Martin Luther King and the Roots of Western Narcissism

While a significant portion of the Unites States electorate, intoxicated with a heady brew of  Lockean liberalism, decries “socialism in America”, many have suggested that in the possessive individualism underlying this rhetoric lies the root of our social narcissism and the ultimate failure of our society. MacPherson wrote 40 years ago that,

“…the difficulties of modern liberal-democratic theory lie deeper than had been thought, that the original seventeenth-century individualism contained the central difficulty, which lay in its possessive quality. Its possessive quality is found in its conception of the individual as essentially the proprietor of his own person or capacities, owing nothing to to society for them. The individual was seen neither as a moral whole, nor as part of a larger social whole, but as an owner of himself. The relation of ownership, having become for more and more men the critically important relation determining their actual freedom and actual prospect of realizing their full potentialities, was read back into the nature of the individual. The individual, it was thought, is free inasmuch as he is proprietor of his person and capacities. The human essence is freedom from dependence on the wills of others, and freedom is a function of possession. Society consists of relations of exchange between proprietors. Political society becomes a calculated device for the protection of this property and or the maintenance o an orderly relation of exchange.” C. B. MacPherson. The political theory of possessive individualism: Hobbes to Locke. Oxford University Press, 1969

MacPherson goes on to note that we seem to obtain no satisfaction from the having,  but instead are firmly fixed on the getting. Of course, those that have more find it easy to get more, and that invariably means that those that have less always get less.

Perhaps it was Hobbes who truly wrote Golding’s Lord of the Flies, painting a truly ruthless picture of mankind in his natural state, Ecce Homo! I was taken with the rather human mechanics of the following observation

Subordinate birds have to look for food whenever and wherever they can find it, and carry fat on their bodies to hedge against unpredictable rations. Dominant birds, which can push subordinates off food, can choose when they eat and so lessen their odds of being eaten themselves.

From Convention to Van Buren, Jefferson’s party railed against a Hobbesian solution. Yet under Madison they murdered Federalists in Baltimore, under Jackson they murdered thousands of Indians, and they finally forced this country into its greatest domestic convulsion, resulting in the virtual destruction of the South and the termination of that curious institution upon which their agrarian utopia was based.

Martin Luther King, though he dreamed wondrous dreams, understood perhaps as well as any Nobel Laureate economist (for example, Joseph Stiglitz) that the root of inequality was economic injustice. While King’s Dream continues to challenge and seems resonant with most Americans, there is a dissonance of alarming degree between the Lockean liberalism which is argued to anchor this country, and the socialism which we see in King’s oration. In fact, you may well find that Dr. King has more in common with that “villain”, Niccolo Machiavelli, than with Jefferson’s “Saint”, Sidney Algernon.

Machiavelli has been disparaged for centuries. Frederick the Great wrote,

  Machiavel’s The Prince is to ethics what the work of Spinoza is to faith. Spinoza sapped the fundamentals of faith, and drained the spirit of religion; Machiavel corrupted policy, and undertook to destroy the precepts of healthy morals: the errors of the first were only errors of speculation, but those of the other had a practical thrust. The theologians have sounded the alarm bell and battled against Spinoza, refuting his work in form and defending the Divinity against his attack, while Machiavel has only been badgered by moralists. In spite of them, and in spite of its pernicious morals, The Prince is very much on the pulpit of policy, even in our day.

Frederick takes on Machiavelli AND Spinoza (leaving us to wonder why he failed to indict Hobbes) for their attacks on the virtue that he seems to believe leaps, as did Athena, from the godhead. Frederick’s argument is based on the superstition inherent in the supernatural, while his targets labor in what Hobbes called the state of nature, the real world. A place called Wall Street.

Madison’s Constitution is very much of that real world. Machiavelli would be very comfortable with Connelly’s view of Madison and vice versa.  In fact Machiavelli argued,

I say therefore that all the (previously) mentioned forms are inferior because of the brevity of the existence of those three that are good, and of the malignity of those three that are bad. So that those who make laws prudently having recognized the defects of each, (and) avoiding every one of these forms by itself alone, they selected one (form) that should partake of all, they judging it to be more firm and stable, because when there is in the same City (government) a Principality, an Aristocracy, and a Popular Government (Democracy), one watches the other.

Machiavelli is no idealistic and impractical Jefferson, howling at the moon while Madison cleans up the mess, and Madison, complaining himself centuries after the publication of The Discourses, writes in Federalist #10,

Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority. However anxiously we may wish that these complaints had no foundation, the evidence, of known facts will not permit us to deny that they are in some degree true.

Neither is Machiavelli some foolish aristocrat like The Mandragola‘s Nicia, ensnared in what detractors might claim is a Ligurio’s web of deceit.  The fact of the matter is that Machiavelli’s conceit ends with what might be considered economic justice for all. In a society where this is a scarcity, each (as the Stones, writing in the same year as MacPherson, might put it) might not get what they want, but if they try real hard, will get what they need.

We have been awash in Sidney Algernon’s small “r” republican Saints and their  moralizing Reformationist brethren who have bequeathed to us not the generous philosophy of social justice Jefferson ascribed to Jesus to which he claimed to subscribe, but a grasping self-involvement where the three operative words are all too familiar to the parent of any two year old: me, mine, and more.

But Machiavelli sets the same table as Teddy Roosevelt, though The Prince may be seen as a manual for the basest policies and Square Deal the acme of American values. Unlike the Mad Hatter’s table, there are seats for all here and arm in arm with Teddy and Niccolo, we come full circle to King. Yes, Dr. King may have been troubled by much of Marx’s message regarding the ill effects of religion, but in the real world, we see man’s religious institutions arguing economic injustice, while we see Marx arguing that workers should own the means of their production.

As Alice suggested, “I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.” Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, released in 1967, is a graphic reminder of the importance of making room at the table, and that if we purport to make room at the table, then we had best be prepared to welcome and feed all comers.


The State Militant; militia in the 21st century

With the rise of the “militia movement” in Alaska (,, ) it is time to effectively address this potential threat to our civil society. That is to say that the federal prosecution of the members of the Alaska Peacemakers Militia, being reactive, is inadequate on its face. See the Fairbanks Newsminer for a discussion of Shaffer Cox and his role in this militia.

Not withstanding the bizarre ideation of these groups, the US Constitution puts all militia under federal control. The US Constitution, Article I Section 8,  in pertinent part, authorizes Congress:

To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the states respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

The US Constitution reserves to the states certain responsibilities with respect to militia.  Under the Alaska Constitution, that authority is largely exercised by the Governor of the State. Alaska Constitution Article III § 19. Military Authority provides:

The governor is commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the State. He may call out these forces to execute the laws, suppress or prevent insurrection or lawless violence, or repel invasion. The governor, as provided by law, shall appoint all general and flag officers of the armed forces of the State, subject to confirmation by a majority of the members of the legislature in joint session. He shall appoint and commission all other officers.

In sum, the Governor would clearly be the commander of our various self-proclaimed militias, and as command-in-chief the Governor has ultimate responsibility for command of these organizations. Either the Governor must command these organizations,  or they must be disbanded as unauthorized frauds and dangerous gangs; thugs in paramilitary drag.

It is clear that the Governor HAS NOT taken his responsibilities via-a-vis Article III Section 19 seriously, not having seized command of these organizations (or in the alternative, not having ordered the Attorney General to terminate their activities as apparent criminal enterprises or otherwise.) In having failed in those responsibilities it is high time the Governor was called to task for his oversight, negligence, or malfeasance (the last case perhaps recommending impeachment)  for putting our society in danger.

Perhaps most heinous, is that while the Governor seems to continually wish to take power from the federal government (he has inordinately invested in lawsuit after lawsuit, attacking the role of the federal government on matters ranging from wildlife management to health care) he has failed to wield the responsibility the federal Constitution affords him, with the result that the Department of Justice was forced to prosecute those in such organizations apparently engaged in preparing to commit acts of homicide against our judges. For shame, Governor! For shame!


Twixt Scylla and Charybis

Alaska’s Governor, Sean Parnel,  would have Alaskans agree to oil tax reform. Many read this tax reform and an effort to move revenue from the State’s ledger to that of BigOil. As one expect, this results in a polarization and we end up with an all or nothing paradigm.  The Greeks saw their world in very colorfully and it is from them that we inherit the concept of sailing twixt Scylla and Charybdis, and we have been referencing that method of recognizing that we are on the horns of a dilemma in those terms for centuries.

But this essay is not an attempt to scold the Governor for taunting Homer’s Charybdis despite Circe’s warning (so many others have already done that so effectively,  to no avail), though in any discussion of matters Alaskan, natural resource policy is on the table. The focus here is on another aspect of “the middle”;  as  Euclid has revealed to hundreds of thousand of students, the middle is equidistant from the poles.

And at this point you are no doubt wondering whatever could be the real point, and whether we might not get to it before tea. The point, as those of you who are clever have likely already guessed, is that industry arises at those places convenient to the resources necessary. The Rust Belt, by way of example, did not arise magically. If one considers a map of the US Northeast and note the location of the iron ore, the location of coal deposits, and the transportation resources in the area,  it becomes quickly apparent why steel became king there.  And the king drove the economies of the region and the country to incredible heights.

Alaska sits on a number of prodigious reservoirs of natural gas. There are some, their eyes lit with a green glow,  who would (as quickly as someone else’s money might allow) ship all this natural gas elsewhere. Unfortunately, such a policy produces the least possible economic benefit for the people of the State of Alaska. Why?  Because the failure to use the resources in-state means Alaskans do not get the additional multiplier effects that would arise if the gas were consumed in-state.

The challenge or Alaska is not to figure out how to get rid of the gas as quickly as possible, despite the advice from BigOil accountants. The challenge is to find industries, local industries, that are viable because the gas is HERE. Japan’s growth is a reverse example of this situation. Japanese growth was largely based on Japan’s ability to import energy. Alaska has that energy in abundance, but those wishing to use that energy elsewhere want Alaskans to believe that we must sell off that energy to those smart enough to use it.  Are we, as Alaskans, really that ignorant?

Let’s compare the two policies.  On the one hand the argument is that the only way to address this resource is to pump it out and sell it as quickly as possible. Perhaps this will provide a decade or two of revenue, and there will be jobs, largely for those who come to Alaska specifically to take advantage of this policy.  On the other hand, if the resource never leaves the state,  it could fuel a variety of local industry for a much longer time period, increase Alaska’s economy by many more times, and keep the state from continuing to be a boom and bust economy, slave to the extraction industry. As Dr. Lee Huskey has often noted, a robust northern economy needs to be differentiated, and there is no escaping that means keeping BigOil in its place.

So we are on the horns of another dilemma. The safe course, the middle way, is to be the middle. Be the focal point. Be the cauldron of Alaska’s future, not the empty husk that once feted BigOil. Is Alaska up to charter its own destiny? Perhaps not as local politics suggest that those in power are short-sighted quick-buckers, preaching independence, but effecting paternalistic policies socially and economically. Perhaps John Coghill needs to have a sit-down with Jack and talk a bit about local economics…..


The New Arms Race

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution states in pertinent part, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” What are we to make of this? We are besieged today by “textualists” (not withstanding Paul McGreal’s cogent argument) arguing that a personal armory is the salvation of democracy. If we don, for a moment, the texturalist’s robes, what do we see in this Amendment? The Amendment says “people” – not voters, residents, citizens, adults, or ‘white men of virtue who own property and are well liked’.

Who are these “people”?  People are, generally defined as “humans”. [NB: Cicero fans may now attempt to interrupt to argue populus versus civitas, and while this dispute might offer some intriguing questions for future discussion, we don’t like these elitist pedants, and, as either view’s result proves the point that kids are people too (certainly, if an embryo is a person, a kid must be a person), we will rule these classicists out of order and move on.]

Where were we? Ah, yes. And if kids are people, then we had better not infringe on their right to keep and bear arms, as that would clearly be unconstitutional. To take that one step further as the textural positivist is want to do, if our Propounding Pops thought it was so important to make sure no one disarmed kids that they Amended the Constitution to note it, then the extension of that concern would surely be an unwritten endorsement that the more kids armed, the safer our society.

Certainly arming the kids makes more sense than trusting kids’ safety at school to “a bunch of union thugs”, and trusting the thugs’ judgment as to whom to shoot. Do you really want an NEA member (someone known to you to be a communist) taking out (as in offing, not sending to the office) YOUR kid because he pulled a Nerf gun at lunch? Why put the safety of kids in the hands of Bolsheviks, when you can arm the kids, nay, MUST arm the kids?  To look at the larger picture, if we can’t keep kids off university campuses with guns, we clearly can’t keep kids out of public schools with guns, and if that is the case we had better make sure that every kid showing up for Kindergarten has a Glock on each hip.

Extra chocolate milk if the guns are clean and loaded.GattlingStroller