Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Slowly Lifting the Fog


Paul VanderKlay is continuing to pursue some understanding of Michael Malice, anarchism and libertarianism.  Based on an extensive comment from Ginger Bill, PVK decided to dedicate a conversation with Bill in order to perhaps gain some further clarity on these topics.

You will recall from my earlier post on a discussion between Jordan Peterson and Malice that I felt Malice did a poor job of explaining the inside-baseball language that libertarians throw around among and between each other – for example, say the word “anarchism” to most rational people and they will think “riots.”  This only made the topic confusing for Peterson; I lay the blame for this on Malice.

Further, neither Peterson nor Malice raised the point of natural law – although the dialogue presented several opportunities.  Libertarianism without natural law as a foundation is a dead letter.

Returning to the PVK-Ginger Bill discussion, I found it a helpful compliment to the Peterson-Malice discussion, as Bill better explained some of the inside language.  What follows are my several comments posted at PVK’s page, with some minor editing and additional clarification thrown in:

I am ten minutes in, and already can write a dozen comments.  I assure you, I understand anarcho-capitalism, Murray Rothbard, natural law, the Mises Institute, as well as Ginger Bill....

Ginger Bill may be right in everything he is saying about Malice (ten minutes in).  The problem is this.  Those of us in the know (of the Rothbardian lingo) understand all of this inside baseball talk.  Why should we expect that Peterson (or PVK) does?  Use the word anarchy, and what comes to mind in 98% of the population (and keep the Greek to yourself)? 

Ginger Bill explained the Greek etymology – without a governmental (state) leader.  But almost no one thinks this when they think of the word “anarchy.”

Anarchy: Malice thinks individualism and voluntary cooperation; most of the world thinks riots - and Malice has to know this.  Explaining this distinction would have helped the Malice-Peterson conversation.  Instead, Malice just talked as if he was speaking to Tom Woods.  We only have Malice to blame for this confusion.

Further (and not from this discussion...as I am only ten minutes in and it might come up later), Malice never clarifies anything about favoring hierarchies of any sort in a two-plus hour conversation with Peterson.  Whose fault is that?  Peterson's?  PVK's?  No....

Some discussion of intermediating institutions would have been helpful, otherwise you end up with left-anarchism – which ends in communism.

Use the words anarchy, no state, no government, etc., etc., etc., in any crowd other than a Mises Institute event and you will draw confusion unless you clearly define these terms.  Malice did not; he, therefore, wasted a great opportunity.

Let’s just say that a Jordan Peterson video gets plenty of views.  Also, the connection of anarchism (in the libertarian context) to the work Peterson is doing is necessary.

Now 25 minutes in....

PVK: "What drew this [libertarian] community to Peterson?"

I can give a longer answer, but in shorthand...NATURAL LAW!  It is where this conversation will end, if it is to have any value.

Of course, not all libertarians are fans of natural law.  While generalizations are just that, I will make one: those same libertarians are the ones who think Peterson is dangerous and who praise the libertine turnings of society.  They may or may not know this, but these libertarians are doing the work of Antonio Gramsci.

Talk to Lew Rockwell, the founder of the Mises Institute, who worked with Ludwig von Mises and also was a very close friend of Murray Rothbard, before Rothbard passed.

I and others have suggested that PVK talk with Tom Woods and others who can integrate and better explain anarchism, libertarianism and natural law.  I mentioned Lew this time, as the topic of the Mises Institute was raised by Ginger Bill.

Goodness gracious, Paul.  The anticipation is overwhelming!

I and others have been waiting a long time for Paul to give birth to this natural law baby – going to the place he must if his conversation (including others like Peterson and Pageau) is going to reach its full potential.  I can only hope that the contractions are now very painful and within a minute or two of each other.

PVK: Anarchism as a strategy vs. anarchism as a basis of morality

It is neither, which I go on to explain:

PVK asked an important question.  Ginger Bill’s response focused on a sliver of the topic, and not the main issue / differentiation.  A few words of background…

In this comment, I decide to offer some basic building blocks – work that would have been helpful, I believe, had Malice done this in the conversation with Peterson.

Anarchism, in the Malice understanding, is downstream from libertarianism, which is based on the non-aggression principle.  Aggression is described as the initiation of physical force against person or property. 

Anarchism merely extends this prohibition to state actors: if it is immoral for me to travel to Afghanistan to murder someone who was no threat to me (it is), wearing a state-issued uniform does not somehow transform this into “moral.”  If it is immoral for me to put a gun to my neighbor’s head and tell him he must turn over 30% of his income to me (it is), wearing a state-issued IRS badge does not somehow make this act moral.

Which brings me back to Paul’s question: the non-aggression principle does not offer a complete moral system; it only addresses the political question: when is physical force justified?  It is only justified in defense of person and property.  It is certainly not a complete basis of morality.

Several prominent libertarians make this mistake – trying to build answers to all moral questions based on nothing but the non-aggression principle.  It makes a mockery of the beauty and simplicity of the NAP, and it drives many people away from it.

It is also not a strategy – because without a broader underlying ethic, it can only lead to one place – the same place that post-modernism and woke-ism leads.

Which is why Peterson said that Malice sounds like a post-modernist.

The necessary broader underlying ethic is natural law.  Otherwise, what could be more libertarian than a man insisting he be treated as a woman, and vice versa – and changing his/her mind every day if he-she chooses?  Or adult-child sex, or shooting a child for stealing an apple? 

Nothing, that’s what.

Elsewhere, Malice has said, and I paraphrase: libertarianism is a movement based on individualism.  It most certainly is not.  It speaks only to when the use of physical force is justified (either through self-defense or some form of formal punishment).  I can be a very pure libertarian and live in a commune – as long as all members of the commune have voluntarily chosen this life (and the word voluntary opens up another discussion, too much for a comment here).

To use force to get me out of the commune of my choosing is most certainly a violation of the non-aggression principle.

PVK captures this entire point well, when he states: Jesus’s non-violence / non-coercion is nested in the capacity of the ultimate coercion of the Creator God.

Something or someone must be at the top of the hierarchy.  The only question: what value drives the ordering.  Further, the best safeguard is that the someone or something at the top of the hierarchy is outside of the reach of man.  The Creator God is one such entity.  Another is…

Natural law, PVK, natural law…. One can view this as flowing from the Creator God, or solely as deducible from Aristotelian-Thomistic logic (albeit, natural law only came to fruition in the Christian West, and ultimately requires Christian thought to fully develop it).

But all of this only further develops the reason why Malice and Peterson (and PVK) were talking past each other.  Malice’s anarchism absent natural law (at least that’s how he presented it in the discussion) will lead to the destructive post-modernism and woke-ism that Peterson laments.  Full stop.

And to my last comment – clarifying terms that have been misused throughout this series of conversations – and, again, I don’t blame the non-libertarians in this dialogue:

Finally… The word “coercion” is problematic and confusing in the context of such discussions, as is its counterpart, “voluntary.”

These two words have been forced in this conversation to attempt do that which they cannot do….

If a person wishes to live peacefully in a social setting, he must conform to the customs, traditions, norms, and politics of that setting.  He is “coerced” into doing so, and it may not be totally voluntary.  In other words, while he might appreciate much of the custom of the situation, he might just accept (or be resigned to) certain other aspects.  Is this voluntary?  Is it coercive?

Libertarianism (or anarchism in the Malice context) in theory is decentralization in practice.  Think one-world government on the one hand, and Lichtenstein or Andorra on the other.  Do polities of 300 million (the US) or 1.5 billion (China), or 7 billion (the world) offer sufficient choice for those living within these.  Of course not.

California isn’t Wyoming, and Shasta County isn’t San Francisco (PVK knows what I am getting at).  Why must individuals living in these various places be governed the same way?  Why must Redding accept lifestyle customs associated with San Francisco?  There is no reason; when God created the heavens and the earth, he didn’t place these borders in stone.  The State of Jefferson makes more sense if one is after a peaceful society than does the state of California (or Oregon, or Washington).

Does this mean everyone in Redding must hold identical views?  No.  But the point is decentralization and subsidiarity: more choice, with decisions made at the lowest possible level.

There is no purely voluntary possibility, a life free from all coercion – not if one wishes to live among other people.  Just as there is no liberty possible without responsibility.  The best we can hope for is evermore choice.


I hope VanderKlay continues down this path.  I have heard, but cannot confirm, that Peterson has a dialogue upcoming with Robert Murphy – Peterson had recently asked for recommendations to speak with an Austrian economist. 

If this is true, Murphy is a good choice.  I hope the dialogue captures the tie to and necessity of natural law.


  1. "Which is why Peterson said that Malice sounds like a post-modernist."

    Peterson also said this: "I don't see that there's much of a distinction between the emphasis that you place on a broad scale social critique, assuming corrupt power is the fundamental organizing principle that large organization adopt to organize, and the same thing that leads to identity politics on the Left."

    Here is where Malice should have explained that not every organization is to be viewed as the enemy, only those which routinely commit acts of aggression against person or property, and that corruption is not the only organizing principle in society. He sort of did by bringing up Tropicana, but it was not clear what alternative organizing principle he was advocating, especially after he had poo-pooed cooperation. But as you point out, he neglected to speak on good and necessary intermediating institutions apart from the state and those enthralled to it.

    "If a person wishes to live peacefully in a social setting, he must conform to the customs, traditions, norms, and politics of that setting. He is “coerced” into doing so, and it may not be totally voluntary. In other words, while he might appreciate much of the custom of the situation, he might just accept (or be resigned to) certain other aspects. Is this voluntary? Is it coercive?"

    I think it depends on the politics of the region and whether the person is born in or moves to this location. If you move to a location I think you more or less have to submit to the local customs, even unjust political ones. Like in libertarian nuisance law, if you move to the nuisance, it's your problem. But if you are born in, I believe you have more of a right to critique the existing political structure, just as we rightly critique the political structure we were born under here in these united states.

    But this not as black and white of an issue as I once thought. Does the US government coerce me if I can leave for another country of my own free will? Apart from forcing me to settle any taxes they think I owe them, I don't know that the government would commit any other acts of aggression upon me exiting its border for good. How is this situation different than leaving one libertarian covenant community for another? I think part of the fundamental difference is whether or not the land controlled by the state or covenant community has been justly acquired.

    "Peterson has a dialogue upcoming with Robert Murphy"

    That would be fantastic! I'd rather it was Tom or especially Lew, but Bob Murphy (aside from being intelligent and right about nearly everything like any Austro-libertarian) is funnier than Tom or Lew and so he might be a more entertaining and appealing guest. I love Lew, but he is a better author than speaker. Anyway, Bob will do a much better job than Malice in explaining the nuances of liberty and statelessness, though I don't remember if his libertarian credentials are backed by a natural law ethic or by a Misesian utilitarianism.

    Could you imagine if Peterson had Hans-Hoppe on? Now that would be mind blowing.

    1. I believe Murphy is a very solid Christian; for some reason, it is in the back of my head that he leans on natural law. I might be mistaken, but I believe this is the case.

    2. If nothing else it means that Bob does believe in objective morality, which means he lives his life based on more than just the NAP.

    3. Dear ATL, I agree that Peterson talking to Hoppe would be excellent. But I'm writing now because I've been wanting to ask you if you are the person who recommendeded the Flashman books on this site a few years back? If it was, thank you. I have enjoyed the books immensely and will read them again in the future. If it was not you, I recommend them to all readers here. Peg

    4. Just FYI, I have come to learn that the conversation with Murphy has already taken place and is scheduled to be posted a few weeks into July.

    5. Hey guys,

      I talked with JP for about 2.5 hours; the episode is scheduled to drop in late July. I personally am a born-again Christian who believes in natural law. However, my role as JP's guest was to talk about my book Choice, which is a distillation of Human Action. I am pretty sure at some point in the discussion I told JP that Mises himself was a utilitarian/consequentialist who didn't believe in natural law. I think I said that I *did* believe in it, but I can't remember the exact details.

    6. Peg,

      It was not me, but I'll look into the books. Are you talking about the "Flashman Papers" by George MacDonald Fraser? Do you know there a relation to the great Christian fantasy author George MacDonald?

    7. Bionic,

      Yes, Bob is a solid Christian. That is a good point. Lew and Tom are too. Bob is also a solid debater who has beaten Tom Woods! I'm excited to hear this talk! I'm going to guess that apart from Austrian economics, Peterson will focus on Bob's Christian pacifism.

      It's only been a few weeks and Malice's podcast with Peterson has gained almost 900K views.

      At the very least Peterson has to be commended for bringing 'our people' on his platform and by all accounts engaging in an open and honest way the most important topics of discussion. I still don't trust him not to come to all the wrong conclusions himself, specifically about Christ, liberty, and natural law, but he is probably the person with the biggest platform who will engage these sorts of topics. Is there anyone bigger I'm missing? I mean Tom Woods has 70K subscribers on YouTube, Malice 107K, and MisesMedia 131K; Peterson has almost 4 million.

    8. There is a biography of Malice, apparently. Hard to find; it was brought to my attention after writing these last posts:


      From the highest rated review:

      "Pekar [the author] has focused for most of his artistic career on chronicling the ordinary. In Ego & Hubris, he's achieved something rather different. He's given us a chilling account of a man who is wicked in the most banal of ways, a one-dimensional self-promoter who has little to promote--rather like Donleavy's Ginger Man, but with none of the latter's positive qualities. Gary Dumm's wooden, lifeless artwork perfectly depicts Mr. Malice."

      I think it is certain that Peterson will come to wrong conclusions based on this guy.

    9. Ha! Mr. Murphy,

      Thank you for the clarification. I look forward to hearing your conversation with JP...but you really should have checked with us on what to discuss!


      (Sorry, I don't have a way to make a tongue-in-cheek figure.)

    10. Dear Bob,

      Thanks for stopping by! I hope you are not offended by my comments regarding Tom and Lew. It was a glib remark (sheepish grin). I own and have read your books "Choice" and "Primal Prescription." Both are great. As I also said, it is fantastic that you had a discussion with Peterson and I'm really looking forward to it.

      I have no idea where Peterson's economic predispositions are anyway. Monetarist? Keynesian? MMTarded? Crypto-currency nut? Tally-sticks? Maybe he is a natural Austrian because he believes in the government cleaning its own room and otherwise balancing and sorting its life out.

  2. "If a person wishes to live peacefully in a social setting, he must conform to the customs, traditions, norms, and politics of that setting. He is “coerced” into doing so, and it may not be totally voluntary. In other words, while he might appreciate much of the custom of the situation, he might just accept (or be resigned to) certain other aspects. Is this voluntary? Is it coercive?"

    This type of comment is very important to think through. This realization made me take a step back from my absolute support of individualism. I support individualism. But it can't be absolute unless your are going to live in autarky. Economics itself is the study of human action in the context of the division of labor in society.

    I wrote out my thoughts in 2 articles thinking through how far can we go individualistically in life while also living in cooperation with others.



    I also think there is a need to think through what objective and subjective truth are. Usually, objective is used to mean that which is true and subjective to mean that which is false or not respectable. But subjective truth is important to navigate life as seen by the Austrian subjective value theory. We must be able to hold both as true but also define the scope of each and where delineate what areas of life to rely on which type of truth.

    For example, morality should be objective and absolute. But ethics can have a situational element to it, which means applying objective truth within a subjective reality or context.

    1. Throw into this mix Hoppe's use of the phrase "intersubjectively ascertainable" and we might really get confused.

  3. With appropriate apologies if this is not quite the focus of the conversation: when I was a young libertarian, I somewhat subscribed to the notion of approving "anything that's peaceful." I had Robert Nozick as a teacher. He noted a similarity between the extreme libertarian right and the collectivist left. Both conflated the moral with the political: for the left, the moral dictated that the zero initiated aggression axiom had to go; for some on the right, no morality existed apart from refusal to initiate force. I was, though, always sympathetic to the natural law school. Recently I viewed part of a British TV series. A young girl announces to her parents that she is "trans". As good progressives, they assure her that she is as welcome to them as a son as she has been as a daughter. She corrects them: she hates the body she has not because of a gender issue but because it is organic, human. She is trans- human and she desires to merge with the machine, the computer, to become one with the world wide web, to become united with pure data. I would not use force to stop the poor young thing but as far as I can judge, her choice is one of pure evil. And this trans-human agenda is staring us in the face; as inevitable, its proponents say, as Covid vaccine jabs or the Great Reset. C.S. Lewis, as with so many other things, got this right: not only the importance of the natural law but also the Satanic implications of trans-humanism. In That Hideous Strength, one of the villains hates living things: they are so dirty, so disorderly. He wishes to replace organic trees with metal simulacra, the living creatures of the air with artificial birds that make no song. That, I fear, is where we are heading, whether voluntarily or with the assistance of the State, punitive or not. Screwtape loves noise and the disappearance of the individual soul into the Satanic collective. We are, as some have affirmed in this conversation, struggling with principalities and powers in high (or low) places. Can Lewis be a useful way of introducing Natural Law reasoning and spirituality to out libertarian secular brethren? Can he alert us to the deeper dimension of the world wide grab for power we see daily?

    1. Patrick, I have in the past written on Lewis's connection to natural law via The Abolition of Man. I hadn't thought about the connection you make to his novel, That Hideous Strength. I have to think about re-reading this novel...

  4. ATL, yes, I was referring to George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman novels. There are twelve of them. I was unaware of the family relationship you mention until I googled it. Flashman himself is a "rake and a cad" as the Wikipedia article states. It was only after I had finished them all that it occurred to me that the reason these are "guy" books is that Flashman actually does treat women as equals, in other words, like men. They are fun and funny, and as I understand it, reasonably historically accurate. Peg