Thursday, July 18, 2019
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
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.