Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Fall of the Ottomans

In this book, Eugene Rogan tells the story of the Great War in the Middle East – not from the side of the Great Powers, but from the side of the Ottomans.

He begins with the story of his great-uncle, Lance Corporal John McDonald.  His great-uncle was born in a small Scottish village.  Along with his friend, Charles Beveridge, McDonald enlisted with the 8th Scottish Rifles (the “Cameronians”) when war broke out.

They said farewell to friends and family on 17 May 1915, headed to the eastern Mediterranean.  They arrived at the Greek island of Lemnos, the staging post for British and Allied forces, on 29 May – one month after the fighting on Gallipoli had broken out.  By mid-June they sailed onward to the peninsula.

Passing some who had returned from the fighting, the fresh-faced recruits would shout out: “Are we downhearted?  No!”  In reply, “some Australian wag” shouted back, “Well you damned soon will be.”

On 14 June, the battalion was safely ashore, and four days later they were headed up Gully Ravine to the fighting.  On 28 June, following two hours of bombardment from the sea, the 8th Scottish Rifles came out of their trenches and attacked.  Within five minutes, they were wiped out.  McDonald died in the camp hospital; the body of his friend Beveridge was never found, assumed to be in the unidentifiable conglomeration of remains buried in a mass grave only after the war.

The author, Rogan, went to Gallipoli in 2005 to see firsthand this place of infamy – and the site of his great-uncle’s death.  He was accompanied by his mother and his son, the first family visitors in nine decades.  While trying to find the Lancashire Landing Cemetery, they took a wrong turn and ended up at the Nuri Yamut Monument – a memorial to the Turkish war dead of the same battle in which his great-uncle died.

While my great-uncle’s unit suffered 1,400 casualties – half its total strength – and British losses overall reached 3,800, as many as 14,000 Ottomans fell dead and wounded at Gully Ravine….All the books I had read on the Cameronians treated the terrible waste of British life on the day my great-uncle died.  None of the English sources had mentioned the thousands of Turkish war dead.

It was this Ottoman front that turned the European war into what we now call a World War.  Certainly there were other battle lines outside of Europe, but none as devastating and devastated.  As if to emphasize the “world” participants, the author offers:

Australians and New Zealanders, every ethnicity in South Asia, North Africans, Senegalese and Sudanese made common cause with French, English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish soldiers against the Turkish, Arab, Kurdish, Armenian, and Circassian combatants in the Ottoman army and their German and Austrian allies.

Battles were fought in the territory of the modern states of Egypt, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey, and Iran.

Of course, there was also an eastern front to the Ottoman war in which all of the same Ottoman combatants would fight against Russians and other minority populations of the Russian Empire.  It seems this region has been facing Armageddon for over 100 years – with armies from all around the world fighting over a few square miles of desert.

For the Ottoman Turks, this war was existential.  After reaching the peak of their power and territory in 1529, with Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent at the gates of Vienna, the Ottoman armies made their final push on Vienna in 1683 – with the empire spanning three continents.

Over the next two centuries, slowly and regularly, control over this territory was lost – Greece and the various Balkan provinces gained independence during the nineteenth century; Britain, France, and Russia controlled much of the rest.  The Ottomans were faced with internal and external threats – no longer the end of empire, but now facing the end of Turkish rule.

Now it is 1908.  We will pick up the story here next time.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Twenty-first Century Conservatism

I can hear the howls in the audience already, given the title of this post….

Jordan Peterson gave a presentation entitled “12 principles for a 21st century conservatism.”  While I will not cover all twelve, there are several that dovetail nicely with topics discussed here and with my views of the cultural soil required if one wishes to develop and maintain a reasonably libertarian social order.

As I am taking his comments from a video and not a transcript, I have done my best to capture the words and the intent.

The fundamental assumptions of western civilization are valid.  He determines this with simple, rhetorical questions: Which countries do people want to move away from?  Which countries do people want to move to?

What does he mean by “valid”?  He does not describe it in this presentation, however given what he has said elsewhere is seems to me that “valid” is something like that which sustains and improves life.  In other words, people aren’t moving to the west (and avoiding places like Africa and much of Asia) because they hope that their lives will worsen.

Peaceful social being is preferable to isolation and to war; this demands some sacrifice of individual impulse and idiosyncrasy.  Yes, I know this isn’t the NAP.  But without “peaceful social being,” there is no chance that a society will approach and / or remain reasonably close to a libertarian society. It requires something of each individual within that society – something that I have described as agreeing to live in a manner that accords with the generally accepted culture and traditions.

The idea of egalitarianism is folly.  I don’t think I need expand on this for this audience; in any case, I am thinking to write something on this topic in the next several days.

Borders and limits on immigration are reasonable.  He makes an interesting argument about borders: we have borders around everything – our property, our relationships, and our time (I hadn’t thought of that).  Without borders, everything mashes into untenable chaos.  As to immigration, he really put it well (paraphrased):

A complex system cannot tolerate extensive transformation over too short a time.  Arms-open-to-everyone immigration policy is rubbish.  It should not be assumed that citizens of societies that have not evolved functional individual rights-predicated polities will hold values in keeping with such polities.

[And in his dripping, sarcastic tone] Don’t assume that when they immigrate that they will have their innate democratic longings flourish.

Respecting the value of the traditional nuclear family.  It looks like that structure worked quite well for the duration of mankind, maybe we should leave it alone.

Government should leave each of us alone as much as possible.  He offers an argument similar to Hayek’s “The Pretense of Knowledge” speech. 


None really.  I know it isn’t plumb-line libertarianism, but it does support what I believe to be necessary if one wants to ever see something approaching that plumb-line libertarianism come to fruition.  Which you would think, after all, is the objective.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

When the State is the Only Option

The Libertarian Forum, edited by Murray N. Rothbard; May 1, 1970

When we last left Rothbard’s bi-weekly dialogue through this periodical, he concluded that the New Left was dead, having abandoned any connection to true libertarian objectives such as its anti-war stand.  I remind you of this because the story continues with this edition.

Rothbard identifies several instances of the New Left attacking, occupying, or destroying private property, for example:

Recently, hooliganesses of the Women’s Liberation Movement seized the offices of Grove Press, and issued numerous “demands.”

Grove Press called in the police to carry those female invaders out, and proceeded to charge them with criminal trespass.

This seems to me a reasonable response to the trespass; yet, I know that there is a libertarian objection – one which Rothbard addresses (emphasis added):

But, it might be asked, isn’t it a terrible thing to call in the state police for self-defense?  Certainly not.  While no libertarian enjoys calling on the State for defense, the fact remains that the State had arrogated to itself a compulsory monopoly of the function of police protection.

Let me get this straight: if the State has a “compulsory monopoly” on what would otherwise be a perfectly libertarian-consistent function, Rothbard does not believe that anyone who suggests it is acceptable for a libertarian to utilize the State to carry out that function somehow loses his NAP membership card.

For example, say your house is on fire; it seems it is OK to call the county fire department (thank God).  Or, say you want to get to the department store; it is not a capital offense to drive on public roads (too bad, now I have to go to work next week).  How about if you want to buy a candy bar?  Sure, go ahead and spend those Federal Reserve Notes (there goes the paleo diet). 

So…I have this problem…me and a bunch of my neighbors decide we like the make-up of our neighborhood.  In fact, everyone in the county feels about the same.  We don’t want Commies moving in – not anywhere near us, not anywhere that they can get a foothold in our neighborhood, in our city hall – even in our state capital.

For goodness’ sakes, they are Commies!

Now, if all property was private, it is perfectly consistent with the non-aggression principle for us to agree to such a thing and enforce it.  But I don’t even need to say “if all property was private.”  Any polity can decide such a thing: no Commies allowed within the geographic area that incorporates all of our homes and businesses and schools (and the roads and parks that we have paid for through taxes).

But…but…but…we have no means to enforce this voluntarily, through private means.  You know why that is; actually, let me allow Rothbard to remind you why:

“…the fact remains that the State had arrogated to itself a compulsory monopoly of the function of police border protection.”

So, I ask…if it is OK to utilize the State for the purpose of protecting private property when the State has taken a monopoly in the function of protecting private property, why is it not OK to utilize the State for the purpose of protecting the private property of me and a few thousand of my neighbors when the State has taken a monopoly in the function of protecting the private property of me and a few thousand of my neighbors?

I’m just asking.

Bonus Coverage

There is more.  Remember those “hooliganesses of the Women’s Liberation Movement” mentioned by Rothbard earlier?

And it is not only the current means employed by the Left that I am attacking; it is also their newfound ends as well.  Of what relevance to libertarianism, for example, are the demands of the Women’s Liberationists?  In what way is it “libertarian” to foist their perverted values upon the general culture and upon society?

One can think of many “perverted values” foisted on society during and since the inception of the Women’s Liberation Movement.  These “perverted values” seem to be foisted at an ever-increasing rate.  Many so-called libertarians delight in these “perverted values” being foisted on society.

Rothbard asks: in what way is this “libertarian”?  Rothbard leaves the rhetorical question unanswered, but Rothbard is clearly leading a horse to water.  He is quite clear – it is in no way “libertarian.”

Now I suppose that Rothbard could mean that libertarianism is indifferent to such matters.  Technically, this rings true to my ears.  But take his tone.  He is not writing in a manner of indifference.  He is placing some value in the “culture”; he identifies these New Left values as “perverted” toward this culture. 

If one could ask Rothbard today, do you think that he would suggest that these “perverted values” would be helpful or harmful toward achieving and maintaining a libertarian order?  Or would he be indifferent?

I will leave these rhetorical questions unanswered…but the water is right in front of you.  Care to take a drink?

Thursday, February 15, 2018

In the Long Run…

An interesting article at the Mises site.  The article is by Murray Rothbard, entitled “Our Interests and Their Interests.”  The meaning of the title can be explained succinctly: whereas in a free market economy there is no clash of interests…

…the matter changes drastically, Mises points out, when we move to the intervention of government. For that very intervention necessarily creates conflict between those classes of people who are benefited or privileged by the State and those who are burdened by it.

Mises offered sound reason to demonstrate the fault in such thinking:

As Mises puts it,

In the short run an individual or a group may profit from violating the interests of other groups or individuals. But in the long run, in indulging in such actions, they damage their own selfish interests no less than those of the people they have injured.

Rothbard finds this approach lacking:

But Mises has a grave problem; as a utilitarian, indeed as someone who equates utilitarianism with economics and with the free market, he has to be able to convince everyone, even those whom he concedes are the ruling castes, that they would be better off in a free market and a free society, and that they too should agitate for this end.

The great problem here is: why should people always consult their long-run, as contrasted to their short-run, interests? Why is the long run the "right understanding"?

And I will take it from here.  I posted the following comment at the site:

[Rothbard]: “In brief, some moral doctrine beyond utilitarianism is necessary to assert that people should consult their long-run over their short-run interests.”

In succinct fashion, JM Keynes summed up the morality of this generation, the last century, and perhaps the time since the Enlightenment or earlier: “In the long run we are all dead.”  Without some thought to the consequence of life after death, why consider the long run?

[Rothbard]: “By amending Mises's theory to account for time preference and other problems in his "rightly understood" analysis, we conclude…that only moral principles beyond utilitarianism can ultimately settle the dispute between them.”

The west was, for more or less 1000 years, governed by such “moral principles” that considered the consequence of life after death. Perhaps without such moral principles, all that is left is the short run.

We need not debate theology, or entertain the nonsense that religion is incompatible with liberty; we are witness to the reality: when the “nobles” do not concern themselves with the long run, interests clash – and we are the losers.

I received several replies, some worth ignoring; one which said I had it backwards.  You can infer, from my further reply, the issue:

Tuesday, February 13, 2018


Doesn’t really roll off of the tongue, does it.  Well, one of you can work on branding.

The comments to my recent post, The Libertarian Movement, offer a wide variety of opinions and views on the topic (even one that I didn’t publish, suggesting that I start a blog on cooking); of course, this wide variety was already quite evident within the very broad community that identifies as libertarian.

I will address some of the comments from the aforementioned thread; let’s just say that it is clear that there is not today (and perhaps can never be) a thing called a “libertarian movement.”  So…let’s begin.


Victor February 10, 2018 at 12:54 PM

…the libertarian problem is how to completely dismantle political power of any and every kind in order that all service, particularly security and justice are mediated exclusively within and by a free market.

Victor, I get this.  But just saying it ain’t gonna make it so.  I have spent much of my focus over the last few years on the question of “how”; what conditions / pre-conditions are necessary?

Victor, my question to you: How?  Don’t tell me what’s wrong with my view of how – what is yours?


Victor February 12, 2018 at 11:03 AM

Offering a quote from Randall Holcombe:

When the founders created this country, the underlying philosophy of American government was liberty.

For much of my life I believed this to be true.  I still believe that some of the founders believed it to be true.  I have come to conclude there was no chance it could be true, given the philosophy of sand upon which it was built.

Once man decided to make law (legislate), liberty was doomed.  It is as simple as this.  This is what made and makes a “state.”

What the founders meant by liberty was freedom from government oppression.

It is difficult to read the Constitution and believe this.  In any case, this might have been true for a minority of the founders; it certainly wasn’t true of the majority.  And to the extent it was true, it all came crashing down even during the time of the founding generation.

Hard to believe that they really meant “freedom from government oppression” when this freedom didn’t survive their own time in office.


Victor February 12, 2018 at 2:58 PM

The paradox is that though rights based discourse developed in the West, by no means have Western societies ever been fully or even mostly free.

(Look, I promise that this post won’t just be a dialogue with Victor…this is the last one.)

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Libertarian Movement

Taken from a comment at the post “Trade Winds”:

Anonymous February 9, 2018 at 5:56 AM

There's so much fracturing within the libertarian movement for a variety of reasons currently and a host of ill will being generated as a result that seems to be making it difficult for movement towards common goals.

To which I replied:

I have been thinking quite a bit about this recently, the idea of a “libertarian” movement. I am wondering…if the objective is to achieve a move toward liberty, perhaps it isn’t a “libertarian movement” (as the term is generally understood) that will get us there.

Further along in the conversation, I added:

I don't think there is a meaningful "we" when it comes to libertarians. Where left and right libertarians overlap is minuscule relative to where (and, more importantly, on what issues) we diverge.

Those on the libertarian left hold to more of a "we" with Gramsci and Soros; those on the libertarian right hold to more of a "we" with Pat Buchanan and Walter Williams.

What follows is my attempt to work out my thoughts on this matter; writing (and getting your feedback) is about the only way I know how to do this.  In other words, be kind with your criticism…this is my first attempt to put these thoughts into words.

Let’s start with the basics: in order to address the concept of a “libertarian movement,” we should have some common understanding about what is meant by a political movement:

In the social sciences, a political movement is a social group that operates together to obtain a political goal, on a local, regional, national, or international scope. Political movements develop, coordinate, promulgate, revise, amend, interpret, and produce materials that are intended to address the goals of the base of the movement.

Libertarianism, to the extent it is a political movement, is for one thing and one thing only: to increase liberty.  For libertarians, this means adherence to the non-aggression principle (NAP), and this must be based on inviolate property right.

Now this simplicity leaves much room in the tent for an almost infinite number of varying “goals of the base of the movement,” as almost any “goal” is acceptable as long as it does not violate the NAP. 

I have yet to meet a libertarian who defines himself (as an individual) strictly with the NAP.  Each libertarian has “goals” beyond this – none of the goals in violation of the NAP, yet many of the goals in conflict with the goals of other libertarians.  A simple example might be gay marriage: this need not be a “goal” for every libertarian even though the idea does not violate the NAP.

I will now offer a series of intellectual exercises in order to better allow for (I hope) a proper examination of this topic.

Exercise 1:

Let me know on which of the following social issues all libertarians agree, such that these can be the goals of a political movement.  Now, to be clear, I am not speaking of making any of the following illegal; I am merely asking a question about social / political “goals.”  I will make my life easy and use the chapter titles from Walter Block’s “Defending the Undefendable”:

The Prostitute, The Pimp, The Male Chauvinist Pig, The Drug Pusher, The Drug Addict, The Blackmailer, The Slanderer and Libeler, The Denier of Academic Freedom, The Advertiser, The Person Who Yells “Fire!” in a Crowded Theater, The Gypsy Cab Driver, The Ticket, The Dishonest Cop, The (Nongovernment) Counterfeiter, The Miser, The Inheritor, The Moneylender, The Noncontributor to Charity, The Curmudgeon, The Slumlord, The Ghetto Merchant, The Speculator, The Importer, The Middleman, The Profiteer, The Stripminer, The Litterer, The Wastemakers, The Fat Capitalist-Pig Employer, The Scab, The Rate Buster, The Employer of Child Labor.

I have little doubt that Walter has examined each of these through the lens of thin libertarianism and found each of these to not be a violation of the non-aggression principle.  Of course, this does not mean that Walter believes that these items are wholesome or that practicing any of these will make the world a better place.  Just…these are not violations of the NAP; each libertarian is free to be “pro” or “con,” and also to act accordingly.

Tom Woods on Immigration

Dave Smith interviews Tom Woods.  The interview is available here.  They discuss a wide range of topics in this 90 minute interview; as identified in the title: “Ben Shapiro Attacks Ron Paul, Plus Trump, Immigration, and More.”

There are several interesting points made throughout the interview; I will focus on the immigration topic.  The discussion on this topic begins at about the 52 minute mark and continues for several minutes.  Tom suggests that the topic is too complicated from a libertarian standpoint to be reduced to a soundbite; decentralization is probably the best answer. 

Dave Smith offers that he began as an open borders guy but is no longer so sure.  One of the things that really got him to thinking recently – and he believes he got it from Stefan Molyneux – was something about…what if a million communists wanted to immigrate into your country?