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Reflections on the Berlin Wall, The Sequel: Towards a Hierarchy of Moral Outrage

November 10, 2009

A few years ago when I was still running schools I did an analysis of all the leading AP World History textbooks, and none of them described the crimes of Stalin and Mao. There were only a few paragraphs saying something like “it was alleged that many people starved during this period” while continuing to praise the idea of communism as noble. Even today, most college-bound high school seniors in the U.S. have never heard of the 20th century communist mass murders. We are outraged when the Iranian president denies the Holocaust, but essentially all of mainstream K-12 and university education in the U.S. continues to conceal the much larger crimes committed by the communists.

The fact that the academic left has failed to take responsibility for their complicity in the nightmares of communism is consistent with their ongoing lack of perspective on appropriate moral outrage. The issue of intellectual integrity, and freedom of inquiry, remains a profound issue in the academy, despite denials to the contrary. Suppose we state as a proposition:

  • Moral critiques of capitalism and big business are more welcome and pervasive in academia in 2009 than are moral critiques of statism and the concept of the coercive nation-state.

Would anyone claim that this proposition is false?

And yet governments, per se, are almost always more evil than are corporations, even bad ones. A few years ago I read an article titled “Bhopal: The Biggest Crime You’ve Never Heard Of,” a title that strikes me as absurd given that:

  1. Many people have heard of the Bhopal disaster.
  2. There are countless crimes routinely committed by governments that are far larger in scale.

Even the relatively unknown crimes of the U.S. government, as documented by Chomsky and others, dwarf the scale of the Bhopal disaster. There is no doubt that France has committed much larger crimes than did Union Carbide. And, again, whatever one thinks of the Bhopal settlement, it was an accident for which the company did pay victims some compensation. France refuses to acknowledge its even larger level of culpability in the Rwandan genocide, let alone pay any victims. Which is more “socially responsible,” and which is more criminal, Union Carbide or France?

If one moves beyond the crimes committed by the more benign (yet still very often lethal) governments such as U.S. and France to the regimes of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, or even the “mild” Tito, who murdered more than a million people, then the notion that Bhopal is the “Biggest Crime You’ve Never Heard Of,” is about as insightful as calling Lesotho the “Most Powerful Nation on Earth.” How could someone even claim such an absurdity if they knew anything about other major crimes that are rarely talked about?

A reasonable, quick-and-dirty sketch of a more legitimate hierarchy of moral outrage might start with:

  1. The leaders and ideologies of really nasty nation states: Stalin, Mao, Hitler, and Communism and Nazism.
  2. Those ideologists and apologists for the nastiest nation states (with respect to communism, a significant percentage of 20th century academia.)
  3. The leaders and ideologies of only normally nasty and incompetent nation-states: for instance, France and India with their normal militarism and socialism.
  4. Those ideologists and apologists of these only normally nasty nation states (with respect to soft Franco-socialism and Nehruvian socialism, this includes probably 99 percent of 20th century academia and most founders and leaders of NGOs).
  5. The leaders and ideologies of the relatively more benign nation-states: Scandinavia and the Anglo-American nation-states, which are relatively more market economies so at least they alleviate poverty and human misery while also committing routine nation-state crimes (putting Scandinavian market-based welfare states and Anglo-American market-based corporatist nation-states together is complicated, but for now let’s lump them together).
  6. Those ideologists and apologists of the relatively more benign nation-states (on the intellectual side, pretty much everyone except the anarcho-capitalists).
  7. Bad corporations, the very worst of which have probably done less harm than all but the very most benign of nation-states.
  8. Ideologists and apologists for bad corporations (which include many right-wing and libertarian ideologues who deny the bad corporation stories)

I could go on into more nuanced forms of crime, but my main point is that despite the legitimate need to criticize bad corporate behavior, as done so vigorously by many in academia, it should usually take place after more vigorous critiques of communism, socialism, and those who stupidly supported communism and socialism, and even then after critiques of the coercive nation-state per se.

It should be clear to readers of our blog that we are not against governance per se; we are against monopolistic or oligarchic nation-states and globally-enforced systems of nation-state oligarchies. We believe that it should not be an impossible stretch of the imagination to envision a world in which there is more choice with respect to the vendors of government services. As there is more choice, and more competition, with respect to the purchase of government services, we expect the monopolistic nation-state model to be less harmful to the human condition. We long to live in a world in which Union Carbide, or Blackwater, or Enron produced the biggest crimes on earth – if only the scale of “violent” aggression were no greater than the Bhopal tragedy!

The foregoing hierarchy of moral outrage presupposes that others are capable of the imaginative act described above. But as long as the existing system of nation-state oligarchy remains a de facto assumption, the routine crimes of monopolistic government will receive a free pass, with specific politicians and political parties receiving the blame rather than the global system of coercive nation-state oligarchy itself. Since Marx, academia has seen “capitalism” as a pernicious system. They need to learn to see the globally-enforced system of nation-states to be an even more pernicious system, one that is entirely unnecessary. In order to help others see this option, we have an obligation to create a theory of responsible, non-violent secession combined with norms of inter-community behavior suitable to a world of voluntary communities rather than coercive nation-states. A world of increasingly wealthy jurisdictions, competing efficiently to “Make Everybody Rich” will be a world with steadily decreasing levels of human suffering and violence.

One Comment
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