David R. Henderson  

Smith's Defense of Western Civilization

Terrorism and Innumeracy... The Great Pacification, U.S. E...

I'm glad that co-author Bryan Caplan called attention to the excellent essay by Nathan Smith. Otherwise I might not have known about it. Bryan highlighted some great sections. I want to highlight one other section. It's about the nicest modern defense of Western civilization that I've seen in a couple of decades. Here it is:

The free governments of the West ought to communicate to the Muslims of the world the following message:

"You are welcome to come and live among us, and in return for moderate taxes and obedience to our laws, we'll protect your rights to life, liberty, and property, as well as religious freedom, insofar as practicing your religion doesn't require you to violate the rights of others. But the rights of others include some things you're not accustomed to, such as the right to proselytize other faiths, to apostatize from Islam, to condemn Muhammad as a false prophet, and to insult all that you regard as holy. You may build mosques at will, and attend them, and fast during Ramadan, and try to persuade others, peacefully, to do so with you, but you must utterly and forever repudiate the evil practice, which has stained your faith with murder and shame from the beginning, of killing apostates from Islam. If this despicable and barbarous doctrine is taught among you, you will be imprisoned for incitement of violence. Similarly, while you are free not to depict Muhammad yourselves, you must henceforth understand this as a law binding on you only, and in conscience, not as a law that binds non-Muslims, or that can be enforced against anyone, Muslim or not, by violence. We do not care how incompatible these demands are with your faith as it has been practiced for a thousand years. We are more powerful than you, and we insist that, while you live among us, you submit to the principles of a free society. Any effort to subvert those principles will be ruthlessly crushed. Your religion must henceforth become something out [it?] has never hitherto been, an affair of private worship and peaceful speech, destitute of temporal power, as our own Christian churches willingly are. Even as you venerate the conquering Muhammad, you must make your religion emulate that of Jesus, Who taught that His kingdom is not of this world, and told His disciples meekly to accept the rule of earthly masters, while awaiting their rewards in heaven."

The only change I would make is to the sentence "Any effort to subvert those principles will be ruthlessly crushed." I think we should allow and, although I don't know Nathan, I have read him enough to think that he would allow, Muslims to "subvert" those principles by speaking out against them. Indeed the rest of the quote seems to support my interpretation. But they should not be allowed to use force or, as in the case of the Mark Steyn incident he discusses that occurred in my native Canada, threaten force.

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COMMENTS (24 to date)
Richard writes:

How is this much different from what France has tried, with its forced secularization? Muslims in France aren't allowed to kill those who leave the faith, and non-Muslims are (for the most part) free to depict the Muslim prophet without government interference.

The only recommendation I see hear is a rhetorical change. But not much different policy wise from what a lot of countries are doing.

David R. Henderson writes:

I’m not familiar enough with France. I’m also not sure why you’re asking.
But I would say it’s pretty different from what I hear coming out of Canada. Check the Mark Steyn link.

Brian writes:

This seems less a defense of Western Civilization and more a demand of total surrender. Not exactly the way to make friends and influence people.

I also wonder how a libertarian of any stripe could find this language acceptable:

"We are more powerful than you, and we insist that, while you live among us, you submit to the principles of a free society."

This is pure ideological fascism. It's one thing to insist that we won't allow violence as a solution. It's quite another to demand submission to a principle, even one of freedom. If a free society is really as good as we think it is, it will, over time, win over the hearts and minds of everyone without demands or the use of power.

JK Brown writes:

This is classica liberalism. Not something so widely embraced in the last 170 years of anti-liberalism that has passed for intellectual thought in the West.

I see some commenting earlier rush to challenge the idea that this classical liberal thought is fascist since it seeks to impose upon the, Muslim in this case, the Western idea of tolerance. Yes, it is a dichotomy to promote tolerance but then oppress those who would oppress others. But as Mises stated:

Liberalism, however, must be intolerant of every kind of intolerance. If one considers the peaceful cooperation of all men as the goal of social evolution, one cannot permit the peace to be disturbed by priests and fanatics.

Mises, Ludwig von (2010-12-10). Liberalism (p. 55). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

The basis is the individual, who in modernity is central and free to build their individual life with what ever combination of the economic, social, political and religious/ideological spheres they wish, but cannot impose their ways upon others. They, however, may use intellectual arguments to entice others to similar mixes of spheres and choose their associations based on that.

I wish I were more educated about Islam. I would like to know if it is possible, based upon a reasonable interpretation of the Koran or other relevant Islam texts, for a devout follower to comply with terms such as Nathan Smith lays down (in David's quote above).

In other words, does one reasonable interpretation of Muslim texts require a follower to break terms such as Nathan Smith lays down? I would like to learn this from students of Islam. Probably I need input from more than one subdivision of Islam. I do not expect to learn what I hope from pundits who only trumpet the values of Western civilization.

I have been absorbing books recently about the history of the middle ages. One story of interest stands out (this may contain my errors, I am an amateur in this field). In the seventh and eighth centuries Muslims conquered pretty much all of the Mediterranean coast. This had a negative effect on life in northern Europe because trade through the Mediterranean to northern Europe pretty much stopped. That's what the historian said. If that's true, why? Is such a result the natural consequence of one viable interpretation of Muslim texts?

One citation I can offer is the Modern Scholar books by Thomas Madden, of which my local library has several. But I'm not sure if that's where I picked up the story about the stoppage of trade through the Mediterranean.

Brian writes:

JK Brown,

I think that Mises is just plain wrong here. A truly (classically) liberal society has to allow "priests and fanatics" to disturb the peace; otherwise it betrays itself and surrenders its soul. Notice that disturbing the peace cannot mean fundamentally violent behaviour--have you heard of any priests who have engaged in THAT kind of activity? By disturbing the peace, Mises seems to be referring to the advocacy of intolerance. But it should be obvious that one man's intolerance is another's good sense or even self-evident truth. Therefore, "intolerant of... intolerance" becomes simply intolerance of whatever I don't like and the use of societal power to enforce that preference. If that's not fascism, I don't know what is.

Let me note again that insisting on nonviolent actions in society is one thing; insisting on a certain ideological stance is quite another. This tendency might be common in modern liberalism, but it is a deeply illiberal position.

In any case, a truly liberal society relies on persuasion, not power. And neither Nathan Smith nor Mises seem to be keen on persuasion in these excerpts.

KevinDC writes:


Notice that disturbing the peace cannot mean fundamentally violent behaviour--have you heard of any priests who have engaged in THAT kind of activity?

Many. There's a very long history of just that, particularly in Europe.

In any case, however, I think you're not addressing Smith's argument. For example, you find it acceptable to "insist that we won't allow violence as a solution," but seem to somehow think that contrasts with Smith saying one must "submit to the principles of a free society." From where I stand, those are two different ways of saying the same thing. "Submit to the principles of a free society" and "violence is not allowed as a solution" seem to be pretty equivalent statements, and they're certainly not opposing statements.

Nor do I understand why you suggest that Smith does not "seem to be keen on persuasion," - he actively advocates the use of persuasion to his addressed audience. He stipulates that beliefs cannot "be enforced against anyone, Muslim or not, by violence," but also says "You may build mosques at will, and attend them, and fast during Ramadan, and try to persuade others, peacefully, to do so with you." How does he come across as being unenthusiastic on persuasion, exactly? I ask out of genuine curiosity - I don't see how you could have gotten that impression from what he wrote.

David R. Henderson writes:

I was about to use my afternoon coffee break to answer you, but I see that KevinDC above has done an admirable job. I don’t think I would have done better.

Greg G writes:

"Excellent," "great'" and "nice" are the last words I would use to describe to describe the parts of the Nathan Smith essay posted here.

The problem is not that the history of Islam is too different from the history of Christianity. The problem is it is too SIMILAR.

Islam is about 600 years younger than Christianity. 600 years ago the Christian Church was still sanctioning violence for a quite spectacular variety of thought crimes. These even included practicing the wrong kind of astronomy.

And this violence went back long before that. Ever hear of the Crusades? I assure you every Muslim has heard of them.

The idea that Christianity cheerfully relinquished the temporal power it once had is a bizarre historical fiction. Christianity relinquished that power reluctantly when it had no choice for the most part after centuries of sanctioning unspeakable carnage.

Does the Koran sanction unacceptable violence for a variety of thought crimes? You bet it does. So does the Christian Bible.

As far as I'm concerned, if anyone acts as though they have a license to commit violence against others for their religious beliefs they are a criminal and should be treated as such. That applies just as much for a Christian shooting up an abortion clinic as a Muslim shooting up a cafe.

The majority of Christians and Muslims are peaceful people. Consider me skeptical that anyone writing an essay that is much more insulting and inflammatory than it needs to be is trying to promote peace or persuade anyone. These quotes are just red meat for Christians already angry at Muslims.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Greg G,
As far as I'm concerned, if anyone acts as though they have a license to commit violence against others for their religious beliefs they are a criminal and should be treated as such. That applies just as much for a Christian shooting up an abortion clinic as a Muslim shooting up a cafe.
I agree. I’m willing to bet, given the content of the essay, that Nathan Smith does too.

Greg G writes:

I didn't ever doubt that David. I was just trying to identify where I was coming from with those two sentences.

It was the other things I mentioned that bothered me about his ideas.

Weir writes:

The politicians we have are the ones we have to deal with, and cope with. And they hate free speech, for one thing. The ruling class doesn't really believe that criticism of religion should be legal.

The politicians we have are not capable of exporting liberal institutions into Iraq, so why would we think they're capable of defending liberal institutions in Germany or Britain or Canada?

The actually existing politicians who marched in the streets of Paris claimed that free speech is of genuine concern to them, but what they really think is that women should keep an "arm's length" from their attackers, rather than allow people to say out loud what the gang rapists in Cologne have in common.

John Kerry, by mistake, said what he actually thinks, which is that the murdered cartoonists deserved to be murdered because they were guilty of causing offence.

The next American president is a woman who thinks that although it should remain legal for The New York Times Corporation to express opinions critical of her, it should be illegal if your corporation is called Citizens United.

She said that a guy who put a video on YouTube was to blame for the attacks in Benghazi, and said that the video guy needed to be punished and locked up, which he was. He was guilty of blasphemy.

It's not realistic to expect the politicians we have to become converts to liberalism now. And millions of new voters who hate liberalism aren't going to change the electoral math in a good way, towards liberalism. In the real word, we might well get a liberal immigration policy, and everything else goes the other way, towards more surveillance and more welfare and more censorship and more violence.

Ethan writes:

It really is a great quote. For those still stuck in radical Islam, they have to get used to other human beings on the planet. They can't expect to rule over others, and they have to be willing to be offended... constantly, like the rest of us.

That being said, this really only applies to a very small minority of Muslims, a loud minority, but a small one nevertheless.

The idea of separation of church and state grew in Western European history, if I got it right from history books by Thomas F. Madden. Most Western nations have toleration of different religions in their cultures if not in their political constitutions.

But Muslim nations have little or no separation of state from Allah. So I consider that people who grew up in such nations may feel less restraint in forceful expression of their faith.

Greg G writes:


>---" if I got it right from history books by Thomas F. Madden."

Madden is one of the chief apologists for the Christian Church's sanctioning violence throughout history including the Inquisition. I would advise you not to use him as your only, or even primary, source on this subject.

When the Christian Church achieved temporal power it tended to be less tolerant of other religions than the polytheists who preceded it. Because polytheists expect there to be many Gods, they are not so offended by the idea of a different God. Monotheists, on the other hand, tended to be offended by the very idea more than one God. The idea itself s considered to be a terrible sin.

The separation of church and state occurred in Western Europe because the Christian Church eventually fragmented into so many different sects that it was impossible for any one to be confident their theological opponents might not get their hands on the machinery of the state.

Given the few extra centuries that Christianity had to come around to separation of church and state, Islam might well evolve in the same way. As someone hoping to see that happen more quickly, I see the history of Christianity as an uninspiring example of tolerance for competing ideas.

After many centuries of killing each other over doctrinal differences, a majority of Christians realized they had more to lose than gain from mixing church and state. This did not mean that the churches that actually had temporal power were happy about giving it up. It was taken from them.

David Friedman writes:

Is there support in Islamic law for forbidding non-Muslims from drawing Mohammed? Mostly Islamic law distinguishes between rules that apply to Muslims (such as the prohibition on drinking wine and the requirements for prayer and pilgrimage) and rules that apply to everyone. I don't know if this is an exception or not.

On the other hand, the rule making apostasy a capital offense, while not accepted by all Muslim legal scholars is pretty widely accepted, and always has been.

Maynard Brandon writes:

I find it astounding that any citizen of the United States, from whom I assume most of the comments originate, can find this paragraph objectionable, particularly with respect to Christianity.

The principle intellectual faults that I find with the objections are as follows:

1. In no way does the Bible, especially the New Testament, support the atrocities of the Inquisition. The fact is that the Bible is pretty long on loving one's enemies, forgiving them, and turning the other cheek. On the other hand, for example, the Koran prescribes, pick one, killing the kafir, converting the kafir, or requiring the kafir to pay jizya and live under Dhimmitude. Even a blind man can see the difference there.

2. You don't have to believe the theology to see that the Judeo-Christian tradition has been the foundation of Western Civilization and the bedrock upon which that civilization's progress has been achieved.

3. The Crusades were not an unreasonable response to the subjugation of the Holy Lands by Moslem barbarians.

"Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute!"

ThomasH writes:

@Richard O Hammer,

Ask any of your Muslim friends; they'll tell you yes.

Of course the whole idea that the West "ought" to send such a message is rather tendentious. That's the message that our laws and institutions DO "send."

Ask any of your Muslim friends; they'll tell you yes.

In my first comment above (January 14, 3:28 p.m.) I count five questions. So I am not sure to which of those questions you respond.

Sixteen years ago a coworker-friend of mine was Muslim. But other than that I can't think of any Muslim I know or have known. Probably I know some but just not their religious identity.

Brian writes:


First, can you give me some examples of how priests have violently disturbed the peace of those who are attempting peaceful cooperation? I can't think of any examples in the U.S., and am doubtful that you can give any significant examples in Europe during the era that the U.S. has existed. (Note: Significant examples would be ones atrocious or pervasive enough that would justify Mises' grouping of priests with "fanatics.") Prove me wrong.

Second, I'm not criticizing Smith's argument per se, so I don't need to address it directly. Yes, all those who want to live in our society must abide by our laws and Constitution. I doubt anyone here disagrees with that point.

My objection is to Smith's language, which is confrontational and dictatorial. In some cases, it's also contrary to classical liberal values. Let's look at some examples.

He says Muslims must "utterly and forever repudiate" the killing of apostates. No, they don't. In a free society, they can continue to believe that it's not only not evil, but a good and holy thing. They just can't DO it without answering to the law. Can't you see the difference? A classically liberal society places limits on one's actions, not on one's thoughts. You add that you think "Submit to the principles of a free society" and "violence is not allowed as a solution" are equivalent. But they certainly are not. Submitting to principles is an intellectual act of the conscience, which is never dictated in a free society, and is very different from outlawing violence, which places limits on behavior.

Smith calls this belief a "despicable and barbarous doctrine." I don't disagree, but this is not how you engage with people you are trying to convince. Further, he says they will be imprisoned if it is "taught" among them. This would be a clear violation of freedom of speech and expression. They may teach anything they like, without government sanction, as long as it doesn't lead to behavior in violation of others' rights.

Smith further says that "We do not care how incompatible these demands are with your faith." That's no way to talk to someone you respect and want to persuade. Telling them their faith is unimportant to the debate will tend to make them ignore you.

Further, he says "We are more powerful than you, and we insist that, while you live among us, you submit to the principles of a free society." This is no attempt to persuade, but an act of power to "ruthlessly crush" any opposition to secular ideology. This mindset has no place in a classically liberal society. Persuasion is more likely to involve respectful dialogue over differences. Even worse, demanding that Muslims "submit" is loaded and offensive language. Islam means "submission" to the will of Allah, and submission to anything else would be viewed as idolatry. Again, not an effective way to persuade.

Finally, Smith's claim that "Your religion must henceforth become... an affair of private worship" clearly violates the free exercise clause. Both Christianity and Islam demand the Faith be lived out publicly and actively in society. It can never be "private" without falling short of what is demanded. In a free society, government cannot insist that worship be private; it can only insist that all behavior respect the rights of others.

All in all, I see no evidence that Smith believes in persuading Muslims because he doesn't offer any arguments or attempts at persuasion. He simply lays down authoritarian demands.As I said, this approach is deeply illiberal.

Conscience of a Citizen writes:

To become a "made man" in the American Mafia you must first murder someone for the organization. That's a "commitment device." You won't dare to betray the Mafia because you can never return to civil society.*

So Nathan Smith seems pretty clever when he says muslims who immigrate to America must make themselves apostates, by renouncing the tenets of their faith-- which are also the (reprehensible) customs of their communities. One commitment device is that if they don't renounce killing apostates, they'll have to kill themselves! The other is that Smith-compliant apostate muslims won't dare associate with pious muslims because the latter will try to kill them.

However, Smith's scheme won't work, because muslims are supposed to lie to infidels when that will help them conquer. All muslims will endorse the false apostasy of muslims who go to America, nullifying Smith's commitment device(s).

"But," you say, "Nathan Smith writes that Americans 'ought to' (Smith's formula) punish muslim immigrants who break their word or otherwise misbehave in America!"

Smith claims to be an economist (like our excellent host Prof. Henderson). But here he (with Henderson's endorsement) abandons economic analysis for pure wishful thinking.

Obviously, people in distant countries have little influence over policy in America.**

But people actually present in America have much more influence. By immigrating, people increase their political influence in America immensely.

The only practical way to avoid the islamicization of your country is to keep out muslims. Every single country that has admitted (or has been invaded by) more than a tiny number of muslims has lost control "of" them-- and if their numbers have been permitted to increase, "to" them. There are no exceptions. Name any country with a lot of muslims-- it has a major muslim crime and separatism problem (Sweden, England, France), a civil-war-with-muslims problem (Thailand, Philippines, India), or a repressive regime problem (Arabia, Pakistan, Turkey, Khazakstan, you get the drift).

A real economist would know that Mancur Olson already explained why the problem arises and why it cannot be solved by Nathan-Smith-type approaches. Controlling muslims is a collective-action problem. When very few muslims are in your country, you may muster the tiny bit of collective action needed to keep the rest out. But as soon as you admit a vanguard of muslims, they constitute a small cohesive group whose members have a strong interest in behaving like muslims and you constitute a large loose group, each member of which has a weak interest in controlling muslims. Concentrated interests beat diffuse ones nearly every time.

Immigrant muslims will grow stronger and stronger in their enclaves until they are either so obnoxious that they provoke a serious response-- which, because you foolishly allowed them to colonize your country, means internecine warfare-- or they are so very strong that you simply give them what they want-- first autonomy, then perhaps suzerainity.

Look at England. There muslims ignore local laws, sign their (unlawful) extra wives up for council homes and welfare as "single moms," mutilate girls' genitals, kidnap and rape English women, beat up muslim women who try to evade incestuous marriages and murder those who try to leave the muslim community (or who are victims of rape), physically assault non-muslims who wander into muslim neighborhoods, fill hospitals and special care facilities (at the expense of non-muslim taxpayers) with their children of incest suffering hideous genetic disorders, and so-forth. Muslim sympathizers in the UK government protect muslims from criticism as well as from prosecution for violating secular laws, even giving sharia tribunal judges simultaneous appointments as Crown Court judges.

Nathan Smith offers no commitment device to assure that Americans will act together to control any muslims admitted to America. Control would be costly; Smith states forthrightly that it would require a lot of police violence, which would mean a lot of money, human casualties, and constant emotional and moralistic conflict-- which Mancur Olson (I should write "textbook economics") says diffusely-interested Americans will not agree to until it's too late. Muslims in America would suborn the authorities just as muslims in other Western countries do-- remember, any insular group can exert political influence. Ex-ante promises by muslims to "play nice" and by Nathan-Smithians to "make muslims play nice" are equally unenforceable. Only "the facts on the ground" will matter once hypothetical muslim immigrants actually arrive.

*To undermine that commitment device the US offers Mafia traitors immunity from prosecution in the "witness protection program." Of course that is a big concession to known murderers.

**Unless they have massive military power (e.g., Soviet Union) or many local agents (e.g., Alger Hiss, Helen Caldicott, most university soft-subject faculties); neither describes muslims in their home countries, although the Saud family has bribed many American politicians for favors.

Jeff writes:

@Conscience of a Citizen:

Citing Mancur Olson, who almost certainly would disagree with you, does not make you a serious person.

Please explain why, if what you say is true, the United States, which has long been home to millions of Muslims, has never had much of a problem with Muslim assimilation. None, or almost none, of the process you outline has happened here. Why not?

Colombo writes:

If we set a tax for being muslim (much like the tax for not being muslim that christians and jews have paid in muslim countries), such that muslim people living in western countries would be paying more taxes overall than the already overtaxed westerners, then how long would it take to see a raise in taxes to westerners so that the equality is restored?

Muslims are not a real problem. We are our own worst enemy. I just don't get how come people is afraid of having the dreadful sharia law coming to America when Americans already are suffering from federal law, which is far worse in quite a few aspects.

Conscience of a Citizen writes:

David Henderson endorses Nathan Smith's bombastic call for collective action to police muslim immigrants: "we insist that, while you [muslims] live among us, you submit to the principles of a free society. Any effort to subvert those principles will be ruthlessly crushed." Neither economist offers any commitment device to assure future support for such a costly action with such diffuse benefits (remember, the muslims don't see libertarianism as beneficial).

An intellectually-serious economist who understands the logic of collective action would predict that any large group of muslim immigrants will ignore Smith's demands. Eventually muslims in America might do enough harm to arouse the violent anger of everyone else, but in that case any "ruthless crushing" will come after much harm-- so many victims will suffer irreparably (and needlessly since the harm can easily be averted by telling would-be muslim immigrants to just stay home). Since "ruthless crushing" would be extremely costly in money and blood (to Americans and muslim immigrants) it is unlikely to occur at all. Instead, large numbers of muslims in America would be allowed to turn America's cities, or at least muslim enclaves, into dumps like Pakistan.


Your premise that the United States "has long been home to millions of Muslims" is false, so your other assertions are baseless.

There were fewer than a million muslims in America before 2000, many of them American black muslims who as a syncretic offshoot from mainstream islam never have practiced abominations like female genital mutilation and forced cousin marriage (though they have been a dangerous group, witness Louis Farrakhan).

More than two million muslims have migrated to America since 2000. Well-fed by welfare programs they have bred like rabbits (Pew Research 2015). Ten percent of all immigrants are muslims presently and if the flow is not abated then by 2050 a likely 8 million muslims will make up ~2.1% of the US population.

I'm guessing you have not read Mancur Olson, because his analysis perfectly predicts the current situation: 55% of Americans oppose muslim immigration,* yet US politicians ignore and betray them because small groups with concentrated financial interests in muslim immigration are able to exert much more power.

As I explained before, when muslims are greatly outnumbered they cannot make much trouble. When they become numerous enough to populate little enclaves of their own, they defy secular laws, unlawfully mutilate their daughters' genitals, and engage in terrorism while their families live on welfare payments. Cracking down on them would require collective action, which as Mancur Olson explained, is very hard to muster.

Your own remarks illustrate part of the problem. Most people will remain ignorant of the facts because they don't have time to winnow them from the chaff of false claims from emotionally-driven immigration boosters. Ordinary Americans will ignore muslims abusing muslim women in America until muslim men rape enough American women to make their behavior salient, but by then the muslims will be too many to "crack down" on. The only way to prevent the nightmare scenario is to prevent muslim immigration.

*Despite a constant barrage of pro-muslim-immigration propaganda from the plutocrats who control the media and the government.

[html edited to reduce the large amounts of text words that were in bold blue links. No words were changed.--Econlib Ed.]

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