Archives for category: History

a thesis sans argument*:

IMG_3872Amusingly, what makes the infamous and much-castigated “social Darwinists” conceivably Darwinistic is not so much the theory of natural selection, especially construed as a “survival of the fittest” by way of a ruthless weeding out of weak individuals, but, instead, a reliance upon sexual selection as the basis of human breeding. By defending a dispersed responsibility for begetting and rearing children, the individualists** completely relied upon individuals to choose their own mates and determine their own fates, as well as that of following generations.

This quasi-Darwinistic social vision of the individualists was challenged and replaced by a new hard-headed view of society — in the late 19th and early 20th centuries — that of the social engineers associated with Fabian Socialism and American Progressivism. Their new vision was not so much “Darwinian” as “Galtonian,” in that it carried social engineering to the extreme of coercive eugenics.

This did not mimic either of Darwin’s great contributions, Natural Selection or Sexual Selection.

The principle to which the new social engineers appealed was quite old-fashioned and understood by folks prior to Darwin: Artificial Selection. They insisted upon direct human control of the process of selecting qualities to breed into future generations. Sure, the selection criteria “were scientific” — just as breeders of cattle and dogs were careful in their arrangements of livestock mating — but in no way dispersed.

Their idea was to concentrate (centralize) choice (or at the very least the “breeding out” criteria and enforcement) into the hands of experts. It was thus sexual selection turned artificial.

An old idea, to some extent (since marriages were historically subject to arrangements by clans and courts, to encourage the inheritance of some traits, usually non-biological traits such as wealth and power), but now more expicitly statist, and in theory defocused from families and focused wider onto society as a whole. To be managed by the State.

Yes, social engineering and eugenics were indeed promoted as “scientific” during the heady, early days of Progressivism, and Darwin’s name was often . . . taken in vain.

Darwin had nothing to do with the outrageous notion of applying Artificial Selection to human populations at the macro-social (societal) level. His theory of sexual selection indicated, instead, a more dispersed process that explained adaptation and speciation.

The eugenicists of Progressivism were engaging, on the other hand, in a scientistic misappropriation of Darwin’s legacy, and it was the earlier individualists, relying instead mostly on invisible hand processes of nature and society, who were closer to the spirit of evolutionary science.

But, in fairness, the eugenics movement had its scientific backers. The term eugenics itself was coined by Sir Francis Galton, Darwin’s cousin once removed. And Galton was no slouch, revolutionizing statistics and the research of inheritance.

Tipping the hat to Galton, honesty and precision suggests an alternative to “social Darwinism,” societal Galtonism.***

Resting upon Galton’s obsessions, the statist eugenicists donned the mantle of science. Within a half century of the eugenics heyday, progressive intellectuals, under the guise of “liberalism,” rewrote the history and jiggered with the concepts to obscure the enormity that their parent generation had embraced whole-heartedly. And, twist of the proverbial knife, they castigated the earlier individualists as cruel “social Darwinists” when the real crimes — their tradition’s — were far more directly inhumane and unchristian, and more plausibly a misappropriation of evolutionary theory.

Politics and ideology are full of droll reversals of fortune.

The memes that survive must serve functions, yes, but they are selected, artificially selected by humans with interests. And “social Darwinism” has served progressives for a long time, helping them bury the sorry history of their own movement by deflecting to others the apt charge of scientism.

twv

* This post is admittedly mostly just assertion. But I hope the reader will forgive me for floating the notion before I find time to defend it. Maybe I should do a Kickstarter campaign to fund my elaboration of this and allied ideas!

** I am mostly referring to Herbert Spencer here, though the Americans John Fiske and William Graham Sumner might also fit into this category as relevant.

*** A Google search called up just one comments-section coinage of “social Galtonism,” but “social,” to my ear, more properly applies to micro- and meso-levels of human interaction than the macro level, so the uglier adjective “societal” makes a quantum of sense.

Liberty30thAnniversary

This late June marks the 30th anniversary of the first issue of Liberty magazine, the libertarian fanzine I helped found in 1987. (I worked on the project for twelve years.)

My boss, Bill Bradford, and I were very new to the desktop publishing revolution that summer. We had just purchased our Mac Plus computers, and Bradford had invested in the application Ready,Set,Go!, then the leading page layout application. On the first day we produced a newsletter, his hard-money investment four-pager Analysis & Outlook. That must have been in early June. I am pretty sure we finalized the first issue of Liberty in late June, but it may have in July.

The issue itself was dated August 1987, and it sure was ugly.

But the content was interesting.

It featured a fascinating article on Ayn Rand’s film work by Stephen Cox, a Ron Paul for President endorsement and salvo by Murray N. Rothbard, a terrific essay by Butler Shaffer, and a fascinating memoir of a 1960s libertarian survivalist and eccentric, by Ben Best. My written contributions were two: a review of Thomas Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions, and a think piece on the Russell Means’ run for the Libertarian Party presidential nomination — the latter published under a pseudonym. I remember senior editor Stephen Cox not thinking much of my piece, but Bradford was enthusiastic. He himself had written about the LP contest between Means and Paul under his own pseudonym, “Chester Alan Arthur.”

Years later, Bradford told me that I had cooked up the name for our final-page feature, “Terra Incognita,” which was designed to carry on in the tradition of H. L. Mencken’s “Americana” series from The American Mercury. Bradford loved the basic idea, and had fun producing it for years. I was initially less than impressed, and quickly forgot I had a hand in any creative aspect of its development. But later I came to enjoy it, somewhat. Now I tend to think it the best part of the magazine!

I will no doubt continue to reminisce about the ongoing 30th anniversaries of Liberty as the months go by.

Screenshot 2017-06-19 21.57.34

You know a person isn’t serious about opposing child labor if they keep up bringing sweat shops but never mention farm work.

Traditionally, had children not worked on family farms, many families would have starved. Personally, I worked on our family farm without recompense, growing up, and also worked on other farms for money. Before I came of age. I know that this was good for me, and everyone else knows this too.

img_0056My mother grew up in the Great Depression. She was one of the family breadwinners — as a child. Only an evil person would regard this as exploitation and wrong to the point that it should have been illegal.

A close friend of mine and I both spent time picking fruit in the summers. We earned a few bucks. This was good for us, even at ages nine, ten and eleven.

Now, in the state due south of where I live, such child labor is unlawful. Or so I’m told. I do know that illegal Mexicans pick most of those crops. Progress?

Harping on sweat shops and factory work by children makes moderns feel good about themselves. It is much like imagining themselves as great opponents of slavery — despite their lack of interest in slavery rampant, today, in the Islamic world.

Harping on sweat shops and factory work by children means never having to think about context, progress, wealth creation, or even what actual conditions in most of these situations were really like. I have never met a progressive who talks about this who has read one word of the current scholarly literature on the subject. They are merely repeating stuff pushed to them by brainless high school teachers and Marxist college professors.

Every time I mention that rates of child labor were plummeting prior to child labor being regulated and then prohibited, I get blank looks or eyebrows of incredulity.

Some day these uninformed ideologues may realize that they are merely ignorant buffoons parroting dogmas of little value.

By then, though, they will have supported dozens of insane regulations and deceitful politicians.

twv

turkey-hagia-sophia

I slam Islam — often. But why? It is not because I hate the color of most Muslims’ skins; I do not hate Buddhism or Hinduism or Zoroastrianism or Yazidist “devil worship,” despite the darker skins of most of these religions’ proponents. It is the color, you might say, of the ideas in the religion. Those notions strike me as morally dark and socially dangerous and super-excessively narrow- and bloody-minded, the ultimate in-group/out-group malignancy.

While individual Muslims may be fine people, Islam itself is not a respectable ideology. And, really, my attitude towards any Muslim is: you have a moral obligation to throw off your nasty religion. But what do we say of Muslims in general, or do about the threat that many, many in their midst present? Well, here it gets tricky.

So, to make my main point, I post, once again, from F. Marion Crawford’s 1887 novel Paul Patoff, regarding the nature of Islam as perceived by two Russian brothers watching group prayer in the Hagia Sofia:

Alexander Patoff stood by his brother’s side, watching the ceremony with intense interest. He hated the Turks and despised their faith, but what he now saw appealed to the Orientalism of his nature. Himself capable of the most distant extremes of feeling, sensitive, passionate, and accustomed to delight in strong impressions, he could not fail to be moved by the profound solemnity of the scene and by the indescribable wildness of the Imam’s chant. Paul, too, was silent, and, though far less able to feel such emotions than his elder brother, the sight of such unanimous and heart-felt devotion called up strange trains of thought in his mind, and forced him to speculate upon the qualities and the character which still survived in these hereditary enemies of his nation. It was not possible, he said to himself, that such men could ever be really conquered. They might be driven from the capital of the East by overwhelming force, but they would soon rally in greater numbers on the Asian shore. They might be crushed for a moment, but they could never be kept under, nor really dominated. Their religion might be oppressed and condemned by the oppressor, but it was of the sort to gain new strength at every fresh persecution. To slay such men was to sow dragon’s teeth and to reap a harvest of still more furious fanatics, who, in their turn being destroyed, would multiply as the heads of the Hydra beneath the blows of Heracles. The even rise and fall of those long lines of stalwart Mussulmans seemed like the irrepressible tide of an ocean, which if restrained, would soon break every barrier raised to obstruct it. Paul sickened at the thought that these men were bowing themselves upon the pavement from which their forefathers had washed the dust of Christian feet in the blood of twenty thousand Christians, and the sullen longing for vengeance rankled in his heart. At that moment he wished he were a soldier, like his brother; he wished he could feel a soldier’s pride in the strong fellowship of the ranks, and a soldier’s hope of retaliation. He almost shuddered when he reflected that he and his brother stood alone, two hated Russians, with that mighty, rhythmically surging mass of enemies below. The bravest man might feel his nerves a little shaken in such a place, at such an hour.

My point is: if an American author of the 19th century could see the nature of Islam and its adherents, and prophesy the dire consequences of interfering in their lands and religion, why have our leaders been unable to accept this not-incomprehensible wisdom?

Are they morons, as we often said of George W. Bush? Are they secret communists, as some say Obama was, hoping to undermine the West? Or are they fools, like most people say Trump is, clueless about the ways of the world?

Whether moronism, subversion, or folly — or some strange hubris — American foreign policy in the Mid-East has exacerbated tendencies in the affected populations of Muslims, and we now find ourselves facing a growing number of Hydra heads, bent on mass murder at the very least.

Why would some Muslims want this? Well, there is no mystery. It is not as if we lack testimony from the jihadists themselves. Repeatedly, Muslim radicals have offered rationales for their actions. Excuses, at the very least. Courtesy of the British rag Mirror, there is even, now, a handy low-brow listicle, “ISIS reveal 6 reasons why they despise Westerners as terrorist’s sister claims he wanted revenge for US airstrikes in Syria.” Here is my synopsis of those points:

1. The West is predominantly non-Muslim; we are “disbelievers.”
2. The West is liberal-tolerant. The same principles that suggest to us that we not discriminate against Muslims migrating to our countries is the reason ardent jihadists hate us!
3. The West has a few atheists — and doesn’t persecute them!
4. For our “crimes against Islam,” unspecified in this accounting, but one would think these [alleged] crimes are somehow distinct from the reasons above and below.
5. For our governments’ “crimes against Muslims,” including drone strikes, bombs, embargoes, etc.
6. For “invading their lands.” This is obviously something different from #5, above. This is surely an idea of territorial sanctity, an idea that conservatives might understand instinctively, but of which (I suspect) progressives possess no clue.

Now, of those six reasons, the fifth is the one we can do the most about. Western nations do not need to attempt to settle every violent dispute in the Mid-East. Indeed, I find this fifth reason utterly compelling. Were America bombed and high-hatted by Muslims the way Americans high-hat and bomb Muslim populations abroad, I know good and well there would be plenty of bloodlust acted upon from here to overseas. I know my fellow Americans. They would seek revenge, and would keep a tally, demanding overkill, not mere tit for tat.

Reasons 1 and 3 are very similar, as are 4, 5 and 6. This indicates, I suspect, the general tenor of the complaints. And certainly the first three reasons are all integral to Islam in a fundamental way. The religion is not known for its tolerance of differing opinions. The Quran itself, in its later, Medina-based portions, is quite clear: the infidels must be killed, enslaved, or at least treated as second- or third-class citizens. Dhimmitude. Slavery. Mass murder. These three are characteristic of Islam-based societies. Look to the long, almost genocidal history of Islam in India, or the recent descent of Lebanon into chaos. Rising European jihadist terrorism does not seem so inexplicable, does it?

But, in the West, it is common for good, peaceful folks to pontificate about how Islam is “just like other religions,” or is “really” a “religion of peace,” or “Christians commit terrorism too.” That latter is especially nincompoopish, as this video argues successfully:

What I’ve been trying to argue since at least 9/12/2001 is this: with Islam such a dangerous memeplex, it is sheer witlessness and folly to stir the hornets’ nest by trying to rule people who have commitments to that meme system. They will resent it. And retaliate. And, grounded upon their own sacred texts, will seek to subvert, conquer, destroy.

Islam spread, initially, by the sword. The Messenger, Mr. M. himself, is said to have died not long after this admonishment: “Muslims should fight all men until they say, ‘there is no god but God.’”*

That is quite a challenge for accepting Western liberalism. Perhaps it will prove to be a bigger challenge than Communism has been so far. We will see.

But first, admit the truth. Do not meddle in their internecine affairs if you can at all avoid it. And perhaps cordon off the Islamic peoples. Not for idiotic market-protectionist reasons, but for reasons of our own survival, to protect our way of life. For Islam is not a loving religion, aiming for peace. It demands conquest. And the more Muslims that congregate in an area, the more pressured and emboldened they become to adopt the entelechy at the heart of Islam: “confident submission.” To Allah. To “God.” And to their interpretation of what this Deity supposedly demands.

twv

* As quoted in Albert Hourani, A History of the Arab Peoples (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1991), p. 19.

In the early and middle 1980s, “comparable worth” became a celebrated cause of the feminist left. The idea was to equalize wages among occupations, particularly between, for example, a well-paid occupation that tended to be manned mainly by men and a more poorly remunerated occupation mainly performed by women. The examples given at that time were often truck drivers vs. secretaries.

I witnessed several public debates on the subject, way back then. And having just begun to study economics, I quickly came to regard proponents of the “comparable worth doctrine” (CWD) as utopian lunatics. Their glee in concocting regulatory schemes was over the top, and their arguments were always and in each case economically illiterate. They looked upon all wages as mere artifacts of custom and power, never productivity. Notions like “marginal product” and “imputation” and even “supply and demand” never rose to coherence, or even the level of mere mention.

I remember one absurd discussion, where a young man argued against a then-current objection commonly made to the CWD — that comparing truckers to secretaries was comparing apples to oranges. (That is, the occupations were different enough that no wage equalization effort could make sense.) He said that the beauty of CWD was that (quoting from memory) “we mix the apples and oranges and get fruit punch, and then divvy out equal amounts!”

You see what I mean by economic illiteracy.

Now, I did not go on to become an economist. It never became my job to investigate the statistic artifacts of the period to test the doctrine. Or any other. But I did notice that in the State in which I lived, the CWD became the official doctrine of one institution: government.

My guess is that many a low-wage government and contractor job were upped to a higher level, according to some “comparable” “worth” (of a labor theory of value variety) and that taxes were quickly increased to cover.

It might be good to check to see whether this did actually happen. I would be surprised if it did not.

I am getting at something here. There is a difference between government wages and business wages. They are figured and set differently. Unlike in the market sector, politicians can and do set State employee wages. And take credit for the hikes.

The taxes? They tend not to talk much about the taxes hiked to pay for the greater drain on resources. In markets, wage hikes must be merited by business success in voluntary markets, within a context of competition for scarce consumer attention. In politics, the checks and balances are much less integral with the process. There is a high degree of arbitrariness to government worker remuneration.

I suspect something similar happens in government regarding minimum wage jobs. I know of a number of positions paid by tax funds through contracts with the state. Many of them — particularly the temporary ones — are minimum wage jobs. (Elder care, some seasonal fishery services, and a few others come to mind.) When the minimum wage requirement is raised, budget requirements are raised, and politicians shrug “cost of living” and approve a budget hike, leading directly to raised contract worker wages.

We often say, with varying degree of inaccuracy, that “consumers pay” for minimum wage hikes. (Consumers do pay, but usually indirectly.) More accurately, taxpayers pay. Quite directly.

twv


This summer will mark the 30th anniversary of Liberty magazine. Not Benjamin Tucker’s Liberty, which has been dead for over a century. Not the general interest magazine of that name, either, of which Groucho Marx quipped “Remember, there’s nothing like liberty — except Collier’s and The Saturday Evening Post!” And certainly not the Seventh Day Adventist periodical, the less I say about, the better. I am referring to the little libertarian ’zine out of Port Townsend, Washington, the one that I worked on for its first twelve years.

After my departure in 1999, it survived in print for another decade. After folding, it gave up its ghost to the Web, upon which it lingers as a scornful shade from another age.

Three decades is a long enough time to excuse a tinge of nostalgia. In January 1987, I was working on the vast library of Liberty’s publisher, R. W. Bradford, as well as researching and proofreading his monthly newsletter, Analysis & Outlook. We were preparing to launch the magazine that summer, and Bradford was looking for the right computer platform. I knew (this is going to be a self-congratulatory essay, so prepare yourself) that there was, at that time, only one computing platform suitable for desktop publishing, Apple’s Macintosh. But those computers were expensive, so Bradford futilely began experimenting with KayPro’s latest CP/M machine, and then with IBM’s PC. Both platforms were a bust. We finally went to the Macintosh. We bought two Mac Pluses, and on the first day we laid out the newsletter; within a week or two Bill and I, along with his wife, Kathleen, designed the cover and interior of the magazine.

img_1906None of us were design geniuses, and it showed. The magazine was ugly. I was responsible for the general look of the interior pages, for the most part, and Bradford and his “Scotch boxes” gave impetus to the make-up of the cover. But we three did hash this out in a long meeting, with much experimenting. And no small amount of friendly banter.

The structure of the magazine itself was, uh, odd, especially in the first few issues. (A good example being the fifth issue, shown at right.) This was mostly a result of Bradford’s resistance to putting the current-events reportage and political debate up front, at least in the first few issues. He did not want Liberty to be primarily a political magazine. It was to be a cultural magazine for a people of a particular political orientation. I liked the approach, if not the magazine’s look (which always remained a vexation to me).

Years later, Bradford credited me with establishing the style of editorial presentation. The wording of the blurbs and genre heading and the like, though Stephen Cox surely had a major hand in it at the final review end of the editorial process. It was a natural style for what we were doing, so that credit is not exactly a steller honor. He also said that I had named the final section of the magazine, the “Terra Incognita” feature. After twelve years, when he had informed me of this, I had forgotten my “responsibility” for this name.

“Terra Incognita” was to duplicate the aim and method of Mencken’s old Americana department, from which the Sage of Baltimore made a series of annual books. The idea was to take news snippets and other artifacts of our culture, and place them in our pages without comment. Each entry would use for a title the place the tidbit took place in, or from which it was published or broadcast. Then would follow a short, not too value-laden synopsis or setup. Finally, there would be an exact quotation.

Full disclosure: Bradford often edited these quotations not merely for space, but for the occasional subtle effect. Editorial license, if you will.

It would have been fun to name the section “Artifactual Man,” but I had not read the great essay “Natural and Artificactual Man” by economist James Buchanan yet. So “Terra Incognita” it became. Here is an example, snapped from an old copy littering my library:
Terra Incognita

This all came back to me, today, upon stumbling into a page of the Center for a Stateless Society, a reprint of an old Roderick Long criticism of one “Terra Incognita” entry.

The entry in question is from an issue published several years after I had left Liberty’s offices, so I can hardly be held responsible for the offending passage that Prof. Long considers. It was published as Bradford himself lay dying, so neither could the editor and publisher himself be the likely responsible agent. (Though it does sound like him, now that I think on it.) Nevertheless, I wish to demur from Long’s objections. In effect, I seek to defend the honor of Liberty’s “Terra Incognita” — as if anyone cared.

No matter. I am committed! I will quote the piece, whole, interrupting only when I have something to say:

In the back of each issue of Liberty magazine is a section titled “Terra Incognita,” which consists of news clippings inane or horrific or both. So I must assume that someone at Liberty found the following item inane or horrific, since it’s the third featured item in the latest (January 2006) issue’s “Terra Incognita”:

Port Townsend, Wash.

A glimpse into the objectives of a modern-day peace movement, from the PTforPeace “cultural statement”:

“Knowing we have all internalized the violence, patriarchy, white supremacy, and alienation so prevalent in our society. Knowing that dismantling these systems of oppression involves becoming aware of where they are hiding in our own minds, and that day-to-day patterns of oppression are the glue that holds together systems of oppression. Cultivating gratitude toward the person who points out where we may have internalized oppression without being aware of it.”

So what, exactly, is this item doing in Liberty’s “horror file”? What it says seems to me not only true and important, but something that libertarians in particular used to specialise in pointing out. For a leading libertarian publication to mock such insights is a regrettable refusal of our libertarian forebears’ radical legacy.

Though I sympathize with Prof. Roderick Long’s anti-oppression solidarity, I bet I understand why, on some level, either Kathleen Bradford or Stephen Cox or one of the other editors of the ’zine thought it, at least in part, risible.

But I cannot speak for them, only for me. So here goes:

  1.     Liberty was still, then, published in Port Townsend, Washington. The editors probably knew the Port Townsend activists well enough. I did when I lived there. That propinquity tends to put a tinge of guffaw into the reaction. To know a leftist is to know their strange obsessions and quirks of mind and values.
  2.     The statement lists some givens that are not given to most folks. Indeed, I hesitantly accept some, thoroughly reject others.
  3.     I reject that we have all internalized the violence of our culture. I am a libertarian. I have externalized society’s penchant for initiated coercion. Speak for yourself, leftist.
  4.     Patriarchy. What patriarchy? The one that gives in to nearly every feminist demand? The one that worries over not having enough women in the Senate (despite over half the voters being women) but not over the male dominance in garbage collection, logging, and sea fishing — the latter two among the most deadly jobs in today’s generally cushy workplace environments? Or would it be the patriarchy that expects men, in cases of emergency, to come to the aid of women and children, at the risk of their own lives, but not expecting anything like the same courage from women? Does not our professor realize that this cultural requirement for male valor in defense of women was written into the law during the heyday of “capitalist patriarchy” a century ago? That this was related to the fact that men, but not women, were drafted in times of war? That men were expendable, but women not?
    I am not denying, actually, a patriarchal aspect to our current culture, and a stronger one a century prior. But I realize what traditional patriarchy was for: the protection of women and children, so that the species — society — could continue. The much-maligned Patriarchy was supported, historically, by a concurrent social institution, which we should call The Matriarchy. For savvy women realized something that feminists today do not: that the “dominance” of men in law and politics was counter-balanced by huge costs that men were forced to bear. This is doubly true for the bulk of men who were not in exalted positions of leadership.
    Indeed, beta and especially gamma males were, as stated above, expendable. They were the ones chiefly oppressed. Society way back when was not rich enough to extend certain peaceful opportunities to women. But with the rise of capitalism came the rise in the status of women, and their gradual liberation. To repeat for emphasis: the oppressive aspects of patriarchical culture fell mainly on the men, in terms of their lives and liberties.
    Sure, women did not have as much social freedom as men did, back then, especially if they were married. All this had reasonable, non-oppressive rationales. Pretending that we now experience the old oppressions (or unfortunate inconveniences) is preposterous.
    Thinking that “we all” have internalized this old way of thinking is believable, however. But the nature of today’s internalized patriarchy will not please Prof. Long. Our patriarchal mindset is instantiated in reiterated point-blank acceptances of the bulk of the inanities of feminism.
    Feminism has always depended on the patriarchal chivalry of men.
    And men, today, still go out of their way to play White Knight for women’s fictional honor. (Personally, I have given all of that up long ago. I realized in the days of my relative youth that the relationships between men and women in the ages of feminism are so deeply fucked up that I am de facto Hyperborean, now. I am more feminist than the feminists, in one sense, since I have abandoned almost all my chivalric obsessions. I accept women as friends, as social equals, but not as any special concern of mine, and I doubt I would ever risk my life for any one of them I am not related to.)
  5.     “White supremacy”? Really? Is that what I benefit from, today? Is that why most Asian-American men and women make more money than nearly every white male in my nearly all-white community? Who is supreme, here? Or, is it some cultural power that we scorned country bumpkins possess? Of course not. I, for one, am marginalized, if anyone is. It is Democrats and Republicans and leftists who have major political and cultural institutions on their side. Not some lowly individualist like me. And certainly not my neighboring redneck proletarians. Listening to racial theorizing from leftists reminds me of little that individualists have to offer by way of liberation. I, a white man, oppress no one. If you think I have internalized the oppression of individuals of other races, I will argue with you not only intellectually, but stridently — upon my honor. Prof. Long, in siding with these leftists, lurches preciously close to insulting me. And probably you. Perhaps any honest person of any racial background in these United States. Note: I am not saying that there are not white supremacists (the fools; the buffoons). I am not saying that there is no racial bigotry (including from racial minorities). I am just saying that supremacy is largely irrelevant to the liberation of individuals, race is itself a burden upon their thinking, and leftist obsessions with supremacy are, in and of themselves, worthy of ridicule.
  6.     Alienation is not the result of oppression. Alienation is a step on the liberation from oppression. See Walter Kauffman in Without Guilt and Justice. I expect more from a philosopher than repetition of brain-dead tropes from the unthinking masses of symbolic-action-obsessed leftists.

So, obviously I am not on the same page as Roderick Long. Why?

My aim is not to criticise Liberty in particular; it’s one of my favourite magazines, and this particular failing is merely symptomatic of a larger problem in the libertarian movement generally. One might call the problem knee-jerk anti-leftism, or in other words, automatically responding negatively to certain issues (at least when those issues aren’t obvious applications of libertarian principle, like drug legalisation) merely because those issues have typically been the concern of the left.

Could Prof. Long sutter from the opposite problem, a knee-jerk pro-leftism? I believe he calls himself a “left libertarian” — an absurd position that mischaracterizes what individualism is, what libertarianism has to offer.

The knee-jerk anti-leftist infection — libertarians’ costly inheritance from their long alliance with conservatives against the genuine menace of state socialism — takes different forms in different sectors of the libertarian movement: softness on corporatism here, softness on militarism there, softness on white-male-hetero chauvinism somewhere else (with each such sector quick to denounce the flavour of deviation embraced by some other sector, but far less swift to recognise its own). A crucial aim of left-libertarianism, as I see it, is to help libertarianism recover its pre-conservative roots.

Well, the conservative stain may very well be the case. I have argued this in the past. But upon extended consideration, I have come to think the problem arises from a completely different source. Consider this:

There are two main conceptions of justice in this world: traditional justice (in its variant forms) and revolutionary justice (in statist and anarchist varieties). These two correspond to the two visions of social causation that Thomas Sowell has advanced in A Conflict of Visions and other works. Traditional justice fits in with the constrained vision of human nature; revolutionary justice fits in with unconstrained visions. Individualism is an attempt to steer clear of the Scylla and Charybdis these two forms of justice present. My philosophy, anyway, owing in no small part to the work of Adam Smith, Herbert Spencer, Carl Menger and F. A. Hayek, is an evolutionary justice.

The job of the individualist is to take the insight of liberalism, about applying a few rules up and down society’s institutional matrix, consistently and seriously to all individuals even within the institutions normally associated with the State. This project is by no means alien to the basic notions of traditionally evolved justice. But it does not stop by merely restating the past. And it can only proceed if certain ancient tribal attitudes about loyalty and sovereignty are either discarded or completely recast.

And, more importantly, it does not commit the huge error of trying to remake the whole world, especially in the impossible endeavor of balancing out for the inequalities and unfairnesses of the fate or chance we see at work in the natural world. The evolutionary revision of justice is a limited conception of justice. It makes it out as only one virtue among many. And it is mainly attuned to the practice of coercion. Not to redressing the imagined imperfections of nature.

Leftists, on the other hand, are embedded in a culture that rests entirely upon recreating man in a new image, of fair play writ cosmic and carried out microscopic. They see oppression even in the merest accommodations to nature or to others’ demonstrated preferences.

They are fools, almost to a person.

We do not have much to learn from them, other than to see how recalcitrant human moral imagination can be, how reluctant it is to settle for a moderating liberty.

Now I suspect the average libertarian hears or reads words like those from the PTforPeace statement quoted above, and swiftly conjures up a mental picture of a person who is likely to utter them — a strident, self-righteous lefty, equally likely to have wretchedly statist views on all sorts of issues. But even supposing this stereotype is an accurate portrait, what of it? The inference is sheer ad hominem. And if libertarians can recognise valuable insights when they find them in the work of John Calhoun — a brilliant man, but an apologist for, ahem, slavery — inviting them to be equally open to insights from self-righteous lefties doesn’t seem too much to ask.

I have had little trouble learning from anyone, in the past. I have learned from Jeremy Bentham, Henry Sidgwick, Virginia Woolf, Iris Murdoch and Gore Vidal. C.S. Lewis, James Branch Cabell, Lucian of Samosata, Epicurus and Ortega y Gasset. But what I learn from true leftists? Mainly from their many mistakes.

The ways that leftists talk about oppression are almost wholly counter-productive to freedom, to true liberation. Their current obsession, often dubbed by critics as an “Oppression Olympics,” is a vile victimhood cult, a slave morality, a revival of Christianity without the leavening lump of a distant and humbling deity.

Where leftists are, there be dragons.

They have left reality in their vain imaginings, and wander in the mythic realm of Terra Incognita.

twv

Wyvern

 

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


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

Ceteris paribus, women are heavily incentivized to both

  • be seen as attractive and 
  • be highly selective about mates. 

So most women work very hard to look good for the male gaze, and then work very hard to rebuff most male gazes.

Modern mores acculturates us to pretend that this does not lead to any cognitive dissonance, logical oddity, or moral antinomy. The denial of anything problematic here is a main dogma of our time.

Note that male sexual selection standards are very different from female, and that cultural latitude to typical male gambits is somewhat more circumscribed. It is also part of the game of pretense to proclaim male sexual selection behavior as typically receiving much more lax cultural control, the better to further the imbalance between women’s and men’s cultural freedom and moral support. 

I am not saying that any of this is wrong, or lacking in social utility. Many of the double standards now in play are there for at least two good reasons:

  • In the past, to bolster the family, and thus the survival of the human species;
  • Today, to equalize against the bias (the systemic inequality) that nature has placed upon us.*

And yes, both “patriarchal” traditionalism and modern feminism over-compensate against male sexual programming to protect women, making for radically unequal-before-the-law political and cultural structures. This is one of the paradoxes of egalitarianism. The victims of such a system are generally, both in the past and today — ah, the eternal verities! — to be found in the “loser” class of . . . young men. 

All of this is “problematic,” as we all witlessly say, these days. Amusingly, even to discuss this perspective — an evolutionary perspective — is to break several modern taboos.

So why bring it up? Because it is the truth, and it allows us to identify tensions within not only past systems — their “contradictions” — but also with present politics, law, and culture.

But mostly, I confess, for the human comedy. I reserve the right not merely to try to understand sexual dynamics as it relates to social structure** and function, but also to laugh at those who refuse to understand. And at those who mindlessly repeat the stock behaviors of tradition as well as of the modish present. Mechanically repeating established patterns while pretending to full freedom of will is funny.

twv

* It remains to be seen whether the modern focus on revolutionary justice (as opposed to traditional or evolutionary conceptions) will lead to the survival of the human species or not. Its unfitness for maintaining population growth or even stasis has been well demonstrated in modern demographic movements.

** This has been a “gender-free” sketch of the sociology of sex. You are welcome.

The classical liberal view of the ideal state — especially in its “nightwatchman state” version — is that of an umpire. Definitely not “the boss.”

But this idea has long been honored mainly in the breach.

Courtesy of Cato, I learn of the work of historian Elizabeth Cobbs:

How has the view of the United States as an “umpire” served U.S. foreign policy? Elizabeth Cobbs is author of American Umpire.

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Contra this interesting scholar, I would say that our federal government ceased being primarily an umpire, domestically, long ago.

She is probably right that the U.S. characterizes itself as an umpire in its foreign policy aspect. But, if umpire it be, it is an amazingly crazed and brutal one, unpredictable other than in its strong tendency to bomb countries going through political troubles.

Hardly “umpirial”! The U. S. would be kicked out of any respectable referees’ union.

And the only way the U. S. has maintained a putative umpire status abroad has been to reduce that function at home. The umpire-like qualities of limited, constitutional government — of a republic — have long been deprecated by dirigiste ideology and progressive/conservative politics. In its place, instead of a rule of law, we have developed a regulatory state dominated by bureaucracies in the executive branch and plutocracy in the elected sphere.

America, an empire at home; a crazed, wannabe umpire abroad.

Call me an anti-umpirialist, then!

The better to support a more limited, referee status at home. War, after all, is not the health of the nightwatchman state.

twv

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