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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

The Golden Age

The Golden Age ; The Phoenix Exultant ; The Golden Transcendence by John C. Wright.

Politics, which is the recourse to the use of force to organize interpersonal relationships, was unknown to the majority of the citizens of the Golden Oecumene.

I am always looking for science fiction that is not lessened by the author’s flawed worldview. In the Golden Age trilogy I found that and then some.

There are three volumes but this is one long novel. I found it to be money and time well spent.

This is a far future tale set in what is almost a post-scarcity economy: humans have immortality thanks to mind recording; vast energy and computational resources; can tailor their sensory experiences however they wish; and can choose between living in their own invented universes, the real world, or anything in between. But the laws of economics still apply: the author realises that there is still scarcity of human effort and attention. Phaethon, the protagonist, is attempting to achieve “deeds of renown, without peer”, and it is a struggle. Says the author in an interview he gave:

There would still be rich and poor, even if the poorest of the poor were absurdly well off by our standards. No advancements can eliminate differences in the abilities of men, or the differences in how men value the abilities of their fellow man (which is what causes inequality of prices and hence of incomes).

There is artificial intelligence, the most advanced of which are self-aware computers called Sophotechs who have intelligence vastly superior to humans, and it is possible to argue that the existence of these would make humans redundant. However, from the novel:

“It is true that the Sophotechs can perform any of these operations more swiftly and more efficiently than can we. But it is also true that they cannot do everything at once, at every place at once, as cheaply as everyone wishes. There is always someone somewhere who wants some further things done, some further work accomplished. There is always someone willing to pay much less for work moderately less well done.”

The setting is the Golden Oecumene, a solar-system spanning civilisation. In the interview the author describes the depicted society as a libertarian utopia with no public property. This state of affairs has persisted for so long that characters find violence unthinkable. If there were to be violence it would be dealt with swiftly by robotic constables. There is a parliament which does very little, and a rarely used court system. Most contractual disputes are worked out by Sophotech arbitrators. Finally, there is the College of Hortators.

The name derives from ‘exhortation’. From the appendix to the novel:

Hortators, as they were called, were a response to the paradox of free government; namely, that free government is sufficiently limited in power to leave all nonviolent activities, i.e., the culture, in private hands; but that the cultural values allowing for such liberties must be maintained.

The system is a voluntary method of enforcing social norms, the purpose of which is to preserve the culture which enables all this freedom and lack of violence. Contracts contain a standard clause that voids them if either party deals with anyone shunned by the Hortators. Therefore the Hortators have the ability to effectively exhile someone from normal society. Since people voluntarily add these clauses to their contracts, the Hortators must use their power wisely or else themselves fall into disrepute. It is a neat system whose pitfalls are thoroughly explored by the plot.

You might imagine law enforcement by omnipresent robotic constables equates to a scary police state. But the constables simply prevent violence. There is no corruption because the society is so open. People freely share memories and partial simulations of their minds with each other, which makes lying in one’s dealings impractical. They feel little need for privacy because they do not fear each other in a society where it is all but impossible to cause harm to another. Apart from strict adherence to the non-aggression principle, there is tolerance for almost any lifestyle.

Instead of uniformity or warring factions, Mr. Wright has constructed a society where multiple alternate lifestyles exist in harmony. There are people with brain architectures so different that they need AI translators to communicate; there are different kinds of bodies from humans to marine animals to uploads to people who exist as ecosystems of other animals. There are different aesthetics chosen according to on one’s senses or style preferences. And there are different schools of lifestyle, such as our protagonist’s Silver-Gray school which insists on, among other things, a realistic aesthetic of real physical objects, the mental discipline of not artificially modifying one’s emotions, and Victorian manners. Technology allows for many other choices in these things, and many of these other choices are described in the novel.

While it is possible to exist purely in a simulated reality, and many do, most people live at least partly in the physical world, using telepresence in the form of mannequins or even their real bodies. But even in the real world, sense filters modify one’s perceptions according to personal taste and to aid communication. And modification of one’s own memories is common practice.

Information security given such technology is one of the themes of the novel. Mr. Wright has managed to construct a perfect world and still have an exciting plot within it. The novel opens with Phaethon enjoying his time at the millennial celebrations, but with a vague unease that something is wrong. A chance encounter with a strange old man makes him realise that he has forgotten large portions of his (several thousand years of) life. Since no-one can have forced him to erase his memories, he must have done so voluntarily. But why?

How does one tell what is real when one’s perceptions and memories may be altered? The answer is that since reality is objective, it is a matter of looking at the evidence and using reason. This is a work of rationalist fiction. There are no red-herrings. It is possible for the reader to think through and work out what is going on. There are multiple levels of deception at times as the protagonist uncovers deeper and deeper levels of truth. But it all makes sense in the end. Everything is neatly wrapped up.

Another theme is progress versus stagnation. While Phaethon is discovering his memory loss, a group of the richest people in the Oecumene are discussing the future. They want to influence things to reduce the risk of them losing their relative positions in society by avoiding progress and change. From the interview:

On the surface, the Roman and Victorian periods were times of high civilization, golden ages, and so comparisons with my invented far-future society were inevitable. Beneath the surface, I will point out that both were periods when civilization had to make a decision whether to remain true to itself, and expand, or betray itself, and decline.

The Romans chose poorly, trading Republican stoicism for Imperium, luxury and stagnation. Queen Victoria’s people chose correctly, choosing parliamentary democracy over Monarchy, and middle-class virtue over Regency corruption. The Roman choice led to the Dark Ages; the Victorian choice led to the Industrial Revolution.

The folk in my novel, and the civilization depicted there, face the same choice. If they betray the great dream that made them great, they will perish. I leave it for the reader to determine whether the author is making a comment about the times in which he also lives.

At times some characters experience the feeling of poverty, despite having great wealth. While the feeling is of relative poverty, the author and even the characters are clear about their absolute wealth. Characters are able to contemplate the horror of living in a more primitive time when people had to cope with death or being stuck in the bodies they were born in. In fact the characters of the future don’t quite comprehend our poverty. One is reduced to lighting a fire using a solar powered infra-red concentrating device, much as she imagines hunter-gatherers once did.

Importantly, the author constructs his libertarian utopia without irony. The society has problems but is not a dystopia. For example there are descriptions of people who have deliberately deluded themselves with false memories, which have caused them problems that they can not solve because they no longer believe the truth about the world. As a result they lose wealth, which can in extreme cases lead to death if they cannot afford the computing resources to run their minds. Such tragedies are lamented in the book, but it is acknowledged that these people suffer as a result of their own freely made bad choices, and that resorting to violence to stop them from making such choices is a solution worse than the problem.

The author is an atheist turned Catholic for reasons I have not tried to understand. I worried about how this would affect the writing, but I detected nothing. There may well be Christian moral messages but since the moral messages in the book are compatible with libertarianism, there is nothing I found any complaint with.

All in all, this is a story rich in ideas, set in a consistent and well thought out universe. Its plot, which I have deliberately not detailed, concerns civilisation-changing events caused by the grand deeds of individuals. It is a long novel but the pacing is right. Enough words are spent lingering over details, arguments and reasoning, the writing erudite and humorous, but not too many words: events happen; the plot shifts along.

Best of all, the books are riddled with ‘Samizdata quote of the day’ material. Some examples.

On ageing:

some, it was said, programmed the nanomachines floating in their cell nuclei to produce, as years passed, the wrinkled skin, hair defects, osteoarthritis, and general physical decay that figured so prominently in ancient literature, poems, and interactives. Phaethon wondered in horror what could prompt a man to indulge in such slow and deliberate self-mutilation.

On collectivism:

Mass-minds were the last refuge, in modern times, of that type of person who would have, in earlier eras, turned to collectivist political or religious movements, and drowned their individuality in mobs, in mindless conformity, in pious fads and pious frauds.

On greed, selfishness and pride:

“In the better-loved tales, something else prevails besides greed and selfishness and pride!”

“The three qualities you mention, sir, to call them by their proper names—ambition, independence, and self-esteem-always figured quite prominently in the stories I loved in my youth, I can assure you of that. Perhaps you make a public show, for reasons about which I do not care to speculate, of admiring the opposite qualities: sloth, sheepish conformity, and self-loathing.”

On consensus:

“Truth does not become more or less true, whether those who know it are many or few. And it has never been masses or mobs who shaped destiny but single individuals, visionaries, innovators…”

On politeness:

“No one is in the habit of watching what they say, these days. Who said that an unarmed society was a rude society?”

On government:

…for just a moment, he had thought that the government and the society of the Golden Oecumene was capable of the type of mean, low, and deceptive practices which the barbarian governments of primitive and unenlightened ages had practiced throughout all time. A time now long past…

More on economics:

“Efficiency does not harm the inefficient. Quite the opposite. That is simply not the way it works. […] Machines don’t make us redundant; they increase our efficiency in every way.”

On law:

“But I would not do everything the law allows, not things I thought were wrong; and you your whole life have said that people ought to avoid what’s wrong and ugly and base and inhuman, whether it’s legally allowed or not.”

On moral relativism:

“It is true that we are about to engage in acts of mass murder… But your distaste for these things is merely part of the widespread program of thought control imposed upon you by your Sophotechs! It is they who told you that there is an absolute right and wrong, and objective measure of good and evil. […] You merely have an opinion that mass murder and destruction is bad because of your social conditioning. It is irrelevant.”

[…]

“Rebellion requires conviction. Once conviction is destroyed, slavery is welcomed and freedom is feared. To destroy conviction, all it takes is a philosophy like the one I heard Ao Varmatyr telling me.”

Finally, from the appendix, on limited government:

The severely limited powers of the government in the Golden Age rendered government useless and unnecessary for the conduct of daily affairs of life. It had no power to aid or assist those who had, or who imagined, difficulties. Consequently, no one turned to it for aid in time of need; no social movement expended precious resources in an attempt to gain control of the organs of government, or the levers of power, because those organs were atrophied, and those levers were only connected to judicial institutions and police forces of severally limited operation.

52 comments to The Golden Age

  • Dom

    “…the cultural values allowing for such liberties must be maintained.”

    Isn’t that the problem with the libertarian view of free immigration? That there is a subset of immigrants who will vote for growth of the welfare state, and there are politcians who will encourage such immigration since it keeps them in power.

  • Laird

    Sounds interesting. Of course, my library doesn’t have it. Guess I’ll have to wait.

  • Isn’t that the problem with the libertarian view of free immigration? That there is a subset of immigrants who will vote for growth of the welfare state, and there are politcians who will encourage such immigration since it keeps them in power.

    No, Dom. That is the problem with a system that allows the state to be powerful enough for people to vote themselves other people’s money.

    When Labour was elected in 1945 and started its cascade of nationalisations and confiscations, they did so after being elected by an overwhelmingly white ‘indigenous’ electorate who wanted a welfare state. And FDR in the USA was similarly elected because large numbers of white people voted for him, well before waves of non-white and hispanic immigration in the USA.

    Or were you under the impression only brown people vote for welfare states?

  • Dom

    “Or were you under the impression only brown people vote for welfare states?”

    Of course not. But in both your country and my country, the wave of welfare came under extraordinary circumstances, a world war and depression. Furthermore, there was a new philosphy — Keynsianism — which encouraged this solution. There was always a sense in our countries that the welfare state was wrong and “created laziness” as Malcolm X, of all people, once put it. See also, this great song (sorry if I got the song from Samizdata to begin with):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfIXFIImw7g

    You really can’t deny that free immigration, when used by politicians who have no respect for individual liberties otherwise, is simply a way of maintaining the welfare state, and their own jobs.

    Libertarianism may thrive with controlled immigration. But it definitely won’t with free immigration.

  • Current

    In the US most immigrants do vote for Democrats. I think the problem is that natives of developed countries are more familiar with the problems of welfare states than those from outside. New immigrants are in the position many western people were in in the 30s and 40s, they see welfare states as a free lunch.

  • Laird

    Dom, good song; thanks for the link.

    You are certainly correct that welfare as we know it came about in the US “under extraordinary circumstances.” It is now so thoroughly ingrained that it will never be eliminated, or even seriously carved back, without some massive societal collapse (which is likely coming). But that doesn’t change the fact that prior to the 20th century the US had essentially no immigration restrictions (the exception being for the Chinese) and the country prospered mightily with its “open borders” policy. Eliminate welfare and we could go back to that system, and libertarianism would indeed thrive under it (as would we all). But not before that is done.

  • Rocco

    Dom, typically the more welfare state oriented a political party is, the more gay-friendly will it’s policies be, and the more appealing it will be to homosexuals. So, by your logic, the correct policy for libertarians, at present at least, would be to press the State to outlaw homosexuality.
    A similar analysis can be applied to single mothers, drug users, trade unionists etc.
    Doesn’t this strike you as rather strange?

  • Dom

    Laird, prior to the 20th century the U.S. was a quickly developing nation. Immigrants who chose the U.S. wanted to work. Today, it is seen as a country where the wealthy can easy carry the unwealthy. The same is largely true of the England. Before the 20th century would anyone ask for a “Jihad Seeker’s Allowance”?

    Rocco, I’m very confused here. If you think about it, the more libertarian a party is, the more gay-friendly are its policies.

  • Dave Walker

    Mmm; I see (admittedly from Wikipedia) that “The Golden Age” was first published in 2002; I thought this would be an interesting thing to look up, to see whether the trilogy was written before or after Iain M. Banks’ “Culture” novels were first published, as there seems to be considerable parallels between Banks’ universe and Wright’s (such as various elements of social structure, and the tendency of characters to have really long and complicated names). It looks like both authors were writing at the same time.

    The idea of human effort still being a scare commodity in a post-scarcity economic world is an insightful one. Once I’ve finished “The Hydrogen Sonata”, the (very sadly) last Culture novel, I’ll have to look them up. Thanks for the pointer :-).

  • Rocco

    Dom, I do apologize. By gay-friendly policies I meant policies that divert tax-payer money, and/or grant special privileges to a particular special interest group.
    In this sense, genuine libertarian policies would not be gay-friendly, by the way.
    I hope this has cleared things up, and that now you will be able to say whether or not, in light of this, you now find your position on immigration strange, my friend.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    The only thing I can find about John C. Wright is that some professional gays really don’t like him. Apparently he objected to the lobbying of the SyFy channel to include more positive images of gay people.

    This isn’t enough information for me to reach a conclusion about him, but the fact that his critics used the word “progressive” in their rant against him automatically awarded John C. Wright about a million points as far as I’m concerned.

    See the mouth foaming rant here

    Without knowing the specifics I can see no particular reason why, even in a utopian egalitarian society, the SyFy channel should have any particular requirement to make gays look good, any more than it should have a specific requirement to make heterosexuals, Martians or non-gendered aliens look good.

  • Laird

    Dom, apparently you missed the part in my post about “eliminating welfare”. Whether the US is rapidly developing or already developed, without a welfare state open borders would work quite well.

  • JV: He’s a Catholic and against gay marriage. I haven’t analysed his arguments but I can imagine ways he can hold that position without offending me.

  • The idea of human effort still being a scare commodity in a post-scarcity economic world is an insightful one.

    I haven’t read the book, but the way I see it the world has always been without material scarcity, and the essence of scarcity has always been that of human (or even just animal) effort.

  • Rocco

    Dom, just in case you think I’m trying to lead you into a trap with the homosexual example, let’s take the least controversial of the ones I mentioned: trades unionists.
    Now, for a variety of reasons (mainly to cut down on competition for jobs, and keep wages artificially high), trades unionists tend to vote for parties that will increase the size and scope of the welfare state. Surely, you would not dispute this.
    The libertarian position has always been that people should be free to join trades unions, and the State should not discriminate against trades unionists.
    However, if, as libertarians we must -according to you – oppose immigration because immigrants might end up voting for a bigger welfare state, then surely we must reverse our previous position on trades unionists. We must agitate for union members to be, at the very least, denied the right to vote simply because they are union members. We might even go so far as to press the State to deport them, given the danger they pose.

  • We might even go so far as to press the State to deport them, given the danger they pose

    Not a bad idea, on the face of it…:-P

  • Rocco

    Yeah, now I’ve read it back, I’ve started to convince myself ! XD
    I should stress, though, support for union membership must be withheld if it neccessarily involves coercion (due to government policy).

  • bloke in spain

    Oh, Dom’s quite correct. it’s obvious why a libertarian society can’t be maintained with open immigration. It’s the old cost/benefit thing. The libertarians see the benefits of their libertarian society out weighing the costs of maintaining it. But the incomers may not be libertarians. They may wish to benefit without sharing the cost. But by their nature, libertarians have difficulty in imposing that cost because it goes against the entire philosophy of libertarianism.
    You’ve been able to see this playing out over the past couple decades. The West, by & large, cleaves to the libertarian notion of free speech. Accepting the cost is the speech you may hear may not be to your liking. Muslim immigrants do not share this view. So they claim the right of free speech to not only disseminate their ant–free speech philosophy but to curtail the free-speech of others. To them, there is only a benefit & no cost.

  • Rocco

    Bloke in Spain, my friend, the problem is specific to social democracy. It has nothing to do with libertarianism.

  • Rocco

    Bloke in Spain: What I meant was the “problems with immigration”, are actually problems of social democracy (frankly, democracy per se).
    A libertarian society would have no social programs, hence neither immigrants nor natives could exploit any social programs.
    Or, for example, take the contentious issues surrounding schooling (curriculum, language used in classes etc). These exist solely due to the State’s dominant role in education. Now, this role wouldn’t exist in a libertarian society, thus the associated problems wouldn’t exist.
    Regarding free speech, the problem is not that a fellow may say something a libertarian doesn’t like (this is not a problem at all), but that the State privileges certain types of speech, and forbids certain other types of speech currently. That is, the problem is the absence of free speech, not the abuse of free speech.

  • Those tired of the immigration debate here might prefer the discussion I am enjoying with the author about science fiction: http://www.scifiwright.com/2013/05/wait-what/comment-page-1/#comment-89424

  • phwest

    One might also note that the welfare state in the US was only created AFTER immigration was sharply limited. And that the welfare states in Europe were also generally created before extensive immigration into Europe began (indeed the German welfare state was created during a period of emigration, although mainly of Catholics that although absorbed into the Empire were conquest were not particularly wanted – my great-grandfather being one of them).

  • bloke in spain

    It isn’t actually specifically to do with immigration & it relates very much to the constructed realities of speculative fiction. It’s the problem of dualities a libertarian society must confront. A libertarian society consisting of nothing but libertarians would be viable. But that’s as artificial as fictional worlds. The desire to coerce, to impose, is in human nature. It ain’t going away, as much as you might wish it would. A libertarian society might have no social programs but it has no defense on others creating them. By rejecting coercion, it leaves itself vulnerable to being coerced. My disinterest in US history is profound so I can’t remember if it was Heinlein who wrote this or if he was quoting. Goes something like this; “Freedom is not a right. It is a privilege. And must be regularly redeemed in the blood of patriots.” Likewise, liberty is not a rest state. It’s a dynamic. A process. A continual overthrowing of the tyranny that will accrete otherwise. And you have to accept it’d be a goal will not receive unanimous support. There are those who will rule & those who will wish to be ruled. Liberty & self determination are not an easy option. Are you willing to impose liberty on the unwilling?

    The failing of much speculative fiction is creating societies that could create & sustain themselves without the author’s thumb to heavily on the scales. It’s relatively easy to do with far future epics because the author can use a bloody big thumb & not worry too much how you get from here to there or what keeps it together. It’s damned hard to write about next year.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I read the trilogy about five years ago. I have a confession to make in that while I found a lot of it fascinating for the reasons stated, I also found parts of the stories hard to follow.

  • Rocco

    Bloke in Spain: With respect, you have fallen into the trap of assuming that just because the State wouldn’t produce security in a laissez faire society, then no-one would. This is false, my friend.

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    Bloke in Spain: this is more interesting. There are a few things that keep the society libertarian in this novel.

    * Us ancient people are referred to as insane — because they have complete understanding of brains, the folks in the novel can self edit out any undesirable flaws like (I imagine, it is not explicit) a desire to control others or infantile fear that causes desire for authority.

    * People have memory and cognitive augmentation. Even ordinary humans are at the top end of today’s intelligence bell curve. People are accustomed to reasoning things out. At one point the protagonist debates rationally with a lowly criminal, for example.

    * The machine intelligences hold vastly more wealth and power than the humans do, and they more or less prevent the humans from harming each other. The machines are perfectly rational and have reasoned that violence is not useful.

    The underlying assumption to all this is that if people avoid emotion and think things through rationally, they will necessarily conclude that libertarianism is right, because it is right. That in itself could make it self-sustaining.

    That said, people in the novel have similar concerns to yourself. Though it is (correctly) not about immigration, since people who want to coerce don’t only come from foreign countries.

    This is a speech from the novel on the subject. The speaker is an “Invariant neuroform”, they don’t all talk like this:

    If a critical number of the individuals in society cooperate in actions which lead, deliberately or as a side effect, to conditions which, to an effective number of individuals, appear to favor the use of aggression and deception (as opposed to peaceful strategies of social cooperation) for the achievement of what they at that time perceive to be their goals, then every necessary and sufficient condition for the breakdown of the social order is present, and the pressure favoring the breakdown grows in rough proportion as the effective number of individuals grows. By ‘breakdown’ I mean both that individuals resort to violence and that they believe they must do so for fear that other individuals will do so.

    Logically, to avoid this, a sufficient uniformity of operative decision-making mores and values above a threshold level of participants must obtain; these decision values must include, at least, a priority placed on the preservation of the peaceful resolution of perceived and real conflicts. The term ‘conformity’ is not necessarily inappropriate to depict this uniform decision structure.

  • bloke in spain

    @ Rocco
    If I’ve fallen into the trap of not understanding how a laissez faire society would produce security, perhaps you can enlighten me.

  • Rocco

    My friend, clearly Mr Fisher would prefer this comments thread to remain sci-fi focused, and I have no wish to offend him. So, I will point you in the direction of “The market for liberty” by Morris and Linda Tannehill, and “The private production of defence” by Hans-Hermann Hoppe.
    If we come across one another on a thread dedicated to immigration, I will happily debate you for as long as you wish. But for now, with apologies to both you and Mr Fisher, I shall take my leave.

  • The immigration problem has less to do directly with immigration itself, or even with the welfare state, than it has to do with the simple principle of private property. Immigration only becomes a problem where there is legally mandated public space. Of course the welfare state as we know it now rests on basic violations of the private-property principle – but as such, it is only a symptom, not the root of the problem. Consequently, Bloke’s points, while interesting and partly valid, are irrelevant to the immigration issue.

  • Rocco is right: apologies to Rob for drifting OT with other comments here.

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    Rocco and others: pay no mind to my preferences. I might express them occasionally but that doesn’t mean you should pay any attention to me. :)

  • The desire to coerce, to impose, is in human nature. It ain’t going away, as much as you might wish it would.

    Yes indeed. That is precisely why I am a libertarian but not a pacifist. Actually I am totally OK with coercing people who want to coerce me. People who try to help themselves to my goodies without prior consent via some proxy should be hanged from the nearest lamppost and said appointed proxies put up against a wall and shot dead… and I am quite sure that the only way to make that happen reliably and equitably (as opposed to lynch mobs) is via some collective defence mechanism.

    A libertarian political order is not a contradiction in terms, it is a necessary precondition for exactly the reasons you state. A libertarian political order has to be defensive in nature in order to deal with the collective threat of non-libertarian politics.

  • Paul Marks

    Well people in 1932 thought they were voting for LESS government(that is what Franklin Roosevelt actually campaigned on in 1932).

    Of course by 1936 it was obvious that Roosevelt had been lying – but four years of intense brain washing had done a lot of damage by then. The human mind (agency) does exist – but like many other things that exist, the mind can be attacked and undermined (at least to some extent), if freedom was invulnerable then there would be no point in defending freedom (because it would not need defending).

    The same is true of Britain – not just state education, but years of World War II propaganda had done their work.

    As for the present day – such places as Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine are not exactly known for their vast masses of black and brown people, yet they voted for Comrade Barack (twice).

    The ideas in the heads of people (the endless conditioning that they should let government take care of …..) are more important than the colour of their skin.

    Only by countering this conditioning – by exposing it (letting people know what is being done to them – and to their children) and offering alternatives to government “education” and the “mainstream” media (especially the entertainment media) can this process be fought (can freedom be defended).

    And if that sounds like the “paranoid” man calling out, in desperation, to the car drivers at the end of the first “Invasion of the Bodysnatchers” film – well then better ways must be found of getting the message to the victims of this “conspiracy so vast……”.

    As for the story…..

    I do not see why the author being a Roman Catholic should give any cause for concern – Tolkien was a Roman Catholic.

    Being a Roman Catholic need not mean that someone is like Father C. in the 1930s – demanding “Social Justice” and denouncing Franklin Roosevelt for not being statist ENOUGH (interesting that this sort of dissent was allowed on American radio – at least till later on, after all it made “FDR” look like Mr Moderate…..).

    In reality there are all points of view within the Roman Catholic Church – ranging from the neoCommunist like Father C. (although the lie machine that is the education system and the media – have reinvented this Social Justice fanatic as a “conservative”) to people like Thomas Woods.

  • PeterT

    Immigration only becomes a problem where there is legally mandated public space.

    Bingo. Its a tragedy of the commons problem (public goods are both non-excludable and non-rivalry in consumption; in the tragedy of the commons the latter condition does not hold true which leads to overuse).

    The middle classes don’t worry as much as the working classes over immigration and a big part of this is that the former rely to a lesser extent on public goods.

    While privatisation would be my preferred way of dealing with this, a politically more realistic option would be to exclude new arrivals from the use of public goods. Not of course possible with EU citizens at the moment.

  • Paul Marks

    On immigration.

    Get rid of ALL government benefits for “illegals” (including “free” education and “emergency” healthcare) and get rid of (freedom of association – freedom of non association violating) “anti discrimination” regulations.

    Then the problem will solve itself.

  • Dom

    Immigration only becomes a problem where there is legally mandated public space.

    There are many, many other problems. In parts of England and the U.S. sharia is de facto law. In both countries there is “let’s pretend we do this out of respect and not fear” lying — for example, Yale University Press refusing to print the Mo-Toons. And so on. No, our countries are changing, and not in a good way.

  • Rich Rostrom

    The problem with unlimited immigration in a free society is that the immigrants may not share the consensus beliefs that maintain freedom.

    Recent immigrants to the industrialized west have included

    * people who think that ubiquitous official corruption is normal
    * people who regard crony “capitalism” as normal
    * people who consider the principles of civil society as binding only in relations with members of their own ethnic group
    * people who think the cultural norms of their ethnic group or religion should be maintained by force

    The presence of large numbers of such people attacks the social norms which sustain freedom. If they learn better (and most do) the free society can continue. Too many at once, and it will fail.

  • Paul, the elimination of the welfare state does not solve all of the problems that uncontrolled immigration may pose to local residents, as these problems tend to vary from country to country and from state to state. But in general, all of these problems arise from the existence of “public” goods, services and spaces on the one hand, and from the ongoing and steadily increasing disregard by governments for private-property rights on the other. Fix that (yeah, right), and an “immigrant” becomes someone’s house guest.

  • bloke in spain

    @ Perry. Nice speech. But it answers the easy question whilst avoiding the hard one. How do you get to your libertarian society in the first place? Unless your thinking about colonising another planet you have to work with the society we have here & now. And there’s little sign there’d be a marginal majority for even luke warm libertarianism, let alone the sort of overwhelming support you’d need for what you’re talking about. Been there before with the Declaration of Independence, haven’t we? It took a war between those supporting it & those content with the status quo to bring it about. The fledgling United States was imposed by force.

    It’s also a question to ask of the novel. Does it have an integral history? Does this pocket utopia of the future have an exterior? Because if it doesn’t have an exterior we can take a guess at what happened to the dissenters & what its history might be.

  • bloke in spain

    “The middle classes don’t worry as much as the working classes over immigration and a big part of this is that the former rely to a lesser extent on public goods”
    Curiously, it’s the middle classes who are more reliant on public goods because their relative wealth has always ensured they’ll be delivered. It’s only when their streets became unsafe, their hospitals overwhelmed, their children got threatened at school, immigration became an acceptable topic of conversation. Working class people have always been more self reliant because they’ve never expected the system to deliver. Much is made of recent immigration but it’s the working class who’ve coped with a couple of generations of it.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    The premises of this series is essentially correct – if everybody was smarter and inclined to think long term, libertarianism is the rational choice.

    Alas, we don’t live yet in such a world.

    Fret not though. BGI Shenzhen is working on making the next generation smarter. And if they succeed, it will be in spite of the liberal scolds and blank statists who deny science, not because of them.

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    Bloke in Spain- you might arrive at a freer society simply by undermining your existing one. In the same way as gangs and mobsters worked ‘underground’ to supply the desire for alcohol during Prohibition in America, so Libertarians might sell guns to disarmed citizens, or pot. If they formed a syndicate, this could be done worldwide. I imagine we could kick-start a metal standard simply by trading amongst ourselves in metallic currencies (We could call this the Golden Standard, though not limiting ourselves to gold, and/or silver.). Though I hate cigarettes, I hate government coersion even more, and smokers are becoming the international scape-goat, so we could set up breathe-easy clubs for smokers.
    That could be one way to get to a de-facto libertarian society, as the political class would eventually align itself with reality. (Prohibition was repealed because it failed.)
    Another rebuttal to your comments is your assumption that we are all anarcho-capitalists. I am a minarchist, and I advocate a form of time-share government; if you choose to be a citizen, then you would do some form of community service for eleven months of the year, and be part of the government in the remaining month. Thus we could control the government because we are part of the government, and would have equal access to the weapons and vehicles. This could entail border controls and patrols.
    Libertarianism comes in many shades, BiS.

  • Paul Marks

    Alisa – yes there is also the “Classical” and “Feudal” point of POLITICAL LOYALITY.

    Do people coming into country A actually wish to be loyal to country A (to its institutions and political culture) or are they loyal to the country (or “armed doctrine”) they are from?

    An anarchist may reply that “countries do not exist” – but that just shows that anarchists are, sometimes, dipsticks.

    Anyone who says that (for example) Islamists should be allowed “free migration” to Israel, or that Mexican nationalists (the sort of people who wave the Mexican flag and celebrate Mexico’s independence day) should be allowed “free migration” to the United States is an idiot – the INTENTIONS of such people (to do harm to the country they are trying to get into) preclude them from being allowed entry.

    If libertarianism insists on “free migration” for ENEMIES (letting the enemy through the gates – as the Economist magazine, hardly a libertarian publication, wants to do – then libertarianism is not a political philosophy, it is a suicide pact.

  • Paul, you don’t even have to go as far as enemies. Often enough what you get are basic cultural clashes. These happen in areas that basically have to do with the question of what is considered a decent behavior in the public sphere. When public sphere is also “public property”, such conflicts are unavoidable even in the absence of any immigration – but immigration greatly enhances them and their urgency.

  • Richard Thomas

    Rich Rostrum, unfortunately, those points also apply to other recent arrivals in the form of people who have been born here in the last several decades via the mechanism of state education.

    I really think that it has got to the point that if you love freedom, you will not put your children in public school (state school in the UK).

  • John

    “if you love freedom,”

    or your children, and have any other viable option or even choice in the matter…

  • Paul Marks

    Alisa – even Putman (arch establishment “liberal” the “bowling alone” person) echoes what you say. His research (which he sat on for years) shows that as an area becomes more “diverse” so trust (a sense of community) goes into decline – and most (not all) people become more and more unhappy (not just in the cultural community that was already there – but the new people also).

    Still happiness is not sufficient justification for the use of force.

    The Finns (I am told) have a nonviolent solution.

    They do not pretend to like newcomers – they make no effort to accept them (basically they “shun” them) this leads to immigration to Finland being far less than it is (for example) in Sweden where great efforts are made to welcome immigrants.

    There is nothing unlibertarian in the Finnish practice – they do not kill immigrants, they just do not make any pretence of liking them and do not change their culture to “adapt” to them – so fewer immigrants go to Finland.

    Richard and John.

    Yes – agreed.

  • That’s a very interesting point about Finland, Paul, and the results (if true) are hardly surprising.

    so fewer immigrants go to Finland.

    Of course one cannot separate the immigration problem (when it is a problem) into quantitative and qualitative parts – they go hand in hand. IOW, there are two equally important questions to ask: how many immigrants are coming, and what kind of immigrants. It sounds like the Finnish approach may have a good answer to both questions.

  • Still, there’s a third part to this equation – and that is the rule of law, including the commitment to protection of life and property, by force if needed. Unfortunately this is no longer the case in too many Western countries. I do wonder how things stand in Finland in that regard.

  • Paul Marks

    The Finns may be changing – but traditionally they were not like their neighbours (they were a people all to themselves – a people who had come from far away and then made their home in the deep forests) not friendly to outsides (although the Estonians – and, oddly enough, the Hungarians, are related to them).

    However, they do not kill outsiders or steal their property (even when they were allies of Nazi Germany Jews were physically quite safe in cold Finland).

    They are capable of defensive violence.

    I remember listening to a sweet old lady talk about the wars with the Soviet Union.

    The lady seemed to be more irritated with modern Finns than with Russians (modern Finns were soft – they used cars rather than ski to school).

    However, the sweet little old lady did have an odd collection.

    Russian EARS.

    She had cut them off Russian invaders she had hunted during the war.

    Oh well – I suppose it beats collecting butterflies.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    I remember being accosted by anti-foreign Finns during a trip there several years back. It took me some fast talkign to get myself and my students out of trouble.

    Back then I chalked it down to just basic neo-facist behaviour, but if such attitudes are widespread… I suspect there could be an undertinge of violence behind ‘make any pretence of liking them’. And you can always make a case of them being ‘racist’.

    More power to them though. I managed to part with those neo-facists on relatively good terms by agreeing with everything they said! :)

  • bloke in spain

    Re the Finns.
    We’ve a fair sized community of them down here. Their own schools, bars, restaurants & whatnot. They’re Finnish, OK. It’s a description as well as a nationality.
    Sample.
    Had some Finnish bint telling me she didn’t think I was a trustworthy person. Had to explain to her I didn’t give a f**k what she thought. It was her asking me if I’d lend her 10€ for cab fare.