Category Archives: Liberty

In Praise of Jeff Bezos


In Praise of Jeff Bezos
by Sean Gabb
21st July 2018

Jeff BezosAccording to a report on the BBC website, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is the richest man in the world, with an alleged personal fortune of £113bn. The usual suspects have raised their arms in outrage at the news. Oxfam drew fresh attention to its report from 2017, in which it called “for a fundamental change in the way we manage our economies so that they work for all people, and not just a fortunate few.” A few weeks earlier, The Guardian had lamented:

Amazon’s website is, in the west, the dominant platform for online retail sales…. This is bad for democracy. Commerce ought to reside in markets governed by regulations set by democratic political process not those chosen by the world’s richest man, Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos.

My view is that Mr Bezos, together with Bill Gates and various other people whose names it will be briefer to let my readers guess than for me to enumerate, is one of the greatest men alive. He has increased the wealth and happiness of countless millions. He is helping to bring into being a world that, just one generation ago, the boldest science fiction writers were cautious to describe. He has earned every penny of his great fortune. Read more

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Lies About Putin, Syria And The Alawite Alliance


By ilana mercer

On just about every issue, in 2016, candidate Trump ran in opposition to Sen. Lindsey Graham. Donald Trump won the presidency; Lindsey Graham quit the race with a near-zero popularity, as reflected in the polls.

The People certainly loathe the senator from South Carolina. A poll conducted subsequently found that Graham was among least popular senators.

No wonder. Graham is reliably wrong about most things.

But being both misguided and despised have done nothing to diminish Sen. Graham’s popularity with Big Media, left and right. Thus were his pronouncements accorded the customary reverence, during a July 10 segment, on Fox News’ “The Story.”

Which is when he told anchor Martha MacCallum that, “Putin is not doing anything good in Syria.”

Then again, Lindsey is being consistent. The revival of “one of the world’s oldest Christian communities,” in Syria, is not something the senator we’ve come to know and loathe would celebrate.

It’s true. “A new Syria is emerging from the rubble of war,” reports The Economist, a magazine which is every bit as liberal and Russophobic as Graham and his political soul mate, John McCain, but whose correspondents on the ground—in Aleppo, Damascus and Homs—have a far greater fidelity to the truth than the terrible two.

“In Homs, …  the Christian quarter is reviving. Churches have been lavishly restored; a large crucifix hangs over the main street.” ‘Groom of Heaven,’ proclaims a billboard featuring a photo of a Christian soldier killed in the seven-year conflict. And, in their sermons, Orthodox patriarchs praise Mr. Assad for saving … the Christian communities.”

Don’t tell the ailing McCain. It’ll only make him miserable, but thanks to Putin, Assad “now controls Syria’s spine, from Aleppo in the north to Damascus in the south—what French colonists once called la Syrie utile (useful Syria). The rebels are confined to pockets along the southern and northern borders.”

“Homs, like all of the cities recaptured by the government, now belongs mostly to Syria’s victorious minorities: Christians, Shias and Alawites (an esoteric offshoot of Shia Islam from which Mr. Assad hails). These groups banded together against the rebels, who are nearly all Sunni, and chased them out of the cities.” (“How a victorious Bashar al-Assad is changing Syria,” The Economist, June 28, 2018.)

A Christian teacher in Homs rejoices, for she no longer must live alongside neighbors “who overnight called you a kafir (infidel).”

The teacher’s venom is directed at John McCain’s beloved “rebels.” Internet selfies abound of McCain mixing it up with leading Sunni “rebels,” against whom Putin and Bashar al-Assad were doing battle. Who knows? McCain may even have taken a pic with the infamous “rebel” who decapitated Syrian Franciscan monk Father Francois Murad.

Ignoramuses McCain and Graham had both urged the US to send weapons to the “rebels”—even as it transpired that the lovelies with whom McCain was cavorting on his sojourns in Syria liked to feast on … the lungs of their pro-Assad enemies. A devotee of multiculturalism, Lindsey could probably explain the idiosyncratic cultural symbolism of such savagery.

Infested as it is by globalist ideologues, the permanent establishment of American foreign policy refuses to consider regional, religious, local, even tribal, dynamics in the Middle East. In particular, that the “good” guys in Syria—a relative term—are not the Islamist “rebels,” with whom the senior Republican senator from Arizona was forever frolicking; but the secular Alawites.

You likely didn’t know that Alawites like al-Assad also “flinch at Shia evangelizing. ‘We don’t pray, don’t fast [during Ramadan] and drink alcohol,’ says one.”

Under Putin’s protection, the more civilized Alawite minority (read higher IQ), which has governed Syria since 1966, is in charge again. Duly, reports the anti-Assad Economist, “Government departments are functioning. … electricity and water supplies are more reliable than in much of the Middle East. Officials predict that next year’s natural-gas production will surpass pre-war levels. The railway from Damascus to Aleppo might resume operations this summer. The National Museum in Damascus, which locked up its prized antiquities for protection, is preparing to reopen to the public.”

Good thinking. The “rebels” would have blown Syria’s prized antiquities to smithereens.

Given that Islamists are not in charge, the specter of men leaving their women and fleeing Syria has had an upside. Syrian women dominate the workforce. Why, they’re even working as “plumbers, taxi-drivers and bartenders.” Had Sen. Graham, his friends the “rebels,” and their Sunni state sponsors won—Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar—would this be possible? Turkey is currently sheltering “Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a group linked to al-Qaeda, and other Sunni rebels.”

Aligned against the Christian-Shia-Alawite alliance are Israel and America, too. They’ve formed a protective perimeter around rebel holdouts.

Before the breakthrough, when Sunni rebels were gaining ground, Syria’s “women donned headscarves,” and “non-Muslim businessmen bowed to demands from Sunni employees for prayer rooms. But as the war swung their way, minorities regained their confidence.” “Christian women in Aleppo [now] show their cleavage, the internet is unrestricted and social-media apps allow for unfettered communication. Students in cafés openly criticize the regime.”

Contra the robotic sloganeering from Lindsey, Nikki Haley and the political establishment, Russia has been pushing Bashar al-Assad to open up Syria’s political process and allow for the revival of “multiparty politics.”

Alas, the once bitten Assad is twice shy. His attempts, a decade ago, to liberalize Syrian politics resulted in the ascendancy of Sunni fundamentalism, aka Lindsey Grahamnesty’s rebels. (The nickname is for the Republican senator’s laissez-faire immigration policies, stateside.)

As has Russia called “for foreign forces to leave Syria,” Iran’s included. Iran commands 80,000 Shia militiamen in Syria. “Skirmishes between the [Iranian] militias and Syrian troops have resulted in scores of deaths. Having defeated Sunni Islamists, army officers say they have no wish to succumb to Shia ones.”

It all boils down to national sovereignty. So as to survive the onslaught of the Sunni fundamentalist majority, the endangered Alawite minority formed an alliance with the Iranian Shia, also a minority among the Ummah. Now, civilized and secular Syrians want their country back. In fact, many Syrian “Sunnis prefer Mr. Assad’s secular rule to that of Islamist rebels.”

***

ilana Mercer has been writing a weekly, paleolibertarian column since 1999. She is the author of “Into the Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons for America From Post-Apartheid South Africa (2011) & “The Trump Revolution: The Donald’s Creative Destruction Deconstructed (June, 2016). She’s on Twitter, Facebook, Gab & YouTube

Anti-Leftism: A Century of Failure


Anti-Leftism: A Century of Failure
Sean Gabb
7th July 2018

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I am currently preparing another book of essays by my late friend Chris R. Tame. He was an accomplished bibliographer, and I have been slowed down in publishing his book by the need to type in hundreds of references scribbled over the hard copy. This has reminded me of the immense body of literature produced on our side between about 1930 and 1990. University professors, university journals, policy institutes lavishly funded by big business, economists, historians, philosophers, historians, sociologists, political scientists, journalists – no criticism in this period that could be made of the managerial state was left unmade. In writing his essays, Chris ran over whole libraries of books and articles. I read many of them when I was younger, and was convinced. Read more

The Economics of Free Lunches, with Guido Hülsmann


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On Show 28 of the Mises UK Podcast, Andy Duncan speaks to Professor Guido Hülsmann about a new forthcoming book that he’s working on, based on the concept of a free lunch, or rather the political economy of gratuitousness. In a packed interview, along the way we also cover a pertinent encyclical by Pope Benedict XVI, the economic consequences of gifts, the definition of a proper gift, spontaneous gratuitousness, what defines an improper gift, the fallacy of government ‘generosity’, the implausibility of Keynesian ‘economics’, the ‘welfare’ state, intellectual ‘property’, the possible collapse of the Euro, and Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn. What more could you possibly ask for in a podcast on Austrian Economics?

Podcast sponsored by: http://finlingo.com/

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/misesuk-org-podcast/id1322473728

Music: http://www.bensound.com/royalty-free-music

Is Libertarianism Utopian?


Libertarianism – and any political position that leans towards a greater degree of freedom from the state – is opposed both ethically and economically on a number of substantive grounds. The proposition that without the state we would have inequality, destitution for the masses, rampant greed, and so on is a familiar charge which attempts to point out that libertarianism is undesirable and/or unjustifiable.

A further point of opposition is that libertarianism and the drive towards it is simply utopian or idealistic, and that libertarians are hopeless day dreamers, lacking any awareness of how the world “really” works. In other words, that, regardless of whether it may be desirable, some combination of one or more of impossibility, improbability or the simple unwillingness of anyone to embrace the libertarian ideal renders libertarianism either wholly or primarily unachievable. It is this specific objection that we will address in this essay.

Let us first of all recount the libertarian ethic of non-aggression, which states that no one may initiate any physical incursion against your body or your property without your consent. From this we can state that the goal of the libertarian project, broadly, is a world of minimised violence and aggression. Consequently, the questions we have to answer is whether a world of minimised violence and aggression is unachievable and, hence, utopian. Read more

On Cars, Pollution and Common Sense


June 2018 was a good month for those of us on the side of truth and common sense in environmental matters. In the Daily Telegraph, Charles Moore has written of the decline of media interest in the mantra of “saving the planet.” In the Wall Street Journal, Steven F. Hayward has gone further. He tells us of “the descent of climate change into the abyss of social-justice identity politics,” and says “climate change is no longer a pre-eminent policy issue.” Meanwhile, a so-called wind drought has caused the UK media to wake up at last to the fact that wind power is useless for generating the base load energy that is vital to our civilization. And even the government are talking of bringing nuclear power back into the mix.

But in at least one other area the greens’ assault on our lifestyles and freedoms is still growing. I refer, specifically, to their attacks on cars and car drivers. Not only is the mayor of London already making it impossibly expensive for all but the very rich to drive their cars in London. Not only is he seeking to widen further the range of his plundering schemes. But the anti-car lobby in the UK are seeking to restrict, and eventually to ban, car use on a national scale. And in this effort they are using a particular kind of pollution, called PM2.5, as their poster child.

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The Romanisation of Natural Law


The role of the feudal king is popularly depicted as a monstrous tyrant, but this is a misconception jaded by a modern understanding of authority.  Europe had known kings for thousands of years, but these were prima inter pares (first among equals); feudal Europe was a network of jurisdictions and presented an advanced, yet stateless civilization.  Arthur Joseph Penty refers to the formal clause of a medieval king’s pledge – ‘The land and each inhabitant of it shall be undisturbed in his rights and customs’ – before concluding that kings were

‘not so much the ruler as the first guardian…not so much the owner of the realm as the principal administrator… The principle involved is the one which runs through all Mediaeval polity of reciprocal rights and duties. All public authority was looked upon as a responsibility conferred by a higher power, but the duty of obedience was conditioned by the rightfulness of the command.’[1]

The Church had a fundamental role in maintaining the integrity of these kings.  Canon law – the law of the Church – was built on the rational, natural law; Gratian, Bishop of Chiusi, paved the way for the first systematised set of laws, the Decretum of the mid-12th century, which began with the sentence: ‘The human race is ruled by two things, namely, natural law and usages’.[2]  Canon law also incorporated more of the customary law of European peoples and respected the more libertarian character of ancient European societies: ‘The men of the age fervently believed that “old law was good law.” The compilers of the canonical collections endorsed this maxim.’[3]  This was a fundamental of the customary laws of the Indo-European peoples and essential to feudal society.  Yet, whilst it provided the basis for the development of independent, sovereign institutions and cities etc., it was slow to keep up with the vogue of rediscovered Roman law among many nobles, bourgeoisie and lawyers.  Despite the efforts of Gratian, Canon law would no longer continue to blend the aristocratic libertarianism of European tribes with the higher civilization of Christian rule.

In the 13th century, a new group of canonists would emerge and witness a significant transformation of canon law, almost all of them studying at Bologna, under ‘the greatest Romanist of the time,’ Azo.   Pennington notes of this transformation, ‘The “romanization” of canon law had been underway for almost fifty years, but they applied Justinian’s doctrines more completely and comprehensively than earlier generations.’[4]  One such student, Laurentius Hispanus, would turn natural law upside down and, thus, the whole course of Western civilisation.  It is worth quoting Kenneth Pennington, the foremost scholar on this matter, at some length:

‘In a gloss to Innocent III’s decretal Quanto personam Laurentius adopted a truly revolutionary idea: the prince may make iniquitous law, for the prince’s will is held to be reason. Germanic and earlier learned conceptions of law confused the content of law — that law must be just and reasonable — with the source of the law, the will of the prince. Before Laurentius, the jurists had accepted the idea that a law could not be valid unless it embodied reason. By separating the prince’s will from reason, Laurentius located the source of legislative authority in the will of the prince and laid the intellectual groundwork for a new conception of authority in which the prince or the state might exercise power unreasonably, but legally. He can be said to have begun the voluntarist tradition in political thought.’[5]

Be careful not to confuse the meaning of voluntarist; the lex voluntas posits the will as the source of law, as opposed to the lex rationis of classical natural law, which has reason as the source of law – similar to the a priori of praxeology in Austrian economics or of argumentation in van Dun and Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s dialogue/argumentation ethics.

So, Laurentius not only produced the lex voluntas school of natural law, but in doing so, conceived the embryonic, Machiavellian notion of the legitimised, coercive state.  Even the popes became taken up with this idea; another lawyer of Bologna, Tancred of Lombardy, who considered Laurentius his master, was appointed archdeacon of the cathedral of Bologna and dominated the school.  It was a time when an intellectual status quo could rapidly form across the continent, as Pennington further explains:

‘Unlike today, the schools and the jurists who taught in them were not isolated geographically, linguistically, and jurisdictionally from each other… The jurists of the North read and taught the jurists of the South… The result of this work was the development of a common European jurisprudence that emerged during the thirteenth century.’[6]

Early 16th century France shows the permeation of absolutist thought.  Following Bude’s monarchical divine right theory, Rothbard notes the ideas of the two leading legists of the time, de Grassaille: ‘the king is God on earth’; and de Chasseneux, whose view he summarises thus:

‘All jurisdiction…pertains to the supreme authority of the prince; no man may have jurisdiction except through the ruler’s concession and permission. The authority to create magistrates thus belongs to the prince alone; all offices and dignities flow and are derived from him as from a fountain.’

These legists could well read such ideas back into 13th century developments of the lex voluntas school, as the prioritising of the prince’s will had cracked the dam and, in their own day, the flood would wash away everything in its path.  They ‘systematically tore down the legal rights of all corporations or organizations which, in the Middle Ages, had stood between the individual and the state. There were no longer any intermediary or feudal authorities.’ [7]

The Church, which once opposed the growth of statism, now had many thinkers who had imbibed the Machiavellian zeitgeist.  Giovanni Botero, an Italian Jesuit, writing in the second-half of the 16th century, seems to be critical of Machiavelli, according to many scholars’ analysis of The Reason of State, but Rothbard’s perspective is not so superficial:

‘Botero took care to attack Machiavelli explicitly and pro-forma. But that was merely a ritualistic cover for Botero’s adoption of the essence of Machiavellian thought. While beginning by paying lip service to the importance of the prince’s cleaving to justice, Botero quickly goes on to justify political prudence as crucial to all government…that ‘in the decisions made by princes, interest will always override every other argument’; all other considerations…must go by the board. The overall view of Botero is that a prince must be guided primarily by “reason of state” [raison d’etat], and that actions so guided “cannot be considered in the light of ordinary reason”. The morality and justification for actions of the prince is diametrically opposed to the principles that must guide the ordinary citizen.’[8]

This imagining of a higher reason of state officers, enabling them to act with impunity where actual human reason would deem it unjust, was the influence of Roman law’s derivation of law from will instead of reason and its replacement of natural justice with an artificial order where might insists upon its rightness.  It is this school of thought which would later inform Locke et al. and be called classical liberalism, which is neither truly classical nor liberal.  The king as a person, a fallible person, would differ from the infallible office of king, forming the basis for future ‘civil servants’.[9]

The best examples of this monarchical revolution are the ‘different stories circulated about jurists’ losing horses’ to certain kings in the 16th century.  These apocryphal stories spoke volumes about the kings’ attitudes toward their own dominium and became a running joke – a canter of banter, if you will.  In the original 12th century tale, upon which these were based, Frederick Barbarossa was once riding between the knights, Sirs Bulgarus and Martinus.  He asked them whether he was dominus, i.e. the lord or owner, of the world.  Whilst Bulgarus replied that he was not owner so far as property was concerned, Martinus replied that he was.  The Emperor then got off the horse and had it presented to Martinus.  At this, Bulgarus waxed lyrical: amisi equum, quia dixi equum quod non fuit equum – I lost an equine, because I upheld equity, which was not equitable.

Another story involved two competing teachers of law from Bologna, Azo and Lotharius, and Emperor Henry VI.  When asked who has merum imperium (that is, jurisdiction), Lotharius said the emperor alone does, whilst Azo declared subordinate magistrates held their own jurisdictions unless these were revoked.  Lotharius got the horse and Azo was, we hope, at least thanked for coming; this shows the absoluteness of authority assumed by kings and indicates that, on the whole, any ideas which deviated from this centralising tendency were not well-received.

Like Bodin in the sixteenth century, the jurists of the mid-thirteenth century considered a subject’s dominium over private property to be a right derived from natural law that was exempt from princely authority, with several exceptions: the prince could expropriate property if he had cause, was pressed by necessity, or could rest his action on the public good.’  However, this only grew – they ‘added a further principle taken from Roman private law: two men cannot have complete dominium over the same property.’[10]  Who else then would have superior dominium but the king?

Bruce L. Benson provides some insight as to how such a development took place in England, particularly after the 11th century Norman Conquest, when the land was still threatened by Danes, as it had been for decades.  What started as a means to increase much-needed revenue by forfeiting the goods of executed criminals, developed into criminal law; customary law and other jurisdictions settled matters between individuals, but the kings discovered that, by expanding their supremacy into other jurisdictions through offering pleas and forfeitures, they could become a supreme judge.  Before, Anglo-Saxon law provided ‘that every freeman’s house had a “peace” [which] if it was broken, the violator had to pay…but as royal power expanded, the king declared that his peace extended to other places.  First it was applied to places where the king travelled, then to churches, monasteries, highways, and bridges.’  As revenue increased, the king could effectively buy support for the operation by giving a cut to sheriffs etc.[11]  Welcome to the warfare/welfare state.

Previously, kings certainly had an imperium – a Christian obligation to maintain peace in the Church, amongst his people – the negotium pacis et fides; but, this expansion of the king’s dominium was an encroachment on a person’s restitution for wrongs committed against them.  Further encroachments would give rise to the legend of Robin Hood, and what Pollock and Maitland called the ‘constant tendency to conflict between the old customs of the family and the newer laws of the State’.[12]

 

[1] Penty, A.J. (2018 ed.) A Guildman’s Interpretation of History, Forgotten Books, p.52

[2] Pennington, K. (n.d.) ‘A Short History of Canon Law from Apostolic Times to 1917’, p.19 –  http://legalhistorysources.com/Canon%20Law/PenningtonShortHistoryCanonLaw.pdf (20/06/2018)

[3] Ibid., p.17

[4] Ibid., p.27

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., p.36

[7] Rothbard, M. (2006 ed.) An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought, Mises Institute, pp. 216-217

[8] Ibid., p.213

[9] Barzun, J. (2001) From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present, Harper Perennial, p.251

[10] Pennington, K. (1993) The Prince and the law, 1200-1600: Sovereignty and Rights in the Western Legal Tradition, University of California Press, p.24

[11] Benson, pp.29-30

[12] Ibid.

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