Archives for category: Constitutional Concerns
Foreword to the LFB edition of David Hume, Of the Original Contract
(rel. 3/3/2016)
. This ebook edition is, as of mid-February 2020, still available on Apple’s ebook platform: search for “Timothy Wirkman Virkkala” + Hume + “Of the Original Contract.”

Society runs, to some extent, on myths. 

The word “myth” derives from the Latin word mythus, which itself derived from a Greek word, muthos. It usually refers to origin stories, especially those traditional legends that help shore up a people’s beliefs about their place in the world. Because other folks’ origin stories strike us as fanciful nonsense, a secondary meaning grew up: “a widely held but false belief.” A word of caution here, though: because something serves as a myth, or even appears fantastic, does not mean it is untrue. There can exist, as theologian C. S. Lewis argued, “true myths.”

When it comes to politics, all these usages are relevant. There are myths and there are myths. We are united by the stories we share; we are divided by stories some dismiss as whoppers while others hold sacrosanct. And here is where careful thought must begin; as philosopher Karl Popper put it, “science must begin with myths, and with the criticism of myths.”

David Hume (1711-1776) was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist who may be seen as one of the first of the great myth-busters. In his writings on politics, Hume confronted myths head on, testing them on several levels of analysis. No better example of this can be found than in the present essay, “Of the Original Contract,” originally published in 1748.

In his day, two factions dominated politics, Tory and Whig. In the previous century, a monarch had been deposed and then, after an experiment without the monarchy (including a time without a legislature), the monarchy was restored. In an earlier essay on Britain’s political parties, Hume characterized both parties as demonstrating a love of liberty, adding that the Tories loved the monarchy even more than liberty, and that they tended (as before the Revolution of 1688) to emphasize the general principle of passive obedience to the monarch. Whigs, on the other hand, “without renouncing monarchy,” would be more “apt to think that every part of the government ought to be subordinate to the interests of liberty.” 

And yet Hume recognized that distinctions between the two, between “the parties of court and country,” were muddied by other factors. No conceptual scheme could be neat and tidy. We are familiar with such problems today, especially those that complicate the persistent one-dimensional directional metaphor of political ideology common since the French Revolution, between “right” and “left.”

Both parties had their myths, both of which Hume regarded as somewhat awkward and ill built. 

By attributing government to God, Tories tended to render government “so sacred and inviolate, that it must be little less than sacrilege, however tyrannical it may become, to touch or invade it, in the smallest article.” The Whigs, on the other hand, saw government as founded upon a social contract, from which they drew the conclusion that “the subjects have tacitly reserved the power of resisting their sovereign, whenever they find themselves aggrieved by that authority, with which they have, for certain purposes, voluntarily entrusted him.”

For Hume, both systems possessed merit, but not the merit each attributed to itself. Further, he argues that both parties demonstrated prudent practical consequences — but not at their extremes.

Thus David Hume positions himself as a political moderate.

He spends little time on the Tory myths, however. He notes, simply, that the workings of God to establish government must be seen as providential, behind-the-scenes in some way — “not by any particular or miraculous interposition” — and that, therefore, no sovereign could claim anything like a vice-regency, as God’s stand-in. Unfortunately, Hume does not stop there, and the several sentences that follow are themselves worthy of the kind of attention he reserves, in the rest of the essay, for the Whig theory of the social contract. (Most likely, Hume’s secret status as an apostate led him to refrain from extended public analysis of the workings of a Being whose existence he himself doubted.)

Hume initially addresses the Whig idea of government as resting upon the consent of the governed — an idea stated with classic clarity in the previous century by British philosopher John Locke — with a sort of cautious acceptance. Locke had taken Hobbes’s notion of life of man “in a state of nature” and upgraded it. Whereas Hobbes saw life without government as necessarily one of conflict, and, therefore, as “nasty, brutish, and short,” Locke, with some claim to realism, saw pre-political social life as more or less harmonious and co-operative, but subject to certain “inconveniences” that led to the establishment of government. Hume, in turn, went part way in Locke’s direction. He even begins with a kind of state-of-nature theory, imagining a pre-institutional setting for humanity, judging man’s “natural force” — power of muscle and brain — as nearly equal, meaning that any subordination of many to a few as requiring consent.

But he doesn’t let this analysis go on for long without qualification. Hume does not see the consent of a people to a chieftain, for example, as explicit. Instead, it is a kind of accommodation: with small instances of acceptance of superiority giving rise, gradually, to a “habitual, and, if you please to call it so, a voluntary, and therefore precarious, acquiescence in the people.”

We now know, from investigation into our animal cousins in wolf packs and ape troops, that the establishment of hierarchies in the simplest societies is often a matter of contest, the play of aggression and counter-aggression. The acquiescence of females (on the one hand) and beta and gamma males (on the other) to the dominant, alpha male does not nearly so closely resemble explicit contracts, and is not anywhere near so civilized as admitted even by Hume.

This amendment to Hume’s analysis only strengthens his main point. There is scant evidence, he argues, for any government to be founded by contract: “we find, every where, princes, who claim their subjects as their property, and assert their independent right of sovereignty, from conquest or succession.”

Not only is there no evidence for a historical “social contract,” original and binding on everyone, but the bulk of humanity seems to accept government as binding even though aggression is at the basis of governments they encounter, and grow up in.

So, why do the many acquiesce to the dominance of the few, particularly those in government? Elsewhere, Hume established this as the basic puzzle: “Nothing appears more surprizing to those, who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye, than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few.” Since there are always many more subjects than rulers, he reasoned that it must be opinion — not force — that effects this great accommodation that allows for dominance by the few. Popular opinion. In the present essay he identifies, but does not concisely name, a driving factor of opinion: fear. Hume argues that the specter of “a total dissolution of government” is the most terrible of all events, and that people prefer the dominance of the few to the liberty of the multitude.

The observation is undoubtedly correct. People tend not to trust each other very far, absent some force to restrain their rapacity. This likely derives not merely from observation of others, but also from history and rumor and fiction, as well as from introspection — not all of it reliable — about fantasies of dominance and criminality and bloodlust and revenge. It is easy to abstract from one’s own darkest thoughts and impute them to others. And it is not entirely irrational.

Yet the possibility that human beings can co-operate without aggression is not lost on Hume. He admits that contracts are ideal. He even admits that contract is “one just foundation of government.” But there are other foundations, which have pertained more often than not.

All through Hume’s essay there exists an interesting tension, one that the reader may be cued by other writings of the author to notice: between fact and value. The value of a government somehow confined to contract — to defending a society based on contracts, criminalizing and opposing duress and aggression and fraud — is not lost on our skeptical Scotsman. But the history of government loomed over all else, for him, as a matter of fact. There could be no doubt: governments traditionally have been agents of aggression and counter-aggression — duress that in a court of law would spoil the authority of any defendable contract by private parties. 

We can accept this as a fact — and all the particular facts that Hume parades before us. But he may have missed something. The social function of the myth of the original contract may have been mainly to elicit attention to perfecting government in the direction of contracts, of restraining rapacity in government, of tying it down to justice seen as requiring contract and not domination through coercion. Could it be that it is not as a fact that we should approach the idea of an “original contract”?

Hume himself most ably articulated the distinction between fact and value— that is, between is and ought — in his Treatise of Human Nature

In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remarked, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary ways of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when all of a sudden I am surprised to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, ’tis necessary that it should be observed and explained; and at the same time that a reason should be given, for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it.

In this famous passage, Hume cautioned that, by not attending to this distinction, philosophers get caught up in “vulgar” errors. The literature on this observation — which has been dubbed “Hume’s Guillotine” (clever) and “Hume’s Law” (yawn) — has become vast. Philosophers have designated the rhetorical move from is to ought as “the Naturalistic fallacy,” for example.

Another way of looking at “Of the Original Contract” is to consider another offshoot of Hume’s Law, the “Moralistic fallacy.” For too many people, ought influences their notions of is. Things “should” be this way or that, and so they pretend that they are that way or this, the better to bolster their prejudices. One can commonly observe this, today, in the intersection of political morality and biology. For instance, it is a characteristic dogma of our age that people “are equal,” in some very literal sense, not the very narrow and artful sense that Whigs in Hume’s day meant. So our contemporaries, believing that people should be “treated as equals” or “possess equal wealth,” can often be witnessed resisting scientific findings about the inherent genetic differences among not only individuals and groups. (We, today, are perhaps over-sensitive about matters relating to “race” and ethnic groupings, because these groupings have had so much to do with conflict in the past.) Thus they let their moral ideas utterly rule their appraisal of the facts. We may call this the Ought-Is Hegemony, but “Moralistic fallacy” does nicely.

The Moralistic fallacy could be at play in the notion of a historic social contract. Its theorists have valued contracts highly. The peace and co-operation demonstrated by a society made mostly of contracts? More than merely charming. Our contractual dealings have an order and friendliness and mutuality about them that our political and legal dealings do not. The accumulation of mutual advantages through such exchanges seems the very source of progress.  

But that provides no valid reason to pretend that, once upon a time, government was founded on contract, and therefore can be re-made because of the obligations of that contract. That is a fallacy.

Hume was right. 

But, as mentioned, his more general conclusion is almost certainly too rash. The Whig notion of a social contract may be fictional, but that does not mean that the values for which radical Whigs concocted to bolster their story could not be valid.

Hume’s prophecy, at the end of his essay, has certainly been shown to be unfounded: “New discoveries are not to be expected in these matters.” Explorations of the possibility of voluntary contracts to subsume even government have not only yielded new discoveries, they’ve engendered whole new disciplines, such as constitutional economics (a part of Public Choice theory). There may be even more than mere interest, but hope, in further work in this area. 

Regardless, Hume’s influence on later liberal (“Whig”) thought can be seen in the fact that most of the leading liberal thinkers in the centuries immediately following Hume’s critique abandoned the notion he attacked. For Henry David Thoreau, Herbert Spencer, and Gustave de Molinari — to name just three — a progress in chaining the institutions we think of as “political government” to exacting, duress-free contracts provides the key to civilization’s advance. 

That the world’s governments have not yet discovered this may be seen as tragic or as comic. Readers of Hume’s essay will likely guess, as I do, that Hume would have seen this stunted progress as in keeping with the usual course of history, government authority resting, as it has so far, on popular acceptance of coercion, aggression, and hierarchical power.

Timothy Wirkman Virkkala*
January 2016

BIOGRAPHY: David Hume (1711-1776) was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist whose influence on modern thought has been vast. He wrote a popular multi-volume history of England, but is best known, today, for his philosophic work, A Treatise of Human Nature (1739) and two inquiries, one on morals (1751) and the other on human understanding (1748). Several of his short treatises on economics have been republished by Laissez Faire Books, with forewords by Pierre Lemieux and Timothy Wirkman Virkkala.

You’ve heard of Sanctuary Cities, where corporate subdivisions of the several States attempt to nullify federal laws to protect undocumented aliens. Here is the Sanctuary County movement, which goes up the level of jurisdiction one notch to protect rights far more explicitly guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution — as well as in many state constitutions. In the news, anyway, is the Commonwealth of Virginia: “Second Amendment Sanctuary push aims to defy new gun laws.”

On the map are the counties resisting the brewing gun control legislation. Virginia must seem dangerously green to the Blue State’s rich populations in the Washington, DC, area, and in a few spots elsewhere:

Wikipedia: States and counties that have passed Second Amendment sanctuary resolutions.

I vaguely recall an ancient tradition that might plausibly provide some legal cover for this, but I have forgotten what I have read. (Do I remember talking with a group called Posse Comitatus? I confronted quite a wide variety of radicals — of all sorts — in my youth.)

In Washington State, where I reside, most counties are labeled ‘green’ (see above; note that it is just coincidence that it is nicknamed “The Evergreen State”) as being sanctuaries against gun control passed by the people (mainly voters in heavily populated counties, not labeled green). And, also in Washington State, Sections 3 and 24 of the State Constitution would seem to bar any legislative action from abridging the right to bear arms:

No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.

Constitution of the State of Washington (last revised 2011), Section 3

Due process of law does not mean legislative action by the government in Olympia or by the people through referendum or initiative.

The right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself, or the state, shall not be impaired, but nothing in this section shall be construed as authorizing individuals or corporations to organize, maintain or employ an armed body of men.

Section 24

This is much less confusing than the federal Constitution’s much-loved/much-despised Second Amendment. It clearly defines the right to bear arms as an individual right, not a militia right — the right to form a militia herein denied. (Nevertheless, Heller was almost certainly close to the mark; the Second Amendment was clearly made to secure an individual right to self-defense.)

If Washington State citizens want gun control, I think they would have to overturn Heller as well as pass an amendment to their Constitution. Further, I think that whenever a state’s people, using standard constitutional procedures, attempts to remove traditional rights, counties that do not pass the rights-destroying measure should have the right to secede and form a new state.

We live in interesting times.

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

My pistol.

Here in the Evergreen State, where the motto is “al-ki” (by and by), local sheriffs are basically telling big city voters that their gun legislation (enacted by initiative) is unconstitutional and unenforceable — and that they will not try to enforce the new restrictions.

So what are those restrictions?

Washington’s voters passed initiative I-1639 in 2018, which by-and-large regulates semiautomatic rifles. Since January 1, 2019, purchasers of such weapons must be 21 years of age or over, must undergo an enhance [sic] background check and complete a safety course, and must wait nine days to take possession of their weapons. Further, weapons must be stored properly, or their owners will face felony endangerment charges.

“Washington State Sheriffs Refuse To Enforce New, Strict Gun Laws: ‘It’s Unconstitutional On Several Grounds’,” Inquistr, January 27, 2019

I live in a very rural county, one completely lacking in intersection lights — no red lights, yellow lights, or green. Alas, I just missed a meet-and-greet at the local watering hole where the local sheriff made his opposition to the new gun regulations all clear, publicly.

Rural sheriffs are rebelling. And there is a legal challenge in the works. One sheriff explained that “until the National Rifle Association’s (NRA’s) lawsuit against Washington’s new laws is resolved, he won’t be enforcing the laws, either. And if the NRA fails, he’ll consider whether or not he wants to remain in law enforcement.”

Predictably, some denizens of the out-of-the-way utopia I live in challenged our sheriff’s prerogative of selective enforcement.

I bet those folks would not challenge him if they disapproved of the law. Were the law to require that Jews be rounded up and shipped off to concentration camps, I bet they would say they’d join me in supporting any resistance the county sheriff could mount. But I also bet they do not have the wit to see the problem, here.

But perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps they are principled conservatives. Whatever the established legal authority says, I have heard conservatives argue, must be followed to the letter. No matter how gruesome.

Amusingly, the ideologues most likely to take this conservative position today are progressives. And not just on this issue, where they have demonstrated a 60 percent statewide majority on gun regulation. As I have been elaborating for years now — for decades — today’s ideological alignments are not what they seem.

Conservatives today are mostly the progressives of a century ago, but with a fantasy of liberty sprinkled in to leaven the lump. Progressives today, by defending all the progressive institutions enacted this last century, and because they push for more of the same — nothing really very radically different, even when advanced under the gonfalon of socialism — find themselves, willy-nilly, as the actual conservatives in this mix, conserving progressive tradition.

Progressives leaven their goofy partisanship with scarcely believable nonsense about “marginalized communities,” of course. But that is mostly for piety. Fake piety, Pharisaic piety, for show.

In truth, in this “Evergreen State,” as in all so-called Blue States, the overbearing centrists yearn and work mightily to marshal state power and the tyranny of the majority to make society less liberal.

A free society is an armed society, for, as I have argued before, no state can protect its citizens (subjects) in time of crisis. The state is an engine for the regulation of retaliation. Self-defense is absolutely central to a liberal state.

But the State as imagined by progressives? There is nothing liberal about it. Limiting the power of citizens is what progressives do. They are top-down, professional management-oriented through and through, our progressives. They have always been sympathetic to tyranny — witness the love of centralization, the hatred of the Constitution, the sympathy for the Soviets — and they aim to get their totalitarian state some day, by and by.

First step to get over their next hurdle to total adminstrative state supremacy? Curb Americans’ gun ownership.

twv

Contemplating buying another gun.

Democracy, explained Karl Popper, is valuable not because it expresses a “general will” — it does not and cannot — but because it allows citizens to remove officeholders from power peacefully.

The problem that democracy does not solve is the problem of the populace. Voters have power — not individually, but en masse, in interest groups. And when they become corrupt, democracy provides no way to remove them from power.

For they still have votes.

They can learn, or change their minds — but so can tyrants. We cannot rely upon education for voters corrupted by power, dreams of power, and patterns of dominance and submission. 

This is the main problem of democracy. Once corrupted by the power democracy provides, a people tends to remain corrupted.

Democracy‘s power base in the populace cannot even be term limited. 

Only the deaths of the corrupted provide a way out — with the tiny hope that younger people will see corruption and avoid it. Trouble is, the institutions of governance and politics tend to suck every generation further into folly.

And injustice.

It has not yet been made clear to our chattering ideological courtesans that the border/migration issue and the welfare state stability issue are strongly linked. In all the accusations between President “Cheeto” and the Democratic duo of Chuck and Nancy, for example, the great truth about the long-running government shutdown seems to have been lost.

It is almost as if we feel compelled to talk past each other about the border wall.

But it’s not about the border. Not really.

It’s about raising the debt level to accommodate continued increases in federal government borrowing. It is about stressors long ago placed upon the American union.

The border wall hysteria is, in a sense, very convenient. It allows everyone to keep avoiding any serious discussion of runaway federal spending and skyrocketing government debt, and, instead, play to each side’s constituencies’ prejudices. 

Why, it is almost as if no one wants to confront the fragility of our governmental way of life!

Democrats, of course, talk up the freewheeling idea of unrestricted immigration and “being inclusive” . . . while gleefully contemplating the naturalization of illegal and legal immigrants who are far more apt than not to vote for the party with an ass as its mascot.

Republicans, on the other hand, devote their elephantine bellows to border security and the common-sense notion that “good fences make good neighbors” . . . all the while eagerly blaming on foreigners the perceived immiseration of the middle class — which, to the extent it is happening, is largely the result of bipartisan government policy and not free trade or free immigration.

And though it is true that President Trump could have advanced his pet populist promise of “the Wall” while he had Republican majorities, is he really doing anything new? 

Democrats say he is holding America hostage to get what he wants.

But Trump merely mirrors what Democrats and establishmentarians do every debt-ceiling round: hold Americans hostage by pitting a working federal government against politicians’ addiction to ridiculous overspending. “Let us spend more than we have and we will let you have everyday governance.”

Increasingly, the prisoners’ dilemmas and games of chicken dominate our politics.

To repeat, the border issue is in an important sense a distraction from the real issue, out-of-control federal spending, and the ever-increasing debt.

But how big a distraction is it?

Super-sized

While socialists build walls to keep citizens in, the better to hold them captive, welfare states build walls to keep non-citizens out, to avoid over-exploitation of resources.

Meanwhile, free societies let people move about peaceably, letting populations find an unplanned, natural balance.

But we do not live in that kind of free society. A fact that is rarely recognized. Both Republicans and Democrats pretend that we are free, though, if for different reasons. 

By pushing for free migration that only makes sense in a freer society, Democrats jeopardize the solvency of their beloved welfare state. Is this just for the thrills? No. By undermining the solvency of the welfare state they send it into crisis. Which is awfully convenient for them, since they always have a ready response for a funding crisis of mini-socialism: more socialism. For them, the failure of government must always be more, more, more.

And I’m not being paranoid. Or, my paranoia finds ground in experience. What we witness from the Democrats looks suspiciously like an actual strategy famously advocated by respected leftists, the breathtakingly brazen Cloward-Piven strategy — but in this case using illegal immigrants to precipitate the crisis that would drive politics leftward towards their ersatz “utopia.”

Republicans have a different reason to deny the truth. They pretend that border walls are what free republics typically ballyhoo. Not true. It was the Progressives who put immigration quotas and controls into place in America. And, as Milton Friedman famously suggested, a responsible welfare state requires such controls. But we approach a rich vein of antinomy when we witness Republicans proclaim they are against the welfare state, for, no matter what they think of it, their border obsession serves as an attempt to save the welfare state, not peel it back. By pushing “border security” they avoid the uncomfortable task of confronting their own divided loyalties. Which is it, conservatives: a free society or the Redistributive Leviathan State?

That’s enough repressed ideas to send the whole country to the psychiatrist’s couch.

For Whom the Cuck Clucks

The conservatives manqué are not the only muddleheads.

Progressives have to live with all sorts of contradictions and cognitive dissonance. Internal contradictions are what it means to be a progressive, these days. Perhaps not one contradiction is more richly droll, though, than the fact that they jeopardize their beloved welfare state to let poor people in, who, to the extent they actually support themselves and not behave like leeches do so chiefly by flouting the labor regulations and taxing policies that progressives hold so very dear. And for which they would gleefully send in men with guns to take down . . . “evil white rich people.”

But libertarians have no standing to gloat, for they are in an even sorrier predicament. We want to live in a free society. And so, naturally enough, we want to support migration, even illegal immigration, and of course oppose the Trumpian border wall. But libertarians should be worrying about whether, in so doing, they are not introducing a moral hazard into the mix by going along with the progressive inclusion-über-alles mob.

Ideologies have their own entelechies. “Ideas are forces,” wrote G. H. Lewes, “the existence of one determines our reception of others.” And once a people embraces the welfare state, the draining of its funds through the tragedy of the commons almost never leads to the divvying up of said commons into a distributed division of responsibility. Government failure breeds more government.

It is an old and sad story.

I just do not see how opening up the borders to economic refugees could, in the current context, lead to a freer society. That is not how actual politics works.

The more I analyze our current situation, the more certain I am of the cucking of the libertarian mind. Trendy libertarians so want to be thought of as “on the left” that they let leftists push policy into what Sam Francis aptly called anarcho-tyranny, where government increasingly lets criminal and dependent elements dominate public life while directing the heavy hand of the State onto people who are basically peaceful, who are not subsidized, who earn their keep and don’t steal, murder, and grift their way through life. That heavy hand is the increasing burden of the regulations progressives love.

I have actually had one young libertarian correspondent berate me and ridicule me (ah, these ideologues really know how to persuade!) for my skepticism about the efficacy of open borders for bringing about freedom. This particular interlocutor to whom I am referring actually welcomed the degradation of the welfare state, offering up his own libertarian variant of the Cloward-Piven strategy: initiate a crisis to change policy in a libertarian direction. How he thought libertarians could convince a national government to go in the direction they do not want to go I have no idea.

The word “cuck” is made for libertarians such as these. Just as the cuckoo bird destroys the eggs of other species of birds and then lays its own eggs in their nests, tricking those hapless marks into devoting all their effort to support cuckoo life, not theirs, libertarians who think that opening up borders within the context of the welfare state are tricked by progressives — in a perhaps unwitting grift, I admit — to expending their wealth on others’ children for their benefit and not libertarians’.

And definitely not the general, public benefit.

Now, if these libertarians would dare confront progressives, telling them, in no uncertain terms, “if you want open borders and an end to ICE, then you have to end the welfare state first, and stop placing the institutions of the rule of law in jeopardy,” that might work.

The left could be met square on, disallowed from their haphazard course towards the fake anarchy and real tyranny.

It might be a workable strategy. But I have never heard one of these “principled libertarians” ever dare confront progressives in such a way.

Have you?

They seem, instead, to merely fall back in line as the meek marks of progressives.

And when libertarians or anyone else show any real independence of mind on this subject, they will get called racist.


To be continued…

Mind your business

Why should we care about freedom of the press when most media companies are already owned by billionaires with their own political agendas?

As Answered on Quora

The freedom of the press is not just for big media companies. It is for you and me, with our blogs and videos and the like. A “press” is just a means to distribute “speech” beyond the sound of our voices in distinct places.

The American Revolution was the background of the founders’ understanding of “the press.” It was a period of pamphleteers. Think tracts, one-sheets, booklets, etc.

All recent judicial perspectives and decision that treat “journalists” and “newspapers” as different from you with your printer and me with my blog are without foundation. Let us get these silly, corporatist notions out of our heads. We are “the press.”

So, it doesn’t matter much, for constitutional interpretation, who owns the major media outlets. The fact that they are owned by billionaires, and all of them technocrats and most left of center, is irrelevant in terms of principle.

Why would anyone think differently? What part of the rule of law is confusing?

There must be no bloodshed, no violence unless it is defensive, no coercion! We must do it our way and our way alone! To do otherwise is to betray centuries of hardship and struggle.

Above all else Kyfho. Forget Kyfho in your pursuit of victory over the enemy, and you will become the enemy . . . worse than the enemy because he doesn’t know he is capable of anything better.

― F. Paul Wilson, An Enemy of the State


There is absolutely no link between religion X and violence. But, if you attempt to make such a claim, you’ll make innumerable otherwise peaceful adherents of X very violent. So say that X is peaceful or else face the violent (I mean peaceful) consequences.

—Professor Gad Saad, Facebook, December 11, 2017


But this can’t be happening! [Swedish economist] Johan Norberg pooh-poohed the situation last year. We were silly for believing the stories of no-go zones, increased violence and rape.

But now it’s bombings.

Hint to economists: We worry about terrorism not because it is always statistically a danger, but because the supply of terrorists and terrorist violence is elastic, and the demand isn’t in our direct control.

It’s about scale. Terrorism can scale upwards. Bathtub deaths tend not to so scale. And even opiate deaths do not threaten the legal infrastructure. Terrorism is designed to destabilize. (It often does the opposite of course; ask anarchists, if they have any reflective capacity at all.)

TWV, Facebook, November 4, 2017


Violence and Irrationality in Politics: Paretian Sociology

Alberto Mingardi EXCERPT: [Vilfredo Pareto] considered World War I a consequence of demagogic plutocracy, with profiteers benefiting from military spending and part of the working class cheering entry into the war, hoping for a better life afterward.

The very triumph of demagogic plutocracy foreshadowed a crisis of this kind of regime. Plutocracy feeding demagogy entails a dangerous equilibrium: it means feeding ever-bigger demands for new benefits and special privileges. For Pareto, when a ruling class weakens, it becomes at the same time less efficacious in defending its own power but also more greedy: “on the one hand its yoke gets heavier, on the other hand it has less strength to keep [the yoke on society].”

Giandomenica Becchio EXCERPT: [A] non-logical theory based on irrational feelings and emotions can be very persuasive and useful to generate forms of social integration which seem to work in the short run, yet they are dangerous in the long run because they decrease economic development and erode individual liberty. Both socialism and fascism are good examples of this mechanism which combines rationality and irrationality: in fact, Pareto interpreted political theories as ex-post ways of rationalization and camouflage. . . .

Pareto, who rejected the theory of class struggle, adopted the theory of spoliation to explain the emergence of any governing group that seizes power either in legal or illegal ways. His theory of elites is the broader application of this mechanism to politics. Elites can vary in their compositions, but they are all oligarchic.

Richard E. Wagner EXCERPT: Political environments are different from market environments. People do not bear the value consequences of their political choices. Choosing between candidates is nothing like choosing between products or inputs. One might express a preference for one candidate over the other, but that expression does not yield the product or the input that might have been associated with that candidate. This situation does not mean that action is irrational. It means only that the rationality of action manifests differently in political environments. There can still be reasons for selecting one candidate over the other, only it has nothing to do with products or inputs. It has to do with images and the penumbra of associations those images carry in their wake.

In this respect, [Vilfredo] Pareto, and also his compatriot Gaetano Mosca, treated political competition as a process by which candidates sought to articulate ideological images that resonated more strongly with voters than the images set forth by other candidates. The result of this competitive process was the possibility of inferior outcomes dominating superior outcomes. Along these lines, Jürgen Backhaus (1978) explained how importing some implications of Pareto’s thought into public choice theory could lead to a sharper understanding of how acceptable political programs would have been rejected under market arrangements, with Patrick and Wagner (2015) amplifying Pareto’s scheme of analysis.

via Williamson M. Evers on Facebook, November 13, 2018


Fox news-opinion anchor Tucker Carlson, regarding a recent incident involving his children at a restaurant:

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A few days ago, Kat Timpf, a quick-witted, quirky and extremely attractive 30-year-old woman who provides a libertarian perspective on the Fox News Network, reported on Twitter that she had been run out of an establishment in New York by a screaming drunk woman.

At some point speech becomes abuse, because it is not just speech. It becomes assault.

I am not sure where that line is, but since I hold to a Stand Your Ground view of self-defense when it comes to deadly weaponry, I am not sure I can condemn Tucker’s son in throwing a drink at the man abusing his sister, calling her the most vile of names. Normally, I would say that owners and managers of eateries and taverns and lounges and the like should try to maintain control at their establishments, preventing some patrons from verbally abusing others, and committing a variety of minatory “speech acts.” If they do not, they implicitly side with the abusers. And, of course, many of the recent instances of harassment of Trump Administration figures have been organized by the establishments’ owners. And at least one has suffered consequences in drop-off in patronage.

A full-blown culture war, with Americans choosing sides and reviling each other in public, and engaging in aggressive speech and action, and in mutual ugliness, is still on the rise. One would have hoped that Democrats taking back the House of Reprentatives last week would have assuaged their mad powerlust that spurs much of this violence. They believe they are entitled to rule, and just cannot countenance those whom they disagree with from having power, even if by democratic processes, within a constitutional framework.

Every political ideology is about force and violence, for every ideology is about directing state power (or limiting it) in defense and offense for social outcomes. So, it is no wonder that those who demand more extensive state action would tend to be more violent. They want more violence.

But of course they want more violence by the State. Their frustration leads them to take action themselves, though.

Conservatives and those “on the right” also can be violent, and have been. But because they want to limit state action in principle — to at least some degree (libertarianism being one of several popular fantasies in conservatives circles) — and because they are, by nature, more conscientious than those “on the left,” they tend to be a bit less violent.

Of course, the besetting sin of the right is rage, and one of their characteristic crimes is going overboard in retaliation against perceived threats. “There is no kill like overkill” could be a slogan of the right in general.

I do not recall seeing mobs of right-wingers rioting after Barack Obama’s election and re-election. But after Trump’s election two years ago, we have witnessed a constant stream of low-level rioting and public abuse, almost to the point of insurrection, from the left. But this is in no way new. The left loves protest marches, which have often instigated rioting on the margins — and sometimes from the center — of the protest ranks. While the Tea Party protests were almost uniformly peaceful, the later left-wing variant of this sort of protest, the “Occupy” protests and sieges, were filled with violence. And the general difference between left and right protest marches is that the right-wing ones almost always have permits, and the left-wing ones rarely do. And yet the police tend to give more leeway to the leftists bent on violence than they do the right-wingers, who tend to engage in violence only in self-defense — when “antifa” and BAMN and other terrorists engage in counter-protests, complete with thrown bottles and swung bike-locks in socks.

The post-Kavanaugh protests at the Supreme Court building, with mobs beating on the doors, and the recent mob at Tucker Carlson’s doorstep, where the beating on the doors actually harmed the doors (I guess the Carlsons did not invest in a castle-apt door), is all the more indication of the inherent violence of the left.

And yet they pretend to be the peaceful ones.

It is part of the left’s strategy, has been since the dawn of socialist agitation, perhaps since the French Revolution: lead with a fantasy of peace, but demand maximum government action, which is inherently terroristic. And the means dreamt of in their mad philosophies being violent, become the means they use in their agitation.

It has always been thus. Which is why I hate the left with a bit more passion than the right. The right leaves social room for individuals and groups as countervailing powers to the State. The left puts everything in the State. And, as part of their agitation, everything in their groups: class struggle; marginalized group rebellion; mob action.

I also support violence: I believe in self-defense. And if a mob is heading towards me, and I cannot easily escape, I reserve the right to go to total war upon the aggressors.

Things do not look pretty. Especially if the economy takes a nose-dive and the ideological character of progress becomes murkier on the right and clearer on the left.

Meanwhile, I sympathize with Tucker Carlson. Even if his politics, these days, veers off into the irrational.


Hey, socialists, if you don’t want me to think of you as violent, maybe you should ditch your ceremonial stance of fist raised in the air.

It looks as threatening as tiki torches, to me. The latter are goofy and convivial as well as threatening in some contexts. But a fist in the air has always been a sign of defiance, at least in our time.

So, yeah: I think of you as wannaBmurderous thugs. Stop throwing rocks and bottles and firecrackers at people you disagree with, and stop chanting with those raised fists, and get back to me.

—TWV, August 4, 2018


re Democrats’ objection to the president’s language regarding illegal-alien gang members:

Most people, of all colors and even parties, are smart enough to know that denigrating cruel, tribalistic murderers is not a sign of denying the human “the spark of divinity,” as doddering Nancy Pelosi put it. It is merely an acknowledgement that people, in their actions, can forsake that moral fiction of “the spark of divinity” for an equally realistic “spark of deviltry.” And yes, “animality” is an adequate figure of speech to cover this. Calling cruel, violent murderers “animals” is one way to raise a “hue and cry” against precisely the people the term “hue and cry” was coined: horrific criminals.

—TWV, May 23, 2018


A Revision on the Bill of Rights, Part III

The main problem with the notion of self-defense is it imposes on justice, for everyone has the right for a fair trial. Therefore, using a firearm to defend oneself is not legal because if the attacker is killed, he or she is devoid of his or her rights.

I just skimmed this, since I try to make a point of not reading any more HuffPo nonsense, but I can still ask — is there a reader on the planet who does not see the idiocy here? The author argues that the problem with lethal self-defense is that it robs criminals of a fair trial! Can anyone not recognize that the purpose of the fair trial is to constrain RETALIATION and not DEFENSE?

There is a difference between the two. At the moment of a crime, social questions of innocence or guilt or possible feuding retaliation (with its ratcheting-up of violence) are not in play.

Elementary concepts elude HuffPo writers.

—TWV, Facebook, June 20, 2017


A point I make that is often lost even on my libertarian friends: the classical liberal theory of the State “monopolized” the use of force not evenly in practice but in the limited sense of setting the terms of all violence, of taking to itself a position in conflict similar to a central bank does in relationship to a nation’s banking system, becoming a “lender of last resort” — the State, in liberal theory, is the Defender of Last Resort.

This means that, according to most classical liberal theorists, such as founders of the United States of America, one does not give up the right of self-defense by living under the umbrella of state power, one merely gives up the right of retaliation and forced redress.

That is the theory, anyway.

twv

When politicians speak of the inconvenience of the Constitution, or insinuate that it is “outdated,” we should neither be shocked nor impressed.

Thieves don’t like security systems, murderers don’t like electric chairs. We don’t ask an aggressor’s opinion of the law. Likewise, professional politicians* are the very last folks to listen to for judgments about the troubles associated with systems of limited government power.

Constitutions — explicit frameworks for the rule of law — are not designed to make it easy for politicians to do what politicians do.

A constitution is designed to protect the citizens from political government’s historical and ongoing and seemingly inevitable excesses.

States rarely (if ever) arise “for the good of the people.” States arise by conquest and imposition, and are best at exploitation of some for the good of others. To curb the severity of the State’s innate “inconveniences,” law is marshaled against it, myths are erected to guide its behavior, ethical principles are held up to check its powers.

Which is why Jefferson wrote of the necessity of severe limits: “in questions of power then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the constitution.”

And the “man” most in need of such chains is not your everyday worker, or parent, or child, or loafer. It is the politician. Normal folks place so much confidence in politicians perhaps in impatience to go about their lives, or in desperation or hope. But it has been discovered, over the vast eons of history — the rise and fall of states and empires, kingdoms and republics, tyrannies and democracies and everything in between — that confidence in leadership is over-rated.

Hence the need for limits on government. Written constitutions have been tried. But because they are in the hands of politicians to interpret and rewrite and skirt, they have proved imperfect.

But that does not mean that they should be gotten rid of. Still, if we could find a better way to limit state power than parchment rule-of-law frameworks, it might be a good idea to look into it. For what all government limits point to is the limits that liberty itself requires. “Liberty is the only thing we cannot have unless we give it to others,” William Allen White said.

Another quotation suggests even better the limits at the heart of liberty: “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.”

“Constitutionality” is the practical concern with such limits.

And we cannot trust politicians to provide it. Nor should we be surprised when we see politicians balk. We should even remain a bit suspicious when they play encomiast to the concept.

twv

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* Throughout this piece, by “politician” I mean the professional pol. In other contexts, citizens are also politicians, as well, insofar as they attempt, through activism, argumentation, litigation, or voting, to influence the State. But come to think of it, this points to a problem inherent in the question of “whom to trust” regarding matters of constitutionality. For even citizens play politician . . . and can be as corrupt or evil as any pol.

N.B. The visual “meme” is from my second memegenerator.net account: Wirkman. (Not my first, Lucian.) The Jefferson quotation is from the draft of the Kentucky Resolutions. The famous “fist” quote turns out to have been written by one Zechariah Chafee.

In a far corner of Facebook I found someone citing two justices of the Supreme Court in an infamous marijuana case. I was pleased to be reminded of this. What follows are a few passages from the case, with my commentary — though what I write is indeed duplicative in spirit to the OP.

img_5132In the case of Gonzales v Raich the Supreme Court ruled that under the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution, Congress may criminalize the production and use of homegrown cannabis even if state law allows its use for medicinal purposes. But of course the ruling applies to a lot more than just marijuana.

Justice Stevens, writing in the majority opinion, proves himself to be quite the lawyer:

The case is extremely troublesome because respondents have made such a strong showing that they will suffer irreparable harm if denied the use of marijuana to treat their serious medical illness.

But the question before us is not whether marijuana does in fact have valid therapeutic purposes, nor whether it is a good policy for the Federal Government to enforce the Controlled Substances Act in these circumstances.

Rather, the only question before us is whether Congress has the power to prohibit respondents’ activities.

Of the dissents, Justice Clarence Thomas’s was the most interesting:

If the Federal Government can regulate growing a half-dozen cannabis plants for personal consumption (not because it is interstate commerce, but because it is inextricably bound up with interstate commerce), then Congress’ Article I powers — as expanded by the Necessary and Proper Clause — have no meaningful limits. Whether Congress aims at the possession of drugs, guns, or any number of other items, it may continue to ‘appropria[te] state police powers under the guise of regulating commerce.’

And what is the consequence of a lack of constitutional limits?

If the majority is to be taken seriously, the Federal Government may now regulate quilting bees, clothes drives, and potluck suppers throughout the 50 States. This makes a mockery of Madison’s assurance to the people of New York that the ‘powers delegated’ to the Federal Government are ‘few and defined,’ while those of the States are ‘numerous and indefinite.’

What Thomas has indicated, here, is simple: the federal government behaves in an unconstitutional manner as a matter of course. When Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was asked about the Constitutional rationale for Obamacare, for example, she expressed incredulity: “Are you serious? Are you serious?”

Politicians and ideologues are almost united in showing contempt for the Constitution and its structure.

For all our laws, we live in a lawless State. It is not just that the modern federal government exists by a sort of social consent that we may lie about the Constitution and that this is a good thing. Congress can make the general government do almost anything it wants, really, if enough politicians say so, and congresspeople think they get reëlected despite doing what they do.

This means that there are no effective foundational checks on government power. The checks are mainly political. Sure, lawyers still hold sway, and can use existing law even against existing political opponents — the whole Russiagate investigation sure seems like that is what is happening re Trump. But, at the merest crisis, we could slip into society-wide tyranny, not the little, sectoral tyrannies we now must endure. 

So, what is the bottom line? If you are an enthusiastic voter who is generally in favor of the shape of the U.S. Government and its wide regulatory reach, you are in league with the forces of tyranny. How so? By accepting all the little tyrannies we have now, and endorsing politicians who do not see themselves as in any way meaningfully checked by any constitutional structure.

I consider this no different in kind between apparatchiks in the Soviet Union or Nazi Party members in the Third Reich. It’s only a difference in degree.

We just haven’t had our Night of Long Knives yet.

twv