Prager U: Warmonger Propagandist Machine

Prager University appears to be a fairly well-funded YouTube channel that, while outwardly expressing a faux dedication to free thought, is essentially a neoconservative propaganda machine. Consider the following video, “Should America be the World’s Policeman?”

I find this video almost comedic, as if the goal was to create a satirical piece a la Team America. The narrator of this video, Bret Stephens, at one point asks, “What stopped the Soviet Union?” The answer: ‘Merica! No further explanation is necessary. (Ironically, this seems to belie their other videos that pay lip service to the importance of free markets. According to Stephens, it wasn’t the impossibility of economic calculation under socialism that rendered the Soviet Union a basket case, but America simply being America.)

In trying to seriously consider and evaluate the points made in this video, one cannot come to any other conclusion than that it is an incredibly shallow presentation of a complex subject meant to appeal to individuals who have a severe lack of critical thinking skills. After all, flash animation accompanying narration of baseless claims draws more attention than serious study.

Admittedly, I was surprised at how Stephens began the video, asking “What’s the alternative?” to the United States being the policeman of the world. In another Prager University video defending the US’s dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the speaker was a reverend (!) attempting to justify this mass killing of civilians by favorably comparing it to only one alternative – the US infantry invading Japan – as if there were no other option. In that video, the non-interventionist position was entirely ignored. In this video, Stephens does briefly consider the idea that, perhaps, the US does not have to get involved in conflicts that have no direct bearing on the security of Americans. Such silliness is quickly brushed aside however, because “great powers…don’t get to take themselves off the terrorist target list.” Unfortunately, Stephens fails to consider other important questions:

  • Why is the US on such a list in the first place?
  • What do the bulk of US interventions (intervening in Ukraine, for example) have to do with being on the terrorist’s watch list?
  • Even if the US is on such a list, why does that preclude the US defending Americans from foreign attack?

Rather than addressing any of these questions, Stephens quickly concludes that the US must be the world’s policeman because THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE! It is simply amazing to me that he believes this is anything akin to an argument. Indeed, it is difficult to discern any actual argument being made (that is, one that begins with premises and from them draws a conclusion). Stephens simply conjures a conclusion that is in no way implied from his earlier insertions and fails to seriously evaluate alternatives.

His attempt to defend his conclusion is nothing short of laughable. Things go bad when the US leaves, says Stephens, just consider the rise of the Islamic State! If one’s goal were to create a video satirizing the incredible myopia of warmongers, they would have no need to do anything further, as Stephens has already accomplished it. Does Stephens believe that ISIS simply arose as a force of nature, and would have done so regardless of whether the US attempted to replace the previous government of Iraq? It is difficult to know what to think, as Stephens then acknowledges the ill-advised interventions in Vietnam and…the first few years in Iraq.

The other cited successes of US foreign interventionism (besides the aforementioned stopping of the Soviet Union) include the 1991 intervention in Kuwait (though Stephens seems to contradict himself here; apparently the UN’s role in the death of hundreds of thousands of Rwandans is worse than the US’s role in the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis) and that in the Balkans. Keep in mind: these are his examples of successful interventions.

Near the conclusion of this video, Stephens attempts to demonstrate how this “Pax Americana” has benefited the world since the fall of the Soviet Union by showing how much Gross World Product had increased from 1990 to 2012. No theory of causation is provided. The Soviet Union collapsed and Gross World Product increased, therefore one caused the other. I doubt Stephens would accept such a flimsy and fallacious argument from someone with whom he disagrees. But, then again, based on the quality of the pseudo-arguments made in this video, it is difficult to say.

But if this video is so silly, why is it worth talking about? Bret Stephens happens to be an award-winning journalist and works for the Wall Street Journal. There are people who actually take him and these types of arguments seriously. And, based on the current state of US foreign policy, there is a sufficient number of people who believe these things. And this has important implications for localism.

Simply put, a bellicose foreign policy requires nationalism to feed upon. It requires that individuals think of themselves less as members of families or communities, but as citizens of nation-states; it is citizenship with the nation-state that is the critical (yet illusory) link between an individual in Idaho and events occurring thousands of miles away. They would otherwise have no relationship with one another, but we are told that serving our country is synonymous with obeying the whims of those in Washington, D.C., whatever those whims may be. Washington, D.C. does not care about Idaho or Oregon or Colorado or Utah. Washington, D.C. cares about Washington, D.C.

Furthermore, a bellicose foreign policy comes at the expense of localism because war results in centralization of political power and administration. Even though the vast majority of Idahoans were not directly affected by the terrorist attacks of 9/11, these events are used as a justification for federal agents to grope Idahoans or view their nude bodies whenever they fly. Same reasoning applies to federal agents viewing our emails and listening to our phone calls, although domestic spying programs have mostly been used for domestic law enforcement rather than to protect Americans from foreigners. And, ironically, with the militarization of the police, we are seeing first-hand what it means for “America” to be the world’s policeman.

The only foreign policy consistent with localism is one of peace and non-interventionism. Otherwise, we become further subject to political decision-making in DC, further taxes to pay for their wars, and further deaths of family members and neighbors who never had anything personal at stake.


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A Thanksgiving

I’m thankful for family – the one that gave me a moral education by example, the one I joined through marriage, and the one my wife and I have founded for ourselves.

I’m thankful for ancestors who took a courageous leap of faith bringing their families to a wilderness in search of freedom. I’m thankful they either brought with them the English and Celtic traditions of freedom or chose to assimilate into those traditions. I’m thankful they tried to keep what was good in the Southern, New England, and Midwestern societies they ultimately found wanting.

I’m thankful they chose the Treasure Valley as their new home.

I’m thankful for strangers who stop to help if your car breaks down or slides off the road, without asking for a dime. I counted nearly a dozen in the time it took to get my dad’s car out of the snow two weeks ago. One man gave over an hour of his time helping us after he just finished pulling his wife’s car out, despite the sizable amount of plowing he still had to do on his own property. I’m sure he ended up working long into that cold night.

I’m thankful for neighbors who take it upon themselves to clean up and care for the common areas neglected by government and large property management corporations.

I’m thankful for a church that jumps at every chance to serve its members’ needs, who “rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.”

But I realize the people I live with have less and less to be thankful for each year.

Idahoans are allotted four out of the 535 members of the U.S Congress. Communities have no explicit representation in the governing body that makes the most important decisions we live under. The urban majorities dominate the decision-making process, regulating small family farms out of existence and giving large bribes to the most powerful corporate interests in “flyover country” to ensure the rest of us are kept poor, dependent, and underemployed.

The elites take to the media to inform us that our poor, backward way of life is caused by an insufficient dependency on government welfare – which in turn is caused by our refusal to accept that we ought to pay higher taxes to the government that wages war on our rural livelihoods.

Something tells me the elites have it all wrong. Discontent is growing, and with good reason. But I have yet to see it displace the larger gratitude for the blessings we still have.

Most of all, I’m thankful to live among such thankful people.

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TNP Podcast 8: Localism and Secession

Samuel Wonacott joins us today to offer some challenges to the ideas of political decentralization. What is the role of individual liberty? Are guarantees of limited government enough to ensure freedom in a large polity? When is secession justified? This is a discussion you’ll definitely profit from giving a listen.

We encourage you to give your opinion in the comments. You don’t know how it warms our hearts to get your feedback.

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Policing: A Job for the Public or Communities?

Is this how real communities achieve safety?

Two recent events in northern Idaho illustrate very well the downside of empowering police departments to act aggressively in their day-to-day activities. The first is an encounter over whether a young man uttered the words “nickel sack” or “Nickelback.” The second is the police shooting of a dog in a van. A brief scan of the articles’ comment sections yields no surprises; many people recognize that policing as we know it is deeply flawed. But beyond calls for lawsuits – which only punish taxpayers and therefore do nothing to fix the system – and “more training” for officers, there are few suggestions on what ought to be done.

As with any social or political problem – especially a relatively new one – the most crucial step is identifying the true causes. If the causal origin of the problem is misidentified or misunderstood, we are unlikely to find a genuine fix. Excellent work has been done regarding “the militarization of the police” – the names Radley Balko and William N. Grigg come readily to mind – and insofar as informing people is the first step to change, it would be difficult to overstate the importance of this work. But once we have a clear enough picture of the problem, we should strive to address it in the most complete and sensible way possible.

To do this, I want to employ a distinction made by farmer/poet/essayist Wendell Berry between public and community. He writes:

As I understand the term, public means simply all the people, apart from any personal responsibility or belonging…A community, unlike a public, has to do first of all with belonging; it is a group of people who belong to one another and to their place. We would say, “We belong to our community,” but never “We belong to our public.”

Berry goes on to note the following characteristics of a public:

A public government, with public laws and a public system of justice, founded on democratic suffrage, is in principle a good thing. Ideally, it makes possible a just and peaceable settlement of contentions arising between communities. It also makes it possible for a mistreated member of a community to appeal for justice outside the community. But obviously such a government can fall short of its purpose.[i]

There is another important point, which is only implied in Berry’s remarks on a public system of justice; the use of force – i.e., physical coercion – should be within the public domain, where every person is equal in his rights before the law.

What has this to do with policing, which – I assume – almost everyone understands to be the job of the public rather than of communities? As always, we must keep in mind what policing is meant to accomplish. At the very least, its goals include (1) the equal treatment and pursuit of justice, and (2) ensuring safety.

The first leads us to designate policing as a public function, and (in this context) rightly so. We all recognize that communities have the potential to mistreat individuals, so we must insist on pursuing justice (i.e., using force) without partiality. The second has long been treated as a public matter, but since we are talking about responsibility to ensure mutual safety rather than enforcement[ii], it is properly the job of communities. What we have lumped together in contemporary policing, then, is at least two distinct functions that ought to be carried out by two distinct forms of human interaction.

In light of these somewhat abstract considerations, let us examine our current policing situation. As functionaries of the public, police agencies (at every level and jurisdiction) are expected to be impartial, objective, and protective of individuals against community biases. Yet, as Mr. Grigg tirelessly documents (albeit exclusively from an individualist-libertarian perspective), such agencies wield special privileges and powers in a monopolistic capacity. The tax-funded justice system has itself become a perverse sort of “community” in which special treatment of all kinds is routinely afforded to members. This condition is so widespread that equal treatment has become a newsworthy item.

Police agencies do maintain the most important aspects of public character – they are free from “any personal responsibility or belonging” and routinely employ force. “Qualified immunityinsulates officers from personal liability, and the Supreme Court has ruled that police have no legal responsibility or duty to protect anyone.

And yet so much of what police spend their time doing has less to do with objective public good than using force to uphold community standards. Noisy neighbors, loose dogs, and illicit drug use (to name a few) are issues best resolved by tacit neighborhood agreement and (especially in the case of drug use/addiction) moral encouragement or disapprobation. When actual damages against person or property are committed, it becomes a matter to be solved by an impartial judge.

Spontaneous community response to flooding in Nampa last year

Let us return to the pair of recent events. The “Nickelback” encounter is absurd because police attempted to enforce a community standard against using marijuana. Such community standards can be legitimate, but do not rightly sanction the use of force on behalf of the public. We can imagine a concerned neighbor politely confronting the young men about their suspected activities in the community, but we cannot imagine such a neighbor threatening them at gunpoint without coming to stark conclusions about his sanity and exercise of judgment.

The second story offers a similar lesson. No diligent citizen, investigating a suspicious van on behalf of his community, would be justified in approaching with his weapon drawn, instinctively shooting the moment he was startled. In fact, no person with the sense of belonging and responsibility to his community would even consider behaving in such a way.

What is particularly troubling is our toleration of aggressive police enforcement of community-level issues apart from any community (and often legal) responsibility. The rising outcry against this new norm is almost universally framed in terms of “rights violations,” and such violations abound to be sure. But the deeper problem, as I see it, is that something ostensibly public – policing specifically and the justice system generally – has supplanted the job of communities in numerous ways.

A real correction to abounding police abuse will be possible when individual responsibilities to community – in addition to individual rights – are recovered. In some places, it is already occurring. Dale Brown’s success story in Detroit is well worth a listen, and it confirms what advocates of healthy communities have long argued: It isn’t about money or equipment; it’s about self-sacrifice and devotion to a place you care about.

You can’t experience that through the public. But you can in a community.

[i] Berry, Wendell. “Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community” in The Art of the Commonplace, ed. Norman Wirzba. Counterpoint Berkeley, 2002, pg. 161-162.

[ii] Safety, after all, is not a law but a general condition, and so cannot be “enforced.”

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Donald Livingston on the Tom Woods Show

livingston-bannerRecently, Donald Livingston of the Abbeville Institute appeared on the Tom Woods Show to discuss secession and the Southern tradition. You can listen to it here.

Professor Livingston frequently writes and speaks about a topic that is heavily emphasized at The New Polis: the concept of human scale. We believe the political order in the United States (as well as most of the world) exists at a dysfunctionally large scale, where individuals claiming to have political authority over the intimate details of our lives have essentially no accountability to us. Jackson and I have mentioned several examples of how more localized decision making would provide more accountable governance, including the effect the federal government has had on the militarization of the police, the EPA’s lack of understanding of local issues, and how it would be extremely unlikely for Butch Otter to spy on our emails.


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Place and Politics: Idaho’s Spirit of Localism

Tim Woodward

Last year, former Idaho Statesman political writer Dan Popkey demonstrated his willingness to shill for a corrupt sheriff in more than one way. But despite aiding and abetting an illegal release of information for political purposes, Popkey continued to write for the Statesman until very recently. Thus, it was with my faith in the newspaper’s integrity and judgment severely damaged that I recently picked up a book by now-retired Statesman writer Tim Woodward. Like Popkey, Woodward has been formally recognized for his writing achievements; fortunately, that’s where the similarities end. Continue reading

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TNP Podcast 7: Militarization of Police


Floyd Noel joins us in a talk about militarized police departments, their negative effects, and what more humane, local solutions have to offer.

The Salon article mentioned can be found here.

(If you have trouble with the embedded player, click here to download the file.)

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