A news headline screams against Steve Bannon. Why? Because, at some time in the past, he argued that only property owners should vote.

This, of course, triggered predictable responses.

It seems a tad strange that the several states’ ballot-access rules during the original federal republic are cause of scandal today. Yes, the United States franchise was limited to “men of property” during the union’s early years.

I am sympathetic with Bannon’s fleeting opinion. I have had the same thought, turned the same idea around and around in my head.

What? Why?

Well, property owners take on more of a specific kind of responsibility than do the propertyless. Indeed, the very existence of real property in one’s holdings indicates some level of solvency and reliability. Those who do not own property are less likely to be able to cover debts, or repay care provided in cases of incapacitation. Property owners must have a longer time horizon, and are less likely to seek to plunder others’ wealth to cover their own irresponsibility.

That latter possibility is an obvious problem with democracy, so limiting the vote to just those who have some sort of stake — “skin in the game” — in a society based on respect for property rights should discourage corruption and encourage financial stability in government and long-term thinking in general.

Restricting the vote to property owners — that is, limiting the franchise — would seem to provide voters with incentives to support stable, sustainable government, and avoid the temptation to support what Bastiat called “legal plunder,” which entices a widespread urge to attempt to live at others’ expense.

The problem with this, though, is that it does not take into account the reasoning on the issue by one antebellum political group in America. That group was the LocoFoco Party

These activists of the formally-named Equal Rights Party in 1830s New York — and colleagues in other states — opposed the crony capitalism of their day, the corruption and insider self-dealing of the “monopolies” bred by state legislatures.

As they saw it, the limited franchise had not lived up to its theorized promise. Crony capitalism had metastazied in the young republic. It had not taken long. The “men of property” had not resisted the siren song of “cronyism.” And the LocoFocos fought the insider “monopolies” — as part of the Jacksonian and other reform movements.

Of course, it came to pass that today’s full franchise took time to flower — women only got the right to vote throughout the union in 1920. But as the franchise was widened, so, too, did government grow, as more and more was demanded of the State by voters. And, of course, many of those male and female voters had scant holdings. As one would expect. 

Not all that slowly, corruption grew and grew in American life, as the number of laws and the number of wealth transfers through government increased.

Would limiting the franchise, today, help?

Well, we could require that voters consist of net taxpayers, not net tax consumers. This kind of a rule would dampen the incentives of democratic voting to usher in legal plunder.

Or, we could require voters to take out a bond to vote. Basically, make potential voters show the wherewith to gain mercantile confidence to fund defense in a legal case, or weather financial tragedy.

Other schemes could be developed. The whole idea is that we should stack the deck against popular government’s tendency to grow government.

The articles I read on Bannon’s limited franchise idea note that a property requirement would favor whites over blacks, suggesting that the whole issue is at base racial: “The groups most likely to own homes are whites and older people.”

But the factor I suggested at the beginning is not a racist one, unless you think non-whites and younger people are necessarily more irresponsible than today’s typical homeowner. (A racist thought in and of itself, no?) If you look at the exact reasons the founders gave for limiting the franchise, you will see why the idea was indeed all about incentivizing responsible citizenship and good governance. In Aristotelian terms, the limited franchise idea is a timocratic idea, not a democratic one. And democracies, Aristotle wrote, were the corrup form of timocracies.

So, I would not say Bannon’s past flirting with limiting the franchise indicates either unpatriotic or necessarily hateful attitudes. I suspect he considered the notion as a way to rein in today’s unaccountable, irresponsible government. A misguided attempt, sure. It does not quite pass history’s smell test. But at a time when federal debt is increasing at alarming rates, and expanding to insolvent proportions, I say give the man some latitude. 

Still, I understand the incredulity that most people would greet the idea. Most folks look at voting as a right of liberty — quite basic — and not as a wild-card factor in good governance. 

I, on the other hand, suspect that if we must have a State, it might very well be better were it run on timocratic, not democratic, principles.

The real question would be: how? Limiting it to just “men” (or, more expansively, “people”) of property seems to fly in the face of what we know. 

twv

One of the fundamental errors of today’s socio-political thought can be summed in one simple equation, an equation quite without validity:

Diversity = Equality

Diversity does not even imply equality; it contra-indicates it.

But that identity is the foundational notion of pomo morality and “identity politics.” Only a highly nuanced analysis of the diverse things (or persons) themselves, and the diverse standards that might apply to them, would find an important connection between the two concepts. But the connection would be an identity only as a “term of art.”

But it is not highly nuanced thought that we are given. We witness, instead, relentless and hysterical assertion after assertion of the dubious identity. The notion that Diversity is Equality is the dogma of the day.

And it is corrosive to the basic habits and institutions of a liberal society. It is the latest attempt to apply coherence to the mirage of “social justice.”

twv

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Americans have had more than one red-headed president before Trump and his weird orange hair. Here is what I found during a few quick searchs — Americans, I give you the red-headed Presidents of the United States:

  • George Washington
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Andrew Jackson
  • Martin Van Buren
  • Ulysses Grant
  • Calvin Coolidge
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower

That’s an awful lot of redheads. We’re working on our 45th president, making redheads 17.77 percent of the presidential population. Worldwide redheadedness is at 1 to 2 percent — perhaps as high as 6 percent of white European populations. The American presidency is more than twice the average. What’s going on here?

There is some evidence that one reason America split from the union might have had something to do with red hair. The British soldiers wore red suits, but most of Virginia’s military commanders were red-heads, as was commented on at the time. 

OK, that was a stretch. Borderline ridiculous. But with two of the most important figures in our country’s founding being “gingers,” it does seem interesting how heavily weighted redheads are in American history.

Full disclosure: I am, if not a redhead, at least a redbeard. Though at my age the red is slowly fading: soon no one will be able to tell I was once a redbeard, just as few knew that Washington or Eisenhower were redheads.

twv



When did the Pilgrims celebrate the first Thanksgiving? The traditional date is some time in the autumn of 1621. In a Slate article by Joshua Keating, of a few years past, that date is used to debunk claims by libertarians and conservatives that Thanksgiving is really a story of the bounties that come from private property. 

But the debunking falls apart on examination. 

Sure, as Keating rightly puts it, the privatization of farm land happened two years after the usual First Thanksgiving date. Things went along swimmingly after the privatization until there was a drought, and then, after much anguish and prayer, the rains came and the crops rose up allowing a big harvest months later. Governor William Bradford, in his history of the Plymouth Colony, mentions an explicit thanksgiving (or, as he spelled it, “thanks-giveing”) held at some unspecified time that autumn of 1623.

Contrast Keating’s account with that of Paul Jacob, published last Thursday at his Common Sense site. Mr. Jacob agrees with the story as told by Keating, but with caveats:

[T]he most obvious political lesson to be drawn from the Pilgrim experience got lost in stories of rain and corn and Indians and such.
But it’s worth noting that Bradford wrote his discussions of communism — and how very wrong Plato and his ilk were — in his primary text, while his talk of the drought was an afterthought in his mss., and appears as a footnote in the edition I’ve consulted.
Both Plymouth stories deserve to be told.

Paul Jacob seems to be making the case that the Privatizaton Thanksgiving is a valid story, basically undergirding the Drought Relief Thanksgiving story. There would have been no latter bounty had the privatization not taken place earlier.

But that is the 1623 Thanksgiving, which Keating calls a second Thanksgiving:

As Kate Zernike of the New York Times pointed out in 2010, the timeline doesn’t quite work. The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621. The system of collective ownership known as the “common course” was abandoned in 1623. And it was abandoned not because of famine but because the settlers wanted to make more money.

And Keating and Zernike are in the majority, here: 1621 is the usual year given for the traditional First Thanksgiving. 

But Paul Jacob has an interesting counter to this:

The traditional date for the first Thanksgiving is given a few years earlier, with Squanto showing up and helping them plant and all. However, Bradford’s memoirs do not use the term thanksgiving (or “thanks-giveing”) or even “thanks” in relation to the harvests of 1621 at Plymouth Colony. But there is talk of plenty of food, including that Thanksgiving specialty, the turkey:

And now begane to come in store of foule, as winter aproached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besids water foule, ther was great store of wild Turkies, of which they tooke many, besids venison, &c. Besids they had aboute a peck a meale a weeke to a person, or now since harvest, Indean corne to yt proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largly of their plenty hear to their freinds in England, which were not fained, but true reports.

And yes, I have checked this. Paul Jacob seems to be right: there is no menton of the bounty of autumn 1621 as a Thanksgiving Day. Nowhere, as Mr. Jacob notes, does Bradford even use the word “thanks” in his account of the harvests of that year.

This suggests to me that the traditional date is just wrong. One of those stories that we were taught by our poorly educated teachers, to make the whole thing sound romantic and less religious as well as less political. It is a huge error, and Keating repeating it seems an incredible lapse, to me. 

Par for the course: if you hold to a majority opinion, you can blithely go on transmitting and re-transmitting falsity. There was no special Thanksgiving in 1621. That is a fabrication of later romantic myth-makers.

But what of his other contention, that the privatization was not a matter of getting rid of socialism and starvation, but, instead, just a way for settlers to “make more money.”

Well, this is something close to prevarication, perhaps outright lying.

How so? 

He goes through a lot of folderol about corporate structure and so forth. But he somehow fails to quote the relevant passages of Bradford himself. In an earlier piece, Paul Jacob did quote the relevant passages, which I repeat here:

By the spring of 1623 — a little over three years after first settlement in Plymouth — things were going badly. Bradford writes of the tragic situation:

[M]any sould away their cloathes and bed coverings; others (so base were they) became servants to [the] Indeans, and would cutt them woode & fetch them water, for a cap full of corne; others fell to plaine stealing, both night & day, from [the] Indeans, of which they greevosly complained. In [the] end, they came to that misery, that some starved & dyed with could & hunger.

The problem? The colony had been engaging in something very like communism.

The experience that was had in this comone course and condition, tried sundrie years, and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanitie of that conceite of Platos & other ancients, applauded by some of later times; — that [the] taking away of propertie, and bringing in comunitie into a comone wealth, would make them happy and florishing; as if they were wiser then God.

Bradford relates the consequences of common property:

For this comunitie (so farr as it was) was found to breed much confusion & discontent, and retard much imploymet that would have been to their benefite and comforte. For [the] yong-men that were most able and fitte for labour & service did repine that they should spend their time & streingth to worke for other mens wives and children, with out any recompence. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in devission of victails & cloaths, then he that was weake and not able to doe a quarter [the] other could; this was thought injuestice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalised in labours, and victails, cloaths, &c., with [the] meaner & yonger sorte, thought it some indignite & disrespect unto them. And for mens wives to be commanded to doe servise for other men, as dresing their meate, washing their cloaths, &c., they deemd it a kind of slaverie, neither could many husbands well brooke it.

This stikes me a thoroughly typical description of the bad consequences that common ownership schemes tend to produce. It is the Tragedy of the Commons, really, and the social consequences described by Bradford are not just about a lack of making a capitalist surplus. Keating’s charge that all Plymouth’s Pilgrims were looking to do was “make more money” is not borne out in the text. This is so clear, that one has to wonder about his veracity as a journalist/propagandist.

And the “socialism” element is also borne out by the text. What else to make of Bradford’s reference to the conceit of Plato and other ancients? How does Keating get around this obvious, quite blatant evidence in our primary text about the Plymouth Colony?

Oh, simple: he does not mention it. I know, he has a nice bit of broad-mindedness in his very last words, but the main contentions of Keating’s article are false, and miss the big story: that the traditional “First Thanksgiving” is just another just-so story told to manipulate youngsters and oldsters alike. Historians seem to continue the legend, even with the evidence to the contrary right in front of them. And Keating deliberately avoids dealing with the evidence that is most damning to the point he wants to make.

Slate’s debunking of a libertarian meme about Thanksgiving is typical of this genre. It is, itself, bunk.

twv

As I migrate from Facebook and Twitter to Tumblr and, especially, Minds.com, it has been interesting to confront the recent election and its fallout. Twitter and Facebook and YouTube, all a-twitter with debate about the Meaning Of It All, mark a moment in Internet history. How long will this go on? I don’t know. As I listen to the Numb and Number guys wrap up their initial YouTube discussion with the idea that Facebook, Google Plus, and Twitter were all but conspiracies designed to corral bloggers into venues that are easy to censor, to control, I have occasion to rethink. The gentlemen wonder if the alt media will be of lasting influence.

Am I wrong to see the ominous signs of censorship not as conspiracies but as typical examples of capture? These media hubs were designed to network people better than email and blog trackbacks. Internet developers had failed to construct the obvious next step of technical networking advance, full P2P information and sociality interplay. So these hubs proceeded to re-AOLize the Internet. And then the opportunities for control crept in, in part to monetize their operations, in part because their makers are weak-minded ninnies utterly in hock to the race/gender intersectionalists (the SJWs), susceptible to the merest accusation, no matter how idiotic, of Racism or Sexism!

I head off to Minds.com (I’m “wirkman,” of course) because this platform shows more promise of free speech than Facebook, at least. Facebook’s protocols for delivering messages alone are reason enough to abandon the service. Besides, Minds.com, even in beta, features some networking advances that might indeed promote free interplay, which is what most of us want on the Net.

Of course, the n&n guys’ discussion centered around the election. And a number of ideas were thrown up and pinned to a wall. I have slight disagreements with them. So I shall restate, succinctly, my basic take:

  1. Hillary lost mainly because she was a corrupt Clinton, and, beyond that, a horrible, corrupt and unpleasant-to-listen-to, embittered scold.
  2. Not enough Americans are sexist enough to accept the Feminist rationale for Hillary, that her female pudendum alone entitled her to their vote. The Vulva is not enough to trump corruption, thank the Norns.
  3. To argue that had Biden entered the race, he could have easily beat Trump, while probably true, is irrelevant: Trump was selected, in great part, out of a vast upsurge of the collective unconscious, a mass reaction to Hillary herself; had Biden been selected, or merely in play as the presumptive nominee, Trump would not have been selected to oppose him. (For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. See my posts of earlier this year, on just who bred their Nemesis.)
  4. Trump was allowed to rise to the top of the Republican line-up because of at least three mutually reinforcing factors: (a) because the GOP competition was littered with too many too-similar lackluster contestants, and they dropped off one by one because they picked off each other, not Trump — he is the only one who stood out; (b) because the party and its insider operatives had been betraying the membership for decades, accomplishing nothing — indeed, accomplishing the opposite of most promises — leaving an ideological hole at the heart of the coalition, ripe for Trump’s hostile takeover; and (c) Trump could turn on his un-PC charm and get away with it because, finally, the race/gender intersectionalists had screwed the pooch with their protests, censorship, and general unpleasantness, inoculating at least half of America to any censure regarding racism, sexism, and even the grossest breaches of decorum.

How do I know? Call me vatic.

Actually, this is all just my interpretation of American culture today. In my defense: it helps never to have “your guys” win elections. Repeated loss clarifies the mind and scrubs off the crud from one’s corneas. A tragic, or ultimately comic, view of the world settles in. One accepts reality as it is, even knowing that things could go better, were more folks to wise up. 

In my story, the Ice Giants always win.

twv

At the base of most conceptions of the State — indeed of all government by authority — is the idea that the “strong should rule.”

The “might makes right” notion, after all, possesses a certain plausibility. It basically doubles down on one element of everyday reality: the strongest do rule. So they should! In some sense. And that is where it gets tricky. “Whatever is, is right” is hardly a motto to endorse. It is an abdication of anything like ethics. And any ethic which merely restates an is isn’t an ethic really at all. So, between the question of who does rule and who should rule there is a vast chasm. Logically, anyway. And what has historically bridged it has been a series of maneuvers designed to minimize careful, philosophical thought. The fact that the strong can easily rule the weak in no way suggests that whatever the strong do or say is right. The notion to the contrary, at heart in common sense cynicism — the very tempting position of Callicles in the Gorgias — does not get to the heart of the matter. The basic nature of political governance, and with it the authority of The State, is a matter of convenience, of accommodation to threat, bluster, and brute force. The strong should rule because the weak do not want to risk much, and it is easier for we, the weak many, to comfort ourselves in a hierarchy of sovereign and subject. This is “just the way it is.” So ran the ancient sophistry.

But why? This is the eternal question, an anarchical one— anarchical because it does more than merely suggest that right and might can be totally separate, it marshals that breathtaking thought, that might (perish the thought!) does not make right.

The mere existence and general condemnation of criminals shows that this is indeed the case. The Pirate’s Challenge, as related by St. Augustine in Book IV of The City of God Against the Pagans, makes this very clear:

Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms? The band itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the law agreed on. If, by the admittance of abandoned men, this evil increases to such a degree that it holds places, fixes abodes, takes possession of cities, and subdues peoples, it assumes the more plainly the name of a kingdom, because the reality is now manifestly conferred on it, not by the removal of covetousness, but by the addition of impunity. Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, “What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor.”

So all attempts to justify the state on might-makes-right grounds begs the question. Sure, it may seem convenient to grant authority to the powerful, for that is mere acceptance of the powerful’s gambits’ likeliest real-world result. And so there is the constant calculus, a settling into hierarchy. Coupled with concerns for the acceptance of a level of force in our lives. Should I rule, or the big guy next door? He could clobber me, so . . . just accept the inevitable. What he says goes.

There is no doubt that the very idea of ruling is a question of force. While it is certainly possible for individuals and families to repel others’ trespass or aggression, this can become quite risky, especially if one has not studied the arts of conflicts and war. While defense comes down to force in the end, hiring off one’s defense to stronger others puts one in a very similar situation to that of the victim of the trespassers and aggressors — easily abused by the strong. While when questions of coercion are put out of our minds, the terms upon which we make deals (trade and hire others) are simple, peaceful matters of negotiating.

But the bargaining situation is muddier when hiring a protector, for the protector relies upon force, and, himself, is tempted to add force to his bargaining position. How much should he ask? Well, what do you have? This becomes a prime question of rulership: who decides the terms of the allocation of the goods being protected — and allowed to accumulate, because of the settling of the rules and rulership? Not, in practice, both bargainers equally. And not by mere market forces, nudging us to an equilibrium price. It becomes unilateral because the added bargaining chip is one of threat. Who decides on the booty, er, wages of the hired? Why, those most prominent in the defense occupation, those professionals who are . . . strongest.

This is the situation in early civilization, where tribes and wanderers came together. The strongest physically were anointed — usually they anointed themselves — as rulers, and then accumulated around them others who were strong. As Augustine related. (The full story is sadder, alas, since most states began by conquest, which is basically just the sad spectacle of the most naked and brutal force imaginable.)

But, as we have learned over time, much of that strength does not remain merely muscle and brevert. Some of it is cleverness and rhetoric and religion and . . . a whole batch of ideas, compromises, protocols, and rites that are often said not merely to justify the rulers’ rules, but constitute justice itself.

The decision-making process in a modern quasi-democracy is not very different. Of course, the traditions of sovereignty that evolved over the eons of civilization led to elaborate systems of domination. When modern republics were formed out of the contests that circumscribed the powers of the monarchs, first by the lords, then the business and professional classes, and finally by the audacious upstarts (revolutionaries), the nature of those traditions that kept the idea of sovereignty alive were altered.

For new circumstances.img_4660

And a few old ideas were revived in novel ways — even evolving into radically new justifications for rulership, congealing around notions that, ultimately, come down to one solid and easily transmittable idea: it is the people who rule. And as David Hume demonstrated, this, too, was a question of might makes right, for no rule of the people does not depend upon the accommodations of those very same people. They are many, and save for problems of co-ordination, could easily swarm (“mob” is what some otherwise-peaceful animals do, against their predators, when they work up their nerve) the few who, by muscle and brainpower, say they should rule. (I wrote about this in the introduction to the Laissez Faire Books edition of the relevant Hume essays.) The ideas that began the modern era, of popular sovereignty, were merely the adoption of a more sophisticated idea of who is strong, and why.

Yes, the very idea of democracy, that decisions should be based on some procedures based on popular opinion, is a matter of strength. In most cases, democrats hold to the notion of “majority rules.” The strength here relies upon numbers. Numbers of people, whose power is added together. The numbers are counted up, the simplest addition of one to an even count is said to be enough to justify some rule or ruler over some other option. And there can be no doubt that the nature of this strength is also based on force. But like the ideas of sovereignty in the early epochs of kingship and oligarchy, there is a sort of idealization of force based on other concepts, concepts that are brought in to make the decision about who decides easier. Some of them were utterly ridiculous, like religious sanction, based on fictional deities and cooked-up myths from the class of smooth-talking layabouts that I am most familiar with today. The majoritarian notion is just the simplest — indeed, in the democratic view, the crudest — form of rarefied strength.

For yes, democracies have indeed used other mechanisms besides the majority vote. Such a vote is not the only way to obtain popular consent by participation of the population itself. The most interesting of these alternate methods is probably sortition: the use of chance, or lotteries, to select spokespeople, or judges — or, in the sole modern institutional case, juries. But other preference voting procedures are worth considering. Supermajority procedures, for instance.

Swedish economist Knut Wicksell thought that the only rational way to decide public policy issues was by supermajority vote, where a decision occurs only upon 55, 60, 75, 80 or 90 percent agreement. Mere majority voting, Wicksell argued, makes it too easy to encourage and accept bad (poorly-thought-out and even evil) rulers and policies. Requiring more agreement than 50 percent plus one means that electors and legislators would have to settle for only those limited programs that a broad number of citizens might likely agree to, were it up to them. Supermajoritarianism is not, of course, widely espoused or advanced as a needful reform — but it is in operation in some public decision-making processes in the United States and elsewhere, especially among legislative bodies.

One reason for supermajority procedures can be summed up in the desire to prevent what Tocqueville called “the tyranny of the majority.” The point is obvious. Majoritarianism gains most of its plausibility from the ease with which it can be grasped. It requires only the simplest arithmetic. Even the unlearned can understand it. But the consequences of its long-term practice can be devastating for individuals and minority groups. And, in the end, for the whole of society, which veers away from sustainable policies in the absurd demand for each to live at the expense of all (or some) others. The results is not merely the institutions that we euphemize as the “welfare state,” it is better understood in the manner advanced by Anthony de Jasay, as the churning state. This is the advanced condition of a state in which there are few sure limits to power, where interests are routinely traded off against each other in a grab bag of shifting alliances, with so much intervention into voluntary society that, under its full development, it becomes impossible to tell who are the losers and who are the winners. We all lose in the mad rush to seek advantage, and the State balloons to huge proportions, beyond measure and reason, justified only by insane political myths and crackpot economic theory.

Of course, these United States also sport many election processes where a mere plurality vote decides an election. The madness that results from this can be reflected in the current presidential contest, still not technically over.

But the problem of all rulership becomes clear when the exercise of authority of one person over another turns into a kind of tyranny. Micro-tyranny. And deciding questions of “who rules” by some variant of the “strongest wins” — no matter how rarefied and idealized — seems ludicrous on the face of it. The only reason most people accept it so easily is that they were once children, ruled by adults, and in the maturation process, their general education consisted of heavy doses of propaganda . . . marshaled, not coincidentally, to encourage submission. Even to moral monsters and master criminals.

But it is not just education, propaganda, and inertia: any acceptance of someone else’s authority mirrors the basic “moral deal.” All universalizable ethical notions basically offer a “deal” to each person: you give up some means of advancement (theft, fraud, murder of competition) for the greater benefits of widespread coöperation that is enabled by the mere settlement of the “who rules” problem.

We all know, on some level, that the very salience of ethics rests on the reciprocal acceptance of certain sacrifices to obtain many greater, if vaguer, rewards. Accepting someone else’s rule looks very similar. And it prepares us to accept what may very well be a raw deal, a deal skewed to others’ interests, not our own — and not even, most likely, the interests of that blessed power-mob, the Majority.

But the similarity between authorization of a ruler and the basic moral deal is neither an identity nor an equality. In law we know that contracts are voided by the coercive element brought to the fore of the negotiation — this is understood as duress. And these “social contracts” that make up modern scenarios for Leviathan’s authority sure do look, in practice, like ominous “offers we cannot refuse.”

Besides, we realize that rulers are not the same, just as policies are not the same. Some work better than others. So, in the very idea of democracy lies the seeds of its own evanescent plausibility. For it is not a special procedure that justifies a deal authorizing the defense of persons and properties, but the extent to which persons and property are defended. As Augustine wrote, “Justice being taken away” undermines all authority; justice added presumably is the only arguable authority.

So our argument takes us back to persons and their rightful property. Mechanisms to ensure their protection must be judged on those very grounds. And what is unjust must first be fought off.

Indeed, it is in the fight against the great harms, the most obvious evils, that constitutes the surest clues to actual morality, as Bernard Gert repeatedly explained.* This was, in fact, the great advancement of Hobbes into the modern world as we know it: morality (universalizable justice, anyway) only makes sense in suppressing the bad, not in achieving the supreme good, the summum bonum. The realm of justice is the realm of obligation (coercible conduct), but achieving great goods, the highest ideals, the magnificent achievements — these all belong to a different realm of ethical thought, the realm Lon Fuller called “the morality of aspiration.” It is the business of the State to prevent the greatest harms, not promote the greatest goods. This is all that justice requires, all it allows.

And this follows neatly from the basic epistemically problem: How do we know what is just? Well, we look to the long traditions of sorting out the greatest injustices. What we know of justice we have learned in the long years of legal and moral contest, in communities and courts, upon breaches of the peace. Not from the procedures of governance, and governors’ excuse-making. It must all come back to the ideas of justice we glean through the course of actual adjudications of disputes. And these evolved traditions tend to point in one direction, so long as we keep in mind the Pirate’s Challenge: towards a severe limitation of the authority of the State.

Sovereignty belongs to the people, sure: not to just a few. But sovereignty belongs not to the people as a whole, but to individual human beings. (A point first coherently advanced by Josiah Walker, and developed explicitly by John Stuart Mill†.) And we have found no way of determining what separates crime from innocent conduct than in the general features of human interaction. We take as rights claims to be free of initiated coercion. And the wrongness of such aggression justifies self defense, as well as the acquisition of property apart from the claims of envious individuals and mobs. And any regime, no matter how constituted, must be judged by how that regime defends these rights. Crime is the abridgment of those rights. And states are criminal when they engage in plunder, in any form. Indeed, through the contest of partisan democracy, modern states encourage gross evils, encouraging by mass rituals (elections) people’s consolidation into warring camps, each seeking to gain an advantage over the other.

The question of who is strong? evolves away from considerations of brute force and naked, imminent threat to considerations of idealized combat, and the who shifts from a few to the many, and then to the many considered not as groups but considered as individuals. The procedures of adjudication, instantiated in legal evolution — especially when operating apart from the commands of “sovereigns” — provide us huge and salient clues as to what justice is, and they provide the standards by which to judge claims of particular regimes and regimens to rule.

In the end, it is individuals who must rule themselves, and find ways to defend selves and others without criminalizing their relationships with others in the very act. The evolution of civilization is this very process, of moving, as Plato said, from Force to Persuasion.‡

Who should rule? You should rule you; I should rule me. When we collide and squabble and wander off the path of peace, descending into discord, strife, our complaints should be adjudicated publicly, according to procedures that do not — if at all possible — depend on criminal acts of initiated force and compliance by duress.

twv

* See Bernard Gert’s The Moral Rules: A New Rational Foundation for Morality (1966) and especially Morality: Its Nature and Justification (2005), page 8.

† See my introduction to J. S. Mill’s On Liberty (Laissez Faire Books, 2015), currently unavailable, unfortunately.

‡ See Plato’s Republic. But for the basic idea expanded upon, consult Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas (1933), Chapter Five, “From Force to Persuasion.”


 

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Matthew Blanchfield, the CEO who refuses to do business with Trump supporters, was interviewed by Tucker Carlson on tonight’s new Fox news opinion show, Tucker Carlson Tonight. Not the best interview ever; not the worst. Least favorite Tucker moment: when he suggested the man couldn’t even define the term “fascism.” Tucker should have innocently asked the man what he meant by the word.

Worst moment for Blanchfield is a little harder to identify. It seems weird to me that his shareholders would approve of cutting off a whole bunch of clients, thereby losing potential profits. Why no questions about how the owners of the company reacted to the CEO’s stand, Tucker?

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Blanchfield’s best moment was an aside: his thinking that Trump might take office despite losing the popular vote “quite ironic,” considering the charges of a “rigged system” that Trump made so much of in the election. There is irony here, though I’m not sure Blanchfield and I would agree on its precise nature.

One possible worst moment — Blanchfield messed up his challenge to Tucker, re: doing business with Nazis. I can see why Tucker might’ve been nonplused, since the exact manner in the formulation of the question was witless and confusing. (“If you were a member of the Nazi Party in the Forties, in Hitler’s day, would you have done business with Nazi Party members?” Yikes, that goes off track, eh?) The man seems to think that fascism is the same as a dictatorship under an authoritarian.

Terrible definition of fascism. I mean, come on: I recently read the Gentile and Rocco and Mussolini treatises, and there is more to it than just a grab-bag epithet for tyrants one does not approve of.

Tucker was probably right to not extend the pissing match over definitions very far. But I think it is incumbent upon him to explore the concept in future shows.

A teachable moment, I’d say.

Blanchfield, whose moral courage I kind of admire, had some problems with definitions far beyond the one word. Indeed, not long after he claimed to be aware “what all these definitions are,” he then proceeded to misuse the word “turpitude.” (Another possible worst moment.) He praised “having the moral turpitude to stand up against the masses” as very American, as “what a citizen and a patriot actually does.” What? I know, I know: he meant “moral courage” — or maybe he was thinking of “temerity.” But that’s a word demoting excess, inherently a pejorative.

“Audacity” would do better, maybe? The audacity of . . . ?

It was a bizarre interview, to say the least.

twv

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President-Elect Donald Trump does not speak in a normal way. Everybody noticed that, supporter and enemy alike. But I think that most people misinterpreted his modus operandi. They assumed his “plain spoken” outbursts were evidence of an earnest person merely speaking his mind, from the normal, common sense, everyday standpoint.

That could hardly be further from the truth.

img_0721Indeed, it is his relationship with the truth that interests me most. I do not think — perhaps have never thought — that the things he has said were, are, or will be attempts at the truth.

Instead, anything he says must be interpreted as a gambit in some sort of negotiation. He is a negotiator, he says — yes. And that means he is not truthful but manipulative, speaking to change others’ behavior.

Normal people tend to look at speech as primarily a series of truth-statements or lie-statements. Trump, on the other hand, does not. He speaks to get effects, and always has done so. He uses the appearance of truth the better to set up others to do what he wants.

This is why he is proceeding to turn back on many of his promises, already. Before being sworn in.

They were never promises. They never had truth-value. They were manipulative efforts. I’d say they were lies — and technically, they were and are — but when a person does not care about the truth, then the word “lie” barely applies. I am not even sure he knows what the truth is. Truth is surely not an idealized concept for him. He sees utterances as having utility, but truth-value — which is, if not another thing altogether, is another thing in part — well, no.

Trump is more a bullshitter. A fantasist, or fabulist. He is a salesman who buys his own pitch, and must, since it all comes down to selling himself. And he is and always has been more fictional than real. He is a personal contstruct resting on carefully manipulated social constructs. He is a sociopath who “displays” as a common sense “get ’r done” kind of guy. That is, he is . . . a base rhetorician.

I repeat: I believe nearly everybody, for and against, has been fooled by the man — because they have judged his statements in something like the normal framework of speech. But his speech must be seen primarily as “speech acts.” This is a man deeply orthogonal to the normal standpoint. And we must judge him, now, primarily by whether we like what he manages to accomplish, not by such apparently crude standards as truthfulness . . . or any other virtue, for that matter. Except prudence. The standard is what he accomplishes. Not what he said he was going to do, not what his followers wanted him to do, not what his opponents wanted him to do. His efforts must be judged by their actual intentions.

Which is hard to do, since we cannot rely upon his own report of his intentions. So, as we judge his acts, we must, as best we can, speculate on his real motivation.

This is what American politics has come to.

twv


Defining the “alt-right” (or “Alt Right” — as with LocoFocoism, the hyphen is a problem) is especially slippery, for a number of reasons:

  1. Many who consider themselves “alt-right” are not so considered by others who consider themselves “alt-right”;
  2. Many who do not identify themselves as “alt-right” are routinely called “alt-right” by others; and
  3. “Alt-right” is a badge for some, a mark of Cain for others.

The putative enemies of the “alt-right” often use the term for any non-leftist who hates the Republican Party or who thinks SJW obsessions are especially bad for civilization.

By that latter criterion, I’m alt-right! Of course, I am not right-wing at all, alt or otherwise.

I’m a Loco-Foco (LocoFoco), which is Alt-Center.

twv

Today, on Facebook, I posted this:

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