July 16

Ep. 0069: Listener Emails #1

Join Prof CJ as he discusses:

  • Surprisingly subversive themes in fiction and cinema (Note: I recorded my response to this prior to doing my film review of 71, which is why that review wasn’t mentioned.)
  • Whether an anarchistic society could have security from external threats
  • How to design a history curriculum for school-age youths that would really educate them about the facts of history and how to think for themselves
  • Possible similarities between George Washington and “the Donald”?
  • CJ shares a Facebook post he wrote about flags & slavery

Thanks to listeners Ben, Justin, Ray, & Max for their emails!

External Links

Prof CJ’s Picks (buy anything from Amazon via these links to help support the show at no additional cost to you)

[“Flag of Key West, Florida” by Jmckean – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flag_of_Key_West,_Florida.svg#/media/File:Flag_of_Key_West,_Florida.svg]

Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved.

Posted July 16, 2015 by profcj in category "Listener Emails", "Podcasts


  1. By Halsingen on

    Regarding “The Art of Not Being Governed” by James C. Scott from Yale University that you discussed, I’ve always wondered about the thesis in this book, as Jeff Riggenbach at the Mises Institute put it in his review:

    “In effect, ironically, the state is the price of civilization — not, as the statists believe, because the state is necessary to safeguard or protect civilization, but rather because it is civilization the state fastens upon like a leech or a tapeworm, because the most civilized societies are the wealthiest and thus the most profitable to loot. If you want to live in a civilized place, you’ll probably have to put up with the state. ”


    But according to the conventional historiography there were flourishing cities in Scandinavia long before the Nordic States’ emergence.

    Interesting to note is that Uppåkra which was twice as large as Hedeby and six times that of Birka and had been an urban settlement since 100 century AD, disappeared around the same time Harald Bluetooth created the Danish state in the 900s.

    The kingship in the new Danish state wanted to make Lund (named after London, which emerged as a particularly favored royal settlement modeled after London) instead of Uppåkra, the center in Denmark.


    Is it really true, that you can have no civilization without a state?

    1. By profcj (Post author) on

      Good question; and one that gets us into what certain terms mean. I think there are many examples of things that we would probably consider “civilizations” without what we would term a “state” (especially in the modern sense.)

      I’ve sometimes wondered if the state wasn’t a necessary phase for humanity to have to pass through, sort of like a nasty (but necessary) bridge from simple tribal existence to genuine freedom (in the individualist anarchist sense of the word, which is different from the rudimentary/partial freedom enjoyed by stateless-but-primitive/tribal peoples.)

      So the state, in this formulation, is sort of like an unavoidable middle stage between pre-state freedom and a freer, post-state form of freedom (the latter including such boons as literacy, rational philosophy, the scientific method, industry, and the market.) My understanding is that in many parts of the world, for example, writing first arose in order to serve the state, such as to keep tax records; however, I think writing clearly has countless benefits for humanity at large, even if its origins were as a tool of the state.

      Perhaps the state was a necessary phase, but soon must be sloughed off, as whatever benefits it may ever have offered have long since come to be outweighed by all its problems & evils.

      I’m not 100% sure what I myself think on that proposition, just speculating — but I think it’s plausible.

      1. By Halsingen on

        @ Profcj

        I don’t want to contradict your point, but didn’t writing, and the runic alphabet, exist in Scandinavia several hundred years before the founding of the Nordic states?


        However, I’ve been pretty astonished, when historically well-read libertarians like Ben “Bad Quaker” Stone and others have stated, that a institution like slavery can not exist wihtout the state.

        Stateless Scandinavia was a socity where servitude/slavery existed long and well.

        It’s usually emphasized that what enabled and perpetuated this institution was:


        “In a country lacking executive institutions, the survival of the individual is strongly dependent on the power of his clan. If a person has been found guilty of a serious crime, he is denied legal protection by his kinsmen. He becomes a skogarmadr (outlaw), which entitles anyone to take revenge on him without retribution. In that respect, Icelandic law matches perfectly with the Viking conception of the world, dividing the cosmos into inner- and outer spheres. The slave lived under the same conditions as the skogarmadr. He was practically without rights and stood outside of law and society. There was only one reason for protecting a slave and that was because he was the personal property of a member of society.”

        To suffer ostracism/social exclusion and be sat outside the community was no sinecure. Try as an example, think of the Christian martyrs’ fates. Some of the many moss corpses found in northern Europe are considered to be examples of it.

        So how do you really define a “state”?

        Does a libertarian society require a libertarian rights’ paradigm and a libertarian community view?

        1. By profcj (Post author) on

          That’s interesting. I was not familiar with the origins of ancient runic writing. However, the article you linked to mentioned that these are believed to be derived from Old Italic writing going back to ancient Italian peoples, such as the Etruscans, in which case it’s still at least possible that the precursor to the runic writing may have been developed for state-related purposes, even if the Nordic tribes adopted it and used it for other purposes.
          The question of what is a state to me reveals that there are a lot of gradations between total statelessness on the one hand, and the indisputable presence of a modern, centralized state that we’d all recognize as such, on the other.

          Some analysts of the state(including some libertarian critics) will use the term “state” only in reference to the modern nation-state, and thus might say things like “the state is only about three centuries old.” Which is basically true, if they only mean “the modern nation-state.” However, there are things that I would call states (even if they’re not modern nation-states as we have today) going back thousands of years in many different parts of the world. They may have been more hemmed in than modern nation-states in some ways due to technological and logistical limitations of their times & places, but it wasn’t for lack of trying to be a genuine Leviathan.

          There’s a lot of gray area within the realm of pre-state, social/governmental structures. Take tribes, for example. There are tribal peoples who are rather egalitarian, and where “leaders” are really just people who are respected and influential and so get listened to more than others, and these sorts of tribes could be considered pretty anarchistic. Then there are tribal governments/chiefdoms that look little different in practice from early monarchical states. And of course all sorts of gradations exist between those two. Add in other types of what are usually considered pre-state forms of social organization, and things get even more muddled.

          I think if we take the most commonly used meaning of state in the political sense (something along the lines of “an institution that is a compulsory territorial monopolist of taxation, the initiation of force, and dispute resolution”), then it seems that some tribes and clans are pretty close to that, even if they are not quite as far down that road as, say, a modern nation-state.

          As for your last question, I think the answer is “yes,” because I don’t see how you could establish a truly libertarian society without a pretty broad consensus among the people within that society in favor of doing so.

          1. By Halsingen on

            @ Profcj

            Awesome answer, thank you!

            Was perhaps then “stateless” Scandinavia in the grey area: there was no executive body or a state, but a single body of law (provincial laws), and a single court system (the “things”)?


            Could it be defined as Kritarchy?


            The farmers just gathered at a “thing” once a year and agreed on the laws that governed the different countries. There were no taxes, no government/state (at least, as we know it today), no tax collectors, etc.

            See also, for example the independent peasants’ republic Jämtland in the middle ages:


            But yet at the same time, they owned slaves.

            According to the libertarian writer Vilhelm Moberg, two factors combined to the disappearance of slavery in Scandinavia:

            The introduction of Christianity and the development of agriculture, a spiritual factor and an economic.

  2. By Jon on

    In David Friedman’s book The Machinery of Freedom he talks about the mostly-anarchist Iceland. During couple (?) hundred years that it was an “anarchist” society it fared really well, but then Finland (I believe) wanted to take it over. Finland didn’t do a direct battle to enslave the people. Finland encouraged factions to dispute for power more or less. In his book he wrote it more elegantly than what I have written (I believe you can find the second edition online for free).

    So there are more ways to skin a cat. I do agree that an anarchist society would probably produce a place that is more peaceful, but the notion that other countries wouldn’t attack it and be able to take over whole lands doesn’t ring true to me. I agree, that basically the people of the land would have to want to defend themselves. The problem is, the longer we have peace the softer we become. I know that I would never want to fight in any battle or even fight off an attacker. I would rather try to flee both.

    There are times when the external force is so powerful it doesn’t matter if you are in a free society or not. You will be taken out. Like in Dan Carlin’s podcast on the Khan’s.

    So, I mostly agree with you. I just think, that an anarchist society the people really need to know what it is to be free for multiple generations. But, it seems like eventually people forget what it means and they go through cycles. It’s hard to break it.

    I’ve heard people say that once society collapses people will reject the state. I don’t think that is true. There have been enough examples to show that the worse government is the more people want more of it. Not always true. But Argentina used to be a pretty good country. But now it keeps getting worse and worse.

    1. By profcj (Post author) on

      You raise a lot of good points. I agree nothing is a 100% guarantee against attack or invasion, to be sure.
      But I don’t think that the possibility of a foreign state taking over in the future should necessarily obligate one to support a homegrown state in the present.

      That reminds me of the William F. Buckley Jr. statement (published in Commonweal magazine in the early Fifties, before he founded National Review) that the US needed to embrace “Big Government” and “a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores” in order to resist the threat of Soviet Communism. So according to Buckley’s thinking (and understand, I’m not saying I think you’d agree with him, Jon), we ought to surrender our freedom to our own rulers in order to guard against a possible foreign threat to our freedom.

      I also think that many more people would be willing to fight against a genuine threat that’s clear and present than against some distant “enemy” that’s a very remote threat (if it’s even a threat at all.) In other words, many young men had to be drafted to fight in Vietnam, but I think more would have volunteered if Vietnam had actually been invading their own backyard.

      I agree that humans can become too soft to be willing to fight, even to defend themselves. However, I’m not so sure that it’s peace in and of itself that causes this; rather, I think it’s a particular kind of “peace” — ie, peace under the rule of a powerful state that hems in your freedom but then “provides” for you in various ways. I see that as analogous to domestication of free, independent wild animals that can take care of themselves into docile, compliant livestock.

      One of the interesting things I read recently was Two Cheers for Anarchism by James C. Scott (the author of Art of Not Being Governed.) In Two Cheers, one of the chapters argues that we need to consider not just quality & quantity of material goods a given society & institutions produce, but also what types of people a given society & institutions will produce. I would say that a truly freer society produces people who are likely to be (on average) more ruggedly independent & self-reliant, and a society with less freedom produces people who are more docile & domesticated (except for the state’s enforcer class, of course, who often – though not always – become more violent as the majority become more docile.)
      Also, I think I mentioned way back in episode 4, one of the things that made so many of the people of the late-Roman Empire so much softer and more easily conquered than their ancestors was that Rome had long abandoned their original system wherein all citizens were at least supposed to be part of a militia system.

      This meant that most adult males had had, during the militia era, at least some basic weaponry and some basic knowledge of how to use it. But, as Rome’s empire grew, its citizen-militia system was replaced by a system of full-time paid professional soldiers. One of the many effects of this change was that average Roman citizens who were not full-time soldiers tended over the generations to “lose their mojo,” to lose their knowledge of how to fight, and to not even bother having personal arms in many cases. (In fact, it eventually became illegal for those who were not state officials to even possess certain kinds of weapons.) When the various fiscal and other problems made Rome weak, and the barbarians started to make more successful incursions, it meant that many outlying communities were vulnerable if they didn’t have any( or didn’t have sufficient numbers of) regular troops available, because few of their “civilians” had the knowledge or equipment to fight anymore (and they’d long since lost the attitude & spirit to do so, too.)

      In other words, the more people outsource provision of security to full-time specialists, the more they lose the attitude and skills to defend themselves (and often also the hardware.) They become habituated to waiting passively for someone else to save them from all threats, and when the state is strong, this empowers their rulers further to exploit them; but when the state is experiencing decline (like the Late Roman Empire), this makes them prey to external threats.

      One thing I’ll throw in here that I don’t think I got into much (if at all) in this episode was that physical geography can be important. Mountains have tended, historically, to produce rugged, self-reliant people who are difficult to govern. Swamps and deserts have also done so, as well. These sorts of geography also make invasion more difficult — not impossible, but more difficult. (As they say, amateurs study tactics; professionals study logistics.) Historically, fertile plains (not barren steps!) and lush valleys tended to produce states, and also tended to be invaded more frequently than more rugged types of terrain. Its true that in the last century or so, technology has empowered states to penetrate rugged terrain more than before, but it still has its limits. So perhaps Ancapistan has its best hope of emerging and surviving in such terrain.

      On your last point, I agree completely that state collapse does not automatically translate into freedom, but can in fact lead to a far more oppressive state emerging. I believe I’ve mentioned my concerns on this a few times, if not on my podcast then perhaps on some of the other shows I’ve been a guest on.

      For example, if the US government collapsed tomorrow, I think it’s likely that whatever filled that vacuum would be worse, because of the character of the people. The overwhelming majority of Americans, despite what they say, at the moment don’t really value freedom and don’t want it. Tying back into what James Scott argued in Two Cheers, I’d say it’s because the institutions we’ve lived under for many generations have domesticated Americans so badly that they want a farmer to control & exploit them, so long as he at least pretends to be “taking care” of them as well.

      That again is why, to me, the most important thing is doing what one can to try to awaken people’s minds to ideas of freedom, which will in turn reduce demand for a strong ruler of some sort. The more people begin to think and act and live for themselves, the less they’ll be willing to tolerate being ruled, and the more likely they’ll be to successfully run their own lives if the state withered away – in other words, there’d be no vacuum in people’s minds for an upstart new state to try to fill.

    2. By Halsingen on

      @ Jon

      Finland has always been a whipping boy in Nordic historical context just like for example Sameland or Scania where I live (http://scania.org/), and have never been able to embark on imperialist adventures.

      It was conquered by Sweden in the 1100’s and didn’t gain independence until after World War 1.

      Iceland was settled in the 800’s by Norwegians who fled Norway’s first king Harald Fairhair, who founded the first Norwegian state.

      Buy in 1263, Iceland was forced into a union with Norway (a conversion of the gallows).

      The Icelandic libertarian writer Hannes Gissurarson have written much about this topic:


      1. By jon on

        Thank you both for your replies. Very insightful.


        I knew I was royally screwing up that history as I was writing it. Thanks for the correction. Norway not Finland! I’ll have to engrain that in my mind.

        I feel like I’m an infant when it comes to history. So much to learn!

  3. By Jon on

    In a previous podcast you mentioned Stefan Molyneux. Interesting character. He reminds me a lot of Ayn Rand. Great orator, but unfortunately, like he said of John Taylor Gatto, “Great ideas but once you learn about some of his ideas you see he can be a little crazy” (paraphrasing – I don’t remember the exact remarks). Stefan, like Rand has his inner circle that he runs like a cult. Even on his podcast he has shown that he can be a megalomaniac.

    Having grown up in an authoritarian religion myself, I can be sensitive to cultish-like personalities and Stefan, unfortunately, is one of them. If you are interesting in hearing more about it I can point you to sources.

    I don’t think that is a reason to write off a lot of awareness he has brought to the community, he has done some great work. Unfortunately, I would never want my child to be exposed to his defooing practices, where he encourages people (off air) to leave their parents without giving them a chance. From what I understand it is an unhealthy practice even when your parents are abusive (depending on the degree of abuse). Having said that. I have learned quite a bit from him.

    One thing that I disagree about the libertarian movement is using natural rights or the non-aggression principle. I am more in the camp of Mises, where I don’t really think they exist. I owe that to my 70+ year old friend that has been in the liberty movement for some time and has showed me the holes in the arguments. It is interesting that even Molyneux, when penned down, will say it doesn’t matter, in the end it is only what society deems right. He calls it, the don’t be a dick rule.

    1. By profcj (Post author) on

      I don’t necessarily agree with everything Molyneux (or anyone else for that matter) says or does, either.

      That said, his history presentations (such as the George Washington one I’ve recommended & linked to a couple of times) are usually sound – at least the ones I’ve listened to.

  4. By Tristatefans on

    OMG! OMG! I can’t believe you posted a picture of the Bonnie Conch Flag!

    On another and more serious note, I really LIKE this show concept and hope you continue to do these as a regular feature.

    1. By profcj (Post author) on

      Like I said, the Conch Republic flag and the Jolly Roger are the only two flags for which I have even the slightest affection.

      Based on people’s responses, I am planning on doing this on an ongoing basis, maybe every few weeks or every month, whenever I’ve accumulated a batch of maybe 4-6 or so good emails to share and respond to.

  5. By Buffalo Jim on

    Prof CJ, I once had a chemistry professor recommend wikipedia as an accurate source of information on the subject. After listening to your series on the American Revolution I looked at the wikipedia article on George Washington. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Washington)

    I just read the introductory section and came across this line: “His strategy enabled Continental forces to capture two major British armies at Saratoga in 1777 and Yorktown in 1781.” I thought that curious after learning what I did from your podcast.

    What are you thoughts on wikipedia pages on historical events and wikipedia in general?

    1. By profcj (Post author) on

      I think it’s fine for just sort of basic facts (names, dates, names of treaties, places, battles,laws, etc.) Beyond that, it varies significantly from article to article. Some are well-footnoted, and you can use the footnotes to verify the info in more “serious” sources, such as heavy-duty books and articles. However, some are not as well documented. One problem I’ve noticed on some Wikipedia articles is not clearly delineating between fact and opinion. This may be due to the fact that some Wikipedia articles appear to be nothing but mashed together chunks of books and articles, without adequate documentation of what info came from where. Sometimes they’re quoting stuff without making it clear they’re doing so, and where it came from.

      So overall I’d say Wikipedia is fine for just basic facts on something, but keep an eye out for opinion or interpretation not being clearly presented as such, and/or inadequate documentation of where info is coming from. Again, it varies significantly from article to article. Some are pretty solid, others not so much.

      1. By Ken Mitchell (TriStateFans) on

        My wife is a college professor (physiology & patho) and she encourages her students to use Wiki, not for what the article says but rather as a good place to start mining sources… she steers them to the footnotes to use the sources as a place to start to research a student project.


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