Hans-Hermann Hoppe And The History Of Man

Hans-Hermann Hoppe!, they cried. Hans-Hermann Hoppe! They told me that if I read his books, it would change my life. This is not the first time I have heard that promise; it has been made to me of many books, from Frédéric Bastiat’s The Law to Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.

The promise has always failed me, but each fresh tomorrow brings the possibility that next time, it will not. Thus, I read this book, which aspires to give the history of man in one hundred and fifty pages, as an introduction to Hoppe’s thought. It was interesting enough, but I have gone away sad, for that looked-for tomorrow is not today.

Oh, as far as I can tell, I largely agree politically with Hoppe, who is alive and still writing, though he seems to have written less than I would have thought, given how often he is mentioned among circles on the Right. A professor at UNLV, he has been intermittently persecuted for speaking his opinionated mind, among other things for making the unexceptional and obvious point (also made by Niall Ferguson) that homosexuals have less investment in society than, and different perspectives from, normal people.

He is particularly known for attacking democracy as inferior to monarchy on economic (and therefore, to him, moral) grounds, a claim I first read of in George Hawley’s fantastic Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism, and while he discusses that claim in this book, he has written another whole book on it, which I am planning to read.

My main reservation about Hoppe, which could be overcome, is that a strong smell of ideologue rises from everything Hoppe writes in this short collection of three essays.

I have often noticed ideology is a besetting sin of the hardcore libertarians. And hardcore libertarian is what Hoppe is. The Mises Institute published this book, and Lew Rockwell wrote the Foreword. Just in case we’re unclear, the subtitle is “An Austro-Libertarian Reconstruction.”

Very frequently, Hoppe acknowledges his tremendous debt to Ludwig von Mises or to Murray Rothbard (or both), and when he departs from their orthodoxy, he bows his head to them first, as heroes leaving the Last Redoubt of Men in William Hope Hodgson’s classic tale of the far future, The Night Land, submitted themselves to the Monstruwacans, to be cleansed before leaving their protection and confronting the horrors beyond.

All this is, in case we miss it, outlined with crystalline, lime-lit specificity up front in the Introduction, where Hoppe summarizes, “What distinguishes my studies is the fact that they explain and interpret the history of man from the conceptual vantage point of Austro-Libertarianism: with the background knowledge of praxeology (economics) and of libertarianism (ethics).” For the former, it is Mises; for the latter, it is Rothbard.

I have nothing against Mises or Rothbard. Frankly, I know little about them. Theirs are also on the list of books that I am told will change my life; I have copies already of Human Action and Ethics of Liberty, though so far they gather dust. I’m just always a little, or a lot, wary when informed that The Truth has been discovered by This Specific Modern Man, and I should sit still, open my mind, and get ready to receive.

Exacerbating my mistrust, like all libertarians, Hoppe’s primary frame of viewing human society is economic; gain and exchange, never transcendence, virtue, or valor. Unlike Phlebas the Phoenician, Hoppe does not forget the profit and the loss. In fact, so far as I have read, that’s most all he ever thinks about.

This book is exactly what it claims to be, a “short history of man.” It is divided into three chapters: “On the Origin of Private Property and the Family”; “From the Malthusian Trap to the Industrial Revolution”; and “From Aristocracy to Monarchy to Democracy.”

In the first chapter, like Yuval Noah Harari in Sapiens, Hoppe is much exercised by the so-called Cognitive Revolution, wherein homo sapiens, already homo sapiens, apparently suddenly developed the capacity for abstract thought and speech.

Fair enough, although my confidence was undermined by errors, such as Hoppe telling us incorrectly that the Flores Island “hobbits,” genetically identified as homo floresiensis, are homo erectus. He also relies heavily on Luigi Cavalli-Sforza’s claims about the movements of humans in pre-history, which as David Reich has recently shown, have been made obsolete by genetic research.

That said, these are not central items, and Hoppe has worthwhile points to make about hunter-gatherer societies. His focus, as befits his frame, is property. He observes that hunter-gatherers were probably quite egalitarian, in terms of sharing property, but that doesn’t mean that there was much individual autonomy.

To a modern leftist, those two things go hand-in-hand, but there is no reason they should, and in fact communitarianism, egalitarian or not, implies lack of individual autonomy, a point I intend to expand upon in a separate analysis.

Quickly Hoppe reaches his core point, which is that hunter-gatherers were necessarily parasites, mere consumers, not producers. The necessary result was small populations, kept low by warfare and migration. While within a group, of no more than around one hundred and fifty people, cooperation was possible based on division of labor, no cooperation between groups was possible, since cooperation is only possible if both groups are producers with something to trade (though Hoppe ignores the trade in women, common in many primitive societies).

Even intra-group cooperation was limited by the law of diminishing returns—exemplified here by the Malthusian Trap, that eventually more inputs to labor, in the form of more people, diminishes per capita return. So far, a fairly ordinary history, although Hoppe shows subtle notes of the obsession with the genetics of intelligence that later become more prominent. In any case, driven by these spurs and limitations, and reacting to changing climactic conditions, humanity spread around the globe.

The big change was the Agricultural Revolution, what Hoppe calls the Neolithic Revolution. This, no surprise, he views through the lens of who was deemed to own “ground land” when in human history, asserting that the key step in farming was the ownership of land, a change from the former mere parasitism of humans. Similarly, with animals. This alleviated the effects of diminishing returns to labor and allowed more people to exist. (I suspect that this analysis is meant as a response to other analyses, presumably Marxist ones, but I don’t know enough about it to say, and Hoppe does not say either.)

We then turn to social structure. According to Hoppe, the family had never existed before the reduction of land to ownership, because for hunter-gatherers, as he puts it, both the benefits and costs of additional offspring were socialized.

Thus, everybody had “group marriage,” like a permanent, smellier version of a 1970s key party. When agriculture arrived, though, it made sense for individuals to capture the benefits of more offspring (and pay the costs), since, no longer being mere parasites, they could expect a return on investment in creating more people.

Hoppe concludes that this new social organization was economically superior, encouraging production and preventing free-riding, and so it spread, displacing the hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

Now, this claim that the family is of recent origin is highly controversial. It’s obviously nearly impossible to get archaeological information on what the social arrangements of hunter-gatherers were, and modern advocates of free love have for quite a long time been happy to believe laughable things about primitive societies if they fit preconceived notions (most famously in the case of Margaret Mead, hoodwinked by the Samoans).

Thus, you would think that Hoppe would offer strong evidence for this thesis, to reinforce his analysis. Nope. We are instead referred, extensively, to mainly one source—Friedrich Engels, writing in 1884. The mind boggles.

In fairness, Hoppe buttresses Engels with one other source—some guy named Lewis H. Morgan, writing in 1871. Hoppe even notes Engels’s conflict of interest, that he eagerly wanted to promote free love, but still buys what he’s selling, without saying why, or adverting to the century and a half that has passed since. OK, then. And that’s the end of the chapter.

In the next chapter, Hoppe turns to the creation of the modern world, something on which it is easier to deliver concrete evidence. He begins with a reiteration and expansion of his earlier discussion of the Malthusian Trap, citing among others Gregory Clark for the data showing that only in the Industrial Revolution did (part of) humanity escape.

The causes of this, the Great Divergence, are hotly debated, but Hoppe does not address various theories, merely noting that “the standard answer among economists,” by which he means Mises and Rothbard, is that private property rights had developed by the late eighteenth century enough to permit this takeoff. With due apologies to his mentors, Hoppe disagrees.

The core of his disagreement, that Mises and Rothbard are factually wrong, is pretty obviously correct. Property rights were, in most of Western Europe and particularly in England, quite firmly established by around A.D. 1200, or earlier—better, Hoppe claims, that today, which is probably true, though more variation existed in earlier times.

(Films like Braveheart and many others have given the average person a grossly false idea of the amount of chaos and lack of rule of law in European medieval times. It’s as if people in A.D. 2400 used Saving Private Ryan to judge the daily condition of Europe since 1800). Certainly, private property is necessary to the takeoff, but not sufficient.

Hoppe’s explanation is economic, of course, but with a gloss of science. It is that eventually some people got smarter, because “it takes time to breed intelligence,” and only then could they kick-start the Industrial Revolution. What led to the Industrial Revolution was technology invention, by intelligent people, and also that technology gave something for people to invest surpluses in, namely expansion.

No more detail is offered; Hoppe appears to think that intelligence self-evidently self-executes awesomeness. As to the origin of this purported increase in intelligence in some human populations, Hoppe offers a potted and unoriginal explanation, combining Toynbee’s observations that too-easy or too-hard climates produce little forward movement for humanity, with offerings from controversial modern scientists (notably Richard Lynn) who claim to find gradients in IQ, lowering from north to south.

His conclusion is that as a result of challenge-and-response some people, most of all Europeans, became smarter, and thereby, through some inevitable mechanism, escaped the Malthusian Trap.

Questions of intelligence across human populations don’t exercise me; I think that any society simply has to work with the different types of people that make up that society, or other societies.

But Hoppe’s reasoning is not remotely convincing. Narrowly focusing on Europe, there is exactly zero evidence that in earlier times Europeans were less intelligent than now, or than in 1750, and much reason to believe the contrary. Nor could there be evidence—people like Lynn purport to offer evidence about modern populations, but neither Stanford nor Binet was wandering around Europe in the Middle Ages.

Moreover, the idea that somehow people reached a step-function tipping point of intelligence in 1750 doesn’t make any sense. Why a step-function? If intelligence is normally distributed, and increasing over time, shouldn’t invention increase linearly over time? None of this makes any sense, really. I’m willing to believe that more intelligence, all other things being equal, leads to more progress over time, but Hoppe jumps from that to a set of totally unsupported premises and conclusions.

But Hoppe’s point in all this is not just history; it is to attack the institution of the State. He and Albert Jay Nock would get along well. (No doubt Hoppe has a tentacled voodoo doll in his office, labeled “The State,” which he sticks with pins when he’s bored).

His claim is that in a pre-Malthusian society, the state is merely a type of pest, self-limiting since there is only so much the host of a parasite can take. But in a post-Malthusian society, the state has no natural limit, for if per capita output keeps going up, the state can “continuously grow without lowering the per capita income and reducing the population number,” thereby becoming “a permanent drag on the economy and per capita incomes.”

Worse, the post-Malthusian state allows the stupid people to breed by removing the tie between getting money and intelligence, creating dysgenics, rather than Hoppe’s desired eugenics, and so the “population stock becomes increasingly worse.”

Finally, in the third chapter, we get the meat of Hoppe’s political claims, why democracy is a terrible system and what we should install instead. I can certainly get one hundred percent behind democracy being terrible.

On the other hand, the reader’s confidence in Hoppe’s analysis is eroded in the first paragraph, when we are instructed that all human conflicts result from only one cause, the “scarcity of goods.” This is self-evidently false; Hoppe ignores that man is not homo economicus. Did Achilles lack goods?

Hoppe then declaims that the modern state, arbiter of all things and judge in its own cause, is a contradiction, and only an insane person would submit to it, in the same way only an insane person would agree that someone with whom he has a conflict should assume all power over him.

This suggests that Hoppe adheres to some type of contractual theory of the origin of the state. But that’s not right; it’s much more organic that that, in Hoppe’s narration.

In Hoppe’s reconstruction, the natural human default is a system where what each person owns is clear and agreed-upon. If that were possible, permanent total peace and harmony would automatically result. Of course, it’s not possible, since disputes always arise about who own what.

To settle these disputes, someone has to decide somehow—that is, in Hoppe’s words, someone has to discover the law, a valid exercise, as opposed to make new law, an inherently illegitimate exercise. In Hoppe’s telling, the progression from earlier forms of government to the modern liberal democratic state (we will ignore here whether the modern Western state is actually either liberal or democratic) is a story of decay, not progress.

Hoppe even inverts the claim, most forcefully made by Steven Pinker, that progress is shown by us being richer. Rather, he says that we would be far richer if we had stayed with an earlier system, namely mixed government consisting of an aristocracy combined with elective monarchy. Such a system is best at discovering the law in a way that preserves everyone’s property.

Hoppe observes that to decide disputes outside of a government framework, people most often turn to other people (they could turn to violence, and sometimes do, but that’s expensive).

Not just random ones, though—to those with “intellectual ability and character,” whose decisions are more likely to be sound and more likely to be respected by everyone. Such people are the “natural aristocracy….Due to superior achievements of wealth, wisdom, bravery, or a combination thereof, some individuals come to possess more authority than others and their opinion and judgment commands widespread respect.”

Such authority tends to accumulate in families, “because of selective mating and the laws of civil and genetic inheritance.” As a result, “It is the leaders of the noble families who generally act as judges and peacemakers, often free of charge, out of a sense of civic duty. In fact, this phenomenon can still be observed today, in every small community.”

Critically, these decision-makers, given authority to decide disputes, are still under the laws like everyone else. They can “only apply law, not make it.” This distinguishes them from the state. For more details, Hoppe refers us to another book of his, Democracy: The God That Failed.

In essence, though, he recommends that society be structured as an idealized version of early medieval Western Europe, where (an elected and removable) king and aristocracy ruled jointly, unable to tax without consent and unable to make new law, which was a contradiction in terms.

It’s not that Hoppe says this system was perfect; it was merely “a natural order,” unlike modern orders. Most importantly, the king maximized the value of the society, in the interests of benefiting himself in the long-term (as well as, potentially, his heirs). That is, in Hoppe’s terms, he has a “time preference” that weights the future.

This system went to hell, though, when “feudal and then constitutional kings” replaced the elective kings. These new kings made new law, arrogated to themselves the unilateral ability to tax, and in effect turned all private property into their own property.

Moreover, the kings increased violence, since in the past the costs of violence were generally borne by those who chose to engage in it, whereas the kings could externalize the costs onto “tax-payers and draftees.” And how did the kings manage to put themselves in this position, when other men of power in the society would naturally resist?

The king enlisted the benighted masses; he “aligned himself with the ‘people’ or the ‘common man.’ ” What he offered them was appeals to envy, freedom from contractual obligations, and an improved economic position that they did not earn.

At the same time, he defanged the aristocrats by offering them baubles in the form of court positions (which seems like a trade they would not accept), and flattered intellectuals, so they would “produce the necessary ideological support for the king’s position as absolute ruler.”

Such support took the form of falsely claiming the past was bad and imagining that the people had agreed to the king seizing property and making new laws. Here, as throughout the book, Hoppe is pithily nasty. “The demand for intellectual services is typically low, and intellectuals, almost congenitally, suffer from a greatly inflated self-image and hence are always prone to and become easily avid promoters of envy.”

Eventually absolute monarchy mutated into constitutional monarchy, which is even worse, since at least under an absolute monarchy some memory of the past system is retained, and the king has an incentive to maximize long-term societal value, but under a constitutional monarchy, it is forgotten, and the mass of people delusively believe that they have more freedom than under an absolute monarchy, when in practice they have far less. And, in turn, we were subjected to “an even greater folly,” democracy.

The egalitarian sentiments the kings had encouraged were turned against them. Democracy, though, is not a return to the natural law, but the creation of a system in which, in theory, every person can aspire to be an absolute monarch, seizing the property of others and making new law to his own benefit, enforcing his will with the power of the State.

So-called public officials, that is, agents of the government, are the recipients of this power. “Everyone can participate in theft and live off stolen loot if only he becomes a public official.” Rather than a natural aristocracy, those in power are universally “morally uninhibited demagogues,” supported by plutocrats who use the mechanisms of the state to enrich themselves by theft and thereby control the demagogues.

This leads directly to evil outcomes, and it also means that all of society becomes politicized, because people can aspire to live by handouts and favorable redistribution, whereas under aristocracy the vast majority of people got what they got from their own “value-productive efforts.”

Such redistribution is not only from the rich to the poor, it is just as, or more, often from the poor to the rich, since “After all, the rich are characteristically bright and industrious, and the poor typically dull, lazy or both. It is not very likely that dullards, even if they make up a majority, will systematically outsmart and enrich themselves at the expense of a minority of bright and energetic individuals.”

The result it that democracy is a value-destroying system, where unproductive behavior is encouraged and productive behavior discouraged. And not only in production; war is also more likely and more destructive (echoing Carl Schmitt’s point that when wars are conceived of as for human rights, they are far more brutal).

Moreover, the State then debases the money supply (it would not be a book of Austrian economics without a plug for gold). The end result is an ever-growing and ever-more-exploitative state, pushing war and offering circuses, until an inevitable economic crisis and the state’s collapse.

By this Hoppe explicitly means not just states in general, but the United States, which no longer protects life and property of its citizens, instead through its ruling class of politicians and plutocrats engaging in exploitation, oppression, and global war.

With any luck, Hoppe says, the current system, globally, will be replaced with government along his preferred lines, perhaps along the lines of Swiss cantons or the Hanseatic League.

This is dubious history but pretty good abstract analytics. I can get behind, for example, that we would probably all be richer under a restrained monarchy, not just in that we could keep more of our property, and use it to multiply our property, but that science and technology would advance more quickly (a double-edged sword, to be sure).

And certainly a natural aristocracy is exactly that. But Hoppe, at least in this book, offers a very narrow version of history. He does not explain the political development of states east of the Elbe, much less Ancient Egypt, or Ancient Greece, or Rome or other empires of the classical era (say, the Sassanids), and nothing is said about government in Asia or the Americas. How does the Pax Romana fit into Hoppe’s analysis, I’d like to know?

In fact, Hoppe doesn’t even begin to attempt the kind of historical analysis that others, such as Francis Fukuyama, have offered on the development of political systems. I suspect Hoppe’s narrow focus on Europe is because he wants to ascribe the success or failure of societies to mechanical effects, easy to delineate and possible to quantify.

Parsing history is messy, because history is messy. That would detract from Hoppe’s attempt to instruct us that he has found the formula for human success, and it is paint-by-numbers, if only we will listen.

But quantification is exactly not what human nature, and therefore human action, is subject to. I think that the exact same limited monarchical system that works ideally in one culture would be a disaster in another.

Many important variables affect culture, obviously, not only the history of a place, but the religion, the climate, the geography, and much, much more. Hoppe, like all ideologues, claims to have found the universally applicable perfect system, and even aside from any errors in his analysis, that is extremely unlikely.

I suspect I will be told I should give Hoppe more of a chance; that is the usual response from acolytes of ideologues when one attacks the Leader. I did watch a lengthy video of him. It was boring.

On the other hand, maybe his book on democracy has more meat on the bones, and answers some of my questions. So, as I say, that’s up on the reading list, for the simple reason that whatever the details, I agree with Hoppe that democracy as practiced in the modern world is both stupid and doomed.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The photo shows, “Effigies of Crusaders in Round Table Church, London, after damage enemy action,” by Norma Bull, ca. 1940-1944.

How to Survive the Journey Ahead

Those coming of age today will face some of the greatest obstacles ever encountered by young people.

They will find themselves overtaxed, burdened with excessive college debt, and struggling to find worthwhile employment in a debt-ridden economy on the brink of implosion. Their privacy will be eviscerated by the surveillance state. They will be the subjects of a military empire constantly waging war against shadowy enemies and government agents armed to the teeth ready and able to lock down the country at a moment’s notice.

As such, they will find themselves forced to march in lockstep with a government that no longer exists to serve the people but which demands they be obedient slaves or suffer the consequences.

It’s a dismal prospect, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, we who should have known better failed to guard against such a future.

Worse, we neglected to maintain our freedoms or provide our young people with the tools necessary to survive, let alone succeed, in the impersonal jungle that is modern America. 

We brought them into homes fractured by divorce, distracted by mindless entertainment, and obsessed with the pursuit of materialism. We institutionalized them in daycares and afterschool programs, substituting time with teachers and childcare workers for parental involvement. We turned them into test-takers instead of thinkers and automatons instead of activists.

We allowed them to languish in schools which not only look like prisons but function like prisons, as well—where conformity is the rule and freedom is the exception. We made them easy prey for our corporate overlords, while instilling in them the values of a celebrity-obsessed, technology-driven culture devoid of any true spirituality. And we taught them to believe that the pursuit of their own personal happiness trumped all other virtues, including any empathy whatsoever for their fellow human beings.

No, we haven’t done this generation any favors.

Based on the current political climate, things could very well get much worse before they ever take a turn for the better. Here are a few pieces of advice that will hopefully help those coming of age today survive the perils of the journey that awaits:

Be an individual. For all of its claims to champion the individual, American culture advocates a stark conformity which, as John F. Kennedy warned, is “the jailer of freedom, and the enemy of growth.” Worry less about fitting in with the rest of the world and instead, as Henry David Thoreau urged, become “a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought.”

Learn your rights. We’re losing our freedoms for one simple reason: most of us don’t know anything about our freedoms. At a minimum, anyone who has graduated from high school, let alone college, should know the Bill of Rights backwards and forwards. However, the average young person, let alone citizen, has very little knowledge of their rights for the simple reason that the schools no longer teach them. So grab a copy of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and study them at home. And when the time comes, stand up for your rights before it’s too late.

Speak truth to power. Don’t be naive about those in positions of authority. As James Madison, who wrote our Bill of Rights, observed, “All men having power ought to be distrusted.” We must learn the lessons of history. People in power, more often than not, abuse that power. To maintain our freedoms, this will mean challenging government officials whenever they exceed the bounds of their office.

Resist all things that numb you. Don’t measure your worth by what you own or earn. Likewise, don’t become mindless consumers unaware of the world around you. Resist all things that numb you, put you to sleep or help you “cope” with so-called reality. Those who establish the rules and laws that govern society’s actions desire compliant subjects. However, as George Orwell warned, “Until they become conscious, they will never rebel, and until after they rebelled, they cannot become conscious.” It is these conscious individuals who change the world for the better.

Don’t let technology turn you into zombies. Technology anesthetizes us to the all-too-real tragedies that surround us. Techno-gadgets are merely distractions from what’s really going on in America and around the world. As a result, we’ve begun mimicking the inhuman technology that surrounds us and have lost our humanity. We’ve become sleepwalkers. If you’re going to make a difference in the world, you’re going to have to pull the earbuds out, turn off the cell phones and spend much less time viewing screens. 

Help others. We all have a calling in life. And I believe it boils down to one thing: You are here on this planet to help other people. In fact, none of us can exist very long without help from others. If we’re going to see any positive change for freedom, then we must change our view of what it means to be human and regain a sense of what it means to love and help one another. That will mean gaining the courage to stand up for the oppressed.

Give voice to moral outrage. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.” There is no shortage of issues on which to take a stand. For instance, on any given night, over half a million people in the U.S. are homeless, and half of them are elderly. There are 46 million Americans living at or below the poverty line, and 16 million children living in households without adequate access to food. Congress creates, on average, more than 50 new criminal laws each year. With more than 2 million Americans in prison, and close to 7 million adults in correctional care, the United States has the largest prison population in the world. At least 2.7 million children in the United States have at least one parent in prison. At least 400 to 500 innocent people are killed by police officers every year. Americans are now eight times more likely to die in a police confrontation than they are to be killed by a terrorist. On an average day in America, over 100 Americans have their homes raided by SWAT teams. It costs the American taxpayer $52.6 billion every year to be spied on by the government intelligence agencies tasked with surveillance, data collection, counterintelligence and covert activities. All the while, since 9/11, the U.S. has spent more than $1.6 trillion to wage wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and police the rest of the world. This is an egregious affront to anyone who believes in freedom.

Cultivate spirituality, reject materialism and put people first. When the things that matter most have been subordinated to materialism, we have lost our moral compass. We must change our values to reflect something more meaningful than technology, materialism and politics. Standing at the pulpit of the Riverside Church in New York City in April 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. urged his listeners:

[W]e as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motive and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

Pitch in and do your part to make the world a better place. Don’t rely on someone else to do the heavy lifting for you. Don’t wait around for someone else to fix what ails you, your community or nation. As Gandhi urged: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Say no to war. Addressing the graduates at Binghampton Central High School in 1968, at a time when the country was waging war “on different fields, on different levels, and with different weapons,” Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling declared:

Too many wars are fought almost as if by rote. Too many wars are fought out of sloganry, out of battle hymns, out of aged, musty appeals to patriotism that went out with knighthood and moats. Love your country because it is eminently worthy of your affection. Respect it because it deserves your respect. Be loyal to it because it cannot survive without your loyalty. But do not accept the shedding of blood as a natural function or a prescribed way of history—even if history points this up by its repetition. That men die for causes does not necessarily sanctify that cause. And that men are maimed and torn to pieces every fifteen and twenty years does not immortalize or deify the act of war… find another means that does not come with the killing of your fellow-man.

Finally, prepare yourselves for what lies ahead. The demons of our age—some of whom disguise themselves as politicians—delight in fomenting violence, sowing distrust and prejudice, and persuading the public to support tyranny disguised as patriotism. Overcoming the evils of our age will require more than intellect and activism. It will require decency, morality, goodness, truth and toughness. As Serling concluded in his remarks to the graduating class of 1968:

Toughness is the singular quality most required of you… we have left you a world far more botched than the one that was left to us… Part of your challenge is to seek out truth, to come up with a point of view not dictated to you by anyone, be he a congressman, even a minister… Are you tough enough to take the divisiveness of this land of ours, the fact that everything is polarized, black and white, this or that, absolutely right or absolutely wrong. This is one of the challenges. Be prepared to seek out the middle ground … that wondrous and very difficult-to-find Valhalla where man can look to both sides and see the errant truths that exist on both sides. If you must swing left or you must swing right—respect the other side. Honor the motives that come from the other side. Argue, debate, rebut—but don’t close those wondrous minds of yours to opposition. In their eyes, you’re the opposition. And ultimately … ultimately—you end divisiveness by compromise. And so long as men walk and breathe—there must be compromise…

Are you tough enough to face one of the uglier stains upon the fabric of our democracy—prejudice? It’s the basic root of most evil. It’s a part of the sickness of man. And it’s a part of man’s admission, his constant sick admission, that to exist he must find a scapegoat. To explain away his own deficiencies—he must try to find someone who he believes more deficient… Make your judgment of your fellow-man on what he says and what he believes and the way he acts. Be tough enough, please, to live with prejudice and give battle to it. It warps, it poisons, it distorts and it is self-destructive. It has fallout worse than a bomb … and worst of all it cheapens and demeans anyone who permits himself the luxury of hating.”

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the only way we’ll ever achieve change in this country is for the American people to finally say “enough is enough” and fight for the things that truly matter. 

It doesn’t matter how old you are or what your political ideology is. If you have something to say, speak up. Get active, and if need be, pick up a picket sign and get in the streets. And when civil liberties are violated, don’t remain silent about it.

Wake up, stand up, and make your activism count for something more than politics.

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book is Battlefield America: The War on the American People.

The photo shows, “The Giving of the Seven Bowls of Wrath,” from the Ottheinrich Bible, ca. 1530-1532.

Quilette, Or Insipid Modernity

As American politics splinters, the artificial limits that have calcified journalism for decades also fragment. It is like seeing an expanse covered by acres of concrete suddenly shatter, and, a short time later, the emergence, through the shards, of plant life, freshly exposed to water and light. Some of those new plants are weeds. But some are new and valuable, though whether they are fragile ornamentals or robust plants with real value remains to be seen.

Quillette is one of the fastest-growing of those plants, and my project today is to examine its role in today’s political scene, especially as it relates to my own overall political project and goals.

This may seem more purely analytical than most of my writing, more akin to, say, metallurgy than politics as such. But analyzing participants in the wars to come is crucial, for strategy is all. Actually, as Lenin said, timing is all, but strategy is a close second—without strategy, you are reduced to pure reactivity, which does not lead to unbridled winning, and that latter is my goal. My project today, therefore, is to discuss what the success of, and appetite for, Quillette says about the Right in these days of flux.

To be sure, Quillette does not self-identify as Right. At first glance, its program is non-political, or cross-political. In its own words, “Quillette is a platform for free thought. We respect ideas, even dangerous ones. We also believe that free expression and the free exchange of ideas help human societies flourish and progress. Quillette aims to provide a platform for this exchange.”

The word that reoccurs constantly when Quillette discusses itself is “heterodoxy,” which implies a commitment to challenge all orthodoxies, Left and Right. Moreover, “heterodoxy” does not mean “anything goes.” Unsavory types, most notably racists, Marxists, and so forth, will not find any forum here.

Despite, as we’ll see, several gaps between my thinking and that which Quillette, in general, represents, I am not down on Quillette. I wish it, and its organizers and writers, nothing but the best. I note that I am personally acquainted with some of its writers, and, full disclosure, several months ago I had a desultory email correspondence with staff at Quillette about publishing some of my reviews. But they wanted something exclusive, not re-warmed, and I have not gotten around to offering them anything fresh cooked, though no doubt they are all sitting around waiting.

(Also, I was annoyed when they recently gave Steven Pinker a platform to puff the first anniversary of his Enlightenment Now—not because they gave him a platform, but because Pinker listed forty or so reviews of his book to which he was responding, and did not list mine. Sad!)

On the Right, the magazine has gotten a lot of attention, not from boring movement conservatives, past their use-by date, such as Jonah Goldberg and the National Review crowd, but from the bubbling ferment of people most prominent on modern electronic media. Notable among this group is Jordan Peterson, who seems to have a close, if informal, relationship with Quillette, but also Dave Rubin and others in the so-called Intellectual Dark Web (IDW).

In practice, Quillette writing overlaps on both issues and perspectives with the IDW, if it’s even possible to define that group in a meaningful way, but we are here to talk about Quillette, not the IDW. On the Left, the magazine has gotten much less notice, but that seems likely to change, especially if, as I expect soon, an organized kill campaign of the highest intensity is launched against Peterson.

So much for structure and background. Let’s move on to substance. In practice, Quillette embodies much of the tendency on the Right that I have named Agnostic Pragmatic Libertarianism. Certainly, there is diversity among the authors, but very few stray far from this philosophy, nor does it appear that any of the four editors, led by founder and chief editor, Claire Lehmann (an Australian) hew to any other tendency. We can look at this from two perspectives, that like two sides of a mold, combine to form the whole—first, what Quillette cares about, and second, what Quillette does not care about.

What Quillette cares about, primarily, is free speech. Looking at the site will show mostly topics tied in one way or another to this theme. For example, as I write, the top, “Spotlight” article is “Young Adult Fiction’s Online Commissars,” on the Left’s censorship of that genre in the name of “social justice.”

The content of the speech can cover a wide range of topics; it is its suppression that is usually Quillette’s focus. So, for example, race, being a topic that is often suppressed by the Left, appears fairly frequently—not with the annoying “neural biodiversity” barely concealed racism of the “Dark Enlightenment,” but rather following the Jordan Peterson or Thomas Sowell dry, analytical approach. What is being said about race is less important to Quillette than defending the right of the speaker to speak.

But if you step back a little, you will see another connection among most of the articles that goes beyond simple calls for free speech. That is reality—the desire to acknowledge reality, and to push back against attempts to obfuscate reality, or, worse yet, remake it. This bias toward reality pushes Quillette toward the Right, whether they desire it or not, given that reality is an endangered species on the Left, and the only such species the Left actively encourages hunters to kill.

For example, because a major program of the Left currently is the attempt to destroy or deny the reality of sex differences, through the joint vehicles of a mutating definition of feminism and the ideology of transgenderism, topics connected to sex and gender crop up very frequently in the magazine.

No doubt there will, soon enough, be a new Left anti-reality campaign seeking a new frontier, for the revolution can never end. (I have been predicting radical animal rights, aiming to erase the distinction between animals and humans, for a while, but am still waiting. And it looks like pedophilia may beat animal rights to the starting gate).

When that new campaign begins, if we do not first manage to put the Left on the back foot, Quillette will, if not stand athwart history, at least publish pieces that the Left finds distasteful, and so it will continued to be viewed by the Left as right-wing.

So that’s what Quillette cares about. What does Quillette not care about? Anything that does not fit squarely within Agnostic Pragmatic Libertarianism, and quite a bit that does fit. Religion—atheism is frequently celebrated (Pinker and all the other New Atheists, and their hangers-on, either show up regularly or are open admirers of the magazine), but actual religion appears to be off limits, except to be criticized or dismissed as outdated.

Abortion and related life issues such as euthanasia—an entire recent article on racist Virginia governor Ralph Northam managed to never once use the word “abortion,” or make any reference to his endorsement of infanticide. Limitations by the community or the state on sexual behavior. Guns. Economics in general; most notably, there is no J. D. Vance or Tucker Carlson here calling out the corporatist Right and Left. Fiscal policy. Immigration, in America or in Europe. International relations, except occasionally as news. In other words, Quillette offers a daring-sounding, but very narrow, approach that has nothing in common with the concerns of most conservatives.

Yes, to be fair, a few of these topics get a very occasional mention (along with fairly numerous quasi-political articles on academic topics)—but not in a way that is identifiable on the political spectrum. Thus, Quillette is only, in fact, opposed to the modern Left in a narrow, though important, portion of life.

In Agnostic Pragmatic Libertarianism, all transcendence is rejected, and a blend of relativism and utilitarianism offered wholesale. The renewal of men’s souls or the encouragement of virtue, or even acknowledgement of virtue, is not on the agenda.

As far as I can tell, every single editor or prominent writer for Quillette is an avowed atheist; Lehmann certainly is. One gets the distinct flavor that the Quillette circle, if they knew who he was (and he were alive), would regard Russell Kirk as a leprous Jeremiah, to be avoided at all costs—an embarrassment, like any social conservative. The one mention of Alasdair MacIntyre on the entire site is an attack on him. And so on. I cannot find, although perhaps I missed one, any favorable mention of any social conservative as social conservative.

Those at Quillette think, and they are right, that it is very heterodox to point out that women, if given the choice, will at high rates choose traditionally female pursuits, instead of soldiering or foundry work. But they would be horrified at the idea that a well-run society would reject women’s ability to choose either, because killing is not the telos of women and smelting iron is not an appropriate job for women. Unconstrained free choice is everything for Agnostic Pragmatic Libertarianism.

This flavor, of aggressive libertarianism which is necessarily antithetical to social conservatives, becomes even more pronounced when one moves outside the actual writing and focuses more on the people in Quillette’s orbit. The magazine recently began a podcast. It also recently held its first social event, a large party in Toronto. Excerpts from speeches given there formed an episode of the podcast.

Six people were featured; it seems fair to conclude that this mosaic is how Quillette wishes to present itself. No American conservative not libertarian would have found anything of much interest or resonance in the speeches, other than a general agreement on not suppressing speech. All would be horrified at, for example, editor Toby Young’s suggestion on an earlier episode of the podcast that the best way to solve the problems of the underclass is to offer them free impregnation with embryos chosen through IVF for genetic awesomeness—killing the rest, of course. And very few people still believe that the irritating Bill Kristol, who got his own whole podcast episode, is any kind of conservative at all.

Or, in order to examine someone with a more expansive public record than any of those formally associated with Quillette, let’s take Dave Rubin. He hasn’t published in the magazine; no surprise since his platform is YouTube. But he has close ties to many people who have and whom Quillette admires, and is regarded as the man who kickstarted much of this intellectual ferment on the Right. He does speaking tours with Jordan Peterson and he has hosted several of the Quillette stars, such as Christina Hoff Sommers, on his own show.

Rubin describes himself as a classical liberal; he’s smart, funny, and engaging, a happy warrior somewhat in the Reagan mold. I agree with him on a lot of immediate political issues. He seems like he’d be a fun guy to drink with.

The problem is that Rubin’s view of life is not really compatible with my reactionary view of life, or with any conservative of any traditional stripe. He thinks abortion is just fine. He has a husband. He thinks the Enlightenment is great. He just thinks we’re slightly off track, and if we give ourselves a stiff double dose of Aeropagitica and John Stuart Mill, it will dispel the phantoms of identity politics and collectivist thought suppression, restoring America to the way it should be, a land of no limits. That is to say, Rubin buys fully into some Left campaigns (his thoughts on Obergefell and cake baking are a farrago of incoherence) and not into others. Where is the dividing line between people like him and people like me? It’s pretty obvious—what they exalt is atomized individualism.

All these people completely endorse the Enlightenment, and the Left idea that emancipation is the prime end of society, and the more emancipation, the more destruction of all unchosen bonds, the better. Their objection to today’s Left is that in search of that emancipation, they have erected political correctness and groupthink, undermining the goal of ever more liberty. They emphasize equality less than the progressive Left, but they reject the same societal limits rejected by the Left. They just want those freedoms the Left wants to suppress to also remain unsuppressed; they are simply truer to the Enlightenment principles of atomized freedom, more left than the Left.

Thus, Quillette is, for many but not all purposes, indistinguishable from the Left. If Claire Lehmann were World Ruler and her sub-editors her World Lieutenants, it’d be better than a world run by the Davos Left, or by the Bernie Sanders Left, or the Antifa Left, but not by all that much, since we’d still be sprinting down the track into the brick wall that delimits the end of the Enlightenment experiment, just at different speeds in each case. Yes, we’d be less harassed and annoyed on the way, which is something. Laissez les bons temps rouler, and all that. But the wall will be just as hard in either case, and as they say of vertical speedy movement, it’s not the fall that kills you, it’s the sudden stop.

I once had a friend who used to say, of the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “I forget six—but I remember the seventh, ‘Begin With The End In Mind.’ ” That has stuck with me—begin with the end in mind.

What is the end at which I aim? Victory, of course—the destruction and permanent incapacitation of the Left, and the creation of a new society, reactionary in the sense of being a new thing built with reference to the wisdom and experience of the past. An Augustan society with a Christian backbone, in sum, the outlines of which I have sketched in various places, and which is being fleshed out as we speak. (Implementation; there’s the rub). What, then, does Quillette offer on the path toward victory?

This is really the mirror image of a question I have dealt with at some length elsewhere, and intend to return to again. Of what use or profit, if any, are allies who are unsavory to others, but with whom you actually have some, or even much, common ground on specific political matters?

It is not that Quillette is unsavory—what I mean is that I have roughly as much in common, in practice, with Claire Lehmann as I do with Richard Spencer, which is to say, not much. But in both cases we agree on some things, in ends if not in philosophy or even means.

It seems to me that the approach to achieve victory should therefore be like the Communists used in the old Popular Fronts. That is, close cooperation with those with whom you have something in common, while keeping in mind the need, if any real power is gained, to control certain crucial nodes (e.g., the Ministry of the Interior). And always keeping in mind the reality that the alliance with your new friends will someday have outlived its usefulness. Incompatible visions of the good cannot coexist as the spine of a society, so ultimately, one must form the basis for the future. There can be only one, both as between Left and Right, and as between versions of the Right that cannot be reconciled.

But let us talk of now. In any reasonable strategy to achieve victory, the immediate goal must be breaking the power of the Left. One of their main superpowers today is complete control of the media that sets the Overton Window. That is, through their control of what the news and culture is permitted to be, they make it what they want.

Even if our ultimate goals are different, Quillette has, I think, an important role to play in breaking this monopoly, and therefore should be strongly encouraged. If Claire Lehmann, directly or by inspiring other individuals or publications, can help drive a stake into the heart of the New York Times, as unlikely an event as that newspaper probably thinks it is, she will have done all of humanity a service, and I, for one, will both applaud and donate.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The photo shows, “Le Roi et la Reine entourés de Nus vites,” by Marcel Duchamp, painted in 1912.

The Death Of True Manliness

Just as it is difficult to gain a true perspective of the size of a mountain when one is actually on the mountain, so it is difficult to understand how revolutionary a change is when in the midst of the revolution.

And we are today in the midst of a great revolution, a dramatic shift in the way we understand human nature. That is, our culture in the West is changing the way it understands gender. This change is all-encompassing, and expresses itself in such large movements such as feminism, gay rights, and now transgender rights.

The change is not a matter of refining or tinkering with past approaches. Past approaches are not so much moderately altered as completely overthrown. The revolution regarding gender is radical and vociferous, and like all devout revolutionaries, its advocates are taking no prisoners, which accounts for much of the rhetoric and verbal violence in America’s culture wars.

If the Lord tarries, historians hundreds of years hence will look back on the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries as the time when the West waged war on the way its ancestors understood gender differences from time immemorial. Those reading sociology will speak of a fundamental paradigm shift. Those reading Screwtape will wonder if the revolution was not the result of far-reaching decisions taken by “our father below”.

The ancient approach saw gender as a divine gift. Judeo-Christian texts spoke of our gendered existence with its resultant differing roles as ordained by God at creation: “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:27).

Islam inherited this understanding of gender, and even the pagans who did not read Scripture of any kind understood maleness and femaleness as basic and stable categories. That is why they privileged legal marriage above unregulated sexuality. Certain pagans (Greeks for example; the Romans were slower to follow) had no problems with pederasty, but they still insisted on heterosexual marriage as the foundation for a stable society.

As far as everyone until the mid to late twentieth century was concerned, you were born either male or female, and certain rare anatomical or other medical anomalies aside, that set you on the path of life and provided you with specific roles and responsibilities.

Men were to behave in a certain way, as were women. To be sure, the prescribed behaviours contained a fair degree of latitude—“tom boy” behaviour, for example, was still acceptable for girls, and men could knit if they wanted to—but the basic path was fairly clear, even if it was wide. And this was not confined to the Judeo-Christian or the Islamic traditions. As C.S. Lewis illustrated in his book The Abolition of Man, these norms could be found in all cultures. He termed this “the Tao”, and recognized it as the universal practice of mankind.

The revolution in the West began in the 1960s, with what was then called “Women’s Lib”. Women’s Lib found cultural acceptance because much of it seemed to be simple common sense, and because the Suffragette movement demanding for women the right to vote had partly prepared the way for it.

Though not introducing radical or harmful change in the basic understanding of gender roles, Women’s Lib prepared people to regard change as essentially a good and much-needed thing, and this openness to change would continue to govern basic attitudes when more far-reaching changes were proposed.

Women’s Lib also drew heavily upon the language of racial civil rights, and presented itself in terms of an analogous struggle. The emphasis here is upon the word “struggle”, since the movement used the tactics of protest (famously with its symbolic bra-burning and its marches), and its labelling of its opponents as enemies of enlightenment and progress. The seeds of a future culture war may thus be traced to this early predilection for protest.

Despite the use of angry denunciation of perceived oppression and inflammatory rhetoric that increasingly characterized the diverse feminist movement, the radical changes first appeared with the gay rights movement. Here too we observe a progression. What began with a simple act of decriminalization continued with a demand for social acceptance of an alternative lifestyle as if it were as valid as traditional marriage.

Thus, first came demands for social acceptance and non-discrimination, then came a demand for the provision of legal civil unions between homosexuals, and then a demand for providing legal marriage for them. Inherent in these demands was the assertion that maleness and femaleness were not all-encompassing roles, but simply anatomical realities which did not bring with them any societal roles or norms.

Thus, one could be born anatomically male but still seek sexual union (socially legitimized through marriage) with another male—or, with both males and females. Anatomy had been definitively sundered from gender role and its accompanying sexual “preference”. Indeed, the very language used—“sexual preference”—presupposes that one gender could be preferred as easily as another.

Formerly, men did not just “prefer” women, but were ordained to this choice, if not by internal sexual desire for women over men, then at least by divine law. Now one could “prefer” male to female as easily and legitimately as one could prefer chocolate to vanilla.

The next step was to sunder anatomy not just from gender role but from gender identity. In this move to legitimize transgenderism, it was asserted that one could be born anatomically male and yet still “be” a woman. There was no objective way to tell if a person “was” a male or a female.

All now depended upon a person’s subjective feelings and which gender one “identified with”. And throughout this long progression of change, its advocates continued to employ the rhetoric of civil rights, indignantly denouncing their opponents as bigots and cultural Neanderthals. The culture wars were now raging loudly. In the din, the voice of the historic Christian Faith, replete with both inviolable standards and subtle nuanced distinctions, was usually shouted down.

Thus those who identify as gay or transgender now occupy the role of noble victim in constant danger of harm, while those who oppose the new revolution occupy the role of dangerous cultural criminals, whose bigoted opposition to the new revolution threatens very lives of those in the LGBQT community. Those assigning these roles are often driven by a self-righteousness that takes no prisoners and justifies any amount of hatred, anger, and bullying.

The revolution is poised to continue, driven as it is by its own interior logic. If physical anatomy counts for nothing, then it counts for nothing. If the will (or preference) is sovereign, then it is sovereign. That includes not just the gender of the sexual partner, but also the number of partners. Or the age of the partners.

Paedophilia (or “minor attraction” as it calls itself) is currently beyond the pale of general acceptability, but the landscape of the debate and its borders are shifting quickly. No one living in 1950 could have foreseen the current situation. It is therefore possible that the presently radical call for the acceptance of “minor attraction” will one day become mainstream. Where the revolution will end is anyone’s guess. I myself believe that the end is not yet in sight.

The question remains: what is the problem with the revolution? Who is it hurting? Granted that the gender revolution (or “gender confusion”, depending upon point of view) overturns the way humanity has regarded itself since the beginning, why it that wrong? Much could be said, but a single reply will have to suffice. In the new paradigm offered us, what was once regarded as “true manhood” is labelled toxic in some places, and is fast becoming extinct.

What does it mean to be a “real” man? True manhood involves more than simple sexual “preferences” or the question of who takes out the garbage. It involves primordial self-defining symbolism and emotions springing from the deepest hidden levels.

To be a real man is to relate to those weaker—notably women and children—with gallantry, protection, and self-sacrifice. (Christians will note that this is how Christ, as a real Man, related to His bride, the Church.) We note this in a thousand ways: the man proposes the woman on bended knee, (not vice-versa), and in situations of danger, the man defends the woman even at the cost of his life. And this last example applies not just to the man’s own wife, but to any woman, precisely because she is a woman. Womanhood was considered as sacred per se.

This could be observed in the investigations following the sinking of the Titanic: witnesses were emphatic that some lifeboats contained only women and children, the men sacrificing themselves to save them. Doing anything less—taking a space in a lifeboat that could have been taken by a woman or a child—would have violated their manhood. Manhood and masculinity, increasingly derided as toxic by definition, included both the symbolism and actions of gallantry. A true man was a knight.

It is true of course that acts of bravery and self-sacrifice can be and are done by women and children, and of course by homosexuals and transgenders. Anyone can become brave. But that is just the point: since bravery and self-sacrifice are no longer part of what it means to be a man, one does such heroic acts only if one is a hero.

But heroism is not common (which is why it is applauded when found). One may or may not feel oneself called to heroism and bravery. But in the old paradigm a man sacrificed himself not because he felt called to extraordinary heroism, but simply because he was a man. The gender role he inherited by virtue of his anatomy contained within it the moral imperative of sacrificing himself, if need be, for women and children.

It is just this protection that real men once offered that is so desperately needed now. We now rely upon “public education” (i.e. propaganda) and the stigma attached to being politically incorrect to motivate people to gallantry, self-sacrifice, and bravery.

We can see how well this is working (or not working), by how dangerous the nights remain for women and other vulnerable people. The cry of those trying to educate the public is to “take back the night”. More helpful perhaps would be sustained reflection upon how the night was lost in the first place.

Father Lawrence serves as pastor of St. Herman’s Orthodox Church in Langley, BC. He is also author of the Orthodox Bible Companion Series along with a number of other publications.

The photo shows, “Les batteurs de pieux,” by Maximilien Luce, painted ca., 1902 to 1905.

Modernity And Freedom – A Paradox?

Can one be modern and also free? There is a paradox here that bears examination. Modernity implements specific conditions (limitless progress and expanding production of goods, both fueled by relentless consumption). These conditions are determined by the grand trinity of capitalism, namely, economics, technology and science, each of which is said to be the guarantor of the summum bonum.

Life thus becomes a continual negotiation with processes of acquisition, not for necessities but for indulgence. This is the consequence of surplus, where gluttony is a virtue, and obesity its mark. Such consumption and production of goods also requires elaborate boundaries, which are the bureaucracies and hierarchies that dictate how we are to live and what we are to do. In such a vast machinery, what use freedom?

But modernity also creates problems that it cannot solve. For example, the packaging of consumer goods turns into highly sophisticated garbage that neither nature nor mankind can safely undo. And since countries are supposed to be run like efficient, profitable companies, politics sallies forth to solve all the problems of life. This leaves education rudderless, so that it can neither be instrumental nor idealist, thus devolving into a bureaucracy to manage the young.

Further, the refusal of God necessitates the bettering of mankind, down to biology. This turns society into an ever-expanding mechanism of profitable manipulation, that is, progress. Such manipulation of what it means to be human leads to tribalism (packaged as diversity and pluralism), which the strongest boundary of all. Such problems have no real solutions – and thus any critique offered can never get past describing all that has gone wrong (aka, the thriving outrage industry).

In the meanwhile, there is limitless expansion and profit, which now demands that the resources of the entire planet be controlled by monopolies. And when these resources themselves become insufficient, there lies the exploitation of neighboring planets (the key purpose of space exploration). Such is modernity. What function can freedom possibly serve in such a vast engine?

This ultimately leads to another problem – that of freedom itself. What does it mean to be free in modernity? Is it simply unhindered self-expression? Unfettered thought and speech? If so, then such unconstraint runs smack into the boundaries of consequence and human rights, and thus fritters away. Everyone knows how to repeat the mantra – that words and actions have consequences and must be used with great responsibility. What does modernity need more?

Human rights, responsibility, or freedom? There might be the jurisdictional approach of pegging freedom as a right (such as, the First Amendment in the United States), but this merely creates another boundary, which still must contend with all others (responsibility, rights, justice). Since freedom has no purpose in modernity, it can be easily defused through legal and political interpretation. Statutes are nothing more than agreements and are easily denied or broken.

Next comes a far trickier issue. Is freedom simply anarchy? No rules, no judgment, no boundaries – Paul Feyerabend’s injunction of “anything goes” run rampant? Or, must we take Nietzsche to heart and “live dangerously,” forever fashioning our own limits, our own values, our own laws – to become Uebermenschen? Such freedom, like modernity, also creates problems that it cannot solve. Indeed, what are people demanding when they cry, “Freedom!”?

The freedom from want is far different from the desire to speak one’s mind unhindered. Wittgenstein is correct – the world of the poor is different from the world of the rich, because indulgence can never be the same as necessity. In this context, that peculiar phrase, “the marketplace of ideas” (wrongly attributed to Mill) is often bandied about. The logic of modernity is obvious here. The wise consumer (informed by industry information) browses a plethora of products and chooses what appeals.

Those that favor this adage do so out of a belief that the marketplace offers the surest guarantee of freedom – the individual’s ability to make the right choice. This trust in the wisdom of the consumer is not only naïve but anti-freedom. The consumer buys not to express freedom, but to satisfy desire. Because modernity does not need freedom, for most consumers freedom is made undesirable and will never be bought – rant as its hawkers may.

The marketplace will promote the products that favor it – and it will destroy all competition. Those that advocate a “marketplace of ideas,” therefore, cannot complain that they are being censored – for the modus vivendi of capitalism is never fairness in the marketplace but dominance of the marketplace. Modernity is all about control which, again, makes freedom pointless.

Where does all this lead us? When providence was eliminated from life, it was supposed to bring about a never-ending expansion of self-determination. Again, the logic of modernity and the marketplace strategically deployed – the belief being that if you remove barriers to trade, all trade will flourish. Likewise, nothing could hold humanity back once it got free of old superstitions.

However, the variety of determination available to humanity has proven to be limited. Human potentiality hits a brick wall in human gluttony. Humanity will always be Icarus. Modernity seeks to blunt the ensuing disappointment by one rather powerful strategy – diversion (or, more consumption). In the end, the pampered human body considers freedom to be a hindrance, like the superstitions of old.

But if freedom is still deemed to have any value, it must break free of modernity and its agendas of physical determinism, which are concerned with more barriers (especially political utopias). Neither should freedom be described as a wild free-for-all, which too is a version of physical determinism. Instead, freedom can only be achieved when it is once again held as a process of ethics. Until that is clarified, any call for, and pursuit of, freedom will be illusory because it will only be a further expansion of modernity.

The words of Elizabeth Anscombe serve as a reminder of what freedom ought to be: “My actions are mostly physical movements; if these physical movements are physically predetermined by processes which I do not control, then my freedom is perfectly illusory. The truth of physical indeterminism is then indispensable if we are to make anything of the claim to freedom.”

Freedom may begin when we realize that it is the by-product of ethics.

The photo shows, “In the Train Compartment,” by Paul Gustav Fischer, painted in 1927.

Monopolies, Or More Is Less

The death of the free market at the hands of monopoly has gotten a lot of recent attention. By far the best book about this problem is Tim Wu’s The Curse of Bigness, which through a “neo-Brandeisian” lens focuses on how monopoly destroys the core frameworks of a free society.

This book, The Myth of Capitalism, comes to much the same conclusion from a more visceral starting place—why have wages stagnated even though the labor market is tight and corporate profits are soaring? The answer is corporate concentration, and Jonathan Tepper is, like Wu, offering concrete solutions.

The problems that monopoly causes are not disputed in any relevant way by anyone but a few University of Chicago ideologues. The difficulty is that all possible solutions are opposed by the ultra-powerful, ranked in armed array.

One traditional way of dealing with such concentrations of power is populism, of the Left or Right. On a good day, we get Theodore Roosevelt; on a bad day, someone less attractive. It is therefore no surprise we see populist realignments arising across the political spectrum, with both conservatives and liberals girding for battle against the neoliberal kingmakers who dominate the Republican and Democratic parties. The question is whether the populists have enough will to start, then finish, the fight. As Warren Zevon sang, “Some have the speed and the right combinations / If you can’t take the punches, it don’t mean a thing.”

If the new populists, the neo-Brandeisians, do have the will, this book offers some tools. It is less cerebral than Wu’s, aimed at people who have to be told who Leon Trotsky was (“a Marxist revolutionary,” if you’re curious). Tepper’s basic point is that we no longer have the free market (what he incorrectly calls “capitalism”), because most industries no longer have relevant competition.

It is not because of monopoly, which is usually very obvious, but rather the less noticeable oligopoly, where a handful of firms dominate but competition, to a casual observer, appears to exist. The inevitable result of oligopoly, as Tepper (along with what appears to be a co-author, Denise Hearn) shows and nobody who lives in the real world doubts, is tacit collusion on all fronts, pricing and otherwise, to avoid competition. In an oligopoly collusion is nearly as certain as death and taxes, even if done without any formal agreement.

Tepper demonstrates in several compelling ways that competition is dying. Mergers have reduced the number of firms in almost all industries, while antitrust enforcement has declined over the past four decades to nearly nothing. Since 1995, the word “competition” has declined by 75% in annual reports to shareholders of public companies.

Tepper offers a variety of technical measures to demonstrate his point, and I don’t think anyone disputes this. (If anyone does, I’ve missed it). He then lists an astonishing number of industries that are nearly totally consolidated (although someone should tell him that Purdue is the university and Perdue is the chicken company). Airlines and cable TV, obviously, but also beer, bacon (all those different brands in the store are owned by Smithfield), milk, eyeglasses, drug wholesalers, crop agriculture, and very much more.

Why is collusion to avoid competition bad? Tepper believes that oligopoly is literally destroying the country, and he’s pretty much right (though a lot of other unrelated things are simultaneously destroying the country). Obviously, everyone pays higher prices. But higher prices are the least of collusion’s evils.

The most evident problem for most people is that oligopolies, in Tepper’s words, killed your paycheck. Stagnant wages, the problem that sparked the writing of this book, lead to higher inequality, social tension, and societal destruction.

And a big cause of stagnant wages is corporate concentration, which directly lowers wages for workers, since oligopolies act as monopsonies (buyer price-setters) in the labor market, especially in smaller labor markets. It is not an answer to say that workers should go where the jobs are. The wages are often no higher there, and people are loathe to leave their communities and people, as they should be. (This is one of the key points of J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy).

It’s not just monopsony. Tepper also focuses on a particular burr that chafes me, non-compete agreements. These have exploded, and are commonly found now even in burger-flipping jobs. They are an abomination. (None of my employees, in any position, has to sign a non-competition agreement, on principle. I don’t care if my employees compete with me. Of course, I’m so wonderful to work for that nobody would ever quit).

Non-competition agreements are an offense against God and man, and it is not a coincidence that California has, for 150 years, forbidden them and developed Silicon Valley as a result. That rule should be extended nationwide, immediately, federalism be damned.

Beyond wage stagnation, lack of competition leads to lack of innovation. Again, this is a commonplace, known when the Sherman Act was passed (in 1890), but conveniently forgotten when the money flows to the right political pockets. Less competition means less investment in winning competitions.

Oligopoly also means that startups can be bought out with offers they can’t refuse, not dissimilar to Pablo Escobar’s famous demand to choose “plata o plomo.” And aside from buyouts, startups suffer direct attacks made possibly by the disproportionate power of oligopolists, such as Google’s suppression of, or theft of the data of, any type of business that might compete (not just in search, but in any type of data that Google thinks it can monetize).

Occasionally one hears the halfhearted response that we have monopoly or oligopoly because big companies provide what consumers want and do a better, more efficient job. Tepper, like Wu, sneers at this explanation. The reality is that most giant companies are actually less efficient; there is such a thing as diseconomies of scale.

Even back in the day, when Standard Oil was forcibly dismembered, the pieces collectively were more valuable than the monopoly. Again, nobody with any sense defends oligopoly; they just dodge or ignore attacks, and laugh all the way to the bank (Jamie Dimon’s bank, or another one of the oligopolist banks).

Covering all the bases, Tepper also criticizes common ownership cutting across publicly traded firms, noting that index fund investing has exacerbated the problem, since entities like Fidelity have large stakes in nearly every company, including those that are putatively competitors. He touches on the problems with CEO pay, too, which are covered in more detail in Steven Clifford’s The CEO Pay Machine, suggesting better alignment of incentives through workers being granted shares, restrictions on stock buybacks, and lockups on manager-held shares.

Government actively assists the process of oligopoly formation, and not just by failing to enforce the antitrust laws. Enforcement of those laws is corrupted by the ideology of Robert Bork and by highly compensated economists who spin fantasies of future consumer price reductions that never arrive.

On those rare occasions when the government attempts to enforce the laws, the courts side with the oligopolists (as in today’s decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, rejecting the Trump administration’s attempt to block Time Warner’s merger with AT&T, where, bizarrely, the burden of proof appears to have been put on the government).

For another example, Congress forbids the sale of insurance across state lines, effectively creating oligopolies; Obamacare, largely written by insurance companies, did not change that at all. And Congress, along with administrative agencies, eagerly obeys the commands of oligopolists to increase regulation.

That may seem odd, until you realize what many people miss, that big companies always favor any regulation that falls harder on smaller companies, both due to compliance costs and as barriers to entry, and moreover they often write the laws and rules specifically to favor themselves.

The classic example of this is Mattel, when found importing toys contaminated with lead paint, got a law passed that required expensive third-party lead testing for all toy sellers—except for themselves, who were allowed to do it cheaply internally. Or, to take another example, what penalty did Equifax pay for massively exposing consumer data due to incompetence? None, because if you’re big enough and spread enough gold around, the regulations don’t really apply to you.

Government action is even worse and has greater impact than it appears, because beyond simple inefficiency and inequality, many of these oligopolies now themselves exercise the powers of government. Tepper offers Progressive economist Robert Lee Hale’s definition of government: “There is government whenever one person or group can tell others what they must do and when those others have to obey or suffer a penalty.”

By that token, certainly, all the Lords of Tech, from Google to Facebook to Amazon, are government, as are, in their own spheres, all the other consolidated industries. (And, of course, often these companies impose penalties on those who do not toe the line on their political ideologies; it is not just business penalties that are at issue). We are not that far off the classic science fiction dystopia where corporations are the government, and can impose their will on all sectors of society.

If everyone not in the pocket of oligopolists agrees that corporate concentration is a problem, why isn’t anything being done about it? Silly rabbit, it’s because all the money and power is on the side of the oligopolies. All these companies spend huge sums lobbying, and it’s been shown they get massive returns on the dollars spent.

They lobby to prevent antitrust enforcement; Google was the second-biggest source of campaign contributions to Obama. They lobby to add regulations. But it’s also the revolving door, at every agency and every level of government, that means oligopolists get what they want. Google, a particular target of Tepper, is one of the biggest offenders, with hundreds of its employees shuttling back and forth into and out of the government, collecting money and power both coming and going.

So far, so bad. These companies also use their power in perniciously creative ways, some of which Tepper does not mention. For example, it is well known that Amazon is the major source of income for many smaller businesses (and plenty of larger ones) that sell on its platform, and uses the data it obtains about such sales to benefit itself and eliminate the profits for those businesses, increasing its own monopoly power.

I don’t sell through Amazon; I’m a contract manufacturer, and thus invisible to Amazon. But one day last year an Amazon functionary called me up. They asked us to develop a brand in our industry (in essence, food, which we put into containers) which would be sold on Amazon. We could set the prices; the proposed deal was that we’d both profit if we developed an attractive brand, since Amazon would push it and we’d make money on the sales.

I figured this was a scam, since I am cynical and think Jeff Bezos should be put in a ducking chair, but set up a conference call anyway with a team of Amazonians. After buttering me up, they glibly mentioned in passing that, among other standard boilerplate in the agreements they’d send me to sign, which were of course trivial (but not negotiable), there was an unimportant standard provision: that at any point Amazon could buy this entire new brand from me, lock, stock, and barrel, for the lesser of $10,000 or fees actually paid to lawyers to register trademarks.

But, they assured me, this was just so they could “help me if there were any legal challenges.” A total lie, of course. What they were, and are, doing is suckering people who, unlike me, are not former M&A lawyers, by, at no cost to Amazon, throwing up hundreds or thousands of brands; seeing which succeed; then stealing them from their creators, who eagerly sign documents without paying any attention, hoping to hit the big time. A small thing, perhaps, but indicative of a cheater’s mentality. Fifty lashes for Jeff Bezos at the whipping post in the town square!

Tepper offers a long list of excellent solutions. Vastly more aggressive antitrust enforcement, using bright-line numerical rules about corporate concentration. Slowing down the revolving door. Common carriage rules for internet platforms that sell third-party services (not only Net Neutrality, presumably, but also other services, such as Amazon’s selling platform).

Creating rules that reduce switching costs, such as portability of social media data. All these are good, though I’d go farther. For internet common carriers, I would include rules that forbid viewpoint discrimination. I’d break up all major tech companies, and probably break up almost all existing corporate concentrations. I’d totally forbid the revolving door. Regardless, I find nothing deficient in Tepper’s solutions.

But these are all egghead solutions from eggheads, vaporware in the ether. Billions of dollars are being raked in by the powerful, and then distributed to protect their interests. The oligopolists will never accept a single one of these solutions.

Tepper works as an advisor to hedge funds (it is no surprise that those particular concentrations of power, which are also extremely pernicious and often eagerly participate in creating and extending the problems identified in this book, receive a grand total of zero attacks in this book). He is lucky he does not work for a think tank or other vulnerable entity.

Google, for example, brutalized Anne-Marie Slaughter’s New America Foundation in 2017 when it dared to have on staff an academic team who suggested that more antitrust enforcement against Google might be a good idea. Attacking the oligopolists is like chasing a demonic greased pig—even if you catch him, he’ll probably wriggle out of your grasp, and if he can’t, he’ll kill you.

What’s the answer, other than pitchforks? (I’m all for the pitchforks.) Well, divide and conquer, probably. We should serially use Saul Alinsky’s Rule 13: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”

This will probably have to be done at the intersection of two other unpredictable factors. First, some especially spectacular bad behavior by a target, which implies that the each sequential target will have to first identify itself. Second, action by ambitious politicians, probably of the Left but maybe of the Right, willing to use this as a signature issue.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may be an economic illiterate, but she’s ambitious and self-promoting enough to take on such a task, and tough enough to ignore the pressure and attacks from the oligopolists. Bernie Sanders maybe, too, but he’s so old his heart probably can’t take the punches. This is a task for the young.

On the Right, I can’t think of anyone—Trump, of course, but he lacks the discipline and has shown a disinclination to actually act populist (thanks, Jared and Ivanka)! Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney aren’t going to do it. Maybe J. D. Vance, if he ever runs for office, but he strikes me as not nearly vicious or ambitious enough.

But with any luck, the problems themselves will call forth the problem solvers. History shows us that for every action, a reaction—though, unfortunately, often one with unintended side effects. Within reason, though, I’d happily risk the side effects to destroy the oligopolists.


Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The photo shows, “Puck & the Mechanical Knight – A Modern-Day David & Goliath,” a political cartoon from the later 19th-century.

Pro-Family Programs And The Healing Of The West

Why do pro-family programs in Eastern Europe drive the Liberal West mad?

While New York has extended the “freedom” to get an abortion up to 40 weeks into pregnancy and the EU continues to fight for its policy of replacing native populations with migrants, the former Eastern Bloc is moving from not just pro-family words but to pro-family political action. This type of lawmaking is another truck load of stones for building a road away from Liberalism.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban during his nation’s equivalent of the “State of the Union Address” relayed to the public his new and very “Illiberal” plans regarding methods for stimulating the birthrate to guarantee a very bright future for Hungarians as a culture. Some of the guarantees he made were as follows according to NBC…

● A Lifetime personal income-tax exemption for women who give birth and raise at least four children.

● A Subsidy of 2.5 million forints ($8,825) toward the purchase a seven-seat vehicle for families with three or more children;

● A Low-interest loan of 10 million forints ($35,300) for women under age 40 who are marrying for the first time.

All three of these measures make families’ lives much easier. To put this into context, as of now Hungarians pay 15% income tax (36% if you include social security + federal training fund payments from employers) and being able to get that money into your wallet for the rest of your life is a very enticing offer to have children.

Although childless EU politicians hate private transport, cars are critical for the family of today. Little children do not fare buses or other public transport very well so it is fantastic that the Hungarian government actually understands this fact and wants to provide families with automobiles. This is a simple yet massively pro-family position. Regarding loans this is where Hungary and Russia align (yet again).

Since 2007 the Russian government has been providing “Motherhood Capital” to women who have more than one child with increasing levels of benefit per child. The key focus of this program is subsidizing the purchase of housing for the families in the program. There are restrictions in place in this program to prevent people from having children simply to get a lump sum of money. The actual funds are never given in cash to the mothers and the purchased apartments cannot be resold until the child(ren) attached to their purchase have reached adulthood.

There are many other nuances to this program but in short that is how it works. Housing in Russia is brutally expensive relative to income levels in a given region and is one of many key factors in birthrate in the nation today, which makes this an extremely pro-family program that can and does change lives.

These projects by Orban and Putin are a landmark step against the anti-family policies advocated by today’s status quo mainstream Child-Free Progressives/Liberals/SJWs. We have seen over the 20th century the total collapse of the family. The cost of this is now becoming evident as fatherless boys more often than not grow up to be useless man-babies not able to do anything for society or lean towards criminality in an attempt to imitate an MTV version of masculinity.

Boys and girls need role models and sadly the television/YouTube is not a very good parent while dad has vanished completely and mom is at work. The effects of the death of the family is not just some sort of Conservative nostalgia, in fact it becoming clearly backed by statistics. For example there is a direct link between divorce and crime and about broken families being linked to the massive increase in drug abuse in the US.

Some would argue that the answer to all of today’s problems in European countries is the need to return to Christianity. Although this is true and returning to a time of values and ideas is necessary to rebuild Europe, trying to recreate some sort of pre-industrial down-on-the-farm utopia is not going to happen and so pro-family policies (rather than just trying to push religion and hope) may just be the answer to almost a century of vicious anti-family policies and economic trends that have lead us to the pit of sorrow we are trapped in.

What we see today, is that it is extremely difficult and expensive to have children. In the past every new child was a potential productive farm worker from an early age, now we have to invest a lot of time and money into children so that they can “pay off” somewhere in their 20’s. Generally only upper-middle class and wealthy men can have their wives stay at home to raise the children, meaning women have to choose between living “well” and having children far too often. And those that live “well” have children who have little or no connection to their tired overworked parents leading to them being unable to forge their own families as adults.

Kids need help from mom nearly 24 hours a day especially when they are sick, meaning that women who work, even with a good husband are very drained and pushed to the edge. By their second or third child they are simply too exhausted to have more, which is totally understandable, but horrible for one’s civilization.

The burden of population is more often than not put on the shoulders of women, when this is very much a men’s issue. At present very few women can really rely on men to stick with them for the rest of their lives, which makes many ladies want to have a career “just in case” the marriage goes south. This back up plan takes time and energy away from the possibility of having children and reduces the population. Furthermore, when women are satisfied with their husbands they are vastly more likely to have many children with him, if men do not provide security for women they cannot be expected to produce armies of kids with no parachute.

What we are seeing here is that women in Eastern Europe (unlike the West) who still chose to have kids, more so than not, are doing so completely against the economic and social framework we live in today.


Divorce rates are high, salaries are painfully low and there are no guarantees or help for them. World-wide motherhood from going from something that is a natural part of women’s lives to becoming a heroic achievement against all odds.

The simple blunt answer to these problems is that motherhood needs to stop being a detriment to the present (with some hope for payout in the future from their children or no pay out at all) and become a viable “career choice” right now. The programs of Putin and Orban should be just the beginning to an Illiberal future where motherhood stops being looked at by lawmakers as some sort of hobby but as a profession that women have the right to engage in and be compensated for.

Some would argue that attempts to help women raise children from the government eliminate the need for men. Essentially the fear is that the government replaces the husband as the caretaker/provider which makes a traditional family impossible. But in an Illiberal context this is not the case.

The means by which women could get the support they need to be professional moms comes from the resources in the country ultimately produced by men. Furthermore, these programs like the ones in Hungary and Russia should always push “marriage” as a key component of the benefits and raising children with a husband is vastly preferable to the overwhelming majority of women and even decades of Hollywood propaganda haven’t changed this.

Although there is usually so much negativity and outrage in the news we can see that when governments orient themselves to pro-tradition, pro-family, Illiberal positions we can actually see society begin to heal from the mental wounds of the “Sexual Revolution”.

These policies are steps in the right direction, but sadly we are still very far from being able to consider “mom” as a profession that is as important to society as cops, infantry, and doctors.

When we can see right in front of our faces that a lack of parenting leads to a form of civilizational destruction that no men in uniform can stop it is time to understand that good motherhood is as important for survival of the tribe as good warriors in fancy uniforms. 

Tim Kirby is an independent journalist, TV and radio host.

The photo shows, “Breakfast Time,” by Harry Brooker, painted 1901.

On Human Rights

First remark

Today, political correctness demands that we say in French droits humains [human rights] when we used to say droits de l’homme [rights of man]. This demand, which also occurs in other areas, is made because the French homme, like ‘man’ in English, does not distinguish between the human race and the male gender. German is better equipped, differentiating between Mensch and Mann. Latin distinguishes between vir and homo, Greek between anèr and anthropos, etc.

We could discuss the reasons for this. However, it is also important to note the introduction of another ambiguity. The adjective ‘human’ in French has a value that corresponds to the usual meaning we now give to the term ‘humanist’ and, more generally, to the moral qualities of ‘care’ (a word which has recently been imported unchanged from English into French), ‘compassion’ or ‘charity’.

The English language attributes this value to the word ‘human’, further ascribing to it a more specific term, ‘humane’. German has introduced, along with menschlish, the words human, humanitär, and Humanität as terms of ethical evaluation.

In other words, human rights can be seen as rights basking in the aura of humanity, since this term, in its currently impoverished and rather ridiculous sense, has taken on the meaning of a ‘love of mankind’ or ‘friendship’ (in French, this is the meaning frequently ascribed to philia).

Now philanthropy — which was actually a secular displacement of the ostensibly all too Christian charity — is based upon a more or less hidden axiom of condescension: it is the act of the rich, cultivated and dominant, who feel benevolence, compassion and pity for the social misfortune of others. For all that, philanthropists have never sought to challenge the social order, except in minor ways.

Philanthropy contains an implicit negation of the respect for the unconditional dignity of all human beings, which appears at the beginning of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 (hereafter referred to as ‘Declaration’) and is repeated further on. It can even be said to represent an interpretation of dignity that is conservative, selfish and gushing with sentimentality.

Without arguing against the use of the term ‘human rights’, it is necessary to draw attention to the extent of its ambivalence. For whatever the term used, human rights are marked by a certain degree of philanthropy mixed with a promise of ‘social progress’, which is always linked to a ‘larger freedom’. In this sense, freedom prevails over social justice through the resonance, tone and emphasis of the text.

Moreover, the Declaration affirms that ‘the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people.’ But what is proclaimed here and cannot be challenged should not be considered the ‘highest aspiration.’ One can and must think that freedom (of speech and belief) does not limit the aspirations of the common people [hommes].

It would not be wrong to say that the people can expect and want different things — engagements, collaborations, relations — things that are larger, infinitely larger and more, than freedoms. Being ‘free from fear and want’ is not the only reality of freedom; there are other stakes that lie beyond any human freedom. Spinoza, for example, who can hardly be accused of being inhuman or an enemy of freedom, considered ‘freedom’ to only exist as the freedom of the entire world (which he called ‘nature or god’).

The independence and autonomy of persons has a long way to go before it reaches its limits, if limits exist. Autonomy should be conceived in relation to the sense of existence, or more exactly, in relation to existence itself — of each, of all and of the world as sense.

Some will object, ‘What do you expect from a declaration of rights? You’re not considering the extent to which your words go beyond the predetermined sphere that constitutes a kind of minimum necessary to free humanity from oppression. You’re departing the realm of right for philosophy, if not for dreams or speculation.’

My response is that it is indeed necessary to enter a philosophical register since the text of the Declaration — and the huge body of texts inspired by it and by the defence of ‘human’ rights — carry an implicit or latent ideology that should be brought to light. In fact, this is the price to be paid in order to avoid the self-righteous inanity of such ‘rights’. The self-righteousness here is that of a ‘humanism’ of European origin, which one must always remember ‘does not think the humanitas of man high enough’, as Heidegger wrote.

Pascal, another European, said the same thing much earlier but in a different way: ‘Man infinitely surpasses man’. Pascal was a Christian. Heidegger, on the contrary, believed that he could find the force of re-foundation in an anti-Christian direction. Today, all these references are written off, and human rights float more or less on the surface of the ‘icy water of egotistical calculation’.

Second remark

The Declaration is based — as a declaration of rights, that is to say, as a juridical production or juris-dictio — on the following sentence:

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law.

This is the third of seven ‘considérants’ (‘whereas’) after which the text proceeds with the actual declaration. The French text reads:

Considérant qu’il est essentiel que les droits de l’homme soient protégés par un régime de droit pour que l’homme ne soit pas contraint, en suprême recours, à la révolte contre la tyrannie et l’oppression.

We will pass quickly over the complex and fragile character of a proposition that seeks to avoid a resort to rebellion. It is clear that this resort is seen as something ‘compelled’ and that this compulsion can engender ‘tyranny and oppression.’ In 1948, in a text drafted by a committee of nine members whose political and intellectual composition calls for lengthy analysis, tyranny and oppression focused on the fascisms that had just been defeated.

In a sense, the Declaration is part of the general movement that, somehow nebulously, fosters the condemnation of ‘fascism’ and what this word would, over a long period, ignominiously signify. However, any questioning of the underlying reasons for the rise of fascisms is relegated to the background, if not even further.

There is no examination, from the perspective of democracy and 20th century capitalism, of what could have facilitated or even caused the emergence of fascisms. There is, therefore, no opportunity to consider other possibilities of oppression — and consequently of rebellion — like those represented by the abominable figure of a Head of State or Leader flanked by party apparatus, police and mythology.

Here, again, some will protest. The preceding sentences will be criticised for being unacceptably suspicious of the virtuous words of the Declaration. I was careful above to write, ‘in a sense’, and to limit myself to pointing out the absence of examination, nothing more.

In all sincerity, I am not trying to construct a machinery of denunciation. Yet it is difficult to dispute that the question of ‘humanism’ has been continually refined or deepened, according to different views. This has occurred along the road from the defeat of fascism to the unbridled expansion of capitalism, which is undermining human rights in an increasingly obvious way.

It is a road that passes through the other collapse of so-called ‘socialisms’ and, today, through the various tensions in religious and/or communitarian movements. ‘Humanism’ is strictly coeval with mercantile civilization, techno-scientific development and democracy. ‘Human rights’ are not absolutely pristine, as their prehistory in Roman law [droit] after a certain period already shows. They derive from Roman legal culture, transported first out of Roman civil religion and then out of Christianity to fertilise the spirit of modern law [droit] and especially so-called ‘natural’ law [droit].

Now, it is here that we must consider the other clause of this ‘whereas’. The French version provides a striking statement: Human rights must be protected by the rule of law [régime de droit]. The English distinguishes rights and law, the Italian distinguishes diritti and norme giuridiche, whereas other languages (e.g. Greek or German) repeat, like the French, the same term. Perhaps the Latin translation best clarifies the distinction in stating that: hominum jura civitatis forma quae justa est tegi (human rights must be covered by a just civil form).

This is much more than a linguistic curiosity. Repeating a single term (droit) or distinguishing two terms (rights and law), indicates the same difficulty: do rights [droits] exist that have not been established by law [droit]? Here the Declaration declares its own necessity: it is not just a formulation, words solemnly declared.

The Declaration is the legal institution of the rights it declares. If we leave aside the well-known American and French antecedents that paved the way, prior to the Declaration only factual rights and not legal rights [droits de droit] existed. At most, some of these rights pre-existed as rights of certain States, the United Kingdom, the USA and France in particular. But what are ‘factual’ rights or national rights with regard to international law? These two distinct questions are in part intertwined.

These questions share a concern about the foundation of a right in general. The idea of ‘human rights’ brings to light the extraordinary difficulty of founding right, if not the impossibility of such a foundation. We have sought to dismiss the idea of ‘natural rights’, which represents an internal contradiction because their non-positive (in the legal sense) character prevents legal enforcement and sanction.

Yet we have invoked a ‘minimum norm’ (Rawls) which is necessary for the constitution of a just State or of the State under the rule of ‘law’ [Etat de ‘droit’] as it is popularly called today. This is no less lacking in foundations, in the fullest sense of the word, than ‘natural’ rights.

Hannah Arendt also showed how the national appropriation of ‘human rights’ gave rise to categories of persons without rights (refugees, displaced and stateless persons). It follows from these analyses that forms of non-right have not stopped imposing their iron law within positive rights, with the help of economic, technical, and political chaos.

Undoubtedly, the ‘right to have rights’, as Arendt formulated it, is plain to see: we can recognise neither the quality of the human being, nor, perhaps, that of the existent in general, without the involvement of this right. However, this again says nothing about the nature of this singular ‘right’ or about the possibility of its recognition, which should be universal and prior — if not superior — to any determined legal institution.

It is well known that the powerlessness of international law [droit] — of what passes under this name — or perhaps the basic impossibility of such a law [droit] (yet called for, desired and proclaimed by philosophical humanism for more than two centuries and formally declared in the 20th Century) impedes its effective implementation.

But as Hegel says, what is well known is not known at all. What remains here unknown is nothing other than the absence of foundation of right in general. This absence is not temporary or contingent: it is constitutive, I would even say that it is ‘constituent’ of right.

Indeed, right can only exist or be guaranteed by a divine authority, whatever that may be. In such a case, it is not a question of right, if something worthy of this name requires the continuing possibility of recovery, transformation and re-creation in the various practical circumstances — technical, political, cultural and spiritual — to which it must respond.

Both the history of legislated rights of the Roman type as well as the customary rights of the Anglo-Saxon type clearly show that an essential plasticity of right exists within the fixity that the law, no less essentially, requires.

Both the interminable ascent to the ‘basic norm’ in a pyramid of norms (Kelsen) and the recourse to an ultimate power to decide the exception (Schmitt), the right to exceed right, converge towards a passage to the limit.

Right can only be exposed to such a passage; it is by nature the institution of what cannot be instituted, in other words of justice in the non-legal sense of the word. And it is not by seeking a categorical legal imperative that we can hope to found such a justice since the universal can be found neither here nor in a Kantian imperative, where it is reduced to the representation of ‘nature’ as a ‘type’ or nondeterministic model of morality.

In a sense, which itself passes on to the limit of sense, justice consists in rendering justice. This is not ‘to render the justice’, which assumes a determined or instituted justice. This is rendering to someone or something the justice that this person or thing — event, work, any form of existent — deserves.6 But what does each X deserve? Each X deserves an infinite recognition of its singularity. In other words, the justice that must be rendered to X is a justice whose nature and extent or non-naturalness and incommensurability only X can determine.

This justice must be effectively rendered, given back, returned to any X. This justice must be recognised for every X. Justice must be done to X and yet it is not it — whatever it is, tree or man [homme] — that can produce its due and present it as ‘justice’ or as ‘right’. This justice rests on the unfoundable certainty that it is just that that exists. On the certainty, therefore, that it is just that the world exists even though nothing can justify its existence.

Unjustifiable justice, far from founding any kind of rights — as extensive as these may be — opens up instead an infinite perspective that exceeds all possibility of right. From this infinity and to this infinity, all things and every singularity proceed and return.

This perspective must remain present beyond the horizon of right; for without an appeal or a sign towards it, right can only fall back into its inevitable fragility, whether of impotence, arbitrariness, relativity or rigidity. The greatest merit of ‘human rights’ is to bring out all these difficulties and all of these exigencies. The aim of these two simple remarks was, within their narrow limits, to draw attention to this.

Translated from the French by Gilbert Leung.

The photo shows, “The Fair” by Vladimir Egorovich Makovsky, painted in 1885.

From The Trenches: Teaching Sociology?

Sociology is taught as social reform – identifying the problems of the world; and therefore, it has become mired in relativism. Students are given “case studies” that deal with this or that issue, with the intent of providing a “correct attitude” about society.

These attitudes pass as sociological education, which can be summarized in this way: Society is made up of oppressors and victims; and it is the job of the educated (“socially aware”) person to identify and condemn the oppressor and valorize the victim.

This may be laudable, but it is not education – and it is certainly not sociology, despite the focus of most textbooks.

A fundamental question, therefore, arises: what is the point of teaching sociology? The answer is a variation on a familiar theme – sociology is, in the end, social reform, the fixing of society. Do we need such reform?

Sadly, these fixes tend to be simplistic, if not downright naïve – the world changes as a result of complex ideas; never because of raised awareness. Raising awareness about cancer has not led to a cure; not even massive funding has helped.

Here is the crux of the problem – sociology is seen to be two contradictory things. First, those who teach it professionally perceive it to be a science. Those outside the profession see it as anything but sciencebecause everything is sociology.

Mathematicians may hold varying and conflicting notions about the reality of numbers, but when asked to teach students, there is an immediate “common ground” – students must know the basic and fundamental ideas or principles of mathematics.

What is the common ground of sociology? There is none; there is just varying and conflicting perspectives (endless meta-theory).

Science does not teach perspectives – it teaches principles, ideas. Once students understand ideas – and make them their own – only then can they start thinking with them. If there are no ideas – there can be no thought; hence, the need for attitudes.

Possessing attitudes is not education – it is a deeply disturbing form of conformity; a conformity that passes for enlightenment, but is nothing other than personal feelings – and outside of feelings there is only ignorance.

Education fails miserably if it cannot allow an individual to transcend the confines of individual preference. The only way to do that, of course, is to intellectually equip the student to enter the world with ideas, not with attitudes.

But, for some reason, sociology cannot express its own “common ground.” One has only to look at the countless “Introduction to Sociology” textbooks in the marketplace. Typically, these textbooks seek to “stand apart” by some schtick that will make “the material” either “relevant,” or “engaging.” In other words, how to make sociology teachable?

The assumption is that education can be had via some sort of catchy, marketable trick, which will hook the student into learning something, anything, which can then be described as “sociology.”

Unfortunately, very few people now understand the fact (yes, the fact) that education – and reading – is hard work. It has nothing to do with enjoyment (that used to be called entertainment). Education is difficult work, which is why it is valuable.

Further, when typical sociology textbooks are analyzed (need we say, scientifically), not for content but for approach (or pedagogical usefulness), a consistent methodology emerges.

They invariably set out to define the many “systems” that are seen to hinder or even oppress the individual. Then these “systems” are rigorously critiqued through the lens of diverse (and at times contradictory) theoretical stances (always postmodernist in inclination).

And the result is a hodge-podge of meta-theory that provides to the student neither a clear understanding of sociology as a discipline with precise and marked parameters, nor a firm grasp of the nature of society or societies.

For example, trying to find a simple (yes, simple) definition of “culture” becomes an exercise in frustration. All these textbooks offer is endless examples of culture, followed by tedious ramblings in dead-end areas, like “cultural studies” and “media studies.”

And what does the student take away from all this? Who knows? Empiricism, the science behind sociology, is nowhere in sight.

The second problem with teaching sociology in our time is the fact that science has been abandoned in favor of relativism. And this has meant a loss of objectivity.

Sociology is now rife with a partisan mentality, which suggests that only those inside can properly study and explicate the forces at play in society.

Thus, for example, ethnicity can only properly be studied and explained by ethnic minorities. Anyone trying to study or comment on ethnicity from the badly labeled “dominant group” is simply someone trying to maintain existing power-structures that favor his/her dominance.

In this way education becomes social action. And yet we all know that the world is far greater in complexity than this one-dimensional attitude.

Certainly, it is the nature of all societies to include and exclude, which may be examined by ideas, such as, class, anomie, family, institutions, crime, roles, hierarchy, labeling, and socialization. These ideas have existed for as long as human beings have chosen to live together.

But can our students clearly and simply define these ideas? Have these ideas become part of their thinking? Do they understand the empirical basis of these ideas? Can they use these ideas to rise above the malaise of our civilization – relativism?

Sociology once more needs to teach from the common ground of empiricism. It must abandon relativism, which has effectively sabotaged the Humanities and social sciences.

Students no longer look for an education. But then education also used to mean knowing the basis of your goodness.

Who knows what goodness is, say the relativists? Despite that, the majority of human beings on this planet still want to be good.

Science does not need to be relevant, or engaging, or interesting (we only have to keep mathematics in mind).

Now that sociology has wandered away from its own discipline, as it tries to be all things to all people, it can only promote agendas, whether political or personal, and therefore it will rightly disappear. Who needs more attitude.

 

B. Hughes teaches sociology at college.
The photo shows, “Après l’office à l’église de la Sainte-Trinité,” painted in 1900, by Jean Béraud.