Friday, March 23, 2018

Germanic Christianity

This one is going to be complicated, enlightening, troubling, controversial, valuable….
From the author’s Wikipedia page:
[Russell’s book] examines the encounter of the Germanic peoples with Christian conversion efforts. Russell argues that a Christian missionary policy of temporary accommodation of pre-Christian beliefs and customs inadvertently contributed to a Germanization of Christianity. He contends that since the Second Vatican Council, there has been a conscious effort in the Roman Catholic Church to "shed its predominantly Western, European image". However, Russell notes, "the popularity of Catholic traditionalist movements among persons of European descent suggests that the Germanic elements within Christianity have not lost their appeal".
Why is this topic of interest to me?  As you know, I point to the period of the European Middle Ages and the decentralized law and society of the time as perhaps the closest and longest lasting example of something approaching a libertarian society that I have found.  Fundamental characteristics of the society include its Christianity.
Yet Christianity existed elsewhere and during the same time; however, I do not find that Christian society elsewhere progressed in a similar manner – decentralized governance, decentralized law.
So, why is this topic of interest to me?  I guess I want to understand the “why.”  And it seems reasonable that the “why” could be found in the cultural traditions of the Germanic tribes that were joined to the Christian religion as brought by the missionaries.
Russell examines the period beginning with the entrance of the Visigoths into the Eastern Roman Empire in 376 until the death of St. Boniface in 754.  His inquiry is divided into two parts: in Part I he develops a model of religious interaction between folk-religious societies and universal religions; in Part II, this model is applied to the specific case at hand – the “folk-religious” Germanic tribes meeting “universal” Christianity. 
For now, just a brief introduction: the religions of folk-centered societies are “world-accepting”; religions such as Christianity are “world-rejecting.” World-accepting societies value this life: kin, agriculture, military; world-rejecting religions offer hope in the afterlife, with little concern about this life.
When the missionaries first went north into the regions populated by the tribes, they emphasized aspects of Christianity that would resonate with the tribes, and deemphasized aspects that would be rejected.  After a few hundred years, the Germanic Christianity poured south over the Alps and theologically conquered Rome.
Germanic Christianity emphasized the drama of the Incarnation, the Passion and the lives of the saints; it deemphasized the doctrine of Salvation and the End Times.  Germanic influence can be found in chivalry, feudalism, the ideology behind the Crusades and the cult of relics – none of which can be found in, for example, the Sermon on the Mount. 
For Christianity to be accepted by the Germanic tribes, it had to be presented and interpreted in a heroic manner.  Perhaps the best known example is that of St. Boniface and Thor’s Oak:
…the saint attempted, in the place called Gaesmere, while the servants of God stood by his side, to fell a certain oak of extraordinary size, which is called, by an old name of the pagans, the Oak of Jupiter.
St. Boniface succeeded in shattering the tree:
At this sight the pagans who before had cursed now, on the contrary, believed, and blessed the Lord, and put away their former reviling.
St. Boniface offered a powerful God, a warrior more powerful than Thor (Donar, in Old High German), the god of Thunder.
As noted, this will be complicated, enlightening, troubling, controversial, and valuable.  But for now, this is enough – I think I have covered each of these already.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018


The British War Council met in London on 2 January 1915 to consider an urgent war request for assistance from the commander in chief of the Russian army.

As recently as 27 December, the Russians were on the verge of being encircled by the Ottoman Army in the Caucasus.  After deliberations, Britain initiated planning for the Dardanelles campaign.  Unknown to the British, by the time of this War Council meeting, Russia was on the verge of total victory.  Yet, learning of this shortly thereafter, the British decided to forge ahead anyway – as fateful and disastrous a decision as any taken on the western front.

Field Marshall Kitchener was the loudest voice in the Council.  He felt a naval operation along the Mediterranean coast would be sufficient to draw Ottoman troops away from the Russians and the Caucasus due to fear of risk to the capital, Istanbul.  Kitchener turned to Winston Churchill, the first lord of the Admiralty, tasking him to measure the feasibility of the endeavor.  Churchill raised the stakes: more than just bombing coastal positions why not force the Straits and go on to the capital?

The Dardanelles run over forty miles from the Mediterranean to the Sea of Marmara; at the Narrows, the distance between the shores of Europe and Asia is as little as 1.600 yards.  The path was strewn with undersea mines.

Admiral Carden replied to Churchill: the Straits could be forced with naval power alone.  But by this time, news came of the Russian successes.  So the objective changed: instead of going now to aid their Russian allies, the British would go to conquer a weakened Turkey, believed to be on the brink of collapse.

The French promised full support in the Mediterranean, and the Russians promised to simultaneously attack the northern Straits from the Black Sea.  And, as was expected for the time, the Allies immediately went into negotiations to divide up the soon-to-be dissolved remains of the Ottoman Empire.

By early February, the British and French had massed their fleets in the Mediterranean. They would soon come to conclude that some ground troops might actually be necessary in the assault; between the British and the French, soon over 60,000 troops would be assembled.

Naval operations began on 19 February – eighteen battleships, including the massive Queen Elizabeth.  With a range farther than the capability of the Turkish guns onshore, the navy was free to fire without risk.  Only when British ships approached the shore to assess the damage, the Turkish gunners returned fire.

News of the attack panicked Istanbul.  The Ottoman government and the palace left the city and set up shop in Anatolia; the treasury was doing the same with its gold.  The British were anticipating a government crisis that would topple the Young Turk government.

And then catastrophe for the British and French.  On 18 March, several ships were able to enter the Straits – to include the Queen Elizabeth.  After being hit by Turkish shelling, the French ship Bouvet turned to leave the Straits.  Then it all really went bad: being carried downstream by the strong currents, it struck a mine. 

The explosion blew a hole in the hull; the ship capsized within two minutes with nearly all of its crew of 724 trapped inside – and then it immediately plunged to the ocean floor.  Sixty-two men survived.

The Allies were caught by surprise with the mine explosion; it hadn’t dawned on them that the Ottomans might lay new mines after the British finished sweeping operations days earlier.  These new mines caught the Bouvet, and would quickly strike the Inflexible, Irresistible, and Ocean.  Four ships in a matter of a few hours.

And this was before artillery fire from the shore struck the Suffren and Gaulois.  Even the Queen Elizabeth suffered five hits.  All Allied ships were recalled from the Straits, escaping to safety.

Three battleships sunk, three others badly damaged; over 1,000 lives lost and hundreds wounded.  One-third of the Allied battle fleet was lost in a single day – with nothing to show for the effort.  The events of 18 March brought to an end the naval campaign.  Not leaving bad enough alone, the Allies began to work out a land campaign; after all, to withdraw after such a disastrous defeat would not be honorable.

The Allies took one month to develop their battle plan.  The Turks, aided by German military officers, took the month to fortify their positions.  On 25 April the assault began.  From the beginning, nothing went to plan – with results as disastrous and futile as those realized in the naval campaign.

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Free Society

The Free Society, by Laurence Vance

Most Americans think they live in a free society.

So writes Laurence Vance as the opening sentence in the introduction to this book, a compilation of 127 essays on the topic of a free society.  Americans think they are free because of the variety of choices on the grocery store shelf, channels on the television, access to the world via the internet, and the ability to play video games in mom and dad’s basement.

While we should not discount such features of American society (well, I might discount a couple of these), these are not the only measures of freedom, and Vance demonstrates this through more than 400 pages.

It is an insightful introduction.  If we are to measure “freedom” solely via measures of economy and market, there is little to complain about in American society – certainly when compared to many other places in the world and most certainly when compared to past times. 

Further, globally, more people have such “freedoms” than at any time in history.  Other than the abject poor in third-world countries, we all live better than the royalty of even two-hundred years ago.

But this isn’t “freedom,” although many libertarians use this as their yardstick.  “The market” comes out quite strongly in the debate regarding immigration, but not solely here.  Yet freedom, as Vance demonstrates, is much more than “the market.”

The essays are divided into seven chapters:

·        Libertarianism: Theory
·        Libertarianism: Practice
·        Libertarianism vs. Liberalism / Conservatism
·        Discrimination and Free Association
·        Victimless Crimes
·        The Free Market
·        The Free Society

There are several intriguing essays within these chapters.  I will touch on a few of these:

The Morality of Libertarianism

Violence is justified only in defense of person or property against violence.

While not a statement of morality as extensive to that offered in the Bible, it seems rather foundational.  I wonder what people mean when they say something like “I used to be a libertarian, but….”  Like what – “I used to think it was wrong to come upon a stranger and punch him in the nose, but now I think it is OK”? 

Perhaps the most foundational morality is to be found in the non-aggression principle – not the only morality, but it is impossible to imagine a moral society that doesn’t embrace this at its foundation.

Libertarianism and Abortion

Because a child in the womb is helpless, not initiating violence, not committing aggression, and not there of its own accord, I believe, that to be consistent, libertarians should not only be opposed to abortion, but in favor of making it a criminal act…

Vance offers that the type of penalty to be imposed is a separate question; the primary issue is the violence initiated against the unborn child.

I know libertarians such as Rothbard and Block deem the unwanted unborn child to be trespassing, hence committing a violation of the woman’s property in her body.  I disagree, and I have dealt with this here.

But from a moral standpoint: it is difficult to find any consistency in a non-aggression principle that demands the right to aggress against the most vulnerable and most innocent humans on the planet.  If libertarians can make this aggression fit within the NAP, there really is no room to complain about taxes or regulations or drug laws or pretty much anything else.

The Right to Refuse Service

Every individual and business should have the right to refuse service.  In a free society, every individual and business owner would have the right to refuse service.  It is part and parcel of the inviolability of private property…

We are lectured – even by many libertarians – to be tolerant.  But without tolerance for the property owner’s right to discriminate as inviolable, I have no idea what libertarianism even means.


I personally find Vance’s work on the hypocrisy of Christians on the topic of war as his most valuable, and he has done significant work on this topic.  Yet he does not come up short on the topics covered in this book.  For anyone interested in gaining an understanding of the meaning of freedom and liberty and its breadth and depth, The Free Society, by Laurence Vance, offers a wide-ranging examination.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Your Sunday Sermon

Delivered by Jordan Peterson, at about the 22:30 mark (paraphrased):

From Matthew 7:7, 8: ask and it shall be given to you, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you; for everyone who asks shall receive, everyone who seeks shall find, and the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

This seems like nothing but a testament to the magic of prayer; but God is not merely a grantor of wishes.  When tempted by the devil himself, even Christ himself did not call on His Father for favor.

Perhaps it’s not reasonable to ask God to break the laws of physics every time we fall by the wayside, or make a serious error; perhaps you could ask instead what you have to do right now to increase your resolve, buttress your character, and find the strength to go on.  Perhaps you can ask instead to see the truth.

People suffer because they think their lives are meaningless.  People always ask for a meaningful life; but perhaps there is a price to be paid for abandoning meaninglessness.

Imagine asking someone, here are your options: in a million years who the hell cares how you lived, your life was dust in the wind, your pains and triumphs had no genuine lasting significance.  Because of that you can do anything you like, with no responsibility. 

Or you take responsibility for what you do because it actually matters.

Now, if you gave people a choice about that – meaninglessness but no responsibility or meaning with ultimate responsibility – which one are they going to pick?  And my suspicion is that it is seldom the second, because the weight of responsibility is too high.


So it’s a funny thing: rather than ignorance being the justification for a belief in God, it is terror and the lack of willingness to accept responsibility that justifies disbelief.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Rothbard’s Legacy

Would you be as protective of Murray Rothbard if you hadn’t actually met him?

So asks Michael Malice of Tom Woods, at a little after the 45 minute mark of this podcast.  Woods responds:

Yeah, I would.

Woods goes on to describe the vast body of work produced by Rothbard.  For Woods, purely on a scholarly level, this is sufficient reason to be protective of Rothbard’s legacy.

After offering several personal experiences, Woods continues with a story of Neil McCaffrey and his relationship with Rothbard.  To make a long story short, he and Rothbard didn’t see eye to eye on many political and religious subjects.  According to Woods:

McCaffrey deviated from [Rothbard] quite a bit.

Yet Rothbard and McCaffrey remained really close.  Wood’s reaction?

That’s the kind of guy we should all try to be.

Yes, I think so too.


I have been browbeaten recently and publicly regarding my relationship with Rothbard; for some reason it is found lacking – not based on my expectations but perhaps for expectations others have of me. 

Yet I don’t think Rothbard would have taken this as seriously.  Of course, I never met Rothbard so I can’t say this from any firsthand experience.  But Woods has met him, and Woods has said it.

This reaction has me weighing the possibility of altering the focus of this blog.  Maybe, more so, refining it.  Because I don’t feel I have a beef with Rothbard, and I doubt he would have one with me.

But I don’t want there to be any confusion about this.  So I am thinking to ensure nothing like this comes up again.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A Kind Word and a Gun

American self-proclaimed hegemony is over where it really matters for any real and perceived hegemon—the military field. It was over for some time now, it just took Putin’s speech to demonstrate the good old Al Capone truism that one can get much further with a kind word and a gun than with a kind word alone.

-        The Implications of Russia's New Weapon Systems, by Andrei Martyanov

Vladimir Putin gave a speech on March 1.  During the speech he announced several new weapon systems.  He offers that these systems have been developed due to the unilateral withdrawal in 2002 by the United States from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty – despite Russian attempts to dissuade the US government from this decision. 

NB: I am no expert on such matters; after offering several excerpts from Putin’s speech I will leave it to the aforementioned Mr. Martyanov to comment.

Russia’s concern?  Anti-ballistic missiles reduce the check that mutually-assured-destruction placed on the use of nuclear weapons.  Putin suggests that the Russians have attempted several times in the intervening years to re-engage on this matter; in the meantime, the United States has installed anti-ballistic missiles in several locations surrounding Russia.  Given these actions, Russia has not stood still:

During all these years since the unilateral US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, we have been working intensively on advanced equipment and arms, which allowed us to make a breakthrough in developing new models of strategic weapons.

These new weapons are designed to circumvent the anti-ballistic-missile defense systems of the United States.  I cannot say which, if any, of these systems can perform as claimed.  However, I am hard-pressed to recall meaningful bluffs on serious issues by Putin in the past.  In any case, only one or two of these announced systems need to be feasible in order for this to be significant.

First up is the Sarmat:

Weighing over 200 tonnes, it has a short boost phase, which makes it more difficult to intercept for missile defence systems….Sarmat will be equipped with a broad range of powerful nuclear warheads, including hypersonic, and the most modern means of evading missile defence.

Putin suggests that there are no range limitations on this new missile; more importantly, it can attack from either the North or South Pole.

Moving on, Putin describes the next breakthrough – an energy source:

One of them is a small-scale heavy-duty nuclear energy unit that can be installed in a missile like our latest X-101 air-launched missile or the American Tomahawk missile – a similar type but with a range dozens of times longer, dozens, basically an unlimited range. It is a low-flying stealth missile carrying a nuclear warhead, with almost an unlimited range, unpredictable trajectory and ability to bypass interception boundaries.

Missile launch tests and ground tests have been successful.  After showing a video…

You can see how the missile bypasses interceptors. As the range is unlimited, the missile can manoeuvre for as long as necessary.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Undefending the Defendable

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.
“The right of self-defense is the first law of nature…”
-          George Tucker
Most libertarians live within the intersection of these three ideas; leave it to Murray Rothbard to point out where and why this is not always valid.
This chapter is entitled “War, Peace, and the State.”  I have read and used portions of this essay in some of my past work (here and here, when reviewing the book “Nuclear Deterrence, Morality and Realism”); I have not previously gone through the entire chapter in detail.
I am not sure how to properly phrase this: this might be my favorite work of Rothbard’s (of what I have read).  It is on the single-most important topic for libertarians to consider, and Rothbard introduces a wonderful method of deconstructing the use of weapons – one that runs counter to the intersection represented in the above three statements.
Rothbard introduces the reason why he decided to tackle this subject:
The libertarian movement has been chided by William F. Buckley, Jr., for failing to use its "strategic intelligence" in facing the major problems of our time. We have, indeed, been too often prone to "pursue our busy little seminars on whether or not to demunicipalize the garbage collectors" (as Buckley has contemptuously written), while ignoring and failing to apply libertarian theory to the most vital problem of our time: war and peace.
Rothbard gleefully takes on the challenge, suggesting that, once complete, Buckley might regret making such a challenge.
Let us construct a libertarian theory of war and peace.
The fundamental axiom of libertarian theory is that no one may threaten or commit violence ("aggress") against another man's person or property. Violence may be employed only against the man who commits such violence; that is, only defensively against the aggressive violence of another.
In short, no violence may be employed against a non-aggressor. Here is the fundamental rule from which can be deduced the entire corpus of libertarian theory.
There is nothing earth-shattering in this; however, it is necessary to state as Rothbard demonstrates that this simple axiom can then answer the most complex problems of man – and turn the defendable on its head!
Rothbard suggests that we set aside the issue of the state initially; what of relations between private individuals?  Is it permissible to commit violence against an innocent third party when one is taking action against the guilty second party?  The unequivocal libertarian answer is no!
Even during the criminal act, the victim may not spray bullets into a crowd in an effort to stop the guilty party.
If he does this, he is as much (or more of) a criminal aggressor as Smith is.
And from this, the application to the issues in war are evident.  Group of people A are going after group of people B for some violation of person or property.  Is it permissible for group A to blow up village C in an attempt to harm B?  Again, the libertarian answer is a clear no!
The libertarian's basic attitude toward war must then be: it is legitimate to use violence against criminals in defense of one's rights of person and property; it is completely impermissible to violate the rights of other innocent people. War, then, is only proper when the exercise of violence is rigorously limited to the individual criminals. We may judge for ourselves how many wars or conflicts in history have met this criterion.
Not many, however it should be noted that there were times when war was conducted by the principles and not the commoners – this (generally) during the European Middle Ages.  It was also true for much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for European countries (and those with European heritage) when fighting each other; the system broken by Lincoln and the North in the American Civil War, and then in Europe with the Great War.
And this brings us to the key insight, the reason why I so appreciate this piece by Rothbard: the weapons of modern technology – nuclear bombs, gas, pretty much everything fired from an airplane or ship – are different from their predecessors not only in degree, but also in kind:
Of course, one answer to this is that when the degree is the number of human lives, the difference is a very big one. But another answer that the libertarian is particularly equipped to give is that while the bow and arrow and even the rifle can be pinpointed, if the will be there, against actual criminals, modern nuclear weapons cannot.
Yes, the bow and arrow or rifle can also be used aggressively – the point is that these can be used against the specific target.  Inherently today’s modern weapons – best represented by nuclear bombs – cannot; inherently, such weapons can only be used indiscriminately.
These weapons are ipso facto engines of indiscriminate mass destruction….We must, therefore, conclude that the use of nuclear or similar weapons, or the threat thereof, is a sin and a crime against humanity for which there can be no justification.
Maybe not as important, but also inherently a violation of the non-aggression principle.
This is why the old cliché no longer holds that it is not the arms but the will to use them that is significant in judging matters of war and peace.
Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.  Yet here is Rothbard, undefending this seemingly very defendable statement. 
For it is precisely the characteristic of modern weapons that they cannot be used selectively, cannot be used in a libertarian manner. Therefore, their very existence must be condemned, and nuclear disarmament becomes a good to be pursued for its own sake.
Sure, the nuclear bomb kills no one if it is not launched; yet it can do nothing other than initiate aggression against tens-of-thousands of innocents when launched.  The weapon itself is undefendable via libertarian theory (to say nothing of general moral conscience).
And if we will indeed use our strategic intelligence, we will see that such disarmament is not only a good, but the highest political good that we can pursue in the modern world.
So…if liberty is the highest political end and nuclear disarmament is the highest political good, it seems to me that libertarians (myself included) might spend more time focused on nuclear disarmament and war and less time on…well, I will let Rothbard tell it:
…the forestalling of massive annihilation is far more important, in truth, than the demunicipalization of garbage disposal, as worthwhile as that may be. Or are libertarians going to wax properly indignant about price control or the income tax, and yet shrug their shoulders at or even positively advocate the ultimate crime of mass murder?
In other words, maybe we should spend more time undefending the defendable.
Rothbard continues next by introducing the state into the equation.  As this post has run long enough, I will continue this examination in a future post.