Category Archives: Western Civilization

What is Europe?

Thomas Brussig, a novelist from the former East Berlin, says he first got to know Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union when he visited during a book tour. During his stay, he recalls being constantly asked which Russian writers influenced him. Brussig didn’t give the obvious answers — Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. He instead named a third-rate Soviet writer, Arkady Gaidar. “I did it to exact a bit of revenge and to remind them what imperialists they had been,” he says.

Brussig says he has no special attachment to the Russians. He says the only Russian figure he actually views positively is Gorbachev. It was “his vision of a Common European Home that cleared the way for the demolition of the Soviet Union.” It was a dream of a Europe without dividing lines. “We shouldn’t act as though the border to Asia starts where Lithuania ends,” says Brussig. “Europe reaches all the way into the Ural Mountains.”

There is more here. Do read the whole thing (it’s about the relationship between Germans and Russians).

For the record, I can buy Brussig’s argument but why stop at the Ural Mountains and the Mediterranean?

From the Comments: What’s the difference between state-sponsored terrorism and geopolitics?

In a recent thread on the conflict in Crimea, a proposal to use the CIA – the overseas spying agency of the US government – against a small Russian population in the exclave of Kaliningrad was put forth by Professor Amburgey. My response followed as thus:

Suppose that VEVAK – Iran’s intelligence agency – created an industrial accident in regards to Toronto’s water supply. You and I would rightly consider this state-sponsored terrorism, regardless of whether or not Tehran took any sort of official blame.

Now suppose that the CIA created an industrial accident in regards to Kaliningrad’s water supply. I would consider this state-sponsored terrorism. You would consider this ________ (please fill in the blank).

Dr Amburgey responded with a “savvy geopolitcs.” The only thing I noticed here is the double standard in place. Why do we label violence undertaken by certain factions or organizations “terrorism” and the same type of violence undertaken by other factions or organizations as “geopolitics” (or “patriotism” or “war”)?

There is no difference. Categorizing the actions that both you and your enemy undertake as two different things is a good way to ensure that everything remains exactly the same. How utterly conservative!

From the Comments: Power and the Rhymes of History

Over the past couple of days, Notes On Liberty‘s house conservative, Dr Delacroix, has created quite a few waves with his fanciful thoughts about punishing Russia for its bad behavior of late. (Somebody remind me again about George W Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, and then let me know if that could have possibly set a bad precedent.) Professor Amburgey’s thoughts on power are worth another look:

In general, comparing a nation state to a human being is not useful. However, comparing the leader of a nation state to a human being can be sensible. The utility depends on how much power the leader has. I think there are several nation states where leaders have acquired enough power to assume that, in general, they are the decision maker. Iran springs to mind, as does North Korea. I’m beginning to think that Russia falls into that category.

I can buy this. However, dictators cannot be dictators without also having the broad support of the populace. This is why libertarians argue that it’s better to declare war than to topple a dictator.

Elsewhere, Dr Amburgey observes:

True. However Russia is turning into a dangerous regional power with dangerous territorial ambitions. Pretending otherwise is silly.

Russia only turned dangerous after the United States spread itself too thin. Keeping our own house in order will do more for world peace and prosperity than bombing other countries indiscriminately (or having the world-renowned CIA engage in “secret” terrorism!).

NEO adds his own eloquent thoughts to the mix. In response to my observation that the Cold War is over, NEO writes:

Maybe, Brandon. But the surest way to make sure it does, or something similar in Asia, is to believe it can never happen again.

The comparison for that is the “War to end all wars” leading to the new 30 years war.

That the weakness in libertarianism, actually. The oceans aren’t nearly as effective a barrier as they were in the days of the Royal Navy controlling them for us, and unless we only want free trade in CONUS, we’d best take care of it ourselves.

Will it be the same? Nope. But it will happen. If not Putin, somebody else.

As Mark Twain observed, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.”

Again, I think NEO’s observations tie in well with Dr Amburgey’s about the potential for rising, autocratic powers to do bad things. However, we have only ourselves to blame for their rise.

For instance:

  • Was the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq a good idea?
  • Was bombing, invading, and occupying the Balkans a good idea? (Why don’t you tell me what the Russians think…)
  • Is it smart to still be occupying Afghanistan long after Osama bin Laden’s death?
  • Is it really necessary to have tens of thousands of troops along the 38th Parallel?
  • Does bombing poor countries in the name of liberation (not liberty) solve the underlying structural problems that poor states face?
  • Does supporting dictatorships that actively oppress Islamic fundamentalists help or hurt individual liberty?

In my mind, Russia has not grown to be a mid-major power. The United States has simply been caught with its pants down. This is why you read about ideas like terrorizing Russian citizens in Kaliningrad as a way to counter Moscow’s deft calculations. I cannot think of a better signal to the world that the US is weak then a resort to state-sponsored terrorism. Can you?

Undercover Occupants

[Editor's note: the following is a short essay by Payam Ghorbanian. Payam was born in Tehran, Iran. He got his bachelor of science in Engineering from Zanjan University in Zanjan, Iran. He has been participating in liberal political activities and he was involved with some think tanks in Iran. He is doing research in the field of international relations and Iran's foreign policy as an independent activist. He is now living in San Jose, California.

I am excited to post his thoughts because of their potential as a conduit for intercultural dialogue and exchange. I have left his essay largely intact, but did break up some of his longer paragraphs for clarity's sake. Thanks to Payam for taking the time to write this.]

One of the worst Persian attitudes, which really makes me upset, is that we really like make everyone feel pleased and at the same time we are trying to make our friends, our families member, and finally ourselves feel proud. This seems to be just wasting of time and even sometime more than wasting. It really holds us back from being flexible and being more focused just on our life.

The fatal mistake in terms of power games is taking one step back because of pacifying your enemies. I remember these fatal mistakes occurred during Mr. Khatami presidency (1997 – 2005) and it seems that it is going to happen again. During that time reformists tried to please everyone. Liberals, communists, and extremists could fit in themselves in what they portrayed for future of Iran. The goal of “let’s get together” is just useful for the specific action and in a limited time not for unstable country like Iran. We are not taking the issues for the country like Switzerland. In fact, you cannot just chant when your enemies are ready to die for their sinister goals.

Mr. Rohani and his consultants during last month just tried to convince the middle class people that they are so preoccupied about what he has promised during his presidency campaign.  Rohani also said: “… I have never forgotten what I had said to my people but you should understand; there would be a prolonged way with unforeseen obstacles that we have to pass it through together…”. However, this is not the way that people of Iran are thinking and believing at this time. The fact is that the imprisonment of leaders of green movement has been lasting up until now and there are still so many political prisoners in prison. In fact the pace of executions is still through the roof and opposition can be called easily sedition.

All of these issues just mean that the new government and the new goals of basis changes have not been acknowledged by the powerful organizations that live in the parallel world of responsibility. These groups of extremists can take any action whenever they want without taking any obligation and no one has the authority to prosecute them. They are not supposed to be questioned and on the other hand, no one knows who they really are. I call them “Undercover Occupants” which means obviously they are connected to somewhere but where exactly this department of power is remains the question that no one has the answer of. There are always lots of rumors which they are the members of Basij militia or some religious departments but it is still in denial.

Four years age, in 2008, during the rebellious days of Tehran, these undercover occupants attacked The University of Tehran. So many students were injured and finally the supreme leader commanded the “Supreme National Security Council” to get involved and back them off. They also tried to condemn in public during the chairman of Islamic parliament (Ali Larijani) speech. In fact Ali Larijani is so close to the supreme leader! These undercover occupants were also involved in occupation of the embassy of the Great Britain in Tehran, which caused the big collapse of foreign policy for Iran. I can count thousands of these nonsense and non-logical movements which sometimes caused the supreme leader’s reactions. Occupants recently confronted president Rohani and actually went up against him after he got back home from New York. They criticized him that he was not authorized to talk to president Obama and that he put country down.

They are just like the people who think the mission of possessing of sacred goal is on their shoulders, no matter what would be the responsibility. When they think there is a threat they just interfere. I heard some of them are the presidents of the industries who occupied the manufacturing companies of Iran after the revolution and also the business men who could take advantage of governmental economic rent during these 35 years; therefore, they should be concerned about their positions when the wind of change flows.The undercover occupant groups really remind me of the Nomenklatura category inside the Soviet Union

Obviously President Rohani has decided to discard his goals about his domestic policy for a while until the nuclear issue and sanctions are still on the table. He really thinks being triumphant in talks between Iran and 5+1 can help him precede his domestic policy inside the country. However and on the flip side, the extremist members of the Islamic Parliaments and some members of the Revolutionary Guard put their total vigor to not let him proceed. The upcoming parliament’s election and economical situations will be so important for the players of this poker table. The supreme leader has not taken a side yet which is so meaningful in Islamic Republic of Iran. As I have heard, during this year the economic situations in Iran are getting better. The hope of better future has still long way to be cultivated but people are still hopeful to upcoming talks. These are all proofs that show us having better relations with powerful countries will help you to have better chances. We are not living in the separate worlds and our planet is so combined that being isolated just deprives you not anyone else.

Last month, foreign ministers of European countries and especially Mrs. Ashton had several meetings with foreign minister Zarif. Mrs. Ashton recently went to Iran and talked in person with Mr. Rohani. She had also a meeting with some political prisoners and their family members, which dragged the undercover occupants to the front of the Austria Embassy where that meeting had occurred. They were claiming who let her to talk to the “Fitna” followers, the name which they have been using for naming oppositions in Iran during election in 2008. After while the extremists in parliaments called up Mr. Zarif and the Minister of Intelligence and Security. They asked the same question that undercover occupants had asked before.

One of the recent issues which might partially help the extremists inside Iran for improving their positions is the issue of Ukraine. The commander of IAF (Iranian Armed Forces), Hassan Firuzabadi, clearly shows respect to what Russia has done inside the Ukraine and Crimea. He also said the vandals just pulled off the coup and it was not the process of legitimate transactional and transformational leadership. Now they believe the most newest powerful country just pops up and subsequently the consolidation of 5+1 is fragile right now so there is no need for retreating at this time which I think it could be somehow the fact that the United States and the NATO don’t want to respond literally to the Russia and president Putin in order to force them back. Finally the internal battle inside Iran would go on and this battle would demonstrate the balance of political groups, the supreme leader and the Revolutionary guard. It could be one of the effective occurrence for Iranians.

A Bit More on Ukraine

Evgeniy’s plea for balance in the Russia-Ukraine conflict has produced, in my mind, an interesting dialogue on propaganda – both of the Western and of the Russian variety.

Let me come out and say with some conviction that I am not a supporter of the Putin regime. Nor do I believe much of the analysis that comes out of the Russian press. (This is because the vast majority of the Russian press is controlled by the state, and not because it is Russian or because it generally espouses pro-Russian sympathies.)

Evgeniy, for example, cites reports from the Russian press claiming that half a million people have fled Ukraine for Russia since the beginning of the year (when the demonstrations started). If half a million people fled from one place to another in a month, from anywhere in the world it would be headline news, but for some reason only Russian citizens have heard of this exodus? I don’t buy it.

Now, this number may be a misunderstanding based on a bad translation. In fact, I think this may be the case. My translation of Evgeniy’s comment states that the Russian press reports that “since the beginning of the year (January 2014) in Russia has resettled about 500,000 refugees from Ukraine.” Emphasis mine. Has this resettlement been ongoing since the end of the Cold War? However, judging by Evgeniy’s comment, it looks as if resettlement has only begun in January of this year, so if this is indeed the claim that the Russian press is making then it is obviously false.

Terry’s excerpted quote from the Daily Beast fares no better in the facts department, though, despite the Daily Beast being a private organization. The op-ed is an attempt to debunk “Putin’s Crimea Propaganda Machine” as if Putin has the power to control everything the Russian press publishes. State control of the media, especially in a country as large and diverse as Russia, does not mean that the bureaucratic process magically disappears. Bureaucracies and especially regulators are actors in their own right, and as such are beholden to certain constraints and processes that come with the way these institutions are organized.

So in the spirit of open inquiry and debate, there are a couple of facts I’ve gathered that I think are important to note.

  1. The President of Ukraine was ousted in a coup. He was elected by a very slim margin and accusations (from both sides) of voter fraud were rampant.
  2. The opposition that recently installed a new President therefore gave democracy the finger. This is not in itself a bad thing, but many Western observers tend to side with the pro-West faction as if it was democratic. It is not.
  3. The exiled President signed an agreement with the opposition last month guaranteeing early elections and more power to the legislature at the expense of the executive branch. This is as peaceful and as democratic as it gets, and the opposition gave, as I said, the finger to this agreement.
  4. The opposition has fascists in its cabinet. It has also installed Ukrainian Jews to high-ranking positions. The Muslim Tartars in Crimea stand to lose the most during Russia’s occupation.
  5. Ukrainians are sick of their government – right or left, pro or anti -and this has yet to be addressed by anyone other than Dr Foldvary as far as I can tell.
  6. No shots have been fired. Moscow has reiterated that it is in Crimea to protect its naval base and Russian citizens. I have a feeling that Russian troops will be back in Russia within the year. Crimea will get to keep its autonomous status within Ukraine, and Kiev will be forced to think twice before it attempts to impose its will on Crimea arbitrarily. This is a good thing, as it limits the size and scope of government.
  7. So far most, if not all, information about military activities have been coming from governments, not from the free press. This can only lead to more misunderstanding and more suspicion.
  8. War is the health of the state. In times like these, journalists should be criticizing their own governments rather than the governments of others. In the West, where the press remains relatively free, there is more criticism of government policies concerning foreign affairs than there is in Russia.

At the end of the day, I have to agree with Evgeniy’s plea for toleration and prudence: “Please do not judge this conflict only from one side.”

From the Comments: Musings on the Ukraine Fiasco

Riffing off of my post about the current crisis in Ukraine, Matthew writes:

Based on the track record of Russia vis a vis the West, I imagine the following scenario unfolding:

Russia (continues) to occupy the Crimea, while America and Europe (continue) to demand the withdrawal of Russian forces from the province. Putin, calculating that the West lacks the stomach for direct confrontation, refuses. Hysteria in the media and in government publications, which are ultimately the same thing, rises. A lack of direct conflict between Russian and Ukrainian forces, however, lends little credence to the mass panic broadcast over Western media. The furor dies down in time. Russian presence becomes normalized in the Crimea.

Or, the interim government, bolstered by further illicit monetary aid from America, pulls a Georgian move and attacks the Russian forces stationed in Crimea. Russian forces will quickly rout the Ukrainians sent against them, and most likely march towards Kiev – whether they take it or not will depend on the response of the international community, as with Georgia. Regardless of who instigated the violence, the Western media will blame Russia, and the war drums will grow louder. UN sanctions are unlikely, since Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council, but some form of economic punishment will occur. Russia will draw closer to China, Iran, and Syria. The status quo ante will be upended in no one’s favor: Ukraine will be in shambles, Russia and America will be set at odds.

Regardless of the above two scenarios, meanwhile, the Ukrainian economy is in free fall, and the IMF offers the dual poisons of austerity and liberalization to the interim government. Facing an intransigent Russia and the wolf-faced smile of the West, the interim government accepts the IMF’s offer. Like Russia before it, Ukraine is left even worse for wear by the rapid pace of economic liberalization, and is thus too weak to resist the Russian presence in Crimea. Thus, the West has succeeded in breaking off a chunk of post-Soviet Ukraine and bringing it into its influence, while Russia largely retains what it had beforehand: its Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, along with the de facto annexed province of Crimea. It is too early to tell, but perhaps the rest of Russified Ukraine will also join their brothers in Russified Crimea, and the state will break up along linguistic lines.

Who can tell what will occur? My money is on Russia, but maybe Obama will come up with some game winning stratagem (don’t snicker!).

Does anybody else care to make their predictions? You know where the ‘comments’ sections is!

From the Comments: An embarrassment of riches, a stable full of straw

Below are some more thoughts on “total liberty” and bad faith.

My argument in the threads with Marvin has intended to be one that displays two points of view, rather than to be one of persuasion. Due to his responses to Dr Foldvary’s argument, I realized that he was uninterested in having an honest debate. I also realized that persuading him would be futile. So I instead have tried to illustrate – to readers and curious passersby – how Marvin’s arguments are fallacious (dishonest) and what to do about them by exploiting Marvin’s position. In order to do this I have kept it simple and tried to argue on Marvin’s terms (“speaking past one another”). Rick has an insightful, must-read summary of our arguments, and he also furthers our understanding of freedom in the process.

I am not quite done, though. I am still unsure if I have accomplished my task of exposing Marvin’s arguments as fallacious. I want to be sure that readers don’t take him seriously in the future should he decide to continue trolling the ‘comments’ section. Marvin states matter-of-factly that:

The problem is that I have a better handle on the truth than you do.

Now, in the interest of honest debate, I hope that everyone can see how Marvin’s assertion shows how he is being dishonest. I have pointed out his straw man fallacies for a while now, and I want to get the point across that Marvin’s characterizations of libertarian ethics are based upon the above-quoted viewpoint.

Given that Marvin believes he has a better handle on truth than I, how can I (or you as a reader) expect to get an even-handed argument from him? If you believe that I have mischaracterized Marvin’s arguments (as he has done to mine and Dr Foldvary’s and soon-to-be [?] Dr Weber’s), please point out where in the ‘comments’ thread.

Again, my task is much more simple than Rick’s. I wish to merely show how Marvin’s argument is based on falsehoods. I think his comments elsewhere suggest my hunch is right. (Rick, by the way, has been much more generous to Marvin than I, a position for which he has been rewarded by being called a homosexual with an unhealthy obsession for Marvin (“My name can’t stay off of Rick’s lips,” according to Marvin the Truthspeaker).)

Marvin’s main error in reasoning, in my judgement, is that he creates positions that nobody has made and then draws conclusions from those created positions. Sometimes he restates arguments that nobody has contested as if they were contested and then proceeds to explain why libertarians should not (or do) contest such an argument. This is sophistry at its most vulgar.

Does everybody follow? Dr Amburgey?

His last response to me in the ‘comments’ is a good example of what I mean. Marvin writes:

Brandon [quoting me]: “Society A (the one with no rules prohibiting murder) does not have total liberty because its members do not have freedom from unwarranted aggression.”

[Marvin:] If a society has a consensus that murder should be punished then it effectively has a rule prohibiting murder whether the rule is explicitly written down or not.

Yes, and what exactly does this have to do with my argument? With Fred’s? With Rick’s? With Hank’s? Marvin continues:

If a society has no agreement that murder is wrong then its sense of justice either presumes any murder is justified or is indifferent to it until it affects them personally.

Again, this may be true, but what exactly does this have to do with my argument that “Society A (the one with no rules prohibiting murder) does not have total liberty because its members do not have freedom from unwarranted aggression”? Where does it follow from this statement that rules prohibit total liberty? It’s almost as if Marvin is talking to himself rather than to a group of people. There is nothing wrong with thinking out loud, but it seems to me – based on this response and on past responses – that Marvin thinks he is replying to an argument somebody else has made rather than thinking out loud.

Marvin continues to pummel me:

(b) The meaning of “liberty” is “freedom to”, not “freedom from”. “Freedom to” means you can pursue your happiness with minimal restrictions (“total freedom” would imply no restrictions at all, a liberty to do what you please without fear of punishment).

Marvin goes on and on (and on) from there. However, this is simply wrong. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a good summary of the ‘freedom to’ versus ‘freedom from’ distinction. Basically, the ‘freedom from’ folks look at external factors (such as government) that inhibit liberty, whereas the ‘freedom to’ folks look at factors that are internal to individuals (such as class). I don’t want to get into the details here, but suffice it to say this is not Marvin’s understanding of the distinction. Normally I wouldn’t have a problem explaining this misunderstanding, but given Marvin’s track record I’m going to skip out on doing so (unless somebody wants me to).

I’ve got one more example I’d like to use to hammer home my point that Marvin is not interested in having an honest debate. He writes:

Brandon [quoting me]: “Your attempt at distinguishing “private punishments” within Society A from “punishments of society” is also fallacious. Is society composed of numerous factions – most of them private – or is it a monolithic, dissent-free, homogeneous unit.”

[Marvin:] A consensus is not monolithic. If everyone had to agree to everything then nothing would be possible. To make cooperation possible, we created a democratically elected government with many checks and balances. And we agreed to respect the authority of the laws it creates, even laws we may disagree with, because we would expect others to respect the laws that we do agree with that they don’t. And the democratic process may correct or remove an unsuccessful law in the future. I may win the case today and you may win the case tomorrow.

My argument is that Marvin’s assumption about society is monolithic, not society itself. If you read my argument with an eye for understanding it you can easily see that. If you read my argument from a position of Truthspeaker it may be harder to do so.

One last point I’d like to mention is that Marvin also has a habit of changing definitions to suit his argument. Often he simply provides his own. This, of course, helps him to have that “better handle on truth” that nobody else at NOL seems to have.

Has this cleared anything up? Muddled it further? Am I coming off as an ideologue or somebody who is trying to weed out falsehoods?

There are plenty of rules in a libertarian society. The fact that there are rules does not mean that ‘total liberty’ is lost because of it. Such a characterization is the epitome of a straw man. Rick takes the idea of total freedom to the next level (so read up!), so all I’m trying to do here is make sure that everybody understands Marvin’s sophistry. I think understanding sophistry is important because it tends to mellow people out: If you can understand the falsehoods in an argument you can craft up a cooler response.

Implications of Schopenhauer’s Aesthetic Theory

Last night I returned from a very productive philosophy conference at Clayton State University in Morrow, Georgia (just outside Hotlanta) where I gave the following paper on Schopenhauer’s aesthetic theory. Thus far I am at a very preliminary stage in my thoughts on how this theory could work practically speaking, but the following contains my most refined thoughts on the matter.

Arthur Schopenhauer, in his argument for philosophical pessimism based on the eternally frustrated and suffering will, outlined three paths for escape from the terrible nature of the world: the aesthetic experience, the path of holiness, and ascetic negation of the world. Although he placed the highest value on ascetic negation, the aesthetic experience is the most sublime of Schopenhauer’s paths to salvation, for the subject is able to exist within the world but beyond its suffering by contemplating various sensory objects aesthetically, in terms of their beauty. However, Schopenhauer considered this experience to be only a “momentary salvation,” and so its utility in the moment is tempered by long stretches of unremitting suffering.

By contrast, I will argue that the “momentary salvation” from the will found in the aesthetic experience is anything but, and that it is possible to maintain the experience not as a singular moment, but as an almost continuous state of being. By reevaluating the objects of desire, as well as abandoning the value judgments attendant upon them, the idea of beauty may be broadened to potentially include any sensory object. Further, by desiring a state of no desire, and thus abandoning a concern over the ends of actions, the willing subject is able to exist in a state of disinterest concerning the world around him. Through these reconceptualizations, the individual subject may exist in a primed state where each object is beautiful and thus a potential catalyst for the aesthetic experience. A succession of aesthetic experiences will then wash over him, making it possible to exist joyously in the world.

Before moving on to the aesthetic experience itself, it is necessary to draw a brief sketch of Schopenhauer’s metaphysics and his argument for philosophical pessimism, which must be distinguished from the mental state of pessimism as such. The argument for pessimism relies on the metaphysical necessity of the Will. This Schopenhauer conceives of as the “thing-in-itself,” a primal force that simply exists, free of the constraints of space, time, causality, and the principle of sufficient reason, which “requires us to acknowledge that there is no fact or truth which lacks a sufficient reason why it should be so, and not otherwise.” It is useful to think of the Will as an ocean, for it is groundless, without reason or explanation, and consequently perfectly spontaneous and free. It is an ocean of “becoming,” for being unlimited by logical, temporal, and spatial restraints, it lacks the basic criteria which enable definition and the existence of “being” in the phenomenological sense.

All things that exist are like waves being sent up by this illimitable sea, as instantiations of the Will at once distinct from but also intimately connected with it, for just like waves, the Will’s subsidiary instantiations are separate but simultaneously connected by being individual aspects of the Will on one hand, and being subsumed within its totalizing force on the other. Once the Will has created individual instantiations, these objects lose all the unbounded characteristics of the Will as thing-in-itself: they are subordinated to the principle of sufficient reason; they do exist in the realm of space, time, and causality; and they do exist in a deterministic framework. This is what Schopenhauer refers to as a “representation.”

Every representation has what Schopenhauer calls a “double aspect,” the distinction between the body, both as a third-person object, and as an individual instantiation of the Will as a first person subject. All representations exist as objects when viewed by others, but they are also capable of viewing themselves as subjects. This faculty inheres in all representations in various degrees, with a hierarchy stretching from inanimate objects like stones at the bottom, to human beings at the top, separated only by the degree of knowledge each possesses. For example, the stone is inert, mindless will; the bacterium strives for its existence, but blindly and without knowledge; the animal strives with some degree of cognizance, but without any sort of reflexive intelligence; and so it is only the man that is the full embodiment of knowledge and will, and is capable of understanding both his own objectification, and recognizing it in others.

The Will does this solely because it is the pure essence of lack. Precisely because it is unbounded by any constraint, it is perennially frustrated – it eternally desires being from becoming, and as such sends up representations of itself in order to fulfill this primal lack. However, the Will only succeeds in transferring its basic frustration to its subsidiary instantiations, which are imperfectly objectified manifestations of the Will. As aspects of being, their desires embodied and can be fulfilled through interaction with other representations, but the ability to fulfill desire initiates a cycle defined by desire-satisfaction-desire again, and thus all willing “springs from lack, from deficiency, and thus from suffering.” Because of this, there can never be any true, lasting satisfaction, for in fulfilling these incessant demands of the personalized will we attain a “final satisfaction [that is] itself only apparent; the wish fulfilled at once makes way for a new one; the former is a known delusion, the latter a delusion not as yet known.” Every act of willing merely perpetuates the will, thereby ensuring that a single satisfying moment will inevitably fade and give way to dissatisfaction, making lasting happiness impossible.

The only way to attain lasting peace would be to step outside the constraints of the Will. This is hardly possible, because in seeking to transcend your own will you are engaged in an act of willing, and even if you were capable of fully escaping your own will, you would still be a manifestation of the Will as thing-in-itself, thus violating the Law of the Excluded Middle. There can be no permanent respite from the Will, no peace from its desires, because “as long as our consciousness is filled by our will, so long as we are given up to the throng of desires with its constant hopes and fears, so long as we are the subject of willing, we never obtain lasting happiness or peace.” Without lasting peace, there cannot be lasting happiness. What Schopenhauer concludes from this is that, because enjoyment is only fleeting, and one can never obtain true peace, the only logical conclusion is that happiness is really impossible. Pessimism, as the acceptance of these conclusions, becomes the only logical viewpoint available.

The Aesthetic Experience

However, there are opportunities, at times, to seemingly escape the will. Schopenhauer explains that when an “external sense or inward disposition raises us out of the endless stream of willing, and snatches knowledge from the thralldom of will, the attention is now no longer directed to the motives of willing, but comprehends things free from their relation to the will.” When you as the knower experience art, you become such that you are a will-less, timeless, painless, disinterested knower, with all objects of contemplation “given up in so far as they are merely representations, and not as motives.” If you get to this state, you experience a calm and quiet state, the “essential ingredients of happiness.” When you see something of incredible beauty, you are caught up in it and forget your anxieties. And then what happens? Your stomach growls and the spell is broken, because the will and its objectification gets in the way. The disinterested subject is not disinterested in the object of contemplation, but in the needs arising from the imperfectly objectified will, his own body. The only way to escape the will is through brief, transient immersion in the beauty of the moment. The germ for the end of this immersion is contained in the moment itself, which is by nature transient, and which will end in time. This is what Schopenhauer defines as the “aesthetic experience.”

In formal terms, when engaged in contemplating an external object in the aesthetic experience, the subject undergoes a startling metamorphosis, whereby he transforms from a particular, subjective knower to the pure, will-less subject of knowing: “a pure intelligence without aims or intentions.” By letting the aesthetic experience take hold of him, the individual subject begins to transcend the principle of sufficient reason, in that the “where, when, why and whither” in things is disregarded in favor of the “what” – objects are viewed as their essential “objectness,” (the “appleness” of an apple, say), as Will-in-itself, distinct from the striving instantiations of will in the world as representation. The knower transitions from being subordinate to the principle of sufficient reason to being a pure contemplator of Ideas, a “faithful mirror of objects,” and thus paving the way for the pure object as Idea.

When the object itself goes from a particular substance to the Idea of that substance, the “complete objectification of the will takes place, for only the Idea is the adequate objectivity of the will,” and thus the Will-in-itself is revealed to the subject. This occurs when the will qua imagination is enveloped in a largely spontaneous experience, becoming passively untethered from the grasping will, but without losing either its activity or its perception. The object, as “nothing but the representation of the subject,” passively unites with the subject, both equally coming under the purview of the Idea. When subject and object are in complete equanimity, having “filled and penetrated each other completely,” only the true world as will is left standing . This is not only the union of subject and object in the contemplation of the universal Idea, but also the union of subject with the Idea-in-itself, or the Will. For, in contemplation, the will acts as the thing-in-itself of both Idea and the particular knower, objectifying them completely. Without the object to contemplate, the knower is just the summation of his desiring impulses, and without the knower to contemplate it, the object is just inert will. By becoming enveloped in the aesthetic experience, the knower becomes one with the Will-in-itself.

Because the will drops out in the aesthetic experience, and thus the whole cycle of willing itself, the experience becomes a salvation from the “slings and arrows” that so predominate in life. When absorbed by the experience, the individual subject is temporarily one with the Will-in-itself, which is latent, passive; there is no longer a need to act in the world, and the cycle of willing is temporarily broken. But, because the demands of the will inevitably encroach on the experience, the individual subject eventually must be divorced from the Will-in-itself, and return to fully inhabit the world as representation. That is why, for Schopenhauer, the salvation is only momentary.

The Aesthetic Experience as Everyday

All forms of salvation involve the disappearance, or negation of, the will. Schopenhauer argues that the world must be negated because, being full of suffering, it is evil. He judges what the world is as immoral, and argues that because it is immoral, we as moral agents must remove ourselves from it is far as we can. Asceticism is the highest path to salvation for him, because in essence it is a negation of desire and thus of the evil of the world. Yet, in a world axiomatically rooted in desire, there is no real way to escape desire – even negation of desires as in asceticism is still a desire to negate. It is a conundrum for him to demand that the subject both live in the world as a willing being, while also attempting to negate the willed world by the very act of willing itself.

This drive to nihilism is destructive and ultimately impossible; the only other option is to affirm life, and if operating within Schopenhauer’s framework, the only way to do this is by engaging in the aesthetic experience. The aesthetic experience seems to offer only a momentary salvation, but this is only because the experience is dependent on beauty, which is itself dependent on the biases of the individual knower. What is traditionally considered beautiful – a particularly glorious morning, or a gorgeous piece of art, what Schopenhauer calls the beautiful and the sublime respectively – is too narrow a category. By redefining what is beautiful to potentially include all objects, the knower becomes predisposed to having an aesthetic experience with almost anything. When existing in this primed state where all is beautiful, it becomes possible to have back-to-back aesthetic experiences.

This is certainly possible, for in assigning humanity a double-aspect, as objectified will and subjectified self, Schopenhauer has provided for this contingency in his own philosophy. For the individual human agent is, by virtue of being a subjectified manifestation of the will in his very essence as an agent, the only one capable of moving his objectified body towards or away from some sensory object. Not only this, according to Schopenhauer, “existence and perceptibility are convertible terms.” Every representation in the world besides myself exists only as an object, and this object’s characteristics are entirely structured within space, time, causality, and the principle of sufficient reason; namely, “the whole of this world is… [the] perception of the perceiver.” Because all sensory objects are structured by our own minds, it is feasible that our own minds are able to reevaluate and reinterpret these sensory objects. Thus removing the influence of sensory desires and aversions begins with the agent himself, in a conscious effort at reconceptualization. Each individual has different desires, different biases towards and against certain things, and all of these are certainly a product of subjective experience. If they are a product of subjective experience, it possible that they can be changed by further subjective experience.

Everyone has likely had the experience of finding something particularly delightful, a song, a book, a certain food, and then later, inexplicably, found it dreadful and never thought about it again. By contrast, someone may hate the taste of, say, avocados and then grow to love them later in life. Both scenarios involve reformulating a judgment related to a sense object, either a book or an avocado, on a conscious level. More importantly, things that once called up intense responses and emotions may inevitably cool to a state of indifference. It is certain that everyone has had the experience of being angry, and over time the anger cooled until it was as if nothing had happened. The question is, what was it that precipitated this change from intense emotion to placidity? The objectified body cannot act on its own, but is impelled solely by the subjectified will, so it must be some aspect of the will as such which moves a person from anger to calmness, or from like to dislike, and vice versa.

Indeed, it must be asked here how judgments are made at all. To a great extent the sensory organs structure the phenomenological world that we operate in, but it is not the eye that sees or the ears that hear, it is the mind. When contemplating an external object in the ordinary way, (that is, in relation to one’s will ) we are confronted with sense impressions that are then structured by our minds into images, sounds, et cetera. Depending on our disposition, we are likely to judge these impressions as good, bad, or possibly indifferent. The smell of ice cream, or of excrement, would likely be classified as good or bad respectively, while the sight of a red car versus a blue car likely as indifferent. Thus, the perception of an objective representation is closely tied up with the judgment concerning that representation. This is even more intuitional when we consider interpersonal relations: our own mother may be incredibly dear to us, but to anyone else on the street she is simply another woman walking by. In both cases, she is the same person, but how she is judged greatly changes the perception.

Insofar as this is a conscious process, we are able to change our judgments of objective representations at will. Because perception is frequently bound up with judgment, neutrality in perception is contingent on eliminating most value judgments. It is proper to consider our own mother to be valuable, but it is tenuous to claim a preference of a blue car over a red car is equally so. Such a value judgment is entirely subjective and changes according to the individual perceiver. Not only is a value judgment simply a subjective assessment of the goodness or badness of an objective representation relative to our own will, it is also an appraisal that this objective representation ought to be something – the red car ought to be blue to suit my preference – and so it is completely bound up with desires and aversions. Because beauty is just a value judgment about how some object ought to appear aesthetically, by abandoning subjective judgment concerning the beauty of an objective representation, everything is equally beautiful in a world where the very idea of “beauty” itself is valueless. Taken to its logical extremity, with this abandonment the world is transformed from a realm of differing sensory objects to one of supreme indifference, each object being equivalent with the next.

Beyond altering the objects of desire and aversion, it is possible to stymie desire itself through denying the will its aspect as something eternally lacking and desiring to fulfill this lack. However, if Schopenhauer’s metaphysical basis for pessimism is granted, the desire which continually perpetuates the cycle of lack is inescapable. Instead, the highest goal must be to divest the will from intelligence entirely, for if intelligence is completely freed from the constraints of the will, it will be able to comprehend all objects indifferently. Indeed, this is what occurs in the aesthetic experience and allows for peaceful contemplation of the world. Schopenhauer considers the intellect, in comparison to the will, “variable, limited, [quick to] tire, and its judgments are subject to manipulations by matters of will like fright, fear, hope, love and hatred… for ‘what goes against the heart, the head does not let in.’”

To approach this goal, one cannot deny the will, but must instead reformulate its goals and its methods. Though it is impossible to escape desire entirely, it is possible to escape the eternal cycle of desire-satisfaction-desire again by assenting to a desire for no desire at all. In some senses this is little different from asceticism, in that it involves some sort of denial of the will. However, it cannot be more stressed that this is not a suppression of the will, but merely its redirection from one form of desiring to another. Because the willing subject must desire a complete lack of desire, but this is ontologically impossible for the subject as a will, there can be no satisfaction at all, only this singular desire continually perpetuating itself. As a representation, the subject is able to fulfill its desires, if only for a little while, by its interactions with other representations. However, because the desire for no desire cannot lead to any fulfillment, the eternal cycle is broken, because only an additional desire may recapitulate the cycle.

It may be remarked at this point that the subject is now, in some ways, merely equivalent with the aspect of the Will-in-itself as an eternally grasping, perpetually unfulfilled entity. The utility of desiring no desire, if this only leads to a different type of dissatisfaction, would certainly be suspect. Further, pursuing the desire for no desire does not negate the need to pursue various other desires: the desire to eat, to sleep, to procreate, et cetera will certainly not go away even in the single-minded pursuit of one goal.

The idea of no desire is an ideal. It can never be a reality, because to live is to desire. Along with the imperative to dissociate oneself from all desires save no desire is the concomitant need to dissociate oneself from concern over the ends of all desires. This outcome follows naturally from the pursuit of no desire, for any desire or aversion can be conceived of as the state of wanting something to be different. Hunger is the desire to return to satiety, fear is the aversion from a frightening stimulus, et cetera, and so to have no desire is not to desire something to be different. To desire nothing to be different is not to care whether something changes or stays the same, or whether an action which you do fails or succeeds, and thus to have no desire implies to have no concern over the outcomes of your actions.

This ultimately necessitates a split between the subjective inner self and the objective body, or more accurately, between the concerns of the will with its intelligence and sense, and the concerns of the body with its brute desires. Abandoning concern over the outcomes of desire does not eliminate desire itself, for it is perfectly possible to desire a ham sandwich and be simultaneously unperturbed when a ham sandwich does not come. Rather, to eschew concern over the outcomes of desire means to have real, visceral concern over the inward desires within the subjectified self, but a lack of concern over the outward manifestations of those desires by the body.

By maintaining the subject-object distinction, the subject is able to divorce his inward desires from the outward realization of those desires, i.e. the desire itself from the end goal of the desire. An implication of this is that value judgments, which are simply subjective assessments of the world and how it ought to be, no longer are grounded in a desire which seeks something to be different. Rather, one may have an inner value judgment that a ham sandwich is delicious and superior to a turkey sandwich, but it is a meaningless distinction, as either receiving the ham or the turkey sandwich would be met impassively. To live without value judgments at all is absurd, because everyone has preferences for certain things over others. However, it is eminently possible to live without concern over whether those value judgments are adhered to in reality. From this, everything may be viewed dispassionately, every outcome as an equivalent outcome, and so every desire is both equal and meaningless.

Much like the constant pursuit of no desire, by simply maintaining desire without either satisfaction or defeat, the subject is reduced to feeling a sense of neutrality, and thus of peace. Instead of prizing the end result of an action, the subject values above all the mindset that is detached from inward desires and aversions and does not seek ends, but only attempts to do what is proper according to his own interior value judgments. That is, the subject acts and wills with internal interest over the object of willing, without the attendant desire that his willing reach his desired outcome. He acts out of disinterest, and although he is actively engaged in the processes of the world, he can be best described as doing that which he believes to be right, without seeking its fruit.

By abandoning desire over the end results of action, all the subject’s actions are reduced to eternal flux, and so become meaningless by definition. The subject must desire and will in order to exist, but if the ends of the actions are of no account and the actions are meaningless, it becomes possible to acknowledge that the suffering within the world as representation is real and viscerally important, without the constant inward suffering brought on by active engagement with the desires that birth them. In other words, by abandoning the desire over outcomes, the subject also abandons value judgments simultaneously. Without such judgments, the subject is able to view the world as a child views it – not dispassionately when it comes to processes, but dispassionately when it comes to outcomes. As the child rushes from thing to thing, toying with it until his interest wanes and then moving on, not playing in order to accomplish anything but playing for the sake of playing itself, so too must the subject view the objects of the world as his playthings.

The aesthetic experience is passive, but it washes over a person because that person is already primed to viewing an object aesthetically by his own desires and biases. To be able to view the world as entirely aesthetic, the idea of beauty must lose these individual notions of what is and is not beautiful, and thus the desires and biases beauty is based on must change. Because beauty is just a value judgment about how some object ought to appear aesthetically, by abandoning this subjective judgment, everything is equally beautiful in a world where the very idea of “beauty” itself is valueless. In doing so, the subject is able to comprehend sensory objects without a constrained notion of beauty, and thus a constrained pool of triggers for the aesthetic experience. By desiring no desire, and by lacking the attendant concern for ends that accompanies desires or the value judgments that structure desire, the subject cannot be compelled to desire one object over another, or avoid one object over another. The world is then reduced to just being – an existence without meaning because it is without a value judgment over what that meaning ought to be. All representations are equally perceived through the lens of disinterest, and so through willing the subject is able to avoid the usual concerns of desire and aversion which make the aesthetic experience impossible. From this, back-to-back aesthetic experiences become possible.

Conclusions

In the aesthetic experience, the disinterested subject is not disinterested in the object of contemplation, but in the needs arising from the imperfectly objectified will, his own body. The only way to escape the will is, seemingly, through brief, transient immersion in the beauty of the moment. Yet the entire world as representation can be aesthetic in nature. Why is it, then, that a sunset, or Yosemite Falls, or a painting by El Greco, is any more aesthetically pleasing than a colony of ants, or a pile of excrement? The transience of the aesthetic experience is to be found not in the experience itself, but in the arrogation of the experience to those things considered aesthetically pleasing. By broadening the scope of the aesthetic experience to include the whole of the world of representation, and their corresponding Ideas outside of the realm of perception, it becomes possible to appreciate everything aesthetically and thus transform “momentary salvation” into a state of permanent being.

The aesthetic experience represents Schopenhauer’s most optimistic pathway on the road to salvation, for it is a full-throated acceptance of Will-in-itself. By tapping into the Idea, which is a pure objectification of the will, the knower is in turn embracing not the world itself, but the seed which contains the world, for by the principle of individuation each Idea is subdivided into the infinity of particulars that constitute the world as representation. The world is seen in a meaningful way that is outside the ordinary, instrumental use of objects in the world as representation. One cannot hope to escape the demands of the will when one exists in that will, by denying life or the rapacious desires of the ego, but by truly and fully embracing the pure Will-in-itself.

Imperialisms, Old and New: Sykes-Picot and the United Nations

Foreign policy expert (and Reason contributor) Michael Young had an op-ed out last week on nationalism and imperialism in the Middle East. Writing in The National, Young argues that Western imperialism should not be blamed for the problems of the Middle East today. Young argues that the power vacuum left by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire guaranteed that violence would play a prominent role in the region, regardless of where the lines of borders had been drawn, or who had drawn them.

Violence would play an important role, Young argues, because aspirant hegemons and various types of nationalisms (Arab, Iraqi, Lebanese, etc.) would be eager to expand their influence and power throughout the Middle East. This is an interesting hypothesis, but it strikes me as disingenuous largely because there is no way to prove such an assertion wrong. The fact that violence could have happened in the absence of European imperialism does not excuse the cartographic crimes of European states. The carving up of the post-Ottoman Arab world happened (interesting counterfactuals notwithstanding).

Young’s argument fails on another account as well. He writes, for example, that:

None of the protagonists in Syria’s conflict has cast doubt on its borders, or has called for a Sunni or Alawite state. Their rhetoric has almost entirely been couched in nationalistic terms, with their aim being the control over all of Syria. Even Mr Al Assad has never expressed interest in falling back on an Alawite mini-state, and if he does so that would only be because he can no longer hold Damascus.

There are two arguments worth scrutinizing here. One, there have been calls for a Sunni state. Two, the nationalist rhetoric is itself a product of Western imperialism. For example, these power struggles for the center occur because secessionist or federalist options are not available to factions in the region. The lack of options stems from the inherent inability of these post-imperial states to govern without a strong man. Strong men are required in the post-imperial Middle East because the states that were drawn up by European diplomats were arbitrary and ahistorical, and therefore lack legitimacy in the eyes of the people.

Post-imperial states are not considered legitimate by their citizens because they never had a say in how to go about structuring such a state (not even through the traditional channel of war). They had no say in where the borders should be, or who they could trade with, or how to best accommodate foreigners. Because post-colonial states are not legitimate, violent centripetal forces are constant. This pattern continues unabated because those who eventually end up controlling the center receive legitimacy from the international legal order, as exemplified by the United Nations and financial lending institutions such as the IMF.

By recognizing the legitimacy of Sykes-Picot’s arbitrary states and the sanctity of its borders, the UN and other Western institutions contribute directly to the bloodshed and impoverishment of the region. Because these states have been legitimized by the UN, violent factions can simply seize control of the center and they will automatically gain legitimacy from the very international order that has sustained this chaos. Why bother trying to gain the legitimacy of an impoverished populace when you can simply capture the rent associated with running a post-imperial state?

The West would do well to start working on a foreign policy that looks at recognizing devolutionist tendencies in the post-imperial world as a legitimate option. Recognizing the mistakes of Western imperialism would be a good start. Western recognition would also give these breakaway movements a sense of legitimacy when it comes to working with international organizations such as the IMF or WTO. Official recognition could open up diplomatic options that are currently unavailable to stateless societies in the post-imperial world.

By continuing to not view devolution as a legitimate option for Middle Eastern (and other) societies, the West is doubling down on its moral failure of a hundred years ago. Recognizing centrifugal forces as a legitimate political process would also bring the post-imperial world and the West to a more level standing with each other, as the West would welcome new states into their international orders rather than picking winners and losers through cartographic exercises. In an era where inequalities are shaping up to play prominent roles in policy debates, this last tweak in diplomacy could very well contribute (politically at least) to a more equitable world.

The Religious Basis for Zionism, and its Relevance for Today

After reading Brandon’s post on the historical context for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict I was inspired to pen something similar, but distinct, on the same topic. Namely, the religious basis for Zionism.

I’ll start with a short textual primer. Religious Jews use a variety of prayerbooks, or siddurim, but the basic content of all of them remains the same: schacharit, or morning prayers, minchah, or afternoon prayers, maariv, or evening prayers, kabbalat shabbat, or “welcoming the Shabbat” (Sabbath), and if the siddur is full size, a variety of other prayers for religious holidays and festivals, explanatory bits about various prayers and songs, how to don the tallit (prayer shawl) or tefillin (phylacteries, little black boxes containing verses from the Torah). A cursory look through this book will reveal the various emphases the ancient authors placed on aspects of belief, and it reflects a decidedly post-Second-Temple Judaic outlook.

What does this mean? In the pre-morning prayer, which is said upon arising, after a variety of blessings bestowed on the creator and reminders to keep His commandments, Jews read a portion from the Torah detailing the korbanot, or offerings, and the ketoret, or incense, that were to be given and burned in the temple. Following this are descriptions of the priestly functions, various explanations and speculations on how these functions were fulfilled, and concluding with Talmudic rules on how to interpret the Torah. So, before a Jew even gets to his morning prayers, he has to do pre-morning prayers that remind him or her of the significance of the temple and exactly how it was constituted and run by the priests, and how common Jews would offer tribute there. Obviously, this has little practical significance – there is no temple, and so all of these commandments given in the Torah and subsequent Talmudic commentary  are irrelevant. If the temple is rebuilt that is a different story, of course.

So, why would the authors of the siddur put this information in? The most logical reason is that they wanted Jews everywhere, everyday to remember the temple, to remember their unity as a people in the historical Kingdom of Israel, and to never forget who and what they are: bnai Israel, children of Israel, a term with two meanings, the children of Yaakov (jacob, who gained the name Israel after wrestling with an angel), and the children of the land God promised them. This emphasis does not end with the initial prayers, but is found in the first paragraph of schacharit: “Remember the wonders He has wrought, His miracles, and the judgments of His mouth. O descendants of Israel His servant, children of Jacob, His chosen ones: He is the Lord our God; His judgments extend over the entire earth. Remember his covenant forever, the word which He has commanded to a thousand generations; the covenant which He made with Abraham, and His oath to Isaac. He established it for Jacob as a statute, for Israel as an everlasting covenant, stating, “To you I shall give the land of Cannan” – the portion of your inheritance, when you were but few, very few, and strangers in it” (emphasis mine).

Here, the emphasis continues on the historical Kingdom of Israel, but it is also broader, in line with the goal of unity and cohesion amongst all of bnai Israel. This is repeated  in numerous other places, but not simply in the morning prayer; the Amidah, the central prayer recited in the morning, the afternoon, and the night, ends with the words “May it be Your will, Lord our God and God of our fathers, that the Beit Hamikdash [Holy Temple] be speedily rebuilt in our days, and grant us our portion in Your Torah.” The siddur is replete with such references, and if you wanted you could likely find hundreds within it – I merely wish to highlight their frequency, and elucidate their general purpose, to serve the aforementioned goals of religious cohesion. Further, they serve the goal of instilling a yearning for Zion amongst the Jewish people, a desire that their temple be rebuilt, and their holy rites reinstated.

What is the point of this discussion? According to My Jewish Learning, “the particular order of Jewish worship was established largely during the first four or five centuries CE, although the components of that worship were drawn from earlier periods and have continued to develop until modern times.” Religious Jews (and it should be important to not here, that such a term is relatively recent; in past times, there was no such thing as a non-religious Jew) said these prayers in some form for at least 1500 years, and likely for longer periods of time for the older prayers such as the Psalms (tehillim in Hebrew).  The passages referring to the temple and the restitution of Israel are obviously of a younger vintage, as they would only have been added sometime after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD by the besieging Roman general Titus.

That is, this yearning for Zion has been instilled in Jews on a daily basis for over 1500 years. The dream of a Jewish people reunited in the historical Kingdom of Israel has a clear and distinct theological pedigree that cannot be overstated. It is probably not too much of a stretch to claim that without this daily insistence, this daily urgency, that there would not be a state of Israel within its historical boundaries.

If we take Brandon’s analysis to be true, that the founding of Israel has a historic basis with the emergence of nationalist movements in Europe, this is not to say that a Jewish state would not have developed. Indeed, before the various Zionist movements coalesced around a firm demand for the historical land of Israel, there was talk of moving the Jews en masse to Uganda, and during the Nazi period, to Madagascar. It is conceivable that, without a strong connection to this specific land, Israel might have ended up in a different place, or not ended up at all (as was the case with other persecuted groups like the Roma, who to this day do not have a state of their own).

***

I should clarify here that I am not attempting to justify the establishment of the modern Israeli state. Many such arguments abound, many of them exploring the same terrain I have just traversed, using references in the Torah to Abraham buying a tomb for Sarah in Canaan, or God’s proclamation that Canaan was marked out for the Israelites, or referring to the voluminous archaeological and historical evidence of Jewish habitation in historical Israel, or whatnot. I am attempting to explain instead not reasons for, but reasons why – why was historical Israel a better choice than Uganda or Madagascar for instance? More importantly, why would the Zionist movement, which was predominantly secular, attach itself so strongly to these theological premises for Zion in Israel?

To answer these questions, we must return to some of the ground Brandon’s post went over: the historical and economic realities driving Zionism in late 19th, early 20th century Europe. In the late 19th century, what was a collection of principalities in Central Europe, united only by a superficially common language and a set of loose traditions, became consolidated under the rule of Prussia, with the Prussian ruler Otto von Bismarck being named Chancellor of a unified German state – the first Reich. In this nationalizing movement, the first articulation of what would be called the “Jewish Question” or the “Jewish Problem” was formed. How does one integrate a minority, non-German, non-German speaking, non-Christian group of transients into the new nationstate? There were a variety of solutions:

  1. Fully integrate them into German society – the ethnic over the civic identity.
  2. Integrate them into German society without assimilating them, allowing them their unique religious traditions, but subsumed within a broader Germanic citizen ideal – the civic over the ethnic identity.
  3. Expel them all.
  4. Kill them all (this was, of course, the Nazi answer to the Jewish Question, and why it has been called ever since the “Final Solution”)

What was ultimately settled upon was a track of full integration with assimilation, and what resulted was the greatest flowering of Jewish civilization until modern times. History’s annals are replete with Jewish expressions of genius, from music (Moses Mendelssohn) to science (Albert Einstein) to psychiatry (Viktor Frankl, Sigmund Freud), all of whom were nurtured within the cultural confines of Germanic civilization. Indeed, Jews were never more prosperous than at that time, when they abandoned most of their traditions and flocked to the banner of the rising German civilization.

What is wrong with this picture? In every European society, there was a current of anti-Semitism, varying in degree of severity from place to place. Germany was not particularly anti-Semitic relative to other countries in Europe, and indeed, the top contenders in this category were on either side of the German Empire: France to the west, with the Dreyfus affair, and Russia to the East, with numerous pogroms (organized destruction, rape, and murder of Jews and Jewish property by the non-Jewish population of a town or city), most notably in Kishinev. I recommend the work of Professor Zipperstein at Stanford to understand the far reaching implications of this one event, which are truly fascinating. While Germany cannot take the crown for standard bearer of anti-Semitism in this period, Germany may be distinguished from other European countries in the kind of anti-Semitism that flourished there. In Germany, anti-Semitism was bracketed within newly emerging racial categories, so that Jew was not thought of simply in religious terms, but in ethnic terms as well – a Jew was not a Jew because he practiced Judaism, but he was born and would always remain a Jew. Interestingly, this rhetoric is now dominant amongst many Orthodox groups such as Chabad-Lubavitch, and indeed the Nazi racial laws which defined a Jew from a non-Jew were adopted for the state of Israel’s immigration policy: if the Nazis considered you a Jew, the Israelis consider you a Jew. But, that is a different discussion.

With what seemed like a rising current of anti-Semitism, in stepped the figure of Theodor Herzl. I tend to be wary of overarching historiographical theories like the “Great Man” theory, but in this case it seems to fit the bill; it cannot be underestimated how important Herzl’s contribution to the Zionist movement was, how critical he was to its foundation, maintenance, and lasting success. Without him, there would likely be no Zionist movement. The story of his conversion from German assimilationist to Zionist leader is canonical, but it bears summarizing here. A correspondent for a German newspaper in France, Herzl witnessed the Dreyfus affair and was galvanized, Or, according to recent scholarship, a Viennese anti-Semitic demagogue inspired him. Regardless, in 1896 he published Der Judenstaat, which almost immediately caused all the existing Zionist groups, along with many new adherents, to join his cause. I have not read the book, but I have read descriptions of it, and within it he seconds the racializing element in anti-Semitism, stating that the Jews are a people with a distinct nationality, and all they were missing was a national homeland – according to Herzl, it ought to be in Argentina, or preferably historical Israel. These ideas eventually gained great currency, and in a long process from the publication of Der Judenstaat to the founding of Israel in the borders of the Kingdom of Israel, these ideas bore themselves out to fruition.

***

At this point, we should be ready to answer why Zionism sought a Jewish state in historical Israel, and the impetus for why that idea gained currency at all. For centuries, as was stated above, the Jewish people yearned for a reestablished Israel. Yet, they made no concerted efforts to make this state a reality. To understand why this is, we must return to theology, this time to the concept of Jewish messianism. The basic tenets of this are derived from various prophetic texts, outside the scope of the Torah itself, which is generally circumscribed to the Five Books of Moses – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Some of the claims of what the messiah, or moschiach, will do are listed below:

Isaiah 1:26: “And I will restore your judges as at first and your counsellors as in the beginning; afterwards you shall be called City of Righteousness, Faithful City.” Some Jews interpret this to mean that the Sanhedrin will be re-established.”(Isaiah 1:26)

Once he is King, leaders of other nations will look to him for guidance. (Isaiah 2:4)

The whole world will worship the One God of Israel (Isaiah 2:11-17)

He will be descended from King David (Isaiah 11:1) via Solomon (1 Chronicles 22:8-10,2 Chronicles 7:18)

The “spirit of the Lord” will be upon him, and he will have a “fear of God” (Isaiah 11:2)

Evil and tyranny will not be able to stand before his leadership (Isaiah 11:4)

Knowledge of God will fill the world (Isaiah 11:9)

He will include and attract people from all cultures and nations (Isaiah 11:10)

All Israelites will be returned to their homeland (Isaiah 11:12)

Death will be swallowed up forever (Isaiah 25:8)

There will be no more hunger or illness, and death will cease (Isaiah 25:8)

All of the dead will rise again (Isaiah 26:19)

The Jewish people will experience eternal joy and gladness (Isaiah 51:11)

He will be a messenger of peace (Isaiah 52:7)

Nations will recognize the wrongs they did to Israel (Isaiah 52:13-53:5)

The peoples of the world will turn to the Jews for spiritual guidance (Zechariah 8:23)

The ruined cities of Israel will be restored (Ezekiel 16:55)

Weapons of war will be destroyed (Ezekiel 39:9)

The people of Israel will have direct access to the Torah through their minds and Torah study will become the study of the wisdom of the heart (Jeremiah 31:33)

He will give you all the worthy desires of your heart (Psalms 37:4)

He will take the barren land and make it abundant and fruitful (Isaiah 51:3, Amos 9:13-15, Ezekiel 36:29-30, Isaiah 11:6-9)

These beliefs account for two things: first, a Jewish eschatalogical account for how the world will end, and what will occur when it does, who will bring this about, and more importantly for this post, a strong theological basis for Zionism; and second, why the rest of the Western world cared about Zionism at all.

The first factor accounts for the broad theological basis for “why Israel,” and it also brings to light certain long-standing divisions in the Zionist movement. For example, many groups of Orthodox Jews such as the Haredi Naturei Karta reject Zionism and call for the dissolution of the state of Israel. Indeed, they are so vocal about this, a group of Naturei Karta rabbis was invited by then-President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to a conference of prominent anti-Zionists and Holocaust deniers. Naturei Karta is so vehement on this point because, technically speaking, only the messiah is able to return to refound Israel, create the Third Temple, usher in world peace, et cetera. And this is why, historically speaking, Jews were content to wallow in galut (exile) until the future coming of the Messiah, who would bring them back to Israel. Tangentially, it also accounts for much of the religious suspicion, embodied in Natueri Karta, towards the Zionist movement; during the early modern period, many Messianic movements emerged under the charismatic demagogues Joseph Frank and Sabbetai Tzvi, who lured many Jews into their movements before failing spectacularly, the former converting to Christianity, the latter along with his flock converting to Islam somewhere in Anatolia (the story of Sabbetai Tzvi does not end there, for his followers thereafter became known as the Donmeh, many of whom were instrumental in the Young Turk movement. But that is a different story).

The religious pushback against Zionism simultaneously accounts for the strong religious appeal of a Zionism that takes Israel as its logical terminus: not only does it attract secular, assimilated Jews with nationalist rhetoric, it attracts religious Jews who would see in the foundation of Israel a fulfillment of the eschatological prophecies, and perhaps an ushering in of the age of the messiah.

The second factor explains the broad gentile appeal for a new Jewish state. What initially separated Christianity from Judaism was the belief among Christian Jews that Jesus was the messiah ordained in these foregoing passages, and the contrary belief amongst non-Christian Jews that he was not. Over time, this sectarian difference widened to the point that Christianity diverged from Judaism, probably some time in the post-Second Temple era. However, the common Christian belief that Jesus came to fulfill and, in time, supersede the Jewish prophecies has remained current throughout history, and profoundly influenced non-Jewish support for Zionism.

Indeed, much of the British and American community that supported the Zionist cause did so on explicitly religious grounds, conceiving of the Jews as the historical inheritors of the ancient Israelite religion, and by extension to the Holy Land itself. Coupled with the predominant historical arc of nationalism, just then winding its way through European society, you are left with the perfect confluence of factors – a certain benevolence towards the Jews on religious grounds, along with an assent to the basic premises of nationalism that provided the impetus for the initial Zionist movement.

This is why Zionism fixated on Israel, and this is why secular Jewish leaders such as Herzl, and later Weizmann, would so strongly advocate for a Jewish state in historical Israel. The theological undercurrent was so pervasive amongst Jewish people, so universally recognized, and so compelling – especially to religious Jews – that to choose any other geographical area would likely have torn the movement apart. Indeed, this happened in the period between 1903 and 1917, when Herzl introduced the British plan for Jewish settlement in Uganda, causing an immediate split between the anti-Uganda and pro-Uganda segments of the World Zionist Organization. This rift was not fully healed until 1917, when the Balfour Declaration was published, and the pro-Uganda segment fizzled into irrelevance.

***

So what we have here are two broad trends, as I said above, the theological undercurrent of messianism and “yearning for Zion,” which was wedded at just the right time to a dominant discourse of ethnic nationalism, which can be seen as the birth of Zionism.

Further, this did not have significance for the Jews only, but garnered great sympathy amongst non-Jews, which was crucial for certain guarantees such as the Balfour Declaration to have any currency. Without the movement, which was not explicitly theological but nonetheless tapped into theological ideas at its core, I do not believe that Zionism in the form we know of it would have emerged. Furthermore, without the theological underpinnings, if I may extend the argument further, the Jewish people would not even exist – there would be coherence amongst the Jewish people, over such broad geographic distances, without the theology that had united them or almost two thousand years between the dissolution of historical Israel and the foundation of the new state of Israel. But, that is another discussion.

The reader, if he has followed me up to this point, may be wondering why I took the time to outline my idea of the development of the Zionist movement. “What relevance does this have for today?” he may ask. First, it is a small inference to make that if the state of Israel can owe a large part of its foundation to theology, it owes a large part of the form of its existence to that same theology. Settler colonialism in the West Bank is driven by many factors, many of them economic in nature, but it is indubitable that many settlers have an explicitly religious vision – the conquest of the entire historical Israel, comprising not just the West Bank but parts of Jordan, Syria, and Egypt as well. Further, the debate over the future of Jerusalem is not just political – how could the Jewish people split their historical capital, where their temple stood, where the Sanhedrin met, where thousands of years of Jewish history took place? Furthermore, how could any part of historical Israel be split off?

There is much to be discussed about the religious significance behind conflict in Israel today, but my goal in this post was simply to trace a path from theology to nationalism and to its synthesis in Zionism, which could not have taken shape without both movements. Further, I want to impress upon you that Zionism would never have gotten off the ground without the good will of non-Jewish friends in high places, those Christian philanthropists and statesmen who shared the messianic vision that Zionism used as a core tenet of its ideology. Thus, while many nationalist movements can be explained with reference to economic and social factors only, Zionism seems to be unique in that religion played such a pivotal role in its foundational story and its raison d’etre.

The State of the Union and the State of our Liberties

Nevertheless it is important not to fall into the delusion that President Obama presents the greatest danger to the culture of liberty. A historian looking back a hundred years from now is likely to group the Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton presidencies together as an era when the state receded or at least did not grow, as measured by regulatory and fiscal burdens on our lives. But Bush II relentlessly increased domestic spending and created more government involvement in health care with the Medicare D program for prescription drugs. It was President Bush who initiated many of the NSA programs.

In short, there are more similarities between Bush II and Obama than their supporters or detractors care to acknowledge. And almost all of the similarities suggest that the risks to our liberty today transcend the actions of any particular politician.

From John McGinnis. Read the rest.

Amo muito o bem público produzido pelo setor privado

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Pois é, leitor. Sempre que alguém vem a BH eu fico sem saber o que dizer. Aqui, convenhamos, não tem nada. Nada mesmo. Mas aí o setor privado, muito mais do que esta prefeitura ineficiente (vem assim desde a época do Célio de Castro e seus sucessores, mas não era muito melhor antes…enfim…), consegue me salvar.

Bem público produzido pelo setor privado com motivos “egoístas” (se ganhar dinheiro para pagar as contas é egoísmo, então Luis F. Verissimo e eu somos os mais egoístas do mundo…junto com você, leitor). Exemplo que poderia estar em qualquer livro-texto de Economia. Gostei tanto que fiz todo um malabarismo para comer na bandeja sem sujar o sanduíche e as fritas (e, sim, eu consegui fazer isto!) para guardar esta excelente peça de propaganda.

Aliás, gostei tanto que a empresa ganhou o direito a uma propaganda gratuita aqui.

E agora, para algo mais técnico…

O que é um bem público? Antes que você pense no senso comum, esta é uma definição técnica, um conceito teórico. Um bem público é um bem não-excludente e não-rival. O melhor exemplo disto está no livro-texto do Mankiw. Uma estrada com pedágio é excludente (sem pedágio, portanto, não-excludente). Uma estrada congestionada é rival (porque o espaço entre carros diminui. O consumo do mesmo pedaço de chão é rivalizado com outro motorista e seu pequeno SUV…). Sacou?

Bom, então fica meio óbvio – ou então você dá uma pesquisada na internet, ok? – que alguém que busque lucrar não tem muito motivo para produzir um bem público…em princípio. Por que? Porque não dá para lucrar tanto quanto se você produz um bem privado (rival e excludente). Claro que esta classificação do bem ou serviço em “privado” e “público” é uma questão de grau (além do fato de existirem bens rivais, não-excludentes e não-rivais, excludentes). Mais ainda, o grau pode ser alterado conforme a tecnologia mude. Pense no caso da TV. Há algumas décadas, era impossível vender um pacote de canais como um bem privado (o que se fazia era vender um bem público (o pacote de canais) com um financiamento via propaganda).

O que isto tudo tem a ver com o McDonald’s? Simples. A informação turística é um bem público. Supostamente, o governo poderia criar uma secretaria de turismo (esqueçam a ironia da coisa…ou melhor, dêem uma boa risada e prossigam) para prover os turistas de informações como esta. Bem, a coisa mais difícil do mundo é achar um guia turístico desta cidade de fácil acesso e na hora que você precisa. Aí entra a campanha da cadeia de fast-food, em busca de lucros com a praça específica de Belo Horizonte. De forma inteligente, percebe-se que homenagear a cidade torna o consumo do sanduíche mais agradável. A experiência de se comer dois pães e carne não se distingue, em princípio, por conta do lugar onde você o compra. Contudo, diferenciar o produto é uma prática mais antiga do que a prostituição (se é que não nasceu com a mesma…).

Portanto, ao vender um sanduíche (bem privado) com uma folha de papel destas, com uma propaganda da cidade, agrega-se à experiência de consumo um certo valor que, imaginam os donos do boteco, aumentará suas vendas. Bem, não estou eu aqui falando bem da propaganda?

Voltando ao hambúrguer…

Pois é. Eu pensei até em voltar hoje para comer um outro hambúrguer deles, mas não sou tão fã assim do consumo diário de McDonald’s. Mas fica aqui o exemplo, a evidência (talvez a milésima, neste blog) de que bens públicos podem ser produzidos de forma eficiente pelo setor privado. Eu diria, neste caso, até mais eficientemente do que o setor público municipal sequer poderiaimaginar alcançar um dia.

Antes de me despedir, eu me pergunto: burocratas, sempre tão invejosos dos sucesso alheio (dentro ou fora de seu mundinho, a repartição), adoram sabotar a concorrência com um papo furado muito bonito de “proteção às crianças, índios, animais domésticos, mulheres, etc”. Papinho bem ruim mesmo. Mas, às vezes, há até uma boa justificativa para tal, embora raramente me pareça ser a regra seguida por eles. Eu me pergunto quando vão proibir a cadeia de fast-food de produzir informações turísticas porque “apenas o fazem pelo lucro”.Como se os burocratas não maximizassem nem mesmo seu orçamento…

Consumerism and Christmas

You all may recall that after 9/11 Osama bin Laden explained his orchestration of the terrorist deed that murdered some 3000 innocent human beings as payback for America’s materialism. (His anti-materialist rant is routine – a good discussion of his views may be found here.)

Yet as the writer of the above piece notes, anti-materialism is a common theme among most religions. Sure, the idea that human life is about preparation for an after-life — a spiritual life superior to the mundane one we can lead here on Earth — is central to religions.

In the West, however, many religions have made peace with the mundane elements of human existence so there tends to be a less avid denunciation of materialism, which is how the idea of being seriously concerned with living prosperously here on Earth is usually designated. After all, the Christian God is both human and divine (in the person of Jesus).

Destruction of life is generally deemed to be a sin for Christians, whereas, as bin Laden has noted, the love of death is central in his version of Islam. As one account has it, “This originated at the Battle of Qadisiyya in the year 636, when the commander of the Muslim forces, Khalid ibn Al-Walid, sent an emissary with a message from Caliph Abu Bakr to the Persian commander, Khosru. The message stated: ‘You [Khosru and his people] should convert to Islam, and then you will be safe, for if you don’t, you should know that I have come to you with an army of men that love death, as you love life’.” This account is widely recited in contemporary Muslim literature.

Yet despite the Western theological tradition’s more friendly attitude toward the mundane, nearly every Christmas leaders of Christian denominations tend to revert to the original, anti-life doctrines by condemning commercialism. The latest Pope followed the previous one by lamenting the “materialist” approach to celebrating Christmas. They referred to “the dead-end streets of consumerism,” according to newspaper reports, chiding people everywhere for what the report calls “being caught up with consumerist pursuits.”

Ironically, the Pope issued his proclamations from St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. If you have ever visited the Vatican, as I and millions of others have, you would know it to be one of the West’s, if not the world’s, most opulent places. And as to consumerism, the gift shop dominates the entrance to the Vatican, where one is invited to spend great sums of money on various small or sizable trinkets. Commerce flourishes there, believe me, as the Vatican cashes in on the desire of many of the visitors to take away some reminder of their having been to that historically and theologically significant place.

Of course, even apart from the Vatican, the Roman Catholic Church, as well as others within Christianity, often excel in ostentatious display of riches – one need but go to high mass on Christmas Eve to witness this.

And why not? That is how human beings tend to celebrate what they value highly, by honoring the occasion with gift-giving. And gift-giving necessarily involves commerce – most of us aren’t skilled at the crafts that it takes to create the various gifts we wish to bestow upon those we love and cherish. I personally bought airline tickets for some of my family members and a computer for another, in part because I have no airplane in which to fly them where they would like to go and no factory and expertise to make a modern, up-to-date computer. To obtain these gifts, I rely, as do billions of others, on commerce.

So why then would Popes besmirch consumerism and commerce? Beats me. (And remember, also, that “materialism” is ultimately a nonsense term – nothing we purchase is simply material but embodies the creative intelligence – indeed the creative spirit – of many human beings!)

So, I urge all Popes to change their message and to have a more generous understanding of all who make use of commerce in our celebration of Christmas!

Right-wing Marxists and the libertarian’s lament

Daniel McCarthy, the editor of The American Conservative, has a post up on the current “liberal” (Leftist) misreadings of how politics actually works:

Politics is just magic to [Leftists]. (Some of this comes of drawing the wrong lessons from Alinsky and Gramsci—wrong lessons the activist right is now busy committing to memory.)

The “lessons from Alinksy and Gramsci” that the Right is currently incorporating into its political program are none other than the tactics Leftists used during the heyday of communism to gain political power in the West.

Unfortunately, I think the Right is making a big mistake by copying a program that has failed the Left. Has it failed the Left? Or is communism an inevitable failure and tactics had nothing to do with it?

Governance is affected by movements. Does the Right want to be the new authoritarians? They’ve always been less authoritarian than the Left, but I see this changing especially if the Right continues to borrow tactics and ideas from the communist Left.

What is interesting is to watch how this all plays out. The Left’s playbook consists of delegitimizing people rather ideas or institutions. This leads to misdirected anger and makes it easier for opposition movements to seize the levers of power. It worked in the Anglo-American world, to a large extent (look at our educational systems, for example; they’re run by Marxists), but never more than superficially. Everybody knows, for example, which institutions have been captured by the Left. They know which institutions are Left-wing and which ones are not.

Why Rightists would want to copy this failed tactic is beyond me. The strength of classical liberalism has always been the resounding truth within its creed. It is truth that we march into battle with, not cheap tricks or ploys from the gutter.

It seems to me that the Right’s embrace of communist tactics comes mostly from one influential group of people in the US: conservative intellectuals with cultural ties to the Catholic or Mormon churches. To me I find this very weird, and while weirdness is definitely something I appreciate in my personal life I truly hope these tactics don’t trickle into the intellectual wing of the libertarian quadrant.

The spectacle of conservative intellectuals mimicking their Cold War adversaries two decades after winning – outright – the war of ideas is pathetic. You know where the ‘comments’ section is!

Pesos, medidas e as instituições

Douglas Allen, em seu ótimo, The Institutional Revolution, defende a tese de que uma revolução institucional teria precedido a famosa revolução industrial. Texto importante, é que, para mim, já é candidato a livro-texto básico de qualquer bom curso de História Econômica.

Como sempre, senti falta de alguma coisa mais, digamos, tropical, no livro. Bom, mas como é que vou cobrar isto de um livro que não se propõe a contar a história das instituições em Portugal? Não posso. Isto é mais uma deixa para os pesquisadores brasileiros. Dica de amigo, quem sabe, para alguém que deseje fazer uma dissertação de mestrado sobre o tema.

Mas eu sou uma pessoa perigosamente curiosa. Fiquei intrigado com a questão dos pesos e medidas. No argumento do autor, a questão dos pesos e medidas, ou melhor, a questão da padronização de pesos e medidas, está diretamente relacionada com a mensuração de produtos, o que gera uma importante alteração nos custos de se trocar mercadorias (ou seja, nos custos de transação). Afinal, nada mais óbvio do que achar mais interessante comprar um quilo de abacate sem levar para casa meio quilo do mesmo.

No caso do Brasil colonial, então, pensei, deveria ser como em Portugal. Para checar isto, consultei este documento. Vejamos alguns trechos:

No que se refere às unidades de medidas adotadas ao longo do período colonial, o quadro não difere, como é natural, daquele oferecido por Portugal. A vara, a canada e o almude constituíam as medidas de uso mais comum, ainda que seu valor pudesse variar de região para região. Os produtos importados traziam consigo suas próprias medidas e, quanto mais geograficamente restrita uma atividade econômica, mais específico era o sistema de medidas utilizado. (…)

Vale dizer: nada muito diferente do restante da Europa.

Assim, a primeira menção expressa à atividade metrológica, em documentos coloniais, refere-se precisamente à fiscalização do funcionamento de mercados locais. Como em Portugal, o funcionário colonial mais diretamente envolvido com a fiscalização de pesos e medidas era o almotacé, mencionado pelas Ordenações Manuelinas e Filipinas e previsto pela organização do município de São Vicente, em 1532. Em número de dois, eleitos mensalmente pela Câmara Municipal, os almotacés tinham como atribuição básica manter o bom funcionamento dos mercados e do abastecimento de gêneros, além de fiscalizar obras e manter a limpeza da cidade. Como parte de suas responsabilidades, deveriam verificar mensalmente, com o escrivão da almotaçaria, os pesos e as medidas. Tal disposição estimulava, dada a dispersão e a diversidade dos municípios, a multiplicação dos padrões de medidas.

Veja só a importância do ofício. Alguém imaginaria que carregar uma régua ou uma fita métrica, hoje em dia, seria uma profissão digna de tanta importância? Bem, numa época em que o governo descobre que medir ajuda a maximizar sua receita, nada mais natural, não? Até eleição para o cargo havia.

No caso dos gêneros estancados ou submetidos a controles mais rígidos, a Coroa cuidava da melhor organização das atividades metrológicas. O estabelecimento do monopólio do tabaco, por exemplo, levou à criação, em 1702, do Juiz da Balança do Tabaco, nas alfândegas de Salvador e Recife. No caso das minas, o regimento do Intendente do Ouro, de 26 de setembro de 1735, mencionava expressamente sua obrigação de manter as balanças e marcos da Intendência aferidos, pesando o ouro corretamente, sem prejuízo das partes nem da Fazenda Real, atribuição expressamente mantida no regimento de 1751.

Como se percebe, a questão institucional é indissociável da questão econômica. Veja aí o depoimento do próprio autor: tem monopólio? Quem é o “dono” do monopólio? A Coroa. Reza o dito popular – e a teoria econômica – que “o olho do dono engorda o cavalo” – e não é diferente neste caso.

Pois bem, falta-nos – alô, colegas de História Econômica! – um estudo mais detalhado do papel dos almotacés (ou me falta mais pesquisa e leitura, vai saber…), não falta? Vou procurar meu exemplar de Fiscais e Meirinhos para rejuvenescer, digamos assim, meu interesse pelo tema.

Novamente, percebemos que a História Econômica não precisa nos dar sono.