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Archive for April, 2016

A Halfway Covenant: Can Anarchists Support Donald Trump? (Or Anybody?)

Posted by nouspraktikon on April 17, 2016

A Critique of Walter Block’s (Anarcho-) ” Libertarians for Trump”

Block has made a blunder, but for the sake of everyone’s political education, I’ll blunder in myself.  Now, just to set the record straight, Walter Block is a fine gentleman and a profound scholar.  In fact, he once graciously shared the speaker’s platform with me at a Ludwig von Mises Institute seminar.  While I don’t share all of his ideas, I deeply admire his courage in breaking intellectual taboos and confronting political correctness.  Hardly the sort to pull his punches, Dr. Block has always pushed libertarian principles to their ultimate limits, braving academic ostracism and public censure.  Indeed, the redoubtable lassiez-faire  thinker has made a career out of Defending the Undefendable (one of his book titles) and has succeeded in putting himself in the dock of scholarly opinion, defending his own, and by extension your and my, right to free speech.

Thus can anyone be surprised that Dr. Block is now throwing his support towards the impolitic and outrageous Donald Trump?  Certainly nobody who has taken the time to actually consider the Donald’s policy positions, which are far closer to libertarian ideals than anyone else running for a major party’s nomination.  Rather, the surprise is that Dr. Block has pulled his punches, and is giving the Republican front runner only lukewarm support.  The premise of Block’s “Libertarians for Trump” goes as follows:  “We will back Trump until he gets the GOP nomination, after which we will end all support for him.”  Never one for half-measures, Block’s semi-Trumpism is an anomaly which calls out for rational explanation.  Is Block summoning like minded anarcho-libertarians to agitate, seeing Trump as a Republican disruption agent who will cause the political establishment to implode?  Or are the libertarian purists just afraid to support someone who might be an effective POTUS, an office which they oppose on principle?

This is the kind of intersection between political theory and political strategy which generates salient questions about both.  Block is an extremely consistent thinker, and his strategy in this case can be deduced from his principles.  I happen to think that the principles are flawed, but if they weren’t, Block’s recommendations would be the winning strategy.  Not for Trump of course, but for freedom.

Contrary to Block,  it seems to me that freedom’s cause would be best served by going all the way and securing the inauguration of President Trump in 2017.  After that what?  Would he become a dictator?  Elsewhere I have explained why this is unlikely to happen, but if I am wrong, then and only then, would it be ripe for libertarians to mount a “Dump Trump” movement, no doubt with Dr. Block in the vanguard.  But let’s face it, a strategy of nominating a candidate whom you hope will lose in the general election is simply unworthy of serious consideration.  Of course “serious” excludes the present GOP establishment, who are showing signs of severe cognitive impairment.  In contrast, Walter Block is a serious thinker, and if his strategy is absurd, it can only be attributed to his ideology, not an incapacity for matching means to ends.  It is that ideology which is salient, so let’s give it a closer investigation.

Anarchism and politics…obviously a mismatch!

It is important to understand that Walter Block is an economist.  Typically economists (especially mainstream neoclassical types) have been too modest about the scope of their science.  This modesty has diminished as developments in the last century showed how economics could shed light on diverse fields, such as viewing  how people vote in an election as a “public choice” analogous to the markets for private goods.  However there is another tendency which sometimes crops up, in which economics is raised to the status of a “master science” to which all else is subordinated.   Anarcho-capitalists, following Murray Rothbard, tend to see social science as a subset of economic science.  However William Ropke and others have pointed out that it is society which supports the economy, and not the other way around.  Without laws and other institutions to serve as a basic social framework, the free market would collapse.

Now let’s consider the election of 2016.  To the best of my knowledge nobody has yet pointed out the striking characteristic of this election.  Ponder this, and without exaggeration or irony, that all the major party candidates except (possibly) Trump are anarchists!  Of course their anarchism is not the noble “anarchism” of Murray Rothbard and Walter Block, but the criminal anarchism of lawless government.  It is the rule of the mobs and the cabals through extortion and intimidation.  It is increasingly “rule outside the form”…in contrast to “revolution inside the form.”  It is the final triumph, to speak in Hayek’s idiom,  of administration over legislation.

This is why I am making such a big stink about anarchism.  Anyone familiar with anarcho-libertarians knows that they actually believe in law.  Indeed, they believe in law more firmly than most people, their only particularity regards the means of enforcement.  Therefore, only in the course of an actual event such as the election of 2016 can it be demonstrated that the libertarian self-attribution of “anarchism” is more than just a rhetorical blunder.  Everybody knows that the niceties of legal form can be imbecilic, we recollect the law-oppressed urchins in the works of Dickens and Hugo, not to mention the New Testament, sufficient to render anyone with moral sense a sentimental “anarchist.”  However petty legalism is not the clear and present danger, it is just one brick in a much larger wall.   Rather, the novelty of 21st century politics is that governments and their enablers are groping towards a post-legal order.  In this context, rhetorical “anarchism” is worse than useless, it actually conflates the forces of good with those of evil.

Trump’s movement, whatever its flaws and vulnerabilities may be, is making a heroic stand against the emerging post-legal order.   I realize that this is rather hard for libertarians to see.  The libertarian ideology which grew up in the latter half of the 20th century was still able to take legal norms as a consensual basis for its appeal.  Statist encroachments on liberty were conducted (to use Garet Garrett’s nomenclature) “within the form” and it made good rhetorical sense to appeal to a diminution of administration and regulation in terms of an ideal zero point.  However that zero point (in the sense of zero bureaucratic administration) was still a society of laws, and moreover laws within the context of sundry institutions (language, kinship, property etc.).  Today the situation (esp. post-9/11) has not only worsened but accelerated, to the point where the administrative parasite is killing the institutional bases of society.  Legality itself is under explicit attack, not just by criminals at the margins of society, but by elites at its center.

When this process reaches its ultimate conclusion people will recognize it as anarchy.  Unfortunately it will not be the “anarchy” espoused by the idealists of either entrepreneurial capitalism or leftist egalitarianism.  It will have gone from “revolution inside the form” to “rule outside the form.”  Anarchy will have paved the way, and indeed have become identical to, tyranny.  This is not a particularly novel thesis…unfortunately it is a timely one.

Posted in Culture & Politics, Economics, Libertarianism, Paleoconservativism, Politics | Leave a Comment »

Make America Free Again! Who has the real deal when it comes to preserving the constitutional legacy?

Posted by nouspraktikon on April 3, 2016

A specter is haunting America, and people call it by the F-word (as opposed to the f-word, which is nonpartisan).   The well-paid summer patriots who inhabit conservative think tanks inside the capital’s beltway, and dutifully pass out pocket sized copies of the US Constitution are alarmed at the prospect of a Republican front runner who looks like Teddy Roosevelt to his supporters and Mussolini to his detractors.  One observer has noted the following,

“Is there any labor leader, any businessman, any lawyer or any other citizen of America so blind that he cannot see that this country is drifting at an accelerated pace towards administrative absolutism similar to that which prevailed in the governments of antiquity, the governments of the middle ages, and in the great totalitarian governments of today?  Make no mistake about it.  Even as Mussolini and Hitler rose to power under the forms of law…so may administrative authoritarianism be fastened upon this country within the Constitution and within the forms of law.”

Sadly, I must concur.  However this observation by jurist Jules C. Smith was quoted by Garet Garrett in a 1938 essay, long before Mr. Trump arrived on the scene, or for that matter was even born.  The system of “administrative absolutism” has been in place since the early part of the last century.  It was a “revolution within the form” which kept the constitution on the books but reinterpreted it to suit a burgeoning public sphere.  Mr. Trump has arrived too late on the scene to be a 1930s style dictator, even if he sought to be one.  The threat to liberty, both in America and abroad, comes from an entirely different quarter.   Later on that, but for the moment, why all this hysteria directed at Mr. Trump?

Let’s put it in the simplest terms possible.  Mr. Trump is loved and hated for the same reasons, he is a larger-than-life individual with a strong, clear cut personality.  For some, the personality is likable and for some detestable, but everyone agrees that he is his own man.  For this reason it can be plausibly argued that he is a threat to democracy, or at least legality.  After all isn’t “personalismo” (for some reason it sounds more dictatorial in faux Latin) the enemy of due process and constituted authority.  Not really, at least not this time around.

The truth of the matter is that Personalism and Legalism are two sides of a moral coin which lies at the center of the Judao-Christian tradition of limited government.  The very idea of “a government of laws, not men” implies a polarity between human actors and institutions which constrain their actions.  The clear and present danger in today’s world is the fusion of persons and institutions into a vast impersonal apparatus.  In this Brave New World group-identities have replaced individual responsibility, while the various spheres of society have fused together to the point that there are no longer clear lines of division between the military, corporate, press, and political spheres.  I fail to find any better word to describe this system than “Fascism.”  Yet it is the spokespersons for this system who raise the specter of Mr. Trump as a potential autocrat.

Not knowing Mr. Trump personally, I can’t vouch for his libertarian instincts, if any.  However anyone who listens closely to his rhetoric will notice that he never slanders identity-groups, as he would if he were the bigot of his haters’ imagination.  Notice rather, where Mr. Trump draws the line of distinction, not against immigrants as such, but rather illegal immigrants.  This seems more in keeping with both libertarian and Christian values, since one’s legal status is more likely to reflect personal action and responsibility than the brute fact of group identity.  Furthermore, if fascism is an ideology in which organized groups  ride roughshod over the legal rights of individuals, then Mr. Trump is an outstanding advocate of justice, and an outspoken opponent of fascism.

Granted, we can’t know for certain whether what candidate Trump says would square with President Trump’s actions.  He might indeed turn into the very bully of his opponents’ nightmares.  After all, it has happened before…Teddy Roosevelt even used the term “bully” as a term of approval.  It could be that he would start to get into confrontations with a opposition-dominated congress.  In that case, horror of horrors, we might actually have something resembling a two-party system again, instead of the present fusion(or better, fasc-ism?) of colluding cronies.

Bully for that!


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