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America's Counter-Revolution
The Constitution Revisited

From the back cover:

This book challenges the assumption that the Constitution was a landmark in the struggle for liberty. Instead, Sheldon Richman argues, it was the product of a counter-revolution, a setback for the radicalism represented by America’s break with the British empire. Drawing on careful, credible historical scholarship and contemporary political analysis, Richman suggests that this counter-revolution was the work of conservatives who sought a nation of “power, consequence, and grandeur.” America’s Counter-Revolution makes a persuasive case that the Constitution was a victory not for liberty but for the agendas and interests of a militaristic, aristocratic, privilege-seeking ruling class.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Obamacare Continues Its Predicted Slide

All the negatives predicted for Obamacare (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) are coming to pass. But what would you expect of a program in which the government defines the insurance product that (licensed) companies must offer, sets the terms of coverage, issues strict price rules, subsidizes buyers and sellers -- and calls the resulting crazy-quilt scheme marketplace competition? Obviously, when the scheme finally collapses, it is assuredly will not be a market failure. It will yet be another government failure.

Read the rest at The Libertarian Institute.

Friday, October 21, 2016

TGIF: Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System!

Donald Trump says the presidential election is "rigged." Although he provides no evidence for his charge, lots of things can be said about it. For one thing, he equivocates over the word rigged to include voter fraud along with news-media/polling bias -- two very different things. The former suggests that the outcome is predetermined, the latter only that influential organizations try to move voters in a particular direction. (Ignoring third parties is one flagrant way to do this, but that may redound to Trump's benefit in some cases.)

I might also point out that Trump has helped "rig" the election against himself with his inveterate estrangement from the truth and his braggadocio about and apparent penchant for sexual assault. These flaws have overshadowed what otherwise would have been damaging information about Hillary Clinton's political career and the WikiLeaks disclosures. Compared to Trump's antics and outrages, dry emails about Goldman Sachs speeches and the Clinton Foundation just aren't sexy enough to grab the electorate's attention. Cable TV's quest for ratings may adequately account for the seeming bias; viewers are more likely to reach for the remote when they hear about transcripts of speeches to Wall Street than when they hear "locker-room banter" and insults. Considering that Trump is partly a creature of the media, without whom he might not have won the Republican nomination, the case for sheer anti-Trump bias is not so straightforward.

Trump is also buffoonish, so let's face it: he makes better TV than the robotic Clinton does. A candidate without Trump's abundant baggage might have had an easier time prosecuting the case against his deeply flawed, state-worshiping opponent, even in the face of media bias.

But there's another side to the "rigged election" charge that's bound to go unnoticed. The American political system, like all political systems, requires a good deal of peaceful cooperation to operate. This is obviously relevant to the transfer of power, which gets so much attention nowadays. This cooperation goes on in two respects: first, between the government and the subject population -- government cannot rule purely through force because the ruled always substantially outnumber their rulers -- and second, among the many individuals who constitute the government's branches, agencies, and bureaus. Again, we cannot explain this process purely by the use of force. Even totalitarian states understand this, which is why they invest so much effort in propaganda ministries. Ideas, not force, rule the world.

Why does one government branch or agency or bureau or officer carry out orders from another? The answer cannot be the threat of force alone, for that would only set the question back a step: why would anyone carry out an order to use force against a defiant officer of the government? We can't have an infinitely long line of people with each person forcing the next one up to obey orders.

What ultimately explains compliance, or cooperation, with government is not coercion but ideology: government officers carry out orders because they and a critical mass of the community in which they operate believe the orders are legitimate and ought to be carried out. That's a matter of tacit if not explicit ideology. If those officers and enough members of that community came to have different ideas, the orders might be defied with impunity, if anyone were still giving them. On the other hand, if a private individual started giving the same kind of orders the state gave, no one would regard them as legitimate and sanctions against defiant persons would not be respected. (I briefly explore this idea in "Subjugating Ourselves". Michael Huemer has written the book: The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey.)

When enough time is added to ideology, the result is custom -- another reason that people comply with the state without the need for force. As Étienne de La Boétie wrote in The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude (1576):"It is true that in the beginning men submit under constraint and by force; but those who come after them obey without regret and perform willingly what their predecessors had done because they had to. This is why men born under the yoke and then nourished and reared in slavery are content, without further effort, to live in their native circumstance, unaware of any other state or right, and considering as quite natural the condition into which they were born…. [I]t is clear enough that the powerful influence of custom is in no respect more compelling than in this, namely, habituation to subjection."

The point is that government requires an unappreciated degree of cooperation, without which it would break down. Force may be necessary, but it is not sufficient. If enough people refused to regard the outcome of an election as legitimate, it would not be treated as such. Why does a chief justice swear in a president-elect? Why does a former president vacate the White House and make way for his successor? Why does a president order the enforcement of laws passed by Congress? Why are those laws enforced by the people with the guns? The answer to all these questions and more is ideology. This is not to say that no one ever refuses to obey a government order. But an isolated defiant government officer would not herald a change in society's ideology; hence, someone else would be easily found to execute the order and the public would regard this as legitimate.

Now this of course does not mean that anarchists have achieved their goal of a society based purely on cooperation. An individual who refused to cooperate, say, by resisting taxation or regulation, would be subjected to aggressive force without real recourse because the state would be the judge in its own case. Besides that, the "consent" that the state enjoys is manufactured by its tax-financed virtual school monopoly, among other institutions, bolstered by a mystical nationalism and secured by the problem of collective action. (How many people would defy the state if they were fairly certain that many others would do so?) So although the political system can hum along without routinely using force, dissenters can "legitimately" be put back into line violently if necessary. That most people would passively watch this happen believing it was proper, only confirms that the state depends on something other than force for its day-to-day operations. If a freelance would-be tyrant were giving the orders, no sense of legitimacy would hold bystanders back from helping victims to resist.

Thus the much-touted peaceful transfer of power in the United States, which Trump is now said to jeopardize, is not the result of force or the threat thereof, but of ideology and custom.

Why bring this up now? It's relevant to the case for anarchism. Most people who reject anarchism do so largely because they believe (like Thomas Hobbes and to a lesser extent John Locke) that without the state as an enforcer of at least last resort, internally generated cooperation would be inadequate to sustain a peaceful and efficient society. Thus an ostensibly external agency -- the state-- is necessary to impose the minimum degree of cooperation required for society to run smoothly.

We've seen, however, that government also supposes internal cooperation -- there is no superstate to police relations between the government and the people, or among the many individuals who constitute the government. Government is not external agency to society. The standard objection to anarchism is thus blunted by the fact that it applies equally to statism, including minimum statism (minarchism). Ideology and custom are immensely powerful in both contexts. If the public's implicit or explicit ideology can sustain a state, we have no reason to believe it could not sustain a stateless society. If the real constitution of a society is its widely accepted code of conduct and resulting incentives (regardless of words on a piece of parchment, if that even exists), then a stateless society has a constitution fully as much as any other society with a state. The pertinent question, then, is not whether a society has a constitution, but whether the constitution is grounded in natural justice. (I have more to say about this matter in America's Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited. Also see Roderick Long's "Market Anarchism as Constitutionalism.")

Finally, I think we can say that the elections are rigged but not as Trump would have us believe. They are rigged in the sense that the outcome is predetermined for power and against liberty. It'll take a change in ideology to change that.

TGIF (The Goal Is Freedom) appears on Fridays. Sheldon Richman, author of America's Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited, keeps the blog Free Association and is executive editor of The Libertarian Institute. He is also a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com. Become a Free Association patron today!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Libertarian Institute

The Libertarian Institute is now in full operation. Visit here.


Of course Hillary Clinton and the rest of the war party are making a big deal about Russia allegedly interfering in the presidential election. In their worldview, only the U.S. government has the right to interfere in other countries’ elections. Heck, it has an organization dedicated to this task: the National Endowment for Democracy.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Announcing The Libertarian Institute

I'm honored to be part of a new effort -- that includes Scott Horton, Will Grigg, and Jared Labell -- to spread the case for liberty: The Libertarian Institute. The big announcement is here. Sneak-peak at the forthcoming website here.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Clinton Admits She Plans War Crimes in Syria

Hillary Clinton favors imposing a no-fly zone in Syria. According to WikiLeaks, which posted a transcript of one her speeches to a Goldman Sachs audience, here's what Clinton anticipates if she were to carry out her policy:
To have a no fly zone you have to take out all of the air defense, many of which are located in populated areas. So our missiles, even if they are standoff missiles so we're not putting our pilots at risk — you're going to kill a lot of Syrians. So all of a sudden this intervention that people talk about so glibly becomes an American and NATO involvement where you take a lot of civilians.


How do you silence Donald Trump? 
Give him sodium pentothal.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Condemning Sexual Assault Is Too Easy

It's easy -- costless, really -- to display outrage over sexual assault. Who (besides Trump perhaps) would publicly endorse it? Where are the more costly displays of outrage over Obama's lethal assaults on women, men, and children in Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Pakistan, and Afghanistan?

Condemning sexual predators reaps only benefits -- it enables one to proclaim one's virtue. But condemning the government's murder and mayhem (at home as well as abroad) would likely reap the disapproval of friends and family. Opposition to state crimes is expensive, which is why we see so little of it.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

TGIF: Donald Trump, Hawk

Donald Trump is no peacenik. Leave aside Trump's proclamation that he "love[s] war" and unpredictability, and that he is more "militaristic" than anyone. Forget that he wants to enlarge the military and that he refuses to forswear first use of nuclear weapons. Ignore his bellicosity toward Iran and China or his promise to support Israel unconditionally. Pay no attention to Trump's 2002 endorsement of the invasion of Iraq and his imploring Obama to invade Libya and overthrow Muammar Gaddafi.

All we have to do to see the real Trump is examine his allegedly dovish statements.

Trump takes heat every time he expresses a wish to get along with Russia. This in itself would be good: the United States and Russia could destroy the world with their nuclear weapons. But the ruling elite disagrees. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact alliance, U.S. rulers have provoked Russia by incorporating its former allies and republics into NATO and enabling a coup against an elected Russia-friendly president of Ukraine, jeopardizing Russia's naval base in Crimea.

But would Trump really pursue peaceful relations with Russia? It's not so clear. When asked about his views on Russia at the recent joint appearance with Hillary Clinton, he noted that Russia is "fighting ISIS," which he implied puts the United States on the same side. "I believe we have to get ISIS," he said. "We have to worry about ISIS before we can get too much more involved."

Note the words before we can get too much more involved. Trump's statement indicates that working with Russia is merely a matter of priorities. First  ISIS, then ... what? More intervention, presumably against Syria's ruler, Bashar al-Assad.

After all, Assad is an ally of Iran, which Trump demonizes daily. We have no reason to think that if he presided over the defeat of ISIS, Trump would continue to cooperate on Syria with Russia, which like Iran would still have influence in the Middle East. Thin-skinned nationalist Trump is unlikely to suffer what he regards as impertinences from these nations, which resent having an American president define their places in the world.

Let's dig a little deeper. Trump's wish to cooperate with Russia against ISIS raises the question: why is defeating ISIS a proper function of the U.S. government? Trump would say ISIS is a threat to Americans at home. But this only shows that he has learned nothing from the catastrophic neoconservative foreign policy he claims to repudiate. Terrorist acts against noncombatant Americans, including the 9/11 attacks, have been provoked by U.S. intervention in the Muslim world: support for tyrants, invasions and occupations, bombings of seven countries, and the underwriting of Israel's wars on the Palestinians and Lebanese. This indicates that the best way to eliminate or minimize the (grossly exaggerated) threat of terrorism in America is to replace the bipartisan interventionism that Trump pretends to oppose with the noninterventionism and free trade that Gary Johnson advocates.

Instead Trump wants to "bomb the shit" out of ISIS. He wants to torture suspected terrorists. He wants to kill the relatives of those suspects. That would only inspire more terrorism. Trump has obviously learned nothing from the wars he once supported and now falsely claims to have opposed.

Revealingly, although Trump says the U.S. government should not overthrow Assad (now), he faults President Obama for not attacking Assad's regime in 2013 when it allegedly crossed Obama's red line by using chemical weapons in the war raging in Syria. (Significant doubts exist over the claim that it was Assad who used those weapons.) Obama wisely refused to attack Syria, despite the urging of Secretary of State John Kerry and the war party. But what did he do instead? He took up Russia's offer to work together to destroy Assad's chemical weapons. Shouldn't that have pleased Trump? It might have -- if Trump was a person who engaged in coherent thought rather than anything-goes talking-point opportunism.

How revealing, incidentally, that the war party despises Obama for working with Vladimir Putin to remove the chemical weapons peacefully. The hawks apparently hate to lose any chance to unleash American military power against the people of the Middle East.

Contrary to popular misconception, Trump is a conventional interventionist who merely tries to differentiate himself from the others. With doves like that, who needs hawks?

TGIF (The Goal Is Freedom) appears on Fridays. Sheldon Richman, author of America's Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited, keeps the blog Free Association and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society, and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com. Become a Free Association patron today!