Friday, September 25, 2009

Society Versus State in Seven Epochs

I perceive political history as Murray Rothbard and Albert Jay Nock perceived it: as a struggle between free society and the state.1  I do not pretend to be an impartial observer of that struggle.  As an amateur historian I aim to be what Lord Acton called a "hanging judge", freely condemning acts of evil, as well as extolling acts of virtue.  In my analysis of history, I aim to "hang" the criminals who fill the ranks of the state, commiserate with their victims, congratulate the free men who manage to escape their grasp, and extol the moral men who strive against them.

Mainstream historians, in spite of pretensions of impartiality, often, in practice, have a similarly judgmental view of history.  However, they reserve their hangman's noose for relatively free men, and extol princes.  An excellent example of this is in Egyptology.  Ancient Egyptian history is divided up by western scholars into "Kingdoms" and "Intermediate Periods".2  The Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms are eras during which all of Egypt was united under the yoke of a single pharaoh.  The First and Second Intermediate Periods are eras when state power, while not extinguished, was diminished and localized.  The implication of this naming scheme is that Pharaonic rule is the "normal" condition of the land, and that periods of political decentralization are merely awkward transitions.  Most Egyptologists characterize the Intermediate Periods as unhappy, chaotic times, hardly worthy of mentioning.  And they extol the "Kingdoms" for their unity of purpose and the splendor of their royalty.  Never mind the crushing of the individual required for such unity.  And never mind how much rapacity was required to squeeze enough wealth from the people to fund the opulence of the Pharaonic court.

Ramses II of Egypt

In my division of history into political epochs, I will take the exact opposite tack as does the Egyptologist.  I will characterize eras of advancing freedom as the "normal" periods.  Instead of "Kingdoms", my "normal" periods will be called "Freedoms" (and I will use the Egyptologist's "Old, Middle, and New" scheme).  I will term eras dominated by swelling states as numbered "Intermediate Periods", in order to rightly mark them as aberrant and perverse.

I list my epochs below.  Next to each epoch, I also provide two "markers" to bookend each age.  Each marker is a geographic location which represents a high point characteristic of its age: one at each age's beginning and one at each age's end.

The Old Freedom: From the First Society to the Halaf Culture

It has been argued that man has only risen from the depths of squalor upon becoming “civilized”, that is, upon coalescing into a civitas, or state. Thus mainstream history textbooks hail the origination of government as a crucial step in the “march of progress.”  However, great prosperity is the fruit of society, not the state.  And society antedates the state. 

Civilization first arose in Mesopotamia, the “land between the rivers”.3  However, many societal advancements associated with “civilization” antedated the state in that region.4  Paleolithic families commerced with people as far away as Anatolia and Palestine many millenia before the rise of the Sumerian city-states.  Village life arose in Mesolithic times.  And the Neolithic agricultural revolution and introduction of pottery got underway quite nicely under stone age anarchy.

Three successive (though overlapping) proto-historical cultures arose in northern Mesopotamia: the Hassuna, Samarra, and Halaf cultures.  All three made great strides in art, trade, and the technologies of agriculture, building, implements, pottery, and even irrigation.5  And not one of them showed any signs of having a central government.  The Hassuna culture developed stamp seals, an important development in the protection of private property and in trade, as well as a precursor to the written language.  The Samarra culture invented irrigation with which they produced amazingly abundant harvests, as evidenced by the remains of capacious granaries.  The Halaf culture even had cobbled streets and specialized centers which mass produced a distinctive pottery (which has been called by the French antiquarian Georges Roux, “the most beautiful ever used in Mesopotamia”1) for peaceful exchange abroad. Pre-state Mesopotamian society was accomplishing wondrous things for itself.

An Iranian Granary

The First Intermediate Period: From Eridu to Hastings

Then something happened.   Several Halafian towns were for some reason depopulated.6  And their exquisite pottery was replaced by a cruder style: a sure archaeological sign of cultural displacement.   A very different people, the Ubaid culture, had come from the south and supplanted the Halafians.  The Ubaid culture had shrines, altars, offering tables, and enormous temples: sure signs of a priestly elite.  And their temples consistently grew in size and grandeur as the ages went by: a sure sign of consolidating priestly power.   It is highly likely that the people of this culture are the famous Sumerians themselves in their proto-historical form.   If so, then the cult which originated in the Ubaid temples is the very tradition which evolved into the monstrous temple-states of Sumer, Akkad, Babylon, and Assyria.  The north Mesopotamian tradition of freedom that lasted for a millennium and a half was replaced by the systemic deceit and coercion of the state.

 Where did this “Ubaid” culture start and how? It seems likely that that culture, and the state itself first arose in Eridu (my full argument for this is in my post Cradle of the State.  Eridu is the oldest Sumerian city known to archaeologists. And it is the first place in which evidence of the “Ubaid” culture is found. In fact, the early phase of the Ubaid period is known as “Eridu”.

The archaelogical site of Eridu reveals that a series of successively larger temples was built on the same spot, starting with a simple, tiny one-room building, and ending with a vast sprawling proto-ziqqurat.7 This is the first instance in the archaeological record in which any kind of heavy centralization of power is evidenced by a few buildings being dramatically larger than the rest. And one can see that centralization of power growing as each successive temple is built with ever greater opulence, while the surrounding buildings stay humble.

At some point, a separate palace is constructed one kilometer north of the temple site. This palace site, the earliest known in the world, also undergoes a series of upgrades through the ages. However, most of the palace levels were not archaeologically recoverable. Level 2 is the most complete. It bears resemblances to palaces in the city-state and later holy site of Kish. It is distinguished from temples in the absence of altars and the presence of gates, chambers, courtyards, guard’s rooms, and living quarters.

Perhaps this palace, and palaces in general, developed as a residence for top priests, who evolved into kings. Alternately, perhaps the priests gave some local uneducated ruffian command of the army, so they would not themselves need to get in harms way. This “general” acquired a power-base of allegiance of his own among the soldiers, and evolved into a king, then demanding his own lavish quarters.
    Eridu’s place on the King’s List also indicates that it was something of an empire. The King’s List is known to have only included kings whose cities reigned over (or were at least hegemonic over) the entire region of “Sumer-and-Akkad”. This jibes perfectly with the fact that the Ubaid culture which first arose in Eridu was later found throughout the region. And given how, throughout history, the most centralized nation-states have also been the most war-thirsty, it seems very likely that the priest-kings of Eridu would not be satisfied with completely subjugating only the local population. And also seems very likely that an all-powerful central cult-state, with the ability to dragoon its young men into war, would be able to put under the yoke village after peace-loving village as it marched up the Euphrates.

    The Standard of Ur

    Early on in the history of the state, there was an incomplete division between the state's muscle (centered around the king in his palace and the armies he led) and its brain (centered around the priest-technocrats in their temples).  As we see in the first palaces having been spin-offs of the first temples in ancient Eridu, this may have happened in the very first state.  This specialization led to a limited degree of rivalry, but for the most part Throne and Altar worked hand-in-glove to enslave and fleece the populace.
    To understand the import of this development in human history, one must understand the nature of this phenomenon called the state.

    There has always been thuggery: assault, plunder, and enslavement.  But mankind has natural safeguards to defend against thuggery: including the ability to recognize justice, and the ability to join together with other decent people to implement justice.

    There has always been deceit: slander, fraud, and indoctrination.  But mankind has natural safeguards to defend against deceit as well: reason, skepticism, and the senses.

    However,  with the advent of the state, mankind's defenses was overwhelmed by a devastatingly effective partnership between thuggery (the Throne) and deceit (the Altar).  The state has always been a maleficent symbiosis of violent criminals (the Throne) and propagandizing/brainwashing intellectuals (the Altar).8  The Altar fosters the Throne through twisted sophistries which establish a false legitimacy and engineered consent to disarm our natural safeguards against thuggery. The Throne fosters the Altar through compulsory indoctrination  and through using its ill-gotten gains to directly corrupt intellectuals, all of which disarms our natural safeguards against deceit.

    The Throne needs the Altar.  The ruled always outnumber the rulers, so a reign predicated on bald criminality (like a protection racket) would quickly be overthrown. To maintain its power, a regime must transmute murder into justice, tribute into taxation, and slavery into citizenship in the minds of its subjects. To do that, it needs intellectuals.

    The Altar needs the Throne. Elaborate scams based on lies and manipulations (like cults) are difficult to maintain. Eventually some people begin to see through the lies and speak out. To keep its hold on its flock, an elite must be able to silence or coerce dissenters. To do that, it needs thugs.

    The state put man in chains, but also under a spell. The former could not hold man without the latter.
    It is highly worth mentioning that in the pre-state cultures of Mesopotamia, while there were signs of religion on a household level, there were no temples, and no signs of an official cult.9

    The close-knit symbiosis between Throne and Altar known as "Caesaro-Papism" characterized all states throughout ancient history10, from the Egyptian Pharaohs who reigned as living incarnations of the god Horus, to the Athenian Democracy which executed Socrates for impiety, to the Roman imperial cult of Sol Invictus, to the literal Caesaro-Papism of the Byzantine Empire.

    Why did the advent of the state follow so closely on the heels of the Agricultural Revolution?  Before then, there was not enough food to support both productive slaves and unproductive masters.  But the unprecedented advent of vast surpluses of food had the unfortunate side-effect of making human slavery more viable and more tempting to would-be slavers.

    The First Intermediate Period is characterized by relatively free peoples (often characterized by both the conquerors and later historians as "barbarians" or "backwards peoples") being overrun by militant centralized states: northern Mesopotamian villages overrun by Sumerian armies; Beoetian villages overrun by Theban phalanxes, Gallic villages overrun by Roman legions, Saxon villages overrun by Carolingian knights.  The last great event of this kind in this period was the Norman Conquest of England, decided at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

    Norman Knights Charging an English Shield Wall (from the Bayeux Tapestry)

    The Middle Freedom: From Canossa to Runnymede

    The first great sundering of the historic partnership of Altar and Throne occurred 11 years after the Battle of Hastings when Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV trekked barefoot to the Castle of Canossa in Italy in a hair-shirt to beg Pope Gregory VII to lift his excommunication.11  In humbling the emperor, the Pope heralded the Papal Monarchy of the High Middle Ages.

    The Walk to Canossa

    But this Papal Monarchy did not go on to become an empire.  The Church was powerful and independent enough to counter and limit the power of European monarchs, but not enough to become a full empire itself.  The fragmentation of power that the church imposed upon Catholic Europe emboldened nobles and clerics against kings, lesser nobles against greater nobles, and peasants and burghers against lords.  This unprecedented breakdown of Caesaro-Papism set Catholic Europe on a course widely divergent from the rest of the world.12  Caesaro-Papism and the despotism it made possible persisted in medieval and early modern times throughout the east, even including Orthodox Russia and Byzantium.  It is the history of political fragmentation shared by all of Catholic and post-Catholic Europe and its colonies that most distinctly sets "the west" apart from the rest of the world.
    The relative freedom made possible by political decentralization led to the industrial and commercial revolution of the high middle ages13 which is egregiously ignored by contemporary popular history.  During the middle ages, water and wind mills peppered Europe like never before.  The increased energy thus harnessed and its automaticity had an explosive effect on productivity.  Cereals grains were processed with unprecedented efficiency.  The greater heat of medieval furnace technology initiated the true iron age, during which quality iron was available for widespread use for the first time.  There were huge improvements in agricultural technique, including in field rotation.  The medieval harness unleashed the motive power of the horse in agriculture, which dramatically increased productivity.  Scientific husbandry at monastery sheep farms led to an explosion in wool productivity.  All this happened, and much much more.

    The Magna Carta, signed in 1215 in Runnymede was a check on royal power that was most characteristic of this relatively free and highly prosperous age.14

    John of England signs Magna Carta

    The Second Intermediate Period: From Anagni to Versailles

    Unfortunately, 70 years after Runnymede, European saw the coronation of a monarch who would prove to be the herald of an age of absolute monarchy.  Philip IV of France (known as "the Fair" for his good looks) committed a wide number of atrocities (bringing on the Hundred Years War, expropriating and expelling the French Jews, expropriating and murdering the Knights Templar, imposing crippling taxes on the vitally important fairs of Champagne).15  But the most significant of these was his arrest of Pope Boniface VIII in 1303.16

    As the culmination of an intense power struggle between the King and the Pope (particularly over the king's desire to tax the clergy), Boniface excommunicated Philip.  Philip responded by sending two thousand mercenaries to the Papal palace at Anagni.  The mercenaries plundered the palace, and captured the Pope, nearly murdering him.  Although rescued by locals, the Pope developed a fever shortly after this incident, and died.  Within a few years, the Papacy was relocated to Avignon, a French-dominated territory, and was relegated to slavishly generating moral authority for the French crown by rubber stamping its  atrocities.  Just as the humiliation of a monarch at the hands of a Pope at Canossa signaled the beginning of an age of relative freedom and prosperity, so did the humiliation of a Pope at the hands of a monarch at Anagni ring that age's death knell.17

    Sciarra Colonna Slapping Boniface VIII

    Philip the Fair was followed by many European monarchs who continued to bully, fleece, and manipulate the Church, thereby vastly increasing their power over the rest of society.  Caesaro-Papism was back; Throne and Altar were reunited.  In the 14th century, the Avignon Popes continued to serve as puppets of the French Crown.  But even after the Papacy returned to Rome, the Church was a fundamentally different institution.  In country after country, it was either driven out by the Protestant Reformation, which many monarchs embraced and promoted as a movement which gave them more power (also, many of the Reformation's spiritual leaders, including Martin Luther, believed not in religious freedom, but in the crown acting as head of the national church18), or subjugated.  In the 15th century, the Inquisition, a department of the Church, served slavishly as a bloody tool of the Spanish Crown.  In the 16th century, Henry VIII drove the Catholic Church out of France to expropriate its wealth and set up his own state church.  In the 17th century, cardinals served as veritable viziers for the French Crown.  The procession toward absolute monarchy culminated in the "Sun King": Louis XIV of France who completely subjugated the French nobility and clergy and who brought nothing but impoverishment, war, and repression to his people  Monarchs throughout this age used their newly untrammeled power to engorge themselves, via taxes and corveys, on the surpluses made possible by the advances of the High Middle Ages.  After the centuries of phenomenal economic growth called the High Middle Ages, the 14th century was a time of retrogression, and the 15th and 16th centuries were times of relative stagnation.19

    The New Freedom: From Munster to Manchester
    However, the march of absolute monarchy would not go unchecked.  Europe had already tasted the fruits of freedom, the seeds of which were deeply sown, especially in the towns.  In the 17th century, the Dutch burghers revolted against the despotic Spanish Crown.  Decades of struggle paid off when, in 1648 the Treaty of Munster was ratified, establishing the independence of the liberal states of the Low Countries.20

    Citizens of Amsterdam celebrating the Peace of M√ľnster

    This was followed by the English Civil War.  This revolution and the conflicts following it dramatically weakened the English state, which made possible the Industrial Revolution in that country.21  An Age of Revolution followed which was largely a series of attempts in other western nations to copy the success of the English experiment.  Free trade and property rights were shown to be the key to prosperity.  In country after country, revolution or the threat of revolution paved the way for economic liberalization (especially the abolition of serfdom), which paved the way for industrialization, which paved to the way for greater increases in human prosperity than had ever been known.22  The apogee of the liberal tradition in Europe was perhaps the career of Richard Cobden.23  Cobden was a leader of the Anti-Corn Law League, which was formed in Manchester, and which succeeded in repealing the last great vestige of the protectionism of the previous epoch.  As an MP later in life, Cobden also negotiated a sweeping free trade treaty with France.  The heroic activism of Richard Cobden made food and countless other goods more affordable for countless of his fellow humans.  More than any ruler with "the Great" attached to his name, Cobden was truly a benefactor of mankind.

    Richard Cobden

    It was during this epoch, that America was "conceived in liberty".  While certainly flawed, the American republic held a deep strain of liberalism, which was for the most part ascendant throughout its first hundred years of existence.  This strain can be seen running through such American groups as the libertarian religious non-conformists of the colonial period (led by Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson and Samuel Gorton)24, the Anti-Federalists (led by Patrick Henry)25, the Republicans of the late 18th century (led by Thomas Jefferson)26, the "Old Republicans" of the early 19th century (led by John Randolph)27, and the Democrats of the middle 19th century (led by Andrew Jackson and Martin van Buren28.  However, this strain was indelibly corrupted by the abhorrent practice of slavery.

    The Third Intermediate Period: From Berlin to Manhatten

    Unfortunately liberalism was not the only current in the revolutionary movement.  The success of liberalism in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries was largely due to the fact that its ends happened to temporarily coincide with the ends of another movement: the bourgeoning democratic movement.  From the late 17th century onward, power in European society moved inexorably, but gradually, from the few to the many.  At first this was a highly liberal trend, because it involved destroying the state-fostered privileges of the few and unshackling the many.  This occurred primarily when power was expanded to the middle classes, whose main interest was the protection of property rights.  But as power expanded further to the proletariat, the populist trend continued beyond liberalism, and moved into shackling the few and establishing state-sponsored privileges for the many.

    The subjugation of liberalism to democracy could be seen in France in the Jacobin Terror of the First Republic29, the "National Workshops" of the Second Republic30 and in the Paris Commune31.  The logical culmination of this trend was reached in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 in Russia32.  The "dictatorship of the proletariat" in communist Russia led to calamitous famine and widespread murder.33
    The man who most skillfully harnessed the rising tide of people power was Otto von Bismarck, Chancellor of Prussia and, later, of the German Empire.34  Initially considered by reformers to be a chief enemy of the people, he became a populist darling when his despotic policies of taxation, conscription, and state schooling led to startling military victories against Austria and France.  Bismarck also introduced enormous "social insurance" schemes.  Thus did Bismarck draw the German people into trading their freedom for booty and the dole, and in so doing, invented the modern warfare/welfare state.  Bismarck welded together Prussia and the confederate German states into a single, militant, nationalistic, paternalistic, populist super-state which would, in the 20th century, twice try to overrun all of Europe.  The German state was a portent of how the rest of Europe would eventually "modernize."  Bismarck's "success" greatly impressed the Englishman Lloyd George, who would later bring Prussian welfare statism to England.35

    This age also saw a resurgence of Caesaro-Papism.  Even in this age of democracy and science, Throne and Altar were alive and well.  Only it was certain collectives of people (the majority, the proletariat, the Arian race, etc.) which was enthroned at the expense of others.  And instead of subverting faith, intellectuals subverted "scientific" doctrines in order to weave apologia for their state patrons.  For example, the "high priest" of economics in imperial Prussia was Gustav von Schmoller at the University of Berlin, which was boasted to be "the intellectual bodyguard of the House of Hohenzollern".  Schmoller's Historical School of economics rejected the laws of classical economics because obeying them put too many trammels on the state.36

    Bismarck (center, in white) looks on as Wilhelm I is proclaimed German Emperor

    In America during the same generation, Abraham Lincoln, in the War Between the States obliterated political decentralization and began the American shift from laissez-faire to corporatism.37  This marked the shift in ascendency from liberalism to the statist strain in American political thought represented by the colonial Puritans (led by such men as Cotton Mather)38, the Federalists of the late 18th century (led by Alexander Hamilton)39, the "spoils system" Republicans of the early 19th century (led by John Quincy Adams)40, the Whigs of the middle 19th century (led by Henry Clay)41, and the Republicans of the late 19th century (led by Lincoln himself)42.  The laissez-faire industrial, monetary, and trade policies of the America's first century began to give way to corporatism, aka state capitalism (subsidies for business, government intervention in money, and high tariffs and taxes).43  American corporatism further flowered in the regulation and "trust-busting" (really trust-fostering) of the Progressive Era.44  The most pernicious state-fostered trust of them all, a cartel of big banks given state power known as the Federal Reserve System, was established in 1913.45  In the 1920s, the Fed blew up the greatest peace-time economic bubble in history.  The Federal government's response to the bursting of this bubble led to the Great Depression, the deepest and longest-lasting in American history.46  This crisis provided an excuse for the outright confiscation of the American citezenry's gold supply and the nigh-complete cartelization of American industry by Franklin D. Roosevelt.47  Under FDR, with the New Deal, America also jumped on the Bismarckian welfare state bandwagon which by then had already rolled across all of Europe.48

    Overweening corporatism also impelled America into imperialism, beginning with the Spanish American War.  This war began a century of corporatist-imperialist American wars (the two World Wars and all the American interventions in the Cold War) which flouted the Washingtonian principle of non-intervention and led hundreds of thousands of young men to their deaths, and many more to debase themselves in murdering others.  American imperial policies abroad led inexorably to a crisis of freedom at home, culminating in the policies following 9/11.  This crisis of freedom has been compounded by a Second Great Depression generated by massive fiscal and monetary "bailouts" following the bursting of a massive economic bubble blown up by the Fed.  This crisis of freedom is where we find ourselves today.

    George W. Bush on the rubble of the World Trade Center

    Future Freedom: From Ron Paul to Distant Futurity?

    Will there be a Future Freedom?  Might even Ron Paul herald a 7th epoch which will rise as the failures of statism become too intolerable to bear any longer?  If he can bring down the Fed with his heroic actions in Congress and on the public stage, it would be a damn good start.  It might sound doubtful, but as many 19th century tyrants could attest, revolution can sweep across a continent like a prairie fire.  So the 21st century heirs of John Lilburne, Lysander Spooner, Frederic Bastiat, Richard Cobden, Ludwig von Mises, and Murray Rothbard should never stop striving.

    Ron Paul


    • History Begins at Sumer by Samuel Noah Kramer
    • Ancient Iraq by Georges Roux
    • Penguin Atlas of Ancient History by Colin McEvedy
    • Penguin Atlas of Medieval History by Colin McEvedy
    • Penguin Atlas of Modern History by Colin McEvedy
    • Penguin Atlas of Recent History by Colin McEvedy
    • Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Egypt by Bill Manley
    • A History of the Middle Ages by Crane Brinton, John Christopher, and Robert Wolff
    • Charlemagne: From the Hammer to the Cross by Richard Winston
    • How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization by Thomas Woods
    • The Medieval Machine by Jean Gimpel
    • Medieval Feudalism by Carl Stephenson
    • The Crusades by Richard A. Newhall
    • A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara Tuchman
    • The Italian Renaissance by J.H. Plumb
    • The Reformation by George L. Mosse
    • Rise, Fall, and Renaissance of Classical Liberalism by Ralph Raico
    • The Age of Louis XIV by Laurence Bradford Packard
    • Europe Under the Old Regime by Albert Sorel
    • A History of Britain by Simon Schama
    • Conceived in Liberty by Murray N. Rothbard
    • The Enlightened Despots by Geoffrey Bruun
    • The French Revolution by Leo Gershoy
    • How Capitalism Saved America by Thomas DiLorenzo
    • Modern and Contemporary European History by J. Salwyn Schapiro
    • Europe Since 1815 by Mitchell Garrett and James Godfrey
    • John Adams by David McCullough
    • Thomas Jefferson and His Time by Dumas Malone
    • Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times by H.W. Brand
    • Rethinking Churchill by Ralph Raico
    • World War I As Fulfillment by Murray N. Rothbard
    • The Case Against the Fed by Murray N. Rothbard
    • The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Great Depression and the New Deal by Robert P. Murphy
    • The Ethics of Liberty by Murray N. Rothbard


    1Rothbard, Conceived..., Volume 1
    4 Roux
    7 Reconstruction of Eridu, This is an excellent HTML model of the archaeological site. I highly recommend taking this stratigraphic “tour” of Eridu. For more information see this excerpt from the Cambridge Ancient History (on Google Books).
    8Rothbard, Ethics...
    10Rothbard, Conceived..., Volume 1
    11Brinton et al
    12Rothbard, Conceived..., Volume 1
    14Brinton et al
    16Brinton et al
    17One should not read religious bias in this historical interpretation. Suffice it to say that this author is not himself Catholic.
    19Rothbard, Conceived... Volume 1
    20Raico, The Rise...
    21Rothbard, Conceived... Volume 1
    24Rothbard, Conceived...
    25Rothbard, Conceived...
    31Garret & Godfrey
    33Garret & Godfrey
    34Garret & Godfrey
    35Raico, Rethinking...
    36Rothbard, Ethics...
    38Rothbard, Conceived...
    44Rothbard, World War I...
    45Rothbard, The Case...

    Friday, September 18, 2009

    On Socialism

    Socialism inevitably leads to destitution and famine in direct proportion to the thoroughness with which it is applied. This has been shown to be true historically, with or without Marxist ideology or 20th century totalitarianism. It has starved 17th century colonists in Virginia and Plymouth just as thoroughly as it did Russian peasants under Lenin. It has also been shown to be true theoretically, from Aristotle's elucidation of the free rider problem to Ludwig von Mises's insight regarding the impossibility of the efficient allocation of resources without prices set by a market for capital goods. Socialism, because it is a revolt against human nature, is a genocidal philosophy.

    But that is just the consequentialist consideration. Socialism is evil on a deeper level as well. Socialism is evil to anyone with a conscience normal enough to feel in his heart that stealing is wrong and a mind consistent enough to apply that moral tenet to everyone equally.

    Sunday, September 13, 2009

    Character as Inverse Time Preference

    It is useful to divide "virtuous behavior" into two categories: 1) actions which are motivated by conscience and 2) actions considered virtuous, but which are not motivated by conscience.  The first category concerns man's morality.  The second concerns man's character.  While moral behavior is impelled by urges which are, in a sense, selfless, "acts of character" are impelled urges that are selfish, only the "self" concerned is a "more future" self.  In other words, character is a matter of time preference.  Everyone has time preference; everyone places a premium on gratification sooner rather than later.  But the level of that "premium on promptitude" varies.  The lower that premium (in other words, the less "now-oriented" the person is), in general, the higher the "character" of the person is usually deemed.
    To illustrate this, let's consider the "13 virtues" of Benjamin Franklin.


    Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.

    Let's say a man is at a work party.  He's had three drinks.  He knows a fourth drink will make him drunk.  He knows if he becomes drunk he will say and do things he will regret later.  He weighs two urges in his psyche: 1) an urge to feel the pleasure of being drunk in the near future and 2) the urge to avoid embarrassment in the distant future.  If his premium on promptitude is high enough, he will down the fourth glass.  If it's low enough, the thought of future embarrassment will steer him toward the ginger ale.

    2. SILENCE.
    Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.

    Let's say two professional colleagues are having lunch together.  One has a juicy bit of idle gossip on the tip of her tongue.  She weighs the urge to unload her tale with the urge to be more productive with her time with her colleague; she could instead talk about the project they are working on.  The former action would be more pleasant in the short term.  But making headway on their project would advance her career, thereby paving the way for a great deal of pleasure in the long term.  If her premium on promptitude is high enough she will choose to indulge in the gossip.  If it's low enough, she will instead start discussing the project.

    3. ORDER.
    Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.

    Let's say a man comes home after a long day at work.  He picks up his mail in the lobby of his apartment building, and then walks into his apartment.  He really wants to just crash on the couch and turn on the TV forthwith.  So he has the urge to just drop his mail on his big pile of unopened mail as he's been doing lately.  He knows by doing this every day, he's creating quite a chore for himself in the future when he will have to sort through the big pile.  If he just took a minute to sort through the mail in his hand now, he wouldn't be contributing to the huge chore he'll have to do later.  If his premium on promptitude is high enough, he'll just toss the mail and crash.  If it's low enough, he'll do the tiny chore now to avoid contributing toward having to do a giant chore later.

    Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.

    Let's say a woman makes a New Year's Resolution to spend 15 minutes on her treadmill every morning.  Her alarm wakes her one morning.  Only if she gets out bed right then, will she have enough time to do her morning exercise.  But she's still groggy and would love a few more winks.  She weighs in her psyche the urge to sleep more now against the urge to contribute toward her long-term health.  If her premium on promptitude is high enough, she'll hit snooze.  If it's low enough, she'll drag herself out of bed.

    Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.

    Let's say a woman shopping in a department store sees a really cute, but ridiculously expensive pair of shows.  Buying them will set her back a whole month in her longer-term goal of buying a new car.  If her premium on promptitude is high enough, she'll swipe her credit card and run home to try them on.  If it's low enough, she'll walk off in her New Balance sneakers eagerly awaiting the day she can drive of the lot in her new car, and pleased by the knowledge that that day will arrive a month sooner than if she had bought the shoes.

    6. INDUSTRY.
    Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.

    Let's say a man at work needs to finish his TPS report.  But the task bores him, so he'd rather idle away the hours mindlessly clicking around on the web.  Diving into the TPS report will be burdensome in the short term, but will advance his career in the long term.  If his premium on promptitude is high enough, he'll commence surfing.  If it's low enough, he'll close Firefox, and fire up that awful database software.

    Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

    Let's say a politician is considering embarking on a smear campaign, based on mischaracterization, against his opponent.  Part of the decision process involves time-indifferent moral considerations.  But another part weighs the short-term goal of winning the election against the longer-term goal of maintaining a reputation of decency.

    8. JUSTICE.
    Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

    Incidents of justice qua justice are time-indifferent, and as such are matters of morality and not character.  Let's say an adolescent is contemplating stealing candy from his baby nephew, and that there is no chance of him getting caught.  There is no long-term downside of stealing the candy aside from the pangs of guilt he might feel.

    Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

    Let's say a shopkeeper is tempted to shoot a shoplifter in the back for lifting a candy bar from his shelves.  In this case, there is a chance of him facing retribution for what others will consider a gross over-retaliation.  Insofar as that is the case, it is a matter character (inverse time preference).  It might feel good to shoot the punk in the short-term.  He weighs the urge against the long-term fear of rotting away in a prison cell.  Of course there a moral considerations as well.  His urge to shoot is also mitigated by his conscience screaming at him not to commit such a monstrous act.

    Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.

    Let's say a man is tired of thoroughly cleaning the carpet every time his dog pees on it.  He weighs the "sooner" urge to not have to deal with the mess now against the "later" urge of not having his pad smelling like an outhouse when he has guests over.

    Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

    A man gets cut off in his lane on the freeway.  He wants to lean on the horn, and speed past the offending motorist with a middle finger thrust out his window.  This would satisfy him in the short-term.  But if he instead counted to ten and let it slide, it might contribute to a better mood in the long-term.

    12. CHASTITY.
    Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dulness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.

    A married man is tempted to sleep with his co-worker.  Again time-indifferent morality plays a role ("it's just wrong"; "my wife doesn't deserve to be cheated on, etc."), but so does the conflict between "sex sooner" and "non-ruined marriage later".

    13. HUMILITY.
    Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

    A woman is tempted to give vent to her pride by bragging about her luxurious vacation.  She weighs that short-term temptation against the long-term aversion against contributing toward a reputation as a boastful bore.

    Character, it would seem, may be considered simply to be inverse time preference.

    Saturday, September 5, 2009

    On Refinement and Self-Restraint

    There's a monkey in the jungle
    Watching a vapour trail
    Caught up in the conflict
    Between his brain and his tail


    A most common conceit among philosophers is the idea that their motivations are fundamentally different from those of the common man.  They draw a sharp distinction between the refined pursuits of the mind or soul and the base pursuits of the body.  In Hesiod, the Muses, veritable embodiments of the soul's pursuits, denounce shepherds for being "mere bellies".  Plato and Aristotle characterized the common man as being driven by the passions of the belly and the sex organs, whereas the philosopher was driven by pure love of wisdom.  But to characterize the philosopher as having risen above the passions and to operate according to pure reason is incorrect.  As David Hume explained, operations of the will are always ultimately impelled by the passions.
    It is obvious, that when we have the prospect of pain or pleasure from any object, we feel a consequent emotion of aversion or propensity, and are carryed to avoid or embrace what will give us this uneasines or satisfaction. It is also obvious, that this emotion rests not here, but making us cast our view on every side, comprehends whatever objects are connected with its original one by the relation of cause and effect. Here then reasoning takes place to discover this relation; and according as our reasoning varies, our actions receive a subsequent variation. But it is evident in this case that the impulse arises not from reason, but is only directed by it. It is from the prospect of pain or pleasure that the aversion or propensity arises towards any object: And these emotions extend themselves to the causes and effects of that object, as they are pointed out to us by reason and experience. It can never in the least concern us to know, that such objects are causes, and such others effects, if both the causes and effects be indifferent to us. Where the objects themselves do not affect us, their connexion can never give them any influence; and it is plain, that as reason is nothing but the discovery of this connexion, it cannot be by its means that the objects are able to affect us.
    Reason, as Hume said, is always the slave of the passions.  The involuntary urges that impel a philosopher to philosophize are different from the urges of the hedonist; but they are involuntary urges, nonetheless.

    Another category of man considered wholly distinct from those who are "slaves of the passions" is the man of self-restraint: the ant, as opposed to the grasshopper in Aesop's fable.  Yet even the man of self-restraint is a slave to his passions.  The only difference is often that he has a lower "time-preference".
    Time preference is the premium given to a desired situation sooner rather than later.  For example, in terms of control over resources, it is the premium given to a good according to its availability sooner rather than later.  A person will generally prefer a given quantity of a good sooner over the same quantity of the same good later.  A person may also prefer a slightly smaller quantity of a good sooner over a slightly larger quantity of the same good later.  However, if the quantity of the good acquired sooner were continually diminished, eventually its "soon-ness"-based premium would not be sufficient to make up for its diminution, and the later, greater amount of the good would be preferred.  Somebody with extremely high time preference would rather eat one peanut immediately than wait one day to acquire a year's supply of peanuts.  Somebody with extremely low time preference would forego eating peanuts for a whole year if it meant at the end of the year he would achieve one more peanut than he otherwise would.

    Having a low time preference is often thought of as a form of "self-restraint": an ability to resist one's urges.  However, all our actions are impelled by our urges: even actions whose goals are long-term.
    Let us say you have the choice illustrated above of "one peanut now" vs. "a year's supply of peanuts in one day"  (If you don't like peanuts substitute some preservable food you do like).  You look at the peanut in front of you; it looks delicious.  You have an urge to reach out and pop it in your mouth.  But then you think about what it would be like after just one day of waiting to have all the free peanuts you want for a whole year.  That notion is so attractive, that you have an urge to forego the peanut in front of you to make that excellent situation possible.  The urge that impelled you to forego the peanut is more distant-future-based; but it is an urge nonetheless.

    Keep in mind that all urges are future oriented: even the highest time-preference urges.  Popping the peanut in one's mouth forthwith may occur in the very near future, but it occurs in the future nonetheless.  All urges relate to a desired state for one's "future self".  Those acts that are commonly considered to demonstrate "self-restraint" are actually just as self-oriented as any other act.  They are simply oriented toward a more distant future self than those acts that are commonly considered to exhibit "lack of self-restraint".

    Thursday, September 3, 2009

    On State Propagandists

    One sub-set of the mandarin is the state propagandist.

    The earliest surviving instance of state propaganda also happens to be the earliest well-documented piece of history: the inscribed cylinders which document the border struggles between the rival Sumerian city-states Lagash and Umma between ca. 2450 and 2300 BC.  The cylinders invoke the support of the gods for Lagash's cause.

    This post to be extended...

    Wednesday, September 2, 2009

    The Throne/Altar Principle

    The Throne/Altar Principle is a sub-set of the Magistrate/Mandarin Principle.  The latter principle states:

    The state is a maleficent symbiosis of enslaving brigands (magistrates) and corrupt intellectuals (mandarins).  Throughout history magistrates have used mandarins to manufacture consent (through propaganda and indoctrination) and administer resources (technocracy).  In exchange the mandarins get to share with the magistrates the power, prestige, and pelf of statecraft.

    The Throne/Altar Principle simply states that mandarins are often clerics (priests).  Clerics are distinguished from other mandarins in that they fulfill their role in manufacturing consent primarily via superstition.  The manner in which clerics "administer resources" as technocrats and "share with magistrates the power, prestige, and pelf of statecraft" is often distinct from other mandarins, in that they are tied up with the rituals and traditions of cult.

    Stolen wealth administered by clerics will often be stored as temple finery which the clerics themselves enjoy and which can be used for trade in times of need.

    The earliest recorded incident of this is in perhaps the "war of nerves" conducted by Enmerkar, ruler of the Sumerian city-state of Erech (Uruk), against Aratta, an Elamite city-state in what is now Iran.  Enmerkar demanded that the people of Aratta use its own mineral wealth and labor to construct shrines and temples at Erech, and proclaimed that this was commandment from Innana, an important goddess.

    Tuesday, September 1, 2009

    The 19th-Century Bernanke: Featured on

    My article The 19th-Century Bernanke (originally posted here) is featured today on the Ludwig von Mises Institute web site.  Here are the links for...

    I hope you will enjoy reading or listening to it.

    Here's an excerpt

    Like Ben Bernanke today, Nicholas Biddle cultivated the veneer of a benign civil servant calculating serenely far above the political fray. In reality he, like Bernanke, was up to his neck in the backroom game of power.
    When Biddle's bureaucratic cradle was rocked, he quickly morphed into a Machiavellian monster. Keep that in mind as Ben Bernanke gets progressively cornered by Ron Paul and the bourgeoning anti-Fed movement.
    When you hear about the Federal Reserve Transparency Act getting stalled in committee, think of Daniel Webster, bought and paid for with central bank money. When you read Fed apologia in the New York Times, The Economist, and the Wall Street Journal denouncing the "reckless populism" of the Act, think of the newspaper editors in Biddle's pocket.