Category Archives: current events

Milo at UC Berkeley: The Death Knell of the Free Speech Left

​I can barely express the deep sadness and disappointment I feel watching this footage. I have family members who attended UC Berkeley and wax nostalgically about the heady days of the Vietnam War protests and the free speech movement.

What a monstrous and grotesque inversion of that movement the modern Left has become. Mindless hordes chanting their slogans of hatred all cloaked in a phony veneer of “resistance” and “protecting the marginalized”. Marxism has always been the ideological core of the Left throughout the 20th century, and now it has apparently reached its inevitable apotheosis. Full on ideological conformity paired with a naked thirst for power. All they’ve done is update the formula with a few pride flags and a pepper it with a dash of Islamophilia.

News flash, progressives. You’ve become what you profess to abhor. You are the totalitarians. You officially forfeit any claim to the term “liberal”. You are a bunch of pathetic zombies. You are hastening the destruction of everything that’s decent and civilized.

You don’t get to call speech with which you disagree “violence” only to use that idiotic reasoning as a moral rationale for ACTUAL violence in order to prevent someone from exercising his right to free speech.

And lest you believe that local politicians would hastily denounce this mayhem, banish the thought.  The first words uttered by the mayor of the #TOLERANT paradise of the People’s Republic of Berkeley considered Milo’s alleged “hate speech” the greater threat than the Antifa rioters.  That should tell you everything you need to know about the Left’s priorities when it comes to the exercise of violence in service of advancing its political goals.

To say that the celebrity Twittersphere was throwing gasoline on the fire is an understatement.


If you can’t compete honestly in the arena of debate and you justify VIOLENCE in order to silence your opponents, your ideas are terrible. 

Dear Lefty Boomers

Sorry, Lefty Boomers.

I’m sure the sex, drugs and rock and roll were fun, but the Flower Power dream was an empty charade and little more than a rainbow hued road to serfdom. You are nothing more than a sad cartoon of an overrated myth emanating from a bygone counter-culture revolution that never was and is exactly analogous to the current incarnation: pampered, entitled, college educated middle-class people who took too many bong hits and took The Communist Manifesto way too seriously.

All your anti-war agitation was nothing more than impotent bleating which was instantly pacified when a charismatic man named Barack Obama ascended to the Presidency and flattered your egos with lofty rhetoric while he reduced the Middle East to ashes. You’re incensed about the refugee crisis now, but you couldn’t be bothered to give a shit when the bombs were dropping.

Marxism was a tragic failure, but that didn’t stop you from colonizing academia and repackaging it as economics, gender studies and sociology. You’ve completely ruined the social sciences and mangled economics so badly, that people think that a partisan hack like Paul Krugman is a trustworthy intellectual.  You’ve turned the natural sciences into Manichean witch hunt which pits climate change Believers on one side against Deniers on the other. It doesn’t matter if you understand a single thing about climate modeling methodologies or that you’re completely oblivious to the Malthusian designs of the agenda, a Bill Nye the Science Guy meme is all you need to dispatch the knuckle dragging troglodytes who aren’t yet #WOKE to climate #SCYENCE. Academic awards and institutions exist only to reaffirm your cults of personality and indoctrinate the next generation. And you can take all of your insufferable Foucauldian, postmodernist wanks and shove them right up your ass.

The entertainment industry has devolved into an echo chamber of preachy egomaniacs and a stultifying regime of PC multiculturalism. Your legacy is an entire generation of hypersensitive Tumblristas weaned on a brain damaged diet of identity politics, safe spaces, and microaggressions who prattle away about “fascism”, but are absolutely oblivious to the dangers of socialism for which they mindlessly agitate.

You aren’t revolutionaries.  You’re conformists who just updated the dress code to accommodate dyed hair and piercings and redecorated the bureaucracy with pride flags and gender neutral bathrooms.

You don’t want to change things for the better.
You only crave power.

You didn’t separate church and state. 

You just made the state your church.

You had a chance and you blew it.

Deal with it.

What I Learned From the 2017 Womyn’s March

Hundreds of thousands of #STRONG womyn and their obedient m*le allies marched in several major cities on Saturday to protest President Literally Hitler, wear some dumb pink hats, take selfies with their besties, carry signs emblazoned either with idiotic clichés or references to female genitalia, show off those yoga pants that are cute but not objectifying and otherwise collectively whinge about living under the bootheel of white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy. Or something. 

This is the overarching message I received from all of this posturing:

1. Though it was called a Womyn’s March, it was really about feminism. Since feminism is a political agenda almost exclusively aligned with the political Left, we’re going to call it a Womyn’s March because we want people to equate women with feminism in their minds.  Since women are virtuous, wonderful and oppressed and m*n are violent PYGS, we want to advertise to everyone that we are the ones who support womyn. Not like those sexist #ReTHUGliKKKans.  

2. Since feminism presents itself as a liberation ideology which is aligned with Women’s Suffrage and we believe perfectly analogous to the Civil Rights movement and the abolition of slavery, everything for which we currently advocate is Virtuous and Good by definition and proves that we are on the Right Side of #Hxstory. Feminism is the Correct Ideological Position to take if you actually care about the entire spectrum of beleaguered groups suffering under the oppression of the Trumpocalypse and white supremacy in general. Feminism stands for all races, cultures, sexual orientations and gender identities that aren’t white, European or Christian. Everyone who opposes us is a misogynist and a Nazi.  

3. Though we carry signs which virtue signal how “kind” and “loving” we are, what this is really about is ensuring the survival of the feminist (i.e. Democrat) legislative agenda and promoting the idea that the only people fit to govern are Democrats. Womyn are only truly empowered when the taxpayer subsidies are flowing towards our preferred institutions and causes. If it doesn’t, it’s fascism. Everyone who opposes even one piece of the agenda is a racist, sexist #BIGOT.  

4. Our advocacy for this legislative agenda proves that we are Good People® who are #WOKE.  If you make even one attempt to suggest otherwise, you’re a hateful, sexist #BIGOT and a white supremacist. 

5. In feminist media and academia, we will rail against biological gender dimorphism and gender signifiers like the color pink, but in the March, we’ll jettison all of that and wear pink pussy hats, wear lots of makeup, and carry signs proudly advertising female anatomy all while insisting that we are not determined by gender and expect to be taken seriously as individuals. After the March, we will resume calling opponents of gender construction theory transphobic #BIGOTS. 

6. We will happily don an American flag hijab to show our #SOLIDARITY with Muslims, but we will actively ignore the oppression of women in Islamic countries.  Besides, it makes us look like the Shepard Fairey painting and it looks super cute with Snapchat filters and we’ll get lots of likes on Instagram.  Most importantly, we’ll completely disregard Hillary Clinton’s ties to Saudi Arabia, her active support for the invasions of Libya and Iraq and the incalculable damage each caused, as well as Linda Sarsour’s open advocacy of Sharia Law in America.  #StayWoke, SYSTERS!

7. “Reproductive rights” means taxpayer subsidies for abortion and contraception. We’ll remind all of the #TROGLODYTES and #RePYGliKKKans that taxpayer funding doesn’t fund abortion cuz Hyde Amendment and shit and condescend to you for being an ill informed luddite who listens to Fake News. Any and all opposition to any taxpayer funding for either abortion or contraception means you are a hateful misogynist. It’s HEALTHCARE! WHY DO YOU HATE WOMYN?! And we’re talking to you, pro-life “feminists”. 

8. Disagreement with any aspect of our agenda is bigotry, hate and fascism. We’re Tolerant® people, after all.  

Consider that patriarchy SMASHED, feminists!

The Crumbling Edifice of “Settled” Climate Change Science

​For those of you who like to indulge the notion that you are with the Angels and on the Right Side of #SCYENCE and #Hxstory by supporting the climate change agenda while blithely ridiculing skeptics as clueless, sub-human, knuckle dragging mouth breathers who’ve been duped by the petroleum industry, it’s time to acknowledge the climate change project for what it actually is: a political agenda. This is not a scientific endeavor and I’m not convinced it ever was one to begin with. Calling your opponents Climate Deniers© does not make you intelligent nor is it a sufficient intellectual or scientific argument. On the contrary, it makes you look like a dittohead and a stooge and nothing more than an unwitting pawn for power hungry politicians. 

You can no longer stand smugly on the sidelines and ridicule skepticism as “anti-science” pretending that this is a totally humanitarian, objective, scientific endeavor when the field is so obviously rife with political pressure and flooded by government money.

In a recent piece in Reason, Ronald Bailey discusses climatologist Judith Curry’s resignation from the Georgia Institute of Technology and the highly politicized field of climate science. 

Climate “science” asks you to accept some very far reaching predictions about atmospheric temperatures, sea water levels and sea ice levels years from now based on mathematical models.  If there is any soundness to the theoretical underpinnings of this “science”, these models should be predicting accurate outcomes.  And guess what?  They’re not.

Betsy DeVos Versus the Government Education Establishment


I have family members and close friends who currently or previously worked in public education, and I can assure you, dear reader, that the libertarian argument for free market education isn’t a position that’s held in high regard in my world. It is my sincere hope that those of you reading this who also oppose a competitive market for education services will take this post in a spirit of promoting a real diversity of political opinion. 
Betsy DeVos has been nominated for the Chair of the Department of Education, and as is the case with everything Trump says or does, the progressive establishment is having a conniption. Whether it’s her lack of Ivy League credentials, her advocacy of charter schools or her positively abhorrent donation to FIRE, Betsy DeVos has been branded Public Education Enemy Number 1 by the entire government education apparatus. In his recent piece in Reason, Robby Soave very carefully and methodically points out why all of them are wrong and it is they who are the ideologically hidebound zealots. 

Here’s the deal. 

Pretty much everyone agrees that education is important. The larger and more important question is over how best to promote real education; as in independent thought, critical thinking, a curious mind, marketable skills and a lifelong love of learning, versus just going to school.

It’s easy to view education as a “right”. Sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s not. If you are honest, you will easily be able to recall numerous occasions when school felt pointless and utterly without value. And the real world bears this out.  Unless you cultivate entrepreneurial skills, a high school education is basically worthless in the marketplace.  A bachelor’s degree doesn’t necessarily add much more value to your marketability either. When you treat any good or service into a “right” for which the government makes provision, you destroy the incentive to provide actual value. 

Whenever the failure of public schools is discussed, “Reform” is the default cliché deployed. Anyone who suggests a market based alternative is just someone who hates children and only wants rich people to have education. Sadly, the Left is very good at painting opposition to government education as opposition to education itself while portraying themselves as Guardians of Knowledge and Social Justice from the mindless hordes of conservatards who just want to plunge America into a regressive New Dark Age of mandatory Christianity. It should be obvious to everyone that there is no such thing as “Reform”. Once you place a giant institution like education behind the government wall, there’s little you can do to truly reform it.  

Institutional learning only reinforces deference to itself. If you want to promote real individuality and critical thinking skills, a bureaucratic, compulsory school system won’t produce that result.  

I have plenty of skepticism over whether Betsy DeVos is going to make any meaningful difference, but I’m certainly willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. The public school bureaucrats are the real zealots here. It’s easy to point the finger of reproach when you enjoy the tacit protection of the government. And no, it doesn’t make one goddamn bit of difference that she doesn’t have fancy degrees.  She’ll be in charge of a gigantic bureaucracy which sets the agenda for other bureaucracies. 

If nothing else, she should do everything in her power to squelch the Title IX jihadists and the campus star chambers dispensing extrajudicial “justice”.

Don’t Vote Third Party, Proles. It’s Counter-Revolutionary

Jef Rouner doesn’t want you to vote third party.

He suggests that it’s the equivalent of thoughts and prayers, but he is projecting. He is the sanctimonious scold. Voting for either major party is the very epitome of thoughts and prayers. You have no control over what these people do once elected.  You’re voting for a collection of promises and a bunch of rhetoric. No political promises are ever kept, and even laws that get passed do not achieve what the politicians claim.

There is no “work” involved in going into a voting booth and checking a box.  He’s not writing laws, and I doubt he has the slightest inkling of what’s contained in a single federal law or regulation, yet he’s saying he is somehow responsible for the outcomes because he checked a box in a voting booth. He is complicit in the sense that he paid mindless obedience to the system.

Mr. Rouner wants to take credit for the ACA, but does he accept responsibility for the premiums which have increased for average citizens because healthy young people aren’t singing up to subsidize the older and sicker?  Does he accept responsibility for all the money wasted on failed state level exchanges? 

Or how about his passing mention of Obama’s drone program? Doesn’t the mass murder of thousands kind of nullify any claim on a moral high ground? The invasion of Libya, anyone? The militarization of the police?  Arms sales to Middle Eastern regimes? The ongoing and impenetrable mess in Syria? 

Since he seems so keen on conflating the individual with the State, how about those achievements, Mr. Rouner? 

Anyone else? 

He invokes the 12th Amendment as the source of the two party duopoly, but since this only codified the process by which the President and Vice President would be elected, this seems little more than an appeal to tradition.  

I don’t have any objections to anyone voting third party. If you find their ideas compelling, then go for it. The idea at the center of the American idea was individual liberty, and that should include freedom of political thought.

It’s true that the system doesn’t favor third party candidates at the federal level. It is possible to pull off being an open socialist or libertarian at the local level and win, and there are examples of both.

I would argue that the real work of the political process is the battle for ideas, and the current system crowds out any vigorous debate of ideas. For Mr. Rouner to suggest that “nothing Stein or Johnson says matters” completely diminishes and downplays the power of ideas.  Third party candidacies are good for the country in the sense that they are vehicles for trenchant criticism of the system and the advancement of unconventional and heretical ideas.  Between the two third party choices, there’s a little bit of both. I also find Jill Stein’s agenda utterly abhorrent, but I appreciate some of the criticisms she’s leveled at Hillary. And despite the fact that Gary Johnson is not the most inspiring champion of libertarian philosophy, it’s refreshing that at least one candidate is promoting actual liberty. 

Slavery notwithstanding, the American system of government was meant to enshrine property rights and the liberty of the individual. The idea behind federalism was to decentralize power and disperse it throughout the states. I also contend that this is why the 2nd Amendment makes reference to militias.  It was meant to be a bulwark against the greatest threat to liberty: a standing army. 

But we’re very far away from that idea, and I vigorously dispute that casting a vote for Trump or Hillary represents anything virtuous.  There is no “change from within” to be made. Even if you dedicated yourself to a single issue, it has the potential to consume your entire life if you allow it to. The federal government is an overgrown behemoth populated mostly by self-interested and self-aggrandizing hacks who are more interested in preserving their fiefdoms than doing anything that serves the “Public Good”.

By portraying participation in government as the only path to affecting change, he’s contributing to an ever diminishing sphere of individual liberty, destroying the possibility for voluntary, organic interactions and solutions between citizens and promoting a culture of servitude. He correctly claims that leadership and accountability are virtues, but by promoting a vote for the system, he’s promoting the least accountable people on the planet. The American spirit was born of skepticism of government power, not obedience. 

The only sanctimonious cunt who’s trying to browbeat his readers into voting for this corrupt two party duopoly is Jef Rouner.

Obama on Black Crime

It is absolutely true that the murder rate is way out of whack in the African-American community compared to the general population and both the victims and the perpetrators are black. ~ Barack Obama, 7/14/2016

Herbert Marcuse: Repressive Tolerance


If you’re paying any attention to the state of free speech on college campuses, you wouldn’t be unreasonable to conclude that this time honored, liberal principle is under siege.  But how did college campuses, the very institutions charged with upholding the principles of Western thought, become incubation chambers of intolerance?  Whose ideas have supplanted the propositions which have driven progress of Western civilization since the Protestant Reformation and taken root in the minds of students and faculty alike?   I contend that the current repression of free speech, embodied by the progressive social justice warrior, which conveniently silences conservative and libertarian views can certainly be traced in part or in whole to the influence of Herbert Marcuse.
German émigré, founder of the Frankfurt School of social science and former employee of the Office of Strategic Services and Office of War Information, Herbert Marcuse espoused a heady brand of warmed over Marxist socio-economic criticism whose influence reverberates to this day. The fact that he worked in the US federal government in an office which disseminated war propaganda and was sympathetic to Marxist thought yet is revered as the father of the allegedly dissident New Left movement is revealing all by itself.  Marcuse published several works, but his essay, Repressive Tolerance, which was originally featured in A Critique of Pure Tolerance opens a very clear window of insight into the mentality and behavior of campus faculty and students alike.

Marcuse starts with a classically Marxist thesis.  The traditional liberal premise of equality of liberty and equality before the law only serves to prop up a bourgeois false consciousness and perpetuate a “tolerance” of oppressive forces which perpetuate injustice and inequality.  Consequently, the attainment of objective truth is compromised because the bourgeois media desensitizes the proles to the inhumanity and injustice which surrounds him.

The toleration of the systematic moronization of children and adults alike by publicity and propaganda, the release of destructiveness in aggressive driving, the recruitment for and training of special forces, the impotent and benevolent tolerance toward outright deception in merchandizing, waste, and planned obsolescence are not distortions and aberrations, they are the essence of a system which fosters tolerance as a means for perpetuating the struggle for existence and suppressing the alternatives. The authorities in education, morals, and psychology are vociferous against the increase in juvenile delinquency; they are less vociferous against the proud presentation, in word and deed and pictures, of ever more powerful missiles, rockets, bombs–the mature delinquency of a whole civilization.

Through the reasoning of his convoluted Hegelian dialectic, he concludes that the only way to redress this systematic injustice is to actively suppress the political thought and speech of those on the Right.  Because after all, the Right not only represents the interests of the ruling, empowered class, but is the incubation chamber of every repressive regime since the emergence of the democratic nation state. All revolutionary change, has emerged “from below” (i.e. the proles). Since the repressive capitalist class is on the Right, and the champions of social justice and revolutionary change are on the Left, the best way to ensure that a true reign of justice prevails is to silence the voices of the Right and actively promote the voices of the Left.

Liberating tolerance, then, would mean intolerance against movements from the Right and toleration of movements from the Left. As to the scope of this tolerance and intolerance: … it would extend to the stage of action as well as of discussion and propaganda, of deed as well as of word.

Sound familiar?  Not only is it a repurposing of the classic Marxist dichotomy of proles versus bourgeoisie, it maps to the observable behavior of social justice warriors on campuses throughout the Western world.  This basic template of thought also translates into virtually all intersectional feminist/queer/race theory that is the bedrock of the entire plague of social justice advocacy poisoning campuses and media throughout the world.

I don’t know how much the work of Marcuse and his Frankfurt School contemporaries is actually taught in campuses, but I suspect that it has receded into the background as more contemporary “thinkers” have taken his place. Repressive Tolerance taken its proper place as a product his former employers at the OSS would have appreciated: propaganda for the Left.

The Dataist Reformation is Nigh

Any good review you read, whether it’s books or films, gives you a sense of what the artist intended as well as the reviewer thinks of the content. I don’t normally write posts that comment on reviews of others, but this was brought to my attention and I think it’s worth a brief post because it’s timely and it’s another example of the way The Guardian uses a book review to advance its ideological agenda. 

In his review for the new book by Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus, David Runciman engages in some doom laden speculations over the humanity destroying influence of the Silicon Valley Technorati he has branded with the utterly idiotic term, “Dataists”. As usual, it’s a piece that ascribes dubious intent to those develop technology and a religious zealotry to those who allegedly seek better living through Big Data.

First off, I don’t think I’ve ever read a piece in The Guardian which praised the achievements of the market.  Predictably, Mr. Runciman doesn’t acknowledge the market as the engine of that achievement.

The evidence of our power is everywhere: we have not simply conquered nature but have also begun to defeat humanity’s own worst enemies. War is increasingly obsolete; famine is rare; disease is on the retreat around the world.

He acknowledges that humanity’s genius is most powerfully demonstrated when exercised in groups, but makes no meaningful distinction between religions, corporations or nation states. Both Harari and Runciman are presenting the individual as powerless independent of a collective and “waves of information” as some kind of sentient power to be resisted. 

Individual human beings are relatively powerless creatures, no match for lions or bears. It’s what they can do as groups that has enabled them to take over the planet. These groupings – corporations, religions, states – are now part of a vast network of interconnected information flows. Finding points of resistance, where smaller units can stand up to the waves of information washing around the globe, is becoming harder all the time.

Runciman goes on to explain that “we” are in danger of uncoupling intelligence and consciousness, and then in the very next paragraph, likens the State to an inhuman, unresponsive robot. 

Not all of this is new. The modern state, which has been around for about 400 years, is really just another data-processing machine. The philosopher Thomas Hobbes, writing in 1651, called it an “automaton” (or what we would call a robot). Its robotic quality is the source of its power and also its heartlessness: states don’t have a conscience, which is what allows them sometimes to do the most fearful things. What’s changed is that there are now processing machines that are far more efficient than states: as Harari points out, governments find it almost impossible to keep up with the pace of technological advance. It has also become much harder to sustain the belief – shared by Hobbes – that behind every state there are real flesh-and-blood human beings. The modern insistence on the autonomy of the individual goes along with a view that it should be possible to find the heart of this heartless world. Keep scratching at a faceless bureaucracy and you’ll eventually uncover a civil servant with real feelings.

He correctly asserts that the State cannot keep up with technological (market) change.  This has been the contention of free market thinkers for decades. The State is not subject to market forces. The nation state is little more than the machinery of warfare backed by a collection of bureaucrats who dictate how this fearsome power must be applied in the name of “The People.” This is precisely why it can do fearful things. It has no incentive to respond to supply, demand or to economize.  Mises argued that to destroy this capacity was to nullify humanity’s uniquely teleological contribution to the universe.

Technology companies are certainly innovating at warp speed, but the State is hastening the automation of the world through policy, too.  Every time the government mandates price controls (e.g. minimum wage) or imposes additional costs through regulation, business will seek a labor saving technological solution.

Runciman portrays this book as a sort of new Hegelianism for the Information Age. He presents this data driven technological dystopia as a historical inevitability, but tries to hedge his dire predictions by saying “the future is unknowable.” Like Hegel, ideas and individuals are absent from his analysis. The article only refers to a giant, amorphous “we”. Naturally, the belief in the individual’s power to shape his own fate is nothing more than a “leap of faith”. He posits that “Dataism” is the new religion because for progressives, the word “religion” is a dogwhistle that signals to the reader that there is mindless obedience and authoritarian rule to be resisted. After all, those who sign up for the Dataist project “will be the only ones with any real power left and it will be relatively unchallenged.” Conveniently, his analysis of what qualifies as “religion” excludes the inefficient, unresponsive, inhumane State. Because if you “keep scratching at a faceless bureaucracy and you’ll eventually uncover a civil servant with real feelings.”

True to progressive form, Harari is “insouciant” about humanity, but REALLY concerned about the fate of animals under humanity’s stewardship. Way to keep your priorities straight, guys. 

The development of AI, robotics and supercomputers is a topic that certainly warrants continued inquiry and discussion.  Perhaps this book is a meaningful step in that direction, but it comes across like another cynical, fatalistic bit of academic pomp that consigns humanity to an anonymous technologically driven hive mind that strips away individual agency. It’s amazing that such highly educated individuals warn of the imminent uncoupling of intelligence from consciousness, but are so cavalier about the true source of humanity itself: the individual. But The Guardian wouldn’t have published this review if it wasn’t the exact ideological agenda the review was meant to serve. 

Once Upon a Time in Russia

Once Upon a Time in Russia is Ben Mezrich’s highly entertaining and informative account of the rise of the so-called Russian oligarchs who accumulated power after the collapse of the USSR. The allusion to the American Wild West is intentional since the period chronicled was nothing short of a seismic shift in Russian society. The story centers around the ascent of two of Russia’s most ambitious oligarchs, Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich, and the complex web of power they wove in order to attain their respective positions. Within this sticky mass are dueling loyalties, inverted moral expectations, and internecine turf wars within and without the government. The book is refreshing because it opens a window of insight into the rise of private industrialists in a country which was (is) highly secretive and outlawed and stigmatized private industry for decades. Though it was certainly not as bloody and repressive as the Bolshevik regime, it was a period filled with plenty of violence and political intrigue in its own right.  Like Mezrich’s other novels, Once Upon a Time in Russia was culled from exclusive firsthand accounts of events, but it reads like a hardboiled political thriller/gangland novel.   

Imagine being an entrepreneur attempting to obtain some semblance of security for commerce and property rights after living under the bootheel of a corrupt kleptocracy which criminalized all property ownership and terrorized its own population for 70 years and you get a small sense of the challenges these men faced. Some people are likely to view the oligarchs as the corrupt gangsters who destabilized and terrorized, but in my estimation, this book paints a more nuanced picture. The new, quasi-liberal order in Russia was very fragile, and the only way they could push back against the resurgent Communist Party was buy patronage from the the Yeltsin government. 

You know you’re in for a juicy tale right off the bat. The book opens with a meeting of the oligarchs hosted by Vladimir Putin at none other than Joseph Stalin’s Moscow dacha.  Dashing all hopes that they had just bought themselves a yes-man, freshly installed president, Vladimir Putin, chose an appropriate venue to send the message that the oligarchs were subordinate to the Russian government. Not vice versa.

The story kicks into gear by taking us back to the beginning of Berezovsky’s story.  An assassination attempt on Berezovsky leaves him badly burned, his driver dead and his car a bombed out slag heap. Since he couldn’t get any business done without security, he enlisted the services of FSB agent, Alexander Litvinenko, and became what’s known in Russia as a krysha or “roof”. Taking private money under the table for security work was considered illegal, but given the porous nature of the state institutions in the early days of the newly liberalized Russian Republic, people were often willing to look the other way.

With Abramovich’s partnership and protection from Litvinenko, the two oligarchs set out to consolidate ownership of aluminum, oil, and most importantly, television. The remainder of the story weaves its way through the Yeltsin and Putin regimes as the oligarchs compete for political influence in the new and very tenuous capitalist order. It’s a race for survival and economic power, but the fate of the recently freed Russian economy hangs in the balance.  

As Berezovsky’s influence grew, his ties to Litvinenko came under scrutiny of the bureaucrats in the FSB who had ties to his political enemies and commercial rivals.  Litvinenko was ultimately given an order to execute Berezovsky, but couldn’t betray his trust or patronage.  Berezovsky used his growing influence to unseat the director of the FSB and replace him with an individual he believed to be a reliable yes-man: Vladimir Putin.  How much they had to learn about this former KGB administrator.

After Putin’s election, Berezovsky grew frustrated by his betrayal, and used his own influence in the Russian television station, ORT, to undermine public confidence in Putin. Berezovsky shamelessly exploited the Kursk submarine incident and attempted to make a random military accident a referendum on Putin’s leadership. This overt act of vindictiveness and dissidence forced Putin’s hand resulting in Berezovsky selling his shares in ORT and being exiled from his home country.   

Berezovsky’s antagonism towards the Putin regime threatened the stability of Abramovich’s active interests in oil and aluminum in Russia which sets the former krysha/protege relationship on a collision course.  The escalating tensions between these former business associates culminates in a civil suit over Berezovsky’s claim on assets accumulated during the active years of their partnership. 

Mezrich’s narrative seems to stick to the facts, but he compromises his own objectivity when describing the failing Communist regime as “right-wing”.  Communism is an ideology long associated with the political Left, and the Soviet Republic was, in fact, Marxist doctrine taken to its logical conclusion.  Throughout the book, he refers to Communist hardliners as “conservatives” while describing capitalist reformers as being for “democracy”.  Besides the fact that it distorts the historical legacy of European classical liberalism (and American constitutional conservatism by extension), he’s feeding the standard Right/Left false dichotomy of American politics which places the Left on the side of virtue, reason and decency and the Right on the side of authoritarianism, thuggery and resistance to change. Lenin believed in democracy, too, and it ultimately amounted to nothing. Democracy and economic freedom do not necessarily go hand in hand, and the American Left have more and more in common with the Bolsheviks with each passing election cycle as Bernie Sanders’ campaign amply attests.

Though it’s a minor detail, Mezrich also betrays his bias in his passing mention of Litvinenko’s conversion to Islam and apparent sympathy towards the Chechen Muslim separatists.  Litvinenko’s story certainly wasn’t the focus of the novel, but given the ever increasing prevalence of Islamic terrorism as well as the intensified focus on the connection between Islamic belief and acts of terror, Mezrich missed an opportunity to anchor this story more firmly into the debates of the present.  

Minor flaws notwithstanding, Once Upon a Time in Russia is an entertaining read which shines a light on a slice of history which, like Russian Communism itself, remains largely unknown to America and the West. Highly recommended.