I have a fondness for Enoch Powell that I never could manage for Margaret Thatcher. Perhaps that’s because I was indoctrinated to hate Thatcher and had never heard of Powell before last Saturday, when Wikipedia noted the 45th anniversary of the so-called Rivers of Blood speech for which he is infamous.
Both Thatcher and Powell were British politicians. Both were Conservatives. (Powell eventually left the Conservative party, claiming that while he was a life-long Tory, there were good Tories in the Labour Party. I guess I don’t really understand Toryism.) Both Thatcher and Powell are targets of left-wing hatred and smeared as proto-fascists. (See Lawrence Reed on the recent anti-Thatcher hatefest in the UK.) And I suspect the British Left would have a hard time distinguishing either of them politically from libertarians. We’re all ultra right wing, radically free market, and anti progress, aren’t we?
Powell rose to political stardom at the same time he fell from political power. On April 20, 1968, he gave a speech criticizing the British government’s existing immigration laws and its proposed anti-discrimination legislation. Everywhere I’ve looked for information on this speech and the speechmaker, these two issues have been conflated, and yet to a libertarian they could not be more different.
On one of these, Powell seems to be in accord with us. On the other, not so much.
The relationship between war and libertarianism has interested me since 9/11. In the aftermath of those terrorist attacks, I witnessed in grim fascination many libertarians make excuses for government in the realm of national security. The proper libertarian position on war has become a matter of controversy, although I believe it shouldn’t be. “War is the health of the state,” as Randolph Bourne said, as well as being “mass murder,” in the words of Murray Rothbard.
The following essay presents some of the most relevant materials and readings on this controversy. It is unapologetically tilted toward the antiwar position, although it includes some references to pro-interventionist writings. It is idiosyncratic and not comprehensive, and its omissions are not always deliberate. I am always interested in reading suggestions. As for the citations, I include publishing information for books but generally leave it out for articles written for or available on the web, so as to avoid extraneous clutter. Please follow the links to learn more.
Among the founders of modern libertarianism, Rothbard most consistently urged an antiwar position. In “War, Peace and the State,” he identified opposition to all state wars as well as to nuclear weapons as the libertarian’s core commitments. For more on Rothbard’s views on these questions, I recommend “Murray N. Rothbard: Against War and the State” by Stephen W. Carson and “Murray N. Rothbard on States, War and Peace, Part I” and “Part II” by Joseph Stromberg.
In terms of comprehensiveness and clarity, the best modern treatment is “Why Libertarians Oppose War,” chapter nine in Jacob Huebert’s fantastic Libertarianism Today (Praeger: 2010), which is probably my favorite introduction to libertarianism. Huebert covers all the bases, touching on the relevant economics, U.S. history, and moral principles, and delivers radical conclusions. The chapter is perfectly balanced in terms of scope and emphasis. In November 2012 he eloquently summed up his thesis at a Students for Liberty conference in a talk titled “Why Libertarians Must Oppose War.”
I delivered this speech in September 2012 for the 2012 Annual Meeting of the Property and Freedom Society in Bodrum, Turkey. The audio of my speech was corrupted due to a technical error, so I re-recorded a version of the speech (available for streaming and download below). For others, see the links in the Program, or the PFS Vimeo channel.
Podcast: Play in new window
| Download (Duration: 50:53 — 23.3MB)
The talk was largely based on two previous papers:
Update: see also Is English Common Law Libertarian?
There are certain books in life that upon reading them you think to yourself “I feel not only smarter but this is exactly the book I would like to have written.”
And that is in summation what Animal Spirits with Chinese Characteristics embodies. It is written by nine-year China veteran Mark DeWeaver, now the hedge fund manager of Quantrarian Capital Management in Washington DC. In addition to having worked as a broker and financial analyst in Guangdong (the most populous province on the mainland) and Hong Kong, DeWeaver received his PhD in economics from the University of Hawaii. The title alludes to the ‘animal spirits’ invoked seventy-five years ago by John Maynard Keynes to describe how emotions influence human behaviors. The other part of the title comes from Deng Xiaoping’s “reform and opening up” (改革开放) liberalization process that began in 1978 – what Deng called “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
One of the shortcomings of many China-related non-fiction books today is that they generally try to discuss something that is impossible to penetrate: how and why the Standing Committee makes decisions. Volumes have been and will continue to be written about the purported inner workings of Zhongnanhai (中南海), the Party headquarters in Beijing, yet this amounts to little more than the modern-day equivalent of Kremlinology. Or as the popular and fitting English expression germanely (sic) describes this seemingly futile divination activity: trying to read the tea leaves in China (tasseography). [Keep reading…]
In the past two weeks, both Paul Cantor and I have released new books on television, literature and film.
My new book, Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre is now available on Amazon. The book examines the relationship between the Western genre and the bourgeois liberalism of nineteenth-century America, and looks how at how post-war Westerns, which appealed to a generation of New Deal-loving, Cold War-enamored nationalists, teach us that capitalism is bad and the nation-state is good. It includes a forward by Paul Cantor.
Also newly available is Paul Cantor’s extensive study of television and film, The Invisible Hand in Popular Culture: Liberty vs. Authority in American Film and TV. If you read Gilligan Unbound: Pop Culture in the Age of Globalization (which I reviewed here.) you’ll remember that Cantor can take pretty much any television show, such as Gilligan’s Island, and dissect it using everything from Homer to Shakespeare to Marshall McLuhan, and entertain you while doing it.
In The Invisible Hand, Cantor provides a section on Westerns, and from there goes on to examine South Park, Mars Attacks! and more.