The Libertarian Gap

(crossposted on Flit(TM))

The Gap, or more formally the Non-Integrating Gap, is a concept at the core of Dr. Barnett’s The Pentagon’s New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century. But what is the Gap? This question comes to me every time I read a libertarian critic of the concept.

Gap countries are, by definition disconnected from the global rulesets that manage the Core, those states where a disturbingly large proportion of the world wants to get into. I say disturbingly because, all things being equal, there is really no reason for people socially acculturated and biologically specialized to warm climes to make their way in large numbers to nordic nations, but they do. Something pretty special must be attracting them while simultaneously repelling them from their ancient homelands. That something is clear after a bit of investigation, huge waves of horrifying violence interspersed with a daily brutality of individual denigration and lack of the normal rights to live out their lives in control of their own destiny.

But violence, violating individual rights is as old a story as Cain and Abel and such regimes historically have been the norm. Something’s different today and there’s a disturbing lack of analysis among certain libertarian circles what it is. Hillaire Belloc touched the surface of the problem in his famous jingle “Whatever happens, we have got/ The Maxim gun, and they have not.”

The jingle is no longer true. “They”, the rulers in the Gap, now have the Maxim gun and many of its deadly progeny and it has revolutionized “their” world. Modern technology is both liberating and repressive but what characterizes a major difference between the Gap and the Core is that in the Gap, it is the repressive aspects that predominate, while the Core features a much stronger tilt towards the liberating aspects of technology.

To maintain a firm grip on power, Gap nation elites must repress the formation of independent power centers. To keep themselves on top of the heap they must ruthlessly hold down anybody who will not buy into the rules of the local game, screw the little guy and maintain power for the established elite at all costs. To do this they strongly control the connectivity that the little guys can have with the outside world. They make incompatible rulesets that leave normal people ill prepared and almost entirely unable to access Core capital that might allow them to build up some economic security of their own. They do not guarantee property, they regularly usurp it and only membership in the elite saves you from such indignities.

In the mediation of Core connectivity (they need their ‘Maxim Guns’ after all), they have allies in Core states who extract excess profits by catering to the odd and arduous hoops that connectivity with a Gap nation requires jumping through. To protect those excess profits, they form a ready 5th column inside the Core to fight against any humanitarian or libertarian intervention to reduce the misery and violence of the Gap system.

But there is a countervailing constituency for Gap freedom, immigrants into the Core. They keep their relatives alive with their remittances and feel strong attachment to the land of their birth. They see freedom and justice in the Core and want it for the old country too. Since these people live relatively free, they are able to save and build their own businesses in the Core and some of their discretionary income could be available for liberation of the old country.

This threat to Gap nations must be eliminated to preserve the near hermetic seal that makes the entire bloody operation viable. Sometimes this is accomplished by disrupting exile community solidarity, other times direct action is called for. But the worst possible threat is the actual organization of a rebel force to gather and train in the Core and take over a Gap nation, because while the Gap elites may have the Maxim Gun they remain woefully far behind what is available to the Core. Such movements inside the Core would inevitably lead to infiltration by Gap agents and low intensity warfare to disrupt such organizations before they were ready to launch their invasion. The Core has universally (as far as I can ascertain) illegalized the organization of such movements from their soil in order to avoid such low intensity warfare.

It is this choice of repressing Core citizens from defending their loved ones still inside the Gap that should, but does not, trouble libertarian critics of Barnett. Because once you’ve agreed to repress the only escape valve for the populations in the Gap and you agree to tolerate those who would lobby for and support (directly and indirectly) the daily violence and repression in the Gap, then you’ve taken a long step away from libertarian ideals. Unfortunately, the ideal libertarian solution is not currently very practical.

Two examples of this impracticality come to mind. When I was young, I had a friend, Guido Valeri whose house, some years before, housed some Iranians, members of the Shah’s upper class who fled after the revolution. They did not stay that long because the Iranian external espionage discovered where they were and went gunning for them one dark evening in their exclusive Greenhaven, NY neighborhood and they obviously did not wish to wait for them to try again.

The second example is a bit closer to where I live now in the suburbs of Chicago. Ion Petru Culianu, a University of Chicago Divinity Professor, was murdered in a campus restroom in the middle of the day with a single shot from a .25 caliber pistol. Prof. Culianu was involved in Romanian politics and his murder has never been definitively solved, though the Romanian secret police of the time are prime suspects and certainly his murder had the perfect effect in the emigre community if it were planned by the Gap style troglodytes running Romania at the time.

Bullets flying in the nighttime and assassinations in the men’s room are just not acceptable so an alternative solution for libertarians with an ounce of practicality has to be fashioned. And thus we enter into the world of Dr. Barnett, shrinking the Gap, and harnessing the power of the State to undo the devil’s bargain that we have fashioned with repressive Gap elites over the many years since the Core’s technological advantage exploded to an insurmountable height and Hillaire Belloc rhymed his way into the hearts of 3rd world imperialists and armorers everywhere.

At the heart of Barnett’s “future worth creating” is globally extending the territory where consensual government, rule based economics, and individual freedom empower moderates to the point where they can resist and suppress their own crazies so the inmates are not running the asylum. That’s a goal that any libertarian should be more than happy to get behind. What is up for grabs in Barnett’s vision (and here his history as a Pentagon thinker does not serve him well) is how much of this work will be done in the Pentagon and how much out of it. In fact, how much needs to be done by the state at all? Dr. Barnett is not doctrinaire about who is to do the shrinking of the Gap, merely that the Gap must be shrunk so that we no longer have to repeat the endless cycles of sending our armed forces to the same hot spots over and over and over again.

29 thoughts on “The Libertarian Gap”

  1. I think the libertarian (or at least classical liberal) argument against letting private armies base out of Core nations is that we only have law based on reactive violence not proactive violence. Its one thing to say somebody can defend themselves if immediately attacked it’s another to say someone can plan to attack somebody in future.

    Practically, neutrality has always been a very difficult ideal to obtain. Letting someone plan, support and launch attacks from ones own territory violates even the most theoretical definition of neutrality. We could not let people base armed groups out of Core nations and then complain when the Gap nations struck back at them here. Granting such a sanctuary is tantamount to taking sides.

  2. This is where the “libertarian” attempt to create an axiomatic foreign policy by extending the non-aggression rule between individuals to apply to relations between involuntary collective entities (“sovereign states”)thus reinforcing the involuntary nature of those entities. There is an inherent tension between respecting the sovereignty of states and respecting the sovereignty of individuals within those states vis-a-vis the states themselves. Your post demonstrates this difficulty. In reality, defending the “sovereignty” of the typical thug state ends up defending their ability to deny the individual sovereignty of the people in its grasp.

  3. fyodor – If you don’t think that human beings select and evolve for climate and that this tilts their choices of where to live, you really haven’t a clue. Eskimos don’t like the heat of the tropics, black people are less happy in the cold. If you can’t accept this, I’d suggest staying away from the Winter Olympics, where nordic countries predominate. It might give you an aneurysm. The original thought popped into my head while reading an article about arabs in Sweden and was on the lines of “what the heck are they doing there? It’s freezing that far north.” It’s not a matter of limiting movement, or “you don’t belong here” xenophobia. It’s just not normal for people to move around across climates in large numbers without a good reason. The reason in this case is largely that they’ve been driven out by repressive local elites.

    As an aside, I’m romanian, a people that tended to stay put, or at least go back home after a stay abroad for an awfully long time (since the Roman Emperor Trajan, in fact), a pattern that was broken in the 20th century by the horrible governing record in that country of extremists on both sides of the ideological spectrum. It’s funny, you can see the old pattern of “go back home” starting to reassert itself even in some 2nd generation folks.

  4. “I’d suggest staying away from the Winter Olympics, where nordic countries predominate.”

    That’s because nordic people are biologically specialized for cold weather?? That’s nuts! It’s because they LIVE in those climates and thus PLAY the games that are suited to those climates from an early age!

    The differences between races are trivial. Sure, blacks might have a slightly harder time absorbing vitamin D in northern areas, but a few vitamin pills can overcome that problem (unlike during evolutionary times). I know of no evidence that blacks or Arabs are less happy in northern climates on a permanent basis (the first generation is different for the social reasons that I do not dispute) and I doubt any exists.

    Infantile accusations that I’m easily shocked aside, I certainly am surprised and dismayed that such bigotry exists otherwise unchallenged in such a place as this blog.

  5. The receptionist at a place I used to work was a very nice black lady. We were in Chicago, where it is cold. She insisted that the black people suffered way more in the Winter than the white people because they were from Africa. When I suggested this was not so, she pointed out that the black secretaries had space heaters but the white people in the same area didn’t. This was true.

    I wish I could have her talk to you in person, Fyodor.

    You could tell she’s nuts and a racist.

    That would be a conversation I’d like to see.

  6. fyodor,

    Why do eskimos have small noses with small nostrils and blacks have large noses with large nostrils? Is asking the question bigotry? Is understanding the answer?

    Doesn’t mean one’s better than the other, only that they’re acclimatized. I don’t know that I’d have used the term happy; comfortable seems more approrpiate but the idea’s the same.

  7. While the likes of fyodor are busy acting offended about anything that conflicts with their caricatural political correctness, and even though they seem to have some vague familiarity with differences, people in the medical field have long known that ethnic groups react very differently to climate, and, in some cases, have proven these discrepancies to be genetic in nature i.e. very much permanent and long-term.

    The most famous case relates to vitamin D and the prevalence of schizophrenia and depression. It just so happens that the offspring of dark-skinned immmigrants in northern countries are three to four times more likely to develop the condition than their white counterparts. Very odd since – (chorus) – “we are all the same”.

    The trick in this case is that sunlight acts as a source of vitamin D by breaking down a molecule present in the skin – 7-dehydrocholesterol if you want to know – into that vitamin. Through several experiments, this has been shown to be indeed genetic. Moreover, a lack of vitamin D during pregnancy seems to be what increases the risks of schizophrenia for the child.

    In other words, the problem does not disappear after the first generation; in fact, the side effects induced by the change of clime can make things worse for subsequent generations. Once scientists were able to reproduce this process through animal experiments – using low vitamin D diet and suitable species – and applied gene microarrays to the problem, they noted that those genes that regulate nerve cell communication, among other things, were disrupted. And by pure coincidence, human schizos show the same genetic anomalies. Odd, that.

    As a side note, vitamin D is important for the production of nerge growth factor proteins.

    Which goes to show that there are indeed notable differences, the side effects of which can be severe for outlier individuals. The point being that they are outliers; for most others, this discrepancy expresses itself in much milder but neverthless noticeable ways, as anyone who has lived, or simply worked with those people can attest.

    The real bigots are of course, those who summarily reject the very idea that evidence of such a perfectly benign difference could exist, without even looking into it.

    Repeat : “We are all the same”. That 99% of NBA basketball players are giant black dudes is a pure coincidence, we swear…(or affirmative action maybe ?) Clearly, racial differences are OK, as long as they go “the right way”. You can make a movie called “White Men Can’t Jump”. Because that’s funny (haha). Now try to make a movie called “Black Men Can’t Ski”…See you in court.

    Which goes to show bigotry is perfectly all right, as long as it doesn’t target those on the arbitrary and fashionable list of victims du jour. Somehow, this constitutes intellectual and “social” progress. Go figure.

  8. capillaries in the extremities is one difference. i know, i’m from india. you think someone from delhi has the same number of capillaries in their extremities as a sherpa in nepal? that’s only a few hundred miles, geographically.

    people in sweden and nigeria are a lot more different from each other, just look at ’em!

  9. Same problem as the more doctrinaire approaches to feminism. Equality of dignity, equality before the law, those are and should be universal to all human beings and citizens. This does not mean that everybody is physically identical, or that physical differences can’t have some practical relevance, for example susceptibility to disease or tolerance to alcohol. This is a pretty simple distinction which some people just choke on out of ideological fanaticism.

  10. Lex, I have been meaning to post about feminism, especially the old song about women earning 77% of what men make for ‘equal work’. Except none of the surveys explain how they determined the work to be equal. Most importantly, why would employer not give women first priority when they can so easily get the same output for such a lower price ? This would be in their interest and, over time, it would fill the income gap. But then if they did that, this could be construed as gender discrimination by the courts…and the well-meaning rule defeats its own purpose, as usual.

    Victimization and discrimination are simply the preferred narrative to explain just about anything these days. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like another nail.

    But the fundamental flaw in fyodor’s argument is even simpler than that; he states that genetic differences are ‘trivial’. Never mind that anyone who has ever read anything about genes knows that the mutation of a very small number of them can have rather drastic consequences in the ‘finished product’, whether fruit flies or humans. After all, 98.5% of the human and chimp genomes are the same. So how come the latter can’t be accountants ? The genetic differences between Albert Einstein and either one of his parents were most likely very trivial, yet we do not remember them for contributing anything other than their genius son. Are the tiny pygmies and the lanky Masai so different at the genetic level ? Heck, take my sister and me : very trivial genetic differences, for sure, most of which is that one lousy Y chromosome. So how come I can’t bear children ?

    Given that minute genetic differences can have such significant impact on an individual, whether in visible – skin/hair/eye color – and not so visible – vitamin D deficiency, diabetes – ways, persistent and identifiable differences between human groups within our species, however trivial, are sufficient.

    Why that would be a bad thing, I don’t really know. Somehow, the possibility that this would be interpreted by a minority of morons as condoning racism is sufficient to justify self-censorship for all and by all, whatever the benefits that could flow from a better understanding of them.

  11. Your main argument seems reasonable. I agree that a big question will be how much our govt will drive the gap-world social changes that we seek, and how much of this change will come from other sources. Perhaps much change will occur without central direction, in response to changes in Core societies (e.g., in the same way as the Internet is eroding the traditional value of the news media in our society).

    We won’t know the answer for years. How to make decisions in the meantime? I don’t know. It would be nice to have some “Team B” operations in our defense, intelligence and other bureaucracies, but it is very difficult effectively to establish such institutional critics.

  12. The reference to the Maxim gun is very apt. The disruptive abilities of the armed individual have now outpaced national abilities of construction (or coercion). Yale economist Martin Shubik wrote a paper in 1997 called Terrorism, Technology, and
    the Socioeconomics of Death. I like to think of its central concept as the “Shubik curve” – the amount of destruction that 10 people can create, as measured through history. That curve has climbed northward dramatically in the last 50 years, especially in areas struggling with modernity. Subtract guns and explosives from the modern Gap and you’ve got the British Empire. Add nuclear or biological weaponry to 10 dedicated people from the Gap and the Core is in big, big trouble. A turbulent Gap and a vulnerable Core is, to my mind, a *permanent* condition until the Shubik curve is altered. Libertarianism (and much of political philosophy) simply has no experience with, and therefore no position on, hyperdestructive individuals. Barnett’s “future worth creating” is really a race to do the best we can to reduce the number of volunteers for putting new data points on Shubik’s curve. The hypotheticals, however, still get worse with each passing year and its hard to imagine a time when one couldn’t find “ten people” in the Gap, willing to do anything. Lord save us from a day, then, when ten people in the Core decide to destroy the Gap. Barnett’s inherent optimism has placed limits on his imagination. Too horrible to contemplate.

  13. A thought pops into my head. Try this out:

    The post-blogosphere media, which will draw on the massive resources of the entire online world community, which will coordinate and condense the insights of thousands of people with specific factual and theoretical knowledge, will be the ultimate Team B.

    Is this possible? If not, why? If so, how soon and by what steps will it form? One blue book.

    On the main point of the post. Each gap locale will require a separate response and no cookie cutter approach will work. As TML points out, Barnett is not doctrinaire, and the best idea in the book, the SysAdmin force, is about acquiring a flexibly applicable capability.

    Involving emigres located in the USA to assist in activities in the Gap is something that, again, should be determined case-by-case. However, a SysAdmin force would be wise to survey the US population, learn who is living here who comes from these places, get an address/phone/email list and keep it current. Then there would be a source for intelligence gathering, contacting people informally in the Gap location, establishing credibility when we go in there, identifying private sources of funding for projects, having knowledgeable people to vet plans in advance, getting language and cultural training in place here before we commit our people, finding military and police veterans here to help set up the security force in the Gap locale, etc. Ralph Peters some years ago suggested we keep a bad guy list so we know who the bad guys are when we go into these places. We should keep a good guys list both for here and abroad as well.

    I don’t think just letting our country be used as a base for private guerilla initiatives in the gap is a viable idea. For one thing it makes us a belligerant as a matter of law, while denying our lawful authorities control over the process and inviting counter-attack. No matter how “libertarian” the idea may seem, I don’t see anyone buying it. Emigre communities here will have to either operate illegally or obtain the overt or covert assistance of the US Government.

  14. The only real solution is to keep scattering the core population faster than the destructive capabilities of any ten people grow.

    Fortunately, the same stuff that causes really big explosions also fuels faster and longer-range commuting vehicles.

    Once cheap nuclear explosive technology is out, there will be people setting off nuclear explosions deliberately. Some of them will be our own local nuts, psychopaths, and criminals. (Imagine, for a moment, an someone who wants a particular person dead for spite or profit, and figures that a whole lot of collateral damage from a nuclear explosion is just the thing to cover his tracks…) By the time that happens, cities will need to be history, and scattered populations commuting by aircar will have to be the norm, unless we want lots of deaths and civilization itself to have trouble functioning. Cheap nuclear technology, on the other hand, is much better than gasoline at keeping such a high-energy civilization going.

    And once the secret of cheap antimatter production is out, the Earth itself will be too small. Fortunately, cheap antimatter is just the thing to fuel an exodus into space and fuel the vehicles needed to keep a civilization composed of single-family habitats and small apartments, offices, and so forth separated by tens of millions of miles going.

  15. Lex,

    Good idea, but much of the problem lies in our government institutions. Until we can make them more responsive it’ll be difficult to do what has to be done. The FBI and CIA appear to be way behind the rest of the society. (Remember the stories about the FBI’s document-translating backlog, and about its problems controlling possibly-disloyal employees?) A SysAdmin force will not necessarily do better. This is to some degree a problem of leadership, and to some degree a problem inherent in government bureaucracies. (And BTW, I blame Bush here, for not firing enough high-level people after 9/11 to create more accountability.)

  16. Dear Ken,

    Assuming you’re not pulling my leg about aircars and antimatter (I don’t get to the website comments often enough to know), the dispersal idea is very insightful, especially since pathogenic disruption (either intentional or inadvertent [as Barnett foresees]) is far more disruptive than nukes in cities could ever be. It would be very bizarre if we had to return to hunter-gatherer population densities or Victorian-era quarantine laws in order to sustain Core culture.

    As for privatized/customized armies for each area of the world, I’m dubious that the Core can handle that level of complexity for any length of time. Too many fish to fry.

    As WR Mead points out in his latest book, we’re not just trying to sell Fordism to the Gap, we’re trying to overcome dysfunctional or stagnant Fordism in parts of the Core. The pushback from more and more parts of the planet will likely only grow as Lex’s Core of the Core (Jim Bennett’s Anglosphere?) adopts Mead’s “millenial capitalism” and puts its cultural advantages (individualism, etc.) at the service of developing science/technology. My guess is that some combination of suppression, cultivation and neglect … a sad triage of regions … is regretably a permanent part of our foreign policy. As Mead notes, I don’t think America’s Jacksonians will cash the check that Barnett’s Wilsonians would like to write … though they might accept something more modest (“the top 5 spots?”).

  17. “Assuming you’re not pulling my leg about aircars and antimatter (I don’t get to the website comments often enough to know), the dispersal idea is very insightful, especially since pathogenic disruption (either intentional or inadvertent [as Barnett foresees]) is far more disruptive than nukes in cities could ever be. ”

    We can’t use dispersal by itself to guard against plagues – to keep civilization going, we’d have to use cheap rapid transportation to keep lots of people in contact with each other, and that would also spread epidemics just as well as crowding people in cities would. Fortunately, engineering defenses against plagues is easier than engineering defenses against nearby nuclear explosions, given the technology that would be used by the bad guys to create the plagues in the first place.

    “It would be very bizarre if we had to return to hunter-gatherer population densities or Victorian-era quarantine laws in order to sustain Core culture.”

    Stranger things have happened. No matter what we do, the future will look bizarre to us, unless we just stagnate completely until the oil runs out. And even then, the future after that will still look bizarre to us, but not in a good way.

  18. “Sad triage”

    Even then someone is on the gurney. You need the SysAdmin force to do the emergency care. Wretchard quotes Robert Kaplan from a recent WSJ:

    In months of travels with the American military, I have learned that the smaller the American footprint and the less notice it draws from the international media, the more effective is the operation. One good soldier-diplomat in a place like Mongolia can accomplish miracles. A few hundred Green Berets in Colombia and the Philippines can be adequate force multipliers. Ten thousand troops, as in Afghanistan, can tread water. And 130,000, as in Iraq, constitutes a mess that nobody wants to repeat — regardless of one’s position on the war.

    It may be possible to do a lot of good work in a quiet way if we develop the right capabilities. That’s why the people who say we are running an empire are wrong. We don’t want to overrun the world and plant the flag, etc. We want these places orderly and quiet so we can ignore them — politically and militarily — and visit and trade and do peaceful things in safety. If the Gap were to become “normal” countries, they can stop being the focus of our attention. The last thing this country wants is a Raj.

    But the lesson of the modern world is that we HAVE TO deal with the Gap not out of philanthropy or imperialism or greed but of the imperative need for security. The hazard presented by rogue actors based in the Gap is too great to ignore. That’s Barnett’s point. We keep getting sucked into these places because we have to go there and we keep thinking this is the last one, really, really. Forget it. We need true full spectum dominance, all the way to ICBMs and bunker busters and all the way down to training the police force and the local public health personnel in some Godforsaken place that we had to conquer so we can leave. Jacksonian America will buy this once it is presented clearly to them as about PROTECTING AMERICA. We need someone to articulate it. Bush falls short, and Kerry is hopeless. Maybe by ’08 senior leadership will begin finding palatable verbal formulas to make the political sale to Joe and Jane.

    And, yeah, I want my antimatter powered air car. I’ll happily live in dispersed mode in South Central Indiana and practice law online and zip to the big city for the occasional court appearance. Why the Hell not. The future will be weird, absolutely. Bring it on anyway. We’ll deal with it, good and bad, and if needed we’ll whup it with the ugly stick until it turns into a place worth living in.

  19. Dear Ken,

    >>Fortunately, engineering defenses against plagues is easier than engineering defenses against nearby nuclear explosions, given the technology that would be used by the bad guys to create the plagues in the first place.

  20. “scattering the core population”

    If you drive through the Midwest you see all these county seat downtowns with a Victorian courthouse and boarded up stores on the square. In 50 years these will all be bustling with kids playing and band concerts on Sunday in the park. NYC, DC, LA, Chi will all be radioactive craters. We’ll disperse because we’ll have to. We can no more keep a few nukes from getting into the hands of our enemies, those ten guys, than we can keep them from getting the steam engine, or the Maxim gun, forever. It’s sixty year old technology for crying out loud. We’ll be forced to disperse to the point there are virtually no high value targets. Take a good look at your favorite skylines, and enjoy the hustle and bustle in the Loop and Manhattan and in London. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think my grandchildren will get to see them except in pictures.

  21. “If you drive through the Midwest you see all these county seat downtowns with a Victorian courthouse and boarded up stores on the square. In 50 years these will all be bustling with kids playing and band concerts on Sunday in the park.”

    The way I figure it, given cheap and fast transportation, your house and most places you habitually go will be surrounded by dozens or hundreds of miles of wilderness – i.e., about a 10-45 minute drive. Instead of returning to “small town America”, we’ll have suburban sprawl on a whole new level – without ugly concrete freeway strips to give it a bad name. (I’m sure people will find some other reason to bitch about it, though….)

  22. We’re ALL biologically specialized to warm climes. That’s why I wear a parka during the winter… A good 5-6 months out of the year, going naked in Michigan will kill you, even if you ARE decended from nordic peoples. Evolution hasn’t had nearly enough time to make more than the tiniest start at adapting humanity to survive unaided on most of the planet.

  23. People enjoy community. Only a relatively small number of people will want to live entirely dispersed. A town with a walkable downtown and interesting things going on around the town squre is many people’s idea of a good place to live — notice how georgetwon and alexandria, with their small walkable downtowns, are the hottest spots to live in the DC area. Lex’s small towns will be there.

  24. Dispersion as defense is all very well and good but you can get a lot of terror at throwing a dart at a map and deciding to randomly destroy a particular downtown. It’s not as spectacular as a Manhatten strike would be but it is very likely to be less well guarded.

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