Liberty & Power: Group Blog
This will be a brief criticism of all kinds of anarcho capitalism that assume we will have a modern technological economy. As a consequence it will not say anything about medieval Iceland other than I suspect all emigration to or from there to here would be in one direction - and old Iceland would rapidly become depopulated. It is perhaps significant that Murray Rothbard live in New York City for most of his life and Las Vegas for the remainder.
As an ethical system, anarcho-capitalism depends on the following assumptions, all of which are wrong:
1. The market is a neutral means for facilitating voluntary exchange, and so simply reflects the values of those entering into voluntary transactions.
2. People's values are adequately reflected in the exchanges they make within a market order.
3. Some non-controversial theory of property rights is possible that is able to make all possible voluntary exchanges into either market exchanges or simple verbal agreements (science, marriage, etc.)
I will start with an example first brought to my attention by philosopher Mark Sagoff, an example that had much to do with my abandoning anarcho-capitalist sympathies.
At the time he wrote the Economy of the Earth, there was a major dispute over whether Disney corporation should be able to build a destination ski resort in Mineral King valley, in California's Sierra Nevada mountains. To do so a road would have to be built across a little used part of Sequoia National park, and the resort itself would be in an area regarded as wilderness.
Sagoff asked his California students how many had visited the area. Almost none had. Nor were they apparently very likely to so, long as it remained a wilderness.
He then asked how many would be likely to go to the resort of it were constructed. Most said they would. An economist would stop there, as would most libertarians, and argue that if enough such people existed to make the resort the most financially profitable use of the land, obviously it should be, assuming neither force nor fraud was used in building it.
Sagoff then asked a final question: should the resort be built? The answer was nearly unanimous: no it should not. Indeed, building it was loathsome.
In the years since reading Sagoff's Economy of the Earth I have taught environmental politics many times. I always use a variant of his question, tailored to the region where I am teaching: a revolving restaurant on Mt. Rainier, similar developments on the High peaks of the Adirondacks, a scenic toll highway along Washington's Cascade Crest, and so on.
I always get the same answer Sagoff got: many would use these things were they constructed and somewhere between 100% and 90% of the students opposed their construction.
This creates a severe conundrum for anarcho-capitalists: no logical line is crossed to envision a highly profitable enterprise serving many consumers ALL of whom wish it had never been built. This is so even when we stay entirely within the framework of assumptions needed for a pure market economy.
In short, in this instance anyway the market is NOT a means for coordinating voluntary actions in a way to serve the values of those acting. Quite the contrary, it distorts the outcome away from the values sought to values held in abhorrence by many involved.
How can this happen? Because the market is not a neutral facilitator of voluntary exchanges. It loads the deck as to which values will be served and which will be penalized.
This takes us to the second level of our critique. We always choose within a context. For example, given that Mineral King existed, so the choice of preserving it no longer existed, people will often choose to go there to recreate. I drive Colorado's Trail Ridge Road every time I can for basically the same reason.
Thus, at a minimum, if we are to serve people's choices, or their freely chosen values, we have at least two levels of questions to consider: what range of things should be possible, and second, within the range of possible things, what will we choose to do? The market economy answers the second question very well, but it assumes the first has already been answered, its solution institutionalized in a system of property rights.
But how are we to determine what are appropriate property rights? Most of us will grant that we may not own other human beings. I will not debate the libertarians who defend “voluntary” slavery because in my view these sociopaths need to see psychiatrists more than they need to consider philosophy. But what of those libertarians who are decent enough to grant that human beings may not have ownership of others? Beyond this rather simply ethical position, how can we develop a theory of just property rights?
John Locke is frequently pointed to as a favorite. But he is hardly so friendly to the anarcho-capitalist position as he seems. Locke gives us a property right in something when we have “mixed” our labor in a hitherto unowned piece of nature, so long as “enough and as good” remains for others. Even here we are limited in what we can do, for we cannot justly waste or degrade it.
Locke's proviso is assumed to become a dead letter because once we remove something from nature we apply human creativity to it and thereby create more than what once existed, so that even those who go without because “as much and as good” no longer remains will benefit from what has been produced as a result of its removal from nature.
This is a good argument much, but not all, of the time.
Mineral King is an example where it does not work very well. There is a declining amount of wild land remaining in this country, and elsewhere as well. The values it serves are not met by producing more commodities. One of these values is knowledge that wild land is safe - the kind of valuing that leads people to oppose drilling in ANWR even though they have never been there and are unlikely to do so in the future. In pure Lockean terms there can be no right to destroy natural values when as much and as good no longer remains if those values are held to be important by people. And in the example I gave they were held to be MORE important than the consumer values they also provided.
Further, when I dig my field and build a house, mixing considerable labor, where are the limits of my property rights from a strictly Lockean perspective? Perhaps I built my home on a hill with a view. Absent the view I would not have gone to the extra trouble to build it there. Do I then have a property right to the view? How far do I have a right to protect my view from the actions of others who might thereby modify it, degrading it from my perspective? If the answer is that I can only own what I have directly mixed my labor with, well, then, other than the holes where I dug fence posts, how can I be said to own anything in a field? Simply enclosing something is a pretty dilute kind of mixing.
My point is not to denounce private property, but to suggest that its proper limits cannot be determined in advance by some purely rational formula that every sane person would agree is fair. We will disagree. And when we disagree we will need some means to come to as settlement. If all are considered equal in rights, all will have to consider whatever means are selected as fair. Otherwise they will not feel bound by anything other than fear of the consequences, and anarcho-capitalism will be on about the same moral level as Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
To the degree they seek to treat all fairly, a community of people will therefore seek to create a system by which certain kinds of basic problems can be settled in such a way that all can use the framework that results in living their lives. Should property rights include views? If so, how much? Should the right to use property include the right to destroy it or degrade it? If so, how much? If odor can cross a property boundary and result in trespass, what about photons or waves of sound? The underlying problem here is that a strong property rights system depend on clear and defensible boundaries and such boundaries are to some extent scale dependent (they are more easy to find when populations are small and interconnections are slight) and to some extent arbitrary (because ultimately the world is not Newtonian).
To the answer, well, that is what common law is for, I ask: why should I feel in any degree bound by common law? I would answer that the only ethical reply is that common law is fair, or more fair than any alternative.
The final reasonable criteria is fairness of some sort - fairness in the means by which a community pf people determines how to settle major questions of importance to the community as a whole.
We are now in the realm of classical political theory a la Aristotle, and I would argue, Madison. Fairness is a difficult issue to determine because if we go to perfect unanimity as a criterion, we will run the risk, indeed the likelihood, of some minorities using their position to blackmail the community as a whole in order to get their assent. On the other hand, if we simply settle for majority rule, we get the same problem regarding minorities: the problem of majority tyranny.
We have entered the realm of democratic political theory where democracy is considered as approximating unanimity as closely as possible while still enabling the community to act effectively as a community in enough instances that community members are on balance satisfied with the outcome. Anarcho-capitalism becomes simply one of many possibilities, and not one that is particularly promising because first, the community is far from interested, second, the advocates defend their theoretical model mostly by attacking the practical outcomes of less than perfect existing alternatives, and finally an I think ultimately most devastatingly, it cannot answer the objection that its primary coordination mechanism, the market order, will demonstrably lead to kinds of outcomes where most reject the result, no matter how profitable it may be in market terms.
A final thought - referring back to Mineral King. An anarcho-capitalist might respond, assuming we have a system of alienable property rights, why not have those who favor preserving the region as wild buy the area? Two quick answers are first, they did, and we call these areas national forests and parks. Setting aside that they were stolen from Indians, since then a demonstrable majority of Americans have made it pretty clear they want them protected, not exploited for short term economic gain. They have chosen Congress and the President as their agents. They are lousy agents, granted, but they are better than Disney and Weyerhauser. One model of democracy is as a community insurance and value protecting agency, where we are still very far from perfecting effective ways of dealing with the agency problem: how to keep agents responsive to the values of those who hire them. Ken lay has shown this is hard in a corporation, where all are agreed that money is the most important value to be served. We should not be surprised to find it is harder when the mix of values is not able to be reduced to money terms.
Second, in the context of the market, which privileges money oriented values, it is easier in organizational terms for money oriented interests to organize than non-money oriented interests. This is not a flaw in the market because its broader role is to serve consumers. But it is a problem if we recognize that not all values can be equally protected in a system that privileges money over other values for those who must pay the organizing costs to get things done.
David T. Beito
Roderick T. Long
According to this article in The Guardian, recent studies show that"[w]omen find the punchlines of jokes more satisfying than men do." According to one Allan Reiss, a brain specialist at Stanford, this divergence can be explained in terms of neurophysiological differences between men and women -- specifically, differences in"the prefrontal cortex, involved in language processing, and the mesolimbic reward centre, responsible for satisfactory feelings from things such as earning money or taking cocaine." When men and women were shown the same cartoons, not only did the women laugh more, but these linguistic and reward portions of the brain were more active.
Dr Reiss said women seemed to analyse the cartoons more before rating them funny, because they were not necessarily expecting them to be as rewarding as men.
"Women appeared to have less expectation of a reward, which in this case was the punchline of the cartoon," said Dr Reiss."So when they got to the joke's punchline, they were more pleased about it." The funnier the cartoon, the more women's reward centres were activated.
This was not the case for men, who seemed to expect the cartoons to be funny from the start.
Reiss's causal hypothesis seems clear enough: women's lower expectation of reward explains both why they analyse the joke more than men do (thus the greater prefrontal activity) and why they experience more of a pleasant surprise at the punchline (thus the greater mesolimbic activity). But notice what Reiss then goes on to conclude:
Dr Reiss said this had implications for the treatment of depression in women -- if their reward centres are more sensitive to emotional stimuli, it may help explain why depression strikes twice as many women as men.
Clearly Reiss is assuming that these differences in brain activity between men and women are the factors that explain the psychological and behavioural differences. If women have lower expectations of reward, or get depressed more easily than men do, it's just because the reward centers of their brains are"more sensitive" than men's -- a fact about their biology, not about their circumstances.
Yet consider how odd it would be for differing expectations of reward to be hardwired by our biology. We identify mental states -- beliefs, desires, feelings, expectations -- largely in terms of the role they play in our lives and activities. Part (only part -- I'm not advocating functionalism) of what it means for something to be a"desire to eat X," for example, is that it leads to pursuit of X, that together with the belief that Y is a means to getting X it generates a desire for Y, that it decreases in response to the information that X is poisonous, and so forth. A mental state that didn't interact with other mental states and with overt behaviour in something like these ways simply wouldn't count as a desire to eat X. Likewise then, an"expectation" that was invariant across changing experiences, that was immune to this sort of feedback, not strengthening with positive evidence or weakening with negative, would hardly count as an"expectation" at all; it would be a mere tropism. And this places a limit on the sorts of explanations of human behaviour we can regard as intelligible while still applying psychological concepts to it.
Suppose it's true that women enjoy the punchlines of jokes more than men do. (I have no idea whether that's true, but I'm happy to grant it for the sake of argument.) And suppose that Reiss's proposed explanation is correct -- that it's because women have less expectation of reward. (I likewise have no idea whether that's the correct explanation, but hey, I'll play along.) Why on earth should we infer that it's differences between men's and women's brains, rather than differences in their social circumstances, that explain these results? Might not women's lower expectation of reward owe something to the fact that in our society women receive fewer rewards than men -- that they bear a disproportionate burden of unpaid labour such as housework, that they earn less than men in the job market, that they are less likely to be credited for their accomplishments, that they are socialised to be nurturing and other-directed, etc.?
Now if women and men do have differing expectations of reward when they read cartoons, it's hardly surprising that this difference is correlated with a difference in brain activity; we are embodied beings, after all. But it would be a mistake to infer that the difference must therefore be innate rather than acquired; surely acquired psychological characteristics have neurophysiological correlates just as much as innate ones do. (The alternative would be rather weird, no?)
Likewise, if women are more depression-prone than men, no doubt this psychological fact is correlated with some neurophysiological fact about women's brains. I think it would be rather odd, though, to talk about this neurophysiological fact as the cause of the psychological fact; rather it just is the physical side of the psychological fact, the matter in which the form of depression-proneness is realised. At any rate, the correlation should not be taken as a license to disregard the possible (probable, surely) sociological causes of women's greater liability to depression. If this liability corresponds to greater mesolimbic sensitivity, that hardly settles the question of whether greater mesolimbic sensitivity itself has sociological causes. I worry that these studies'"implications for the treatment of depression in women" will be interpreted, mistakenly, as justifying a still greater emphasis on medicative rather than agentive approaches to therapy.
Neurophysiological determinism is bad philosophy -- and it's also bad politics. Placing the cause of women's depression-proneness and lower expectation of reward in their neurophysiology rather than in their social circumstances provides a convenient excuse for neglecting or denying the need for any change in those circumstances. This is how power structures reinforce themselves -- by generating their own ideological rationalisations.
I'm not making the silly charge that Dr. Reiss and the other scientists who produced this study are evil sexists deliberately plotting to perpetuate women's subjection. What I am saying is that the conceptual tools we use to analyse the societies in which we live are also the products of those societies and will often share their shortcomings. Facts that challenge the dominant paradigm tend to become invisible, not because anybody is actively covering them up (though of course that sometimes happens) but because the dominant paradigm determines what is salient.
James Heartfield, a writer living in London and author of Second World War: The Battle of the Books, asks Who’s fanning the flames?. Heartfield, who also seems to be a Marxist of some kind, argues that it isn’t that assimilation has failed, but that it hasn’t really been tried.
David T. Beito
This article from Business Week, in my view, nails it:
It's becoming quite clear how unsustainable a system is that actually fosters sky-high youth unemployment -- and not just in France Could the riots in France spell the beginning of the end of the European economic model? ....
Yet the outbursts were supercharged by an economic system that not only tolerates but actually fosters sky-high youth unemployment. In September, an incredible 21.7% of 15- to 24-year-olds in France were unemployed, compared to only 11% in the U.S. and 12.6% in Britain. France isn't alone -- other European countries, such as Belgium, Spain, Greece, Italy, and Finland -- also have persistent youth unemployment rates above 20%. Such sky-high levels of idle youth are a by-product of the welfare-state mentality that's still pervasive across much of Europe. The idea is that government's main role is to provide a safety net for the population, in terms of jobless and health benefits. Generating growth and creating jobs takes a distinctly lower priority, resulting in high unemployment, especially among the young.
Roderick T. Long
Roderick T. Long
David Beito (see here and here) identifies the French welfare state as a cause of the current Paris riots.
I think the French police state also bears some of the blame; see the articles by Laurent Lévy and Antoine Germa here, and commentary by Brad Spangler here, here, and here.
As in the United States, so likewise in France, class oppression employs not only the carrot of welfare but the stick of police brutality: dependence is rewarded and independence punished.
Paris is a sparkling jewel ringed by squalid slave pens; the inmates of the suburbs are quite right to be furiously angry, but unfortunately they have no idea how their anger might be constructively expressed – so they express it destructively instead, by beating and looting the innocent. (Which from the French government’s standpoint is probably just as well. While it can’t welcome the prospect of mass violence, it would surely find the prospect of mass nonviolence still less appealing.)
Well, clueless and futile political violence has a long history in the City of Light.
David T. Beito
"He literally said that," White recalled, adding that the Humvee came to a halt only after it rammed into a store....
The explosion drilled a hole the size of a softball in the driver's door, he said. The red-hot shrapnel severed the driver's legs while the Humvee was still moving.
"He probably would have bled out except the shaped charge made [the metal] so hot it actually cauterized his legs as it cut his legs off," White said.
One minor grisly detail from a recent Washington Post story on IEDs and 2,000 gone.
The Humvee driver in that case survived as an unintended byproduct of insurgent innovation with IEDs. Many others survive because of innovations in battlefield medicine. As this article from the New England Journal of Medicine makes clear, we're getting better at saving soldiers' lives. In WWII, 30 percent of those injured in combat died. In Vietnam--and even in the Gulf War--it was 24 percent. Now it's 10 percent. That is unquestionably a positive development. But it also means that a great many of those we save are horribly maimed.
One airman with devastating injuries from a mortar attack outside Balad on September 11, 2004, was on an operating table at Walter Reed just 36 hours later. In extremis from bilateral thigh injuries, abdominal wounds, shrapnel in the right hand, and facial injuries, he was taken from the field to the nearby 31st CSH in Balad. Bleeding was controlled, volume resuscitation begun, a guillotine amputation at the thigh performed. He underwent a laparotomy with diverting colostomy. His abdomen was left open, with a clear plastic bag as covering. He was then taken to Landstuhl by an Air Force Critical Care Transport team. When he arrived in Germany, Army surgeons determined that he would require more than 30 days' recovery, if he made it at all. Therefore, although resuscitation was continued and a further washout performed, he was sent on to Walter Reed. There, after weeks in intensive care and multiple operations, he did survive. This is itself remarkable. Injuries like his were unsurvivable in previous wars. The cost, however, can be high. The airman lost one leg above the knee, the other in a hip disarticulation, his right hand, and part of his face. How he and others like him will be able to live and function remains an open question....
Still, for many new problems, the answers remain unclear. Early in the war, for example, Kevlar vests proved dramatically effective in preventing torso injuries. Surgeons, however, now find that IEDs are causing blast injuries that extend upward under the armor and inward through axillary vents. Blast injuries are also producing an unprecedented burden of what orthopedists term"mangled extremities" — limbs with severe soft-tissue, bone, and often vascular injuries. These can be devastating, potentially mortal injuries, and whether to amputate is one of the most difficult decisions in orthopedic surgery. Military surgeons have relied on civilian trauma criteria to guide their choices, but those criteria have not proved reliable in this war. Possibly because the limb injuries are more extreme or more often combined with injuries to other organs, attempts to salvage limbs following the criteria have frequently failed, with life-threatening blood loss, ischemia, and sepsis.
Every other Thursday, surgeons at Walter Reed hold War Rounds by telephone conference with surgeons in Baghdad to review the American casualties received in Washington during the previous two weeks. The case list from October 21 provides a picture of the extent of the injuries. There was one gunshot wound, one antitank-mine injury, one grenade injury, three rocket-propelled–grenade injuries, four mortar injuries, eight IED injuries, and seven patients with no cause of injury noted. The least seriously wounded of these patients was a 19-year-old who had sustained soft-tissue injuries to the face and neck from a mine and required an exploration of the left side of the neck. Other cases involved a partial hand amputation; a hip disarticulation on the right, through-knee amputation on the left, and open pelvic débridement; a left nephrectomy and colostomy; an axillary artery and vein reconstruction; and a splenectomy, with repair of a degloving scalp laceration and through-and-through tongue laceration. None of the soldiers were more than 25 years of age.
David T. Beito
So far, though, there has been no religious dimension given to the riots. Those taking part have spoken more of protesting the misery of their lives in the fringe towns, where unemployment of over 20% is the norm.The riots appear to be an entirely logical byproduct of the growth of the French welfare/regulatory state.
The government of France fosters a culture that belittles hard work and entrepreneurship, packs people into defacto segregated public housing, destroys potential jobs through labor market regulations, and then"maintains" members of this underclass as wards of the state.
Why should anyone be surprised when this leads to idleness, alientation, resentment, desperation, and, finally, riots?
But Long also repeats the traditional libertarian equation of democracies with states in a way that helps to obscure the contemporary relevance of this critique. Even so, he also opens the door, perhaps uninteltionally, to another perspective. Quite correctly in my view, he writes that the logic of organized domination explains why states treat independent organizations as either “potential rivals” to be abolished (communism) or “potential ALLIES of the state . . . here lies the fascist strategy.” States, like corporations, most unions, and the Catholic Church can be best understood as hierarchies of power and subordination - but with greater ability to use violence to enforce their leaders' will.
I want to suggest a somewhat different framework than Long's to make sense of what these classic thinkers observed.
1. The logic of the market does in fact lead to the rise of enormous enterprises and concentrations of wealth that are threatened by the same open competitive forces that produced them. This fact has been mostly underappreciated in contemporary classical liberal thought because it has been largely dominated by economic perspectives - perspectives necessary to understanding why socialism is a hopeless vision but inadequate to grasping what constitutes a free society. The victory of free markets analysis has led to an equation of a free society with the free market alone.
2. These large enterprises will frequently utilize government to secure and strengthen their position by both handicapping potential rivals, as described in Long's article, and in opening up new areas for their domination through manipulation of property rights (as we see today with intellectual property rights).
3. Along with competition within the market order, the chief checks to their strength will be social institutions and forces which themselves are neither purely market not purely government in nature. They are usually considered to be part of civil society - that part of society where voluntary cooperation occurs around values more complex than simply making money.
4. Civil society has two avenues for seeking to influence society as a whole: voluntary relations outside government and democracy. Here I want to elaborate a bit.
Probably 90% of my readers equate democracy with the state. But the state is a hierarchy of domination and a democracy is not. My book Persuasion, Power and Polity (2000) showed why a majoritarian model of democracy made no sense empirically or logically, whereas consensual models did. Once we clear away the confusions over terminology promulgated by right and left alike, Madison is the main thinker of consensual democratic theory. Democracy in Madison's sense is a spontaneous order as Hayek defined the term: an order arising from abstract procedural rules applying equally to all and relying on agreement to function.
Democracies are procedures whereby people within a society seek to make basic value choices for society as a whole that either need to be made on that scale, or that many believe would be made better of made on that scale. As such, a democracy is akin to a community cooperative - as I developed in some detail in PPP.
Like corporations in the market order, the executive branch and congress are rooted within the democratic process, come to power within it, and then often seek to subordinate it to the perpetuation of their own power and wealth. The situations are exactly analogous. In fact, I suggest that it is a waste of time to argue whether big business or politicians are to blame. Both are. They are generally symbiotes.
Recent events, as well as past wars, illustrate that Randolph Bourne was right in saying war is the health of the state - and conversely, war is a serious illness in a democracy. War is perhaps occasionally necessary for self-defense, but always creates a situation where government can try and subordinate democratic procedures to the dictates of rule and domination. This is why the ideological treason of so many classical liberals over George Bush and the Republican Right is so very serious. They gave enormous aid and comfort to the enemy. Permanent war is the death of democracy for it turns a free society into an organization.
Another way to put this general point: markets subordinate economic organizations to powers and processes they do not control. Democracy subordinates political organizations to powers and processes they do not control. Both are forced to be responsive - at the risk of losing their positions. So both are hostile to these processes and seek to insulate themselves from threat.
5. As spontaneous orders democracies and markets are oriented towards different values, but both are important and necessarily exist in tension with one another because we as human beings hold to both broad sets of values and they are in some tension in our own minds: concern with our selves as discrete individuals and concern with ourselves as members of communities.
One causualty of economistic classical liberalism is to obscure the distinction between private interest groups and public interest groups. The difference is vital - especially with respect to the issue of facsism. Private need not mean bad, public need nbot mean good. The terms refer to the kinds of values pursued: monetary or nonmonetary.
6. The alliance of classical liberals with economistic interpretations of society has not only pulled the teeth of their critique of power as it really manifests, it has set them at odds with important elements of civil society that are seeking to limit the power and privilege of the corporate/political oligarchy. While a book could be written filled with examples of this, I will stick to just one. Libertarians on balance have an irrational hatred of environmentalists. Reason magazine is an excellent example.
Yet consider the following: Why do environmentalists seek to influence government so much? To explore just one instance: because government owns national forests and parks where many natural values still remain. Further, government has passed laws saying that you cannot bid on a forest cut if you do not intend in fact to cut the trees. Attempts at voluntary buying out of forest cuts and then not cutting are illegal. Yet the companies given special privileges to cut forests portray themselves as the paragons of capitalism and the environmentalists as advocates of the state - and nearly all libertarians say “right on!” Too many libertarians and classical liberals then support efforts by this privileged elite to eliminate legal avenues whereby environmentalists can appeal decisions giving the woods over to the timber companies - in the name of “deregulation.” Others suggest simply selling the forests to the corporations, which is not much better.
There are civil society institutions that could offer a way to remove forests from the not so tender mercies of Congress and the timber companies and still provide wood to society - but I have found that free market think tanks and libertarians are usually not interested. They want to privatize (i.e. corporatize) the forests. Small wonder so many non-libertarians think of them as lap dogs to the privileged. They are.
7. The result is that IN PRACTICE libertarian and classical liberal thinkers today are more often allies of fascism than effective opponents of it. Long's important piece offers a way to begin getting clear of this weakness.
Gunpowder, treason and plot,
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
I cannot permit the four hundredth anniversary of the Catholic conspiracy to blow up the Houses of Parliament and kill King James I and his ministers to pass without recognition.
Growing up just outside London, I well remember Guy Fawkes Day and the perennial ritual of burning stuffed effigies (of Guy Fawkes) on bonfires and firework displays. Those were the days when kids could buy large and potentially dangerous fireworks. They would take to the streets displaying their effigies to solicit funds (“A penny for the guy”) to pay for their fireworks. I remember when an “old” (pre-decimalization) penny would buy you a sparkler or a banger, tuppence (two pennies) would buy you a Jumping Jack, and a shilling would buy you a couple of Roman candles. No more. Inflation has eaten away at the purchasing power of the currency. And government laws now prohibit the purchase of “adult fireworks” by anyone under eighteen. Although the British state does not prohibit privately organized firework parties, the authorities encourage people to gather in carefully monitored areas for public displays at taxpayer’s expense.
I guess the discovery of the conspiracy under Robert Catesbury and twelve others (Guy Fawkes was the man who was arrested alongside 36 barrels of gunpowder) would today be seen as the successful prevention of Catholic terrorism! Indeed, until the late nineteenth century, it was common practice to burn effigies of the Pope. Now that occurs only at Lewes, East Sussex, where the celebrations also commemorate the memory of seventeen Protestant martyrs who were burnt at the stake in the town during the Marian persecutions of 1555–1557. More Catholic terrorism!
For those of you who wish to learn more about Guy Fawkes, the Gunpowder Plot, and Bonfire Night, go here, here, and here. For more links go here, here, here, here, and here. For the official perspective go here. If you wish to read advice on how to let off fireworks safely, go here. And if you wish to read about Bonfire Night in less safety-conscious days, go here for a report from Somerset in 1889 and here for a report on London in the 1950s. While researching this article, I read that Bonfire Night is celebrated in New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, and some parts of the United States.
Gunpowder Treason Day, as Guy Fawkes Day was known, was once commemorated as an official holiday in the Church of England calendar, together with two other holidays marking important events in the history of the English monarchy. The first is the execution of King Charles the Martyr on January 30, 1649. That’s Charles I who is the last saint to be canonized by the Church of England. The second is Oak Apple Day (May 29, 1660), which marks the restoration of his son Charles II to the throne. Parliament did not abolish these holidays until 1859. I assume they were also observed by the Episcopal Church in the Thirteen Colonies.
David T. Beito
David T. Beito
Chris Matthew Sciabarra
After last week's pronouncements by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Israel should be"wiped off the map," there's been a lot of saber rattling about Iran. (I've written on the subject of Iran a number of times over the past few years; see here, here, and here, for example).
There is nothing shocking or unexpected about Ahmadinejad's rhetoric. The Iranian theocrats have been talking like that for years. Their overthrow of the US-backed Shah was a clarion call for fundamentalists across the Islamic world to mobilize against both Israel and the United States. Many others in the Islamic world have uttered the same view, including those who reside in countries that are, ostensibly, current US allies.
The fact is, of course, that US actions in Iraq have emboldened the Iranian regime significantly; some are even suggesting that the US was the"useful idiot" for Iranian foreign policy goals to undermine a hostile Baathist regime in Iraq, substituting a friendlier Shiite majoritarian theocracy in its place. With the antagonistic Taliban held at bay in Afghanistan on its eastern flank, and Hussein gone on the western side, Iran has emerged as a central geopolitical power in the Middle East—and was made so in significant part as the direct result of actions taken by the United States, purportedly in our own defense.
But it is a state that is in a deepening cultural crisis, a crisis that will have profound political ramifications over time.
Today, I've read an interesting NY Times essay about"Our Allies in Iran." It's the kind of title that is meant to surprise. The writer, Afshin Molavi, makes some very important points. Molavi states:
The new president's confrontational tone threatens to deepen the isolation of Iran's democrats, pushing them further behind his long shadow. Western powers have a dual challenge: to find a way to engage this population even as they struggle to address the new president's inflammatory rhetoric. By the time Mr. Ahmadinejad was elected in June, a sustained assault by hard-liners had left Iranian democrats disoriented and leaderless, their dissidents jailed, newspapers closed and reformist political figures popularly discredited. But democratic aspirations should not be written off as a passing fad that died with the failure of the reform movement and the replacement of a reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, with a hard-liner, Mr. Ahmadinejad. The historic roots of reform run deep in Iran, and support for democratic change remains widespread.
Iran's modern middle class, which is increasingly urbanized, wired and globally connected, provides particularly fertile soil for these aspirations. The Stanford University scholar Abbas Milani has described Iran's middle class as a"Trojan horse within the Islamic republic, supporting liberal values, democratic tolerance and civic responsibility." And so long as that class grows, so too will the pressure for democratic change.
Molavi warns, however, that war against Iran could have an adverse effect on that country's"democracy-minded middle class," providing"additional pretexts for the regime to frighten its people and crack down on dissent." Anything that undermines Iranian contact"with the foreign investors, educators, tourists and businessmen who link them to the outside world," says Molavi, undermines the movement toward political and cultural reform. That movement requires a strong private sector and a growing civil society in Iran, which can be encouraged by an extension of the global market. Such an extension would nourish"a strong and stable middle class" and the"inevitable winds of change" so crucial to peace and prosperity in the region.
It is ironic that those who speak glowingly about the need for"democratization" in Iraq as a key to Mideast peace are the same people who now speak about the need for military action in Iran, which would most assuredly sabotage the trends toward democratization in that country.
The saber-rattlers tell us that they are worried about the long-run problem of a"nuclear" Iran. Fair enough. But they don't seem to worry about the long-run consequences of military intervention in Iran, given the current context in Iraq, a context that the saber-rattlers themselves did much to create. As Arthur Silber writes here:
We now have a voluminous record, in news accounts, in government documents and in other forms, to prove beyond any doubt that the Bush administration gave almost no attention to the aftermath of the Iraq invasion. No one had any serious question about our taking down the Saddam Hussein regime, except about how long it might take and the details. Despite that certainty, we know that the Bush administration did not listen to many of its own experts and planners about what should be done once Saddam was gone. To put the point simply, the Bush administration never seriously addressed the multitude of inordinately complex issues encompassed in the question: What then?
This much is true, and this much we can agree with, as Arthur puts it:"Iran is run by viciously destructive and dangerous leaders." But as people clamor for military action against Iran, they are not asking and answering the crucial question:"What then?"
I often wonder, for example, how the Shiites in Iraq, with whom the US has cast its political lot, would deal with a US military strike against Iran. How long would it take for a strike against Iran to destabilize the situation with the US's Shiite-Iraqi allies? The Sunni insurgency against the Shiites in Iraq has been awful; I can't even begin to think of the conditions that might arise should a Shiite insurgency unfold against the US—a Shiite insurgency aided and abetted by its own ideological brethren in Tehran.
And what then? In addition to the internal combustion of Iraq, might there not be counterattacks from other Arab governments? Might not the Mideast be thrown into further chaos? And what if additional US troops are needed to"finish the job" started by planes and missiles? Where are these troops coming from? How long before military conscription is reinstituted?
As Richard Cohen tells us today in the New York Daily News, in the Middle East,"bad could get worse."
The central problem in the Middle East is not strategic. The central problem is not the spread of nuclear weapons of mass destruction. The central problem is the spread of ideological and cultural weapons of mass destruction. And these weapons have been manufactured at a maddening pace for generations by countries like Saudi Arabia, a US"ally." As Jason Pappas reminds us (see here and here), the Saudis have been funding the worldwide proliferation of the very jihadist ideology that targets Western values and institutions.
But the odds are very slim that there will be any fundamental change in the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. That's because the House of Sa'ud remains a key player in US global political economy (see here). The dismantling of that neocorporatist politico-economic system is not likely to happen anytime soon.
And yet, despite its role in the proliferation of jihadist fanaticism, the collapse of the House of Sa'ud at this point could be catastrophic: it would most likely lead to the transference of power into the hands of the very worst jihadists, those who have been a by-product of Saudi education.
Yes, it's one gigantic mess of internal contradictions at work. But, currently, I have no reason to believe that a military attack upon Iran would resolve these contradictions, without engendering a host of newer and far more lethal ones.
Comments welcome. Cross-posted to Notablog.
Read the rest.
From the libertarian point of view, the federal Constitution as written is fairly libertarian, at least compared to the leviathan state into which the original central government has morphed. It is for this reason that we want judges to adhere to the strict text of the Constitution: because it is a way to help hold the federal government to its original, more-limited scheme."Originalism" then--or opposition to activism--has primarily an instrumental value (as I argued in this Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterlyreview essay--which I wrote, coincidentally enough, after the journal approached me, at Professor Barnett's suggestion). Because our Constitution is relatively libertarian, we want the federal government to abide by the limits the Constitution places on it. In such a context, activism is likely to be a lead to unlibertarian results because it will mean invention of new powers or relaxations on the limits placed on the state. We can hardly be surprised that the judicial branch of the state tends to decide in a pro-state manner; but to the extent judges feel bound by the text of the Constitution, the state's growth will be somewhat impeded (albeit, one disadvantage of such as system is that giving some lip service to the "rule of law" cover or myth helps to legitimize the state's actions).
1. Coffee (N.), the person upon whom one coughs.
2. Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained.
3. Abdicate (V.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.
4. Esplanade (V.), to attempt an explanation while drunk.
5. Willy-nilly (Adj.), impotent.
6. Negligent (Adj.), describes a condition in which you absentmindedly answer the door in your nightgown.
7. Lymph (V.), to walk with a lisp.
8. Gargoyle (N.), olive-flavoured mouthwash.
9. Flatulence (N.) emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.
10. Balderdash (N.), a rapidly receding hairline.
11. Testicle (N.), a humorous question on an exam.
12. Rectitude (N.), the formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.
13. Pokemon (N), a Rastafarian proctologist.
14. Oyster (N.), a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.
15. Frisbeetarianism (N.), The belief that, when you die, your spirit flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.
16. Circumvent (N.), an opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.
Now The Christian Science Monitor reports that Putin is setting up such a
"parallel parliament" in Russia:
In a bid to save or reshape his country's troubled democracy, President Vladimir Putin is turning to 42 famous Russians - from ice skaters to nuclear scientists - who stand above the political fray.
President Putin ordered the creation of the Public Chamber, which some call a "parallel parliament," in the wake of last year's Beslan tragedy. Set to debut in January, it appears to be sidelining the unpopular but elected State Duma in favor of an appointed body.
The Chamber is tasked with personifying the public interest in supervising government, the Duma, media, and law enforcement. It may hold public hearings, call officials to account, and scrutinize draft laws. It might even draft legislation.
Supporters argue that the weak influence of public opinion, as well as institutions riddled with corruption, have given rise to the need for the chamber.
But critics argue that Putin, having muzzled the media, subordinated parliament, and cowed most independent social organizations, is aiming to replace genuine public opinion with a group of celebrities whose recommendations he can safely ignore.
"While the Kremlin is liquidating democratic freedoms, it is also busy creating institutions to imitate democracy," says Vladimir Ryzhkov, an independent deputy of the Duma. "It reminds me of Soviet times, when we had huge trade unions that did nothing to defend workers' interests, a peace movement that didn't criticize the USSR's arms buildup, and so on. I don't see how any good can come of this."
These 42 famous Russians will soon pick another 84 to join them, multiplying almost like a spreading flu virus
Since we already know that GeorgeII/43, and Vladimir are good friends, who cooperated together with Iran in quickly getting the US into Afghanistan in 2001, and both are terribly committed to Democracy and Nation building, perhaps George will soon pick up on this wonderful new "consensus" building mechanism, and propose it for the United States.
We certainly have a number of famous Sports jocks, both male and female, as well as Entertainment and Media personalities, of both sexes, and all of those in between, who could provide us with a "parallel Congress" to help run the country.
By golly, I think Vlad is on to something here!
As it is, after spending millions in our elections, most of the Congress gets reelected anyway. Isn't this a waste on money, at a time when the nation is increasingly financially strapped? And, when an election is really close, it tends to get decided by the Supremes. Is this Democracy?
Since in most cases these Academic, Sports Media and Entertainment types are already "rich and famous," they wouldn't be tempted by the subtle donation/bribes of the Abramoff-DeLay variety to which so many in Congress seem susceptible. In case some mere teacher slipped in, we could qualify that category by stipulating that any Academic had to have some combination of best-selling books, or research grants from the Pentagon or Big Pharma, or be a "tenured" resident at some think-tank, if such a category exists.
Those Russians have been Godless for so long, that it probably never occurred to Vlad to include some Religious leaders in the group, but George wouldn't let that happen here. Pat Robertson or Ralph Reed, whose wealth would certainly qualify them for the group.
Conservatives, even Neocons, don't take kindly to radical, new ideas, but this is not new to America. A century or so ago, that this kind of efficient rule by the best folks in Society was clearly what Progressivism was all about. Thus, this has a great potential for bringing the Left and the right into harmonious consensus. Finally, let's let Vlad try it out first, and then learn from the Russian experience.
Where would this esteemed group of "Parallelers" meet?
Probably the biggest performing center in Washington, or New York City would do the trick! Certainly, Fox Entertainment would want to broadcast their deliberations 7/24. Who would preside, probably the Celebrity of the Week as selected by the Media. If the "Paralleles" were meeting this past week, for example, Scooter Libby would clearly have been the guy in charge.
Since Government and Entertainment have obviously been merging for the last few decades, this would put many of the real pros in charge, almost any of which could do a better acting job before the cameras than George.
Well, it's fun to dream, but the reality of the Empire is that the existing massive bureaucracies, the Congress, etc., are not about to let some bunch of "Parallelers" steal the show.
Good luck over there in Moscow, Vlad, we'll be watching your show!
Kenneth R. Gregg
Mencken's Credo is as good today as it was when written generations ago:
I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind - that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking.Just a thought.
I believe that no discovery of fact, however trivial, can be wholly useless to the race, and that no trumpeting of falsehood, however virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious.
I believe that all government is evil, in that all government must necessarily make war upon liberty...
I believe that the evidence for immortality is no better than the evidence of witches, and deserves no more respect.
I believe in the complete freedom of thought and speech...
I believe in the capacity of man to conquer his world, and to find out what it is made of, and how it is run.
I believe in the reality of progress.
I - But the whole thing, after all, may be put very simply. I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than be ignorant.