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By skepticlawyer

Excusitis, n (med): the condition whereby one is rendered incapable of seeing the faults in one’s political position, particularly with respect to that position’s capacity to facilitate the perpetration of violence.

When I was a green young lawyer, I was introduced to the ‘No True Scotsman’ logical fallacy. It’s an old concept (the argument is made, among others, by lawyers from Ulpian to Hale to Coke). Its most memorable formulation, however, is a modern one, by philosopher Antony Flew (in his 1975 book Thinking About Thinking):

Imagine Hamish MacDonald, a Scotsman, sitting down with his Glasgow Morning Herald and seeing an article about how the “Brighton Sex Maniac Strikes Again.” Hamish is shocked and declares that “No Scotsman would do such a thing.” The next day he sits down to read his Glasgow Morning Herald again and this time finds an article about an Aberdeen man whose brutal actions make the Brighton sex maniac seem almost gentlemanly. This fact shows that Hamish was wrong in his opinion but is he going to admit this? Not likely. This time he says, “No true Scotsman would do such a thing.”

A simplified and more distinctively Scots example was attributed to Neil MacCormick in my Scots law conversion course. I have no idea whether MacCormick wrote it, but it drives the point home nicely:

Margaret: All Scotsmen enjoy haggis.
Donald: My uncle is a Scotsman, and he doesn’t like haggis!
Margaret:Well, all true Scotsmen like haggis.

[A fight, no doubt, ensues]

The ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy is a subspecies of equivocation, that is, it relies on shifting the meaning of terms. There’s a bit of begging the question in there as well, as it makes assumptions about all Scotsmen, or all [insert name of grouping here]. At the same time, it stops us from asking what people really believe or what attributes they really have, and deflects legitimate criticism. It is what I’m going to call ‘excusitis’ par excellence, although there are variations on the theme.

The most common manifestation of excusitis most of us have seen of late is that proferred on behalf of Muslims: this was part of public discourse long before 9/11, although has become pervasive since then. It involves the assertion that Islam is actually a peaceful religion, that Sharia is a real legal system and that Muslim terrorists aren’t ‘true’ Muslims. It is so obvious that most of us can spot it now. That doesn’t mean it’s gone away: here’s a nice example of the genre with respect to Sharia, from yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald. It includes the following paragraph:

Hardly anyone checked the facts. The men’s actions were wrong, not only under Australian law but also under Islamic law. Even in the few Muslim countries that apply sharia, the offender should be considered innocent until proven guilty and entitled to a fair trial before being punished. A Muslim caught drinking alcohol in Malaysia, for instance, would expect to be brought before the sharia court and, after due process, punished. He would not expect to be set upon in his home by vigilantes.

By this logic, we are not dealing with ‘true’ Sharia (despite the fact that Sharia is most commonly enforced privately), while the nature of punishment under Sharia (its fondness for brutal retribution) is airbrushed away. Well done, Jamila Hussain, you win a prize in my ‘No True Scotsman’ Awards 2011. Perhaps I should talk my fitter & turner brother and engineer partner into designing and manufacturing a series of trophies :)

Because, you see, it isn’t just Muslims running the ‘No True Scotsman’ line, which is why I’ll need a goodly collection of trophies. This form of equivocation and question-begging has become such a large part of public debate there are times when I feel like polities throughout the Anglosphere (and probably elsewhere, too) have lost the capacity to sort the wheat from the chaff.

Other recent case studies? The outbreak of Excusitis over the behaviour of News Corporation in the UK. This took two forms: first, the determined attempt to suggest that this sort of appalling behaviour was restricted to Rupert Murdoch’s stable of media interests (‘no true journalist’), despite the fact that — as the Information Commissioner found — hacking was pervasive across the tabloid media and much of the quality media, with the honourable exception of the Daily Telegraph (UK). The second form was to argue that News Corporation hadn’t really done anything wrong (a variant, in that all true media magnates are expected to shill their interests), and was being hounded simply because it ran a ‘right wing’ or ‘conservative’ line (I use the scare quotes advisedly; some of the Murdoch tabloids adopted an anti free-trade position, at least when it suited them). This piece from the Australian is a good example of the genre. It includes the following:

Indeed, following the closure of that Murdoch title, having smelled the blood of the Right, some liberal hacks turned their sights on other, non-Murdoch tabloids. Peter Wilby at The Guardian effectively told his readers-crusaders to avoid resting on their laurels and instead to turn their tabloid-hatin’ attentions to the Daily Mail. “The Mail, with its suburban, curtain-twitching prurience, is in some respects worse than Murdoch’s tabloids,” he declared. “It has been a consistent enemy of liberal policies and it remains deeply hostile to scientists’ warning of global warming.”

Step up to the podium, Brendan O’Neill, there’s room for you beside Jamila Hussein. I hope you both like your ‘No True Scotsman’ trophy (maybe it should feature a Highland Scot lifting his kilt and baring his backside, like that anachronistic scene in Braveheart).

The desire to protect News Ltd because its outlets often run an editorial line conducive to conservative political thinking I find particularly irritating. If conservative (or, less frequently in the Murdoch media, libertarian) arguments are to have any traction, they ought to be able to make their way without support from what is now a dreadfully compromised media organisation. This argument was put with great force by Charles Moore, the former editor of the Daily Telegraph, in an essay he wrote for the paper on Friday. For non-Britishers, Charles Moore is a doyen of respected British conservatism, a true (but thoughtful) believer. He is Margaret Thatcher’s authorised biographer. Regular commenter kvd flagged his article in the long thread where this topic first came up for discussion, but I’d already seen it. I concur with kvd and Lorenzo that it is well worth your attention. Some highlights:

A key symptom of popular disillusionment with the Left was the moment, in the late 1970s, when the circulation of Rupert Murdoch’s Thatcher-supporting Sun overtook that of the ever-Labour Daily Mirror. Working people wanted to throw off the chains that Karl Marx had claimed were shackling them – and join the bourgeoisie which he hated. Their analysis of their situation was essentially correct. The increasing prosperity and freedom of the ensuing 20 years proved them right.

But as we have surveyed the Murdoch scandal of the past fortnight, few could deny that it has revealed how an international company has bullied and bought its way to control of party leaderships, police forces and regulatory processes. David Cameron, escaping skilfully from the tight corner into which he had got himself, admitted as much. Mr Murdoch himself, like a tired old Godfather, told the House of Commons media committee on Tuesday that he was so often courted by prime ministers that he wished they would leave him alone.

Instead of indulging in the ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy, Moore is capable of admitting when his opponent has a good point. The essence of much libertarian policy-wonking (of the sort I did at Oxford) is to encourage the wider adoption of evidence-based policy, to stop both conservatives and progressives from focussing so heavily on intent, and instead to pay attention to outcomes. Moore’s attention to evidence leads him to this conclusion:

The Left was right that the power of Rupert Murdoch had become an anti-social force. The Right (in which, for these purposes, one must include the New Labour of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown) was too slow to see this, partly because it confused populism and democracy. One of Mr Murdoch’s biggest arguments for getting what he wanted in the expansion of his multi-media empire was the backing of “our readers”. But the News of the World and the Sun went out of the way in recent years to give their readers far too little information to form political judgments. His papers were tools for his power, not for that of his readers. When they learnt at last the methods by which the News of the World operated, they withdrew their support.

It has surprised me to read fellow defenders of the free press saying how sad they are that the News of the World closed. In its stupidity, narrowness and cruelty, and in its methods, the paper was a disgrace to the free press. No one should ever have banned it, of course, but nor should anyone mourn its passing. It is rather as if supporters of parliamentary democracy were to lament the collapse of the BNP. It was a great day for newspapers when, 25 years ago, Mr Murdoch beat the print unions at Wapping, but much of what he chose to print on those presses has been a great disappointment to those of us who believe in free markets because they emancipate people. The Right has done itself harm by covering up for so much brutality.

Moore addresses a range of other issues where conservatives (and, to a lesser extent) libertarians and lefties have caught a nearly terminal case of Excusitis, including a very perceptive comment on the Eurozone. It has become fashionable for many left-leaning people to support the European Union and the single currency, but in so doing they traduce one of the best aspects of traditional left thinking, at least in Britain: hadn’t you better ask the people what they think? Perhaps they have forgotten it was the Conservatives that took Britain into the European Union, and that it was Labour with grave doubts. Maybe Labour was right:

As for the plight of the eurozone, this could have been designed by a Left-wing propagandist as a satire of how money-power works. A single currency is created. A single bank controls it. No democratic institution with any authority watches over it, and when the zone’s borrowings run into trouble, elected governments must submit to almost any indignity rather than let bankers get hurt. What about the workers? They must lose their jobs in Porto and Piraeus and Punchestown and Poggibonsi so that bankers in Frankfurt and bureaucrats in Brussels may sleep easily in their beds.

In the ‘Information is really beautiful’ thread, I pointed out how I strongly suspected we’d see some Christian, conservative and libertarian indulgence in the ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy in the wake of the terrorism in Norway, and that part of political maturity is looking carefully at one’s own beliefs to see why (or if) your ideas or religion attracts bigots, racists and gun-nuts (respectively). It is perhaps worth pointing out that evolutionary biologist PZ Myers has trawled through Anders Breivik’s 1,500 page manifesto to see what he says about atheists. If nothing else, the manifesto (at least in the passages I have read, and the material Myers excerpts; Myers also provides a link to the full document) indicates that Breivik is not a simple ‘nutter’, and if there is mental illness there, it is buried pretty deep (psychoanalysing people over the internet, via media reports, is always a bad idea). Which takes us back to ideas, and how they work on one particular statistical outlier. Ideas have consequences, as Lorenzo often says.

One of the sources of my strong irritation with many even quite moderate lefties is the Excusitis engaged in when it comes to the bloody history of ‘actually existing socialism’, allied to a refusal to consider whether core components of traditional left thought (the desire to plan and regulate) have any link with economic destruction and genocide. I have similar outbursts of irritation at Muslims and Christians when they do it (often, I might add, in a more thoughtless way than many lefties — see the Jamila Hussein piece above). This has contributed in no small measure to the view I have of religion, particularly of monotheism. I really can’t take various groups’ moral posturing on everything from abortion to international relations seriously when the first thing that falls out of their mouths is a good ol’ dose of ‘No True Scotsman’. And that’s before we get anywhere near the metaphysics.

Which is why if I see the same Excusitis from people with whom I largely agree on other issues (I have met Brendan O’Neill; he is better than that awful piece in The Australian), I reserve the right to call them on it, to point out that, you know, we on the right have many good arguments. And that making excuses doesn’t improve them.

UPDATE: Nick Cohen on a related theme, this time drawing on the work of anthropologist Kate Fox, whom I discussed here.


  1. Mel
    Posted July 25, 2011 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Breivik’s manifesto contains numerous citations from Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom” as well as references to various popular libertarian watering holes, for example

    As I’ve said previously, Hayekian anti-government paranoia combined with Hayek’s tendency for deranged propagandistic outburts like this:

    “If this is the degree of inflation planned for in advance, the real outcome is indeed likely to be such that most of those who will retire at the end of the century will be dependent on the charity of the younger generation. And ultimately not morals but the fact that the young supply the police and the army will decide the issue: concentration camps for the aged unable to maintain themselves are likely to be the fate of an old generation whose income is entirely dependent on coercing the young.”

    provide fertile ground to fuel the rage of dangerous minds. It was inevitable that Hayek’s rising star combined with other contemporaneous aspects of libertarian thought and practice would produce a Breivik.

    Breivik wasn’t the first and he will not be the last libertarian mass murderer. Strange times, indeed.

  2. kvd
    Posted July 25, 2011 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    As far as I can see, excusitis is driven by that other debating tactic: this deranged person was a Libertarian/Democrat/Green/Liberal/Republican adherant; therefore all L/D/G/L/Rs are bad or, more generally, the underlying philosophy is bad. I don’t buy either process, because too much emphasis is given to the extreme rather than the core outcomes. That said, I very much agree it is a good thing to re-examine one’s beliefs, and be open about any weaknesses.

    For this reason, Mel’s ending comment above about “not the first, won’t be the last” is just so much pointless smoke, applicable to any similar violent episode, whatever the politics of the perpetrator.

  3. Mel
    Posted July 25, 2011 at 11:35 am | Permalink


    What is pointless is your continual reference to Breivik as deranged or a nutter. We have no evidence to suggest mental illness as an issue in this case. Such evidence may come to light, but we don’t have it yet, afaik.

  4. kvd
    Posted July 25, 2011 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    93 dead, possibly more, is evidence of a sane outlook on life?

  5. Patrick
    Posted July 25, 2011 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Mel, I second kvd’s comment. For those of us who aren’t socialists, and particularly for those of us who are libertarians, mass murder of innocents is overwhelming prima facie evidence of a sick mind.

  6. AJ
    Posted July 25, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    93 dead, possibly more, is evidence of a sane outlook on life?

    Is everyone who commits an act of political violence that kills a lot of people deranged? I have never seen any one suggest that the 9/11 hijackers were mentally ill. This guy doesn’t seem to be out of touch with reality, he just seems to be a malignant piece of shit.

  7. kvd
    Posted July 25, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    I suppose this is straying further from SL’s point, but I also find it quite nutty that anybody would waste time trawling through this fellow’s ‘manifesto’ (some parts of which are now reported to be cut/paste/edited direct from the Unabomber) seeking justification for their own sometimes quite irrational hatred of people who don’t share their political views.

    I mean, it’s all just going in circles – and possibly where this guy started from, which is a bit of a worry.

  8. Posted July 25, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Jamila Hussein once marked an essay of mine where I criticised not the outcomes, but the quality, of (some) Islamic jurisprudence (specifically on whether the link between apostasy and death penalty is mandated or a construction). I’ll tell you what happened offline one of these days! She’s nice, very richly informed, but yes she’d meet the description in this post…

  9. AJ
    Posted July 25, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    I agree that he is evil. My main point is there is an important distinction to be made between psychosis and psychopathy. And I think insanity really only applies to people who have the conditions that fall in the range of the former not the later.

    I am honestly not sure about pathologising psychopathy. I think if lack of empathy were merely a disease that about 1% of people possess, history would be filled with less violence and atrocities than it is.

  10. Posted July 25, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    I think AJ and LE have hit on something important that I didn’t address in any detail in the post. Viz, it would be really nice if McVeigh and Breivik and Cho Seng Hui and Bryant etc were/are all nutters. It would take any responsibility away from the rest of us. Yet, as far as I can see, Bryant wasn’t insane, just very stupid, while only Cho Seng Hui looks like something out of the DSM.

    The same thing applies to politics, but on a grander scale. Oh how much easier it would be if Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot and [insert name here] could be anchored to a lead version of the DSM and dropped in the ocean of psychosis [one thinks of Caligula, who really was a nutter]. It would mean adherents of the political positions they adopted could wave any criticism away even more easily than they already do.

    And the reason people (from historians to criminal profilers to prosecutors) study people like this (and noticed, for example, the borrowings from the Unabomber) is with a view to (a) preventing it from happening again, which involves (b) trying to work out what makes evil people tick. I do think we have to use that word, too, unless and until there is definitive evidence of mental illness (and, I’m afraid, that manifesto is too coherent to be the product of mental illness; like the Unabomber, Breivik appears to be very clever, and utterly, utterly malignant).

    Armagny, just on your comment: very interesting indeed, thanks. It is quite rare to find so textbook an example of a screaming great logical fallacy so easily, and directly on point. Has she any legal training at all? Sharia doesn’t count; its procedural rules with their differential weighting of women’s evidence — something neither the Romans nor the English ever did, to anyone, not even slaves or serfs — mean that under Hart, Raz, Fuller, Hayek and Ulpian’s conception of ‘legal system’ (I think that covers the political spectrum), it isn’t one.

    It’s just I’ve now done ‘No True Scotsman’ three times, twice in common law jurisdictions (where we got, respectively, Coke and Flew’s version) and once in a mixed jurisdiction, where we got MacCormick and Ulpian’s version. The French exchange students on the Erasmus program have all copped Ulpian’s version. I struggle to see how anyone could go through a law degree without having ‘logical fallacies 101′ drilled into his or her skull. It is very odd, and yes, I would be interested to hear what happened to you, privately if you prefer.

  11. Mel
    Posted July 25, 2011 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    Ah yes, Sharia Law. Sadly this disturbingly gullible post by Kim over at Larva Prod has disappeared:

    Apparently Sharia ain’t so bad once you get to know it. Anyway, the LP camp followers mostly agreed with Kim on that one. Grrrrrrrr…

  12. Posted July 25, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Permalink


    Is a word I’ve needed for a very long time. Sadly I’m too lazy to go and find it.

    The superstitious might see an omen in it being the News of the World to take the (first?) fall. It was his first British paper if memory serves. I don’t know what his papers there say about this but here they appear to be pretending it isn’t happening. This simply underlines the problem with News Ltd policy.

    Or the problem with News Ltd which is that it’s too influential, it has too much power. But it’s a commercial enterprise and has lost ground to the Internet and fallen on its exposed iniquities. Invisible hand anyone?

    Murdoch crossed the bourgeois line of good taste when he set out. He went downmarket and this is at the heart of his genius. But I guess it’s hard to know when to stop.

    As for excusitis I wonder if there’s a neurological basis. There’s a line from an old David Cronenberg movie which says: five minutes after you’re born you have a past. And ten minutes later you start lying to yourself about it. :)

  13. kvd
    Posted July 25, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    it would be really nice if McVeigh and Breivik and Cho Seng Hui and Bryant etc were/are all nutters. It would take any responsibility away from the rest of us.

    Because of the uncomfortable feeling that the one doesn’t necessarily follow from the other, I checked out those names on the great wiki god:

    McVeigh: “had a road atlas with hand-drawn designations of the most likely places for nuclear attacks and considered buying property in Seligman, Arizona, which he determined to be in a nuclear-free zone.”

    Bryant: “revealed IQ 66; possibly autistic; could be schizophrenic”

    Cho Seng Hui: “found mentally ill and in need of hospitalization” ..and.. “presented an imminent danger to himself as a result of mental illness”

    Kaczynski: “court-appointed psychiatrist diagnosed Kaczynski as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, but declared him competent to stand trial”

    Tentative conclusion – these are not your normal average Joes; possibly even could be called nutters. And it is a sad fact that two of the four were assessed prior to their actions.

    the reason people (from historians to criminal profilers to prosecutors) study people like this (and noticed, for example, the borrowings from the Unabomber) is with a view to (a) preventing it from happening again, which involves (b) trying to work out what makes evil people tick

    - I totally agree, and admire people who immerse themselves in this sort of stuff, hoping to prevent recurrence. But it’s “c) or to seek to score some minor muddled political point” that I was talking about. And I’m wondering which of “historians, profilers, prosecutors” would waste his time on c)

  14. Posted July 25, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    Oh, I don’t think one does necessarily follow from the other, but sometimes they do follow one from the other, and that is the concerning part. It’s called ‘necessary, but not sufficient’ in philosophical and legal argument.

  15. Posted July 25, 2011 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps Mel will tell us whether he believes the connection between Marxism and mass murder is weaker or stronger than the connection between libertarianism and mass murder.

  16. Posted July 25, 2011 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    On mental state, I am afraid that mass slaughter is not evidence of mental illness, merely a lack of empathy: which is not the same thing.

  17. Posted July 25, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    On mental state, I am afraid that mass slaughter is not evidence of mental illness, merely a lack of empathy: which is not the same thing.

    Yes, this.

  18. kvd
    Posted July 25, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    Well I apologise for going back to ‘nutter’. I tried to fit in with the flow by using ‘deranged’ because that was the word used in SL’s referenced Myers article. But that got up Mel’s nose, so I just wanted to placate.

  19. Posted July 25, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    I actually disagree with Myers’s take, although his capacity to ferret out interesting nuggets of information is almost limitless. Fine scientist that he is, he has reasoned backwards from the act to the mental state — a very easy thing to do, but of course, no use to anyone.

  20. Mel
    Posted July 25, 2011 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    Lorenzo: “Perhaps Mel will tell us whether he believes the connection between Marxism and mass murder is weaker or stronger than the connection between libertarianism and mass murder.”

    This is unknowable and the question is silly in a way. Marxism was at its peak during the tumultuous era of decolonisation and early industrialisation and went on to rule a huge chunk of the globe for much of the 20th century (I don’t think we can call China Marxist anymore). Eggs were always going to be broken but undoubtedly Marx devotees broke more than would otherwise have been the case. Conversely, until relatively recently libertarians were holding meetings in phone boxes and they still haven’t run anything larger than the annual “Atlas Shagged” festival in St Olaf, Minnesotta. Get back to me when the Randyites and Hayekians seize Monaco.

  21. Posted July 25, 2011 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    KVD, 15 top Nazi administrators and lawyers – chaired by Reinhard Heydrich – were around the table at the Wansee Conference. There’s no sign that Heydrich or any of the other attendees was mentally ill, just that they were nasty little sh*ts who used the occasion to come to the official conclusion that the extermination of European Jews (rather than simple disenfranchisement, imprisonment or exile) was the right idea.

    And I didn’t say Hitler so you can’t “godwin” me…


  22. kvd
    Posted July 25, 2011 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    Hi DEM. Even I (dullard, dolt) understand that there is a difference between agreeing to faceless, anonymous death (of those people) and direct one on one action (of that little kid who is crying)

    Both incomprehensible, evil.

  23. Posted July 25, 2011 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    Libertarians were a huge influence on Thatcher and Reagan, Mel, and while you may not like their politics, calling either leader a mass-murderer is a bit of a stretch.

    It is peculiar, too, that Breivik has quoted Mill (not a libertarian, but a liberal), and Hayek, rather than Locke or Rothbard or Friedman fils. None of the latter were/are especially violent thinkers, but they were a priori thinkers (always more vulnerable to taking a violent turn). It is the apriorism in Christian and Muslim natural law that is conducive to violence — people who who don’t fit the ‘form’ of the good are in trouble (gays and women being the paradigm cases). It is the apriorism in Marxism that has the same effect (history only works one way). Mill and Hayek were empiricists, in the way that Rawls is an empiricist.

    As horrid as it is, that’s why it is worth both political types and prosecution types digesting this awful man’s ravings. Because while disturbed he undoubtedly is, I don’t think (subject to qualification, of course) he is insane.

  24. kvd
    Posted July 25, 2011 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    Eggs were always going to be broken

    Ministry of Truth.

  25. Posted July 25, 2011 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    But it’s still different again LE to “we’ll just stuff them all over here in overcrowded conditions and if they happen to die or end up being worked to death that’s nothing to do with us personally”.

  26. Posted July 25, 2011 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    Very interesting response to the Charles Moore piece from the Adam Smith Institute (the people who erected the very nice Smith statue in Edinburgh’s Canongate), well worth a read:

  27. Posted July 25, 2011 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

    Watching Breivik’s video, it comes straight out of the nationalist tradition of cultural panic. That sort of politics, like racism generally, is a scavenger ideology, sucking up whatever themes or rhetoric will serve its purpose. As I noted in the “Information is Beautiful” thread, the work of historian George Mosse is a particularly accessible insight into this sort of mindset.

    The one thing it is not is libertarian. Particularly if your model is the Knights Templar! Though the slogan ‘unity not diversity’ is a bit of a giveaway too.

    On the “Templar” crap, the nasty thought occurs to me that he did not try and shoot up a mosque, because they might have shot back. Unarmed young Labour types were a much “softer” target.

  28. Posted July 25, 2011 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

    L@33 :

    Unarmed young Labour types were a much “softer” target.

    No. Strategic target. Leadership decapitation. Nearly 20% of the left about to enter “adult” politics, and their future influence on multicultural policy – gone. More effective than attacking a whole heap of mosques – take out at least one or two future lefty PMs – and the talent who would have taken their places – and the backup’s backup….

    I did path, toxicology and microbiology. One develops a weird kind of admiration for the effectiveness and sheer elegance of how some of these nasties do their stuff. Huntington’s – increasingly promiscuity in young adulthood and hitting at an age when the genes have already been passed down? Neat. A filovirus like Marburg or Ebola? Wow. Dyflos – irreversible anticholinesterase? Ain’t gonna treat that! 1080? Goes for the Kreb’s cycle – no better target basic to our lives, and because high-energy requirement tissues like the brain are messed up most even if the victim survives. How elegant is that?

    Even with no copycats, none of the extra 80 mates in solo martyr cells Breivik is talking about now … Breivik chose THE most effective way of weakening the left. 1080 or Dyflos. Efficient, elegant, horrible. At least dyflos is banned now as a WMD.

    The left SHOULD NOT attack the basic right-wing schools of thought now. That’s invalid. The left should assist the many decent folk of the right to clean out the trash and not allow blind eyes to be turned, including the likes of Bolt who are white versions of hate-inciting imams keeping their hands clean and expert at plausible deniability.

    And I’ve seen a few things from hard-core righties going along the lines of “damn, the reason FOR action in this manifesto is way too well argued and aligned with too much of my own but the action itself is horrible. I’m really really uncomfortable about this … finding the arguments that stop people seeing this as a valid necessity for long-term utilitarian objectives is going to take a lot of work.” Now… to my mind, such reflective people, who actually ascribe to individual freedoms, and are troubled, decent folk like many around here are the true libertarians. Breivik didn’t read the righty sacred texts correctly. I’m a believer that socialism is the best way forward and /I/ don’t believe that Breivik is a true libertarian – at least when I’m looking at my Platonic form of one – the fundamentals are all wrong. Just like I’d call Rowan Williams a true Christian – compassionate, etc, but Klu Klux Klanners are NOT true Christians.

    Self-labelling is not necessarily the most accurate.

    So, I kinda agree with SL’s proposition, but I kinda see how the No-true-scotsman fallacy can be a useful fallacy if it leads to a useful change.

  29. Posted July 25, 2011 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    I can’t find it now, but there was a piece in the Torygraph from a Norwegian guy who’s now in the Pirate Party and used to be in the main conservative party. Apparently it’s standard practice for all the major political parties in both Norway and Sweden to go off and have these camps/conventions in isolated areas (apparently the Norwegian conservatives use the same bloody island!).

    He remembered thinking back to his last time there, and recalling that if someone wanted to make an awful mess of Norwegian politics, the best thing to do would be to isolate people in a remote location only accessible by ferry and then kill them all. Apparently there is quite a bit of fluidity in Scando politics, they don’t have the same ‘whip like’ discipline we have over here, and people move back and forth between groupings a lot (or do stuff like the Pirate Party).

    That said, I do think there is an awful attractiveness in the power that comes from killing unarmed civilians for some people. That video is full of sickening images of power gone wild.

    And I’m sorry, Dave — socialism is a busted flush, found wanting wherever its been tried. I won’t have a bar of it. I am satisfied (there is so much evidence) that there is such a strong link between centrally planned economies and dire poverty and death that to defend it is to engage in a lefty version of the ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy.

    The jury is still out on now ‘fashionable’ regulation, but it isn’t looking good–ie, it’s very, very hard to do well, because it requires statutory implementation, something that is also very, very hard to do well — on this, trust me, I’m a lawyer ;)

    Also — you’d tipped over the bold jar. I’ve righted it now.

  30. Posted July 26, 2011 at 1:20 am | Permalink

    Busted, Tim Stanley in the Telegraph (which should know better), the first conservative engaging in a nice bit of ‘Excusitis’ with a generous topping of ‘No True Scotsman’:

    Busted again, Glenn Beck (that second ‘n’ is for ‘numpty’) comparing the victims to the Hitler Youth:

    I’m going to be needing an awful lot of those trophies of mooning Scotsmen, I can tell…

  31. Patrick
    Posted July 26, 2011 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    DB, I’ll let you in on a secret. People who think

    damn, the reason FOR action in this manifesto is way too well argued and aligned with too much of my own but the action itself is horrible. I’m really really uncomfortable about this … finding the arguments that stop people seeing this as a valid necessity for long-term utilitarian objectives is going to take a lot of work.

    are not true libertarians and probably not that decent folk either!!

    LE@31, I could be wrong, but I think your lack of socialism has caused you to fundamentally misread DEM@30. I think DEM’s point is the vanilla modern left critique of free trade and capitalism. I don’t think you meant to endorse the banality of ‘corporate evil’ – daring to let poor people work and nonsense of that nature.

  32. Posted July 26, 2011 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    I sent this to Sinclair Davidson for his Catallaxy quotes collection some time ago:

    … it is far from clear whether ‘good intentions plus stupidity’ or ‘evil intentions plus intelligence’ have wrought more harm in the world. People with good intentions usually have few qualms about pursuing their goals. As a result, incompetence that would otherwise have remained harmless often becomes dangerous, especially as incompetent people with good intentions rarely suffer the qualms of consciences that sometimes inhibit the doings of competent people with bad intentions. The conviction that our intentions are unquestionably good may sanctify the most questionable means.

    — Dietrich Dörner, The Logic of Failure.

  33. Posted July 26, 2011 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Sadly this disturbingly gullible post by Kim over at Larva Prod has disappeared

    Several months of archives never made it to Ozblogistan intact. Periodically dark hints are made about memory holes; happily in this case we can all blame the general shittiness of WordPress.

    I mean pretty much the entire back-catalogue of Catallaxy is represented by a few dumped files, so …

  34. Mel
    Posted July 26, 2011 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    I wasn’t hinting at a memory hole, Jacques. I’m aware of the archive problem.

  35. Posted July 26, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, I’ve mixed you up with others who have.

  36. Posted July 26, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    No True Mel would hint at memory holes.

  37. Mel
    Posted July 26, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Permalink


    “No True Mel would hint at memory holes.”

    Evidence thanks. Wanker.

  38. Posted July 26, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    I wasn’t sniping at you. It just seemed like a fitting joke, given the OP.

  39. Mel
    Posted July 26, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    Oops, sorry Jacques. Hugs and kisses.

  40. Posted July 26, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Permalink


  41. Posted July 26, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    DB@34 That point had not occurred to me. It, sadly, makes Breivik’s actions more understandable and (ick!) more sane. And fits in with his video.

    In the, actually just lets not go there category, try this from Phyllis Chesler. Not the time, not the place.

  42. Posted July 26, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    Lorenzo, he actually comes out with a version of what Dave’s outlined in his manifesto, part of a wider desire to ‘chop the head off’ Norwegian politics, and, long term, Scandinavian politics. This, of course, is thanks to the way political parties in all three countries run youth camps in remote and often inaccessible locations (something he notes with some glee). There is one Norwegian Labour politician he particularly hates, though, a woman (forget name) who was Norwegian PM a few years back.

    This guy is the real deal, as in a politically motivated terrorist. Mind you, he combines beliefs in ways that completely throw conventional political alignments. Watching Searchlight (the British anti-fascist crowd) fumble around talking confused shit because he is incredibly philoSemitic and pro-Israel would be funny if there weren’t so many dead.

  43. Posted July 26, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    SL@48 I haven’t felt up to wading through 1500 pages, but yes that does make him an archetypal politically motivated terrorist.

    As for odd combinations, history is full of people with strongly held views who fail to follow standard aggregations. If Muslims are the focus of your cultural panic nationalism, Jews and Israel are allies, not enemies.

    Jews and Christians generally had good relations in Big Karl’s empire, for example, because it was a case of “monotheists versus pagans”. (To the indignation of the Catholic Church, who worked relentlessly to undermine the Carolingian dynasty’s generally decent treatment of Jews.)

    The term “Judaeo-Christian” grew up in the face of various forms of secularism (and to quarantine off the Holocaust).

    Evangelical Christians in the US are often quite pro-Israel and philo-Semitic.

    Italian nationalism (including early period Italian Fascism) was philo-Semitic, since the Vatican was an enemy and anti-Semitic, so being nice to Jews was another way to annoy the Papacy.

    So, Breivik’s philoSemitism and pro-Israel views make perfect sense, in current circumstances. He is being, to that extent, logical in the implications of his obsessions.

  44. Posted July 26, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    SL on that Beck statement…..

    This is an example of where the “no true scotsman” thing may be a fallacy, but a useful one – just as your link to the Adam Smith Institute is a useful one.

    If the “Beck and the Corporatists are not true righties” meme gets traction, and has the effect of giving the microphone for the voice of the right back to those who ARE “true scotsman”, then we’ll all be better off (and we lefties will have to lift our game because the bar will have been lifted … the better for all).

    It’s just if the “no true scotsman” fallacy sweeps Breivik under the carpet that the fallacy causes harm.

  45. Posted July 26, 2011 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t waded through 1500 pages either, but I did a ‘find’ on ‘Australia’, ‘Jews’, ‘Israel’ and ‘Howard’, then ‘Britain’, ‘England’ and ‘EDL’. There is too much material on the latter three to digest (and the repeated showers required afterwards would be wasteful of water, even here in Scotland). But there is no doubt he is a big fan of Howard, and has spent at least some time crawling around the Australian blogosphere. His sources are meticulously footnoted.

  46. Posted July 26, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    SL@52 The other problem is the only source I came across wanted to charge me: no thanks.

    Being a big fan of Howard proves he is no libertarian :)

    Howard did get a lot of kudos overseas for his unwavering opposition to any pandering to Sharia, support for the “war on terror” and controlled borders policy. Again, given Brievik’s obsessions, a logical admiration.

    That Howard introduced gun control after Port Arthur is only a mark against him on libertarian grounds: but defense of liberty does not seem a big thing to Breivik. On the basis of his video, it is culture and defending (a particularly take on) cultural heritage that drives him.

  47. Posted July 26, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    I’ll send it to you, Lorenzo. Just a warning – it’s a massive document, nearly 800,000 words. The only criticism of Howard is over the post Port Arthur gun laws.

  48. Posted July 26, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Further on SL’s link to Beck saying the Norwegian VICTIMS to a Hitler Youth Camp.

    Using my google-fu knowledge of the “site:” operator,, you’ll find the story easily in and other fairfax? But within +Beck “Hitler Youth” camp …. no story at all, just mentions by commentators on Bolt’s blog

    I think you’ll need to start giving out Nelson “I-can’t-see-it” Awards soon too… (only major pundits please, not sinners of no import like myself)

  49. Posted July 26, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    Lorenzo, I’ve sent it through to you. If it doesn’t appear, let me know and I’ll try again.

    EDITED TO ADD: In other news, Breivik’s lawyer is now running an insanity defence. I suppose he has to do something, but, yeah…

  50. Posted July 27, 2011 at 5:35 am | Permalink

    SL@56 Got it, thanks. It occurs to me, you could also criticise Howard’s gun laws on the grounds they stop “decent Christian/European stock folk” from “defending” themselves.

    The insanity defence sounds a mixture of desperation and pandering to the “must be mad” grasping-for-comfort sentiment.

  51. Patrick
    Posted July 27, 2011 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    Seriously, you guys want to read this thing? I’d be re-reading the Fountainhead long before this got to the top of my priority list…

  52. Posted July 27, 2011 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    The problem is when a person of any ideology starts to think that those who disagree with him or gainsay him must be eradicated, and effectively ceases to think of those others as human. To my mind, all ideologies have this tendency if taken to a totally obsessive degree — but we need to sit back and remember that those who disagree with us have reasons for doing so and are people too.

    I think the problem is one of human nature. We used to compete with each to the death for stuff and there’s this instinctive tribalism that manifests as ideologies (of politics or culture) these days. Dehumanization seems an almost instinctive process. And, if you think about war, you can see why.

    We need to be trained to understand the difference between ‘opponent’ and ‘enemy’. That opponents are beneficial and enemies undesirable. The Right and the Left do exactly the same shit, treat each other just as badly and complain when the other side does exactly the same thing.

  53. Posted July 27, 2011 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    A moving statement of the horror and loss is made here by a British Labour activist. Sadly, the effect he focuses on is apparently precisely the effect Breivik was trying to achieve.

  54. Posted July 27, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    That, to me, is the most relevant bit of his manifesto, because it raises policing and security issues across the political spectrum in Scandinavia.

    That Dave spotted his intent–perhaps because people around here were not taken in by the ‘loony, nutter, deranged’ rhetoric getting around (at least not for long)–speaks well of him, and also suggests that people of Breivik’s ilk have been concocting this kind of crap for a long time. It is entirely possible, for example, that Breivik had been on a similar youth camp when he was still involved in mainstream Norwegian politics.

  55. Mel
    Posted July 27, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    One of Australia’s most intriguing Libertarian bloggers, Louis Hissink, who describes himself as a:

    “A liberalist in the Hayek tradition …”

    is already spruiking the Breivik Manifesto:

    ” I think you might find there is more to Breivik than meets the eye – the crucial distiction is to discriminate between economic Marxists (communists) and cultural Marxists (the ALP, Greens, Socialist Alliance etc). Breivik killed specifically Cultural Marxists, the political group in Europe, who peddle multiculturalism, feminism, post modernism etc, etc. and who are the main instigators of Political Correctness.

    Helps to read his “manifest” – John Ray seems to have and has basically ticked it as accurate and relevant. I’ve downloaded it, and it’s rational, well argued, and it is likely, once the mob wakes up, that we will be once again in battle with that other proselytising faith that most of us fear.

    It will, however, have the usual suspects frothing at the mouth with indignation.

    This is going to be an interesting change in history and I suspect he will be ultimately as the spark that started the anti-islamic fire that will drive them back out of Europe.”

    Game on.

  56. Patrick
    Posted July 27, 2011 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    I shouldn’t say this, because it sounds insensitive, but surely the Falklands example is a bit overwrought?

    Losing a whole crew’s worth of highly trained and experienced officers seems much more difficult to replace than losing the equivalent in teenage anythings.

    Without in any way detracting from the tragedy of their deaths, most teenage political activists that I have met were, and went on to be, extremely bloody average politicians.

    Maybe it is because I am conservative/libertarian and don’t like idealism, I prefer my politicians to grow up something else.

  57. Posted July 27, 2011 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    SL@61 – the fact that the righties here weren’t fooled speaks well of them.

    Colbert nailed the “Excusitis”, especially the CNN (yes, CNN! Not F*x! Not CNNNN!) “expert talking head” that, after the news came out it was a nordic-looking guy, said something like “well, all the information isn’t in, it could be a really good disguise”. Colbert’s comment?

    Yes, which is more plausible, that a non-moslem did this or that AQ have developed polyjuice potion?

  58. Mel
    Posted July 27, 2011 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    Patrick @63:

    “I shouldn’t say this, because it sounds insensitive …. seems much more difficult to replace than losing the equivalent in teenage anythings …. Maybe it is because I am conservative/libertarian ….”

    And folk wonder why the new libertarian/conservative paradigm scares me shitless.

    You sick puppy, Patrick.

  59. Posted July 27, 2011 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    Colbert, ROTFL.

    There is, of course, the old tagline that ‘CNN’ actually refers to ‘Chicken Noodle News’.

  60. Posted July 27, 2011 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    SL@66 – “Chicken Noodle News”

    Yes… predigested… but anything requiring more digestion caters to a vanishingly small market.

    Our society produces gammas more effectively than in Huxley’s Brave New World, and yet they seem to drive the self-labelled alphas in power. **sigh**

  61. Patrick
    Posted July 28, 2011 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    LE, I agree entirely and even fervently with your last paragraph.

    My only point was that I don’t think that this is, over and above the human tragedy, such a tragedy for Norwegian left-wing politics as it is made out to be.

    Not in any way diminishing the tragedy which is perfectly obscene enough as it is. But it doesn’t represent the masterstroke this guy, and an embarrasingly large contingent of others, seem to be willing to believe. It was in the end no grander, no greater, than the mindless (and utterly reprehensible and inexcusable) slaughter of innocents. Giving credence to the successful implementation of some ‘master plan to wipe out the Norwegian left only elevates the dickhead and his acts above their appropriate position of complete worthlessness, not only morally but in terms of utility and every other sense.

  62. Posted July 28, 2011 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    M@62 So intriguing, I have never heard of him.

    You can find folk from any political self-labelling to support any number of noxiousnesses: the question is, are they representative?

    As I keep point out, cultural panic politics can suck up, or attach itself to, any themes or rhetoric which is useful.

    Nazism, for example, adopted a high degree of welfarism. This does not make welfarism fascistic. There were anti-Semitic socialists, this does not make socialism anti-Semitic.

    As for inferring from statements, if one does a video ad where climate change sceptics have their heads exploded is that indicative of anything except extraordinary bad taste and misjudgement?

  63. kvd
    Posted July 28, 2011 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    I accept Patrick’s point@69 that while it’s useful to aprehend some sort of motive, it is unhelpful to even remotely acknowledge “success”. In fact quite harmful if seen by other twisted people as encouragement or justification for repetition in any sort of way.

  64. Mel
    Posted July 28, 2011 at 10:09 am | Permalink


    Here is an extract from the Manifesto of Australia’s major Hayekian party, the Liberal Democratic Party:

    “Ownership of firearms is also the only practical means by which the people can retain any semblance of ensuring that governments remain their servants and not vice versa. Although the ballot box and peaceful protest will always be the preferred means of removing unsatisfactory governments, history is full of examples where those options were denied.

    As Thomas Jefferson put it, “What country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?” … Or as another US President, Woodrow Wilson, put it, “Liberty has never come from government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of government. The history of liberty is the history of resistance.””

    It is little wonder that some Hayekians then write – or quote in Hissink’s case- things like this:

    “Thus, Breivik’s great “crime” was to breach the state monopoly on killing. You have to get elected before you are allowed to order killing on this scale. And then, only state employees may carry out the orders even to the extent of indulging in mass, indiscriminate killing. But if an individual conducts targeted slaughter, on the basis of his own careful analysis, he must be mad. It is the only acceptable diagnosis.”

    As a matter of civil duty, I’ve alerted the federal police to our Hayekian friend’s ramblings. Better safe than sorry, methinks ;)

  65. Patrick
    Posted July 28, 2011 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Mel, how do you think things would have played out in Norway if there had been a few firearms and competent users thereof on the island? Um, besides the one killing everyone that is?

    (I should take this opportunity to point out that I have no idea who that Hissink guy is, and, in true NTS style, I’m not really sure it makes much sense to call him ‘Hayekian’ based on what you’ve presented. SL can give me a gong if she cares to, but I certainly don’t care enough to conduct any independent verification of the guy.)

    On the broader point, we are privileged to live in an ‘end of history’ State – the need to resort to firearms against the government appears vanishingly remote. Fortunate us! I would estimate that about 15% of the world shares our fortune, at best.

    It is not at all clear that Americans do, for example, given the rampant militarisation of apparently all branches of the regulatory enforcement apparatus there, and it is quite apparent that even on Europe’s Southern periphery there are a number of countries where this benevolent condition does not necessarily prevail.

    This ‘end of history’ idyll is certainly not present in much of Africa, South America, the Middle East and Central and South-East Asia.

    So the LDP’s comments are hardly wildly unreasonable, unless you really do ascribe to ‘in [insert nominally socialist mass-murderer here] we trust’?

  66. Posted July 28, 2011 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    I think you might find there is more to Breivik than meets the eye – the crucial distiction is to discriminate between economic Marxists (communists) and cultural Marxists (the ALP, Greens, Socialist Alliance etc). Breivik killed specifically Cultural Marxists

    This is a style of politics where you deploy some schema wherein there’s the forces of Light and Darkness. People who subscribe to all sorts of ideologies do this. A political style that involves Ragnarök.

    Breivik killed

    All you need. Someone does that they’ve lost it whatever books they like to read.

  67. Mel
    Posted July 28, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Permalink


    “On the broader point, we are privileged to live in an ‘end of history’ State – the need to resort to firearms against the government appears vanishingly remote. Fortunate us! I would estimate that about 15% of the world shares our fortune, at best. It is not at all clear that Americans do, for example, given the rampant militarisation of apparently all branches of the regulatory enforcement apparatus there …. ”

    So even Patrick, a moderate by libertarian standards, thinks American civilians need to arm themselves against their own government.

    Game over.

  68. Patrick
    Posted July 28, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    And mel, the committed lefty socialist, defends the apparently peaceful, non-violent and non-dangerous US state – no-knock raids, war on drugs and disproportionate incarceration of blacks be damned – any port in a storm and any stretch in an argument, I guess.

    Note, also, the gulf between my strength of expression..’it is not at all clear’ and the commitment you impute to me: ‘thinks’, absolutely.

    Adrien, I agree entirely.

  69. Posted July 28, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    M@75 Back in the C19th, some robust UK Tories argued that higher homicide rates were an acceptable cost to deprive the state of such a dangerous threat to liberty as a police force. This is quite an old argument in the Anglosphere.

    One of the most beautifully cynical analyses of gun control politics is by Steve Sailer (not a notably libertarian gentleman):

    The endless gun-control brouhaha, which on the surface appears to be a bitter battle between liberal and conservative whites, also features a cryptic racial angle. What blue-region white liberals actually want is for the government to disarm the dangerous urban minorities that threaten their children’s safety. Red-region white conservatives, insulated by distance from the Crips and the Bloods, don’t care that white liberals’ kids are in peril. Besides, in sparsely populated Republican areas, where police response times are slow and the chances of drilling an innocent bystander are slim, guns make more sense for self-defense than in the cities and suburbs.

    Which, with some adjustment, works quite well in explaining different urban and rural attitudes to gun control in Oz.

    It is a pity that gun control laws cannot be geographically tailored, since the levels of risk vary considerably according to social circumstances. So guns do not cause Afro-Americans (about 12% of the US population) to be just under half of homicide victims and just over half of perpetrators in the US but do help explain why gun control advocates tend to live in cities. (Of course, suicide and accident are the real meat of gun control arguments, not crime.)

  70. Posted July 28, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t comment on Mel’s first set of links re this Hissink, of whom I have never heard (and I am a card carrying member of the LDP), for the simple reason that they point to articles on climate change, which, as we have already seen, makes people depart much of their rationality and produces 500 comment threads over at Club Troppo. Club Troppo!

    Now firearms threads have a habit of becoming as interminable as climate change threads, so I suspect that the topic is best left alone. People will simply never agree, and the evidence points in fifty different directions including up.

    More broadly, I called in the original post for people to examine their own beliefs, and not glibly to dismiss murderous adherents of one’s ideas or related ideas as ‘unrepresentative nutters’. I pointed out that this kind of schtick has, historically, been commoner on the left that the right. But now the right has caught the same disease, and I don’t like it. Maybe it is the ‘postmodern conservatism’ that Lorenzo talks about (I wouldn’t mind a guest post on that, Lorenzo, at some point, it is a worrying development).

    And I do agree that this should not be seen as some sort of masterstroke, but simply as a highly deliberate act of terror. Breivik is far saner, I suspect, than McVeigh or the Unabomber.

  71. Posted July 28, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    M@75 I certainly do not think libertarian politics and attitudes are beyond critique. This post (and its follow-up) provide a far more articulate and penetrating criticism of strains within contemporary libertarianism than Mel has ever managed, because it is based on genuine knowledge and understanding of the libertarian movement.

    My objection is to the notion that libertarians are unusually dangerous, or have some particular penchant to violent behaviour. Politically motivated mass murderers have a long history, as does advocacy of violent politics. When you look at someone like Breivik or McVeigh (Oklahoma bombing), they come out of a strain of cultural panic nationalism that well predates modern libertarianism. It tells us something about contemporary circumstances that they may pick up on some libertarian themes, but not much at all about libertarianism since other and earlier versions picked up on themes operating in their time and place.

    This is particularly clear in the case of someone genuinely mentally disturbed, such as Jared Loughner (Tuscon shooting), whose political commentary was a real grab-bag of themes and rhetoric.

    The case of Islamism is somewhat different, because their numbers and attacks are so much greater, far more organised, operate in serious networks, there are substantial numbers of Muslims who agree or sympathise and they can cite substantial Islamic scriptures, hadiths and examples from the life of the Prophet in their support.

    Mark Durie, then an academic linguist who had studied in Aceh, became interested when the verses of the Quran the 9/11 bombers cited were the same as those that Acehese jihadis c.1900 used to carry with them.

    This does not, however, include suicide bombing: the best that al-Qaeda’s ideologist Ayman al-Zawahiri could manage to justify that was a remarkably lame spin on a single hadith. Though its popularity as a technique is a sad example of how the logic of belief is not the same as the logic of believers. Though it may not be doctrinally justifiable as a operational tactic, the notion of spreading Islam via violence and that believers should rightfully rule and dominate non-believers is deeply part of mainstream Islamic doctrine and jurisprudence. Take that seriously, and combine it with a tradition of violent martyrdom, and the temptations of operational effectiveness become great.

    Of course, it is also possible to come across intense denunciations of Salafi Islam from impeccably Muslim sources: Islam is a diverse religion, no matter how problematic some of its logics may be.

  72. Posted July 28, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    I’d forgotten Loughner, Lorenzo. FWIW, he does seem to be on the madder end of the spectrum, with McVeigh and the Unabomber in the middle, and this Breivik on the saner end.

  73. kvd
    Posted July 28, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    You guys are (or seem about to launch into) discussing the merits of gun control, and I will leave you to it. For mine it is simply a shorthand proxy for the wider issue of who gets to decide who can do what.

    I grew up with guns, and they provided meals, and also sports enjoyment at times. I don’t now need a gun; I don’t now wish to have a gun. But I resent the fact that I cannot decide for myself if I wish to own a gun.

    Mel can rabbit on as much as he wishes about overthrowing the government, and Lorenzo can point out the practical concerns evident in some parts of the US. Neither issues interest me beyond what they more widely indicate about the societies we live in, and the priorities of those who would govern us.

    How ever did libertarians get so nailed to this particular issue?

  74. kvd
    Posted July 28, 2011 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    Not logical LE. We lose more on the roads every month. The government quite rightly puts demands upon road users as to which side, how fast, slow down for schools, etc. But they don’t effectively remove the right of any of us to drive if we wish.

    People can be bad; cars or guns, no.

  75. Posted July 28, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    Not logical LE. We lose more on the roads every month.

    So let’s lose even more with firearms. :)

    Guns don’t kill people ’tis true. People kill people. People kill a lot more people with guns. But if you could have a gun you could kill the people killing all the other people before too many people got killed….

    And around and around it goes.

    I think Howard went too far. A very cursory background check on Bryant would’ve set off alarm bells. Now there’s a huge black market for guns where there wasn’t before. If you’re a psycho you can get ‘em.

    Breivik started a business just so he could get his hands on a lot of fertilizer for a bomb. There’s no perfect safety measures.

  76. Posted July 28, 2011 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    This does not, however, include suicide bombing: the best that al-Qaeda’s ideologist Ayman al-Zawahiri could manage to justify that was a remarkably lame spin on a single hadith. Though its popularity as a technique is a sad example of how the logic of belief is not the same as the logic of believers.

    Yes. It is a characteristic of the Abrahamics to frown on suicide, and here, Islam is no exception (mortal sin in Catholicism, ‘the worst sin’ in Judaism etc).

    The four things that Romans knew about Jews were (1) they didn’t eat pork; (2) they didn’t work on Saturdays (making them lazy so and sos to the 7 days a week Romans), (3) they didn’t commit suicide and (4) the men cut the ends off their willies (which horrified the Romans, because exposing the glans made a man ‘naked’ in the public baths, which were mixed). It seems rather unfair, the way Roman baths were routinely decorated with randy artwork, but it was very rude to show obvious sexual interest if a good looking woman/man/boy walked past. You were supposed to hide behind a pillar or something.

    So, reading Roman accounts of the mass Zealot suicide at Masada in 73 AD is extraordinary, especially when you compare them with that written by Josephus, a Romanised Jew. Josephus’ account wants to get across that what the Zealots did was absolutely the worst thing a Jew could do, but he also knows that his Roman readers will view the mass suicide as extremely noble (the Romans practised Singer-esque levels of suicide and euthanasia; their control to stop it getting out of hand within the family was immensely strong laws against parricide). Josephus is thus caught in a dreadful bind, and his description is fascinating to read for this reason.

    Roman historians, by contrast — knowing the Jewish prohibition on suicide, as Tacitus clearly does in his account — are simply flummoxed. Indeed, they are flummoxed in the same way as we are when confronted with Islamist suicide bombing, but for a different reason. ‘I thought your religion, which you take far more seriously than we take any of ours, forbade that’. For us, the reason is ‘but you’re Abrahamic monotheists too, so why the Hell are you doing this?

  77. Mel
    Posted July 28, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    L@80- Lorenzo, the same arguments can be used with regards Marxism. Hundreds of thousands of Marxists have lived and died here in Australia without precipitating an apocalypse, indeed many of our left political leaders were Marxists in their formative years, yet you’ve run about on numerous occasions like the most extravagant drama queen while making an essentialist argument about Marxism leading to mass murder. Skeptic Lawyer hasn’t been far behind.

    My thesis remains, modern day libertarainism contains scary elements and we won’t know whether it is as spooky as old style Marxism until/unless it runs something larger than a tuck shop. But the warnings signs are already highly visible.

  78. kvd
    Posted July 28, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    A@86 I read somewhere the other day that the reason the phone hacking thing seems most likely to be largely confined to the UK is that they have such strict defamation (libel? never sure) laws that the papers needed to do the hacking (i.e. break another law) so as to be sure of their facts. Then they just carried on regardless ’cause it was so easy.

    That seems weirdly logical to me; much like anyone wishing to do damage with a firearm will probably be able to do so, irrespective of our government’s best intentions; irrespective of laws governing same. I honestly don’t believe Howard’s action, if carried out a year before, would have changed Port Arthur’s tragic history one iota. Or that it will never happen again, as a direct result of his action.

  79. Posted July 28, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    How ever did libertarians get so nailed to this particular issue?

    I think (since this issue is never going to go away, alas) it is because libertarians are often the only ones willing to defend gun ownership in the face of restrictions like Howard’s after Port Arthur. This means pointing out that the guns held by a spree killer are often held legitimately.

    Indeed, while Norway (and Scandinavia generally) has a strong hunting culture and it’s easy to get a long-arm, Breivik’s account of how he spent 4 years as a law-abiding member of an Oslo gun club so that he could legitimately obtain a Glock semi-automatic pistol makes chilling reading.

  80. Posted July 28, 2011 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    Mel @ {lots}

    You are correct if you are saying the left has a good record on mass murder, or at least since my voice broke a second time from Bariton to Bass (says me, neatly skirting past the final arrest of the Red Brigade founders).

    But … the point of SL’s post is to be a little less reflexely tribal, a “a true one of us, a true {x}, would not do this…”, and I do think her point is both true, but perhaps not always useful if we want to knock out the “not true” bastards on all side.

    See my post on the trackback (here) which points out the left should enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend (aka divide-and-conquer) and ally with the respectable righties, against the Becks, the Bolts, the Corporatists. Then we place nice, say “those bastards are out of the way”, we’ve made the world a better place, which is surely the only objective we should have.

    Any other approach by the left now is surely entirely counterproductive to our aims, and if we are correct, we can happily dismantle the sensible right later with sensible arguments.

  81. Posted July 28, 2011 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    People kill people.

    US studies show that in households with guns teenagers are more likely to commit suicide, which is kinda obvious. For all the hand wringing and dumbass psychoanalysis about suicide the reality is that most of the time it is an impulsive choice. Teenagers are impulsive.

    A recent study claimed that people with guns are more likely to be killed by a gun than those not owning a gun. (Yes lots of confounders there.)

    I don’t like gun laws and believe Howard went too far. A better middle ground would be that if you own a gun you must make sure it is secured and the bolt or whatever is kept in a separate place.

    The USA has the balance completely wrong. It is not that they have guns but that they glorify guns and treat them as displays of power and privilege. Guns are like penises, useful things but they should not be on display and their contents should be discharged with appropriate prudence and caution.

  82. Movius
    Posted July 29, 2011 at 1:49 am | Permalink

    None of you understand. Where he endorses policy XYZ, which I agree with, his opinion can be discounted because he is a madman.

    But where he endorses ZYX, which I disagree with, that proves he is inherently evil.

  83. Mel
    Posted July 29, 2011 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Here is an example of a Marxist who gives me the willies every bit as much as the gun toting, teabagging, testosterone pumped “Road to Serfdom” Hayekians.

    I worry more about the extremists on the right than the extremists on the left these days because the right extreme seems to be waxing while left extreme is waning.

  84. Patrick
    Posted July 29, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Well she does seem to be unhinged!

    I’m not sure you realise how contradictory ‘testerone pumped’ and ‘Hayekians’ would normally be considered to be.

  85. Posted July 29, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Josephus is thus caught in a dreadful bind, and his description is fascinating to read for this reason.

    It’s daemonic. Men slicing up their wives and children!

  86. Posted July 29, 2011 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Adrien@97 / SL@88 : Josephus just knew which way the wind was blowing. (Well, El-Yahweh /did/ rise through the ranks of the pantheon as a storm god, so, not really a surprise!)

    But the OT “hey abe? i want you to kill your son to show you love me…. eh… just kidding!” has always been a worry.

    I suppose if one is a “true” abrahamist and goes for the entire corpus of sacred text by your brand-of-choice, then it’s a choice of being selective (your pre-religious nature making the selection) and taking the lot, the cognitive dissonance making one properly psychotic.

  87. Posted July 29, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    Whoah, Mel @95, that’s quite a find. And I didn’t know that was her take on the world — I’ve had pretty civil discussions with her on non-political matters over at LP. I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt and hope that it’s just a case of BWD.

    Adrien@97, well, that’s part of the horror in Tacitus’ account. Unless she’d requested euthanasia, and was elderly, a Roman man who killed his wife ‘in the prime of her life’ would be charged with murder, and would have the devil’s own job raising a defence sufficient to reduce the charge to manslaughter (culpable homicide in Roman law). Always remember, the thing that matters to a pagan Roman is his or her agency and capacity (‘I can do this by myself, without help’). That is what sets citizens apart from everyone else (and particularly from slaves).

    For a modern version of the Roman conception of capacity, consider Amartya Sen’s ‘capabilities’ model of liberty; that’s very Roman, and significantly, found its way into Sen’s thought via Martha Nussbaum, a classicist. She also advised Posner when it came to this sort of thing in Sex and Reason, which is why Posner’s idea for adoption markets looks remarkably similar to the way adoption functioned in the Roman world (he describes both and draws the link explicitly).

  88. Posted July 29, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    An outstanding analysis focussed on Breivik’s methods from STRATFOR:

  89. Posted July 29, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    SL@100 – Yes, Stratfor’s email before the arrest of Breivik was about the only piece giving similar weight to nasty righties and islamists in their discussion.

    Many center-right politicians have also begun raising anti-immigrant policy issues in order to distract from the ongoing economic austerity measures brought about by the European economic crisis. If grassroots Islamist militants are found to be the culprits in Norway, it will simply reinforce the current European political trend that favors the far right. That said, some far-right parties, particularly in Northern Europe, could get a popularity boost sufficient to push them into the political mainstream, and possibly into government.

    If an individual, grassroots or organized domestic group with far-right or neo-Nazi leanings perpetrated the attack, the significance for the rest of Europe will not be large. It could lead to a temporary loss of popularity for the far right, but long-term repercussions for the far right are unlikely since these parties have begun tempering their platforms in order to attract a wider constituency.

    There is also the possibility that the attacks are the work of a skilled but disturbed individual with grievances against the Labor Party. This possibility would have few long-ranging repercussions beyond a reworking of domestic security procedures in Norway.

    What’s interesting is that this sort of thing would be the analyses read by national leaders all around the world from their own intelligence agencies – and yet between the lines of all the PMs and Presidents was “islamist attack on democracy”, or most easily interpreted that way.

    One would also presume that all decent paid commentators would be getting Stratfor as well, and not just the regular and alert emails SL and I obviously do – or they certainly would have had ONE competent correspondent passing the alert from Stratfor around the office quick smart. (In fact, you’d be a stupid news service, or PM, to just get the freebies, but pay the big bucks for the full deal from Stratfor).

    So, if the its-your-job-to-know-this-before-you-open-your-gob types aren’t getting this sort of advice from somewhere, they are pretty much incompetent, and if they are getting it or ignoring it … why? Dunno which scenario is worse.

    Note the “popularity” mention of Stratfor – I don’t think it’s just self-labelled righty politicians that would much rather this have been an islamic attack.

  90. Posted July 29, 2011 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    M@89 I made the point that Leninism has a clear connection to mass murder (and tyranny) and it clearly and emphatically does. Far more than any other political movement humans have produced. This is why your “eggs were broken” metaphor is such a lame evasion: we are talking about a level of murderousness orders of magnitude greater than what it replaced, or competed with it at the time, with the sole exception of Nazism.

    Why Nazism’s connection to tyranny and mass murder is completely accepted but somehow pointing out the connection in the case of Leninism is hysterical is beyond me.

    Leninism is indubitably a form of Marxism: indeed, the most historically important form. What Leninism does is operationalise Marxism: turns the classless society into something actively created. That, alas, has very grim implications that come straight from Marxist theory. Leszek Kołakowski discusses very perceptively the deeply problematic elements of Marxism and why it could so easily lead to Leninism and Stalinism.

    As for Islam, either mainstream Islamic jurisprudence down the centuries was based on the notion of believers controlling and dominating non-believers, with violent spread of Islamic rule being acceptable or it wasn’t. In fact, it was. And, in mainstream Islamic jurisprudence, still is. These are the facts of the matter.

    That the logic of belief is not necessarily the logic of believers is true, but does not change the doctrinal facts.

    If the worst one can say about libertarianism is that a small number of lone killers picked up on its themes, that is extremely small beer compared to the contemporary and continuing record of Islamism, let alone the historical record of Leninism.

  91. Posted July 29, 2011 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    Laurie Penny in the Independent has a cogent critique of the use of the “lunacy” charge to put Breivik in a “safe” box.

    She does use one of my least favourite terms (‘Islamophobia’: criticising someone’s religion really is not the same as criticising their race) and her attempt to force the relevant political issues into a framing she finds congenial is not helpful since it perpetuates the “dialogue of the deaf” that gives hatemongers their “in”. But she is correct, the lunacy charge is not apposite but does quarantine.

  92. Dave Bath
    Posted July 29, 2011 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    L@102 : Your distaste for Marxism because Leninism is a derivation (a twisted one I might add) is akin to blaming Zoroaster for the killings by extremist monotheists over millenia, because the Babylonian exile of the Hebrews until Cyrus could well have giving the idea of a single universal god to the Hebrews, rather than merely /their/ god they had to stay loyal to rather than all other gods. Hell, why not blame the ancient Greeks and Romans for the excesses of both Stalinism and Nazism? Both are forms of the western civilization we’ve got from Athens/Rome.

    I take in then that you must be Confucianist as Mao hated that, and it’s the only worldview with some kind of theory of government (Buddhism doesn’t have one) that hasn’t had a psychopath (let alone a spirochaete-ridden one) falsely wrapping themself in a doctrinal flag and using it to justify mass murders.

    That’s all about as sensible as a few silly lefties out there going “Breivik is Bad, Breivik admires Howard and Pell, therefore Howard and Pell are Bad.” (We can accuse Howard and Pell without that false syllogism, thank you very much).

    If there is excusitis, then there is also the opposite (false-blame-itis? doctrinally vexatious? accusitis??? anybody got a good word?)

  93. Posted July 29, 2011 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    No, I agree with Lorenzo on Marxism, Dave. It’s a really nasty set of ideas, and far more than any other contemporary left thinker (people forget there were others in the period, like Proudhon), Marx loved violent imagery and the thought of violent overthrow. Read the Communist Manifesto. Lots of bloody wallowing in there.

    That said, I think Marxism is pretty inert without someone to chop away the philosophical bits and just put the violence into action per se. Lenin did that. The philosophical bits are what makes Marx interesting and challenging, which is why Marx is still important in the academy (a distinction I attempted to draw in my last post on this topic, but everyone chose to ignore it).

    Lenin, not so much.

  94. Dave Bath
    Posted July 29, 2011 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    SL@105 – Must admit it’s close to 30 years since I read Marx/Engels. I may have glazed over the bits you mentioned, there is always a more elegant way.

    All we have to do is put all the bigwigs in a line and rather than shoot them, take their crackberries and smash them under their own feet. Insant massive cerebral aneuryms. No blood to wipe up.

  95. Posted July 29, 2011 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    My thesis remains, modern day libertarainism contains scary elements and we won’t know whether it is as spooky as old style Marxism until/unless it runs something larger than a tuck shop. But the warnings signs are already highly visible.

    Don’t worry about libertarians Mel. Libertarians love thinking about politics and philosophy but that is all. They freely admit the Left has hijacked politics, academia, and economics but are incapable of doing anything about that.

    Thinking is easy, changing how other people think is incredibly difficult. Libertarians are not particularly interested in changing how other people think and until such time as they pay *much* more attention to that their ideas will largely remain their own. Their choice, they are entitled to that, but given that choice I wish they would stop complaining about how the Left has hijacked … ..

  96. Patrick
    Posted July 30, 2011 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    Confucianism has no mass murderers? I had always thought that there were several whole dynasties of confusian emporers, but maybe there weren’t…or maybe, but much less likely, none of them were mass murderers?

  97. Posted July 30, 2011 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    DB@104 Leszek Kolakowski is the person to read on this.

    A slew of C19th anarchist (and, indeed, liberal) thinkers predicted that Marx’s ideas would lead to state tyranny. And lo!, they did.

    By contrast, all Marx’s key predictions were flops.

  98. Posted July 30, 2011 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    SL: back to your original post, it has occurred to me that natural law theory uses the “no true Scotsman” fallacy a lot. For example:

    Claim: It is in the nature of things that sex is for procreation.
    Objection: There is lots of non-procreative sex in nature.
    Response: That is not true sex.

    The conclusion gets to choose the ambit of its premises, so all contradicting examples are not “true” instances.

  99. Posted August 6, 2011 at 5:31 am | Permalink


    Maybe it is the ‘postmodern conservatism’ that Lorenzo talks about (I wouldn’t mind a guest post on that, Lorenzo, at some point, it is a worrying development).

    I have sent you and LE a draft post (it needs a whole lot of links added, for example) on that very topic :)

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