America’s Muslim Problem: What To Do.

There are many people in the US who possess normal common sense and who also have a liberal disposition, “liberal” in the old meaning of the word. I mean before the word came to designate a propensity to force others to do what they don’t want to do, accompanied by intellectual hypocrisy. The word used to mean something like: “well disposed toward others;” it used to refer to habits of tolerance, adding up to giving the other guy the benefit of doubt. I think I am one of those. I am lucid; I see what I see and I don’t pretend I don’t see it; I have no trouble finding something to like in others who are unlike myself. Nevertheless, I draw the line at institutionalized brutality (such as the genital mutilation of little girls) and at intentional cannibalism. The latter means that if you eat your dead to survive (as a Uruguayan rugby team plane-wrecked in the high Andes famously did about thirty years ago); it’s acceptable but if you go a-hunting humans explicitly for the table, I think it’s not cool.

Well, people like me have been struggling to hold their tongues since 9/11 in order to avoid stating the obvious about terrorism , and in order to not be forced to draw the policy consequences of what their eyes behold. We are caught between the rock and the proverbial hard place, largely, I speculate because we wish to avoid bad intellectual company. On the one side, we have paralyzing and contagious political correctness, on the other hand, there is the embarrassing torrent of abuse issuing from political allies who are both uninformed and ill-disposed, so ill-disposed that they are unable to see the obvious contributions of Islamic culture. I mean by this that you don’t have to be a Christian, or to love the Inquisition, or to believe that Christ resurrected to recognize that if Christianity had contributed nothing but Gothic cathedrals, that would still be a lot. Similarly, you don’t have to like Islam the religion to appreciate Arabic calligraphy and the Blue Mosque of Istanbul. Anyway, the pseudo-secret we have been unwilling to admit openly is this: We have a Muslim problem in this country.

We have terrorists of all inspirations in America, I know. The white murderer of black church people in Charleston was a terrorist, pure and simple. He was home bred and home grown. However, we have many, many more terrorists of foreign extraction, almost all with ties to Islam.

The man who murdered four Marines in cold blood in Chattanooga and wounded several several others was an immigrant. Somali refugees and their children have often been implicated in attempted terrorist acts in this country. The convicted and jailed underwear bomber is a Nigerian. We may not be able to do much about US-born terrorists such as Major Hassan (in prison) and preacher Al-Awlaki (pulverized by a drone in Yemen), but we can stem the flow of those with the greatest probability of slaughtering us at home. I said “probability.” It’s the concept we use, consciously or not, to approximate rational decisions in our daily lives: Select this birth clinic, rely on this baby food, travel by car, get vaccinated or not, go for this class rather than another. etc.

There is a young Muslim woman I know well and whom I love like a favorite niece. “Uncle,” she says,” Islamist terrorists are not more my problem than yours.” I disagree because I don’t believe that venomous seeds grow into poisonous plants on their own. They need water and they need good soil. No water, no plant; bad soil, no plant. The water for Islamist terrorism is provided by hundreds or thousands of preachers who preach irresponsibly, good Muslims all who don’t believe they have to be bothered about the effect of their equivocal words once they have left their mouth. (Yes, Mohammed did behead every man of a vanquished enemy tribe on the battlefield. Incidentally, they were Jews. The Prophet then “married ” their wives, he raped them, in others words. Bad example? Talk about this genuine part of Muslim tradition?)

The soil of Islamist terrorism is the passivity of otherwise blameless Muslim communities who cannot help but see fanatics grow before their eyes and decide to keep mum and to do nothing. Here is a simple example of what I mean. The killer of four Marines wore a beard, not any kind of beard, not a Hollywood-inspired beard, not a chic beard, not an old man’s beard like mine. His untrimmed, wide beard is worn only by imitators of the Prophet Mohammed. Few Muslims even wear such a beard. Muslims of all stripes know and recognize this. It take a few weeks to grow such a beard. If your son or your neighbor shows up with one, it should give you pause, if you are a Muslim. You should make a mental note that that young man bears watching. Why would anyone want to imitate the seventh century prophet in the 21st century. Who is wearing robes like Jesus? I am guessing (Guessing) that members of the particular terrorist’s community may have whispered some but just let the matter drop.

Some nation-wide reforms are obviously necessary toward domestic Islamist terrorism. Here are three.

Donald Trump is mostly a rich buffoon but once in a while, he forcefully states the obvious. As he proclaimed, it’s wrong that the people charged with our defense are not themselves allowed to be armed for their own defense. This silly policy should be reversed and all qualified military personnel (and I don’t see why a single one would be unqualified) should be allowed and encouraged to carry a personal weapon. If rural sheriffs’ deputies with three weeks training can carry a weapon, I expect members of our military to be qualified to do the same, strictly for self-defense and as a deterrent, of course. This change from current policy could be tried for a given period and its effects studied. If it were found out that members of the military fall into the habit of gunning one another, or civilians down then, the policy of a defenseless military could always be re-instated. Our society is taking worse risks every day. That was my first point.

Second, romantic libertarians (including many of my friends) have to come to terms with the need for widespread domestic electronic surveillance aimed at preventing domestic terrorism. As is usually the case, the assassin of the Marines in Chattanooga had given signals. He had spent months in Jordan and then made ominous noises on the social media. Of course, most of those who talk big on Twitter never take the next step to real mass killing. The minority who do should be discovered by monitoring the lot in a cheap, economical way because there are so many. To oppose this kind of step is like declaring that the protection of our civil liberties is worth a few massacres each year – which could easily turn into many massacres. Yes, there is a slippery slope there. And yes, such surveillance creates a precedent that might lead to the intimidation of legitimate dissent. Two responses. First, a climate of widespread insecurity also undermines our personal liberties. Witness the creation – with hardly a murmur against – of that very intrusive and yet grossly ineffective Homeland Security apparatus in the aftermath of 9/11. Second, attacks on civil liberties take many forms and are not dependent on the particular bugaboo of electronic surveillance. Witness the still unpunished persecution of conservative political organizations by the Internal Revenue Service.

Civil libertarians, including libertarians would do better and they would be more effective in the long run if they insisted on two things: real effective, strict judicial oversight of surveillance; more restrictive aiming than has prevailed in that area. This would require frank profiling. (More on profiling below.)

The third measure needed is to slow down the growth of Muslim immigration into this country. Islamist terrorists come exclusively or almost exclusively from Muslim communities. The larger the Muslim communities, roughly, the greater the number of potential Islamist terrorists on American soil. This is true both directly and demographically. Some Muslim immigrants become terrorists, others raise American children who become terrorists. Muslim communities everywhere turn a blind eye to the the transformation among some of their members in a radical direction that is the prelude to embracing terrorism. Now, we want to do this in a way that avoids stigmatizing a billion people worldwide, many of whom have a view of Islam that makes no room for social aggression, many of whom are lukewarm faithful, an unknown number of whom are frankly indifferent, no more Muslim that I am. I repeat, in passing, that Muslims globally supply most of the victims of Islamist terrorism but this is not my topic here, I am writing about improving Americans’ safety.

Yes, I know, nearly everyone knows by now that not all Muslims are terrorists (exceedingly few are) and not all terrorists are Muslims. Let’s put this behind us for good. My point is that for practical purposes almost all domestic terrorists are Muslims.

We have to develop a selective tool for keeping out of the country the narrower category of Muslims most likely to become terrorists. I am speaking here of profiling before the fact. Although “profiling” has a bad name, rational action requires it. Here is an example. Looking for car thieves in a particular area, the local police will ignore older church-going black ladies while focusing on white males in their twenties who dress in dirty t-shirts. Profiling! It turn out that one way to interpret Islam insists on its literal relevance in today’s society. The highest Muslim theological authorities including the Grand Mufti of Cairo and religious authorities from Al Azar University periodically remind the faithful that Muslim tradition must be interpreted in the context of our times. This modernizing perspective is equally rejected by ISIS, which practices slavery because it’s explicitly allowed in the Koran itself, and by the Islamic Republic of Iran, which pointedly keeps the stoning of adulterous women on its books for the same reason. (In addition, many Muslims are like their Christian counterparts: They don’t know much about their own religion and what they know is disorganized and often incoherent, what I call “religious bric-à-brac” in an article in Liberty Unbound with a title that includes this word. “Religious bric-a-brac and the Tolerance of Violent Jihad,”).

It turns out that Islamists are also all literalists, strict constructionists, when they are not simply hoodlums. If you prevent literalist Muslims from entering the country , you have gone a long way toward reducing the number of potential terrorists in the US. One article of faith among literalist Muslims is that government must come from God. That’s why the Supreme Leader of the Shiite Islamic Republic is explicitly a cleric, couldn’t be an elected civilian or a general. This belief also explains the search for a Caliphate among Sunni jihadists, a polity where administrative and religious powers are one and the same. But, of course, separation between Church and State, between religion and government is central to our constitutional arrangements. And, there is no compelling reason to accept immigrants, or even visitors, who think of a central tenet of our constitution as anathema. We have every moral right to sift them out. This can be done at low cost and with a fair degree of effectiveness.

Few countries accept everyone without condition; the US does not, never has. It would be a simple matter to make all immigrants, all refugees seeking asylum and, I think all visitors sign a document asserting that they support all features of the US Constitution, including specifically everything that has to do with the relationship between religion and government. These comprise the non-establishment of religion (including Christianity they may be reminded) and an absolute right to blasphemy. As I said, all entrants would be asked to sign a statement to this effect, and they would be told that the list of signatories could be published at any time, anywhere and in any language. Latin Americans would sign because their constitutions are copied largely from ours; Europeans would sign because thy are almost all religiously indifferent or lukewarm; the largest immigrant group, the Chinese wouldn’t care. The only group from which you would expect a significant reluctance to sign would be Muslims, not all Muslims, but Muslims with literalist, fundamentalist tendencies that is, precisely the category most worth excluding. Some would simply cheat, of course, and pretend to agree to what is to them anathema but the possibility of seeing their name publicized would act as a partial deterrent. In addition, such perjury would provide easy ground to prosecute those signing under false pretenses.

Some would protest that such exclusion would be “unfair.” I think that the issue of unfairness dos not arise. This immigrant believes that no one has a right to enter the US.

Arm our defenders; ferret out the wild beasts before they can bite; don’t allow the alligator swamp to become larger. It’s all obvious; it’s all doable. It’s much more than we are doing now.

Myths of Sovereignty and British Isolation XIV, Revolution and the Dutch Model in the Late 17th Century

The last post in this series looked at the impact of Dutch republicanism on constitutional innovation and revolution in mid-seventeenth century Britain. Now on to Dutch influence on the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

Britain, or what was still three kingdoms (England, Scotland and Ireland) only unified in the person of the monarch did not have just one revolution connected with the Dutch model in the seventeenth century, but two. Furthermore the second of those revolutions required invasion by a Dutch prince to happen. The Glorious Revolution, as that second revolution is known, established something like the modern British political system in 1688 in establishing that the monarch could not legislate or even nullify legislation without parliament, could not govern without parliamentary consent and that parliament had the right to decide who could inherit the monarchy.

That this fundamental reorientation of the state system took place through violence and foreign intervention is not the sort of thing that sovereigntist believers in a British special path separate from mainland Europe, since Edmund Burke like to emphasise. Edmund Burke, a remarkable parliamentarian and writer on various topics including philosophical aesthetics, of the latter half of the eighteenth century, is introduced here, because his way of presenting British history is very connected with his assertions of British superiority in Reflections on the French Revolution, his most widely read book.

Of course there were things to condemn in the French Revolution, and Burke was a very acute observer of the violent polarising tendencies within it before they reached their extreme points, but his assumptions about British history are absurd. Given the importance of the Glorious Revolution for the British polity within which he played a distinguished role (though never in government), and his wish to condemn revolution, he reacts by denying a real revolution in 1688, presenting it as essentially restorative rather than innovative and as an essentially peaceful consensual event. It was of course presented in that way at the time, but then the French Revolution was influenced by ideas of restoration.

Evaluating Burke’s attitude will require going back to those events. Inevitably there are debates about the real causes of the Glorious Revolution, but it is anyway undeniable that it was a reaction against the rule of James II, who had only come to the throne three years previously suggesting remarkably poor powers of persuasion and conciliation.

The collapse of his reign was in some important part the result of religious issues going back to the simple fact that he was a Catholic monarch in a Protestant country. This would have been tolerable for Parliament and everyone else participating in political life if James had left the state religious settlement alone and if he was to die without a Catholic heir.

James was, however, very busy with changing the state religious settlement letting Catholics into powerful positions, and more seriously institutionalising the Catholic church in ways that suggested that at the very least he intended to give it equal status with the Protestant Church of England. This could be defended on grounds of religious tolerance at the time and still is.

Unfortunately for him James was not successful at persuading many Protestants, even those subject to discrimination themselves, that he had good intentions, and his methods of enforcing changes in the state religious settlement did not suggest someone willing to limit his general powers as Parliament expected. These methods included the assertion of a Dispensing Power, in which laws were suspended at will, and measures to manipulate parliamentary elections.

At the beginning of the reign he benefited from an extravagantly royalist Tory Parliament, but in a short period became mistrusted and feared. The birth of a son in June 1688 brought opposition to a new peak as it suggested that what James II had done would last beyond his own lifetime and it was not enough for those who disliked his policies to simply wait for his death, which would bring his Protestant daughter Mary to the throne, if he had no male heirs and she lived long enough. The outcome was that the Immortal Seven, seven prominent parliamentarians invited Princess Mary’s husband, Prince William of Orange to invade England.

The title ‘Orange’ refers to territory in France, but the Orange family was Dutch. They had a rather complicated and changing status as the first family of a country with no monarchy, tending to lead the army and to some degree provide a focus for central executive power in a  very decentralised system. The invitation to William enabled him to become King by will of parliament, but as he was the husband of the next in line to James, apart from his son, the hand over to William could be concealed as Mary taking her inheritance.

The next post will look at the steps from Dutch model to German kings linking Britain with Hanover.

Why You Should Avoid “Capitalism”

“Capitalism” means the sector of an economy in which markets determine prices and quantities. In a “capitalist” system, both the market for goods and the market for inputs are based on voluntary action within the constraints of governmental interventions, namely taxes, subsidies, restrictions, and mandates.

The term “capitalism” was first used in 1854 by William Thackeray in his novel The Newcomes. The term “capitalist” was used previously to refer to an owner of capital goods. The term was popularized by the German sociologist Max Weber as well as by socialists who use the term to condemn private enterprise as a system that exploits labor. In response, advocates of free markets use the term to mean private enterprise and to praise the concept of a free-market economy.

Confusion sets in as adjectives apply the term to markets with governmental interventions or to governmental enterprise, as in “state capitalism,” “crony capitalism,” “welfare capitalism,” “monopoly capitalism,” and “taxpayer-financed capitalism.” Thus “capitalism” is used to refer to current mixed economics (mixtures of markets and governmental intervention) and also to the concept of the pure free market. With the bad connotations as used by socialists, some advocates of reforms then present their approach as an alternative to “capitalism”.

Critics of markets use the term “capitalism” for propaganda by slyly shifting the meaning with this argument: 1) economies today are capitalist; 2) economies today have unemployment, poverty, and pollution; 3) therefore, capitalism causes these problems. The first statement uses “capitalism” as a label for current mixed economies, while the third one implicitly shifts the meaning to private enterprise or free markets.

The term “capitalism” is inherently confusing, since economies have three inputs: land, labor, and capital goods, and there is no logical reason to emphasize capital, unless one is going beyond the definition by claiming that capital dominates labor.

The term “capital” is itself ambiguous, as it can refer to any asset, including funds, capital goods, and reputation. It would be clearer to use the term “marketism,” but that word has already been adopted to mean the advocacy of free markets. “Marketocracy” is used by a mutual fund and portfolio web site. The term “market-priceism” is not yet in use, and would be a clearer term than “capitalism.”

An alternative to market prices is communism, in which goods are shared in a community such as a family. Another alternative is state socialism, in which government plans and controls production and resources, as well as the distribution of goods. Most economies today are mixed, consisting of a market sector and governmental impositions that alter the outcomes.

Economic discourse would be clearer if we used more precise terms. Instead of using “capitalism” to mean economic freedom, use “free markets,” “pure markets,” “private enterprise,” and “laissez faire.” Instead of using “capitalism” or “crony capitalism” for the actual economy, use “mixed economy” or “interventionism.” Instead of using “capitalism” for the exploitation of labor, use “capital domination.” For an economic system in which inputs and products trade in markets, use “market-priceism.”

Max Weber used terms such as “the development of capitalism” and “the evolution of capitalism.” This implies more than market-priceism. Weber analyzed economic development with private enterprise and market prices. He wrote of how such development could be strangled by the political structure. It would be clearer to call this “market-based development.”

Like the classical economists, Weber recognized the distinction between capital goods and land. He referred to “landlordism” and “prebends,” income from rent. In his essay “Structures of Power,” Weber wrote of land being an object of forceful acquisition, with ground rent frequently being “the produce of violent political subjection.”

In his essay “The Protestant Sects and the Spirit of Capitalism,” Weber wrote of some religions promoting a “rational way of life” which “paved the way for the ‘spirit’ of modern capitalism” and the ethos of the individualism of the middle classes with their small businesses. With due respect and admiration for Max Weber, this concept is better referred to with terms such as the spirit of private property, of competitive private enterprise, and of free markets.

The term “capitalism” is now so deeply dug into the global culture that it is here to stay. But those who wish to clearly understand and analyze economics would be wise to avoid the term and instead use words such as “mixed economy,” “pure free markets,” and, if it pleases you, “market-priceism.”

Around the Web

  1. GOP Presidential Candidates: The More the Scarier; I didn’t think that political competition could be a bad thing, though. Perhaps it’s only scary to those who are (and especially have been) active, willing participants in GOP machinations…
  2. Paul’s Gospel
  3. Sanders is not like Trump. Sanders is like Rand Paul.
  4. Postcards from Abu Dis: Checking out the Checkpoints (Part Nine); Dr Khawaja has been teaching philosophy in the West Bank this summer, and while I’ve linked to his latest installment, the whole series (nine parts so far) is well worth the read.
  5. Must religious bakers bake cakes for gay weddings?

Right Back!

I have been neglecting this blog because of the wonderfully warm weather and because the ocean temperature is slightly higher than in previous years I remember. It’s sufficiently higher to induce more frequent swimming. In the unlikely event that “global warming” is to be credited, I want more of the same.

I will be back soon with a new essay on terrorism, one that avoids both hysterics and political correctness. So, don’t forsake me yet!

Myths of Sovereignty and British Isolation XIII, Revolution and the Dutch Model in the mid 17th Century

The last post went up to the reign of James I in the early seventeenth century known as Jacobean England/Britain, because Jacobus is the Latin form of James. James I was also James VI of Scotland, unifying the two crowns in his person. He wished to created a unified British state, but this was not achieved until the early eighteenth century and Scotland always remained a distinct nation within Britain, de jure through different laws and state institutions, de facto through a distinct culture, or cultures, and a partly separate economy.

Sovereigntists and Eurosceptics might find the reign of James I to be an amenable part of history, with some qualifications. James I was married to a Danish princess and his son-in-law was a German prince at the centre of the opening phase of the Thirty Years War, a German and central European conflict which drew in the major European powers. James nevertheless kept British involvement very limited, though that would undermine any idea of Britain as distinct and exceptional as a champion of Protestantism in Europe. James could have played that role but preferred not too and was happy to try to ally with the major Catholic power, at least at the beginning of the Thirty Years War, Spain, though was also willing to give some support to French Protestants who had communities to some degree autonomous from the French state, which was a more generous attitude to religious ‘heresy’ than was shown in Britain.

Enthusiasts for the supposedly special and exceptional history of the English then British parliament will not find comfort in his notorious and eloquent belief in absolutism and divine right of kings, though James was sufficiently pragmatic and politically talented to realise that he could not avoid working with parliament in practice, at least in matters of new legislation and raising taxes. It can be said that his era is one in which Britain was not extremely involved in European affairs, colonisation of north America progressed, and parliament survived as a major state institution if not with the enthusiastic approval of James. That is the case for the twenty two year period from 1603 to 1625.

His son Charles, decent and cultured as an individual, was less talented at preserving the state and engaged in various forms of disruption. He tried to rule without parliament by stretching his tax powers to a creative extreme and pushed through changes in the doctrine and ritual of the Church of England with some brutality. This all started becoming counter-productive when the Scots rose up against a clumsy attempt to enforce conformity to the changed Church of England, though differences in the Scottish church had been recognised under James. The very brief summary of subsequent events is that Charles lost the subsequent Civil War/War of the Three Kingdoms, and lost his head after failing to acquiesce in a more limited form of monarchy.

A strong strand of sovereigntist-Eurosceptic thought comes out of a Tory detestation of the execution of a king and the institution of a republic known as the Commonwealth. Such blunt dislike of a movement which at least started as an increase in parliamentary power looks a bit odd now after a long period of purely symbolic monarchy in Britain and Oliver Cromwell who betrayed or stablished the republic as Lord Protector after three years, has long been recognised as a constructive and personally honest figure in British state history, even by those with a strong dislike of his more autocratic and religiously enthusiastic inclinations.

Some republicans, such as the poet and political thinker John Milton were themselves inclined towards a very Anglocentric understanding of liberty and Protestant religion (the Civil War was in significant part about the rights of those Protestants not conforming to the Church of England), so providing a kind of alternative sovereigntist narrative to the royalist story. In the past the republican narrative has been associated with the left, but the Eurosceptic right has to some degree recently been happy to be associated with it, as they attempt to associate the European Union with seventeenth century absolute monarchs supposedly following a state system foreign to the ancient Liberties and Constitution of England.

One problem with this is that republicans were initially eager to pursue a state union with the Dutch Republic which provide a model of republicanism in Protestant Europe. This failed because of a Dutch wish to protect a privileged trading and colonial system from British competition, and avoid being swallowed up by a bigger state. The Dutch Republic of the United Provinces was not even the only European model of republicanism. The most important British republican of that time, James Harrington, was inspired by Machiavelli and therefore the Florentine republican tradition, though he did not follow Machiavelli in every respect.

It should also be noted that European assemblies sometimes had more power than the English parliament. Though Spain of that era is generally associated with absolute monarchy of a cruel and even obscurantist type, the reality is that provincial assemblies and laws strongly hemmed in the power and tax raising capacities of the Habsburg monarchs, to the extent that these autocrats were less able to raise taxes than English monarchs and finance an effective state system.

Next Revolution and the Dutch Model in the late 17th Century

A vision for environmentalists

The sun is setting and people start settling in for bed instead of staying up late and watching TV. As fast as battery technology advances, it’s imperfect so we deal with it by using less electricity at night. Similarly, on windy days, people stay inside, but leave once the wind calms down and it’s nicer to be outside. This is a world where people are in tune with the weather and adjust their behavior accordingly.

How can we get such a world? Education won’t be enough (though it will be necessary) because, let’s face it, people are creatures of habit, and lazy people (i.e. 80%+ of the population) would rather leave any given habit alone. We could try to mandate behavior, but that will be costly and the Law of Unintended Consequences promises ironic blow-back.*

Luckily there’s a fairly simple way to effectively nudge people in the direction we (environmentalist-types) would like to see: flexible prices! In a world where a lot of electricity is generated by solar and wind** market determined prices would automatically encourage people to conserve resources and set the pace of their lives to match natural rhythms. Will it be enough? Probably not, but it will certainly be an essential step in the right direction.


* I recently came across the following in The Complete Walker:

I’m tempted to suggest they [trowels] be made obligatory equipment for everyone who backpacks into a national park or forest. I resist the temptation, though–not only because (human nature being what it is, thank God) any such ordinance would drive many worthy people in precisely the undesired direction but also because blanket decrees are foreign to whatever it is a man goes out into wilderness to seek, and bureaucratic decrees are worst of all because they tend to accumulate and perpetuate and harden when they’re administered, as they so often are, by people who revel in enforcing petty ukases. Anyways, a rule that’s impossible to enforce is a bad rule. (p. 698)

** Obviously the likelihood of such a world is a whole ‘nuther can of worms. Let’s leave that for another post.