Wednesday, August 14, 2019

We the Few Who Never Accepted the Sexual Revolution: Threading the Line Between a Conservative Sexual Ethic and Hating Homosexuals (Part II)



The second point is that if one is going to defend a conservative sexual ethic, there needs to be a clearly thought out theory and set of principles as to what is to be accomplished. Without that, we are left with the fear that some "Puritan" in the sky will burn people in Hell simply for enjoying themselves. So, when I talk about a conservative sexual ethic I primarily mean rejecting the notion of being true to oneself and that love has any ultimate importance as the means by which one finds this self. 

I see people as individuals with rights and outside of any a priori claims from social groups. This is the source of rights in the sense that the needs of the individual trumps that of the "public good." That being said, while humans may have some kind of metaphysical soul, I do not accept that humans have some kind of essential characteristic unique to themselves that they must discover and be true to. Such talk is an attempt to distract from the view of man as a rational being. Reason is the one true inheritance of all people as it is the only part of your mind truly accessible to others. It is to the extent that I believe that you are a rational being that I can offer you a social contract and recognize that you have rights. Anything less and we are stuck in Hobbesian Warfare and I have no choice but to kill you as I would a rabid dog.

Even if you had some true nature, it is hardly obvious that there is anything virtuous or merit worthy about it. On the contrary, it should be rejected as the inner savage that, if not chained by civilization, will lead us to destruction. This is quite the opposite of what we are taught by modern entertainment. We are so regularly told to be true to ourselves that unless we have access to some alternative value system (through exposure to some combination of an intellectually serious traditional religion and lots of classic literature) we are unable to question it.  

It is when this Romantic notion of the self becomes particularly toxic when that self is assumed to be sexual. Humans may desire sex, but sex is not what defines us as rational beings and plays no inherent role in granting dignity and legitimacy to our lives. This does not mean that sexuality is evil and I am personally quite fond of love as a literary concept. That being said, sexuality can be granted no special sanction for the individual. Clearly, food is more important for daily human thriving and happiness than sex. If Judaism is justified in placing taboos on food, such as pig, then Judaism can place a taboo on gay sex. The fact that far more people have committed suicide over sex than over food says nothing about the importance of sex beyond that it tends to bring out the pathological in people.   

While there can be people who desire gay sex, there cannot be a meaningful category of homosexuals in the sense that restrictions on gay sex can be seen as a denial of their personhood. A gay person born into an Orthodox community would have no better grounds to complain than an Orthodox pig lover. Both should be treated with charity and it should be recognized that they both may not be a good fit for an Orthodox lifestyle and may be better off leaving. They have done nothing wrong; it is Orthodoxy that lacks the resources to handle them. Those who choose to stay should be acknowledged as heroes. That being said, neither group can claim that their being has been denied to them since neither of them are sexual or food beings but rational beings.   

It should be acknowledged that the gay rights movement is a product of Romanticism's reinterpretation of human nature that culminated in the Sexual Revolution. More than society becoming more tolerant about pre-marital sex in the face of growing numbers of women entering college possessing the pill and intent on delaying marriage, the Sexual Revolution marked a principled shift social values in which pre-marital sex was incidental. Coming from Romanticism's emphasis on the individual's search for love as a defining part of their true being as opposed to their role in society, there ceased being any attempt to hide the fact that sex was at the center of this quest for love and essential to it. To object that a boy or girl was violating some taboo that historically had been honored more in the breach than actually practiced was to deny the very essence of that couple's being. Thus, the moral imperative was flipped from defending social standards in the face of temptation to not allowing social standards to stand in the way of pursuing one's true self. 
  
If you wish to understand how nearly total this Romantic capture of how we think has been, in addition to its conception of self, consider every time you hear a song or watch a movie in which love is considered some kind of all-powerful self-justifying end in itself in a way that is not supposed to be even controversial. This should be even more obvious in things like the end of the otherwise excellent Wonder Woman film in which the lovely Gal Gadot could, after spending the entire movie being this generation's embodiment of awesome, spout utter nonsense and end it with something along the lines of saving the world for love. It is taken as a given that sexual love is so essential to our lives and the center of our actual religion (regardless of what we officially call ourselves) that we would nod our heads and pretend that this was something other than lazy writing.  





Even most conservatives who oppose the Sexual Revolution's practical conclusions regarding pre-marital sex have accepted its narrative of humans finding their true selves through sexual love. This is quite easy because social conservatives can still pretend that the demands of sexual love as the fulfillment of one's personhood can be fulfilled within marriage. This ignores the fact that the high of sexual love for one person is not something that can be maintained. Its focus must switch from person to person in a never-ending quest. Thus, if sexual love is to be pursued as the end goal of life, monogamy must be rejected. 

Keep in mind here that none of this can be blamed on homosexuals. Their only part in this wreckage of traditional values has been to come in, after the fact, and, very reasonably point out that if one is going to be logically consistent about sex as central to one's true being then, yes, they must be included. Just like heterosexuals, they are capable of using sex to pursue meaningful loving relationships. If the pursuit of such relationships is central to human thriving then the failure of society to actively approve of same-sex relationships or, even worse, to express any disapproval of gay sex is to deny homosexuals their very being. 

In this sense, the gay rights movement has been a good thing. Since the vast majority of people in our society, including most conservatives, have implicitly accepted the basic premise of the Sexual Revolution, it is right that gay marriage should be the law of the land and that society actively promotes the notion that homosexual relationships are the equal of heterosexual ones. In fact, homosexuals have the moral advantage that their pursuit of their sexual identities has an honesty unavailable to heterosexuals as they had to overcome real obstacles that tried to prevent them from becoming their "true" selves. This leaves those of us in the minority who have not accepted the Sexual Revolution in a bind.    
To be clear that there is nothing about a conservative sexual ethic, as I have described it, that prevents one from being fully supportive of gay rights. Furthermore, nothing that I say here should diminish the importance of offering members of the LGBTQ community full libertarian tolerance. Adults have the right to engage in whatever consensual behavior they wish in the privacy of their own homes. That being said, if you are operating within the intellectual framework of a conservative sexual ethic, the standard non-libertarian arguments for gay marriage and LGBTQ tolerance make no sense. 

Take the statements "love is love," "all love is equal," or "love wins" as examples. As a social conservative, love, particularly sexual love, has no supreme value. Love justifies nothing. Since I have never raised love, heterosexual or otherwise, on a pedestal, all love is equal in not being particularly valuable. Since love has no moral standing (in contrast to things like reason, truth, and justice), there is no particular reason why we should want it to win. One might as well celebrate the victory of the meek inheriting the Earth. 

Since these arguments only make sense for someone who accepts the Sexual Revolution, the minority of us who reject the Sexual Revolution are forced to actively reject them. Failure to do so would mean allowing a world in which it is impossible for anyone to see things but from the perspective of the Sexual Revolution. On the other hand, to make this about homosexuals also dooms the fight against the Sexual Revolution as it distracts from the key issues that would still be with us even in a completely heterosexual society. This requires intellectual discipline to hold one's ground and not attack until the opposition actively makes a non-libertarian LGBTQ acceptance argument. 

As I said before, it is only right that people who accept the Sexual Revolution should go all the way with mainstreaming LGBTQs. They are only being consistent and, as rationalists, we should honor that. LGBTQ supporters only make themselves vulnerable when they fail to realize that the Sexual Revolution is not the only intellectually serious way to understand human beings and that there are people who operate outside of that framework. The moment they accuse us of being intolerant, they throw away their moral high ground and we have them. They are no longer fighting for tolerance but are using the issue of LGBTQs to marginalize those of us outside the Sexual Revolution. They are the ones being intolerant and trying to take away our rights. We are, hereby, exempt from compromising with them or any need to seek out their goodwill.    

Being actively tolerant of homosexuals as individuals and avoiding conflict with them while openly defending a conservative view of sexuality sounds like a paradox. In truth, they feed into each other. The act of showing kindness to homosexuals as individuals keeps a conservative sexuality within the realm of principles, untainted by personal animosity. Being open about one's conservative values keeps one's personal tolerance from turning into a Trojan Horse to undermine traditional sexuality. The Sexual Revolution may have captured society but it is still possible to uphold conservative values in our homes and communities. If we do so with love and intellectual honesty, we might even succeed at passing them on to our children. 

Monday, August 12, 2019

We the Few Who Never Accepted the Sexual Revolution: Threading the Line Between a Conservative Sexual Ethic and Hating Homosexuals (Part I)


As Rod Dreher has argued, we live in a difficult time for social conservatives. The rise of the LGBTQ community as a political force has finally eliminated any pretense, in the wake of the Sexual Revolution, that we are still dealing with a Judeo-Christian society. The previous generation could pretend that even if society was sinful and full of people who had strayed from traditional values, they could be brought in line with a slight nudge. For example, if you voted Republicans into office, they could take over the Supreme Court, allow prayer back in public schools, ban abortion and the country would eventually turn itself around. Regardless of the fate of Donald Trump and the Republican Party, this will not happen.

One might have hoped to live in a world in which we social conservatives, even if we had no influence, were left alone. This is increasingly not the case as the Overton Window has moved from a libertarian neutral or even oppositional tolerance regarding homosexuality where I might have utter contempt for your personal life choices, but believe that you should be allowed to pursue them in the privacy of your own home to a demand for active tolerance that declares the LGBTQ lifestyle to be an active good. Social conservatives are quickly finding themselves treated in the same fashion as white supremacists, chased out of universities and unable to hold down jobs in mainstream professions. It only remains to be seen if the government will one day come for our children. 

To further complicate matters, our opponents in the LGBTQ community are not entirely wrong. As a historically oppressed group that has often been denied even libertarian tolerance and subject to violence, it should come as no surprise that, now that the tables are turned, they show little in the way of tolerance in return. Also, let us be honest, many people use social conservatism as cover for genuine hatred of LGBTQ people as opposed to ideological opposition to that lifestyle. In that spirit, here are my guidelines for those trying to walk a narrow line between maintaining their credibility as social conservatives without giving our opponents plausible cause to accuse us of hatred.

The first point is to avoid active conflict. One should not directly attack members of the LGBTQ community as such even to make the point that they are sinners. The fact that LGBTQs are likely to become casualties of a conservative sexual ethic may not be avoidable but it should never be an end in itself. This position is necessary even as it means giving up any chance of winning the larger social conflict.


To understand why this is the case, it may be useful to consider the example of opponents of Israel. Clearly, one can be opposed to the State of Israel without being an anti-Semite. There are valid criticisms of Israel to be made. As an anarcho-capitalist, who opposes all governments as the products of violence, I am hardly unsympathetic to those who would consider Israel to be illegitimate. The problem with opponents of Israel, even when they are right on the facts, is that they are trapped by the existence of people using the anti-Israel cause as a Trojan Horse for anti-Semitism. This means that anyone attacking Israel is obligated to demonstrate clear daylight between themselves and anti-Semites. 

This is the case even when that means that, under certain circumstances, one is forced into silence. For example, one might object to Israel's handling of Gaza but it is rather difficult to articulate those criticisms without sounding like an apologist for Hamas. This may mean that the people in Gaza will not receive Justice but there are many other causes not blatantly tainted by terrorism worthy of attention. When Hamas is no longer a factor, then we could revisit the Israeli Occupation. You can consider yourself exempt from standing up for the Palestinians because of Hamas. It is their fault that there is no independent Palestinian State in Gaza.

The problem with attacking the gay rights movement is simply the existence of opponents of gay rights. For example, we live in a world in which the Westboro Baptist Church exists and is not simply a Poe Law begging satire of religious fundamentalists. You have people like Scott Lively, who are clearly motivated by a pathological hatred of gays and wish them physical harm. This limits one's ability to oppose the gay rights movement without implicitly being an apologist for them. This does not change the fact that there is no such thing as gay rights and that the term is simply a trap to discredit opponents. One has to conclude that there are many sins out there that are damaging society. Focus on one that is not gay sex. If that means that promotors of homosexuality win, the WBC and Scott Lively can answer to God for how they sacrificed traditional marriage in this country for the sake of being on television.

There is a lesson my father has tried to teach me. Sometimes, it is not enough to be right. There are certain battles that are not worth the cost even when you are right. The very act of trying to defend certain things, even when you are right, indicates that there is a larger lesson you have failed to learn. For example, anti-BDS legislation may technically be defendable on free-speech grounds. That being said, a true defender of civil liberties should not want to be stuck having to defend themselves, allowing the free speech debate to distract from the fact that BDS is part of a conspiracy to kill Jews. Similarly, if leftist opponents of Trump were serious about fighting racism, they would not have allowed anti-Semitism to become an issue. For social conservatives to willingly initiate an exchange that requires them to explain how they are not homophobic indicates something skewered in their priorities.


A good example of this is the recent Jewish Press article on homosexuality. I have no particular love for the Jewish "De-Pressed." That being said, I find nothing objectionable in the article's argument per se. The fact that there was a controversy indicates something about the state of affairs and how little the Left is willing to tolerate deviation from their established line. That being said, this is a battle I do not wish to fight even if I suspect that many of the people who criticized the article would not recognize any difference between the author and myself. At the end of the day, Irwin Benjamin shows little empathy for why people march in pride parades. His article could have made the same point while avoiding the implication that homosexuals are animals and ending with something along the lines of "I wish those marching well and understand why they are doing so even as I am constrained from joining in." The fact that he did not do so indicates that what motivates him is not a love of God's Torah but that he honestly sees homosexuals as animals and is offended that they could take pride in themselves as human beings. (See Rabbi Yakov Horowitz's pitch-perfect letter to the editor.) If this means that gays will be able to blaspheme the Torah to their heart's content well that is on Benjamin. 

(To be continued ...)

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Requiring Racism: The Tyrannical Immplications of Democracy


What I am about to argue should not be seen as a defense of racism. As an individualist, I accept the individual as the only meaningful moral and political unite. As such, I do not believe that racial groups exist in any objective sense. Furthermore, readers should remember that I am an anarcho-capitalist who believes that individuals have the right to secede from any government they do not actively support. The fact that democratic governments require some form of chauvinism in order to function is simply a reason why people should be allowed to secede from even democracies. Just so we are clear, racism is not okay because it is democratic. On the contrary, democracy is a problem because it requires racism or some closely related form of bigotry. As to what should replace national governments, I am totally ok with anything that does not require violence as, by definition, that would be an improvement. If this means people freely deciding to set up socialist communes, so be it. You own your body; you are allowed to submit to any government you choose as long as you do not force me to go along with it.

The foundation of any state is "dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" (it is sweet and proper to die for the fatherland). Any state that cannot rely on some class of people to sacrifice their lives will not be able to defend a border, will cease having a monopoly on violence over its territory, and will eventually collapse or fall prey to a state that can call on such people. The basic problem with democracy is that the moment you give everyone equal rights no one has any reason to be loyal to the state even to the point of dying for it. Regardless of any foreign invaders, a democracy requires that all of its citizens use their vote to promote the national good as opposed to their personal interest. So for example, I would clearly benefit from a government program to fund bloggers. That being said, I should not vote for such policies because if everyone thought like that the entire country would eventually go bankrupt. In practice, democracies, when left unchecked, quickly devolve into attempts by all of its citizens to live off of everyone else, an unsustainable system. 

Aristocracies did not have this problem. Imagine that you were part of the ten percent in most civilizations for whom life was not dreadful and I was to tell you that you needed to go to war and that there was a good chance you would not come back alive. You could refuse to fight but, if you did, your children would be reduced to working themselves to death like everyone else. Fight and you have a chance to preserve your children in a life of luxury. Aristocrats have had the further advantage that they were a small minority trying to live off of the rest of society. As long as they did not push things to the extremes of 1789 France, they could succeed quite nicely without causing national collapse.

The classic example of this democratic problem was the Roman Empire. It was built by recruiting a small elite in every province and putting them in power. These people then had an incentive to be loyal to Rome and keep their people in line. Think of the High Priest Caiaphas, in the passion narrative, pushing for Jesus' crucifixion. People joined the Roman legions to earn citizenship. One of the things that helped bring down the Empire was the fact that, in the 3rd century C.E., Rome expanded its citizenship rolls. Instead of winning people gratitude, this made people not want to fight to protect the empire. Why put your life in danger for citizenship now that it was worthless?

As someone who lives in California, why should I be willing to fight and die so that California remains part of the United States and does not revert back to Mexico? For that matter, why should I care if the United States ceased to exist? America is a modern creation that has not existed for most of human history and, presumably, the human race will continue after this country is no more.

The democratic answer to this is ideology. If I associate my country with a particular ideology, such as Liberalism, and associate any invader with the negation of what I believe, such as Fascism, it becomes reasonable to sacrifice myself even for people I do not even know or like. It is possible to argue that there is something special about the United States, as the defender of liberty, that mankind would lose without it. Historically the United States has come closest to making this argument work. The United States was born as a unique experiment in large scale republican democracy. During the late 18th and for much of the 19th century, it was reasonable to believe that if the country were to fall, that would be the end of democracy for the entire world. As such, any serious democrat, anywhere in the world, should be willing to die for America.

A critical part of the United States' cultural success has been its ability to use democratic ideology as a glue to bring the country together. Even today, with the possible exception of Canada, this country is better than anyone at absorbing immigrants from totally foreign cultures. No matter your religion, race or where you live, if you believe in liberal democracy and free enterprise, you already are an American. You may need to get to this country and learn the language, but those are formalities. This goes beyond laws on the books to the nature of the culture. I could move to France, learn French and become a French citizen but I could never be truly French. The reason for this is that turning non-Frenchmen into Frenchmen plays no role in France's sense of self. 

The problem with relying on ideology is that it can hardly be taken for granted that the supporters of particular ideas are going to be found solely on one geographic area. Republicans and Democrats both have radically different visions for this country and speak of each other in language suited for a foreign invader. Would either of them be worse off if they had to deal with the citizens of a different country instead of each other? Does it make sense for members of either party to sacrifice themselves for the other side's America, particularly if another country could offer them a better partisan deal?

I have utter contempt for both Republicans and Democrats. If California were to revert back to Mexico and I was to become a Mexican citizen, that would hardly mean that I have betrayed the cause of liberty as Mexico is also a liberal democracy, one whose political institutions are not obviously worse than ours. Furthermore, would it necessarily follow that I would find the particular policy positions of the Mexican government worse than our current administration's? Particularly if I could negotiate with Mexico before treasonously helping them capture California, I am sure we could come to a suitable arrangement regarding tax rates and guarantees of personal liberty. So Mexico might want me to learn Spanish and salute their flag; what is the big deal?

What is needed is an ideology that guarantees that we should have more in common even with our domestic political opponents than with foreigners. Such an ideology would, by definition, be bigotry and its success would depend precisely on our willingness to embrace all of its worse elements. Imagine that Mexico has invaded and has been greeted as liberators by the Left eager to not be ruled by Trump. Declaring Republicans a menace to the world, the United Nations is working on a plan to divide the country into districts to house refugees from different countries. If you are a racist who believes that the United States is the world's only hope for a "white man's republic," the thought of your daughter having to go to a Mexican public school where she will learn Spanish and to hate the "oppressive" American Empire would fill you with dread. Throw in the prospect of some big Hispanic boy sitting down next to her and offering "protection" and you will be running toward the front with whatever weapon you can lay your hands on. Rather you should die and your children should know what it is to be an American than passively accept "white genocide." If there is not a drop of racism or national chauvinism in your body, why should you object to any of this let alone be willing to shed blood over mere lines on a map?

It was not a coincidence that modern democracy was born alongside the nation-state. As long as nation-states were not directly competing against each other but against crown and alter conservative governments, one could pretend that nation-states were not ideologies of group supremacy. As soon as the nation-state became the dominant government ideology in the West, nation-states found themselves locked in a zero-sum struggle for dominance. If Germans were to be a great people, it could only be because Poles and Slavs were not.

The United States' transnational sense of self protected it from ethnic chauvinism as, besides Native Americans, there has never been an American ethnicity. That being said, white supremacy was at the heart of the American democratic experiment. Working class Americans could be the equals of the wealthy and both could be relied upon to sacrifice for the good of the country because they were bound by their sense of being white. Slavery made the early republic politically possible and segregation allowed the United States to absorb millions of European immigrants at the end of the 19th century. It was not for nothing that Booker T. Washington opposed immigration. The United States could either embrace blacks as fellow Americans or European immigrants as fellow whites.

Activists like Colin Kaepernick are on solid ground, in terms of history, when they find the Star-Spangled Banner and the Betsy Ross flag to be objectionable. The problem is that by openly putting themselves in opposition to American History, they are only making matters worse for themselves. By contrast, part of the genius of the civil rights movement was its ability to call out American racism while still placing itself within the American tradition. As a white person, I can believe that American democracy has never given blacks a fair deal but that certainly does not make me suddenly trust Kaepernick to give his life for this country and not stab it in the back. Regardless of whether a Red Dawn scenario ever happens, the same logic applies to public policy. The same Kaepernick who I assume would gladly betray me (perhaps rightfully so) cannot be trusted to refrain from conspiring to use welfare programs as political cover to force white people like me to pay the "reparations" that he feels I owe him. Under such circumstances, neither of us can be trusted to act in the kind of good faith necessary for an honest democracy.

Israel is another great example of this nationalism problem. What allows it to function as a democracy and even to absorb large numbers of immigrants is its Jewish identity. If you consider some ethnic chauvinism to be an inevitable part of the human condition to be laughed at then Israel can still be legitimate. The moment we accept that, as the modern left does, even soft bigotry is some kind of original sin at the heart of all that ails civilization then Israel stands guilty of racism, particularly once we acknowledge that Israel's continued existence comes at the expense of the Palestinians.

To be clear, being a nationalist does not mean that you a Nazi willing to send people to concentration camps. That being said, nationalism requires the rejection of principled universalism along the lines of Stoicism or Kantianism and stands guilty of soft bigotry in the sense of preferring "your" people to others. Note that this is not necessarily such a bad thing. There is something to be said for a Chestertonian form of tolerance. Our group is the best. Other people probably think the same thing about themselves so we should just agree to disagree and leave each other alone. Yoram Hazony makes a powerful argument as to why nationalism, for all of its flaws, is a necessary antidote for the illiberal implications of universalism.

I am not a universalist. I want the state reduced to a point that all citizens willingly consent to a social contract to die even for their political/ideological opponents. Conservatives, if you are not willing to die to keep California in the Union even knowing that it will help lead to an America dominated by liberals, you should support partition. The micro-states that would likely replace the Federal government would consist of petty chauvinists. (Long live the Norwegian Lutheran Farmers Republic of Lake Wobegon.) I can accept such intolerance as long as these microstates make no claim to ruling over anyone who does not wish to be part of their group. Since we are allowing all of our internal opponents to secede, we are not forced to claim that even our opponents are superior to foreigners. If you are not willing to accept the comically soft bigotry of micro-states, you certainly cannot accept a large national government, which cannot represent all of its citizens in good faith without coming to claim that they are superior to foreigners.     

Thursday, July 4, 2019

The Detriot Free Zone and the Formation of the Liberal City


In the last post, I talked about the city of Ankh-Morpork in Terry Pratchett's Discworld. Ankh-Morpork's greatness lies in its informal institutions that push the city in a liberal direction despite the dictatorship of Lord Vetinari and the lack of actual liberals in the city. Another example of this kind of process can be seen in the Detriot Free Zone (DFZ) in Rachel Aaron's Heartstriker and DFZ series.

The basic premise of Aaron's urban fantasy universe is that in the near future, after more than a thousand years, magic returns to the world. This allows dragons to come out of hiding now that they can take on their non-human forms and it brings with it the return of beings like the nature spirit Algonquin, who, seeing how humans have wreaked havoc with the environment, floods Detriot. The United States abandons the area, which, in turn, attracts humans to return to the city, preferring the absentee tyranny of Algonquin to that of the American government. As the DFZ is outside of American jurisdiction and Algonquin really does not care what humans do to each other, the DFZ has no functional government. Like Ankh-Morpork, the DFZ is not a Utopia, social services are non-existent and the chances of suffering sudden violent death are high. That being said, there is something attractive about the place. Aaron's books are about outsiders coming to the DFZ and finding a home there. Her first series deals with Julius Heartstriker, a dragon, who is kicked out of his family for not being ruthless enough. The new series follows Opal Yong-ae, who comes to the DFZ to escape her father. She works as a cleaner, buying up abandoned rentals in order to scrounge for magical items.

The key difference between the DFZ and Ankh-Morpork is that Ankh-Morpork has a history to it going back hundreds of years while the DFZ is a city without a history trying to create its own identity. This is important because much of what gives Ankh-Morpork its identity is that it is the end result of a long complex evolutionary process that is disconnected to the people presently living there, protecting it from anyone who might want to refashion it according to their own design. Yes, Ankh-Morpork undergoes tremendous change and that is a central idea in the series. That being said, this change is outside of anyone's personal control and ultimately serve to highlight the particular character of the city.

While Discworld contains plenty of entities that embody concepts, for example, Death, Pratchett never gave Ankh-Morpork a spirit. One of the major events of Aaron's first series is the birth of the DFZ spirit, who comes into being as a manifestation of all the people living within her. This sets up a wonderful exchange in the most recent book, Part-Time Gods, between the DFZ spirit and Opal where the DFZ directly confronts the Smithian paradox at the root of her nature, is she a manifestation of greed or selflessness. She is founded upon greed as that is the primary motive for why people move to her city and why they stay despite the physical danger. That being said, greed is not the only motive at work. The DFZ would not be possible if people did not come together to build a society. Both Julius and Opal are characters constantly looking to make a buck, yet they are not really motivated by money. If they were, they could have easily made other choices in their lives.

The DFZ spirit wants help figuring out her own identity recognizing that the answer to that question is wrapped in how people like Opal see themselves. On a personal level, the ongoing question with the DFZ spirit and Opal is whether they can have a relationship that is not a matter Opal becoming the DFZ spirit's servant in exchange for having all of her problems solved. The DFZ spirit is a product of individual choices but still not something that individuals can create by protesting for the right laws. Instead, the DFZ comes into her ethical self as a manifestation of the personal choices made by the characters.

One can think of the DFZ as a story of how a city like Ankh-Morpork might come into being much like Animal Farm can be read as the creation of Big Brother. What I would love to see in future books is the DFZ spirit appropriating things from the different cultures of her residents in order to create her underlying institutions while giving them a particular DFZ spin much in the way that the DFZ already makes use of different cuisines.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

The Secret of Ankh-Morpork: A Tale of British Liberalism



In the Constitution of Liberty (I:4), F. A. Hayek distinguishes between what may be called the British evolutionary empiricist and French rationalist schools of liberty. The French tradition, as exemplified by thinkers like Jean Jacques Rousseau (yes, he was born in Geneva), sees liberty in terms of specific policies and political structures that can be known through reason. Its primary goal is the creation of a utopian ideal government with the right laws and the right people in charge. The British tradition, as exemplified by Adam Smith and Edmund Burke, sees liberty as emerging out of systems of human interaction that transcend the design of any particular person. These can be seen in economic markets and traditional social orders. As with biological evolution, these systems are rational in the sense that they follow clear rules and are not random even as they have no rational designer. The goal of such liberty is not any utopian ideal but to limit physical coercion in people's lives.

It strikes me that one of the finest modern examples of this British approach to liberty can be found in Terry Pratchett's comic fantasy series Discworld. In particular, I would like to focus on his use of the city of Ankh-Morpork, which relies less on any of its visible institutions than on a certain subconscious sensibility embedded within its citizens. On the surface, one would be hard-pressed to think of Ankh-Morpork as any kind of Utopia. The city is filthy, crime-ridden, corrupt and under the boot of the tyrannical Patrician Lord Vetinari. And yet there is something about the city that allows it to, if not necessarily function well, at least avoid collapsing on a day to day basis. Furthermore, there is something about Ankh-Morpork that draws people from all over Discworld, whether barbarian raiders, tourists or immigrants. As paradoxical as it might sound, if you find yourself alienated by the place you grew up in, Ankh-Morpork is precisely the place that you can count on to feel at home.

What is Ankh-Morpork's secret of success? It is not the place has some particularly brilliant form of government. There is not much of a government doing anything and the little government that there is seems totally outmatched by the challenges it faces. Is there something special about Ankh-Morporkians themselves? There is no race of Ankh-Morporkians. On the contrary, Ankh-Morpork is a collection of every race and species on Discworld. Furthermore, the people themselves are not particularly wise nor virtuous. What makes Ankh-Morpork special is something about the deep-seated institutions of the city itself that transcend its politics and its racial makeup. One might even think of it as magic, something that is not too far fetched considering how the wizards of Ankh-Morpork's Unseen University mess with the fabric of reality.

In this sense, Ankh-Morpork is the perfect British classical liberal counter-Utopia. The place is far from perfect but is still a place that real people might want to live in. This only makes sense in a world that rejects Utopias. In fact, constantly hanging over Ankh-Morpork is the prospect of a path to Utopia that is never taken in the form of the messianic Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson. He is the true heir to the throne of Ankh-Morpork (the last king having been killed off centuries ago). He even has a sword and a birthmark to prove it. It has been foretold that he will bring truth and justice to Ankh-Morpork. (See Guards, Guards.) One of the running jokes of the series is that despite all the people who know of Carrot's heritage, there is no grand push to make him king because no one actually wants truth and justice. It is not that anyone actually likes Lord Vetinari, but his style of management, corruption and all, suits people just fine.  

Carrot does well as an honest watchman and as a human raised by dwarfs and whose love interest, Angua, is a werewolf, he is well positioned to negotiate between different races. That being said, it is obvious that Carrot would be a dreadful ruler if he ever got around to fulfilling his destiny. He has principles that he will not compromise on, while politics is the art of compromise. It is unfortunate that Pratchett never got around to completing Carrot's story arc. I imagine something along the lines of Vetinari being killed off, chaos threatens the city, and the people are demanding that Carrot agree to become their king. Carrot should then give some version of Life of Brian's "you can all think for yourselves" speech before riding off into the sunset. The city falls into chaos and it is exactly the kind of chaos that afflicted Ankh-Morpork every day under Vetinari. Perhaps Nobby Nobbs becomes patrician; regardless, it does not matter who officially rules as it is the city itself that actually is in charge.

Part of Discworld's use of an emerging order is its lack of clear ideological heroes. For example, Vetinari is not any kind of liberal. He is a dictator, who clearly does not believe in civil liberties. That being said, what great evil does Vetinari actually do? He seems to sit in his office, call people in and suggest that certain courses of action might be good for their continued health. For all that it is taken as a given that Vetinari is ruthless enough to have people tortured to death on a whim, he does not seem to do much of that. This does not mean that Vetinari is a good guy; his love of power precludes that. Nevertheless, there is something about the culture of Ankh-Morpork that resists blatant authoritarian force. Vetinari is smart enough to understand that the best way to hold on to power in Ankh-Morpork is to avoid directly giving orders. Instead, everything, including theft and murder, is legalized though regulated by guilds. These institutions gain their authority through the perpetual motion of tradition that transcends any attempt by individuals to control them. In essence, Vetinari allows the city to run itself while he devotes himself to politics, staying in power by positioning himself as the known quantity that people can live with.  

We see a similar thing with Sam Vimes, the head of the city watch. While Vimes is certainly more likable than Vetinari, his values are quite conservative. Unlike his ancestor who killed the last king of Ankh-Morpork, Vimes is not a revolutionary. What Vimes believes in is the law. It is not that Vimes believes that the law is perfect. On the contrary, he is quite aware of its limitations. That being said, it is precisely because Vimes sees how little good the law can do in the face of real problems in the world that he believes that the law, for whatever it is worth, should apply to everyone, rich and poor, humans and every other race. (See Night Watch and Snuff.) Vimes is the kind of common man just doing his job around whom heroic things seem to happen.

This sensibility seeps down into the rest of Ankh-Morpork. It is a cosmopolitan place in which even dwarfs and trolls learn to if not exactly tolerate each other than at least to not murder each other too often. (See Thud.) Ankh-Morpork has legal prostitution in the form of the Seamstress' Guild. It even allows for explorations of gender identity in the case of Cherry Littlebottom, who comes out as a female dwarf. For all of this tolerance, it is not as if there are many actual liberals in the city crusading for people's rights. (There are zombie activists promoting the rights of the undead.) Most of the residents are highly parochial, interested in their mothers or some other hobby. But it is precisely such narrow mindedness that makes Ankh-Morpork's type of tolerance possible. The residents are too focused on their own private business to mind anyone else's. When the occasional mob does form, they are usually dispersed not by appeals to any noble ideals but by reminding the mob that there are more important things in their lives that they should care about.  

In Discworld, the arc of history does bend toward justice. A running theme through the series is the expansion of personhood to include an ever wider circle of beings such as golems or goblins, who were previously seen as either lacking feelings or so depraved as to be outside of personhood. (See Feet of Clay and Snuff.) What makes this possible is not that particular individuals become "woke" to oppression. Rather, it is that the underlying social system evolves as to include new groups. Once that happens, no conscious tolerance is needed. You can hate the group, but even the very fact that you hate them serves to embed them within the fabric of society, making their elimination inconceivable. (This is an important theme in understanding anti-Semitism. Jews were never in danger from people who believed that Jews killed their Lord as long as Jews were considered part of the existing order of society. Mass violence against Jews only became possible when Jews came to be thought of as something other.) 

On the other side of this coin, minority groups themselves, such as the dwarfs, change as they move to Ankh-Morpork. They might not intend to assimilate and might not realize what is happening until they are raising the next generation but by then it is too late. It is the power of Ankh-Morpork that it is able to assimilate outsiders and turn them into Ankh-Morporkians who embody Ankh-Morpork values even as such people claim to hate Ankh-Morpork and desire to return to the "old country."

Much as Ankh-Morpork attracts outsiders, the city finds itself host to a wide variety of religions. Most Ankh-Morporkians seem indifferent to religion in their personal lives even as religious institutions seem to thrive. There is even a Temple of Small Gods devoted to cast off religions that services people who might not be particularly religious but who like religion as a general idea. The only people who seem interested in forcing their beliefs on others are the Omnians. Even they find themselves caught in the web of Ankh-Morpork sensibilities and are reduced to "aggressively" handing out pamphlets to unbelievers.  

This brings us to the question of markets. As Ankh-Morpork is not a Utopia, it should come as no surprise that Ankh-Morpork is not a free-market Utopia along the lines of Galt's Gulch populated by libertarian ideologues prepared to explain the evils of government planning. That being said, what is interesting about Ankh-Morpork is that it is precisely the kind of place in which innovation either happens or which innovators quickly make their way to in order to market their ideas. It is not that Vetinari loves innovation. On the contrary, he understands more than most people how innovations can make tidal waves in society and he knows that the entire basis of his power lies in his ability to offer people more of the same. It is not that Ankh-Morporkians themselves love innovation either, at least as a principle. That being said, Ankh-Morporkians can be seduced by the magic of a new invention. This allows for innovations to make a rapid jump from a prototype that someone is fooling around with to a part of the social fabric, moving through the stage of dangerous innovation too fast for an effective opposition to build up and stop it. 

Like Charles Dickens, Pratchett's depiction of businessmen was a mixed bag. I do love Harry King whose fortune literally is founded on human excrement. (See Raising Steam.) For a city in which so much is privatized, it is a mystery as to why Ankh-Morpork would need a government-run post-office or mint. (See Going Postal and Making Money.) Even in those cases, Vetinari takes a very hands-off approach and simply lets the conman Moist von Lipwig take charge. In both cases, it is the Ankh-Morpork spirit and not government planning that quickly takes over and cause these institutions to serve purposes beyond anyone's design. 

Ultimately, Pratchett also possessed Dickens' appreciation for the common unheroic virtues. People might be cowards and hypocrites (otherwise known as being self-interested), but they are redeemed by their petty loves and kindnesses. As with Dickens, this goes a long way to redeeming Pratchett. He is a defender of the common man with his bourgeois dreams of doing even the most humble job well and getting ahead as opposed to waging revolution. This is in contrast to the Marxist pretend support for the working class; no one despises the common man like a Marxist. 

The truth about Ankh-Morpork is that it is actually very well run; it is just that it is not being run by any person, not even Lord Vetinari. Ankh-Morpork is a liberal and even revolutionary city that is completely lacking in liberal revolutionaries. It is the deep-seated embed institutions of the city itself that transcend any politician, system of government or particular race that guard the city's liberty and allow it to thrive.  

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Ingenious: A Game of Scarce Resource Management


Over Shavuot, Kalman managed to beat me for the first time at a real board game, Ingenious. This is a great game to play with a five-year-old in that the rules are simple enough that Kalman can follow them while offering serious strategic thinking for the adult. (In my case, I got too smart for my own good.) In addition, the game offers Kalman numerous opportunities to advance pegs on a numbered board by different amounts to keep score, a useful visual for understanding addition.

The basic premise of the game is that you match tiles, each with two colored symbols, with tiles already on the board with one of the same colors. The longer the row of matching symbol you make, the more points you earn. The trick is that, at the end of the game, the only points that matter are the ones from your lowest scoring symbol. Because of this, you need to go after all the symbols and not just the ones in which you are strongest. (This is kind of like the electoral college where you cannot simply pile on votes from your strongest states.) 

It strikes me that Ingenious is very much an economics game. As with any meaningful discussion of economics, the strategic issue at the game's heart is one of resource management under conditions of scarcity. You are going to have to make trade-offs between high scoring moves and getting points where you actually need them. Barring extreme luck, you cannot expect to be able to make ideal moves. You do the best with the tiles you have, knowing that you will have to make tradeoffs.

The really interesting economics issue in this game is the extreme relativity of the value of different colored tiles. The higher you score on any color, the less each additional point is valuable. In essence, the game runs on marginal utility. Points do not have any objective value, beyond how little you have of them. Getting from zero to one is going to be more valuable than getting from one to two.

This question of the relative value of points is further complicated by the layout of the board as it develops in that the board will offer better opportunities for high score moves in certain colors. By contrast, certain colors will be cut off, making it difficult to develop them. This means that, not only do you have to pay attention to how you are scoring in all the colors, you also have to take into account which colors you will likely be able to play in the later part of the game. It may be perfectly acceptable to let yourself lag in a color or two as long as those colors are not likely to be cut off. If a color looks like it will be cut off, then you better get your matching pieces down immediately so you can monopolize that color before your opponents do the same. 

It should be acknowledged, though, that the "economics" of  Ingenious ultimately come across as rather mercantilist. Unlike even Settlers of Catan, there is no trading or opportunities to cooperate. On the contrary, you need to develop the tile resources on the board for yourself at the same time that you sabotage everyone else's attempts to benefit from that same source. In essence, you are the equivalent of an oilman who sets up a Baptist/Bootlegger coalition with environmentalists in order to stop further drilling and raise the value of the oil you already possess.

 

This can only be expected from a board game as they are fundamentally zero-sum exercises in which one person wins and everyone else loses. By contrast, economics (contrary to what Trump believes) is about how everyone can be a winner, particularly if we look after the "low scorers." And this may be Ingenious' most important lesson. You may have "rich" and "poor" colors as some level of inequality is inevitable. That being said, in the end, we will be judged on our ability to raise the standard of living for those who have least. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Where Do We Go From Here? Let's Make Government Equal Violence Again


Libertarians are a small minority in this country, without much particular influence. For all the complaints about the Koch brothers, we do not control academia. Our influence over Hollywood is so non-existent that we cannot even get a decent Atlas Shrugged filmed made. Assuming that this status quo is unlikely to change in our lifetime, our only chance of having some limited say over public policy is through an alliance with either liberals or conservatives (At this point, I am uncertain which is a better option so all can I do is urge libertarians to be charitable to whatever path other libertarians pursue, recognizing that there really are no good options.) Regardless of whether libertarians should be on the left or the right, I would hope that what unites us and what we should never lose track of is the desire to make it clear that government is a literal act of violence.

As we approach the one-hundredth anniversary of the Versailles Treaty, it is useful to note that the end of World War I marked a critical turning point in a moral revolution almost as important as the Enlightenment's turn to equality as a moral principle. World War I was made possible because people, as it was the norm throughout history, looked to war as something noble. Millions of men marched to war in 1914 on the logic that the worst that could happen was that they would die and be remembered as heroes. Most likely, the war would be over by Christmas and they would be able to go home to show off a minor injury that would mark them forever as "real men." It is important to keep in mind that women were fully culpable in pushing this logic on men by shaming them into fighting. Such a state of affairs was not something unique to 1914. It goes all the way back to at least the Iliad.

Perhaps, the finest summation of such war apologetics can be found in Shakespeare's Henry V.




Critical for understanding the play is the fact that Shakespeare does not ask us to care about medieval dynastic politics. It is irrelevant whether Henry V has a legitimate claim to the throne of France. There is no pretense that fighting for Henry will make the world safe for hereditary monarchy through the female line (the official issue at stake in the Hundred Years War). What Henry offers his men is the opportunity to be part of his "band of brothers," to be remembered as such heroes that someone would write a play about them nearly two centuries later. (This is a good example of the "post-modern" side to Shakespeare where he regularly gives his characters a certain awareness that they are actors in a play.)

This view of war as an opportunity to win personal glory died in the mud of the Western Trenches. World War II could still be fought for the ideologies of Fascism, Communism, and Democracy, but no more could intellectually series people think of war as a principled good in of itself. What is critical to understand here is not that 20th-century man abandoned war nor is it likely that peace will come to the world in the 21st-century (even as we continue to enjoy the long peace of no war between major powers since World War II). What can no longer be seriously contemplated, even as superhero action movies remain popular, is any discussion of war that omits the obvious fact that war involves murder and the fact that it might be carried out by men in uniform following orders from their superiors does nothing to change that. Wars may continue to be fought as inescapable tragedies, but there is no escaping their morally problematic nature.

In practice, this means that in debating war, opponents of war start with the moral high ground. For example, with the Iraq War, the Bush administration could not even simply argue that Saddam Husain was a bad guy and that the United States was legally justified in removing him, let alone that they were offering young Americans the opportunity to take part in a "glorious" adventure. They needed to argue that Saddam presented a clear and present danger to the world through his possession of weapons of mass destruction. The fact that these accusations turned out to be false fatally compromised the moral position of the United States in occupying Iraq.

The success of anti-war movements in making war morally problematic offers us a model for what libertarians might achieve in the 21st century. Even if we cannot stop the expansion of government let alone eliminate it, we can still make government morally problematic.

My model for this is the Road to Serfdom, in which Friedrich Hayek directly connected the romanticization of war as the county coming together for a single cause to the argument for continuing that same military logic in peacetime with a government-run economy. It stands to the credit of Hayek that conservatives developed a guilty conscious regarding government (distinct from actually cutting government spending). This was a valid justification for allying with conservatives in the past and it may continue to do so in the future. Clearly, this is not the case with the wider society. On the contrary, when people, particularly on the left, talk about government, there is a tendency to see it in terms of "everyone coming together for the common good." By contrast, markets are seen as manifestations of greed. This gives government action the moral high ground.

We can criticize government policies and we will win some major victories. Hardcore Marxism went down with the Cold War. Even the Chinese Communist Party accepts market control over much of the economy. Democratic Socialists like Bernie Sanders are not revolutionaries trying to nationalize everything. On the contrary, they largely accept the current status quo. That being said, such victories often seem hallow as we cannot escape the sense that our opponents are simply rearming, waiting for their chance to make their next big push. The reason for this is that the horrors of Communism did not discredit government in the same sense that the horrors of Nazism discredited racism. (Try claiming to be a "Democratic Nazi.") From this perspective, Communism stands as a "noble" experiment, its failures a lesson for future attempts to bring about the brotherhood of man. By contrast, those who oppose Communism on principle, stand convicted of being so selfish as to oppose human brotherhood.

My modest goal for libertarianism is to simply make it impossible, within mainstream society, to talk about government programs without acknowledging that violence is being advocated. Today, we can take it for granted that defenders of the military are not going to be able to ignore the fact that war inevitably leads to atrocities while denouncing their opponents as cowards who hate their country. Similarly, we can push the debate to a point in which defenders of government programs are not able to simply portray themselves as humanitarians and their opponents as greedy corporate shills. On the contrary, it is we who oppose government who are the true humanitarians. We are the ones who do not wish to use violence.

You wish to have public education and universal health care? Fine, just as long as you are willing to admit that you believe that it is right and laudable to murder children if that is the only way to get people to pay for these programs. We libertarians may still lose the debate if we cannot offer a better alternative, but if we lose we will still be able to hold our heads up high and claim the moral high ground as the humanitarians who dared to dream of a world without violence. If we can do that, who knows, maybe the next generation will be able to come up with a plan that really does make government services unnecessary. 



Thursday, May 23, 2019

From Conservatism to Libertarianism: My Personal Journey (Part IV)

Part IIIIII.

By 2010, I had self-consciously left the Republican Party and was voting for Libertarian candidates when available. I even refused to vote for Romney in 2012. That being said, I still viewed this separation as temporary. The GOP would get its act together in a few years, recognize that fighting the culture through politics was a lost cause, and get back to limiting government spending (including military spending). The fact that they were losing young voters (like myself) would give them no choice. Once things turned around, I would gladly go back to the party and we could resume the serious struggle of saving the country from the left.

I was led astray by the fallacy of overestimating how common my personal sentiments were.  I continued to read mainstream conservative sources like National Review or Townhall with growing disagreements and I interpreted conservativism through that lens. As I did not have access to cabal TV, I did not watch Fox and I had long since stopped listening to talk radio. The fact that I spent the Obama years away from right-wing culture meant that I was unprepared for how conspiratorial it was becoming.

What is important here is not to what extent conservatives went insane over the course of the Obama years, but what those beliefs justified. Every position carries with it an unstated moral claim as to the spectrum of allowable actions. If Democrats really were an existential threat to this country then all kinds of previously unthinkable actions suddenly became perfectly defensible, including handing the country over to a buffoonish conman clown with no allegiance to conservatism let alone anything besides his own ego. For example, any liberal who denounced Judge Kavanaugh as the threat to the country was also implicitly endorsing making up charges of sexual assault against him. Similarly, saying that a President Hillary would put conservatives in reeducation camps meant that our conservative has implicitly signed on to allow Trump to collaborate with Russia as allowing Trump to get away with impeachable offenses would be preferable to allowing Democrats to control the government.

I may have left the Republican Party but I still believed in the fundamental decency of the Republican leadership and it's rank and file voters. A Trump candidacy presented an opportunity for regular conservative voters to demonstrate how they had been slandered by the liberal media. Yes, Trump might have name recognition but his hateful rhetoric would turn off Republican voters and the victorious primary candidate would be the one who could articulate the most distinctly anti-Trump vision. 

I used to visit the late Prof. Louis Feldman ztl, a classics scholar, and he would ask me what Trump stood for. I would tell him that Trump was Cataline, a demagogue willing to destroy the country in order to seize power. What we needed was a Cicero to stand for what makes this country great and save it (hopefully without violating the Constitution and having people executed without trial). I really believed, that for all his flaws, Paul Ryan could step into that role of Cicero.

The fact that Trump managed to win out over a crowded field in the primaries simply raised the stakes. The Republican Party establishment led by Ryan now had the opportunity to be statesmen and patriots to fall on their swords to stop Trump even at the cost of allowing a Clinton victory. Yes, we might have President Hillary in the White House and she would get to replace Scalia on the Supreme Court but a morally invigorated conservative movement freed from having to rely on Trump voters would stop her dead in her tracks. This made sense to me because I actively work on myself not to think of politics as a daily soap opera but as a struggle to be played out over lifetimes. Let Hillary win in 2016. Let the Democrats take the Supreme Court. Just as long as I do not have to, say in 2024, respond to "what about Trump?" questions.

Up until the night of the election, I really did expect the better angels of the Republican Party to prevail. As much as I was not looking forward to a President Hillary, Trump's victory left me as downcast as many on the left. Much like the Iraq War, Trump's victory forced me into the uncomfortable position of having to acknowledge that the left could be pretty much right about some things. If Republicans really were motivated by the three pillars of Buckleyite conservatism of limited government, a strong defense, and family values, as opposed to simply using these as cover for bigotry, then how could they have voted for Trump, a man who stands for none of these three things?

The Trump presidency has left me in an impasse. I thought I understood conservatives and was proven wrong. I recognize now that there is no going back to the Republican Party and that the Milton Friedman Republican strategy based on cutting taxes was a mistake. I am open to the idea of pursuing a leftward strategy built around some combination of universal basic income (another Friedman idea), drug legalization/criminal justice reform, and open borders. That being said, I readily admit that I would be the wrong person to be involved in such a process. I am not from the left and I lack the necessary empathy for understanding it. In truth, it is not like I am qualified to work with the right anymore. If a large percentage of the libertarian movement are people like me then we have a problem. All the more reason for us to stand aside and make way for people who are not disgruntled former conservatives.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Israel as a Nation-State


To continue with the discussion of Yoram Hazony's Virtue of Nationalism, I would also like to say something about Hazony's understanding of Israel as a nation-state. I agree with Hazony that the chief source of opposition to Israel from the modern left is the fact that Israel is a self-conscious and unapologetic nation-state. So Israel, from the perspective of the hard left, is automatically racist. A soldier who shoots a Palestinian terrorist is not morally different from a Nazi. It is irrelevant that one is engaging in self-defense. In both cases, they are defending racism. A world in which Jews were driven to the sea would be a world with a little less racism.

The backflow from this venom even influences mainstream journalism and fuels the habit of disingenuous headlines in which Palestinian terror attacks are described in passive terms while Israel's response is active and terrorists are placed in the same category as civilians. So for example, you can have a headline of "Israel Kills Palestinian in Response to the Death of Two People in an Attack." Now, the article, itself, will go on to explain that Israel killed the Palestinian who carried out the attack. Technically, the headline is accurate, but it is clearly designed to give the impression that Israel kills random Palestinians as revenge for "misfortunes" that occur to Israelis that are not the fault of the Palestinians.

If this was simply an anti-Semitic conspiracy on the part of journalists to defame Israel, we might have an easier time combating it. The reality is that such headlines are the product of a particular narrative and a desire, at all costs, to avoid an alternative one. If Palestinian nationalism is itself an Arab supremacist ideology that exists simply as cover to murder Jews then there is really nothing Israel can do to bring peace. Israel is left with simply trying to maintain the status quo or to pursue some kind of mass expulsion of Palestinians. Until some radical reform happens within Palestinian society, something outside of Israel's control, Israel cannot be expected to make any concessions. Once we rule out that possibility even from consideration by denouncing it as racist, then we are forced into the anti-Israel narrative. Palestinian terror attacks can only be the product of misguided individuals and not of any organized ideology. Since it is "unthinkable" that the Palestinian leadership would teach people to murder, if Israelis are killed it must be because of anger over the "occupation." In the end, mainstream western public opinion needs to believe that there is some concession that Israel can be pushed to make that can bring peace. The alternative is simply too uncomfortable for them to consider.

To be fair to Israel's critiques, ultimately, Israel is a racist state in the sense that any nation-state is racist. Israel was created to solve a particular Jewish problem and not to help humanity as a whole. Much as a person's love for their family means that their children matter than random children on the other side of the planet or down the block, a nationalist values his people more than foreigners. Now, this does not mean that you are a Nazi and believe that your people are better than everyone else and that it is morally acceptable to abuse or even murder people outside of your group. The fact that I love my children more than yours does not mean that I think my children are better. On the contrary, if my love for my children was because they were ubermenchen, it would not be parental love. I love my children for no other reason than they are my children. I intend no harm to anyone else's children and I expect other people to love their children more than mine. In fact, I would be terrified of any stranger who claimed to love my children equal to theirs.

Similarly, I love Judaism because I identify myself with Jews. By extension, I identify with Israel as the nation-state of the Jews, even though I do not live actually live there. Perhaps Jews have some special divine mission. This still does not make Jews better than anyone else, something the Bible is quite clear about. I am sure there is much to love about Korean culture and it is right that Koreans should cherish being Korean to the extent of building a nation-state of Korea by having agreeable property owners coming together to form a social contract. Both Israelis and Koreans could then live in peace together in perfect respect as they would have no true disagreements.

Ultimately, Israel's enemies are able to cynically make the jump from Israel is a nation-state to Israel is a Nazi state as a means of promoting violence against Israelis as part of precisely the kind of ethno-religious supremacism that Israel is wrongly accused of. This thinking seeps into mainstream opinion because most people today have not been taught to distinguish between liberal nationalism and xenophobia.

Now, this raises a question; if Israeli nationalism is racist, what about Palestinian nationalism. I think that Hazony is being simplistic with his claim that the West ignores Arab nationalism because it believes that non-Europeans are developmentally behind and so lack the enlightenment to abandon nationalism. On the contrary, non-Europeans are taking a step-forward from petty tribalism when they embrace nationalism. What Hazony misses is that the left does not believe that non-Westerners can be racists as they are perceived as lacking power. On the contrary, racist seeming actions by non-whites are attempts to seek empowerment in the face of white racism. From this perspective, Palestinian statehood is not really a nation-state and cannot be racist. On the contrary, the vilest expressions of anti-Semitism are simply products of Zionist racism.

For Israel to win its public relations struggle to justify its own existence, it is going to need the West to rediscover the virtues of nationalism. For that to happen, we are going to need actual nation-states. For example, instead of a European Union, we need an England, a France, and a Germany. For that matter, we need an independent Scotland and Catalonia. Similarly, the United States is not a nation-state and should be broken down into units that can serve as such. Feel free to suggest your own alternative maps.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

In Support of Actual Nation-States: A Response to Yoram Hazony's Virtue of Nationalism


In the previous post, I spoke about my leaving conservatism for libertarianism and even anarcho-capitalism while recognizing that, in certain subtle ways, I remain tied to aspects of conservative thought. Yoram Hazony is a thinker well-positioned to challenge my turn against conservatism as he is the kind of conservative that I am still attracted to. He comes from the classically liberal Burkean tradition. He is remarkably nuanced and avoids the obvious anti-left polemics that dominate conservatism today. This comes from him having actual conservative beliefs as opposed to simply hating the left. Finally, Hazony is a serious Jewish thinker committed to making Jewish tradition relevant to the Western political discourse.

I would like to, therefore, take this opportunity to respond to Hazony's most recent book, The Virtue of Nationalism. Hazony's goal is to defend nationalism, as embodied in the nation-state, as an essential component of the classical liberal tradition. This is opposed to the nationalism equals racism view that has come to dominate the post World War II West. For Hazony, nation-states are the only alternatives to the extremes of tribalism, which cannot recognize individual rights and empires based around universal ideals that are compelled to eliminate all opponents. Like a good Burkean, Hazony opposes attempts to build political systems out of pure theory. Instead, states need to arise from the ground up based on the experiences and traditions of the particular group in question. I agree with Hazony's basic argument. I would simply apply it in a very different manner. For example, I fail to see how the United States as a whole could be considered a nation-state any more than the European Union. The United States should be considered a universalizing empire. Therefore, in the name of the nation-state, I call for the United States to be split up into culturally unified sections that could plausibly claim nation-state status.

What is a meaningful nation? I would say that it is the largest group which so encompasses one's identity that self-sacrifice becomes not only possible but even expected. Take the family, for example. Imagine that some billionaire tried to bribe me to walk out on my wife and kids so he could move in and take my place. I would turn him down despite the fact that everyone would be better off if I agreed. The reason for this is that my identity is so wrapped up with my family that to take that away would effectively make me a different person to the extent that I might as well kill myself.

Let us widen this sense of identity to a religion/ethnicity like Judaism. Any close study of the history of Jewish martyrdom reveals that many of the best-known examples, such as the Crusades, violated Jewish Law. (No, Judaism does not allow you to murder your children and burn the synagogue down around you in order to avoid falling into the hands of Christians.) So, historically, people have been willing to die for Judaism less because they were particularly religious but because Judaism was fundamental to their identity to the extent that apostacy effectively became a form of suicide.

Now, in a post-Holocaust world, it is unlikely that Judaism, either as a secular culture or as a religion, can survive the combined threats of genocidal anti-Semitism and the modern demand for assimilation without the State of Israel. This makes Israel a functional nation-State. Jews across the religious spectrum and whether they actually live in Israel or the diaspora, recognize an obligation to sacrifice for the sake of Israel for without it there can be no more Judaism. (Note that I am defending Israel's right to exist and engage in self-defense. This is not a blank check to deny Palestinians the right to create their own nation-state.)

How about the United States? Imagine if someone offered you a well-paying job if you abandoned your American citizenship and became a Canadian. How much of your identity is wrapped up in being an American (or whatever country you are a citizen of) to make such an abandonment the equivalent of suicide? I think that people on both the left and right really do identify with a country, red and blue America respectively. Republicans and Democrats see their voters as the "real Americans" and the other side as people who happen to live in the United States, who, unfortunately, enjoy the legal privileges of citizenship. This leads to both sides pretending to be patriotic while simply hoping that one day that other America will disappear, resolving the conflict.

As I have mentioned previously, unity has a tendency to turn into an intellectual trap where what is really meant is that everyone should agree to do things my way. Unity is only meaningful when it becomes an end in itself to the extent that we are willing to do things the other person's way. Supporting a unified America means that it is so important to you that America remain a united country that you are willing to surrender to whatever major political party (Republican or Democrat) that you hate more and give them complete control. By this standard, there are few genuine Americans.

A step in the right direction would be to simply divide the country into several regional countries. Let us admit that Americans in the Mid-West, the West Coast, the South, and New England do not obviously have more in common with each other than with people in Canada or Mexico. It is unreasonable to expect New Englanders to lay down their lives to protect the South's version of America but I expect them to be willing to die for New England. Divide the country and almost all of our political, social and cultural conflicts would be solved. California would have abortion and gay marriage and Mississippi would not. People would be free to be perfectly apathetic about politics because there would be no threat that a few thousand votes would send their country in a direction they would find that objectionable. I encourage readers to take a look at Colin Woodard's American Nations, which tells over the story of American history as if the United States were a collection of different countries making alliances and in competition with each other. If we really are a collection of different nation-states, then why not make it official and stop pretending that the United States is anything other then an attempted universal empire.

Defending the nation-state is often used as a reason to tighten borders and restrict immigration. Breaking the United States down into regional nation-states should actually make them more friendly to immigrants. For starters, it would be in the interest of all the new states to attract like-minded individuals from the rest of the former United States as this would allow for more self-consciously ideological states. So, for example, the South should want to attract religious conservatives from the newly independent California, who fear that they will be forced to bake gay wedding cakes. This will allow the South to grant smaller pockets of territory to those Southern liberals who cannot be bribed into leaving for California a state of their own. From there, it is only a small step for the South to want to market itself as the place of refuge for Christian conservatives from around the world. Since Christianity would be written into the Constitution of this new state as the official religion (hopefully with some degree of tolerance for non-Christians), only people comfortable pledging loyalty to such a state would want to come so there would be no threat of immigrants hostile to local values. On the contrary, immigrants could be embraced as the true embodiment of the nation, people who already such Southerners that felt compelled to move to the South. Such a state of affairs could further be strengthened by eliminating the welfare state. If there are few government-funded social services than no immigrant is going to want to come in order to take advantage of them.

This is in contrast to our present situation where Republicans and Democrats have different values, want different countries, and, therefore, desire different sets of immigrants. They both also desire to use the welfare state to support their particular tribes. Hence both immigration and welfare become weapons in the unnamed civil war ruining our political discourse.

To understand Hazony's blind spot for existing states, it may be useful to look at another set of eighteenth-century thinkers, besides for Burke, that loom behind him, the authors of the Federalist Papers. For Alexander Hamilton and company, the chief alternative to the Constitution they had to argue against was dividing the new United States up into individual states or perhaps three regional groups. Their main argument against this position was that each faction would be trapped into pursuing its own particular interest as opposed to the general welfare of the country. The problem with this argument is that if there is no general consensus that could be agreed by separate countries than there can be no agreed-upon common good whatsoever.

In practice, the common good of the Federalist Papers was simply taking the welfare of Hamilton's New York Federalist bankers as the pretended welfare of the country. It turned out that Jefferson and his Republican farmers could be equally disingenuous. Despite his objections to federal power, once he became president, Jefferson was perfectly willing to engage in the Louisiana Purchase despite his lack of constitutional authority to do so. Furthermore, the Louisiana Purchase was not to the benefit of the entire country as it was detrimental to Federalist business interests, turning the American economy away from the Atlantic coast and trade with Europe. In the end, trying to maintain a unified country has meant that the United States has been racked by sectional differences, even leading to the Civil War.

Hazony supports the nation-state as an alternative to petty tribes and universal empires. The problem is that he fails to offer clear distinctions between the three. How big does a tribe have to become in order to be a nation-state and how much does ideology have to mix with culture for the nation-state to become an empire, particularly as in the case of both Judaism and the United States, ideology and culture are hopelessly intertwined? Hazony tries to paint the United States as an English Protestant nation that managed to assimilate a variety of other cultures. I fail to see America as a unified nation-state. It is simply too big and diverse. By contrast, I see Israel as the model nation-state as it offers something specific, a Jewish homeland, that cannot be matched by any other country. By contrast, what can the United States give me that Canada cannot? Hence, it makes sense for Jews to die for Israel in ways that it does not make sense for Americans to die for the United States. The solution is for the United States should be divided into parts that are culturally unified enough that everyone could get behind one particular vision that is worth sacrificing one's personal interests for.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

From Conservatism to Libertarianism: My Personal Journey (Part III)


Part I, II.


In the previous posts, I described how my strong distaste for the Left led me to become a conservative and how my frustration with the Republican Party, particularly over Iraq, grew. So the me who was neither shocked nor horrified by Republican defeats in November 2006 (in contrast to my enthusiasm for Bush in 2004) was an independently minded Republican with a socially liberal streak. If you were paying attention to the last post, you might have noticed that I did not use the word "libertarian" and that was on purpose. When I began this blog in December 2006, I still did not identify myself as a libertarian. Going back over my early posts, you can see that I identified myself as "operating within the classical liberal tradition" and use the word "libertarian" to describe the position that the government should stay out of people's bedrooms. For me, classical liberalism meant J. S. Mill, specifically that people should be left to themselves to pursue their own understanding of the good life, in contrast to modern liberalism. (I was unaware at the time that Mill was actually more open to government intervention in the economy than would be implied by On Liberty.) I was already even ok with gay marriage as long as it was framed in terms of personal liberty and not group rights. That being said, I did not identify myself as a libertarian. The main reason for this was that I had almost no contact with libertarianism as a political movement or as an intellectual tradition. I still thought in terms of conservatism vs. liberalism. I criticized conservatism from within conservatism. I still hated the left as much as always and was not about to turn traitor.

I started identifying myself as a libertarian around 2008 during the presidential campaign. I still supported the late Sen. John McCain and did not vote for Ron Paul even during the primaries. I even attended a McCain rally in Columbus when he clinched the nomination. I identified as a libertarian conservative as a way of telling people on campus that while I did not support Obama, I did not agree with the Republican Party on social issues such as abortion. I was not one of those "close-minded" religious extremist Republicans. At this point, I still had little contact with libertarianism. My libertarianism was the product of my own thinking. But I decided that if I was going to be a libertarian, I might as well discover what libertarians actually say.

I started binge-watching Youtube clips of Milton Friedman in the summer of 2009. Friedman was a revelation to me as someone who was saying the kinds of things I had been thinking and being far more articulate about it than I ever could. At a practical level, I recognized in Friedman a roadmap for a compassionate conservatism that could expand the Republican base to include blacks and Hispanics. From Friedman, I quickly branched out to reading Hayek (I owe a debt of thanks to Simon Snowball for giving me a copy of the Constitution of Liberty and for alerting me to the existence of a something called Austrian economics), Ayn Rand, and Murry Rothbard. I attended my first IHS conference in the summer of 2011. IHS has remained my chief lifeline to libertarianism as a flesh and blood movement. People like Sarah Skwire, her husband Steve Horwitz, and Michael Munger have been models for me of how to be an intellectually serious and principled defender of liberty in all of its radicalness while keeping both feet planted in the real not yet converted to libertarianism world. As someone on the autism spectrum, that last part has proven critical.

One implication of my path to libertarianism was that, since I came to libertarianism largely through my own thinking and only discovered later that there existed people who thought like I did, I have not felt tied down by faction. For example, being an Objectivist or a Rothbardian was never what defined libertarianism for me as I did not become a libertarian through them. I could recognize some things of value in such groups and move on.

It should come as no surprise, considering that I came to libertarianism while still a registered Republican, I was firmly in the minarchist camp. In fact, when I first encountered anarcho-capitalism through David Friedman, I was quite critical of it. Granted, my defense of government was firmly planted in pragmatism over principle. For example, I made a point of teaching my students that government was a magic wand that we used to call kidnappers policemen taking people to jail, something that could never seriously be defended unless we accepted that it was necessary for the well being of society that we all participate in such an immoral delusion.

What eventually turned me against even this moderate apology for government was my growing disenchantment with the American political system. As long as I could pretend that the Republican Party was serious about economic liberty and that everything else would pull itself together from there, I could hope that the Republican Party could fix America and that that the United States could still be considered a defender of liberty (even if an imperfect one). Once I lost faith in the Republican Party, it set off a domino effect in which I could no longer defend the United States government and modern states in general.

Even today, I am on the very moderate end of the anarchist spectrum. One could even argue that I remain a minarchist at heart. I still am, fundamentally, a Burkean conservative. I am not a revolutionary seeking perfect justice. The moment you make a claim on perfect justice, you hand a loaded gun to everyone out there to pursue their perfect justice, including those whose perfect justice requires your death. I am willing to accept that human institutions will always be marred by flaws and logical contradictions. The best we can do is make a good faith effort. If that means some government, so be it.

I acknowledge that I lack the moral authority to challenge governments rooted in some traditional authority, particularly if, like England and the United States, that authority itself is the classical liberal tradition. That being said, I feel no such bind when it comes to those governments premised on progressive notions of overturning tradition in the name of perfect justice. From this perspective, my anarchist attack on progressive government is simply the other side of my defense of traditional government. Edmund Burke himself famously defended the American revolutionaries as good Englishmen forced to defend English values against a monarch intent on changing the status quo. The Americans were not the real revolutionaries. They were forced to create a new system of government for themselves (that actually was not so different from what they previously had) because their opponents had embraced revolution first. (This argument is also crucial for how Burke understood the Glorious Revolution and why it was acceptable, unlike the French Revolution.)

While in principle I oppose government as an institution of violence, I accept, in practice, that we might not be able to do better than limited government. In pursuit of that goal, I embrace using the threat of anarchy as a weapon to threaten the political establishment. If this actually leads to the overthrow of government then so be it. In my heart, I have rejected the authority of government over myself and no longer see myself as morally bound to follow its laws. My obedience is merely that of a man with a gun to his head.