Thursday, March 6, 2008 165 Comments

UR will return on Thursday, April 17

Due to anticipated events which cannot be canceled or rescheduled, UR will take a short break. You all probably need one anyway. I certainly do. Also, this may allow me to deal with my inbox, which is in a state that can only be described as wretched and inexplicable degradation. When I return, I will also try to be better at responding to comments.

Frequent contributor TGGP has recently joined the ranks of the older and wiser. If you like TGGP's posts, please stop by and say hi. If you don't, don't. That way he'll know who is which.

From somewhere deep in the Laotian jungle, reader Nick Taylor sends his excellent travel blog, very Paul Theroux. Don't miss his story of being held hostage by touts on a houseboat in Kashmir. Nick also points out that, even deep in the Laotian jungle, it took him about fifteen minutes to decode my actual identity. He clearly has strong fu, but it's obviously not that hard. Feel free to repeat the experiment, but please don't leave the result where Le Goog will find it.

The great modern aphorist Deogolwulf has received hostile notice. I would like to think UR is one of the Web's top anti-democracy blogs, but surely above me are Deogolwulf and the formidable Carter van Carter. That is, if you don't count Udolpho. In any blog contest that includes Udolpho, Udolpho is the winner. Unless the contest is for financial blogs, in which all are denied but Macro Man and Cassandra. But it's also worth noting Rebel Economist, who I thought was really off his rocker the first time he suggested that the US should counter BWII reserve accumulation by simply mirroring the purchases - a brilliant idea, of course - and the invariably thoughtful Steve Randy Waldman. Readers may also appreciate frequent commenter Byrne Hobart, who is looking for work in the financial industry. Let's hope Mr. Hobart is not struck by any falling stockbrokers as he heads in for his interviews. In the textual category, G.M. Palmer, editor of Strong Verse, also has his own new blog, and if you have not done so already, please visit Conrad Roth and pester him for the record.

I also must thank Michael Blowhard, for urging me to start this blog, and Brad Setser, for his tremendous patience with my often-trollish remarks. Other giants in the earth are Steve Sailer, Razib Khan and John Derbyshire.

Chris Lander of Stuff White People Like does not need your hits, but he probably has them already. "White people," needless to say, are what here at UR we call Brahmins. Who of course come in all colors, shapes and sizes, and really, genuinely do not give a crap about each others' DNA - sorry, Nazis.

Finally, Greg Cochran and I had another altercation about Iraq at 2Blowhards. I really take no pleasure in this sort of thing. Cochran has obviously lost a step or two - it's like beating up an old man. In any case, expect more Iraq material later this spring.

Many people have requested reading lists. I'm afraid I have struggled somewhat in answering them, because I suspect that for almost anyone who reads UR it covers many subjects in which they have no interest at all. Perhaps the best thing is to prepare separate reading lists for progressives, conservatives, and libertarians, because they don't always like the same books.

It is a special challenge to recommend reading for progressives. Progressives are convinced that they are people who do not believe in anything at all, like the nihilists in The Big Lebowski. In fact they believe in progressivism, which is something very specific. It is also a perfectly normal thing to believe in, at least by historical standards. It certainly does not make you in any way, shape or form a bad person.

Progressives can read books written by nonprogressives. But never without stress. Imagine reading a book written by someone you know is insane. You can be amused by it, interested even, but there is no way you could possibly take it seriously. And most likely you'll just be annoyed, bored, or both. This is exactly how it feels when you're a progressive and you just happen to stumble on some leaflet from outside the lib-o-dome.

Unfortunately for nonprogressives, progressives run the world, so there has to be some way to get a message to them. Unfortunately for progressives, they are quite unaware that they run the world. They believe it is run by their enemies, who oppress them or are at least trying to, and must be resisted with all their energy. If we could convince them that this was a misperception, we could convince them to stop being progressives. The matter is not without delicacy.

Therefore, I have compiled a special list of progressive-safe reading material, which is written by authors who either are progressives, or sensitive enough to write for progressives, and so can actually increase a progressive reader's understanding of what in the heck progressivism is, where it came from, and why so many people believe it. If you are a progressive, I guarantee you will enjoy reading these books. If not, you can still recommend them to your progressive friends.

For hardcore progressives, a great place to start is Authoritarian Socialism in America, by Arthur Lipow. This was adapted from a Berkeley sociology dissertation, and Lipow was a student of Michael Harrington. Does it get more socialist than this? It does not. If Lipow is too academic for you, go straight to Richard Ellis's Dark Side of the Left. Ellis may not be a socialist, but he's certainly a liberal. If you're wondering what Oliver Cromwell and Barack Obama could possibly have in common, Yale University Press has just blessed us with George McKenna's Puritan Origins of American Patriotism, which is as readable as it is scholarly. Michael Burleigh's Earthly Powers, almost as scholarly and even more readable, fills in the story on the other side of the pond. And don't miss Wolfgang Schivelbusch's Culture of Defeat (in which Schivelbusch, a German cultural historian, provides the best explanation of the Confederacy I've ever seen), and its oddly-unreviewed sequel Three New Deals. If these works have not convinced you that Communism is as American as apple pie, Charles Nordhoff's Communistic Societies of the United States is an amusing curio. Nicholson Baker's Human Smoke is not out yet, but I can't wait. Baker is somewhere to the left of Che Guevara, so there is no one better to start progressives on the long, ugly task of detaching themselves from the myth of the "good war." A similar, if quite flawed, effort is Michael Lind's What Lincoln Believed - of course, Lincoln was a politician, so no one has any idea what he believed, but Lind does fill us in on some of the things his audience believed. And for the reality of modern government, Richard Crossman's diaries, which were the inspiration for the BBC series "Yes, Minister," are unbeatable.

If nothing else, this little course will entitle you to sneer at Jonah Goldberg, a prospect that should please any progressive. Note, however, that you do not need to be a progressive to read and enjoy these books. (If readers have any other suggestions for material that is accessible to progressives while also enlightening them, please drop links in the comments.)

If you are a neoconservative, on the other hand, your principal problem is that you believe that history started in 1950. Well, okay, this is going slightly too far. You don't believe that history started in 1950. You believe that politics started in 1950. History before that time is either (a) a list of facts and figures, or (b) a struggle between good guys and bad guys (the Civil War, the American Revolution, etc). Either way, it is an abstraction to you. You may have some vague issues with the New Deal, but there is certainly no pre-1950 political movement with whose hopes and dreams you identify. (That would make you a paleoconservative.)

A good way to start moving this time horizon backward is to read books by conservatives of the '40s. I recommend John T. Flynn's As We Go Marching, Freda Utley's The China Story, and Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen's Diary of a Man in Despair. Each of these very different books contains truths not found under heaven and earth at National Review - at least not at present. The first two are online and the third is simply essential, especially if you have any interest in "Hitler studies." (Equally essential on the Hitler front is Victor Klemperer's Language of the Third Reich - which everyone should read, not just neocons.)

For more philosophical depth and extreme goring of holy oxen, I have previously recommended Bertrand de Jouvenel's On Power, Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn's Liberty or Equality, and James Burnham's rather hard to find The Machiavellians. An older work of this nature, still excellent and highly readable, is W.E.H. Lecky's Democracy and Liberty. Lecky's American Revolution is also an excellent way to rid the mind of parochial assumptions about this event.

Neoconservatives and progressives alike could also stand a good solid steeping in Austrian economics. While the economic analysis I've posted on UR is not precisely orthodox Austrianism, it is at most a minor variant on the creed. Pretty much everything there is to know about Austrian economics can be obtained by reading Rothbard's Man, Economy and State. Rothbard is a fine writer and much easier to follow for the modern reader, but I confess a weakness for Mises' original Theory of Money and Credit, the founding text of the 20C Austrians - and the first one I read.

The above are also good reading for libertarians, because they are not entirely in sync with the libertarian Whig instinct. The American tradition is, more or less, the Whig tradition. Yet no one could possibly be threatened by at least understanding the Tory tradition, since there are no Tories anywhere in the world today. Josiah Tucker's Treatise Concerning Civil Government is an invaluable, and wonderfully "period," counter to Locke. And Burke, of course, was a Whig, but he learned better - anyone of the anarcho-capitalist persuasion will be strengthened by grappling with his Reflections.

My fundamental disagreement with libertarians is ethical: libertarians see property rights (and human rights, which can be defined as property rights) as moral absolutes, whereas a formalist such as myself sees property as an instrumental means to the end of minimizing violence. Thus I am perfectly willing to concede that the US Government is the legitimate proprietor of the powers it exercises at present, regardless of the means by which it acquired these titles. To a libertarian, taxation is theft; to a formalist, taxation is rent.

Since we are in the domain of Humean oughts, this point cannot be argued. However, if you are a libertarian and you're considering sliding toward formalism, the basic mental process involves letting go of one's intense moral associations - bordering in many case on religion, which is no surprise, considering libertarianism's Roundhead roots - with specific policies that sovereign entities may or may not follow. If you replace these Cromwellian strictures with a more consciously subjective, even aesthetic, perspective on the art of government, you may just find that your new worldview has room for everything that was in the old.

One way to approach this sideways is to read Michael Hart's unusual Understanding Human History, which perhaps would be better titled "Understanding Human Prehistory" (it is certainly not very informative on the last 250 years). I mention this because to most libertarians, as to most anyone in the Whig tradition, the word "human" has what can only be described as theological connotations. A grasp of the actual biological realities behind the word can only lead the reader back to Toryism. I would not go so far as to identify Toryism with sanity, but it is definitely closer than Whiggery.

Perhaps you are a paleocon and you know all this stuff. The word "paleocon" essentially means that you are off the reservation. You pretend to swallow the pills, but you tuck them under your tongue and spit them out later. Your thoughts are your own, you agree with basically no one, and it is impossible to generalize or categorize you.

For paleocons, I have a special, hardcore, no-holds-barred course in British and American history. For the 18th century, read Rothbard's Conceived in Liberty (ultra-Whig), and Lecky's History of England in the Eighteenth Century (ultra-Tory, at least by today's standards). For the 19th, read Albert Beveridge's lives of John Marshall and Abraham Lincoln, and Edgar Lee Masters' Lincoln the Man. If this don't put hair on your chest, I don't know what will. If you finish all 17 volumes of the above - none of which, I guarantee, is boring - send me an email and I'll come up with something else.

Finally, for intrepid readers who are interested in doing their own evaluations of questionable sources, I have three fun projects.

The first is J.R.T. Wood's So Far and No Further, a history of relations between the UK and Rhodesia in the '50s and '60s, leading up to UDI. I have not read this book, and I'm curious as to whether it's any good. Rhodesia was often described as a piece of the 19th century that somehow fell into the 20th. Since we have no other way of knowing what the former would make of the latter, any such living fossil is invaluable - at least, to historians.

The second is one of the most peculiar books I've ever seen, written by one of the century's most peculiar writers - William James Sidis's The Tribes and the States. Sidis, whatever his IQ, was obviously a weirdo, and many of his perspectives are just that - weird. At the same time, Sidis delivers the only treatment of the Articles of Confederation period (ie, Washorg-1) that I've ever seen written from an uber-Jacobin, anti-Constitutional perspective. In what areas, if any, is Sidis reliable? Are there any more trustworthy sources on, for example, the subjugation of Rhode Island in 1790?

The third is a cute little paperback from 1963, issued by a publisher called "Western Islands," which seems to have been associated in some way, shape or form with (gasp) the John Birch Society. The author is Hilaire du Berrier, the book is Background to Betrayal, the subject is Vietnam. Du Berrier was a supporter of one of the least-beloved regimes in modern Vietnamese history, the postcolonial French puppet state of the Emperor Bao Dai. As such his critiques of Ngo Dinh Diem and his supporters in the American liberal establishment are quite unusual, sometimes oddly mirroring those of Diem's enemies to the left, and contradicting neocon revisionist work such as Mark Moyar's Triumph Forsaken. Amazon's current price on this book is 99 cents, which has to be a bargain for anything so unusual. Who is most reliable? Du Berrier, Moyar, or Halberstam, Sheehan & Co.? Or do they all have something to offer?

Finally, please feel free to use this thread to raise general objections or questions about past posts at UR, or issues you'd like to see discussed when we return. One of the first things I'll try to put together in April is a compendium of objections, but the easier this is, the better. Also, please feel free to email me - moldbug at gmail. A timely response is not guaranteed, as I expect my life to become quite busy quite soon. But I do try to answer everyone, and I'm almost impossible to irritate.

165 Comments:

Anonymous TGGP said...

I read your spat with Cochran, and I have to say he cleaned your clock again.

March 6, 2008 at 8:15 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Having mentioned Cromwell and the Roundheads in connection with libertarianism, it is surprising that you've left off your reading list one of my favorites - Clarendon's "History of the Rebellion," One cannot really understand how modern so-called democracy came to be without knowing something about the Nglish civil war. Locke, Montesquieu, etc., all follow from it. The tactics of a legislature opposed to an executive, which we can observe today in Washington, have not changed from the time of Pym.

Your reference to du Berrier's book and its strictures against the American liberal foreign policy establishment remind me of Russell Kirk's "A Creature of the Twilight: His Memorials," which paints a picture of that establishment's follies in a mythical African country during the Cold War era that rivals Waugh's japery at the British and French diplomatic services of an earlier date in "Black Mischief." Kirk (whom I knew) was prouder of his fiction than of his historical and political writing. Amazon currently lists 39 used copies beginning at $2.59.

March 6, 2008 at 10:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sure, Cochran always wins. He just dismisses any evidence that contradicts his position as being made up, declares anyone who contradicts him insane, and insults anyone who dares disagree with his genius. He has gone from regarding the war in Iraq as a mistake , certainly a defensible position, to being something of a Saddam apologist, which is absurd.

For some reason, Americans don't seem to simply be able to be against a war because its a bad idea, or none of our damned business. No, the enemy always has to be whitewashed in some way. First the Left declared Ho-Chi_Mihn to be Vietnam's George Washington, and now the Paleo-Right is giving Saddam the Uncle Ho treatment. For Lord's sake...

March 6, 2008 at 11:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read your spat with Cochran, and I have to say he cleaned your clock again.

Are you sure you clicked the right link?

March 6, 2008 at 11:49 AM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Human Smoke is out, I saw it in a bookstore yesterday (and thought of you). If Baker is a flaming leftist it's escaped me, and I've read most of his earlier works. He also has a fun piece on Wikipedia in the NYRB, here.

March 6, 2008 at 12:14 PM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

Thank you!

March 6, 2008 at 12:15 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Cochran and Mencius are in different worlds.

Cochran cites numerous Defense and CIA reports to make a point.

Mencius denounces each source as agenda driven and untrustworthy. He then says that it's obvious from general historical knowledge and readings about Iraq that Saddam supported terrorism, and thus the burden of proof is completely on Cochran.

Mencius may be right, but since 99% of the world thinks like Cochran, the burden of proof is really on Mencius. That might be unfair, but that's the way it is.

This would be a great place for UberFact. We could dig down deeper and figure out if the reports Cochran cites are as tainted as Mencius believes. There is no way for an outsider to determine the winner of their argument without far more knowledge.

March 6, 2008 at 12:23 PM  
Blogger Leonard said...

I gotta second tggp on this one, although Cochran was crazy to get into debating unimportant details. Moldbug was correct, I think, in the assertion that there were many possible casus belli -- at least, from his own perspective. Hey, Saddam looked at me funny! Certainly I think it is dumb to get in a debate over the "justifications" for war with a man who serenely contemplates near-genocidal tactics of popular control. Here's a clue: people who seriously contemplate violence on the scale Moldbug is advocating do not need casus belli.

But Moldbug is wrong on a number of points, many of which revolve around one's understanding of human nature.

So, the reason why colonialism no longer works? Bandwidth. Important for creation nationalism amongst the potential victims, yes. But also between us and them. We simply do not look tolerably upon images of bomb-spattered children, their mothers screaming and damning the USA. Our moral sentiments do not allow it. This is human nature, and Moldbug seems to be oblivious to it. Aspergers? I don't know.

Or, the nature of jihadis. Are they drawn by greed and glory? Some surely... but also, dislike of the invaders, who they consider as being on their turf. Turf! Territory! Another important aspect of human nature. There's a lot of men that just don't excited over hurting people who are not bothering them, but do get excited when people "invade" what they think of as "theirs". This, more than anything else, explains why the jihad is over there, and not here.

Or, the idea that the state department runs the world. Ha!

March 6, 2008 at 12:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The real problem with Cochran is that, for every document or report or fact that he cites in support of his position, there is a document or report or fact that contradicts it, and Cochran simply dismisses any evidence that contradicts his position as fabricated, or untrustworthy. Cochran may be right in his position, but he never really get beyond a sort of "he said, she said" style of argument, and I'm sorry, calling anyone who disagrees with you insane is not an effective argumentation strategy.

Cochran is saying that State is telling the truth, and that DoD is lying. Mencius is saying that they both are lying, and we must seek the truth from other sources, and the logic of events. Somehow, given what I know about human beings, I find Mencius more believable...

(By the way, the argument as to whether Saddam was 'suppoting terrorism" is no argument at all; he was. He proudly admitted giving rewards to the families of suicide bombers who struck Israel. The question is whether he was supporting terrorism against the U.S. I don't know, of course, but Cochran's contention that Salman Pak was only for counterterrorist training is laughable. It was certainly aimed against Israel, at the very least.)

March 6, 2008 at 12:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"We simply do not look tolerably upon images of bomb-spattered children,.... Our moral sentiments do not allow it. This is human nature"

That's funny, the Pals don't seem to mind looking at pictures of bomb-splattered Israeli children, and as I recall, there were celebrations of same on 9/11. Not to condemn the Pals so very much - they are much more typical of "human nature" that your elevated picture of it. The humanitarian sentiments you speak of are very largely confined to certain segments of Western opinion, and are not part of "human nature" at all. If you want to maintain that this makes the West superior, I'd agree - but it sure isn't the result of some innate "human nature".

March 6, 2008 at 1:06 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

the Pals don't seem to mind looking at pictures of bomb-splattered Israeli children...
The Israelis have splattered a comparable number of Palestinian children. Whether one side expresses more moral qualms than the other is something of a secondary issue. Probably there is more of that on the Israeli side, but they have an advanced economy that can support such luxury goods.

In any case, what does this have to do with our colonial adventures in Iraq? Israelis and Palestinians view themselves in an existential struggle for their homelands. They are basically trapped with each other and can't avoid conflict. Colonial wars are, by definition, not that, and are strictly optional.

March 6, 2008 at 1:40 PM  
Anonymous m said...

Mtraven: please read through this before pulling the ol' moral equivalence routine:

http://www.jihadwatch.com/islam101/

Thanks.

March 6, 2008 at 1:57 PM  
Blogger icr said...

I don't know, of course, but Cochran's contention that Salman Pak was only for counterterrorist training is laughable. It was certainly aimed against Israel, at the very least.)

This was Cochran's "bridge too far". Why he even bothered arguing this point is hard to figure. No evidence that Saddam was supporting terrorism against the US (disregarding the alleged assasination attempt against GHWB)so no good reason for the invasion.

March 6, 2008 at 1:59 PM  
Blogger tc said...

Cochran certainly comes off as a rude asshole in these exchanges, and I can see why this go-around isn't convincing to others. But the fact remains that his predictions came true, in detail, and anyone who can do that is worth paying attention to.

As for Saddam's terrorist ties (in my view, anti-US terrorism is the only reason worth going to war over), the Bush assassination attempt, etc. Those were certainly arguable before the invasion. But after? Saddam and whatever fear he inspired is gone, now it is the US that can go anywhere, inspect anything, has the power of life and death.... Remember the Deck of Cards - how many of those have been captured - including Mukhabarat officers, supposed WMD designers, etc. Now is the time for the beans to be spilled, for the truth to come out. If we haven't heard anything, that tells me that there was nothing to find in the first place.

March 6, 2008 at 2:01 PM  
Blogger Leonard said...

anon: I suppose I should have been more clear, in that normal people don't give a shit about their perceived enemies. "Real" enemies, I mean here: not titular "enemies" defined by some distant committe, but by the feelings in their hearts.

The Israelis and Palestinians are actual existential enemies, and thus can be expected to have dulled or reversed moral sentiments about each other, to the extent which they actually feel the "enemy" relationship. Almost all Palestinians seem to feel it; most but not all Israelis do.

There must have been (maybe still be) an evolutionary advantage to this ability to suspend or reverse moral sentiment. Presumably, when it comes time for one tribe to wipe out its neighbor, hate was or is fitness-increasing, whereas it is not most of the rest of the time.

But we are not enemies with the Iraqi people. At least not the vast majority of us. I think some of the Republican dead-enders do feel them as enemies, and are thus enraged at the rest of us when we express the "wrong" moral sentiments about it. A dead enemy, even a so-called "innocent" child of 3, should be a cause for happiness! But in any case it is quite clear that Moldbug is not of this type: he views Iraqis as dispassionately as anyone else, and is probably even moved by their suffering, if he cares to look. (Actually I would be quite curious to know what his sentimental take is on some of the more horrific pictures and videos to come out of Iraq: does he feel anything at all?)

March 6, 2008 at 2:36 PM  
Blogger Leonard said...

Hmm, forgot to add this: I see no evidence that "the humanitarian sentiments you speak of are very largely confined to certain segments of Western opinion, and are not part of 'human nature' at all." I suppose you might have some evidence that, say, Australian Aboriginals feel nothing for the suffering of strangers. I don't know. But I think I do know Americans, and by extension, I think, most Western-derived cultures. They do care, almost all of them, save psychopaths.

And since the West is pretty much what matters in the world, that's good enough for our purposes.

Incidentally, as Hawks, etc. (including Cochran) recently published, we are evolving rapidly. Among other aspects, it seems to me likely that we have actually evolved in terms of becoming more domestic. So this may be another answer to Moldbug's conundrum about why we no longer colonize and oppress foreigners: we just can't get people to do it right, that is, without caring about them. (Of course, I am sure a minority could still be found to do things right, at least the 2% or so of men who are psychopathic. But this would require intentional recruitment for the unfeeling.)

March 6, 2008 at 2:50 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Mencius,

Here is one dispute I have after recently coming across your blog and reading the archives. I'd love to see you address it, since I couldn't find you talk about it anywhere:

Washington does not tax at the peak of the Laffer curve. Maybe in terms of income tax it does, but there are other taxes available.

A wealth maximixing Fnargl would institute a head tax, preventing people from working less and trading less consumption for more leisure. Taxes under Fargnl would be very regressive, to maximize the hours people worked. The tax rate would be based on childhood IQ tests, thus incenting everyone to work to their maximum potential.

Fnargl might also create a system of "annoyances" - such as air pollution or noise pollution. Rather than earning excess income to buy luxuries, people earn income to buy their way out of annoyances. Fnargl thus captures every part of your income that's not devoted to sustenance, without creating any disincentives to work.


Why is this important? Well, if Washington isn't taxing to the Laffer curve then our votes must be having some effect in restraining its power. An all powerful, neocarmelist corporation would use the tactics above. An all powerful democracy would not. So at least democracy has some benefit.

( Note: if the corporation has plenty of competition, then it may govern more justly than a democracy. But this might not be sustainable, since military power might naturally lead towards creating a monopoly )

March 6, 2008 at 2:51 PM  
Blogger Ashen Man said...

Well, Mr. Moldbug, you will be missed. I will be quite envious if you are escaping the Bay Area for all that time. In case you are, and you get homesick, here's the best description ever. I wish I'd written it.

At San Francisco social functions, I cannot, of course, express my real opinions or the true derision with which I regard their proprieties, so I end up compromising, and sounding like a neo-con - the only type of conservative, after all, that one can have to dinner. Even moderate, centrist political opinions are shocking to their neo-Calvinist delicacy. However, that is the approach I find preferable to ketman.

I have a developing sympathy for the Tory position, too, but it is conflicting with the fact that I am, eh... from Ireland. It is a little difficult for me to glorify the British Empire. Genocide by laissez-faire, and all that. And no doubt all the other postcolonials feel much the same way, with some justification. Any suggestions?

The Tories were Anglicans, too, and even if they were Anglo-Catholics, there's a nasty strain of Calvinism in there, not to mention nationalism. If the most obvious root of the cancer eating the West up from within is the Calvinist-Zwinglian reformation, the West that is being defended by reactionaries must be identified with Catholicism. Would you?

On the other hand, Christianity itself was subversive of the Roman order. The reactionary's headache - how far back must we go?

March 6, 2008 at 2:53 PM  
Blogger Ashen Man said...

And to join in the Iraq-related squabbling, and give my inner neo-con a little more table time, here's a prediction to get some knickers in a twist.

President George W. Bush will be remembered by history for:

1) Destroying a brutal, fascistic, sadistic regime in the middle East and converting that vast country to constitutional democracy. (But daddy, why did people call him a fascist? No one knows, son, it must have been something in the water.)

2) His vast concern for the well-being of Africans afflicted by various epidemics; having done more for them than any other American president.

3) Being the first president ever to conjoin the words 'Palestinian' and 'state'.

4) The inexplicable derangement of his opponents, which will go down in history as one of the great examples of mass hysteria.

At least if we have anything to do with who writes the history books.

March 6, 2008 at 3:08 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

One more dispute I'd love to see addressed ( this is it ... for now)

Democratic-Nationalism can be seen not as the cause of war, but of a tool of war. The reason Democratic-Nationalism became dominant, was not because it won a battle of ideas, but because Napolean discovered a way to use it to conquer Europe. Later, Lincoln figured out how to use it to win the Civil War.

Creating a cult of state and mobilizing the entire nation will beat a mercenary army every time. Naturally, the scattered principalities of Europe decided to band together into nations for security reasons. ( Democratic-Nationalism is a particularly pernicious tool of war, because it has a feedback loop that encourages its own use - kind of like the One Ring ).

If Democratic-Nationalism is still the dominant military structure today, then your formalism plan is doomed, because it will be militarily so much weaker than its enemies. The only way it could surives is if we've had an end-of-history moment where major wars no longer get fought ( perhaps birth control in the developed world has depleted the supply of expendable soldiers ). If that's the case, then why all the argument against democracy as the cause of war?

If Democratic-Nationalism is no longer the dominant military structure, ( perhaps TechnoCorporatism and drone armies will replace it ), then the situation is more interesting. In this case, there is no point in redistributing shares in SovCorp according to the existing power structure, because that power structure is about to dramatically change. As soon as TechnoCorporation is strong enough, it will overthrow the old regime, just as Caesar, Napolean, and Lincoln did in response to new dominant military structures in their own time periods.

The place to watch for this is India, where corporate run special economic zones are fast becoming the norm. The other country to watch is Mexico. If they ever get smart, they'll start a low-tax, regulation free, corporate run SEZ in northern Baja California. If they played it right, they could get a lot of the high tech economic power from the United States to defect.

March 6, 2008 at 3:22 PM  
Blogger Zimri said...

ashen: "Genocide by laissez-faire"? If you are referring to the potato famine, that was exacerbated by Corn Laws in Britain which were the polar opposite of laissez-faire. We are agreed, though, that the Corn Laws were a Tory thing. (The Liberals in the 1800s were all for repeal.)

leonard: I would define the "Republican dead-enders" as the batch of Republicans who are using Iraq as an organising principle. That encompasses George W Bush, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney. The Republican Party is, in short, the party of The Surge. As such they don't view the Iraqi people as existential enemies. Such people can be found; most argue that no Muslims or Arabs should be permitted to emigrate here, and a few others (although no-one of prominence) comment in various blogs that various holy sites ought to be "nuked". But those guys aren't Republicans in good standing with Bush, McCain et al.

March 6, 2008 at 3:36 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

There is something to leonard's point about why colonialism, or indeed the conduct of foreign policy based purely on national interest, no longer work. It has to do with the nature of communication and the lack of control over it on the part of government in relatively free societies.

We see the rise of domestic opposition to unsentimental and self-interested foreign policy in the nineteenth century in concomitant pace with the rise of independent journalism. In the time of Nelson it was easily possible for the government of Britain to form an alliance with the Bourbon kingdom of the Two Sicilies, on the simple grounds that it was an enemy of Bonaparte just as Britain was. By the time of Gladstone, this alliance was no more, and the British public were aghast at the reported despotism of "king Bomba." Gladstone is the intellectual ancestor of all the high-minded critics of realistic foreign policy. Jimmy Carter's abandonment of the shah of Iran, which allowed the ayatollahs to come to power, is a lineal descendant of Gladstonism.

So, as well, was much of the anabasis from the British and French colonial empires. Signs of this weakness were already apparent by the end of World War i; one need only compare the treatment of Brig. Gen. Reginald Dyer, R.A., who was reviled for doing in Amritsar in 1919 no more than what won Roberts a baronetcy after Kandarhar in 1880. After World War II, it had become dominant. Massu might have saved Algeria for France, but for the French press's appeal to the squeamishness of the French electorate about his methods. The Special Branch of the Keny Police might successfully have put down the Mau Mau uprising, but for the British press's appeal to the squeamishness of the British electorate.

The tactics to which objection was made are, whatever one may think of them, necessary to the rule of those who have not given their consent to be governed. The West's sad predicament is that it primly refuses to do what others are more than willing to do, and to exceed. Can anyone really say that Kenya is better off today than it was under British rule, or that Algeria is better off today than it was under the French?

Putting aside the vexed question of whether colonialism pays its own costs, the only benefit of laying down "the white man's burden" has been that the white man can congratulate himself for his moral superiority in having done it.

March 6, 2008 at 3:38 PM  
Blogger Ashen Man said...

zimri: It was a widely used excuse. After centuries of inexcusable interventions, laissez-faire suddenly became imperative when the pesky Catholics started dying by the tens of thousands.

March 6, 2008 at 3:50 PM  
Anonymous nick said...

Here's a nice cartoon depicting MM's ideal corporate city-state. Good luck with your urgent tasks, and I look forward to your return.

March 6, 2008 at 6:36 PM  
Blogger Aaron Davies said...

@ashen man:

afaik from my (admittedly severely limited) reading, most of what was worth defending in catholicism (the focus on aristotle and aquinas that developed during (and ultimately ended) the late middle ages) was deliberately killed off during the counter-reformation in a desperate attempt to outdo the protestants in returning to plato and augustine. (which leaves us with the jesuits? hmm....)

March 6, 2008 at 8:00 PM  
Blogger Ashen Man said...

aaron: Most of this blog is concerned with the progressive, utopian ideologies derived from Calvinism, which was a revolt against Catholic traditionalism. I was trying to get at a few things with that comment, one of them the fact that what we call modernity, or liberalism or whatever, is nothing other than anti-Catholicism, a revolt against and flight from the medieval social order. Every 'progressive' movement since then, from the reformation & renaissance to the enlightenment/French revolution, to communism, to all the absurd ideologies of the 20th century, has had as its aim the destruction of any remnants of that order.

The Aquinas/Gothic-cathedral phase was certainly the peak of the unique character of Catholic civilization (though sadly a peak is followed by a decline). That social order forms the very template of Western civilization, and the conservatives/right-wing have always been trying desperately to preserve its remnants while the raging, barbaric reformers and revolutionaries tore it down all around them. Which is why anti-Catholicism is one of the few forms of bigotry that can be overtly expressed in polite, liberal company (along with disdain for all conservative Christians); we must not condemn the brutal horrors of Islam or point out the inordinate influence of the Jews, but everyone loves a laugh about those evil pedophile priests and their vile, ridiculous religion. Ahahaha. How clever!

Which is also why I, an unbeliever, feel compelled to rush to its defense. I can't stand hearing Westerners spit on the foundations of the civilization that's given them their unique freedoms and privileges. And also, I'll take any stick to beat the smarmy moderns with.

The other point I was getting at follows from that - conservatives and reactionaries, counter-reformers and counter-revolutionaries, have found themselves, for 500 years, in the unenviable position of doing what William F. Buckley, Jr. (Requiescat In Pace) called 'standing athwart history yelling "Stop!"' Neo-cons want to go back to the 50s, or the 80s, or make time stand still as soon as we've spread our current system over the whole world. Paleocons want to go back to before the New Deal; neo-Confederates... well, you get the idea. All conservatives have their Golden age, all largely chimerical substitutes for the High Middle Ages from which we get all our ideas about what the world should really be like. Or is it, in fact from some older source? How far back must we look, how deep must we go to root out the rot?

Yelling 'Stop!' for 500 years while history persists in its course of degeneration strikes me as a particularly absurd position to be in, but what, for someone who cares about our civilization, is the alternative? I suppose this blog is one attempt to find an answer; I have yet to find one that satisfies me.

March 6, 2008 at 9:42 PM  
Anonymous Matt said...

Objection #1: you misunderstand Hume's view of oughts. You certainly can argue about them because of a constancy in human nature. They're a matter of taste, we just all happen to have the same taste, at least according to Hume. You should get around to reading
at least book 3 of the Treatise, but I've told you that before. And to repeat something else, Hume is a formalist. He's just conservative enough to be not so keen about throwing away a society that works better than most in history. Hayek might be too, but I've never read him, only hearsay.

March 6, 2008 at 10:50 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

All conservatives have their Golden age, all largely chimerical substitutes for the High Middle Ages from which we get all our ideas about what the world should really be like. Or is it, in fact from some older source? How far back must we look, how deep must we go to root out the rot?
I think it's been downhill since the invention of agriculture. Back to the neolithic, I say!

March 6, 2008 at 10:59 PM  
Blogger Ashen Man said...

mtraven: Eh, that would be the paleolithic, no? Neolithic = the stone age after the agricultural revolution. And dammit, you beat me to it with the Zerzan link!

But Zerzan, in fact, is not what you get if you take my type of thinking to its logical conclusion. It is, in fact, what you get if you take all the idols of the left, all the destroyers of Western civ - Marx & Engels (primitive communism), Rousseau (noble savage), Freud (civilization and its discontents), Boas (cultural relativism), Frankfurt School (critical theory of society), to their logical conclusions. Which are: civilization, or as Marx liked to call it, class society, is eeevil - hierarchical, patriarchal, repressive etc. - and should obviously be destroyed. It's no coincidence that these people and their followers are Zerzan's main sources. He's particularly fond of romantic Boasian anthroplogists - not so much of Joseph de Maistre.

I, on the other hand, am proud of how we've risen up from our lowly origins. I like civilization. I want to defend it, and I want to identify and root out the rot that destroys it.

March 6, 2008 at 11:26 PM  
Blogger icr said...

The Special Branch of the Keny Police might successfully have put down the Mau Mau uprising, but for the British press's appeal to the squeamishness of the British electorate.

The Mau Mau revolt was completely kaput by the end of 1956. The Brits and their black allies were pretty ruthless. Lots of hangings, for example. But those "winds of change" were blowing and Kenya was given independence a few years later. The victory against the Mau Mau was total, but the zeitgeist was too powerful.

March 7, 2008 at 6:40 AM  
Anonymous Lugo said...

I read your spat with Cochran, and I have to say he cleaned your clock again.

Nah.

Sure, Cochran always wins. He just dismisses any evidence that contradicts his position as being made up, declares anyone who contradicts him insane, and insults anyone who dares disagree with his genius.

Yup.

This was Cochran's "bridge too far". Why he even bothered arguing this point is hard to figure. No evidence that Saddam was supporting terrorism against the US (disregarding the alleged assasination attempt against GHWB) so no good reason for the invasion.

Even if he did, is that a good reason for war and occupation? We have much better evidence that Iran has repeatedly conducted terrorist operations against us, and we aren't occupying them. When Libya used terrorists against us, we didn't occupy them. If Saddam had used terrorists against us, the proper response would likely be something like El Dorado Canyon - spank him from the air and go away - not prolonged, expensive occupation.

"Terrorism" is a fine casus belli if you have a good reason to occupy the country anyway (and plan to do it competently). As a stand-alone casus belli, it sucks.

Now is the time for the beans to be spilled, for the truth to come out. If we haven't heard anything, that tells me that there was nothing to find in the first place.

Disagree. For one thing, there are a lot of captured records that still haven't been translated.

March 7, 2008 at 6:53 AM  
Blogger mtraven said...

ashen man: You are right, I meant paleolithic. The rot had already set in by the neolithic.

Your understanding of the left is pathetic. The Soviets practically made cathedrals out of factories, and while the New Left had a strain of back-to-the-land romanticism to it, those hippies were going to bring solar panels and computers to the commune. The left in general critiques civilization with a view to improving it, not destroying it. I don't see how anyone who pines for the Middle Ages can critique the romanticism of others. It's just a different form the same pathetic mental trope of looking backwards rather than forwards.
Earlier you said: The Aquinas/Gothic-cathedral phase was certainly the peak of the unique character of Catholic civilization (though sadly a peak is followed by a decline). That social order forms the very template of Western civilization...
Feh. Western civilization, for what it's worth, was invented by the Greeks and the Jews, with the Romans supplying the organizational and military framework. The Catholic Church managed to combine these elements into a static form that retarded all human progress for a millenium until the Reformation managed to crack through the encrusted carapace.

But, they did build some nice cathedrals.

March 7, 2008 at 8:43 AM  
Blogger Ashen Man said...

mtraven:

You are right, I meant paleolithic. The rot had already set in by the neolithic.

I point out your ignorance, and you try to cover it up with sarcasm. Nice.

Your understanding of the left is pathetic.

Because...

The Soviets practically made cathedrals out of factories

That's why my understanding of the left is pathetic?

I hope you're kidding, anyway. Got any pictures? Because a google search for 'beautiful soviet factory' has surprisingly sparse results. And it's funny that you still use 'cathedral' as a synonym for beautiful building, and the model which the commies were 'practically' able to imitate. Supposedly.

those hippies were going to bring solar panels and computers to the commune

Parasites. Who was going to make their goddamned solar panels? Like the rest of the left, they want the fruits of western civ while whining like spoilt brats about its strictures.

Sure, most of the left likes to pretend they're just attacking the 'bad' bits of civilization in order to improve it, but primitivists like Zerzan are the only consistent critics, the ones who see that you can't get rid of class, hierarchy, gender differences, and all the rest, without getting rid of civilization itself.

And as for the romanticism: I can't romanticize one thing and criticize somebody else for doing it to something else? Really? They're equivalent regardless of their content?

Mud huts, soviet factories, and gothic cathedrals - it's all the same, right? It's all relative, man.

I specifically criticized cultural anthropology's romanticization of primitive peoples, whom it has, following Marx, Rousseau, etc., painted as exemplars of the ideals of the left: pacifist, egalitarian, sexually 'liberated,' etc. Often by total fabrication of evidence, as in the case of Margaret Mead.

I don't think I ever romanticized the Middle Ages, either. I certainly don't lie in bed pining for it. I quite enjoy my life in the present, actually. I just pointed out that that period contains the template for everything that five hundred years of progressivism has been trying to destroy.

In fact, as this blog has pointed out, the left's understanding of its own history is truly pathetic.

It's just a different form the same pathetic mental trope of looking backwards rather than forwards.

There's that word again. I suppose you think anyone is pathetic who doesn't agree with the version of history you learned from your liberal grade school teacher.

And what are you looking forward to, as a progressive? The worker's paradise? Why is forward better than backward? Is Thursday better than Wednesday? What nonsense.

And why wouldn't we look to the past when we see the greatest civilization ever to grace the earth self-destructing? When we have just emerged from the most brutal of all centuries, in which progressive humanitarians slaughtered over 100 million people?

I'll probably respond to your erudition regarding the roots of Western civilization ('for what it's worth' - thanks for proving my point) later. Right now, I'm off to buy some tacos from illegal immigrants. Gotta love that diversity!

March 7, 2008 at 12:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

mtraven @ 8:43-
We've heard it all before: Gen. Petraeus is just like some black criminal, factories are like cathederals, Warren Buffett=rapist, ad nauseum. Interesting to note that the left likes to "critique" civilization. I guess destroying churches, and murdering millions of people is "critiquing." Who knew? Noam Chomsky "critiques" civilization as well, but has a nice stock portfolio. Truth to power indeed. That is a great way top describe leftism today - marching for whatever the cause du jour is and then checking to see how their stocks did when the markets close. All the whle pocketing a nice paycheck from the pigs as they occupy cozy sinecures.
Thanks for the sequel, but we know how the movie ends.

March 7, 2008 at 1:00 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Ashen Man: I have enjoyed watching your exchange with Mtraven, for once, rather than participating in one myself. As for him, the old maxim comes to mind: "Was helffen Fäckeln, Lichter, oder Brilln/ Wann die Leute nicht sehen wölln?" - and also, "quis tuleris Gracchos de seditione querentes?"

We can look backward only for examples, because we are not clairvoyant. The lesson of history is that great civilisations have arisen before us, and they have fallen. To suppose that we, today, are at the pinnacle of human achievement is both vainglorious and hubristic.

Mtraven's use of the term 'cathedral' to describe Soviet factories, as you observe, is an unconscious expression of a nostalgia he would not consciously admit. So are such usages as "noble," "chivalrous," or "generous" to describe admirable traits of human character. Probably without being conscious of it, those who use such terms are referring to the characteristics expected of aristocrats, knights, and gentry. Does any other social class supply us with descriptions that are implicitly praiseworthy? To describe someone as "businesslike" is a tepid compliment, "bourgeois" pejorative. Unless one is a diehard commie, so is "proletarian." And "bureaucratic" is anything but flattering. Even those who profess not to look backward, do. Their problem is, how can there be nobility without noblemen, chivalry without cavaliers, or gentility without gentlemen? It is as impossible as is the left-wing dream of a prosperous society in which there are no rich men.

March 7, 2008 at 1:04 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Got any pictures? Because a google search for 'beautiful soviet factory' has surprisingly sparse results.

Sorry, I expressed that thought poorly. All I meant is that the Soviets made a fetish out of industrialization. They were not interested in going back to any sort of primitive stage of existence. Soviet factories were not particularly beautiful, although some of their propaganda posters have artistic merit.

Sure, most of the left likes to pretend they're just attacking the 'bad' bits of civilization in order to improve it, but primitivists like Zerzan are the only consistent critics, the ones who see that you can't get rid of class, hierarchy, gender differences, and all the rest, without getting rid of civilization itself.
Um, why? I suppose there is a case to be made that some form of hierarchy is necessary to run a complex society, but gender differences? Not that progressives actually want to eliminate those. We rather enjoy them.

And as for the romanticism: I can't romanticize one thing and criticize somebody else for doing it to something else? Really? They're equivalent regardless of their content?
I suppose you can, but all forms of romanticism seem to me to suffer from the same flaw, namely a highly selective memory.

And what are you looking forward to, as a progressive? The worker's paradise? Why is forward better than backward? Is Thursday better than Wednesday? What nonsense.

You can put words in my mouth and call it nonsense if you want, but it doesn't prove much.

Sadly, the laws of physics dictate that time runs in only one direction, so we will be living in the future whether we want to or not.

And why wouldn't we look to the past when we see the greatest civilization ever to grace the earth self-destructing? When we have just emerged from the most brutal of all centuries, in which progressive humanitarians slaughtered over 100 million people?

Please. Mencius can almost get away with that kind of nonsense; when lesser minds like you or Jonah Goldberg try it the result is (there's that word again) pathetic.

March 7, 2008 at 1:56 PM  
Blogger AMcGuinn said...

Like Patrick, I would like to see some of the murky areas of the current government policy-making clarified. The Laffer maximum question would seem to rest on who is actually enjoying the benefit of taxation. I have attempted to sort the question out in my way on Anomaly

March 7, 2008 at 2:45 PM  
Blogger Ashen Man said...

mtraven:

Apology accepted.

I never said leftists in general rejected technology. Like your absurd hippies with their solar panels and PCs, it's one of those fruits of civilization they'd like to take without having to bother with all that dreary social order, class structure, etc.

Why does civilization require those things? Just give me one contrary historical example. Of course, there's always the possibility that socialism will override human nature and create a prosperous, egalitarian, sexually liberated utopia. That worked out really well in the 20th century.

And are you telling me progressives don't believe in a) progress, and b) the destruction of traditional gender roles?

You can put words in my mouth and call it nonsense if you want, but it doesn't prove much.

You said that looking backwards rather than forwards was pathetic, so don't accuse me of putting words in your mouth. By 'looking' did you mean 'romanticizing,' or 'thinking about'? That is, did you mean we should romanticize the future, not the past, or that we should only think about the future, not the past?

And you still didn't answer my question about what it is that you are looking forward to. But of course, progressives don't have to contribute anything positive, just 'critique.'

Please. Mencius can almost get away with that kind of nonsense; when lesser minds like you or Jonah Goldberg try it the result is (there's that word again) pathetic.

You really do fall back on that word when you don't have an argument, don't you? That, and ad hominem.

You don't have an argument because there is no argument that excuses your adherence to ideologies that have had such consequences.

I live in San Francisco. I don't have to go on the net to meet people who think they're demonstrating intelligence by reciting what their schools and the mainstream media have been beaming into their heads all their lives, and honestly believe that anyone who disagrees is stupid and/or evil. You want to impugn my intelligence? Tell me next time you have an original thought.

Bored now. Does anyone want to take over?

March 7, 2008 at 2:53 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

I never said leftists in general rejected technology.

You said:
But Zerzan ...is in fact, what you get if you take all the idols of the left, all the destroyers of Western civ - Marx & Engels (primitive communism), Rousseau (noble savage), Freud (civilization and its discontents), Boas (cultural relativism), Frankfurt School (critical theory of society), to their logical conclusions.

So what hairs are you splitting now?

Freud (or Marx, for that matter) would be rather surprised to find that the "logical conclusion" of his work was a hunter-gatherer society. One would suspect you haven't read any more of Freud than his title. He'd probably find himself surprised to be lumped with progressives, and it's not clear the progressives would want him, since they generally prefer a rosier view of human nature than Freud had to offer.

Like your absurd hippies with their solar panels and PCs, it's one of those fruits of civilization they'd like to take without having to bother with all that dreary social order, class structure, etc.

The absurd hippies are now running big corporations like Google and Apple, and starting VC funds to promote green technology. Seriously, if you live in San Francisco you should know that the hippie culture and the computer culture grew up with each other. Stewart Brand, the one figure who most embodied this connection, went from hippie entrepeneur to consultant to global corporations without hardly batting an eye.

Why does civilization require those things? Just give me one contrary historical example.

We don't know what civilization requires. Up until a few hundred years ago, it was thought to require hereditary rulers, but that seems not to be the case (I realize more than a few people here would disagree). Up until 100 years ago, it was thought to require that women confine themselves to domestic roles, but that also seems not to be the case.

Of course, there's always the possibility that socialism will override human nature and create a prosperous, egalitarian, sexually liberated utopia. That worked out really well in the 20th century.
Works out pretty well in, say, Sweden.

And are you telling me progressives don't believe in a) progress, and b) the destruction of traditional gender roles?
Progressives, wooly-minded types that they are, do believe in progress, and in liberating people from confining gender roles. The gender roles don't get destroyed, they are still there for people to take on if that's what they want. And (to fold the progress back in) we'll even invent some new ones!

And you still didn't answer my question about what it is that you are looking forward to.
Dinner? Dictatorship of the hippietariat? Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdome? Who knows? I don't get paid to forecast the future.

You really do fall back on that word when you don't have an argument, don't you? That, and ad hominem.
Um, what sort of argument is there to present against the assertion that progressive humanists murdered 100s of millions of people? It's moronic on its face (that's the next stage beyond pathetic).

I live in San Francisco.
I guess you, like Mencius, do not find your hatred of leftists so overpowering that you feel a need to go move to a more congenial place like Dallas or Wichita or Salt Lake City. I can't imagine why.

March 7, 2008 at 4:20 PM  
Anonymous nick said...

ashen man: have found themselves, for 500 years, in the unenviable position of doing what William F. Buckley, Jr. (Requiescat In Pace) called 'standing athwart history yelling "Stop!"

We have to do much more than that. Far more has already been lost than remains. Conservatives who merely yell "stop!" are merely trying to save the last bizarre experiment from being overtaken by the next bizarre experiment. It is thus now far more productive to actively revive the lost institutions. It could even be spun as being progressive, because those who have forgotten the past will think we are inventing something new. For example in the area of politics and law, political property rights, family and merchant laws independent of state, and a number of other concrete revivals are needed to rectify the damage modern sovereign states have done to political freedoms, security, family, and the economy. We must end sovereignty, which more than anything else destroyed the efficacy of medieval religion and paved the way for modern socialism and tyranny.

And forget the romantic nonsense perpetrated by Burke about how tradition is all about empty titles and ceremony. Burke was an active destroyer of old institutions who, upon seeing the results of a more rapid such change in France, waxed nostalgic with content-free handwaving about the beauty of the ceremonies of the institutions he and his Whig fellows and their greedy ideas of parliamentary sovereignty had just destroyed in all but form. It is real concrete institutions and legal infrastructures that need to be revived, not mere ceremony. Britain still has elaborate royal ceremony Burke celebrated, but that didn't stop Parliament from usurping royal power (as well as franchise and colonial power) and, eventually and inevitably, taking the country socialist. Socialism is the end point of sovereignty. To destroy socialism we must destroy sovereignty.

March 7, 2008 at 4:30 PM  
Blogger Ashen Man said...

anonymous: That was nice and succinct. You really should use a nickname; you deserve some virtual recognition.

Michael S.: As I said to the fellow who was making my tacos, 'Speak American, willya?' I am also fluent in Hiberno-English.

Turns out when mtraven said 'cathedral' he didn't mean 'beautiful building,' but rather 'building used for a purpose regarded with great reverence.' Oh, well.

And yes, I think people need a monarch & nobility to look up to for examples of higher culture; instead we have morally degenerate and intellectually bankrupt 'brahmins.' Like every society we still have a ruling class, but our egalitarian ideology prevents us from having one that actually fulfills its function.

March 7, 2008 at 5:03 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Nick, I agree with you. We need to be restorative, not preservative, conservatives! A good conservative is not one who wishes to hang onto the 'status quo,' nor even to revert to the status quo ante, but rather who wants to conserve those institutions (social, cultural, legal and economic) that reflect the best in human nature. He recognizes the fragility and preciousness of civilisation, and is aware how easily it may be lost.

Mtraven, the reason that socialism worked out at all in Sweden (to say it "worked out well" in view of its present high unemployment, rampant illegitimacy, etc., is excessive) is that at least until recently, Sweden had a population that was ethnically, linguistically, and culturally highly homogeneous. Watch how it, Denmark, Holland, etc., deal with the ethnically alien elements they have recently taken in. Social democracy in Europe bids well to be a method of cultural suicide. Already it is being predicted that ethnic Germans and Italians will be minorities in their own countries within two or three decades. And when there are too few productive, industrious people to pay the taxes to support the welfare state, where will those that are left be? Look at some of our devastated cities in this country for a previoew. Gary, Indiana, for example.

There is a good probability that the blurring and softening of gender roles will bring about some unintended consequences. Intelligent and educated urbanites tend to reproduce at a lower rate than do the urban lumpenproletariat. This is in good part a product of upper- and middle-class women entering the workforce and either deferring or bypassing procreation. In the mean time, the lumpenproletariat continue to farrow huge litters. The overall effect is dysgenic.

On the bright side, outside the cities, the upper- and middle classes tend both to be fecund and conservative. Apart from the lumpenproles, left-wing voters don't reproduce. Mr. Percy Dovetonsils and Ms. Tribadia Bickerdyke aren't going to help San Francisco's population. Neither are heterosexual women who regard abortion as a means of dealing with an inconvenient interruption in their pursuit of a career. Any demographic hope for a left-wing majority must rely upon the continued burgeoning of the native-born lumpenproles, supplemented by the votes of newly legitimated unauthorized immigrants.

March 7, 2008 at 5:05 PM  
Blogger Ashen Man said...

mtraven: You don't get it, do you? You reduced the argument to namecalling. I can walk up to almost anyone in this city (whose vapid culture I do in fact plan to flee) and be treated rudely for expressing my opinions. That's not what I hang out on blogs like this for. You're a troll here. I fell for it. Silly me. Goodbye.

March 7, 2008 at 5:08 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

If you are going to smear perfectly ordinary well-intentioned people with accusations of mass murder, then you really can't convincingly pull the sensitive act (what horror, you were "treated rudely") when they call you on your bullshit.

But, I would hate to think I am chasing people away from their safe haven on the internet, so please don't leave the forum on my account. You guys go kvetch about the decline of Western civilization without me.

March 7, 2008 at 6:06 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

mzhcsMtraven - Did "ordinary well-intentioned people" include Walter Duranty of the New York Times, who purposely concealed the engineered famine in the Ukraine in his reports from the Soviet Union? Do they include, today, the publisher and editors of that paper, who refuse to give up the Pulitzer prize won by Duranty's specious reporting?

How about the countless American leftists who toed the Soviet line during the period of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, and laid off their criticism of Hitler?

Most on the American left have never met a communist dictator they didn't like. Whether it was Mao in China, Castro in Cuba, Ortega in Nicaragua, or would-bes like Lumumba in the Congo or Allende in Chile, hope has always sprung eternal on the American left that one or another of them would finally succeed in setting up the workers' paradise. And, even after it became apparent that the noble experiment had once again failed, the American left retained a soft spot in its big heart for them, since they had at least given Marxism the old college try.

I recall during the controversy over the forced return of little Elian Gonzalez to Cuba, seeing liberal editorialists defending it with the claim that 'at least Cuba had universal health care.' And where did they get that notion? From the propaganda put out by the Cuban government! These self-same people who would not trust a word from any American official put their full faith in the assuarances of a despot, who climbed to power atop a heap of corpses left by his firing squads.

No, 'progressive humanists' didn't do the murders. Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, et al., did. But progressive humanists have seldom done anything but cheer them on. Recall, for example, Eric Hobsbawm, who in response to a question as to whether 20 million deaths would have been justified by the creation of the Marxist utopia, simply replied 'yes.'

Deniers of the Nazi holocaust, like David Irving, are pariahs (rightly so, in my opinion) - yet Hobsbawm in made a Companion of Honour by the Labour Party government of Great Britain, in the name of a monarch whom he would, presumably, wish to meet the same fate as her cousin Nicholas II. I am puzzled by the inconsistency.

f 'progressive humanists' wish not to be held accountable for the atrocities of communism, they should start by treating apologists for it in the same way they do apologists for Nazism.

March 8, 2008 at 11:21 AM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Sigh.

Let's grant that millions of people were murdered in the name of communism, and various people and factions on the left, at various times, were complict to varying degrees with this. This is part of the historical record and is not in question, so there's no point arguing about it.

What is in question is whether the moral contagion from these acts extends to anything vaguely leftist. Does Barack Obama have to answer for the liquidation of the Kulaks? What about Dorothy Day, Abbie Hoffman, or Martin Luther King? What about anti-communist liberals like Hubert Humphrey? Does the New Left's break with the Old Left (for example, in their opposition to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 68) count for nothing, because they also dallied with Mao and Che? Is the New York Times a communist mouthpiece because it employed some reporters who were, seventy years ago?

These are not questions that can be answered factually, although facts can enter into any case you want to make. If you want to take the extreme belief that "progressive humanists have murdered 100s of millions of people", fine. Knock yourselves out, it just makes you look stupid.

Deniers of the Nazi holocaust, like David Irving, are pariahs (rightly so, in my opinion) - yet Hobsbawm in made a Companion of Honour... I am puzzled by the inconsistency.
I'm not really interested in defending Hobsbawm, I find his affection for Stalinism indefensible. On the other hand, he is a great historian and David Irving is a lying hack, so that might have something to do with the different ways in which they are treated. Hobsbawm, as far as I know, has not tried to hide or disguise or lie about the historical facts that he writes about, so I don't really see any parallel at all with Irving. And I'm not sure why you would choose Hobsbawm as an example of a "progressive humanist" since he is well-known to be a member of the CP, and the whole point is that most progressive humanists are not of that persuasion.

The larger point, which I think I've made here before, is that the left is is a much broader movement than the Nazis. It's older, and there are a greater diversity of forms. Being a Nazi or defender of Nazism pretty much only means one thing, but being on the left today, in most cases, does not mean you think class-based genocide is a good idea, or that the government should control all the means of production, etc. This fact accounts for some of the asymmetry that bothers you.

Frankly I think the left ought to make a greater effort to confront the bloodiness of the past and make a more thorough effort to shake it off, rather than it being this sort of embarassing thing we just don't talk about, like an insane uncle in the attic. But I'm not in charge.

March 8, 2008 at 3:04 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Mtraven, though Martin Luther King claimed that "there are as many communists in this freedom movement as there are Eskimos in Florida." King's closest advisers included Stanley Levison and Jack O'Dell, who were communists. His personal secretary was Bayard Rustin, who joined the Young Communist League in 1936 while at the City College of New York. King spoke before such communist front organizations as the National Lawyers' Guild and the Highlander Folk School. John and Robert Kennedy repeatedly urged him to avoid such associations, but he did not. So answer for yourself, what about Martin Luther King, or several of the others you mentioned.

Hobsbawm is a Stalinist, to be sure, but what about the Blair government that made him a Companion of Honour? Why did they not avoid so fulsomely commending an apologist for mass murder? As for Irving, he had a respectable career as an historian before going off the deep end. He cannot be dismissed as a 'hack' even if he is a crackpot. The only difference between him and Hobsbawm is that Hobsbawm openly endorses Stalin's mass murder of twenty million kulaks and others, whereas Irving, although denying that Hitler killed six million Jews, does not seem to believe it would have been a bad idea if he had. One is as disgusting as the other.

There are plenty of "progressive humanists" even now who continue to be apologists for the atrocities of past and present left-wing totalitarianism. Moreover, the direct financial subsidy of the Communist Party of the U.S.A. by the Soviet Union is now documented beyond any reasonable denial. The intellectual heirs of fellow travellers who supported Henry Wallace rather than Harry Truman are now in charge of the Democratic party. There are too many prominent figures on the American left in the recent past or even now, e.g., King, George McGovern, Bella Abzug, Jesse Jackson, having embarrrassing connections with Soviet totalitarianism, even to think about "confronting the bloodiness of the past and making a more thorough effort to shake it off." It was only the other night I heard Michael Moore on television making flattering comments about Castro. Indeed, you are not in charge - people like Moore are. Why do you continue to associate with them?

March 8, 2008 at 5:35 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

PS - as for the New York Times, it is not Duranty, seventy years ago, that bothers me so much as its present publisher and editors, who stubbornly refuse to give up the Pulitzer the paper won with Duranty's distorted reporting. Why would they do that, unless they still admired his principles?

March 8, 2008 at 5:48 PM  
Blogger Black Sea said...

michael s. said:

"The only difference between him {Irving] and Hobsbawm is that Hobsbawm openly endorses Stalin's mass murder of twenty million kulaks and others, whereas Irving, although denying that Hitler killed six million Jews, does not seem to believe it would have been a bad idea if he had."

Well, there is one other difference. Irving was sentenced to prison by a contemporary European government for the expression of his views, whereas Hobsbawm was honored by a contemporary European government for the expression of his.

That's a distinction worthy of a moment's reflection.

March 9, 2008 at 6:18 AM  
Blogger mtraven said...

I think you have missed the point, or gotten it exactly backwards. King may have talked to communists, consorted with communists, or employed some communists. So what? It is not a contagion. You seem to think that it morally compromises King; my point is that it means that the left (even communists) were not all mass murders. Some of their goals and works were perfectly fine.

I'm sure you don't see it that way, since apparently your only sole argumentative strategy is to throw everyone left of center, from Lenin to Lumumba to Allende to George McGovern, into the same bucket of evil. Like I said, knock yourself out, it just makes you look stupid and guarantees that nobody will take you seriously.

It was only the other night I heard Michael Moore on television making flattering comments about Castro. Indeed, you are not in charge - people like Moore are. Why do you continue to associate with them?

Well, Michael Moore does not invite me to his parties so I wouldn't say I associate with him. He's also primarily an entertainer and provocateur, who finds that dangling Castro in front of people gets a lot of attention (it got yours). Big deal.

March 9, 2008 at 9:19 AM  
Blogger Ashen Man said...

Sweden, the left-wing paradise.

March 9, 2008 at 12:01 PM  
Blogger Byrne said...

I'm sure you don't see it that way, since apparently your only sole argumentative strategy is to throw everyone left of center, from Lenin to Lumumba to Allende to George McGovern, into the same bucket of evil. Like I said, knock yourself out, it just makes you look stupid and guarantees that nobody will take you seriously.

I lump people together based on premises. If you can't articulate what it is about your fundamental beliefs that would keep you from flipping out the way these guys did -- if you had access to the authority they had -- I don't see how you can claim to be morally superior to them. The difference between Lenin and McGovern is one of degree.

March 9, 2008 at 1:28 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Mtraven, you sound like Hjalmar Benson, a former Democrat-Framer-Labor governor of Minnesota, who once said "Communists are good people, too." Hubert Humphrey kicked these people out of the party. For that, I admire him. Unfortunately McGovern (who supported Wallace rather than Truman in 1948) brought them back. They have dominated the Democratic party since 1972.

King had at least three close associates who were CPUSA members, and the CPUSA wasm as the Venona transcripts and the recently opened archives of the former Soviet Union show, was a wholly owned subsidiary of Moscow. These people took Stalin's money - King knowingly lied about the Communist presence in his organization - and you say, so what, their goals and works were perfectly fine? I should say it is a contagion, at least to the extent that it prompted King to lie about his Communist support. He was no stranger to dishonesty, having plagiarized his doctoral dissertation. He is hardly the proper object of hagiography.

I have not 'thrown 'everyone left of center... into the same bucket of evil.' I have only thrown into it those who knowingly accepted the support of, or supported openly or tacitly, or made excuses for, totalitarian communism. Hubert Humphrey did not. Norman Thomas did not. They were, however, deserted because of this by the great majority of their companions, and found themselves in relatively lonely positions as a consequence.

March 9, 2008 at 1:29 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Mtraven, you sound like Hjalmar Benson, a former Democrat-Framer-Labor governor of Minnesota, who once said "Communists are good people, too." Hubert Humphrey kicked these people out of the party. For that, I admire him. Unfortunately McGovern (who supported Wallace rather than Truman in 1948) brought them back. They have dominated the Democratic party since 1972.

King had at least three close associates who were CPUSA members, and the CPUSA, as the Venona transcripts and the recently opened archives of the former Soviet Union show, was a wholly owned subsidiary of Moscow. These people took Stalin's money - King knowingly lied about the Communist presence in his organization - and you say, so what, their goals and works were perfectly fine? I should say it is a contagion, at least to the extent that it prompted King to lie about his Communist support. He was no stranger to dishonesty, having plagiarized his doctoral dissertation. He is hardly the proper object of hagiography.

I have not 'thrown 'everyone left of center... into the same bucket of evil.' I have only thrown into it those who knowingly accepted the support of, or supported openly or tacitly, or made excuses for, totalitarian communism. Hubert Humphrey did not. Norman Thomas did not. They were, however, deserted because of this by the great majority of their companions, and found themselves in relatively lonely positions as a consequence.

March 9, 2008 at 1:31 PM  
Anonymous nick said...

mtraven: If you are going to smear perfectly ordinary well-intentioned people with accusations of mass murder...

Common-law murder requires only recklessness, without knowledge or intent that death would result. (The latter two will move you up from second-degree to first degree murder).

That said, I believe that complicity in murder (conspiracy? accomplice liability? accessory after the fact?) is being used rather metaphorically here. I haven't seen anybody file actual charges, or even a police complaint.

A bit less metaphorically, communists and leftists join in openly advocating mass larceny: the taking of property from A and giving it to B, which is one of the most basic violations of common law imaginable. It should be no surprise that openly advocating that governments massively violate one basic moral and legal principle will lead to mass breaches of other moral and legal principles.

This also makes communists legally insane: they have repudiated basic differences between right and wrong, to where they no longer know the difference. Leftists are merely far down the road towards legal insanity.

March 9, 2008 at 3:39 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Whatever. I'm bored with this topic; re-fighting the sectarian battles of the Cold War and earlier is not a particularly interesting activity. The Soviet Union may have pulled some strings in the past, but they haven't been around for 20 years, so really, what's at stake in this discussion? It's a little hard to be paranoid about something that doesn't exist. Shouldn't you be devoting your attentions to the fact that Barack Obama once was in the same room as Bill Ayers, or something like that?

You earlier asked why I associate with the left. There are numerous reasons, one minor one is that the right is unduly focused on the past. Certainly knowing history is worthwhile; obsessing over history is probably not.

The more important reasons are that the right is controlled by religious lunatics, incompetent imperialists, corrupt crony capitalists, and unrepentant racists. I'm at an age where, if there were a conservative party that actually lived up to its billing -- ie, was mature, realist, cautious, focused on sound management of the country, limiting government intervention in private lives and foreign wars -- I might actually be able to support it. Unfortunately there is no such animal.

Although it's a minor blip as far as actual political consequences go, I'm personally kind of tickled by the fact that many libertarians are coming to the realization that their political goals will be better served by allying with Democrats than Republicans, who offer nothing more than perpetual imperialist war -- the surest path to a bigger, stronger, and more authoritarian state. Nationalized health care is nothing compared to a $3 trillion dollar war debt and legalized torture.

March 9, 2008 at 5:03 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

nick said: A bit less metaphorically, communists and leftists join in openly advocating mass larceny: the taking of property from A and giving it to B, which is one of the most basic violations of common law imaginable....This also makes communists legally insane: they have repudiated basic differences between right and wrong,

Oh please. Aren't you supposed to be some sort of economic scholar? Redistribution of wealth is a human tradition that is much older and more widespread than the common law. The English Poor Laws date to the 1600s, but the priests were taxing and distributing grain in Egypt and Babylon. That doesn't make it "right", of course, but if the common law's claim to authority is tradition and age then you've got a problem. And let's not pretend that Karl Marx invented redistribution or that it's a recent form of "insanity".

March 9, 2008 at 5:35 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

Ashen Man: Freud was one of Civilization's defenders against "it's discontents". Also, every civilization and pre-civilized society has gender differences so "you can't get rid of gender differences without getting rid of civilization" is a non-sequitor. Oh, and the Mongols surely take the cake as "most brutal of all centuries" adjusted for global populatino size.

March 10, 2008 at 1:24 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Mtraven, I'm only looking for a bit of symmetry. Charles Lindbergh was a man of many accomplishments, few of which had to do with politics, yet his name is tainted to this day by his tenuous association with Nazism. This standard should in all fairness be applied as well to people who have comparable associations with communism. There are plenty of them still around.

As for wealth redistribution, there's a difference between it and charity. The mediæval church exacted a tithe, part of which went to pay for its operations and part for charitable relief. This was a bargain compared to what we pay for the welfare state.

Both the motivation and the practice of Christian charity differed from the modern welfare state's redistribution of wealth. Among other things, the church confined its charity to the deserving poor; the welfare state subsidizes crime and immorality. Look in any housing project for examples. The mediæval church would have allowed such people only the opportunity to make an amende honorable and to be shriven en route to the gibbet. Today's secular left excuses, and even celebrates them.

March 10, 2008 at 9:07 AM  
Blogger Aaron Davies said...

AFICT big, strong, authoritarian states usually come from social programs, not wars--the French Revolution, Bismark, the Russian Revolution, Wilson, Roosevelt, post-Atlee Britain.... Against what, Lincoln?

March 10, 2008 at 10:54 AM  
Blogger Ashen Man said...

Michael, it's true that Freud was the odd man out in that list; I was thinking more of his lasting influences, like pop-Freudian psychobabble and the 'liberatory' inversion of Freud filtered through the Frankfurt School.

Freud came to the conclusion that civilization rested on repression, and chose civilization anyway. Most of his readers apparently disagreed with his choice.

I'm not sure we should completely absolve him either; as in the others, there's that urge to 'tear the mask off' western civ, and show it for the terrible (gentile?) hypocrisy it is. That he then decided it was the lesser of two evils was kind of an afterthought to the analysis which was bound to have the more lasting influence.

As to the Mongols - I hope it's not too nitpicking to say they're an ethnic group, not a century. I presume you mean the 13th; it would be interesting to see some figures showing that the Mongol Empire slaughtered a greater proportion of the world's population in that century than all the totalitarian regimes did in the 20th. Interesting, but not that germane to a discussion of Western civilization. Unless somebody is advocating Asiatic despotism as an alternative. Around here, I suppose, you never know.

As for the gender differences: you're right. The traditional gender roles that the left hates are rooted in human nature and there has never actually been a society without them. This is contrary to the imaginings and falsifications of the left, to whom such strictures are artificial, manmade shackles from which we can and must be liberated. Primitive societies are in many ways just small civilizations; the left's program of levelling leads to something far more decadent and oppressive.

The question for egalitarians is: are we intrinsically egalitarian beings who have been forced into unnatural hierarchies by all previously existing societies, or have those societies simply been expressions of the natural human tendency to hierarchy, which must be forcefully suppressed to create an egalitarian society? Egalitarians generally believe the former, but the latter is the reality with which they eventually find themselves surrounded, often with blood dripping from their hands.

March 10, 2008 at 11:36 AM  
Blogger Aaron Davies said...

some very rough envelope-style calcs suggest 1/40th of the human population for the target figure (4 billion (~1975 pop)/100 million (hitler+stalin+mao). estimating 500 million for the time in question, this would suggest a target of 125,000 for the mongols, which is probably actually doable.

March 10, 2008 at 1:20 PM  
Blogger George Weinberg said...

The question for egalitarians is: are we intrinsically egalitarian beings who have been forced into unnatural hierarchies by all previously existing societies, or have those societies simply been expressions of the natural human tendency to hierarchy, which must be forcefully suppressed to create an egalitarian society?

That's a false dichotomy. When relationships are voluntary, there's no hierarchy in the sense of one commands and another obeys, but there also is nothing close to equality in material wealth or social status.

March 10, 2008 at 4:10 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Mtraven says the right "is controlled by religious lunatics, incompetent imperialists, corrupt crony capitalists, and unrepentant racists." Let's dissect these contentions seriatim.

"...religious lunatics..." Unless the assumption is that anyone religious is a lunatic, how are religious lunatics to be distinguished from ordinary persons who happen to adhere to a religion? Let's note that atheism, the active belief that there is no god, requires as much faith as a belief in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.

My observation of the so-called "religious right" is that what these people mainly want is just to restore the public decorum that typified the Eisenhower era, in which religious belief was treated with respect by government, and the First Amendment's non-establishment clause was not used as a pretext for suppressing any and all acknowledgment of popular religious sentiment on the part of government, such as the phrase 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance, Christmas trees and crêches in public parks, etc. They also are disturbed by the prurience that characterizes much of modern life. It is not surprising at all that people who are married and have children tend to be more socially conservative than the unmarried and childless. They just want their kids to grow up in a wholesome atmosphere, and not to be exposed to pornography, recreational drug use, and other vulgarities before they even reach puberty.

Yes, one can point to a handful of people like the late Rousas Rushdoony, but how many on the 'religious right' really want to establish a theocracy, as the secular left often accuses them of doing? The variety of theological opinions held by these folks would appear to preclude it, in any event. On what sort of theocracy could this Duke's mixture of Latin mass Catholics, Missouri Synod Lutherans, Southern Baptists, Pentecostals, and Mormons possibly be able to agree?

"...incompetent imperialists..." You mean, like JFK in his handling of Diem? LBJ? Clinton and his 'nation building' in Somaliland and the former Yugoslavia? You may put Bush on the right because he is a Republican, but in point of fact he is acting as a progressive internationalist in the manner of Woodrow Wilson. Incompetent, ita; conservative, non.

"...corrupt crony capitalists..." To a socialist, is there any capitalist that is not corrupt? And even if you admit that may be so, how do you view Marc Rich pardoned by Clinton for his frauds; George Soros, a monetary speculator who has made his fortune selling short the currency of his adopted country, and Hollywood moguls that have made theirs by churning out entertainments that cater to the basest aspects of human nature? None of these support the right. The left is happy to take their money.

"...unrepentant racists..." Really? I don't think there are more than a few hundred bedsheeted Kluxers and/or would-be storm troopers left in the entire U.S. Despite the frantic efforts of Morris Dees to convince timid liberals otherwise, they might almost be granted the status of an endangered species, like the whooping crane.

Of course, that is not how the term 'racist' is used by the left, with intent accurately to describe. It is instead used as an epithet and a smear. Someone called racist might be a newspaper editorialist who has critical things to say about 'affirmative action,' or a college professor like James Watson, who dares to suggest that human evolution has proceeded differently in Africa than it did in Europe or Asia.

In short, Mtraven engages in a commonplace tactic of the left, namely an ad hominem characterization of his opponents in order to distract from his inability to answer their arguments.

March 10, 2008 at 4:44 PM  
Blogger Reimer said...

Tomislav Sunic - 'Homo Americanus'

http://www.amazon.com/Homo-americanus-Child-Postmodern-Age/dp/1419659847/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1205197176&sr=8-1

March 10, 2008 at 6:00 PM  
Blogger Ashen Man said...

George Weinberg: I'm not sure what you mean by voluntary relationships, or why you think differences in wealth don't lead to command-obey relationships. Pretty much all of us have voluntarily taken jobs in which we obey orders, due to the difference in wealth between us and our employers, no? People voluntarily enter contracts which place them in hierarchical structures like corporations all the time. Am I misunderstanding what you mean?

What is the third alternative you are proposing to my false dichotomy?

March 10, 2008 at 6:14 PM  
Blogger Ashen Man said...

Reimer: Tomislav Sunic is a representative of the European New Right. The book looks interesting, if deformed by typical European anti-Americanism.

Are you getting a commission, or was there some other reason you posted the link?

March 10, 2008 at 6:17 PM  
Blogger Byrne said...

Ashen Man

This command-and-control aspect works both ways. Think of the millions of employers who don't have my service as a trash-digger or pyramid-scheme salesman or prostitute -- all because they don't pay me enough. Frankly, this mass oppression of the managing man is a gigantic violation of their right to purchase labor at a price they deem fair, and the fact that others are willing to work for the wages I am not makes those people complicit, as well.

Being able to choose your hierarchy and influence your place in it is an important nuance your model is missing.

March 10, 2008 at 6:58 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Michael S: First, I never claimed that Democrats are free of the sins I mentioned. Far from it. Especially corruption and cronyism, which are endemic features to any political party. This makes most of your last post pretty much completely off the mark.

Nonetheless, it is hard to imagine a richer stew of the listed toxic ingredients than the present Republican coalition, which is mercifully in the process of destroying itself. Bill Clinton is not my favorite individual by any stretch of the imagination, but he comes off as Solomon compared with the current crew.

Second, I really love the way the rightists try to disavow Bush and hang his failures on the left by calling him a "progressive internationalist". Good luck with that one. I will agree with you that there is nothing "conservative" in the strict sense of term to Bush's actions abroad, but that was part of my original point. We have no conservatives in the Burkean sense, instead we have a cabal of authoritarian, corrupt lunatics. Feel free to disassociate yourself from them, but then what are we arguing about?

Third, I didn't realize selling currency short or making bad movies constituted corruption. Learn something new every day.

Last, let's deal with the religious lunatics point and let the other ones go, because this conversation is getting extremely boring.

Unless the assumption is that anyone religious is a lunatic, how are religious lunatics to be distinguished from ordinary persons who happen to adhere to a religion?
All religion is indeed a brand of lunacy, but the only lunatics who bother me are the ones who can't keep their beliefs to themselves, and bring them into the public arena.

Let's note that atheism, the active belief that there is no god, requires as much faith as a belief in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.
Horseshit. But rather besides the point, and the last thing I want to do is open up yet anther excruciatingly boring line of argument.

My observation of the so-called "religious right" is that what these people mainly want is just to restore the public decorum that typified the Eisenhower era
What a load of nonsense. These are the same people who assassinate abortion providers, turned the Terry Schiavo affair into a circus, and want to cripple our education system. It gives us such outstanding moral exemplars as Pat Robertson, Ted Haggard, Jerry Falwell, Jim Bakker, and the latest variant, John Hagee, who refers to Catholicism as the Great Whore and looks forward to the slaughter of Jews in the Apocalypse. The very reverend Hagee is not some fringe figure, he has been warmly embraced by the Republican candidate for president. "Public decorum" -- what a joke. Public decorum would be served by beating these idiots back into the dark recesses of the country from which they sprang.

It is not surprising at all that people who are married and have children tend to be more socially conservative than the unmarried and childless. They just want their kids to grow up in a wholesome atmosphere, and not to be exposed to pornography, recreational drug use, and other vulgarities before they even reach puberty.

I am married, with children, and the things you list are very far down on the list of things I worry about when thinking about what sort of future they are going to have. I'd sooner take them to the Folsom Street Fair then have them suffer another Republican administration.

March 10, 2008 at 8:38 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Mtraven, you certainly haven't been reading Chronicles or The American Conservative if you think that conservatives rejecting Bush's Wilsonian internationalism is a recent phenomenon. Pat Buchanan was opposed to intervention in Iraq when Hillary Clinton and John Kerry were voting for it in the Senate.

The salient point about the 'religious right' is, I think, that there was no such thing fifty years ago. The reason? All the things that the religious right wants today were prevailing public policy them. Public schools unapologetically required their pupils to say the Pledge of Allegiance, including "under God" every morning, and some had a brief non-denominational prayer as well. Christmas and Easter were unapologetically celebrated as public holidays. Abortion was illegal, contraception and pornography were not generally available, and homosexuals indiscreet enough to copulate in public toilets were arrested on what were quaintly called 'morals charges.'

Now, you may find this stiflingly oppressive, but I have to tell you, for normal, middle-class, middle-western Americans, the 'fifties were a wonderful, innocent time. Parents could let their kids play by themselves in the full confidence that nothing they did could possibly get them into too much trouble.

You can cite all sorts of off-the-wall individuals like Eric Rudolph or Tim McVeigh, but you will not find a single reputable conservative who will have any truck with such people. Would you regard it as fair if I held up Kathy Boudin or Bernardine Dohrn as exemplars of the left? Your Mr. Obama is cosy with Ms. Dohrn's hubby Bill Ayers, as you yourself pointed out; I don't know of any figure of comparable prominence on the right who is cosy with an ostensibly right-wing terrorist. No one has offered Eric Rudolph a university professorship, or published articles by him in the Harvard Law Review.

And what about Louis Farrakhan, probably America's most prominent anti-Semite, or the Rev. Jesse Jackson, whose "Hymietown" remark would have sunk any white politician? For every John Hagee you cite there is a Jeremiah Wright.

As for atheism - it seems to me that aggressive, proselytizing atheists of the Richard Dawkins/Sam Harris stripe are every bit as swept up by faith as Billy Graham. Theirs is just a different faith. The only attitude towards the supernatural that is supported by a strict empiricism is agnosticism - we simply lack the evidence to know whether any assertion about it is true or false.

Religion is principally valuable as a vehicle for teaching proper behavior. An old ex-clergyman friend of mine once said to someone who attempted to lecture him on theology, "Don't tell me what you believe. I will watch how you behave, and tell you what you believe." This is an attitude that would equally have suited a Christian of the stripe of S. Bernard of Clairvaux or S. Francis of Assisi, or an ancient pagan like Marcus Aurelius.

If you believe that you will teach your children proper behavior by taking them to the Folsom Street Fair, all I can say is that my pessimism about the future remains unabated.

March 11, 2008 at 8:53 AM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

Whoa nellie,

I have to step in for a moment at this comment:

"suffer another Republican administration"

Scuse me? The only folks suffering from this Republican administration are in Gitmo or Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sure, my gas bill has tripled since 2001, but I still get up every day without shackles on my legs.

This is not to say that I like or support the current administration or even the current system of governance. I just don't like or support pity parties either.

Oh yeah -- and READ MY BLOG.

Cheers,
GMP

March 11, 2008 at 10:58 AM  
Anonymous nick said...

mtraven: Redistribution of wealth is a human tradition that is much older and more widespread than the common law.

Don't you just love that favorite euphemism of the leftists, "redistribution"? All we need is a nice euphemism to make mass theft OK. And for mass murder we have the communist favorite, "liquidation." It all sounds so scientific and proper to have "the government" perform "redistribution" and "liqudiation."

Mass murder by governments is also an ancient tradition. If theft is bad for individuals, but OK if a government does it, why isn't the same true for murder? Many communists and their leftist friends seem to have implicitly come to the conclusion that it is, judging by their weak or non-existent condemnations of mass murder by communist governments, as other posters on this thread have well observed.

Age alone hardly makes a tradition valuable. One must judge a tradition by its results -- on life and liberty foremost, but also on equity, security, family, economy, and so on. It's also important that a principle have evolved multiples times. The injunction against theft and high respect for property rights is hardly unique to common law. Indeed, it is a part of practically all civilized traditions. The common law forbids theft, classical Greek and Roman laws forbad theft, Sharia forbids theft, the Decalogue says "thou shalt not steal," and the Second of Bhuddism's Five Precepts is "not taking that which is not given." As if this weren't enough, the Decalogue adds, "thou shalt not covet", a state of mind which lies at the very core of leftist ideology. Moral and legal injunctions against theft are ancient and practically universal, just as are injunctions against murder.

The funding of military security and legal procedure through taxation are two long accepted exceptions to this general rule. Another sometime exception, as michael s. pointed out, was Christian conditional charity and similar religious efforts to bring morality as well as a bare minimum of financial security to the poor. The main idea was to feed the foodless poor -- to keep an underfed individual from soon starving to death -- not to provide well fed (and often even overweight) people "under the poverty line" with a perpetual supply of food, much less cash or other benefits. Some additional benefits were provided to widows and orphans, but hardly to "single women" and their children generally, most of whom were morally condemned. Nor were there universal pension programs. And the charity that actually showed one to be a good person was giving from one's own property, not taking other people's property, giving that away, and pretending that it is you, the thief, who are the generous giver. Traditional religious charity was a very different thing from the unconditional mass theft or "redistribution" advocated by modern leftism.

March 11, 2008 at 4:26 PM  
Anonymous nick said...

errata: "single women" should read "single mothers."

March 11, 2008 at 4:30 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

nick: Don't you just love that favorite euphemism of the leftists, "redistribution"?

See below.

Mass murder by governments is also an ancient tradition. If theft is bad for individuals, but OK if a government does it, why isn't the same true for murder?

You tell me. My main interlocuter here, Michael S., was castigating me earlier for comparing government killing (in Iraq) with killing by private citizens (in drug gangs). He says these are totally different things, and that the former acts are honorable while the latter are despicable. So if the government has license to kill, why doesn't it have license to redistribute? Maybe you and he can work this one out and get back to me.

Note that I'm trying to use neutral terms like "kill" and "redistribute" over legally loaded words like "murder" and "steal". When the government taxes my income, it is not stealing, more or less by definition. Labeling taxation as theft may make you feel all warm inside but won't actually change anything. Nobody likes to pay taxes, but pretty much everybody acknowledges their necessity. Why, even you do, just a few sentences later. So apparently some "theft" is OK.

It's also important that a principle have evolved multiples times. The injunction against theft and high respect for property rights is hardly unique to common law. Indeed, it is a part of practically all civilized traditions.

It is part of no civilized tradition that property rights are not subject to taxation, ie, forced redistribution by a government. Civilization == cities == government == taxes. It is part of almost all primitive (uncivilized) societies that there are various forms of redistribution, voluntary or not. This principle evolved multiple times, indeed, it seems to be a fixed part of human nature. So is a concept of private property, of course. Humans are full of interesting contradictions.

The funding of military security and legal procedure through taxation are two long accepted exceptions to this general rule.

Oh, now there are exceptions! Some taxation is cool, apparently. Once you let the camel's nose in the tent, the rest of him tends to follow.

Traditional religious charity was a very different thing from the unconditional mass theft or "redistribution" advocated by modern leftism.

Since I was talking about neither of these things, your point escapes me. The English Poor Laws were neither religious charity nor "advocated by modern leftism", since they date to 1601. Similarly for the redistribution of wealth in ancient civilizations like Middle Kingdom Egypt. Which is just what I said in my earlier message, that you have completely ignored, preferring to go off on a tired libertarian rant. Too bad.

March 11, 2008 at 8:05 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Michael S: Yes, I am aware that there are small groupings of noninterventionst paleocons and libertarians. Not to dismiss these outposts of relative sanity, but they have very little influence on the Republican party, or anything else.

The salient point about the 'religious right' is, I think, that there was no such thing fifty years ago.
You have got to be kidding. The history of religious mania in this country, with attendant politics, goes back hundreds of years. Surely you are aware of this? The Scopes trial was in the 20s, the First Great Awakening was in 1730. Today's religious right is just the latest manifestation, this time with 24-hour cable channels and multimedia to aid in the memetic propagation.

the 'fifties were a wonderful, innocent time.
Yeah, yeah, we should all be hanging out at the malt shoppe with Richie and the Fonz.

I'm sure you hate the sixties and would like to undo everything that happend then and since, but ask yourself why the sixties were that way? One big reason was that the fifties were incredibly boring. There was also the little matter of the Cold War, the not-so-cold Korean Way, and the threat of nuclear annihilation that interfered with the joyful innocence among those paying attention.

You can cite all sorts of off-the-wall individuals like Eric Rudolph or Tim McVeigh, but you will not find a single reputable conservative who will have any truck with such people.
Let's pick apart the lies contained above. First off, Rudolph and McVeigh were not merely "off-the-wall individuals", but were deeply connected to a broad radical right movement. Rudolph was a fugitive for five years and plenty of help evading the law. He had country music songs written about him. It's not hard to find ties between these extremists and more mainstream religious conservatives. And we have bestselling author Ann Coulter excusing their actions and calling for more terror and assassination.

Religion is principally valuable as a vehicle for teaching proper behavior.
See above.

March 11, 2008 at 9:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

King may have talked to communists, consorted with communists, or employed some communists. So what?

Try to imagine this sentence with "Nazis" in the place of "communists".

"Person X may have talked to nazis, consorted with nazis, or employed some nazis. So what? It is not a contagion. You seem to think that it morally compromises Person X..." Doesn't work, does it? Even though morally, there is nothing to choose between nazis and communists, somehow nobody says "so what?" about the former.

The Soviet Union may have pulled some strings in the past, but they haven't been around for 20 years, so really, what's at stake in this discussion? It's a little hard to be paranoid about something that doesn't exist.

The Soviet Union doesn't exist, but the ideas that created and drove it do, and are far from utterly discredited.

All religion is indeed a brand of lunacy, but the only lunatics who bother me are the ones who can't keep their beliefs to themselves, and bring them into the public arena.

Yet you are apparently unbothered by the secular loonies who bring their equally if not more pernicious beliefs into the public arena. When it comes to inflicting their bad ideas on the public, there is little to choose between the "religious right" and the secular left, except the latter are much better at it.

One big reason was that the fifties were incredibly boring.

Thanks for the inane liberal dogma.

Rudolph and McVeigh were not merely "off-the-wall individuals", but were deeply connected to a broad radical right movement. Rudolph was a fugitive for five years and plenty of help evading the law. He had country music songs written about him. It's not hard to find ties between these extremists and more mainstream religious conservatives.

This from the guy who pooh-poohs any "moral contagion" of the Left from the acts of Lenin, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc. Apparently a couple of individual nutcases can morally taint the American right, but leaders of entire countries who committed mass atrocities can never taint the Left. If Barack Obama does not have to answer for the liquidation of the Kulaks, why does any "mainstream conservative" have to answer for the acts of Rudolph and McVeigh?

King talked to, consorted with, and employed actual communists, but according to mtraven, "so what?" Yet when it comes to "mainstream religious conservatives" supposed associations with Rudolph and McVeigh, there is no "so what?" at all... it is a deep moral taint! Everyone on the American right today goes into the same bucket of evil with these two clowns.

March 11, 2008 at 10:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Let's pick apart the lies contained above. First off, Rudolph and McVeigh were not merely "off-the-wall individuals", but were deeply connected to a broad radical right movement. Rudolph was a fugitive for five years and plenty of help evading the law. He had country music songs written about him. It's not hard to find ties between these extremists and more mainstream religious conservatives. And we have bestselling author Ann Coulter excusing their actions and calling for more terror and assassination."


All true. The program to canonize these right wingers has been massive and very well-funded(although I still can't find the Eric Rudolph tribute album down at the Best Buy), but not quite as large as what the left has done through the press and Hollywood, the universities, etc...do to promote leftism, and fellate communists like Castro, Chavez, and Gorbechav(remember that?) But you already knew that. Obama had a Cuban flag with Che! on it in his campaign headquarters. Why not a SS standard with Reinhard Heydrich? I get it now: Communist murderer=cool, hip and has movies made about him and is on T-shirts. Nazi murderer= evil, bad and horrid. I was kind of hoping that guy running for President of you know, America, could at least pretend to like the place and hang up the national flag. Apparently flag of foreign enemy nations that depict killers is A-OK with the press(as long as they are commies). I have no doubt this will be picked apart as a pack of lies as well. Have at it.

March 12, 2008 at 8:57 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Mtraven -

"It is part of no civilized tradition that property rights were not subject to taxation." Really? In classical times tributes were exacted of conquered enemies. They were not exacted of the citizenry of victorious powers. This was true under the ancient Greeks and under the Romans. In the ancien régime of France, the landed class (the nobility) was exempt from taxes that were levied on the non-noble. There are many other examples. You may not admire the economic arrangements prevalent during these periods of history but you cannot reasonably deny that the peoples mentioned lived in civilizations.

The Elizabethan poor laws were meant to replace a function that had been carried out by the church before the reformation. "Redistribution" differs fundamentally from previous efforts at public charity, whether carried out by religious or secular institutions. Redistribution originates from a desire for social and economic levelling, vaporings about the dreadful "gap between the rich and the poor," and is part of a generally collectivist world view. Charity has no such idological underpinnings. It is concerned with helping people who have fallen into distress due to no fault of their own - widows, orphans, cripples, and people fallen into the decrepitude of old age. Under the Elizabethan poor laws, "sturdy beggars" were to be whipped through town at the tail of a cart. Under the welfare state, they are a voting bloc bought and paid for with the taxpayers' money.

You may say that Rudolph and McVeigh were connected to broad radical movements. I am not sure of the quality of evidence behind this; Rudolph may have had a network of friends in rural North Carolina. To claim that it was a political movement is a stretch. Jesse James, John Dillinger, and Clyde Barrow each had similar networks of people who gave them aid and comfort. There were also songs and popular journalism that glamorized their audacity. There are always those who sympathize with criminals and romanticize them - this does not necessarily imply political intent on their parts.

As for McVeigh and Nichols, to paint them as the tip of an iceberg, representatives of a vast right-wing conspiracy, seems mostly to be a fantasy cooked up by Morris Dees. The extent and virulence of the 'militia movement' that was once so widely asserted does not stand up under scrutiny. It is a chimæra, like the "Knights of the Golden Circle" was in the 1860s, a creation of propagandists.

What we do know is that the Weather Underground WAS genuinely a 'broad radical movement' and it sheltered people like Bernardine Dohrn with the full intention of fomenting a left-wing revolution. And your Mr. Obama is an old buddy of Ms. Dohrn's husband.

As for the 'religious right,' the Scopes trial was an isolated incident and the Great Awakening was a long, long time ago. The principal religious influence on politics has been on the left. John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry is the archetype. Throughout the 'sixties, and for a good time afterwards, one heard of nothing but left wing clergymen such as William Sloan Coffin, the Fathers Berrigan (one of whom attempted to follow the example of his co-religionist Guido Fawkes and set a bomb in the Capitol), Father James Groppi, Father Robert Drinan (D., MA),the Rev'd Martin Luther King, the Rev'd Ralph Abernathy, etc., etc.

Religious figures on the right have never attained comparable prominence or influence. Evangelical Christians were mostly apolitical until (at earliest) the 'seventies, and the first to come to much notice was a Democrat, Jimmy Carter. The present religious right is made up of relative late-comers to politics, who at great length realized they could join the same game that Coffin, the Berrigans, Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton had been playing for a long time.

March 12, 2008 at 10:30 AM  
Anonymous nick said...

mtraven: The English Poor Laws

These are mere statutes. A legislature is a mob that can make up stuff out of whole cloth. The authority of traditional law comes mostly from its highly empirical nature: in the case of common law, from a long series of disputes with firsthand parties, stacks and drawers full of direct evidence, and accumulation of precedent -- the discovery of law. So no, these awkward attempts by an aristocratic Parliament to replace traditional church charity and assuage its envy guilt impress me no more than their modern counterparts.

The highly evolved common law says that you can't take property from A unless, under due process, A is found to have violated the common law, causing harm for which said property is a suitable remedy. The traditional exceptions involve political property rights to tax for the purposes of security and law enforcement. There is no enforced "charity" under the common law. So consistently does the common law follow this principle, that there is not even a legal obligation to help a drowning man -- that is a religious obligation. The libertarian "don't initiate force or fraud" is not a "rant", it is in fact a very good summary of the substantive common law, even better than "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is of religious morality.

As for ancient civilizations, almost all the "redistribution" was from the poor to the rich. Not something either you or I would approve of.

So if the government has license to kill, why doesn't it have license to redistribute?...When the government taxes my income, it is not stealing, more or less by definition.

Your biggest mistake is assuming that the legitimacy or morality of an entity's acts are based on whether or not that entity is your god, "the government." Pray tell where can I find this entity you speak of? If you peruse the table of contents of Blackstone, the standard textbook of the late traditional common law, you will not find any category called "the government." The functions of government are described primarily under "the rights of persons", with the general infrastructure briefly described under "incorporeal hereditaments" (but an even better description of this core infrastructure can be found here). In other words, government under the traditional common law was a set of political property rights. All sorts of persons had a wide variety of political property rights -- including kings, counts palatine, barons, church organizations and officials, members of parliament, corporations, presidents, governors, mayors, and citizens of corporations, sheriffs, bailiffs, lords, tenants, and so on. But no "the government." Labeling some entity "the government" or "the flying spaghetti monster" lends it no more legal or moral rights or powers than any other person has. Only the procedurally lawful execution of the common and religious laws and the provision of military security (in just wars only) convey legitimacy to the local coercion that holders of political property rights can and often should wield.

Note that I'm trying to use neutral terms like "kill" and "redistribute" over legally loaded words like "murder" and "steal".

This reflects the moral negligence of the near left -- when confronted with evil acts, take a morally neutral stand. Neither the moral nor the legal distinctions between innocently causing a death and murder, or an innocent dispossession and a theft, are based on your omnipotent deity, "the government." It's perfectly common for government officials to commit and be convicted of murder or larceny, even under modern statist governments. The main distinction between the mere act and the crime, both in legal and moral tradition, is state of mind, or mens rea: negligence, recklessness, malice, knowledge, and purpose being examples of this distinction in law. Another distinction, which you confuse with your worship of "the government," is whether or not the homicide or taking of property is a proper part of a legal procedure for enforcing law, or of a lawful waging of a just war. That an entity can be styled a "government" is neither a necessary nor a sufficient distinction, and under traditional common law is irrelevant.

March 12, 2008 at 11:27 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

kxqkpFurther apropos of the Scopes "Monkey Trial": I'm not sure, Mtraven, if William Jennings Bryan can be made out to be a member of the religious right. He was a populist and an advocate of inflation, which his great cause, free coinage of silver at a ratio of 16:1 with gold, was calculated to produce. The enabling legislation of the New Deal authorized the fulfillment of this platform plank of the Silver Democrats, although FDR chose alternate means, the devaluation of the dollar with respect to gold, to achieve the same end. Bryan is legitimately viewed as a forerunner to FDR.

The Scopes case was catapulted into public attention by the efforts of H.L. Mencken, whose involvement in it certainly exceeded unbiased journalism. It was Mencken who induced Clarence Darrow to take on Scopes's defense, and Mencken's reportage that to this day forms the opinions of most people about the case.

What is seldom acknowledged is that Mencken's interest in evolution, and hence the Scopes case, followed logically from his elitism. He was among the first interpreters of Nietzsche in the English language. Like almost all other early exponents of the theory of evolution, e.g., Herbert Spencer, Sir Francis Galton, and Nietzsche himself, he esteemed it principally because it provided a scientific explanation of the inequality between different peoples and nations, as well as of the inequality within a population - between the natural aristocracy, and those that Nietzsche called "the bungled and the botched." Contempt for democracy is a continuing theme in Mencken's writing.

Are you really sure you want to classify the egalitarian populist Bryan as a member of the horrible religious right, and to embrace Mencken as a shining beacon of the left?

March 12, 2008 at 12:34 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

nick: These are mere statutes... these awkward attempts by an aristocratic Parliament to replace traditional church charity and assuage its envy guilt impress me no more than their modern counterparts.

Why should I care about what you are impressed with? The argument is about what actually existed, not what impresses you.

I, personally, am negatively impressed by citations of cranks from places like NewsMax.

me: So if the government has license to kill, why doesn't it have license to redistribute?...When the government taxes my income, it is not stealing, more or less by definition.

nick: Your biggest mistake is assuming that the legitimacy or morality of an entity's acts are based on whether or not that entity is your god, "the government."

Oh, please go fuck off. You have no idea what my gods are.

Pray tell where can I find this entity you speak of?

It generally tends to occupy large, vaguely oppressive-looking buildings in the center of town. I'm sure you can find it without much trouble. If not, it will find you eventually. To paraphrase Lenin, you may not be interested in government, but government is interested in you.

If you peruse the table of contents of Blackstone, the standard textbook of the late traditional common law, you will not find any category called "the government."

Um, so what? Reality is not defined by the table of contents of Blackstone.

I might pay some attention to your ideas about common law if you could untangle them from wishful thinking and insults based on your imaginings of what I believe.

Labeling some entity "the government" or "the flying spaghetti monster" lends it no more legal or moral rights or powers than any other person has.

OK...fine...whatever...but then you say:

Only the procedurally lawful execution of the common and religious laws and the provision of military security (in just wars only) convey legitimacy to the local coercion that holders of political property rights can and often should wield.

And this is different from government how, exactly?

me: Note that I'm trying to use neutral terms like "kill" and "redistribute" over legally loaded words like "murder" and "steal".

This reflects the moral negligence of the near left

Go fuck off some more.

You have misinterpreted what I said, whether willfully or thrugh stupidity I can't really say. In either case I don't really see much point to further dialog.

March 12, 2008 at 7:31 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Michael s: In the ancien régime of France, the landed class (the nobility) was exempt from taxes that were levied on the non-noble. There are many other examples.
Examples of what? Tax exemptions? I never said taxes were applied universally, only that they exist in all civilizations. Someone has to pay the bills. Rich people in the US manage to avoid a lot of taxes, does that mean that taxation doesn't exist?

You people seem to have trouble reading and thinking clearly.

Your attempt to paint Eric Rudolph as an apolitical criminal is nonsensical on its face. He was a political terrorist and the people who helped and supported him were sponsors of political terrorism. To pretend otherwise is mindbogglingly dishonest.

And your Mr. Obama is an old buddy of Ms. Dohrn's husband.

This is, of course, another shameful lie. This blog post lays out the facts pretty well, and I share its opinion of Ayers.

It is true that religion in the US is not always tied to right-wing politics. It's more complicated and interesting than that. But the particular personalities in the Scopes trial are irrelevant; the law it was based on was not passed by Clarence Darrow. It was passed by the Tennesee legislature under pressure from fundamentalists, who, like you, were upset with the rapid pace of change of modern life and wanted to go back to some imagined idyllic time. The common thread that connects them to the the Christian Right of today is very clear.

March 12, 2008 at 8:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First off, Rudolph and McVeigh were not merely "off-the-wall individuals", but were deeply connected to a broad radical right movement.

This no proof of any of this re McVeigh. He was pro-choice, came to oppose the Gulf War after serving in it (and not for anti-Semitic reasons) and didn't believe in any God. He can best be described as an anti-government libertarian with an emphasis on Second Amendment rights. His apparently minimal interactions with members of militias and "white supremacists" can probably be explained becuase they were also radically anti-government and radically pro-gun rights. Even The Turner Diaries(which he was said to have sold at gun shows) deals with police-state style gun confiscation in its opening chapters.

The definitive book on McVeigh (American terrorist, largely based on some 75 hours of interviews with McVeigh) does not show that that he had links with some "broad radical right movement". Since McVeigh did not contest his death sentence (and seemed indeed to openly embrace it) I don't see why would feel any need to dissemble in order to polish his image. Even the Salon article of April, 2001 does nothing (despite the lurid and misleading opening paragraphs does nothing to put into question the political portrait of McVeigh presented in this paragraph and the previous one.

Everything I've seen indicates that Rudolph acted as lone wolf who acted from some peculiarly-based ("I prefer Nietchze to the Bible") non-racist Catholic convictions. He did get some cheerleaders when he was on the run. So did OJ Simpson. Maybe that means that Simpson had some connections to some radical anti-white black nationalist movement. :)

The alleged Christian Identity affiliation of Rudolph appears to be a canard. The only press sources I can find for this allegation are "federal authorities". We all know how much we can trust unverified claims by "federal authorities".

icr

March 12, 2008 at 8:48 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Mtraven - Bryan the liberal egalitarian populist prosecuted Scopes under a law designed to prevent the teaching of what was widely regarded at the time as a brutally elitist doctrine. All Darwinism in the 'twenties was social. For another example, look at the supposed liberal Oliver Wendell Holmes ruling in Buck v. Bell, 274 US 200, 207, endorsing Virginia's eugenics program whereby the 'mentally defective' were forcibly sterilized, with the famous phrase "Three generations of imbeciles are enough."

The prevalent religious view in the first half of the twentieth century was not right-wing nor did it look back to some idyllic past, as you allege. Its proponents thought of themselves as progressive and preached a social gospel. One advocate proposed replacing the traditional phrase 'the kingdom of God' with 'the democracy of God." A good reference for you to examine might be Richard M. Gamble's "The War for Righteousness." Such people would naturally have rejected eugenics and evolution as anti-democratic. The picture you have of the Scopes case appears to be based on a viewing of "Inherit the Wind" rather than upon the actual historical circumstances surrounding it.

Yes, taxes were and are there to pay the state's bills. What they never were there for in the past was to redistribute wealth to bring about social and economic equality. You were earlier talking about redistribution, and are now saying that is the same as just paying the state's bills. They are not the same. Egalitarianism in any event had nothing to do with pre-modern poor relief, whether administered by the church or by the secular state.

Of course Eric Rudolph was not a purely apolitical criminal. Neither was Jesse James, at the start - he was one of Quantrill's raiders. Clyde Barrow had some support in the middle of the Great Depression from people who didn't like bankers. This, too, could possibly be called political. In the fulness of time, however, the political support for all these criminals was confined to a very small number of people. I pay little attention to Ann Coulter but I certainly never heard her endorse the actions of Eric Rudolph. No reputable conservative politician or journalist has done, to my knowledge. Contrast this with the left's celebration of Kathy Boudin, Bernardine Dohrn, & co. Do you know of one ostensibly right-wing terrorist who has been offered a university professorship or has had articles published in the Harvard Law Review? Evidence, please.

As for the claim that "rich people in the US manage to avoid a lot of taxes," is that how the top 1% of personal income tax payers manage to pay 37% of the total personal income tax collected? If that isn't enough, how much is?

I note in your discourse an increasingly abusive tone. It does not speak well for your skills in debate. There is an old legal maxim that says, when you have the law on your side, argue the law; when you have the facts on your side, argue the facts; when you have neither, abuse the opposing litigant. Surely if you have a reasonable answer to those who have argued against you, you would make it in a logical and well-modulated way, instead of telling them to 'fuck off.' That's a highly imaginative rebuttal, now, isn't it?

March 12, 2008 at 9:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As for the claim that "rich people in the US manage to avoid a lot of taxes," is that how the top 1% of personal income tax payers manage to pay 37% of the total personal income tax collected? If that isn't enough, how much is?

Exactly, and top 10% of personal income tax payers bear 70% of the total tax burden, and the bottom 50% pay essentially no taxes. How anyone can describe this as unfair mystifies me.

Mtraven seems to have been reduced to "fuck off" as an argument. Not terribly impressive...

March 13, 2008 at 6:36 AM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Michael S: The prevalent religious view in the first half of the twentieth century was not right-wing nor did it look back to some idyllic past, as you allege. Its proponents thought of themselves as progressive and preached a social gospel.

Fundamentalism and the social gospel were two mostly separate and opposed movements. I won't pretend to be any great expertise on this history but this is the sort of thing you can learn about with five minutes of googling.

You were earlier talking about redistribution, and are now saying that is the same as just paying the state's bills. They are not the same.
True enough. But both are universal or nearly so. Even the limited libertarian form of taxation that you guys apparently approve of takes from the productive members of society and gives it to the forces of violence -- allegedly for services rendered.

I note in your discourse an increasingly abusive tone. It does not speak well for your skills in debate.

My abuse was directed to a poster who called me immoral and said I worshipped the state, based on only his own limited imagination and reading abilities. The proper response to such stuff is not counter-argument, since it isn't an argument. If anybody wants to respond to what I actually say, rather than their own confused construal of what I say, then maybe we can have a debate.

In your case, you've got a few interesting things to say but have an annoying habit of veering off on irrelevant tangents, which makes it difficult to have a coherent discussion. Case in point:

As for the claim that "rich people in the US manage to avoid a lot of taxes," is that how the top 1% of personal income tax payers manage to pay 37% of the total personal income tax collected? If that isn't enough, how much is?

The issue in question was whether taxation is universal. You brought up the irrelevant fact that some people in some places weren't taxed, and I pointed out that the US also falls in that category. It is surely the case that some rich people in the US avoid paying taxes. The exact degree of fairness or unfairness in the US tax system is a wholly irrelevant tangent, which I have no particular desire to engage.

March 13, 2008 at 10:43 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Mtraven - It is not irrelevant that in ancient cultures tributes were levied only on the subjugated. You wrote on 11 Mar. at 8:05PM that "It is part of no civilized tradition that property rights are not subject to taxation..." It is a point of fact that the ancient Greeks and Romans never taxed the property of their own citizens. Taxation was a condition of servitude, imposed on the conquered. Do you seriously deny that the Greeks and Romans belonged to civilized traditions?

As for fundamentalism and the social gospel, let us remember that "fundamentalism" has a specific meaning, namely, adherence to the Five Points of Fundamentalism. This is particularly important in considering the period in which Bryan flourished. Rather than reproduce them here I simply point out that any Christian who genuinely believes in the Nicene Creed accepts the Five Points of Fundamentalism. The acceptance of theological conservatism does not necessarily imply political or social conservatism and this was especially true in Bryan's case. He was a social liberal and a pacifist - he resigned from Wilson's cabinet in protest over the President's sabre-rattling after the sinking of the Lusitania.

His critique of the theory of evolution, which you can find in the Wikipedia article on Bryan, was as follows:

"The Darwinian theory represents man reaching his present perfection by the operation of the law of hate - the merciless law by which the strong crowd out and kill off the weak. If this is the law of our development then, if there is any logic that can bind the human mind, we shall trun backward to the beast in proportion as we substitute the law of love. I choose to believe that love rather than hatred is the law of development."

The article also notes that "Bryan also now threw himself into the work of the Social Gospel. Bryan served on organizations containing a large number of theological liberals; he sat on the temperance committee of the Federal Council of Churches and on the general committee of the short-lived Interchurch World Movement." It mentions the contention of the evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould that "Bryan's antievolution views were a result of his Populist idealism and [Gould] suggests that Bryan's fight was really against Social Darwinism." I am inclined to agree with Gould on this point. Bryan's utterances throughout his career support it.

If the fairness of the personal income tax is "irrelevant" why did YOU bring up the supposed avoidance of it by "the rich"? I merely responded to a claim that you introduced. All the statistics collected by the Internal Revenue Service show that "the rich" pay the overwhelming majority of taxes. The notion that they "aren't paying their fair share" is a latter-day myth, deliberately cultivated by left-wing demagogues. Somehow this is relevant for you to assert, but irrelevant for me to rebut.

March 13, 2008 at 11:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

michael s.,

I can see the response now:

"Fuck Off"

March 13, 2008 at 11:48 AM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Michael S: It is not irrelevant that in ancient cultures tributes were levied only on the subjugated... It is a point of fact that the ancient Greeks and Romans never taxed the property of their own citizens.
So what? They taxed people under their control. They might not have considered them citizens, that doesn't mean I have to treat them as less than fully human.

BTW, Wikipedia disagrees with you about taxation in ancient Greece. And this site contradicts you on Rome. Must have all been written by demagogic left-wingers.

Bryan also now threw himself into the work of the Social Gospel...
The article paints a picture of Bryan as a bridging figure that connected to movements which were otherwise mostly in opposition.

If the fairness of the personal income tax is "irrelevant" why did YOU bring up the supposed avoidance of it by "the rich"?
I didn't. You did. Try reading my last post for an explanation of why this is irrelevant, I don't feel like repeating myself.

The notion that they "aren't paying their fair share" is a latter-day myth, deliberately cultivated by left-wing demagogues.
Oh well, people disagree with you. Maybe this Times reporter is a left-wing demagogue. Or perhaps you are lying, distorting, or just misinformed.

Oh damn, you drew me into yet another area of pointless debate.

March 13, 2008 at 9:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Or perhaps you are lying, distorting, or just misinformed.

See for yourself.

The top 1% by income pays 39.38% of the taxes, the top 10% by income pays 70% of all taxes, and the bottom 50% pays essentially no taxes (3%).

Who is lying or misinformed?

March 14, 2008 at 12:31 AM  
Blogger Aaron Davies said...

David Cay Johnston's chief complaint seems to be that the "super-rich" pay only 17.5% taxes, while the rest of us pay 15%. This hardly strikes me as grounds for revolution.

March 14, 2008 at 8:06 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Mtraven - The tributum, as levied upon the citizens of ancient Rome, was an extraordinary levy that might not be made at all, and could be refunded. It was suspended sine die in 167 BC and not collected thereafter until the social wars that followed upon the death of Julius Cæsar. Therefore, during the Golden Age of the Roman republic - the time of Cicero, Cato, and Cæsar, during which its imperial possessions saw their greatest expansion, there was no direct taxation Roman citizens based upon wealth or property. Rome's revenues came from tributes levied upon the conquered and from imposts, excises and duties of the sort that this country collected before direct taxation was authorized by the Sixteenth Amendment.

While Rome collected revenues from the occupants of the ager publicus, these were more in the line of ground-rents on a long-term lease (emphyteusis) resembling the feu duties collected of vassals at a later period. I am no acute philologer but it seems to me that there may be an etymological connection between "emphyteusis" and "infeudation." In any event, value was received for money in a way that it is not done from taxation as we understand it today.

Greek city-states - notably Athens - received some revenues from the rich through their performance of "liturgies," or public services. Again, this had little in common with taxation as we understand it today. The performer of a liturgy received power, influence, and public esteem in return. Payment of liturgies thus more closely resembled the purchase of honours or offices than taxes. Similar means of raising funds were employed by sovereigns in Britain since the time of James I (who invented the baronetcy for the purpose), and as continued intermittently through the twentieth century, notably by the Lloyd George, Harold Wilson, and Anthony Blair ministries; public offices were sold by Henry IV in France; and monetary contributions are made to political campaigns in the U.S. today. In all but the last case what we are talking about is a well defined quid pro quo, a price paid for the sort of 'political property rights' about which Nick has spoken. The last is an indefinite quid pro quo. None are taxes on property rights in the modern sense.

The entire raison-d'etre of ancient empires was the collection of tributes from subjugated populations. Some Greek city-states had absorbed conquered populations into their own as second-class (i.e., taxpaying) subjects. The best-known illustration of this is found in the Helots of Sparta, upon whom the Spartans symbolically declared war for one day every year. Similar examples given by Athenæus, "Deipnosophistai," vj. 263, are the Penestæ subjected to the Thessalians, the Clarotæ subjected to the Cretans, and the Mariandynians who surrendered themselves to the Heracleots. Of the Mariandynians the epic poet Euphorion says, dorophoroi kaleoiath' hypophrissontes anaktas (as tributaries they shall be summoned, shuddering before their lords).

I will be happy to put Athenæus, Livy, Cicero, and other primary sources on the ancient world, read in their original languages, up against Wikipedia any day as being authoritative on these points.

You were the one who introduced the supposed avoidance of taxes by the rich in the U.S; see your post of March 12 at 8:17 PM, wherein you wrote: "Rich people in the U.S. manage to avoid a lot of taxation, but that doesn't mean taxation doesn't exist." Unless I am simply to let this slide as an obiter dictum on your part, why was it relevant for you to bring it up but not relevant for me to respond to it? I cite the last IRS statistical abstract for the percentage of personal income taxes paid by the top 1% of personal income tax payers. We may, I suppose, set whatever store one can on anything claimed by the U.S. government, but it is the best information we have.

My comment, to which you responded as quoted above, was in any event not addressed by your response. I reiterate, that the property rights of the propertied were NOT taxed under the ancien régime of France. Taxes were levied upon an internally subjugated class, who were non-propertied, just as the Spartiates levied upon the Helots, the Thessalians upon the Penestæ, the Cretans upon the Clarotæ, and the Heracleots upon the Mariandynians. Those subject to taxation in feudal France (and most other countries under feudal law) were serfs and roturiers. Taxation was a condition of servitude, or at least of ignoble status.. "Redistribution," so far as it went, was a benefit to the propertied, not an expense - as Nick has observed. The feudal duties paid to a sovereign by his direct vassals (barons) were not taxes levied against property rights so much as they were the price the barons paid for the political property rights that they thereby acquired - sack and soke, mills and biggings, infangthief and outfanghthief, pit and gallows.

Thus, your original assertion of March 11 at 8:05 that "It is part of no civilized tradition that property rights are not subject to taxation" was NOT true in these societies. I do not dispute that there was taxation, but that is not the same as saying that property rights or wealth were everywhere subject to it. Taxation can and does exist on bases other than that of property rights. Servitude exacted from the non-propertied (the corvée, military or naval conscription) and monetary tributes exacted from conquered populations were the main if not the only forms of taxation throughout ancient and mediæval history, not taxation of property rights.

Therefore, your contention that 'it is part of no civilized tradition that property rights were not subject to taxation' is not true unless we are unwilling to consider the Greek city-states I have mentioned, the Roman republic in the age of Cicero and Cæsar, and most of mediæval and early modern Europe as belonging to civilized traditions.

March 14, 2008 at 10:26 AM  
Blogger mtraven said...

anonymous: That very same document reveals that the top 1% of earners make 21% of the income. That might have something to do with it. Really, if you're going to try to throw around bogus stats you should do it without more meaningful numbers are right on the same page. It's a neat trick, trying to make the skewed income distribution of the US make your argument for you.

And of course none of the numbers in the government document reflect the various income-hiding tricks that are the main subject of Johnston's book.

Michael S: if you think you know more than Wikipedia you should feel free to correct it. In the meantime, I suggest you provide better web-accessible references for your assertions, since frankly your distortions of things I know something about do not presuppose me to take your word for areas where I'm not knowledgeable.

Therefore, your contention that 'it is part of no civilized tradition that property rights were not subject to taxation' is not true unless we are unwilling to consider the Greek city-states I have mentioned, the Roman republic in the age of Cicero and Cæsar, and most of mediæval and early modern Europe as belonging to civilized traditions.
I am happy to consider those cultures civilized, but I also consider the stuff you dissmiss as tributesfrom conqured non-citizens as taxes. The point is that they are forcibly extracting value from somebody. It's easy to have a "tax-free" society if you are living off the labor of slaves. It's easy to have "property rights" if there is are entire classes of people wihout property rights.

March 14, 2008 at 12:12 PM  
Anonymous nick said...

mtraven: Oh, please go fuck off.

You express emotions that commonly get stirred up when religious beliefs are questioned. I have in fact observed rather accurately as well as debunked your superstition. As a true believer in "the government", instead of trying to understand my heretical point of view, that rejects the core doctrine of your belief, you just mindlessly bash me. I'm sorry to have caused you such emotional turmoil, but I don't have time to translate everything into your language of euphemistic fantasy.

And this is different from government how, exactly?

There's all the difference in the world between the modern mass media superstition, which you quite strongly share, of "the government" which can be brought to bear to solve any problem said media believes to be of national concern, or a government that can steal for any noble-sounding purpose (excuse me, "redistribute"), and a power to tax for only very specific and narrow purposes -- traditionally defined by political property rights, but for the U.S. federal government, in its original design and function, the doctrine of enumerated powers. Not ideas I'd expect your totalitarian mind to easily grasp, and my expectations have been met.

March 14, 2008 at 1:08 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Mtraven, the works of Athenæus and the others are easily available in modern editions with English translation in the Loeb Classics from Harvard University Press. I have cited the book and chapter of Athenæus with respect to the Greek city states. All you have to do is look it up. If you are not literate in Latin you may find the descriptions of tributum (with the date of its suspension), emphyteusis, and others, under their respective headings in the Oxford Classical Dictionary. The indicated books should be available from Amazon.com or in your public library. They may not be 'web-accessible,' but should not be too difficult to find. All that stands in your way is laziness.

Again, no one disputes that taxation took place in ancient times. What is at issue is whether it was paid by people who were defined as free citizens.

A characteristic example of ancient thinking about such matters is seen in the history of Greece under the Roman empire. In 66 AD, the emperor Nero, a philhellene, granted libertas (what we would understand today, perhaps, as 'home rule' or 'commonwealth status') and immunitas (the same exemption from tribute enjoyed by Roman citizens under the jus Italica) to the Greek territories that had been under Roman rule since the days of the Republic. The first of the Flavians, Vespasian, revoked Nero's grant in 70 AD, remarking that the Greeks had forgot how to be free. Vespasian's comment on his action illustrates the ancient understanding of freedom, which was characterized in part by freedom from direct taxation of one's assets.

Vespasian is also historically to be credited with the invention of the pay-toilet. When reproached for raising revenue in such a base fashion, he famously replied "Pecunia non olet" (money does not stink). To this day, the French word "vespasienne" is used as a decorous alternative to the less delicate "pissoir." It is not, perhaps, without relevance that Vespasian was the son of a provincial tax collector and usurer - he would fit right in as a Democrat on the House Ways & Means Committee.

We delude ourselves if we think ourselves to be free when we are subject to direct taxation of property (wealth), which the ancients applied only to the peoples they subjugated. Citizens of the United States, since the passage of the Sixteenth Amendment, have been treated by their own government as the Spartiates did the Helots, the Herculeots the Mariandynians, and as Vespasian did the entirety of Greece. They have been treated as the Saxons were by the Normans after 1066. We live in a cloud-cuckoo-land if we suppose our regime of wealth taxation to be consistent with freedom as that term was historically understood, whether as Roman libertas and immunitas, mediæval ownership in liberam baroniam, or early modern freehold. We are no longer on what Hayek called the Road to Serfdom - we've arrived there.

It may be the case that the top 1% of income tax filers earn 21% of the income, but paying 38% of the income taxes is far from a proportionate share. As for the supposed income-hiding tricks of the wealthy, they are mostly responses to manipulative aspects of the tax code. For example, the tax exemption on income from municipal bonds, which many high-income taxpayers use to lower their effective tax rate, was not created to give the rich an opportunity to shelter income from taxation - it was created to enable state and local governments to borrow money at rates well below those charged to private-sector borrowers. Taxpayers are not devious and clever in their response - they are as predictable as Pavlov's dogs or Skinner's pigeons. The charitable deduction simply gives a taxpayer the option of choosing to give to one or more of an IRS-approved list of recipients monies that would otherwise be taken from him and apportioned to recipients designated by government. Such 'tax write-offs' as depreciation actually favor the tax collector by requiring the payer to amortize over a course of years a business expenditure he has borne in one. The so-called tax break on capital gains, not being indexed for inflation (which is engineered by government central banking) most often amounts to an effective confiscation of principal, because inflation renders the supposed gain illusory. To the best of my knowledge - and I'm one of that much-reviled top 1%, a third-generation family business owner - there is no real way to hide income from taxation without either allowing oneself to be manipulated into doing what the tax code is designed to get one to do, or inviting prosecution. If you know of any, please post it here. I'm sure lots of people would be interested, including several trust officers and financial planners that work for my bank.

March 14, 2008 at 1:42 PM  
Anonymous nick said...

michael s.: In 66 AD, the emperor Nero, a philhellene, granted libertas (what we would understand today, perhaps, as 'home rule' or 'commonwealth status') and immunitas (the same exemption from tribute enjoyed by Roman citizens under the jus Italica) to the Greek territories that had been under Roman rule since the days of the Republic.

Michael S., this is another very informative historical account. Please do start a blog! Alternatively, we should talk about you joining Unenumerated. Please e-mail me at ns1782 at live.com.

Interestingly, "libertas" was also used as a synonym for a franchise (political property right) in the late Anglo-Saxon and early Norman periods when most charters and cases in the king's courts were recorded in Latin. Later the English "liberty" would often be so used. So when reading older English accounts, especially law related, keep in mind that "liberty" can connote a political property right as well as physical or other kinds of freedom.

I should add your general point to mine. Both the legitimate aims and the legitimate means of taxation are finite lists of specific powers. Not only may tax money be legitimately spent only on a finite list of specific functions (normally involving military security or law enforcement), but in a free society taxes may only be collected on certain transactions in certain ways -- not directly on individual wealth or income.

March 14, 2008 at 2:22 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Nick, that's a good point about "liberty" in some cases denoting a political property right. Two English examples that come at once to mind are the Liberties of the Savoy and the Liberty of Halifax - the former featuring in Patrick O'Brian's novels, the latter with its peculiar variation on pit and gallows. These really have more similarity to Roman libertas than does a concept like 'commonwealth status' - it is hard sometimes to find a good present-day equivalent to an historical institution. Anyway, Mtraven should be able to find both liberties in his blessed Wikipedia.

I have thought about starting a blog, but have observed how much work Mencius's, yours, Conrad's, and a few others must have taken. This has made me wonder if I could devote enough time. Your invitation to be an occasional contributor to yours is most welcome and may be easier for me. I'll be in touch soon.

March 14, 2008 at 3:29 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

nick: As a true believer in "the government", instead of trying to understand my heretical point of view, that rejects the core doctrine of your belief, you just mindlessly bash me.
As I recall, this thread started by you calling leftists insane immoral thieves. So who is the mindless basher?

Your point of view does not seem heretical at all. It sounds like standard net.libertarian boilerplate. I got bored with that stuff 20 years ago. You've clearly been infested with this common and noxious memeplex, and it's muddled up your thinking, which probably accounts for why you think that anyone who disagrees with you has to be a totalitarian.

Perhaps your ideas on political property rights are original, interesting, or worthwhile. Your hostile and insulting tone frees me of the obligation to take them seriously. If you have some desire for them to be more widely accepted, I suggest you work on your presentation skills.

I'm sorry to have caused you such emotional turmoil
Dream on.

Here's a challenge for you: produce a quote from me, from anywhere on the web, where I express worship for the state or a "totalitarian mind". Actual quotes, with a pointer to the context. If you can do so (and I will have to be the judge, unless you can find a neutral third party), I'll apologize to you for my harsh language. If not, maybe you can apologize to me.

March 14, 2008 at 4:10 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Michael S: Again, no one disputes that taxation took place in ancient times. What is at issue is whether it was paid by people who were defined as free citizens.
Jesus, this blog seems to specialize in people who manage to combine being learned and incredibly dense at the same time.

The above statement may be your issue, but it isn't mine. As I've said 2 or 3 times already. Taxation of non-citizens is taxation.

We delude ourselves if we think ourselves to be free when we are subject to direct taxation of property (wealth), which the ancients applied only to the peoples they subjugated.

Well, you see, in theory the US doesn't have subject peoples. That leaves us with no alternative but to tax ourselves, or go out of business. Inconvenient to be sure. Perhaps we should enslave Mexico; it's hard to see how Iraq could be made cost-effective no matter what the rules of engagement were.

Citizens of the United States, since the passage of the Sixteenth Amendment, have been treated by their own government as the Spartiates did the Helots, the Herculeots the Mariandynians...

Various levels of government were imposing various taxes before the sixteenth amendment, and they were after. Perhaps some quantum threshold of oppressiveness was crossed by that particular tax, but it's hard to see why. It was passed into law like any other tax, and in fact had to achieve the more stringent requirements of a constitutional amendment.

Meanwhile, I see that the government is getting ready to bail out investment bank Bear Stearns. I trust that you will apply as much righteous indignation to this form of creeping socialism as you do to the injustices of AFDC.

March 14, 2008 at 5:33 PM  
Anonymous nick said...

michael s.The first of the Flavians, Vespasian, revoked Nero's grant in 70 AD...

It would be interesting to learn if this revocation was done through edict of the emperor (presumably under his legal authority as "princeps"), through a trial analogous to the later English quo warranto, or through some other process. I'm not sure what the de jure law of the Republic and the Early Empire was, but it's clear that once "the princep's word is law" became de facto reality, a "grant" like this could not create a secure political property right, since it could be revoked at will by the emperor as princeps.

Bracton and some other English legal scholars of the Romanist persuasion, heavily influenced by the Code promulgated by the Emperor Justinian in the sixth century, and revived and the central element of university law curriculum after the 12th century, were convinced that certain powerful liberties could or should only be "delegated" by the king (as "princeps") to an agent, a delegation revocable at will, not "granted" as property rights. By this reasoning political powers could not really be property rights, despite the property law nature of franchise law (jurisdictional disputes as trespasses, etc.)

But the actual English law, as recorded in cases and taught in the Inns of Court (English legal schools not associated with universities), was clear that these were property rights, forfeit only upon gross abuse through a quo warranto trial, not at the will of the king. People as recent as Samuel Adams, the guy on the beer bottle, argued that colonial grants were political property rights not subject to trespass on or revocation by Parliament.

"Grant" is a property law term, the standard term for transferring land or other property right by deed or charter. Grants are irrevocable, whereas "delegate" is an agency term and delegations are generally revocable. Interestingly, the original U.S. Constitution uses "grant" while the Bill of Rights uses "delegate". These "grants" or "delegations" are from the fictional person "We the People" to the specific bodies named in the Constitution. I'm not sure anybody has investigated this switch from property to agency terminology, but it's largely a philosophical point since the grantor/delegor is fictive, the Constitution itself specifies how it is supposed to be amended, the delagor "We the People" has never shown his face to try to revoke any delegation, and the grantor "We the People" has never shown his face to try to institute a quo warranto proceeding. So despite being modeled after a charter granting political property rights, and amended so as to suggest that it's only a delegation, the Constitution is its own kind of beast.

March 14, 2008 at 5:47 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Mtraven, your original claim concerned taxation "of property rights," not taxation in all its multifarious forms. You now wish to eliminate the qualification that you initially used; I intend to hold you to it. In classical times it was not ordinarily the case that the property or wealth of free citizens were taxed. The understanding of liberty prevalent at that time was inconsistent with such taxation. What is so difficult about this?

The insinuation of direct taxes on the wealth of free citizens into American law (as opposed to taxes on particular transactions, the revenues of which were dedicated to particular purposes, as described by Nick) is a recent development and is foreign to the historic character of Anglo-American law, as well as to the classical ideals of the Founding Fathers.

In connection with this it is worth noting that egalitarianism much less frequently comforts the afflicted than it afflicts the comfortable. It is not concerned with uplifting the downtrodden as with treading down the lofty. Direct taxation of wealth on a graduated or 'progressive' basis finds its first great apologists in Marx and Engels - it is one of the enumerated objectives of "The Communist Manifesto."

Collectivists want to enshrine envy as a principle of economic organization, with taxation of wealth its practical weapon. They propose to replace an unequal distribution of prosperity and freedom with an equal imposition of poverty and servitude. This does not seem a good bargain to me, however much you may like it. In a free society, those who are unpropertied always can follow Guizot's advice - "enrichissez-vous par le travail et par l'épargne" - and thus become propertied and in the fullest sense, free.

As for Bear Stearns, a government bail-out would be another instance of what is called 'lemon socialism' - the process of preserving by taxpayer subvention a business entity that would otherwise fail, in response to political pressure from those who would suffer by its failure. The Chrysler bail-out some years ago is an illustration. Other instances can be found in post-war British history, such as the nationalization of failing shipyards and coal mines. The lesson of Mrs Thatcher's ministry was that letting markets deal with these institutions may have been painful in the short run but strengthened the economy in the long run. I find lemon socialism economically as discreditable as AFDC.

What did you expect me to say? My bank made a profit last year. We know how to turn down bad loans.

March 14, 2008 at 6:58 PM  
Blogger Ashen Man said...

Nick:

I realised you had addressed a comment to me earlier and I didn't respond. Sorry about that; I passed over it among the flurry of ad hominems and non sequiturs.

I'm not sure I understand your use of the word sovereignty (with its inevitable slide into socialism). Does it apply only to modern states, and if so, why?

March 14, 2008 at 8:51 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Michael S: Mtraven, your original claim concerned taxation "of property rights," not taxation in all its multifarious forms. You now wish to eliminate the qualification that you initially used; I intend to hold you to it.
You can quibble over terminology and argue with something I didn't say all you like. I fail to see why I or anyone else should be interested.

Or, maybe, there is something interesting at the core of your confusion. Perhaps we have quite different meanings for "rights", and are talking past each other. When I think of "rights", wooly-minded universalist that I am, I think in terms of universal human rights. A right to free speech, or property, is by default applicable to every member of the human race, and a violation of that right is a violation.

You and Nick, on the other hand, treat rights as things that only apply to certain individuals Apparently they are commodities that can be bought, sold, and only appy to the individuals lucky enough to have purchased them. So, according to you, the Greeks didn't violate the property rights of their conquered people because those people didn't have any property rights.

This difference in termimology accounts for your insistence that I said something I didn't say. At least that is cleared up.

I have two comments on to this. One, since you and I are citizens of the US, not ancient Sparta, our rights to property are governed by US law, that is, we can own all sorts of stuff but we have to pay taxes on it. Our real estate is subject to property tax. That is the rights we get given our condition. So, by your own standards, taxation is not a violation of property rights, it is just a condition of property rights in our particular place. We simply do not have a right to untaxed real estate or untaxed income.

Two, it is amazing to me that you proprietarians like you paint themselves as lovers as liberty, and call people like me a totalitarian statist, when it is clear that under your rules vast numbers of people end up as slaves without any rights at all. This picture rather sums up for me what happens when property rights trump human rights. Which side are you on?

So, I say a sincere "fuck you" to anyone who labels me as some sort of statist oppressor, while simultaneously celebrating the use of state-backed force against the powerless.

March 15, 2008 at 9:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the "Separation-of-Church-and-State" purists out there: you feeling a tad uncomfortable with Obama's church and its apparent influence on his thinking?

Auster had an insight about white Liberals' love affair with Obama: they think they're getting a Sidney Poitier, but it dawns on some that they might if fact be getting an OJ Simpson.

- PA

March 15, 2008 at 10:33 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Mtraven, of course property rights are universal rights and every human being should have the right to acquire, hold, use, and sell property as he pleases.

When you wrote:

"...according to you the Greeks didn't violate the property rights of their conquered people because those people didn't have any property rights..."

you have inverted completely the sense of what I have tried to demonstrate throughout this thread. They DID violate those rights, by direct taxation of their conquered peoples' property - a type of taxation they did not apply to their own free subjects. This illustrated the distinction they made between their own freedom and the tributary statusthey imposed upon their vanquished foes.

Freedom - full property rights - in the ancient world meant, inter alia, freedom from tribute, or direct taxation of property (wealth). The Framers of the U.S. Constitution understood this when they forbade the federal government from imposing such taxation. The passage of the Sixteenth Amendment imposed upon the American people the status of tributaries, and was hence a taking of freedom. What is so hard to understand about this?

Finally, how can you speak of "property rights trumping human rights" in one paragraph, when you have assered in a previous paragraph that "a right to free speech, or property, is by default applicable to every member of the human race"?

Property rights ARE human rights. They do not have secondary status as compared to other human rights. Direct taxation of property is a violation of liberty in respect to property just as censorship of the press is a violation of liberty in respect to speech.

March 15, 2008 at 11:42 AM  
Blogger George Weinberg said...

Michael s writes

the tax exemption on income from municipal bonds, which many high-income taxpayers use to lower their effective tax rate, was not created to give the rich an opportunity to shelter income from taxation - it was created to enable state and local governments to borrow money at rates well below those charged to private-sector borrowers

I'd phrase that slightly differently: the difference in returns between "tax-free" municipal bonds and "taxed" corporate binds is in fact a diguised tax paid by the holders of municipal binds.

there is no real way to hide income from taxation without either allowing oneself to be manipulated into doing what the tax code is designed to get one to do, or inviting prosecution.

well, you can accumulate wealth without being taxed provided you don't spend it (for example, by holding stock which appreciates in (real) value but does not pay dividends). But if you can't spend it, it's not very useful.

March 15, 2008 at 11:46 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Nick, I should not have used the word "grant" in respect to Nero's extension of libertas and immunitas to the Greeks, and Vespasian's rescission of them. As you point out a grant has specific legal meaning and I did not intent to imply this.

Under the republic and the early principate, Roman magistrates proclaimed by edict the steps they intended to take in the discharge of their office. These edicts had effect during the term of their office, and might either be accepted by their successors or altered. For a praetor or consul the term was a year, but for the princeps it was life. Nero extended libertas and immunitas to the Greeks by edict, and Vespasian revoked them by edict.

The edicts of ordinary magistrates (praetors in particular) began to be standardized under Hadrian's edictum perpetuum, so that the praetor lost his ability to alter the edict of his predecessor. The further centralization and rigidity imposed by Justinian reflect a continuation of the Hadrianic reform. However, such rigor never applied to the princeps as chief magistrate. Thus, for example, Hadrian divided Italy into four provinces, and his successor Antoninus Pius promptly abolished them.

We see the survival of these aspects of the Roman edict in the constitutions promulgated by various popes. At the death of Leo XIII the papal constitutions prescribed that the emperor of Austria had a veto over the election of a pope. When at the conclave of 1903 Cardinal Rampolla received 29 votes at the first scrutiny, the cardinal bishop of Cracow rose to announce that his sovereign, the emperor Franz Josef, would exercise his veto. Giuseppe Cardinal Sarto was elected in subsequent balloting, and (as Pope Pius X), having benefitted by the Austrian veto, promulgated a new constitution abolishing it. The papal constitution under which John XXIII was elected set the number of the college of Cardinals at 70. Pope John promulgated a new constitution setting the number at 85 and introducing a mandatory retirement age, as well as a number of unrelated changes. I think just about every pope since has promulgated new constititions, in just the same manner as Roman emperors used to alter the edicts of their predecessors.

March 15, 2008 at 12:09 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

George, your presentation of the exemption of municipal bond interest from income tax is certainly another way to view it. However we do, though, it is an illustration of the use of the tax code to manipulate taxpayers' behavior to the advantage of government, rather than some supposed 'give-away' to a particular group of taxpayers.

The point about unrealized capital gains illustrates something rather different, I think. It is that, under a regime of income- or wealth-taxation, the power of government can be exercised to as great an effect in DEFINING what constitute income or wealth, as in setting the rate and mode of collection of the tax. Whether, in an inflationary economy, it is defensible to define a capital gain as 'income' is a vexed question.

If I bought a 3-bedroom house 30 years ago for $50,000 and sold it today for $250,000, have I realized a "profit" of $200,000? Since really all I can do with the proceeds of the sale is buy another similar house, or other assets of value comparable to such a house, it is a stretch to call it a profit. Congress has recognized this in very practical terms by not defining such a gain as taxable. However, this was done not out of any sense of fairness or economic logic, but rather because it would lead to massive political discontent with the tax laws. Too many oxen would be gored. The same illusory gain, reflecting only the dollar's loss of value, might be realized in the sale of farm lands, a small business, publicly traded securities, or works of art - and all of these would be taxable events. There are not as many transactions of these types as there are sales of houses, so taxing them will not result in the same practical political consequences.

March 15, 2008 at 12:35 PM  
Anonymous nick said...

ashen man: I'm not sure I understand your use of the word sovereignty (with its inevitable slide into socialism). Does it apply only to modern states, and if so, why?

I'm using it to refer to the idea, derived ultimately from the Roman Empire via the Justinian Code, of a "locus of sovereignty" that Romanist scholars try to pin on particular institutions. According to the Romanist metaphor (used in the Code itself, by Bodin, Hobbes, etc.) this locus (traditionally emperor or king) is the "head" which gives arbitrary commands to the "body politic", everybody else. For example, many such scholars, like Russell Kirk, find this locus in the King before the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688 and in Parliament thereafter. This is a gross oversimplification of affairs: before and after, both had substantial power in making (primarily the latter) and executing (primarily the former) legislation. By the end of the reign of Queen Victoria, however, the supposed sovereignty of Parliament had become a self-fulfilling prophecy and now the Crown is essentially just a ceremonial position. Traditionally, however, England was a system of political property rights that simply did not fit the head/body metaphor.

Sovereignty is closely related to the idea that there is something called "the government" that is supposed to solve an unlimited variety of problems. This is the opposite of a government of strictly enumerated powers or narrowly confined political property rights. Sovereignty, or independence from control, is also opposed to internal controls like separation of powers and external controls like federalism, election, political property rights, and judicial review by superior courts. These all get us away from the Roman "the emperor's word is law" and the Rosseauvian "the will of the people is law."

March 15, 2008 at 1:18 PM  
Anonymous nick said...

Sorry, I forgot to respond to the latter half of ashen man's question:

...sovereignty (with its inevitable slide into socialism). Does it apply only to modern states, and if so, why?

It also applied to the Roman empire where "the emperor's word was law." It generally did not apply to medieval Western Europe, a world full of highly distributed political property rights.

The connection with socialism is, that if there are not well enforced systems of political property rights or enumerated powers, as there mostly are not in modern nation-states, the resulting sovereign legislative power cannot credibly commit to protect property rights over the long term, and its regulation of the economy will increasingly override the right of an owner to control his own property, eventually turning ptroperty into a mere ceremonial form, or a mere right to keep the capital gains, or effecitvely confiscating property in certain industries altogether. And that, with too few exceptions, is the trend we have observed since the last half of the 19th century when the idea of the sovereignty of legislatures (as representing "the will of the people") came to predominate political discourse. This was also observed in the Roman Empire: over the years its economy increasingly grew regulated and tradeable property rights were converted into hereditary positions of serfdom, by naive and tradition-destroying reforms such as those of Diocletian.

March 15, 2008 at 1:31 PM  
Anonymous nick said...

Nick, I should not have used the word "grant" in respect to Nero's extension of libertas and immunitas to the Greeks, and Vespasian's rescission of them.

Don't sweat it, it's a ubiquitous error among scholars. Historians, alas, usually don't know to differentiate between a revocable delegation and a grant, among other important legal principles historians who really want to understand ancient politics should know. Also, it's possible that Nero's edict was in the form of a property grant, but was de facto just a delegation due to the (I'm presuming) unlimited subject matter of edicts including the ability to revoke previous "grants." I'm not familiar enough with the Roman law of that period to say.

March 15, 2008 at 1:50 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Nick's comments relative to Roman law in his response to Ashen Man fit rather neatly in with my reaction to the link posted by Mtraven where he says, "This picture rather sums up for me what happens when property rights trump human rights." The picture shows the forcible eviction by armoured police of a woman and child, part of a group of some 200 squatters on a piece of land near Manaus, Brazil.

There are many ways to read an account. The popular reading of the story of Robin Hood is that he ''stole from the rich and gave to the poor." But if we actually read the story we find that Robin Hood took not 'from the rich,' but from evil Prince John's tax collectors the money John was planning to misappropriate from its stated purpose, namely the ransoming of his brother Richard Cœur de Lion; Robin uses some of it to relieve the oppressed taxpayers, and some to restore the rightful king.

Similarly, if we look at the history of squatting as an economic phenomenon in Latin America, we cannot read the picture to which Mtraven has linked as an example of a rich-versus-poor class struggle, with property rights trumping human rights (as if property rights were somehow not human rights).

There are huge populations of squatters around every major city in Latin America. I have seen for myself the favelas around Rio de Janeiro, and similar slums around Lima and Buenos Aires. They are heart-rending. Why is squatting so commonplace in Latin America, and so rare in the U.S.? It does have to do with property rights, but not in the way Mtraven would like us to think.

The Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto has explored the reasons for Latin American poverty in his book "The Other Path." He points out that one of its main causes is the obstructive inertia of government. He compares the time and effort necessary to carry out certain economic transactions in his native Peru with the comparable transactions in the U.S. He obserrves that getting a license to do business in a typical U.S. city may take a few hours, whereas in Peru it can take several months. Getting clear title to real estate is a process any American who has closed on a house knows and probably ranks at the same level as root-canal treatment, but it is still a breeze here compared with Peru, where it takes an average of seven years, if it can be done at all.

De Soto concludes that the burden of dealing with the state has stifled normal and lawful commerce in Latin America, while creating a huge 'informal' economy, in which people simply bypass the law. They squat rather than bother with seven years of bureaucratic delay. They do business off-the-books, informally, dodging tax-collectors and licensing requirements.

However assiduous it may be, Latin American industriousness is never rewarded in due proportion to the effort put forth, because the informal status of the transactions deprives them of the protection that proper laws could afford. Contracts are thus impossible to enforce, credit is impossible to obtain, and title to houses or business premises is non-existent. Not property rights, but their absence, lead to poverty.

De Soto is an economist, and not a lawyer. When I met him some years ago at a meeting of the Philadelphia Society, I asked him if he had ever considered the different historical origins of the Latin American and the U.S. legal systems as explaining the relative poverty of Latin America. He said he had not.

It seemed obvious to me from his writing and from the speech he gave that the heritage of Roman law and Bourbon dirigisme is what has impoverished the Latin countries - and that the common law of England has been the leaven of the Anglosphere's prosperity.

The later Roman law, not of the republic or the early principate, but from the senatus consultum that Hadrian extracted for his edictum perpetuum, through the later codex and pandects, fit well the needs of centralizing absolutists in the early modern era. When they wished to introduce restraints on the freedom of markets, it obligingly provided the means.

Contrast this with the English common law, which as soon as some attempt was made to restrict the marketability of assets or to impose royal dirigisme, began working to undo it. Thus, for example, the ingenuity of English lawyers at breaking entails, the antipathy of bench and bar to royal grants of monopolies, the early seventeenth-century conflicts between the exercise of royal prerogative through courts of equity and the resistance of the common lawyers, etc.

Sad to say, the United States seems to be heading in a Romanist direction faster than Latin America is heading away from it. At this rate, it won't be long before favelas sprout around our cities.

March 15, 2008 at 3:47 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Michael S: Freedom - full property rights - in the ancient world meant, inter alia, freedom from tribute, or direct taxation of property (wealth). The Framers of the U.S. Constitution understood this when they forbade the federal government from imposing such taxation. The passage of the Sixteenth Amendment imposed upon the American people the status of tributaries, and was hence a taking of freedom. What is so hard to understand about this?

It's not hard to understand, it's just false. The original Constitution did not prohibit any form of taxes, it only required that certain taxes were apportioned according to population. The federal government collected income tax from 1862 until 1895, when the Supreme Court interpreted it as a direct tax under that clause. The 16th amendment was passed to override that decision and permit the kind of income taxes that had been collected for 30 years previously, and that's all it did. So to paint it as some kind of watershed event that removed a fundamental liberty and transformed the American people into tributaries is just false, the kind of thing put forth by tiresome cranks.

You can blame the Civil War and Lincoln for beginning a very long process of increasing the scope and power of the Federal government if you like, that would at least make historical sense. The 16th amendment was a very small blip in this process.

March 16, 2008 at 4:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

mtraven said:

That very same document reveals that the top 1% of earners make 21% of the income. That might have something to do with it.

Yes, I am aware of that. So what if they do? How does that make it "fair" for them to bear 39.4% of the total tax burden?

Really, if you're going to try to throw around bogus stats you should do it without more meaningful numbers are right on the same page.

The stats are not bogus. They are IRS states on the House website. And the "meaningful" numbers do not prove your case.

It's a neat trick, trying to make the skewed income distribution of the US make your argument for you.

Those numbers make an incontrovertible case that the US tax system is unfair to the rich and the upper middle classes.

I must say, mtraven, you're really bringing down the tone of the comments section of this blog. Calling people liars, telling people to fuck off, not doing your intellectual homework. Truly not very impressive. And why do you even come here?

March 16, 2008 at 9:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

mtraven said:

And of course none of the numbers in the government document reflect the various income-hiding tricks that are the main subject of Johnston's book.

If Johnston is referring to tax avoidance, rather than evasion, then this "income-hiding" practice is neither illegal, nor immoral, nor in any way improper, and his book amounts to a big "so what". Wow, people take advantage of the tax regime to reduce the amount of tax they have to pay, what a shocking revelation.

March 16, 2008 at 9:24 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

me: That very same document reveals that the top 1% of earners make 21% of the income. That might have something to do with it.

anonymous: Yes, I am aware of that. So what if they do? How does that make it "fair" for them to bear 39.4% of the total tax burden?

I don't believe I ever said it was. Consider it unfair if you like; what it actually is is very mildly progressive. But that's not the point, the bogosity is in throwing out misleading factoids like "the top 1% of earners pay 39% of the tax burden". That may be true, although it doesn't take into account the numerous shelters and dodges available to the rich. But if you put it in meaningful form, like the top 21% of income supplies 39% of the tax revenue, it has considerably less impact.

Those numbers make an incontrovertible case that the US tax system is unfair to the rich and the upper middle classes.

Yes, rich people just can't catch a break in this terribly unfair world.

I must say, mtraven, you're really bringing down the tone of the comments section of this blog. Calling people liars, telling people to fuck off, not doing your intellectual homework. Truly not very impressive. And why do you even come here?

If anybody disputes my assertions they are free to challenge them. In the case of "fuck off", it's because someone was calling me a totalitarian state-worshipper, based on no evidence whatsoever. I have since challenged that individual to support his assertion, and heard nothing but crickets. So I don't really think it's me who is bringing the tone down here.

Why do I come here? Good question. Partly because I admire MM's ability and willingness to think outside the conventional ruts (although I fear he may just have dug himself a different one). Partly I just like to argue. How else can you tell if an idea or ideology is any good other than ruthlessly critiquing it? I don't see the point of commenting on blogs where I mostly agree with everyone else, that's boring. I was kind of hoping to have an intellectual dialog with people who were unconventional thinkers and willing to rethink the roots of political philosophy. Instead, I find a bunch of sour cranks who are as deeply entrenched in their rightist worldview as any Berkeley hippy is in their leftist one. I should probably stop wasting my time, but it's become something of an addiction. Help me break the cycle.

March 17, 2008 at 9:05 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Mtraven, of course I do blame Lincoln for beginning the enlargement of the Federal goverrnment far beyond the Framers' intent. It was he who set the precedents upon which Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson and every president since him have relied in furthering its expansion. As I remarked in an earlier thread, it is not surprising to me that the American leftists who joined the Communist side in the Spanish civil war named themselves the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

The transformation of a people into tributaries of their own government is intimately connected with the promiscuous extension of citizenship. This can be observed in the reign of the emperor Caracalla, in which time Roman citizenship was extended to freedmen (the parallel is the Fifteenth Amendment), and at the same time citizens lost their immunitas or freedom from direct taxation (the parallel is the Sixteenth Amendment). He also debased the currency (the parallel is the issuance of greenbacks). Lincoln was America's Caracalla, and the parallel is hardly a flattering one.

March 17, 2008 at 9:25 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

PS - of course, lest Mtraven assert otherwise, I do know the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Amendments were passed after Lincoln's death - the former, relatively shortly thereafter, the latter under Wilson - but they ratified the initiatives he began.

As for being a sour right wing crank stuck in a rut, I wonder if Mtraven would like to apply that description to Hernando de Soto, whose thesis about Latin American poverty I summarized at length. It is certainly far both from the leftist stereotype that Mtraven falls back upon, and from what is inaccurately identified as right-wing politics in the Latin American context. Not a peep about this, so far. Has he anything interesting to say when no prefabricated socialist cant seems applicable?

March 17, 2008 at 9:33 AM  
Anonymous nick said...

michael s. makes great historical observations as usual, and I'd love to learn more about the reforms of Hadrian and Caracalla. I'm a bit more familiar with the sweeping reforms of Diocletian which most often are blamed for rigidization of the economy in the late (for the Western half) Empire, although historians also often opine that these reforms were forced on Diocletian by the severe problems of the previous "barracks emperor" period of civil wars. I do have a couple small nits regarding the Framers of the U.S. Constitution:

I do blame Lincoln for beginning the enlargement of the Federal goverrnment far beyond the Framers' intent.

First -- and this seems to be, and in some practical senses is, severe legal nit-picking, but bear with me -- on the "Framer's intent", it should be the intent of the ratifiers, not the drafters, that is authoritative. The best evidence we have for that intent may be the objective meanings in the Federalist Papers, which, after the text of the Constitution itself, was the main text ratifiers used to figure out what that text meant. The secret intents of many of the federalists, including Hamilton and Jay but probably not Madison, were probably for a larger government than they argued for during the ratification. Some of the wording of the Constitution may be deliberately vague for this reason. But their secret intents are irrelevant to how the Constitution should be legally interpreted -- it should be the objective meaning of the Constitution's language at the time, and how the ratifiers (state legislatures and conventions) understood that meaning, that should be authoritative.

Second, as for the subsequent enlargement of the federal government, I'm afraid the rot germinated long before Lincoln, although merely as legal seedlings that didn't start growing large until the time of Lincoln, and indeed some of which didn't make their presence well known until the New Deal. The extreme federalist Chief Justice Marshall in the early 19th century provided many holdings and dicta -- a sweeping redefinition of "necessary and proper", the "effects" doctrine of the Commerce Clause, and so on that proved very useful later on for the dramatic constitutional change of the New Deal, especially the notorious Commerce Clause "effects doctrine" by which growing wheat or marijuana for your own consumption constitutes "commerce between the states."

At a more basic level, the Framer's court structure was deeply flawed, creating both adverse selection and moral hazard that incentivized Marshall and most future justices to allow aggrandizement of federal power by severely stretching the meanings of words, as I describe a bit more here.

March 17, 2008 at 7:36 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Michael S: As for being a sour right wing crank stuck in a rut, I wonder if Mtraven would like to apply that description to Hernando de Soto...
No -- but he isn't posting here. I haven't read de Soto, but what I have heard of his ideas strikes me as interesting, and I certainly would not dismiss them out of hand. He's been critiqued from the left by Mike Davis (author of "Planet of Slums") and here.

My guess, without really knowing much about the issue, is that the linked article is probably accurate. Promoting small-scale owership and entrepeneurship is a fine thing in theory, but in practice it's the elites and middle classes who know how to game the system who end up as the ultimate beneficiaries. Same as it ever was.

Has he anything interesting to say when no prefabricated socialist cant seems applicable?

Examples of my "prefabricated socialist cant" please, or an apology. Still waiting on the same from Nick, but not holding my breath. You guys are really peas in a pod -- expecting us to believe your interpretations of ancient history while uttering verifiable slanders and distortions in the present day. Quite shameless really.

The transformation of a people into tributaries of their own government is intimately connected with the promiscuous extension of citizenship. This can be observed in the reign of the emperor Caracalla, in which time Roman citizenship was extended to freedmen (the parallel is the Fifteenth Amendment), and at the same time citizens lost their immunitas or freedom from direct taxation (the parallel is the Sixteenth Amendment).

Well, as I pointed out some ways back, simple logic dictates that either you have a slave population to extract tribute from, or you have to raise revenue from the citizenry in general. Apparently you prefer the former. Nice of you to admit it so openly, I guess. Who do you have in mind? The blacks have probably gotten too uppity to be easily re-enslaved.

March 17, 2008 at 9:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what it actually is is very mildly progressive.

Wow, very mildly. Does that mean total confiscation would be "somewhat progressive" and the guillotine would be "extremely progressive"?

the bogosity is in throwing out misleading factoids like "the top 1% of earners pay 39% of the tax burden".

I don't see what's misleading about it. It is both true and important that the top income brackets pay the vast majority of the taxes, while the bottom half of the country pays essentially nothing or is actually a net tax recipient. So they have some tax shelters, big whoop. Seems to me that you'll always be whining that the rich will always be "getting away with something" if they keep any of their money.

I don't see the point of commenting on blogs where I mostly agree with everyone else, that's boring. I was kind of hoping to have an intellectual dialog with people who were unconventional thinkers and willing to rethink the roots of political philosophy. Instead, I find a bunch of sour cranks who are as deeply entrenched in their rightist worldview as any Berkeley hippy is in their leftist one. I should probably stop wasting my time, but it's become something of an addiction. Help me break the cycle.

So you're looking for a place where people disagree with you somewhat, but not too much. A sterile exercise, looking for lukewarm opposition...

FWIW I find most of your opponents here turgid and unreadable in the main. The Romans, the Greek city-states, my eyes glaze over, zzzzzzz.

March 18, 2008 at 7:02 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Mtraven, an example of prefabricated socialist cant is your automatic interpretation of the photograph to which you linked as reflecting "property rights trumping human rights."

Your underlying assumption is that there is some kind of difference between rights to property and rights (let's say) to freedom of expression. This is not axiomatic. It requires a defense, which you have not presented so far.

Let us recall that the issue at hand is not just taxation, but taxation of property rights. You wrote on March 11 at 9:05 PM that "it is part of no civilized tradition that property rights are not subject to taxation."

It is perfectly possible for a state to raise revenue without direct taxation of property or wealth. Until the passage of the Sixteenth Amendment - with the exception of the period when Lincoln's unconstitutional income tax was in effect - all Federal revenues came from taxes on transactions (excises, imposts and duties). There is no reason why a suitably small and frugal state could not raise all its revenues in this manner. Your argument that either a state must exact tribute from a slave population or it must directly tax the property rights of its citizens is manifestly untrue. There are numerous historical examples to the contrary.

As for the supposedly modest progressivity of the income tax system. the tax burden really represents only half of the income transfer equation. The other half is the distribution of benefits. Everyone benefits to some extent from government. At least in theory, there is a value to military protection, courts and law enforcement, the miantenance of roads, sewers, and the like. But benefits of this kind in which every citizen can be said to share equally are relatively little in comparison to the benefits that are delivered to some but not to others. I suspect that for every dollar's worth of benefit received by a top bracket taxpayer from government, someone who is not even in the bottom bracket receives several hundred dollars. When the burden of taxation and the distribution of benefits are considered as a net amount, the system is quite a bit more 'progressive' than the income tax burden indicates.

As for de Soto, the evidence that he is right - that the pervasive poverty of the third world is largely a question of its insufficient protection of property rights and the burden of its governments - is demonstrated by the cases of third world economies that have prospered by freeing their markets. Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and other small Chinese enclaves around the Pacific Rim for years prospered while mainland China, under its Marxist government, wallowed in poverty. Now that the economic theory of communism has been abandoned there, and what survives of it is merely a pretext for authoritarian politics, China prospers too. India provides another illustration. For years a place of abject poverty, it now has a burgeoning middle class and many successful entrepreneurs, thanks to market-oriented reforms.

The poverty of the third world is different from the poverty we observe amongst the American lumpenproletariat. In the third world there are many people of normal or better intelligence and willingness to work. Their countries may have significant undeveloped natural resources. All they lack is an economic structure that permits them to make the best use of these assets.

By contrast, here there is a substantial component among the poor that is unemployed because it is unemployable. No amount of education can help, because you can't educate the ineducable. Our great failure in the U.S. is in the encouragement of people with talent and drive. One need only look at a typical public school for examples.

The third world can deal with its poverty by taking to heart the lessons of "The Other Path." We must learn to deal with ours by taking to heart those of "The Bell Curve."

March 18, 2008 at 11:35 AM  
Blogger George Weinberg said...

nick writes

The extreme federalist Chief Justice Marshall in the early 19th century provided many holdings and dicta -- a sweeping redefinition of "necessary and proper", the "effects" doctrine of the Commerce Clause, and so on that proved very useful later on for the dramatic constitutional change of the New Deal, especially the notorious Commerce Clause "effects doctrine" by which growing wheat or marijuana for your own consumption constitutes "commerce between the states."

Obviously it's not possible to have a market economy for goods for which the chain from production through consumption is entirely within one state and a command economy for goods that at some point cross state lines, and obviously one is not engaging in interstate commerce by producing goods that never will cross state lines. But I think the point of the commerce clause was to allow for the creation of a legal framework for avoiding disputes in transactions across state lines and resolving disputes when they did occur. I don't think it ever occurred to the ratifiers that the commerce clause would be construed to allow the federal government to dictate prices and production levels.

March 18, 2008 at 11:49 AM  
Blogger George Weinberg said...

Michael s writes

Until the passage of the Sixteenth Amendment - with the exception of the period when Lincoln's unconstitutional income tax was in effect - all Federal revenues came from taxes on transactions (excises, imposts and duties). There is no reason why a suitably small and frugal state could not raise all its revenues in this manner.

True, but such a state would be unable to fight a war on the scale of the American Civil War. Similarly, a war of such scale could not have been fought without conscription (on both sides).

Perhaps today that would be a good thing, but it's hard to see how menaces like Nazi Germany and Communist Russia could have been resisted by frugal minimalist states.

March 18, 2008 at 12:02 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

George, I agree that it would have been hard for a frugal and minimalist state to have resisted Nazi Germany or Communist Russia. This of course presumes that they would have come into existence were it not for the earlier expansion of the U.S. and other governments beyond the frugal and minimalist level.

Had, for example, the United States conducted its affairs according to the principles of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Randolph, or even of Grover Cleveland, rather than according to those of Woodrow Wilson, can we conceive that World War I would have ended in the way it did, toppling four historic monarchies, and paving the way for Bolshevism and Nazism?

Of course we venture here into hypothesis contrary to fact and the sub-genre of fiction called alternative history. Still, it does not seem to far-fetched to suggest that if the United States had stayed true to the ideals set forth in Washington's farewell address, it would never have entered a war between European powers. The stalemate that had developed by 1917 before American intervention might well have ended in a peace that led to some re-drawing of borders, but did not destroy the existing government of any of the belligerent states. Ideological totalitarianism would thus not have found such fertile ground in which to germinate and flourish.

March 18, 2008 at 12:49 PM  
Blogger Studd Beefpile said...

On the subject of 1917, the american intervention almost certainly had bad effects, but the czars were cast out before america became an issue. The kaiser might have made it had we not intervened though. A much bigger deal was american material and financial support for the allies in the earlier years, encouraged by Wilson.

As for transactional taxation, I fail to see how a modern state could finance itself without either tariffs or direct taxation, and of the two I prefer direct taxation as being more transparent. Technically, an income tax is transactional in any case.

March 18, 2008 at 1:55 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Studd, the income tax is not really transactional. The argument could be made that the payroll tax is, since it is a flat percentage levied on a transaction, viz., the payment of wages in exchange for labor. There is an analogy here to sales taxes or ad-valorem customs duties or a stamp tax on the filing of a deed. However, that is not the way in which income taxation works, at least as we have it in the United States.

As I noted in an earlier post, just as important to the effect of an income tax as its rate is the definition of income.

A realized capital gain is certainly the result of a transaction, but is it really income? All we can say is that it depends on the circumstances (both from the standpoint of real economics and from that of the tax code). From an economic standpoint many nominal capital gains are illusory, the consequence of inflation of the currency. They are not gains, and may indeed be losses, when adjustment is made for inflation. However, the tax code does not provide indexing for inflation. Accordingly, sometimes capital gains taxation amounts to a confiscation of principal. On the other hand, some very substantial capital gains, whether nominal or real, are not defined as taxable income by the tax code - most notably, proceeds from the sale of a principal residence.

The net taxable profit of a business is not the consequence of a single transaction, and may not be the consequence of any transactions at all. A business typically engages in multiple transactions, some of which may be profitable and some of which may result in losses. Whether the business realizes a profit depends in part on whether the sum of its individual transactions' profits and losses is positive or negative. But even if that sum should be negative, the business may still show a profit because marking-to-market of its assets may show enough of a gain to offset the loss resulting from its transactions. Conversely, the sum of a business's individual transactions' profits and losses may be positive, but be offset by a loss in the value of its assets. In other words, business profit takes into account both the statement of income and expenditures, and the balance sheet.

Since under the U.S. income tax system one's income tax is calculated on the sum of wages, net unindexed capital gains, interest and dividends (which may not keep up with inflation), profits of partnerships and S-corporations (which are not transactiions), it is hard to say that it is a purely transactional tax in the way that sales taxes, ad-valorem duties, and excises of flat amounts per quantity such as those on alcohol or gasoline are.

Similarly, the estate tax is not a transactional tax. It is levied on the total value of a decedent's assets above a given floor (at this point $2 million). A flat rate gift or inheritance tax could probably be described as transactional, because it would be levied on the transfer of an amount from one person to another. However, that is not how estate taxation works, and it strains the usual understanding to consider the simple act of dying, which under the present estate tax is a taxable event, an economic transaction.

Finally, the simple transactional element of any of these transactions is compromised by the system of graduated rates. By definition a transactional tax is dependent solely on the nature of the transaction. In other words, if I buy an article subject to a sales tax I will pay a tax amounting to some percentage of the transaction. With income or estate taxes, the rate of tax is not dependent on a given transaction but on the sum of all income (as arbitrarily defined by the tax code) received during a taxable year. Thus one person may pay a marginal rate of 15%, another 28%, another 33% or 36%.

Because of these features, income taxation and estate taxation are distinguished as direct taxes on property (wealth) from transactional taxes such as sales taxes, value-added taxes, excise taxes, etc.

You are right that Nicholas II abdicated before the U.S. entered World War I. I think the Hohenzollern monarchy might have survived, but the real tragedies to be mourned are the falls of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. Had they been allowed to remain formally intact the histories of both Mitteleuropa and the Middle East might have been less bloody than they were.

March 18, 2008 at 2:56 PM  
Blogger Studd Beefpile said...

You are using a much stricter definition than I am. From where I am sitting, a direct tax would be akin to a poll tax, i.e. the tax man coming to your door on april 16th demanding his yearly dues. Property taxes do function this way, and some cities have similar taxes. The federal government does not do that. That much of the current system amounts to direct taxation in practice I won't deny, but my point was that you could theoretically have an income tax that operated on a transactional basis. That said, does it really matter? I want my taxes low and transparent. A VAT is purely transactional, but I would not want it to be adopted. It is too easy to miss. I want my taxes highly visible and painful. Everyone in the US moves a little bit to the right when they get their first paycheck, and realize how much FICA is taking.


You are right that Nicholas II abdicated before the U.S. entered World War I. I think the Hohenzollern monarchy might have survived, but the real tragedies to be mourned are the falls of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. Had they been allowed to remain formally intact the histories of both Mitteleuropa and the Middle East might have been less bloody than they were.

As bad shape as those regions are in, they pale in significance to the damage wrought by the Communists. WWI did 2 things, gave the Communists their playpen and destroyed the Optimate rule on the continent. All other effects are secondary compared to the magnitude of those 2 changes.

Admittedly, Optimate rule was on the way out, but there is a world of difference between a fighting retreat and being outright annihilated. I am not as fond of those Optimates as MM is, but they at least had the virtue of being opposed to the socialists.

March 18, 2008 at 10:46 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Michael S: Mtraven, an example of prefabricated socialist cant is your automatic interpretation of the photograph to which you linked as reflecting "property rights trumping human rights."

Hm, you are right, that is awfully cliched. In my defense, I am getting extremely bored with this dialog and thus resorting to cheap shots. I think when we started this delightful interaction I was being more original, but my pearls of insight were misunderstood, and I have stopped putting in much effort.

For some reason I am moved to link to this old travel blog post of mine where I encounter some political statuary. No great theoretical insights I'm afraid, but maybe it will clear me of the charge of being an agent of international communism. Or not.

Your underlying assumption is that there is some kind of difference between rights to property and rights (let's say) to freedom of expression. This is not axiomatic. It requires a defense, which you have not presented so far.

I'm not sure why I am all of a sudden required to axiomatize my political philosophy -- have you?

Freedom of expression and similar human rights are generally considered to be inalienable, that is, not subject to being bought, sold, and traded the way property is. I can sell you my car; but I can't sell you my right to freedom of expression. The right to own property in general can be considered an inalienable right, but not the right to some particular piece of property. And the ownership of property is everywhere not an absolute right, but is subject to taxation (and I don't give a rat's sphincter for the distinction between property and income tax in this regard. The government gets its taste of the action one way or the other).

Of course, rights are not features of the universe but human constructs, so if you want to invent some different scheme in which human rights are variants of property rights, knock yourself out. But the distinction I made above seems to fit well with common usage, and the law.

March 18, 2008 at 11:20 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Mtraven, consider Locke's triad of life, liberty, and property. The usual formulation is that one is not to be deprived of any one of them without due process of law.

That there are differences between life, liberty, and property is obvious. Life, once taken, cannot be restored. Liberty can be; property can sometimes be, and sometimes not (as when the taker has consumed or destroyed it). These differences, however, exist between the things, and not (in the usual understanding of natural law) between the rights to them.

I'll also note that in the history of English law, all such rights proceed from the recognition that there are rights in property which are beyond the arbitrary authority of the king to take at his will and pleasure. This is central to the liberties confirmed by Magna Charta. It was the barons' wish to protect their rights in property that was the antecedent in our legal tradition of all subsequent instruments limiting the authority of the state, such as the English and American Bills of Rights.

You are correct that 'rights' are a human construct. That's why it is important to examine the foundation upon which the superstructure is erected, and to understand the intention of the architects.

Direct taxation of properrty (wealth) is a taking without due process of law, as that concept is ordinarily understood. Transactional taxation involves an event which takes place volitionally, and an implicit consent to the exaction of a tax is part of that volition (e.g., when one buys an article of merchandise which is subject to sales tax, or imports an article subject to customs duty).

The element of volition is absent from many if not all occasions of direct taxation. One is taxed simply for existing, or - in the case of the estate tax - for ceasing to exist. Is there not a conflict here with the view expressed in the Declaration of Independence, viz., that "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed"? A transactional tax has the consent of the governed every time it is paid. A direct tax does not. This is why transactional taxes are suited to the government of a free people, whereas direct taxes or tributes are historically associated with the status of a subjugated people.

Further to the matter of prefabricated socialist cant, what about giving us some concrete description of the supposed nefarious "income hiding tricks" of "the rich" that involve neither 1) conditioned response to manipulative features of the tax code, such as its treatment of interest on municipal bonds, or 2) activity that is unlwaful under the code? My trust officers will be most interested.

Just as a previous poster commented that your excuses for the communist associations of certain prominent figures on the left would sound preposterous if the word "nazi" were substituted for "communist," so I suggest your strictures against "the rich" would sound very peculiar if "the Jews" were substituted in place of "the rich."

In fact, all of the sinister financial manipulations imputed by the left to capitalists were imputed by the Nazis to Jews. The Jews were said to exploit and hornswoggle poor peasants and farmers, just as the left says capitalists do to the working class. Such tactics are two pease from the same poisoned pod, efforts to harness envy and ignorance to the service of political ambition.

March 19, 2008 at 10:48 AM  
Anonymous nick said...

George Weinberg I don't think it ever occurred to the ratifiers...[price controls etc.]

Quite a large number of things did not occur to either to the framers or the ratifiers. That's what happens when people try to invent law from scratch rather than letting it evolve through dispute and precedent. In England the common law had just gone through a phase of disempowering the guilds, with their oppressive price controls and regulations, and substituting the neo-Roman lex mercatoria. (BTW, Roman substantive law is mostly a very good thing, especially the neo-Roman laws of contracts and negotiable instruments as they evolved in Italy in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, areas which were largely missing from the old common law. It is Roman procedural law that has produced vast evils). The industrial era common law thus contained substantial protections against such regulation, albeit not ultimately so, given the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty allowed the eventual rise of socialism. In farm-centric America guilds mostly hadn't had a chance to rise in the first place so the problem was not high on the framers' or ratifiers' minds.

Although, in the Founder's defense, the Constitution does incorporation a large nubmer of highly evolved common law doctrines, and reflects a highly evolved tradition of chartered republics from the High Medieval and Renaissance eras. The Founders-as-geniuses myth also leads people to forget the many giants upon whose shoulders they stood, in this case the very large numbers and long histories of medieval republics and English chartered cities and colonies, along with the more overt but shallow influences of ancient classical ideals, summarizers of political and legal structure like Locke and Montesque, and recent English royal and parliamentary history.

To the extent the mythology leads laypeople to rever the Constitution instead of insisting on the mere rule of the mob under the rubric "democracy", that's quite a good thing. But when it leads historians and contemporary framers of constitutions to forget the many other instructive examples of charters, legal procedures, political structures, and so forth, it's quite a bad thing. It's like studying botany by just focusing on the handful of varieties modern farmers grow.

March 19, 2008 at 12:06 PM  
Anonymous molybdenum said...

mtraven: The right to own property in general can be considered an inalienable right, but not the right to some particular piece of property.

"The right to free speech in general can be considered an inalienable right, but not the right to utter some particular piece of speech."

March 19, 2008 at 12:16 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

molybdenum, the lack of parallelism between those constructs illustrates my point. Consider: if I have the right to say "smash the state", then so do you. But if I have ownership of 666 5th Avenue, then you don't, and neither does anyone else other than you.

Similarly, Michael S also inadvertantly makes my points for me:
Just as a previous poster commented that your excuses for the communist associations of certain prominent figures on the left would sound preposterous if the word "nazi" were substituted for "communist".
If substituting a for b in sentence s changes its meaning -- ie, if it sounds preposterous with b, but not with a -- then that is an indication that a and b are not equivalent.

so I suggest your strictures against "the rich" would sound very peculiar if "the Jews" were substituted in place of "the rich."

Uh, yeah, and it would sound even more peculiar if we substituted "aliens from Sirius" for "the rich". Unfortunately I am only responsible for what I actually say, not for what I say under arbitrary substitutions.

I am not even sure I made any "strictures against the rich", other than that they ought to pay more taxes. Did I suggest that they all be sent off to re-education camps or something? Many are fine human beings. Many seem not to mind paying their share of taxes.

In fact, all of the sinister financial manipulations imputed by the left to capitalists were imputed by the Nazis to Jews.

All the brutality and oppression of communism was attributed by many to Jews. That doesn't mean it didn't happen. In fact, both attributions contain a grain of truth, since Jews were involved both in finance and communism in disproportionate numbers. But in both cases, the attribution of whatever evils ensued to Jews as a class is obviously false.

Did you have an actual argument?

what about giving us some concrete description of the supposed nefarious "income hiding tricks" of "the rich"
Read Johnston's book, which is filled with examples.

Direct taxation of properrty (wealth) is a taking without due process of law, as that concept is ordinarily understood.
This will come as news to every locality in the US with a property tax. There is a lot of non-ordinary understanding out there.

This hard line you want to make between direct and transactional taxation is of no interest to me. Your arguments are incoherent, your facts are wrong, and your self-interest is evident. Even your fellow rightwingers aren't buying it. Please let it drop. I'm going to try very hard not to say another word about it.

March 19, 2008 at 7:52 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Oops, that should read "But if I have ownership of 666 5th Avenue, then you don't, and neither does anyone else other than me."

March 19, 2008 at 7:55 PM  
Anonymous molybdenum said...

mtraven, whether a particular instance of a right is exclusive or not versus fellow persons is orthogonal to the question of whether the general right is inalienable with respect to governments. If one has an absolute and inalienable general right to free speech, then no particular right to any speech may be taken away by government. If one has an absolute and inalienable general right to property, then no particular right to any property may be taken away by government. It is irrelevant whether the right entitles one to exclude others or not. For example, this reasoning applies perfectly well to copyright, by which one can exclude others from certain kinds of speech.

In at least one way the right of property is more fundamental than others rights such as free speech. Free speech does not, for example, give you the right to use the property of another to speak. You can't demand the New York Times print your letters to the editor, and a journalist working for a newspaper can't demand the paper print his story that the editor spiked. But property rights do usually allow the owner to restrict the speech of guests.

March 19, 2008 at 8:15 PM  
Anonymous Peter Harley said...

I've read J R T Wood's 'So Far and No Further'.It's not an easy read due to the considerable detail the author goes into.Wood struggles against his anger at what happened to his country but unfortunately some of his feelings show through.As a former Rhodesian I thought it was a good and informative effort and a necessary corrective to anyone who thinks or takes the lazy and easy way out of blaming the White community in Rhodesia for all the difficulties of the 60's and 70's.

March 20, 2008 at 2:17 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Mtraven, I find nothing in the article to which you linked about Johnston's claims to suggest that "the rich" are doing anything other than what the tax code incentivizes them to do, unless it is illegal, in which case they are likely to be caught and severely penalized.

The linked article goes on about the large number of corporations that do not pay corporate income tax. By definition, a corporation that does not pay corporate income taxes does not have taxable income. Do you understand that there is a difference between a gross receipts tax and an income tax?

In any event, corporations are not people, and taxes are ultimately paid by real flesh-and-blood people. Corporations simply act as intermediaries in the process of collecting and remitting taxes to government. The belief that the corporate income tax falls on the rich may be widespread, but that does not mean it is true.

Corporations budget for taxes. Every time I see an interim financial report at one of my board meetings there is a line on the P&L statement titled "provision for income taxes." Any soundly run business incorporates tax expenses in calculating the prices it charges customers for its products or services. To the extent a tax can be passed on to customers, it is paid by them. They are not necessarily rich. To the extent the increase in prices attributable to a tax component results in a fall in demand, it is paid by the other stakeholders in the business - employees (who may be laid off or whose wages may be curtailed), owners of stock (whose dividends may be reduced or whose equity may fall), and finally by management. The employees of a corporation are not necessarily rich, and neither are the stockholders. Stock ownership is surprisingly widespread, and when one considers the stocks held in beneficial interest (e.g., by pension funds and insurance companies) it is even more so.

Anyone who observes the behavior of large publicly traded corporations realizes that the very last people to suffer by a decline in their revenues (whether because of higher taxes or any other reason) are top management, who may even be paid bonuses when there is an operating loss. This is a problem of corporate governance, rather than one of taxation. The incidence of the corporate income tax cannot, in any event, be automatically assumed to fall only or even substantially on "the rich."

The other point in the linked article had to do with supposedly special 401(k) plans for high earners, into which an unlimited amount of money can be put. These are called non-qualified plans because an employer's contribution to them is paid out of post-tax corporate income, just like the dividends of a C corporation, rather than out of pre-tax income as is the case with qualified plans. This is scandalous news?

Whether qualified or non-qualified, such retirement benefit plans do not avoid taxation - they defer it. Taxes will be paid at some time or another, at whatever rate is applicable to the beneficiary. If the beneficiary should die before all the money in his retirement plan be paid out to him, the remaining amount will be subject to the income tax that would have been due had it been paid out. What is left over after this income tax is piad goes into the beneficiary's estate, where it will be subject to further taxation. It is conceivable that when the residue of a tax-deferred compensation plan forms part of a taxable estate, over 80% of it will be thus taken between income and estate taxes.

Based on what the linked article states, I see no reason to buy Johnston's book. It does not appear to contain anything I do not already know. Mr. Johnston may not be guilty of fabrication but his presentation of the facts is slanted and does not tell the whole story - apparently continuing in the grand New York Times tradition exemplified by Walter Duranty. Corporate income taxation is not the same as personal income taxation, and tax deferral is not tax avoidance or evasion.

How are Communism and Nazism not equivalent? Certainly the Communist death toll was higher than that of the Nazis, though I suppose one must make allowance for the longer time that Communist governments have been in power. Both sacrificed millions to bring about their respective utopias. Substituting Nazi for Communist or vice-versa in terms of a political figure's personal associations is not unreasonable; they seem morally equivalent in the genocide department. Do you believe otherwise?

For this reason, I continue to find it peculiar that you can say "so what?" about the Communist associations of Martin Luther King, while still finding fault with Ron Paul because twenty years or so ago someone wrote a racist remark in a newsletter he published. Your double standard is showing; it is the standard pas d'ennemi au gauche line that people of your stripe have followed since the days of Rexford Tugwell and Alger Hiss, combined with a readiness to smear your critics with epithets like racist or Nazi at the slightest prompting.

My self-interest in preferring transactional over direct taxes and lower over higher ones, which you mention, may be evident. To quote you, "so what?" With respect to our exchange, that is a mere argumentum ad hominem. It does nothing to address either the facts I have adduced nor the arguments I have made. If, as you say, my facts are wrong and my arguments incoherent, then demonstrate how. Just saying so does not make it so.

March 20, 2008 at 10:50 AM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Re: taxation, I am entirely bored by the subject and so won't say anything further about it.

How are Communism and Nazism not equivalent?

I already dealt with this question here. Unless you have something new to say about it I don't see the point of going around in the same circles.

For this reason, I continue to find it peculiar that you can say "so what?" about the Communist associations of Martin Luther King, while still finding fault with Ron Paul because twenty years or so ago someone wrote a racist remark in a newsletter he published.

My reaction to this is to go meta, and observe that this game of trying to prove guilt by contagion is kind of stupid, although probably a fundamental part of politics. There is obviously bias involved. Do you want to discredit King by drawing a line from him through Bayard Rustin to various communist appartchiks to Stalin? Everything is connected, so you can if you are so inclined. People predisposed to like King will fight against this by denying that the connections are strong or meaningful. Works the same way in the other direction. I think Ron Paul is discredited by his connections to racists; you don't. An even better example is taking place right now, as both Obama and McCain have been linked to pastors with controversial or odious views, and the two teams are working on trying to strengthen or weaken the connections as appropriate.

Politics is largely the practice of building strong social networks while attempting to weaken those of your opponents.

March 20, 2008 at 1:50 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Mtraven, I cannot help but note your constant reference to boredom and the boring. You earlier commented that the 'fifties were boring, hence, presumably, the need for riots in the 'sixties to liven things up. Taxation is boring - of course, whenever you can do nothing but repeat clichés about the rich not paying their 'fair share,' whatever that is, without any evidence but some journalist's selective presentation of a few aspects of the tax code and strategic omission of others.

I am glad you have finally observed what I've tried to point out all along, namely that the game of guilt by association can be played by both sides with equal proficiency. This being said, as opposed to real Communists or Nazis, who had historically well documented positions and alliances, "racist" is an epithet so amorphous as to be without real meaning. As Peter Brimelow has observed, "racist" is what a liberal calls a conservative who is winning an argument.

March 20, 2008 at 2:43 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

I am glad you have finally observed what I've tried to point out all along, namely that the game of guilt by association can be played by both sides with equal proficiency.
This is not exactly an astonishing revelation. In fact I'm pretty sure I've blogged something like it years ago, athough I can't find it now.

What's slightly more interesting is the perspective that politics is fundamentally a network game that is organized around just these sort of associations. If we elect McCain or Obama, we are more or less promoting not just them but their respective power networks into positions of control. So who they hang with is relevant.

What I object to is lies and distortions. For instance, you accused Obama of being "good buddies" with Bill Ayers (false) and said "[King's] personal secretary was Bayard Rustin, who joined the Young Communist League in 1936...", neglecting to mention that he broke with the party in 1941, long before he hooked up with King. Similar distortions appear throughout your arguments. It's tedious to try to pick these out. You can be part of a smear machine, or you can actually try to understand -- it's difficult to do both.

This being said, as opposed to real Communists or Nazis, who had historically well documented positions and alliances, "racist" is an epithet so amorphous as to be without real meaning.

It's about as amorphous as "leftist", which you toss around pretty freely to try to lump disparate people together.

And please don't pretend that racism is some kind of insubstantial ghost, as opposed to the concrete instiutional realities of Communism or Nazism. Racial segregation was written into the laws of many states and localities until quite recently. Don't Jim Crow laws count as "well documented positions"? Don't the Dixiecrats or George Wallace's party count as "well documented alliances"?

As Peter Brimelow has observed, "racist" is what a liberal calls a conservative who is winning an argument.
And "communist" is what people here have been calling me, rather than responding to what I've actually said.

March 20, 2008 at 9:28 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Mteaven, Jim Crow laws were a part of American law a one time, but most people now living - black or white - have been born since they were struck down. As for alliances, let's bear in mind that it was Southern Democrats like Theodore Bilbo that got the New Deal through Congress. Bilbo was the first senator to endorse FDR for a third presidential term. Why beat such dead horses as the Dixiecrats and George Wallace when you still have ex-kleagle Robert Byrd bloviating on the floor of the Senate? You can find his fan letters to Bilbo, praising his undying devotion to white surpremacy, in the Bilbo papers at the University of Southern Mississippi. What about Bill Clinton's mentor J. William Fulbright, who steadfastly opposed every civil rights bill that came before the Senate? Why is all forgiven in their cases?

I find it odd in any event that as institutionalized racism recedes into history, there seems to be more and more emphasis upon it. I believe this is in an effort to disguise and distract from the real causes of the problems that dominate American race relations today.

As Bill Cosby and Alvin Poussaint observe in their new book, homicide is the number one cause of death for black men between fifteen and twenty-nine years of age, and has been for decades. Of the roughly 16,000 homicides in this country each year, more than half are committed by black men. 94% of black people who are murdered are murdered by other black people. Although blacks make up 12% of the population, they make up 44% of the prison population. And all of this has transpired since the end of de jure segregation! Cosby and Poussaint observe that in 1950, there were twice as many whites in prison as there were blacks. "Racism" is not a sufficient explanation.

The only reason to dwell upon the historic background of civil rights movement is to understand why such problems hsave become so much worse with the passage of time in spite of the disappearance of Jim Crow and a marked decline in what could geniunely be called racist attitudes among the white population. Yes, Bayard Rustin may have broken from the CPUSA in 1941. But he didn't become a Whittaker Chambers, either. Levison and others in King's entourage remained loyal communists. The stratagem of all these people was not simply to obtain repeal of Jim Crow, but to use the civil rights movement as a tool to alter the entire social and economic order in a collectivist direction. Their legacy remains with us today in the political activity of people such as Al Sharpton and Barack Obama's pastor Jeremiah "God damn America" Wright.

This is but one of many ways in which the left's view of American society remains frozen in a 70-year old caricature. As Daniel Henninger wrote in yesterday's Wall Street Journal:

"Left-liberalism breeds many autonomous spirits - but only in their private lives. The party's ethos is as it was in 1930 - dark forces arrayed to thwart the delivery of benevolence to fragile masses."

If you think that people here are unjustly calling you a communist, perhaps it is because "the party" whose ethos Mr. Henninger describes could as well be the CPUSA. The picture you paint in your posts is a Daly Worker cartoon, in which plug-hatted capitalists, their ample embonpoints covered by double-breasted waistcoats embroidered with dollar signs, look out the bay window of the Union League club at tattered wretches queued at a soup kitchen in the street below; "the rich" aren't paying "their fair share." Or it is another cartoon, in which "racism" is personified as bedsheeted Klansmen about to lynch a hapless blackamoor, or Nazi stormtroopers are en route to another Kristallnacht, or still another in which "fundamentalism" threatens to impose a theocracy complete with burnings at the stake through the violent actions of Eric Rudolph or Timothy McVeigh. And you accuse me of distortion?

Sorry if it upsets you, but I along with many others find these pictures to be thoroughly divorced from reality. Differences of opinion, as the old saying goes, are what make a horse race.

March 21, 2008 at 11:25 AM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Michael S: Jim Crow laws were a part of American law a one time, but most people now living - black or white - have been born since they were struck down.

You were the one who brought up a comparision with communism and racism, not me. Since you are constantly trying to connect present day liberals with the crimes of Stalin, I am pointing out that racism was alive and institutionalized at a point considerably closer to us than any communist regime.

That is what we were talking about, not race in general. Can't you make a minimal effort to stay on focus? Do you have some neurological deficit that renders you incapable of remembering what you were talking about just 24 hours ago? If so, please remember that this is the internet. So unlike the guy in "Memento", you don't have to tattoo your thoughts on your body to remember them, just read the last few posts before responding.

. As for alliances, let's bear in mind that it was Southern Democrats like Theodore Bilbo that got the New Deal through Congress.

Um, so what? Your diatribe about Promixre and Byrd has zero relevance to the discussion as far as I can tell. The fact that the Democratic party used to be the party of Southern racism is not exactly news to anyone.

I find it odd in any event that as institutionalized racism recedes into history, there seems to be more and more emphasis upon it.

What is your evidence that there is more emphasis on it? More than in the 60s and 70s? I think not. Whatever you think of Obama and his pastor, it is significant that he is selling himself as a post-racial figure.

I must also note for someone who likes to apply the tax regulations of antiquity to current argument, you are awfully ready to pretend that events of just a few decades ago, well within living memory, are irrelevant to today. You might want to read this and this for some explanation of just why someone of Rev. Wright's age might be a wee bit testy about race relations. The latter site also can serve as an example of what an actual raving leftist sounds like -- if you think I'm one, then you really don't get around much.

If you think that people here are unjustly calling you a communist, perhaps it is because "the party" whose ethos Mr. Henninger describes could as well be the CPUSA.

That is flatly retarded. I thought that perhaps after the last exchange we could get beyond this kind of thing. I guess not.

The picture you paint in your posts is a Daly Worker cartoon, in which plug-hatted capitalists... "the rich" aren't paying "their fair share."

Do you even bother to read my posts, or are you just arguing with the caricatures in your own head? I posted to a link describing how Warren Buffett, Bill Gates's dad, and other extremely rich extremely capitalist individuals have suggested that the rich should be paying a higher share of the tax burden. Maybe they are all secret members of the RCP and get their marching orders from Bob Avakian.

And you accuse me of distortion?
Yes, redoubled.

If you can't be bothered to respond to what I actually say, and stay at least slightly on topic, then let's drop this discussion with a large thud.

March 21, 2008 at 8:45 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Mtraven: "Jim Crow was alive and institutionalized at a point considerably closer to us than any communist regime."

Really? Brown v. Board of Education was handed down in 1954. Most of the significant civil rights acts were in place by the mid-1960s. It is reasonable to say that the last gasp of de jure segregation took place sometime before 1970. From the personal experience of having lived there, I can attest that it was gone in Tennessee by 1970.

The Soviet Union ceased to exist only in 1991, and right up until the end poured subsidy into the hands of the communist parties of western Europe. China is still nominally communist, and Cuba, only 90 miles from American shores, is today still ideologically communist. Communism was and is alive and institutionalized at a point considerably closer in time to us than de jure racial segregation, and not that far away geographically.

My "diatribe about Promixre [sic] and Byrd..." When did I mention Proxmire? Who's got a neurological deficit here or has failed to read recent posts? The point is that the restructuring of the United States economy from one that was classically liberal to one that is functionally socialist was made possible by the alliance of the New Dealers with people like Bilbo. I mentioned this in connection with your comment about alliances. This was an alliance that is generally swept under the carpet of history by folk of your stripe.

As for 'emphasis on institutionalized racism,' even as it becomes more historically remote, Rev. Wright is far from alone in his continued harping upon this theme. So-called black leaders like Al Sharpton, Louis Farrakhan, and Jesse Jackson make it their stock in trade. Such people seem far more upset about displays of the Confederate flag, the (falsified) charges against the Duke University lacrosse players, or the "Jena six" episode than they are about the much more serious problems besetting the black community that Cosby and Poussaint identify.

Those problems - high rates of illegitimate births, drug addiction, and violent crime - were not engineered by white racists. They will not be cured by sermons like those Rev. Wright delivers, or street theatre like that conducted by Sharpton, Jackson, et al. Yet it is the Wrights, Sharptons, and their ilk that get all the publicity, while Cosby, Poussaint, Steele, Sowell, and others who point out that black people must overcome their own moral failings if they are ever to prosper, are mostly ignored or publicized only in derision.

When I brought up taxation in classical antiquity it was in response to your assertion that in no civilized tradition were the property rights of citizens not subject to taxation. That this is untrue is demonstrated by reference to well known classical texts. The Founding Fathers were better classical scholars than most people are today, and knew that direct taxation of property or wealth was associated with tributary or subject status.

I am quite aware of what Warren Buffett and Gates père have said about taxation of the rich, particularly the estate tax. This must be evaluated with the knowledge that Mr. Buffett has himself neatly sidestepped the estate tax that he wants other people, most of them far less wealthy than he, to pay. He has done so by donating some two-thirds of his fortune to a charitable foundation that was created and is managed by Gates fils. Most of the rest of his estate will go into foundations managed by his children, which will permit them to be paid generous salaries and to direct the expenditure of those assets (and to enjoy the influence that accompanies that authority), if not to receive their entire usufruct.

In one fell swoop Buffett has deprived the tax collector of nearly half of his enormous estate, and will in addition carry forward for the rest of his life a deduction for it from his personal taxable income. He has also assured that the money he has given to the Gates foundation will be spent only on projects of which he or Gates shall approve, rather than on those devised by politicians and carried out by government. In the mean time he wants to restore estate taxation at rates of up to 55% on estates over a measly $2 million. You should watch what he does rather than what he says.

As I pointed out in an earlier thread, the estate tax generates a strong preference for liquidity in taxable estates. As a result, the estate planning process brings about the sale of many smaller family-owned firms. Who buys them, often at highly advantageous prices? Larger businesses, often (like Mr. Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway) publicly traded. And who else benefits as a consequence of estate taxation? Among others, insurance companies that sell certain types of whole life policies held by the insurance trusts often used in estate planning. Mr. Buffett's business ventures include such insurers. Buffett is making a very good thing for himself and the businesses he runs out of functional socialism, and making folk like you, who complain about 'crony capitalism,' think him a pure and disinterested altruist to boot. Such a clever fellow!

March 22, 2008 at 1:49 PM  
Blogger Aaron Davies said...

who cares if wright saw someone lynched forty years ago? this is the present, and he has the same responsibility anyone in a leadership position has to the truth and to his community. the facts are simple: he is spewing hateful lies from his pulpit, and by doing so, perpetuating racism. it would be a completely different story if he were raging about federal sentencing standards on crack vs. those on cocaine, or on the spending allocated to inner city police departments vs. that allocated to upper-middle-class suburbs.

March 22, 2008 at 8:44 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Michael S: Sorry, I swapped Proxmire for Fulbright -- always get those two mixed up for some reason. The point remains -- I don't see the relevance. You say "This was an alliance that is generally swept under the carpet of history by folk of your stripe." I don't think you know what my stripe is, but I have not the slightest interest in whitewashing the New Deal. Why the hell should I?

I don't really feel like diving deeply into the race issue is in a thread that is already too long. It may surprise you but I would probably give at least one cheer for the Cosby/Poussaint view. Whatever racism may or may not exist, blacks should probably concentrate on self-help rather than complaining about it. Nevertheless, I find it extraordinarily naive to think that the 300-year history of American racism has just dissapated into nothing in a few short decades. Truely, there's been quite remarkable changes in recent years, but come on.

It also seems somewhat hypocritical to celebrate the US's alleged shedding of its racist past while simultaneously denigrating those who pushed it in that direction.

Anyway, that is all irrelevant to what was an actual interesting thought, which is that the history of racism and the history of communism have some parallels. Both were ideologies that captured and controlled governments, both seem to rooted in perverse idealism, both committed massive crimes, and both are largely discredited today, but leave a penumbra of related beliefs that are somewhat suspect, at least in the eyes of their opponents.

The other point I wanted to make, which you ignored in favor of irrelevant speechifying, is that racism has had at least as much institutional support and institutional reality as communism.

Finally, my kid alerted me to this video which cures racism. Check it out.

Your point about Buffett's self-interest in his tax stance is interesting. I suppose it's quite possible, but do all 120 of the people who signed onto that statement stand to profit in a similar fashion? Seems unlikely. Anyway, the point of that was just to counter your rather pathetic attempt to paint anyone who cared about tax fairness as a communist.

Mr. Buffett has himself neatly sidestepped the estate tax that he wants other people, most of them far less wealthy than he, to pay. He has done so by donating some two-thirds of his fortune to a charitable foundation...

I believe one of his arguments is that the estate tax encourages people to do this, thus putting more money in the hand of private charity.

Most of the rest of his estate will go into foundations managed by his children, which will permit them to be paid generous salaries and to direct the expenditure of those assets...

Hm. Are you suggesting that we eliminate the charity deduction, so that the government, rather than private foundations, can direct the resources of society to their proper place? I've had that thought myself, but only in my more socialistic moments, I'm surprised to hear it from you.

In fact, my work at the moment involves helping medical foundations (mostly funded by billionaires like Gates) spend their money more productively. Large concentrations of wealth can accomplish quite a bit, once their owners get tired of acquisition and start to think about burnishing up their legacy. It is not very rational for the direction of cancer research, ie, to be dictated by the whims of someone whose main qualification was being really good at buying and selling hotels, but certainly it can in some cases result in efforts that are run smarter and more efficiently than the government's science funding. But I wouldn't want all science run that that way.

March 23, 2008 at 5:10 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

I have no wish to defend Wrev. Wrights wrantings -- he's a preacher, so florid lying is part of his basic job description -- but I can't see that they are in any way worse than the stuff that comes out of the mouths of prominent white fundie preachers on a daily basis. Wright says "God damn America" for slavery and racism, Falwell and Robertson say that God has sent biblical plagues (9/11, Katrina) in punishment for our sins of sodomy, abortion, and women flashing their tits on Mardi Gras. The America-hating seems equivalent, but Wright's occasion for calling down the wrath of God seems somewhat more momentous and justifiable.

Now, I don't see you folks getting your knickers in a twist over Falwell and Robertson and Hagee and Parsley, all of whom have (or had) access to the White House and high levels of the Republican Party. Yet Wright's flaming is cause for much self-righteous posturing. One might think that racism accounts for this discrepency. But Michael S. has demonstrated that racism doesn't exist in the US any more, so it must be something else.

March 23, 2008 at 5:12 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Mtraven, if the tax deduction for charitable donations were so significant to the foundation and continued support of private charity, why was there so much private charity before there was even an income tax? I cannot put my finger on it at the moment, but recall reading somewhere that donations to charity as a percentage of the U.S. GDP peaked during the second administration of Grover Cleveland - before there was either an estate tax or an income tax from which they could be deducted.

The American landscape is dotted with universities (one of which I attended), churches, museums, libraries (there is a Carnegie library in my home town), hospitals, old-age homes, orphanages, and other such institutions that were endowed before there was any such tax. If these taxes, and consequently the deductions from them, were to be eliminated, it simply could not be predicted whether charitable giving would go up, down, or remain about the same.

Those who fear it would go down say more about their own motives for charitable giving than they do about anything else. I note that Buffett's announcement of his charitable plans followed by mere days the failure of the Senate (by 3 votes) to muster the supermajority necessary to invoke cloture on the Democrats' filibuster of the bill, already passed by the House, which would have repealed the estate tax. What do you suppose he'd have done if the repeal had passed, and was then signed by the president, as it surely would have been?

Warren Buffett may not be a communist, but he illustrates the aphorism of Lord Keynes, who famously said that "practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some dead economist." Buffett is Lord Keynes's slave. He was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as having said, following his announcement of the disposition he planned to make of his estate, that "markets have failed poor people" and that he hoped his charitable gift could be used to make up for that failure.

This is Keynesianism in a nutshell, or perhaps better, Keynesianism for dummies. The doctrine that market failure brings about disequilibrium between supply and demand, of which economic depression, unemployment, and poverty are the inevitable consequences, is central to Keynesianism. Of course we now understand, thanks to the work of Milton Friedman and others, that what caused the Great Depression was not some mythical market failure, but a failure of central banking - in other words, wrong-headed government intervention.

Nonetheless, Keynesianism provided a more sophisticated rationalization than Marxism for what socialist politicians wanted to do, and were already doing by 1936, when Keynes's "General Theory" appeared: punitive taxation of savings and redistribution of wealth, together with central economic planning.

Whatever the circumstances may have been in the 'thirties (when as much as one-quarter of the workforce was without employment), the present situation, with unemployment at about 5%, is quite different. For someone like Buffett, certainly a "practical man" of the type Keynes described, to believe that poverty is due to the failure of markets strains credulity. It would be far more realistic to suppose that poor people have failed in markets, than that markets have failed them. At 5% unemployment, the unemployed are either those who are between jobs (a normal and irreducible figure, and nothing to excite great worry) or those who are unemployable. If Buffett really believes he can help the latter category in any other way than by supporting them in their idleness, he is deluded. I do not suppose he has read "The Bell Curve."

I suspect that Buffett, and perhaps the other signatories of the statement to which you linked, are partly victims of their educations, and still believe in the truth of Keynesianism. On the other hand, they are shrewd enough to know that this and every other society that has ever existed or will exist, was and will be ruled by an élite - and they are betting on the type of élite they expect to succeed. They want to be on the winning side. They believe that the United States will continue to be ruled by a nomenklatura (MM's Brahmins, Pareto's foxes) as it has been since the New Deal, and that aristocracy (MM's Optimates, Pareto's lions) hasn't a chance.

I'm practical enough to recognize that they have a better than average chance of being right - but can't bring myself to stomach the hypocrisy of a Brahmin caste that rides to power and sustains itself in it mouthing cant about egalitarianism, democracy, and how (in the late Susan Sontag's words) the white race is a cancer on the world. We are in an age of decline, and must either be bright leaves in the autumn stream, or the root from which, though it be apparently dead, a new and green shoot may at some future period, more temperate and clement than our own, eventually emerge.

March 24, 2008 at 11:10 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

As for racism: I have never claimed that "racism doesn't exist in the U.S. any more," only that its influence is vastly exaggerated by people like Mtraven, who earlier in this thread alleged that the political right in this country is "controlled by religious lunatics, incompetent imperialists, corrupt crony capitalists, and unrepentant racists." His ad-hominem caricature is well described by Henninger in his Wall Street Journal piece, which I mentioned earlier in this thread - "dark forces arrayed to thwart the delivery of benevolence to fragile masses."

The slipperiness of the epithet "racist" is shown by how people on the left use it. I think we could agree that Theodore Bilbo was an unreprentant racist. Here's a sample of the oratory that won him his last election to the U.S. Senate:

"I call on every red-blooded white man to use any means to keep the niggers from the polls; if you don't understand what that means, you are just plain dumb."

Can Mtraven name even ONE member of the U.S. Senate today who has used such verbiage in any recent campaign? Rather than bolstering his popular support, as it did in Bilbo's day, such language today would make any politician who used it a pariah. "Unrepentant racism" is not a successful political message, and has not been for years. The constituency to which it appeals is not non-existent, but disappearingly small. Despite the best efforts of Morris Dees to exaggerate their importance, there are probably not enough members of all the remaining splinters of the Ku Klux Klan to fill a high school auditorium.

But I don't suppose these are the 'unrepentant racists' to whom Mtraven refers. No, they might be editorialists who disapprove of affirmative action. They might be politicians who observe that the welfare state seems to have deepened rather than ameliorated the social disarray amongst some ethnic minorities. They might be academics who believe that evolution didn't stop once the species homo sapiens emerged, but has continued along different paths amongst different geographically separated populations. Indeed, they might be people who want to cut taxes - Rep. Charles Rangel (D., Harlem) has said that tax cuts are racist since they will mean that less wealth is redistributed to the black poor.

Of course, it should be evident that neither critics of affirmative action, nor critics of the welfare state, nor scientists who posit a genetic role in psychological differences between different groups of people, nor people who want tax cuts, propose on racial or ethic grounds to deprive anyone of his civil liberties as set forth in common law or under the Bill of Rights.

As for Falwell, Robertson, Hagee, etc., while some Republican politicians have received support from them, I do not know of any Republican presidential candidate who has given any of them money or attended their churches for twenty-odd years, as Obama has done in the case of Wright. One can't do much about support one receives from others, wanted or not - but one can do something about whom one supports.

As far as I am aware, most fundamentalist Christian clergy primarily preach to their flocks the importance of avoiding individual sin. To the extent they involve themselves in politics it is about what they regard as instances of individual sin, such as abortion or some other sort of sexual misconduct, of which they see government as unduly permissive or even encouraging.

I have not heard of Rev. Wright exhorting his congregants to avoid procreating out of wedlock, taking illegal drugs, and committing crimes. These are ways in which they might not only improve their own lives, but those of their neighbors. Instead he works to enflame their grievances against whites, their envy of the economically successful, and their hatred of the country in which they live, and to encourage the belief that some sinister outside agency is responsible for all their woes. Robertson and Hagee may be crackpots and fools but not to this extent.

March 24, 2008 at 1:30 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Michael S: They want to be on the winning side. They believe that the United States will continue to be ruled by a nomenklatura (MM's Brahmins, Pareto's foxes) as it has been since the New Deal, and that aristocracy (MM's Optimates, Pareto's lions) hasn't a chance....We are in an age of decline...

I am not usually an optimist, in fact I fully expect some sort of catastrophe (natural, technological, or economic) to clobber us any day now. But compared to you, I am Mr. Sunshine. Age of decline? We've made more progress in being able to understand and manipulate the world in the last 100 years than in the previous 10,000. There's more human knowledge available to more people than ever before. But because you don't like the New Deal's economic philosophy, we're in age of decline. Right. Our problem is that the aristocrats (who, exactly?) aren't in charge. Right.

In fact, we are currently suffering through the rule of the closest thing we have had to a hereditary monarch, who ascended the throne through no apparent merit but his line of birth. Nothing could demonstrate the godawful consequences of an aristocracy than our present dauphin, the degenerate end of a line that wasn't really very impressive to begin with. His attempt to prove himself a lion has resulted in one of the most collossal fuckups in US history. I think we can thank him, at least, for re-establishing the native distrust of heriditary rulers. I would much, much, much rather be ruled by meritocratic Brahmins, whatever their faults, than some clapped-out aristocracy, and so would anybody in their right mind. To think otherwise is postively un-American.

It all comes down to this faintly ridiculous longing for some imagined Golden Age. Cervantes was making fun of this 400 years ago, but I guess it's a perennial. As I observed some time ago, what you and MM really dislike is modernity itself -- forget the New Deal, things started going to hell with the invention of the printing press or thereabouts. That was the beginning of the slide of traditional aristocracy, and I can't say that I miss it much. But you'd be better off pining for that than pretending thatthe pre-New Deal US was run on aristocratic noblesse oblige. It never was, at least, not since the industrial economny began displacing the agrarian. Late 19th century US was an orgy of capitalist expansion, an orgy of foxes, many of whom would settle down to be lions later. Carnegie who you mention is a good example (and as it happens I have been doing some work with the Carneige Institute at Stanford, so my top hat's off to him). He was not from an aristocratic background, far from it. The US has no native lions. The Southern planter class who you like to celebrate had its pretensions in that regard, but it is long dead and good fucking riddance to it and the slavery that it depended on (which reminds me, you never answered my query about just who we are supposed to tax if not citizens -- we need to either enslave or colonize somebody, so who do you have in mind?)

March 24, 2008 at 9:46 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

As for Falwell, Robertson, Hagee, etc., while some Republican politicians have received support from them, I do not know of any Republican presidential candidate who has given any of them money or attended their churches ...
Are you fucking kidding me? Falwell and Robertson were regular consulted by top Republican operatives. They controlled a block of votes that were essential to the Republican electoral strategy (which seems to have blown up nicely in their face this time around, thank you Jesus). The Republicans and the evangelical nutjobs are as tight as they could possibly be.

As far as I am aware, most fundamentalist Christian clergy primarily preach to their flocks the importance of avoiding individual sin.
That is the biggest load of horseshit I've ever heard. I don't even know where to begin. Perhaps you've lived in alternate universe for the past 20-odd years.

Robertson and Hagee may be crackpots and fools but not to this extent.
No? Hagee believes that the Catholic Church is the Whore of Babylon and is urging the Jews back to Israel so the Apocalypse can happen as soon as possible. Robertson is a complete whackjob who has suggested assassinating foreign leaders, prayed for the deaths of Supreme Court justices, and suggested nuking the State department. Compared to them Wright is a model of probity and sanity.

I think I'm going to try to bow out of this discussion (again), since your perception of the world is so radically divergent from mine that I'm not sure any sort of productive dialog is possible.

March 24, 2008 at 11:40 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Mtraven, the notion that G.W. Bush succeeding (with an interruption of 8 years of Clinton) G.H.W. Bush represents some sort of monarchical succession is clearly a distortion. I might put more credence in your analysis if Hillary Clinton should somehow be elected this November. It might then appear that this country had sunk to the level of Argentina, where when Juan Peron wasn't available, one of his wives sufficed. In any event the tendency for the (largely ceremonial) presidency to be traded off amongst members of an élite is not a refutation but a confirmation of my belief that we are in an age of decline.

Rome was at her peak of achievement when she was a republic (as the U.S. was from independence through at least 1860, and arguably through 1933). Rome began to decline when she could no longer manage republican government, but had to rely on a principate to maintain some sort of order. Liberty was too great a burden to be borne. In my view, the Rubicon was long ago crossed, and (with apologies to Suetonius) we have had at least Twelve Seizers since then.

One may, indeed, date the beginning of Rome's long anabasis from the broadest extent of her empire to Hadrian's retreat from Mesopotamia, which had been overrun by the Roman army under his predecessor Trajan (who "looked stupid but was accounted honest."). Given the promises of both Obama and Hillary Clinton, the parallel is obvious.

The U.S. dollar is in decline, and may well cease to be the world's reserve currency within our lifetimes. As for 'making more progress in the past 100 years than in the previous 10,000," how much of this - at least in American terms - has been the consequence of possessing an industrial capacity that the country no longer enjoys? Just as an example, major segments of the organic chemical industry have been driven from American shores by regulatory burdens and environmentalist opposition. The American steel industry is a shadow of its former self. It is now possible to import finished paper from the Far East into the United States more cheaply than just the pulp can be manufactured domestically. If 'progress' is to take place in these fields, which support so much basic technical research, it will no longer do so in the United States.

In the cultural and educational sphere, matters are no better. Colonial New England had a higher rate of public literacy than it, or the rest of the country, does today. Symphony concerts, art museums, public libraries, and other mainstays of the old American middle-brow culture are becoming geriatric preserves. Outside of the physical sciences and what amounts to higher vocational education (e.g., medicine, law, dentistry, accountancy) the universities specialize in sneering at Western civilization rather than acting as its guardians. The signs of decline are all around - "was helffn Fäckeln, Lichte oder Brilln/ Wann die Leute nicht sehen wöllen?"

You have avoided in your ad hominem caricatures and in your reply to my two last posts all the salient points I made - e.g., about the existence of charity before the income or estate taxes and their charitable deductions; the minuscule real number and influence of the 'unrepentant racists' you earlier claimed dominated the American right; or about the economic reasoning of the left.

Of course Robertson is a crackpot - still, blaming natural disasters on God's wrath at man's sins is a tradition that goes back to the book of Genesis. But does he preach hatred of his country? Of course Hagee is extreme in what he says about the Roman Catholic Church - still, this was a pretty standard Protestant view for several hundred years, and sounds outré today only because we have forgotten it. But does he preach hatred of his country?

Again, I'd like to ask you, where was this looming menace, the "religious right," fifty years ago? It was non-existent. Why did it come into existence? Because what had been long-standing public policies as to the respect given to popular religious sentiment by government (e.g., school prayer, Christmas trees and crêches in public parks, etc.) and with respect to personal morality (legal prohibitions of abortion, pornography, contraception, and sodomy) began to be abrogated by judicial fiat in the 'sixties. The First Amendment's establishment clause, which was designed to prevent the existence of a national church like the Church of England, was perverted to the purpose of suppressing any acknowledgment of religion in public life. The religious right took shape as a political force in reaction to these abrupt changes.

Can you cite any example of a "religious right" organization that exerted any political influence before the 'sixties, and that continues so to do? I do not believe you can. There may have been a few isolated examples of right-wing political preachers at earlier times, but the predominant religious bodies that expressed opinions on public policy before the 'sixties were outfits like the National Council of Churches. They were neither fundamentalist nor politically on the right. Evangelical Christians tended to be apolitical until their personal values were affronted by the tumults of the 'sixties. It is from this period or later that we date such bodies as the Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition, etc. Approve or disapprove them as we may, let's at least discuss their history objectively.

As for aristocracy, a person need have an aristocratic lineage to have aristocratic values or indeed to arise to the condition of an aristocrat. What made an aristocrat, as the ancient Greeks and Romans understood it, was a set of personal characteristics - areté, philotimia, or virtus. An aristocratic elite is one that possesses them, as compared to a nomenklatura, which does not. Gr. "ta aristeia" is the prize of the bravest, the meed of valour. "Aristeus" is the best man; "aristées," the plural, is equivalent to the Latin "optimates." These terms denote essentially a moral, and not necessarily an hereditary quality.

Aristotle divided systems of government into three types, of which there were good and bad manifestations. Monarchy was the rule of one man according to law, tradition, and morality; tyranny, one man's arbitrary and capricious rule. Aristocracy was the lawful and traditional rule of a virtuous few; oligarchy, the arbitrary and capricous rule of the few. Timocracy or politeia was lawful rule by the best part among the many; democracy, the capricious and arbitrary rule of the mob, 'two wolves and a lamb deciding by majority vote what to have for dinner.'

Perhaps more relevant than that Aristotle so characterized political systems is that many succeding generations of previous leaders took what he said seriously (among them the American founding fathers) and attempted to embody areté, philotimia, or virtus in their own conduct. Like Cicero (or Carnegie) they may not have been born aristocrats, but aspired to become such. By contrast, this ambition seems singularly lacking in our modern Brahmin/nomenklatura class.

As to whom the U.S. government should tax, and how - I previously said that it should be able to raise enough revenue for its legitimate purposes by indirect taxation, as it did before 1913. Ideally, the cost of government would be perhaps 5% of GDP, as it was in the late 19th-c. Of course, this would require the abandonment as takings forbidden under the final clause of the Fifth Amendment, many initiatives of the Federal government since the first third of the twentieth century.

March 25, 2008 at 11:33 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Apologies - the first line, fourth paragraph from the bottom of my last post, should read: "...a person need not have aristocratic lineage to have aristocratic values..."

March 25, 2008 at 11:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apropos of the WWI discussions, here's a new question especially for those of you who strenuously oppose interventionism: should we have intervened in the Russian Civil War (on the White side of course)? I've sometimes seen our failure to do so (effectively--we were actually there briefly) cited as one of the greatest missed opportunities of the twentieth century.

(Something's screwy with Blogger, so I'm attempting to post this anonymously to see if that helps.

- Aaron Davies)

March 26, 2008 at 8:53 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Anon - the British intervened on the White side, rather energetically, but failed in the end. The fascinating career of Sidney Reilly is one facet of this; the story told in Peter Hopkirk's "Like Hidden Fire" presents others.

Britain's failure to welcome the deposed Tsar Nicholas II and his family probably doomed them, and denied the Whites a natural rallying point comparable to what the Vendéen resistancehad in the aftermath of the French revolution, when the royalty and aristocracy of the ancien régime were extended British hospitality.

I do not know that U.S. intervention would have helped. In any event, Wilson's determination to 'make the world safe for democracy' would probably have precluded any American support for restoration of the monarchy.

March 27, 2008 at 11:03 AM  
Blogger Aaron Davies said...

Insight masquerading as prank--why do I have the feeling Mencius could have written this exact piece on any of the other 364 days?

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March 6, 2009 at 6:11 AM  
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March 18, 2009 at 9:53 AM  

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