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The State of Classical Liberalism at Year’s End

In a blog dedicated to formulating and promoting classical liberalism, it is useful at year’s end to evaluate the state of these ideas in the politics and culture of our nation. And sad to report, classical liberalism is now weaker than it has been for decades.

Classical liberal ideas are losing traction in both political parties. At its best, the Republican party has been a fruitful fusion of classical liberalism and conservatism. No classically liberal party can take power on its own, because there simply aren’t enough liberals in the classic sense. But the Republican party has generally espoused liberal economic policies-deregulation, free markets, limited government, freer trade and even relatively open immigration so long as our immigration policy requires assimilation and does not threaten security.

But this year Republicans have their most serious illiberal candidate for decades, an opponent of freer trade and no friend of limited government. I have argued before that Trump’s policies along with his emphasis on national greatness rather than individual liberty resemble even more virulent nationalists in Europe, who have opposed liberalism as strongly as European socialists. Trump now even evinces sympathy for a nemesis of liberalism in both domestic and international affairs—Vladimir Putin. And while some other Republican candidates do endorse aspects of a classical liberal agenda, they spend almost no time discussing the greatest threat to limited government—the burgeoning entitlement state—or plans to reform it.

On the Democratic side, the candidate currently in second place is a proclaimed socialist. In prior years, openly identifying with socialism would have been disqualifying, even in a Democratic primary. Of even greater concern is how far to the left the front runner, Hillary Clinton, has moved, as measured by comparison with her husband. As President, Bill Clinton governed as New Democrat in favor of free trade, welfare reform, and even a measure of deregulation, in part because of the climate of the times. By contrast, Hillary Clinton advocates for more market intervention, not less – from much higher minimum wages to equal pay provisions that would have government bureaucrats assess what jobs are comparable to others. And she has abandoned her support of the Trans Pacific Partnership, the negotiation of which began when she was Secretary of State.

And then we have a new wave of political correctness on college campus, which has been enabled in part by the burgeoning diversity bureaucracy.  But college students are also more militant and intolerant than at any time since the 1960s. And in this case, they are stirred not by an overriding but evanescent issue, like the draft, that directly affects most of them. Instead, they seem more diffusely and thus more permanently on the left. This generation is not likely to march under the classical liberal banner in the decades to come.

There are some cheering countertrends. Technological change tends to disrupt statist structures as never before. Witness the power of Uber to win out over regulations. But if the material conditions provide some ballast for classical liberalism, political and intellectual trends are as unfavorable as they have been in my adult lifetime.

Reader Discussion

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on December 31, 2015 at 11:37:28 am

Seems accurate enough to me.

No classically liberal party can take power on its own, because there simply aren’t enough liberals in the classic sense. But the Republican Party has generally espoused liberal economic policies … even relatively open immigration so long as our immigration policy requires assimilation and does not threaten security.

But this year Republicans have their most serious illiberal candidate for decades, an opponent of freer trade and no friend of limited government.

“At all times sincere friends of freedom have been rare, and its triumphs have been due to minorities, that have prevailed by associating themselves with auxiliaries whose objects differed from their own; and this association, which is always dangerous, has been sometimes disastrous, by giving to opponents just grounds of opposition.” Lord Acton, The History of Freedom in Antiquity (1877). Obviously McGinnis is bucking for membership in the House of Lords.

But I find some ambiguity in McGinnis’s middle sentence quoted above. He qualifies support for immigration “so long as our immigration policy requires assimilation….” Does he include the qualification to say --
• this is the kind of immigration favored by classical liberalism? Or
• classical liberalism favors freer immigration, and Republicans have generally embraced at least a limited version of that?

And then we have a new wave of political correctness on college campus....

Eh. Look, if you’re trying to garner people’s pity, just tell them this: nobody.really wished you a Happy New Year.
Because I do.

Happy New Year, all!

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nobody.really
on December 31, 2015 at 12:20:57 pm

I second that emotion and add:

"Be of good cheer - and imbibe some as well; but like a good classical liberal, do so in moderation!!!

Happy New Year, everyone!!!!

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gabe
on December 31, 2015 at 14:18:46 pm

I laughed when I read "freer trade" in your column. That's exactly the problem with our trade policy. It benefits those of you at the top while the working and middle class are getting hammered by it.

I predict that you will have a "Yuuuge!" New Year whether you like it or not.

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boxty
on December 31, 2015 at 15:23:36 pm

As for technology, let's not forget the influence that sites like Law and Liberty are having. Here we are, everyday shmucks like Gabe and nobody.really and myself, reading and on rare occasions interacting with leaders in liberal thought. I am sometimes amazed at the quality of thinkers who share with us through this platform. I'm sure that the interaction between intellectuals contributes to more thought.

One of the problems with democracy is the problem of irregular distribution of the information used in decision making. This site keeps the quality information flowing outwards.

Please send my greatest thanks to the sponsors, editors, contributors, and any other folks responsible for this forum. I look forward to more in the coming year.

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Scott Amorian
on December 31, 2015 at 16:49:52 pm

Here we are, everyday shmucks like Gabe and nobody.really and myself....

In fairness, I'm not the everyday shmuck I pretend to be. I generally take weekends off. When you get to be my age, you'll understand....

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nobody.really
on December 31, 2015 at 20:12:09 pm

As a chemical engineer with only three decades on a meandering non-fiction path to try to understand why, with such a wonderful world and such a wonderful country, so many inhabitants do not get along with so many inhabitants, I find this blog exponentially instructive. Thank you.
Perhaps wrongly, I think this blog enhances my work: Seventy percent of inhabitants think civic liberty depends upon them earning their living; but some have not accepted the preamble’s literal duty to collaborate for civic morality, which is essential to liberty. Many perceive their personal god will provide civic security and well-being and that their duty to their person is fulfilled when they pray. Civic differs from social in that there are no preferences or classes in the ineluctable connections due to persons living during the same years in the same land.
We perceive that humans are inexorably drawn to fidelity, and that attraction is often called “spirituality.” Civic well-being obtains when fidelity is prioritized: to understood physics, self, family, civic people, and personal hopes regarding what is imagined, respectively. In this ordering of fidelities, understood physics comes first and arts, such as religious beliefs, come last. To illustrate, facing a thirty foot wall of water from a tsunami or hurricane, first priority would be to reach high, distant ground, take family with you, inform and assist other people, and perhaps pray according to personal beliefs. This order of civic priorities applies to psychic issues as well as physical issues. Most human beings respond to fidelity, and some would even take responsibility for their afterdeath—that vast time after body, mind and person stop functioning. However, noble as it may be, that is a private pursuit and not a civic issue for imposition on others.

Make no mistake: I am not alone in an emerging awareness: Only the people can solve the USA’s civic dysfunction. For example, Charles J. Cooper, in “Confronting the Administrative State” (www.nationalaffairs.com/publications/detail/confronting-the-administrative-state), wrote, “. . . the administrative state’s rule will grow ever-more expansive and oppressive—until the people strip it of the power it has accumulated.” Cooper is reflecting Abraham Lincoln’s unfortunately subtle statement, “Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any better or equal hope in the world?” In context, it seems Lincoln did not expect theism’s hopes to provide justice respecting states’ secession from the union of states. However, beyond the collaborators in Baton Rouge and my sister in Tennessee, I feel alone in articulating concrete reform for the USA, even though it is slowly happening in the world. At its core is the need for seventy-percent of the people to separate their personal pursuits, such as religion, from their personal collaboration for civic morality: there is a growing demand for PLwCGW. However, state will not separate from church, so the people must accomplish the separation.
Turning to the present topic, as with most of the posts, I have to try to understand the words and phrases written. A favorite resource is http://plato.stanford.edu/. About “classical liberal,” I found, “For classical liberals . . . liberty and private property are intimately related. From the eighteenth century right up to today, classical liberals have insisted that an economic system based on private property is uniquely consistent with individual liberty, allowing each to live her life —including employing her labor and her capital — as she sees fit.” I agree with the principle respecting personal home and such, but find opportunities to collaborate for improvements on broader property ideas—especially ownership of gross domestic product.

With inference gained since August this year, my mind respecting the eighteenth century jumps to Blackstone, Burke, and Madison more than Paine, Washington, and Jefferson. But after these great persons, there has been 226 years of discovery and understanding.
I consider myself a person who is in favor of personal liberty with civic well-being, PLwCWB. By civic well-being I mean both responsibly, privately pursuing private pursuits as well as collaborating for the civic morality that allows other persons and their associations the opportunity for private pursuits. If I am sufficiently tuned-in to Professor McGinnis’s usage, we have collaborative goals that may surface with candid communication.
Focusing on liberty and property, adding 226 years American history to eight-hundred years since England’s Magna Carta, it seems reform is needed to unlock the dysfunction described in Professor McGinnis’s post. I think the USA must deliberately reform from inherited British impositions--both opinion-based law and civic theism—together, opinion-based law. Opinion does not offer the bedrock for civic morality—a morality a people can adopt based on their personal experiences and appreciation for no-harm neighbors.

I am told that physics-based ethics is not novel, and perhaps this forum can help find the prior proposals. Regardless, I invite Professor McGinnis and participants to help accelerate humankind’s ongoing pursuit of civic morality based on discovery of physics and understanding its benefits, which I call physics-based ethics. A first principle is that physics neither proves nor disproves theism, so religion remains a matter of opinion and not a bedrock for civic morality. Civic morality seeks to lessen human misery, loss, even annihilation (borrowing Albert Einstein’s warm words about science and ethics).

I look forward to 2016 as the year that PLwCWB emerges as a focus of constitutional law professors in the USA, helping the people establish civic morality at last. My experience on this forum is part of my belief that the future is bright. Thank you again.

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Phil Beaver
on December 31, 2015 at 22:30:09 pm

Phil, two points:

1) Isn't your "physics-based ethics" is just a reinvention of utilitarianism?

2) You seem to be inordinately concerned with the use of government to enforce religious norms. As far as I can tell, whatever may have been true in the past, that is not much of a problem today. Quite the contrary: the government now has a proclivity to tell people that they much violate their religious convictions in their private activities.

Happy new year.

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djf
on January 01, 2016 at 13:05:30 pm

As for me, I prefer the term "knucklehead; it is more of an everyday occupation and it implies a certain Clousseauian "joie de vivre (sp?)" when undertaking our investigations at LLB.

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gabe
on January 01, 2016 at 13:08:38 pm

2) You seem to be inordinately concerned with the use of government to enforce religious norms. As far as I can tell, whatever may have been true in the past, that is not much of a problem today.

Actually, I'd say that concern puts a finger on the fundamental conceptual challenge of contemporary liberalism: Liberals value promoting equality, including using government to redistribute wealth. But why? Because ...well ... because they value it. It is, in a word, the religion -- and they want to use the power of the state to implement it.

Now, I'd argue that some amount of wealth redistribution is necessary, or at least cost-effective, for maintaining civil order. Recall the Bastille?

But HOW MUCH redistribution is necessary for civil order? I sense that many societies endured over centuries with vastly less concern for the poor than we exhibit today. If we simply adopted an instrumentalist goal of investing only as much as necessary to avoid widespread rioting against the social order (rioting against Korean-owned convenience stores really doesn't count here), then I expect we could get away with much less expenditure.

So why have the Powers That Be opted to spend more? Because they -- we -- value it. They don't like seeing poverty on their doorsteps. And they're willing to use the coercive power of the state to advance their (my) preference.

I like this outcome. But I acknowledge my hypocrisy in advocating it.

[T]he government now has a proclivity to tell people that they much violate their religious convictions in their private activities.

Perhaps, although I don't know what specifically you are referring to.

Consider ObamaCare: ObamaCare imposes a tax, but then granted exemptions for people who do things that tend to limit health care costs that ALL of us bear. Some people declined to do those things -- but then also demanded to receive the tax deduction. I don't regard that as "telling people to violate their religious convictions." After all, I could get a tax deduction if I gave a contribution to certain churches I find loathsome. I don't, based on my values. But i then don't demand that government grant me the tax exemption anyway.

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nobody.really
on January 01, 2016 at 13:35:51 pm

Superficially, this seems plausible; yet, it must be remarked that the ultimate end (goal, perhaps?) of this sort of government action may very well be to end the provision of such health services by the religiously affiliated associations.

Cuckoo, you say!

Not quite. Over the past 4-5 decades, this is precisely what has happened with religious based adoption services. (We won't get into general charitable works from private platoons (religious or otherwise).

Question: Is this result either a) a PUBLIC good or b) a CIVIC good?

After all, we could very easily decide to go the British Nat'l Health Service route wherein in order to avoid the dispensing of health services by some "superstitious religious buffoons" we allow patients to die, dehydrated and sorely (and/or sore-covered) neglected in a hospital bed?

Apparently, we have come down decidedly on the side of death; in order to have abortion available at ALL hospitals, we have elected to promote the Veterans Affairs (and NHS) model of one-size- fits-all impersonal substandard care.

But what the heck? The issue is simply a matter of certain tax preferences; nobody.really believes that!!

Now off to the Notre Dame football game - uh oh, I wonder if Touchdown Jesus will disqualify the Fighting Irish (non-PC term here, so caution is advised) from tax exemptions.

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gabe
on January 01, 2016 at 17:08:28 pm

djf

I appreciate the suggestion that “physics-based ethics” is utilitarianism, which I have encountered many times (books by Polanyi, Selznick, Rawls, Nozick, and others) but never studied. Wikipedia tells me:

Originally, Jeremy Bentham, the founder of Utilitarianism, defined utility as the aggregate pleasure after deducting suffering of all involved in any action. John Stuart Mill expanded this concept of utility to include not only the quantity, but quality of pleasure, while focusing on rules, instead of individual moral actions. Others have rejected that pleasure has positive value and have advocated negative utilitarianism, which defines utility only in terms of suffering.

My concept does not involve evaluation of “aggregate pleasure” but rather strives for personal liberty among a civic people within the people. In other words, civil order is still needed.

It proposes that each person separate private concerns from civic connections and keep private policy private--outside civic collaboration. “Civic” refers to connections due to living during the same years in the same land rather than “social” associations, which involve preference or class. For example, to the civic question, “What is your religion?” the candid response is, “That is not a subject for civic discussion.” Again, in the questions after a traffic accident, if someone asked, “Were you going to church when the collision occurred,” the proper initial response is, “That is not a pertinent question.”

When civic collaboration fails, government negotiates civic laws to resolve conflict, establishing civil order. However, the government negotiation is based on physics and does not brook private opinion such as religion. Physics is energy, mass and space-time, which emerged 13.8 billion years ago and from which everything subsequently emerges. Life on earth emerged 3.8 billion years ago. Theism emerged perhaps 10 thousand years ago. Monotheism emerged perhaps 4 thousand years ago. The big bang theory began to emerge 84 years ago and the term was coined 66 years ago. The dictionary does not agree with my usage of “physics” rather regards it as a study. My usage of “physics” came about because of my search for relief from the science versus religion debate, wherein science is often held no higher than religion (see Polanyi, Personal Knowledge, 1958). Physics is the bedrock for civics, religion being limited only by imagination. In other words, it is not possible to collaborate using religion instead of physics.

In my work, physics-based ethics is employed by the people to collaborate for civic morality. For example, a civic people neither lie to each other nor run red lights. They don’t question the ultimate natural abortion: The woman’s decision not to remain pregnant. (This is high in my attention, because we plan a library discussion on February 21, 2016 at 2:30 PM at Goodwood Library, Baton Rouge, LA.)

Religious morals are reserved for private hopes, such as salvation of the soul, by the people who take such personal responsibility. In case they are wrong about souls and salvation, their personal responsibility about personal concerns is not imposed on other people. Government should not be involved at all in purporting to influence a person’s afterdeath—that vast time after body, mind and person have stopped functioning. The preponderance of evidence is that no person, let alone government knows anything about the afterdeath.

I appreciate both the points you made. As I said before, I want to discover if physics-based ethics is an old topic. I want to cite the old source and know distinctions. Respecting your second point: I think a false idea--that theism, in particular Christianity, in particular Protestantism, is what everyone needs--must be overcome in order to establish fiscal conservatism with personal liberty in its beneficial place in world leadership. Theism is a private concern and should not be a topic for civic morality.

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Phil Beaver
on January 01, 2016 at 20:22:40 pm

[W]e have elected to promote the Veterans Affairs (and NHS) model of one-size- fits-all impersonal substandard care.

Impersonal? Maybe. But substandard?

Rand Corporation, How the VA Outpaces Other Systems in Delivering Patient Care. “ VA patients were more likely to receive recommended care than patients in the national sample. Quality of care was better for VA patients on all measures except acute care, on which the two samples were similar. The greatest differences between the two samples were in areas where the VA actively measured performance. Performance measurement had a positive "spillover effect" on related care.”

MedCare, Systematic review: comparison of the quality of medical care in Veterans Affairs and non-Veterans Affairs settings. “CONCLUSION: Studies that assessed recommended processes of care almost always demonstrated that the VA performed better than non-VA comparison groups. Studies that assessed risk-adjusted mortality generally found similar rates for patients in VA and non-VA settings.”

Rand Corporation, Care for Veterans with Mental and Substance Use Disorders. "The quality of care for the veterans in our study, although similar to or better than the care given to comparable privately insured patients or those enrolled in Medicare or Medicaid, varied by as much as twenty-three percentage points among regional service networks."

Congressional Budget Office, The Health Care System for Veterans. "This interim report provides a brief overview of VA’s medical system, summarizes some of the recent evidence on the quality of VA’s medical care and describes the incentives for quality that VA has included in its performance management system. The report also examines ways in which the department’s health IT may affect the quality of care. CBO’s final report, anticipated in early 2008, will address the potential for other government and private health care providers to make use of VA’s experience, along with other issues."

Milbank Quarterly, The Veterans Health Administration: An American Success Story? “By 2000, the VHA had substantially improved in terms of numerous indicators of process quality, and some evidence shows that its overall performance now exceeds that of the rest of U.S. health care. Recently, however, the VHA has started to become a victim of its own success, with increased demands on the system raising concerns from some that access is becoming overly restricted and from others that its annual budget appropriations are becoming excessive. Nonetheless, the apparent turnaround in the VHA's performance offers encouragement that health care that is both financed and provided by the public sector can be an effective organizational form.”

Congressional Budget Office, Comparing the Costs of the Veterans’ Health Care System With Private-Sector Costs. “Distinctive features of the VHA system—such as its mission, mix of enrollees, and financing mechanism—complicate cost comparisons with other sources of health care. One useful analytic approach, which was most carefully and comprehensively employed by researchers in 2004, estimates what costs would be if private-sector doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers supplied the same number and types of services as those actually delivered by VHA. Similar to earlier studies, those researchers concluded that the health care provided by VHA generally cost less than would equivalent care provided in the private sector, even though the comparison used Medicare’s relatively low payment rates for private-sector doctors and hospitals.”

Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs, Evidence-based Synthesis Program Department of Veterans Affairs Health Services Research & Development Service Evidence-based Synthesis Program Comparison of Quality of Care in VA and Non-VA Settings: A Systematic Review “[T]he available literature suggests that the care provided in the VA compares favorably to non-VA care systems, albeit with some caveats. Studies that used accepted process of care measures and intermediate outcomes measures, such as control of blood pressure or hemoglobin A1c, for quality measurements almost always found VA performed better than non-VA comparison groups. Studies looking at risk-adjusted outcomes generally have found no differences between VA and non-VA care, with some reports of better outcomes in VA and a few reports of worse outcomes in VA, compared to non-VA care.”

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nobody.really
on January 02, 2016 at 11:32:22 am

So unfree trade? Trade managed by our political class, who? And is the "you" in your post addressed to a particular person here benefitting by it, an oligarch wallowing in unmerited splendor and debauchery ?

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johnt
on January 02, 2016 at 11:56:17 am

nb:

From "Congressional Budget Office, Comparing the Costs of the Veterans’ Health Care System With Private-Sector Costs -

Yes, but it also says this:

" For other medical goods and
services, however, CBO could not determine whether
VHA or the private sector has lower unit costs. In addi-
tion to any differences in prices per service, veterans
might receive a larger amount or more complex mix of
services if they were treated by private-sector doctors and
hospitals than by VHA because those providers have
stronger financial incentives to deliver more expensive
care. At the same time, having the government provide
health care through VHA may not be efficient. "

Somewhat selective as may be the "motivations" of the authors of both the Congressional Studies and the Rand Corporation.

Shall I parse some of the others.

I will say this however, in-service health care was really quite good; but then again, who really cares about an "old soldier" - they sort of just "fade away" don't they?

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gabe
on January 02, 2016 at 15:18:15 pm

Shall I parse some of the others?

Please! Specifically, parse the ones supporting your claim that patients at the VA get substandard care. At most, I find articles saying that it can be hard to compare the care received at the VA to the care provided elsewhere. But I have yet to find an article saying the care provided is substandard.

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nobody.really
on January 02, 2016 at 15:54:30 pm

Wasn't my point in the last response;

Thought only to counter the implication from your previous post that VA care was better.
For the substandard look only to the various news articles detailing some of the "less than optimal" care received by veterans in many VA facilities.

Was the "better care" narrative your *implication* or only my *inference*?

While it is often said that the plural of anecdote is NOT data; it may also be said that the plural of study is not anecdotal. Both data and anecdote do have a value and each must contain / account for the other. Anecdotes may be (rightly) criticized for their (intended) emotional / psychic impact while studies may be (rightly) criticized for minimalizing that same effect under the weight of numbers / statistics. Clearly, some number of "sub-standard" outcomes will result. The question is how much should we be willing to accept.
It is perhaps no different than your proselytizing for a smaller "income (or asset) inequality" deficit.
Am I not to be permitted to deploy a similar type of *imprecision in terms* in pursuit of a PUBLIC good - or it it really a civic good?

seeya

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gabe
on January 02, 2016 at 22:41:14 pm

There are many holes in your post that I could point out but I will just focus on this one:
Theism is a private concern and should not be a topic for civic morality."

This goes against the writings of all founding fathers from Adams, Franklin, and Jefferson to Washington who stated you can't have a liberal society without civic virtue and you can't have civic virtue without religion.

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boxty
on January 03, 2016 at 06:48:11 am

Your sentence poses more questions than answers. The most important to me is "founding fathers."

The only writing that represents the founding fathers is the 1787, draft constitution for the USA, and they neither conducted legislative prayer nor invoked theism in their document. The dissenters and first Congress introduced the tyranny of religion.

However, allowing anyone from two-hundred yeas ago dominate opinion today would be a big mistake. It is obvious to a civic people of 2015 that the great men of the eighteenth century had many mistaken ideas. Only a civic people can correct the mistakes.

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Phil Beaver
on January 03, 2016 at 13:00:03 pm

You put the cart before the horse. If not for the 200 years of culture that was heavily based and influenced on Judeo-Christian morality, you would not have the specific American civil virtues that you seem to prefer such as individual liberty. Do you think individual liberty has grown stronger as we continue to banish religion from the civic forum? I can't say that's true based on what is going on in academia right now.

"The dissenters and first Congress introduced the tyranny of religion."

Well it is obvious where you are coming from. I don't think you will succeed as a rhetorician if you insult a substantial portion of your audience like that.

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boxty
on January 03, 2016 at 14:13:16 pm

boxty,

I do not aspire to be a rhetorician. I appeal as plainly as my limitations allow to this forum for collaboration on our work.

I read, think, write, discuss, and collaborate to establish a civic people of the United States. Our group adopted its title in July, 2015, to benefit from two years' work toward persuading 70 % of citizens to stop indolently referring to "we, the people." We urge people to understand both why the representative phrase is "We the People of the United States" and the civic contract that statement asserts; then, to modify their preamble-paraphrase for goals each person would commit to for civic living in 2016.

We collaborate to distinguish our work from "we, the people," a totality that was never considered and could only be approached asymptotically. Without collaboration at meetings at Baton Rouge libraries, I would be where I was two years ago, and the collaboration has never been anything but candid. No rhetorical practices--just plain talk, sometimes brutal for me as what I thought was good was shown to be either insufficient or plain wrong.

Just this morning, I improved a key definition by addressing "public" for the first time, as follows. “Civic” refers to the ineluctable connections persons have because they collaborate for life during the same years on the same land rather than either “public,” which refers to all inhabitants including criminals, or “social” which refers to association by preference or class. Please debate that definition of "civic."

I think most Christians are part of a civic people of the United States (for example, personally reject Bible information respecting the master-slave relationship), but theists have been misled to assert that unless you believe in a god you cannot be a citizen (James Madison's tyranny) and Chapter XI Machiavellianism (The Prince).

Almost twenty years ago, I proposed amendment of the First Amendment to protect thought, a personal responsibility and civic duty, rather than religion, a private institution. That proposal may be a surprise to you, but it would probably not be surprising at all to the signers, who drafted a constitution for the USA that accomplished that noble provision. The first Congress negated the signers promising intentions toward personal liberty. Not only that, as long as religion is allowed to contend with civic morality, there will not be legal order. Politician-clergy partnerships will compete with the law as long as the people allow it.

Regardless of how the signers felt, at least 80 million 2016 Americans would appreciate relief from the theism wars that are so costly to the years of their lives all to help some people's hopes for the vast time during their afterdeaths.

I hope you find the proposal respecting personal liberty with civic well-being noble enough for collaboration.

Regardless, I appreciate your heartfelt comments.

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Phil Beaver
on January 04, 2016 at 17:52:48 pm

The main problem I find in your thesis, Phil, is that American government and society are populist. We don't do things collectively because those things are rational. We do things collectively because most of us feel like doing those things. Whether those things make sense or not is irrelevant.

We could lay out a formal set of ethics and tell everyone "Go do that." But if society isn't doing those things already, there is a reason why.

To bring everyone in a populist society into conformity would require an immense propaganda effort. Take a look inside a large advertising firm and you will find lots of radical leftist progressives. They know where to apply influence to bring about social change. They use money from large organizations to promote the large organization, and at the same time they slip in political messages, at the advertiser's expense.

Ever wonder why most TV commercials have at least one black character in them?

That's political messaging. Without that messaging, Obama would never have won his second term. The same messaging techniques are being used to sell the American public on leftist ideals. (Today look for lots media messaging in the form of a strong white female lead with a supporting, seemingly “noble,” black male character in a secondary role, and weird or violent wealthy white male secondary characters in upcoming commercials, TV shows and movies. Also look for those female characters to be associated with needy children and health care.)

The body politic is not rational. It will not conform to someone else's set of contrived ethics, rational or otherwise, especially if it takes power and control away from politicians. Unconstrained popular government--whether communist, socialist, fascist, democratic or republican--will not follow ideals that weaken popular government.

Constrained popular government, such as the original Madisonian constitution (with the flaws corrected in the implementation of its constraints), can be a container for rational society; one that is not heavily influenced by populist corruptions. I think that if you continue to research your thesis, that is the point you will eventually arrive at.

We cannot invoke a set of ethics for other people to live by. Sensible freedom-loving people will reject that proposal.

We can construct a system of government which has a filter that prevents representative government from doing wasteful and destructive things. That objective would be our most constructive use of time, IMO, at least for society in general. Personal purposes are a different matter of course.

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Scott Amorian
on January 04, 2016 at 21:57:25 pm

Phil, I'm not interested in getting in a long debate with you. But I do have these responses to your response to my comment:

1) I appreciate that you are not a utilitarian because you are not concerned with maximizing aggregate utility. This begs the question of the ground on which you find the "personal liberty" of each person a morally compelling end in organizing a society. I'm not clear on how this end emerges from "physics," which (as you use the word) just means the natural physical laws of the universes - with which all possible political systems (whether moral or immoral) are compatible. Nobody, not even Hitler, has ever violated the laws of physics. One could base an argument for the personal liberty of each person on a number of different philosophical approaches (utilitarian, Kantian, Lockean), but you do not follow any of these approaches, as far as I can tell.

2) In my previous comment, I merely pointed that, whether you are right or wrong about the necessity of a strict separation between religion and state (a question that I am not interested in debating), in the United States today, such a division already exists and is rigorously enforced (that is, if you accept the convention that "secularism" is not itself a kind of religion). At this point in our history, the coercion runs the other way - "secular" values are being enforced against those who wish to live according to traditional religious values, and the enforcement reaches the private activity of these individuals. In response, you simply restate your belief in keeping politics strictly secular, which (assuming the coherence of your position) does not address my point, namely, that this is a battle that your side has already won in this country. Aside from your obsession with extirpating religious values from politics, you do not seem to have much to say about how society should be governed.

Have a nice day.

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djf
on January 04, 2016 at 22:35:46 pm

Scott,

I appreciate your concerns, public relations points, and practical analysis. I consult with one non-profit PR expert, and she tells me I need to write a book. I am working on an article.

Let me focus on your statement: "We cannot invoke a set of ethics for other people to live by. Sensible freedom-loving people will reject that proposal."

You stated the reason that neither American opinion-evolution from Blackstone nor governance under theism is working: Neither satisfies personal liberty with civic well-being (PLwCWB). "Everybody knows" the dysfunctions but cannot articulate them. Also, the preamble is a totalitarian statement; the factional (sectarian) protestants who could have started using it in 1788 labeled it non-Christian (secular) and never gave it another thought. (Have you heard Leonard Cohen's vocal poetry "Everybody Knows"? www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2cgPk7d9x8&list=PL1YEmsi2t-CuTOrkXzAPkHXBoNww5cSgd . Catch the fantastic oud solo by John Bilezikjian at about 4:00.)

My thesis is that a people may collaborate (a voluntary activity, much like the civic contract stated in the preamble and in George Washington's June 8, 1783 farewell address--not the later one) for civic morality using physics to negotiate PLwCWB and the updated preamble to coordinate concerns. Civic well-being entails keeping personal pursuits such as religion private while maintaining civic morality. Benefits are pretty easy: civic persons neither lie, cheat, steal, run red lights nor impose religion such as legislative prayer. A civic couple conceives a child and stays together so as to help with their grandchildren. Civic gay partners don't try to be parents. Someone who vacations to the moon pays the bill including the cost of public safety.

People who deviate from civic morality bear the arbitrary costs, such as surrogacy, day-care for single-parenthood, and such. Opinion-based laws that defy physics-based ethics are discovered and corrected. For example, laws making it possible for a child to be born into poverty and die in poverty are reformed. Regulations preserving superstition and ignorance in public schools are reformed. All of this is to be accomplished by collaboration: no imposition, except for the deviants, criminals, evils, and aliens to a civic people. I think 70 % of Americans from all no-harm factions (including the top 1% earners) would like this way of living: it just never has been proposed before now, because of the two aforementioned civic impositions: theism and opinion-based law. Most people want civic morality; it just never has been proposed.

My thesis moves so fast, due to collaboration, it is hard for me to keep up. Just this morning, reflecting on an article in National Affairs, I wrote the best ever definition of "civic" as I use it, which follows. “Civic” refers to the ineluctable connections each person has because they collaborate for life during the same years on the same land rather than either “public,” which refers to all inhabitants including criminals and such, or “social” which refers to association by preference or class. That definition of “civic” is essential for understanding this thesis. A civic people is only a fraction of "we, the people."

The first post on my blog is dated February 9, 2014, and my only goal was to persuade people to use the literal preamble to the constitution for the USA rather than indolently claim the vanity "we, the people." With the handfuls of people who attended library discussions led with my poor communications skills, collaboration has produced the ten-point theory for collaboration by a civic people in the 7/12/15 post. That is only 17 months of collaboration and we only meet each Ratification Day and each Constitution Day and one special occasion.

With your avocational talents focused on voluntary collaboration to establish a civic people of the United States, the quality of the theory could increase tremendously. Meanwhile, I will continue to work. If you would like to read my draft article (and critique it, please), please email me: [email protected] It is an unconventional, brief US history lesson, but it has nearly thirty references for ten pages of writing.

Thank you again for your comments, and I will read them again when a team is trying to routinely communicate beyond Baton Rouge.

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Phil Beaver
on January 04, 2016 at 23:35:05 pm

djf,

I appreciate your responses.

It is difficult for anyone to share the experiences that produce thoughts, but "the ground on which you find the “personal liberty” of each person a morally compelling end in organizing a society" caused me to think of two things: 1) the wonder of so many great people going about their personal pursuits in New York City, where I visit because my daughter lives there and 2) the fact that in my 25th year of marriage I abruptly realized how foreign my wife's Louisiana-French Catholic faith was from my mom and dad's Southern Baptism and got on my knees and begged her forgiveness for there-to-fore assuming her faith was like mine. I gave up my religion--wherein I had eight functions from widows' van pool to chairman of the family enrichment committee--to honor hers. In the subsequent months, I realized that I had always had faith in the objective truth of which most is undiscovered and some is understood. I will not go back to before but do not want anyone to adopt my faith: I could be wrong.

Humankind's moral reform slowly advances as physics is understood. Everything emerges from physics. Physics is energy, mass and space-time. “Everything” includes the universe, biology, imagination, reason, faith, lies, crime, religion, ethics—everything. Theism emerged perhaps 10 thousand years ago and monotheism about 4 thousand years ago.

The philosophical approach I take comes from my own experiences applied to statements by Albert Einstein. He wrote so much about science versus religion yet never made the psychological leap from "science," a study, to physics, the object of the study. I have studied his essay "The Laws of Science and The Laws of Ethics," (see www.samharris.org/blog/item_working/my-friend-einstein ) . His only example for the practice of physics-based ethics is that we do not lie to each other so that we can communicate.

Respecting your second paragraph, I do not advocate the hostility you attribute to me and apologize for giving you that impression. I have no desire to demand separation of state from church. I reject your characterization of me in "a battle that your side has already won in this country." I am a personal liberal and fiscal conservative who looks to physics for the bedrock reference for fidelity. Thank you very much.

I wish to point out to fellow citizens that personal pursuits like religion are not civic affairs. No one needs to know about my god. Do you want to explain your god to the magistrate? Making religion a civic issue negates any possibility of personal liberty with civic well-being. Once a civic people influence politics, any and all no-harm religions and none will flourish. A civic people will privately pursue their religion and also collaborate for civic morality. If a civic people deem the First Amendment should be amended to protect thought instead of religion, it will happen.

“Civic” refers to the ineluctable connections each person has because they collaborate for life during the same years on the same land rather than either “public,” which refers to all inhabitants including criminals and such, or “social” which refers to association by preference or class. That definition of “civic” is essential for understanding my statements.

I appreciate your ideas and good wish. Good evening to you.

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Phil Beaver
on January 05, 2016 at 00:18:52 am

Phil, you did not really answer either of my questions, but that 's fine.

I notice that you keep using the phrase "no-harm." You might want to think about what constitutes "harm." The answer not as obvious as you might think.

Whether Einstein is a suitable guide to morality is debatable.

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djf
on January 05, 2016 at 10:44:09 am

"For example, laws making it possible for a child to be born into poverty and die in poverty are reformed. Regulations preserving superstition and ignorance in public schools are reformed. All of this is to be accomplished by collaboration: no imposition, except for the deviants, criminals, evils, and aliens to a civic people. I think 70 % of Americans from all no-harm factions (including the top 1% earners) would like this way of living: it just never has been proposed before now, because of the two aforementioned civic impositions: theism and opinion-based law. Most people want civic morality; it just never has been proposed."

Phil, sometimes you just make me laugh. 99.999% of Americans don't want your physics-based civic morality. It's weird. It's anti-American. And it goes against popular norms. I have no interest in allocating my free time to your fringe political cause. I have no interest in countering your arguments point by point. You believe religiously that the sky is yellow. There is no way I can point out to you that it is blue.

For my purposes I just enjoy writing on subjects because that is a great way to learn. You, in contrast, have no interest in learning anything the conflicts with your fringe religious beliefs.

Meanwhile, please stop using this forum to propagandize your beliefs. I know you are a vapid propagandist because propagandists always try to turn every otherwise interesting conversation into a sales pitch for their cause. The people reading your propaganda in this forum immediately recognize it for what it is. You make it difficult for everyone else to have meaningful conversations, which is a highly uncivil behavior. That is incredibly selfish of you, yes? How about if you just go around knocking on doors, annoying the residents, and handing out religious pamphlets instead.

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Scott Amorian
on January 05, 2016 at 11:45:48 am

Scott,

There's no doubt about it. Your form of censure has prevailed in England for 800 years and in the USA for 228 years. What you are too indolent to address starts with the Christian labeling of the preamble to the constitution for the USA as a "secular" sentence.

I realized this morning that in this forum I represent a new "originalist" opinion: The signers of the draft constitution for the USA offered, on September 17, 1787, in the preamble, governance of by and for a civic people (not quite a Lincoln quote) instead of governance under god and Blackstone. However, it was too much too soon, and on June 21, 1788, the will of the 99% Protestant and 1% Catholic inhabitants prevailed to perhaps continue with Blackstone but certainly reinstate legislative prayer. Legislative prayer is that age-old tool that politicians use to appear "divine" as "a god's emissary," and it's pure Chapter XI Machiavellianism.

This forum is frustrated with the status of those two influences 228 years later. I've studied the history and opine that most of the people who contributed to the dysfunction were doing their honest best, with a few exceptions like Abraham Lincoln, with his trumping of the constitution using the Declaration of Independence. However, for needed reforms, honesty is insufficient: Integrity is called for.

And in these last few days I have come to realize that fidelity is more important to the individual than faith. I need to write an essay about this and will. Einstein is my first illustration of the principle. If Einstein had held faith in his mathematical model of the universe, he would have accepted his own work, which informed him that the universe is expanding. However, he relied on his faith in his static-universe paradigm and introduced his "Cosmological Factor," in other words a fudge factor, to empower his faith over his fidelity.

The integrity needed herein has two key elements. First, no one knows about his or her god/none and each believer is motivated by hope for the best result in a personal, heartfelt concern. Respecting heartfelt concerns, no one should disparage the others' god/none: me yours nor you mine. That's civic reality rather than religion or propaganda. Second, opinion, especially Supreme Court opinion with its long and twisted path from Blackstone, cannot be the bedrock of civic morality. Therefore, a civic people must look elsewhere. Einstein spoke the people's language and debated "science and religion" for decades, never looking past "science," a discovery process, to "physics," the object of research. Everything, including opinion, emerges from physics, the bedrock of civic morality. The statements carry integrity that will not yield to labels like "propaganda." It is ludicrous to pit Blackstone against physics, but the idea should not be disparaged as propaganda.

This forum constantly provides creative expressions for this opportunity for reform to the civic goals the preamble's signers offered yet did not articulate, because they did not have the benefit of these 228 years.

As long as the sponsors of this forum brook my infrequent readings and posts, I will continue, because unbelievable as it may be to you, Scott, I am working for personal liberty with civic well-being. There's no propaganda involved in civic collaboration. People are free to collaborate or not. But collaboration demands consideration of the objective truth and candid, explicit expression with open-mindedness to other civic persons' views about the objective truth. (Michael Polanyi, in his book Personal Knowledge, 1958, asserts that a Christian praying to his god is as valid in his pursuit of personal liberty as someone with faith in the objective truth. I do not dispute Polanyi's claim for him but do not accept his disparagement of my faith in most of the book. Like Einstein, Polanyi did not look past "science" to "physics" IMO.)

I hope you can see how much I appreciate your comments and how strongly I think we collaborate: you were blunt, and that's what civic collaboration requires.

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Phil Beaver
on January 05, 2016 at 11:49:36 am

Sorry.

" If Einstein had held faith in his mathematical model of the universe, he would have accepted his own work, which informed him that the universe is expanding." Should read "If Einstein had held fidelity to his mathematical . . ."

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Phil Beaver
on January 05, 2016 at 13:26:27 pm

djf,

I'm entering notes from my reading of Fernando Flores' book "Conversations for Action . . . ", 2012 and share this entry:

Flores worked to instill “a culture of [explicit] commitment in . . . a dominantly capitalistic world.” Capital negotiations, transaction, and coordination go beyond self-interest to concerns for each party. Therefore, there must be collaboration for the interests of each person. “Explicit” means stated clearly and in detail, leaving no room for confusion or doubt.

You asked how I came to focus on personal liberty and I answered from personal experience. That includes the recognition that Albert Einstein, in his claim that ethics and science has the same source reflected his psychological weakness of not expressing (aware or not) that "science" is the process for discovering "physics" from which everything emerges. Perhaps he allowed popular opinion to dictate his participation in the "science and religion" debate. (He was speaking to a 1941 Chicago convention on the debate. It is a stretch to say that Einstein is my guide to morality; at least, I do not accept that opinion.

The principle of living so as to not cause harm is not new and one does not have to identify harm to oppose the practice. It is expressed in the platinum rule, "Don't do to another what you don't want done to you," but even that rule is egocentric. In attempting to discover harm, the place to start is physics (from which opinion emerges) rather than either derivatives of Blackstone opinion or religious opinion.

I appreciate your response.

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Phil Beaver
on January 05, 2016 at 15:42:47 pm

Gee, Phil thanks for the highly erudite discussion of Einstein. I know legions of physicists have been awaiting your comments and can now proceed to explore the final frontiers of physics.

BTW: Have a good physic!!!!

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gabe
on January 05, 2016 at 23:18:36 pm

Phil, you seem to misunderstand the Einstein essay you refer to. He did not believe in "physics-based ethics." He specifically wrote: "Scientific statements of facts and relations, indeed, cannot produce ethical directives." He compared fundamental ethical propositions ("[i]f we can agree on [them]") to axioms in mathematics - axioms being statements that are not derived from anything more fundamental.

He also seems to have been something of a utilitarian, since he proposed as an ethical axiom, "Pain and sorrow shall be lessened as much as possible."

I know of no evidence that Einstein shared your concern for individual liberty. In fact, I recall reading that, like many European intellectuals of his generation, he was sympathetic to the Soviet Union.

I doubt that you persuading, or even impressing, anyone who frequents this site. I know you a mature man, but you come across very much like a callow college kid who thinks he has devised a brand new, never-before-thought-of system that solves all ethical problems and would save the world, if only people would just give up all their existing beliefs and practices, shut up and listen to him. As a political philosopher, you seem to be a very good chemical engineer.

Readers who visit this site by this time knows that you have a "Civic People" website where you develop your "system," and they can always go that website if they are interested in your ideas. Perhaps, then, you could consider leaving the commenting here to those who (unlike you) are genuinely interested in the subject matter of the authors' posts.

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djf
on January 05, 2016 at 23:48:55 pm

djf,

When I opine that an author on this blog is insincere, I ignore their posts.

Thank you for enrichment: You seem like a Bible apologist plying selectivity. Let's consider the entire paragraph from which you quoted:

Einstein wrote, "From this it might seem as if logical thinking were irrelevant for ethics. Scientific statements of facts and relations, indeed, cannot produce ethical directives. However, ethical directives can be made rational and coherent by logical thinking and empirical knowledge. If we can agree on some fundamental ethical propositions, then other theoretical propositions can be derived from them, provided that the original premises are stated with sufficient precision. Such ethical premises play a similar role in ethics, to that played by axioms in mathematics."

As always, we must agree on the meanings of words, and "empirical" means to me "verifiable by observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic."

I have already boasted that I improved on Einstein's essay be recognizing that science is the study of physics, from which everything emerges including observation, in this case.

What was your advice now? "Perhaps, then, you could consider leaving the commenting here to those who (unlike you) are genuinely interested in the subject matter of the authors’ posts."

As always, thank you for your open thoughts.

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Phil Beaver
on January 06, 2016 at 00:31:34 am

Einstein said, "ethical directives can be made rational and coherent by logical thinking and empirical knowledge." He did not say that empirical knowledge is itself the source of ethical directives. Quite the opposite. But if you want to believe otherwise, suit yourself.

You are not one of the authors here. You are commenter, a guest of the authors (as am I). It is rather discourteous to post comments evangelizing for your homemade philosophy that have nothing to do with the posts to which they are appended. But I guess you don't care about that.

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djf
on January 06, 2016 at 01:07:25 am

djf,

You seem to be a typical theist or atheist: Someone with another view writes and your mind distorts your person. My writing clearly expresses that a civic people discover the emergence from physics, studies how to benefit and thereby determines the ethics. Thus, the physics-based ethics comes from a civic people.

Civic collaboration requires maturity and does not involve emotions (borrowing from Einstein). Also, borrowing from Fernando Flores, collaborating to produce value is very different from communicating to maximize the self-interest of each party involved. I propose collaboration for civic morality.

Also, as I have stated before, I do not read most of the posts on this blog, because I have a life to live with three more in this home. So far, every post I have read well deserves a response in support of personal liberty with civic well-being. Every post I have read is engaging and many of the tiles are hard to resist.

My appreciation includes "guests of the authors," such as you. Good evening, djf.

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Phil Beaver
on January 06, 2016 at 10:52:51 am

djf:

It is hopeless - I liken it to speaking with Obama - a man so taken with his own intellectual *prowess*, understanding and vision that all who do not agree are, by definition, 2nd rate thinkers incapable of grasping the "subtleties" as perceived by the Great Beaver or the Big 0 (zero, that is).

Now, Off to Coventry with the Great Beaver!!!

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gabe
on January 06, 2016 at 11:36:03 am

gabe,

I love to reduce my ignorance, and this morning I understand your past invitation to Coventry.

I'll never forget asking you for the necessary provisions, then having you claim I was asking for the passage, then responding that I only needed your name, address, and phone number.

This goes with my collection of great stories about local sayings and sharing people.

I appreciate your persistence with "send to Coventry."

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Phil Beaver
on January 18, 2016 at 18:22:41 pm

". . . the greatest threat to limited government—the burgeoning entitlement state. . ."

Disagree, Mr. McGinnis. First, the statement is something of a tautology; you're essentially stating that the greatest threat to small government is big government.

Second, "the greatest threat to limited government" is privately owned central banks with their fraudulent fractional reserve practices.

The "burgeoning entitlement state," and the military industrial complex (taken together as the bloated welfare/warfare state) are merely tools for funneling wealth from the masses to the banking elite. A bloated state means increasing debt, requiring endless taxing to service it. The debt also results in continuous money creation, by which inflation, the most insidious of taxes, keeps the population constantly struggling to keep up.

The bloated state is not the ultimate threat; it is a means to an end.

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Drommard

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