One percent of the population commits 63 percent of all violent crimes

Thursday, December 14th, 2017

One percent of the population commits 63 percent of all violent crimes — at least in Sweden, based on convictions:

A total of 93,642 individuals (3.9 %) had at least one violent conviction. The distribution of convictions was highly skewed; 24,342 persistent violent offenders (1.0 % of the total population) accounted for 63.2 % of all convictions. Persistence in violence was associated with male sex (OR 2.5), personality disorder (OR 2.3), violent crime conviction before age 19 (OR 2.0), drug-related offenses (OR 1.9), nonviolent criminality (OR 1.9), substance use disorder (OR 1.9), and major mental disorder (OR 1.3).

The majority of violent crimes are perpetrated by a small number of persistent violent offenders, typically males, characterized by early onset of violent criminality, substance abuse, personality disorders, and nonviolent criminality.

Number of Convictions by Percentile

If all violent crime careers could come to a stop after a third conviction (which would require interventions directed at 1 % of the total population), more than 50 % of all convictions for violent crime in the total population would be prevented.

[...]

First offenses are particularly difficult to predict, especially due to the low base rates of violent crime overall. By contrast, the majority of violent crimes are committed by a group of offenders who may be identified by rather easily observable features, such as having already been convicted of violent crimes several times already in adolescence, and having problems with substance abuse.

These statistics seemingly support the catchphrase and model employed in California and several other states in the USA, “three strikes and you’re out.”

Pearl Harbor Day snuck up on me

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

Pearl Harbor Day snuck up on me. Here are some posts on the topic:

They really, really didn’t seem prepared for crime

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

Something kept seeming off about all the legal systems mentioned in Legal Systems Very Different From Ours, which only clicked into place for Scott Alexander about halfway through — they really, really didn’t seem prepared for crime:

A lot of them worked on a principle like: “If there’s a crime, we’ll call together a court made of all the town elders, plus at least three different religious leaders, plus the heads of the families of everybody involved, plus a representative of the Great King, plus nine different jurists from nine different universities, and all of them will meet on the Field Of Meeting, and a great tent will be erected, and…” The whole thing sounded like it might work as long as there was like one crime a year. Any more than that and none of the society’s officials would ever have time for anything else.

As weird as it is to punish murder with a fine, the fines these societies levied for murder sounded really high: the Islamic price was a hundred camels, the Irish price was seven female slaves. The average person wouldn’t have that many slaves or camels, so people in Arabia or Ireland would band together into clan/family-based blood-money-paying-groups that acted kind of like insurance companies. If a member got convicted of a crime, everyone else would come together to help them pony up the money. I assume this helped incentivize people’s families to discourage them from committing crimes. But it has the same feeling of nobody expecting very many crimes to be committed. How much of medieval Arabia’s GDP consisted of transfers of 100 camels from murderers to victims’ families?

One little-admitted but much-worried-about justification for mass incarceration in our society is the concern that some people are just so naturally violent that, left in the outside world, they would offend again and again until they died. The societies in this book didn’t seem to worry about this. If someone killed, their family would give up the relevant number of camels, and then everyone would be on their way. As far as I can tell, the Amish have no idea what to do about any crime more dire than using a telephone. Nobody used anything at all like incarceration. 18th century England occasionally sent prisoners somewhere horrible like America, but once the colonies revolted they experimented with jails, found them too expensive, and just sort of flailed around punishment-less until they finally discovered Australia.

There’s a lot of concern about police brutality, police racism, police failure-to-actually-control crime, et cetera. A few far-leftists have flirted with the idea of abolishing police, and the only way I can make sense of this is by analogy to something like Somali or Icelandic law. These were genuine community-based non-hierarchical legal systems. And, for the place and the time, they seem to have worked really well (Somaliland, which uses traditional Somali law, is doing way better than Somalia proper, whose law system is somewhat westernized). But I also know that it’s weirdly hard to get a good picture of how modern crime rates compare to ancient ones. On the one hand are statistics like the ones saying crime has increased by an order of magnitude since 1900 or so; on the other are findings like Steven Pinker’s that violence is constantly declining. Apply the “court made of town elders plus at least three different religious leaders plus…” to Baltimore, and the Field Of Meeting is going to get pretty crowded. On the other hand, in my past work with criminals I’ve been constantly surprised by how much role their families and their communities still play in their lives, and maybe a system that left legal enforcement up to them would do better than the overstretched and underperforming police.

All legal systems need a punishment of last resort

Wednesday, December 6th, 2017

One of the most interesting things Scott Alexander got from Legal Systems Very Different From Ours is that all legal systems need a punishment of last resort — one that can be enforced whether or not the offender agrees with it — but these punishments practically never happen in real life:

The Gypsies and Amish will ostracize members who defy the court — but since everyone lives in fear of ostracization, in real life they’ll just pay the fine or make their public confession or whatever. The English will hang criminals at the drop of a hat — but since the threat of hanging incentivizes them to bribe prosecutors, in reality few people will need to be hanged. The Icelandic courts could declare offenders outlaws who can be killed without repercussion — but the threat encourages Icelanders to pay the wergeld, and nobody has to get outlawed. The Somalis are ready to have murderous family feuds — but the possibility of such a feud keeps people willing to go to arbitration. Even our own legal system works like this. The police can physically drag you to jail, kicking and screaming. But more likely you’re going to plea bargain, or agree to community service, or at least be cooperative and polite while the police take you away. Plea bargains — which are easier for prosecutors, easier for defendants, and easier for taxpayers — seem like a good example of cultural evolution in action; once someone thought them up, there was no way they weren’t going to take over everything despite their very serious costs.

He will break up the fight before they kill more men than they can afford

Sunday, December 3rd, 2017

Iceland, from the 10th through 13th Centuries, had a legislature (the Althing) and courts, but no executive branch:

Unlike the Rom, the Icelanders’ problem wasn’t foreign oppressors — it was that they were the Viking equivalent of those hard-core libertarians who live in compounds in Montana where the Feds can’t reach them. In this case “the Feds” were the forces of King Harald Fairhair, who had just taken over and centralized power in Norway. Some Norwegians decided they would rather live on a remote and frequently-exploding piece of rock on the edge of the world than be anyone’s subject: thus, medieval Iceland.

If an Icelander thought a crime had happened, they would go to court and plead the case themselves. If the court pronounced a guilty verdict, it would demand a penalty from the criminal. Usually this was a fine paid to the victim; even murders were punished with wergeld. If the criminal paid the fine voluntarily, all was well. If they refused — or didn’t even come to court — then the court could declare the criminal an outlaw, meaning it was legal to kill him and take his stuff. And:

One obvious objection to a system of private enforcement is that the poor (or weak) would be defenseless. The Icelandic system dealt with this problem by giving the victim a property right — the right to be reimbursed by the criminal — and making that right transferable. The victim could turn over his case to someone else, either gratis or in return for a consideration. A man who did not have sufficient resources to prosecute a case or enforce a verdict could sell it to another who did and who expected to make a profit in both money and reputation by winning the case and collecting the fine. This meant that an attack on even the poorest victim could lead to eventual punishment.

A second objection is that the rich (or powerful) could commit crimes with impunity, since nobody would be able to enforce judgment against them. Where power is sufficiently concentrated this might be true; this was one of the problems which led to the eventual breakdown of the Icelandic legal system in the thirteenth century. But so long as power was reasonably dispersed, as it seems to have been for the first two centuries after the system was established, this was a less serious problem. A man who refused to pay his fines was outlawed and would probably not be supported by as many of his friends as the plaintiff seeking to enforce judgment, since in case of violent conflict his defenders would find themselves legally in the wrong. If the lawbreaker defended himself by force, every injury inflicted on the partisans of the other side would result in another suit, and every refusal to pay another fine would pull more people into the coalition against him.

There is a scene in Njal’s Saga that provides striking evidence of the stability of this system. Conflict between two groups has become so intense that open fighting threatens to break out in the middle of the court. A leader of one faction asks a benevolent neutral what he will do for them in case of a fight. He replies that if they are losing he will help them, and if they are winning he will break up the fight before they kill more men than they can afford! Even when the system seems so near to breaking down, it is still assumed that every enemy killed must eventually be paid for. The reason is obvious enough; each man killed will have friends and relations who are still neutral — and will remain neutral if and only if the killing is made up for by an appropriate wergeld.

The exotic anarcho-capitalist part comes in later

Saturday, December 2nd, 2017

Eighteenth-Century England had a government, a court system, and some minimal law enforcement, but the system seems ludicrously backward at first glance:

There were no public prosecutors; anyone who felt like it could bring a criminal to court and start prosecuting him, but if nobody felt like it then the crime remained unpunished. Prosecuting took a lot of time and money and was generally a thankless task. And the government didn’t want to go to the expense of imprisoning people, so they usually just hanged convicted offenders (if the crime seemed really bad) or pardoned them (if it didn’t seem to merit hanging). The exotic anarcho-capitalist part comes in as English civil society creates its own structures to work around these limitations.

Merchants, landowners, and other people with wealth banded together in mutual-protection-insurance-groups. Everyone in the group would pay a fixed amount yearly, and if one of them got robbed the group would use the money to hire a prosecutor to try the criminal. Group members would publish their names in the newspaper to help inform thieves whom it was a bad idea to rob. But this wasn’t about leaving poor people out to dry. The groups would also help indigents who couldn’t afford their own prosecutors, partly out of a desire to crack down on crime before it reached the point where it could inconvenience them. They wouldn’t help people who could have afforded insurance but declined anyway, though — otherwise there would be no incentive to buy in.

What about the lack of good punishments? Once a trial was underway, prosecutors would usually cut a deal: the offender would bribe the prosecutor with a certain amount, and the prosecutor would drop the case. The size of the bribe would vary based on how much the offender could pay, the extent of their crime, and the facts of the case (and therefore the likelihood of the magistrate choosing hanging vs. pardon). This not only helped tailor the punishment more precisely to the crime, but helped defer the cost of prosecution: victims (or their mutual-protection-insurance-groups) were incentivized to press charges because they could recoup their costs through the bribes paid to drop them:

What both modern and contemporary commentators seem to have missed is that, however corrupt such arrangements might be from a legal standpoint, they helped solve the fundamental problem of private prosecution. The possibility of compounding provided an incentive to prosecute — it converted the system into something more like a civil system, where a victim sues in the hope of collecting money damages. And while compounding might save the criminal from the noose, he did not get off scott free. He ended up paying, to the prosecutor, what was in effect a fine.

Peter Robinson interviews VDH about The Second World Wars

Friday, December 1st, 2017

Peter Robinson of Uncommon Knowledge interviews Victor Davis Hanson about his new book, The Second World Wars:

Hanson gave a longer, more in-depth talk at the Hoover Institute:

Bulletproofing magic works

Thursday, November 30th, 2017

Bulletproofing magic (gri-gri) works:

Gri-gri comes in many forms — ointment, powder, necklaces — but all promise immunity to weaponry. It doesn’t work on individuals, of course, although it’s supposed to. Very little can go grain-for-grain with black powder and pyrodex. It does work on communities: it makes them bullet proof.

The economists Nathan Nunn and Raul Sanchez de la Sierra wrote a paper analyzing the social effects of gri-gri: Why Being Wrong Can Be Right: Magical Warfare Technologies and the Persistence of False Beliefs (the full paper is up on Professor Sanchez de la Sierra’s site). Here’s the breakdown: Bullet-proofing magic is relatively widespread throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. The paper focuses on Congo-Kinsasha, specifically South Kivu. Things are not great there: “In July 2007, United Nations human rights expert Yakin Erturk called the situation in South Kivu the worst she has ever seen in four years as the global body’s special investigator for violence against women.” The quote from wikipedia gets way worse, trust me. Most of the villages lack larger forms of protection, as is probably obvious at this point. They also lacked any kind of coordinated resistance, and given the larger fire power, were hopelessly outgunned. That was for some time, and our wiki quote says 2007.

In 2012, the recipe for gri-gri was revealed to an elder in a dream. If you ingest it and follow certain ritual commandments, then bullets cannot harm you. The belief is puzzling, inasmuch as bullets did seem to keep killing people. More puzzling: not only did it survive, it was adopted by many neighboring villages, cities, and regions. “Why?”

The paper argues that gri-gri encourages resistance on a mass scale. Beforehand, given a mix of brave and cowardly, only a small percentage of a village would fight back. If you want to have any hope of surviving, then you need everyone to fight back. Gri-gri lowers the perceived costs of said resistance, i.e. no reason to fear guns when the bullets can’t hurt you. Now everyone fights, hence, gri-gri‘s positive benefits. Moreover: since more people are fighting, each gri-gri participant also raises the marginal utility of the others (it’s better to fight together). And, since there are highly specific requirements for using the powder (if you break a certain moral code it doesn’t work), gri-gri also probably cuts down on non-war related crimes. Take group-level selection: the belief in and use of gri-gri will thus allow any given village to out-compete one without gri-gri. After a time, these will either be replaced by gri-gri adherents (hence spreading it geographically), or they’ll adopt gri-gri themselves (also spreading it).

As far as “sober looks at horrifying situations” go, this is a good one. It’s clever, it’s a decent analysis of why certain beliefs persist despite being false, and I’m glad to know that economics has finally found Nietzsche.

If I have any specific criticisms, it’s that they vastly downplay negative externalities inflicted by the required rituals. They suggest, rather, that these might be positive. To use gri-gri certain commandments must be followed, and one helpful example is “don’t steal from civilians.” So far so good, and that does seem useful, but one that they don’t mention is that another form of bullet-magic requires human sacrifice and cannibalism. This might impact the cost-benefit, but I’m no economist. To be fair, they aren’t looking at Liberia, but they also want to generalize, so.

The rest is good, and I appreciate all attempts to examine “irrational” rituals. But I still think that there’s an easier and more obvious solution than theirs: gri-gri is actually magic.

See like a state for a moment.

In the absence of such a paper, most outside members would classify their beliefs as “irrational” or “stupid”. Hell, I remember people mocking this belief when I was growing up, and there are still somehow-still-considered-liberal-but-look-at-the-exotic-natives Vice documentaries about this. One can well imagine a government program to ban gri-gri, which would misunderstand its value, and therefore expose the villagers to raiding parties with no decent defense mechanism. That’s a bad idea. Try something else.

I’ll presuppose that local powers have all read the paper, recognize the importance of gri-gri, but still want to modernize. Also: human sacrifice. They decide to retain the effects, but remove the “magical” aspect as unnecessary. This presupposition is how a whole lot of people do read Seeing Like a State. You make the previously-strange beliefs legible in state language. In doing so, you assume that you have “understood them” yourself well enough to continue modernizing. The problem with High Modernism, it’s assumed, is that the capital-S State is destroying useful practices, not necessarily that it’s destroying those practices period. Retain the utility and you might as well get rid of the superstitious beliefs.

As it goes, I happen to agree with this. Interestingly, that makes me argue against every single human being who wants to do so right now. We aren’t seeing the utility, and we don’t understand the practice.

We want gri-gri, but we don’t want gri-gri. What we really want is “communal defense and associated positive externalities” minus witch-doctors. That’s not a bad plan. It rids us of the small chance of associated human sacrifice, which is always a good thing to avoid (probably). To achieve this, the state sends a researcher into the village. “We’re sorry,” he says. “We were so stupid to mock you. We totally understand why you do this thing. Let’s explain to you what’s actually going on, now that we have an economic translation.”

The researcher explains that, in fact, gri-gri doesn’t work for the individual, but it has the net-positive effect of saving the community. “Give up these childish illusions, yet maintain the overall function of the system,” he exhorts. A villager, clearly stupid, asks: “So it works?” The man smiles at these whimsical locals. “Oh, no,” he sighs. “You will surely die. But in the long run it’s a positive adaptation at the group level.”

No one would fight, of course. The effect only comes from the individual. If he doesn’t think he can survive a bullet, then it’s hard to see how you’re going to make him fight. “But people fight better in groups, don’t you see?” stammers the exasperated researcher. That’s true as far as it goes, but it’s also no revelation. I trust that at least a couple of those villagers have brawled before. “Fighting six guys alone vs. fighting six guys with your friends” is a fast lesson with obvious application. Still didn’t make them go to war before the introduction of gri-gri. If that didn’t work, why do you think “time for some #gametheory” will convince anyone?

Gri-gri is magic, and the obvious yet world-shattering revelation is that data breaks the spell. Point one for Leo Strauss, but serious problem for the value of knowledge.

Whenever I read a book by anyone other than David Friedman about a foreign culture

Tuesday, November 28th, 2017

Scott Alexander reviews David Friedman’s Legal Systems Very Different From Ours and really nails it:

Whenever I read a book by anyone other than David Friedman about a foreign culture, it sounds like “The X’wunda give their mother-in-law three cows every monsoon season, then pluck out their own eyes as a sacrifice to Humunga, the Volcano God”.

And whenever I read David Friedman, it sounds like “The X’wunda ensure positive-sum intergenerational trade by a market system in which everyone pays the efficient price for continued economic relationships with their spouse’s clan; they demonstrate their honesty with a costly signal of self-mutilation that creates common knowledge of belief in a faith whose priests are able to arbitrate financial disputes.”

Friedman’s perhaps best know for his anarcho-capitalist manifesto, The Machinery of Freedom, but I was more impressed by Law’s Order: What Economics Has to Do with Law and Why It Matters, which ties in to this topic even more tightly.

An important tradition for Gotham’s inner city in these hard times

Sunday, November 19th, 2017

The Wayne Manor Holiday Food Drive has become an important tradition for Gotham’s inner city in these hard times:

A classical historian assesses World War II

Sunday, November 19th, 2017

Thomas Ricks picked up Victor Davis Hanson’s The Second World Wars with some trepidation, because the subject was outside Hanson’s area of expertise:

To my surprise, I found it lively and provocative, full of the kind of novel perceptions that can make a familiar subject interesting again. It wouldn’t make a good introduction to World War II, but it may win readers already familiar with the conflict’s events.

Much of the book is written at the level of the strategic overview. Hanson notes, for instance, that both Germany and Japan probably would have won the war had they stopped early in 1941 and consolidated their gains in Europe and the western Pacific, without Germany attacking Russia and Japan pulling the United States into the conflict.

One of Hanson’s running themes is that the Allied victors mainly killed German and Japanese soldiers, while the Axis focused more on killing civilians. Over all, in its accounting of the global carnage, this book amounts to an ode in praise of deterrence and against appeasement and isolationism.

Hanson is most original and enjoyable when he uses his professional background in ancient history to illuminate 20th-century war. He writes, for example, that, “like Spartans, Wehrmacht soldiers were effused with militarist doctrine, chronically short of men, brilliantly led on the battlefield — and often deployed for imbecilic strategic ends.” The Red Army’s powerful new T-34 tanks “shocked the Germans, not unlike the manner in which unfamiliar Parthian mounted archers flummoxed supposedly superior Roman Republican legions.” The Allied landings on D-Day in 1944 amounted to “the largest combined land and sea operation conducted since the invasion of Greece by King Xerxes of Persia in spring 480 B.C.” In fact, the book might have been better called “A Classical Historian Assesses World War II.”

Good guys with guns saving lives

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

John R. Lott shares some recent stories of good guys with guns saving lives:

It is only too bad that someone with a concealed handgun permit wasn’t already at the [First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas]. We may never have heard of the shooting — national news stories are virtually never done on permit holders stopping mass public shootings.

An article at Fox News this past week mentions four such cases. It talks about a 1997 shooting at a high school in Pearl, Mississippi; a 2007 church attack in Colorado Springs; and a Chicago Uber driver who in 2015 shot and wounded a man who opened fire on a crowd. The most recent case was a 2017 church shooting in Antioch, Tennessee. But those cases just skim the surface.

[...]

There are countless examples of people using guns in self-defense at their homes or workplaces. But I want to focus on a much narrower set of cases where permit holders stopped public shootings. Here are 10 additional recent cases.

Arlington, Texas, May 3, 2017: A police spokesman stated that the concealed handgun permit holder “prevented further loss of life.” A Dallas Morning News headline read: “‘Hero’ stopped mass murder by crazed bar patron who was armed to the teeth, police say.”

Lyman, South Carolina, June 30, 2016: Just a couple of weeks after the Orlando massacre, 32-year-old Jody Ray Thompson opened fire on another nightclub. Fortunately, permitted concealed handguns were allowed in South Carolina bars. Thompson was able to shoot three people before the permit holder fired back and wounded Thompson in the leg. Fox 5 in Atlanta reports: “At least one South Carolina sheriff are crediting a man with a concealed carry permit with preventing further violence at a nightclub this past Sunday.”

Winton, Ohio, July 26, 2015: A man started shooting at four people who were walking outside on a summer’s evening. Fortunately, a concealed handgun permit holder fired at the attacker, giving the four people a chance to escape into their home.

Conyers, Georgia, May 31, 2015: A man killed two people at a liquor store and continued shooting at others until a permit holder ran inside and exchanged fire. The killer then fled the store. “I believe that if Mr. Scott did not return fire at the suspect then more of those customers would have [been] hit by a gun,” said Rockdale County Sheriff Eric Levett. “So in my opinion he saved other lives in that store.”

New Holland, South Carolina, May 5, 2015: New Holland Fire Department volunteers were hosting a children’s day event with ice cream and fire truck rides, when a man started shooting. Fortunately, two firemen were permit holders and were able to stop the attack.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, March 22, 2015: A 40-year-old man started shooting at people in a barber shop. A permit holder who heard the gunfire ran inside and shot the attacker. “The person who responded was a legal gun permit carrier. He responded and I guess he saved a lot of people in there,” said Philadelphia Police Captain Frank Llewellyn.

Darby, Pennsylvania, July 24, 2014: Convicted felon Richard Plotts killed a caseworker at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital and started shooting at Dr. Lee Silverman. Fortunately, the doctor had his own gun and returned fire, critically wounding Plotts, who still had 39 bullets on him. “Without a doubt, I believe the doctor saved lives,” said Yeadon police chief Donald Molineux.

Chicago, Illinois, July 7, 2014: Gang members started firing at four people who had just left a party. The attack started because one of the four people removed a cup of liquor that had been placed on top of her vehicle. Luckily, one of the four people — a military member — had a permitted concealed handgun and was able to wound the primary attacker.

Portland, Oregon, January 11, 2014: Convicted criminal Thomas Eliot Hjelmeland was ejected from a nightclub but returned 30 minutes later wearing a mask and carrying a gun. He shot the bouncer who had ejected him, and shot at others. Two others were wounded, and Hjelmeland was shooting all around the club. A concealed handgun permit holder who worked at the nightclub then fatally shot Hjelmeland.

And here are just two more cases from 2000 to 2013 — the same period that the FBI claims only had one instance of a permit holder stopping a public shooting. Again, law enforcement say that permit holders saved lives in both of these cases.

Plymouth, Pennsylvania, September 9, 2012: William Allabaugh shot at people as he walked down the street in Plymouth, Pennsylvania. He wounded one and killed another. Permit holder Mark Ktytor fatally shot Allabaugh. “Mr. [Ktytor] then acted, taking him [Allabaugh] down. We believe that it could have been much worse that night,” said Luzerne County Assistant District Attorney Jarrett Ferentino.

Spartanburg, South Carolina, March 2012: Jesse Gates kicked open a door to a church and pointed a shotgun at the pastor and congregation. Parishioner Aaron Guyton, a concealed weapons permit holder, got the drop on Gates and held him at gunpoint. Sheriff Chuck Wright called Aaron and others at the church “everyday heroes.”

Permit holders haven’t just stopped public shootings. They have stopped everything from public knife attacks to vehicle attacks.

I haven’t found a single case where gun control advocates’ fears were borne out by the facts. In not one of these cases did a permit holder accidentally shoot a bystander, or a police officer accidentally harm a permit holder.

There are many more of these cases.

False-flag operations plainly exist

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

False Flags plainly exist, John Schindler notes:

In recent years, I’ve exposed several such cases, including how East German intelligence was behind a notorious “right-wing” assassination in Cold War Berlin, how Yugoslav intelligence masterminded a False Flag bombing in New York in 1975, how a still-unidentified third party was really behind the destruction of a Swiss airliner in 1970, and most notoriously, how the Algerian military regime in the 1990s bloodily defeated jihadists with a massive deception operation employing numerous False Flags.

[...]

Therefore, [the La Penca bombing] was a False Flag terrorist attack — yet the exact opposite of what left-wing activists claimed. Thirty-three years ago, at La Penca, the Sandinistas blew up 22 people, killing seven, to blame it on the Americans and the CIA — not the other way around. Given that Sandinista intelligence was trained by the KGB in provocation and deception, this does not surprise the initiated.

Runaway national fragmentation is inevitable

Tuesday, November 7th, 2017

One of the strongest and most consistent geopolitical trends of the past 200 years has been an explosion in national entities, Anatoly Karlin notes:

But it wasn’t always like this. I don’t know if anybody has quantified this precisely, but the number of states or state-like entities in the world must have constituted many thousands during the medieval and Early Modern periods.

historical-number-of-countries

Just the territories of the Holy Roman Empire at times accounted for more than a thousand!

map-holy-roman-empire

Then the rise of the great gunpowder empires and European colonialism rapidly whittled down the numbers of independent states to a few dozens, with even the Latin American independence movements of the 19th century making nary a blimp at the global level.

But then the 20th century saw the collapse of the European monarchic empires, the emergence of national self-determination as a legitimate consideration in international law, the decolonization of the Third World, and the collapse of Communist federative states such as Yugoslavia and the USSR. The number of independent states, including unrecognized de facto polities, now numbers over 200.

[...]

Consequently, under a liberal globalism that is true to its ideals, that is, one free of authoritarian coercion or Malthusian selection for big strong states, it appears that runaway national fragmentation is inevitable.

The fascist that Germany’s baby boomers loathed

Sunday, November 5th, 2017

What if everything you know is wrong?, John Schindler asks:

Back in the spring of 1967, West Germany was enjoying a wave of student protests of the sort then causing annoyance across much of the Western world as the baby boomers came of age, crankily, and acted out in public. On the evening of June 2, a big demo in West Berlin protesting the visit of the Shah of Iran, who was in town that night seeing an opera, got out of hand. Police were jumpy and soon the demo was verging on something ugly. Then a twenty-six year old student named Benno Ohnesorg was shot in the back of the head by a policeman — for no reason, according to his friends. Ohnesorg died at this, his first demo, leaving behind a pregnant young wife.

Outrage ensued, not least because the protestors claimed that the unarmed Ohnesorg had been murdered by the police without cause; no one under thirty believed the policeman when he said that he had seen a knife and had to defend himself. For a generation, the murder became “the shot that changed Germany.” It didn’t help matters that the killer, Karl-Heinz Kurras, was a middle-aged cop of thuggish inclinations who had served in Hitler’s army in the Second World War, and was almost a caricature of the “fascist mentality” that West German baby boomers who came of age in the 1960s so detested about their parents. Kurras was an ideal stand-in for the so-called “Auschwitz generation” that younger leftists reviled and wanted to junk on the ash heap of history as soon as possible.

For the hard Left, Ohnesorg was a welcome martyr, since his death confirmed all their dark fears about West Germany, which they asserted was objectively a fascist state, despite actually being a high-functioning democracy, not to mention a quite prosperous one, with exceptionally stringent protection of civil liberties and dissent. There soon arose the June 2 Movement, a terrorist group dedicated to Ohnesorg’s martyrdom. Next came the far more dangerous Red Army Faction, popularly known as the Baader-Meinhof Group, a terrorist movement dedicated to Ohnesorg’s memory that claimed to be fighting fascism, but whose leaders seemed mostly into fast cars, turgid ideological dissertations, and murder-as-self-actualization. It took the West German intelligence and police agencies over a decade to stamp out the RAF, even though the gang was small and not very adept, a longevity that, it turned out, had a lot to do with the RAF’s close relationship with the Stasi, East Germany’s notorious Ministry for State Security (MfS). The Stasi offered RAF fighters sanctuary, logistical support, training, even weaponry. (The support by East Bloc intelligence services for terrorist groups in the West was another issue dismissed as a “conspiracy theory” by mainstream thinkers in the 1970s and 1980s, but with the collapse of the Soviet empire and access to secret files — whoops — turned out to be quite true.)

Plenty of West Germans to the right of the Baader Meinhof thugs were troubled by the conduct of the German police. Kurras was never seriously punished for the Ohnesorg killing. Twice he was acquitted of major charges and was suspended from the force for four years, working in private security, but after that suspension he was back with the Berlin police and was actually promoted. Kurras continued a normal career, retiring to a pension at age sixty, remaining defiant and unrepentant: “Anyone who attacks me is destroyed,” he explained to a reporter who asked him about the shooting of Benno Ohnesorg.

By 2009, Karl-Heinz Kurras was an elderly pensioner and a mostly forgotten minor hate figure, yet that May he returned to the front pages in a sensational fashion when it was revealed that he had been for years a highly valued agent of the Stasi. Information from the files of the MfS, which German authorities have combed through carefully for over twenty years, revealed that Kurras had volunteered to work for East German intelligence in 1955. He wanted to move to the DDR, but Stasi handlers convinced him to stay where he was and to serve as an agent-in-place inside the West Berlin police. Files indicate that Kurras was a loyal and effective Stasi source, handing over reams of documents and all the information he could find to the MfS. He was decorated several times and was allowed to secretly join the SED, the East German ruling Communist Party, in 1964, a rare honor for a foreign agent. He helped the Stasi and the KGB expose double agents, reported regularly on U.S. and NATO military developments, and during the 1961 Berlin Crisis was informing the Stasi about critical events at Checkpoint Charlie, the heart of the East-West confrontation.

The revelation that Kurras was a long-term and highly valued agent of East German intelligence exploded like a bombshell, turning a generation’s worldview on its head. The man that Germany’s baby boomers loathed as the archetype of fascism, a living symbol of the evil Nazi-ish past, actually was a Stasi hero, a loyal servant of Communism.