Le Bien Public

“Since the world began and men have killed one another no one has ever committed such a crime against his fellow man without comforting himself with this same idea. This idea is le bien public, the hypothetical welfare of other people.”

War and Peace, Book 11, Chapter 25

To secure his own escape from Moscow with the French about to invade, Tolstoy writes that the Governor of Moscow, Count Rostopchin, encouraged a mob that had gathered to attack and kill a prisoner that he turned over to them.  With the mob focused on the convict, Rostopchin left the city in a carriage that had been awaiting him in the back of the house.

What he has done, bothers the Count in this story.  The count then comforts himself with the idea that it was necessary for the good of the public.  As representative of the Tsar, he felt it was his duty to safeguard his own life.  It was his duty to his country, for the public good, to do as he had done.  He could not admit to himself that it was simply to save his own skin.  He had to have a more noble reason, le bien public.

I love how Tolstoy continues to expose the contradiction between what is thought reprehensible on a personal level, but becomes noble or good when done in the name of the collective.



Prince Andrew Bolkonsky on War

In War and Peace, Book 10, Chapter 27, Tolstoy puts the following words into the mouth of Prince Andrew Bolkonsky:

“But what is war? What is needed for success in warfare? What are the habits of the military? The aim of war is murder; the methods of war are spying, treachery, and their encouragement, the ruin of a country’s inhabitants, robbing them or stealing to provision the army, and fraud and falsehood termed military craft. The habits of the military class are the absence of freedom, that is, discipline, idleness, ignorance, cruelty, debauchery, and drunkenness. And in spite of all this it is the highest class, respected by everyone. All the kings, except the Chinese, wear military uniforms, and he who kills most people receives the highest rewards.”

This really gets to the heart of the contradiction of morality for individuals and that state.  What is done in the name of the state, would be considered evil if done in the name of an individual, in the name of an ego. When it comes to the state, to the collective, it seems to me that almost no one follows the Christian ethic of turn the other cheek, love thy enemy.  Instead, military members are venerated for doing what, otherwise, would be considered immoral.

Anarcho-syndicalism & Stirner

Somewhere along the line, since I have been into The Ego and His Own, I read that Stirner was best interpreted as closer to the Anarcho-syndicalist point of view.  I wasn’t exactly sure what Anarcho-syndicalism was, so I was listening to this youtube video about it. Benjamin Smith, the guy that narrates it, gives the impression that he has given a lot of thought to his positions, and he comes across very composed and intelligent.  He sounds that way until minute 22:30 where he gets emotional and blasts capitalism and markets, making use of an F-bomb.  His criticism is that markets are never going to be transparent.  It is entirely true that there is a lack of transparency because of the sheer complexity of the market.  I don’t see that as problematic, the way he does.  He thinks the lack of transparency leads to parasitic BS and the crisis the afflict capitalism.


What does he mean by parasitic BS?  I’m guessing exploitation of labor and mother earth.  Exploitation of labor is often a confusion that arises from Marx making use of the now defunct Labor Theory of Value.  Too often the idea that profit is theft from the workers underlies this position.  As to the exploitation of natural resources, private ownership is actually beneficial to conservation as the owner has the financial incentive to work to maintain the property he or she derives his income from.  Tree farms are an excellent example of this.

What does he mean by the crisis that afflict capitalism?  I think here he may mean the boom/bust cycles that so many lay at the feet of capitalism, when Austrian Business Cycle Theory does a better job explaining the phenomena.

Anyway, I was amused at how thoughtful and even-tempered he seemed until it came to talking about capitalism, then I sensed this hate of it that literally made me laugh out loud.

Anarcho-syndicalism sounds like just another version of the state, though he insists it is different. Smith promotes the idea of direct democracy on a local level because representative democracy is essentially oligarchy in his opinion.  How then are communities to get along?  They will establish federations with representatives because direct democracy only works on a small scale.  He sees that this is in conflict to his objection to representative democracy, and advocates steps to counteract the problems he sees with the oligarchy of representative democracy.  He recommends rotation of delegates, limited mandates and immediate recall.  He goes on to state that he gets it sounds bureaucratic, and this is where he justifies it because it permits transparency where the effing market does not.  It still cracks me up.

For more nerdy fun, here is a video (with more bad language) about  how to become a Max Stirner follower and de-spook yourself:




Stirner on Property

“There has never been, and never will be, a radically new judgment of value in the history of the world. What purport to be new systems or…ideologies…all consist of fragments from the Tao itself, arbitrarily wrenched from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation, yet still owing to the Tao and to it alone such validity as they possess.”  C.S. Lewis

Stirner’s Egoism tries to isolate the Ego away from everything else that makes man, man.  Clearly we all have our own wants and desires, but most of those desires can only be realized in society because of our interdependent nature.  He has referenced a “union of egos” several times, so it seems that he does have some comprehension of the need for us to get along.  I look forward to getting to that part of the book to get a better explanation of what he means.  I think it is probably a “fixed idea”.  That is supposed to be a joke at Stirner’s expense, in case it didn’t come across.  I think it is probably bad form to blog about and criticize that which I don’t have a complete understanding about, but I guess I’m okay with having bad form.

Stirner’s thoughts on property are pretty much exactly the same as his thoughts on natural rights.  Your rights are only what you give yourself, your property is only that which you can claim by might.

The Ego and His Own

 In the State there is no property, i.e. no property of the individual, but only State property. Only through the State have I what I have, as I am only through it what I am.

This goes back to Stirner saying that if we let the state define what we can have as property, then the we are wards of the state, and let it grant us rights and call us criminals.

My private property is only that which the State leaves to me of its, cutting off others from it (depriving them, making it private); it is State property.

I really like this.  If we are to say that the state grants us property rights, we are to say that there is no such thing as property without the state.  If the state grants it, then the state can take it away.  From this point of view, you don’t really own your property, the state does.

I take the Frederic Bastiat point of view:

“Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.”

The problem I see with the Bastiat point of view is that the state is not a voluntary organization.  Most of us want laws that protect our property.  We think that a worthy thing, that we have a societal agreement that we should leave one another’s property alone, and that there should be recourse if our right to our property is violated.

Our government does so much more than protect our property, and much of it is antithetical to protecting our property.  For instance, many places will charge property tax if you own real property.  If you don’t pay this tax, the state will take your property.  This doesn’t happen often, but it is possible and it does happen.  It amounts to paying rent to the state instead of owning your property.  The state tells you what you can and can’t build on your property, thus again showing that it is the true owner.

If the state were a voluntary organization, one where we actually could disassociate from it, I think it could be set-up so that property owners come together to abide by rules of mutual respect for each other’s property.  I have read ideas thrown around about the state being more like an insurance company, and you would pay premiums to it for the protections it provides to you.  You could take your risk that you could protect your own property and decline to pay dues, but then you wouldn’t have access to the security force or the court system it would offer if you declined to pay.


What then is my property? Nothing but what is in my power! To what property am I entitled? To every property to which I — empower myself.* I give myself the right of property in taking property to myself, or giving myself the proprietor’s power, full power, empowerment.
Everything over which I have might that cannot be torn from me remains my property; well, then let might decide about property, and I will expect everything from my might!

Stirner makes the point that property comes to one through might.  I think this is grounded in truth.  Most of us think the first property owners became so by mixing their labor with the land, and thus claimed it for themselves.  They most likely had to protect it with their might as well, being willing to use force to defend it.  You can inherit property these days, but keeping it does involve using threat of force.  That threat of force is the law.  Laws are always backed by the threat of force.  I would like to see laws become simply people coming together to abide by mutual agreements.  As it is, it is like Stirner said, the state owns all and we are merely granted the privilege of using state property.

I am starting to like Stirner a little better because he seems, to me, to go where no one else will.  I think he is far too verbose, and I wish he could have been pithy.  I think he makes some good points. I think his lack of fear of going where others dare not tread lets him make those points.