Dec 09

Ejected in Geneva

The organizers of the Internet Summit in Geneva have had Dr. Paul
Twomey, the president of ICANN (the organization that’s chartered to
administer the international domain-name system), ejected by security
guards after he’d flown twenty hours to participate in the
meeting.

I was not especially surprised. The organizers of the Geneva
summit seem to be very much the same scum of the planet that one
normally finds running these U.N. events — third-string
diplomatic timeservers, addle-brained NGO moonbats, a scattering of
celebrity Eurotrash, and a legion of gray apparatchiks from
authoritarian Third World pestholes. It didn’t astonish me that
they’d use force to keep out anyone who might interfere with their
plans for a government-friendly, politically-correct, censored, and
very thoroughly controlled Internet.

No, the really surprising part is that I found myself sympathizing
with Dr. Twomey. ICANN’s performance, while not the unmitigated
disaster many of its critics like to portray, has not been glorious.
Way too many deals have been done in back rooms and the organization has
been far too kind to expansive trademark claims and other sorts of
corporate land-grab.

Perhaps the one salutary effect of the Geneva summit is to remind us
that things could easily be worse — and almost certainly will be, if
the U.N. gets control.

Dec 05

Salaries are dropping. Time to celebrate!

So, the latest trend to hit the business magazines is falling programmer salaries. I can’t lay hands on the article just now, but it seems some CEO under pressure to outsource his programming to India had the bright idea of offering lower salaries (competitive with Indian levels, not U.S. levels) to programmers in the U.S. He got 90 applicants, even though the offer was for about half of what used to be considered normal for the positions.

A pointer to this article was posted to my favorite mailing list by a friend who is depressed about programmer salaries dropping, He wasn’t un-depressed by the revelation, at the end of the article, that said CEO ended up jacking some of his salaries back up to “normal” levels to keep his best people.

There are a bunch of ways I could respond to this. One is by arguing that outsourcing programming work is a fad that will largely reverse itself once the true, hidden costs start to become apparent. Even if that weren’t so, the Indian advantage would be temporary at best; as the Indian programmer’s value rises, so will the price he charges. I believe these things are true. But in keeping with tradition here at Armed and Dangerous, I’m going to skip the easy, soft arguments and cut straight to the most important and contentious one of all — falling salaries are good for you.

If you’re a programmer upset by falling programmer salaries, I hope you’re prepared to be equally gloomy about the continuing fall in real-dollar prices of all the other labor-intensive goods you buy. Because trust me, they get cheaper the exact same way — and somewhere out there, there are people who are pissed off and depressed because the market wouldn’t support their old salaries.

But each time this happens, more people gain than lose. The money programmers aren’t making is, ultimately, money some other consumer gets to keep and use for something else, because the price of the bundled goods programmmers were helping produce have dropped. The corporate cost-cutters only get to profit from this as a transient thing, until the next round of price wars. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The free market is a wonderful thing. I was going to call it the most marvellous instrument ever devised for making people wealthy and free, but that would be wrong — the free market isn’t a ‘device’ any more than love or gravity or sunshine are devices, it’s what you have naturally when nobody is using force to fuck things up.

Sometimes, when you and your friends are on the bad end of one of its efficiency-seeking changes, it’s hard to remember that the market is a wonderful thing for almost everybody almost all the time. But it’s worth remembering, just as it’s worth remembering that free speech is a wonderful thing even when it’s the Nazis or Communists exercising it.

Why is this? Because the alternatives to free speech, even when the people pushing them mean well, always turn into petty tyrannies now and become grand tyrannies in the course of time. The alternatives to markets decay into tyranny a lot faster.

Nov 11

The sleep of reason

I’ve had a copy of David Frum’s Dead Right sitting on my coffee table for months. I didn’t buy it, it was landed on my by an old friend who persists in imagining that I’m interested in reading conservative political theory. In fact, it’s been years since I found conservative theorizing other than wearily predictable. and it would have been a lot more years if I hadn’t been unaccountably late in grasping Russell Kirk’s argument for the organic wisdom of institutions.

John Holbo’s smackdown gives form to all the inchoate reasons I didn’t want to face Frum’s book. Holbo, by his own account, goes looking for a unifying philosophy of conservative thought and finds only an attitude, an aesthetic, a hankering for people and situations to possess certain qualities without a logically or ethically coherent theory of why those qualities would be desirable. Holbo makes much of Frum’s yearning that people should be tough, self-reliant, and self-disciplined and Frum’s apparent willingness that the order of society should punish slackness, even if that is not necessarily the most economically efficient way to arrange things.

Holbo admits that he is loading onto Frum views that Frum would probably deny. But his argument that those views are logical extensions of positions Frum and other conservatives do hold seems basically fair, and so does his charge that Frum-like conservatism is an incoherent mishmash of emotional desires masquerading (not very convincingly) as a political philosophy.

What I am left wondering is why Holbo expected conservatives to have an actual theory in the first place. Or whether he actually expected it at all — his purported surprise and disappointment smells a bit disingenuous to me, a bit like a rhetorical flourish we’re not really expected to believe. Did he really give no thought beforehand to the implication of the label that conservatives use for themselves?

The word conservative is an adjectival noun formed from the verb ‘to conservate’ — to keep something from decaying, to hold it static, to preserve it. Almost all of the core attitudes of conservatism unfold from that definition. Almost all of conservatism is a set of rationalizations for a gut-level inclination to see any sort of change as a threat. Conservatism is the politics of dread, of people who are god-fearing, change-fearing, and
future-fearing.

I say ‘almost all’ because, by historical accident, conservatism has got itself tangled up with impulses of a very different kind — specifically classical-liberal and libertarian ones. Many people who describe themselves as conservatives are in fact nothing of the kind — they are in bed with conservatism only out of a shared loathing of the Marxist/socialist left. The alliance depends on a sort of folie a deux — conservatives fooling themselves that free markets tend to freeze existing power relationships in place, and classical-liberals fooling themselves that freedom can be reconciled with the love of hierarchy and punishment wired into the conservative hindbrain.

The parts of ‘conservative’ theory that actually deserve to be called theory are usually classical-liberal or libertarian intrusions. Nor is this anything new; before being shotgun-wedded to classical liberalism by the threat of Marxism around the beginning of the 20th century, conservatives imported their theory from Aquinas or Plato or Calvin.

In fact, when you get down to trying, it is remarkably hard to name anybody who has done a systematic job of deriving conservative politics from a theory about the nature of good. Especially since the Enlightenment, conservative thinkers have tended to be critics rather than theory-builders, and in fact have tended to distrust theory. Edmund Burke, for example, wasn’t a philosopher so much as he was a critical aphorist. In our own day, Willam F. Buckley has been a similar exemplar of the conservative public intellectual — witty
and devastatingly accurate about the failures and hypocrisies of his opponents, but neither capable of nor interested in producing an entire philosophy of right action or right government.

Russell Kirk is interesting precisely because he bucked this trend to some extent. His idea that the forms of institutions embody an unconscious wisdom about what tends to produce good outcomes is that rarest of things, an argument for conservatism that is not circularly bound to conservative, authoritarian, or religious assumptions.

It’s not enough, though. It isn’t sufficient to justify all the normative things Frum and mainstream conservatives want; you can’t get opposition to cloning stem cells out of it, for example. Nor does it stand comparison with the elaborate theoretical edifices produced bythe Left. The core assumptions of Marxist theory were false-to-fact and its results horrible, but there was a sort of system and logic in between that conservative thinking never really had.

Left-liberals have no room for glee or schadenfreude at conservative expense, though; their position is no better. Having been shown the hard way that Hayek was right and there is no alternative to the market, modern left-liberalism too is essentially a bunch of sentiments and attitudes rather than a philosophy. The practical politics of the left has become little more than a defensive huddle around welfare-state institutions everybody knows are headed for insolvency and collapse, and left attitudes increasingly amount to little more than being against whatever they think conservatives are for.

The inability to frame a positive philosophy is a serious problem for both groups. It reduces their politics to a series of gut rumbles and their conversation to increasingly enraged screaming straight from the hypothalamus (vide Michael Moore and Ann Coulter). A rational debate is hard to have when there isn’t any theory to frame and moderate emotional fixations. Or, as Goethe put it, the sleep of reason begets monsters.

Nov 05

Advice For Democrats (after the November 2003 elections)

Well, the election results are in. The Democratic Party took a

beating yesterday — a worse one, I think, than it has really
assimilated. The Pew Research Center has analyzed
the results. If you guys don’t want your butts handed to you in 2004,
I have a few suggestions.

First, a reminder for new readers or old readers in any doubt. I
am not a Republican. I am not a conservative. There are some people
who are going to think my giving advice to the Democratic Party is
disingenuous or some form of point-scoring. They’re wrong. Politics
is an intrinsically evil game, but it might become at least less evil
if the Democrats cleaned up their act. I’d like to see that.

The most important message the voters delivered yesterday is that
running against George Bush is a fast road to failure. Where
Republican candidates successfully tied themselves to national issues and
ran on a boost-Bush platform (as in Kentucky and Mississippi) they won.
Only where the Democrats were able to divert attention to local issues
(like the FBI bug in Philadelphia Mayor Street’s office) did they
succeeed.

U.S. troops out of Iraq? Jobless recovery? War for oil? Tax
cuts? Halliburton? All these favored taglines of the anti-Bush crowd
got no traction at all. Zero. Zip. Nada. There is no evidence that
they helped and some inferential evidence in the poll numbers that
they hurt. The Democratic incumbant in Mississippi knew this was
a’comin’ — he actually worked at keeping Bill Clinton and the
whole gaggle of Democratic presidential candidates out of his state.
This didn’t save him.

The Democrats had already lost southern conservatives. The Pew
analysis says they’re losing moderates, too. Republicans gained in
every voter stratum except blacks — rich, poor, male, female,
whites, and hispanics. The angry-left pitch not only doesn’t work,
it’s accelerating a long-term tend of Republicanizing the South.

This has direct implications for 2004. The way the regional
arithmetic of the Electoral College works makes it effectively
impossible to take the White House without a strong showing in
the South. If the 2004 elections were held today, Bush couldn’t
lose — and the trends favor Republican gains in the next
year.

So. What can the Democrats do to win?

  1. Support the war.

    The U.S. is at war. We will continue to be at war until there is
    no credible threat from an alliance of WMD-wielding rogue states and
    the Islamist terror network. The American people have accepted this,
    and they will back George Bush’s war policy unless or until it appears
    that he cannot competently execute it. Arguing that we should not
    have a war policy, or should have a less ‘unilateral’ one,
    just lost the Democrats two governorships and will almost certainly
    lose them a third in Lousiana on 15 Nov.

  2. Stop trying to personalize the 2004 campaign.

    The only loser bigger than running gainst Bush’s war policy is
    running against Bush himself. The Bush-is-Hitler/Bush-is-a-moron thing
    has no zorch anywhere outside a set of bicoastal Brie-nibbler
    patches and university campuses that can be counted on one hand.
    The American people like and respect Bush, even when they question his
    policies. (I find this part difficult to understand myself, but the
    evidence is undeniable.)

  3. Actively support gun rights.

    Of all the single-issue blocs, gun owners are both the largest and
    would probably the easiest to pry loose from the Republican base
    (remember, Bill Clinton himself said gun control swung the last
    election cycle). Over 50% of American households own guns and their
    demographics cross over many narrower political classifications. A
    lot of swing voters like me simply will not vote for any Democrat
    without an actively pro-Second-Amendment record, but will give
    Republicans the benefit of the doubt on this issue. If you want us
    back, dump the gun-grabbers overboard.

  4. Drop the prescription-drug entitlement.

    I pick on this one because there is just now no more obvious
    example of domestic-policy fecklessness. The American people said no
    to single-payer health care ten years ago. If you think they can’t
    spot a multi-billion-doller Medicare boondoggle in the making, you’re
    fooling yourself. Passing this turkey will bring no credit on either
    the Democrats or Republicans supporting it. Let it die.

  5. Give us some presidential candidates who aren’t jokes

    I look at the Nine Dwarves and the first thing reaction that comes
    to mind isn’t even disgust but a sort of weary incredulity. I think
    of P.J. O’Rourke’s line: “What the fuck? I mean, what the fucking
    fuck?” A major party in the wealthiest, most powerful, fourth most
    populous nation in the world can’t do any better than these?

    I think I have a lot of company in judging that these guys looked
    better six months ago, before they cheapened themselves with their
    endless indistinguishable yapping and their blatant pandering to the
    silliest barking moonbats on the fringe of the Democratic left. Bush
    has actually gained stature by comparison after every debate.

    Nobody expects these guys to sound like Republicans — but, you know,
    once, there used to be a Democratic position that didn’t sound like
    a petulant “Nyah, nyahhh”. I haven’t heard any credible plan for the
    war or the economy. Clue: Neither “Repeal the Bush tax cuts” or “Hand
    Iraq to the U.N. and the French” will fly to anyone who can string
    three facts together about economics or history. I don’t think these
    characters even believe their own bullshit.

You Republicans out there will be comforted by the thought
that the Democrats are utterly incapable of taking this advice. I am
not comforted by that thought — but you’re probably
right.

(Correction: a reader pointed out that in 2003 the U.S. is
the third most populous country in the world, not the
fourth.)

Blogspot comments

Nov 04

The Whig Maneuver

VodkaPundit asks: Is the Democratic Party becoming increasingly
likely to pull a Whig Maneuver and disappear into history? If so, what
replaces it?

The Democrats certainly seem to be trying pretty hard to
self-destruct. But this is not a new story; it’s been going on ever
since the New Left captured the party apparat in the early 1970s. My
first experience of political activism was standing athwart that
particular tide of history, yelling “stop!”, as a campaign worker for
centrist Democrat Scoop Jackson in 1975. I think I already
half-understood that he was doomed. What I didn’t foresee was the
completeness with which the Democrats would abandon their southern and
rural wings to become a party run exclusively by Brie-nibbling urban
elites. Call it the NPRization of the party.

Recently they’ve abandoned the private-sector labor unions as well.
Just before 2000, a key Democratic strategist noted that party’s
demographic power base consisted solely of blacks and the
public-employee unions. Bill Clinton, charming sociopath and perfect
acme of the American political creature that he was, had managed to
paper over that problem for a while. But it keeps getting worse. The
liberal-Democrat lock on the national media is crumbling under
pressure from talk radio, Fox News, and the bloggers. They’re losing
their ability to control the terms of political debate.

Finally, there is the notorious fractiousness of the smaller
Democratic interest groups. While the black establishment has largely
settled into the role of party wheelhorse and the trial lawyers play
financial sugar daddy without demanding much except a complete block on
tort reform, feminists and gays and the hard left continue to cause
the party problems out of all proportion to their voting strength. The
structural problem is that the small factions are disproprtionately
strong in the Democrats’ grass-roots organization; they therefore
exert a big influence on party primaries and tend to pull the
candidate list and the platform to the left.

Ever since the early 1990s, there’s been a tug-of-war going on
within the urban elites that now run the party; the Democratic
Leadership Council versus the inheritors of the New Left. What’s
happening now with the Dean campaign demonstrates that the DLC has
lost its grip. The left is winning. The trend that has taken the
Democrats from solid majority status in my childhood to the point
where it needs a Bill Clinton to win elections, if it continues, might
very well result in it disappearing into history.

The DLC’s most recent effort to reverse this tend — to stop
talking about gun control — only highlights the depth of the
problem. They know, because their own analysts and Bill Clinton have
told them, that gun owners are the swing vote that cost them the 1994
and 2000 elections. And yet, the left, for whom hatred of civilian
firearms is a religious absolute, has such a lock on the party machine
that the DLC can only talk about spin, not about a substantive change
in platform.

I expect the Democrats to lose heavily in today’s elections.
Like VodkaPundit, I expect the loss to change not a damn thing. The
DLC will continue to wring its hands, and the New Lefties, comforted
by convenient rationalizations in the major media, will continue to
march the Democratic Party towards a cliff’s edge.

Suppose they do succeed in self-destructing. What then?

No crystal ball is required to answer that question, just a look at
the minor-party voting statistics. If the Democrats crumble, the big
winners have to be the Greens and the Libertarians. The New Lefties
who run most levels of the modern Democratic apparat would run to the
Greens en masse; in fact, whatever organization emerges would probably
view itself (with some justification) as the Democratic Party’s
successor. They’d probably take the public-employee unions with them.

The interesting question is whether the black establishment would
follow. Blacks, as a voting group, are more conservative on social
issues than Democrats as a whole — heavily opposed to gay marriage,
for example, and more in favor of school vouchers. The strain between
general opinion among blacks and the strident leftism of many of their
public figures has been growing. If the party of Lyndon Johnson were
to disintegrate, it would become acute. I think the most likely
scenario is that the Al Sharptons. Cynthia McKinneys and Carol
Moseley-Brauns would run to the Greens, lose their popular base,
and the black vote would fragment. Blacks would become a normal
ethnic group, not tied to any one party.

The second-order effects on the Republicans would be just as
interesting. The youth demographic Andrew Sullivan and others call
“South Park Republicans” would bolt the GOP in a second if the
Libertarians looked like a credible alternative. So, albeit more
slowly and partially, would more traditional (and older)
small-government/classical-liberal/free-trade types. The big
question, given current pressures, is whether the Libs would remain
isolationist or reluctantly slide into the pro-war camp and start
behaving a bit more like a European party of the center or
center-right.

In either scenario, the effect on the Republicans would be to
resove their split-personality problem in favor of cultural
conservatives and the hard right. They’d become a lot more like a
Tory party. The really entertaining part comes when you look at how
this change would tie in with regional demographics — in this future,
the Republicans would become the party of the old South!

Blogspot
comments

Oct 27

Stupid Like A Fox

For the kind of articulate extrovert who tends to go into politics or the
media, it can be very difficult to believe that a stumble-tongued,
inarticulate man can be other than an idiot. As an articulate extrovert
myself, I’ve had to struggle with this. Like most of our media and
chattering classes, my instinct too was to write George W. Bush as an
idiot who had stumbled into the Presidency through no merit of his own.

Events have forced me to nearly the opposite conclusion. George W. Bush
is no idiot. In fact, he now appears to me to be an extremely cunning man
who makes repeated and effective use of his opponents’ inability to take
him seriously.

Over and over again we’ve seen the pattern. Bush says he’s gaing
to do something. Opponents rant and rave and scream about what an
idiot he is. Amidst all the name-calling, an effective opposition
fails to materialize. When the smoke clears, events unfold pretty
much according to the Bush script.

It’s pretty much been that way on every issue bigger than judicial
nominations. Now, mind you, in this essay I’m not going to express
or even imply a judgment about whether or should be that way.
What I’m trying to point out is that even the U.N. has pretty much
ended up dancing Bush’s tune. All of the Franco/German/Russian talk
of thwarting that mad cowboy has come to this in the end: U.S, troops
in control of Iraq, Saddam gone, and the U.N. formally committed by
resolution to support the U.S. reconstruction without either a timeline
or any U.N. authority over Iraq.

Once or twice could be luck. But Bush keeps doing this.
He is such an effective political operator that his opponents find
that their ability to block him has quietly vanished while they
weren’t looking. The pathological rage now endemic in Democratic
circles is fueled by impotence. They know they were suckered,
swindled, had somehow, but they can’t pin down why or how the
majority voters stopped listening. Bad enough to have Reagan pound
the crap out of them — they thought he was an idiot too, but at
least they could console themselves that he was a glib idiot.
Being shellacked by a Republican who sounds like a moron behind a
microphone is more than their blood pressure can take.

Well, Democrats, I’ve got news for you. Bush is using your rage to
make you into idiots. I think, early in his political
career, he somehow learned how to push this button reliably, and has
been sucker-punching his opponents ever since. Clever of him —
but then, as I belatedly realized when I was thinking this through. he
has to be brighter than he looks. The dude flew fighter
planes! Simpletons can’t do that; the Air Force screens pilots for
intelligence because it has to.

Want to stop Bush? Then, Mr. J. Random Democrat, call Dubya evil if
you want — but accept that, on his record, he is pretty damn
bright. Stop screaming, take his brains seriously, and outsmart him.
That is, if you can.

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Oct 21

Attack of the Malaysian Moonbats

Today, a bunch of prominent warbloggers were hit by a
denial-of-service attack apparently orchestrated by a bunch of
comically incompetent al-Qaeda affiliates in Malaysia — and
I wasn’t a target.

I’d ask what I’ve been doing wrong with my life that I missed out
on the honor of being personally targeted by Osama’s fuckwit brigade.
But alas, I know full well wherein I failed. This is what I get for
going on hiatus for months to finish my book and put multiple spokes
in the wheels of SCO. I didn’t maintain the momentum I had in
2002/early-2003, and fell off the moonbats’ radar.

To all of you who were targeted — Internet Hagannah, InstaPundit,
Steve denBeste, Charles Johnson, and others: you have my respect and
my thanks for what you do every day. The war against terror is a war
of ideas as well as bullets. You do great service by unflinchingly
exposing the lies of the terror network and its apologists in the
West. The Malaysian Moonbats, in recognizing this, have paid you
greater tribute than I can.

Hmmm. Maybe I ought to update the Anti-Idiotarian Manifesto.
Think that’d piss ’em off enough that they’s try to DDOS me?

Blogspot comments

Oct 20

Why Howard Dean Won’t Get My Vote

After a previous post in which I called for the Democratic Party to
walk the pro-firearms walk if it wanted to stop alienating freedom-loving
independents like me, I was asked in comments what I think of Howard Dean
— who, it is alleged, has an A++ rating from the NRA.

OK, I like the fact that Dean is pro-gun. In this, and in other
ways, he’s sane on subjects where Democrats are generally insane. But
it is almost certain I will not vote for him. Because the next
President of the U.S. must have a strategic vision for fighting the
threat of Islamist terror and WMDs, and Dean has no such vision.

Note that I am not saying the next president must have George
Bush’s strategic vision — and don’t bother with the
Bush-is-an-idiot, it’s-all his-handlers routine; Bush has routinely
outsmarted people who underestimated him and as long as they delude
themselves that he’s a moron, it will be easier for him to continue
doing so. But there must be some strategic vision, some
sense of realpolitik. Dean ain’t got it.

In fact, nobody on the list of Democratic presidential hopefuls
appears to have any sense of the strategic stakes or possibilities,
with the possible exception of Joe Lieberman. And supposing there
were, no aspirant with a sane national-security program could make it
through the gauntlet of the primaries to the general election.

And why? Because the Democratic Party apparatus has been captured by
interest groups who are incapable of taking the war we are in seriously.

I’m not actually talking about the inmates of the asylum that is
today’s loony left: the retread Marxists, the po-mo academics, the
anti-globalization crowd — what conservatives call with some
justification the Blame-America-First brigades. Expecting anything
but toxic babble from these people was always doomed. No, the trouble
is that the Democratic interest groups that aren’t outright
insane have no way to fit an anti-terror strategy into their model of
how to do politics.

How can feminists, gays, or the various skin-color cliques in the
racial-problem industry cope? For these groups, politics is all about
identity and grievance and maybe who gets the biggest slice in the
next round of redistributing the domestic wealth — they’ve
actually lost the very *concept* of the ‘national interest’, and are no
more capable of grappling with the implications of 9/11 than they
would be of speaking Sumerian.

Or the people who are *really* calling the shots in the Democratic
Party — trial lawyers and the public-employee unions. (Forget
labor in general. The Democrats stopped listening to the AFL-CIO
about a nanosecond after it became clear that the private-sector
unions could no longer keep most of their people from voting
Republican.) Again, nothing about their relationship to the political
game gives them anywhere to stand in foreign policy.

The Republicans don’t have this problem. All of their major
factions have commitments that don’t stop at the water’s edge. The
so-called “national-greatness conservatives”, the ideological
free-traders, small business, big business, the Christian Right, even
the Buchananite isolationalists — they may disagree violently on
what the national interest is, but at least there is a place in their
normal discourse about politics where they know that concept
fits.

Not so most of the the Democrat pressure groups — which means
that the terms of internal Democratic debate about foreign policy are
being set by the loony left, because the people some of my warblogger
colleagues call “barking idiotarian moonbats” are the only ones in the
Democratic Party who actually care! They’re the only Democrats
with a world-view that involves thinking about the rest of the world
as anything other than a passive backdrop for domestic politics.

(I’m actually convinced that the reason most Democratic politicians
suck up to the U.N. and the French so assiduously is that following
“international opinion” relieves them of the intolerable burden of
having to think about foreign policy.)

Thus, Dean. Mostly a mainstream Democrat in that what he really wants to
do is ignore foreign-policy issues — but the only way he’s found
to mobilize the angry-Left cadres who matter so much in the primaries
is to bark like a moonbat.

That won’t get my vote.

Blogspot comments

Sep 29

Statism — Love It Or Leave It

For many years I’ve been seeing proposals for implementing
libertarian reforms that look superficially appealing and plausible,
but on closer examination run hard aground either on some pesky
reality of politics as it is or the extreme difficulty of waging a
successful revolution. Since I’m a libertarian,
you may well imagine that I find this annoying. How do we get there
from here?

For the first time, I think I’ve seen a path that is both
principled and practical. Not the whole path, but some firm steps
that both accomplish good in themselves and open up great
possibilities. And the best part is that it’s a path most statists
can’t object to, one that uses the premises of the existing federal
system to achieve a fair first test of libertarian ideas within that
system. Even opponents of libertarianism, if they are fair-minded,
should welcome this reality check. Libertarians should cheer it on
and join it.

I’ve had troubles with other libertarians recently. Too many have
retreated into isolationism in the face of a war with terrorism that I
do not believe we can or should evade. The isolationists judge that
empowering the State when we use it as an instrument of self-defense
has consequences for the long term that are more dangerous than
terrorists’ aims are in the short term. I sympathize with this view,
but when all is said and done, Al-Qaeda shahids with backpack nukes
from the ‘stans are more of a danger than John Ashcroft has ever been.
I have done my homework and if anything, I believe the U.S. Government
is understating the danger we face.

But the dangers of empowering the State to fight a necessary war
make it more, not less urgent that we pursue all possibilities for
libertarian reform at home. Now, I think I see a workable one. What
if, by perfectly legal and proper means, we could take over a small
American state and actually try out our ideas there?

Yes, I thought it was a crazy idea when I first heard it. An
entire state? How? But the Free State Project has
done the math. I’ve looked at their arguments and trend curves, and
I’m pretty much convinced. It can be done. We can do it. The
key is very simple; enough of us just have to move
there. Vote with our feet, and then vote in a bloc. And why
a state? Becausr that’s the only intermediate level of government
with enough autonomy to make a good laboratory.

The Free State Project identified ten small states where 20,000
active libertarians would be a critically large voting bloc. They are
signing up libertarians and like-minded people to vote on the target
state and to move there when the group passes 20,000. The winning
state will be announced on 1st October; they’ve signed up about 5400
people so far, on a classic exponential growth curve with a six-month
doubling time that should get them there in late 2004.

What could be more American than migrating to a thinly-settled area
to experiment with liberty? And this time we won’t have to kill off the
natives, because they’re not going to be organizing any scalping parties.
Most of the states under consideration have a strong local
libertarian tradition, and none of them are going to look askance at
the sort of bright, hardworking, highly-skilled people most likely to
be pro-freedom activists.

Some people won’t like this idea, though. The national media
establishment, which is statist down to its bones even in the few
crevices where it isn’t leftist, will inevitably try to portray the
Free State migrants as a bunch of racist conservative redneck gun-nuts
(all these terms being effectively synonymous in the national media)
intent on turning the poor victim state into one gigantic Aryan
Nations compound (especially if it’s Idaho, as it could be). Expect
network-news interviews with locals teary-eyed with worry that the
incomers will be hosting regular cross-burnings on the courthouse
lawn. Awkward little inconsistencies like the libertarian opposition
to drug laws, censorship, and theocracy will be ignored. This prospect
is especially ironic because, in most of the possible target states,
it is our lifestyle liberalism that is actually most likely to produce
a culture clash with the natives.

The more intelligent members of the political class won’t like this
either. The brighter and better-able one is to extrapolate
second-and-third-order effects, the more likely the potential success
of libertarianism at a state level is likely to scare them —
conservatives nearly as much as liberals, and conservatives perhaps
more so when we challenge them to emulate our success with
small-government policies that they speak but don’t really mean.

But I don’t think this will be easy to stop. Libertarian
demographics being what they are, 20,000 of us in a small state will
be a huge concentration of technical, creative and
entrepreneurial talent. We’ll found software businesses, studios,
innovative light-manufacturing shops and engineering companies
by the bucketload. We’ll create favorable regulatory conditions
for old-line businesses like financial-services houses and for
bleeding-edge ones like the private space-launch industry.
We’ll attract more people like us. The lucky state, especially
if it’s depressed and mostly rural like a lot of the candidates, will
experience a renaissance. And we’ll get to make the difference.

The real fun will start when Americans elsewhere start asking “Why
can’t our state be more like this?”

Liberty in our lifetime? I think this might be how to get there.

Blogspot comments

Apr 22

Fascism Is Not Dead

Fascism is not dead. The revelations now coming out of Iraq about Baathist atrocities lend this observation particular point; Saddam Hussein was able to successfully imitate Hitler for three decades. Baathists using similar methods still run Syria, and elsewhere in the Islamic world there are militarist/authoritarian tendencies that run uncomfortably close to fascism.

Recent events — including the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime and Glenn Reynolds blogging on Pio Moa’s The Myths of the Civil War have inspired me to dust off some research and writing I did a while back on the history of fascism. Some of the following essay is about the Spanish Civil War annd Francisco Franco, but much of it is about the history and structure of fascism.

Pio Moa’s thesis is that the Spanish Civil War was not a usurping revolt against a functioning government, but a belated attempt to restore order to a country that had already collapsed into violent chaos five years before the Fascists landed in 1936.

I’ve studied the history of the Spanish Civil War enough to know that Moa’s contrarian interpretation is not obviously crazy. I had an unusual angle; I’m an anarchist, and wanted to grasp the ideas and role of the Spanish anarchist communes. My conclusions were not pleasant. In short, there were no good guys in the Spanish Civil War.

First, the non-anarchist Left in Spain really was pretty completely Stalin’s creature. The volunteers of the International Brigade were (in Lenin’s timeless phrase) useful idiots, an exact analogue of the foreign Arabs who fought on in Baghdad after Iraqi resistance collapsed (and were despised for it by the Iraqis). They deserve neither our pity nor our respect. Insofar as Moa’s thesis is that most scholarship about the war is severely distorted by a desire to make heroes out of these idiots, he is correct.

Second, the Spanish anarchists were by and large an exceedingly nasty bunch, all resentment and nihilism with no idea how to rebuild after destroying. Wiping them out (via his Communist proxies) may have been one of Stalin’s few good deeds.

Third, the Fascists were a pretty nasty bunch too. But, on the whole, probably not as nasty as their opponents. Perceptions of them tend to be distorted by the casual equation of Fascist with Nazi — but this is not appropriate. Spanish Fascism was unlike Communism or Italian and German Fascism in that it was genuinely a conservative movement, rather than a attempt to reinvent society in the image of a revolutionary doctrine about the perfected State.

Historians and political scientists use the terms “fascist” and “fascism” quite precisely, for a group of political movements that were active between about 1890 and about 1975. The original and prototypical example was Italian fascism, the best-known and most virulent strain was Naziism, and the longest-lasting was the Spanish nationalist fascism of Francisco Franco. The militarist nationalism of Japan is often also described as “fascist” .

The shared label reflects the fact that these four ideologies influenced each other; Naziism began as a German imitation of Italian fascism, only to remake Italian (and to some extent Spanish) fascism in its own image during WWII. The militarist Japanese fascists took their cues from European fascists as well as an indigenous tradition of absolutism with very similar structural and psychological features

The shared label also reflects substantially similar theories of political economics, power, governance, and national purpose. Also similar histories and symbolisms. Here are some of the commonalities especially relevant to the all too common abuse of the term.

Fascist political economics is a corrupt form of Leninist socialism. In fascist theory (as in Communism) the State owns all; in practice, fascists are willing to co-opt and use big capitalists rather than immediately killing them.

Fascism mythologizes the professional military, but never trusts it. (And rightly so; consider the Von Stauffenberg plot…) One of the signatures of the fascist state is the formation of elite units (the SA and SS in Germany, the Guardia Civil in Spain, the Republican Guard and Fedayeen in Iraq) loyal to the fascist party and outside the military chain of command.

Fascism is not (as the example of Franco’s Spain shows) necessarily aggressive or expansionist per se. In all but one case, fascist wars were triggered not by ideologically-motivated aggression but by revanchist nationalism (that is, the nation’s claims on areas lost to the victors of previous wars, or inhabited by members of the nationality agitating for annexation). No, the one exception was not Nazi Germany; it was Japan (the rape of Manchuria). The Nazi wars of aggression and Hussein’s grab at Kuwait were both revanchist in origin.

Fascism is generally born by revolution out of the collapse of monarchism. Fascism’s theory of power is organized around the `Fuehrerprinzip’, the absolute leader regarded as the incarnation of the national will.

But…and this is a big but…there were important difference between revolutionary Fascism (the Italo/German/Baathist variety) and the more reactionary sort native to Spain and Japan.

The Italo/German/Baathist varieties were radical, modernist ideologies and not (as commonly assumed) conservative or traditionalist ones; in fact, all three of these examples faced serious early threats from cultural-conservative monarchists (or in Baathism’s case, from theocrats).

But Japanese and Spanish Fascism were a bit different; they were actually pro-monarchist, conservative in essence, aimed at reasserting the power relationships of premodern Spain and Japan. In fact, Spanish Fascism was mostly about Francisco Franco’s reactionary instincts.

After the fall of the Second Republic in 1931 Francisco Franco had rather better reason than Hitler ever did to regard the Communist-inspired left as a mortal threat to his country; a wave of `revolutionary’ expropriations, massacres, and chaos (unlike the opera-bouffe capitulation of the Italian monarchy or the relatively bloodless collapse of Germany’s Weimar Republic) followed. Obedient to what remained of central authority, Franco sat out the undeclared civil war for five years before invading from Morocco with Italian and German help. His belief that he was acting to restore a pre-1931 order of which he was the last legitimate representative appears to have been genuine — perhaps even justified.

The declared portion of the Spanish Civil War lasted from 1936 to 1939. It has passed into legend among Western leftists as a heroic struggle between the Communist-backed Republican government and Nazi-backed Franco, one that the good guys lost. The truth seems rather darker; the war was fought by two collections of squabbling, atrocity-prone factions, each backed by one of the two most evil totalitarianisms in human history. They intrigued, massacred, wrecked, and looted fairly indiscriminately until one side collapsed from exhaustion. Franco was the last man left standing.

Franco had no aspirations to conquer or reinvent the world, or to found a dynasty. His greatest achievements were the things that didn’t happen. He prevented the Stalinist coup that would certainly have followed a Republican victory. He then kept Spain out of World War II against heavy German pressure to join the Axis.

Domestically, Spain could have suffered worse. Spanish Fascism was quite brutal against its direct political enemies, but never developed the expansionism or racist doctrines of the Italian or German model. In fact it had almost no ideology beyond freezing the power relationships of pre-Republican Spain in place. Thus, there were no massacres even remotely comparable to Hussein’s nerve-gassing of Kurds and Shi’as, Hitler’s Final Solution or Stalin’s far bloodier though less-known liquidation of the kulaks.

Francisco Franco remained a monarchist all his life, and named the heir to the Spanish throne as his successor. The later `fascist’ regimes of South and Central America resembled the Francoite, conservative model more than they did the Italo/German/Baathist revolutionary variety.

One historian put it well. “Hitler was a fascist pretending to be a conservative. Franco was a conservative pretending to be a fascist.” (One might add that Hussein was not really pretending to be about anything but the raw will to power; perhaps this is progress, of a sort.) On those terms Franco was rather successful. If he had died shortly after WWII, rather than lingering for thirty years while presiding over an increasingly stultified and backward Spain, he might even have been remembered as a hero of his country.

As it is, the best that can be said is that (unlike the truly major tyrants of his day, or Saddam Hussein in ours) Franco was not a particularly evil man, and was probably less bad for his country than his opponents would have been.

Blogspt
comments

Dec 04

Social Security and the Demography Bomb

A friend of mine, Russ Cage aka Engineer-Poet, comments on my essay
Demographics
and the Dustbin of History
:

People used to have children to take care of them in their old age.
Social Security took care of this by socializing the benefits, but all
of the costs still fell to individuals; worse, taking time out of the
workforce to raise kids reduces your Social Security benefits.
Rational actors will stop having kids to have a good retirement.

He’s right, and this applies to all public pension schemes.
It’s a very simple, very powerful mechanism. When you subsidize old
age, you depress birthrates. The more you subsidize old age, the more
you depress birthrates. Eventually…crash!

It’s not just Euro-socialism that’s going to get trashed by
demographics, it’s the U.S’s own welfare state. It might take longer
here because our population is still rising, but it will happen.

Now that the effects of income transfer on demography are no longer
masked by the Long Boom, this is going to become one of the principal
constraints on public policy.

Blogspot comments

Dec 04

Demographics and the Dustbin of History

Karl Zinsmeister’s essay Old and In The Way presents a startling — but all too plausible — forecast of Europe’s future. To the now-familiar evidence of European insularity, reflexive anti-Americanism, muddle, and geopolitical impotence, Zinsmeister adds a hard look at European demographic trends.

What Zinsmeister sees coming is not pretty. European populations are not having children at replacement levels. The population of Europe is headed for collapse, and for an age profile heavily skewed towards older people and retirees. Europe’s Gross Domestic Product per capita (roughly, the amount of wealth the average person produces) is already only two-thirds of America’s, and the ratio is going to fall, not rise.

Meanwhile, the U.S population continues to rise — and the U.S. economy is growing three times as fast as Europe’s even though the U.S. is in the middle of a bust! Since 1970 the U.S. has been more than ten times as successful at creating new jobs. But most importantly, the U.S.’s population is still growing even as Europe’s is shrinking — which means the gap in population, productivity, and economic output is going to increase. By 2030, the U.S will have a larger population than all of Europe — and the median age in the U.S. will be 30, but the median age in Europe will be over 50.

Steven den Beste is probably correct to diagnose the steady weakening of Europe as the underlying cause of the increasing rift the U.S. and Europe’s elites noted in Robert Kagan’s essay Power and Weakness (also recommended reading). But Kagan (focusing on diplomacy and geopolitics), Zinsmeister (focusing on demographic and economic decline) and den Beste (focusing on the lassitude of Europe’s technology sector and the resulting brain drain to the U.S.) all miss something more fundamental.

Zinsmeister comes near it when he writes “Europe’s disinterest in childbearing is a crisis of confidence and optimism.”. Europeans are demonstrating in their behavior that they don’t believe the future will be good for children.

Back to that in a bit, but first a look on what the demographic collapse will mean for European domestic politics. Zinsmeister makes the following pertinent observations:

  1. Percentage of GDP represented by government spending is also diverging. In the U.S. it is roughly 19% and falling. In the EU countries it is 30-40% and rising.
  2. The ratio of state clients to wealth-generating workers is also rising. By 2030, Zinsmeister notes, every single worker in the EU will have his own elderly person 65 or older to provide for through the public pension system.
  3. Chronic unemployment is at 9-10% (twice the U.S.’s) and rising.
  4. Long-term unemployment and drone status is far more common in Europe than here. In Europe, 40% of unemployed have been out of work for over a year. Un the U.S. the corresponding figure is 6%.

Zinsmeister doesn’t state the obvious conclusion; Euro-socialism is unsustainable. It’s headed for the dustbin of history.

Forget ideological collapse; the numbers don’t work. The statistics above actually understate the magnitude of the problem, because as more and more of the population become wards of the state, a larger percentage of the able will be occupied simply with running the income-redistribution system. The rules they make will depress per-capita productivity further (for a recent example see France’s mandated 35-hour workweek).

Unless several of the key trends undergo a rapid and extreme reversal, rather soon (as in 20 years at the outside) there won’t be enough productive people left to keep the gears of the income-redistribution machine turning. Economic strains sufficient to destroy the political system will become apparent much sooner. We may be seeing the beginnings of the destruction now as Chancellor Schröder’s legitimacy evaporates in Germany, burned away by the dismal economic news.

We know what this future will probably look like, because we’ve seen the same dismal combination of economic/demographic collapse play out in Russia in the 1980s and 1990s. Progressively more impotent governments losing their popular legitimacy, increasing corruption, redistributionism sliding into gangsterism. Slow-motion collapse.

But there are worse possibilities that are quite plausible. The EU hase two major advantages the Soviets did not — a better tech and infrastructure base, and a functioning civil society (e.g. one in which wealth and information flow through a lot of legal grassroots connections and voluntary organizations). But they have one major disadvantage — large, angry, totally unassimilated immigrant populations that are reproducing faster than the natives. This is an especially severe problem in France, where housing developments in the ring zones around all the major cities have become places the police dare not go without heavy weapons.

We’ve already gotten a foretaste of what that might mean for European domestic politics. At its most benign, we get Pim Fortuyn in Holland. But Jörg Haider in Austria is a more ominous indicator, and Jean-Marie Le Pen’s startling success in the last French presidential elections was downright frightening. Far-right populism with a racialist/nativist/anti-Semitic tinge is on the rise, an inevitable consequence of the demographic collapse of native populations.

As if that isn’t bad enough, al-Qaeda and other Islamist organizations are suspected on strong evidence to be recruiting heavily among the North African, Turkish, and Levantine populations that now predominate in European immigrant quarters. The legions of rootless, causeless, unemployed and angry young men among Muslim immigrants may in fact actually be on their way to reifying the worst nightmares of native-European racists.

One way or another, the cozy Euro-socialist welfare state is doomed by the demographic collapse. Best case: it will grind to a shambolic halt as the ratio of worker bees to drones goes below critical. Worst case: it will blow itself apart in a welter of sectarian, ethnic, and class violence. Watch the frequency trend curve of synagogue-trashings and anti-Jewish hate crimes; that’s bound to be a leading indicator.

The only possible way for Europe to avoid one of these fates would be for it to reverse either the decline in per-capita productivity or its population decline. And reversing the per-capita productivity decline would only be a temporary fix unless it could be made to rise faster than the drone-to-worker ratio — forever.

Was this foredoomed? Can it be that all national populations lose their will to have children when they get sufficiently comfortable? Do economies inevitably grow old and sclerotic? Is Europe simply aging into the end stages of a natural civilizational senescence?

That theory would be appealing to a lot of big-picture historians, and to religious anti-materialists like al-Qaeda. And if we didn’t have the U.S.’s counterexample to look at, we might be tempted to conclude that this trap is bound to claim any industrial society past a certain stage of development.

But that won’t wash. The U.S. is wealthier, both in aggregate and per-capita, than Europe. A pro-market political party in Sweden recently pointed out that by American standards of purchasing power, most Swedes now live in what U.S. citizens would consider poverty. If wealth caused decline, the U.S. would be further down the tubes than the EU right now. But we’re still growing.

A clue to the real problem lies in the differing degrees to which social stability depends on income transfer. In the U.S., redistributionism is on the decline; we abolished federal welfare nearly a decade ago, national health insurance was defeated, and new entitlements are an increasingly tough political sell to a population that has broadly bought into conservative arguments against them. In fact, one of the major disputes everyone knows won’t be avoidable much longer is over privatizing Social Security — and opponents are on the defensive.

In Europe, on the other hand, merely failing to raise state pensions on schedule can cause nationwide riots. The dependent population there is much larger, much longer-term, and has much stronger claims on the other players in the political system. The 5%/10% difference in structural unemployment — and, even more, the 6%/40% difference in permanant unemployment — tells the story.

So what happened?

Essentially, Euro-socialism told the people that the State would buy as much poverty and dependency as they cared to produce. Then it made wealth creation difficult by keeping capital expensive, business formation difficult, and labor markets rigid and regulated. Finally, it taxed the bejesus out of the people who stayed off the dole and made it through the redistributionist rat-maze, and used the proceeds to buy more poverty and alienation.

Europeans responded to this set of incentives by not having children. This isn’t surprising. The same thing happened in Soviet Russia, much sooner. There’s a reason Stalin handed out medals to women who raised big families.

Human birth rates rise under two circumstances. One is when people think they need to have a lot of kids for any of them to survive. The other is when human beings think their children will have it better than they do. (The reasons for this pattern should be obvious; if they aren’t, go read about evolutionary biology until you get it.)

Europe’s experiment with redistributionism has been running for about a hundred and fifty years now (the beginnings of the modern welfare state date to Prussian state-pension schemes in the 1840s). Until recently, it was sustained by the long-term population and productivity boom that followed the Industrial Revolution. There were always more employed young people than old people and unemployed people and sick people and indigents, so subsidizing the latter was economically possible.

Until fairly recently, Euro-socialist governments couldn’t suck wealth out of the productive economy and into the redistribution network fast enough to counter the effects of the long boom. Peoples’ estimate of the prospects for their children kept improving and they kept breeding. In France they now call the late end of that period les trentes glorieuses, the thirty glorious years from 1945 to 1975. But as the productivity gains from industrialization tailed off, the demographic collapse began, not just in France but Europe-wide.

Meanwhile, the U.S. was not only rejecting socialism, but domestic politics actually moved away from redistributionism and economic intervention after Nixon’s wage/price control experiment failed in 1971. The U.S, famously had its period of “malaise” in the 1970s after the oil-price shock ended our trentes glorieuses— but while in Europe the socialists consolidated their grip on public thinking during those years, our “democratic socialists” didn’t — and never recovered from Ronald Reagan’s two-term presidency after 1980.

The fall of the Soviet Union happened fifteen years after the critical branch point. Until then, Westerners had no way to know that the Soviets, too, had been in demographic decline for some time. Communist myth successfully portrayed the Soviet Union as an industrial and military powerhouse, but the reality was a hollow shell with a failing population — a third-world pesthole with a space program. Had that been clearer thirty years sooner, perhaps Europe might have avoided the trap.

Now the millennium has turned and it looks like the experiment will finally have to end. It won’t be philosophy or rhetoric or the march of armies that kills it, but rather the accumulated poisons of redistributionism necrotizing not just the economy but the demographics of Europe. Euro-socialism, in a quite Marxian turn of events, will have been destroyed by its own internal contradictions.

Blogspot comments

Nov 26

When to shoot a policeman

A policeman was
premeditatedly shot dead today.

Now, I don’t regard shooting a policeman as the worst possible
crime — indeed, I can easily imagine circumstances under which I
would do it myself. If he were committing illegal violence — or
even officially legal violence during the enforcement of an unjust
law. Supposing a policeman were criminally threatening someone’s
life, say. Or suppose that he had been ordered under an act of
government to round up all the Jews in the neighborhood, or confiscate
all the pornography or computers or guns. Under those circumstances,
it would be not merely my right but my duty to shoot the
policeman.

But this policeman was harming nobody. He was shot down in
cold blood as he was refueling his cruiser. His murderer subsequently
announced the act on a public website.

The murderer said he was “protesting police-state tactics”. If
that were his goal, however, then the correct and appropriate
expression of it would have been to kill a BATF thug in the process of
invading his home, or an airport security screener, or some other
person who was actively and at the time of the protest implementing
police-state tactics.

Killings of policemen in those circumstances are a defensible
social good, pour encourager les autres. It is right and proper
that the police and military should fear for their lives when they
trespass on the liberty of honest citizens; that is part of the
balance of power that maintains a free society, and the very reason
our Constitution has a Second Amendment.

But this policeman was refueling his car. Nothing in the
shooter’s justification carried any suggestion that the shooter’s
civil rights had ever been violated by the victim, or that the
murderer had standing to act for any other individual person whose
rights had been violated by the victim. This killing was not
self-defense.

There are circumstances under which general warfare against the
police would be justified. In his indymedia post The
Declaration of a Renewed American Independence
the shooter utters
a scathing, and (it must be said) largely justified indictment of
police abuses. If the political system had broken down sufficiently
that there were no reasonable hope of rectifying those abuses, then I
would be among the first to cry havoc.

Under those circumstances, it would be my duty as a free human
being under the U.S. Constitution not merely to shoot individual
policemen, but to make revolutionary war on the police. As Abraham Lincoln
said, “This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people
who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing
government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending
it or their revolutionary right to dismember it or overthrow
it.”

But the United States of America has not yet reached the point at
which the political mechanisms for the defense of freedom have broken
down. This judgment is not a matter of theory but one of practice.
There are not yet police at our door with legal orders to round up the
Jews, or confiscate pornography or computers or guns.

Civil society has not yet been fatally vitiated by tyranny. Under
these circumstances, the only possible reaction is to condemn. This
was a crime. This was murder. And I would cheerfully shoot not the
policeman but the murderer dead. (There would be no question
of guilt or due process, since the murderer publicly boasted of his
crime.)

But that this shooter was wrong does not mean that
everyone who shoots a policeman in the future will also be wrong. A
single Andrew McCrae, at this time, is a criminal and should be
condemned as a criminal. But his case against the police and the
system behind them is not without merit. Therefore let him be a
warning as well.

Blogspot comments

Nov 21

What a responsible American Left would look like

The congressional Democrats have made Nancy Pelosi their leader.
Whether or not this is conscious strategy, it means they’re going to
run to the left. And very likely get slaughtered in 2004.

It’s truly odd how self-destructive the American Left has become.
They’re like that famous line about the Palestinians, never missing an
opportunity to miss an opportunity. And there are so many
opportunities! So many good things Republican conservatives can
never do because they’re captive to their voter base.

Herewith, then, my humble offering of a program for the American
Left. This is not sarcasm and I’m not trying to score points here,
these are issues where the Left could take a stand and gain back some
of the moral capital it has squandered so recklessly since the
days of the civil rights movement.

  • Support war on Iraq, but insist on nation-building
    afterwards.
    Saddam Hussein is a genocidal fascist tyrant, exactly the
    sort of monster the Left ought to be against. Support deposing him
    — then be the conscience of the U.S., insisting on our duty to
    help rebuild Iraq as a free country afterwards. Push us to win the
    peace, not just the war.
  • Derail the Homeland Security Act and other intrusions on
    civil liberties.
    The left hates John Ashcroft. So why don’t
    we see more Left opposition to the law-enforcement power grab that’s
    going on right now, or to the gutting of the Freedom of Information
    Act? Many Americans would respond well to this.
  • Stop the War on (Some) Drugs. This is a civil-rights
    issue. Blacks and other minorities are disproportionately victims
    both of drug prosecution and of the criminal violence created by drug
    laws. It’s a civil-liberties issue for many reasons too obvious to
    need listing — how can any self-respecting liberal countenance
    no-knock warrants and asset forfeiture? For too long the Left has
    gone along with conservative anti-drug hysteria out of a craven fear
    of being dismissed as a bunch of dope-loving ex-hippies. Time to
    stand up and be counted.
  • Support school vouchers. Another civil-rights issue
    — it’s precisely minorities and the poor who most need to escape
    the trap that the public-school system has become, and black parents
    know this. Yes, it will be hard to take on the teachers’ unions
    — but you’re in serious danger of losing the black vote over
    this issue, so switching would be not just the right thing but a
    way to shore up your base as well.
  • Speak up for science. Religious conservatives are up to a
    lot of anti-scientific mischief — banning stem-cell research,
    excising evolutionary theory from textbooks. Make a principled stand
    for science, secularism, and the anti-Establishment clause. Remind
    the world that the U.S. is not a Christian nation, and seek to have
    the tax exemption for religious organizations ended because it puts the
    U.S. government in the position of deciding what’s a religion and
    what is not.
  • Stop the RIAA/MPAA from trashing consumers’ fair-use rights.
    The Left claims to be on the side of consumers and against corporate
    power elites. So where was the Left when the DMCA passed? If the
    RIAA and MPAA have their way, personal computers will be crippled
    and consumers will go to jail for the `crime’ of copying DVDs they
    have bought for their personal use. Young people, who are trending
    conservative these days, care deeply about the RIAA attack on
    file sharing. Wouldn’t you like to have them back?

Blogspot comment

Nov 03

That bad old-time religion

It’s official. The anti-war movement is a Communist
front.

No, I’m not kidding — go read the story. Investigative reporter
David Corn digs into last Saturday’s D.C. antiwar rally and finds it
was covertly masterminded by a Communist Party splinter originally
founded in support of the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary. For good
later, he further digs up the fact that one if the principal
organizers of the inane “Mot In Our Name” petion is a revolutionary
Maoist.

Words almost fail me. There are just too many levels of delicious,
deadly irony here.

For starters, the U.S. revolutionary Communist movement has been
reduced to organizing demonstrations in support of a fascist dictator
with a history of brutally suppressing and murdering Communists in
Iraq. OK, so there’s precedent for this; the CPUSA organized
anti-war demonstrations in the U.S. during the Nazi-Soviet
nonaggression pact of 1939-41. It’s still bleakly funny.

More generally the American Left seems bent on fulfilling every
red-meat right-winger’s most perfervid fantasies about it. All those
earnest anti-war demonstrators were actual communist dupes! Oh,
mama. Somewhere. Tailgunner Joe McCarthy is smiling. Who was it who
said that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy and the
second as farce?

Farce because, of course, Communism as an ideology capable of
motivating mass revolutions is stone-dead. (Well, everywhere outside
of Pyongyang and the humanities departments of U.S. universities,
anyway.) At this point one can contemplate vestigial organs of
Stalinism like the Revolutionary Communist Party with a sort of
revolted pity, like portions of a vampire corpse still twitching
because they haven’t yet gotten the message about that stake through
the heart.

If I were a conservative, I’d go into a roaring, vein-popping rant
at this point. And, secretly I’d be damn glad for them Commies. They
simplify things so much. Because there will be more stories like this
one. All the Communists can accomplish by organizing the anti-war
movement is to thoroughly discredit it — a fact our reporter
(quite typical of U.S. journalists in that he both leans left and
is too ignorant to notice how much of his world-view is Communism with
the serial numbers filed off) notes with poorly-veiled regret.

So, by supporting a militarist fascist in Iraq, them commies are
very likely to wind up increasing the influence of precisely the
`reactionary’ element in U.S. politics that they most abominate.
Congratulations, comrades! Welcome to the International
Capitalist Conspiracy!

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Sep 21

Defeating Hussein Without Government

The aftermath of 9/11 is a hard time to be an anarchist.

For many years before the WTC came down I believed that America
could be better defended by have no government than by the system we
have now, I imagined a nation of heavily armed militias, without
the power-projection capabilities of a conventional military but
with the capability to inflict a world of grief on an invader — and
with nobody having the authority to tell them to surrender. We
could have a home defense better than Switzerland’s, our larger
population and longer distances doing for us what mountainous terrain
does for the Swiss.

There would still be a place in an anarchist America for
professional soldiers — not many, but a few heavy troop formations
would be kept on retainer by consortia of insurance companies. Yes, I
said insurance companies, that’s because how free markets socialize
shared risks. Normal law enforcement would be funded by pools set up
by vendors of crime insurance looking to reduce their payouts;
national defense and overseas power projection (to the extent the term
still had meaning in a stateless society) would be funded by people
who bought war insurance (say, businesses with overseas assets to
protect).

These measures, I was and am convinced, would stop conventional
wars of conquest dead in their tracks. Invade a nation of 350,000,000
libertarians, most of them routinely armed? Yeah. Right. Any
War-College-trained military officer will tell you that urban warfare
against guerrillas on their home ground chews up armies faster than
anything else. Witness Stalingrad.

Without a government, many of the reasons people might go
to war against America would also vanish. No entangling alliances, no
foreign policy to object to. Conventional terrorism would become a
lot dicier proposition in a libertarian anarchy, too — as in
Israel, where armed civilians have on numerous occasions thwarted
attempted massacres by shooting back. And, of course, the WTC would
probably still be standing if the passengers had been
armed…

I grew up in the shadow of the Soviet threat. Theirs was an evil,
evil system, but they were at bottom geopolitically rational. They
calculated their chances very cold-bloodedly, and never pushed the
big red button. An ungoverned America would have stood them off, I
believe, long enough for the inevitable Hayekian collapse to remove
the problem.

But now we face the prospect of weapons of mass destruction dropping
into the hands of people who are behaviorally indistinguishable from
stone psychotics. That prospect poses problems of a different nature
than Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union ever did. Because what Al-Qaeda
wants is not driven or constrained by geopolitics, by pragmatism, by a
rational estimation of risk and reward. They have no population to
answer to even in the limited sense that Hitler and Stalin did. They
were madmen, but they were constrained by the necessities of leading
a country.

Under the present system, I see no alternative to state action as a
way to suppress this threat, up to and including conventional warfare
and the proconsular occupation of significant parts of the Arab world.
I am not happy with this evaluation; war is the health of the State,
and statism is the most lethal enemy humanity will ever know short of
a giant meteor strike (those who think this statement hyperbolic are
recommended to read Robert Conquest’s “The Great Terror”). The
question that drives this essay is whether, supposing the
U.S. were to become a market anarchy, there would be other means to
the same end.

It’s a tough case. Al-Qaeda would not hate us any less; it is not,
at bottom, U.S. policy that enrages them, it is the fact of our wealth
and freedom and refusal to submit to the One True Way of Allah. An
ungoverned America, more wealthy and more free by the exact measure
that its productive capacity is spent efficiently on a network of
security agencies and judicial associations rather than being wasted
on the support of parasitic government, would hardly enrage them
less.

Al-Qaeda in itself is not an exceptional threat; in a properly
armed society the 9/11 hijackers would never even have tried
their stunt, because they would known that the certain outcome was
death in a hail of civilian bullets. It is the combination of
Al-Qaeda-like suicidal fanaticism with state sponsorship (specifically
the ability to produce chemical/biological/nuclear weapons) that
strains the anarcho-libertarian theory of national self-defense, It
does so by dramatically lowering the cost of aggression for both
sets of bad guys; the fanatics get the capability to strike a
hammer-blow at the Great Satan, and their state sponsors get
deniable cat’s paws.

It is worth pointing out, however, that it strains the statist
theory of self-defense almost as badly. A governed U.S. has the
neo-imperialist option (conquer Iraq, install Colin Powell as
miltary governor, and try to transform the place as we transformed
Japan), and that may even appear to be the option with the lowest
odds of catastrophic failure, but we don’t actually have any clue
whether this will actually work — Al-Qaeda might well
be able to get their bombs from the failing states of former-Soviet
Central Asia, or from North Korea. The historical situation
is truly unprecedented.

Harder than the theoretical problem, perhaps, is the practical one.
How to oppose that expansion of state power without acting as an
unwilling enabler for the terrorists? In some ways that’s easy;
pushing to abolish all the police-state bullshit at airports is
a no-brainer, since tiger-team tests of the system consistently show
that none of it has made smuggling weapons on board more difficult
(now, as before 9/11, approximately 30% of attempts succeed).

In a wider sense, though, it’s a very difficult question. One I
will be thinking about — and possibly writing about — in the
coming months.

Blogspot comments

Sep 18

So, Howell Raines isn’t a complete waste of air

The NYT ran a
pro-Linux editorial
today.

That’s good. They had to slip their “communitarian” spin in there, though, as if Linux hackers are all a bunch of PBS-worshiping Mother Jones readers and natural suckers for the fuzzy-sweater cause of the week.

Hah. If they only knew. I’m not going to say my gun-toting
red-meat libertarianism is typical, because it isn’t. Actually
the mass centroid of hackers’ politics is a lot like the
blogosphere’s, a sort of soft-libertarianism-leaning-towards-conservatism or vice-versa
(the centroid used to be further left but a lot has changed in the last decade).
Much less radical than me, but still enough to give the likes
of Raines a bad case of the vapors.

But let’s keep that our little secret, OK? If Raines wants to believe that open-source people are some kind of cross between Greenpeace and the Ethical Culture Society, that’s just fine. We’ll
take the Gray Lady’s backing. It’s another small step on the road to world domination.

The day will come when we will be the guys running the
world’s entire digital infrastructure (not such a stretch; we
already run the Internet). Our example will teach Howell’s
kids stuff about the power of decentralization and voluntary cooperation, all the things leftists pay lip-service to until the
last second before they’d have to actually apply them. And
the world will change out from under him. Subtly. Powerfully.
And in ways he can’t guess at yet.

It should be a fun ride.

Sep 13

When there’s nothing left to say, self-parody is the way

I’m just, barely, old enough to remember the anti-war Leftists of
the 1960s and 1970s. I disagreed with them over Vietnam then, and
I disagree with the anti-war Left’s agitation against a war on Iraq
today. But as I read what comes out of minds of people like Robert
Fisk and Noam Chomsky and Susan Sontag these days, I wonder if I’m
getting old and allowing a golden haze to cloud my recollection of
past decades. Because I find myself feeling almost nostalgic for
the anti-Vietnam-war Left.

Yes, yes, I still think “Hanoi Jane” and her crowd were basically
wrong. Wrong about the consequences of a North Vietnamese victory
(Communists turn out to be murderously repressive — what a shock!);
wrong about the motives and interests of the U.S.; wrong about almost
everything except the level of incompetence, buffoonery, and myopia
afflicting the generals and politicians running that war.

But there was one important difference. The anti-Vietnam-war Left
may have been deluded and prone to masturbating in front of Che
Guevara posters…but if you sifted through enough of their ranting
you could detect the outlines of a principled case, or several
principled cases. There was one argument on which they persuaded me;
though I was not of draftable age, I found I agreed with them that the
military draft was an intolerable form of slavery years before I
encountered Robert Heinlein’s pithy objurgation that “A nation that
cannot find enough volunteers to defend itself will not survive
— and does not deserve to.”

But try as I might, I can’t detect a principled case anywhere in today’s
anti-war Left. Which is all the more curious since I think they
could be making one. Several, in fact: starting with the argument
that we should abandon the path of war not even because of what it does
to our enemies but because of what it does to ourselves. At every
level from the personal to the political, warfare is a brutalizing
experience that erodes our freedoms and empowers the nastiest elements
of human psyches and societies.

There are principled responses to that case, but that particular
argument is not my point. My point is that today’s anti-war
rhetoric, as exemplified by reports on a planned September 11
“Teach-In and Panel regarding Oppression” at UCLA, never seems
to even confront the question of whether war against Afghanistan and Iraq
is justified by the Islamist threat. Instead, the topic is “U.S. Law
and Policy Against Immigrants of Color”, as if there is any kind of
equivalence between the U.S.’s border policies and the catastrophic
mass murder of 2,500 people.

There is a curious kind of evasiveness at work here. We can see it
at work in the arid deconstructionism of Susan Sontag’s NYT op-ed, Real
Battles and Empty Metaphors
. Even the title announces that she’s
going to lucubrate about the relationship between language and
reality, not confront reality itself. A similar denial is evident
it the rhetoric of Noam Chomsky; prodded for commentary on the war,
he recites a litany of past American wrongdoing as if that somehow
banishes the question of how soon Saddam Hussein will have nuclear
weapons and what he will do with them when he gets them.

Maybe I’m getting senile, but it seems to me that the Left of my
teens was in better contact with reality than today’s crew. There
really was a military-industrial complex and the desire for war
profits probably did drive some of the political support for the
Vietnam war. The military-industrial complex is still with us today,
but the Left seems to have forgotten even the little it once knew
about political economics and isn’t even bothering to raise that
issue. Perhaps this amnesia is a post-traumatic effect of watching
Marx take a header into the dustbin of history; we’ve come to strange
days indeed when I have to conclude that my libertarian self could
easily write a better Marxist critique of Dubya’s war propaganda than
anyone on the Left has yet issued in public.

Instead, what we’re seeing is a rhetoric that is half a retreat
into language-chopping and half an expression of contempt for the
U.S. — contempt so out of balance that it’s doomed to be tuned out by
anyone less far to the left than the unlamented former Congresswoman
Cynthia McKinney.

When did the Left descend into such empty self-parody? And why?

Watching “real existing socialism” self-destruct must have been
part of it. I speculated on the psychological effects of that
political collapse in a previous essay Socialists
to the Stars
, about Scottish SF writers Ken McLeod and Iain Banks.
But something weirder and more diffuse happened to the Left on
this side of the pond, and I’m not sure what it was.

Some days I wonder if Greg Egan, the reclusive West Australian
author who has produced some of the best hard SF of the last decade,
may not have called it right in the following passage from his novel
“Teranesia”:

“Feminism was working, and the civil rights movement was working, and
all the other social justice movements were getting more and more
support. So, in the 1980s, the CIA […] hired some really clever
linguists to invent a secret weapon; an incredibly complicated way of
talking about politics that didn’t actually make any sense, but which
spread through all the universities in the world, because it sounded
so impressive. And at first, the people who talked like this just
hitched their wagon to the social justice movements, and everyone else
let them come along for the ride, because they seemed harmless. But
then they climbed on board the peace train and threw out the driver.”

“So instead of going to the people in power and saying, `How about
upholding the universal principles you claim to believe in?’ the
people in the social justice movements ended up saying things like `My
truth narrative is in conflict with your truth marrative!’. And the
people in power replied `Woe is me! You’ve thrown me into the briar
patch!’ And everyone else said `Who are these idiots? Why should we
trust them when they can’t even speak properly?’ And the CIA was
happy. And the people in power were happy. And the secret weapon
lived on in the universities for years and years, because everyone
who’d played a part in the conspiracy was too embarrassed to admit
what they’d done,”

Egan’s account is implausible only because it seems unlikely that
the CIA is quite that subtle. But he’s right in pointing out that the
rise of the language of postmodernism — the sterile, involuted,
pseudo-profundity famously skewered by the Sokal Hoax
— seems to be an important correlate of the decline of the
American Left.

Self-parody is where you end up when you have nothing left to say.
And when all you can talk about is `discourse’ that’s a damn short road,

Bogspot comments

Jun 10

After reading too much political news

Top Ten Reasons I’m Not A (Left-)Liberal:

  1. Gun control. Liberals are completely wrong about this. A fair number
    of them know better, too, but they sponsor lies about it as a form of class
    warfare against conservative-leaning gun owners.
  2. Nuclear power. They’re wrong about this, too, and the cost in
    both dollars and human deaths by pollution and other fossil-fuel
    side-effects has been enormous.
  3. Affirmative action. These programs couldn’t be a more diabolical or
    effective plan for plan for entrenching racial prejudice if the Aryan
    Nations had designed them.
  4. Abortion: The liberals’ looney-toon feminist need to believe that
    a fetus one second before birth is a parasitic lump of tissue with no
    rights, but a fetus one second afterwards is a full human, has done
    half the job of making a reasoned debate on abortion
    nigh-impossible.
  5. Communism. I haven’t forgiven the Left for sucking up to the monstrous
    evil that was the Soviet Union. And I never will.
  6. Socialism. Liberals have never met a tax, a government
    intervention, or a forcible redistribution of wealth they didn’t like.
    Their economic program is Communism without the guts to admit it.
  7. Junk science. No medicical study is too bogus and no environmental
    scare too fraudalent for liberals. If it rationalizes bashing
    capitalism or slathering on another layer of regulatory bureaucracy,
    they’ll take it.
  8. Defining deviancy down. Liberals are in such a desperate rush to
    embrace the `victimized by society’ and speak the language of
    compassion that they’ve forgotten how to condemn harmful,
    self-destructive and other-destructive behavior.
  9. William Jefferson Clinton. Sociopathic liar, perjurer, sexual predator.
    There was nothing but a sucking narcissistic vacuum where his principles
    should have been. Liberals worship him.
  10. Liberals, by and large, are fools.

Top Ten Reasons I’m Not A Conservative:

  1. Pornography. The complete absence of evidence that exposure to
    sexually-explicit material is harmful to children or anyone else doesn’t
    stop conservatives from advocating massive censorship.
  2. Drugs. We found out that Prohibition was a bad idea back in the
    1930s — all it did was create a huge and virulent criminal class, erode
    respect for the law, and corrupt our politics. Some people never learn.
  3. Creationism. I don’t know who I find more revolting, the drooling
    morons who actally believe creationism or the intelligent panderers
    who know better but provide them with political cover for their
    religious-fundamentalist agenda in return for votes.
  4. Abortion. The conservatives’ looney-toon religious need to
    believe that a fertilized gamete is morally equivalent to a human
    being has done the other half of making a reasoned debate on abortion
    nigh-impossible.
  5. Racism. I haven’t forgiven the Right for segregation, Jim Crow laws,
    and lynching blacks. And I never will.
  6. Sexism. Way too much conservative thought still reads like an
    apologia for keeping women barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen.
  7. Anti-science. Stem cells, therapeutic cloning — it doesn’t matter
    how many more diabetes, cancer and AIDS patients have to die to
    protect the anti-abortion movement’s ideological flanks. Knowledge —
    who needs it? Conservatives would try suppressing astronomy
    if the telescope had just been invented.
  8. Family values. Conservatives are so desperate to reassert the
    repressive `normalcy’ they think existed in Grand-dad’s time that they
    pretend we can undo the effects of the automobile, television, the
    Pill, and the Internet.
  9. Ronald Wilson Reagan. A B-movie actor who thought ketchup was
    a vegetable. His grip on reality was so dangerously weak that the
    Alzheimer’s made no perceptible difference. Conservatives worship him.
  10. Conservatives, by and large, are villains.

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