Archives for category: Political Theory

Reading today’s press and watching the news and news talk shows is very much like “going to church”: there is never any doubt about how to feel about anything said, for what we hear is never just the facts, the stories. Always there is a moral or attitude attached. The preachers take special pains always to communicate this clearly, for otherwise the flock shall stray.

img_5132What I’m saying is, the press’s function is almost identical to the Church’s in days of yore, and it is inhabited largely by the same kind of people, though surely not identical in substantive moral content.

Today’s Church worships the American State as understood by the two major denominations: the Center-Left — which has been compromised by having fallen under full sway of the ambitious and cultic Progressive Left — and the rebellious Protestant sects — I mean, the Center-Right — with Fox being the still-dominant force.

To understand this era’s politico-culture war think in terms of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, a bloody and inglorious affair, despite so much earnestness all around.

fingerpointingIt makes me yearn for the wall of separation between news and state. Though we do not have an Established News, we do very much have Establishment News, with newspeople circulating to and from the State in regular four-year cycles.

And that Establishment really, really hates the rising Dissenting Sects, who have taken Fox’s lukewarm Protestantism to Anabaptist extremes.

Historically, the Reformation led to the Enlightenment and modernity as we know it. One would hope that something of that nature is building up again, and that out of the current crisis of legitimacy and sectarian strife a new order will emerge.

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3 Great Errors

It is not a common term, this “agnarchism.”

Do a Google search: most hits come back to me and mine. As I have readily admitted before, it is not my coinage, but it was coined for me. Way back in Liberty magazine days, I would often explicate my basic take on political philosophy: I am more confident of the direction we should go than how far.

I hold that, human nature being neither infinitely malleable nor absolutely adamantine, we cannot know where, exactly, the possibility boundary of social action and policy lies the further we are from instantiations of any given imagined possibility. We must withhold judgment, at least admit a high degree of fallibility about the ideal legal-political realm. Especially if we accept as given that current taboo boundaries enable so much exploitation, misery, confusion, and needless death.

But my agnosticism in ideology is a bit more precise, as well as extreme. I am pretty confident that moral reasoning does not readily justify a State. That is philosophical anarchism. But I am much less confident that moral reasoning is perfectly matched to human nature. I suspect there may be something like an Incompleteness Theorem in the ethical domain. I fully accept that social morality rests upon notions of universalizability and reciprocity — but I am not certain that human beings can, in fact, establish and maintain a workable advanced society solely on the basis of the social statics of universal laws and reciprocal habits of action.

IMG_1239Human beings are primates. We share a lot with other primates. And these similarities are not limited just to violent chimp and peaceful bonobo and hierarchical gorilla. There is some individualistic orangutan in us, too. And, alas, no small amount of baboon.

The human acceptance of hierarchy seems more than adaptable to coercive orders. Indeed, I see a lot of evidence that most humans demand coercion and readily supply coercion. Force is a heady tool, quite addictive. Can man curb the habit not cold turkey but limit it to defense and retaliation?

I do not know.

Which makes me not an anarchist (which is what I confess I would like to be) or panarchist (which is what I am on alternative weekdays), but an agnostic-about-the-state. I do not believe that the State is moral. I just doubt that morality is all it is cracked up to be. The State may be inevitable, an ugly, hateful necessity.

And I have held this position explicitly for more than three decades. Traces of my philosophy can be found in the first twelve volumes of Liberty. But I never really wrote it out in full.

Which brings me to Jan Lester, author of Escape from Leviathan (2000), an excellent and challenging treatise as well as an eminently accessible essay, “The Three Great Errors of Most Libertarians” (2013). I am happy to report that I do not make all three of the errors he identifies. But perhaps I do make one or two. Over the next few weeks, I aim to consider Lester’s “new paradigm” for libertarianism. And I will, if I manage to follow through, report on my explorations here, at discriminations.info.

At top, notice Lester’s list of errors, which I have, with some effrontery, perhaps, put in imperative form: J. C. Lester’s Three Commandments for Libertarians. In his original form they are

  1. The error of seeking a foundation or justification
  2. The error of taking sides between deontologism and consequentialism, etc.
  3. The error of having no explicit, necessary, and sufficient theory of liberty

And, to prove that “most libertarians” make these errors, just ask philosophically minded libertarians what they think of this list. I bet most would indeed be shocked by at least one of them, perhaps two or all three.

But wait: I have already made an error!

You see, we cannot prove anything, says Lester. Nothing can be “supported”; there can be no “justification.” All we can do is offer conjectures and respond to criticism.

As you may guess, Lester is a critical rationalist. And by that he means he follows in the tradition of Karl “Conjectures and Refutations” Popper, as elaborated by Imre Lakatos, W. W. Bartley III, and others.

Or maybe that would be Karl “Objective Knowledge” Popper. Or Karl “Realism and the Aim of Science” Popper. Could it be Karl “The Poverty of Historicism” Popper?

But before I draw out some not-very-funny joke about intension and extension and book titles, I will simply confess: I do not really disagree much with critical rationalism, though I come at it from the critical commonsensism of C. S. Pierce and his pragmatics of meaning. What separates me from this philosophy is language, word choice. J. C. Lester insists that words like “proof” and “support” and “justification” have no place in legitimate epistemology (not to mention epistemics). And I see his point about the use of the first of those words, for I still hold (if without much enthusiasm) to a variant of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy, and agree that matters of existence map orthogonally from a logical plane. Logic relates to the realm of essences. It does not provide us truth so much as validity. Logic may track the truth of concepts in the purely conceptual realm, but not existents in the external world.

Or something like that. I could be wrong.

To me, though, good indications of the truth about the world constitute “support.” A preponderance of the evidence “justifies” belief. I am not too disturbed by this sort of word usage. More importantly, I strongly suspect that matters of normativity hold to distinct operations and principles of their own (Bentham coined the term “logic of imperation” to handle this aspect of everyday “reality”), and that justifying a norm and justifying an act and justifying a belief are three distinct things.

So, Lester’s first challenge is something I will have to think about. I may be expressing confusion, here. It is late . . . in the morning . . . (why am I not asleep yet — it is nearly seven antemeridian!) . . . and it has been years since I have read what little I have tried of Popper, or what I have read of Peirce, and all the rest. I have been struggling with Meinong recently, and my struggle has not yet ended.

Miles to go before I sleep.

As I will explore in other entries, I am generally in agreement on Lester’s second contention, and in general approach (if not content) regarding his third. Amusingly, Lester calls himself an anarchist. He seems confident of that, though his method seems so fallibilist I am just no sure why he does not identify, with me, under the agnarchist label.

As I go through Escape from Leviathan, and as I edit a video conversation I had with him and Lee Waaks on Sunday, I hope to “live blog” the Lesterian paradigm in this venue for some time to come.

And I will place the videos here, as I put them into final form. We talked, the three of us, for over two hours.

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escapefromleviathan

What’s the difference between classical liberalism, anarchism, and libertarianism?

answered on Quora:

Most of the answers given [on Quora] so far concentrate on the terms liberalism and libertarianism. I discuss these two terms, and the two main varieties of anarchism, too, on a blog post I recently wrote: “Grand Theft L-Word.”

IMG_2863So I will summarize: Classical liberalism is today’s term for 18th and 19th century liberalism. Most scholarly people, and most who all themselves libertarians, understand this. But many people today, perhaps not so well read, think “classical liberalism” is FDR’s ideology. This is an error. But carelessness and ignorance are the leading causes of lexical drift, so maybe that will become an accepted truth some day. But, as of now, the truth is, “liberal” was taken away from individualists by collectivists, and the remnant started using the designator “libertarian.” It, however, had already been taken up by anarchists of a variety of stripes, so things get complicated.

IMG_4661Anarchism is the term for a variety of anti-statist philosophies all of which oppose political governance through The State. But those on the ideological Left think that the reason to oppose the State is because it props up private property and trade, and does so with its laws and institutions. But individualist anarchists opposed the State because they see monopoly political governance as a chief opponent of private property, and a perverter of trade — and they want a rule of law, and think such a thing can emerge without the institutions of defense and adjudication to claim or practice any kind of territorial sovereignty. Individualist anarchists insist that all alliances among individuals and institutions be built on explicit contract, not fake “social contracts” that are nothing more than the result of bluster, duress.

The modern terms for individualist anarchism are “anarcho-capitalism” and (more confusingly) “libertarian anarchism.”

None of these terms are incontestible. It is worth noting that the first coherent exponent of the individualist anarchist position, Gustave de Molinari, a Belgian economist of the French Harmony School, never referred to his system of “competitive government” (see “The Production of Security,” 1849) as anarchistic. He considered himself a liberal, and argued extensively with socialists of all varieties, including those many incoherent advocates of “anarchism.” A better term for the Molinarian proposal was devised late in the century: panarchism. But it has never caught on.

img_4664In the late 19th century, many of the more radical classical liberals had abandoned Liberalism for “individualism.” See the writings of Auberon Herbert (who coined a term for his variant, “voluntaryism”), J. H. Levy, and Wordsworth Donisthorpe. A mere generation later H. L. Mencken used that term to defend a simple market-based republicanism in Men versus the Man. More radical forms of individualism were revived by Albert Jay Nock, Isabel Paterson, Rose Wilder Lane, and Ayn Rand in the decades after, and at mid-century this group in America took “libertarian” from the anarchists. And then these anarchists manqué reinvented the Molinarian idea, and things got even more confusing.

In the 1960s, a simple newsletter called Innovator had begun its life as Liberal Innovator. Other samizdat journals abounded in this decade, and by 1972, the Libertarian Party had been formed by Ayn Rand fans who had given up on Nixon’s heavily statist Republican administration.

The Libertarian Party has always harbored both so-called anarchists and “minarchists” — advocates of a strictly limited minimal (“nightwatchman”) state — and, increasingly in recent years, hordes of vague “constitutional republicans.”

Amidst this confusion, I sometimes clarify by recalling an 1830s political movement, Loco-Focoism. Since I am agnostic about the ultimate legal and political status of an ideal free society, I often call myself a “LocoFoco agnarchist,” the latter term a droll coinage of an erstwhile colleague of mine, the Reason writer Jesse Walker.

“Neoliberalism,” an ugly term for libertarianism, classical liberalism, or just pro-market conservatism and globalism, is a pejorative often used by Europeans and leftists. I know of no libertarian who can stand the term. The fact that it is used by witless leftists of the Naomi Klein variety helps explain that.

It is worth noting that Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce coined a simpler term for the anti-fascist, anti-statist liberal revival: liberism.

It has not yet caught on. It seems that Croce was not a supporter of laissez-faire, though, so the propriety of appropriating it for modern individualist liberalism is open to question.

And now you should be able to see the rationale for my preferred term for all these terms for private property, rule of law, free trade individualists: “individualist liberalism.”

It hasn’t exactly caught on either.

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“Grooming gangs” is the term that is now used to designate the pattern of organized capture and forced prostitution of girls. White girls. In Britain, anyway.

In the news, the perpetrators are identified as “Asians” — but race does not seem quite right. Which is what Tommy Robinson is most exercised about in his recent video for Rebel Media:

The sex enslavement biz itself used to be called “white slavery,” and led to the 1910 passage of the Mann Act in America, much fueled by anti-Chinese sentiment. Not “Asian,” not “Muslim” (which wasn’t even on the political radar a century ago). The effect of the Mann Act, however, was largely to prosecute American black men, often high profile, especially those with white girlfriends. The evidence for Chinese-American “white slavery” is slim.

Most historians judge it a “moral panic.”

The term “white slavery” itself interests me, and not just because Tommy Robinson, in this video, doesn’t use it. It was a way of addressing sex crimes without using terms that might offend Mrs. Grundy. It was also a way of playing off the night mind of Americans, who had, the generation before, abolished slavery, which was linked to anti-black racism. “White slavery” is thus the tables turned.

It does not take a Freud, a Jung, or an Adler to see why the panic might have set in.

Now, though, today, the “white slavery” issue has come full circle, so to speak. And not in America. For there is a wider historical context. There was indeed a widespread pattern of “white slavery.” Real. Extensive. “Systemic.”

Remember “the corsairs of the Barbary Coast”?

Muslim states, or gangs (in olden times the distinction’s a little iffy) in North Africa — in cahoots with the Ottoman Empire — enslaved Europeans for centuries up until the administration of Thomas Jefferson, who would have none of it. Taking to the seas as pirates, they captured Europeans and then Americans traveling on the high seas, holding them for ransom, when possible, selling into slavery, when necessary. But they also raided European shores to kill resisters and capture women and children and the wealthy, hauling their captives off to Africa as slaves.

This started before slavery was established by the English in America, by the way. And it might best be seen as part of the long war between Islam and the non-Muslim Everywhere Else, which began soon after Islam’s original expansion.

The raiding parties scoured the shores of France and Spain, and even England and Ireland and the Netherlands and (get this) Iceland. Yes, Iceland.

This was so devastating that for a long time the French abandoned their towns along the Mediterranean shores.

IMG_2863The piracy on the open seas was, oddly, the reason for the Barbary Pirates’ undoing. Congress under President John Adams had paid ransoms to the pirates, but President Jefferson was not on board. He authorized (quite unconstitutionally, I think) the attack upon the “shores of Tripoli.” (The pirates’ nests were primarily in Salé, Rabat, Algiers, and Tunis.) The attack was astoundingly successful.

Tommy Robinson, in the linked video (above), links the rise in sex slavery gangs not to race — brown people against white people — but to religion . . . Islam teaching that the infidels may be killed or enslaved with impunity. Only by conversion to Islam could an infidel escape subservience of some sort, even slavery — and worse. And here is where it gets interesting. During the Barbary Pirates’ heyday, many captive Europeans converted. Many of the leaders in North Africa had remarkably light skin.

So it really isn’t about racism. Or, race is tangential to what was really going on. Muslims enthusiastically practiced slavery. Under Islam, black Africans to the south and white Europeans to the north were attacked and enslaved and traded and extorted — and funneled east. The Ottoman Empire was the hub of this market. Christian slaves were much prized.

American slavery was birthed, in part, by the Muslim slave trade. Where did all those slaves come from? It wasn’t Europeans raiding Africa. It was Europeans buying black Africans off of Muslim slave traders, in no small part. Muslims began large-scale buying and selling of African slaves six centuries before Europeans entered the odious business. And it was Muslims who continued to do so 100 years after.

Now it is “grooming gangs” that we have to worry about. Well, Brits do.

But the issue is not without controversy. For many obvious reasons.

And it might be worth Mr. Robinson’s time and attention to address the national culture issue. As far as I can tell, it is Pakistsnis who have been the main perps in the sex slavery biz. Also, it is worth addressing the thorny issue of consent: how many of these girls are enticed into prostitution? What is the interplay between threat and enticement?

Inquiring minds want to know.

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img_2320This morning I disengaged from the closed-but-unmoderated Libertarian Facebook group that my friend James Littleton Gill has promoted in the past. Why? It mostly consisted of posts about how libertarians are racist and really like or approve of Nazis. Yikes.

Apparently, if you set the cost of joining a group at FREE, and don’t vet anything, then, why, your enemies will ruin it!

Wow. Who would have thought!

It is almost as if private property and the legitimate threat of expulsion serve a function. In a free society. Read the rest of this entry »

Jurgen by Cabell

Chapter 34, in which our hero learns
the true nature of torture in hell:

Now the tale tells how the devils of Hell were in one of their churches celebrating Christmas in such manner as the devils observe that day; and how Jurgen came through the trapdoor in the vestry-room; and how he saw and wondered over the creatures which inhabited this place. For to him after the Christmas services came all such devils as his fathers had foretold, and in not a hair or scale or talon did they differ from the worst that anybody had been able to imagine.

“Anatomy is hereabouts even more inconsequent than in Cocaigne,” was Jurgen’s first reflection. But the first thing the devils did was to search Jurgen very carefully, in order to make sure he was not bringing any water into Hell.

“Now, who may you be, that come to us alive, in a fine shirt of which we never saw the like before?” asked Dithican. He had the head of a tiger, but otherwise the appearance of a large bird, with shining feathers and four feet: his neck was yellow, his body green, and his feet black.

“It would not be treating honestly with you to deny that I am the Emperor of Noumaria,” said Jurgen, somewhat advancing his estate.

Now spoke Amaimon, in the form of a thick suet-colored worm going upright upon his tail, which shone like the tail of a glowworm. He had no feet, but under his chops were two short hands, and upon his back were bristles such as grow upon hedgehogs.

“But we are rather overrun with emperors,” said Amaimon, doubtfully, “and their crimes are a great trouble to us. Were you a very wicked ruler?”

“Never since I became an emperor,” replied Jurgen, “has any of my subjects uttered one word of complaint against me. So it stands to reason I have nothing very serious with which to reproach myself.”

“Your conscience, then, does not demand that you be punished?”

“My conscience, gentlemen, is too well-bred to insist on anything.”

“You do not even wish to be tortured?”

“Well, I admit I had expected something of the sort. But none the less, I will not make a point of it,” said Jurgen, handsomely. “No, I shall be quite satisfied even though you do not torture me at all.”

And then the mob of devils made a great to-do over Jurgen.

“For it is exceedingly good to have at least one unpretentious and undictatorial human being in Hell. Nobody as a rule drops in on us save inordinately proud and conscientious ghosts, whose self-conceit is intolerable, and whose demands are outrageous.”

“How can that be?”

“Why, we have to punish them. Of course they are not properly punished until they are convinced that what is happening to them is just and adequate. And you have no notion what elaborate tortures they insist their exceeding wickedness has merited, as though that which they did or left undone could possibly matter to anybody. And to contrive these torments quite tires us out.”

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The artwork featured here are details from that produced by Virgil Burnett for the Limited Editions Club edition of Jurgen, 1976. The female figure is of the vampire Florimel, who was created from the mind of Jurgen’s father, Coth, as fit punishment for his own sins. She is featured in the chapters on hell as one of Jurgen’s two romantic dalliances, the other being the wife of Grandfather Satan.

Chapter 39, in which our hero laments the
affection shown to him by his demon lover:

“It is my title she loves, not me,” reflected Jurgen, sadly, “and her affection is less for that which is really integral to me than for imperial orbs and sceptres and such-like external trappings.”

And Jurgen would come out of Florimel’s cleft considerably dejected, and would sit alone by the Sea of Blood, and would meditate how inequitable it was that the mere title of emperor should thus shut him off from sincerity and candor.

“We who are called kings and emperors are men like other men: we are as rightly entitled as other persons to the solace of true love and affection: instead, we live in a continuous isolation, and women offer us all things save their hearts, and we are a lonely folk. No, I cannot believe that Florimel loves me for myself alone: it is my title which dazzles her. And I would that I had never made myself the emperor of Noumaria: for this emperor goes about everywhere in a fabulous splendor, and is, very naturally, resistless in his semi-mythical magnificence. Ah, but these imperial gewgaws distract the thoughts of Florimel from the real Jurgen; so that the real Jurgen is a person whom she does not understand at all. And it is not fair.”

Then, too, he had a sort of prejudice against the way in which Florimel spent her time in seducing and murdering young men. It was not possible, of course, actually to blame the girl, since she was the victim of circumstances, and had no choice about becoming a vampire, once the cat had jumped over her coffin. . . .

Chapter 39, in which our hero continues his
search for justice (and his missing wife):

“It is a comfort, at any rate,” said Jurgen, “to discover who originated the theory of democratic government. I have long wondered who started the notion that the way to get a wise decision on any conceivable question was to submit it to a popular vote. Now I know. Well, and the devils may be right in their doctrines; certainly I cannot go so far as to say they are wrong: but still, at the same time—!”

For instance, this interminable effort to make the universe safe for democracy, this continual warring against Heaven because Heaven clung to a tyrannical form of autocratic government, sounded both logical and magnanimous, and was, of course, the only method of insuring any general triumph for democracy: yet it seemed rather futile to Jurgen, since, as he knew now, there was certainly something in the Celestial system which made for military efficiency, so that Heaven usually won. Moreover, Jurgen could not get over the fact that Hell was just a notion of his ancestors with which Koshchei had happened to fall in: for Jurgen had never much patience with antiquated ideas, particularly when anyone put them into practice, as Koshchei had done.

“Why, this place appears to me a glaring anachronism,” said Jurgen, brooding over the fires of Chorasma: “and its methods of tormenting conscientious people I cannot but consider very crude indeed. The devils are simple-minded and they mean well, as nobody would dream of denying, but that is just it: for hereabouts is needed some more pertinacious and efficiently disagreeable person—”
And that, of course, reminded him of Dame Lisa: and so it was the thoughts of Jurgen turned again to doing the manly thing. And he sighed, and went among the devils tentatively looking and inquiring for that intrepid fiend who in the form of a black gentleman had carried off Dame Lisa. But a queer happening befell, and it was that nowhere could Jurgen find the black gentleman, nor did any of the devils know anything about him.

“From what you tell us, Emperor Jurgen,” said they all, “your wife was an acidulous shrew, and the sort of woman who believes that whatever she does is right.”

“It was not a belief,“ says Jurgen: “it was a mania with the poor dear.”

“By that fact, then, she is forever debarred from entering Hell.”

“You tell me news,” says Jurgen, “which if generally known would lead many husbands into vicious living.”

“But it is notorious that people are saved by faith. And there is no faith stronger than that of a bad-tempered woman in her own infallibility. Plainly, this wife of yours is the sort of person who cannot be tolerated by anybody short of the angels. We deduce that your Empress must be in Heaven.”

“Well, that sounds reasonable. And so to Heaven I will go, and it may be that there I shall find justice.”

“We would have you know,” the fiends cried, bristling, “that in Hell we have all kinds of justice, since our government is an enlightened democracy.”

“Just so,” says Jurgen: “in an enlightened democracy one has all kinds of justice, and I would not dream of denying it. But you have not, you conceive, that lesser plague, my wife; and it is she whom I must continue to look for.”

“Oh, as you like,” said they, “so long as you do not criticize the exigencies of war-time. But certainly we are sorry to see you going into a country where the benighted people put up with an autocrat Who was not duly elected to His position. And why need you continue seeking your wife’s society when it is so much pleasanter living in Hell?”

And Jurgen shrugged. “One has to do the manly thing sometimes.”

from Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice, James Branch Cabell

Screenshot 2017-07-19 18.19.24

The “Elio” seemed so promising. Named for Paul Elio, the Dreamer-in-Chief, the three-wheel concept is beguiling; the design, elegant. But the dream may be over.

Elio Motors was funded largely by advance reservations, a risky scheme in itself. And the delivery date for the three-wheeled totally-enclosed “cars” has been postponed several times, ultimate production delivery nowhere in sight.

As of January, the company was over a hundred million in the red, with no firm date for the production units, and nothing but a few test vehicles delivered, according to Jalopnik. Cedric Glover, the mayor of Shreveport, Louisiana, where the factory resides, insists that early consumer-investors are “waiting for nothing”:

If you look at Paul Elio from 2009, certainly by the time you get to 2011 and 2012, it’s clear that what he is in fact is a dreamer and a schemer. It leads one to ask, what was the actual motivation behind committing these facilities, this equipment to Paul Elio and the Elio operation.

Easy to answer: hope. Though I suppose it could have been a scheme, a fraud, from the beginning.

Trouble is, it is the nature of start-ups that the difference, on paper, between a fraud and a hopeful long shot is a mere hair’s width . . . right up until the moment of success — or failure. This is one reason why government regulation of start-ups is such a bad idea. It should be up to entrepreneurs, bankers and investors to provide the desired checks and balances.

But the story has not stood still. Government demands obeisance. According to KSLA News 12, dateline Jefferson Parish, Louisiana’s “Motor Vehicle Commission is accusing Elio Motors of operating as a manufacturer/dealer of recreational products without a license.”

First I heard of a license, and I’ve been following the story for some time. I wonder when Mr. Elio heard about that license.

The panel decided during a hearing Monday in Metairie to fine Elio Motors $545,000 for offering reservations for the future purchase of its 3-wheel vehicles.

The commission also ordered Elio Motors to obtain both licenses to manufacture and deal in Louisiana and to place all refundable Elio Motors reservations into a trust account within 60 days.

This is awfully late in the game to try to secure some exit strategy for investors. Indeed, the whole thing looks more like a simple shake-down, or perhaps a pretense to prosecute for fraud. That is, government-as-usual.

I sniff something more, though: the influence of competitor greed. As the company made in its statement informing of an appeal to the recent ruling, it makes no sense now to grab funds from the production process. It is sure to doom the whole project. Which I would not be shocked to learn is precisely what a lot of other businesses want.

Which would not be unheard of.

This is how it works, folks: licensing and registration is instituted to help current businesses keep out upstarts.

Par for the course for mercantilism, protectionism, progressivism or whatever we call the modern corporate state. The sanctimonious tone to the mayor’s cavils, calling the company founder a “dreamer and a schemer,” is a little hard to take. Where does the mayor think new products come from? Other mayors? They come from dreamers, schemers, wheeler-dealers.

I understand — there was a goofy odor to the whole emprise from the start. Though excited about the concept, I wondered at the initial promised purchase price, less than half of what the in-production Polaris Slingshot (see  below) goes for. Further, funding by consumer investment (pre-order reservation charges) is so . . . “not done” . . . except that it is: GoFundMe and Kickstarter and all those other crowd-funding operations have proven how well this sort of endeavor can go. Perhaps the fact that Elio didn’t use one of those hubs suggests the fatal glitch.

It is worth noting that automobile guru Eric Peters suggested last year another problem besetting the Elio: it is not an “electric car,” so it got very little play in the news. There is indeed a cultural conspiracy (that is, no real conspiracy at all; just groupthink) to snub innovations in internal combustion tech while promoting even goofier (and much-subsidized) “alt-fuel” auto technology.

Had the major media not fixed its collectivist head so firmly up its collective colon, perhaps Paul Elio would not be in his current predicament. And maybe, just maybe, we would be seeing the Elio on the roads by now.

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Polaris-Slingshot

The debate over whether “capitalism” should be used by libertarians and other supporters of free markets waxes rather than wanes. Last week,* Sheldon Richman published “Is Capitalism Something Good?” on Freeman Online. And I can see why Stephan Kinsella calls this an “extremely frustrating” debate. We never get very far.

My favorite of Richman’s points is lexical:

At the semantic level, capitalism is an unfortunate word when applied to the free market. It suggests a privileged status for capital over other factors of production, which is not the case in a free market. A capitalist is not a believer in capitalism but rather an owner of capital. One can be a socialist capitalist, that is, one who owns capital while favoring a system called socialism.

In my younger days of argumentation, people would sometimes accuse me of being a capitalist. Well, in those younger days I was broke. I had no savings. I had nothing to invest, and invested in nothing but my own mind. So I would correct them: “Hey, I’m near the poverty line. No enjoy-capitalismcapitalists down here! Besides, I support laissez-faire because it regulates businesses: It enforces a rule of law that disallows businesses from demanding I pay for their goods if I don’t want their goods, or pay more than I would under competition, which laissez faire also enforces. I am not a capitalist, because I insist that we keep capitalists in their place.”

This is the basic truth about the word: A “capitalist” was first known not as a defender of any system, but as one who had money to invest, or investments that returned money. It is logically odd, then, to use the word “capitalism” to identify a system whose supporters  could very well be not capitalists!

I’m not quite in the same place as I was in those days, and don’t take that rhetorical tack as often. I have a long history of being leery of the word. I cannot remember Herbert Spencer, whose general approach I admire, making a pitch for “capitalism” as a system. (His witty acquaintance Henry Makepeace Thackeray first used that term in this fashion. He was no anti-capitalist, but he was an ironist, and I won’t wager on what the precise meaning of his intent.) But Ayn Rand, notoriously, did. She published a book under her name entitled Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. When Spencer and Rand appear at odds, I long ago learned to side with Spencer.

But there are some things to be said in favor of “capitalism.” For one, it is known. It is less cumbersome than, say, “free enterprise,” a phrase that traditionalists conservatives have abused for years, as a synonym for the Main Street variety of crony capitalism.

I recently argued** for an open, inclusive use of the term capitalism. Capitalism describes any system with private means of production and a labor market. Existing forms of capitalism are, in most every case, dirigistic — that is, subject to multiple and dominating government controls. But the less government direct, micromanaging control you have, and the more the whole system rests upon a rule of law, the more it exhibits the libertarian ideal of laissez faire. Yes, another French term . . . but it’s a lot better known than dirigisme.

The sad truth of the situation is that dirigisme is the letter and spirit of modern law far more than laissez faire is.

So we can continue to use the term “capitalism” as long as we are clear about its modifier, dirigistic or laissez-faire.

However, let’s be frank: All terms have been contested and are therefore contestable. Every term has its problems of connotation as well denotation. “Laissez Faire” suffered under Herbert Spencer’s able attack as “That Miserable Laissez Faire.” We all know what’s happened to “liberalism.” And “Libertarianism” has been caught in a tug-of-war between, uh, pro-capitalists and anti-capitalists for a long time.

Such it is in ideological debate — and yes, every one of us who espouses some policy or some regime or another is an ideologue. None of us are above that (despite Marx’s attempt to squelch the term low in the echelon of epistemics).

For the same reason, we must use the words in circulation, no matter how tainted they may be. We have only a limited ability to influence their meaning. The meanings are “out there,” in the realm of intersubjectivity, if not objectivity, where truth is said to reside.

So, the term “capitalism” is not one that I’d fight much over. “Liberal,” on the other hand, is a great term to defend. I like to call modern so-called liberals by a much more apt term: Prodigal.

But most people don’t know what that means, either. And that’s mainly because most people are sloppy users of language who can write whole sermons on a contested word without once looking it up.

A prodigal is someone who spends too much, too extravagantly. Prodigality is the excess of which “liberality” is the virtue. Which fits an observation of Leonard Read’s from about the time I was born: A liberal, today, is liberal only in the sense that he’s liberal in spending other people’s money. Similarly, a progressive, today, notoriously believes in no form of progress other than the growth of the state.

It’s the prodigal advocates of dirigisme that we must oppose, today. I’m not sure giving them the word capitalism is the way to wrest victory from their rapacious desire to take, take, take from the liberalism of yore.

In fact, there’s not much I’d give them. Not even their pretense to good intentions.

But, if we do end up defending the word “capitalism” now and then, let’s not univocally ever defend capitalists, as such. Not any more than we defend wage laborers or entrepreneurs or professionals. Any person from any group, no matter how good, can stray to the point of demanding special favors from governments, bailouts and subsidies and the like. Besides, I’ve known a number of asshole capitalists, not a few who did not bother placing themselves above the practice of petty fraud as modus operandi. Shun them, even if (insofar as they cannot be caught in their frauds) one grants them their rights to trade and, in general, live their asshole lives.

Now that I think of it, one could generally hate capitalists, but love the system.*** Laissez faire is a form of regulation, a check upon business power. The rule of law, in which rights to liberty receive general protection, is an amazing defense against rapaciousness. Indeed, that’s probably the reason why most people oppose it. They want to act rapaciously while pretending to act nobly.

Ah, anti-capitalist capitalism! Not, I gather, a great motive force for progress or political reform or revolution. But there’s a t-shirt slogan in there somewhere.

twv

* This article first appeared on The Libertarian Standard on April 20, 2010. A very few words have been changed or elided in this reprint, and one new link placed.

** This “recent” argument was reprinted yesterday at this location.

*** The sheer number of possibile takes on “capitalism” is the result of a general confusion over the meaning of the word, Daniel Kian Mc Kiernan explained a year after I wrote the above. I will have to address his points in a future essay. One of the reasons to unearth and repost these blog entries is to provide an excuse to consider Mc Kiernan’s perspective.

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

The origin of a thing or practice does not always and obviously provide strong clues to the reason for its growth and then for its survival. Theories of ethics, for example, are littered with monocausal accounts of “the foundations of ethics” that fail to separate the various distinct causes and levels of operation.

Take that very institution (or human endeavor, or practice) we call “ethics” or “morality” — consisting of rules, ideals, norms, and reasonings and rationales for action. Its origin may be seen in the simple need to influence human behavior, of self and others. Think of the body of ethical precepts as a toolkit. But the reasons why one ethical system flourishes and others wilt may have surprisingly little to do with the aim of the moralizers who cook up, repeat, and transmit their normative notions. And those reasons may not be the same as their explicit justification.

These distinctions can often only be seen as we pass through time, as various stages of the social life of the memes become evident. (Maybe we should speak of the ordinal, not cardinal, virtues!)

IMG_3224Similarly, the first people to adopt a belief, habit or good are very different in nature from later adopters. The distinction between early-, mid- and late-term adopters is of huge importance for understanding fashion and other consumer behavior, as well as ideologies. Businesses that do not figure in these different consumer bases will suffer. Critics who do not understand this will find themselves irrelevant. Voters find themselves . . . stuck with bad candidates and poor policies.

On a macro level, this trend in consumption allows the masses to benefit from investments that they themselves would never make, nor would ever, alone, entice from capitalists. Only the strong preferences and spending of early adopters allow the success of many goods that later circulate to everybody. In effect, late adopters and skinflints are “subsidized” by the early adopters and the prodigal.

This element of capitalist development is integral to fulfilling one of its defining functions, mass production for the masses. Attempts to “rationalize” the economy in a social engineering way often assume an egalitarian customer base, and thus start with the lower rungs of development kicked away from the ladder of progress.

“Price discrimination,” particularly what amounts to  intertemporal price discrimination (what is the exact technical term? I wonder — separate time-frame equilibria?), is key to the functioning of markets.

Many class resentments and tensions come from a lack of acceptance about this diversity in human judgment and consumer function.

And much confusion results from mixing up the nature of the origins, the persistence, and the expressed and unexpressed rationales for any human practice or institution.

twv

Illustration courtesy James Littleton Gill, My Monster Problem — and Ours

The problems here addressed are so huge that one simple blog post, indicating them as if with a wave of the hand, hardly does them justice. Clearer statements can be made later, or elsewhere — and no doubt have been, by others.