There’s no reason to keep writing. I have an nine month-old (nine-month old?) boy and a twenty-nine month-old girl. My vote doesn’t matter. I’ve lost my zest for ideas and events. Nobody cares what a libertarian has to say anymore, anyway. We’re back in the wilderness, wandering aimlessly and pettily bickering with each other about the stupidest things. We had our moment, we truly did, and it got flushed down the toilet along with the big, racist turds we dropped in the porcelain bucket.
Something in the world of ideas has turned stale. Or, I’ve gone stale. I don’t think I have, though. I’ve been reading plenty of books and plenty of internet, and much of it is enjoyable and provides me with a better sense of the world I inhabit. Has the world of ideas always been this stale? Has “the world of ideas” been a Big Lie to begin with, a cover-up invented by political strategists to influence youth and vie for power?
Libertarianism itself is no longer what I thought it was. Consider Syria. What’s a libertarian to do? A libertarian from the US would probably say that his country’s military leaving Syria is a good thing. A libertarian from Syria would probably say that the US leaving Syria is a bad thing. Actually, this is pretty cool now that I’ve thought about it. What is the libertarian position on Syria? Abandon it and regroup somewhere else? Would this “somewhere else” then become a fortress of libertarianism? Would it become a launching pad for military action, for violent acts of aggression against an equally violent polity?
Libertarianism seems to work great in an American institutional context, but what happens when libertarianism moves abroad? Now, I’m not about to go all sideways (to borrow a phrase from an old black cook that I know here in Texas). I’m still a libertarian, but only because it’s the least bad option out there. The world could use more liberty. This liberty can be gained through non-violent indigenous means most of the time. As a citizen of the world’s big, bad hegemon, this is the position I have a duty to take. If I was born in, say, Kurdistan, though, or Angola, violence might be the best least bad option to take en route to more liberty.
Edwin’s 2014 post continues to impress. Is this because I am getting older? Is this because I have other shit to do besides ensure (online…) that liberty remains as pure as possible?
Lucas had a busy, productive 2018 elsewhere, but he assures me that 2019 will be the year he gets back on track for blogging. I’ve uploaded his 2013 book on the rise of the state in the early modern period (“Do Império ao Estado: Morfologias do sistema internacional”) to the side bar, or you can access the whole thing here (pdf).
I don’t know about you, but I am really looking forward to Dr Freire’s thoughts!
In order for Putin to “pull out of” Ukraine, he’d first need to be in Ukraine.
The new republics which seceded from Ukraine are not in Ukraine.
Knapp brings up an interesting point that most geopolitical outlets and experts rarely consider (the Washington Post‘s Worldviews is a notable exception, as is Ilya Somin over at Volokh Conspiracy), and because of that these outlets fail to provide any depth or light to the world around us. There are three aspects of Knapp’s excellent comment that I’d like to hone in on.
The new republics
First, what are these “new republics” Knapp mentions? If you don’t count Crimea (wiki), which Moscow formally recognized in 2014, then the new republics that declared their independence from Ukraine are Luhansk (wiki) and Donetsk (wiki). Both polities are roughly 3300 square miles in area and house roughly 1.5 million people (you can get the exact numbers from the wiki links I provided above). Here is a map:
Alarmingly, both republics style themselves “people’s republics” and (less alarmingly) have aligned publicly with Moscow. Russia, by the way, has not recognized these “new republics,” for geopolitical reasons I hope to make clear below.
Russia does not like to recognize new polities (“republics”) because of its adherence to the ideal of Westphalia, which is state sovereignty (elsewhere at NOL Barry Stocker argues that the Westphalian ideal can be better understood as an early modern cosmopolitanism rather than state sovereignty). All throughout the Cold War Russia and China were staunch supporters of the Westphalian ideal (as were states in Africa and Asia that broke away from colonial empires), and they became even more so after the collapse of socialism in 1993. State sovereignty is the idea that states (“countries”) have sole control over what goes on in their own borders, and that any interventions of any kind, by any type of organization, needs to be approved by the state. It is called “Westphalian” because of the Treaty of Westphalia that was signed by a number of major and minor European states in the 17th century. The major states were able to maintain a balance of power and the minor states were able to assert more sovereignty over their territories than ever before because they were signatories of an international treaty. (Edwin van de Haar’s article in the Independent Review [pdf] on the balance of power as the most libertarian option available is worth reading, and is made stronger, I believe, by Giovanni Arrighi’s argument [pdf] that the balance of power led directly to the “capitalist oligarchies” that eventually pushed feudalistic institutions out of Europe beginning in the late 15th century.)
Russia, China, and other autocratic regimes prefer an international system that is respectful of state sovereignty because of the fact that this idea helps their governments to administer an amount of coercion on populaces that Western states consider immoral or rights-violating.
Why did Russia hint at recognizing Donetsk and Luhansk, but ultimately decide not to recognize them? Because the West has been recognizing separatist republics since the USSR fell apart, and it has done so in the traditionally Russian sphere of influence (noticeably carving up Yugoslavia at Serbia’s geographic expense). The West has not carved up post-Soviet space by simply recognizing the sovereignty of self-proclaimed republics, but also by incorporating these polities into the international system that it dominates. Russia wants to show elites (but not necessarily the public) that it is tired of policymakers ignoring Westphalian notions of sovereignty (which are enshrined in the UN charter that almost all recognized states have signed; when they sign it they get rent-seeking privileges, but that’s a story for another day…).
This is fairly straightforward logic on Moscow’s part. When the West supported Kosovo’s secession from Serbia (in defiance of Article 2(4) of the UN charter), Russia responded by supporting South Ossetia and Abkhazia breaking away from Georgia before annexing them. The interesting thing here is that Russia even mimicked Western use of force to back up its play. When the West supported Montenegro’s secession from Serbia (in defiance of Article 2(4) of the UN charter), Russia responded by supporting Donetsk, Crimea, and Luhansk breaking away from Ukraine before annexing Crimea. The interesting thing here is that Russia even mimicked Western use of force to back up its play. Both Russia and the West used minimal military resources to achieve their objectives, and both played the sovereignty card to back up their actions.
Western policymakers will never be able to bring liberty to Russia, and liberty will never be known by Russians if the rule of law is trumped by geopolitics. The West dominates the world’s international governing organizations. It has made the rules. It has drawn up the contracts. It has invited the non-West to participate. It has given concessions in order to gain the non-West’s support. So when the West breaks the rules it first outlined and drew up, the non-Western polities it convinced to join IGOs in the first place cannot be expected to take such rules seriously. The fact that Russia does play by the West’s rules, by taking seriously the claims of breakaway regions, suggests that the West has been in the wrong post-1993.
American media pundits and critical thinking
All of this leads me back to sensationalist headlines about nefarious Russian meddling in the American presidential election. Don’t believe any of that garbage. Firstly, look at how often American foreign policy pundits have been wrong. Just look! Amid the cries of Russian meddling in the Clinton-Trump contest you can surely hear the faint echoes about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Secondly, all good analyses of geopolitical affairs provide at least some bit of historical context to them. Does your foreign policy pundit use history as a guide? Thirdly (and lastly), when thinking about a country remember that most accounts will have a point of view that shadows the consensus found in the world’s political and financial centers, which are useful but will sacrifice important details in the name of efficiency (and efficacy).
American libertarians, of all the factions out there, realize this best. Unfortunately, until they can shake the isolationist dogma that has paralyzed the movement since the Rothbard era of the 70s and 80s, they will continue to be marginalized in contemporary discussions about foreign policy, either as token libertarians in a Republican administration or as token libertarians in the “anti-war” movement (I put “anti-war” in scare quotes because by now it should be obvious that this movement represents the Democratic Party [pdf], not an ideal; see, though, Michael Kazin’s excellent, if ultimately unconvincing, argument for a different take on the disappearance of the anti-war movement once Obama and the Democrats came to power). New republics, secessionist movements, and other endeavors of exit are often embraced by American libertarians because of their autonomist appeal, but if they don’t pay attention to how state actors view such movements, especially regional and global hegemons, they may end supporting some very nasty regimes in the name of liberty.
Large states have been shown to be correlated with a large number of poor developmental outcomes, including poor institutions (Olsson and Hansson 2009), conflict (Buhaug and Rød 2006; Englebert et al. 2002; Raleigh and Hegre 2009), and ethnic diversity (Green 2010a). Similarly, states with artificial borders have been shown to be correlated with boundary disputes and low GDP per capita (Alesina et al. 2010; Englebert et al. 2002).
Sub-Saharan Africa has been affected by large states and artificial borders perhaps more than any other part of the world. Indeed, while Sub-Saharan Africa and Europe both contain between 48 and 50 sovereign states each, Sub-Saharan Africa is around 2.4 times larger than Europe. Moreover, with 44% of borders drawn as straight lines, “Africa is the region most notorious for arbitrary borders” (Alesina et al. 2010:7). Scholars have thus suggested that Africa’s poor economic development and numerous conflicts have been at least partially a result of its large states and artificial borders (Alesina et al. 2010; Englebert et al. 2002).
However, there is very little scholarship explaining African state size or shape, with previous literature only focusing on the persistence of state size and borders in the post-colonial period rather than on their origins (Englebert 2009; Herbst 2000). Thus my goal here is to probe the origins of state size and shape in Africa.
My daughter is a political science major at Queen’s University. She’s putting together her applications for grad school right now [she’s interested in political theory]. Last summer she went to a Libertarian student conference in Montreal [I enthusiastically funded her travel]. At any rate I was doing my annual struggle to come up with good Christmas presents when a visual cue from NOL made the proverbial light bulb light up. She will be tickled when she discovers that Santa Claus gave her a copy of Degrees of Freedom: Liberal Political Philosophy and Ideology by Edwin van de Haar. 😀
I hope I don’t spoil anything here! If political philosophy isn’t your target’s cup of tea, there are plenty of other books by the Notewriters to check out in the book pile to your right (Dr Gibson’s new book comes out in January, but that’s no excuse not to pre-order it now!).
I realize, too, that there’s a way to work with amazon so that when you buy a Notewriter’s book from an NOL account a portion of the money goes back to us (meaning me), or something like that, but I’m lazy and this is a labor of love. Lazy love is the best kind of love.
I have been reading a lot lately. I apologize for the lack of blogging on my part. I am reading through Mestizo Logics by the French anthropologist Jean-Loup Amselle, Degrees of Freedom by our own Edwin van de Haar (a Dutch political theorist), and A Cat, A Man, and Two Women by the Japanese novelist Junichiro Tanazaki. I’ll be blogging about Amselle’s book in the near future, so stick around!
I am also reading through some excellent papers on colonialism.
Michelangelo: I gave apples to the ladies and cigars to the gentlemen (and to a couple of ladies in the English Dept). That was as an undergraduate though…
Since the fifteenth century, [the Netherlands] has had several features which later liberal thinkers, such as David Hume and Adam Smith, enviously referred to. Compared to other countries, economic freedom was an important issue, just as the larger degree of religious freedom. Trade, tolerance, and cultural developments turned the Dutch into an early manifestation of liberalism. However, with the possible exception of Erasmus, Spinoza, and perhaps the Rotterdam-born but London-based Bernard Mandeville, the Dutch lacked great thinkers who could provide this liberal practice with a theoretical base.
This is from the introduction (page 2) to Dr van de Haar‘s excellent new book, Degrees of Freedom: Liberal Political Philosophy and Ideology, and I think it makes a good argument in favor of the “common sense” approach to the political. This common sense approach, for those of you wondering, is often contrasted in American libertarian circles with the theoretical approach espoused by academics. Common sense libertarians tend to be more socially conservative and more parochial than theoretical libertarians who, in turn, are less socially conservative and more cosmopolitan in outlook. This difference in outlook between the two factions leads to the former camp appealing to “the people” in arguments, whereas the latter often appeal to the authority of a scholar or school of thought. Dudes like Ron Paul and Lew Rockwell are in the former camp; dudes like Steve Horwitz and Eugene Volokh are in the latter. This is not a tension limited to American libertarians, of course. You can find it just about anywhere, but libertarians have made it interesting, mostly because – once they have acquired facts like the one Edwin reports on above – they ask questions like this:
How is it possible for a society like the Netherlands to exist when it had no great thinkers to claim as its own?
The common sense faction will reply with something like this: “That’s easy: because the Dutch people were left alone they were able to prosper. With no busybody do-gooder class of intellectuals around to make rules for the peons, folks were able to thrive thanks largely to personal freedoms and self-interest.” This line of reasoning has a lot of merit to it. In fact I buy it, even though it’s not complete.
I think the Dutch had plenty of good theorists whose work contributed to the peculiar nature of the 15th century Dutch republic, but it is also true that the high theory of guys like Smith and Hume is largely absent from Dutch political thought (I don’t remember reading any Dutch philosophers in my introductory philosophy courses in college, for example). I can clarify this in my own mind by drawing parallels with American political theorists up until the end of World War 2, when the US suddenly became a superpower and has received a great influx of the Really Smart People from around the world. Like the good Dutch political thinkers, nobody outside of the US knows who James Madison or Alexander Hamilton are (specialists excepted, of course). A few quirky weirdos out there might know who Ben Franklin is, but they won’t know him for his political theory.
Maybe this also had to do with the fact that the Dutch (and American) theorists were more concerned with keeping Spain (or other scheming Great Powers) at bay, and this could only be accomplished with a heavy does of pragmatism to supplement ideals; pragmatism is, of course, something that high theory avoids.
The great thinkers, who we all know (even if we have not all read), in contrast, don’t seem to have a lot of experience in policy and diplomacy. Furthermore, these guys all seemed to be in well-integrated outposts of cosmopolitan empires that were largely populated by minorities. Scotland, for example, was part of the British Empire, or Kant’s Prussia, which was technically independent of the Austro-Hungarian Empire but still very much a cultural and economic junior partner to Vienna at the time.
Here is my big question, though: If the Dutch had no Great Thinkers, how were they able to create the richest, most extensive overseas empire the world had ever seen?
Common sense libertarians, 1
Theoretical libertarians, 0
By the way, my answer to that last question goes something like this: the Dutch, as former subjects of the Spanish Empire, had intimate access to Madrid’s trading networks (cultural access as well as economic and political) and this, coupled with the federal republic that Dutch statesmen were able to cobble together, gave lowlanders just enough breathing room to raise the bar of humanity. Again, you can find Dr van de Haar’s new book here.