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.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Argument for Open Borders

Mike Rozeff has re-published at the LRC blog an essay from Jim Davies: Open Borders: YES!  Davies makes an argument against Rozeff’s position against open borders.  It will shock many of you to know that I agree with Davies 100% on his open borders position.  Please indulge me; from Davies:

My main criticism of [Rozeff’s] piece is that he did not make explicit his assumption that for the foreseeable future, America will continue to have cities, states, policing, education [sic], welfare, disease control, rodent control, proper housing, traffic control and even taxes – all furnished or imposed by government.

It seems an assumption that one need not make explicitly, but I do not want to belabor this point.

My premise is quite different, and I would hope that LRC might share it, since at its masthead appears its claim to be “anti-state”; my position is that all of those ten, named attributes of America can and will quite shortly be removed from government hands…

Well, your guess is as good as mine – but we can all have hope.

Now, “Why,” you ask, “does bionic agree with Davies?”  Well, I will tell you:

Assuming then that government no longer exists, should borders be open? – of course they should, for a border is an obstacle in the path of human beings who wish to live in a location of their choice. Indeed, the only “borders” that could exist in such a free society would be those enclosing private property – and there could be no other property other than the private kind…

Yes, as long as all property is private, borders should be open…except for one little problem – noted by Davies but left in some sort of contradiction: when all property is private, the only borders will be private – hence, all borders will be closed – or, more precisely, managed by the property owner.

Now, for one disagreement:

…Prof. Hoppe’s contention that government land is somehow owned by taxpayers – which rests on the deeply mistaken view that the payment of a tax is ever a contractual exchange for some benefit.

I don’t think this is Hoppe’s contention, but I may be wrong.  A thief steals my money at gunpoint – did we have a contract?  Did the thief promise me some benefit in exchange?  The answer is no to both.

Now, the thief spends the money on “stuff,” and no longer has my money.  Once caught, am I not entitled to recovering enough “stuff” from the thief to at least offset the amount he stole from me?  Assuming there are multiple victims of this thief – and also assuming that he no longer has enough “stuff” to make each victim whole, are not the victim’s entitled to a pro-rata share of the thief’s “stuff”?

I think this is more along Hoppe’s contention.  That the thief is in possession of my property (or property that the thief received in exchange for my property), I remain the legitimate owner of that property.  This is certainly my argument.

Returning to Davies, and his assumed 100% private property world:

Property owners may well exclude migrants from their land, but some will not so choose.

Again, I agree 100%: private property owners are free to choose; private property owners will manage who is and isn’t allowed on their property.

But we are still left with Davies rather important premise: “Assuming then that government no longer exists….”  He offers:

What remains is the key question, so often posed in Maine, of how to get from here to there. For example, would opening the borders today help or hinder the abolition of government?

Davies offers:

…a flood of immigrants in search of welfare (if that is why most of them come) would overwhelm the government’s schemes for robbing Peter to pay Paul, and therefore usefully help bankrupt the whole edifice. That’s an argument worth weighing…

This argument one could describe as the death wish experiment.  An argument worth weighing, perhaps, but is in an experiment worth attempting?

I offer another argument: common culture and tradition reduces the demands for coercive government.  As long as we have government as it exists today, open borders will reduce common culture and tradition…and government will increase.  We are living this experiment, and we see daily the results.

I prefer to leave the death wish in the dustbin, where it belongs.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Cyclone

Everyone in Midnapore dates the famine from the day of the cyclone, October 16, 1942.

From the beginning of British rule until the mid-twentieth century, events transpired as one would expect regarding the colony: wealth transferred from colony to the empire; rebellions against foreign rule; suppressions against local protests; closing of the local congress. 

Most important for this story: India went from being reasonably self-sufficient in food and grain to a significant exporter of these, to the benefit of other parts of the Empire.  Life-expectancy was increasing in Britain while decreasing in India.

Inventory in food and grain was minimized from the beginning of the war.  In the face of this, the cyclone; heavy rains and wind, strong enough to lift a man.  The winds went from morning until midnight; the banks of the Rupnarayan River had burst, and the ocean swept in:

Salt water covered the entire landscape.  The cyclone had destroyed virtually every tree and house on the horizon.

Huts collapsed; bodies – human and animal – floated by in the flood-waters; trees uprooted.  Something between ten-thousand and thirty-thousand perished.  Worst of all, the receding waters left a layer of sand that crushed the rice plants; the crop – expected to be harvested that winter – was gone.  A difficulty in any circumstance; the beginning of a famine when years of forced export drained all inventory and stores.

No more cereal was going to be available for upward of a year – until the next crop could be sown in the monsoon of 1943 and harvested at the end of that December.

The government (British, of course) would not allow the release of boats for rescue; cyclone relief would be withheld until the people turned over stolen guns; private charity workers were arrested for attempting to provide aid. 

By January 1943, a food crisis was raging in Bengal.  As the government could pay any price for food, prices immediately escalated – exacerbating even further the misery of the people.  Rice in the country – including Bengal – was extracted for the cities; famine was traded to avoid chaos in the cities.  The extraction was not voluntarily supported. 

Any reserves were either transferred or destroyed – destroyed to keep them out of the hands of insurgents.  Society would break down: gang rape and prostitution both became common – the first, often by police, the second often to just get some food.

Nothing would shake Churchill’s resolve:

“I am glad to learn from the Minister of War Transport that a strict line is being taken in dealing with requests for cereals from the Indian Ocean area.  A concession to one country at once encourages demands from all the others.”

Of course, the others weren’t in the middle of a famine.

“They must learn to look after themselves as we have done.”

By forcibly taking food from India in the first place, and commandeering all Indian registered shipping.

“The grave situation of the U.K. import programme imperils the whole war effort and we cannot afford to send ships merely as a gesture of good will.”

If one defines “good will” as feeding a people whom you have deprived of all possibility to feed themselves….

It didn’t help that Britain was going deep into debt – and one of their larger creditors was…India!  At war’s end, Britain likely wouldn’t have funds sufficient for food for the home island – hence, stockpiling now was a sensible alternative…for the British; Britain was exporting its future economic risk to its colonies. 

The government in India pleaded for imports of grain, but none would be forthcoming for months.  What little shipping that was available all went to war transport or for shipping food from Australia to the Middle East, North Africa, or Europe – bypassing Bengal along the way.  And many of the available ships were being transferred from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic.


“There is no reason why all parts of the British Empire should not feel the pinch in the same way as the Mother Country has done.”  So said Churchill.  Of course, the mother country was not facing famine.  The biggest depravation in 1943 was that they had to eat multi-grain bread instead of white.

The situation was soon to turn catastrophic.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Physicist Heal Thyself

Physicist Dave: “I literally know of no other extended period of history in which there was as systematic an effort for as long a time to brutally suppress freedom of thought as the Middle Ages in Catholic Europe.”

Let’s see.

Fundamental Human Rights in Medieval Law.   Published by the University of Chicago Law School.

…Professor Tierney showed that the idea of natural rights did not enter political life, as he put it, "with a clatter of drums and trumpets of the American Declaration of Independence or the French Declaration of the Rights of Man." Instead, "this central concept of Western political theory first grew into existence almost imperceptibly in the obscure glosses of the medieval jurists."  It antedated Columbus by more than two centuries.

“Medieval jurists” would be jurists from the Middle Ages…the Catholic Middle Ages.

…the ius commune recognized the existence of human rights, the law of the medieval church was not in fact hostile to them, and individual men and women were given the ability to exercise them.

The law of the medieval church (that would be the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages) was not hostile to human rights.

It is even true that the medieval way of thinking of rights has not entirely vanished from today's law. It is present in the ways in which we treat freedom of speech. We revere it not only because it promotes the expression of individual opinions, but also because we think it promotes discovery of the truth.

The medieval way of thinking about rights can be found in our view of freedom of speech.  Stunning.

Few rights are absolute of course. Not today. Not then.

Not ever.  Not anywhere.

…I would like to point out that the tradition of free speech that Wilders drew on long predates the days of Maarten Luther. 

“Predates…Maarten Luther” would suggest the Catholic Middle Ages.

In fact, it goes back to ideals that received much of their present shape and form during the early Middle Ages.

The tradition of free speech took form during the early Middle Ages?  The Catholic Middle Ages?

The results of this investigation run counter to the traditional viewpoint that the ideals of free speech disappeared after Antiquity, only to be rediscovered again during the Renaissance.

“Traditional viewpoint” means “accepting the desired narrative.”  As we will discover shortly, neither Antiquity nor the Renaissance offered perfect free speech, or even free speech much different than what existed in the Middle Ages.

Political criticism seems to have been an accepted practice, provided the critics expressed themselves according to established cultural and rhetorical rules. One could object to this observation that it can hardly be called free speech if a speaker has to conform to rules and conventions that restrict what can be said. 

“HA!  Now bionic will have to admit he is wrong!”  I will have to admit no such thing.

Free speech as such, however, does not exist in the first place, not in the early Middle Ages and not in our own days.

And not ever, anywhere. 

Organization: Jan Dumolyn & Linde Nuyts (Ghent University), Jelle Haemers & Minne De Boodt (University of Leuven), Martine Veldhuizen (Utrecht University).  This workshop is the first in a series of three on ‘freedom of speech’ in late medieval and early modern Europe.

From the summary:

Although freedom of speech, ‘the right to express beliefs and ideas without unwarranted government restriction’, was by no means a fundamental right in the late middle ages and early modern period, expressions of critical opinions towards power were always possible and often widespread.

“Always possible”…”often widespread.”  Interesting.

This is a podcast from the site “Clear and Present Danger: A History of Free Speech.”  This episode is entitled “The not-so-Dark Ages, medieval intellectuals, and freethinkers.” It is introduced:

Find out why the Middle Ages were as much a period of reason and inquiry as inquisition and superstition.

This podcast offers that the idea of free speech was a mixed bag during the medieval period – pretty much like it has been at all times and in all places throughout history.  There has never been an absolute right to totally free speech, anywhere.

One read of this will demonstrate that the author is most certainly not an apologist for the medieval Catholic Church.  As I have asked Physicist Dave, for which still no answer is offered: medieval free speech?  Compared to when?

The origin of the term censor can be traced to the office of censor established in Rome in 443 BC. In Rome, as in the ancient Greek communities, the ideal of good governance included shaping the character of the people. Hence censorship was regarded as an honourable task.

443 BC would predate the Middle Ages of Catholic Europe. 

In China, the first censorship law was introduced in 300 AD.

Was China Catholic?  Was it in Europe?

Perhaps the most famous case of censorship in ancient times is that of Socrates, sentenced to drink poison in 399 BC for his corruption of youth and his acknowledgement of unorthodox divinities.

399 BC…I am pretty sure this also predates the Middle Ages of Catholic Europe.  Someone please check me on this.

Free speech, which implies the free expression of thoughts, was a challenge for pre-Christian rulers. It was no less troublesome to the guardians of Christianity, even more so as orthodoxy became established.

A challenge for “pre-Christian rulers”?  Were they Catholic before they were Christian?  Before Christ?

The most famous of authors that the Catholic Church banned is undoubtedly Galileo (1633), and the most famous victims of the Inquisition’s trials must be Joan of Arc (1431) and Thomas More (1535).

A total of three examples offered by the author, only one of which falls within the window considered the Catholic Middle Ages.  I have dealt with the fallacy of the generally-accepted Galileo story here.  I won’t spend time on the other two now.

The author offers only one example from the period 500 – 1500.  Meanwhile, the author offers numerous examples of censorship both pre- and post- the medieval period and in all regions of the world.  Many of these examples come after the Enlightenment – consider, for example, twentieth century post-Christian Europe.  I hope I need not offer examples.


I think we can put to rest any notion offered by Physicist Dave on this topic.

I never mind when someone disagrees with me.  I have learned much from such exchanges.  As to Physicist Dave: your next comment will be respectful else I will fully exercise my property rights.