Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Weird Hobbesianism of Brexiphobes

People who can't imagine order without imposition always end up favoring power over liberty.The UK "is part of Europe, and always will be,” says Boris Johnson, a leader of the Brexit campaign. Wait. How can you be part of something and not appoint a dictatorial, authoritarian, meddling, pillaging central state – a completely artificial creation having nothing to do with the real history of Europe – to manage it?

It's called freedom. That's how it works. It means the absence of external political restraint on shaping the future.

In the days following the British vote to leave the EU, we’ve seen apocalyptic panic among the opinion classes. The New York Times has published a long series of freak-out pieces about the end of the “postwar liberal order.” Except that there is nothing (classically) liberal about a distant bureaucracy that aspires to centrally plan every aspect of economic life.

Another writer worries that "we will have fewer people coming here, enriching our culture and our lives. There will be fewer opportunities. We will have less of a chance to explore the world for ourselves."

Huh? No bridges have been blown up. Britons can still buy plane tickets. People from abroad can still visit and work. It's not even clear that immigration will change that much. It really depends on what politicians in the UK do next. An untenable political union is under strain and that is all. Now Britain can actually make some political decisions for itself.

But here is the silliest thing I’ve yet seen. Try to wrap your brain around the claim in the Times that Brexit  “may just wipe out laissez-faire economics.” If there is no European-wide government authority, “where does capitalism go now?”

Capitalism? Does the Brussels bureaucracy really embody the essence of the capitalist spirit? What can the writer mean?

Well, you see, Reagan and Thatcher were “globalists,” and the global order was cobbled together in the postwar period under the influence of John Maynard Keynes, who had saved capitalism from being discredited by the Great Depression, and therefore laissez faire (which means leave it alone) owes its very existence to the man who wrote “The End of Laissez Faire.”

Or something like that. There’s no sense in trying to explain all these frenzied mind dumps because they make no sense.

Latent Hobbesianism

Having read a hundred articles warning of the coming Armageddon, I’m trying to understand the underlying source of the mania. True, there were plenty of unsavory types supporting Brexit, people who were driven to leave the EU by racist and xenophobic motives. They might imagine a new and more pure Britain is possible and desirable.

But, this is hardly news. It is not possible for democracy to function without an ugly underside. And people support good policies for bad reasons all the time.

That said, there is something deeper going on here. Some people just cannot imagine the possibility of order emerging without government planning. If there is no central state that can bind everyone, forcing good behavior and unity, surely the results will be an atavistic and chaotic mess. Life will become, in Thomas Hobbes’s words, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

There is a certain tradition of Enlightenment thought that imagined that government serves the one great purpose of cobbling together order in place of the war of all against all of the “state of nature.” Without Leviathan, we would be slitting each other’s throats, and unable to figure out any other way of living. The state, in this view, is the wise planner that can rise above the people’s base instincts and tell us what is best for us. In the most extreme rending of this story, all things must be either forbidden or mandated, with nothing left to chance.

(This same perspective explains so much of domestic politics. People who can't imagine order without imposition always end up favoring power over liberty.)

Hobbes Was Wrong

Brexit doesn’t establish economic and civil liberty for Britain. But it gives those ideas a chance.But is this really the history of Europe? Remember that Hobbes wrote during the English civil war when vying for control of the state was indeed a violent undertaking. This was not because human beings are incapable of figuring out a better way, but because there was a state there to control in the first place. It was responsible for the moral hazard that unleashed the violence.

The bigger picture of the middle ages through World War I was of small states minding their own business, with people free to move, and trade relations growing ever more sophisticated. States were limited by borders in their geographic jurisdiction and in their internal political power by legal and cultural restraints. The right of exit and the decentralization of power made it all work.

F.A. Hayek was fond of quoting John Baechler: “The first condition for the maximization of economic efficiency is the liberation of civil society with respect to the state…The expansion of capitalism owes its origins and raison d'ĂȘtre to political anarchy.”

By anarchy, he didn’t mean everyone going bonkers. He meant a lack of a centralized authority. The result is not the end of laissez faire but its institutionalization in political habit. That doesn’t mean a turn against “globalization.” It makes international cooperation essential for survival.

Brexit doesn’t establish economic and civil liberty for Britain. But it gives those ideas a chance to escape the EU’s subversion of the classical idea of what Europe is all about. Yes, a post-Brexit Britain could screw it up, especially if the extremes of right and left prevail against an emergent libertarian third way. Brexit is a beginning, not an end.

At least one impediment is out of the way. That’s progress.



Levin: Brexit Is a ‘Huge Step in the Right Direction’

On his show Friday, nationally syndicated radio host Mark Levin called the United Kingdom vote to leave the European Union (“Brexit”) a “huge step in the right direction.”

“And while Britain has voted to free itself from the European Union, which apparently occurs over a period of years, they still haven’t voted internally to free themselves from centralized government and socialism,” Levin said. “This is a huge step in the right direction, but they still need to liberate themselves.”

The United Kingdom (U.K.) voted to leave the European Union (EU) on Thursday’s June 23 referendum 52 percent to 48 percent.

Here’s what Levin had to say:

“To the extent any American official or politician influenced the outcome in Britain yesterday, it was Barack Obama. So, I want to thank Barack Obama because his arrogance, and so forth, turned out a lot of people – against him and against the U.K. remaining in the EU.

“But the truth is, it had nothing to do with Barack Obama, really. Nothing to do with Donald Trump, really. Nothing to do with any politician in America, really. It had everything to do with sovereignty.

“This battle over the EU and the extent that the U.K. would be part of it has been going on for decades. And it has reached a crescendo over the last several years over immigration, and not just immigration, the endless piddling rules coming out of Brussels imposed on butchers and bakers and taxi cab drivers and electricians and plumbers and coal miners.

“You have a super Parliament that imposes its will on the people. You’ve got a super Judiciary that imposes its will on the people – a super collective of executives that impose their will on the people. And the people have no recourse whatsoever. It was the death of democracy, little “d” – and the British people responded, 52 to 48.

“It amazes me, 48 percent of them preferred tyranny over liberty. The vote was about sovereignty, breaking away from the United, excuse me, the European Union.

“I try to make the point when I write my books, when I do this radio show, now when I do LevinTV – ideas and principles and philosophy have power. They determine the fate of mankind. They determine the fate of nations.

“And that’s why I, perhaps uniquely, spend so much time on them. They are the basis for the human condition. They are the basis for revolutions. And so, this show will always focus on them, always.

“And while Britain has voted to free itself from the European Union, which apparently occurs over a period of years, they still haven’t voted internally to free themselves from centralized government and socialism.

“This is a huge step in the right direction, but they still need to liberate themselves, as in many respects, we do.”



Purification of America

Walter E. Williams

In 2008, Barack Obama promised a fundamental transformation of America. Where that promise has gone unfulfilled the most is in areas of sexual and racial discrimination. What's worse is the official sanction given to such discrimination. Let's look at some of it.

Visit just about any California men's prison and you will see that one's race determines whom he cells with, the toilet and shower he uses, and what recreation areas he enjoys. Then there is sexual discrimination. Female correctional officers earn the same pay as their male counterparts. However, when it comes to extracting a dangerous inmate from his cell, it is always a five- or six-male officer team that risks bodily injury. How fair is that? Why not have both male and female cell extraction teams?

Harvard University has announced new rules that will punish students who join single-sex clubs, including fraternities and sororities. Part of that punishment will make them ineligible for college endorsement for top fellowships, such as the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships. As an aside, Rhodes scholarships should be banned; Cecil Rhodes was one of the architects of South African apartheid.

Harvard University, like most other universities, is two-faced when it comes to sexual discrimination. It segregates sports teams by sex. It has women's basketball and men's basketball, women's ice hockey and men's, a women's swim team and a men's swim team. If Harvard's leaders were consistent, they would also punish students joining a single-sex sports team. Each sport should have one team on which all students, regardless of sex, are eligible to compete. Also, sports racism in college has ended -- except in men's basketball, where no college team's starting five looks anything like America.

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has called for the elimination of the ban against women in combat, but he is keeping other forms of discrimination. Passing the Army's physical fitness test in basic training is a requirement. To pass, 17- to 21-year-old males must do 35 pushups, 47 situps and a 2-mile run in 16 minutes, 36 seconds or less. Females of the same age can pass the test with just 13 pushups, 47 situps and a 19:42 2-mile run. That's grossly unfair. As a black man, I can relate to the unfairness of different requirements. Literacy tests in some Southern states used to ask black voters, "How many bubbles are in a bar of soap?" and "How many seeds are in a watermelon?" White voters were exempt from that test -- presumably because they knew the answers. I'm wondering why men do not bring sexual discrimination lawsuits when they face different treatment based upon sex.

There is one highly celebrated area of our lives that's misogynistic, vicious and cruel to women yet goes completely ignored. It is nothing less than sadistic voyeurism. You might ask, "Williams, what is that?" It is the opera and its near celebration of cruelty to women. Giuseppe Verdi's "Rigoletto" regales us with tales of the Duke of Mantua, a licentious womanizer. From "Aida" and "Carmen" to "Lulu" and "Madama Butterfly," opera is extravagantly cruel to its female characters. This suggests an important job for university music departments. They must either change operatic script in a way that respects women or simply ban the performance of such works. There is precedent for banning and revision in the arts and literature. Some schools have removed the offensive words from "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," and some have banned the book outright.

While in office, former Memphis Mayor A C Wharton was an energetic purifier. He wanted to purify his city by removing the bodies of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife from a city park. At a news briefing, he asked, "Which African-American wants to have a picnic in the shadow of Nathan Bedford Forrest?"

There is a historical precedent for the purification of America. Back in the Roman days, when the Romans wanted to erase the memory of people they deemed dishonorable, they had a practice called damnatio memoriae, Latin for "condemnation of memory." It was as if they had never existed.



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