Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Impractical Ethical Ideas


Introduction

From Rothbard:

The common separation between theory and practice is an artificial and fallacious one. But this is true in ethics as well as anything else. If an ethical ideal is inherently “impractical,” that is, if it cannot work in practice, then it is a poor ideal and should be discarded forthwith.

For background, see here and here.  The discussion regards classical liberalism / libertarianism: is the “ethical ideal” sufficient to “work” in practice.

So, working from Rothbard: I will not accept a separation between theory and practice; if an ethical theory cannot work in practice, it is a poor theory that should be discarded…

…well, I won’t be as unkind as Rothbard.  Maybe the ethical theory just needs some modification.

Some Definitions

Ethics: A set of principles of right conduct.  A theory or a system of moral values.

What is the definition of an ethical theory? Answered by Kevin Browne, 20 years of teaching experience in ethics and moral philosophy:

Ethics can be understood as the method for justifying these [moral] beliefs [of right and wrong] and the set of rules which guide us in applying them.

We can think of ethical theory as a decision model. The critical element in morality is the need to make decisions regarding fairly difficult issues. What we need is a well reasoned method for taking the facts and making the best decision we can in terms of our moral principles. This often involves the process of judgment.

Judgment?  On what basis are we to judge the facts and come to a just conclusion?  Browne makes a noteworthy statement not in reply to this question, although he does answer it:

Ethics and Morality: These two terms are often thought of and used synonymously. This is not entirely correct but there are similarities inasmuch as both words have their origin in common. One is the Greek and the other is the Latin word for “custom.”

Is this so?  Ethics and morality both are rooted in the word “custom”?

Ethics: The term ethics derives from Ancient Greek ἠθικός (ethikos), from ἦθος (ethos), meaning 'habit, custom'.

OK.

Morality: (from Latin: mōrālis, lit. 'manner, character, proper behavior') is the differentiation of intentions, decisions and actions between those that are distinguished as proper and those that are improper.

This doesn’t clarify enough.  Let’s look up the Latin:

Mōrālis: From mos ‎(“manner, custom, way; law”‎). First used by Cicero, to translate Ancient Greek ἠθικός ‎(ēthikós, “moral”‎).

So, returning to Rothbard: for libertarianism to be considered an “ethical ideal,” it seems to me one must discuss something about the custom behind the ethic.  Further, perhaps this “custom” must be incorporated into the ethical ideal.

But Isn’t the NAP Enough “Custom”?

I have heard it said: as long as someone accepts the NAP, I really don’t care about their other customary and traditional practices.  But is this sufficient? 

Consider the debates even between well-meaning libertarians: immigration and abortion come to mind.  Each side believes it is properly applying the non-aggression principle to the issue.

Or consider any “continuum” problem.  What is the proper punishment for a crime?  How much land must be mixed with labor before one can claim to “own” the land? 

How would such things get worked out if all that the participants shared was the non-aggression principle?  No other means by which to come to an answer?

The answer is, they wouldn’t get worked out – at least not peacefully.

Or what about my favorite?  The front-yard sex-orgy guy moves into a community of church-going families.  Sure, they all accept the NAP, but maybe they “accept” some things even more.

Perhaps we need something more than “don’t hit first” if we desire the theoretical ethical ideal of libertarianism to find its way into practice.  Perhaps we need to find the proper custom.

My view?  I will not belabor it here as you all have heard it a few hundred times already: the old and good law – custom, tradition.  It is what people grow up with, what they are trained with, what they understand about how things work around here.  Mixed with Christian ethics, it gave the west the longest sustained libertarian-approaching society during the Middle Ages.

And…and…and…such a thing didn’t spring forward in any other society influenced by any other tradition.  Certainly not for any sustained period of time.

The thing is, others have touched on this before I have – bigger names.  Hans Hoppe need not even be mentioned – his shadow looms large over this topic.  But also Mises, as offered by Joe Salerno:

For Mises, liberalism first emerged and expressed itself in the nineteenth century as a political movement in the form of “peaceful nationalism.” Its two fundamental principles were freedom or, more concretely, “the right of self-determination of peoples” and national unity or the “nationality principle.” The two principles were indissolubly linked.

Liberalism (the forerunner to libertarianism) cannot be separated from the nationality principle (which I think Mises linked specifically to language – and, if so, I think he didn’t go far enough).

Rothbard took this idea further:

Contemporary libertarians often assume, mistakenly, that individuals are bound to each other only by the nexus of market exchange. They forget that everyone is necessarily born into a family, a language, and a culture. Every person is born into one of several overlapping communities, usually including an ethnic group, with specific values, cultures, religious beliefs, and traditions. . . .

And these “specific values, cultures, religious beliefs, and traditions” fill in the blank spaces where the non-aggression principle cannot reach – because the non-aggression principle is not designed to reach these; it doesn’t have answers to many questions of “judgment.”

So, perhaps if we want to bring forward this ethical ideal of non-aggression into practice, perhaps we should take up the task of giving it the capability to do so.

Conclusion

From A Texas Libertarian:

Maybe we need someone to bridge the gap between politics and culture, to define praxeologically what culture is required to support liberty. Hoppe has already blazed a trail in this regard as well (ever the bridge builder), but I think there is further to go in placing the perfect libertarian theory securely onto the imperfect foundation of reality below.

Maybe it won't be a giant of liberty like Hoppe who does this. Maybe it will be lowly mosquitoes like us.

I guess this means you, ATL.  This idea overwhelms me.  Hoppe spent his entire career in training for this.  I already have a day job, and my education couldn’t have prepared me less for such a task.  To give some idea of how overwhelmed I feel regarding this, in my lifetime I will not understand this topic even to the point where Hoppe has already brought the discussion.

But yes, maybe someone needs to do this.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Mindful of Gratitude


Property, Freedom, and Society: Essays in Honor of Hans-Hermann Hoppe, edited by Jörg Guido Hülsmann and Stephan Kinsella.

Hans-Hermann Hoppe is one of the most important scholars of our time.

So write the editors of this volume in the introduction.  Regular readers here know that I wholeheartedly agree.

The book is a collection of essays written in honor of, in tribute to, and in the spirit of Hoppe.  The book is divided into five parts, with a total of thirty five essays.  I will not examine each essay, instead just touching on some, going into depth on others…perhaps skipping a few.

Grato Animo Beneficiique Memores

This section includes essays of gratitude.  A few key highlights, to which I will add little comment as about all I could do is wholeheartedly agree:

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.:

There aren’t that many thinkers who have this kind of effect. Mises was one. Rothbard was another. Hoppe certainly fits in that line.

Often times when you first hear a point he makes, you resist it….He argued that [the US Constitution] represented a vast increase in government power and that this was its true purpose. It created a powerful central government, with the cover of liberty as an excuse. He used it as a case in point, and went further to argue that all constitutions are of the same type.  When he finished, you could hear a pin drop.

I’m speaking for multitudes when I say that he helped me understand democracy as a form of nationalization of the citizenry.

Sean Gabb:

Let us consider his work on immigration.

What Professor Hoppe does is to ignore the polarity of the debate as it has been set up. Those who want an anarchist order have so far had to accept the legitimacy of mass immigration. Those who have been worried about mass immigration have had to accept the need of a state to control the border. Professor Hoppe walks straight through this debate.

Hoppe offers private property and covenant – fully libertarian – and in which case there would exist no such thing as free immigration; every property owner or community would decide requirements for entrance.  Borders would be managed in a libertarian society – “open” only to the extent that the owners approve.

He regards the mass immigration of the past half-century into western countries as an instance, not of libertarian open borders, but of “forced integration.”

Paul Gottfried:

Recognizing the area of consensus for libertarians (and the leading role played by Hoppe in this) – that of coming down against the state, Gottfried offers:

But beyond this area of consensus, there is an obvious gulf between left- and right-libertarians. This area of disagreement can be seen in a wide range of cultural, social, and historical issues, and the dividing line among self-described libertarians may be even more important than the consensus duly noted above.

Yuri N. Maltsev:

Hans-Hermann Hoppe is the most ardent advocate of liberty in our time.

Regarding his essay “Marxist and Austrian Class Analysis,” Maltsev offers:

His twenty-two page contribution is the most devastating critique of the Marxist belief system ever written.

He was also the first to systematically demonstrate that democracy inevitably leads to the growth of socialism and the omnipotence of big government.

Jeffrey Barr:

My advisor counseled against taking Professor Hoppe, stating, “Many students find him to be…unorthodox.”

After knowing Professor Hoppe for nearly twenty years, I confess that I remain in awe of his brilliance so much so that I still feel a bit awkward addressing him as anything but “Professor Hoppe.”

Lee Iglody:

… Rothbard was always willing to entertain even the most foolish questions with his characteristic cackle and an explanation of the way things are. Professor Hoppe, on the other hand, had a much more methodological, Teutonic way of dealing with stupid inquiries, a form of Socratic dialogue with a lot of “ja, so” thrown in to punctuate the conversation. (“Government provides goods that the market cannot produce? Ja, so what do you mean by ‘goods’?”)

Ludwig von Mises is said to have regretted, not the times he stood fast, but the times he compromised. By this standard, Professor Hoppe will have but few regrets.

I salute you, Hans.

Conclusion

As do I.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Conversion



Russell begins his specific examination of the acceptance of Christianity by the Germanic people, the first covering the period 376 – 678.  This covers the period from the Germanic entrance into the Roman Empire until the Anglo-Saxon mission by Bishop Wilfrid of York to Frisia.

When speaking of Christianity in this context, there are two prominent theologies: Germanic Arianism and Frankish Catholicism.  Seeking refuge from the Huns, the Visigoths negotiated with Valens, the Arian Christian emperor of the Eastern Empire: Arianism was adopted in exchange for asylum.

In Christianity, Arianism is a monotheistic Christological doctrine which asserts the belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who was begotten by God the Father at a point in time, is distinct from the Father and is therefore subordinate to the Father….The Arian concept of Christ is based on the belief that the Son of God did not always exist but was begotten by God the Father.

Several characteristics can be noted from this first encounter, characteristics that would repeat for even centuries into the future: political leaders vouched for their subjects regarding Christianization; Christianity was associated with Roman culture and the Roman polity; there was little or no religious instruction prior to baptism. 

 By the middle of the sixth century, several tribes – to include the Bavarians, Thuringians and Lombards – accepted the Arian form of Christianity; others – including the Franks, Alamanni and Saxons – remained unaffected.

Yet Valens suffered defeat and death in the battle of Adrianople; with him, Arianism was on the wane in the empire.  The Arian heresy suffered condemnation in the Council of Constantinople in 381.

Why did the leaders of most of the Germanic peoples accept the Arian form of Christianity, just as this heresy was in the process of being extirpated throughout the Roman Empire?

Some believe it is due to the Arian belief that the Son is subordinate to the Father – a characteristic easily understood and accepted by a hierarchical culture.  Others believe that Arianism spread because it wasn’t Roman – in this manner, less of a possibility that the Germanic tribes would be absorbed into the Universal Church – and therefore into the empire.

It was Clovis, ascending to the throne in 481 as the king of the Franks, who was recruited by the Roman Catholic Church to be their champion; Clovis saw that through the Roman Church he could find a means to consolidate an empire.  The Franks were, perhaps, more predisposed to become affiliated with Roman Christianity as their relationship with the Roman Empire was more gradual and less antagonistic than it was for the Visigoths.

…the overall relationship between the Franks and the Romans in the century preceding the baptism of Clovis in 496 was one of relative harmony. …it may be argued that the Franks perceived their greatest potential military threat as coming from the neighboring Germanic peoples rather than from the Romans.

Aside from baptism, Clovis was almost certainly not a Christian in any meaningful sense; yet his baptism committed the Merovingians to the Church.  Paganism was tolerated throughout.  After Clovis died, the process of Christianization stalled for almost 80 years, until the arrival in Gaul of the Irish monk Columbanus, in about 590.

During this period, little more was enforced beyond the sanctification of Sundays and holy days.  However, two important developments did occur:

…the Eigenkirchensystem, or “proprietary church system,” and the Eigenklostersystem, or “proprietary monastery system.

Privately developed and maintained churches and monasteries.  In such a system, the feudal lord held proprietary rights, most importantly the right to nominate the ecclesiastic personnel.  Through this, Columbanus succeeded in establishing a series of monasteries on the property of northern Frankish aristocrats – all the leading families had one or more of their members attracted to this new monasticism.

Still, this does not imply nor suggest that something approaching Christianity as it was understood in Rome was taking form.  The Merovingian kings did little to impose doctrinal orthodoxy; instead they were more concerned with “orthopraxy,” adhering to the cultic and ritual observances of Christianity.

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Struggle Continues


In reply to my piece, My Struggle With Liberalism, C. Jay Engel has offered his thoughts: Liberalism Round Two: Bionic Mosquito Edition.  I will focus my comments on two points: the first, perhaps pointing to the crux of my struggle; the second, an avenue of analysis proposed by Engel.

The Crux of My Struggle

When engaged in any type of dialogue, I always face the decision: do I just focus on the one or two key points or do I take the time to work through many of the interesting additional issues raised?  I did the latter in my first post.  In this post I will solely focus on the key point.  Citing Joe Salerno (from my earlier post), who is summarizing his view of Mises’ liberalism:

For Mises, liberalism first emerged and expressed itself in the nineteenth century as a political movement in the form of “peaceful nationalism.” Its two fundamental principles were freedom or, more concretely, “the right of self-determination of peoples” and national unity or the “nationality principle.” The two principles were indissolubly linked.

The crux of my struggle is this: can the term “classical liberalism,” or even its more purified successor “libertarianism,” be defined (or ever realized) without the concept of a “nationality principle.”?

To focus on the term “libertarianism”: it is defined simply and elegantly via the non-aggression principle.  But is this definition in error, or more precisely, incomplete?  Again, from Salerno, citing Rothbard:

Contemporary libertarians often assume, mistakenly, that individuals are bound to each other only by the nexus of market exchange. They forget that everyone is necessarily born into a family, a language, and a culture. Every person is born into one of several overlapping communities, usually including an ethnic group, with specific values, cultures, religious beliefs, and traditions. . . .

Rothbard is not including the requirement of a “nationality principle” in the definition of libertarianism, yet his admonition must mean something; he makes it for some purpose.  Why would he advise contemporary libertarians on this issue unless it mattered to the benefit of libertarianism?

Engel, citing me from my previous post:

I am all for liberalism and libertarianism. I just don’t think it can be separated from the other stuff – common traditions, customs, and norms. In fact, the two are “indissolubly linked.”

Engel replies:

Three points: one, this is all true and agreeable; two, liberalism and libertarianism do not, by the very boundaries of their intended scopes, deny this; three: completely disconnecting the political theory from the sociology, as if they can’t work in unison, is actually a tool of the critics of libertarianism.

But this comes to my point: I know this is “true and agreeable”; I know these are not “denied” by the boundaries of liberalism and libertarianism; and I know that “disconnecting the political theory from the sociology” is not just a tool of libertarianism’s critics (and, needless to say, many of its supporters), but is also just stupid.

My point, to state again: this, perhaps, is the crux of my struggle.  Can the term “classical liberalism,” or even its more purified successor “libertarianism,” be defined (or ever realized) without the concept of a “nationality principle.”?  I am not struggling with a “nice to have.”  I am struggling with this connection as a requirement.

Or to restate it: is the definition of libertarianism complete – and is its application impossible – without that which it (or certainly its philosophical predecessor) is “indissolubly linked,” a “nationality principle”?

I have struggled with such a question for quite some time.

 An Avenue of Analysis Proposed by Engel

I very much look forward to Engel’s treatment of the following; first, citing from his previous essay:

Nonetheless, classical liberalism was a positive influence in the world and many of its doctrines should be defended and expanded upon, as was done by people like Mises and Rothbard.

And in response, Engel offers (and forgive the lengthy cite):

But was it? I am still working toward a solid, firm, and systematic answer. Such an answer lies in bringing together Murray Rothbard’s narrative of classical liberalism setting the world free from the ancien regime and Hoppe’s narrative of classical liberalism being a revolt against private law societies. I am certain that I will have an entire essay on this soon enough.

For now, I think that a helpful way to approach the problem is as follows: the classical liberal theorists worked in opposition to their own 18th and 19th century status quo; and the medieval private law societies (which are praised by Hoppe, BM, and myself as approaching a rough sketch of how such a society could and should be organized) developed their own frameworks in a more organic way. Classical Liberalism brought back intellectually what was done more intuitively centuries before.

I look forward to this.  Engel continues:

The solution therefore is to combine the intellectual contributions of the classical liberals (or the more pure libertarians) with the intuitive and organic model of the medievalists. Intellectualism without a cultural root to sustain results in, well, look around. A corruption of the principles, a revolt against freedom, and a cultural rot that skips along the road to tyranny.

This opens up one of my other struggles (for another day, perhaps – or maybe to be addressed in Engel’s forthcoming essay): I don’t think it is “intellectual contributions” (in the context used) that will make this possible.  The model of the medievalists combined a unique ethical code with a worldview brought forth by Christianity.  The answer may lie here, and not in the minds of the classical liberal intellectuals.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

My Struggle With Liberalism*


*meaning “classical liberalism,” as the term is commonly understood

As you know, there has been an ongoing discussion here regarding the issues of the role liberalism has played in creating the destructive society within which the west currently lives.  The battle lines are simple enough: classical liberalism has offered perhaps what is best about the west and also what is worst.

As you also know, this battle plays out not just in the community but within me.  I find the medieval law, based on old and good custom and tradition, to come closest to what could be considered libertarian law today – and not just closest, but longest lasting.  I also find tremendous value in the worth of the individual as an individual that is at the heart of liberalism.  Oh yeah, and I like the free market and private property stuff.

Yet liberalism was born from the fruits of the rejection of this medieval law, this custom, this tradition.  Instead of law discovered in old and good custom we have law created by man’s reason with nary a thought given to the reason that is inherent in the hundreds and thousands of years of man’s law, custom, and tradition.  And this transformation in the source of law hasn’t worked out so well.

But to the extent that the concept of “freedom” includes the material blessings enjoyed in the west – and I do not mean the frivolities, but reliable food, clothing, shelter, transportation, etc. – well, the west is quite free, both compared to much of the world today and compared to the west ever in history.  Yet, classical liberals complain – rightly so – about our lack of freedom.  So…freedom cannot be limited to – or even greatly satisfied by – such material comforts.

So why all of this rambling today?  C. Jay Engel has written a piece, “Liberalism and Loneliness?  It is a critique of a critique of liberalism.  Through this piece, perhaps I can move an inch or two closer to clarity, closer to resolving this battle within me and the discussion within this community.

As a quick aside, I believe that classical liberalism had its own shortcomings, among which include that it was not as consistent as it should have been (but the later libertarianism that succeeded it purified it)…

I agree with the “classical liberalism had its own shortcomings” part; I am not so sure about the power of libertarianism to purify.  That is expecting quite a bit from a political philosophy that can too easily free itself of the constraints of normative customs and traditions.

Nonetheless, classical liberalism was a positive influence in the world and many of its doctrines should be defended and expanded upon, as was done by people like Mises and Rothbard.

As noted, I find much positive and some negative in this philosophy; I do agree that many of its doctrines should be defended and expanded upon.  Perhaps more important, some of its doctrines should be examined in order to understand how the liberty promised by classical liberalism (and glimpsed, momentarily, in a few places for a few years in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries) devolved into what can only be described as the tyranny to be found in the west today.

Engel will come later to cite something from Mises on this topic, as will I.  I think it is important to keep in mind what Mises meant by the idea of liberalism, and the context within which he took the term; I will expand on this shortly.

At its most basic, classical liberalism is merely the repudiation of aggression as a legitimate form of human interaction.

“At its most basic” this may be so.  But this is the problem – and it is compounded (not necessarily purified) by the libertarianism (as defined by many) that succeeded it: too many of us (and I include myself in this category, certainly in the past and even in my struggles today) see classical liberalism as nothing more than this “basic.”  We get rather upset if anyone points out that it is lacking in some earthly need.

Engel comes to the important point:

Any voluntary relationship that individuals have with other individuals, making up groups, businesses, clubs, gatherings, communities, and societies, these are mutually beneficial arrangements and therefore a partial fulfillment of the “want and need” of humans to interact with each other.

The point is…is this optional, as classical liberalism or the more pure libertarianism will suggest or demand, or is this necessary if one is to fully conform to liberalism as Mises saw it – even necessary if one is to make liberalism “work”?

Monday, April 9, 2018

Germanic Social Structure



The study of Germanic religiosity has always suffered from a paucity of reliable extant sources.

What were the Germanic social and religious traditions prior to and during the early centuries of contact with Christian missionaries?  In order to deal with this “paucity” of sources, studies of similar Indo-European societies are utilized:

…India, Persia, Greece, Rome and pre-Christian northern Europe…

Russell offers some boundaries: 

…the term “Germanic” refers not only to the Gothic, Frankish, Saxon, Burgundian, Alamannic, Suevic and Vandal peoples, but also to the Viking peoples of Scandinavia and the Anglo-Saxon peoples of Britain.  In addition, the term “religiosity” is often used when referring to the religious elements of Indo-European and particularly Germanic societies.

There are no available sources written by members of pre-Christian Germanic societies.  Archeological sources are used, as are written accounts by visitors to the Germanic regions – primarily Roman visitors.

One source dates from 53 B.C., and notes that “They have no Druids to control religious observances and are not much given to sacrifice.”  The beings recognized are things that they see – the sun, the moon, fire.

A second source is offered, from 98 A.D., noting that Mercury, Hercules and Mars are worshipped; human sacrifices are occasionally offered, animal sacrifices more so.  Their gods are not confined inside walls, and carry no human likeness.  Other sources point to devotion to “sacred trees, groves, springs, and stones, and an interest in prophecy and magic.”

There are two primary groups of German deities:

…the Aesir, comprising the gods of sovereignty and battle, Odin and Thor; and the Vanir, comprising the gods of sustenance and reproduction, Njord, Frey, and Freya.

Similar structures are found in other Indo-European societies – societies whose roots trace to either the steppes of the Urals or Anatolia (depending on whose theory you believe).

Russell relies on the work of Georges Dumézil:

…a French comparative philologist best known for his analysis of sovereignty and power in Proto-Indo-European religion and society. He is considered one of the major contributors to mythography, in particular for his formulation of the trifunctional hypothesis of social class in ancient societies.

Dumézil found a pattern in this structure that is common to other, non-Germanic, Indo-European societies and not found in non-Indo-European societies; this is described as “tripartition”:

…(1) chieftains and priests, constituting the “first function,” that of sovereign and supernatural authority, with a considerable degree of bipolar tension between these elements; (2) warriors, constituting the second function of physical force; and (3) farmers and herders, constituting the third and last function of fecundity.

It is not only this tripartition that is unique to Indo-European societies; the bipolar tension within the first group – between the chieftains and priests – was also unique.  Pairs of divinities, representing the two parts of this tension, are found in Vedic, German, and Roman tradition.

Further, the culture was patriarchal, with kindred as the foundation of its concentric structure: families, into clans, clans into tribes.  Inside the group was safe; outside was danger.  Inside, one enjoyed all of the freedoms of the group.

Most relevant to the subject at hand was the unique phenomenon of “a class of military specialists….”  Such as these organized themselves into a comitatus or Männerbund. There were specific themes regarding this class – transgressions against each of the three divisions within the society: regicide against the first, cowardice against the second, and adultery against the third.

Each of the warrior heroes, the Indic Indra, the Greek Heracles, and the Germanic Starkaŏr, is punished after each transgression by losing some degree of his power, until he finally dies.

The noble served his lord.  If he served him well, this brought material rewards and the opportunity to win glory; failure to live up to his oath brought shame.

The main “distinguishing characteristic of the comitatus,” which Clawsey finds lacking in classical and non-Western analogues, is “its reciprocity – more precisely, its being at once vertical and reciprocal,” that is, “only the comitatus combined both qualities and made the assumption that the leader in a vertical relationship had obligations as much as did the follower and that therefore a voluntary element existed on both sides.

It was this reciprocity that contributed to a high degree of group solidarity.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Revenge or Justice?



I will come to the question posed in the title of this post shortly, but first the conclusion of the fall of the Ottomans. 

One by one, the Allies – led by Britain – took the major cities and regions of the Ottoman Empire: Baghdad, Gaza, and Jerusalem; the Sinai Peninsula.

“Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators.”

Not much has changed in the last 100 years.

The story is punctuated with large cavalry charges – cavalry as in horses (and camels), not tanks; effective diversions; conflicting promises.  Death by the thousands and tens-of-thousands, on both sides.

The Ottomans were losing not only in the Middle East, but also eastern Anatolia.  Russia was making advances through Erzurum and Trabzon.  The Russians headed toward Mesopotamia; the British, concerned about their future claims, wanting to secure this region first.  Allies, yes – but competitors for empire first.

By the end of 1917, the Ottomans were fighting not for victory, but for survival.  Even with the withdrawal by Russia from the war, due to the Russian Revolution, it was too late for the Ottomans.  That the United States entered the war took away any advantage to the Germans.

As victory for the Allies seemed certain and was fast approaching, many wanted their cut – and decided to join Britain in the Middle East:

…two Jewish battalions of Royal Fusiliers, formed with the express intention of advancing the Zionist claim to Palestine by valour and sacrifice on the battlefield.  The French contributed the Détachement Français de Palestine et de Syrie to ensure that France protected its long-standing claims to Syria.  One regiment of the French detachment was made up entirely of Armenian refugees rescued by the French from the famous siege of Musa Dagh.  Amir Faysal was at the front of the line, with T. E. Lawrence as his advocate, to uphold Hashemite claims to rule Syria as part of a greater Arab Kingdom.

Both the Arabs and Armenians sent delegates to Paris for the Peace Conference.  The Arabs got nothing, the Armenians got a promise, one that didn’t come with any teeth and that the allies gave away in a subsequent treaty.  Which leads me to the subject hinted at in the title….

Since 1699, the Ottomans had lost most of the wars that they fought….

The empire was regularly shrinking.  The Armenians in eastern Anatolia represented perhaps the last great risk; call it genocide or not, but what was once an Armenian population of perhaps 2 million was reduced to perhaps 100,000 or less.  The Great War and aftermath truly represented an existential event for the Turks.  Had all enactments from Paris been enforced, Turkey would have been a stub – the western peninsula, with Istanbul even under foreign administration.

And then along came Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.  The hero of Gallipoli became the father of the Republic.  Shoving the Greeks off to the west, the French in the south, and the Armenians to the east, he secured Turkey in basically its current form.

That settled things in Turkey, but it didn’t settle things for many Armenians.  Call it revenge or call it justice; several Armenians went after many of the Turks that were the leading perpetrators of…well, the term “genocide” had not yet been coined, so we will refer to it using the terminology of the time:

…"massacres", "atrocities", "annihilation", "holocaust", "the murder of a nation", "race extermination" and "a crime against humanity".

First were trials, held in Turkey and for the purpose of prosecuting the perpetrators (and also, perhaps, with an eye on the hope that the trials would buy the Turks some western favor in the peace settlement).  Eighteen individuals were given the death sentence, yet fifteen of these were tried in absentia – having fled Turkey at the end of the war.  The three who remained were executed in Turkey.  The rest remained free.

Unwilling to watch the Young Turk leaders in exile escape justice, a group of Armenian militants from the Dashnak organization took the law into their own hands.  Between March 1921 and July 1922, the Dashnaks ordered a series of assassinations of key Young Turk leaders in a program known as “Operation Nemesis.”

Perhaps most well-known is the case of Soghomon Tehlirian:

Soghomon Tehlirian was an Armenian who assassinated Talaat Pasha, the former Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire, in Berlin on March 15, 1921. The assassination was a part of Operation Nemesis, planned by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation as revenge for the Armenian Genocide orchestrated by the Ottoman Imperial Government during World War I. Talaat Pasha had been convicted and sentenced to death in absentia in the Turkish courts-martial of 1919–20, and was viewed as the main orchestrator of the genocide. After a two-day trial Tehlirian was found not guilty by the German court, and freed. Tehlirian is considered a national hero by Armenians.

The orders to Tehlirian were as follows:

…"you blow up the skull of the Number One nation-murderer and you don't try to flee. You stand there, your foot on the corpse and surrender to the police, who will come and handcuff you."

And so it went.  Arshavir Shiragian took part in three assassinations – one in Rome, two in Berlin; the assassination of Cemal took place in Tbilisi, Georgia.  Enver eluded assassination, but died in Central Asia while fighting the Bolsheviks.  Altogether, by 1926 ten of the eighteen men convicted in the trials were dead.

Conclusion

So…revenge or justice?