Sunday, May 20, 2018

A Touch of Velvet?

Recent events in Armenia afford me the opportunity to integrate a couple of topics of interest: geopolitics and the value of common culture.

The 2018 Armenian revolution were a series of anti-government protests in Armenia from April to May 2018 staged by various political and civil groups led by member of parliament Nikol Pashinyan (head of the Civil Contract party). Protests and marches took place initially in response to Serzh Sargsyan's third consecutive term as the most powerful figure in the government of the Armenia and later against the Republican Party-controlled government in general. Pashinyan declared it a Velvet Revolution.

Not to be confused with an earlier Velvet Revolution, that of the former Czechoslovakia and the end of one party communist rule in 1989.

The Armenian constitution was amended in 2015.  Whereas the position of president was previously the most powerful political position, under the new constitution this power would be concentrated in the prime minister.  Convenient for Sargsyan, who was to be term-limited out of the office of president after ten years in power.  He vowed that he would not take the position of prime minister, but did anyway.  Hence, the protests.


The entire situation can be compared and contrasted with events in Ukraine.

Euromaidan was a wave of demonstrations and civil unrest in Ukraine, which began on the night of 21 November 2013 with public protests in Maidan Nezalezhnosti ("Independence Square") in Kiev. The protests were sparked by the Ukrainian government's decision to suspend the signing of an association agreement with the European Union, instead choosing closer ties to Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union.

What are the similarities?  Both Armenia and Ukraine are former Soviet Republics; both lie along the periphery of Mackinder’s world island; both lie in regions valuable for the west to disrupt if troubling Russia is of benefit. 

What are the differences?  Well, the demonstrations in Ukraine have led to war, unrest, a dividing of the country.  The demonstrations in Armenia have led (so far) only to a peaceful transition in the government. 

Unlike Ukraine, it is not clear that the demonstrations in Armenia were instigated or accelerated by external actors; unlike with Ukraine, those who so forcefully speak against the expansion of the empire (e.g. The Saker, Stephen F. Cohen, Paul Craig Roberts) have not discussed the transition in Armenia at all (to my knowledge) – or at least not at all in comparable terms.

So, maybe the west was not involved, or maybe Armenia is not seen as posing the same risk of instability along Russia’s frontier.  I will leave to others to examine the first possibility; I will focus on the second.  I will do this by also comparing the situation in Armenia with that of Ukraine.

Common Culture

Ukraine is a country of multiple languages, religions and traditions; the borders have been very malleable even in recent history.  To highlight (and I will greatly simplify):

What is Ukraine today includes (as recently as one hundred years ago): Poland, Austro-Hungary, Russia.  This divide can most easily be seen in the conflict today: the western portion of Ukraine looks to the west; the eastern portion looks to Russia.

According to the latest census (2001), 77.8% of the total population is Ukrainian. Russians form 17.3%, mainly in eastern Ukraine. Belarussians, Moldovans, Crimean Tatars, Bulgarians, Hungarians, Romanians, Poles, and Jews each account for less than 1% of the population. About 700,000 Rusyns (Ruthenians) live within the country, but they are not an officially recognized ethnic group.

Of course, given the relatively recent border changes, I suspect even the 77.8% Ukrainian can be further segmented.

Ukrainian is the official language and is spoken by about 67% of the population. Russian is spoken by about 24% of the population. Other languages include Romanian, Polish, and Hungarian.

Religions: Ukrainian Orthodox - Kyiv Patriarchate 19%, Orthodox (no particular jurisdiction) 16%, Ukrainian Orthodox - Moscow Patriarchate 9%, Ukrainian Greek Catholic 6%, Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox 1.7%, Protestant, Jewish, none 38% (2004 est.)

My point?  To call someone Ukrainian does not do justice to the different religions, languages, and traditions to be found in the country. 

Language: Armenian 97.7%, Kurdish 1%, Russian 0.9%, and other 0.4% (2001 census).  Armenian is the only official language.

Religion: According to the Census of 2011 the religion in Armenia is the following: Christianity 2,862,366 (94.8%) of whom 2,797,187 Armenian Apostolic (92.5%)….

Ethnic groups: 98.1% Armenian.

The first historical reference to Armenians is 2500 years old, and people who considered themselves Armenian have lived in the region continuously since at least that time.  Armenia became the first country to adopt Christianity, in 301 A.D.


Whatever the geopolitical background of the demonstrations and change in government in Armenia, things seemed to have settled down quickly.  While there are still risks, the events transpired with no bloodshed, no police crackdowns, no snipers of unknown origins on the rooftops, and no visits by US senators or state department personnel announcing “we are with you” while handing out cookies. 

Most importantly, no civil war or war of secession.

Perhaps the reason for the difference in outcome vs. that of Ukraine has something to do with the common culture and long-lasting traditions of the Armenian people.  An interesting statement when one considers the issue of nationality and borders.  Armenia’s borders work to unite and defend; Ukraine’s borders work to divide and weaken. 

Maybe borders work best when they are formed by people with a common culture and tradition.

Perhaps it is time for decentralization in Ukraine.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Would You Pull the Plug?

I would like to explore something, actually a couple of things that have been raised on and off in the libertarian world.  The two topics:

A private law society will be right-libertarian.  I have heard this view more than once from libertarians.

If you could pull the plug on the state, or push a button to end it, would you do it?  Several libertarians have asked and answered this question.  The answer comes back affirmative.

I do believe the first of these to be true: a private law society will be right-libertarian, or certainly conservative.  The idea and possibility is completely consistent with my view of medieval law as being about as close to libertarian law as the west has experienced.  The idea is also consistent with my view that a society organized on left principles will self-destruct.

I should somewhat modify: I believe the first to be true in the long run – if we can get to the long run.  Which is why I incorporate the two topics together – the second topic does not contemplate a transition, the reality today, etc.

Perhaps underlying this call to pull the plug there is a contemplation of a transition given the reality today – that the transition after pulling the plug has been explored.  If it is explored, I would welcome a link.  In the meantime, I will do a little of my own exploring.  Mostly, just questions.

Now…I know there will be readers out there who will read the following and conclude something like: “that bionic, I knew he was trending statist, he is no longer libertarian.”  You are free to conclude that, but you would be wrong – and wrong for at least two reasons:

1)      If libertarians don’t have good answers for the many questions that come up about the transition, talk of pulling the plug just adds to the belief that libertarians have a utopian theory without practical application. 
2)      The issue comes right into the intersection of libertarianism and culture.  Libertarians that don’t contemplate this just add to the belief that libertarians have a utopian theory without practical application.

I personally do not believe that libertarianism is a utopian theory without practical application. 

Again – I do not say that these things have not been contemplated, and I welcome any references.  But in the shorthand of this discussion, I haven’t seen or heard any of it.  Finally, because I feel that it needs to be said: my intention here is not to criticize, but to explore the topic and to advance the discussion.

So, let’s begin.

If the plug was pulled today, on what basis would we expect that a private law society would result? 

Thursday, May 17, 2018

No Turning Back

When there is no turning back, then we should concern ourselves only with the best way of going forward.

-        Paulo Coelho

In an industrial and mobile age, of what relevance is the understanding that “community” (family, kin, tribe, church) plays a foundational role in maintaining a relatively libertarian order?  It is a question I often ask myself; it is a question that will begin to be explored in this post.

There was a time when life was not possible outside of these traditional community institutions; this is no longer the case.  Today the individual is set almost absolutely free from reliance on family and church.  Absent these functional roles, is it reasonable to expect that such institutions are capable of playing a culturally binding role? 

The problem is moral, intellectual, social and political – in an environment drastically different than the traditional.  The solution will not be found in a longing for the past:

[The solution is in no way] compatible with antiquarian revivals of groups and values no longer in accord with the requirements of the industrial and democratic age in which we live and to which we are unalterably committed.

I am reminded of something from chapter 15 of Rothbard’s For A New Liberty:

The clock cannot be turned back to a preindustrial age….We are stuck with the industrial age, whether we like it or not.

Yet I am offered a conflict, as Rothbard continues:

But if that is true, then the cause of liberty is secured.  For economic science has shown, as we have partially demonstrated in this book, that only freedom and a free market can run an industrial economy.  In short…in an industrial world it is also a vital necessity.  For, as Ludwig von Mises and other economists have shown, in an industrial economy statism simply does not work.

Liberty, it seems to me, cannot be secured strictly on a foundation of industrialization.  We see – both in our age and Nisbet’s work – that it is that same industrial age that has helped to reduce the influence played by the institutions that traditionally afforded man liberty. 

 Returning to Nisbet:

Historically, our problem must be seen in terms of the decline in functional and psychological significance of such groups as the family, the small local community, and the various other traditional relationships that have immemorially mediated between the individual and his society.

Such groups played a perceptible difference in the maintenance of life.  Such groups play little if any functional or psychological role today.  Absent playing such roles, on what basis would these groups then have standing to play their traditional mediating role?  We see today that they have no standing.

Our present crisis lies in the fact that whereas the small traditional associations, founded on kinship, faith, or locality, are still expected to communicate to individuals the principle moral ends and psychological gratifications of society, they have manifestly become detached from positions of functional relevance to the larger economic and political decisions of our society.

Mutual aid, welfare, education, recreation, economic production – no longer are these provided by “small traditional associations.”  Without this functional and psychological role, it cannot be expected that these associations can play their mediating (decentralizing) role.  The reasons for an individual’s allegiance to these associations are absent.

But is this to be blamed solely on the industrialization and mobility of our age?  Nisbet offers an examination of the impact of humanitarian reforms brought to economically underdeveloped regions, yet his words ring true even for the most advanced economies:

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Community Found

Nothing can survive in a vacuum
No one can exist all alone

-        Turn the Page, Rush

You might think from the title of Nisbet’s book and the title of this post that I have reached the end of Nisbet’s analysis.  Wrong.  This post will cover chapter two.

Out of intimations of dissolution and insecurity has emerged an interest in the properties and values of community.

Remember, this book was published in the early 1950s; you might think, in reading this line, that it is a more modern analysis – something akin to the backlash of the right in both Europe and the United States.  In any case – as I imply by my title, that community was “found,” – you might be curious: is this nothing more than an ode to the storybook version of the Eisenhower years? 

Let’s give Nisbet more credit than this.

It is in the conservative philosophers that the desire for community is both examined and understood.  Nisbet finds the roots of this in the conservative reaction to the French Revolution, where the greatest crimes “were those not committed against individuals but against institutions, groups, and personal statuses.”

It is not an easy idea for one so grounded in valuing the individual to get my mind around; it seems that the idea is something along the lines: it is bad enough that people were killed by the tens of thousands; even worse, the institutions that helped to form community were killed off for untold generations.

These philosophers saw in the Terror no merely fortuitous consequence of war and tyranny but the inevitable culmination of ideas contained in the rationalistic individualism of the Enlightenment.

This theme keeps coming up in Nisbet’s work – the connection of the Enlightenment to many of the horrors that came after.  I believe the roots can be traced even further back in European history, but I agree with this line of thinking.

…the Revolution had opened the gates for forces which, if unchecked, would in time disorganize the whole moral order of Christian Europe and lead to control by the masses and despotic power without precedent.

It is these institutions – family, community, religious association; or, as Burke wrote, a partnership of the dead, the living, and the unborn – that support man’s freedom:

Release man from the contexts of community and you get not freedom and rights but intolerable aloneness and subjection to demonic fears and passions.

Nisbet saw in his time a revolt against this individual rationalism – a desire for identification with race, culture, religion and family.  He saw Protestant leaders showing respect to traditional doctrines that bear the mark of Catholic or Jewish orthodoxy.  It took me some time to understand where he was and where he was headed; let’s see if my understanding makes any sense to others.

The key to unlocking this puzzle is to understand: in what institutions is man turning to for community?  It is not in the traditional, relatively voluntary organizations, but in the institution that has assumed the role of all other institutions:

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Unmentionable

I won’t go into all of the neo-Nazi Hitler comparisons in this piece; you know them all because this is standard operating procedure.  Instead, this:

In an April blog post, [Peterson] attributed that alleged influence to Jewish intelligence — an old anti-Semitic dog whistle.

That’s it.  Suggesting – with some evidence – that Jews are more intelligent than average is anti-Semitic.

Yet can it be denied that Jews have an outsized influence in business, politics, entertainment, etc.?  If I am wrong about this, I am really missing the boat.  But if I am right, to what might this outsized influence be attributed, if not intelligence?  Because the other possible answers are, shall we say, less flattering.

In any case…Jews don’t need help enabling Jew hatred; they do well enough on their own.  Just today, we have this:

At least 1,700 Palestinian demonstrators were also wounded along the border fence with Gaza, the Health Ministry reported, as the mass protests that began on March 30 and that had already left dozens dead erupted again.

The relocation of the United States Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv was set for Monday, timed to the 70th anniversary of the formation of Israel — a move that many Israelis have celebrated but that has enraged Palestinians.

I take that back.  The Jews do need some help enabling Jew hatred.  They get it from the United States government.  As to which is the puppet and which is the puppet-master, to each his own.

Tomorrow is supposed to be worse, as even larger protests are planned:

…May 15 is observed by Palestinians as the anniversary of what they call the nakba, or catastrophe. It marks the expulsion or flight from the newly formed Jewish state of hundreds of thousands of Arabs in 1948, who have been unable to return or reclaim property they left behind.

I am waiting for these who make the libertarian case for Israel to address this current issue of the murder and wounding of almost 2000 protestors (along with the hundreds of other similar issues of the past); I am further waiting for the open borders libertarians to offer their same prescription for Israel.  I know I will be waiting a lifetime.

I am waiting for Christians to actually reflect Christ when it comes to Israel and also to torture by the United States government.  I know I will be waiting a lifetime.


In the west we live in a world full of contradictions and hypocrisy and lies.  The most serious hypocrisies come from those who profess evil in Christ’s name; almost equally troubling to me personally is the fact that libertarians also profess evil in the name of the NAP.

Contradictions and hypocrisies cannot stand forever; they are being exposed out throughout the west, as can be seen in the political discourse over the last several years.  They will be resolved, and this resolution will include all that is happening in the Middle East.

Doing Business With Immoral People

Romans 3: 10 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God.  12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”

I guess I could end this post here, as the hurdle is set impossibly high to find moral people with which to do business.

Snippets From a Dialogue

Rien: …just create a virtual libertarian paradise, ruled by NAP, where libertarians will only trade with fellow libertarians….I am assuming that doing business with people that share our morals is better than doing business with people that do not share our morals.  Why would you even want to do business with immoral people?

Nick Badalamenti: …I'll say that there are many subjective standards by which people might feel on another are "immoral".

Rien: …maybe when B.M. spends a post on it we get an opportunity to discuss it.

OK, let’s give it a go.

Before We Get Started

In Rien’s opening statement (as I have provided above) are a few items worth pulling apart and examining – this even before getting at the topic that makes for the title of this post.  Perhaps most striking: just because someone fancies himself a libertarian does not necessarily suggest he is moral in another libertarian’s eyes.

For example, libertarians have different opinions on the application of the NAP.  Begin with the minarchist / anarchist view – anarchists might suggest that the minarchist is advocating immoral behavior. 

Then there is the undefendable that is defended by libertarian law.  Many of these undefendable activities are at the same time not inconsistent with the NAP and also considered by many to be immoral practices.

More significant, perhaps: how about abortion or open borders?  There are libertarians on each side of these issues that, to a small or great degree, consider libertarians on the other side of the issue to be immoral.

What I am getting at: many libertarians have more in common morally with non-libertarians than they do with each other – libertarians are divided morally almost as much as is the general population.

Libertarianism’s Amorality

But, now, let’s take a step back and consider areas where it would seem all libertarians who consistently apply the NAP should agree.  What does the non-aggression principle suggest about doing business with immoral people?  (Hint: pretty much nothing.)

Gary Galles offers Amoral markets versus immoral coercion.  The title itself is suggestive of both the libertarian and (truly) free market reality.  Much of the post is offering cites from Leonard Read.

Summarizing Read, Galles offers:

…Read showed that liberty’s failure to gain more adherents than utopian statism can be, in part, traced to the fact that it is the ends envisioned, rather than the means involved, that often motivate people. And since unlike utopian visions, freedom, including free markets — an “amoral servant” — cannot be proven to have no objectionable results to anyone, liberty can be saddled with an inspirational deficit.

The market is amoral; it provides a mechanism for man to express his desires – moral or otherwise.  Citing Read:

[But] it is necessary to recognize the limitations of the free market. The market is a mechanism, and thus it is wholly lacking in moral and spiritual suasion…it embodies no coercive force whatsoever.

The market is but a response to — a mirror of — our desires.

And Read quoting W.H. Pitt:

“[T]he market, with its function for the economizing of time and effort, is servant alike to the good, the compassionate, and the perceptive as well as to the evil, the inconsiderate, and the oblivious.”

You get the idea.  Markets, when viewed through a libertarian lens, provide almost no moral guidance.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Community Lost

In every age there are certain key words which by their repetitive use and redefinition mark the distinctive channels of faith and thought.

In the nineteenth century, the age of individualism and rationalism, such words as individual, change, progress, reason, and freedom were notable not merely for their wide use as linguistic tools in books, essays, and lectures but for their symbolic value in convictions of immense numbers of men.

The fruits of the Enlightenment, with its roots in the Reformation and Renaissance, were found in two revolutions: the French and the American.  The French was a disaster from the beginning; the American offered a glimpse of the theory applied in its most favorable light.

Not ignoring some noticeable deficiencies (most significantly, slavery in the United States), the west – meaning, for this purpose, primarily the United States and Great Britain – offered a few decades of life for the ideas of liberty, equality and freedom. 

The “key words” noted by Nisbet gained maximum traction and meaning in the nineteenth century, just at the peak of this experiment; that it all came crashing down so quickly thereafter – in 1861 in America and 1914 in Europe – gave testimony to the frailty of this idea of the concept of individual freedom born of the Enlightenment.

What happened?  Why?  It is these questions that Nisbet examines. 

He begins with the focus on “the discrete individual – autonomous, self-sufficing, and stable…”

Competition, individualism, dislocation of status and custom, impersonality, and moral anonymity were hailed by the rationalist…. Man was the primary and solid fact; relationships were purely derivative.

Libertarianism and the non-aggression principle demands nothing more; in application, the idea saw its peak in law and custom in around 1776, and deteriorated only slowly over roughly the next four score and seven years before it came crashing down.  If those who advocate for liberty want to see their advocacy bear fruit, time looking in a mirror is required – because the questions of what happened and why should be even more important to libertarians than they are to Nisbet. 

Reason, founded upon natural interest, would replace the wisdom Burke and his fellow conservatives had claimed to find in historical processes of use and wont, of habit and prejudice.

This underlying faith was foundational to both classical liberalism and communism:

Between philosophers as far removed as Spencer and Marx there was a common faith in the organizational power of history and in the self-sufficiency of the individual…. In man and his natural affinities lay the bases of order and freedom.

Keeping in mind that Nisbet wrote this book in the early 1950s, he notes a different set of words have come to dominate the scene: “disorganization, disintegration, decline, insecurity, breakdown, instability….”  It is difficult to suggest that the words are less applicable today in the west.

This is at the time after two crushing World Wars (or one continuous thirty-year war, as you like).  It was after a devastating economic depression.  It came after man declared his reason supreme over all, reaching its most glorious position with the progressive era.  Man was let down by his civilization on every front: moral, cultural, and economic.  It is no wonder that these new key words came to dominate.

How extraordinary when compared to the optimism of half a century ago, is the present ideology of lament.

“Half a century ago” was before the progressive era took hold.  Sociologists note the disintegration of the family and community; religious leaders note that moral decay is consuming the west.  Nisbet notes what, on the surface, appears to be a contradiction:

Despite the influence and power of the contemporary State there is a true sense in which the present age is more individualistic than any other in European history.

How does individualism have any meaning in a world of overpowering state power?  Yet we see this in an even more exaggerated form in our own time – the state has grown more powerful, and the individual is ever more celebrated (except for white males), and especially for those who cloak themselves with the newest invention of labels.

Maybe it isn’t a contradiction; maybe one requires the other, one gives birth to the other.