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In What Can Be Saved from the Wreckage?: James Branch Cabell in the Twenty-First Century, Michael Swanwick offers an explanation for Cabell’s current low standing in critical opinion: The author over-produced, and constructed a silly “complete works” (Storisende) edition of his Biography of the Life of Manuel, a vast, jerry-rigged assemblage padded with books that didn’t really belong and books insignificant compared to the best in the series. This forced his fans to read through second- and third-rate works for completism’s sake, thus tarnishing the memory of Cabell’s best.

Swanwick’s list of Cabellian classics is slender compared to Cabell’s output:

1. Figures of Earth
2. The Silver Stallion
3. Jurgen
4. The High Place
5. The Cream of the Jest
6. The Way of Ecben

with 

7. Domnei
8. Something About Eve and
9. a few stories, such as “The Wedding Jest”

thrown in for balance, though these latter are of second order.

I will podcast a review of this book. At risk of jumping the gun for that review, I will state, here, for the record, that Swanwick errs by not mentioning Cabell’s best story, The Music from Behind the Moon: An Epitome (the subtitle by Cabell accurately indicating its value and its place in his canon), and by slighting The Rivet in Grandfather’s Neck: A Comedy of Limitations, which, though surely not his best book, is the closest thing Cabell made to a standard novel, and is also a personal favorite (I have read it many times).

Further, Swanwick does not contemplate or give full regard for Cabell’s self-professed auctorial philosophy: He wrote chiefly for his own pleasure. That any of the works concocted on this primary standard fit with a wide readership can only be described as fortuitous. Cabell didn’t care.

I prefer to take the great ironist as not being ironic when it came to his frequent revelations of intent. By not considering this, Swanwick misses the nature of Cabellian irony and its place in his philosophy and literary method.

I also suspect that Swanwick grossly misinterprets and under-evaluates Hamlet Had an Uncle, and unjustly relegates Cabell’s last comedy, The Devil’s Own Dear Son: A Comedy of the Fatted Calf, to Maya’s field of contented but forgettable cattle. I remember reading The Devil’s Own Dear Son with much pleasure.

Still, Swanwick’s was a fun book, and included much material I had not encountered before. The Barry Humphries introduction is precisely the delightful-if-pointless kind of prefatory remarks one has come to expect in any book by or about Cabell. (Now that I think of it, Dame Edna is a very Cabellian kind of woman — though not, of course, a witch woman, and not a Norn.)

It is essential reading for those few of us who still read James Branch Cabell. Though I disagree with some of Swanwick’s judgments, I nevertheless greatly appreciate his book. I recommend it to others.

twv

My interest in liberty has long focused chiefly on the condition as a moderating principle in society, as a constraint on human excesses, of individuals, sure, but especially of groups. As such, I consider it a stabilizing discipline. But, from my earliest acquaintance with its strongest advocates, I have noticed a strain within their ranks who treat liberty as a principle to be advanced even when it leads to social instability.

The idea among these freedom partisans seems to be this: any motion towards liberty is a good move.

My perspective is different. I think a move towards liberty that encourages a revolt against liberty down the road, or leads to social instability and chaos, is not a move to liberty at all. It is an illusion. A misstep. Sometimes a fiasco.

This issue plunges us deep into a question of strategy, with various forms of radicalism and incrementalism — “gradualism” — vying for dominance. I argue that some forms of radical, bold moves to greater freedom are good, because they encourage further moves to even greater freedom; other forms are bad, because they encourage backlashes, or lead to situations so destabilizing that they discourage further progress.

The classic case is in banking regulation, when deregulation is coupled with increased subsidy.  The Savings and Loan debacle of the 1980s shows the dangers of that approach.

A similar case is free immigration. It is a great idea in a general context of freedom and the division of responsibility. But when coupled with subsidies from the welfare state, it can be a grave threat.

Yet some libertarians advocate increasing the scope for freedom in movement even under a regime of guaranteed subsidy. So that, practically, the policy they promote is subsidized immigration.

Jacob Hornberger is one of those libertarians . . . as can be seen by his polemic of July 31, 2019, “Open Borders Are Compatible With the Welfare State.” 

I will consider each of his points:

For some time now, there has been a conservative faction within the libertarian movement that has advocated that libertarians abandon their position in favor of open borders and instead join up with conservatives and progressives in support of government-controlled borders.

So, it is a “conservative faction,” sez Hornberger, even though controlled migration has traditionally been a progressive position … so why aren’t the libertarian open border skeptics a “progressive faction”? This is a small matter, but I have noticed that those who lean left in the libertarian movement sure do love to identify their opponents as “conservative oriented” or “rightwing.” Ugh.

In doing so, these conservative-oriented libertarians always fail to address one of the principal costs of abandoning libertarian principle on this particular issue — an immigration police state, one consisting of highway checkpoints for travelers who have never left the United States, roving Border Patrol checkpoints, warrantless searches of farms and ranches within 100 miles of the border, body-cavity searches of Americans returning from overseas vacation, warrantless searches of cell phones and mandatory disclosure of passwords, violent raids on private businesses, forcible separation of children from parents, squalid conditions in immigrant concentration camps, and boarding of private buses to examine people’s papers.

Always? I know I have disliked this regime, and have mentioned its horrors. Indeed, one reason to put up a “wall,” or border fence — or other barrier, such as a moat! — is to avoid the domestic ramp-up of totalitarian methods.

Similarly, folks who do not want to get into altercations on their own property with trespassers often put up fences, or locked gates and the like, to prevent unpleasantness on their own property.

All I am saying here is that the “immigration police state” — which I do indeed find alarming, and have argued against — is not required by the policy of controlled immigration if the control is physical at the border.

Ideal? No. Do I especially like this solution? No. But it is an option, and it is one reason why a lot of people voted for Trump and his Wall.

One of the principal arguments that such libertarians cite is that open borders are not compatible with a welfare state. If America didn’t have a welfare state, these libertarians say that they would favor open borders. Pending the dismantling of the welfare state, which might be never, such libertarians have resigned themselves to joining up with the statists on the immigration issue.

All advances of liberty “might be never.” But if it can be shown that an advance A would necessarily preclude future advances B, C, and D, then Hornberger’s desperation, here, is less than convincing.

In taking this position, such libertarians, of course, are implicitly acknowledging that open borders is, in fact, the libertarian position. That, of course, makes sense given the core principle of libertarianism — the non-aggression principle. It holds that people have the right to engage in any action whatsoever, so long as their conduct does not involve force or fraud against another person. When people cross political borders, whether such borders are state, local, or international, they are not violating anyone’s rights, given that they are simply exercising their natural, God-given rights of freedom of travel, economic liberty, freedom of contract, and freedom of association.

Sure. But it is worth remembering that private property owners can also exclude transit, and that border protections between states could be done voluntarily (at risk of free riders) — and at the U.S. southern border there have been erected borders on private property, with some success, and . . . have you ever wondered if one reason for borders has been to subsidize private property owners? Or, to help private property owners avoid free rider problems in excluding unwanted migrants and . . . and trespassers? Of course you have. But if libertarians are going to be arguing over this stuff on a fundamental level, maybe drilling down to fundamental issues would be a good idea, and not just engage in purist hand-waving.

The fact is, however, that the libertarian position favoring open borders is entirely consistent with a welfare state. And the fact that America is a welfare state should not cause libertarians to abandon their principles and join up with the statists on this particular issue.

Well, here is the thesis. Finally. Somehow a libertarian policy maven asserts that a libertarian institution — freedom of movement — is “entirely consistent” with an anti-libertarian institution. This should get interesting.

Breaking it down, what is the real argument that these libertarians are using in support of their argument? They are saying that if we have open borders and a welfare state, foreigners will come to the United State and get on welfare, which will mean that Americans will have to pay higher taxes. 

That is part of it. Another part is the expectation that they and their progeny will be more likely to vote for transfer payments to folks like themselves . . . from established native taxpayers. Yet another is that their progeny will soak up police and court resources.

And those of us concerned about social stability also note that immigrants’ children will be run through the great tax sinkholes that are America’s public schools, and that demands on those resources are often much greater than for natives’ children.

That’s the core of their argument—that libertarians should abandon their principles because open borders adn a welfare state will mean that people will have to pay higher taxes.

Well, no. It is also that the institutions will be placed under great stressors that will increase social discord and even violence and class resentment, and that these results can be even worse than mere tax increases.

Of course, that’s not necessarily true for three reasons:

First, most immigrants come to the United States to get rich. 

This is inaccurate. Immigrants come here to improve their lives, sure — and sometimes through accessing commons resources as well as through trade. But few become “rich.” And indeed, the ones who get rich are generally the ones who come here legally. Depending on country of origin, many, many illegal immigrants are poorer than the general run of natives. Open up the borders while still giving out transfer payments and tax-funded services, and the marginal immigrant will tend to be and remain poorer yet.

Very few people get rich on welfare. 

Most people do not get rich, so this is an irrelevant observation. They don’t even try to get rich — they just aim to get richer. And the very formulation of wealth acquisition as the goal implies that folks use only one manner of human interaction to advance themselves. Ignoring marrying into wealth, there are four basic methods for immigrant advance:

  1. trade;
  2. begging;
  3. mooching off the State;
  4. stealing outright.

A family that arrives here with few work skills and no capital is likely to try all four methods. Only the first is desirable.

Moreover, the economic prosperity (and taxes paid) generated by working immigrants might well offset the additional taxes that would be needed to fund welfare for the dole-receiving immigrants.

They might. Do they? That is an empirical question. 

More importantly, though: what is the situation with the marginal immigrant population (illegals) we are actually talking about? What is their marginal cost to taxpayers? 

Second, there is nothing inherent in the welfare state way of life that requires Congress to provide welfare for foreigners. Congress could easily enact legislation limiting the dole to American citizens.

Barack “You Lie!” Obama promised that his Obamacare would not give healthcare to immigrants, and it was widely considered bad form to even suggest it might; now, of course, almost all the Democrats running to take up the Obaman mantle insist that illegal aliens get precisely such services. Fat chance getting the nixing of welfare benefits to illegals through now. The only way to prevent illegal immigrants (or new additional immigrants) from getting key and expensive welfare state handouts would be to dismantle the welfare state. And this is what libertarians should argue. But, you know . . . I cannot think of one libertarian to have made this case — other than me, actually — namely, “You want open borders and diversity? Well, the only way to secure them is to chuck the welfare state!” Why have I not heard libertarians make this case?

Why isn’t Hornberger saying “Aha! We have the solution to your problem!”

Instead of taking a libertarian critique of the destructive nature of the welfare state and applying it to migration, he argues, lamely, that free migration is compatible with the welfare state. 

Third, given the difficulty, both psychological and financial, in leaving one’s homeland, his culture, his language, and his friends and relatives, it is difficult to imagine that large numbers of people would leave their homelands simply to get on welfare in a foreign country, especially one in which they are going to be insulted and abused. After all, how many people in Alabama move to California, where welfare benefits are much higher?

OK, this is just witless. Of course some people move to collect better handouts. I can point to specific people in the county in which I live who have done precisely this.

And, once again, this is an empirical question that could be actually researched. But, barring that apparently onerous task, note that California is even now being flooded with homeless people from all over the country. Does this not indicate to Hornberger that he has asked a question with a ready answer not to his liking?

But let’s assume the worst. Let’s assume that America restores its founding system of open immigration, 

This is not quite accurate, by the way. Even Jefferson contemplated the several states controlling immigration.

…continues its welfare state, and opens it up to immigrants. Should that be reason for libertarians to abandon their principles and join up with conservative and liberal statists by supporting America’s system of immigration controls and America’s immigration police state?

I say: No. I say that libertarians should continue adhering to principle regardless and continue focusing on ending the wrongdoing — i.e., the welfare state. If we abandon principle because it pinches, then how are we different from Republicans and Democrats, who do that as a matter of course?

So, here we see Hornberger bury the lede. He is making a pitch regarding principles, and seems uninterested in emphasizing what libertarians could add to the discussion: ending the welfare state.

It is worse, though. Libertarians at their best understand social processes over time. They are not bound to narrow time slices. We have extended time horizons. So what we can add to this debate is explaining where both the far-left and the alt-right err.

But Hornberger does not seem interested in increasing knowledge. He seems just interested in “sticking to principle.” Or sticking libertarians with principles they may not quite agree with. But when you do that relentlessly, without careful attention conduct, policy and consequences, you come off as a dogmatic and moralistic prig.

No wonder libertarians go nowhere.

Of course, an obvious question arises, one that those conservative-oriented libertarians never ask: How much in estimated additional taxes would have to be paid if the United States had both open borders and a welfare state? After all, isn’t that reason that these libertarians claim that open borders are incompatible with a welfare state: that it will result in the payment of higher taxes?

How much in additional taxes? Oddly enough, such libertarians never ask that question.

As I have stated above, this is not the main point. The thing most necessary is opposing a policy — de facto subsidized immigration — that trains immigrants to become plunderers, to become socialists . . . and in the process increases social discord.

Oh, and I have heard libertarians ask the question. I know I have wondered.

Suppose, for example, that each American citizen would be required to pay an additional $10 a year in income taxes? Should that be enough to cause libertarians to abandon principle and join up with the statists? $100 a year? $1,000 a year?

I say: Libertarians should not abandon their principles for any amount of money, no matter how high taxes might get

What? So, we should let in immigrants even though the heavens fall? Even if the country goes socialist?

This is sheer craziness.

After all, throughout history there have been people who have paid a much higher price than additional taxes for the sake of their principles. The Alamo comes to mind. So does the story of the White Rose.

Getting your head chopped off in a time of desperation is one thing — doing it so that people from foreign countries who have scant interest in liberty can mooch off the taxpayer, and, over time be trained by Democrats into voting socialist is not heroic.

It is stupid.

If drugs are legalized, poor drug addicts could go on Medicaid to treat their addiction, which would cause taxes to go up for the rest of us. Should we join the statists in support of the drug war until Medicaid is abolished? Perish the thought! 

Once again, Hornberger neglects to put the actual libertarian position on the table. He instead lubes up the libertarian anus to be reemed by statists — in the name of “principle.”

But he misses something, too. A big difference. A drug addict going on the dole is something we have now. And by putting drug addicts on state assistance we are not increasing the number of voters who will vote to give more money to drug addicts. With allowing open immigration we are not only subsidizing them, we are helping them produce a class of people (their children, and even their very selves) with an interest in plundering existing citizens of their wealth, who are likely to vote for such plunder.

Libertarians should continue adhering to principle by continuing to support an end to this deadly, destructive, and immoral government program, even while continuing to advocate a dismantling of Medicaid. We should continue doing the same with respect with respect to America’s deadly, destructive, and immoral system of immigration controls.

Hornberger emphasizes the berating of libertarians for their lack of purity and underemphasizes the attack upon the welfare state. He only mentions this latter solution in an offhand way. He does not address the underlying logic, but merely characterizes the policies as deadly, destructive and immoral. And that logic is important, deserving of more coherent advance: you can have a large, intrusive state and a monoculture, or diversity and limited government. Our pitch to leftists is that their current mania for diversity is incompatible with the welfare state. Our pitch to rightists is that their love of monocultures encourages the maximum state. Left and Right have it wrong.

Do libertarians have it wrong?

Only if they keep attacking each other and siding with the left or the right.

One would think that the best method for achieving liberty would be to approach the two sides with where they are right, and then try to convince each where they are wrong . . . leveraging the good in their allegiances.

Hornberger appears to be uninterested in this method.

twv

These are the dog days. In which I respond to inane arguments.
Inaccurate title, but…

The Quoran who asked the question, below, might not have been driving at what I took it to mean. The intention may actually have had something to do with economic systems, with “capitalism” as it has developed in “the West.” It never crossed my mind, as I wrote my answer, that it was not about the social science. But I should have guessed, for people often use “economics” as a description of some system.

Ayn Rand wrote of “the separation economics and State” while James Branch Cabell referred to “The Economics of Coth” (and others) when drolly recounting one of his better character’s decisions and rationales.

Cabell’s usage strikes me as more than merely forgivable, Rand’s does not. For one thing, when Cabell wrote, “economics” was still a fairly new term in an educated person’s lexicon. “Political economy” had served for over a century, and many economists wrote tomes in Cabell’s time calling the science “Social Economy.” For another, there is only one way to take Cabell’s construction, while Rand’s “economics” could mean either the science (it should not be subsidized) or “markets and the private property order.”

I write a lot comparing varying social systems of production, distribution and consumption on Quora. But here I stick to considerations of basic explanatory theory.

Why is western economics based on self-interest?

…adapted from an answer on Quora…

It isn’t.

Self-interest is a moral concept, and economists are supposed to be Wertfrei (value-free) social scientists — if on track of value.

You might say, “but economics is all about the results of people choosing according to their own values, thus all about choices dependent upon a kind of perceived or self-constructed interest.” And I reply, “well, OK, if you must — but it is just as much a science exploring other-interest, for these selves doing their choosing also value others, and their interests in others figure into their demand and supply curves just as much as does their self-regard.”

The truth is this: the logic of choice at the heart of subjective value and marginal utility and marginal rates of substitution and satisficing and all that is not egoistic . . . according to economists. And when they say that it is — as they sometimes do, in large part because they are not always good philosophers — they err.

The brilliant Jevonsian economist P. H. Wicksteed tried to make this clear when he argued that economists are not pushing a rationale of egoism when they develop their notion of a demand schedule or draw up indifference curves, nor negating altruism, either. What they apply, he argued, is a concept of non-tuism.

This is a coinage he offered to help explain what he regarded as the basic nature of trade: when a person economizes in his purchases and asks for the highest prices possible in his sales, he may do so for egoistic or altruistic reasons, but still works to maximize the interest of the transaction, either egoistic or altruistic, when he makes those trades. (Or when she makes her trades, for one of Wicksteed’s better examples was of a housewife deciding the basic economy of the household under her charge.) Non-tuistic interest is a worthwhile concept to try to understand: see Israel M. Kirzner’s The Economic Point of View: An Essay in the History of Economic Thought (1960), for a good treatment.

But even Wicksteed did not get it exactly right, for we do sometimes trade for others’ benefit, accepting a higher price for pencils from the blind man at the corner than at the Five and Dime.*

It helps to focus not on “interest” — which, as I assert above, has too moral a component — and not on “utility” — which is unduly abstract, and gets students confused. Concentrate, instead, on the specific uses to which a good may be put. Under the theory of Grenznutzen (border use) of the Austrian School economists (from which English-language economists got their term of art marginal utility), the various uses to which a fungible good may be put, and against which value is to be understood (as dependent upon the importance of the specific use the last unit of a good decided upon has to the economic actor), can be almost any mix of self-regarding and other-regarding purposes.

In my personal economy, my first gallon of clear water goes to drink, the second and third to food preparation, the fourth to cleaning myself, the fifth to my neighbor, the sixth to my dog, the seventh to washing the dog, the eighth to washing the house, the ninth to letting the neighbor’s cow to drink, and so forth.* All of these uses satisfy me, but several also satisfy others. Do you see how useless quibbling about whose interests are being served?

The economist does not usually inquire deeply about the egoism and altruism of the goals, or uses, that are the foci of the border use (Grenznutzen) that goes into explaining the formation of prices and the rates of exchange. Because such concerns are irrelevant to what economists are usually trying to explain.

Similarly, economists rarely fret about how a person forms the value scales which place the various uses to which goods are put into order. Not because they cannot be analyzed, but because they are mostly irrelevant to what economists do.

Who is concerned? Moralists, whose traditional and self-appointed job it is to get people to change their values.

But when moralists get worked up over whether choices on the market are “too egoistic” or “not altruistic enough,” they go too far if they also castigate all economic choice as selfish. And usually they descend into a very deep error.

The error was identified clearly by Austrian philosopher Alexius Meinong in his Ethische Bausteine (see Marie-Luise Schubert Kalsi, Alexius Meinong’s Elements of Ethics, 1996), where he explores the difference between subject and object, ego and alter. Of egoism and altruism, Meinong argued that, before any deep inquiry, one might think that “a value is egoistic if the subject is egoistic, altruistic if the alter is the subject. However, that this is not so can be seen in the fact that I myself have altruistic desires and valuations besides egoistic desires and valuations. Thus, no objection should be raised that there are altruistic and egoistic values for me. Then, the ego is subject of even altruistic values. But the altruistic nature of these values must be grounded on something other than the valu[ing] subject.”

The notion that economics is “based on self-interest” is actually a misguided philosophical complaint, and though I recommend Wicksteed and Kirzner and other economists to clear this up, it really is a philosophical error, and should be dealt with philosophically.


 * Yes, I am old. I like throwing around seemingly ancient examples.

N.B. In addition to the texts explicitly cited, above, one should consult


Reconsiderations

I have to confess to writing my Quora answers fairly hurriedly. It is obvious that some are better than others. This one was not great, rather poorly organized, with some sloppiness. The Meinong section should have been placed up a few paragraphs, and my problem with Wicksteed’s non-tuism is not adequately identified.

The issue lurking (as if Yog-Sothothery) behind the scenes, is this: in discussing market prices in terms of marginal utility we generally assume that the goods being traded are discrete and serve a specific set of needs, or wants. But sometimes we do trade “just to trade,” even though Adam Smith protested that he was unaware of much good being done in that vein. Human interaction is more complex than simple models can map, and, yes, the Austrian praxeological method of catallactic explanation is modeling, too. There is no way around models. There are just different sorts.

This complexity becomes clearer, amusingly enough, when you move away from mass markets and into murkier realms of barter markets, gift economies, plunder procedures, and straightforward cooperation in domestic and tribal contexts.

Much work must have been done in the manner I indicate, here, but I have not seen that work, especially amongst the Austrians.

Austrians, whose basic approach I apply to social science, are like today’s leftists in one sense, at least: just as leftists endlessly and obsessively and yammer about racism for the obvious reason that the fight against racism is the only good thing they have ever accomplished, Austrian economists grind their brand of marginal utility theory because it was, indeed, the best thing they ever accomplished. Expanding it into other domains is harder work. So that work is generally not done.

That being said, Austrians are least apt among market-oriented economists to get caught up in puerile charges of “egoism.” The self-interest notion, too, is rarely botched by Austrians in a crude way, though I do not see many in the tradition to take a deep interest in the processes by which individual actors construct and revise their own understandings of their interests.

Finally, it is indeed unfortunate that we have to deal with two quite distinct concepts of “interest”: the moral concept, in which one aims to provide an objective standard for one’s subjective (personal) value scale, and the catallactic concept, which is associated with (if not defined as) the price of loaned funds.

twv

Do efforts to eliminate class in society usually just
result in the creation of new classes and, if so, why?

…as answered on Quora:

It is not clear what concept of class can stand the tests of analysis and debate. See Joseph Schumpeter’s essay on class for a decent and politically unbiased discussion. (I wrote a foreword to one ebook reprint of it. I am not sure it is still available.)

But let us pretend, for sake of this question, that common sense class notions are robust enough to work with. And that the reader will follow along with me as I present the following simple argument.

Attempts to eliminate classes, so far, have been political, governmental. That is, they involve the State.

Which means: force.

Sociologist Max Weber, in “Politics as a Vocation” (1919), wrote that “a state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory” — that is, “a compulsory association which organizes domination [and] has been successful in seeking to monopolize the legitimate use of physical force as a means of domination within a territory.” Barack Obama scandalized America by repeating this basic definition in 2008. (Dumb America, of course.)

So, why is this important?

Attempts by the State to break apart classes and create one mass of humanity must fail, because those using the ostensibly legitimate force are quite distinct from those being forced. Indeed, the use of force is the separator that distinguishes so clearly that even dullards recognize that a class demarcator is in operation. It is “sticky” in all imaginations.

I bring force into the discussion because physical force is the micro-social, transactional factor that creates the most basic class distinction. It is not merely the case that one group of people, in the State, seek and work to destroy all other class distinction, leaving none left but what remains, the State/non-state. Force-relations draw the strongest line with which to separate people, at least when the directions of force go mainly one direction, between groups. The groups demarcated by force-relations constitute a new class. Force, aggression — this is the most salient social factor, stronger even than matters of family and clan (so important to Schumpeter’s theory), race, language, or generation.

Now, States usually try to provide a meta-class structure, setting terms with all perceived classes in society. This not only strengthens the State, in one sense, it does so by limiting itself, since people will still align themselves and act within the context of many state classes. These other classes provide countervailing power against the State, which often serves to limit the use of force by State actors.

But once the State seeks to destroy all other classes, the number of alternate social systems to oppose the State vanishes, and society goes into a feedback loop. We then witness a maximizing of aggression and interference by the State, turning people into stooges of the State, finking on each other in fear of being finked on first.

And worse.

Human beings naturally form groups. They must, to work and achieve, sure, but also merely to feel human. But in a society with a State program to eliminate classes, this natural, human sociality turns sour, and we almost create a new man. The human being in a one-class mass society is post-moral, fear-ridden, hubristic, anti-social. An ironic twist on the New Socialist Man prophecy? Well, it was predicted in the negative form, by socialism’s enemies in the 19th century. It came true in the Soviet Union and other failed Communist “experiments.”

And the horrifying upshot has, I am told, been exquisitely depicted on the TV show Chernobyl.

The political/bureaucratic/military attempt to create a classless society creates a class system much worse than the classes we see in our freer societies.


…a few further considerations:

Though I rely heavily on force as a basic distinguisher of class, in the answer above, I do not wish to convey the idea that it is the only distinguisher.

Indeed, in most societies at present, the State works mightily to try to muddy up and even extinguish that class indicator.

One way it does this is by the circulation of personnel along with the circulation of elite positions. Indeed, America’s founders were much concerned about this, and so pushed “rotation in office” as a way to prevent the formation of a permanent governmental class.

Another way that the early American federal republic resisted the formation of a hard state/society class split was with “the Spoils System,” in which the winners of an election would fill many government posts as rewards to supporters. This meant there was no permanent class. But the open greed and clamor for position was ugly. And corrupt. So a permanent civil service was formed. And with it, a new class.

Of course, the class structure in America and most of the West is based largely on cognitive skills, with what I call the Moderate Brights forming the main pool of people to get placed into government. And the tendency of classes to congeal around family and clan success (as Schumpeter argued) is offset somewhat by the public school system, higher education and its grants economy, and a general credentialist selection system, which technocratic progressives pushed to replace market productivity as the means for social mobility — and which they use to calcify class structure in a society under a dirigiste State.

Another method to counteract the separation of classes along what could be called the Aggression Line is ideology, which includes morality and religion. By sharing norms and myths and rites, a sharp distinction between State workers on the one hand and citizens on the other can be fuzzed up, allowing the wheels of commerce and community to flow like water around the rocks of the State.

Indeed, ideology is of paramount importance, for it is ideology that turns the water of power into the wine of authority — it is ideology that paints on the halo of legitimacy.

Further, one should always remember that human beings are naturally hierarchical animals. And though the purveyors of Equality über alles might seem to be seeking to upend all accommodations to in-group/out-group and top/bottom distinctions, their eagerness to embrace the harsh hierarchies and class distinctions of Actually Existing Anti-Class Classism belies their explicit approaches.

It is hard not to judge them as mere insurrectionists, seeking to place themselves in some advantageous class position, with their preferred in-group well-ensconced, and their place in its hierarchy secured.

Is that too reductionist? Harsh?

twv

This is not the motto, today, of very many people who call themselves “democrats.”

…as answered on Quora…

The question should be formed in the past tense: when was democracy overthrown?

OK, that’s a bit snarky. And not at all accurate, since the United States was neither designed to be nor ever became a democracy.

Unless, as I have written elsewhere on Quora, one starts fiddling with the meaning of the term “democracy.” Which is fair game, I guess, and is part of a long tradition. Alexis de Tocqueville meant something different by the word in the Jacksonian era than did the founding fathers of these benighted states.

It is pointless for me to repeat all I have written on this in the past. So, for the remainder of my answer, I will accept arguendo that democracy is a good thing, that we once had it, and that it either no longer exists or is in peril.

So who is responsible for the anti-democratic influences? People in power.

I find it weird that Democrats think Republicans are democracy’s threat, and Republicans deem Democrats the threat. Both are threats. Obviously.

Take the big marker: initiative and referendum rights. Those are democratic, after all. No controversy about that. So, all around the country, in state after state, Democratic Party political machines work to squelch the ability of voters to check legislatures — which are, after all, concentrations of political power, especially when incumbency accrues advantages on sitting politicians by seniority and sheer persistence — using the ballot box on an issue-by-issue creation and repeal of constitutional amendments and statutes.

Except in Florida. In Florida it is the Republicans who work to squelch initiative activity, through the usual sneaky political means, by regulating the petition process for ballot access.

Usually, it depends upon who is in and out of power. Truth is, politicians out of power tend to favor democracy, for their best hope into power is to ride a groundswell of citizen unrest. Where, once in power, they tend to lust to squelch the competition.

Democracy is a means to manage competition for political power. That’s one definition anyway. And any group in power tends to be against democracy.

It is one of the basic rules of politics.

But let us look more broadly at the institutions of citizen control of the government. Are we really sure we have it? Are we sure we do not live in a mixed system with heavy elements of plutocracy, oligarchy, and mobocracy as well as star-chamber Deep State machinations?

After all, way back in the late 1930s, Garet Garrett understood that revolutions need not be overt:

There are those who still think they are holding the pass against a revolution that may be coming up the road. But they are gazing in the wrong direction. The revolution is behind them. It went by in the Night of Depression, singing songs to freedom.

There are those who have never ceased to say very earnestly, “Something is going to happen to the American form of government if we don’t watch out.”

These were the innocent disarmers. Their trust was in words. They had forgotten their Aristotle. More than 2,000 years ago he wrote of what can happen within the form, when “one thing takes the place of another, so that the ancient laws will remain, while the power will be in the hands of those who have brought about revolution in the state.”

The key thing about citizen control of government is that government must be small enough, limited enough, for citizens to practically control. At the time of the founding, the ratio of Representatives to citizens was comparatively balanced — a normal person was apt to know his Rep. Today, to keep up anything like that ratio, our House of Representatives would have to number not 435 but in the many thousands. This means that the federal union that is supposedly the United States may be less democratic today than it was two centuries ago . . . when it was explicitly not democratic!

But Americans, when they hear this, usually just shrug.

I think it is pretty obvious that people do not want democracy. Government is something we get activated about when we fret about a particular issue. But most people have the sense to shove most questions of governance off their proverbial front burners and onto that of experts. Who have their own special interests.

The consequences of this, of course, is not democracy but rule by the most vociferous and greedy factions. The revolution of the 20th century — away from constitutional constraints and a decent balance between “the people” and “the government” and to the establishment of a vast administrative state with its bureaucracy and vast transfer programs and regulations placing unequal burdens upon society, for the benefit of some and not others — is the result of the activism of some and the “inactivism” of the many.

Is that democracy? Hardly. But the metamorphosis did not require much bloodshed, as Garrett explained:

Revolution in the modern case is no longer an uncouth business. The ancient demagogic art, like every other art, has, as we say, advanced. It has become in fact a science — the science of political dynamics. And your scientific revolutionary in spectacles regards force in a cold, impartial manner. It may or may not be necessary. If not, so much the better; to employ it wantonly, or for the love of it, when it is not necessary, is vulgar, unintelligent and wasteful. Destruction is not the aim. The more you destroy the less there is to take over. Always the single end in view is a transfer of power.

I find it funny that there are people who think they are “for democracy” but really just demand more power for their faction.

My laughter is not exactly mirthful, I admit.

twv

Why is it not cool to be a conservative?

…as answered on Quora…

Two problematic, contestible words: cool and conservative.

The latter did not come into common use in America as much but a style-related pejorative until after World War II, with Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind (1953). There is no certain ideology behind the basic concept. Its core meaning suggests caution, opposition to radicalism and revolution, and respect for tradition, including, especially, the political traditions at the heart of the defense of one’s civilization or country or locality — from subversion and conquest. In America, an additional element, not so characteristic of European conservative strains, is the harking back to the origins of the federal union, which were, in historical context, what came to be known as liberal — a word that took on a political meaning on the European continent in the 1820s. American conservatism has vacillated between traditionalism as a modus operandi and traditionalism as the honoring of a liberal radical moment.

See how double-souled conservatism is? How ambiguous? This double character is especially the case, anyway, in America. But even in England, the conservative prophet Edmund Burke showed strong commitments to British liberalism, which was old before it was named. Since his day, the conservative Tory and liberal Whig parties have traded ideas and reversed positions at least once, if not twice.

The concept of cool is much abused in contemporary society, and it has been unmoored from its origins in the temperature metaphor. Alas.

Once upon a time, hot and cool were two distinct ideals in sexual selection, two very different stances: the hot was passion and rage and fiery temper; the cool was collected, unperturbed, resistant to emotional infection. The hot spread like fire, quickly; the cool was resistant but not cold. And neither were as attributed to the church of Laodicea in the Revelation, the last book of the Christian New Testament: lukewarm.

Warm culture is modern adult bourgeois culture: polite hugging, easy acceptance, reassurances everywhere; passionless but supportive. Hot culture is lust and anger and quickness of temper; when accepting, more ecstatic and celebratory than calm.

Cold culture is rigid, forbidding, exclusionary.

Warm cultures accept, lukewarm cultures are almost indifferent, but leaning towards acceptance.

There is a sense of anomie in the lukewarm. While in the cool, there is alienation — proud and dismissive, but not rudely so.

The cold rejects, the warm gently accepts (with the lukewarm unenthusiastic almost to the point of ambivalence), while the cool resists both as undue perturbations.

The cool man (and it was a predominantly male stance, at first) is calm under crisis, but perhaps curious. He appears strong because seemingly in control of his emotions. He is not given to fight or flight, rejection or acceptance. There is distance, but no great hate or resentment.

The cool thus became a signal of strength. And it quickly garnered an allure that the other stances could not match. And so it became a kind of ideal. And “the cool” in modern culture became a revival of honor culture.

Alas, so overused as a eulogistic word, it became synonymous with hot, in popular parlance. Just another trendy emphasis word, for The Good.

Now we can see why conservatives are not “cool.” The tendency to either cold or fiery rejection of the other — of the differently customed, the divergent of values or habits or beliefs — is a common conservative “virtue.” And the forms of acceptance amongst conservatives tend to the warm and the lukewarm.

Irony is cool; earnestness is not. Conservatives are not natural ironists.

Conservatives are fond of “that old-time religion”: cold adherence to dogma; hot defense of that dogma.

The center-left is warm to lukewarm; the far left is hot.

So where is the cool? Probably among the independents, though attributing any political position to the cool is difficult, because partisanship does not lend itself to cool attitudes.

The cool political position, in my opinion, would most likely be that of the informed non-voter.

Misattributions of coolness are common, of course, because young people tend to confuse hot and cool. Such attributions are not likely to remain true to the foundational metaphor . . . temperature.

But there is a reason why drug taking is “cool,” and sobriety is not: taking drugs, like the cool sexual stance, signals strength in a subtle way, as in “I can take it; I am not crushed nor do I panic.” All this show of strength signals to the eager female looking for a strong partner — for evolutionary reasons — a bracing, impressive latent ability to survive and protect.

The earnestly sober, cautious, and traditionally minded male, on the other hand, whether cold or warm, has to appeal to reason, primarily.

Which is not sexy except to the very bright. And as we know from IQ testing, there are more geniuses among men than women, so it pays more to impress the normally intelligent. Hot and cool stances have a more obvious, emotional allure.

Conservatives just cannot easily elicit such reactions. They are not cool. Even if they are right (as they often are, compared to the far left, anyway).

And the cool, understandably, dominated the permanent counter-culture in America: the public school student culture. This counter-culture was chiefly counter to established authority. Conservatism tries to bolster established, adult authority. So the two attitudes are on opposite sides in the forming experience of most Americans.

twv

An excellent book on the career of a concept.
I don’t know about you, but I miss Pepe. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Is the alt-right a serious political entity or just teenagers poking fun at modern liberalism?

…as answered on Quora…

There are serious alt-righters, and there are shitlords who troll normies with “memes.” They are distinct.

Notice that I use the word “troll” as a verb. From what I can tell, many people think it bubbled up from the Lord of the Rings and Nordic myth, meaning a big, nasty, ugly mean creature, vaguely hominid. “A neckbeard.” That is the wrong etymology. It comes from a fishing technique. It is a way of getting people to flop around ridiculously, like wild fish on a line or a caught fish on the bottom of a skiff.

The paragraph above is not a diversion from my answer. It is important to get a few metaphors right to understand either the alt-right or the “trolls.”

Another metaphor to get right is “cuck.”

This does not primarily derive from the sexual fad of cuckoldry, wherein the male partner likes to watch his woman penetrated by another man. That is just a kink, a perversion.

The core idea of “cuck” comes from the cuckoo, a bird, which destroys the egg of a bird of another feather (species) and then lays its egg where the destroyed egg had been, to be incubated until hatching, and the hatchling to be nurtured into maturity not by the cuckoo but by the cuckolded mated pair, who expend time and energy on what they have been fooled to think of as their own progeny.

Of course, that is where “cuckold” comes from. But the traditional word is there as a pejorative not just because the husband of an adultress is a contemptible, dishonored man. It has its condemnatory power because it makes the cuckold a slave of the alien male, doing work but not doing it for himself. The cuckold is a chump, and destroys his own interests. Lowest of the low, in a sense. That is why “cuck” is so effective a term of disparagement, for it applies not only to men who serve feminist women who possess no loyalty or gratitude. It also applies to whole societies that allow foreigners to come in, leech off of their welfare state programs (public schools, SNAP, Medicaid) and strain the resources of police, courts and prisons . . . all at the hosts’ (citizens’) tax expense. The term “cuck” applies to anyone who valorizes or shame-facedly accepts subsidized mass immigration as a government policy and social norm. It applies not only to the progressive left but also to the “conservative” right. Hence “cuckservative.”

This is a serious critique.

I agree with it, though I do not go with the alt-righters in their favorite policy direction, that of an ethnostate. Sure, I think a policy of subsidized immigration is insane because suicidal. I think it entirely apt to scorn the cucks, left, right or libertarian. But I am not an alt-righter. The alt-right want to cut off immigration. “Build the Wall.” I want to make immigrants ineligible for welfare benefits — and then work to get rid of the welfare state entirely. It has been a disaster. It has created several generations of serviles and wimps and snowflakes and . . . cucks. And it is breeding race hatred, threatening to eradicate the last vestiges of liberal order.

Meanwhile, the lolsters and trolls and shitlords float their “memes” — and chortle. They understand enough of the alt-right critique to freak out progressives. And it is indeed fun to watch progressives freak out — “RACISM!” they cry. “Sexism!” “Trans-phobia!” “Islamophobia!” And the trolls chuckle, moving on as progressives dance to shitlord tunes, flipping and flapping to trollers’ (proper word, but not used) lure.

Oh, and here is my modest troll: there is no “liberalism” on the left anymore. They are so thoroughly cucked that the “progressives” cannot conceive of freedom, meaning the word “liberal” must not be allowed to them. They just want more and more handouts. And safe spaces — a term of art meaning

Subsidized Sectarian Commiseration Center for the Easily Offended and Emotionally Unstable

— normal people’s “safe” areas being bedrooms, homes, churches, and clubs, and are privately paid for, not subsidized.

twv

Variants of the following question seem common enough. I have almost certainly answered one or two previous ones before. Because it is common, and because previous historical instantiation is a reliable indication of possibility, the question has some importance today. But, as I try to make clear, being new is not a sure sign of impossibility or undesirability. But more will needs be said.

as answered on Quora:

Why has there never seem[ed] to have been a nation whose approach to government was Libertarianism?

Simple answer: because libertarianism is a fairly recent refinement of a long tradition in social innovation.

More complex answer: many, many societies have demonstrated libertarian elements, and it is worth remembering that until the modern period, most societies did not even sport states. Libertarianism arose in response to the abuse of state power, and to rescue a sense of morality in law from the general run of state power that almost invariably corrupts legal practice.

Further, states tend to form around high capital areas, by capture (high capital regions make easy marks), and — if not run by murderous psychopaths or morons — also encourage the accumulation of more capital. By encouraging capital and commandeering capital, they often produce lasting markers that we can track, as history. Freer societies in ancient times tended not to leave big monuments or be known for their conquests. So they tend not to leave historical mileposts. If there were free societies in the tribal, upland, and margins-of-civilizations societies, we probably would not know much about them.

But it is worth remembering that the basic libertarian stance is very old, and can be seen in writings as various as the Hebrews’ I Samuel 8-15 and the Chinese Tao te Ching.

That being said, libertarianism is a workaround to a problem arising from our hierarchical natures and the path dependence set in place by relying upon the most valiantly coercive: accommodation to power, legitimation of the powerful, Authority . . . and the eternal problem of in-group solidarity and out-group antagonism. Libertarianism is an attempt to regulate these volatile mixes — regulate by law. Other attempts at such regulation have included timocracy, democracy, and republicanism. Libertarianism is the latest, and if it seems familiar, no wonder, for libertarianism is a lexarchy. The fact that we almost never hear that term suggests to me that libertarianism, despite its august lineage from rule-of-law traditions, is very young, and that today’s libertarian challenge has not been met in the general culture. Not even libertarians themselves really understand what it is that they are trying to accomplish — they might boil it down to “rights,” for instance, or The Individual . . . without contextualizing what a universal right to liberty would actually accomplish.

So, the past is something of a red herring. It is not for nothing that the major libertarian (as opposed to myth-making liberal) theorists have looked to the future, not the past. Henry David Thoreau wrote of a future with radically less political governance, but he noted that it requires a culture and a general character to match it: “when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.” This notion of a cultural context of resistance to mere power and position was carried on a few years later, in another early classic of libertarian advocacy, Social Statics: or, The Conditions Essential to Human Happiness and the First of Them Developed, by Herbert Spencer. Speaking of the novelty of the most extreme elements of his doctrine — which most libertarians today would assent to — he wrote that “There are many changes yet to be passed through before [libertarianism] can begin to exercise much influence.” At about the same time as Thoreau and Spencer were formulating their rather radical doctrines — of law as regulated by explicit contract — a young Belgian economist put the idea to its most precise formulation in an essay entitled “De la production de la sécurité.” This Gustave de Molinari’s last full book, and the only one to be translated into English, was titled The Society of To-morrow. In that he explained why what we would now call libertarian ideas were so late in developing. But why he had hope for a later instantiation.

Now, I confess: I am not fully convinced that libertarian proposals are even possible fully to implement in a society of baboonish hominids, I mean, humans. But if they are, it would be the result of some sweeping changes, not only institutionally but also culturally.

And, I readily concede, it is not as if such radical changes have not happened, even in our lifetimes.

But most relevantly, consider the cultural, intellectual support for two institutions, democracy and slavery.

If in 1492, the year that I believe marks the beginning of the modern period, you had asked all educated men on the planet at that time, whether some day the word “democracy” would not only inform the politics of the nation states of more than half the world, it would even play as piety on the lips of even the most brutal of tyrants, not one man would not laugh, chortling in derision at the preposterous nature of your question. Yet “democracy” has become the byword of politics.

And, perhaps more astoundingly, throughout history slavery was a civilizational norm — even many pre-civilized tribes and chiefdoms practiced this brutal form of tyranny. Yet, in recent modern history Christians in England and elsewhere began liberating slaves and abolishing the institution, making it illegal. Now, it is so anathematized that no civilized person can even conceive of bringing it back.

If democracy — once universally condemned — can become normalized nearly everywhere, and slavery — once universally practiced — made taboo, then it is not altogether incomprehensible that liberty rigorously conceived might someday also become the norm.

But that would make libertarianism definitely a future, not a historic, development.

twv

Currently back to reading this book.
Me, playing with filters . . . and not with my cat, Bene.

On Quora, a question was asked — “What aspect of ‘big government’ frightens conservatives and libertarians?” And answered: dependence. And that answer was then commented upon . . . which then received an additional comment. That last little comment — nothing more than a quip, really — irked me enough to respond.


As the old saying goes, “Libertarians are like housecats. Completely dependent on the people around them for survival, yet utterly convinced of their own independence.”

Ben Patch

This misconstrues the nature of interdependence.

Libertarians celebrate our interdependence in the form of voluntary cooperation — especially in trade. This is the most obvious thing about individualist intellectuals, and has been since Adam Smith and Anders Chydenius. When libertarians talk about dependence we are talking about non-reciprocal aid over long periods of time. The goal of an adult should be a morally autonomous being capable of offering moral (and economic) support to family, friends, and neighbors, but is not a burden to same.

Conflating interdependence with dependence is something of a perversity.

And as for the cat thing — “I bought me a cat” a decade ago because I needed protection from rodents. My cat could have survived for some time in the wild. But in my house he kept it vermin-free for ten years — and has survived longer than he could have on his own. This is important. It is reciprocity. And he certainly is not my slave; and neither, really, am I his. He is not my dependent, not like many people on the dole are to the state.

The “old saying,” above, is a calumny against both cats and libertarians.

twv

Nota Bene: Then followed more discussion, which the curious may drill down to with the link given above.

from a review on Goodreads

Ahmed Osman’s thesis in Jesus in the House of the Pharaohs (2004) strikes me as preposterous. Yet it is such a daring performance that I am sort of in awe. The book delivers (figuratively) a blow to the brain, in a way reminiscent of Julian Jaynes’s The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1976) or something by Erich von Däniken — it is such a radical reinterpretation of history that I am left not believing but, instead, holding my hat over my chest as a salute.

And like Jaynes’s and von Däniken’s work, and especially like Sigmund Freud’s Moses and Monotheism (1939), this book revolutionizes the past, in this case upending not only Jewish origin stories but Christian ones as well.

The sliver of plausibility for what Osman does lies in an interpretive difficulty: real history in the Bible before Ezra and Nehemiah is . . . problematic. Before the re-building of the Temple in Jerusalem the matching of story to archaeology proves iffy at best.

So one is tempted to dismiss much of the early Biblical “historical” matter as fiction, as myth, or as radically messed-up fact at the very least. The Jews, just back from Babylon — or while in it — constructed a mythology based on dim memory and oral tradition. And out of the need to tell good stories. The strange connection to Egypt sticks out in all this. Take, as just one oddity to be accounted for, the ancient Egyptian practice of circumcision — how did the Israelites’ adoption of it make them “separate”? Well, it made them different from the Mesopotamians. That it did. 

Osman makes the connection with Egypt stronger than ever.

And what a whopper he expounds. In his first book, 1987’s  Stranger in the Valley of Kings, he advanced the idea that Yuya, Master of the Horse under Thutmose IV and Amenhotep III, was actually the Biblical Joseph. In subsequent books, especially this one, he reinterprets everything in terms of 18th and 19th Dynasty Pharaonic history.

Osman proposes that . . .

1. Thutmose III was the Biblical King David, ruler of lands between the Nile and Euphrates (which Thutmose was, but no Israelite ever was).
2. Abraham and Sarai went down to Egypt, with Abraham notoriously passing off his wife as his sister, allowing Thutmose (David) to take Sarai unto himself and sire a son, Isaac, whose birthright is as a prince in Egypt. But they are sent north by the disgusted pharaoh, because Abraham had lied to him.
3. Joseph, grandson of Isaac, is sold into slavery by his brothers and, in Egypt, rises from slavery to high position as Yuya, Father to Pharaohs, in the reign of Thutmose IV. He served on into the reign of the next pharaoh, Amenhotep III, “the Great,” 
4. who is the Biblical Solomon. This long-lived ruler revives an ancient religion, an intellectual and spiritual worship of one deity, represented in the Sun Disk — Atenism.
5. His second son, Amenhotep IV, inherits the throne. He becomes a big believer and priest of Atenism, and redubs himself Akhenaten. And — get this — he is Moses!!!
6. Alhenaten/Moses is kicked out and flees with his most devoted followers to the Sinai. His son Tutankhaten becomes pharaoh at a young age. Tutankhaten is a peacelover and not as big of a fanatic as his father, and accepts Amenism back into the mainstream of Egyptian life, changes his name to Tutankhamen and then travels to Sinai to convince his father to come back to Egypt and accept his co-pharaonic position — all a big happy family — but is killed by an Atenist priest. This is the death on Sinai that Freud wrote about and attributed to the death of “the first Moses” — but it was young King Tut. Tut’s body was sent back to Egypt for a rather bizarre burial.
7. Now, Tut also believed in an afterlife, a resurrection. He was both Moses’ colleague Joshua and . . . drum roll . . . Jesus — of Christianity! This is the stone the builders rejected. The builders of Judaism. Amazing thesis.
8. He is buried and succeeded by his uncle, Pharaoh Ay, the son of Yuya/Joseph, the Biblical Ephraim, and the New Testament Joseph of Arimathea, all three!
9. The next pharaoh, Horemheb, is the persecutor of the Jews in Goshen.
10. After Horemheb croaks, back comes old Akhenaten/Moses, to reclaim the rest of his people. Though the 19th Dynasty pharaoh that Moses encounters does indeed recognize Akhenaten’s royal staff, he is none too impressed with Moses’ entreaties: conflict ensues, Moses sneaks his people out. etc., etc.

Now, that is a story. 

The Essene connection is not clear to me (perhaps I read it too hastily, or too long ago, having stretched out my reading over too long a period) but then the Dead Sea Scrolls’ Teacher of Righteousness is himself pretty obscure. Osman identifies him with Jesus, and, as I said above, Tut. This stretching back of the messianic tradition is that notion taken to its extreme. In The First Messiah: Investigating the Savior Before Jesus (1999), Michael O. Wise only pushed it back a century or so, and, with scholarly caution, did not identify the first “Messiah” with Jesus of Nazareth.

The Akhenaten-as-Moses theory is daring enough. But Osman’s no piker: he makes Christianity an underground movement in Judaism from the beginning.

Is this at all plausible? Well, I have long regarded Freud’s book as a “nut book,” more nutty than Velikovsky’s Oedipus and Akhenaten (1960). So how should I regard this?

Identifying the “historical Jesus” is an old game, for both scholars and nuts. Richard Carrier, in On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason For Doubt (2014), does the best job advancing the thesis that there was no actual, historical Jesus. (Carrier cites Michael O. Wise, for example, but not Osman.) There is no good historical evidence for Jesus’s existence in Judea c. 30 A.D. — the gospels providing no evidence at all, really — so it is not nutty to say there was no such person. I know it sounds weirder than a walnut, but the literary nature of the gospels provides a huge hint: we are talking about religious fiction here, and there was a major strain of Christianity that did not assert the physical reality of the Messiah at all. I refer, of course, to Gnosticism. And Carrier rightly makes much of the “spiritual Jesus” tradition to be discerned in what remains of that bizarre non-canonical text, The Ascension of Isaiah.

But the real problem with the historical Jesus subject matter is not the paucity of candidates for the man, but the surfeit. Jesus is Yeshua is Joshua, and that was a common name among the Hebrews. Carrier wades into the most startling example, taking note of a “Jesus When” problem, discussing the Nazoreans’ messiah with that name, c. 100 B.C. (pp. 281-285). Indeed, this “Ben Stada” (son of the Unfaithful) or “Ben Pandera” (son of a man named Pandera who had sex with a woman named Mary) was the only executed Jesus the Babylonian Talmudic writers knew of.

That this tradition lived on in the propagandistic Toldoth Jesu is hard to miss. I had an argument with an incredibly smart Jew once about these stories. He refused to take this tradition seriously, though, even countenance it at all, apparently because he thought that it would raise the ire of today’s Christians, conjuring up Christian anti-semitism.

Today’s evangelical Christians (whom I know best) will not likely be budged, in no small part because they tend not to read the historical matter of the Nazoreans or Gnostics or much of anything else that might challenge their faith. They are told by Josh MacDowell and Bill O’Reilly that the evidence for the Son of God living and dying and resurrecting in Judea in the days of Herod and Pontius Pilate is clear. It is not. But that is OK. Harmless fictions? I hope so.

One problem Christians will not properly confront is the problem of pious fraud. Bart Ehrman’s Forged: Writing in the Name of God—Why The Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are (2011) makes the standard case clearly. But without getting into the thicket of the canon, note what we find in Josephus, a historian quite extra-canonical:

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Chapter 3, § 3

This is an obvious interpolation into the historian’s text. Almost all scholars are agreed upon this. It would be most out of character for the turncoat Jew to parade Christian piety in one passage and nowhere else. It makes no sense other than as a forgery.

But what follows is instructive. Well, what follows immediately are two brief tales of scandal, and then a new chapter, which begins like this:

But the nation of the Samaritans did not escape without tumults. The man who excited them to it was one who thought lying a thing of little consequence, and who contrived every thing so that the multitude might be pleased; so he bid them to get together upon Mount Gerizzim, which is by them looked upon as the most holy of all mountains, and assured them, that when they were come thither, he would show them those sacred vessels which were laid under that place, because Moses put them there. So they came thither armed, and thought the discourse of the man probable; and as they abode at a certain village, which was called Tirathaba, they got the rest together to them, and desired to go up the mountain in a great multitude together; but Pilate prevented their going up, by seizing upon file roads with a great band of horsemen and foot-men, who fell upon those that were gotten together in the village; and when it came to an action, some of them they slew, and others of them they put to flight, and took a great many alive, the principal of which, and also the most potent of those that fled away, Pilate ordered to be slain.

Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Chapter 4, § 1

This rout of a peaceful Samaritan religious figure, we learn, so upset the Samaritans that they petitioned the emperor, who called back Pontius Pilate to Rome. Pilate was removed from “service” in the area because of his execution of Samaritan pilgrims. This is interesting because it links Pilate to a religious execution. Of an unnamed Samaritan.

Why the lack of a name? Well, Josephus does not name every last one the people he writes about. But Charles Kos, a YouTuber and historian, suggests another reason. The name was elided. Because the name was Jesus. This man, a proverbial Good Samaritan — and the Samaritans were, after all, a people practicing an alternate form of Judaism — was, Kos speculates, the Jesus who spurred the creation of crucial historical elements of the gospels. The Pilate story, for one.

It seems to me not at all implausible that this Samaritan’s passion tale was united with the Nazoreans’ account and the Gnostics’ mythos to create the gospels as we know them.

But Ahmed Osman goes much further. He brings King Tut into the mix, and creates a re-interpretation almost as radically implausible as the standard Christian theological account of the Word and the crucifixion and the bizarre, ghostly Resurrection.

Osman’s story is impressive, I will not deny it. But does it convince?

He had me at Yuya. The idea of Alhenaten as Moses is not altogether too bizarre a leap. But Tut as Jesus?

I will let the question hang there. As if on an Ankh cross.

twv

My reading stack just gets bigger and bigger.
Here is some spillover.