Thursday, April 25, 2019

Universal Libertarians

Nick Gillespie (Reason) has written a piece advocating broadly along the lines of the title of this post.  The purpose is a movie review for something about Steve Bannon and all that he supposedly represents.  This aspect is irrelevant to me.  He closes with an interesting line:

Watching The Brink made me think that for all the other differences Reason has with the socialist magazine Jacobin, it may matter far more that we share a belief in open borders.

I have to admit, it stuns me that this is the second time in two weeks that I agree completely with an open-borders libertarian – it does matter far more what Reason holds in common with Jacobin than what they might disagree on. 

Let me explain.  I have long held a view along the following lines:

I don't think there is a meaningful "we" when it comes to libertarians. Where left and right libertarians overlap is minuscule relative to where (and, more importantly, on what issues) we diverge.

Those on the libertarian left hold to more of a "we" with Gramsci and Soros; those on the libertarian right hold to more of a "we" with Pat Buchanan and Walter Williams.

Gillespie seems to completely agree:

In the 21st century, libertarians are going to have make common cause with the globalists of all parties, with the people whose core value is the right of individuals to move freely around the planet.

Where Gillespie uses the term “libertarians” he is referring to what is – for simplicity’s sake – referred to as left-libertarian.  As an aside, I am having trouble finding where individuals have a “right” to move anywhere, let alone “around the planet.” 

According to Gillespie, left- libertarians “have to make common cause” with leftists of all stripes – the Jacobins of the world.

We need to show that there is no inherent tension between being a citizen of the world and a proud son or daughter of one’s country, region, and hometown.

This common cause could lead one of two ways – toward socialism as the Jacobins desire, or toward liberty as Gillespie desires.  I don’t think it needs to be said that Marxists of all stripes also see a world where we are all citizens of the world – whether we like it or not.

Gillespie argues against what he sees as Bannon’s vision:

Bannon’s vision is of a world of distinct nations and cultures that might be defined by any number of factors, including race and ethnicity, but also a common history, religious values, or shared geography.

For people who value such things as “distinct nations and cultures” (what a bland world if there were not “distinct nations and cultures”) and given what we see playing out on the Western stage, it seems to me that there is an “inherent tension between being a citizen of the world and a proud son or daughter of one’s country, region, and hometown.”

The communist Antonio Gramsci saw that this idea of being proud of “one’s country, region, and hometown” would stand in the way of bringing communism to the west.  His view was that the culture of the various regions must be destroyed, and after this nothing would stand in the way of utopia.  Gramsci, obviously, saw this as a communist utopia.

Of course, Gillespie might know more than Gramsci.  Maybe such a path will usher in a libertarian utopia.  I suspect Gramsci – along with every other socialist / communist thinker who has spent serious time on this topic – has it right.

Governance will be provided by a common culture and tradition or it will be provided by force – one way or another, governance will be provided.  Gramsci knew this; Gillespie…not so much.


What I took away from the movie was less about whether Bannon might personally be able to scale Trumpism up to the international level and more about the realization that nationalism vs. globalism is the fundamental political cleavage in the 21st century.

It took a movie for Gillespie to come to this realization?  Many of us figured this out before the last election.  This should shed some light on how deep a thinker Gillespie is. 

Gramsci came to this realization about a century before it even happened.  Who do you believe has a better grasp on human nature and the consequences of teaming with Jacobins?  Gramsci or Gillespie?

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Nature Conquers Man

I once could see but now at last I'm blind
-        Surrounded, Dream Theater

‘Man’s conquest of Nature’ is an expression often used to describe the progress of applied science.

Lewis tests this out using three technologies of his time: the airplane, the wireless, and the contraceptive.  In peacetime, these are available to pretty much anyone desiring to use these.  But can it be said that he is exercising his own individual power over Nature?

If I pay you to carry me, I am not therefore myself a strong man.

All of these three things can be withheld by some men over others – to buy, sell, trade.  All of these things hold the ability to make man as much the subject as the possessor…

…since he is the target both for bombs and for propaganda.  And as regards contraceptives, there is a paradoxical, negative sense in which all possible future generations are the patients or subjects of a power wielded by those already alive.

Instead of seeing any of this as Man’s power over Nature, Lewis sees it as power exercised by some men over other men.  Lewis does not mean by this, however, the power of science without moral virtue; he is after something else.

Each new power won by man is a power over man as well.

The final stage of this is when Man “by eugenics, by pre-natal conditioning, and by an education and propaganda based on perfectly applied psychology, has obtained full control over himself.”  It will be Human nature that is then the last part of Nature to surrender to Man.

The battle will indeed be won.  But who, precisely, will have won it?

Or what.  We live in a world where Man has the power to make himself as he pleases – many call this “freedom.”  But this, then, is also the power for some men to make other men what they please.  Of course, this has been true in all generations yet in generations past the teachers were instructed by the Tao (Natural Law):

…a norm to which the teachers themselves were subject and from which they claimed no liberty to depart.

This is no longer true, as Man today creates his own values.  These are developed and passed along by a group Lewis refers to as the “Conditioners.”  They will choose whatever artificial Tao that will serve their own purposes.

Whatever Tao there is will be the product, not the motive, of education.

One cannot refer to them as corrupt or degenerate; to use such terms implies a doctrine of value – but such a doctrine in meaningless without the Tao. 

A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.

Absent the Tao, all that is left to Man is impulse:

It is from heredity, digestion, the weather, and the association of ideas that the motives of the Conditioners will spring.

Man’s conquest of Nature continues to spread until the last thing left of nature for the Conditioners to conquer is man’s soul.  And after this? 

They are not men at all.  Stepping outside the Tao, they have stepped into the void.  Nor are their subjects necessarily unhappy men.  They are not men at all: they are artefacts.  Man’s final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man.


You cannot go on ‘seeing through’ things for ever.  The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it.

It is the same with first principles – we desire to see through something to see the something beyond it until we eventually see first principles. 

But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world.  To ‘see though’ all things is the same as not to see.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Finding the Trunk

It is upon the Trunk that a gentleman works.

-        Analects of Confucius, 1.2

I had no idea what this meant, “the Trunk.”  I did some digging.  I found a more complete passage: “…It is upon the trunk that the gentleman works. When that is firmly set up, the Way grows.”

This second chapter of Lewis’s short book is entitled “The Way.”  But I still don’t really get it.  So I found this:

It is upon the trunk [the fundamental] that a gentleman works. When that is firmly set up, the Way grows.  And surly proper behavior towards parents and elder brothers is the trunk of Goodness.

The words “the fundamental” are inserted by the author of the paper.  So, I at least learn that the trunk is fundamental and that the focus is on the family, with proper behavior toward parents and elders as “goodness.” 

But I still don’t get the word “trunk.”  There is an image that I am missing.  Then I found it:

The really wise man, his followers said, works on the "trunk" of the tree, he doesn't fuss with the endless little branches shooting off from it.

Don’t mess with the details.  Get the family right, and society will be right.  Sorry for the diversion, but I had to understand why Lewis placed this quote from Confucius at the beginning of this chapter.

Lewis, for convenience, uses the term the Tao.  He recognizes that others can refer to it as Natural Law, Traditional Morality, the First Principles of Practical Reason, or the First Platitudes.  Whatever one labels it…

… [it] is not one among a series of possible systems of value.  It is the sole source of all value judgements.  If it is rejected, all value is rejected.

I will use the word Tao for this post, as Lewis does in his book; but you can read in its place (as I do) “Natural Law.”

It is worth considering in our ongoing discussion of libertarianism or liberty and where I am headed (at least for now) in this idea that liberty will be found (at least for those of us living in the western tradition) in the convergence of natural law, Christian ethics, and the non-aggression principle.  This, of course, suggests that a free society must first be made up of men who value such things – not subjectively, but objectively.

Lewis goes after the idea that value is subjective.  A hard thing to read when one considers economics; yet, most can recognize (on what basis, I wonder…) that just because each of us hold subjective values, not each value held is necessarily beneficial.  When faced with choosing one or the other, I might subjectively value that sixth Oban Scotch more than buying food for my family, but….  Well, you get my point.

Lewis returns to The Green Book, written by Gaius and Titius: despite its shortcomings as demonstrated by Lewis using the example of the waterfall, the authors must have had some end or purpose in mind – else why write the book. 

Sure, the authors might say that the book was “necessary.”  But necessary toward what?  Toward educating.  But educating toward what?  Eventually an answer must come that ends this line of wonder. 

It all strikes me as very Aristotelian.  And in line with Aristotle (and Aquinas, who developed this further), I don’t think it is acceptable to suggest that my sixth Oban holds more value than feeding my family.

Certainly since Nietzsche (or at least since he announced it), man has been free to develop his own ethics – more specifically, the Übermensch has been given this charge:

A great many of those who ‘debunk’ traditional or (as they would say) ‘sentimental’ values have in the background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process.

They claim to cut away the parasitic emotion, religious sanction and other inherited taboos so that real and true values can emerge.  Ultimately, their entire foundation is based on ‘Instinct.’  Where does this leave us?  Nowhere other than in the hands of those that want to hold power.

One way they hold power is to deliver to the rest of us the ethic of being free to obey our own instinct – this is made manifest in numerous ways.  Lewis offers one example: sexual morality:

Thursday, April 18, 2019

This is Sublime

Until quite modern times all teachers and even all men believed the universe to be such that certain emotional reactions on our part could be either congruous or incongruous to it – believed, in fact, that objects did not merely receive, but could merit, our approval or disapproval, our reverence or our contempt.

So writes Lewis when considering the work of Gaius and Titius, pseudonyms of authors of a text book referred to as The Green Book.  In the second chapter of this textbook, the authors quote the story of Coleridge at the waterfall: Coleridge hears one man describe the waterfall as “sublime,” the other man describes it as “pretty.”  Coleridge approves of the first, and rejects the second with disgust.

Why?  Both are valid observations and accurately describe its nature, yet “sublime” better captures its essence – it is the more appropriate and just observation.  Meanwhile, the two textbook authors do not concern themselves at all on this point, but choose, instead, to examine the statement as a description of the feelings of the observer – eliminating the possibility of making a proper value judgement.

St. Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it.

Aristotle says that this is the aim of education – to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought; thus, when he comes to the age of reflective thought and reason, he will find his first principles in ethics.  Those not so trained can make no progress in this regard.

One can find such thinking in many cultures and traditions: Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, Christian, and Oriental.  Lewis will refer to this as the Tao – that which the Chinese call the greatest thing…

…the reality beyond all predicates, the abyss that was before the Creator Himself.  It is Nature, it is the Way, the Road.

It is the way in which every man should “tread in imitation…conforming all activities to that great exemplar.”  In our Western tradition, we have been given this exemplar – His story is to be found in the Gospel.


Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism.

More stuff doesn’t equal liberty and isn’t enough for liberty; measuring progress in terms of trade and GDP is barely one level up from the law of the jungle.  Humans have been made for more than this.

We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise.  We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.  We castrate and bid the geldings to be fruitful.

Doesn’t sound like the material from which liberty will spring forth, does it.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Libertarianism or Liberty?

There has been an interesting series of blog posts at LRC, a series / exchange between Walter Block and Michael Rozeff.  This exchange offers an opportunity to further develop a conversation around the question posed in the title; it is a question I have introduced earlier.

Needless to say, Block epitomizes the “libertarianism” side of this discussion.  Whether one agrees or disagrees with his interpretation and application of the non-aggression principle, there is no doubt that purity in libertarianism is the target at which Block aims.  Someone has to do this, and despite my couple of (significant) disagreements with him, few do it better than Block.

Rozeff struggles with Block’s work in this regard.  The dialogue begins with Block answering a question posed to him via email.  The topic is child abandonment, and the writer describes Block’s position as follows:

In your discussion on Lew Rockwell, you state that the parent has no obligation to feed or even keep their child alive. You state that the parent does have an obligation to notify someone that they have no desire to care for the child…

The writer wonders where responsibility and duty have a role in Block’s position.  Block responds:

I think we’ll have to agree to disagree. I regard the no positive obligations as an integral part of libertarianism.

Now, I take strong exception to the idea that one raising one’s own child is a “positive obligation” in any sense consistent with the underlying premise of the non-aggression principle – this is not at all a logical statement – but I do not want to distract from the conversation.  Suffice it to say, when one voluntarily takes on an obligation, there is nothing “positive” about it.

Rozeff picks up the conversation:

I agree with [the writer]. [I] try to “save” the non-aggression principle (NAP) by arguing that it does apply to the case of parents starving their children to death, which it has been said is because they have no obligation to feed them under the NAP. In contrast, I argue that parents assume that obligation when they bring children into this world. This elaboration of circumstances saves the NAP. Surely, if starving one’s baby or child to death is not murder, then nothing is; and if the NAP cannot address such a case, it’s sorely and surely defective.

Suffice it to say I agree whole-heartedly with Rozeff.  I do so for a couple of reasons: first and foremost, my objective is liberty and not purity of libertarianism; I do not see liberty long-lasting in a world that ignores responsibility for one’s own actions. 

Second, my grappling with this idea of “liberty” (as opposed to libertarianism) is bringing me to a place to consider as necessary the place where natural law, Christian ethics, and the non-aggression principle all converge.  In the place where these converge, I believe we will find liberty.  In this convergence, avoiding responsibility for one’s own child is unthinkable.  A society that finds this acceptable is a society with no future, and no future equals no liberty.

Rozeff goes on to introduce an addition concern: “Some actions resist application of the NAP, however.”  He cites as an example the New York Times repeatedly printing falsehoods about Block, describing him as a racist, etc.  Rozeff considers this morally wrong, and if the NAP cannot deal with this then it is too restrictive:

The ethics of liberty is supposed to be based upon natural law, and it seems problematic that the NAP in this case, at least as it has so far been interpreted by Rothbard and Block, fails to be in accord with a natural law obligation, which is that one does not misrepresent what service one is providing.

I don’t believe all libertarians base their views on the natural law, but it is the place I am landing.  Foundational to natural law is truth.  In this regard, sustained liberty requires that truth is valued and defended.  Specific punishments and remedies are beyond the scope of this post; I am only after this distinction of libertarianism or liberty.

Rozeff continues, regarding a man’s reputation:

A man’s reputation is not less important to him than his body. Men work hard to build up a good reputation. A lot is riding on one’s reputation.

Of this, I have no doubt.  Yet many libertarians will argue that a man does not own his reputation; his reputation is held in the mind of others.  This is true as far as it goes, but what happens when a third party constantly lies about me, damaging and even ruining my reputation – destroying all possibility of work, relationships, etc.?  Well, of course, under the NAP I am entitled to neither work nor relationships, so maybe I should just shut up!  But I won’t….

The non-aggression principle (NAP) rests on physical invasions or threats thereof. But must all crimes in a free society be restricted to physical invasions of property? Can’t law encompass more than such property invasions?

Rozeff offers Frank van Dun (PDF), who is after justice and not merely purity of theory – therefore he extends the idea of crime beyond these restrictive boundaries.

Monday, April 15, 2019

It Depends

Jim Davies has pointed me to a post of his entitled “Christian Anarchist": An Oxymoron?  To which I answer, it depends.

The word anarchist has so many meanings – and here I mean even within what would be described as the “libertarian movement” (talk about an oxymoron).  One could describe the range from left to right.  On the left, no hierarchies are acceptable; on the right, voluntary hierarchies are acceptable. 

(As an aside: what of the involuntary hierarchy of parents to children?  Perhaps one reason libertarians as libertarians have no consistent answers when it comes to this relationship.)

Davies believes that the term “Christian Anarchist” is an oxymoron.  As he offers “…there are too many flat contradictions between the two world-views.”

Let’s examine his reasons for this:

The Bible presents an unmistakable hierarchy of authority, which we mortals are expected to obey.  (Emphasis in original)

This is the first of five reasons offered, in many ways capturing the meat of Davies’ argument in four of the five reasons.  So I will spend the most time here. 

I will first get the “expected to obey” part out of the way.  Yes, Christians are expected to obey God; however, what is the punishment for disobedience?  It is a punishment that non-believers would find irrelevant – that punishment is hell (or separation from God for eternity or whatever description you want to give this). 

What is this concern to a non-believer?  None, of course.  In other words, while man is expected to obey God, failure to do so comes with no “aggression” as defined by libertarians.

Now…the “hierarchy of authority” thing.  This, potentially, is a real “tell”; an insight into Davies’ entire libertarian worldview.  Is it not acceptable for one who rejects involuntary authority relationships (fundamentally true for all anarchists) to at the same time accept voluntary authority relationships?  If this is unacceptable, then what good is anarchism if one cannot choose voluntarily to be subordinate to another?

Davies, where are you on this?  Because you either embrace the position that anarchists will aggress to stop others from voluntarily subordinating to others or you must embrace that an anarchist can also be a Christian.  I don’t care which you embrace, but I see no third option. 

Or maybe you just threaten to withhold the term “anarchist” from people such as this.  To that, I say, it doesn’t really matter what you think.  Because if you aren’t threatening such as these with force, then your view on the applicability of the term doesn’t really matter either way.

In any case, any worldview that disallows all hierarchies is a doomed worldview.  Let’s hope this is not Davies’ worldview.

On to the second reason:

Christianity--and religion generally--demands that adherents worship; that is, that they humble themselves before a super-being, whether invisible or made of stone.

My thoughts here are already reflected in the above: what is this to non-believing anarchists?  Is it important to non-believing anarchists to control the non-aggressive behavior of believing anarchists? 

Anarchism is logically derived from the most primitive of premises: that I exist, and that my life is mine--premises so basic, they are axiomatic.

My thoughts here are already reflected in the above: what is this to non-believing anarchists?  Is it important to non-believing anarchists to control the beliefs of believing anarchists?  Is it not acceptable for an anarchist to give his life to God?  What do you care where and how another anarchist spends his life – as long as he isn’t aggressing against you?  What kind of anarchists are you?  The bomb-throwing kind?

The two have opposing ethical standards. … The highest standard of virtue in Christianity is "to lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13) and its entire emphasis is on service to others, a sacrifice of self. In contrast, the anarchist's basis for ethics is his own wellbeing; whatever serves the interests of his own life is good--and what damages those interests is bad.

Before getting to my primary objection, consider the statement from Davies: “…whatever serves the interests of his own life is good--and what damages those interests is bad.”  Let’s hope it is implicit in this statement is some concept of “consistent with the non-aggression principle.”  Else, Davies really is the bomb-throwing kind of anarchist.

Friday, April 12, 2019

The Passing of Empire

“It was only too clear that [Churchill] had a complex about India from which he would not and could not be shaken.”

-        William Phillips, personal representative of Franklin D. Roosevelt, serving in India.

India was starving.  The United Kingdom was building a stockpile of food in the Mediterranean for the Greeks and Yugoslavs it hoped one day to liberate; the food was coming on ships from Australia – bypassing a starving India.  India was, of course, part of the United Kingdom.  Churchill was starving British subjects in favor of Britain’s enemies.

India was starving for the benefit of a war between imperialists and fascists; not really a good bargain for Indians.  In the meantime, leaders in both India and Britain were planning for what came next – a likely partition between Hindu and Muslim, resulting in the creation of Pakistan.  Pakistan – which would then be beholden to Britain for its independence – could then be used as a base for future operations against the Soviet Union.

Governor George Cunningham of the North West Frontier Province exulted at the Muslim League’s triumph in local elections.  “It would not, I think, have been possible had not the ground been prepared by the propaganda which we have been doing almost since the war started, most of it on Islamic lines.”

British authorities saw Muslims and Christians as “natural allies,” as they each had a book – unlike the “idolatrous” Hindus. 

Meanwhile, in Bengal, tens of millions of people were starving.  “Bengal is rapidly approaching starvation,” wrote the governor of Bengal to the viceroy on July 2, 1943.  In the meantime, other regions of India were still exporting grains; the export of rice was only stopped on July 23. 

By mid-1943, the number of ships available to the Allies greatly exceeded the numbers required for Allied operations.  American industry by now was running at full force, and demands for the eventual landing in France were still in the future.  Still, shipping was not made available for grains to India.

Offers to make grain available were made by several British allies – and none were accepted.  Grain was available, but the shipping would not be spared.  All the while, Churchill’s sources of anger toward India were building to one large crescendo.  One source of his anger was the significant and growing debt owed by Britain to India due to India’s support of the war.

Churchill wanted to charge India the equivalent of the debt owed for saving her from Japanese invasion; he was quickly reminded that it was India that defended Britain’s Middle East for the first two years of the war.

None of this would be of help to the starving.  The gruel offered at relief kitchens was reduced to four ounces of rice per day per person:

That came to 400 calories, at the low end of the scale on which, at much the same time, inmates at Buchenwald were being fed.

Constant and extended hunger had a cost in community: husbands leaving wives; fathers throwing babies into wells; mothers throwing children into the river, after which they jumped in as well; parents pitted against children for scraps; everyone in the house killed to avoid starvation; suicides soared.

Bodies everywhere, some dead others dying.  Whether dead or dying, all subject to jackals, dogs, and worms.  For young boys, hope was only to be had if someone took notice and cared; for young girls, there was hope in sex.  One survey found that 90 percent of the 30,000 women serving in the military labor corps in eastern Bengal were suffering from venereal disease.

Newspapers in Calcutta wrote horrifying accounts of the moral degeneracy that the famine had induced.  Mothers had turned into murderers, village belles into whores, fathers into traffickers of daughters.


By the third week of September, the scene was described as “ghastly.”

…whereas natives “hoarded,” which was at least in principle a penal offense, white men “stockpiled” – which was not only legal but recommended.

The natives began to stockpile the bodies along the palace built by the marquess of Wellesley in the eighteenth century.  It was a grand palace, with twenty acres of gardens and twelve white marble busts of Roman emperors.

The wreath of corpses marked the passing of empire.