A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Bambi vs. Godzilla

US House of Representatives
Note twin fasces flanking the flag

The growing powerlessness of the modern state reflects the abdication…of its erstwhile governing classes; and it is at least probable that in its wake there will follow not the blessings of increased liberty but a long transitory brutal period of insecurity and terror.
 – John Lukacs, The Passing of the Modern Age
Alexis de T
The Age of the State. 
The absolute, divine-right monarch had been unknown during medieval times, which preferred its kings weak and nominal; but royal absolutism ensured peace and security; and those are bourgeois virtues, par excellence.  So the rise of the bourgeoisie meant the rise of the monarchs.  Strong monarchs were even seen as democratic – champions of the people against unruly barons. 

And with the monarchs came the Totalizing State.  The self-governing chartered corporations of the Middle Ages – free towns, universities, guilds, companies of players – were brought under State regulation or control.  The scope of State authority continued increasing even after the bourgeoisie turned against the monarchs.  Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that democratic despotism would be “more extensive and more mild.” 
The supreme power then … covers the surface of society with a net-work of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate to rise above the crowd.  The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided: men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. 
The result would be governments that would “interfere more habitually and decidedly with the circle of private interests than any sovereign of antiquity could ever do.”

 In fact, it is worth quoting the estimable de Tocquville at length (feel free to browse or skip).  He is here describing the Europe of his day (that is, during the presidency of Andy Jackson):
In the centuries of aristocracy before our time, the rulers of Europe had been deprived of or had voluntarily given up many of the rights inherent in their power.  Less than a hundred years ago in most of the nations of Europe there were private persons or almost independent bodies who administered justice, raised and maintained soldiers, levies taxes, and often even made or interpreted the law.  The state has everywhere reclaimed for itself alone those natural attributes of sovereign power.  In all matters of government, the state allows no intermediary between itself and the citizens, but directs them in matters of general concern itself.  Far from criticizing this concentration of powers, I merely point it out.

In Europe at that same time there were many secondary powers representing local interests and administering local affairs.  Most of these local authorities have already vanished, and the rest are tending quickly to disappear or to fall into a state of complete subordination.  From one end of Europe to the other seignorial privileges, the liberties of cities, and the powers of provincial governments have been or soon will be destroyed.  ....

[T]hese various rights which have been successively wrested in our time from classes, corporations, and individuals have not been used to create new secondary powers on a more democratic basis, but have invariably been concentrated in the hands of the government.  Everywhere it is the state itself which increasingly takes control of the humblest citizen and directs his behavior even in trivial matters.

 In Europe in the old days almost all the charitable institutions were managed by individuals or corporations.  They are now all more or less under government control, and in several countries, are administered by the government.  The state almost exclusively undertakes to supply bread to the hungry, assistance and shelter to the sick, work to the idle, and to act as the sole reliever of all kinds of misery. 

In most countries now education as well as charity has become a national concern.  ...

It is also safe to say that now in almost all Christian nations, Catholic as well as Protestant, religion is in danger of falling under government control.   ....

The sovereign's power having spread, as we have seen, over the entire sphere of previously existing authorities, is not satisfied with that, but goes on to extend in every direction over the domain heretofore reserved for personal independence.  A multitude of actions which formerly were entirely free from the control of society are now subject thereto, and this is constantly increasing. 
Reflecting Walker Percy's observation that at this most crowded era, man feels most alone and isolated, de Tocqueville foresaw:
I wish to imagine under what new features despotism might appear in the world: I see an innumerable crowd of men, all alike and equal, turned in upon themselves in a restless search for those petty, vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls.  Each of them, living apart, is almost unaware of the destiny of all the rest.  His children and personal friends are for him the whole of the human race; as for the remainder of his fellow citizens, he stands alongside them but does not see them; he touches them without feeling them; he exists only in himself and for himself; if he still retains his family circle, at any rate he may be said to have lost his country . . . Above these men stands an immense and protective power which alone is responsible for looking after their enjoyments and watching over their destiny.  It is absolute, meticulous, ordered, provident, and kindly disposed.  It would be like a fatherly authority, if, fatherlike, its aims were to prepare men for manhood, but it seeks only to keep them in perpetual childhood; it prefers its citizens to enjoy themselves provided they have only enjoyment in mind.  It works readily for their happiness but it wishes to be the only provider and judge of it.  It provides their security, anticipates and guarantees their needs, supplies their pleasures, directs their principal concerns, manages their industry, regulates their estates, divides their inheritances.  Why can it not remove them entirely from the bother of thinking and the troubles of life?

Keep some of those thoughts in mind.  "Everywhere it is the state itself which increasingly takes control of the humblest citizen and directs his behavior even in trivial matters."  That the alienation of the individual, his "alone-ness," is a consequence should be obvious. 

As for "In all matters of government, the state allows no intermediary between itself and the citizens," where have we heard that before?  Oh, yes.

Everything within the state; nothing outside the state; nothing against the state.
- Benito Mussolini

Fascism is alive and well; but it is the soft fascism described by de Tocqueville, not the hard fascism with the spiffy uniforms.  Fascism (or "national socialism" except that the German variety ruined the name) differs from international socialism in its resolution of the class struggle.  Instead of a rising of the proletariat (led, of course, by the privileged Vanguard), fascism conceives of a brilliant, popular LEADER who embodies in his very person the aspirations of his People.  Like the fasces, which by wrapping a bundle of sticks together makes the whole bundle stronger than the individual stick, the LEADER unifies the classes so they work together for the betterment of the nation.  And -- no fooling -- for hope and change.  (See Lukacs The Last European War, Part II, Chapter III.  Yale Univ. Press, 1976)

This is done through rules and regulations, enforced uniformity, and government-led cooperation.  (As in: cooperate or else.)  More elaborate examples of this include Mussolini's "syndicates" and Hilary Clinton's proposed "health care alliances."  They "rationalize" unruly free market capitalism and "wasteful competition" by allocating market share to each provider. 

Starting ca. 1870, the States of Europe assumed power over the two fundamental principles of private life: the formation of marriages and the education of children.  State-run secular schools with mandatory attendance date from this time: Austria (1869), England (1870), Switzerland (1874), the Netherlands (1876), Italy (1877), Belgium (1879), and France (early/ mid 1880’s). German public schools were secularized around this time also.  State-run schools naturally glamorized the State, and the net result was throngs of people cheering the onset of World War One. 

Likewise, Austria instituted civil marriage in 1868, and the idea spread to Italy (1873), Switzerland (1874), the German Empire (1875), and France (1881).  Today, we have forgotten that people once married without a State permit.  By the early 1900s, the State even proposed to decide who could marry whom based on Darwinian principles, although eugenics got a bad reputation shortly after and is now on hold, then it decided marriages could be dissolved on a whim, currently, it is musing on something called same-sex "marriage." (Marriage, like education, suffered the fate of anything run by the State.) 

[Greenblatt writes:] “Human insignificance—the fact that it is not all about us and our fate—is, Lucretius insisted, good news.” Indeed it is good news for Harvard professors, and for anyone else in positions of power. As materialism disenchants, the principles and norms and standards by which we can hold the powerful accountable melt away.
-- R.R.Reno, Book Review of Greenblatt's The Swerve

The barrera is there for a reason. 
Ask the bull.
Curiously, libertarianism has abetted this emptying out of the public square, in which the Rugged Individual and the Total State now face each other across an empty plain littered by the ruins of all the other organizations that used to buffer them from each other: local states and cities, churches, guilds, families, and so forth.  In the process, the old Catholic notion of Social Justice has been emptied out.  Whereas it once meant that each level and pocket of society received what was its just due -- individual, family, town, church, union, university, and so on -- it now means "an immense and protective power which alone is responsible for looking after their enjoyments and watching over their destiny."  The lone individual now faces the omnicompetent State with no shield or barrera.

It's Bambi vs. Godzilla.  

"It was perhaps equally important that the existence and prestige of the Church prevented society from being totalitarian, prevented the omnicompetent state, and preserved liberty in the only way that liberty can be preserved, by maintaining in society an organization which could stand up against the state."
- A.D. Lindsay, The Modern Democratic State

A funny thing happened on the way to the Total State

What comes next, Big Brother?  Maybe not.  A funny thing happened on the way to the Total State.  It began to fade away.  Lukacs in 1970 cited several reasons for this:
  1. The impotence of technology.  Large super-scientific States with massive arsenals found themselves in the position of “hunting bumblebees with an elephant gun.”  And they no longer dared, as Napoleon had, to line up the cannons and fire on rioters. 
  2. The democratization of warfare.  The resistance movements of WWII presaged popular warfare carried out by small private groups.  It had already been proven that no State could prevent incursions by air.  In 1970, Lukacs wrote that they would be unable to prevent foreign incursions by land.  “I am not thinking only of guerrilla and commando raids,” he wrote, “I am thinking of the sudden migratory pressure of large populations, sloshing across frontiers.”   The result will be a blurring of the line between war and peace: fighting may diminish or intensify at times, but will never entirely cease.  States will be unable to negotiate and enforce a peace because there will be no State authority with which to negotiate. 
  3. The deterioration of sovereignty.  Toward the end of the Modern Ages, Popular Sovereignty began to subvert the State as the main legitimizing authority.  Both Hitler and Mussolini claimed their authority directly from the People, not from the constitutions of Italy or Germany.  Even tyrants now stage election kabuki to claim rule in the name of “the People.” 
After four hundred years of bloody wars to make their respective boundaries match, the Nation and the State have begun to part company once more.  Multi-national States disintegrated (Yugoslavia), divorced (Czechoslovakia), or devolved (the United Kingdom).  The Scottish Parliament reconvened.  Bretons, Basques, Flemings and Walloons began to question the legitimacy of the States they lived in – echoing the Sudeten Germans of an earlier generation.  The notion arose that politicians of one Folk could not represent citizens of another Folk, and that Rights apply to Folks rather than to individuals.  Folkish Nationalism shifted from the right to the left. 

Frequency of the term “patriot” in English language sources, per Google
Always remember that fascism was above all a popular movement against the bourgeois and had at first a great many admirers.  Made the trains run on time, and all that.  Remember, too, that in 1900 Argentina was accounted what we now call a "first world country."  Then she went with Peron and fascism and today counts as a third world county. 

The New Feudalism
Meanwhile, States began to farm out their services.  Some were “privatized” or “subcontracted” (Maximus Canada  operates health services in British Columbia.)  Others were awarded as grants to NGOs (ACORN, Halliburton, Planned Parenthood, etc.) or spun off as “quasi-governmental entities” (Federal Reserve, USPS, Fannie Mae, etc.).  Still other State powers were subsumed by supra-State organizations like the European Union or the United Nations. These moves bear a curious resemblance to the granting of fiefs. 

But the natural impulse of a Popular State is to extend the idea of fairness through rules.  This triggers circumvention, loop-holing, and gaming the system, which leads in turn to further rules to plug the holes.  Eventually, the rules accumulate so that the normal citizen no longer understands how to deal with them.  How exactly does one go about running for Congress or opening a small business?  At this point the Popular Government as such begins to collapse. 

The New Brownshirts, prepared to
mob gatherings of the opposition

It has become possible to foment and even run a rebellion without ever crossing the border.  The power of radio was seen already in WWII, but since then videotapes and the Internet have added to that capacity.  Today, a demonstration or mob can be organized in a flash.  It is naïve to suppose that the organizers will always be kinder, gentler people.

The Future™

For SF writers, what will the future look like?  Perhaps the modern State will run to completion and become to the Total State it always aspired to be, regulating or running everything within its territorial boundaries, telling people what sort of light bulbs they can use or how much water their toilets must hold, or even what products they must buy.   But perhaps it will become something more like a holding company, providing a playing field within which it will license various NGOs to deliver what States used to deliver.   Or both: They might subcontract the “toilet police” job.  Meanwhile, the people living within its borders will self-identify not with the “landlord State” but with the Nation or Folk to which they feel they belong. 

But “the feebleness of enormously powerful states” among themselves reflects their impotence within themselves.  A few thousand students or farmers upset over a cut in their subsidies can defy governments armed with tanks and atomic bombs.  Eventually, this will become common wisdom and “a long transitory brutal period of insecurity and terror” will set in.  A New Dark Age. 
But it was once a truism that the Mafia-controlled neighborhoods of New York were the most crime-free, and anyone can play the game of private warfare.  The reaction against the anarchy may see a sort of alliance between governments, NGOs, and street gangs, as a new sort of feudal warfare becomes the norm.
+ + +
Barzun, Jacques.  The House of Intellect.  (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2002)
Chastek, James. On a cause of corruption in popular governmentsJustThomism (Jul 27, 2011)
Chastek, James.  On apocalypse scenarios.   JustThomism (Jul 18, 2010)
"Darwin." Alone with the stateDarwinCatholic (May 4, 2012)
Fr. Denis. Fascism reduxLife With a German Shepherd (March 20, 2012)
Lukacs, John .  The Passing of the Modern Age.  (Harper & Row, 1970) 
Lukacs, John.  At the End of an Age.  (Yale Univ. Press, 2002)
Percy, Walker.  “The Delta Factor” in The Message in the Bottle (Picador, 1975)


  1. "... Folkish Nationalism shifted from the right to the left."

    That's where it always was. Hitler and Mussolini were "right-wing extremists" only if one can declare Stalin to have been "the 'moderate' center".

    1. In one sense. The "right" were the traditionalists, the aristocracy, monarchs, and the like. Fascism was just as opposed to these things as was communism and bourgeois capitalism. But any bucket that contains those three things is a very big bucket indeed. In the European context of the early 20th century, the fascists were considered, and considered themselves to be, men of the right.

      But it's not as though the seating arrangement in the parliament of the First Republic constitutes a measurement system traceable to the national bureau of standards.

      But folkish nationalism, as such, embracing as it does of patriotism [love of the patria, that is, one's local valley and place] is very much in line with the trads. To some extent it is in tension with fascism, capitalism, and communism alike, as they all tend toward internationalism and a united Europe.

    2. Er, where did they say they considered themselves right-wing?

    3. where did they say they considered themselves right-wing?

      There is a section here:

      Remember, these are Europeans of the early 20th century. Not Americans of the early 21st century. All Americans are liberal by the traditional European right/left. Our conservatives are right-wing liberals.

    4. We are indeed right wing liberals.

      Not progressive / communist / libtard.

      I like this site. Very thoughtful discourse.

      Godspeed to all

    5. And our libertarians are, in some significant part, Old Whigs, in the sense that Edmund Burke used the term (Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs), certainly most of those of us who tend strongly to agree with Hayek tend to fit that description.

      Pax et bonum,
      Keith Töpfer

    6. In *all* "senses", the Fascists (and National Socialists) were leftists.

      Ah, but I see that you're using "Folkish Nationalism" in a misleading way, such that one is minded of "Volkisch Nationalismus". With the capital letters you used in writing the term, one is lead to believe that you were referring to Something Important; yet, apparently, you are using "folkish" almost in that condescending way that leftists do when they dismissively refer to any of the various common-sensical ideas or understandings that humanity has which they wish to repudiate-without-comment (cf. saying "folk psychology" as a way to belittle the common understanding that one is a self and an agent).

      So, apparently, when you wrote "Folkish Nationalism", you really meant the common, every-day love of one's people and place that all normal human persons develop merely by being made civilized beings. What you seem to be talking about cannot be, now or ever, "of the left". Now, leftists may certainly seek to corrupt and use to their own benefit, and may even succeed with many, an individual's, or a society's, natural fellow-love. But, this isn't a flaw in fellow-love, and it doesn't make it "of the left". This potential corruption of fellow-love is made possible by the fundamental flaw of human beings: we are perverse.

      "In one sense. The "right" were the traditionalists, the aristocracy, monarchs, and the like. Fascism was just as opposed to these things as was communism and bourgeois capitalism."

      The fascists/nazis were just as opposed to "bourgeois capitalism" as the communists were -- the reason the two "opposing" groups hated one another so much is that both saw themselves in a sum-zero competiton for the same limited market-share: both were trying to attract to their number the same small percentage of the general populace who could be be pursuaded to leftism without rational argumentation.

      "But any bucket that contains those three things is a very big bucket indeed."

      Any bucket that contains George Washington and Alexander Hamilton alongside Benito Mussolini and Adolph Hitler is a very big bucket, indeed.

      Why do so many people resist freeing their minds of the communist lie that the fascists were rightists? The defining impulse of leftism is collectivism, denial of the individual's worth, simply as himself. The defining impulse of rightism is the affirmation of the indivisdual's worth, simply as himself, while also not denying the worth of the larger society of which he is a member -- which rather puts "libertarianism" in the odd position of being neither right nor left (which may explain why, when push comes to shove, one can generally expect the "libertarians" to side with the leftists).

    7. For example, the BNP in Britain are leftists, every bit as much as the Labour (and pseudo-Conservative) politicians who are actively destroying the country ... and intentionally destroying the British people, the nation, the folk itself. The BNP correctly sees that appealing to -- claiming to champion the natural fellow-love of the folk for itself -- will disguise from the folk that the BNP are leftists not substantively different from the current crop at the top.

    8. Any bucket that contains George Washington and Alexander Hamilton alongside Benito Mussolini and Adolph Hitler is a very big bucket, indeed.

      Fortunately, I have not postulated any such bucket. Although Washington and his people were left-wing revolutionaries....

      The defining impulse of rightism is...

      Not in Europe, not in the 1920s and 30s.

    9. Ilion: Any bucket that contains George Washington and Alexander Hamilton alongside Benito Mussolini and Adolph Hitler is a very big bucket, indeed.

      Flynn: Fortunately, I have not postulated any such bucket. Although Washington and his people were left-wing revolutionaries....
      So, what I'm hearing you say is that your disquisition into buckets, interesting thought it was in its own right, was not a rationally defensible claim, not part of a rational argument in defense of a (rational) claim.

      Also, now you're explicitly making it clear that you're trying to put Washington and Hamilton into the same bucket as Robespierre, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Hitler, Mussolini, Peron, Castro, Kim, Pol Pot, etc, bloody etc.

      Ilion: The defining impulse of rightism is the affirmation of the individual's worth, simply as himself, while also not denying the worth of the larger society of which he is a member ...

      Fynn: Not in Europe, not in the 1920s and 30s.
      You're talking about Hitler and Mussolini (and their, especially Mussolini's, Balkan and Slavic imitators), and possibly Franco. There were, of course, leftists. Franco is an odd duck, not exactly a leftist, but allied with terrible leftists against even worse other leftists.

      And they, especially Mussolini, drew a significant inspiration from the American "Progressives" of the late 19th and early 20th century -- who were leftists, and who, in turn, pointed pointed to the Europeans, especially to Mussolini, and said: "See! We are right, the US Constitution, with its limits on government, is outmoded in this Modern Age!"

      Why are you so resistant to cleansing your mind of the leftist (specifically Stalinist) lie that the Fascists and National Socialists were rabid right-wingers? Worse, why, in erecting barriers to protect that false idea from exposure to the truth, why do you behave and "argue" exactly as the typical internet-atheist does when confronted with true statements and arguments countering the false statements he prefers to believe. You (yes, you) would be all all over the irrationality of such a person.

  2. "Both Hitler and Mussolini claimed their authority directly from the People, not from the constitutions of Italy or Germany. "

    But surely, it is the People that is sovereign, and not the Constitution.

    I suppose you mean that they violated or abrogated the constitution.?

    1. But surely, it is the People that is sovereign, and not the Constitution.

      This is precisely the Late Modern trope. The Modern Ages began in 1500 and collapsed in the early 1900s. The constitution of a state is not a document. It is how the state is constituted. Just as a man may have a strong constitution or a weak one, depending on his health. Most states until recently did not have formally written constitutions. (The British constitution is still unwritten. iirc.)

    2. This is where state control of education overrules the ability of healthy progeny to understand who and what to oppose.

      It is like trying to kill a moth with a hammer to ye children. Damage is done... and the moth flys away. The moth shall return as you pick up the ruin you now own.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. Mr.Flynn,

      But isn't that the logical end to the social contract tradition which we can trace back to Marsilius of Padua's Defensor Pacis? The highly influential work claimed sovereignty may only arises from the people as legislators. If the term "legislator" in Marsilius's work is applied to the people as a whole in the same sense as the ancient's "founding-lawgiver” ; and as originating legislator, the populace is the primary authorization for any subsequent form or act of government; accordingly, legislation is not one of the things government is constituted to do; it is the constituent act that lies behind all government.

      That this would be not fully realized until Late Modernity/Post-Modernity doesn't change that the goal has always been to make the "People" sovereign without any discernible constitution by which to judge or constrain their sovereignty.

      Of course from this, within existing societies, every revolutionary idea and possibility is legitimatized as the people go about dissolving and reconstructing their body with each and every act at will. In this way, mob rule can be dignified with the appellation of the "Rule of Law," presumably with the many seen as the "living constitution" itself.

    5. It's true that much of what is Post-modern can be found in the medieval egg. But it is one thing to say that sovereignty originates from the People and quite another to say that the laws and constitutions can be set aside whenever the People get a bee in their bonnet over something, or a large enough mob of them takes to the streets.

      As with every turnover in history, it's more a matter of emphasis and concentration. There were books in the Middle Ages and there will be books in the Postmodern Ages; but the Modern Ages were the Age of the Book in a way that the other two were not. One does not read a book in the same was as one reads a manuscript or the way that one scrolls a file.

  3. "the rise of the bourgeoisie meant the rise of the monarchs."

    This is very doubtful. For one thing, Religion was far more important than rise or fall of bourgeoisie.For another, bourgeoisie is always said to be rising be it 12C or 19C. It is a sort of historian's cliche. A ghost in the machine, that could explain (away) everything.

    1. The Modern Ages were the Age of the Bourgeois in a way that the Middle Ages were not. From the Renaissance to the collapse in the early 20th century, nearly every artist, writer, inventor, etc. was of the bourgeois [city] classes. This was the era when "urban" meant the same as "urbane." The bourgeois interest in trade and business meant that the unruliness of the baronage had to go, and this meant supporting the king against the aristocracy. Only later did they rid themselves of the kings.

      The role of religion in the Modern Ages was one of retreat and subordination to the State. The Church was broken at the very beginning of the Modern Ages and replaced with nationalized "established" churches. By capturing the only institution in society that could stand against the State, this too enabled the rise of the Absolute Monarch-Totalitarian Regime-Bureaucratic Welfare State.

    2. Gyan,

      It isn't that the bougeoisie failed to arise; it chose to deny itself as a class in order to permit the bougeoisification of society as a whole. It sacrificed itself as a content in order to survive as a form- a form almost totalized in all Western nations.

  4. You wrote this without Martin vanCreveld's Rise and Decline of the Nation State?!!!!
    Seriously, if you are interested in this subject at all you need to read vanCreveld.

    1. Likewise, I would recommend The Modern American Presidency, though it tells generally the first half of the story.

  5. The State gets into things far more intimate than our choice of toilet design or light bulb technology. Family courts abscond with peoples' children on the flimsiest of allegations while ignoring due process, and then passes them out to others to rear. They pretend that they can sever matrimonial bonds for any reason, or no reason at all. And in so doing, they create an enormous underclass of dependent serfs, who are fed, clothed, and housed with monies extorted from the fathers they have severed from their children.

  6. In Chile we are seeing much the same issues that Lukacs proposes. In a bi-party political system we have a government that has 24% approval rate and an opposition that has a 19% approval rate.

    In this climate of dissatisfaction with the state private interested groups create alliances that only look for their private gains. To do so they harness technology to create large scale protests and push for an improvement.

    The most internationally known case are last years student protests where the push was for free University access, but now several regions are also beginning to see the advantage of forcing a central government to give them more money, small groups have seen that they can push large companies by protesting and the whole effect is to destabilize the country (which should be celebrating its peace and growth...)

    One thing that isn't mentioned in the post but which I would like to point out is the impact of globalization. Many of the issues faced in Chile today are the result of interests of global interest groups and the money behind them. For example the worlds most efficient hydroelectric power plant (in terms of power/flooded area) has been fought over by environmental groups both in Chile and out of it mostly supported by international money. As technology continues to make the world smaller I think that multinational interest groups will make the effect of private interests more and more felt in developing countries.
    The student protests were also supported by international organizations and there are many other cases.

    1. It can be said that in a mature democracy, there only exists two parties: The friends of corruption and the sowers of sedition.

      (paraphrasing Lord Macaulay)

  7. The Total State may be showing signs of fading away, but the people won't let it go so quickly. In the final analysis, the people love the state as an excellent false god.

  8. Just because nobody's posted a link to the eponymous short film:

  9. Is the State becoming irrelevant -- or invisible, water to a fish -- the same as it "withering away?"


    The older I get, the less I believe the great mass of mankind can be reasoned, schooled, propagandized or even tricked into self-government; and while most of them are god-fearing in church, law-abiding when the policeman is around and hard-working when the boss is watching, on their own they are solipsists of the first water. The extent to we enjoy civil peace is precisely the extent to which our neighbors are convinced it's too much effort to bother us.

    --I still think we are severally and each better off with less "government" (in the sense of control by external Authority) rather than more; but neither more, nor less or even steady-on is as much of a boon as is often supposed by the various boosters of each.

  10. > libertarianism has abetted this emptying out of the public square, in which the Rugged Individual and the Total State now face each other across an empty plain littered by the ruins of all the other organizations that used to buffer them from each other:

    Amusingly, I read this post during a break from revising a chapter of my SF novel-in-progress. In this chapter an anarcho-capitalist business owner argues with a Catholic priest over the moral legitimacy of executing captured jack-booted thugs. The priest quotes Catechism, specifically 1903.

    Or, shorter version: not ALL of us libertarians want Bambi to fight Godzilla unaided.

    1. Indeed. I also commented elsewhere that libertarianism and absolute monarchy are the result of the same process. Libertarianism is simply absolute monarchy applied to a very small kingdom. :-)

    2. >libertarianism has abetted this emptying out of the public square, in which the Rugged Individual and the Total State now face each other across an empty plain littered by the ruins of all the other organizations that used to buffer them from each other.

      I'm not sure this is a fair characterization, although there are enough flavors of libertarianism that one must be careful in distinguishing what is meant by the term. Murray Rothbard and his followers are generally perfectly fine with any form of voluntary organization (including Churches), even if large.

      The disappearance of the medieval buffers was not strictly speaking abetted by libertarianism, I don't think. I suspect the buffers reflected how a Christian society naturally organized itself as it emerged from the ashes of the Roman empire. Isn't that what Tocqueville refers to when he says "in the centuries of aristocracy before our time, the rulers of Europe had been deprived of or had voluntarily given up many of the rights inherent in their power?"

      The anarcho-caps make the point against the Minarchists that the State grows inexorably; hence their hard-line libertarian stance. I agree with them but only because I think that in the post medieval world, people easily acquiesce to (and sometimes enjoy) granting the false God Total State more power.

      Libertarianism as a reaction to the Total State is a consequence of modern (post 1500) de-Christianization, not a factor in abetting the barren landscape, I don't think.

      Good post, I learn very much from your site, thank you.

    3. Libertarianism as a reaction to the Total State is a consequence of modern (post 1500) de-Christianization, not a factor in abetting the barren landscape, I don't think.

      Hardly a reaction to de-Christianization. Most of the libertarians I've met have not been ardent Christians, for sure. While economically they may tend conservative, socially they are indistinguishable from conventional liberals, and it is socially that the Late Modern Age has de-Christianized most severely. Compare, for example, Thomas Aquinas who writes:

      Things which are of human right cannot derogate from natural right or Divine right. Now according to the natural order established by Divine Providence, inferior things are ordained for the purpose of succoring man's needs by their means. Wherefore the division and appropriation of things which are based on human law, do not preclude the fact that man's needs have to be remedied by means of these very things. Hence whatever certain people have in superabundance is due, by natural law, to the purpose of succoring the poor. For this reason Ambrose [Loc. cit., 2, Objection 3] says, and his words are embodied in the Decretals (Dist. xlvii, can. Sicut ii): "It is the hungry man's bread that you withhold, the naked man's cloak that you store away, the money that you bury in the earth is the price of the poor man's ransom and freedom."

      Since, however, there are many who are in need, while it is impossible for all to be succored by means of the same thing, each one is entrusted with the stewardship of his own things, so that out of them he may come to the aid of those who are in need. Nevertheless, if the need be so manifest and urgent, that it is evident that the present need must be remedied by whatever means be at hand (for instance when a person is in some imminent danger, and there is no other possible remedy), then it is lawful for a man to succor his own need by means of another's property, by taking it either openly or secretly: nor is this properly speaking theft or robbery.
      Summa theological II-2, Q66, art.7

      Most libertarians would say that no other man can have a legitimate demand on his I-Got-Mine-Jack (IGMJ), whereas the Christian does not consider man in atomic isolation, but as a member of a community to which he owes duties appropriate to the level of the community. The objection to the Thing That Used To Be Liberalism is that it supposes the Total State has the right to seize the goods and very little of it actually reaches those in need.

      Hence, the line is orthogonal to the "left-right" of the political class. The Christian line goes up or down.

    4. Thanks, but I was actually making the distinction between different brands of libertarianism in response to TJIC's comment.

      The one brand that most readily comes to mind when one mentions the term libertarianism is indeed the economically conservative and socially liberal variety. They identify the individual self as the only locus of authority, and their social ethics will typically be antagonistic to Christian norms. This brand is best represented in the Reason magazine, I suppose.

      The other major brand defines itself primarily as a political and economic movement by its antagonism to the Total State. It bears no other defining moral characteristics and includes people with a wide range of faiths and attitudes. It has attracted a large number of social conservatives, including Protestants and Catholics. It is best represented today by the people at the Mises Institute and those who support Ron Paul. Murray Rothbard's anarcho-capitalism belongs here (and incidentally, Rothbard was extremely sympathetic to Aquinas and Thomism).

      It is of this latter variety that I was referring to when I said "libertarianism as a reaction to the Total State" (and not as "a reaction to de-Christianization" as I think you misunderstood). While both varieties claim the term libertarian, there is not a great deal of love between them, precisely because of the difference on the social issues (the former being perhaps primarily libertines instead of libertarians). The people with the Reason Mag crowd, for example, have been virulently opposed to Ron Paul during his presidential campaigns.

      I agree that "most libertarian would say that no other man can have a [politically] legitimate demand on his IGMJ," but that does not necessarily mean that they would not allow a morally legitimate demand on the same.

      How in practice does one promote the moral legitimacy of that demand without empowering the State to redistribute wealth according to political motivations is a debate that should allow a variety of opinions.


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