Tag Archives | No Borders

Self Reasons and Self Right

Ian McKellen doing a terrific performance of a speech in defense of the rights of refugees, probably written by Shakespeare:


Tribaltarian Nation

Insightful quote from Adam Bates:

Q: What is it about the libertarian movement that attracts as you say, “rape apologists, Islamophobes, and nativists?”

A: I think there are two largely distinct strains of belief that lead people to anarchism/libertarianism. One is a fundamental commitment to the liberation of others, and the other is a fundamental and exclusive commitment to the liberation of oneself or one’s tribe.

Both of those sets of people are going to be anti-government, both of them are going to be largely non-interventionist, both of them are going to feel like they support liberty (albeit one definition is universal and the other is tribal), and I think libertarianism has obvious appeal beyond the alternatives.

But with the rise of the social justice movement and increasing global connectivity, we’re seeing that distinction grow starker by the minute. The “tribaltarians” aren’t going to support immigration, they’re not going to support race or culture mixing, they’re not going to support trade, they’re not going to accept any arguments about collective crimes against groups of people that aren’t them, they’re going to recoil at any and every effort to erase the philosophical and moral buffers between “them” and “us.”

So I get it. I get how they got here. But if there ever was a reason for these two groups of people to caucus together, it has now evaporated entirely.

I’m also reminded of Rand’s analysis of tribalism [link goes to an MS Word document]. (The fact that Rand herself was frequently guilty of tribalism doesn’t make her analysis any less useful.)


Merchants of Venice; or, the Liberty of Strangers

Last night I dreamed that I was living back in Ithaca (or somewhere very much like Ithaca), and that I was organising an APEE panel with Walter Block on the subject of Venetian libertarianism.

In the real world, I haven’t lived in Ithaca for nearly three decades; and while I am currently organising an APEE panel, I’m not doing it with Walter and it’s not on Venetian libertarianism.

But when I woke up, the reference to Venetian libertarianism reminded me of this passage from William Thomas, a Renaissance-era Welsh traveller who described his visit to Venice in a 1549 memoir:

All men, specially strangers, have so much liberty there that though they speak very ill by the Venetians, so they attempt nothing in effect against their state, no man shall control them for it. … Further, he that dwelleth in Venice may reckon himself exempt from subjection. For no man there marketh another’s doings, or that meddleth with another man’s living. If thou be a papist, there shalt thou want no kind of superstition to feed upon. If thou be a gospeler, no man shall ask why thou comest not to church. If thou be a Jew, a Turk, or believest in the devil (so thou spread not thine opinions abroad), thou art free from all controlment. For eating of flesh in thine own house, what day soever it be, it maketh no matter. And generally of all other things, so thou offend no man privately, no man shall offend thee, which undoubtedly is one principal cause that draweth so many strangers thither.
(William Thomas, The History of Italy (1549), ed. George B. Parks (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 1963), p. 83.)

Of course, the requirement to “spread not thine opinions abroad” (at least in matters of religion) suggests that this freedom had its limits – though I’m not sure whether Thomas intends this restriction to apply to all three of the non-Christian religions he references, or only to devil worship. Still, Thomas’s description of Venice is reminiscent of Voltaire’s and Addison’s descriptions of the London stock exchange; all three passages illustrate commercial society’s capacity to promote cosmopolitanism and toleration.


Stop Banning Muslims, Stop Banning Guns

[cross-posted at C4SS and BHL]

The debate over President Trump’s travel ban and the debate over gun control look surprisingly similar – except for who’s on which side.

In each case, supporters of the policy argue that it’s necessary in order to prevent incidents of lethal violence, while opponents argue, first, that the policy’s likely impact on such incidents is overstated, and second, that it’s unjust to restrict the freedom of a vast group, most members of which are peaceful and innocent, merely on the grounds that a small percentage of that group’s members might turn violent.

When the vast group in question is Muslim immigrants and would-be immigrants, those defending restrictive policies tend to be Republicans, and those in opposition tend to be Democrats.

On the other hand, when the vast group in question is gun owners and would-be gun owners, those defending restrictive policies tend to be Democrats, and those in opposition tend to be Republicans.

Yet it’s hard to see how the two cases differ in fundamental principle. Either the state is justified in disrupting, micromanaging, and in many cases endangering large numbers of innocent lives for the sake of a speculative chance of blocking a small number of criminals, or it isn’t. The rights and wrongs of such a case can’t magically reverse themselves depending on whether it’s gun owners or Muslim immigrants who are being targeted.

Notice, too, how similar are the rhetorical appeals made by proponents of restrictive policies in both cases. “Look into the eyes of families impacted by gun violence,” many Democrats urge, “and consider how you can dare to support the rights of gun owners in the face of these victims’ suffering.” Or again: “Look into the eyes of families impacted by domestic terrorism,” many Republicans urge, “and consider how you can dare to support the rights of Muslim immigrants in the face of these victims’ suffering.” Each side finds such emotional blackmail convincing in one case, while rightly remaining unmoved by it in the other. For such appeals invariably blur the distinction between an innocent many and a criminal few.

The pragmatic aspects of the two policies are similar also. A travel ban’s likely impact on terrorist acts is questionable, given that most recent acts of terrorism within the United States have been homegrown (and given that many of those blocked from entry are potential allies against terrorism). Similarly, gun control’s likely impact on gun violence is questionable, given the existence of a thriving black market in guns (and given gun ownership’s role as a deterrent to crime). In both cases, the cost of government action is a curtailing of freedom for millions of harmless people, while the benefits appear scanty.

Liberals and conservatives both display inconsistency; each group employs arguments in connection with one issue, that they forcefully reject in connection with the other issue.

When Donald Trump’s son compared the risks of letting in Syrian refugees to eating Skittles from a bowl in which a small number of Skittles were poisonous, liberals were properly outraged, pointing out that such a comparison was not only insulting but also grossly exaggerated the risks involved. Yet liberal support for gun control is based on the same logic as the Skittles comparison – sacrificing the freedom of the many in order to ward off a potential threat from the few – and likewise ignores evidence of gross exaggeration of risks.

Liberals who rightly oppose Trump’s travel ban should consider looking at their own support for gun control through the same analytic lens. And conservatives who rightly oppose gun control should likewise consider looking at their own support for Trump’s travel ban through that same analytic lens.

Travel bans use the violent actions of a few as a pretext to victimize millions of peaceful Muslims. Gun control laws use the violent actions of a few as a pretext to victimize millions of peaceful gun owners. Neither policy has any place in a free society.


Immigration and Liberty Symposium

[cross-posted at C4SS and BHL]

The Molinari Society will be holding its annual Symposium in conjunction with the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association at the Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel, 202 East Pratt Street, in Baltimore, January 4-7, 2017. Here’s the current schedule info:

Molinari Society symposium: Libertarianism and Refugees
GFC. Thursday, 5 January 2017, 9:00 a.m.-12:00 noon.

presenters:
James P. Sterba (University of Notre Dame), “Libertarianism and the Rights of Refugees
Jan Narveson (University of Waterloo, Ontario), “Accommodating Refugees and Respecting Liberty

commentators:
Charles W. Johnson (Molinari Institute)
Roderick T. Long (Auburn University)

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to participate in person, but my comments will be read out in absentia.


Remembering the Paris Commune

[cross-posted at C4SS and BHL]

This month marks the 145th anniversary of the violent suppression of the Paris Commune by the French national government.

The Paris Commune remains a potent symbol for many people – though what exactly it symbolizes is a matter of dispute. To conservatives, the Commune stands for a reign of terror and mob rule. For many radicals, including anarchists and Marxists (even though at the time, Marx himself opposed the Commune as a “desperate folly” and urged would-be insurrectionists to work within the system), it signifies a community that importantly prefigures their own preferred social and political systems.

aux-morts-de-la-commune

The Commune wasn’t quite any of these things. While it bears responsibility for some foolish decisions (such as trying to relieve bakers of their long hours by forbidding them to work at night, which is a bit like trying to cure a disease by punishing anyone who shows symptoms of it) and some wicked decisions (most notably, executing the noncombatant hostages), on the whole the Commune behaved in a rather moderate and restrained fashion, and was far from being the sanguinary monster of conservative nightmares. (To the Communards’ credit, they were reluctant to kill the hostages, and so waited until the last possible moment to do so. To their discredit, that means that by the time they did kill them, it was an act of pure spite that no longer had even the thin justification of a strategic purpose.) The invasion and massacre instituted by the national government at Versailles in May 1871 to put down the Communards’ insurrection has far more claim to be described as a reign of terror than anything the Commune itself did.

While it certainly has inspired anarchists and attracted their sympathy (Louise Michel being the most prominent anarchist figure to emerge from the movement), the Commune was not in any real sense an anarchist project. Yes, it was a working-class insurrection, but one aimed at establishing, and one that did in fact establish, a government. And unsurprisingly, that government did (as we’ve seen) some of the stupid and unjust things that governments tend to do (though the regime that ended up suppressing it was guilty of far worse).

Nor can the Marxists plausibly claim the Commune as a precursor. While generally statist-left-leaning in their policies, most leaders of the Commune had no interest in abolishing private property; as Marx himself noted, “the majority of the Commune was in no sense socialist.” The term “Commune” refers not to communism but to the independent mercantile cities, called “communes,” that flourished in Europe at the end of the medieval period. In that respect, the Paris Commune was fundamentally a secessionist movement; the Communards sought to make Paris into a self-governing political entity separate from the rest of France.

What anarchists tend to like about secessionist movements is their thrust toward political decentralization; what anarchists tend to dislike about them is their frequent concomitants of nationalism, parochialism, and isolationism. By those criteria, the Paris Commune scores fairly well, in that it did not seek to sever economic or cultural ties with the rest of the world; on the contrary, foreigners were eligible to be elected, and were in fact elected, to the governing council, on the theory that “the flag of the Commune is the flag of the World Republic.”

For all its flaws, the Paris Commune deserves anarchist respect as an example of cosmopolitan secessionism and working-class revolution. In honor of the Commune, I’ve translated “Paris, Free City,” a piece by Jules Vallès (1832-1885), one of the intellectual leaders of the Commune, from the early days of the rebellion’s initial success. It appeared in his periodical Le Cri du Peuple (“The Cry of the People”) on 22 March 1871. As will be apparent, Vallès is no anarchist; what anarchist could speak so cheerfully of “mayors [being] named and magistrates elected”? But in his secessionism, his enthusiasm for commerce, his distinction between an exploitative and a non-exploitative bourgeoisie, and his selecting the Hanseatic League as a model to emulate, he seems closer to anarchism – particularly market anarchism – than to Marxism.


Paris, Free City

To the bourgeoisie of Paris

There exists the working bourgeoisie and the parasitic bourgeoisie.

The one that the Cri du Peuple attacks, that its editors have consistently attacked and are still attacking, is the do-nothing one, the one that buys and sells positions and makes politics into a business.

A herd of windbags, a crowd of ambitious men, a breeding-ground for sub-prefects and state councilors.

The one, also, that that does not produce, that plunders; [The translation in Voices of the Paris Commune has: “They produce nothing but froth.” This is a misunderstanding of écumer, which in this context refers to piracy.] that raids, by means of shadowy banking schemes or shameless stock-market speculations, the profits made by those who bear the burdens — speculators without shame, who rob the poor and lend to kings, who played dice on the drum of Transnonain or 2 December, [The author refers to the massacre of insurgents by the National Guard in the Rue Transnonain on 14 April 1834, and Louis Napoléon’s bloody coup d’état on 2 December 1851.] and are already imagining how to play their hand upon the cadaver of the bloodied fatherland.

jules-valles-pic

But there is a working bourgeoisie, this one honest and valiant; it goes down to the workshop wearing a cap, traipses in wooden shoes through the mud of factories, remains through cold and heat at its counter or its offices; in its small shop or its large factory, behind the windows of a shop or the walls of a manufactory: it inhales dust and smoke, skins and burns itself at the workbench or the forge, puts its hands to the work, has its eye on the task; it is, through its courage and even its anxieties, the sister of the proletariat.

For it has its anxieties, its risks of bankruptcy, its days when bills come due. There is not a fortune today that is secure, thanks precisely to the clumsiness and provocations of these parasites who need trouble and agitation to live. Nothing is stable: today’s boss becomes tomorrow’s heavy labourer, and graduates see their coats worn to rags.

How many I know, among the established or well dressed, who are beset by worries as the poor are, who sometimes wonder what will become of their children, and who would trade all their chances of happiness and gain for the certainty of a modest labour and an old age without tears!

It is this whole world of workers, fearing ruin or unemployment, that constitutes Paris – the great Paris. – Why should we not extend to one another our hands, above these miseries of man and citizen, and why, in this solemn moment, should we not try, once and for all, to wrest the country, where each is brother to the other through effort and danger, from this eternal uncertainty that allows adventurers always to succeed, and requires honest people always to tremble and suffer!

Fraternity was queen the other day before the cannons and under the bright sun. It must remain queen, and Paris must take a solemn decision – a decision that will be a good one, and will have its day in history, only if it avoids both civil war and the resumption of war against the victorious Bismarck. [Voices of the Paris Commune gets this precisely wrong: “if it manages to avoid civil war and returns to the war against the victorious Bismarck.” This is not a possible translation of si elle évite la guerre civile et le retour de la guerre avec Bismark vainqueur; besides, if Vallès were calling here for renewed conflict with Prussia, why would he be proposing to “submit to everything” in the next paragraph, and why would he be advocating a negotiated peace with the Prussians a few paragraphs later?]

We are prepared, for our part, to impose nothing, to submit to everything, within the dolorous circle of fatality – on the sole condition that the freedom of Paris remains safe, and that the flag of the Republic shelter, in an independent city, a courageous populace of workers.

Denizens of the working-class districts and bourgeois alike: a few hundred years ago, in the very Germany from which came the cannons that have thundered at us, four towns declared themselves free cities; [The four founding members of the Hanseatic League: Lübeck, Brunswick, Köln, and Danzig.] they were, for centuries, great and proud, rich and calm: in every corner of the world one could hear their activity, and they cast merchandise and gold on every shore! …..

Well then! to undo, other than by the sabre, the Gordian knot in which our recent misfortunes have been tangled, there is but one message to give:

PARIS, FREE CITY.

Let us negotiate immediately, through the intermediary of the elected representatives of the people, with the government of Versailles for the status quo without struggle, and with the Prussians for the settlement of indemnities.

No blood is shed, the cannons remain cold, the barracks close, and the workshops reopen, work resumes.

Work resumes! this is the inflexible necessity, the supreme desire. Let us come to an agreement in order that everyone, tomorrow, may recover his livelihood. Citizens of every class and every rank, this is salvation!

Paris, free city, returns to work.

This secession saves the provinces from their fear and the working-class districts from famine.

Bordeaux has said: Down with Paris!

We, for our part, cry at one and the same time: Long live France and long live Paris! and we commit ourselves never more to extend toward this France who calumniates us an arm that she believed to be menacing.

Between Montrouge and Montmartre [Southern and northern districts of Paris, respectively.] will always beat, come what may, the heart of the old fatherland, which we will always love, and which will return to us in spite of everything.

Moreover, some towns – precisely those that the moderates fear – will likewise be able to negotiate in order to live free, and to constitute the great federation of republican cities.

To those who fear that they should suffer from isolation, we respond that there are no frontiers high enough to prevent labour from crossing them, industry from razing them, commerce from boring through them.

Labour! – towns with high chimneys that spew the smoke of factories, with large workshops and long counters, fertile cities do not die! Even rustics would not kill their hens that lay golden eggs.

Paris, having a flag of her own, can no longer be defamed or menaced, and she remains the skillful seeker, the happy finder, who invents beautiful designs and great instruments, who will be forever implored to put her stamp on that this metal or that fabric, on this toy or that weapon, on this goblet or that basin, on the paste for a porcelain vessel or the silk for a gown!

She will remain the master and the king.

PARIS, FREE CITY.

No more bloodshed! rifles at rest: mayors are named and magistrates elected. And then to work! to work! The bell sounds for labour and not for combat.

JULES VALLÈS.

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