Thursday, November 30, 2017

Leftist or Libertarian?

Of course, I understand that the two need not be mutually exclusive.  Yet, when one reads an appeal to libertarians, it seems reasonable to expect that the issues presented have something to do with libertarianism.

Recently a friend of mine sent me something written by an outspoken and reasonably well-known libertarian; I think it is fair to describe this individual as a left-libertarian.  I am not comfortable offering the name of the author as the original reference is to a Facebook post; as I am not on Facebook, I cannot directly verify the source.  Further, I am unable to offer a link.  I suspect someone with a Facebook account can find this pretty easily.

So, why do I bother addressing this?  Two reasons, I guess: first, the comment is on a topic that I have written about recently (more than once), one on which I place some value; second, it offers a case study to the question posed in the title (and clarified in my opening paragraph above).

Here is the post, in its entirety (based on the email I received):

Jordan Peterson is a huckster and charlatan and if you take him as a serious scholar you should not be taken seriously. He's a slicker, more credentialed Molyneux, and real scholars know that he is misrepresenting those he disagrees with and offering a one-sided take on the issues he's discussing.

To those libertarians, young and old, who are fans, you are hitching yourself to a doomed train. We can and should do much better than this nonsense. Find and follow real scholars who treat the left the way you'd want the left to treat you. Spit out this poison before it destroys you and the case for liberty. Seriously.

What he is not, however, is the author of any lasting work of scholarship, the originator of any important idea, or a public intellectual of any scientific credibility or moral seriousness. Peterson’s sole discovery is that “postmodernism” can be usefully exploited alongside the more familiar, established populist scare tactics. ...

As a description of what the “postmodern” thinkers actually wrote, it is very flawed. If all of Derrida’s and Foucault’s writing can be made to support one sweeping claim, it is not that interpretation is potentially infinite and therefore meaningless. It is that interpretation must be socially and historically contextualized in order to become meaningful. Much art that we now deem canonical—Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, for instance—would have struck nineteenth-century art patrons as incomprehensible garbage. The point is simply that artistic values are not universal but produced by historically situated communities of people.

Let’s be clear: Peterson doesn’t understand the major thinkers in the “postmodern” tradition who he libels for money. His grotesque caricature and slander of the humanities is very different from what actually happens in humanities classrooms."

Let’s examine this.  First note, the appeal is to libertarians:

To those libertarians, young and old, who are fans, you are hitching yourself to a doomed train.

With this as the author’s concern, you would think that the reasons behind the attack would have something to do with the non-aggression principle.  But I find nary a criticism on this basis; instead, the author offers:

Find and follow real scholars who treat the left the way you'd want the left to treat you….What he is not, however, is the author of any lasting work of scholarship, the originator of any important idea, or a public intellectual of any scientific credibility or moral seriousness…. As a description of what the “postmodern” thinkers actually wrote, it is very flawed….

I have no idea if Peterson’s views on post-modernist philosophy are accurate or not.  But, as a libertarian, what do I care?  I don’t.  I don’t pay attention to Peterson because of his analysis and conclusions about post-modernism.

While offering no reason for libertarians as libertarians to reject Peterson, the author admonishes “libertarians, young and old” to:

Spit out this poison before it destroys you and the case for liberty. Seriously.

But what poison must I, as a libertarian, spit out?  I receive not a clue from this rant.  I might, as a historian or political philosopher or a leftist find reason to “spit out” something that Peterson offers, but why as a libertarian?  Silence.

So, What’s Really Going on Here?

I cannot speak to why other libertarians have been drawn to Peterson.  I can speak as to my interest.

I believe Peterson’s popularity first soared when he began his fight regarding the compelled use of gender pronouns – compelled by law. 

I became aware of him some time after this, when someone pointed me to Peterson’s lectures and discussions regarding the value of culture and tradition in society, and specifically the value of western, Christian tradition.  After this, I have also spent time on his gender pronoun topics.

That Peterson bases his views on his interpretation of post-modernism – whether a valid interpretation or not – is irrelevant to me as a libertarian. 

I believe it is safe to say: if Peterson is well-known to a public broader than his university students and to libertarians in particular, it is for these two reasons:

1)      He is against being compelled by law to use made-up words; he is against compelled speech.

2)      He recognizes the value of the western tradition that has been developed and refined through the millennia.

That’s it.

So, why would a libertarian – as a libertarian – have a beef with these?

A libertarian should be fully supportive of Peterson’s stance on the first item.  Government limitations on speech (on or while using my own property) are bad enough; government compelled speech is unbelievably horrendous. 

The government is forcing you to say something.  If you don’t say it, you could go to prison.  This is about as anti-libertarian as it gets.

To the second point: it seems to me that as a libertarian, the most one could say is he is neutral on this matter.  When it comes to traditions and norms, these are all outside of the non-aggression principle (although I believe that libertarianism can only survive and thrive in a certain cultural soil).

So, a libertarian as a libertarian would agree with Peterson on the first point, and at worst be neutral toward Peterson’s view on the second.


A leftist, on the other hand, would really despise Peterson for both points.

So, I ask: leftist or libertarian?  From which perspective would one have a complaint about Peterson?


BTW, although I haven’t examined this thoroughly, I think Rothbard holds a similar view on the topic of the post-modernists as does Peterson (I may write something on Rothbard’s views at some point).  Rothbard might be the primary reason that this left-libertarian is apoplectic about Peterson’s popularity with libertarians.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Decentralization: An Essentially Libertarian Vision

The Libertarian Forum, edited by Murray N. Rothbard; May 15, 1969. 

The recent secessionist referendum in Catalunya brought some strong negative reactions from several corners of the libertarian community.  The reasons to be against such a referendum varied, from the idea that any group action is, inherently, not libertarian to the idea that secession is only to be supported by libertarians if the seceding entity is, in fact, libertarian.

I came out on the other side – not only was the referendum in Catalunya worthy of libertarian support, every move toward decentralization is worthy of libertarian support, regardless of the politics of the seceding entity. 

I believe libertarianism in theory is decentralization in practice.  Unless one is foolish enough to believe that one day 7 billion people will awaken at the same moment to the non-aggression principle, the only path open to us is to support an ever-growing number of possible governance units from which we might choose one that best suits our desired politics.

My responses to a couple of the anti-secessionist libertarians can be found here and here.  The very short version: we will never get from something like 200 political jurisdictions to 2,000 or 2 billion or 7 billion until we get to 201 first.  Support secession, then the next one and then the next one.  Do this a few dozen times and we might be getting somewhere.

So, what’s the point of this preamble to my next installment in review of this publication?  Believe it or not, it is prompted by the election for mayor of New York City in June 1969.

I almost skipped this edition when I saw the title, “Mailer for Mayor.”  I am not terribly interested in reading about a failed mayoral candidacy from almost 50 years ago.  I changed my mind within the first three lines (I should have known better than to shortchange Rothbard).

The candidate is Norman Mailer, announcing his candidacy in the Democratic primary.  Rothbard described this as “the most refreshing libertarian political campaign in decades.”  What about Mailer’s campaign brought on this glowing comment from Rothbard?

The Mailer platform stems from one brilliantly penetrating overriding plank: the absolute decentralization of the swollen New York City bureaucracy into dozens of constituent neighborhood villages.

Rothbard is not waiting for the big bang – seven billion people simultaneously seeing the light:

Each neighborhood will then be running its own affairs, on all matters, taxation, education, police, welfare, etc.

As opposed to the idea that there is something un-libertarian about people living next to each other and sharing some desires in common for the neighborhood.  In any case, the smaller and more local the political unit, the more control each constituent has and the more that those in government will be known individually – in person, face-to-face.

Rothbard recognizes that neighborhoods will separate into common groupings; he is not shy about discussing black and white.  He recognizes that the idea of “diversity” is an idea formed to bring conflict; instead, he offers:

…in the Mailer plan, black and white could at long last live peacefully side-by-side, with each group and each self-constituted neighborhood running its own affairs.

Whites and blacks would be independent equals “rather than as rulers of one over the other….”

One of Mailer’s key proposals is that New York City secede from New York State and form a separate 51st State….

That the seceding New York City would likely be far more socialist than the rest of the state didn’t bother Rothbard one bit, it seems – decentralization was the key, the non-aggression principle put into practice.  Also, keep in mind: Mailer ran as a democrat.  Imagine that: a democrat for secession and political segregation. 

As to a libertarian newsletter making a political endorsement, Rothbard would have nothing of the idea that libertarians and voting (or at least support for a politician) don’t mix:

While I respect this position, I consider it unduly sectarian.

It’s not as if no one will win; someone will win.  Maybe more important, someone will lose.

…why shouldn’t we at least express a hope that someone rather than someone else will fill such positions?

Even if it is “a piddling choice, a marginal choice, a choice which means little,” Rothbard finds it worthwhile to offer support.  Rothbard cites Lysander Spooner, from No Treason:

In the case of individuals, their actual voting is not to be taken as proof of consent…

Doubtless the most miserable of men, under the most oppressive government in the world, if allowed the ballot, would use it, if they could see any chance of thereby ameliorating their condition.  But it would not, therefore, be a legitimate inference that the government itself, that crushes them, was one which they had voluntarily set up, or even consented to.

This position strikes me as wholly consistent with the approach Walter Block has advocated.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Rise of the Modern State

Luther and His Progeny: 500 Years of Protestantism and Its Consequences for Church, State, and Society, edited by John C. Rao.

I must begin this post as I do each post in the series of examining this book: I am not interested in the theological debate.  I am interested in what happens to peace, governance, and growth of government when common culture is lost.

So let’s begin.

Christendom died to allow Europe to be born…
-        Francisco Elias de Tejada, cited by Miguel Ayuso

According to Tejada, the system was brought down by five successive ruptures:

-        The religious rupture of Lutheran Protestantism
-        The ethical rupture with Machiavelli
-        The political rupture at the hands of Bodin
-        The juridical rupture through Grotius and Hobbes
-        The definitive rupture with the Treaties of Westphalia

He summarizes:

From 1517 through 1648 Europe was born and grew, and to the degree that Europe was born and grew, Christianity died.

For the purpose of this post, if it helps: don’t think of “Christianity” in the…Christian sense; think of it in the common culture and tradition sense.

I offer a brief summary of these various characters:

Niccolò Machiavelli, best known for The Prince, is not the easiest political philosopher to understand.  Given the context of Rao’s book, it is safe to take the negative view:

Machiavelli described immoral behavior, such as dishonesty and killing innocents, as being normal and effective in politics. He even seemed to endorse it in some situations. The book itself gained notoriety when some readers claimed that the author was teaching evil, and providing "evil recommendations to tyrants to help them maintain their power".

Jean Bodin was a sixteenth century French jurist and political philosopher:

He is best known for his theory of sovereignty…

Bodin lived during the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation and wrote against the background of religious conflict in France. He remained a nominal Catholic throughout his life but was critical of papal authority over governments, favouring the strong central control of a national monarchy as an antidote to factional strife.

The fracturing of Christian (again, common culture and tradition, if you prefer) Europe inherently required a new ruler, one who would provide strong central control as opposed to the decentralized structure that came before.

Hugo Grotius was a Dutch jurist:

Grotius laid the foundations for international law, based on natural law.

It is thought that Hugo Grotius was not the first to formulate the international society doctrine, but he was one of the first to define expressly the idea of one society of states, governed not by force or warfare but by actual laws and mutual agreement to enforce those laws.

Laws to be created by man, not by custom.

Thomas Hobbes was an English philosopher, considered to be one of the founders of modern political philosophy.

Hobbes is best known for his 1651 book Leviathan, which established the social contract theory that has served as the foundation for most later Western political philosophy.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

White Music

This post has been sitting on the back burner for over three months.

I will sometimes have an idea for a post but am not sure if I want to do something with it or what I want to do with it.  Well…the time has arrived for this post – and the reason will become clear shortly.

The Whitest Music Ever: Prog rock was audacious, innovative—and awful.  So says James Parker at The Atlantic.  Well, he might be right in what he says in the title, but right off the bat I don’t like this guy:

The trapped, eunuch ferocity of Geddy Lee’s voice, squealing inside the nonsense clockwork of Rush, disturbs me.

He is both overtly mocking Geddy Lee and covertly mocking what I consider to be Rush’s best album ever, Clockwork Angels.  Better that this guy advocated nuclear war with Russia or something. 

And from whence comes the title of this piece?

“We’re a European group,” declared the lead singer of proto-proggers The Nice in 1969, “so we’re improvising on European structures … We’re not American Negros, so we can’t really improvise and feel the way they can.” Indeed. Thus did [progressive rock] divorce itself from the blues, take flight into the neoclassical, and become the whitest music ever.

The whitest music ever?  I think “King Tut” by Steve Martin is the slam dunk winner. 

But, let’s go with progressive rock, as is suggested by Mr. Parker.  No matter your preference or disdain for progressive rock, I believe we could agree that it is, perhaps, the most complicated music of this (and maybe many) generation(s). 

Multiple time signature changes; complex chords and structures; lyrics that seem to have no rhythm when read, flow beautifully when sung to the music, etc.  It takes intelligence, mental coordination, physical coordination, emotional complexity, connecting the mental and physical and emotional – far more than any music of which I am aware…well, since Bach…but I will come to this shortly. 

Those who perform progressive rock well might be the most intelligent and capable musicians on the planet; I suggest that they are virtuosos.  My personal favorites are Rush and Dream Theater (and derivatives of Dream Theater, especially Liquid Tension Experiment…and orchestras that cover same).

That James Parker connects progressive rock to the neoclassical deserves mention; one can find a little Johann Sebastian Bach at the heart of every progressive rock musician.  If you think I exaggerate either this point or my praise of the ability of progressive rock musicians, bear with me for a brief diversion.  I will make the connection.  Regarding Bach’s compositions, for example:

Modulations, changing key in the course of a piece, is another style characteristic where Bach goes beyond what was usual in his time.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Explaining Postmodernism

In listening to Jordan Peterson over the last few months, he has often commented on the destructive philosophy of post-modernism, a philosophy that – in his view – is the force behind the cultural destruction underway in the west.

Prior to hearing this from him, my knowledge on the matter went to the cultural Marxists of the Frankfurt School and, before this, Antonio Gramsci.  Peterson is aware of these influences, but for him the Post-Modernists are today’s driving force.

What is meant by postmodernism?

Postmodernism is difficult to define, because to define it would violate the postmodernist's premise that no definite terms, boundaries, or absolute truths exist.

Are nationalism, politics, religion, and war the result of a primitive human mentality? Is truth an illusion? How can Christianity claim primacy or dictate morals? The list of concerns goes on and on….

It seems both an infinite number of realities and no realities – all at the same time.  No wonder it is difficult to define.

I have been thinking about this post from the first time I heard the subject mentioned by Peterson.  Even setting aside the normal life that often gets in the way of writing, this has been a subject that I have had to let stew in the old noodle for a while.  I offer the following as an initial foray into a subject that I do not yet understand very well.

I have found a few helpful resources on the topic and will reference two of these in this post.  With this, let’s begin. 

Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Stephen R. C. Hicks, a book review by David Gordon

A more thorough definition and explanation of this philosophy:

…Hicks tells us exactly what he means by postmodernism: "Metaphysically, postmodernism is anti-realist, holding that it is impossible to speak meaningfully about an independently existing reality. Postmodernism substitutes instead a social-linguistic, constructionist account of reality. Epistemologically, having rejected the notion of an independently existing reality, postmodernism denies that reason or any other method is a means of acquiring direct knowledge of that reality. . . . Postmodern accounts of human nature are consistently collectivist, holding that individuals’ identities are constructed largely by the social-linguistic groups they are a part of . . . postmodern themes in ethics and politics are characterized by an identification with and sympathy for the groups perceived to be oppressed in the conflicts, and a willingness to enter the fray on their behalf" (emphasis in original).

While there may be some differences between the postmodernists and the cultural Marxists, it seems the objectives are quite similar – use identity politics (“groups perceived to be oppressed”) in order to destroy western culture and tradition and, hence, bring on their socialist paradise.

Hicks tells us that the "names of the postmodern vanguard are now familiar: Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jean-François Lyotard, and Richard Rorty. They are its leading strategists.”

All are French except Rorty, for whatever that is worth.  Derrida and some of the other French advocates are or were affiliated with the Collège international de philosophie:

The Collège international de philosophie (Ciph), located in Paris' 5th arrondissement, is a tertiary education institute placed under the trusteeship of the French government department of research and chartered under the French 1901 Law on associations. It was co-founded in 1983 by Jacques Derrida, François Châtelet, Jean-Pierre Faye and Dominique Lecourt in an attempt to re-think the teaching of philosophy in France, and to liberate it from any institutional authority (most of all from the University). Its financing is mainly through public funds.

The college offers no degrees, it has few students, and attendance is open and free.  Why it deserves to exist, I cannot explain.  Therefore, this leads one to consider cynical possibilities.

Returning to Gordon’s review:

[Hicks] proceeds to ask an insightful question: what is the appeal of these irrational views to contemporary intellectuals?

A fair question.  And the answer:

Monday, November 20, 2017

The End is Near

The storyline began with Weinstein and moved, as sure as day follows night, to Clinton.

And now this:

Bill Clinton Faces Sexual Assault Accusations From Four More Women

…the women allege the former president assaulted them in the early 2000s, when Clinton was working with playboy billionaire investor Ron Burkle.

They say there is no evidence that Burkle knew anything about the alleged assaults.  I say that there is:

Clinton and Burkle used to travel together on Burkle’s private jet, which earned the reprehensible nickname “Air F*** One”. All of the women are former employees of Burkle who said Clinton took advantage of his power over them.

What do you think?  I say Burkle will be added to the list.

And Bill and Hillary are done.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Cliffs Notes for the (Un) A Ware

I hate self-deluded experts who won’t make an effort….

I offer the following exchange, with some additional color thrown in by yours truly:

I resisted commenting but here goes.

You should have stuck to your first instinct.

I admire your writing and mostly agree with your analysis, though I am an anarchist rather than libertarian.

Wow! A real anarchist and not a mamby-pamby libertarian!  Thanks for sharing.

Why this is relevant, we are given not a clue.  In any case, whenever someone who has never commented here before (at least to my recollection) starts his comment with something like “long time reader” or “I admire your writing” I am 99.99% sure that a) it isn’t true and b) idiocy will follow.

I cannot make the reason for your agreement with this thinly veiled Roman apology masquerading as historical/political commentary.

A fair wonderment, but not for someone who says “I admire your writing and mostly agree with your analysis,” given that I have written my analysis on this exact topic more times than any other.

Even a superficial knowledge knows of the Inquisition. If there was some kind of "common" culture it was the result of violence and severe repression of any dissenting views. Suggested reading: A History of the Inquisition in the Middle Ages by Henry Charles Lea.

A typical (and uninformed) stereotype of the time and place.

If the Roman church is the giver of this commonality, it did so just as the Communist Party did in the Soviet Union, with violence and terror.

A typical (and uninformed) stereotype of the time and place.

One has to ignore real history (and many papal bulls) to think this institution is ever been a friend of the average man. That common culture was serf and noble with very little in between.

The serf had much more freedom and law on his side than most would expect, at least for those who go no deeper than the stereotype; the noble even more freedom, and much more than any modern citizen.  Further…he acted truly noble.

The wars of the 20th century had nothing to do with religion, they were ideological wars primarily with the German Succession question complicating matters. I fail to see Protestant fingerprints on them.

Theologically, something is wrong with a religion that at one time would kill you if you possessed that religion's holy writings. Think about that!

I respect the partisans of the Roman church to defend it however they wish, but I still cannot understand your affinity with point of view.

For anyone who has actually read anything on the topic or my posts on this topic, the above statements would not be so easily offered – at least not without addressing the points previously made.

My reply to his comment:

bionic mosquito November 17, 2017 at 3:51 PM

You claim to be a long time reader, yet I have never claimed that the Roman Church was perfect.

If you want to have a conversation, proceed as follows:

    1) Look to the top of this page.
    2) Click on the "Bibliography" tab
    3) Read every post under the author "Fritz Kern"
    4) Read the post under Regine Pernoud
    5) Read selected posts under RHC Davis (the titles of the posts will indicate the relevant posts)
    6) Read the first post under Jacques Barzun

After you have done this, please reply in a manner that makes clear that you have some understanding of the law and culture of the time.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Clintons’ Day of Reckoning

Day of Reckoning: the time when one is called to account for one's actions, to pay one's debts, or to fulfill one's promises or obligations.

When the Harvey Weinstein story broke about a month ago, I offered that the reason for such a story to break now – after decades of such behavior – might have something to do with the democrats getting tired of telling Hillary to go away.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Thursday went to a place that few Democrats have dared or cared to go when it comes to allegations of sexual assault: Calling out Bill Clinton.

The initial story on Weinstein broke in the New York Times; this story is in the Washington Post.  In other words, this isn’t some wacko like bionic mosquito or some such.  Someone is on a mission.

It's difficult to overstate the potential significance of Gillibrand's response to the question about the former president.

As you would expect, Gillibrand is being threatened by Clinton loyalists.  I say this is irrelevant – and not only because the democratic party establishment wants to make Hillary go away:

Suddenly, other Democrats will be asked if they agree with Gillibrand's comments that the former president should have resigned.

Stuck between an oval-office desk and a hard place….

If a reasonably large number of Democrats decide to rewrite their view of Clinton's legacy as one that should have ended in disgrace, that turns Clinton from a statesman into something closer to what many Republicans have long alleged.

Alleged”?  You must be kidding.

It may never come to that, especially if other Democrats don't join in Gillibrand's statements about Clinton.

They won’t have a choice.  They will have to make a public statement: side with the predator and his (nominally speaking) wife, or protect their own tails.


But in one fell swoop, [Gillibrand] put that debate squarely on the table. And you can bet the Clintons are apoplectic about that right now — especially considering the source.

Any tears out there?