Sunday, July 8, 2018

Procuring Petty and Paltry Pleasures

“I think,” wrote the brilliant Tocqueville in 1840, “that the species of oppression by which democratic nations are menaced is unlike anything that ever before existed in the world…”

Tocqueville goes on to define it – how this despotism will take over the world:

“The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives.”

Above such men “stands an immense and tutelary power” that is “absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild” keeping men “in a perpetual state of childhood.”

Tocqueville continues defining this new form of oppression, before offering:

“I have always thought that servitude of the regular, quiet, and gentle kind which I have just described might be combined more easily than is commonly believed with some of the outward forms of freedom, and that it might even establish itself under the wing of the sovereignty of the people.”

In one of our longer and more robust exchanges, Nick Badalamenti has asked: “I think the front and center failure of the US to maintain libertarian outcomes should be explored seriously.”  Many in the US look back only as far as FDR, or the Progressive Era, or the Civil War – as if America was “free” before that.

On the surface, maybe.  But underneath, the destruction of liberty was already inevitable – and Tocqueville saw this coming long before any of these milestone events.  The Enlightenment was a critical juncture, but the Reformation and Renaissance offered the most visible manifestations of the turning point.  The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence offers the perfect statement of Enlightenment thinking – all men are created equal, etc.  Tocqueville sees this as all men being both equal, and equally impotent.

Nisbet notes: what makes Tocqueville’s analysis so unique is that he doesn’t latch onto the horrible and grotesque of totalitarianism; instead, he points right to the masses – the atomized, individualized aggregates, who are neither tortured or flogged.

…the genius of his analysis lies in the view of totalitarianism as something not historically “abnormal” but as closely related to the very trends hailed as progressive in the nineteenth century.

Far from being, as it is sometimes absurdly argued, a lineal product of nineteenth-century Conservatism, totalitarianism is, in fact, the very opposite of it.

Totalitarianism requires two elements: first, the existence of the masses; second, the ideology of a political community.  What works toward the establishment of one also works toward establishment of the absolute State.  The elimination of competing social and governance institutions leaves only one social and governance institution.

“The despair of the masses,” concludes Peter Drucker, “is the key to the understanding of fascism.  No ‘revolt of the mob,’ no ‘triumphs of unscrupulous propaganda,’ but stark despair caused by the breakdown of the old order and the absence of a new one.”

Watch any ballgames on the 4th of July?  A picture is worth a thousand words.

Therefore, it is more proper to view the annihilation of social groups and voluntary institutions – and not of individuals – that is the hallmark of totalitarianism.  It manifests as a “ceaseless process of cultural nihilism.”  Safe to say we are living through this process even today.

The political enslavement of man requires the emancipation of man from all the authorities and memberships (obstructions to popular will, as the Nazis and Communists describe them) that serve, in one degree or another, to insulate the individual from external political power.

What follows is the total, political community, following the removal of all forms of membership and identification which might compete with the State.


A sense of the past is far more basic to the maintenance of freedom than hope for the future.  The former is concrete and real; the latter is necessarily amorphous and more easily guided by those who can manipulate human actions and beliefs.

Neo: What is the Matrix?

Trinity: The answer is out there, Neo, and it's looking for you, and it will find you if you want it to.

Morpheus: What you know you can't explain, but you feel it. You've felt it your entire life, that there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.


  1. "Therefore, it is more proper to view the annihilation of social groups and voluntary institutions – and not of individuals – that is the hallmark of totalitarianism. It manifests as a 'ceaseless process of cultural nihilism.'”

    Left-libertarians don't grasp this. They think there's something not just edgy, but *liberating* about their cultural nihilism. State and faith are both cults, they say. That's right, *cult*! That's where the word "culture" comes from, you know!

    Burn it all to the ground! What can go wrong?!

    The Bolsheviks were the quintessential cultural nihilists. They hated the Cult of Christ. V. I. Lenin's March 19, 1922 letter to the Politburo spelled it out in no uncertain terms: he wanted to use hunger as a method to break the bond between Christianity and the masses, to numb their reactions and thus facilitate his planned assault against Christian institutions:

    "In fact the present moment favors us far more than it does them. We are almost 99 percent sure that we can strike a mortal blow against [our enemies] and consolidate the central position that we are going to need to occupy for several decades to come. With the help of all those starving people who are starting to eat each other, who are dying by the millions, and whose bodies litter the roadside all over the country, it is now and only now that we can--and therefore must--confiscate all church property with all the ruthless energy we can still muster. All evidence suggests that we could not do this at any other moment, because our only hope is the despair engendered in the masses by the famine, which will cause them to look at us in a favorable light or, at the very least, with indifference."

    Never mind all that. Just give us those high-sounding left-libertarian abstractions. Everybody will come around to the NAP then.

    1. Tony -

      Nearly 60 years later, in 1980-81, Dmitri Ustinov and Yuri Andropov were complaining that Edward Gierek and Wojciech Jaruzelski were allowing the Catholic church to run wild in Poland, accusing the Polish Politburo of permitting Polish clerics to engage in "anti-Soviet hooliganism."

      Liberty Mike

    2. Liberty Mike,

      There is a studiuosly ignored history of unarmed clerics perpetrating anti-state "hooliganism." Not as consistent or extensive as I'd like, to be sure, but it's there. To wit:

      It was A.D. 390. The Empire's general in Thessalonica had tossed a charioteer in the hoosegow on a charge of sodomy. The populace, long since addicted to the Empire's bread and circuses, vehemently objected. The general died in the murderous rioting that followed. The Emperor Theodosius I meted out swift — but also disproportionate and indiscriminate — justice for his fallen viceroy. Seven thousand Thessalonians were wheedled into the circus and put to the sword.

      St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan and Confessor of Emperors, did not take kindly to the Christian Emperor's regression to pagan justice. Theodosius expected summary forgiveness, but Ambrose demanded he complete a lengthy regime of prayer and penance. Some accounts have the unarmed prelate stiff-arming the monarch at the porch of the cathedral. Even if only inconsistently and sporadically, the episode set the tone for the relationship between throne and altar in the West. Right would thereinafter entertain a claim against might.

      Don't try imparting this history to left-libertarians. It proves hazardous to their "Attila & the Witch Doctor" dogmas.


  2. Could it be that capitalism, in spite of it's benefits, might carry the seeds of the destruction of individual liberty? I read a book by Hendrik Spruyt that seemed to suggest that the rise of industry and trade were largly responsible for the creation and growth of the sovereign state. Formation of states tended to facilitate trade through the introduction of uniform rules and practices that benefited producers and traders. This resulted in the transition of the diffuse conditions of governance that existed in the medieval period to the formation of towns, city states and eventually countries. Additionally, Rothbard seems to suggest in his book on US history an outsized influence of “business interests” as a cause of the American revolution.

    Peterson says that cultural frame works (governments?) exhibit tyrannical aspects by definition in that they establish boundries and rules (laws.) He also theorizes that there is a natural tendency for cultural institutions to become more tyranical over time. Capitalism naturally results in a concentration of power and resources at the top of the commercial structure that gives the capitalists the ability to shape the state to their own benefit. It seems to me that much of the erosion of our liberty is caused by the perversion of our republican system by the capitalists.

    And then, a whole other “Pandora's Box:” the replacement of the religious (Christian) moral authority with scientism following the “death of God.”.

    1. I am not comfortable with the use of the word "capitalism" in this context; the term is twisted to mean many different things to different people.

      It does seem to me that industrialization carried the seeds of the reduction in influence of traditional governance and social institutions.

    2. Couldn't think of a better word. Maybe industrialization or commerce is more appropriate. It does seem to me that big business and big banking have corrupted our state and our culture to a large degree.

    3. I see two different things going on:

      1) With the beginnings of industrialization, the institutions of family and community began to lose some functional influence.

      2) As government became a tool for supporting industry, business and banking gained an oversize influence in the economy; it would take an essay to describe the negative ramifications of this in terms of the ethical values of the culture but I think these are well-understood.

    4. @ BM

      I'm honored you reference our discussion, thank you.

      @ Royden

      " It does seem to me that big business and big banking have corrupted our state and our culture to a large degree."

      This is true. When the Left refers to the "evil" of big business there are kernels of truth in their comment.

      Yes, big business buys off pols to protect themselves from confiscatory taxes and regulations- that is not bad on the surface itself even though Leftists decry it. In doing so it does create an uneven playing field in terms of competition if other corporations can't get the same naturally they buy pols too. Corporations also buy themselves some "business" both directly from the government and via monopoly protection granted from government as well.

      This is not to say corporations haven't improved our lives or should be abolished(though I think there's room for debate on how they are chartered), we just need to maintain perspective and avoid being dogmatic.

      The problem with Leftists is that they put the cart before the horse, they don't see that this corruption is an actual "feature" of government. It's happened since the day involuntary governance came about. That is partially how government works. Leftists(and many on the right) believe that some Utopian form of statism can exist in a vacuum without influence from said corporations. Leftists also ignore that the welfare class has a huge corrupting influence as well via vote patronage the reason the Founders made property holding a criteria for vote eligibility is they were paying taxes. Poll taxes represented 1/3 of the early American government at one time.

      Speaking of Tocqueville:

      "A democratic government is the only one in which those who vote for a tax can escape the obligation to pay it."

      Banks facilitate it all and their very charter is from the government so it's only natural that they are both part and parcel to the corruption as they are hybrid private/"public" institutions.

      As BM mentioned before, it is an inaccurate worldview to "believe that just because corporations are nominally private that they value free markets and your freedom".

      The primary function of a corporation is to make profit. Though there may be some moral guidance there, it is not it's "raison de l'existence". While Google initially embraced "Don't be evil" as a simple/noble goal, they've now dropped it from their code of conduct and everyone knows why.

      The most obvious restraint on corporations that could limit their potential for evil is an environment free of involuntary statism.

    5. Nick

      "The most obvious restraint on corporations that could limit their potential for evil is an environment free of involuntary statism."

      Would have agreed not too long ago, and I still think that an environment free of involuntary statism would be great. However..
      No longer sure if removing the state will inexorably lead toward more freedom. In the current situation, too big to fail corporations probably no longer need the state for their evil purposes. The growth of freedom always limits the state, yet abolishing the state doesn't necessarily mean an increase of liberty. Depends on the circumstances, and they're not too good, I reckon. Stateless globalism is just around the corner.


      P.s.: thanks for your YT link to Block the other day. Was hoping for a few laughs, but I actually got the creeps listening to this "man" (perpetual adolescent rather) for the first time. He clearly bought into the late night tavern-Darwinism of "sociobiology," and he's just clueless on the issue. I think types like these as poster boys for libertarianism also go some way to explain the limited appeal. Well, at least he won't pass on his genes.

    6. "No longer sure if removing the state will inexorably lead toward more freedom. "

      A small point for consideration:

      My choice of words was "involuntary statism" because I could actually conceive of a HOA type arrangement that was organized as a "state" by consent of those able to do so.(a whole separate discussion).

      I know that flies in the face of the definition of "state" by Rothbard, but it's not his definition appearing in Webster's nor is it understood as such by the general public.

      So really, I see the possibility of a "voluntary state" even though it runs contrary to Rothbard's definition. In a way, that's why the concept of the "social contract" is paid lip service to...because fundamentally no one likes coercion and it needs to be obscured to some degree intellectually.

      Further, you can have a monarchy under such a definition and it could even have a far better chance of producing libertarian outcomes(per Hoppe) if the "state" starts from a place of property rights and admissions based on voluntary consent. (maybe the admissions criteria themselves look to determine if the applicants hold the same respect for values/culture the monarch is trying to promote for example)

      yw on the link

    7. Nick

      To be sure, I wasn't looking for a way to preserve the state in any way or form, though a laissez faire monarchy would be nice ;)

      But this is all "would be..".

      Only think that in the current situation, abolishing the state would provide slim protection against today's too big to fail corporatists and NGO's. In fact, a strict implementation of libertarianism as it stands now would probably, in a stateless world, be mostly to the benefit of the globalists. Hence the term stateless globalism.

      Here at BM's we discuss the medieval "religion/culture" part beyond the NAP, right? I think that the most important work needs to be done in that department, before libertarians can ever hope to move towards a more free society after the State. Without a culture supporting/nurturing freedom and a commonly held conscience based on a transcendent (in the "secular" sense of beyond political power) Natural Moral Law, there's nothing much to appeal to* when the Soroses of this world grab more property and power.


      (* yes, I know some insist on saying "NAP!" here)

    8. "Could it be that capitalism ... might carry the seeds of the destruction of individual liberty? ... the rise of industry and trade were largely responsible for the creation and growth of the sovereign state ..."

      The proper term is Mercantilism. Or, with deference towards the way some people define it, Fascism. Big business supports those in power with payoffs. Government supports big business by defending large businesses from competition and litigation - it's a symbiotic relationship.

      The proper role of government in a capitalist economy is to keep people from using violence for profit, that is, to assure that all exchanges are voluntary and uncoerced. Unfortunately, there's no money (for the government) in that.

    9. "Could it be that capitalism, in spite of it's benefits, might carry the seeds of the destruction of individual liberty"

      Capitalism, understood meaningfully as the free exchange of peacefully acquired resources and open competition in the provision of goods, creates wealth. If wealth is created under the aegis of a state, it will find ways of expropriating this wealth or otherwise channeling it towards its own ends. Capitalism just provided the state with the economic means of significantly advancing toward its impossible goal of omnipotence.

      Small businesses love the free market, because it gives them the opportunity to compete, but big businesses often dislike the free market, because competition to them only poses a challenge of their status at the top. Big businesses realized they could secure their positions through state regulation if only the free market could be disparaged enough to foment popular support for its curtailment. Thus you have the Progressive Revolution funded and advanced by the big business interests themselves.

      The disparagement of the free market and its supposedly iniquitous outcomes has been the overriding domestic justification for the advance of the modern democratic state and all its depredations of the natural liberty of its citizens. It isn't capitalism's fault, it is its perversion. The only way to prevent this perversion at the "top of the commercial structure" is to not have a 'monopoly of ultimate decision-making' with a license for routinely committing aggression.

  3. @ NB
    You're right that corruption is inherent in the state. However, it seems that commercial interests" have a deeper influence on the state than merely buying influence. The state has evolved into a tool of "commercial interests" to further their agenda. Commercial interests have sought primarily to standardize their operating environment by centralizing regulation and thus focusing their ability to create or influence and controll implimentation of those regulations. This is not new.

    Dominance hierarchys form naturally: its virtually a natural law that control of the culture and /or the state will accumulate in the hands of a few. Those at the top of the hierarchy in commerce, government and the military all come from the same socioeconomic and educational cohort, thus forming the ruling elite (hope I'm not too Marxist here, thinking more C. Wright Mills.) The problem seems to become how to limit the elite's control and influence to maximize liberty and reduce tyranny to a minimum. The NAP seems an excellent philosophic tool around which to build this limitation of the state. The goal of the state should be implimentation of the NAP as much as possible. I don't know how this can be accomplished. It seems that some level of positive law may be needed to carry out the task. Certainly, BM's idea of decentralization would help. Diffuse governance, as in the medieval age, helps to reduce the over aching tyranny of those at the top and foster the creation of more diverse “micro-cultures.”

    BM also seems correct when he advocates for a culturally (religiously?) derived moral code. Scientism and rationality has a role in telling us how to manipulate the physical world, but cannot answer the question of how we should act in the world. It does seem that the roots of the NAP can be found in the Judeo-Christian concept (mostly Christian) of the sovereignty of the individual. Christianity also suggests a “bargain with the future” that seems to forshadow Mises' idea of “Human Action.”

    I used to be a strict anarcho-capitalist and secularist, but thanks to BM steering me towards the deep hole of Jordan Peterson and BM's own writing, I'm not sure I now fully reject the role of the “state” at some level. It seems that the state should exist at a level as close to the individual as possible.

    1. I would recommend Paul VanderKlay's youtube channel where he talks about Peterson and his discussions with the Celebrity Atheists. There is a lot to think about here. Particularly about atheisms inability to create the community people need.

      See and Paul's discussion about Melanie Brewster.

  4. Hi RL

    "the roots of the NAP can be found in the Judeo-Christian concept [...] Christianity also suggests a “bargain with the future” that seems to forshadow Mises' idea of “Human Action.” "

    Two side notes if I may, to your very interesting comment, in haste:

    - Well as for the "Judeo-" I'm afraid Mises had little regard for Christianity as a moral code for this world.

    - The NAP was Rothbard's invention and he stripped every ounce of Christianity from the framework of the Natural Moral Order, first the medieval person (became "individual"), then he ignored the remaining Protestant notions, like that of statist Locke who stipulated "God's ownership of all men," after which "self-ownership" remained.

    - Okay, three. More like a question, if you could elaborate on your last sentence?


    1. @SAG

      It seems evident that humans will establish some sort of hierarchy of dominance when grouped in an affiliation. In order to maximize individual liberty, it seems to me that those hierarchies should contain a lessor rather than greater number of individuals and the groupings should be more rather than less numerous. This echos BM's idea that decentralization is good. Perhaps individuals would have more influence over their hierarchies and individual hierarchies would be less able to commit mayhem on a grand scale. Perhaps more successful hierarchis could serve as examples for less successful ones. Perhaps individuals would be able to move to different hierarchies if they desired. All in all, a net gain of personal liberty. So how do you decentralize a state like the US? Sorry, I don't have a solution to that problem. I guess a topic for future discussion.

      Rothbard and Mises may have claimed to strip away Judeo-Christian culture from their world view, but this may be impossible. They were products of the Judeo-Christian culture and the morality of the culture was embedded deeply in their beliefs. They could not avoid it's influence. As Peterson states, ” athiest claim they don't believe in God, but most of them still act like they do.” The soveriegnty of the individual draws from the idea that each person has a divine aspect. Human action, the need to act to move from one personal state to a better future state is reflected in a belief in an after life. Belief in an after life implies that the future matters. Again, I look at the NAP as a tool, a guide for moral behavior. I'm not sure I see it as the basic axiom of cultural organization.

  5. My own view is that unless and until libertarians "pledge their lives, fortunes and sacred honor", they will not attain that which it is they seek.

    That is, I believe unless and until libertarians openly rebel against the state and those who align with it and stand their ground, even in the face of losses, perhaps even great personal losses, to claim that which is rightfully theirs, libertarianism will be pushed farther toward the margins with less and less liberty accompanying it.

    I say this as a libertarian who believes he observes a convergence of forces that will be more and more openly hostile toward me, my values and my property and that of my children and grandchildren.

    Please don't misunderstand: I believe there is a place for theorizing and intellectual pursuits and hold them in high regard myself; I just can't help this gnawing sense that libertarians are going to be pushed to make some difficult choices relatively soon.


    1. Larry; have you considered the possibility that it is libertarian values that drive libertarians into a corner?

      A (bad) analogy is communism that eventually devours itself. I.e. communism is not a stable organisational form.

      And while libertarianism is on the other end of the spectrum, how can we be sure that (extreme) libertarianism does not devour itself also?

      And indeed, libertarianism can be viewed as extreme liberalism, and liberalism itself seems to be in the process of devouring itself.

      As to making choices, here in the Netherlands it seems to me that libertarianism has reached its peak somewhere around 2010 and is now in decline. And personally I think that most libertarians have gone to some form of nationalism, but with libertarian flavours.

      Btw IMO: Theorizing and intellectual pursuits follow inner convictions, not the other way around. And inner convictions follow biology/memetics.

    2. Larry

      The exact same sense here across the Atlantic Divide. Especially like your mention of "and those who align with it [the State]". That would include non-state power concentration in e.g. NGO's and the Bayer/Monsanto's of this age. The focus i.m.o. should be on Power (concentrated in whatever form: state, NGO, rogue corporation) and most urgently on how to splinter it.

      So why is it –and I ask this as a libertarian myself– that leading libertarians behave as if there's still plenty of time to "spread the message" and theorize ad infinitum about intellectual property and all?


  6. @Rien,

    I would say that principled libertarians find ourselves in the minority because we are principled, consistent in the application of our principles and our worldview is not the culturally accepted norm, so, I would phrase it differently than "self-devouring".

    To put a somewhat finer point on it, I believe the desire for liberty and freedom from the bondage of the unjust is inherent in all men so, I would say the term "self-devouring" is an oxymoron.


    Yes, I empathize with you. It's seems the whole world is in great turmoil, unfortunately.

    While I agree that most, if not all, NGO's and many multi-national/global corporations have become problematic in concerning ways, I personally lay the blame at the feet of the central bankers, even over and above the state. Without their schemes and funny-money, I don't believe the world would be in the state it is in.

    As to your question, I cannot answer for them. I would only be speculating.


    1. @Larry: "I believe the desire for liberty and freedom from the bondage of the unjust is inherent in all men so"

      That is a pretty big assumption, you are willing to stake your prosperity on it?
      And if so, _must_ other people be brought to accept the same assumption and stake their prosperity on it?

      (PS: Outside the westen world, I see little to no support for this claim)

    2. There are millions of people in the Middle East and North Africa who knew and stated beforehand that the "bondage" under Hussein / Qaddafi / etc. was the best liberty they could have in that region. They knew that more "liberty" would equal hell.

      History as proved them correct. Only those who are alive get to bask in the glory (if you want to call it that) of this prediction.

  7. @Rien,

    "Are you willing to stake your prosperity on it?".

    The time may very well come when I will have to regardless of the choices of others.

    "Outside the western world I see little to support this claim.".

    Perhaps that may be because there is another side to man that can be more powerful than his desire for liberty: His weaknesses?


    That is a great point and I agree.

    How much of a role of their ancient tribal superstitions do you think play a part in the dynamic in the ME and NA?

    1. Larry, it was strongmen like Hussein and Qaddafi who kept the tribal passions in check - maybe this is what you are getting at?

      Minority Christian populations did well in Iraq...before 2003. They did well in Syria before about 2012. They do well in Iran today, but not for long if the warmongers have their way.

      Might they have preferred Switzerland or Lichtenstein? I don't think many of them were thinking in such ways.

      I think they saw that what they had was really pretty good. I can't tell you how often I have heard and read "how really great life was" before the strongman was crushed.

    2. @Larry: "Perhaps that may be because there is another side to man that can be more powerful than his desire for liberty: His weaknesses?"

      Though I agree with this judgement call, we should not mistake a subjective judgement (i.e. weakness) for the evolutionary path. I.e. what we perceive as weakness may in the end out-last our -momentarily- superior model.

    3. @bionic,

      "maybe this is what you are getting at?"

      It is, but I'm not convinced that it was a good thing. I am still trying to work it out in my mind. Similar to the point "Centinel" was trying to make in his Anti-Federalist paper #6.

      "but not for long if the warmongers have their way".

      I fully agree. I am of the mindset that they need this "victory" for some very important reasons (to them and their ultimate objectives) so, while I am prayerful and hopeful that they are not successful, I do believe they will be but not anytime soon.

      As an aside, you have a fantastic blog. I am particularly impressed with your treatment of "the border question" and the NAP and the thoughtful and inquisitive commenters.