Archives for category: tyranny

While I should be writing something for pay, or mowing the lawn, today I wrote a bunch of answers on Quora:

Can authoritarianism come to America?

It’s here. In the platforms, habits, demands and reverenced rhetoric of both major parties.

And it is going to get worse and reach its full flower with the new coronavirus menace, for people of vacuous spirituality demand to be “saved” by the sacrifice of others’ freedoms.

That’s authoritarianism in a very popular form.

It is effrontery first, tyranny second.

twv (5/13/20)

Why is it that people either intensely love Trump or […] intensely hate him?

I do not either intensely hate Trump or love him. You may be surprised to discover that this attitude is actually very common in America.

I do find him funny, though. But his enemies are funnier, if not in a praiseworthy way. He is not the idiot that his detractors incessantly insist he is, for it is obvious that he is smarter than most of his political opponents.

But he really is a different creature in the White House, and he breaks many norms. Since presidents following those norms have led us to war and insolvency, seeing them broken does not offend me much. I laugh at those who are offended, but I also chuckle at his adoring acolytes.

As for what he has done and what he believes or pretends to believe? I dislike Trump’s protectionism, his know-nothing nationalism, his crankish approach to policy, his inelegant and seemingly racist speech, but at least he is not a warmonger, and I would never side with the Deep State that demands his ouster. I am an anti-imperialist and anti-nationalist. Trump’s forays against the empire? I had some hope for him. But we did not see his ideas put into play. We saw reaction. At least now we can see who the real rulers are, for they have come out of hiding by trying to remove Trump from office. I know who freedom’s real enemies are, and they reside in the national security state and in shady global alliances of the hyper-wealthy.

But that does not get to the heart of the love/hate, does it? So let us confront one obvious truth: the main bone of contention is his sexual style. He is a traditional “alpha male.” As such, this offends beta male cultures on the Christian right and the pagan left, as well as modish feminism. But most women are not feminists, and his style does not offend everyone. And the right-leaning Christians have lost so many battles that they have in a sense given up: if God gives them an imperfect defender, they no longer prissily complain.

And the enthusiasm for Trump appears to be enthusiasm for someone who regularly humiliates their persecutors — and if any group is openly scorned in America, it is evangelical Christians . . . by coastal cognitive elites. And Trump makes a mockery of them.

Besides, could it be that Americans are beginning to see an ancient principle at work?

The Law of Nemesis turns pride and hubris inside-out, into some form of destruction. Sometimes this occurs by flaunting a parody of one’s enemies against us, other times by turning ourselves into parodies of our own values.

Bush Era hubris brought the empty and ludicrous sanctimony of the Obama years, while the selection of the ultra-corrupt Hillary Clinton as the Democratic Party’s standard bearer fed fuel to the rise of Trump. Part of the comedy here is that Hillary is thought of as a feminist, but she was cruel and unjust in persecuting her husband’s lovers and victims, so a parody of Bill Clinton became her conqueror. And Trump’s most infamous sexual indiscretion? That was his boast how women would fall over themselves for a rich and powerful man, even going so far to allow such men to “grab them by the pussy.” So what do Democrats now promote? A man accused of literally grabbing her accuser by the pussy, but against her will, not, as Trump said, by permission. This is almost a parody of the basic philosophies of right and left: the right produces and entices, the left steals.

All quite hilarious. I laugh at Americans every day. Sometimes I laugh at Trump, but more often I laugh at his enemies. Ridiculous is our descent into madness!

And why?

In times past I would have given reasons out of sociology and political economy — the Thomas Theorem, the Tragedy of the Commons, etc. — but now I suggest we wonder if the gods may not be jesting, playing with us. “The Progressives have had their century, and are a proud tower of folly; now we shall inflict their fall, as we take away their power, dignity, and reason for being.”

Why the love/hate? Because the participants are too entrenched in their own fates, unable to see the principles at work.

Take a step back and laugh with the gods.

twv (5/13/20)

Do you favor libertarian separatism?

I have written about this on my blog. I will summarize.

I support putting the general government of these United States under receivership. I think all the states should secede from the union and form several smaller unions, and those unions, or the departed states, should appoint the Receiver to liquidate the assets of the U.S.A., bring home from abroad all the military and divvy it up, with close attention to major contractors of the military-industrial complex, and pay off what debts can be managed without creating a worse situation than before.

I do not think there is any other way of restoring balance to our political-legal system. Culturally, financially, militarily, monetarily, the United States is a mess.

I liked the idea of the Constitution, I confess. Federalism — as conceived by the true federalists, called “anti-federalists” — is a pretty good idea. But it was a dead letter on accession in the early 1790s, and quickly became a mercantilist national state. The nationalism grew and grew, and morphed into a new form of imperialism.

I oppose nearly everything the United States have become.

So, this all assumes the persistence of large states. It also assumes that we might be able to make an orderly reorganization. This latter is a long shot. But barring this sort of thing, I foresee major chaos, and probably a triumph of totalitarian controls. Our nation of serviles is pushing for that now. Ugh.

What should libertarians do? I do not know. In a time of chaos it might be good to have a sovereign state with a concentrated population of libertarians. But if the totalitarianism comes, then they sure would be easy to round up.

Obviously, I support secession and voluntary, peaceable assembly. But the cult of the total state is getting ugly. And the cult’s acolytes are whipping themselves into a bloodletting frenzy. I know many leftists right now who would be glad to see me carted off to a prison camp.

The biggest problem? There are just so few libertarians. Congregating in one area will mean a slight increase in influence in that area, sure, but also would entail few per cultural checks in the regions abandoned.

If we have time, and if the Q Anon folks are wrong about what is really going on, a slow migration to specific regions might make sense. Perhaps to encourage the idea of restructuring by secession we should encourage the partitioning of a half dozen or so states. New York’s boroughs should be separated from the rest of New York; Chicago’s Cook Country should become a separate state; California needs to split into many pieces, with LA County being itself a separate state, and the much requested “Jefferson” created out of the north of the state snd southern Oregon; eastern Oregon and eastern Washington should become a new state of Adams; King Country, Wsshington, and the counties directly north, should become a separate state as well. The point of all this is to wrest power away from ruling cliques and make manageable states that could actually sport something close to founding era ideas of representation.

I think libertarians would have a better chance to influence politics for the better in any of the more rural new states: Jefferson, Adams, new Illinois, greater New York, etc.

But libertarians would be spread pretty thin. I fear that what will happen will be chaotic, tyrannical, and a horror. Pushing secession as a solution to problems might save the country, though, and, if not, allow for future formal bankruptcy proceedings, as I suggest up top.

I of course think all peaceful people should separate themselves from criminals, if they can. And the biggest criminal is the total state.

twv (5/13/20)

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.

A few days ago I heard but had not bothered to confirm that only Chinese people were being killed by the coronavirus. Being a science fiction reader living in our stefnal age, my first thought was pretty obvious — and straight out of Heinlein: biowarfare.

And it is not as if biowarfare had not been rumored, for weeks now.

Yesterday, Scott Adams (on his Periscope vlog) drew out this line of conjecture explicitly, speculating on who might wish to kill millions, perhaps billions, of Chinese people, using bioweaponry, and why:

Scott Adams’s talk is important for several reasons. . . .

First, he figures the probability on the bioweapon angle as very low. One reason that he gives for a low probability rests on the commonplace that is coincidence. He says it is likely “just a coincidence” that an outbreak would occur near a viral research/bioweapons research laboratory. I suspect it is not. Near a bio-research laboratory is where you would expect accidental leaks to happen. Where viruses are bred, studied and stored is where they might break out into the general population. Since in research even non-weaponized viruses are studied, any could break out of the confines.

We do not need to go to conspiracy, though conspiracy is also a possibility — we’ve all read Greg Bear’s Blood Music, right?

So I would not relegate a non-conspiratorial outbreak of a contagion near a research facility as being just an example of a conspiracy. I would not even say it is more likely to be mere coincidence.

But also, were I a murderous conspirator unleashing a weaponized virus, I would also likely wish to let it out near someone else’s biolab, merely to confuse the targeted population.

Second, Adams goes through a Likely Suspect list, and he does a pretty good job. Yet he gets one thing very wrong, I think. He dismisses the idea that the U.S. could be a likely bioweaponry/genocide suspect. I do not dismiss the idea. “Our” Deep State is extremely rogue, and would do anything to maintain its advantage. China is horning in on a very important space-oriented arms race, and the Deep State might stop at nothing to nip that in the bud. Killing thousands or millions? Well, sure: look up Operation Northwoods. Deeply embedded statists could probably cook up a plausible, half-earnest rationale to justify almost any enormity.

They have in the past.

Third, “goodness” — Scott runs through possible justifications of biowarfare to test the possibility of warfare, using the “Never Again” mantra as the hook upon which he hangs his hat. He says that many, many people — including himself — would, if given the opportunity, use genocide to retaliate for someone else’s program of genocide . . . as well as to prevent further genocide. Yikes. Does he not see the trap here?

This reasoning rests upon the idea of democracy — a very low-level democracy, admittedly, since China isn’t one. As both Étienne de La Boétie and David Hume observed, the number of people who actually govern are smaller than the ranks of the governed, so even tyrannical government rests upon a kind of consent of the governed — an accommodation to governance, let’s say. And since the masses let their governments do outrageous things, they are, themselves, morally responsible. And if the crimes committed by the governors are worthy of the death penalty, then the people themselves are worthy of same.

People should carefully contemplate this line of thought. Adams’s speculations in the moral realm do more than suggest a justification of all kinds of horror on the dubious basis of preventing other outrageous moral horrors. Further, Adams’s line of reasoning is the common line of reasoning on such matters, and it completely demolishes our umbrage taken at terrorists and mass murderers. It is a prescription for never-ending war, dominance, and mass slaughter.

Everyone should pull the strings on his speculation, here.

To unravel the argument.

Fourth, take a breath. What he is talking about is something he breezes right through: mass murder as an apt revenge for other mass murder. But it is indeed more than that. His logic could also “morally justify” preëmptive mass murder.

Now, I’m not saying that he is not ably reflecting common-sense statism. Indeed, that is the reason his speculations are important. They are how humans often think and judge. But I am saying he perhaps (and without intending it) provides an apocalypse of statism itself — a revelation of its core character, its quiddity.

A robust common sense would have to reject statism to remain sane.

Thankfully, the odds for the Coronavirus As Bioweapon are likely as Scott Adams puts them: very unlikely. But we should consider the outside chance. And, alas, he appears to be correct: no fact we now possess falsifies a bioweapon possibility.

twv

President of RedEye

I am very curious what “deal” the Trump team will offer to North Korea — or what the team will negotiate Kim’s emissaries into bringing back to the dictator.

Aren’t you?

I’m hoping that John Bolton was taken on not as a real plotter of foreign policy, but as a threat, to get better terms. Bolton’s idea to apply the “Libya plan” to North Korea seems sheer idiocy to me . . . on the face of it.

Why? Well, Dictator Kim wants to survive. If he gives up on all attempts to obtain (and threaten to deploy) nuclear weapons, he would eventually go the way of Muammar Mohammed Abu Minyar Gaddafi: killed by the United States military or by U.S.-backed forces.

Kim would be crazy to take the deal. Lunatic. MAD. If Bolton is pushing it earnestly, he’s an idiot. But if Trump is using him as “bad cop” in a good cop/bad cop routine, that might work.

Is there a badder cop in America than John Bolton?

I know what I would offer Kim: make him a king.

That is, make Kim king . . . or de facto king, but under a constitutional monarchy where his powers would be limited to two: ceremonial and Defender of the Realm — that is, head of the military. Give him a tax base and let North Korea be as free as such a thing could be.

There might have to be another word for “king,” I suppose. But the idea of a dual executive is very old. The Khazar empire was run by two figures, the Khagan and the Bek. The latter was in charge of the military. Normally one might offer Kim merely a figurehead role, but I don’t think he’d take that. He needs to be i n control of something.

Arguably, the United States should move to a dual executive, one selected by the people (or, better yet, the Electoral College as is) and the other selected by sortition from a limited pool of applicants pushed by the states (or some such).

In any case, Kim needs to be made an offer that would secure his life and some aspect of his prestige. Not because he deserves it, but because no real change can happen without doing so.

One does not need to be enthusiastic about such an offer, just reasonable.

Do you have a better idea? Am I crazy?

twv
Image credit: Bosch Fawstin’s great icon for Greg Gutfeld’s crowning John Bolton as “President” of his old Red Eye show. Note: Fawstin likes and admires Bolton, and will no doubt be really annoyed with what I have written above. Sorry, Mr. Fawstin — you are a great “illustwriter,” sure, but we disagree about a number of things. Reader — look over Fawstin’s work. He is very talented.

 

Categories Diplomacy, Politics, tyranny

Those Whom We Need Not Consult

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

IMG_7078

* 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.

Categories Basic Principles, Constitutional Concerns, tyranny

Freer Speech

Sometimes it seems as though people no longer know what freedom of speech is. The Stanley Fish argumentation in his infamous essay against the very coherence of free speech has not increased clarity or general understanding — though I take it that was indeed what Fish was trying to provide. So I have, in a number of venues, tried to explain free speech.

Recently on Quora I have answered two questions that sketch out what I believe to be the correct formulation of the idea:

I provided the gist of my understanding in the first essay:

Remember, freedom of speech is a term of art. It does not mean “all speech is free,” or that all symbolic acts are legally justifiable. Freedom of speech is merely speech broadly construed (semiosis) that does not aggress against the rights of others to be free. It is a way of defending freedom in the realm of speaking, listening, reading, writing, etc.

We cannot (rightly) possess a right to use speech to conspire against the rights of others.

The most important point to take away is this: a right to free speech does not mean that all speech is free.

Free speech “absolutists” get this wrong all the time, for they are constantly moved by their desire for consistency and absolutism to construe all speech as free. One reason for this is that they wish to use the First Amendment in a lawyerly way, with specific words carrying the most weight. They most strongly wish to avoid philosophy, and instead use the Constitution as a magic document, and the words in it as incantations that solve all problems.

We can see how well that has turned out.

And perhaps my free speech absolutist friends are afraid of Fishian (piscine?) error, of saying that if some speech is free and other speech is not, then the demarcating line must be arbitrary.

This is just simply not the case.

So, what is the line of demarcation between speech that is protected as free and speech that is not?

Freedom itself, in the wider context.

Most importantly, free speech really only makes sense in societies that regard general freedom (liberty) as in some sense primary. Indeed, it also only makes sense — and this can be seen best when paired up with freedom of religion and especially the press and association in the First Amendment listing — in a private property rights regime.

You have the right to speak freely on your property. You have the right to speak freely on property you have hired for the occasion.

It necessarily becomes murky regarding public places. This is especially murky regarding the freedom of the press when the press is a government outfit, like Britain BBC. What is “freedom of the press” regarding a government-run medium? All speech is finite, and its purveying is done under conditions of scarcity. Everyone must ration their resources. Including newspapers and blogs as well as radio and TV networks. So when the BBC makes an editorial decision, “free speech” is problematic: which words and ideas to broadcast is a constant decision-making process, with some telling others what to say and what listeners and viewers may hear. “Freedom of speech” is perilously close to meaningless. (But is not.) Which is why minimizing government is a necessity: it obviates basic principles and places government bodies in the position of serving some people and not others.

And government is, in theory, supposed to serve all people.

Oh, why did I bring up “freedom of the press”? That is not free speech, I can hear someone protest.

But it is. “The press” is just a technological way of distributing speech beyond our local realms, outside of our properties. It is free speech with extended borderlines. But the extension must always conform — as speech alone must conform — to individual rights in society.

It might be useful to remind today’s confused connoisseurs to see these concepts in a continuum:

freedom: of thought — of speech — of press

with the most basic being on the left and going from private to public as we read right.

And the context of property rights integrates everything. Without property rights there is no freedom of any kind. For freedom depends on exit rights and exclusion rights. Which, together, make up free association, which is implied by free speech and press freedom.

And, as I noted on Quora: No one has a right to contract a hitman to murder another. You cannot absolve yourself on “free speech” grounds for that sort of criminal speech. Similarly, you may not command someone you have reason to believe will follow your orders to commit a crime, either. The common law has long held that incitement to riot and similar acts do not constitute protected speech because free.

The idea is simple: freedom as both a fact and a right requires reciprocity. Your speech cannot be defended as free speech if your speech precludes others from their free speech.

It is an old idea, reciprocity. But people still get this wrong.

Maybe it would help to compare freedom of speech and press with freedom of religion. In the United States, the First Amendment prohibits Congress from messing about in religious matters, or favoring one religion over another, ceteris paribus.

But that does not mean everything declared “religious” is protected. It may be the case that you desire to sacrifice infants and virgins to your god Ashtaroth, but let us be realistic: sacrifice of this kind abridges the rights of infants and virgins. “Religion” is no excuse for crime.

This is not so nuanced an idea that it cannot be readily understood. No? But maybe it is difficult. After all, I cannot recall anyone else make this exact formulation.

So this is what I insist upon: all these British-American concepts are terms of art, and the art should not seem to us British and American citizens at all recondite. The art is liberty. As soon as you erode liberty either by erecting a Leviathan state (of any variety) or by engaging in piecemeal criminal activity, these freedoms become incoherent.

twv

Categories Basic Principles, Constitutional Concerns, Fourth Estate, Ideological currents, Institutional Reality, Party Push and Pull, Propaganda, Quora, religion, Social Theory, tyranny

Bright Future for the Dark Continent?

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It is apparent that dark-skinned Africans have no especial gift for government. Governments headed by blacks in America as well as in the “Dark Continent” are almost (but not quite) universally corrupt, violent, tyrannical or just plain crazy.

And their people are the poorer for it.

And, sadly, nastier — it has gotten quite bad even in the once-rich South Africa:

Racist whites extrapolate a lot of very racist conclusions from all this. But perhaps we should draw a very different kind of conclusion. It seems clear to me that folks of African descent thrive best on limits, sure — but what if those limits were to become the limits that liberty provides . . . that is, real freedom and individual responsibility? Instead of tyranny, authoritarianism, and cruel exploitation, swap the harsh limits set by common forms of outrageous force with the civilized use of defensive force, rigorously limited by the limits that liberty itself prescribes.

Might not it be from Africa that the libertarian future shall proceed?

After all, a gift for government is not a univocally good trait. It implies both soft tyranny and chilling servility, an irrational willingness to accept deep hierarchies and jury-rigged ideologies. So if Africans seem ill-adapted to modern society, maybe they are telling us something about our own institutions. Perhaps they corrupt modern “democratic” forms of governance so completely not merely because they themselves are so susceptible to violence, corruption and tyranny, but because our forms of governance are so readily corruptible.

Blacks are ill-served by modern government because it is so statist.

The Molinarian vision of contract-based government, with its competing institutions of protection, insurance and adjudication, might find its most fertile ground in black-majority societies. And from there the ideas and institutions might spread.

Categories Constitutional Concerns, Ideological currents, Institutional Reality, Politics, tyranny

Communal Aesthetic (Values Uniformity) as a Possible Ground for Censorship and Illiberalism

A Conjecture

Maybe because my aesthetic tastes are so resolutely minority (or ultra-minority), I have never been inclined — even before I developed any political opinions to speak of — to seek to prohibit the publication, exhibition or performance of any work of art on “community standards” or even moral grounds. Could it be that those people with more standard, popular tastes, are precisely those most likely to leap to censorship or even boycott pressure to squelch art or ideas they do not like, simply because the commonality of their tastes suggests to them the power of majority opinion, and thus the likelihood of success?

IMG_2025And could we be witnessing the loudest crowing for abridgements of free speech (“hate speech is not free speech!”) from college campuses and media enclaves for reasons of this very principle? Universities and Hollywood and major media are de facto intellectual bubbles, self-selected (as well as pressure-driven by intranigent minorities) to enforce ideological ideologial uniformity . . . and thus the perception of majority taste. Leading, in turn, to the current anti-free speech mania.

Well, it’s a theory. A conjecture.

I advance it, in part, to explain why illiberal ideas take form and grow. Perhaps they crystallize when there is too much cultural homogeneity.

Which, if true, would be the cream of the jest, since the current batch of illiberals are those progressives who yammer the most about “diversity.”

But, as is now widely known, they are not really interested in value diversity. They are interested in racial and sexual (OK: “gender”) diversity only. By sharing a value-dependent moral vision — not a transaction-based principled vision — they have developed a surprisingly strong sense of community, and use their commonality to enforce strong pressure to out-groups to conform to their in-group.

Even while, yes, preaching the doctrine of “inclusion.”

There is nothing about progressivism which does not give cause for sardonic laughter.

In this context, it has been a hoot to watch major media figures fall from grace over the issue of sexual harassment . . . and graver sexual misconduct. Call it Schadenfreude on my part. It is truly rich. Mainly, what we are seeing here is the purging from the Sanctimonious Classes eminent figures who, it turns out (and to only feigned surprise), had no good reason for self-righteousness, or any standing for righteousness at all.

I may be disturbed by the witch-huntery of mass boycott and social censure that sends the Weinsteins and Lauers and the like into the Outer Darkness — without trial or rules of evidence or much nuance about the acts actually mentioned — but to witness the celerity of the “punishment,” and its apparent extremity (no livelihood left for any of these? Really?), directed at people who have been so smugly censorious of others on these very grounds? Priceless.

When Patrick J. Buchanan declared a culture war, decades ago, I confess: I was not impressed. But he was right. (I know: “far right”! Ha ha.) We are now in full-out culture war on largely political grounds, and I have been thrown in with conservatives whose general approach to life (“there is no kill like overkill”) I have some basic difficulties with. But, though the conservative temper may be fear-based about cultural cohesion, and far too prone to the vices of rage and vindictiveness, progressive vices now seem more dangerous. I can live peacefully among conservatives. But would I be given any peace from progressives? I think not. They would love to tax and regulate me and those I know into conformity with their values. They would never cease to hector me for my disagreements with their dogmas. And their vices? Envy alone could destroy civilization, if it be entirely unleashed. Rage leads to warfare; envy to totalitarianism.

But of course, as I’ve said many times before, progressives in politics are the new conservatives in temper. It is they who rage against differences of opinion. It is they who scream at their ideological opponents and refuse to use reason in debate. It is they who join hands and use the social controls of boycott, shunning, shaming, and moralistic opprobrium to marginalize others.

So, how to attack them? Perhaps reason will not cut it — not to begin with, any way. They must learn that their basic values are not universally shared. That their tastes are not universal, and not written into the warp and woof of the universe.

Maybe, chastened, shown not to be as “open” to diversity as they had pretended, they will then listen to reason, and learn that the way to accommodate diversity is with the easy yoke of liberty and not the dead hand of the totalitarian state.

twv

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Categories Basic Principles, Ideological currents, manners, Social Psychology, tyranny

Taking Liberty

I believe in only one thing: liberty; but I do not believe in liberty enough to want to force it upon anyone.

The problem, in re H. L. Mencken’s admission, above, is that to obtain freedom for yourself you must bar others from abridging it not only from self, but from some or even all others. Liberty cannot be advanced except by taking license away from others.

And forswearing it for self, as well.

This is a corollary to William Allen White’s great maxim:

Liberty is the only thing you cannot have unless you are willing to give it to others.

Or, to summarize, the words of J. H. Morse:

Liberty is no respecter of persons. Freedom with an exception clause is spelled L.I.C.E.N.S.E.


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Categories Aphorisms and Epigrams, Basic Principles, Books/Reviews, Ethics, tyranny

A Short Note on Modernism and Post-modernism in Political Ideology

One of the great political achievements of modernism was the demotion of our protectors from lords to public servants. This was the advance brought by republican and democratic reforms.

Alas, the project did not quite go far enough, did not quite get that “master”/“servant” relationship right. Tyrannies were let in the back door.

And in “post-modernism,” the moral universe was nearly upended. We see our protectors as oppressors (until our tribe takes on the protector role, of course) and the victim as the hero. This is not wholly in error, but close.

Not seeing oppression where it exists is a grave error, I insist. But treating victims as heroes, or even trumps in political debate, is to sow the seeds of worse oppression.

It is not merely an error. It is perverse.

twv

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Categories Ethics, Ideological currents, tyranny