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20210228 – Democracies at War


The main idea of this book is to use statistical analysis of historical data about wars in order to prove that democracies actually do win wars by far more often than lose, then demonstrate that usual reasons applied to this fact are often deficient, or just plain incorrect, and finally present authors’ suggested reasons for this historical phenomenon for which they want to “show that, in fact, democracies do not win wars because of some sense of international democratic community. Nor do they win because they are generally richer or typically better able to extract resources from their economies. Instead, as we shall see, the power of democracies lies not in the leaders or political elite, but instead in the people themselves—ultimately, power lies in the governed, not in the governors. “


One: Democracy’s Fourth Virtue
Authors start by stating that object of this book is the fourth virtue of democracy that is rarely mentioned unlike usual 3 virtues: freedom, prosperity, and peace. This 4th virtue is the martial effectiveness of democracies. Authors then present their main thesis:” Our central argument is that democracies win wars because of the offshoots of public consent and leaders’ accountability to the voters. Regardless of the particular permutation, at the core of democracy is the notion that those who govern are accountable in some way to the consent of the people. In democracies, leaders who act without the consent of the voters do so at considerable political risk of removal from office.”  After that authors identify four perspectives that from which they will be looking to analyze their central argument:

Perspective 1: Political Structures

Perspective 2: Political Culture

Perspective 3: International Community

Perspective 4: Economic Might

Authors conclude this chapter by reducing all prospective to one key conclusion. They also discuss here the statistical methods they use to test their hypothesis.

Two: Democracy, War Initiation, and Victory

This chapter reviews relation between initiation of war, type of society, and results.

Authors analyze two propositions:

Proposition 2.1: Among war initiators, the more democratic a state is, the more likely it is to win.

Proposition 2.2: Among war initiators, democracies are most likely to win, dictatorships are next most likely to win, and mixed regimes are least likely to win.

They also provide table with summary of historical outcomes:

They also analyse a number of specific conflicts, which generallly support these propositions.

Three: Democracy and Battlefield Success
Here authors move from war outcomes to battles and comparative analysis of behavior of armies and soldiers depending on type of society. Here author also presents and test these propositions:

Proposition 3.1: Democratic soldiers fight with higher levels of morale than other soldiers.

Proposition 3.1a: The later in a war a battle takes place, the lower will be the morale for democratic soldiers.

Proposition 3.2: Democratic soldiers will demonstrate higher levels of initiative on the battlefield.

Proposition 3.3: Soldiers are more likely to surrender to democratic armies than to authoritarian armies.

Proposition 3.4: Democratic armies enjoy superior levels of leadership.

Authors then provide statistical analysis supporting validity of these propositions.

Four: Balancers or Bystanders? The Lack of Fraternal Democratic Assistance
In this chapter authors analyze and generally reject common misconception that democracies support each other at the time of military need. They provide tabulation for defender interventions, then analyze historical record, and conclude that type of society does not play significant role in attracting externa; support:

Five: Winning Wars on Factory Floors? The Myth of the Democratic Arsenals of Victory
In this chapter authors reject another the myth about economic and technological military advantages of democracy. Actually, they seem to accept idea that democracies are doing better in economic and technological development overall, but they demonstrate that it does not apply to resource mobilization at the time of war. Generally, whatever levels of economic and technology exist, it will be used to conduct war and non-democracies are as good or even better in mobilizing such resources.

Six: Democracy, Consent, and the Path to War
Here authors look at important parameter impacting war-time morals of population and army: consent to initiate war. This parameter is quite important for democracies because freedom of expression guaranties the expression of opposition leading to more careful approach to initiation of war and more serios analysis of potential consequences. It however does not prevent democratic elites from initiating unreasonable actions, it just makes it quite a bit more difficult than in dictatorships.

Seven: The Declining Advantages of Democracy: When Consent erodes
In this chapter authors address situations when advantages of Democracies decline. They offer these propositions:

Proposition 7.1: The longer a war continues, democracies will be more likely than autocracies to seek an end to the war.

Proposition 7.1a: Democracies will be more likely to accept draws than will autocracies, which will seek victory.

Proposition 7.2: The longer a war continues, the more likely autocracies are to win.

Proposition 7.3: Wars involving two autocracies are less likely to end in draws but last longer than wars involving democracies.

They make an interesting point that Democracies are less resilient in the case of prolonged war because consent of people tend to decay over time and so does resolve to win. Here is graph demonstrating this trend:

Eight: Why Democracies Win Wars

In the last chapter authors summarize their finding the following way:” WE NOW KNOW why democracies win wars. The two key dimensions of the democratic character that best explain democratic victory are the skeleton of democracy, those political institutions that hold democratic leaders accountable to the consent of the people, and the spirit of democracy, with its emphasis on the development of individual rights, responsibility, and initiative.” They also provide combined table of statements they made in this book with reference to its chapters:


I think that authors’ approach is outstanding and it provides very good support for idea that democracies are better at war than it is usually thought. Authors also provide pretty good analysis of reasons for this. I do agree with authors inferences, especially the one about high dependency of Democracy’s military advantages on continuing consent of population. In think that one thing here that is missing, it is dependency of consent on scope of democracy. In normal environment the wide scope of democratic freedoms inevitably produce opposition to any war, as well as to any other action of government. However, depending on core nature of war, whether it is perceived as existential or optional, the scope of freedom could be diminished in order to suppress opposition and assure continuity of consent. Good example would be WWII when Sir Oswald Mosley – Nazi supporter in UK was arrested in1940 and imprisoned until 1943 when victory was pretty much assured and war start losing its existential character. Similarly, in USA German American Bund – Nazi supporting organization was suppressed and its leaders arrested under various accusations, not necessarily related to politics. However, during Vietnam War, which was considered as optional by just about everybody, opponents were marching on the street under Vietnamese communist banners without slightest fear that they would be treated as enemy collaborators and put into POW camp, which would happen to similar group of young people marching under these banners in South Vietnam. I guess lesson for leaders of democracy should be: if you participate in war – make it either really quick or existential if you really want to win. Actually, American founding fathers seem to understood this well, so they included in Constitution requirement for Congress declare war. Unfortunately, even since the second half of XX century American politicians in power just ignore these requirements of Constitution, similarly to quite a few other requirements and with similarly dismal results.

20210221 – Evilicious


The main idea of this book is to use results of the latest research in psychology to present author’s understanding of evil: what it is, who does it, why capacity to do it exists in humans, but not in other animals, and what combination of nature and nurture leads to actualization of such capacity in some individuals, but not in others.

The key understanding is that evil means intentionally causing harm to other for the sake of it and enjoy the process.


Prologue. The problem of evil
Author starts here by stating his understanding of what causes people to do evil: intentionally hurt others: “The idea I develop is that evildoers are made in much the same way that addicts are made. Both processes start with unsatisfied desires. Whether it is a taste for violence or a taste for alcohol, drugs, food, or gambling, individuals develop cravings but find the desired experience less and less rewarding — a separation between desire and reward that leads to excess. To justify the excess, the psychology of desire recruits the psychology of denial, enabling individuals to immerse themselves in a new reality that feels right.”

Author also provides quite specific definition of evil, how individuals’ personal development leads to evildoing, and why humans overall developed capacity to do evil things:

 “evil arises when innocent victims are subjected to gratuitous cruelty by individuals who either directly intend such excessive harm or allow it to happen when they could have prevented it. This view of evil includes specific means (gratuitous cruelty), consequences (excessive harm), causes (intentions, desires, and goals), and potential benefits, both short- and long-term.”

“Individuals develop into evildoers when unsatisfied desires accumulate and combine with a denial of reality, causing them to see others as morally worthless or dangerous.”

“The capacity for evil originally evolved as an incidental consequence of our unique intelligence, but once in place provided significant benefits to those who expressed it as a display of power.”

Finally, author provides here plan of the book:” In Part I, we will focus on the recipe for evil, examining both the psychology of desire (chapter 1) and the psychology of denial (chapter 2). In Part II, we will look at the evolutionary history of evil. Chapter 3 examines what makes us unique relative to other animals and assesses the possible adaptive function of seemingly wasteful acts of extreme violence. Chapter 4 explains why some people are more likely to develop into evildoers than others, based on a combination of nature and nurture.”

Part l: One Recipe
Chapter 1. Runaway desire
This chapter starts with jihadi and his desire to become martyr. Then author discusses research with rat and electrons in the desire area of the brain, which would not eat or sleep – just keep pushing the button to feel happy. Similar effect was observed in humans. Author then talks about dopamine, neuro-chemical reactions and experiments that demonstrate how it all works and how it all connected with strive for power and joy of violence that some individuals experience. Actually, violent fantasies are not unusual and they often could acquire addictive qualities. However, it is exceedingly rare when such fantasies are acted upon to make them real.

Chapter 2. Ravages of denial
Author begins this chapter with Abu Ghraib and then moves to idea of moral agents and patients:” the distinction between moral agents and moral patients. Agents have responsibility for others’ wellbeing, whereas patients deserve moral consideration and care. Moral agents are potential evildoers who can cause excessive harm to moral patients, but not the other way around. Moral patients may well cause harm, but they lack the cognitive wherewithal to both reflect upon the moral consequences of their actions and the reasons why certain actions are morally forbidden.”  This follows by discussion about two dimensions experience and agency:” Experience included properties such as hunger, fear, pain, pleasure, rage, desire, consciousness, pride, embarrassment, and joy. Agency included self-control, morality, memory, emotion recognition, planning, communication and thinking. Experience aligned with feelings, agency with thinking. With these dimensions, we find God at one edge, high in agency and low in experience. On the opposite side, huddled together on the landscape defined by low agency and high experience, we find fetuses, frogs, and people in a vegetative state. Clustered inside the high agency and experience space we find adult men and women, whereas robots and dead people land in the low experience and middling agency space; dogs, chimpanzees, and human kids are clustered together in the high experience and mid-level agency.” After that author presents results of experiments that incite anger against some group, which then combined with dehumanization of members of this group resulting in acceptance of idea of hurting members of this group. Author looks in details how these processes happen and how they are combined with natural propensity of humans of attach to their own group and repulse others. In doing so people deny reality of others’ humanity, which open door for aggression and evil. Author even comes up with formula for evil: E=D+D, that is desire + denial. At the end of chapter author states that it really quite complicated process that highly dependent on multiple parameters:” The idea that we are all endowed with the capacity for evil, and that this capacity requires the combination of desire and denial, in no way implies that the expression of this capacity is inevitable. Even in environments that promote a psychology of evil, some will resist. Resistance comes from individual differences in creating both unsatisfied desires and unconstrained systems of denial. Conversely, others are heavily predisposed to engage in acts of cruelty because their biology tilts them toward high risk, high reward, and low empathy. These differences originate in our biology, and with the evolutionary history of our species.

Part II. One History
Chapter 3. Kingdom of cruelty
This chapter on cruelty begins with pretty detailed description of gruesome torture to death inflicted by Shawnee Indians on captured settlers in 1791. Author then discusses reasons for inflicting pain on others starting with non-lethal cases when it happens in process of competition for resources, which is typical for all animals. Here is how author describes resent developments in biology related to this issue:” Novel insights into the dynamics of aggressive competition emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s due to two fundamental developments within evolutionary biology. The first was due to the evolutionary biologist John Maynard Smith who recognized that for any competitive interaction, there are different strategies, each with different payoffs. Some strategies are more costly, but return greater benefits. Others are more conservative and less costly, but return smaller benefits. How well any given strategy does depend on its frequency in the population, and thus, on whether the particular strategy is dominant or rare. This is the logic of games, and game theory developed by economists. Maynard Smith’s central insight was to see these games as evolving over long periods of time, locked into epic arms races with predators battling prey, hosts competing with parasites, and males challenging each other for access to females.” After that author discusses psychology of causing harm to others, role of testosterone and cortisol in biochemistry of this process and dopamine as its reward. After dealing with non-lethal harm author moves to lethal and notes that nearly all animals are both: predators and pray. Author then looks at war in chimpanzees, which is evaluated by some biologists as adaptation leading to similar characterization for human wars. This application of biology to humans caused push back from “humanists” and biologists whose humanity overrides their science. They created 1986 Seville statement:

Author reviews the discusion of chimpanzee vs human wars and summarises it this way: “Unlike the lethal attacks by chimpanzees that are restricted to cases where groups attack lone victims, primarily from neighboring groups, we wreak havoc on a massive scale, with one on one, many against many, and one against many, including victims within and outside our core group. Unlike chimpanzees, even our young children have an appetite for violence that can be nurtured, as evidenced by the brutality of child soldiers around the globe. Unlike chimpanzees, individuals will sacrifice themselves for an entire group as evidenced most recently by suicide bombers. Our minds also generate ideological reasons to motivate violence at extraordinary scales — again, think of suicide bombers taking their lives for a God, as well as the reward of an idyllic afterlife. And when our minds break down, or when we are afflicted with particular disorders early in life, we are capable of experiencing bizarre appetites for violence, including the joy of eating the flesh of murdered victims. These novel and unanticipated ways of harming others are the result, at least in their origins, of new hardware that evolved only once in the history of this planet: a brain wired to combine and recombine thoughts and emotions. I will explain this idea in three steps, starting with a description of our brain’s special design. I then turn to a discussion of how our brain’s design incidentally enabled our species alone to punish moral transgressors and feel good about it. I conclude with the incidental birth of version 2.0 of harming others, a form of lethal aggression that was both extreme and enjoyable — evilicious.”

3 steps author refers to are:

Creative combinations – complexities of working of human brain lead to complexities of adaptive use of violence at levels not available to other animals.

Incidental Justice – hurting others to establish and enforce some social norm that humans believe is neccasary. In this cases torture and killing serve not only to punish violator of the norm, but also prevent future violation by others.

After reviewing kind of institutional harming others, author discusses case when violence becomes the source of pleasure in itself for some specific type of individuals – psychopaths. As everythinh else author links it to biochemical process, this time including oxytocin.  Author also discusses value of harming others as signalling and complete this chapter by summarising it all in response to the question “Why oh Why?”:

Why did we evolve the capacity for gratuitous cruelty? The answer begins, so I suggest, in a special property of the human brain. Some time after we diverged from a chimpanzee-like common ancestor the human brain was remodeled to allow creative new connections between previously unconnected circuits. Our newly connected brain enabled us to explore new problems using a combination of older, but nonetheless adaptive parts. Some of these novel explorations led to highly adaptive consequences, as when we developed the ability to self-deceive in the service of pumping ourselves up to do better in the context of competition; or when we invented new technologies to solve difficult environmental problems, such as using spears to capture prey at a distance; or, when we acquired the know-how to stockpile and enhance resources such as food, water and fertile land that are critical to individual survival and reproduction; or when we evolved the richly textured social emotions of jealousy, shame, guilt, elation, and empathy, feelings that motivate individuals to recognize the importance of others’ well-being and interests and to correct prior wrongs; or, when we tapped into the rich connection between reward and aggression to punish cheaters trying to destabilize a cooperative society. But these same adaptive explorations also resulted in incidental costs that have destroyed the lives of innocent individuals. The capacity to deny others’ moral worth enabled us to justify great harms, including self-sacrifice as living bombs designed to annihilate thousands of non-believers. The capacity to create advanced weaponry enabled us to kill at a distance, thereby avoiding the aversiveness of taking out those staring back. The capacity to stockpile resources led to the growth of greed, increasing disparities among members of society, the inspiration to steal, and heightened violence both to defend and to obtain. The capacity to experience social emotions such as jealousy led to blind rage and a driving engine of homicide, including cuckolded lovers who kill their spouses and stepparents who kill their stepchildren. The capacity to feel good about harming others enabled us to recruit this elixir in the service of causing excessive harm in any number of novel contexts, from ethnic cleansings to bizarre fetishes that include self-mutilation. And the list goes on. This is the yin and yang of a combinatorial brain. This is the natural history of evil, its ancestry and adaptive significance. It is a capacity that lives within all of us, but some of us are more likely than others to deploy it. This variation is also part of human nature, a critical component in the evolutionary process.”

Chapter 4. Wicked in waiting
In the last chapter author moves to the level of individual: genetics, nurture and cultural norms, mental disorders, biochemistry of self-control, and empathy. Author also reviews phenomenon of bullying, bringing in his own childhood experience.  At the end of chapter author summarizes it all this way:” The scientific evidence on individual differences suggests that we are born with different propensities for cruelty. These propensities did not evolve for cruelty, but rather, for different aspects of social life, including the important decisions we make to survive and reproduce. Individual differences in our capacity for self-control, experience of reward, willingness to take risks, response to stress, and ability to empathize have significant biological origins. Though it is difficult to pinpoint the original function of these capacities, they play an important role today in eating, mating, playing, defending, and killing. These differences are not noise in the system, but highly relevant to our evolutionary past and futures. Individuals who were impulsive, fearless, and aggressive were invaluable when fighting against enemy tribes, and they are valuable today in modern warfare. Individuals who were patient and anticipated great rewards from building up large cattle herds, were better able to provide for themselves and their families. But these same qualities were also deployed for less virtuous goals. Many of these cases, though despicable, are not difficult to explain once we look to individual desire to acquire or maintain power. Many of these cases are, however, more puzzling as the harm caused is extreme and seemingly unnecessary to achieve the targeted end. Some are cruel for cruelty’s sake. Some are cruel to intimidate the enemy. Individual differences push some of us toward gratuitous cruelty and others away from it, despite similarities in our upbringing and cultural norms.”

Epilogue. Evilightenment

Here author briefly reviews societal changes brought in with enlightenment, which led to development of laws, multiple restrictions on individual actions and on punishments for these actions often linked to individual’s age because people generally recognize that development of ability for self-control and maintaining proper behavior not in-born, but is result of development and maturation. Overall author concludes that capacity for evil is product of natural development and probably is not going away, but human development does show that realization of this capacity could be prevented or at least limited and that currently observed decrease in violence over time is real, but its continuation required serious work to be done because: “We must never give up on humanity”


My attitude to the problems of violence and overall causing is quite close to author’s. I believe that such behavior if evolutionary adaptation and is natural for all people. However, I see it as much more complex problem because in reality it is not easy to separate good from evil for any action if all consequences taken into account. One should always ask for any hurtful evil action:” Who will benefit from this?”

Take for example the biggest amount of harm caused to the greatest amount of people in the shortest amount of time – use of nuclear weapon in Hiroshima that instantly killed some and caused painful torture and slow death for others among tens of thousands of people. No amount of feel good condemnations of this action could remove the fact of its necessity because alternatives would be: millions of people both Americans and Japanese suffering and dying in case of invasion of Japan, or alternatively millions of Japanese dying from starvation and exposure if American leadership would decide to treat Japan to traditional siege warfare by preventing food and energy production to force surrender. Another solution that would be close to heart of emphatic people: leave Japan alone and just sign some kind of peace treaty leaving individuals that were in control over Japan in power. I think it is obvious that such solution would lead to nuclear explosions in American cities within as short period of time as it would require highly technologically developed Japan to create nuclear weapons.

In short, I think that existing biological predisposition to violence and causing harm to others is not going away, but could be rendered mute if every individual provided with opportunity to obtain needed resources by peaceful non-violent actions, while every act of harm caused to others, however small, would prompt immediate and slightly more than proportional retaliation. For example, a young bully that locked another kid in locker would be much less inclined to do so again if this act is inevitably followed by spending night locked in the locker. In short, I would not bet on “better angels”, but rather on obvious self-interest for vast majority of normal individuals and fast and effective elimination of very few that could not exist without hurting others.  

20210214 – Fire and Light


The main idea of this book is to look at Enlightenment as ideological revolution that changed focus of human attitudes from the hierarchical group, either religious or national or both, with kings, assigned by the god via birth right at the top, aristocrats in the middle layers of hierarchy, and regular people at the bottom to actions by individuals regardless of their birth, that have material impact on society.

This book is not limited to ideological discussion – this is just a small part of it. It rather provides relatively details review of history of late XVIII and early XIX century, when these ideas become dominant in Western societies leading to revolutions and reforms that restructured 3 most populous and important countries of the Western civilization: Britain, France, and United States of America.


Introduction: Enlightenment as Revolution
Here author presents the idea that enlightenment was a revolution, but not a usual one:” The human mind was where revolution originated. Breaking from a universe in which God was the final answer to any question, Enlightenment philosophers moved attention to human beings as the measure of all things.” Author then discusses reason as the main tool of human mind that should allow not only understand nature, but also create the new world of human society that is much better suitable for happiness than whatever existed before. Author connects this with industrial revolution in the West that created material base of contemporary society and ideological revolution of Locke that created philosophical foundation for somewhat self-governing societies in Western Europe and North America. Author also expresses believe that Enlightenment is currently in process of expanding all over the world, which will make it into much better place.

1: The Revolution in Ideas

In this chapter author reviews ideas about the state of Nature that went into foundation of Enlightenment: Hobbs with his necessity of Leviathan, Bacon with his scientific method, Descartes with his separation of reality and believes (matter and mind). Author also looks in details at specific Enlightenment idea of Freedom of thought as it was expressed in live and works of Baruch Spinoza. Finally, the last part of chapter is about John Locke whose work created foundation for practical implementation of Enlightenment ideas to transform societies to the new political forms based on equality, tolerance, and rule based on consent. Author stresses that all these thinkers of XVII century created foundation for massive move of Western societies to implement these ideas into reality in XVIII century.

2: Rule Britannia?

In this chapter author looks at the first steps in political process starting with British Glorious Revolution of 1689, even if its was just final establishment of superiority of Parliament over king, rather than anything like individual freedom. Author discusses explosive economic development of Britain in XVIII that increasingly moved power away from old landed aristocracy, which resistance was imbodied in persona and policies of king George III. Author extolls economic development in manufacturing, banking, insurance and such, but he also does not neglect fate of people at the bottom who made it happen by working hard in miserable conditions just to survive for a while. Author also briefly retells history of wars and political developments of this period; however, the most important part of this chapter is about Scottish enlightenment of Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, and Adam Smith that expanded ideological foundation of enlightenment society by explaining ideas of human happiness, human nature as it really existed, and market economy.

3: Revolutionary Americans
Author begins this chapter by describing how prosperous was America in 1760s, while its active population has been increasingly unhappy with growing interference of British officials in their lives. Then he describes events of American revolution from ideological point of view, demonstrating that ideas of Enlightenment created strong push to rule themselves, which in reality meant rule by local American elite instead of remote British elite. This push was strong enough to go through revolution and war for independence despite of hurdles and costs. Author also notes that reality for majority of population that carried these costs did not change that much except in psychological and ideological spheres:” The Revolution was a time of traumatic violence for some, small alterations in the lives of others, and of a huge potential that went unrealized. Before the Revolution, America was essentially a hierarchical society in politics and economy; despite some reshuffling in the upper reaches, it remained so. Wealth, status, and family were the great triumvirate still dominating society, even if to a lesser degree as British impositions were removed. The most common talk was of an equality of personal respect, not of money or status, or of power or condition.”

4. France: Rule or Ruin?
Here author narrates the events of the next country that embraced Enlightenment ideas – France. Once again, the great ideas of equality and freedom brought in anything but equality and freedom. The formally absolutist, but mainly benign hierarchical system with just a few political prisoners in Bastille and highly liberal aristocracy that supported philosophers and actively promoted enlightenment ideas was substituted by blood drenched revolutionaries with their guillotine. Author describes personalities of French enlightenment: Voltaire, Montesquieu, Diderot, and Rousseau, then events of revolution, and then provides conclusion about consequences:” … the sheer ferocity at every level must have originated more in psychological forces than political. This was the psychosis of fear, which can arouse savage hatreds. If a Great Fear gripped people in the early years of the Revolution, a Greater Fear rose later. To a degree it was a rational fear in response to the foreign powers threatening France from all directions, land and sea. It was also a fear based in severe economic insecurity. But above all it was a fear of the radical instability—even chaos—that was overtaking the Revolution, the lethal game politics had become, the knowledge that victors in factional struggles could propel losers to the guillotine. Distrust blanketed the land. French civil society had collapsed into a nearly Hobbesian state of nature. It was all against all; no one was safe.”

5. Transforming American Politics
Here Author moves to American society after revolution. He looks at formation of American society based on Enlightenment ideas that attempted to find perfect spot where “The Liberty of a Person” would be accommodated with “The Happiness of the People”. Author describes this process and concludes that it led to creation of two intertwined attitude – Republicanism and Liberalism the former strived to: “subordinate individual wants to the collective needs of the community or country. Self had to yield to the bonds of unity forged in families, churches, and schools”, while latter represented “competitive individualism”. Author also expresses admiration for how Madison and other fathers of Constitution handled this division.

6. Britain: The Rules of Rulership
Here author looks at parallel British developments and the end of XVIII century and the reasons it avoided revolution, concluding that it was mainly because of successful suppression:” Nothing better reflected the inability and unwillingness of British rule to adapt to emerging challenges than the old and new social and economic problems that plagued the underclass. The poor could not vote, they could gain no representation in Parliament. Their organizations were outlawed, their speech proscribed, their leaders jailed and harried. As industrialization began to gather pace, they were helpless to improve their work and living conditions. When food riots—that most primitive and elemental protest—broke out in 1800, the nation that Montesquieu and Voltaire had glorified as the model of political modernity seemingly reverted to a land that the Enlightenment had passed over.”

7. Napoleonic Rulership
In this chapter author describes how France moved from revolution to Napoleonic military dictatorship, while not only retaining many ideas of Enlightenment, but also codifying them in Napoleon code: “Millions across Europe who had been born into a world that differed little, politically, economically, intellectually, from their ancestors’ in the Middle Ages, regarded Napoleon Bonaparte as an embodiment of modernity and progress in the age of Enlightenment. In his aftermath, that grand movement of ideas and action appeared to be on the defensive, almost as beaten as the man himself. As counter-Enlightenments flourished, tradition seemed to be in the saddle. Yet even as ideas of progress were under heavy assault by ruling elites and their apologists, the force of progress was bursting through old restraints.” However, despite restoration of monarchy and dominance of reaction, the ideas of enlightenment did not completely disappear, but rather started permeate ideology of educated classes of Europe.

8. Britain: Industrializing Enlightenment
In this chapter author describes development of Britain in early XIX century when industrial revolution began changing society on the massive scale, bringing in class struggle between business owners and workers, mass implementation of machines and corresponding increase in productivity. It also led to decrease in labor value and deterioration of conditions. Author specifically discusses violent clashes such as Peterloo, which brought British society to understanding of the need for reforms.

9. France: The Crowds of July
Here once again author moves to France’s development, discussing events that led to July revolution of 1830, development ideas of socialism as potential solution for all problems of class struggle and industrialization, and attempt to have “popular throne surrounded by republican institutions, completely republican.” Here is how author describes conditions of this period:” In the almost half-century since France’s original, earthshattering revolution, the nation had swung from enlightened constitutionalism to terror to dictatorship to restoration and reaction. Now, with liberals securely within the circle of power, if not fully in charge, and radicals mobilizing on the outside, France faced a new contestation, which produced different visions and expectations of change, different conceptions of the ultimate goal of human happiness. The Enlightenment provided a framework for the pursuit of happiness. Leaders and followers—citizens—were left to fight over the meanings of happiness and the path for pursuing it.”

10. The American Experiment

Here author retells the story of formation of American system from Jefferson’s presidency to Jackson’s democratic semi revolution, ending this narrative with Tocqueville’s detailed description and analysis of this system in “Democracy in America”. Author stresses some unique features of this system and refers to multitude of foreign intellectuals that came to America at the time to learn about this practical implementation of Enlightenment ideas.

11: Britain: The Fire for Reform
Here author returns to British history to discuss reform movement of XIX century and ideas of John Stuart Mill and Bentham that eventually implemented the reform that expanded suffrage beyond propertied classes, voting rights universal for men in 1832. The process of fighting for the Reform activated previously passive masses of middle and lower classes that created hundreds of Political Unions to promote their interests. At the end it all merged into Liberal party, with its raise and fall, eventually establishing somewhat of a two-party system with Conservatives as counterpart.

12. The Negative of Liberty
Here author reviews how newly established democracy prompted movement against property in people – slavery. He writes about abolitionist movement in both Britain and then United States completing narrative by 1845 when Andrew Jackson died believing, as it turned out mistakenly, that he saved Union by preventing nullification and achieving compromise preserving Southern “peculiar institution”, while limiting its expansion.

13. The Transformation

In the final chapter author completes the narrative by discussing Triumph of Enlightenment ideas of individual freedom and democracy in Western world by mid XIX century and birth of the new anti-individualist, socialist movement that was boosted by ideas of Karl Marx. Author characterizes these ideas as both product and rejection of Enlightenment. At the end author discusses the American Enlightenment that until recently mainly avoided socialist ideology by opening opportunities of individual advancement via education. The author’s generalized evaluation of Enlightenment’s role:” The force of Enlightenment ideas was tested not only by their immediate impact on creative leaders and followers but by their persistence across generations, an extraordinary process of transmission as new generations of leaders mobilized people around the great values, and followers in turn became leaders themselves. The Enlightenment, of course, supplied no rigid or detailed program to political leaders. Rather, philosophers offered a set of transcending ideas and—equally significant—a structure of conflict. Some conflicts, as between authority and liberty and between liberty and equality, are fundamental, everlasting across a host of dimensions. Others, like that between sectarianism and secularism, ebb and flow in intensity. Still others originate through new circumstances, as between liberalism and socialism, a conflict which, because the terms of debate have themselves undergone changes without losing their Enlightenment roots, remains highly relevant today. Conflicts among values—order versus freedom, liberty versus equality, individual rights versus communal solidarity—ensure that the Enlightenment remains a work in progress. It suggests no finished state, no resting point, no culmination, no end to history. It was born in conflict and conflict renews its transformational energy. Still, the Enlightenment has been far more than an engine of conflict. It has been the realization that human beings are not slaves of the past or present and that the future is theirs to make. It has opened the minds of men and women to do the most brilliant work transforming nearly all the old ideas and assumptions about human beings, about government and economic life, about religion and nature. No field that human understanding can reach has been left untouched, and entirely new ones, like sociology, anthropology, and many of the sciences, have been invented to give wing to the hunger for knowledge. The Enlightenment has created the opportunity and freedom to take part in a mighty intellectual revolution that has changed the lives of whole peoples. Indeed, the Enlightenment has taught that change is the constant, and that the opportunity and burden for human beings is to harness it for their common benefit.”


I think it is obvious that Enlightenment ideas did change the world and not only in these countries that author looks at, but everywhere. One of interesting indicators of penetration of these ideas is that the idea of god given sovereign king – ruler at the top and aristocracy by birth is pretty much out. Nowadays every tin-pot dictator, communist general secretary, or theocratic leader claim to be in his/her place on merits and by the choice of people. Similarly, any dictatorship either moderate or totalitarian conducts elections and claims consent of ruled as necessary foundation of their legitimacy, even if this consent obtained via rigged election and suppression of opposition. However, I think that author paid too little attention to ideological causes of Enlightenment failure to support individual freedoms on the long run, succumbing either to fascist/communist dictatorship or oligarchical welfare state in which individual freedom either openly suppressed or mainly illusory. I think that the main cause of this failure is insufficient attention to property and its allocation. It is understandable because in XVII and XVIII centuries, when these ideas were mainly formed, the main form of productive property was land and/or small artisan shop. This circumstance practically guaranteed that once feudal rights of king and aristocracy removed, the productive property would be more or less available to everybody. It was especially clear in America when constantly moving frontier provided additional land and opportunities for mainly independent existence until end of XIX century. After that vast majority of population become dependent for its existence on some form of participation in business hierarchy either as employees or small business owners highly dependent on local and later national powers. As long as these powers remained divided and competed between themselves, there was some space for individual freedom, but when all powers consolidated, this space just disappear.

I think, however, that Enlightenment ideas of individual freedom are too deeply imbedded in mind of everybody, so even people who do not think twice about suppressing other people’s freedom, strongly believe that their own freedom should not be limited. Because of this we are facing some period of struggle between people trying suppress other’s freedom, while defending their own and, since Enlightenment ideas would prevent anybody from wholeheartedly accept inferior position, any victory in this struggle bound to be temporary. The only solution to end this struggle would be to find way to provide everybody with property sufficient for mainly independent existence, which would support freedoms required by Enlightenment ideas for human happiness.

20210207 – Primal Screems


The main idea of this book is that sexual revolution, by changing sex roles and behavior and destroying the family, pushed people into unnatural state of loneliness, isolation, and loss of identity. Without the natural identity as a member of family defined by sex, age, and status, people became vulnerable and unprotected, causing them to seek protection in grouping by sexual, racial, and ethnic identities, which are poor substitute for family. The final result is society’s falling apart because people compete for resources, recognition, and privileges based on these artificial identities, which combine multitude of people with contradictory interests. Consequently, the identity politics is an authentic primal scream of people deprived of natural habitat within the family.


Introduction: The Myth of the Lone Wolf
This starts with biology: the lone wolf does not exist – in reality wolfs in wild live in families and so are many other animals, humans included.  Author than makes point that contemporary American society went by the way of family destruction and it led in turn to individuals’ losing family identity, disparately looking for another, and finding it in some ideology. Author believes that this is the cause of identity politics and dramatic left-right division of the country. Here is how she characterizes situation:” For many Americans and other citizens, political desires and political agendas have become indistinguishable from the desires and agendas of the particular aggrieved faction with which they most “identify”—and the human beings outside those chosen factions are treated more and more not as fellow citizens, but as enemies to be eliminated by shame, intimidation, and, where possible, legal punishment. That is something new.” She also states:” In short, the argument of this book is that today’s clamor over identity—the authentic scream by so many for answers to questions about where they belong in the world—did not spring from nowhere. It is a squalling creature unique to our time, born of familial liquidation.” At the end of chapter author also refer to multiple other problems: economic, political, and ideological that led to divisions, but claims that the core of the problem is anthropological result of sexual revolution and change of environment from natural for individual belonging to human family to unnatural existence as the lone individual.

1. The Conversation So Far and Its Limitations
Author begins this chapter with reference to classical “Closing of American mind” which back in 1987 identified growing ideological division with unusual for America refusal to argue one’s ideas, but rather attempt to force them on others. Author then goes through somewhat similar books raising alarm about direction of development of intellectual life. She also provides some statistical data about growing psychological distress:” cohorts. “Millennials Are the Therapy Generation,” as one 2019 report put it. Among other findings, this one relayed that “[according to] data from 147 colleges and universities, the number of students seeking mental-health help increased from 2011 to 2016 at five times the rate of new students starting college”; and a 2018 report from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association found a 47 percent increase in those seeking mental health assistance between 2013 and 2016.” Author summarizes this as consequence of identity crises, but rejects typical approach to political division as competing political “tribes”, stating that tribes have familiar foundations, while current left-right division is more of individuals clinging together looking for substitute for family in racial, sexual, and/or other identities.

2. A New Theory: The Great Scattering

Here author presents theory of causes for current identity politics and strive to be a victim:” Maybe many people today are claiming to be victims because they and their societies are victims—not so much of the “isms” they point to as oppressors, but because the human animal has been selected for familial forms of socialization that for many people no longer exist.”

Author then retells story of sexual revolution that attacked family on psychological front by removing family formation as prerequisite for satisfaction of sexual drive and welfare state that attacked family on economic side by removing it as necessary condition of economic viability. Author systematically goes through different subsystems of the family as a system and discusses how they were destructed in appropriately called parts of this chapter: “GONE DADDY; GONE CHILD; GONE PARENT; GONE SIBLINGS; GOEN FAMILY; GONE GOD;”

3. Supporting Evidence, I: Understanding the “Mine!” in Identity Politics
In this chapter author states her believe that distraction of family denies people opportunity to be recognized by others according to the place in the family appropriated for age, sex, and type of relations. The consequence:” One thing that seems to happen is some people, deprived of recognition in the traditional ways, will regress to a state in which their demand for recognition becomes ever more insistent and childlike. This brings us to one of the most revealing features of identity politics: its infantilized expression and vernacular.” Author then goes through examples of such infantilism in various areas of American life when individuals seek recognition by creating tantrum for all kinds of weird reasons: politically incorrect speech or speakers, BLM, old statues, and what not. Rather that oppose it as something abnormal, author sees it as logical and necessary behavior for “those who can no longer find their selves through the usual means, it is also a survival strategy for a postrevolutionary world”

4. Supporting Evidence II: Feminism as Survival Strategy
This chapter is about feminism. Author makes point that feminism is reaction to destruction of family when women left alone without protection and support are trying compensate the loss by joining feminist groups and promoting demands for sex-based privileges.

5. Supporting Evidence III: Androgyny as Survival Strategy
This chapter discusses similar issue to feminism, only identity this time relates to mixed or confused sex identities – androgyny. The basic idea is that men should not be men and women should not be women, while everybody should be some sexually fluid part of collective.

6 Supporting Evidence, IV: How #MeToo Reveals the Breakdown of Social Learning

The main point of this chapter is that sexual revolution and follow up societal changes cause severe disruption of cultural transfers between generations. Author discusses the process of such transfer in both animals and then humans, stressing failure to transfer patters of behavior as family member with specific role, religious believes and correspondent behavior, and such. She makes important point that this failure led to decrease in quality of life. She specifically analyses in details #MeToo movement, which resulted in riskier behavior of women and correspondingly higher levels of victimization.  
Conclusion: Thoughts on the Rediscovery of Self

Author begins the conclusion by reference to research on elephants and their societies, which were subjected to huge changes. Due to human hunting, lots of older bulls were eliminated, structure of society become changed, and, as result, young bull’s behavior in relation to females also changed, causing more violence and degradation. Similarly, elimination of older females led to difficulty for younger females who are not sufficiently trained in mothership causing problem in raising the next generation. She then looks at humans and finds the same destructive patters that eventually led to elimination of family as foundation of society and its substitute with naked power of elite. She makes an interesting point about who is going to be this elite:” It may someday turn out the “elites” and “nonelites” of the future, for example, are not defined as socioeconomically as they are today. Perhaps the real divide of postrevolutionary humanity lies between those who have figured out how to navigate the Great Scattering successfully and those who have not. Such might seem to be the nascent meaning, for example, of a phenomenon that sociologists W. Bradford Wilcox and Wendy Wang have documented in detail: the “class divide” over marriage, meaning that people in better-off classes are more likely to be married than are others.”  Author also rejects conservative ideas that it is all just aberration and it could be fixed by some authoritarian measures. She states that:” conservatives and other nonprogressives have missed something major about identity politics: its authenticity. But the liberal-progressive side has missed something bigger. Identity politics is not so much politics as a primal scream. It’s the result of the Great Scattering—our species’ unprecedented collective retreat from our very selves.”

Rod Dreher; Mark Lilla; Peter Thiel; Afterword;

Here author provides comments on her ideas by some luminaries and her reply to their notes.


This is a very interesting approach that I am not completely agree with. I think that the sexual liberation, disconnect between sex and reproduction, both physical and cultural, was necessary consequence of human development when illnesses and early death of children become eliminated, causing unsustainable growth in population. The traditional family oriented to multiplication and subordination of the lives of current generation to supporting needs of the next generation became ineffective. Even militarily, when bigger family and correspondingly bigger population cease to provide society with more power and ability to conquer neighbors, the traditional family’s objectives of quantitative growth became outdated. The power now comes from a few individuals with high level of technological knowledge and skills who can easily win any battle regardless of number of warriors on each side. The shift from quantity to quality as defining factor of prosperity for both individual and any group forced dissolution of old family and old process of cultural transfer that was evolutionally developed for effective maintenance of norms, which also means technological stagnation. However, I fully agree with author that family is natural human habitat and human individual cannot be happy without stable and supportive emotional and psychological conditions that only family could provide. I just think that we are in process of change in the nature of family from reproductive unit, optimized for population increase, to quality of life supporting unit, optimized to support individual pursuit of happiness. Therefore, even if this is complex and painful process, it will eventually bring humanity to much better and happier place than were it was before.