1. The humbling of Dominic Cummings Harry Lambert, New Statesman
  2. Pandemic futarchy design Robin Hanson, Overcoming Bias
  3. Quite the IR controversy has broken out Jarrod Hayes, Duck of Minerva
  4. Republics, Extended and Multicultural William Voegeli, Claremont Review of Books


  1. Kid culture: American life and its neontocracy Sarah Menkedick, Aeon
  2. The Anglo-Dutch-American Revolution, 1500-1800 Jonathan Clark, History Today
  3. How to think about human diversity without hierarchy Kwame Appiah, NYRB
  4. This is the best left-wing essay on capitalism I’ve read in years Jodi Dean, LARB


  1. The GOP as a decent party of privilege Andrew Sabl, Open Society
  2. The wider implications of Israel’s strike at Islamic Jihad Michael Koplow, Ottomans & Zionists
  3. ‘China’ is not really ‘China’ at all, but the Qing Empire Charles Horner, Claremont Review of Books
  4. Wittgenstein’s family letters Jonathan Rée, London Review of Books (but no mention of Hayek)

More Longform essays

Barry’s essays on republican libertarianism (not what you think, American readers!) and British sovereignty and isolationism are up in the new ‘Longform Essays‘ section of the blog. You’ll see that there are more in the works, too, including essays by Zak, Rick, and at least one more from Barry.

These essays join Jacques’ work on legal immigration into the United States and protectionism/free trade, as well as Mary’s essay on education and its relationship with The State.

Editing these essays makes me the luckiest dude in all of libertarian-dom! I hope there are many more in the years to come.

I still pay attention to the news cycle, but it’s so outrageous these days that it’s hard to write about, let alone analyse or interpret. What a mess. I will say that corporate media is definitely skewed to the left.

Libertarians – and economists – haven’t done a good job of explaining the benefits of free trade. Telling the man on the street that free trade is a fundamental truth has not worked. “Democracy” is another major issue; people throw the word around like a baseball, but its fundamentals are rarely discussed. Given that we’ve gone to war over democracy, on numerous occasions, I think it needs to be discussed far more often.

At any rate, enjoy the essays!

Defending Political Liberty in an Administered World

This is a very rough work in progress continuing on from my recent post on ‘Law, Judgement, Republicanism’.

The problems with a free and open political and judicial culture were diagnosed by Max Weber in his discussion of bureaucracy, which itself draws directly and indirectly on various accounts of the problems of bureaucratisation and administration of the social world (which itself began in the 18th century, at least in terms of explicit discussion  of bureaucracy). Wilhelm von Humboldt’s comments on bureaucracy in Limits of State Action is, as far as I can see, the first clear instance. Before that, the closest precedents are, I believe, in comments on the rigidity of Roman law in Montesquieu, which may have been at least in part against the laws and legal institutions of France in his own time.

Bureaucratisation and an administered world can themselves be seen as resting on the necessity of an integrated, hierarchical, rigid, and institutionalised legal system of a ‘Roman’ model, which is true even when thinking of ‘common law’ jurisdiction in England and its off-shoots (England, not Britain, because Scotland has its own more Roman system, and differences between English and Scottish legal institutions survived political union). This process, described in various ways by Weber, Schmitt and Foucault, Austrian school liberals and Frankfurt School Marxists, also rested on the simultaneous formation of commercial society and national economy described by Arendt. Arendt’s account is particularly enriched by comparison with Foucault on the emergence of the art of government. 

The consequences of these legal, administrative, governmental, and economic processes  is that the political sphere is deprived of content as a means for addressing the community as a community of judging, reflective individuals. Politics becomes competition for control of administration and the distribution of economic benefits that come with with this control. The political world is influenced by a drive to the kind of homogenisation favoured by the world of administration and positive law, which turns into struggles about identity and ‘political correctness’. That is, the struggle to define the dominant identity, with claims to a pluralist position still governed by the wish to establish the dominating identity as more tolerant (which can happen in a ‘progressive’ manner), as in a community seen as a community of communities or a ‘conservative’ manner, where there are distinct communities tied to nations or possibly non-interacting historical communities within nations. 

Arendt suggests a perspective aristocratic contest in politics taken from Greek antiquity, particularly Athens, as the antidote to the above. Foucault also has a perspective taken from Greek antiquity, of care of the self, which can also be understood as aesthetic techne, in which our capacity for self-affection is developed in self-creation and recreation, though not as a purely aesthetic play. Machiavelli was in some respects the advocate of the modern integrated state, of sovereignty concentrated in an individual who integrates society through the power of his political skill and creation of a dominating rhetoric or symbolism. In Machiavelli, though, we can also see much that comes from Ancient republicanism filtered through the republicanism of the late medieval city states of northern Italy.

There is not just the remnants of ancient republicanism but its transformation in a world where the state is increasingly invested in territorial control, distinct from the personalised nature of the state as understood before (either in the person of the monarch or the persons making up a republic). The ‘cynicism’ of Machiavelli has its starting point in Aristotle’s Rhetoric, where reason is applied to speech in public places, particularly the courts of law and the political assembly. Though Aristotle distinguishes between the rhetoric of courts and assemblies, he does show a commitment to the idea that they belong to a common world of persuasive speech. Rhetoric appeals to the less deductive parts of human judgement, even the parts of human judgement which come from immediate emotional reactions, but never just that.

The prince who is human and animal, moral and self interested, is also the strong lion and the cunning fox, within his animal self. There is a sense of the total possibility: symbolism and self invention of individuals engaged in the political world. The judicial connection with politics and the social world for whom law is in some sense dead, an accumulated wisdom from the ancients now codified and open to commentary, but not part of political life except in the administrative and governmental roles that Machiavelli himself had for a while on the basis of his legal training, mingled with humanistic (Latinate and literary) education.

Even so, we can see some ideas lingering in Machiavelli of the importance of law in political life, so that it is the ‘parlements’, partly independent and locally representative law courts, of France which gives its monarchy some of the liberty of a republic. In The Prince it is the case that the energy of the people defending its state and its liberties, where they have some history, outweighs the power of the princely ruler, so that classical Polybian republicanism of the Discourses is never completely absent from The Prince.

Most significantly, Machiavelli leaves a legacy which can be seen behind the 20th century attempts to find an alternative to an administered social world. There is the charismatic leader in Weber, the agonistic aspects of politics in Arendt, and the ethics of self-creation and transformation of the self in Foucault. The charismatic leader in Weber should not be understood as a dictator or a person above politics, but as the way in which legally and formally constrained politics can still engage with the social world and the free judgements of individuals. The agonistic politics in Arendt is not just nostalgia for Athens, but an account of what it is to have individual goals and public awareness in a political community. Ethics in Foucault is not just self-creation out of nothing or a non-political playfulness, it is about how we can have free judgement in politics and law. The glory the prince seeks in Machiavelli, and by the citizens of a republic, is a way of seeing that politics combines autonomy and prestige as driving forces in a historically located and contingent political community. Machiavelli anticipates the ways that Arendt understands political freedom to be related to a Homeric culture of seeking fame in public life.

Ottomanism, Nationalism, Republicanism V

Having covered the essentials of Atatürk’s time in power, I will discuss his death in 1938, and then his successor, İsmet İnönü, and the transition to a multi-party system. With regard to Atatürk, I will just note that his death was an opportunity to continue his veneration as the symbol and founder of the nation. He died in the Dolmebahçe Palace in Istanbul and was taken back to Ankara for a state funeral. The official moment of his death, 09:05 on the 10th of November is still commemorated by a blast on sirens throughout the country and an official national minute of silence. In the 1950s, Atatürk’s body was moved to a mausoleum know as Anıtkabir, where his coffin is held in a colonnaded building of some grandeur over a grand stone stairway, on a hill over Ankara. The complex contains a museum of the life of Atatürk and the history of the early Republic.

This is part of what can be described as a cultic attitude to Atatürk. It is a highly personalised version of the elements of civic religion every state has in order to symbolise its enduring nature and as a focus of national awareness. It is rather startling and even uncomfortable for many, but it has done what civil religion and national symbolism is supposed to do. Other ways of symbolising Turkey are necessary, but for better or worse, this is always going to be part of the symbolism of Turkey. Laws criminalising ‘insults’ of Atatürk are of course unacceptable in the extreme, otherwise my main thoughts about the ‘Atatürk cult’ is that if we see it as symbolism, it is an intriguing example of the personalisation of a nation and its state.

A well known liberal (in the classical sense) famously said at a fringe meeting of an AKP conference, during its early years in power, that in the future people will ask ‘who is this man?’. This lead to criminal action and threats to his safety, which is of course all utterly unacceptable. The whole miserable incident suggests to me something about the loss of judgement by Turkish liberals at the time.

Whatever you think of Atatürk it cannot be denied that was there at the beginning of the state and such people are remembered. If there is anything positive about the Republic of Turkey then Atatürk is part of this. I do not see any point in denying all value to nations, national symbols, and commemoration of the founders of states. Presuming one is not an anarchist, then the state provides some useful law and order function and is to be valued at least that far, as is symbolism round that state. More on these issues in the final post in this series.

Finally, getting onto İnönü, like Atatürk, he was an army general in the Independence War of 1919-1923. He was a close associate of Atatürk at that time and after, serving as Prime Minister for some years. Though Atatürk certainly had autocratic powers, he respected the forms and division of labour of a constitutional republic, so that İnönü did operate as a genuine prime minister, not just an instrument. İnönü continued with the great leader style, even adopting the title of Milli Jef (National Chief from 1938 to 1945).

The main event of İnönü’s period in power is clearly World War Two. Turkey remained officially neutral until a symbolic declaration of war on Germany (a condition of joining the United Nations). It lacked the military and transport capacity to maintain a major war effort in any case. Turkey in fact was not completely neutral, following a policy of supporting the west against Nazi Germany and supporting Nazi Germany against Stalin’s Soviet Union. İnönü sent aid to Greece during its conflict with Fascist Italy, while sending supplies to Germany on its eastern front along with military observers. Keeping Turkey out of the war is generally seen as prudent policy and one of İnönü’s major achievements.

The War was a time of emergency measures and the most unpleasant one was to apply a capital tax against the ‘Ottoman minorities’ (that is non-Muslim minorities: Jews, Greeks and Armenians) of more than a 100%. This was justified by the supposedly hidden wealth of the historically richest communities of the Ottoman Empire, which probably had some truth in it, but of course was no less a violation of basic rights motivated by a belief that, one way or the other, ethnic Turks should own the major economic resources of the country, in order for the national project to be complete.

The victory of the Allies in World war Two left Turkey caught between the Soviet bloc (including the USSR itself and Bulgaria, which both shared borders with Turkey), and the western allies. İnönü chose the west, seeking US support in a confrontation with Stalin over the Turkish straits. This led Turkey towards multi-party democracy, military and economic aid, membership of western institutions, and participation in the Korean War.

To be continued

Ottomanism, Nationalism, Republicanism IV

The previous post in this series covered the early stages of the formation of the Republic of Turkey out of the debris of the Ottoman state on the basis of ethnic nationalism combined with republicanism. Ottoman reformers were influenced by the western model. The new republicanism expressed itself in the forms of constitutionalism and representative democracy on a strictly western model, with an elected national assembly, a prime minister responsible to the assembly, and a president elected by that assembly. This post continues with an account of the early Republic which is mainly descriptive and with the aim of more analytic and evaluative comments in later posts in this series.

The nature of the fledgling state was very French influenced, in that it was a very unitary state with a very assimilationist attitude towards non-majority cultures and languages, along with a project for creating citizens of an enlightened republic. The comment of the 19th century Piedmontese-Italian politician Massimo d’Azeglio, ‘we have made Italy, now we must make Italians’ applies in a more radical way to Atatürk’s Turkey, who was someone of much more radical republican inclination than d’Azegio. Roughly speaking the work of French republicanism and reformism from 1789 to the 1920s was squeezed into Atatürk’s period of leadership, from 1919 until his death in 1938.  For this reason, the Kemalist program is sometimes referred to as Jacobin in Turkey.

Sharia law was abolished and previous adaptations from western law were turned into the complete incorporation of the Italian criminal code and the Swiss civil code as Turkish law codes. The first republican constitution made reference to Islam as the language of the state, but from the beginning it was the intention of Atatürk (who in Enlightenment style was a deist) and his associates to weaken the role of religion in public life, as in France. The laicist ambition became more explicit over time and mosque was separated from state. The Ottoman Empire, particularly in its later centuries, was regarded negatively as non-Turkish and decadent. State education reflected this along with positive attitudes towards science and the modern. Co-education of the sexes became normal.

The language itself was transformed, as the Ottoman use of the Arabic alphabet was replaced by a version of the Latin alphabet for a language that was sufficiently changed in both grammar and vocabulary to become a distinct language. Persian and Arabic grammatical influences were removed along with many words from the Persian and Arabic languages. New vocabulary was based on old Turkish roots going back to central Asia. Surnames for Muslims were legally enforced for the first time. President Mustafa Kemal (Kemal is a name given by his school teacher, according to Ottoman Muslim practice of the time) became the first person to receive a surname under this law: Atatürk.

Religion was not just pushed out of the public sphere, as the state sought to reduce the general social influence of religion, prohibiting religious brotherhoods and saints’ tombs. A religious affairs ministry was set up to regulate Sunni Islam, controlling the Friday midday sermons and repressing the more radical expressions of religion. Civil marriage was made compulsory on the French model, so that religious marriages were no longer recognised.

These changes, usually known in Turkey as the Atatürk Reforms or Turkish Revolution, were accompanied by a very strong drive towards assimilation into a majority Turkish culture, as defined by the republican elite. The Kurdish language (or languages), most the Kurmanji dialect (or language) in Turkey was not made part of the education system and was actively discouraged by the state. The same applies to the Zazaki language, or dialect, of the Tunceli region which as far as I can see is more a dialect of Farsi than Kurdish (or is a language closer to Farsi than the Kurdish language, which are certainly all related).

Not surprisingly, given such radical state led changes, violent resistance and state violence to overcome resistance is a major issue at this time. In 1925 Sheik Said Nursi led a revolt of Kurds to defend religious tradition and the traditional tribal-patriarchal power structures the state was challenging. This was put down with considerable violence. A rebellion around Tunceli (which was previously known as Dersim and is still frequently referred to as such) in 1937 to 1938, was in reaction to a 1925 law requiring the dispersal of the population to ensure Turkification. The rebellion was put down with considerable counter-insurgency state violence, which killed civilians as armed rebels. In the end, the law was never enforced in Tunceli or anywhere else.

Politically, Atatürk welcomed the principle of pluralism, but was not willing to follow it in principle. At Atatürk’s own initiative a Free Republican Party was founded as an opposition to his own Republican People’s Party in 1930. The intention was that it would be a loyal opposition concentrating on economic issues, but it became radicalised beyond the intentions of its leaders as it became a gathering point for various kinds of radical opposition including religious conservatives and leftists. The party was dissolved in the same year and the Republican People’s Party was uncontested in national elections until 1946 and first conceded electoral defeat in 1950.