The Framers, Mob Rule, and a Fatal Error

The wise men who framed the Constitution would be aghast at the current, orchestrated, leftist-backed “children’s march” to stir up broad support for gun control confiscation. Not only because they saw gun ownership as an inalienable and necessary right, but also because they saw the mob for what it was — an enemy of reason and liberty. They saw, too, that a legislature could act like a mob; thus:

Federalist No. 10 (James Madison) —

[I]t may be concluded that a pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual.

Federalist No. 15 (Alexander Hamilton) —

Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice, without constraint. Has it been found that bodies of men act with more rectitude or greater disinterestedness than individuals? The contrary of this has been inferred by all accurate observers of the conduct of mankind; and the inference is founded upon obvious reasons. Regard to reputation has a less active influence, when the infamy of a bad action is to be divided among a number than when it is to fall singly upon one. A spirit of faction, which is apt to mingle its poison in the deliberations of all bodies of men, will often hurry the persons of whom they are composed into improprieties and excesses, for which they would blush in a private capacity.

Federalist No. 55 (Madison) —

Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.

Federalist No. 58 (Madison) —

[T]he more multitudinous a representative assembly may be rendered, the more it will partake of the infirmities incident to collective meetings of the people. Ignorance will be the dupe of cunning, and passion the slave of sophistry and declamation. The people can never err more than in supposing that by multiplying their representatives beyond a certain limit, they strengthen the barrier against the government of a few.

Federalist No. 63 (Madison) —

[T]here are particular moments in public affairs when the people, stimulated by some irregular passion, or some illicit advantage, or misled by the artful misrepresentations of interested men, may call for measures which they themselves will afterwards be the most ready to lament and condemn. In these critical moments, how salutary will be the interference of some temperate and respectable body of citizens, in order to check the misguided career, and to suspend the blow meditated by the people against themselves, until reason, justice, and truth can regain their authority over the public mind? What bitter anguish would not the people of Athens have often escaped if their government had contained so provident a safeguard against the tyranny of their own passions? Popular liberty might then have escaped the indelible reproach of decreeing to the same citizens the hemlock on one day and statues on the next.

Federalist No. 71 (Hamilton) —

The republican principle demands that the deliberate sense of the community should govern the conduct of those to whom they intrust the management of their affairs; but it does not require an unqualified complaisance to every sudden breeze of passion, or to every transient impulse which the people may receive from the arts of men, who flatter their prejudices to betray their interests. It is a just observation, that the people commonly intend the public good. This often applies to their very errors. But their good sense would despise the adulator who should pretend that they always reason right about the means of promoting it.

Federalist No. 73 (Hamilton) —

The primary inducement to conferring the power in question [the veto] upon the Executive is, to enable him to defend himself; the secondary one is to increase the chances in favor of the community against the passing of bad laws, through haste, inadvertence, or design. The oftener the measure is brought under examination, the greater the diversity in the situations of those who are to examine it, the less must be the danger of those errors which flow from want of due deliberation, or of those missteps which proceed from the contagion of some common passion or interest.

For all of their wisdom, however, the Framers were far too optimistic about the effectiveness of the checks and balances in their design. Consider this, from Hamilton:

It may … be observed that the supposed danger of judiciary encroachments on the legislative authority, which has been upon many occasions reiterated, is in reality a phantom. Particular misconstructions and contraventions of the will of the legislature may now and then happen; but they can never be so extensive as to amount to an inconvenience, or in any sensible degree to affect the order of the political system. This may be inferred with certainty, from the general nature of the judicial power, from the objects to which it relates, from the manner in which it is exercised, from its comparative weakness, and from its total incapacity to support its usurpations by force. And the inference is greatly fortified by the consideration of the important constitutional check which the power of instituting impeachments in one part of the legislative body, and of determining upon them in the other, would give to that body upon the members of the judicial department. This is alone a complete security. There never can be danger that the judges, by a series of deliberate usurpations on the authority of the legislature, would hazard the united resentment of the body intrusted with it, while this body was possessed of the means of punishing their presumption, by degrading them from their stations. While this ought to remove all apprehensions on the subject, it affords, at the same time, a cogent argument for constituting the Senate a court for the trial of impeachments. [Federalist No. 81]

Hamilton’s misplaced faith in the Constitution’s checks and balances is an example of what I call the Framers’ fatal error. The Framers underestimated the will to power that animates office-holders. The Constitution’s wonderful design — horizontal and vertical separation of powers — which worked rather well until the late 1800s, cracked under the strain of populism, as the central government began to impose national economic regulation at the behest of muckrakers and do-gooders. The Framers’ design then broke under the burden of the Great Depression, as the Supreme Court of the 1930s (and since) has enabled the central government to impose its will at will.

The Framers’ fundamental error can be found in Madison’s Federalist No. 51. Madison was correct in this:

It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure.

But Madison then made the error of assuming that, under a central government, liberty is guarded by a diversity of interests:

[One method] of providing against this evil [is] … by comprehending in the society so many separate descriptions of citizens as will render an unjust combination of a majority of the whole very improbable, if not impracticable…. [This] method will be exemplified in the federal republic of the United States. Whilst all authority in it will be derived from and dependent on the society, the society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests, and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority.

In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights. It consists in the one case in the multiplicity of interests, and in the other in the multiplicity of sects. The degree of security in both cases will depend on the number of interests and sects; and this may be presumed to depend on the extent of country and number of people comprehended under the same government. This view of the subject must particularly recommend a proper federal system to all the sincere and considerate friends of republican government, since it shows that in exact proportion as the territory of the Union may be formed into more circumscribed Confederacies, or States oppressive combinations of a majority will be facilitated: the best security, under the republican forms, for the rights of every class of citizens, will be diminished: and consequently the stability and independence of some member of the government, the only other security, must be proportionately increased.

Madison then went on to contradict what he had said in Federalist No. 46 about the States being a bulwark of liberty:

It can be little doubted that if the State of Rhode Island was separated from the Confederacy and left to itself, the insecurity of rights under the popular form of government within such narrow limits would be displayed by such reiterated oppressions of factious majorities that some power altogether independent of the people would soon be called for by the voice of the very factions whose misrule had proved the necessity of it. In the extended republic of the United States, and among the great variety of interests, parties, and sects which it embraces, a coalition of a majority of the whole society could seldom take place on any other principles than those of justice and the general good; whilst there being thus less danger to a minor from the will of a major party, there must be less pretext, also, to provide for the security of the former, by introducing into the government a will not dependent on the latter, or, in other words, a will independent of the society itself. It is no less certain than it is important, notwithstanding the contrary opinions which have been entertained, that the larger the society, provided it lie within a practical sphere, the more duly capable it will be of self-government. And happily for the REPUBLICAN CAUSE, the practicable sphere may be carried to a very great extent, by a judicious modification and mixture of the FEDERAL PRINCIPLE.

Madison understood that a majority can tyrannize a minority. He understood that the States are better able to prevent the rise of tyranny if the powers of the central government are circumscribed. But he then assumed that the States themselves could not resist tyranny within their own borders. Madison overlooked the importance of exit as the ultimate check on tyranny. He assumed (or asserted) that in creating a new central government with powers greatly exceeding those of the Confederacy a majority of States would not tyrannize the minority and that minorities with overlapping interests would not concert to tyrannize the majority. Madison was so anxious to see the Constitution ratified that he oversold himself and the States’ ratifying conventions on the ability of the central government to hold itself in check. Thus the Constitution was lamentably silent on nullification and secession.

What has been done by presidents, Congresses, and courts will be very hard to undo. Too many interests are vested in the regulatory-welfare state that has usurped the Framers’ noble vision. Democracy (that is, vote-selling) and log-rolling are more powerful than words on paper. Even a Supreme Court majority of “strict constructionists” probably would decline to roll back the New Deal and most of what has come in its wake.

That is why I endorse “Preemptive (Cold) Civil War“.

Preemptive War Revisited

I discovered this post deep in my queue of unpublished drafts. It rounds off two posts of mine about preemptive war:  “Sorting Out the Libertarian Hawks and Doves” and “Continuation of ‘Sorting Out the Libertarian Hawks and Doves’“. (Other related posts are listed at the end of this one.) I had commented on Micha Ghertner’s post at Catallarchy, “Moral Relativism Isn’t What You Think It Is” (July 27, 2005). Joe Miller‘s comment on my comment led me to follow up with a hypothetical and some related questions. Joe replied thoroughly and thoughtfully to those questions, and then posed some of his own. This post documents our exchange.


This part reproduces my hypothetical and the related questions (roman type, flush left), Joe’s replies to those questions (italics, indented), and my response to Joe’s replies (bold, double-indented).

The hypothetical:

1. In Country A (just as in Country B), the armed forces are controlled by the state. (I don’t want to get off onto the tangent of whether war is more or less likely if defense is provided by private agencies.)

2. The only restriction on the liberty of Country A’s citizens is that they must pay taxes to support their armed forces. Country B’s citizens own no property; their jobs are dictated by the state; their income is dictated by the state; and all aspects of their lives are regimented by state decrees.

3. Though Country A’s armed forces are underwritten by taxes, the members of the armed forces are volunteers. The members of Country B’s armed forces are conscripts, and Country B’s armed forces are, in effect, supplied and equipped by slave labor.

4. Country A would liberate Country B’s citizens, if it could. Country B would subjugate or kill Country A’s citizens, if it could.

The questions (all of which I answer “yes”):

1. If Country B attacks Country A, what limits (if any) would you place on the measures Country A might take in its defense? Specifically:

a. Are civilian casualties in Country B acceptable at all?

1. a. Yes, provided that Country A doesn’t directly intend those casualties, that it takes pains to minimize such casualties, and that it ensures that said casualties are proportional to military gains.

I don’t know how to evaluate proportionality. Perhaps an empathetic decision-maker might make a seat-of-the-pants judgment that “enough is enough” or “the particular objective isn’t worth the cost in human life.” Do you have a more precise metric in mind?

b. Are civilian casualties in Country B acceptable if they’re the result of mistakes on Country A’s part or the unavoidable result of Country A’s attacks on Country B’s armed forces and infrastructure?

1. b. Yes, but see 1a. for caveats.

See my comment on your answer to 1.a.

c. Is the deliberate infliction by Country A of civilian casualties in Country B acceptable as long as Country A’s leaders reasonably believe that the infliction of those casualties – and nothing else – will bring about the defeat of Country B? (Assume, here, that Country A’s leaders try to inflict only the number of casualties deemed necessary to the objective.)

1. c. Maybe. I think that there are two components to supreme emergency. One is that there must be an imminent danger of losing and the second is that losing must be catastrophically evil. Worldwide Stalinism probably would count. I’m not sure, from your quick description of Country B, that it really meets the second part of that criterion.

It would always be a judgment call. I suppose there are many libertarians (not to mention pacifists) who would rule out any deliberate infliction of casualties, even under the circumstances I’ve outlined.

(Assume, for purposes of the next 2 questions, that Country A inflicts casualties on Country B’s civilians only to the extent that those casualties are the result of mistakes or unavoidable collateral damage.)

2. Should Country A attack Country B if Country A concludes (rightly or wrongly, but in good faith) that Country B is about to attack, and if Country B strikes first it is likely to:

a. win a quick victory and subjugate Country A?

2. a. Yes. I’ve no objection to preemptive strikes, provided that it really is the case that Country B is about to attack. If you and I get into a fight, I see no reason that I’m obligated to wait for your first punch to land before I can defend myself. Once I see that you’re going to throw the punch, it’s okay if mine lands first. I can’t see why that ought not apply in war, as well.

b. inflict heavy casualties on Country A’s citizens?

2. b. Yes, again. It’s not the winning or losing or the casualties that matter here. It’s a question of aggression. The scenario you describe makes Country B the aggressor, regardless of who actually fires the first shot. That said, finding real cases of preemption isn’t easy to do. Israel in the Six Day’s War comes closest. (Or is it Seven? Hard to keep up with countries that keep winning wars in less than a week.)

3. Should Country A attack Country B if Country A concludes (rightly or wrongly, but in good faith) that Country B is developing the wherewithal to attack, and if Country B strikes first it is likely to

a. win a quick victory and subjugate Country A?

3. a. Nope. Here’s the analogy I like to use in class. Suppose that you and I really don’t like each other. In fact, we really hate one another. As it happens, right now, I’m stronger than you and know a bit about fighting, so I’m not really in much danger from you in a fight. But now suppose that I see that you’ve taken out a gym membership and signed up for Kung Fu classes at the Y. Am I justified in beating you up now on the grounds that, in a few months, you might possibly decide to beat me up? The same has to hold true for nations, I think. The mere fact that Country B doesn’t like Country A and is arming itself doesn’t imply that Country A will actually attack Country B. After all, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. actively didn’t like one another and actively armed against one another without ever actually directly shooting at one another. Possibility of future attack doesn’t justify preventive war. Imminence of attack does. When Country B makes it clear that they actually mean to attack, then they’ve aggressed against Country A and war is justified.

Assume this situation: Country B is developing a devastating weapon that, if used, would kill half of Country A’s inhabitants. There is no way to defend against the weapon if Country B decides to use it. Country B hasn’t said that it would use the weapon, but the mere existence of the weapon poses a grave threat to Country A’s citizens. Country B has demonstrated through its past behavior that it is unreceptive to pleas, negotiations, and offers of economic “assistance” (i.e., bribes). The only way to ensure that Country B won’t use the weapon when it’s built is to destroy the weapon in a preemptive attack, while the weapon is still under development. Country B has deliberately placed the development site so that a preemptive attack would result in the deaths of one-half of Country B’s citizens. What would you do? I know what I’d do, given my opening statements about Country A and Country B: I’d launch the preemptive attack, as long as it had a reasonable chance of success (say 50%) and as long as I had the wherewithal to launch at least one more equally potent attack.

3.b. inflict heavy casualties on Country A’s citizens?

3. b. Same as 3a.

See my comment on your answer to 3.a.


Now we switch to Joe’s questions (italics, flush left), my answers (bold, indented), and Joe’s replies (italics, double-indented):

1. I’m not sure that we’re in all that much disagreement about whether it’s a
good idea to arm. I’m hardly a pacifist; if anything, I think that I make my
liberal friends a bit nervous with my defense of intervention. I suspect that
we’re in pretty broad agreement about why the U.S. is worth defending. We’re
both liberals in a broad sense, and both of us, I think, see freedom/liberty
as worth defending. I’m not really all that worried about or interested in
trying to convert pacifists; I tend to think that’s pretty much a lost cause.

Right. I think our disagreements are about how best to defend liberty. It seems to me that real pacifists (as opposed to isolationists or those who object to the way we’re going about fighting terror or those who simply oppose Bush for the sake of opposing Bush) have to ask themselves why they put pacifism above liberty, especially when pacifism can lead to the loss of liberty. Come to think of it, isolationists and those who oppose Bush for the sake of opposing Bush have to ask themselves the same question.

Agreed. I find pacifism to be more defensible than isolationism, actually, because there are at least some principled reasons for being a pacifist. If one really is an absolutist of a certain sort (i.e., one who holds that it’s never right to do wrong to do right) and also believes that killing is wrong (e.g., takes Jesus’ injunction to turn the other cheek seriously), then pacifism follows. I don’t accept the position, but it’s hard to know what to say about it, exactly. Isolationists, however, just strike me as deeply confused, holding a flawed pragmatism that fails to adequately address long-term consequences. Opposing Bush for the sake of opposing Bush is a political strategy (and maybe not a terrible one in terms of short-term political gain), but it’s not a philosophical position, so I’m not really all that interested in wrestling with it.

2. I wonder what you make of the question of aggression. I tend to think
that aggression is the international crime. I don’t much hold with
libertarians who try to make aggression the only crime period, but I think
that in international affairs, it probably is the only crime. So most of my
discussion of just war theory revolves around aggression. Based on some of
what you’ve written, I get the impression that you might think that aggression
(meaning something like willfully violating a nation’s sovereignty) is okay if
doing so is necessary for (or even useful for?) the defense of the U.S. Am I
reading you correctly there?

My reading of those libertarians who think that aggression is the only crime is that they find a way to push every crime — even non-violent crime (e.g., theft and fraud) — under the heading of aggression. I have no real problem with that, but instead of focusing on aggression, I focus on what liberty is all about and why it’s so important. (The short version: Liberty enables individuals to fulfill their potential. Potential isn’t a zero-sum game; your ability to fulfill your potential enables me to fulfill mine.)

Liberty is the name of the game; non-aggression is just a means to the end of liberty, but not necessarily the only means or the best means. Non-aggression works reasonably well in a society that is bound by an agreed and enforceable code of behavior. But the world at large isn’t bound by such a code; the United Nations isn’t a larger version of the United States or an Amish community. The question then becomes, how best to preserve or foster liberty. If the answer, in some instances, is to attack those who have shown that they would suppress liberty, so be it. Is that aggression or defense of liberty? I call it defense of liberty.

Thus, why not destroy or decimate the Third Reich’s military might before Hitler begins to dominate Europe? And why not destroy the USSR’s burgeoning nuclear arsenal before Stalin checks the power of the U.S. and forces communism on much of Europe? Hitler and Stalin, if unchecked, would have used the resources of their “empires” against the U.S. That’s why I wouldn’t consider preemptive attacks on the Third Reich or Stalin’s USSR to be aggression. Hitler and Stalin were aggressors in that they opposed liberty, not only for the people of other nations but also for their own people. Striking at aggressors isn’t aggression.

Interesting. I’ll start at the end and work backward. I think that part of the difficulty in waging preventative war is demonstrated in the examples that you give. Yes, it clearly would have been better, in retrospect, to have destroyed the Third Reich before Hitler. Your example with Stalin is much harder. Yes he was a bad guy, maybe even worse than Hitler. And yes the world would have been a better place had Stalin not come to power. But the question is not whether the world would be better without Stalin, the question is whether the world would be better without Stalin or without the massive war that would have been necessary to prevent Stalin from dominating Eastern Europe. As it happened, Stalin didn’t use the resources of his empire directly against the U.S. OTOH, invading Russia is rather notoriously difficult to do. Maybe the U.S. would have succeeded where the Germans had failed just a few years earlier. I don’t honestly know enough about the period or about the relative capabilities of the two sides to say. It strikes me that it would have been tough, especially while at the same time trying to rebuild Germany and Japan, and with the rest of Europe trying to rebuild itself.

This, I think, leads us to what will likely be a point of fundamental disagreement. I do agree with you in thinking that liberty is an important value. I’m a consequentialist, though (a utilitarian, specifically), so I don’t think that liberty is the only important value, nor do I think that liberty is intrinsically valuable. In other words, I think that there are other values that have to be weighed into our decisions. In the international arena, sovereignty is one of those other values. Arguably, sovereignty and liberty aren’t entirely unconnected. If a person has a right to be self-determining, then a collection of people surely ought to be accorded that same right. And what is sovereignty if not the collective right of a body of individuals to be free from outside interference. Now I might very much dislike what it is that some body of people decides to do with that sovereignty. I might also attempt to convince them to do something different (by, for example, refusing to trade with them unless they clean up their act). But I don’t see it as legitimate to force that group of people to do anything. Thus I have a pretty strong presumption against war.

That said, I’m still not a pacifist. When nation A violates the sovereignty of nation B, then A has now violated the rights of B. That is morally wrong, and opens A to a response from B…and also from C, D, and E. The international arena is more like (the romanticized version of) the old west before the town gets around to appointing a sheriff. Or rather, there is a sheriff (the U.N.) but he’s woefully unequipped to take on any really serious bandits. When the bad guys come around, then, the sheriff can (and does) deputize pretty much anyone with a gun to go stop the bad guys. So aggression (or the violation of a state’s sovereignty) is a crime that can be met with force. In the international arena, then, I’m pretty much a libertarian (gasp!)

This is all a long way of saying that I think that there must be some actual act of aggression, some real violation of sovereignty, before war is justified. Preemption is justified when you know (or at least have really good reason to believe) that the other side will strike soon. Prevention, or war with a nation that might just possibly plan to attack at some as-yet undetermined future date and which might be harder to defeat in the future, is not a response to aggression at all, and thus violates the rights of the citizens of some nations to hate me while building a big army.

3. So we’re on the same page, what is your criterion for a just war? Or, to
ask the flip side, what is your criterion for an unjust war? You point out
(half-joking I think) that liberals tend to like on the Revolutionary War, the
Civil War and WWII. I do like all of those (depending on which side we’re
taking in the second), but I happen to think that WWI, Korea, and Gulf War I
were all just as well (though the former was sort of pointless as it was
mostly over when we got there). I’d offer the Spanish-American War, the War
of 1812, and, of course, Vietnam as examples of unjust wars. The former all
involved responding to aggression (on behalf of someone else in each case, but
that’s okay too). The latter three all involve acts of aggression on our side
(we made up an act of war for the first, invaded Canada in the second, and
intervened on behalf of a puppet government that didn’t have enough support
from its citizens to stand on its own in the third).

A just war (for the U.S.) is one in which (1) the actions of the U.S. are aimed at defeating or neutralizing a threat to the liberty or well-being of Americans, whether or not that threat is imminent, and (2) the cost (to the U.S.) is worth the likely long-term benefits. By those criteria, I like the Revolutionary War, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War (but only because it ensured an end to slavery), World War II, the Korean War (because it was necessary to respond to communist aggression, after having practically invited it), and Gulf War I. The Vietnam War was entirely unnecessary, but having committed ourselves so deeply it was a grave mistake to cut and run.

Hmmm. This sounds a lot like a realist positions (attaching labels is an occupational hazard for philosophers). Perhaps this would be the place to focus, as it might really get at why we disagree. I worry that this sort of position really amounts to egoism nationalized. Micha sometimes posts on something similar to this at Catallarchy: the objection here is that there don’t seem to be any non-arbitrary reasons for thinking that one ought to favor the interests of Americans over the interests of non-Americans. To put the question a different way, why should the well-being of Americans be a reason for harming non-Americans? Maybe the “well-being” part is just a throwaway, but it strikes me that it leaves things pretty wide-open. If India keeps taking American jobs (I don’t endorse this position; I like free trade, but let’s just go with this for a moment), then mightn’t we make a good case that it is harming the well-being of Americans? Or if Saudi Arabia cuts back its oil production, doesn’t that harm Americans’ well being?

I suppose that I also wonder whether the two-part just war criterion you sketch here really is consistent with the value that you place on liberty. If liberty really is your core value, then doesn’t everyone’s liberty count the same? What then justifies acting only on behalf of American liberty or only when America benefits from the action?

4. Not to be flip here, but is there anyplace that George Bush could invade
that you would find objectionable? Conversely, is there anyplace that Bill
Clinton could invade that you wouldn’t? Again, I don’t mean to come across as
flip, but I detected considerable scorn when you talked about some of
Clinton’s military actions, particularly in his missile attacks during the
whole blow-job thing. The irony here is that those were actually aimed at
terrorist camps, unlike Iraq whose only terrorist camp was actually in
territory controlled by the Kurds, whom we were protecting from Saddam. It’s
probably fair that I answer the reverse of the question. So, for the record,
I supported the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. I also thought that Bush I
was right to intervene in Somalia and Clinton wrong to withdraw. Clinton
should have intervened in Rwanda, Bush in Liberia.

The short answer: Any president (authorized by Congress) should invade or take other “aggressive” action, whether military or not, whenever the action meets my criteria for a just war (previous answer).

Just to be flip, I would object to George Bush’s invasion of Austin, Texas, even though it is a left-wing stronghold. Seriously, my problem with Clinton’s military actions is that they seemed half-hearted. Halfway measures show a dangerous lack of resolve, which I think was the hallmark of Clinton’s presidency — except when it came to getting re-elected and avoiding conviction by the Senate. To be honest with you, I so distrusted Clinton that I found it hard to swallow anything he had to say about anything, military matters included.

I opposed Clinton’s intervention in Kosovo, and would object to Bush’s intervention in Liberia, because I’m opposed to humanitarian interventions. The commander-in-chief should be focused on defending Americans (as defined in my previous answer); helping others should be confined to those instances where it serves the purpose of defending Americans or protecting their well-being. Bringing down Saddam and helping to foster some sort of representative government in Iraq is good to the extent that it makes it less likely that Iraq’s oil will be turned against or denied to the U.S. It’s also good to the extent that it discourages state-sponsored terrorism or the spread of state-sponsored terrorism. The nation-building/humanitarian aspect of the Iraq War is desirable (in my view) only to the extent that it advances our ability to defend our interests in the Middle East.

I didn’t know that left-wingers were allowed in Texas. Surely in such a gigantic state, it’s okay if we congregate in one city? I might point out that Forbes’ ranking of the best places to do business are pretty much dominated by cities that are dominated by liberals (2004’s top five: Madison, WI; Raleigh-Durham, NC; Austin; DC; Atlanta). I guess that’s another story, though.

In this answer, my worries about the consistency of your view become more evident. If liberty is really the central value, then what’s the difference between military action designed to protect American liberty and military action designed to protect Kosovar liberty? Some interventions are surely imprudent (say, intervention on behalf of Chinese liberty). But again, I would ask why American liberty is so important?

5. To what extent do you think that war makes the world safer? You mention
in your post “War Can Be the Answer” that you think that U.S. could learn from
Israel in fighting terrorism. I’m inclined to agree, but probably for a
different reason. The only place that Islamic terrorists would rather bomb
than New York is Tel Aviv. Despite committing what I think are horrific war
crimes against Palestinian civilians (or perhaps because of), terrorists
continue to throw bombs at Israeli soldiers and blow up Israeli coffee shops.
It’s not clear to me that blowing up cities in retaliation for blowing up
buildings has been a successful strategy overall. This is not to say that we
shouldn’t hunt down terrorists, but do you think that the Army is always the
best way to do that?

War makes the world safer to the extent that it kills bad guys and deters other people from acting bad. I’m not persuaded that killing bad guys actually generates more bad guys. I think they’re already out there, looking for an excuse and opportunity to do bad things. If killing bad guys does generate bad guys, then killing good guys ought to generate good guys. We killed a lot of “bad guys” in WWII and it worked. In fact, for a long time, many “bad guys” became “good guys.” But it takes victory to do that. Which is one of the reasons we shouldn’t leave Iraq until it’s clear that the “good guys” are in charge.

Yes, you’re absolutely right that sometimes killing bad guys is the only way to make the world safer. Part of the difficulty, though, is that in a traditional war between nation-states, most of the people being killed are neither bad guys nor good guys specifically. The average German killed in WWII wasn’t a monster or a war criminal. He was a guy who thought that he was fighting for his country. Yeah, chances are that he was a pretty serious racist. The odds are that the American soldiers on the other side were, too; Americans just hated a different group of people for an arbitrary reason. Now I’m not claiming moral equivalence between Nazi racism and American racism. I’m only claiming a rough moral equivalence between the average German soldier and the average American soldier. In WWII, the really bad guys weren’t the people Americans were killing during the war. The bad guys are the ones we hanged at Nuremberg after the war. Victory there was necessary because that was the only way to get to the really bad guys who actually needed to be stopped.

It’s not so clear to me that this is the case in the Israel-Palestine contest. There are genuine bad guys (on both sides, I think). But bombing cities or sending tanks to demolish entire quarters isn’t the way to get at the really bad guys. In traditional war, armies fight other armies, and typically, when the war ends, the two armies stop fighting. In Israel, you have an army fighting against the general public. There is no way for one side to officially surrender, and it requires only the actions of a single lunatic fanatic to restart the entire conflict. That, I think, calls for a different strategy entirely.

Israel is in a “fight or die” situation, and forbearance hasn’t worked when it’s been tried. The bad guys keep showing up. Targeted killings and surgical strikes can do only so much damage to the terrorist element. Given the proclivity of Palestinian terrorists for mingling with Palestinian civilians, I’m inclined to blame Palestinian terrorists for the deaths of Palestinian civilians. Yes, Israel takes the blame, and it inflames Palestinians. But what’s the alternative?

I think that a good start would be more police work, and fewer tanks and missiles. Terrorism is really bad stuff, but mostly it’s criminal activity and not war activity. There are some exceptions, like 9/11 where you have what amounts to a state that sponsored the attacks (or at least knowingly and willfully harbored the attackers). Mostly, though, I think that the sort of terrorism we’re worried about today would be something in between an army and a police force, perhaps an entirely new entity. I have in mind something like a law-enforcement agency with a pretty serious military arm, but a military arm that consists largely of special-forces and light infantry types—the sort who did most of the work in Afghanistan. I worry that a lot of what is really needed in hunting down terrorists is law-enforcement types of skills, and while our military is, hands down, the best in the world, it’s not particularly good at law-enforcement jobs, because, after all, that’s not what it trains for. OTOH, law enforcement types rarely have the skills necessary to take on heavily-armed terrorist cells. That’s the sort of thing that the military is good at. To use a (probably bad) analogy, the army is a broadsword, the FBI a scalpel. What we really need is a good saber.

There are lots of ways to fight terrorists. The best way depends on where they are and how they’re operating. (That’s trite, isn’t it?) Military force wouldn’t be the answer inside the U.S. unless, for example, we happened to find a large training camp in the wilds of Colorado or a major munitions depot on a farm in Michigan. As for the use of military force overseas, large-scale military operations may be an effective means of combating terrorists when they’re massed for some purpose (e.g., in training camps or drawing on large munitions caches). Small-unit and special-forces operations are more effective in the pursuit of small bands of terrorists. In any event, good tactical intelligence is a key to success (as it is in any war), and that’s simply harder to come by when you’re fighting an enemy who blends into the populace and whose weapons are easily concealed and easy to transport. But, again, what’s the alternative to trying to find and kill them? Ignoring them doesn’t work, and the truly dangerous ideologues won’t be mollified by peace and prosperity.

No, you’re right that the truly dangerous ideologues won’t be mollified by peace and prosperity. But I’m not really trying to convert the ideologues. I’m worried about the disaffected who are more likely to be swayed by ideologues when they’re poor and miserable than they are when they’re driving shiny new Hondas and building TVs to sell to Americans. It’s going to be a lot harder to find suicide bombers when the average citizen knows that Americans buy the stuff his factory makes. After all, it’s not the real ideologues who strap on the bombs, it’s the disaffected youth who turn to ideologues who offer a scapegoat for their own misery.

The main difference between Israel and the U.S. is that Israelis (for the most part) realize that they’re fighting for their survival. Americans were more inclined to believe that right after 9/11, but the rage has subsided.

Not to sound too cynical here, but are we really fighting for our survival? As bad as 9/11 was, it’s not like it really threatened the very existence of the U.S. There are close to 300,000,000 in the nation. Fewer than 3,000 died on 9/11. The murder rate is somewhere around 7.4 per 100,000. We’re killing ourselves at a far faster rate than terrorists are managing.

I don’t mean to belittle the problem, but I do think that reaction to 9/11 was a bit overblown. It’s not like large-scale terrorism came into existence in September 2001. It was just new to us. I suspect that the biggest threat to American survival lies not in what terrorists can do to us but rather in what we can do to ourselves. I’m going to sound like a left-winger here maybe, but it seems to me that a lot of what we did in response to 9/11 was to make ourselves less liberal (in the broad sense that you and I share).

Let’s suppose that we do prevent another 9/11. What cost are we willing to pay to do that?

I’ll put the point another way. Andrew Sullivan pointed out a few months ago that, relative to their population size, Iraq was experiencing the equivalent of a 9/11 every day. That got better for a while, but it’s back to being pretty bad again. Despite all that horror, no one really questions whether or not Iraq will survive. Given that the U.S. is in almost incomparably better shape than Iraq, it’s hard to imagine that America’s survival is actually at stake.

And before you mention it, yes, the nuclear threat is a different story entirely. There’s a nice quote from the movie The Peacemaker, in which Nicole Kidman’s character says, “I’m not afraid of the man who wants 10 nuclear weapons, Colonel. I’m terrified of the man who only wants one.” Well, I’m also afraid of some men who want 10, since lots of them are the sort who wouldn’t mind having only 9 and selling the other to the lunatic who just wants one. It thus puzzles me deeply that we’re spending so much money to stabilize a place formerly ruled by a lunatic who had no nuclear weapons and wasn’t close to having any while completely ignoring another lunatic who does have nuclear weapons and cozying up to a bunch of criminals who have access to thousands of them.

Other related posts:
9/11 and Pearl Harbor
Vietnam and Iraq as Metaphors
Wisdom about the War on Terrror
Why Sovereignty?
Getting It All Wrong about the Risk of Terrorism
Final (?) Words about Preemption and the Constitution
More Final (?) Words about Preemption and the Constitution
Riots, Culture, and the Final Showdown
A Rant about Torture
What If We Lose?
The Best Defense . . .
A Skewed Perspective on Terrorism
Defense as the Ultimate Social Service
Not Enough Boots: The Why of It
Liberalism and Sovereignty
The Media, the Left, and War
Getting It Wrong and Right about Iran
The Decision to Drop the Bomb
Delusions of Preparedness
A Grand Strategy for the United States
Transnationalism and National Defense
The War on Terror, As It Should Have Been Fought
Preemptive War
Preemptive War and Iran
Some Thoughts and Questions about Preemptive War
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
My Defense of the A-Bomb
Today’s Lesson in Economics: How to Think about War
LBJ’s Dereliction of Duty
Terrorism Isn’t an Accident
The Ken Burns Apology Tour Continues
Planning for the Last War
The Folly of Pacifism

My View of Mill, Endorsed

Scott Yenor, writing in “The Problem with the ‘Simple Principle’ of Liberty” (Law & Liberty, March 19, 2018), makes a point about J.S. Mill’s harm principle that I have made many times. Yenor begins by quoting the principle:

The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. . . . The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. . . .The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part that merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

This is the foundational principle of libertarianism, and it is deeply flawed, as Yenor argues (successfully, in my view). He ends with this:

[T]he simple principle of [individual] liberty undermines community and compromises character by compromising the family. As common identity and the family are necessary for the survival of liberal society—or any society—I cannot believe that modes of thinking based on the “simple principle” alone suffice for a governing philosophy. The principle works when a country has a moral people, but it doesn’t make a moral people.

Here are some of the posts in which I address liberty as Mill saw it and as I see it:

On Liberty
Parsing Political Philosophy
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
The Meaning of Liberty
Understanding Hayek
Burkean Libertarianism
What Is Libertarianism?
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Why Conservatism WorksLiberty and Society
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
Defining Liberty
The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)
Getting Liberty Wrong
My View of Libertarianism
Social Norms and Liberty
More About Social Norms and Liberty
Individualism, Society, and Liberty
The Harm Principle Revisited: Mill Conflates Society and State
Liberty and Social Norms Re-examined

This Is a Test…

… of Facebook. Today I set up a special Facebook page (here) to publicize the posts at this blog.

In addition, I ordered a “boost” for one of my recent posts, which is decidedly negative about leftism (as all of my political posts are). It’s not as incendiary as this one, but it’s hot enough to singe any leftist who gets too close to it.

I’m now waiting to see if FB declines my order to boost the post and/or blocks the page on which my posts appear. Stay tuned.

UPDATE, 03/20/18

I received a notification this morning that Facebook has approved my promotion. That’s a step in the right direction. Next question: What will Facebook do to my page if (more likely when) it is flagged as objectionable by some readers?



Realities presents the best of Politics & Prosperity in the form of polished and updated articles. Some of them consolidate material that was scattered among several related posts at this blog. Give it a look.

Published to date:

Preemptive (Cold) Civil War


This post is driven by what I have seen of leftism over the years. Just a few hours before its scheduled publication I read a piece by Richard Jack Rail, “Our America or Theirs“, which captures the fighting spirit of this post:

Our adversary is nasty and pitiless. These people cheat, lie, and kill, and they don’t care about the country. They tout honor they don’t have and accuse us of having none.

We are facing evil and its fruits.

We can’t just let it go anymore. There is no place left for us to retreat to.  For decades, we’ve let them get away with their rowdy, insulting, destructive behavior. We’ve pretended they meant well when we knew they did not. We’ve allowed them to get away with their lies because it was so unpleasant fighting all the time.

We can’t do that anymore. It’s time to draw lines in the sand and fight back. Put them in prison and keep them there for crimes, rather than slap their wrists and pretend they’re harmless. Forcibly shut them up when they try to forcibly shut us up. Meet their obnoxious behavior with our own obnoxious behavior.

This is what they’ve pushed toward for 50 years, and it’s time to give it back to them. They have taken over the closest thing we have to a national police force – the FBI – and corrupted it at its core, using police powers not to protect America or U.S. citizens, but to go after political foes. This is the very definition of tyranny….

… There’s no “give” left.

It’s our America or theirs.


I hereby retract something that I said in “Leftism as Crypto-Fascism: The Google Paradigm“:

Google is a private company. I strongly support the right of private employers to fire anyone at any time for any reason. I am not here to condemn Google for having fired James Damore, the author of the now-notorious 10-page memo about Google’s ideological echo chamber.

Later in the same post, however, I said this:

What happened to James Damore is what happens where leftists control the machinery of the state.

Given the influence that Google and the other members of the left-wing information-technology oligarchy exerts in this country, that oligarchy is tantamount to a state apparatus. As Joel Kotkin puts it,

Silicon Valley is turning into something more of an emerging axis of evil. “Brain-hacking” tech companies such as Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon, as one prominent tech investor puts it, have become so intrusive as to alarm critics on both right and left.

Firms like Google, which once advertised themselves as committed to being not “evil,” are now increasingly seen as epitomizing Hades’ legions. The tech giants now constitute the world’s five largest companies in market capitalization. Rather than idealistic newcomers, they increasingly reflect the worst of American capitalism — squashing competitors, using indentured servants, attempting to fix wages, depressing incomes, creating ever more social anomie and alienation.

At the same time these firms are fostering what British academic David Lyon has called a “surveillance society” both here and abroad. Companies like Facebook and Google thrive by mining personal data, and their only way to grow, as Wired recently suggested, was, creepily, to “know you better.” [“How Silicon Valley Went from ‘Don’t Be Evil’ to Doing Evil“, The Orange County Register, March 3, 2018]

Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, and other information-technology companies represent just one facet of the complex of institutions in the thought-control business.

A second facet consists of the so-called mainstream media (MSM) — the print and broadcast outlets that for the most part, and for many decades, have exploited their protected status under the First Amendment to heavily lard their offerings with “progressive” propaganda. MSM’s direct influence via the internet has been diluted slightly by the plethora of alternative sources, many of them libertarian and conservative, but Google and friends do a good job of throttling the alternative sources.

I need say little about a third facet — the “entertainment” industry — which also exploits its First-Amendment privilege to spew left-wing propaganda.

The academy and its spawn, public education indoctrination, form a fourth facet. The leftward tilt of most academic administrations and goodly chunks of the professoriate is no secret. Neither is the stultifying atmosphere on college campuses:

Sixty-one percent of U.S. college students agree that the climate on their campus prevents some people from expressing their views because others might find them offensive. In 2016, 54% of college students held this view.

These results are based on a 2017 Gallup/Knight Foundation survey of 3,014 randomly sampled U.S. college students about First Amendment issues. The survey is an update of a 2016 Knight Foundation/Newseum Institute/Gallup survey on the same topic….

While more students now agree that their campus climate stifles free speech, fewer students now (70%) than in 2016 (78%) favor having an open campus environment that allows all types of speech, even that which is offensive. In contrast, 29% of students now, up from 22% in 2016, would rather campuses be “positive learning environments for all students” by prohibiting certain speech that is offensive or biased….

When students perceive the campus climate as deterring certain people from speaking their minds, they may have conservative students in mind more than others. Sixty-nine percent of college students believe political conservatives can freely and openly express their views on campus. While still a majority, it is far less than the 92% who say the same about political liberals. Between 80% and 94% of students believe other campus groups, including many that have historically faced discrimination, can freely express their views. [quotations from a Gallup/Knight survey by William A. Jacobson in “Gallup/Knight Survey Shows Free Speech Crisis for Conservatives on Campus Is Real“, Legal Insurrection, March 12. 2018]

On top of that, there are the hordes of public-school teachers who are the willing adherents and disciples of the “progressive” orthodoxy, which they gleefully transmit to captive and impressionable students across the land.


These information-entertainment-media-academic institutions are important components of what I call the vast left-wing conspiracy in America. Their purpose and effect is the subversion of the traditional norms that made America a uniquely free, prosperous, and vibrant nation.

It is what Professors Amy Wax and Larry Alexander wrote about several months ago:

Too few Americans are qualified for the jobs available. Male working-age labor-force participation is at Depression-era lows. Opioid abuse is widespread. Homicidal violence plagues inner cities. Almost half of all children are born out of wedlock, and even more are raised by single mothers. Many college students lack basic skills, and high school students rank below those from two dozen other countries.

The causes of these phenomena are multiple and complex, but implicated in these and other maladies is the breakdown of the country’s bourgeois culture.

That culture laid out the script we all were supposed to follow: Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.

These basic cultural precepts reigned from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s. They could be followed by people of all backgrounds and abilities, especially when backed up by almost universal endorsement. Adherence was a major contributor to the productivity, educational gains, and social coherence of that period.

Did everyone abide by those precepts? Of course not. There are always rebels — and hypocrites, those who publicly endorse the norms but transgress them. But as the saying goes, hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue. Even the deviants rarely disavowed or openly disparaged the prevailing expectations….

… The loss of bourgeois habits seriously impeded the progress of disadvantaged groups. That trend also accelerated the destructive consequences of the growing welfare state, which, by taking over financial support of families, reduced the need for two parents. A strong pro-marriage norm might have blunted this effect. Instead, the number of single parents grew astronomically, producing children more prone to academic failure, addiction, idleness, crime, and poverty.

This cultural script began to break down in the late 1960s. A combination of factors — prosperity, the Pill, the expansion of higher education, and the doubts surrounding the Vietnam War — encouraged an antiauthoritarian, adolescent, wish-fulfillment ideal — sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll — that was unworthy of, and unworkable for, a mature, prosperous adult society….

And those adults with influence over the culture, for a variety of reasons, abandoned their role as advocates for respectability, civility, and adult values. As a consequence, the counterculture made great headway, particularly among the chattering classes — academics, writers, artists, actors, and journalists — who relished liberation from conventional constraints and turned condemning America and reviewing its crimes into a class marker of virtue and sophistication.

All cultures are not equal. Or at least they are not equal in preparing people to be productive in an advanced economy. The culture of the Plains Indians was designed for nomadic hunters, but is not suited to a First World, 21st-century environment. Nor are the single-parent, antisocial habits, prevalent among some working-class whites; the anti-“acting white” rap culture of inner-city blacks; the anti-assimilation ideas gaining ground among some Hispanic immigrants. These cultural orientations are not only incompatible with what an advanced free-market economy and a viable democracy require, they are also destructive of a sense of solidarity and reciprocity among Americans. If the bourgeois cultural script — which the upper-middle class still largely observes but now hesitates to preach — cannot be widely reinstated, things are likely to get worse for us all….

… Among those who currently follow the old precepts, regardless of their level of education or affluence, the homicide rate is tiny, opioid addiction is rare, and poverty rates are low. Those who live by the simple rules that most people used to accept may not end up rich or hold elite jobs, but their lives will go far better than they do now. All schools and neighborhoods would be much safer and more pleasant. More students from all walks of life would be educated for constructive employment and democratic participation.

But restoring the hegemony of the bourgeois culture will require the arbiters of culture — the academics, media, and Hollywood — to relinquish multicultural grievance polemics and the preening pretense of defending the downtrodden. Instead of bashing the bourgeois culture, they should return to the 1950s posture of celebrating it. [“Paying the Price for the Breakdown of the Country’s Bourgeois Culture”, The Inquirer, August 9, 2017]

Needless to say, Alexander and Wax have been vilified and threatened with physical harm for daring to speak truth to the power of the vast left-wing conspiracy.

What will happen in America if that conspiracy succeeds in completely overthrowing “bourgeois culture”? The left will frog-march America in whatever utopian direction captures its “feelings” (but not its reason) at the moment; for example:

eugenics, prohibition, repeal of prohibition, peace through unilateral disarmament, overpopulation, global cooling, peak oil, global warming, carbon footprints, recycling, income inequality, unconscious racism, white privilege, forced integration, forced segregation (if blacks want it), coeducation, mixed-sexed dorms, single-sex schools, any reference to or image of a firearm, keeping score, winning, cultural appropriation, diversity, globalization, free speech (not), homophobia, same-sex “marriage”, smoking, gender “assignment” at birth, “free” college for all, “settled science”, collective guilt (but only of straight, white, conservative males of European descent, and Germans in 1933-1945), racial profiling and stereotyping (except when leftists do it), etc., etc., etc.


leftism’s utopian agenda has a chance of success only if everyone is forced to hew to its dictates. There’s no room in utopia for dissent or learning by trial and error — the kind of learning that fuels economic progress and yields stabilizing social norms.

The fact that a dictated utopian agenda really has no chance of success is beyond the imagining of a leftist. We have already seen what such an agenda does to economic progress, social comity, and liberty in places like the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, China, Cuba, and Venezuela.

It is no coincidence that American leftists have always been quick to rationalize, dismiss, and cover up the brutal consequences of the regimes in those places. They have had exactly the kind of governance that leftists seek to bring to the United States as a whole, and have almost succeeded in imposing on many large cities and not a few Blue States.

Leftists are utopians, driven by impossible dreams and hooked on the nirvana fallacy. They are therefore immune to facts, and doomed to repeat the harsh lessons of history. Which would be fine if leftists governed only their ilk, but they are intent on making their fellow citizens suffer along with them — and they have succeeded far too well.

Clearly, the information-entertainment-media-academic complex is striving for a monopoly on the expression and transmission of political thought in America. Such a monopoly would be tantamount to state action (see this and this), and must therefore be prevented before it can be perfected. For, if it can be perfected, the First Amendment will quickly become obsolete.

But there’s far more at stake than the First Amendment. As Malcolm Pollack puts it,

the tremendous fissure in American culture and politics…. goes far deeper than mere disagreements about policy; it has reached the point in which the two sides have entirely different conceptions of moral, political, cultural, social, historical, and even human reality — views that are not only incommensurable, but mutually and bitterly antagonistic.


Complete victory for the enemies of liberty is only a few election cycles away. The squishy center of the American electorate — as is its wont — will swing back toward the Democrat Party. With a Democrat in the White House, a Democrat-controlled Congress, and a few party switches in the Supreme Court, the dogmas of the information-entertainment-media-academic complex will become the law of the land; for example:

Billions and trillions of dollars will be wasted on various “green” projects, including but far from limited to the complete replacement of fossil fuels by “renewables”, with the resulting impoverishment of most Americans, except for comfortable elites who press such policies).

It will be illegal to criticize, even by implication, such things as abortion, illegal immigration, same-sex marriage, transgenderism, anthropogenic global warming, or the confiscation of firearms. These cherished beliefs will be mandated for school and college curricula, and enforced by huge fines and draconian prison sentences (sometimes in the guise of “re-education”).

Any hint of Christianity and Judaism will be barred from public discourse, and similarly punished. Other religions will be held up as models of unity and tolerance.

Reverse discrimination in favor of females, blacks, Hispanics, gender-confused persons, and other “protected” groups will become overt and legal. But “protections” will not apply to members of such groups who are suspected of harboring libertarian or conservative impulses.

Sexual misconduct will become a crime, and any male person may be found guilty of it on the uncorroborated testimony of any female who claims to have been the victim of an unwanted glance, touch (even if accidental), innuendo (as perceived by the victim), etc.

There will be parallel treatment of the “crimes” of racism, anti-Islamism, nativism, and genderism.

All health care in the United States will be subject to review by a national, single-payer agency of the central government. Private care will be forbidden, though ready access to doctors, treatments, and medications will be provided for high officials and other favored persons. The resulting health-care catastrophe that befalls most of the populace (like that of the UK) will be shrugged off as a residual effect of “capitalist” health care.

The regulatory regime will rebound with a vengeance, contaminating every corner of American life and regimenting all businesses except those daring to operate in an underground economy. The quality and variety of products and services will decline as their real prices rise as a fraction of incomes.

The dire economic effects of single-payer health care and regulation will be compounded by massive increases in other kinds of government spending (defense excepted). The real rate of economic growth will approach zero.

The United States will maintain token armed forces, mainly for the purpose of suppressing domestic uprisings. Given its economically destructive independence from foreign oil and its depressed economy, it will become a simulacrum of the USSR and Mao’s China — and not a rival to the new superpowers, Russia and China, which will largely ignore it as long as it doesn’t interfere in their pillaging of respective spheres of influence. A policy of non-interference (i.e., tacit collusion) will be the order of the era in Washington.

Though it would hardly be necessary to rig elections in favor of Democrats, given the flood of illegal immigrants who will pour into the country and enjoy voting rights, a way will be found to do just that. The most likely method will be election laws requiring candidates to pass ideological purity tests by swearing fealty to the “law of the land” (i.e., abortion, unfettered immigration, same-sex marriage, freedom of gender choice for children, etc., etc., etc.). Those who fail such a test will be barred from holding any kind of public office, no matter how insignificant.

Are my fears exaggerated? I don’t think so. I have lived long enough and seen enough changes in the political and moral landscape of the United States to know that what I have sketched out can easily happen within a decade after Democrats seize total control of the central government.

Will the defenders of liberty rally to keep it from happening? Perhaps, but I fear that they will not have a lot of popular support, for three reasons:

First, there is the problem of asymmetrical ideological warfare, which favors the party that says “nice” things and promises “free” things.

Second, What has happened thus far — mainly since the 1960s — has happened slowly enough that it seems “natural” to too many Americans. They are like fish in water who cannot grasp the idea of life in a different medium.

Third, although change for the worse has accelerated in recent years, it has occurred mainly in forums that seem inconsequential to most Americans, for example, in academic fights about free speech, in the politically correct speeches of Hollywood stars, and in culture wars that are conducted mainly in the blogosphere. The unisex-bathroom issue seems to have faded as quickly as it arose, mainly because it really affects so few people. The latest gun-control mania may well subside — though it has reached new heights of hysteria — but it is only one battle in the broader civil war being waged by the left. And most Americans lack the political and historical knowledge to understand that there really is a civil war underway — just not a “hot” one (yet).


As a firm believer in preemptive war as a means of preserving liberty, I recently recommended this “war” strategy:

The only way out, as I see it, is for majorities of the people some States to demand that their governments resist Leviathan by selectively ignoring some of its decrees. If California can do it, surely some of the 15 States that went for Trump by more than 60 percent can do it.

Once the ice is broken, nullification — the refusal to abide by unconstitutional laws and decrees emanating from Washington — will become a national movement. Federalism will return after an absence of almost 90 years. National “democracy” will be a thing of the past. The citizens of each State will have greater control over the reach of government into their lives. It won’t be nirvana, but it will be better than the present state of affairs.

Quasi-secession, as I would call it, is the only peaceful way out. It’s the only “democratic” way out. If that doesn’t work, there’s always the real thing, which is legal.

But, as I have said elsewhere, there’s an underlying problem that won’t be solved by quasi-secession or even by the real thing:

I am … pessimistic about the willingness of the left to allow a return to the true federalism that was supposed to have been ensured by the Constitution. The left’s mantra is control, control, control — and it will not relinquish its control of the machinery of government. The left’s idea of liberty is the “liberty” to follow its dictates.

All bets will be off when Democrats regain control of the central government. And there is precious little time in which to default to federalism, either through quasi-secession or the real things (which even deep-Red States are likely to resist). An Article V convention of the States might do the job. But it would take too many years in which to authorize, organize and complete a convention, and to implement the new guarantees of liberty that (should) issue from such a convention.

Add a convention of the States to the several other options that I outlined a few years ago, and you have a nice, round 10 ways of restoring liberty (not all of them mutually exclusive). All of the options are flawed in one way or another, and (except for a risky coup) are unlikely to have decisive results.

There is an eleventh option, which I have discussed elsewhere, one that could be exercised now — and with decisive results. It is departmentalism. What is that? Here’s an explanation by Matthew J. Franck:

It’s one thing to say that the Supreme Court, at the apex of the federal judiciary, has a binding authority over the states to see that the Constitution means the same thing in every part of the country, when cases and controversies necessitate the performance of this duty.  It is quite another thing to say, as [the Supreme Court in] Cooper [v. Aaron] did, that Supreme Court rulings are “the supreme law of the land” owing to an exact identity with the Constitution itself, and thus binding with Article VI force on all rival interpreters of the Constitution.  From this it would follow that Congress and the president, no less than the states, are bound by their oaths to accept Supreme Court decisions as binding expositions of the meaning of the Constitution.

That is the proposition that departmentalism challenges, and rightly so.

Michael Stokes Paulsen and Luke Paulsen, writing in The Constitution: An Introduction, put it more directly:

All branches of government are equally bound by the Constitution. No branch of the federal government— not the Congress, not the President, not even the Supreme Court— can legitimately act in ways contrary to the words of the Constitution. Indeed, Article VI requires that all government officials— legislative, executive, and judicial, state and federal—“ shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution.” Thus, the idea of a written constitution is closely tied to the idea of constitutional supremacy: In America, no branch of government is supreme. The government as a whole is not supreme. The Constitution is supreme. It is the written Constitution that prevails over every other source of authority in the United States.

Here’s what needs to happen, and happen soon:

Compile a documented dossier of the statutes, regulations, and judicial decisions of the United States government that grievously countermand the Constitution. Such a tabulation would include, but be far from limited to, enactments like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare that aren’t among the limited and enumerated powers of Congress, as listed in Article I, Section 8. They would also include judicial interference in matters that are rightly the president’s, under the Constitution and constitutional laws and regulations.

Prioritize the list, roughly according to the degree of damage each item does to the liberty and prosperity of Americans.

Re-prioritize the list, to eliminate or reduce the priority of items that would be difficult or impossible to act on quickly. For example, although Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are unconstitutional, they have been around so long that it would be too disruptive and harmful to eliminate them without putting in place a transition plan that takes many years to execute.

Of the remaining high-priority items, some will call for action (e.g., implementation of the “travel ban” before the Supreme Court can act on it); some will call for passivity (e.g., allowing individual States to opt out of federal programs without challenging those States in court).

Mount a public-relations offensive to explain departmentalism and its benefits, with hints as to the kinds of actions that will be taken to reassert the primacy of the Constitution.

Announce the actions to be taken with regard to each high-priority item. There would be — for general consumption — a simplified version that explains the benefits to individuals and the country as a whole. There would also be a full, legal explanation of the constitutional validity of each action. The legal explanation would be “for the record”, in the likely event of a serious attempt to impeach the president and his “co-conspirators”. The legal version would be the administration’s only response to judicial interventions, which the administration would ignore.

One of the actions would be to enforce the First Amendment against information-entertainment-media-academic complex. This would begin with action against high-profile targets (e.g., Google and a few large universities that accept federal money). That should be enough to bring the others into line. If it isn’t, keep working down the list until the miscreants cry uncle.

What kind of action do I have in mind? This is a delicate matter because the action must be seen as rescuing the First Amendment, not suppressing it; it must be taken solely by the executive; and it must comport with legitimate authority already vested in the executive. Even then, the hue and cry will be deafening, as will the calls for impeachment. It will take nerves of steel to proceed on this front.

Here’s a way to do it:


The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. (Article V.)

Amendment I to the Constitution says that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech”.

Major entities in the telecommunications, news, entertainment, and education industries have exerted their power to suppress speech because of its content. (See appended documentation.) The collective actions of these entities — many of them government- licensed and government-funded — effectively constitute a governmental violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of speech (See Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649 (1944) and Marsh v. Alabama, 326 U.S. 501 (1946).)

As President, it is my duty to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed”. The Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of speech is a fundamental law of the land.

Therefore, by the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution, it is hereby ordered as follows:

1. The United States Marshals Service shall monitor the activities of the entities listed in the appendix, to ascertain whether those entities are discriminating against persons or groups based on the views, opinions, or facts expressed by those persons or groups.

2. Wherever the Marshals Service observes effective discrimination against certain views, opinions, or facts, it shall immediately countermand such discrimination and order remedial action by the offending entity.

3. Officials and employees of the entities in question who refuse to cooperate with the Marshals Service, or to follow its directives pursuant to this Executive Order, shall be suspended from duty but will continue to be compensated at their normal rates during their suspensions, however long they may last.

4. This order shall terminate with respect to a particular entity when the President is satisfied that the entity will no longer discriminate against views, opinions, or facts on the basis of their content.

5. This order shall terminate in its entirety when the President is satisfied that freedom of speech has been restored to the land.

(Note to constitutional law experts: Please chime in.)


The drastic actions recommended here are necessary because of the imminent danger to what is left of Americans’ liberty and prosperity. (See IV.) The alternative is to do nothing and watch liberty and prosperity vanish from view. There is nothing to be lost, and much to be gained.

There is now a man in the White House who seems to have the nerve and commitment to liberty that is called for. Another such president is unlikely to come along before it’s too late.

I beseech you, Mr. Trump, to strike preemptively now … for the sake of America’s liberty and prosperity.

Related reading:
Christian Gonzalez, “Looking through an Ideological Lens at Columbia“, Heterodox Academy, March 15, 2018
Brandon Moore, “The Censorship of Conservatives on the Internet Is Approaching Critical Levels of Bad“, Red State, March 15, 2018
Nikita Vladimirov, “Scholar Traces Current ‘Campus Intolerance’ to ’60s Radicals“, Campus Reform, March 14, 2018

Related posts:
Slopes, Ratchets, and the Death Spiral of Liberty
The Slippery Slope of Constitutional Revisionism
The Ruinous Despotism of Democracy
A New (Cold) Civil War or Secession?
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare
The Culture War
Judicial Supremacy: Judicial Tyranny
The Tenor of the Times
The Answer to Judicial Supremacy
Turning Points
Independence Day 2016: The Way Ahead
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
The Rahn Curve Revisited
Polarization and De-facto Partition
Civil War?
Freedom of Speech and the Long War for Constitutional Governance
Roundup: Civil War, Solitude, Transgenderism, Academic Enemies, and Immigration
If Men Were Angels
Academic Freedom, Freedom of Speech, and the Demise of Civility
Liberty in Chains
Self-Made Victims
The Social Security Mess Revisited
The Public-Goods Myth
Libertarianism, Conservatism, and Political Correctness
Sexual Misconduct: A New Crime, a New Kind of Justice
Politics and Prosperity: A Natural Experiment
As the World Lurches
A Not-So-Stealthy Revolution
“Tribalists”, “Haters”, and Psychological Projection
Utilitarianism (and Gun Control) vs. Liberty
Utopianism, Leftism, and Dictatorship
“Democracy” Thrives in Darkness — and Liberty Withers

A Rearview Look at the Invasion of Iraq and the War on Terror

In a bombastic piece at American Thinker, Silvio Canto Jr. said this:

In a few weeks, we will remember the 15th anniversary of the Iraq War.  President Bush made a tough call, and I’m still supporting it years later.

Close your eyes and imagine Saddam Hussein running Iraq.

Over there, Saddam would be trying to compete with Iran for nuclear weapons.  Libya would still have them.

Israel would have probably gone to war with Iran or Iraq by now.

Oil would be $100 a barrel, at least.

Over here, John Kerry would be giving speeches that Pres. Bush left a madman in power.  He’d tell us about his vote to remove Saddam Hussein.

Hillary Clinton would remind us that her husband’s administration said Iraq had WMDs and connections to al-Qaeda.

Al Gore would argue that 9-11 changed everything and that the U.S. looks weak playing cat and mouse with Iraq.

I’m sure that a few other Democrats would tell us about their opposition to Saddam Hussein.

It was 15 years ago, and President Bush was right.  All you have to do is look at North Korea.  The lesson of North Korea is that you cannot allow these regimes to go nuclear.  You cannot give them the benefit of the doubt because they have no intention of complying with any agreements.

Saddam won’t be conducting any nuclear tests.  He is dead and gone.

Better than that, we don’t have to hear John Kerry say the Bush administration passed up an opportunity to take out Saddam before he conducted a nuclear test.

I forwarded the piece to a correspondent who is, like me, a veteran of the defense-analysis business. My correspondent takes the view that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was unnecessary because

Saddam [was] containable, and Iran was an agent in his containment. In the sense of keeping him boxed in, Iran was an ally of the US.

Nuke ownership is worrisome, but nuke usage is way more so. The world, with lots of hard work from us and others, has kept the cork in the bottle for 73 years.

Dubya’s mistake in Iraq was called by his SecState Powell a dozen years before; if ya break it, ya own it. Deposing a dictator isn’t so hard (see Noriega 1989) if you can do it at reasonable cost. Dubya didn’t.

As for what a bunch of faded Dem pols would be saying if Saddam were in power…yawn.

It is quite true that Saddam was unlikely to march his armies outside Iraq’s borders, especially given his quick and humiliating defeat in 1991. But is that containment?

North Korea is contained, in the sense that its armies haven’t ventured across the DMZ since the truce of 1953. But is North Korea really contained? Not at all. It has in its possession the means to blackmail South Korea into playing nicey-nicey. And South Korea — which is now under new, left-wing management — may be on the verge of succumbing to North Korea’s veiled threat. Kim Jong-un, like many a shrewd dictator before him, knows how to act crazy enough to make his opponents believe that he will attack them even if such an attack proves suicidal (for his country if not for himself). In the ability-to-act-crazy department, Kim may have met his match in Donald Trump, but Kim is a real dictator who can and might do something suicidal. Trump is only a crazy dictator in the eyes of hysterical women, feminized men, and leftists, who are projecting their own fascistic fantasies onto him.

Saddam was contained in the same way as Kim. But, like Kim, he aspired to develop nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, at least to nearby countries if not all the way to the United States. Saddam’s dilatory response to UN-ordered inspections of his WMD programs was a casus belli in 2003. The uncertainty surrounding Saddam’s nuclear program is reflected in the following narrative, the source of which is the Brookings Institution — a left-of-center think-tank, and not the kind of outfit that would give aid and comfort to American “war mongers”:

[A] nuclear weapon is something Saddam almost surely does not now have, but that he might someday acquire—and that, if ever used, could clearly dwarf 9/11 in its effects. We don’t know if Saddam would use or threaten to use nuclear weapons if he had them. But to paraphrase Kenneth Pollack of the Council on Foreign Relations, letting Saddam get a nuclear weapon and then seeing what if anything he might do with it is a social science experiment we can live without. Simply having such a weapon could give Saddam “defensive cover” for aggression, fundamentally changing the balance of power in the region.

That, in a nutshell, is the case for a pre-emptive war. Whatever one thinks of this case, it should not depend on advocates producing a “smoking gun.” Evidence that Saddam is on the verge of building a bomb is unlikely to exist, not only because our sources of intelligence inside Iraq are highly imperfect, but because Iraq is probably still years away from any kind of nuclear capability….

… But Saddam is trying to get the bomb. And if that’s a persuasive reason for going to war—as it probably is, in the absence of rigorous inspections that would prevent him from acquiring one—it would make more sense to fight before he had the bomb than after.

… As is well known, Iraq was disturbingly close—perhaps only months away—from building a nuclear weapon at the time of Desert Storm [in 1991]. After Israel bombed its Osirak nuclear reactor a decade earlier, Iraq had embarked on a program to develop less visible technologies for enriching uranium from domestic and possibly foreign sources—its “basement bomb” project. In numerous ways, this effort resembled the difficult and tedious approach taken in the 1940s during the Manhattan Project in the United States, particularly the effort to build uranium-235 devices such as the one dropped on Hiroshima. U.N. inspectors found and destroyed most of the equipment believed to have been involved in Iraq’s effort before the Gulf War of 1991.

When [former chief bomb designer Khidhir] Hamza defected a couple of years later, Iraq’s nuclear program was still in a state of dismantlement. That said, Saddam kept together his bomb designer teams, putting them on other projects to ensure their continued availability and proficiency. By the mid-1990s at the latest, he also had a workable design for a bomb that likely would have been effective, if he had been able to get his hands on fissile material. He also had the capability to manufacture most other critical nuclear-weapon components, such as timing devices and properly shaped conventional explosives to compress the fissile material and initiate the explosion.

In recent months, as reported in The New York Times, U.S. intelligence has gotten word of Iraqi efforts to buy key nuclear-related components. In particular, Iraq seems bent on acquiring large numbers of sophisticated aluminum tubes that could be used to build centrifuges. Centrifuges spin uranium at high speeds, gradually separating the lighter U-235 from the heavier and more prevalent U-238 (which is not capable of supporting a chain reaction and hence not usable in a bomb)….

More worrisome, perhaps, is that Saddam might get access to U-235 or plutonium on the black market, most likely with Russian criminal elements as the original source. Thankfully, there is no evidence that the nuclear black market has yet involved large quantities of fissile material. But as Secretary Donald Rumsfeld likes to say, we don’t know what we don’t know. Any delay in pre-emption entails some degree of risk—and precisely what degree is hard to estimate.

Saddam probably could not hurt the United States directly with a bomb even if he had one. Even if he overcomes his most serious obstacle by obtaining fissile material on the black market, he would probably be able to build only a few nuclear weapons, and they would be big. That would make it hard to transport such weapons to give to terrorists or his own foreign-based operatives for use against a U.S. city. He might be able to sneak a bomb into Kuwait or another neighboring state with a low-flying aircraft, but the plane might well also get shot down. He probably does not have a missile big enough to carry what would be a fairly primitive and thus large nuclear warhead.

It is possible that Saddam would consider possession of a bomb a “regime survival insurance card” and undertake aggressive behavior as a result. For example, Saddam might try to take Kuwait’s oil field that was the original purported source of contention back in 1990, prior to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Or he might move forces back into Kurdish regions of his own country, aware that our airpower probably could not stop him and that we might be unwilling to risk escalation by moving in ground forces.

These types of worries are real, if not quite the equivalent of Hitler’s demands at Munich, as Bush administration officials have exaggerated in recent weeks. That said, a nuclear-armed Iraq is a serious concern, and we would be vastly better off without one. Even a war skeptic such as me must acknowledge that President Bush has a reasonable case when he describes the risks involved in Iraq’s nuclear program. Rigorous inspections and disarmament would, to my mind, be an acceptable solution. But to get that outcome, we may have to threaten war, and threaten it quite credibly…. [Michael E. O’Hanlon, “Saddam’s Bomb: How Close is Iraq to Having a Nuclear Weapon?“, September 18, 2002]

(PBS, another left-of-center source, offered a similar assessment.)

But threats of war were to no avail. And so Iraq was invaded, Saddam fell, and the threat of a nuclear-armed, Saddam-led Iraq was ended.

In that regard, consider the usual kind of reasoning against preemptive war, which appears in a passage of O’Hanlon’s essay that I skipped over. After saying that “it would make more sense to fight before [Saddam] had the bomb than after”, O’Hanlon adds this:

However, it’s not necessarily an argument for mounting a full-scale invasion now. That argument depends on how close Saddam really is to obtaining a bomb.

That kind of thinking baffles me. If one is going to preempt an enemy, the time to do it is when he is relatively weak. What is the point of giving him time in which to become stronger? Hope that he will change his spots? A survey of relevant historical examples would find few spot-changing episodes, except under duress (e.g., Muammar Gaddafi’s in the wake of Saddam’s downfall), which makes my point.

The O’Hanlons of this world can’t contemplate preemptive war, so they seize on flimsy excuses to delay or avoid it. The inevitable result is that the enemy eventually becomes strong enough that preemptive war then becomes too costly to wage — too costly for America, that is, in terms of blood and treasure.

Except that it took only three weeks to overthrow Saddam and subdue his armed forces. The mistake wasn’t in the doing of it, but in why and how it was done. The invasion of Iraq was really a piece of the Bush administration’s reaction to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and should be evaluated as such. Mark Helprin does the job (my parenthetical commentary is in italics):

True shock and awe following upon September 11, when the world was with us, could have pitched the Middle East (and beyond, including the Islamists) into something resembling its torpor under European domination or its shock after the Arab-Iraeli War of 1967. That is to say, pacified for a time, with attacks on the West subsiding…. Instead, we exhibit the generosity of the soon-to-be defeated, otherwise known as concession and surrender. [Surely this blogger wasn’t alone in believing, at the time, that the response to 9/11 was too tepid and limited in scope. Nor that the “Islam is a religion of peace” mantra was exactly the wrong thing to say because it connoted conciliation and squeamishness where determination and massive force were called for.]

Comporting with the idea that if you’re going to have a war it’s a good idea to win it, and with the Powell Doctrine, General Eric Shinseki’s recommendations, the lessons of military history [including the failure of half-measures in Vietnam], the American way of war [through World War II], and simple common sense, an effective response to September 11 would have required an effort of greater scale than that of the Gulf War—i.e., all in. [This might not have been possible immediately after 9/11, given the defense drawdown of the 1990s, when Clinton — with GOP complicity — balanced the federal budget on the back of defense. But it would soon have been possible given the degree of support for rearmament in the wake of 9/11.] With a full and fully prepared “punch through,” we could have reached Baghdad in three days, and instead of staying there for a decade or more put compliant officials or generals in power … and wheeled left to Damascus, smashing the Syrian army against the Israeli anvil and putting another compliant regime in place before returning to the complex of modern military bases at the northern borders of Saudi Arabia. There, our backs to the sea, which we control, and our troops hermetically sealed by the desert and safe from insurgency, we could have occupied the center of gravity in the heart of the Middle East, able to sprint with overwhelming force within a few days to either Baghdad, Damascus, or Riyadh.

Having suffered very few casualties, our forces would have been rested, well-trained, ready for deployment in other parts of the world, and able to dictate to (variously and where applicable) the Syrians, Iraqis, and Saudis that they eradicate their terrorists, stay within their borders, abandon weapons of mass destruction, break alliances with Iran and Hezbollah, keep the oil price down, and generally behave themselves. These regimes live for power, do anything for survival, and have secret police who can flush out terrorists with ruthless efficiency. Such strategy, had we adopted it, would have been demanding and imperious, yes, but not as demanding and imperious as ten years of war across much of the Middle East. Our own economy and alliances need not have been disrupted, our polity not so severely divided, and far fewer people would have suffered. [Many Americans across the political spectrum would have blanched at this exercise of raw power, even though it was probably the best way to curb terrorism against Americans. This squeamish attitude ignores a main justification for the existence of the United States under a central government: the defense of Americans and their interests, which includes overseas interests, not the winning of popularity contests, and certainly not the invitation of further attacks through ineffective action.]

But rather than this approach, which is not, as the record will show, hindsight, the businessmen and business-schooled officials of the Bush Administration chose to run the war according to the business principle of doing the most with as little as possible. [This slam on Donald Rumsfeld and ilk is one that I believe my correspondent would say amen to.] Thus, although war demands surplus, reserves, and overkill, for it is never as predictable as selling widgets, it was deliberately and gratuitously a war of penury, and like most such wars it has lasted long and will bring a frayed and unsatisfactory end. [“The Central Proposition“, The Claremont Review of Books, September 13, 2011]

In any event, the fact remains that even George W. Bush’s botched job resulted in the removal of any threat posed by Saddam. I don’t understand why that fact is overlooked or dismissed. For, as I argue above, Saddam wasn’t really contained as long as he had (or could have had) a nuclear program (or other weapons of mass destruction).

Well, what’s another member of the nuclear club? There are already at least 9 members: the United States, Russia, Britain, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea. Thanks to Barack Obama, Iran will soon join the club to make it a nice, round 10.

If 10 is all right, why not 15 or 20? Is it too many because such numbers represent too many opportunities for a “mad man” to let loose the dogs of nuclear war? When there were 8 club members, there were only 8 such opportunities. With 2 more (North Korea and Iran), the number of opportunities is 25 percent greater than it had been since 1998. How is that at all comforting? When the number goes from ten to 11, will that be acceptable because the number of opportunities will rise by only 10 percent? Or will it be unacceptable because there is yet another opportunity for a “mad man” to do something drastic? I take the latter view. One more club member is always one too many. Two was too many because the second to join was the USSR; one (the U.S.) was just the right number.

A nuclear weapon hasn’t been detonated in anger since 1945. That must prove something. All it proves is that a nuclear weapon hasn’t been detonated in anger since 1945. As my correspondent knows very well, intentional events aren’t random events, and therefore aren’t probabilistic ones. In other words, the past — in this case — isn’t necessarily prologue. All we know for sure is that the addition of members to the nuclear club means more opportunities for something bad to happen.

What about those (thankfully) faded Democrat politicians who probably would have second-guessed GWB if he hadn’t deposed Saddam, and Saddam had joined the nuclear club? Canto added some (perhaps gratuitous) rhetorical spice to a valid point by invoking the faded pols. His valid point is that GWB would have been second-guessed with good reason, because most Americans would rightly have been angry about Saddam’s entry into the nuclear club.

The angry Americans would include a lot of squeamish ones who want their defense but not what must be done sometimes to secure it. (Retrospective approval of the “unthinkable”, such as dropping A-bombs on Japan, doesn’t count as willingness to do what must be done.) This is an unrealistic approach to life with which I have no sympathy, and which courts disaster.

I speak from personal experience. In 1994, the budget of the think-tank where I was chief financial officer was slashed by Congress. The handwriting was on the wall: a few dozen employees would have to be fired. My boss, the CEO, resisted that course of action, in the vain hope that the budget cut would be restored. He finally relented in 1995, with the result that the continued employment of a couple of dozen employees had worsened our budget deficit. And so twice as many employees had to be fired — as I had told him from the beginning of the budget crisis.

To paraphrase Andy Granatelli, you can pay now or pay later, but pay you will. And the cost of deferring action is almost certain to be greater than the cost of having taking action when it was called for.

Related posts:
9/11 and Pearl Harbor
Vietnam and Iraq as Metaphors
Wisdom about the War on Terrror
Why Sovereignty?
Getting It All Wrong about the Risk of Terrorism
Final (?) Words about Preemption and the Constitution
More Final (?) Words about Preemption and the Constitution
Riots, Culture, and the Final Showdown
A Rant about Torture
What If We Lose?
The Best Defense . . .
A Skewed Perspective on Terrorism
Defense as the Ultimate Social Service
Not Enough Boots: The Why of It
Liberalism and Sovereignty
The Media, the Left, and War
Getting It Wrong and Right about Iran
The Decision to Drop the Bomb
Delusions of Preparedness
A Grand Strategy for the United States
Transnationalism and National Defense
The War on Terror, As It Should Have Been Fought
Preemptive War
Preemptive War and Iran
Some Thoughts and Questions about Preemptive War
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
My Defense of the A-Bomb
Today’s Lesson in Economics: How to Think about War
LBJ’s Dereliction of Duty
Terrorism Isn’t an Accident
The Ken Burns Apology Tour Continues
Planning for the Last War
The Folly of Pacifism

“Democracy” Thrives in Darkness — And Liberty Withers

The title of this post alludes to a slogan adopted by The Washington Post (WaPo) in February 2017 to mark the paper’s membership in the anti-Trump chorus of “news” outlets. The idea, of course, is that Trump is the new Hitler and WaPo and its brethren will keep us out of the gas chambers by daring to utter the truth (not). This is complete balderdash, inasmuch as WaPo and its ilk are enthusiastic hand-maidens of “liberal” fascism.

WaPo, like too many other institutions and persons, treats “democracy” as if it were a good thing, not to be questioned or tampered with. But “democracy” is nothing more than a feel-good word. The real thing — democracy in practice — is far from a good thing. Much of the evil entailed in democracy is hidden from view. And when exposed to view, the evil is dismissed as the result of having the “wrong people” in positions of power.

This is precisely parallel to the usual defense of socialism as it was and is practiced in countries like the USSR, China, Cuba, and Venezuela. The corruption, oppression, and poverty caused by socialism are chalked up to the “wrong people”. The correct attribution of evil would be to human nature as it actually exists, which is independent of the prevailing form of government. It’s as if there could be a thing called “true socialism” or “true democracy” that would somehow function without the presence of human beings.

What is it about democracy that entails evil? Let’s start with these definitions of democracy:

1. Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives.
2. A political or social unit that has such a government.
3. The common people, considered as the primary source of political power.
4. Majority rule.
5. The principles of social equality and respect for the individual within a community.

The first definition is the one that most people would ascribe to (I hope). Number 2 is just a variant of number 1. Number 3 is another variant, though I do wonder who the “uncommon people” are. Number 4 is a qualification of number 1, that is, a common formula for deciding how elected representatives are chosen and how they make governing rules (to the extent that they haven’t delegated their authority to bureaucrats). Number 5 is an irrelevant misuse of “democracy” (e.g., a rich person is called ‘democratic’ because he doesn’t put on airs).

So we’re left with number 1 and number 4: Government directly by the people or their elected representatives, with most decisions being made by a majority of the people or their representatives (except where they are made unilaterally by virtue of presumed authority or raw power).

That’s a good definition, insofar as it would meet with wide agreement. To call it simplistic would be an understatement. But democracy (in practice) in America is nothing like the simplistic version that WaPo and its ilk conjure cynically. The following questions expose its crucial failings:

  1. Is there a real boundary between decisions made by the “people’s government” and decisions made by citizens acting independently of the governing body (i.e., privately)? (This boundary has yet to be settled after 230 years, and it has generally expanded to exclude more and more private activity.)
  2. Why is a bare majority sufficient to authorize action by a “democratic” government when it is supposed to represent the whole people? Unanimity is almost impossible to achieve, but why not a majority of three-fifths, two-thirds, three-fourths, or even seven-eighths?
  3. What kinds of decisions should be delegated to surrogates — unrepresentative officials — to make on their own authority? In other words, why do the “people’s representatives” allow non-elected, almost untouchable bureaucrats to make and apply laws, and to sit in judgment of persons deemed to have broken those laws?
  4. Are the penalties for violations of law applied consistently, regardless of one’s wealth, position, or power, or is leniency routinely accorded certain persons — most notably governing officials and their cronies?
  5. When and how may members of the governing body be held personally responsible (aside from being forced from office) for harms they may cause by their official acts? Or should the cloak of office embolden officials to play fast and loose with the lives, fortunes, and liberty of their subjects?
  6. When the governing body consistently violates the boundary between its stated powers and those of its subjects, how are the violations to be remedied? (The only options at hand are elections, which have proven ineffective in halting Leviathan, or rebellion, which is an extreme and probably futile course.)
  7. How can a nation of more than 300 million disparate citizens possibly be governed wisely or well by a relative handful of elected officials and small armies of non-elected ones?

In sum, actual democracy is complex, deeply flawed, and conducted mostly in the darkness — beyond the view (or interest) of its subjects. It is not a regime conducive to liberty or the general welfare. It could be that only if its sole purposes were to protect citizens from foreign predators and ensure free trade among the States.

Things will not be set aright by popular demand or “democratic” leadership. Ignorance, moral cowardice, and venality dominate the body politic — at all levels. The only way out, as I see it, is for majorities of the people some States to demand that their governments resist Leviathan by selectively ignoring some of its decrees. If California can do it, surely some of the 15 States that went for Trump by more than 60 percent can do it.

Once the ice is broken, nullification — the refusal to abide by unconstitutional laws and decrees emanating from Washington — will become a national movement. Federalism will return after an absence of almost 90 years. National “democracy” will be a thing of the past. The citizens of each State will have greater control over the reach of government into their lives. It won’t be nirvana, but it will be better than the present state of affairs.

Quasi-secession, as I would call it, is the only peaceful way out. It’s the only “democratic” way out. If that doesn’t work, there’s always the real thing, which is legal.

Related posts:
More about Democracy and Liberty
Yet Another Look at Democracy
Conservatism, Libertarianism, Socialism, and Democracy
Democracy and the Irrational Voter
The Ruinous Despotism of Democracy
Secession Redux
A New Cold War or Secession?
The Real Constitution and Civil Disobedience
A Declaration of Independence
First Principles
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
Re-Forming the United States
The Southern Secession Reconsidered
A Declaration of Civil Disobedience
Our Perfect, Perfect Constitution
Constitutional Confusion
Reclaiming Liberty throughout the Land
Secession, Anyone?
Obamacare, Slopes, Ratchets, and the Death-Spiral of Liberty
Secession for All Seasons
Restoring Constitutional Government: The Way Ahead
Secession Made Easy
More about “Secession Made Easy”
“We the People” and Big Government
How Libertarians Ought to Think about the Constitution
The States and the Constitution
The Beginning of the End of Liberty in America
Turning Points
Independence Day 2016: The Way Ahead
A Resolution of Secession
Polarization and De-facto Partition
Freedom of Speech and the Long War for Constitutional Governance
Lincoln Was Wrong

Restoring the Contract Clause

Here is George Leef, writing today at National Review online:

For decades, the Court has allowed the Constitution’s contract clause (in Article I, Section 10, along with other things the states aren’t allowed to do) atrophy. It reads “No state shall enact any law impairing the obligation of contracts” and was meant to help stabilize the national economy at a time when the states often passed laws that rewrote or erased contracts to benefit certain parties or themselves….

The good news is that the Court is about to hear arguments in a case that could revive the Originalist view of the contract clause. I write about that case in my latest article for Forbes.

Leef fleshes out the sad story of the Contract Clause in the Forbes piece:

American courts took the Contract Clause very seriously until the New Deal. Professor James W. Ely’s recent book The Contract Clause: A Constitutional History (which I reviewed here) recounts the way the Marshall Court esteemed the clause and how it held up quite well (although with some erosion) during the “Progressive” era.

Then came the Great Depression.

Just as the Court turned its back on other cornerstones of limited government and the rule of law during that era, so did it jettison the once-formidable Contract Clause. In a 1934 decision, Home Building & Loan Association v. Blaisdell, Chief Justice Hughes decided that during the “emergency” of the Depression, the Court had to allow legislatures to impose a moratorium on mortgage foreclosures. In an early exemplar of “living Constitution” theory, the Chief Justice said that the Contract Clause “is not an absolute one and is not to be read with literal exactness….” He went on to say that the Constitution’s restraints on power “must not be confined to the interpretation which the framers, with the conditions and outlook of their time, would have placed upon them.”

Just imagine if the First Amendment had been treated that way, giving the government wide latitude to censor or punish free speech and the press on the breezy, “Well, times have changed” approach. The First Amendment would be cowering in the shadows today.

Conversely, imagine if the Court had developed a robust, pro-contract jurisprudence based on the Contract Clause to match its pro-speech jurisprudence emanating the its favored First Amendment. Lots of governmental interference with people’s liberty to shape their lives through contracts they want — or don’t want — would have been prevented, such as minimum wage laws.

But that’s not what happened to the Contract Clause. The courts kept allowing the states to whittle away at it by devising a three-factor “balancing test” whereby the assertion of the slightest state interest in meddling with contracts was usually good enough….

But what’s wrong with the current approach to the Contract Clause, one that, as Chief Justice Hughes said in Blaisdell is based on the “growing appreciation of public needs and the necessity of finding ground for a rational compromise between individual rights and public welfare”?

A lot, Ely argues. It tears apart the plain meaning of the Clause, whose words, wrote Chief Justice Marshall, “are express and incapable of being misunderstood.” Nor, Ely continues, was there ever any justification for the politically expedient “let’s forget about this Clause because the country is facing an emergency” rationale of Blaisdell and subsequent cases. The truth is that the Clause was inserted precisely because the nation needed contractual stability in the distressed times of 1787 and no amount of economic turmoil can be alleviated by allowing states to rewrite contracts….

Furthermore, Ely contends, the current interpretation of the Clause (again, Marshall would laugh at the idea that it needs any “interpretation”) is far too vague, giving lower courts little guidance. They are only supposed to apply the Contract Clause only if the legislative interference is “substantial” and “unreasonable.” Ely comments, “Yet it is sadly ironic that the Court has fashioned such an amorphous test for the Contract Clause – the one constitutional provision that, more than any other, was designed to ensure stability and predictability in commercial relationships.”

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case [of  Sveen v. Melin] on March 19. It would be one of the great results of its current term if the justices would not merely uphold the Eighth Circuit [which upheld the contract at issue, despite a Minnesota law that abrogated it] but also give a full-throated declaration that the Contract Clause will henceforth be read just as it was written.

The Supreme Court of 1934 effectively ripped the Contract Clause out of the Constitution. I fervently hope for its restoration. Many things are at stake. As Leef says, a living Contract Clause would have prevented “governmental interference with people’s liberty to shape their lives through contracts they want — or don’t want”. Leef mentions minimum wage laws as an example. In the same category, namely, laws that inhibit job creation, are mandates that require paid family leave and paid sick leave. (The latter was recently dictated by the proglodytes of Austin”s city council.)

Had the Court not killed the Contract Clause in 1934, compulsory recognition of labor unions — one of the biggest job-killers of them all — could have been made purely optional in 1937. It was then that the Court decided in favor of the Wagner Act by invoking the Commerce Clause.

The Commerce Clause has had a long and dishonorable career as an all-purpose justification for dictatorship from D.C. It was taken down a peg in NFIB v. Sibelius (2014) — the nugget of gold in a disgraceful opinion that salvaged Obamacare by other means.

In any event, here’s to the restoration of the Contract Clause — and to the demise of the “modern” reading of the Commerce Clause.

Related posts:
Freedom of Contract and the Rise of Judicial Tyranny
Substantive Due Process, Liberty of Contract, and States’ “Police Power”
The Real Constitution and Civil Disobedience
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
Does the Power to Tax Give Congress Unlimited Power?
Does Congress Have the Power to Regulate Inactivity?
Obamacare: Neither Necessary nor Proper
Obamacare, Slopes, Ratchets, and the Death-Spiral of Liberty
Another Thought or Two about the Obamacare Decision
Obamacare and Zones of Liberty
Judicial Supremacy: Judicial Tyranny
Does the Power to Tax Give Congress Unlimited Power? (II)
The Beginning of the End of Liberty in America
Why Liberty of Contract Matters
The Answer to Judicial Supremacy

Luck: The Loser’s Excuse

If you can’t think of a good reason why someone is more successful than you, blame it on luck. That’s the moral of this story:

Don’t you look at rich people and find too many of them, well, dull?

Don’t you listen to rich people and think: “What have they got that I haven’t? Other than money?”

In fact, doesn’t it astonish you a little that you know so much, see so much, and can do so much, yet you really don’t have much money at all?

A new study offers you a reason for your lack of wealth.

It’s one that’s going to hurt.

The study, entitled “Talent vs Luck: The Role of Randomness in Success and Failure,” looked at people over a 40-year period.

Alessandro Pluchino of the University of Catania in Italy and his colleagues created a computer model of talent.

I can’t imagine that was easy or, to every mind, entirely satisfying.

After all, one person’s idea of talent is another person’s idea of Simon Cowell.

Still, Pluchino and friends mapped such apparent basics as intelligence, skill, and ability in various fields.

They then looked at people over a 40-year period, discerned what sort of things had happened to them, and compared that with how wealthy they had become.

They discovered that the conventional distribution of wealth — 20 percent of humanity enjoys 80 percent of the wealth — held true.

But then they offered painful words.

They still hurt, even though we know they’re true: “The maximum success never coincides with the maximum talent, and vice-versa.”


It’s galling, isn’t it, to look at some of the relatively talentless quarterwits who bathe in untold piles of lucre?

“So what is it that makes the difference?” I hear you pant, with an agonious grimace.

Are you ready for this?

“Our simulation clearly shows that such a factor is just pure luck,” say the researchers.

That kind of crap-thinking underlies Barack Hussein Obama’s infamous statement, “You didn’t build that”, which I dissected here. It’s just another justification for income redistribution, also known as the punishment of success.

Sure, success involves some degree of luck. But it’s not blind luck. One doesn’t succeed by being near the bottom of the talent heap in a given field. Nor does one succeed by sitting on the sidelines, that is, by hiding one’s talent under a bushel.

It is inconceivable that the authors of the study in question found a way to summarize intelligence, knowledge, skill, and effort in a single field of endeavor, let alone a large number of fields. In fact, they didn’t do that. (BHO would be right in this instance.) The authors simulated “reality” without the benefit of data. That’s a good thing; otherwise, they would have been guilty of manufacturing a lot of data about things that are difficult or impossible to quantify. The “empirical” justification of the results consists of anecdotal evidence.

The bottom line: The results of the simulations reflect the assumptions underlying the authors’ model — not reality. A key assumption is that the model of success accounts for all relevant variables. When outcomes favor the less-intelligent, less-talented, etc., over the more-intelligent, more-talented, etc., this is attributed to luck. But that is just another assumption. In fact, “unexpected” outcomes simply reflect the vagaries of sampling from ersatz probability distributions. This is the kind of study that should be hidden under a bushel, and forgotten.

The authors’ obvious agenda is to push for rewards based on something other than actual accomplishment: theoretical rather than actual merit. What institution has the power to make that happen? It goes without saying in the article, but you can be sure that there will be plenty of support for the idea of using government to detect and eliminate “luck”. (Shades of affirmative action, “diversity” programs, etc.)

As I have said, “luck” is mainly an excuse and rarely an explanation. Attributing outcomes to “luck” is an easy way of belittling success when it accrues to a rival. “White privilege” and “patriarchy” are in the same category as “luck”.

Related posts:
Moral Luck
Fooled by Non-Randomness
Randomness Is Over-Rated
Luck-Egalitarianism and Moral Luck
Luck and Baseball, One More Time
More about Luck and Baseball
Obama’s Big Lie
Pseudoscience, “Moneyball,” and Luck
Diminishing Marginal Utility and the Redistributive Urge
Taleb’s Ruinous Rhetoric
Babe Ruth and the Hot-Hand Hypothesis

Recommended Reading

Leftism, Political Correctness, and Other Lunacies (Dispatches from the Fifth Circle Book 1)


On Liberty: Impossible Dreams, Utopian Schemes (Dispatches from the Fifth Circle Book 2)


We the People and Other American Myths (Dispatches from the Fifth Circle Book 3)


Americana, Etc.: Language, Literature, Movies, Music, Sports, Nostalgia, Trivia, and a Dash of Humor (Dispatches from the Fifth Circle Book 4)

Pronoun Profusion

I could have called this post “Pronoun Confusion”, given what I found at Wikipedia:

And here:

I suppose there are other variations, but I quit digging before I became terminally confused. (UPDATE: Here are some new variations hot off the web. Read ’em and weep.)

It used to be that a person didn’t care what he (the generic kind) was called, as long as he wasn’t called late for dinner. That’s a tired joke, of course. People do care what they’re called, but it’s usually when they’re called something demeaning (e.g., “hey, you” to a general, “Harvey” to a doctor you don’t know as a friend) or insulting (e.g., “jerk” and worse).

I guess it’s insulting to (some) persons who have “chosen” a sex other than the one that they were born with (not “assigned at birth”) to be mistaken for persons of that sex. But give me a break. How am I supposed to know that you’re “really” a man if you look like a woman who’s trying to look like a man, or you’re “really” a woman who looks like a man who’s trying to look like a woman?

Sane persons — which is about 98 percent of the population, aside from posturing leftists and the gender-confused — are by definition in touch with reality. The traditional pronouns given in the first part of the Wikipedia table reflect that reality. They cover everything. I therefore reject all that follows, in the name of accuracy, clarity, and simplicity. (I would invoke Occam’s razor, but that might be taken as an endorsement of genital mutilation.)

So here’s the deal. If you don’t want to be called “he” or “she”, or any of their cognates, I will comply politely and use “you”, “your”, “yours”, or “yourself” when speaking or writing  to you. When speaking or writing about one of you, I will use “it”, “its”, or “itself”; for more than one of you, I will use “they”, “them”, “their”, “theirs”, or “themselves”.

There’s absolutely nothing insulting about such neutral usages. If you believe that there is, please consider the possibility that you are nuts (whether or not you have any). But don’t insult my intelligence by trying to make me believe that you’ve acquired a gender other than the one you were born with — or none at all.

Related reading:
Gregory Cochran, “Transsexuals“, West Hunter, May 8, 2013
Gregory Cochran, “Internal Contradictions“, West Hunter, December 12, 2015

Related posts:
1963: The Year Zero
The Transgender Fad and Its Consequences
Some Notes about Psychology and Intelligence


Courtship or Molestation?

Several weeks ago I happened upon a statement by Keith Burgess-Jackson (KBJ) about an blog post that he published in November 2017, which became a cause célèbre:

(That is the entire blog post, as reproduced in Alex Macon’s “UT-Arlington Professor: ‘What’s the Big Deal’ About Adult Men Dating Underage Girls?“,, November 30, 2017.)

There is presumably a connection between that post and the demise of Keith Burgess-Jackson (KBJ’s eponymous blog), where it was posted. But it is to KBJ’s credit that he quickly resumed blogging at Just Philosophy, and wasn’t cowed by the notoriety resulting from his post.

But I must say that my own reaction was similar to that of KBJ’s detractors:

I was trying to find a way into Keith Burgess-Jackson’s eponymous blog, which seems to have been closed to public view since he defended Roy Moore’s courtship of a 14-year-old person. (Perhaps Moore might have been cut some slack by a segment of the vast left-wing conspiracy had the person been a male.)

That is to say, I read KBJ’s post as a defense of Roy Moore’s “courtship” of a 14-year-old girl (or young woman). KBJ argues strenuously in his statement that he wasn’t defending Moore, who had been accused of more than “courting” the young woman. This account, from Wikipedia, refers to reportage that predates KBJ’s post:

On November 9, 2017, The Washington Post outlined an account of a woman, Leigh Corfman, who said that Moore initiated a sexual encounter with her in 1979, when she was 14 and he was 32 years old.[18] Corfman said that Moore met her and her mother in the hallway of the county courthouse, where Moore was working as an assistant district attorney, and offered to sit with Corfman while her mother went into a courtroom to testify.[18] Corfman said that during that discussion he asked for her phone number, which she gave him, they later went on two dates, for each date he picked her up in his car around the corner from her house and drove her to his house, and on the first date he “told her how pretty she was and kissed her”. On a second date, Moore allegedly “took off her shirt and pants and removed his clothes … touched her over her bra and underpants … and guided her hand to touch him over his underwear”.[18]

The incident, as described by Ms. Corfman, doesn’t resemble courtship as I have understood it in my lifetime, and I am older than KBJ and Roy Moore. Christian minister Patricia Bootsma explains that

in contrast to the modern conception of dating, in “courtship, time together in groups with family or friends is encouraged, and there is oversight by and accountability to parents or mentors”.[7] She further states that with courtship, “commitment happens before intimacy”.[7]

That is courtship, and I’m surprised when an erudite man who uses language precisely (i.e., KBJ) doesn’t know the difference between it and “making out“, which is more or less what Moore was (allegedly) bent on doing. Perhaps KBJ picked up the term from another news story, or perhaps he chose to use it as a euphemism for the acts described in the Post‘s story (which were repeated throughout the news media).

But I can understand the objections to KBJ’s post because (a) the story wasn’t about “courtship”, it was about a 32-year-old man (allegedly) making sexual advances to a 14-year-old girl-woman. Moreover, the alleged behavior took place in 1979, not in 1922, when KBJ’s maternal grandparents were “courting” or courting, as the case may be.

In 1922, legislative battles about age-of-consent laws had only recently been settled (for the most part):

While the general age of consent is now set between 16 and 18 in all U.S. states, the age of consent has widely varied across the country in the past. In 1880, the age of consent was set at 10 or 12 in most states, with the exception of Delaware where it was 7.[2] The ages of consent were raised across the U.S. during the late 19th century and the early 20th century.[3][4] By 1920 ages of consent generally rose to 16-18 and small adjustments to these laws occurred after 1920. As of 2015 the final state to raise its age of general consent was Hawaii, which changed it from 14 to 16 in 2001.[5]

By contrast, Alabama’s age of consent (which was 10 in 1880) had been 16 since 1920. Sexual behavior that might have been deemed acceptable in 1922, when old ways were a fresh memory, was surely beyond the pale in 1979 — 59 years after Alabama’s age of consent had been raised to 16.

So to answer KBJ’s question: It was a very big deal if Moore had in fact done the things that he is accused of having done with a 14-year-old girl-woman. Things were different in 1979 than in 1922. As someone who is older than KBJ, I will even say that things were nearly as different in 1979 as they were in 2017. The Mad Men days were by 1979 almost a faint memory. (Not in Hollywood, politics, or the upper echelons of the business world, but the Mad Men days never ended there — or not until recently, maybe. I’m talking about the workaday world of real people, when sexual harassment had by 1979 become widely frowned on, if not always suppressed.)

KBJ’s outrage about “people imposing their own moral standards on people of the past” is obviously misplaced. Because of that, any reasonable reader — even a leftist — could conclude that KBJ was attempting to excuse Moore’s alleged behavior.

I can’t quote portions of KBJ’s long, copyrighted statement because of the terms of the copyright (“Publishable in Its Entirety or Not at All”). I will just say that it struck me as an after-the-fact justification of a reflexive defense of Roy Moore (widely considered a conservative) by a conservative blogger who is (rightly) exasperated by the torrent of abuse that is heaped continuously on (actual and self-styled) conservatives.

Having said all of that, I should add that I am very much a fan of KBJ. I’m glad that he quickly resumed blogging, despite the barrage of criticism that was aimed at him — much of it, I’m sure, by leftists who attacked him reflexively because of his conservatism.

Better-than-Best Pictures, or Who Needs the Oscars?

As you know by now, The Shape of Water won the Oscar for Best Picture of 2017. But read this post before you rush to a theater to see it. Or, if you’ve already seen it, claim that it’s among the best movies ever.

Business Insider offers a ranking of Best-Picture winners in “All 89 Oscar Best-Picture Winners, Ranked from Worst to Best by Movie Critics“, which covers releases through 2016. (This year’s Best Picture award is for a film released in 2017.) Business Insider bases its ranking on critics’ reviews, as summarized at Rotten Tomatoes.

The Business Insider piece doesn’t help the viewer who’s in search of a better film than those that have been voted Best Picture.  A post at Political Calculations takes a stab at the problem by offering alternatives to the five worst-ever Best-Picture awardees. But the alternatives are limited to films that were nominated for Best Picture for the same five years.

Three years ago, in the wake of the Academy Awards for 2014, I posted “Another Trip to the Movies“.  There, I showed that of the 88 films which had then earned the Best-Picture award, only 14 were in fact the highest-rated among U.S.-made feature films released in the same year.

I based my comparison on ratings given by users at Internet Movie Database (IMDb). IMDb user ratings aren’t a sure guide to artistic merit — as the latter is judged by members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), or by movie critics. But members of AMPAS and movie critics are notoriously wrong-headed about artistic merit. The Shape of Water exemplifies their wrong-headedness:

This Guillermo del Toro film has gotten rave reviews from critics, with a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 93%, and lots of awards-season buzz. And while some elements of the film are praiseworthy, … the film turns out to be little more than a collection of manipulative and ludicrous set-ups for social-justice lectures lacking any nuance or wit. The Shape of Water assumes its audience to be idiots, which makes this the kind of painful and unoriginal exercise that is all but certain to win awards throughout this winter in Hollywood….

The Shape of Water never allows the audience to get the message of tolerance from the central allegory of the love between Elisa and the creature. Instead, del Toro and the writers fill up every square inch with contrivances and lectures.

And those lectures come with all of the subtlety of a jackhammer. Giles lost his job in the advertising business for unexplained reasons, but which seem to be connected to his sexual orientation. He tries to reach out to a waiter at his favorite diner, who rejects him just as the waiter also gets a chance to demonstrate his racism by refusing service to a black couple, both of which are completely gratuitous to the film or to Amphibian Man’s fate. Shannon’s Strickland spouts religious nonsense to justify cruelty, and sexually oppresses his wife in another gratuitous scene, sticking his gangrenous fingers over her mouth to keep her from expressing pleasure…. The bad guys are the US space program (!) and the military, while the most sympathetic character apart from the four main protagonists is a Soviet spy. Strickland dismisses Elisa and Zelda as suspects, angrily lamenting his decision to “question the help,” just in case the class-warfare argument escaped the audience to that point. Oh, he’s also a major-league sexual harasser in the workplace.  And so on. [Ed Morrissey, “The Shape of Water: Subtle As a Jackhammer and Almost As Intelligent“, Hot Air, March 5, 2018]

If The Shape of Water is your kind of film, you’re at the wrong blog.

In any event, IMDb user ratings are a good guide to audience appeal, which certainly doesn’t preclude artistic merit. (I would argue that audience appeal is a better gauge of artistic merit than critical consensus.) For example, I have seen 10 of the 14 top-rated Oscar winners listed in the Business Insider article, but only 5 of the winners that I have seen are among my 14 top-rated Oscar winners.

The first table below lists all 91 of the Best Picture winners, ranked according to the average rating given each film by IMDb users. The second table lists the 100 features given the highest average ratings by IMDb users. (The list includes films released in the U.S. through 2017 that have been rated by at least 3,500 users, which is the approximate number for Cavalcade, the least-viewed of Oscar-winning pictures.) Only 16 of the 91 Oscar-winning films (highlighted in red) are among the top 100. (Lawrence of Arabia would be among the top 100, but IMDb categorizes it as a UK film.)

In short, there are many Better-Than-Best Pictures to choose from.

Top 100 films through 2017


See also my post “A Trip to the Movies“, and John Sexton’s “Oscar Ratings Likely to Set an All-Time Low” (Hot Air, March 5, 2018).

Utopianism, Leftism, and Dictatorship

Bruce Heiden correctly observes that

the Left (whom [he’d] rather call Utopians) won’t take up arms against evil enemies, or even raise a fist; nor will they allow others to do it on their behalf. But the reason isn’t usually that they harbor sympathy for the evil (although a minority, the ideological Marxists, sometimes do).  It’s that they consider the world’s conflicts to be in themselves a greater evil for which they, as Utopians, bear no responsibility and by which they wish to remain uncontaminated. What disturbs them about guns—including toy guns—is not that they are unsafe and perhaps need to be made safer, but that they are impurities forbidden to Utopian hands and minds, and thus entirely beyond the scope of a dialogue with moral inferiors about mere practicalities.

The same kind of thinking pervades the many other issues on which leftists lavish religious fervor. Leftism never sleeps. A leftist is always armed and ready for a new cause du jour, be it eugenics, prohibition, repeal of prohibition, peace through unilateral disarmament, overpopulation, global cooling, peak oil, global warming, carbon footprints, recycling, income inequality, unconscious racism, white privilege, forced integration, forced segregation (if blacks want it), coeducation, mixed-sexed dorms, single-sex schools, any reference to or image of a firearm, keeping score, winning, cultural appropriation, diversity, globalization, free speech (not), homophobia, same-sex “marriage”, smoking, gender “assignment” at birth, “free” college for all, “settled science”, collective guilt (but only of straight, white, conservative males of European descent, and Germans in 1933-1945), racial profiling and stereotyping (except when leftists do it), etc., etc., etc.

This depressing litany amply illustrates leftists’ sharply honed ability to spot imperfection (except where leftism is the source). The ability is sharply honed because utopian perfection is leftism’s religion: a spiritual philosophy with tenets meant to describe the nature of reality and form a vision of the good life in the context of that reality.

Leftists then reflexively turn to government for perfection, just as believers in eschatological religions turn to God for salvation. But it is government with the emphasis on govern, not the kind of limited, checked, and balanced central government bequeathed by the Framers of the Constitution. That kind of government is imperfect, too, because it doesn’t produce the results sought by leftists. The power of the central government is too limited, and too subject to checks and balances (though far less so than it was before the New Deal Court began to undo the limitations on power, cede legislative and judicial power to the executive, and use the Commerce Clause to annihilate State sovereignty).

What leftists really want is dictatorship, as long as the dictator is someone like FDR, LBJ, or Barack Obama, who will bend the Constitution until it breaks. The dictator needn’t openly dictate (though Obama did in several notable instances, including but not limited to illegal immigration). But he will cynically use political power to push government action in the “right” direction. And he will — above all — create and sustain a bureaucracy that unilaterally makes law, executes it, and penalizes transgressions of it. This bureaucracy — the administrative state — operates mostly below the radar and goes about its dictatorial duties while the media pay attention to the sideshows in the Capitol, White House, and  Supreme Court Building.

Ironically, administrative dictatorship was the program of Woodrow Wilson. (I say ironically because Wilson is no longer persona grata among leftists because of his notorious racism.) Wilson, the only American president with an earned doctorate, embraced the administrative state long before he became president, and proceeded to expand it (with gusto) after he ascended to the presidency.

In any event, leftism’s utopian agenda has a chance of success only if everyone is forced to hew to its dictates. There’s no room in utopia for dissent or learning by trial and error — the kind of learning that fuels economic progress and yields stabilizing social norms.

The fact that a dictated utopian agenda really has no chance of success is beyond the imagining of a leftist. We have already seen what such an agenda does to economic progress, social comity, and liberty in places like the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, China, Cuba, and Venezuela.

It is no coincidence that American leftists have always been quick to rationalize, dismiss, and cover up the brutal consequences of the regimes in those places. They have had exactly the kind of governance that leftists seek to bring to the United States as a whole, and have almost succeeded in imposing on many large cities and not a few Blue States.

Leftists are utopians, driven by impossible dreams and hooked on the nirvana fallacy. They are therefore immune to facts, and doomed to repeat the harsh lessons of history. Which would be fine if leftists governed only their ilk, but they are intent on making their fellow citizens suffer along with them — and they have succeeded far too well.

Related posts:
Academic Bias
Intellectuals and Capitalism
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
The Ideal as a False and Dangerous Standard
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Are You in the Bubble?
Why Conservatism Works
Tolerance on the Left
The Eclipse of “Old America”
The Culture War
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)
Ruminations on the Left in America
Academic Ignorance
The Euphemism Conquers All
Defending the Offensive
A Dose of Reality
God-Like Minds
Society, Polarization, and Dissent
Another Look at Political Labels
Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
Khizr Khan’s Muddled Logic
Social Justice vs. Liberty
The Left and “the People”
Why Conservatives Shouldn’t Compromise
Liberal Nostrums
Liberty and Social Norms Re-examined
The Left and Violence
Four Kinds of “Liberals”
FDR and Fascism: More Data
Leftist Condescension
The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy
The Left and Evergreen State: Reaping What Was Sown
Liberty in Chains
Libertarianism, Conservatism, and Political Correctness
The Rahn Curve Revisited
Leftism As Crypto-Fascism: The Google Paradigm
What Is Going On? A Stealth Revolution
“Liberalism” and Leftism
Disposition and Ideology
The Social Security Mess Revisited
The Public-Goods Myth
Down the Memory Hole
“Capitalism” Is a Dirty Word
Big Government and Disguised Unemployment
Politics and Prosperity: A Natural Experiment
Andrew Sullivan Almost Gets It
“Tribalists”, “Haters”, and Psychological Projection

Trump vs. Obama on Taxes

In January 2013, Congress passed and Barack Obama jubilantly signed what The Wall Street Journal called “the largest tax increase in the past two decades”:

More than three-quarters of American households would see a tax increase from their 2012 tax levels, according to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute.

In December 2017, Congress passed and Donald Trump jubilantly signed a bill that cut corporate income taxes and almost every taxpayer’s federal income taxes.

If you take the view taxpayers’ money really belongs to the government — as “liberals” are wont to do — you would have to concede that Mr. Obama was niggardly toward taxpayers, in comparison with Mr. Trump.

Related posts:
Ignorance Abounds
Defending the Offensive

Modernism in Austin

Tout Austin (i.e., Austin’s civic and cultural elites) turned out for the grand opening of the late Ellsworth Kelly’s “Austin”, described and depicted here as a chapel of light for “contemplation”. Not contemplation, mind you, but “contemplation”, which must be something akin to “mindfulness“.

Kelly’s “chapel” has taken up residence at the Blanton Museum of Art, which belongs to the University of Texas at Austin. (The prepositional modifier is the official but unnecessary place designator for the intellectual and social blight known as UT).

What does “Austin” look like? This:

Impressive, no? No, not impressive.

About a mile away — an easy walk or bike ride for a contemplative student, faculty member, or taxpayer — is a real work of art, Austin’s Cathedral of St. Mary:

To quote myself:

In the early decades of the twentieth century, the various arts became an “inside game”. Painters, sculptors, composers (of “serious” music), and choreographers began to create works not for the enjoyment of audiences but for the sake of exploring “new” forms. Given that the various arts had been perfected by the early 1900s (at the outside), the only way to explore “new” forms was to regress toward primitive ones — toward a lack of structure…. Aside from its baneful influence on many true artists, the regression toward the primitive has enabled persons of inferior talent (and none) to call themselves “artists”. Thus modernism is banal when it is not ugly.

Painters, sculptors, etc., have been encouraged in their efforts to explore “new” forms by critics, by advocates of change and rebellion for its own sake (e.g., “liberals” and “bohemians”), and by undiscriminating patrons, anxious to be au courant. Critics have a special stake in modernism because they are needed to “explain” its incomprehensibility and ugliness to the unwashed.

The unwashed have nevertheless rebelled against modernism, and so its practitioners and defenders have responded with condescension, one form of which is the challenge to be “open minded” (i.e., to tolerate the second-rate and nonsensical). A good example of condescension is heard on Composers Datebook, a syndicated feature that runs on some NPR stations. Every Composers Datebook program closes by “reminding you that all music was once new.” As if to lump Arnold Schoenberg and John Cage with Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven.

All music, painting, sculpture, and dance were once new, but new doesn’t necessarily mean good. Much (most?) of what has been produced since 1900 (if not before) is inferior, self-indulgent crap.

Rethinking Free Trade II

I ended “Rethinking Free Trade” with this:

To put it bluntly but correctly, the national government exists not for the benefit of the people of the whole world or any part of it outside the United States, but for the benefit of the citizens of the United States.

Yes, some Americans benefit from free trade… But not all Americans do. And it is the job of the national government to serve all of the people. A balance needs to be struck. And those who pay the price of free trade … must be compensated in some way.

How and how much? Those are questions that I will grapple with in future posts.

I must first acknowledge some rather good points that I made in “Gains from Trade“, a nine-year-old post in which I address objections to free trade made by Keith Burgess-Jackson (KBJ):

How is “free trade” a “disaster for this country” [as KBJ puts it] when, thanks to the lowering of barriers to trade, but not their abandonment (thus “free trade”), millions of Americans now own better automobiles, electronic gadgets, and other goodies than they had access to before “free trade.” Not only that, but they have been able to purchase those goodies to which they had access before “free trade” at lower real prices than in the days before “free trade.” On top of that, millions of Americans make a better living than than they did before “free trade” because of their employment in industries that became stronger or rose up because of “free trade.”…

… KBJ seems to acknowledge as much in a [later] post … , where he gives a bit more ground:

Free trade is efficient, in the sense that it increases (or even maximizes) aggregate material welfare. The key words are “aggregate” and “material.” As for the first of these words, free trade produces losers as well as gainers. The gainers could compensate the losers, but they are not made to do so. I’m concerned about the losers. In other words, I care about justice (how the pie is distributed) as well as efficiency (how big the pie is). As for the second word, there is more to life than material welfare. Free trade has bad effects on valuable nonmaterial things, such as community, culture, tradition, and family. As a conservative, I care very much about these things.

… KBJ focuses on American losers, but there are many, many American gainers from free trade, as discussed above. Are their communities, cultures, traditions, and families of no import to KBJ? It would seem so. On what basis does he prefer some Americans to others?…

… KBJ seems to ignore the fundamental fact of life that human beings try to better their lot in ways that often, and inescapably, result in change….

Perhaps (in KBJ’s view) it was a mistake for early man to have discovered fire-making, which undoubtedly led to new communal alignments, cultural totems, traditions, and even familial relationships. Methinks, in short, that KBJ has been swept away by a kind of self-indulgent romanticism for a past that was not as good as we remember it. (I’ve been there and done that, too.)…

“Free trade” works because there are gains to all participants. If that weren’t the case, Americans wouldn’t buy foreign goods and foreigners wouldn’t buy American goods. Moreover, “free trade” has been a boon to American consumers and workers (though not always the workers KBJ seems to be worried about). To the extent that “wealthy American entrepreneurs” have gained from “free trade,” it’s because they’ve risked their capital to create jobs (in the U.S. and overseas) that have helped people (in the U.S. and overseas) attain higher standards of living. The “worldwide pool of cheap labor” is, in fact, a worldwide pool of willing labor, which earns what it does in accordance with the willingness of Americans (and others) to buy its products….

If “free trade” is such a bad thing, I wonder if KBJ buys anything that’s not made in Texas, where he lives. Trade between the States, after all, is about as “free” as it gets (except when government bans something, of course). Suppose Texas were to be annexed suddenly by Mexico. Would KBJ immediately boycott everything that’s made in the remaining 49 States? Would it have suddenly become unclean?…

Putting an end to “free trade” would make Americans poorer, not richer. And I doubt that it would do anything to halt the natural evolution of “community, culture, tradition, and family” away from the forms sentimentalized by KBJ and toward entirely new but not necessarily inferior forms.

The biggest threat to “community, culture, tradition, and family” lies in the non-evolutionary imposition of new social norms by the Left. That’s where the ire of KBJ and company should be directed.

There are a few chinks in my argument.

First, there will be in the short run (and sometimes even in the long run) a downward shift in the demand for labor in some sectors of the economy due to actions taken by foreign governments. Those actions consist of direct subsidies to industries that export goods to the U.S., and indirect subsidies in the form of tariffs and quotas on goods imported from the U.S.

I have seen “libertarian” economists justify direct subsidies because they benefit American consumers. (The same economists are glaringly silent about the disbenefits to American workers whose jobs are lost because of the subsidies.) It is jarring to read justifications of that kind from “libertarians”, who are usually quick to put Americans and foreigners on the same plane; for example, by promoting and praising “open borders” despite considerable disbenefits to some Americans. (I am thinking of  those whose neighborhoods are threatened by gangs of illegals. I am also thinking of those who pay higher taxes to subsidize the education, shelter, sustenance, and schooling of illegals — but who, unlike more affluent Americans, don’t engage the services of low-priced nannies and yard workers.)

And I must point out that those foreign-government subsidies aren’t free. They’re paid for, one way or another, by the citizens of foreign countries. Why would a “libertarian” transnationalist overlook such a thing? To justify “free trade” I guess.

It’s only fair to note that the U.S. government subsidizes American industries in ways that harm foreigners, that is, through direct subsidies, tariffs on imports, and import quotas. But any gains to workers in the industries thus subsidized do not offset the harm that foreign-government subsidies do to workers in other American industries.

All in all, international trade is a real mess. (So is domestic trade, given the myriad distortions wrought by taxes and regulations.) But it’s fair to say that some American workers are harmed by what can only be called unfair practices in international trade. The harm to them isn’t offset by the gains to other Americans. Only an economist or socialist would think otherwise.

In sum, I have come around to Mr. Trump’s view of this issue. Free trade should be conducted on a level playing field. Given that that won’t happen soon — if ever — what should be done for American workers who are harmed by unfair trade? Stay tuned.