From Mises to Carlyle: my sick journey to the dark side of the force

I often get requests for a one-word label. I generally go with royalist.

So here you are in the year 2010, reading royalist samizdat on the Internet. And here I am in that same year, writing it. Quelle strange! Especially for those of us with perfectly crisp memories of 1979.

Royalist is almost always the start of a conversation, not the end. It’s a tabula rasa—it does not associate you with anyone else’s propaganda. Hardly anyone else goes by “royalist” today (unlike “monarchist,” which connotes a reverence for the present, ceremonial or “constitutional” institution—there are few ideologies more disproven than constitutional monarchism). And if anyone gives you any grief, you can just step up to neoroyalist.

Of course, any such label just means you’ve drunk the Kool-Aid here at Unqualified Reservations. That’s the whole point. But why broadcast it, eh? The libations will make their way in time. Frankly, turning people on to this kind of subversive material is like turning your literary friends on to acid in 1964. Is so-and-so hip? No? Oh, that’s too bad. Make sure he gets a cup from the blue pitcher.

By 1974, of course, so-and-so is calling himself “Bhang Raj” and teaching yoga in Big Sur. So if royalism sounds exciting to you, it should. Especially if you don’t remember 1964. Or 1984. Actually, Socrates also had a fine old time corrupting the youth of Athens, and what was he corrupting them with? Not what you think, pervert. In a word: hatefacts and crimethink. (Specifically, Socrates was spreading seditious lies about democracy.)

But let’s face it: “royalist” is challenging. It’s punk—punk in 1976. You can be for it or against it. You can’t be indifferent. Well, as it happens, the punk future of 1976 did not come true. Which is probably for the better. But it indicates that one can be too punk.

Therefore, I have an alternative label. I am a Carlylean. I’m a Carlylean more or less the way a Marxist is a Marxist. My worship of Thomas Carlyle, the Victorian Jesus, is no adolescent passion—but the conscious choice of a mature adult. I will always be a Carlylean, just the way a Marxist will always be a Marxist. And it is not too late for you to join us yourself! It’s a big tent, this cult of Carlyle. The only problem is that since Carlyle is dead, you can’t sell your possessions and give them all to Carlyle. No—you’ll have to think of some other worthy recipient.

But wait. Who the fuck is Carlyle?

Well, perhaps you saw that recent classic of the silver screen—Sherlock Holmes. As you may or may not know, ignorant Earthling, this was actually based on a book. In this book, some dead old white guy writes (1887):

His ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge. Of contemporary literature, philosophy, and politics he appeared to know next to nothing. Upon my quoting Thomas Carlyle, he inquired in the naïvest way who he might be and what he had done.

My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Solar System. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to be to me such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.

To be fair, “he” is Sherlock Holmes himself. Holmes is entirely ignorant of Carlyle, however, only because he is entirely ignorant of both politics and literature. Since not one man in a thousand today knows anything of Carlyle, and that man is almost surely misinformed (please read Carlyle before you read about Carlyle), the slate is—once again—blank. Are you, too, entirely ignorant of both politics and literature? We can’t all be Sherlock Holmes.

This Presbyterian Balrog was locked in the stacks for a century. Sergey and Larry, blissed-out on whatever blissful techno-hippie whim, scanned those stacks in bulk; and sprung his ass. If you are familiar with the Copernican Theory, yet ignorant of Carlyle, read him! You can! He lies naked at your feet—albeit in ancient, blurry scans, often with a picture of someone’s finger on the page. (How appropriate it is to see Carlyle restored by intern slave labor.)

Now, I will admit that the Sage of Ecclefechan had his off days. He did live in the 19th century. He shaved with a straight razor, if he shaved at all. His crystal ball was a delicate analog instrument. Often, Carlyle understands the 20th century better than anyone in the 20th century. Sometimes, there is some kind of disturbance in the Force, and he’s just picking up Pluto. Carlyle is not to be taken without salt, tuning and calibration; and would want no less. But properly tuned and restored, he is Messiah enough for any grown man. Hey, man, we all need a Jesus.

Carlyle, one of the few 19th-century writers to predict the impending Siglo de Muerte, includes all the ideologies of the 20th. However you think government should be carried on, you’ll find it in Carlyle. For instance, if you must have an introduction to Carlyle, try Edwin Mims in this 1918 edition of Past and Present. You will meet Carlyle, the royalist Progressive. There is also Carlyle, the royalist fascist. And I even discern—albeit with tender eye—Carlyle, the royalist libertarian. (For instance, “red tape” as a metonym for bureaucracy is a Carlyleism.)

Which brings us to the meat of today’s episode. As it so happens, before I became a royalist or a Carlylean or whatever, I was a libertarian. Specifically, a Misesian. (And before that, I was an Instapundit reader. Teh Internets radicalized me. Now, lets dem radicalize u. Cast off the snares of the Jedi Council. Surrender to my Sith powers—and those of my Master! And pleez u cn send more moneys in teh mail.)

I don’t think I’ve read everything Mises ever wrote, but I certainly have Theory and History, Omnipotent Government, and other less-trafficked Misesia, on my shelves. My gaps in Rothbard studies are more pronounced—for instance, I have never read the History of Economic Thought. Nonetheless, I have been through Mises and Rothbard more or less from ass to elbow, and my judgment on the two remains unchanged. Mises is a titan; Rothbard is a giant.

Carlyle is the greatest of all, however, because his vision is the broadest. The analytic power of Mises is much greater; when Mises and Carlyle disagree, Mises is usually right. Mises is almost never wrong. No one could possibly describe Carlyle as “almost never wrong.” Carlyle is frequently wrong. His strokes are big. He excavates with a pick, not a dental drill. But there is really nothing in Mises’ philosophy that is not in Carlyle; and the converse is not the case.

The problem with Mises as guru is that Misesian classical liberalism (or Rothbardian libertarianism) is like Newtonian physics. It is basically correct within its operating envelope. Under unusual conditions it breaks down, and a more general model is needed. The equation has another term, the ordinary value of which is zero. Without this term, the equation is wrong. Normally this is no problem; but if the term is not zero, the error becomes visible.

Just as Newtonian rules only make sense at low speeds, Misesian rules only make sense in a secure order. Mises himself once wished for a praxeology of war, which is fairly good evidence that he didn’t have one. Carlyle was not a place he would have looked. Carlyle was taken—Carlyle, the statist, the royalist fascist and the royalist progressive, was the prophet of those (on both sides of the Atlantic) who had no place for Mises. To say the least!

Einstein once said: a theory should be as simple as possible, but no simpler. As a Carlylean libertarian, I would say: government should be as small as possible, but no smaller.

You’ll notice, for instance, that, Mises is almost never normative. He will never tell you that the fashionable interventionist policies of his era are bad. He will tell you that they will not produce the results purportedly intended, or that they will have some other unadvertised effect. He will tell you, in other words, that the political reasoning behind them is bad. And as always, Mises will be right. But he does not prove that the policies are bad—just supported by bad reasons.

So, for instance, Mises will tell you that mercantilist policies such as high tariffs or exchange-rate manipulation do not just reward exporters, but also punish consumers. Mises will not, however, tell you whether such a policy is good or bad for a country containing both exporters and consumers. (Rothbard will. But Rothbard often goes too far.) By Misesian theory itself, there is no such index of economic good, no quantitative means by which one man’s advantage can balance another’s disadvantage.

Mises will tell you that policies such as these cannot be calculated. Mises is right: they cannot be calculated. As Carlyle says in his Chartism: government cannot be carried on by steam. Rather, its interventions (if intervene it must) can be calculated only by judgment.1

In any responsible position, no formula or computer (given present technology) can replace human decisions, because no formula can exhibit wisdom or exercise judgment. These essentially human qualities are essential for any responsible position, but most of all in the most responsible position of all: sovereign command.

And all organizations, big or small, public or private, military or civilian, are managed best when managed by a single executive. Hence: royalism. However he or she is selected, the title of such an executive, in a sovereign capacity, is King or Queen—or, at least, anything else is a euphemism.2 And why trade in euphemisms? Whose dogs are we?

Mises, being a liberal, is operating whether he likes it or not in the Benthamite tradition. He does not tell you that central planning is impossible; he tells you that central planning by objective process, i.e., public policy in the modern American sense, is impossible. The alternative of human judgment is one that he does not consider—both because this alternative is ideologically repugnant to him, and because his own generation had an extremely bad experience with it. (Question: who sold the Continent on blood-and-soil ethnic nationalism? Answer: well, it certainly wasn’t the bloody Tories. More below.)

So, for instance, a typical neo-Benthamite public-policy construction needs a measure of national utility, such as “GDP” (roughly, net business-to-consumer sales). Both Mises and Carlyle will tell you (a) that there is no conceivable quantification of national utility, and (b) this measure, or any other, is of no use whatsoever. A policy that decreases GDP may be good; one that increases it, evil.

To a Carlylean, any such policy of government-by-steam is a simple declaration of surrender to Satan, like leaving port 23 open on your e-commerce server. For instance, America has built an enormous debt by consuming beyond its income—thus maximizing GDP. Oops.

Good does not tolerate evil, but drives it out entirely. If you see a process inviting further evil, it may well be compromised itself. Chaos breeds more chaos; order must extirpate it entirely, or surrender to it. So again, Carlyle and Mises get the same results. If in very different ways.

When I went from Misesian to Carlylean, my vision of the ideal state did not change. I, and others like me, want to live and should be able to live in a liberal regime of spontaneous order, which is not planned from above but emerges through the natural, uncontrolled interaction of free human atoms. Hayek in particular, though no Mises, is eloquent here.

What my conversion to the cult of Carlyle has changed—completely—is my understanding of the means by which this free society must be achieved. If it exists, it must be preserved: by any means necessary (as Malcolm X used to put it). If it does not exist? Bueller? Bueller?

It is easy to see that libertarians have trouble with the means part, because they have never come anywhere close to succeeding. There is a reason for this.

Modern libertarianism is an invention of Rothbard’s, consisting entirely of Rothbardianism either straight, diluted or adulterated. Like Wicca, it may continue the beliefs of an older movement (classical liberalism), but its social links with that generation are tenuous at best. Mises himself is one such exception; he is, obviously, a rarity.

For the most part, Rothbard created libertarianism by resurrecting a 19th-century political phenomenon, that of Manchester liberalism. Absent Mises himself, this incredible fossil of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Rothbard could have worked “just from the books”—as of course I do with Carlyle. Absent Mises, he probably would have.

Rothbard was always a practical fellow—or, at least, a pragmatic one. He knew his doctrines were right, and had earned the right to rule. So he tagged along on any coach he thought would get him there—from the Black Panthers to Pat Buchanan. In a similar spirit, he revived Manchester liberalism—the political rhetoric of Cobden and Bright.

History is yet young, of course, but none of these strategies strikes me as showing any real sign of working. (Lew Rockwell, Rothbard’s organizational heir, has reversed course again and is back working the Left, along with HIV deniers, etc. Every scholar-dynasty finds its Commodus.)

Why hasn’t libertarianism worked? One thing we notice about Manchester liberalism is that, in its time, this movement was a left-wing cause. In that era, the terms left and right were used, as they are now, to mean liberal and conservative; which axes had exactly the same social and cultural connotations they do now. Nonetheless, even though the policies of 19th-century Manchester liberalism are exactly the same as those of 20th-century Rothbardian libertarians, libertarianism in 2010 is normally identified as a right-wing movement. At least, by everyone except libertarians.

If Rothbardian libertarians understood this reversal of polarities, they would understand why their means is not, and cannot be, successful. As a democratic platform, Manchester liberalism is effective from the left, but not from the right. Most tactics (as James O’Keefe is finding out) that are effective from the left, are not effective from the right. There is no such thing as effective right-wing Alinskyism—at least, not in the United States in 2010. Again, we see a missing variable in the equation. Symmetry is not guaranteed.

The libertarian has a characteristic problem in explaining his tyranny-versus-freedom political axis. The problem is that most people, when they inspect history, do see a clear political axis. The axis they see, however, is not tyranny versus freedom, or even big versus little government. It is left versus right.

Moreover, it is not just most people who appear to see the left–right axis. It appears across the spectrum, even to rightists. Rightists may mistake other rightists for leftists, or even if sufficiently misguided present themselves as such. It makes no difference. Leftists do not mistake rightists for leftists—at least, not systematically. They just don’t have that ant smell.

Right is right; left is left. The axis is real. Jonah Goldberg can call Hitler a leftist; Hitler, indeed, called Hitler a leftist, at least in the sense that he called his party a Socialist Workers’ Party. But Hitler, while a very bad rightist, was a rightist. Not to mention a lying bastard. And anyone in the ’30s with a dime’s worth of brains on a dollar knew him as such. And this includes rightists with brains, leftists with brains, and centrists with brains.

You can change the definition of the word, of course. But the phenomenon remains recognizable. Being otherwise abstract and meaningless, the terms left and right are perfect. Why try to flip them over? No good reason, I fear.

I see this Hitler-was-a-liberal trope catching on all over the right. Of course, it is a leftist trope—in two senses. First, the tactic of tarring all political adversaries with some abstruse connection to fascism in general, and Hitler in particular, is of course a characteristic tactic of the Left. Second, the tactic of disseminating a palpable misreading of history, for political purposes—etc.

To a Carlylean, Satan is the Lord of Chaos and the Father of Lies. When you lie—intentionally or unintentionally—you sacrifice a kitten to Satan. Satan loves you for this! And, since he is not uninfluential on this earth, he does what he can for you. Which is sometimes quite a bit.

The Carlylean technique accepts only absolute veracity as the basis for any political strategy. The fact is: by sacrificing the occasional kitten or two, by twisting the truth a bit for the sake of this quarter’s sales, libertarians and other rightists get nowhere. Their enemies are (a) in power today, and (b) operating an assembly-line rhinoceros abattoir for the sole benefit of His Satanic Majesty. Surely, sir, you had not thought to out-scoundrel such a bunch of scoundrels.

To a Misesian, the struggle of good and evil (so plainly displayed by history) is the struggle between tyranny and freedom. Evil is tyranny; good is freedom. As we have seen, there are problems with this perspective.

Its main problem, however, is that it must obscure the difference between left and right, which is clearly significant and qualitative. If the left–right axis does not exist, why does everyone see it? If it does exist, the up–down axis gets scraped right off by Occam’s razor. With one axis, do we need two?

To a Carlylean, the main event is the struggle between left and right. Which is the struggle between good and evil. Which is the struggle between order and chaos. Evil is chaos; good is order. Evil is left; good is right. Evil is fiction; good is truth. Gentlemen, there is no other road! The facts, it’s true, are stones between our teeth. Shall we chew these stones? If not now, when?

Note that if we find a way to make this theory work, we completely explain the Misesian perspective. Mises becomes, as promised, a subset of Carlyle. Freedom is good, because freedom is fundamentally orderly—i.e., right-wing. Tyranny is evil, because tyranny is chaotic—i.e., left-wing.

Tyranny is one form of chaos; freedom is one form of order. There are others of each, however. And order is always preferred to chaos. Thus, to a Carlylean, the fatal error of libertarianism is the confusion of anarchy and freedom. Not only are they not the same thing; they are opposite poles of the political spectrum. Freedom—spontaneous order—is the ultimate form of order. Anarchy is the ultimate form of disorder.

To a Carlylean, anarchy and tyranny are fundamentally and essentially allied and indivisible. And again: the apparent affinity between anarchy and freedom is wholly illusory. In fact: to maximize freedom, eradicate anarchy. To achieve spontaneous order: first, achieve ordinary, down-to-earth, nonspontaneous order. Then, wait a while. Then, start to relax.

Here is the Carlylean roadmap for the Misesian goal. Spontaneous order, also known as freedom, is the highest level of a political pyramid of needs. These needs are: peace, security, law, and freedom. To advance order, always work for the next step—without skipping steps. In a state of war, advance toward peace; in a state of insecurity, advance toward security; in a state of security, advance toward law; in a state of law, advance toward freedom.

The Newtonian envelope of libertarianism is the last of these stages. Once the state of lawful government is reached, that state can generally improve itself by minimizing its interventions and applying a policy of laissez-faire—advancing from enforced to spontaneous order. With the caveat, of course, that this policy not jeopardize the more important achievements of peace, security, and law.

When a state finds itself outside this Newtonian window, however, Mises and Rothbard are of no assistance whatsoever in helping it get back in. Worse: Rothbardian libertarianism can be a positive hindrance to the Carlylean roadmap.

Consider the first stage of restoring order: peace. In war, advance to peace. Now, in any war, while it may be quite difficult to identify the aggressor in a moral sense, it is generally easy to identify the aggressor in a military sense. This is the party taking the offensive—the party that would not consent to ending the war on the basis of uti possidetis, the status quo on the ground. In English: in any war, there is a party that would be happy to stop, and a party that wants more.

For a state “with the ball and moving it,” peace is easy. It can be achieved by mere forbearance. For a state on the defensive, however, there are only two means to peace: surrender, or victory.

Surrender comes in two forms: unconditional, or incremental. If unconditional surrender is necessary, it should by all means be pursued. If incremental surrender is effective, it may be pursued, but it is generally not effective. A predator will come back for more, knowing that he can get it. Incremental surrender may be associated with effective deterrence, but this is rare.

Therefore, in many cases peace can be achieved only in the Roman way: by victory. As with all military objectives, victory is achieved by any means necessary. Including artillery. Clearly, if the enemy uses artillery and you don’t, your chances of victory are greatly reduced.

But the libertarian artillery officer faces a serious moral dilemma. Does artillery violate the natural rights of the target? I would say: the entire purpose of artillery is to violate the natural rights of the target. Clearly, if you could get your hands on the people your artillery is pointed at, and subject them to a full and fair judicial trial for whatever their offenses may be, you would have no need at all for artillery. Since you have no means by which to achieve this, you subject them to a 120-mm shell instead. Hence violating their natural rights—with both blast and shrapnel. When they may have committed no offenses at all. Boom! Hey, man, that hurt.

This is war: inter arma silent leges. Or so the Romans believed. One can, of course, reverse this axiom—just as Einstein himself, on so many bumper stickers, reversed si vis pacem, para bellum. When reversing millennium-old proverbs, be sure to expect the reverse results. Perhaps they won’t happen; in that case, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Similarly, once outright military conflict is ended, peace is established. But mere peace is a low state of order. In peace, the state must work toward security.

A state is secure if it maintains a monopoly of coercion. Security does not mean the absolute absence of crime, i.e., private coercion; this is unachievable, because crime cannot be universally preempted. Security does mean the absolute absence of systematic or organized crime, as well as the absence of any other systematic resistance to state authority—from banditry to tax protest, terrorism to “civil disobedience.”

And how does this resistance become “absent?” Well, of course, it does not do so on its own. Oh, no! Au contraire, mon frère! In certain rare instances, systematic crime can be legalized, and thus become orderly. Indeed, if the state’s orders are physically unenforceable, it should reconsider them. It cannot outlaw the moon. Marijuana laws are perhaps a case of this—not due to the harmlessness of the drug, but the hardiness of the plant.

Otherwise, alas. Security is achieved when resistance is crushed. The use of artillery in this process should be unnecessary. If you need artillery, you are probably still working on the peace stage. On the other hand, the assumption that all security problems, in all cases, can be resolved by the use of rights-preserving judicial procedures, is entirely unwarranted.

Here we meet a good old friend, martial law—yet another traditional attribute of sovereignty recognized for millennia, yet strangely forgotten in the late 20th century. Martial law is no law at all, of course, but the arbitrary will of a military commander. It is really martial order. And there are countries in the world—quite a few, in fact—that need martial order, the way a camel that’s just walked across Libya needs a glass of water.

Just like artillery, martial order is an essential step in the journey from military chaos to libertarian order. A state that can win its wars with artillery, but not enforce the result with martial law, is a state whose subjects can never feel secure. Have you ever lived in a fully secure society? It’s an experience most of us can barely imagine.

But martial order is, by its nature, only temporary. As soon as it is achieved, it is time to move on to the next step: law. Once the state has suppressed all resistance to its will, it must render its own actions consistent and predictable. This result is produced by the institution of law.

Authorities differ on the merits of codified law, in the Continental style, and case law, in the Anglo-American style. While not a lawyer, or even a student of comparative law, I am inclined to be sympathetic to those who think of common law as simply a medieval abuse—a consequence of England’s unfortunate failure to distill and codify its body of precedent. Clearly, justice in the common-law system is neither especially fast, nor especially cheap, nor especially fair. It may have other advantages, but these have not revealed themselves to me.

Once again, attempts to achieve law before security simply disrupt the task of achieving security. Once security is achieved, however, law provides the inestimable boon of safety from state actors, as well as independent bandits. If official actions are lawful, they are predictable. If they are predictable, a rational person can predict them, and thus avoid infringing them. Martial “law,” by its very nature, can provide no such guarantee.

Finally, once the rule of law is achieved, the government can relax its sphincter, let down its hair, slouch a little, have a beer, and let people do what they want. It can replace enforced order with spontaneous order. It can minimize its intrusions and interventions—since it knows there is no danger that freedom will develop into disorder.

Thus applying libertarian principles of natural rights, outside the Newtonian envelope, moves a state not toward the libertarian goal of spontaneous order, but away from it—i.e., toward chaos, defeat, and destruction. Because its enemies use artillery, and it doesn’t. Its enemies do not bother with trials, and it does. Etc. Therefore it is weak, and cannot produce any order at all, spontaneous or otherwise.

Whereas to a libertarian, freedom is no more than the absence of tyranny. To achieve freedom, defeat tyranny—i.e., any government that violates natural rights. You can see how this rule, while virtuous in some cases, in others becomes a spanner in the Carlylean works, because a Carlylean artillerist may violate quite a few natural rights on his way to order.

Thus, to a libertarian of particularly anarchist bent (for instance, a strict Rothbardian anarcho-capitalist), an illusory method for producing this genuine desideratum, spontaneous order, turns traitor and serves instead as a form of chaos. Thus libertarianism can be advertised to chaotic forces, and even attract some energy from them. Frankly, young male humans are instinctively attracted to anything which reeks of chaos. It’s just a character flaw in the species.

True chaos knows its own, however. There is an anarchist bookstore a few blocks from my house. They don’t carry Rothbard, or any other “anarcho-capitalist.” They know the difference between left and right. The support base may blend at some low level, but this level is well below the liability line. More supporters is not always better.

There is actually a very easy means by which a Misesian can go past libertarianism. The means has a name: Hans-Hermann Hoppe. Professor Hoppe’s Democracy: The God That Failed is still one of the best anti-democracy tracts I’ve read, and it was most certainly the first. Professor Hoppe is no Mises, perhaps even no Rothbard, but he is certainly the leading Rothbardian scholar of the post-Rothbard era.

To remain within the Newtonian envelope, Professor Hoppe executes a stylish double-axel of libertarian ketman:

Despite the comparatively favorable portrait presented of monarchy, I am not a monarchist and the following is not a defense of monarchy. Instead, the position taken toward monarchy is this: If one must have a state, defined as an agency that exercises a compulsory territorial monopoly of ultimate decision-making (jurisdiction) and of taxation, then it is economically and ethically advantageous to choose monarchy over democracy. But this leaves the question open whether or not a state is necessary, i.e., if there exists an alternative to both, monarchy and democracy. History again cannot provide an answer to this question.

History also cannot provide an answer to the question of whether there are any blue dragons on Neptune—only that none, so far, have been observed.

It can also tell us that our species has been operating on the basis of geographic monopolies of sovereignty for roughly the last 56 million years, i.e., since the first tree-rat pissed on the first tree-branch. Perhaps we could hire some chimpanzees to experiment with multiple, overlapping protection agencies, and get back to us on that. Or we could hire the blue dragons from Neptune.

Again, we see anarchism—the pure toxin of chaos—popping up on the right. Why is that? Does it make the right more effective, or less effective? Is an anarchist right more, or less, likely to prevail, than a non-anarchist right? Will it do better, or worse, once in office?

Well, if we generalize to the history of the leftist right—that is, the right perverted to wield the weapons of the left—what we see is… well… Hitler. Left-flavored rightism is fascism. And easily recognizable as such. Fascism, in 2010, is not without enemies. So (a) it probably doesn’t work, and (b) if it works, it produces… Hitler.

Now, a little anarchism does not make Professor Hoppe into Hitler. What it does, however, is to make him much less effective. It entirely dissuades him from leaving the envelope and exploring this strange Einsteinian area, royalism. Instead, he falls back on Rothbard’s blue dragons from Neptune—competing protection agencies. We shall have neither democracy, nor anything else!

As a basically innocent person, thoroughly educated by our fine institutions of learning, having attained to hardcore, Misesian libertarianism I had attained a strangely Mohammed-esque position—halfway out of the official reality. Torso fully extruded from the great net of lies; hips still stuck.

I was ready to give up on the Jedi Council. I did not yet see the only alternative: a return to the old way of the Sith. In darkness, all roads are dark! Yet walk we must. Dark it is; and grows not lighter.

I did not see a contradiction between libertarianism and democracy. I saw libertarianism as the culmination of democracy. In my imaginary future, the obviously correct ideas of libertarianism would spread, by some process, to the minds of the masses; and, for some reason, remain there. And they would elect libertarian politicians, then and forever. Who would govern libertarianly, or whatever the proper adverb is.

I did not actually think these thoughts explicitly. Had I thought them explicitly, their aqueous character would have been apparent. I thought them implicitly, because I was a democratic libertarian. I had never reconsidered democracy. Once I reconsidered democracy, however, I could not help but notice the fundamental dependence of libertarianism on democracy. Without democracy, do we need libertarianism, per se? Would we even have thought of it?

Libertarianism is a formula for government. As we’ve seen, there are fundamental problems with the idea of any such formula. Mises quite successfully discredited nonlibertarian formulas for government, but he did not show that government by any formula is practical—including the libertarian formula.

Moreover, the entire proposition of government by formula appears motivated by a single goal: the need to design a system of government which can be enforced by democracy. Thus, libertarianism is both a method of government, and a means by which to impose that method. The method is: govern minimally (whatever precisely this may mean). The means is: convince the voting population of the need for minimal government, and ensure that they remain so convinced. Hm.

Another way to see the problem is to examine that shibboleth of libertarians—limited government. Now, the frustrated English teacher in me notes an interesting fact about this phrase: it is in the passive voice. Who shall limit the government? And how can we assure that they continue to do so? And if some other party does this limiting, who shall limit them? This is, of course, the old quis custodiet problem. To which Rothbard has no better solution than Juvenal.

Libertarians can be classified according to their wrong answers to this question. If you are a democratic libertarian, you believe that government should be limited by popular sovereignty. You also probably haven’t looked out the window in the last 200 years. If you are a judicial libertarian, you believe that government should be limited by judicial sovereignty—i.e., by a judiciary committed to Constitutional principles and the Anglo-American common law. And you haven’t looked out the window in the last 75.

The essential problem with both democratic and judicial libertarianism is that, while we see both these phenomena succeed in history, we see them—once again—succeed only on the left. English and American history is a rich trove, as Rothbard can show you, of both popular resistance to state authority, and judicial resistance to state authority. However, this resistance succeeds only when in the process of undermining some higher order, royal or aristocratic. Once the People themselves are in the saddle, they no longer listen to complaints of this form.

In the democratic system today, to ask either the electorate or the judiciary for libertarian government is to ask an empowered body to relinquish powers it has. The People have powers X, Y and Z; they use these powers to vote government services A, B, and C; if you remove these services, you must remove the powers; if you remove the powers, you disempower.

Similarly, we live in the golden age of government by judge. Most significant executive decisions in the modern system of government land, one way in another, in the lap of a judge. This is the direct result of New Deal Legal-Realist jurisprudence. And you’re asking the judiciary, itself, out of mere goodness of heart, to relinquish this fat leg of ham? You and what army?

Whereas when the likes of Coke contended with the likes of Charles I, judicially-limited government was a no-brainer. Alas, judges are men. If we had angels on this planet, we would long ago have consigned these duties to them.

Thus, again: libertarianism works for the left and fails for the right. Both sovereign electorate and sovereign judiciary are perfectly happy to restrict the powers of others, i.e., the King. Convincing them to restrict their own powers is quite a different problem. When democracy is competing against the remnants of the ancien régime, it is a force for limited government. Once it defeats and disempowers these remnants, it is a synonym for socialism.

As a post-Misesian, I am a third class of libertarian: a royalist libertarian. Which is to say, a royalist. Going where Professor Hoppe fears to tread, I set myself to the problem of finding a good King. And getting him into office—and making sure he stays there. As a royalist, I take it for granted that a good King will pursue libertarian policies, if of course they are called for.

It took me some time to get to this point. My response to reading Hoppe, therefore, was to immediately go out and scour the libraries for other works against democracy—libertarian or not. Since I expected these works to violate my sense of common decency, I was prepared for the smell of sulfur. I found quite a few. There are indeed quite a few—though few post-1945. In general, the older the anti-democracy treatise, the better, although the High Victorians are a brilliant exception.

Thus I found Carlyle. Who smells of sulfur, indeed. He speaks what he sees in a sulfurous world. Which, as he predicted and as indeed came true, would get a lot more sulfurous. Once Carlyle shows you the Devil, you are not long unconscious of his presence!

Here is a simple Carlylean puzzle for Misesians. Answer the following questions:

  1. Do you live in a city? If not, why not?
  2. If so, can you safely walk anywhere in that city, at any time of day?
  3. If not, what authority is restricting your freedom?

Your answers will reveal that either (a) the planet you live in is not Earth as we know it, or (b) your natural rights are most directly and saliently threatened not by official forces, but unofficial forces. I.e.: not by the police, but by criminals. Duh.

Note the enormous explosion in crime over the period of leftist ascendancy—as Carlylean theory would suspect, and as Carlyle himself in fact predicted. For example, if we go back to A Study in Scarlet, we see Holmes with an interesting complaint:

“There are no crimes and no criminals in these days,” he said, querulously. “What is the use of having brains in our profession? I know well that I have it in me to make my name famous. No man lives or has ever lived who has brought the same amount of study and of natural talent to the detection of crime which I have done. And what is the result? There is no crime to detect, or at, most some bungling villany with a motive so transparent that even a Scotland Yard official can see through it.”

Official statistics confirm that crime in England has increased roughly by a factor of 50 since Conan Doyle wrote. His Holmes stories, of course, were set in the real world of his present—indeed, their success depended on their close attention to detail.

So we see that an English government of the Victorian era—without DNA testing or closed-circuit TV—managed to largely abolish crime. We also see that the present-day government of England (and of other places governed in the same way) pretends to want to abolish crime—but to be unable to do so. Are we inclined to doubt this pretence? We are. Are we entitled to doubt it? We certainly are.

But if this pretence is indeed a pretence, if crime can indeed be abolished by enforcement, we accuse the present regime of something very serious. It becomes an accessory to this crime, which it could have abolished but chose not to. Furthermore, rather than admitting to this (somewhat) unprecedented abuse, it chose to deny the fact, and plead an obviously farcical incompetence. Certainly, when the SS removed police protection from the Jews of Riga, the SS made itself morally responsible for the subsequent pogrom by the Latvians of Riga. Even if all the Obersturmführers were on their lunch break, or whatever.

Therefore, the simplest way for a libertarian to support natural rights in his own society is to support a savage police crackdown on crime. For instance, by reimposing the standards and practices of the Victorian law-enforcement system, certainly both available and practical.

Inevitably some mistakes will be made; some innocent heads will be cracked. However, as a libertarian in America, exercising your libertarian rights, your goal is to minimize the number of natural-rights violations in America—whoever may be committing them, and in whatever uniform. Hence, you should generally support the police against criminals. The former violate natural rights only by accident and/or malfeasance, whereas the latter do so as a matter of regular procedure. In practice, it is not hard to know who is the cop, and who the criminal.

Unleash the blue wave! As Travis Bickle put it, someday a real rain will wash all the scum off these streets. That rain is on the way. Its name is President Brown. “You will croak, you little clown / When you mess with President Brown! And after that rain, preventive-detention facilities will spring up like puffballs, as America’s streets are scrubbed clean as diamonds and left as safe as the White House lawn.

This is, of course, one version of Rothbard—the Rothbard of the Rothbard-Rockwell Report, somewhat exaggerated but not absurdly so. There are various libertarian excuses as to why this natural elaboration of libertarian principles is inappropriate, I know. But I have never seen one worthy of remembering.

The details of this “blue-wave libertarianism” are not important. What’s important is that the Rothbardian theory contradicts itself. Applying strictly Rothbardian methods—the sovereign should restrict itself to the task of minimizing natural-rights violations—we have reached a remarkably non-Rothbardian result. From the aprioristic praxeology of human action, we deduce Joe Arpaio. There may be nothing wrong with this answer—but it seems strange. At least, from a Misesian perspective.

When encountering this formula, right is right and left is wrong, first popularized by the great Austrian reactionary Kuehnelt-Leddihn (who, by the way, is a good read after Professor Hoppe; if nothing else, they host his books at LvMI, so they must approve), great care is necessary.

Yes. I do believe this: right is right and left is wrong. But only the pure article. Right, pure right, is right and left is wrong. As for any mixture of the two—only the Devil knows. The two great totalitarian tyrannies of the 20th century are both mixtures of right and left, order and chaos—in which both strains are prominent. If it is possible to be more Satanic than mere anarchy alone, these mixtures proved it.

For instance, if right is right and left is wrong, must we side with the right in all the major political and military struggles of the 19th and 20th centuries? If so, we find ourselves siding with not only the Nazis, but also the Kaiser, the Sultan, and the Confederates. Which may be correct—but again, suggests an additional self-test is necessary.

The answer is that where we see atrocities of the right, we tend to see a right-wing system whose order is seriously contaminated with some fundamentally chaotic element. For example, out of many reactionary elements in the late Weimar Republic, the Nazis emerged triumphant. Why?

Because, National Socialism was best-adapted to succeeding in the democratic system of Weimar. For instance, because of its anti-Semitism (an unsophisticated, lower-class prejudice), it could offer up the scapegoat of “organized Jewry.” It could set the majority, like dogs, on the minority. Fresh meat! The Tatkreis crowd, for instance, had no such bait to fling the mob. We have no idea what the national conservatives of Germany would have done after Weimar. Weimar could never have elected them, and they had no way of overthrowing it.

Furthermore, we again see the use of leftist tropes by a rightist movement. How did Hitler come by German nationalism? Where did this bug come from? Well, perhaps it came over the Alps from Italian nationalism. Or across the Danube from Hungarian nationalism. Or…

With the notable exception of (later) German and (sometimes) French nationalisms, all the nationalist movements in Europe are pet projects of the British (and American) liberal. (Yes, that same Manchester liberal—mostly, though not entirely.) Mazzini, Garibaldi, Kossuth, etc., etc., etc.: all cheered by great crowds when they come to London. (Whereas General Hyaena is lucky to escape with his life.)

It is not obvious that ethnic nationalism makes any sense except in the context of democracy. Thus, we see the two as coinfections, like Kaposi’s sarcoma and AIDS. The Nazis, fighting against democracy, pick up this Kaposi’s sarcoma and use it as a weapon in the opposite direction. Once again, I would recommend very strongly against this trick. Not only were the results extraordinarily dire the one time it did (sort of) work, it’s generally just a way to alert the immune system. Thus again, we see the practical advantage of absolute veracity.

But there is a still greater difference. When proselytizing toward a libertarian or any other red republican, a royalist has another easy question to start with. What is the difference between Frederick the Great and Hitler? Both, after all, exercised absolute personal authority over a country of Germans. Yet refugees fled from Hitler’s Germany; to Frederick’s Prussia. Was this predictable? If so, how?

Until you understand the difference between a king and a dictator, you will continue to confuse the timeless human institution of monarchy with these monstrous 20th-century abortions. In truth, the dictatorships of the 20th century were attempts to restore the vitality of the old regime. The bad ones were just bad attempts. Bad is bad; anything can be done badly, monarchy and democracy certainly both included.

Hitler himself was a huge Carlyle fan. But Hitler was also Hitler. If you don’t understand the difference between Hitler and Frederick, it is not because you are ignorant of Hitler! The educated person of our time has a remarkably accurate picture of Nazi Germany. Of all the historical periods he understands, he understands the Third Reich best—usually, much better than his own present day. His view of the democratic regime, which survives, is shrouded in democratic euphemism; his view of the Nazi regime, which does not, is free from Nazi cant. And of the actual old regime, he knows nothing at all.

There are many differences between Hitler and Frederick, but perhaps the key one is stability. Frederick, while not intrinsically secure from his foreign enemies, was quite secure from any domestic opposition. No one was trying to kill him; no one could have accomplished anything by killing him. He was, in short, a monarch. A dead monarch is replaced, automatically, by another monarch—the identity of whom is already known. If the old monarch was assassinated, God forbid, the new monarch is generally not the assassin (or his employers).

Not so for a dictator! People were trying to kill Hitler all the time, and it’s a Satanic miracle that none of them succeeded. If, say, Elser’s bomb had worked, it would have changed the course of history. There was no Hitler 2.0, or vice-Hitler, or Son of Hitler, waiting in the wings. Hitler, for all his faults, was one of a kind. Thus, the incentive was considerable.

And thus, Hitler—unlike Frederick—has to devote considerable effort to shoring up his sovereignty, which is by no means secure. He has to scapegoat the Jews and fight the Communists, for instance; his sovereignty depends on his popularity, and he is popular because he fights these popular enemies. Otherwise, what’s the point of Hitler?

Hitler is also noted for his “two in a box” management style, in which he gives multiple subordinates the same job and lets them fight it out. This is generally not recommended at Harvard Business School. And so on. Thus, irrespective of his (dubious) sanity, Hitler has a rational motivation for tyranny. His regime is inherently violent, thus inherently chaotic.

The same, but far worse, is true for Hitler’s great adversary—Stalin. One of the most amazing documents of the 20th century is the Webbs’ essay Is Stalin a Dictator?. Their answer, of course, is no:

Sometimes it is asserted that, whereas the form may be otherwise, the fact is that, whilst the Communist Party controls the whole administration, the Party itself, and thus indirectly the whole state, is governed by the will of a single person, Josef Stalin.

First let it be noted that, unlike Mussolini, Hitler and other modern dictators, Stalin is not invested by law with any authority over his fellow-citizens, and not even over the members of the Party to which he belongs…

In other words, Stalin is not a dictator because (unlike Hitler) he is not legally a dictator. On paper, he is just what his title says he is: general secretary of the CPSU. A purely clerical position. As the title, of course, implies.

In real life, of course, Stalin was a dictator. Which made his position rather precarious! By the nominal collective, bottom-up, democratic structure of the Communist Party (completely absent, of course, in the Nazi Party), Stalin was a mere clerk. In the actual, unwritten reality, he was a Tsar.

Thus, the capacity of this system to revert from its informal Tsarism, to its formal “democratic centralism,” was on every second of every day latent. Formally, officially, Stalinism is an ultra-democratic, left-wing, bottom-up form of government. Actually, unofficially, it is an ultra-despotic, right-wing, top-down form of government. The contradiction is quite great. Here is our chaos: black and white, sharing a single desk. Stalin has the power of the Tsars, but not the security of the Tsars.

No wonder Stalin killed so many old Communists. He had to. At least, once he started. He was riding the tiger. After Stalin died, Beria tried to take Stalin’s place and hold this system together. A lot of bad things have been said about Beria and no doubt most of them are true, but no one to my knowledge has ever described him as a pussy.

So he lasted surprisingly long: almost four months. After that, of course, he was shot. The Soviet Union never had a true dictator again. It did not become a democracy, of course, but an oligarchy. Later general secretaries were strictly primus inter pares among the Politburo.

Thus we see the chaos implicit in tyranny. The tyrant is depraved, on account of he’s deprived. Regardless of his personal mental stability, the instability of his regime compels him to tyrannize. Of course, if he’s a paranoid sadist, this may compel him as well; and indeed, this tendency may aid him in getting the job. It certainly is not a qualification for monarchy.

Dictatorship, of course, can evolve into monarchy. Every historical monarchy has originated as, in some sense, a dictatorship. Caesar’s is a good example. But if a dictatorship is to make this transition, if it is to achieve stability and permanence, it had better be designed to do so. 20th-century dictatorships were designed primarily to fit the needs of the processes that brought them to power. These were ugly processes, with no particular affection for stability and permanence. Hence, they bred tyrants. Only tyrants could harness the evil, chaotic power of these democracies gone wrong.

As a royalist, I favor absolute monarchy in the abstract sense: unconditional personal authority, subject to some responsibility mechanism. I am not an adherent of any particular dynasty, nor do I favor the hereditary principle as a method for royal selection; I prefer another political innovation of the Elizabethan era, the joint-stock company. I feel the State should be operated as a profitable corporation governed proportionally by its beneficiaries.

But given a binary choice between restoring the Stuarts, or sticking with the Anglo-American republican tradition, I would restore the Stuarts. At worst, an absolute President could even be elected by universal suffrage. Though, if you want a Hitler, this is how to get one.

I feel I have done a reasonable job of advertising Carlyle—or, at least, explaining Carlyle. But is my advertising true? And didn’t I ask you to read Carlyle, before reading about Carlyle? If so, shall we not shit, or get off the pot?

So: enough abstractions of personal government. Let’s look at a real example. And let’s pick a Carlyle essay which is challenging, yet understandable. You’ve swallowed the theory. Now, the practice. If you can get this red pill down, you’re cured. If not—well, you’re probably normal. It’s okay. Most people are.

Ill-informed leftist slurs to the contrary, General Pinochet is not exactly a popular, much-praised figure in libertarian circles. And not one libertarian in a thousand has even heard of his 19th-century Paraguayan counterpart—the subject of Carlyle’s magnificent Dr. Francia (1843).

If you are interested in joining the weird cult of Carlyle, Dr. Francia is perhaps the best introduction. For one thing, it is one of the earliest works of Carlyle’s later, politically incorrect period—which, if you are a busy person, is the only period you need to read. For another, you know even less about the real Dr. Francia than Carlyle did.

Carlyle—no dilettante belletrist, but one of his century’s more diligent documentary historians—frankly confesses the utter inadequacy of his sources. It is unclear that they have improved. Paraguayan Studies is not one of the University’s more popular majors. Please read Dr. Francia before you go Googling about for the actual Dr. Francia—it is not at all clear to me that Wikipedia’s picture is any clearer than that of the aqueous Robertsons’ Letters on Paraguay. With which it seems so synoptic. But could the Robertsons just be right? Who knows? Ah, the dark past.

And if you do read Dr. Francia, and are still shocked, there is only one cure. You are shocked because you are considering the matter in itself, on an absolute scale. You are not comparing it to the alternative. So why not have a look at the alternative?

Dear reader: I am proud to recommend the first must-see movie, or at least Internet video, of 2010. This is Shane Smith’s Vice Guide to Liberia. “We here at Vice have been fascinated by Liberia for a long time…” Thus do we learn of the cannibal warlord General Butt Naked. So, which would you prefer? Dr. Francia? Or General Butt Naked? Apples to apples, dear reader.

1. The relevant quote in Chartism appears in the context of statistics:

Statistics is a science which ought to be honorable, the basis of many most important sciences; but it is not to be carried on by steam, this science, any more than others are. A wise head is requisite for carrying it on.

The extension of this logic to government is straightforward.

2. As discussed briefly later in this chapter, Moldbug generally favors a model based on a joint-stock company in which the “King” is a replaceable CEO. For a more detailed discussion of this model, see Chapter 4 of A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations and Patchwork: A Political System for the 21st Century.