The Wheat and Tares Grow Up Together: Morality and Judging Historical Eras

Is the 21st century a time of great moral progress? Or is it a time of decadence? Ask different people and you’ll get different answers. In my view, the answer is “both.”

On one hand, humans are progressing. The internet and software are breaking down barriers between people and people groups. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and other great prejudices (at least in their traditional forms) are losing their entrenched hold on the human mind. Individual humans can be freer, more creative, and more generous than ever before.

On the other hand, humans are regressing. We’re putting more and more faith in centralized governments (contrary to the lessons of the 20th century) and giving up more freedom and responsibility. We’re abandoning our commitments to friends, family, and ideas of honor and the sacred. We’re allowing ourselves to be addicted by digital stimulants from porn and video games to news feeds and notifications.

We like to be able to put simple moral judgments on historical eras, and every era presents difficulties for the person who wants to put simple labels of “good” or “bad”, “progressive” or “regressive” on any time in human history.

Jesus once told a parable which amateur cultural and historical judges (like me) should consider:

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Matthew 13:24-30

Now Jesus wasn’t talking about historical eras, but the metaphor of the wheat and the tares (the King James version of weeds) is a good one.

In any and every time, no matter how much we idealize or condemn, there is always wheat, and there are always weeds. The 16th century had exploration and cultural renaissance, but it also had religious warfare and barbaric tortures. The 19th century had abolitionism and industrialism, but it also had colonialism and imperialism. The 1st century had Stoicism and Christianity, but it also had mad emperors and slavery.

For all of these eras and all times (including our own), it does us good to remember the command to “[Let] them (wheat and weeds) grow up until harvest.” I read this as a metaphor for the wisdom of reserving blanket judgment.

We may one day be able to say that the centuries in our rearview were “good” or “bad.” But the harvest of consequence has not yet happened for the 21st century, and it’s hard to say that the harvests of the 19th and 20th are fully ripe, either. It is too soon to judge. Let time do that. In the meantime, resist the urge either to burn the fields or to swallow the weeds.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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Why is Immigration a “Contentious Issue in Classical Liberalism”?

“Contentious Issues in Classical Liberalism” was the theme of this year’s Mont Pelerin Society.  This gave me a chance to explore a major puzzle: Sociologically, immigration clearly deserves to be on the agenda.  After all, many people otherwise sympathetic to human freedom and free markets support even more immigration restrictions than we already have.  Intellectually, however, it’s hard to see why.

The plot thickens when you notice that pro-freedom immigration skeptics routinely use arguments that almost never use in any other context, starting with:

1. Collective ownership.  Yes, if countries are the collective property of their citizens, then they have a right to regulate immigration.  But this also implies nations’ right to regulate everything else, too!  You can’t live on my land without my consent, but neither can you open a store on my land without my consent, or even hire someone to work on my land for less than the minimum wage without my consent.

2. Collective guilt.  Yes, if e.g. foreign Muslims are collectively guilty for whatever wrongs foreign Muslims have done in the past, then immigration restrictions against Muslims would be justified.  But this also implies that other people can legitimately hold us collectively guilty for whatever wrongs “we’ve” done in the past.  So affirmative action, reparations for slavery and colonialism, returning land to American Indians, and much more are suddenly on the agenda.

3. Shocking anecdotes.  Yes, if we ought to take shocking anecdotes seriously, then any awful immigrant action on CNN justifies a major policy response.  But this also implies that shocking anecdotes about poverty, health care, worker safety, and the environment on CNN also justify major policy responses.

4. Popular support.  Yes, if “This is what citizens want, and they’re entitled to get their way,” then immigration restrictions easily pass muster.  But so do virtually all the policies classical liberals traditionally oppose, starting with protectionism and a bunch of price controls.

Unless you’re going to abandon the whole classical liberal framework, basic intellectual hygiene requires you to excise any argument along these lines.  What remains?  Only arguments claiming that the consequences of immigration are awful enough to overcome the standard classical liberal presumption against government action.

How does that approach fare?  See my full presentation to find out.  Bonus: A bunch of Zach Weinersmith cartoons!

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“For Medicinal Purposes Only”

Libertarians who support Big Government “Border Security” remind me of the Nigerian scammers who start their emails saying “Dear Beloved, May God’s peace shine on you“.

Maybe they are sincere, but I don’t trust them. There’s something “off” about them. Alarm bells go off in my head when they show up. There’s always that appeal to the State’s “protection”; lending an unearned air of legitimacy to the State.

They remind me of abolitionists who don’t really want to get rid off all slavery, just the slavery they don’t like.

Or teetotalers who drink moonshine “for medicinal purposes only“.

Yet, I sympathize. It’s scary to not have a dangerous Big Brother at your back when you fear you may not be enough to meet the threat. Even if the threat is mostly in your head, the fear is still real.

Borderism– big government welfare statism by another name– is apparently a very seductive cult, leading a lot of liberty supporters down into its depths, from which there seems to be no escape.

Statism, “for security purposes only“, is still full-blown statism.

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American Militias after the Civil War: From Black Codes to the Black Panthers and Beyond

The Civil War (1861-1865) was nothing less than a revolutionary reorganization of American government, society, and economics. It claimed almost as many lives as every other U.S. conflict combined and, by war’s bloody logic, forged the nation which the Founding Fathers could not by settling once and for all lingering national questions about state sovereignty and slavery.

The postwar period, however, was one of arguably greater turmoil than the war itself. This is because many men in the South did not, in fact, lay down their arms at the end of the War. What’s more, freedmen, former slaves that were now American citizens, had to take defensive measures against pro-Democratic Party partisans, the most famous of whom were the Ku Klux Klan.

America’s militia has existed for a number of purposes and has exercised a surprising number of roles over the years. But at its core, it’s a bulwark of the power of the country against the power of the state. In Early American Militias: The Forgotten History of Freedmen Militias from 1776 until the Civil War, we covered the historical roots of the militia. Below is the modern history of the militia following the Civil War, and how unforeseen changes which started during Reconstruction have set the stage for the contemporary movement of Constitutional citizens militias.

Continue reading American Militias after the Civil War: From Black Codes to the Black Panthers and Beyond at Ammo.com.

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Dumb Ideas Aren’t “Progress”

A few days ago I saw someone bringing up the 20th anniversary of the mass-murder by the evil losers at the Columbine kinderprison. They were moaning that 20 years have passed and “what progress have we made?

They didn’t exactly say, but I’ll bet I know their idea of “progress”, and I’ll bet it is what I would consider going backward into deeper slavery.

Because I’m sure their “solution” is more anti-gun “laws” like the ones which not only failed to protect lives, but actually empowered the evil losers at Columbine (and elsewhere in the years since). “Laws” which made sure they could murder without interruption. “Laws” which made it less likely anyone would be able to fight back effectively. “Laws” which make cowering and dying official policy.

It’s not the guns. It’s never the guns. If you want to solve things like school shootings, but you think it’s about the guns you’re a moron. Anything you do will only make it worse.

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Statism = Nihilism = Statism

I am not a nihilist. I don’t want to watch the world burn, and I certainly don’t want to be the one to set it on fire.

Yes, I hate and oppose negative things like governments and other archators, but I don’t hate and oppose everything. I don’t want to destroy society (that’s why I don’t support political governments). I don’t want to destroy most people. I don’t want to break windows and loot and flip over cars. Well, at least not those owned by people rather than governments. I hate and oppose those things which are most destructive– things which nihilists should love. It’s why I can’t be a statist.

However, I understand the frustration which drives some to a nihilistic world-view. I can’t even really blame them for feeling that way, even if I would blame them if they carried it out.

I’m a personal pessimist, but a long-term optimist. My own life may never be what I wish, but in the long term– maybe longer than several human lifespans– I think things will keep getting better. I am sad when I think how much horror and tyranny will probably have to pass between now and then.

I do what I can to give people the chance to avoid it, but my voice is small and unimportant. I wish I could get through to people to save them the pain, but most people (including myself) don’t learn without pain. It’s bad enough when people cause themselves pain, but so much worse when their bad choices cause pain to others.

And make no mistake: statism is a bad, bad choice. No matter how many believe it is normal. No matter how few can see another path. It’s a really dumb thing to cling to. Yet, cling they do. They will make the nihilists “happy” with the inevitable results of statism: death, destruction, poverty, slavery, and just about all other bad outcomes. Outcomes guaranteed by people claiming to want to help… by doing the opposite of the right thing.

And yet, even with all that, I’m not a nihilist and could never be one.

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