There Gloom the Dark Broad Seas
[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
This is the first I’ve heard of it, but apparently some archaeologists believe they’ve found the tomb of Odysseus. (Conical hat tip to LRC.)
From the information in the article it’s not clear to me what warrants their confidence that this is his tomb; but it’s a story worth keeping an eye on.
No Proof Against the Wind
[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
Did Hippasus Die For Nothing?
Two and a half millennia after Pythagoras, someone has finally gotten those pesky irrational numbers out of trigonometry.
Much nervousness is no doubt ensuing in the oxen community.
Floodgates of Statism
Today is the fourth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. (See my first, second, and third anniversary messages.) It arrives in the middle of a remarkably similar crisis, the New Orleans flood. Both disasters were treated by our rulers as unexpected bolts from the blue, when in fact the relevant threats were well-known and long-predicted. Indeed, in both cases government policy (military interventionism in one case, the Army Corps of Engineers in another) actually helped to create the problem in the first place. And in both cases the government’s response was initial chaotic confusion followed by massive assaults on civil liberties.
In the case of the flood the state’s response has been robbery (not just illegal looting, in which police participated, but the “legal” confiscation and “commandeering” first of supplies and vehicles, then of housing and means of self-defense) as well as kidnapping (forced evacuations and the like) directed against innocent civilians.
When I see the flood victims on tv being shoved around by authorities, stuffed into or out of superdomes and buses, pulled unwillingly out of their homes, left stranded on bridges, etc., etc., I’m reminded of Adam Smith’s description of the “man of system,” who “seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board.” When I read reports of private truckloads of food, water, and fuel being turned away from New Orleans by both federal and local officials (all of whom should face criminal charges for their actions), I’m reminded of “all the presidents of the kingdom, the governors, and the princes, the counsellors, and the captains,” who
consulted together to establish a royal statute, and to make a firm decree, that whosoever shall ask a petition of any God or man for thirty days, save of thee, O king, he shall be cast into the den of lions. (Daniel 6:7.)Now, as then, the State Our God is a jealous god, and seeks to make everyone dependent on it alone; the state’s first instinct – however much it may have to be subsequently moderated in the face of public pressure – is always to forbid any other source of assistance.
Failed Hurricane Response Is an Opportunity for Libertarians
Guest Blog by Phil Jacobson
The ongoing disaster to the US Gulf coast will have serious consequences for US politics. Libertarians will have a rare opportunity to exploit the policy failures of current and past regimes. But we may not be well prepared to take full advantage, by offering well-considered alternatives.
Over a span of decades, the political pendulum in the USA tends to swing back and forth between “progressive” and “conservative” forces (I put these terms in quotes because actual regimes, while always claiming to follow some variety of one or the other of these ideologies, are in fact based on opportunism – though they typically get knee-jerk support from true adherents). Whenever one side gains dominance, it quickly becomes overconfident, sloppy and corrupt. At some point an event triggers public recognition of this fact and the dominant side loses the support of the most talented “moderates.” This last group is composed of persons from a variety of backgrounds and interests, who do not truly like either “left” or “right,” but who reluctantly endorse whoever is perceived as the lesser evil – as a matter of practicality, to establish stability. If the dominant group’s corruption is sufficiently exposed, the “moderate” group shifts its support away from them. The non-dominant (yet still widely accepted) side exploits this shift until it becomes dominant and establishes a new regime (not a new system, just a relatively new variety of the old one). Then it begins to make the same mistake of overconfidence, and the cycle continues.
We are now on the verge of the beginning of a switch in dominance.
The “conservatives,” as currently represented by the Bush administration and its allies, have overplayed their hand. After 911, the Bush regime rallied the public around its “War on Terrorism” which became the organizing principle for most resources. The primary investment of an extremely high public trust (sometimes called “political capital”) was into two arenas, the Iraq War, and the Department of Homeland Security. Other, more conventionally conservative issues have been pursued, such as efforts to translate religiously based morality into law, and selected tax cuts. But much more money has been redirected to the Iraq War than to any other purpose, and the biggest domestic shift is the emphasis on internal security. Now these two are under severe criticism.
The public has lost considerable confidence in the goals and methods associated with the Iraq War. However that is well documented. I will not review it here.
Criticism of various in-country “anti-terrorist” policies of the Bush regime have been serious from the beginning. The Patriot Act and associated decisions assaulted the very liberties they were advertised to be protecting, via new powers granted to prosecutors, police, and detention facility operators – as is also well known. Less well known is are the clumsy efforts to “consolidate” government resources under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Of particular interest to the current disaster is that, in additional to purely “security” oriented decisions, there was a decision to put the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) within DHS. Now disaster relief planning and response is mixed with “anti-terrorist” efforts. As criticism of the Bush administration’s response to the recent hurricane mounts, a condition is forming where both its domestic and foreign policies are simultaneously in disrepute. Thus major public discontent can (and will) be drawn to the “Bush system” rather than just isolated “mistakes” found in parts of it. Much of the discontent will be purely emotional, but it will fuel a hunger for regime change at home.
Government reactions to Hurricane Katrina are being criticized by everyone on the political spectrum. For the most part, however, these criticisms are directed at the particular people in power, or the Bush team’s particular approach to solving problems with government power. The assumption that government could have and should have been the solution to the disaster is still rarely questioned. This assumption will be to the advantage of those jockeying for leadership of the “progressive” community, who will use it to argue for more government – under their control. Given the normal pendulum swing, they will ride this argument into positions of power which they will proceed to abuse until the public gets tired of them – a process which would normally take a couple of decades.
Frankly, it is unlikely that libertarians will be able to alter the pendulum swing this time. The “progressives” will likely get another turn at bat. But there is nevertheless an opportunity right now. Even though the pendulum tends only to favor “left” or “right” to take full power, the process of regime change is not instantaneous. For a while, perhaps measured only in months, we will experience a period where relatively “innovative” ideas are given more consideration. Critical thinking will not be required to have a clear “leftist” or “rightist” orientation to be credible. Historically, such a period functions to allow the incoming regime to juggle its internal alliance and resolve the question of which exact flavor of statism it will adopt. But it also allows for very different arguments, which will likely not be reviewed by history books, but which will nevertheless be heard and remembered by some of the “moderates.” At these times “fringe” philosophies (as libertarianism is viewed to be) have their best chance for growth – not dominance, but significant growth nevertheless.
There is some libertarian effort to take advantage of our “interesting time” and the opportunity it affords. A fairly good one was recently written by Lew Rockwell of the Von Mises Institute, entitled “The State and the Flood.” It was placed on-line at:
However, while Mr. Rockwell does an excellent job of pointing to how government intervention has contributed to the disaster, actually setting the stage for it, he provides his readers with little in the way of detailed libertarian alternatives. He says:
“Mother Nature can be cruel, but even at her worst, she is no match for government. It was the glorified public sector, the one we are always told is protecting us, that is responsible for this. And though our public servants and a sycophantic media will do their darn best to present this calamity as an act of nature, it was not and is not. Katrina came and went with far less damage than anyone expected. It was the failure of the public infrastructure and the response to it that brought down civilization.”And he proceeds to show exactly why this is true. It’s good stuff. I recommend it.
“It is critically important that the management of the whole of the nation’s infrastructure be turned over to private management and ownership. Only in private hands can there be a possibility of a match between expenditure and performance, between risk and responsibility, between the job that needs to be done and the means to accomplish it.”But he does not explain.
Isabel Paterson Rides Again
[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
I’m excited to learn that Isabel Paterson’s 1933 novel Never Ask the End has recently been republished.
Paterson is one of the crucial figures in 20th-century libertarianism (see her fascinating political treatise God of the Machine, Stephen Cox’s excellent bio The Woman and the Dynamo, and various informational articles here, here, here, here, and here), but there’s nothing especially libertarian about this novel. While libertarian themes sometimes surface in her novels, Paterson wasn’t a “political novelist”; although she was Ayn Rand’s chief mentor, her novels have more in common with, say, To the Lighthouse than with Atlas Shrugged.
What’s important is that Paterson was a good novelist, one whose work deserves to be rescued from obscurity. Never Ask the End, the gracious and haunting semi-autobiographical story of the entangled fates of three American expatriates in interwar Europe, is one of her best. (How does it end? Never ask.)
Here’s hoping that more Paterson reprintings will follow!
Conical hat tip to Reed Richter:
All This And Much Much Moore
Thanks to Charles Johnson (though he says I’m partly to blame), G. E. Moore’s two great works of moral philosophy – his 1903 Principia Ethica and his 1912 Ethics – are now online at Charles’ Fair Use Repository.
I have many disagreements with Moore on ethics: he’s too consequentialist; and although he’s on to something with his Open Question Test, I think he’s wrong about what. (For one thing I think he confuses the correct point that no term can have the same sense as “goodness” if it is purely descriptive rather than action-guiding, with the incorrect point that no term can have the same reference as “goodness” unless it has the same sense.) Plus, like virtually everyone, he gets into a muddle about Herbert Spencer. (Moore regards Spencer as wavering as to whether pleasure or evolutionary fitness is the more fundamental moral principle. I think Spencer is very clear on this: pleasure is fundamental. Hence Spencer’s explicit insistence that “the survival of the fittest is often not the survival of the best.” Just as, for Kant, space is the “necessary form of intellectual intuition,” so, for Spencer, pleasure is the “necessary form of moral intuition” – a way of putting it that I think makes Moore’s charge of a naturalistic fallacy rather miss its mark. The only reason that pleasure and evolutionary fitness tend to track each other, and may be expected to do so still further in the future, is that our capacities for pleasure are themselves the result of past and ongoing evolutionary adaptation. Hence Spencer would never have been tempted to define “better” as “more evolved.”)
Nevertheless Moore’s ethical works are masterpieces of careful and insightful analysis, and I highly recommend them to anyone who wants to think clearly about these issues. (The usual dismissal of Moore in introductory ethics classes as a silly intuitionist is based on a serious misunderstanding of what his “intuitionism” amounts to; in this regard he is nearly as sinned against as Spencer.)
Serenity has a new flash site. I actually find this sort of intrusively interactive site rather annoying – I keep wanting to yell “shut up and hold still already!” – but it does have lots of new screen shots and audio clips.
By the way, if you weren’t aware that there are Serenity comic books, hey, there are Serenity comic books.
In completely unrelated news, some useful thoughts today on the tragic New Orleans flooding from Lew Rockwell, Jesse Walker, and Mark Thornton.
A Moment of Silence
Herbert Spencer: Big in Japan
[cross-posted on Liberty & Power]
In a comment on my recent post on Spencer, Sudha Shenoy quotes from Spencer’s 1892 correspondence with Japanese official Kaneko Kentaro (excerpted by Lafcadio Hearn in Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation), advising the Japanese government to forbid foreigners to buy land, to enter certain professions, or – lest “bad hybrids” ensue – to intermarry with Japanese. Shenoy asks: “was Spencer a racist, as we now understand the term?”
Well, yes – like most of his contemporaries Spencer had some racist assumptions. But there’s less racism here than meets the eye. I have just placed Spencer’s correspondence with Kaneko, warts and all, online so that readers may judge for themselves.
Let’s take the economic prohibitions and the marriage prohibitions separately. The economic prohibitions are clearly not racially motivated; Spencer is advising Japan not to allow Europeans to buy land or enter certain professions, and he presumably has no racial prejuice against Europeans. His motivation is rather to protect Japan from Western imperialism:
Respecting the further questions you ask, let me, in the first place, answer generally that the Japanese policy should, I think, be that of keeping Americans and Europeans as much as possible at arm’s length. In presence of the more powerful races your position is one of chronic danger, and you should take every precaution to give as little foothold as possible to foreigners. ... If you wish to see what is likely to happen [otherwise], study the history of India. Once let one of the more powerful races gain a point d’appui and there will inevitably in course of time grow up an aggressive policy which will lead to collisions with the Japanese; these collisions will be represented as attacks by the Japanese which must be avenged; forces will be sent from America or Europe, as the case may be; a portion of territory will be seized and required to be made over as a foreign settlement; and from this there will grow eventually subjugation of the entire Japanese Empire. I believe that you will have great difficulty in avoiding this fate in any case, but you will make the process easy if you allow any privileges to foreigners beyond those which I have indicated.
While Spencer’s restrictions may not be racist, they are certainly un-libertarian; laws discriminating against foreigners are clear violations of Spencer’s own Law of Equal Freedom. But as Spencer explains his position, it is “impossible that the Japanese, hitherto accustomed to despotic rule, should, all at once, become capable of constitutional government”; hence any “proposed new institutions should be as much as possible grafted upon the existing institutions,” so as to ensure “not ... a replacing of old forms by new, but a modification of old forms to a gradually increasing extent.” (One suspects that Spencer would have little enthusiasm for contemporary attempts to spread democracy at swordpoint in the Middle East.) Hence the Japanese constitution should not be entirely libertarian in its treatment either of citizens or of foreigners; libertarian policies must be phased in over a period of many generations. In particular, in the interests of national security Spencer thought Japan would be justified in departing from strict libertarian principle in order to guard against Western hegemony; with cynicism born of long experience Spencer viewed his own country as likely to exploit any pretext to extend its imperial rule over Japan – an opinion he asked Kaneko to keep quiet so as to avoid provoking “the animosity of [Spencer’s] fellow-countrymen.” While I think Spencer may be too ready to sacrifice principle here, I don’t see anything racist about his argument.
Spencer’s assumption that the application of libertarian principle must be qualified in the case of societies with no tradition of self-governance is shared by John Stuart Mill, who states the point, in On Liberty, with overtones actually more racist than Spencer’s:
It is, perhaps, hardly necessary to say that this doctrine [of liberty] is meant to apply only to human beings in the maturity of their faculties. We are not speaking of children, or of young persons below the age which the law may fix as that of manhood or womanhood. Those who are still in a state to require being taken care of by others, must be protected against their own actions as well as against external injury. For the same reason, we may leave out of consideration those backward states of society in which the race itself may be considered as in its nonage. The early difficulties in the way of spontaneous progress are so great, that there is seldom any choice of means for overcoming them; and a ruler full of the spirit of improvement is warranted in the use of any expedients that will attain an end, perhaps otherwise unattainable. Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement, and the means justified by actually effecting that end. Liberty, as a principle, has no application to any state of things anterior to the time when mankind have become capable of being improved by free and equal discussion.
Mill is generally forgiven for saying things like this, whereas when Spencer says similar things he is consigned to outer darkness. Yet on this point Mill is surely worse than Spencer, since from the alleged “nonage” of non-European peoples Mill inferred the legitimacy of British colonial rule, in India for example (see his Of the Government of Dependencies by a Free State), whereas Spencer remained a lifelong opponent of imperialism and Britain’s India policy. From the assumption (be it true or false) that Japan was not ready for freedom, Mill would have been ready to infer that Japan should be subjected to British rule; Spencer on the contrary infers that Japan should do everything in its power to prevent being so subjected.
On the intermarriage question: at the start of the Meiji period many pro-Western Japanese thinkers felt themselves to be genetically inferior to the West and so advocated intermarriage with Europeans as a means of improving the stock – a kind of self-hating racism. This was the context in which Kaneko inquired what Spencer’s opinion was on the matter. Spencer advised against intermarriage, on the grounds that “if you mix the constitutions of two widely divergent varieties which have severally become adapted to widely divergent modes of life, you get a constitution which is adapted to the mode of life of neither.” That was perhaps not a crazy hypothesis (and it was widely shared by Spencer’s contemporaries, including even my beloved Molinari), but it was only a hypothesis (a false one, as it turns out), and Spencer’s willingness to accept popular prejudices against “the Eurasians in India, and the half-breeds in America” as confirmation of this hypothesis does suggest unwitting racism on his part, as does his assumption that Chinese immigrants to America must form a “subject race” if they do not intermarry, and must contribute to “social disorganization” in any case.
Still further evidence of unwitting racism on Spencer’s part is his readiness to use these genetic considerations as grounds for imposing legal restrictions on intermarriage. After all, by his own Law of Equal Freedom consenting adults should presumably be entitled to marry regardless of whether their interbreeding would be best for the racial stock (a purely collectivist consideration). Indeed, in his Principles of Ethics, the writing of which was roughly contemporaneous with the Kentaro correspondence, Spencer describes the “authority ... assigned to the legislator to regulate marriage and the begetting of children” as a “conception of governmental functions developed by militancy, and appropriate to a fighting body,” and thus as an example of “ideas, sentiments, and habits appropriate to early stages of development” which “survive throughout later stages, to which they are no longer appropriate; and pervert the prevailing beliefs and actions.”
Here Spencer invokes his distinction between militant society (characterised by collectivism, authoritarian hierarchy, and war) and industrial society (characterised by peace, freedom, and commerce), and relegates state control of marriage and breeding to the waning militant phase of civilisation, implying that it is inappropriate to the newly dawning industrial phase. (Indeed, he had at one time opposed state-sanctioned marriage entirely.) But he immediately goes on to add:
There is indeed the excuse that to some extent among ourselves, and to a much larger extent among Continental peoples, the militant life, potential when not actual, still forms so considerable, and in many cases so great, a part of the social life as to render these traditional doctrines appropriate.While this distinction between the principles appropriate to a fully libertarian society and the principles appropriate to a society in transition is already present in Spencer’s earliest work, the amount of liberty for which Spencer felt present-day society was ready steadily diminished as he grew older and more pessimistic. The Justice volume (1891) of Principles of Ethics thus partly retreats from, for example, the pro-feminist, anti-conscription, and quasi-anarchist positions Spencer had defended in Social Statics forty years earlier – while still remaining far more libertarian than most of his contemporaries. (On the other hand, on some issues, like land ownership and the labour movement, he actually improved over time, at least from my perspective.) Spencer’s advice to Kaneko is certainly not his finest hour, representing as it does both a degree of implicit racism and the watering-down of his former libertarian radicalism. In context, though, I think Spencer comes off a bit better than Hearn’s excerpt makes his sound – and his harshest words are for the Europeans and Americans.
Compromise between old and new, which has perpetually to be made in practice, has to be made also in theory; for this must, on the average, conform itself to practice. It is therefore out of the question that there can be generally entertained the belief that governmental action should be subject to certain imperative restraints. The doctrine that there is a limited sphere within which only state control may rightly be exercised, is a doctrine natural to the peaceful and industrial type of society when fully developed; and is not natural either to the militant type or to types transitional between militancy and industrialism.
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