Fear and Loathing in The Wealth of Nations

Brandon Christensen

I’m plowing through Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations for the first time this quarter, and I recently came upon this sociological gem:

Fear is almost all cases a wretched instrument of government, and ought in particular never to be employed against any order of men who have the smallest pretensions to independency.  To attempt to terrify them, serves only to irritate their bad humor, and to confirm in them an opposition which more gentle usage perhaps might easily induce them [...]

I count this as a sociological gem because of its insights into how people with strong libertarian streaks are apt to view their government.  If there is one thing that a libertarian despises most, it may   just be the pretension of governments everywhere to demonize and demagogue a foreign people with the use of fear.

In fact, our co-blogger Jacques Delacroix has continually used this disgusting tactic to justify the violent use of force overseas to attain what he sees as benevolent ends: that of implementing democratic regimes throughout the post-colonial world.  Indeed, he writes:

“Petty tyrants” can easily become dangerous if they are allowed. Look at the fat-bellied little dwarf in North Korea. I am not willing to risk Seattle, or even Anchorage, or even Vancouver, B. C.

This display of fear, of unending, unyielding, constant fear of an imminent nuclear attack by petty tyrants, terrorist organizations, and trading partners betrays the façade that some “libertarians” (or even conservatives, or decent human beings) purport to uphold when it comes to the dignity of the individual.

The use of force overseas, of our military, for purposes that do not pertain directly to the defense of the republic, may sometimes be necessary or justified, but proponents of imperialism will never succeed in convincing libertarians – or anybody else who values human life over the mechanisms of the State – if they condescendingly try to play off of the fears of rational men.

I believe that the usage of fear that so many intellectuals depend upon to put forth an argument is done purposely.  For as Smith so keenly noted,  fear is not a good instrument to be used against independent-minded men.  It is for the weak-minded – the vulgar mass – that fear is best employed by governments.  One only has to take a quick glance at those in this society and in others to see that Smith’s observation in regards to the use of fear was correct.

Yet even when the intellectual class wins over the heart and weak mind of mass man, I do not believe he has done himself or his ideas a good service.  Oftentimes this fear leads to war, which in turn leads to destruction, and to death, and to the overall detriment of the society for which the intellectual was first trying to help.

It is fitting, I think, to remind readers that the 20th century’s worst mass murderers – collectivists all – were experts at playing off of the unjustified fears of their weak-minded countrymen.

Remember, one does not have to be a Libertarian to be a libertarian (pay attention to my use of capitalization).  When you read or hear or see a member of the intellectual class appeal to the use of violence (government) for attaining a specific end, be sure to remember the observations of Smith, and pay close heed to the use of fear to justify the probably unnecessary use of the State to accomplish the intellectual’s project.

44 thoughts on “Fear and Loathing in The Wealth of Nations”

  1. Valid point, Brandon. But non irrational fear is somewhat different, do we need to fear every tin pot dictator in the world? No, of course not. But a tin pot dictator with a deliverable (overtly or covertly) nuclear device is, to me, anyway a different case. Fear, not necessarily, anymore than you need to fear a rabid dog, but you need to solve the problem.

    1. Yes, of course we need to solve the problem, and I’ll get back to an outline for what I think Washington can do to help the situation in, say, the Korean peninsula, but first I would like to bring us back to the topic of fear. The nuclear weapons that despotic regimes desire are usually desired because of their ability to deter aggressive attacks by more powerful adversaries.

      Consider the reaction of Pyongyang to Western-backed Ghaddafi’s ouster. Ghaddafi gave up his nuclear program in exchange for foreign aid and foreign trade, and less than a decade later he was ousted from power by the very factions he gave up his nuclear program to. What lesson do you think analysts in Pyongyang drew from Ghaddafi’s brutal execution in the streets?

      Do you think that Pyongyang has acquired its nuclear weapons so that it can start a nuclear holocaust, or do you think it acquired its nuclear arsenal to keep Western power brokers from weakening or ousting the communist regime so that its victims may finally have their revenge? Just something to think about.

      As for strategy and helping to solve the problem, here is my suggestion: think about other states in the region. Beijing does not like the North Korean regime any more than we do, or Seoul does, or Tokyo does. Yet North Korea is very useful, as a buffer state, to the regime in Beijing. Although everybody in the region, and the rest of the world as well, would benefit immensely from a free North Korea, Beijing is not going to let that happen if the demise of Pyongyang means that 30,000 American troops will be stationed on its border.

      Washington’s contingency of troops in the peninsula, a leftover from a war fought over half a century ago, will have to be removed if we are to enlist the cooperation of China. And an orderly disintegration of the North Korean regime can only happen with the said cooperation of Beijing.

      Lest you think that I am naive and am too generous of the character of the fascist regime in China, I would also sell – publicly – nuclear weapons technology to Seoul and Tokyo as the withdrawal of American troops was occurring. This would get Beijing’s utmost attention, and would most certainly contribute to its cooperation with the United States and others in working on a solution to North Korea.

      I do not want to hear any objections about our allies acquiring nuclear arsenals, either. Such an objection would immediately downgrade the status of Tokyo and Seoul from allies to mere dogs, a view that I suspect many hawks secretly harbor about many of the regimes who cooperate with Washington in matters of Realpolitik.

  2. Good point on Pyongyang, there is of couse the old convention that non-nuclear powers can war on each other, a nuclear power can make war, conventionally, or by proxy, on a non nuclear power but, nuclear power can only make war on each other with proxies (on one or both sides). In theory that reduces the threat of the tempation to cross that threshold.

    I think you may well be right about Pyongyang, I hadn’t thought of it, frankly. and yes Beijing has always liked buffer states. I note that they didn’t get involved (openly anyhow) until US forces crossed the parrallel, same story in Vietnam. Incendently there’s a good story for someone in what would have happenned if we hadn’t supported the French in Indochina. One mistake we made, out of many, in post WW II Asia, we were, maybe still are, far too Eurocentric.

    Removal of troops from the ROK is going to be very difficult as long as the north is so aggressive, wonder what would happen if we could convince the PRC that we will never cross the parrallel. Would that seem a reasonable compromise to them. I personally have no trouble with the technology sales to ROK and/or Japan, I would suggest that they, especially Japan, would be quite reluctant, however.

    I have many problems with some of our allies, not as much now, but especially during the cold war. Tokyo and Seoul are not among them. I see them as allies not people we support for Realpolitik reasons. Incidently, I always detested that we supported so many regimes that didn’t share any part of our values. America has always been and at its best is an idea or dream, when we make allies of dictatorships and such we devalue the morality that has always been part of the best of America.

    1. neenergyobserver,

      Great stuff! I don’t think North Korea is going to get much more aggressive. Special Economic Zones are being set up in the northern part of the state, and China is working harder to help keep Pyongyang from going overboard. Remember, Beijing would have a lot to lose were North Korea to AWOL.

      You are right that removing troops from the 38th parallel will be difficult, as many factions in both South Korea and the U.S. believe that Pyongyang would strike or at the very least become much more bellicose were we to withdraw.

      Yet, as of now, the North Koreans are essentially engaged in fair play. If there were no foreign troops along the 38th parallel, the excuse for periodically attacking South Korea would vanish, and Pyongyang would have to explain itself to the international community in a way that I think would deter them from doing so.

      Can you imagine Pyongyang’s excuse to Beijing after attacking a South Korean fishing vessel for no reason, and with no U.S. troops anywhere in the vicinity?

      I hadn’t thought about our allied regimes rejecting nuclear capabilities, but that certainly is a possibility. In fact, the more I think about, the more I think you are correct about Japan rejecting such an offer wholly. Either way, the public acknowledgment that Washington is going to remove its troops from the 38th and then supply her allies with nuclear capabilities would kick Beijing into high gear, and all without having to resort to war!

      All of this strategy would of course be going on while high-level talks were being held between the regimes of the region and Washington, of course. We wouldn’t want to play nuclear chicken, after all, but I think these diplomatic tactics would put the heat on Beijing to move a little faster. We need to prove to them, though, that we are serious about removing our troops from what would soon be essentially their border.

      Nothing will happen between Washington and Beijing until the 38th is clear of U.S. troops.

      Then again, we could probably just sit around along the 38th and watch Pyongyang inevitably collapse, but I think that is by far the most dangerous tactic of all.

      Tokyo and Seoul have been good friends since the end of WW2, and I think that Washington needs to work much more aggressively on getting our trading relationships with them right. It would be best if goods and services could move as freely between the U.S. and Japan and South Korea as they do between the 50 states!

      1. Tokyo and Seoul friends? Politically sure but, I seem to remember that there was a lot of bad blood left over after WWII. The Japanese have quite a record for racism almost on the SS level, which is weird in this case because the Japanese are an offshoot of the Koreans but, whatever, I’m no specialist in the area.

        You are hardly the first to not think through what another country may think of what we want to do, neither am I. It seems to happen to everybody.

        While I think you’re right about NK not getting much more aggressive, I think it has more to do with consequenses than anything else. If they do much on any larger scale sooner or later ROK and/or US is likely to do something more than talk about it.

        I have a lot of trust issues with Beijing as it happens. Their current push for weapons that could impinge on our Carrier Battle groups and the nearness of the Stait of Malacca make me very nervous. It could be benign, and is certainly their priviledge to build whatever military they want, I see a threat emerging here to the entire Pacific Rim in Asia all the way from Japan to Austrailia. To me it looks a fair amount like Imperial Japan in the ’30s. I’m just not ready to make big bets based on PRC promises. Time will tell.

        And, yeah, this is great fun.

      2. neenergyobserver,

        I love it! Just two things:

        1) The best path to friendship between nations has always been through trade. Just think about the effects that the European Union has had on the relations between Germany and France.

        2) Beijing’s military capabilities have been grossly overstated, I think. Imperialism, as Smith and many others have noted, is a burden, not a boon, to societies that decide to undertake such adventures. If the Chinese want to try and flex their muscles in the Pacific Rim, I say let them, and watch their tactics backfire ten-fold on them.

        Today, it is very hard for a state to invade another state and win a decisive war. So the onus is on more powerful states to cooperate with less powerful regimes, rather than coerce them, if they want some sort of foreign policy objective to be effective.

        The United States is by far the only state in the world that is capable of doing anything militarily that will have an effect on distant regions, and even Washington has had more trouble than it can effectively handle. While I don’t trust Beijing any more than you do, I don’t see the regime doing anything rash either, and not out of some sort of fascistic benevolence, but out of the self-interest that all states are inevitable designed for.

  3. Well, it a classic that you are reading, but I think that while Adam Smith’s book, The Wealth of Nations, is a good book, it seems a bit too dry to me at times, at least when I read it, which was years ago. Personally, I have always had problems dealing with his Leviathan-approach to economic life, as it was a bit harsh, and promoting a ruthless selfishness; which is a translation that many will never surrender. My opinion about his The Wealth of Nations, however, did change after reading his first book, The Theory of Moral Sentiment, which I read a few years ago.

    As the dispute in academics goes, some people perceive a paradox between the selfishness in The Wealth of Nations and the unselfishness in The Theory of Moral Sentiment, while others have been able to resolve the so-called contradictory positions as being non-existent. After reading The Theory of Moral Sentinel, you can say that I found myself in the latter category of those that were able to resolve the so-called paradox or conflicts in these writings. Nonetheless, from my understanding most simply perceive an undeniable paradox or conflicts, which, in my opinion, only leaves us far afield from the truth, meanings, and ideas of Smith.

    Personally, I resolved the issue by thinking that if Smith knew that his books present contradictory views of economic life, then reason dictates that he would have addressed this concern. Moreover, by resolving the so-called contractions between the two writings, one is able to perceive a more realistic model of capitalism in a modern society. In other words, from my perspective, the books have to read in tandem; otherwise, what ensues is actually a minimization of its value (i.e., The Wealth of Nations). By this, I mean that it is the reading in tandem or simply the reading of both books, which eventually allows one more fully appreciate his writings.

    On a personal note, during the past few years, my reading has been focusing on F.A. Hayek, Jürgen Habermas, and the relatively new field of comparative capitalism (CC) literature. It is also the latter, the CC literature, which actually necessitated that I resolve the dispute (i.e., the contradictions or paradox of Smith’s writing) in my own mind. By so resolving this dispute, I was more able to think more openly about economics as part of an evolutionary process (i.e., Darwinism); rather, than a static model of selfish economic life.

    Otherwise, good luck with your reading, and I look forward to hearing about your progress.

    1. Adam Smith a dry read?!? I’m shocked!

      I have not found The Wealth of Nations to be promoting a “ruthless selfishness”. What I found was an Adam Smith that was deeply concerned about the plight of the poor worker, and for the overall prosperity of global society.

      This is why, I believe, he advocated the minimal state.

      Comparative capitalism must be a fascinating read. On a complimentary note, such a field seems ripe to include the failures (and successes) of the socialist systems of the 20th century, since even here markets could not be suppressed, and, indeed, they even thrived…for the few who had access to the state’s rule-making capabilities.

      1. I find your observation interesting, because you find my views to be somewhat shocking.

        First, I want to make a point. You, others, and I share a common problem, which is the problem of knowledge, and perhaps even a problem in epistemology. This is because, despite our assumed-objectivities, there is always the ever-present dangers of biases and often inaccuracies stemming from an individual seeing with his/her own mind and not his/her eyes, or borrowing from concepts in social theory, we see what our minds prepare us to see.

        In the same vein, I admit my biases, as I did needlessly add descriptions such as brutal, Leviathan, and even selfishness, when the core of my position is simply that of “self-interest,” which is actually “the” one word or phrase that is the gist of the earlier mentioned controversy about his two writings. As for your comment, you rightly spoke of his promoting “minimal” government, and you are correct, it is a grand idea. I also agree that it is good to promote global prosperity.

        Second, at this point, however, this leaves us with a disagreement about “self-interest.” While I find his notion of self-interest in The Wealth of Nation a problem, you, on the other hand, contend that he is concerned about the plight of the poor. In this respect, the classical controversy of self-interest between the two writings notwithstanding, we are in disagreement about his self-interest in The Wealth of Nations.

        I should also add that there is an excellent discussion about this classic controversy in Viner Jacobs’ Essays on the Intellectual History of Economics.

        Moreover, my consolation on this point is that in the “beginning” sections of the book, it is admittedly reasonable for you perceive that he cares about the plight of the poor. However, in illustration of the problem, for example, is his description, and I am paraphrasing, of a division of labor that will turn people into stupid and ignorant creatures, though earlier praising the division of labor. You will read his exact wording in a later section of the book. Additionally, his only suggested remedy for addressing this horrible outcome seems to be the constriction of the growth of the division of labor. In other words, limit the growth of the division of labor, though only to a slight degree.

        One should also consider that in the interim between the two books is Smith’s sojourn to France. All seem to agree that the The Wealth of Nations is a direct product of this trip. As for what was occurring, or what he observes, in eighteenth century-France influences The Wealth of Nations. Samplings of these forces are Pierre-Francois Tubeuf’s proto-industrialization; his association with physiocrats, such as Quesnay, whom coined the term “mercantilism”; mercantile economics, pursuant to laissez-faire economics, promoting the removal of restrictions on internal trade and labor migration, the abolition of the corvee, the removal of state-sponsored monopolies, and the dismantling of the guild system.

        All of this, the controversy concerning removal of the guilds (i.e., craftsmen, quasi-trade unions, etc) notwithstanding, on a grand scale or macro scale admittedly sounds good. The reality is that on a more micro scale, it left intact a disregard for the immediate plight of the poor, as the earlier model of capitalism does.

        Then there is the modern relevancy of The Wealth of Nations, because his model from the eighteenth-century is actually non-existent in modern society. As I have often written, in modern society, there are pristine models of neither capitalism nor socialism, especially when the pristine model is The Wealth of Nations. The United States and China present excellent examples, which is a story for another day. The latter conclusion also led me to take an interest in the earlier mentioned CC-literature. For instance, there is Michel Albert’s Capitalisme contre capitalisme, and his discussion of an Anglo-Saxon model and a Rhine model, and many other theorists who continue to study varieties of capitalism.

        Granted capitalism, like the Enlightenment, is a grand ideal, but, like Smith’s capitalism, what remains of the original liberal project, is a more moderate-Enlightenment (i.e., in France, the French Revolution that we hail as the liberal revolution, antithetically, became a pillar of religious intolerance).

        Alfred Marshall said that economics always had a moral purpose, but there was not a clear line between science and art. His statement also that makes one wonder about the line between theory and practice, and where does the immediate plight of the poor fit in the study of wealth, though Marshall uniquely found economics to be both – a study of wealth and man.

        Third, The Wealth of Nations is a controversial book, and controversy implies different opinions, attitudes, and biases. Just as the issue of public expenditures for the poor has always been a controversial subject.

        In the same vein, some are also arguably promoting a distinction between the earlier and later writings of F.A. Hayek. There is an arguably distinction that can be drawn on his position on the same issue – public expenditures for the poor. While rightly hailing minimal government, Hayek, in his earlier writings, actually recognizes the necessities of allowing some public expenditure for the poor. Nevertheless, some contend that, in his later writings, he arguably backs away to a degree on this position, which is an argument that admittedly enjoys some validity to a degree. The difficulties with the later writings are Hayek’s poor health and the strong editing hand of the late William Bartley.

        Moreover, and here again, as in the controversy between Smith’s two writings, I find myself facing another controversy, contradictions or paradox, in even Hayek’s writings, though I did also eventually resolve this crisis in my own mind.

        In the end, I resolved these contradictions by looking at the totality of the author’s work or writings; but, then again, maybe I only see what my mind prepares me to see.

        Finally, it was good hearing from you, and I look forward to hearing about your progress on the book.

      2. Mulrickillion,

        I did not deserve such a long response to my musings. I am flattered.

        Hopefully my brief responses will be enough to fulfill your curious mind. I have just two of them: 1) Smith’s self-interest is not really a problem. Most of his arguments for helping the poor were done so to improve his own lot in life (as well as society’s). As you stated:

        Moreover, my consolation on this point is that in the “beginning” sections of the book, it is admittedly reasonable for you perceive that he cares about the plight of the poor. However, in illustration of the problem, for example, is his description, and I am paraphrasing, of a division of labor that will turn people into stupid and ignorant creatures, though earlier praising the division of labor. You will read his exact wording in a later section of the book. Additionally, his only suggested remedy for addressing this horrible outcome seems to be the constriction of the growth of the division of labor. In other words, limit the growth of the division of labor, though only to a slight degree. [emphasis mine - bc]

        When Smith perceives the division of labor to be denigrating to the individual, does he not make an argument to remedy the situation? Is this remedy not a call to both improve the plight of the poor and keep Smith from being surrounded by idiots?

        2) The Wealth of Nations is still very relevant to modern discourse. You state:

        Then there is the modern relevancy of “The Wealth of Nations,” because his model from the eighteenth-century is actually non-existent in modern society. As I have often written, in modern society, there are pristine models of neither capitalism nor socialism, especially when the pristine model is “The Wealth of Nations”. The United States and China present excellent examples, which is a story for another day.

        The Wealth of Nations was written to criticize the mercantile system and argue in favor of free trade. If you think tension between the two systems is non-existent, I invite you read neenergyobserver’s comments on this thread and comments by Talon’s Point on another.

  4. bc-I find your arguments interesting and valid from a philosophical standpoint. It makes a wonderful debate topic among intellectuals and grad students. However its application in the real world becomes less black & white, does Mr. Delacroix’s argument regarding North Korea then imply that America has an interest in colonizing this region of the world? (first, I guess, we should determine if you feel that when American businesses such as McDonald’s’ or Disneyland enter a “virgin” territory it is a form of colonization or expansionism, a philosophical argument which I know some intellectuals may indeed support)

    Yes the use of “fear can be used improperly and I agree. Fear such as say, a parent may employ “We shouldn’t go outside because all strangers are dangerous and out to hurt you honey” can be harmful. But cautionary dialogue instilling healthy respect (fear) “Be careful around the stove, it is hot and can burn you.” is an important part of growing up, is it not?

    If I understand your main argument correctly you are simply stating that we as a people must be watchful of our leaders and hold them accountable for their language justifying the use of military action. if that is the case you and I are in agreement.

    It seems though, that yer sub argument is that taking a “petty dictator” say Iranian President Ahmadinejad, at his word when he repeatedly states that he wants to destroy Israel, and America specifically and the West in general, and is pursuing such aims through his countries nuclear program is somehow giving into irrational fear.

    Now I may be mis-reading your argument, so forgive me if I am, and I understand I can be on the extreme end of Hawkishness, but this seems to me to be the more dangerous of world views. Not for me personally as an individual, but for the continued success of my country (which in the long run benefits me as an individual)

    I find it interesting that your argument can be applied in a different manner. I have taken the liberty of *paraphrasing one of your sentences above and if you will bear with me…

    *”If there is one thing that a libertarian despises most, it may just be the pretension of governments everywhere to demonize and demagogue a people with the use of fear.”

    I grew up when the counter-culture truly was the counter culture…now those individuals are “the man”. When I hear younger people talking about our current governments (lets just go with last 20 years or so?) use of “American military Machine to terrorize and conquer and indiscriminately kill all in the name of rich and greedy corporations” It is here that I am reminded of you earlier statement…

    *”If there is one thing ….”

    This is the exact tactic being used by the left (and many left leaning libertarians [counter culture becoming dominate culture]) to justify attacks on any conservative pro military, pro capitalist, pro a free and protected America candidate.

    I have listened to the CBS news all morning in the background while I have been typing this. I have heard how “selfish & mean” rich people can be, how Sen. Santorum (not my candidate of choice) wants to use the government to take away all birth control options for women, how our troops are “responsible” for the death and destruction in Afganistan over the last week, how great the Arab spring is for democracy in the region, endless health scares, gay bullying and more…

    Lolsidc!…Tell me who am I supposed to fear again?

    1. dysfunctional unit,

      Thanks for the thoughtful reply. Just two things:

      I have listened to the CBS news all morning in the background while I have been typing this. I have heard how “selfish & mean” rich people can be, how Sen. Santorum (not my candidate of choice) wants to use the government to take away all birth control options for women, how our troops are “responsible” for the death and destruction in Afganistan over the last week, how great the Arab spring is for democracy in the region, endless health scares, gay bullying and more […] Tell me who am I supposed to fear again?

      Yes, precisely. I suspect we have more in common than you would think.

      It seems though, that yer sub argument is that taking a “petty dictator” say Iranian President Ahmadinejad, at his word when he repeatedly states that he wants to destroy Israel, and America specifically and the West in general, and is pursuing such aims through his countries nuclear program is somehow giving into irrational fear.

      I don’t think I would look too deeply into the President of Iran’s comments on Israel. Anti-Semitism is prevalent throughout the Middle East, and I would look at these sort of empty threats as mere demagoguery rather than unfulfilled promises. Again, I think the thesis that Iran – however brutal the regime may be – is simply trying to acquire nuclear weapons to serve as a deterrent to more powerful states is still the strongest one yet put forward by policymakers, as I have yet to see any good rebuttals that don’t rely upon fear to critique it.

      What Tehran is essentially doing, when they issue empty threats against Israel, is drumming up fear and loathing in their populations, so as to better keep the weak-minded under their yoke.

      The Iranian regime is in no way capable of attacking a state as powerful as Israel. Its military apparatus is designed to prevent coups and possess powerful tentacles in nearby states to serve as a sort of buffer zone against its territory, but it does not have, nor does it wish to possess, long-range missile capabilities, much less an army and air force capable of launching sustained attacks on neighboring states.

      Keep in mind, too, my original observation that fear often leads to war. You may argue that because Tehran thrives off of fear, that we must keep a watchful, sometimes bellicose, eye on this state, but in order for fear to be effective for any regime, it must eliminate the independent-minded individuals in the society, or at least keep them under tight wraps. After the 1979 revolution this was easy, as the prevalent opinion of the time was much more generous to the theocrats who took power from the U.S.-backed puppet. Today, though, 32 years later, the regime’s empty promises of an Islamic democracy are not looked upon so keenly by, I suspect, a vast majority of the population.

      It has thus been a gift, then, for the Iranian regime, that we have invaded and occupied two of its neighboring states and have currently been waging war on it as well (and economic sanctions are an act of war). What could be more beneficial to a regime that plays off of fear than the threat of invasion by a foreign state?

  5. I agree completely with the opening citation. And (AND) I am afraid of the insane regime led by the pot-bellied, 28-year old four-star general who inherited it from his daddy. I am afraid because that regime has the means to hurt us badly and it’s increasingly desperate. What’s new?

    When any government starts saber-rattling I become very alert because, of course, that the quickest way to obtain compliance from the populace of any country, including of a democratic country. This does not mean that there are no real threats. 9/11 was not a product of my imagination, after all. (And if you think is was the result of an American conspiracy, I have nothing to say to you. You are out of the reach of reason.)

    1. Thanks for proving my point Delacroix:

      I am afraid because that regime has the means to hurt us badly and it’s increasingly desperate.

      What means? How do we know how many nuclear missiles it has? More than twenty? Less than five? What is their rocket capability like? All I see here is fear and loathing.

      As I argued earlier in the discussion:

      Yet, as of now, the North Koreans are essentially engaged in fair play. If there were no foreign troops along the 38th parallel, the excuse for periodically attacking South Korea would vanish, and Pyongyang would have to explain itself to the international community in a way that I think would deter them from doing so.

      Can you imagine Pyongyang’s excuse to Beijing after attacking a South Korean fishing vessel for no reason, and with no U.S. troops anywhere in the vicinity?

      You and your ilk continue to ignore, at everybody’s peril, the consequences that your own polity creates in international affairs, and your repeated attempts at falling back on old straw men is as tiring as it is dangerous. The regimes of Tunisia, Egypt, and, to a lesser extent, Libya, fell because of the inability of these states to control the marketplace of goods, services and ideas. It was the internet, the free circulation of ideas that the internet provides, and the technological progress brought to these societies by the marketplace that led to the downfall of those regimes.

      Those regimes also had no excuses – a la a hostile foreign military on their border – for maintaining a totalitarian-like grip upon all of society. Yes, they were all heavy-handed and corrupt, but goods and services could generally be exchanged in the marketplace, and the clandestine operations of the fallen states were nowhere near as paranoid as those which are bordering a significant presence of U.S. troops.

      State war, like agricultural and manufacturing jobs, is going the way of the dodo. The sooner we adapt our foreign policy to these changing conditions, the sooner we can work with others in freeing large swathes of the world from the grip of despotism.

  6. “The regimes of Tunisia, Egypt, and, to a lesser extent, Libya, fell because of the inability of these states to control the marketplace of goods, services and ideas. It was the internet, the free circulation of ideas that the internet provides, and the technological progress brought to these societies by the marketplace that led to the downfall of those regimes.”

    You’re close but academia is showing Brandon. The whole Arab Spring thing was started by a free marketeer who was harrassed out of business by the Tunisian government. It wasn’t their failure to control the martket, it was their attempt to control the market of a single young man that eventually brought down all three governments (and may yet do in Syria as well.

    As far as NK, goes, I worry about him same as Delacroix does but think the condition can be controlled. China may be coming to be the real bad actor in the neighborhood. Yes you blew off my earlier comment so I’ll expand a bit.

    Get out a map and look at the Stait of Malacca, almost all of the oil for the Pacific rim comes through here along with a lot of other stuff. If (and I’ll grant it’s a fair size if) China can get their drones working, they can close it. China wins, no messy invasions, if you want to eat from Tokyo to New Zealand, you do what China says. The only countermeasure is the US Navy, and it’s smaller than at the begining of World War I. (See my http://nebraskaenergyobserver.wordpress.com/2012/02/27/sea-lines-of-communication/ for more.)

    1. neenergyobserver,

      I think you are confused. I am not an anti-capitalist. Also, your logic is getting to be a bit faulty. It is okay. This often happens when one has his most precious beliefs challenged. You tried to prove me wrong here, but, as we shall see, it is you who has misunderstood the argument (and for the sake of ‘winning it’ I am afraid):

      You’re close but academia is showing Brandon. The whole Arab Spring thing was started by a free marketeer who was harrassed out of business by the Tunisian government. It wasn’t their failure to control the martket, it was their attempt to control the market of a single young man that eventually brought down all three governments (and may yet do in Syria as well.

      So let me get this straight: you don’t think it was a failure to control the marketplace that brought these regimes down, you think was a failure to control the marketplace that brought these regimes down? Don’t answer so quickly. Stop and think about your argument before you come back with some clever and witty comment castigating my education!

      I am not scared of China. I see them as trading partners and as potential allies, not as competitors or enemies. Incidentally, states don’t compete with each other, at least not economically, which is an argument you are trying to make. I do not think they have the capability to control the Pacific Rim. They can barely keep a lid on their own seething population. Also, I do not think that it would be in China’s interests to shut down trade flowing through the region, either. Beijing is just as interconnected to the global marketplace as the rest of us, and to do something so foolish as to try and disrupt trade in the Pacific Rim would do China more harm than good, and Beijing knows it.

  7. Yes, you are right, I was using you a as sounding board for ideas rustling around in my head. I think Mills (On Liberty), and I am paraphrasing, once said something to the effect that truth is the product of open discussion and great debate. You by now maybe realize that the issue of entitlement programs, and where they fit in the Libertarian ideal, and even that of the Democrat and Republican platforms fascinate me. For instance, even Habermas, though I did not earlier mention him, talks of the problems of social programs (i.e., growing bureaucracy, monitoring, and enforcement issues, etc), which only problematically engenders a growth of “civil privatism” among the receipients of such social programs. While I realize a basis of opposition that arguably stems from an American tradition (i.e., the Declaration of Independence), it is still an issue, in my opinion, that still needs venting.

    Otherwise, thank you for hearing me out and indulging my thoughts on this issue; and by the way, I enjoy reading your blogs.

    1. mulrickillion,

      Sorry it took so long to get back to you. I don’t quite understand what you are saying. Could you expand upon your remarks for me and for other readers who may interested in such an exchange?

  8. Your analysis and commentary aside, what jumped out at me in your post was the antiquated use of “men’ or “man” as a descriptive of the human species, which any unbiased observed would agree is made up of at least 50% females. While this invisibility of women written works – and plenty of other spheres of activity – was certainly the norm in Smith’s time, it makes you look ignorant at best today and at worst bigoted. After reading your post I do not believe this is how you intend to come across, but unfortunately you do and will continue to do so until you modify your terminology to include the other half of humanity.

      1. You can call it political correctness if you want, but the fact remains that is correct; about 50% of the global population is female. When you choose to employ the term ‘man’ a designation for all of humanity you are at odds with reality. It is an ideological choice that denigrates women and erases them from history and denies them a meaningful existence in society. It makes women invisible and men seem more important than they actually are. It is not a moot point. The power of words is great indeed; they shape our conceptions of reality and out place within it. As someone who employs them to share his views with the world, you should be aware of this.

        Incidentally, I looked at both the definitions you provided and see no problem with how I originally used the words.

        In any case, the original comment was made in good faith. I felt it was a point worthy of addressing and hoped to bring it to your attention as constructive feedback.

      2. Theo,

        You are correct about women being 50% of the population. If you had stopped after that sentence you might have saved yourself the trouble of appearing to be a busy-body, wishy-washy, hall monitor. Observe:

        When you choose to employ the term ‘man’ a designation for all of humanity you are at odds with reality.

        Really? It couldn’t have been that I was just too lazy to write “man/woman” instead of “man”? Or that it isn’t necessary to write “man/woman” when “man” will do? This is your excuse for calling me ignorant and a bigot? Sheesh! I’d hate to get drunk with you Theo! You’re probably an ornery little cuss. Can it be possible for your sermon to be any more sanctimonious? We shall see:

        It is an ideological choice that denigrates women and erases them from history and denies them a meaningful existence in society. It makes women invisible and men seem more important than they actually are.

        Again, really? Do you have an authoritative source for this statement, or are just lecturing from the pulpit again? Incidentally, women are obviously not invisible or meaningless in society (even when horribly ignorant bigots like myself use the term “man” instead of “man/woman”), or else there wouldn’t be a society to blog about in the first place.

        Disgusting! No wonder “liberal” is a dirty word in American political discourse. Now I know what all the fuss is about…

      3. Again, it was made in good faith. Notice I never called you ignorant or a bigot, I just noted that it makes you appear that way. There is a difference.

        A suggestion would be to employ the term ‘humans’ to represent humanity.

        As a thought experiment, could you ever imagine using ‘woman’ instead of ‘man’ as a designation for humanity? Would that do as well? I do wonder. An honest question.

        I am not sure that further exchange will contribute much more, so I will rest my case.

      4. “The terms masculine and feminine are used symmetrically only as a matter of form, as on legal papers. In actuality the relation of the two sexes is not quite like that of two electrical poles, for man represents both the positive and the neutral, as is indicated by the common use of man to designate human beings in general; whereas woman represents only the negative, defined by limiting criteria, without reciprocity. In the midst of an abstract discussion it is vexing to hear a man say: ‘You think thus and so because you are a woman’; but I know that my only defence is to reply: ‘I think thus and so because it is true,’ thereby removing my subjective self from the argument.”

        – Simone de Beauvior, The Second Sex

        http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/ethics/de-beauvoir/2nd-sex/introduction.htm

      5. Theo,

        The text you cited is not authoritative. There is no empirical evidence, for example, to back Ms. de Beauvior’s claims.

        You can use the term “woman” if you would like. Oh hey, and I should be able to use the term “man” if I’d like. Right?

      6. I choose to use humans or humanity. You can certainly choose to use man if you like, you will just be incorrect, which is the bottom line. By all means, carry on.

      7. Theo,

        Politically incorrect, yes. Well, maybe.

        Incorrect, though? You have a wild and propitious imagination.

        God forbid the state-socialists ever gain power again. You guys have given the world enough famines, imperialism, and assaults on free speech as it is.

  9. Indeed, you don’t have to be a Libertarian to be a libertarian. In fact, what Americans call libertarians are known in Europe as ultra-liberals, as liberalism is the ideology of free markets, civil liberties, etc. An American Libertarian would cringe at the idea of being called a liberal.
    Myself, being a libertarian of an even stranger variety (to American eyes), don’t even believe in unrestricted capitalism to be the very essence of liberty. Libertarian socialists (no, my dear American friends, that is not an oxymoron) believe in freedom of speech, association,religion and all other liberties cherished by Libertarians. Where we differ profoundly is in our understanding of what constitutes economic liberty – for we tend to consider that property, the very foundation of capitalism, is theft. (See: http://www.mondopolitico.com/library/pjproudhon/whatisproperty/toc.htm)
    That said, fear is indeed a loathsome way to get others to do one’s bidding. Of course, no libertarian, regardless of his or hers views on property, would support the the threat or actual use of violence as a legitimate way of conducting business between nations, let alone individuals. Any use of violence that is not strict self defense, is by definition meant to suppress the other’s right to life and/or liberty.

    1. JuanBP,

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I think that libertarians on both sides of the pond have more in common than we might think. Property rights, like every other human right, can easily be manipulated to serve the purposes of certain factions at the expense of other factions.

      Land, for example, can not rightfully be one’s property without stealing from everybody else (since it is held in common), but if a tax is implemented on the land in question, then whatever an individual (or group of individuals) does with the land is property.

      I could be obtuse here, so if you are having trouble following my logic, please, help me to better explain it by critiquing my argument. Many people will benefit, I think.

  10. One may substitute for Smith’s Fear is almost all cases a wretched instrument of government: fear is almost all cases a wretched instrument of politics, and capture the central theme of Richard Hofstadter’s The Paranoid Style in American Politics, as relevant today as ever.

    While personally I do not entirely rule out the possibility of well-meaning Wilsonian internationalism, one may reasonably conclude delusions of global dominance, nationalism and triumphalism with a pinch of xenophobia remain, regrettably, useful political and governmental currency.

  11. Well, Smith pointed the way away from mercantilism for most of Europe; that was good until Keynes was ennobled for providing the politicians a way to dump Smith. Very rational (Smith, not Keynes) and he gets 150 years of human history for a part of the globe…

    Back at the ranch, Machievellians represent all the rest of history codified succintly by Mar: “Power comes from the muzzle of a gun.”

    So yeah, Smith is the way I’d like it to be and I’d rather Libertarians than Democrats of Republicans. Not the way to bet though, is it?

  12. I couldn’t help but read a little on the argument of using ‘humanity’ v. ‘man’. Brandon, I just love how you argue people to bits; but let’s look at it purely from a linguistic point of view (and you’ll see that it is not bigoted, nor ignorant to use the term ‘man’ to refer to our species–homo sapiens.) ‘Homo’ (in this case) is the Latin term referring to ‘man’ or ‘humanity’–scientific fact. All languages derived from Latin use a similar term (l’homme, hombre, uomo etc.) to refer both to ‘men’ and to ‘humanity’. The simple fact that our word ‘man’ comes from a different linguistic root does not mean that it can only refer to males in our species. It takes on the same role as ‘homme’ or ‘hombre’ or even ‘homo’. Women are part of our species, right? If you want to get all politically correct, go ahead, but don’t do a half-baked job. If you insist that saying ‘man’ is bigoted or old-fashioned, then take it up with the scientists; see what they’d think of changing the classification for women to femina sapiens…P.S. it’s Simone de Beauvoir, not Beauvior

      1. Well, the Beauvoir correction was for both you and Theo…but the rest was just for Theo, as he insisted on taking such an aggressive stance against using the word ‘man’

  13. I thought I was done, but Michael has prompted me to renter the conversation. I have to reject that I have taken an aggressive stance on the position. I feel that I have argued it thoughtfully and respectfully. Yet the substance of my argument has not been address. Instead Brandon has offer witticisms and name calling, which while perhaps entertaining, does not add much to the dialogue.

    Michael does bring up an interesting point about the root of humanity being derived from the Latin homo. On this point I must whole-hardheartedly agree. But as Michael himself states, this is addressing the issue from a “purely linguistic point of view”, which while certainly legitimate, is but one of many. In fact within the field of linguistics we can properly categorize this approach as etymology.

    My original point was derived from a related viewpoint, namely the philosophy of language. While using the word ‘man’ to represent all people can be described as acceptable in that its intended meaning is widely understood and is etymologically correct as derivative of a Romance language word, it also preforms an underlying function of assigning primacy to men and a subordinate or unimportant role to women. While I do not ascribe this as your direct intention when using ‘man’, certainly it can be understood as an indirect consequence.

    Language and the way in which we employ it shapes our understanding of the world and reality. It is not a trivial matter. I do not need to tell anyone how to speak or write, that would accomplish nothing. It is however worth pointing out the power of language in shaping our conception, if only to make one reconsider the importance of ones words.

    Incidentially, it would be interesting to have a female weigh in on this debate. That, I hope we can all agree, is a voice that is sorely lacking in this debate.

    Respectfully, Theo

      1. I suppose I could respond with: prove that is does not. You present no empirical evidence to support your position, so it seems unfair that you would hold me to that standard. You can disagree with me if you want, which you certainly do, but the substance of the position I am advocating remains unchallenged.

  14. The writing’s on the wall, dude.

    In societies where people are free to use the term ‘man’ to describe humanity (*sigh*), there is more equality between the sexes. I am of course referring to Western society.

    In societies where law dictates equality between the sexes, and discourages or outright bans the the descriptive uses of the terms ‘man’ and ‘woman’ – like in the post-colonial states of Africa that mandate gender quotas in their parliaments, or Mao Zedong’s China; all influenced by Western socialist thought, of course – equality between the sexes is non-existent except in spheres where the law dare not go.

    Also, as a thought experiment, try this out:

    pretend I say that your argument makes you sound like a moron. Now, of course, you aren’t really a moron, but your argument certainly makes you sound like one.

    Does this sound familiar? I am not really calling you a moron, but you argument makes you sound like one, Theo.

    Now, apply this thought experiment with your observations that I am not ignorant or a bigot, and tell me what you find. Be honest Theo!

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