October 20, 2017

QotD: Culture wars of the 20th century

Filed under: Books, Liberty, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

[Libertarians have] always been strong on analysis and criticism. We have our philosophers and economists and historians, and these are among the best. We aren’t wholly without our novelists and musicians and artists. There’s you. There’s Heinlein. There’s Rand. There are many others.

But we haven’t so far put cultural production at the top of our list of things to do. It’s been treated as barely even secondary to uncovering and explaining the workings of a natural order. So far as this has been the case, however, it’s been a big mistake. There’s little benefit in preaching to an audience that doesn’t understand why your message is important.

The socialist takeover of the English mind during the early 20th century was only in part the achievement of the Webbs and J.A. Hobson and E.H. Carr and Harold Laski and Douglas Jay, and all the others of their kind. They were important, and if they hadn’t written as they did, there would have been no takeover. But for every one who read these, there were tens or hundreds who read and were captured by Shaw and Wells and Galsworthy and Richard Llewellyn, among others. These were men who transmitted the socialist cases to a much wider audience.

Just as importantly, where they did not directly transmit, they helped bring about a change in the climate of opinion so that propositions that were rejected out of hand by most thoughtful men in the 1890s could become the received wisdom of the 1940s. They achieved a similar effect in the United States, and were supplemented there by writers like Howard Fast, and, of course, by the Hollywood film industry.

More recently in England, the effect of television soap operas like Eastenders has been immense and profound. Their writers have taken the dense and often incomprehensible writings of the neo-Marxists and presented them as a set of hidden assumptions that have transformed the English mind since 1980. No one can fully explain the Labour victory of 1997, or the ease with which law and administration were transformed even before them, without reference to popular culture.

Though I’ll say outright that she’s never been one of my favourites, there’s no doubt that Ayn Rand was a great novelist and a great libertarian. And there’s no doubt at all that her novels did more than anything else to revive libertarianism in America — and perhaps even in England. But what I’m talking about at the moment isn’t long didactic novels where characters speak for three pages about the evils of central banking. What I do believe we need is good, popular entertainment of our own creation that is based on our own assumptions.

I think the most significant objective propagandist of my lifetime for the libertarian and conservative cause in England was the historical novelist Patrick O’Brian. I’ve read all his historical novels, some more than once, and I don’t think he ever sets out an explicit case against the modern order of things. What he does instead is to create a world – that may once have existed largely as he describes I – that works on different assumptions from our own. If this world is often unattractive on account of its poverty and brutality, its settled emphasis on tradition and on personal freedom and responsibility has probably done more to spread the truth in England than the Adam Smith Institute and the Institute of Economic Ideas combined.

Sean Gabb, quoted in “Wayne John Sturgeon talks to Sean Gabb of the Libertarian Alliance”, Sean Gabb, 2013-08-26.

October 13, 2017

LITERATURE – George Orwell

Filed under: Books, Britain, History, Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

The School of Life
Published on 25 Nov 2016

George Orwell is the most famous English language writer of the 20th century, the author of Animal Farm and 1984. What was he trying to tell us and what is his genius?

October 11, 2017

Reading Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Filed under: Books, Europe, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the latest Libertarian Enterprise, Richard Blake introduces one of the greatest English historians and explains why his work is still well worth reading:

Edward Gibbon (1737-94) was born into an old and moderately wealthy family that had its origins in Kent. Sickly as a child, he was educated at home, and sent while still a boy to Oxford. There, an illegal conversion to Roman Catholicism ruined his prospects of a career in the professions or the City. His father sent him off to Lausanne to be reconverted to the Protestant Faith. He came back an atheist and with the beginnings of what would become a stock of immense erudition. He served part of the Seven Years War in the Hampshire Militia. He sat in the House of Commons through much of the American War. He made no speeches, and invariably supported the Government. He moved for a while in polite society – though his increasing obesity, and the rupture that caused his scrotum to swell to the size of a football, made him an object of mild ridicule. Eventually, he withdrew again to Switzerland, where obesity and his hydrocele were joined by heavy drinking. Scared by the French Revolution, he came back to England in 1794, where he died of blood-poisoning after an operation to drain his scrotum.

When not eating and drinking, and putting on fine clothes, and talking about himself, he found time to become the greatest historian of his age, the greatest historian who ever wrote in English, one of the greatest of all English writers, and perhaps the only modern historian to rank with Herodotus and Thucydides and Tacitus. The first volume of his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire astonished everyone who knew him. The whole was received as an undisputed classic. The work has never been out of print during the past quarter-millennium. It remains, despite the increase in the number of our sources and our better understanding of them, the best – indeed, the essential – introduction to the history of the Roman Empire between about the death of Marcus Aurelius and the death of Justinian.

I’ve read a few abridged versions of Gibbon’s great work, and I intend to start on the unexpurgated version once I’ve finished the New Cambridge Modern History (I have all in hand except Volume XII, the Companion Volume). This is why Blake considers Gibbon to be such an important and still-relevant writer:

1. Greatness as a Writer and a Liberal

I cannot understand the belief, generally shared these past two centuries, that the golden age of English literature lay in the century before the Civil War. I accept the Prayer Book and the English Bible as works of genius that will be appreciated so long as our language survives. I admire the Essays of Francis Bacon and one or two lyrics. But I do not at all regard Shakespeare as a great writer. His plays are ill-organised, his style barbarous and tiresome. I fail to understand how pieces like A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet, with their long, ranting monologues, can be thought equal to the greatest products of the Athenian theatre. I grant that Julius Caesar is a fine play – but only because Shakespeare stayed close to his ancient sources for the plot, and wrote in an uncharacteristically plain style. Perhaps I am undeveloped in some critical faculty; and I know that people whose judgements I trust have thought better of him. But I cannot see Shakespeare as a great writer or his age as the greatest in our literature. […]

2. His Scholarship

As said, this was not my first meeting with Gibbon. I was twelve when I found him in the abridgement by D.M. Low. As an undergraduate, I made use of him in the J.B. Bury edition up till the reign of Heraclius and the Arab conquests. In my middle twenties, I went through him again in a desultory manner, skipping chapters that did not interest me. But it was only as I approached thirty that I read him in the full and proper order, from the military resources of the Antonines to the revival of Rome under the Renaissance Popes. It is only by reading him in the whole, and by paying equal attention to text and footnotes, that he can be appreciated as a supreme historian. […]

3. His Fairness as an Historian

Even where he can be criticised for letting his prejudices cloud his judgement, Gibbon remains ultimately fair. He dislikes Christianity, and is convinced that it contributed to the decline of the Empire. His fifteenth and sixteenth chapters are one long sneer at the rise and progress of the Christian Faith. They excited a long and bitter controversy. There was talk for a while of a prosecution for blasphemy. But this was only talk. A man of Gibbon’s place in the social order was not to be taken into court like some hack writer with no connections.

QotD: Speed readers

Filed under: Books, Humour, Quotations — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

… shut up, speed readers. That’s right. I said eight hours. Deal with it. Nobody cares that you read 6,000 WPM like some sort of freaky robot person. Most people read for fun at 200 WPM and most books are 100k words. I swear, I’ve never in my life mentioned that it takes hours to read a novel without some self-righteous speed reader chiming in the comments about how brilliant they are and how they read a novel every fifteen minutes. Goody for you. Those of us who’ve known the touch of a woman don’t care you read fast.

Larry Correia, “one Star Reviews Over Book Prices are Dumb”, Monster Hunter Nation, 2016-02-16.

October 9, 2017

Reviewing Democracy in Chains as speculative fiction, rather than as history

James Devereaux critiques the recent book by Nancy MacLean which was intended to tarnish the reputation of James McGill Buchanan by tracing the intellectual roots and influences that shaped Buchanan’s life and work.

Nancy MacLean, in her new book Democracy in Chains, has allegedly revealed the master plan of right-wing political operatives, funded by the Kochs and inspired by James McGill Buchanan. MacLean pulls no punches as she describes a right-wing conspiracy meant to bring about “a fifth column movement the likes of which no nation has ever seen.” (page 127) Alas, the major problem with her account, as her fellow Duke Professor Mike Munger summarized, is it is “a work of speculative historical fiction.” MacLean’s contribution is a failure of academic discourse more likely to increase unfounded paranoia and division than to reveal any hidden agenda. MacLean’s bias bleeds into nearly every aspect of this book and taints her interpretation of the facts and sources beyond any reasonable interpretation could support. At one point she ponders the genius of Buchanan but determines it to be an “evil genius” for his work, much of which discusses the difficulties of democracy (page 42).

Why, one may feel justified in asking, dwell on speculative fiction? Unfortunately, when speculative fiction enters the popular culture, is applauded, and treated as fact, a measure of scrutiny is required. MacLean has received a fair share of positive press. NPR wrote that Democracy in Chains is “a book written for the skeptic; MacLean’s dedicated to connecting the dots.” That is if the dots were points on a corkboard tied together with red yarn. Oprah’s book club put it in their “20 books to read this summer” list. The Atlantic’s review praised the book as “part of a new wave of historiography that has been examining the southern roots of modern conservatism.” Slate also wrote a review.

A Deluge of Error

MacLean’s revelation regarding this “stealth plan” for a “fifth column movement” focuses on the relatively obscure, but well-respected, founder of public choice economics Nobel laureate James McGill Buchanan. MacLean weaves a fascinating tale but one that paints Buchanan and sympathizing libertarians as radicals determined to undermine democracy for the purpose of satisfying elitist urges, squashing the underdog, burdening the minority, and exploiting the poor. Unfortunately for MacLean, and those heaping praise, it is clear this tale rests on ransom-note-style citations, cutting and pasting together portions of phrases to change the meaning and support her narrative. In certain places it appears she has woefully misunderstood the source material or did not care – the notes do not match the claims. By cobbling together this mish-mash of selective quotes and speculation MacLean errs twice: first in describing Buchanan’s views and second in describing the motives of Buchanan and anyone sympathetic to his view.

A litany of scholars have examined the book and revealed a deluge of error. Russ Roberts wrote that MacLean owed Tyler Cowen an apology, courteously gave her room to respond, which she used to double down on her claims despite the obvious selective use of unfairly parsed phrases which attributed a view to Cowen he did not hold. Steve Horwitz, Michael Munger, Jonathan Adler, and David Bernstein have found issues with her citations and claims (Adler aggregated them at the Washington Post). Most thoroughly, Phil Magness has dissected numerous errors, misquotes, and general failures of citation found within the book, it appears to be an ongoing project. The errors which have compiled are such that they undermine credibility in the reading. As others have listed her poor citations, mangling of quotes, and selective editing, this will not be the focus of this review.

Since the publication of Maclean’s book, Don Boudreaux at Café Hayek has been hammering her work on an almost daily basis.

September 24, 2017

We Read Hillary’s Book So You Don’t Have To

Filed under: Books, Humour, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 22 Sep 2017

Hillary Clinton’s new book What Happened attempts to explain Trump’s upset victory in 2016 through a series of reasons which are not Hillary Clinton.

September 23, 2017

Roger Scruton – On ‘Harry Potter’

Filed under: Books, Britain, Media, Politics, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Conservatism Archive
Published on Sep 4, 2017

September 17, 2017

QotD: The great enrichment

Filed under: Books, Economics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The most fundamental problem in Piketty’s book, then, is that he misses the main act. In focusing solely on the distribution of income, he overlooks the most surprising secular event in history: the Great Enrichment of the average individual on the planet by a factor of 10 and in rich countries by a factor of 30 or more. Many humans are now stunningly better off than their ancestors were.

This includes a gigantic improvement of the poorest — your ancestors and mine. By dramatic increases in the size of the pie, the poor have been lifted to 90 or 95 percent of equal sustenance and dignity, as against the 10 or 5 percent attainable by redistribution without enlarging the pie.

What caused the Great Enrichment? It cannot be explained by the accumulation of capital, as the very name “capitalism” implies. Our riches were not made by piling brick upon brick, bachelor’s degree upon bachelor’s degree, bank balance upon bank balance, but by piling idea upon idea. The bricks, BAs, and bank balances were of course necessary. Oxygen is necessary for a fire. But it would be unenlightening to explain the Chicago Fire of 1871 by the presence of oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere.

The original and sustaining causes of the modern world were indeed ethical, not material. They were the widening adoption of two new ideas: the liberal economic idea of liberty for ordinary people and the democratic social idea of dignity for them. This, in turn, released human creativity from its ancient trammels. Radically creative destruction piled up ideas, such as the railways creatively destroying walking and the stage coaches, or electricity creatively destroying kerosene lighting and the hand washing of clothes, or universities creatively destroying literary ignorance and low productivity in agriculture. The Great Enrichment requires not accumulation of capital or the exploitation of workers but what I call the Bourgeois Deal. In the historical lottery the idea of an equalizing liberty and dignity was the winning ticket, and the bourgeoisie held it.

That even over the long run there remain some poor people does not mean the system is not working for the poor, so long as their condition is continuing to improve, as it is, and so long as the percentage of the desperately poor is heading toward zero, as it is. That people still sometimes die in hospitals does not mean that medicine is to be replaced by witch doctors, so long as death rates are falling and so long as the death rate would not fall under the care of the witch doctors. It is a brave book Thomas Piketty has written. But it is mistaken.

Deirdre N. McCloskey, “How Piketty Misses the Point”, Cato Policy Report, 2015-07.

September 11, 2017

QotD: Does inequality matter?

Filed under: Books, Economics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The central problem with the book, however, is an ethical one. Piketty does not reflect on why inequality by itself would be bad. To be sure, it’s irritating that a super rich woman buys a $40,000 watch. The purchase is ethically objectionable. She should be giving her income in excess of an ample level of 2 cars, say, not 20; 2 houses, not 7; 1 yacht, not 5 — to effective charities. Andrew Carnegie enunciated in 1889 the principle that “a man who dies thus rich dies disgraced.” Carnegie gave away his entire fortune. (Well, he gave it at death, after enjoying a castle in his native Scotland and a few other baubles.) But the fact that many rich people act in a disgraceful fashion does not automatically imply that the government should intervene to stop it. People act disgracefully in all sorts of ways. If our rulers were assigned the task in a fallen world of keeping us all wholly ethical, the government would bring all our lives under its fatherly tutelage, a nightmare achieved approximately before 1989 in East Germany and now in North Korea.

Notice that in Piketty’s tale the rest of us fall only relatively behind the ravenous capitalists. The focus on relative wealth or income or consumption is one serious problem in the book. Piketty’s vision of apocalypse leaves room for the rest of us to do very well indeed — rather non-apocalyptically — as in fact since 1800 we have. What is worrying Piketty is that the rich might possibly get richer, even though the poor get richer, too. His worry is purely about difference, about a vague feeling of envy raised to a theoretical and ethical proposition.

But our real concern should be with raising up the poor to a condition of dignity, a level at which they can function in a democratic society and lead full lives. It doesn’t matter ethically whether the poor have the same number of diamond bracelets and Porsche automobiles as do owners of hedge funds. But it does indeed matter whether they have the same opportunities to vote or to learn to read or to have a roof over their heads.

Adam Smith once described the Scottish idea as “allowing every man to pursue his own interest his own way, upon the liberal plan of equality, liberty and justice.” It would be a good thing, of course, if a free and rich society following Smithian liberalism produced a Pikettyan equality. In fact, it largely has, by the only ethically relevant standard of basic human rights and basic comforts. Introducing liberalism in Hong Kong and Norway and France, for instance, has regularly led to an astounding betterment and to a real equality of outcome — with the poor acquiring automobiles and hot-and-cold water at the tap that were denied in earlier times even to the rich, and acquiring political rights and social dignity that were denied in earlier times to everyone except the rich.

Deirdre N. McCloskey, “How Piketty Misses the Point”, Cato Policy Report, 2015-07.

September 9, 2017

Dr. Jerry Pournelle, 1933-2017

Filed under: Books — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 08:14

I saw this brief notice at Instapundit last night and shared it with my Facebook friends:


    I’m afraid that Jerry passed away
    We had a great time at DragonCon
    He did not suffer. Please feel free to post this news.

Rest in peace, Jerry. You will be missed.

I met Dr. Pournelle at SF conventions a couple of times, but you can’t say you knew someone on the basis of fleeting contacts like that. We did have a few minutes of discussion at one convention on the topic of why Harrison Ford’s portrayal of Indiana Jones was/was not a faithful characterization of how most people viewed archaeologists … which was highly entertaining. Although I enjoyed his SF writing, I actually thought of him more as a computer journalist, as I was a huge fan of his Chaos Manor columns in Byte magazine. As with George Orwell’s “As I please” columns, Pournelle didn’t let himself be limited to just bits and bytes and the range of topics was sometimes far outside the normal range for the magazine.

Here is his Wikipedia page.

QotD: Picketty’s unsupported inequality claims

Filed under: Books, Britain, Cancon, Economics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Piketty’s definition of wealth does not include human capital, owned by the workers, which has grown in rich countries to be the main source of income, when it is combined with the immense accumulation since 1800 of capital in knowledge and social habits, owned by everyone with access to them. Once upon a time, Piketty’s world without human capital was approximately our world, that of Ricardo and Marx, with workers owning only their hands and backs, and the bosses and landlords owning all the other means of production. But since 1848 the world has been transformed by what sits between the workers’ ears.

The only reason in the book to exclude human capital from capital appears to be to force the conclusion Piketty wants to achieve. One of the headings in Chapter 7 declares that “capital [is] always more unequally distributed than labor.” No it isn’t. If human capital is included — the ordinary factory worker’s literacy, the nurse’s educated skill, the professional manager’s command of complex systems, the economist’s understanding of supply responses — the workers themselves, in the correct accounting, own most of the nation’s capital — and Piketty’s drama falls to the ground.

Finally, as he candidly admits, Piketty’s own research suggests that only in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada has income inequality increased much, and only recently. In other words, his fears were not confirmed anywhere from 1910 to 1980; nor anywhere in the long run at any time before 1800; nor anywhere in Continental Europe and Japan since World War II; and only recently, a little, in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada. That is a very great puzzle if money tends to reproduce itself as a general law. The truth is that inequality goes up and down in great waves, for which we have evidence from many centuries ago down to the present, which also doesn’t figure in such a tale.

Deirdre N. McCloskey, “How Piketty Misses the Point”, Cato Policy Report, 2015-07.

September 8, 2017

Grant Vs Lee Who Was The Better General?

Filed under: Books, History, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 17 Aug 2016

Today I break down the book: Grant And Lee: A Study In Personality And Generalship By J.F.C Fuller

Here’s a quick break down of the two personalities

Grant: common sense, logical, simple plans with incredible precise execution, the ability to bring a whole lot of moving pieces into focus, and finally the ability to think clearly under stress.
Lee: The ability to motivate his men to an incredible degree, an extremely kind man, very good at doling out troops to his commanders when in a defensive situation.

This video goes into more detail on all of this, I hope you enjoyed!

Book Review: The Schmeisser Myth by Martin Helebrant

Filed under: Books, Germany, History, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 17 Feb 2017

The Schmeisser Myth: German Submachine Guns Through Two World Wars is a newly published history of SMG development from the Villar Perosa and MP18 through the MP38 and MP40, written by Martin Helebrant. Given that it is published by Collector Grade, it should be no surprise that it is an excellent volume, which includes both historical and developmental context as well as detailed collectors’ information on markings, variations, and production numbers.

QotD: Never ask where writers get their inspiration

Filed under: Books, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

My Dark Age adventure, Shieldwall: Barbarians! is Young Adult, meaning, in this case, Sharpe or Conan but without the shagging, and with slightly more moral compass — really you can read it as being “in the tradition of” Harold Lamb and the Pulpmeisters of Yore and ignore the YA tag. When I wrote it, I had in my head “Robert E Howard does Rosemary Sutcliff (but not that way (though they would have made a lovely couple))”.

M Harold Page, Shieldwall: Barbarians! Writing and self-publishing an old school boy’s young officer story set in Attila’s invasion”, Charlie’s Diary, 2015-06-03.

September 4, 2017

QotD: Even a world of perfect abundance would not be a crime-free world

Filed under: Books, Economics, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

So, when I woke up this morning I woke up thinking of how time is different in different parts of the world, which is what the people (Heinlein and Simak included) who pushed for the UN and thought it was the way of the future didn’t seem to get (to be fair, in Tramp Royale it becomes obvious Heinlein got it when he traveled there, and realized it was impossible to bring such a disparate world under one government.)

A minor side note, while listening to City, there is a point at which Simak describes what he might or might not have realized was Marx’s concept of “perfect communism” where the state withers away because there’s no need for it.

Simak thought this would be brought about by perfect abundance. There are no crimes of property when everyone has too much. There are no crimes of violence either, because he seems to think those come from property. (Hits head gently on desk.)

This must have seemed profound to me when I first read the book at 12, but right now I just stared at the mp3 player thinking “what about people who capture other people as sex slaves?” “What about people who covet something someone else made, including the life someone made for themselves? Just because everyone has too much, it doesn’t mean that they don’t covet what someone else made of their too much.”

Which is why I’m not a believer in either Communism or for that matter big L Libertarianism. I don’t believe that humans are only a sum of their material needs and crime the result of the unequal distribution of property. (There is also the unequal distribution of talent, or simply the unequal distribution of happiness, all of which can lead to crime — after all Cain didn’t off Abel because he was starving.) And I don’t believe humans are ever going to become so perfect we can get away with no government, because humans will always (being at heart social apes) lust for power, recognition and heck simply control over others (which is subtly different from power.) So we’re stuck with our good servant but bad master.

Sarah A. Hoyt, “Time Zones”, According to Hoyt, 2015-06-23.

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