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/

A Holistic Approach to Ending Corporate Censorship

Over the past decade, the large technology companies of Silicon Valley have transitioned from a mindset of attempting to make government censorship impossible to a mindset of attempting to make government censorship unnecessary. People with views that oppose the progressive liberal narrative have increasingly found their posts removed and accounts suspended on the social media platforms created by these companies. Domain registrars, web hosting companies, and payment processors have joined in this effort to de-platform those who are not part of the progressive movement, such as conservatives, libertarians, reactionaries, and the alt-right, especially the latter two. At first, there were just a few relatively marginal people being removed from social media, having their crowdfunding campaigns taken down, and being chased off of web hosting. But these behaviors have become more common, as has the denial of service by payment processors.

There are several proposals for how to respond to these developments, and the debates concerning them highlight differences in political theory and strategy between the aforementioned groups under attack by the outer arms of the Cathedral. Let us consider each option in order to construct a holistic approach to freeing the Internet from censorious technology giants.

Policy Inaction and Reliance on Alt-Tech

The view articulated by mainstream libertarians and free-market conservatives is that the technology giants are success stories of capitalism, having brought about wondrous advances in commerce and communication. They tend to view these technology companies as private businesses whose owners should be able to set their terms of service as they see fit and choose with whom they will associate or not associate. Indeed, many view ostracism as a nearly universal positive, working to reward preferred behavior while punishing dispreferred behavior. If technology companies behave improperly, they believe that the market will punish them by elevating alternatives to prominence as customers flee to other providers. This leads them to favor inaction at the policy level while championing alt-tech as the solution.

This stance is best understood as inability to deal with the context of the situation, naivete by those who have yet to face the wrath of the establishment, or malice by those who are part of the establishment. The truth is that the dominant companies in social media, website hosting, domain registration, and payment processing have such large market shares that it is difficult for competitors to enter the market. Those who try face many hurdles in trying to start a site and remain online. The established companies can and do use their positions to engage in anti-competitive business practices, such as keeping competitors out of search results and application stores. This can keep competitors from gaining the brand recognition necessary to build the user bases they need in order to become successful 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. In a free market, censorious behavior from the largest technology companies would be of little concern, but the market is not free because it has been effectively cornered.

Although ostracism on the basis of behavior is nothing new, the crowdsourcing power of the Internet has transformed it into a political weapon that can be used to ruin people unjustly. Moreover, it is capable of dividing an entire society along ideological lines. When reasoned discourse is shut down and unpopular viewpoints are suppressed by howling irrational cyber-mobs, those who are de-platformed are likely to have their internal victim narratives confirmed, radicalizing them further. This may even motivate extremists who would otherwise spew hateful rhetoric but take no further action to go ahead with plans to commit acts of terrorism. It also may serve as a precursor to a novel type of civil war, one which arises when the heated rhetoric that is naturally produced as a byproduct of democracy escalates into political violence and there is no peaceful outlet to reduce tensions before they consume the entire society.

It is clear that doing nothing is not a reasonable strategy, and that alt-tech is necessary but not sufficient, so let us consider our real options.

The Communications Decency Act

Recent commentary on this subject has focused on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, codified at United States Code, Title 47, Chapter 5, Subchapter II, Part I, Section 230. The stated intent of this law is laid out in Subsection (b):

(b) Policy
It is the policy of the United States—
(1) to promote the continued development of the Internet and other interactive computer services and other interactive media;
(2) to preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet and other interactive computer services, unfettered by Federal or State regulation;
(3) to encourage the development of technologies which maximize user control over what information is received by individuals, families, and schools who use the Internet and other interactive computer services;
(4) to remove disincentives for the development and utilization of blocking and filtering technologies that empower parents to restrict their children’s access to objectionable or inappropriate online material; and
(5) to ensure vigorous enforcement of Federal criminal laws to deter and punish trafficking in obscenity, stalking, and harassment by means of computer.

The substance of the law at issue here is found in Subsection (c):

(c) Protection for “Good Samaritan” blocking and screening of offensive material
(1) Treatment of publisher or speaker: No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.
(2) Civil liability: No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of—
(A) any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected; or
(B) any action taken to enable or make available to information content providers or others the technical means to restrict access to material described in (1).

This statute allows service providers on the Internet to restrict the actions of customers without being legally responsible for the actions they do not restrict. The Communications Decency Act was written partly in response to the Supreme Court case Stratton Oakmont, Inc. v. Prodigy Services Co. (1995), which suggested that service providers were publishers subject to responsibility if they assumed an editorial role. The original purpose of these provisions is revealed in Subsection (d):

(d) Obligations of interactive computer service: A provider of interactive computer service shall, at the time of entering an agreement with a customer for the provision of interactive computer service and in a manner deemed appropriate by the provider, notify such customer that parental control protections (such as computer hardware, software, or filtering services) are commercially available that may assist the customer in limiting access to material that is harmful to minors. Such notice shall identify, or provide the customer with access to information identifying, current providers of such protections.

As usual, laws intended to solve a particular problem, in this case protecting minors from viewing obscene materials that they are not mentally prepared to view, are employed later for other purposes far beyond their original intent. The technology giants of today use this statute in order to have their cake and eat it too; they censor as they see fit and suffer no liability for what they choose not to censor.

Section 230 has come under attack from both left-wing and right-wing activists. The former wish to remove liability protections to incentivize more zealous censorship of “hate speech”, while the latter wish to either remove the ability of interactive computer service providers to censor content and remove people or make it easier for victims of defamation to sue the platforms that host defamatory material. But a full repeal of Section 230 would allow for platforms to be legally responsible for all of the content they host. Whereas moderating the sheer volume of user-generated content that exists today would be impractical, many sites would stop hosting such content. Lawsuits from failed moderation would overload the courts, and content hosting would mostly move to the decentralized dark web.

There would have to be a replacement statute following a repeal in order to mitigate the extreme disruption to business as usual. This replacement should serve the purposes laid out in Subsections (b) and (d) of Section 230, which has not been done by Subsection (c), item (2). Any replacement for that provision should keep interactive computer service providers from removing otherwise legal content from their sites unless they wish to be responsible for everything that they allow to remain. This would make Internet censorship so impractical that it would almost never occur, as success would produce very little benefit while failure would result in being treated as a publisher of vast quantities of libel and slander. This would be in keeping with the general methodology of federal regulations; rather than prohibiting an activity outright, it instead makes the activity too difficult for any reasonable entity to perform. Other measures could be used to keep obscene materials away from minors and allow users to filter out content that they do not wish to view. These measures already exist, and are such obvious solutions that there is no need to require them by law.

Altering Section 230 should rein in social media censorship, but it would be of questionable efficacy against domain registrars and web hosting companies, and would be useless against payment processors. Therefore, let us consider other approaches.

The Public Utility Approach

In the view increasingly expressed by conservatives and alt-rightists, the Internet is an essential aspect of life in the 21st century, and the technology companies that deny people access to the most popular social media platforms, domain hosting services, and payment processors are curtailing both the civil liberties and economic opportunities of those people. The largest technology companies are effective monopolies, in that these firms are the only sellers of products and services that have no close substitutes. In response, they call for the state to regulate these companies as public utilities, much as they do to providers of electricity, water, and natural gas. This line of thinking also leads to support among these people for net neutrality regulations. Some argue that government regulation is even more necessary in this case, as the network effects and first-mover advantages of the largest technology firms mean that a competitor cannot provide the same quality of service even if there were no significant barriers to entry into the business of creating social media platforms, search engines, and payment processors, which there are.

Treating social media and web hosting as public utilities is likely to cause more problems than it solves. When governments began regulating other industries, innovation in those industries slowed. The companies which were nearly monopolistic either remained so or became real monopolies, as competition became even more difficult. Freezing current troublesome companies in place as major players rather than allowing upstarts to displace them is an undesirable outcome. This is exacerbated by the fact that public utility regulations are just as vulnerable to regulatory capture as any other regulations. Furthermore, the cost of regulation is likely to be high, and the regulated businesses will pass this cost onto their customers. However, given the dominant market shares of domain registrars and payment processors, as well as the barriers to entry for creating new ones, those businesses may need to be treated as public utilities until meaningful competition can emerge.

The Anti-Trust Approach

There was obvious collusion between the legacy establishment media, dominant social media platforms, payment processors, domain registrars, and web hosting companies in the effort to silence Alex Jones in August 2018 and in the effort to shut down Gab in October 2018. There is a strong case to be made that such conduct runs afoul of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Passed in 1890 and amended to include and exclude various activities since, the Act is codified at United States Code, Title 15, Chapter 1, and reads:

“Section 1: Every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, is declared to be illegal. Every person who shall make any contract or engage in any combination or conspiracy hereby declared to be illegal shall be deemed guilty of a felony, and, on conviction thereof, shall be punished by fine not exceeding $100,000,000 if a corporation, or, if any other person, $1,000,000, or by imprisonment not exceeding 10 years, or by both said punishments, in the discretion of the court.

Section 2: Every person who shall monopolize, or attempt to monopolize, or combine or conspire with any other person or persons, to monopolize any part of the trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, shall be deemed guilty of a felony, and, on conviction thereof, shall be punished by fine not exceeding $100,000,000 if a corporation, or, if any other person, $1,000,000, or by imprisonment not exceeding 10 years, or by both said punishments, in the discretion of the court.”

Section 3 extends these provisions to the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. Much of the meaning and application of anti-trust law has been fleshed out judicially rather than legislatively. This has resulted in two major types of Sherman Act cases: “per se” cases and “rule of reason” cases. In a per se case, market actors strictly violate Section 1. In these cases, conduct has a “pernicious effect on competition” or “lack[s]…any redeeming virtue”[1] and “would always or almost always tend to restrict competition and decrease output.”[2] Such cases do not contemplate intent or effect, and simply require proving that the conduct occurred.[2] A rule of reason case considers intent, motive, and effect to attempt a prediction of whether the conduct in question promotes or suppresses competition. This is more difficult to prove, but should not be necessary in the most prominent cases of corporate censorship.

One example of prohibited conduct is “concerted refusals to deal”.[3,4] The efforts to de-platform Alex Jones and shut down Gab offer two obvious examples of concerted refusals to deal, and should easily clear even the heightened standard of Twombly[5] for bringing a case that cannot be summarily dismissed. As for Section 2 violations, the courts have distinguished innocent monopoly from coercive monopoly, which is the difference between a monopoly earned by providing goods and services so well that no one cares to compete and a monopoly maintained by using one’s dominant position to suppress competition. Though the technology giants mostly were innocent monopolies in the beginning, few have remained so, as the Jones and Gab incidents demonstrate. More generally, suppressing a company’s search results and keeping a company out of application stores is tantamount to anti-competitive business practice that would violate Section 2.

Champions of the free market have decried anti-trust law as a cause of market inefficiency[6] and as a violation of property rights. Ayn Rand described such laws as “the penalizing of ability for being ability, the penalizing of success for being success, and the sacrifice of productive genius to the demands of envious mediocrity.”[7] Concern about market inefficiency is important, but should not overrule non-economic moral and philosophical values. While ability and success can be penalized by anti-trust action if the targets are innocent monopolies rather than coercive ones, this does not have to be the case, and is not the case here.

A more substantive criticism is to fault anti-trust laws for solving problems caused by corporate law by additional legislation rather than by repealing bad laws. Another valid point is that anti-trust will be insufficient even if it is necessary, as trust-busting will solve nothing if Facebook, Google, Twitter, PayPal, et al. are broken into a hundred pieces, each of which behave exactly as the former did. More fundamental changes are thus needed, which brings us to the final option we will consider.

The Anti-Corporate Approach

We come now to the strongest approach, which is championed uniquely by libertarian reactionary thought. The nature of corporations leads to a clear rationale for restricting their behavior in such a manner as to end corporate censorship. 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 entities as we know them. For the four millennia that business structures similar to corporations have existed, they have always been intertwined with state power. Although one could negotiate contracts with other legal persons to make an unincorporated business function similarly to a corporation, 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.

In order to participate in a government program, a person or other entity is supposed to be in compliance with government laws. As all of the censorious technology giants are incorporated in the United States, they should obey American law. The Constitution is the supreme legal document with which a state-recognized corporation should be in compliance for this purpose. (More generally, 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.) The Constitution contains a number of provisions which are supposed to limit the conduct of government, including provisions to protect freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, security against unreasonable search and seizure, and due process, among other rights. Because state-recognized corporations are public-private partnerships, they should be held to the same limitations on their conduct. Because corporations exist on the backs of taxpayers who are extorted to fund the government that allows them to incorporate, 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 and violates the legal doctrine of estoppel.

The technology giants should face a choice of ceasing all censorship, forfeiting their corporate charters or registrations, or leaving the United States. In other words, they must choose between opening the marketplace of ideas, becoming truly private companies, or getting out of the way, any of which would be an improvement in the long term. Even the threat of this proposal would have the technology giants rushing to behave better, and could accomplish the same results as public utility regulation with far less threat to innovation.

Conclusion

The effort to stop corporate censorship is the most important social issue of our time because failure in this effort will greatly hinder the ability to discuss any other issue, at least from any position that deviates sufficiently from progressive liberalism. Silicon Valley has both a greater and a more insidious power to suppress dissident speech than the Cheka or Gestapo ever did. As Henry Olson explains,

“While a force like the Cheka was obviously able to inflict much more pain on individual people than Google can, its obvious brutality could not help but stir up popular resentment; thus, the common refrain that by the fall of the Berlin Wall the only people still believing in communism were American university professors. Therefore, the fact that modern tech companies have given up primitive methods of control for more sophisticated ones is an evolutionary improvement in managerial totalitarianism, not a weakness. The goal of the gulags was rarely to hurt individual people; it was to make the cost of opposing the system prohibitive to others. If Google, Twitter, PayPal, or any other company can silence dissent just by changing search algorithms or banning dissidents from using a service, then it has achieved in the same results in a less intrusive way. And because their methods are less obviously evil, they are also less likely to engender popular disillusionment or revolt.”

We have considered five methods for countering censorious technology giants: market competition by alt-tech companies, changing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, treating interactive computer service providers as public utilities, breaking up technology giants with anti-trust laws, and making incorporation contingent upon ending censorship. Only the latter method could possibly work without assistance from the others, as alt-tech could be suppressed by a concerted effort, the CDA does not deal with payment processors, public utility regulation would stifle innovation while freezing the currently dominant companies in place, and anti-trust risks replacing a few large bad actors with many small bad actors. Given the importance of this issue, a holistic approach of all of the above (and perhaps more) is essential for preventing the curtailment of discourse by an elite few, and thus preserving peace and order.

References:

  1. Northern Pacific Railway v. United States, (1958).
  2. Broadcast Music, Inc. v. CBS (1979).
  3. FTC v. Superior Court Trial Lawyers Association (1990).
  4. NW Wholesale Stationers, Inc. v. Pacific Stationery & Printing Co. (1985).
  5. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly (2007).
  6. Greenspan, Alan (1962). Antitrust. Nathaniel Branden Institute, New York.
  7. Rand, Ayn (1967). Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, Ch. 3. New American Library. Signet.

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.

Henry Olson Misunderstands Libertarianism

On September 25, Social Matter published an article by Henry Olson titled “The Death and Tragic Rebirth of Libertarianism”. While this article raises several important issues for libertarians and gets some points correct, it also has major theoretical problems. Whereas Olson’s misunderstandings are more commonly distributed and believed than correct libertarian theory, and this is a primary reason for many rejections of libertarianism, let us explore them and offer corrections while also noting where his essay is accurate.

Abstract

Olson begins,

“Whatever their partisans claim, political ideologies rarely succeed in describing some timeless truth about the world. More often, their existence is entirely contingent on the events around them. They serve as gathering points for similar personality types to consider the important issues of their day. When the issues change, most partisans move somewhere else, and the ideology goes stale.”

This is mostly correct, though libertarianism (in the Hoppean sense) does succeed in providing a rational proof that self-ownership, non-aggression, and respect for private property form the basis for how people should act, even if it is not how they do act. Though a political ideology can become stale when partisans leave, it can also lead to renewal as those who would use (and abuse) the ideology for their own purposes go elsewhere and take their corruptions with them.

Olson views the rise of political libertarianism through Ron Paul and its recession away from Rand Paul in favor of Donald Trump and the alt-right as an example of this staleness. He describes the passing of the “libertarian moment” in favor of Trumpism and the alt-right as “the sadness of a vanished childhood, where we realized that the dreams we once believed so deeply were only dreams”. But as we will see, this view rests upon a foundation of misunderstanding, as does the mainstream corporatist libertarian position that Olson criticizes.

Libertarian Theory

Olson attempts to provide the reader with a brief overview of libertarian theory, but offers a deeply flawed version of it. He writes,

“The central tenet of libertarianism was always simple. It was based around the so-called ‘non-aggression principle’ (or NAP), which held that anyone may do whatever he pleases with his own property so long as he respects other people’s rights to do the same with theirs. Since the boundaries on what it means to encroach on someone else’s property rights are not always clear, the NAP was typically understood as a prohibition on the initiation of force.”

While it is odd to read of even a former libertarian referring to the “so-called NAP,” the issue here is that self-ownership is the central tenet while NAP and private property are corollaries thereof. Though the definition of “encroachment” is not always clear in the abstract, it usually is clear in practice because people negotiate agreements in order to avoid unnecessary conflicts. The exceptions to this tend to be caused by state interference that inhibits the ability of private actors to negotiate such matters between themselves. Olson’s footnote about zoning laws, which suggests that libertarians have no answer to the objection that zoning laws “make communities nicer for nearly everyone and do not significantly harm the few cranks and outliers they inconvenience” suggests an unfamiliarity with libertarian theory. Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s theories on covenant communities resolve such problems, as does the work of many other libertarians on the subject of contracts. If one wishes to prevent “transforming the Vermont village green into a strip mall,” for instance, the charter of a covenant community may provide that this space is never to be developed. The residents of the area may also band together to make socioeconomic life so difficult for anyone who would develop a particular plot that no one would want to take the risk. “Using force to preserve something that nearly everyone appreciates” is not “defined as immoral from the outset”; it simply requires that the proper private legal structures be put into place and that the proper forces be arranged toward that purpose.

Olson raises the canards of Murray Rothbard’s case for letting children starve, Walter Block’s less palatable chapters in Defending the Undefendable, and the apparent love affair that the Mises Institute has with Ebenezer Scrooge. For the former two, it must be said that even the greatest thinkers can be dreadfully wrong on occasion. No philosopher should be followed exactly on reputation alone, but neither should the rest of their canon be rejected without further cause. Defending Scrooge, however, makes far more sense, especially from a Social Darwinist perspective, which a person moving from libertarianism to neoreaction could reasonably possess and retain. Even so, Olson praises libertarianism for giving “the right answers to the most pressing practical issues of the late 2000s,” even if its adherents occasionally wished for a past that never was (also common among reactionaries of all types). However, his history is slightly off. The Austrian School began in 1871 with Carl Menger’s Principles of Economics; those working in the early 20th century (e.g. Ludwig von Mises) were the second generation of Austrian economists.

The Moment Passes

Olson’s initial description of the passing of the “libertarian moment” on the right is poignant:

“As the defections of former libertarians and Tea Partiers to Donald Trump and the alt-right showed, a lot of the libertarians from the Ron Paul years fundamentally did not believe in libertarian theory as much as they thought they did. They flocked to it at the time because it offered an intelligent critique of the Left and the mainstream Right that was otherwise lacking in a time when Sean Hannity and Karl Rove were leading right-wing luminaries. But when a meatier opposition arose—based on nationalism, immigration restriction, and economic protectionism—many libertarians saw no problem in dropping their old beliefs for contradictory ones.”

These people never were libertarians (or Tea Partiers, for that matter); they were anti-progressives and anti-cuckservatives who saw no other political movement that opposed both camps. He then identifies himself as being in this category, which is glaringly obvious by the analytical mistakes in his next paragraph. Olson writes that his “libertarian dream died with the 2014 riots in Ferguson, Missouri.” His description of events is saturated with exactly the type of political autism of which reactionaries tend to accuse libertarians. It is true that within context, the police and National Guard forces imposed order upon a rioting mob that was attacking innocent bystanders and destroying their property. But who created that context? For the past century, all levels of American government have worked tirelessly to suppress militia groups that once performed the legitimate functions of the National Guard. Many cities once had racial zoning ordinances that created segregated ghettos where none had existed previously. The welfare state provides perverse incentives that have destroyed black families and grown the criminal element, and government education has failed to prepare them to lead a life outside the criminal justice system. Legal protections for the press dating back to the Constitution itself keep them from facing proper consequences for inciting people to riot, loot, and burn. Wherever one looks, the state is at fault, and expecting them to clean up their own mess is the least that one can ask. It is fair to criticize “the libertarian theorists pontificating on how the best solution would be to privatize the roads, abolish the police, or legalize pot” for not addressing the problem at hand with the implements at hand, but they did far more than “offer only platitudes in the face of real life-and-death problems”.

On the left side, Olson is closer to the target:

“Certain aspects of libertarianism insisted on drug legalization, open borders, and the right to all kinds of weird sex, in what was then an even more aggressive manner than the mainstream Left. But as the ‘mainstream’ Left adopted increasingly radical positions in the culture wars, such that, today, elected Democratic politicians demand that we ‘abolish ICE‘ while Democratic voters nominate transgenders as their gubernatorial candidates, there is little reason for cultural leftists to stick with libertarianism. Why buy the knock-off when the real thing is just as accessible? So these people left too, and joined the freakshow known as liberalism circa 2018.”

His errors here are minor. First, there has always been a degenerate, hedonistic element in majuscule, political Libertarianism. These people come into libertarian circles because they seek a safe space for the practice of their vices, whatever they may be. Leftist elements within libertarianism provide them with this safe space because doing so is an easier way to grow the movement than authentic proselytization. This also gives them occasion to attack right-libertarians for opposing the adulteration and degeneration of their political movement. Second, they are not leaving the Libertarian Party in sufficient numbers to turn it rightward, as many of them know that they lack the talent to perform in a major political party and would rather remain as big fish in a small pond, fighting over worthless scraps of non-existent power.

A Tragic Rebirth?

We now reach the purpose of Olson’s article: to make the case that libertarianism is an enemy in the fight against corporate censorship. He describes the importance of this struggle thus:

“The most important battle of our time is now shaping up to be the battle against the tech monopolists. Whereas issues like changing demographics, non-white immigration to the West, and the glorification of sexual deviancy and hedonistic consumerism over traditional Western norms all pose existential threats to our civilization, the threat from the tech world presents an even more fundamental problem. It challenges whether we will even be able to talk about these other issues at all. By excluding dissident websites from Google search results, by preventing rightists from using Facebook or Twitter to spread their messages, or by banning the Right from online payment processors, private tech monopolists have every bit the same power to silence critics as the old Soviet Cheka.”

Once more, Olson is poised to ignore how the current context was formed. He continues,

“In fact, their power may even be greater. The secret police of the twentieth century communist regimes had to rely on glaringly primitive and brutal tactics like the gulag, the torture chamber, and the firing squad. While a force like the Cheka was obviously able inflict much more pain on individual people than Google can, its obvious brutality could not help but stir up popular resentment; thus, the common refrain that by the fall of the Berlin Wall the only people still believing in communism were American university professors. Therefore, the fact that modern tech companies have given up primitive methods of control for more sophisticated ones is an evolutionary improvement in managerial totalitarianism, not a weakness. The goal of the gulags was rarely to hurt individual people; it was to make the cost of opposing the system prohibitive to others. If Google, Twitter, PayPal, or any other company can silence dissent just by changing search algorithms or banning dissidents from using a service, then it has achieved in the same results in a less intrusive way. And because their methods are less obviously evil, they are also less likely to engender popular disillusionment or revolt.”

That soft power frequently faces less backlash than hard power is important to remember, as is the fact that private enterprise working hand in hand with the state typically results in the worst of both worlds: the evil of the state combined with the efficiency of the market. It is important to remember that the market is fundamentally amoral; it is not a thing but a process. If the inputs are corrupted, so will be the results. Just as markets “find solutions that the government misses” for good, so can they for evil. As Hoppe writes,

“Moreover, free competition is not always good. Free competition in the production of goods is good, but free competition in the production of bads is not. Free competition in the torturing and killing of innocents, or free competition in counterfeiting or swindling, for instance, is not good; it is worse than bad.”[1]

Olson accuses libertarianism of “rush[ing] to the rescue of the establishment censors,” defending them as “private companies [that] can set whatever terms of service they want.” While some prominent libertarians are saying this, proper libertarian theory says no such thing. Instead, it recognizes that corporations are not private companies; they are legal fictions created by the state to shield business owners from full financial liability and ease the enforcement of laws upon those businesses. It is impossible to create a corporation without involving the state, as attempting to do so without chartering or registering the corporation with a state will have no effect. 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 with bystanders. Corporations as we know them are therefore incompatible with libertarianism; they should be replaced by other forms of business organization, such as common-law partnerships and cooperatives.

Olson quotes Rothbard on the matter of freedom of speech:

“Freedom of speech is supposed to mean the right of everyone to say whatever he likes. But the neglected question is: Where? Where does a man have this right? He certainly does not have it on property on which he is trespassing. In short, he has this right only either on his own property or on the property of someone who has agreed, as a gift or in a rental contract, to allow him on the premises. In fact, then, there is no such thing as a separate ‘right to free speech’; there is only a man’s property right: the right to do as he wills with his own or to make voluntary agreements with other property owners.”

What both Olson and Rothbard neglect is that, as explained above, corporations exist on the backs of taxpayers who are extorted to fund the government that allows them to incorporate. It is not trespassing for those taxpayers to enter the property of the social media companies, payment processors, etc. and make use of their services against their wishes because their incorporation is a benefit of property rights violations. Therefore, their exercise of private property rights by denying service to people and trespassing them is estopped as long as they remain incorporated.

Olson correctly points out that (misunderstood) libertarian theory serves the progressive leftist establishment, and that they will use the part that serves their interest while ignoring and discarding the other parts and implications, such as the right to discriminate racially. But as shown above, his descriptions of libertarians who do oppose the technology giants are false:

“They range from an acknowledgment of the problem but a refusal to find a solution (e.g., ‘a free speech social media alternative will come eventually, so we can ignore the problem for now’) to a half-baked rationalization that government tech regulation really is not regulation at all (e.g., ‘tech companies get lots of government subsidies, so it really does not aggress against their property rights to regulate them’).”

The consistent libertarians really are not “the tech apologists,” nor are the effective opponents those who would “rally government force to stop them.” If the NAP really said that “we are not allowed to stop them” from “silenc[ing] dissent to aid our ruling class’s efforts to turn America into the Third World and destroy the civilization that we inherited,” then one could reasonably say “to hell with the NAP.” Fortunately, it says no such thing. Government force is the ultimate cause of the problem because it provides the means to destroy Western civilization and empowers the technology giants to become giants that serve as tools of oppression in the first place. Though it may be necessary to break up the near-monopolies of Google, Facebook, and Twitter, this alone will not be sufficient. Nor will regulating them as public utilities, as this will both stifle innovation and incentivize regulatory capture.

Conclusion

Olson’s article is most interesting for its dueling political autisms; he correctly chastises mainstream libertarians for their inability to understand and deal with the current situation, all while remaining blissfully unaware of how his beloved state created the current situation. The solution to censorious technology giants will likely require taking the reins of power, but only for the purpose of setting parts of the Cathedral against other parts in order to hasten its demise. If the Right, per his suggestion, “learn[s] to be unapologetically statist,” it will only retread a predictable course that ends in failure, more robust leftism in the long term, and the abandonment of liberty.

References:

  1. Hoppe, Hans-Hermann (2001). Democracy: The God That Failed. Transaction Publishers. p. 87.

The Case For Executing Pedophile Priests

Since the reports made by Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald in the 1950s[1], it has been known that the Catholic Church has a problem with pedophilia in its clergy. Media publicity of the problem began in the late 1980s[2], and it has been in the news periodically ever since. The majority of the abused children were between the ages of 11 and 14, but some have been as young as three years old.[3,4] The United States has the highest number of reported cases[5], followed by Ireland[6], but is a problem in many countries with a significant Catholic presence.[7] A 2004 study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops found that 4,392 Catholic priests and deacons in active ministry between 1950 and 2002 have been plausibly accused by 10,667 individuals of sexual abuse of a minor, with “plausibly” defined as “neither withdrawn nor disproven”. This represents about 4 percent of the priesthood.[8]

The response of the Church has been lackluster at best. While Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have spoken out against the abuse of children by priests[9,10], Pope Francis accused victims of making false allegations[11] before apologizing for doing so.[12] Lower members of the Church hierarchy have argued that media coverage of sexual abuse has been excessive.[13] Before 2001, the Vatican left management of such cases to local dioceses.[7] Even after taking a more active role, a 2004 report found that the Church had moved priests accused of sexual misconduct to other countries and put them into settings where they would again be in contact with children.[14] Because the law in most countries privileges communications between clergy and congregation, those who confess their behavior under the Sacrament of Penance tend not to have their crimes made public.

Some priests have been defrocked and laicized, while others live in retreat houses in a condition resembling house arrest.[15] In many cases, the crimes are reported after the statute of limitations has passed, so the offenders cannot be imprisoned. Since 1950, civil suits against the Church have resulted in more than $3 billion in damages[1,16], and at least six dioceses in the US filed for bankruptcy. Sexual abuse scandals cost each American diocese about $300,000 each year.[17]

This problem is of interest for a libertarian reactionary because it provides an example for consideration of the limits of capital punishment. In the abstract, putting an offender to death for a rape, let alone a lesser sexual assault, may seem disproportionately harsh. But real life is not lived in the abstract; within context, there are several factors that merit escalating punishment to the level of the sword. Let us consider the aggravating factors that weigh in favor of executing pedophile priests, then consider the religious, libertarian, and reactionary arguments for capital punishment of child molesters in general.

Effects on Victims

Let us begin by exploring the damage that child sexual abuse can inflict. Child sexual abuse may result in internal lacerations, bleeding, and damage to internal organs which can be fatal in the worst cases.[18] Due to the immaturity of a child’s genitalia, there is a heightened risk of sexually transmitting infections from abuser to child.[19] The traumatic stress inflicted by child sexual abuse has deleterious effects on brain development, including reduced volume of the left hippocampus and corpus callosum[20], reversed hemispheric asymmetry, greater left hemisphere coherence[21], abnormal transverse relaxation time in the cerebellar vermis[22], electrophysiological abnormalities[23], and increased incidence of ictal temporal lobe epilepsy-like symptoms associated with over-excitation of the limbic system.[24]

The psychological impact of child molestation is even more pronounced, affecting between 51 and 79 percent of sexually abused children.[25] These include attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder[26], anxiety[27], conduct disorder[26], depression[28], dissociative identity disorder[29], eating disorders[26,30], low self-esteem[26], oppositional defiant disorder[26], post-traumatic stress disorder[31], sleep disturbances[31,32], and somatization[33]. People who were sexually abused as children are more likely to withdraw from social activities[34], abuse alcohol and drugs[35], treat animals cruelly[36], engage in self-harm[37] and risky sexual behaviors[38], and commit suicide[25]. Victims also demonstrate lower performance on standardized academic tests, with strong correlation between duration of abuse and magnitude of lower scores.[39] Sadly, these effects are not limited to the victims, as the children of child sexual abuse victims are more likely to have emotional and social problems.[40]

Biblical Covenant

With the severity of this offense understood, let us examine the Christian argument for capital punishment of child molesters. The Bible is the foundational document of the Church. In it, many relationships and communities are formed and discussed in terms of covenants, including the Church itself. To knowingly and willfully enter into a covenant is to be bound by its terms, which for clergy means that they should be subject to the rules and punishments prescribed in the Bible. The Bible contains several verses which apply to the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. First, let us turn to Leviticus:

If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. Lev. 20:13 (KJV)

About 81 percent of the victims of Catholic priests were boys and young men[8], so this verse calls for the death penalty in at least those cases. Fortunately, other verses make clear that the victims are not to be executed as well. In Deuteronomy we find the following:

But if a man find a betrothed damsel in the field, and the man force her and lie with her, then the man only that lay with her shall die. But unto the damsel thou shalt do nothing; there is in the damsel no sin worthy of death. …For he found her in the field, and the betrothed damsel cried, and there was none to save her. Deut. 22:25–27 (KJV)

Sadly, this describes all too well what has been done to so many children in what should be the safest place for them outside of their own homes. The children, who either cried for help or were too shocked and scared to do so, should not be punished for being victimized. But the priests should be dealt with most harshly under their own code, both for committing such atrocities and for being “none to save” the children. The method prescribed for punishing many sexual sins in the Old Testament was execution by stoning. In the New Testament, we find Jesus expressing a similar opposition to offenses against children in general, but with a different suggestion for punishment:

At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And Jesus called a little child unto him, and sat him in the midst of them, and said, “Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in My name receiveth Me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in Me, it were better for him that a millstone be hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe unto the world because of offenses! For it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh!” Mat. 18:1–7 (KJV)

Similar content to verses 6–7 may also be found in Luke 17:1–2. We see here just how great a departure the behavior of pedophile priests truly is from how a priest is supposed to behave, and that the punishment of execution by drowning for such a grievous offense is suggested. The execution methods from both Testaments might be combined in some form that involves drowning but is carried out by a multitude. One possibility is to place the condemned in water and have each victimized person take a turn in adding weight to them until they cannot keep themselves afloat. Another possibility is to chain the condemned to the bottom of a tank and have each victim add water until the condemned is covered. A third possibility is to put the condemned in water and stone them until they cannot keep themselves afloat. Regardless of method, capital punishment is justified because the condemned priest knew or should have known the terms of the covenant that he entered into by joining the clergy.

Libertarian Theory

At its core, libertarianism is an answer to the question of when it is appropriate to use force. It says that initiating the use of force is never acceptable, while using force to defend against a force initiator is always acceptable. It is hopefully self-evident that sexual conduct toward a child is an act of aggression because the child lacks the capacity to consent to such behavior, but what should be done to a child molester once the offender’s crimes become known? First, let us consider proportionality. Murray Rothbard writes,

[M]ust we go along with those libertarians who claim that a storekeeper has the right to kill a lad as punishment for snatching a piece of his bubble gum? What we might call the ‘maximalist’ position goes as follows: by stealing the bubble gum, the urchin puts himself outside the law. He demonstrates by his action that he does not hold or respect the correct theory of property rights. Therefore, he loses all of his rights, and the storekeeper is within his rights to kill the lad in retaliation. I propose that this position suffers from a grotesque lack of proportion. By concentrating on the storekeeper’s right to his bubble gum, it totally ignores another highly precious property right: every man’s—including the urchin’s—right of self-ownership. On what basis must we hold that a minuscule invasion of another’s property lays one forfeit to the total loss of one’s own? I propose another fundamental rule regarding crime: the criminal, or invader, loses his own right to the extent that he has deprived another man of his. If a man deprives another man of some of his self-ownership or its extension in physical property, to that extent does he lose his own rights. From this principle immediately derives the proportionality theory of punishment—best summed up in the old adage: ‘let the punishment fit the crime.’”[41]

He asserts this but does not justify it, so let us do so. Libertarianism is a logical construct, therefore it is subject to logic in the form of consistency. To claim a right for oneself while violating the equivalent rights of another person is inconsistent. A hypocrite is therefore disallowed from advancing his own hypocrisy as a rational argument. (Of course, this subjective variety of pragmatic contradiction only applies to the hypocrite; it would be absurd to argue, for instance, that everyone should lose the right to own property just because one thief has stolen something.) Thus, a criminal loses his own rights to the extent that he has deprived other people of their rights. In other words, one should be able to kill murderers, take property from thieves, subject slavers to forced labor, etc. in proportion to the crimes an aggressor has committed. Therefore, in determining the appropriate punishment for a child molester, we must consider what rights a child molester has forfeited through his aggressive behavior, which would include bodily integrity and psychological health. Physically preventing them from having further interactions with children would also be justified. But putting child molesters to death requires additional justification, which will come later in this section.

Second, let us consider restitution. A result in which an aggressor is punished and the victim is made whole is self-evidently more just than a result in which the aggressor is punished only. Therefore, it is best for a criminal to perform restitution whenever possible, and be forced to perform if he will not do so willingly. Of the proper extent of restitution, Rothbard writes,

“But how are we to gauge the nature of the extent? Let us [consider] the theft [of] $15,000. Even here, simple restitution of the $15,000 is scarcely sufficient to cover the crime (even if we add damages, costs, interest, etc.). For one thing, mere loss of the money stolen obviously fails to function in any sense as a deterrent to future such crime (although we will see below that deterrence itself is a faulty criterion for gauging punishment). If, then, we are to say that the criminal loses rights to the extent that he deprives the victim, then we must say that the criminal should not only have to return the $15,000, but that he must be forced to pay the victim another $15,000, so that he, in turn, loses those rights (to $15,000 worth of property) which he had taken from the victim. In the case of theft, then, we may say that the criminal must pay double the extent of theft: once, for restitution of the amount stolen, and once again for loss of what he had deprived another. But we are still not finished with elaborating the extent of deprivation of rights involved in a crime. For A had not simply stolen $15,000 from B, which can be restored and an equivalent penalty imposed. He had also put B into a state of fear and uncertainty, of uncertainty as to the extent that B’s deprivation would go. But the penalty levied on A is fixed and certain in advance, thus putting A in far better shape than was his original victim. So that for proportionate punishment to be levied we would also have to add more than double so as to compensate the victim in some way for the uncertain and fearful aspects of his particular ordeal. What this extra compensation should be it is impossible to say exactly, but that does not absolve any rational system of punishment—including the one that would apply in the libertarian society − from the problem of working it out as best one can.”[42]

In short, we have a principle that Walter Block calls “two teeth for a tooth,” plus some extra amount. As Rothbard correctly notes, it is impossible to precisely calculate what this extra amount should be, as there is no price system which would allow one to do so and no way to examine a counter-factual world in which the crime was never committed to see what difference was truly made in the victim’s life. A critic may claim that this makes the theory impractical, but in practice this extra amount would be decided by mutual agreement between the criminal, the victim, and any hired agents they may have. The task here would be to estimate how much in monetary damages a child molester owes to his victims, but this is an offense for which economic restitution is impossible. No amount of money can undo the damage done to a child who is sexually assaulted by an adult, especially a member of the clergy who should be able to be trusted more than anyone else.

Third, let us consider active aggressors versus subdued aggressors. If an aggressor is active, then any amount of force necessary to subdue the aggressor may be used, for any standard short of this would not only fail to be logically consistent, but would allow an aggressor to succeed simply by escalating the use of force beyond what his victims are allowed to use in defense. The only permissible limitation on defensive force is that which ceases to be completely defensive. Rothbard writes,

“How extensive is a man’s right of self-defense of person and property? The basic answer must be: up to the point at which he begins to infringe on the property rights of someone else. For, in that case, his ‘defense’ would in itself constitute a criminal invasion of the just property of some other man, which the latter could properly defend himself against.”[43]

Therefore, killing an unrepentant child molester who intends to keep offending is within the bounds of libertarianism. But what should be done once a child molester is subdued? On the matter of physical assault in general, Rothbard writes,

“In the question of bodily assault, where restitution does not even apply, we can again employ our criterion of proportionate punishment; so that if A has beaten up B in a certain way, then B has the right to beat up A (or have him beaten up by judicial employees) to rather more than the same extent.”[42]

This seems straightforward, but actually leads to an interesting conclusion. It is possible to beat a man within an inch of his life, as there is a maximum amount of physical damage that a person can sustain without giving up the ghost. To express this mathematically, let us define L as the amount of damage required to kill a person. If A assaults B and does damage of L–X for a vanishingly small value of X, and the principle of “two teeth for a tooth” is applied, then B has the right to do lethal damage to A. Even the principle of beating up B to “rather more than the same extent” would result in lethal damage. Given the severe and lasting damage that child molestation does to a victim, this can justify a lethal response, especially for those who have attacked several children in this manner.

Finally, a victim has the option to negotiate an agreement with the criminal to reduce or even eliminate the criminal’s obligation to perform restitution or suffer punishment. Rothbard writes,

“In short, within the limits of his proportional right of punishment, the victim should have the sole decision how much, if at all, to exercise that right.”[44]

Rothbard neglected to mention one caveat here. While the authorities could be obligated not to prosecute or punish a child molester if the victims desired to forgive the offender, no such limitation exists upon a third party acting solely out of concern for logical consistency and personal or communal safety. As explained above, a child molester forfeits the right to be free from attacks on bodily integrity and psychological health, so while the courts may be bound by contract and the victim’s wishes not to punish a particular child molester, the courts would also have no cause to prosecute someone else who did punish the offender. A critic may claim that this standard risks the devolution of civilization into a violent free-for-all, but a person who attacks a non-molester becomes a violent criminal himself, subject to all penalties thereof. This creates a potent disincentive against attacking someone in the name of protecting children from pedophiles who enjoy freedom unless one is absolutely sure that one is targeting the correct person. Also of concern for the particular crime of child sexual abuse is the psychological damage done to victims, which may render them incapable of passing the proper judgment upon their attackers.

Reactionary Theory

The primary objective of reactionaries is to correct bad decisions and undo the damage done by them in order to establish, secure, and advance a healthy and stable social order. Given the amount of damage done by child molesters to their victims, the suppression of this behavior must be a top priority. A competent sovereign must take appropriate action to protect children within his territory from sexual predators. Permanently exiling child molesters to a secure place outside of the civilization is a workable solution, as is declaring them to be outlaws subject to the whims of whomever would lay hands upon them. But both of these solutions are inferior to formal capital punishment with respect to strengthening the social order.

A brutal and public execution for the purpose of making an example of someone who has committed a great wrong provides a strong deterrence against future crimes of the same type. The end result of making such an example, if done properly, is that cruel punishments will only be necessary on rare occasions. This may be done with or without community participation in the execution, but the former has several advantages. First, if a multitude of people strike blows against a criminal, then no one can be sure that his blow was the coup de grace. This helps to assuage feelings of guilt, however misplaced such feelings might be. Second, though some of the damage done by child molestation is permanent, allowing victims and their loved ones to gain retribution in this manner can offer some sense of closure. Third, whereas a group identity is defined just as much by who is excluded as by who is included, defining an outsider and working together to destroy him can be a powerful bonding experience for members of a community. Finally, this allows a community to identify with its leadership as the administrators of justice as they put evil away from them.

To see what a reactionary solution may look like in practice, let us return to the Jay report. Of the 4,392 priests and deacons listed, 56 percent had one allegation of child sexual abuse against them, 27 percent had two or three allegations against them, 14 percent had between four and nine allegations against them, and 3 percent (149 priests) had ten or more allegations against them. These 149 priests were responsible for almost 3,000 victims, or 27 percent of the 10,667 total allegations.[8] The top tier of the 149 worst offenders definitely would be subjected to the drowning-stoning combination capital punishments discussed earlier to serve as an example, while the next tier that committed 4–9 offenses probably would be executed. Those who committed one to three abuses may be executed in some cases or exiled in others, depending on the victims’ wishes.

Conclusion

We have discussed strong arguments for executing pedophile priests from several perspectives. The libertarian and reactionary cases also apply outside the Christian clergy, where child sexual abuse is about as common as it is inside the Church.[45] Any legitimate governance structure should respect the rights of people to form covenants and internally resolve their issues, up to and including the administration of criminal justice to their members in accordance with the terms of the covenant. That the current structure of progressive globalist nation-states would act to stop this is an important sign.

Unfortunately, the leadership of the Catholic Church has shown little interest in taking appropriate measures to stop child molesters within its ranks, and states have not done enough to address the problem. Furthermore, the global decline in cruel punishments as well as the statutes of limitations in many jurisdictions ensure that child molesters rarely face appropriate punishment. This necessitates the building of alternative structures for the provision of criminal justice (and possibly some instances of vigilantism as well) because extrajudicial punishment of criminals, while sub-optimal, is better than no punishment at all.

References:

  1. Zoll, Rachel (2009, Mar. 31). “Letters: Catholic bishops warned in ’50s of abusive priests”. USA Today.
  2. Bruni, Frank (2002). A Gospel of Shame: Children, Sexual Abuse, and the Catholic Church. HarperCollins.
  3. Stephens, Scott (2011, May 27). “Catholic sexual abuse study greeted with incurious contempt”. ABC Religion and Ethics.
  4. Lattin, Don (1998, July 17). “$30 Million Awarded Men Molested by `Family Priest’ / 3 bishops accused of Stockton coverup”. San Francisco Chronicle.
  5. Gray, Mark M. “The Impact of Religious Switching and Secularization on the estimated size of the U.S. Adult Catholic Population”. Article 49.4 (2008): 457–60.
  6. Garrett, Paul Michael. “A ‘Catastrophic, Inept, Self-Serving’ Church? Re-examining Three Reports on Child Abuse in the Republic of Ireland”. Journal of Progressive Human Services, Vol. 24, Issue 1 (2013): 43–65.
  7. Paulson, Michael (2002, Apr. 8). “World doesn’t share US view of scandal: Clergy sexual abuse reaches far, receives an uneven focus”. The Boston Globe.
  8. The Nature and Scope of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States 1950–2002. (2004) John Jay School of Criminal Justice.
  9. “Pope sends first e-mail apology”. BBC News. 23 Nov. 2001.
  10. “Pope ‘deeply sorry’ for ‘evil’ of child abuse”. www.abc.net.au. 18 July 2008.
  11. “Pope Francis accuses Chilean church sexual abuse victims of slander”. The Guardian. 19 Jan. 2018.
  12. “Pope admits ‘grave error,’ apologizes for not believing Chilean sex abuse victims”. Washington Post. 12 Apr. 2018.
  13. Butt, Riazat; Asthana, Anushka (2009, Sep. 28). “Sex abuse rife in other religions, says Vatican”. The Guardian.
  14. “Hundreds of priests shuffled worldwide, despite abuse allegations”. USA Today/Associated Press. 20 June 2004.
  15. Newman, Andy (2006, Aug. 31). “A Choice for New York Priests in Abuse Cases”. The New York Times.
  16. Schaffer, Michael D. (2012, June 25). “Sex-abuse crisis is a watershed in the Roman Catholic Church’s history in America”. The Inquirer.
  17. United Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2006 Report: Findings and Recommendations (Washington: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2007) p. 16.
  18. Anderson, James; Mangels, Nancie; Langsam, Adam (2004). “Child Sexual Abuse: A Public Health Issue”. The Justice Professional. 17: 107–126.
  19. De Jong AR (1985). “Vaginitis due to Gardnerella vaginalis and to Candida albicans in sexual abuse”. Child Abuse & Neglect. 9 (1): 27–9.
  20. Teicher MH (Mar. 2002). “Scars that won’t heal: the neurobiology of child abuse”. Scientific American. 286 (3): 68–75.
  21. Ito Y, Teicher MH, Glod CA, Ackerman E (1998). “Preliminary evidence for aberrant cortical development in abused children: a quantitative EEG study”. The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences. 10 (3): 298–307.
  22. Anderson CM, Teicher MH, Polcari A, Renshaw PF (2002). “Abnormal T2 relaxation time in the cerebellar vermis of adults sexually abused in childhood: potential role of the vermis in stress-enhanced risk for drug abuse”. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 27 (1–2): 231–44.
  23. Ito Y, Teicher MH, Glod CA, Harper D, Magnus E, Gelbard HA (1993). “Increased prevalence of electrophysiological abnormalities in children with psychological, physical, and sexual abuse”. The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences. 5 (4): 401–8.
  24. Teicher MH, Glod CA, Surrey J, Swett C (1993). “Early childhood abuse and limbic system ratings in adult psychiatric outpatients”. The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences. 5 (3): 301–6.
  25. Kendall-Tackett KA, Williams LM, Finkelhor D (Jan. 1993). “Impact of sexual abuse on children: a review and synthesis of recent empirical studies”. Psychological Bulletin. 113 (1): 164–80.
  26. Walsh, K.; DiLillo, D. (2011). “Child sexual abuse and adolescent sexual assault and revictimization”. In Paludi, Michael A. The psychology of teen violence and victimization. 1. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger. p. 203–16.
  27. Levitan RD, Rector NA, Sheldon T, Goering P (2003). “Childhood adversities associated with major depression and/or anxiety disorders in a community sample of Ontario: issues of co-morbidity and specificity”. Depression and Anxiety. 17 (1): 34–42.
  28. Widom CS, DuMont K, Czaja SJ (Jan. 2007). “A prospective investigation of major depressive disorder and comorbidity in abused and neglected children grown up”. Archives of General Psychiatry. 64 (1): 49–56.
  29. Chu JA, Frey LM, Ganzel BL, Matthews JA (May 1999). “Memories of childhood abuse: dissociation, amnesia, and corroboration”. The American Journal of Psychiatry. 156 (5): 749–55.
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  31. Noll, J. G., Trickett, P. K., Susman, E. J., & Putnam, F. W. (2006). “Sleep disturbances and childhood sexual abuse”. Journal of Pediatric Psychology. 31 (5): 469–80.
  32. Steine, I. M., Krystal et al. (2012). “Insomnia, nightmare frequency, and nightmare distress in victims of sexual abuse: The role of perceived social support and abuse characteristics”. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 27 (9): 51827–43.
  33. Arnow BA (2004). “Relationships between childhood maltreatment, adult health and psychiatric outcomes, and medical utilization”. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 65 Suppl 12: 10–15.
  34. “Understanding child sexual abuse: education, prevention, and recovery”. American Psychological Association.
  35. Zickler, Patrick (Apr. 2002). “Childhood Sex Abuse Increases Risk for Drug Dependence in Adult Women”. NIDA Notes. National Institute of Drug Abuse. 17 (1): 5.
  36. Ascione, Frank R.; Friedrich, William N.; Heath, John; Hayashi, Kentaro (2003). “Cruelty to animals in normative, sexually abused, and outpatient psychiatric samples of 6- to 12-year-old children: Relations to maltreatment and exposure to domestic violence”. Anthrozoös: A Multidisciplinary Journal of the Interactions of People and Animals. 16 (3): 194–212.
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  39. Navalta CP, Polcari A, Webster DM, Boghossian A, Teicher MH (2006). “Effects of childhood sexual abuse on neuropsychological and cognitive function in college women”. The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences. 18 (1): 45–53.
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  41. Rothbard, Murray (1982). The Ethics of Liberty. p. 80–1.
  42. Ibid., p. 88–9.
  43. Ibid., p. 77.
  44. Rothbard (June 1978). “The Plumb Line: The Capital Punishment Question”. Libertarian Review, Vol. 7, No. 5, p. 14.
  45. Winger, Pat (2010, Apr. 7). “Priests Commit No More Abuse Than Other Males”. Newsweek.

The State Is Negan, Part III

<<<Part II                                                                                                 Part IV>>>

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

Reluctant Warriors I

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

Reluctant Warriors II

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

Enemy Camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

War Materiel

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

Uneasy Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

Plans Interrupted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

Alternate Plans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

The War Begins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

<<<Part II                                                                                                 Part IV>>>

The 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.).