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Nationalism and Democracy: The Unintended Consequence of Decivilizaiton


Below is a response I posted in one of my classes:

The Treaty of Westphalia and the American Revolution marked another shift as well that is directly tied to the concept of Nationalism and can help explain the problems that the critics associate with it: “war, poverty, exploitation, colonialism, terrorism” and crime.  They marked the shift from monarchical government, where the legitimacy of power was gained through divine sovereignty, to democratic government, where the legitimacy comes from popular sovereignty.  Both forms require a monopoly on coercion over a geographic area, but the irony is that the form of government that appears more benevolent and fair-minded to its subjects, democracy, is actually equally or even more damaging to the societies who live under them.  The reason being that monarchs were seen as coercive and a burden on their subjects and thus much more susceptible to revolution; whereas, democracy takes “privileges, discrimination, and protectionism” that was once restricted to “princes and nobles” and opens them up to “be exercised and accorded to everyone.” (Hoppe, 2007, 83)  Nationalism is then the concept of identifying with the State, making one inseparable from it.  The groups in the text still apply here as each type: “individualistic and civic”, “collectivist and civic”, and collectivist and ethnic” (Greenfield & Eastwood, 2005, 256) describe who the privileges etc. can be accorded to and who will identify with the state, practice nationalism.  It follows then that any attack on the state will be viewed by each respective group as an attack on their perceived current or potential power and so resistance will be prevented or crushed in a decentralized manner through the nationalistic groups, protecting and adding legitimacy to the central government.

Nationalism and war: Total war,war on the entire population of a state vs war between just the militaries, is the result of all of the citizenry, or the various groups depending on the type of nationalism, identifying with the state.  In the age of monarchies, conflicts were “merely violent dynastic property disputes,” that could be “resolved through acts of territorial occupation;” however, modern wars have “become battles between different ways of life, which can only be resolved through cultural, linguistic, or religious domination and subjugation (or extermination).” (Hoppe, 2007, 37)  When there is no way to separate the populations from the state, due to nationalism, the wars have to be between the populations.

Nationalism and terrorism: Unlike the text, it does not appear to me that terrorism is the tactic used by people who subscribe to nationalism, but the tactic of those who do not identify with a state to use against those who subscribe to nationalism.  Those who use terrorist tactics see the citizenry as inseparable from the state and as the source of power and legitimacy for the state whose course they wish to change. This leads them to believe that tactical influence and victory can be gained by attacking this source of power, the citizenry, as opposed to attacking the State directly.

Nationalism and Exploitation/colonialism: Since the citizenry identify with the State and entry into positions of power are available to the citizenry, “everyone is permitted to openly express his desire for other men’s property.” (Hoppe, 2007, 87)  This can be through advocating redistributional policies within the population (exploitation) or through advocating territorial expansion in order to take property from outside the population (colonialism) and will be supported by the majority who see the gains of the State as their gains, or due to their hope to eventually enter into a position of power themselves and have the property available to achieve their own ends.

Nationalism and poverty/crime: The more general and damaging effect of nationalism is that it creates a higher time preference (in economics higher time preference refers wanting things sooner; a more short term outlook for both goals and consequences).  This is due to the uncertainty caused by mass amounts of legislation and regulation that results from the increased legitimacy granted to States of nationalistic populations and from the disincentive to accumulate capital due to increased exploitation/property redistribution that occurs for reasons mentioned above.  The resulting decivilization caused by higher time preference is a complex process to explain here but I will use the conclusion from the Chapter, “On Time Preference, Government, and the Process of Decivilization” from Hoppe’s “Democracy: The God that Failed” to sum up the effects:

“…as far as government is concerned, democratic republicanism [nationalism] produced communism (and with this public slavery and government sponsored mass murder even in peacetime), fascism, national socialism and, lastly and most enduringly, social democracy (‘liberalism’).  Compulsory military service has become almost universal, foreign and civil wars have increased in frequency and in brutality, and in the process of political centralization has advanced further than ever.  Internally, democratic republicanism [nationalism] has led to permanently rising taxes, debts, and public employment.  It has led to the destruction of the gold standard, unparalleled paper-money inflation, and increased protectionism and migration controls.  Even the most fundamental private law provision have been perverted by an unabating flood of legislation and regulation.    Simultaneously, as regards civil society, the institutions of marriage and family have been increasingly weakened, the number of children has declined, and the rates of divorce, illegitimacy, single parenthood, singledom, and abortion have increased.  Rather than rising with rising incomes, savings rates have been stagnating or even falling…And the rates of crime, structural unemployment, welfare dependency, parasitism, negligence, recklessness, incivility, psychopathy, and hedonism have increased.” (Hoppe, 2007, 42-43)

Greenfield, L. & Eastwood, J.(2005). Rule Making, Rule Breaking, and Power. In T.A. Janoski, A.M. Hicks, & M.A. Schwartz (Eds.), Handbook of Political Sociology: States, Civil Societies, and Globalization (33-53). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Hoppes, H.H. (2007) Democracy: The God that Failed.New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers.

Mar 26, 2011

Retributive Punishment: Proportionality and Justice


The way we punish criminals and restore justice is very important to our overall crime prevention strategy. It is important to establish a punitive system that will exact the right amount of punishment while also bringing about justice and restitution to the victim of the crime. A retributive punishment system, where the maximum punishment is proportional to the crime and the victim decides the final sentence for the aggressor would bring the goal of criminal punishment back to its rightful focus… justice for the victims of crime.

The “primacy of restitution to the victim” is an “ancient principle of law”, but “as the State monopolized the institution of punishment, so the rights of the injured were slowly separated from penal law.” (1)(2) This has led to the focus of “punishment” shifting from justice for the victims to the utilitarian purpose of deterrence or the “humanitarian” goal of “rehabilitation.” Both of these alternatives to justice are philosophically flawed if carried to their logical conclusions. The utilitarian goal of deterrence would justify “cruel and unusual” punishments, since it would be the most effective at deterring future criminals, as well as severely harsh punishments for minor crimes since justice or proportionality is not the goal. The humanitarian goal of rehabilitation, on the other hand, condemns the criminal to an “indeterminate” sentence– “to be determined at the Psychologist’s pleasure”– regardless of the crime and all at the expense of the victim, who pays taxes to support these rehabilitation efforts, with no restitution repaid to the victim or justice achieved on their behalf. Also, if rehabilitation is the sole goal of criminal punishment than a petty thief could theoretically be held much longer than a murderer if the thief is less willing to reform or not as capable of feigning rehabilitation compared to the murderer.

The way to truly pursue justice against the aggressor and on behalf of the victim would be to allow the victim to sentence the aggressor, up to a maximum punishment, once they have been found guilty. The punishment should be both proportionally retributive towards the criminal as well as include restitution for the victim, “two teeth for a tooth” concept of punishment. This is demonstrated most easily in the example of theft used by Murray Rothbard in his essay Punishment and Proportionality. Suppose a thief is found guilty of stealing $15,000 from Bob. We would hold that he must pay back the $15,000 he stole (restitution), but that is not punishment but simply restitution for the thief is no worse off than he was prior to the theft, so he should be forced to pay an additional $15,000 (plus police and court costs) to Bob so that he is deprived of the same liberty that he deprived Bob of (retribution). This is the concept that sets the proportional maximum that a victim may sentence a guilty criminal. However, the victim, since justice is theirs, should also be able to forgive the criminal in entirety or exercise partial forgiveness for whatever reason, philosophy, sympathy, monetary compensation, etc.

This legitimate sense of justice and retributive system of punishment will distribute punishment appropriately according to the level of harm done to the victims of the crime and the “two teeth for a tooth” concept upheld up to the desire of the victim should also act as a deterrent to criminals, even though that is not the primary goal.

(1) Rothbard, Murray. The Ethics of Liberty. New Jersy: New York University, 1998. (“Punishment and Proportionality“)

(2) William, Tallack. Reparation to the Injured and the Rights of the Victims of Crime to Compensation. London, 1900.

Filed under Crime, Law, Philosophy
Mar 10, 2010