Book Review: Sister Revolutions

The West Coast Libertarian Foundation website has been offline for a while as it had been hacked. It is now on a more secure server and hopefully won’t be subject to further attacks. It had been quite a while since anyone had posted a new article here in any event, so to relaunch it I am posting my most recent article from my personal blog, The Jolly Libertarian.

On another note I have started recreating the wealth of newsletters from the early days of the libertarian movement in Vancouver and will  keep adding to it over time. It is a rich historical record of the movement and should be preserved as such. 

Book Review: Sister Revolutions by Susan Dunn
reviewed by Marco den Ouden

Sister Revolutions by Susan Dunn is an intriguing read. Subtitled French Lightning, American Light, it compares the American Revolution and the French Revolution. It was recommended to me by a conservative friend who argues that the American Revolution was a conservative revolution, not a Lockean liberal one as argued by American political scientist Louis Hartz in his book The Founding of New Societies.

The subtitle comes from American Founding Father Gouverneur Morris. Morris was one of the few to speak out against slavery at the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention. He lambasted the idea that the Southern states should have their representation increased by counting every slave as 3/5 of a person even though they were not recognized as free men. James Madison paraphrased him thus:

The admission of slaves into the Representation when fairly explained comes to this: that the inhabitant of Georgia and S. C. who goes to the Coast of Africa, and in defiance of the most sacred laws of humanity tears away his fellow creatures from their dearest connections & damns them to the most cruel bondages, shall have more votes in a Govt. instituted for protection of the rights of mankind, than the Citizen of Pa. or N. Jersey who views with a laudable horror, so nefarious a practice.

Morris is also noted as the author of the Preamble to the Constitution:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Morris was charmed by French society, but as Dunn puts it, “he was unimpressed by the French ‘Leaders of Liberty’ who seemed to wish to annihilate much that was precious in France.” He viewed them as radicals with no experience in government. In his Diary of the French Revolution (he was appointed America’s minister to France in 1792) he wrote that the French “have taken Genius instead of Reason for their Guide, adopted Experiment instead of Experience, and wander in the Dark because they prefer Lightning to Light.” (Quoted in Dunn page 39)

Dunn’s thesis is that there were fundamental differences between the two revolutions. The American revolutionaries were practical men with experience in government. They were not wild-eyed visionaries off to remake society holus bolus. The French, however, were ideologues, philosophes with an abstract vision for a perfect society. They wanted to tear out the old regime by its roots and replace it completely. They distorted a lofty vision into justification for the bloodthirsty excesses of the Jacobins and the Reign of Terror.

The Americans wanted to have the same rights as any Englishman, rights they saw usurped. They fought to regain what they had lost. The French were out to overthrow what they saw as an unjust and corrupt system.

Ironically, the French king Louis XVI sympathized with the American revolutionaries and bankrupted the French treasury supporting the American cause. As Dunn puts it, “Louis XVI could not imagine that within a decade his generosity would egregiously worsen the economic crisis in France, subvert all traditional values, destabilize the monarchy,  and put his own life in jeopardy.” (6)

The help of the French in 1780 with the Marquis de Lafayette at their helm proved to be “the turning point of the war.” The decisive battle of the American Revolution, the battle of Yorktown, had more Frenchmen than Americans fighting against the British. Without French help the war could have been lost.

Dunn starts off the book by using Lafayette as a connecting thread between the two. She points out that

the sister revolutions of the eighteenth century hold invaluable lessons for our contemporary democracies. Not only do they illuminate our political assumptions, beliefs, and ideas, but they also help us to take the temperature of our political cultures, to diagnose our political ills, and to prescribe remedies for them. (25)

Dunn argues that the two revolutions took different courses because each was based on a different idea, a different ethos. While both were ostensibly based on the idea of the rights of man, the interpretations of that lofty goal differed.

The American was motivated by a philosophy of diversity that focused on protecting individual rights. It recognized that men varied in their interests and ambitions, in their tastes and goals. Anticipating Isaiah Berlin’s value pluralism, they fought to protect the rights of individuals and minorities.

The American Revolution was led by men experienced in politics. All the principals had or were serving in various state legislatures. They knew the value of and necessity for negotiation and compromise.

The French, on the other hand, were visionaries and dreamers without any practical experience. And while the Americans were concerned with diversity and the rights of minorities, the French believed in unity. They saw France as a united nation, united in its ideals. United in its vision.

Dunn characterizes this difference as one of evolution versus revolution. And while an older Thomas Jefferson, the most radical of the American revolutionaries, supported the French cause, the Declaration of Independence he penned as a younger man was tempered. It was, as Dunn puts it

a document simultaneously backward- and forward-looking, upbraiding the king for interfering with Americans’ traditional freedoms and boldly announcing a new society based on the individual’s unalienable rights. Unlike the older Jefferson who would yearn for freedom from history, the younger Jefferson anchored his Declaration in tradition and history. (51)

Americans welcomed change. They lived in a dynamic and uncharted territory. On the other hand, England was mired in stagnation. “The dread of innovation there,” Jefferson noted, ” has, I fear, palsied the spirit of improvement.” (quoted on page 52)

The Americans recognized that conflict among human beings was inevitable. The consensus reached at the 1787 Constitutional Conference was based on compromise. The American leaders “toiled six days a week on the new Constitution, hammering out compromise measures, from the problem of representation in Congress for smaller states to the issue of counting slaves in the representation of the South.” (53)

But the key element, according to Dunn, is the recognition that conflict is part of human nature. Indeed conflict ensued from the get-go after the Constitution was “agreed to and signed in Philadelphia.” Dissension between Federalists and anti-Federalists was rife. While the Federalist James Madison was troubled by these conflicts, he also welcomed them. His essay in The Federalist No. 10 promoting acceptance of the Constitution by the anti-Federalists (the Constitution still had to be ratified by the states) was focused on diversity and conflict.

Madison’s plan for American government gave free rein to citizens to act in their own self-interest, to form factions, to enter into conflict with one another, and the predictable result would be disorder and tumult. The government would make no attempt to eliminate conflict – that is, non-violent and rational contention – only to moderate it and provide channels for it. (54)

But while the Americans embraced conflict and diversity of thought, in France

the momentum  of the Revolution was toward order, not tumult, towards oneness, not multiplicity. Far from accepting diversity and conflict, the French worshipped homogeneity and unanimity. Their leaders believed the salvation of the Revolution depended above all on absolute unity and solidarity of the people. According to their revolutionary agenda, three orders – nobility, clergy, and Third Estate – would become one, 25 million citizens would form one unitary people. All would sacrifice their self-interest for the common good of all; diverse opinions would yield to consensus. (55)

Madison recognized that “citizens are individuals and that as individuals they are all different.” For Madison, “the principle of diversity seemed embedded in human nature.”

Madison argued that rational people view issues in different ways because reason is essentially imperfect. “As long as the reason of man continues fallible,” he maintained, “and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed.” (55)

Dunn goes on to cite the influence of Machiavelli who wrote that tumult was “the guardian of Roman liberties.”  (The Discourses)

Meanwhile the French Revolution was  heavily influenced by the writings of Emmanuel Sieyès, a forty year old priest who wrote a pamphlet called What is the Third Estate? “Sieyès was Madison’s French counterpart, the artisan of revolutionary ideology.” (59)

Sieyès urged the abolition of the Estates General and the formation of one National Assembly. “The nation and the Third Estate, he insisted, were one.” The nation could do without the nobility and the clergy. He, himself, renounced his privileges as a member of the clergy and was elected to the National Assembly “as a representative of the Third Estate.” (60)

The key to Sieyès’s vision of a new France – and the concept that shaped the Revolution’s politics and became its mantra – was unity. (60)

“The nation, one and indivisible” became the rallying cry for the Revolution.

People swore oaths to it, agreed to die for it, and denounced traitors to it. The salvation of France and the success of the Revolution appeared to hinge on the indivisibility of the nation. (61)

Dunn notes the influence here of Rousseau’s theory of the General Will. “Composed of this one order, the nation would possess one single will and could therefore deliberate and legislate purposefully and effectively.” Sieyès

conceived the Third Estate not as a diverse population of heterogenous individuals each acting in his own self-interest, but rather as a homogenous mass devoted to the common good. This philosopher-politician, more comfortable with abstract ideas than with unruly human beings, envisioned all members of the Third Estate not only as equal but also as like-minded, sharing the same opinions, ideals, and revolutionary goals. Indeed, the hallmark of a citizen was the commonality he shared with other citizens. (61)

Any incidental differences were “beyond the sphere of citizenship.”

This was in direct contrast to Madison’s vision who saw “only the interests and wills of diverse citizens and factions, all competing for influence and power.”

The upshot of this was two completely different political outcomes. The Americans developed a Constitution and a government based on the idea that there would always be contentious issues and contentious factions. Thus the Constitution was devised as a system of checks and balances with countervailing powers to prevent any faction or group from attaining dominance. The Executive branch and the Legislative branch and the Judiciary were independent and separate. And the Legislative branch was further divided into the House of Representatives and the Senate, each again designed to provide countervailing powers.

Dunn notes that for Rousseau, “true freedom consists in choosing to obey the General Will.” Americans saw heterogenous individuals, each free “to act as they wished, in a variety of diverse ways, and pursue their self-interest and happiness as they conceived them.” (62)

Madison proposed “a kind of ‘negative freedom,’ freedom from constraint,” while Rousseau plumped for a positive freedom, “freedom for some higher good, for the enjoyment of a moral life as a citizen devoted to the common good.”

In Rousseau’s utopia, “the General Will has come to dominate all of society and its laws. Every citizen must submit to its infallible, unlimited authority.” (63) “What king ever ruled so absolutely,” Dunn asks sardonically.

In a famous line from The Social Contract, Rousseau writes “Whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be constrained to do so by the whole body: which means nothing else than that he shall be forced to be free.” (emphasis added)

Not surprisingly, the French Revolutionaries known as the Jacobins, once gaining power, started to root out heretics. The ones who would not submit to being “forced to be free” became fodder for the guillotine. Dunn provides some salutary quotes.

Factions, Sieyès declared, “create the most fearsome public enemies.” “No one knows better than I,” proclaimed Mirabeau, “that the salvation of everything and of every one resides in social harmony and in the annihilation of all factions.” “I abhor any kind of government,” Robespierre stated succinctly, “that includes factious men.” “We will not permit a single heterogenous body in the Republic.” pronounced the delegate Garnier. (88)

The Reign of Terror started to consume the moderate elements. The Girondins, also promoters of the cult of unity, were prosecuted for “undermining the indivisibility of the Republic.” Dunn notes that “the historian Michelet remarked that no hypocrisy colored the trial, for absolutely no attempt was made to follow legal procedure. The sole purpose of the trials, he lamented, was to murder the opposition.” (90)

The trial, Dunn suggests, was “probably the single most catastrophic blow to political pluralism.” The original Constitution of the revolutionary government had maintained the inviolability of members of the National Assembly so they all could speak freely. That protection had been revoked six months before the trial. Now the leading Girondins mounted five tumbrels to take them to the guillotine.

The rabid and blood-thirsty Marat had declared the new mantra: “Let us strike down the traitors wherever they may be.” The Jacobin St, Just proclaimed that “what constitutes a republic is the total destruction of everything that stands in opposition to it.”

Robespierre and the Jacobins did away with legal procedure as it hampered the effort at purging diverse elements within France. Dunn notes that “Robespierre even indicated that a purge of the majority of citizens was not unthinkable, for he had come to believe that most of the people in France were the dupes of the Revolution’s enemies.” (93)

Indeed, a famous cartoon from 1793 shows Robespierre guillotining the executioner after everyone in France has been killed.
Dunn elaborates on this theme throughout the book, looking at issues of leadership, conflict versus consensus, differing styles of revolutionary language, a close look at the differing concepts of rights and the legacies of these two great revolutions.
Discussing rights, she discusses the struggle to include a Bill of Rights in the American Constitution. She contrasts the American Bill of Rights with the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. The former focused on the rights of the individual and served as a restraint on government. It proclaimed limits to what government could do. The latter was hedged with ifs and buts.
In the American bill you’ll see lines like “Congress shall make no law…”, “The right… shall not be infringed.”, “No soldier… shall be quartered….”, etc. As Dunn puts it, “The limits of governmental power, the lines it may not cross, are sharply drawn.” (145)
She gives a section on the French declaration the title of “LIBERTY BUT…” (151) She notes the grand phrases such as “Men are born and remain free and equal in their rights.” or “The goal of all political associations is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security and resistance to oppression.”

But reading a little closer, one discovers a troubling list of conditions, provisos, and exceptions to those rights: “Liberty consists in being able to do whatever does not harm others” (Article 4). “The law may rightfully prohibit only those actions that are harmful to society” (Article 3). “The exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those that  assure other members of society the enjoyment of those same rights” (Article 4). (152)

“The freedom of ‘Man’ may be unambiguous,” she writes, “but the freedom of the ‘Citizen’ has many boundaries.”

The rights of the community took precedence. The emphasis that the Revolution always placed on the unity of the nation was translated into rights for the group as a unitary whole, not for autonomous, self-interested, or potentially disruptive individuals or minorities.” (152)

Rights for the French, became “irreconcilable with the expression of opposition and conflict.” She suggests it is significant that “the right to assemble peacefully” is absent from the French document. It “betray(s) the French apprehension that organized groups and factions would disrupt social order as well as the people’s unity.” (153)

The Americans “sought to protect individuals and minorities from an oppressive majority” while the French declaration “was founded on the fear that self-interested individuals and ‘particularistic’ minorities could disrupt the harmony and collective well-being of the nation.”

The Americans emphasized the individual, the French the collective. She emphasizes, though, that it was not so much the language of the declaration as “the French revolutionary belief system – the ideology of unity and the concomitant unwillingness to protect minorities” that spelled doom for the idea of rights in France.

She concludes with some reflections on problems with the American system, notably its tendency towards bureaucracy and the slow pace of change. She shares Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor’s lament that the American democratic ideal of checks and balances restricts “the formation of democratic majorities around meaningful programs that can then be carried to completion. (The Malaise of Modernity page 115)

She sees the value in the recognition of the rights of minorities but feels it hamstrings collective action. She ends up by lauding the British parliamentary system which she sees as a hybrid of the American and French approach. She sees it as protecting both the rights of individuals while recognizing the prerogative of the executive (the Cabinet and the Prime Minister’s Office) to take effective action for the common good. This is one area of the book I disagree with her on but won’t go into an elaborate discussion.

Indeed the philosopher Karl Popper in his book The Open Society and Its Enemies argues that the question of who should rule is the wrong question to ask. Rather the questions should be “How can we so organize political institutions that bad or incompetent rulers can be prevented from doing too much damage?” (page 121 of Vol. 1) This was precisely the goal of the American founders.

This leads to what Popper calls piecemeal social change, an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary approach. And this is what, ideally, the American Constitution is about.

Sister Revolutions is a brilliant little book. A joy to read and ponder on.

Other Links of Interest

Two Exciting Conferences

Two Exciting Conferences this coming weekend!

There are two exciting conferences coming up this weekend. The first is on Saturday organized by the Students for Liberty at Simon Fraser University. Its focus is freedom of speech and the event is called Freedom to Offend. Preregistration is required at their website. The featured event will be a debate between Lauren Southern and Walter Block on Open Borders.

  • Event: Right to Offend
  • Location: Simon Fraser University, Shrum Science B9200
  • Date: Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016
  • 10 AM to 7 PM
  • Conference Website
  • Facebook Page
  • Featured speakers: Amir Nasr, Lauren Southern, Walter Block, Janice Fiamengo, David Clement
  • Schedule:
    • 09.00 Registration
    • 10.00 Theryn Meyer: Opening Statements
    • 10.15 Lauren SouthernThe Future of Free Speech in Canada
    • 10.30 Lauren Southern Q&A
    • 10.50 BREAK
    • 11.00 David Clement
    • 11.45 David Clement Q&A
    • 12.00 Group Picture
    • 12.10 Lunch
    • 13.10 Janice Fiamengo
    • 13.55 Janice Fiamengo Q&A
    • 14.10 BREAK
    • 14.20 Comedy Routine! James Burr & Chuck Sease
    • 14.50 Debate: Lauren Southern v. Walter Block
    • 15.20 Post Debate Q&A
    • 15.50 BREAK
    • 16.00 Amir NasrRenewing a Politics of Civility
    • 16.45 Amir Nasr Q&A
    • 17.00 Theryn Meyer: Debate Results + Closing Statements
    • 17.15 Post-Conference Meet & Greet
    • 18.00 Generation Screwed Pub Night (150 free drink tickets!)

The second event is the Sons and Daughters of Anarchy meeting on Sunday. Organized by Victor Pross, this has become a popular twice yearly event.

  • Event: Sons and Daughters of Anarchy
  • Location: Yuk Yuks, 2837 Cambie Street, Vancouver
  • Date: Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016
  • Time: 4:30 – 8:30 PM
  • Cover Charge: $7
  • Facebook Page
  • Featured speakers: Robert Kruger (5 PM), Amanda Rachwitz (6 PM), Victor Pross (7 PM), Walter Block (8 PM)

B.C. Libertarian Party Convention

B.C. Libertarian Party Convention Oct. 8th

Members please note that the Libertarian Party of British Columbia will be holding its convention on October 8th. Details here.

  • Date: October 8, 2016
  • Time: 10 AM – 3 PM
  • Location: Room 560 at Columbia College, 438 Terminal Ave, Vancouver

The Libertarian Party of Canada’s Regional Caucus will be holding a meeting immediately after. Same location. Details here:

  • Date: October 8, 2016
  • Time: 3 PM – 6 PM
  • Location: Room 560 at Columbia College, 438 Terminal Ave, Vancouver

Nationhood Means Nothing

Recently Paul Geddes, VP of the West Coast Libertarian Foundation, received a letter from the head of a writing group putting together a book to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation next year. The general theme is “What is it to be a Canadian?” The writer was seeking input from various sectors of society including Canadian political parties. Paul received the letter as VP of the BC Libertarian Party.

No doubt the writer was expecting all sorts of mom and apple pie contributions – flag waving jingoism. I’m not sure how the writer will receive Paul’s contribution or if he will even use it. But it is, frankly, brilliant. Here it is for your consideration.

Nationhood Means Nothing

I reside in Canada (geographically) but not psychologically. I have close family members living on three continents under five national jurisdictions. If local satraps make my stay in this location too onerous, it will be costly, but I can move. My ancestors choose this jurisdiction to better their lives. If our officials make this location uncompetitive in the world market for talent, we (their descendants) will seek out better opportunities elsewhere.

I see calls for loyalty to Canada as nothing more than special interest groups making claims against my freedom, my earnings and/or my property. I do not understand why I should feel a sense of generosity towards those who just happen to reside in the same geographic location as me. I do not understand flag waving or the need to spoil sporting events with anthems to petty nationhood. I can understand the pleasures of local art, but don’t see how adding a nation’s name to such adds any value. I see “Canada” as a man-made artificial division of parts of us from the rest of mankind. It consists of barriers to trade and communication and makes those stuck within its borders poorer and less free than we need be.

I have a picture on my wall of the gravestone of a great uncle who gave up his life (as near as I can tell from his letters) for God and King (WWI) I often wonder what his death accomplished and how alien he would feel about Canada today. Those pictures of acres of similar gravestones, should make you pause and wonder about the wisdom of following the dictates of national leaders.

In short, I look forward to a future without border guards. Where I don’t have to respond to nosy bureaucrats asking me my business or confiscating my purchases. Where being Canadian is just a fact about birth in a particular location, meaning nothing more.

Paul Geddes, Vice President , BC Libertarian Party

Check Out My Own Personal Blog

Marco here.  I started my own personal blog on Aug. 30th called The Jolly Libertarian. Although I will still post the occasional post here, they will usually be posted at my personal site first. You’ll find it here.  The Jolly Libertarian

I have been meaning to get more back issues of various libertarian newsletters from the 80s and 90s up and will post updates here when I do.


Book Review: In Defense of the Corporation by Robert Hessen

Reviewed by Marco den Ouden

There has been a lot of antagonism towards corporations. Surprisingly, not all of it from the left. I’ve come across a fair number of Facebook posts and articles from purported libertarians condemning the corporation as a creation of the state, and arguing that corporations wouldn’t exist in a true free market economy.

The primary arguments that the corporation is a creature of the state are threefold – that the corporation has entity status ( it can sue and be sued in its own name, own property, and do all the things a legal person can), that it has perpetual life (that it exists beyond the lifespan of any individual share owner, effectively in perpetuity if it doesn’t fold or go bankrupt) and that its share holders have limited  liability.

These arguments are not new.  Robert Hessen, in this excellent short book (115 pages), sets out to demolish these arguments and he does so with logic and rigor. The book came out in 1979 and was a response to the call for federal chartering and rigid control over corporations in 1973 and 1976 books from Ralph Nader.

The argument that corporations are a creature of the state is called the concession theory of corporations. They exist as a concession of government. Hessen argues that this was once true. It is a relic of the days of absolute monarchy when businesses could not operate unless they sought permission from the sovereign.

And early America followed a similar route.  In 1832, the authors of the first treatise on corporations in America wrote that “The state, or commonwealth, stands in the place of the King.” This view persisted, even though the nature of corporations changed significantly. Frederick Maitland, in 1900, wrote “The corporation is, and must be, the creature of the State. Into its nostrils the State must breathe the breath of a fictitious life.”

Hessen expertly traces the history of corporations and argues that the nature of corporations changed from a privilege granted by the state (which had to be petitioned for) to a pro forma contract which the government was obliged to provide to any and all comers who satisfied the minimum requirements for incorporation.  This revolution in thinking began in 1837 when Connecticut passed the first such statute.

As Hessen puts it, “instead of obtaining a special charter from the state legislature, the promoters of a corporation merely had to file certain information with an official of the state government.”  The reason for this change was, in fact, a public backlash against special privileges and monopolies being granted to some favoured friends with political connections.  In other words, a backlash against crony capitalism. Now anyone that wanted to create a corporation could do so by filing an application and they could not be refused.

Hessen compares it to marriage. A marriage is a contract. When formalizing the marriage in a registry after the wedding, the state is not creating the marriage partnership. The marriage partnership is not in any way a “creature of the state”. And so it is with corporations. Modern incorporation laws are merely formalizing and registering a contract between people wanting to carry on business.

Hessen goes into the issues of entity, perpetuity and limited liability in some detail, arguing that none of these features require state sanction or permission. They are a form of contract and laws of incorporation are the registering of contracts.

The issue of corporate size is discussed in some detail as is the issue of corporate democracy and shareholder rights.

Hessen does acknowledge that some businesses do seek special favours from government. What today we call crony capitalism. But he argues that this is not a problem inherent in corporations qua corporations.  “There is no justification for allowing any private individual or business organization, including corporations of any size, to achieve its goals by means of political power,” he says.

He cites E.L. Godkin, a critic of the American scene from the 19th century who “warned that chicanery and corruption are inevitable and cannot be eradicated as long as government has favors to bestow. Godkin offered a solution: stripping Congress of the power to confer valuable privileges upon anyone, including business corporations.”

In a final section on Nader’s vision of Utopia, he argues that Nader is an adherent of Rousseau’s idea of The Social Contract. Rousseau argued for simple small communities. Why? Because, argues Hessen, “the appeal of the small community is that it will be easier to enforce self-renunciation and conformity. Proximity and visibility mean that everyone can monitor everyone else’s attitudes and actions; there is no chance for escape from constant surveillance. It is a paradise for inquisitors and informers, but a living hell for those who value privacy, independence, and personal freedom.” The picture he paints is of grim egalitarian communities with no luxuries and no differentiation between individuals.

That is, perhaps, going a bit off tangent to the central thesis of the book.  So let me just quote his conclusion, which says it all. “A proper defense of corporations must stress that they are created and sustained by freedom of association and contract, that the source of freedom is not governmental permission but individual rights, and that these rights are not suddenly forfeited when a business grows beyond some arbitrarily defined size.”

This is a concise and vigorously argued book, well worth the read, especially now when the very concept of the corporation is under steady attack.

Book Review: The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels by Alex Epstein

Reviewed by Marco den Ouden

Despite claims from some climate change activists, Alex Epstein is not a climate change denier. He readily acknowledges that the climate has changed in the last century. But the change, he avers, is insignificant and manageable when you look at the big picture. From 1910 to 2010, the average global temperature has increased less than one degree Celsius. The carbon dioxide emissions over this same period increased from around 285 parts per million to 385 parts per million, an increase of 35%. Most of the increase has happened since 1970.

What Epstein challenges are the climate change models that predict catastrophe. The doomsday models that look frightening but have been singularly ineffective in making actual predictions (predictions that have come true).

But more than that, Epstein takes the moral high ground that climate change activists have tried to present and turns it around by presenting a moral case for the use of fossil fuels. The book is not so much an analysis of climate change as  a treatise on ethics.

Ethics, he argues, must be based on some standard. He chooses the standard of human life. What enhances the quality of life and life expectancy of people is good. What diminishes it is bad.

Climate change activists, he argues, use a different standard. Their standard is what he calls non-impact. Human activities that don’t impact the environment are good. Those that change the environment are bad.

His position is a humanist one. Fossil fuels are good for people. They enhance our lives and increase our life expectancy. Fossil fuels are used to power industry and enhance food production.

The use of fossil fuels increased by 80% from 1980 to 2012. In the United States, the increase in oil use was only 8.7 percent. Domestic natural gas use increased 28.3 percent and coal use increased 12.6 percent.  The world as a whole, however, increased oil use by 39 percent, coal by 107 percent and natural gas by 131 percent. Most of the increase in fossil fuel use occurred in developing countries.

And here is where it gets interesting. From 1970 to 2012, fossil fuel use in India measured in thousands of kilocalories per person per day increased from three to twelve. Life expectancy in India surged from 49 to 66. In China the picture is even more dramatic. Fossil fuel use increased from 8 to 49. Life expectancy jumped from 64 to to 75. This increase in fossil fuel use is also reflected in quality of life measured in GDP per person. India’s increased from $300 to $1100. China’s soared from $150 to $3400.

The alternative energy sources touted by climate change activists, namely solar and wind, are unreliable at this time, not to mention very expensive. While their use has increased dramatically, fossil fuels still provide 87 percent of the world’s energy needs. It is abundant (over 3000 years of supply available at current consumption rates) and it is cheap by comparison.

1.3 billion of the world’s 7 billion people have no electricity. Over 3 billion are classified as not having adequate electricity. For everyone to have as much energy available as the average American would require a quadrupling of supply. The only way this can be done effectively, argues Epstein, is through increased use of fossil fuels. Calls to drastically reduce the use of fossil fuels, he avers, amounts to a death sentence for a large portion of the world’s population, particularly in the less developed countries.

This is the essence of Epstein’s moral case. Fossil fuels enrich our lives. They foster human well being in all aspects. To cut our use of fossil fuels as some climate change activists propose, would be detrimental to humanity.

But to back up his case, Epstein also goes into depth on the claims of climate change activists, comparing them to the realities. He brings up a number of interesting points.

Looking at the reliability of climate change models to date, he notes that every one of them that predicted catastrophic change has been a failure. He includes an interesting graph of the various predictions including a summary line representing the average of 102 different models. That there are so many differing models that don’t agree with each other says something in itself, but when compared to the actual change in the real world, the failure is patently obvious.

One of the reasons for this failure, notes Epstein, is the decelerating, logarithmic greenhouse effect. Laboratory studies on the warming effect of CO2 in the atmosphere show that above a certain level (a level we have already reached) the warming effect decelerates rapidly. Each additional unit of carbon has a marginal effect at this point. He says that the doomsday scenarios are based on a speculative theory that the greenhouse effect is amplified by other effects. Their models are based on this theory and that is why they have failed.

Epstein avers that climate change activists work from a standard of non-impact. They work from the assumption that any impact on the climate from mankind must have negative consequences But this is a false assumption, he argues. Why can change in climate not be a positive?

In fact, he argues, in some ways it is. Everyone who studied elementary biology in school know that animals breath in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. But plants do the opposite. They absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide and emit oxygen.  And studies have shown that increased carbon dioxide levels are good for plants. They increase their growth.

For example, exposing certain plants to an additional 300 ppm in the atmosphere increased the growth of corn by 21.3%, wheat by 33.0%, green beans by 64.3%, sweet cherries by 59.8%, the loblolly pine by 61.9% and the black cottonwood by an incredible 124.0%.  Those who want a greener world should embrace CO2 for its positive effect on plant life!

And what about the much ballyhooed claim that 97 percent of climate scientists agree that there is global warming and that human beings are the main cause?  The claim was made by John Cook who runs the website Cook said he studied  the research papers extensively and came to that conclusion. But Epstein says that only 1.6 percent of those studies explicitly stated that humans caused at least 50 percent of climate change. The vast majority were unquantified and Cook took it upon himself to create a category called “explicit endorsement without quantification”. The 97 percent claim is a misrepresentation of the facts avers Epstein.

Epstein lists a number of comments from climate scientists who protested Cook’s actions. Dr. Craig Idso said, “That is not an accurate representation of my paper.”

Dr. Richard Tol says 5/10 of his papers that Cook included were rated incorrectly. Dr. Nicola Scafetta said, “Cook et al (2013) is based on a strawman argument.”

Epstein also argues that the use of fossil fuels enables us to control climate on a local level. The best example, of course, is our homes – heated by fossil fuels in winter and cooled by them in summer. This year there was a massive deep freeze in the east of North America. Quebec, for example, experienced the coldest winter since 1889.

Cold is much deadlier to humans than heat. Without the benefits of solidly constructed homes and central heating, powered largely by fossil fuels, people would be dying by the thousands if not millions. Fossil fuels do enable us to control our environment and to cope with devastating events.

Epstein shows that there has been a steady decrease in storm related deaths as fossil fuel use increased. He shows a correlation between fossil fuel use and sanitation and clean drinking water.

The benefits of fossil fuel use are so overwhelming that calling for limitations on their use is profoundly immoral.

Epstein finishes up the book with a call to action to leaders in the fossil fuel industry. He says industry leaders tacitly concede the environmentalists’ moral position and offer their product apologetically. Some major oil companies don’t even mention the word “oil” on their websites.

Epstein urges these leaders to take the moral high ground. To argue that their product is good. That it enhances and saves lives. That it increases quality of life and life expectancy.

Only a principled stand endorsing fossil fuel use on moral grounds will change the political climate. Nothing else will do.

Read this book. It is a fascinating read and an eye opener!

Kingsman the Movie: Brief Review

By Marco den Ouden

Just saw the new movie Kingsman: The Secret Service. It has a very libertarian feel to it. The movie is a bit of a spoof on the spy movie genre, which crosses the gadgetry, high tech wizardry and violence of the James Bond films with the stylishness of The Avengers (the old TV spy series featuring John Steed and Emma Peel).

But what will especially appeal to libertarians is the plot. First, the spy agency is a private one, not a government one. Secondly, the villain is an eccentric billionaire obsessed about global warming. Like Prince Phillip who once infamously said, ” In the event that I am reincarnated, I would like to return as a deadly virus, to contribute something to solving overpopulation,” the villain believes humankind is a blight on the earth and believes the only solution is to wipe out as much of humanity as possible.

Being an eccentric billionaire, he has the means to engineer a plot to do just that. Part of his plan involves enlisting the support of politicians and celebrities the world over, who, of course, will be saved. Those politicians and celebrities who balk at his mad scheme are imprisoned in his mountain fortress. There are reports in the mainstream press of many people mysteriously disappearing.

The Kingsman agency saves the day in the end and all the toady politicians and celebrities who went along with the villain’s anti-human plot get their come-uppance.

To tell you more would give away too much. But this is a great movie. Colin Firth is excellent as the top spy. Taron Egerton does a great job as Firth’s protege and trainee spy. And Samuel Jackson hams it up as the evil villain.

Libertarianism and Growing Up

By Marco den Ouden

One of my lefty friends recently posted this meme on Facebook. The meme originated with Occupy Seattle.

The meme implies that libertarianism is immature and growing up means giving up such childish notions. In fact, the truth is the complete opposite. Statism and growing up are incompatible. Growing up means to become a libertarian.

The essence of libertarianism, and its great appeal, is non-violence. Libertarianism advocates a society where the use of force and fraud are barred from human relationships. A society where all interactions are peaceful and voluntary. It is a society where adult individuals are self-responsible. It is a society where reason and argument replace fisticuffs and violence.

Statism, on the other hand, advocates the use of force to get otherwise peaceful individuals to kowtow to the will of others, those in government, because they know better.  Statism is okay with using coercion and compulsion to force people to do things the statist believes he should do because it is for his own good.

Let’s take a very simple example, seat belts. Seat belts are a great invention. Undoubtedly they have saved many lives. I use my seat belt all the time. I consider it folly not to.

That said, as a libertarian, I consider it none of my business whether you or anyone else wears a seat belt. It is a private decision that should be left to adult individuals to decide for themselves.

The statist, on the other hand, favours laws making seat belt use mandatory. They favour using the apparatus of coercion and compulsion to force people to wear seat belts whether they want to or not. They do so because, like parents, they feel the need to treat people like children.

Now growing up entails several things. It means we give up having our mommies and daddies making decisions for us and learning to make our own decisions, even if we sometimes make mistakes in the process. It means learning to live peacefully with other people, settling disputes by discussion and rational persuasion, not by force like the bully in the school yard. It means becoming self-sustaining individuals, finding productive work so we can supply ourselves with food and shelter.

As a child, all these things are decided for us by our parents and teachers. Our parents curb behaviour they believe may be destructive to self or others. They compel behaviour they believe is for our own good, such as eating our vegetables or wearing a seat belt. Food and shelter are provided by our parents until we are grown up and ready to leave home to become autonomous individuals.

But for the statist, children do not grow up. They must remain forever children with the state taking the place of the parents. Rightfully, the state does intervene when force or fraud are used. It is acting as an agency of self-defense for the victim of aggression. But, unfortunately, the state does not limit itself to a self-defense function when it is run by statists.

The statist mentality is that most people are too stupid to be autonomous individuals. They must be treated like children. If they don’t want to use their seat belts, then, by God, we’ll compel them to do so with a threat of punishment if they don’t comply. If they don’t want to eat healthy food, then, by God, we will ban super-size drinks in theaters or put a tax on junk food.

The adult in a statist society is treated like a child. He is not allowed to grow up. The adult in a libertarian society, on the other hand, is treated as an adult, encouraged to make decisions and make his way in the world.

Here is the meme revised to be truthful.

Home Education and Individual Sovereignty

By Tunya Audain

Even while I was active in the home education movement in the 70s – 80s I did not use the term “sovereignty” in my writings. I do think it’s an appropriate classification.

I usually would say that home education was a means to retrieve individual responsibility from “disabling professionals”, a concept I gained from study with Ivan Illich (6 mo) and his writings. Secondly I said it was an escape hatch for those who see the dangers of the “predatory state”. This concept I gained from the writings of Jean-François Revel.

Both these notions — miseducation and bypassing the predatory state — are ever more urgent for us to consider in this era of man-made social engineering and all that is being imposed as 21st Century Learning transformation. I will be bringing these issues forward.

For a 7 page downloadable and printable copy of my 1987 essay — Home Education: The Third Option see