1. Victor Hugo’s surreal, forgotten art Andrew Hussey, 1843
  2. Was Roosevelt’s “Europe First” Policy A Mistake? Salvatore Babones, Asian Review of Books
  3. Your God is Our God Elliot Kaufman, Claremont Review of Books
  4. The Seduction of the Gun Matt Lewis, Los Angeles Review of Books

Where the state came from

One of the questions that led me to libertarianism was “what is the state?” More than that: Where did it come from? How it works? What’s the use? Analogous questions would be “what is politics?” and “what is economics?” If my classroom experience serves as a yardstick for anything, the overwhelming majority of people never ask these questions and never run after answers. I do not blame them. Most of us are very busy trying to make ends meet to worry about this kind of stuff. I even sought an academic training in politics just to seek answers to these questions. For me it’s nothing to have answers, after all, I’m paid (albeit very poorly paid) to know these matters. Still, I wish more people were asking these types of question. I suspect that it would be part of the process to review the political and economic situation in which we find ourselves.

Many times when I ask in the classroom “what is the state?” I receive in response that Brazil is a state. In general I correct the student explaining that this is an example, not a definition. The modern state, as we have it today, is mainly the combination of three factors: government, population, and territory. The modern state, as we have it today, can be defined as a population inhabiting a specific territory, organized by a centralized government that recognizes no instance of power superior to itself. Often, in the academic and popular vocabulary, state and government are confused, and there is no specific problem in this. In fact, the two words may appear as synonyms, although this is not a necessity. It is possible to distinguish between state and government thinking that the state remains and governments go through.

The state as we know it today is a product of the transition from the Middle Ages to the Modern Age. I believe that this information alone should draw our attention enough: people have lived in modern states only in the last 500 years or so. Throughout the rest of human history other forms of political organization have been used. I am not saying (not here) that these other forms of organization were better than the modern state. I am simply saying that the modern state is far from being natural, spontaneous, or necessary. Even after 1500 the modern state took time to be universally accepted. First, this model of organization spread throughout Europe at the beginning of the Modern Era. It was only in the late 18th century and early 19th century that this model came to be used in the American continent. The modern state spread globally only after the decolonization movement that followed World War II. That is: the vast majority of modern states are not even 70 years old!

What is the purpose of the state? At least in my experience, many people respond by “providing rights” or “securing rights.” People think about health, education, sanitation, culture, security, etc. as duties of the state towards society. It is clear that many people think about health, education, housing, etc. as rights, which in itself is already questionable, but I will leave this discussion for another time. The point I want to put here is that empirically states have only cared about issues like health and public education very recently. In the classic definition of Max Weber (late 19th century), the state has a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. In other words, virtually anyone can use violence, but only the state can do it legally. That is: the primordial function of the state is to use violence within a legal order. Other functions, such as providing health and education, came very late and only became commonplace with the welfare state that strengthened after World War II.

I find it always interesting to see how we live in a young world. Basically the entire world population today lives in some state and expects from this state a minimum level of well-being. However, this reality is only about 70 years old. The idea that we need to live in states that provide us with a minimum of well being is not natural and far from obvious. To understand that the modern state is a historical institution, which has not always existed, it is fundamental to question its validity. Moreover, to note that the functions of the state that seem obvious to us today did not exist 70 years ago leads us to question whether it is valid to expect things such as health and education from the state.

My personal perception is that the modern state (defined by territory, population, and government) is better than any alternative that has already been proposed. However, the state of social well-being is only a sugar-watered socialism. Socialism, by definition, does not work, as Ludwig von Mises very well shows. Partial socialism is as likely to function as full socialism. Expecting the state to use violence within legal parameters is valid and even fundamental. But to expect that this same state may successfully diversify its activities entering the branches of health, education, culture, etc. is a fatal conceit.

How I Helped Win World War Two

Below is an excerpt from my book I Used to Be French: an Immature Autobiography. You can buy it on amazon here.

All of a sudden, that road was flooded by a long column of trucks overflowing with big, loud, laughing men in distinctive uniforms. People were shouting greetings and waving flags. It seems that an American soldier jumped off his vehicle, swept me up into his arms and kissed me on both cheeks. That may have been because my mother, who had wanted her second child to be a daughter, processed my long blond hair into Goldilock-style ringlets. That I am straight today is a testimony to the resiliency of genetic programming. My mother always insisted the kissing soldier was black. On the one hand, she may have made up this detail for colorful effect. On the other hand, there were so many trucks the soldiers may have belonged to a transport unit and hence, probably to a black unit in the segregated Army of the day.

It was August 1944. I was two and my family lived in a (nice) city project right on the periphery of Paris, near one of its main access roads. One thing that bothers me about this visual and auditory recollection is that we lived on the east side of Paris. American soldiers should have been arriving from Normandy, in the west. Yet, the memory is clear.

Before the American forces reached Paris, my mother had sewn a makeshift tricolor French flag. The blue came from my father’s old military service flannel sash (a forgotten and now incomprehensible item of clothing). The red came from a Nazi flag my father had stolen from a German general’s car he was supposed to guard. (The Germans were packing up at the time and very nervous. He might have been shot on the spot if he had been caught.) At a loss for white, my mother made the center piece out of one of my diapers. That’s why I have always felt I played a part, although a small one, in the liberation of Paris, a symbolically important phase of WWII.

I was born and conceived during the Nazi Occupation of France when life was tough and entertainment scarce. My father was a Paris cop. His life was not so tough, however, that he did not have the energy to make my mother pregnant one more time before the Liberation, this time with twins. There was little to eat and milk was rationed so, my mother breastfed me for the longest time. I was precocious. At one point, I think I was able to ask for the breast in grammatically perfect French. It must have been embarrassing for her. Or perhaps I made this up on the basis of bits and pieces I picked up while I was growing up, like some of the other early recollections in these truncated memoirs. They stop at age 21 when I moved to the US for good. I made that choice because I think the second part of my life would be less  interesting to an American readership than the first, the preparatory phase, so to speak.

I  described above my first, full, cinematographic memory. From the days before the Liberation, I remember bit and pieces, like still photographs with some sound, glimpses of German uniforms and the vast, beautiful fire of the Paris general mills, a mile away, set by the US Army Air Corps. It’s a little known fact that the Allies bombed the hell out of France right before and during the Normandy landing. The French never complained much; they were different then, and too sick of the German presence to bitch about collateral damage. When the air raid siren sounded, my mother would wrap me up in a blanket and take me down to the basement of our seven-story apartment house. Some tenants were so jaded by then that they did not bother to take shelter. The basement was a crowded but not especially tragic place.

In spite of this dramatic, first, fully formed memory, nothing really important ever happened to me. I have escaped the Chinese curse, of “living in interesting times,” although I did live in fact in quite interesting times. I waltzed through the murderous second half of the twentieth century with hardly a scratch to show for it. All my life, I have been mostly fortunate. The undeserved lucky breaks more than made up for the few unjustified blows fate has dealt me. The luckiest break was my first coming to the US at eighteen, a prelude to immigration three years later. In this country, no one ever oppressed me successfully though a few tried.  Many gave me a push at just the right moment. Mine is a happy story. This makes it worth telling to the largely glum denizens of the twenty-first century.

I live in the sunny, warm climate I longed for as a child, near the sea I always loved, in a small town rich with the small pleasures I have always appreciated: a variety of movies, a good café in an interesting, animated downtown, several bookstores within easy reach, and young people everywhere. My wife is a talented painter whose work I enjoy so much I don’t ever like her to sell it. She has few obligations, and she has not had many for  quite a while. That’s what keeps her beautiful, I think. She is also an immigrant, from the other side of the world from me, yet we see eye-to-eye on most matters. Nevertheless, we each have our own house, feet apart, each gracious in its own way. Although, it’s in the center of town, our tiny plot contains an apple tree, a plum tree, two lemon trees, and a big fig tree. All bear fruits, especially the fig tree, a sort of miracle I never fully grasp, for reasons that will become clear below.

I am a retired university professor and scholar, fairly proud of my scholarship, happy to have been a professor and equally happy to not be one anymore. Most mornings, weather permitting (it permits often, here in California), after the gym and after coffee at Lulu’s, I am forced to decide whether I want to go sailing, or fishing, or just putter about my boat, or start one of my sometimes fairly good postcard paintings, or again, write a micro-story. Sometimes, I just simply spend the whole day reading, for no particular reason and to no particular purpose. I read much history but also almost anything anyone hands me. That would include a fair amount of trash. You guessed it: I am a satisfied lazy man.

The pages below tell the tale of the unlikely beginnings of the journey that brought me to my current state of beatific smugness.

“Landscapes of Nationalism” interview

Here is an interview a colleague of mine did with me last month regarding my summer trips, which somewhat are connected by a same thematic thread – on how I stumbled upon incidents of big and small nationalisms. It appeared in our obscure university newsletter with an open access. An excerpt:

When I left Estonia and arrived in St. Petersburg, which is in northern Russia, the first thing I saw, when coming out of the airport, was a large posh car that was passing me. Its windshield was decorated with an orange and black “St. George ribbon”; this ribbon (a symbol of the patron saint of the Russian military) is currently a badge of patriotism for millions of my former compatriots. The back of the car sported big letters in blue: “Onward to Berlin! I honor WWII vets.” The irony of the situation was that the car driven by that well-to-do patriot was a German Mercedes! By the way, the topic of World War II is a “sacred cow” in Russia. From the Soviet times to the present, the government and conservative elements have been constantly bombarding people with two pieces of propaganda. First, they have being arguing that the Soviet Union/Russia had singlehandedly saved the world from fascism. For this reason, the whole world owes them everything. Second, since the country lost in that war more people than any other country, Russians suffered more than anybody else and, again, for this reason, the world owes them. Many people internalized this mythology.

Myths of Sovereignty and British Isolation, VII.

This post continues from the last post‘s assessment of early twentieth century British military and foreign policy in Europe, in a series of criticisms of sovereigntist-Eurosceptic assumptions of Britain’s separateness and superiority in relation to mainland continental Europe, and is rather long because bad decisions of the 1930s had consequences in World War Two, making it difficult to split the periods into separate posts. After the Treaty of Lausanne of 1926, the most notable aspect of British foreign policy was appeasement of Nazi Germany from Hitler’s accession to power in 1933 to the German occupation of Czechoslovakia beyond the Sudetenland which Czechoslovakia had been forced to give Germany in autumn of 1938. Spring 1939 represents the point at which Britain (and France) abandoned the policy of Appeasement, which had left Germany rearmed, stronger, and larger, and mobilised for war.

There had been an associated appeasement of Fascist Italy, particularly with regard to its invasion of Ethiopia, the one African state which was fully recognised and fully independent at that time. Britain also acted to prevent aid to the Spanish Republic during the Civil War of 1936 to 1939 against the alliance of traditionalist conservatives and fascist Falangists led by Francisco Franco, though Franco received a high level of aid and military assistance from Germany and Italy. It would add too much to this long series of posts to get into the issues round the Spanish Civil War, but being as brief as possible it has to be said that the Civil War came about through extreme polarisation, sometimes violent, between left and right, and was not a simple case of a bunch of fascists overthrowing a model democracy. Nevertheless, the left was in power in 1936 due to elections, and was not in the process of abolishing democracy in Spain, which was abolished by Franco, including the destruction of autonomy of the most distinct regions of Spain, and associated cultural repression. This followed not only the use of military force, but many massacres of prisoners of wars and civilians. This is hardly a glorious moment for British influence in Europe, unless support for far-right dictatorship in preference for a highly stressed but real democracy is glorious, and does not really support any picture of a uniquely moral and beneficial Britain.

The policy in any case backfired in World War Two. Hitler was not willing to offer enough to Franco to tempt him to enter the war on Germany’s side, but in the earlier part of the war, Spain’s embassies and intelligence networks were used to subvert and undermine the British war effort, in addition to which, Franco sent a division of volunteers to fight under German command on the Soviet front. There were more than 150 divisions in the German invasion of the USSR, so this was a small contribution, but nevertheless a contribution to fighting a country then allied with Britain. There was just nothing glorious or admirable about British policy in Spain in the late thirties.

The less than admirable British (in partnership with France) policy towards Germany continued after the declaration of war on Germany, after the latter’s invasion of Poland in September 1939. No help was given to Poland and the only attack on Germany was a brief French assault on the Saarland which was not executed with any real energy, certainly not enough to detract from German aggression in Poland, and troops were withdrawn soon after the Fall of Poland. This was a shared failure of British and French policy, since it came under the Anglo-French Supreme War Council.

Germany was essentially unimpeded in invading Poland, with the USSR joining in after a few weeks. This was followed by the Phoney War, in which Britain and France failed to attack Germany at all though a state of war existed and Poland had been occupied. There was a passive policy of waiting for a German attack on France and other west European countries. The handing over to Germany of all initiative in the war of course had disastrous consequences. I will just mention one significant detail of the Fall of France, illustrating the failure of previous British (and French) policy: many of the better German tanks were in fact Czechoslovak tanks produced in what had become Germany after Britain (and France) abandoned Czechoslovakia in September 1938.

Winston Churchill’s refusal to negotiate with Hitler after the Fall of France was highly admirable and correct, but should not distract us from the reality of joint British and French failure and no sense of superiority over France is appropriate given that the German forces were faced by the natural barrier of the English Channel, and no one doubts that if the German forces could have got directly into southern England then the result would have been a military collapse at least as quick as that of France.

The British government’s refusal to negotiate did lead to the danger of invasion, which was averted by success in the Battle of Britain between the German and British airforces, on the basis of great bravery and determination from the aircrews and moral courage at the political level. The overwhelming majority of British people of all political inclinations take pride in that history and there is not criticism offered here of that attitude.

However, it is possible to take that attitude too far and inevitably the sovereigntist Eurosceptics do. Some individuals on that side might be a bit more careful and cautious about this, but certainly as a whole that attitude draws on the idea that British resistance to Hitler marks it as uniquely heroic and as somehow morally superior to those countries which were so morally weak as to become occupied, and which then collaborated with the Nazis in the sense that one way or another governments acceptable to the Nazis and willing to work with them appeared, and of course no other government could have survived in occupied territory.

The successful resistance of the British owes rather a lot to the seas separating Britain from the European mainland, the North Sea, English Channel, and the Atlantic Ocean. 1940 was probably too soon for Germany to organise a sea born invasion anyway, except though a total destruction of British naval and air forces which was not very likely. There was actually some demobilisation of German forces after the fall of France, and Britain was outproducing Germany in fighter planes, so Hitler was never really focused and committed with regard to an invasion of Britain. Had Hitler continued to concentrate on Britain after aborting a planned invasion in the autumn of 1941, when Herman Göring failed to deliver the promised quick and complete destruction of the Royal Air Force by the Luftwaffe, the situation could have been very different. The decision to invade the Soviet Union in summer 1941 meant that the vast overwhelming majority of armed forces were transferred to the east saved Britain.

Against the chauvinism of the sovereigntist-Eurosceptic approach, it should be noted that a part of Britain, or at least territory closely associated with Britain did fall to the Nazis without fighting and collaborated with German occupation until the general German surrender of May 1945. That is the Channel Islands, which are closer to Normandy in northwestern France than Britain and are not part of the UK, but which nevertheless are under the sovereign power of Britain and have no independence in defence and foreign relations. German forces landed in these islands and occupied them in 1940, because the British government decided they could not be defended and the King took on the duty of telling the islanders to offer no resistance. Local administration collaborated with the Nazis who used slave labour from eastern Europe in the islands. There was no provision land in the islands when the western Allies landed in Normandy in the summer of 1944 and the local collaboration with Nazi occupation went on until the final surrender of Germany.

We should not make light of the difficulties Britain had in defending or liberating small thinly populated islands of little strategic importance outside its coastal waters, but it has to be said that this little story does take some of the plausibility away from chauvinistic sovereigntist-Eurosceptic tendencies to turn World War Two into a story of British superiority over cowardly collaborationist Continentals. The very real suffering of Britain was small compared with the suffering of occupied countries, particularly in eastern Europe, and the courage of those who joined partisan and resistance movements in occupied Europe must command the highest respect, and surely even higher respect than that justly given to British leaders, ordinary people, and soldiers determined to carry on fighting the Nazis after the Fall of France.

Next post, Britain and Europe after Word War Two

From the Comments: Western Military Intervention and the Reductio ad Hitlerum

Dr Khawaja makes an excellent point in the threads of my post the libertarianism of ISIS:

As for the Hitler comparison, I think that issue really needs to be opened and discussed from scratch. One relatively superficial problem with the Hitler/ISIS analogy is that ISIS is not plausibly regarded as the threat to us that Nazi Germany was, or could have been. But at a deeper level: instead of regarding war with Nazi Germany as beyond question, we ought to be able to ask the question why it was necessary to go to war with them. Once we grasp that nettle, I think the Hitler comparisons really lead in one of three directions: either they show us how different the Nazi regime was from ISIS, or they cast doubt on the “need” to fight the Nazis in the first place, or they prove that we “had” to fight the Nazis only because we put ourselves on a path that made fighting inevitable. But we shouldn’t walk around with the axiom that if x resembles the Nazis, well, then we better fight x…or else we’re dishonoring our forbears. Which is about the level of neo-conservative discussion on this topic.

The reason why we went to war with Nazi Germany is that the Nazis (credibly) declared war on us after we declared war on Japan–after Japan attacked us at Pearl Harbor (after we challenged Japanese imperialism in East Asia…etc.). Granted, there was naval warfare in the Atlantic before December 1941, but we might have avoided that by not supporting Britain (and the USSR) against the Nazis in the first place. War with the Nazis became an inevitability because of our prior involvement in a European quarrel, not because of the unique turpitude of the Nazis (much less because of the Holocaust). I don’t mean to deny that the Nazis were uniquely evil. I mean: that’s not why we fought. The reasons we fought were highly contingent, and might, given different contingencies, have led to not fighting at all.

The preceding suggestion seems off-limits to some, but I don’t think it is. Suppose we had not supported Britain in 1940-41, not had a Lend-Lease program (“An Act to Further Promote the Defense of the United States”), and the Nazis had not declared war on us after Pearl Harbor. Was war with them necessary or obligatory? I don’t see why. If we could go decades without hot war with the USSR or China, why not adopt a similar policy vis-a-vis Germany? (Yes, Korea involved some hot war with China, but my point is: we could have avoided that, too.) And if there is no good case for war with the Nazis under a consistently isolationist policy, the Hitler comparisons in the ISIS case are worse than useless.

What we have in the ISIS case is just an exaggerated version of the “inevitabilities” that got us into war with Germany. By overthrowing Saddam Hussein, we ourselves created the path dependency that gives the illusion of requiring war against ISIS as a further “correction.” In that sense, the Hitler comparison is quite apt, but entails the opposite of what the hawks believe. We’re being led to war to correct the disasters created by the last war, themselves intended to correct the problems of the war before. Isn’t it time to stop digging? Perhaps we shouldn’t have gotten onto any of these paths. The best way to avoid traveling down the highway to hell is to take an exit ramp and get the hell off while you still can. Not that you’re disagreeing, I realize.

Indeed. Be sure to check out Dr Khawaja’s blog, too (I tacked it on to our blogroll as well). My only thoughts are additions, specifically to Irfan’s point about taking an exit ramp. I don’t think there are enough libertarians talking about exit ramps. There are plenty of reactions from libertarians to proposals put forth by interventionists, but there are precious few alternatives being forth by libertarians. Dr van de Haar’s (very good) point about alliances is one such alternative. (I wish he would blog more about this topic!) Another option is to initiate deeper political and economic ties with each other (through agreements like political federations or trading confederations). Libertarians rarely write or talk about realistic alternatives to military intervention, especially American ones.

Ukraine: The Diplomatic Solution; the Conservative Blessing in ObamaCare!

There is a distinct preference out there, for solving our differences of opinion with the Putin gangster state “through diplomacy.” An elementary explanation is sadly in order here.

Diplomacy refers to one party explaining to the other with polite words how much harm it could do to that other party. And then, the second party takes its turn explaining to the first how much damage it could do to it if it really wanted to.

Once everyone understands concretely the other party’s capacity for evil, the parties get together to arrive at a compromise that minimizes the evil that  either party does to the other. That’s in successful diplomacy. Diplomacy often fails however. In 1939, Hitler and the Brits were talking to each other until the exact eve of the invasion in the west.

So, in this case, diplomacy only has a chance of  succeeding if doing severe harm is on the table in a credible manner. No perceived credible threat, no diplomacy.

Does anyone really believe that you can talk softly, talk sweet reason to Putin and that he will come to his senses and begin acting nice at last?

Another thing: As everyone knows, Obamacare is foundering. I am beginning to believe it’s a blessing in disguise. Whole young generations who really needed it are learning why Big Government is bad even when it’s trying to act nice. One of my young liberal friends is in the process of making a U-turn, I think. I don’t give myself the credit, much as I would like to. Mr Obama did it. My friend has a new bumper sticker on his car that says: “Obama- Dick-Dick.” That’s in Santa Cruz County so, it takes some courage. At least, he does not care a bit if his car is scratched! (My, that’s was evil and sly; I already feel a little ashamed!)

The Obama administration is not releasing figures the citizenry has a legitimate interest in knowing, such as: How many who signed up are also paid up? How many of the new sign-ups were without health insurance before? What is the net gain – if any -in insured  people who did not join publicly supported health insurance?

Refusing to divulge these figures has only one purpose. It’s to impede the opposition. That’s already Fascism. Not gathering these figures when you can and when you know some part of the public wants them is also Fascism. (Fascism is not an epithet, it’s political description. (See:  “Fascism Explained” and others on this blog. )

ObamaCare was a dishonest venture from the first. If it had not been, its first act would have been to make all health insurance available across state lines so as to maximize competition between insurance companies. If any Republican lawmakers had resisted, it would have been a blood feast for the Democratic Party. Large-scale buddy capitalism is also part of a  classical Fascist program.

The Power of Propaganda and the Japanese Empire

Economist Kurt Schuler has a fascinating post on the various currencies that were used in mainland East Asia during World War II over at the Free Banking group blog.

Unfortunately, there are three paragraphs in the post that attempt to take libertarians to task for daring to challenge both the narrative of the state and the narrative of the nation regarding that horrific reminder of humanity’s shortcomings. He is writing of the certainty of the US’s moral clarity when it came to fighting Japan (the post was published around Pearl Harbor remembrance day):

The 1940 U.S embargo of certain materials frequently used for military purposes was intended to pressure Japan to stop its campaign of invasion and murder in China. The embargo was a peaceful response to violent actions. Japan could have stopped; it would have been the libertarian thing to do. For libertarians to claim that the embargo was a provocation is like saying that it is a provocation to refuse to sell bullets to a killer.

Then, in December 1941, came not just the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, but an attack on the whole of Southeast Asia: Hong Kong, Singapore, what is now Malaysia (British colonies), Indonesia (a Dutch colony), the Philippines (scheduled under American law to become independent in 1945), Thailand (independent). In 1942 there followed the invasion of Burma, a bit of India, and a few of the Aleutian Islands, plus the bombing of Darwin, Australia.

With that history in mind, how can anybody think that the United States could have made a durable peace with Japan? It would have lasted as long as would have been to Japan’s military advantage, no longer. Japan was hell-bent on conquest. Nothing since its emergence as a major international power suggested a limit to its ambitions. It only ceded in the face of superior force. Even as Allied forces retook territory, Japanese fanaticism was such that the government did not surrender until after the U.S. military dropped two atomic bombs. To ignore the long pattern of Japanese aggression as quite a few libertarians are wont to do is not just historically ignorant but dangerous, because it closes its eyes to the hard truth that some enemies are so implacable that the only choice is between fighting them and being subjugated by them. It took a prolonged U.S. military occupation to turn Japan from the aggressor it was to the peaceful country it has become. (source)

This is an unfortunate mischaracterization of what went on in World War 2, but it also does a fairly good job of demolishing some of the arguments that libertarians have come up with in regards to this debate. You see, the issue of World War 2 is one that is usually foisted upon libertarians as an example of the benevolence of the State: Washington crushed two powerful, evil war machines in one fell swoop and then stood up to a third evil empire for forty years.

Libertarians often get confronted with this interpretation of history and they get bothered by it. This argument gets under their skin. They often make up excuses for Japan’s actions, or they avoid dealing with what actually happened in the time period. This response is also unfortunate because the general principles of libertarianism – individual freedom, strong property rights, internationalism – explain the events of World War 2 well, but only once the facts are looked at clearly and thoroughly. The power of propaganda is immense. The fact that so many people believe that the United States was the good guy in the war against Japan is astounding, and I think the heavy weight that is placed upon the shoulders of those who dare to defy the standard account of the US’s war with Japan flusters the seeker of truth.

Even though libertarians get hot-headed on this issue and stumble, thus making Schuler right in a sense, his argument is absolutely wrong. What follows is an attempt to calm things down, and to explain why Schuler is wrong and what libertarians need to get right.

Tokyo did not want to expand beyond a certain point, due to the ideological consensus of the governing party at the time. The narrative of the governing party was that great civilizations had natural territories over which they naturally lorded. For the Japanese, this natural territory (which was, of course, entirely arbitrary and ahistorical) was called, amongst other things, the East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. It included the Korean peninsula, Manchuria, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, the Philippines, coastal China, Mongolia, Malaysia (including Singapore and Brunei), and a separatist region in India known as Azad Hind. Any territory beyond these lands were inhabited by – again according to the ideology of the dominant political party at the time – peoples who did not conform to the standards set by the Japanese people (and those ranked directly beneath them; the ones I just mentioned). These foreign peoples were treated accordingly, especially in Melanesia.

What this suggests is that, contra Schuler, the Japanese were not “hell-bent on conquest.” Rather they simply wanted to carve out a territorial space that has obvious parallels with the German conception of Lebensraum. This is not a coincidence, by the way, for the ideologies of the dominant parties in Germany and Japan were cut from the same racist cloth.

Hawaii might have been a target for the Japanese military eventually, due to the large number of people living there with Japanese ancestry, but even this is stretching the limits of generosity. Hawaiians of Japanese ancestry considered themselves to be Hawaiians, or Americans, before Japanese (this probably due to the fact that the Japanese government sent some of its citizens over to Hawaii by force, but that is another story for another day; hopefully you can see why loyalty to Hawaii and the US was a given to people of Japanese ancestry on the islands). A Japanese invasion of the US mainland is simply an incredibly silly notion, which is why I think Dr Schuler relies upon the irrefutable fact of Japanese lust for conquest. Can you not see where propaganda is at work here?

Now, obviously the Japanese were warmongering at the time. There is no doubt about this. However, it hardly follows that the Japanese were a threat to the American republic.

For instance, look at what the Japanese military ended up attacking:

  • European and American colonies (which were burdens rather than boons for both the colonized and the colonizing)
  • Thailand, a kingdom with a long history of playing foreign powers off on each other
  • and parts of China (which could hardly lay claim to much of its territory anyway)

If I’m not mistaken, Europe and the United States are thousands of miles away from Japan, and yet they had militaries occupying foreign lands in East Asia. Again, Japan was certainly an aggressive state in the early 20th century, but it seems extremely unfair to ignore the military occupation – by Western states – of Asian lands and the Jim Crow-esque political regimes that they enacted and enforced. Notice, too, that the military incursions of the Japanese Empire do not stray too far from the official ideology of the governing political party. This is also true of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. It was also true of Soviet Russia, but for different reasons. The Soviets engaged in worldwide imperial ambitions (“spreading the revolution”) after solidifying their rule at home, and this imperialism was part and parcel of the dominant ideology of Leninism. I am digressing.

Japan did declare war on the US, so I think Washington’s war was just, but it hardly follows that Japan was “hell-bent on conquest,” or that its military would have invaded the United States, or that Tokyo’s decision not to curl up in the fetus position and simply accept US economic warfare was “unlibertarian.” Suppose Japan had conquered the US. What would its armies have uncovered?

Think of it this way: What incentive would Japan have to conquer the United States? Where were the plans to do so? Doesn’t it make more sense to look at Japan’s war on the US as part of its broader effort at creating and maintaining its hold over the territory it deemed to be the natural lord over? Why waste so many resources invading and occupying a territory dominated by people who were part of another race (as per the prevailing ideology of Tokyo at the time)? Oh, that’s right: Because Japan was “hell-bent on conquest.”

Propaganda is very powerful, but it’s also important not to label everything you disagree with as propaganda. That makes you sound like a crackpot. For instance, I don’t think anything Dr Schuler argues is driven by pure propaganda. Such an insinuation on my part would simply be garbage, and (rightly) treated as such in the public sphere. However, the notion that the US military stopped a war machine “hell-bent on conquest” is a product of propaganda. This notion is strengthened by personal and cultural narratives, and in time it takes on a life form of its own.

One last thing: Dr Schuler argues that the embargo Washington placed on Tokyo “was a peaceful response to violent actions,” but surely you can see how that policy was actually a violent response to violent actions. Whether that violence to counter other violence was a good thing or not is a question that cannot be answered in this already-too-long post.

(One more last thing: Here is an excellent essay on ideology in developing states that might be worth checking out; it doesn’t deal directly with the Japanese Empire but does deal with some of the concepts [especially nationalisms] that confront us when thinking about the rise of the Japanese Empire.)

О российском телеканале “Дождь”, особом пути, менталитете и памяти

Привет, друзья. Сегодня хочу вам рассказать одну неприятную историю, которая приключилась с российским телеканалом “Дождь”. Историю, замешанную на патриотизме, особом “русском пути”, памяти и банальном незнании истории.

Для начала давайте вернемся в нашей памяти на 70 лет назад во время Второй Мировой Войны и вспомним такое жуткое событие, как блокада Ленинграда, длившаяся почти 900 дней, и ставшая причиной голода и смерти сотен тысяч мирных жителей. Доподлинно известно, что у Гитлера было несколько планов на будущее города Ленинграда. Первоначально он планировал просто захватить город, потом же принял решение о полном уничтожении “Северной Венеции”. Стереть город с лица земли любым способом, не заботясь о мирном населении… Не ввязываясь в кровопролитные уличные бои, практически единственный способ сделать это – организовать полную блокаду и бомбежки. Тогда те, кто не умрут при артобстреле – умрут от голода. Я не буду сейчас рассказывать про беспрецедентные случаи человеческого мужества и верности Отечеству, которые проявили обычные горожане, и сразу перейду к смыслу: Гитлер не планировал сохранять нынешний Санкт-Петербург вообще. Любой ценой.

Недавно на одном из наших телеканалов появился опрос примерно следующего содержания: “Надо ли было сдавать город Ленинград врагу и тем самым избежать сотен тысяч смертей от голода, или же надо было защищаться до конца?” Из всего того, что я написал выше, ответ очевиден: сдача города врагу не сохранила бы ни его население, ни собственно сам город.

Перед нами обыкновенное незнание определенных фактов истории администрацией канала, ну или тем, кто отвечает за наполнение эфира информацией. Опрос этот вызвал широкий общественный резонанс, и вскоре был удален, а администрация канала извинилась.

Казалось бы, и забыть про это все надо – но нет. Отдельная категория людей, заседающих в нашем правительстве решила дать этому “вопиющему и кощунственному делу” дальнейший ход и написала заявление в прокуратуру, хотя по факту-то проблемы уже и нет. Однако канал начали везде закрывать и блокировать, и это лишний повод задуматься.

Что из всего этого лично я вынес? Существуют определенные события, категории знаний, факты и вообще “всякие понятия”, ошибки в которых недопустимы не при каких обстоятельствах. Не несущие никакого материального вреда, они могут оказаться бомбой замедленного действия в умах граждан, и вызвать совершенно непредсказуемую реакцию…

Думайте о том, что говорите, и о том, что пишете. Анализируйте свои слова и взвешивайте каждое слово.

News you can abuse from the New York Times

Annoyed New York Times readers are asking why the Gray Lady recently deigned to publish an advice piece on avoiding interpersonal and legal troubles with one’s household staff. I can answer this:

1) A paper must cater to the demographic that actually buys the obscenely overpriced, and roundly obscene, items that it advertises, instead of just staring in amazement that such things exist. The Times’ gleaming new office building across from the Port Authority ain’t paying for itself, now.

You probably are not part of that demographic. When I’m cooking my own quesadillas and potato-onion stirfries in a housekeeping motel in Springfield, Oregon, I most certainly am not.

2) It is excellent click bait and a good business practice to regularly troll the poors.

My main topic tonight, however, is this week’s book review of a new Malthusian work, Countdown, arguing that the world population is overshooting its carrying capacity and nearing a crash.

I definitely find some of the alleged threats in question quite concerning, in particular the brittleness of modern crop monocultures (the Ug99 wheat stem rust is partially contained so far, but it’s no joke) and the depletion of the world’s fisheries. It’s worth noting that that’s why Somalia has so many pirates these days. Somalia has gone a generation without a coast guard. As a result, it has practically no fishery left, foreign trawlers having effectively strip-mined it in the absence of any functioning sovereign government, but as Captain Philips could tell you, it is a nation (if that) lately renowned for its fishers of men. Notice, too, that Iceland, settled by Vikings, does not have pirates or an extremist sectarian militia but does have a coast guard that opens live fire on poaching vessels within its territorial waters. These things are related.

The author, Alan Weisman, starts with a buzzkill for those who love them some Biblical living. According to the review, “Because of agricultural irrigation, the Jordan River is now a ‘fetid ditch’; pilgrims who attempt to bathe at the spot where Jesus is said to have been baptized will develop a rash and, if they swallow the water, will most likely vomit.”

Actually, Ecclesiastes was right: there’s nothing new under the sun, at least not in Holocene times. Check out this foreign army commander bitching to Elisha’s messenger in 2 Kings 5:12 about the skankiness of the Jordan, presumably not knowing its coming longue durée: “‘Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?’ So he turned and went off in a rage.”

Dude eventually listened to the obscurantists, took his dip, and was cured. These days, the Jordan will more likely give a man leprosy, but it isn’t so much different as merely worse: thousands of years ago, rational people were scared to swim in that shit.

That said, things can get really unstable as they’re scaled up. A few tens of thousands of people watering their riverside farms from the same glorified creek may be sustainable. Several million people trying to water major cities and industrial monocultures from the same glorified creek is not sustainable at all.

The inevitable result is war. What, all sides swear that they’re holy peoples living in the Holy Land? Tough titty: they’ve still got war. In fact, they’ve got even more of it, since they’re not just desperate for resources but also inflamed by sectarian passions, the two aspects of their anger feeding one another.

As an institution, it’s good for a lot more than Edwin Starr ever wanted to contemplate. The Nazi expansion into Eastern Europe was about the glory of the Deutsche Volk, but it was also about the oil fields of Ploiesti. Hitler was a megalomaniac, but he wasn’t a total fool. Japan had an even starker motivation for its invasions of Korea (coal) and Indochina (oil, lumber, rubber): it was a heavily populated archipelago devoid of many important natural resources and, starting in 1941, under American embargo at a time when the US was the world’s top oil producer.

In a moral sense, though, Starr was right. War is a travesty. One has to be a bit dense or a lot immoral and atavistic not to recognize this. (These are great traits for government “service,” by the way.) A huge portion of the restiveness in the world can be straightforwardly explained by blatant resource shortages in times of growing population. It’s a total buzzkill for the nationalist and the End Times aficionado (similar personality types, and often the very same people, no?) but it’s true. Surely there must be an alternative to this madness.

There is. Brace yourselves.


[T]he fertility rate is so low–1.4 children per female–that the population has been declining since 2006. This might make Japan something of a best-case situation, but an aging population means there are too many senior citizens, and not enough young people to take care of them. Already Japan has a shortage of geriatric nurses. Weisman visits Nagoya Science Park, where Japan’s oldest scientific firm has built RIBA II, a robotic white bear designed to carry elderly people around the house. It has large, widely-spaced black eyes, cute little ears and a painted smile.

“I will do my best,” says the bear, as it approaches a man who is lying on a hospital bed. “I will carry you as though you were a princess.”

RIBA II slides one paw under the patient’s knees, the other beneath his back. The robot cradles the man in its arms. It carries the man across the room, and lowers him tenderly into a wheelchair.

“I’m finished,” announces RIBA II, and it’s hard not to wonder whether the robot speaks for us all.

That bear won’t be finished with me until it can respond to my follow-up command: “Fuck you. Bring me a White Russian.”

Even if you’re familiar with Hello Kitty, you’ve probably been mercifully ignorant of Fukuppy. No more. He (she? it? ooh, goody: “indeterminate gender”) is like the Maytag Man, but actually a smiling Humpty-Dumpty with angel’s wings. Don’t blame me; I’m not the one using that imagery to market refrigeration equipment.

Why do I get the vague sense that there’s something off about modern Japan’s zeitgeist that isn’t all about raw demographics? Hello Kitty, Fukuppy, girls’ shopping getaways to Vegas, the hikikomori and the dame-ren, virtual girlfriends, a popular magazine imploring young people to start having sex again, a robotic bear that promises to carry old geezers like princesses: this isn’t just a skilled nursing shortage. If the papers aren’t reporting about how similar demographic changes play out in, say, Russia, it’s probably because the results aren’t weird enough. Babushka hoeing her cabbage patch again while her grandkids shoot smack behind a disused asbestos factory, or shut-ins who only leave the house to go on “honeymoons” with pixellated “girlfriends” while bedridden grandpa is romanced by ElderBear: which would you rather read?

There is, however, a bit of good news about Japan’s demographic profile. Rod Serling would approve.

Franklin D Roosevelt’s America: A Progressive’s View

Matt Yglesias is shocked that Americans think the 1940-1949 was one of the best decades of last century. His description of the presidencies of FDR and Harry Truman is the best concise version I’ve ever read:

Some salient facts about the 1940s: There was a big war. One participant in that war had an active policy of targeting enemy civilian population centers for wholesale destruction as a battlefield tactic. Initially they did this with large-scale bombing raids designed to set as many houses ablaze as possible. Eventually they developed nuclear weapons in order to massacre enemy civilians in a more pilot-intensive way. The country in question was allied with a vicious dictator whose political strategies included mass rape, large-scale civilian deportations, and the occasional deliberate engineering of famine conditions. And those were the good guys! We’re all very happy they won!

Indeed. Let us never forget that the “victory” of the US over Germany in World War 2 was a savage one. Let us not forget that if the tables had been turned, and Germany and Japan had somehow been able to conquer the United States, Washington would have been found to be guilty of horrific atrocities both at home and abroad.

The German people have largely been implicated in the crimes of the German state. The logic behind this goes as following: yes, some Germans may have been forced to do things for their state that they would not have otherwise done, but for the  most part, most Germans were happy to oblige Berlin and commit crimes in the name of the state. I tend to subscribe to this view. In fact, it is this view that makes me a libertarian. Americans today seem far too comfortable committing crimes in the name of their government. They point to Roosevelt’s administration as proof of America’s wholesomeness.

They are far too comfortable committing crimes in the name of their government that they would never, ever commit by themselves. How many of you would be comfortable bombing Syria? What if Washington bombed Syria under the auspices of humanitarianism? Of an undefined national interest?

From the Comments: How, Exactly, Does One Define Terrorism?

From longtime reader –Rick, who starts off by quoting Dr Delacroix:

“Thanks to your influence, I have become more conscious of what I mean by terrorism. It includes intentionality and blindness toward the (civilian) victims. Thus, I have revised my concept of terrorism. I will be more precise in the future.”

One immediate problem I have with this is the use of force by the Allies in retaliation to the evil and unjustified use of force and murderous policies of the Axis powers in World War II. With “an intentional and blind lack of consideration of civilian casualties”, retaliatory force such as the bombing of Dresden and the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan would not have occurred and as a result, our enemies may have, instead, developed and used such strategies and weapons on us. Without efforts to annihilate the enemy and obtain an unconditional surrender, WWI, WWII, or perhaps even the American Civil war may have ended up with a decades long cease fire form of a truce as we have between North and South Korea that commits America to spending billions to keep troops and support systems in Korea as we shrink our military forces on a global scale.

Your inclusion of intentionality and blindness makes the actions taken by the allied forces in response to similar or worse actions by the enemy nations of Japan and particularly Germany make the Allies no more than terrorists for their defensive actions taken to suppress hostile nations and restore some semblance of peace to the planet.

So, depending on your view of history and warfare necessities, you may need to revise your definition even further – or not.

Dr Amburgey also adds his thoughts on Dr Delacroix’s statistical reasoning. One thing I have noticed, reading through this dialogue again, is that Dr Delacroix and other imperialists are much more interested in wielding arbitrary rules, norms and even definitions to advance their aims. Once the imperialist is called out on his arbitrariness (amongst other things), however, he begins to accuse his debate partners of dogmatism (amongst other things).

Around the Web

Hope y’all like the new layout of the blog. Take a few minutes to get comfortable. Take off your coat, your shoes and your troubles. Now have a glass of red wine and a look around.

  1. IRS specifically targets conservative Tea Party groups; So the Washington Post‘s Ezra Klein naturally defends the IRS for not doing more: Listen to the fascists sing
  2. Ken White has an update on the man who made the anti-Islamic film “The Innocence of Muslims”
  3. Dear life (gun control and gun violence). Again and again: gun violence has been declining for about two decades now.
  4. The Crushing of Middle Eastern Christianity
  5. A Brutal Peace: the Postwar Expulsion of the Germans
  6. Barack the buck-passer. A laudatory account of Obama’s foreign policy that I largely agree with.