TBT^2: Phone it in Friday XI: Coronavirus Conundrum, Part IV: Liberty in the Age of The Virus

The Virus is like a bad movie series that just refuses to die.  There was a controversial but impactful first release that everyone was talking about, even if they didn’t see it.  Then there was the lackluster sequel, which still enjoyed some popular support, even though ticket sales were down.

Now it feels like we’re on the tired third film, which is a watered-down, ineffectual finale (one hopes) to a premise that is played out.  Sure, critics love it, but audiences are tired of its antics.

What still seems to make it into the script of every one of these films is the part where the government bureaucrats lock everything down and release a bunch of ghosts into Manhattan (uh, wait, what?).  Meanwhile, we all kind of sit by and twiddle our thumbs and put our masks on dutifully.

What happened to the band of merry wastrels who tossed tea into Boston Harbor, rather than comply with an odious monopolization of the tea trade?  Or the plucky scofflaws who made it impossible to enforce the Stamp Act?  I’d rather disguise myself as an Indian (feather, not dot) and caffeinate the water supply than put a mask on again (but that would be cultural appropriation, of course).

In short, why don’t we get a backbone, instead of cowering behind masks and locking ourselves indoors?  We’re literally cowering before an invisible enemy with a 99%+ survival rate.

Well, liberty is never easy.  Better to stay inside watching movies and disconnecting from reality, eh?

With that, here is 29 July 2021’s “TBT: Phone it in Friday XI: Coronavirus Conundrum, Part IV: Liberty in the Age of The Virus“:

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Allodial Rights

I’ve made reference before to the concept of “allodial rights” or “allodial land rights,” the idea that a person’s land is his, completely and absolutely.  The land is not a grant subject to the authority of any king or magistrate, or subordinated into smaller plots under one governing authority; rather, the land belongs fully to the landowner.

When writing my piece Saturday about the Dukes and their struggle with the Town Council in Society Hill, South Carolina, I found a piece at The Center for Social Leadership on the topic of allodial rights.  The piece argues that allodial land rights—which are the norm in the United States—differ from those of the feudal system.  In a feudal system, the lord or king of a land controls all of the land, and leases or grants that land to subsidiaries with certain fees or obligations to the lord in exchange for the use of the land.

Under an allodial system, however, every landowner owns his land free and clear (or has the potential to do so), and is not subject to any higher authority in the use, maintenance, and disbursement of that land.  He is, essentially, the king of his parcel.

Of course, that’s never completely true.  The use of the land is subject to the restrictions of local ordinances.  Some towns enforce certain minimum standards of upkeep, and issue fines for particularly dilapidated and dangerous structures on private property.  Local governments assess property taxes; if those taxes go unpaid long enough, the government can and will strip you of your land.

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TBT: Phone it in Friday XI: Coronavirus Conundrum, Part IV: Liberty in the Age of The Virus

Earlier this week I was having a conversation with someone on Milo’s rollicking Telegram chat, in which we were trying to figure out the name of a short story involving people living in underground cells, communicating only via the Internet.  I had a feeling I had written about it before, but could not remember the name of the story.

Turns out it was E.M. Forster’s novella “The Machine Stops,” originally published in 1909, and I wrote about it in this catch-all post from the early days of The Age of The Virus (so early, in fact, I was not capitalizing the first “the” in that moniker, which I have texted so much, my last phone auto-predicted “The Age of The Virus”).  I compared the story to Kipling’s “The Mother Hive”–a story that apparently is assigned regularly in India, because pageviews for it always seem to coincide with large numbers of site visitors from the subcontinent.

But I digress.  The story sounded eerily like what our elites asked us to do during The Age of The Virus:  stay home, get fat, consume mindless entertainment, and don’t socialize.  Granted, some of us could go outside and plant gardens (I still got fat, though), but the messaging was not “become more self-sufficient so we can mitigate disaster” but “buy more stuff and don’t do anything fun.”  It was depressing to me how many people embraced this line of reasoning, turning government-mandated sloth into some kind of perverted virtue.

I appreciated the break that The Age of The Virus afforded us, but it came with the severe curtailment of liberty—and Americans ate it up!  Instead of people boldly throwing ravers and partying down, laughing at our elites, we instead retreated into our hovels, shuddering in the dark.  When I did through a big Halloween bash, it was a massive success—because, I suppose, people had finally had it.

I guess that’s the silver lining.  With that, here’s 3 April 2020’s “Phone it in Friday XI: Coronavirus Conundrum, Part IV: Liberty in the Age of The Virus” (perhaps the longest title of any blog post ever):

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SubscribeStar Saturday: The Mainstreaming of Secession

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The American experiment in self-government is at perhaps its lowest ebb since the 1850s, a decade whose division and partisan rancor rival our own.  That decade’s statesmen’s failures to address sectional tensions—and, ultimately, to reconcile two fundamentally incompatible views of the world—resulted in the secession of eleven States that no longer believed the national government was acting in accordance with the Constitution.

It brings me no joy to make such a grim assessment, nor to contemplate what comes next as a result, but it is a necessary task.  My sincerest wish is that our great Union remain intact, and that we see some restoration of constitutionalism.  An increase in States’ rights and federalism—greater sovereignty at the State level and less power at the federal level—would go a very long way in resolving at least some of our national issues.

Unfortunately, I and others are increasingly drawing the conclusion that such a restoration is, at best, extremely unlikely and, at worst, impossible in an age of totalizing progressivism.  When even Rush Limbaugh is musing about secession (H/T to photog at Orion’s Cold Fire) and a George Mason law professor is writing seriously on the subject, we can no longer laugh off the notion.  Secession may be the future.

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Phone it in Friday XI: Coronavirus Conundrum, Part IV: Liberty in the Age of The Virus

The Age of The Virus is unprecedented.  Well, not entirely—major plagues and pandemics have swept the world before.  What’s unprecedented this time is the wholesale closure of the most commerce, along with rigid governmental and social admonitions to “social distance” and “shelter-in-place.”  Tin-pot municipal tyrants and State governors are engaged in a virtue-signalling race to see who can curtail liberties more rapidly and completely.

Pointing out this reality opens one to social scorn.  It’s amusing—and a bit frightening—to see the earnestness with which some Americans cling to their new mantras, the articles of faith handed down from the CDC and various government apparatchiks.  Even as our knowledge of The Virus seems to change daily, these public health acolytes cling to the every pronouncement from so-called “experts.”

Please don’t misunderstand me.  Yes, we should be vigilant about washing our hands and avoiding the accidental infection of one another, especially the elderly.

What concerns me is how quickly so many of us have been willing to accept greater degrees of control over our lives in the name of combating an invisible threat.  But now it feels like we’re living in the episode of Sliders called “Fever,” in which a totalitarian CDC cracks down on Los Angeles because, in that universe, penicillin was never discovered.

We’re not at Sliders levels—yet—but with that acquiescence has come an expansion of government power at nearly every level. I am not a libertarian, and I fully expect a robust federal response to a difficult international situation (remember, The Virus came from CHI-NA).  But that doesn’t mean local, State, or even federal authorities can simply hand-wave away the Constitution.

The Framers surely knew disease and death in their time.  When the Constitution was drafted in 1787, there was no capability for directing society with relative efficiency; even if there were, though, they would not have wanted to use it to suspend liberties.  The Framers surely knew there would be plagues and sickness in the United States, yet they included no clause such as “in the event of widespread sickness, these Articles contained heretofore in are, and of right to be, suspended until such time as the Congress shall deem suitable for public safety and the common welfare.”

Yet we see officials at the lowest levels of government telling people not just to stay home, but threatening to shut down churches and other assemblies.  Doesn’t that violate the First Amendment protections of freedom of religion and freedom of assembly?  Again, the prudent approach is for churches to accommodate the health of their congregants with remote services or other workarounds, but shouldn’t they be allowed to hold traditional services if they so choose?

The critics and medical scolds by now are howling with rage.  “What do these gossamer rights mean when we’re dead?”  Is that all anyone cares about?  What happened to Patrick Henry’s fiery cry of “Give me liberty, or give me death?”  What’s worse:  death from worshiping the Lord, or life in a soulless, gutless, freedom-less world?

I’m not alone in my assessment here.  Bill Whittle ripped into New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio earlier this week, arguing that His Dishonor’s promise to shut down churches that continue to congregate would represent a high-handed assault on the First Amendment.  Even Whittle’s colleague Scott Ott thought Whittle’s defense of the Constitution was a bit rich, basically arguing that the Constitution can take a break during this outbreak.

I’m perceiving similarly expedient arguments among others on the Right.  It’s disgusting how many folks on our side are running like slavering dogs to lap up the crumbs of authoritarianism.  Whittle in the video above makes the compelling point that the Constitution functionally means nothing if any government official at any level can simply ignore its protections.  He also correctly points out that these rights are God-given, part of our very human nature.  No government can legitimately deprive us of them.

Another one of the saner voices is RazörFist, who also sees a great deal of big government chicanery in this pandemic (warning, Razör’s videos often contain strong language):

Z Man has also expressed skepticism about The Virus—or, at least, our draconian responses to it—and has received his share of scorn and dismissal.  But in his post Wednesday, “Fermi’s Paradox,” he made an interesting allusion to E.M. Forster’s novella “The Machine Stops,” originally published in 1909.  That short story (which I highly recommend you read—it has the same chilling effect as Kipling’s “The Mother Hive”) details a world in which humanity exists in a state of mindless, perpetual comfort, its every need attended to by The Machine.

In the story, humans have become so accustomed to cloistering in their little cells that they abhor face-to-face interaction, instead communicating via blue discs across great distances.  They are so dependent upon The Machine, they come to worship it (an interesting development, as their society has “advanced” beyond the “superstition” of religious belief—another subtle point from Forster).  They only travel on rare occasions, and avoid it unless absolutely necessary.

Eventually, The Machine deteriorates, with disastrous results; I will likely write about the story in more detail next week.  For our purposes, it sounds eerily like our current society:  shelter-in-place, “Stay at Home” (as digital signs on the Interstate tell me, implicitly scolding me for being on the highway), watch Netflix, #AloneTogether, etc., etc.—we’re told to be comfortable and to crave safety and comfort above all else.  They are the highest goods.

We’re through the looking glass here.  I’ve been pessimistic that we’re even living under the Constitution anymore, especially after the intelligence agencies attempted to overthrow a sitting President.  Vestiges and scraps of it still reign, but they seem to be the exception.  And most Americans don’t seem to care, so long as they can watch TV, the WiFi is working, and there is pizza.

We’re no longer the Roman Republic, but we’re not the Roman Empire in the 5th century, either.  We’re more like the Roman Empire in the 2nd or 3rd centuries:  coasting along on the remnants of a functioning system, with a play-acting Congress shadowing the motions of republicanism.

I hope I’m wrong.  Regardless, wash your hands.

Napoleonic Christmas

It’s Christmas Week!  And what a glorious week it is.  It’s been raining persistently in South Carolina since Sunday morning, but I’m enjoying the coziness of the hygge—warm coffee and lazy reading.

PragerU had a little video up this morning from historian Andrew Roberts about Napoleon.  It’s an interesting take on the not-so-short French emperor—an apologia, really (for those that prefer reading—as I often do—to watching videos, here is a PDF transcript).

Roberts argues that Napoleon was not the necessary precursor to Hitler, et. al.; rather, Napoloen was “sui generis“—a man unto himself.  While I believe the ideas of the French Revolution did unleash the totalitarian forces of Hitlerism, Stalinism, Maoism, and all the rest—a murderous, bloody Pandora’s Box—I’ve never considered Napoleon among their ranks.

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Sanford Announces Presidential Bid

Former South Carolina Governor and Congressman for SC-1, Mark Sanford, announced Sunday that he is seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2020 against incumbent President Donald Trump.  When Fox News host Chris Wallace asked Sanford why, he said that “We need to have a conversation on what it means to be a Republican.”

Sanford’s ostensible desire is to draw attention to America’s massive national debt, and our political unwillingness to address the ever-expanding, elephantine gorilla in the room.  But as local radio personality and former Lieutenant Governor Ken Ard said on his show this morning, Sanford is shining a bright light on himself as much as he is on the national debt.

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Lazy Sunday XXVI: Small Town Life

I’ve been awash in local boosterism lately.  As a Jeffersonian at heart (especially now that I’m a freehold yeoman farmer, what with my single fig tree, twenty yards of grapevines, and drooping pecan trees), small town, rural living appeals to me at a deep level.  I am, like most Americans, infected with the bug of urgent nationalism, as it seems that every major problem is a national issue (due, in no small part, to two centuries of centralization and the breakdown of federalism), but I increasingly seek to think and act locally.  That’s where the most immediate and substantial changes to our lives occur.

The slow summer news cycle has seen me engaging in a bit more navel-gazing this summer, and thinking more about the things that matter in life:  our towns and communities; good books and music; friends and family.  Cultural issues are, potentially, political; as the late Andrew Breitbart often said, politics is downstream from culture.  Books, music, and movies matter, and the local level is the best place to see culture in action.

All of that armchair philosophizing aside, this week’s Lazy Sunday looks back at some posts about small town life, both in Lamar and Aiken.  Enjoy!

  • Hump Day Hoax” – This post is one of this blog’s most popular, in part because I shared the link to it in the comments section on a major right-wing news website.  It’s a somewhat unfortunate example of small town politicking gone wrong.  The mayor of my little adopted hometown, Lamar, is a very sweet lady, and she seems genuinely interested in improving our town, but she scuttled those endearing efforts when she ran straight to Newsweek claiming that her vehicle had been vandalized as part of a hate crime.  It turns out the mysterious, sticky yellow substance on her car… was pollen.Initially, I thought she was opportunistically trying to gain some grace on the cheap, as the Jussie Smollett hoax was then-current in the news.  After talking it over with some folks, I’m thinking now it’s more of an example of a deep paranoia among some black Americans who are, essentially, brainwashed from birth into believing they are the constant targets of hate crimes from vindictive whites.  Coupled with—sadly—a certain degree of stupidity—how can you have lived in the South for decades and not know what pollen looks like?!—it makes for an embarrassing mix.
  • Egg Scramble Scrambled” – Every April, Lamar hosts a big festival, the Egg Scramble, that attracts around 6000 people to town.  Keep in mind, Lamar’s population sits just south of 1000, so that many people at once creates a huge influx of cash into the local economy.  It’s a big deal.  I was out of town for the Scramble this year, but I was looking up news about it when I discovered it had been ended early due to a fight.It was only later that I learned there was gang activity (my initial thought in the post was that some hooligans just got out of hand, and the police shut the down the event to avoid any future roughhousing), with shots fired.  It doesn’t appear anyone was hurt, but, boy, did this story get buried fast.  It was only from talking to neighbors that I got a more complete picture.

    I am, perhaps, not acquitting my adopted home town well.  It really is a lovely—and very cheap—place to live.  I suppose I’ll have to write a more favorable account of Lamar life soon to make up for these two negative portrayals.

  • 250th Day Update” – This post is a bit of a stretch for this week’s theme, but it includes a hodge-podge of updates that, in one way or another, connect to small town life:  high school football games, local festivals, relaxing holidays, and the like.  Those little things are what make life colorful, and enjoyable—and they’re the things that truly matter.  Read the update for more.
  • Aiken Amblings” – A late-night SubscribeStar Saturday post, this subscriber-exclusive post details my visit to Aiken’s Makin’, Aiken’s long-running crafts festival.  It’s probably the best example of local boosterism I’ve ever experienced personally, and I am surely a booster for it.  It also didn’t devolve into gangland violence, so that’s a plus.  For just $1, you can read the full account—and all of the other great pieces on my SubscribeStar page!

That’s it for this Lazy Sunday.  I’m hoping to check out Yemassee‘s Shrimp Festival later this month (September 19-21), schedule-permitting.  As the days shorten and the weather slowly cools, it’s time to get out to some local festivals in some small, rural towns.


Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

Idaho’s Regulatory Reset

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The big, exciting news in conservatism this week is the sunsetting of all of Idaho’s state regulations.

It’s a curious situation:  all of Idaho’s regulations sunset annually, but the Idaho State Legislature usually renews all of them as a matter of course.  This year, after a contentious legislative sessions, the legislature failed to reauthorize the regulations, so the entire body of state regulations expires on 1 July 2019.

Libertarians and small government conservatives are rejoicing, and this retirement is, indeed, revolutionary—it’s essentially an opportunity to “reset” the State’s regulatory regime, starting from scratch.  That will provide a great deal of opportunity to reinstate what worked in a regulatory sense, and to keep the rest of the chaff on the threshing floor.

The Mercatus Center’s piece on the Idaho situation also points to another welcome change:  the burden of proof now shifts to new regulations, rather than those seeking the repeal of old ones:

Governor Brad Little, sworn into office in January, already had a nascent red tape cutting effort underway, but the impending regulatory cliff creates some new dynamics. Previously, each rule the governor wanted cut would have had to be justified as a new rulemaking action; now, every regulation that agencies want to keep has to be justified. The burden of proof has switched.

An enduring frustration for legislators seeking to cut regulations must be the “Helen Lovejoy Effect“:  constant emotional appeals that cutting or revising this or that rule will breed dire consequences of catastrophic, apocalyptic proportions.  The Idaho legislature’s fortunate lapse in consensus has flipped the script.

Another item of note here:  it’s intriguingly paradoxical how legislative disagreement and gridlock ultimately brought about an opportunity for real reform.  While most legislative gridlock seldom ends with such dramatically positive results, this situation demonstrates the usefulness of hung legislatures:  sometimes, getting nothing done is preferable to getting something destructive done.

From the perspective of liberty, a government not taking action is often the better outcome.  That’s why conservatives were so rankled when President Obama promised to govern via executive fiat (“I have a pen and a phone”) on the grounds that congressional gridlock necessitated such drastic action.  The Framers of the Constitution baked inefficiency into the cake:  our national legislature is supposed to act slowly and deliberately.

Of course, the total repeal of all regulations is not all sunshine and unicorn hugs.  Contra hardcore libertarians, some regulations are useful, and their benefits far exceed their costs (although the opposite is often likelier).  The challenge for Idahoans is to figure out how to get back the useful regulations without reinstating the corrosive ones.  To quote the Mercatus Center again:

The main constraint now facing Idaho state agencies is time—they could use more of it. Regulators have just two months to decide which rules should stay and which should go. With more time, they might be able to tweak and modernize those regulations deemed necessary; instead, many rules may simply be readopted without changes.

So, in the haste to reinstate beneficent regulations, the detrimental ones could also get thrown back in.  If that happens, Idaho will have squandered a virtually unprecedented opportunity to remake its regulatory regime into a more streamlined, pro-liberty apparatus.

If, however, Idaho can pull it off, it will serve as a model to other States looking to streamline their regulatory agencies and services.  That’s a promising outcome, and one that all lovers of small- and limited-government should endorse.

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