Elitism for Everybody

While not everyone is great, everyone can be.

This may be my most American idea.

As Gordon Wood argues in American Characters, we live in a populist country founded by elitists: a strange twist in history that has given to a mass population personal role models who had extraordinary (if flawed) personal character.

We’re taught from an early age that we should look up to and imitate founders like George Washington – a landed aristocrat – and Thomas Jefferson – who was reading Latin and Greek classics in his teens. There’s an idea in most of our educational systems that we can be like these men.

That’s a pretty crazy idea. It’s a pretty wonderful one, because it’s true (we can exceed those men). And it breaks categories.

It’s not a pure egalitarian idea. Egalitarianism is a leveling force. This idea calls us to go higher, and to be as good or better than men who were superior to their cultures.

But it’s also a revolutionary idea. In calling everyone to become elite, this American idea redefines aristocracy. It offers admission to anyone – if they’re good enough, that is.

It’s a hard belief to maintain, but I want to believe and try to act in a way that assumes that everyone can (in some way) become great and virtuous. It may be the idea that makes America special. It’s the idea that makes it possible for me to work hard to make the world better. I want to believe that there is some profound and great potential in every person.

As far as I know, that idea hasn’t been disproven. To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, the idea of “egalitarian elitism” may not have been tried and found wanting, but found difficult and left mostly untried.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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The Soleimani Assassination: Worse Than a Crime, a Mistake

In March of 1804, French dragoons secretly crossed the Rhine into the German Margraviate of Baden. Acting on orders from Napoleon himself, they kidnapped Louis Antoine de Bourbon, Duke of Enghien. After a hastily convened court-martial on charges of bearing arms against France, the duke was shot.

“C’est pire qu’un crime, c’est une faute,” a French official (supposedly, but probably not, Talleyrand) said of the duke’s execution: “It is worse than a crime, it is a mistake.”

That terse evaluation came immediately to mind when news broke of a January 3 US drone strike at Baghdad International Airport.  Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ “Quds Force,” and nine others, died in the attack. US president Donald Trump claimed responsibility for ordering the strike and has subsequently defended that decision.

The duke’s execution outraged Europe’s aristocrats, and in particular brought Russia’s Alexander I to the conclusion that Napoleon’s power must be checked. The international reverberations created by Soleimani’s assassination are already shaping up in similar fashion.

Yes, Iran’s government is outraged and vows revenge, but that’s not surprising. It would be hard for US-Iran relations to get much worse short of all-out war.

Five of those killed in the strike were Iraqi military personnel from the country’s Popular Mobilization Forces, including their deputy commander, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

Iraq’s outgoing prime minister denounced the strike as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and  of the US/Iraq Status of Forces Agreement. The speaker of the country’s parliament vowed to “put an end to US presence” in Iraq. Powerful Shiite religious and political figure Muqtada al-Sadr, whose militia forces bedeviled the US occupation after the 2003 invasion, is re-mobilizing those forces to “defend Iraq.”

NATO, the Secretary General of the United Nations, and several leaders of regimes putatively allied with the United States have likewise responded negatively to Soleimani’s assassination.

Trump’s order wasn’t even remotely legal, according to Hoyle, under US law or the 400-year international order since the Peace of Westphalia.

The attack occurred without congressional approval or even notification, let alone the declaration of war that the ever-deteriorating US Constitution requires. Unfortunately, while Congress perpetually rumbles discontent over such things, it’s likely to continue enabling, rather than punish and rein in, such abuses of presidential power.

The attack occurred on the supposedly sovereign soil of a putative ally, killing that ally’s officials and invited guests. While it’s merely an escalation, not a new phenomenon — the previous president, Barack Obama, also claimed and exercised a “right” to murder on foreign soil at will — it’s a significant escalation by a president with fewer and less loyal friends on the global stage.

Whether Trump is “wagging the dog” in an attempt to distract from impeachment, or playing “6D chess” in an attempt to get the US out of Iraq at the demand of the Iraqis themselves (I’ve heard both claims), he’s turning friends against him and currying renewed European sympathy for Iran.

The prospects for peace on Earth have receded significantly since Christmas Day.

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Donald Boudreaux: Market Failure, Government Failure and the Economics of Antitrust Regulation (1h6m)

This episode features an interview of economics professor Donald Boudreaux from 2007 by Russ Roberts, host of EconTalk. They talk about when market failure can be improved by government intervention. After discussing the evolution of economic thinking about externalities and public goods, the conversation turns to the case for government’s role in promoting competition via antitrust regulation. Boudreaux argues that the origins of antitrust had nothing to do with protecting consumers from greedy monopolists. The source of political demand for antitrust regulation came from competitors looking for relief from more successful rivals. Purchase books by Donald Boudreaux on Amazon here.

Listen To This Episode (1h6m, mp3, 64kbps)

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Real Democracy Requires a Separation of Money and State

As we enter a new year, the running battle between the world’s governments and the world-changing technology known as “cryptocurrency” continues. As 2019 drew to an end, Swiss president Ueli Maurer asserted that Facebook’s digital currency (not a real cryptocurrency), Libra, has failed “because central banks will not accept the basket of currencies underpinning it.”

Politicians want to regulate — or, if possible, kill — cryptocurrency.

Large firms like Facebook want to capture cryptocurrency’s potential without rocking those governments’ boats.

Cryptocurrency advocates want democracy. Yes, democracy.

Of all the important words in the English language, “democracy” (from the Greek demokratia, “rule by the people”) may be the most fuzzily defined. Some people define it in terms of raw majoritarianism, others as one of various forms of representative government.

I define “democracy” in words used by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. “Democracy,” to my mind, is government that enjoys the “consent of the governed.”

Not just the consent of 50% plus one of the governed, and certainly not just the consent of a few big players who can afford lobbyists and bribes to get their way, but the consent of ALL the governed.

One major hinge on which the door of democracy as I define it swings is control of money — who may create it, how it may be used, and what portion of it must be handed over to government for “public” uses those paying the bills may or may not approve of.

Involuntary taxation is the opposite of the consent of the governed. It’s the opposite of democracy. We can have financial regulators and central banks, or we can have democracy. We can’t have both.

Cryptocurrency threatens the reign of government over money. It bodes a future in which, as an old antiwar slogan puts it, the Air Force will have to hold a bake sale if it wants to buy a new bomber.

That’s the future I want. It’s also the future that politicians, regulators and central bankers fear.

They don’t want to have to ASK you to fund their schemes.  They’re not interested in requesting your consent. They prefer to simply demand your compliance.

The ability to anonymously handle our finances without reporting them to government or involuntarily giving it a cut is a revolutionary development. And it’s here, now. More and more of us are using cryptocurrency, and the politicians are panicking.

While cryptocurrency won’t entirely kill involuntary taxation — land can’t be easily hidden, so we can expect property taxes to persist — it will make the global economy harder for governments to manipulate and milk.

The inevitable future of cryptocurrency, absent a new Dark Age in which we all go back to plowing with mules and reading rotting old books by candlelight, is a future without income and sales taxes (to name two of the biggest and most pernicious).

The ruling class will do everything it can to prevent the coming separation of money and state.

They’ll fail. And democracy will flourish. See you at the bake sale.

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Voltairine de Cleyre III: Inquisitors

Nobody asked but …

I doubt if any other hope has the power to keep the fire alight as I saw it in 1897, when we met the Spanish exiles released from the fortress of Montjuich. Comparatively few persons in America ever knew the story of that torture, though we distributed fifty thousand copies of the letters smuggled from the prison, and some few newspapers did reprint them. They were the letters of men incarcerated on mere suspicion for the crime of an unknown person, and subjected to tortures the bare mention of which makes one shudder. Their nails were torn out, their heads compressed in metal caps, the most sensitive portions of the body twisted between guitar strings, their flesh burned with red hot irons; they had been fed on salt codfish after days of starvation, and refused water; Juan Ollé, a boy nineteen years old, had gone mad; another had confessed to something he had never done and knew nothing of. This is no horrible imagination. I who write have myself shaken some of those scarred hands. Indiscriminately, four hundred people of all sorts of beliefs—Republicans, trade unionists, Socialists, Free Masons, as well as Anarchists—had been cast into dungeons and tortured in the infamous “zero.” Is it a wonder that most of them came out Anarchists? There were twenty-eight in the first lot that we met at Euston Station that August afternoon,—homeless wanderers in the whirlpool of London, released without trial after months of imprisonment, and ordered to leave Spain in forty-eight hours! They had left it, singing their prison songs; and still across their dark and sorrowful eyes one could see the eternal Maytime bloom. They drifted away to South America chiefly, where four or five new Anarchist papers have since arisen, and several colonizing experiments along Anarchist lines are being tried. So tyranny defeats itself, and the exile becomes the seed-sower of the revolution. — Voltairine de Cleyre

— Kilgore Forelle

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Evolution in the Age of Lying

Nobody asked but …

Yesterday I picked up my two youngest granddaughters after school.  We talked over frosty shakes, slushes, and sodas at a local drive-in.  At some point, it occurred to me to say, “It must be tough for a young person to grow up in a world that is so full of lying,” as though this might be some wisdom available only to an ancient man.  I was most happy to hear, in unison, “We know!  Right?”  Evolution is the friend of the human animal.  Today, I am listening to an EVC podcast from Peter Gray.  In Dr. Gray’s talk, I learned one of the secrets to the discernment that my teenage granddaughters have attained. Survival of the fittest applies.

Children who do not learn, do not survive to have offspring, or their offspring will not have the learning to survive. For ages, children have educated themselves to survive, by learning what to learn. Among other things, smart, competent children develop good BS filters. Even though a child is often taught, in part, by parents, siblings, neighbors, and friends, whose average intelligence brings down the communal average, the child has a built-in BS filter by which to evaluate survival information. The young human needs to know what kind of chaff to separate from the wheat. The young human will thereby develop intelligence above the group average, they will stand on the shoulders of giants who have knowledge made up of the best intelligence from all the resources.

People, who believe in the state, will die out. People, who believe in magic, will die out. People, who heed false scares, will die out. People, who believe in Santa Claus, will wise up.

— Kilgore Forelle

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