Friday, December 14, 2018

Two Sides of the Same Coin

We seem to be heading into a confrontation between the two forces of Modernism: the primacy of the individual versus the increasing technological and economic might of the central state.
-          Charles Hugh Smith, The Conflicting Forces of Modernism: Kafka and Kierkegaard
The individual on the one hand, the all-powerful state on the other.  Are these two opposite and antagonistic forces, as many believe, or are they merely two sides of the same coin, with one feeding the other?
If two things are two sides of the same coin or opposite sides of the same coin, they are closely related to each other and cannot be separated, even though they seem to be completely different. (Emphasis added)
Returning to Smith:
The primacy of the individual is the core of Modernism, as each individual discovers the mysteries of God in their own way and time, and creates their own identity via their own choices and commitments. 
Hasn’t western society – and certainly US society – maximized this “individualism” already?  Tattoos and body-piercings in places known and unknown, hair in every fluorescent color, an infinite variety of gender possibilities, family units of every type, gods of every type?  Yes, I guess “more” is always possible, but western society does not suffer from a deficit of “God in my own way and time” or “my own created identity.”
As much as we have maximized individualism, in what manner will we be able to resist the state?  With whose support?  “You and what army?”
As each of us is now our own unique individual, for what reason would I join with you to defend your individualism – an individualism that might be completely contrary to anything that matters to me?  Yeah, yeah, I know the poem: “First they came for the socialists….”  What good are such words when we know that no one has acted on these?  What are you willing to die for?
If, in fact, individualism stood at the opposite side of a mighty central state, why does the mighty central state support, advance, and subsidize all manners of behaviors that allow each of us to create our own “individual”?  It is very easily possible to make oneself free from all interpersonal support systems, institutions, cultural norms, etc. – in other words, as individual as imaginable – thanks to state support.
“The primacy of the individual versus the increasing technological and economic might of the central state.”  Two sides of the same coin; these two cannot be separated, even though they seem completely different.
Nothing better for the increasing growth of a centralizing state than ensuring – and even supporting – the “individual.”

Monday, December 10, 2018

Lessons From Our Past

The Libertarian Forum, edited by Murray N. Rothbard; June 1, 1970

It has been some time since I last probed the pages of this semi-monthly newsletter edited by Murray Rothbard.  For various reasons, I find it appropriate to dive back in.  When we last left the story, Rothbard had concluded that the new left was hopeless when it came to prospects for liberty – having abandoned a radical anti-war stance and embraced various social and even libertine causes, none having to do with the objective of liberty – in fact, destructive of this objective.

Rothbard titles this edition “The New Movement: Peace Politics.”  Unfortunately, many who fancy themselves as libertarian cannot even grasp this simple concept – peace, as in anti-war, anti-interventionism.  This issue – and so much more – is covered in this edition, starting with the opening sentence:

There is no doubt about it: Richard Milhous Nixon is the most effective organizer that the anti-war movement has ever had.

There is to be found a small handful of libertarians – of which I count myself as one – who find in Trump similar benefits when it comes to advancing liberty. In Trump’s case, not because he is coalescing the anti-war forces so tremendously destroyed by Obama, but because he is making a mockery of the state – both through his positive and negative actions. 

Positive: he is unafraid to point out the hypocrisy of the state and the establishment; negative: the concept of dignity is not to be found in the same paragraph with the word president. 

Lesson 1: Making a mockery of the state is valuable if shrinking the state is one objective for libertarians.  That someone can be elected president with this mockery a major part of his platform is even more valuable.  That the elected president continues to mock the state after his inauguration is priceless.

It was this issue of war and peace that drove the handful of non-interventionists from the right to the new left in the 1950s; Rothbard now sees that it is driving him and others from the new left.  Describing an anti-war meeting that he attended with Leonard Liggio, the vast majority of left-leaning attendees booed the message.  Instead, they were after civil rights and socialism. 

Lesson 2: nothing surprising here, at least in concept; revolutionaries are all against something but rarely for the same thing.  Lesson 2.5: revolutions get coopted, usually by the worst elements in society.

However, Rothbard finds hope.  The new anti-war movement is made up of “real people”: businessmen (other than those employed by the merchants of death) and members of the President’s cabinet; people who are repelled by the antics of the new left.

Lesson 3: as the establishment today has made it unacceptable for “real people” to hold non-establishment (statist) views, pretty much anything that tears at the established narrative (e.g. Trump) is good for liberty.

The next essay in this edition of the newsletter is authored by Jerome Tuccille.  What is replacing the new left – the left that has fled the anti-war movement?

…a familiar two-headed beast: the old scarred and ugly face of doctrinaire Marxism and the more hideous visage of self-righteous nihilism.

Marxism at its root destroys the idea of private property.  Libertarianism has an answer for this.  But nihilism is “more hideous” than Marxism according to Tuccille.   An interesting thought. 

Lesson 4: libertarianism offers no defense against nihilism.  Yet, being more hideous than Marxism, maybe it should.

How to avoid the errors of our past?  Tuccille cites the success of Atlas Shrugged in the late 1950s, “the last best chance for free markets in the United States.”  Yet what came of this?  The novel offered no meaningful answers to the problems of the day.

While Objectivists engaged in the exclusive luxury of abstractions and ideology, a war was going on, housing and education among other vital institutions were coming apart, the cities were exploding with violence, the American middle class was falling into a daze, and government grew increasingly more repressive.

What was the Objectivist cure for this? Selfishness.
What was the cause of all our ills?  Altruism.          
What should we do about exploited minorities?  Leave them alone.

Tuccille wrote the eulogy of Objectivism only a decade after Rand’s novel – rightly, of course, but only a decade nonetheless.  Keep this in mind….

Instead of replying “rational self-interest” when people want to know how to meet these concerns, we will have to demonstrate how a strict enforcement of property rights will [provide answers]…

It has been forty-eight years since Tuccille wrote these words.  There has been phenomenal work done in the area of demonstrating how property rights can resolve many of the concerns of society – frankly, this discussion has been exhausted. 

Walter Block is correct when he offers that we are now working to move a fraction of an inch closer to the truth when we engage in debate and dialogue; yet we have already covered more than 99 out of the 100 inches on this path.  Will the straw of last remaining fraction of an inch be what breaks the camel’s back?  If ten years was long enough to write off Objectivism, what do we do with the libertarian reliance on property rights after half a century?

Lesson 5: libertarianism is no less an “abstraction and ideology” than is Objectivism.  Man doesn’t do well with abstractions and ideologies.  Perhaps instead of remaining focused on the last hidden corners of private property, a libertarian narrative is called for.  Leave it to Hans Hoppe to begin this conversation.  I think I will soon examine his lecture.



The closing essay in this edition is offered by Edwin G. Dolan, writing of “The Lenin Centennial” – 100 years since Lenin’s birth.  Dolan identifies “many sound principles of importance to any movement opposing the status quo,” taken from Lenin’s famous pamphlet “What is to be Done?

These and many other passages deserve the attention of libertarians as the 1970s begin, for our movement today has much in common with the bolshevism of the Iskra period.

Iskra was the political paper of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP).  Lenin’s “Iskra period” was from 1900 to 1903.  Fifteen years later, Lenin was victorious.

Revolutions all end the same way – with most revolutionaries greatly dissatisfied with the outcome, and most of these ending up on the guillotine or in the Gulag.  Is this the form of revolution we want?  Can we now, after fifty years, come up with a different path?

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

More Alike Than Unlike

Needless to say, [Woodrow] Wilson suffered from the Great American Malady, the belief that people all over the world are "more alike than unlike," in other words, that they are just inhibited, underdeveloped could-be Americans saddled with the misfortune that they spoke another language.

Leftism: From de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Marcuse, by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (EvKL)

EvKL examines the American left and World War One; as can be seen from the above cited passage, one focus is on that of the belief in the universal – and additionally messianic – nature of the American democratic system.

He offers the well-understood points of the prolonging of the war due to Wilson’s entry into the war; the desire of the British left for the war to be extended via America’s entrance; that it was also the American left that dove into the Second World War.  My focus, however, will be two-fold: the ideology of the left that drove it (and still drives it) to war, and the drive to follow utopian failure with the next utopian failure. 

[Wilson] was working towards a Djihad, a holy war to extend what he considered the American form of government.

This was evident even earlier, in Wilson’s dealings with Mexico, as seen in a statement made by Walter Hines Page, Wilson’s ambassador.  The context is a discussion with Sir Edward Grey, Britain's Foreign Secretary, and Wilson’s desire to force Mexico into a democracy.  Page concludes:

The United States will be here for 200 years and it can continue to shoot men for that little space till they learn to vote and rule themselves.

The only change in the last one hundred years is that the intervention no longer occupies a “little space.”

World War One is pointed to by EvKL as “a far more crucial historic event than most Americans think. …George F. Kennan is perfectly right when he says, ‘All the lines of inquiry lead back to World War I.’’’ I think this is right as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough.  The Great War wasn’t born in a vacuum; the left that drove the world into and through this war – with no acceptance of truce or a less-than-total victory – did not come from nothing.

EvKL points to the anti-monarchism and the anti-Catholicism of Wilson; one can say much the same of the left since the time of the Enlightenment.  There are roots that produced the trees of the Great War; one does not commit suicide without some cause, some history, some events of distress, some loss of foundation and hope.

We are introduced to George Davis Herron, Wilson’s “left hand (in every sense left hand!).”  EvKL offers that Herron’s thinking, in every way, encompasses the thinking of the progressive left of the time, and he is also perfectly aligned ideologically with Wilson.  Some background, from Wikipedia:

George Davis Herron (1862–1925) was an American clergyman, lecturer, writer, and Christian socialist activist. Herron is best remembered as a leading exponent of the so-called "Social Gospel" movement and for his highly publicized divorce and remarriage to the daughter of a wealthy benefactor which scandalized polite society of the day.

Herron came to fame by challenging the right of the wealthy to their possessions and preaching a gospel of social redemption.  This earned him an endowed position at Iowa College, where he taught for six years beginning in 1893.  It was regarding the daughter of his benefactor to which the aforementioned remarriage refers.  The court awarded Herron’s now ex-wife (with whom he had five children) the fortune of Herron’s new wife in the settlement!

Politically, he was a supporter of the Socialist Labor Party of America during the 1890s.  In 1904 he delivered the nominating speech for Eugene Debs at the National Convention of the Socialist Party.

During the war, he was in Europe – having fled the US with his second wife to avoid the scandals of his divorce and remarriage.  While he saw the evils in England and France as bad enough, these could be cured; it was in Germany where an incurable disease existed.

Despite Wilson’s campaign slogans to the contrary, Herron vocally predicted Wilson’s secret mission and therefore his eventual actions; these all came true with America’s entry into the war in 1917.  He supplied intelligence garnered from his German academic contacts to the Allies during the war. 

EvKL describes Herron’s views on the war:

This was a Holy War of all the forces of progress, enlightenment, and tolerance against the most unholy alliance of the Vatican, "Mother of Harlots," the Prussian Junkers, the wicked Hapsburgs and the Lutheran gun manufacturers of the Ruhr Valley!

In April 1917, at the time when a negotiated peace was still possible had not America joined the Allies, Herron – “tortured by the fear of a compromise peace” – would write: "Darkness is rising rapidly over the skies of the nations.”  To which it was replied by Romain Rolland: Herron was “a ‘virtuous hypocrite’ and a ‘gigantic idiot.’”

Monday, December 3, 2018

The “Bad” Liberal

Leftism: From de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Marcuse, by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (EvKL)

Previously I have examined EvKL’s treatment of what he described as “Real Liberalism.”  In this post, I will work through his examination of “False Liberalism.”  While he sees similarities in the transition in England, it is in the United States where he will focus:

How was it possible that in the United States the word that means freedom-loving, generous, tolerant, open-minded, hostile to state omnipotence and anti-totalitarian, came to stand for the very contrary of all these notions and virtues?

He offers that the explanation is simple: the old-fashioned liberal was often the one who did not resist change, who accepted the “Wave of the Future.”  The conservative stood against change, and change was largely a leftist movement.

In other words, the old-fashioned liberal had no defenses against…what shall I call it…bad change.  The libertarian, I guess you could say, is an even more impotent position, it would seem.

The leftist ideologies all claimed the future, they claimed utopia, they claimed the millennium in a chiliastic spirit. They believed in the concept of a near-automatic progress (which needed just a little "push").

Isn’t this the promise of all ideologies birthed after the Enlightenment and absent the God that the Enlightenment ignored (and that later periods removed and then killed)?

There were old-fashioned, i.e., genuine liberals who clung to their convictions; Albert Jay Nock, even H. L. Mencken were among them.

As in all movements, transitions of thought, etc., not everything changes at once.  Even today we find individuals who stand for what EvKL would call old-fashioned liberal.  Interestingly, these now find a much better fit into a conservative camp as opposed to a modern liberal camp.  But men such as these are dullards:

As long as there existed a utopia at the end of the road, painted in the colors of absolute personal freedom, the genuine liberal was sure to be a "progressive."

I think what is meant by “genuine” here is the newfangled type of liberal.  Certainly in these last couple of paragraphs we also see the split that exists within the libertarian community.  It seems to me a strong enough split that I am not sure I would even call it a community.

Sure, on some things we can ride on the train together – for example, and for most (but not all), an anti-war road.  But on many things, libertarians will find themselves much more at home with either the left or the right as opposed to with other “libertarians.”

Whereas Jacques Barzun places the great shift in the idea of “liberal” in Europe – what he calls “The Great Switch” – at the turn of the last century and prior to the Great War.  EvKL offers a different timeline, at least for the United States:

The Great Change, however, came only in the 1930s when certain Americans, who saw in their country primarily not their fatherland but the" American Experiment," suddenly thought that the" Soviet Experiment" offered even more to mankind.

Perhaps EvKL has a somewhat different transition in view, as his focus is very much on the Soviets and communism, and the acceptance of this ideology within the US intelligentsia (and also, perhaps, in the FDR administration).  This certainly was a transition in slope, but not direction, it seems to me. The Progressive ideas of the income tax and central banking, born twenty years earlier in the United States, made the 1930s possible.

While the old liberal didn’t appreciate some of the new ideas, there were enough commonalities to keep many of them involved.  In any case, he had previously and willingly lost all defenses, because – among other reasons – “he had previously been robbed of his sense of values.”

EvKl sees this loss having come a half a generation before (Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.); regarding this Supreme Court jurist:

…Holmes helped move American legal thinking towards legal realism, as summed up in his maxim: "The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience." Holmes espoused a form of moral skepticism and opposed the doctrine of natural law, marking a significant shift in American jurisprudence. In one of his most famous opinions, his dissent in Abrams v. United States (1919), he regarded the United States Constitution as "an experiment, as all life is an experiment"…

Yes, this is pretty bad, but it seems to me the path was set long before – not later than 1861.  Such change doesn’t happen so quickly, nor on so shaky a foundation as a few court rulings.  EvKL offers as one example:

As a real positivist Holmes could write that, "Sovereignty is a form of power, and the will of the sovereign is law because he has power to compel obedience or punish disobedience and for no other reason.”