Albania: People and Ruins

During my long traveling over Europe this summer, among other areas, I ventured to Albania, a country where houses frequently do not have numbers and where I located the building where a friend of my youth now lives by a drawing on a gate. This is a country where the so-called oriental bazaar is buzzing everywhere, where towns literally hang on cliffs, and where one easily runs across the ruins of the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman legacy of the country and the “archaeology” of the recent communist past (small concrete family bunkers, tunnels for the former communist nomenklatura, monumental sculptures and mosaics in the socialist realism style).

It was interesting to see how this country, which lived much of the 20th century under the most vicious communist dictatorship (1944-1990), is now trying to live a normal life.  To some extent, Albania is very similar to present-day Russia: decades of the negative natural selection under communism killed much of self-reliance, individual initiative, and produced the populace that looks up to the government for the solutions of their problems. For the past thirty years, a new generation emerged, and things did dramatically change. Yet, very much like in Russia, much of the populace feels nostalgia for the “good” old days, which is natural.

According to opinion polls, 46% of the people are nostalgic for the developed communism of dictator Enver Hoxha (1944-1985), an Albanian Stalin, and 43% are against communism; the later number should be higher, given the fact that many enterprising Albanians (1/4 of the population) live and work abroad.  During the last decades of its existence, Albanian communism slipped into a wild isolationism of the North Korean style. Except for Northern Korea and Romania, all countries, from the United States, Germany, UK (capitalist hyenas) to the USSR, China, and Yugoslavia (traitors to socialism), were considered enemies.  Incidentally, Albanian communism was much darker and tougher than the Brezhnev-era USSR. Nevertheless, as it naturally happened in Russia and some other countries, in thirty years, the memory of a part of the population laundered and cleansed the communist past, and this memory now paints this past as a paradise, where everyone was happy and looked confidently into the future, where secret police and labor concentration camps existed for a good reason, and where the vengeful dictator appears as a caring father.

In the hectic transition to market economy and with the lack of established judicial system, there naturally emerged a widespread corruption, nepotism. But, at the same time, small business somehow flourishes. The masses and elites of the country aspire to be united with neighboring Kosovo since both countries are populated by Albanian majorities. On top of this, Kosovo is the birthplace of Albanian nationalism.  However, unlike current Russia, which is spoiled with abundant oil and gas resources (the notorious resource curse factor), corrupt Albanian bureaucrats that rule over a small country exercise caution. Although that small country is too blessed with oil, natural gas, chromium, copper, and iron-nickel, they do not waste their resources on sponsoring geopolitical ventures and harassing their neighbors. For themselves, the Albanians resolved the Kosovo issue as follows: we will be administratively two different states, but de facto economically and socially we will be tied to each other, and all this makes life easier for people, preventing any conflicts. Not a small factor is that, unlike, for example, Russia or Turkey, Albanian nationalism is devoid of any imperial syndromes, and therefore there is no nostalgia for any glorious lost empire. The fact that Albania is a member of NATO also plays a significant role, which forces the Albanian elites behave. Acting smartly, instead of geopolitical games, they decided to fully invest in the development of the tourism business, believing that, in addition to mining their resources, this is the best development option.

Before the Fourth

Young man, what we meant in going for those Redcoats was this: we had always governed ourselves and we always meant to. They didn’t mean we should.”

  • Levi Preston, 1842, remembering the Battle of Lexington and Concord

First of all, thanks to anyone who read my post on the deleted clause of the Declaration of Independence. I see many more readers around today every year, and I think that it serves as a constant reminder that our Founders were not a uniform group of morally perfect heroes, but a cobbled-together meeting of disagreeable risk-takers who were all dedicated to ‘freedom’ but struggled to agree on what it meant.

However, as we all get fat and blind celebrating the bravery of the 56 men putting who put pen to paper, I also want to call out the oft-forgotten history of rebellion that preceded this auspicious day. July 4th, 1776 makes such a simple story of Independence that we often overlook the men and women who risked (and many who lost) their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to make that signing possible, and who kept the flame of rebellion alive when it was most likely to be snuffed out.

This inspired me to collate some of the most important early moments and individuals on whom fate turned. I’m deliberately skipping some well known icons and events (the Boston Massacre and Tea Party, the first shot on Lexington Green, etc.), but if you want to see the whole tapestry and not just the forgotten images, I recommend the following Founding Trilogy:

I owe my knowledge and the stories below to these histories that truly put you among the tiny communities that fought before July 4th, and they have convinced me, there is no Declaration, no Revolution, and no United States of America without the independent actions and decisions of their central cast.

Part I: Before the Ride

Paul Revere’s ride is one of the most mythologized, and mis-cast, moments in history. As early as the day after the Battle of Lexington and Concord, local Whigs were intent on casting the battle as an unprovoked attack by the tyrannical British occupiers and their imperious leader in Boston, General (and Governor) Thomas Gage. That meant that they brushed possibly the most important aspect of the rebellion’s early success under the rug, and honored Revere for his rapid responsiveness on that very night. Since then, unfortunately, the ride has been the center of most messaging honoring or criticizing this patriot.

Revere’s ride would have been useless if, for several years, he had not been New England’s most active community organizer. The battle did not represent the first time Thomas Gage secretly marched on the powder stores of small New England towns (he had successfully done so to Somerville in 1774), or even the first time Boston’s suburbs were called to arms in response (in the Powder Alarm, thousands turned out to defend against a false-alarm gunpowder raid). Revere’s real contribution was that he was one of many go-betweens for small towns intent on protecting their freedom and their guns, and their link to the conspirators led by Sam Adams and John Hancock in Boston. He helped spawn a network of communication, intelligence, and purchase of arms that was built on New England’s uniquely localized community leadership, without which it would have been impossible for over 4,000 revolutionaries to show up, armed and organized, on the road from Concord to Boston, in less than 8 hours.

New England towns had some of the most uniquely localized leadership in the history of political organization. In these small, prosperous towns, with churches as their center of social organization, government was effectively limited to organizing defense, mostly in the purchase of cannon and gunpowder, both of which were rare in the colonies. The towns also mustered and drilled, and while most towns did not have centralized budgets, they honored wealthier citizens who would donate guns to those who could not afford their own. From town government to General Gage’s seizures to the early supply conflicts, then, guns and especially gunpowder (which was not manufactured anywhere in New England in 1775, and rapidly became the scarcest resource of the early Revolution) were literally the center of town government and the central reason underlying the spark and growth of Revolution.

The Whigs (or Patriots) could have, in fact, just as easily noted December 14th, 1774, as the kick-off of the Revolution, since it was the first military conflict between Patriots and British garrisons, centered around gunpowder and cannon. On that day, the ever-present Revere, having learned that Gage may attempt to seize the powder of Portsmouth, NH, rode to warn John Langdon, who organized several hundred men not only to defend the town’s powder but to seize Fort William and Mary. He led several hundred Patriots to the fort, on the strategic Newcastle Island at the mouth of the Portsmouth River, and after asking the six British soldiers garrisoning the fort to surrender, stormed it in the face of cannonfire. No deaths resulted, and more Patriots arrived the next day, stealing a march on Gage and driving him to see his Boston post as a tender toehold in a territory alight with spies, traitors, and rebels.

However, despite the fact that the British governor of New Hampshire fled and the British never regained the territory, December 14th is not our Independence Day. Even though it was a successful pre-Lexington battle, defending the same rights, and resulting from a ride of Paul Revere, it has been largely overshadowed. Is it because it was an attack by Patriots, undermining the ‘innocent townsfolk’ myth of Patriot propaganda? Because no one died for freedom? Because American historians like to remember symbolic signatures by fancy Congresses rather than the trigger fingers of rural nobodies? Either way, December 14th shows that the gunpowder-centric small town networks, and their greatest community organizer, were the kindling, the flint, and the steel of the Revolution, and were all ready to spark long before Lexington Green.

Even the events that led to that fateful battle center around a few key organizers and intelligence operatives. Hancock and Adams were only the most publicly known of hundreds of hidden leaders, and lacking the space to recognize all, I’ll just recognize Dr. Joseph Warren, who asked Revere to make his famous ride and who served as President of the Provincial Congress until he was killed in the desperate fighting on Bunker Hill, and Margaret Kemble Gage, who despite being married to General Gage favored the Whigs likely leaked his secret plans to march on Concord, and was subsequently forced to sail to Britain by her husband, probably to stop her role as the Revolution’s key spy.

These key figures put their lives on the line not for their country, nor for the political philosophies of classic liberalism, nor even because of the ‘oppressive’ Stamp Act or Intolerable Acts, but to defend their own and their community’s visceral freedoms from seizures and suppression by Gage’s men. They were joined by thousands of otherwise-nobodies who jumped out of bed to defend their neighbors, whose motivations are best captured by the quote above by Levi Preston, the longest-lived veteran of Lexington and Concord. The full quote, given to a historian asking about the context for the battle in 1842, is revealing:

Chamberlain (historian): “Captain Preston, why did you go to the Concord Fight, the 19th of April, 1775?”

Preston didn’t answer.

Chamberlain: “Was it because of the Intolerable Oppressions?”

Preston: “I never felt them.”

What of the Stamp Act?

Preston: “I never saw one of those stamps.” he responded.

Tea Tax?

Preston: “I never drank a drop of the stuff…The boys threw it all overboard.”

Chamberlain: “Maybe it was the words of Harrington, Sydney or Locke?”

Preston: “Never heard of ‘em,”

Chamberlain: “Well, then, what was the matter? And what did you mean in going to the fight?”

Preston: “Young man, what we meant in going for those Redcoats was this: we always had governed ourselves, and we always meant to. They didn’t mean we should.”

“And that, gentlemen,” Chamberlain resolved in his history, “is the ultimate philosophy of the American Revolution.”

  • Thus ends Part I! Come back to see Part II: The Navy, where we go into the small band-of-brothers from Marblehead, Massachusetts who served as Washington’s personal navy in the race for gunpowder, the escape from New York, and the crucial Crossing of the Delaware.

Two Bald Eagles: Symbols of Divided Attitudes?

I spotted two Bald Eagles today in Cincinnati, which is really fitting for the Fourth of July. The two Bald Eagles—one indolent and one vigilant—capture not only the attitudes of two influential figures in American politics about this national symbol that was hotly debated till 1789, but they also reflect the fractured character of these United States.

You probably already know that Benjamin Franklin was an outspoken detractor of the bald eagle. He stated his disinterest in the national symbol in a letter to a friend:
“I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country; he is a bird of bad moral character; like those among men who live by sharping and robbing, he is generally poor, and often very lousy. The turkey is a much more respectable bird and withal a true, original native of America.”

In contrast, President John F. Kennedy wrote to the Audubon Society:
“The Founding Fathers made an appropriate choice when they selected the bald eagle as the emblem of the nation. The fierce beauty and proud independence of this great bird aptly symbolizes the strength and freedom of America. But as latter-day citizens we shall fail our trust if we permit the eagle to disappear.”

The two Bald Eagles, which symbolize, in my estimation, two divergent historical viewpoints, show us that American history is splintered into sharp conceptions of the past as it has been politicizedly revised to forge a more perfect union. There is little question that the tendency toward seeking out varied intellectual interpretations of US history is unabating and maybe essential to the growth of a mature republic. On holidays like the Fourth of July, however, a modicum of romanticism of the past is also required if revisionist histories make it harder and harder for the average person to develop a classicist vision of the Republic as a good—if not perfect—union and make it seem like a simple-minded theory. 

The two Bald Eagles aren’t just symbolic of the past; they also stand for partisanship and apathy in the present toward issues like inflation, NATO strategy, Roe v. Wade, and a variety of other divisive concerns. In addition, I learned there is an unfortunate debate on whether to have a 4th of July concert without hearing the 1812 Overture. For those who are not familiar, it is a musical composition by the Russian composer Tchaikovsky that has become a staple for July 4th events since 1976. 

In view of this divisiveness here is my unsophisticated theory of American unity for the present moment: Although the rhetoric of entrenched divisiveness and the rage of political factions—against internal conflicts and international relations—are not silenced by the Fourth of July fireworks, the accompanying music, festivities, and the promise of harmony, they do present a forceful antidote to both. So why have a double mind on a national ritual that serves as a unifying force and one of the few restraints on partisanship? Despite the fact that I am a resident alien, I propose preserving Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, arousing the inner dozing Bald Eagle, and making an effort to reunite the divided attitude toward all challenges. The aim, in my opinion, should be to manifest what Publius calls in Federalist 63 the “cool and deliberate sense of community.”

Have a happy Fourth!

Monday’s Equality Lessens

An Address on Liberty (Deirdre McCloskey)

As usual, insightful and educational.

Much of our life is governed neither by the government’s laws or by solely individual fancies, but by
following or resisting or riding spontaneous orders.

The speech also references Harrison Bergeron, the short story by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (published in 1961), which NOL treated few years ago. I have to admit, I only knew the author’s name and no more. The opening is quite something:

THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

This absurd world drips vitriol, though the target is debatable: Most see a parody of socialistic/ communistic principles, though others think that the irony was intended to the (Cold War) US perception of those principles. Also: What’s this thing with dystopias and April?

Vonnegut is the second-in-a-row author from that era that I added to my list, after the recent discovery of Frederik Pohl (just acquired The Space Merchants, written with Cyril M. Kornbluth, in a decadent 90s Greek version).

(H/T to Cafe Hayek for the McCloskey link, and Skyclad for the title word play).

Stimuli For Your Moral Taste Buds [June 2022 Edition]

Today’s food-for-thought menu includes Eco-Feminism, Indics of Afghanistan, the Fetus Problem, a Mennonite Wedding, the Post-Roe Era, and the Native New World. I’m confident the dishes served today will stimulate your moral taste buds, and your gut instincts will motivate you to examine these themes in greater depth.

Note: I understand that most of us are unwilling to seek the opposing viewpoint on any topic. Our personal opinions are a fundamental principle that will not be altered. However, underlying this fundamental principle is our natural proclivity to prefer some moral taste buds over others. This series represents my approach to exploring our natural tendencies and uncovering different viewpoints on the same themes without doubting the validity of one’s own fundamental convictions. As a result, I invite you to reorder the articles I’ve shared today using moral taste buds that better reflect your convictions about understanding these issues. For instance, an article that appeals to my Care/Harm taste bud may appeal to your Liberty/Oppression taste bud. This moral divergence reveals different ways to look at the same thing.

The Care/Harm Taste Bud: Eco-feminism: Roots in Ancient Hindu Philosophy

The Nature-Culture Conflict Paradigm today reigns supreme and seeks to eradicate cultures, societies, and institutions that advocate for and spread the Nature-Culture Continuum Paradigm. Do you see this conflict happening? If so, can you better care for the environment by adopting a Nature-Culture Continuum paradigm? Is there anything one may learn from Hindu philosophy in this regard?


Due to a focus on other issues in Afghanistan, such as terrorism, food and water shortages, and poverty, the persecution of religious minorities in the nation is not as generally known, despite the fact that it has been a human rights crisis for decades. Ignorance of this topic poses a serious risk to persecuted groups seeking protection overseas. Western governments have yet to fully appreciate the risks that Afghan Sikhs and Hindus endure. I also recommend this quick overview of the topic: 5 things to know about Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan.

The Liberty/Oppression Taste Bud: Biological Individuality and the Foetus Problem

As I’ve discovered, abortion was one of the earliest medical specialties in American history when it became entirely commercialized in the 1840s. As a result, the United States has been wrestling with moral issues about abortion for 182 years! The abortion debate has gone through rights-based assertions and advanced to claims about the policy costs and benefits of abortion and now appears to have returned to rights-based arguments in the last 50 years. Regardless of where you stand on this debate, this much is clear: in the U.S., the circle of moral quandary surrounding abortion never closes. Nevertheless, what is the source of the moral ambiguity surrounding abortion? Can the philosophy of biology help us better comprehend this moral quandary?

Some philosophers would argue that the issue of biological individuality is central to this moral dispute. But why is biological individuality even a point of contention? Counting biologically individual organisms like humans and dogs appears straightforward at first glance, but the biological world is packed with challenges. For instance, Aspen trees appear to be different biological units from above the ground; nonetheless, they all share the same genome and are linked beneath the ground by a sophisticated root system. So, should we regard each tree as a distinct thing in its own right or as organs or portions of a larger organism?

How Aspens Grow?

Similarly, humans are hosts to a great variety of gut bacteria that play essential roles in many biological activities, including the immune system, metabolism, and digestion. Should we regard these microorganisms as part of us, despite their genetic differences, and treat a human being and its germs as a single biological unit?

NIH scientists find that salmonella use intestinal epithelial cells to colonize the gut

Answers to the ‘Problem of Biological Individuality’ have generally taken two main approaches: the Physiological Approach, which appeals to physiological processes such as immunological interactions, and the Evolutionary Approach, which appeals to the theory of evolution by natural selection. The Physiological Approach is concerned with biological individuals who are physiological wholes [Human + gut bacteria = one physiological whole], whereas the Evolutionary Approach is concerned with biological individuals who are selection units [Human and gut bacteria = two distinct natural selection units].

Is a fetus an Evolutionary individual or a Physiological individual? If we are Evolutionary individuals, we came into being before birth; if we are Physiological individuals, we come into being after birth. While the Physiological Approach makes it evident that a fetus is a part of its mother, the Evolutionary Approach makes it far less clear. But is there an overarching metaphysical approach to solving the problem of biological individuality? Can metaphysics (rather than organized monotheistic religion) lead us to a pluralistic zone where we can accept both perspectives with some measure of doubt?

Philosophy and Phenomenological Research

The Loyalty/Betrayal Taste Bud: What I Found at a Mennonite Wedding

Do you consider the United States to be a high-power-distance or low-power-distance culture? Coming from India, I used to see the U.S. as the latter, but in the last 12 years of living here, it is increasingly becoming the former.

Does your proximity to an authority strengthen or lessen your loyalty?,india,the-usa/

The Authority/Subversion Taste Bud: The Post-Roe Era Begins Political and practical questions in an America without a constitutional right to abortion.

[In the link above, make sure to listen to both Akhil Amar and Caitlin Flanagan]

I also recommend reading Why Other Fundamental Rights Are Safe (At Least for Now)

Is there a flaw in the mainstream discussion of the U.S. Constitution that the abortion debate has brought to light? In my opinion, although predating the U.S. federal constitution and being significantly more involved in federal politics and constitutional evolution, each American state’s constitution is widely ignored. Keep in mind that state constitutions in the United States are far more open to public pressure. They frequently serve as a pressure release valve and a ‘pressuring lever’ for fractious U.S. national politics, catalyzing policy change. Regrettably, in an era of more contentious national politics, mainstream U.S. discourse largely ignores changes to state constitutions and spends far too much time intensely debating the praise or ridicule the federal Constitution receives for specific clauses, by which time the individual states have already shaped how the nation’s legal framework should perceive them. Altogether, a federal system, where individual state constitutions are ignored, and conflicts are centralized, is the American political equivalent of Yudhishthira’s response to the world’s greatest wonder in the thirty-three Yaksha Prashna [33 questions posed by an Indic tutelary spirit to the perfect king in the Hindu epic of Mahabharata].

The Sanctity/Degradation Taste Bud: The Native New World and Western North America

The emergence of a distinctly Native New World is a founding story that has largely gone unrecorded in accounts of early America. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

To round off this edition, a Western movie question: Are there any examples of American Westerns developed with the opposing premise—valuing the First Nation’s People’s agency, which has gained historical support? Why not have a heroic Old World First Nation protagonist who safeguards indigenous practices and familial networks in a culturally diverse middle ground somewhere in the frontier country, shaping and influencing the emerging New World? Can this alternate perspective revitalize the jaded American Western movie genre?

[Here’s the previous edition of Stimuli For Your Moral Taste Buds]

Gold Rush ducks (rushed in Monday)

2s rhyme nicely with 7s

Academic papers are a tough nut to crack. Apart from the prerequisite of expertise in the field (acquired or ongoing, real or imaginary), there is some ritualistic, innuendo stuff, like the author list. I always keep in mind this strip from PHD Comics:

It came handy when MR suggested this paper, A Golden Opportunity: The Gold Rush, Entrepreneurship and Culture.

Now, I cannot even pretend I read the thing. But eight listed authors popped-up to my eyes. And the subject is catchy enough in cementing the hard way what may seem as a pretty evident proposition

The term “Argonauts” (used for the gold rushers of 1849) irked me somewhat at first, since the crew of legendary, talking ship Argo was an all-star Fellowship of Justice Avengers team, featuring the baddest champions around (warfare, navigation, pugilism, wrestling, horse riding, music, to note the most renown, some of them later fathered other heroes), human or demi-god. But there is a sad story behind it, and also the Greek myth can be understood as a parable for ancient gold hunting, so I indeed learned something (on-top of quit charging to the void without good reason).

Argonautica notwithstanding, there is an even more telling reference for the theme of the paper. That would be no other than Scrooge McDuck, the creation of Carl Barks, the richest duck in the world. Per his biography, a gravely underappreciated graphic nov comic book (originally a series of twelve stories, published thirty years ago, other stories were added as a Companion edition later) that frustratingly keeps falling off best-of lists (I mean, apparently there is So MucH DePtH in costumed clowns, but not in anthropomorphic animals without pants) he was a gold rusher AND and an entrepreneur extraordinaire. The book, The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck by Don Rosa, tells Scrooge’s life before his first official appearance as a depressed old recluse who meets his estranged nephews in Christmas 1947. The duck adventures we all are familiar with followed that meeting. Rosa collected all the smatterings of Scrooge’s past from these endeavors, memories, quotes, thoughts, and reconstructed a working timeline (with the inevitable and necessary artist’s liberty, of course). The resulting prequel is all the more impressive given the sheer volume of detail, the breezy rhythm and the context it gives to a deserving character.

According to the Life and Times, Scrooge struggled from child’s age. The Number One Dime was not “Lucky”, it was earned by polishing boots. It deliberately was a lowly US coin (instead of the expected Scottish one), by a well-meaning ploy to inform young Scrooge that there are cheaters about. It was this underwhelming payment for tough work that lead him to drop this signature line and decide on how to conduct his business:

Well, I’ll be tougher than the toughies and sharper than the sharpies — and I’ll make my money square!

Scrooge McDuck, The Last of the Clan McDuck

This fist “fail” was followed by a series of entrepreneurial tries, each failing and each teaching our hero a lesson. Scrooge moved to the US to join as a deckhand, and then as a captain, a steamboat just as railroads were picking up. His cowboy and gun slinging chops went down the drain when the expansion to the West ended. He rose, fell, and still kept coming back. He became rich in the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897, 20 years after the Number One Dime affair (and a little late for the California Gold Rush, my bad).

Scrooge finding a gold nugget the size of a goose egg, thus “making” it after 20 years (the cover of the Greek version – source)

As the paper technically puts it, the personality traits of those involved in gold prospecting associated with openness (resourceful, innovative, curious), conscientiousness (hardworking, persistent, cautious) and emotional stability (even-tempered, steady, confident), underpinned by low risk aversion, low fear of failure and self-efficacy. This constellation of traits, the authors note, is consistently associated with entrepreneurial activity. Indeed, from that point Scrooge demonstrated considerable acumen and expanded his business across industries and countries. A trait that serves him in building and maintaining his wealth (and seems lacking in his peers) is prudence (perceived as stinginess) and a very laconic lifestyle.

He casually brawled and stood his ground against scum. His undisputable morals lapsed only once, when ruthlessness briefly overtook decency. Though he made amends and corrected course, this failing, coupled with a hard demeanor, made his family distance themselves from him, adding a tragic – and very humane – edge to the duck mogul.

The hero, “born” 155 years ago (8 Jul 1867), stands as an underrated icon of individual effort and ethics.

Stimuli For Your Moral Taste Buds

Based on anthropologist Richard Shweder’s ideas, Jonathan Haidt and Craig Joseph developed the theory that humans have six basic moral modules that are elaborated in varying degrees over culture and time. The six modules characterized by Haidt as a “tongue with six taste receptors” are Care/harm, Fairness/cheating, Loyalty/betrayal, Authority/subversion, Sanctity/degradation, and Liberty/oppression. I thought it would be interesting to organize articles I read into these six moral taste buds and post them here as a blog of varied reading suggestions to stimulate conversation not just on various themes but also on how they may affect our moral taste buds in different ways. To some of you, an article that appeals to my Fairness taste bud may appeal to your taste bud on Authority.

I had planned to post this blog yesterday, but it got delayed. Today, I can’t write a blog without mentioning guns. Given that gun violence is a preventable public health tragedy, which moral taste bud do you favor when considering gun violence? Care and Fairness taste buds are important to me.

I’ve only ever been a parent in the United States, where gun violence is a feature rather than a bug, and my childhood in India has provided no context for this feature. But, I can say that India has not provided me with reference points for several other cultural features that I can embrace, with the exception of this country’s gun culture. It is one aspect of American culture that most foreign nationals, including resident aliens like myself, find difficult to grasp, regardless of how long you have lived here. I’d like to see a cultural shift that views gun ownership as unsettling and undesirable. I know it is wishful thinking, but aren’t irrational ideas salvation by imagination?

Though I’m not an expert on guns and conflict, I can think broadly using two general arguments on deterrence, namely:

A) The general argument in favor of expanding civilian gun ownership is that it deters violence at the local level.

B) The general case for countries acquiring nuclear weapons is that it deters the escalation of international conflict.

I sense an instinctual contradiction when A) and B) are linked to the United States. The US favors a martial culture based on deterrence by expanding civilian gun ownership within its borders while actively preventing the same concept of deterrence from taking hold on a global scale with nuclear weapons. Why? The US understands that rogue states lacking credible checks and balances can harm the international community by abusing nuclear power. Surprisingly, this concept of controlling nuclear ammunition is not effectively translated when it comes to domestic firearms control. I get that trying to maintain a global monopoly on nuclear weapons appeals to the Authority taste bud, but does expanding firearms domestically in the face of an endless spiral of tragedies appeal just to the Liberty taste bud? Where are your Care and Fairness taste buds languishing?

Care: The Compassionate Invisibilization Of Homelessness: Where Revanchist And Supportive City Policies Meet/ Liberal US Cities Including Portland Change Course, Now Clearing Homeless Camps

[I’m sharing these two articles because my recent trip to Portland, Oregon, revealed some truly disturbing civic tragedies hidden within a sphere of natural wonders. I hadn’t expected such a high rate of homelessness. It’s a shame. “Rent control does not control the rent,” Thomas Sowell accurately asserts.]

Fairness: America Has Never Really Understood India

[I’d like to highlight one example of how “rules-based order” affected India: In the 1960s, India faced a severe food shortage and became heavily reliant on US food aid. Nehru had just died, and his successor, Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, called upon the nation to skip at least one meal per week! Soon after, Shastri died, and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi took over, only to be humiliated by US President Lyndon B. Johnson for becoming dependent on food aid from his country. The progressive US President was irked by India’s lack of support for his Vietnam policy. So he vowed to keep India on a “ship-to-mouth” policy, whereby he would release ships carrying food grain only after food shortages reached a point of desperation. Never to face this kind of humiliation, India shifted from its previous institutional approach to agricultural policy to one based on technology and remunerative prices for farmers. The Green Revolution began, and India achieved self-sufficiency. The harsh lesson, however, remains: in international relations, India is better off being skeptical of self-congratulatory labels like “leader of the free world,” “do-gooders,” “progressives,” and so on.]

Liberty: Can Islam Be Liberal? / Where Islam And Reason Meet

[I would like to add that, in the name of advocating liberalism for all, personal liberty is often emphasized over collectivist rights in the majority, while collectivist rights are allowed to take precedence over personal liberty in minority groups, and all religious communities suffer as a result.]

Loyalty: Black-Robed Reactionaries: Has The Supreme Court Been Bad For The American Republic?

[Is it all about Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Supreme Court Majority?]

Authority: How Curing Aging Could Help Progress

[In my opinion, the indefinite future that awaits us compels us to contextualize our current activities and lives. What do you think will happen if anti-aging technology advances beyond the limits of our evolutionary environment? Furthermore, according to demographer James Vaupel, medical science has already unintentionally delayed the average person’s aging process by ten years [Vaupel, James W. “Biodemography of human ageing.” Nature 464.7288 (2010): 536-542]. We have 10 extra years of mobility compared to people living in the nineteenth century; 10 extra years without heart disease, stroke, or dementia; and 10 years of subjectively feeling healthy.]

Sanctity: India and the Indian: Hinduism, Caste Act As Unifying Forces In The Country

[Here is my gaze-reversal on caste as a moderate Hindu looking at a complacent American society: If caste is a social division or sorting based on wealth, inherited rank or privilege, or profession, then it exists in almost every nation or culture. Regardless of religious affiliation, there is an undeniable sorting of American society based on the intense matching of people based on wealth, political ideology, and education. These “American castes,” not without racial or ethnic animus, organize people according to education, income, and social class, resulting in more intense sorting along political lines. As a result, Democrats and Republicans are more likely to live in different neighborhoods and marry among themselves, which is reflected in increased polarization in Congress and perpetual governmental gridlock. The intensification of “American castes,” in my opinion, is to blame for much of the political polarization. What is the United States doing about these castes? Don’t tell me that developing more identity-centered political movements will solve it.]

I intend to regularly blog under this heading. To be clear, I refer to regularly using the Liberty taste bud rather than Fairness.

Some derivations from the uses of the terms “knowledge” and “information” in F. A. Hayek’s works.

In 1945, Friedrich A. Hayek published under the title “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” in The American Economic Review, one of his most celebrated essays -both at the time of its appearance and today- and probably, together with other studies also later compiled in the volume Individualism and Economic Order (1948), one of those that have earned him the award of the Nobel Prize in Economics, in 1974.

His interpretation generates certain perplexities about the meaning of the term “knowledge”, which the author himself would clear up years later, in the prologue to the third volume of Law, Legislation and Liberty (1979). Being his native language German, Hayek explains there that it would have been more appropriate to have used the term “information”, since such was the prevailing meaning of “knowledge” in the years in which such essays had been written. Incidentally, a similar clarification is also made regarding the confusions raised around the “spontaneous order” turn, which he later replaced by that of “abstract order”, with further subsequent replacements:

Though I still like and occasionally use the term ‘spontaneous order’, I agree that ‘self-generating order’ or ‘self-organizing structures’ are sometimes more precise and unambiguous and therefore frequently use them instead of the former term. Similarly, instead of ‘order’, in conformity with today’s predominant usage, I occasionally now use ‘system’. Also ‘information’ is clearly often preferable to where I usually spoke of ‘knowledge’, since the former clearly refers to the knowledge of particular facts rather than theoretical knowledge to which plain ‘knowledge’ might be thought to prefer” . (Hayek, F.A., “Law, Legislation and Liberty”, Volume 3, Preface to “The Political Order of a Free People”.)

Although it is already impossible to substitute in current use the term “knowledge” for “information” and “spontaneous” for “abstract”;  it is worth always keeping in mind what ultimate meaning should be given to such concepts, at least in order to respect the original intention of the author and perform a consistent interpretation of his texts.

By “the use of knowledge in society”, we will have to refer, then, to the result of the use of information available to each individual who is inserted in a particular situation of time and place and who interacts directly or indirectly with countless of other individuals, whose special circumstances of time and place differ from each other and, therefore, also have fragments of information that are in some respects compatible and in others divergent. 

In the economic field, this is manifested by the variations in the relative scarcity of the different goods that are exchanged in the market, expressed in the variations of their relative prices. An increase in the market price of a good expresses an increase in its relative scarcity, although we do not know if this is due to a drop in supply, an increase in demand, or a combined effect of both phenomena, which vary joint or disparate. The same is true of a fall in the price of a given good. In turn, such variations in relative prices lead to a change in individual expectations and plans, since this may mean a change in the relationship between the prices of substitute or complementary goods, inputs or final products, factors of production, etc. In a feedback process, such changes in plans will in turn generate new variations in relative prices. Such bits of information available to each individual can be synthesized by the price system, which generates incentives at the individual level, but could never be concentrated by a central committee of planners. In the same essay, Hayek emphasizes that such a process of spontaneous coordination is also manifested in other aspects of social interactions, in addition to the exchange of economic goods. They are the spontaneous –or abstract- phenomena, such as language or behavioral norms, which structure the coordination of human interaction without the need for a central direction.

“The Use of Knowledge in Society” appears halfway through the life of Friedrich Hayek and in the middle of the dispute over economic calculation in socialism. His implicit assumptions will be revealed later in his book The Sensory Order (1952) and in the already mentioned Law, Legislation and Liberty (1973, 1976 and 1979). In the first of them, we can find the distinction between relative limits and absolute limits of information / knowledge. The relative ones are those concerning the instruments of measurement and exploration: better microscopes, better techniques or better statistics push forward the frontiers of knowledge, making it more specific. However, if we go up in classification levels, among which are the coordination phenomena between various individual plans, which are explained by increasingly abstract behavior patterns, we will have to find an insurmountable barrier when configuring a coherent and totalizer of the social order resulting from these interactions. This is what Hayek will later call the theory of complex phenomena.

The latter was collected in Law, Legislation and Liberty, in which he will have to apply the same principles enunciated incipiently in “The Use of Knowledge in Society” regarding the phenomena of spontaneous coordination of individual life plans in the plane of the norms of conduct and of the political organization. Whether in the economic, legal and political spheres, the issue of the impossibility of centralized planning and the need to trust the results of free interaction between individuals is found again.

In this regard, the Marxist philosopher and economist Adolph Löwe argued that Hayek, John Maynard Keynes, and himself, considered that such interaction between individuals generated a feedback process by itself: the data obtained from the environment by the agents generated a readjustment of individual plans, which in turn meant new data that would readjust those plans again. Löwe stressed that both he and Keynes understood that they were facing a positive feedback phenomenon (one deviation led to another amplified deviation, which required state intervention), while Hayek argued that the dynamics of society, structured around values such like respect for property rights, it involved a negative feedback process, in which continuous endogenous readjustments maintained a stable order of events. Hayek’s own express references to such negative feedback processes and to the value of cybernetics confirm Lowe’s assessment.

Today, the dispute over the possibility or impossibility of centralized planning returns to the public debate with the recent developments in the field of Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things and genetic engineering, in which the previous committee of experts would be replaced by programmers, biologists and other scientists. Surely the notions of spontaneous coordination, abstract orders, complex phenomena and relative and absolute limits for information / knowledge will allow fruitful contributions to be made in such aspects.

It is appropriate to ask then how Hayek would have considered the phenomenon of Artificial Intelligence (A.I.), or rather: how he would have valued the estimates that we make today about its possible consequences. But to adequately answer such a question, we must not only agree on what we understand by Artificial Intelligence, but it is also interesting and essential to discuss, prior to that, how Hayek conceptualized the faculty of understanding.

Friedrich Hayek had been strongly influenced in his youth by the Empirical Criticism of his teacher Ernst Mach. Although in The Sensory Order he considers that his own philosophical version called “pure empiricism” overcomes the difficulties of the former as well as David Hume’s empiricism, it must be recognized that the critique of Cartesian Dualism inherited from his former teacher was maintained by Hayek -even in his older works- in a central role. Hayek characterizes Cartesian Dualism as the radical separation between the subject of knowledge and the object of knowledge, in such a way that the former has the full capabilities to formulate a total and coherent representation of reality external to said subject, but at the same time consists of the whole world. This is because the representational synthesis carried out by the subject acts as a kind of mirror of reality: the res intensa expresses the content of the res extensa, in a kind of transcendent duplication, in parallel.

On the contrary, Hayek considers that the subject is an inseparable part of the experience. The subject of knowledge is also experience, integrating what is given. Hayek, thus, also relates his conception of the impossibility for a given mind to account for the totality of experience, since it itself integrates it, with Gödel’s Theorem, which concludes that it is impossible for a system of knowledge to be complete and consistent in terms of its representation of reality, thus demolishing the Leibznian project of the mechanization of thought.

It is in the essays “Degrees of Explanation” and “The Theory of Complex Phenomena” –later collected in the volume of Studies in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics, 1967- in which Hayek expressly recognizes in that Gödel’s Theorem and also in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s paradoxes about the impossibility of forming a “set of all sets” his foundation about the impossibility for a human mind to know and control the totality of human events at the social, political and legal levels.

In short, what Hayek was doing with this was to re-edit the arguments of his past debate on the impossibility of socialism in order to apply them, in a more sophisticated and refined way, to the problem of the deliberate construction and direction of a social order by part of a political body devoid of rules and endowed with a pure political will.

However, such impossibility of mechanization of thought does not in itself imply chaos, but on the contrary the Kosmos. Hayek rescues the old Greek notion of an uncreated and stable order, which relentlessly punishes the hybris of those who seek to emulate and replace the cosmic order, such as the myth of Oedipus the King, who killed his father and married his mother, as a way of creating himself likewise and whose arrogance caused the plague in Thebes. Like every negative feedback system, the old Greek Kosmos was an order which restored its lost inner equilibrium by itself, whose complexities humiliated human reason and urged to replace calculus with virtue. Nevertheless, what we should understand for that “virtue” would be a subject to be discussed many centuries later from the old Greeks and Romans, in the Northern Italy of the Renaissance.

Nightcap: Primitive communism

I should be jealous of Manvir Singh. He’s an anthropologist who publishes stuff in the academic and popular press. The stuff he publishes is the stuff I am interested in. It’s the stuff I would have published if I had gone into academia. I’m not jealous, though. I’m on the path that I’m meant to be on. And I would never have gotten away with popularizing this:

Hunters’ privileges are inconvenient for narratives about primitive communism. More damning, however, is a starker, simpler fact. All hunter-gatherers had private property, even the Aché.

Read the rest.

“What’s in a name?”

The following piece was first published in my personal newsletter. I am sharing it with the NOL community as introduction to displays of social ignorance and the role I think it plays in social Marxism.

He may call himself Mr Pelham to his heart’s content. He is Lord Hexam in this house.

~ Downton Abbey

Carson the butler says this in response to learning that Lady Edith Crawley’s husband, Mr. Bertie Pelham, has just inherited the Marquessate of Hexam from a cousin. Bertie doesn’t want to assume the title until his cousin is buried, but Carson reminds the staff that system of aristocracy doesn’t work like that. The king is dead, long live the king. Mr Pelham is now Lord Hexam whether he wills or not. A little knowledge of the system and possibly a little less cognitive bias might have prevented an embarrassing episode.

Back in March 2021,  The Independent issued a small clarification without any fanfare: On 12 March 2021 we published an article headlined: ‘I’m a black British member of the aristocracy. I love the royal family — but I know what Meghan said was true,’ written by Alexander Maier-Dlamini in which he was described as the “Marquess of Annaville – the last of the Irish peerages”. This was incorrect, there is no Marquess of Annaville in the Irish peerage. The article in question ran in the midst of the fallout from the Duke of Sussex and his wife’s interview with Oprah in which they described his family as racists and British and American society as equally racist, just in different ways. In particular Meghan Sussex implied that her son was denied a title due to his mixed-race heritage (he has a title, Earl of Dumbarton: the parents won’t use it.). The Marquess of Annaville threw his weight behind the Sussexes, arguing that he knew they were right because of his personal experiences. However, there is no Marquess of Annaville.

The fake Marquess turned out to be a 22-year old American student from New Rochelle, New York, with very little knowledge of titles, peerages, aristocracy, or manner in which any of those structures worked. The only true things about the man’s claims are that his name is Alexander Maier-Dlamini, his spouse’s last name is Dlamini (which wouldn’t be part of Alexander’s title), and he is Black. Correctly, he is African-American, but that was not his claim: since he purported be a peer of the United Kingdom, by extension he was claiming to be Black British. After Debrett’s proved that there was no Marquessate of Annaville, he confessed to his fraud.  In a statement he said, “There is no title in the peerage related to me whatsoever. I do apologize greatly to those institutions involved with a mechanism like this, many of which I’m obviously not familiar with.” “Not familiar with” is an understatement.

Alexander Maier-Dlamini

The fact that The Independent ran this man’s op-ed represents an appalling lack of due diligence. The Independent quietly deleted the article, but not before I and a horde of netizens read it. In almost no time, other publications and the general public established that there was no Marquessate of Annaville, a fact that the newspaper could have been checked by a quick search of Debrett’s online database, or Burke’s Peerage database. These two resources both require subscriptions to access the databases, but considering The Independent is a major publication, it is reasonable to expect them to pay for such things as part of basic due diligence. But there were other tells which make the fact that no search was done on the fake marquess inexcusable.

He signed his article “Lord Alexander Maier-Dlamini, Marquess of Annaville.” This is a mix of forms. The first, “Lord Alexander Maier-Dlamini,” is the form for a younger son, and it is incorrect to use this for the peer, i.e. the holder of the title. Alexander Maier-Dlamini claimed to be the Marquess, and therefore would be the peer. The correct form for the peer is either: 1) Alexander Maier-Dlamini, Marquess of Annaville, or 2) Lord Annaville. This is very basic information that is part of simply being socially aware and is freely available. Back when I was interning at AEC in Vienna, Debrett’s website provided free information on the etiquette of writing titles. The fact that The Independent didn’t catch Maier-Dlamini’s incorrect use of form is beyond me.

According to one of the netizens who helped catch him, even after apologizing for his fraud, Maier-Dlamini continued to publish as a fake aristocrat under the name “Lord Zigmund Annaville,” purportedly the brother of “Lord Alexander.” There are two things to notice that are wrong: 1) “Zigmund” is a phonetic spelling of the German “Sigmund,” and while it has been used historically, it has not been used in mainstream European society since at least the 1800s; an aristocratic family is unlikely to make that mistake; 2) Annaville is the peerage, not the family name, so a younger son would not use it. Peers and their wives (but not the husbands of female peers) may use their peerage as their last name. So it is correct to refer to Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge as Catherine Cambridge. It would not be correct to call her younger son, Prince Louis of Cambridge, “Louis Cambridge.” If Lord Zigmund really existed, his correct form would be “Lord Zigmund Maier.” He would use the family name.

As a commentator at the time pointed out in an article I haven’t been able to find, claiming to be the 11th Marquess should have been enough to trigger red flags with the people over at The Independent. Assuming an average of three generations per century (father, son, grandson), the peerage would have been created around the 1600s, possibly even earlier, and the family could potentially be much older. Marquesses tend to be senior peers of whatever realm they are in, so therefore it is impossible for no one to have heard of a Marquess of Annaville if the title really existed. Given the presence of the aristocracy in British history, the Marquesses of Annaville or other members of the Maier family would have been all over the history books.  For a comparison, the 11th Duke of Marlborough died in 2014. The Dukedom was created in 1689 as an upgrade for the then-Earl of Marlborough. The Churchill family (they re-hyphenated their name to Spencer-Churchill in the mid-twentieth century) is one of the most storied in British history, having produced Sir Winston Churchill, who was never confused about whether he was Winston Churchill or Winston Marlborough. He easily could have been: when he was born, he was second in line behind his father Lord Randolph Churchill. Fortunately for history, the 8th Duke married late in life and had a son; if he had not, Winston could have been the duke in World War II and as a peer would have been barred from becoming Prime Minister. From what I know, Lord Randolph Churchill and Winston were a little squiffy when their brother and uncle’s new wife produced a son, who effectively destroyed their hopes of acceding to the title. Perhaps one can attempt to be charitable and assume that Alexander Maier-Dlamini thought peerages worked like the U.S. presidency: the incumbent vacated after at most eight years. Hypothetically, this could explain why the Annaville title was so far along in holders but no one could remember the incumbent’s predecessors.

As part of his op-ed, Maier claimed that he was constantly having to explain his lineage and how he came to be a marquess as no one believed a Black man could be a titled aristocrat. In doing so, he revealed the time contradiction — if the Annaville title was an old one, everyone would have remembered his father’s marriage to his mother when it was announced twenty some-odd years ago. No, this is not an assumption; in order for a son to inherit his father’s titles, the father has to have been married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth, otherwise the child is illegitimate and cannot claim his father’s titles. A marriage for someone as important as a Marquess would have been announced in the major newspapers. Of course Maier-Dlamini also revealed his ignorance of the existence of the Black and other minority life peers sitting in the House of Lords in Parliament.

For the other part of his claim that people racially profiled him, it is believable that that detail missed vetting given how many people seem to be unaware that there are plenty of people of African or other minority descent married into the British aristocracy, in addition to the ones  holding peerages in their own rights. The Marchioness of Bath, wife of the 8th Marquess, is the daughter of an Oxford-educated Nigerian chief. Her words in response to questions about being a Black marchioness were, “I see my role as a practical thing: as a wife, mother and someone with a responsibility to maintain this incredible estate. I aspire to a future where [my skin colour] is not a defining characteristic.” Lord Mountbatten’s great-granddaughter and first cousin twice removed (granddaughter of first cousin) of Prince Philip is married to a Black man, with whom she has three children. She and they are in the line of succession for both the Earldom of Burma and the British throne. She put up a picture of her children and grandmother, Lady Pamela Hicks, Lord Mountbatten’s second daughter on Instagram in April 2021, a month after The Independent ran its fake story.

Lady Pamela Hicks and two of her great-grandchildren

There’s probably no connection, but one wonders. And lest anyone think that it’s African-Americans who seem to have trouble with the British aristocracy, indisputably Black American Candace Owens is married to the Honourable George Farmer, son of Michael Farmer, Baron Farmer. Owen’s and Farmer’s son is a mixed-race member of the aristocracy. Her retort in response to issues of titles and race was “If you have seen a picture of Archie and you believe he suffered anti-black racism, then call me a Nigerian prince and give me your credit card number.” In claiming racist profiling, Alexander Maier-Dlamini revealed that he was unable to transcend the boundaries of his own limitations and concocted stories which might fit the experiences of a young man from New Rochelle, but which reveal that he didn’t do the most basic research on the group of people whose membership he claimed.

Alexander Maier-Dlamini’s failure to research or to understand the intricacies of aristocracy is his own. The Independent giving him a platform is theirs. It would be nice to say that The Independent’s editors suffered from bias confirmation, that psychological condition where because the data appear to fit preformed conclusions, one doesn’t check. The reality, though, is that there were so many signs that Maier-Dlamini was a fraud that there is no explanation for the editors’ failure. Even the most bias-blinded person should be able to stop and say “wouldn’t a real aristocrat know whether he is Lord Annaville or Lord Alexander?” Since the answer is “yes, a real aristocrat would know.” That should have triggered a fact check.

A Note on “Hayekian” Empirical Normative Systems

In the first volume of Law, Legislation and Liberty (1973), we will find the most daring theses of Friedrich Hayek regarding the problem between law and politics. Just as his economic work of the 1930s and 1940s had been, in his opinion, misunderstood by his colleagues; just as he was surprised to hear the fervent readers of The Road to Serfdom (1945) attribute positions to him that he had not exposed there; also his legal-political work triggered simplifying interpretations that conceal the main contributions, still relevant for this time.

In Norms and order –that is the title of that first volume- the author does not propose to abandon legislation and return to customary law, nor to replace the political decisions of the administration of state affairs by a government of judges. On the contrary, it is stated there with a clarity that leaves no room for doubt that the powers of the state must be organised and operate in accordance with the rules and procedures of public law, made up of legislative bodies endowed with rules with a clear teleological content.

On the other hand, the genuinely innovative thesis that Hayek exposes in the aforementioned volume consists in affirming that the interactions between individuals in the scope of their exchanges destined to cooperate freely and voluntarily in the coordination of their respective life plans are structured around a set of abstract rules –that is, lacking a specific purpose- and general rules whose observance could occur in practice without the need for a positive enunciation. It is for this reason that Hayek affirms that the law is not created, but discovered, and that it is not legislated, but rather evolves.

On this last point, John Gray at his time, many years after Hayek’s death, lamented that his former mentor had spent the last years of his life discussing pseudoscientific ideas around alleged evolutionary theories. However, such suspicion cannot fall in any way on the triptych of “Law, Legislation and Liberty” (1973; 1976 and 1979).

What is found in the said work is an express taking sides with a tradition of thought that extends from the Late Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the beginnings of Modernity: the school of natural law understood as something different from an ideal, derived from reason, about what should be, but to a set of normative beliefs effectively extended in a given population, which condition their behaviour, contribute to the formulation of a critical judgement about the value of actions and allow the formation of expectations about the expected behaviour of peers and, therefore, facilitate the ideation and coordination of individual plans.

For Hayek’s own epistemological conceptions, this tradition of thought acts as a kind of discovery mechanism on certain aspects of the legal phenomenon and the structural characteristics present in all human interaction and therefore his constant appeal to the history of ideas.

Hayek, in a peaceful and incontrovertible way for any specialist in the matter, syndicates Hugo Grotius as the initiator of the rationalist and idealist school of natural law, although holding him responsible, as he did, for the evolution of the identification of legislation as the only and exclusive source of law could be considered as an overly emphatic statement, which would abandon the very premises of cultural evolutionism to which Hayek himself adhered: if Grotius’ theses were so successful, it was largely due to the subsequent advent of the national states.

Although the truth is, however, that the characterization of Natural Law as a derivative of reason later allowed, in the 20th century, to receive from legal positivism the rejection of all Natural Law as “metaphysical”, thus leaving the formulation of the Law at the mercy of politics and, with it, in a serious crisis the very notion of “Rule of Law”.

It is for this reason that Hayek set out to rehabilitate the empiricist current of Natural Law, which seeks normative statements not in the derivations of reason, but in the discovery of notions about what could be considered right behaviour towards others through the investigation of patterns of behaviour actually observed in a given community that is structured around peaceful exchanges repeated over time.

The archetypal example of such kinds of normative structures given in practice, independently of their enunciation by any type of legislator, is represented by the communities of merchants: a repeated series of regular exchanges generates certain expectations about the conduct to be observed by the members of said group of merchants, which also allow to conceive and coordinate other business plans. For this reason, many times, conflicts between merchants are resolved through friendly settlers, or arbitrations, and judges resort to the opinion of specialised experts in a certain commercial area to dictate their decisions.

Such examples do not constitute proof that all law is spontaneous, but rather a powerful counterexample to the theses that hold, on the one hand, that legislation is the only possible source of law and those that, on the other, affirm that all law must be derived from reason.

Although both antithetical visions are synthesised in the figure of the rational legislator, whose legislative enunciations are derivatives of public reason, this in turn receives -in the first half of the 20th century and today- challenges from Realistic doctrines, which state that legislative activity is not a product of public reason, but of the exercise of political will.

It is in relation to this contest that Hayek plays the card of cultural evolutionism and of the legal system as a spontaneous order. In this sense “Law, Legislation and Liberty” is a new elaboration of “The Road to Serfdom”.

This theoretical controversy maintains its full validity to date: the confrontation that the predominant species of Liberalism, of an idealistic and rationalist nature, seems to be losing against Political Realism, which places political will above a system of human coexistence based on rules and not on discretionary decisions. In Hayek’s case, he sides with a rule-based political system, but what sets him apart from prevailing Liberalism is that such rules are not derived from reason, but rather emerge from experience.

This experience not only produces norms of just conduct to be discovered by the courts and enunciated by legislators, but it is also responsible for structuring the very apparatus for understanding such norms. It is for this reason that Hayek himself, in his book The Sensory Order (1952), called his particular philosophical vision “pure empiricism.”

Of course, an empiricist conception of Natural or Fundamental Rights – based on Adam Ferguson, David Hume and Edmund Burke, among others – is not exempt from difficulties, the main one being the task of identifying those empirical norms that effectively contribute to maintain a peaceful order of coexistence and provide them with the corresponding enforcement.

However, despite such difficulties, affirming that the existence of Natural Rights emerges from the experience that structure a peaceful order of coexistence and that they are the ones that legitimise the exercise of power and not vice versa, already constitutes in itself an affirmation worthy of being considered and, eventually, defended.

The case for Taiwan’s statehood

When Russia invaded Ukraine a few short weeks ago, some people began to worry that China might try to do the same thing with Taiwan. I didn’t worry about this myself, as China is mostly a paper tiger, but also because the US has close military ties with Taiwan. Taiwan has close economic relationships with several wealthy democratic states in East Asia, too. Contrast this geopolitical context with Ukraine, and the parallels, while tempting, do not add up.

The whole debate and worry over Taiwan got me thinking again about federation as a libertarian foreign policy. Why shouldn’t Taiwan just join the United States? Here are the most common objections to such a federation:

Geography. This is probably one of the strongest cases against Taiwan joining the US, since it’s so far away from not only the mainland but Hawaii, too. Aaaand it’s just off the coast of China, which would likely cause friction with the regional power were Beijing to suddenly find itself neighboring a transoceanic republic.

This is all much ado about nothing. A plane ride from Dallas to Taipei is 14 hours if you take out the layovers. Somebody living in Kaohsiung could send me an email after reading this essay and I could access it within minutes. Geography still matters, but its not an insurmountable barrier to a freer, more open world via the federative principles of the United States constitution.

Culture. A big complaint I see about adding “states” to the American republic is “culture.” Fellow Notewriter Edwin does this all the time, and it can make sense, on the surface, in some cases, but not in Taiwan’s, and not in the Indo-Pacific more generally.

Look at Taiwan’s 2020 presidential election results:

Look familiar? There’s only two colors. It’s a contest between a left-wing and right-wing, and both wings are committed to, and bound by, liberty and democracy. There are no “ethnic” parties, no “religious” parties, and no radical parties, mostly because Taiwan has the same electoral system as the US does: a “first-past-the post” one. So the cultural angle is even weaker than first imagined. Taiwan started out as a nationalist holdout against the Communist Party, but today nationalism doesn’t carry a whole lot of weight. Adding Taiwan to the republic would be like adding another California or Hawaii, albeit with more conservative votes. It’s plausible that adding Taiwan would give Democrats two more reliable seats in the senate, but this is merely cause to invite a polity that would reliably vote Republican to also join the United States.

Self-determination / cultural autonomy. There’s an argument in some circles that joining the US would be akin to losing self-determination and even cultural autonomy. I don’t see how any of this could be true. Even today, people in American states retain a “state-centric” identity when it comes to thinking about their place in the US. That Taiwanese would be able to add “American” to a plethora of other identities already at their disposal could only be a good thing.

China. Would China fight a war against the US over Taiwan statehood? Maybe, but given Russia’s poor showing in Ukraine, the war would end quickly, at least from a Taiwanese statehood perspective. The CCP’s military has no fighting experience, unproven tech, unproven hardware, and…no fighting experience. The worst that would happen, I think, is that the CCP threatens war, maybe sends some warships to the strait, maybe fires some rockets over the island and flies some fighter jets over the island, but that’s about it. The CCP just doesn’t have the muster to fight a war against the United States over Taiwan.

These four objections are so common that I can’t help but be exasperated by their banality, especially given the rich tradition of republican security theory and federalist thought over the past three or four thousand years. There are two reasons for Americans, and especially libertarians, to support Taiwan’s federation with the US:

The free riding problem. The first thing that all libertarians complain about when it comes to “foreign policy” is the free riding problem. This is a problem in political economy where agents will enjoy the benefits of a policy at the expense of other agents who are required to bear the costs. Libertarians aren’t wrong to complain about the free riding problem. It’s a big problem. Think of a Russian attack on NATO ally Lithuania.

Taiwan has a fairly hard guarantee of US military support were the Communist Party of China to attack it. This, the argument goes, allows Taiwan to be a bit more reckless than it otherwise would be when dealing with Beijing. Therefore, according to non-interventionists, the US should simply stop guaranteeing Taiwan’s military security and just trade with the people of the island instead. It would be an awful scenario to face were Taiwan to goad China into attacking it and thus draw the US into a war with China.

Federating would end the free riding problem once and for all. Taiwan’s citizens would be American citizens. They would benefit, and pay the costs, associated with such citizenship.

Sovereignty. Taiwan is not a sovereign nation-state, as China has blocked all of the island’s attempts to become so, and it never will be so long as nation-state status depends upon recognition by large states such as Russia and China (as well as the US). This actually makes it easier for Taiwan to join the republic. The American senate is a tool of international diplomacy that was utilized to bind independent states together in a federal union by trading their sovereignty for seats in a powerful upper house of Congress. Taiwan wouldn’t have to go through the arduous process of debating whether or not its sovereignty is worth the price of admission into a North American federal order, because its status as a Westphalian sovereign nation-state is non-existent.

By incorporating Taiwan into its federal order, the US could revamp the liberal world order, and it could do so by adhering to the principles which made it a beacon for liberty in the first place.

Deprivations Of Liberty Seen Through Ekphrastic Poetry

I’ve discovered and admired a wide variety of original thinkers during my eleven-year stay in the United States, from philosopher Eric Hoffer to economist and social theorist Thomas Sowell. From American history professor Barbara J. Fields to American political philosopher Harvey Mansfield. From Tyler Cowen, an American economist, and David Boaz, a libertarian thinker, to Paul Graham, an English-born American venture capitalist and essayist. One among them is Natasha Trethewey, a two-time US Poet Laureate.

My favorite contemporary American poet, Natasha Trethewey’s poems have an Ekphrastic quality because she graphically and implicitly explores her individuality and deprivations of liberty through deeply evocative accounts of her past and personal photographs rooted in her experience of race and culture.

As it is World Poetry Day, I thought I’d share three of her poems that appeal to me. But first, a little background on her: She was born on the centennial of Confederate Memorial Day in the Deep South to an African American mother and a white father when interracial marriage was still illegal in Mississippi. Though her father, poet Eric Trethewey, had an early impact on her, her mother, Gwendolyn Ann Turnbough’s tragic death, according to Trethewey, prompted her first attempt at writing poetry.

I hope you enjoy these poems and explore more of her work.

History Lesson

I am four in this photograph, standing   

on a wide strip of Mississippi beach,   

my hands on the flowered hips

of a bright bikini. My toes dig in,   

curl around wet sand. The sun cuts   

the rippling Gulf in flashes with each   

tidal rush. Minnows dart at my feet

glinting like switchblades. I am alone

except for my grandmother, other side   

of the camera, telling me how to pose.   

It is 1970, two years after they opened   

the rest of this beach to us,   

forty years since the photograph   

where she stood on a narrow plot   

of sand marked colored, smiling,

her hands on the flowered hips   

of a cotton meal-sack dress.

[Natasha Trethewey, “History Lesson” from Domestic Work.]

Southern History

Before the war, they were happy, he said.
quoting our textbook.  (This was senior-year

history class.)  The slaves were clothed, fed,
and better off under a master’s care.

I watched the words blur on the page.  No one
raised a hand, disagreed.  Not even me.

It was late; we still had Reconstruction
to cover before the test, and — luckily —

three hours of watching Gone with the Wind.
History, the teacher said, of the old South —

a true account of how things were back then.
On screen a slave stood big as life: big mouth,

bucked eyes, our textbook’s grinning proof — a lie
my teacher guarded.  Silent, so did I.

[Natasha Trethewey, “Southern History” from Native Guard.]


Here, she said, put this on your head.

She handed me a hat.

You ’bout as white as your dad,

and you gone stay like that.

Aunt Sugar rolled her nylons down

around each bony ankle,

and I rolled down my white knee socks

letting my thin legs dangle,

circling them just above water

and silver backs of minnows

flitting here then there between

the sun spots and the shadows.

This is how you hold the pole

to cast the line out straight.

Now put that worm on your hook,

throw it out and wait.

She sat spitting tobacco juice

into a coffee cup.

Hunkered down when she felt the bite,

jerked the pole straight up

reeling and tugging hard at the fish

that wriggled and tried to fight back.

A flounder, she said, and you can tell

’cause one of its sides is black.

The other side is white, she said.

It landed with a thump.

I stood there watching that fish flip-flop,

switch sides with every jump.

[Natasha Trethewey, “Flounder” from Domestic Work.]

Talking about Trethewey’s poetry, Jericho Brown, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, says, “Her contribution is that of someone who sees us in individual and human ways and not only representations of resistance. Her black Union soldiers fall in love, her overworked grandmother plays a mischievous trick on a foreman, her black stepfather is a murderer, and her white father, who loves her, can’t resist microaggressions against her. I mean she allows her characters — her own history — to be as complex as history really is. This makes space for readers like me who are interested in life and not a caricature of life, readers who understand that poems must face us to our good and our evil and our personhood no matter what color we are.” Apart from Brown’s insight into Trethewey’s poetry invoking a strand of individuality that goes beyond trying to paint groups of people as symbols of resistance, I have often wondered what it is about her poems that appeal to me. Though I have no firsthand experience of what a troubled relationship with racial identity feels like, I suppose it may have something to do with my uneasy alliance with the English language itself—the medium of Trethewey’s craft. English is both the language of enslavement and revolt in a multilingual India. Though a colonial language, India has adopted English as its father tongue, yet we don’t fall under the Anglosphere-type of society. For most Indians, including me, English is characterized by ambiguity and conflict with our mother tongues, often mirroring a flounder-like situation—flip-flopping, switching sides with every jump, privileging one or the other, yet interpreting each other in the search for liberty.

Trethewey with her parents, Gwendolyn and Eric (also a poet), in Mississippi in 1966. The couple would separate seven years later. [}

Here’s some more from Natasha Trethewey




2022 Hayek Essay Contest

The Mont Pelerin Society (MPS) announces Friedrich A. Hayek Fellowships for its 2022 Biennial Congress and General Meeting, which will be hosted October 4-8, 2022 in Oslo, Norway.

The MPS encourages members to share this announcement with any eligible and interested individuals (see Rules of Eligibility and Submission Guidelines below), who would like to submit an essay and receive consideration for a Fellowship to attend the meeting:First prize: $2500 cash award + travel grant*Second prize: $1500 cash award + travel grant*Third prize: $1000 cash award + travel grant**Travel grant includes coach class airfare, registration fee, and most meals. Hotel, other food, and other expenses will be the responsibility of the attendee.

The essays will be judged by an international panel of three members of the Society. Essays structured as a professional scholarly journal article are especially encouraged.
 Contest ThemeThe MPS welcomes submissions addressing the following questions related to the meeting theme:What type of international order is most conducive to the preservation of liberalism?What is the appropriate role for the subsidiarity principle and/or secession?What cultural domestic underpinnings are necessary for successful international orders?How does trade policy relate to and/or influence the larger institutional international order?Submissions may also address one or both of the following quotes from Hayek.
“An international authority which effectively limits the powers of the state over the individual will be one of the best safeguards of peace. The international Rule of Law must become a safeguard as much against the tyranny of the state over the individual as against the tyranny of the new super-state over the national communities. Neither an omnipotent super-state, nor a loose association of ‘free nations’, but a community of nations of free men must be our goal.”
– Hayek, Friedrich (1944, 1976) The Road To Serfdom. Routledge & Kegan Paul. p. 175.
“Since it has been argued so far that an essentially liberal economic regime is a necessary condition for the success of any interstate federation, it may be added, in conclusion, that the converse is no less true: the abrogation of national sovereignties and the creation of an effective international order of law is a necessary complement and the logical consummation of the liberal program.”
– Hayek, Friedrich (1939) The Economic Conditions of Interstate Federalism, reprinted in Individualism and Economic Order (1949, 1976). Routledge & Kegan Paul. p. 269.
More information on the conference theme can be found here:
About MPS Oslo 2022.
Rules of Eligibility and Submission GuidelinesThe Hayek Essay Contest is open to all individuals 36 years old or younger. Entrants should write a 5,000 word (maximum) essay. Essays are due on Tuesday, May 31, 2022 and the winners will be announced on Thursday, June 30, 2022.Essays must be submitted in English only. Electronic versions should be sent to: MPS Young Scholars Program Committee. Authors of winning essays must present their papers at the General Meeting to receive their award.Download the Contest Announcement as a PDF Document:
2022 MPS Hayek Essay Contest.

Please contact the MPS Young Scholars Program Committee to address questions or request additional information.