Friday, June 30, 2017


I have created a tab at the top of the page capturing a bibliography on books of history and political philosophy that I have read and written about.  I will update the list irregularly. 

The current list can be found here.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Greatest Generation

In the spring of 1984, I went to the northwest of France, to Normandy, to prepare an NBC documentary on the fortieth anniversary of D-Day, the massive and daring Allied invasion of Europe that marked the beginning of the end of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.  There, I underwent a life-changing experience.

Ten years later, I returned to Normandy for the fiftieth anniversary of the invasion, and by then I had come to understand what this generation of Americans means to history.  It is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced.

-        The Greatest Generation, by Tom Brokaw


Every sentence of this gushing tribute is hogwash, well, except for the part about Brokaw visiting Normandy.  This invasion did not mark the beginning of the end of Hitler’s Third Reich.  If this is the criterion through which one is to judge “the greatest generation any society has ever produced,” one need look to a time about eighteen months earlier and more than three-thousand kilometers to the east.

The battle of Stalingrad – the most ferocious and lethal battle in human history – ended on February 2, 1943.  With an estimated death toll of a million, the bloodletting at Stalingrad far exceeded that of Verdun, one of the costliest battles of World War I.

So begins Hellbeck.  The book is compiled from 215 eyewitness accounts – an oral testimony taken during and after the battle.  Testimony is taken from general down to cook, male and female, soldiers and nurses and political officers.  The book was prepared for publication by a joint commission of German and Russian scholars and historians.

From this book, there are a couple of different themes I will examine in the coming days.  For now, an introduction.

Stalingrad.  Almost six months of fighting; between the two sides, over two million combatants; of these, almost two million killed, wounded or captured.  A key result of the German defeat: Germany moved significant military resources from west (i.e. where Brokaw’s generation would eventually fight a drastically weakened Germany) to east to deal with the losses and the newfound Soviet momentum.

While Operation Barbarossa did not result in a defeat of the Soviets in one massive operation, the German advance continued – delayed but not halted.  In the early days of the battle, there was no reason to believe Stalingrad would hold.  From Captain Afanassyev, at Stalingrad on August 20, 1942:

In fact, it was terrifying.  When I stepped outside for a look, I was overcome by doubt; the advancing German army was enormous….there’s no way we could hold out against this.  That was how I felt then.  One look into the periscope would send me into a panic.  It wasn’t exactly cowardice but the feeling that destroying everything that was moving at us was impossible.

Had Stalingrad been lost, Germany’s path to Moscow would have been open from the south; Germany’s push into and through the Caucasus and Caspian oil and into the Middle East would have advanced unimpeded.

Newspapers, political leaders, and generals in Germany, Britain and the Soviet Union understood this battle in exactly these terms.  For example, from the diary of British General Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff:

I felt Russia could never hold, Caucasus was bound to be penetrated, and Abadan (our Achilles heel) would be captured with the consequent collapse of Middle East, India, etc. After Russia's defeat how were we to handle the German land and air forces liberated? England would be again bombarded, threat of invasion revived... And now! We start 1943 under conditions I would never have dared to hope. Russia has held, Egypt for the present is safe. There is a hope of clearing North Africa of Germans in the near future...Russia is scoring wonderful successes in Southern Russia.

Up until this point, for over a year the British suffered defeat after defeat.  The United States had yet to enter the war Europe in any meaningful way.  It was the Soviets doing the heavy lifting.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

By Whose Standards?

I just can't seem to fit into society
I hold no hope for this dim simplicity
Of law and order
By whose rules?

I see no rhyme and no reason
I hold no hope for this holy treason
Of love and so soft
By whose standards?
By my standards

The song has a time metric of 11/8, hence the title of the song. 

An interesting comment to my post, The Law (No, Not THAT One), offered by Voluntaryist June 27, 2017 at 10:23 AM.  Let’s jump right in:

Are "old & good" two ideals by which to judge?

We must judge by some “ideal.”  As “old” suggests predictability in the law (a tremendously good characteristic, if you ask me), I guess it depends on your definition of “good.”   Do you offer a better “ideal”?

Is "because we've always done it that way" a valid argument?

Did I make that argument?  It really depends on your definition of “good.”

How is "good" defined?

That’s the question, isn’t it.  As long as two or more humans are destined to interact, someone (or something) must define it.  It’s kind of tough to agree to disagree on something like this.

Isn't it done by consensus?

Not in the Germanic Middle Ages; every individual noble could veto the king.  But, of course, he only had legitimacy in this if he could lean on old and good law and if his peers generally agreed…so…yes.  Kind of circular, I know; things get messy when dealing with humans in the real world.

Do the majority ever hold a "bad" as a "good" and evolve ethically? I think so.

Yes, it has happened.  At least according to my ideal, my standard.  Maybe not to theirs.

If we accept a current "good" as valid, in spite of its irrationality, are we independent thinkers?

Who is to judge the rationality of “good”?  Who is to say that one’s independent thinking is more independent than another’s?  What standard?  What ideal?

If not, is that immoral?

Based on what standard?  What ideal?

Is it moral to renounce conscience in favor of custom or consensus?

Maybe no renouncing is involved.  Who says an individual’s conscience is “moral”?  Based on what standard?

Is that what the optimal human does?

“The optimal human”?  Is this a lab experiment? 

Really, it depends on a chosen standard.  Who is to say who (or what) is “the optimal human”?  Is it appropriate to describe as “the optimal human” one who acts in an immoral (based on what standard?) manner as long as he is following his conscience?

Or is it slavish obedience to authority?

Not if it is reasonably consistent with one’s standard.  When interacting with humans, “reasonably consistent” is pretty good.

And common practice, but inhuman all the same?

I wouldn’t describe following common practice as “inhuman.”  In fact, it is very human; most people do it, sway with the wind.  The key questions (and I know I sound like a broken record):  

What is the standard?  Who decides?


Two thoughts come to mind: first, when dealing with humans, perfect is not an option; second, you can’t replace something with nothing.

Dreamers of all types have failed to understand these; schemers of all types know all too well that there is an infinite supply of dreamers.  The world is littered with the dead bodies of the beneficiaries of the schemers’ schemes – to include many of the aforementioned dreamers.

Which leads to a third thought: every dreamer’s dream starts out with a promise for a more peaceful and just world.  None have ended this way.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

You Cannot Be Serious!

Yes, they can be serious.

During his tennis career, McEnroe became known for outbursts on the court when he thought umpires had missed a call. In one classic exchange, he yelled at an official, "You cannot be serious! That ball was on the line!"

Garcia-Navarro: We're talking about male players but there is of course wonderful female players. Let's talk about Serena Williams. You say she is the best female player in the world in the book.

McEnroe: Best female player ever — no question.

Garcia-Navarro: Some wouldn't qualify it, some would say she's the best player in the world. Why qualify it?

McEnroe: Oh! Uh, she's not, you mean, the best player in the world, period?

Garcia-Navarro: Yeah, the best tennis player in the world. You know, why say female player?

McEnroe: Well because if she was in, if she played the men's circuit she'd be like 700 in the world.

Garcia-Navarro: You think so?

McEnroe: Yeah. That doesn't mean I don't think Serena is an incredible player. I do…

Do you see the problem?  Of course, you do not if you put on your rational thinking cap.  But put on your “everything is about race and gender and white privilege; context is irrelevant” cap, and the problem will jump out at you in spades.

Let’s revisit:

McEnroe: Oh! Uh, she's not, you mean, the best player in the world, period?

Garcia-Navarro: Yeah, the best tennis player in the world. You know, why say female player?

Garcia-Navarro clarified: “…the best tennis player in the world.”  Period!

Serena Williams responded via two tweets:

Dear John, I adore and respect you but please please keep me out of your statements that are not factually based.

I guess one could make an argument about “700”; is this the issue?  Because I cannot imagine anyone who knows anything about tennis would say that Serena Williams is the best player in the world.  Better that Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, or Roger Federer?

No one would say this, not even Serena Williams.

I've never played anyone ranked 'there' nor do I have time. Respect me and my privacy as I'm trying to have a baby. Good day sir.

It wasn’t McEnroe that invaded Serena’s privacy; it was Garcia-Navarro.

You can imagine the backlash in the media – mainstream news media and mainstream sports media.  For example, today McEnroe was given a chance to apologize – very nice of CBS news to offer this opportunity.

"CBS This Morning" co-host Norah O'Donnell asked McEnroe whether he'd like to apologize. McEnroe replied, "No."

McEnroe turns the table and asks Charlie Rose, and I will paraphrase: Charlie, you play a lot of tennis, I see you on the courts.  Where do you think Serena would rank on the men’s circuit?  Rose ran away from the question like Ebola.

More from McEnroe: we are talking about something that I can’t believe we are even talking about.

Well, maybe in a rational world, John.  But this is CBS (and I am sure it will be the case wherever you go).  Believe it.  They insisted to keep talking about it.

The first portion of the interview ended: “No apology to Serena, really?”  “I’d be happy to apologize to Serena if that makes you feel better.”

Because, after all, that is really what matters.


McEnroe should run for president.  He would win in a landslide.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Who Leads When There Are No Rules?

So asks Jordan Peterson.  In response, he offers food for thought:

The probability that it’s the friendliest and nicest people is very, very low.

I suggest that what he is saying is that the probability that it’s the meanest and nastiest people is very, very high.

Hans Hoppe weighs in on this topic: Why Bad Men Rule:

Free entry and competition in the production of goods is good, but free competition in the production of bads is not. Free entry into the business of torturing and killing innocents, or free competition in counterfeiting or swindling, for instance, is not good; it is worse than bad.

To this we could add Hayek’s well-known chapter from his book Road to Serfdom, Why the Worst Get on Top.

Libertarian political philosophy offers, perhaps, the fewest rules of any political philosophy devised by man.  Really, it offers only one rule: do not initiate aggression.  I guess the only way to have fewer rules is to offer no rule at all regarding aggression – but then you would have no political philosophy.  We need not concern ourselves with this absurdity.

In other words, libertarian political philosophy comes closest to the condition described by Peterson: there are no rules.  Therefore, his question is very appropriate for those grounded in libertarian theory to address: in such a condition, who leads?  Who makes the rules?

Many libertarians would answer: no one.  Each individual is an autonomous economic actor, to be bound only by voluntary contractual agreements.  This sound good in theory.

I have often posed the question: when has [insert any utopian political scheme] worked out well in practice?  Limited government, communism, fascism, democratic socialism, etc.  Show me when some men ruling over other men under any of these schemes has worked out well for those not in the ruling class.  A fair question.

I suggest another fair question: has there ever been a meaningful (I will even accept “minor”) example of a society ruled by no one?  While I acknowledge that I am no scholar in such matters, in all of my reading the most decentralized societies I have found still have rulers: patriarchs in tribes, nobles in the European Middle Ages, etc.

My point?  As I have written too often, when we consider the application of libertarian theory in this world, we should consider that human beings live in it.  Never in recorded human history, to my understanding, has there been a meaningful, sustained period of “no ruler.” 

“Yes, bionic, but pure libertarianism has never been tried.”  Of course.  Apologists for communism would say the same thing.  Maybe that’s the point.  It hasn’t been “tried” because human nature disallows it from being tried.  Given human nature, why would we expect such a utopian outcome?

I return to the basis of libertarian theory: the non-aggression principle.  Even in this least-rule-bound political theory, there are many open questions subject to interpretation.  I will offer two:

Define “aggression”; define “property.”

I can say with 100% certainty there will never be universally accepted definitions of either of these terms – even the most dedicated libertarian thinkers cannot agree on the meaning of these terms regarding many topics: abortion, immigration, intellectual property, punishment, restitution, threats, fraud, etc.  How would we expect mankind as a whole (heck, even you and your immediate neighbors) to have total agreement on these?

So…who will decide?  Who will make the rules?  Who will provide the definitions?

I have offered my answer: culture; custom; the old and good law.  Something no one individual can overcome; something no one individual can overrule or erase.

Do you have a better answer?  Because, if you don’t, go back and read Hoppe and Hayek.  That’s your answer.  You choose to be ruled by men, and you choose to be ruled by the worst of these.


Absent a well-defined and widely accepted culture there is no hope of moving toward a libertarian world.  Such a culture is not a sufficient condition (as not all cultures are conducive to libertarianism), but it is certainly a necessary condition.