Category Archives: philosophy

Voltaire: Candide

François-Marie Arouet, better known to the world as Voltaire, was an author, philosopher, and provocateur extraordinaire. Rooted in a fervent belief in freedom of thought, he repeatedly broached subjects deemed forbidden by authority, and became the living embodiment of secular Enlightenment values. Candide was the novella that earned him his eternal infamy, and though much of the scorn he directed at the Catholic Church would scarcely raise an eyebrow today, other aspects of the novel would arguably be just as, if not more scandalous now if he attempted to publish it today.  In addition to its brutal depictions of rape and violence, Candide is a vicious satire of Leibniz’ philosophy of optimism that’s filled to the brim with barbed criticisms of religious leaders, military culture and government officials, but delivered under the breezy veneer of a simple romantic adventure.

With Candide, Voltaire set out to skewer what he perceived to be the false piety and facile moralizing of the institutions and authorities of his day. He was one of the original trolls of Western civilization who canonized a spirit of irreverence that’s found throughout the ages in the works of Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, Lenny Bruce, and presently, Milo Yiannopolous.  Though Milo is routinely compared to Voltaire, I believe this comparison to be only partially true. Voltaire’s provocations are analogous to Milo’s in the sense that he offended prevailing sensitivities, but the targets of his ridicule, specifically his barbs directed at Jesuits and Christianity, feel like Maheresque precursors of the now shopworn clichés of atheists and the Left.

Though superficially a bildungsroman, the ultimate object of Voltaire’s ridicule was Leibniz’ Theodicy which was expressed through Candide’s mentor, Pangloss. “This is the best of all possible worlds,” Pangloss tells Candide from the luxurious confines of Castle Thunder-ten-tronckh in the kingdom of Westphalia. After being banished from the castle for getting a little too hot and heavy with the Duke’s niece, Cunégonde, Candide is beset by one misfortune after another as he traverses through Europe and the New World trying to reconcile the message of his mentor with the cruel reality of life outside castle walls. Despite being subjected to the most horrific violations and depravities imaginable, Candide finds the naïvete of his worldview repeatedly challenged as he doggedly clings to Pangloss’ platitudes throughout his journey.

Though he was a professed deist, the religious dogma, fanaticism, and hypocrisy of Christianity, Judaism and Islam alike are all sent to Voltaire’s literary guillotine throughout the book. Candide leaves no religious cow un-slaughtered.

Candide translates to “optimism”, and above all else, Voltaire sought to poke Leibniz’ vision of optimism squarely in the eye.  Voltaire saw this philosophy as hopelessly naïve and an inadequate lens through which to view the horror and depravity of the world. One can certainly appreciate that this work was deeply transgressive in its day, but Voltaire’s critique feels like little more than a petty gripe rooted in a failure to grasp the essence of Leibniz’ message.  Of course the world is filled with depravity, suffering and hardship. These phenomena exist because they test the faithful. I suspect Leibniz promoted this philosophy as a way of embracing the totality of life, good and bad, rather than being an excuse to engage in self-deception with recitations of vacant aphorisms. It’s far more challenging to find reasons to be hopeful about humanity when you’ve seen it at its worst. Can you find a reason to be hopeful after your home has been devastated by an earthquake?  Can you find forgiveness and happiness after you’ve been brutally violated? Voltaire eventually resolves this conflict with a very modest aphorism of his own, but he seems to view this philosophy as something shallow, enervating and mind numbing rather than being a lens through which to view even the worst human suffering.

Voltaire is particularly scathing in his treatment of the Jesuits. Upon arrival in South America, Candide and his manservant, Cacambo, avoid being served as the main course in a tribal cannibal feast after calmly explaining to them that neither was, in fact, a Jesuit and that he had just impaled his Jesuit brother.  On these grounds alone, Candide and Cacambo are spared this gruesome fate.  It’s droll gallows humor, and he’s obviously having a bit of rude fun at the expense of the numerous Jesuit missionaries who ventured to South America in the 17th and 18th centuries, but he also appears to hold that appeals to reason are universal regardless of cultural or language differences. This strikes me as proto-SJW Kumbaya fantasy.

Voltaire’s view of Islam was largely negative, and the one aspect of the story that would most assuredly arouse a shitstorm of scandal to this day would be his portrayal of the Muslims. Candide is eventually reunited with Cunégonde only to discover that she was raped and maimed at the hands of the Bulgars. But just when you think it can’t get any worse, their new companion, the illegitimate daughter The Princess of Palestrina and Pope Urban X, tells her tale of woe. Known only as the old woman, she recounts a blood curdling tale of her rape by a “loathsome Negro”, and her mother’s brutal murder at the hands of the Muslims. Since Islam and the effects of Muslim immigration remain a political third rail, this aspect of the book would easily arouse controversy today if anyone in any academic setting were actually reading it.

But that’s not the only thing that would draw the ire of the contemporary Thought Police. His treatment of Don Isaachar has drawn accusations of antisemitism and that most ghastly of contemporary ThoughtCrimes: RACISM. Don Isaachar is one of Cunégonde’s early captors, and is portrayed as greedy and immoral.  I don’t find it particularly antisemitic since it’s not out of the question that Jews like Don Isaachar existed. Voltaire is an equal opportunity offender and he is just as harsh on the Catholic Inquisitor and the Muslims. Besides, like every other manufactured outrage, it doesn’t make sense to judge yesterday’s art against today’s warped standards of Social Justice propriety.

Candide’s arrival in the fabled land of Eldorado certainly suggests that Voltaire was sympathetic towards socialist thought and had utopian notions of his own around how society could look if Enlightenment ideals could be expressed in his ideal monarchy. The citizens of Eldorado have an advanced economy with a dedicated scientific class, public institutions, housing, and art. They have access to precious stones and metals, but they are unmotivated by the accumulation of wealth and give them freely to Candide.  In this respect, one detects the unmistakable seeds of proto-progressive economics, scientism and other related doctrines of social reform.

When Candide finally meets the one man who allegedly “has it all”, Signor Pococurante, Voltaire uses it as another opportunity to make fun of another coddled elitist, but it also betrays a certain cynicism towards the philosophical and cultural legacy of the West which now pervades the modern Left. Candide is dumbstruck as Signor Pococurante dispenses one blistering criticism after another towards every art form and philosophical work of importance. Voltaire wants to tear away at what he perceived as a false veil of deference towards these allegedly Great Works, but like his treatment of Leibniz, it feels slightly misplaced. Signor Pococurante sounds like a jaded hipster or academic progressive who listens to NPR, acquired a liberal arts degree, and has very specific, and mostly negative opinions about everything in the cultural sphere. One could take all of Signor Pococurante’s snide remarks, drop in a couple references to bell hooks, Howard Zinn and Judith Butler, and he’d sound just like a garden variety, Tumblr ready, Social Justice Warrior preparing for a career writing for Vox. This cynicism towards the cultural legacy of the West is now the norm. Within the cloistered halls of academia, so-called “educators” openly cultivate an active hostility towards Western thought as the font of all human opression.

Just like the numerous contemporary atheist critics of Christianity who’ve fancied themselves the torchbearers of Voltaire’s flame, Voltaire was a moralist at heart and his literary jabs were designed to expose the hypocrisy of those who claimed to be arbiters of morality. Whether taking shots at the sexual indiscretions of Catholic clergy, the brutality of the Inquisitors or the Jesuits who do not practice the teachings of Christ they preach, Candide rightfully inferred that the ordained guardians of morality should live by the standards they imposed on the laity.

Society needs people like Voltaire in order to shock people out of complacent obedience and expose social taboos to sunlight. Ayaan Hirsi Ali says the Islamic world needs its own Voltaire in order to ignite a reformation within the Islamic faith. Institutional power, whether state, religious or academic, rarely lives up to its responsibility to uphold the truth or live by the standards it imposes on the public.  Yet, people crave the truth, and above all else, crave both a sense of moral certitude and to see hypocrisy exposed.  Since the truth often dies within the walls of power, the responsibility to stand up for the truth always redounds to the individual. Humorists and satirists like Voltaire have often been the catalysts of change that puncture the seal of propriety that the self-appointed arbiters of morality have so assiduously tightened.

Voltaire was the court jester of his time who sought to answer ancient moral conundrums by poking fun at what he perceived to be the strictures and limitations of prevailing orthodoxy. Some of Candide still would arouse controversy today, but his overall posture of enlightened contempt towards the conservative attitudes and institutions of his time has become its own orthodoxy of progressive chic. The poles of entrenched thinking have reversed, and what was controversial in its day is blasé today. There’s nothing even remotely transgressive or edgy about ridiculing Christian morality, institutions or the broader legacy of Western philosophy in 2017. Milo draws comparisons to Voltaire today because today’s elites are, in many ways, the intellectual progeny of Voltaire himself. Whatever validity there was in Voltaire’s quest for a secular moral order in its day has devolved into the smug wisecracking of Bill Maher, the proto-neurofascism of Sam Harris, and a postmodern academic hegemony of absolutist relativism.  All of whom are eagerly marching towards Gomorrah, but still doggedly cling to the delusion that Eldorado is the final destination.

While Candide may be showing its age, Voltaire’s spirit is evergreen because Puritanism knows no ideology, and people know who the busybodies are. Candide’s message of “tending one’s own garden” is a sufficiently universal ethical and moral principle, but the modern progressive intelligentsia have very specific ideas about what you can plant, how big it can be, and what pronouns you can use while tending it. Russell Brand, Bill Maher and John Oliver may imagine themselves to be the secular dragonslayers of hypocrisy who descend directly from Voltaire’s sacred order, but they’re actually the effete royalists who tacitly defend the new priesthood. Voltaire’s flame burns most brightly in the shitposting of Milo, the trolling of Steven Crowder, the savagery of Bearing and the meme magic of 4Chan.  Candide is both of its time and timeless because there will always be priests, politicians, academics and self-appointed behavior cops and thought police who deserve to be exposed, and there’s no better weapon than satire and ridicule.

Revisiting the Argument for Atheism: Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not A Christian

Given that atheism appears to be a rising trend in the US, it’s worth taking a look back at one of the seminal arguments against the Christian faith and see how well it holds up. Besides his numerous contributions to mathematics, history and philosophy, Bertrand Russell’s contribution to the modern atheist movement is significant. Russell comes from a long line of religious skeptics which goes back to David Hume and Immanuel Kant and finds modern expression in Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens among many others. Mr. Russell may have been a gifted intellectual in many respects, but his 1927 essay, Why I Am Not A Christian, is not only logically inconsistent, poorly argued and uncharitable towards Christianity, it reveals a paradox at the center of the atheist worldview which, in my opinion, few atheists have acknowledged let alone sufficiently addressed.

By staking a monopoly claim on rationality, reason, and by extension, the scientific method and the entire realm of scientific discovery, atheists have essentially positioned themselves as the new arbiters of morality. While atheists have busied themselves dismantling the edifice of religious morality using the tools of logic, they have simultaneously claimed that a new secular moral order can be constructed from these tools alone or, in some of the more extreme cases, that moral principles do not matter at all. That’s the core conceit of Why I Am Not A Christian, and the very philosophical error that places Russell in the same company as Karl Marx. Though Russell wrote extensively on morality and ethics, a condemnation of faith or a failed attempt at logical refutation isn’t a sufficient replacement for a system of morality and ethics, however flawed it may be in certain respects, that’s been developed over centuries. Russell deserves credit for making the attempt, but moral relativism and utilitarianism have proven themselves pretty weak substitutes.

Russell’s essay is worth reading for the simple reason that he attempts to actually refute the intellectual arguments for the existence of God.  It’s a phenomenon that’s mostly absent from the contemporary cultural discussion, but there is, in fact, a set of intellectual arguments for the existence of God that were famously articulated by Aquinas in the Summa Theologica. There is a widespread, and arguably bigoted, perception amongst atheists that Christians are knuckle dragging, anti-science mouth breathers who have neither a willingness or ability to engage in formal debate. Since the argument has already been fought by the likes of Russell, atheists generally take it as given that the debate is over, and engagement with these arguments is unnecessary. Conversely, Christians have largely retreated, been ignored, or simply failed in the intellectual arena against the likes of charismatic and intelligent atheists like Hitchens and Dawkins. Given that atheists lay claim to being the superior logicians, it’s surprising to see how lazy and weak Russell’s arguments actually are.

The First Cause Argument

Though he can be forgiven for making this claim since what came to be known as the Big Bang Theory was introduced the same year he made this speech, Russell’s opening volley is completely contravened by the weight of current scientific evidence in favor of the Big Bang Theory. The religious skeptic’s argument against First Cause ends up being torpedoed by the weight of current scientific evidence.

That argument, I suppose, does not carry very much weight nowadays, because, in the first place, cause is not quite what it used to be. The philosophers and the men of science have got going on cause, and it has not anything like the vitality it used to have; but, apart from that, you can see that the argument that there must be a First Cause is one that cannot have any validity.

Well, Mr. Russell, I hate to pull Hitchens’ Razor on you, but what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.  Why aren’t there any more specifics on the multitude of theories that supplanted a causal theory of cosmic expansion? This was a missed opportunity to specify how science contravened faith, and he dismisses it with a hand wave. Naturally, the Big Bang Theory lends itself to the First Cause argument to which Russell retorts with a reductio ad absurdum that persists to this day.

If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause.

The obvious rebuttal to this claim has already been spelled out by Aquinas, and Russell bypasses it like it’s inconsequential. If there if there is motion in the universe, and all motion requires a mover, and the moved cannot be the mover, ergo, there must be an original unmoved mover. The laws of the universe that govern our world flow from the Big Bang, and thus far, science has nothing definitive to say about what preceded the Big Bang. But even if one finds Russell’s argument persuasive, the ramifications of his argument should be troubling to any rationally minded person who values objective truth. If one removes the possibility of causality in explaining the universe or human action, you’ve arbitrarily excised a significant line of philosophical inquiry and a key tenet of the scientific method.  And to everyone who considers it a given that science and faith are incompatible, just remember that the most significant scientific theory explaining the origins of the universe came from a Catholic priest.

The Natural Law Argument

Russell’s argument here is essentially that it is too simplistic to say that the phenomena of the natural world or the cosmos can be explained away by saying Goddidit. He further contends that because Newtonian laws of gravitation were overturned by Einstein’s more complete theory of General Relativity, “natural laws are really human convention”.

Utter bollocks.

Scientific law gets called law because it explains phenomena that are constant, immutable and unchanging. There isn’t a single scientific law that has been invalidated or overturned since the time Russell wrote this piece.  Whether we’re talking about Special Relativity or Pascal’s Law or Planck’s Law, scientific law gets called a law because it reveals the machinery of the natural world expressed as a mathematical equation and can be reproduced under controlled conditions.  It is the continuous discovery of natural law which forms the foundations of a body of scientific knowledge from which technological innovation arises. Why a self-professed man of science like Russell argued something so asinine is beyond me.

The Argument From Design

Also known as the Teleological Argument, the argument from design essentially asserts that if the conditions of the creation of the universe were altered ever so slightly, life as we know it would not exist.  Russell dismisses this out of hand. At this juncture, I’m going to refer readers to an excellent piece by SJ Thomason which steps through all of Russell’s arguments and explains why considering the possibility for design does not preclude scientific inquiry, but expands it.

Russell then goes completely off the rails and starts sounding like a proto-SJW in the remainder of this section. If God is omnipotent and omniscient, why did we get the KKK or the Nazis? The obvious rebuttal is that humanity was given free will.  It is entirely up to us to distinguish right from wrong and choose accordingly.  That is the challenge of being alive.

The Moral Arguments For Deity

This is the core failure of Russell’s argument, and by extension, the entire atheist enterprise in my opinion.

I am not for the moment concerned with whether there is a difference between right and wrong, or whether there is not: that is another question.

The atheist argument poses a deep conundrum because it is either implicitly or explicitly a call for a secular moral order. The atheist, by and large, most definitely has a sense of right and wrong because not only would any atheist seek punishment for the murderer, rapist and thief, atheists mostly busy themselves lambasting the evils of religion. If the atheist attacks a religious moral tenet in favor of a secular moral advancement, he is positioning himself as an arbiter of morality. If the atheist rejects the idea that faith is the foundation for moral realism, then you have consigned the entire realm of morality to the relativistic world of political ideology, or worse, scientism and utilitarianism. The atheist that claims a “belief in science” over faith is not only peddling a ridiculous fallacy since good science does not require belief in the first place, but is glossing over the larger issues of morality and ethics. One cannot have sound science without sound ethics, and I would contend that it is a precondition for any serious quest for scientific knowledge. The sciences of the natural world are neutral on morality and ethics. Few people would embrace it today, but eugenics were once considered cutting-edge science. On the other hand, the modern social sciences make no effort to hide the fact that they are both normative and subjective, but affect a pretense of being the engines of modern moral progression simply because they live under the broad banner of science. Gender studies, critical race theory, and climate change “science” now form a de facto secular moral order from which any dissent is met with censure and opprobrium. Committing violence in service of the advancement of political goals and being a self-appointed judge of who deserves to be punched for having the wrong political opinions are not only explicitly sanctioned by the progressive political class, academics and celebrities, but they are evidence of moral virtue.

At its core, the atheist argument is a negation of belief, and an active embrace of non-belief. It also falsely asserts that faith and reason are mutually exclusive faculties, and the existence of one automatically short circuits and precludes the exercise of the other. If this doesn’t lead to a state of pure nihilism, it creates an inherent cognitive dissonance with respect to positive engagement with humanity itself. By and large, humans generally strive towards a very general notion of Doing Good and Making a Difference. Happiness, love, friendship, loyalty, forgiveness and charity are all abstractions which cannot be quantified, and yet, these abstractions are the mythical sky wizards that every atheist presumably chases in his own life under the guise of “science” or “reason”. Every act performed which carries an expectation of positive good, whether it’s money donated to a soup kitchen or a vote cast for a politician, is its own act of faith. If an atheist truly has any hope for humanity, he must, at some level, have belief in humanity’s capacity for good. This all by itself is an act of faith. It is the Golden Rule in practice. Cynicism and nihilism are easy.  Finding reasons to be hopeful about humanity is a far deeper challenge which pretty much requires some level of faith.

The yearning for justice and righteousness; more specifically, the desire to do right by for our fellow man and leave a positive legacy for posterity is hardwired into the human consciousness at some level. However, it is not a forgone conclusion that any given human will make choices that will expand and spread virtue, and it is entirely possible that many will be actively constrained and thwarted in their ability to exercise it or possibly even violate others in one way or another.

As Thomas Sowell argued, the world is roughly divided between those who subscribed to a “constrained” vision of humanity which posits that human nature is fixed and unchanging or an “unconstrained” vision which asserts that humans can be molded by social forces and institutions. Atheists mostly belong to the latter camp. Sadly, no one gives a shit about “a rational proof for secular ethics” or any other lofty philosophical disquisition on morality and ethics. Bertrand Russell wrote a bunch of stuff, but who reads it except for philosophy nerds and academics? The study of neuroscience in hopes of uncovering the “moral landscape” as Sam Harris describes it seems like little more than a recipe for pharmacological and technological micromanagement of the human will. The yearning for justice appeals to human emotion, and subsequently, humans tend to respond more positively to narrative and allegory when it comes to formulating notions of morality and justice. This is why Biblical allegory and mythology have been far more effective vehicles for the transmission of moral lessons than philosophical dialectic.

I further contend that it’s far easier to denigrate the Christian faith and morality than it is to proffer a positive alternative. There are no consequences to proclaiming yourself an atheist.  It takes no courage to heap scorn and ridicule on Christians as the enemies of Real Social Progress© and scientific discovery. According to the contemporary progressive orthodoxy, the only real moral transgressions are “bigotry”, white on black police brutality, climate change “denial”, the absence of consent in sexual relations for white, middle-class female college students, saying anything negative about Islam, and pretty much anything uttered by a conservative, libertarian or Christian. But the outrage is strictly confined to the narrative as it’s defined within the walls of academia, the media echo chamber which dutifully parrots every bit of brainless tripe dispensed from the social justice priesthood, and the gender ideologue foot soldiers who dominate Twitter and Tumblr. And by and large, this is where the yellow brick road of atheism has lead: to the sanctuary of the Church of Progressivism. Few atheists would admit it, but political rhetoric and social “science” have replaced the priest’s sermon.

Atheism has become a new orthodoxy which has largely ceded moral authority and agency to the leftist political class, their agenda and apparatchiks in academia.  There are exceptions, but this is the trend.  It seems like little more than a license to condescend to Christians, denigrate Christianity as the font of subservience and totalitarianism, and generally be miserable, nihilistic curmudgeons. Like all progressive thought, it’s not edgy, contrarian or new. With few exceptions, it’s just a standard accompaniment to a predetermined list of progressive political goals.

I wasn’t enthusiastic about making this argument since atheists are definitely the cool kids in the class, but if this is the quality of the argument from one of atheism’s greatest thinkers, then color me unimpressed.

The Crooked Timber of Humanity

Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made. – Immanuel Kant

If you’re interested in a contemporary philosopher who is able to put thousands of years into clear perspective, I would certainly place Sir Isaiah Berlin at or near the top of the list. Mr. Berlin’s vaunted reputation as an advocate for classical liberal principles and a first rate thought historian is entirely well deserved as The Crooked Timber of Humanity amply demonstrates.  As the title suggests, Berlin focuses on the origins of the movements that have led towards self-destruction and contrasts them against those which have animated modern liberal society. Specifically, he traces the origins of utopianism, cultural relativism versus pluralism, and fascism as well as its ideological bedfellow, nationalism.

Mr. Berlin treats the ideas and subjects with great respect, and true to the spirit of his other works, his central goal in this collection serves both as a warning against the encroachment of tyrannical ideas as well to provide as an intellectual antidote to illiberalism. Berlin’s analysis of these thinkers is incisive, and, when evaluated in light of current political movements, remains relevant and often downright prescient.  One wonders if, with respect to universalism and managerial scientism, he has underestimated the allure and endurance of this doctrine.

Berlin opens with a broadside against the Platonic ideal and the accompanying pursuit of the utopian society.  The Platonic ideal is comprised of three components.

  1. All genuine questions have one true answer and all other answers are errors.
  2. There must be a dependable path towards the discovery of these truths.
  3. These universal truths are compatible with one another.

Human needs and the means by which to attain them could be discovered through same methods by which natural scientific law could be discovered.  Once discovered, these principles could be codified and implemented through policy.  Berlin argues that this impulse is on the decline in the West, but if the arguments of the contemporary social scientists serve as an indicator, the hunger for pseudo-scientific micromanagement of human affairs remains undiminished.

Berlin contends that Giambattista Vico’s Scienza Nuova (1725) and his doctrine of  the “common nature of nations” as well as a later generation of German Romantics, including Johann Gottfried von Herder, pointed towards a “cultural pluralism” which provided a counterpoint and possible antidote to the empirical absolutism of the Enlightenment.  The cultural pluralism Vico and Herder espoused rested on the contention that there were, in fact, incompatible values between cultures which could not be reconciled to universal principles. Both Vico and Herder’s thought contravened the Enlightenment consensus that man was ultimately governed by universal laws.

In this current age of globalization where the watchword is multiculturalism, Vico and Herder’s conclusions certainly warrant further examination and pose very important questions. What constitutes culture in a multicultural society?  If culture is the product of the transmission of practices and traditions which were generated within a genetically homogenous society over the course of centuries, to what extent are these practices meaningful in a multicultural society to those who didn’t belong to the original culture?  Are individuals from different cultures being held to universal standards of conduct in a multicultural society?  Is it possible to have a multiculturalism which isn’t manufactured by social engineers or a Trojan Horse for hollow identity politics and globalist socialism?  Perhaps most importantly, if individuals from other cultures immigrate to a new culture in search of a better life, do they have any obligation to honor the culture into which they’ve inserted themselves whether voluntarily or by necessity?

Since this doctrine ran contrary to the cultural objectivist consensus of the day, Berlin contends that Vico and Herder’s pluralism should not be confused with relativism.  In other words, neither Vico nor Herder espoused a relativism of fact, but a relativism of values.  His emphasis on this difference is not insignificant in light of the current multicultural zeitgeist. In defense of Vico and Herder, he invokes a poignant quote from John Stuart Mill:

It is hardly possible to overrate the value, in the present low state of human improvement, of placing human beings in contact with persons dissimilar to themselves, and with modes of thought and action unlike those with which they are familiar. Commerce is now what war once was, the principal source of this contact. Commercial adventurers from more advanced countries have generally been the first civilizers of barbarians. And commerce is the purpose of the far greater part of the communication which takes place between civilized nations. Such communication has always been, and is peculiarly in the present age, one of the primary sources of progress.

Mill’s quote refers specifically to commerce as the cultural bridge, but his underlying point about the difficulty of understanding a pluralism of values in the absence of commerce is what warrants deeper consideration. The multiculturalists, social engineers and globalists have attempted to engineer such a consensus artificially by advancing an aggressive agenda of Tolerance™ with an ever diminishing set of results to show for it. It’s ironic that the champions of this doctrine have shown such remarkable contempt for the opponents of their agenda and remain unwilling to appreciate the relativism of values which run contrary to their megalomaniacal ambitions.  Once again, one wonders if it is possible to create a multicultural consensus which doesn’t devolve into a clinical and bureaucratic utilitarianism papered over by empty platitudes of Unity©.

A significant portion of the book is devoted to the individual Mr. Berlin believes to be the architect of modern fascism, Joseph de Maistre. In light of the rising tide of nationalism which has engulfed America and much of Europe, Berlin’s discussion of Maistre’s thought is especially poignant given that this phenomenon is largely a backlash to the social engineering of the multiculturalists and globalists. While Greece’s Golden Dawn party certainly represents a rising tide of genuine fascism which contains the twin hallmarks of the movement in its various historical manifestations, racial purity and nationalism, Maistre’s thought reminds us that there is more than a little paranoia and manufactured hysteria in the bleating of the progressive Left when it comes to Trump, Brexit and the various nationalist movements on the rise throughout Europe.

Maistre was a true reactionary to every aspect of the Enlightenment project. While the egalitarians espoused a view of man in which universal truth could be attained through scientific inquiry, Maistre rejected this doctrine with absolute impunity. On every aspect of the Enlightenment consensus, from rationalism to individualism to liberal egalitarianism, Maistre regarded these ideas with pure contempt.  By Berlin’s reckoning, Maistre’s vision of social order demanded absolute subordination to the Cross and the Crown.

While it is not unreasonable to conclude that Maistre provided the ideological template for the fascism of modern times, it certainly prompts questions over the appropriateness of seemingly indiscriminate and ubiquitous usage of the term today.  Especially with respect to the Left and their positively pathological and cartoonish hysteria over Trump. The Trump agenda remains an open question, but there is little doubt that the Left is in the business of conjuring ideological boogeymen out of thin air and painting any opposition to their globalist designs as “fascism”.  If the perpetuation of the multicultural agenda hinges on denigrating the foundations of Western thought which allows the very pluralism they allegedly value, they assure a recursive loop of nationalist backlash which validates their own prejudices.

Berlin concludes with a meditation on nationalism which is prophetic yet cautionary in tone, but raises fresh questions all the same.  While there is little doubt that nationalism in its extreme manifestation when married to the machinery of the State has proven itself a destructive force, Berlin reminds us that there is a deep seated humanity struggling to assert itself from under the dehumanizing designs of the sophisters, calculators and acolytes of scientism. The pursuit of universalism animated the West, but also created a unfortunate desire to manufacture a stultifying and artificial uniformity.  There is little doubt that the primal urge of nationalism has been and can be exploited by demagogues and populists, but it is not unreasonable to conclude that some measure of nationalist pride has, in fact, paved a path for the multiculturalism and genuine pluralism so idolized by the Left.  While much of the Islamic world, Asia and Africa remain ethnic and ideological monocultures, the burden of multiculturalism has been placed disproportionately on Western societies. As this policy unravels by the day, is it any wonder that there is a nationalist backlash towards individuals who apparently have no desire to adopt the cultural values of their adopted countries?  Berlin was keenly attuned to this aspect of nationalism and his words presaged the collective rage of the Brexiters and Trumpians to a t.

There is a growing number among the youth of our day who see their future as a process of being fitted into some scientifically well-constructed programme, after the data of their life-expectancy and capacities and utilisability have been classified, computerized, and analyzed for conduciveness to the purpose, at the very best, of producing the greatest happiness for the greatest number. This will determine the organisation of life on a national or regional or world scale, and this without undue attention to, or interest in (since this is not needed for the completion of the task), their individual characters, ways of life, wishes, quirks, ideals. This moves them to gloom and fury or despair. They wish to be and do something, and not merely be acted upon, or for, or on behalf of.  They demand recognition of their dignity as human beings. They do not wish to be reduced to human material, to being counters in a game played by others, even when it is played, at least in part, for the benefits of these counters themselves. A revolt breaks out at all levels.

While some philosophers and academics seemingly revel in their ability to obfuscate and mistakenly believe that verbosity equals profundity, Mr. Berlin’s prose sings with clarity and actually serves the purpose that philosophical inquiry was meant to serve: to illuminate. Mr. Berlin has written a collection of thought provoking essays which prove that we are well served by understanding how the ideas of the past shape the present, and most importantly, that the contrarians of bygone eras have something of value to offer. Even if it runs contrary to everything we hold sacred. And through this understanding, we may ask the right questions and formulate the answers to the issues of the present and future.

Atheism Versus Moral Realism

Though I consider myself an atheist, I get a little tired of the atheist contempt heaped on Christianity. There’s certainly no shortage of fundamentalist nutbags or clips of Pat Robertson nonsense on which to pile scorn and ridicule, but hating on Christians and Christianity has become a bit of a tired cliché among atheists and progressives alike[1]. It’s especially galling when atheists will champion Christian values when they’re being upheld by a Democrat politician or when a Christian religious leader validates their bias towards the moral righteousness of a particular policy agenda. On the other hand, Islam is rightfully receiving a vigorous critique from some corners of the atheist community on the grounds that it is barbaric, backwards and counter to basic liberal principles. However, this raises an important point often derided and dismissed by atheists: the importance of moral realism. 

How can you claim moral retrogression in human behavior or in any ideology if you don’t claim that there is objective moral truth in the first place? Indeed, how can one formulate any theory of ethics, justice, or rights without some basic, universal, objective standard upon which to judge right and wrong?

Atheists argue that the belief in God is irrational because there’s no empirical proof of his existence. Atheists also tend to claim a mantle of moral superiority, myself included, since we view the world through the cold lens of hard reason, rationalism and empiricism and that these practices alone will guide us to a secular moral truth. Since God is a delusion, how can one uphold religious morality as a standard by which to guide our own actions let alone judge others? Surely, only a sad and limited consciousness would embrace the antiquated notion of a supreme being and is, in fact, the very reason that people commit such horrible atrocities in God’s name, reject science and hold bigoted and exclusionary beliefs to this day. MUH CRUSADES, CLIMATE CHANGE DENIAL, HOMOPHOBIC BAKERS, AND ABORTION DOCTOR MURDERERS, AMIRITE?! Though it is a debate that been waged for centuries, conservative theist YouTuber, The Distributist, argued very persuasively that even if you are an atheist, you cannot disregard or take lightly the theist argument for the existence of God on the basis of morality. 

In the video, The Distributist responds to YouTuber Vernaculis’ snide, condescending response Dr. Peter Kreeft’s moral case for the existence of God. In Kreeft’s video, he lays out all of the classic secular arguments for morality and why morality cannot be regarded as a set of preferences.  These arguments include:

  • Evolution
  • Reason
  • Conscience
  • Human Nature
  • Utilitarianism
  • In each case, both Kreeft and The Distributist argue that from these premises, morality will be either subjectively constructed and enforced, will potentially regress backwards or will arise from an a posteriori analysis which may or may not serve as a useful moral foundation for an evolving society. The latter case assumes of course that civilization has weathered the vagaries of a society based on a relativistic morality in the first place. Since mankind is subject to flaws, has the ability to make choices, and the establishment of moral normativity and ethics is necessary if one hopes to have a shot at actual civilization, it follows that one can only appeal to an external, immutable moral absolute which is both universally accessible and exists outside man and nature.  The Distributist and Kreeft both conclude that if there is absolute moral law, there must be an absolute lawgiver. Ergo, God exists.  

    Not bad.

    Setting aside whether one accepts the argument at all, why would a world of moral absolutes be preferable to moral relativism? Wouldn’t that lead to a RELIGIOUS TYRANNY??

    No.  

    For example, if murder is objectively wrong, it it was wrong in the past and remains wrong today. The fact that those vested with moral authority commit murder (e.g. priests, politicians, monarchs) doesn’t invalidate the moral law. Rather, it only proves that the person in question failed to live up to the law in his life choices.  Just as the unchanging laws of nature have allowed for vast scientific and technological discovery, an unchanging moral law provides an equally sound basis from which to make moral choices.

    Using any of the other bases for formulating morality, one could arrive at a valid moral rationale for murder, and history has borne this out.  Stalin was an atheist and saw no moral transgression in murdering millions of his citizens. He was the leader of the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat who was merely facilitating the historical inevitability of a socialist worker’s paradise. It was justified on both evolutionary and utilitarian grounds. Checkmate, moral realism!

    Regardless of whether one accepts that moral objectivity proves the existence of God, it raises a deep challenge for the atheist who isn’t a moral relativist.  It requires that the atheist instantiate a metaphysical construct of Good and Evil which isn’t tied to any supernatural being or phenomenon.  It’s certainly possible to impart morality and ethics without religious beliefs, but religion is meant to express some kind of eternal moral truth in the universe.  Needless to say, this raises all kinds of questions around whether a religious text that commands you to stone your wife, condemn homosexuality or refrain from eating bacon can really be regarded as some kind of eternal moral truth, the point is there is indeed a necessity for objective morality as a foundational proposition from which one exercises free will. 

    Notable atheists, Sam Harris and Stefan Molyneux in particular, have attempted to proffer theories of morality that are grounded in science and logic. However, I propose that this is a fundamental epistemological error and the consignment of morality to the realm of science or logic negates and nullifies that which makes us human. Humans are driven by many factors, but by and large, we aspire to express love, be of service to others and do the Right Thing by our fellow humans. Even if you have no religious belief, humans aspire to reach the ineffable and the infinite through earthly works and human relationships. We extol examples of heroism, charity, goodwill and kindness and condemn acts of predation, cruelty, indifference and violence. We champion art which affirms our deepest yearnings for love, connectedness, companionship and eternal beauty.  We want to be reminded that our lives have meaning, that doing the Right Thing actually matters and that it is possible to affect change for the better. By inserting morality into the realm of science or logic, we’re subsuming these aspects of ourselves which cannot be quantified or proven through a logical proposition and building a world of mechanistic determinism. 

    Sadly, atheism has long been the province of the socialist Left throughout the world.  While there are certainly atheist libertarians, the overwhelming majority of atheists have built a new global church of atheism in the government which has replaced moral realism with an endless array of moral wrongs to be punished and rights to be conferred. This cult of moral relativism has reached its apotheosis in the agenda of the modern day social justice warrior. Feminism, multiculturalism, and scientism all converge within the progressive agenda to form a set of moral precepts which are easily sold by ideologues, academic hacks, would-be intellectuals and politicians. Rape statistics are used by feminists not because they actually care about rape victims, but because they wish to inculcate shame and guilt in men for having the Original Sin of an XY chromosomal pair.  Environmentalist doomsayers who inveigh against consumption, fossil fuels and “climate science deniers” are no different from your garden variety Baptist preacher invoking the fires of Eternal Damnation.  #Blacklivesmatter activists are far more concerned with policing what people say and think than attending to the needs of the black community because the higher priority is to have white people atone for White Privilege by implementing an agenda of “economic justice”. What do all these agendas have in common?  They all lead down the road towards the new and improved globalist serfdom.  

    Moral relativism is little more than a recipe for a recursive loop of existential ennui, angst, cynicism, anxiety, nihilism and validation of Marxist alienation. The cult of scientism is pushing us into a society that’s increasingly automated, mechanized, deterministic and disconnected from ourselves and one another. The identity politics of guilt and shame are creating more division and enshrining a culture of victimhood and censorship. As the problems wrought by the relativists proliferate, the atheist priesthood doubles down and agitates for an ever expanding sphere of government sanctions, dispensations, accommodations and privileges.

    The advancement of human liberty and the market economy has afforded modern society the luxury of rejecting religious belief. Christianity remains a punching bag for atheists, but at this point, it appears to be little more than a license to hate conservatives. We live in a world where burning a Bible scarcely raises an eyebrow, but a drawing of Muhammad is a potential death sentence. Clearly, not all religions are equal, but the obvious moral depravity of Islam is continually overlooked by the progressive wing of the atheist community because it’s apparently a far worse sin to appear “bigoted” towards Muslims.  As far as “scientific” moralism goes,  Sam Harris’ handwaving away of Hillary Clinton’s vote for the Iraq War and career of corruption should tell you everything you need to know about how reliable this theory of morality is. The verdict is in on moral relativism and it is a recipe for self destruction.

    Classical liberalism has given us the freedom to pursue life on our own terms even if it involves no religious belief.  But atheists aren’t adding to human progress by embracing moral relativism. 

    [1] Most atheists also self-identify as progressive.

    The Philosophy of Star Trek


    This is one of the best and most comprehensive overviews of the philosophy of Star Trek I’ve encountered. Absolutely worth your time if this subject interests you. 

    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. 

    Requiem for Marx

    Despite the epic failures of socialism throughout the world, the Left throughout the West has held fast to its perverse and irrational idolatry of the philosophy of Karl Marx.  In America, The Communist Manifesto is the most widely taught economics text in university.  The bookstores of the most elite and prosperous communities are stocked with copies of Das Kapital. Media elites openly trumpet socialism and socialist regimes in major publications without remorse. Socialists now unironically wave banners of Stalin and Soviet flags in public parades and protest rallies. But no matter how spectacularly socialism fails, the Left have mastered the art of apologia when it comes to the writings of Marx. Somehow these failures cannot be attributed to Marxist doctrine, are handwaved away as merely the unfortunate consequences of bad actors who either misapplied principles or were just despotic malefactors to begin with. Socialists contend either that socialism has never been properly attempted or hold up the welfare states of Scandinavian countries as model societies to which to aspire with no regard for history or market economics. Even worse, Marx’ analysis of capitalism continues to be accorded unwarranted deference, and his quasi-religious promises of earthly plenitude and social harmony continue to hold sway in the consciousness of the Left.

    Whatever the reasons for the maddening endurance of this doctrine, what is needed is a stern and thorough repudiation of Marxist doctrine in the court of public opinion.  Preferably, before its adherents do any more damage than they already have done. 

    Though others have set out to stamp out the mental cancer of Marxism, there is perhaps no refutation more definitive than Requiem for Marx. Edited and prefaced by former Soviet economist, Yuri N. Maltsev, Requiem for Marx sets out to disassemble and dismantle Marxism root and branch. Comprised of essays by the most notable thinkers in the Austrian tradition, Requiem for Marx lays waste to every facet of this toxic, but seductive ideology. 

    Mr. Maltsev’s introduction all by itself should be sufficient to disabuse the average Occupy Wall Street proponent of any fascination with socialism, but it is merely a prelude to the battering ram of truth which follows.  Maltsev describes being indoctrinated to accept Marxist principles from a very early age up to the massive abuses, widespread corruption, indifference, repression and deception he witnessed from within the highest echelons of the Gorbachev regime. While Gorbachev enjoys a reputation in the minds of the Western public as a forward-looking politician, Maltsev paints a far less charitable portrait of a party apparatchik who lacked any intellectual curiosity, and held fast to his belief in socialism despite the large scale collapse happening throughout the Soviet Republic. Most importantly, Maltsev reminds us that rather than being some misapplication of principles, the USSR was, in fact, a sincere and faithful attempt to apply and implement Marxist doctrine.  Put that in your pipe and Bern it, Occupiers.

    The chapter written by Hans-Hermann Hoppe is revelatory because he illustrates the parallels between the Austrian and Marxist analysis of exploitation. Marxists and Austrians both posit the existence of a predatory ruling class, but Marxists got it completely wrong by incorrectly pointing the finger at capitalists and producers. Hoppe draws a critical distinction between those who produce and exchange through voluntary contract and the homesteading principle versus those who extract wealth through involuntary and coercive means (i.e. the State). The former are the productive classes and the latter are the parasites.  

    Gary North’s examination of Marx’ personal life, spending and borrowing habits, academic output, financial dependence, and absence of any real employment history is absolutely essential because it exposes Marx as the dilettante that he was. The fact that Marx is so heavily favored by pampered, bourgeois academics is sadly appropriate because that’s exactly what Marx himself was.  Not only was he born into wealth and privilege, he married into wealth and privilege, and managed to squander a fortune that easily placed him in the 19th century 1%. Not exactly the hardscrabble life of a working-class prole. Boasting an exhaustive set of original and biographical sources, North paints a picture of a classically narcissistic and predatory personality. Marx was deeply vindictive and spiteful towards opponents both real and perceived, demanded compliance from everyone around him, lived off the patronage of Engels and spent well beyond his means, fathered illegitimate children despite having no gainful employment, and proffered no positive theory of socialism while penning volumes of seething criticism of capitalism. Most tellingly, Marx essentially stopped publishing at age 49, and North argues that this was because Marx had reached an intellectual dead end.  For someone who’s entire theory of exploitation hinged on the idea of class exploitation, the fact that he never bothered to define “class” until the third volume of Das Kapital says quite a bit about the superficiality of his thought. North delivers a stinging rebuke to the political parasites, celebrity socialists, media water carriers and academic wankers who replicate Marx’ cult of personality, venerate his toxic swill, and telegraph their phony concern for the working man while luxuriating in the confines of their gilded fiefdoms. With this chapter alone, Gary North has driven a permanent stake into the heart of the myth of Marx as a Champion of the Working Class.

    David Osterfeld’s critique of the Marxian taxonomy of historical modes of production and theory of history completely annihilates the validity of any claim that Marx makes on his system of thought being a genuinely scientific framework.  Throughout his work, Marx makes repeated references to the allegedly irreconcilable contradictions of capitalism, but it appears that few true believers in Marxist doctrine examine the contradictions within the Marxist theory itself.  Among the many confused and confusing notions which emanated from his addled mind, his theory of the inevitability of socialism receives a well deserved thrashing. According to Marx, the material forces of production develop without interruption like some sentient Borg-like hive mind which simultaneously gives rise to the exploitative bourgeois superstructure, improves material conditions and immiserates the proletariat all at once. Individual initiative and innovation play no role in his theory nor does the increased satisfaction that follows from the ongoing material improvement for the vast majority of the population. He simply presents the development of a revolutionary proletarian consciousness laboring under the crushing bootheel of the capitalist machine as an unfalsifiable a priori proposition. Most importantly, Osterfeld illustrates how Marx alternates between a sociological definition of capitalism and an economic one which, if properly distinguished, would have made a clearer separation between the mercantilist interventions of the State and the voluntary nature of market transactions. 

    Picking up where Gary North and Hoppe left off, Ralph Raico uncovers the classical liberal roots of the theory of class exploitation and illustrates how Marx perverted the idea and propagated a wildly distorted vision of reality.  Marx cribbed his theories of class struggle from early classical liberal thinkers, François Guizot and Augustin Thierry, but by the end of Engel’s life, the role of the individual in the development of historical materialism had been nearly erased. Through the liberal journal, Le Censeur Européen, Thierry, Charles Comte, and Charles Dunoyer developed the doctrine of Industrialisme, or Industrialism. These thinkers put commerce at the center of society and asserted voluntary exchange as the true engine of virtue, industry, and innovation.  Most importantly, these men also drew critical inspiration from fellow Frenchman and economic theorist, Jean-Baptiste Say.  At the center of the theory of Industrialism was a harsh rebuke to the intervention of the State in economic affairs. All of these theorists correctly identified the State and its enablers as the idlers, exploiters and parasites. Marx and his followers ended up turning this analysis on its head and pitting workers against capitalists while assigning an unwarranted illusion of virtue to the expropriative power of the State.  

    Coming in for the coup de grâce is the late, great Murray Rothbard. Drawing from a mind boggling collection of original and secondary sources, Rothbard argues that the Marxian pursuit of Communism was, in fact, religious in nature. Rothbard argues that not only was the Marxian pretense of secular scientific rationalism a pathetic farce, but his work had roots in religious millennarian prophecy which seeks a Kingdom of God on Earth.  Just as Marx’ economic thought was built upon the foundations of British Classicism, his pursuit of communism was merely a repurposing of the work of 16th century religious zealots who also saw inequality as a moral sin and sought redress through confiscation and conscripted labor. Rothbard focuses in particular on the first large scale attempt at Communism in Europe based on the teachings of the megalomaniacial eschatological Anabaptist, Thomas Müntzer.  Though Müntzer’s initial attempt at Anabaptist Communism in the city of Muhlhausen was another abject failure resulting in mass death and his ultimate execution at the hands of the German monarchy, his ideas carried on and were implemented by others to similarly disastrous results. The zealots who picked up the torch of eschatological Anabaptist Communism eventually gravitated to the city of Münster, and under the leadership of another set of proto-Lenins, Jan Matthys and Jan Bockelson, the first major experiment in socialist dictatorship was imposed.  All the features that defined every modern Communist dictatorship were present in the Münster experiment. Private property was confiscated, labor was coerced, disobedience was met with capital punishment, and the lionshare of the produce of society was reserved for the self-appointed elites. 

    Rothbard also points out that Marx was a Christian in his youth before he adopted Hegelianism as a college student and his megalomaniacal ambitions, nihilism and abject hostility to humanity were present in his early attempts at play writing and poetry. 

    Among the many failures of logic in the Marxian framework is his inability to reconcile market prices to the value of labor inputs. The entire edifice of Marxism rests on the premise that market prices must reflect the value of labor inputs and that the relationship between capitalist and laborers is exploitative by nature. Rothbard neatly emphasizes that Marxists have neither adequately responded to Eugen Böhm-Bawerk’s critique of this aspect of the Marxian system nor come to grips with the insights of the Marginalists.  

    Rothbard correctly observed that ideas are notoriously hard to kill even if they’re demonstrably bad ideas like Marxism.  The fact that Marxism forms the backdrop of thought for contemporary sociology, the new secular religion of the Left, is unsurprising. Predictably, the loudest advocacy for socialism is coming from the academic class via gender studies, critical race theory and other variations in postmodern social analysis. These new school socialists have simply put a new veneer on an old formula.  The New Kingdom of God on Earth will be achieved by eradicating racism and sexism. And of course, the age old gripe against inequality of outcomes must be rectified through confiscation and redistribution (aka “economic justice”). There’s no doubt these secondhand theories emanate from the same poisonous well of thought from which Marxism itself emanates.  

    The debate against socialism should have been settled long ago.  Sadly, Marxism has retained its place as the unofficial religion of the Left since the Left has no firm principles and, like their Marxist forebears, have made the State their religion. The fantasy of “equality” and the yearning for a secular morality coupled with a prefab indictment of free market capitalism all conspire to keep Marxism alive. Subsequently, academic con artists, media dittoheads, and political hacks are aggrandized and their pretentious paeans to the proletariat proliferate. Aging Boomers and their patchouli soaked, non-binary, queer positive, trustafarian progeny lured by promises of “social and economic justice” and a sweet Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack regurgitate their braindead slogans like manna from heaven while what remains of the free world marches down the road to serfdom once again.  

    Perhaps humanity needs to learn its lessons the hard way by repeating its mistakes a few times. It would be nice if it didn’t have to come to that. Marx and his system have been refuted many times over, and this magnificent collection of essays has earned its rightful place as the final epitaph for a philosophy that’s well past its expiration date. It’s high time that socialists pay attention. 

    Federalist 10

    image

    James Madison’s essay from 1787 is generally regarded as one of the most significant pieces of modern political thought, but its reputation and importance seem a little overrated since it identifies the very political maladies the newly formed federal republic sought to mitigate, but ultimately amplified.  It’s essentially a refutation of the limits of federal power the Constitution was theoretically meant to constrain. 

    Federalist 10 focuses on mitigating political faction; the tendency of a political group to overwhelm and trample the rights of a minority. 

    By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

    Madison was obviously attuned to the corrupting influence which accompanied the acquisition of political power as well as the attendant tendency of politicians to pit citizens against one another, but he essentially asks you accept that this phenomenon is inevitable. He further proposes that there are only two courses of action; abolish all personal liberty or somehow engineer a mass consensus of uniform opinions and interest. 

    There are again two methods of removing the causes of faction: the one, by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; the other, by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests.

    Madison’s perception of man’s tendency to exploit the apparatus of state power to exploit and inflame the passions of citizens against one another is incisive and relevant. 

    So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.

    His specific identification of greed and envy and the tension between Haves and Have Nots that has animated the passions of political sociopaths for centuries is also spot on.

    But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society.

    He begins to go off the rails by suggesting that statesmen are “enlightened” in the first place or that the “public good” is something that can be defined or achieved through the legislative process.  This sounds more like an admission of futility than an affirmation of sound principle.

    It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.

    The solution to this inevitability is to mitigate the effects.

    The inference to which we are brought is, that the CAUSES of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its EFFECTS.

    The specific mechanism by which this would be achieved is through a republican mode of governance over a democratic one.  Much is made of the difference between a democracy and a republic amongst Constitution wonks and paleoconservatives, and Madison draws a few useful distinctions between the two.

    Madison rightfully points out the that the main flaw of democracy in which all are granted perfect equality of representation is that it devolves into tyranny.

    Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.

    A republic, on the other hand, is a form of government in which citizens delegate power to a select number of representatives.  The distinction seems pretty arbitrary if those in power trample the liberty of the citizens, but Madison insists that this difference is crucial. 

    The two great points of difference between a democracy and a republic are: first, the delegation of the government, in the latter, to a small number of citizens elected by the rest; secondly, the greater number of citizens, and greater sphere of country, over which the latter may be extended.

    Madison argues that these “enlightened” delegates presiding over the Union would somehow thwart this tendency towards faction, but each of the “wicked projects” he feared have materialized. Ironic, given that the first one he mentions, the “rage for paper money”, didn’t take very long to materialize and Alexander Hamilton is the guy who agitated for it. 

    The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States. A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source. A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project.

    Each of the “wicked projects” he names were enacted or are being actively championed by one interest or another. Based on the palsied state of affairs and the dim view of Washington the public holds, the factious spirit is more an entrenched reality of the political process than ever.

    If anything, Federalist 10 gives more credence to the Anti-Federalist position that the Constitution under consideration in Philadelphia in 1787 was destined for mission creep.  It seems less an affirmation of the soundness of the Constitution and more of a vague hope that things won’t degenerate quite as badly as other experiments in democratic government.

    On the other hand, the political class has followed Madison’s advice very closely, and used it to their advantage. Despite the veneer of a vast ideological divide between Democrats and Republicans, the two party duopoly has been very successful in engineering a uniform consensus.  The limits on federal power were trampled starting with the suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion and were arguably completely eroded during the Woodrow Wilson administration.  Presently, the President of the United States governs by Executive Order, and no one in Congress raises a peep of opposition. Democrats and Republicans are now completely united in preserving the institutions, policies, programs as well as the abuses, manufactured outrages and animosities which keep Americans obedient to the system.

    The Constitution was meant to produce what John Adams famously described as “a government of laws, and not of men.” It was meant to delimit and constrain the power the federal government could exercise. In Federalist 10, James Madison seems to be preparing you for the inevitable destruction of that principle.

    The Prince

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    Poor Niccolò Machiavelli. 

    He’s living in exile and writes The Prince in order to get back in the good graces of the Medici family, and despite his other more extensive works of political philosophy, earns an indelible reputation as the author of the blueprint for political dictatorship.  There is, of course, some truth to this claim, but anyone who views him or this work exclusively in this light just isn’t giving the man enough credit. 

    Machiavelli has performed a tremendous service to humanity by writing this book. Not because it’s advice that should be followed. The genius of The Prince is that it is an unvarnished examination of the true nature of political power.  The Prince is an unflinching exploration of power stripped of contemporary political doublespeak, wonky policy talking points, feelgood platitudes, postmodern obscurantism, or academic jargon.  It reveals the mind of brute, naked power spelled out in clear, lucid English that anyone can grasp.  Some of his observations are incisive insights about human nature and group mentalities.   Anyone who wants to understand the mind and motivations of any politician should absolutely read this book. 

    Anyone who thinks that a 16th century Italian Renaissance political discourse holds no relevance in 21st century liberal democracy is sorely mistaken. Machiavelli was affirming the power of the 16th century city state, but his thought formed the bedrock of modern republican democracy and has lost none of its importance. If modern politicians and apparatchiks spoke with as much clarity as Mr. Machiavelli, people might regard politicians and political power with the suspicion and contempt they deserve. Machiavelli’s book may have gained infamy by having Stalin, Mussolini and Gotti as fans, but let’s not forget that even the American founding fathers drew inspiration from “Old Nick.”  There’s no doubt in my mind that this is Frank Underwood’s favorite book.

    Machiavelli is credited as the founder of modern political science, and there is a cold, calculated logic to this discourse. The most shocking aspect of The Prince is the casual manner Machiavelli accords political leaders a moral exemption from the rules they impose on their population. For the politician, there is no line of moral transgression that cannot be crossed. It is simply a matter of understanding the forces that might conspire to undermine his rule and take the steps necessary to preserve power.

    The Prince is part history lesson and part instruction manual. Machiavelli is an astute scholar of history and the The Prince is filled with references to events and the actions of heads of state. He identifies both the successes and failures of these statesmen and pinpoints exactly which behaviors and decisions contributed to the outcomes. 

    Let’s take a look at Mr. Machiavelli’s observations and advice. 

    Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you actually are.

    Is there any category of person for whom the delta between public perception and reality is the greatest than the politician?  Is there any category of person who is able to exempt him or herself from moral judgment more skillfully than the modern day Democrat? 

    And here comes in the question whether it is better to be loved rather than feared, or feared rather than loved. It might perhaps be answered that we should wish to be both; but since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.

    I’m hard pressed to think of a quote which summarizes American foreign policy or the police state as effectively as this one. 

    The vulgar crowd always is taken by appearances, and the world consists chiefly of the vulgar.

    This quote applies just as much to physical appearance as it does the appearance of virtue. 

    …the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it.

    I believe that Machiavelli made an incisive observation here. It’s been my experience that when arguing against government monopolies such as public education or infrastructure, the default rebuttal is that you oppose the underlying goal of education or transportation in general or you favor chaos and disorder or both. There is a strong tendency to assume that the status quo must not be disrupted and even entertaining the idea that free individuals could conceive something greater is regarded as naïve or reckless.

    But when you disarm them, you at once offend them by showing that you distrust them, either for cowardice or for want of loyalty, and either of these opinions breeds hatred against you.

    Machiavelli saw the importance and pitfalls of gun control long ago.  An effective state can’t afford to have subjects who will mount armed opposition nor can it afford to rankle those who assert gun ownership rights.  So instead you play a long game of propaganda, activist social science, and exploitation of public tragedy with good old fashioned manipulation of public sentiment. 

    A prince must not have any other object nor any other thought… but war, its institutions, and its discipline; because that is the only art befitting one who commands.

    At last, we arrive.  This is what the state does best. This is its true nature and purpose. It doesn’t even need to be bombs dropped or boots on the ground. It can be wars on drugs, poverty, science, or women.  The net result is perhaps worse. Not only do people actually die, but civic virtue, civility and reason die as well.

    The Prince is a remarkable work.  Its simplicity and bluntness are qualities that are all too rare today.  Nowadays, citizens and politicians revel in layers upon layers of abstraction and rhetoric in order to rationalize state violence. And even when politicians are explicit about the usage of force, the other side is convinced that their preferred application of state force is better than the opposing side. 

    The Prince is remarkable because it exposes the moral cancer that is eating humanity alive known as the State.  Is there any institution which sets individuals against each other quite like the State? How else does one explain the instant revulsion that political discourse breeds in certain individuals other than such discussions unmask a hidden brutality that lies at the core of political power? Machiavelli observed that the soldiers’ appetite for “avarice and cruelty” is sated through the military spirit of the prince.  He was correct, but he didn’t extend the logic far enough.  It applies to the general citizenry as well.