown”. Social Science Research Network. 2018.
  12. Pulbrook, Anthony (1865). The Companies Act, 1862, with analytical references and copious index. London: Effingham Wilson.
  13. Limited Liability Company Reporter (2001, Jun. 4). “Historical Background of the Limited Liability Company”.
  14. Dies, Edward (1969). Behind the Wall Street Curtain. Ayer. p. 76.
  15. Nasaw, David (2006). Andrew Carnegie. p. 578–88.
  16. Smiddy, Linda O.; Cunningham, Lawrence A. (2010). Corporations and Other Business Organizations: Cases, Materials, Problems (7th ed.). LexisNexis. p. 228–31.
  17. Ibid., p. 241
  18. The Law of Business Organizations. Cengage Learning.
  19. Nellis, John; Menezes, Rachel; Lucas, Sarah. “Privatization in Latin America: The rapid rise, recent fall, and continuing puzzle of a contentious economic policy”. Center for Global Development Policy Brief, Jan 2004. p. 1.
  20. Faiola, Anthony (2005, Oct. 15). “Japan Approves Postal Privatization”. Washington Post.
  21. Megginson, William L. (2005). The Financial Economics of Privatisation. Oxford University Press. p. 205–6.
  22. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 844 (2010)
  23. Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Co., 118 U.S. 394 (1886)
  24. Roser, Max; Ritchie, Hannah (2018). “Technological Progress”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org.

Against the Magna Carta

As some American eggheads say, there could not have been 1787 without 1215. The legacy of Philadelphia starts at Runnymede. Put more bluntly, the U.S. Constitution would not exist without the Magna Carta that was signed by King John of England.

America’s political culture, ideals, and most of its founding stock come from the British Isles. As such, arguing that American documents have an English lineage is entirely sensible. America’s Bill of Rights is based on and not much different from the Bill of Rights that English Protestants ratified in 1689 following the Glorious Revolution.

There a few documents in the world that receive such undue reverence as the Magna Carta. Conservative MP Daniel Hannan has called the signing of the document a “secular miracle”, the logic being that it was the Magna Carta that enshrined limited government in the English, then British soul. Hannan and others sincerely believe that the 1215 document is the root and origin of modern Anglo governance, with its protection of individual freedom, liberties, etc. Let us show that this is bunk.

Historical Context

The Magna Carta, which can be read in translation here, was signed by a king so loathed that no subsequent English monarch took his name. Although King John‘s story has been colored over the centuries by writers who hated him, it is true that John was a tyrant and a bumbler who lost most of the Angevin holdings in France to King Philip II of the House of Capet. Even worse, insofar as the Anglo-Norman barons of England were concerned, John was not the legitimate king because he ruled in the stead of the brave Richard the Lion-heart, who spent years languishing in an Austrian jail.

Beginning in 1215, the same year that John affixed his emblem to the Magna Carta, the Anglo-Norman barons of England’s north and east rose up in rebellion. Their main grievances were over John’s misrule in England and Normandy as well as his steep taxes that were raised in order to fight new campaigns in France. This rebellion would become known as the First Barons’ War, an unnecessary conflict that further weakened the monarchy in England.

The Magna Carta had already been signed by the time the war broke out, so it neither prevented the war nor ended it. In fact, haggling over the Magna Carta following its signing led both parties to be dissatisfied with the document, ultimately putting all on a war footing. The “secular miracle” was ineffectual insofar as internal English politics were concerned. The main reason for this is that King John had the document annulled not long after signing it by a decree from Pope Innocent III. The Pope and the King agreed that the document had been signed under coercion. The Pope even went further by excommunicating those barons who had forced John’s hand. Even in its own time, the Magna Carta meant nothing to either the English monarch or the barons who fought him.

The Document Itself

Those who claim that the Magna Carta is the origin of Anglo-American freedom often point to one line in particular:

“No Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will we not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the Land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.”

This passage is often cited as the foundation of the notion that all governments should be held to the rule of law. This is a strange assertion, given that no English or British court case has been decided based on either this passage or the Magna Carta generally, and that the Romans had a legacy of protecting legal authority long prior. The Magna Carta is therefore of no legal importance. It is merely a symbolic gesture that signals the king’s willingness to compromise on his authority. When the English sovereign faced a much greater revolt in the 17th century, many Parliamentarians echoed the work of barrister Sir Edward Coke, who often invoked the Magna Carta during his injunctions against outlawry, unlawful arrests, and other formerly common practices of medieval (and Catholic) England.

Another criticism of the Magna Carta from the perspective of the Catholic or hard Protestant Right is the fact that the document makes God a mere observer in English affairs, not the creator and ultimate judge of all human actions:

“FIRST, THAT WE HAVE GRANTED TO GOD, and by this present charter have confirmed for us and our heirs in perpetuity, that the English Church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished, and its liberties unimpaired. That we wish this so to be observed, appears from the fact that of our own free will, before the outbreak of the present dispute between us and our barons, we granted and confirmed by charter the freedom of the Church’s elections – a right reckoned to be of the greatest necessity and importance to it – and caused this to be confirmed by Pope Innocent III. This freedom we shall observe ourselves, and desire to be observed in good faith by our heirs in perpetuity.”

This moment then could be seen as the first stirrings of a legally encoded separation of church and state (an idea that is un-Christian down to its vary marrow) even though, as said before, the Magna Carta is ultimately a useless document. More to the point, legal codices and other documents have shown to be poor restraints on the state. Formerly, a Pope could excommunicate kings (and even that was not always effective) because the Pope in Rome was seen as having power in both the secular and ethereal realms. Nowadays, thanks to the Enlightenment, rulers are only constrained by contracts that can be changed thanks to the democratic and chaotic process of voting. Amendments are poor substitutes for excommunication; thus these weak constraints have empowered bureaucrats and managers at the cost of weakening sovereigns.

Third, the Magna Carta’s constant talk of “freemen” is meant to only apply to those Anglo-Norman barons who stood so threateningly beside King John as this document was signed. As G. K. Chesterton famously quipped, “the poor object to being governed badly, while the rich object to being governed at all.” This pithy statement is certainly apt when viewing the situation in England in the early 13th century. After all, the raising of taxes is one of the few duties of a king, and from the perspective of the Angevin crown, John was raising taxes in order to defend those lands that were his by birthright in France.

King John’s taxes did constitute a threat to baronial privilege, however. For a legitimate monarch, taxes are rent charged to tenants by the private property owner. In the case of King John, he enacted import and export taxes and pseudo-income taxes, most of which were only applicable to England’s barons. Those barons who could not or would not pay their taxes or debts saw their lands given to the crown. While the barons were wrong to draft the Magna Carta, King John was equally wrong to enact unfair taxes that went against precedent.

While the Magna Carta does speak out against the illegal seizure of non-English land (“If we have deprived or dispossessed any Welshmen of land, liberties, or anything else in England or in Wales, without the lawful judgment of their equals, these are at once to be returned to them”), it certainly does not articulate anything close to equal rights between the Celtic and Germanic subjects of the British Isles. Indeed, as discussed on Episode 77 of the Myth of the 20th Century podcast, the Magna Carta enshrined and justified the popular business of buying and selling English, Scottish, Irish, and Welsh slaves to foreign and domestic markets. Similarly, the passage in the Magna Carta absolving Christians from debts to Jews (“If anyone who has borrowed a sum of money from Jews dies before the debt has been repaid, his heir shall pay no interest on the debt for so long as he remains under age, irrespective of whom holds his lands. If such a debt falls into the hands of the Crown, it will take nothing except the principal sum specified in the bond.”) is really nothing less than an a way for debt-ridden nobles to cover their own hides after several failed crusades in the Holy Land.

It must also be mentioned that the “security clause” of the Magna Carta (Clause 61) does not offer up protection from unjust land theft, but rather tried to enshrine the rights of those twenty-five barons present at Runnymede:

“The barons shall elect twenty-five of their number to keep, and cause to be observed with all their might, the peace and liberties granted and confirmed to them by this charter. If we, our chief justice, our officials, or any of our servants offend in any respect against any man, or transgress any of the articles of the peace or of this security, and the offence is made known to four of the said twenty-five barons, they shall come to us – or in our absence from the kingdom to the chief justice – to declare it and claim immediate redress. If we, or in our absence abroad the chief justice, make no redress within forty days, reckoning from the day on which the offence was declared to us or to him, the four barons shall refer the matter to the rest of the twenty-five barons, who may distrain upon and assail us in every way possible, with the support of the whole community of the land, by seizing our castles, lands, possessions, or anything else saving only our own person and those of the queen and our children, until they have secured such redress as they have determined upon. Having secured the redress, they may then resume their normal obedience to us. Any man who so desires may take an oath to obey the commands of the twenty-five barons for the achievement of these ends, and to join with them in assailing us to the utmost of his power.”

This clause gave the English public the right to forgo oaths of allegiance to the king, and in its opening passage (“SINCE WE HAVE GRANTED ALL THESE THINGS for God, for the better ordering of our kingdom, and to allay the discord that has arisen between us and our barons”) Clause 61 places man ahead of God in terms of the creation and structuring of civil society. Taken together, Clause 61 might be the most egregious in the Magna Carta for undermining the Christian nature of monarchy and the rights of the English sovereign. Historian Wilfred Warren argued in his book King John that Clause 61 made civil war inevitable in England because it so drastically upset the balance of power in the country in favor of the barons.

Other clauses, such as Clause 53 (“…when we have hitherto had this by virtue of a ‘fee’ held of us for knight’s service by a third party; and with abbeys founded in another person’s ‘fee’, in which the lord of the ‘fee’ claims to own a right. On our return from the Crusade, or if we abandon it, we will at once do full justice to complaints about these matters”) and Clause 55 (“All fines that have been given to us unjustly and against the law of the land, and all fines that we have exacted unjustly, shall be entirely remitted or the matter decided by a majority judgment of the twenty-five barons referred to below in the clause for securing the peace”) gave the barons the right to default on their debts and the right to refuse to pay certain fees. Many of these fees, including taxes on land, had been a part of English Common Law prior to the Norman Conquest. Clause 50 (“We will remove completely from their offices the kinsmen of Gerard de Athée, and in future they shall hold no offices in England. The people in question are Engelard de Cigogné, Peter, Guy, and Andrew de Chanceaux, Guy de Cigogné, Geoffrey de Martigny and his brothers, Philip Marc and his brothers, with Geoffrey his nephew, and all their followers”) lays bare the true nature of the Magna Carta—it was a document conjured up by aggrieved nobles looking for a way to increase their power against their rivals.

If the Magna Carta had been enacted in 1215, then England would have become a baronial oligarchy that could easily manipulate any sovereign. The Magna Carta would have also offset the possible dismantling of the Norman state back to its Anglo-Saxon origins (more on this later), for the barons would have seen the clear benefits of dominating both London and their estates in the country. Had the Magna Carta become law in 13th century England, it would have further centralized the English state at the cost of weakening the sovereign and legitimate monarch.

By the 17th century, the process of England’s pull away from the sovereign was completed by the Glorious Revolution. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 is one of the greatest tragedies in the history of the English-speaking peoples. Not only did it remove the legitimate heirs to the throne—the Catholic and Norman-Scot Stuart family—but it threw the British North American colonies into chaos. After all, the signing of a new English constitution suddenly rendered the American charters null and void. While the men and women of Massachusetts originally cheered the revolution and the destruction of the Dominion of New England, the revolution threw the legitimacy of colonial governments into question. The mother country responded by taking a more active approach in North American affairs, a result that quickly rubbed the New England and Virginia colonists the wrong way, eventually contributing to the American Revolution.

An Anglo Alternative

Again, it bears repeating that the original Magna Carta was never ratified or nor put into law. The reissued Magna Carta of 1217, for instance, added that all castles built during the First Barons’ War would be destroyed. Signed by King Henry III and sealed by the papal legate Guala, the 1217 document is also noteworthy for the fact that French Prince Louis resigned all claims to any land formerly held in England.

King Henry reissued the document eight years later in 1225. This version of the document, known as the Great Charter of 1225, became the definitive version of the Magna Carta. The purpose for its issuance was Henry’s desire to raise new taxes—the very same issue that got his predecessor, King John, in so much trouble. The Great Charter also removed any wording or suggestions that the original document had been written under coercion. This probably seemed pleasant to England’s barons, except that the 1225 document placed a tax on the fifteenth part of their movable property.

The final incarnation of the original Magna Carta occurred in 1258 with the Provisions of Oxford. This document, which was also signed by King Henry and saw promises of financial aid to the monarch from the barons, is actually considered the first true constitution in English history. After a military blunder in Sicily, Henry groveled before Parliament, which forced the king to agree to a 24-man royal commission which included at least twelve men handpicked by the barons themselves. The Provisions of Oxford officially made England’s barons part of the royal power structure, and for twelve years, Henry was under the control of a Council of Fifteen along with chief ministers, a Justiciar, and a Chancellor.

While the absolutism of the 17th century, which is itself a perversion of the kingly ideal based in early Enlightenment and Protestant thinking, caused the growth of sharp anti-monarchical feeling in the British Isles, it was the Magna Carta and its offspring that set in motion the weakening of the sovereign’s authority. Instead of one ruler constrained by God, natural law, and inherited privileges, 13th century England concocted a witch’s brew that reeked of proto-democratic oligarchy. King John and Henry III, because of their poor military adventures, relinquished their power to petty barons and the court mandarins in London. England, and indeed the entire West, have never fully recovered.

The Stuarts had an alternative to absolutism that was based in the ancient soil of England. According to historian and sociologist Spencer Heath, “heathen anarchism” was the state of affairs in England prior to the Norman Conquest of 1066. Now called “anarcho-feudalism”, this state of relations emphasized the Anglo-Saxon tradition of decentralized power, chieftains, and property. Take for instance the Anglo-Saxon custom of paying voluntary rent and/or customs to local lords. Prior to 1066 and the creation of the “Norman yoke”, Anglo-Saxon England did not have a centralized system of tax collection. Once taxation became official government policy, feudalism, which up until that point had been voluntary, became coercive. It was also the Norman Domesday Book which codified centralized authority, especially the authority that the king had over his nobles. It could be argued that had England retained Anglo-Saxon style governance, then the Magna Carta would never have been written.

Sadly, Norman rule in England brought about greater state centralization and coercion, and yet, the Magna Carta, which nominally tried to reign in King John and subsequent monarchs, only created greater synergy between the nobility and the monarch. The Magna Carta left unanswered the question: who has greater power, the nobles or the king? Such a vexing question would plague England for centuries and lead to yet another barons’ war. While the Anglo-Saxon system was far from fully voluntary (land tenure regulations and compulsive military service did exist), its more decentralized nature and the nature of tax collection in pre-Norman England was much closer to the spirit of liberty than either the Magna Carta or subsequent English laws written by either the monarch or Parliament.

Conclusion

The reverence given to the Magna Carta must be cast aside. The document meant nothing just weeks after it was written, and it means little now. Kings have a right to rule, so long as they rule in accordance with natural law. By restricting the king’s prerogative by instituting written constitutions, societies set themselves up for oligarchic exploitation. During the Second Barons’ War, Anglo-Norman knight Simon de Montfort captured London and the surrounding area. One of the first things he did was to create a parliament, subsequently known as Simon de Montfort’s Parliament. Because of this, Baron Montfort is often called the founder of the House of Commons, which means that this baron kick-started the engine that would decapitate King Charles I and dismantle any meaningful power invested in the English (later British) crown.

The Magna Carta was also invoked by the Protestant anarchists known as the Levellers during their resistance to both King Charles I and his Long Parliament. Ironically, when the Parliamentarian warlord Oliver Cromwell took power in London, he dispensed with the notion that he would abide by the 13th century document. Cromwell famously called the Magna Carta the “Magna Farta.”

Would one rather be ruled by a roster of barons or a single king? For libertarians and reactionaries, the answer is quite obvious. The Magna Carta was not some “secular miracle”; rather, it was a failed document that spawned other failed documents.